Socialist Transformation

Socialism and nationalism intertwined: observations on the national-bolshevist character of revolutionary German youth, by writer Fritz Weth

The short essay below was translated from a 1922 book called Die Neue Front, a collection of articles which had all originally been published in the intellectual periodical Das Gewissen (‘Conscience’). The Gewissen served as the official theoretical journal for the Juni-Klub, a conservative-revolutionary-oriented literary group founded in 1919 by publisher Heinrich von Gleichen-Rußwurm, writer Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, and nationalist politician Eduard Stadtler. The Juni-Klub represented a slightly more moderate segment of the conservative- and national-revolutionary movements active in interwar Germany. Its proponents (the ‘Jungkonservativen‘) were less hostile to the overall concept of conservatism, were more overtly intellectual, and tended to be more amenable to the representatives of German heavy industry and big business, even as they pondered over the potential merits of a non-Marxist alternative to capitalism. The club was intellectually open and avowedly non-partisan, and as a result it attracted an eclectic variety of members and interested hangers-on from across the country’s political spectrum: Heinrich Brüning, Franz Oppenheimer, Ernst Troeltsch, Franz von Papen, Friedrich Naumann, Hans Blüher, Hans Grimm, August Winnig, Hjalmar Schacht, Wichard von Moellendorf, and a young Otto Strasser, among many others. One of these members was the lone “worker” of the group: Fritz Weth, a former communist. Very little is actually known about Weth, beyond that he lived in Berlin, gave his profession as “illustrator,” and had at one point apparently been active in the KPD or USPD. Between 1920 and 1923 Weth wrote around 40 articles for the Gewissen, most of which dealt with the labor movement or with questions of socialism, all with an underlying advocacy of a national-bolshevist political line (alliance with Soviet Russia; conservative cooperation with socialists and trade-unionists; creation of a nationalist, socialist New Germany) which must have been rather thrilling to the journal’s more middle-class, conservative readers. The article below is a prime example of this, employing Weth’s observations of the changes brought about by the German Revolution in his attempt to stress to his readers that there was an implicitly shared, revolutionary worldview held between those on the Left and those on the Right.

Socialist Transformation
Fritz Weth
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We are living in the midst of spiritual and economic decomposition. Traditional notions have fallen into decline or into transition. The guardians and the advocates of tradition, the elders among us, can establish no rapport with the era in which they are living through. They do not even understand the young in their own ranks, because these youth are resolutely prepared to sacrifice surviving traditions and to assimilate the valuable content of other traditions of German renewal. That is the process of dissolution occurring on the Right.

The Right’s experiential world nonetheless provides its younger generation with a deeper insight into the limits of revolutionary development than that possessed by the future-obsessed youth on the Left. The Left, too, has its own reinforced conservatism, exactly like that on the Right. One of its largest parties has committed itself to formal democracy, and is thus inevitably hindering the creation of that synthesis which matters most in Germany today and which only the revolutionaries of the Right and Left can produce together. The revolutionary Left has taken up the fight against the spirit of “leaving things be,” against the spirit of the SPD.1 Yet their own doctrinal rigidity makes it difficult for them to be victorious in this struggle. Nevertheless, concentrated within their ranks is everything in the proletariat which is young, strong, and inspired to build, and which reaches out beyond the dogmatism of their leaders towards the community of the nation. This elementary will found its first expression within the fellowship of those multiple foreign- and domestic-policy goals which the revolutionaries of the Right share with those of the Left. Each found the other in the front against Western economic imperialism, formalism, and degeneracy, and there they inconspicuously clasped hands. Continue reading

National Socialism or Bolshevism?

An early example of national-bolshevist ideological writing by Joseph Goebbels

The writing and speeches of Joseph Goebbels – especially those produced during the ‘Years of Struggle’, before the National Socialist German Workers’ Party attained political power – are particularly instructive in demonstrating the kinds of radicalism which could exist within the Party. Goebbels was always a radical; as a young man he had found an attraction in the unlikely works of August Bebel and Walter Rathenau, and his direct experiences with poverty had sharpened his sense of social justice. Initially drawn to communism, Goebbels’s inability to embrace the internationalist aspects of Marxist ideology led him first to the völkisch movement and then, in early 1925, into the newly reconstituted NSDAP. From the beginning Goebbels represented the more revolutionary side of National Socialism: bitterly opposed to the bourgeois world and its values, proud of his shabby poverty, and aggressively vocal in his belief that it was the socialism in National Socialism which took precedence above all else. His radicalism first led him into an alliance with Gregor Strasser and then, after several years of struggle and disillusionment, into a bitter opposition to the man who had once been his mentor. Even as an enemy of the Strasser brothers Goebbels was still a radical, with much of his effort as Gauleiter of Berlin-Brandenburg in the late ’20s and early ’30s spent attempting to win over the Berlin workers with fiery attacks on capitalism, the bourgeoisie, and the “false socialism” of the Marxists and the Bolshevists. Goebbels’s earliest writings are perhaps some of his most interesting, because in this period his appreciation for communism was still fresh and his ideology was in many respects more National Bolshevist than National Socialist in orientation. The article below, written not long after Goebbels had spoken before a joint meeting of Communists and National Socialists in late 1925, is strong evidence of his views in this early period of activism, when he was most vocal in avowing class-struggle and proletarian liberation as among the chief goals of the National Socialist movement. Addressed to his “friend from the Left” (i.e. the Communist he had debated at the previous meeting), this article was originally published in the October 1925 edition of Gregor Strasser’s Nationalsozialistische Briefe, a left-oriented NS journal of which Goebbels was editor at the time.

