The Rise and Fall of the Sturmabteilung

Editor’s note: There is a faction of the contemporary left which denounces anyone who disagrees with them as fascists, Nazis, or “literally Hitler”. I figure that if we will be called such names anyway, then we have nothing to lose by studying real Nazis to see what lessons can be learned from their example.

One of the problems that has long deviled the Western Right is that of creating alternatives to the Leviathan state. For the Left, there is no such problem. West German communist Rudi Dutschke told his followers that, in order to win, the Left must take over the institutions of power. The Dutschke model has succeeded in the United States. To see how the Left has overrun American human resources and marketing departments, one need only consider the existence of “woke” corporate capital or the recent banning of Alex Jones for ill-defined “hate speech”. In Europe, the situation is even more dire thanks to the legal reality of “hate speech” laws and the existence of left-wing bureaucracies that think it is a good idea to provide former jihadists with housing and jobs. A mostly disarmed European populace also makes resistance all but impossible, thus giving the Left in Europe safety to pursue their desired population engineering.

The Right, on the other hand, always finds itself on the blunt end of the stick when it tries to organize because the Cathedral always views right-wing activism as much more serious threat to its power. This is arguably the most terrible legacy of the 1930s, when mass movements in Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, and Poland seized power and established right-wing dictatorships. For opponents of the Western Right, any mobilization of supporters is seen as one step away from extermination campaigns.

Taken together, they belie the inherent weakness within democracy. As Hoppe writes,

“As soon as mature members of society habitually express acceptance or even advocate egalitarian sentiments, whether in the form of democracy (majority rule) or of communism, it becomes essential that other members, and in particular the natural social elites, be prepared to act decisively and, in the case of continued nonconformity, exclude and ultimately expel these members from society.”[1]

Unless egalitarianism is stamped out, countries will inevitably decline into avarice, sloth, and patterns of elite-backed racial guilt-mongering. Western countries that accept egalitarianism will come to resemble modern France, where government debt to GDP and government spending to GDP are both well over 50 percent. Philosopher Guillaume Faye recently made the point to interviewer Gregoire Canlorbe that “[France] is today more communist than the Soviet Union ever was.” In a country that represents less than one percent of the world’s population, Faye notes that “France represents 15 percent of the world’s welfare state redistribution.” The reason why France’s natural elites (the descendants of those not guillotined in the Revolution) do not rebel is because the French state provides then with the “good life”—wine, cheese, world-class food, and plenty of Internet pornography. In his book The Returned, French journalist David Thomson says that besides its nightmarish immigration policies, France’s problem with Islamic terrorism stems from the fact that the Fifth Republic is the archetype of the decadent and amoral Western “pleasure dome”.

The fact that democracies inherently accept egalitarianism, especially mass democracies like the ones currently ruling the United States and Europe, renders them pathologically incapable of expunging communism, whether overt or covert, from their bodies politic. After all, both communism and liberal democracy are predicated on the idea that all men are equal, should be afforded the same rights, and should never be under the thrall of a natural elite. As such, both are revolts against nature. As Murray Rothbard noted in his essay “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature”, the reason why the Left enjoys such power is because they have been conceded “to have morality, justice, and ‘idealism’” on their side.[2] The Right, because it opposes the Left, is therefore rendered morally repugnant and the enemy of an ill-defined “progress”. The Left gets away with such easy moralizing because they rule over an unnatural state and have convinced the masses that what is unnatural is natural.

What is to be done? For both Hoppe and neoreactionaries, the answer lies in creating or restoring a new elite. This makes sense initially, but how can one find such an elite in a society so thoroughly imbued with an egalitarian, democratic ethos? One answer may lie in the history of Germany between the World Wars. During this age of great instability, several right-wing movements came to the forefront via violence, demonstrations, and ingenious political intrigue. Eventually one group, the National Socialist German Workers Party, seized power in 1933 and ultimately drove their nation and many others into the worst war in human history.

