Biography of Helmut Wagner

WAGNER, RUDOLF HELMUT (Helmut) [5.8.1904-22.4.1989], alias RUDOLF SPRENGER, H.W., S.P., born in Dresden, teacher, technician, sociologist. Trained at a technical school; teacher in adult education (1925-1932), later in American exile toolmaker, later sociologist. 

From 1928 to 1931 the very young Dresden sociologist published brochures or books on gender and society (1928), The Nature of Sexual Love (1930), Sports and Workers' Sports (1931). 

Around 1929, one of the leaders of the Left Opposition in the Dresden SPD; contacts with the Berlin SWV, establishment of a Dresden "Rote Kämpfer-Gruppe". Decisive influence on the Young Socialists. Spokesman for the radical left wing at their Reich Conference at Easter 1931. Co-initiator of the Young Proletarian Ordnerdienst. Publication of the book Sport und Arbeitersport 1931. He was the author of the action program of the "Group of Revolutionary Socialists", which was discussed on 22 September 1931 at the special conference of the SPD opposition in Dresden. He was therefore expelled from the SPD on 29 September.

Afterwards he played a decisive role in the formation of the "Rote Kämpfer" group. He conceived (alone or with the help of the "Rote Kämpfer"?) the theses on Bolshevism published by the GIC in Amsterdam in August 1934. The Bolsheviks are described as "bourgeois" and the Russian Revolution as a "bourgeois only" revolution (see Theses 45 and 46).

He had to leave Germany in 1934 after his citizenship was revoked because of his criticism of the Nazi regime. He published the magazine Der Internationale Beobachter in Zurich, which was primarily a left-wing social democratic news service. He thus wrote an important sociology of Bolshevism from the standpoint of "left-wing socialism", which was later published in English.

During the Spanish War, he wrote a critical article on anarcho-syndicalism and its concrete realization. He allowed the following conclusion: "...the Bolsheviks are only capable of answering concretely the question of technical organization, which means absolute centralization under the management of a dictatorial apparatus. The syndicalists, on the other hand, in their desire for 'independence of  single enterprises' cannot solve even this problem. In reality, when encountering this problem, they sacrifice the right of self-determination of the workers in trying to solve it. 

The right of self-determination of the workers over the factories and enterprises on the one hand and centralization of the management of production on the other, are incompatible so long as the foundations of capitalism, money and commodity production, are not abolished and a new mode of production, based on the social average labor-time substituted instead. This accomplishment the workers cannot expect with the aid of parties, but only by their own action".

On the other hand, as far as the Spanish War was concerned, he supported the military mobilization around the anarcho-syndicalist unions: 

"The Spanish workers cannot afford to fight effectively against the rule of the unions as this would lead to a complete collapse of the military fronts. They have no other alternative. They must fight against the fascists to save their lives, must accept every assistance, regardless of where it comes from". [Translation from International Council Correspondence, Vol. III (1937), No 5-6 (June)]

In exile in Switzerland, he is engaged in social science studies and works as a technician in the Swiss army.

1940 moves to the USA; he publishes parts of his Bolshevism sociology under the pseudonym RUDOLF SPRENGER in his English brochure Bolshevism. After emigrating to the USA, he initially worked as a toolmaker before beginning to study sociology at the New School for Social Research in 1951. Besides Alfred Schütz, Carl Mayer had a special influence on him, and he was also involved in his project "Religion in Germany Today". After receiving his doctorate in 1955, he taught first briefly at the New School, then from 1956 to 1964 as professor of sociology at Bucknell University, Pennsylvania.

Until 1985, he headed the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the Hobart & William Smith Colleges, New York, and then became a visiting professor at Boston University. Based on Weber's Verstehende sociology and under the later influence of Alfred Schütz, he was one of the leading representatives of "phenomenological sociology" in America.

At the end of his life Helmut Wagner published several important books in German: Zum Verhältnis von ökonomischer Krise und Legitimationskrise. Ein Beitrag zur neueren Legitimationskrisendiskussion (1976); Die Doppelgesellschaft: Systemwandel in Polen (1981). He died in 1989 in South Dennis (Massachusetts).

Source: Ph.Bourrinet,  Lexikon des deutschen Rätekommunismus, 1920-1960. Erste Auflage, Paris, 2017.