Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 9, 2014

National Bolshevism rides again

Filed under: Fascism,Russia — louisproyect @ 9:16 pm

Karl Radek, the father of National Bolshevism

As accustomed as I have become to the convergence between the anti-imperialist left and the ultraright on the geopolitical chess game, nothing prepared me for Golden Dawn’s statement that could have appeared on the Counterfire website:

Ukraine is Washington’s pretext for a conflict with Russia. The threat of conflict is evident from the flood of propaganda in the Zionist media. Putin is demonized daily as Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi were earlier, while known Zionist newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times, present daily ‘evidence’ Russian troops are ready to invade Ukraine. The only things missing are the weapons of mass destruction in order to have a complete repeat.

The events in Ukraine demonstrate clearly that American imperialism has launched a strategy, the first unsuccessful steps which were Syria and Iran, weakening and elimination of Russia as a Great Power. Russia is the most serious obstacle to the American imperialism to assert its hegemony in the Middle East, East Mediterranean, and Eurasia.

For those unfamiliar with the British left, Counterfire is a split from the Socialist Workers Party led by John Rees and Lindsay German that also plays a major role in the Stop the War Coalition that arose in the early days of Bush’s “war on terror”. John Meadway, one of its supporters and a staff economist for a radical think-tank, tried to explain away the affinity with Golden Dawn by comparing it with the British National Party’s opposition to the war in Iraq.

Maybe Meadway has a point. There are rightwingers who oppose American imperialist interventions. Antiwar.com is a website that was launched by a libertarian named Justin Raimondo. It was the emergence of figures like Raimondo and Rand Paul that convinced some on the left that a left-right coalition might make sense.

But I think there is something else going on with the Golden Dawn statement. It is not simply against war. It is closely related to admiration for Vladimir Putin based on his anti-homosexual laws, his Great Russian nationalism, his disregard for democratic rights, his get-tough attitude toward liberals, and above all his wars on Chechnya and Syria in the name of “fighting terrorism”. In other words, the policies that Bush pursued in Iraq and that Obama pursues in the tribal areas of Afghanistan would be opposed by Golden Dawn and Counterfire become acceptable when they are carried out by the Kremlin in Chechnya and Syria.

There are few signs that anybody on the left has any sympathy for Putin’s anti-homosexual laws. On the other hand, there are obvious signs of “critical support” for the Kremlin as a kind of anti-imperialist challenge to the USA and its European allies. The BRICS, and Russia especially, become benefactors of smaller and weaker nations trying to stave off the White House, NATO, and the IMF, et al. In an article titled “The Putin Charisma”, world systems theorist Immanuel Wallerstein believes that “If a neutral referee were to assign points for Putin’s actions on some scale of positive/negative consequences for Russia, I think a fair observer would have to say that Putin has done well as a geopolitical player.” Roger Annis, a veteran of the Trotskyist movement in Canada, practically sees the Kremlin playing the same role it once did under official Communism: “Russia’s independence, and that of other, rising capitalist powers such as China and Brazil, is of considerable political consequence for the international working class. The frictions and conflicts between competing capitalist blocs create political and economic fissures through which peoples and countries can assert and defend their independent interests.”  It would seem that a strong Russia is best for the world even if it is not that great for Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, sacrilegious punk rockers, homosexuals, bloggers and print journalists who go too far, and disgruntled Muslims.

How much further can such affinities go? One doubts that Counterfire and the British National Party will be cosponsoring rallies any time soon but it would be useful for the left to understand that Communists did at one time find progressive aspects to fascism. Under the banner of National Bolshevism, some Marxists made the mistake of assuming that because the fascists fought liberals and social democrats in the name of “socialism” the two movements had something in common.

I got my first exposure to the German left’s poor grasp of the fascist movement while researching an article on the role of “Zinovievism” on the defeat of the German revolution. I wrote:

Karl Radek did not help matters unfortunately. He interpreted the Treaty of Rapallo [a treaty between German and the beleaguered USSR] as a go-ahead to support the German bourgeoisie against the dominant European capitalisms, especially France. Germany was forced to sign a punitive reparations agreement after WWI and was not able to satisfy the Entente powers. France then marched into the Ruhr in order to seize control of the mines and steel mills. The German capitalist class screamed bloody murder and proto-fascist armed detachments marched into the Ruhr to confront the French troops.

