Against National Bolshevism!

Soviet revolutionary Karl Radek’s 1919 critique of Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim’s National Bolshevist “address to the German proletariat”

In late October 1919, at the Communist Party of Germany’s (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) second national conference in Heidelberg, party chairman Paul Levi issued a public denunciation of the KPD’s ‘ultra-left’ faction, with a specific emphasis given to the ‘Hamburg Opposition’ organized around council-communists Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim. In response, Laufenberg, Wolffheim, and numerous other ‘ultra-leftists’ left the KPD, acknowledging that their ideological objections to party centralization and electoral participation made them no longer a welcome element with the Communist leadership. For Bolshevik revolutionary Karl Radek – Soviet Russia’s chief representative to the German communists and a central figure behind the KPD’s founding – the news of these developments must have come as something of a surprise. Although incarcerated in Berlin’s Moabit prison for his role in the Spartacist uprising, Radek was still heavily involved in party affairs, and he had even sent written advice to Levi prior to the conference strongly urging him to avoid splintering the party. The consequence of the ultra-left split was the formation of a sizeable council-communist opposition within Germany (in April they would form their own party, the KAPD), an opposition which Laufenberg and Wolffheim attempted from the beginning to win over to their own idiosyncratic interpretation of council-communism – a worldview dubbed “National Bolshevism” by their critics – with the publication of their November 1919 “address to the German proletariat.” Although the influence of the Hamburg radicals would gradually fizzle out over the next few years, at the time they were viewed as posing a credible threat to the proletarian movement. Their emphasis on conducting a “revolutionary people’s war” against the Western Powers was alarming to a Soviet government already bogged down in an Allied-backed civil war, and the independent line they advocated, while undeniably pro-Soviet, still bred concerns that Russia’s leadership of the international communist movement might someday be undermined in favor of Germany. In an attempt to counter these tendencies, Radek – as the movement’s German expert and ‘man on the ground’ there – produced the article which has been translated below, originally published in the 20 December, 1919 edition of KPD theoretical organ Die Internationale. Radek’s critical stance in this article is intriguing; he had known Laufenberg personally before the split and there are claims (disputed by some communists) that both Laufenberg and Wolffheim had met with Radek in prison prior to their departure from the KPD, with Radek expressing enthusiastic support for their ideas. Later, in 1923, Radek would himself become the chief architect of the short-lived “Schlageter line,” in which the KPD openly adopted National Bolshevist tactics and language in an attempt to win over nationalists incensed by the Entente’s occupation of the Ruhr. Whatever his true feelings, Radek’s arguments in this article are consistent with party discipline at the time and constitute a noteworthy early attempt by the Soviets to counter left-wing National Bolshevist ideas, an attempt which pre-dates Lenin’s own critique of National Bolshevism in his 1920 work Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.

The Foreign Policy of German Communism and
Hamburg National Bolshevism
By Karl Radek
First published 20 December, 1919
in “Die Internationale”, vol.1, no.17/181

The Manifesto of the Hamburg ‘Opposition’

Already, during the negotiations over the Treaty of Versailles, a certain tendency to propagate union [Anschluß] with Soviet Russia on nationalist grounds was making itself felt within particular bourgeois circles in Germany. In order to be able to put up resistance against the Entente, one ought even be able to commit themselves to the Devil – the Bolshevists. But since one does not usually like to devote themselves to the Devil, various representatives of this ‘National Bolshevism’ endeavored to prove that this Beelzebub was not all that bad, that at any rate one could buttress a proletarian dictatorship in such a way that it would also be acceptable to respectable people. In the face of this trend, to the extent that it was not a diplomatic game played by failed politicians but an honest search for ways of saving not national privileges but German culture, the Communist Party had the duty not to content itself with pure negation. It had a duty to reach out to those honest elements who dared to renounce bourgeois privileges in order to save national culture, while at the same time telling them that communism is not an umbrella that can be opened up during the rain and then folded up again, nor a bath whose temperature can be arbitrarily raised or lowered. Intellectuals arrive at communism in different ways: through philosophy, religion, even through aesthetics. Concern for the nation can also form another route to communism. But communism itself is the goal of the working-class in their struggle for liberation, and it has its own laws of development and its own exigencies. If the working-class has no cause to cast off those people who come to it for various reasons from the bourgeois camp, then it has the duty not to subordinate itself to the prejudices and special purposes of those elements, but to compel those who come to it either to absorb the innermost substance of communism or to avoid joining the Party. In future the Communist Party can, under certain conditions, have practical points of political contact with National Bolshevism: for instance, in the future it can open the way for honest, nationally-minded officers in Germany to volunteer for honorable service in the German Red Army. But for National Bolshevists there is no place within the framework of the Bolshevik Party, nor can the Party obscure its proletarian, internationalist position in order to play National Bolshevist confidence tricks. All the less can it tolerate within its ranks a tendency which, under the mask of communist radicalism, transforms a communist foreign policy into a nationalist one. The so-called Hamburg Opposition2 unexpectedly turned out to be the source of this trend. Its leaders, Wolffheim and Laufenberg,3 put out an address to the German working-class in which they advocate a nationalist foreign policy, both in terms of goals and methods. Continue reading

Revolutionary People’s War or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?

