Leon Trotsky

The Turn in the Communist International
and the Situation in Germany

(September 1930)

Written in exile in Turkey, September 26, 1930.
Appeared in the Russian Bulletin of the Opposition, no.17-18, November-December 1930.
Published by the Communist League of America, October 1930.
Translation by Morris Lewitt.
Note: The nine paragraphs preceding the final three paragraphs weren’t translated in 1930 and were translated in 1971 for Pathfinder Press by Frank Manning and Gerry Foley.
Transcribed by Zodiac in 1994.

1. The Sources of the Latest Turn

Tactical turns, even wide ones, are absolutely unavoidable in our epoch. They are necessitated by the abrupt turns of the objective situation (a lack of stable international relations; sharp and irregular fluctuations of conjuncture; sharp reflections of the economic fluctuations in politics; the impulsiveness of the masses under the influence of a feeling of helplessness, etc., etc.). Careful observation of the changes in the objective situation is now a far more important and at the same time immeasurably more difficult task than it was before the war, in the epoch of the “organic” development of capitalism. The leadership of the party now finds itself in the position of someone who drives his automobile on a mountain, over the sharp zigzags of the road. An untimely turn, incorrectly applied speed, threaten the passengers and the car with the greatest danger, if not with destruction.

The leadership of the Communist International [1] in recent years has given us examples of very abrupt turns. The latest of them we have observed in the last months. What has called forth the turns of the Communist International since the death of Lenin? The changes in the objective situation? No. It can be said with confidence: beginning with 1923, not a single tactical turn was made in time, under the influence of correctly estimated changes in the objective conditions, by the Comintern. On the contrary: every turn was the result of the unbearable sharpening of the contradictions between the line of the Comintern and the objective situation. We are witnessing the very same thing this time, too.

The ninth plenum of the ECCI, the Sixth Congress, and particularly the tenth plenum, [2] adopted a course towards an abrupt and direct revolutionary rise (the “third period”), which was absolutely excluded at the time by the objective situation existing after the great defeats in Britain and China, the weakening of the Communist parties throughout the world, and particularly under the conditions of a commercial and industrial boom, which embraced a series of the most important capitalist countries. The tactical turn in the Communist International begun in February 1928 was therefore directly contrary to the actual turn of the historic road. From these contradictions arose the tendencies of adventurism, the further isolation of the parties from the masses, the weakening of the organizations, etc. Only after all these phenomena had clearly assumed a menacing character did the leadership of the Comintern make a new turn in February 1930, backward from, and to the right of, the tactics of the “third period.”

It is the irony of fate, unmerciful to all chvostism, [“Tailism” – the theory/practice of following behind events.] that the new tactical turn in the Comintern coincided chronologically with the new turn in the objective conditions. An international crisis of unprecedented acuteness undoubtedly opened the prospect of mass radicalization and social convulsions. Precisely under such circumstances, a turn to the left could and should have been made, that is, boldly speeding up on the curve of the revolutionary upsurge. This would have been absolutely correct and necessary if, in the last three years, the leadership of the Comintern had utilized, as it should have, the period of economic revival and revolutionary ebb to strengthen the positions of the party in the mass organizations, above all in the trade unions. Under such circumstances, the driver could and should have shifted his gears in 1930 from second into third, or at least prepared for such a change in the near future. In reality, the directly opposite process took place. So as not to go over the cliff, the driver had to change from a prematurely adopted speed down to second and slow down the pace. When? Under circumstances in which a correct strategic line would have demanded acceleration.

Such is the crying contradiction between tactical necessity and strategic perspective, a contradiction in which, by the logic of the mistakes of their leadership, the Communist parties find themselves in a number of countries.

We see this contradiction most strikingly and dangerously now in Germany, where the last elections revealed an exceptionary peculiar relation of forces, resulting not only from the two periods of Germany’s postwar stabilization, but also from the three periods of the Comintern’s mistakes.

2. The Parliamentary Victory of the Communist Party in the Light of the Revolutionary Tasks

The official press of the Comintern is now depicting the results of the German elections as a prodigious victory of Communism, which places the slogan of a Soviet Germany on the order of the day. The bureaucratic optimists do not want to reflect upon the meaning of the relationship of forces which is disclosed by the election statistics. They examine the figure of Communist votes gained independently of the revolutionary tasks created by the situation and the obstacles it sets up.

The Communist Party received around 4,600,000 votes as against 3,300,000 in 1928. From the viewpoint of “normal” parliamentary mechanics, the gain of 1,300,000 votes is considerable even if we take into consideration the rise in the total number of voters. But the gain of the party pales completely beside the leap of fascism from 800,000 to 6,400,000 votes. Of no less significance for evaluating the elections is the fact that the Social Democracy, in spite of substantial losses, retained its basic cadres and still received a considerably greater number of workers’ votes than the Communist Party.