Radek interpreted these German right-wing counter-measures as a sign of progressive nationalism and argued that a bloc of all classes was necessary to confront Anglo-French imperialism. At the height of the anti-French armed struggle in the Ruhr, the German Communist Party took Radek’s cue and began to issue feelers to the right-wing nationalists.

On June 20, 1922 Radek went completely overboard and made a speech proposing a de facto alliance between the Communists and the Fascists. This, needless to say, was in his capacity as official Comintern representative to the German party. It was at a time when Trotsky was still in good graces in the Soviet Union. Nobody seemed to raise an eyebrow when Radek urged that the Communists commemorate the death of Albert Schlageter, a Freikorps figher who died in the Ruhr and was regarded as a martyr of the right-wing, a German Timothy McVeigh so to speak. Radek’s stated that “…we believe that the great majority of nationalist minded masses belong not to the camp of the capitalists but to the camp of the Workers.”

Radek’s lunacy struck a chord with the German Communist ultraleftists who went even further in their enthusiasm for the right-wing fighters. Ruth Fischer gave a speech at a gathering of right-wing students where she echoed fascist themes:

Whoever cries out against Jewish capital…is already a fighter for his class, even though he may not know it. You are against the stock market jobbers. Fine. Trample the Jewish capitalists down, hang them from the lampposts…But…how do you feel about the big capitalists, the Stinnes, Klockner?…Only in alliance with Russia, Gentlemen of the “folkish” side, can the German people expel French capitalism from the Ruhr region.

Having read just now what I wrote originally about 15 years ago, it strikes me how little has changed in some ways. Note how easy it was for Radek to slide from defense of the USSR into support for the German bourgeoisie that was regarded as relatively progressive in its confrontation with the more dominant European powers. Once that link was made, it was almost inevitable that its shock troops—the ultranationalists and fascists—would also have progressive aspects.

In an interesting article for the April 1951 “The Review of Politics”, Klemens von Klemperer used the words “sweeping equation” to describe the slippery slope from Bolshevism to fascism: “anti-West equals anti-capitalism equals pro-East equals pro-Bolshevism.” That rings a bell, doesn’t it?

Klemperer provides some useful insights into the mixed character of the Freikorps that became the object of Radek’s admiration. Originally sent to Russia to fight on the side of the Whites, many of the troops began to find their enemy’s decisiveness to their liking even as they were aiming their rifles at its troops. Klemperer writes:

Bolshevik Russia, which in the course of the civil war became more and more a political reality, began to attract the imagination of the young Freikorps fighter. Ernst von Salomon, while engaged in fighting the Bolsheviks in Riga, thus became fascinated by the “tremendous new force in the making” in the East. “Beyond the border,” he admitted, “arises an amorphous but growing power, standing in our way, which we half admire and half hate.” Bolshevik Russia gradually emerged as a potential ally in the war against “the three times spit out phrases of the French Revolution.”

Although Bukharin was intrigued by the idea of National Bolshevism, Lenin dismissed it in “Ultraleftism: an Infantile Disorder”:

It is not enough, under the present conditions of the international proletarian revolution, to repudiate the preposterous absurdities of “National Bolshevism” (Laufenberg and others), which has gone to the length of advocating a bloc with the German bourgeoisie for a war against the Entente.

Eventually Radek was superseded as National Bolshevik leader by one Ernst Niekisch, a one-time conventional Social Democrat. Niekisch became an advocate of an “anti-Western” variant that would be familiar to those reading Counterfire or Global Research today. This took shape as the National Bolshevik Resistance Movement whose slogan was “Sparta-Potsdam-Moscow” and whose emblem shown below was made up of a Prussian eagle, a sword, a hammer and a sickle. This sounds rather like something that would be hoisted on a banner by one of these mobs seizing government buildings in east Ukraine, doesn’t it?

National Bolshevism never gained a foothold in Germany. By the time that Hitler came to power, any leftist tendencies in his own movement as expressed by the Strasserite wing would soon be sacrificed to the old elites in the Night of the Long Knives.

Eduard Limonov

In today’s world, the only place it seems to have any traction is post-Communist Russia. In 1991 Eduard Limonov founded the National Bolshevik Party that despite its failure to amount to anything (it was eventually banned) anticipated much of the program of the Russian ultraright today.