Despite this horrific end, and despite the hue and cry of the left-wing intelligentsia, the story of these Weimar-era groups in general and the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) in particular can teach the Western Right quite a bit about organizing for victory. It is necessary to learn from what they did right. Even more importantly, we need to study what went so terribly wrong.

The New Man

World War I forever changed the world for the worse. As Hoppe outlines, World War I deserves to be cursed simply because of what it did to Austria-Hungary—the last true Christian and free monarchy in European history:

“If the United States had followed a strict non-interventionist foreign policy, it is likely that the intra-European conflict would have ended in late 1916 or early 1917 as a result of several peace initiatives, most notably by the Austrian Emperor Charles I. Moreover, the war would have been concluded with a mutually acceptable and face-saving compromise peace than the actual dictate. Consequently, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia would have remained traditional monarchies instead of being turned into short-lived democratic republics.”[3]

The fall of these nations set in motion the Soviet gulags, the Ukrainian famine, the Second World War, and the Holocaust. As for Austria-Hungary, it, the direct descendant of the medieval world and the Holy Roman Empire, was lost forever under a flood of war, nationalism, and Bolshevism.

However, World War I, with its machine guns, tanks, and gore-filled trenches, gave the world a new type of man. German writer Ernst Jünger, a veteran of all four years of the trenches, was the first to give voice and shape to this new man of the trenches. Jünger saw the new man as prefigured by the storm-troopers of the Imperial German Army:

“Like the Italian arditi whom they resembled, the storm-troopers were the prototypical Fascist ‘new man’, with straight jaw and empty killers’ eyes staring beneath the shadow of the steel helmet. The Nazis would regard them as their immediate precursors.”[4]

The storm-troopers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, along with the arditi of the Royal Italian Army, were considered the best of the best. These men were drawn from the battle-tested infantry divisions, sent to the rear for specialized training, then deployed during massed offensives as battering rams designed to poke holes in enemy lines. They often went into battle with sub-machine guns, grenades, and knives. These specialized troops received better food and housing than their mates in the trenches, and, like officers, they were given the luxury of wearing sidearms.

More importantly, according to Jünger, the storm-troopers embraced death and cultivated a mixture of aristocracy and democracy. The storm-troopers were “aristocrats of the soul” who came from the democratic masses. In the storm-trooper units, the stultifying stiffness of Prussian class distinctions were discarded, and the enlisted men called their junior officers by their first names. This tradition would come to full fruition during the interwar period, when right-wing movements in Europe tried to sway workingmen away from internationalist Marxism by destroying old class distinctions in favor of nationalism, national socialism, and promises of direct action in the form of street fights. Unemployed former soldiers joined these right-wing groups in droves, thus forming the backbone of the “New Man” class.

From Freikorps to Sturmabteilung

It is not surprising that the Nazis decided to call their armed street soldiers “storm-troopers”. Many SA men had been storm-troopers, and on the streets of Weimar Germany, they often proved their mettle by besting bigger militias like the Red Front of the German Communist Party (KPD) or the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold of the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

The SA was born out of the ashes of the Freikorps (Free Corps). Historians like Nigel Jones and Robert G. L. Waite have long maintained that the Freikorps soldiers gathered by SPD politicians Friedrich Ebert and Gustav Noske provided the germ that became National Socialism. Following the declaration of the German Republic on November 9, 1918 (a declaration made by the SPD in order to offset a potential Communist takeover), Germany erupted in several massive strikes and far-left mobilization campaigns. The first Communist uprising, orchestrated by the Spartacists, briefly took Berlin in January 1919 and forced the SPD-led government to flee to the central German city of Weimar.

Despite their socialist credentials, the major figures of the SPD in January 1919 were mostly German patriots who, like President Ebert, “hated the mob, and hated the revolution”.[5] Noske, the Minister of Defense, was not averse to using violence to put down the worker and soldier soviets that sprung up all throughout Germany following November 9. The problem was that the government could not rely on its own soldiers. When soldiers returning from the Western Front were tapped in order to put down the remnants of the Kiel Mutiny, they were embarrassed and many soldiers defected to the other side. A majority of German troops just wanted to go home, and indeed most did.

