Monthly Fragebogen: The Rathenau Murder

On a drive to Silesia, nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon and comrade Hartmut Plaas reminisce over their participation in the assassination of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau

Walther_Rathenau

The murder of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau in 1922 was one of the defining events of the early Weimar Republic, today typically presented as a prime act of anti-semitism: Rathenau’s liberalism, his wealth and links with industry, his role in Germany’s defeat in the Great War, his prominence in the development of the new democratic Republic, all were in his murderers’ eyes apparently a by-product of his Jewishness. Yet the reality is a little more complex. Rathenau was a liberal, but one who dreamed of a powerful, organic “New State” which would transcend “petit-bourgeois parliamentarism” through a “living structure” of “corporations” representing all “multifarious elements of local and professional life.” Rathenau was a Jewish capitalist, but one who saw the war economy as the model for the future: a private economy subordinated to the interests of the nation through state planning and the corporatist reorganization of industry. There is a reason that his ultranationalist murderers described him as looking “a decent sort” while at the same time worrying that he might be one of the Learned Elders of Zion. These assassins were young (and immature) men, members of the clandestine Organisation Consul (OC), a terrorist group which had grown out of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt freikorps. They were undoubtedly anti-semitic, undeniably sought to achieve National Revolution through murder and terror, yet they also admired Rathenau’s vision as they simultaneously feared how it might strengthen the Republic they despised: “He is our hope, for he is dangerous… I couldn’t bear it if once again something were to arise out of the chaotic, the insane, age in which we live.” Ernst von Salomon, former OC-member and author of the post-WWII bestseller Der Fragebogen, was jailed for his role as a lookout in the Rathenau murder, as well as for his involvement in other subsequent acts of Fehme violence. In this month’s excerpt from the Fragebogen, von Salomon recounts a drive to Silesia in 1939 in which he and friend Hartmut Plaas (and their wives Ille and Sonya) reminisced over their role in Rathenau’s death and their impressions of the subsequent trial. A cynical reader might take the at times mournful, regretful tone adopted here to be a confection designed to polish over von Salomon’s spotty reputation in a US-occupied, post-WWII democratic Germany. Yet one should also keep in mind that Hartmut Plaas was executed in 1944 for the vital role he played in Admiral Canaris’s anti-Hitler resistance efforts – and that von Salomon’s Ille was herself half-Jewish, a friend whom Ernst had pretended to marry specifically to protect. Both men, like Rathenau himself, were in reality complex figures. 

I said:

“When Kern sent me to Hamburg, back in 1922, to find a chauffeur – because the naval officers could all drive torpedo boats but not cars – I went to Warncke. He couldn’t drive either, but he took me to a bar where his people were in the habit of going. There were a lot of young men there, almost all ex-sailors, and while Warncke was finding a chauffeur I had a good look at them. I recognised one who’d been at Cadet School with me, a chap called Winzer. We used to call him UXB, because we never knew when he was going to blow up. I couldn’t help going up behind him, slapping him on the shoulder and saying: ‘Well, UXB?’ He spun round and bellowed: ‘Good Lord! Salomon!’ This shook me, because of course I was travelling under a false name. ‘Quiet!’ I said: ‘I’m called Schievelbein these days.’ He understood at once and we sat down together and had a talk. [Note: By a ‘chauffeur’ von Salomon means a getaway driver; the assassins drove up besides Rathenau as he was being driven to the Foreign Office, shooting and throwing a grenade at him, before speeding away. – Bogumil]

“Later, when the police had traced my movements as far as Hamburg, they interrogated all the young men who’d been in the bar, including Winzer. They got nothing out of any of them. Their questions kept revolving around a young man who’d come from Berlin. One of the ex-sailors, who wanted to have a bit of fun with the police, and who in fact knew nothing, laughed when they questioned him. ‘The young man from Berlin? He certainly had nothing to do with the Rathenau murder. He was a Jew!’ The police followed this up at once: how did they know the young man was a Jew? Winzer had called him Salomon. Winzer was then asked what the name was of the young man who’d come from Berlin. Winzer was absolutely unable to remember his name; he was somebody he’d known very slightly, years before, at Cadet School, and there’d been so many cadets. The police found out very easily that Winzer had been at Karlsruhe Cadet School. They made enquiries whether there had ever been a cadet there called Salomon. And that was that. They had me.” Continue reading

