Socialist Transformation

Socialism and nationalism intertwined: observations on the national-bolshevist character of revolutionary German youth, by writer Fritz Weth

The short essay below was translated from a 1922 book called Die Neue Front, a collection of articles which had all originally been published in the intellectual periodical Das Gewissen (‘Conscience’). The Gewissen served as the official theoretical journal for the Juni-Klub, a conservative-revolutionary-oriented literary group founded in 1919 by publisher Heinrich von Gleichen-Rußwurm, writer Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, and nationalist politician Eduard Stadtler. The Juni-Klub represented a slightly more moderate segment of the conservative- and national-revolutionary movements active in interwar Germany. Its proponents (the ‘Jungkonservativen‘) were less hostile to the overall concept of conservatism, were more overtly intellectual, and tended to be more amenable to the representatives of German heavy industry and big business, even as they pondered over the potential merits of a non-Marxist alternative to capitalism. The club was intellectually open and avowedly non-partisan, and as a result it attracted an eclectic variety of members and interested hangers-on from across the country’s political spectrum: Heinrich Brüning, Franz Oppenheimer, Ernst Troeltsch, Franz von Papen, Friedrich Naumann, Hans Blüher, Hans Grimm, August Winnig, Hjalmar Schacht, Wichard von Moellendorf, and a young Otto Strasser, among many others. One of these members was the lone “worker” of the group: Fritz Weth, a former communist. Very little is actually known about Weth, beyond that he lived in Berlin, gave his profession as “illustrator,” and had at one point apparently been active in the KPD or USPD. Between 1920 and 1923 Weth wrote around 40 articles for the Gewissen, most of which dealt with the labor movement or with questions of socialism, all with an underlying advocacy of a national-bolshevist political line (alliance with Soviet Russia; conservative cooperation with socialists and trade-unionists; creation of a nationalist, socialist New Germany) which must have been rather thrilling to the journal’s more middle-class, conservative readers. The article below is a prime example of this, employing Weth’s observations of the changes brought about by the German Revolution in his attempt to stress to his readers that there was an implicitly shared, revolutionary worldview held between those on the Left and those on the Right.

Socialist Transformation
Fritz Weth
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We are living in the midst of spiritual and economic decomposition. Traditional notions have fallen into decline or into transition. The guardians and the advocates of tradition, the elders among us, can establish no rapport with the era in which they are living through. They do not even understand the young in their own ranks, because these youth are resolutely prepared to sacrifice surviving traditions and to assimilate the valuable content of other traditions of German renewal. That is the process of dissolution occurring on the Right.

The Right’s experiential world nonetheless provides its younger generation with a deeper insight into the limits of revolutionary development than that possessed by the future-obsessed youth on the Left. The Left, too, has its own reinforced conservatism, exactly like that on the Right. One of its largest parties has committed itself to formal democracy, and is thus inevitably hindering the creation of that synthesis which matters most in Germany today and which only the revolutionaries of the Right and Left can produce together. The revolutionary Left has taken up the fight against the spirit of “leaving things be,” against the spirit of the SPD.1 Yet their own doctrinal rigidity makes it difficult for them to be victorious in this struggle. Nevertheless, concentrated within their ranks is everything in the proletariat which is young, strong, and inspired to build, and which reaches out beyond the dogmatism of their leaders towards the community of the nation. This elementary will found its first expression within the fellowship of those multiple foreign- and domestic-policy goals which the revolutionaries of the Right share with those of the Left. Each found the other in the front against Western economic imperialism, formalism, and degeneracy, and there they inconspicuously clasped hands. Continue reading

National Socialism or Bolshevism?

