Leon Trotsky

Thaelmann and
the “People’s Revolution”

(April 1931)

Written in exile in Turkey, April 14, 1931.
Letter to a comrade in Spain (Spanish monarchy had fallen, republic was forming.)
First appeared in The Militant, Vol. IV No. 14, 11 July 1931, p. 4.

Thanks for the quotation about the “people’s” revolution from Thaelmann’s speech, which I glanced through. A more ridiculous and maliciously confused manner of putting the question cannot be imagined! “The people’s revolution” – as a slogan and even with a reference to Lenin. Yet every issue of the paper of the fascist Strasser [1] is embellished with the slogan of the people’s revolution as opposed to the Marxist slogan of the class revolution. It is understood that every great revolution is a people’s or a national revolution, in the sense that it unites around the revolutionary class all the virile and creative forces of the nation and reconstructs the nation around a new core. But this is not a slogan; it is a sociological description of the revolution, which requires, moreover, precise and concrete definition. As a slogan, it is inane and charlatanism, market competition with the fascists, paid for at the price of injecting confusion into the minds of the workers.

The evolution of the slogans of the Comintern is a striking one, precisely on this question. After the Third Congress of the Comintern, the slogan of “class against class” became the popular expression of the policy of the united proletarian front This was quite correct: all workers should be consolidated against the bourgeoisie. This they afterwards transformed into the alliance with the reformist bureaucrats against the workers (the experience of the British General Strike). Later on, they went over to the opposite extreme: no agreements with the reformists, “class against class.” The very slogan which was to serve for drawing the Social Democratic workers closer to the Communist workers came to mean, in the “third period,” the struggle against the Social Democratic workers as against a different class. Now the new turn: the people’s revolution instead of the proletarian revolution. The fascist Strasser says 95 percent of the people are interested in the revolution, consequently it is not a class revolution but a people’s revolution. Thaelmann sings in chorus. In reality, the worker-Communist should say to the fascist worker: of course, 95 percent of the population, if not 98 percent, is exploited by finance capital. But this exploitation is organized hierarchically: there are exploiters, there are subexploiters, sub-subexploiters, etc. Only thanks to this hierarchy do the superexploiters keep in subjection the majority of the nation. In order that the nation should indeed be able to reconstruct itself around a new class core, it must be reconstructed ideologically and this can be achieved only if the proletariat does not dissolve itself into the “people,” into the “nation,” but on the contrary develops a program of its proletarian revolution and compels the petty bourgeoisie to choose between two regimes. The slogan of the people’s revolution lulls the petty bourgeoisie as well as the broad masses of the workers, reconciles them to the bourgeois-hierarchical structure of the “people and retards their liberation. But under present conditions in Germany, the slogan of a “people’s revolution” wipes away the ideological demarcation between Marxism and fascism and reconciles part of the workers and the petty bourgeoisie to the ideology of fascism, allowing them to think that they are not compelled to make a choice, because in both camps it is all a matter of a people’s revolution. These wretched revolutionists, in a conflict with any serious enemy, think first of all of how to imitate him, how to repaint themselves in his colors, and how to win the masses by means of a smart trick and not by revolutionary struggle. A truly shameful posing of the question! If the weak Spanish Communists were to make this formula their own, they would arrive at the policy of a Spanish Kuomintang. [2]

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Last updated on: 4.1.2013