Leon Trotsky

Against National Communism!

Lessons of the “Red” Referendum

(August 1931)

Source: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 26 (Whole No. 85), 10 October 1931, p. 3.
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)

After this, it would have been necessary to open as broad and open a discussion as possible, because it is necessary for the leaders, even for such infallible ones as Heinz Neumann and Remmele, to listen attentively at every turn to the voice of the mass. It is necessary to listen not only to the official words which the Communist speaks from lime to time, but also to those deeper thoughts more close to the masses which hide themselves beneath his words. It is necessary not to command workers, but to know how to learn from them.

If the discussion (had been an open one, then probably one of the participants would have made a speech something like this:

“Thaelmann is right when he demands that regardless of the undoubted changes in the situation, we must not, because of the relation of forces, strive to a revolutionary event. But precisely for that reason the most extreme decisive elements are forcing an outbreak, as we see. Are we able, in such a situation, to save the time essential for us in order to effect preparatory changes in the relation of forces; that is, to snatch the basic proletarian masses from under the influence of the social democracy and thereby force the despairing lower strata of the petty bourgeoisie to turn their face to the proletariat and their backs to Fascism? Certainly, if the opportunity presents itself.”

And what if the Fascists, against our will, bring the matter to an uprising in the near future? Will the proletarian revolution then be once more foredoomed to a heavy defeat?

Then Thaelmann, if he were a Marxist, would have answered roughly thus:

“It is self-understood that the choice of the moment of decisive struggle depends not only on us, but also on our enemies. We are in entire agreement that the task of our strategy at the present moment is to make difficult, and not to facilitate, for our enemies the forcing of an outbreak. But if our enemies nevertheless declare war on us we, of course, must accept, because there is not and there cannot be a heavier, more destructive, more annihilating, more demoralizing defeat than the surrender of great historical positions without a struggle. If the Fascists take the initiative for an outbreak on themselves – if it is clear for the popular masses – they will push to our side the broad layers of the toiling masses. In that case, we would have all the greater chances to obtain a victory the more clearly we show and prove today to the working millions that we do not at all intend to accomplish revolutions without them and against them. We must therefore state clearly to the social democratic, Christian and non-party workers: the Fascists, a small minority, wish to overthrow the present government in order to seize power. We Communists consider the present government the enemy of the proletariat but this government supports itself on your confidence and your votes; we wish to overthrow this government by means of an alliance with you and not by means of an alliance with the Fascists against you. If the Fascists attempt to organize an uprising then we Communists will fight with you until the last drop of blood – not in order to defend the government of Braun-Bruening but in order to save from being strangled and annihilated the flower of the proletariat, the workers’ organizations, the workers’ press, not only our Communist press, but also your press. We are ready together with you to defend any workers’ home whatsoever, any printing plant of a workers’ press, from the attacks of the Fascists. But we demand from you that you pledge yourselves to come to our aid in case of a threat to our organizations. We propose a united front of the working class against the Fascists – the more firmly and persistently we will carry out this policy, applying it to all questions, the more difficult it will be for the Fascists to catch us unawares and the smaller will be the chances to defeat us in open struggle.”

Thus would have answered our hypothetical Thaelmann.

But here Heinz-Neumann, the orator permeated through and through with great ideas, takes the floor. Nothing will come of such a policy anyway, he says. The social democratic leaders will say to the workers,

“Do not believe the Communists, they are not at all concerned about saving the workers’ organizations, but wish only to seize power; they consider, us to be social-Fascists and they do not make any distinctions between us and the Nationalists. That is why the policy that Thaelmann proposed would simply make us look ridiculous in the eyes of the social democratic workers.”

To this Thaelmann should have had to answer: To call the social democrats Fascists, that is certainly a stupidity into which we collide at every critical moment and which prevents us from finding the way to the social democratic workers. To renounce this stupidity is the best thing we can do. As to the accusation that under the pretense of the defense of the working class and its organizations, we desire simply to seize power, we will say to the social democratic workers: Yes, we Communists strive to conquer power, but for that we require the unconditional majority of the working class. The attempt to seize power, supporting oneself on a minority, if, a contemptible adventure with which we have nothing in common. We are not able to force the majority of the workers to follow us, we are only able to convince them. If the Fascists should defeat the working class, then it would be impossible even to speak of the conquest of power by the Communists. To protect the working class and its organizations from the Fascists signifies for us to assure ourselves of the possibility to convince the working class and to lead it behind us. We are unable, therefore, to arrive to power otherwise than by protecting, if necessary with arms in hand, all the elements of workers democracy in the capitalist state.

