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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Possedism and the Wehrwolf

“To eradicate a rapacious capitalism – Possedism!” The economic ideology of Fritz Kloppe’s national-revolutionary paramilitary league, the Wehrwolf

The ‘Wehrwolf – League of German Men and Front-Fighters’ was probably one of the most distinctive of the various paramilitary groups active within Weimar Germany’s national-revolutionary camp. Founded by teacher and Freikorps veteran Fritz Kloppe in May 1923 as an adjunct of the Stahlhelm’s youth league, the Wehrwolf soon broke away from the overly “bourgeois” Stahlhelm and fast developed its own unique nationalist style and subculture: field-grey uniforms, black-white-red armbands, black flags emblazoned with silver symbols (a ‘W’; a death’s head; a Wolfsangel rune), and a reasonably extensive organizational apparatus. The group also established its own radical ideology, calling for a revolutionary overthrow of the Weimar system and its replacement by an “aristocratic” Greater German Third Reich free of traditional class distinctions and capitalist exploitation. Complementing this political vision was the group’s economic ideal of ‘Possedism’ (from the Latin Possedere, ‘to possess’), first introduced by Kloppe in 1931. Possedism at its core revolved around a reorganization of property relations: Kloppe argued that in capitalism the concentration of property in private hands caused unbridled egoism and a selfish disregard for the Volk, yet under Marxism the concentration of property in state hands led to an unhealthy social levelling and a neutering of people’s drive and ambition. Kloppe’s solution was mass nationalization of all land and property into state hands, with the state apportioning it out for private ‘possession’ as widely as possible so that practically every German would own an inheritable stake in land or business. This ‘Possedist’ system, Kloppe argued, when coupled with autarchy, corporatist elements, and state control over foreign trade, would naturally create the perfect balance between egoism and egalitarianism, and the perfect alternative to socialism and capitalism. The two texts translated below constitute two of the earliest instances of Kloppe outlining his Possedist ideal: a short speech from the Wehrwolf’s 1931 Whitsunday celebrations, and a piece comprised of extracts from Kloppe’s pamphlet Der Possedismus (see the translator’s notes below for further information). Both of these were translated from a reprint of Kloppe’s 1938 retrospective on the Wehrwolf, Kamerad, weißt du noch? (i.e. Comrade, Do You Remember?), a book which probably deserves an article in its own right, since its publication led to Kloppe (who in 1933 had agreed to merge the Wehrwolf into the SA) being arrested and questioned by the Gestapo on suspicion of seditious activity. 

On “Possedism”
The Economic Theory of Fritz Kloppe and his
‘Wehrwolf League of German Men and Front-Fighters’

Speech on “Possedism” at the Bonn am Rhein Whitsunday Celebrations, 23rd – 25th May, 1931:

First published in Der Wehrwolf, 1st June, 1931.

We Wehrwolf are not only revolutionaries with respect to purely social conditions. We are primarily also revolutionaries in the fields of culture and the economy. It is absolutely futile to attempt to create a New Germany simply by setting new men at the head of the nation. Nor is it of any significance if a new form of state is simply forced upon the German Volk. We must give the nation itself a new substance!

This new, revolutionary will of ours is reflected economically within a new order of possession, one which we have called “Possedism” in order to give it the sharpest differentiation from others. For a century we have seen how capitalism has been economically undermining our Volk by turning them into wage-slaves, into proletarians, into an uprooted people to whom the concepts of the Volk and the community-of-blood1 have become something alien. The exploitation of productive people by capitalism was recognized very early on. A countermovement against it emerged just as quickly. The enslaved masses sought for a way out in Marxism, through which they hoped to be liberated from the fetters of international High Finance.