Meanwhile, if we should ask ourselves what combination of international and domestic circumstances could be capable of turning the working class towards Communism with greater velocity, we could not find an example of more favorable circumstances for such a turn than the situation in present-day Germany: Young’s noose, [3] the economic crisis, the disintegration of the rulers, the crisis of parliamentarism, the terrific self-exposure of the Social Democracy in power. From the viewpoint of these concrete historical circumstances, the specific gravity of the German Communist Party in the social life of the country, in spite of the gain of 1,300,000 votes, remains proportionately small.

The weakness of the positions of Communism, inextricably bound up with the policy and regime of the Comintern, is revealed more clearly if we compare the present social weight of the Communist Party with those concrete and unpostponable tasks which the present historical circumstances put before it.

It is true that the Communist Party itself did not expect such a gain. But this proves that under the blows of mistakes and defeats, the leadership of the Communist parties has become unaccustomed to big aims and perspectives. If yesterday it underestimated its own possibilities, then today it once more underestimates the difficulties. In this way, one danger is multiplied by another.

In the meantime, the first characteristic of a real revolutionary party is to be able to look reality in the face.

3. The Vacillations of the Big Bourgeoisie

With every turn of the historic road, with every social crisis, we must over and over again examine the question of the mutual relations of the three classes in modern society: the big bourgeoisie, led by finance capital; the petty bourgeoisie, vacillating between the basic camps; and finally, the proletariat The big bourgeoisie, making up a negligible part of the nation, cannot hold power without the support of the petty bourgeoisie of the city and the village, that is, of the remnants of the old, and the masses of the new, middle classes. In the present epoch, this support acquires two basic forms, politically antagonistic to each other but historically supplementary: Social Democracy and fascism. In the person of the Social Democracy, the petty bourgeoisie, which follows finance capital, leads behind it millions of workers.

The big German bourgeoisie is vacillating at present; it is split up. Its disagreements are confined to the question: Which of the two methods of cure for the social crisis shall be applied at present? The Social Democratic therapy repels one part of the big bourgeoisie by the uncertainty of its results, and by the danger of too large levies (taxes, social legislation, wages). The surgical intervention of fascism seems to the other part to be uncalled for by the situation and too risky. In other words, the finance bourgeoisie as a whole vacillates in the evaluation of the situation, not seeing sufficient basis as yet to proclaim an offensive of its own “third period,” when the Social Democracy is unconditionally replaced by fascism, when, generally speaking, it undergoes a general annihilation for its services rendered. The vacillations of the big bourgeoisie – with the weakening of its basic parties – between the Social Democracy and fascism are an extraordinarily clear symptom of a prerevolutionary situation. With the approach of a real revolutionary situation, these vacillations will of course immediately come to an end.

4. The Pety Bourgeoisie and Fascism

For the social crisis to bring about the proletarian revolution, it is necessary that, besides other conditions, a decisive shift of the petty-bourgeois classes occur in the direction of the proletariat This will give the proletariat a chance to put itself at the head of the nation as its leader.

The last election revealed – and this is its principal symptomatic significances – a shift in the opposite direction. Under the impact of the crisis, the petty bourgeoisie swung, not in the direction of the proletarian revolution, but in the direction of the most extreme imperialist reaction, pulling behind it considerable sections of the proletariat. The gigantic growth of National Socialism is an expression of two factors: a deep social crisis, throwing the petty-bourgeois masses off balance, and the lack of a revolutionary party that would today be regarded by the popular masses as the acknowledged revolutionary leader. If the Communist Party is the party of revolutionary hope, then fascism, as a mass movement, is the party of counter-revolutionary despair. When revolutionary hope embraces the whole proletarian mass, it inevitably pulls behind it on the road of revolution considerable and growing sections of the petty bourgeoisie. Precisely in this sphere, the election revealed the opposite picture: counterrevolutionary despair embraced the petty-bourgeois mass with such force that it drew behind it many sections of the proletariat.

How is this to be explained? In the past, we have observed (Italy, Germany) a sharp strengthening of fascism, victorious, or at least threatening, as the result of a spent or missed revolutionary situation, at the conclusion of a revolutionary crisis in which the proletarian vanguard revealed its inability to put itself at the head of the nation and change the fate of all its classes, the petty bourgeoisie included. This is precisely what gave fascism its peculiar strength in Italy. But at present the problem in Germany does not arise at the conclusion of a revolutionary crisis, but just at its approach. From this, the leading Communist Party officials, optimists ex officio, draw the conclusion that fascism, having come “too late,” is doomed to inevitable and speedy defeat (Die Rote Fahne). These people do not want to learn anything. Fascism comes “too later in relation to old revolutionary crises. But it appears sufficiently early – at the dawn – in relation to the new revolutionary crisis. The fact that it gained the possibility of taking up such a powerful starting position on the eve of a revolutionary period and not at its conclusion, is not the weak side of fascism but the weak side of Communism. The petty bourgeoisie does not wait, consequently, for new disappointments in the ability of the party to improve its fate; it bases itself upon the experiences of the past, remembering the lesson of 1923, the capricious leaps of the ultra-left course of Maslow-Thälmann, the opportunist impotence of the same Thälmann, the clatter of the “third period,” etc. [4] Finally – and this is the most important – its lack of faith in the proletarian revolution is nourished by the lack of faith in the Communist Party on the part of millions of Social Democratic workers. The petty bourgeoisie, even when completely thrown off the conservative road by circumstances, can turn to social revolution only when the sympathies of the majority of the working class are for a social revolution. Precisely this most important condition is still lacking in Germany, and not by accident.

