In the face of National Socialism, in the Germany of the 1920s, National Bolshevism developed around Ernst Niekisch and the magazine Vormarsch. Jünger contributed his thoughts on the primacy of the nation there, and wrote Der Arbeiter, before the disappearance of the movement, crushed by National Socialism, from which Jünger turned away with horror.
“National Bolshevism,” a marginal political current but of the highest theoretical interest, appeared in the spring of 1919 on the German extreme right. Its point of departure was the conviction according to which the fundamental values of the right, like the nation, state, or hierarchy, are eternal realities that revolutions can certainly obscure temporarily, but which only reemerge stronger, regenerated by the test of fire. Thus, Bolshevik Russia was only an avatar of the eternal Russia; the Russian state was stronger than ever and would never perish; the Russian nation, stripped of occidental influence, rediscovered its identity: Marxist materialism poorly concealed a grand spirit of idealism; Lenin and then Stalin were “red Tsars”, etc.
This interpretation, then very widespread (and not only on the right and in Germany) did not in itself constitute a “National-Bolshevik” reasoning. For there to be “National Bolshevism,” there must be activists extracting practical results, that is to say deciding to apply the recipe to their own country, “contaminated” by liberalism and democracy. It is necessary for them to accept integral socioeconomic revolution, not for the good of individuals or groups, but for the reinforcement of the nation and its state. There must be, on the other hand, the acceptance of not only the “Russian” alliance, but also alliance with German communists and even, logically, their eventual hegemony, since the natural movement of history would only use German communism to give birth to a new Germany – or more exactly a “new Prussia.”
Such was the solution proposed, in April 1919, by the first of the “National Bolsheviks”, the National German deputy Paul Eltzbacher, who called his compatriots to “place themselves in all honesty on the ground of Bolshevism,” in order to escape the “slavery” promised by the future peace treaty, but also to bring about a “complete reconstruction of the state” according to the purest criteria of traditional German idealism …
Ernst Jünger was charged with “National Bolshevism” by different observers, the most notable of which is certainly Hermann Rauschning, the author of The Revolution of Nihilism, which has long passed as an essential work on the interpretation of totalitarian phenomenon.
In reality, it is imprecise to consider Jünger as a “National Bolshevik,” while its also imprecise to consider him as a National Socialist in the “Hitlerian” sense of the term … It is true that Jünger was fascinated by the problem of Bolshevism; in his capacity as a theorist of a certain modernist extreme right, he felt infinitely closer to Stalinist totalitarianism than “Western” liberalism. Also, without essentially engaging with it himself, he advocated a “hardline” political attitude, that spread “National Bolshevik” commitments among his very numerous admirers. It is also significant that the majority of “National Bolshevik” leaders, starting with the most famous among them, Ernst Niekisch, were friends, sometimes even intimate friends of Jünger.
In 1925, Jünger tried, for the first and last time in his life, to throw himself into active politics. He called for the leagues of former soldiers to unite in order to create a “national, social, armed, and authoritatively structured” state, the formulation betrayed an evident admiration for the Fascist model. The appeal failed. Convinced by the “fiasco of the leagues,” Jünger then decided to devote himself to the formation of an “intellectual elite.” At the head of a small phalanx of war veteran writers, he collaborated with a large number of ultra-nationalist magazines, like Vormarsch, particularly striving to influence the hard nucleus of Youth Leagues. His talent allowed him to impose himself very quickly as “the uncontested spiritual leader” of what one called “young nationalism” or “neo-nationalism,” that is to say a particularly hard variant of the global ideology of the German extreme right – an extreme right where the National Socialists were still only a small group among others …
The principal characteristics of this “neo-nationalism” were linked to its paramilitary origin as well as a strong Nietzschean influence. Militant anti-rationalists, imbued with a Darwinian and “vitalist” vision of the world, the “neo-nationalist” writers took pleasure in the expression in a so-called “soldierly” brutality. While exalting blood, force, and fate, fruitful barbarity, and primitivism, they also showed themselves to be fascinated by the power of technology, which they experienced on the battle field. So these ultra-reactionaries were also modernists at the same time, attentive to all the aspects of industrial societies and convinced that “the city is the front” in an era where many others still or already exalted the virtues of a return to the soil … On the level of practical politics, they cultivated “steadfastness”, that is to say radicalism, which is the German name for extremism. One of their watchwords was “decision,” decision “without respect” for others or themselves, since the country was at stake.
