Leon Trotsky

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

(January 1932)

Written: 27 January 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. 5 No. 21 (Whole No. 117), 21 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)

On October 14, 1931, Remmele, one of the three official leaders of the Communist party, said in the Reichstag, “Herr Bruening has put it very plainly once they (the Fascists) are in power, then the United Front of the proletariat will be established and it will make a clean sweep of everything. (Violent applause from the Communists)” Bruening’s scaring the bourgeoisie and the social democracy with such a perspective – that is intelligible: he thus safeguards his sovereignty. Remmele’s solacing the workers with such a perspective – that is infamous: he thus prepares the way for Hitler’s domination, for this perspective in its entirety is false to the core and bears witness to an utter misunderstanding of mass-psychology and of the dialectics of revolutionary struggle. Should the proletariat of Germany, before whose eyes the development of events now proceeds openly, permit Fascism to come into power, i.e., should it evince a most fatal blindness and passivity, then there are no reasons whatever for the assumption that after the Fascists are in power, this same proletariat will shake off its passivity immediately and “make a clean sweep”. Nothing like this, for instance, happened in Italy. Remmele reasons completely after the manner of the French petty-bourgeois phrasemongers of the nineteenth century who proved themselves entirely incapable of leading the masses but who were convinced, nevertheless, quite firmly that should Louis Bonaparte plant himself over the republic, the people would rise, on the instant, in their defense, and “make a clean sweep.” However, the people that had permitted the adventurer Louis Bonaparte to seize the power proved, sure enough, incapable of sweeping him away thereafter. Before this happened, new major events, historical quakes, and a war had to occur.

The United Front of the proletariat is achievable – for Remmele, as he has told us, – only after Hitler assumes power. Can a more pathetic confession of one’s own impotence be made? Since we, Remmele and Co., are incapable of uniting the proletariat, we place the burden of this task upon Hitler’s shoulders. After he has united the proletariat for us, then we will show ourselves in our true stature. Remmele follows this up with a boastful announcement, “We are the victors of the coming day; and the question is no longer one of who shall vanquish whom? This question is already answered. (Applause from the Communists)” The question now reads only, “At what moment shall we overthrow the bourgeoisie?” Right to the point! As we say in Russian, that’s pointing one’s finger and hitting the sky. We are the victors of the coming day. All we lack today is the United Front. Herr Hitler will supply us with it tomorrow when he assumes power. Which still means that the victor of the coming day will be not Remmele but Hitler. And then, you might as well carve it on your nose, the moment for the victory of the Communists will not arrive so soon.

Remmele feels himself that his optimism limps on its left leg, and he attempts to bolster it up. “We are not afraid of the Fascist gentlemen. They will shoot their bolt quicker than any other government. (Right you are! from the Communists)” And for proof: The Fascists want paper-money inflation, and that means ruin for the masses of the nation; consequently, everything will turn out for the best. Thus the verbal inflation of Remmele leads the German workers astray.

Here we have before us a program speech of an official leader of the party; it was issued in immense numbers and was used in the Communist membership drive: appended to the speech is a printed blank for enrollment in the Party. And this very program speech is based part and parcel upon capitulation to Fascism. “We are not afraid” of Hitler’s assuming power. What is this, if not the formula of cowardice turned inside out. “We” don’t consider ourselves capable of keeping Hitler from assuming power; worse yet: we, bureaucrats, have so degenerated as not to dare think seriously of fighting Hitler. Therefore, “we are not afraid”. What don’t you fear: fighting against Hitler? Oh no! they are not afraid of ... Hitler’s victory. They are not afraid of refusing to fight. They are not afraid to confess their own cowardice. Shame! Out upon it!

In one of my previous pamphlets I wrote that the Stalinist bureaucracy was baiting a trap for Hitler – in the guise of state power. The Communist journalists, who flit from Münzenberg to Ullstein and from Mosse [1] to Münzenberg, announced immediately that “Trotsky vilifies the Communist Party.” Isn’t it really self-evident that Trotsky, out of his aversion for Communism, out of his hatred for the German proletariat, out of his passionate desire to save German capitalism – yes, Trotsky foists a plan of capitulation upon the Stalinist bureaucracy. But in reality I only gave a brief summary of Remmele’s program speech and of a theoretical article by Thaelmann. Where does the vilification come in?

Moreover both Thaelmann and Remmele are only holding steadfastly to the Stalinist gospel. Let us recall once again what Stalin propounded in the autumn of 1923 when everything in Germany was – as now – poised on the razor edge of a knife.

