German Communism under the Nazi-Soviet Pact

The official political line of the Communist Party of Germany during the period of Soviet-German diplomatic ‘friendship’

Probably nothing has caused more chaos and confusion within the international communist movement than the ‘Pact of Non-Aggression and Friendship’ concluded between Hitlerite Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. Communist parties which had spent over a decade denouncing fascism as the most dangerous form of capitalism were suddenly faced with the complex, unenviable task of trying to explain how an act of Realpolitik accorded with Marxist-Leninist theory. Probably those most strongly affected were the remaining members of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), many of whom had gone underground or had fled into exile after 1933 and whose leader, Ernst Thälmann, was still languishing in a German prison cell. At least one German Communist was so dismayed by Stalin’s “betrayal” that he committed suicide after hearing the news. Others conversely allowed themselves the optimistic hope that, if the ‘Friendship Pact’ persisted, persecution against communists in Germany would decrease and the KPD might even one day be fully legalized within the Third Reich. The remnant KPD leadership, now largely situated in Moscow, was faced with the unenviable task of trying to rally these bewildered elements and of presenting them with a coherent political line which made sense of everything. The platform they eventually produced, translated below, is a fairly remarkable document. Always careful never to praise or to apologize for the Hitler regime, the new political programme nonetheless recasts National Socialist Germany as a state which has at least made some steps towards progressive improvement, with the Reich’s signing of the Soviet-German Friendship Pact presented as the principle evidence for this claim. German Communists, moreover, are charged with doing everything they can to encourage the further development of progressive conditions in Germany, from organizing a united “fighting front” with National Socialist and Social-Democratic workers against their common enemies (bourgeois-conservatives, English and French imperialism), to infiltrating the NSDAP’s various mass organizations and directing them towards a more pro-Soviet orientation. By January 1940 this platform had received official approved from both the Comintern executive and from Stalin (who was supplied with a  translated copy by Georgi Dimitrov), and was utilized as an ideological guideline for speeches and articles produced by KPD members throughout the lifespan of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, such as this 1940 essay by Walter Ulbricht

Political Platform of the Communist Party of Germany
Drafted by the German Commission of the
Executive Committee of the Communist International,
30th December 1939

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I. The Tactical Orientation of the Party in the Present Situation.

The tactical orientation of the Communist Party of Germany in the present situation must be directed towards the development of a broad popular movement and towards the creation of a popular front of the working masses – including the National Socialist workers – in order to defend the interests and rights of the masses of the people, in order to consolidate and deepen friendship with the Soviet Union, and in order to end the imperialist war in the interests of the Volk. Only in this way can the interests of the working-class and the national freedom and independence of the German Volk be ensured, which are presently being put to the sword by the aggressive war plan of the bloc of English and French imperialists. Their plan is aimed at breaking Germany away from its Pact of Friendship with the Soviet Union, subjugating the German Volk, imposing outrageous burdens upon them, robbing them of their national independence, converting Germany into an English vassal-state, and driving the German Volk into war against the Soviet Union.

This tactical orientation requires the Communist Party’s policy to be completely independent in order to safeguard the interests of the working Volk; it does not mean supporting the war on the side of German imperialism, and under no circumstances does it mean toning down the struggle against the repressive policy of the present regime in Germany.

When it comes to this orientation, the Party must be aware of the regrouping of political forces and the shifting mood of the German masses, both of which are taking place in the context of the war by reason of the conclusion of the Soviet-German Friendship Pact. In opposition to the front of the ruling regime, which concluded the Pact of Friendship with the Soviet Union – albeit without guaranteeing a consistent friendship with the Soviet Union – a second front is beginning to emerge from parts of the German bourgeoisie (Thyssen,1 etc.) and from parts of the Catholic and Social-Democratic leaderships, a front which is directed against the Pact and against friendship with the Soviet Union, and which has placed itself in the service of the English-French war bloc against the German Volk and against the Soviet Union. It is to be expected that with the longer duration of the war, in conjunction with the increasing difficulties in the country, there will be a growing tendency within the German bourgeoisie to implement a break with the Soviet Union, to capitulate before the English-French war bloc, and to ready itself for war against the Soviet Union. Continue reading

The Hugenberg Memorandum

The infamous ‘Hugenberg Memorandum’, presented by nationalist politician Alfred Hugenberg at the 1933 World Economic Conference, London

