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 Uneven Alliance: German Nationals and the Hitler Government

“Well, that’s revolution…” Complaints and observations from a member of the German National People’s Party about his party’s unequal position in the NSDAP-led ‘National Government’

When Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on 30 January, 1933, it was not as the leader of a uniformly National Socialist regime. The initial Hitler cabinet was instead a coalition government comprising, alongside the more radical NSDAP, the monarchist German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP), the paramilitary Stahlhelm, and several non-partisan conservative figures such as Franz von Papen and Konstantin von Neurath. The early hopes among Germany’s patriotic circles that this ‘National Government’ augured a new era of equal dominance for the various forces of the political Right were soon dashed, however, particularly after the passage of the Enabling Act. The National Socialists began using their newfound authority to enforce a process of ‘consolidation’ and ‘coordination’ throughout Germany, in which the political apparatus at every level was gradually occupied by NSDAP functionaries while political opponents – including those ostensibly on the same side as the NSDAP – were systematically harassed and oppressed. German Nationals were not spared any of this treatment – DNVP officials found their offices ransacked, their staff persecuted, their meetings broken up, and their middle-class voters jeered at in National Socialist rallies and newspapers. The office of Vice-Chancellor von Papen, seen by many on the Right as a sympathetic figure, was soon flooded with hundreds of alarmed letters from German Nationals and from other conservatives, men and women who had become painfully aware that the new ‘National Government’ would be neither monarchist nor conservative but was instead marching steadily towards a new and troubling political form of National Socialist radicalism. The two documents translated below, written by a certain Dr. Bubenhöfer – a prominent Freudenstadt physician and a member of the Württemberg DNVP’s leadership committee – provide a typical example of the kinds of reports sent to the Vice-Chancellor’s office by concerned German Nationals. The complaints and observations in Bubenhöfer’s letter and accompanying political memorandum help illustrate some of the key ideological differences between the DNVP and the more revolutionary NSDAP: Bubenhöfer’s writing expresses considerable concern about the ‘socialism’ within the NSDAP, about the NSDAP’s tolerance for Germany’s pre-existing welfare state measures, about its deliberate sidelining of other patriotic groups, and about the potential for instability represented by the SA. Interestingly, some of Bubenhöfer’s complaints are a little atypical of the DNVP, which tended to be more ‘moderate’ on most issues than the NSDAP; Bubenhöfer was a member of the DNVP’s völkisch wing, and as well as being perturbed about the NSDAP’s totalitarianism he also complains that it has been far too lenient in its treatment of Marxists, Jews, and “racial inferiors!” What eventually happened to Bubenhöfer is uncertain, but the DNVP soon faced the same fate as most other nationalist organizations – by the end of June 1933 it was pressured to dissolve itself, with many of its members and officials feeling obliged to go over to the NSDAP.

The Uneven Alliance:
Württemberg DNVP Leader Dr. Bubenhöfer’s
April 1933 Letter to Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen

Dr. Med. Bubenhöfer
Freudenstadt
Specialist in Surgery & Gynecology
Chief Physician of the District Hospital

Freudenstadt, 11 April, 1933
His Excellency Herr Vice-Chancellor v. Papen
Berlin

Esteemed Herr von Papen!

Might I once again avail myself of the right which you granted me, to be able to write to you?

If, in an hour of leisure, you might read through a short essay which I have recently dictated, as is my custom, and would perhaps write me your opinion on this or that, I would be most grateful. I have lived with all of these issues for many years, they consume me both inside and outside of my job. I have delivered many a lecture on these various topics. Above all, however, I am particularly concerned by issues regarding the assessment of the Centre, the position to take towards the NSDAP, and the topic of eugenics. And I would be grateful for a brief critique from you, whom I consider such a capable critic. There is so much going on right now which we do not like. Well, that’s revolution. My friends and I witness so much which shocks us. I will mention only two things: As I was able to tell you in Stuttgart, I salvaged a national defense organization, with weapons, out of Captain Damm’s old Freischar organization,1 preserving it through all the perils of the Bolz government.2 Today the SA are no longer willing to recognize us; yes, they even go so far as to doubt our national will because we are not National Socialist.

14 years ago, together with a few friends, I founded a German-völkisch order with which we hoped to perform long-term völkisch work with the aim of combating Freemasonry. Today we ourselves are denounced as Freemasons. Well, such things are the phenomena of revolution, but they nonetheless strongly dampen the satisfaction of nationally-minded men in the National Revolution. What the Stahlhelm3 wrote recently, that Hitler might one day be pleased to have them, I had also hoped might some day be said of a National Government about my organization. But the National Socialists do not need us and do not want us. And so I have no other recourse but to dissolve the organization, which is so highly esteemed by all sides – including by Reichswehr Minister von Blomberg – and thus to destroy, at least formally, a camaraderie which has held fast for 11 years of the most difficult times. When as a leader one has to say farewell to thousands of comrades without any apparent discernible need, because now our “friends” are at the helm, this is something which simply has to be endured. And yet we German Nationals, to whom I also belong, are part of the government. One would therefore think that an organization led by a man known throughout the state of Württemberg for his nationalist spirit would be acceptable to any National Government. We were to be in the government, I was told, not the SA leader.4 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