Socialism from the Right? Aesthetics, Politics and the Counter-Revolution in Weimar Germany

By Heynen, Rob | New Formations, October 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Socialism from the Right? Aesthetics, Politics and the Counter-Revolution in Weimar Germany


Heynen, Rob, New Formations


Abstract The early years of the Weimar period in Germany (1918-33) saw radical right paramilitaries and other activists engage in a violent struggle to roll back the post-war advances of the revolutionary left. This article examines the writings of Ernst Jünger and a number other writers from the period, arguing that their work elaborated a violently misogynist pedagogy of the body and subjectivity designed to engineer these counter-revolutionary fighters. What is frequently missed in commentary on these writers, however, is the extent to which their work was not simply about the repression of the left, but involved the production of a radical right 'socialism' whose powerful dynamic was crucial in breaking down the left socialist project over the course of the Weimar years; this dynamic was recognized at the time by critics like Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch. Drawing on the work of these theorists, this paper traces the logic of fascist mobilization, arguing that the appropriation of the revolutionary energies of a left in crisis shaped the trajectory of the radical right, and drove their production of a masculinist, aestheticized 'state of total mobilization' (Jünger).

Keywords Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Ernst Jünger, Ernst von Salomon, Oswald Spengler, Socialism, Fascism, Gender, Freikorps

Thus the enemy is not content with torturing and killing workers. He not only wants to smash the red front but also strips the jewellery off die supposed corpse. The deceiver and murderer cannot show his face other than with would-be revolutionary speeches and forms of combat.1

Ernst Jünger's novels on the First World War take the form, at least in part, of diaries. Ostensibly culled from his writings during die war, Jünger's retention of the diary form expressed a commitment to a documentary aesthetic evident in his famous Storm of Steel, with its original and unwieldy subtitle from the Diary of a Stock Troop Commander, Ernst Jünger, War Volunteer, and subsequently Lieutenant in the Rifle Regiment of Prince Albrecht of Prussia (73rd Hanoverian Regiment), and even more so in his novel Copse 125. Jünger's documentary realism was of a particular kind, however, combining the immediacy of the diary form with an obsessive rewriting that saw the appearance of multiple versions of his novels. Ideologically, though, his work depended upon a documentary immediacy emerging out of the experience of the front. As he describes it early in Copse 125, his writing there emerged 'illegible, like the wavelines of a seismograph [wie die Wellenlinie eines NadeUtifies] recording an earthquake, with the ends of the words whipped out into long strokes by the rapidity of the writing - these must have been flung on paper after the attack, in shell-holes or fragments of trench swept by machine-gun bullets like a swarm of deadly hornets'.2

An interesting and telling contradiction emerges here. The diary, ostensibly a most personal and interior form of writing, becomes instead an entirely depersonalised and external text. Jünger the writer disappears, reconstituted as a recording device, a seismograph whose output precisely mirrors the experience of the front. The writing itself (the strokes of the pen, the words) is identified directly with the front and the machine-gun bullets sweeping over the landscape. Both the writer and the text disappear into the cauldron of what the Germans called uve Materialschlacht, the industrialised mass warfare and technologically mediated violence epitomised by the First World War. Jiinger's own rewriting of his texts of course belies this claim of an unmediated relationship between experience and writing, but the erasure of his own writing, I will argue, is at the heart of the metaphor of the seismograph. Jiinger's aesthetic strategies, his writing practices, were bound up with his politics; his self-constitution as a militarised writing-machine involved a purging of individuality and interiority that was placed in die service of a radical right counter-revolutionary practice. …

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