Desperate to stamp out the raging fires of Bolshevism in Germany, Noske called upon patriotic German generals to form volunteer battalions of veterans, recently demobilized troops, and right-wing university students. These Freikorps soldiers put down the Sparticist rebellion with armored cars, rifles, and machine guns. They would do the same in Munich, central Germany, and in the Ruhr. Historian Nigel Jones quotes one Freikorps volunteer writing home to his parents in the spring of 1920: “We even shot some Red Cross nurses. How those little ladies begged and pleaded! Nothing doing!”[6] Such was the blood-lust born out both the “betrayal” of the German Army in November 1918 and the experience of totalitarian Red republics in Germany.

Not less than a year after their birth, the SPD government realized that it had created a monster. Freikorps soldiers were always up for a fight and did not want to listen to the central government that they considered illegitimate. Freikorps troops fought private wars in Silesia and the Baltic in 1919 and 1920. When the central government officially disbanded them, they created underground cells like the Organisation Consul which carried out hundreds of political assassinations and murders. In March 1920, the Freikorps-backed Kapp Putsch almost destroyed the Weimar government.

By 1923, the visible Freikorps were no more. They had been replaced by hunting and shooting clubs that were actually underground paramilitary organizations and political militias like the Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten and the Sturmabteilung. Another was the so-called “Black Reichswehr,” a secretive, alternative army that was made up of the officially dead Freikorps divisions and was far away from the prying eyes of the League of Nations.

At this point, for today’s American readers, an important fact bears mentioning: large segments of the German judiciary, police, and military openly supported groups like the SA and the Stahlhelm. German judges, especially in Bavaria, often handed down lenient sentences to right-wing activists, even those who carried out murders. Similarly, men like future SA leader Ernst Röhm used their positions within the regular German Army to supply their paramilitary friends with light and heavy weapons. Hardly any right-wing groups in America can say that they enjoy these perks.

It should also be noted for fans of the Third Reich that the Freikorps included hundreds of patriotic Jews. Historian Thomas Weber notes that “158 Jews served in Bavarian Freikorps after the First World War.” Weber also adds that “Jews continued to join the Freikorps in the days and weeks after the end of the Munich Soviet Republic.”[7] For every anarchic and anti-Semitic “Freebooter,” the Freikorps included more men of all backgrounds inspired by a love of the Fatherland and a hatred for Bolshevism.

Rise and Fall of the SA

The SA began when Adolf Hitler, a virtually unknown Austrian corporal who had served in the Bavarian Army, attended a meeting of the small German Workers’ Party (DAP) in 1919. The DAP had been formed by the secretive Munich-based occult order, the Thule Society. The aristocratic members of Thule wanted the DAP and its leader Anton Drexler, a railway worker and ardent nationalist, to be the public face of their movement. The DAP was supposed to win over Bavaria’s working class, but by 1919 the DAP was a small cabal of intellectuals with no support.

Hitler changed all of that. Weber shows that the future leader of the Nazi Party was a self-declared social democrat[8] who was a part of minor bureaucracy in the Bolshevik-backed Munich Soviet.[9] By the time that Hitler first found the DAP, he was an intelligence operative under the command of German Army officer Karl Mayr.[10] Mayr wanted Hitler to infiltrate the DAP and turn it into a partner for the more conservative and monarchist German National People’s Party (DNVP). This plan backfired, as Hitler quickly became the leader and renamed the group the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. In order to protect his speeches from Communist and SPD thugs, Hitler formed a bodyguard of political soldiers known as the SA. These men, who would later adopt the brownshirt, were often former soldiers with easy access to firearms. Many also embraced the nihilistic ethos of the Freikorps, with a love for violence for its own sake.

