Otto Rühle on “Red Fascism”

Radical German communist Otto Rühle’s 1939 essay on the shared characteristics between Bolshevism and Fascism

The following article first appeared anonymously in the September 1939 edition of American communist journal Living Marxism. Its author, Otto Rühle, was living in Mexico at the time, having fled there by way of Czechoslovakia during the early ’30s to escape the rise of National Socialism (Rühle’s wife, Alice Rühle-Gerstel, was Jewish). Rühle had good reason for his writing to be published anonymously – factionalism was as much a feature of left-wing politics then as it is now, and Rühle was concerned that his reputation as a vociferous critic of Stalinism and the Soviet Union would lead communists to boycott the publication. Rühle had plenty of experience in this regard. In 1916 he had been expelled from the Social-Democratic Party over his opposition to the party’s position on the War, and in April 1920 he had left the nascent Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in frustration at the growing Leninist authoritarianism within its leadership, tactics, and organizational structure. Rühle’s active involvement in revolutionary Marxist politics made him a first-hand witness to the growing stranglehold which the Russian Bolsheviks were beginning to asset over the international communist movement, and as fascism begin to rise in Europe and particularly within Germany he began to see parallels between the authoritarianism he had experienced on the Left and that developing on the Right. Authoritarianism, deference to supreme leadership, ruthless militancy, iron discipline, rigid centralism, thoughtless conformity, party before people – in Rühle’s eyes these were as much features of Leninism as they were of fascism, and he believed it indisputable that the state form of the Soviet Union had served as a direct template for those in Germany and Italy. The conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939 was confirmation for Rühle that his assessment of Bolshevism as a form of “red fascism” was correct, and the essay below appeared a month later in direct response to it. 

The Struggle Against Fascism Begins with the
Struggle Against Bolshevism

by Otto Rühle

council_communism

I.

Russia must be placed first among the new totalitarian states. It was the first to adopt the new state principle. It went furthest in its application. It was the first to establish a constitutional dictatorship, together with the political and administrative terror system which goes with it. Adopting all the features of the total state, it thus became the model for those other countries which were forced to do away with the democratic state system and to change to dictatorial rule. Russia was the example for fascism.

No accident is here involved, nor a bad joke of history. The duplication of systems here is not apparent but real. Everything points to the fact that we have to deal here with expressions and consequences of identical principles applied to different levels of historical and political development. Whether party “communists” like it or not, the fact remains that the state order and rule in Russia are indistinguishable from those in Italy and Germany. Essentially they are alike. One may speak of a red, black, or brown “soviet state”, as well as of red, black or brown fascism. Though certain ideological differences exist between these countries, ideology is never of primary importance. Ideologies, furthermore, are changeable and such changes do not necessarily reflect the character and the functions of the state apparatus. Furthermore, the fact that private property still exists in Germany and Italy is only a modification of secondary importance. The abolition of private property alone does not guarantee socialism. Private property within capitalism also can be abolished. What actually determines a socialist society is, besides the doing away with private property in the means of production, the control of the workers over the products of their labour and the end of the wage system. Both of these achievements are unfulfilled in Russia, as well as in Italy and Germany. Though some may assume that Russia is one step nearer to socialism than the other countries, it does not follow that its “soviet state” has helped the international proletariat come in any way nearer to its class struggle goals. On the contrary, because Russia calls itself a socialist state, it misleads and deludes the workers of the world. The thinking worker knows what fascism is and fights it, but as regards Russia, he is only too often inclined to accept the myth of its socialistic nature. This delusion hinders a complete and determined break with fascism, because it hinders the principle struggle against the reasons, preconditions, and circumstances which in Russia, as in Germany and Italy, have led to an identical state and governmental system. Thus the Russian myth turns into an ideological weapon of counter-revolution. Continue reading