The untitled document below, commonly known as the ‘Hugenberg Memorandum’, was first disseminated by German-National politician Alfred Hugenberg on 16 June, 1933, at the World Economic Conference in London. Hugenberg, with his solidly middle-class Prussian background, his massive media empire, and his web of financial ties to German heavy industry, might seem an unlikely candidate for inclusion on this blog. As an old Pan-German and a leading figure within the bourgeois-nationalist German National People’s Party (DNVP), Hugenberg was typically viewed by communists, socialists, and national-revolutionaries alike as an ossified, backwards-looking reactionary. Yet despite his stolid conservatism, Hugenberg in many respects still represented a particularly radical tendency in German economic thought. Like many Pan-Germans, Hugenberg was an advocate of autarchy as a solution to Germany’s economic woes, promoting vigorous protectionism for German produce, a strict quota system on agricultural imports, wide-ranging debt relief for farmers, and a gigantic expansion of domestic markets by retaking Germany’s African colonies and by ‘clearing’ Slavic land to the east for ‘settlement’. Through Franz von Papen’s influence, Hugenberg in 1933 had been awarded multiple influential positions within the new Hitler Government, finally affording him the opportunity to fulfill his dream as Germany’s “savior from economic misery.” It was for this reason that he insisted on presenting the below memorandum on his personal economic vision to the Economic Conference, despite horrified protestations from other members of the German delegation. The result was disastrous. The Hitler Government at the time was still only months old, and was desperately trying to present a picture of moderation and conciliation to other nations, who viewed the still poorly-armed ‘New Germany’ with deep suspicion. Hugenberg’s memorandum criticizing foreign investment and claiming that the world’s recovery from the Great Depression could only come about through Germany being granted colonial territories in Africa and a free hand to seize land to the east was deeply embarrassing to the government, who were forced to declare that Hugenberg’s statements did not represent official policy. Hugenberg, alienated among his colleagues and with his political reputation in tatters, was left with little choice but to resign from the Hitler cabinet, and by the end of the month the DNVP too ended up being pressured to dissolve itself and to merge into the NSDAP. The text of Hugenberg’s memorandum is reproduced in full below, in part because it represents an excellent example of the radical economic worldview embodied in Pan-German ideology, and in part because of its historical value: histories of the Third Reich and the DNVP commonly reference the document, but very rarely provide substantial quotes from it to inform their readers, much less reproduce it in full. 

The ‘Hugenberg Memorandum’
Alfred Hugenberg,
Reichsminister for Economics, Reichsminister for Food and Agriculture
DNVP_symbol

LONDON, June 14, 1933

In my homeland the Westphalians and the Frisians are considered to be among the tribes which are least diplomatic and most rustic, blunt, and stubborn. I am a cross between these two tribes. You must therefore have the great kindness to overlook it as a hereditary fault of mind if you do not like everything I say.

Given the situation in which my country finds itself it is impossible for me to try to skip lightly over the gulf of deep problems which are agitating not only us Germans but to an increasing extent the entire Western world, including America. The philosopher1 who entitled a well-known book Decline of the West thereby pointed prophetically to a danger which appears as a dark storm cloud on the horizon of the world. The government of the country in which this book was written many years ago is today, under the leadership of Reichschancellor Adolf Hitler, fighting the battle against this decline of the West. The esteemed President of this Conference, Mr. MacDonald,2 has described this danger in other words but with all desirable clarity as follows: “The world is drifting toward a state in which life revolts against hardship and the gains of the past are swept away by forces of despair.”3 In the sense of this struggle there is a family of nations. Those that belong to it are basically permeated with this feeling: We do not want to lose the courage and the spirit of our forefathers; nor do we want to let ourselves be exterminated by the subhumanity [Untermenschentum] growing up in our own nations.  Continue reading

The Christian Socialist Ahlen Program

“The capitalist economic system has failed…” The 1947 ‘Ahlen Program’ of the center-right Christian Democratic Union

CDU_GemeinwirtschaftThe collapse of the ‘Hitler-regime’ and Germany’s total defeat over the course of the War led many Germans to seek a clean break with the past. The ‘fresh start’ which they longed for was not just conceptualized in terms of a rejection of National Socialism and militarism, but also in terms of a desire to cast aside the capitalist economic system, to use the opportunity offered by the need to rebuild a shattered nation to construct a new economic system which would be eminently fairer and less prone to cronyism and abuse. This sentiment was not just confined to those on the Left; the conservative movement (particularly those formerly associated with the Catholic Zentrum) had a long history of Christian Socialism in their ranks, and these ideas came to the fore once more during the harsh winters and troubled economic times which immediately followed the end of the War. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had been founded in June 1945 as a catch-all movement for moderate conservatives and Christians of all denominations, and Christian Socialism became particularly popular among CDU members within the British Zone of occupation, an area which encompassed the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s industrial heartland. On 3 February, 1947, CDU members within the British Zone formalized the party’s commitment to Christian Socialist principles (while diplomatically choosing to avoid direct use of the term) by adopting the famous ‘Ahlen Program’, translated below. The Ahlen Program, which openly calls for the socialization of certain industries, the democratization of workplaces, and the forced break-up of companies above a certain size, was largely the work of local CDU leaders Johannes Albers and Konrad Adenauer. Adenauer would turn out to be more economically conservative than other members of the North-Rhine Westphalia branch, which explains why he later took both the CDU and Germany (as Chancellor) in a direction which ended up casting aside many of the more radical socialist ideals set out in this early founding document. 

