East Germany Welcomes the ‘Little Nazis’

Walter Ulbricht’s article of 28 February, 1948, announcing the end of denazification and the formal integration of former National Socialists into East German society

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“Long Live the SED, the Great Friend of Little Nazis!” This quote, a 1946 slogan coined by a former National Socialist out of enthusiasm for the Socialist Unity Party’s (SED) approach to denazification, is a testament to the curious way in which the German communists meted out punishment to their former enemies. The Allied powers had agreed upon the need for denazification at Yalta, and the process was initially carried out quite radically within the Soviet zone of occupation through wide-ranging internments, deportations, and the forcible expropriation of land & industry for purposes of nationalization and collectivization. Despite such measures, however, the denazification process in the Eastern sector was actually less extensive and marked by far less retribution than one might expect. The need for post-War reconstruction in war-ravaged Germany was so drastic that some segments of the SED leadership were eager to simply get the process over with and to begin integrating former Party-members back into society, so badly were former Nazis’ skills and expertise needed by the authorities. The decision to start allowing NS-Parteigenossen to play a role in building the new Germany had been made as early as June 1946, based on the caveat that participation would be limited only to politically re-educated ‘inactive’ (or ‘little’) Nazis – those low- or mid-ranking members who had demonstrably joined the Party more out of pragmatism or fear than conviction. Under the direction of the Soviet authorities the Eastern zone’s denazification process was officially declared ended in February 1948, with the article transcribed below (written by Walter Ulbricht, at that time Deputy Joint Chairman of the SED) serving as the communists’ formal announcement of the end of denazification and the restoration of equal rights to former NSDAP members. Ulbricht’s claim that the Eastern zone’s National Socialists had now embraced “democratic socialism” and had become “honest participants in reconstruction” was a signal to these ‘little Nazis’ that the regime was ready to integrate them back into the social fold, so long as they worked hard and buried their prior convictions. Many eagerly complied, flocking to the new party (the National Democratic Party of Germany) which was specifically set up under Soviet approval to nominally represent their interests in regional electoral bodies.

On Disbanding the Denazification Commissions
Walter Ulbricht

First published in Neues Deutschland, February 28, 1948

We welcome the order by the Chief of Staff of the Soviet Military Government, Marshal Sokolowski, to disband the Denazification Commissions in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany. The content of the order is an agreement with the recommendations of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and the bloc of anti-fascist democratic parties. At its last meeting of the party executive, the SED states that following the establishment of the basic structures of the democratic system and at the beginning of the reconstruction period, the Denazification Commissions should conclude their activities, and the work of the sequestration commissions should now come to an end as well.

The disbanding of the Denazification Commissions in the Soviet Occupation Zone is possible because the purge of the administration has been completed, because the factories of the war criminals with or without Nazi Party membership and the banks have been turned over to the people, and because the property of the large landowners, who were among the major forces of militarism, have been transferred to the peasants. In this way the supporters of fascism have been stripped of their powerful economic positions.

In contrast to certain “politicians” in West Germany, we believe it was not the working people and the middle class who were the supporters of fascism; rather it was the corporate and bank bosses and the large landowners who brought the fascists to power in order to better exploit and repress their own people and other peoples. Therefore the fascist criminals were punished and expropriated in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany, in agreement with the anti-fascist and democratic parties, the unions, and other people’s organizations. The ordinary Nazi Party members were not called before the Denazification Commissions, however. On 21 February 1947, a year ago, the Chairman of the SED, Wilhelm Pieck, had already declared:

The majority of those, “who were taken in by the Nazi swindle and became members of the Nazi Party… belong to the working population… Of course their behavior must be judged by a different standard than that of the war criminals or the Nazi activists.” Continue reading

Is There a Special German Road to Socialism?

German communist Anton Ackermann’s essay of February 1946, describing the road to a socialist state based on unique German conditions

