Ted Grant

National Democratic Revolution or Proletarian Revolution: The Tasks in Germany

Written: January 1947

Source: Workers’ International News, Vol.7 No.1, January-February 1947

The comrades of the IKD (a section of the German Emigre Trotskyists) have replied to our criticism of their Three Theses in an article entitled Two Balance Sheets published in October 1946 Workers' International News.

While ostensibly correcting certain errors, viz: their claim that 'the national oppression has remained, only the uniforms of the oppressors have changed', they reinforce their fundamental revision which is contained in the assertion that what we are faced with in Europe was not, and apparently is not, the proletarian revolution, but wars of national liberation and a revolution 'basically equivalent to a democratic revolution'. Ignoring the fundamental issue, the class character of the revolution, they jeeringly reiterate that the proletarian revolution, which had been confidently anticipated by the Fourth International, has not materialised.

True, it has not materialised. And an instructive discussion can and must be conducted as to the reasons for the failure of the proletariat to take power in the first revolutionary wave following World War II. But this does not invalidate the orthodox Marxist attitude towards the class struggle in Europe today any less than did the similar failure of the proletariat to conquer power anywhere in the world apart from Russia after World War I. Lenin and Trotsky explained this failure by the treachery of the Second International, of social democracy.

Today, the masses are deceived by two traitor 'internationals', the reformist and the Stalinist – with the latter being far more formidable owing to the authority usurped from the October revolution, having a base far stronger than that ever possessed by social democracy. This factor places exceptional difficulties in the path of the proletariat. The Stalinists have for the moment successfully switched the movement of the masses away from the proletarian revolution into the channels of the 'people's revolution', ie into the channels of bourgeois democracy, as did the social democrats after the last war.

Our German comrades of the IKD should remember the experience of Weimar. Had any sneering petit-bourgeois sceptic reproached Lenin and Trotsky, say in 1920, asking where was the promised revolution in Europe, they would have received a fitting but hardly polite reply. Our answer cannot be any different. The basic thesis of the IKD, which our comrades maintain without any real attempt at defence against criticism, is that capitalist 'retrogression' makes necessary in Europe a detour through what they define as 'basically equivalent to a democratic revolution'.

For the basis of this, let us quote again the original Three Theses:

"The prisons, the new ghettos, the forced labour, the concentration and even war prisoners' camps are not only transitional political-military establishments, they are just as much forms of new economic exploitation which accompanies the development toward a modern slave state and is intended as the permanent fate of a considerable percentage of modern mankind."

This impressionistic evaluation, written at the height of the war, is being refuted by events.

This capitalist 'retrogression' theory is further developed on the basis of the temporary springing up of small factories during the war as evidence of a return to the 'slave state', the middle ages, and the dawn of capitalism. Temporary features caused by the needs of the war are transformed into permanent features of the present epoch. Thrown overboard is the Marxist theory of the concentration of big industry at the expense of small, of the replacement of handiwork by machinery, the development of the 'free' labourer as against the serf and slave labourer of the past.

The political wisdom of the comrades of the IKD is summed up thus:

"In contrast to the use of complicated machinery, and in contrast to the concentration and over-development of an industry fit only for war purposes, there is compulsory labour, that is the mass use of manual labour which is cheaper than machine labour, the founding and extension of small and middle-sized forms because of the shortage of consumer goods, the restoration of handwork, the dissipation and ruin of the monetary system...The political situation in these systematically exploited countries (under nazi domination) is characterised above all by the destruction of workers' and non-fascist bourgeois parties.

"Step by step unions, political and cultural societies of all kinds, religious organisations, etc, are wiped out according to the German pattern, changed or in some way put under direct fascist control. With certain exceptions, where this process has not yet been fully complete, there is no longer an independent traditional bourgeois or proletarian political or workers' movement, and in these countries (especially in Poland and Czechoslovakia) even the 'national' bourgeois is being more and more crushed by such means as 'aryanisation', compulsory sales and direct expulsion.

"All that is left of the old organised 'movements' are today nothing but illegal circles which have little connection with each other and can in no way act as an entity...As it is pushed to that limit which is daily drawn closer by this enemy, it levels all and everything and takes a direction which can be described as nothing but a 'drive for national freedom'. In a few countries (Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, in part Poland, etc.) this drive has crossed the limit and has turned into a real people's movement. In it participate all classes and strata from workers, farm labourers, farmers, urban petit bourgeoisie (tradesmen and artisans, that is, together with the farmers, those classes, which in spite of their large numbers are remnants of pre-capitalistic modes of production) to officials, priests, intellectuals and generals.

