Monthly Fragebogen: That weird man, Karl Marx

Ernst von Salomon’s reflections on German communism, the Ulm Reichswehr trial, and his nationalist brother’s conversion to Marxism

“That weird man, Karl Marx, could, after a hundred years, influence two very experienced men, who had passed through a thousand false ideas, so strongly as to change the whole course of their future lives.” What Ernst von Salomon wrote in his Fragebogen about men he knew in the ’30s is still as valid today. Marxism still has power over men’s destinies, still inspires dedication or hate in their hearts, still has its influence – to one extent or another, for better or for worse – on the course of their political lives. In the extract below von Salomon observes this enduring power through three separate cases: the young officers in the Ulm Reichswehr trial; his brother Bruno, with friend Bodo Uhse; and, finally, himself. All three cases involve young men, militant men with revolution in their blood; not all became communists, but all were drawn towards Marxism regardless by its discipline, the dedication of its adherents, its commitment to the immolation of the Weimar system – and to the clarity of its economic doctrine. Elsewhere in his Fragebogen von Salomon declares: “I am a Prussian. My national colours are black and white. They mean that my ancestors died for freedom, and they serve to remind me that I am still a Prussian whether the sun is shining or the skies are heavy with cloud… I am a Prussian and I wish to be a Prussian.” Like many other young Weimar-era rebels who dwelt in that blurred, overlapping space between Left and Right, von Salomon saw a reflection of those elements of Prussian discipline and statehood he yearned for mirrored within the power and asceticism of the Bolshevik movement. 

In January, 1933, I returned from abroad firmly determined to give my civil career precedence over all political activity. My brother Bruno made a special trip to Berlin in order to tell me how much he despised this decision of mine. He was no longer living in Schleswig-Holstein. Acquitted at the great Altona Peasant Trial, he had looked about the province for a time and had found that there was no longer any sense in remaining faithful to the peasants there. But to the cause of the peasants he wished to stay true. Curiously, in these conditions, he found himself drawn ever closer to his old adversary, Bodo Uhse. Now he surprised me with the information that, drawing the consequences from their past actions, both he and Bodo Uhse had joined the Communist Party.

So some people did, after all, draw conclusions, and quite surprising ones at that, but the conclusions they drew all came out of the same sack and were conditioned by the same moment of time. It began with the disappearance of Seeckt. The great, mysterious sphinx had stumbled on a pebble. In an access of thoughtlessness he had permitted a prince of the house of Hohenzollern, in the uniform of an officer, to attend as a guest the Reichswehr manoeuvres at the troop-training area of Munsingen. The colossus tottered and fell. It now appeared that he had had feet of clay after all. The old, imperial field-marshal, himself, it seemed, a solid rock, let fall his general without raising a finger save to sign the order appointing Seeckt’s successor. This latter was General Heye, a fine and upright soldier from whom no surprises were to be expected. And this good, well-meaning soldier was soon to be faced with the greatest of worries, caused by two of his junior officers. Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: Röhm’s Rise and Fall

Röhm triumphant, and Röhm in ruins – nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s experience of the rise and fall of the SA Chief-of-Staff

 Two of the most interesting sections of Ernst von Salomon’s novel Der Fragebogen recount the author’s experiences with SA Chief-of-Staff Ernst Röhm. von Salomon met Röhm at least a couple of times in his life, and associated with a number of people who were close to the Brownshirt leader; von Salomon’s Freikorps membership and his role in the Fememord of Walter Rathenau seems to have created a mutual sense of soldierly respect between the two men, even if they were not close. In the first section of Der Fragebogen reproduced below, von Salomon recounts his chance encounter with Röhm on a train shortly after the National Socialist Machtergreifung (the ‘seizure of power’). Röhm’s depiction there, triumphant and celebratory, is in stark contrast to von Salomon’s more distant depiction of him in the second excerpt. That section of the novel consists of von Salomon’s account of Röhm’s fall, his murder during the Blood Purge of ’34. In this second, longer extract, von Salomon first recounts the shock and horror he experienced at Röhm’s demise, particularly while listening to Hitler’s infamous radio address on the subject. The author then transitions into a description of a meeting with Dr. Walter Luetgebrune, with the Herr Doktor providing his own insights into Röhm’s fall and the reality behind the ‘Night of the Long Knives.’ Luetgebrune, a völkisch-nationalist lawyer who legally defended numerous members of the National Socialist, Landvolk, and national-revolutionary movements, was an intimate of Röhm’s and the chief legal adviser to the SA and SS; he was himself arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of involvement in the ‘Röhm Putsch.’

