Hermann Duncker 1947

On the Unity of the Labor Movement

Source: Einheit, Vol. 2, No. 4 (April 1947), pp. 329-333.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive 2021
Translated and Transcribed: by a MIA volunteer
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The two problems which are increasingly decisive for the destiny of mankind today are the preservation of world peace on the one hand and the creation of the political unity of the working class on the other. Marx's slogan from 100 years ago: Proletarians of all countries, unite! has been given a more modest content for today: Proletarians, unite in every country! There is no country in the world (with the exception of the Soviet Union) in which not at least two socialist workers' parties do oppose each other - undoubtedly to the advantage and delight of the ruling bourgeois class.

That capitalism is no longer the unshakable, secure economic basis of the future is slowly becoming clearer to the world. That the goal of economic development must be sought in the direction of socialism is also a more and more accepted realization. What then still stands in the way of progress? Besides the profit interests of the very rich, it is now above all the divisions of the working class. What are now the most important problems that led to their division, and what weight do these problems have in today's historical situation?

1. Reform and Revolution

Fifty years ago, in Europe - and this is what we are mainly concerned with - the socialist workers' movement of each country was still a unified entity. But everywhere it comprised only the proletarian vanguard. Behind it, the mass of workers was still in a state of political sleep. With the spread of the socialist movement, with the strengthening of trade union organizations, and with the development of capitalist monopolies, the rationalization of modern capitalism, and a degree of economic betterment of the upper working class, an antagonism developed among the working class in its assessment of the path to the socialist goal. Reform or revolution? - that became the key question. The dispute over this led everywhere to the formation of a right wing and a left wing in the proletarian movement and finally - after the victory of the Russian revolutions of 1917 - to the emergence and confrontation of the two socialist parties, the Social Democrats and the Communists.

Is this theoretical opposition - and the party split - still today sufficiently justified in the real circumstances? "Today" - by this we mean the post-fascist period of capitalist society. What gives this period its special character is the fact that in the countries where fascism had temporarily come to power, the bourgeois class experienced a considerable political and economic weakening with the defeat of fascism. As the bourgeoisie fell apart into a fascist and an anti-fascist faction - (ideologically, though mostly not in terms of organization) - the ruling class began to decompose ideologically. The collapse of the fascist power apparatus then dragged its bourgeois masterminds and backers, its carriers, collaborators and beneficiaries into the abyss of popular contempt and brought at least parts of them to punishment and expropriation. But this means that the political prestige and class power of the bourgeoisie have been considerably weakened and undermined at their core, if not always already on the political surface.

This creates a completely new political situation in the countries formerly dominated by fascism! In the past, a politically unified and formidable capitalist class could lure the right wing of the working class to its side (for example, when nothing else would catch, with the pretense of a governing coalition), and together both could then hold down the left wing of the proletariat. Now the direct opposite could (mind you: could!) become the reality: A politically united, imposing, class-conscious and purposeful working class together with the left wing of the bourgeoisie could deprive the right wing of the bourgeoisie, monopoly capital and its helpers, of its political influence. Thus the decisive political power would pass legally to the working masses.

So, after all, a peaceful transformation of bourgeois society into a socialist one, advancing through reforms? Under the condition of a powerful, politically united working class, such a development is indeed possible today. But one must not overlook the fact that in the formation of this situation a revolutionary act of violence, namely the disruption of the fascist state apparatus and the severe disruption of the economic and social supremacy of monopoly capital, has already taken place. Where the eradication of the fascist bourgeoisie has been thorough enough and the reactionary upper classes do not receive renewed impetus and support from abroad, the opposition of reform and revolution will become increasingly obsolete in the discussion of the further political future. A hostile opposition between reformist and revolutionary socialism thus loses its theoretical basis here. In this respect, at least in principle, the ground for a united workers' movement is given. In a broad people's democracy secured by the actual overthrow of fascist reaction, the legislative majority and political leadership must eventually fall to the working masses, when political education and educational work have sufficiently cleansed their heads of the remnants of fascist ideology.

"One can conceive that the old society may develop peacefully into the new one in countries where the representatives of the people concentrate all power in their hands, where, if one has the support of the majority of the people, one can do as one sees fit in a constitutional way." (Engels: A Critique of the Draft Social-Democratic Program of 1891)

Friedrich Engels had already recognized and expressed this as a remote possibility in 1891. Marxism has never been enthusiastic about revolution "as an end in itself" but has regarded it as a necessary stage of passage, where the peaceful assumption of power is made politically impossible for the proletariat by suffrage restrictions, constitutional clauses, and by the whole organization of the bourgeois class state and its military power.

