Nation and Working-Class

Only proletarian revolution opens the way to nationhood: an early national-bolshevist pamphlet by Hamburg radicals Heinrich Laufenberg & Fritz Wolffheim

Berlin_Rally_1918“National Bolshevism” has always been a fairly amorphous term. This is even more so the case today, where its relegation to meme status seems to have reduced it to a kind of aesthetic joke. Even in Germany, where the concept first originated, its meaning was never entirely fixed, never applied to one consistent worldview. Originally coined to describe the ideas of Jewish-German conservative-nationalist Paul Eltzbacher, who saw a Soviet system as Germany’s only means of national salvation following its defeat in WWI (Eltzbacher subsequently became a communist), the term was later used to describe several minor heretical movements on both the Left and the Right, deviations from Germany’s mainstream Marxist or nationalist currents which embraced certain elements of their respective enemies’ ideological worldviews. The earliest of these groups was the Hamburg branch of the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD), organized by prominent local radicals Fritz Wolffheim and Heinrich Laufenberg after their expulsion from the Communist Party over their anti-parliamentary, pro-syndicalist tendencies. Wolffheim and Laufenberg took the Hamburg KAPD in a national-communist direction, violently attacking social-democrats for betraying Germany and its proletariat through the Treaty of Versailles, and advocating instead of a civil war against the bourgeoisie a temporary alliance with them against the Western Powers as a precursor to the defeat and absorption of the middle-classes and the creation of a pan-German proletarian republic. Laufenberg and Wolffheim drew on German history and the example of the French Revolution to support their views; the 1920 pamphlet Nation und Arbeiterklasse, translated below, is a typical example. It is a curious mixture of radical left-wing Marxism and aggrieved nationalist sentiment, surveying the question of German nationhood from the perspective that Germany’s history of feudalism and imperialism left its bourgeois state and class underdeveloped, necessitating working with elements of the bourgeoisie so the broken Weimar system could be overthrown and a true German nation and state established in its place. Because the full text of the pamphlet is rather long, I have also made it available for download as a PDF via the Internet Archive for those who prefer that format. 

Nation and Working-Class
Heinrich Laufenberg & Fritz Wolffheim
July, 1920

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I.

Communism is the doctrine of the class struggle of the proletariat within capitalist society. Its goal is the destruction of the capitalist world-system and its replacement by the Commune of the world-economy.

Its struggle and mission are international. The very existence of the bourgeoisie and proletariat is determined by the capitalist mode of production. The struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat moves through nations, tearing them apart with the antagonisms between the classes in enemy camps. But as both classes can only exist so long as capitalist society lasts, at the end of their struggle class-antagonisms in every country will be abolished by the victorious proletariat. By smashing the capitalist form of economy and eradicating the capitalist class-society and wage system, the proletariat abolishes the bourgeoisie and, at the same time, itself as a non-propertied class. In doing so, it deprives class-divisions within nations of their foundations. Communist society sets all working members of a people [Volk] alongside one another, free and equal. It arises out of the socialized labor of a classless people, and comes to completion through the federalist integration of the economy of the classless peoples in the World Commune.

The revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, mobilized within the embrace of the bourgeois nations, picks up the revolutionary tendencies extant when it first begins. Where bourgeois society is itself still struggling with feudal forces over the “political structure”, the proletariat fights in the foremost battle-lines of the bourgeoisie as the most energetic stratum driving the Revolution forward. After the bourgeoisie triumphs over the feudal world, the proletariat intervenes in the revolutionary struggles which unleash the emerging, reinvigorated groups of the bourgeois class to participate in the power of the state, and while also supporting the bourgeois wings of the revolution in these upheavals, it at the same time campaigns for the implementation of its own class goals in order to broaden its own revolutionary basis of struggle against the entire bourgeois class. It is precisely the course of the bourgeois revolutions which furnishes visible evidence that the bourgeois struggle for emancipation is unfurling the problems of humanity’s liberation, but that it is necessary to overcome bourgeois society itself in order to resolve these problems. All of these problems therefore fall automatically within the ambit of proletarian struggle. The most important of them, in which all others intersect as a focal point, is the organization of the nation. For the political manifestation of bourgeois society is the bourgeois state, which attempts to organize the nation as its given basis. And as this organization has had so little success at resolving all the other problems of humanity posed by bourgeois society, but the proletariat must, in order to carry out its own emancipation, conquer and shatter the bourgeois state, then in this case too it is forced to take up the unsolved problem at precisely the point where the Bourgeois Revolution left it. Continue reading

