Revolutionary People’s War or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?

Against capitalism and the betrayal of Versailles: Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim’s National Bolshevist “address to the German proletariat” of November 1919

During the first years of its existence, the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) was more a disorganized coalition of diverse, conflicting tendencies than it was a coherently-organized, revolutionary vanguard party. The KPD’s initial political development had been hampered early on by a number of major obstacles (the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht; the party’s ban following the failed January 1919 Spartacist uprising), and these difficulties only compounded the latent ideological conflicts within the party over issues like democratic participation, revolution, and the ‘correct’ attitude towards the Treaty of Versailles. One popular faction within the KPD during this period was its so-called ‘syndicalist’ camp: a collection of far-left, council-communist activists who were adamantly opposed to reformist labor activism and to electoral participation, favoring instead a continuation of armed putschism directed against the ‘bourgeois’ November Republic. These “wild elements” were considered destabilizing enough by the KPD leadership that they were forced out of the party at its second congress in Heidelberg in October 1919, an action which led to the founding of a rival council-communist organization in response: the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, KAPD). Two of the leading lights of the new KAPD’s prominent Hamburg branch were a pair of radical former Social-Democrats who had played a central role in Hamburg’s revolutionary council government in 1918: Dr. Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim. Laufenberg and Wolffheim had developed something of a following within the KPD as a result of their unique political vision, in which they argued not just for a proletarian council-state and for the end of capitalism, but for a working-class alliance with ‘productive’ members of the patriotic bourgeoisie and a comprehensive revolutionary war directed against the Western Powers and the Versailles Peace Treaty. This perspective (dubbed ‘National Bolshevism’ by their enemies within the communist movement) was most explicitly spelled out within a notorious essay which appeared on 3 November, 1919, in the wake of the Heidelberg Conference, titled: “Revolutionary People’s War or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?” Laufenberg and Wolffheim hoped that this “address to the German proletariat” would help put their ideological stamp on the emerging council-communist movement, guiding it in a direction that was simultaneously revolutionary, national, and anti-capitalist; to that end their essay was republished in June 1920 and distributed on a wider scale in pamphlet form, from which copy the below translation has been made. Although the Hamburg branch of the KAPD was significantly shaped by their views, the Laufenberg-Wolffheim ideological line would ultimately prove too controversial for their comrades, and both men and their followers were forced to leave the KAPD following its second party conference in August 1920.

Revolutionary People’s War
or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?
First Communist Address to the German Proletariat
A 1920 pamphlet by Hamburg communists
Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim

The present publication originally appeared as a supplement to the K.A.Z.1 The debates over this address have led to a lively demand for the publication, which is completely out of print, and the publisher is meeting this need through the release of this new edition.


This address is undersigned: On behalf of the Hamburg branch of the Communist Party of Germany. In the wake of its publication, a lively discussion began in the Hamburg local group about the points of view expressed within the text, at the conclusion of which those persons who were determined to adhere to the specifically Spartacist policy, and who therefore rejected the content of the address, left the local group. Following this process of purification, the local group finally severed all relations with the Communist Party of Germany (Spartacus League).

The Authors
Hamburg, 1st June 1920.

I.

The November uprising was an expression of popular outrage against the lost war. It was supported not only by the revolutionary sections of the working-class, but also by the army and by parts of the bourgeoisie. A proletarian policy would have immediately established ties and treaties with Soviet Russia; through the firm expansion of council rule, and through a wide-ranging socialization of the economy, it would have consolidated the forces of the country into a brazen hammer, ready to strike; it would have unleashed the full power of the revolution against the bourgeois democracies of the West by organizing a revolutionary resistance, by launching a Red Army, and by driving the social revolution across the occupied countries straight through to the borders of France and England. A proletarian policy would have made the Treaty of Versailles an impossibility from the outset. Although it is true that the proletariat aided the victory of the November Revolution, their policy was ultimately unsuccessful. Those tendencies triumphed which in essence pursued only one goal: peace at any cost via the accommodation of the German system of government to the wishes of Anglo-American high finance, in order to attain from the Entente, as far as was possible, an alleviation of the harsh peace terms which were in the offing. Continue reading

Hitler’s Betrayal – Are We Still a Workers’ Party?

