Going Red

Reichswehr Lieutenant Richard Scheringer’s infamous 1931 conversion from National Socialism to the Communist Party of Germany

On 4 October, 1930, three young Reichswehr officers from the Fifth Artillery Regiment in Ulm were sentenced by the Federal Court in Leipzig to 18 months’ imprisonment for the crime of preparing to commit high treason. Radicalized by Germany’s ongoing domestic instability and international weakness, and motivated by a contempt for the ‘old order’ and for the older generation of Reichswehr officers, these three young men – Richard Scheringer, Hanns Ludin, and Hans Wendt – had been caught disseminating National Socialist propaganda within army garrisons and attempting to foment support for a prospective ‘national revolution’ among the officer corps, hoping in this way to foster a sense of nationalist-anticapitalist radicalism within the Reichswehr which would help prepare it for its role as a ‘people’s army’ in the event of a nationalist uprising. The ‘Ulm Reichswehr trial’ was a highly publicized event within Germany (Hitler famously gave testimony to the court, defending his party against accusations of treason), and the fate of the three young officers became a cause célèbre for nationalists in Germany, who regarded them as martyrs for the cause of the Fatherland. There was thus something of a sensation among the German public when, in early 1931, one of the Ulm officers publicly announced his decision to ‘convert’ to Communism: Richard Scheringer. During their incarceration in the Gollnow fortress-prison, Scheringer and Wendt had become friendly with the institution’s many Communist inmates, and through long political debates with his new comrades Scheringer in particular had increasingly come to doubt the substance and validity of National Socialist doctrine. Helped along in his conversion by the allure of the Communist Party of Germany’s (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) ‘programme for the national and social liberation of the German people,’ as well as by the poor impression left by the NSDAP leaders he had met since his imprisonment, Scheringer finally decided to renounce ‘fascism’ and to throw his lot in with the cause of Marxism-Leninism instead, and a declaration to this effect was read out in the Reichstag by KPD deputy Hans Kippenberger on 19 March, 1931. Scheringer’s jump to Communism was heralded as a great victory by KPD publications, as the forerunner of many more conversions to come, and the party was eager to make as much political capital from the event as it could. Scheringer was swiftly incorporated into the party’s ‘national and social’ propaganda strategy, with the young ex-officer set to work writing propaganda material from his cell in Gollnow, and his name was attached to a new journal explicitly directed at winning over disillusioned, socially-conscious nationalists and soldiers. Translated below are three pieces related to Scheringer and his decision to cross the barricades and ‘go red’: an extract from Kippenberger’s Reichstag speech, in which he reads out Scheringer’s declaration for the ‘red front’; an article from KPD daily Die Rote Fahne discussing the reaction to Scheringer’s decision and its significance for German Communism; and a Communist propaganda leaflet penned by Scheringer and addressed to  rebellious members of the Berlin SA, an example of the type of material which the KPD hoped would help convince idealistic National Socialists and help create more Scheringers to swell the ranks of the “fighting proletariat.” 

Scheringer Declares for German Communism
From the 1931 Verhandlungen des Reichstags, vol. 445.

Scheringer’s declaration announcing his ideological conversion to Marxism-Leninism was first made public to the German people by Communist Reichstag deputy Hans Kippenberger on 19 March 1931, read out towards the conclusion of a speech given during an otherwise unremarkable parliamentary debate on the issue of defense spending. Scheringer and Kippenberger had become acquainted only a month or so beforehand, meeting over a glass of schnapps in a smoke-filled Gollnow workers’ pub while Scheringer was out of prison on a weekend furlough. During their meeting Scheringer had stressed to Kippenberger that his decision to ‘go red’ was sincere and that he was especially committed to “warning the Volk about Hitler”, whom he had met and not been particularly impressed by. Kippenberger for his part had emphasized to Scheringer the anti-pacifist credentials of the KPD, assuring him of the party’s commitment to revolution and to building a powerful German Red Army. Scheringer was especially impressed by Kippenberger’s martial background (Kippenberger was a decorated WWI veteran and the leader of the KPD’s underground paramilitary apparatus), which helped reassure him of the correctness of his decision and of Kippenberger’s suitability for conveying that decision to the world. For the sake of brevity I have only translated an extract of Kippenberger’s speech, the end portion which deals specifically with the NSDAP and with Scheringer, the rest being concerned with the rather dull topic of Reichswehr funding issues. The translation has been made from the Reichstag stenographic transcripts for 1931. – Bogumil 

Extract from KPD Deputy Hans Kippenberger’s Speech
to the German Reichstag of 19 March, 1931.

KIPPENBERGER (KPD): …But I would here like to point out another fact with reference to the relationship between the Reichswehr, the National Socialists, and, moreover, the Social-Democrats: that in the Reichstag faction of the National Socialist Party there are 25 deputies who, from 1918 to 1920, fought against the workers as members of the Freikorps. This means that there are 25 National Socialist members of the Reichstag who, according to the Reichstag Handbook, boast of having helped erect the Versailles System and of helping to set the Weimar Republic in the saddle through blood, terror, and murder

(“Very true!” from the Communists)

together with Noske and with Herr Groener.1 If we review the list of 25 National Socialist murderers who are today drawing parliamentary allowances from the Republic, then we can extend their ranks directly to Social-Democracy –

(The President’s bell sounds)

VICE-PRESIDENT VON KARDOFF: Herr Deputy Kippenberger, I call you to order.2

KIPPENBERGER (KPD): – not only via a Winnig or a Grützner,3 who have also outwardly demonstrated their spiritual kinship through their open conversion to the NSDAP, but also in such a way that the 25 on this side here (to the right) include at the very least Herr Wels as the chairman of the party over on that side,4 who played exactly the same role and function.

