Leon Trotsky

What Next?

(January 1932)

Written: 27 January 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V. No. 13 (Whole No. 109), 26 March 1932, pp. 1& 4.
Extract from What Next – Vital Questions for the German Proletariat.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2012. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

The following is the introduction to comrade Trotsky’s new work on Germany. The first chapter will appear in THE MILITANT next week. – Ed.

Capitalism in Russia proved to be the weakest link in the chain of imperialism, because of its extreme backwardness. In the present crisis, German capitalism reveals itself as the weakest link for the diametrically opposite reason: precisely because it is the most advanced capitalist system, conditioned in its development by the insolvable European dilemma. As the productive forces of Germany become geared more and more highly, the more dynamic power they gather, the more they are strangled within the state system of Europe – a system that is akin to the “system” of cages within an impoverished provincial zoo. At every turn in the conjuncture of events German capitalism is thrown up against those problems which it had attempted to solve by means of war. Acting through the Hohenzollern government, the German bourgeoisie girded itself to “organize Europe”. Acting through the regime of Bruening-Curtius it attempted ... to form a customs union with Austria. It is to such a pathetic level that its problems, potentialities and perspectives have been reduced! But even the customs union was not to be attained. As the witch’s house in fairy tales, so the entire European system has for its foundation a pair of hen’s legs. The great and salutary hegemony of France is in danger of toppling over, should a few million Austrians unite with Germany.

For Europe, in general, and primarily for Germany no advance is possible along the capitalist road. The temporary resolution of the present crisis to ,be achieved by the automatic interplay of the forces of capitalism itself – on the bones of the workers – would signify only the resurrection of all the contradictions on the very next successive stage, only in still more acute and concentrated form.

In terms of world economy, Europe is on the downward trend. Already the forehead of Europe is plastered beyond removal with American labels: the Dawes plan, the Young Plan, Hoover’s moratorium. Europe is placed thoroughly on American rations.

The decay of capitalism results in social and cultural decomposition. The road is barred for further methodical differentiation within the nation, for the further growth of the proletariat at the expense of the diminution of intermediate classes. Further prolongation of the crisis can bring in its trail only the pauperization of the petty bourgeoisie and the transformation of ever increasing groups of workers into the lumpenproletariat. In its most acute form, it is this threat that grips advanced capitalist Germany by the throat.

The rottenest portion of putrefying capitalist Europe is the social democratic bureaucracy. It entered upon its historical journey under the banner of Marx and Engels. For its goal it placed the overthrow of the rule of the bourgeoisie. The powerful upsurge of capitalism caught it up and dragged it in its wake. In the name of reform, the social democracy betrayed the revolution, at first by its actions and later by its very words. Kautsky, forsooth, for a long time still defended the phraseology of revolution, making it serve as a handmaiden to the requirements of reformism. Bernstein, on the contrary, demanded the renunciation of revolution: for capitalism was entering the period of peaceful development without crises, and without wars. A paragon of prophets! Apparently, between Kautsky and Bernstein there was an irreconciliable divergence. Actually, however, they symmetrically complemented one another as the right and left boots on the feet of reformism.

The war came. The social democracy supported the war in the name of future prosperity. Instead of prosperity decay set in. Then the problem resolved itself no longer in concluding from the inadequacy of capitalism the inevitability of revolution; nor was it one of reconciling the workers with capitalism by means of reforms. The new policies of the social democracy now consisted in making society safe for the bourgeoisie at the cost of sacrificing reforms.

But even this was not the last stage of degeneracy. The present crisis that is convulsing capitalism obliged the social democracy to sacrifice the fruits achieved after protracted economic and political struggles and thus to reduce the German workers to the plane of existence of their fathers, grandfathers and greatgrandfathers. There is no historical spectacle more tragic and at the same time more repulsive than the fetid disintegration of reformism amid the wreckage of all its conquests and hopes. The theater is rabid in its straining for modernism. Let it stage more often Hauptmann’s The Weavers: this most modern of modern dramas. But the director of the theater must not forget to reserve the dress circle for the leaders of the social democracy.

Incidentally, however, these leaders are in no mood for the theater: they have reached the utmost limits of their adaptability. There is a level beneath which the working class of Germany cannot drop willingly or for any length of time. Moreover, the bourgeois regime, fighting for its existence, is in no mood to recognize this level. The emergency decrees of Bruening are only the beginning, only feelers to get the lay of the land. Bruening’s regime rests upon the cowardly and perfidious support of the social democratic bureaucracy which in its turn depends upon the sullen, half-hearted support of a section of the proletariat. The system based on bureaucratic decrees is unstable, unreliable, temporary. Capitalism requires another, more decisive policy. The support of the social democracy with its one eye ever cocked on its own workers, is not only insufficient for its purposes, but has already become irksome. The period of half-way measures has passed. In order to try to find a way out, the bourgeoisie must absolutely rid itself of the pressure exerted by the workers’ organizations, these must needs be eliminated, destroyed, utterly crushed.

At this juncture, the historic role of Fascism begins. It sets on its feet those classes that are immediately above the proletariat and who are ever in dread of being forced down into its ranks; it organizes and militarizes them at the expense of finance capital, under the cover of the official government, and it directs them to the extirpation of proletarian organizations, from the most revolutionary to the most conservative.