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Towards the end of the Second World War, key functionaries of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) returned to Germany from their exile in the USSR. The nation they returned to was in ruins, its cities reduced to rubble and its people in rags. The task of the KPD leaders was to try and restore this devastated country, to prepare the ground for the coming New Germany modeled on the resolutions adopted at Potsdam – a demilitarized nation, reduced in size, democratic in government, and stripped down to a largely pastoral economy. From the beginning the KPD did everything it could to convince the German people of its genuine commitment to the democratic Potsdam vision. Anticipating Germans’ strong suspicions and fear of Russia and its Soviet system, the communists downplayed references to class struggle, violent revolution and proletarian dictatorship. They promised instead an “anti-fascist parliamentary republic”; they sought alliance with non-socialist groups; they pursued full political union with the Social-Democratic Party (SPD) on conditions of total parity (something eventually achieved through KPD-SPD amalgamation into the Socialist Unity Party, SED, in April 1946). This new approach was termed “the German road to socialism”, and its chief theoretician was KPD functionary Anton Ackermann, who explored its main precepts in his February 1946 essay “Is there a Special German Road to Socialism?”. Ackermann’s theory posited that Germany faced a unique set of cultural, economic, and War-related conditions which set it apart from the historical experience of Russia and thus required different tactics: namely a peaceful, democratic path to the realization of socialism based on cooperation with other progressive forces, rather than the attainment of a socialist state through violent revolution and strict dictatorship. For a Marxist-Leninist, Anton Ackermann was a patriot, as well as something of a free-thinker. For him the “German road” idea was not just propaganda intended to mollify Germans fearful of Soviet dictatorship, but genuine application of Marxist theory to the unique historical situation of a particular country which he loved. When the SED dropped the concept in September 1948 as a “nationalist deviation” and began moving back towards a more traditional Stalinist position, Ackermann was brave enough to defend the “German road” theory to the Central Committee, resulting in his censure and punishment. Ackermann’s essay is translated below by myself from a collection of his writings.

Is There a Special German Road to Socialism?
Anton Ackermann 

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First published in Einheit issue 1, February 1946

The most significant all issues which now need to be resolved is the question: On what grounds and with what programme should the unification [of the KPD and SPD] occur? Out of the problems that arise from this a comprehensive debate shall take place.

However, this discussion of the programme can by no means be only the concern of certain leaders, of certain theoreticians, although the leaders of the KPD and of the SPD do have an obligation to submit clear positions to the party membership on the complicated issues which will inevitably arise.

Unification instead means accommodation between tens of thousands of active social-democratic and communist functionaries, and between hundreds of thousands of members of both parties. From the bottom to the top, both party structures ought to coalesce into an inseparable whole. Consequently, it is clear that the clarification of programmatic questions in particular is a matter not only of the leading minds of the parties but of the membership of both and, furthermore, of all those working people in possession of proletarian class-consciousness who will undoubtedly stream into the Unity Party in large numbers, because it will work like a magnet on all those workers and working people who by their very nature stand on the side of the socialist movement but who cannot decide today either for the SPD or for the KPD.

Can the working class come into possession of total political power on the democratic-parliamentary road, or only by means of the revolutionary use of force? Continue reading

The National and Social Liberation of the German People

Nationalist, Socialist, Bolshevist: the Communist Party of Germany’s ‘national-communist’ political programme of August 1930

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“Very many Nazi voters expected national liberation through their party, which it can never deliver. We must stress the national question more strongly than before in our agitation and propaganda and show that the KPD is the only party waging the struggle for Germany’s national liberation from the tribute burdens of the Young Plan.” So ran an article in a Ruhr newspaper of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD)  in October 1932. The sentiment it expressed was not rare or unusual within the KPD. It was, in fact, perfectly orthodox, at least in that period of the German party’s history. The KPD had been dabbling, on and off, with nationalist rhetoric since the early ’20s. In 1930 the Communist Party once again resolved to change tack and steer a more nationalist course, one more systematized and serious than the earlier ‘Schlageter line’ and heralded by the publication on August 24 of a new party programme which the KPD would take to the upcoming election: ‘The Programmatic Statement for the National and Social Liberation of the German People’. This programme, translated in full below, was intended to allay many of the concerns which had recently begun to subsume the party over the NSDAP’s rising membership and influence. The Communists’ refusal to support the NSDAP-organized 1929 referendum against the Young Plan had proven particularly contentious, creating the impression among many workers that the KPD supported the Plan, or at least was not serious in its fight against the hated ‘Versailles system’. The new programme was intended to prove to those workers going over to the ‘fascists’ that only the KPD could actually offer what National Socialism promised: the tearing-up of the Versailles Treaty and Young Plan; restoration of Germany’s lost territories; prosperity for middle-class, peasants, and workers alike; victory over French and Polish imperialism; the restoration of national dignity. Although never descending into outright chauvinism or Greater German power fantasies, the programme’s rhetoric is undoubtedly nationalistic in flavor, which is certainly how it was perceived. It served its purpose in convincing many socially-conscious nationalists that the KPD had their  nation’s best interests in mind, resulting in defections – a number of them quite high-profile from the SA, NSDAP, and other nationalist organizations.   

Communist Party of Germany (KPD):
Programmatic Statement for the National and Social Liberation
of the German People

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The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany approves, on the proposal of comrade Ernst Thälmann,1 the following proclamation for the national and social liberation of the German people. This declaration, which is addressed to all workers throughout Germany, has a programmatic significance that goes far beyond the scope of day-to-day politics. It constitutes a historical document that points the way for the entire working German people and illustrates for the first time the critical guidelines for the government policy of the coming German Soviet power.

