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Sergei Chakhotin against the Swastika: Mass Psychology and Scientific Organization in the Iron Front's Three Arrows Campaign

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 March 2024

Benjamin Diehl*
Affiliation:
City University of New York

Abstract

This article details the influence of Russian psychologist Sergei Chakhotin on the propaganda of the Iron Front, an antifascist organization that resisted the rise of the Nazis in the dying days of the Weimar Republic. Notably the creator of the Three Arrows symbol, Chakhotin espoused theories and methods that used Ivan Pavlov's notion of the conditioned reflex and Fredrick Taylor's theory of scientific management to transform socialist propaganda to better combat the rise of fascism. By scrutinizing Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) periodicals and Iron Front propaganda, I argue that Chakhotin's ideas played a crucial role in catalyzing changes in the form and content of street campaigning throughout 1932. Chakhotin provided a scientific lens through which his allies in the SPD could view and understand the mass appeal of the Nazis, as well as the necessary changes in party tactics that were required in the age of mass media, popular spectacle, and emotional struggle.

Type
Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Central European History Society of the American Historical Association

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References

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5 Due to the variety of national contexts in which Chakhotin's Russian name was transliterated, his surname appears in a number of variations. I will use the following spelling: Sergei Chakhotin. On the origins of the Three Arrows, see Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses.

6 The small existing literature on Chakhotin, specifically, includes Albrecht, Richard, “Sergej Tschachotin oder ‘Dreipfeil Gegen Hakenkreuz.’ Eine Biographisch-Historische Skizze,” in Exilforschung—Ein Internationales Jahrbuch Herausgegeben im Auftrag der Gesellschaft für Exilforschung, vol. 4 (Munich, 1986), 208–28Google Scholar; Averbeck-Lietz, Stephanie, “Die Polit-Kampagne ‘Drei Pfeile Gegen Hakenkreuz’ 1932 und Ihr Autor Serge Tchakhotine,” in Wer die Vergangenheit Kennt, Hat eine Zukunft. Festschrift für Jürgen Wilke, ed. Reinemann, Carsten and Stöber, Rudolf (Cologne: Herbert von Halem, 2010), 143–61Google Scholar; Vöhringer, Margarete, “A Concept in Application: How the Scientific Reflex Came to Be Employed against Nazi Propaganda,” Contributions to the History of Concepts 6, no. 2 (2011): 105–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Biggart, John, “Sergei Stepanovich Chakhotin: A Russian Taylorist in Berlin 1922–1926,” in Yearbook of the Alexander Solzhenitsyn Institute for the Study of Russian Culture Abroad, ed. Gritsenko, N. F. (Moscow: Alexander Solzhenitsyn House of Russia Abroad, 2012)Google Scholar.

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12 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses.

13 On the “neorevisionists” or “young militants” as a political group, see Dorothea Beck, “Theodor Haubach, Julius Leber, Carlo Mierendorff, Kurt Schumacher. Zum Selbsverständnis der ‘Militanten Sozialisten’ in der Weimarer Republik,” Archiv Für Sozialgeschichte 26 (1986): 87–133; Woodruff Smith, “The Mierendorff Group and the Modernization of German Social Democratic Politics,” Politics and Society 5, no. 1 (1975): 109–29.

14 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses, 273.

15 In addition to the works of Harsch and Vogt in German history, other major historical works that have placed Chakhotin in a marginal role include Peter Holquist, Making War, Forging Revolution: Russia's Continuum of Crisis, 1914–1921 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Julian Jackson, The Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy, 1934–1938 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

16 This is noted in Vöhringer, “A Concept in Application.”

17 On the political crises of late Weimar Germany, see Benjamin Carter Hett, The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2018).

18 Leading social democrats claimed to have been completely caught off guard by this. See Harsch, German Social Democracy, 80–84. Most politicians across the spectrum wrote the Nazis off as a fringe group: Larry Eugene Jones, Hitler versus Hindenburg: The 1932 Presidential Election and the End of the Weimar Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016): 53.

19 Julius Leber, “Todesursachen,” in Julius Leber. Schriften, Reden, und Briefen, ed. Dorothea Beck and Wilfried F. Schoeller (Munich, 1976).

