Walter Lass and Karl-Otto Paetel, Two German National-Bolsheviks – Edouard Rix – Réfléchir & Agir – Summer 2008, No. 29

Less well known than Ernst Niekisch, Werner Lass and Karl-Otto Paetel are two atypical figures of National-Bolshevism, described by Louis Dupeux as the most fascinating current of the Conservative Revolution.

At the heart of the Bündisch Youth

Born in Berlin the 20th of May 1902, Werner Lass belonged to the Wandervogel from 1916 to 1920. In 1923, he was elected head of the Bund Sturmvolk, of which a part joined the Schilljugend of the famous Freikorps leader Gehrardt Rossbach in 1926. In 1927, Lass broke away to found the Freischar Schill, a Bündisch group of which Ernst Jünger rapidly became the mentor (“Schirmherr”) and which placed the “combat for the borders,” hiking expeditions, and military training at the heart of its activities.

From October 1927 to March 1928, Lass and Jünger combined to edit the magazine Der Vormarsch (“The Offensive”), created in June 1927 by another famous Freikorps author, Captain Ehrhardt. Desiring to surpass the narrow limits of the youth movement, he founded the Wehrjugendbewegung or the Youth Movement for Defense. For him it acted to link the “hardness of the front line soldier’s engagement with the youth movement’s strength of achievement and depth” to create a new type of man.

In August 1928, the Freischar Schill participated in the World Congress of Youth Organizations, at Ommen, in Holland. Lass made a striking blow by protesting against the “colonization” of Germany and the refusal of visas to the Russian delegates. The same year he was imprisoned, accused of having participated in the peasant revolt of Claus Heim that then shook Schleswig-Holstein, and his movement was outlawed in many cities.

In 1929, the Freischar Schill undertook negotiations with the NSDAP, which failed because of the exorbitant pretensions of the Hitlerjugend. In September 1929, Lass founded a league incorporating the oldest members, the Bund der Eidgenossen or League of Confederates, which quickly adopted National-Bolsheviks positions.

Die Kommenden and the Social-Revolutionary Nationalists

Some months later, in January 1930, Werner Lass and Jünger took the leadership of the weekly, Die Kommenden, which then exercised a large influence on nearly all the Bündisch youth. Lass wrote infrequent articles for it.

It was at the editorship of Die Kommenden where he encountered another figure of National-Bolshevism of the 1930s: Karl-Otto Paetel. He was also born in Berlin, the 23rd of November 1906. Like Lass, he began to militate in the ranks of the Bündisch youth, with the Deutsche Freischar and the Bund der Kongener. Coming from very modest circumstances, he had to cease his studies when the scholarship that he benefited from was withdrawn after he had taken part in demonstrations against the Young Plan. A decidedly rebellious spirit, he was also excluded from the Deutsche Freischar in 1930, following an article judged insulting to Marshall Hindenburg.

Director, from 1928 to to 1930, of the monthly Das Junge Volk, Karl-Otto Paetel linked the national liberation fight and class struggle in his writings starting from 1929: “All for the nation! … the words of August Winnig, after which the liberation struggle of the nation must be the struggle of the German worker, lead here to the only possible consequence: approve the class struggle as a fact, push it in the interest of the entire people … bear it as the way for the victory of nationalism.”

In 1930, Paetel was offered the leadership of Die Kommenden by Lass and Jünger. In an article published in the first issue of 1930, he called to “make it a spokesman for all the new impulses and thoughts that are at work everywhere in the German youth, for all the revolutionary tendencies of renewal” and to reject the “barking of liberalism and reaction, which we recognize as our mortal enemies.” And assigning the line of revolutionary nationalism to the journal: “We claim the fight against the system of capitalist exploitation, which has always prevented the integration of the proletariat into the ensemble of German destiny, on the interior and exterior of the German space.”

Some months later, at the end of May 1930, he created the Gruppe sozialrevolutionarër nationalisten (Social-Revolutionary Nationalist Group). A series of articles, published in the issue of June 27th 1930 presented the declaration of program of GSRN. For Paetel, “the meaning of the entire economy is solely to cover the needs of the nations and not wealth and gain.” It called for a “global revolution,” considered Bolshevism as a national liberation movement and it desired an alliance with the USSR to break the slavery exercised by Western nations: “We Social-Revolutionary Nationalists, we require an alliance with the Soviet Union. We see in all oppressed peoples, whatever race they belong to, our natural allies.”

National-Bolshevism and National-Socialism

During the summer of 1930, Paetel was discharged from Die Kommenden by the proponents of a more classical nationalism. In Janaury 1931, he launched the monthly Die Sozialistische Nation, which proclaimed National-Bolshevism, advocated class struggle, collaboration with the KPD, and the establishment of “the Germany of councils,” and then intended to represent “the non-Marxist, non-materialist sector of the socialist front.” On his side, Lass published, in September 1932, a new magazine, Der Umsturz (The Overthrow), which desired to be the organ of “radical nationalists, socialist radicals, revolutionary activists of all tendencies” and openly claimed National-Bolshevism. One can read in it, “Bolshevism was presented as the quintessence of all of that which was destructive and decomposing. Then, it is true, we are National-Bolsheviks, because precisely, the way of the nation only proceeds through creative destruction.”

The National-Bolshevik orientation seems corroborated by events in the years 1930-1931, the split of the left wing of the NSDAP on one hand, the “national” policy of the KPD on another. Concerning the NSDAP of Hitler, the National-Bolsheviks held that it was bourgeoisified. In 1931, Lass thus wrote, “Today the convinced nationalist of the NSDAP can only be accorded the task of radicalizing the large mass of the bourgeoisie and contributing to national disintegration.” Nothing more. The 4th of July 1930, Otto Strasser left the party to found the Combat League of Revolutionary Socialists. But very quickly the National-Bolsheviks raised criticisms regarding Strasserite theses, criticizing his “socialism to 49%” and his hesitation on the question of Russian alliance.

The gulf between the National-Bolsheviks and the Left of the NS widened still from the hope put in the evolution of the KPD. August 24th 1930, the central KPD organ, Die Rote Fahne, published a “Program for the National and Social Liberation of the German People,” that accorded a large place to the national question. For the communists it acted to spread radicalization to the middle classes, by developing a nationalist argumentation based on an appeal to a “alliance of all working classes” against the small of capitalist property owners. This strategy seemed to pass from the camp of the Communists to the nationalists. Naively believing that a National-Bolshevik line was at work in the KPD, Paetel multiplied the debates with communists, even taking the lectern during their meetings. In 1932, he even called to vote for the Communist presidential candidate Thaelmann. In 1933, he published a National-Bolshevik Manifesto, whose first copies, printed the 29th of January, were distributed the same night Hitler came to power.

Werner Lass was arrested, in March 1933, for stockpiling explosives and was put in prison. After suspending training , the Freischar Schill and the Bund der Eidgenossen were banned, he joined the Hitlerjugend, which represents a unique case among all the National-Bolshevik leaders. He would be expelled in 1934. On his side, Paetel would be imprisoned many times after Hitler’s rise to power, before exile in Prague in 1935, then to Scandinavia.