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...It was in Germany's shaky post First World War democracy, the so-called "Weimar Republic," that Communists and Nazis organized a strike in Berlin 1932, and were marching together in demonstrations against the ever weaker forces of moderation and calm that still existed in the final years of the Weimar Republic.
Both Nazis and Communists opposed moderate Social-Democrats
I emphasize this important fact again, it was during the existence of the Weimar Republic, in the decade preceding Hitler's Third Reich (1923-1933), that both Communists and Nazis discovered that they shared their revulsion of the existing democratic order and the moderate Social-Democrats. It was in 1981 that Hermann Weber, a well known German historian and political scientist, published a very important study on the strategy and tactics of the German Communist Party (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands or KPD) between 1929 and 1933. During this critical period most German Communists described the Social-Democrats as "Social-Fascists," they were perceived as the greater enemy (Hauptfeind), an enemy worse than the Nazis, that is. This was also the line followed by the Soviet controlled Communist International (Comintern) which instructed the German Communist Party on July 20, 1931, to form an alliance with the Nazis with a view to bringing about the downfall of Prussia's moderate Social-Democratic, Centrist and Liberal-Democratic coalition government. Prussia's Social-Democratic Prime Minister Otto Braun (1872-1955) was a courageous man who was well aware of the mortal danger the extremists - Nazis and Communists - posed to democracy and freedom - not only in Prussia but in Germany as a whole.
It was in the spring of 1931 that the so-called "national opposition" consisting of Hitler's National Socialist Party (NSDAP) and German conservative nationals (DNVP, DVP, and a group referred to as Stahlhelm) proposed to held a plebiscite (Volksentscheid) on the dissolution of the Prussian Parliament to bring about the fall of the government. Initially, the DKP rejected the proposal describing it as "Fascist betrayal of the people." Soviet Communist Party leader Joseph Stalin did not agree with this DKP line. Using the channels of the Comintern, Stalin instructed the German party to adopt a different line. Consequently, the German Communist Party leadership announced on July 22, 1931, that they would join what was now suddenly termed a "Red Referendum."4
In order to achieve a majority vote the Nazis could not do without Communist participation in the referendum. A unique Red-Brown alliance had been formed: both Nazis and Communists marched together in demonstrations against the Social-Democratic government of Prussia.
In his excellent study on the history of the Socialist International, Franz Borkenau, observes:
"This was no longer simply the theory of ‘Social-Fascism,' the belief that there was no difference between Fascism and democracy and that the Social-Democrats were just as bad as the Nazis... Their (= the Communists, V.) participation in the Nazi referendum implied more. It implied the view that to overthrow the last defense of German democracy, the Prussian government, in co-operation with the Nazis, meant progress, that a Nazi régime was preferable to a democratic régime."5
This government, in turn, said the yes-voters had to choose between Communism and Fascism: "Those who want a Soviet controlled Prussia or a Fascist controlled Prussia, must take part in the plebiscite and vote ‘yes.'"6 On the day of the plebiscite, August 9, 1931, nearly 10 million voters said "yes," and nearly 400,000 voters said "no." But the total number of those who were allowed to vote was 26,587,672. The extremists would have won if more than 13,3 million voters would have said yes. Consequently, parliament was not dissolved and Otto Braun continued to be Prime Minister of Prussia until the summer of 1932 when he was outmanoeuvered by the then federal German Reich Chancellor (a kind of Prime Minister) Franz von Papen.
