Monthly Fragebogen: That weird man, Karl Marx

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

Bourgeois Cosmopolitanism and its Reactionary Role, Part II

The conclusion of Bolshevik writer F. Chernov’s March 15th, 1949 article attacking unpatriotic elements in Soviet society and the arts

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Excerpted below is the second part of F. Chernov’s article on “bourgeois cosmopolitanism” and “rootless cosmopolitanism”, interchangeable terms denoting a form of capitalist internationalism which Chernov presents as being at odds with socialist internationalism. Chernov goes to great efforts in the article to demonstrate how socialist internationalism can be simultaneously internationalist and patriotic. His argument largely boils down to the idea that Soviet internationalism is the only worldview which respects true patriotism, that bourgeois cosmopolitanism  in fact aims to negate and nullify real patriotic feeling in its effort to spread the power and influence of capitalism and chauvinism dressed up as nationalism. As Chernov says, “Soviet patriotism is inseparable from proletarian internationalism, organically connected with it.” This theoretical worldview, the brainchild of Stalin and Agitprop Director Andrei Zhdanov, provided justification not only for the traditionalist and nationalist cultural policies of the period, but also for the entrenchment of Russian imperial rule over its vast post-War empire.

The first part of this article is accessible here. 

III: THE WORLDWIDE struggle against “cosmopolitan” imperialism.

The ideology of cosmopolitanism arises from the same manner of production of bourgeois society.

Cosmopolitanism is the negation of patriotism, its opposite. It advocates absolute apathy towards the fate of the Motherland. Cosmopolitanism denies the existence of any moral or civil obligations of people to their nation and Motherland.

The bourgeoisie preaches the principle that money does not have a homeland, and that, wherever one can “make money,” wherever one may “have a profitable business”, there is his homeland. Here is the villainy that bourgeois cosmopolitanism is called on to conceal, to disguise, “to ennoble” the antipatriotic ideology of the rootless bourgeois-businessman, the huckster and the traveling salesman.

Harmful cosmopolitan ideology serves for the bourgeoisie and its agents as a very convenient ideological tool for excusing and covering up all kinds of antipatriotic actions, national treason and political double-dealing. Marx showed that “bourgeois patriotism…degenerated into a complete sham after its financial, commercial, and industrial activity acquired a cosmopolitanist character” [see the Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 16, ‘A Contribution to the Question of Political Economy’].

In the era of imperialism the ideology of cosmopolitanism is a weapon in the struggle of imperialist plunderers seeking world domination.

Even in the time of the first World War, defending the Bolshevik programme on the nationalities question, fighting for the right of nations for self-determination, Lenin wrote:

“Imperialism represents outgrowing by capital of frameworks for national states, it represents an expansion and exacerbation of national oppression on a new historical basis. Hence it follows that in spite of guns, exactly this, that we must join the revolutionary struggle for socialism to a revolutionary programme on the question of nationality” [see Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. 21, ‘The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination’].

This Leninist position shows the indissoluble bonds of the revolutionary struggle for socialism with the defense of national sovereignty of nations. Continue reading

Bourgeois Cosmopolitanism and its Reactionary Role, Part I

Bolshevik writer F. Chernov’s March 15th, 1949 article attacking unpatriotic elements in Soviet society and the arts

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The following article on “rootless cosmopolitanism” was originally published during the period of the Zhdanov Doctrine, the post-War cultural policy pursued by Agitprop Director Andrei Zhdanov from 1946 until Stalin’s death in 1953. Zhdanov, one of the chief theoreticians of the Stalinist regime, initiated the Soviet Union’s new cultural doctrine with a number of speeches attacking Soviet literary journals, musicians, film-makers, artists, and novelists for their modernist and experimentalist tendencies. Zhdanov’s intention was to root out and excise all vestiges of Western and foreign influences (“cosmopolitanism”); in their place a new Soviet culture was championed, one based on folk culture and classical arts and merging Great-Russian nationalism with Bolshevik tradition. The article below was not written by Zhdanov, but by a mysterious and possibly pseudonymous ‘F. Chernov’. Nonetheless, its publication in a Central Committee theoretical journal during this period attests to its official nature, and with its attacks on anti-patriotic “cosmopolitans” and its veneration of a culture “national in form, socialist in content” it provides a seminal example of attitudes during this period of Stalinist nationalism. It should also be noted that ‘rootless cosmopolitan’ is often regarded as a euphemism for ‘Jew’; many of the artists and intellectuals hounded for their alleged anti-patriotic or pro-Western sentiment in this period were Jewish, and the Zhdanov Doctrine provided much of the groundwork for the later anti-Semitic ‘Doctor’s Plot’ pogrom which Stalin was preparing before his death.

