Ted Grant

The Coming German Revolution

Written: October 1944
Source: Workers’ International News, Vol. 5 No. 7, October 1944

The German Revolution and the future

The entry of Allied troops into Germany marks the beginning of the end for German imperialism and for the Nazis. The complete collapse of the Hitler regime cannot be long delayed. In four years the swing of the pendulum has brought German imperialism from the attainment of its dream of European domination to the position of imminent dismemberment and powerlessness. There have been few changes in the history of warfare and of the relations between the nations so graphic and so speedy. But in them is reflected the instability of relations between the nations and the social contradictions within the nations themselves.

In 1940, Trotsky wrote commenting on Hitler’s victories:

“The political map has been reshaped with equal speed in no other epoch save that of the Napoleonic wars. At that time it was a question of outlived feudal states which had to give way before the bourgeois national state. Today it is a question of outlived bourgeois states which must give way before the Socialist Federation of the peoples.”

For from Hitler’s defeats refuting, they serve to confirm the idea here expressed. It is the contradictions of world capitalism and the extension of the war to a world, rather than a European arena (which these contradictions made inevitable), which have led to Hitler’s undoing on the military field. Moreover, there is a profound significance in the fact that the heart of Hitler’s Wehrmacht was torn out on the plains of the Ukraine and the banks of the Volga. In however distorted a form, it was a reflection of the superiority of the coming new society of socialism over decaying capitalism. This in itself is an indication of the decline and decay of the bourgeois system.

But in conquering Europe, and in his attempts to hold it down, Hitler had undermined completely the social basis which capitalism possessed. In so doing, the Nazis have left a legacy to the “victors”, a legacy of social storms and convulsions never before attained in the rich history of the Old Continent which once dominated all others.

In articles reflecting the bourgeois disquiet, the Economist has pointed out that the middle class in France and other occupied countries has been reduced to a fraction of what it was, as the result of the Nazi demand for factory workers, the ruin occasioned by the war, general dislocation, lack of supplies except for war industry, bombing, etc. In the rural areas, though on a smaller scale, the same process has taken place. This, coupled with the tremendous psychological shock occasioned by the events of the war, the collaboration of the bourgeoisie of the defeated countries with the invaders, has undermined the former habitual acceptance of bourgeois domination over the nation. Not alone the working class, but the peasant and petit-bourgeois masses inevitably will seek revolutionary solutions to the unbearable agony to which they have been brought by the capitalist regime. The harsh school, through which they are going, will teach the masses rapidly. All the political trends and tendencies will come up for judgment as to their capacity to deliver the goods.

The crisis of the bourgeois regime is far more profound than it was in 1918. The shocks involved with the collapse of Fascism in Italy are but the shadow of coming events.

No stable counter-revolutionary capitalist armies in Europe

It is a fact which has escaped attention in the working class press, but a factor of profound importance, that in all Europe there is not a single stable bourgeois army, which will be left after the destruction of the German army. A startling fact upon which “revolutionary” pessimists could well ponder! The French army has vanished, and the army assembled at Algiers would hardly fulfill the purpose. The Italian army and those of the Low Countries have been dissolved. Poland’s pitiful émigré army, though selected and organised for the purpose, could hardly fill the bill. In the Balkans, the armies of Greece and Yugoslavia have been smashed and those of Romania and Bulgaria which have managed formally to retain their form, are already in a shaky condition. If we include the British as a European army, it is composed dominantly of workers whose ranks are so imbued with an anti-capitalist and even socialist consciousness, that it would be impossible to use it for a protracted period for punitive or repressive purposes. Once Hitler has vanished, in the consciousness of this fine proletarian material, the reason for their presence in Europe will have disappeared as well.

There remains of the bourgeois armies, only the extra European forces of American imperialism. Politically they are extremely backward. And it is on this backwardness that world imperialism is relying to save the situation in Europe. But the Achilles heel of the American colossus lies in the fact that this mass of soldiery is completely lacking in a cohesive ideology. Most of the American soldiers are indifferent to the propaganda of American imperialism on the aims of the war. Those who are at all politically conscious desire the liquidation of Fascism  – but all are unanimous in a desire to “go home.” Those who have been affected by the reactionary propaganda, tend to direct their animosity against the Japanese rather than against the Germans. Once Hitler has disappeared, in an atmosphere of universal hostility, the American army too will rapidly become demoralised if used against any section of the European workers. Their desire to return to the States will become transformed into political opposition to the ruling class.