While Social Democracy wants to sustain and perpetuate the existent state of misery, while the Hitler-party with deceitful phrases heralds a nebulous “Third Reich” that in reality would look even worse than the present wretchedness, we communists say clearly what we want. We conceal nothing. We make no promises that we will not unequivocally keep. Every laborer, every female worker, every young proletarian [Jungprolet], every office worker, every member of the cities’ indigent middle-classes, every working peasant in the country, every honest productive person in Germany, should with full clarity be convinced of our goal. The only way to the national liberation of the broad masses [Volksmassen] is a Soviet Germany.

For the present elections we call upon every working person in city and country to decide for a Soviet Germany by voting for List 4, for the list of the Communist Party. Continue reading

Walter Ulbricht and the Nazi-Soviet Line

German Communist Walter Ulbricht’s 1940 article defending the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact

The untitled article below is a relic from one of the most remarkable periods in Bolshevik history. First published in February 1940 in Die Welt, the Comintern’s German-language journal distributed to communists-in-exile, the article made its appearance during that period when the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was still in full effect, when the Third Reich and the USSR were still involved in active military collaboration.  Its author was Walter Ulbricht, the later leader of communist East Germany and First Secretary of its ruling Socialist Unity Party from 1950 until 1973. Ulbricht had been a member of the Communist Party of Germany’s Central Committee since 1923, and was before 1933 a major communist organizer in the Berlin-Brandenburg area, as well as a member of both the Saxon Landtag and the Reichstag. At the time of writing Ulbricht, like many other German communists, was in exile in the USSR and disseminating propaganda to the German-speaking diaspora on behalf of the Soviet state; in this case the propaganda was directed towards those quaverers who still had qualms about German-Soviet collaboration. Ulbricht’s article presents the Second World War not as a war for liberty against tyrannical imperialism, but instead as a great anti-socialist war by reactionary-capitalist powers against the growing strength of the Soviet Union. In the vision Ulbricht paints, the German-Soviet alliance is a reflection of the German government’s growing recognition of the power and vitality of the Soviet nation and its socialism, and of the growing influence which the German working masses are increasingly having over their government. While never going so far as to praise National Socialism or to whitewash some of the German government’s actions, Ulbricht nonetheless presents it as a nation wanting peace – a peace which is continually denied to both it and the USSR by the plutocratic powers of the West, including England, the “most reactionary force in the world.” This most remarkable position soon became infamous among the non-Stalinist left, and still presents some of the clearest Bolshevik justification for the ‘Nazi-Soviet Pact.’

The Neue Vorwärts [‘New Forwards’], organ of the former Central Committee of the Social-Democratic Party of Germany, has published an article by Dr Hilferding, entitled ‘The Purpose of the War,’ in which the author comes to the conclusion that one must unreservedly wish to see the victory of France and England. [Note: Rudolf Hilferding was an Austrian-born Jew, former German Finance Minister, and one of the leading theoreticians of the German Social-Democratic Party -Bogumil]

Hilferding maintains that the war is being waged by the governments of England and France for the ideals of liberty and not for capitalist class interests. The bourgeois press of Britain and France expresses itself somewhat more precisely regarding the purpose of the war. The press which represents the views of the City of London has in the last few weeks openly declared that by means of the war ‘freedom’ is to be gained to carve up Germany and use it as a war-instrument against the Soviet Union. By unreservedly desiring the victory of Britain and France, Hilferding also endorses this war aim. This war policy of the Social-Democratic leaders is not only directed against the interests of the German people, but is contrary to the will of millions of working men and women in Britain and France. How many declarations and demonstrations of workers against the imperialist war have been reported in the last few months? M. Blum complains that many workers refuse to read his paper any more. [‘M. Blum’ likely refers to ‘Monsieur Blum’, i.e. Léon Blum, former socialist Prime Minister of France and editor of the newspaper Le Populaire -Bogumil]

The special task of the Neue Vorwärts now obviously consists in concealing the war aims of British imperialism with a false picture of alleged ‘freedom and democracy’. On the other hand, the German workers rightly ask, would it not be more in place if the British and French governments, in order to prove that their words are seriously meant, gave complete freedom to the peoples of India, Africa and Egypt? When the middle-class papers declare in one article that England is fighting for freedom, and report in another article in the same paper the arrest of fighters for freedom, the muzzling of the workers’ press, the establishment of concentration camps and special laws against the workers, then the German workers have the proof before their eyes that the ruling class in England is carrying on the war against the working class, and that, if Germany were conquered, the German working class would be treated in the same way. The German workers know the big business men of England and the two hundred families of France, and are aware what an English victory would mean to them. The revolutionary workers and progressive forces in Germany who, at the cost of great sacrifices, are fighting against the terror and against reaction, do not wish to exchange the present regime for a regime of national and social oppression by British imperialism and German big capitalists who are subservient to Britain, but are fighting against all enslavement of the working people, for a Germany in which the working people really rule. Continue reading