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

The Programme of the National-Democratic Party of Germany

“Americans to America! Germany for the Germans!” The 1951 political programme of the National-Democratic Party of Germany (NDPD), communist East Germany’s party of ‘German nationalism’

DDR - NDPDThe National-Democratic Party of Germany (NDPD) was officially founded at the behest of communist authorities on 16th July, 1948, only a few months after the official conclusion of ‘denazification’ efforts within nascent East Germany. This timing was not a coincidence. Legally-recognized political parties within the DDR were conceived as having an essentially corporatist function; each party represented the interests of a specific social group, and alongside various mass organizations they were welded directly into the organism of the state through their direct incorporation into various collaborative government structures. Following the dénouement of denazification, the dominant Socialist Unity Party, in conjunction with the Soviet Military Authority, was keen to integrate former members of the National Socialist and broader nationalist movements back into the developing East German nation as productive members of a socialist Germany. The NDPD was intended to be their political home, a means of providing a ‘safety net’ for denazification by giving ‘rehabilitated’ NSDAP members, radical-nationalists, professional soldiers, and nationalist bourgeoisie an official mechanism for representing their interests within the system (thus preventing their alienation), as well as a vehicle for ensuring their continued ‘re-education’. The NDPD was thus as much a communist propaganda tool as it was the political representation of a new ‘socialist nationalism’ – at the same time as the new Party was expending its resources on (often quite successfully) lobbying for the provision of employment rights and property reinstatement to former NSDAP, SA, and Wehrmacht members, it was attempting to inculcate in its recruits a revised form of nationalist ideology acceptable to the Marxist-Leninist tenets underpinning the DDR. The NDPD did this in large part by repurposing certain elements of National Socialist and deutschnational ideology for pro-Soviet ends, such as by redefining the word ‘National’ to give it a progressive and democratic flavor, or by redirecting traditional anti-Westernism into a more overt and aggressive anti-American direction. The following translation of the 1951 party programme of the NDPD is instructive in showing the creative way in which the Soviet-backed authorities attempted to recast German nationalist sentiment into a form that was amenable to their goals. Even the triple-oak-leaf emblem adopted by the NDPD was an attempt to overtly appeal to German nationalists: the oak tree and oak leaf have been a symbol of German nationalism for centuries.

Programme of the
National-Democratic Party of Germany
NDPD_Symbol

The National-Democratic Party of Germany arose at a time of deepest national distress. America was preparing to tear Germany apart; then, on 21st April 1948, a group of patriotic1 Germans in Halle raised a call for the founding of a party that should be both national and democratic. On 16th July 1948 the National-Democratic Party of Germany was founded, two days before America split the German currency unit. This marked the beginning of a series of measures which, from the introduction of a separate West German currency to the creation of a separate West German state (that American protectorate on German soil), would lead to the rearmament of West Germany and were intended to end in a German brothers’ war to the benefit and advantage of American world conquest.

This danger demanded the alliance of all patriotic Germans, with the aim of foiling America’s attack against the existence of our nation. We raised the banner of our national liberation-struggle in the name of our living rights:

Unity, Peace, Independence, and Prosperity!

In the three years which have since passed, our Party has tirelessly and without faltering carried on a policy whose principles were, are, and shall remain:

To place the interests of the Nation above everything else; to advance a national policy which is consistent from beginning to end, a policy whose yardstick and justification is the Nation, a policy that always and only commits itself to the Nation and puts it first at every moment, because it represents the safeguarding of the rights of our German Volk2 just as decisively as it respects the rights of other peoples.

Therefore, the 3rd Party Congress of 18 June, 1951 in Leipzig ratifies the following with the votes of all delegates: Continue reading

The Christian Socialist Ahlen Program

“The capitalist economic system has failed…” The 1947 ‘Ahlen Program’ of the center-right Christian Democratic Union

CDU_GemeinwirtschaftThe collapse of the ‘Hitler-regime’ and Germany’s total defeat over the course of the War led many Germans to seek a clean break with the past. The ‘fresh start’ which they longed for was not just conceptualized in terms of a rejection of National Socialism and militarism, but also in terms of a desire to cast aside the capitalist economic system, to use the opportunity offered by the need to rebuild a shattered nation to construct a new economic system which would be eminently fairer and less prone to cronyism and abuse. This sentiment was not just confined to those on the Left; the conservative movement (particularly those formerly associated with the Catholic Zentrum) had a long history of Christian Socialism in their ranks, and these ideas came to the fore once more during the harsh winters and troubled economic times which immediately followed the end of the War. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had been founded in June 1945 as a catch-all movement for moderate conservatives and Christians of all denominations, and Christian Socialism became particularly popular among CDU members within the British Zone of occupation, an area which encompassed the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s industrial heartland. On 3 February, 1947, CDU members within the British Zone formalized the party’s commitment to Christian Socialist principles (while diplomatically choosing to avoid direct use of the term) by adopting the famous ‘Ahlen Program’, translated below. The Ahlen Program, which openly calls for the socialization of certain industries, the democratization of workplaces, and the forced break-up of companies above a certain size, was largely the work of local CDU leaders Johannes Albers and Konrad Adenauer. Adenauer would turn out to be more economically conservative than other members of the North-Rhine Westphalia branch, which explains why he later took both the CDU and Germany (as Chancellor) in a direction which ended up casting aside many of the more radical socialist ideals set out in this early founding document. 