Meanwhile, the bureaucrats in control of the Red Army are more terrified even than those in control of the imperialist armies at the possibility lodged in a mingling of the Red Army soldiers with the workers and peasants of Germany. They have endeavoured by every means in their power to create a wall of hatred between them. Preparations have been made to use the Red Army to crush completely any tendency in the direction of Socialist revolution on the part of the German working class. But immediately the masses in Germany move in the direction of uprising and reprisals against the Nazis and the German ruling class, in Soviet occupied areas it will have a profound effect on the workers and peasants comprising the Red Army. It will tend to rekindle the flame of the October Revolution. Thus as a stable and sure base for capitalist counter-revolution and occupation, the Red Army would be even more unstable than any other.

This is the background on which events in Germany will develop – a background of revolutionary disturbances and convulsions throughout Europe.

Ideological preparation for Allied repression in Europe

Inside Germany all the conditions have matured for social explosions. Revolution is inevitable. If it is assumed that the Allies should succeed in occupying Germany before the revolution breaks out, this could only temporarily delay the dénouement. Inevitably, an upsurge would develop uniting the mass of the people behind the working class in its struggle for emancipation from social and national enslavement. Taking a leaf out of Hitler’s book, the Allies intend imposing a regime on Germany similar to that imposed by the Nazis on France and other countries they have overrun. They can only do this by the use of the same methods of terror, tortures and reprisals by means of which the Gestapo and the S.S. maintained their short-lived and precarious occupation of the countries overrun. The Allies will achieve even less success in their endeavours to hold down the population of Germany.

In their endeavour to prepare the way psychologically for their reprisals and executions, as a means of terrorising the masses in Germany into submission, the Allies have in recent weeks begun a sustained campaign of hatred and vilification against the German people as a whole. The myth that the Nazis and the German people are one and the same thing, and that all Germans are by innate nature “Huns”, “war-loving”, “brutal”, “fascist beasts”, “murderers”, etc., without the slightest spark of human decency, is being systematically propagated. The undoubted atrocities which the depraved elements of the S.S. and the Nazis have perpetrated against the peoples of Europe, serve as the ostensible excuse for the legend that the whole of the German nation is responsible. It is conveniently forgotten by the gentry manufacturing this hatred, that the S.S. learned its sadism in action against the worker-socialists, communists and trade unionists in Germany itself. And that this savagery had begun even prior to Hitler’s coming to power. They wish the masses to overlook the delight with which they regarded Hitler’s oppression of the German masses, and the approval with which it was regarded by the democratic statesmen, as a safeguard against socialist revolution. But in both cases they are remaining true to their aims. Behind the support for Hitler, as behind the attack on the German masses as “poisoned Hitlerites”, lies the same class motive: fear of the socialist revolution.

From a somewhat similar angle can be explained the rabid chauvinism and race hatred preached by the Kremlin. The cooperation with Hitler in the Stalin-Hitler Pact, and now the frenzied and insane denunciation of everything German, in reality present the same symmetrical pattern: fear of the socialist revolution in Germany and its threat to the power and privileges of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

On this question all the forces of the old society are united. Though of course, they intend to utilise the position to squeeze all they can out of the German masses in their own interests.

The German people under the Nazis

Hitler, having come to power, crushed the working class with the aid of the middle class, then speedily turned on the deluded petit-bourgeois. That was the significance of the June 30th purge of 1934. Having duped the middle class with demagogic phrases and propaganda against the combines, the Nazi dictatorship revealed itself as the ferocious agent of finance capital. If the middle class had been ruined in the “democratic” Weimar republic this was as nothing to the state to which they were reduced under the Nazis, crippling taxation and the wiping out of large sections of the middle class as a social grouping were speeded up beyond anything which had obtained in pre-Nazi Germany.

Incapable of solving the crisis of German capitalism the bloated Nazi bureaucracy had no course other than war. Nazism was revealed as the “chemically distilled essence of the pure culture of imperialism”. But on this road, weakened German capitalism could only travel by forcing the masses in. But the pent-up energies of the ((((something’s missing))) to tighten their belts even further. [sic] “Guns before butter” was the grim programme of the Nazis before the present war began.

In the six years between the Nazis coming to power and the invasion of Poland, the mass basis of the Nazis had largely disappeared. The mass of the working class never supported them. The middle class had become disillusioned. The victories of 1939-40 may have resulted in a temporary wave of chauvinism, but this was rapidly dissipated by the horrors of the war against the Soviet Union. One thing alone has paralysed the German masses from taking action against the hated regime, and that has been the fear of the consequences of Allied victory.

