The League of Communists

Heinrich Laufenberg’s and Fritz Wolffheim’s 1921 appeal to the German proletariat on behalf of their national-bolshevist ‘League of Communists’

Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim (whose work has been featured on this blog before) were two of the earliest advocates of a ‘National Bolshevik’ policy in German politics. Both men played prominent roles in the workers’ and soldiers’ councils which sprang up in the wake of the 1918 November Revolution, distinguishing themselves as leaders within the ultra-left ‘syndicalist’ wing of Hamburg’s communist scene. Their national-bolshevist sympathies developed gradually, spurred into being largely as a consequence of the Treaty of Versailles, which piqued their sense of nationalism and which was interpreted by them as an act of imperialist exploitation from the ‘plutocratic’ Entente. Laufenberg and Wolffheim saw the solution to Germany’s misery in a revolutionary socialist state, based on a system of grassroots councils, in which the working-class would take a leading role and would be supported by ‘productive’ members of the bourgeois middle-classes, who could be won over to socialism by appealing to their nationalism. In April 1920 the two friends took this worldview into the newly-formed Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD), a council-communist party. Although the KAPD’s Hamburg branch saw considerable success under their leadership, their “nationalist tendencies” were controversial, and the party-leadership expelled them in August 1920.  The two men subsequently formed the ‘League of Communists’ to continue propagating their national-bolshevist line. This small organization’s main focus was the production and dissemination of propaganda, but it was not without its successes; its ideas had a decent following among Hamburg’s sailors and dockworkers, and the League’s related ‘Free Association for the Study of German-Communism’ developed influential ties within military and völkisch-intellectual circles. The short leaflet below, put out by the League in July 1921, represents most of the core themes in Laufenberg’s and Wolffheim’s thought during this period: nationalist-inspired support for the German uprising against the Poles in Silesia; strong opposition to Versailles and to French and British commercial-imperial interests; Marxist anti-capitalism; anti-parliamentarism; and the need to develop joint workers’ organs transcending the existing socialist/communist parties. Most of these ideas remained central to Wolffheim’s ideology (Laufenberg retired from politics in 1922) even as his nationalism in following years became more explicitly völkisch; his League, always small in size, ended up an appendage of Paetel’s ‘Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists’ in the early 1930s. 

Appeal from the League of Communists
to the German Proletariat!

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The cowardly gunshots to which the socialist deputy Gareis1 fell victim after being ambushed in Munich; the organized incitement of murderous violence against leading personalities of the workers’ movement; the rallying of the Orgesch2 in Bavaria and Silesia; the monarchist demonstrations which are growing more brazen by the day – these are all symptoms of the fact that the monarchist counter-revolution sees the time drawing near when it can re-establish the old monarchy and the old military dictatorship through the suppression of the German working-class. In this situation – which gravely threatens the entire German working-class and, at the same time, the world proletariat – the League of Communists considers itself obligated

to call upon the entirety of the German working-class

to transcend the dividing lines of the existing parties in order to

seek a common line of orientation and a common route of action.

At the center of the domestic and foreign political dangers threatening the German Revolution is the incursion of bands of Polish insurgents into Upper Silesia. The German working-class has widely recognized, notwithstanding the trivial phraseology coming from the KAPD,3 that the threatened population there cannot be denied the right to self-defence and to safeguard their native soil. Furthermore, the entirety of the German Revolution categorically and unequivocally recognizes the duty of national defence. When it comes to an economic region which belongs to Germany both culturally and according to the will of the vast majority of its population, there the participation of the working-class in Silesia’s self-defence is a matter of course. In their desire to exploit a national imperative for certain nationalist purposes, however, the monarchist cliques and the chauvinist thugs within the Orgesch have used the legitimate self-defence efforts going on in Silesia as an excuse to bring together a battalion of mercenaries4 there whose duty has nothing to do with national defence. The threat to the Republic which this concentration of mercenary forces poses is amplified by the Orgesch-backed authoritarian regime in Bavaria,5 whose government emerged out of the Kapp Putsch and which is openly preparing for monarchist restoration throughout Germany. Continue reading