Fascism is not merely a system of reprisals, of brutal force, and of police terror. Fascism is a particular governmental system based on the uprooting of all elements of proletarian democracy within bourgeois society. The task of Fascism lies not only in destroying the Communist advance guard but in holding the entire class in a state of forced disunity. To this end the physical annihilation of the most revolutionary section of the workers does not suffice. It is also necessary to smash all independent and voluntary organizations, to demolish all the defensive bulwarks of the proletariat, and to uproot whatever has been achieved during three quarters of a century by the social democracy and the trade unions. For, in the last analysis, the Communist party also bases itself on these achievements.

The social democracy has prepared all the conditions necessary for the triumph of Fascism. But by this fact it has also prepared the stage for its own political liquidation. It is absolutely correct to place on the social democrats the responsibility for the emergency legislation of Bruening as well as for the impending danger of Fascist savagery. It is absolute balderdash to identify social democracy with Fascism.

By its policies during the revolution of 1848, the liberal bourgeoisie prepared the stage for the triumph of counter revolution, which in turn emasculated liberalism. Marx and Engels lashed the German liberal bourgeoisie no less sharply than Lassalle did, and their criticism was more profound than his. But when the Lassalleans dumped the feudal counter-revolution together with the liberal bourgeoisie into “one reactionary mass”, Marx and Engels were justly outraged by this false ultra-radicalism. The erroneous position of the Lassalleans turned them on several occasions into involuntary aids of the monarchy, despite the general progressive nature of their work, which was infinitely more important and consequential than the achievements of liberalism.

The theory of “social Fascism” reproduces the basic error of the Lassalleans on a new historical background. After dumping National Socialists and social democrats into one Fascist pile, the Stalinist bureaucracy flies headlong into such activities as backing the Hitler referendum; which in its own fashion is in no wise superior to Lassalle’s alliances with Bismarck.

In the present phase, German Communism in its struggle against the social democracy must lean on two inseparable facts: (a) the political responsibility of the social democracy for the strength of Fascism; (b) absolute irreconcilability between Fascism and those workers’ organizations on which the social democracy itself depends.

The contradictions within German capitalism have at present reached such a state of tension that an explosion is inevitable. The adaptability of the social democracy has reached that limit beyond which lies self-annihilation. The mistakes of the Stalinist bureaucracy have reached that limit beyond which lies catastrophe. Such is the three-fold formula that characterizes the situation in Germany. Everything is now poised on the razor edge of a knife.

When of necessity one must follow conditions in Germany through newspapers that arrive almost a week late; when one must allow another week before manuscripts may bridge the gap between Constantinople and Berlin; after which additional weeks must pass before the pamphlet reaches its public, involuntarily the question arises, “Won’t it be altogether too late? And each time one answers oneself: No! The armies that are drawn up for battle are too colossal that one need fear a simultaneous settlement of the issue at the speed of greased lightning. The strength logic of facts will make itself heard more imperiously of the German proletariat has not been drained. Its powers have not as yet been brought into play. The logic of facts will make itself heard more imperiously with every passing day. And this justifies the author’s attempt to add what he has to say even if it is delayed a few weeks, i. e., an entire historical period.

The Stalinist bureaucracy came to the conclusion that it would be able to complete its labors more peacefully were the author of these pages confined in Prinkipo. If obtained from the government of Herman Mueller, the social democrat, a refusal or a visa for ... “a menshevik”: in this instance the united front was established without any wavering or delay. Today, in official Soviet publications, the Stalinists are broadcasting the news that I am “defending” Bruening’s government in accordance with an agreement made with the social democracy, which in return is pulling strings to allow me the right of entry into Germany. Instead of becoming indignant over such viciousness, I permit myself to laugh at its stupidity. But I must cut short my laughter, for time is pressing.

There cannot be the slightest doubt that the course of events will demonstrate the correctness of our position. But in what manner will history demonstrate its proof: Through the catastrophe of the Stalinist faction, or through the victory of Marxist policies?

Therein lies at present the crux of the entire question. This question is the question of the fate of the German nation, and not of its fate alone.

* * *

The problems that are analyzed in this pamphlet did not originate yesterday. It is nine years now since the leadership of the Comintern has busied itself with the revaluation of values and with disorganizing the advance guard of the international proletariat by means of tactical convulsions which in their totality fall under the label of “the general line”. The Russian Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists) was formed not only because of Russian problems but also because of international ones. Among these, the problems of the revolutionary development in Germany occupied by no means the last place. Sharp divergences on this subject date back from 1923. During the succeeding years the author of these pages spoke more than once on these debatable questions. A considerable portion of my critical works has been published in German. The present pamphlet is in its turn a contribution to the theoretical and political work of the Left Opposition. Much that is mentioned hereafter only in passing was in its time submitted to detailed analysis. Therefore I must needs refer my readers for particulars to my books, The Draft Program of the Comintern – A Criticism Of Fundamentals, The Strategy of the World Revolution, The Permanent Revolution, etc. Now, at the time when these divergences appear before everybody in the light of a great historical task, it is possible to estimate their origins much better and more profoundly. For the serious revolutionary, for the true Marxist such a study is absolutely essential. Eclectics live by means of episodic thoughts and improvisations that originate under the impact of events. Marxist cadres capable of leading the proletarian revolution are trained only by the continual and successive working out of problems and disputes.

PRINKIPO, January 27, 1932


return return return return return

Last updated on: 19.5.2013