Neither in the East from the side of Stalin, nor in the West from the Allies, has any attractive alternative been offered to them. Indeed, the threats emanating from the Soviet Union have been even more frightening to the masses than from the Allied imperialists. Thus, Stalin has presented Goebbels with the “secret weapon” by means of which “national unity” in the Reich has been maintained.

But a “national unity” founded on fear of the consequences of defeat, and backed with the terror of the S.S. and the Gestapo, cannot be maintained indefinitely in the face of the mounting catastrophes suffered by the Nazi regime. The disintegration of the Nazi Reich proceeds apace. Germany is now almost the last of the Nazi-occupied countries. The tens and thousands of arrests of anyone who could be remotely suspected of opposition, and dangerous thoughts towards the regime, are an indication of this. More and more, as the masses become bitter and resentful, the Nazis are like conquerors in a foreign land. The newspapers report of Hamburg—Red Hamburg—that large numbers of the S.S. men have been found either knifed, or with their heads battered in—but with their weapons stolen. It is reported that S.S. and Gestapo men dare not move about in the large industrial cities of Germany at night singly—but go in pairs and groups—so many have been found dead, their firearms missing. Instructive episodes! They mirror the intensity of the hatred towards the regime which surely must be the greatest in history and—the thirst for revenge on the part of the German masses.

All the conditions for revolutionary upheaval are now present. It but requires some accident which will set the workers of one large industrial city in Germany into open collision with the Nazis, and all Germany will be plunged into the Revolution. It is similar to the situation in Italy before the fall of Mussolini, except that in Germany the masses are fearful of the Allies [sic] if they gain the opportunity of marching [sic] German Revolution must burst forth in a far more gigantic explosion than in the Italian peninsula.

Splits in the German ruling class

The knowledge of the inevitability of defeat, and the pressure of the masses from below, has already led the German bourgeoisie to attempt to rid themselves of the mascot Hitler, now transformed into a millstone around their necks. This in itself, is a symptom of the revolutionary crisis in Germany. As always, in history, the coming of the revolution is marked by irreparable fissures and antagonisms opening out within the ranks of the ruling class itself.

Under an open dictatorship, this always manifests itself in plots and conspiracies. The Generals’ revolt, and the reports which indicate an Allied, or even entirely separate conspiracy on the part of certain groupings of industrialists, were manifestations of this process in Germany. But neither the Generals nor the industrialists were completely united on the need or the time to rid themselves of the Nazis. The same cause which propelled a desperate section forward momentarily paralysed and terrified other sections. Their attention was riveted on events in Italy where the removal of Mussolini provoked, instead of forestalling, the revolutionary storm. The freshness of these events and the under-current of social antagonisms now rising openly to the surface, convinced them that the removal of Hitler if anything would provoke even worse consequences for their class.

Moreover, Hitler and his group of human scum, thugs and adventurers, had no intention of retiring from the scene to suit their paymasters, who no longer had any use for them. They did not intend to be cast aside, like the bourgeoisie toss away their worn-out mistresses. They too had observed the events in Italy and attempted to profit by the lesson. This hooligan gang had nothing to gain and would lose all by such a change—including also their lives. They had no particular regard for “Germany”, whether bourgeois or any other Germany, except from the point of view of milking her. These gangsters have sown such a harvest of hatred and scorn that there is no way out for them—they act with the desperation of cornered rats. And the German bourgeoisie which only yesterday had luscious visions of exploiting all Europe, finds itself incapable of asserting immediate control on Germany—the forces they have raised from the depths of society have expropriated them politically, and attempt to act as an independent force threatening even the members of the bourgeoisie itself.

Thus it is revealed that in the dialectics of class rule the pattern is not at all simple, but extremely complex.

Allied plans after Hitler’s fall

However, measures of terror cannot save Hitler. Even if by some miracle the Nazis could stave off military defeat for a time (and this is not entirely excluded by the relationship of forces), the inevitable collapse of the regime from internal explosions is drawing near. The desperation of the regime is but a reflection of the desperation of the masses. Firing squads, arrests, terror, concentration camps are all useless for a regime which has completely outlived itself. There is not a live thread in the whole structure left. Even the S.S. and the Gestapo have no faith in the future, and large numbers are seeking for a way to save themselves. In addition to which the war has compelled the breaking down of the S.S., which is no longer a carefully selected instrument of suppression, but has been diluted with large numbers of fresh elements and even foreign mercenaries with an entirely different training and outlook to the old members. Even these latter cannot remain unaffected by the prevailing mood among the bulk of the population in Germany. Hitlerism is in its death agony. The piling up of contradictions has reached such a degree of intensity that it .has gone far beyond the limits which any society can bear.