When the National Socialists grandstand here as opponents and enemies of this republic, we then remind them of the historical fact that, together with Social-Democracy, they created the preconditions for this republic of exploitation, as well as the wretched plight of Germany’s working people. These circumstances, in combination with the living of one’s life, which sooner or later will also present the soldiers in the Reichswehr with the problem of deciding for Groener, for Thyssen’s moneybags, for Herr Brüning, for Herr Wels, or else for the broad masses of the Volk,5 will also bring the soldiers to the point where they settle in practice for the revolutionary front.

The Ulm trial is a symptom of this; we evaluate it as such, as evidence that social and revolutionary tendencies are winning out within the Reichswehr, and even if the National Socialist Party attempts with its demagogy to divert and twist these tendencies it will not succeed with the young, lively elements who are fresh and unspent, not even among the Ulm officers, who are of a type among the class of troop officers and front-line officers who recognize that there are no ideals for them in this republic and that this republic cannot provide them. They are of the type of young officer who undertakes hands-on experience with the masses of enlisted men and soldiers; who understands that hunger, misery, and unemployment are not ideals; who sees no future – but who, conversely, witnesses the development of Russia and the fulfillment of the Five Year Plan, is enthralled by the mighty strength of the Red Army, and who feels and comprehends that the Red Army was only able to become strong and powerful because it has been politicized. Solely because of that! Not because it has been depoliticized, but because its emphasis lies upon politicization, on bringing the soldiers over to the masses of the Volk where they belong. This bond with the Volk makes the Red Army strong, something which even military experts cannot help but admit.

It is therefore no wonder that, according to my information, one of the Ulm officers, with the consent of his two other comrades [Kameraden],6 set out a declaration which I would like to briefly put on the record, and which reads:

The objective in the struggle of the revolutionary German youth is the liberation of the German Volk. Liberation means:

Elimination of the capitalist system!

The tearing up of the peace-diktats, from Versailles to Young!

Recognizing that this objective can only be achieved by means of force, I became a soldier. Like my comrades, as a front-line soldier I took the view that the 100,000-man-army must become the core force of a future people’s liberation army. This idea stood in stark contrast to the position of the Army Command, for the desk-generals, as the tools of the prevailing powers-that-be, see the Reichswehr merely as an instrument of the Young-Republic, as a security detail for capitalism. Hence when we Ulm officers encouraged within the army the idea of national and social liberation by any means possible, arrest warrants were issued following our denunciation. After seven months in custody we were sentenced to 1½ years fortress imprisonment by the Reich Court in Leipzig.

Since both the officer witnesses as well as the accused declared ourselves in favor of the idea of national and social liberation, the trial was brilliant propaganda for the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. We – and with us the broad masses of the Volk – believed our ideas to be embodied within the NSDAP.

Anyone who today compares the practical policies of the National Socialist leaders with their radical slogans recognizes that their actions stand in sharp contrast to what they say and write and what we expected of them.

The practical policies of these leaders are characterized by the following facts:

1. In the course of recent months they have unambiguously renounced socialism.

2. They have sanctified private property.

3. They have represented the interests of capitalists against the interests of the proletariat in economic conflicts and internal political disputes.

4. They have not harmed a hair on the capitalists’ heads, but have organized terror against the proletariat.

5. They have voted against the tearing-up of the Young Plan.

6. They have acknowledged Germany’s indebtedness to international finance-capital.

7. They have impeded Germany’s withdrawal from the League of Nations.

8. They have come to an understanding with the desk-generals.

9. They have deeply cultivated a Byzantism within their own ranks which stinks to high Heaven.

The party-leadership has thereby clearly demonstrated its reactionary character; the betrayal is obvious.

The capitalist Western powers have joined forces once again to further suppress and exploit productive Germany and to take action against the Russian council-republics. But Hitler and Rosenberg, who ostensibly wish to liberate the Reich, grovel together with the German bourgeoisie, with Brüning and Groener, to the capitalist bandit-states. The path of Stresemann and Breitscheid7 is impossible for anyone who is really sincere about liberation. Only in alliance with the Soviet Union, after the capitalist system in Germany has been destroyed, can we become free. It is important to consider the consequences. Lenin showed the way when, shortly before the Bolshevist October Revolution, he proclaimed the objectives of revolutionary war to be the defence of the proletarian Fatherland against the imperialist bandit-states and intervention forces:

“We shall become ‘defencists’, we shall place ourselves at the head of the war parties.  We shall become the most ‘warlike’ of parties, we shall conduct the war in a truly revolutionary manner. We shall take away all the bread and boots from the capitalists. We shall leave them only breadcrumbs, shall dress them in bast shoes. We shall send all the bread and footwear to the front.” (Letter to the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks, September 1917.).8

The Communist Party of Germany stands by these words from its great leader. During the deliberations over this year’s defence budget, the Communist Reichstag faction issued the following declaration:

“In opposition to hypocritical and petty-bourgeois pacifism, the Communist Reichstag faction declares: The Communists are for the militarization of the entire working Volk, for a responsive and combat-ready German Red Army!”

There can no longer be any doubt, liberty resides solely with the revolutionary workers, peasants, and soldiers. Here is the place for all honest fighters – not with the guards of Reaction. I therefore definitively renounce Hitler and Fascism and align myself as a soldier in the front of the militant proletariat.

For the revolutionization and arming of the broad masses!.

For national and social liberation!

For work, freedom, and bread!

Gollnow, 18th March 1931.

signed Scheringer,
fmr. Reichswehr Lieutenant.