Against capitalism and the betrayal of Versailles: Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim’s National Bolshevist “address to the German proletariat” of November 1919

During the first years of its existence, the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) was more a disorganized coalition of diverse, conflicting tendencies than it was a coherently-organized, revolutionary vanguard party. The KPD’s initial political development had been hampered early on by a number of major obstacles (the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht; the party’s ban following the failed January 1919 Spartacist uprising), and these difficulties only compounded the latent ideological conflicts within the party over issues like democratic participation, revolution, and the ‘correct’ attitude towards the Treaty of Versailles. One popular faction within the KPD during this period was its so-called ‘syndicalist’ camp: a collection of far-left, council-communist activists who were adamantly opposed to reformist labor activism and to electoral participation, favoring instead a continuation of armed putschism directed against the ‘bourgeois’ November Republic. These “wild elements” were considered destabilizing enough by the KPD leadership that they were forced out of the party at its second congress in Heidelberg in October 1919, an action which led to the founding of a rival council-communist organization in response: the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, KAPD). Two of the leading lights of the new KAPD’s prominent Hamburg branch were a pair of radical former Social-Democrats who had played a central role in Hamburg’s revolutionary council government in 1918: Dr. Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim. Laufenberg and Wolffheim had developed something of a following within the KPD as a result of their unique political vision, in which they argued not just for a proletarian council-state and for the end of capitalism, but for a working-class alliance with ‘productive’ members of the patriotic bourgeoisie and a comprehensive revolutionary war directed against the Western Powers and the Versailles Peace Treaty. This perspective (dubbed ‘National Bolshevism’ by their enemies within the communist movement) was most explicitly spelled out within a notorious essay which appeared on 3 November, 1919, in the wake of the Heidelberg Conference, titled: “Revolutionary People’s War or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?” Laufenberg and Wolffheim hoped that this “address to the German proletariat” would help put their ideological stamp on the emerging council-communist movement, guiding it in a direction that was simultaneously revolutionary, national, and anti-capitalist; to that end their essay was republished in June 1920 and distributed on a wider scale in pamphlet form, from which copy the below translation has been made. Although the Hamburg branch of the KAPD was significantly shaped by their views, the Laufenberg-Wolffheim ideological line would ultimately prove too controversial for their comrades, and both men and their followers were forced to leave the KAPD following its second party conference in August 1920.

Revolutionary People’s War
or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?
First Communist Address to the German Proletariat
A 1920 pamphlet by Hamburg communists
Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim

The present publication originally appeared as a supplement to the K.A.Z.1 The debates over this address have led to a lively demand for the publication, which is completely out of print, and the publisher is meeting this need through the release of this new edition.


This address is undersigned: On behalf of the Hamburg branch of the Communist Party of Germany. In the wake of its publication, a lively discussion began in the Hamburg local group about the points of view expressed within the text, at the conclusion of which those persons who were determined to adhere to the specifically Spartacist policy, and who therefore rejected the content of the address, left the local group. Following this process of purification, the local group finally severed all relations with the Communist Party of Germany (Spartacus League).

The Authors
Hamburg, 1st June 1920.

I.

The November uprising was an expression of popular outrage against the lost war. It was supported not only by the revolutionary sections of the working-class, but also by the army and by parts of the bourgeoisie. A proletarian policy would have immediately established ties and treaties with Soviet Russia; through the firm expansion of council rule, and through a wide-ranging socialization of the economy, it would have consolidated the forces of the country into a brazen hammer, ready to strike; it would have unleashed the full power of the revolution against the bourgeois democracies of the West by organizing a revolutionary resistance, by launching a Red Army, and by driving the social revolution across the occupied countries straight through to the borders of France and England. A proletarian policy would have made the Treaty of Versailles an impossibility from the outset. Although it is true that the proletariat aided the victory of the November Revolution, their policy was ultimately unsuccessful. Those tendencies triumphed which in essence pursued only one goal: peace at any cost via the accommodation of the German system of government to the wishes of Anglo-American high finance, in order to attain from the Entente, as far as was possible, an alleviation of the harsh peace terms which were in the offing. Continue reading

Social-Fascism

“Social Democracy objectively represents the moderate wing of Fascism.” British Communist R. Palme Dutt’s theoretical explanation of the Stalinist concept of “Social-Fascism”

