Though expelled from the USSR, Trotsky and the Left Opposition still considered themselves a faction of the Communist International. Until Hitler came to power, they tried to influence the Comintern and the German reds, to return them to the Leninist precepts of internationalism and internal democracy.
They did not (yet) support the rise of a Fourth International. It was these events in Germany, and the failure of the German Communist Party and the Communist International that lead to Trotsky’s call for a new, “Fourth” Communist International. We include one 1940 article on the nature of Fascism that Trotsky was working on the time he was murdered by a Stalinist agent. The rest of this collection deals specifically with the rise of the Nazis in the early 1930s.
In the following collection of Trotsky’s letters and articles, he is specifically addressing the German Communist Party, which he considered the only realistic organization to stop fascism. His goal was for them to break with Comintern policy, not the Comintern itself. These series of articles and essays, however, show Trotsky’s method in his ultimate break with the Comintern.
We’ve also include a chronology of events beginning with the rise of the workers movement at the end of World War I and statistics on the various elections that the Communist Party participated in.
This page was originally compiled by the Zodiac. The page has been reformatted to conform with the Trotsky Internet Archive. Several additional articles, previously un-transcribed have been contributed by the TIA’s director and other TIA volunteers.
1918: German revolution dies, due in large part to the Social Democratic Party (SPD). The SPD belongs to the old Second International. Before the war, it had never held power, only opposition. Class cooperationists, the SPD supported the war. In working to prevent a successful Red revolution, the SPD allies with capitalists and the army, even cooperating with right-wing “Freikorps”, thereby helping train early cadres of the future National Socialist Party (Nazis).
Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht are both executed by the state. Russian Bolsheviks had counted on a successful German revolution for the survival of their own revolution.
1919: German monarchy folds, the Weimar Republic is born. The Weimar constitution is a standard “social democrat"-style arrangement: workers are granted several “social safety net” programs, while the capitalists (and army) retain with full powers, which they more or less “promise” to never abuse. The first Weimar cabinet is headed by the SPD, and their Chancellor Philipp Scheidemann, in coalition with two capitalist parties, the Catholic Center Party and the German Democratic Party. (NOTE: In the 1919 Reichstag elections, 45 percent of voters support parties which label themselves Marxist.)
1921: All revolutionary opportunity has passed. The Third International (Communist International, or Comintern) initiates a “united front” strategy as a way of strengthening Communist parties in nations where Social Democrats dominated—rather like Germany.
1922: German government is crippled by, and unable to meet, war reparations specified by the Treaty of Versailles.
1923 January: French government sends troops to occupy the Ruhr. Inflation soars, the working class launches massive strikes, the middle class has savings wiped out. It’s an extreme crisis and the government is helpless. KPD membership swells and new ultra-right movements (like the Nazis) grow. But KPD leadership, guided by the Comintern, misses the opportunity. By 1924, events stabilize (with some American aid).
1924 May: Reichstag elections see “Marxist” parties drop to to 33 per cent of the electorate; Nazi strength declines even more drastically.
1924 December: Another round of Reichstag elections sees SPD support grow and KPD drop.
1925: Presidential election. Monarchist general Hindenburg elected president in runoff election against Wilhelm Marx, member of the Catholic Center Party—the latter being supported by the SPD and the liberal capitalist parties—and Ernst Thaelmann of the KPD.
1925-29: Weimar Republic’s stable period. SPD remains Germany’s largest party with powerful support from the working class. No realistic plan for a German social revolution can be constructed without intelligent consideration of the SPD.
Meanwhile, in the USSR, the “Left Opposition” is defeated by Stalinists. In 1927, Trotsky is expelled from the Soviet Communist Party. In 1928, he’s deported to Siberia. In 1929, he’s exiled to Turkey. Stalinists purge more than just Left Opposition. By 1930, the Communist International and affiliated parties are merely bureaucratic extensions of Soviet foreign policy. The leaders of the KPD are appointees of the Kremlin.
1928 May: Reichstag elections return the SPD to cabinet with Chancellor Hermann MÜller. KPD get a third of the SPD’s vote (Nazis get less than a tenth). This SPD leadership is further right than before and opts for something called the Great Coalition—including the People’s Party—and holds power for about two years.
Meanwhile, the Comintern adopts the ultra-left doctrine of the Third Period and something called social fascism. The doctrine says the collapse of the world’s capitalist nations is supposedly following a handy pattern:
The Comintern concludes it’s time to end Second Period collaboration with Social Democrats (and their powerful working class base). In the case of Germany, it means these SPD workers are really just “social fascists,” a sort of left wing of fascism.
