Leon Trotsky

The Only Road

(Part 2)

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

Tactics are tested in the most critical and crucial moments. The strength of Bolshevism rested upon this, that its slogans and methods found their supreme confirmation as soon as the course of events demanded 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, exercises a powerful force of attraction upon the mass. The sectarian policy, on the contrary, becomes all the weaker the more mighty is the thrust 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 the masses who were won over in the past by Marxism and fused together by the authority of the October Revolution. But 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 some time artificial restraints upon the proletarian vanguard. But to the degree that the class struggle is condensed into civil war, the bureaucratic prescriptions come into increasing collision with unrelenting reality. Faced with 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 someday be studied as a model of the most pitiful and miserable brainlessness.

Since the “third period” it has been considered 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 had 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. Such was the deafening intonation of the ultraleftist barrel organ in the last three or four years. But then: 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 the 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 humiliating?

To explain these goat-leaps, however, is not so difficult. As is known, many superficial liberals and radicals continue to joke all their lives 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 limit 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, British 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 ultraleftist phrases but also the vital interests of the international revolution – in the name of amity with uncertain and false “friends” of 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, went tugging at the coattails of all sorts of liberal jabberers and radical scribblers “for the defense of the USSR.”

The Stalinist bureaucracy in Germany, as in every other country – except 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 Revolutionaries 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 serve; 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. The situation is completely different 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 extraparliamentary 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 the July 31 vote. It is from this fact that we must proceed. The former mistakes of the Communist Party (Prussian referendum, and so on) facilitated extraordinarily well the sabotage of the united front practiced by the reformist leaders. A technical parliamentary agreement – or even just 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 unfolding 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 ultraleftist theory and praxis to be worthless; yet it is replaced not 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,” “Bolshevik” policy, after months of blustering and screeching, of polemic, of vilification and expulsions, at once gives way at the critical moment to an opportunist “mistake”?

But the matter is not confined to the Landtag. Thälmann-Remmele have absolutely renounced themselves and their own school on a much more important 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 SPD, to the ADGB, and to the AfA-Bund the question if they are prepared to carry out, together with the Communist Party, a general strike for the proletarian demands.”

This decision, so important and unexpected, 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 counterrevolutionary. 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 state 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 SPD leaders (see Thälmann’s answers in the preceding section). 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 at every step. Even when the mighty pressure of events drives a hundred thousand new workers under the Communist banner, it takes place in spite of the Stalin-Thälmann policy. Precisely because of this the future of the party is in no way assured.

6. What They Say in Prague About the United Front

“When the Communist International made a united front with the Social Democratic leaders in 1926,” wrote the central organ of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party, Rude Pravo, on February 27, 1932, allegedly in the name of a worker-correspondent “from the bench,” “it did this in order to expose them before the masses of supporters, and at that time Trotsky was terribly opposed to it Now, when the Social Democracy has so discredited itself by its countless betrayals of the workers’ struggles, Trotsky proposes the united front with its leaders ... Trotsky is today against the Anglo-Russian Committee of 1926, but for any sort of Anglo – Russian Committee of 1932.”

These lines lead us right to the heart of the question. In 1926, the Comintern sought to “expose” the reformist leaders with the aid of the united-front policy, and that was right But since then the Social Democracy has “discredited” itself. Before whom? There are still more workers following it than follow the Communist Party. This is sad but true. The problem of exposing the reformist leaders thus remains unsolved. If the method of the united front was good in 1926, why should it be bad in 1932?

“Trotsky is for an Anglo-Russian Committee of 1932, against the Anglo-Russian Committee of 1926.” In 1926, the united front was concluded only at the top, between the leaders of the Soviet trade unions and the British trade unionists, not in the name of definite practical actions of the masses separated from each other by state frontiers and social conditions, but upon the basis of a friendly-diplomatic, pacifist-evasive “platform.” During the miners’ strike, and later the general strike, the Anglo-Russian Committee could not even come together, for the “allies” pulled in two opposite directions: the Soviet trade unions strove to assist the strikers, the British trade unionists sought to break the strike. The substantial contributions collected by the Russian workers were rejected by the General Council as “damned Russian gold.” Only after the strike had been finally betrayed and broken did the Anglo-Russian Committee come together again to the scheduled banquet to exchange small talk. Thus did the policy of the Anglo-Russian Committee serve to cover up the reformist strikebreakers before the working masses.

At the present time we are speaking of something quite different. In Germany the Social Democratic and the Communist workers stand on the same ground, before the same danger. They mingle with each other in factories, in trade unions, at the unemployment registries, etc. It is not a question here of a verbal “platform” of the leaders, but of thoroughly concrete tasks which are calculated to draw the mass organizations directly into the struggle.

The united-front policy on a national scale is ten times harder than on a local scale. The united-front policy on an international scale is a hundred times harder than on a national scale. To unite with the British reformists around so general a slogan as “defense of the USSR” or “defense of the Chinese Revolution” is the talk the blue out of the sky. In Germany, on the contrary, there is the immediate danger of the destruction of the workers’ organizations, the Social Democratic included. To expect the Social Democracy to fight for the defense of the Soviet Union against the German bourgeoisie would be an illusion. But we certainly can expect that the Social Democracy will fight for the defense of its mandates, its meetings, periodicals, treasuries, and finally for its own head.

Only, even in Germany we in no way advocate lapsing into a united-front fetishism. An agreement is art agreement It remains in effect so long as it serves the practical goal for which it was concluded. If the reformists begin to curb or to sabotage the movement the Communists must always put to themselves the question: is it not time to tear up the agreement and to lead the masses further under our own banner? Such a policy is not an easy one. But who has ever argued that to lead the proletariat to victory is a simple task? By counterposing the year 1926 to the year 1932, Rude Pravo has demonstrated only its lack of comprehension of what occurred six years ago as well as of what is happening today.

The “worker-correspondent” from the imaginary bench also turns his attention to the example I gave of the agreement of the Bolsheviks with the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. “All that time,” he writes, “Kerensky really fought for a certain time against Kornilov and at the same time helped the proletariat smash Kornilov. That the German Social Democracy today does not fight against fascism is evident to any little child.”

