Leon Trotsky

Against National Communism!

Lessons of the ‘Red’ Referendum

(August 1931)

Source: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 25 (Whole No. 84), 26 September 1931, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2013. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

(Continued from last issue)

“The People’s Revolution” Instead of the Proletarian Revolution

Such an at first sight “sudden” zig-zag of July 21 did not at all fall like a thunderbolt from the clear sky, but was prepared by the whole course of the past period. That the German Communist Party is governed by a sincere and burning striving to conquer the Fascists, to break the masses away from their influence, to overthrow Fascism and to crush it – of this, it is understood, there can be no doubt. But the misfortune lies in the fact that the Stalinist bureaucracy strives ever more to act against Fascism with its own weapon: it borrows the colors of its political springboard and tries to out-yell it at the auction of patriotism. These are not the methods of principled class politics but the methods of petty bourgeois competition.

It is difficult for one to imagine a more shameful capitulation in principle than the fact that the Stalinist bureaucracy has substituted for the slogan of the proletarian revolution the slogan of the people’s revolution. No shrewd concoctions, no play on quotations, no historical falsifications, will alter the fact that this is a betrayal in principle of Marxism, with the object of the best possible imitation of Fascist charlatanism. I am compelled here to repeat what I wrote on this question several months ago:

“It is understood that every great revolution is a people’s or a national revolution, in the sense that it unites around the revolutionary class all the virile and creative forces of the nation and reconstructs the nation around a new core But this is not a slogan, it is a sociological description of the revolution which requires, moreover, precise and concrete definition. But as a slogan, it is Inane and charlatanism, market competition with the Fascists, paid for at the price of Injecting confusion Into the minds of the workers ... The Fascist Strasser says. Ninety-five percent of the people are interested In the revolution, consequently this is not a class revolution but a people’s revolution. Thaelmann sings in chorus. In reality, the worker-Communists should say to the Fascist worker: Of course, ninety-five percent of the population, if not ninety-eight percent, is exploited by finance capital. But this exploitation is organized hierarchically: there are exploiters, there are sub-exploiters, sub-sub-exploiters, etc. Only thanks to this hierarchy do the super-exploiters keep in subjection the majority of the nation. In order that the nation should indeed be able to reconstruct itself around a new class core, it must be reconstructed ideologically and this can be achieved only if the proletariat does not dissolve itself into the ‘people’, into the ‘nation’, but on the contrary develops a program of its proletarian revolution and compels the petty bourgeoisie to choose between two regimes. The slogan of the people’s revolution lulls the petty bourgeoisie as well as the broad masses of the workers, reconciles them to the bourgeois-hierarchical structure of the ‘people’ and retards their liberation. But under present conditions in Germany, the slogan of a ‘people’s revolution’ wipes away the ideological demarcation between Marxism and Fascism, reconciles part of the workers and the petty bourgeoisie to the ideology of Fascism, allowing them to think that they are not compelled to make a choice, because in both camps it is all a matter of a people’s revolution.”

“People’s Revolution” as a Method of National Liberation

Ideas have their own logic. The people’s revolution is put forth as a subordinate method of “national liberation”. Such a way of putting the question opened an approach to the party for purely chauvinistic tendencies. It is understood that there is nothing bad about the fact that despairing patriots approach the party of the proletariat, from the camp of petty bourgeois chauvinism: various elements come to Communism along different roads and paths. Sincere and honest elements – along with arch-careerists and irresponsible failures – are undoubtedly to be found in the ranks of those officers of the White Guardists and Black Hundreds who have, in recent months, apparently turned their face to Communism. The party, of course, could utilize even such individual metamorphoses as an auxiliary method for the disruption of the Fascist camp. The crime of the Stalinist bureaucracy – yes an outright crime – consists, however, of the fact that it solidarizes itself with these elements, identifies their voice with the voice of the party, refuses to lay bare their nationalistic and militaristic tendencies, transforming the thoroughly petty bourgeois reactionary-Utopian and chauvinist pamphlet of Scheringer into a new testament of the revolutionary proletariat. It is precisely from this base competition with Fascism that the apparently sudden decision of July 21 arose: You have a people’s revolution and we have one too; you have national liberation as the highest criterion, and we have the same; you have a war against Western capitalism and we promise the same; you have a plebiscite, we too have a plebiscite, even a better one, “red” through and through.