An early example of national-bolshevist ideological writing by Joseph Goebbels

The writing and speeches of Joseph Goebbels – especially those produced during the ‘Years of Struggle’, before the National Socialist German Workers’ Party attained political power – are particularly instructive in demonstrating the kinds of radicalism which could exist within the Party. Goebbels was always a radical; as a young man he had found an attraction in the unlikely works of August Bebel and Walter Rathenau, and his direct experiences with poverty had sharpened his sense of social justice. Initially drawn to communism, Goebbels’s inability to embrace the internationalist aspects of Marxist ideology led him first to the völkisch movement and then, in early 1925, into the newly reconstituted NSDAP. From the beginning Goebbels represented the more revolutionary side of National Socialism: bitterly opposed to the bourgeois world and its values, proud of his shabby poverty, and aggressively vocal in his belief that it was the socialism in National Socialism which took precedence above all else. His radicalism first led him into an alliance with Gregor Strasser and then, after several years of struggle and disillusionment, into a bitter opposition to the man who had once been his mentor. Even as an enemy of the Strasser brothers Goebbels was still a radical, with much of his effort as Gauleiter of Berlin-Brandenburg in the late ’20s and early ’30s spent attempting to win over the Berlin workers with fiery attacks on capitalism, the bourgeoisie, and the “false socialism” of the Marxists and the Bolshevists. Goebbels’s earliest writings are perhaps some of his most interesting, because in this period his appreciation for communism was still fresh and his ideology was in many respects more National Bolshevist than National Socialist in orientation. The article below, written not long after Goebbels had spoken before a joint meeting of Communists and National Socialists in late 1925, is strong evidence of his views in this early period of activism, when he was most vocal in avowing class-struggle and proletarian liberation as among the chief goals of the National Socialist movement. Addressed to his “friend from the Left” (i.e. the Communist he had debated at the previous meeting), this article was originally published in the October 1925 edition of Gregor Strasser’s Nationalsozialistische Briefe, a left-oriented NS journal of which Goebbels was editor at the time.

National Socialism or Bolshevism?
Joseph Goebbels
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First published in the Nationalsozialistische Briefe, no. 2, 15th October 1925.

My friend from the Left!

Not as captatio benevolentiae,1 but straight out and without reservations, I confess that I liked you, you are a fine fellow! Yesterday evening I could have carried on debating with you for hours before the thousands of transfixed listeners, because I had the feeling that the fundamental question of our commonalities and our differences was being raised within the forum of the German workers, whom this question ultimately concerns. And it is with the same feeling that I am writing out these lines to you.

You have clearly recognized what is at stake. We have agreed on the causes. No honest, thinking person today would wish to deny the legitimacy of the workers’ movements. It is only a question of the method and the formulation of their final goal. Grown out of need and misery, they stand before us today as living witnesses to our disunity and impotence, to the deficiency of our national spirit of sacrifice and our will for the future. We no longer need to discuss whether the demand of the German employee for social compensation is justified, just as we do not need to discuss whether or not the disenfranchised fourth estate2 should live or must live.

National or international in path and goal, that is the question. We both are fighting honestly and resolutely for freedom and only for freedom; as our ultimate accomplishment we both desire peace and community – you that of the world, I that of the Volk. That this accomplishment cannot be attained within this system is entirely clear and evident to both of us. To talk of quiescence today is to make the graveyard one’s home; to be peaceful in this state is pacifism and cowardice. You and I, we both know that a state, a system that is inwardly thoroughly mendacious, is meant to be overthrown; that for the new state one therefore has to fight and make sacrifices. In this respect yesterday we both could have been saying the exact same things about the bourgeois cowards of black-red-gold Social-Democracy. Thus far we have been in agreement. Continue reading

Possedism and the Wehrwolf

“To eradicate a rapacious capitalism – Possedism!” The economic ideology of Fritz Kloppe’s national-revolutionary paramilitary league, the Wehrwolf

