The National Socialist Conception of Freedom

National Socialist theoretician Rudolf Jung explains the concept of freedom and its place within National Socialist ideology

National Socialism, like Marxism, has its own conception of freedom, one separate from the individualist ideal central to liberal-democracy. In some respects there are similarities between the two movements and their perceptions of freedom; certainly members of the NSDAP would have agreed with Marx and Engels that, “Only in the community… is personal freedom possible.” Fundamentally, though, each interpretation was built on different ideological ground. For Marxists, freedom is determined by material economic conditions; those without the money or resources to live a safe, comfortable, fulfilling life are not genuinely free, regardless of which individual rights they might have on paper. For National Socialists, conversely, freedom is ultimately determined by race as well as material circumstance; each racial group has different cultural values, a different outlook on the world, and hence a different conception of the form of freedom appropriate to them as a united people. Freedom and a Volk’s capacity for defending themselves are intrinsically bound together: only by finding the style of freedom best suited to them as a people would a race thus be in the best position to fight and defend themselves as a people. Individualism was the form most suited to the English, with their mercantile, “piratical” spirit. Anarchy was most suited to the chaotic, tumultuous French. And for the Germans, with their supposedly natural inclination towards collectivism? A marriage of the spirit of Prussia in the north with the spirit of the “Baiuvarii” in the south: duty and order, the totality before the individual, but shorn of unthinking submission and centralistic authoritarianism, tempered by a respect for freedom of conscience. At least this is how National Socialist writer and politician Rudolf Jung explained it in his book National Socialism: Its Foundations, Development, and Goals, the earliest major programmatic work of National Socialist theory. Whether or not Jung’s description of National Socialist freedom matches the conditions which later developed in the Third Reich is up for debate, particularly as Hitler arguably represented a more authoritarian strand of NS ideology. The translated excerpt below consists of almost the entire chapter from Jung’s book which covers the subject; the only part I have cut is the introductory paragraph, an excerpt from the DNSAP programme which can be already be read in its entirety here. This translation is of the 1922 2nd edition of Jung’s book, which I have been working on for the past five or six months. The complete translation is probably still a few months away from being finished, but it will be posted on the blog when I am done.

The National Socialist Conception of Freedom
From the chapter ‘The Concept of Freedom and Defensive Readiness’, in
Rudolf Jung’s “National Socialism,” 1922 (2nd ed.)

“Freedom, that which I love, that which fills my heart,”1 sang the poet, thereby telling us that freedom is something which cannot be explained rationally, but is something which must be felt. Now, because freedom is a matter of emotion, it will be different for every Volk. English, French, Germans, Czechs, etc., all feel differently, and therefore all also interpret the concept of freedom differently. There are even different gradations within the individual races. Let us take the Germans, for example. Does the supposedly revolutionary communist – who is certainly imbued with the conviction that he is a thoroughly free-thinking person, standing far above the arch-reactionary bourgeoisie – truly have a feeling for freedom when he, as is so often the case in the German Reich, runs to the representatives of the Entente in order to sabotage his differently-minded countrymen? Or when, for the same reason, he calls upon the help of the Czech authorities, who are thoroughly imbued with the police spirit and are, moreover, capitalist? Is not the exact same question relevant in regards to those bourgeois elements who, in their anxiety over their property, appeal to alien peoples to protect them? And what about press censorship, the prohibition on the publication of newspapers, as well as the forcible integration of people into organizations?

In light of all the things which have happened to the German Volk since the days of the Revolution, after all the lamentable manifestations of servility and indignity, all the errors of an overstretched centralism, one might well doubt the very existence of a feeling of freedom. However, we need to keep in mind that every great upheaval – and such is indeed what we are presently in the middle of – is full of confusion and atrocities, and that brutal people, who tend to be the most involved in these phenomena, are generally cowards within the depths of their souls and are therefore not free at all, but are instead merely of a servile disposition. Only the courageous are truly free. Alien to them is the pitiful fear of death which makes cowardly people tremble, and hence makes them servile. That is why courage and the feeling of freedom, and therefore also one’s readiness to defend themselves,2 belong together. One is inconceivable without the other. But defensive readiness – if that is to serve as our touchstone – must be voluntary and not coerced, because courage cannot be forced. Continue reading

