Ernst von Salomon’s reflections on German communism, the Ulm Reichswehr trial, and his nationalist brother’s conversion to Marxism
“That weird man, Karl Marx, could, after a hundred years, influence two very experienced men, who had passed through a thousand false ideas, so strongly as to change the whole course of their future lives.” What Ernst von Salomon wrote in his Fragebogen about men he knew in the ’30s is still as valid today. Marxism still has power over men’s destinies, still inspires dedication or hate in their hearts, still has its influence – to one extent or another, for better or for worse – on the course of their political lives. In the extract below von Salomon observes this enduring power through three separate cases: the young officers in the Ulm Reichswehr trial; his brother Bruno, with friend Bodo Uhse; and, finally, himself. All three cases involve young men, militant men with revolution in their blood; not all became communists, but all were drawn towards Marxism regardless by its discipline, the dedication of its adherents, its commitment to the immolation of the Weimar system – and to the clarity of its economic doctrine. Elsewhere in his Fragebogen von Salomon declares: “I am a Prussian. My national colours are black and white. They mean that my ancestors died for freedom, and they serve to remind me that I am still a Prussian whether the sun is shining or the skies are heavy with cloud… I am a Prussian and I wish to be a Prussian.” Like many other young Weimar-era rebels who dwelt in that blurred, overlapping space between Left and Right, von Salomon saw a reflection of those elements of Prussian discipline and statehood he yearned for mirrored within the power and asceticism of the Bolshevik movement.
In January, 1933, I returned from abroad firmly determined to give my civil career precedence over all political activity. My brother Bruno made a special trip to Berlin in order to tell me how much he despised this decision of mine. He was no longer living in Schleswig-Holstein. Acquitted at the great Altona Peasant Trial, he had looked about the province for a time and had found that there was no longer any sense in remaining faithful to the peasants there. But to the cause of the peasants he wished to stay true. Curiously, in these conditions, he found himself drawn ever closer to his old adversary, Bodo Uhse. Now he surprised me with the information that, drawing the consequences from their past actions, both he and Bodo Uhse had joined the Communist Party.
So some people did, after all, draw conclusions, and quite surprising ones at that, but the conclusions they drew all came out of the same sack and were conditioned by the same moment of time. It began with the disappearance of Seeckt. The great, mysterious sphinx had stumbled on a pebble. In an access of thoughtlessness he had permitted a prince of the house of Hohenzollern, in the uniform of an officer, to attend as a guest the Reichswehr manoeuvres at the troop-training area of Munsingen. The colossus tottered and fell. It now appeared that he had had feet of clay after all. The old, imperial field-marshal, himself, it seemed, a solid rock, let fall his general without raising a finger save to sign the order appointing Seeckt’s successor. This latter was General Heye, a fine and upright soldier from whom no surprises were to be expected. And this good, well-meaning soldier was soon to be faced with the greatest of worries, caused by two of his junior officers. Continue reading