On January 30, 1933, NSDAP leader Adolf Hitler became Reich Chancellor and Von Papen Vice-Chancellor. Soon after this crucial date in German history – the death of the Weimar Republic – the Nazi president of the Reichstag, Hermann Göring first became Interior Minister and later Prime Minister of Prussia, Germany's most important province. Göring immediately started a brutal campaign against Communists and Social-Democrats. The Nazis no longer needed the extremists from the left and persecuted them. (A similar thing happened in Iran, where Ayatolla Khomeini first formed a kind of alliance with the Iranian Communist Tudeh party, but began to persecute them when they were no longer needed; the Communist Soviet Union also courted the Khomeini regime in 1979/1980.7)
What happened in Prussia also happened on a national level. This was clear from the voting pattern in the German Reichstag (National Parliament) and the Prussian Landtag (regional parliament). In the majority of cases both Nazis and Communists joined ranks when they were voting in favor or against the issues confronting them. For example, there were 241 issues to be voted on in the Reichtstag and the Prussian Landtag in 1929 and 1930. In 140 cases – 70 percent! – Communist and Nazi voting behavior was identical.8
On October 18, 1930, the German Reichstag rejected a motion of no confidence proposed by both NSDAP and KPD.9
Heinrich Brüning from the Catholic Center Party (Zentrumpartei) was Reich Chancellor at the time (until May 1932). Brüning's Defense Minister Wilhem Groener issued a decree in January 1930 prohibiting any display of sympathy in the armed forces (Reichswehr) towards the Nazi and the Communist Parties. Groener argued that both parties advocated the violent overthrow of the state wishing to replace it by the dictatorship of their party.10
Herman Müller, a Social-Democrat who had been Reich Chancellor between June 1928 and March 1930, tried to make a speech in the Reichstag on October 17, 1930. But he was constantly interrupted in a very aggressive manner by both Communists and Nazis. Even the Moscow Pravda commented favorably on the Nazi outburts in parliament, saying that the behavior of the National Socialists was "much more proletarian" than the behavior of the Social- Democrats."11
Communists and Nazis were in an exuberant mood after the gains made by them in the recent September elections. (NSDAP: 18, 3 percent or 107 seats and KPD 13,13 percent or 77 seats; the total number of seats was 577.)12
After the economic crisis of 1929, both extremist parties would make significant gains in subsequent elections whereas the moderate Social-Democratic and centrist parties would be loosing ground all the time.
Nazis and Communists equally blamed the "capitalist system," and "Wall Street" for the economic crisis and rising unemployment. The Nazis blamed "Jewish" bankers and industrialists (das internationale Finanzjudentum) whom they claimed to be part of a secret world government. (Similar anti-Semitic conspiracy theories would later surface in the Arab world and Iran.)
Albert Leo Schlageter: both a Nazi and a Communist "martyr" (1923)
In May 1923 Communists and Nazis organized joint acts of sabotage against the occupation of the German Rheinland by the French.13 (In January 1923, Hitler's NSDAP already had 55,000 members.) This occured after the French executed a popular German resistance fighter named Albert Leo Schlageter. Although there are conflicting reports about Schlageter's possible affiliation with the Nazis,14 both Nazis and Communists equally hailed him as their hero. The NSDAP and other nationalist parties organized commemoration ceremonies in Schlageter's birthplace Schönau on June 10, 1923. In an attempt to build bridges with the extreme right, Karl Radek, a prominent Soviet member of the Comintern's Executive Committee (ECCI) who played an important role in organizing the German Communist movement, hailed praise on Schlageter in a speech on June 23, 1923:
"All the time I had before my eyes the corpse of the German Fascist, our class enemy, condemned and shot by... French imperialism... The fate of this German nationalist martyr should not be passed over by us in silence, or with a contemptuous phrase. Schlageter, a courageous soldier of the counter-revolution, deserves honest and manly esteem from us, soldiers of the revolution... Schlageter is dead ... At his grave his comrades vowed to carry on his work."15
Debating an ECCI draft resolution on Fascism, Radek pleaded for an alliance with "German patriotic circles," a common front between Communists and revolutionary nationalists "against Entente and German capital." "On the basis of this speech," Franz Borkenau writes, "the Communist Party started a so-called Schlageter campaign, which led to a number of public discussions between leading Communists and outstanding Nazis about the aims of the impending German revolution."16