The Electoral Programme of the Old Social-Democratic Party

The national-revolutionary programme of the Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany, drafted by Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig

In the most recent article on this blog I presented an overview of the Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany (ASPD) by historian Benjamin Lapp, a party which began as a patriotic splinter-group of the Saxon Social-Democrats and which evolved, under the influence of intellectuals Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig, into a proletarian-nationalist organization with strong national-revolutionary impulses. As a complement to that article I have now also  translated the political programme which the ASPD took to Germany’s 1928 federal elections, the second of three separate programmes which the ASPD produced altogether in its history. The first of these three programmes, a statement of the ASPD’s general principles which it disseminated on its founding in 1926, I have unfortunately not been able to acquire. My understanding is that it oriented the party relatively closely to the positions of the old Majority Social-Democrats and the Kriegssozialisten: right-leaning and patriotic, yet still “moderate” in its nationalism when compared to the NSDAP, DVFP, or DNVP. The second programme which the party produced is that translated below, and was drafted by Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig in early April 1928, two years after they had joined the Old Social-Democratic Party and become its guiding ideological lights. The new programme was intended to reflect the political direction which the ASPD had moved in since it had come under their influence, with its precepts more clearly spelling out the ASPD’s proletarian-nationalist ethos and its own idiosyncratic perspective on socialism and the state, a perspective which unashamedly drew more from Lassalle and Rodbertus than it did from Marx and Bebel. More than that, the new programme was intended to be the springboard for greater things, prepared as part of the ASPD’s operation to expand its branches outside of Saxony and to compete as a national party in the Reichstag elections in May. The ASPD’s abysmal performance in these elections (it achieved only 0.21% of the vote) spelled an end to its foray into national-revolutionary politics. The Old Social-Democratic Party’s radical-nationalist orientation, already very controversial among swathes of the party’s membership (it had cost the ASPD the support of both the textile unions and the Reichsbanner), was abandoned, and Niekisch and Winnig subsequently left the party. As a consequence the ASPD’s third programme appeared towards the end of 1928, being both an expansion and a revision of the second programme: it is structured similarly, and is longer, but significantly has had much of the more overtly nationalistic language excised, and is unmistakably closer to “conventional” Social-Democracy in both conviction and tone than the Niekisch-Winnig programme reproduced below. 

The Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany
1928 Electoral Programme
Drafted by Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig

I.
Service to the Volk and to the State.

The Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany is a party of the productive population. It is rooted in the outlook that the productive Volk can only attain internal and external freedom, dignity, and vital historical significance through faithful service to the Volk and to the state.

The ASPD’s attitude to the state consequently lies beyond all tactical considerations of expediency; it serves the state out of principle and conviction, and is ready to submit itself unconditionally to the imperative of state necessity. It is an expression of that momentous shift which is presently taking place within the German working-class, whose content is to lead from the state-negating position of the past to a standpoint of unconditional state-affirmation.

II.
The ASPD is a Socialist Party.

The health of the German national body [Volkskörpers] can only be maintained under the present state of affairs if the German economic- and social-order is structured according to the principle of the economic management of all limited available commodities. The free play of forces is tolerable in a richly endowed economy; where there is an abundance of goods and capital, unchecked competitive struggle does not constitute a danger. But where poverty prevails, there a regulative and preventative hand is required. This necessitates an interlinking of economy and society, which together make up the social content of the state; through them it becomes organizationally evident that the welfare of the collective is the paramount consideration pervading the whole. As the ASPD strives for an economic- and social-order which is systematically managed and structured for the good of the totality, it is a socialist party. Its socialist attitude is the complement to and the evidence for its state ethos; its stance is one of a highly-developed sense of social and national responsibility.

