Against National Bolshevism!

Soviet revolutionary Karl Radek’s 1919 critique of Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim’s National Bolshevist “address to the German proletariat”

In late October 1919, at the Communist Party of Germany’s (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) second national conference in Heidelberg, party chairman Paul Levi issued a public denunciation of the KPD’s ‘ultra-left’ faction, with a specific emphasis given to the ‘Hamburg Opposition’ organized around council-communists Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim. In response, Laufenberg, Wolffheim, and numerous other ‘ultra-leftists’ left the KPD, acknowledging that their ideological objections to party centralization and electoral participation made them no longer a welcome element with the Communist leadership. For Bolshevik revolutionary Karl Radek – Soviet Russia’s chief representative to the German communists and a central figure behind the KPD’s founding – the news of these developments must have come as something of a surprise. Although incarcerated in Berlin’s Moabit prison for his role in the Spartacist uprising, Radek was still heavily involved in party affairs, and he had even sent written advice to Levi prior to the conference strongly urging him to avoid splintering the party. The consequence of the ultra-left split was the formation of a sizeable council-communist opposition within Germany (in April they would form their own party, the KAPD), an opposition which Laufenberg and Wolffheim attempted from the beginning to win over to their own idiosyncratic interpretation of council-communism – a worldview dubbed “National Bolshevism” by their critics – with the publication of their November 1919 “address to the German proletariat.” Although the influence of the Hamburg radicals would gradually fizzle out over the next few years, at the time they were viewed as posing a credible threat to the proletarian movement. Their emphasis on conducting a “revolutionary people’s war” against the Western Powers was alarming to a Soviet government already bogged down in an Allied-backed civil war, and the independent line they advocated, while undeniably pro-Soviet, still bred concerns that Russia’s leadership of the international communist movement might someday be undermined in favor of Germany. In an attempt to counter these tendencies, Radek – as the movement’s German expert and ‘man on the ground’ there – produced the article which has been translated below, originally published in the 20 December, 1919 edition of KPD theoretical organ Die Internationale. Radek’s critical stance in this article is intriguing; he had known Laufenberg personally before the split and there are claims (disputed by some communists) that both Laufenberg and Wolffheim had met with Radek in prison prior to their departure from the KPD, with Radek expressing enthusiastic support for their ideas. Later, in 1923, Radek would himself become the chief architect of the short-lived “Schlageter line,” in which the KPD openly adopted National Bolshevist tactics and language in an attempt to win over nationalists incensed by the Entente’s occupation of the Ruhr. Whatever his true feelings, Radek’s arguments in this article are consistent with party discipline at the time and constitute a noteworthy early attempt by the Soviets to counter left-wing National Bolshevist ideas, an attempt which pre-dates Lenin’s own critique of National Bolshevism in his 1920 work Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.

The Foreign Policy of German Communism and
Hamburg National Bolshevism
By Karl Radek
First published 20 December, 1919
in “Die Internationale”, vol.1, no.17/181

The Manifesto of the Hamburg ‘Opposition’

Already, during the negotiations over the Treaty of Versailles, a certain tendency to propagate union [Anschluß] with Soviet Russia on nationalist grounds was making itself felt within particular bourgeois circles in Germany. In order to be able to put up resistance against the Entente, one ought even be able to commit themselves to the Devil – the Bolshevists. But since one does not usually like to devote themselves to the Devil, various representatives of this ‘National Bolshevism’ endeavored to prove that this Beelzebub was not all that bad, that at any rate one could buttress a proletarian dictatorship in such a way that it would also be acceptable to respectable people. In the face of this trend, to the extent that it was not a diplomatic game played by failed politicians but an honest search for ways of saving not national privileges but German culture, the Communist Party had the duty not to content itself with pure negation. It had a duty to reach out to those honest elements who dared to renounce bourgeois privileges in order to save national culture, while at the same time telling them that communism is not an umbrella that can be opened up during the rain and then folded up again, nor a bath whose temperature can be arbitrarily raised or lowered. Intellectuals arrive at communism in different ways: through philosophy, religion, even through aesthetics. Concern for the nation can also form another route to communism. But communism itself is the goal of the working-class in their struggle for liberation, and it has its own laws of development and its own exigencies. If the working-class has no cause to cast off those people who come to it for various reasons from the bourgeois camp, then it has the duty not to subordinate itself to the prejudices and special purposes of those elements, but to compel those who come to it either to absorb the innermost substance of communism or to avoid joining the Party. In future the Communist Party can, under certain conditions, have practical points of political contact with National Bolshevism: for instance, in the future it can open the way for honest, nationally-minded officers in Germany to volunteer for honorable service in the German Red Army. But for National Bolshevists there is no place within the framework of the Bolshevik Party, nor can the Party obscure its proletarian, internationalist position in order to play National Bolshevist confidence tricks. All the less can it tolerate within its ranks a tendency which, under the mask of communist radicalism, transforms a communist foreign policy into a nationalist one. The so-called Hamburg Opposition2 unexpectedly turned out to be the source of this trend. Its leaders, Wolffheim and Laufenberg,3 put out an address to the German working-class in which they advocate a nationalist foreign policy, both in terms of goals and methods.

However small this group is, its manifesto4 requires discussion, because it allows for the disparities between communist and nationalist world politics to be identified, and because their manifesto affords important insights into the nature of the Hamburg orientation as a petty-bourgeois trend. In an upheaval as profound as the one we are currently involved in, social groups and classes often change position in accordance with the course of events. It is not inconceivable that, proletarianized by the outcome of the War, segments of the intelligentsia, the officer corps, and the petty-bourgeoisie will move in the direction of National Bolshevism, which is presently still weak. It is very possible that we have, in the leadership of the so-called Hamburg Opposition, a tendency in which syndicalist5 confusion is something quite inconsequential, and National Bolshevism fundamental. In the beginning of a revolution one never knows, with regards to the so-called ‘infidelities’ of individual intellectuals, whether one is dealing with personal confusion or with the germs of a new party-formation. In the face of such embryonic phenomena the task of a party with a solid foundation is to clearly differentiate this foundation from the new trend. Hence the significance of this present analysis, even if tomorrow Laufenberg and Wolffheim were to abandon National Bolshevism in favor of, say, Buddhist propaganda. This overview is not concerned with their character, but with a political orientation which is manifest within them.

The Foreign Policy Lessons of the Russian Revolution

For we communists, when we intellectually approach issues of foreign policy today, it is not a question of influencing the foreign policy of the capitalist states as it was before the World War. The existence of the Russian Soviet Republic sets before us the issue of the foreign policy of the proletarian state, and this issue plays a significant role in our views on the circumstances of the proletariat’s victory in Germany, as in other countries in Europe. How can the position of the proletarian states develop within the capitalist state system, we ask, starting from the assumption that the proletariat will not triumph in every state at once?

Since relations6 have developed in such a way that conditions in one state influence those in others, every revolution acquires international significance and has international consequences. Even for the bourgeois revolutions which triumphed in one country after another within the feudal state system, the question arose as to how they should position themselves – as foreign bodies, as new formations – in relation to their feudal environment. Thus it was with the English Revolution of the seventeenth century, with the French Revolution of the eighteenth century, as well as with the revolution of 1848. As the English Revolution represented a stage of previously backwards English capital’s growth process towards mercantile-imperialism, it provoked war with republican Holland, at that time the economically strongest power, as well as with modern absolutist France, which went over to mercantilism under Colbert. The French government was itself opposed by capitalist England’s coalition with feudal Central and Eastern Europe. While for England the wars against France were primarily wars aimed at the final defeat of its colonial and commercial-political opponents, for the German states they were wars against the bourgeois revolution. The revolutions of 1848 were crushed as much by the bayonets of Russian Tsarism as by the gold of capitalist England. Thus the period of the bourgeois revolution demonstrates that the reactions roused by each bourgeois revolution can be traced back to sundry socio-political elements, not merely to the contradictions in the socio-political structure represented by those countries warring in the revolution’s wake. It was not simply a case of bourgeois revolution and feudal reaction standing against one another. That conflict has often been disrupted by the capitalist countries fighting among themselves.