Limonov went into exile from the USSR in 1974 and took up residence in New York where he became drawn to the punk underground and the Socialist Workers Party of all things. A fascinating profile on Limonov appeared in the March 2, 2008 NY Times Sunday Magazine:

Limonov arrived in New York in 1975, at the dawn of punk. He discovered CBGB, fell for Patti Smith and Richard Hell and knew everyone from Steve Rubell to the local members of the Socialist Workers Party. “Edichka” [a reference to the character based on the author in the novel “It’s Me, Eddie”] oozes with bodily fluids — the hero, abandoned by his wife, Elena, goes on “nocturnal rambles on the West Side” that feature serial sexual encounters with homeless black men. The thin plot lines, however, thread two dominant leitmotifs: self-indulgence and condescension.

Oh, well. Exposure to the Socialist Workers Party does strange things to people. I never ran into Limonov but can easily imagine someone like him evolving into a fascist. It would not be the first time.

The more famous example is Lyndon Larouche whose website—quelle surprise—makes arguments familiar to those with Counterfire:

Ukraine, WW3 & Extinction – Lyndon LaRouche & Alex Jones
Thursday, February 20, 2014 8:50

(Before It’s News)

Lyndon LaRouche joins Alex Jones for an interview about the unfolding situation in the Ukraine that could quickly devolve into World War 3 and thermo-nuclear annihilation for most of the world. Using such words as ‘extinction’, LaRouche warns that every day of a Barack Obama presidency puts us moments away from the extincition of the human race, an extinction that according to LaRouche could occur in the next few days, next week or next month.



  1. Jeez National Bolshevism seems like some kind of ideological fetishism. I understand the enemy of my enemy is my friend stuff. National Bolshevism takes it to the enemy of my enemy is my friend even if he represses or hurt my other friends. In this context, Russia is the good imperialist no matter what it does even within its own borders. Same goes for Syria, Iran, Iraq, post first world war Germany, etc. Makes me wonder if it’s a psychological by product of being opposed to imperialist hegemony but not being connected to those peoples repressed and trampled by the opposing capitalist states.

    Comment by Jim Brash — May 9, 2014 @ 11:30 pm

  2. Louis wrote:

    “This sounds rather like something that would be hoisted on a banner by one of these mobs seizing government buildings in east Ukraine, doesn’t it?”

    I don’t know: are they a bunch of right-wing nationalists, fascists, or horribly confused communists?

    Louis, you’re starting to sound reminiscent of your opponents at the start of all this: the (eastern) Ukrainians are (led by/involved with) nationalists/ultra-rightists; the (eastern) Ukrainians are tools of (Russian) imperialism; the (eastern) Ukrainians’ protests and actions have only a confused, ideological basis, not a practical, material one . Just remove the words “eastern” and replace “Russian” with “western”.

    What’s next? Exhortations that the separatists be crushed because they’re so obviously fascists and sell-outs to Russia?

    Comment by Todd — May 10, 2014 @ 1:01 am

  3. An incredible site about Eduard Limonov ( the writer, politician, performer, etc…) with many informations and videos :

    Comment by Dominique — May 10, 2014 @ 2:54 am

  4. Besides being ideologically dubious, the Counterfire position is a politically dubious. Does the proponents of it really believe rationalizing Putin’s actions is going to gain support in the European working class?

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 10, 2014 @ 3:32 am

  5. Richard I don’t think they care about gaining the support of the European working class. Making the statement or position is more important to them than actual support from the working class. It satisfies those that are already in their sphere of influence. I am honestly leaning towards thinking that these types of positions and statements are directed to the middle-class and de-classed and the intelligentsia of like mind.

    Comment by Jim Brash — May 10, 2014 @ 3:49 am

  6. Counterfire, wrong though they are, have ideas about which they have thought long and hard.

    Golden Dawn have no ideas–no fascist–qua fascist–has or ever has had ideas except as political property.

    National Bolshevism is not a set of political beliefs; it’s a ploy, in the same way in which Lyndon LaRouche’s “ideas” are ploys, only less merely paranoid schizophrenic.

    In any case how bad would it be if Golden Dawn turned into a gang of barhopping New York sex maniacs? Or if they suddenly got as crazy (and as politically impotent) as LaRouche?

