German Communism under the Nazi-Soviet Pact

The official political line of the Communist Party of Germany during the period of Soviet-German diplomatic ‘friendship’

Probably nothing has caused more chaos and confusion within the international communist movement than the ‘Pact of Non-Aggression and Friendship’ concluded between Hitlerite Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. Communist parties which had spent over a decade denouncing fascism as the most dangerous form of capitalism were suddenly faced with the complex, unenviable task of trying to explain how an act of Realpolitik accorded with Marxist-Leninist theory. Probably those most strongly affected were the remaining members of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), many of whom had gone underground or had fled into exile after 1933 and whose leader, Ernst Thälmann, was still languishing in a German prison cell. At least one German Communist was so dismayed by Stalin’s “betrayal” that he committed suicide after hearing the news. Others conversely allowed themselves the optimistic hope that, if the ‘Friendship Pact’ persisted, persecution against communists in Germany would decrease and the KPD might even one day be fully legalized within the Third Reich. The remnant KPD leadership, now largely situated in Moscow, was faced with the unenviable task of trying to rally these bewildered elements and of presenting them with a coherent political line which made sense of everything. The platform they eventually produced, translated below, is a fairly remarkable document. Always careful never to praise or to apologize for the Hitler regime, the new political programme nonetheless recasts National Socialist Germany as a state which has at least made some steps towards progressive improvement, with the Reich’s signing of the Soviet-German Friendship Pact presented as the principle evidence for this claim. German Communists, moreover, are charged with doing everything they can to encourage the further development of progressive conditions in Germany, from organizing a united “fighting front” with National Socialist and Social-Democratic workers against their common enemies (bourgeois-conservatives, English and French imperialism), to infiltrating the NSDAP’s various mass organizations and directing them towards a more pro-Soviet orientation. By January 1940 this platform had received official approved from both the Comintern executive and from Stalin (who was supplied with a  translated copy by Georgi Dimitrov), and was utilized as an ideological guideline for speeches and articles produced by KPD members throughout the lifespan of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, such as this 1940 essay by Walter Ulbricht

Political Platform of the Communist Party of Germany
Drafted by the German Commission of the
Executive Committee of the Communist International,
30th December 1939

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I. The Tactical Orientation of the Party in the Present Situation.

The tactical orientation of the Communist Party of Germany in the present situation must be directed towards the development of a broad popular movement and towards the creation of a popular front of the working masses – including the National Socialist workers – in order to defend the interests and rights of the masses of the people, in order to consolidate and deepen friendship with the Soviet Union, and in order to end the imperialist war in the interests of the Volk. Only in this way can the interests of the working-class and the national freedom and independence of the German Volk be ensured, which are presently being put to the sword by the aggressive war plan of the bloc of English and French imperialists. Their plan is aimed at breaking Germany away from its Pact of Friendship with the Soviet Union, subjugating the German Volk, imposing outrageous burdens upon them, robbing them of their national independence, converting Germany into an English vassal-state, and driving the German Volk into war against the Soviet Union.

This tactical orientation requires the Communist Party’s policy to be completely independent in order to safeguard the interests of the working Volk; it does not mean supporting the war on the side of German imperialism, and under no circumstances does it mean toning down the struggle against the repressive policy of the present regime in Germany.

When it comes to this orientation, the Party must be aware of the regrouping of political forces and the shifting mood of the German masses, both of which are taking place in the context of the war by reason of the conclusion of the Soviet-German Friendship Pact. In opposition to the front of the ruling regime, which concluded the Pact of Friendship with the Soviet Union – albeit without guaranteeing a consistent friendship with the Soviet Union – a second front is beginning to emerge from parts of the German bourgeoisie (Thyssen,1 etc.) and from parts of the Catholic and Social-Democratic leaderships, a front which is directed against the Pact and against friendship with the Soviet Union, and which has placed itself in the service of the English-French war bloc against the German Volk and against the Soviet Union. It is to be expected that with the longer duration of the war, in conjunction with the increasing difficulties in the country, there will be a growing tendency within the German bourgeoisie to implement a break with the Soviet Union, to capitulate before the English-French war bloc, and to ready itself for war against the Soviet Union. Continue reading

The National Committee for a Free Germany

The 13 July, 1943 Manifesto of the National Committee for a Free Germany, a pro-Russian national liberation front established among German POWs by Soviet authorities