Ernst Niekisch: Where We Stand

Ernst Niekisch defends his nationalist-socialist principles and the importance of the nation to the question of socialism

Widerstand_Juni_1933Ernst Niekisch is, alongside Karl Otto Paetel, one of the better-known names from Weimar Germany’s National-Bolshevist intellectual milieu (although, somewhat ironically, Niekisch apparently never actually self-identified as a ‘National Bolshevik’). Niekisch is a particularly interesting figure because, throughout his life, he ran the gamut from far-left to far-right and back again. Beginning his career as a Social-Democratic Party (SPD) activist and short-lived leader of Munich’s post-War revolutionary government, Niekisch eventually drifted by way of a number of social-democratic groups into a position of influence as a national-revolutionary intellectual, before finally ending up back in the Marxist camp following WWII as a member of East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party. The short essay below is from 1926, a significant transitional period in Niekisch’s life. Disillusioned with the tactics and theory of social-democracy, in July 1926 Niekisch resigned his SPD membership, founded his own theoretical journal (Widerstand, i.e. ‘Resistance’), and became editor of the Volkstaat, the party newspaper of the Old Social-Democratic Party of Saxony (ASP). The ASP had been founded two months prior due to factional disputes between the conservative and radical wings of the SPD’s Saxon branch, with the conservatives forming the ASP and inviting Niekisch to take charge of their newspaper and the new party’s ideological direction. The article below should thus be viewed in this context, with Niekisch defending his new journal Widerstand and his own personal views against charges of “social reaction” and “nationalistic obscurantism” from mainstream social-democrats, who would have been particularly concerned about potential competition from a new political rival. As it turned out the ASP ended up performing poorly in subsequent elections and Niekisch resigned his party membership in 1928, completely disillusioned with electoral politics altogether and now completely convinced that Germany’s salvation could only come about through organizing a militant, nationalistic counter-movement to parliamentarism. Widerstand, which remained in publication until its ban in 1934, served as the vehicle for its editor’s increasingly apocalyptic worldview, reflecting his call for a radical new nationalist-socialist ethos which would sweep away every last vestige of bourgeois civilization in alliance with the “barbaric”, “primitive” Prussianism emanating from the East – the Soviet Union. 

Where We Stand
Ernst NiekischSymbol_Widerstand

First published in Widerstand, vol. 2, no.1, 1926

A warning against Widerstand has been directed at workers – and how might we have expected anything else? – suggesting that it fosters “nationalistic obscurantism” in the consciousness of the working class with the aim of winning that class over to the socially reactionary aims of the bourgeoisie. Reference has been made to certain terminological similarities as if they offered proof of such assertions; we have made use, it was said, of some expressions that one also hears from social reactionaries. Such terminological similarities might in fact be present; it cannot be helped that such persons also speak of vital national necessities for whom it is more a matter of the pocketbook than a serious consideration of these necessities.

Naturally we presume that those who have “identified” these terminological similarities seek intentionally to misunderstand us. For it truly does not take much to grasp the essential tendencies that inform our position. We are wholly rooted in the vital feelings and sentiments of the working people of Germany; their needs and their instincts are our own. We do not want to lead them astray, do not want to betray them; we are flesh of their flesh, blood of their blood; our thoughts, feelings, and aspirations issue exclusively from the ground of their being and the current circumstances of their fate. What moved us most profoundly was this: that the burden of the tributes to which Germany has been subjected weigh most heavily on the working people; that it is the living conditions of precisely the German worker which have been called into question by the collapse of German status in the world. Here the challenges of the German nation coincide with the law of self-preservation of the working class. That to be sure can be truly understood only by those who are more than mere literary figures. So many of these literary sorts are busy insinuating to workers what they are supposed to think, such that they have already diverted workers from many a good course of action. Continue reading

Right or Left? Right and Left!