Early on, the SA was also filled with political soldiers more interested in the socialist aspect of National Socialism. Because the SA drew recruits from the working class and the criminal underclass, many of the brownshirts had a strong thirst for class warfare and hooliganism. Indeed, while Hitler controlled the SA for a time in Bavaria, his followers in Berlin expanded the Nazi brand in the Protestant north and center by embracing far-left politics. Röhm, Joseph Goebbels, the Strasser brothers, and Walther Stennes all characterized the more left-wing SA of the pre-1933 era. In March 1931, Stennes and his SA followers, which included many former Communists, revolted against Hitler’s autocratic rule and occupied the party’s Berlin headquarters because they were fed up with Hitler’s slow approach and wanted their promised revolution.[11] They would not get it, and most of the SA hierarchy from this time was murdered during the Night of the Long Knives.

The problem with the SA was always its thuggish lack of discipline. For Hitler, who wanted to achieve power by using the means of democracy against itself, the SA increasingly became a liability. In 1933, major German industrialists and members of the army decided to put Hitler in power as the Chancellor of the Reich, and they demanded that he rein in the SA. The industrialists were afraid of the political radicalism of the SA, while the army was afraid of Röhm’s idea of using the SA as a “people’s army” that would be fused with the regular army. The officer corps wanted none of this, so Hitler used the SS, his more loyal bodyguards, to thoroughly weaken the SA.

The last great hurrah of the SA came immediately after Hitler’s bargained victory in 1933. SA units throughout Germany created wildcat concentration camps that housed their KPD and SPD enemies. These early concentration camps numbered as many as 240 by 1934, and Berlin alone had three such camps that were controlled by autonomous SA units. Historian Daniel Siemens writes,

“In the first weeks of the Nazi takeover of power, most of the captives were brought to the illegal SA prisons that mushroomed in the larger German cities. Cellars of SA taverns, sports facilities, youth hostels, barracks, and deserted factory buildings were all used as provisional prisons. These locations often existed for days or weeks before they were replaced by a string of larger concentration camps that were run either by the German states or by the SS and the SA.”[12]

The brutality and illegality of these SA camps, many of which were located in the middle of Berlin neighborhoods and therefore highly visible, drew the ire of Hitler’s conservative partners. The SA, they said, either had to be gutted or destroyed.

From 1934 until 1945, the SA took a distinct backseat to the SS, Gestapo, and Wehrmacht. A huge chunk of SA were drafted into the army, and only rarely did entire SA units form the nucleus of new German military divisions. As Siemens notes, the SA, which was originally created as the revolutionary volk community of future “Aryan” colonists, ended its days as both a bureaucracy—a public relations arm of the Nazis that was mostly kept away from the front linesand a low-level street militia. Siemens notes that during the war, “SA diplomats were not the driving forces behind this [Holocaust] policy, but they often acted confidently and independently to carry it out.”[13] The SA, as the most radicalized arm of the Nazi machine, never achieved its original aim of creating a new army, but many of its members did jump at the chance to beat, harass, and murder unarmed civilians.

Learning From the Nazis

The successes and failures of the SA as an organization contain valuable lessons for any rightist anti-establishment movement. The foremost lesson of the SA and the National Socialists is to always refuse totalitarianism. Authoritarianism is the goal—indeed, highly local authoritarianism is desirable in the form of the anarcho-monarch. Totalitarianism, whether fascist or liberal, is a stultifying force that leaves no room for “aristocrats of the soul.” Totalitarianism inherently means a massive bureaucracy; authoritarianism runs best when its power is decentralized.

Second, the story of the SA is the story of the futility of the Führerprinzip. Hitler was a megalomaniacal leader who gutted the SA—the very organization that brought him to political prominence—because it was expedient for his personal authority. If a leader lacks loyalty to his subordinates, as Hitler clearly did, then they will never be seen as anything other than expendable. Thus, organizations much choose their hierarchies wisely.