The Ahlen Program
CDU Zone Committee for the British Zone, Ahlen / Westphalia,
3rd February 1947CDU

The CDU Zone Committee for the British Occupation Zone issued the following programmatic declaration at its conference of 1-3 February, 1947, in Ahlen:

The capitalist economic system has failed to do justice to the vital state and social interests of the German people. After the terrible political, economic, and social collapse which resulted from criminal power politics, only a new order built from the ground up can follow.

The content and goal of this new social and economic order can no longer be the capitalist pursuit of profit and power, but instead must be only the welfare of our people. A cooperative economic order should provide the German people with an economic and social constitution which accords with the rights and dignity of man, which serves the spiritual and material development of our people, and which secures peace both at home and abroad.

In recognition of this, the CDU party program of March 1946 sets forth the following principles:

The Goal of All Economic Activity is to Satisfy the Needs of the People

The economy has to serve the development of the creative forces of the people and the community. The starting-point for all economic activity is the recognition of the individual. Personal freedom in the economic sphere is closely linked to freedom in the political sphere. The shaping and management of the economy must not deprive the individual of his freedom. Therefore, it is necessary to: Continue reading

Basic Features of the National Socialist Economic System

Cambridge economist C.W. Guillebaud’s 1939 analysis of the essential features of Hitlerian economic ideology

NSDAP - Hitler-BewegungObjective analysis of National Socialism is virtually impossible nowadays. The enduring hangover of the War, the popular use of ‘Nazi’ as a pejorative divorced from its original ideological meaning, the adoption of Hitler’s image and ideas as an easy shorthand for Ultimate Evil – these have all combined to ensure that peoples’ responses to the subject are inherently emotive, and that academics who do attempt a dispassionate assessment risk suffering the potentially career-ending accusation of “sympathy”. This is not a new phenomenon; a contemporary Canadian review of the 1939 book The Economic Recovery of Germany noted that its author, Cambridge University economics lecturer C.W. Guillebaud, had recently been accused by another reviewer of being an apologist for German policies over his book’s tone of unbiased critique. But the accusation did not spell doom for Guillebaud’s public image, as it would do now. In the same year as his book’s publication Guillebaud became a government advisor on economics issues, beginning a distinguished career in the public service which included many years on the Council of the Royal Economic Society and a seat on numerous industrial dispute tribunals and wage arbitration committees, where he came to develop a reputation as a pro-labour maverick. Guillebaud’s interest in industrial relations is probably what prompted his study of the economic system in Hitler’s Germany, rather than any covert sympathy for ‘Nazism’; his other works suggest a strong interest in social policy and modern forms of industrial arbitration, both areas in which NS Germany was experimenting with new, progressive models. The chapter from Guillebaud’s book which I have excerpted below is typical of his fair, balanced approach. It describes in detail the basic features of the economic system in Germany at the time, outlining its core ideological principles as well as its strengths and weaknesses, and does so in a manner which is remarkably impartial in comparison with writing on the same subject produced by authors today. The excerpted chapter is one of the best and most concise descriptions of Hitlerian economic policy during the 1933-39 period I have come across, and the fact the author does not feel the need to browbeat the reader with the Germans’ moral shortcomings every other sentence is remarkably refreshing. 

Some Basic Features
of the National Socialist Economic System
Chapter V of  ‘The Economic Recovery of Germany’
by C.W. Guillebaud

Reichsadler

This chapter is an attempt to sum up in a few words what would appear to be the salient characteristics of the German economic system as it took shape during the years 1933 to March 1938.

State Control Over Investment, the Money Market, the Rate of Interest, and the Foreign Exchanges

By the establishment of a rigid and highly effective control over the foreign exchanges the German economy has in a large measure, though by no means completely, been rendered independent of fluctuations in the outside world. Under these conditions external changes could alter the total volume of Germany’s foreign trade, but could not cause wide divergences to occur between the value of imports and exports taken as a whole.

Down to the end of 1937 it was in fact possible to preserve a favourable balance of trade and to redeem a considerable part of the foreign debt whose existence has been, and still is, so great a handicap to Germany’s freedom of movement in her commercial relations with foreign countries. As a further result of foreign exchange control the internal monetary and price structure has been divorced from world price movements and from the influence of gold. The export of capital also can be effectively held in check.1

Inside Germany the monetary system has been based on the general principle that the effective volume of money and credit in circulation should keep pace with the growth of production and the output of goods and services. Continue reading