Thälmann, who in no way resembles a “little child,” contends that an agreement of the Russian Bolsheviks with the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries never even existed. Rude Pravo, as we see, pursues a different course. The agreement it does not deny. But according to its conception, the agreement was justified by this, that Kerensky really fought against Kornilov, in contradistinction to the Social Democracy, which is preparing the road to power for fascism. The idealization of Kerensky here is quite astounding. When did Kerensky begin to fight against Kornilov? At the very moment when Kornilov swung the Cossack’s saber over Kerensky’s own head, that is, on the eve of August 26, 1917. On the previous day, Kerensky was still in a direct conspiracy with Kornilov, with the aim of jointly crushing the Petrograd workers and soldiers. If Kerensky began to “fight” against Kornilov or, more correctly, to offer no resistance for a time to the fight against Kornilov, then it was only because the Bolsheviks left him no other alternative. That Kornilov and Kerensky, both of them conspirators, broke with each other and came into open conflict, was to a certain extent a surprise. That it would have to come to a collision between German fascism and the Social Democracy, could and should have been foreseen, if only on the basis of the Italian and Polish experiences. Why could an agreement with Kerensky against Kornilov have been concluded, and why is it forbidden to preach, to fight for, to advocate, and to prepare an agreement with the Social Democratic mass organizations? Why must such agreements be destroyed wherever they have come into being? That, however, is just how Thälmann & Co. proceed.

Rude Pravo naturally pounced ravenously upon my words that an agreement on fighting actions may be made with the devil, with his grandmother, and even with Noske and Grzesinsky. “Look, Communist workers,” writes the paper, “you’ve got to come to terms with Grzesinsky who has already shot so many of your comrades-in-arms. Come to an agreement with him for he is to fight together with you against the fascists, with whom he hobnobs at banquets and on the boards of directors of factories and banks.” The whole question is shifted here onto the plane of spurious sentimentality. Such an objection is worthy of an anarchist an old Russian Left Social Revolutionary, a “revolutionary pacifist,” or of Münzenberg himself. There isn’t a glimmer of Marxism in it.

First of all: is it correct that Grzesinsky is a workers’ hangman? Absolutely correct. But wasn’t Kerensky a hangman of the workers and peasants in far greater measure than Grzesinsky? Nevertheless, Rude Pravo approves after the fact the practical agreement with Kerensky.

To support the hangman in every action directed against the workers is a crime, if not treachery: that is just what the alliance of Stalin with Chiang Kai-shek consisted of. But if this same Chinese hangman were to find himself engaged tomorrow in a war with the Japanese imperialists, then practical fighting agreements of the Chinese workers with the hangman Chiang Kai-shek would be quite permissible and even – a duty.

Did Grzesinsky hobnob with the fascists at banquets? I do not know, but I’m quite prepared to grant it. Only, Grzesinsky was subsequently obliged to sit in the Berlin prison, not in the name of socialism, it is true, but only because he was loath to give up his warm seat to the Bonapartists and the fascists. Had the Communist Party openly declared at least a year ago: against the fascist assassins we are prepared to fight jointly even with Grzesinsky; had it invested this formula with a fighting character, developed it in speeches and articles, brought it into the depths of the masses – Grzesinsky would have been unable to defend before the masses his capitulation in July with references to the sabotage of the Communist Party. He would either have had to go along with this or that active step or else expose himself hopelessly in the eyes of his own workers. Isn’t this clear?

To be sure, even if Grzesinsky were drawn into the struggle by the logic of his situation and the pressure of the masses, he would be an extremely unreliable, a thoroughly perfidious ally. His principal thought would be to pass over as quickly as possible from struggle or half-struggle to an agreement with the capitalists. But the masses set into motion, even the Social Democratic masses, do not come to a halt as easily as do outraged police chiefs. The rapprochement of the Social Democratic and the Communist workers in the process of the struggle would offer the Communist Party leaders a far broader possibility for influencing the Social Democratic workers, especially in face of the common danger. And that is precisely the final aim of the united front.

To reduce the whole policy of the proletariat to agreements with the reformist organizations or, still worse, to the abstract slogan of “unity,” is something that only spineless centrists of the stripe of the SAP can do. For the Marxists, the united front policy is merely one of the methods in the course of the class struggle. Under certain conditions this method becomes completely useless; it would be absurd to want to conclude an agreement with the reformists to achieve the socialist upheaval. But there are conditions under which the rejection of the united front may ruin the revolutionary party for many decades to come. That is the situation in Germany at the present time.

The policy of the united front on the international scale, as we have said above, faces even more difficulties and dangers, for there the formulation of the practical tasks and the organization of control by the masses is harder. That is so above all in the question of the struggle against war. The prospects of joint actions are far slighter here, the possibilities of subterfuge and deception by the reformists and pacifists are far greater. By this, of course, we do not contend that the united front in this field is out of the question. On the contrary, we demanded that the Comintern should turn directly and immediately to the Second and the Amsterdam Internationals with the proposal for a joint antiwar congress. It would then have been the task of the Comintern to work out the most concrete possible obligations, applicable to the various countries and differing circumstances. Were the Social Democracy compelled to agree to such a congress, the problem of war, providing there were a correct policy on our side, could be driven into its ranks like a sharp wedge.

The first premise for this: utmost clarity, political as wen as organizational. There is involved an agreement of proletarian, million-membered organizations, which are today still divided by deep antagonisms in principle. No ambiguous intermediaries, no diplomatic masqueradings and hollow pacifist formulas!

The Comintern, however, found it proper this time also to act counter to the ABC of Marxism: while it refused to enter into open negotiations with the reformist Internationals, it opened up negotiations behind the scenes with Friedrich Adler through the medium ... of the pacifist literary gentleman and first-class muddlehead, Henri Barbusse. As a result of this policy, Barbusse gathered together in Amsterdam half-hidden Communist or “related,” “sympathizing” organizations and groups, together with the pacifist free-lancers of all countries. The most honest and sincere among the latter – and they are the minority – can each say for himself. “Me and my confusion.” Who needed this masquerade, this bazaar of intellectualistic conceit, this Münzenbergerie, which turns into downright political charlatanry?*

But let us return to Prague. Five months after the appearance of the article discussed above, the same journal printed the article of one of the party leaders, Klement Gottwald, which bears the character of an appeal to the Czechoslovakian workers of the different tendencies to make righting agreements, The fascist danger menaces all of Central Europe: the onslaught of the reaction can be beaten off only by the unity of the proletariat; no time should be lost; it is already “five minutes to midnight.” The appeal is very passionately written. In vain, however, does Gottwald swear, following Seydewitz and Thälmann, that he is not pursuing the interests of the party but the interests of the class: such a contrast is absolutely improper in the mouth of a Marxist. Gottwald stigmatizes the sabotage of the Social Democratic leaders. It is needless to say that the truth here is entirely on his side. Unfortunately, the author says nothing direct about the policy of the Central Committee of the German Communist Party: evidently he is not resolved upon defending it, but does not yet dare to criticize it. Gottwald himself, nevertheless, goes into the painful question, not resolutely, it is true, but still fairly correctly. After he has called upon the workers of the various tendencies to come to an agreement in the factories, Gottwald writes: “Many of you may perhaps say: Unite there ‘at the top,’ we ‘below’ will get together pretty easily. We believe,” continues the author, “that the most important thing is for the workers to agree ‘below.’ And as for the leaders – we have already said that we combine even with the devil if only it is directed against the rulers and in the interests of the workers. And we say to you openly, if your leaders give up their alliance with the bourgeoisie for even a single instant, proceed in reality against the rulers even in one question – we will greet it and support them in it.”

