Book Review: The Russian Roots of Nazism. White Émigrés and the making of National Socialism 1917-1945.


By Michael Kellogg

As someone who can't get enough of the history of the White movement in Russian history at the moment, I bought this book to read as a sort of closure on my dissertation research later in the year, but have mysteriously ended up reading it now -probably as a form of procrastination to avoid reading the books that I 'should' be reading right now -ever the deviant.

RRP: £25:00
Publication Date: 2005
ISBN: 978-0521070058
Classification: Noodle Scratcher
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The role played after 1917 by White émigrés from Russia in the embryonic stage of  National Socialist movement has already been the focus of diverse studies (I found out to my disappointment when I considered a project on it some time ago) such as Robert Williams’ excellent analysis of Russian émigrés in Germany, which showed the collaboration between Russian and German right-wing terrorists in the attacks on Miliukov and Rathenau. Moreover, in the so-called Historikerstreit in Germany, the question as to whether there was a ‘causal nexus’ (Ernst Nolte) between Bolshevism and National Socialism was intimately linked to the role played in the development of National Socialism by the image spread by Russian émigrés of Russian revolution and civil war. Michael Kellogg’s book re-examines this in critical fashion, as he concludes:

Historians have generally overlooked the fundamental political, financial, military, and ideological contributions that White émigrés made to National Socialism. This book has partially redressed this historiographical weakness, but scholars should conduct much more research on National Socialist–White émigré collaboration, especially in newly accessible Eastern European archives. When we examine the roots of National Socialism, we find alienated völkisch Germans collaborating with vengeful White émigrés. . . . War and revolution . . . created large numbers of rancorous White émigrés, several of whom played crucial roles in the making of National Socialism with its virulent anti-Bolshevik and anti- Semitic ideology. Hitler’s National Socialists in turn committed grave crimes in the name of combating ‘Jewish Bolshevism’, and these National Socialist atrocities undermined Western ideals of historical progress.

For Kellogg, late Wilhelmine Germany and the Romanov Empire were already experiencing an almost simultaneous extreme-right, anti-modern, anti-liberal and anti-Semitic movement, which did not, however, manage to become a mass movement. During the German Reich’s occupation during the First World War of wide tracts of the Russian Empire, in particular Ukraine and the Baltic area, direct contacts were made which were crucial for the intense cooperation later. Kellogg shows this in two chapters on the intervention in Lithuania and the role of Ukraine in the transfer of ideas (especially the ‘Protocols’) and people from the Russian Empire to Germany. Three central chapters deal with the intellectual, financial, and organizational heart of this alliance: Munich and the Aufbau journal, centred around the figure of Max von Scheubner-Richter. The same names turn up again and again: Biskupskii, Bermondt-Avalov, Poltavets-Ostranitsa, Kursell, Rosenberg, Schickedanz. A final chapter describes how, despite decreasing cooperation following the failed Hitler-Ludendorff Putsch in 1923, contact was maintained and was to take on unforeseen dimensions after 1933 and 1941 -a chilling preview of things to come for those of you who will end up reading this book. The innovative angle taken in Kellogg’s work is clear; he suggests deriving the origins of National Socialism not only from ‘German relations’, but to integrate them into the crisis in European civilization following the First World War and the revolutionary trauma, for anti-modernism, anti-liberalism, anti-Bolshevism, and anti-Semitism were present in almost all of central Europe. For the development of one particular concept in the Nazi movement, ‘Jewish Bolshevism’, Kellogg has an overwhelming amount of precise archival evidence on the role of figures such as Ludwig Müller von Hausen; the collaboration between the violent, terrorist wings of the German and Russian right-wing; the procurement of financial support for Aufbau and other ventures; and the decisive role of Scheubner-Richter in the emigration coalition movement at the Bad Reichenhall conference in 1921. Kellogg has accessed and made fruitful analytical use of the ‘looted files’, i.e. the reserves in the Centre for the Preservation of Historical-Documentary Collections now part of the Russian State Military Archives. There can no longer be any doubt about the continuous collaboration between German and Russian right-wing militants. Nevertheless, it is still questionable whether this invalidates the assessment Walter Laqueur made in his research 40 years ago. Hitler never attempted to hide his contempt for the ‘failed existences in the emigration’ and always ridiculed Rosenberg and his fellow émigrés, who were only puppets in the hands of the Nazi movement. However, one important aspect is missing from the historical contextualization, namely the Russophile – in fact, Sovietophile – attitudes present in the post-1918 period. After all, contacts were also made in the Weimar Republic between German rightists and Bolshevik representatives in the ‘struggle against Versailles’ and ‘against the West’. There were also elements of Hitler’s image of Russia which are incompatible with even the most reactionary views of the Russian right: Hitler’s view of Russian territory as ‘Lebensraum’ and of the Russians, and more generally the Slavs, as ‘subhuman’. In short, the National Socialist programme of colonization and annihilation placed definite limits on collaboration with the Russian right and adherents of the ‘united and indivisible Russia’. While the research for this book is outstanding, the weaknesses in contextualization mean that, overall, the importance of the White Russian émigrés is slightly overestimated at which I was particularly disappointed (for instance, when Kellogg states that Hitler’s ultimately fatal change of direction after the assault in Ukraine in 1941 was influenced by his collaboration with the Whites) but this does not weaken the quality of this valuable and important work (paperback cover is quite nice too).