The ‘Wehrwolf – League of German Men and Front-Fighters’ was probably one of the most distinctive of the various paramilitary groups active within Weimar Germany’s national-revolutionary camp. Founded by teacher and Freikorps veteran Fritz Kloppe in May 1923 as an adjunct of the Stahlhelm’s youth league, the Wehrwolf soon broke away from the overly “bourgeois” Stahlhelm and fast developed its own unique nationalist style and subculture: field-grey uniforms, black-white-red armbands, black flags emblazoned with silver symbols (a ‘W’; a death’s head; a Wolfsangel rune), and a reasonably extensive organizational apparatus. The group also established its own radical ideology, calling for a revolutionary overthrow of the Weimar system and its replacement by an “aristocratic” Greater German Third Reich free of traditional class distinctions and capitalist exploitation. Complementing this political vision was the group’s economic ideal of ‘Possedism’ (from the Latin Possedere, ‘to possess’), first introduced by Kloppe in 1931. Possedism at its core revolved around a reorganization of property relations: Kloppe argued that in capitalism the concentration of property in private hands caused unbridled egoism and a selfish disregard for the Volk, yet under Marxism the concentration of property in state hands led to an unhealthy social levelling and a neutering of people’s drive and ambition. Kloppe’s solution was mass nationalization of all land and property into state hands, with the state apportioning it out for private ‘possession’ as widely as possible so that practically every German would own an inheritable stake in land or business. This ‘Possedist’ system, Kloppe argued, when coupled with autarchy, corporatist elements, and state control over foreign trade, would naturally create the perfect balance between egoism and egalitarianism, and the perfect alternative to socialism and capitalism. The two texts translated below constitute two of the earliest instances of Kloppe outlining his Possedist ideal: a short speech from the Wehrwolf’s 1931 Whitsunday celebrations, and a piece comprised of extracts from Kloppe’s pamphlet Der Possedismus (see the translator’s notes below for further information). Both of these were translated from a reprint of Kloppe’s 1938 retrospective on the Wehrwolf, Kamerad, weißt du noch? (i.e. Comrade, Do You Remember?), a book which probably deserves an article in its own right, since its publication led to Kloppe (who in 1933 had agreed to merge the Wehrwolf into the SA) being arrested and questioned by the Gestapo on suspicion of seditious activity. 

On “Possedism”
The Economic Theory of Fritz Kloppe and his
‘Wehrwolf League of German Men and Front-Fighters’

Speech on “Possedism” at the Bonn am Rhein Whitsunday Celebrations, 23rd – 25th May, 1931:

First published in Der Wehrwolf, 1st June, 1931.

We Wehrwolf are not only revolutionaries with respect to purely social conditions. We are primarily also revolutionaries in the fields of culture and the economy. It is absolutely futile to attempt to create a New Germany simply by setting new men at the head of the nation. Nor is it of any significance if a new form of state is simply forced upon the German Volk. We must give the nation itself a new substance!

This new, revolutionary will of ours is reflected economically within a new order of possession, one which we have called “Possedism” in order to give it the sharpest differentiation from others. For a century we have seen how capitalism has been economically undermining our Volk by turning them into wage-slaves, into proletarians, into an uprooted people to whom the concepts of the Volk and the community-of-blood1 have become something alien. The exploitation of productive people by capitalism was recognized very early on. A countermovement against it emerged just as quickly. The enslaved masses sought for a way out in Marxism, through which they hoped to be liberated from the fetters of international High Finance.

By rights, an ashen-gray horror should fill those people who have had to witness again and again that Marxism is indeed a reaction against capitalism, but a reaction which can nevermore bring freedom because it is on the wrong path. But the fighters for the proletariat are already too inured by their decades of slavery to recognize that they are on the wrong track. They are far too disconnected from nature to have the strength to muster up anything more than an impotent uprising. The asphalt has sucked out their marrow. Continue reading

The League of Communists

Heinrich Laufenberg’s and Fritz Wolffheim’s 1921 appeal to the German proletariat on behalf of their national-bolshevist ‘League of Communists’

Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim (whose work has been featured on this blog before) were two of the earliest advocates of a ‘National Bolshevik’ policy in German politics. Both men played prominent roles in the workers’ and soldiers’ councils which sprang up in the wake of the 1918 November Revolution, distinguishing themselves as leaders within the ultra-left ‘syndicalist’ wing of Hamburg’s communist scene. Their national-bolshevist sympathies developed gradually, spurred into being largely as a consequence of the Treaty of Versailles, which piqued their sense of nationalism and which was interpreted by them as an act of imperialist exploitation from the ‘plutocratic’ Entente. Laufenberg and Wolffheim saw the solution to Germany’s misery in a revolutionary socialist state, based on a system of grassroots councils, in which the working-class would take a leading role and would be supported by ‘productive’ members of the bourgeois middle-classes, who could be won over to socialism by appealing to their nationalism. In April 1920 the two friends took this worldview into the newly-formed Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD), a council-communist party. Although the KAPD’s Hamburg branch saw considerable success under their leadership, their “nationalist tendencies” were controversial, and the party-leadership expelled them in August 1920.  The two men subsequently formed the ‘League of Communists’ to continue propagating their national-bolshevist line. This small organization’s main focus was the production and dissemination of propaganda, but it was not without its successes; its ideas had a decent following among Hamburg’s sailors and dockworkers, and the League’s related ‘Free Association for the Study of German-Communism’ developed influential ties within military and völkisch-intellectual circles. The short leaflet below, put out by the League in July 1921, represents most of the core themes in Laufenberg’s and Wolffheim’s thought during this period: nationalist-inspired support for the German uprising against the Poles in Silesia; strong opposition to Versailles and to French and British commercial-imperial interests; Marxist anti-capitalism; anti-parliamentarism; and the need to develop joint workers’ organs transcending the existing socialist/communist parties. Most of these ideas remained central to Wolffheim’s ideology (Laufenberg retired from politics in 1922) even as his nationalism in following years became more explicitly völkisch; his League, always small in size, ended up an appendage of Paetel’s ‘Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists’ in the early 1930s. 

Appeal from the League of Communists
to the German Proletariat!

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The cowardly gunshots to which the socialist deputy Gareis1 fell victim after being ambushed in Munich; the organized incitement of murderous violence against leading personalities of the workers’ movement; the rallying of the Orgesch2 in Bavaria and Silesia; the monarchist demonstrations which are growing more brazen by the day – these are all symptoms of the fact that the monarchist counter-revolution sees the time drawing near when it can re-establish the old monarchy and the old military dictatorship through the suppression of the German working-class. In this situation – which gravely threatens the entire German working-class and, at the same time, the world proletariat – the League of Communists considers itself obligated

to call upon the entirety of the German working-class

to transcend the dividing lines of the existing parties in order to

seek a common line of orientation and a common route of action.

At the center of the domestic and foreign political dangers threatening the German Revolution is the incursion of bands of Polish insurgents into Upper Silesia. The German working-class has widely recognized, notwithstanding the trivial phraseology coming from the KAPD,3 that the threatened population there cannot be denied the right to self-defence and to safeguard their native soil. Furthermore, the entirety of the German Revolution categorically and unequivocally recognizes the duty of national defence. When it comes to an economic region which belongs to Germany both culturally and according to the will of the vast majority of its population, there the participation of the working-class in Silesia’s self-defence is a matter of course. In their desire to exploit a national imperative for certain nationalist purposes, however, the monarchist cliques and the chauvinist thugs within the Orgesch have used the legitimate self-defence efforts going on in Silesia as an excuse to bring together a battalion of mercenaries4 there whose duty has nothing to do with national defence. The threat to the Republic which this concentration of mercenary forces poses is amplified by the Orgesch-backed authoritarian regime in Bavaria,5 whose government emerged out of the Kapp Putsch and which is openly preparing for monarchist restoration throughout Germany. Continue reading