Leon Trotsky

Stalinist Zig-zags on the
Question of the “United Front”

(January 1932)

Written: 27 January 1933.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 20 (Whole No. 116), 14 May 1932, p. 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.

(Continued from last issue)

Everyone should read The Infantile Disease of Leftism; today it is the timeliest of timely books. It is in reference to just such situations as the present one in Germany that Lenin speaks of – we quote verbatim:

“... the absolute necessity for the vanguard of the proletariat, for its class conscious section, for the Communist party to resort to tacking and veering in its course, to agreements, and compromises with different proletarian groups, with different parties of workers and of small proprietors ... The whole matter lies in being able to apply this tactic for the sake of raising and not lowering the common level of proletarian class consciousness, of the revolutionary spirit, and of the capacity to fight and to win.”

But what steps does the Communist party take? Day in and day out, it reiterates in its newspapers that the only United Front it will accept, “is the one directed against Bruening, Severing, Leipart, Hitler and their ilk.” In the face of a proletarian uprising, there is no gainsaying it, there will be no difference between Bruening, Severing, Leipart, and Hitler. Against the October Bolshevik uprising, the S.R.’s and the mensheviks united with the Cadets and Kornilov; Kerensky led the Black Hundreds and the Cossacks of General Krasnov against Petrograd; the mensheviks supported Kerensky and Krasnov; the S.R.’s engineered the uprising of the junkers under the leadership of monarchist officers.

But this doesn’t at all mean that Bruening, Severing, Leipart and Hitler always and under all conditions belong to the same camp. Just now their interests diverge. At the given moment the question that is posed before the social democracy is not so much one of defending the foundations of capitalist society against proletarian revolution as of defending the semi-parliamentarian bourgeois, system against Fascism. The refusal to make use of this antagonism would be an act of gross stupidity.

“To wage war for the purpose of overthrowing the international bourgeoisie,” Lenin wrote in The Infantile Disease of Leftism, “and to refuse beforehand to tack and veer in one’s course and to make good use of the antagonism (no matter how temporary) in interests between the enemies; to eschew agreements and compromises with possible (no matter how temporary, vacillating and adventitious) allies – isn’t that too funny for words?”

Again we quote verbatim: the word we italicize in parentheses are Lenin’s.

We quote further:

“It is possible to vanquish a more powerful enemy only by straining one’s forces to their utmost; and it is imperative that one make use, most painstakingly, carefully, cautiously and expertly, of any ‘rift’ between the enemies, no matter how tiny.”

But what are Thaelmann and Remmele under Manuilsky’s guidance doing? With might and main they are striving to cement – with the theory of social Fascism and with the practice of sabotage against the United Front, the rift – and what a rift – between the social democracy and Fascism.

Lenin enjoined that use be made of “every opportunity to gain a mass ally, no matter how temporary, vacillating, unreliable, and adventitious. Whoever hasn’t been able to get that into his head – he said – doesn’t understand an iota of Marxism, and of contemporary scientific socialism, in general.” Prick up your ears, prophets of the new Stalinist school: it is written here in black and white that you don’t understand an iota of Marxism. It’s you Lenin spoke of. R.S.V.P.

But, the Stalinists refute, without a victory over the social democracy, victory over Fascism is impossible. Is this true? In a certain sense it is. Yet the converse theorem is also true: without victory over Italian Fascism, victory over the Italian social democracy is impossible. Both Fascism and the social democracy are tools in the hands of the bourgeoisie. So long as capital rules, Fascism and social democracy will exist in divers combinations. All the questions, therefore, are reduced to the same denominator: the proletariat must overthrow the bourgeois regime.

But just now, when this regime is tottering in Germany, Fascism steps forward in its support. To lay this supporter by the heels, we are told, it is first necessary to finish off the social democracy ... Thus we are led into a vicious circle by schematism dead as a herring. The only conceivable way out is in the domain of action. And the character of this action is determined not by juggling abstract categories but by the real interrelations between the living historic forces.

“On, no!” the functionaries keep drumming, “we shall ‘first’ liquidate the social democracy. How? Very simply, we shall order our party organizations to recruit 100,000 new members within such and such a period.” Instead of political struggle – merely propaganda; instead of dialectic strategy – departmental plans. And what if the real development of the class struggle, at this very moment, has posed the question of Fascism before the working class, as a life and death question? Then the working class must be wheeled about with its back to the question; it must be lulled; it must be convinced that the task of fighting against Fascism is a minor task; that it will wait and solve itself; that Fascism in reality rules already; that Hitler will add nothing new; that there is no cause to fear Hitler; that Hitler will only clear the road for the Communists.

Is that exaggerating, perhaps? No, this is the exact and indubitable idea that motivates the leaders of the Communist party. They do not always follow it to its ultimate conclusion. On coming in contact with the masses they recoil often from the ultimate conclusions; they make a hodge-podge of divers policies, confusing themselves and the workers; but on all those occasions when they try to make both ends meet, they proceed from the inevitability of the victory of Fascism.


(To be Continued)

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Last updated on: 21 January 2016