“The way of the future involves bringing together the man of the Right with the man of the Left” – a brief 1932 article by conservative-revolutionary intellectual Hans Zehrer

Left_Right_Left_RightHans Zehrer is somewhat of an obscure figure today, at least in comparison with like-minded members of the German national-revolutionary movement such as Ernst Niekisch and Karl Otto Paetel, both of whom have managed to acquire a greater degree of modern celebrity in certain online circles. This is perhaps unfair to Zehrer, who was undoubtedly more widely-known than both during the crucial 1928-1933 period in Germany; certainly he was more influential. Born in 1899, Zehrer fought in the Great War and, after having participated in the 1920 Kapp Putsch, settled down to a fairly respectable life of political journalism. What made Zehrer’s name was his taking over the editorship of foundering national journal Die Tat (‘The Deed’) in October 1929. Die Tat swiftly grew under Zehrer’s stewardship to be the most widely-read political journal in the country, outselling its nearest left-wing competitor by tens of thousands of copies. The key factor in Die Tat’s success was its unique political position. Zehrer and his circle of contributors published detailed critiques of capitalism, advocating its replacement by a mercantilist system of mass nationalization, stringent autarchy, and exclusionary tariff barriers. They rejected not only the concept of parties, but the entire Left-Right divide altogether, arguing instead for a ‘Third Front’ alliance between all militant forces from far-left to far-right. They were also elitists, rejecting the NSDAP for its plebeian roots and its ‘mass party’ character, desiring instead a “revolution from above” led by the army and the President. The high point for Zehrer probably came during the short-lived government of ‘social general’ Kurt von Schleicher, where Zehrer became the Schleicher regime’s ideological ‘man behind the throne’ and Die Tat served as a kind of unofficial journal of state policy. The short article below, taken from a 1932 edition of Die Tat, is a fairly typical example of Zehrer’s position on the ‘Left-Right’ issue, invoking as it does the unifying Volksgemeinschaft ideal as well as stressing the belief that in reality only superficial qualities separate “the man of the Right” from the “man of the Left”.

Right or Left?
Hans ZehrerTAT_logo

First published in Die Tat, vol. 23, no.7, 1932

We ask of ourselves that question which is imposed upon us by today’s era and which appears to be of decisive importance to it: Right or Left? We have guided these absolutely time-bound and, to a later age, surely incomprehensible antitheses back to their authentic intellectual and historical foundations. In the process they have steadily dissipated, been drawn further and further inwards, and in this way we have suddenly arrived at a position which offers us the prospect of something that we only truly experienced for a short period in August 1914, but which otherwise does not belong among those values that today’s System can offer us: a Volksgemeinschaft, a unified nation!1 And from this position we are able to answer that question which the era has posed to us: Right and Left! Only a style of thinking which has affirmed the synthesis between the two, and which has carried it out, is responsive to those problems which the future will present to us, and over which the current era is presently in despair.

A man today, provided he is an active, vital person, is either Right or Left. The commonality of conservative man – who by his nature, traditions, blood, and character could never recognize the current System – with the new men of the Left, whom the current System has chewed up and spat out, is greater, and both are much closer, than they realize. The way of the future involves bringing together this man of the Right with the man of the Left, and vice versa, in order to create out of both a new Volksgemeinschaft under the mythos of a new nation. Continue reading

Nation and Working-Class

Only proletarian revolution opens the way to nationhood: an early national-bolshevist pamphlet by Hamburg radicals Heinrich Laufenberg & Fritz Wolffheim