    Golden Dawn have only strategies for gaining and abusing power and a set of policies (ultimately to the benefit of the bourgeoisie) that they want to put into effect using that power. They are a gang of iron-beaked parrots who will say anything. Indeed, most of them are brain-dead patsies who cannot think at all and are nazis because it relieves them of the burden of trying to think.

    To condemn Counterfire by association as Nazis solely because Golden Dawn seem to have stolen some words that Counterfire also use is a sterile exercise in guilt by association and quite beside the point.

    Hitler was a vegetarian. Does that mean all vegetarians are Hitlers? The first question is, where is Hitler in the quest for or consolidation of power, and can he he be defeated?

    Comment by Jay Margolies — May 10, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

  7. Think of my post as a cautionary tale. When Rees and company invited Mother Agnes to speak at an antiwar conference last year, it crossed a political red line to use a rather trite term. If you are ready to make common cause with a spokesperson for the bloodiest dictatorship in Middle East history, what’s next? I find it regrettable that to this day Counterfire people blame opponents of Mother Agnes for the controversy. This tone-deaf response makes me wonder about their moral and political fiber. Keep in mind that perfectly decent people like Karl Radek and Bukharin can make such mistakes. It is a function of losing the class perspective that distinguishes us from nationalists like the Baathist movement.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 10, 2014 @ 12:28 pm

  8. “To condemn Counterfire by association as Nazis solely because Golden Dawn seem to have stolen some words that Counterfire also use is a sterile exercise in guilt by association and quite beside the point.”

    I don’t condemn Counterfire for this. Instead, I criticize them for, in Richard Seymour’s words, for failing to recognize that “. . . . there is more than one imperialism operating in Ukraine.”


    By focusing primarily, if not exclusively, on the US, they risk doing great harm to the left and anti-imperialist efforts.

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 10, 2014 @ 3:48 pm

  9. “Think of my post as a cautionary tale. When Rees and company invited Mother Agnes to speak at an antiwar conference last year, it crossed a political red line to use a rather trite term. If you are ready to make common cause with a spokesperson for the bloodiest dictatorship in Middle East history, what’s next? I find it regrettable that to this day Counterfire people blame opponents of Mother Agnes for the controversy. This tone-deaf response makes me wonder about their moral and political fiber. ”

    Hilarious, coming from the person who supported the SWP’s “anti-war” “tactic” of making common cause with spokepersons for the bloodiest whatever you want to call it during the Vietnam War, like Philip Hart, John Lindsay, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

    Comment by sartesian — May 10, 2014 @ 9:25 pm

  10. Thanks for this column. I’ve been wary of ‘progressive nationalism’ for years e.g. Wobbly times number 150. Your piece just adds fuel to the fire.

    Comment by Mike Ballard — May 11, 2014 @ 12:52 am

  11. What’s up with your Eurasian thing? Why not Afro-Asiatic? Africa, specially the Ancient Egypt of the Ethiopia of 2nd millenium BC constituted most of the basis of the modern ethical thought and all monotheist religions..

    Comment by Daniel de França — May 12, 2014 @ 3:45 am

  12. Louis wrote:
    “This took shape as the National Bolshevik Resistance Movement whose slogan was “Sparta-Potsdam-Moscow” and whose emblem shown below was made up of a Prussian eagle, a sword, a hammer and a sickle. This sounds rather like something that would be hoisted on a banner by one of these mobs seizing government buildings in east Ukraine, doesn’t it?”

    I took Lou’s advice to follow events in Ukraine on Vice TV and so I do not have to speculate what banner the “mobs” in Eastern Ukraine are carrying. A sizable number are carrying the Soviet flag along with pictures of Stalin. All of this raises the question of why the Ukraine as an idea of a single, united country, has come unraveled so fast and why the Soviet nostalgia. There is obviously something more at work here than linguistic identity (since almost all Ukrainians are bi-lingual), and the propaganda on Russian television.

    This phenomenon of National Bolshevism is not confined to Eastern Ukraine. During the mass uprising of the Euro Maidan phase of this struggle, lots of different people with a wide variety of politics wound up fighting under the leadership of the Right Sector, Svoboda, and other fan clubs of Stepan Bandera and SS Galicia. If the challenge to left wing forces is to fight for an independent Ukraine against all odds, how can this be achieved them without becoming National Bolsheviks themselves?