In the early 1930s the German Communist Party followed a "national Bolshevist strategy" with a view to winning back the minds of those who had left the Communist ranks and were now voting for extreme right parties like the NSDAP.17
Nazis and Communists organized a strike in Berlin in 1932
Both Communist and Nazi trade unions played a leading role in organizing a public transportation strike in Berlin in November 1932. Early November 1932 the "Berliner Verkehrsgesellschaft" (BVG), a municipal transport organization, announced a cut in wages. Due to the severe economic crisis there was simply not enough money to pay all the BVG workers. Parliamentary elections were scheduled for November 6, and Communist and Nazis expected to make significant gains if they were to play a leading role in an anti-BVG strike. The Communist "Revolutionäre Gewerkschaftsopposition" (RGO) and the Nazi "Nationalsozialistischen Betriebszellenorganisation" (NSBO) simply outmanoeuvred the moderate trade unions in the central strike committee. This was in line with what KPD party chief Ernst Thälmann had said in October 1932: "When strikes are being organized in firms and companies, it is absolutely essential and desirable that Nazis are invited to take part in the Strike Committees."18
This was part of the "common front strategy from below" recommended by high ranking Comintern officials.19 Instead of forming alliances with moderate Social-Democrats (invariably denounced as "Social-Fascists") the Communists joined ranks with the equally extremist Nazis. Hitler's notoriously violent SA-men or "brownshirts" and Communists marched together through the streets of Berlin – even destroying busses whose drivers had ignored the call to strike.
Paving the way for Hitler's totalitarian rule
In doing so the KPD actively promoted the Weimar Republic's downfall and, consequently, the party was digging its own grave. Only three months later would Hitler become Reich Chancellor who would subsequently open the abyss for all those who underestimated him. But a number of influential Communists did not see Hitler as an enemy but as an ally. Dimitry Manuilski, a high ranking Soviet Comintern functionary in charge of German affairs, addressed a Comintern meeting on December 15, 1931, saying:
"The chief enemy is not Hitler, the chief enemy is the system of Severing (Social-Democrat Interior Minister of Prussia, V.), Brüning (Reich Chancellor), Hindenburg (Reich President). With Hitler's help will we first destroy the Social-Democratic Party apparatus as well as the Brüning state apparatus. In the present phase of the development of the German revolution Hitler unmistakenably is our ally."20
The Communist Party claimed to be a working-class party, yet it had repeatedly collaborated with the Fascists and continually refused to collaborate with the Socialists, Franz Borkenau correctly observes. Even after the Nazis had begun to bloodily persecute both Communists and Social-Democrats, German Communists continued to lay the blame on those who should have been their allies:
"Thus, while Socialists and Communists went together to the concentration camps and the Socialist Party was practically annihilated, the Communists continued to talk of the Socialists as the ‘Social-Fascists' and regard them as the chief supporters of the régime, and in consequence as the chief enemy while real, as opposed to ‘Social' Fascism took second place in their thoughts.... Their can harldy be any doubt that the party was partly responsible, together with all other groups of the left, for what had happened.'21
Social-Democratic "Münchener Post" commented on the parliamentary elections held on March 5, 1933 (after Hitler became Reich Chancellor, that is, these were the very last elections Hitler and his ilk would allow):
"Had it not been for the KPD, Hitler would never have become Reich Chancellor nor would he have triumphed on March 5. The leadership of this party installed the hatred of Social-Democrats into the hearts of millions of workers, and this very hatred now caused them to flee to the brown ranks of the swastica. Many Communists who on Saturday were still wearing the Soviet star as they were walking, manifested themselves as crack new Nazis on election day."22
A similar thing would occur after the war when Communists took control of what would later become their "German Democratic Republic" (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR). Many former Nazis would quickly join the East German Communist Party and subsequently even make a career in the party and state apparatus.23
Back in 1933 Stalin was indeed concerned about the brutal suppression of the German Communist Party, but he was more interested in maintaining good relations with Nazi Germany. Hitler, too, was, not immediately interested in dramatic foreign policy changes that would provoke hostile Soviet reactions.24 Stalin made precisely the same mistake as the German Communists: he deeply underestimated Hitler.
