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 Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists

The foundation, position, and theses of the Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists, by Karl Otto Paetel and Heinz Gollong

At a public meeting in Berlin in July, 1929, nationalist journalist Karl Otto Paetel called upon the attendees – activists from a number of of disparate radical groups – to put aside differences of Left and Right and to commit themselves to forming a united “anti-capitalist youth front.” The organization which resulted from this appeal was the ‘Young Front Working-Circle’ (Arbeitsring Junge Front), a loose grouping of young firebrands from a variety of different political associations whose chief concern was the establishment of a rapprochement and ideological synthesis between Germany’s ‘Far-Left’ and ‘Far-Right’. Although ostensibly a cross-party pressure group, most of the Arbeitsring’s leading activists shared a common background in the German Youth Movement, particularly nationalist-leaning Bündische youth groups like the Adler und Falken, Deutsche FreischarArtamanen, etc. Initially focused on trying to act as the intellectual bridge between the NSDAP and KPD, the Arbeitsring‘s members eventually came to the conclusion that their time would be better spent in formal political organization of their own. To that end they organized a conference over May 28-31, 1930, in which representatives from 20 minor national-revolutionary associations came together to found an umbrella organization which would, as they put it, “serve as a political community of ideas” for advancing “Nation and Socialism” and “the People’s Council-State.” This organization was christened the ‘Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists’ (GSRN). Much of the GSRN’s leadership (including Paetel) were at that time on the staff of national-revolutionary journal Die Kommenden, and the journal’s June 26, 1930 edition (no.26, vol.5) was used by them as a vehicle to announce their founding and to propagate the GSRN’s outlook and position on a variety of different subjects. Later that year the articles from this issue were compiled and republished under the title Sozialrevolutionärer Nationalismus (‘Social-Revolutionary Nationalism’); this booklet would effectively serve as the group’s programme until the eventual publication of the National Bolshevist Manifesto in 1933. The two articles below are a sample of some of this booklet’s content. The first is by Heinz Gollong (representing the Eidgenossen, a division of Werner Laß’s völkisch youth group Freischar Schill), and was the lead article of the Kommenden issue described above. The second translation consists of the ‘Theses’ of the GSRN, as agreed upon by its members. Those interested in the development of Paetel’s ideas should compare it with the 1929 draft programme he tried to disseminate in the NSDAP, and with the chapter ‘The Face of National Communism’ in his later National Bolshevist Manifesto; the GSRN’s Theses seem to constitute a mid-point between the two.

Foundation and Position
Heinz Gollong

The following statements are excerpts from a lecture which Heinz Gollong delivered at the consolidation of the “Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists.” 

Comrades!1

The circle which has come together in the “Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists” is, in some respects, more typical than it might first appear. In every era there have been a small number of thinkers who rushed along bold new paths, ahead of their time; who remained misunderstood; who faced ridicule and violent opposition; and who were eventually able to witness how the mass of humanity later put their ideas to use with that natural, take-it-for-granted “mentality” which is so characteristic of those masses. We have experienced how we, who originated from countless different camps – camps classified along the lines of categories established by our elders – initially drew together instinctively, perhaps out of a shared feeling of being cast out from a world in which the language being spoken to us is disconcerting, in which the spirit ruling over us is alien. We have seen how out-of-touch the views of these eternal elders seem, how superficially they have approached everything, and how little they have been able to disengage themselves from their own egos in their reading of events. And, last but not least, after these experiences an awareness grew within us that we were the bearers of a very young worldview,2 and that we must fight for this “new ideal” (which made itself ineffably clear to us when we grappled with contemporary issues and thereby discovered how idiosyncratically we perceive the causes behind world events, as well as the interrelationships between them) so long as young life continues to burn within us.

