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

The National and Social Liberation of the German People

Nationalist, Socialist, Bolshevist: the Communist Party of Germany’s ‘national-communist’ political programme of August 1930

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“Very many Nazi voters expected national liberation through their party, which it can never deliver. We must stress the national question more strongly than before in our agitation and propaganda and show that the KPD is the only party waging the struggle for Germany’s national liberation from the tribute burdens of the Young Plan.” So ran an article in a Ruhr newspaper of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD)  in October 1932. The sentiment it expressed was not rare or unusual within the KPD. It was, in fact, perfectly orthodox, at least in that period of the German party’s history. The KPD had been dabbling, on and off, with nationalist rhetoric since the early ’20s. In 1930 the Communist Party once again resolved to change tack and steer a more nationalist course, one more systematized and serious than the earlier ‘Schlageter line’ and heralded by the publication on August 24 of a new party programme which the KPD would take to the upcoming election: ‘The Programmatic Statement for the National and Social Liberation of the German People’. This programme, translated in full below, was intended to allay many of the concerns which had recently begun to subsume the party over the NSDAP’s rising membership and influence. The Communists’ refusal to support the NSDAP-organized 1929 referendum against the Young Plan had proven particularly contentious, creating the impression among many workers that the KPD supported the Plan, or at least was not serious in its fight against the hated ‘Versailles system’. The new programme was intended to prove to those workers going over to the ‘fascists’ that only the KPD could actually offer what National Socialism promised: the tearing-up of the Versailles Treaty and Young Plan; restoration of Germany’s lost territories; prosperity for middle-class, peasants, and workers alike; victory over French and Polish imperialism; the restoration of national dignity. Although never descending into outright chauvinism or Greater German power fantasies, the programme’s rhetoric is undoubtedly nationalistic in flavor, which is certainly how it was perceived. It served its purpose in convincing many socially-conscious nationalists that the KPD had their  nation’s best interests in mind, resulting in defections – a number of them quite high-profile from the SA, NSDAP, and other nationalist organizations.   

Communist Party of Germany (KPD):
Programmatic Statement for the National and Social Liberation
of the German People

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The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany approves, on the proposal of comrade Ernst Thälmann,1 the following proclamation for the national and social liberation of the German people. This declaration, which is addressed to all workers throughout Germany, has a programmatic significance that goes far beyond the scope of day-to-day politics. It constitutes a historical document that points the way for the entire working German people and illustrates for the first time the critical guidelines for the government policy of the coming German Soviet power.

While Social Democracy wants to sustain and perpetuate the existent state of misery, while the Hitler-party with deceitful phrases heralds a nebulous “Third Reich” that in reality would look even worse than the present wretchedness, we communists say clearly what we want. We conceal nothing. We make no promises that we will not unequivocally keep. Every laborer, every female worker, every young proletarian [Jungprolet], every office worker, every member of the cities’ indigent middle-classes, every working peasant in the country, every honest productive person in Germany, should with full clarity be convinced of our goal. The only way to the national liberation of the broad masses [Volksmassen] is a Soviet Germany.

For the present elections we call upon every working person in city and country to decide for a Soviet Germany by voting for List 4, for the list of the Communist Party. Continue reading

Wanderers into the Void

The German Communist Party, National Bolshevism, and the ‘Schlageter line’

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“Hands off the Ruhr!”

The Occupation of the Ruhr

On January 11th, 1923, massed ranks of French and Belgian troops marched through the demilitarized Rhineland into the Ruhr Valley. “We are fetching coal,” announced the French Prime Minister Poincaré, and that, at least on the surface, provided the official justification for the aggressive occupation of the Ruhr. Germany had repeatedly defaulted on the reparations payments demanded of it by the Treaty of Versailles; France was due 200,000 metres of telegraph poles and several million Gold Marks worth of coal; and so 70,000 foreign soldiers trooped into Germany’s industrial heartland.

The German people, however, suspected that more cynical motives were driving the Gallic engineers and administrators who were now, under military protection, seizing German resources for forcible export to the West. Poincaré’s loathing for the German nation was infamous, as were French territorial ambitions on the Rhineland; in the eyes of many Germans the true purpose of the Franco-Belgian action was not to “fetch coal” but to permanently cripple and dismember the wounded body of the German nation.

Ironically, the attempt by France and Belgium to weaken the nascent German Republic instead created a united front of resistance through stoking the fires of German nationalism. There is no more effective means of inflaming a wave of patriotism than a foreign invasion, particularly in a nation already suffering from the humiliating wounds of surrender, war debt, political instability, and mounting hyperinflation. The immediate consequence of the occupation was the rallying together of those segments of German society which, up until the noise of French and Belgian boots tramping along Rhenish roads reached their ears, had been at one another’s throats.

Centre-right Reichschancellor Wilhelm Cuno declared his support for a campaign of local passive resistance. German industrialists refused to deliver demanded consignments of coal. Social-Democrats organized strikes and demonstrations. Unions joined with employers’ associations to raise funds for workers engaged in industrial actions. And the radical nationalists – Freikorps veterans, völkisch activists, and patriotic Verbänden, often supported clandestinely by the army – engaged in acts of violent reprisal, retaliating against massacres, arrests, and house searches conducted by French occupation forces with their own acts of sabotage, assassination, and terrorism. Continue reading