In this often very sloppy jumble, Jünger distinguished himself with a subtlety and breadth of personal view – without speaking of his talent with the pen. He liked to present his nationalism not as an end in itself but as the privileged means of a sort of cultural revolution. For example he wrote, “Nationalism is the counter-critique to the critique directed against life in the context of a weakened faith. As such, it is akin to the Counter-Reformation … It expresses a resolute conversion to the soil, astonishing after 150 years of Enlightenment.”
According to Jünger, an essential means of achieving this counter-revolution was to confer to ideas like the nation “a power such that they escape any discussion.” So the nation should be presented as a “central value” and nationalism used as a sort of explosive, capable of provoking the reversal of values. Moreover, and to accelerate things, one should utilize all means of nihilism, exalt chaos, the “blank slate” and the “cleansing through the void,” of course meaning a provisional nihilism, “responsible,” or, in a word, “Prussian,” aiming to reconstruct, but on new bases. As Jünger himself said, after the deployment of “what remains in us of nature, of the elementary, of true savagery, of the original language, of the power of true conception with blood and seed, only then will the possibility of new forms arise…”
Deepening his thought, Jünger arrived at 3 fundamental ideas in 1929, which stirred the enthusiasm of his most daring admirers. He firstly noted the existence of what he called an “invisible alliance,” that is to say an objective solidarity between nationalism and communism in the struggle against the “bourgeois” world. He also discovered, thanks to the Russian example in particular, that the sense of nationhood was strong enough to “triumph over all dogmas” and mix very different ideas without risk, including the idea of social revolution. In this double realization, which was likewise “a monstrous concentration of force,” he even saw it as “the philosopher’s stone that the master of modern politics must discover” … Finally, he perceived an identification between nationalism and socialism – quite simply because the gave the same “organicist” meaning to the word “socialism” like nearly all of the new German right
These ideas (or images) – shocking, expressed in a very pure and illustrative language, through very subtle examples – also reinforced by the more direct argumentation of men like Friedrich-Georg Jünger who demanded an “state of steel” on his part – would push the most determined disciples to “National Bolshevism” according to ultimately very simple processes. Far from considering nationalism as the simple instrument of a vast cultural revolution, a certain number of ultras, youth or older, would position themselves as “absolute nationalists” and consider the nation not as “a” central value but “the” central value.
In the same time where the aesthetic of the “blank table” marked them as revolutionaries – or “anti-bourgeois” rebels – the will to the “ultimate consequence” would lead them to radically challenge everything that seemed to oppose the power of the nation and the state. At this time, that is to say in full “prosperity” as well as in the heart of the Great Depression, the German extreme right was marked by a violent anti-capitalist current. In the magazines of the activist leagues as in multiple debates of the Youth Movement, more or less skilled analysts, but generally sincere, demonstrated that the economy had taken precedence over the political (thus over the state).
They reproached capitalism for being foreign to the “German spirit” and accused it of compromising both national independence and the cohesion … But intellects split on the level of the solution to the problem. While the pure Hitlerians only attacked “Jewish” capital, the “left wing Nazis” and likewise proposed a vast system of partial nationalization on their part. As for the most “consequent” neo-nationalists, they took the analysis to its conclusion and found themselves to be “National Bolsheviks.” A moment troubled by the sincere reformism of the Strasser brothers, they soon refused to stand for half solutions. They required the pure and simple eradication of capitalism by nationalization of the entire productive system. This choice lead them to advocate alliance with the communists – always “for the love of the nation” and defend the Soviet experiment by all means, then illustrated by the “Central Planning,” which they interpreted as an extraordinary affirmation of the political and as an essential instrument for the construction of a hierarchical, structured, “national community” endowed with an ideal.
