Ted Grant

Germany—What next?

Behind the generals’ revolt

Written: August 1944
Source: Socialist Appeal, vol. 6 no. 4 (August 1944)
Transcription: Lisi 2004
Markup/Proofread:: Emil 2006

[Editor's note: This was written after the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, now known as the “July 20 Plot”.]

The recent events in Germany have raised widespread hope and interest in the working class throughout the world. The seemingly solid front which Hitler presented to the world has been broken by a conspiracy of German junkers and generals.

According to the reports, former ardent supporters of Hitler have attempted to assassinate him. And the Nazis have retaliated in their usual gangster-terrorist fashion, by placing all power in the hands of the hated Gestapo and S.S. chief Himmler.

Whether there was a genuine plot to murder Hitler or not (it seems certain there was) makes no difference to the significance of these events in Germany. They reveal a tremendous split within the German ruling class, which is opening the way to the outbreak of genuine workers’ revolution in Germany and Europe.

“Germany is not only Germany; it is the heart of Europe,” Trotsky warned before Hitler came to power. But now these words assume added gravity and urgency. For events in Germany may decide not only the future of Europe but the future of the entire world.

Hitler has had nothing better as a means of rallying the German people behind him than the threats of the Allies, Stalin included, to dismember Germany. But as the defeats have piled up on all fronts and the misery of the German masses has reached [a] new intensity, the opposition of the German workers has been growing.

The military shock has led to a revival of the underground movement on formidable lines. Reports from the capitalist press in the last four months have indicated strikes in Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Essen and other cities. Movements of revolt among the students and other sections of the middle class have led to executions. Mutinies have been reported among the soldiers and sailors—all these are symptoms of the coming storm.

The laws of revolution apply to all countries and to all peoples. The German nation is no different from any other. Those who sought to find a new system of society in Germany and Italy because of the victory of totalitarianism, have been refuted by events. The military defeats have led to a breaking down of the psychological inertia of the masses, and the movement for the overthrow of the hated regime has gathered strength. Lenin, in his analysis of present day society, laid down four conditions for the outbreak of the social revolution. These have been summarised by Trotsky as follows:

“The basic conditions for the victory of the proletarian revolution have been established by historical experience and clarified theoretically: (1) the bourgeois impasse and the resulting confusion of the ruling class; (2) the sharp dissatisfaction and the striving towards decisive changes in the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie, without whose support the big bourgeoisie cannot maintain itself; (3) the consciousness of the intolerable situation and readiness for revolutionary actions in the ranks of the proletariat; (4) a clear program and a firm leadership of the proletarian vanguard—these are the four conditions for the victory of the proletarian revolution. The main reason for the defeats of many revolutions is rooted in the fact that these four conditions rarely attain the necessary degree of maturity at one and the same time. In history, war has not infrequently been the mother of revolution precisely because it rocks superannuated regimes to their foundation, weakens the ruling class, and hastens the growth of revolutionary indignation among the oppressed classes.” (War and the World Revolution [source])

Feeling the hot breath of revolution and dreading its consequences, faced with inevitable military defeat, the German ruling class is seeking some way out of the impasse. The coming revolution has announced itself by producing a split in the ranks of the ruling class. The Russian Revolution of February 1917 was foreshadowed by the murder of Rasputin two months earlier. He was killed by members of the Court nobility in an endeavour to save Czarism. But despite the fact that he was murdered, the Czar, under whose influence he had been, continued his policy. But the effect of the assassination was entirely unexpected by the perpetrators. The fissures and quarrels between the ruling class at the top, produced a ferment and excitement at the bottom. The murder, which was intended to save the regime in Russia, acted as a mighty impulse in galvanising the masses into activity for its overthrow.

In Germany the ruling class, the junkers and capitalists, generals and bishops had gladly handed control of the state over to Hitler. Now they are quaking in their shoes as they consider the revenge the masses might wreak upon them for their crimes. Their sinister mascot Hitler, is turning into a bad-luck charm. They are attempting to rid themselves of what is becoming a millstone round their necks. Thus has come about the conspiracy of the generals. Their perspectives are clear. In the best event, they would bargain with the Allies. In the worst event, if the German masses got out of hand, they would surrender to the Allied capitalists, seeking the protection of the Allied armies against their own working class. That the Allies would respond to such overtures, they have seen in Italy.

From Stalin they have received systematic encouragement. Was it not Stalin who first supported and recognised the regime of the Fascist gangster Badoglio[1] in Italy; they are sure that he would come to some like agreement with a German Badoglio. Stalin’s activities have given them no cause for fear. Far from appealing to the German masses on a socialist basis to overthrow Hitler and establish a Socialist Germany, he has organised the “Free German” Committee in Moscow which is predominantly composed of reactionary military elements, and the “League of German Officers” which boasts such figures among its members as General von Seydlitz, Lt. General Edier von Daniel, Major General Carl Hess and 2nd Lt. Count von Einseidei.

Major Herbert Soesslin, writing in Freie Deutschland made their objectives quite clear:

“...We must avert at all costs any repetition of the events of 1918. We must avoid all anarchy and undisciplined behaviour...”