The proletarian states which are presently emerging cannot come into conflict with one another: their interests are those of solidarity. For the time being, fortunately, they can count upon the struggle between the capitalist states as a factor which will help facilitate their emergence.

The Russian Revolution, the first child of the global upheaval set in motion by the World War, stood during the initial year of its existence between two hostile capitalist camps which, thanks to the antagonism between them resulting from their imperialistic consubstantiality,7 were prevented from allowing opposition to the proletarian Russian Revolution to play the role of being the sole determining factor in their politics. Within the memoirs of Ludendorff, Helfferich, and Czernin,8 it is extraordinarily interesting and amusing to follow how the ruling authorities of the Central Powers wavered helplessly in their relationship to the Russian Revolution between anxiety over its proletarian international character and their desire to achieve peace in the East. But since the War did not actually vanish with the [end of the] War, but was instead merely waged by other means, the Entente today cannot make the will to annihilate the proletarian revolution the sole guiding star of its policy towards Russia. The question of how a counter-revolutionary Russia would position itself in relation to Germany and Japan is beginning to deeply trouble British and American imperialism, and it is possible that considerations of this kind are already influencing the foreign policy of the two most decisive Entente states to a much greater degree than is concretely known to us.

From these circumstances it is already quite clear (there are also additional factors which we shall discuss later) why the foreign policy of the Russian Soviet Republic could by no means demonstrate the unambiguous character that was expected of it in accordance with a revolutionary schema. The Bolsheviks, together with the other parties of the Zimmerwald Left,9 have always pointed out in regards to the social-patriots’ and centrists’10 efforts for a “democratic peace of understanding” that a peace without the exploitation and oppression of peoples [Völker] will only be possible when the pivotal peoples of the world have liberated themselves from the yoke of capitalism: i.e. after the world revolution; the path to a peace among nations leads through revolution in every capitalist country. When the social-patriots counter-questioned what should happen if the revolution were to be victorious in one country while in others the imperialist powers remained at the helm and continued to wage war, the Bolsheviks replied: then the proletarian government would have to do everything it could to strengthen the peace movement in other countries by disseminating the secret treaties of the imperialists, etc.; it would have to try to reach an honest peace with its opponents, and should this not be successful then its task would be to organize revolutionary defense.

Now, in March 1917 Tsarism broke down and the revolution triumphed within Russia. For the time being, however, it was not the working-class which came to power, but the representatives of the progressive Junkers (Prince Lvov), industrial- and banking-capital (Guchkov, the Cadets),11 and the petty-bourgeoisie (Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks). Bound up with Entente capital, they did not publicize the predatory treaties of imperialism, did not lead the fight for peace, but instead organized a new offensive at Entente capital’s behest. The war-weary army, in whom the revolution killed off any belief in democratic war objectives, who wished to hurry home in order to seize from the Junkers the land that was promised to them by the ‘revolutionary’ government, became increasingly unwilling to continue fighting. Millions of soldiers deserted, others sat idly in the trenches. When the Kerensky regime collapsed because it was alienating one social class after another through its policies, Russia still had millions of armed men in the field – but no army. Transportation was thoroughly destroyed, the provisioning of the cities and the army completely disorganized. What were the Bolsheviks to do? Through the publication of the secret treaties, through their agitation, they sought to strengthen the peace movement in all warring countries, and they called upon all governments to begin negotiations for peace. When the Entente governments refused to take part in the peace talks, and the Soviet government sat alone with the representatives of German imperialism at the negotiating table in Brest-Litovsk, the Soviet government would have been able to obtain better peace terms if it had elected to help German imperialism dress up its robber’s peace as a “peace of understanding.” But, aware of its international obligations, it unmasked the plans of German imperialism, and when German imperialism demonstrated its genuinely predatory nature the Soviets broke off the peace negotiations – firstly in order to once again be able to exert influence over the working-class, and secondly in order to compel German imperialism, if the German workers would not stand up against it, to openly place the revolver against its breast, because only under the direct pressure of the German offensive could it sign the robber’s peace. That revolutionary defense was impossible the way things stood at that time in Russia was admitted by all. That part of the Bolsheviks who fought against the signing of the Brest Peace proposed instead the evacuation of the country up to the Volga and the development of the Urals as the basis for future warfare, warfare in which Germany would weaken itself in its struggle with the working and peasant masses of Russia while it bled to death in its conflicts on the battlefields in the west. Conversely, the majority of Bolsheviks, with Lenin in the vanguard, pointed out that time needed to be gained in order to attain a firm footing among the masses in Central Russia, in order to transform the proletarian revolution from a mere formula into a reality: through the expansion of the Soviets, through expropriation. The concessions which would have to be made to German imperialism would not permit any socialist construction for the duration, but for the time being the war would still go on. Germany was exhausting itself more and more, while Soviet power was strengthening, and thus gaining the opportunity – if the revolution in Germany should not prove victorious in the meantime – of picking up the struggle again at a more favorable moment. Lenin’s school of thought triumphed. And history has proved him right.12 In a few months the first corps of the new Red Army was able to be formed, which put up resistance against the Entente’s Czechoslovakian mercenaries when they attempted to ‘punish’ Soviet Russia from the east for its peace agreement. Eight months after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, German imperialism lay shattered on the ground. Soviet power had planted deep roots among the people, and when the Entente, in order to crush their last opponent, began with their money and their munitions supplies to set up a war of armies drawn from the counter-revolutionaries of all the nations of Russia, this time Soviet Russia was capable of waging a revolutionary defensive war. A Red Army of 1½ million men is now fighting on every Russian front against the counter-revolutionary armies of the Estonians, Letts, Lithuanians, Poles, and Ukrainians, the armies of Yudenich, Denikin, and Kolchak.13

At the same time, however, the Soviet government does not let a day go by without attempting to reach peace with the Entente or with their bandits. No sacrifice is too great for it to attain peace. It is even willing to acknowledge the war debts of Tsarism, hence why it is castigated as a traitor and attacked by the brainless ‘left’ Socialist-Revolutionaries. Yes, its ‘opportunism’ goes so far that it is even, under certain conditions, ready to grant the Allies economic concessions on Russian soil simply in order to obtain peace.

