Max Shachtman

Is Stalin Preparing
New 1923 in Germany?

(January 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 3 (Whole No. 99), 16 January 1932, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

What is happening in Germany? What is the position of the Fascists? Where does the German Communist Party stand and what does it propose to do?

These questions, of such vital importance to the militant working class, and an answer to which it cannot even expect to find in the capitalist press, It now also fails to find where they should be: in the columns of the official Communist press.

The Advance of the Fascists The Fascists continue to make rapid progress which is compelling recognition from all the sections of the bourgeoisie. The Hitlerites gain in arrogance with every new accretion of strength. Bruening is finally compelled to bring into his councils the Austrian adventurer and beg him to return from the Reichstag which, the blackshirts left, so that a presidential election may be avoided by an arbitrary decree to hold over Hindenburg at least until the “present disturbed situation is calmed”. And Hitler, grown more, cocksure with his recent successes, refuses the outstretched palm, and together with Hugenburg makes clear the determination of the Fascists to press forward until the issue is joined decisively.

Hitler does not merely have his heart set upon the conquest of power – the aim of every class party – but feels that the moment is swiftly approaching when the die will be cast. Bolshevism or Fascism – there are no other ways out for Germany right now. Towards socialist emancipation or black, long-enduring reaction – no other road is open out of Germany’s present impasse. And while Hitler presses forward, the leaders of the German Communist Party are buying into the future by providing themselves with passports and visas for a quick departure when the storm breaks loose!

Bruening is giving ground to the Fascists. The social democrats, by their despicable cowardice, by their disarming of the workers, are leaving the doors wide open to the Hitlerites. The latter have thus far received no decisive check; on the contrary, their ranks are approaching a point in strength where no further gain can be expected by “legal” methods, where the unceasing conflict of interests must come to a violent solution.

And what does the Communist party say? What is it doing? From the Daily Worker, one learns absolutely nothing on these points. Every few days an inch or two of type is thrown into its columns to inform the reader that the German party has formed a few more nuclei and gained a few more hundred members. But from its columns not even the most careful reader can glean the fact that the fate of Germany is now hanging in the balance; not only of Germany, but of the whole of Europe, not excluding the Soviet Union. The danger of Fascism is casually referred to from time to time Every time it is mentioned, it is falsely explained: For the Daily Worker, like for the rest of the Stalinist press, the “social-Fascists” are trying – no less! – to put Hitler into power, which is apparently unnecessary in view of the fact – according to the D.W. – that Bruening and his regime are already Fascist But never yet has the Worker sought to arouse the party members or the militant workers in general to the acute danger. Never has it presented to its readers a clear statement as to what the German party leaders plan to do to stop the Hitlerite march to power.

And in truth it cannot do so because the German Stalinist high-priests look upon Hitler’s capture of power as inevitable. Some of them write coolly that a Fascist dictatorship – our readers will find the exact quotation elsewhere on these pages – is a “lesser evil” compared to a social democratic coalition. All of them take the attitude that anything that happens is preferable to adopting the only policy suitable for the situation: the organization of the militant united front of the Communist and the social democratic workers – what the Left Opposition proposes.

Boastful Claims and Sorry Realities

Month after month now, the German Stalinists have been substituting bureaucratic boasting and self-content for a policy of vigilance and united action. “We are growing. The Fascists are at the end of their rope”. After every vote cast since the last Reichstag elections, the German Stalinists have announced that Hitler has reached the apex of his strength. But the Hitlerites have continued to grow in spite of these prognositications. Their increases have far outstripped those of the C.P.: in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, in Brunswick, in Oldenburg, in Hesse, in Hamburg, in Bremen, and only last Sunday in the elections to the Lippe Diet, where the Fascists jumped from nothing to 9 seats, while the C.P.G. .moved from one member to two. These electoral gains by themselves are far from fatal to the proletarian cause because, first, there is a “political limit” to such gains by the Fascists, and second, the issue of power will not be decided by these votes. An editorial in one of the shrewdest organs of the American bourgeoisie, the New York Times (1-12-32), commenting upon a review of the situation by the Berliner Tageblatt, observes that to argue from Hitler’s recent electoral gains “that it needs only another few months of the same pace to produce a Hitler majority in the nation is erroneous. It is contention of the article (in the B.T.) that Hitler cannot keep on gaining, and for the simple reason that the ‘reservoir’ whence he has been drawing his votes is about exhausted The Fascist gains have been made at the expense of the former Right parties, and by now these have been pretty well absorbed by the Hitler following ...” In one sense at least the essence of these observations is correct. The Hitler reservoir is being exhausted – a fact about which Hitler is not at all unaware The enemy is not always stupid – far from it. Hitler knows, as the Communists know (or should know) that the elections are merely a barometer of the moods of the classes. Hitler knows too that for the seizure of power votes are not enough. Hitler knows further that his votes are approaching a “political maximum” under the given conditions and that a violent attempt must be made to seize power before the crucial moment has passed. Hitler knows, finally, that “the strength of the National Socialists lies at the present moment not so much in their own army as in the dispersal of the army of their mortal foe.” And it is principally upon the continuation of the latter condition that Hitler is staking his cards.

