Ernst Niekisch: Where We Stand

Ernst Niekisch defends his nationalist-socialist principles and the importance of the nation to the question of socialism

Widerstand_Juni_1933Ernst Niekisch is, alongside Karl Otto Paetel, one of the better-known names from Weimar Germany’s National-Bolshevist intellectual milieu (although, somewhat ironically, Niekisch apparently never actually self-identified as a ‘National Bolshevik’). Niekisch is a particularly interesting figure because, throughout his life, he ran the gamut from far-left to far-right and back again. Beginning his career as a Social-Democratic Party (SPD) activist and short-lived leader of Munich’s post-War revolutionary government, Niekisch eventually drifted by way of a number of social-democratic groups into a position of influence as a national-revolutionary intellectual, before finally ending up back in the Marxist camp following WWII as a member of East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party. The short essay below is from 1926, a significant transitional period in Niekisch’s life. Disillusioned with the tactics and theory of social-democracy, in July 1926 Niekisch resigned his SPD membership, founded his own theoretical journal (Widerstand, i.e. ‘Resistance’), and became editor of the Volkstaat, the party newspaper of the Old Social-Democratic Party of Saxony (ASP). The ASP had been founded two months prior due to factional disputes between the conservative and radical wings of the SPD’s Saxon branch, with the conservatives forming the ASP and inviting Niekisch to take charge of their newspaper and the new party’s ideological direction. The article below should thus be viewed in this context, with Niekisch defending his new journal Widerstand and his own personal views against charges of “social reaction” and “nationalistic obscurantism” from mainstream social-democrats, who would have been particularly concerned about potential competition from a new political rival. As it turned out the ASP ended up performing poorly in subsequent elections and Niekisch resigned his party membership in 1928, completely disillusioned with electoral politics altogether and now completely convinced that Germany’s salvation could only come about through organizing a militant, nationalistic counter-movement to parliamentarism. Widerstand, which remained in publication until its ban in 1934, served as the vehicle for its editor’s increasingly apocalyptic worldview, reflecting his call for a radical new nationalist-socialist ethos which would sweep away every last vestige of bourgeois civilization in alliance with the “barbaric”, “primitive” Prussianism emanating from the East – the Soviet Union. 

Where We Stand
Ernst NiekischSymbol_Widerstand

First published in Widerstand, vol. 2, no.1, 1926

A warning against Widerstand has been directed at workers – and how might we have expected anything else? – suggesting that it fosters “nationalistic obscurantism” in the consciousness of the working class with the aim of winning that class over to the socially reactionary aims of the bourgeoisie. Reference has been made to certain terminological similarities as if they offered proof of such assertions; we have made use, it was said, of some expressions that one also hears from social reactionaries. Such terminological similarities might in fact be present; it cannot be helped that such persons also speak of vital national necessities for whom it is more a matter of the pocketbook than a serious consideration of these necessities.

Naturally we presume that those who have “identified” these terminological similarities seek intentionally to misunderstand us. For it truly does not take much to grasp the essential tendencies that inform our position. We are wholly rooted in the vital feelings and sentiments of the working people of Germany; their needs and their instincts are our own. We do not want to lead them astray, do not want to betray them; we are flesh of their flesh, blood of their blood; our thoughts, feelings, and aspirations issue exclusively from the ground of their being and the current circumstances of their fate. What moved us most profoundly was this: that the burden of the tributes to which Germany has been subjected weigh most heavily on the working people; that it is the living conditions of precisely the German worker which have been called into question by the collapse of German status in the world. Here the challenges of the German nation coincide with the law of self-preservation of the working class. That to be sure can be truly understood only by those who are more than mere literary figures. So many of these literary sorts are busy insinuating to workers what they are supposed to think, such that they have already diverted workers from many a good course of action. Continue reading

Right or Left? Right and Left!

“The way of the future involves bringing together the man of the Right with the man of the Left” – a brief 1932 article by conservative-revolutionary intellectual Hans Zehrer

