Harry Frankel

How They Let Hitler Take Power

The Second and Third Internationals Let Him In Without a Fight

(February 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 6, 8 February 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It is now eight years since Hitler came to power in Germany. Since that time the reactionary consequences of that great catastrophe have fully unfolded themselves, but the lessons of this defeat for the working class have not been widely spread among even the thinking workers. There has been much weeping, but very little has been understood. For this reason, we must once again weigh the lessons of Germany and take them to heart. Then we will be better armed for the future.

In Germany before Hitler the working class was very well organized. The trade unions encompassed millions, the fraternal and sports organizations of the workers were extremely powerful, and the enormous support given to the Socialist and Communist parties by the workers testified on the part of the masses for Socialism. On the other hand, the economic situation in Germany was becoming steadily worse. Production was disorganized, wages were low and declining, and the enormous mass unemployment grew like a cancer on the body of German society. In the face of this situation, the continued stability and growth of the working class organizations was possible only if they began to take control of the economic life of the country. The only road for them was to form the government and take over power themselves.

The Task of Smashing Fascism

The Fascist camp of Hitler grew and fed itself on the social decay and on the refusal of the working class leaders to translate their words into action. The unemployed, the youth who had never had jobs, the ruined middle class – all the demoralized and declassed sections of the population – served as the reservoir from which Hitler drew his support. Official society had squeezed them from its pores; Hitler organized them, gave them a “mission” and a banner, told them that the workers and worker’s organizations were their main enemies. Hitler spoke often, in those days, to meetings of manufacturers associations; he won their support mainly by his success in breaking up workers’ meetings.

How was it possible to fight this plague? First it was necessary to organise a working class united front for action against the fascists. It was necessary to meet force with force. In the course of this united front, the further necessity of taking over governmental power and nationalizing the important industries and the banks would have become plain to all workers. In the end, the fascist menace could, be removed, and with it its source: the capitalists and the capitalist, crisis. Along this road of the united front of struggle, victory for the working class and its socialist aspirations was practically assured in advance.

But for all this to happen, it was necessary for the workers to have a far-sighted revolutionary leadership of the type the Russian workers possessed in 1917. Unfortunately, this was not so. The German workers were headed by much the same sort of swindlers, blockheads and agents of capitalism and of Stalin as today mislead the workers in this country. We would do well to examine these “leaders” and their actions to know what to avoid.

The Record of the Social Democrats

The Social Democrats were the most important leaders of the workers and their worst betrayers. They first dragged the German workers into the World War, and then, as they emerged from it, prevented them from setting up a Workers Government. In the course of suppressing the revolution Ebert, Noske, Scheidemann and the other Social-Democratic leaders slaughtered thousands of workers. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, leaders of the Communist workers, were assassinated by Junker officers under the command of the Social Democrats. For the next fourteen years, the Social Democrats were either the Government or its chief prop – in Prussia they ruled throughout – and Social Democratic workers on strike who felt the blows of the police could, if they chose, comfort themselves with the thought that the police chief belonged to the same party as they did.

These “leaders” of the working class could think of nothing but to call upon the government to help them fight the fascists. The Social Democrats supported Bruening, then Von Papen, then Von Schleicher; supported all the capitalist governments as these swung ever further to the right under Nazi pressure. Their last stand was to help re-elect Von Hindenburg, the President. And on January 30, 1933, he called upon Hitler to form a cabinet. Even then the Social Democrats did not change their policy. In the Reichstag they voted for a motion of confidence in Hitler’s foreign policy. They offered to support Hitler if only he would tolerate the continued existence of the Social Democratic apparatus and so save these flunkeys their jobs.

The Similar Record of the Communist Party

But the Communist Party? What was it doing with its prestige, its support, its nearly six million voters?