Third, right-wing movements need to know when to act openly and when to practice subterfuge. The failed Beer Hall Putsch made an enemy out of Gustav von Kahr, the arch-conservative Bavarian minister who had previously acted as a protector of right-wing militants in the large and Catholic German state. The failed putsch also split the Nazis, with Hitler and his followers in Bavaria and the more left-wing Strasser brothers active in Berlin and the Protestant states of northern Germany. This internal split would not be addressed until the Night of the Long Knives. Finally, the failed putsch also turned Erich Ludendorff, the former military dictator of Germany between 1916 and 1918, against the movement, thus severing the possibility of a more monarchist and national conservative element within the Nazi victory of 1933.

Fourth, it can be argued that the Nazis seized power in Germany too soon, thus forcing the Allies to gravitate towards the Soviet Union as a more attractive option. Similarly, Hitler’s willingness to sacrifice the SA to appease his more conservative backers shows the danger in cooperating too closely with groups seeking to harness revolutionary enthusiasms for their own gain. Cooperation between right-wing groups is good, but each group should be allowed to remain somewhat independent. Also, amalgamation should be avoided. One could theorize that had the DNVP and Stahlhelm stayed around after 1933, the excesses of the Nazis, especially Hitler’s suicidal war, could have been curtailed by more cautious conservatives.

Fifth, the SA’s story shows the necessity of having standards of inclusion. The SA was such a threat to the German order because so many of its men were criminal-minded and only cared about the chance to crack some skulls. Nihilism, which was such a large part of the Freikorps and the SA, has no place in a serious movement. The SA’s rotten core became all too apparent in the concentration camps of 1933 and 1934, thus dooming the organization within its own political movement. Any right-wing movement today must be highly selective in choosing its men. However, the men of a rightist movement need to be willing to use defensive violence. Also, the forced removal of egalitarians should also be encouraged in the public-facing organization, but carried out by secret arms of that same organization. The SA made a mistake in having both a public-facing bureaucracy and a public-facing army of street thugs. A smart movement would separate the two, thus allowing the public-facing and “respectable” part of the movement the ability to disavow the actions of the other.

Sixth, there is a warning about entryism. Owing to the name “National Socialism” and the thirst for revolution that characterized so many SA men, the group saw an influx of former Communist street fighters in the early 1930s. These “beefsteaks” undoubtedly played a role in the Stennes revolt of 1934, and many probably had a hand in the wildcat concentration camps of 1933–4. As Sergei Bulgakov observed, “Socialism is the apocalypse of the naturalistic religion of man.” Socialism in any form is antithetical to Christendom, and should therefore play no part in the Restoration. Even nationalists (nationalism itself being a kind of socialism) should not be included if they have pink or outright Red attachments.

The brutality of the SA following Hitler’s victory in 1933 should also serve to remind us that right-wing organizations will always come under more scrutiny than their left-wing counterparts. Again, the Left gets a pass because its motives are supposedly grounded in a higher morality. Therefore, right-wing movements must be careful not to engage in overly savage violence. Similarly, right-wing movements should always be wary of Hitlerian figures—men who preach violence while being themselves adverse to doing it. The other warning from Hitler is this: according to Weber, Hitler saw himself as a “genius” and therefore never questioned his own decisions.[14] Hitler’s self-aggrandizement often meant that his decisions went unquestioned by his underlings because of his central position as leader. Right-wing movements must avoid leaders who believe in their own infallibility.

What the SA got right included their eventual termination of the KPD. Whether it was a false flag operation or a legitimate act of left-wing terrorism (most historians now say the latter), the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933 gave Hitler and the Nazis all the ammunition that they needed to enact emergency decrees listed in the Weimar Constitution. The SA seized on these decrees in order to destroy the KPD—a move that gutted the power of German communism until Soviet arms reintroduced it in 1945 and pampered West German students stormed classrooms in the 1960s. In America, right-wing movements should study how the attacks on September 11, 2001 gave Washington, D.C. a reason to openly expand the reach of the security state with a popular mandate.