I do not want to weaken this declaration with further remarks. But these facts speak for themselves, and this appeal will not go unheeded by our comrades, by the soldiers in the Reichswehr.

(Cheers from the Communists)

They will have to decide whether for Groener, for Hitler, for Breitscheid, or for the national and social revolution in Germany, i.e. for the creation of a free, powerful, strong Soviet Germany, for the establishment of a German Red Army.

(Lively cheering and clapping from the Communists)

The Communist Party Declares for Scheringer
From the Rote Fahne of 20 March, 1931.

The response to Scheringer’s declaration was immediate, with the young ex-Lieutenant inundated by correspondence and curious visitors from across the political spectrum. Members of his family and of his nationalist friend group were particularly earnest to see him, worried that he might be suffering from a form of “prison psychosis.” The bourgeois and Social-Democratic press put out articles arguing that Scheringer’s conversion vindicated the perception that there were few genuinely substantial differences between National Socialism and Communism, and that those minor differences which did separate them were becoming increasingly blurred as ‘national-bolshevist’ sentiments rose among the youth. While some within the grass-roots of the Communist Party were skeptical of Scheringer’s conversion, believing that he was still primarily motivated (whether consciously or not) by reactionary impulses about what was best for Germany rather than what was best for the international proletariat, the official position of the party was celebratory. The article below appeared in the KPD’s central party organ Die Rote Fahne the day after Kippenberger’s speech, afforded front page column space. It summarizes the general reaction to Scheringer’s decision and goes on to describe it as an “event of symptomatic importance,” predicting that it would act as the catalyst for many more members of the “working nationalist intelligentsia” to turn their backs on National Socialism in favor of the KPD. – Bogumil

Reichswehr Officer for the Communist Party:
The Fundamentals Concerning Lieutenant Scheringer’s Step

In the course of the Reichstag debate on the defence budget, the Communist deputy, comrade Kippenberger, read out a declaration by Reichswehr Lieutenant Scheringer who, as is well-known, was sentenced to a long fortress imprisonment during the Ulm officers’ trial. Lieutenant Scheringer publicly avows his withdrawal from the National Socialist Party and has pledged himself to the Communist Party of Germany. This courageous step by a former National Socialist provoked a tremendous commotion among the general public. The bourgeoisie was stricken with terror. The newspapers of the present regime occupy themselves with Scheringer’s declaration in lengthy, multi-column editorials. They conjure up the specter of National Bolshevism. They tremble at the idea that not only are there National Socialist cells in the Reichswehr, but also officers and soldiers whose hearts beat for the working-class’s struggle for liberation.

Reichswehr Lieutenant Scheringer’s conversion from the camp of Fascism to the Red Front of the Communist proletariat is, as a matter of fact, an event of symptomatic importance. We welcome Scheringer’s decision as new evidence for the immovable power of the Communist idea, for the irresistible power of world-conquering Marxism, which is seizing not only the working masses, not only the many millions of working people in city and country, but is already wrenching the best and most honest opponents of the Young Plan and of national servitude from the ranks of Reaction and into the binding circle of socialism.

Scheringer worked his way through to his step via a hard struggle of conscience, via a fervent battle to find the right way out. We salute this deed not so much for the sake of the individual person, but because it promises to point the way for an entire strata of the working nationalist intelligentsia. Disappointed, disgusted, and desperate, hundreds – perhaps thousands – of members of the middle-class are turning away from the ignominious corruption and blood-flecked wickedness of National Socialism. Only a few have taken the path to Communism until now. But the entire pressure of circumstances, the development of the class struggle, the staggering ascent of our Bolshevik movement in Germany, these guarantee for us that thousands will follow after these few.

The working-class, free from prejudice and from petty-bourgeois desires for revenge, extends its hand to men like Scheringer without hesitation. In every preceding proletarian revolution, from the Paris Commune to the Bolshevik Soviet Revolution, numerous officers affiliated themselves with the militant proletariat. We will give Scheringer and all who follow his example the opportunity to serve the proletariat to the best of their ability. We do this all the more enthusiastically when it comes to outstanding military specialists, gas officers,9 and gifted group combat tacticians of the modern infantry like Scheringer. Isn’t that so, dear editors of the Ullstein-Press?10 Isn’t that so, Herr Groener, Herr Severing,11 Herr Goebbels? We do not believe we are disclosing any confidence when we suggest that Scheringer’s step will not remain isolated. Names and addresses are irrelevant in this context. Naturally we are committed – like Hitler – to the strictest legality.12

In order to confuse the workers, Social-Democracy will dig up its old shelf-warmers about ‘National Bolshevism’. Well clear of the mark, dear gentlemen! We neither are nor ever were National Bolsheviks. We are Bolsheviks from start to finish, and nothing else. We fight for the social and national liberation of the working Volk, for the socialist people’s revolution [sozialistische Volksrevolution] in Germany. We do not yield an inch of concessions to the older varieties of nationalism. We are internationalists right down to the marrow of our bones. We place the fate of the French and Polish proletariat, our class-brothers, a thousand times higher than the fate of the decaying capitalism within our own country. We are working with all of our strength to overthrow capitalism within our own country and to establish workers’ power in fraternal alliance with the proletarians of all lands. We are uncompromising, valiant, militant Marxists. Whoever rejects Marxism is our enemy. Hence why we contemptuously rebuff, for example, the genuinely fascist, thoroughly reactionary ‘anti-Marxism’ of an Otto Strasser.

Whoever comes to us does not have to come over to us completely. Anyone who transfers to Communism from the enemy camp must wish to help the working-class, not lead or instruct it. Those who come over to us are tested and tested yet again until they have conclusively proven themselves in the struggle.

