Leon Trotsky

The Checking of the Stalin-Thälmann
Policy Against
Their Own Experience

From the Series of Articles in the Forthcoming Book The Only Road

(August 1932)

Written: August 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 38 (Whole No. 134), 17 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.

Tactics can be checked in the critical and most responsible moments. The strength of Bolshevism rests upon this, that its slogans and methods find their supreme confirmation as soon as the course of events demands bold decisions. What value have principles which must be renounced as soon as the situation assumes a serious character?

Realistic policy bases itself upon the natural development of the class struggle. Sectarian policy endeavors to prescribe artificial regulations for the class struggle. The revolutionary situation signifies the highest accentuation of the class struggle. Just because of that, the realistic policy of Marxism, in the revolutionary situation, exercizes a powerful force of attraction upon the mass. The sectarian policy, to the contrary, becomes all the weaker the more mighty is the impetus of events. The Blanquists and Proudhonists, taken by surprise by the events of the Paris Commune, did the opposite of what they had constantly preached. During the Russian revolution, the anarchists were forced to recognize the Soviets, that is, the organs of power. And so on without end.

The Comintern supports itself upon masses who were won over in the past by Marxism and fused together by the authority of the October revolution. Only, the policy of the present leading Stalin faction seeks to command the class struggle instead of investing it with political expression. This is the essential feature of bureaucratism and in this it coincides with sectarianism from which it distinguishes itself sharply in other features. Thanks to the strong apparatus, to the material means of the Soviet state and to the authority of the October revolution, the Stalinist bureaucracy has been able, in comparatively calm periods, to impose for a length of time artificial measures of restraint upon the proletarian vanguard. But to the degree that the class struggle condenses itself into civil war, the bureaucratic prescriptions come into increasing collision with unrelenting reality. Faced by sharp turns in the situation, the arrogant and inflated bureaucracy easily lands in a muddle. If it cannot command, it capitulates. The policy of the Thälmann Central Committee in recent months will some day be studied as a model of the most pitiable and miserable headlessness.

Since the “Third Period” it was held to be inviolable that there could be no talk about agreements with the social democracy. It was not only inadmissible to assume the initiative in the united front, as the Third and Fourth World Congresses taught – but even proposals for common actions emanating from the social democracy had to be rejected. The reformist leaders are “sufficiently exposed.” The experience of the past is sufficient. Instead of pursuing politics, the masses must be told history. To turn to the reformists with proposals means to acknowledge them capable of fighting. That alone would be Social-Fascism, etc. Thus intoned the ear-deafening melody of the ultra-Leftist barrel-organ in the last three-four years. And look: in the Prussian Landtag, the Communist fraction proposed on June 22, unexpected by all and by itself, an agreement with the social democracy and even with the Center. The same thing was repeated in Hessen. In face of the danger that the Presidium of the Landtag might fall into the hands of the Nazis, all the consecrated principles flew to the devil. Isn’t this astounding? And isn’t it debasing?

To explain these goat-leaps, however, is not so difficult. As is known, many superficial liberals and radicals continue to joke their whole life long about religion and celestial powers, only to call for a priest when they face death or serious illness. So also in politics. The mark of Centrism is opportunism. Under the influence of external circumstances (tradition, mass pressure, political competition), Centrism is at certain times compelled to make a parade of radicalism. For this purpose it must overcome itself, violate its political nature. By spurring itself on with all its strength, it not infrequently lands at the extreme bourne of formal radicalism. But hardly does the hour of serious danger strike than the true nature of Centrism breaks out to the surface. In so delicate a question as the defense of the Soviet Union the Stalinist bureaucracy always built much more upon,the bourgeois pacifists, English trade union bureaucrats and French radicals than upon the revolutionary movement of the proletariat. Scarcely did an external danger approach than the Stalinists promptly sacrificed not only their ultra-Leftist phrases but also the vital interests of the international revolution – in the name of amity with uncertain and false “friends” from the genus of lawyers, writers and simple drawing room heroes. United front from above? Under no circumstances! At the same time, however, the Top-Commissar for Ambiguous Affairs, Münzenberg by name, fished around after the coat tails of all sorts of liberal jabberers and radical tripe “for the defense of the U.S.S.R.”

The Stalinist bureaucracy in Germany, like in every other country – except in the Soviet Union – is extremely dissatisfied with the compromising leadership of Barbusse in the affair of the Anti-War Congress. On this field, Thälmann, Foster and others would prefer to be radical. Yet in their own national affairs, every one of them proceeds according to the same model as the Moscow authorities: at the approach of a serious danger they cast off the inflated, falsified radicalism in order to reveal their true, that is, their opportunistic nature.