"If in the Europe dominated by Germany there is no longer an organised and active workers' movement and even the bourgeois organisations are out of the picture, there can also be no talk of the existence of real revolutionary organisations, in so far as they are understood as united structures which, even if illegal, would be willing and capable of influencing the development by means at least of correct agitation and propaganda...However one views it, the transition from fascism to socialism remains a utopia without an intermediate stage, which is basically equivalent to a democratic revolution." (Three Theses).

With small changes, Dimitrov[1] and Stalin could have subscribed to such an analysis. So the workers' movement is still non-existent! On the contrary, the labour movement in Western Europe, far from having been destroyed, has come out of the war stronger than it entered it. True, the supporters of the Three Theses have tried to get round this little difficulty by decreeing that since the workers' movement is not led by Marxists, it is no workers' movement. But in that case there has not been a labour movement in Europe since 1923.

To tell the workers of France that their trade unions and political parties do not constitute a workers' movement would produce the deserved reply! Of course, the IKD have only discovered this formulation recently. Before the re-emergence of the labour movement in Western Europe, they described the British Labour Party and trade-union movement as the only workers' movement left in Europe. The British Labour Party can hardly be described as 'Marxist' or conscious of the historic mission of the proletariat.

The re-emergence of the labour movement in all the countries of Europe reveals that the whole 'retrogression' theory of the Three Theses was fundamentally false. Under the totalitarian lid of fascism, the class struggle continued to boil. If the socialist revolution was to be achieved it could only have been led by the working class as a class, at the head of the mass of the people fighting against foreign oppression and its national agencies at home, ie, the national bourgeoisie and its appendages.

The proletariat could drag at the tail of the bourgeoisie through the 'all people's movement' (as was consistently carried through by Stalinism in Western Europe), or the mass of the petit bourgeoisie would be won to the programme of the proletarian revolution on the basis of a revolutionary proletarian policy. There was no middle way. Either with the bourgeoisie or with the proletariat. That is the sole alternative in the present epoch.

We ask the IKD comrades: just reflect upon the development of Europe since the fall of the nazis! What has emerged? Not an all-class people's movement, but a division of political alignments in accordance with the basic class divisions in society; a polarisation with the working-class parties on the one side and the reaction on the other, with the petit-bourgeoisie uneasily balancing in the 'centre' Christian Democratic parties, a position which they cannot maintain indefinitely. Either they will go to the right in a neo-fascist reaction or will be won to the proletarian revolution under the leadership of the proletariat.

The Role of the EAM in Greece

The comrades of the IKD in their Two Balance Sheets say:

"Mistakes, if they are not investigated openly and corrected, must of necessity be repeated and become graver with repetition. Witness the British Section and the fighting in Greece. This broke out just after the RCP had drawn up a resolution on the national question, point 5 of which declares 'all national resistance movements to be agencies of one or the other group of imperialist powers'.

"This goes for the EAM as well, therefore the RCP would have had to make its stand against EAM with Churchill, if he was so blind as not to know his own agency. This was not done; the Socialist Appeal came out in full support for the EAM and could hardly have done otherwise. But what about the resolution which had proved to clash with reality? Was it revised? No; it was reality that had to undergo revision. The revolt in Greece was promoted to the rank of the proletarian revolution. This valuable support, unfortunately, could not prevent the defeat of the revolt; upon which – again without any investigation – it was discovered that EAM after all was only a resistance movement, and Greece is paraded as an example of what devastating results followed from supporting a national movement.

"If it is 'supported' as here, by ignoring it until the point of uprising is reached and then hailing it as the proletarian revolution, this is certainly correct."

The position of the RCP is somewhat distorted by the IKD comrades in the above quotation. To get a clear picture of the RCP's attitude towards the resistance movement, permit us to quote the relevant sections of the resolution on the national question in Europe:

"1. The Revolutionary Communist Party condemns and fights against the national oppression of one nation by another; it supports the right of complete self-determination and political secession of every nationally oppressed people.

"2. In the epoch of imperialism and its present phase of imperialist war, all the objective conditions demand that a genuine struggle for national freedom must be linked to the programme of the socialist revolution and the struggle for the United Socialist States of Europe."