Almost everything necessary is said here, and almost the way it should be said. Gottwald did not even forget to mention the devil, whose name the editorial board of Rude Pravo printed five months before in pious indignation. Gottwald did indeed omit the devil’s grandmother. But God be with her; for the sake of the united front we are ready to sacrifice her. Perhaps Gottwald would be prepared, for his part, to console the offended old dame by turning over for her disposal the article from Rude Pravo of February 27, together with the inkwell “worker correspondent.”

Gottwald’s political considerations, let us hope, are applicable not only to Czechoslovakia but also to Germany. And that is just how it should have been said. On the other hand, neither in Berlin nor in Prague can the party leadership confine itself to the bald declaration of its readiness for a united front with the Social Democracy, but must demonstrate this readiness in deeds, enterprisingly, in a Bolshevik manner, by means of quite definite practical proposals and actions. That is just what we demand.

Gottwald’s article, thanks to the fact that it rings with a realistic and not an ultimatist tone, instantly found an echo among the Social Democratic workers. On July 31 there appeared in Rude Pravo a letter, among others, from an unemployed printer who had recently returned from a visit to Germany. The letter bears the imprint of a worker-democrat who is undoubtedly afflicted with the prejudices of reformism. All the more important is it to pay attention to how the policy of the German Communist Party reflects itself in his consciousness. “When in the spring of last year,” thus writes the printer, “comrade Breitscheid directed to the Communist Party the appeal to begin joint actions with the Social Democracy, he evoked in the Rote Fahne a veritable storm of indignation. So the Social Democratic workers said to themselves: ‘Now we know how serious are the intentions of the Communists on the united front.’”

Here you have the genuine voice of a worker. Such a voice contributes more to the solution of the question than dozens of articles by unprincipled pen-pushers. As a matter of fact, Breitscheid did not propose any united front. He only frightened the bourgeoisie with the possibility of joint actions with the Communists. Had the Central Committee of the Communist Party promptly put the question right on the edge of the knife, the Social Democratic Party leadership would have been pushed into a difficult position. But the Central Committee of the Communist Party hastened, as always, to put itself into a difficult position.

In the pamphlet What Next? I happened to write on Breitscheid’s speech: “Isn’t it self-evident that Breitscheid’s diplomatic and equivocal offer should have been grabbed with both hands; and that from one’s own side, one should have submitted a concrete, carefully detailed, and practical program for a joint struggle against fascism and demanded joint sessions of the executives of both parties, with the participation of the executives of the Free Trade Unions? Simultaneously, one should have carried this same program energetically down through all the layers of both parties and of the masses.”

By spurning the trial balloon of the reformist leaders, the Central Committee of the Communist Party transformed in the minds of the workers the ambiguous assertion of Breitscheid into a direct united-front proposal and prompted the Social Democratic workers to the conclusion: “Our people want joint actions, but the Communists are sabotaging.” Can one imagine a more stupid and inappropriate policy? Could Breitscheid’s maneuver be better supported? The letter from the Prague printer demonstrates with remarkable plainness that with Thälmann’s aid, Breitscheid completely attained his goal.

Rude Pravo endeavors to perceive contradiction and confusion in the fact that in one case we reject an agreement, but in another, we acknowledge it and deem it necessary to determine anew each time the scope, the slogans, and the methods of the agreement. Rude Pravo does not understand that in politics, as in all other serious fields, one must know well: what; when, where, and how. Also it cannot hurt to understand: why.

In The Third International After Lenin, written four years ago, we set down a few elementary rules for the united-front policy. We consider it worthwhile to recall them here:

“The possibility of betrayal is always contained in reformism. But this does not mean to say that reformism and betrayal are one and the same thing at every moment. Not quite. Temporary agreements may be made with the reformists whenever they take a step forward. But to maintain a bloc with them when, frightened by the development of a movement they commit treason, is equivalent to criminal toleration of traitors and a veiling of betrayal.” (The Third International After Lenin, page 129)

“The most important best established, and most unalterable rule to apply in every maneuver reads: you must never dare to merge, mix, or combine your own party organization with an alien one, even though the latter be most ‘sympathetic’ today. Undertake no such steps as lead directly or indirectly, openly or maskedly, to the subordination of your party to other parties, or to organizations of other classes, or constrict the freedom of your own agitation, or your responsibility, even if only in part, for the political line of other parties. You shall not mix up the banners, let alone kneel before another banner.” (ibid., page 140)

Today, after the experience with the Barbusse Congress, we would add still another rule:

“Agreements should be reached only openly, before the eyes of the masses, from party to party, from organization to organization. You shall not avail yourself of equivocal middlemen. You shall not palm off diplomatic affairs with bourgeois pacifists as a proletarian united front.”

7. The Class Struggle in the Light of the Economic Cycle

If we have insistently demanded that a distinction be made between fascism and Bonapartism, it has not been out of theoretical pedantry. Names are used to distinguish between concepts; concepts, in politics, in turn serve to distinguish among real forces. The smashing of fascism would leave no room for Bonapartism and, it is to be hoped, would mean the direct introduction to the social revolution.

Only – the proletariat is not armed for the revolution. The reciprocal relations between Social Democracy and the Bonapartist government on the one hand, and between Bonapartism and fascism on the other – while they do not decide the fundamental questions – distinguish by what roads and in what tempo the struggle between the proletariat and the fascist counterrevolution will be prepared. The contradictions between Schleicher, Hitler, and Wels, in the given situation, render more difficult the victory of fascism, and open for the Communist Party a new credit, the most valuable of all – a credit in time.

