Aufbruch: Winning the Nationalists for Communism

“Nationalists! Break through to us!” Articles from ‘Aufbruch’, a National Bolshevist propaganda journal produced by the Communist Party of Germany

Between 23 September to 4 October 1930, three young officers of the German Reichswehr stood trial in a Leipzig court, charged with plotting to commit high treason. The three Lieutenants – Richard Scheringer, Hanns Ludin, and Hans Wendt – had for several months been spreading national-revolutionary propaganda among the officer corps of the 5th Artillery Regiment in Ulm, encouraging them “not to fire on a national uprising of the people” should it occur, but instead to actively side with the revolutionary nationalists, to “join the revolt and become the nucleus of a people’s army of the future.” The ‘Ulm Reichswehr Trial’ of these young officers became a notorious event in Weimar history (Hitler was famously called as a witness), but even more notorious was its aftermath. On 27 February 1931, almost five months into an 18 month sentence, Richard Scheringer publicly announced that he had forsaken radical-nationalism and decided to convert to Communism, and a statement to this effect was read out in the Reichstag on 18 March by a member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). The Communists saw Scheringer’s conversion as a major propaganda victory, and quickly hurried to incorporate his name and image into their “National and Social” propaganda line, a strategy directed at winning over disaffected nationalists for Marxism-Leninism through Communist appropriation of nationalist discourse and aesthetics. To that end, in July 1931 a new propaganda journal was launched: Aufbruch: Kampfblatt im Sinne des Leutnant a.D. Scheringer (“Awakening: A Combat-Journal in the Spirit of Lieutenant a.D. Scheringer”). Aufbruch directly targeted itself towards members of the NSDAP, SA, Stahlhelm, Wehrwolf, and other nationalist organizations, utilizing Scheringer’s name along with National Bolshevist language in an attempt to build common ground between nationalist and Marxist revolutionaries. Aufbruch articles might cover military developments in the Soviet Red Army, revolutionary strategy in China, the concept of the “Nation” in socialist theory, or the inadequate social-revolutionary credentials of nationalist leaders – all topics intended to attract a radical-nationalist audience and to make them sympathetic to the arguments of German Communism. The two articles below are translated from the first edition of Aufbruch, and give an idea of its flavor: the first (untitled) lead article is effectively a statement of the journal’s purpose, while the second (“The Break with Yesterday”) is an account by an anonymous supposed ex-NSDAP member explaining why he and others like him decided to break with the NSDAP in favor of the KPD.

Untitled Lead Article from
Aufbruch

“A Combat-Journal in the Spirit of Lieutenant a.D.
1 Scheringer”
From Aufbruch vol. 1, no. 1, July 1931

LENIN:
“If the cause of the Volk is made the cause of the Nation,
then the cause of the Nation becomes the cause of the Volk!”
2

Folk-comrades!

In this historic hour, we turn to you former officers and leaders in the nationalist associations:

The misery of our Volk is growing tremendously. More and more are the masses being forced into impoverishment by the capitalist system. Hundreds of thousands of peasants separated from their homes and farms; millions dulled through having to eke out a meager existence; millions of workers and employees without work and bread; hundreds and thousands of academics and intellectuals no longer with any opportunity to earn a living.

The capitalist ruling powers are trying to keep the machinery of state running through brutal cuts to wages and salaries; by reducing care for the sick and disabled; by cutting civil servant salaries and war victim benefits; by throttling unemployment benefits; by perpetually introducing new taxes and new methods of coercion. The tribute burdens are passed on completely to the working strata among the Volk. Freedom of expression is stifled through ruthless terror, and every protest by the masses is suppressed with fascist methods.

Meanwhile, international finance capital is preparing for a war of intervention against the Soviet Union, in order to reintegrate back into the capitalist system an economic territory which is flourishing as a result of socialism’s realization. In their own countries the exploiters have done everything possible to incite the German Volk against the East in service of the predatory capital of world finance. In this way they hope to escape their present difficulties once again, and to create an outlet for the growing anger of the masses. If this criminal plan is fulfilled, then all hope for the national and social liberation of the German Volk will be destroyed for a long time to come, because our freedom can only be secured in tandem with the first free workers’ and peasants’ state on Earth, the Soviet Union! The opposite route leads us to a new enslavement, to the perpetuation of capitalist servitude indefinitely. Continue reading

The Nationality-Programme of Austrian Social-Democracy

The nationality-programme of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria: a socialist solution to the ‘national question’?