By rights, an ashen-gray horror should fill those people who have had to witness again and again that Marxism is indeed a reaction against capitalism, but a reaction which can nevermore bring freedom because it is on the wrong path. But the fighters for the proletariat are already too inured by their decades of slavery to recognize that they are on the wrong track. They are far too disconnected from nature to have the strength to muster up anything more than an impotent uprising. The asphalt has sucked out their marrow. Continue reading

Pelley’s Christian Commonwealth

“For Christianity and the Constitution!” Silver Legion of America leader William Dudley Pelley and his program for a ‘Christian Commonwealth’

Fringe movements, whether in politics or religion, tend to attract fringe individuals. George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party, once made the observation that: “Creativity IS fanaticism. Every creative genius has had to be a fanatic. Many of them have been burned at the stake… In between the Communists and the Nazis is the great mass of non-fanatics, the TV watchers and the comic book readers.” He might have had a point. It is hard to be a revolutionary or a radical without being a fanatic to some degree – and fanaticism of any kind is, by definition, not exactly “normal.” William Dudley Pelley, who led the fascistic Silver Legion of America (the ‘Silver Shirts’) during the interwar era, was almost the quintessential example of the kinds of fringe individuals who frequently find their way into radical politics. A successful journalist and Hollywood screenwriter who had been radicalized through his time covering the Russian Revolution and by his experiences with Jewish film executives, Pelley in the mid-1920s began experiencing divine ‘visions’ which led him into a career as a best-selling spiritualist teacher and writer. Pelley believed that his visions were sent by Christ and that he had been chosen for a great purpose, and it was these visions which inspired him to found the Silver Legion in 1933 with a goal of bringing about the renewal of the United States on both a spiritual and a material level. The USA’s rebirth under the Silver Legion would see it become a “Christian Commonwealth” – a society still fundamentally based on the American Constitution, but made both more equitable and more efficient through application of the principles of ‘Christian Economics’ revealed to Pelley in his mystical and clairvoyant visions. Pelley spelled out the essence of his ideas in a number of works; his overview of the ‘Christian Commonwealth’ and its economic precepts, excerpted below, is taken from his book No More Hunger! This book was first published in 1933, but the text below is taken from a revised edition published after WWII (my copy is from 1961). So far as I am aware, the only significant difference between the original and revised editions is the removal of a chapter in which Pelley calls for blacks, Mexicans, and “improvident backwoods whites” to be made wards of the state and put onto Native American-style reservations where they can be tapped for domestic labor; Pelley, for all his eccentricities (he also became a UFO enthusiast in the 1950s), was apparently down-to-earth enough to know which way the post-War wind was blowing.

The Program for a Christian Commonwealth
From William Dudley Pelley’s
“No More Hunger”

Unfortunately, when the average man hears the words “new system” uttered or when some enthusiastic person begins to prate about a “better economic order”, the immediate conclusion is drawn that some sort of violent revolution is being recommended or promoted, or that the sponsor is indulging in philosophical day-dreams because he had lost his business or can’t find a job.

Furthermore, a Wise Teacher has aptly remarked: “Tell men not too great truths with suddenness, lest they turn and rend you, or call you addled in your wits.”

Over the years we have had every sort of makeshift plan to cure our economic ills: the Townsend Plan, the Upton Sinclair Plan, the Utopian Plan, and others.

The trouble with most of these palliatives has been that they were not advanced by practical economists who would take into account the country’s actual plight of lost buying power that cannot be restored along the old profit-making and profit-taking lines.

Some of these Plans contained commendable recommendations for redistributing wealth on a more equitable basis but did not get down to brass tacks and face the staggering truth that there is precious little unborrowed or unpledged wealth let to be distributed. Furthermore, such wealth as they would redistribute would have to be seized by confiscatory methods. To loot the present rich, or soak the fortunate that the unfortunate may benefit, is equally deplorable with making the poor man of the present face his fate and like it.

What most of the economic strategists have been and are really trying to do, whether they are honest enough to admit it or not, is to find some plan that will jump all of us out of poverty in a day and a night while at the same time being careful not to alter any of the fallacious methods that have always been employed for accumulating wealth, and that in the hands of master manipulators have resulted in exactly the evils that have beggared us today.

They want to retain all the old evils while at the same time abolishing them. They want to go right along taking profits on the predatory basis while at the same time curbing the activities of all individuals who seem to do it successfully. Continue reading