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Over 13-14 July, 1943, an organization known as the ‘National Committee for a Free Germany’ (Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland, NKFD) was inaugurated with the ratification of a newly-written manifesto signed by its 38 founding members. The NKFD was the initiative of German communists then in exile in the Soviet Union, KPD functionaries who were seeking to spread pro-Soviet ideals among German POWs with the hope of fostering an anti-Hitler resistance that would spread among the active Wehrmacht. While the NKFD (and its later adjunct, the League of German Officers, BDO) was the brainchild of communist agitation, the organization was not at first presented as explicitly Marxist-Leninist in orientation. Instead its aesthetic was national-patriotic, hearkening back to a pre-NS nationalism with its use of the former black-white-red standard and its veneration of old Prussian military figures and traditions. The Committee’s founding Manifesto, which I have translated below, made this conservative orientation explicit, demanding not a socialist Germany but instead a “free” Germany with a free economy, a “strong, democratic state power” in the tradition of liberal reformers like Baron vom Stein. This was during a point of the War, after all, when the Soviet government was still willing to negotiate a separate peace with Germany, even willing to commit to a return to the Reich’s 1937 borders, so long as the negotiations occurred with a non-Hitlerian government (Stalin was no doubt aware, as were the British, that there was a conservative opposition among the Wehrmacht’s officer ranks with a strong desire to overthrow the NSDAP). Despite its vigorous promotion among German POWs, however, the NKFD and BDO never became the nucleus of an organized nationalist resistance among the German armed forces. As the likelihood of a conservative revolt lessened over time, NKFD newspapers and radio broadcasts grew increasingly Marxist in orientation as a result. At the end of the War many former members of the Committee ended up in East Germany, helping to build the Volksarmee, the National Democratic Party, and the Working Community of Former Officers. 

Manifesto for the National Committee for a Free Germany
to the Wehrmacht and to the German People

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First published 13 July, 1943

Events demand a prompt decision from us Germans. In this hour of extreme peril for Germany’s continued existence and future the National Committee for a “Free Germany” has been formed.

The National Committee is comprised of: workers and writers, soldiers and officers, trade unionists and politicians, men of all political and ideological tendencies who, a year before, would not have considered such an alliance possible.

The National Committee conveys the thoughts and will of millions of Germans at the front and in the homeland [Heimat], those for whom the fate of their Fatherland lies close to their hearts.

The National Committee considers itself justified and obligated in speaking on behalf of the German Volk in this hour of destiny, clearly and unsparingly, as the situation requires.

Hitler leads Germany to its downfall. Continue reading

Bourgeois Cosmopolitanism and its Reactionary Role, Part II

The conclusion of Bolshevik writer F. Chernov’s March 15th, 1949 article attacking unpatriotic elements in Soviet society and the arts

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Excerpted below is the second part of F. Chernov’s article on “bourgeois cosmopolitanism” and “rootless cosmopolitanism”, interchangeable terms denoting a form of capitalist internationalism which Chernov presents as being at odds with socialist internationalism. Chernov goes to great efforts in the article to demonstrate how socialist internationalism can be simultaneously internationalist and patriotic. His argument largely boils down to the idea that Soviet internationalism is the only worldview which respects true patriotism, that bourgeois cosmopolitanism  in fact aims to negate and nullify real patriotic feeling in its effort to spread the power and influence of capitalism and chauvinism dressed up as nationalism. As Chernov says, “Soviet patriotism is inseparable from proletarian internationalism, organically connected with it.” This theoretical worldview, the brainchild of Stalin and Agitprop Director Andrei Zhdanov, provided justification not only for the traditionalist and nationalist cultural policies of the period, but also for the entrenchment of Russian imperial rule over its vast post-War empire.

The first part of this article is accessible here. 

III: THE WORLDWIDE struggle against “cosmopolitan” imperialism.

The ideology of cosmopolitanism arises from the same manner of production of bourgeois society.

Cosmopolitanism is the negation of patriotism, its opposite. It advocates absolute apathy towards the fate of the Motherland. Cosmopolitanism denies the existence of any moral or civil obligations of people to their nation and Motherland.

The bourgeoisie preaches the principle that money does not have a homeland, and that, wherever one can “make money,” wherever one may “have a profitable business”, there is his homeland. Here is the villainy that bourgeois cosmopolitanism is called on to conceal, to disguise, “to ennoble” the antipatriotic ideology of the rootless bourgeois-businessman, the huckster and the traveling salesman.

Harmful cosmopolitan ideology serves for the bourgeoisie and its agents as a very convenient ideological tool for excusing and covering up all kinds of antipatriotic actions, national treason and political double-dealing. Marx showed that “bourgeois patriotism…degenerated into a complete sham after its financial, commercial, and industrial activity acquired a cosmopolitanist character” [see the Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 16, ‘A Contribution to the Question of Political Economy’].

