Against National Bolshevism!

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

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

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

The Manifesto of the Hamburg ‘Opposition’

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

Revolutionary People’s War or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?

Against capitalism and the betrayal of Versailles: Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim’s National Bolshevist “address to the German proletariat” of November 1919

During the first years of its existence, the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) was more a disorganized coalition of diverse, conflicting tendencies than it was a coherently-organized, revolutionary vanguard party. The KPD’s initial political development had been hampered early on by a number of major obstacles (the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht; the party’s ban following the failed January 1919 Spartacist uprising), and these difficulties only compounded the latent ideological conflicts within the party over issues like democratic participation, revolution, and the ‘correct’ attitude towards the Treaty of Versailles. One popular faction within the KPD during this period was its so-called ‘syndicalist’ camp: a collection of far-left, council-communist activists who were adamantly opposed to reformist labor activism and to electoral participation, favoring instead a continuation of armed putschism directed against the ‘bourgeois’ November Republic. These “wild elements” were considered destabilizing enough by the KPD leadership that they were forced out of the party at its second congress in Heidelberg in October 1919, an action which led to the founding of a rival council-communist organization in response: the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, KAPD). Two of the leading lights of the new KAPD’s prominent Hamburg branch were a pair of radical former Social-Democrats who had played a central role in Hamburg’s revolutionary council government in 1918: Dr. Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim. Laufenberg and Wolffheim had developed something of a following within the KPD as a result of their unique political vision, in which they argued not just for a proletarian council-state and for the end of capitalism, but for a working-class alliance with ‘productive’ members of the patriotic bourgeoisie and a comprehensive revolutionary war directed against the Western Powers and the Versailles Peace Treaty. This perspective (dubbed ‘National Bolshevism’ by their enemies within the communist movement) was most explicitly spelled out within a notorious essay which appeared on 3 November, 1919, in the wake of the Heidelberg Conference, titled: “Revolutionary People’s War or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?” Laufenberg and Wolffheim hoped that this “address to the German proletariat” would help put their ideological stamp on the emerging council-communist movement, guiding it in a direction that was simultaneously revolutionary, national, and anti-capitalist; to that end their essay was republished in June 1920 and distributed on a wider scale in pamphlet form, from which copy the below translation has been made. Although the Hamburg branch of the KAPD was significantly shaped by their views, the Laufenberg-Wolffheim ideological line would ultimately prove too controversial for their comrades, and both men and their followers were forced to leave the KAPD following its second party conference in August 1920.

Revolutionary People’s War
or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?
First Communist Address to the German Proletariat
A 1920 pamphlet by Hamburg communists
Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim

The present publication originally appeared as a supplement to the K.A.Z.1 The debates over this address have led to a lively demand for the publication, which is completely out of print, and the publisher is meeting this need through the release of this new edition.


This address is undersigned: On behalf of the Hamburg branch of the Communist Party of Germany. In the wake of its publication, a lively discussion began in the Hamburg local group about the points of view expressed within the text, at the conclusion of which those persons who were determined to adhere to the specifically Spartacist policy, and who therefore rejected the content of the address, left the local group. Following this process of purification, the local group finally severed all relations with the Communist Party of Germany (Spartacus League).

The Authors
Hamburg, 1st June 1920.

I.

The November uprising was an expression of popular outrage against the lost war. It was supported not only by the revolutionary sections of the working-class, but also by the army and by parts of the bourgeoisie. A proletarian policy would have immediately established ties and treaties with Soviet Russia; through the firm expansion of council rule, and through a wide-ranging socialization of the economy, it would have consolidated the forces of the country into a brazen hammer, ready to strike; it would have unleashed the full power of the revolution against the bourgeois democracies of the West by organizing a revolutionary resistance, by launching a Red Army, and by driving the social revolution across the occupied countries straight through to the borders of France and England. A proletarian policy would have made the Treaty of Versailles an impossibility from the outset. Although it is true that the proletariat aided the victory of the November Revolution, their policy was ultimately unsuccessful. Those tendencies triumphed which in essence pursued only one goal: peace at any cost via the accommodation of the German system of government to the wishes of Anglo-American high finance, in order to attain from the Entente, as far as was possible, an alleviation of the harsh peace terms which were in the offing. Continue reading

