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