The Ahlen Program
CDU Zone Committee for the British Zone, Ahlen / Westphalia,
3rd February 1947CDU

The CDU Zone Committee for the British Occupation Zone issued the following programmatic declaration at its conference of 1-3 February, 1947, in Ahlen:

The capitalist economic system has failed to do justice to the vital state and social interests of the German people. After the terrible political, economic, and social collapse which resulted from criminal power politics, only a new order built from the ground up can follow.

The content and goal of this new social and economic order can no longer be the capitalist pursuit of profit and power, but instead must be only the welfare of our people. A cooperative economic order should provide the German people with an economic and social constitution which accords with the rights and dignity of man, which serves the spiritual and material development of our people, and which secures peace both at home and abroad.

In recognition of this, the CDU party program of March 1946 sets forth the following principles:

The Goal of All Economic Activity is to Satisfy the Needs of the People

The economy has to serve the development of the creative forces of the people and the community. The starting-point for all economic activity is the recognition of the individual. Personal freedom in the economic sphere is closely linked to freedom in the political sphere. The shaping and management of the economy must not deprive the individual of his freedom. Therefore, it is necessary to: Continue reading

Communism is 20th Century Americanism

“We Communists claim the revolutionary traditions of Americanism.” Earl Browder, patriotic communism, and the Communist Party USA

AmericanismThroughout much of the 1930s and early 1940s the Communist Party USA, the United States’s officially-recognized Comintern representative, pursued a general ideological line which was for all intents and purposes ‘national-communist’ in orientation. Earl Browder, a Kansas-born accountant with a long history of involvement in the labor movement and in socialist activism, was largely responsible for this patriotic position. Through a series of tumultuous factional disputes Browder had risen to become General Secretary of the CPUSA in 1930, and under his leadership the Party attained a level of success that it would never reach again. In large part this was due to Browder’s national-communist strategy, which emerged around 1935 and lasted – to varying degrees of enthusiasm within the Party – until Browder’s ouster from the CPUSA in 1945. The slogan used to spearhead the ‘Browderist’ strategy was striking: “Communism is the Americanism of the 20th Century”. This maxim, which made its first appearance in the article transcribed below, became a key element in the Party’s mission to shake off its image as an organization of foreign ‘subversives’ and so appeal to a much broader section of American society. The essence of Browder’s thinking was that communism was just an advanced development of the original American revolutionary ideal. Lenin and Stalin had essentially inherited the radical mission of liberation first begun by Washington and Jefferson; communism and ‘Americanism’ were thus inherently intertwined, making Marxism-Leninism a patriotic ideology whose aim was to complete the American Revolution. In CPUSA propaganda Soviet leaders appeared on posters alongside Lincoln and some of the Founding Fathers; Party posters and illustrations began using traditional American revolutionary imagery; rallies were bedecked with dozens, or hundreds, of American flags. Browder’s strategy began to be phased out around 1938-39, likely as a consequence of the Comintern’s concerns that Browder was both too popular and too independent, and the ‘Americanism’ slogan had disappeared completely from CPUSA propaganda by 1945. The article below, which initiated the Party’s national-communist period, was first published in the June 25, 1935 edition of Marxist cultural magazine The New Masses. The version I have transcribed is taken from a later revision published in Browder’s 1936 book What is Communism? There are some slight differences between the two versions of the article, but they are incredibly minor – the original has one or two word differences, and an additional introductory sentence establishing that the article was originally part of a series. 

Who are the Americans?
By Earl Browder
General Secretary, Communist Party USA
hamsic

The question asked of Communists more frequently than any other, if we can judge from the Hearst newspapers, is this:

“If you don’t like this country, why don’t you go back where you came from?”

The truth is, if you insist on knowing, Mr. Hearst, we Communists like this country very much. We cannot think of any other spot on the globe where we would rather be than exactly this one. We love our country. Our affection is all the more deep in that we have watered it with the sweat of our labor – labor which made this country what it is; our mothers nourished it with the tears they shed over the troubles and tragedies of rearing babies in a land controlled by profit and profit-makers. If we did not love our country so much, perhaps we would surrender it to Wall Street.

Of course when we speak of our love of America, we mean something quite different from what Mr. Hearst is speaking about in his daily editorial diatribes. We mean that we love the masses of the toiling people. We find in these masses a great reservoir of all things admirable and lovable, all things that make life worth living. We are filled with anger when we see millions of these people whom we love being degraded, starved, oppressed, beaten and jailed when they protest. We have a deep and moving hatred of the system, and of those who fatten on the system which turns our potential paradise into a living hell.

We are determined to save our country from the hell of capitalism. And most of us were born here, so Hearst’s gag is not addressed to us anyway. But workers in America who happen to have been born abroad are just as much Americans as anybody else. We all originated across the waters, except perhaps a tiny minority of pure-blooded American Indians. The foreign-born workers have worked harder for less wages on behalf of this country than anybody else. They deserve, at a minimum, a little courtesy from those who would speak of Americanism. There is less historical justification in America than perhaps in any other major country for that narrow nationalism, that chauvinism, which makes a cult of a “chosen people”. Continue reading