National Socialism or Bolshevism?
Joseph Goebbels
NS_Swastika

First published in the Nationalsozialistische Briefe, no. 2, 15th October 1925.

My friend from the Left!

Not as captatio benevolentiae,1 but straight out and without reservations, I confess that I liked you, you are a fine fellow! Yesterday evening I could have carried on debating with you for hours before the thousands of transfixed listeners, because I had the feeling that the fundamental question of our commonalities and our differences was being raised within the forum of the German workers, whom this question ultimately concerns. And it is with the same feeling that I am writing out these lines to you.

You have clearly recognized what is at stake. We have agreed on the causes. No honest, thinking person today would wish to deny the legitimacy of the workers’ movements. It is only a question of the method and the formulation of their final goal. Grown out of need and misery, they stand before us today as living witnesses to our disunity and impotence, to the deficiency of our national spirit of sacrifice and our will for the future. We no longer need to discuss whether the demand of the German employee for social compensation is justified, just as we do not need to discuss whether or not the disenfranchised fourth estate2 should live or must live.

National or international in path and goal, that is the question. We both are fighting honestly and resolutely for freedom and only for freedom; as our ultimate accomplishment we both desire peace and community – you that of the world, I that of the Volk. That this accomplishment cannot be attained within this system is entirely clear and evident to both of us. To talk of quiescence today is to make the graveyard one’s home; to be peaceful in this state is pacifism and cowardice. You and I, we both know that a state, a system that is inwardly thoroughly mendacious, is meant to be overthrown; that for the new state one therefore has to fight and make sacrifices. In this respect yesterday we both could have been saying the exact same things about the bourgeois cowards of black-red-gold Social-Democracy. Thus far we have been in agreement. Continue reading

The Electoral Programme of the Old Social-Democratic Party

The national-revolutionary programme of the Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany, drafted by Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig

In the most recent article on this blog I presented an overview of the Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany (ASPD) by historian Benjamin Lapp, a party which began as a patriotic splinter-group of the Saxon Social-Democrats and which evolved, under the influence of intellectuals Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig, into a proletarian-nationalist organization with strong national-revolutionary impulses. As a complement to that article I have now also  translated the political programme which the ASPD took to Germany’s 1928 federal elections, the second of three separate programmes which the ASPD produced altogether in its history. The first of these three programmes, a statement of the ASPD’s general principles which it disseminated on its founding in 1926, I have unfortunately not been able to acquire. My understanding is that it oriented the party relatively closely to the positions of the old Majority Social-Democrats and the Kriegssozialisten: right-leaning and patriotic, yet still “moderate” in its nationalism when compared to the NSDAP, DVFP, or DNVP. The second programme which the party produced is that translated below, and was drafted by Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig in early April 1928, two years after they had joined the Old Social-Democratic Party and become its guiding ideological lights. The new programme was intended to reflect the political direction which the ASPD had moved in since it had come under their influence, with its precepts more clearly spelling out the ASPD’s proletarian-nationalist ethos and its own idiosyncratic perspective on socialism and the state, a perspective which unashamedly drew more from Lassalle and Rodbertus than it did from Marx and Bebel. More than that, the new programme was intended to be the springboard for greater things, prepared as part of the ASPD’s operation to expand its branches outside of Saxony and to compete as a national party in the Reichstag elections in May. The ASPD’s abysmal performance in these elections (it achieved only 0.21% of the vote) spelled an end to its foray into national-revolutionary politics. The Old Social-Democratic Party’s radical-nationalist orientation, already very controversial among swathes of the party’s membership (it had cost the ASPD the support of both the textile unions and the Reichsbanner), was abandoned, and Niekisch and Winnig subsequently left the party. As a consequence the ASPD’s third programme appeared towards the end of 1928, being both an expansion and a revision of the second programme: it is structured similarly, and is longer, but significantly has had much of the more overtly nationalistic language excised, and is unmistakably closer to “conventional” Social-Democracy in both conviction and tone than the Niekisch-Winnig programme reproduced below. 

The Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany
1928 Electoral Programme
Drafted by Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig

I.
Service to the Volk and to the State.

The Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany is a party of the productive population. It is rooted in the outlook that the productive Volk can only attain internal and external freedom, dignity, and vital historical significance through faithful service to the Volk and to the state.

The ASPD’s attitude to the state consequently lies beyond all tactical considerations of expediency; it serves the state out of principle and conviction, and is ready to submit itself unconditionally to the imperative of state necessity. It is an expression of that momentous shift which is presently taking place within the German working-class, whose content is to lead from the state-negating position of the past to a standpoint of unconditional state-affirmation.