“Should the Communists (on the given plane)” wrote Stalin to Zinoviev and Bucharin, strive to seize power without the social democracy? are they sufficiently mature for this? – that’s the question as I see it ... Should the power in Germany at this moment fall, so to speak, and should the Communists catch it up, they’ll fall through with a crash. That’s ‘at best’. If it comes to the worst – they’ll be smashed to pieces and beaten back ... Of course, the Fascist aren’t asleep, but it serves our purposes better to let them be the first to attack: that will solidify the entire working class around the Communists ... In my opinion the Germans should be restrained and not encouraged.”

In his pamphlet, The Mass Strike, Langner writes, “The assertion (Brandler’s) that a battle in October (1923) would have resulted only in a ‘decisive defeat’, is nothing but an attempt to gloss over opportunistic mistakes and the opportunistic capitulation without a fight.” (Page 101) That is absolutely correct. But who was the instigator of “the capitulation without a fight”? Who was it that “restrained” instead of “encouraging”? In 1931 Stalin only amplified his formula of 1923: let the Fascists assume the power, they’ll be only clearing the road for us. Naturally it is much safer to attack Brandler than Stalin: the Langners understand that quite well In point of fact, in the last two months – not without the influence of the outspoken protests from the Left – a certain change has occurred: the Communist party no longer says that Hitler must assume power in order to shoot his bolt quickly; now it lays more stress on the converse side of the question: the battle against Fascism cannot be postponed until after Hitler assumes the power; the battle must be waged now by arousing the workers against Bruening’s decrees and by widening and deepening the strife on the economical and political arenas. That is absolutely correct. Everything that the representatives of the Communist party have to say within this sphere is not to be gainsaid. Here we have no disagreements whatever. Still the most important question remains: how to get down from words to business?

The overwhelming majority of the members of the Communist party as well as a considerable portion of the officialdom – we haven’t the slightest doubt – sincerely want to fight. But the facts must be faced openly: there’s no fighting being done, there is no sign of fighting in sight. Bruening’s decrees passed by scot-free. The Christmas truce was not broken. The policy of calling sectional and improvised strikes, judging by the accounts of the Communist party itself, did not achieve any serious successes to date. The workers see this. Shrieking alone will not convince them.

The Communist party places on the shoulders of the social democracy the responsibility for the passivity of the masses. In a historical sense that is indubitable. But we are no historians, we are revolutionary politicians. Our task is not one of conducting historical researches, but of finding the way out.

The S.A.P., which during the first period of its existence took up formally the question of fighting Fascism (especially in articles by Rosenfeld and Seydewitz) made a certain step forward by timing the counter-attack coincidently with Hitler’s assumption of power. Its press now demands that the fight to repel Fascism be begun immediately by mobilizing the workers against hunger and the police yoke. We admit readily that the change in the policy of the S.A.P. was brought about under the influence of Communist criticism: one of the tasks of Communism precisely consists in pushing Centrism forward by criticizing its dual tendencies. But that alone does not suffice: one must exploit politically the fruits of one’s own criticism by proposing to the S.A.P. to pass from words to action. One must subject the S.A.P. to a public and a clear test; not by analyzing isolated quotations – that’s not enough – , but by offering to make an agreement towards taking specified practical steps against the foe. Should the S.A.P. lay bare its incompetence, the higher the authority of the Communist party would rise, the sooner an intermediate party would be liquidated. What’s there to fear?

However, it is not true that the S.A.P. does not seriously want to fight. There are various tendencies within it. For the moment, so long as the matter is reduced to abstract propaganda for a United Front, the inner contradictions lie dormant. Once the battle is begun, they will become apparent. The Communist party stands to gain alone thereby.

But there still remains the most important question as regards the S.D.P. Should it reject those practical propositions which the S.A.P. accepts, a new situation would arise. The Centrists, who would prefer to straddle the fence between the C.P. and the S.D. in order to complain first about one and then about the other, and to gain in strength at the expense of both (such is the philosophy evolved by Urbahns) – these Centrists would find themselves suspended in mid air, because it would immediately become apparent that the S.D. itself is sabotaging the revolutionary struggle. Isn’t that an important gain? The workers within the S.A.P. from then on would definitely lean towards the C.P.

Moreover the refusal of Wels and Co. to accept the program of joint action, agreed to by the S.A.P., would not let off the social democrats scot-free either. The Vorwaerts would be deprived immediately of the chance to complain about the passivity of the C.P. The gravitation of the social democratic workers towards the United Front would increase immediately; and that would be equivalent to their gravitation towards the C.P. Isn’t that plain enough?

At each one of these stages and turns the C.P. would tap new resources. Instead of monotonously repeating ever the same ready made formulas before the one and the same audience, it would be enabled to set new strata into motion, to teach them through actual experience, to steel them and to strengthen its hegemony among the working class.



1. Bourgeois publishing houses in Germany. – Ed.

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Last updated on: 17.6.2013