L. Trotsky

Alliance or Struggle Between
Social Democracy and Fascism?

(August 1932)

Written: 9 August 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 37 (Whole No. 133), 10 September 1932, p. 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.

To understand the interrelationship of the classes in the form of a schema, fixed once for all time, is comparatively simple. The evaluation of the concrete relations between the classes in every given situation is immeasurably more difficult.

The German big bourgeoisie is at present vacillating – a condition which the big bourgeoisie, in general, very rarely experiences. One part has definitely come to be convinced of the inevitability of the Fascist path and would like to accelerate the operation. The other part hopes to become master of the situation with the aid of a Bonapartist military-police dictatorship. No one in this camp desires a return to the Weimar “democracy”.

The petty bourgeoisie is split up. National-Socialism, which has united the overwhelming majority of the intermediate classes under its banner, wants to take the whole power into its own hands. The democratic wing of the petty bourgeoisie, which still has millions of workers behind it, wants a return to democracy according to the Ebertian example. In the meantime, it is prepared to support the Bonapartist dictatorship at least passively. The social democracy figures as follows: Under the pressure of the Nazis, the Papen-Schleicher government will be forced to establish a balance by strengthening its Left wing; meanwhile, an alleviation of the crisis will perhaps ensue; the petty bourgeoisie will perhaps “sober up”; capitalism will perhaps decrease its frantic pressure upon the working class, – and with the aid of God everything will once again be in order.

The Bonapartist clique actually does not desire the complete victory of Fascism. It would not by any means be disinclined to utilize the support of the social democracy within certain bounds. But for this purpose, it would have to “tolerate” the workers’ organizations, which is conceivable only if, at least, to a certain extent, the legal existence of the Communist party is to be allowed. Moreover, support of the military dictatorship by the social democracy would push the workers irresistably into the ranks of Communism. By seeking a means of support against the brown devils, the government would very soon become subject to the blows of the red Beelzebubs.

The official Communist press declares that the toleration of Brüning by the social democracy paved the road for Papen and that the half-toleration of Papen will accelerate the arrival of Hitler. That is entirely correct. Within these boundaries, there are no differences of opinion between ourselves and the Stalinists, But this precisely signifies that in times of social crisis the politics of reformism no longer turn against the masses alone but against itself. In this process the critical moment has at present come into play.

Hitler tolerates Schleicher, the social democracy does not oppose Papen. If this situation could really be assured for a long period of time, then the social democracy would become transformed into the Left wing of Bonapartism and leave to Fascism the role of the Right wing. Theoretically, it is not, of course, excluded that the present, unprecedented crisis of German capitalism will not lead to any conclusive solution, i.e., either end with the victory of the proletariat or with the triumph of the Fascist counterrevolution. If the Communist party continues its policy of stupid ultimatism and thereby saves the social democracy from inevitable collapse; if Hitler does not within the near future decide upon the overthrow and thereby provokes disintegration inside of his own ranks; if the economic conjuncture takes an upward trend before Schleicher falls – then the Bonapartist combination of Paragraph 48 of the Weimar Constitution, of the Reichswehr, the semi-oppositional social democracy, and semi-oppositional Fascism could perhaps maintain itself (up to a new social impetus, which is to be expected in any case).

But offhand, we are still far from such a happy fulfillment of the conditions, which form the subject of social democratic day dreams. It is by no means guaranteed. Even the Stalinists hardly believe in the power of resistance or the durability of the Papen-Schleicher regime. All indications point to the decomposition of the Wels-Schleicher-Hitler triangle even before it has begun to take shape.

But perhaps it will be replaced by a Hitler-Wels combination? According to Stalin they are “twins, not antipodes”. Let us assume that the social democracy would, without fearing its own workers, want to sell its toleration to Hitler. But Hitler does not need this commodity: he needs not the toleration, but the abolition of the social democracy. The Hitler government can only accomplish its task by breaking the resistance of the proletariat and by removing all the possible organs of its resistance. Therein 1ies the historical role of Fascism.

The Stalinists confine themselves to a purely psychological, or more exactly, to a purely moral evaluation of those cowardly and avaricious petty bourgeois who lead the social democracy. Can we actually assume that these inveterate traitors would separate themselves from the bourgeoisie and oppose it? Such an idealistic method has very little in common with Marxism, which proceeds not from what people think about themselves and what they desire but from the conditions in which they arc placed and from the changes which these conditions will undergo.

The social democracy supports the bourgeois regime, not for the gains of the coal, the steel and the other magnates, but for the sake of those gains which it itself can obtain as a party, in the person of its numerically great and powerful apparatus. To be sure, Fascism in no way threatens the bourgeois regime, for the defense of which the social democracy exists. But Fascism endangers that role which the social democracy fulfills in the bourgeois regime and the income which the social democracy derives from this role it plays. Even though the Stalinists forget this side of the matter, the social democracy itself does not for one moment lose from its sight the mortal danger with which a victory of Fascism threatens it – not the bourgeoisie, but it – the social democracy.