Yet Jünger pressed his thought, increasingly orienting it towards examining the dynamic of contemporary industrial societies. Observing that “progressiveness” achieved, in Western countries, value as a “faith” and a force of mass movement (thus irrational), he saw in the manipulation of democratic techniques a means to achieve the inversion of values and total mobilization, to which he devoted a small book in 1931. He thus engaged himself in a way that would make him one of the first theorists of totalitarianism, with his friend Carl Schmitt. In 1932, he published The Worker (Der Arbeiter), a fundamental work which furnished the schema of a rigorously totalitarian society.
The “Worker” according to Jünger is not exactly a laborer nor (especially not) a “bourgeois.” It is absurd to interpret him in terms of economy and (especially not) rationality. He represents a human “type,” the type of the New Man that arises in deep resonance with the tendencies of mass technical society, subsumed under the name of “Work.” Jünger confers to this “Work” a “cosmic” character, “total”, and thus inescapable. In the universe thus defined or marked, every man, every “worker” sees or will see his place rigorously determined by his degree of acclimation to the universal tendency. He will take his rank on an ideal socio-political pyramid. Thus “total mobilization” will be realized, that is to say a totalitarianism without flaws, allowing for a monstrous concentration of power within what Jünger calls, not nations, but “planned spaces.”
In these spaces, the economy will not necessarily be collectivized, but it will be totally controlled by the state, which could content itself with mastering the strategic nodes of power: for example, electrical grids and radio stations. This modern Leviathan will expand through different means, in particular through war, considered as a superior form of “Work” (that is to say, in fact, activity or action…) The planet will progressively see itself divided into a small number of political unities, within which the smaller people will find protection, waiting for the advent of a planetary domination procuring a superior form of security for all, “surpassing all the processes of wartime and peacetime work.”
It is clear that the ideas developed in Der Arbeiter do not conform to the criteria of “National Bolshevism” as we have defined them above. Certain “National Bolsheviks” would reproach Jünger in particular for having adopted an planetary view (which is not otherwise incompatible with an eventual German imperialism). But what truly distinguished Jünger’s concept from “National Bolshevism” was firstly its abstract character. Authors like Niekisch and Rauschning, who saw the archetype of “National Bolshevism” in Der Arbeiter were only able to do so because they saw in Bolshevik Russia the particular form of a global “anti-Western” process, which also expressed itself in Italian Fascism. It is also what Jünger thought himself, because he interpreted Bolshevism as “the barbarian-Scythian form of the universal process of the restoration of values…”
If we stand on these generalities (or this confusion), it is quite true that we can make Jünger a sort of “National Bolshevik” of the masses. But in concrete politics, the sympathy that he expressed for the Soviet Union was accompanied by a solid distrust, quite distant from the enthusiasm of the “National Bolshevik” militants, and extended through an even larger mistrust regarding German communists. Finally – and especially – the vague or abstract character of the solutions proposed by Der Arbeiter in the economic domain fundamentally differs from the concrete radicalism professed by “National Bolshevik” activists. An incontestable discomfort was felt between Jünger and some of his admirers – as enthusiastic as they were for the idea of a “total state” on one hand. One of them even reproached him for opening the way to “neo-fascist” experiences of state capitalism – and it is true that the vague economic model sketched in Der Arbeiter evokes the practice of Italian Fascism … and the future Nazi practice.
Whether Jünger (who we personally consider as the greatest contemporary German writer) was sincerely and profoundly repulsed by Nazi vulgarity and barbarism (a “barbarism” that he conjured the specter of himself), is an entirely separate affair. Here one touches on the domain of the responsibility of the intellectual or aesthete, a responsibility that would doubtlessly be as relevant in the more hypothetical case of a “National Bolshevik” crystallization of the German extreme right … Jünger put his immense talent in the service of a global tendency of which “National Bolshevism” only represented a marginal expression, but the most “substantial,” the most radical, if not the most logical. Neither truly a “National Bolshevik,” nor a “left wing Nazi,” especially not a Hitlerian, he situated himself at the crossroads of all totalitarianism, before realizing all the horror. Not a “National Bolshevik,” but a cynical discoverer of the most destructive tendencies of contemporary mass societies.