The Führer Protects the Law

The Führer as source of “supreme justice” in the German Reich: Carl Schmitt’s essay of 1st August, 1934

Schmitt

Legal-political philosopher Carl Schmitt is often described as the “crown jurist of the Third Reich” by modern commentators, an appellation supposedly first coined by  the German-American scholar of totalitarianism, Waldemar Gurian. Schmitt’s actual relationship with the Reich is contentious – there are plenty today who claim that his support for the National Socialist regime was opportunistic, that there is evidence he attempted to defend and support the Weimar constitution during its long period of gradual breakdown. Others counter these claims by pointing directly to works such as Schmitt’s Dictatorship, or to his Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, arguing that they demonstrate an implicit fascist sympathy through their critique of the fundamentals of liberal parliamentarism and their advocacy for authoritarian forms of governance as an essential tool in statecraft. Whatever the reality behind Schmitt’s complex philosophical ideas, it is indisputable that he was part of the Conservative-Revolutionary intellectual milieu and that he fell behind the National Socialist regime after Hitler’s accession to the Chancellorship in 1933. Schmitt spent the early years of the new Reich attempting to provide its governance with a solid juridical-philosophical foundation, something he was assisted in by the prominent appointments he attained within the new regime including leading positions within the Prussian State Council, the Academy of German Law, and the National Socialist Lawyers’ League. The article below is a prime example of Schmitt’s writings from this period. Published in the prestigious legal journal Deutsche Juristen-Zeitung less than a month after the final death-spasms of the Night of the Long Knives and Hitler’s speech justifying the purge, “The Führer Protects the Law” sees Schmitt putting forth a legal justification for the extra-judicial killings of Röhm, Schleicher, Gregor Strasser, and numerous other real, potential, or imagined opponents of the regime. It is a juridical argument for Führerprinzip, positing the Führer’s legal role as that of both supreme judge and the supreme source of the Volk’s collective sense of justice; as such it makes for an inestimable contribution to fascist theory. 

The Führer Protects the Law
On Adolf Hitler’s Reichstag Address of 13th July, 1934
By
State Attorney, Prof. Dr. Carl Schmitt, Berlin

I.

At the German Jurists’ Annual Convention, held in Leipzig on October 3rd 1933, the Führer spoke about state and law. He elaborated the distinction between substantial law, which is not divorced from morality and justice, and the empty legality of false neutrality. He also delineated the inner contradictions of the Weimar system, which destroyed itself through this neutral legality and thereby handed itself over to its enemies. To this he added the sentence: “This must be a warning for us.”

In his speech to the Reichstag, delivered on July 13th 1934, which was addressed to the entire German Volk, the Führer invoked yet another historical lesson. The powerful German Reich founded by Bismarck collapsed during the world war because it lacked the strength “to activate statutes pertaining to war” in the decisive moment. The civil bureaucracy, devoid of all political instincts and paralyzed by the logic of the liberal constitutional state, could not muster the courage to treat mutineers and enemies of the state properly under the law. Anyone today who were to read the report on the public plenary session held October 9th 1917, in volume 310 of the Reichstag-Drucksachen [official record], will be appalled, and will understand the Führer’s warning. The Reichs-government reported that the ringleaders of the mutinying sailors were negotiating with members of the Reichstag affiliated with the Independent Socialist Party.

