Review of H. Laufenberg and F. Wolffheim's Nation und Arbeiterklasse 

HAMBURG, July 1920.

The strength of the agitation of Laufenberg and Wolffheim lies in this great truth, which they always put forward and proclaim: the struggle of the proletariat against capital is now first and foremost a struggle against Entente capital, which controls the world. Therefore, the revolution of the German proletariat against capital means war with the Entente. Their weakness lies in the belief that this struggle can be waged jointly by all classes of the German people, all of whom were plunged into misery and trampled by the victors, under the leadership of the proletariat as the ruling class. Their influence on the proletariat rests on their propaganda for a proletarian organization, the council system, modelled after the Russian Soviets, which will replace the old organizations controlled by leader cliques and bureaucrats. The danger of this influence lies in the nationalist ideology, which they attach to this organization. While their organizational views are highlighted in the earlier writings, such as "Was heisst Sozialisierung" and "Arbeiterklasse und Staatsgewalt," the recently published brochure “Nation und Arbeiterklasse” gives a brief exposition of their national point of view.

The theoretical foundation for the essence of the “nation” is the same with the leaders from Hamburg as it is with the Austrian national Marxists Otto Bauer and Karl Renner. They regard the nations (the peoples, if one attaches at least the strictly scientific meaning to this word) as the natural units out of which mankind is composed. This is most evident in the terminology: “the struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat goes through the nations,” communism “abolishes the class division within the nations,” the final goal is the synthesis of the “classless peoples into a world commune.” Such expressions can also be found in the great work of Otto Bauer.

The bourgeois class did try to organize the nations into the states, the nation-states; but because of its capitalist profit and power interests this could only partially succeed; everywhere one finds snippets of peoples and entire nations, controlled by a foreign state power. In a brief survey of German history, Laufenberg shows that the German people have been particularly unfortunate in this respect; even the league of princes, called “German Empire,” which collapsed in 1918, was not a true union of the German people into a national unity. This national unity, the synthesis of each people on the basis of free self-determination, can only be realized by communism, which writes the national self-determination of each people into its program. The goal of communism is the organization of the nation into an economic unity; the organs serving this purpose are the workers' councils, the soviets.

We explained the utter ideological and unmarxist nature of this view, which considers all world history from the point of view of the “nation,” at the time in a critique of Bauer's work and of the nationalist tactics of the Austrian S.D. The nation, the people, is only the temporary organizational unit, first emerging with commodity production and wholly rooted in the bourgeois form of society. As ideology, national consciousness, it lives in the minds of the bourgeois class. It shares with other bourgeois abstractions such as "law" and "freedom" the fact that it is not put into practice in the way that the abstract ideology of national consciousness would have wished, even though these ideals were very much present in the growing bourgeoisie. And just as we cannot say that communism brings the realization of these bourgeois ideals - which would be a confusing adaptation of the new better understanding to old-fashioned prejudice - neither can we say that with regard to the realization of national ideals. What communism brings is a higher world organization. The great deep causes, not only for national antagonism, but also for national isolation then fall away; the difference of nations is reduced to the difference of language, so that they retain their meaning only as a practical form of grouping for cultural purposes. Among the larger and smaller organizations into which the communist world people group: villages, factories, cities, production units, industrial areas, business groups, cultural groups, the language-differentiated “nations” are only one of many forms with limited functions. Such mixed industrial areas as Upper Silesia, Teschen-Ostrau, the Saar region, already show how impossible it is to organize the new world according to national points of view and borders.

L. and W. appeal for their communist nationalism to Marx and Engels, who spoke of the revolutionary working class constituting itself as a “Nation,” and realizing the “Einheit der Nation”; but it is clear that here Nation is used only in the sense of people, of totality of people living in a state, as opposed to classes, to bourgeois governments, to communes. With more justification they can appeal to the many national expressions of representatives of Soviet Russia; remembering, however, that in a country, where the bourgeoisie was destroyed and a proper national-bourgeois tradition was not present, these could not do nearly as much harm as in Germany.

The Communist program point, on the other hand: right of self-determination of all peoples to which they also appeal, has nothing to do with a national theory, since it expresses nothing but the rejection of all national oppression; it serves for the transitional period, in which the national tradition from the past period is still strong. 

It is sufficient here to point out the incorrectness of the theory which is to serve as a justification for incorrect practice. The wrong and dangerous aspect of both lies in the fact that by relying on a bourgeois tradition to gain power quickly, this tradition is strengthened in the masses to such an extent that their clear communist insight is obscured, so that one gets further from the goal. Through this doctrine of national unity against the Entente it is possible to reach out to the desperadoes of the military caste - who foresee a new existence in a new war and do not care much about accompanying communism - while the strength of the proletariat is to a great extent broken by the national ideology, which makes it hostile to the Entente proletariat and weakens it spiritually.

Anton Pannekoek.