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Book Review of Weimar Radicals: Nazis and Communists between

Authenticity and Performance by Timothy Brown

The Weimar republic certainly does not lack coverage. Much of the study observes the failure of

the Weimar Republic to employ democracy either side of autocratic rule. It is true that in recent

years, especially after the Cold War, the rise of political radicalism during the Weimar years has

been a focal point for literature published on the Golden Years. However, most depict a bloody

clash, typified by common street violence coming from a purely ideological conflict.1(p. 15) It is

here where Timothy Browns monograph most differs from the work of his contemporaries. Brown

interprets radicalism not against the milieu of ideology, examining the performative attractions

between seemingly hostile KPD and Nazi activism. The focus on the performance and

manipulation of cultural production is indicative of Browns view that persuasion was as important

as violence in the competition between the NSDAP and KPD. (p.4) Overall, Brown aims to

illustrate that despite obvious ideological differences, Weimar radicalism on both sides shared

broadly similar principal values and conceptions of the nature of politics.

Timothy Browns Weimar Radicals, published in 2009, is written with the intent to tackle issues

regarding political radicalism under Weimar democracy. Browns book diverges from the

monographs of other historians aiming to plug what he sees as a clear gap in the periods literature.

Brown desires to alleviate the Weimar Republic of its earlier role as a paradigm for the fall of

democracy and the rise of two anti-democratic movements by observing cultural, actor-oriented

aspects of Weimar politics.2 In fact, ideological friction and physical confrontation are put aside

from the beginning with the assertion that efforts of the two movements to appeal to the

oppositions rank and file most contributed to the general radicalisation of Weimar politics.(p. 3)

Furthermore, Brown targets to underline the many sided conversation, in an attempt to provide

agency to Volkisch splinter groups, the youth movements, National Bolshevik scene and Socialist

groups. (p. 4) Brown clearly desires to distinguish his work as one of very few, since

1
T.S. Brown, Weimar Radicals: Nazis and Communists between Authenticity and Performance, (Oxford,
Berghahn Books, 2009)
2
A. Wirchsing, Review of Weimar Radicals: Nazis and Communists between Authenticity and Performance,
(The American Historical Review, 116.2, 2011), p.530
Schddekopf in 1960, to give consideration to the interplay of smaller groups within mass

movements, when mapping the relationship between Nazism and Communism. (p. 4)

The methodology used by Brown is perhaps what most differentiates Weimar Radicals. Brown has

received much praise for using a diverse range of sources and his fresh take on radical Weimar

politics. Brown employs three spatial metaphors in order to look at the proximity between the far

left and far right. The most inventive is the separate Poles Model for German radicalism. (p. 5)

Unlike Dirk Schumann, who looks at a political spectrum at only the ideological level, Browns

model permits comparative interpretation making cultural exchange in politics viable.3 This

metaphor shows that, whilst definitely not two sides of a totalitarian coin, Nazism and

Communism had a degree of attraction stemming from a shared desire to live out deeply embedded

cultural values. (p. 151) Furthermore, Brown defines performance, as referring to the cultural

productions from-above, that supplied the basis for revolutionary legitimacy. (p. 12) This

staging of radicalism becomes crucial to the key principle, that both Right and Left wing extremists

intended to appeal to one another by performing cultural productions, contributing to a discourse of

social radicalism. Browns choice to use a mixture of sources should also be commended. Classical

social history sources, like police reports and nine other German archives, coupled with a vast

amount of empirical evidence and useful visual sources are used skilfully by Brown. Applauded for

including details on radical splinter groups, Brown also reinvigorates lesser known clandestine SA

leaflets to add to the discussion. (p. 3) Moreover, Brown bases a large sum of the discussion on his

relentless research on the Ulm Reichswehr trail. By using the trails outcome as a primary source,

Brown is able to comment convincingly on the shared and often confused ideals of the KPD and

NSDAP.

Primarily, Brown argues that both Nazis and Communists attempted to embody a populist anti-

authoritarianism under competing rubrics. (p. 5) Drawing from Conan Fischer, Brown explains that

the competing ideals lost distinction and began to overlap considerably when Nazism was drawn to

the working class and Communism became nationalist.4 This is largely configured in Browns

