Ernst Niekisch: Where We Stand

Ernst Niekisch defends his nationalist-socialist principles and the importance of the nation to the question of socialism

Widerstand_Juni_1933Ernst Niekisch is, alongside Karl Otto Paetel, one of the better-known names from Weimar Germany’s National-Bolshevist intellectual milieu (although, somewhat ironically, Niekisch apparently never actually self-identified as a ‘National Bolshevik’). Niekisch is a particularly interesting figure because, throughout his life, he ran the gamut from far-left to far-right and back again. Beginning his career as a Social-Democratic Party (SPD) activist and short-lived leader of Munich’s post-War revolutionary government, Niekisch eventually drifted by way of a number of social-democratic groups into a position of influence as a national-revolutionary intellectual, before finally ending up back in the Marxist camp following WWII as a member of East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party. The short essay below is from 1926, a significant transitional period in Niekisch’s life. Disillusioned with the tactics and theory of social-democracy, in July 1926 Niekisch resigned his SPD membership, founded his own theoretical journal (Widerstand, i.e. ‘Resistance’), and became editor of the Volkstaat, the party newspaper of the Old Social-Democratic Party of Saxony (ASP). The ASP had been founded two months prior due to factional disputes between the conservative and radical wings of the SPD’s Saxon branch, with the conservatives forming the ASP and inviting Niekisch to take charge of their newspaper and the new party’s ideological direction. The article below should thus be viewed in this context, with Niekisch defending his new journal Widerstand and his own personal views against charges of “social reaction” and “nationalistic obscurantism” from mainstream social-democrats, who would have been particularly concerned about potential competition from a new political rival. As it turned out the ASP ended up performing poorly in subsequent elections and Niekisch resigned his party membership in 1928, completely disillusioned with electoral politics altogether and now completely convinced that Germany’s salvation could only come about through organizing a militant, nationalistic counter-movement to parliamentarism. Widerstand, which remained in publication until its ban in 1934, served as the vehicle for its editor’s increasingly apocalyptic worldview, reflecting his call for a radical new nationalist-socialist ethos which would sweep away every last vestige of bourgeois civilization in alliance with the “barbaric”, “primitive” Prussianism emanating from the East – the Soviet Union. 

Where We Stand
Ernst NiekischSymbol_Widerstand

First published in Widerstand, vol. 2, no.1, 1926

A warning against Widerstand has been directed at workers – and how might we have expected anything else? – suggesting that it fosters “nationalistic obscurantism” in the consciousness of the working class with the aim of winning that class over to the socially reactionary aims of the bourgeoisie. Reference has been made to certain terminological similarities as if they offered proof of such assertions; we have made use, it was said, of some expressions that one also hears from social reactionaries. Such terminological similarities might in fact be present; it cannot be helped that such persons also speak of vital national necessities for whom it is more a matter of the pocketbook than a serious consideration of these necessities.

Naturally we presume that those who have “identified” these terminological similarities seek intentionally to misunderstand us. For it truly does not take much to grasp the essential tendencies that inform our position. We are wholly rooted in the vital feelings and sentiments of the working people of Germany; their needs and their instincts are our own. We do not want to lead them astray, do not want to betray them; we are flesh of their flesh, blood of their blood; our thoughts, feelings, and aspirations issue exclusively from the ground of their being and the current circumstances of their fate. What moved us most profoundly was this: that the burden of the tributes to which Germany has been subjected weigh most heavily on the working people; that it is the living conditions of precisely the German worker which have been called into question by the collapse of German status in the world. Here the challenges of the German nation coincide with the law of self-preservation of the working class. That to be sure can be truly understood only by those who are more than mere literary figures. So many of these literary sorts are busy insinuating to workers what they are supposed to think, such that they have already diverted workers from many a good course of action. Continue reading

Nation and Working-Class

Only proletarian revolution opens the way to nationhood: an early national-bolshevist pamphlet by Hamburg radicals Heinrich Laufenberg & Fritz Wolffheim