II.
The ASPD is a Socialist Party.

The health of the German national body [Volkskörpers] can only be maintained under the present state of affairs if the German economic- and social-order is structured according to the principle of the economic management of all limited available commodities. The free play of forces is tolerable in a richly endowed economy; where there is an abundance of goods and capital, unchecked competitive struggle does not constitute a danger. But where poverty prevails, there a regulative and preventative hand is required. This necessitates an interlinking of economy and society, which together make up the social content of the state; through them it becomes organizationally evident that the welfare of the collective is the paramount consideration pervading the whole. As the ASPD strives for an economic- and social-order which is systematically managed and structured for the good of the totality, it is a socialist party. Its socialist attitude is the complement to and the evidence for its state ethos; its stance is one of a highly-developed sense of social and national responsibility.

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The Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany

An overview of the Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany (ASPD) and the attempt to create a ‘National Social-Democracy’

Throughout the history of the Weimar Republic there were a number of attempts by Social-Democrats to formulate a more nationalist interpretation of their ideology, one which rejected the internationalism inherited from Marx and which replaced Social-Democracy’s focus on the interests of the international proletariat with a focus instead on those of the Nation or the Volk. The Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany (Alte Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, ASPD) was not only such an attempt, it was easily one of the most significant, as it involved active political organization (even involvement in government) rather than just theoretical formulations, speeches, and argument. The ASPD was originally founded in Saxony in 1926 as a consequence of a split within the Saxon branch of the Social-Democratic Party (SPD), with the more radical and more pro-communist ‘Left-Socialists’ on one side, and a minority of more moderate Social-Democrats (including the majority of the party’s elected representatives in the Landtag) on the other. When the radical majority expelled the more moderate minority from the party, the moderates formed the ASPD in response, asserting that their new party would represent the ‘old’, patriotic socialism of the War years, carrying on the tradition and legacy of figures like Friedrich Ebert and Gustav Noske. In an attempt to give the ASPD firmer ideological direction, two radical mavericks who had also been expelled from the SPD – Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig – were invited to participate, and under their direction the ASPD rapidly evolved into a national-revolutionary party, extolling a nationalist, völkisch-oriented interpretation of Social-Democracy which proved highly controversial within the wider labor movement. Although the Old Social-Democratic Party did not last very long (Niekisch and Winnig, disillusioned, left in 1928, and the remainder of the ASPD rejoined the SPD in 1932), it nonetheless played a significant role in Saxon governance during the late 1920s and represents one of the only real attempts at translating a leftist national-revolutionary programme into parliamentary politics. To give an overview of the development and history of the ASPD, I have transcribed segments from two different academic sources, both by historian Benjamin Lapp. The first, taken from an article which Lapp wrote on the ASPD, details the background and events which led up to the party’s founding. The second, taken from Lapp’s excellent book Revolution from the Right: Politics, Class, and the Rise of Nazism in Saxony, 1919-1933, goes into more detail on the history of the party and the ways in which Niekisch and Winnig took its ideology and tactics in an overtly nationalist, radical direction. 

The Background: Social-Democratic Conflict in Saxony
From Benjamin Lapp’s “A ‘National’ Socialism: The Old Socialist Party of Saxony, 1926-32”

Until the nazi Machtergreifung forced the German Social-Democrats to begin a reappraisal of their former beliefs, German Social-Democracy stood in an uneasy relationship to nationalism and the nation-state. According to classical Marxism, at least, the class struggle was privileged over the national community; nationalist ideology was viewed as part of the ‘capitalist system of political repression’. During the Weimar Republic, when the SPD1 was closely associated with the new democracy, the party’s position on the central issue of the relation between class and nation remained ill-defined. In theory, the party remained committed to proletarian internationalism, while in practice its policies often subordinated working-class to national interests – without, however, admitting it. Despite pressures from the revisionist wing of the party, the SPD stubbornly held on to the principle of internationalism and to its own self-representation as a Klassenpartei rather than a Volkspartei.2 Thus, throughout the 1920s, the political right maintained a monopoly on the ‘national issue’. Conservatives and liberals claimed to speak for the Volk and to represent the national interest and the state; the Socialists, despite their close association with the Republic, nevertheless defined themselves as a working-class party.

There was one noteworthy attempt in the 1920s to overcome the Socialists’ hesitant attitude toward the state and to reclaim the national issue by creating an alternative Socialist party that was avowedly nationalist and state-affirming. This attempt took place, surprisingly, in ‘red Saxony’, a region known for its strong Social-Democratic traditions and its left-wing militancy. Rejecting the dogmatic Marxism of the regional party organization, a group of Social-Democrats formed a new Socialist party called, in homage to the legacy of Lasalle, Bebel, and Liebknecht, the Old Social-Democratic Party (ASPD).3 Originating in the right wing of the party as a reaction to the ‘left’ orientation of the Saxon SPD and its united front policies, the ASPD, through its association with the proletarian nationalists Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig, made a reputation as a party of the political right. Within a year of its foundation, the ASPD became known throughout Germany as a novel attempt to create an alternative, ‘national’ socialism.

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