While condemning the nazi oppression, the resolution condemns equally the national oppression which is carried on by the Allies, and defines the attitude of the revolutionaries to the resistance movements as follows:

"4. The role of the European ruling classes is clear to see. They collaborated as a class with the foreign nazi oppressor and now seek to play the same role as agents of the military victors – Anglo-American imperialism and the Kremlin. Without the active support of Stalinism and social democracy the capitalists would long have lost all semblance of support among the workers and peasants. By subordinating the working class and its organisations to the leadership of the bourgeoisie and to the programme of Anglo-American imperialism and Stalinism, the social democratic and Stalinist parties play a counter-revolutionary role. It is the duty of revolutionaries, while striving at all stages of the struggle to win the rank and file to the banner of Trotskyism, to oppose and expose the role of these parties and their auxiliary organisations.

"5. Despite their undoubted support from many thousands of the best proletarian fighters who see in the resistance movements not an instrument for the replacement of one master by another, but rather the instrument for the overthrow of capitalism and the emancipation of the working class, these national resistance movements in Europe today are agencies of one or other group of imperialist powers. As movements they are incapable of genuinely struggling for national freedom."

That characterisation stands the test of events and requires no correction. It is clearly applicable to EAM as well. During the imperialist war EAM was on the side of Anglo-US imperialism against German imperialism. The RCP did not take an ultra-left position on the question of national liberation. It stood four-square for national liberation of the peoples of Europe from the shackles of German imperialism. But we never failed to warn that the leadership of EAM and other resistance movements were agents of imperialism.

Our warnings were confirmed by events. EAM did its best to come to a compromise with imperialism and tried to disarm the working class in the face of the royalist-fascist reaction and their imperialist backers. The fact that EAM came into collision with Churchill and the imperialists was due to the fear of the latter that EAM would not prove a reliable instrument in preventing the socialist revolution, and that through EAM Greece might come under the domination of Stalin, thus rounding off his hold on the Balkan peninsula.

The jibe about Churchill being 'so blind as not to know his own agency' befits the level of the rest of the arguments. They might as well have asked: Why did the Trotskyists support the Spanish republic against Franco, a republic which they designated as an agency of Anglo-French imperialism and Stalinism? Or do perchance the comrades now deny this and in retrospect discover that we had a 'people's movement' in Spain as well?

This characterisation did not prevent the Trotskyists from describing the Spanish events as an attempt at the proletarian revolution on the part of the masses, in spite of the content given it by the bourgeoisie and Stalinists. The movement in Spain was a proletarian revolution which was diverted into a 'people's bourgeois democratic movement' against fascism, in alliance with the 'shadow of the bourgeoisie', while the bourgeoisie itself was on the side of Franco.

So it was with EAM in Greece. The masses supported EAM. The bourgeoisie was with Churchill while the 'shadow of the bourgeoisie' united with the Stalinist leadership, and thus distorted the mass movement in a bourgeois direction. Despite the Stalinist attempt at 'national unity', the class struggle broke through the 'national people's movement'. This resulted in civil war between the proletarian-poor peasant wing and the bourgeois wing within the resistance movement, even while Greece was under the domination of the nazis.

After the so-called 'liberation', de facto power was in the hands of the working class, just as in Spain after the insurrection of the workers in Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid in the first days of the revolt. The EAM leadership frustrated the movement of the masses, gave up their arms and tried to arrive at an agreement with the imperialists. Despite their attempts at capitulation to the imperialists, civil war broke out because of the movement of the masses. If the IKD members deny that the revolt in Greece was an attempt at the seizure of power on the part of the proletariat, how do they characterise this movement? A 'people's movement'?

The revolt began as a spontaneous movement on the part of the masses, despite all attempts of EAM to prevent its breaking out. The incident which set the spark off was a classic one in the highly charged atmosphere to provoke a revolution. The firing on an unarmed demonstration on the part of the royalist-fascist Security Battalions was similar to the firing of the Czar's troops on the demonstration led by Father Gapon at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg in 1905. Should Lenin, instead of demanding the independence of the proletariat, have advocated the merging of the labour movement in the all-class people's movement? To pose the question is to answer it.

The firing in Constitution Square, Athens, as even the bourgeois Times understood, sowed the seeds of civil war. Civil war between which classes, and for what aims? For the 'people's revolution' or for the conquest of power by the proletariat? EAM was a classic example of a popular front betrayal of the proletarian revolution. Had EAM been successful, the regime that would have issued from the struggle could only have been a bourgeois regime. All talk of 'democratic revolution', 'national revolution', 'all class people's movement', etc, in the final analysis cannot but be a refurbished version of popular frontism.

There cannot be a 'democratic revolution' suspended in mid-air. The 'peoples' revolution' must have a class basis. And so we arrive back where we started. Define the class content of your revolution and then we will know where you stand!

What is the Aim of the 'Democratic Revolution'?