We do not know how we first met. Sometimes it seems as though there were something in the air ensuring that those of us in the same country who all belong in a single front together would somehow end up finding one another. If we sought to derive validation for our struggle solely from the fact that we are people who have shattered all traditional biases, and who have been excluded almost completely from the organizations of today’s Germany, then this would arguably be only half of the story. Rather, it is our belief in the correctness of our attitude which provides us with the strength to move on from the “resentment” which has hitherto prevailed among us and to instead transition towards a particular form of organization. I see in this the most immediate task: to now investigate whether a political vision is capable of being formed from our being. Continue reading

Beating the National-Fascists (at their Own Game)

Advice from the Comintern to the Communist Party of Germany on winning back the masses radicalized by the ‘national-fascism’ of the NSDAP

The article below is essentially a companion piece to the Communist Party of Germany’s (KPD) August 1930 Programmatic Statement for the National and Social Liberation of the German People. The ‘Programmatic Statement’ represented an attempt by the KPD to seriously grapple with the rising popularity of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), born from recognition of the fact that nationalist sentiment (particularly aggrievement over the Young Plan and Versailles Peace Treaty) appeared to be a genuine motivational factor even among much of the proletariat, and that the social-revolutionary posturing of the NSDAP was being taken seriously by the masses even if to Marxists it appeared patently unconvincing. The new programme, and the general political line which it ushered in, was thus intended to “take the wind out of the nationalist propaganda of the Nazis” by beating the “fascists” at their own game, adopting certain tropes and terminology from the nationalist camp and repurposing them to demonstrate how it was in fact only German Communism which could truly bring both national and social liberation to the German people. The translated piece below – a draft letter to the KPD produced by the Political Secretariat of the Communist International in July 1930 – shows some of the genesis behind the 1930 programme, written as it was a month before the new programme was first launched within the pages of KPD daily Die Rote Fahne. The draft letter consists of analysis and advice from the Comintern to the KPD, outlining the reasons behind the growing success of “national-fascism” and recommending that a new programme be produced to better equip the Communists to compete against the NSDAP in the upcoming Reichstag elections. The exact authorship of both documents is somewhat unclear. Typically the 1930 programme is ascribed either to the KPD’s principal theorist, Heinz Neumann, or to Party-leader Ernst Thälmann. Historian Martin Mevius, however, asserts that it was actually the work of Comintern functionaries Dmitry Manuilsky, Wilhelm Knorin, and Otto Kuusinen (all working under Stalin’s direction), and that it “had to be sold to the German party leadership,” who initially were not very enthusiastic. The existence of the ‘precursor’ document I have translated here probably gives credence to Mevius’s claim that the programme originated in the Comintern. Whatever its provenance, the ‘National and Social’ programme grew to be a central component of the KPD’s political work over the the following years, and its “foresight” and “historic significance” were still being acclaimed decades later by Communists in East Germany.

Draft Letter to the KPD Leadership
On the National Liberation of the Working People against “National Fascism”:
A Perspective on the Reichstag Elections
Drafted by the Political Secretariat of the Communist International
28 July, 1930

Moscow.
6 Ex/Bö.
28.07.1930

Confidential.

On the Question of the Struggle against National-Fascism in Germany.1

To the Central Committee of the KPD.

Valued Comrades!

Within Germany, the grave political and organizational successes which fascism (the National Socialists) has made over the course of the last year present us with the problem of how to fight against this new weapon of the bourgeoisie in all its magnitude. The example of Saxony2 and of other areas demonstrates that fascism has been successful at winning over the broad masses, proletarians among them, who could and should have been captured by our work so far, and that our Party has not yet discovered all the methods required for the fight against national-fascism.

Fascism’s rapid rise is the result of the economic crisis in Germany, a crisis deeply intensified when coupled with the Young Plan, which plunges small commodity-producers and entrepreneurs into ruin, makes millions of proletarians unemployed, depresses the living standards of those workers still in the factories (wage cuts), and imposes new taxes, new tariffs, and other evils upon the broadest masses of the working people (including white-collar employees, small businessmen, artisans, small farmers, etc.).

The broadest masses of the petite-bourgeoisie and the backwards strata among the proletariat, who no longer wish to go on living in the old manner, are leaving the ranks of the old bourgeois parties – particularly the German National People’s Party,3 and in some cases also, the Social-Democrats – and are streaming into the fascist camp, because fascism promises a radical, “revolutionary” way out of the present situation. That the national-fascists are able to lure the masses through radical slogans is evidence of the profound unrest occurring within these masses, is evidence for their radicalization. Continue reading

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