Papen’s Marburg Speech

The infamous June 1934 ‘Marburg speech’ of Franz von Papen and Edgar Jung: a national-conservative critique of the excesses  of National Socialism

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Early 1934 was an extremely difficult time for the conservatives and bourgeois-nationalists in Germany who, only a year before, had been convinced that the ‘National Revolution’ and the emerging Third Reich were as much theirs as they were the National Socialists’. Under the process of Gleichschaltung the new government had been gradually dissolving or absorbing independent nationalist groups into the NSDAP. At the same time there appeared to be an escalating breakdown in order, with Party radicals growing increasingly disruptive and violent, often turning their frustration at the slow pace of reform upon the perceived forces of ‘Reaktion‘. In the midst of the chaos and the rumors of an impending ‘Second Revolution’ a group of Catholic conservative intellectuals, working within the offices of Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen, began plotting ways for bourgeois-nationalists to take back the state, hoping to steer it away from ideological radicalism and towards a more traditionalist authoritarianism centered on Christian spiritual renewal. The result of their handiwork was what became known as the ‘Marburg speech’, translated in full below. Written chiefly by conservative-revolutionary intellectual Edgar Jung, one of Papen’s consultants and speechwriters, the speech was anti-democratic while still being carefully disparaging of the NS regime, critiquing its violence, its militarization of public life, its monopoly on political power, its ‘coordination’ of the independent judiciary and the press, and in particular its hostile policies towards Christianity. The conspirators cleverly pushed this speech on Vice-Chancellor Papen at the last minute, while he was still on the train to deliver an address before the University League at Marburg. When an alarmed Papen read the speech and protested that it might “cost him his head” he was informed that he had no choice but to give it, since hundreds of copies had already been provided to the domestic and foreign press. Papen conceded, and rather bravely read the speech verbatim despite his misgivings. The conspirators’ hope was that this action would galvanize the nationalist, Catholic, and conservative forces within Germany into opposition behind Papen. The result instead was the final consolidation of the Hitler regime. Goebbels used every effort possible to suppress dissemination of the speech domestically, while Papen was forced to apologize and to resign from the cabinet. Hitler and Göring, now utterly convinced of the need to sweep away their remaining enemies, began setting the course for the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ not two weeks later. Papen survived the resulting ‘Blood Purge’ by the skin of his teeth with a brief period of arrest. Others would not be so lucky, with most of the conspirators ending up incarcerated or, like Edgar Jung, shot.  

Speech by Vice-Chancellor von Papen
before the University League
Marburg, 17 June, 1934

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On 21 February 1933, in the turbulent days when National Socialism first stepped forward to govern the German Reich, I spoke to the Berlin student body in an attempt to explain the significance of this new epoch [Zeitenwende]. I spoke, as I pointed out at the time, in a location dedicated to the exploration of truth and intellectual freedom. I do not want to confess myself an adherent to the liberal conceptions of truth and freedom. Ultimate truth lies with God alone, and the quest for it derives its ultimate meaning only from this starting-point. Today, where I am privileged once again – in this medieval jewel, this city of Saint Elisabeth – to stand on academic soil, I add to the remarks I made at that time that even though the ideal of objective truth may be undisputed, we do not want to renounce the most elementary foundation of human civilization, the duty to subjective truth, to honesty, that is demanded of us Germans. This place of scholarship, therefore, appears to me particularly suited to giving a truthful account before the German people. Because the voices that demand that I adopt a principled position on German current affairs and on German conditions are becoming ever more numerous and more urgent. It is said that by removing the Weimar Prussian regime1 and by amalgamating the National Movement I have taken on such a pivotal role in German affairs that it is my duty to monitor these developments more keenly than most other Germans. I have no intention of evading this duty. On the contrary – my inner commitment to Adolf Hitler and his work is so great, and so attached am I with my very lifeblood to the German renewal currently being carried out, that from the point-of-view of both man and statesman it would be a mortal sin not to say what must be said during this crucial stage of the German Revolution.

The events of the last year and a half have gripped the entire German Volk and stirred them deeply. That we have found our way back from the vale of sorrow, hopelessness, hatred, and division and returned to the community of the German Nation once more seems almost like a dream. The tremendous tensions which we have experienced since those August days of 1914 have been broken; from them the German soul has emerged once again, before which the glorious and yet so painful history of our Volk passes in review, from the sagas of the German heroes to the trenches of Verdun and, yes, even to the street-fights of our day.

