“If on January 28th 1933,” wrote Walter Lacquer, “the president of the Reich Hindenburg had entrusted in Ernst Niekisch the responsibility to form a new cabinet, and if this cabinet was comprised of Friedrich Hielscher (Minister of Foreign Relations), Otto Strasser (Interior), Ernst Jünger (Culture Minister), Karl O. Paetel, Werner Lass, Hartmut Plaas, and some others, the task of the historian who writes the history of German National-Bolshevism today, would have been simpler than it is in reality.” But the task of the historian is never simple, and on the subject of Niekisch the most opposed opinions abound today. For Sebastian Haffner, he was “first and foremost a revolutionary socialist”; for Armin Mohler, “the most radical nationalist of all times.” Hans Matthias Kepplinger treated him as a Linkfaschist. Louis Dupeux, who did not hold him in esteem, considered him a “sonorous cretin,” and the liberal authors rested on his case to enunciate the “horseshoe theory”: the extremes touch. However, many saw in him as a premier author and thought, like Jünger, that he could have played “an important role in German history.”
These contrary opinions fed symmetric legends. The first of which was the “Niekisch-Orthodoxy” (Mohler). Maintained after 1945 in his self interest, with the support of Joseph Drexel, it formed the basis of the biography he dedicated to Friedrich Kalbermann. Niekisch was always a man of the left, who had only made tactical concessions with the terminology of nationalism to regroup the misguided youth. It was in this spirit that Schüdderkopf could write that Niekisch was “during all of his life a man of the left, who would think as a National-Communist, but never as a Nationalist.” The inverse thesis was supported by Louis Dupeux, among others: a man “of the right and even of the extreme right,” at least from 1926, Niekisch would be employed in shuffling the cards in giving into revolutionary pathos and his massive usage of the rhetoric of the extreme left was only a “reclamation.” The two theses actually appear to be unconvincing, one way or the other. Armin Mohler and Uwe Sauermann did not do justice to the first: it suffices, to refute it, by referring to his texts. About the second, one can oppose to it the itinerary of Niekisch – like the other National-Bolsheviks – after 1933: at the hour of decision, no longer intellectual but living, existential, the least we can say is that they did not pass to the side of “reaction.”
These two theses, equally suspicious, both rest on the theory of a “mask”: the mask of nationalism in the first, the mask of revolutionary Bolshevism in the second. The common presupposition is that he couldn’t have a socialism of the right or a nationalism of the left, and that one cannot be right and left at the same time. Such presupposition, which gives the left-right dichotomy a quasi-ontological bearing, has yet to be demonstrated. The history of ideas, in truth, rather seems to deny it. From one epoch to another, the “ideas of the right” and the “ideas of the left” are rarely the same. Is it truly impossible to use one as another to make, in the proper sense, their opposition insignificant? Niekisch appears to us, to have been a man of the right and of the left at the same time.
What no one disputes, however, is the extreme radicalism of his positions. While, if the evolution of Niekisch appears today so “aberrant” according to current political ideological categories, maybe it is because it obeys a logic which, for the most part, has become incomprehensible. “Those who don’t want to think it through could never begin to do it,” said Friedrich Lenz, while Louis Dupeux wrote: “Only the National-Bolsheviks went through with the discussion and they boldly dreamed of a truly “total” revolution for strictly national reasons.” Niekisch strove to think “through”, and it is in this by which his path exemplifies in the extreme, the greatest cross pollination of contemporary ideas. Also, with that, his thought, while bearing the imprint of many well known influences, stayed perfectly original. Niekisch, who had the nature of Cassandra, would want “realism” in a country where politics was frequently enmeshed with morality, and yet he was also unrealistic, maybe, precisely by an excess of logic and realism. He would want to give the right the ideas of the left, and the left the ideas of the right. Throughout his life, he navigated between the fronts; throughout his life, he scaled the heights. The result was a long series of setbacks, ruptures, failures, maybe even disillusionment. Niekisch was imprisoned under Weimar, imprisoned under Hitler, rejected by the authorities of the GDR, detested by those of the Federal Republic. That did not prevent him, with the social democrats, as with the councils, the “old socialists,” with the nationalists and the communists, from always affirming himself as a revolutionary that nothing could ever break. Moreover, he was in revolt, a rebel, a resistant. The word Widerstand, chosen as the title of his journal and his publishing house, has strong paradigmatic value: Niekisch was able to resist.
What remains today of the ideas of Niekisch? Maybe more than one believes, and not because here and there small groups occasionally reclaim them. Since it is significant that the majority of Communist Parties in the West have rallied today to an implicitly Lassallian conception, where the proletariat that was defined by Marx has been replaced by “the immense majority of the people.” The reinterpretation of the class struggle in national terms, which lead the National-Bolsheviks to qualify Germany as an oppressed nation compared to a “bourgeoisie” constituted globally by the Western countries, also knew new fortune with the diffusion of the term “proletarian nations.” Uwe Sauermann wrote that Niekisch could well have been the prophet of all the nationalism which expressed itself in this century under the red flag, indeed those who express themselves today under the green flag of Islam. Sebastian Haffner also saw him as a precursor of decolonization. “The fundamental political idea of Niekisch”, he wrote, “is that national liberation and socialist revolution are one in the same thing, that they are two sides of the same coin. This idea, is it another thing than the common maxim of the actions of Mao and of Ho Chi Minh, of Fidel Castro, of Che Guevara, and of Khomeini? The anti-bourgeois, anti-capitalist, anti-Western revolutionary parties of the Third World all bear the same name: National Liberation Front. The socialist revolution everywhere bears the nationalist flag. As implausible that this could appear, that true theoretician of universal revolution that is on the march today is not Marx, nor even Lenin. It’s Niekisch.”
Niekisch had without doubt many illusions about the nature of Russian communism, and his apology for “Bolshevism” could scandalize us today. Then it is necessarily to place it in context, to remember the immense hope which would sustain the Revolution of 1917 in the worker’s movement – and do not forget any more the Soviet delirium which seized, in the following decades, a large part of the global intelligentsia. The paradox is that Niekisch would admire the USSR for the same reasons that its adversaries would detest it and for the opposite reasons of those who would admire it as its partisans! Yet, if we disregard value judgments, Niekisch in his analysis, is it so wrong? In seeing the Soviet Union as an authoritarian regime of “Prussian” inspiration, alternatively Spartan, in the fashion of Niekisch, or in imagining it as the draft of “society without classes” and as the “workers’ paradise”, in the fashion of so many intellectuals of the epoch, who was more in error? And the affirmation according to which Lenin and Stalin had practically “liquidated the old Marx,” the affirmation according to which Soviet Communism had always been, in part or less, a properly Russian phenomenon, hadn’t, in a certain measure, been confirmed? Many disappointed Marxists would probably be ready today to agree that Stalinist Russia was never anything other than “National Bolshevik.” The difference according to Niekisch, it is that they would derive from this finding, the opposite conclusions. They would also willingly distinguish “Russian” Bolshevism from “Occidental” Marxism, but they would then value the second to the detriment of the first. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it was in the ranks of the Conservative Revolution, and singularly in the National-Bolshevik milieus, that this distinction, received as banal today, was made for the first time.
As to the great book of the Germano-Russian alliance, who can say today, that he was not called, in the future, to add a few more chapters?