“Fascism will come to power by the cold method.” We have heard this more than once from the Stalinist theoreticians. This formula means that the fascists will come to power legally, peacefully, through a coalition – without needing an open upheaval. Events have already refuted this prognosis. The Papen government came to power through a coup d’état, and it complemented it with a coup d’état in Prussia. Even if we assume that a coalition between the Nazis and the Center would overthrow the Bonapartist Papen government with “constitutional methods, in and of itself this still decides nothing. Between the peaceful assumption of power by Hitler and the establishment of the fascist regime there still lies a long way. A coalition would only facilitate the coup d’état, but not replace it. Along with the final abolition of the Weimar Constitution there would still remain the most important task – the abolition of the organs of proletarian democracy. From this point of view, what does the “cold method” mean? Nothing other than the lack of resistance on the part of the workers. Papen’s Bonapartist coup d’état remained in fact unpunished. Will Hitler’s fascist upheaval also remain unpunished? It is precisely around this question that, consciously or unconsciously, the guessing about the “cold method” turns.

If the Communist Party represented an overwhelming force, and if the proletariat were to march forward for the immediate seizure of power, all the contradictions in the camp of the possessing classes would temporarily be wiped out – fascists, Bonapartists, and democrats would stand in one front against the proletarian revolution. But this is not the case. The weaknesses of the Communist Party and the division of the proletariat permit the possessing classes and the parties which serve them to carry their contradictions out into the open. Only by supporting itself on these contradictions will the Communist Party be able to strengthen itself.

But perhaps fascism in highly industrialized Germany will altogether decide not to validate its claims for full power? Undoubtedly, the German proletariat is incomparably more numerous and potentially stronger than the Italian. Although fascism in Germany represents a more numerous and better organized camp than in Italy at the corresponding period, still the task of liquidating “Marxism” must appear both difficult and risky to the German fascists. In addition, it is not excluded that Hitler’s political peak has already been passed. The all too long period of waiting and the new barrier on its road in the shape of Bonapartism, undoubtedly weaken fascism, intensify its internal frictions, and might materially weaken its pressure. But here we enter a domain of tendencies which at the present moment cannot be calculated in advance. Only the living struggle can answer these questions. To build in advance on the assumption that National Socialism will inevitably stop halfway would be most frivolous.

The theory of the “cold method,” carried to its conclusion, is not in the least better than the theory of social fascism; more accurately, it only represents the obverse of that theory. The contradictions among the constituents of the enemy’s camp are in both cases completely neglected, the successive stages of the process blurred. The Communist Party is left completely on the side. Not for nothing was the theoretician of the “cold method,” Hirsch, at the same time the theoretician of social fascism.

The political crisis of the country develops on the foundation of the economic crisis. But economy too is not immovable. If yesterday we were obliged to say that the cyclical crisis only sharpens the fundamental, organic crisis of the capitalist system, so today we must recall that the general decline of capitalism does not exclude cyclical fluctuations. The present crisis will not last forever. The hopes of the capitalist world for a turn in the crisis are exaggerated to the utmost, but not groundless. The question of the struggle of political forces must be incorporated into the economic perspectives. Papen’s program makes this all the more impossible to postpone, since the program starts from the assumption of an approaching economic improvement.

The industrial revival steps on the scene for everyone to see as soon as it expresses itself in the form of growing turnover of goods, rising production, increased number of employed workers. But it does not begin in that way. The revival is preceded by preparatory processes in the field of money circulation and of credit. The capital invested in unprofitable undertakings and branches of industry must be released and receive the form of liquid money which seeks investment. The market, freed of its fatty deposits, growths, and swellings, must show a real demand. The entrepreneurs must gain ’confidence in the market and in each other. On the other hand, the ’confidence of which the world press speaks so much must be spurred on, not only by economic, but also by political factors (reparations, war debts, disarmament–rearmament, etc.).

A rise in the turnover of goods, in production, in the number of employed workers, is nowhere to be seen as yet; on the contrary, the decline continues. As for the processes preparatory to a turn in the crisis, they have obviously fulfilled the greater part of the tasks assigned to them. Many signs really permit us to assume that the moment of turn in the economic cycle has drawn close, if it is not immediately before us. That is the estimation, seen on a world scale.

But we must draw a distinction between the creditor countries (the United States, Britain, France) and the debtor countries, or more accurately the bankrupt countries; the first place in the latter group is occupied by Germany. Germany has no liquid capital. Its economy can receive an impetus only through an influx of capital from outside. But a country which is not in condition to pay its old debts receives no loans. In any case, before the creditors open their moneybags they must be convinced that Germany is again in condition to export a greater amount than it needs to import; the difference has to serve to cover the debts. The demand for German goods is to be expected primarily from the agrarian countries, in the first instance from Southeastern Europe. The agrarian countries, for their part, depend on the demand of the industrial countries for raw materials and foodstuffs. Germany will therefore be forced to wait; the stream of life will first have to flow through the series of its capitalist competitors and its agrarian partners before it affects Germany’s own economic performance.

But the German bourgeoisie cannot wait. Still less can the Bonapartist clique wait. While it promises not to touch the stability of the currency, the Papen government is introducing a material inflation. Together with speeches on the rebirth of economic liberalism, it assumes the administrative disposition over the economic cycle; in the name of the freedom of private initiative it subordinates the taxpayers directly to the capitalist entrepreneurs.

The axis around which the government program turns is the hope of a nearby turn in the crisis. If this does not take place soon, the two billions will evaporate like two drops of water on a red-hot stove. Papen’s plan has immeasurably more of a gambling, speculative character than the bullish movement which is currently taking place on the New York Stock Exchange. In any case, the consequences of a collapse of the Bonapartist gamble will be far more catastrophic.

The most immediate and tangible result of the gap between the plans of the government and the actual movement of the market will consist in the slipping of the mark. The social evils, increased by inflation, will assume an intolerable character. The bankruptcy of the Papen economic program will demand its replacement by another and more effective program. Which one? Obviously the program of fascism. Once the attempt to force a recovery through Bonapartist therapy has failed, it must be tried with fascist surgery. Social Democracy in the meantime will make “left” gestures and fall to pieces. The Communist Party, if it does not put obstacles in its own way, will grow. All in all, this will mean a revolutionary situation. The question of the prospects for victory under these circumstances is three-fourths a question of Communist strategy.

But the revolutionary party must also be prepared for another prospect, that of a quicker appearance of a turn in the crisis. Let us assume that the Schleicher-Papen government were to succeed in maintaining itself until the beginning of a revival in commerce and industry. Would it be saved thereby? No, the beginning of an upward movement in business would mean the certain end of Bonapartism and might even mean more.

The forces of the German proletariat are not exhausted. But they have been undermined by sacrifices, defeats, and disappointments, beginning with 1914, by the systematic betrayals of the Social Democracy, by the discredit which the Communist Party has heaped upon itself. Six or seven million unemployed are a heavy load dragging on the feet of the proletariat. The emergency decrees of Bruening and Papen have found no resistance. The coup d’état of July 20 has remained unpunished.