Röhm’s Rise (‘Der Fragebogen’, Section B):

…I went back to Berlin, not in order to watch the glory of the National-Socialist seizure of power, but because I wanted to talk to Rowohlt about my book, The Cadets. I’d been working at it all the time I was in Vienna. I had to, I had to give myself the counter-weight of Prussia. I’ve no idea how I ever managed to get it done. I’d sit over my manuscript in the evening, and outside the musicians would sing their sad songs… about how there’d be a Vienna and we’d be dead, there’d be girls and we’d be dead… and when I stopped writing towards dawn I could be sure that outside somebody would be singing about how one day it’ll all be over and about tombs and coffins… I had to have The Cadets as an antidote to the whole macabre atmosphere down there.

I went to Berlin by way of Munich, where I had to change trains. On Munich station I acquired a powerful escort of brown-shirts, headed by Ernst Röhm. He was going to Berlin, so I went with him. Röhm recognised me, though we had not met since August, 1922, shortly before I went to gaol.

“Where have you come from?” he asked, while his clanking escort gazed at me respectfully.

“France, Spain and Austria,” I replied smartly. He took me into his compartment and I admired the handsome overcoat he was wearing, and his brown silk shirt, and his perfectly tailored breeches.

“Yes,’ he said with satisfaction, “the days are over when we had to run about dressed like scarecrows.”

Röhm and his people were drunk with the assurance of victory. Later they became drunk on something else. Bottle after bottle was respectfully passed into the compartment with the remark: “For the chief of staff.” We knocked the necks off them and drank.

“You’ll be joining us, of course!” Röhm said. Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: The Social General

Ernst von Salomon and Hans Zehrer discuss the ‘lost government’ of General Kurt von Schleicher

This month’s excerpt from Ernst von Salomon’s Der Fragebogen is drawn from a section of the book where the author engages in a long, engaging discussion with conservative-revolutionary intellectual Hans Zehrer. This discussion took place after the conclusion of the Second World War, and sees the two discussing the political conditions of the Weimar period, the rise of National Socialism, and their perspectives – as first-hand participants in the national-revolutionary movement – on their own place in the tumultuous series of events which unfolded through the early 1930s. In this segment, Zehrer and von Salomon dissect the career and character of General Kurt von Schleicher, the last Chancellor of Weimar Germany, an authoritarian-minded ‘strong-man’ with pretensions towards his own brand of conservative socialism (hence his self-appointed moniker, ‘the Social General’). Zehrer was editor of Die Tat, a conservative-revolutionary intellectual periodical, and in many respects he was the ‘man behind the curtain’ in the Schleicher government; Zehrer provided Schleicher with much of the substance of his ideology, and during the brief period of Schleicher’s chancellorship Die Tat effectively acted as a de facto state publication. Schleicher’s aim was a dictatorial state with an expansive welfare system, labor programs to engage the unemployed, a militaristic political culture, all founded on a broad coalition between the army, trade-unions, social-democrats, and the more ‘moderate’ National Socialists. His government lasted slightly over a month before he was dismissed to make way for a Hitler chancellorship. Both Schleicher and his wife were killed during the Night of the Long Knives in ’34; Zehrer went into self-imposed ‘internal exile’ on the island of Sylt for the duration of the Third Reich. 

Zehrer said:

“Those last two years of the Weimar Republic were intellectually one of the most fruitful periods of our history. Never before had there been so much thinking and planning in Germany. The shell was suddenly broken as the old figures of the Weimar period began one by one to disappear. Above the clouds of stale jargon, heads suddenly began to appear on all sides, talking in a language which, in quite a new sense, was common to them all. Suddenly the old, outworn divisions no longer existed, the foolish distinctions derived from parliamentary seating arrangements of ‘Left’ and ‘Right,’ suddenly the ideological flood subsided and it was possible to talk sensibly. It was like a draught of fresh air. Everything seemed possible if only we set about it the right way, and everywhere there was the strength to do just that. What had for years on end been preached as the ultimate wisdom no longer seemed to apply, and it all assumed a new meaning. But then it became apparent that in every discussion a silent guest was present, who was usually invisible and yet who controlled it; for he posed the theme, prescribed the methods and decided on the direction. And this silent guest was Adolf Hitler. His silence was weird if not actually sinister. And since he was not to be grasped and pinned down in argument, the discussion circled through ideas and projects, worries and anxieties about itself, broke down, struggled to its feet and finally began all over again from the beginning. Even as early as the late twenties men of all parties were meeting and talking, from ‘Right’ to ‘Left.’ Yes, even the Communist intellectuals were sociable and sparkled in conversation for the amusement and titillation of the others. Only the National-Socialists never took part. To begin with everybody thought that eventually they too would turn up and would enjoy the excited and exciting talk: their absence was put down to the fact that they had, as yet, no intellectuals amongst them. But they didn’t come, they’ve never come, even today they don’t. And while the talk went on between the fish course and the meat and arguments were heatedly set up and heatedly demolished over the teacups or the whisky, the SA marched with steady tread through the streets of the cities. Of all the weeds which sprang up so gaily, none was a match for the rise of National-Socialism. None, that is, until the advent of Schleicher. He had the right idea!”

“A general like many others and a chancellor like many others, and smashed like them all.” Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: The National Socialist political breakthrough

While visiting friends in the Wurtemburg countryside, nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon is treated to a grass-roots view of the NSDAP’s 1930 electoral triumph

In this month’s excerpt from his post-WWII best-seller Der Fragebogen, conservative-revolutionary writer Ernst von Salomon recounts his experience in Wurtemberg of the infamous German Reichstag elections of September 1930. In the previous elections of 1928 the National Socialists had won a mere 12 seats; the sudden explosive growth of the NSDAP to 107 seats a mere two years later was a triumphal shock for both the Party and for Germany, representing the dramatic political changes which had beset the country over such a short expanse of time, particularly since the onset of the Great Depression in October 1929. von Salomon’s description of the peasant regions of Swabia provide a lively account of this transformed German countryside in this period: a countryside which “was, beyond any question of doubt, National-Socialist”; a countryside where elderly women, Church-goers, and peasant girls had already begun using the ‘Hitler-greeting’ in recognition of their shared adoption of völkisch-socialist values. The political landslide of 1930, in von Salomon’s account, is thus unsurprising, a reflection of the successful permeation and normalization of National Socialist ideology into day-to-day German life at the local level.

It was during the summer of 1930, when Berlin was first beginning to feel the effects of what happened on October 23rd, 1929, that I went for a few weeks to Calw, a small, South German town in Wurtemberg, to visit the painter Rudolf Schlichter. I had read thoroughly the works of Hermann Hesse, who was also born in Calw, and the exactness of his descriptions allowed me to recognise many details of the place with great delight. The most fortunate province of Germany, solid, hard-working, industrious, middle-class Wurtemberg, was reflected in the good city of Calw as in a convex glass. The little district capital, situated in the smiling valley of the Nagold, struck me as a very picture of comely arrangement. A little industry, a certain amount of wood trade, all happily mingled together and backed by an industrious farming community, a solid Catholic minority living side by side with a quantity of Protestant sects, good roads and railways to the most delightful parts of the Black Forest and the Swabian Alps, to Pforzheim in Baden and the provincial capital, Stuttgart, all this combined to give the district capital its own specific character. If anywhere, then surely here the economic and social life drew its sustenance from a soil that would be fruitful to all seed save only that which aspired aggressively to drastic change. Here every man could, with energy and care, look after his own affairs. And when, in the evenings, the local dignitaries sat over a good, neighbourly bottle of wine, these worthies did not allow political differences of opinion to interfere with personal friendships, while their mutual interdependence in matters of trade and their frequent blood relationships both served as strong deterrents to fanaticism of any sort.

On the market place was a first-class delicatessen shop, which saw to it that the products of distant lands as well as those of an active home industry found their way into the kitchens of the Calw households. Its proprietor was to be seen at all times, enveloped in a spotlessly white coat, standing among his sacks of raisins and his prettily coloured boxes of dried fruit. In his spotlessly clean shop his ruddy, healthy face radiated confidence and politeness, while his pleasant smile promised all comers that here they could expect good, reliable service. I praised his shop heartily, and he said, in his strong Wurtemberg accent:

“You know, I worked like a black to get this business going…” and he said: “You know, I still need another ten thousand marks to get out of debt…” Continue reading