    Comment by Stiofan — May 12, 2014 @ 7:37 pm

  13. Its a very slippery slope from National Bolshevism to fascism. We as socialist, be we Trotskyist, Maoist, Luxemburgist, Leninist, Castroist, Chavistas, Marxist etc, must maintain our internationalist perspective. We are citizens of the world. We are Syrians, Egyptians, Afghans, Ukrainians, blacks, Maori, Chicano and so on. National Bolshevism leads us on a road to becoming anti-semetic, Islamaphobic, xenophobic. It leads us to becoming “Eurasian “. It leads us to capitulating to petty bourgeois/middle class perspectives in which the revolutionary role of the working class is denied. We call for and support a united Ukraine by protesting both US/Western machinations and Russian intervention. We have to criticize both sides of the imperialist rivalry. And we have to convince Ukrainians that the devil they know (Russia) is as bad for their present and future as the devil they don’t know (US/EU). We are fighting a war of ideas to win hearts and minds, and it won’t be an easy task, & there will be set backs.

    Comment by Jim Brash — May 12, 2014 @ 8:34 pm

  14. The great tragedy of Ukraine is that National Bolshevism cuts both ways and is readily evident in the camp of nationalists as well as separatists. During the Euro-Maidan phase of the uprising, people of all political beliefs fought under the leadership of Svoboda, the Right Sector, SS Galicia, and others whose leadership is overtly Nazi. If the correct revolutionary position is to support Ukrainian independence against Russian imperialism at all costs, how is this to be done without getting sucked into another national bolshevist morass?

    I must also comment on Lou’s foray into vexillology via his use of the National Bolshevik Resistance Movement flag.

    “This sounds rather like something that would be hoisted on a banner by one of these mobs seizing government buildings in east Ukraine, doesn’t it?”

    I took Lou’s advice to begin watching Vice news and the coverage has been superb. From their footage I do not have to guess what banners the “mobs” are carrying. Quite a few of them are carrying the red flag with the hammer and sickle as well as waving the image of Stalin and invoking his name in speeches. I have been astonished since the fall of the previous set of oligarchs in Kiev at how quickly the idea of Ukraine as a nation is unraveling. Why is this? Why this resurgence of Soviet nostalgia? I just don’t believe that all of this is a function of people suddenly watching Russian TV “news.”

    Comment by sobuadhaigh — May 12, 2014 @ 11:47 pm

  15. I think the Soviet nostalgia is a direct result of the Ukraine’s capitalist reality. Under capitalism no basic needs are guaranteed. Under the old system, even if the basics weren’t plentiful or of good quality, you still had them.

    Comment by Jim Brash — May 13, 2014 @ 2:20 am

  16. 15 years ago or so there was this little prick on BBC who hosted a show called “Lonely Planet” that I enjoyed as he back-packed around the world until he got to the former Eastern Block of the USSR when he declared that under the old Soviet system “everybody had money but there was nothing to buy” versus, which he enjoyed more, “the current system where there was everything to buy but nobody had money.”

    That statement really struck a nerve in me because I always figured it was way easier for a society of monied people to figure out how to spend their money by elimintaing scarcity than poor people with no choices whatsoever.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 13, 2014 @ 3:14 am

  17. I think this rot has spread even further, to people and places I otherwise (or used to) have respect for, like John Pilger and Counterpunch. Mike Whitney has written a series of hysterical and ignorant pieces on Ukraine, all of which stress the “US coup” and the “Neo-nazis running the new government” crap. As far as I can tell, Whitney has no expertise or experience on the subject. Pilger I suspect is also just out of his element discussing a topic he hasn’t studied much.

    And then there’s Stephen Cohen, the only one of these apologists who has credibility on Russia. Has he always had a reactionary streak? I first suspected something was wrong when he made some disgusting and false remarks about Pussy Riot (he hates them). And now he’s peddling the chauvinistic, imperialistic line that ‘Ukraine isn’t actually a country, ya know’.

    Comment by Stepan Petrichenko (@pyotr_kropotkin) — September 10, 2014 @ 12:58 am

  18. […] years ago I wrote an article titled “National Bolshevism rides again” that called attention to Golden Dawn’s support for Russia against Euromaidan that sounded […]

    Pingback by Donald Trump, National Bolshevism and the radical deficit | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — May 17, 2017 @ 4:28 pm

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