Paul Mattick 1947

The Story of the German Working-Class Movement (Review)

Source: Western Socialist, Boston, USA, July 1947;
Transcribed: by Adam Buick.
Hammer or Anvil. The Story of the German Working-Class Movement. By Evelyn Anderson (207pp.; V. Gollancz, London).

This short history of the German labor movement from the time of Bismarck’s anti-socialist laws to its extinction under the Hitler regime deals with both the political and trade-union aspects of the movement and is written from the same point of view that prevailed in those organizations. There is little criticism and what there is is directed only to the late phases of the movement. Some errors of fact appear here and there with regard to issues that are of no real importance. For instance, Liebkneckt is said to have been the only member of the Reichstag who voted against war credits when the fact is that Otto Ruehle voted with Liebknecht. At times the author should have been more specific; instead of employing such terms as “a handful” of German syndicalists, he should have quoted numbers. Shortly after the first world war the German syndicalists totalled 200,000.

All in all, the author tries his best to be objective. But the German labor movement is considered only in so far as it expressed itself in political controversy and programmatic proclamations. The less obvious reasons for the behavior of the German working class (which must be sought not in German but in capitalist world politics) are not taken into account. Anderson speaks, for instance, of “Russian February” followed by “Red October” and says that the “German Revolution just fizzled out.” From the vantage-point of the Second World War it should be clear, however, that Germany’s “Red October” came in with the Nazi regime, not ideologically, of course, but with regard to the essentials of socio-economic life. If Bolshevism is to be considered a “labor movement” so should Nazism. Both followed the steps of the social-reform period of the traditional labor movement. But the author, still bound by traditional reformist ideology, is unable to see that carrying out the “ideals” of the past means fascism or bolshevism or whatever else these conditions may come to be called in other nations.

To be sure, the author does put some responsibility for the rise of Nazism on world capitalism, but not enough. To make it clear that world capitalism brought fascism to Germany and elsewhere, and keeps it there, (albeit with changing colors) is but to state the facts of world-wide economy and world politics. The effect of the Great Depression on the rise of Nazism is also not sufficiently emphasized in this book. On the other hand, the German workers’ opposition to Hitler and his regime is over-emphasized, much of the German “anti-fascist” opposition was merely a competitive struggle between different labor manipulators or imperialistic rivalries dressed up in the language of social controversy. That the anti-fascists of yesterday show up as fascists of today indicates that a mere “anti-fascist” struggle does not restore the “honor” of the working class but is a senseless fight having for its objective the substitution of terrorists. An anti-fascist struggle is real only if it develops into a socialist movement that ends all terrorism and exploitation. Mere “anti-fascists” from Stalin to Bevin are only continuing and expanding Hitler’s work.