The Stalinist bureaucrats were at that time in the throes of their policy of “social fascism.” According to Stalin, Social Democracy was “the moderate wing of fascism.” And according to this logic, a Social Democratic government is even worse than a fascist government! Here is a sample of the work of the Stalinist scribblers at that time:

“A Social Democratic coalition government, confronted with a non-combatant, split up, confused proletariat would be a thousand times greater evil than an open Fascist dictatorship, against which would appear a class conscious proletariat, resolved upon struggle, united in its mass.”Der Propagandist, Sept. ’31

What was necessary was to establish a working class united front and, without for a moment trusting the existing boss “democratic” government, launch the struggle to unite and arm the workers to defend all existing working class organizations. But no, answered the Stalinist theoreticians of Der Propagandist, the Social Democrats are fascists themselves; an open fascist Government would be better.

The Trotskyists, at that time, organized their biggest campaign around the slogan of the united front against the Nazis. Had the Stalinists launched such a slogan, we said at that time, the result would have been tremendous. Those Social Democratic leaders who opposed the united front, or accepted it insincerely, would have been immediately exposed before the widest mass of their followers. By elaborating a fighting program, the Communist party would have enormously increased its prestige, weakened the Social Democratic apparatus, and paved the way for Soviets. But the Stalinist criminals did no such thing; they sabotaged the united front and came out openly against it. Willi Muenzenberg then one of the chief spokesmen of Stalinism, spoke quite plainly on Feb. 1, 1932:

“A bloc or even an alliance, or even a temporary joint operation in individual actions between the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party of Germany would forever discredit the Communist Party among the broad masses of the workers, toiling peasants, and middle strata, and draw it into decline.”

False as every word is here, the falsest of all are the references to the “middle strata.” The petty bourgeoisie can be won by the workers, but only by a bold and audacious policy of action. The cowardly and vacillating policy of the Stalinist tops was a major factor in driving the “middle strata” to the Nazis.

Ah, but Germany is going to be different from Italy. The Stalinist hacks turned out reams on this theme. When Mussolini came to power, they argued, that was during a reactionary period, while today, the period we are entering is a revolutionary one. These school-marm politicians really believed that events were moving according to a preconceived graph kept in the Bureau of Standards at Moscow. What they could not or would not grasp was that the events in Germany and the actions of the Communist Party were going to determine for many years whether the period would be revolutionary or reactionary.

And so the Stalinist Generals marched their soldiers round and round, hurled curses and implications at all the other parties and did nothing at all to win over the Social Democratic workers to joint struggle against fascism. Long after Hitler was Chancellor, these absurd lackeys were parading around as though nothing had happened, boasting that the party of Thaelmann had not erred, and was preparing, and that we would soon hear from it. Yes, we heard. Finally, the Communist International, after six weeks of silence after the Reichstag fire and Hitler’s complete triumph, came out for ... the united front against fascism!

The Trotskyists drew up the balance sheet of the Stalinist International on the basis of the German events and launched an international of victory: The Fourth International. Stalin ended up by joining Hitler in economic, political and military collaboration. And the Social Democrat leaders, who wouldn’t let the German workers fight Hitler, have emigrated, and now ask the American workers to die in the imperialist war which will never do the German workers any good.

The Coming Revolution in Germany

The German workers have suffered much since Hitler came to power. All of their organizations destroyed and the best of their militants slaughtered, this working class, once the proudest in all Europe must feel doubly defeated since they never even got a chance to fight. The Stalin-Hitler pact has surely left a great many of the finest among the German workers feeling betrayed and hopeless. But it must have taught a great many of them where not to look for leadership.

After the Fascists had come to power in Germany, the Stalinists, refusing to acknowledge a defeat long after it had taken place, went about saying: “the decisive battles are yet to come.” These words, used as a cover for a false policy which had failed, contain a truth today that the Stalinist leaders are completely unable to understand. The decisive battles in Germany are yet to come. All the German workers need is a little encouragement: to be shown by example. When revolt first infects Europe’s armies, the German workers who are so slandered today will rise and put an end to their brutal prison-keepers. Hitler’s strongest weapon today is the fact that the is obeying its capitalist rulers. When it ceases to do so, we shall immediately find it joined in revolution by the German proletariat that gave us Marx, Eugels, Liebknecht, Luxemburg and a million unknown heroes of its struggle to change the world!

Last updated on 2 October 2015