The horror from those presently in power at a Reichswehr Lieutenant’s dedication to the Communist Party only shows how fragile the basis of the present regime is. Every revolutionary worker will rejoice at the nervous panic of the enemy, and will continue his revolutionary work with even greater enthusiasm and even greater conviction.

Richard Scheringer, Red Propagandist
A 1931 propaganda leaflet aimed at
National Socialists.

During their initial meeting in Gollnow, Kippenberger had underlined for Scheringer that, in contrast to past promises made to him by officials from the NSDAP and SA, there would be no special advantages for him in going over to the KPD, that his decision would not automatically equate to a seat in the Reichstag nor to a position of influence within the party. In actual fact, Scheringer never actually joined the KPD until after the War; there was no opportunity to do so while still in fortress imprisonment, and as his sentence was extended due to his Communist activities he ended up not being released until 1933, by which time the party had gone underground. (Ironically Scheringer was only released after Hitler had attained power, with Hanns Ludin and Walter von Reichenau successfully lobbying President Hindenburg to issue him a pardon). Scheringer was still put to work by the Communists regardless, enthusiastically penning a number of tracts and articles which were smuggled out of his cell and published for distribution. The leaflet below was produced in April 1931 and intended as an open letter to the members of the Berlin SA, who were undergoing considerable turmoil at the time – a faction of the Stormtroopers under Walter Stennes, the SA regional leader for eastern Germany, had recently rebelled and left the party to form their own rival National Socialist organization. Winning over such National Socialists was an important goal for Communists in the 1930s, with Scheringer serving as a valuable figurehead for such efforts. – Bogumil

To the Berlin SA
A Letter From fmr. Lieutenant Scheringer

The revolt of the National Socialist Stormtroopers against the swindlers in Munich, under the leadership of Captain Stennes,13 has greatly accelerated the inevitable process of disintegration within the NSDAP. My decision of 18 March to finally break with Hitler’s fascist policy and to incorporate myself openly and unreservedly into the front of the revolutionary and militant proletariat has once again been justified by the subsequent course of events.

So far, Captain Stennes and his SA have stopped halfway. They have not yet found the strength to also make a total ideological break with Hitler and Goebbels and with the counter-revolutionary NSDAP. Instead of siding decisively with the revolutionary struggle for the social and national liberation of the working Volk, they have made themselves ‘independent’ with the intention of achieving a kind of rebirth of National Socialism. Instead of demonstrating the courage to be consistent, Stennes and his subordinates engage in horse-trading with such political bankrupts as Major Pabst, who openly serves Mussolini’s interests;14 with Captain Ehrhardt, who works actively for France;15 and with Otto Strasser, who oscillates helplessly between the fronts.

What does Stennes want? Does he believe that with such methods he will, in the long run, discourage the SA proletarians and all active elements who are sincere about the struggle against international capital and imperialist subjugation from joining the front of the fighting proletariat? Does he believe that in doing so he is differentiating himself from Marxism, even though the revolt of his SA constitutes a splendid vindication of Marxism? Does he believe that with his wavering attitude he will be able to cleanse himself of the suspicion of “Bolshevist machinations,” even though the bourgeoisie, through their mouthpiece Goebbels, have already explicitly described the feeble and half-hearted efforts of the current SA revolt against Hitler as intrigues by Bolshevik elements? Have Stennes and the SA still not yet grasped that their role in the past served only capitalist exploitation, the Weimar system, and, ultimately, the servitude of Versailles and Young?

Stennes was a faithful servant of the Social-Democrat Heine, who entrusted him with being “on alert for special assignment” and who promoted him to the rank of Captain for his services in the interests of the bourgeoisie and of Social-Democracy!16 His motto was: “I’ll shoot anybody!” Does he always place such emphasis on being the condottiero of Reaction? Can one fight for freedom and shoot workers?.

Stennes is now faced with a decision! Hitler purged the NSDAP and the Stormtroopers of all socialist, revolutionary elements. If Stennes for his part now attempts to play the role of Führer in the Third Reich, if he comports himself with the pseudo-socialist slogans of his former boss, then he cannot escape the reactionary wake of Hitler and Seldte.17 He will indeed never attain the significance of these demagogues of the past, but will, like them, become a wrecker [Schädling] of social and national liberation. While the process of transferring the proletarian and militant elements from the counter-revolutionary to the revolutionary camp will also pass Stennes by, with the breakneck escalation of the economic and political crisis every confusion and every obfuscation of the clearly-drawn fronts signifies wasted blood and greater sacrifice. If he takes that path, then Stennes is our enemy and deserves the same fate as Hitler and company.

Former comrades of the SA, you must dare to plunge into the camp of victorious Communism! If you remain on the other side of the barricade then you will remain the stooges of the Young-Republic and will be destroyed together with the decaying bourgeoisie under the blows of the people’s revolution.

SA proletarians! Draw the right conclusions from the example of the NSDAP, from the betrayal and deception of your leaders! Half-measures cannot help you. Do not allow yourselves to be ensnared by political sectarians! But also do not despair of liberation; instead, cast everything behind you and come over to us!

We will form the German Red Army of workers, peasants, and soldiers! We will tear up the peace treaties! In a joint struggle with the oppressed of all countries, we will shatter international capitalism!

Only the Communist Party can organize the struggle for social and national liberation and lead it to victory!

Scheringer, fortress-prisoner.
Gollnow, 3 April 1931.

