Leon Trotsky

German Perspectives


Written: 1933.
First Published: 1933.
Source: Class Struggle, Official Organ Of The Communist League Of Struggle (Adhering to the International Left Opposition), Volume 3 Number 9, October 1933.
Online Version: Vera Buch & Albert Weisbord Internet Archive.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Albert Weisbord Internet Archive/David Walters.

After a conflagration it is difficult to settle down again; it is still harder to determine your new path after a great political downfall. A political party admits its defeat unwillingly, especially when it is itself in great part responsible to that defeat. The greater the defeat, the harder it is for the political mind to adjust itself, to establish a new perspective in order to work out the direction and tempo for further activity.

The history of wars and revolutionary struggles contains numerous examples of unnecessary defeats that were caused by the leadership not recognizing the seriousness of a fundamental defeat, but instead trying to cover it with temporary, futile attacks. In war new attacks often lead to the destruction of active military forces who have already been demoralized from past failures. In the revolutionary struggle the most vigorous and eager elements who have already been torn from the masses through past defeats, are sacrificed to adventurism.

The decision and determination to carry through an attack to the very end- the ability to recognize a defeat at the right time and to prepare the defense, these are two inseparable parts of a correct and mature strategy. Such a combination is seldom found. After every great defeat of the Revolution at least a part of the leadership continued to call for the attack in spite of the changed situation. After the revolution of 1848 Marx and Engels cut themselves loose from those immigrants who looked upon the defeat merely as an accidental episode. After the 1905 Revolution Lenin was forced to break with those comrades who continued to call for the armed uprising. The quality of the Marxist school of revolutionary realism consists mainly in the ability to prepare for every turn of events.

The present catastrophe in Germany is doubtless the most significant defeat in the history of the working class. There is a pressing need for a sharp change of strategy but the Stalinist bureaucracy persists along the same course. It calls “defeatists” not those who brought about the defeat, but those who from the established fact of the defeat draw the necessary conclusions. The fight over the perspectives of the political development of Germany contains extraordinary significance for the fate of Europe and the whole world.

In this connection we may leave the Social Democracy aside. Its treachery doesn’t even leave it the possibility of maneuvering for bureaucratic prestige. Its leaders never dared to do that which they had planned. After losing their heads politically they are now mainly worried about saving them physically. They have prepared their disgraceful defeat with their entire political course since the beginning of the Imperialist War. The attempt of the withering directorate to rescue the party from abroad, is doomed in advance: in the dangerous underground struggle no revolutionary will want to work under the leadership of exposed bankrupts. Once aroused, the political mind in the ranks of the Social Democracy will break new pathways. But for the time being this is music of the future.

Political interests now demand a free orientation to the Communist Party; As a mass organization it is completely destroyed. Still the central apparatus maintains itself, distributes illegal and immigrant literature, calls Anti-Fascist Congresses and produces plans for the struggle against Nazi dictatorship. All the crimes of the defeated staffs find an unrivaled expression in this apparatus.

“The Fascists are kings for a day”, writes the official organ of the Comintern, “their victory is a short measured one, and in its wake will follow the proletarian revolution – the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat stands in Germany on the order of the day.” Continually drawing back, giving up all positions, losing their own followers – notwithstanding all this the Apparatus announces that the Anti-Fascist wave is rising, that voices are being raised, that it is necessary to prepare for the insurrection – if not tomorrow, in a few months. By this optimistic Phraseology the defeated leading staff encourages itself. The danger of this false optimism becomes all the greater the more the inner life of the German Proletariat is submerged in darkness. Neither facts nor statistics control the false political conclusions or disturb the peace of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

For proof of their comforting prognosis the Stalinists rely on the fact that Hitler “will not keep his promises”. As if Mussolini had to fulfill his fantastic program in order to maintain power for over ten years! The Revolution is no automatic punishment of deceivers, but a complicated phenomenon which comes about only through the existence of a series of definite historic conditions. We know them well enough: no way out for and dismemberment of the ruling classes, rebellion of the petit bourgeoisie which has lost faith in the existing order, growing rebelliousness on the part of the working class, and last, a correct policy of the revolutionary party – these are the necessary political prerequisites for the Revolution. Are they present?

The possessing classes of Germany found themselves, during the last year, in a condition of the sharpest dissension. Today they all support even though with heavy hearts – Fascism. The antagonisms between the different industrial elements, as well as between the different industrials groups, is not settled; but it is a good example of the dictatorship which rules all antagonisms.

During the last period the German petit bourgeoisie steamed like a kettle. But at the same time there was an element of social danger in the fact that it was demoniacally possessed of a spirit of nationalism. Today it has gathered itself around a regime that has risen on its back; it is held in check by a military force which comes our of its very heart. The middle classes are to be the main mercenaries of the regime. The conclusion is clear: as far as the great and petit bourgeoisie are concerned the preconditions for a revolutionary outburst no longer exist.

In the case of the working class the catastrophe is no less significant. In the course of a few months it showed itself, because of the blunders of the leadership, incompetent to defend its powerful legal position before the attack of the Counter-Revolution. Now, on the day after the breakdown, it is still less ready for an attack on the powerful legal position of National Socialism. The material and moral factors have changed sharply, completely – and unfavorably – the strength of the proletariat. Must one still prove this? The Communist Mass Party is no longer in existence; its leadership is exiled, jailed or killed; and the Apparatus stifles all criticism. What, therefore, does it mean that, “the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat is on the order of the day”? What can one understand here by the term “day”?

It is not difficult to foresee the sincere as well as the hypocritical “unmasking” of our pessimism: lack of faith in the creative strength of the Revolution, etc. Cheap approaches! We know as well as anybody that Fascism represents a historically lost cause. Its methods can bring about only unstable results. One can overthrow dead classes only with the help of force. But the proletariat is the main productive force of society. For a time it can be defeated. Forever to enslave it is impossible. Hitler promised to “train” the workers. But he is forced to introduced a pedagogical dexterity which is worthless even for the training of dogs. Against the irreconcilable enmity of the workers Fascism will unavoidable break its head. But how and when? A general historical perspective does not answer the burning question on the political horizon: what are we to do now – and especially what are we to discontinue doing – in order to prepare and accelerate the smashing of National Socialism.

Counting upon the immediate revolutionary effect of Fascist repressions and material privations presents a very good example of vulgar historical materialism. Of course, “existence determines consciousness”. But that does not mean the mechanical and immediate dependence of the consciousness upon superficial circumstances. Being changes into consciousness following the laws of consciousness. Similar objective facts can produce different, and often contradictory, results – depending upon general conditions and preceding events. So in the course of human development repressions often call forth revolutionary uprisings. But after a victory of the Counter-Revolution repressions often blow out the last flickering of protest. A domestic crisis is capable of accelerating the revolutionary explosion, and this has happened in history more than once; but should it break out after a severe political defeat of the proletariat, then the crisis can only strengthen the phenomena of decay. Concretely expressed: we cannot expect immediate revolutionary conclusions for Germany because of the deepening and sharpening of the industrial crisis. Indeed it can give a longer life and preponderance to the opportunist streams within the proletariat. But after a long period of crisis and reaction the contradictions can mount to such a conjuncture which will arouse the workers to action and push them on the road to struggles. We hold such a variant to be more likely from many points of view.

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Last updated on: 4.3.2007