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The Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany

An overview of the Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany (ASPD) and the attempt to create a ‘National Social-Democracy’

Throughout the history of the Weimar Republic there were a number of attempts by Social-Democrats to formulate a more nationalist interpretation of their ideology, one which rejected the internationalism inherited from Marx and which replaced Social-Democracy’s focus on the interests of the international proletariat with a focus instead on those of the Nation or the Volk. The Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany (Alte Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, ASPD) was not only such an attempt, it was easily one of the most significant, as it involved active political organization (even involvement in government) rather than just theoretical formulations, speeches, and argument. The ASPD was originally founded in Saxony in 1926 as a consequence of a split within the Saxon branch of the Social-Democratic Party (SPD), with the more radical and more pro-communist ‘Left-Socialists’ on one side, and a minority of more moderate Social-Democrats (including the majority of the party’s elected representatives in the Landtag) on the other. When the radical majority expelled the more moderate minority from the party, the moderates formed the ASPD in response, asserting that their new party would represent the ‘old’, patriotic socialism of the War years, carrying on the tradition and legacy of figures like Friedrich Ebert and Gustav Noske. In an attempt to give the ASPD firmer ideological direction, two radical mavericks who had also been expelled from the SPD – Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig – were invited to participate, and under their direction the ASPD rapidly evolved into a national-revolutionary party, extolling a nationalist, völkisch-oriented interpretation of Social-Democracy which proved highly controversial within the wider labor movement. Although the Old Social-Democratic Party did not last very long (Niekisch and Winnig, disillusioned, left in 1928, and the remainder of the ASPD rejoined the SPD in 1932), it nonetheless played a significant role in Saxon governance during the late 1920s and represents one of the only real attempts at translating a leftist national-revolutionary programme into parliamentary politics. To give an overview of the development and history of the ASPD, I have transcribed segments from two different academic sources, both by historian Benjamin Lapp. The first, taken from an article which Lapp wrote on the ASPD, details the background and events which led up to the party’s founding. The second, taken from Lapp’s excellent book Revolution from the Right: Politics, Class, and the Rise of Nazism in Saxony, 1919-1933, goes into more detail on the history of the party and the ways in which Niekisch and Winnig took its ideology and tactics in an overtly nationalist, radical direction. 

The Background: Social-Democratic Conflict in Saxony
From Benjamin Lapp’s “A ‘National’ Socialism: The Old Socialist Party of Saxony, 1926-32”

Until the nazi Machtergreifung forced the German Social-Democrats to begin a reappraisal of their former beliefs, German Social-Democracy stood in an uneasy relationship to nationalism and the nation-state. According to classical Marxism, at least, the class struggle was privileged over the national community; nationalist ideology was viewed as part of the ‘capitalist system of political repression’. During the Weimar Republic, when the SPD1 was closely associated with the new democracy, the party’s position on the central issue of the relation between class and nation remained ill-defined. In theory, the party remained committed to proletarian internationalism, while in practice its policies often subordinated working-class to national interests – without, however, admitting it. Despite pressures from the revisionist wing of the party, the SPD stubbornly held on to the principle of internationalism and to its own self-representation as a Klassenpartei rather than a Volkspartei.2 Thus, throughout the 1920s, the political right maintained a monopoly on the ‘national issue’. Conservatives and liberals claimed to speak for the Volk and to represent the national interest and the state; the Socialists, despite their close association with the Republic, nevertheless defined themselves as a working-class party.

There was one noteworthy attempt in the 1920s to overcome the Socialists’ hesitant attitude toward the state and to reclaim the national issue by creating an alternative Socialist party that was avowedly nationalist and state-affirming. This attempt took place, surprisingly, in ‘red Saxony’, a region known for its strong Social-Democratic traditions and its left-wing militancy. Rejecting the dogmatic Marxism of the regional party organization, a group of Social-Democrats formed a new Socialist party called, in homage to the legacy of Lasalle, Bebel, and Liebknecht, the Old Social-Democratic Party (ASPD).3 Originating in the right wing of the party as a reaction to the ‘left’ orientation of the Saxon SPD and its united front policies, the ASPD, through its association with the proletarian nationalists Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig, made a reputation as a party of the political right. Within a year of its foundation, the ASPD became known throughout Germany as a novel attempt to create an alternative, ‘national’ socialism.

