“The name of the path is class struggle. The goal is the nation.” The national-bolshevist perspective on class struggle, by ‘Social-Revolutionary Nationalist’ Georg Osten
Radicalization was one of the defining features of Germany’s youth movement in the late 1920s, as it was for so many other sectors of German society. The country’s ongoing economic difficulties, its continued ‘subjugation’ under foreign powers, the seemingly moribund culture of its dominant right-wing forces, and the increasing tendency of its nationalist paramilitaries and parties to participate in the political mainstream via electoral politics had all engendered a strong sense of frustration and disillusionment in many of the idealistic patriots who made up much of the youth movement. The dire circumstances brought about by the onset of the Great Depression heightened these sentiments dramatically, leading many young nationalists, already dabbling in anti-capitalist and anti-bourgeois sympathies, to the conclusion that there might actually be an element of truth to Marxist critiques of capitalism and imperialism after all. A growing sympathy and appreciation for communism developed within segments of the youth movement as a result, leading to the emergence of a new variety of left-wing nationalism and to numerous attempts at forging a common political front between the country’s national-revolutionary forces on the one hand and the Soviet-backed Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) on the other. The organization at the forefront of this new wave of ‘national-communism’ was the Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists (Gruppe sozialrevolutionärer Nationalisten, GSRN), founded on Ascension Day 1930 out of an amalgamation of various youth associations and one of the few entities to openly call itself “National Bolshevist.” Those affiliated with the GSRN, who like their principal spokesman Karl Otto Paetel were almost all intellectuals of middle-class origin, actively collaborated with the KPD and its front organizations and incorporated core conceits of revolutionary Marxism into their own nationalist worldview, proselytizing for a political ideology which placed Germany’s hopes for national liberation in the hands of the proletariat and in the ideal of violent class struggle. The article translated below, by Social-Revolutionary activist Georg Osten, presents the GSRN’s perspective on the issue of the class struggle and its centrality to the group’s nationalist ambitions. Originally published in national-revolutionary journal Die Kommenden in June 1930, Osten’s article was later reproduced in the 1930 booklet Sozialrevolutionärer Nationalismus, which effectively served as the GSRN’s programme for most of its existence.
Nationalism and Class Struggle
By Georg Osten
One certainly need not agree with Karl Marx’s thesis that all history is the history of class struggles in order to be capable of acknowledging that this proposition is at least thoroughly accurate to our time. There is no denying the fact that all struggles, of both a foreign-policy and domestic-political nature, take place upon the plane of economic struggle. Just a few years ago it was almost impossible to speak of class struggle as a historically-conditioned fact in circles which call themselves national or nationalist, but the events of the past seven years have brought about a remarkable transformation. It was previously considered good form, so to speak, to depict the class struggle as a perfidious invention of Jews and Freemasons who, in some clandestine gathering, had decided upon the destruction of the unified German nation [deutschen Einheitsvolkes]. Nobody wished to acknowledge that a development had taken place here which was conditioned by the expansion of industrial production capacities within the framework of the capitalist system.1
Only in more recent years has there been a growing understanding of the era-conditioned and natural processes known as ‘class struggles’. And yet already are our friends2 once again engaged in explaining that this notion has in actuality already been surmounted today, since a propertied class in the old sense no longer exists – and after all, every director, even in the largest companies, is only an employee of anonymous capital. Undoubtedly there is some truth to this argument. But they forget that what ultimately matters here in the end are facts, that a very significant proportion of the German Volk, on account of their bourgeois (class) educational privilege and the senseless contortion of the term ‘national’ into meaning ‘property protection’, feel compelled to (even without, in the strictest sense, actually belonging to the propertied class themselves) side with the numerically small group of actual capitalists and to thereby help stabilize the concept of this class. Furthermore, something which should not be overlooked is that very large segments of the middle-class, dispossessed by inflation, earnestly desire to see pre-war conditions restored, at least in terms of the economy, and thereby hope to become small capitalists again themselves. The lion’s share of the bourgeoisie have not yet realized that a process has occurred before our eyes which, in a certain sense, can already be termed a kind of ‘expropriation of the expropriators’, although for the time being this expropriation has taken place to the benefit of High Finance as the leading international global power. Incidentally, this development was foreseen by Marx and by his associates many decades beforehand. And in this context it is not without interest to cite the words of a well-known social-reformist: “Ever more powerfully are capital and labor shaping the means of power which they mobilize in their class struggles. These struggles are becoming ever more colossal, their goals ever more extensive; more and more do they move the whole of society, with every class growing more and more interested in the results. These social struggles are increasingly becoming the focal point of public life in our time. This, and not the mitigation of class antagonisms, is the consequence of the proletariat’s surmounting of the capitalist tendency towards impoverishment via its ascendancy in victorious class struggles.” (Karl Kautsky in the Heidelberg Programme of the SPD, page 15/16.)3
For the time being, however, we are inclined to seriously question the claim about the victorious class struggles of the proletariat. We Social-Revolutionaries in particular, who in our knowledge of the German position have drawn the only conclusion possible via our commitment to proletarian class solidarity, today see a growing consolidation of capitalist class rule rather than a more active groundswell of class struggle. The propertied upper strata of all peoples – whose constituent components, incidentally, consist overwhelmingly of purebred Aryans! – have understood brilliantly how, in crucial moments, to secure auxiliary troops through skillful speculation in the mentality of the lower and middle bourgeois classes, troops who are willing to sacrifice themselves with admirable selflessness for the supposedly threatened foundations of all morality and culture: private property.