Does it do this out of pacifism? It accepts revolutionary war and organizes it! Does it do this out of opportunism? Opportunism, as a method of the labor movement, means attempting to pave the way for a gradual evolution towards socialism through compromises with the bourgeoisie, without the overthrow of bourgeois rule: the Soviet government, however, was established through the overthrow of bourgeois rule; it expropriated the bourgeoisie and defends the workers’ dictatorship by every possible means. But opportunism is one thing, and reckoning with the facts is something else. And the crucial facts with which the foreign policy of Soviet Russia must reckon are: Firstly, the revolution is developing slowly in Western Europe and in America, and it will take decades for it to claim its final victory. It will not win in every country at once. War eats away at the core of the peoples who wage it. It requires the squandering of all economic forces which would otherwise be in service to the construction of socialism, to the improvement of the situation of the masses of the people. The result of this is that the problem of Soviet Russia’s foreign policy – and, if the world revolution is not decided much more swiftly than it has been hitherto, also of every other country in which the working-class proves victorious – consists of arriving at a modus vivendi with the capitalist states which would relieve the proletarian states of the burden of war, even at the cost of great sacrifices, thus freeing them from the danger of blockade. Is this simply an illusion? Can proletarian and capitalist states live in peace and trade in goods? If the capitalist states had their way, they would strangle and stifle every proletarian state just as they did with Soviet Hungary, whose territory was too small and whose military forces were too modest for it to win through on its own. But things did not prove so easy with Soviet Russia. France invaded Southern Russia with its own troops. The revolt of these troops in Odessa compelled the French government to withdraw them. England invaded with its own troops in the north, at Arkhangelsk. Protests by the English workers compelled the English government to withdraw its troops from Arkhangelsk. The Entente financed the Russian counter-revolutionaries, aiding counter-revolutionaries in the border states with money and ammunition. England alone has squandered a billion pounds sterling to this end. With the state of the Entente’s finances becoming increasingly catastrophic, this cannot go on indefinitely. The stronger that the indisputably growing workers’ movement becomes within the Entente countries, all the more must the bourgeoisie renounce this policy if it wishes to escape catastrophe. There is also the fact that, with the conclusion of the peace agreement, the nationalist mood among the masses will subside. It is becoming increasingly difficult to pit worker against worker. And finally, if, for example, Soviet Russia requires the industrial products of the Entente countries, so do the Entente countries also require its raw materials and wish to retain it as a market. Thus does fear of the Russian market’s conquest by German capital, of the resurgence of this enemy with the help of the dominance of the Russian market, play a large part in the politics of English and American commercial capital. In this respect it is characteristic that the Manchester Guardian and the Daily News, the representatives of the English business world, are at the same time the representatives of the policy of peace towards Russia.

The possibility of peace between capitalist and proletarian states is no utopia. Just as feudal and capitalist states existed side by side for two hundred years, so can circumstances force those states which are still capitalist into a peaceful relationship with those which are already socialist. It will be even less of an ‘eternal’ peace than that which prevailed hitherto between capitalist states, because every proletarian state is through its very existence a constant incentive to revolution for the proletariat of the remaining capitalist states. If the capitalist governments can cripple the proletarian states, they will gladly do so at any moment. That they will perpetually seek to cause difficulties for the proletarian states is clear. Each proletarian state will have to foster the proletariat’s ability to defend itself until the final victory of the world revolution; they may have to take up arms several times. But war remains the ultima ratio for them, too, and they will have to seek to attain their goals with regards to the capitalist states by peaceful means. This will require sacrifices. The concessions which the proletarian state will have to make to the capitalist state can in many ways prevent it from carrying out the communist programme. But war still does this to a much greater degree, and so long as the world revolution remains untriumphant in the major capitalist states, communism cannot be realized solely in isolated oases.

These are the lessons which two years of the Soviet Republic offer to a thinking communist in the field of foreign policy. They demonstrate that the position of a proletarian state is by no means dependent upon the immediate victory of the world revolution, nor upon its demise. It includes possibilities for peace with the capitalist states, which initially of course will have to be convinced through hard struggles that finishing off a proletarian state is no easy matter. Soviet Russia is still in the phase of these struggles. Yet there are already signs that a new ‘breathing space’ will be granted to it. The breathing space of 1918 was provided to Soviet Russia by the fighting between the two imperialist camps. Now a new ‘breathing space’ is developing out of Soviet Russia’s own heightened strength, from the continuing persistence of imperialist antagonisms, and finally also from the incipient conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in the camp of yesterday’s victors. By exploiting all of these antagonisms, the Russian Soviet Republic sets an example in the field of foreign policy for those proletarian states which are in the process of being formed, clearing the way for future state policy in all other areas. Anyone who as a communist seeks to think through the external problems which will arise – for example, before the event of the German proletariat’s victory – must not ignore the lessons of the Russian Soviet Republic.

As we shall we, that is what our Hamburg National Bolsheviks are doing to the fullest possible extent.

Foreign Policy and the German Counter-Revolution and Revolution

In his pamphlet Between the First and Second Revolution,14 which is not intended as an agitational address but is instead supposed to be a historical study, Laufenberg begins with a chapter on the ‘Tasks of the November Revolution’ in which he lays out the evidence that it has not fulfilled the tasks assigned to it. The blessed November Revolution could reply to Laufenberg: “My dear historian, how can a learned man be so stupid: I was merely the form of the collapse of German imperialism, not that of the rise of the German proletariat.” Of course the collapsing bourgeoisie cannot solve the tasks of the rising proletariat. But, schoolmasterly quirks aside, this introduction is teeming with assertions which fly in the face of the facts. When Laufenberg claims that Germany in November could have continued to defend itself, that it could rapidly “form a Red Army headed by a revolutionary officer corps” which “would make the army into a formidable opponent for the Entente,” when he goes on to argue that a social revolution would have immediately made the Belgian and French masses into fervent friends of Germany, these are all either positive untruths (the assessment of the German military situation) or they are fantastical illusions forming the starting point of a fantastical policy that Laufenberg wishes to impose upon the future of the Communist Party of Germany. For him it is not a matter of understanding the rationale behind the foreign policy of the German counter-revolution. Such things are the concern of a Marxist who understands that the revolutionary politics of communism must be based on facts. The petty-bourgeois nationalist Laufenberg ignores the facts altogether or he fantasizes about them, because he is concerned not with revolutionary politics but with national hoopla, with nationalistic denunciation.

That Germany could not continue to fight in November of last year is known today not only to everyone with open eyes and working brains who follows events and the military literature connected with them, but was also realized last November by anyone who saw how the army and the working masses within the Reich were gripped by one thought alone: the thought of peace. Our Russian comrades, who were further removed from Germany than Laufenberg, had not the slightest illusion in November of last year about the possibility of Germany being able to continue the war. When the Vossische Zeitung and the Vorwärts15 contend that Laufenberg is only continuing the policy which Radek advocated at the founding congress of the Communist Party in December last year, where he called upon the German proletariat to go to war against the Entente, these are deliberate lies on the part of the counter-revolutionary press. Radek’s speech is available in shorthand, with an introduction written in January, and it clearly shows that the Russian comrades never even dreamed of endorsing such a fantastic policy. They did not demand war against the Entente, but a policy which even a bourgeois government could accept if it was not so eager to permanently deliver Germany over to the Entente’s mercy. They demanded that the way to Russia be kept open by handing over power to the local workers’ councils in the territories then vacated by Germany, since it was clear that the White Guards, armed by the German generals, were siding with the Entente and would form a dividing wall between Germany and Russia. If the link between the two countries remained open, if they reinforced one another economically, then in turn this would strengthen the position of the German government during the peace negotiations, and if revolutionary movements arose within the Entente countries we would then be capable of offering resistance against a strangulating peace [Erdrosselungsfrieden]. But even if this were not immediately possible, it would create the possibility for resistance in future. The government of People’s Deputies, both Majority Socialists and Independents, demonstrated themselves incapable of this policy, one which was acceptable to any far-sighted bourgeois: the Majority Socialists, fearful of any contact with Soviet Russia, and the Independents, demoralized by their belief in Wilson, handed Germany over to the mercy of the Entente. They hoped that by completely renouncing any future defense capabilities, yes, by helping to build a wall between the Russian and German revolutions, they would thereby obtain better peace terms. At Versailles they were rewarded for these policies to such an extent that their heads swam. The Versailles Peace made it just as impossible for Germany to have its own capitalist economy as it did for it to have its own socialist economy. It mortgaged large parts of Germany’s productive power to the Entente, turning the German working masses into the slaves of Entente capital.

