Visions of National Socialist Democracy, Part VI: Rosenberg

An excerpt from Alfred Rosenberg’s 1946 political testament, describing a form of multiparty National Socialist democracy

Rosenberg

On the face of things Alfred Rosenberg might not be considered a typical example of heterodox political thought. Commonly regarded as the theoretician and ‘political philosopher’ of the Hitlerian National Socialist movement, Rosenberg was a deeply ideological man whose worldview and attitudes could be perceived as rigid even by his colleagues and contemporaries within the NSDAP – certainly the Allied authorities at Nuremberg regarded him as a hidebound fanatic, and he was charged as a war criminal. Yet Rosenberg exhibited his own independent streak at times, particularly in his position as Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories and most especially in his post-War Memoirs (published in German as Letzte Aufzeichnungen), written over the course of 1945-1946 while imprisoned as a defendant at the Nuremberg Trials. In his Memoirs Rosenberg is remarkably candid about the faults and failings of the Third Reich and the NSDAP. While he consistently defends National Socialism as a great and noble ideal, he also argues that its misuse and demoralization led Germany to ruin – whether through the excesses and overwhelming reach of the SS police state; the abuse of the justice system; the all-powerful role of the Party; and even the actions of his Führer Adolf Hitler, who Rosenberg contends was a great man undone by hubris. One of the most interesting of these sections is near the book’s conclusion, where Rosenberg criticizes the Reich’s over-authoritarian political system; argues that Hitler’s role as dictatorial Führer was originally intended only as a temporary measure; and sketches out an ideal, democratic, multiparty National Socialist system which he (rather unrealistically) seems to be suggesting would be suitable for Germany once freed from its present state of defeat and Allied occupation. This section of Rosenberg’s Memoirs is reproduced below, from the abridged Ostara Publications translation. I have made some minor revisions to the text to add several untranslated sections from the original German edition. 

My Political Testament

Only Hitler Could be Supreme Leader: Next in Line Would Have to Have Been Elected

The leadership of Hitler was the necessary result of a great national awakening, the Führer state an organically sound re-creation of the idea of the Reich.

Leadership is as different from rulership as it is from chaos. Tyrant and masses belong together just as much as do leader and follower. The two are possible only if they are paired, and are held together in a common bond of duty.

The ever greater power given Hitler was a temporary exception, permissible only after a fourteen-year-long test. This was not one of the goals of the National Socialist idea of state.

The first leader had to come into power as Hitler did. All others were to be elected to serve only for a limited period of time.

Thus it was provided, though no Wahlgremium [electoral college] was founded. Before the Ordensrat [Order Council] of sixty-one men from all walks of life, anyone could, and would have to, speak confidently and freely.

Before it every minister would have to defend his measures. It was the National Socialist plan to find a strong personality for every given task, and to give that individual all the authority he needed.

Adolf Hitler later broke this rule which he himself had made when, to all practical intents and purposes, he put the chief of police over the minister for the interior, when he allowed special appointees in ever increasing numbers to break into fields of activity that had been circumscribed by elections, and when he permitted several distinct functions to be concentrated in a single new office. Naturally, these may have been emergency measures, justified in times of revolution and war; but they should never be tolerated as permanent practices. Continue reading

Visions of National Socialist Democracy, Part III: Hitler

Adolf Hitler’s statements on representative government in a future National Socialist state

Nobody would describe Adolf Hitler as a ‘democrat.’ Like most National Socialists, Hitler was contemptuous of parliamentarism and the ‘majority principle’, but he took things a step or two further. Before Hitler, the National Socialist movement in Central Europe was, despite its ideological opposition to liberal-democracy, largely democratic. The various National Socialist parties were organized on the basis of internal democracy, with elected leaders and policies decided through majority vote, and they were all committed to a policy of reformism – working to achieve a National Socialist state via piecemeal reform through the machinery of parliament. Hitler’s accession to the leadership of the trans-national NS movement ushered in radical changes in this area, gradually eroding internal party democracy in favor of Führerprinzip and leading, for a time, to a strictly anti-parliamentary, anti-democratic tactical line. Hitler, with his veneration of strict discipline and strong, centralized leadership, was undoubtedly on the more authoritarian end of the National Socialist political spectrum. Nonetheless, elements of democratic idealism still appear within his speeches and writings. Reproduced below are a number of extracts from several sources which demonstrate that Hitler, despite his authoritarian inclinations, still saw a place for parliaments and voting in a future National Socialist state.    