3
D. Schumann, Political Violence in the Weimar Republic, 19181933: Fight for the Streets and Fear of
Civil War, (Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2009), p.6
4
C. Fischer, The rise of National Socialism and the Working Class in Weimar Germany, (Oxford, Berghahn
Books, 1996), p.103
analysis of Scheringers gravitation to the KPD. Scheringer transferred to the KPD after losing

faith in the Nazi commitment to social revolution, at a time the KPD were advertising their concept

of Volksrevolution, which was seemingly right wing nationalist concept. (p. 20) Brown, unlike

others who studied the trail, does not only look at the fate of Scheringer. Brown explains that three

comrades taking three separate radical paths to achieve largely similar goals of national and social

revolution, indicates the flexibility of extremist political affiliation in Weimar Germany. (p. 40) It

is interesting that Brown draws similar conclusions to James Ward about the KPD echoing Nazi

propaganda despite using completely different case studies for evidence.5

Furthermore, Brown finds that by observing SA newspapers, that it was within the SA that the

leftist revolutionary charge of the Nazi party was stored. (p. 51) This introduces an important

discussion, that conceptions of a class based revolution existed within the radical right, meaning

that hatred for the Nazi Bonzen, from the SA, was inevitable. (p. 81) Brown indicates that it was

these leftist attitudes within the Nazi party that disintegrated the political spectrum. By comparing

the two sides of radical politics in Weimar Germany, Brown furthers the research of Frederik

Miller, who focused on the disintegration of the left wing without commenting on the effect this

had for the opposition.6 The results in Brown asserting a very different conclusion to that of Miller.

Brown proceeds to connect the Nazis performance of the left and Scheringers defection, to the

broader theme of authenticity. By claiming that there was no real ideological difference between

Nazi rebels and the Nazi party, Brown adroitly concludes that ideological ratio is what made

people choose sides. (p. 40) This is to say that Wendt did not embrace communism because it was

not authentic in its claims to be national whilst Scheringer did not believe in the authenticity of

NSDAPs claims to be social revolutionaries. (p. 72)

As for the KPD, Browns investigation into their capitulation to right wing ideologies raises a

variety of important points. (p. 21) Brown uses Franz Borkenau to support the claim that German

communists were no longer a part of a labour movement.7 The KPD, pressured by the appeal of

5
J.J Ward, Smash the Fascists German Communist efforts to counter the Nazis 1930-31, (Central
European History, 14.1, 1981), p.61
6
F.A. Miller, Left-Wing Splinter Parties in the Weimar Republic, (Vancouver, University of British
Columbia Press, 1974), p.132
7
F. Borkenau, World Communism: A history of the Communist International, (London, George Allen and
Unwin, 1938), p.377
Nazi nationalism to the working class, began to release a large volume of militarist, nationalist,

press such as Freiheitskampfer and Zersetzungsblatter to steal Nazi working class support and

attract the SA to communism. (p. 111) Using the example of the SAPD Brown shows the backlash

the KPD received for succumbing to right wing policy. Max Sydetwitz for example, stated that the

KPD were 100% less democratic than the SPD, who were themselves not democratic. (p. 88)

Browns investigation into splinter groups and reactionary press leads to the conclusion that the

KPDs repeated forays into the realm of right wing politics resulted in the fragmentation of the

left wing. (p. 94) The impact of the depth of Browns research is exemplified by the contrast

between his own conclusions and that of someone like Bernhard Fulda who conducts a broad

commentary on the intersection of press and politics.8

Brown is largely successful in arguing his case on the topic of Weimar radicalism. Brown satisfies

his endeavour to provide agency to the splinter groups left out of the works of contemporaries. For

example, Brown effectively uses these groups in his explanation of mutual militarism. Brown

provides a commentary of the military organisations that sprang out of World War One such as the

Stahlhelm founded in 1918 and the Jungdo founded in 1919. (p. 23) Using these, Brown explains

the growth of Soldierly Nationalism and military organisation in political parties in the 1920s.

Tactically drawing from Stanley Payne, Brown points out that militarism in politics was a product

not of fascism but rather Leninism. (p. 24) In doing so Brown successfully opens this analysis of

militarist sub-groups to the wider argument of cultural similarities in radical politics. This is

portrayed by the analysis of the KJVD, who according to Brown paralleled with right wing youth

groups in youth militarism and young manliness. (p. 29) Brown then involves these cultural

commonalities when explaining the transfer of multiple Freikorps, a known anti-communist, right

wing faction, to the KPD. (p. 98) This is one of many examples within Weimar Radicals that

exhibits Browns success in using splinter groups to support the overall claims of the book.

