Guest column by Renaissance Horizon
A core narrative of modern Antifa is that the original Antifa was the primary group fighting the rise of Hitler. Antifa justifies contemporary criminal violence by saying that if the original Antifa had only been even more violent, the world could have been saved from WWII and all its horrors.
During the 1920s, the Communist Party of Germany [KPD] operated a street fighting wing called Roter Frontkämpferbund, or “Red Front Fighters League.” They also had smaller, more specialized sub-groups called Antifaschiste, or “Antifa” for short. The Red Front Fighters League was banned nationwide after three days of deadly rioting in Berlin in May of 1929. Thirty-four people died in what became known as “Bloody May.” the KPD and their militant sub-groups conducted this riot to undermine and discredit the Social Democrats [SPD], who controlled Berlin and had the largest share of seats in parliament at the time.
In 1932, the Roter Frontkämpferbund [RFB] was re-launched using the name Antifaschiste Aktion or Antifa. They also had a new logo, which modern-day Antifa uses as their main symbol toady. The leader of both Antifa and the KPD at this time was Ernst Thälmann. He had previously been the leader of RFB from 1925-1929. Pro-Antifa authors in Europe themselves state that this is the origin of the current Antifa movement.
The relationship between Antifa and Hitler’s National Socialist German Worker’s Party [NSDAP] was that of both friend and foe alike. They had major street battles against each other. However, they also fought side by side often. Rival political groups and trade unions began reporting that joint forces of RFB and Hitler’s Storm Battalion [SA] were attacking their meetings and conferences in 1929.
When they fought side by side, their target was most often the Social Democrats [SPD] or organizations and trade unions affiliated with the SPD. The most well documented examples of their cooperation are violent labor riots. If the SPD opposed a strike within some industry, the NSDAP & KPD would sometimes band together and declare a strike to undermine the SPD. Then RFB/Antifa and SA would jointly stage a violent riot to enforce the strike. This took place across Germany from 1930 to 1932. The most famous example was the Berlin transit workers strike of November 1932. This lasted five days, four people were killed, and hundreds were arrested. It occurred only months before Hitler seized power with the Enabling Act in March 1933.
In 1931, the KPD and the NSDAP formed an official legislative alliance in Prussia. At the time, Antifa head Ernst Thälmann stated publicly that the NSDAP was “the working people’s comrades.” Even on the eve of Hitler becoming dictator, the KPD and Antifa downplayed this threat. They maintained that the SPD was their primary enemy.
The KPD and its Antifa street fighters played a very significant role in aiding the rise of the NSDAP and legitimizing them. There is a phenomenal book about this online that you can read for free. It is a 358-page thesis paper written in 1980 by Davis William Daycock, a graduate student at the University of London.
Daycock explains in great detail, using KPD and Antifa literature, the often symbiotic relationship between the KPD and the NSDAP. There was a very heavy cross-over. Many NSDAP members were ex-KPD, and a lot of KPD were ex-NSDAP. The NSDAP even had a term for this. They called ex-communist members “Beefsteak Nazis.” This meant “brown on the outside, red in the middle.” Both parties viewed the Social Democrats [SPD] as their main enemy. Both parties believed they would rise to power and absorb much of the other party’s members. Both recruited from many of the same segments of the German population (especially in the early/mid-20s), and both accused each other of stealing their rhetoric and ideas.
The leadership of the KPD viewed the SPD as irredeemably “fascist.” They called them the “Social Fascists.” However, members of the NSDAP were seen more like potential future communists. They talked about NSDAP members being “national Bolsheviks,” which they equated to a heresy of Marxism. Unlike their view of the Social Democrats, the Nazis were seen as people who could eventually be won over to true Marxism.
During much of the 20s, the NSDAP and KPD recruited members from the same circles. Daycock even shows that the NSDAP and the KPD voted together more than any other two parties in Weimar Germany. Much of the tension between the parties was as much about fishing in the same ponds as it was about ideology. In the late 20s, the NSDAP suddenly became popular among the emerging “petit bourgeois,” which were essentially white-collar workers. The rise of modern white-collar workers played a significant role in propelling Mussolini to power. Ernst Thälmann had written off white-collar workers as unrecruitable by the KPD. So he envisioned the NSDAP pacifying this emerging class of petit bourgeois when it came time for the KPD to seize power in a communist revolution. He claimed the NSDAP could by the KPD’s “rear guard.”
One of the things Daycock explains, which was a big shock to me, is the use of nationalist rhetoric by the KPD. Internally the leaders of the KPD were very anti-nationalist. However, the Soviet Union and the Comintern felt that German nationalism benefitted the foreign policy objectives of the Soviet Union. The genesis of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact goes all the way back to the early 20s.
The KPD also engaged in extreme rhetoric about Jews, even as they venerated many Jewish people as the founders of their ideology. I was aware that Ruth Fischer, who was at least half Jewish herself, is famous for calling for the murder of “Jewish capitalists” at a public event in the early 20s. Fischer was a co-founder and early leader of the German and Austrian Communist parties. Daycock digs deep into this. On multiple occasions, the Comintern intervened and chastised KPD leaders for taking anti-Jewish rhetoric too far. The Comintern believed that anti-Jewish rhetoric could be an acceptable tactic if it advanced communism, but they were shocked at how far KPD leaders kept taking it.
Ultimately, it would be more accurate to say the original Antifa helped Hitler become the dictator of Germany. Even on the eve of Hitler’s banning of the KPD, their leaders thought they were going to outmaneuver Hitler and seize power themselves. Thälmann even gave direct orders to other KPD and Antifa leaders to keep downplaying the possibility that Hitler could take full control of Germany. He ordered them to maintain the position that it was the SPD who must be destroyed.
The extreme violence of the KPD and Antifa was a significant catalyst for Hitler to seize power. Thälmann believed that Antifa street violence would demonstrate that the German authorities could not maintain order. He thought that the population would capitulate to a revolutionary totalitarian government in exchange for an end to street violence and political turmoil. He was right, except everyone capitulated to his rival, Adolph Hitler.
Afterward, Hitler banned the KPD and Antifa. The leadership largely fled to the Soviet Union, some of which were executed by Joseph Stalin. Thälmann was eventually executed on Hitler’s direct order in 1944.
Towards the end of WWII, Antifa reconstituted itself as a resistance movement. However the Allies (Britain/USA/France) and the Soviet Union all banned Antifa in all German occupational zones. While modern Antifa embrace their origins as the street fighters of the Weimar era German communist party, they completely re-write history in many ways. In fact, many Antifa have even adopted the three arrow logo of the SPD affiliated Iron Front. A group that Antifa bitterly fought against.
“There was once a time, before coming to power, when we co-operated with the Communists. And I must say…in several ways we were working for the same things.” – Joseph Goebbels