The Times editor continues: “The (German) writer finds that against Hitler stands “a ‘proletarian bloc’ consisting of the socialists and. Communists, in which he has made virtually no dent since his impressive debut of September 1930.” This is too “sanguine”. It is true that the Communist and socialist masses hate Fascism. But they do not yet constitute a bloc for the simple reason that not only have the socialist leaders no heart for a fight against Fascism which might lead to a proletarian revolution – rather than lead up to that eventually, they will lay down before Fascism – but the official Communist leaders are determined to form no bloc, no united front with the social democratic masses, a united front which, if realized, would crush the Fascists under the terrific weight of the combined proletarian mass.

There lies the crux of the difficulty.

The official leaders have followed one false and criminal policy after the other in recent years, swinging from a sterile and noisy adventurism to an equally clamorous and fruitless opportunism. In recent months, had they set themselves such an aim deliberately, they could hardly have done more to prejudice the interests of the struggle against Fascism. With Hitler advancing rapidly, the Thaelmanns, Remmeles and Neumanns not only shouted from the housetops that the “Social Democratic Party is the main enemy!”, but entered into a vulgar competition with the Nazis to see who could outbid the other in playing on the nationalist prejudices of the petty bourgeoisie (the notorious Program for National and Social Emancipation). They not only repelled the social democratic workers, even those who were beginning to rebel against Wels, Stroebel and Co. by the thoroughly false cry of “social-Fascists” who must be driven out of the factories (and the “little Zoergiebels” out of the playgrounds – literally !), but finally entered into a shameless support of the Fascist Prussian Referendum of a few months ago – an action which pleased and profited Hitler, on the one hand, and Wels on the other, but only brought disgrace to the banner of Communism.

Now, in the face of all the boasts of the immediate past, in the face of all the braggadocio and loud-mouthed radicalism, the Stalinists not only reject the imperatively needed united front with the social democratic workers, but are preparing to quit the field of battle without firing anything more deadly than a manifesto ... from exile. No other construction can be put upon the policy and acts of the Thaelmanns. And a capitulation now would be a repetition of the Brandlerist surrender of 1923 with even more fatal consequences.

Days pregnant with great historical significance are ahead in Germany. False policies, obstinately maintained, will produce ruinous results. A change in time, resolutely applied, will eliminate much of evil that has been inflicted upon the movement in the past. From whom can such a change be looked for? From Thaelmann and Co. Hardly. Then from the Comintern, from Stalin? Again, hardly. What the “Master” thinks of the present situation in Germany, nobody is permitted to know. During the most stirring days of the Spanish revolution, the “leader of the world revolution” found nothing to say about the tasks of the Communists, or else no need of saying anything. The present German crisis once more finds the Communists without the benefit of Stalin’s counsel. But its benefits would be more than dubious. For we already know – try to conceal it as he would – what Stalin advised the Communists to do under almost identical circumstances. In August 1923, on the eve of the decisive events in Germany of more than eight years ago – as the minutes of the 1926 Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union will testify – Stalin wrote his views on Germany to Zinoviev and Bucharin. We quote this extensive and illuminating passage:

What Stalin Once Advised

“Should the Communists strive for the seizure of power (at the given moment) without the social democrats, have they matured to this point – therein lies the question, in my opinion. Taking over the power, we in Russia had such reserves as: (a) peace, (b) the land to the peasants, (c) the support of the overwhelming majority of the working class, (d) the sympathy of the peasantry. The German Communists have nothing of the sort at the present time. To be sure, they have the Soviet state as a neighbor, which we did not have, but what can we give them at the present moment? If the power were now, so to speak, to collapse in Germany and the Communists seize it, then they will fall through with a crash. That in the ‘best case’. But in the worst case – they will be smashed to a thousand smithereens and set back. The matter does not lie in the fact that Brandler wants to ‘educate the masses’, but in the fact that the bourgeoisie, plus the Right social democracy, would quite definitely convert the educational demonstration into the decisive battle (for the moment, they have all the chances for it) and would smash them. Surely, the Fascists are not asleep, but it would be better for us if the Fascists were to attack first: this would assemble the whole working class around the Communists (Germany is not Bulgaria). Besides, from all reports, the Fascists are weak in Germany. In my opinion, it is necessary to restrain the Germans and not to spur them on.” (Our emphasis).

Every child now knows the results of Brandler’s capitulation in 1923, the Brandler who hardly needed to be “restrained” (by the way, is not the restrainer, Stalin, today the sworn foe of ... Brandlerism?). Today, in a more critical world ambience, capitulation without a struggle would have ever more far-reaching effects. Once in power, Hitler would not only be in a position to exterminate the flower of the German proletariat, but would inaugurate a prolonged period of reaction throughout Europe. And yet, the persistence of the Stalinists in their breakneck course, their refusal to adopt the proposals of the Opposition for a united front with the social democratic masses against the Fascist reaction, their inescapable responsibility for the division in the ranks of the proletariat which is confronted by the Hitlerites, is paving the road to power for the latter.

The Party Ranks Must Speak!

The Thaelmann course, pursued with the approval of the Comintern, is traceable to Stalin, traceable as far back as 1923. This course is heavy with peril. It can and must be changed. The Communist workers can compel a change The party members – not only in Germany, here too – must speak out loudly and dem.andingly. We have no small squabble to settle here. It is about the “key to the international situation” that the Left Opposition, with comrade Trotsky at its head, is speaking now, the key which the Stalinists are allowing to slip from their hands. The party members must speak because silence now is a crime.

Shachtman button
Max Shachtman
Marx button
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 23.3.2013