The fact is that the former revolutionary worker, Thaelmann, today strives with all his strength not to be outdone by Count Stenbock-Fermor. The report of the meeting of party workers at which Thaelmann proclaimed the turn towards the plebiscite, is printed in Rote Fahne under the pretentious title, Under the Banner of Marxism. However, at the most prominent place in his conclusion, Thaelmann put the idea that “Germany is today a ball in the hands of the Entente”. It is consequently a matter, primarily, of national liberation. But in a certain sense, France and Italy also, and even England, are “balls” in the hands of the United States. The dependence of Europe upon America, which has once more been revealed so clearly in connection with Hoover’s proposal (tomorrow this dependence will be revealed still more sharply and brutally), has a far deeper significance for the development of the European revolution than the dependence of Germany upon the Entente. This is why – by the way – the slogan of the Soviet United States of Europe, and not the single bare slogan, “Down with the Versailles Peace”, is the proletarian answer to the convulsions of the European continent.

But all these questions nevertheless occupy second place. Our policy is determined not by the fact that Germany is a “ball” in the hands of the Entente, but primarily by the fact that the German proletariat, which is split-up, rendered powerless and degraded, is a ball in the hands of the German bourgeoisie. “The main enemy – is at home!” Karl Liebknecht taught at one time. Or perhaps you have forgotten this, friends? Or perhaps this teaching is no longer any good? For Thaelmann, it is very obviously antiquated, Liebknecht is substituted by Scheringer. This is why the title Under the Banner of Marxism rings with such bitter irony!

The School of Bureaucratic Centrism as the School of Capitulations

Several years ago, the Left Opposition warned that the “truly Russian” theory of socialism in one country would inevitably lead to the development of social patriotic tendencies in all the sections of the Comintern. At that time, it seemed to be a fantasy, a base invention, a “slander”. But ideas have not only their own logic, but also their explosive force. The German Communist Party, in a brief period, has been drawn into the sphere of social patriotism before our very eyes, that is, into those moods and slogans, on the mortal hostility towards which the Comintern was founded. Is it not startling? No, it is only a natural consequence!

The method of ideological imitation of the opponent and of the class enemy – a method which is thoroughly contradictory to the theory and the psychology of Bolshevism – flows quite organically from the essence of Centrism, from its unprincipledness, inconsistency, ideological hollowness. Thus, for several years the Stalinist bureaucracy carried out the Thermidorean policy in order to take the ground from under the feet of the Thermidoreans. Having been frightened by the Left Opposition, the Stalinist bureaucracy started to imitate the Left platform bit by bit. In order to win the English workers from the domination of trade unionism, the Stalinists conducted a trade unionist instead of a Marxian policy. In order to help the Chinese workers and peasants to emerge upon an independent road, the Stalinists drove them into the bourgeois Kuo Min Tang. This enumeration can be continued endlessly. In big as well as in small questions, we see one and the same spirit of mimicry, constant imitation of the enemy, a striving to utilize against the enemy not their own weapons – which alas! they do not possess – but the weapons stolen from the arsenal of the enemy.

The present party regime acts in the same direction. We have written and spoken more than once that the absolutism of the apparatus, demoralizing the leading stratum of the Comintern, humiliating and depriving of individuality the advanced workers, crushing and distorting revolutionary character, inevitably weakens the proletarian vanguard in the face of the enemy. Whoever bows his head submissively before every command from above, is a good-for-nothing revolutionary fighter!