Berlin_Rally_1918“National Bolshevism” has always been a fairly amorphous term. This is even more so the case today, where its relegation to meme status seems to have reduced it to a kind of aesthetic joke. Even in Germany, where the concept first originated, its meaning was never entirely fixed, never applied to one consistent worldview. Originally coined to describe the ideas of Jewish-German conservative-nationalist Paul Eltzbacher, who saw a Soviet system as Germany’s only means of national salvation following its defeat in WWI (Eltzbacher subsequently became a communist), the term was later used to describe several minor heretical movements on both the Left and the Right, deviations from Germany’s mainstream Marxist or nationalist currents which embraced certain elements of their respective enemies’ ideological worldviews. The earliest of these groups was the Hamburg branch of the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD), organized by prominent local radicals Fritz Wolffheim and Heinrich Laufenberg after their expulsion from the Communist Party over their anti-parliamentary, pro-syndicalist tendencies. Wolffheim and Laufenberg took the Hamburg KAPD in a national-communist direction, violently attacking social-democrats for betraying Germany and its proletariat through the Treaty of Versailles, and advocating instead of a civil war against the bourgeoisie a temporary alliance with them against the Western Powers as a precursor to the defeat and absorption of the middle-classes and the creation of a pan-German proletarian republic. Laufenberg and Wolffheim drew on German history and the example of the French Revolution to support their views; the 1920 pamphlet Nation und Arbeiterklasse, translated below, is a typical example. It is a curious mixture of radical left-wing Marxism and aggrieved nationalist sentiment, surveying the question of German nationhood from the perspective that Germany’s history of feudalism and imperialism left its bourgeois state and class underdeveloped, necessitating working with elements of the bourgeoisie so the broken Weimar system could be overthrown and a true German nation and state established in its place. Because the full text of the pamphlet is rather long, I have also made it available for download as a PDF via the Internet Archive for those who prefer that format. 

Nation and Working-Class
Heinrich Laufenberg & Fritz Wolffheim
July, 1920

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I.

Communism is the doctrine of the class struggle of the proletariat within capitalist society. Its goal is the destruction of the capitalist world-system and its replacement by the Commune of the world-economy.

Its struggle and mission are international. The very existence of the bourgeoisie and proletariat is determined by the capitalist mode of production. The struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat moves through nations, tearing them apart with the antagonisms between the classes in enemy camps. But as both classes can only exist so long as capitalist society lasts, at the end of their struggle class-antagonisms in every country will be abolished by the victorious proletariat. By smashing the capitalist form of economy and eradicating the capitalist class-society and wage system, the proletariat abolishes the bourgeoisie and, at the same time, itself as a non-propertied class. In doing so, it deprives class-divisions within nations of their foundations. Communist society sets all working members of a people [Volk] alongside one another, free and equal. It arises out of the socialized labor of a classless people, and comes to completion through the federalist integration of the economy of the classless peoples in the World Commune.

The revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, mobilized within the embrace of the bourgeois nations, picks up the revolutionary tendencies extant when it first begins. Where bourgeois society is itself still struggling with feudal forces over the “political structure”, the proletariat fights in the foremost battle-lines of the bourgeoisie as the most energetic stratum driving the Revolution forward. After the bourgeoisie triumphs over the feudal world, the proletariat intervenes in the revolutionary struggles which unleash the emerging, reinvigorated groups of the bourgeois class to participate in the power of the state, and while also supporting the bourgeois wings of the revolution in these upheavals, it at the same time campaigns for the implementation of its own class goals in order to broaden its own revolutionary basis of struggle against the entire bourgeois class. It is precisely the course of the bourgeois revolutions which furnishes visible evidence that the bourgeois struggle for emancipation is unfurling the problems of humanity’s liberation, but that it is necessary to overcome bourgeois society itself in order to resolve these problems. All of these problems therefore fall automatically within the ambit of proletarian struggle. The most important of them, in which all others intersect as a focal point, is the organization of the nation. For the political manifestation of bourgeois society is the bourgeois state, which attempts to organize the nation as its given basis. And as this organization has had so little success at resolving all the other problems of humanity posed by bourgeois society, but the proletariat must, in order to carry out its own emancipation, conquer and shatter the bourgeois state, then in this case too it is forced to take up the unsolved problem at precisely the point where the Bourgeois Revolution left it. 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

