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

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

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

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