Due to the length of the article, it has been broken into two segments. The article’s first two sections are reproduced below, and its final two have been posted here.

I: COSMOPOLITANISM infiltrates Soviet arts, sciences, history.

The lead editorials in the Pravda and Kultura i Zhizn [“Culture and Life”] newspapers unmasked an unpatriotic group of theatre critics, of rootless cosmopolitans, who came out against Soviet patriotism, against the great cultural achievements of the Russian people and of other peoples in our country.

Appearing as messengers and propagandists for bourgeois ideology, the rootless-cosmopolitans fawned over and groveled before decadent bourgeois culture. Defaming Soviet socialist culture, they praised to the heavens that which was found in the emaciated and decayed conditions of bourgeois culture. In the great culture of the Russian people they saw echos and rehashings of Western bourgeois culture.

Harmful and corrupting petty ideas of bourgeois cosmopolitanism were also carried over into the realms of Soviet literature, Soviet film, graphic arts, in the area of philosophy, history, economic and juridical law and so forth.

The rootless-cosmopolitan Subotsky tried with all his might to exterminate all nationality from Soviet literature. Foaming at the mouth this cosmopolitan propagandist hurls epithets towards those Soviet writers, who want “on the outside, in language, in details of character a positive hero” to express his belonging to this or that nationality.

These cosmopolitan goals of Subotsky are directed against Soviet patriotism and against Party policy, which always has attached great significance to the national qualities and national traditions of peoples. Lenin spoke out at the 8th Party Congress against the Trotskyite Pyatakov, who had suggested (as a provocation) to eliminate the point about national self-determination from the Party programme, saying, “This could be done, if there were people without national characteristics. But there are no such people, and we cannot build a socialist society any other way.” [see Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. 24, ‘Speech on the National Question’].

In mockery of literary works showing the superior qualities of Soviet people, Subotsky competed with the notorious cosmopolitan Yuzovsky. Yuzovsky venomously sneered that “across the lips of ‘positive heroes’ in these works,” there “inevitably plays such a ‘Marxist smile,’ that the positive hero of Soviet dramatic art knows all, sees all. For to Continue reading

Wanderers into the Void

The German Communist Party, National Bolshevism, and the ‘Schlageter line’

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“Hands off the Ruhr!”

The Occupation of the Ruhr

On January 11th, 1923, massed ranks of French and Belgian troops marched through the demilitarized Rhineland into the Ruhr Valley. “We are fetching coal,” announced the French Prime Minister Poincaré, and that, at least on the surface, provided the official justification for the aggressive occupation of the Ruhr. Germany had repeatedly defaulted on the reparations payments demanded of it by the Treaty of Versailles; France was due 200,000 metres of telegraph poles and several million Gold Marks worth of coal; and so 70,000 foreign soldiers trooped into Germany’s industrial heartland.

The German people, however, suspected that more cynical motives were driving the Gallic engineers and administrators who were now, under military protection, seizing German resources for forcible export to the West. Poincaré’s loathing for the German nation was infamous, as were French territorial ambitions on the Rhineland; in the eyes of many Germans the true purpose of the Franco-Belgian action was not to “fetch coal” but to permanently cripple and dismember the wounded body of the German nation.

Ironically, the attempt by France and Belgium to weaken the nascent German Republic instead created a united front of resistance through stoking the fires of German nationalism. There is no more effective means of inflaming a wave of patriotism than a foreign invasion, particularly in a nation already suffering from the humiliating wounds of surrender, war debt, political instability, and mounting hyperinflation. The immediate consequence of the occupation was the rallying together of those segments of German society which, up until the noise of French and Belgian boots tramping along Rhenish roads reached their ears, had been at one another’s throats.

Centre-right Reichschancellor Wilhelm Cuno declared his support for a campaign of local passive resistance. German industrialists refused to deliver demanded consignments of coal. Social-Democrats organized strikes and demonstrations. Unions joined with employers’ associations to raise funds for workers engaged in industrial actions. And the radical nationalists – Freikorps veterans, völkisch activists, and patriotic Verbänden, often supported clandestinely by the army – engaged in acts of violent reprisal, retaliating against massacres, arrests, and house searches conducted by French occupation forces with their own acts of sabotage, assassination, and terrorism. Continue reading