Black propaganda from the Communist Party of Germany, aimed at winning over disillusioned members of the SA

The explosive growth in popularity of National Socialism throughout Germany in 1930 proved particularly challenging for German Communism, which found itself suddenly competing with a highly-organized, well-disciplined opponent whose espoused “social-radicalism” seemed to have a troubling level of appeal even among certain segments of the urban proletariat. A key component in the Comintern’s solution to the rising challenge of National Socialism was its ‘Programmatic Statement for the National and Social Liberation of the German People’, first published in national Communist Party (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) daily Die Rote Fahn on August 24, 1930, and deliberately intended to steal some of the NSDAP’s thunder by appropriating nationalist language and sentiment for the cause of Marxism-Leninism. Translated into practical party work, the new ‘National and Social’ policy line was primarily employed by Communists in the field of propaganda, particularly through organizations and publications intended to appeal to nationalists by focusing on certain attractive commonalities (i.e. a shared culture of militarism, or a hatred of the Young Plan) which could then be gradually redefined to participants in the framework of a Stalinist ideological worldview. Another favored KPD tactic during this period involved the use of demoralizing ‘black propaganda’, particularly what historian Timothy Brown calls ‘Zersetzungsschriften’ – ‘decomposition tracts’. These were leaflets, flyers, and newsletters written and produced by Communist propagandists but intended to give the impression that they were actually authored by an ‘opposition movement’ of disgruntled and disillusioned National Socialists within the NSDAP. Usually Communist Zersetzung were targeted at the Sturmabteilung (SA, Stormtroopers), which had the largest share of the NSDAP’s proletarian membership and hence, for the KPD, the greatest revolutionary potential. Zersetzung were full of complaints from supposedly ‘real’ Stormtroopers pointing out ideological hypocrisy within the party, alleging financial or racial impropriety on the part of local or national leaders, and encouraging a more sympathetic view of the ‘Reds’ and their ideas. The translated document below, a four-page newsletter titled Nation und Revolution, is an example of an SA-targeted Communist Zersetzungsschrift. Although undated and unnumbered, it was probably produced in mid-1931 and seems to have been distributed in the Stuttgart area. It covers most of the themes common to this kind of propaganda writing, condensing core arguments from the 1930 ‘National and Social’ programme and combining them with grumbling allegations about SA “Bonzen” (bigwigs) and the NSDAP’s inability to truly live up to the promises of its anticapitalist economic ideology.

Nation and Revolution
An anonymous SA propaganda newsletter,
clandestinely produced by the Communist Party of Germany

Hitler’s Betrayal of Nationalism!

Part II:1 The South Tyrolean Question and Hitler’s despicable renunciation of the Germans in South Tyrol are common knowledge. One would be correct in pointing out that the same policy of renunciation to which the Germans in South Tyrol are falling victim today could be invoked tomorrow against the Germans in Alsace, Upper Silesia, Czechoslovakia, etc.2 And in point of fact, Hitler has commenced one retreat after another along these lines. In his August 1930 letter to the French politician Gustave Hervé3 he wrote:

“I can assure you most emphatically, the movement which I represent has no intention of extending a helping hand to any course of action that appears only too likely to prevent the necessary balance of power from being established in Europe, thereby jeopardizing a much-needed peace among European nations! … The legally-binding character of private debts, regardless of the reason for which they were accrued, is always unequivocally clear… It (Germany) fulfills, and will also in future earnestly and faithfully fulfill, its private commercial debt obligations to the world.”

Hitler is openly stating here that he has absolutely no intention of doing anything at all about amending Germany’s monumental private debts to the Versailles powers. How could it be otherwise, when he is so keen upon the discourse of private ownership? The utter impracticality of national liberation without a preceding or concurrent socialist revolution is demonstrated here in Hitler’s shiftless babbling.