It is clear that the Communist Party could not assume responsibility for this peace. But neither could it accept responsibility for a war led by the German counter-revolution, since it would only have been a war in defense of German capital. In its Peace Theses (June), however, which is a model of revolutionary clarity of thought, the Central Committee was careful to avoid committing itself to a war against the Entente under any circumstances in the event of the working-class’s victory. Having explained how the victory of the proletariat in Germany would strengthen the position of a proletarian government in relation to the Entente, how it would open up the prospect of better peace terms, the Central Committee in its theses goes on to explain that:

For the Council Republic [Räterepublik], both the acceptance and the rejection of the peace terms put to it would have entirely different outcomes. A council government’s decision over whether to accept or to reject the peace terms would depend upon the specific circumstances in which it might or might not have to conclude peace.

Such was the revolutionary and realistic approach of the Central Committee, which with revolutionary conscientiousness managed to avoid – even at a moment when the assumption of power was completely out of reach – making claims that it might not be able to fulfil. Not so the Hamburg demagogues. In the name of communism they proclaim war with the Entente, the advancement through Poland and the Baltics, unification with Soviet Russia as the immediate consequence of the German working-class’s conquest of power, and they further declare that they will cast off the Versailles shackles of hunger and misery “in one fell swoop.” They explain all of this because it is important to “take full advantage of the brief period of bewilderment which will thereupon take hold of the Entente states.” Nationalism always leads to folly. Bramarbas16 is its representative. Laufenberg and Wolffheim wish to “bewilder” the Entente through a declaration of war, hence they are already announcing this bewildering declaration of war. How unscrupulous these promises are can best be seen by taking a look at the situation in France, with which a Soviet Germany will have to concern itself above all. The revolutionary movement in that country is, for the present, weaker than that in England, even though in France the revolutionary press is more widespread and the Longuetists17 use much clearer revolutionary language in parliament than do the representatives of the English Labour Party, and even though they are also much bolder than the latter in defending the Russian Revolution. The experience of 12 July18 demonstrated how weak the French working-class still feels. This is a consequence of their lesser role in French economic life (greater importance of agriculture, lower concentration of production), the devastation of the industrial north, the working-class’s much larger losses, and so on. There is also the fact that the French masses’ expectations of war reparations from Germany, as well as of German cooperation in the rebuilding of northern France, give them a sense of reassurance that “Germany will pay for everything.” The hatred towards Germany, which in the eyes of the broad masses of the French people is regarded as being the sole culprit for the outbreak of the War, has not yet abated. Under such conditions, a declaration of war against France by a Soviet Germany, an offensive against Poland – these would be evidence for the French masses that the proclamation of a Council Republic in Germany was nothing more than a farce aimed at loading the enormous burdens of the War onto the backs of the working masses of France, an action which would naturally end up driving them into the arms of the nationalists. If the Hamburg fantasists assume that they will only encounter gangs of French White Guards on the Rhein, then they are in for a nasty surprise.

If the working-class in Germany comes to power before the workers’ revolutions in Poland and France – though close to victory – have yet to triumph, then the foreign policy of the German workers’ government must be directed not towards war, not towards abrogation, but towards the gradual winding up of the Versailles Peace Treaty. It will need to begin by assuming every obligation for the reconstruction of northern France, along with the commitment to fulfil as far as possible the other provisions of the peace treaty – the primary task of Germany’s revolutionary diplomacy being to practically demonstrate to the French masses which provisions of the Versailles Treaty are impracticable. Liquidation will be accomplished only incrementally, to the extent that, as the revolutionary wave rises in France and Poland, as the Soviet Republic builds its strength in Russia, the eventual pressure mounting upon nationalist Poland will prevent it from playing the role of France’s attack dog in relation to Germany. The goal of the German council government’s foreign policy – if the German government arises earlier than that of the French – will be to gain time for the expansion of Soviet Germany, for the defeat of the bourgeoisie, for winning the confidence of proletarians abroad. This policy will be all the more necessary considering that the German council government, unlike the Russian, will have no room for retrograde maneuvers, since without an alliance with the Polish working-class it would be left without ammunition and coal if the French were to occupy the territory of the Ruhr.

The following fact plays a large role in this consciously cautious foreign policy of the German Council Republic: that until the barrier between Soviet Russia and Soviet Germany disappears and it is possible, with the help of the German workers, to strengthen the Russian transportation system and to thus increase the food supply of Soviet Russia and Soviet Germany, both countries will have a vital, fundamental interest in establishing trade relations with the Anglo-Saxon countries, not of breaking them off through a “bewildering” declaration of war. Anyone who disregards all of this is not pursuing a revolutionary foreign policy, but instead a beer-hall policy arising out of revolutionary or nationalist impatience, or out of both simultaneously, which is generally one of the characteristics of petty-bourgeois politics – an inability to wait.

The fact that Laufenberg and Wolffheim’s policy is a nationalist one is something which they bluntly admit themselves: “Whether we desire a communist organization of the economy, and which part of the Volk is most interested in it, is not the priority; rather the priority is that the Volk, the whole, must have it in order not to perish as a people, as a whole.” The interests of the whole, i.e. the nation, are the source of Laufenberg and Wolffheim’s politics, and they define the goal of these politics as, “to seek within the Volk as a whole for those paths which guarantee the entirety of the population the best conceivable opportunities for existence.” If the German Communist Party up to now has been of the opinion that it exists precisely because there is no “national whole,” but rather a capitalist society which has been fractured by civil war and which, in the struggle with one part of society against another, leads the way to capitalism’s overthrow and to the formation of the communist national whole, Laufenberg and Wolffheim proceed from the acceptance of national solidarity and arrive at natural solidarity in the war against the Entente, i.e. at National Bolshevism.

The Revolutionary Political Truce

It is a hallmark of all counter-revolutionary, nationalist politics that they stem from the so-called primacy of foreign policy, i.e. from the view formulated by Ranke19 that the responsibilities of foreign policy must determine those of domestic policy. What makes this doctrine counter-revolutionary is the fact that, because class interests are much more difficult to demonstrate in foreign policy than they are in domestic policy, because it is much simpler to convince the Volk that all social classes have common interests with regards to foreign countries, it is therefore fairly easy to derive (i.e. to swindle) common domestic responsibilities out of this alleged commonality of foreign interests. It was one of the life achievements of Marx, and of Engels especially, that they were able to show how, by contrast, a nation’s relationship with foreign countries stems from its internal class relations, how its foreign responsibilities grow out of domestic ones, which then naturally influence each other in turn. If some kind of primacy thus has to be established, then for us Marxists there is a primacy of domestic relations. To put it in concrete terms: are the interests of all classes of the German nation equal in regards to the Entente? This assertion is absurd. While the proletariat is willing to completely expropriate the German bourgeoisie and the Junkers, the Entente desires only to take away a part of their property and to keep them on as the lackeys of the process of capitalist exploitation in Germany. By profiteering with foreign capitalists, the Germans are to a large extent able to preserve their fortunes and to continue to run their profit system under foreign protection. Hence why the anger over traitors, the national indignation from big business, has lasted so briefly; hence why the honest nationalists, the Eltzbachers,20 who in outrage over the Versailles Treaty preached for affiliation [Anschluß] with the Soviet Union, for so-called National Bolshevism, have remained so thoroughly isolated. Undoubtedly the German bourgeoisie would even prefer an open occupation of Germany by the Entente to a council dictatorship. It therefore follows that Germany’s working-class can under no circumstances count upon the help of the German bourgeoisie in their struggle against Entente capital.