But there is another interesting aspect which deserves attention. This is the aspect of the totalitarian mind. The ideologies of Nazis and Communists differed vastly, but what they did have in common was their diabolical and totalitarian nature. There is a psychological mechanism that somehow draws adherents or followers from completely contradictory ideologies and movements together in a common struggle against freedom and democracy, indeed against the West.
Of course, there were many (often violent) clashes between Nazis and Communists during the years of the Weimar Republic. To portray them only as allies in a war against freedom is a gross simplification. After Hitler became Reich Chancellor in 1933, he quickly set out to persecute the Communists. And in June 1941 he invaded the Soviet Union, a war Stalin had tried to avoid at all costs. But it cannot be denied that Communists and Nazis occasionally formed alliances against those whom they denounced as common enemies (such as the moderate Social-Democrats), against democracy. They were using the mechanism of parliamentary elections to obtain the majority with a view to abolishing freedom and democracy.
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When one speaks about the circumstances that favored the ascent of the Nazi to the power in Germany, one is in the habit of referring to the Treaty of Versailles, the French occupation of the Rhineland, the economic and political crises, the summit of the anti-Semitism, and the supports granted by the groups of right and Catholics of the country to the NSDAP. Nevertheless one is not in the habit of bearing the great existing division in mind in the German left side; both Nazi and communist Germans had something in common: they wanted to make both disappear the Republic of Weimar.
The First World war provoked a split in the Social-Democratic German Party (SPD) that gave place to the League Espartaquista of Kart Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, an organization that later would change the name for that of German Communist party (KPD).
Social democrats and communists were competing against each other, trying to be the only inheritor of the ideas of Marx and Engels, though the certain thing is that the first ones had to look for the alliance with the right to govern after the war.
The SPD chose for a democratic Republic, whereas the espartaquistas were looking for the revolution.
In 1919 the espartaquistas were revolted, and the government of the social democrat Friedrich Ebert had to use the Freikorps, a few paramilitary groups that later would give place to the Nazi SA, to suppress the communist raising.
Kart Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were murdered.
These events divided more deeply the two big German left-wing parties. They created the hatred between them.
The SPD came to be a part of several governments in the Weimar Republic. The KPD was in the opposition and was seeking to transform Germany into a Soviet republic. It happened to depend on the interests of the USSR. In 1932 it had near 300.000 members.
Following instructions of the Komintern in 1928, knocking down the SPD was fixed by the KPD as a priority. The communists were considering the social democrats to be a few traitors since, amen of the happened in 1919, they had got accommodated to a bourgeois condition and had left the revolutionary theses.
At the beginning of the thirties, the NSDAP and the DVNP (National German People's party) were allied to knock down the Social-Democratic government of Otto Braun, in Prussia. The KPD enthusiast supported the measure.
In 1932 communists and Nazi they organized together several strikes in Germany. In Hitler's biography written by John Toland, in the page 348, a street of Berlin turns out to be photographed in that time. It is an image shoking at first, since flags are mixed with esvásticas, sickles and hammers. One can read : " lessees' Strike in Berlin. The red ones join the Nazi ".
In her book " The German resistance against Hitler " , Barbara Koehn explains very well a phenomenon happened from the end of the 20s in Germany. According to her account, the economic crisis of that time impeded that the left-wing parties were mobilizing to the workers. Besides the existing rivalry between the above mentioned parties, it happened that many workers became disillusioned about the Trade Union policy of the KPD, since this was exposing them to the dismissal in exchange for nothing. The nazi and communist collaboration led to that many workers (especially in unemployment), driven to despair and disillusioned about the Marxism, were attracted by the Party(Game) Nazi and were passing to increase his ranks.
