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

Hitler’s Betrayal – Are We Still a Workers’ Party?

Black propaganda from the Communist Party of Germany, aimed at winning over disillusioned members of the SA

The explosive growth in popularity of National Socialism throughout Germany in 1930 proved particularly challenging for German Communism, which found itself suddenly competing with a highly-organized, well-disciplined opponent whose espoused “social-radicalism” seemed to have a troubling level of appeal even among certain segments of the urban proletariat. A key component in the Comintern’s solution to the rising challenge of National Socialism was its ‘Programmatic Statement for the National and Social Liberation of the German People’, first published in national Communist Party (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) daily Die Rote Fahn on August 24, 1930, and deliberately intended to steal some of the NSDAP’s thunder by appropriating nationalist language and sentiment for the cause of Marxism-Leninism. Translated into practical party work, the new ‘National and Social’ policy line was primarily employed by Communists in the field of propaganda, particularly through organizations and publications intended to appeal to nationalists by focusing on certain attractive commonalities (i.e. a shared culture of militarism, or a hatred of the Young Plan) which could then be gradually redefined to participants in the framework of a Stalinist ideological worldview. Another favored KPD tactic during this period involved the use of demoralizing ‘black propaganda’, particularly what historian Timothy Brown calls ‘Zersetzungsschriften’ – ‘decomposition tracts’. These were leaflets, flyers, and newsletters written and produced by Communist propagandists but intended to give the impression that they were actually authored by an ‘opposition movement’ of disgruntled and disillusioned National Socialists within the NSDAP. Usually Communist Zersetzung were targeted at the Sturmabteilung (SA, Stormtroopers), which had the largest share of the NSDAP’s proletarian membership and hence, for the KPD, the greatest revolutionary potential. Zersetzung were full of complaints from supposedly ‘real’ Stormtroopers pointing out ideological hypocrisy within the party, alleging financial or racial impropriety on the part of local or national leaders, and encouraging a more sympathetic view of the ‘Reds’ and their ideas. The translated document below, a four-page newsletter titled Nation und Revolution, is an example of an SA-targeted Communist Zersetzungsschrift. Although undated and unnumbered, it was probably produced in mid-1931 and seems to have been distributed in the Stuttgart area. It covers most of the themes common to this kind of propaganda writing, condensing core arguments from the 1930 ‘National and Social’ programme and combining them with grumbling allegations about SA “Bonzen” (bigwigs) and the NSDAP’s inability to truly live up to the promises of its anticapitalist economic ideology.

Nation and Revolution
An anonymous SA propaganda newsletter,
clandestinely produced by the Communist Party of Germany

Hitler’s Betrayal of Nationalism!

Part II:1 The South Tyrolean Question and Hitler’s despicable renunciation of the Germans in South Tyrol are common knowledge. One would be correct in pointing out that the same policy of renunciation to which the Germans in South Tyrol are falling victim today could be invoked tomorrow against the Germans in Alsace, Upper Silesia, Czechoslovakia, etc.2 And in point of fact, Hitler has commenced one retreat after another along these lines. In his August 1930 letter to the French politician Gustave Hervé3 he wrote:

“I can assure you most emphatically, the movement which I represent has no intention of extending a helping hand to any course of action that appears only too likely to prevent the necessary balance of power from being established in Europe, thereby jeopardizing a much-needed peace among European nations! … The legally-binding character of private debts, regardless of the reason for which they were accrued, is always unequivocally clear… It (Germany) fulfills, and will also in future earnestly and faithfully fulfill, its private commercial debt obligations to the world.”

Hitler is openly stating here that he has absolutely no intention of doing anything at all about amending Germany’s monumental private debts to the Versailles powers. How could it be otherwise, when he is so keen upon the discourse of private ownership? The utter impracticality of national liberation without a preceding or concurrent socialist revolution is demonstrated here in Hitler’s shiftless babbling.

And what of Hitler’s fight against the “November Democracy’s policy of fulfillment,” which constitutes the be-all and end-all of National Socialist propaganda in its entirety? How would he behave in practice, if he were serious about this fight? In addition to refusing to make any reparations payments, he would then primarily need to ensure via his representatives in the state and municipal governments that the raising of funds for reparations would be made impossible, i.e. through the systematic sabotage of government measures; calls for a tax strike; struggling for improved wages, salaries, and bread; and ensuring all property goes to the German Volk in accordance with the maxim: “Bread first, then reparations!” Continue reading

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