We can predict with full assurance that an upward turn in the cycle would give a powerful impetus to the activity of the proletariat at present in decline. At the moment when the factory stops discharging workers and takes on new ones, the self-confidence of the workers is strengthened; they are once again necessary. The compressed springs begin to expand again. Workers always enter into the struggle for the reconquest of lost positions more easily than for the conquest of new ones. And the German workers have lost too much. Neither emergency decrees nor the use of the Reichswehr will be able to liquidate mass strikes which develop on the wave of the upturn. The Bonapartist regime, which is able to maintain itself only through the “social truce,” will be the first victim of the upturn in the cycle.

A growth of strike struggles is already to be observed in various countries (Belgium, Britain, Poland, in part in the United States, but not Germany). An evaluation of the mass strikes now developing, in the light of the worldwide economic cycle, is not an easy task. Statistics are inevitably slow to reveal fluctuations in the business cycle. The revival must become a fact before it can be registered. The workers usually sense the revival of economic life earlier than the statisticians. New orders or even the expectation of new orders, reorganization of enterprises for expansion of production or at least the interruption of the discharge of workers, immediately increase the powers of resistance and the demands of the workers. The defensive strike of the textile workers in Lancashire was unquestionably called forth by a certain upturn in the textile industry. As for the Belgian strike, it is obviously taking place on the basis of the still deepening crisis of the coal mining industry. The transitional and critical character of the present phase of the world economic cycle corresponds to the variety of the economic impulses which are the basis of the most recent strikes. But in general the growth of the mass movement rather tends to indicate the existence of an upward trend which is about to become perceptible. In any case, a real revival of economic activity, even in its first stages, will call forth a broad upsurge of the mass struggle.

The ruling classes of all countries expect miracles from the industrial upswing; the speculation in stocks which has already broken out is a proof of this. If capitalism were really to enter upon the phase of a new prosperity or even of a gradual but persistent rise, this would naturally involve the stabilization of capitalism, accompanied by a weakening of fascism, and a simultaneous reinforcement of reformism. But there is not the least ground for the hope or fear that the economic revival, which in and of itself is inevitable, will be able to overcome the general tendencies of decay in world economy and in European economy in particular. If prewar capitalism developed under the formula of expanded production of goods, present-day capitalism, with all its cyclical fluctuations, represents an expanded production of misery and of catastrophes. The new economic cycle will entail the inevitable readjustment of forces within the individual countries as well as within the capitalist camp as a whole, predominantly toward America and away from Europe. But within a very short time it will confront the capitalist world with insoluble contradictions and condemn it to new and still more frightful convulsions.

Without the risk of error, we can make the following prognosis: the economic revival will suffice to strengthen the self-confidence of the workers and give a new impetus to their struggle, but it will in no way suffice to give capitalism, and particularly European capitalism, the possibility of rebirth.

The practical conquests which the new cyclical upturn in declining capitalism will open to the workers’ movement will necessarily bear a most limited character. Will German capitalism, at the height of the new revival in economic activity, be able to restore those conditions for the working class which existed before the present crisis? Everything compels us to answer this question in advance with “No.” All the more quickly will the awakened mass movement have to strike out along the political road.

Even the very first step of the industrial revival will be most dangerous for Social Democracy. The workers will throw themselves into struggle to win back what they have lost. The leaders of the Social Democracy will again base their hopes on the restoration of the “normal” order. Their main consideration will be the restoration of their fitness to join a coalition government. Leaders and masses will pull in opposite directions. In order to exploit to the limit the new crisis of reformism, the Communists need a correct orientation in the cyclical changes and the preparation sufficiently ahead of time of a practical program of action, beginning first of all with the losses suffered by the workers during the years of crisis. The transition from economic struggles to political ones will constitute an especially suitable moment for the strengthening of the power and influence of the revolutionary proletarian party.

But success in this field as in others can be achieved only under one condition – the correct application of the policy of the united front For the Communist Party of Germany this means, before anything else: an end to the present policy of sitting between two stools in the trade-union field; a firm course toward the Free Trade Unions, drawing the present cadres of the RGO into their ranks; the opening of a systematic struggle for influence on the shop councils by means of the trade unions; and the preparation of a broad campaign under the slogan of workers’ control of production.

8. The Road to Socialism

Kautsky and Hilferding, among others, have declared more than once in recent years that they never shared the theory of the collapse of capitalism which the revisionists once ascribed to the Marxists and which the Kautskyists themselves now frequently attribute to the Communists.

The Bernsteinians outlined two perspectives: one, unreal, allegedly orthodox “Marxist,” according to which in the long run, under the influence of the internal contradictions of capitalism, its mechanical collapse was supposed to take place; and the second, “realistic,” according to which a gradual evolution from capitalism to socialism was to be accomplished. Antithetical as these two schemas may be at first glance, they are nevertheless united by a common trait: the absence of the revolutionary factor. While they disavowed the caricature of the automatic collapse of capitalism attributed to them, the Marxists demonstrated that, under the influence of the sharpening class struggle, the proletariat would carry through the revolution long before the objective contradictions of capitalism could lead to its automatic collapse.

This dispute was carried on as long ago as the end of the Past century. It must however be acknowledged that the capitalist reality since the war approached, in a certain respect much closer to the Bernsteinian caricature of Marxism than anyone might ever have assumed – least of all the revisionists themselves, since they had only portrayed the specter of the collapse in order to bring out its unreality. Nevertheless, capitalism proves in actuality to be closer to automatic decay the more delayed is the revolutionary intervention of the proletariat in the destiny of society.

The most important component of the theory of collapse was the theory of pauperization. The Marxists contended, with some prudence, that the sharpening of social contradictions need not signify unconditionally an absolute drop in the standard of living of the masses. But in reality, it is precisely this latter process which is unfolding. Wherein could the collapse of capitalism express itself more acutely than in chronic unemployment and the destruction of social insurance, that is, the refusal of the social order to feed its own slaves?

The opportunistic brakes in the working class have proved to be powerful enough to grant the elemental forces of outlived capitalism additional decades of life. As a result, it is not the idyll of the peaceful transformation of capitalism into socialism which has taken place, but a state of affairs infinitely closer to social decay.

The reformists sought for a long time to shift the responsibility for the present state of society onto the war. But in the first place, the war did not create the destructive tendencies of capitalism, but only brought them to the surface and accelerated them; secondly, the war would have been unable to accomplish its work of destruction without the political support of reformism; thirdly, the hopeless contradictions of capitalism are preparing new wars from various sides. Reformism will be unable to shift the historical responsibility from itself. By paralyzing and curbing the revolutionary energy of the proletariat, the international Social Democracy invests the process of the capitalist collapse with the blindest, most unbridled, catastrophic, and bloody forms.

