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

The Conversion of “Comrade” Müller

“I probably will never be a real National Socialist, but…” A 1935 example of National Socialist ‘proletarian fiction’ by Labor Front writer Walter Dach

One of the many innovations which the early socialist movement developed in the field of propaganda was the concept of ‘proletarian literature.’ Proletarian literature constituted writing directly aimed at appealing to a working-class audience and at conveying socialist ideology to them through entertainment. Usually published as a novel or as a serialized story in a workers’ newspaper, proletarian literature was written in a popular, accessible style, and would typically focus on presenting readers with characters and situations they could relate to: working-class people living working-class lives and experiencing similar joys and frustrations to their own. This format’s efficacy in terms of communicating ideological principles and talking-points was notable, and proletarian literature was one of the many forms of socialist technique which the National Socialists in Germany and Austria incorporated into their own political propaganda work. Proletarian stories were not uncommon within National Socialist publications during the movement’s ‘years of struggle’ before 1933, and they were a regular feature in Goebbels’s daily Der Angriff in particular, which was specifically targeted towards a working-class audience. Proletarian fiction continued to be employed by the NSDAP after it came into power, with the vast resources of the German Labor Front (DAF) aiding in the publishing and dissemination of labor-themed stories and novels which it was hoped would help win over the workers to the ‘New Germany’ into which many of them had been somewhat reluctantly thrust. The story excerpt below is one such example. The author, Walter Dach, was employed by the ‘Strength Through Joy’ organization (an arm of the DAF) to write National Socialist-themed proletarian literature aimed at propagating National Socialist ideals about the ‘dignity of labor’ and the ‘ideal worker’ among the German working-classes. This particular story was excerpted from a 1935 collection by Dach entitled Volksgenosse Müller II: Erzählungen der Arbeit (‘Folk-Comrade Müller II: Labor Stories’), and includes a trope common to National Socialist fiction – the simple, noble-hearted German worker (‘Comrade Müller’), whose deep-rooted love of Volk and Fatherland causes him to rise above his conditioned sympathy for Marxism or Bolshevism and to embrace Germany (as well as Hiter and National Socialism) instead. This translation is not by myself, but comes from George L. Mosse’s book Nazi Culture; I have not so far been able to find an original copy of Dach’s book, so I am unsure whether this excerpt represents the story in its entirety or is merely a fragment. 

The Conversion of “Comrade” Müller
Walter Dach

“I must leave again right away,” Müller said quickly, after he had swept up his boys, all three of them, in the circle of his mighty arms, the while shouting “Loafers! Vagabonds!” and, in accordance with a long-established custom, carried them out of the kitchen and threw them onto the beds. The youngest, a six-year-old, enjoyed it most, but all three roared and bellowed like lions.

“Must you go out again?” Müller’s wife asked with a touch of apprehension. She knew that something was gnawing at him and boiling inside him. He was a regular fanatic in everything he did, and on occasion he easily became thoughtless. The cause of Labor seemed definitely lost; it had been drilled into him for a generation, so that he had to believe it now. But what wholly confused him was that he had no evidence for it. “Hitler is a slave of the bourgeoisie!” they had shouted for many years at political meetings. And now they saw how captains of industry and banker-princes had to ask this Hitler for favors.

“And they will certainly take him in!” Müller had tried to tell himself.

They want to. Could be. But will he permit himself to be taken in? That is the question. Frau Müller had never been particularly interested in politics. But this much she understood (in fact, she felt it): Hitler wants the best for the worker; one can trust him. He has himself stood on a scaffold as a simple worker, and he knows what’s in the poor man’s heart.

“He will forget, just like all the other big shots we’ve had before,” grumbled Müller.

“I don’t believe that,” said his wife. “The man lives so simply, you can see that by his clothes. Of course, time will tell. By the way, there’s a letter from the Association of the Saarlanders… about the plebiscite.”1 Continue reading