Upon its founding in Hainfeld in 1889, the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Österreichs, SDAPÖ) was faced with challenges which, outside of Russia, were largely unique within the context of European socialist politics. Austria-Hungary was a sprawling multinational land empire, a dual monarchy governing a cosmopolitan blend of different races which had become increasingly dispersed as a by-product of capitalist development and growing industrialization. As a consequence, from the very beginning the SDAPÖ found itself not only dealing with material class issues, but also with the competing demands of different national ethnic groups, and the party soon discovered that abstract appeals to “internationalism” were often not enough to attenuate the ethnic disquiet felt by many workers – whether Germans faced with the threat of “cheap Czech labor” migrating from other parts of the Empire, or non-German minorities who felt discriminated against by the state (and even by the party and the unions). The ‘national question’ proved so divisive for the SDAPÖ that in 1897 it split into six separate (but still theoretically united) Social-Democratic parties, one for each of the major ethnic groups represented within the Austrian state. In 1899, at a Social-Democratic conference in Brünn, the SDAPÖ made an attempt to grapple with the issue directly by drafting a “nationality-programme,” a proposed outline for a future socialist state which the party believed would eliminate national conflicts among the workers while still preserving Austria as a unified, independent entity. The Brünn proposal (a “democratic state federation of nationalities”), and much of the theory which developed out of it in the following years, would subsequently become one of the defining characteristics of “Austromarxism,” that unique form of Social-Democracy which developed within Austria as a consequence of the country’s particular political idiosyncrasies. In order to explore the nationality-programme and some of the critical reactions to it from the broader socialist movement, I have reproduced a number of documents below. The first is a brief account from a historical work providing some background and context to the programme. The second is the translated text of the nationality-programme itself, taken from an SDAPÖ publication. The final three pieces are extracts, critiques of the programme from three different sources: one from Otto Bauer, representing an internal critique (the Austromarxist view); one from Joseph Stalin, representing the Bolshevist perspective; and one from Alois Ciller, representing the National Socialist outlook. Each of these three men had some connection to the Austrian proposal, whether through background or expertise, and each had his own independent interpretation of the programme’s efficacy and its potential impact upon socialist theory and socialist activism.

Nationalism Among the Workers:
The Historical Context Behind the Social-Democratic Nationality-Programme
From historian Andrew G. Whiteside’s “Austrian National Socialism Before 1918” (1962)

Andrew G. Whiteside’s book constitutes an exploration of the conditions which gave rise to the German-völkisch National Socialist movement, whose origins lay within Austria-Hungary (particularly the Sudetenland) and which was already an established, active political force there before Hitler joined the Bavarian German Workers’ Party in 1919. The short extract below, taken from the chapter “Nationalism Among the Workers,” provides some of the historical context surrounding the drafting of the Brünn nationality-programme. It briefly outlines the impact which inter-ethnic worker conflicts had upon the SDAPÖ; the difficulties Social-Democratic leaders experienced in trying to reconcile Austrian conditions with the theory of internationalism; how these conditions helped give rise to the idea of a federation of nationalities; and, finally, how in the end the party’s strategy could still not prevent a complete splitting of the SDAPÖ along racial lines. – Bogumil

The Austrian Social-Democratic Party during these years [the 1890s to early 1900s] was beset by difficulties that did not exist for Socialists in most of the other countries of Europe. Its basic doctrine of proletarian solidarity and the irrelevance of nationality was refuted by the division between Czech and German workers. As a liberating force it had to admit a man’s right to be educated and to do his work in his native tongue. At the same time many of its leaders – Adler, Kautsky, Pernerstorfer, Renner, Bauer, Seliger, Ellenbogen, and others – were firmly convinced that the international labor movement should be directed by men with German brains and character. Like Marx and Engels they distrusted Slavs. Friedrich Stampfer, a spokesman for the betont deutsch1 wing of Austrian Social-Democracy, writing in the Leipziger Volkszeitung, actually opposed political democracy because it would mean handing over the country to Slavs and clericals. Viktor Adler, complaining to Liebknecht about the spread of nationality madness, declared that it was based chiefly on envy, misunderstanding, and irrationality. Otto Bauer, defending the Viennese German leadership, said that the success of the Socialist movement required empire-wide international unions with unified finances, administration, and policy; the Czechs, by stubbornly insisting on autonomy, were failing to show the “the necessary discipline of the minority” and were sabotaging the whole labor movement. Bauer was in the dilemma of all dedicated Austrian Socialists, torn between his belief in the special role of the Germans in advancing Socialism and his sympathy with the Czechs’ desire for national equality. Continue reading