The German Reichstag answered with loud indignation that one cannot curtail a party’s constitutional right to campaign in the army, and that there was no conclusive evidence for high treason in this case. Well, only one year later the Independent Socialists threw this conclusive evidence in our face. The German Volk withstood an onslaught by the entire world with unprecedented bravery and with tremendous sacrifice for four years. But its political leadership woefully failed in the fight against the poisoning of the German Volk and the undermining of German law and its sense of honor. Still to this day we are atoning for the paralyses and hesitations of the German government during the world war.

All moral outrage over the disgrace of such a collapse accumulated in Adolf Hitler and became in him the thriving force of a political act [Tat]. The experiences and warnings of the history of this German calamity live on in him. Most people fear the severity of such warnings and prefer to escape into an evasive and compensatory superficiality. But the Führer takes seriously [macht Ernst] the teachings of German history. This endows him with the right and power to found a new state and order. Continue reading

Visions of National Socialist Democracy, Part IV: Joyce

William Joyce’s 1937 critique of British parliamentarism, and his suggested replacement: a representative National Socialist guild system

Joyce

This fourth part in the ‘Visions of National Socialist Democracy’ series constitutes a slight diversion away from German National Socialism and towards the NS of the British Isles – specifically towards the ideas of William Joyce, the British fascist who later became notorious under the sobriquet ‘Lord Haw Haw’. The piece below is an excerpt (slightly truncated for purposes of brevity) from the second chapter of Joyce’s 1937 pamphlet National Socialism Now, the primary ideological treatise for the National Socialist League which Joyce set up that same year after leaving Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. The contents of the document makes both its differences and its similarities with German National Socialism clear. The same basic ideological worldview is there, with its contempt for the plutocratic elements of liberal parliamentarism and the party system, but the solutions Joyce proposes have their own particularly British idiosyncrasies: Joyce’s inspiration for an alternative, illiberal form of representative government derives from the ideas of the earlier guild socialists, who themselves had drawn upon the form and content of the English guild system of the Middle Ages. While there is a distinctly British flavor to Joyce’s prescriptions, the resemblance of his ideas to the ‘council National Socialism’ proposed by early German National Socialists like Rudolf Jung is telling. Grappling with the problem of representation within an authoritarian system, and looking to earlier, pre-capitalist models for inspiration to resolve that problem, was an exercise which all fascists and National Socialists eventually seemed to find unavoidable. 

While the political system remains unaltered, it will be impossible to change radically the economic situation. First, the existing order of Parliamentary incumbents is too closely linked to High Finance to desire revolutionary change; so much is even true of the Labour Party, which has expelled more than one valuable member for having dared to expect Socialism within his own lifetime.

Secondly, this democratic Party System is not intended to be an instrument of fundamental change; on the contrary, it is obviously intended to keep things as they are.

The Leader of the Opposition is paid £2,000 a year to prevent the Government from doing what it pretends to think right. So much for the moral sincerity of the politicians. Even the Sermon on the Mount does not require us to pay our enemies. The answer may be: “But there is no enmity in the House of Commons.”

This answer may be taken as true; but it does not explain why the best of friends should pretend to engage in Homeric struggle and Hibernian vituperation in order to win elections.

From beginning to end, the keynote of the whole performance is callous hypocrisy. The sham fights of Westminster are meant to make the people think that somebody is caring for their interests; otherwise there might be hell to pay; it is more economical to pay the Leader of the Opposition…

…It is now clear that the National Socialist has no apology to make for his decision to end the Parliamentary farce. Constitutionally, and in perfect loyalty to the Crown as the symbol of Britain’s continuous majesty, the National Socialist proposes to make such changes in the system of Government as are necessary to produce the required changes in our system of living. Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: The Landvolk Movement

Bombs, barns, and bailiffs – nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s experiences in the revolutionary peasants’ movement, the Landvolk