Left_Right_Left_RightHans Zehrer is somewhat of an obscure figure today, at least in comparison with like-minded members of the German national-revolutionary movement such as Ernst Niekisch and Karl Otto Paetel, both of whom have managed to acquire a greater degree of modern celebrity in certain online circles. This is perhaps unfair to Zehrer, who was undoubtedly more widely-known than both during the crucial 1928-1933 period in Germany; certainly he was more influential. Born in 1899, Zehrer fought in the Great War and, after having participated in the 1920 Kapp Putsch, settled down to a fairly respectable life of political journalism. What made Zehrer’s name was his taking over the editorship of foundering national journal Die Tat (‘The Deed’) in October 1929. Die Tat swiftly grew under Zehrer’s stewardship to be the most widely-read political journal in the country, outselling its nearest left-wing competitor by tens of thousands of copies. The key factor in Die Tat’s success was its unique political position. Zehrer and his circle of contributors published detailed critiques of capitalism, advocating its replacement by a mercantilist system of mass nationalization, stringent autarchy, and exclusionary tariff barriers. They rejected not only the concept of parties, but the entire Left-Right divide altogether, arguing instead for a ‘Third Front’ alliance between all militant forces from far-left to far-right. They were also elitists, rejecting the NSDAP for its plebeian roots and its ‘mass party’ character, desiring instead a “revolution from above” led by the army and the President. The high point for Zehrer probably came during the short-lived government of ‘social general’ Kurt von Schleicher, where Zehrer became the Schleicher regime’s ideological ‘man behind the throne’ and Die Tat served as a kind of unofficial journal of state policy. The short article below, taken from a 1932 edition of Die Tat, is a fairly typical example of Zehrer’s position on the ‘Left-Right’ issue, invoking as it does the unifying Volksgemeinschaft ideal as well as stressing the belief that in reality only superficial qualities separate “the man of the Right” from the “man of the Left”.

Right or Left?
Hans ZehrerTAT_logo

First published in Die Tat, vol. 23, no.7, 1932

We ask of ourselves that question which is imposed upon us by today’s era and which appears to be of decisive importance to it: Right or Left? We have guided these absolutely time-bound and, to a later age, surely incomprehensible antitheses back to their authentic intellectual and historical foundations. In the process they have steadily dissipated, been drawn further and further inwards, and in this way we have suddenly arrived at a position which offers us the prospect of something that we only truly experienced for a short period in August 1914, but which otherwise does not belong among those values that today’s System can offer us: a Volksgemeinschaft, a unified nation!1 And from this position we are able to answer that question which the era has posed to us: Right and Left! Only a style of thinking which has affirmed the synthesis between the two, and which has carried it out, is responsive to those problems which the future will present to us, and over which the current era is presently in despair.

A man today, provided he is an active, vital person, is either Right or Left. The commonality of conservative man – who by his nature, traditions, blood, and character could never recognize the current System – with the new men of the Left, whom the current System has chewed up and spat out, is greater, and both are much closer, than they realize. The way of the future involves bringing together this man of the Right with the man of the Left, and vice versa, in order to create out of both a new Volksgemeinschaft under the mythos of a new nation. Continue reading

Fascism in Britain

An early pamphlet by British Union of Fascists leader Sir Oswald Mosley, outlining the fascist creed and its application to British conditions

The pamphlet transcribed below provides an interesting example of some of the early propaganda writing produced by the British Union of Fascists. The version I have is undated, but there are some indications within the text which offer hints as to its publication history – the explicit description of the fasces rather than the “flash and circle” as the BUF’s party symbol, for example, suggests a publication date before 1935, which is when the latter was adopted by the Mosley Movement as its new logo. The mention of “the grey shirt of our ordinary members” likewise indicates an early publication period, probably sometime between 1932 and 1933, when probationary BUF members were still wearing a grey rather than black uniform; the grey shirt was later adopted specifically by the Cadets, the BUF youth movement. Regardless of the date, the pamphlet is a fairly thorough summation of the BUF’s political aims, covering the various key issues with which Mosley was concerned (economic breakdown, the domestic market, trade, peace, Empire, and the Corporate State) in his usual accessible style. Particularly noteworthy are some of the comments Mosley makes expressing his strong affinity for Europe (“We are proud also of our European civilisation… Rome [is] the mother of European civilisation…”) and his desire for a united Europe of peaceful, allied fascist states. A cynic might regard this stance as a by-product of Mussolini’s covert funding of and influence over the BUF, particularly as the Duce had begun explicitly supporting the concept of a “universal fascism” in 1930, a strategy which culminated in the founding of the ‘fascist internationale’ CAUR (Comitati d’azione per l’Universalità di Roma, the “Action Committees for the Universality of Rome”) in 1933. Someone more generous might see this position instead as an early indication of Mosley’s prototypical Pan-European inclinations, which would later emerge in full during his wartime imprisonment and would thoroughly define the entirety of his political thought and activity throughout the rest of his life. Regardless, his position on this topic  sets the ideology of the BUF apart from völkisch movements like German National Socialism, which viewed its ideals as intrinsically and inseparably bound up with the blood origins of its adherents. 

FASCISM IN BRITAIN
Sir Oswald Mosley
Leader, British Union of FascistsFascism in Britain

Fascism has come to Great Britain. It comes to each great nation in turn as it reaches the crisis which is inevitable in the modern age. That crisis is inevitable because an epoch of civilisation has come to an end. It is our task to bring to birth a new civilisation, and to organise its system.

