From The Militant, Vol. V No. 12 (Whole No. 108), 19 March 1932, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Last Sunday’s presidential elections In Germany were breathlessly watched by a world torn by economic crisis and apprehensive of social convulsions. For the bourgeois philistine, for the addict of parliamentary cretinism, the elections constitute a fait accompli, an established fact. Thus, for instance, the American press, in its comment on the results of Sunday’s poll, sees a decisive repulsion of Fascism and a permanent victory for the “inherently conservative character” of the German people. Hitler’s inability to muster a larger vote than Hindenburg to them spells Hitler’s defeat. For the revolutionary, for the Marxist, the elections constitute merely a gauge of social and political developments. It is therefore only natural for us to regard the bourgeois press comment with a grain of skepticism. With them, it is a case of the wish being the father of the thought. The American bourgeoisie fears social unrest, abroad as well as at home, worse than the pest. An advance of Fascism can only mean an outbreak of civil war in Germany. To hush away the chimera of such a civil war, its press prefers to overlook the facts.
To be sure. Hitler only rallied 11,500,000 votes to Hindenburg’s 18,000,000. But when we consider that the Fascist gain amounted to some 5,000,000 votes more than the 6,400,000 they received in the Reichstag elections in 1930, and when we look at this fact objectively, dispassionately, we cannot fail to come to the conclusion that the elections reflected a tremendous and absolutely menacing advance on part of the Fascists. To be sure, it appears that the Fascists have very little resources left for further progress by purely legal means. The percentage of their vote is considerably lower than in the partial elections in 1931. But that only increases the probability of a forceful attempt at the seizure of power by the Hitlerites. The very character of the social composition of the Hitler camp, the fact that it is subject to violent fluctuations in political sentiment makes the thought of a “peaceful” growing into power of the National Socialists improbable. No one knows, this better than Hitler himself. It is only natural to assume that Hitler will act accordingly. The menace of Fascism hangs more heavily over the head of the German working class than ever.
How did the working class forces fare in the elections? The only working class candidate in the field, the candidate of the Communist Party, Ernst Thaelmann, received a total of 4,900,000 out of the 37,000,000 votes cast. All in all, a gain of some 350,000 over the 4,587,000 votes the Communist Party received in 1930. When we compare this gain with the 5,000,000 gain of the Fascists, when we keep in mind the fact that Thaelmann was the only working class candidate in the field – the social democrats renounced a candidacy of their own in favor of the Hohenzollern Field Marshall – and finally when we consider the sharpness of the economic situation, we can only admit that the Communist candidate suffered a disastrous defeat in Sunday’s elections. That is the bare fact. The entire import of this fact must be realized by every Communist fighter, by every sincere revolutionist. The lesson of the election must be brought home to the class conscious workers the conclusions must be drawn from it before it is too late before the decisive blow has been struck.
The election defeat of Thaelmann does not mean a defeat for the working class, a defeat for Communism. That is not decided by election, that is decided in open struggle, in the factories, in the streets. It does mean a debacle for the Stalinist policy of the German party leadership. It should serve as a warning to all serious and devoted worker-Communists in the ranks of the official party. Let us review the facts. The Hindenburg-Bruening-Groener regime has been represented in the eyes of all German workers, the social democratic as well as the Communist workers, as the dictatorship by emergency decree, as the government of increasing misery, of wage-cuts carried out by cabinet order; of the reduction of unemployed insurance to the point of starvation; of the abrogation of the most elementary working class rights; of the introduction of National Socialists into the army. No worker could possibly overlook these facts.
The Social democracy, versed in the ways of working class betrayal, called upon its followers to vote for this regime in the presidential elections, nevertheless. More than that, it was actually able to rally its followers behind this hunger-regime almost to a man. That is astonishing at first, but it must be understood. Why did the social democratic workers vote for Hindenburg? The social democratic misleaders called upon their worker-followers to vote for Hinderburg as the “lesser evil” against Fascism. Did the social democratic workers actually believe that this regime of hunger and starvation for the working class will fight against Fascism? Hardly. Why, then did they nevertheless vote for Hindenburg? They voted for Hindenburg because the situation seemed hopeless to them, because it was the only choice left to them outside of the united front of the working class.
Whose fault is it that the proletarian united front was not established? Can the social democratic leaders be expected to establish the united front. Never. Their entire composition, their character as lackeys of the capitalist class, as agents of the capitalists within the ranks of labor, makes such a step on their part unthinkable. Yet, what all the workers really desired was a fighting united front against the menace that was directly threatening them, against Fascism. Both social democratic and Communist workers had fallen in the slaughter brought about by the Nazis in their punitive expeditions into Brunswick, both reformist and revolutionary workers were victimized in the daily attacks made upon working class meetings, groups and colonies. It was only natural for the workers to feel the necessity of fighting first and foremost against this danger.
The task of creating a united front of active struggle against Fascism could only be carried out by the Communists, by the revolutionary party. It was the duty of the Communists to force the social democratic leaders, already under pressure from their rank and file, into this united front, to put them to the test before their own followers. That was duty clearly devolving upon the revolutionary party from the general situation. What did the Stalinist leadership do instead. It rejected any united front whatsoever with the “social Fascists” and called upon the social democratic workers to join the “Red united front under the leadership of the Communist party”. By the rejection of the Leninist conception of the united front, the Stalinist Central Committee of the German party repelled the reformist workers, left them helpless in the face of the treacherous machinations of their leadership. It was in this manner that the social reformists were able to swing the bulk of the German proletariat behind the candidacy of the Bruening hunger regime.
The result of the German presidential elections is a warning against the nefarious tactic of the German Stalinites. If it is not heeded, the working class of Germany faces disaster. If it is taken into account, the tactic must be changed immediately. More than that, the theory of “social Fascism” which is the source of all these disastrous developments, must be uprooted. It is this theory, which throws all opponents of the revolutionary party into one pot, without distinguishing between them and without exploiting the various conflicts among them; which bears all the earmarks of the Lassallean theory of the “single reactionary mass” condemned and refuted by Marx in his Criticism of the Gotha Program; it is this theory that has left a trail of confusion in the minds of the Communist militants and one of disaster in the development of the class struggle.
The main danger seen clearly by every worker in Germany today is the Fascist danger, is the Hitlerite danger. Every worker regards this question as one of life and death. The Communist party of Germany must realize this fact, if it is not to pursue its road to destruction, if the working class of Germany is to avoid extermination at the hands of Hitler’s butchers.
The tremendous vote rolled up by the Fascists last Sunday, far from being a setback for the Nazi forces, is only a step in their march toward the seizure of power, toward the open attack against the proletariat. The coming weeks and months will no doubt witness more daring and more impudent assaults upon the workers’ organizations by the Fascists than ever before. The workers are bound to feel the Hitlerite cudgel even more sharply than before. Their reactions toward the threat and their feeling for the need of working class unity are going to be much more profound in the future. The tactic of the united front will he on the order of the day more than ever.
Last updated: 17.5.2013