Landvolk_Wer_Hilf

Last month’s excerpt from the autobiographical novel Der Fragebogen dealt in part with the conversion of Ernst von Salomon’s brother, Bruno von Salomon,  to Marxism. Bruno, like Ernst, was a nationalist – specifically an adherent to the ‘new nationalism’ prominent after the First World War. Bruno, before he became a Marxist, passed through the ‘Landvolk’ movement – as did Ernst, although the conclusions each reached from their experiences were different. The Landvolk movement (Landvolkbewegung, in English the ‘Rural Peoples’ Movement’) was a socio-political phenomenon beginning in the late 1920s in which the peasants of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s northenmost province, rebelled against the authority of the Weimar state. Incensed by Germany’s terrible financial situation, by high tax rates, by a lack of protectionism, by what they felt were unfair property seizures over tax and loan debts, by a lack of effective political representation, the province’s peasants began to fight back. Organizing as a class, the Landvolk were not an organized party; they had a flag (black, with a red sword and white plough) and leaders (Claus Heim and Wilhelm Hamkens), but both were informal, and there was no real hierarchy, no real organizational structure. Motivated by a shared pro-völkisch, anti-capitalist, anti-system worldview, this grass-roots movement began a series of vigorous protests against Weimar officials – protests which became more wild and more raucous over time until, inevitably, they devolved into outright terrorism. Naturally, all this activity attracted political radicals, which is how Bruno and Ernst von Salomon ended up in the region, along with countless other nationalists, communists, fascists, and National Socialists looking to turn words into action and fight directly against the hated Weimar state by helping the peasants in their struggle. Ernst von Salomon’s recollections of his and his brother’s involvement in the Landvolk movement from Der Fragebogen, reproduced below, provide a rather wry, first-hand recollection of an often-overlooked segment of Weimar radicalism. From these one can see the real-life inspiration for many of the events in von Salomon’s Landvolk-themed novel Die Stadt (published in English as It Cannot Be Stormed), which along with Hans Fallada’s A Small Circus (Bauern, Bonzen, und Bomben) is one of the best literary accounts of the Schleswig-Holstein peasants’ struggle.

I had neither seen nor heard from my brother Bruno for many years. He had as good as vanished. Our last quarrel had been shortly after the Kapp Putsch. He approved of putsches, but not of Kapp, whereas I thought that in those troubled times any man who wished was entitled to make his own putsch. My brother, who knew nothing save, as he put it, how to lead a company in close formation through a sewage farm, was making diverse efforts to lead an honourable, civil life; the question of loss of social rank worried him not in the slightest, and for a long time he lived in Hamburg as a workman in a woolcarding factory – until he at last realised that he would have more chance of changing the world than of altering himself. He recalled that no German can ever really go down so long as he continues to make use of the knowledge acquired at his elementary school. And so he succeeded in persuading the owner of a small printing press in Blankensee, who published a feeble and patriotic weekly paper, that under his editorship the subscriptions would be doubled. The periodical was called Die Deutsche Front, neither more nor less.

It did not occur to my brother that he might change his periodical’s name. It corresponded to a deeply felt need. This was a period when suddenly and everywhere men remembered that they too had served in the war. Feelings of personal dignity had long lain fallow, overwhelmed in the wreckage of the collapse; later each individual had been fully occupied in trying to hack a path through the ruins of civilian existence. But obviously during the din of battle every soldier had dreamed of a beautiful world such as could never come true. And obviously, too, when compared with the emotions of war-time those of peace seemed relatively ineffectual. Any ex-soldier was bound to feel that life had been filled with a starker intensity during the few seconds which decided whether or not a salient could be held than during those Homeric struggles for large, medium, or small coalitions which constantly placed the same small band of worthies on page one of the morning papers. So it is hardly surprising that as soon as this generation had recovered from its physical and psychological exhaustion a positive torrent of war books began to appear, books in which the authors attempted to put down on paper what had once been such very real experiences. It made no difference whether the war was seen from a positive or a negative attitude: the common experience was affirmed in all its power: and many a man who had previously maintained that his military service had been nothing but one long, atrocious martyrdom, now began to assert that he too had always been a good soldier – or alternatively to boast that he at least had had the guts to stand up to a bully of a sergeant-major. Continue reading