In dealing with the elusive 'democratic revolution' which is neither proletarian nor bourgeois, the IKD attempts to get out of the inextricable confusion by defining the content as follows:

"(Grant is) fighting windmills. For instance the democratic revolution which we (IKD) are alleged to substitute for the proletarian revolution whereas, in reality, we said that the democratic revolution in our epoch, 'can be realised only by the smashing of the framework of capitalism'." (Two Balance Sheets. Our emphasis).

Confusion thrice confounded! We are gratified to learn from these comrades that the 'democratic people's revolution' which they state is necessary in our epoch cannot be accomplished by bourgeois democracy. They claim they are now 'alleged' to substitute something for the proletarian revolution. What then are they substituting for the proletarian revolution? Do they seriously argue that all classes, including the oppressed bourgeoisie in the people's movement, are going to 'smash the framework of capitalism'?

Is there any other revolution, apart from the proletarian revolution, that can smash the framework of capitalism? When these comrades are pinned down to Marxian definitions, one can see how they slide back and forth, and their Theses become nothing short of nonsense. What then is the difference between the democratic revolution and the proletarian revolution? The real answer is that the comrades make it mean different things at different times, sometimes identifying it with proletarian revolution, sometimes a new stage, and sometimes one knows not what!

The Tasks in Germany

Just as they lumped the different classes in Europe under the rule of the nazis indiscriminately together, so now in relation to Germany, they lump together all classes oppressed by the Allies, to be united in an 'all-embracing national democratic revolution'. Germany, of course, has to wage a struggle for national freedom against her oppressors, just as the countries oppressed by Germany faced the same problem. But the whole crux of the problem lies in how the struggle for national liberation is to be waged.

The answer of the Fourth International is that national liberation can be accomplished only by the proletariat at the head of the movement. That will be the central idea put forward by German Marxists. Far from blurring over the class lines, these will be emphasised. Only a clear fighting class policy will win the petit bourgeoisie over to the programme of the socialist revolution, which is indissolubly bound up with the struggle against the Allied oppressors. Such a struggle can only be waged as a class struggle.

Yet the IKD comrades, again using intentionally vague formulations, leave the door wide open to the most shameless opportunism, and even capitulation to reaction. They say:

"Unless the Fourth International makes the support of all movements for national liberation according to the Three Theses the main point in its programme for Germany, it will not be able to offer the masses anything beyond the programme of the reformists – nor even beyond the performance of the occupation authorities; for these have expropriated German capitalists (without compensation!) and clapped them into jail into the bargain – witness the action of the British military government against the coal owners of the Ruhr…" (Two Balance Sheets).

The German workers, we can be sure, will weep no tears over the fate of the coal barons in the Ruhr, nor of the bourgeoisie as a whole in the territory occupied by the Russians. But the demand of the German Trotskyists in both sections of Germany will be for the withdrawal of the occupation troops, and for the running and controlling of German industry by the working class. To imagine that the problem of the German economy can be separated from the question: which class will control? is to turn one's back on Marxism. We can only penetrate the ranks of the social democrats and Stalinists by giving them a class alternative to the capitulation of their leaders to the Allies.

The struggle for freedom from national oppression in Germany can be waged on the lines of Schlageter[2], the reactionary forerunner of the nazis, or it can be waged by the method of Lenin and Trotsky, on class lines. The petit bourgeoisie goes either with the bourgeois reaction or with the proletariat. In Russia the Bolsheviks waged a ruthless struggle against those who sought to surrender the class independence of the proletariat in the 'people's movement' against Czarism. In the East they denounced as the grossest treachery, the subordination of the communist movement to the bourgeois 'people's movement' for national liberation.

Only the proletariat, fighting on an independent class programme, could win the petit bourgeois masses to the struggle for national liberation, which could only be a struggle for power, ie, dictatorship of the proletariat. Transitional demands would be advanced – constituent assembly, expulsion of the occupation troops, but these would not he separated from the struggle for power. Events one after another, are revealing the petit bourgeois mode of thought, even the reactionary content of the ideas of the IKD comrades.

The day before yesterday, as impressionists, they were driven off the class compass by the spectacle of the national oppression of Europe by the nazis. Then they floundered on the Allied conquest of Europe. Today, they have attempted to find their last hideout in Germany. But Germany again reveals pitilessly that the class structure of society results in a political division between the classes, and not at all their unification, even under the heel of a foreign conqueror, and even in a highly industrialised country like Germany whose industry has been partially destroyed.

