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

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

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