The unknown soldier of the World War, who conquered the hearts of his countrymen [Volksgenossen, lit. ‘folk-comrades’] with contagious energy and unshakeable faith, has set this soul free. With his Field Marshal he has set himself at the head of the nation in order to turn a new page in the book of German fate and to restore spiritual unity. We have experienced this unity of spirit in the exhilaration of a thousand rallies, in the flags and festivities of a nation which has rediscovered itself. But now, as enthusiasm is leveling out and as the hard work in this process comes to the fore, it becomes apparent that a reform process of such historical proportions also produces slag [Schlacken] from which the nation must cleanse itself. Slag of this kind exists in all areas of our life, in the material and the spiritual. Foreign countries, who view us with resentment, point their fingers at this slag and construe it as evidence of a serious process of dissolution. One should not be ready to celebrate too early, because only once we have mustered the energy to free ourselves from this slag will we immediately be best able to prove how internally strong we are and how resolute we are in not letting the path of the German Revolution be tarnished. We know that the rumors and the whispering must be drawn back out of the darkness into which they have fled. 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

Is There a Special German Road to Socialism?

German communist Anton Ackermann’s essay of February 1946, describing the road to a socialist state based on unique German conditions

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Towards the end of the Second World War, key functionaries of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) returned to Germany from their exile in the USSR. The nation they returned to was in ruins, its cities reduced to rubble and its people in rags. The task of the KPD leaders was to try and restore this devastated country, to prepare the ground for the coming New Germany modeled on the resolutions adopted at Potsdam – a demilitarized nation, reduced in size, democratic in government, and stripped down to a largely pastoral economy. From the beginning the KPD did everything it could to convince the German people of its genuine commitment to the democratic Potsdam vision. Anticipating Germans’ strong suspicions and fear of Russia and its Soviet system, the communists downplayed references to class struggle, violent revolution and proletarian dictatorship. They promised instead an “anti-fascist parliamentary republic”; they sought alliance with non-socialist groups; they pursued full political union with the Social-Democratic Party (SPD) on conditions of total parity (something eventually achieved through KPD-SPD amalgamation into the Socialist Unity Party, SED, in April 1946). This new approach was termed “the German road to socialism”, and its chief theoretician was KPD functionary Anton Ackermann, who explored its main precepts in his February 1946 essay “Is there a Special German Road to Socialism?”. Ackermann’s theory posited that Germany faced a unique set of cultural, economic, and War-related conditions which set it apart from the historical experience of Russia and thus required different tactics: namely a peaceful, democratic path to the realization of socialism based on cooperation with other progressive forces, rather than the attainment of a socialist state through violent revolution and strict dictatorship. For a Marxist-Leninist, Anton Ackermann was a patriot, as well as something of a free-thinker. For him the “German road” idea was not just propaganda intended to mollify Germans fearful of Soviet dictatorship, but genuine application of Marxist theory to the unique historical situation of a particular country which he loved. When the SED dropped the concept in September 1948 as a “nationalist deviation” and began moving back towards a more traditional Stalinist position, Ackermann was brave enough to defend the “German road” theory to the Central Committee, resulting in his censure and punishment. Ackermann’s essay is translated below by myself from a collection of his writings.

Is There a Special German Road to Socialism?
Anton Ackermann 

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First published in Einheit issue 1, February 1946

The most significant all issues which now need to be resolved is the question: On what grounds and with what programme should the unification [of the KPD and SPD] occur? Out of the problems that arise from this a comprehensive debate shall take place.

However, this discussion of the programme can by no means be only the concern of certain leaders, of certain theoreticians, although the leaders of the KPD and of the SPD do have an obligation to submit clear positions to the party membership on the complicated issues which will inevitably arise.

Unification instead means accommodation between tens of thousands of active social-democratic and communist functionaries, and between hundreds of thousands of members of both parties. From the bottom to the top, both party structures ought to coalesce into an inseparable whole. Consequently, it is clear that the clarification of programmatic questions in particular is a matter not only of the leading minds of the parties but of the membership of both and, furthermore, of all those working people in possession of proletarian class-consciousness who will undoubtedly stream into the Unity Party in large numbers, because it will work like a magnet on all those workers and working people who by their very nature stand on the side of the socialist movement but who cannot decide today either for the SPD or for the KPD.

Can the working class come into possession of total political power on the democratic-parliamentary road, or only by means of the revolutionary use of force? Continue reading