Leon Trotsky

The Only Road

Von Papen & Hitler
Bonapartism and Fascism

(August 1932)

Written: 2 August 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 34 (Whole No. 130), 20 August 1932, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Let us endeavor briefly to realize what has occurred and where we stand.

Thanks to the social democracy, the Brueniug government had at its disposal the support of the parliament for ruling with the aid of emergency decrees. The social democratic leaders said: “In this manner we shall block the road to power of Fascism”. The Stalinist bureaucracy said: “No, Fascism has already triumphed, it is the Bruening regime which is Fascism.” Both were false. The social democrats palmed off a passive receding before Fascism as the struggle against Fascism. The Stalinists presented the matter as if the victory of Fascism was already behind them. The fighting power of the proletariat was sapped by both sides and the triumph of the enemy facilitated and brought closer.

In its time, we designated the Bruening government as Bonapartism (“caricature of Bonapartism”), that is, as a regime of the military-police dictatorship. As soon as the struggle of two social strata – the haves and the have-nots, the exploiter and the exploited – reaches its highest tension, the conditions are given for the domination of bureaucracy, police, soldiery. The government becomes “independent” of society. Let us once more recall: if two forks are stuck symmetrically into a cork, the latter can stand even on the head of a pin. That’s precisely the schema of Bonapartism. To be sure, such a government does not cease being the clerk of the property-owners. Yet the clerk sits on the back of the boss, rubs his neck raw and does not hesitate at times to dig his boots into his face. It might have been assumed that Bruening would hold on until the final solution. Yet, in the course of events, another link inserted itself: the Papen government. Were we to be exact, we should have to make a rectification of our old designation: the Bruening government was a pre-Bonapartist government. Bruening was only a precursor. In a perfected form, Bonapartism came upon the scene in the Papen-Schleicher government.

Wherein lies the difference? Bruening asserted that he knew no greater happiness than to “serve” Hindenburg and Paragraph 48. Hitler “supported” with his fist Bruening’s right hip. But with the left elbow Bruening rested on Wels’ shoulder. In the Reichstag, Bruening found a majority which relieved him of the necessity of counting on the Reichstag.

Bruening and the Bureaucracy

The more Bruening’s independence from the parliament grew, the more independent did the summits of the bureaucracy feel themselves from Bruening and the political groupings standing behind them. There only remained finally to break the bonds with the Reichstag. The von Papen government emerged from an immaculate bureaucratic conception. With the right elbow it rests upon Hitler’s shoulder. With the police fist it wards off the proletariat on the Left. Therein lies the secret of its “stability”, that is, of the fact that it did not collapse at the moment of its birth.

The Bruening government bore a clerical-bureaucratic-police character. The Reichswehr still remained in reserve Next to the police, the “Iron Front” served as a direct prop of Order. It is precisely in wiping out the dependence of the “Iron Front” that lay the essence of the Hindenburg-Papen coup d’état. The Generality moves up automatically to first place.

The social democratic leaders turned out to be completely duped. And it is no more than proper for them in periods of social crises. These petty bourgeois intriguers appear to be clever only under those conditions where cleverness isn’t necessary. Now they pull the covers over their heads at night, sweat and hope for a miracle: Perhaps in the end we may yet be able to save not only our necks but also the overstuffed furniture and the small, innocent savings. But there won’t be any miracles ...

Unfortunately, however, the Communist party has also been taken completely by surprise by the events. The Stalinist bureaucracy was unable to foresee a thing. Today Thaelmann, Remmele and others speak on every occasion of “the coup d’état of July 20.” How is that? At first they contended that Fascism is already here and that only “counter-revolutionary Trotskyists” could speak of it as something in the future. Now it turns out that to pass over from Bruening to Papen – for the present not to Hitler but only to Papen – a whole “coup d’état” was necessary. Yet the class content of Severing, Bruening and Hitler, these sages taught us, is “one and the same thing.” Then whence and wherefore the coup d’état?

But the confusion doesn’t come to an end with this. Even though the difference between Bonapartism and Fascism has now been revealed plainly enough, Thaelmann, Remmele and others speak of the Fascist coup d’état of July 20. At the same time, they warn the workers against the approaching danger of the Hitlerist, that is, of the equally Fascist overturn. Finally, the social democracy is designated just as before as social Fascist. The unfolding events are in this way reduced to this, that species of Fascism takes the power from each other with the aid of “Fascist” coups d’état. Isn’t it clear that the whole Stalinist theory was created only for the purpose of gluing up the human brain?

Finishing Off the Social Democrats

The less prepared the workers were, the more the appearance of the Papen government on the scene had to arouse the impression of strength: complete ignoring of the parties, new emergency decrees, dissolution of the Reichstag, repressive measures, state of siege in the capital, abolition of the Prussian “Democracy”. And with what ease! A lion you kill with a shot; the flea you squash between the fingernails; social democratic ministers are finished off with a fillip.

