Communism is 20th Century Americanism

“We Communists claim the revolutionary traditions of Americanism.” Earl Browder, patriotic communism, and the Communist Party USA

AmericanismThroughout much of the 1930s and early 1940s the Communist Party USA, the United States’s officially-recognized Comintern representative, pursued a general ideological line which was for all intents and purposes ‘national-communist’ in orientation. Earl Browder, a Kansas-born accountant with a long history of involvement in the labor movement and in socialist activism, was largely responsible for this patriotic position. Through a series of tumultuous factional disputes Browder had risen to become General Secretary of the CPUSA in 1930, and under his leadership the Party attained a level of success that it would never reach again. In large part this was due to Browder’s national-communist strategy, which emerged around 1935 and lasted – to varying degrees of enthusiasm within the Party – until Browder’s ouster from the CPUSA in 1945. The slogan used to spearhead the ‘Browderist’ strategy was striking: “Communism is the Americanism of the 20th Century”. This maxim, which made its first appearance in the article transcribed below, became a key element in the Party’s mission to shake off its image as an organization of foreign ‘subversives’ and so appeal to a much broader section of American society. The essence of Browder’s thinking was that communism was just an advanced development of the original American revolutionary ideal. Lenin and Stalin had essentially inherited the radical mission of liberation first begun by Washington and Jefferson; communism and ‘Americanism’ were thus inherently intertwined, making Marxism-Leninism a patriotic ideology whose aim was to complete the American Revolution. In CPUSA propaganda Soviet leaders appeared on posters alongside Lincoln and some of the Founding Fathers; Party posters and illustrations began using traditional American revolutionary imagery; rallies were bedecked with dozens, or hundreds, of American flags. Browder’s strategy began to be phased out around 1938-39, likely as a consequence of the Comintern’s concerns that Browder was both too popular and too independent, and the ‘Americanism’ slogan had disappeared completely from CPUSA propaganda by 1945. The article below, which initiated the Party’s national-communist period, was first published in the June 25, 1935 edition of Marxist cultural magazine The New Masses. The version I have transcribed is taken from a later revision published in Browder’s 1936 book What is Communism? There are some slight differences between the two versions of the article, but they are incredibly minor – the original has one or two word differences, and an additional introductory sentence establishing that the article was originally part of a series. 

Who are the Americans?
By Earl Browder
General Secretary, Communist Party USA
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The question asked of Communists more frequently than any other, if we can judge from the Hearst newspapers, is this:

“If you don’t like this country, why don’t you go back where you came from?”

The truth is, if you insist on knowing, Mr. Hearst, we Communists like this country very much. We cannot think of any other spot on the globe where we would rather be than exactly this one. We love our country. Our affection is all the more deep in that we have watered it with the sweat of our labor – labor which made this country what it is; our mothers nourished it with the tears they shed over the troubles and tragedies of rearing babies in a land controlled by profit and profit-makers. If we did not love our country so much, perhaps we would surrender it to Wall Street.

Of course when we speak of our love of America, we mean something quite different from what Mr. Hearst is speaking about in his daily editorial diatribes. We mean that we love the masses of the toiling people. We find in these masses a great reservoir of all things admirable and lovable, all things that make life worth living. We are filled with anger when we see millions of these people whom we love being degraded, starved, oppressed, beaten and jailed when they protest. We have a deep and moving hatred of the system, and of those who fatten on the system which turns our potential paradise into a living hell.

We are determined to save our country from the hell of capitalism. And most of us were born here, so Hearst’s gag is not addressed to us anyway. But workers in America who happen to have been born abroad are just as much Americans as anybody else. We all originated across the waters, except perhaps a tiny minority of pure-blooded American Indians. The foreign-born workers have worked harder for less wages on behalf of this country than anybody else. They deserve, at a minimum, a little courtesy from those who would speak of Americanism. There is less historical justification in America than perhaps in any other major country for that narrow nationalism, that chauvinism, which makes a cult of a “chosen people”. Continue reading

Paetel on the NSDAP and Red Revolution

Red Front, Brown Front: Karl Otto Paetel’s 1930 article on revolutionary political fronts and the NSDAP’s approach to a potential communist uprising

Three_AmigosThe essay “Clear Fronts!” was written by social-nationalist intellectual Karl Otto Paetel in that brief 1929-30 period when he was organizer of  the ‘Young Front Working Circle’, an informal pressure group whose guiding ideal was the promotion of stronger ties and closer cooperation between radical groups on the far-left and far-right. The bulk of the Young Front’s propaganda efforts were focused on the NSDAP, a party which Paetel and his associates viewed at the time as the most promising vehicle for the achievement of a revolution that would be both socialist and nationalist. While Paetel was never a member of the NSDAP, he nonetheless fostered close ties with it in this period – many of his friends were members of the Party’s radical Berlin-Brandenburg branch, and both the Young Front and its successor organization (the ‘Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists’, founded in May 1930) drew much of their membership from disaffected members of the NSDAP’s Strasser faction. Paetel’s relationship with the National Socialists was strong enough that he was a frequent contributor to Party publications despite his lack of membership, primarily to those published by the Strasser-owned Kampfverlag publishing house. The article reproduced below is a good example of this, as its original publication was in the Nationalsozialistiche Briefe, a Kampfverlag theoretical journal. While not technically an official Party publication (the Kampfverlag and its output were kept formally independent in order to distance their association with Hitler) the NS-Briefe was, alongside the official Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, the primary intellectual publication of the German National Socialist movement, and was fairly widely read by nationalist radicals. Paetel’s article calls on these readers not to “misrepresent” the Red ‘front’ and to recognize that the System, rather than the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), is the real enemy of the German Revolution. The author’s criticisms of the KPD and his apparent faith in the NSDAP were not to last. By the end of the year, disillusioned by the NSDAP’s ‘bourgeois’ drift and enthused by the KPD’s apparent ‘nationalist’ course, Paetel would switch his allegiance to the KPD and begin advocating a position more in line with that later expressed in his National Bolshevist Manifesto. 

