Born in Trebnitz (Silesia), and brought up in Nördlingen, he became a school teacher by profession. He joined the SPD in 1917 and was instrumental in the setting up of a short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919. Indeed, for a time at the start of the year, following the resignation of Kurt Eisner and immediately before the establishment of the Soviet Republic Niekisch wielded effective power as chairman of the central executive of Bavarian councils, an interim governing body. He left the SPD soon after and joined the USPD for a time, before returning.
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During the 1920s he stressed the importance of nationalism and attempted to turn the SPD in that direction. He was vehemently opposed to the Dawes Plan, the Locarno Treaties and the general pacifism of the SPD, so much so that he was expelled from the party in 1926.
Upon his expulsion Niekisch joined and took control of the Old Socialist Party of Saxony which he converted to his own nationalist form of socialism, launching his own journal Widerstand (Resistance). Niekisch and his followers adopted the name of "National Bolsheviks" and looked to the Soviet Union as a continuation of both Russian nationalism and the old state of Prussia. The movement took the slogan of "Sparta-Potsdam-Moscow". He was a member of ARPLAN - the Association for the Study of Russian Planned Economy - along with Ernst Jünger, Georg Lukács, Karl Wittfogel and Friedrich Hielscher, under whose auspices he visited the Soviet Union in 1932. He reacted favourably to Jünger's publication Der Arbeiter which he saw as a blueprint for a National Bolshevik Germany. He also believed in the necessity of a German-Soviet alliance against the "decadent West" and the Treaty of Versailles. The attempt to combine ultra-nationalism and communism, two extreme ends of the political spectrum, made Niekisch's National Bolsheviks a force with little support.
Under the Nazis
Although anti-Semitic and in favour of a totalitarian state, Niekisch rejected Adolf Hitler as he felt he lacked any real socialism, and instead looked to Joseph Stalin and the industrial development of the Soviet Union as his model for the Führer Principle. Writing in 1958 Niekisch condemned Hitler as a power-obsessed demagogue who was an enemy of the elite of the spirit that Niekisch advocated. After a time in the underground he was arrested in 1937 and was sentenced to life imprisonment two years later at the Volksgerichtshof for 'literary high treason'. He was released in 1945, by which time he was blind.
Later years and legacy
Embittered against nationalism by his war-time experiences he turned to orthodox Marxism and lectured in sociology in Humboldt University in East Germany until 1953 when, disillusioned by the brutal suppression of the workers' uprising, he moved to West Berlin, where he later died.
Subsequent to his death, Niekisch was one of a number of writers, including the likes of Oswald Spengler, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Vilfredo Pareto and Carl Schmitt, whose works were promulgated by the likes of the Groupement de recherche et d'études pour la civilisation européenne and others involved in the Conservative Revolutionary movement.
- Entscheidung (1930)
- Hitler Ein deutsches Verhängnis (1932)
- Geheimes Reich (1937)
- Das Reich der Niederen Dämonen (Berlin, 1957)
- Philip Rees, Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890, 1990, p. 279
- Chris Harman, The Lost Revolution: Germany 1918 to 1923, Bookmarks, 1982, pp. 129-130
- Martin A. Lee, The Beast Reawakens, Warner Books, 1998, p. 315
- Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism 1914-45, Routledge, 1995, p. 163
- Roger Griffin, Fascism, Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 318-319
- Lee, The Beast Reawakens, p. 210