What will he the exact course of developments, it would be impossible to predict. All that can be laid down is the general course of events that will ensue. One of the factors which dictates the pathological campaign against the Germans by the Stalinists and the bourgeoisie, is their fear of the tradition of the German workers. Numerically the strongest sector of the European proletariat, the German workers have a tradition of education on the ideas of Marxism which extends back for more than two generations. Under the influence of the crisis, these ideas must inevitably be revived with tenfold strength, especially within the vanguard, now that the masses have gone through the hell of fascism. Hitler has drained the social reserves of German capitalism. The middle class—whittled down to a shadow of what it was before Hitler—or even before the war—can no longer provide a stable basis for reaction. On the contrary, the pendulum must inevitably swing in the opposite direction. The middle class, which drew behind it sections of the backward workers in its period of counter-revolutionary frenzy, will follow the lead of the workers in a new revolutionary upsurge.

If in France, Italy and other countries, the workers have immediately taken to the road of mass expropriations, and arrests of the employers; if there is the tendency to the setting up of Soviets and workers’ committees; if the workers immediately begin to seize factories and to arm themselves in order to make themselves master of the situation once the pressure of the Nazi military machine was released—what will the position bein Germany? Inevitably in a situation of chaos and ruin, the masses will be impelled to settle accounts with the Nazis in the most ruthless fashion. Almost automatically on the morrow of a successful uprising against Hitler, the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ committees would be compelled to attempt to assert control of Germany: the socialist revolution would pose itself as the sole solution.

An uprising on these lines has already been envisaged in the calculations of Anglo-American imperialism. Churchill’s statement in Parliament that the “Germans” could not escape responsibility for their crimes by turning to Communism was a warning in advance of the repression of the Allies in that event. But the consequences for Europe and the world of such a movement, would slip beyond the control of the imperialists. Revolutionary convulsions as far away as Asia and Africa would be felt among the already restless colonial slaves of the imperialists.

Accepting the worst variant in developments in the immediate future—that Hitler could succeed in holding down the population till the Allies march in and occupy the whole of Germany, and that the fall of Nazism takes place through its military debacles—what follows would be a different pattern to the one sketched above certainly! But how different? From the Nazis oppressing the German workers, the German workers would become oppressed not only socially but nationally as well, by the foreign conquerors.

And what can the bourgeoisie of Germany, or the Allies, offer any section of the German population? Under present conditions, the Allies as well as the German bourgeoisie regard the existence of a democratic regime as dangerous, because it could not be long lasting. Hence the programme of the German bourgeoisie cannot but be, to accept the position of a satellite of Anglo-American Imperialism—of Quislings.

The Allies intend to place themselves in the position formerly occupied by the Nazis, but hope to retain the present political relationships intact. Everything is to remain unchanged! With or without the Allies, the Nazi Party would disappear—and its existence [??] would extremely embarrass the Allies at home. They still have to maintain the pretense of a war to exterminate Fascism and too open a revelation of their aims would provoke repercussions among their own working class. Consequently, a few hundreds of the Nazi tops would have to be removed as a gesture to satisfy the “mob”. But as for the rest, the Nazi bureaucracy and the Capitalists would remain as subordinate partners of the Imperialists. The system of repression established by Hitler—except the racial discrimination against the Jews, the abolition of which would not cost the Allies anything, and would be an inexpensive gesture, would remain in operation with additional “improvements” such as the curfew. The pariah race would now be the Germans. That is the pattern of occupation as established by the military regulations on the first strip of territory in Germany occupied by the Allies.

The bourgeoisie have noted with dread the experience of Fascism in Europe, but are unable to profit thereby. Hitler’s rule, as that of Mussolini, depended on a number of factors, all of which have disappeared today. No regime can last without mass backing. This backing was given in the first period of the rule of fascism by the deluded middle class. Once they had become disillusioned it was only the inertia, apathy, and disappointment of the masses in the failure and incapacity of their own organisations, which prevented the dictators’ overthrow. With the masses aroused by the events of the war, Mussolini was doomed, as is Hitler. Hitler endeavoured, by military force, to replace the shattered ranks of Mussolini’s militia. He has found in North Italy that once overthrown, it was impossible to reinstate the fascists, though they tried hard enough. A totalitarian oppression is bad enough. A foreign totalitarian repression is unbearable!

But the Allied capitalist statesmen realise this only too well. They are expecting as desperate a resistance as the Nazis received in the lands they conquered. Hence there is a clear and cool calculation in the campaign pushed forward in the bourgeois press of Britain and America that the Nazis expecting inevitable defeat are preparing to go “underground”. The idea in itself does not bear examination. No more than in the case of Mussolini, could Hitler with what little support he still possesses, survive the military debacle.