The SA established an esprit de corps that sought to change the world. It just so happened that their vision of the world was anti-Christian and went against the best traditions of the West. The SA was also incapable of cooperating with other paramilitary groups, even the Stahlhelm (which the SA briefly joined with before completely engulfing). Because the Stahlhelm represented the ethos of the old Wilhelmine period (the Kaiser, the Prussian junker class, and militarism), the more revolutionary SA saw fit to confiscate their weapons and force Stahlhelm members to join their organization. Also, by this point, the SA included some “beefsteaks” (former members of the KPD) who gleefully brutalized their former political opponents in the Stahlhelm.[15]

Applying the Lessons

In order to restore the West, the Right must form organizations for young men. These organizations should specifically recruit active and former military members, patriotic students, and workers of all stripes. They should be willing to cooperate with other like-minded organizations, as political purity dooms any movement. This hypothetical movement should only use violence defensively, but must be prepared to do so. Giving into the offensive violence of the SA would see the movement quickly suppressed by the Cathedral, as happened to the alt-right after Charlottesville. Most importantly, any right-wing movement in our world should be explicitly pro-Western and dedicated not to pursuing totalitarian and impossible visions of racial purity, but achieving an ordered and authoritative liberty deeply embedded in the traditions of Christendom. As previously noted by this author, any new right-wing organization should focus on trying today’s youth to be competent in the wild, self-reliant, and independent. This explicitly right-wing organization should not have any truck with communist thinking, and should cultivate men of both action and education.

A good place to start would be to form armed groups contracted by private citizens to guard private property along America’s southern border and in various places in southern Europe. Border protection is popular with American voters. In Europe, some independent border patrols have already been established in Bulgaria and Macedonia in order to curtail illegal migration. In protecting American and European property, these armed groups would earn the goodwill of citizens who live close to the unstable borders and show the moribund nature of the professional border enforcement agencies of current governments.

Other options include reintroducing outlawry and letters of marque. In towns and counties near porous borders, local officials could contract independent militias to either deport or apprehend illegal immigrants guilty of certain crimes. If these militias prove more swift and efficient than the Cathedral’s police forces, then many citizens will begin to look to the militias for justice. This would be a step in the right direction towards more decentralized power. A vanguard of right-wing individuals should be at the forefront of this decentralization platform.

Conclusion

The Right in the West must finally get serious about organization. The Left is far better organized, even despite their clear internal divisions between the far, Marxist left and the moderate, liberal left. Only the common sense of populist voters in rural and middle class Europe and America has kept the Left from completely dominating every aspect of power and culture.

In reviewing the history of the SA, today’s Right must recognize that this was the force that bested the Left on the streets and in politics, but ultimately made subsequent right-wing mass movements all but impossible. The SA are still a bogeyman haunting the minds of our current elite. We need to understand what they did right and what they did wrong in order to better our chances of victory in the present and the future. A new right-wing movement must adhere to the steadfast principles of Christ, ordered liberty, property, hierarchy, and authority. There should be no talk of socialism or messianic leadership. The Right should also learn the importance of keeping the street toughs and the intellectuals separate while instilling in both a core set of values about self-defense and enmity toward communism. Unlike the SA, the next great right-wing movement must not frighten the burghers into submission, but convince them that the values of the ancient West are superior to the unnatural delights of mass democracy.

References:

  1. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy–The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order. New Brunswick: Routledge. p. 218.
  2. Rothbard, Murray (2000). Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature And Other Essays, 2nd ed. Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute. p. 1.
  3. Hoppe, p. xiii
  4. Jones, Nigel (2012). A Brief History of the Birth of the Nazis. London: Hachette Book Group. p. xii.
  5. Ibid., p. xiii
  6. Ibid., p. 192
  7. Weber, Thomas (2017). Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 61.
  8. Ibid., p. 66.
  9. Ibid., p. 102.
  10. Ibid., p. 101.
  11. Siemens, Daniel (2017). Stormtroopers: A New History of Hitler’s Brownshirts. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 59.
  12. Ibid., p. 125.
  13. Weber, p. 190.
  14. Ibid., p. 300.
  15. Ibid., p. 158.
Support The Zeroth Position on Patreon!