In their practical activity in Germany, the protagonists of the IKD position looked towards university students and various strata of 'nationalist youth', without reference to class, to lead the 'national revolution' which supposedly united all classes in Germany! Naturally, with their conceptions of a destroyed working class and the incapacity of the proletariat, because of this, to give leadership to the nation, they turn their backs on the genuine forces of German national renaissance. They rejected the idea of the Fourth International concentrating on the working class organised anew under the banner of social democracy and Stalinism.

These, according to these sceptics, represented only the 'old' people with memories in the past. The 'nationalist youth' were the forces which would lead the struggle for the 'all embracing national-democratic revolution'. Now that the elections have been held in Germany, what has been revealed anew? The stubborn division of Germany on class lines. The middle class, as in the countries of Western Europe, have grouped round the reactionary banner of Christian Democracy, and thus become a counterweight of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.

But the workers, despite all, despite the pessimists of the IKD, have clung tenaciously to their class traditions and voted for the workers' parties. The wonderful powers of recuperation of the working class, their aspirations to achieve the socialist revolution, their class instinct, is shown by the fact that despite the terrible betrayals, the workers' organisations received a greater percentage of the votes than before the coming to power of the nazis. There was no alternative revolutionary Marxist party, but the elections prove precisely the possibilities for a genuine Marxist current based on the class internationalist programme.

The struggle for national liberation does not and cannot prevent the inevitable differentiation of the population on class lines. And it could not be otherwise. National oppression does not abolish class exploitation, but merely aggravates it. A revolutionary criticism of the policy of Stalinism and social democracy, a class struggle waged on the traditional lines of Marxism-Leninism, offers the greatest possibilities for the Fourth International in Germany today. Even the Social Democrats go farther than the IKD.

In order to gain the support of the German proletariat, the Social Democratic leaders are making centrist pseudo-left speeches. They have as a consequence the support of the bulk of the youth, more particularly the working-class youth which is instinctively groping towards the socialist revolution as the only way out. The task of the German Trotskyists will be to demand that the Social Democratic leaders match their words with deeds. There are, of course, parties to the right of the Christian Democrats, playing with the ideology of nationalism. In every case they are either neo-fascist or represent some variety of extreme reaction.

It was not for nothing that Trotsky castigated the Stalinists for their flirtation with nationalist demagogy and slogans in competition with the demagogic denunciations by the nazis of the Versailles Treaty. Such a method cannot advance the struggle one single inch forward. It can only play into the hands of reaction. The struggle for national liberation must have a class axis, and cannot be separated from the socialist revolution. The petit bourgeoisie cannot be won to the socialist revolution by the adoption of a petit bourgeois 'national democratic' programme on the part of the proletariat. That would merely mean that the proletariat would drag at the tail of the petit bourgeoisie, and thus of the big bourgeoisie.

The petit bourgeoisie can only be won to the struggle against national oppression under the banner of the struggle against capitalism. Otherwise, they will once again become a tool of reaction, in a more frightful form. Germany will not go through the so-called 'necessary detour' of the national democratic revolution in any shape or form. We base ourselves on the traditions of 1918, not on the traditions of 1813. There can be no democratic revolution in Germany other than that achieved by the Allies!

In fact, the restoration of industry in Germany, even partially, which the Allies have been compelled to undertake will restore also the self-confidence of the German proletariat, whose temper has already been shown by the series of marvellous protest strikes directed against the 'nationalists' (who have thrown bombs against the American military government) and the protest strikes against the release of Papen, Schacht and other nazis. The demonstrations were undertaken to show that never again will the German proletariat allow German reaction to take power without a fierce struggle.

Whether speedy or protracted, whether conducted for economic and democratic transitional demands. for a united Germany and for a constituent assembly embracing all Germany free of Allied occupation, whatever demands will be put forward these can only be part of the struggle for the proletarian revolution during which soviets and workers' committees can be set up.

Other than this, there can only be the bourgeois counter-revolution in a democratic or fascist form, democratic counter-revolution which will be supported by the Stalinists and Social Democrats under conditions of mass upsurge, just as the Social Democrats supported it in 1918. If the position of the IKD were to be accepted by the German proletarian vanguard, it would result in a frightful trap for the German proletariat and new misfortunes and defeats of the working class.

NOTES

[1] Georgi Dimitrov (1882-1949) was a Bulgarian Communist Party leader. Living in Germany he was a defendant in the Reichstag fire trial staged by the Nazis in 1933. Acquitted, he moved to the USSR and became executive secretary of the Comintern 1934-43.

[2] Schlageter was a right wing nationalist Freikorps member who was executed by the French during their occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 for acts of sabotage. He became a nazi martyr.