Only, in spite of the appearance of concentrated forces, the Papen government “as such” is weaker yet than its predecessor. The Bonapartist regime can attain a comparatively stable and durable character only in the event that it brings a revolutionary epoch to a close; when the relationship of forces has already been tested in battles; when the revolutionary classes are already spent while the possessing classes have not yet freed themselves from the fear: will not the morrow bring new convulsions? Without this basic condition, that is, without a preceding exhaustion of the mass energies in battles, the Bonapartist regime is in no position to develop.

Through the Papen government, the barons, the magnates of capital and the bankers have undertaken the attempt to secure their weal by means of the police and the regular army. The idea of giving up all power to Hitler, who supports himself upon the raging and unleashed bands of the petty bourgeoisie, is far from a pleasant one to them. They do not, of course, doubt that in the long run Hitler will be a submissive instrument of their domination. Yet this is bound up with convulsions, with the risk of a long and weary civil war and great expenses. To be sure, Fascism, as the Italian example shows, leads in the end to a militarist-bureaucratic dictatorship of the Bonapartist type. But for that it requires a number of years even in the event of a complete victory: a longer span of years in Germany than in Italy. It is clear that the possessing classes would prefer a more economical path, that is, the path of Schleicher and not of Hitler, not to speak of the fact that Schleicher himself prefers it that way.

The fact that the source of existence of the Papen government consists in the neutralization of the irreconcilable camps, in no way signifies, of course, that the forces of the revolutionary proletariat and of the reactionary petty bourgeoisie weigh equally on the scale of history. The whole question shifts here onto the field of politics. Through the mechanics of the “Iron Front” the social democracy paralyzes the proletariat. With the policy of brainless ultimatism the Stalinist bureaucracy blocks the revolutionary way out for the workers. With a correct leadership of the proletariat, Fascism would be exterminated without difficulty and not a chink could remain open for Bonapartism. Unfortunately that is not the situation. The paralyzed strength of the proletariat has assumed the deceptive form of a “strength” of the Bonapartist clique. Therein lies the political formula of the present day.

What Papen Represents

The Papen government represents the impersonal cutting point of great historical forces. Its independent weight is next to nil. Therefore it could do nothing but take fright at its own gesticulations and grow dizzy from the voids arising on all sides of it. By this and only by this is to be explained that in the deeds of the government up to now there have been two parts of cowardice to each part of audacity. With Prussia, that is, the social democracy, the government played a sure game: it knew that these gentlemen would offer no resistance. But after it had dissolved the Reichstag, it summoned new elections and did not dare to postpone them. After proclaiming the state of martial law, it hastened to explain: It is only in order to facilitate the capitulation without a struggle of the social democratic leaders.

However, isn’t there a Reichswehr? We are not inclined to forget it. Engels designated the state of the armed detachments of people with material auxiliaries in the form of prisons, etc. With respect to the present governmental power, it can even be said that the Reichswehr alone really exists. But the Reichswehr in no way represents a submissive and guaranteed instrument in the hands of that group of people at whose head stands Papen. In reality, the government is rather a sort of political commission of the Reichswehr.

But with all its preponderance over the government, the Reichswehr can nevertheless lay no claim to any independent political role. A hundred thousand soldiers, no matter how fused and steeled they may be (which still requires testing), are incapable of commanding a nation of sixty-five millions, torn by the profoundest social antagonisms. The Reichswehr represents only one element in the interplay of forces, and not the decisive one.

In its fashion, the new Reichswehr does not reflect baldly the political situation in the country which has led to the Bonapartist experiment. The parliament without a majority, with irreconcilable wings, offers an obvious and irrefutable argument in favor of dictatorship. Once more the confines of democracy emerge in all their obviousness. Where it is a question of the foundations of society itself, it is not parliamentary arithmetic that decides. What decides is the struggle.

Prospects for Tomorrow

We shall not undertake to counsel from afar what road the attempts at forming a government will take in the next days. Our hypotheses would come tardily in any case, and besides, it is not the possible transitional forms and combinations which decide the question. A bloc of the Right wing with the Center would signify the “legalization” of the seizure of power by the National-Socialists, that is, the most suitable cloak for the Fascist coup d’état. What relationships would develop in the early days between Hitler, Schleicher and the Center leaders, is more important for them than it is for the German people. Politically, all the conceivable combinations with Hitler signify the dissolution of bureaucracy, courts, police and army into Fascism.

If it is assumed that the Center will not agree to a coalition, in which it would have to pay with a rupture with its own workers for the role of a brake in Hitler’s locomotive, – then in this case only the unconcealed extra-parliamentary road remains. A combination without the Center would more easily and speedily insure the predominance of the National-Socialists. If the latter do not immediately unite with Papen and at the same time do not pass over to the immediate assault, then the Bonapartist character of the government will have to emerge more sharply: von Schleicher would have his “hundred days” ... without the preceding Napoleonic years.

Hundred days – no, we are figuring far too generously. The Reichswehr does not decide. Schleicher does not suffice. The extra-parliamentary dictatorship of the Junkers and the magnates of financial capital can be stood firmly on its feet only by the method of a wearisome and relentless civil war. Will Hitler be able to fulfill this task? That depends not only upon the evil will of Fascism, but also upon the revolutionary will of the proletariat.

Prinkipo, August 2, 1932

L. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 31.12.2013