The Centrist functionaries were [Zinovievists under] Zinoviev, Bucharinists under Bucharin, Stalinists and Molotovists when Stalin’s and Molotov’s time came. They even bowed their heads before Manuilsky, Kuusinen and Losovsky. At every one of the stages passed, they repeated the words, the intonations and the gestures of the alternating “leader” according to command, they rejected today what they swore by yesterday, and having two fingers in the mouth, whistled at the retiring chief, whom they had borne on their hands only yesterday. Under this disastrous regime, revolutionary courage is emasculated, theoretical consciousness is emptied, the backbone is softened. Only bureaucrats who have gone through the Zinovievist-Stalinist school could so easily substitute the people’s revolution for the proletarian, and having proclaimed the Bolshevik-Leninists as renegades, raise upon their shoulders chauvinists of the Scheringer type.

“Revolutionary War” and Pacifism

The Scheringers and the Stenbock-Fermors look favorably upon the cause of the Communist party as the direct continuation of the Hohenzollern war. To them, the victims of the hideous imperialist slaughter remain heroes who have fallen for the freedom of the German people. They are ready to call a new war for Alsace-Lorraine and for Eastern Prussia a “revolutionary” war. They agree to accept – so far, in words – “the people’s revolution”, if it can serve as a means of mobilizing the workers for their “revolutionary” war. Their whole program lies in the idea of revanche [revenge]: if tomorrow it will seem to them that the same aim can be achieved by another road, they will shoot the revolutionary proletariat in the back. This should not be passed over in silence, but revealed. The vigilance of the workers should not be lulled, but aroused. How does the party proceed?

In the Communist Fanfare of August 1, in the very heat of the agitation for the referendum, along with the picture of Scheringer, is printed one of his new apostolic messages. Here is what is said there literally: “The cause of the dead of the World War, who have given their life for a free Germany, is betrayed by everyone who comes out today against the people’s revolution against the revolutionary war of liberation.” You do not believe your own eyes, reading these revelations on the pages of the press calling itself Communist. And all this is covered up with the names of Liebknecht and Lenin! What a long whip Lenin would have taken into his hands for the polemical castigation of such Communism. And he would not stop at polemical articles. He would strive for the convocation of a special international congress in order mercilessly to purge the ranks of the proletarian vanguard from the gangrene of chauvinism.

“We are not pacifists”, the Thaelmans, Remmeles and others retort proudly. “We are for revolutionary war in principle.” As proof, they are prepared to produce some quotations from Marx and Lenin, selected for them in Moscow by some ignorant “Red Professor”. One might really think that Marx and Lenin were the spokesmen of national wars and not of proletarian revolutions! As if the conception of revolutionary war of Marx and Lenin has anything in common with the nationalist ideology of the Fascist officers and the Centrist corporals. By the cheap phrase of revolutionary war, the Stalinist bureaucracy attracts dozens of adventurists, but repulses hundreds of thousands, and millions of social democratic, Christian and non-party workers. – This means that you recommend to us to imitate the pacifism of the social democracy? some particularly profound theoretician of the new course will object. No, we are least of all inclined to imitation, even the moods of the working class; but we must take them into consideration. Only by correctly estimation the moods of the broad masses of the proletariat can they be brought to the revolution. But the bureaucracy, imitating the phraseology of petty bourgeois nationalism, ignores the actual moods of the workers who do not want war, who cannot want it, and who are repelled by the military fan-farronades of the new firm: Thaelmann, Scheringer, Count Stenbock-Fermor, Heinz Neumann and Co.

The possibility of revolutionary war in the event of the seizure of power by the proletariat, Marxism, of course, cannot fall to take into consideration, Bnt this is far removed from converting an historical probability, which may be forced upon us by the course of events after the seizure of power, into a fighting political slogan prior to the seizure if power. A revolutionary war, as something forced upon us, under certain conditions, as a consequence of the proletarian victory – is one thing. A “people’s” revolution, as a means for revolutionary war, is something altogether different, even the direct opposite.