Berlin_Rally_1918“National Bolshevism” has always been a fairly amorphous term. This is even more so the case today, where its relegation to meme status seems to have reduced it to a kind of aesthetic joke. Even in Germany, where the concept first originated, its meaning was never entirely fixed, never applied to one consistent worldview. Originally coined to describe the ideas of Jewish-German conservative-nationalist Paul Eltzbacher, who saw a Soviet system as Germany’s only means of national salvation following its defeat in WWI (Eltzbacher subsequently became a communist), the term was later used to describe several minor heretical movements on both the Left and the Right, deviations from Germany’s mainstream Marxist or nationalist currents which embraced certain elements of their respective enemies’ ideological worldviews. The earliest of these groups was the Hamburg branch of the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD), organized by prominent local radicals Fritz Wolffheim and Heinrich Laufenberg after their expulsion from the Communist Party over their anti-parliamentary, pro-syndicalist tendencies. Wolffheim and Laufenberg took the Hamburg KAPD in a national-communist direction, violently attacking social-democrats for betraying Germany and its proletariat through the Treaty of Versailles, and advocating instead of a civil war against the bourgeoisie a temporary alliance with them against the Western Powers as a precursor to the defeat and absorption of the middle-classes and the creation of a pan-German proletarian republic. Laufenberg and Wolffheim drew on German history and the example of the French Revolution to support their views; the 1920 pamphlet Nation und Arbeiterklasse, translated below, is a typical example. It is a curious mixture of radical left-wing Marxism and aggrieved nationalist sentiment, surveying the question of German nationhood from the perspective that Germany’s history of feudalism and imperialism left its bourgeois state and class underdeveloped, necessitating working with elements of the bourgeoisie so the broken Weimar system could be overthrown and a true German nation and state established in its place. Because the full text of the pamphlet is rather long, I have also made it available for download as a PDF via the Internet Archive for those who prefer that format. 

Nation and Working-Class
Heinrich Laufenberg & Fritz Wolffheim
July, 1920

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I.

Communism is the doctrine of the class struggle of the proletariat within capitalist society. Its goal is the destruction of the capitalist world-system and its replacement by the Commune of the world-economy.

Its struggle and mission are international. The very existence of the bourgeoisie and proletariat is determined by the capitalist mode of production. The struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat moves through nations, tearing them apart with the antagonisms between the classes in enemy camps. But as both classes can only exist so long as capitalist society lasts, at the end of their struggle class-antagonisms in every country will be abolished by the victorious proletariat. By smashing the capitalist form of economy and eradicating the capitalist class-society and wage system, the proletariat abolishes the bourgeoisie and, at the same time, itself as a non-propertied class. In doing so, it deprives class-divisions within nations of their foundations. Communist society sets all working members of a people [Volk] alongside one another, free and equal. It arises out of the socialized labor of a classless people, and comes to completion through the federalist integration of the economy of the classless peoples in the World Commune.

The revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, mobilized within the embrace of the bourgeois nations, picks up the revolutionary tendencies extant when it first begins. Where bourgeois society is itself still struggling with feudal forces over the “political structure”, the proletariat fights in the foremost battle-lines of the bourgeoisie as the most energetic stratum driving the Revolution forward. After the bourgeoisie triumphs over the feudal world, the proletariat intervenes in the revolutionary struggles which unleash the emerging, reinvigorated groups of the bourgeois class to participate in the power of the state, and while also supporting the bourgeois wings of the revolution in these upheavals, it at the same time campaigns for the implementation of its own class goals in order to broaden its own revolutionary basis of struggle against the entire bourgeois class. It is precisely the course of the bourgeois revolutions which furnishes visible evidence that the bourgeois struggle for emancipation is unfurling the problems of humanity’s liberation, but that it is necessary to overcome bourgeois society itself in order to resolve these problems. All of these problems therefore fall automatically within the ambit of proletarian struggle. The most important of them, in which all others intersect as a focal point, is the organization of the nation. For the political manifestation of bourgeois society is the bourgeois state, which attempts to organize the nation as its given basis. And as this organization has had so little success at resolving all the other problems of humanity posed by bourgeois society, but the proletariat must, in order to carry out its own emancipation, conquer and shatter the bourgeois state, then in this case too it is forced to take up the unsolved problem at precisely the point where the Bourgeois Revolution left it. Continue reading