The programmatic declaration of the German Communist Party before the elections was completely and exclusively devoted to fascism as the main enemy. Nevertheless, fascism came out the victor, gathering not only millions of semi-proletarian elements, but also many hundreds of thousands of industrial workers. This is an expression of the fact that in spite of the parliamentary victory of the Communist Party, the proletarian revolution as a whole suffered a serious defeat in this election – to be sure, of a preliminary, warning, and not decisive character. It can become decisive and will inevitably become decisive, if the Communist Party is unable to evaluate its partial parliamentary victory in connection with this “preliminary” character of the defeat of the revolution as a whole, and draw from this all the necessary conclusions.

Fascism in Germany has become a real danger, as an acute expression of the helpless position of the bourgeois regime, the conservative role of the Social Democracy in this regime, and the accumulated powerlessness of the Communist Party to abolish it Whoever denies this is either blind or a braggart.

In 1923, Brandler [5], in spite of all our warnings, monstrously exaggerated the forces of fascism. From the wrong evaluation of the relationship of forces grew a hesitating, evasive, defensive, cowardly policy. This destroyed the revolution. Such events do not pass without leaving traces in the consciousness of all the classes of the nation. The overestimation of fascism by the Communist leadership created one of the conditions for its further strengthening. The contrary mistake, this very underestimation of fascism by the present leadership of the Communist Party, may lead the revolution to a more severe crash for many years to come.

The danger becomes especially acute in connection with the question of the tempo of development, which does not depend upon us alone. The malarial character of the political curve revealed by the election speaks for the fact that the tempo of development of the national crisis may turn out to be very speedy. In other words, the course of events in the very near future may resurrect in Germany, on a new historical plane, the old tragic contradiction between the maturity of a revolutionary situation on the one hand and the weakness and strategical impotence of the revolutionary party on the other. This must be said clearly, openly, and above all, in time.

5. The Communist Party and the Working Class

It would be a monstrous mistake to console oneself with the fact, for instance, that the Bolshevik Party in April 1917, after the arrival of Lenin, when the party first began to prepare for the seizure of power, had fewer than 80,000 members and led behind itself, even in Petrograd, not more than a third of the workers and a far smaller part of the soldiers. The situation in Russia was altogether different. The revolutionary parties came out of the underground only in March, after an almost three-year interruption of even that strangled political life which existed prior to the war. The working class during the war renewed itself approximately 40 percent The overwhelming mass of the proletariat did not know the Bolsheviks, had not even heard of them. The voting for the Mensheviks and SRs [6] in March-June was simply an expression of the first hesitant steps after the awakening. In this voting there was not even a shadow of disappointment with the Bolsheviks or accumulated lack of faith in them, which can arise only as the result of a party’s mistakes, verified by the masses through experience. On the contrary. Every day of revolutionary experience in 1917 pushed the masses away from the conciliators and to the side of the Bolsheviks. From this followed the stormy, inexorable growth of the ranks of the party, and particularly of its influence.

The situation in Germany has at its root a different character, in this respect as well as in others. The German Communist Party did not come upon the scene yesterday, nor the day before. In 1923, it had behind it, openly or in a semiconcealed form, the majority of the working class. In 1924, on the ebbing wave, it received 3,600,000 votes, a greater percentage of the working class than at present. This means that those workers who remained with the Social Democracy, as well as those who voted this time for the National Socialists, did so not out of simple ignorance, not because they awakened only yesterday, not because they have as yet had no chance to know what the Communist Party is, but because they have no faith, on the basis of their own experience in the recent years.

Let us not forget that in February 1928, the ninth plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern gave the signal for an intensified, extraordinary, irreconcilable struggle against “social fascism.” [7] The German Social Democracy was in power almost all this time, revealing to the masses at every step its criminal and shameful role. And all this was supplemented by an enormous economic crisis. It would be difficult to invent circumstances more favorable for the weakening of the Social Democracy. Nevertheless, it retained its basic positions. How is this striking fact to be explained? Only by the fact that the leadership of the Communist Party, by its whole policy, assisted the Social Democracy, supporting it from the left.