In spite of the recognition in principle of revolutionary war, the government of Soviet Russia signed, as is known, the most onerous Brest-Litovsk peace. Why? Because the peasants and the workers, with the exception of a small advanced section, did not want any war. Later, the same peasants and workers heroically defended the Soviet revolution from innumerable enemies. But when we attempted to transform the harsh defensive war forced upon us by Pilsudsky into an offensive, we suffered a defeat, and this mistake, which grew out of an incorrect estimation of the forces, struck very heavily at the development of the revolution.

The Red Army has been in existence for fourteen years. “We are not pacifists.” But why does the Soviet government declare on every occasion its peaceful policy? Why does it propose disarmament and conclude non-aggression pacts? Why doesn’t it set into motion the Red Army as a weapon of the world proletarian revolution? Evidently, it is not enough to be for revolutionary war in principle. One must, in addition to that, have a head upon his shoulders. One must take into consideration the circumstances, the relation of forces, and the moods of the masses.

If it is imperative for the workers’ government, having in its hands the powerful state apparatus of compulsion, then all the more attentively must a revolutionary party, which can act only by convincing and not by compelling, take into consideration the moods of the workers and of the toilers in general. The revolution to us – is not a subordinate means for war against the West, but on the contrary, a means for avoiding wars, in order to end them once and for all. We fight the social democracy not by ridiculing its striving for peace, which is inherent in every toiler, but by revealing the falsehood of its pacifism, because capitalist society, which is saved every day by the social democracy, is inconceivable without wars. The “national liberation” of Germany lies, to our mind, not in a war with the West, but in a proletarian revolution embracing Central as well as Western Europe, which would unite it with Eastern Europe in the form of the Soviet United States. Only such a way of putting the question can weld the working class and make it the center of attraction for the despairing petty bourgeois masses. In order for the proletariat to be able to dictate its will to modern society, its party must not be ashamed of being a proletarian party and of speaking its own language, not the language of national revanche, but the language of international revolution.

How Marxists Should Deliberate

The red referendum did not fall from the skies: it grew out of an advanced ideological degeneration of the party. But because of this, it does not cease to be the most malicious adventure imaginable. The referendum did not at all become the point of departure for a revolutionary struggle for power. It remained fully within the frame-work of an auxiliary parliamentary maneuver. With its aid, the party succeeded in inflicting upon itself a combined defeat: having strengthened the social democracy and consequently the Bruening government, having covered up the defeat of the Fascists, having repelled the social democratic workers and a considerable portion of its own electorate, the party became, on the day following the referendum, considerably weaker than it was on the eve of it. One could not do a better service to German and world capitalism.

Capitalist society, particularly in Germany, has been on the eve of collapse several times in the last decade and a half. But each time it emerged from the catastrophe. Economic and social prerequisites for the revolution are insufficient by themselves. The political prerequisites are required, that is, such a relation of forces which, if it does not assure victory in advance – there are no such situations in history – at least makes it possible and probable. Strategical calculation, boldness, resolution, later transform the probable into the reality. But no strategy can turn the impossible into the possible.

Instead of general phrases about the deepening of the crisis and the “changing situation”, the Central Committee was duty bound to point out precisely what the relation of forces is at the present time in the German proletariat, in the trade unions, in the factory committees; what the contacts of the party are with the agricultural workers, etc. These data are open to precise investigation and are not a secret. If Thaelmann had the courage to enumerate openly and weigh all the elements of the political situation, he would be compelled to come to the conclusion: In spite of the monstrous crisis of the capitalist system and the considerable growth of Communism in the past period, the party is still too weak to strive to force a revolutionary solution. On the contrary, it is the Fascists who strive towards this aim. All the bourgeois parties are ready to assist them in this, the social democratic party included. For they all fear the Communists more than they do he Fascists. With the aid of the Prussian plebiscite, the National Socialists want to force the collapse of the extremely unstable state balance, so as to force, the vacillating strata of the bourgeoisie to support them, the Fascists, in the cause of a bloody judgment over the workers. For us to assist the Fascists would be the greatest stupidity. This is why we are against the Fascist plebiscite – this is how Thaelmann should have concluded his report, if he had a grain of Marxian conscience left in him.

(To Be Concluded)

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Last updated on: 27.1.2013