The traditions on which they make their appeals to the German people are those of “Bismarck’s Germany”, the Germany of the Kaiser. Stalin has underlined this by the appeals on the Moscow radio during the crisis, when they proclaimed that the fate of Germany should be decided by the generals uniting to throw out the Nazis!

The latest reports from Germany indicate that the Nazis have emerged victorious in their struggle with the army clique. This is symbolised by the introduction of the Hitler salute to replace that of the traditional army salute. [2] No doubt Hitler imagines he has scored another June 30th and settled account[s] decisively with his internal enemies. Not for him the inglorious collapse of his erstwhile teacher Mussolini! But this time will not be the same as the last. The violence of June 30th confirmed his grip on the power; the violence of July 1944 marks the beginning of the end of Nazism. Metaphysicians imagine that the same act, if repeated successfully, will have the same result. Not so! Hitler succeeded in stabilising his regime in its first phase by his purge because it was directed against the middle class opposition while the workers remained quiescent spectators, their organisations having been destroyed.

But the revolt of the generals reveal[s] to the mass of the workers and soldiers the utter desperation of the situation. Far from crushing the resistance to the regime, the sparks of opposition will be fanned into revolutionary flames. New attempts by cliques within the ruling class are certain. But this is the least important question. The dazed masses have received a shock which will lead to far stronger mass resistance than before. Hitler’s triumph will be short-lived. Already reports have appeared of fighting and mass demonstrations in many of the industrial areas of Germany, of whole regiments of soldiers being shot and whole divisions disbanded.

The effects of these events on the German people is evident. The German radio speaks of groups of Germans gathering on the streets excitedly round the radios in shops and newspaper kiosks. Without a doubt the entire population is now discussing the meaning of the putsch. In the factories and streets the workers must be openly voicing their opposition to the hated regime while the Gestapo informers remain silent, not daring to intervene.

All these years in [the] face of insuperable obstacles, small underground groups and organisations have struggled against the Nazis and upheld the ideas of Marxism. Now their time is coming. The underground organisations will gain a mass basis and mass support in the coming months. The mighty traditions of the German workers will result in mass organisations springing up as if from under the ground itself, as in Italy. The German workers will be reinforced by support from millions of foreign workers in Germany. Already bonds of sympathy have secretly been established between German workers working side by side with French, Belgian, Russian and other European workers united by mutual hatred and solidarity against Nazi foremen. We will see factory committees and Soviets all over Germany which will unite all the oppressed of whatever race or nationality in Germany.

The British capitalists are preparing for this. Churchill stated bluntly in the House of Commons that a Communist Germany is a possibility. But, he explained, the Germans could not escape from the responsibility for the crimes of the Nazis simply by “embracing the Communist faith.” The Stalinist traitors published this statement in the Daily Worker without comment! By their silence they endorse Churchill’s statement and this is in line with the policy of Stalin who is preparing to aid Churchill and Roosevelt to drown the German revolution in blood.

The Stalinists know no bounds in their hate incitement against the German workers in its worst form, and even racialism of the Hitler stamp. For example William Rust writes in the Daily Worker on July 2nd:

“We are not dealing with the German people as they were when they rose in 1918. The present generation has been poisoned and brutalised by 11 years of Nazi rule. Millions of the youth behave worse than beast[s] and the entire nation must take responsibility for the crimes committed in its name.”

But socialists and communists (not in name but in deed) know how to characterise this appeal to the basest instincts of racial chauvinism. The British workers must see that they occupy a key position in relation to the German revolution. The success of the revolution in Germany depends in large measure on the attitude adopted by the British workers and soldiers. Once Hitler has gone the alleged aim of the European war in “fighting fascism” will have disappeared, but the Allied imperialists will try and occupy Germany long after the conclusion of the war. Whether they succeed or not will be determined by the attitude of the British working class. One thing we know: the appeal to fraternise which the German socialist workers made to the army of occupation in Germany after the last war received a favourable response. The sons of the British Tommies in this war are far more class conscious than their fathers in the last. The response today will be even more favourable.

Military events are giving place to political events. The working class of the world will have the last say. The advanced workers must prepare and not get caught by surprise by coming events. To the building of the party, the most indispensable condition laid down by Lenin, the advanced workers must dedicate their efforts. A party, basing itself on the tested ideas of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, further enriched by the experiences of the defeats of the workers in the past decades. Such a party exists in the Fourth International. It is weak today but will become a mighty instrument of the socialist revolution.

British workers! Prepare to support the German Revolution! Rally round the banner of the Fourth International! Join the Revolutionary Communist Party!

Editor’s Notes

[1] Pietro Badoglio became Italian prime minister on July 25, 1943 after Mussolini was dismissed by the Fascist Grand Council. He began peace negotiations with the British and Americans but had to flee when German troops invaded Italy. He was maintained in power by the Allies after they occupied Italy.

[2] After July 20 Hitler ordered all military officers to use the fascist salute, instead of the standard military salute. Up until this time it was optional.