Paetel and the Programme of the Social-Revolutionary Left of the NSDAP

A revised, social-revolutionary draft programme for the NSDAP, written by Karl Otto Paetel and supporters in late 19292401 - Copy

Karl Otto Paetel is most well-known today for his 1933 National Bolshevist Manifesto. The Manifesto was written in a period when Paetel was a leader of the ‘Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists’ (GSRN), an organization which, inspired by the Communist Party of Germay’s (KPD) 1930 ‘national-communist’ programme and its nationalist-oriented propaganda journals like Aufbruch, centered much of its activism on encouraging nationalists to forge links with the revolutionary Left. The GSRN’s heavily pro-communist orientation in part stemmed from earlier, unsuccessful attempts by Paetel to reform the National Socialist movement. Before the GSRN was founded on Ascension Day, 1930, Paetel was involved in an informal grouping called the ‘Young Front Working Circle’. While still focused on promoting cooperation between left and right, the Young Front at the time regarded the NSDAP as being the key source for potential social-revolutionary change, directing most of its energies towards supporting the ‘left-wing’ opposition within the NSDAP and encouraging internal Party debate over its policies and direction. It was for this purpose that Paetel and other Young Front members wrote the short draft programme reproduced below. A revised version of the NSDAP’s original 25-Points (a number of the items are almost word-for-word identical), the Young Front’s draft programme is more explicitly social-revolutionary, including demands for mass nationalization, land expropriation, and a German-Soviet alliance. The programme was first distributed clandestinely at the August 1929 Nuremberg Party Congress before its formal publication in nationalist journal Das  Junge Volk on October 1st. The document, inevitably, had little real impact – in May 1926, in the wake of the Bamberg Conference, Hitler had already officially declared the 25-Points “unalterable”, and the Young Front’s programme made no headway in encouraging debate among the leadership. It did generate interest among some of the Party’s grass-roots, however, leading to stronger links with members of the NSDAP, many of whom would later go on to form the core of the GSRN. 

Social-Revolutionary Nationalism:
A Proposal for the Revision of the Programme of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP)

First published in Das Junge Volk, XI, 1st October 1929.

The NSDAP is a nationalist party. Its goal is the free German nation.

The NSDAP is a socialist party. It knows that the free German nation can arise only through the liberation of the working masses of Germany from all forms of exploitation and oppression.

The NSDAP is a workers’ party.  It professes itself to the class-struggle of the productive against parasites of all races and creeds.

The NSDAP therefore demands:

1. The integration of all Germans, on the basis of peoples’ rights to self-determination, into a Greater German Reich;

2. Equal status for the German Volk with other nations; the annulment of all the treaties, obligations, and debts of the prior capitalist government;

3. That only he who is a folk-comrade should be a citizen, – folk-comrades can only be those of German blood. Jews, Slavs, Latins [Welsche] can therefore not be German citizens; non-citizens to be classed as guests and placed under legislation governing foreigners;

4. That the right to determine the leadership and laws of the state may be conceded only to citizens; therefore, the NSDAP demands that every public office of whatever kind, whether in Reich, state, or municipality, may be occupied by citizens alone;

5. Elimination of the corrupting parliamentary state of affairs; realization of the self-government of the working Volk on the basis of enterprises, with the dismissal and destruction of the organizational apparatus of all parties; the organizational form of self-government is the Peoples’ Council-State [Volks-Rätestaat]; the council structure is organized from the bottom up through indirect elections from the council formations; Continue reading