Mein Kampf

Hitler’s Mein Kampf provides us with one of the only comprehensive descriptions of his personal view of a future National Socialist state structure. It clearly represents a more ‘dictatorial’ vision of National Socialism than those of Jung or Feder, in that under its provisions elected representatives would have no  voting powers but would instead serve solely in an advisory capacity to the national Führer. What makes these excerpts especially interesting are their corporatist aspects – clearly at this early date (Mein Kampf was published in 1925) Hitler was still influenced by the strong corporatist inclinations within the National Socialist movement. Later he was to largely abandon corporatist ideas, making the system described in the following two chapter extracts somewhat obsolete. Nonetheless, the text below is revealing in how it demonstrates Hitler’s beliefs on the ideal balance between authoritarian and democratic tendencies in politics, beliefs which would remain largely unchanged throughout his life. –Bogumil  

Vol. II, Ch. 4: Personality and the Conception of the Völkisch State

…The best state constitution and state form is that which, with the most unquestioned certainty, raises the best minds in the national community to leading position and leading influence.

But, as in economic life, the able men cannot be appointed from above, but must struggle through for themselves, and just as here the endless schooling, ranging from the smallest business to the largest enterprise, occurs spontaneously, with life alone giving the examinations, obviously political minds cannot be ‘discovered.’ Extraordinary geniuses permit of no consideration for normal mankind.

From the smallest community cell to the highest leadership of the entire Reich, the state must have the personality principle anchored in its organisation.

There must be no majority decisions, but only responsible persons, and the word ‘council’ must be restored to its original meaning. Surely every man will have advisers by his side, but the decision will be made by one man.

The principle which made the Prussian army in its time into the most wonderful instrument of the German people must some day, in a transferred sense, become the principle of the construction of our whole state conception: authority of every leader downward and responsibility upward. Continue reading

Visions of National Socialist Democracy, Part II: Feder

Gottfried Feder’s 1919 vision of a highly democratic, corporatist National Socialism with a grass-roots electoral system

The article below was first published by Gottfried Feder under the title ‘The Social State’ on May 24th, 1919, in Dietrich Eckart’s newspaper Auf gut Deutsch. Its characterization as a National Socialist text could possibly be regarded as a stretch, considering it was published roughly two or three months before Feder first officially joined the German Workers’ Party (DAP). However, one should not forget that Feder’s pamphlet ‘Manifesto for the Abolition of Slavery to Interest’, which swiftly became (and remains) a core document of National Socialist economic doctrine, was written before the DAP even existed; was first published when the DAP was still in its infancy; and was originally pitched in prototypical form by Feder to the Marxist government of Kurt Eisner. ‘The Social State’ in fact is in many respects highly representative of early, pre-Hitler National Socialism, bearing more similarity to the National Socialism of Rudolf Jung and the Austrian-Sudeten-Polish DNSAP than to the more militant, authoritarian form of the ideology which developed under Hitler’s influence. ‘The Social State’ calls for a nationalist, anticapitalist state in which political representation is effected through a corporative rather than parliamentary system, a system remarkable in how democratic it is – Feder not only implicitly assumes that women will have the right to vote, but children too, the grass-roots electoral system he describes potentially involving every member of society in the election process. Although this system was obviously not adopted by the NSDAP as a potential model, ‘The Social State’ is still a fascinating demonstration that National Socialism and dictatorship were not necessarily synonymous concepts in the eyes of the movement’s Party-comrades.     

THE SOCIAL STATE

Gottfried Feder

The old form of government has  broken down. What shall take its place? This is the most important problem of the future: Weimar’s democratic-parliamentary monster, lifeless as it is, now that its illusionary policies have completely collapsed, seems to have reached the end of its days. The peace conditions of the Entente are the horrible alarm bell which has dispelled Socialist dreams and illusions. Where is Mr. Scheidemann’s peace with understanding? Where is Mr. Erzberger’s economic peace – guaranteed to be ready in half an hour? Where is the League of Nations, where is Mr. Eisner’s world revolution? Where is the workers’ state in which production is doubled; where is the higher morality – where is any reconstruction at all to be seen?