Translator’s Notes

1. Gustav Noske (b.1868 – d.1946) was the Social-Democratic Minister of Defense from February 1919 to March 1920. Wilhelm Groener (b.1867 – d.1939) had succeeded General Ludendorff as Quartermaster-General of the German Army in October 1918. From 1919 to 1920, Noske and Groener worked together to put down numerous far-left uprisings throughout Germany, part of a pact of mutual support made between the army and the Social-Democratic government of the period.

2. Siegfried von Kardorff (b.1873 – d.1945) was a politician for the center-right German People’s Party (Deutsche Volkspartei, DVP). He served as Vice-President of the Reichstag Presidium during the 4th and 5th legislative sessions, from 1928 to 1932.

3. August Winnig (b.1878 – d.1956) was a trade-union leader and senior Social-Democratic politician who had fallen in with the pro-war, ‘far-right’ wing of the Social-Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) during WWI. Winnig was expelled from the SPD after throwing his support behind the 1920 Kapp Putsch, and subsequently drifted into national-bolshevist and conservative-revolutionary circles; for a time he was a leader of the Old Social-Democratic Party, although he never actually joined the NSDAP, as Kippenberger states here. Walther Grützner (b.1881 – d.1951) was, like Winnig, also a former SPD politician and government administrator who had served in various prestigious positions throughout his career, including a stint acting as Senate President of the Prussian Higher Administrative Court in Berlin. He was expelled from the SPD in 1931 as the result of repeated scandals (most seeming to relate to outspoken and obnoxious behavior), after which he joined the NSDAP, although there was considerable hesitation within the National Socialist Party over accepting his membership due to his poor reputation.

4. Otto Wels (b.1873 – d.1939) was the longtime chairman of the SPD, serving in the position from 1919 to 1939. During the November Revolution Wels had been appointed the civilian military commander of Berlin. As such, he was blamed by the Communists for various violent clashes which occurred between the military and the Spartacists at the time, such as an infamous incident on 6 December 1918 in which soldiers under Wels’s command machine-gunned a group of Spartacist demonstrators marching towards the center of Berlin, killing sixteen and wounding twelve. There was no conclusive evidence that Wels had ordered the attack (he insisted he had ordered the troops only to use force if they met active resistance, and that they had fired in panic after being shot at by someone in the crowd), but he was roundly condemned by the Left for having initiated a massacre of allegedly unarmed protestors. Kippenberger’s rhetoric here attempting to connect Wels (and the SPD as a whole) to the National Socialists was part of a Communist strategy of the period in which the Social-Democrats were branded as “Social-Fascists,” i.e. as the moderate wing of a broader ‘fascist’ movement which also included their alleged ideological bedfellows, the “National-Fascist” NSDAP.

5. Fritz Thyssen (b.1873 – d.1951) was a leading industrialist in Germany, one of the few who was an enthusiastic supporter of National Socialism before 1933. Heinrich Brüning (b.1885 – d.1970) was Chancellor of Germany at the time of Kippenberger’s speech, a Center Party politician who was very unpopular with the Left for his social conservatism and for initiating massive cuts to government spending and social services.

6. Kippenberger is somewhat overstating the case here. Hanns Ludin and Hans Wendt, who had been convicted alongside Scheringer in the Ulm Reichswehr trial, were sympathetic to his change of heart and had gone through a similar crisis of conscience during their own imprisonments (Wendt was imprisoned with Scheringer in the Gollnow fortress-prison, while Ludin had been sent to a separate fortress in Rastatt, Baden; Wendt and Scheringer kept in touch with Ludin regularly by post). Ultimately, however, neither was willing to follow Scheringer into the Marxist camp, so their “consent” only went so far. Wendt was convinced that the best course lay with the renegade National Socialists around Otto Strasser and Walter Stennes, and he threw his lot in with their efforts after leaving prison. Ludin had at one point seemed quite close to joining Scheringer, writing in a letter that: “Without the proletariat, no liberation can be expected. The NSDAP no longer has any slogan for the proletariat. I see this opinion of mine as being confirmed by Richard’s statements. The majority of the German people are now proletarian.” Despite his misgivings, however, Ludin in the end chose to stay with the NSDAP and made a rapid career within the SA after leaving prison in June 1931. Despite their divergent paths, Ludin and Scheringer remained close friends for the rest of their lives.

7. Gustav Stresemann (b.1878 – d.1929) was a DVP politician who had served as German Chancellor for several months in 1923 and as Foreign Minister from 1923 to 1929. Rudolf Breitscheid (b.1874 – d.1944) was a leading Social-Democrat, one of the SPD’s most prominent spokesmen on foreign policy issues. Both men supported the fulfillment of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles (while opposing the Treaty itself on principle), and Breitscheid had worked closely with Stresemann in negotiating the Dawes Plan in 1924, factors which made them unpopular with both the KPD and the NSDAP.

8. An English translation of the full text of Lenin’s letter is available on the Marxists Internet Archive. Note that the word “defencists” in the extract here was part of socialist terminology during the years of the Great War, employed by pro-war socialists to describe their position as supporters of their countries’ respective war efforts (Lenin, as an opponent of the Great War, is thus using the term somewhat facetiously). In Scheringer’s original German, the word actually used is “Vaterlandsverteidigern,” which translates literally as “defenders of the Fatherland” or “Fatherland-defenders.”

9. The Treaty of Versailles officially forbade Germany from manufacturing or importing poison gas. Germany was also a signatory of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, part of an international effort to officially outlaw the use of chemical and bacteriological weapons. Despite this, Germany (as with many other nations who had signed the Protocol) still maintained “gas officers” and “gas protective officers” within its military apparatus, men who were trained in the use of gas weapons, gas protective equipment, and medical techniques for treating gas-related injuries.