Of course, one cannot speak of a realization of the revisionist caricature of Marxism except conditionally, in applying it to some given historical period. The way out of decaying capitalism, however, will be found, even if after a great delay, not upon the road of the automatic collapse but upon the revolutionary road.

The present crisis has swept aside with a final flourish of the broom the remnants of the reformist utopias. Opportunist practice at the present time possesses no theoretical covering whatsoever. For in the long run it is pretty much a matter of indifference to Wels, Hilferding, Grzesinsky, and Noske how many catastrophes will still hurtle down upon the heads of the masses of the people, if only their own interests remain immune. Only, the point is that the crisis of the bourgeois regime strikes at the reformist leaders, too.

“Act, state, intervene!” the Social Democracy still cried a short while ago, as it fell back before fascism. And the state acted: Otto Braun and Severing were kicked into the street. Now, wrote the Vorwärts, everybody must recognize the advantages of democracy over the regime of dictatorship. Yes, democracy has substantial advantages, reflected Grzesinsky while he made the acquaintance of prison from the inside.

From this experience resulted the conclusion: “It is time to proceed to socialization!” Tarnow, yesterday still a doctor of capitalism, suddenly decided to become its gravedigger. Now, when capitalism has turned the reformist ministers, police chiefs, and lord lieutenants into unemployed, it has manifestly exhausted itself. Wels writes a programmatic article, “The hour of socialism has struck!” There only remains for Schleicher to rob the deputies of their salary and the former ministers of their pension – and Hilferding will write a study on the historic role of the general strike. The “left turn” of the Social Democratic leaders startles one with its stupidity and deceitfulness. This by no means signifies, however, that the maneuver is condemned in advance to failure. This party, laden with crimes, still stands at the head of millions. It will not fall of its own accord. One must know how to overthrow it.

The Communist Party will declare that the Wels-Tarnow course towards socialism is a new form of mass deception, and that will be correct. It will relate the history of the Social Democratic “socializations” of the last fourteen years. That will be useful. But it is insufficient: history, even the most recent, cannot take the place of active politics.

Tarnow seeks to reduce the question of the revolutionary or the reformist road to socialism to the simple question of the “tempo” of the transformations. Deeper a theoretician cannot sink. The tempo of socialist transformations depends in reality upon the state of the productive forces of the country, its culture, the extent of the overhead imposed upon it for defense, etc. But socialist transformations, the speedy as well as the slow, are possible only if at the summits of society stands a class interested in socialism, and at the head of this class a party which does not dupe the exploited, and which is always ready to suppress the resistance of the exploiters. We must explain to the workers that precisely in that consists the regime of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Only, even this does not suffice. Once it is a question of the burning problems of the world proletarian one should not – as the Comintern does – forget the fact of the existence of the Soviet Union. With regard to Germany, the task today does not lie in beginning socialist construction for the first time, but in tying together Germany’s productive forces, its culture, its technical and organizational genius with the socialist construction already in process in the Soviet Union.

The German Communist Party confines itself to the mere eulogizing of Soviet successes, and in this connection commits gross and dangerous exaggerations. But it is completely incapable of linking together the socialist construction in the USSR, its enormous experiences and valuable achievements, with the tasks of the proletarian revolution in Germany. The Stalinist bureaucracy, for its part, is least of all in a position to render the German Communist Party any assistance in this highly important matter: its perspectives are limited to one single country.

The incoherent and cowardly state-capitalistic projects of the Social Democracy must be countered with a general plan for the joint socialist construction of the USSR and Germany. Nobody demands that a detailed plan should be worked out instantly. A preliminary rough draft suffices. Foundation pillars are necessary. This plan must be made the object of action as speedily as possible by every organization of the German working class, primarily of its trade unions.

The progressive forces among the German technicians, statisticians, and economists must be drawn into this action. The discussions about planned economy so widespread in Germany, reflecting the hopelessness of German capitalism, remain purely academic, bureaucratic, lifeless, pedantic. The Communist vanguard alone is capable of lifting the treatment of the question out of the vicious circle.

Socialist construction is already in progress – to continue this work a bridge must be thrown over the state frontiers. Here is the first plan: study it, improve it, make it concrete! Workers, elect special planning commissions, charge them with entering into liaison with the trade unions and economic Organs of the Soviets. On the basis of the German trade unions, the factory councils, and other labor organizations, create a central planning commission which has the job of liaison with the Gosplan of the USSR. Draw into this work German engineers, organizers, economists!

This is the only correct approach to the question of planned economy, today, in the year 1932, after fifteen years of existence of the Soviets, after fourteen years of convulsions in the German capitalist republic.

Nothing is easier than to ridicule the Social Democratic bureaucracy, beginning with Wels, who has struck up a Song of Solomon to socialism. Yet it must not be forgotten that the reformist workers have a thoroughly serious attitude to the question of socialism. One must have a serious attitude to the reformist workers. Here the problem of the united front rises up once again in its full scope.

If the Social Democracy sets itself the task (only in words, we know), not to save capitalism but to build up socialism, then it must seek an agreement not with the Center but with the Communists. Will the Communist Party reject such an agreement? By no means. On the contrary, it will itself propose such an agreement, demand it before the masses as a redemption of the just-signed socialist promissory note.

The attack of the Communist Party upon the Social Democracy must proceed at the present time along three lines. The task of demolishing fascism retains all its acuteness. The decisive battle of the proletariat against fascism will signal the simultaneous collision with the Bonapartist state apparatus. This makes the general strike an indispensable fighting weapon. It must be prepared. A special general strike plan must be worked out, that is, a plan for the mobilization of the forces to carry it out. Proceeding from this plan, a mass campaign must be unfolded, on the basis of which an agreement for carrying out the general strike under well-defined political conditions may be proposed to the Social Democracy. Repeated and made concrete at every new stage, this proposal will lead in the process of its development to the creation of the soviets as the highest organs of the united front.

That Papen’s economic plan, which has now become law, brings the German proletariat unprecedented poverty, is recognized in words also by the leaders of the Social Democracy and the trade unions. In the press, they express themselves with a vehemence they have not voiced for a long time. Between their words and their deeds lies an abyss; we know that very well – but we must understand how to pin them down to their word. A system of joint measures of struggle must be elaborated against the regime of emergency decrees and Bonapartism. This struggle imposed upon the proletariat by the whole situation cannot, by its very nature, be conducted within the framework of democracy. A situation where Hitler possesses an army of 400,000 men, Papen-Schleicher, besides the Reichswehr, the semi-private Stahlhelm army of 200,000 men, the bourgeois democracy the half-tolerated Reichsbanner army, the Communist Party the proscribed Red Front army – such a situation by itself lays bare the problem of the state as a problem of power. A better revolutionary school cannot be imagined!