We, who have long since thoroughly overcome the bourgeois aversion towards such established values as ‘proletariat’, ‘bourgeoisie’, and ‘class struggle’ – if we ever felt such at all – have reached the conclusion, from our understanding of the situation in Germany, that the destiny of this country and Volk, to whom our passionate love is dedicated, can in future only be shaped by that class which rightfully calls itself the proletariat. We have no thought of erecting anew a wall between ourselves and our comrades by inventing new terms and new words out of sentimental hesitancies. We ourselves, as dispossessed people defenselessly subjected to the capitalist system, understand and acknowledge that only one thing still connects us with those who even today stand protectively before the ruling system under the widest variety of different banners and slogans: insurmountable enmity. It is we in particular – as nationalists – who are liquidating, for the sake of the nation, the national unity which was once held so faithfully with these segments of the Volk, a unity which they themselves have squandered through their actions. This is the rupturing of the Volk into classes. We do not regret this rupture. Their ruling system means bondage [Unfreiheit], the nation’s subjugation to anonymous powers; it means the disenfranchisement of the working masses in favor of a class which comports itself with expectations of leadership whose legitimacy we do not acknowledge. We are convinced that even those circles who wish to fight for a ‘Third Reich’ with fascist means are fundamentally unwilling to alter the prevailing economic conditions. We must admit that the slogans disseminated therefrom could have deceived us, once; having since recognized their emptiness, we have drawn the necessary conclusions.
We affirm the class struggle, which was simply imposed upon the workers by the other side, as a fact. We do not do this for the sake of some abstract idea, but because one cannot abolish political realities by turning a blind eye to them. We are aware, however, that our goal can only be achieved through the fiercest intensification of prevailing contradictions. We do not desire reconciliation, nor reform, but a clear-cut decision.4 This decision will eventually lead to the transitional dictatorship of the exploited; whatever is required of us to bring about this dictatorship, we will do. Not out of romantic ideology, but because we are convinced that only this class will succeed in integrating the other groups, in absorbing them, thereby causing them to disappear and rendering their own class concept redundant.
It is clear that international ties with other oppressed peoples, and with the proletarian classes in every country, could be of vital importance for such a decision; whether they actually become so will be determined by the political and economic conditions in the groups and states concerned. At any rate, however, German nationalism – which is a staunch and principled opponent of all colonial policy and of imperialism – has no reason to reject any opportunity which could prove useful to it in the achievement of its goals. We know that our own Volk’s prosperity is best assured by the oppressed classes of today seizing power in other states as well. We know that a self-governing Volk founded upon the council system will be in a much better position to unite against and to confront imperialist encroachments than would be a Wilhelmine Germany or the Germany of today.
We desire the unity of the nation, a flourishing and free Germany. It has become clear to us that this goal is the same as that which the German proletariat is striving for under somewhat different terminology. Our hostile stance [Frontstellung] against capitalism, against imperialism, against their supporters and their bodyguards, the bourgeoisie, automatically ranks us with the proletariat. We welcome this united front with the working-class. It is simply a matter of course that in this unity we also affirm the path towards the common goal, the path of the proletariat, by which alone the nation, consciously and unconsciously, lives today. The name of this path is class struggle. The goal is the nation.
1. Both this paragraph and the next are actually one single, unified block of text in Osten’s original article. Because its overlarge size made parsing the paragraph’s content slightly unwieldy, I have chosen to break it into two here to heighten readability.
2. “Our friends” – i.e., other, more ‘right-wing’ nationalists. Osten is clearly employing the term ironically. Although the vast majority of the GSRN’s members had begun their political activities in the nationalist and national-revolutionary movements (starting out in organizations such as the NSDAP, DNVP, Stahlhelm, Young German Order, or patriotic youth associations like the Eidgenossen and Adler und Falken), their appreciation for German Communism and the Soviet Union alienated them from more conventional nationalists, who viewed them as ‘Leninist’ troublemakers under the sway of a repugnant foreign ideology. This was the case even with fellow radicals operating at the fringes of Germany’s nationalist political scene; an attempt to forge an alliance with Otto Strasser’s followers broke down under Strasser’s refusal to countenance the idea of collaboration with the KPD. Osten makes his disapproval for these “friends” more explicit later in the article, when he describes the GSRN “liquidating, for the sake of the nation, the national unity which was once held so faithfully” with them and with others still willing to take up arms for the capitalist system.
3. The Heidelberg Programme was adopted by the Social-Democratic Party on 18 September 1925, replacing the more ‘revisionist’ 1921 Görlitz Programme, which had downplayed certain radical elements of Marxist theory and had repositioned the SPD from a Klassenpartei of the proletariat to a reform-oriented people’s party fighting for the “Volksgemeinschaft” and all “working Volk of town and country.” The Heidelberg Programme was intended to reorient the SPD back more towards the left, with a stronger emphasis placed upon traditional proletarian interests.
4. “Decision” – It is very likely a coincidence, but the German word for decision (“Entscheidung”) is also the title of Ernst Niekisch’s third book, published in early 1930; Niekisch and his ideas were influential with the GSRN, at least during the early months of its existence (the group later turned away from Niekisch as his philosophies grew increasingly radical, far too radical even for the National Bolshevists in the GSRN). A description of Entscheidung’s content is provided in historian James J. Ward’s 1973 dissertation Between Left and Right: Ernst Niekisch and National Bolshevism in Weimar Germany:
Published in early 1930, this book mirrored the apocalyptic mood that was sweeping Germany’s extremist population. It was full of prophecies of doom and appeals for insurrection and revolution. It contended that Germany could be saved only by “politicians of catastrophe” – men willing to sacrifice everything in pursuit of national freedom – and lauded the virtues of famine, plague, and massacre. At one point Niekisch even labelled civil war a “way station” (Durchgangsstation) through which Germany had to pass and announced that he looked forward to a battle in the streets between the “revolutionary arsonist” and the “conservative fireman.”