And what of Hitler’s fight against the “November Democracy’s policy of fulfillment,” which constitutes the be-all and end-all of National Socialist propaganda in its entirety? How would he behave in practice, if he were serious about this fight? In addition to refusing to make any reparations payments, he would then primarily need to ensure via his representatives in the state and municipal governments that the raising of funds for reparations would be made impossible, i.e. through the systematic sabotage of government measures; calls for a tax strike; struggling for improved wages, salaries, and bread; and ensuring all property goes to the German Volk in accordance with the maxim: “Bread first, then reparations!” Continue reading

Aufbruch: Winning the Nationalists for Communism

“Nationalists! Break through to us!” Articles from ‘Aufbruch’, a National Bolshevist propaganda journal produced by the Communist Party of Germany

Between 23 September to 4 October 1930, three young officers of the German Reichswehr stood trial in a Leipzig court, charged with plotting to commit high treason. The three Lieutenants – Richard Scheringer, Hanns Ludin, and Hans Wendt – had for several months been spreading national-revolutionary propaganda among the officer corps of the 5th Artillery Regiment in Ulm, encouraging them “not to fire on a national uprising of the people” should it occur, but instead to actively side with the revolutionary nationalists, to “join the revolt and become the nucleus of a people’s army of the future.” The ‘Ulm Reichswehr Trial’ of these young officers became a notorious event in Weimar history (Hitler was famously called as a witness), but even more notorious was its aftermath. On 27 February 1931, almost five months into an 18 month sentence, Richard Scheringer publicly announced that he had forsaken radical-nationalism and decided to convert to Communism, and a statement to this effect was read out in the Reichstag on 18 March by a member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). The Communists saw Scheringer’s conversion as a major propaganda victory, and quickly hurried to incorporate his name and image into their “National and Social” propaganda line, a strategy directed at winning over disaffected nationalists for Marxism-Leninism through Communist appropriation of nationalist discourse and aesthetics. To that end, in July 1931 a new propaganda journal was launched: Aufbruch: Kampfblatt im Sinne des Leutnant a.D. Scheringer (“Awakening: A Combat-Journal in the Spirit of Lieutenant a.D. Scheringer”). Aufbruch directly targeted itself towards members of the NSDAP, SA, Stahlhelm, Wehrwolf, and other nationalist organizations, utilizing Scheringer’s name along with National Bolshevist language in an attempt to build common ground between nationalist and Marxist revolutionaries. Aufbruch articles might cover military developments in the Soviet Red Army, revolutionary strategy in China, the concept of the “Nation” in socialist theory, or the inadequate social-revolutionary credentials of nationalist leaders – all topics intended to attract a radical-nationalist audience and to make them sympathetic to the arguments of German Communism. The two articles below are translated from the first edition of Aufbruch, and give an idea of its flavor: the first (untitled) lead article is effectively a statement of the journal’s purpose, while the second (“The Break with Yesterday”) is an account by an anonymous supposed ex-NSDAP member explaining why he and others like him decided to break with the NSDAP in favor of the KPD.

Untitled Lead Article from
Aufbruch

“A Combat-Journal in the Spirit of Lieutenant a.D.
1 Scheringer”
From Aufbruch vol. 1, no. 1, July 1931

LENIN:
“If the cause of the Volk is made the cause of the Nation,
then the cause of the Nation becomes the cause of the Volk!”
2

Folk-comrades!

In this historic hour, we turn to you former officers and leaders in the nationalist associations:

The misery of our Volk is growing tremendously. More and more are the masses being forced into impoverishment by the capitalist system. Hundreds of thousands of peasants separated from their homes and farms; millions dulled through having to eke out a meager existence; millions of workers and employees without work and bread; hundreds and thousands of academics and intellectuals no longer with any opportunity to earn a living.

The capitalist ruling powers are trying to keep the machinery of state running through brutal cuts to wages and salaries; by reducing care for the sick and disabled; by cutting civil servant salaries and war victim benefits; by throttling unemployment benefits; by perpetually introducing new taxes and new methods of coercion. The tribute burdens are passed on completely to the working strata among the Volk. Freedom of expression is stifled through ruthless terror, and every protest by the masses is suppressed with fascist methods.

