L.D. Trotsky

On “The Fourth of August”

The Limits of Historical Analogy. A Reply to Some Objections

(June 1933)

Written: 4 June 1933.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 34, 8 July 1933, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2015. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

When people cannot answer basic arguments they bids behind secondary, ones. The Brandlerites as well as the Stalinists, are clinging with their nails at the comparison of the 5th of March 1933 with the 4th of August 1913. If we leave aside the outbursts of moral indignation or mere insults, the objections reduce themselves to the following: (a) In 1914 the social democracy went over to the government of Wilhelm II; the Stalinist bureaucracy has not even given the slightest indication of going over to the Hitler government; (b) The C.P. continues to work, to publish, in a word, to struggle; it would be a mistake to “underestimate” its forces; the social democracy did not die after the 4th of August, it continued to exist, and even came to power.

No historical comparison retains its validity if it does not confine itself to certain legitimate limits. We are very well aware that the Stalinist C.P.G. is distinguishable from the pre-war social democracy, and that the 5th of March – as much by its character as by its results – is distinguishable from the 4th of August. We simply want to say by our comparison: in the same way that the party of Bebel finally terminated its progressive mission on the threshold of the war, so the C.P.G. has finally terminated its revolutionary role on the threshold of the Fascist dictatorship. To complicate this analogy by considerations which have no bearing on the questions means to show oneself incapable of concrete historical reasoning, that is, of dialectic thinking.

Lenin compared the peace of Brest-Litovsk with the peace of Tilsitt. It is not difficult to make objections to this comparison by serving up dozens of elementary truisms: for Prussia it was a question of national independence; for the Soviets it was a question of safeguarding a new social regime there the peace was signed by the monarchy, here by the party of the proletariat, etc., etc. But all these respectable commonplaces do not tell us anything about the essence of the question which interests us. We were forced to sign the peace of Brest-Litovsk in order not to completely succumb before the enemy but to reassemble our forces for freedom: it is in this sense that one can speak of a peace of “Tilsitt”.

The same Stalinists and Brandlerites rose up against the analogy between the pre-Fascist regime in Germany (“presidential” cabinets) and Bonapartism. They enumerated dozens of features in which the Papen-Schleicher regime differed from classical Bonapartism and always ignored this fundamental characteristic which makes them similar: the preservation of the equilibrium between the two irreconcilable camps. There is nothing worse than that pseudo-Marxist thought which, full of conceit, stops just there where the question first begins. The analogy with Bonapartism, quite concrete, precisely defined, not only clarified anew the role of the last Giolitti cabinet maneuvering between the Fascists and the Socialists, but also throws a burning light on the present transitional regime in Austria. Now one can already openly speak of the profound, logical necessity of the period of “Bonapartist” transition between parliamentarism and Fascism. The example of Austria demonstrates the enormous importance which an exact delimination between Bonapartism and Fascism has (or more exactly, should have) for the aims of practical politics, but formalistic thought which, instead of a social analysis, gives an enumeration of ready-to-hand criteria, abandons an anology very concrete and rich in content for pale platitude, which do not teach us anything. It is punished for this in every new historic situation like the ox in the Russian fable who always finds himself before a new door.

“The social democracy did not die after the 4th of August”. Do the quibblers mean to say that the slogan of a new party, proclaimed after the 4th of August was false? Obviously they do not, but that is precisely the question. The social democracy continued to exist after the Fourth of August, but only as the democratic labor party of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Its historical function had changed. It was that very thing which justified the birth of the Third International.

Do they want to tell us that the C.P.G., despite the catastrophe which has finished it off forever in the minds of the proletariat as the revolutionary party, will nevertheless continue to exist as a mass organization? We think that nothing justifies such a hypothesis: it rests on an abstract and formal analogy with the fate of reformism. The old Social Democracy united within its ranks elements of revolutionary realism with those of opportunist practice. The 4th of August finally cleansed it from the revolutionary tendencies and determined its transformation into a conservative democratic party. The Communist party posed a revolutionary task to itself and to the masses, which it always put forth and emphasized in a bitter struggle against the social democracy. It is precisely in this task that the Communist party proved bankrupt in the decisive test. It will not be regenerated as a revolutionary party. Can it continue to exist under another form, with other political functions? If it can, it will not be as a mass organization of the German proletariat, but as the purest type of an agency of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

No other political place remains for it.

Already on the morrow of the 5th of March one could have and should have formulated this prognosis on the basis of an understanding of the catastrophe in connection with the policy that had caused it. The only objection with any value at all in those days could be: perhaps the party will save everything, if, under the influence of the terrible defeat, it clearly and sharply changes its policy and its regime, to begin with, by openly and honestly admitting its own mistakes. On our part we believed even at that time, on the basis of all that has happened, that it was impossible to expect a miracle of a. critical awakening; but even if that had happened it would not have saved the Communist party as an organization; there are political crimes which are unpardonable. But it is fruitless, today, to conjecture on this theme. The test has already taken place in reality. There can be no question of a political awakening of the official party any longer. On the contrary, the last sparks of critical thought have been stifled. Nothing gives a better picture of the collapse of the CPG than the fact that on the morrow of the great catastrophe, instead of making a theoretical clarification of the events, it has exerted every effort to sweep away all the traces of it, by all sorts of insinuation, calumny, incitement and persecution.

In the guise of an objection, the example of 1923 might be cited, where the party also failed but did not collapse. We do not deny the importance and the lesson of this example: it is only necessary to draw the correct deductions from it.

Firstly, the defeat of 1923 is comparable neither in its form nor in its extent nor by its consequences with the catastrophe of 1933; secondly, the workers do not forger the past: now the party will pay for all its historic crimes among which is also the capitulation of 1923. Finally, from the political point of view this is most important, the C.P.G. required a general renovation of its leading apparatus in 1923. The question is not whether the new C.C. was better or worse than the old, but it is a fact that the Presidium of the C.I. was forced to find an issue out of the discontent and revolt of the party by throwing out the Brandlerite leadership as a sop to the revolutionary workers. Such a maneuver is not realizable now: firstly, the apparatus is completely separated from the masses and there can be no question of its renovation through elections; secondly, the Presidium of the C.I. is itself too closely connected in the eyes of the masses to the Thaelmann apparatus due to the struggle against the Opposition. The fact that the Stalinist bureaucracy not only denies its mistakes in the defeat, but also the defeat itself only aggravates its mistakes and condemns it to an infamous decline.

Now it is not a question of the reactionary and utopian task of preserving an apparatus cut off from the masses, but of saving the best proletarian elements from despair, from grief, from indifference, and from the morass. It is absolutely impossible to attain this result by vainly trying to inspire hope of a miracle in them, the impossibility of which becomes clearer every day. It is necessary to present an honest balance sheet of the past and to lead the forces of the advanced workers towards the organization of a Bolshevik party for a new historic stage.

Prinkipo, June 4, 1933

L.D. Trotsky

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