1929 Fall: The Great Depression, death knell of Weimar. German unemployment hits 3 million. The already fragile German economy collapses. The populace is radicalized. KPD membership grows, despite alienation from SPD-led unions. The fascists likewise grow, now even attracting financial support from big capitalists. And the storm troops (Sturm-Abteilung or SA) hits 100,000 by year’s end.
1930 March: the SPD Müller cabinet resigns. Never again will Weimar see a majority government. President Hindenburg appoints Heinrich Brüning of the Center Party as Chancellor. Bruening tries to establish a more right wing government but fails to get sufficient support in the Reichstag.
Brüning cites Paragraph 48 of the Weimar Constitution and claims to now rule by “emergency decree.” The Social Democrats helped construct that paragraph, never imagining they’d be the target of it.
1930 July: Brüning’s emergency decrees on budget are overruled by SPD, KPD, and Nazi deputies. Hindenburg dissolves the Reichstag and calls for new elections.
1930 September 14: Election day. SPD votes tumble by 6 percent, while the KPD rises by 40 percent. However, their combined vote falls from 40.4 per cent of electorate to 37.6. The real change is the Nazi vote—up 700 per cent. The Nazis go from ninth to second-largest party. Meanwhile, the Comintern-led KPD dubs this a victory for the Communists and “the beginning of the end” for the Nazis. The Comintern concurs.
Trotsky’s opinion was slightly different. To paraphrase him, the KPD is like a singer who sings wedding songs at funerals, and funeral songs at weddings ... and is soundly thrashed at each occasion.
1930 October 18: Shaken by the Nazi electoral triumph, the SPD decides to back Brüning’s government. With SPD support, Brüning remains Chancellor another 26 months. It is an unpopular rule that only benefits the Nazis. Big business support of Hitler continually increases. The SA is emboldened in attacks on working-class radicals.
Stymied by the SPD-Brüning block, the Nazis focus on gaining control of Prussia’s Landtag (state legislature). Prussia is the largest state in Germany, with over two-thirds of the population. It’s a Social Democratic stronghold. The Nazis, right-wing Nationalists and the Stahlhelm (a counter-revolutionary veterans’ organization), invoke a clause in the Weimar Constitution to launch a referendum to oust the Prussian SPD-coalition government. KPD opposes the referendum.
1931: Over 4 million unemployed.
1931 July 21: KPD leaders present ultimatum to sPD coalition leaders in Prussia: make a united front with us or we’ll back the Nazis. SPD leaders reject it. The KPD backs the Nazis, despite the fact it might put the Nazis in power—though now the KPD calls it the “Red referendum”. Nazis and German Communists campaign together to remove Prussia’s SPD-led government.
1931 August 9: Prussian Referendum fails. SPD stays in control.
1931 September: SPD leaders expel Reichstag deputies Max Seydewitz and Kurt Rosenfeld for open opposition to SPD support of Brüning regime. The expelled deputies favor a united front against fascists.
1931 October: More SPD expulsions/resignations. SPD splits. Left Social Democrats unite with SPD youth, pacifists, and some of the Brandlerite Communist Party Opposition (KPO) to form the Socialist Workers Party (SAP). Six SAP leaders are deputies in the Reichstag.
Trotsky takes a positive attitude toward new group, hoping that its members will overcome SPD centrism. But SAP is a confused body with no real impact on working-class politics. (In July 1932 elections, SAP gets merely 72,630 votes and lose all six Reichstag seats. In the November 1932 election, their vote drops further still. SPD rank and file can not be dislodged from their party that easily. So rather than destroy the SPD in this time of crisis, one should work to save it.)
1931 December: SPD leaders create the Iron Front for Resistance Against Fascism. The organization seeks to engage the old Reichsbanner, the SPD youth, and labor and liberal groups. SPD rallies to the Iron Front, holds mass demonstrations, fights fascists in the streets, and arms selves. This is more than the SPD leaders wanted. But SPD workers don’t care and grow increasingly revolutionary. Meanwhile, the KPD has no ideological concept of a united front—hell, they just supported the Nazis in the “Red referendum.”
1932: Economic crisis deepens. Unemployed: 5 mil. “Social Democratic” state further dismantled.
1932 March 13: Presidential election. Three main candidates: Hindenburg, Hitler, and Thälmann. But the Nationalists also push Stahlhelm leader Theodor Düsterberg—who merely steals votes from Hitler. Last Presidential election, the SPD opposed Hindenburg. Now they support him over Hitler. The Iron Front becomes an electoral machine for the monarchist militarist.