To that Thaelmann might have added: In order to win the firm indestructible trust of the majority of the workers, we must above all renounce throwing dust in their eyes, to exaggerate our forces, to close our eyes to facts, or still worse, to distort them. It is necessary to state what is. We shall not deceive our enemies, we have thousands of organs for testing. By deceiving the workers, we deceive ourselves. By pretending to be very strong, we only weaken ourselves. Therein, friends, lies no lack of confidence, no “pessimism”. Ought we to be pessimists? Before us there are gigantic possibilities. For us there is an unlimited future. The fate of Germany, the fate of Europe, the fate of the whole world depends on us. But precisely he who firmly believes in the revolutionary future has no need for illusions. Marxian realism is a prerequisite of revolutionary optimism.

Thus would Thaelmann have answered if he were a Marxist. But, unfortunately, he is not a Marxist.

Why Was the Party Silent?

But how then was it possible for the party to remain silent? The report of Thaelmann, representing a turn of 180 degrees in the question of the referendum was accepted without discussion. Thus it was proposed from above, but proposed means ordered. All the accounts of the Rote Fahne report that at all the assemblies of the party, the referendum was adopted “unanimously”. This unanimity is represented as a sign of the particular strength of the party. When or where has there yet been in the history of the revolutionary movement such dumb “monolithism?” The Thaelmanns and the Remmeles swear by Bolshevism. But the whole history of Bolshevism is the history of intense internal struggle in which the party won its position and hammered out its methods. The history of the year 1917, the greatest year in the history of the party, is full of tense internal struggles, as is also the history of the first live years after the conquest of power, despite this – not one split, not one widespread expulsion for political motives. But – at the head of the Bolshevik party there stood leaders of growth, another tempering and another authority than the Thaelmanns, Remmeles and Neumanns. Whence then this terrible present-day “monolithism”, this destructive unanimity which transforms each turn of the unfortunate leaders into an absolute law for the gigantic party?

“No discussions!” Because, as the Rote Fahne explains, “in this situation it is not speeches but action we need.” Repulsive hypocrisy! The party must accomplish “deeds”, but renounce participating in their preparatory deliberation. And with what deed are we concerned at present? With the question of placing the cross on the ballot, although in the final balance of proletarian crosses there is not even the possibility of ascertaining whether it is not the Fascist cross. [Hakenkreuz – the Fascist swastika.] Without doubts, without consideration, without questions, without even anxiety in your eyes, accept the new wild jump of the present holy leaders, otherwise you are – a renegade, a counter revolutionary! This is the ultimatum that the international Stalinist bureaucracy holds as a revolver against the temple of each militant.

What Does Stalin Say?

Did Stalin actually sanction in advance the new zig-zag? No one knows that, just as no one knows the opinions of Stalin on the Spanish revolution. Stalin remains silent. When more modest leaders, beginning with Lenin, wished to exert influence on the policy of a brother party, they made speeches and they wrote articles. The point lay in the fact that they had something to say. Stalin has nothing to say. He uses cunning with the historical process just as he uses cunning with individual people. He does not consider how to help the Spanish or German proletariat take a step forward, but how to guarantee for himself in advance a political loop-hole.

An unsurpassable example of the duality of Stalin in the basic questions of the world revolution, is his attitude towards the German events in the year 1923. Let us recall what he wrote to Zinoviev and Bucharin in August of the same year.

“Ought the Communists strive (at the present stage) to seize power without the Social Democrats? Are they ripe yet for that – in that, in my opinion, consists the question. At the same time of the taking of power we had in Russia such reserves as (1) peace, (2) land to the peasants, (3) the support of the enormous majority of the working class, (4) sympathy of the peasantry. At present, the German Communists possess no such thing. It is true that they have as their neighbor the Soviet country, which we had not, but what can we do for them at the present moment? If, at present, the power of Germany would fall, so to speak, and the Communists would seize it they would collapse with a crash. That is in ‘the best case’. But in the worst case – they would smash into smithereens and be thrust backwards. In my estimation, we must hold back the Germans and not encourage them.”