If the German working-class is victorious, if it sets about implementing the socialization of production, then by degrees it shall discover that the German bourgeoisie will hide behind the Entente capitalists in order to be able to protect itself from the interventions of the German proletarian government. Should the German proletariat be compelled to wage war against the Entente, it will find the bourgeoisie, the Junkers, and the majority of the officer corps all on the side of the Entente governments.

War – which in and of itself would necessitate the intensification of dictatorial measures, because the exhausted country would be unable to wage it without relieving the propertied classes of even their last shoes to provide for the army – would, thanks to the particularly treacherous attitude of the bourgeoisie, compel the ruthless suppression of that class as traitors to the country. This is the conclusion from a simple consideration of class relations.

Laufenberg and Wolffheim, who have proclaimed war from the beginning, conclude from it that the prevailing task of foreign policy is the need for a domestic task: the political truce. “The moment that the question arises of waging war against other countries, it is precisely the ruling class, the working-class, which has a vital interest in domestic peace. And, under the proviso that the bourgeoisie unreservedly recognizes the proletariat’s seizure of power, the proletarian dictatorship would be no less interested in establishing a revolutionary political truce for the duration of the war than it was with the erstwhile Wilhelm II, when relations were reversed,” states the Hamburg Manifesto. Thus the bourgeoisie is supposed to recognize the dictatorship of the proletariat, in order that it can wage war against world capital unperturbed! Is this madness? Yes, but there is a system to this madness. For how do Laufenberg and Wolffheim envision the proletarian dictatorship? Which classes are to be actively involved in it? It is to be wielded by class organizations in which it (the council government) “integrates not only those parts of the Volk who hitherto have been accustomed to being called workers, but all working people, regardless of whichever social sphere they previously belonged to.” What does this mean, are the Hamburgers perhaps thinking only of the intellectual workers? No! They are thinking of all peasants, too, “irrespective of any future regulation of agricultural property relations,” i.e. even of the rich peasants. The Manifesto leaves it up to the individual sections of the bourgeoisie to “align with the proletarian class organizations,” i.e. in order that they can play out the same comedy under the proletarian dictatorship as they did in November, when after accepting the reality of the situation they were able to act as they pleased. In a nutshell Laufenberg, in order to wage war, strives under the guise of proletarian dictatorship for a compromise with the bankrupt bourgeoisie, such as was offered by the bourgeois Count Karolyi to the proletariat in Hungary.21

In spite of all the confusion, the Hamburger line of thinking flows seamlessly: from clamoring against the Jacobin dictatorship of the Communist Party (i.e. clamoring against proletarian dictatorship), to extolling universal revolutionary organization (a hodgepodge), to openly propagandizing for a political truce under an allegedly proletarian pseudo-dictatorship which is in reality controlled by the bourgeoisie! And all for the purpose of a nationalist war. Every strata of the German Volk today is proletarianized, declares Laufenberg, hence the proletarian organizations have no need of excluding anyone. If Laufenberg’s propaganda is successful, then we will be faced with the genesis of a petty-bourgeois-nationalist-revolutionary party which, in its evolution out of the personal confusion of two literati into an actual party, will renounce syndicalism much as it has long since renounced communism.

To anyone who still doubts that Laufenberg and Wolffheim cannot be trusted comrades of the German Communists, we recommend perusing their pamphlet, with which they have finally broken with the Communist Party.

The paths which the German proletariat will have to choose in their struggle against Entente capital, on the day after their victory, after the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship – these cannot be foreseen today. They will depend upon the specific international situation, which is nowadays changing faster than ever. One thing is certain: the German proletariat will fight together with the proletarians of all countries, not alongside the German bourgeoisie.

Translator’s Notes

1. Radek’s article, first published in the 20 December, 1919 edition of Die Internationale (the KPD’s theoretical journal at the time), would be republished in pamphlet format the following year. This translation was made from the 1920 publication Gegen den Nationalbolschewismus! Zwei Aufsätze, which reproduced Radek’s article alongside a similar essay by KPD theoretician August Thalheimer. Radek’s article was also printed as a standalone pamphlet by the Communist Party of German-Austria (Kommunistischen Partei Deutschösterreichs) in 1920. I reviewed both pamphlets while working on the translation, but could not detect any noteworthy differences between them aside from that indicated in footnote 18 below.

2. The “Hamburg Opposition” was the name given by the dominant factions of the KPD to the circle around Hamburg-based Laufenberg and Wolffheim, whose stance as council-communists effectively put them at odds with the Leninist orientation of the party leadership. The ‘Hamburgers’ rejected core beliefs which had been central to the Bolsheviks and their assumption of power in Russia, a position which was gradually becoming untenable as the Bolsheviks consolidated their hold over the international communist movement by means of the Comintern. The Kommunistische Arbeiterzeitung newspaper, which became the official party-organ of the ‘ultra-left’ Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, KAPD) in April 1920, spelled out these differences quite explicitly in one early article:

All the organs of the German Communist Party who think that the dictatorship of the proletariat should be a dictatorship of the working-class and not that of the Party leaders, and who think that the revolutionary acts of the masses are not ordered from above by a group of leaders, but must proceed from the will of the masses themselves and be prepared by gathering the revolutionary workers, on the level of organisation, in the revolutionary mass organizations on the basis of the widest democracy, are invited to contact the Party organisation in Hamburg.

Ironically, Laufenberg and Wolffheim would maintain their status as a “Hamburg Opposition” even after the KAPD was established and they became leading members of its Hamburg branch. Their National Bolshevist perspective was as controversial within the KAPD as it had been in the KPD, and both men were expelled from the party following its second conference in August 1920. Laufenberg and Wolffheim would go on to found the League of Communists as an independent vehicle for their personal political ideas. The League had some moderate success in attracting Hamburg’s sailors and dockworkers, but it struggled to compete with the resources of the KPD. Ultimately it proved more successful at building ties with military officials and with völkisch intellectuals than at attracting the German proletariat to a nationalist-communist worldview.

3. Radek consistently misspells Heinrich Laufenberg’s name as “Lauffenberg” throughout the original text. Wolffheim’s name by contrast is always spelled correctly. Radek had known Laufenberg since 1914 (the two had worked together for a time in the Social-Democratic antiwar movement), and they had corresponded following Radek’s return to Germany from Russia in 1918, so this is somewhat odd. I have made the editorial decision to amend the spelling in my translation.

4. The “Hamburg Manifesto” is the Laufenberg-Wolffheim article “Revolutionary People’s War or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?”, first published in the Kommunistische Arbeiterzeitung of 3 November, 1919.

5. Within the communist movement at the time, particularly those segments of it associated with the Bolsheviks, the term ‘syndicalist’ tended to be used as a catch-all term to describe all ‘ultra-left’ trends. In reality there was a distinction between syndicalism and the council-communist ideas of Laufenberg, Wolffheim, and others who ended up in the KAPD. A central focus of syndicalism was the notion of working within capitalism through the use of trade-unions, which could mobilize workers in the short-term while providing the long-term mechanisms necessary for the eventual overthrow of the class system and the reorganization of society. Council-communists by contrast rejected trade-unions with the argument that they were a vehicle of reformism. Working from the perspective that the revolution would be an ongoing process of interrelated ebbs and flows, rather than a single dynamic event, council-communists argued that democratically-run workers’ councils would emerge spontaneously over time through the mass action of the proletariat as the workers responded to the evolving practical circumstances of the revolutionary situation around them. These councils would provide the most appropriately democratic vehicle for the working-class to organize themselves throughout both the revolution and its aftermath. The General Workers’ Union of Germany (Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands, AAUD), the KAPD’s associated mass organization, was established with these beliefs in mind – structured as a loose federation of industrial cells, it was intended to provide the foundational basis for organizing the workers’ councils once revolutionary conditions in Germany had progressed sufficiently.