20 For conflicts between the SPD and KPD throughout Weimar and especially in the later period, and the way this was affected by the Nazi breakthrough, see Sara Ann Sewell, “Antifascism in the Neighborhood: Daily Life, Political Culture, and Gender Politics in the German Communist Antifascist Movement, 1930–1933,” Fascism 9 (2020): 167–94; Marcel Bois, “‘March Separately, But Strike Together!’ The Communist Party's United-Front Policy in the Weimar Republic,” Historical Materialism 28, no. 3 (2020): 138–65; Joachim C. Häberlen, “Scope for Agency and Political Options: The German Working-Class Movement and the Rise of Nazism,” Politics, Religion & Ideology 14, no. 3 (2013): 377–94.

21 Harsch, German Social Democracy and the Rise of Nazism.

22 Carlo Mierendorff, “Gesicht und Charakter der Nationalsozialistischen Bewegung,” Die Gesellschaft 7, no. 6 (1930): 439–504.

23 Carlo Mierendorff, “Wahlreform oder Faschismus?,” Neue Blätter für den Sozialismus 1, no. 10 (1930): 410–12.

24 Detlev Peukert, The Weimar Republic: The Crisis of Classical Modernity, trans. Richard Deveson (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993).

25 Kathleen Canning, “The Politics of Symbols, Semantics, and Sentiments in the Weimar Republic,” Central European History 43, no. 4 (2010): 567–80.

26 Nadine Rossol, “Performing the Nation: Sports, Spectacles, and Aesthetics in Germany, 1926–1936,” Central European History 43, no. 4 (2010): 616–38; Manuela Achilles, “With a Passion for Reason: Celebrating the Constitution in Weimar Germany,” Central European History 43, no. 4 (2010): 666–89.

27 As appears in the epilogue to Benjamin's famous essay; see Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn, reprint (New York: Schocken Books, 1969 [1935]).

28 Corey Ross, Media and the Making of Modern Germany: Mass Communications, Society, and Politics from the Empire to the Third Reich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

29 Eley, “Nazism, Everydayness, and Spectacle: The Mass Form in Metropolitan Modernity.”

30 Ian Kershaw, “How Effective Was Nazi Propaganda?,” in Nazi Propaganda: The Power and the Limitations, ed. David Welch (London: Routledge, 1993), 180–225.

31 David Welch, “Manufacturing a Consensus: Nazi Propaganda and the Building of ‘National Community’ (Volksgemeinschaft),” Contemporary European History 2, no. 1 (March 1993): 1–15; Nicholas O'Shaughnessy, Selling Hitler: Propaganda & the Nazi Brand (London: Hurst & Company, 2016).

32 Carlo Mierendorff, “Die Lehren der Niederlage,” Neue Blätter für den Sozialismus 1, no. 11 (1930): 481–84. The damaging retreat of the SPD and other European socialist parties from the extra-parliamentary sphere in the 1920s and 1930s is also a theme in Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850–2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

33 Theo Haubach, “Die Militante Partei,” Neue Blätter für den Sozialismus 2, no. 5 (1931): 208–13.

34 Haubach, “Die Militante Partei.”

35 Mierendorff, “Wahlreform oder Faschismus?.”

36 Häberlen, “Scope for Agency and Political Options: The German Working-Class Movement and the Rise of Nazism.”

37 Yuriy Posudin, Sergei Chakhotin—His Contributions to Social Psychology and Biophysics, trans. Stanley J. Kays and Pierre Tchakhotine (Kiev: Artemedia Print, 2015).

38 Sergej Tschachotin, “Die Statocyste Der Heterepoden” (Heidelberg, University of Heidelberg, 1908); Vöhringer, “A Concept in Application.” On the his work under Pavlov, see Vöhringer.

39 In a documentary on Chakhotin, family members express their frustration over his inability to refrain from engaging with politics, a trait that often disrupted their lives. Boris Hars-Tschachotin, Sergej in der Urne (Filmkinotext, 2014).

40 Posudin, Sergei Chakhotin—His Contributions to Social Psychology and Biophysics.

41 Albrecht, “Sergej Tschachotin oder ‘Dreipfeil Gegen Hakenkreuz.’ Eine Biographisch-Historische Skizze.”

42 Holquist, Making War, Forging Revolution, 223–24.

43 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses. These details are observed in a chapter of the book that serves as a memoir for these years.