In the politically still unshaken bourgeois state, with the class power of the capitalists still unbroken, political reform serves to fortify the existing state of society by cutting the teeth of a pressing proletarian opposition through small concessions. Therefore, also in Germany of the past, the revolutionary criticism and combating of the faith in reform in working-class circles was of the greatest historical importance. But after such disintegration, discrediting and weakening of bourgeois class power as the overthrow of fascism may bring or entail and has already brought in part in Germany, a political change of function of reform becomes possible: reform can now prepare the new socialist system and can help it to be progressively introduced. Instead of the "preserving" reform of former times we then have the possibility of "revolutionizing" reforms in a post-fascist, democratic society - if a united, socialist proletariat wants it that way and world imperialism does not prevent it!

2. Democracy and dictatorship

Those who are truly serious about regaining socialist unity in the workers' movement are still inevitably confronted with the discussion of the nature of democracy. For there still lies a gulf of mistrust and incomprehension. Social democrats ask in bitter defense against unification: Can Communists honestly want democracy? What then of their slogan of proletarian dictatorship? Communists fear that Social Democrats already stop halfway, namely at bourgeois political democracy, and that the final socialist goal seems less important to them. But is there really a serious or even unbridgeable opposition between honest, i.e. Marxist, Social Democrats and Communists on the question of democracy?

That political democracy is the most favorable ground for the development of the socialist labor movement has always been stressed by scientific socialism and is recognized by both the right and left wings of the Marxist labor movement. What can be achieved within the framework, or rather in the parliamentary arena, of bourgeois democracy, if it is on the road to socialism, must be taken under all circumstances. Every socialist is willing to stretch the tether of political democracy to its utmost tension. Marx and Engels have always demanded the same, and Lenin said as late as 1905:

"Whoever wants to reach Socialism by a different road, other than that of political democracy, will inevitably arrive at conclusions that are absurd and reactionary both in the economic and the political sense." (Lenin: Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution)

So there is no fundamental rejection of the path of democracy on any side - as long as such a path really exists. But it is important to go forward on this path courageously and purposefully. On the other hand Communists resist - and certainly rightly! - against making the democratic ladder of ascent to power readily available to Nazi reactionaries and prevented counter-revolutionaries. Like the socialist movement, the ultimate socialist goal - a communal economy for the common good based on common ownership of the means of production - is inseparably linked to democracy. A common property consciousness in a socialist people's or peoples' communal association is virtually inconceivable without the existence of a cooperative self-administration of the common property. Communal self-government, however, is the essence of all genuine democracy. Unfortunately, it is often misunderstood that democracy does not start from the individual but from the community and aims at the community. A democratic community always has sovereignty over the individual.

Community welfare - and the personal freedoms compatible with it - are the goal of socialist democracy. Communal self-government can be exercised in very different ways - either directly, through the division of labor decided upon by the community, or indirectly, through the election of a body of people's representatives or through people's commissioners. Even where socialist administration is carried out by recognized functionaries of the community, there is a popular consciousness of self-government. Thus, even under certain historical circumstances, such as we find in the history of the Russian Revolution, one can speak with some justification of a "democratic dictatorship." Proletarian dictatorship is always accompanied by broad direct and indirect democracy. Consider the case of democratic self-government, as carried out by every Russian collective farmers' cooperative in the interests of its economy and the whole life of the community.

Besides, it should never be forgotten that Marxism always presents the proletarian dictatorship only as a corollary and complement of the victorious proletarian revolution, as a temporary necessity to counter the "cannibalism of counterrevolution", as a means to shorten "the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society" (Marx 1848) and thus ensure the further development of political and economic democracy. The proletarian dictatorship can also be the emergency rule of an isolated socialist community in a state of war against a world of enemies, as we have also seen in the history of the Russian Revolution. In the event of war, every bourgeois democracy claims dictatorial powers in the same way, without the bourgeois democracy to be defended being fundamentally abolished or negated.

In any case, the democratic dictatorship is so fundamentally different from any fascist dictatorship that these differences can only be maliciously overlooked. The fascist dictatorship has the goal of making possible and fortifying the most rapacious state capitalism. The proletarian dictatorship wants to offer protection to a still endangered state socialism. The fascist dictatorship fundamentally destroys all democracy and wants to assert itself for all time. The proletarian dictatorship is underpinned and accompanied by democratic self-government and strives to complete the democratic characteristics of society.

But even if these explanations of the nature of a democratic dictatorship should not yet meet with universal approval, such differences of opinion need by no means disturb the socialist unification of the working class of Germany. Where, in the post-fascist period of history, the suppression and division of the old-established bourgeoisie has led to a sufficiently broad and deep democratic development, the working people can gradually conquer political power by peaceful means and thus, under the leadership of the working people, follow a peaceful and bloodless road to socialism, avoiding all those sacrifices and hardships which, under the historical conditions of the Russian Revolution, were inevitably connected with the first stage of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This stage of development can be bypassed under the mentioned conditions by the purposeful actions of a politically united working class. In this historical situation, the discussion about democracy or dictatorship can just as little divide the working class as the old question: reform or revolution.