In the era of imperialism the ideology of cosmopolitanism is a weapon in the struggle of imperialist plunderers seeking world domination.

Even in the time of the first World War, defending the Bolshevik programme on the nationalities question, fighting for the right of nations for self-determination, Lenin wrote:

“Imperialism represents outgrowing by capital of frameworks for national states, it represents an expansion and exacerbation of national oppression on a new historical basis. Hence it follows that in spite of guns, exactly this, that we must join the revolutionary struggle for socialism to a revolutionary programme on the question of nationality” [see Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. 21, ‘The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination’].

This Leninist position shows the indissoluble bonds of the revolutionary struggle for socialism with the defense of national sovereignty of nations. Continue reading

Bourgeois Cosmopolitanism and its Reactionary Role, Part I

Bolshevik writer F. Chernov’s March 15th, 1949 article attacking unpatriotic elements in Soviet society and the arts

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The following article on “rootless cosmopolitanism” was originally published during the period of the Zhdanov Doctrine, the post-War cultural policy pursued by Agitprop Director Andrei Zhdanov from 1946 until Stalin’s death in 1953. Zhdanov, one of the chief theoreticians of the Stalinist regime, initiated the Soviet Union’s new cultural doctrine with a number of speeches attacking Soviet literary journals, musicians, film-makers, artists, and novelists for their modernist and experimentalist tendencies. Zhdanov’s intention was to root out and excise all vestiges of Western and foreign influences (“cosmopolitanism”); in their place a new Soviet culture was championed, one based on folk culture and classical arts and merging Great-Russian nationalism with Bolshevik tradition. The article below was not written by Zhdanov, but by a mysterious and possibly pseudonymous ‘F. Chernov’. Nonetheless, its publication in a Central Committee theoretical journal during this period attests to its official nature, and with its attacks on anti-patriotic “cosmopolitans” and its veneration of a culture “national in form, socialist in content” it provides a seminal example of attitudes during this period of Stalinist nationalism. It should also be noted that ‘rootless cosmopolitan’ is often regarded as a euphemism for ‘Jew’; many of the artists and intellectuals hounded for their alleged anti-patriotic or pro-Western sentiment in this period were Jewish, and the Zhdanov Doctrine provided much of the groundwork for the later anti-Semitic ‘Doctor’s Plot’ pogrom which Stalin was preparing before his death.

Due to the length of the article, it has been broken into two segments. The article’s first two sections are reproduced below, and its final two have been posted here.

I: COSMOPOLITANISM infiltrates Soviet arts, sciences, history.

The lead editorials in the Pravda and Kultura i Zhizn [“Culture and Life”] newspapers unmasked an unpatriotic group of theatre critics, of rootless cosmopolitans, who came out against Soviet patriotism, against the great cultural achievements of the Russian people and of other peoples in our country.

Appearing as messengers and propagandists for bourgeois ideology, the rootless-cosmopolitans fawned over and groveled before decadent bourgeois culture. Defaming Soviet socialist culture, they praised to the heavens that which was found in the emaciated and decayed conditions of bourgeois culture. In the great culture of the Russian people they saw echos and rehashings of Western bourgeois culture.

Harmful and corrupting petty ideas of bourgeois cosmopolitanism were also carried over into the realms of Soviet literature, Soviet film, graphic arts, in the area of philosophy, history, economic and juridical law and so forth.

The rootless-cosmopolitan Subotsky tried with all his might to exterminate all nationality from Soviet literature. Foaming at the mouth this cosmopolitan propagandist hurls epithets towards those Soviet writers, who want “on the outside, in language, in details of character a positive hero” to express his belonging to this or that nationality.

These cosmopolitan goals of Subotsky are directed against Soviet patriotism and against Party policy, which always has attached great significance to the national qualities and national traditions of peoples. Lenin spoke out at the 8th Party Congress against the Trotskyite Pyatakov, who had suggested (as a provocation) to eliminate the point about national self-determination from the Party programme, saying, “This could be done, if there were people without national characteristics. But there are no such people, and we cannot build a socialist society any other way.” [see Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. 24, ‘Speech on the National Question’].

In mockery of literary works showing the superior qualities of Soviet people, Subotsky competed with the notorious cosmopolitan Yuzovsky. Yuzovsky venomously sneered that “across the lips of ‘positive heroes’ in these works,” there “inevitably plays such a ‘Marxist smile,’ that the positive hero of Soviet dramatic art knows all, sees all. For to Continue reading