The Communist Party must say to the working class: Schleicher is not to be overthrown by any parliamentary game. If the Social Democracy wants to set to work to overthrow the Bonapartist government with other means, the Communist Party is ready to aid the Social Democracy with all its strength. At the same time, the Communists obligate themselves in advance to use no violent methods against a Social Democratic government insofar as the latter bases itself upon the majority of the working class and insofar as it guarantees the Communist Party the freedom of agitation and organization. Such a way of putting the question will be comprehensible to every Social Democratic and nonparty worker.

The third line, finally, is the fight for socialism. Here too the iron must be forged while it is hot and the Social Democracy pressed to the wall with a concrete plan of collaboration with the USSR. What is necessary on this point has already been said above.

Naturally, these sectors of struggle, which are of varying significance in the complete strategical perspective, are not separated from each other, but rather overlap and merge. The political crisis of society demands the combining of the partial questions with the general questions: precisely therein lies the essence of the revolutionary situation.

9. The Only Road

Can it be expected that the Central Committee of the Communist Party will independently accomplish a turn to the right road? Its whole past demonstrates that it is incapable of doing this.

Hardly had it begun to rectify itself than the apparatus saw before it the perspective of “Trotskyism.” If Thälmann himself did not grasp it immediately, then he was told from Moscow that the “part” must be sacrificed for the sake of the “whole,” that is, the interests of the German revolution for the sake of the interests of the Stalinist apparatus. The abashed attempts to revise the policy were once more withdrawn. The bureaucratic reaction triumphed again all along the line.

It is not of course, a matter of Thälmann. Were the present-day Comintern to give its sections the possibility of living, of thinking, and of developing themselves, they would long ago, in the last fifteen years, have been able to select their own leading cadres. But the bureaucracy erected instead a system of appointed leaders and their support by means of artificial ballyhoo. Thälmann is a product of this system and at the same time its victim.

The cadres, paralyzed in their development weaken the party. They supplement their inadequacy with repressions. The vacillations and the Uncertainty of the party are inexorably transmitted to the class as a whole. The masses cannot be summoned to bold actions when the party itself is robbed of revolutionary determination.

Even if Thälmann were to receive tomorrow a telegram from Manuilsky on the necessity of a turn to the path of the united front policy, the new zigzag at the top would bring little good. The leadership is too compromised. A correct policy demands a healthy regime. Party democracy, at present a plaything of the bureaucracy, must rise again as a reality. The party must become a party; then the masses will believe it. Practically, this means to put upon the order of the day an extraordinary party convention and an extraordinary congress of the Comintern.

The party convention must naturally be preceded by a thorough discussion. All apparatus barriers must be razed. Every party organization, every nucleus has the right to call to its meetings and listen to every Communist, member of the party or expelled from it if it considers this necessary for the working out of its opinion. The press must be put at the service of the discussion; adequate space must be allotted daily for critical articles in every party paper. Special press commissions, elected at mass meetings of the party members, must see to it that the papers serve the party and not the bureaucracy.

The discussion, it is true, will require no little time and energy. The apparatus will argue: how can the party permit itself the “luxury of discussion” at such a critical period? The bureaucratic saviors believe that under difficult conditions the party must shut up. The Marxists, on the contrary, believe that the more difficult the situation, the more important the independent role of the party.

The leadership of the Bolshevik Party enjoyed, in 1917, a very great esteem. And notwithstanding this, a series of deep-going party discussions took place throughout the year 1917. On the eve of the October overturn the whole party debated passionately which of the two sections of the Central Committee was right: the majority, which was for the uprising, or the minority, which was against the uprising. Expulsions, and repressions in general, were nowhere to be seen, in spite of the differences of opinion. Into these discussions were drawn the non-party masses. In Petrograd, a meeting of non-party working women dispatched a delegation to the Central Committee in order to support the majority in it. To be sure, the discussion required time. But in return for that, there grew out of the open discussion, without threats, lies and falsifications, the general, indomitable certainty of the correctness of the policy, that is, that which alone makes possible the victory.

What course will things take in Germany? Will the small wheel of the Opposition succeed in turning the large party wheel in time? That is how the question stands now. Pessimistic voices are often raised. In the various Communist groupings, in the party itself, as well as in the periphery, there are not a few elements who say to themselves: in every important question the Left Opposition has a correct stand. But it is weak. Its cadres are small in number and politically inexperienced. Can such an organization, with a small weekly paper (Die Permanente Revolution) successfully counterpose itself to the mighty Comintern machine?

The lessons of events are stronger than the Stalinist bureaucracy. We want to be the interpreters of these lessons to the Communist masses. Therein lies our historic role as a faction. We do not demand, as do Seydewitz and Co., that the revolutionary proletariat should believe us on credit. We allot ourselves a more modest role: we propose our assistance to the Communist vanguard in the elaboration of the correct line. For this work we are gathering and training our own cadres. This stage of preparation may not be jumped over. Every new stage of struggle will push to our side those in the proletariat who reflect the most and are most critical.

The revolutionary party begins with an idea, a programme, which is aimed against the most powerful apparatus of class society. It is not the cadre that creates the idea, but the idea that creates the cadre. Fear of the power of the apparatus is one of the most conspicuous features of that specific opportunism which the Stalinist bureaucracy cultivates. Marxian criticism is stronger than any and every apparatus.

The organizational forms which the further evolution of the Left Opposition will assume, depend upon many circumstances: the momentum of the historical blows, the degree of the power of resistance of the Stalin bureaucracy, the activity of the rank and file Communists, the energy of the Opposition itself. But the principles and methods we fight for have been tested by the greatest events in world history, by the victories as well as by the defeats. They will make their way.

The successes of the Opposition in every country, Germany included, are indisputable and manifest. But they are developing slower than many of us expected. We may regret this, but we do not need be surprised at it. Every Communist who begins to listen to the Left Opposition is cynically given the choice by the bureaucracy: either go along with the baiting of ’Trotskyism’ or else be kicked out of the ranks of the Comintern. For the party official, it is a question of position and wages: the Stalinist apparatus plays this key to perfection. But immeasurably more important are the thousands of rank and file Communists who are torn between their devotion to the ideas of Communism and the threatened expulsion from the ranks of the Comintern. That is why there are in the ranks of the official Communist Party a great number of partial, intimidated or concealed oppositionists.