The theory of ‘Social-Fascism’, which held that Social-Democracy was Fascism’s “handmaiden” and its “moderate wing,” was first formalized within the international Marxist-Leninist movement over a number of Comintern meetings throughout 1928-1929. The idea that Social-Democracy and Fascism were ideologically intertwined was not a new one at the time; Zinoviev as early as 1922 had remarked at the Fourth Comintern Congress that: “Not by chance is Mussolini, a renegade from the Second International, a sometime Social-Democrat, now at the head of the counter-revolutionary movement in Italy; not by chance are such as Ebert and Noske at the head of the government in Germany.” Similar observations had been made over the years by other leading Communists, including Clara Zetkin, Leon Trotsky, Earl Browder, and Josef Stalin. Yet it was not until the Comintern introduced the concept of the ‘Third Period’ at the tail-end of the 1920s – i.e., the notion that global capitalism had entered a period of economic collapse and impending revolution – that the complementary theory of Social-Fascism was also officially adopted and began to directly shape Communist tactics and propaganda. The claim that Social-Democrats were working in concert with the bourgeoisie to stymie the nigh-inevitable proletarian revolution and to build a reactionary fascist state was not always popular or well-understood among Communism’s grass-roots supporters, particularly as it seemed to often translate (as was most notably the case in Germany) into Communist parties directing the bulk of their hostile energies against fellow workers in the ‘reformist’ parties, rather than against actual outright ‘Fascists’. One of the more notable attempts to allay some of this confusion and to give the idea of Social-Fascism a more complete theoretical foundation occurred in the 1934 book Fascism and Social Revolution, by Rajani Palme Dutt. In his book Dutt, a British-Indian Communist and one of Stalinism’s more erudite English-language theoreticians, outlined in detail some of the Marxist-Leninist analyses of Fascism with which many have already become familiar: that it is “a means of capitalist class rule in conditions of extreme decay,” that it is “the organisation of the entire capitalist state upon the basis of permanent civil war,” and so on. A significant segment of Dutt’s book is also given over to examining the relationship between Social-Democracy and Fascism, and it is the chapter dealing with this topic which has been excerpted below. What makes Dutt’s analysis on this topic particularly compelling is that it does not just focus on painting Social-Democracy as a capitalist tool for manipulating workers into the service of the bourgeoisie. Instead, Dutt goes into some detail examining the alleged shared ideological roots between Social-Democracy and Fascism, intimating that the two do have some form of common intellectual lineage, particularly through Social-Democracy’s alleged “abandonment” of Marxism and internationalism during the Great War. While Dutt (like most Marxists) is reluctant to ascribe any serious, pre-War theoretical foundations to Fascism, his admission that there is nonetheless an actual, direct relationship between Socialism and Fascism is still particularly noteworthy, especially given how reluctant many on the Left today seem to be when it comes to acknowledging the uncomfortable fact that Fascism and National Socialism actually began as evolutions (or heresies) of Marxist doctrine.  

Social Democracy and Fascism
From R. Palme Dutt’s Fascism and Social Revolution (1934)

It is evident from the previous survey of the historical development of Fascism in Italy, Germany, and Austria that the role of Social Democracy is of decisive importance in the development to Fascism. The understanding of these two closely-related phenomena of the post-war period, of modern Social Democracy and of Fascism, is of key importance for the whole understanding of post-war capitalist politics. The whole question, however, is ringed round with controversy, and requires very careful further analysis, if the real issues of Fascism, and the conditions of the growth of Fascism are to be understood.

It should be explained that the term “Social Democracy” is here used only to cover the post-war phenomenon, the post-1914 Social Democratic Parties which subsequently united to form the post-war Second International or “Labour and Socialist International” in 1923. Although the tendencies of opportunist parliamentary corruption and absorption into the capitalist State were already strong and growing before the war throughout the imperialist epoch, even while the nominal programme of international revolutionary Marxism remained, and were increasingly fought by the revolutionary wing within these parties since the beginning of the twentieth century, it was only the decisive test of the imperialist war in 1914 that brought these tendencies to their full working out and openly revealed these parties as having passed over to capitalism. The direct passing over in this way since 1914 of large organisations of the working-class movement in all the imperialist countries, and especially of the parliamentary and trade union leadership, to open unity with capitalism and with the capitalist State, is a big historical fact; and the subsequent evolution of these parties since the war has played a large role, in the early years in the defeating of the working-class revolution, and in the subsequent years in the growth of Fascism.

This latter role was already showing itself in very marked preliminary forms in those secondary states where White dictatorships were established, in Hungary, Finland, Bulgaria, etc. In the period of the reconstruction and partial stabilisation of capitalism with the aid of Social Democracy, and still more since the development of the world economic crisis and the shattering of the basis of capitalist reconstruction, this character has become increasingly marked throughout Social Democracy. A process of “fascisation” in a whole variety of forms and stages, as well as of playing directly into the hands of Fascism, can be traced. 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