6. “Relations” – The word Radek uses here in the original German, “Verkehr,” can variously be translated as “traffic,” “transportation,” “commerce,” “dealings,” “association,” “communication,” “intercourse,” or “exchange.” I have opted for the more neutral “relations” as a means of encompassing the word’s multiple potential meanings.

7. “Consubstantiality” – in German, “Wesensgleichheit.” Not being particularly religious, I was not familiar with this term either in German or in English before encountering it here. Apparently it has a Latin derivation and a Christian theological background: if something is ‘consubstantial’ with something else, it means they are of the same essence or substance despite superficial surface differences. In Christian theology it is used to describe the essential relationship between God and Jesus Christ. Radek’s use of it here indicates that (for Bolsheviks, at least) capitalist imperialisms all have an essential sameness beneath their nationally-distinct surfaces.

8. Karl Helfferich (b.1872 – d.1924) was a leading German financier and a prominent figure within that country’s government throughout most of the First World War. Following the War’s end, he became a politician for the German National People’s Party and developed a reputation for his hostility towards republican politicians – he was said to have been the originator (or at least popularizer) of the expression “gravediggers of Germany,” applied to those politicians responsible for the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Ottokar Czernin (b.1872 – d.1932) was a Bohemian nobleman and diplomat who served as Austria-Hungary’s Foreign Minister throughout the latter half of the Great War. After 1918 he was active in right-wing politics in Austria, sitting from 1920 to 1923 in the National Council as a representative of a national-liberal group (the so-called ‘Bürgerliche Arbeiterpartei’); he also had some involvement in the paramilitary Heimwehr organization. General Erich Ludendorff (b.1865 – d.1937), the third person Radek mentions here, probably does not require any additional background, given that he has entered the pop-culture lexicon and now bears the questionable honor of having become a Hollywood supervillain. Whether the real Ludendorff had incredible super-strength and the ability to shoot lightning out of his eyes is unfortunately something that Radek neglects to mention here.

9. The ‘Zimmerwald Left’ were a faction of radical parties who had formed at the September 1915 Zimmerwald Conference, an international gathering of antiwar socialists in Switzerland (most prominent Social-Democratic parties in 1914 had adopted pro-war positions in favor of their respective governments, seriously undermining solidarity within the internationalist movement). Radek attended the Conference as a representative of the Social-Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania. The Zimmerwald Left avowed (in opposition to the resolution eventually adopted by the majority of delegates) that ending the War through peaceful action was not enough – instead socialists needed to transform the conflict into a massive global civil war directed against imperialism and capitalism. The radical spirit shared by the members of the Zimmerwald Left helped foster stronger ties between them, leading to a continued international collaboration which eventually culminated in the development of the Third (Communist) International.

10. “Social-patriots” was a term employed by the Bolsheviks to describe those Social-Democrats who had adopted a pro-war position in 1914, opting to place the interests of their respective fatherlands above that of international proletarian solidarity. The “centrists” comprised those socialists who had taken a middle-of-the-road position: while not necessarily agreeing with their parties’ support for the war, the centrists had nonetheless backed the decision in order to maintain party discipline and avoid exacerbating tensions. Lenin described the centrists as “hesitating between social-patriotism and actual internationalism” and accused them of being insufficiently committed to the concept of revolution.

11. Prince Georgi Lvov (b.1861 – d.1925) was a Russian liberal politician and the member of an impoverished noble family; he became the first Prime Minister of Russia’s Provisional Government following the 1917 February (March) revolution. Alexander Guchkov (b.1862 – d.1936) came from a family of Russian industrialists and was a career politician. He briefly served as the Provisional Government’s Minister for War in 1917.

12. Radek did not feel this way at the time. He was present at the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, having been appointed ‘Assistant People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs’, and while he reportedly took great delight in taunting the German military delegates and in attempting to incite the German troops there to mutiny, he was shocked by the harsh terms of the treaty and viewed the agreement as a stab in the back that would damage the prospects of world revolution in other countries, particularly Germany. Jim Tuck, in his Radek biography Engine of Mischief, notes that:

After the treaty had been signed, Radek became one of its most vociferous opponents. Rarely had his oratory been so vitriolic. The treaty was a “filthy document from the imperialist latrines of Berlin,” and he wanted to tear it up “like a piece of toilet paper.” To combat he treaty, he allied himself to a “Left Communist” troika led by Nikolai Bukharin… They heaped abuse upon the treaty, reviled Lenin, and even launched an opposition paper. This journal was Kommunist, published in Petrograd and Moscow and dedicated to repudiating the “obscene” policies of Lenin… The Left Bloc was roundly defeated at the Seventh Party Congress which met between 6 and 8 March [1918] in Petrograd… Radek capitulated to Lenin in May. The Left Bloc was in retreat and disarray, and Radek did not fancy the role of lone rebel. In a speech to an economic council, he endorsed the treaty and reflected on the valuable “breathing space” that had been gained by the Bolsheviks. Forgiving as ever the penitent backsliders, Lenin wiped the slate clean. As long as Radek toed the ideological line, his skills would always be needed.

13. Nikolai Yudenich (b.1862 – d.1933), Anton Denikin (b.1872 – d.1947), and Alexander Kolchak (b.1874 – d.1920) were military leaders of the Russian White Armies during the period of the Russian Civil War.

14. This pamphlet (in German: Zwischen der ersten und zweiten Revolution) was originally produced in 1919 by Hamburg-based publisher Willaschek & Co. One feature of Laufenberg and Wolffheim’s writing was their call for a “second revolution,” a truly socialist uprising which would complete the ineffectual “first revolution” of November 1918. This was, admittedly, not a unique idea – it was shared by others in the radical Left and even by some in the national-revolutionary camp. Demands by a faction of the National Socialist movement for a “second revolution” in 1933-34 share certain parallels.

15. The Vossische Zeitung was a liberal, progressive newspaper, while the Vorwärts was the central party-organ of the Social-Democratic Party. After Laufenberg, Wolffheim, and the other council-communists left the KPD in October 1919, it was claimed by both the liberal and social-democratic presses (and allegedly also by Laufenberg and Wolffheim themselves) that the Hamburg Opposition’s controversial demand for a “revolutionary people’s war” against the Entente was not at odds with the official KPD line, as the Communist Party claimed, but was merely a continuation of similar proposals originally made by Radek at the KPD’s founding congress in Dec-Jan 1919. Radek’s protestations to the contrary here are not disingenuous. He had recognized in late 1918 that conditions in Germany were not yet appropriate for an armed revolution against Germany’s occupiers, but he also knew that inflammatory language was expected of him by his audience. To that end, the speech he delivered at the first KPD meeting was highly radical yet avoided making any direct calls for an armed uprising, instead framing a hypothetical armed action by the working masses against the Entente in purely defensive terms:

If the Entente came today, it would find no resistance among the German people. But if the German workers are the owners of the factories… if they feel themselves masters of the country, then they will understand that the struggle would not be about defending the money bag, but about defending their own home… There is no way of making Germany defensive and of defending it against the yoke that the Entente wishes to impose upon it other than by making the German workers the masters in Germany… We are convinced that the world revolution will proceed at a rapid pace. We are convinced that the international civil war will free us from the struggle of nations. But no one can calculate the pace of its development.