10. The Ullstein-Verlag was one of the largest publishing houses in Europe during the inter-war era, producing a number of popular newspapers (like the Vossiche Zeitung, Berliner Morgenpost, and the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung) which tended towards liberal-democratic center-left or center-right political positions, usually with a pro-business and pro-industrialist slant. Its owners, the Ullstein family, were ethnically Jewish.

11. Carl Severing (b.1875 – d.1952) was a leading Social-Democrat and, at the time, the Reich Minister of the Interior. Severing was particularly hated by the Communists for being an avowed enemy of political extremism, equally as vocal in his criticisms of the KPD as he was towards right-wing groups like the Stahlhelm and NSDAP. Severing was especially reviled as a consequence of the events of May 1929, when he had issued a nationwide ban on the KPD paramilitary (the Red Front Fighters’ League) in the aftermath of bloody riots between Communists and the police.

12. This is meant as a somewhat ironic statement. During the Ulm Reichswehr trial, Hitler had been called by the Reich Court in Leipzig to give testimony about his party’s intentions. Hitler used the public venue to flatly declare before the German people that, while “heads would roll” after the NSDAP had attained government, his party was in the meantime committed to achieving power solely by legal means rather than through violent revolution. While this declaration did much to increase Hitler’s standing among the German bourgeoisie, it was somewhat shocking for Scheringer, Ludin, and Wendt, who until that point had been convinced that the NSDAP constituted the most vital social-nationalist revolutionary force within the German Republic. To the young officers, Hitler’s behavior at the trial amounted to an open commitment to the principles of parliamentarism, a troubling confession which sparked their first genuine doubts about the validity of National Socialism’s ideals. The Rote Fahne article is alluding to Hitler’s vow of legality at the trial (painted by Communist propaganda as an act of “treachery” against his followers) by claiming, with obvious tongue in cheek, that the KPD does not encourage Reichswehr officers to violate the law by associating themselves with the Communist Party, because “like Hitler” it is “committed to the strictest legality.”

13. Walter Stennes (b.1895 – d.1983) was a WWI veteran, Freikorps member, and former police official who had joined the NSDAP in 1927 and quickly became one of the central leaders of the SA. Like many in the SA, Stennes had become frustrated with the NSDAP’s gradual move towards legality and conservatism, marked by its heightened electoral participation, its reigning in of the SA’s more violent paramilitary activities, and its alliance in the Harzburg Front with ‘reactionary’ groups like the Stahlhelm and DNVP. These changes marked a shift of emphasis within National Socialism in which the ‘revolutionary’ wing of the movement (the SA) felt undermined and undervalued by the political wing (the party); exacerbating these sentiments was a perception that the SA was being insufficiently funded and resourced by the NSDAP HQ in Munich. In response, Stennes in August 1930 led a minor revolt among the Berlin SA, an uprising which only ended when Hitler met with the rebels and agreed to accede to many of their demands. In late March 1931 Stennes again led a second revolt within the Berlin SA, raising similar complaints as before while also calling for the dismissal of Ernst Röhm, the recently-appointed SA Chief of Staff. This time Hitler responded by expelling Stennes from the party, with Stennes and his supporters throughout Germany (numbering around 8-10,000 members of the SA and Hitler Youth in total) going on to form their own short-lived rival group, the National Socialist Fighting Community of Germany (Nationalsozialistische Kampfgemeinschaft Deutschlands, NSKD), in association with the followers of Otto Strasser, who had also recently left the NSDAP.

14. Major Waldemar Pabst (b.1880 – d.1970) was a former German military officer who had been actively involved in the 1919 murders of Rosa Luxemberg and Karl Liebknecht. He was also one of the central figures behind the organization of the 1920 Kapp Putsch. Pabst was an ideological Fascist; after settling in Austria following the failure of the Kapp uprising, he became a leader of the far-right Austrian Heimwehren and acted as a liaison between the Heimwehr and nationalist groups in Germany. While in Austria he had continued his attempts at putschism, plotting with members of the Heimwehr to bring a pro-German government to power.

15. Captain Hermann Ehrhardt (b.1881 – d.1971) was a German naval officer and Freikorps leader who, during the 1920s and 1930s, acted as the wirepuller behind a variety of different coup attempts and intrigues against the Weimar Republic. From the mid-1920s onwards his machinations received considerable financial backing from industrialist circles, who saw Ehrhardt and his efforts as a bulwark against leftist revolution in Germany. In the early 1920s Ehrhardt had developed a strong distaste for Hitler through personal involvement with the NSDAP leader in the Bavarian nationalist scene, and his particular goal after 1930 was to establish a broad front of national-socialist, conservative, and anti-communist forces which, in alliance with the Reichswehr, would be able to stifle Hitler’s influence while simultaneously suppressing both the KPD and the Weimar system itself. Ehrhardt saw Stennes as a key resource for the establishment of this ‘united front’, providing Stennes and his followers with a newspaper, salaries, and clandestine funding from industry, and also secretly arranging an alliance between them and Otto Strasser’s Fighting Community of Revolutionary National Socialists (Kampfgemeinschaft Revolutionärer Nationalsozialisten, KGRNS) which resulted in the formation of the NSKD on 7 June, 1931. The NSKD was a very short-lived organization; when Ehrhardt’s involvement leaked out to the general public by the end of June, the result was a massive public scandal and internal destabilization, with many of Otto Strasser’s followers in particular expressing fury that Strasser had been secretly making deals with, and taking money from, an “arch-reactionary” like Ehrhardt. In the ensuing uproar Stennes broke ties with Strasser and the NSKD essentially imploded, with many of its cadres splitting into national-bolshevist organizations or going over wholesale to the KPD.