Proclamation and Programme of the German Völkisch Freedom Party

“Free from fruitless parliamentarism and the exploitation of labour!” The 1923 provisional programme of the German Völkisch Freedom Party (DVFP)

In the notes appended to the previous article on this blog – a historical overview of the German Völkisch Freedom Party (Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, DVFP) by academic Stefanie Schrader – I pointed out that the DVFP, Germany’s predominant völkisch party throughout much of the 1920s, never really had an “official” political programme. The party did produce a programme circa January 1923 which was briefly disseminated to the public, but this programme was only considered a “preliminary version” and was never formally ratified by the leadership as a definitive statement of party principles. The reason behind this decision lies with the DVFP’s innate hostility to “parliamentarism” in all its forms, an attitude which it had inherited from the pre-War völkisch movement and which was not entirely uncommon within other nationalist organizations. Political programmes were associated with political parties, and political parties were the offspring of hated parliamentarism; it was controversial enough within the völkisch movement (and even within the party itself) that the DVFP had constituted itself as a registered political party and was running in elections, so the leadership’s rejection of a formal programme can thus be viewed as something of a sop to those in the völkisch camp who were uncomfortable with the accoutrements of democratic participation. Considering the DVFP instead chose to communicate its principles to the public via “Guidelines” and “Statements,” however, the content of which was scarcely much different to its unofficial draft programme (which I have translated below), the entire dispute seems like much hand-wringing over nothing to me – although it does demonstrate the mindset under which the Deutschvölkische operated, and the ways in which they tried to reconcile their hatred of parliamentary democracy with their own participation in the Weimar system. Particularly interesting is how similar the draft DVFP programme appears to that of the National Socialists, although by comparison the Völkisch programme does come across as somewhat vaguer, as less clearly-defined. The DVFP had its own National Socialist/Bolshevist wing at this stage, centered around prominent social-radical members like Count Ernst zu Reventlow and Franz Stöhr; their abandonment of the party for the NSDAP in 1927 precipitated the DVFP’s strong conservative wing making their presence much more overt, and simultaneously helped lead to a significant decline in the German Völkisch Freedom Party’s overall public influence and support.

Proclamation
of the
German Völkisch Freedom Party!

NS_Swastika

German men and women! German youth!

The spiritual, political, and economic misery of the German Volk is mounting. Moral depravity and a lack of patriotism are spreading at an appalling rate. Inflation is rising unbearably. Folk-comrades will have to die of starvation, German children will be forced to waste away, unless we ourselves are able to raise the money required to satisfy the insatiable greed of our enemies.1

This is the consequence of politics in an era which Fichte2 a century ago had already termed the Age of Complete Sinfulness, an age which seeks its fulfillment in us today. This is the consequence of politics ever since Bismarck’s dismissal. This is the consequence of the 9th of November, 1918. This is the impact of the Jewish spirit and of its Marxism, which have bankrupted the entire world. This is the consequence of an undignified Policy of Fulfillment, a policy through which we are being bled to death, through which we shall become a nation of slaves, and which has earned us only contempt and abuse from abroad. Whosoever adopts a servile disposition shall eventually himself end up a servant.