Weighed and found wanting – that is already the judgement of its own people, of its own contemporaries. Over and over again history will curse the German revolutionaries who betrayed their people, who in their shortsighted megalomania first robbed a brave people of belief in and desire for victory and then with the cowardly bravery of the assassin stabbed the army in the back during its most difficult days, in order to seize the power which they cannot use. For it is one thing to fell a swaying giant from behindto uproot a dynasty which has already lost touch with the people, or to revolutionize a civil service which has lost its vital connection with the life of the people. It is quite a different thing to display revolutionary power when the task is to inspire the mortally wounded people with new vitality and to prepare a new and vigorous political organism. Continue reading

Visions of National Socialist Democracy, Part I: Jung

Rudolf Jung’s 1922 vision of a future representative, National Socialist council-state

Over the next few weeks ARPLAN will be publishing a number of articles exploring the often difficult concept of democracy’s place within National Socialist ideology. On the face of it one might think that there is no place for democracy in National Socialism; today the Hitlerian regime and its guiding philosophy are typically presented as the archetypal antithesis of democratic values. What complicates this perception are the thoughts and words of the National Socialists themselves – on the one hand they cursed democracy, while on the other they claimed to be bringing a true, Germanic democracy to the German people. The National Socialist interpretation of democracy, like the Soviet, was characterized by a difference of interpretation – for them democracy lay not with parliaments and parties, but with more traditional forms of popular rule drawn from the Germanic past. When activists set out to write their blueprints for a possible future National Socialist state, they rarely spoke of dictatorship – and more often spoke of voting, and elections, and representative government, all shorn of the trappings of bourgeois Western parliamentarism. These visions of ‘National Socialist democracy’ are what ARPLAN will be exploring in the coming weeks. Our first vision is excerpted from Rudolf Jung’s 1922 (2nd ed.) book Der nationale Sozialismus, the earliest work of National Socialist political philosophy, which describes a future NS-state built on a kind of ‘council-nationalism.’ The text below was translated by myself from two separate chapters of Jung’s work, ‘Parliament or Council?’ (Parlament oder Räte?) and ‘The German Peoples’ State’ (Der deutsche Volkstaat). The first chapter is abridged for purposes of brevity, the second included in full.    

Parliament or Council?

…How was it in 1918? Absolutism – it was said at that time – must disappear, democracy should take its place. The very fact that one could not find a German word to describe what was desired indicated that the goal was quite unclear and hazy. In essence, only the autocracy of individuals, which was severely restricted by constitutional institutions, was replaced (and sometimes only apparently so) by the much more ruthless rule by large parties. The scepters rolled into the dust; the money bag took their place, replacing the dynastic power struggles between houses – which now and then had to be reconciled with the welfare of the state – with the much more ruthless rule of large parties. The urge to feed at the trough brings about the most impossible alliances between parties, each of which does not trust the other, each seeking advantage over the other. It does not matter if the state whose leadership is entrusted to them disintegrates, so long as the party’s fortunes prosper…

…All sorts of means are employed to try and heal this [parliamentary] malignancy, such as impossible party alliances here, unity parties there. But it is incurable. Rather, the system must be changed from the ground up. Today’s parliamentarism, with its one-chamber system, urgently requires a supplement by the old German system of representation by estate, which is more representative of the nature of our people. Of course, it will not be able to look like it once did, because the estates are partly transformed, partly completely lost. For example, no one today would be able to explain the term Bürgertum [‘bourgeoisie’] correctly. But there are occupational groups that can give us a suitable foundation for a system of estate representation whose modern form of expression is the council system – by which however we do not mean the Russian caricature [i.e. the Soviet], the concept of a council dictatorship being untenable, as is any dictatorship, i.e. tyranny. But the concept of the council itself is good, and it will be realized in the most multifarious forms in state, intellectual, and economic life! One must only beware here of one-sidedness and overestimation. There is no panacea; every illness requires different remedies. Manifold is life, and colorful and manifold are therefore also its edicts.  Continue reading