1932 April 10: Run-off Presidential election held since no clear majority was established. Düsterberg withdraws so Nationalists can campaign for Hitler. Hindenburg wins, but Nazi vote has doubled in 17 months. Nonetheless, the SPD hails Hindenburg’s election as a triumph over fascism.
1932 April 14: Brüning has Hindenburg sign a decree outlawing Nazi SA and SS. Brüning thinks this curbs Hitler’s growth. Instead, it will prove to be Brüning’s fall.
1932 May 31: Hindenburg demands Chancellor Brüning resign. Hindenburg picks Franz von Papen of the Centre pary as new Chancellor. The Center party expels von Papen. He is basically Hindenburg’s puppet, without any support in the Reichstag.
1932 June 4: Papen dissolves the Reichstag and calls for new elections.
1932 June 15: Papen rescinds the ban on Nazi private armies. Wave of violence results. Hundreds dead/wounded. Papen bans political parades in fortnight before July 31 elections.
1932 July 17: Nazis march, under police escort, through working class Hamburg. Result: 19 dead, 285 wounded.
1932 July 20: Citing the Hamburg battle, Papen claims the Prussian government can’t maintain “law and order.” He deposes the Social Democrats and appoints himself Reich Commissioner for Prussia.
The SPD once swore to defend the republic against any coup d’etat, from the right or the left. German workers wait for a call to action. The SPD promise to appeal Papen’s coup to the courts. Nothing else happens.
The KPD calls for a general strike. Of course, the KPD’s great “Red referendum” is used to ridicule it.
1932 July 31: Reichstag elections. Nazis are now Germany’s largest party.
1932 September 12: New Reichstag convenes. Papen thinks he can manipulate the Nazis, but they realize they don’t need him. Nazis support the Reichstag vote to censure the Hindenburg-imposed Papen regime (vote of 513 to 32). The Reichstag is dissolved and new elections called for November 6.
1932 November 6: Reichstag election. Nazi faithful have begun to tire of Hitler’s political maneuvers to gain power carefully. Morale drops. In the election, Nazis lose two million votes. Critically: total Nazi vote is now less than the combined SPD-KPD vote. But this is lost on the Comintern and KPD. This would turn out to be the last “free” election of Weimar Germany—and the Nazis failed to get their majority.
1932 November 17: Papen and cabinet resign.
1932 December 2: Hindenburg appoints “social general” Schleicher Chancellor. Schleicher tries split left (trade-union bureaucrats break with the SPD) and right (dissident “left Nazis” under Gregor Strasser break with Hitler).
1933 January 30: Hindenburg appoints Hitler as Chancellor. Papen is Vice-Chancellor. Hitler agrees to take only three of 11 cabinet posts. Trotsky expects worker parties will resist Hitler and mobilize. SPD leaders say “Hitler’s appointment” is constitutional and forbid worker actions that might upset the Nazis. The KPD, on the other hand, is still denouncing the SPD.
1933 March 5: Hitler gets Hindenburg to dissolve parliament. In the run-up to new election, KPD meetings are banned. KDP press are shut down. Nazis finally take control of Prussia and its nationwide police force and flooded it with storm troopers. The terror begins.
1933 February 27: Nazis start fire in the Reichstag and blame it on Communists.
1933 February 28: President Hindenburg suspends Constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, press, assembly, association. Thousands of KPD and SPD officials are arrested. Only the Nazis and Nationalists are permitted to campaign in the last week before the election.
1933 March 5: Reichstag elections. Even with all this “constitutional” oppression, the Nazis still couldn’t get a majority. But it was still game over. KPD calls for national strikes.
1933 March 23: Citing the Constitution, Hitler asks new Reichstag to grant him dictatorial power. This requires a two-thirds Reichstag vote. As KPD deputies are jailed or leaving the country, Hitler’s demand is granted (441 to 84). Liberal and conservative parties vote for it. Only the remaing Social Democrats vote against it.
1933 April 7: Stalinists Comintern deludes itself about an expected proletarian revolution soon to follow Hitler’s victory. While it dreams, the KPD is annihilated.
1933 May 1: May Day. The remaining SPD is a different beast than Frederick Engels had known. This creature supports Hitler’s various labor “reorganizations” and encourages workers to march in the Nazi “National Day of Labor” parade May 1.
1933 May 2: Nazis take over the trade-union movement and send labor leaders to concentration camps.
Last updated on: 27.1.2013