The Fundamentals of National Socialist Economic Policy

Gottfried Feder’s 1932 outline of the fundamental principles and proposals of National Socialist economic policy

The article by Gottfried Feder translated below first appeared in the 1932 edition of the Nationalsozialistisches Jahrbuch, a collection of ideological and organizational resources published annually for members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Feder at the time of writing was chairman of the NSDAP’s Reich Economic Council (Reichswirtschaftsrat, RWR), a body established in 1931 to ostensibly act as the Party’s “supreme organ for all fundamental questions of National Socialist economic policy,” and his article provides a general outline of the foundational ideological principles which Feder believed should guide the development of the NSDAP’s proposed economic reforms. Following its massive success in the 1930 national election the NSDAP had become increasingly focused on the task of developing practical policy solutions to the problems facing the German economy; party organizations like the RWR, and articles like Feder’s, were part and parcel of this attempt at making National Socialist economic remedies more accessible to German voters and more realizable to the country’s financial experts. Despite the prominence of the NS Jahrbuch and the lofty-sounding description of the RWR’s role, it should be noted that Feder’s position as the party’s economic authority in this period was not as authoritative as one might first assume. From 1930 onwards Feder found himself in direct competition with figures like Otto Wagener, head of the NSDAP’s Economic Policy Department (Wirtschaftspolitische Abteilung, WPA), who maintained a much closer working relationship with Hitler and who had been far more competent at building up a base of influential supporters within the ranks of the party. Feder’s prior status as the “Ideologist of the Movement” had been largely honorific, a propagandistic title conferred upon him by the party press in recognition of his role in the early development of the NSDAP and its programme, and even as chair of the RWR he struggled to maintain a level of influence within the party bureaucracy commensurate with that of some of his rivals (by 1934, in fact, he ended up completely sidelined from the leadership and from policy-making altogether). Feder’s views in this article thus provide a fairly succinct overview of a very prominent perspective on National Socialist economic principles, but it is not necessarily a completely definitive perspective. Not everyone within the movement would have agreed with Feder’s positions on private property or corporatist organization, for example, particularly those within the more ‘revolutionary’-minded factions of the National Socialist Party.

The Fundamentals of National Socialist Economic Policy
Gottfried Feder
First printed in the National Socialist Yearbook for 1932.

NS_Swastika

1. The Purpose and Spirit of the Economy

The national economy in its totality has the purpose above all of adequately providing for the three basic necessities of all folk-comrades in terms of food, housing, and clothing, and beyond that of satisfying every need of a cultural and civilizational nature in accordance with the state of technology and the income conditions of the time. The economy as a whole is a serving limb in the overall organism of the Volk; in the best sense it is of service to the Volk for the greatness and the welfare of the nation.

A nation’s economy is not an end in itself, it is not there to enrich individual business leaders at the expense of their officials, employees, and workers, and even less is it there to serve as an object of exploitation for international High Finance.

2. Form of Economy

There are three possible directions for an economy:

1. A free economy without any fetters (capitalist-liberal).

2. A tethered, bound, planned economy (Marxist-collectivist).

3. A corporatively-structured, genuinely national economy (universalist-National Socialist1).

The completely unfettered capitalist economic form leads to ever sharper disparities between rich and poor; it produces methods of exploitation which culminate in the depersonalization and degeneration of the entire economy; and it unleashes prolonged economic struggles which the state itself, impotent and passive, has to sit back and observe. The tethered, bound, and planned Marxist economic form, the socialization of the means of production, leads to the elimination of the most powerful economic factor, the productive personality. Under such a system, economic fruitfulness atrophies and declines. Continue reading

Mussolini’s Speech to the Workers of Milan

“Fascism establishes the real equality of individuals before labour and the nation.” Benito Mussolini’s 1934 speech to Italian workers from Milan’s Piazza del Duomo