16. In German, to call someone “Bramarbas” or to state that they are “bramarbasian” in nature is to indicate that they are a braggart – i.e., a boastful, vainglorious loudmouth. The exact origin of the word is unclear, but it is probably derived from the name of an appropriately braggadocious character in the satirical poem Cartell des Bramarbas an Don Quixote, written by the Saxon scholar Johann Burckhardt Mencke in 1710. Use of the name as an epithet seems to have become popular after Danish-Norwegian playwright Ludvig Holberg’s popular comic play Jacob von Thyboe (1723) was translated into German; its German title, given to it by translator Johann Christoph Gottsched, was Bramarbas, or The Boastful Officer (“Bramarbas oder der großsprecherische Offizier”).

17. The Longuetists were a prominent faction within the French Socialist Party. Their name comes from their leader, Jean Longuet, whose father Charles Longuet had married Karl Marx’s eldest daughter, Jenny. The Longuetists were a centrist grouping within the French Socialist Party and were derided as petty-bourgeois opportunists and as “social-traitors” by the Bolsheviks, particularly as they were reformists who had professed pacifism and an opposition to the War, yet had still consistently voted with the majority of their party in favor of war credits. Over the 1918-1920 period the Longuetists became for a time the strongest faction within French Social-Democracy and tried to steer the workers’ movement on a middle course, hoping either to rebuild a new Second International or to negotiate their party’s entry into the Communist International on a basis which would preserve the party’s independence and commitment to reformism. The Comintern would not countenance this (acceptance of all 21 conditions of entry was non-negotiable), and the consequence was a December 1920 split at the party’s Tours Congress, with most members leaving to form the new French Communist Party.

18. I am unclear on what the “experience” mentioned here is, although it may be a reference to the French electoral law which was passed on 12 July, 1919. This rearrangement of France’s electoral system was viewed as being deliberately detrimental to the country’s workers’ parties, who lost a large number of seats to the Bloc National (a nationalist and center-right alliance) in the November 1919 elections. It is worth noting that this translation was made from a copy of Radek’s article reproduced in the pamphlet Gegen den Nationalbolschewismus! Zwei Aufsätze, published by the KPD in 1920. A separate print of Radek’s article which I reviewed, produced by the Communist Party of German-Austria in the same year, actually gives a different date here: 12 June, not 12 July. I am not certain which date is actually correct.

19. Leopold von Ranke (b.1795 – d.1886) was an influential German historian and political writer, considered one of the founders of the modern historical method. Ranke’s special interest was foreign policy, and his historical writing was primarily concerned with relations and developments between states.

20. Paul Eltzbacher (b.1868 – d.1928) was a Jewish-German legal academic and the first historically noteworthy advocate of ‘National Bolshevism’. Radek is using his name (“Eltzbachers”) as a general descriptor for all those in Germany who came to a National Bolshevist position out of the ‘bourgeois’ camp, i.e. from the political right, as opposed to the left-wing Laufenberg and Wolffheim. Eltzbacher had caused a mild stir in Germany’s political scene in early 1919 when the periodical Der Tag published several of his articles arguing that Bolshevism was the only remaining means by which the ailing German nation could still be salvaged. As Eltzbacher was a member of the bourgeois-monarchist German National People’s Party at the time, this perspective generated some interest, and his articles were reissued as a pamphlet titled Bolshevism and the German Future (“Der Bolschewismus und die deutsche Zukunft”). Their content is reminiscent of later writing by Niekisch or Paetel:

Yet even if the dictatorship of the proletariat were far more dreadful than it is in reality, it means that Germany will at least be ruled by Germans, and who would not prefer to submit to the dictation of his German brothers than let himself be enslaved and exploited by cold-blooded Englishmen and vengeful Frenchmen? …With ruthless determination it [Bolshevism] compels the individual to subordinate his interests to those of the community. It has the courage to act and therefore possesses creative power. Bolshevism shows us the way to a new world.

An editorial in the Deutsche Tageszeitung, a right-leaning daily, described Eltzbacher’s views as “National Bolshevism” (“nationaler Bolschewismus”), which is the first known appearance of the term in print, at least in this context. Eltzbacher later involved himself in pro-Soviet organizations, although he does not seem to have ever joined the KPD.

21. Count Mihály Károlyi (b.1875 – d.1955) was the first president of the Hungarian Republic. Károlyi was a left-leaning liberal with strong pacifist, republican, and reformist tendencies. In March 1919 the Entente powers notified Hungary of their intention to demilitarize certain areas in Hungary and to allow Romania to occupy others; this was interpreted by the Hungarians as the preliminary to the forcible redrawing of their nation’s borders. In response the Hungarian government resigned, a wave of nationalist outrage spread throughout the country, and President Károlyi announced his willingness to appoint a purely Social-Democratic government (the largest party in Hungary at the time) in order to help facilitate Hungary’s defense. The result instead was the establishment of a short-lived Soviet Republic under the brutal rule of communist revolutionary Béla Kun.

Translated from Karl Radek’s Die auswärtige Politik des deutschen Kommunismus und der Hamburger nationale Bolschewismus (1920), in “Gegen den National-bolschewismus! Zwei Aufsätze”, Kommunistischen Partei Deutschlands (Spartakusbund).

10 thoughts on “Against National Bolshevism!

  1. Bogumil, perdona la domanda che esula dallo scritto, ma ti risulta che Fritz Kloppe, il capo del gruppo Wehrwolf, volesse istituire dei “Soviet Nazionali”?

      • No, scusa per la mancanza di conoscenza della lingua inglese, ma provo a farmi capire meglio. Il programma sociale ed economico di Fritz Kloppe comprendeva la costituzione di “soviet”, ergo di ‘consigli’?

      • Sort of. The Wehrwolf advocated the establishment of Economic Chambers for every municipality, district, and province/state, which would be made up of elected representatives from each occupational group. These Chambers would administer aspects of the economy. The Economic Chambers in each state would elect members to a nationwide Reich Economic Council, which would be responsible for national economic supervision. It was essentially a corporatist idea. The following quote is from the 1932 book Sinn und Gestaltung der großen deutschen Revolution, by Werner Schlegel, a Wehrwolf member. The book was published as a kind of catechism of the Wehrwolf movement’s ideas:

        The expropriation of today’s landowners, and the issuing of new loans under the new form of law, is the task of the District Economic Chambers, which are elected on the basis of the corporate principle [Ständeprinzip]. Each occupation elects its own representatives to the District Economic Chamber, ensuring there is no possibility of party-political influences acting in their own interest, and only the most capable representatives of the occupational membership are elected. The District Economic Chamber takes decisions in accordance with the principle of self-government, so that purely economic matters can never be adversely affected by political influence from above nor by bureaucratic obstruction. At the same time, the individual corporate structures which form the Economic Chambers have the task of acting as honor councils [Ehrenrat] for their occupational field, in order to support the vitally-needed uplifting of the economy – which has been demoralized by liberalism – into a new professional ethos.

        (An ‘honor council’ is a special advisory board. The term comes from the feudal era – originally Ehrenrat were high-level advisory groups within journeymen’s societies, made up of local prominent citizens.)

        Kloppe and the Wehrwolf were more corporatist than ‘councilist’, but there’s still a bit of overlap between corporatist and council ideas anyway, imo. Kloppe generally wasn’t very fond anything that was too communist – he had a feud for a time with Rudolf König (of the “junge Kämpfer”) which was partly based around König being too “pro-Bolshevik.” Weirdly, though, Kloppe and his followers became a recognized resistance group in East Germany after the War, and were actively involved in forming some branches of the NDPD. Kloppe joined the NDPD in April 1948.