Clear Fronts!
By Karl Otto PaetelSymbol

First published in the Nationalsozialistische Briefe, vol. 18, 15 March 1930

Political coalitions or settlements can be the product of rational consideration or tactical measures, but they can also be provided by the political situation itself. Opinions on other political forces only have real value for a movement, one which somehow knows itself to be an exponent of a fundamental spiritual philosophy that is the feature of its time (for only in such movements can one think of being compelled to politics), if they are to a certain degree already in the air and represent the essential concretization of its ideal knowledge.

German Socialism is today faced with two such determinations. Domestically, it is faced with the issue: How should it conduct itself if one day the KPD’s subversive activity, which is ever more clearly being carried out in accordance with Moscow’s directives, attempts to foment “unrest” somewhere as the basis for a proletarian revolution, and the guardians1 of Weimar call out for youth and guns to fight for “peace and order”, to face down “Bolshevism”, and thus to once again pull the chestnuts out of the fire under the black-white-red flags of the Weimar and Versailles dictatorship.

One should be adamantly clear about one thing: If social-revolutionary nationalism and its exponent to the masses, the NSDAP, follows these slogans, then it will have failed in its historical mission of reintegrating the displaced proles into the shared German destiny by ruthlessly implementing a socialist-corporatist system, based on the German nature, via the conflict of the class struggle of labor against international and anti-national capital. A false start in domestic policy in such a situation – an example being compliance under any circumstances with “peace-and-order” slogans – would instead imprint the mark of Cain once and for all upon German Socialists, marking them as the willing or gullible shield-bearers of that finance-capital which dominates the current system even in the judgement of the Democrat Haas,2 and forever blocking that access to the productive proletariat which socialism demands. Continue reading

The National Committee for a Free Germany

The 13 July, 1943 Manifesto of the National Committee for a Free Germany, a pro-Russian national liberation front established among German POWs by Soviet authorities

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Over 13-14 July, 1943, an organization known as the ‘National Committee for a Free Germany’ (Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland, NKFD) was inaugurated with the ratification of a newly-written manifesto signed by its 38 founding members. The NKFD was the initiative of German communists then in exile in the Soviet Union, KPD functionaries who were seeking to spread pro-Soviet ideals among German POWs with the hope of fostering an anti-Hitler resistance that would spread among the active Wehrmacht. While the NKFD (and its later adjunct, the League of German Officers, BDO) was the brainchild of communist agitation, the organization was not at first presented as explicitly Marxist-Leninist in orientation. Instead its aesthetic was national-patriotic, hearkening back to a pre-NS nationalism with its use of the former black-white-red standard and its veneration of old Prussian military figures and traditions. The Committee’s founding Manifesto, which I have translated below, made this conservative orientation explicit, demanding not a socialist Germany but instead a “free” Germany with a free economy, a “strong, democratic state power” in the tradition of liberal reformers like Baron vom Stein. This was during a point of the War, after all, when the Soviet government was still willing to negotiate a separate peace with Germany, even willing to commit to a return to the Reich’s 1937 borders, so long as the negotiations occurred with a non-Hitlerian government (Stalin was no doubt aware, as were the British, that there was a conservative opposition among the Wehrmacht’s officer ranks with a strong desire to overthrow the NSDAP). Despite its vigorous promotion among German POWs, however, the NKFD and BDO never became the nucleus of an organized nationalist resistance among the German armed forces. As the likelihood of a conservative revolt lessened over time, NKFD newspapers and radio broadcasts grew increasingly Marxist in orientation as a result. At the end of the War many former members of the Committee ended up in East Germany, helping to build the Volksarmee, the National Democratic Party, and the Working Community of Former Officers. 

Manifesto for the National Committee for a Free Germany
to the Wehrmacht and to the German People

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First published 13 July, 1943

Events demand a prompt decision from us Germans. In this hour of extreme peril for Germany’s continued existence and future the National Committee for a “Free Germany” has been formed.

The National Committee is comprised of: workers and writers, soldiers and officers, trade unionists and politicians, men of all political and ideological tendencies who, a year before, would not have considered such an alliance possible.

The National Committee conveys the thoughts and will of millions of Germans at the front and in the homeland [Heimat], those for whom the fate of their Fatherland lies close to their hearts.

The National Committee considers itself justified and obligated in speaking on behalf of the German Volk in this hour of destiny, clearly and unsparingly, as the situation requires.

Hitler leads Germany to its downfall. Continue reading

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