This extraordinary combination of historical conditions sufficiently explains the slow organizational growth of the Left Opposition. At the same time, in spite of this slowness, the spiritual life of the Comintern revolves, today more than ever before around the struggle against “Trotskyism”. The theoretical periodicals and theoretical newspaper articles of the CPSU, as well as the other sections of the Comintern are chiefly devoted to the struggle against the Left Opposition, now openly, now maskedly. Still more symptomatic in significance is that mad organizational baiting which the apparatus pursues against the Opposition: disruption of its meetings by blackjack methods; employment of all sorts of other physical violence; behind-the-scenes agreements with bourgeois pacifists, French Radicals and Freemasons against the “Trotskyists”; the dissemination of envenomed calumnies from the Stalinist centre, etc., etc.

The Stalinists perceive much more directly and know better than the Oppositionists to what extent our ideas are undermining the pillars of their apparatus. The methods of self-defence of the Stalinist faction, however, have a double-edged character. Up to a certain moment, they have an intimidating effect. But at the same time they prepare a mass reaction against the system of falsity and violence.

When, in July 1917, the government of the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries branded the Bolsheviks as agents of the German Staff, this despicable measure succeeded at first in exercising a strong influence upon the soldiers, the peasants and the backward strata of workers. But when all the further events clearly confirmed how right the Bolsheviks had been, the masses began to say to themselves: so they deliberately slandered the Leninists, they basely incited against them, only because they were right? And the feeling of suspicion against the Bolsheviks was converted into a feeling of warm devotion and love for them. Although under different conditions, this very complex process is taking place now too. By means of a monstrous accumulation of calumnies and repressions, the Stalinist bureaucracy has undeniably succeeded for a period of time in intimidating the rank and file party members; at the same time, it is preparing for the Bolshevik-Leninists an enormous rehabilitation in the eyes of the revolutionary masses. At the present time, there can no longer be the slightest doubt on this score.

Yes, today we are still weak. The Communist Party still has masses, but already it has neither doctrine nor strategic orientation. The Left Opposition has already worked out its Marxian orientation, but as yet it has no masses. The remaining groups of the “Left” camp possess neither the one nor the other. Hopelessly the Leninbund pines away, thinking to substitute the individual fantasies and whims of Urbahns for a serious principled policy. The Brandlerites, in spite of their apparatus cadre, are descending step by step; small tactical recipes cannot replace a revolutionary-strategical position. The SAP has put up its candidacy for the revolutionary leadership of the proletariat. Baseless pretension! Even the most serious representatives of this “party” do not overstep, as Fritz Sternberg’s latest book shows, the barriers of Left Centrism. The more assiduously they seek to create an “independent” doctrine the more they reveal themselves to be disciples of Thalheimer. But this school is as hopeless as a corpse.

A new historical party cannot arise simply because a number of old Social Democrats have convinced themselves, very belatedly, of the counter-revolutionary character of the Ebert-Wels policy. A new party can just as little be improvised by a group of Communists who have as yet done nothing to warrant their claim to proletarian leadership. For a new party to arise, it is on the one hand necessary to have great historical events, which would break the backbone of the old parties, and on the other hand, a position in principle worked out, and cadres tested, in the experience of events.

While we are fighting with all our strength for the rebirth of the Comintern and the continuity of its further development, we are least of all inclined to any fetishism of form. The feat of the proletarian world revolution stands, for us, above the organizational fate of the Comintern. Should the worst variant materialize; should the present official parties, despite all our efforts, be led to a collapse by the Stalinist bureaucracy; should it mean in a certain sense to begin all over again, then the New International will trade its genealogy from the ideas and cadres of the Communist Left Opposition.

And that is why the short-term “pessimism” and “optimism” are not applicable to the work which we are carrying through. It stands above the separate stages, the partial defeats and victories. Our policy is a policy of long range.


The present brochure, whose different parts were written at different times, had already been finished when a telegram from Berlin brought the news of the conflict of the overwhelming majority of the Reichstag with the Papen government and consequently with the Reich President. We expect to follow the concrete development of subsequent events in the columns of the Permanente Revolution. Here we wish only to emphasize some general conclusions, which seemed to be open to criticism when we began the brochure and which, thanks to the testimony of facts, have since become incontestable.

1. The Bonapartist character of the Schleicher-Papen government has been completely disclosed by its isolated position in the Reichstag. The agrarian-capitalist circles which stand directly behind the presidential government constitute an incomparably smaller percentage of the German nation than the percentage of votes given for Papen in the Reichstag.

2. The antagonism between Papen and Hitler is the antagonism between the agrarian-capitalist leadership and the reactionary petty bourgeoisie. Just as once the liberal bourgeoisie used the revolutionary movement of the petty bourgeoisie, but employed every means to keep it from seizing the power, so the monopolistic bourgeoisie is prepared to reward Hitler as its lackey, but not as its master. Without compelling necessity it will not turn over the full power to Fascism.

3. The fact that the various fractions of the grand, middle and petty bourgeoisie are carrying on an open struggle for power, without avoiding a most dangerous conflict, proves that the bourgeoisie does not see itself as being immediately threatened by the proletariat. Not only the Nazis and the Centre, but also the leaders of the Social Democracy have dared enter on a struggle for the constitution only in the firm confidence that it will not change into a revolutionary struggle.

4. The only party whose vote against Papen was dictated by revolutionary purposes is the Communist Party. But it is a long way from revolutionary purposes to revolutionary achievements.

5. The logic of events is such that the struggle for “parliament” and for “democracy” becomes for every Social Democratic worker a question of power. Therein lies the main content of the whole conflict from the standpoint of the revolution. The question of power is the question of the revolutionary unity in action of the proletariat. The policy of the united front toward the Social Democracy must be prepared in the very near future to render possible, on the basis of proletarian democratic representation, the creation of class organs of struggle ie, of workers’ soviets.

6. In view of the gifts to capitalists and the monstrous attack on the standard of living of the proletariat, the Communist Party must set up the slogan of workers’ control of production.

7. The fractions of the possessing classes can afford to quarrel among themselves only because the revolutionary party is weak. The revolutionary party could become immeasurably stronger if it would correctly exploit the quarrels among the possessing classes. For this it is necessary to know how to distinguish the various fractions according to their social composition, but not to throw them all into one heap. The theory of “social fascism” which has completely and finally been bankrupted, must at last be thrown out as worthless junk.

Germany: the Only Road (1932) Index

The Rise of Fascism in Germany Index

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Last updated on: 25.4.2007