16. Wolfgang Heine (b.1861 – d.1944) was the Social-Democratic Interior Minister of Prussia from March 1919 to March 1920. During the Kapp Putsch he had stayed behind in Berlin and attempted to negotiate with the putschists while much of the rest of the government fled to Dresden; the fact that the putschists offered him a government position, and that he had not adequately anticipated the possibility of a revolution from the Right, saw Heine lose his ministerial position after the putsch collapsed. Heine’s connection with Stennes is somewhat tenuous, although it made for useful propaganda among the Communists. Stennes had joined the Berlin Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei) in 1919, which came under the Prussian Interior Ministry, and by the time of the Kapp Putsch he had been elevated to the leadership of a police division which quickly went over to the putschists. Despite this, Stennes was promoted to the rank of Police Captain after the Putsch and maintained a career in the police until 1922. Years later, rumors circulated on the Left that Stennes during this time had been the leader of a secret unit involved in organizing political murders.

17. Franz Seldte (b.1882 – d.1947) was, alongside Theodor Duesterberg (b.1875 – d.1950), one of the co-leaders of the paramilitary Stahlhelm. In 1933 Seldte was appointed Minister of Labour in the first Hitler cabinet, officially joining the NSDAP on 27 April 1933.

First article translated from the German Reichstag’s Verhandlungen des Reichstags: V. Wahlperiode 1930, vol.445 (1931), Druck und Verlag der Reichsdruckerei.
Second article translated from Anon.’s “Reichswehroffizier für die Kommunistische Partei: Grundsätzliches zum Schritt des Leutnants Scheringer,” Die Rote Fahne, pp.1-2, vol. 14, no.67 (20 March 1931), Vereinigte Zeitungsverlag GmbH.
Third article translated from Richard Scheringer’s “An die SA. Berlins: Brief des Leutnants a.D. Scheringer” (3 April 1931), no publication details provided. Retrieved from Bundesarchiv Berlin RY 1/1688, doc.249.

5 thoughts on “Going Red

  1. Bogumil,

    The conversion of Richard Scheringer, culminating with his abandonment of the NSDAP for the KPD, does strike me as being worthy of mention on the latest post of the ARPLAN Blog. We of course know that some of those factions would later go on to form the organizational basis behind National Bolshevism. Yet there is a lot more at stake here than the mere fact that there were various dissenting factions within both parties. And I am not just referring to the expression of disagreements over how they should assume power in the German Reich.

    The NSDAP was trying to make compromises to its stances in hopes that doing so would enable them to take over the German Reich and unite the rest of the German-speaking world by extension. While I can understand the justifications, I have every reason to doubt that those compromises would have fulfilled the foundational aims of Pan-Germanic Socialism over the long-term. Thus, I have to agree with Richard Scheringer that those compromises actually deviated from Pan-Germanic Socialism.

    For instance, consider the conception of “State Capitalism” as defined by the NSDAP and the KPD. Both are in agreement that there should only be State, Social, and Foreign Enterprises in the German economy, yet Scheringer’s testimonies suggest that they have different ideas on economic organization. The KPD was adamant that State Capitalism in the German-speaking world should only be employed in order to troubleshoot any potential issues that may arise from the transition toward any version of Socialism. The NSDAP, by contrast, had State Capitalism serve as an extension of the Party apparatus in a sort of “Party-State Capitalism.” Of course, this raises the implication of whether such decisions would encourage the Economic Liberalization of the German Reich later in the 20th century, as the Kuomintang did employ a similar strategy that led to them losing their power in Taiwan by the 1980s.

    The KPD had to have realize this implication in their own writings at the time. They had to have known that those compromises made certain factions inside the NSDAP receptive to National Bolshevism or outright Marxism-Leninism. This should serve as an indication that there were in fact people genuinely attracted to the “Socialism” in Pan-Germanic Socialism, not the Hitlerism that hijacked the movement several years earlier through the Führerprinzip. The Liberal Capitalists and Social-Democrats caught wind of this and disseminated it in their own propaganda, ostensibly proving to everyone that there were not too many differences between the NSDAP and KPD.

    There is something else that we can infer from this ARPLAN post, and I am convinced that it has to do with the fact that Nationalism, like Socialism, has no single definition. Just as there could be Marxist and non-Marxist interpretations of Socialism, Nationalism itself can also be open to dispute among its adherents. After all, what is Nationalism if not a series of claims about the Totality of a particular nation?

    The “Nationalism” espoused by the KPD is one that maintains a complementary Proletarian Internationalism. It presupposes that opposition to the Liberal Capitalists in power and support for their war efforts against any Socialist nation are irreconcilable. The factions of the NSDAP that actually cared about the “Socialist” aspects of Pan-Germanic Socialism took a different view. They insisted that such Solidarity can only be limited to the German-speaking world and the German Volksgemeinschaft in particular. Even in a Socialist world order where the Liberal Capitalists have no power on the world stage, nations will always find at least one justification to be in opposition to each other, up to and including military conflict.

    These may seem like superficial differences, but they do posit my ongoing argument that the definitions for the Nationalism of any nation is far from universal. One set of claims about a particular Nationalism can be challenged by those from another. That, I contend, is where the limitations of Nationalism become apparent, regardless of whether they in favor of Socialism, opposed to Socialism, or have their own interpretations of what constitutes as Pure Socialism.

    I am planning to write a follow up to this comment once I find enough time this week to read the rest of the ARPLAN post. It is arguably among the various ARPLAN posts that tie in with the discussions of my Blog.


