Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Is Strelkov the Ernst Rohm of Putin’s Russia?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 10 – Igor Strelkov, the former defense minister of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk Peoples Republic” and the ideological hero of many Russian nationalists, has called for the formation of an alliance between the left and the right to oppose a Maidan-style revolution to overthrow Vladimir Putin and promote democracy in the Russian Federation.


            His appeal puts him in a position which recalls that of Ernst Rohm, the pro-socialist part of Hitler’s National Socialism, who won enormous support for the Nazis as the SA street fighter but whose anti-capitalist attitudes posed a threat to Hitler’s base that he had to be killed along with his supporters in what became known as the “Night of the Long Knives” in 1934.


            But more immediately, Strelkov’s words ( call attention to something many in Russia and the West prefer to downplay or even forget: the Nazis were National Socialists, a term Moscow propagandists never use lest they call attention to the leftist as well as rightist dimensions of Hitler’s movement.


            One of the earliest members of the National Socialist German Workers Party, to give Hitler’s organization its full name, Rohm organized the SA in the 1920s, a group of street fighters who often intervened in support of workers who had gone on strike even as it attacked communists and Jews.


            Hitler and other Nazis welcomed the support that Rohm’s SA brought them, but the fuhrer and others were uncomfortable not only with the homosexuality of Rohm and his top associates but also with the indiscipline of the SA and its stress on the socialist part of the Nazi agenda.


            By 1930, when the SA had grown to more than a million members, Hitler took direct command of that organization in order to control the organization’s activities, but Rohm remained his chief of staff and continued to push for ideas that Hitler found increasingly problematic.


            Rohm and his followers rejected capitalism and called for nationalization of the largest corporations, workers’ control of enterprises, and the dividing up of land held by the old German nobility.  They talked about “a second revolution” against the conservatives, second because it was to follow Hitler’s “first revolution” against the communists.


            Hitler’s supporters in the business community were horrified by Rohm’s views, and Hitler moved to reassure them that his revolution would not grow into a second Rohm-style one.  But his doing so further antagonized many in the SA and led to their radicalization. Given the SA’s size by 1934 – three million men – this radicalization constituted a danger to Hitler.


            The German leader moved to rein in the SA but at least at first in a relatively cautious way given that Rohm and his ideas had a great deal of support among rank-and-file Nazis.  In response, Rohm armed an increasing number of his units, something that his enemies within the Nazi party presented to Hitler as evidence of Rohm’s plan for a coup.


            Then on June 30, 1934, Hitler launched the “Night of the Long Knives.” He had Rohm and the entire leadership of the SA arrested and purged. Many were killed, and Rohm himself, after being offered the chance to commit suicide, was murdered in his prison cell.


            Strelkov’s past statements and actions in the Donbass suggest that he places at least as much stress on socialist themes as on nationalist ones, something many commentators have pointed out. (For only the most recent, see Viktor Yadukha’s “Will there be socialism in ‘Novorossiya?’” this week at


            Like Rohm, Strelkov brings Putin support from part of the population that might otherwise be alienated from the Kremlin leader’s crony capitalism. But also like Rohm, Strelkov and those he may be able to count on represent a real threat to Putin and Putinism and thus may have to be disposed of one way or another.

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