- Back from the USSRThe Anti-Comintern’s Publications on Soviet Russia in Nazi Germany (1935–41)
Joseph Goebbels’s speech of 13 September 1935 on “communism unmasked,” held at the party “rally of freedom” that introduced the antisemitic legislation of the “Nuremburg laws,” marked the starting point of a propaganda campaign against the USSR that lasted until the rapprochement between the dictatorships in the summer of 1939.1 Anti-communism was the dominating theme of the Nazi party’s rally. Before the assembled faithful in Nuremburg, speakers that included Adolf Hitler and Alfred Rosenberg emphasized the need to struggle against the Bolshevik threat. In his speech, the “Third Reich’s” propaganda minister started by refuting the claim of the British press that Bolshevism and Nazism were converging.2 He claimed that the German and the European public had a distorted view of Bolshevism and promised to expose the “true nature” of the Soviet regime. According to Goebbels, Bolshevism exemplified the “challenge of Jewish-led subhumanity against culture as such.” Against this threat, it was Nazi Germany’s “universal mission” to save Europe from the perils of Bolshevism.3 Goebbels went on to read a long list of crimes that he attributed to Soviet Russia’s rulers and their communist allies abroad. In Nuremburg, he set out to convince the German population and the European public that the Comintern was a “Jewish conspiracy.” The speech showed Nazism’s proclivity for viewing the world in conspiratorial terms.4 Goebbels’s appeal to join the fight against Bolshevism was soon published as a booklet and became the first component of a concerted campaign. [End Page 527]
As he vilified Bolshevism in his speech, Goebbels paid tribute to one Soviet achievement: he complimented the Soviet government on its excellent international propaganda. He accepted the challenge to counteract these propagandistic successes and to establish “Jewish Bolshevism” as a Feindbild for the German and European public.5 Fundamentally, the anti-Soviet campaign was part of the radicalization of Nazi rule and served to legitimize such measures as the antisemitic legislation of 1935.6 The campaign against the USSR aimed to connect the image of the internal Jewish enemy with “Judeo-Bolshevism,” which was portrayed as the greatest external threat. From the fall of 1935 onward, Nazi propaganda used a variety of different means to spread this message. The press, exhibitions on Soviet Russia, and speeches by party members kept repeating the same arguments.
In the following years, Goebbels’s propaganda ministry initiated the publication of a wide range of monographs on the USSR. This article traces the sources of the Nazi regime’s anti-Soviet propaganda, analyzes its narratives, and discusses them in the context of the Nazi regime and the German–Russian encounter in the 20th century. I start out by tracing the origins of Nazi discourse about the USSR in the Weimar Republic and introducing the structure of the Anti-Comintern’s apparatus.
Weimar’s Fascination with Bolshevik Russia and the Emergence of “Jewish Bolshevism”
The Russian Revolution instantly became a topic of political discussion, and intellectual debate about the new Russia profoundly shaped the political discourse of Weimar Germany.7 The cultural impact of Soviet Russia transcended the boundaries of the communist movement. Throughout the 1920s, German intellectuals and professionals of various political orientations visited the USSR.8 For many years, Berlin had become a capital for Russian émigrés and the second seat of the Comintern.9 A range of intellectual traditions for criticizing Bolshevism [End Page 528] developed; prominent among them was the early criticism of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Kautsky, who wrote on behalf of the workers’ movement.10 In the early 1920s, those adhering to National Bolshevism and the Conservative Revolution also discussed the events in Russia and their reverberations in Germany; the fascination with Soviet Russia was not limited to the Left.11 World War I and the Treaty of Versailles created a widespread aversion to Western modernity, its values and principles. In the view of many German new nationalists, Russia and Germany shared a cultural distance from the West and therefore qualified as cultural and political allies. German communism, during the 1920s...