In 1937, Chancellor of Austria Kurt von Schuschnigg wrote of Italian Fascism that it “makes its appeal not, in the first instance, to the ‘haves’, the rich, the capitalists, the successful men. It seeks rather to get hold of the masses, the small people, the workers, the peasants, the youth.” Schuschnigg’s perspective was typical of those who sympathized with the ideology of Italian Fascism or with its leading figure, Benito Mussolini; they saw in Fascism not just a political tool by which nations could maintain order or acquire prestige, but a legitimate economic ideology in its own right, one which was founded on a genuine sense of social justice and which could aid states in overcoming many of the more glaring inequities that were a common, destabilizing symptom of liberal capitalism. The praise and propaganda surrounding corporatism, Fascism’s economic theory, were conversely a common target of Marxists and of some National Socialists, who argued that Fascism ultimately had not dared disturb Italy’s traditional capitalist property relations and that corporatism would in fact strengthen them by forcibly incorporating labour organizations into the state, thereby eliminating workers’ independence of action and helping to shore up the existing class system. Some of these doubts were shared even by Italian Fascists, who were at times frustrated by the slow pace of corporatist reform and by the powerful influence which big business wielded when it came to the shaping of the Italian state. ‘Real’ corporatism, built through compromise and negotiation between the government, business, the labour syndicates, and the different wings of the Fascist Party, did not truly start to take shape until around 1930, when the National Council of Corporations was formally established. The twenty-two corporations which were to make up the ‘Corporate State’ followed in 1934, founded via a series of decrees and laws issued throughout the year. The speech by Mussolini reproduced below, given in October 1934 to the workers of Milan from the Piazza del Duomo, occurred in the midst of this ferment of legal and political activity. The speech primarily is a general paean to the promise of corporatism, expressing Mussolini’s conception that the world was witnessing the inauguration of a new, collectivist economy based on “social justice” and “the power and glory of labour.” Although it would be several more years before its champions would consider the corporatist revolution close to any level of completion (the Chamber of Fasces and Corporations would not formally replace Italy’s Chamber of Deputies until early 1939, for example), the reforms of 1934 and Mussolini’s acclamation of the “corporate solution” in his Milan speech were regarded as significant milestones by sympathizers. Ezra Pound, a prominent foreign admirer of Fascist achievements, observed that with Mussolini’s speech “the problem of production was solved” and that “the great and final collapse of Scarcity Economics” was finally at hand. Although perhaps a little hyperbolic in his adulation, Pound’s jubilant praise is demonstrative of how seriously many took both the promises of Fascist theory and the avowals made by its chief advocate, Mussolini. 

Mussolini’s Speech to the Workers of Milan
October 6, 1934

Blackshirts of Milan, comrade workers!

This formidable gathering of people closes the cycle of my three days in Milan.

The first gathering was that of the farmers whose gifts will help to ease the poverty of many families all over Italy. They set an example to the whole nation of civic and national solidarity, as it is understood by the rural workers of the province of Milan.

Today this city, forever youthful and vigorous, and indissolubly bound to my life, has slackened the rhythm of its heart-beat.

At the present moment you are the protagonists of an event which the political history of tomorrow will remember as the “speech to the workers of Milan.”

At this moment you are surrounded by millions and millions of Italians, while other people are listening in across the seas and beyond the mountain ranges.

I must ask you to give me your attention for a few minutes, although these minutes may become the subject of longer meditations afterwards.

The welcome extended to me in Milan did not surprise me, but moved me instead. Do not be astonished by this statement. Indeed, if a day should come when the heart ceases to thrill, that day would be the beginning of the end.

Five years ago, at this time, the pillars of a temple which seemed to defy the ages, crashed with terrific noise. Countless fortunes were annihilated, and many people did not outlive the disaster.

What was left under the ruins? Not only the remnants of few or many individuals, but also the end of a phase of contemporary history, of a period which may be defined as liberal-capitalistic economy. Continue reading