Was the initiative of the Communist Landtag fraction, as such, false and inadmissible? We don’t think so. The Bolsheviks more than once proposed to the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionists in 1917: “Take the power, we will support you against the bourgeoisie if it should resist.” Compromises are admissible and, under certain conditions – obligatory. The whole question lies in what aim the compromise shall subserve; how it looks to the masses; what its limits are. To confine the compromise to the Landtag or the Reichstag, to regard as an independent aim whether the president will be a social democrat or a Catholic democrat instead of a Fascist, means to sink completely into parliamentary cretinism. Completely different is the situation when the party sets itself the task of the systematic and planned struggle for the social democratic workers on the basis of the united front policy. A parliamentary agreement against Fascist predominance in the presidium, etc., would in this case constitute merely one component part of the extra-parliamentary fighting agreement against Fascism. Naturally the Communist party would prefer to resolve the whole question at one blow outside of parliament. But preferences alone are not sufficient where the forces are lacking. The social democratic workers have demonstrated their faith in the magic power of proceed. The former mistakes of the Communist the July 31 vote. It is from this fact that we must party (Prussian referendum, etc.) extraordinarily facilitated the sabotage of the united front practised by the reformist leaders. A technical parliamentary agreement – or even only the proposal for such an agreement – must help free the Communist party from the accusation that it is collaborating with the Fascists against the social democracy. This is no independent action, but solely the clearing of the road to a fighting agreement or at least to the struggle for a fighting agreement of the mass organizations.

The difference between the two lines is entirely obvious. The joint struggle with the social democratic organizations can, and in its unfoldment it must, assume a revolutionary character. The possibility for an approach to the social democratic masses can and must be paid for, under certain conditions, even with parliamentary agreements at the top. But for a Bolshevik, this is merely the admission price. The Stalinist bureaucracy acts in the opposite manner: it not only rejects fighting agreements, but still worse, it maliciously destroys those agreements which arise from below. At the same time, it proposes to the social democratic deputies a parliamentary accord. This means that at the moment of danger it declares its own ultra-Leftist theory and praxis to be worthless; only it does not replace it with the policy of revolutionary Marxism but with an unprincipled parliamentary combination in the spirit of the “lesser evil”.

We will indeed be told, the Prussian and Hessian episodes were a mistake of the deputies and were made good again by the Central Committee. In the first place, a decision so important in principle should not have been taken without the Central Committee: the mistake falls back completely upon the latter as well; in the second place: how explain that the “steel-hard”, “consistent”, “Bolshevist” policy, after months of blustering and screeching, of polemic, of vilification and expulsions, at once gives way at the critical moment to an opportunistic “mistake”?

But the matter is not confined to the Landtag. Thälmann-Remmele have absolutely renounced themselves and their own school in a much more responsible and critical question. On the eve of July 20, the Central Committee of the Communist party adopted the following decision:

“The Communist party, before the proletarian public, addresses to the S.P.D., to the A.D.G.B. and to the Afa-Bund the question if they are prepared to carry out, together with the Communist party, the general strike for the proletarian demands.”

This so important and unexpected decision was made public by the Central Committee in its circular letter of July 26 without any commentary. Can a more annihilating judgment be made of its whole preceding policy? The approach to the reformist summits with the proposal of joint actions was but yesterday declared to be social-Fascist and counter-revolutionary. Because of this question Communists were expelled. On this ground the struggle against “Trotskyism” was conducted. How then was this Central Committee suddenly able, at one stroke, on the eve of July 20, to bow before what it had the day before banished? And to what tragic statue has the bureaucracy brought the party when the Central Committee could dare to come before it with its amazing decision without explaining or justifying it!

The policy is tested upon such turns. The Central Committee of the German Communist Party in reality demonstrated to the whole world on the eve of July 20: “Up to this moment our course was good for nothing.” An involuntary but completely correct admission. Unfortunately, even the proposal of July 20, which overthrew the preceding policy, could in no case yield a positive result. An appeal to the summits – independently of the present answer of these summits – can become of revolutionary significance only when it has been previously prepared from below, that is, when it is based upon the whole policy in its totality. But the Stalinist bureaucracy repeated to the social democratic workers, day in and day out: “We Communists reject any connection with the S.P.D. leaders” (see Antworten von Thälmann). The unprepared, unexpected, unmotivated proposal of July 20 was suitable only for exposing the Communist leadership by revealing its inconsistency, lack of seriousness, inclination to panic and adventuristic leaps.

The policy of the Centrist bureaucracy helps the adversary and enemy at every step. Even when the mighty pressure of events drives a new hundred thousand workers under the Communist banner, it takes place in spite of the Stalin-Thälmann policy. Precisely because of this the coming day of the party is in no way assured.


L. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 8.1.2014