  2. Bogumil,

    Between reading the rest of the ARPLAN post and my conclusion from a post I wrote yesterday, I am confident in my conclusions that the conversion of Richard Scheringer should not be misconstrued as an isolated phenomenon. I also do not think that having shared opposition to the same enemy should be the only precedent. Another possibility which I have been considering is whether a common Weltanschauung would enable someone to easily transition from one Ideology to another insofar as the Ideologies in question happen to be deriving much of their ideas from the same Weltanschauung. Not the Weltanschauung of Marx and Engels, as Scheringer would have us believe, but the Weltanschauung of Hegel and Nietzsche.

    My working theory at the moment is that Ideologies on their own are incapable of working together unless they are deriving their ideas and perspectives on a particular Weltanschauung. At the same time, no Weltanschauung on its own is capable of becoming a vehicle for any form of political-economic governance. They need an Ideology or a subset of Ideologies to implement a particular vision of the world for its adherents to adopt and apply in the Real World. It is possible for a given Weltanschauung to host multiple Ideologies, the majority of which do not necessarily have to be related to each other from the outset. Assuming this theory is correct, this would make the Richard Scheringer’s conversion entertainable for someone who was convinced that transitioning from Pan-Germanic Socialism to Marxism-Leninism would not pose too many complications. It would also account for why National Bolshevism somewhere between the KPD and NSDAP, not to mention why there has never been a true National Bolshevism in any conceivable form in this century.

    The question that I am currently trying to determine is whether it is feasible to outline a procedural map of how this process takes place. I have few reasons to doubt that this process can occur in between different Ideologies of the same Worldview. I identified notable trends among the Social-Democrats and even the Corporatists, latter of whom was where the distinctions between Tripartism (“Social Corporatism”) and State Corporatism came into play. I have also found comparable trends among the Liberal Capitalists, where Social Liberals and Classical Liberals shared the same Weltanschauung but deviated from each other on whether Parliament is supposed to protect certain Freedoms by means of an appropriate level of Security.

    What has been said about Ideologies should also apply for Factions, which was the topic of the previous two ARPLAN post with regard to Pan-Germanic Socialism. The multiplicity of different Factions implies the presences of distinguishable interpretations of the same Ideology. Every Faction likes to think that their interpretation of the Ideology is the correct application, a conclusion that compels them to impose that interpretation on the other Factions that adhere to that particular Ideology.        

    This in turn brings me to the conclusions which I had raised in the recent post I wrote on my Blog. Factionalism can be resolved by having the Factions of different Ideologies coalesce around a particular Weltanschauung. Even though everyone has their own ideas and interpretations–Ideologies and Factions – on how to interpret the Weltanschauung and how to realize its philosophical premises and theoretical concepts, there are fundamental agreements with what the Weltanschauung represents. Those fundamental agreements have the potential to realize a new political-economic consensus for the rest of a given nation to uphold through law and action.

    Moreover, it is also through those same fundamental agreements that we can envisage the creations of new Ideologies that borrow the ideas and interpretations from other ones and their Factions. Despite their distinct positions and perspectives, they still derive much of their values and beliefs from the same Weltanschauung. The ARPLAN Blog is full of evidence supporting this conclusion and this post in particular is no exception.



  3. Quite an interesting article regarding the politics of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Interwar Germany was truly a source of interesting and revolutionary ideas. I’m wondering if Scheringer’s nationalism was propaganda or if his nationalism went along with his staunch Marxist-Leninism, since this was a ploy by the communists to convert nationalists alike into the communist pit.

    • I think Scheringer’s nationalism was sincere, although he outwardly downplayed it somewhat in deference to Communist theory after aligning himself with the KPD. As other people pointed out at the time, in his adherence to Marxism-Leninism he often placed a very strong emphasis upon certain issues (casting off the “shackles of Versailles”, building up a powerful German Red Army) which were entirely reconcilable with his previous commitment to nationalism – although admittedly they were also a central focus of the KPD’s ‘national and social’ strategy. Scheringer imo was a fairly sincere socialist as well, though, and after the War he maintained a long career as a politician in the Bavarian Branch of the KPD/DKP.

      That said, he always kept up links to his old comrades. He maintained a very close friendship with Hanns Ludin throughout his life, despite Ludin forging a career as a high-ranking member of the SA. Ludin was executed for war crimes in 1947, and Scheringer actually tried to intervene with the Communist authorities in Czechoslovakia on his behalf. He chose to stay in Germany after 1933, rather than go into exile, although the fact that his family owned property (he took over the family farm) might have influenced that decision. He did involve himself in low-level resistance activities while living in the Third Reich, but he also willingly joined the Germany Army in 1939 and never made any attempt to defect to the USSR despite serving on the Eastern Front. And he maintained an association with figures like Ernst Jünger and Ernst von Salomon after the War, when it would have been to his advantage to draw a clearer line of distinction between himself and them (von Salomon even wrote the foreword to Scheringer’s 1959 memoir Das große Los). He was a very complicated figure, which is why I think he’s so interesting. It’s very easy for us nowadays to have a black-and-white view of the Weimar and Third Reich eras, but nothing is ever that clear-cut in life.

      • Bogumil,

        That is an interesting find. I did not expect Richard Scheringer to have such a colorful history, both before and after 1945. Yes, it goes to show that there was a fusion of political-economic ideas in the German Reich, where new ideologies were being recreated out of old ones and old ones finding new purposes for themselves. Something tells that loyalty to the German Reich and loyalty to the Hitlerists are two different things insofar as the reign of the latter was not guaranteed to last.


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