This does not at all mean that by voting for the Social Democracy, five to six million working men and women expressed their full and unlimited confidence in it. The Social Democratic workers should not be considered blind. They are not at all so naive about their own leaders, but they do not see a different way out for themselves in the given situation. Of course, we are not speaking of the labor aristocracy and bureaucracy, but of the rank-and-file workers. The policy of the Communist Party does not inspire them with confidence, not because the Communist Party is not a revolutionary party, but because they do not believe in its ability to gain a revolutionary victory, and do not wish to risk their heads in vain. Voting reluctantly for the Social Democracy, these workers do not express confidence in it but rather they express their lack of confidence in the Communist Party. This is where the great difference lies between the present position of the German Communists and the position of the Russian Bolsheviks in 1917.

But by this alone, the difficulties are not exhausted: inside the Communist Party itself, and particularly in the circle of its supporters and the workers voting for it, is a great reserve of vague lack of faith in the leadership of the party. From this grows what is called the “disparity” between the general influence of the party and its numerical strength, and particularly its role in the trade unions – in Germany such a disparity undoubtedly exists. The official explanation of the disparity is that the party has not been able to “strengthen” its influence organizationally. Here the mass is looked upon as purely passive material, which enters or does not enter the party, depending exclusively upon whether the secretary can grab every worker by the throat. The bureaucrat does not understand that workers have their own mind, their experience, their will, and their active or passive policy toward the party. The worker votes for the party – for its banner, for the October Revolution, for his own future revolution. But by refusing to join the Communist Party or to follow it in the trade-union struggle, he says that he has no faith in its daily policy. The “disparity” is consequently, in the final analysis, an expression of the lack of confidence of the masses in the present leadership of the Communist International. And this lack of confidence, created and strengthened by mistakes, defeats, fictions, and direct deception of the masses from 1923 to 1930, is one of the greatest hindrances on the road to the victory of the proletarian revolution.

Without an internal confidence in itself, the party will not conquer the class. Not to conquer the proletariat means not to break the petty-bourgeois masses away from fascism. One is inextricably bound up with the other.

6. Back to the “Second” Period or Once More Towards the “Third”?

If we were to use the official terminology of centrism [8], we would formulate the problem in the following way: the leadership of the Comintern foisted the tactic of the “third period,” that is, the tactic of an immediate revolutionary upsurge, upon the national sections at a time (1928) when the features of the “second period” were most clearly visible, that is, the stabilization of the bourgeoisie and the ebb and decline of the revolution. The turn from this, which came in 1930, meant a rejection of the tactic of the “third period” in favor of the tactic of the “second period.” In the meantime, this turn made its way through the bureaucratic apparatus at a moment when the most important symptoms began, at any rate in Germany, to signalize plainly the real approach of a “third period.” Does the need for a new tactical turn flow from all this – in the direction of the recently abandoned tactic of the “third period” ?

We use these designations so as to make the posing of this problem more accessible to those circles whose minds are clogged up by the methodology and terminology of the centrist bureaucracy. But we have no intention whatever to adopt this terminology, which conceals a combination of Stalinist bureaucratism and Bukharinist metaphysics. [9] We reject the apocalyptic presentation of the “third” period as the final one: how many periods there will be before the victory of the proletariat is a question of the relation of forces and the changes in the situation; all this can be tested only through action. We reject the very essence of this strategic schematism with its numbered periods; there is no abstract tactic established in advance for the “second” and the “third” periods. It is understood that we cannot achieve victory and the seizure of power without an armed uprising. But how shall we reach this uprising? By what methods? And at what tempo shall we mobilize the masses? This depends not only upon the objective situation in general, but in the first place upon the state in which the arrival of the social crisis in the country finds the proletariat, upon the relation between the party and the class, the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie, etc. The state of the proletariat at the threshold of the “third period” depends in its turn upon the tactic the party applied in the period preceding it.

The normal, natural change of tactics, with the present turn of the situation in Germany, should have been the acceleration of tempo, the sharpening of slogans and methods of struggle. This tactical turn would have been normal and natural only if the tempo and slogans of struggle of yesterday had corresponded to the conditions of the preceding period. But this never occurred. The sharp discordance of the ultra-left policy and the stabilized situation is precisely the reason for the tactical turn. What has resulted is that at the moment when the new turn of the objective situation, along with the unfavorable general regrouping of the political forces, brought Communism a big gain in votes, the party turned out to be strategically and tactically more disoriented, entangled, and off the track than ever before.

To make clearer the contradiction fallen into by the German Communist Party – like most of the other sections of the Comintern, only far deeper than the rest of them – let us take the simplest comparison. In order to jump over a barrier, a preliminary running start is necessary. The higher the barrier, the more important it is to start the run on time, not too late and not too early, in order to approach the obstruction with the necessary reserve of strength. Beginning with February 1928, and especially since July 1929, however, the German Communist Party did nothing but take the running start. It is no wonder that the party began to lose its wind and drag its feet. The Comintern finally gave the command, “Single quick time!” But no sooner had the winded party started to change to a more normal step than before it began to appear not an imaginary but an actual barrier, which might require a revolutionary jump. Will there be enough distance for taking the run? Shall the turn be rejected and changed to a counterturn? These are the tactical and strategic questions which appear before the German party in all their acuteness.