44 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses.

45 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses, 164–65.

46 A much larger argument on the role of political symbols in mass movements is made in George L. Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses: Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany from the Napoleonic Wars through the Third Reich (New York: Howard Fertig, 1975).

47 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses, 103.

48 Roger Smith, Inhibition: History and Meaning in the Sciences of Mind and Brain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992): 190–204.

49 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses, 5–6.

50 Averbeck-Lietz, “Die Polit-Kampagne ‘Drei Pfeile Gegen Hakenkreuz’ 1932 und Ihr Autor Serge Tchakhotine.”

51 The ease of reproduction in political symbols is an important aspect of Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

52 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses, 104.

53 As described in Albrecht, “Symbolkampf in Deutschland 1932.”

54 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses, 4. The process of applying this repetition is known as the subject's “apprenticeship.”

55 “Große Linkskundgebung in Bochum,” General-Anzeiger für Dortmund und das Gesamte Rheinisch-Westfälische Industriegebiet, February 13, 1932.

56 Sergej Tschachotin, “Aktivierung Der Arbeiterschaft,” Neue Blätter Für Den Sozialismus 3, no. 3 (1932): 149–51.

57 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses, 202.

58 Jones, Hitler versus Hindenburg.

59 Harsch, German Social Democracy and the Rise of Nazism, 180–82.

60 Carlo Mierendorff, “Die Volle Wahrheit,” Sozialistische Monatshefte 38, no. 5 (1932): 396–404.

61 Walter Glenlow, “Geist und Technik des Preussenwahlkampfes,” Neue Blätter für den Sozialismus 3, no. 5 (n.d.): 232–39.

62 Sergej Tschachotin, “Der Technik der Politischen Propaganda,” Sozialistische Monatshefte 38, no. 5 (1932): 425–31.

63 John Biggart has provided the most in-depth analysis of Chakhotin's relationship to Taylorism. See Biggart, “Sergei Stepanovich Chakhotin.”

64 See for example, the case of Fritz Giese in Andreas Killen, “Weimar Psychotechnics between Americanism and Fascism,” Osiris 22 (2007): 48–71.

65 Tschachotin, “Der Technik Der Politischen Propaganda,” 430.

66 As described in Chakhotin's Russian-language, full-length book on the principles and applications of Taylorist organization. Serge Chakhotin, Organisatsiya: Printsipy, Metody v Proizvodstve, Torgovle, Administratsii i Politike (Berlin: Opyt, 1923).

67 Chakhotin's reference to this field can only be understood as an outgrowth of his exposure to it during his work in 1920s Berlin. For the 1920s as the “era of psychotechnics,” see Anson Rabinbach, The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992): 278–80. For psychotechnics’ particular influence in Berlin, see Andreas Killen, Berlin Electropolis: Shock, Nerves, and German Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006): 194–204.

68 Sergej Tschachotin, “Die Positive Seite Unserer Niederlage,” Deutsche Republik 6, no. 35 (1932): 1093–97.

69 Tschachotin, “Die Positive Seite Unserer Niederlage.”

70 Tschachotin, “Die Positive Seite Unserer Niederlage.”

71 Beck, “Theodor Haubach, Julius Leber, Carlo Mierendorff, Kurt Schumacher. Zum Selbsverständnis der ‘Militanten Sozialisten’ in der Weimarer Republik,” 117.

72 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses, 206.

73 Sergej Tschachotin and Carlo Mierendorff, Grundlagen und Formen Politischer Propaganda (Magdeburg: Bundesvorstand des Reichsbanners Schwarz-Rot-Gold, 1932).

74 This notion of a public exhibition that aims for a sort of “totality” that would captivate all of the viewer's senses bares stark similarity to the various forms of spectacles discussed by Guy Debord. See Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, reprint (Brooklyn, NY: Zone Books, 1995 [1967]). In the German context, the phrase, and its focus on capturing all human drives in a single cohesive form, bears notable similarities to the holistic sciences and their application to social and political activities. See Anne Harrington, Reenchanted Science: Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), and Michael Hau, “Sports in the Human Economy: ‘Leibesübungen,’ Medicine, and Performance Enhancement during the Wemair Republic,” Central European History 41, no. 3 (September 2008): 381–412.