Meanwhile, international finance capital is preparing for a war of intervention against the Soviet Union, in order to reintegrate back into the capitalist system an economic territory which is flourishing as a result of socialism’s realization. In their own countries the exploiters have done everything possible to incite the German Volk against the East in service of the predatory capital of world finance. In this way they hope to escape their present difficulties once again, and to create an outlet for the growing anger of the masses. If this criminal plan is fulfilled, then all hope for the national and social liberation of the German Volk will be destroyed for a long time to come, because our freedom can only be secured in tandem with the first free workers’ and peasants’ state on Earth, the Soviet Union! The opposite route leads us to a new enslavement, to the perpetuation of capitalist servitude indefinitely. Continue reading

Beating the National-Fascists (at their Own Game)

Advice from the Comintern to the Communist Party of Germany on winning back the masses radicalized by the ‘national-fascism’ of the NSDAP

The article below is essentially a companion piece to the Communist Party of Germany’s (KPD) August 1930 Programmatic Statement for the National and Social Liberation of the German People. The ‘Programmatic Statement’ represented an attempt by the KPD to seriously grapple with the rising popularity of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), born from recognition of the fact that nationalist sentiment (particularly aggrievement over the Young Plan and Versailles Peace Treaty) appeared to be a genuine motivational factor even among much of the proletariat, and that the social-revolutionary posturing of the NSDAP was being taken seriously by the masses even if to Marxists it appeared patently unconvincing. The new programme, and the general political line which it ushered in, was thus intended to “take the wind out of the nationalist propaganda of the Nazis” by beating the “fascists” at their own game, adopting certain tropes and terminology from the nationalist camp and repurposing them to demonstrate how it was in fact only German Communism which could truly bring both national and social liberation to the German people. The translated piece below – a draft letter to the KPD produced by the Political Secretariat of the Communist International in July 1930 – shows some of the genesis behind the 1930 programme, written as it was a month before the new programme was first launched within the pages of KPD daily Die Rote Fahne. The draft letter consists of analysis and advice from the Comintern to the KPD, outlining the reasons behind the growing success of “national-fascism” and recommending that a new programme be produced to better equip the Communists to compete against the NSDAP in the upcoming Reichstag elections. The exact authorship of both documents is somewhat unclear. Typically the 1930 programme is ascribed either to the KPD’s principal theorist, Heinz Neumann, or to Party-leader Ernst Thälmann. Historian Martin Mevius, however, asserts that it was actually the work of Comintern functionaries Dmitry Manuilsky, Wilhelm Knorin, and Otto Kuusinen (all working under Stalin’s direction), and that it “had to be sold to the German party leadership,” who initially were not very enthusiastic. The existence of the ‘precursor’ document I have translated here probably gives credence to Mevius’s claim that the programme originated in the Comintern. Whatever its provenance, the ‘National and Social’ programme grew to be a central component of the KPD’s political work over the the following years, and its “foresight” and “historic significance” were still being acclaimed decades later by Communists in East Germany.

Draft Letter to the KPD Leadership
On the National Liberation of the Working People against “National Fascism”:
A Perspective on the Reichstag Elections
Drafted by the Political Secretariat of the Communist International
28 July, 1930

Moscow.
6 Ex/Bö.
28.07.1930

Confidential.

On the Question of the Struggle against National-Fascism in Germany.1

To the Central Committee of the KPD.

Valued Comrades!

Within Germany, the grave political and organizational successes which fascism (the National Socialists) has made over the course of the last year present us with the problem of how to fight against this new weapon of the bourgeoisie in all its magnitude. The example of Saxony2 and of other areas demonstrates that fascism has been successful at winning over the broad masses, proletarians among them, who could and should have been captured by our work so far, and that our Party has not yet discovered all the methods required for the fight against national-fascism.

Fascism’s rapid rise is the result of the economic crisis in Germany, a crisis deeply intensified when coupled with the Young Plan, which plunges small commodity-producers and entrepreneurs into ruin, makes millions of proletarians unemployed, depresses the living standards of those workers still in the factories (wage cuts), and imposes new taxes, new tariffs, and other evils upon the broadest masses of the working people (including white-collar employees, small businessmen, artisans, small farmers, etc.).

The broadest masses of the petite-bourgeoisie and the backwards strata among the proletariat, who no longer wish to go on living in the old manner, are leaving the ranks of the old bourgeois parties – particularly the German National People’s Party,3 and in some cases also, the Social-Democrats – and are streaming into the fascist camp, because fascism promises a radical, “revolutionary” way out of the present situation. That the national-fascists are able to lure the masses through radical slogans is evidence of the profound unrest occurring within these masses, is evidence for their radicalization. Continue reading