In order that the leading cadres of the party should be able to find a correct reply to these questions, they must have the chance to judge the next section of the road in connection with the strategy of the past years and its consequences, as revealed in this election. If, in opposition to this, the bureaucracy should succeed, by cries of victory, in drowning the voice of political self- criticism, this would inevitably lead the proletariat to a catastrophe more terrible than that of 1923.

7. The Possible Variations of the Further Development

A revolutionary situation, confronting the proletariat with the immediate problem of seizing power, is made up of objective and subjective elements, each bound with the other and to a large extent conditioning each other. But this mutual dependence is relative. The law of uneven development applies fully also to the factors of a revolutionary situation. An insufficient development of one of them may produce a condition in which the revolutionary situation either does not come to an explosion and spends itself, or, coming to an explosion, ends in defeat for the revolutionary working class. What is the situation in Germany in this respect?

  1. A deep national crisis (economy, international situation) is unquestionably at hand. There appears to be no way out along the normal road of the bourgeois parliamentary regime.
  2. The political crisis of the ruling class and its system of government is absolutely indubitable. This is not a parliamentary crisis, but a crisis of class rule.
  3. The revolutionary class, however, is still deeply split by internal contradictions. The strengthening of the revolutionary party at the expense of the reformists is as yet at its inception, and has been proceeding thus far at a tempo which is far from corresponding with the depth of the crisis.
  4. The petty bourgeoisie, at the very beginning of the crisis, has already assumed a position antagonistic to the present system of capitalist rule, but at the same time mortally hostile to the proletarian revolution.

In other words, there are at hand the basic objective conditions for a proletarian revolution. There is one of its political conditions (the state of the ruling class); the other political condition (the state of the proletariat) has only begun to change in the direction of revolution, and because of the heritage of the past, cannot change rapidly; finally, the third political condition (the state of the petty bourgeoisie) is not directed towards the proletarian revolution but towards a bourgeois counterrevolution. The change of this last condition into a favorable one cannot be accomplished without radical changes in the proletariat itself, that is, without the political liquidation of the Social Democracy.

We have, thus, a deeply contradictory situation. Some of its factors put the proletarian revolution on the order of the day: others, however, exclude the possibility of its victory in the next period, that is, without a previous deep change in the political relation of forces.

Theoretically, several variations of the further development of the present situation in Germany can be considered, depending upon objective factors, the policy of the class enemies included, as well as the conduct of the Communist Party itself Let us note schematically four possible variations of development.

  1. The Communist Party, frightened by its own strategy of the “third period,” moves ahead gropingly, with extreme caution, avoiding risky steps, and – without giving battle – misses a revolutionary situation. This would mean a repetition of the policy of Brandler in 1921-1923, only changed in form. Reflecting the pressure of the Social Democracy, the Brandlerites and semi-Brandlerites, outside the party as well as inside of it, will drive in this direction.
  2. Under the influence of the election success, the party, on the contrary, makes a new sharp turn to the left, in the direction of a direct struggle for power, and being a party of the active minority, suffers a catastrophic defeat. Driving in this direction are: fascism; the clamorous, senseless agitation of the apparatus which does not weigh anything, which does not enlighten, but stupefies; the despair and impatience of a part of the working class, particularly the unemployed youth.
  3. It is possible, furthermore, that the leadership, rejecting nothing, will attempt empirically to find a middle course between the dangers of the first two variations, and in this connection, will commit a series of new mistakes and, in general, will so slowly eliminate the lack of confidence of the proletarian and semi-proletarian masses, that by that time the objective conditions will have changed in a direction unfavorable for a revolution, giving way to a new period of stabilization. It is chiefly in this eclectic direction, combining chvostism in general with adventurism in particular, that the Moscow Stalinist top is pushing the German party, fearing to take a clear position and preparing an alibi for itself beforehand, that is, a possibility of putting the blame on the “performers” – at the right or at the left, depending upon the results. This policy, with which we are familiar enough, sacrifices the international historical interests of the proletariat to the interests of the “prestige of the bureaucratic top. Intimations of such a course have already been given in Pravda on September 16.
  4. Finally, the most propitious, or more correctly, the only propitious variation: the German party, through the efforts of its best and most conscious elements, takes a careful survey of the whole present contradictory situation. By a correct audacious, and flexible policy, the party, on the basis of the present situation, succeeds in uniting the majority of the proletariat and thus secures a reversal in the direction of the semi-proletarian and most oppressed petty-bourgeois masses. The proletarian vanguard, as leader of the nation of the toiling and oppressed, comes to victory. To help the party change its policy towards this course is the task of the Bolshevik-Leninists (Left Opposition).