75 The biological science behind these instincts is emphasized and elaborated upon even further in the second, extended edition of The Rape of the Masses. See Serge Tchakhotine, Le Viol des Foules par la Propagande Politique: Nouvelle Edition (Paris: Gallimard, 1952).

76 In his assertion that psychology possessed nearly infinite real-world applications, Chakhotin reflects similar tendencies to psychologists from previous decades such as Gustav Le Bon and Hugo Münsterberg, both of whom he cites frequently. See Stefanos Geroulanos, “The Plastic Self and the Prescription of Psychology: Ethnopsychology, Crowd Psychology, and Psychotechnics, 1890–1920,” Republic of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts 3, no. 2 (2014).

77 Interestingly, these depictions of women within Chakhotin's propaganda rely on clearly feminine gender norms, making him no exception to the “eternally feminine” image of women in the propaganda of the era. See Julia Sneeringer, Winning Women's Votes: Propaganda and Politics in Weimar Germany (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003): 282. See also Sewell, “Antifascism in the Neighborhood.”

78 Sergej Tschachotin, “Das Hessische Experiment,” 6, no. 43 (1932): 1155–58.

79 Tschachotin, “Das Hessische Experiment.”

80 One of his preeminent reviewers, Jacques Ellul, felt this was too strong of an assumption. Jacques Ellul, “Tchakhotine (Serge)—Le Viol des Foules par la Propagande Politique: Nlle Édition Revue et Augmentée,” Revue Française de Science Politique 3, no. 2 (1953): 416–18.

81 In his major work, The Rape of the Masses (1939), Chakhotin used the Hessian elections as the case and point for how successful the application of his theories could be.

82 Mierendorff, Carlo, “Die Freiheitspfeile Siegen in Hessen,” Neue Blätter für den Sozialismus 3, no. 6 (1932): 386–89Google Scholar.

83 Tschachotin and Mierendorff, Grundlagen und Formen Politischer Propaganda.

84 Harsch, German Social Democracy and the Rise of Nazism, 186–90.

85 Tschachotin and Mierendorff, Grundlagen und Formen Politischer Propaganda, 4.

86 Tschachotin and Mierendorff, Grundlagen und Formen Politischer Propaganda.

87 This logic echoes the scholarly literature surrounding the concept of the vanguardism in totalitarian political movements. See most recently, Gray, Phillip W., Vanguardism: Ideology and Organization in Totalitarian Politics (New York: Routledge, 2020)Google Scholar.

88 Tschachotin and Mierendorff, Grundlagen und Formen Politischer Propaganda, 12–25.

89 Tschachotin and Mierendorff, Grundlagen und Formen Politischer Propaganda, 10.

90 Tschachotin and Mierendorff, Grundlagen und Formen Politischer Propaganda.

91 “Vorträge, Vereine und Versammlungen,” Vorwärts, July 17, 1932. The advertisement notes that several of these sessions had been held in weeks prior.

92 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses, 108.

93 Harsch, German Social Democracy and the Rise of Nazism, 193–200.

94 Harsch, German Social Democracy and the Rise of Nazism, 215–18.

95 Chakhotin, The Rape of the Masses, 225–29.

96 Goebbels, Joseph, Tagebücher 1924–1945, ed. Georg, Ralf Reuth, vol. 2, 5 vols. (Munich: Piper Verlag, 1999): 676Google Scholar.

97 For example, a large demonstration was held in Lübeck in the middle of February, led by Julius Leber, a close ally of Mierendorff. See Lübecker Volksbote, February 17, 1932.

98 Tschachotin, Sergei, Dreipfeil Gegen Hakenkreuz (Copenhagen: Verlag Aktiver Sozialismus, 1933)Google Scholar.

99 First as a propaganda adviser to the French Popular Front and then as an international peace activist after World War II. See Guérin, Daniel, Front Populaire: révolution manquée (Paris: René Julliard, 1963): 107Google Scholar, and Tchakhotine, Le Viol des Foules par la Propagande Politique.