About three years ago, when we pointed out that the point of departure in the coming political crisis in Austria and in Germany would in all probability be fixed by the incompatibility of social democracy and Fascism; when, based upon this, we rejected the theory of social Fascism which was not disclosing but concealing the approaching conflict; when we called attention to the possibility that the social democracy, a significant part of its apparatus along with it, would be forced by the march of events into a struggle against Fascism and that this would be a favorable point of departure for the Communist party for a further attack, very many Communists – not only hired functionaries, but even quite honest revolutionists – accused us of ... “idealizing” the social democracy. Nothing remained but to shrug our shoulders. It is hard to dispute with people whose thought stops there, where the question first begins for the Marxist. In conversations, I often cited the following example: the Jewish bourgeoisie in Czarist Russia represented an extremely frightened and demoralized part of the entire Russian bourgeoisie. And yet, insofar as the pogroms of the Black Hundreds, which were in the main directed against the Jewish poor, also hit the bourgeoisie, the latter was forced to take up its self-defense. To be sure, it did not show any remarkable bravery on this field either. But due to the danger hanging over their heads, the liberal Jewish bourgeoisie, for example, collected considerable sums for the arming of revolutionary workers and students. In this manner, a temporary practical agreement was arrived at between the most revolutionary workers, who were prepared to fight with guns in hand, and the most frightened group of the bourgeoisie, which had got into a scrape.

Last year I wrote that in the struggle against Fascism the Communists were duty-bound to come to a practical agreement not only with the devil and his granddam, but even with Grzesinsky. This sentence made its way through the entire Stalinist world press. Was better proof needed of the “social Fascism” of the Left Opposition? Many comrades had warned me in advance: “They are going to seize on this phrase”. I answered them: “It has also been written so that they seize on it. Just let them seize upon this hot iron and burn their fingers. The blockheads must get their lesson.”

The course of the struggle has led to Von Papen getting Grzesinsky acquainted with the inside of a jail. Did this episode follow from the theory of social Fascism and from the prognoses of the Stalinist bureaucracy? No, it occurred in complete contradiction of the latter. Our evaluation of the situation, however, had such an eventuality in view and had assigned a definite place for it.

But the social democracy this time, too, avoided the struggle! some Stalinist will object. Yes, it did avoid it. Whoever expected the social democracy, over the head of its leaders and their carrying-on, independently to take up the struggle, and, at that, under conditions in which the Communist party showed itself even incapable of struggle, naturally had to experience disappointment. We did not expect such miracles. Therefore we could not lay ourselves open to any “disappointments” about the social democracy.

Grzesinsky has not become transformed into a revolutionary tiger; that we will readily grant. But nevertheless, there is quite a difference between a situation in which Grzesinsky, sitting in his fortress, sends out police detachments for the safeguarding of “democracy” against revolutionary workers and a situation in which the Bonapartist savior of capitalism puts Grzesinsky himself in jail, is there not? And are we not to take this difference into account politically; are we not to take advantage of it?

Let us turn back to the example cited above: it is not hard to grasp the difference between a Jewish manufacturer who tips the Czarist policeman for beating down the strikers and the same manufacturer who turns over money to the strikers of yesterday to obtain arms against the pogromists. The bourgeois remains the same. But from the change in the situation there results a change in relations. The Bolsheviki conducted the strike against the manufacturer. Later on, they took money from the same manufacturer for the struggle against the pogroms. That did not, naturally, prevent the workers, when their hour had come, from turning their arms against the bourgeoisie. Docs all that has been said mean that the social democracy as a whole will fight against Fascism? To this we reply: part of the social democratic functionaries will undoubtedly go over to the Fascists; a considerable section will creep under their beds in the hour of danger. The working masses also will not fight in their entirety. To guess in advance what part of the social democratic workers will be drawn into the struggle, and when, and what part of the apparatus they will tear along with them, is altogether impossible. That depends upon many circumstances, among them, also, upon the position of the Communist party. The policy of the united front has as its task to separate those who want to fight from those who do not; to push forward those who vacillate; finally to compromise the capitulationist leaders in the eyes of the workers in order to consolidate the fighting capacity of the latter.

How much time has been lost – aimlessly, senselessly, shamefully! How much could have been achieved, even in the last two years alone! Was it not clear in advance that monopolistic capital and its Fascist army would drive the social democracy with fists and blackjacks toward the road of opposition and of self-defense? This prognosis should have been unfolded before the eyes of the entire working class, the initiative should have been taken for the united front and this initiative should have been retained firmly in our hands at every new stage. It was not necessary to shout, nor to scream. An open game could have been played quietly. It would have sufficed to formulate, clip and clear, the inevitability of every next step of the enemy and to set up a practical program of the united front, without exaggerations and without haggling, but also without weakness and without concessions. How high the Communist party would stand today if it had assimilated the ABC of Leninist policy and applied it with the necessary perseverance!

Prinkipo, August 9, 1932

L. Trotsky

return return return return return

Last updated on: 8.1.2014