Furthermore, Brown is skilled in his use of the historiographical content covering Weimar

radicalism. Brown must be praised for the way he employs the arguments of other historians, to

introduce his themes and boast his own discourse. In other words, Brown successfully writes in a

way that both uses the works of contemporaries whilst also emphasising the superior, deeper

8
B. Fulda, Press and Politics in the Weimar Republic, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009), p.211
investigation in his own study. This is particularly obvious with his analysis of William Sewells

phrase semiotic community, which describes symbolism in Weimar politics.9 Brown states that

we can go further by thinking of political parties as cultural authorities, which elevates his own

argument to represent the improved discourse. (p. 8)

Yet, Weimar Radicals is certainly not without fault. The strict focus on performative affinities

often obscures the significant differences that existed between the two. Brown is guilty of rejecting

the conclusions of Eve Rosenhaft who writes on the four years of bloody conflict preceding 1933

and subsequent years in which the only interaction between the KPD and Nazis was sullen

resentment, and self-defence by the defeated KPD.10 By shunning this more prominent side of the

story Brown falsely paints the picture of a bridge between the right and left, which in reality was

built on shared assumptions, too weak to cause mass defections. This comes across further when

you recognise the continuous repetition in the book. Constantly linking back to the Ulm

Reichswehr Trail, Weimar Radicals unintentionally admits the rarity of these transfers between the

NSDAP and KPD. Another criticism regards consistency and the weakness of the overall

argument. Alex Burkhardt claims that Brown writes in overly long meandering sentences, because

from the first page to the last Brown is writing for an argument that lacks evidence, suggesting that

the book requires the reader to remind themselves of the central debate.11 Additionally, the books

empirical chapters fail to match the theoretical ideas. For example, a very interesting point about

beefsteaks in the period of Gleichschaltung is raised in the final chapter. (p. 139) This metaphor,

for describing communists playing the part of SA members, should be further explained since it

would evidence the attraction of the two poles. Yet there is a lack of detail, which, according to

Andrew Wirsching, is limited since beefsteaks were almost all purged in the 1934 Night of Long

Knives.12 However, even when there is empirical evidence used Brown often does not expand on

what the evidence means. This was particularly apparent with the use of the statistic that 30% of

SA and 20% of Hitler youth revolted with Stennes and Strasser to form the NKSD. (p. 62) The aim

9
W. Sewell, The Concepts of Culture(s), (Berkeley, California University Press, 1999), p.39
10
E. Rosenhaft, Beating the Fascists? (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983), p.215
11
A. Buckhardt, Review of Weimar Radicals: Nazis and Communists between Authenticity and Performance,
(Fife, St Andrews University Press), p.1
12
A. Wirchsing, Review of Weimar Radicals: Nazis and Communists between Authenticity and Performance,
p.531
of giving agency to splinter groups is side-lined with minimal discussion of their opposition to the

Nazi party. This again shows a lack of consistency by Brown, which hinders the overall success of

Weimar Radicals.

In conclusion, Timothy Browns Weimar Radicals is important in the fruitful historiography of

Weimar Germany. Brown presents a nuanced argument, avoiding the typical commentary on

violent exchange between the two poles of extremism. The primary aims of this book are to

provide agency to splinter groups in radical Weimar politics, to show the performative attractions

of both sides and overall assert that Communism and Nazism shared cultural ideals. Brown should

be given praise for largely fulfilling these ambitious aims in his monograph, convincingly arguing

for a discourse on the similarities of diametric opposites rather than the variances. This book

provides an important perspective on Weimar Radicalism for all looking to research and discuss the

topic.

Word count 1989

Bibliography

Borkenau Franz, World Communism: A history of the Communist International, (London, George Allen and
Unwin, 1938), pp. 377-385

Brown Timothy, Weimar Radicals: Nazis and Communists between Authenticity and Performance, (Oxford,
Berghahn Books, 2009), pp. 1-208

Buckhardt Alex, Review of Weimar Radicals: Nazis and Communists between Authenticity and Performance,
(Fife, St Andrews University Press), pp.1-4

Fischer Conan, The rise of National Socialism and the Working Class in Weimar Germany, (Oxford,
Berghahn Books, 1996), pp. 99-113
Fulda Bernhard, Press and Politics in the Weimar Republic, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009), pp.
211-218

Miller Frederik, Left-Wing Splinter Parties in the Weimar Republic, (Vancouver, University of British
Columbia Press, 1974), pp. 132-150

Rosenhaft Eve, Beating the Fascists? (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 208-215

Schumann Dirk, Political Violence in the Weimar Republic, 19181933: Fight for the Streets and Fear of
Civil War, (Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2009), p.6

Sewell William, The Concepts of Culture(s), (Berkeley, California University Press, 1999), pp. 35-61

Ward James, Smash the Fascists German Communist efforts to counter the Nazis 1930-31, (Central
European History, 14.1, 1981), pp. 30-62

Wirchsing Andrew, Review of Weimar Radicals: Nazis and Communists between Authenticity and
Performance, (The American Historical Review, 116.2, 2011), pp. 530-531