Salvation, however, is impossible so long as the situation remains as it is today! On the contrary: We would have to continue our hopeless downhill slide! While hardship grows; while we are treated so unfairly, as no negro-state is even treated; while German women are fair game for the black French;3 while all of this goes on, all the political parties tear one another apart in petty, obscene struggles and quarrels over the issues of the day and in disputes over ministerial posts! Every form of generosity and will to action is paralyzed. With speeches they give the pretense of being able to make us whole. Continue reading

The German Völkisch Freedom Party (DVFP)

Völkisch parliamentarism: A historical overview of the German Völkisch Freedom Party (DVFP)

The German Völkisch Freedom Party (Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, DVFP), although something of a historical footnote now, was for much of the 1920s the NSDAP’s primary rival for the völkisch vote within German party politics. The DVFP was the younger of the two parties, having been founded in December 1922 as a result of a split within the bourgeois-nationalist German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP) over the party’s approach to the “Jewish question.” While the more radical elements in the DNVP’s völkisch wing felt the party was not giving enough attention to the issue, much of the rest of the party were concerned that the völkish radicals’ bellicosity was harming their image with the public, particularly in the aftermath of the assassination of German-Jewish Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau. When the DNVP leadership definitively came down against the radicals at the Görlitz party conference in 1922, the die was cast: the völkisch radicals left the party and, coalescing around prominent nationalist activists Albrecht von Graefe, Reinhold Wulle, and Wilhelm Henning, founded the DVFP. In trying to be a broad-based organization representing the entirety of the fractious and highly-diverse völkisch movement, however, the DVFP proved unable to deliver a genuinely coherent, definitive vision of the alternative Germany which they intended to create. This ultimately ensured that the party’s early successes in electoral politics eventually withered away, overshadowed by the growing dynamism of the National Socialists. The article below, written by academic Stefanie Schrader, provides a brief historical overview of this story. It was taken from the 2012 collection Movements and Ideas of the Extreme Right in Europe, and so far as I am aware is the only really thorough examination of the DVFP available in English. Its description of the DVFP helps to highlight some of the major differences within the Weimar era völkisch movement; in contrast to the more radical NSDAP, the DVFP’s ideals were more in line with the ‘conventional’ völkisch politics of the pre-War era, with its ideals and norms still heavily influenced by political attitudes of the late 19th century. It is interesting to consider, in light of this, whether it could ever have achieved the same level of success as the NSDAP, had history for the latter party turned out rather differently.

Völkische Weltanschauung on the Back Benches:
The Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei and the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic
By Stefanie Schrader

NS_Swastika

During the years of the Weimar Republic, the German public witnessed the coming and going of a hardly countable number of small political parties, in particular right-wing parties, which aspired to enter the Reichstag and other influential positions. Nevertheless, when it comes to accounts of Weimar Germany’s political parties the focus is often rather quickly, probably even too rashly, diverted to the NSDAP, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, as the only radical party on the far right that succeeded in becoming a mass movement with a substantial faction in the Reichstag by 1930. Evidently, there are obvious reasons for reviewing the rise of the National Socialists as a political party, which tried to play the parliamentary game during the late 1920s and succeeded in doing so with fatal consequences for parliamentarian culture even before 1933. But there are also good reasons for an inquiry into the ideological background and political agenda of neighbouring, if not rivalling groups such as the German Völkisch Freedom Party (Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, DVFP).

The author of a highly critical three-volume handbook on the völkisch movement, published between 1929 and 1931, remembered the DVFP in direct comparison with the National Socialists as having been the more influential party in parliament only a couple of years ago. Already the name, Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, is difficult to grasp. It is almost impossible to translate without inaccurately reducing the meaning of the adjective völkisch to national or nationalistic, racial or racist, ethnic folkish or anti-Semitic. Where the party is mentioned in a small number of anglophone publications, for instance of the 1960s, it usually figures as “German Racist Freedom Party” or “German Folkish Freedom Party.” More recent authors prefer to leave the term völkisch untranslated. But the lack of conceptual clarity is far more than just a problem of translation into other languages. First and foremost, the inflationary contemporary use of the adjective and the absence of a precise definition of what the concept völkisch actually was supposed to mean are characteristic features of the German discourse about the term in the 1920s. The distinctly heterogeneous character of the völkisch movement on the threshold between the German Empire and the Weimar Republic and its ideological complexity are a confusing, if not elusive phenomenon. The DVFP was thus just one of many groups which labelled themselves völkisch. The unique aspect of this particular völkisch organisation was its being the first völkisch party in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic.1 Continue reading