It would be fruitless to guess which of these variations has better chances of happening in the next period. Such questions are not decided by guesses but by struggle.

One necessary element is an irreconcilable ideological struggle against the centrist leadership of the Comintern. From Moscow, the signal has already been given for a policy of bureaucratic prestige which covers up yesterday’s mistakes and prepares tomorrow’s through false cries about the new triumph of the line. Monstrously exaggerating the victory of the party, monstrously underestimating the difficulties, interpreting even the success of fascism as a positive factor for the proletarian revolution, Pravda necessarily makes one small stipulation. “The successes of the party should not make us dizzy.” The treacherous policy of the Stalinist leadership is true to itself even here. An analysis of the situation is given in the spirit of uncritical ultra-leftism. The party is thus deliberately pushed onto the road of adventurism. At the same time, Stalin prepares his alibi in advance with the aid of the ritualistic phrase about “dizziness.” It is precisely this policy, shortsighted, unscrupulous, that may ruin the German revolution.

8. Where Is The Way Out?

We have given above, without any glossing over or embellishment an analysis of difficulties and dangers related as a whole to the political and subjective sphere, which grew primarily out of the mistakes and crimes of the epigone leadership, and which now definitely threaten to demolish a new revolutionary situation developing before our very eyes. The officials will either close their eyes to our analysis or else they will replenish their stock of slander. But it is not a matter of hopeless officials; it concerns the fate of the German proletariat In the party, as well as in the apparatus, there are not a few people who observe and think, and who will be compelled tomorrow by sharp circumstances to think with doubled intensity. It is to them that we direct our analysis and our conclusions.

Every critical situation has great sources of uncertainty. Moods, views, and forces, hostile and friendly, are formed in the very process of the crisis. They cannot be foreseen mathematically. They must be measured in the process of the struggle, through struggle; and on the basis of these living measurements, necessary corrections must be made in the policy.

Can the strength of the conservative resistance of the Social Democratic workers be calculated beforehand? It cannot. In the light of the events of the past years, this strength seems to be gigantic. But the truth is that what helped most of all to weld together Social Democracy was the wrong policy of the Communist Party, which found its highest expression in the absurd theory of social fascism. To measure the real resistance of the Social Democratic ranks, a different measuring instrument is required, that is, a correct Communist tactic. Given this condition – and it is not a small condition – the degree of internal corrosion of the Social Democracy can be revealed in a comparatively brief period.

In a different form, what has been said above also applies to fascism: it arose, among the other conditions present from the tremblings of the Zinoviev-Stalin strategy. [10] What is its offensive power? What is its stability? Has it reached its culminating point as the optimists ex officio assure us, or is ft only on the first step of the ladder? This cannot be foretold mechanically. It can be determined only through action. Precisely In regard to fascism, which is a razor in the hands of the class enemy, the wrong policy of the Comintern may produce fatal results in a brief period. On the other hand, a correct policy – not in such a short period, it is true – can undermine the positions of fascism.

A revolutionary party, at the time of a crisis in the regime, is much stronger in the extraparliamentary mass struggles than within the framework of parliamentarism. But again, on one condition: if it understands the situation correctly and can connect in practice the vital needs of the masses with the task of seizing power. Everything is now reduced to this. It would therefore be the greatest mistake to see in the present situation in Germany only difficulties and dangers. No, the situation also reveals tremendous possibilities, provided R is clearly and thoroughly understood and correctly utilized.

What is needed for this?

1. A forced turn to the right at the time when the situation is swinging to the left calls for particularly attentive, honest, and skillful observation for further changes in all the factors of the situation. The abstract contrasting of the methods of the second and third periods must be rejected at once. The situation must be taken as it is, with all its contradictions and the living dynamics of its development. We must carefully watch the real changes in the situation and influence it in the direction of its real development – not to suit the schemes of Molotov or Kuusinen. [11] To be oriented in the situation-that is the most important and most difficult part of the problem. It cannot be solved at all by bureaucratic methods. Statistics, important though they are by themselves, are insufficient for this purpose. It is necessary to sound the very deepest mass of the proletariat and the toilers generally. We must not only advance the vital and gripping slogans; we must trace the hold they get on the masses. This can be achieved only by an active party which puts out tens of thousands of feelers everywhere, which gathers the testimony, considers all the questions, and actively works out its collective viewpoint.

2. The question of the party regime is inextricably bound up with this. People appointed by Moscow, independent of the confidence or lack of confidence of the party, will not be able to lead the masses in an assault upon capitalist society. The more artificial the present regime, the deeper will be its crisis in the days and hours of decision. Of all the “turns," the most important and urgent one concerns the party regime. It is a question of life or death.