But the thoroughly roused German masses who have had to put up with unbearable repression, would not for long tolerate the repression of the Allies, especially as they witness the Allied fraternization with and protection of, the Nazi bureaucrats and capitalists. They would inevitably resist in the most desperate fashion the Allied oppression and exploitation. In order to kill any sympathy or support for such movements of opposition among the workers in the Allied countries the Allied command are preparing to use Stalin’s technique and label every such uprising, strike, protest or demonstration, as “underground Nazi” or “Nazi inspired”. Hence, their terror and fear of fraternization between the German workers and Allied armies; hence their adoption of the same technique as Hitler (who in turn had learned it from the repression of the Imperialists in the colonies in the occupied territories). The destruction of the little town of Wallendorf had the same deliberate aim as the destruction of Lidice and other towns by the Nazis: to terrorise the population and create a gulf between them and the Allied soldiers. But all such efforts in the long run will break down, on the disgust of the Allied soldiers at being used for such reprisals and punishments.

Prepare for the socialist revolution

Meanwhile, in Germany itself under the claws of the Nazis a new generation of revolutionaries is being fashioned. A generation hard and unbreakable, tested and steeled in the fire of Nazi repression. The Allied ruling class directs its propaganda against the German youth. With good reason! Not at all because it is “corrupted” by the teachings of Nazism, but because of its striving towards revolutionary change. Again the example of Italy indicates how easily youth, which feels the burden of fascist repression and stifling of all initiative and independence, more than any other section of the population, assimilates rapidly revolutionary ideas and methods at the first opportunity. The reports which have trickled through show the strong opposition in Germany against Hitlerism even now among the youth. The working class and even the middle class student youth and schoolboys have provided groups of recruits to the anti-Nazi organisations.

For many reasons it is likely that the old workers’ organizations, which so ignobly surrendered to Hitler, may not gain so firm a support even in the early stages of the revolution in Germany as in the other countries in Europe. Any attempt to cooperate with the Allied conquerors would immediately label them as traitors in the eyes of the masses. The Stalinist programme of Vansittartite repressions and reparations would speedily lose these gentry any support they might muster in Germany. From the ranks of the German workers will come some of the finest fighters for the Socialist revolution. In Germany what groups of Socialists, Communists and worker-oppositionists existed and developed have been compelled to weigh up the situation and give a lead independently of the bureaucrats of Stalinism and the Social Democrats, by the very conditions of the unparalleled Nazi terror. In the factories the best militants have learned to appraise the situation carefully and thoroughly. Upon these revolutionary fighters, it will not be so easy to impose the policy of class collaboration. The thoughts of the German workers are bitter and they have been coloured by the excesses of the Nazis. Every worker must have cast longing glances at the lamp-posts when faced with some particularly irksome tyranny on the part of the Nazis or his bosses—he does not make much distinction between his employer or factory “führer” and the Nazi regime.

But the fate of Germany obviously cannot be separated from the fate of Europe. The millions of foreign slaves that Hitler imported into Germany will play an important role in this respect. They have established secret and friendly relations with the German workers despite the strict Nazi prohibition against this. They will take back memories of the German workers' opposition to the regime and their fraternal class solidarity when they return to the countries from whence they came. The problem of the German revolution cannot be separated from the problem of the revolution in all Europe. The war has tied the fate of all the European countries together. Events in one will have immediate repercussions in all the others.

In this connection the events in Bulgaria when the Red Army marched in, mirror in miniature the possibilities lodged in the situation in the whole of Europe. Despite all, when the Red Army marched into Sofia the class not the national or racial instincts immediately exerted their supremacy. According to the report published in the News Chronicle (significantly the only paper which carried the news in Britain and even more significantly only in the early editions, as it was suppressed in the later issues) the Red Army soldiers were fraternising with the civilian population, with the Bulgarian Army and with the German soldiers! One ecstatic mass exchanging the Red Front salute!

As the British correspondent who witnessed these events ingeniously remarked, the Communist Party could have taken power without any possibility of opposition but did not seem to want to do so! What an historical crime has been committed by the perfidious role of Stalinism!

However, the task is not to meditate on the role of Stalinism and reformism but to prepare actively to combat them. The military battles in Europe are drawing to a close—the era of class battle will replace it.
If the Revolutionary Communists of Germany together with the Fourth International everywhere, can succeed in finding their way to the masses and building strong revolutionary parties, it is they who will determine the future—that of the Socialist United States of Europe.