  2. Bogumil,

    If there was something which binds the narratives of “Revolutionary People’s War or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?” and Karl Radek’s subsequent critique, it would arguably be their discussions 20th century geopolitics. My conclusion that the geopolitical conclusions of Laufenberg and Wolffheim in the previous ARPLAN Post remains valid here. Basically, the Liberal Capitalists sought to gain a worldwide hegemony since the Enlightenment, but what prevented them from succeeding until the 1990s was that they needed to dominate the Eurasian landmass. The only time in which they came close to failing was in 1941, when it seemed for a moment that the Eurasian landmass was going to be partitioned between the German Reich, Italy, the Soviet Union, Japan and possibly China (regardless of who won the Chinese Civil War). American unipolarity, which secured Neoliberalism’s world domination, could have also been contained at that particular point.

    The arguments posited by Radek are supportive of my conclusion, regardless of whether the German Reich is Pan-Germanic Socialist, National Bolshevist, or Marxist-Leninist. As long as the German-speaking world is not Liberal Capitalist, as in the cases of the Weimar Germany and West Germany, the Soviet Union and Post-Soviet Russia can rely on the Germans as an ally. But, as Radek pointed out, there are genuine limits as to how far the German-speaking world is willing to help the Soviets or the Russians. Even in today’s geopolitical climate, where Russia is still wrestling control of the Ukraine from the Jeffersonians and the EU/NATO, the Germans are more inclined toward being neutral than an active participant of either side. If the German-speaking world is not vying to create their own alliance, they are either neutral or trying to maintain concessions from both sides. That is the usual geopolitical position regarding Germany.

    Where Radek deviates from the conventional wisdom is when he raised the question of what sort of diplomatic relationship would the German-speaking world have with the Soviet Union. He insisted that whichever non-Neoliberal ideology the German-speaking world adopts, there was going to be the possibility of the Germans usurping the Soviet position in the worldwide proletarian movement. I am convinced that Radek was more or less anticipating the much later diplomatic relations that the Soviets had with the People’s Republic of China, the former Yugoslavia, and Albania. The Sino-Soviet, Yugoslav-Soviet, and Albanian-Soviet Splits each had their own motivations, but all three revolved around similar themes.

    -Is it better to have the “Class Struggle” be nationalized or recontextualized to suit the national essence of a particular nation?

    -Why should there be a multiplicity of different Socialisms and not just one definition for Socialism? If a nation’s version of Socialism was never intended by its creators to espouse any Marxist positions, does that constitute their Socialism as a form of “Revisionism?”

    -Who should lead the “World Revolution” against the Liberal Capitalists? Do all Socialist nations have to be part of the same alliance, or could they form their own alliances?

    -What becomes of Imperialism once Neoliberalism ceases to exist on the world stage? Is it possible to envisage Imperialism continuing as “Social Imperialism?”

    These questions have not ceased, nor have they been given proper resolutions, even after the dissolutions of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries. It remains to be seen as to whether the Socialist and Communist movements of the world are going to be properly address them. The ones in the Western world have no intentions of answering because so many are anti-nationalist, whereas the ones in the former Soviet Republics and China still lack their former ambitions. The Jeffersonian propaganda about the PRC surpassing the US on the world stage is a rhetorical holdover of much older propaganda about post-1945 Japan surpassing the US in the economic realm alone. Fortunately, the ARPLAN Blog has offered some clues on the most obvious outcome.

    I had previously stated in various comments on earlier ARPLAN Posts about the KPD and NSDAP that, had the German Reich survived past 1945, Pan-Germanic Socialism might have inspired the rise of various “National Socialisms” in the late 20th century. Instead of Marxism-Leninism or Liberal Capitalism, there would have been movements where Nationalists sought common cause with Socialists. While such “National Socialisms” will not be espousing Hitlerism or Strasserism, they will be advocating for Socialisms along national, cultural, religious, or ethnic lines. The most well-known historical candidates were those who advocated for Pan-Arabism or Pan-Africanism, the ideas of uniting the Middle East and Africa into either supranational states or blocs of nations, the latter proposal being in favor of an alliance that was neither pro-American nor pro-Soviet.

    Something similar would have occurred if the German Reich was National Bolshevik. Instead of “National Socialisms,” there would instead be “National Communisms,” allowing the aforementioned developments of the late 20th century to occur within the first half of the century. All the questions of Revisionism, Social Imperialism and Social Patriotism will gain prominence among Communist movements, as Socialist nations begin adopting Nationalistic positions. And whichever direction the German-speaking world chooses, it will be finding itself at odds with the Soviet Union if by trying to lead the World Revolution. The challenge then will be whether the Soviets and the Germans are able to find a working relationship at the diplomatic level.

    Overall, whichever way we look at it, Bogumil, we are looking at the great question of whether this alternate world order had any chance when it briefly emerged in 1941. It is clear to me that a multipolar world order would be far more preferable for the rest of the world than the bipolar and unipolar world orders that we eventually got. Germany and Russia would both play leading roles alongside several others. Every other nation would then be able to choose between adopting existing national ideas and developing their own. It would have made geopolitics much more interesting.


  3. Grazie mille Bogumil, molto interessante! Aspettiamo allora programmi e scritti sia di Kloppe sia del movimento di Gotthold Schild! Hai mai letto, invece, gli scritti di Michael Kühnen?

    • No, I haven’t read anything from Michael Kühnen, although I know who he is. I’m not quite as interested in post-WWI stuff, but I might still have a look at it sometime. Also, not sure if you’re aware of this, but there is some writing by Kloppe on the blog already 🙂

      • Si, quello scritto lo lessi, spero vi sia dell’altro! Circa il Kühnen te lo consiglio, ricalcando egli le posizioni della “sinistra NazionalSocialista” ed essendo contiguo alle proposizioni nazionalbolsceviche.

  4. Sorry for the off topic comment but I remember that you said previously the NSDAP were frequently in trouble with the law for violating the ‘trashy article’ section of the Weimar Constitution, but do you have any documents that talk about this? If not do you know any websites that archive old German newspapers? Thanks, take care

    • Hey, sorry for the very late reply on this – I only just saw your comment sitting in my unapproved queue. My apologies, not sure how that happened!

      Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of info on this, tbh. It’s not something I’ve looked into a lot. I do know that Article 118 of the Weimar Constitution was the provision against “trashy literature:”

      There is no censorship, but different provisions can be established by law for moving pictures. Legal measures are also permissible in order to combat trashy and obscene literature, as well as for the protection of the youth in public exhibitions and performances.

      Article 123 gave the state the right to ban open assemblies “in case of imminent danger for public security,” and paragraph 166 of the Criminal Code allowed application of punishments for anyone who “publicly insults one of the Christian churches or another existing religious society with rights of corporation in the federal jurisdiction, its institutions, or customs,” so there were various provisions in place for issuing controls on speech and the press against the NSDAP. One good source is the book Goebbels and Der Angriff by historian Russel Lemmons; there’s details in there on some of the legal battles Goebbels and his newspaper Der Angriff went through, particularly under the instigation of Berlin Police Vice-President Bernhard Weiss:

      During the first three years of the paper’s publication, however, libel suits were the only option open to victims of Der Angriff’s enmity who did not wish to let Goebbels’s insults pass unopposed. Weiss, the public figure most often attacked on the pages of the paper, was among the most frequent plaintiffs in these cases. He accused Der Angriff of libel at least three times during the first six months of the paper’s publication. These and subsequent suits brought against Goebbels and other leaders of the paper’s editorial staff had mixed success. While Goebbels, Duerr, or Lippert often received fines and prison terms as a result of these suits, Goebbels used his immunity as a member of the Reichstag to avoid serving jail terms. Further, these attacks upon Der Angriff served as ammunition for the paper’s propaganda against the system.

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