PS. Sorry if something is difficult to understand cause English is not my first language.
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I have changed the title of the post. I feel that "early nazi and communist collaboration" is a better description of the topic in order not to be confused with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.
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This allegation of Communist-Nazi collaboration is impossible to reconcile with the Antifascist Action of 1932 organized by the Communists.marching together in demonstrations
This is something of a myth. Scholars from Russia and Germany emphasize that the right-wing leadership of the SDP stubbornly rejected the proposals of the KDP to unite for the defeat of fascism. Only the KPD consistently opposed the growing threat of fascism, showing that it was possible to prevent the establishment of fascism only by struggling against all varieties of reaction and striving for the creation of a unified workers' front.Following instructions of the Komintern in 1928, knocking down the SPD was fixed by the KPD as a priority.
The SPD leaders countered the KPD efforts to mount a united front for working-class interests and against militarism. They supported the German imperialists’ rearmament of Germany, which was most evident in the policies of the coalition government under SPD leader H. Müller (1928-30). The SPD leaders advanced the theory of the “lesser evil,” which amounted to support for the reactionary government of Brüning, which pandered to the Nazis.
The SPD restrained the workers from active struggle against the advancing fascist danger. Right-wing Social Democrats stopped at nothing to thwart the KPD-inspired anti-fascist campaign of the summer and fall of 1932, whose goal was to unify all toilers against fascism. After Papen’s government carried out a coup d’etat in Prussia, the KPD immediately called for a general strike and turned to the leadership of the SPD with a proposal for joint struggle against the reaction. But the SPD leaders once again refused to cooperate with the KPD. The split in the working class, caused by the opportunist policy of the rightist SPD leaders, made it all the easier for Hitler to come to power.
Certain SPD leaders tried to accommodate themselves to the fascist regime. On March 23, 1933, at the opening of the Reichstag, SPD leaders made a statement on cooperation with the Hitler regime.
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To me this is the myth.This is something of a myth. Scholars from Russia and Germany emphasize that the right-wing leadership of the SDP stubbornly rejected the proposals of the KDP to unite for the defeat of fascism. Only the KPD consistently opposed the growing threat of fascism, showing that it was possible to prevent the establishment of fascism only by struggling against all varieties of reaction and striving for the creation of a unified workers' front.
After the war the Soviets spared no effort to hide any evidence that the Communists and Fascists had ever worked together. Those "scholars from Russia and Germany" wouldn't happen to be writing in the Soviet era, by any chance? Never mind the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, it was an article of faith that Stalin had always been implacably anti-Fascist.
The reality was that Stalin was quite prepared to work with whatever was at hand, via the Comintern, in his bid to extend Communist power in the 1930s. The idea of "only by struggling against all varieties of reaction" never came into it, except on paper.
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Maybe they wrote for Akademie Verlag (Ost-)BerlinThose "scholars from Russia and Germany" wouldn't happen to be writing in the Soviet era, by any chance?
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“The blind hatred for the Social Democrats took a decisive turn about the middle of January, 1931, when Georgi Dimitrov (secretary-general of the Comintern in Moscow and director of the Comintern for Western Europe and the Americas, operating from Berlin under numerous aliases) issues a secret memorandum of instructions to all leaders and sub-leaders of the Communist columns . . . Summed up in one sentence the instructions were:
United action of the Communist Party and the Hitler movement to accelerate the disintegration of the crumbling democratic bloc which governs Germany.
Those [Communists] who objected were threatened with expulsion from the Party. Discipline forbade the rank and file to discuss the issue. From then on, in spite of the steadily increasing fierceness of their guerilla warfare, the Communist Party and the Hitler movement joined forces to slash the throat of an already tottering democracy. It was a weird alliance, never officially proclaimed or recognized by the Red or the Brown hierarchy, but a grim fact all the same.” Jan Valtin (real name: Richard Julius Hermann Krebs) Out of the Night, 1941, p. 252