3. A change in the regime is the precondition for a change in the course and its consequence at the same time. One is inconceivable without the other. The party must break away from the false atmosphere of conventionality, of hushing up real trouble, of glorifying spurious values – in a word, from the disastrous atmosphere of Stalinism, which is not created by ideological and political influence but by the crude, material dependence of the apparatus and the methods of command based on that.

One of the necessary conditions for the liberation of the party from bureaucratic bondage is a general examination of the “general line” of the German leadership, beginning with 1923, and even with the March Days of 1921. [12] The Left Opposition, in a number of documents and theoretical works, has given its evaluation of all the stages of the unfortunate official policy of the Comintern. This criticism must become the property of the party. To avoid it or to be silent about it will not be possible. The party will not rise to the height of its great tasks if it does not freely evaluate its present in the light of its past.

4. If the Communist Party, in spite of the exceptionally favorable circumstances, has proved powerless seriously to shake the structure of the Social Democracy with the aid of the formula of “social fascism,” then real fascism now threatens this structure, no longer with wordy formulas of so-called radicalism, but with the chemical formulas of explosives. No matter how true it is that the Social Democracy prepared the blossoming of fascism by its whole policy, it is no less true that fascism comes forward as a deadly threat primarily to that same Social Democracy, all of whose magnificence is inextricably bound up with parliamentary-democratic-pacifist forms and methods of government.

There can be no doubt that at the crucial moment the leaders of the Social Democracy will prefer the triumph of fascism to the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat But precisely the approach of such a choice creates exceptional difficulties for the Social Democratic leaders among their own workers. The policy of a united front of the workers against fascism flows from this whole situation. It opens up tremendous possibilities for the Communist Party. A condition for success, however, is the rejection of the theory and practice of “social fascism,” the harm of which becomes a positive menace under the present circumstances.

The social crisis will inevitably produce deep cleavages within the Social Democracy. The radicalization of the masses will affect the Social Democratic workers long before they cease to be Social Democrats. We will inevitably have to make agreements against fascism with the various Social Democratic organizations and factions, putting definite conditions to the leaders in full view of the masses. Only the frightened opportunists, yesterday’s allies of Purcell and Cook, of Chiang Kai-shek and Wang Chin-wei [13], can bind themselves by formal commitments beforehand against such agreements. We must return from the official’s empty phrase about the united front to the policy of the united front as it was formulated by Lenin and always applied by the Bolsheviks in 1917.

5. The problem of unemployment is one of the most important elements of the political crisis. The struggle against capitalist rationalization and for the seven-hour working day remains entirely on the order of the day. But only the slogan of an extensive, planned collaboration with the Soviet Union can raise this struggle to the height of the revolutionary tasks. In the programmatic declaration for the election, the Central Committee of the German party states that after achieving power the Communists will establish economic collaboration with the Soviet Union. There is no doubt of this. But a historical perspective cannot be counterposed to the political tasks of the day. The workers, and the unemployed in the first place, must be mobilized right now under the slogan of extensive economic collaboration with the Soviet republic. The State Planning Commission of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics should work out a plan of economic collaboration with the help of the German Communists and trade unionists, which, using the present unemployment as its point of departure, would spread out into a comprehensive collaboration embracing all the basic branches of the economy. The problem does not lie in promising to reconstruct the economy after the seizure of power; it lies in seizing power. The problem is not to promise the collaboration of Soviet Germany with the USSR, but to win the working masses for this collaboration today, linking it closely with the crisis and unemployment, and spreading it further into a gigantic plan for the socialist reconstruction of both countries.

6. The political crisis in Germany brings into question the Versailles regime in Europe. [14] The Central Committee of the German Communist Party declares that, having taken power, the German proletariat will liquidate the Versailles documents. Is that all? The abolition of the Versailles Treaty as the highest achievement of the proletarian revolution! What is to be put in its place? There is not a word about this. Such a negative way of putting the question brings the party close to the National Socialists. The Soviet United States of Europe – that is the only correct slogan which points the way out of the splintering of Europe, which threatens not only Germany but all of Europe with complete economic and cultural decline.

The slogan of the proletarian unification of Europe is simultaneously a very important weapon in the struggle against the abomination of fascist chauvinism, the baiting of France, and so forth. The most incorrect, the most dangerous policy is that of passive adaptation to the enemy by painting oneself to look like him. The slogans of national despair and national frenzy must be opposed by slogans of international liberation. For this, the party must be purged of national socialism, the principal element of which is the theory of socialism in one country. [15]

To reduce all that has been said above to one simple formula, let us pose the question thus: Must the tactics of the German Communist Party in the immediate period follow an offensive or defensive line? We answer: defensive.

If, as the result of a Communist Party offensive, a collision were to occur today, the proletarian vanguard would smash its head against the bloc between the state and the fascists, with the majority of the working class remaining in frightened and bewildered neutrality and the majority of the petty bourgeoisie directly supporting the fascists.