Stalin stood, this way, at the Right of Brandler who, in August-September 1923 considered, on the contrary, that the conquest of power in Germany would not present any difficulties, but that the difficulties would begin on the next day after the conquest of power. The official opinion of the Comintern at present is that the Brandlerites in the Fall of 1923 let pass an exceedingly revolutionary situation. The leading accusator of the Brandlerites is – Stalin. Has he, however, explained to the Comintern the question of his own position in that year? No, for that there is not the least necessity: it is sufficient to forbid the sections of the Comintern to raise the question.

In the same fashion, Stalin attempts to play also with the question of the referendum. Thaelmann [1] is unable to reveal the fact that Stalin worked through his agents in the German Central Committee and himself remained ambiguously in the rear. In the case of a victory of the New Line all the Manuilskys and Remmeles would proclaim that the initiative was Stalin’s. In case of a defeat, Stalin would retain the full possibility to find a guilty one. In precisely this lies the quintessence of his strategy. In this field he is powerful.

What does Pravda Say?

And what then does Pravda, the leading journal of the leading party in the Communist International, say? Pravda was unable to present one serious article, an attempt at an analysis of the situation in Germany. From the large programmatic speech of Thaelmann it shamefully produces a half-dozen phrases. And indeed what can the present headless, spineless Pravda, servile to the bureaucracy and tangled in contradictions say? What can the Pravda speak about when Stalin remains silent?

Pravda of July 24 explained the Berlin turn in the following fashion: “Failure to participate in the referendum would signify that the Communists support the present reactionary Landtag”. The whole matter is here reduced to a simple vote of lack of confidence. But why then in such a case did not the Communists take the initiative in the referendum, why did they struggle for several months against this initiative, and why on the July 21 did they suddenly kneel down before it? The argument of Pravda is a belated argument of parliamentary cretinism, and nothing else.

On the August 11, after the referendum, Pravda changed its argumentation: The purpose of the participation in the referendum consists for the party in the extra-parliamentary mobilization of the masses. But was it not for precisely that reason, for the extra-parliamentary mobilization of the masses, that the day of August 1st was assigned? We shall not now stop for a criticism of calendar Red Days. But on the First of August, the Communist party mobilized the masses under its own slogans and under its own leadership. For what reason, then, in a week’s time, was a new mobilization necessary, moreover of such a nature that the mobilized do not see one another, that no one of them is able to calculate their numbers, that they themselves, nor their friends, nor their enemies, are able to distinguish them from their deadly enemies.

On the following day in the number of August 12 Pravda declares, no more, no less, than that “the results of the voting signified ... the greatest blow of all that the working class has yet dealt the social democracy.” We will not produce the figures of the statistics of the referendum. They are known to all (except to the readers of the Pravda) and they strike the idiotic and shameful boasting of Pravda in the face. To lie to the workers, to throw dust in their eyes, these people consider to be in the very nature of things.

Official Leninism is crushed and trampled under the heels of bureaucratic epigonism. But unofficial Leninism lives. Let not the unbridled functionaries think that all will pass over for them with impunity. The scientifically founded ideas of the proletarian revolution are stronger than the apparatus, stronger than any amount of money stronger than the fiercest repression. In the matter of apparatus, money and repression, our class enemies are incomparably stronger than the present Stalinist bureaucracy. But nevertheless, on the territory of Russia, we conquered them. We demonstrated that it was possible to conquer them. The revolutionary proletariat shall conquer them all over. For that it needs a correct policy In the struggle for its right to carry on the policy of Marx and Lenin.


1. The question of whether Thaelmann was against the turn and only subordinated himself to Remmele and Neumann, who found support in Moscow, does not occupy us here, being entirely personal and episodic: the question is that of the system. Thaelmann did not dare to appeal to the party and consequently bears the entire responsibility.

return return return return return

Last updated on: 27.1.2013