Fascism in Britain is the faith of those who, ever since the War, have realised that the old system was dead and that a new system must be created. We have tried in turn all of the established Parties, in an effort to secure from them a policy of action to meet the new facts of the new age. None of the old Parties or the old Leaders realised those facts, or devised a policy to meet them. They have consistently misled and deceived the public. Nevertheless, it was only right to give the established system and the old Parties the opportunity to meet the new situation. We Fascists make no apology for having tried to secure a policy of action from each of the old Parties in turn before embarking on the drastic course of forming a new movement.1 It was only at a last resort that we threw down our challenge to the existing system. If we had failed to make that challenge, we should have failed in our duty to our country. All Parties since the War have betrayed us and have betrayed the nation. We now embody and formulate the principles for which we have fought since the War: the modern creed of organised fascism. It is the new faith, born of the post-war period in the last decade. It is not a product of Italy, nor of any foreign country. Like all the other political faiths, such as Conservatism, Liberalism, and Socialism, it is common to all countries. Far quicker, however, than those creeds of the past, it has found an organised form in Britain within a few years of its birth. That organisation is necessary before the old civilisation crumbles to collapse, and we can lose no time in the building of the new.

Fascism is the system of the next stage of civilisation. The epoch of civilisation which has come to an end is that of nineteenth century individualism. It was the period of “each for himself and the Devil take the hindmost.” With many abuses and much suffering to the masses, it worked in the early days of industrialism. It has now ceased to work in the twentieth century because of the development of science and of industry, for reasons which will be examined in the next section. The nineteenth century created the parties of the great vested interests, such as Conservatism and Liberalism, which were organisations to assist those interests to do what they liked at the expense of the nation. In answer to those Parties, the nineteenth century also produced Socialism, which was a blind revolt against inhuman conditions, and expressed the determination of yet another class also to do what it liked at the expense of the nation. Continue reading

The Christian Socialist Ahlen Program

“The capitalist economic system has failed…” The 1947 ‘Ahlen Program’ of the center-right Christian Democratic Union

CDU_GemeinwirtschaftThe collapse of the ‘Hitler-regime’ and Germany’s total defeat over the course of the War led many Germans to seek a clean break with the past. The ‘fresh start’ which they longed for was not just conceptualized in terms of a rejection of National Socialism and militarism, but also in terms of a desire to cast aside the capitalist economic system, to use the opportunity offered by the need to rebuild a shattered nation to construct a new economic system which would be eminently fairer and less prone to cronyism and abuse. This sentiment was not just confined to those on the Left; the conservative movement (particularly those formerly associated with the Catholic Zentrum) had a long history of Christian Socialism in their ranks, and these ideas came to the fore once more during the harsh winters and troubled economic times which immediately followed the end of the War. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had been founded in June 1945 as a catch-all movement for moderate conservatives and Christians of all denominations, and Christian Socialism became particularly popular among CDU members within the British Zone of occupation, an area which encompassed the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s industrial heartland. On 3 February, 1947, CDU members within the British Zone formalized the party’s commitment to Christian Socialist principles (while diplomatically choosing to avoid direct use of the term) by adopting the famous ‘Ahlen Program’, translated below. The Ahlen Program, which openly calls for the socialization of certain industries, the democratization of workplaces, and the forced break-up of companies above a certain size, was largely the work of local CDU leaders Johannes Albers and Konrad Adenauer. Adenauer would turn out to be more economically conservative than other members of the North-Rhine Westphalia branch, which explains why he later took both the CDU and Germany (as Chancellor) in a direction which ended up casting aside many of the more radical socialist ideals set out in this early founding document. 

The Ahlen Program
CDU Zone Committee for the British Zone, Ahlen / Westphalia,
3rd February 1947CDU

The CDU Zone Committee for the British Occupation Zone issued the following programmatic declaration at its conference of 1-3 February, 1947, in Ahlen:

The capitalist economic system has failed to do justice to the vital state and social interests of the German people. After the terrible political, economic, and social collapse which resulted from criminal power politics, only a new order built from the ground up can follow.

The content and goal of this new social and economic order can no longer be the capitalist pursuit of profit and power, but instead must be only the welfare of our people. A cooperative economic order should provide the German people with an economic and social constitution which accords with the rights and dignity of man, which serves the spiritual and material development of our people, and which secures peace both at home and abroad.

In recognition of this, the CDU party program of March 1946 sets forth the following principles:

The Goal of All Economic Activity is to Satisfy the Needs of the People

The economy has to serve the development of the creative forces of the people and the community. The starting-point for all economic activity is the recognition of the individual. Personal freedom in the economic sphere is closely linked to freedom in the political sphere. The shaping and management of the economy must not deprive the individual of his freedom. Therefore, it is necessary to: Continue reading