Assuming a defensive position means a policy of closing ranks with the majority of the German working class and forming a united front with the Social Democratic and nonparty workers against the fascist threat. Denying this threat, belittling it, failing to take it seriously Is the greatest crime that can be committed today against the proletarian revolution in Germany.

What will the Communist Party “defend”? The Weimar Constitution? No, we will leave that task to Brandler. The Communist Party must call for the defense of those material and moral positions which the working class has managed to win in the German state. This most directly concerns the fate of the workers’ political organizations, trade unions, newspapers, printing plants, clubs, libraries, etc. Communist workers must say to their Social Democratic counterparts: “The policies of our parties are irreconcilably opposed; but if the fascists come tonight to wreck your organization’s hall, we will come running, arms in hand, to help you. Will you promise us that if our organization is threatened you will rush to our aid?” This is the quintessence of our policy in the present period. All agitation must be pitched in this key.

The more persistently, seriously, and thoughtfully – without the whining and boasting the workers so quickly tire of – we carry on this agitation, the more we propose serious measures for defense in every factory, in every working-class neighborhood and district, the less the danger that a fascist attack will take us by surprise, and the greater the certainty that such an attack will cement, rather than break apart, the ranks of the workers.

Indeed, the fascists, thanks to their dizzying success, thanks to the petty-bourgeois, impatient, and undisciplined makeup of their army, will be inclined in the coming period to rush headlong onto the offensive. To compete with them in this course now would be not only hopeless, but also mortally dangerous. On the contrary, the more the fascists appear the aggressors in the eyes of the Social Democratic workers and the toiling masses in general, and the more we appear to be the defending side, the greater our chances will be not only of routing the fascist attack, but also of being able to take the offensive ourselves. The defense must be vigilant active, and bold. The general staff must survey the entire field of battle, taking all changes into account so as not to miss any new turning point in the situation when the signal for a general assault may be called for.

There are strategists who always take the defensive, whatever the circumstances; for example, the Brandlerites. To be confused by the fact that they speak for defense today, too, would be the purest childishness: they do this all the time. The Brandlerites are one of the mouthpieces of Social Democracy. Our own task consists in moving the Social Democratic workers, after a rapprochement is made with them on the basis of defense, over into a decisive offensive. The Brandlerites are absolutely incapable of this. The moment the relationship of forces changes radically to the advantage of the proletarian revolution, the Brandlerites will again turn out to be ballast, a brake on the revolution. That is why the policy of defense, although it depends on a rapprochement with the Social Democratic workers, in no case signifies a softening of our opposition to the Brandlerite general staff, behind whom there never will be any mass movement.

In connection with the alignment of forces and the tasks of the proletarian vanguard characterized above, the methods of physical violence used by the Stalinist bureaucracies in Germany and in other countries toward the Bolshevik-Leninists take on especially great significance. This is a direct service to the Social Democratic police and the shock troops of fascism. Fundamentally in contradiction to the traditions of the revolutionary proletarian movement, these methods, as never before, accord with the mood of the petty-bourgeois bureaucrats, sitting tight with their big salaries assured from above and afraid of losing them in an onslaught of party democracy. Against the infamies of the Stalinists, broad explanatory work is necessary, as concrete as it can be, including an expose of the roles of the unworthiest of the bureaucrats in the party apparatus. The experience of the USSR and of other countries testifies that those gentlemen who fight the Left Opposition with the most fury are the ones who most of all have to hide their own sins and crimes from their high command waste of public funds, abuse of positions, or simply their own complete uselessness. It is perfectly clear that the more we expand our general agitation on the basis of the tasks outlined above, the more successful will be our exposure of the strong-arm exploits of the Stalinist apparatus against the Bolshevik-Leninists.

We have examined the question of the tactical turn in the Communist International exclusively in the light of the German situation because, in the first place, the German crisis now puts the German Communist Party once more in the center of attention of the world proletarian vanguard, and because in the light of this crisis all the problems are brought out in sharpest relief It would not be difficult, however, to show that what has been said here also holds good, to one degree or another, for other countries.

In France, all the forms of class struggle after the war bear an immeasurably less sharp and less decisive character than they do in Germany. But the general tendencies of development are the same, not to speak of the direct dependence of the fate of France upon the fate of Germany. At any rate, the turns of the Communist International have a universal character. The French Communist Party, which was declared by Molotov back in 1928 to be the first candidate for power, has conducted an absolutely suicidal policy in the last two years. It especially overlooked the economic rise. The tactical turn was proclaimed in France at the very moment when the crisis began to take the place of the industrial revival. In this way, the same contradictions, difficulties, and tasks about which we speak in reference to Germany, are on the order of the day in France as well.

The turn in the Comintern combined with the turn in the situation, puts new and exceptionally important tasks before the Communist Left Opposition. Its forces are small. But every current grows together with the growth of its tasks. To understand them clearly is to possess one of the most important guarantees of victory.

The Rise of Fascism in Germany Index

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Last updated on: 25.4.2007