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Possedism and the Wehrwolf

“To eradicate a rapacious capitalism – Possedism!” The economic ideology of Fritz Kloppe’s national-revolutionary paramilitary league, the Wehrwolf

The ‘Wehrwolf – League of German Men and Front-Fighters’ was probably one of the most distinctive of the various paramilitary groups active within Weimar Germany’s national-revolutionary camp. Founded by teacher and Freikorps veteran Fritz Kloppe in May 1923 as an adjunct of the Stahlhelm’s youth league, the Wehrwolf soon broke away from the overly “bourgeois” Stahlhelm and fast developed its own unique nationalist style and subculture: field-grey uniforms, black-white-red armbands, black flags emblazoned with silver symbols (a ‘W’; a death’s head; a Wolfsangel rune), and a reasonably extensive organizational apparatus. The group also established its own radical ideology, calling for a revolutionary overthrow of the Weimar system and its replacement by an “aristocratic” Greater German Third Reich free of traditional class distinctions and capitalist exploitation. Complementing this political vision was the group’s economic ideal of ‘Possedism’ (from the Latin Possedere, ‘to possess’), first introduced by Kloppe in 1931. Possedism at its core revolved around a reorganization of property relations: Kloppe argued that in capitalism the concentration of property in private hands caused unbridled egoism and a selfish disregard for the Volk, yet under Marxism the concentration of property in state hands led to an unhealthy social levelling and a neutering of people’s drive and ambition. Kloppe’s solution was mass nationalization of all land and property into state hands, with the state apportioning it out for private ‘possession’ as widely as possible so that practically every German would own an inheritable stake in land or business. This ‘Possedist’ system, Kloppe argued, when coupled with autarchy, corporatist elements, and state control over foreign trade, would naturally create the perfect balance between egoism and egalitarianism, and the perfect alternative to socialism and capitalism. The two texts translated below constitute two of the earliest instances of Kloppe outlining his Possedist ideal: a short speech from the Wehrwolf’s 1931 Whitsunday celebrations, and a piece comprised of extracts from Kloppe’s pamphlet Der Possedismus (see the translator’s notes below for further information). Both of these were translated from a reprint of Kloppe’s 1938 retrospective on the Wehrwolf, Kamerad, weißt du noch? (i.e. Comrade, Do You Remember?), a book which probably deserves an article in its own right, since its publication led to Kloppe (who in 1933 had agreed to merge the Wehrwolf into the SA) being arrested and questioned by the Gestapo on suspicion of seditious activity. 

On “Possedism”
The Economic Theory of Fritz Kloppe and his
‘Wehrwolf League of German Men and Front-Fighters’

Speech on “Possedism” at the Bonn am Rhein Whitsunday Celebrations, 23rd – 25th May, 1931:

First published in Der Wehrwolf, 1st June, 1931.

We Wehrwolf are not only revolutionaries with respect to purely social conditions. We are primarily also revolutionaries in the fields of culture and the economy. It is absolutely futile to attempt to create a New Germany simply by setting new men at the head of the nation. Nor is it of any significance if a new form of state is simply forced upon the German Volk. We must give the nation itself a new substance!

This new, revolutionary will of ours is reflected economically within a new order of possession, one which we have called “Possedism” in order to give it the sharpest differentiation from others. For a century we have seen how capitalism has been economically undermining our Volk by turning them into wage-slaves, into proletarians, into an uprooted people to whom the concepts of the Volk and the community-of-blood1 have become something alien. The exploitation of productive people by capitalism was recognized very early on. A countermovement against it emerged just as quickly. The enslaved masses sought for a way out in Marxism, through which they hoped to be liberated from the fetters of international High Finance.

By rights, an ashen-gray horror should fill those people who have had to witness again and again that Marxism is indeed a reaction against capitalism, but a reaction which can nevermore bring freedom because it is on the wrong path. But the fighters for the proletariat are already too inured by their decades of slavery to recognize that they are on the wrong track. They are far too disconnected from nature to have the strength to muster up anything more than an impotent uprising. The asphalt has sucked out their marrow. Continue reading