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Fourth International, March 1949


Paul G. Stevens

Ruth Fischer and German Communism


From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.3, March 1949, pp.94-95.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Stalin and German Communism
A Study in the Origins of the State Party

By Ruth Fischer
Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1948. 687 pp.

Ruth Fischer has written a valuable contribution to the documentary history of an important subject and period in the political life of Germany. As an interpretation of that history it occupies a more questionable place. Still more obscure is the purpose the author had in mind in writing it. To be sure, she avoids – sometimes with considerable care – the flagrant use of the fashionable renegade formula that describes Stalinism as the natural outgrowth of Bolshevism. This studied effort, however, is nullified by many ambiguous passages which leave precisely that impression. The same ambiguity, bordering on confusion, characterizes her evaluation of a number of episodic questions as well as the central theme.

Perhaps this is in part explained by an attempt at self-justification which the author, not unnaturally, weaves into the book. For Ruth Fischer was an important figure in the Communist movement during the period of the crisis which led to its degeneration. Although her factional alignments at the time were quite firm (she was a staunch Zinovievist), the policies of her group in the German Communist Party veered dizzily from left to right. “Twenty years afterward,” she writes today, “I am not able to identify myself with any of the groups involved.”

As in those crucial days, Ruth Fischer’s book reveals she has not gained in clarity with the years in distinguishing between those who fostered the degeneration of Bolshevism and those who fought against it. This lack of clarity, of political “identification” which which marks her book is on a different plane today but it is no less noxious.

Stalin and German Communism begins with a well-documented review of the origins of the Communist Party of Germany in the left wing of the Social Democracy led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht and in the insurrectionary movement that toppled the Kaiser at the close of World War I. The great contributions of Rosa to revolutionary internationalism as well as the fatal weaknesses of the Spartakus Bund founded by her are given their due place in this work.

But while the corroborative data of. the repeated treachery of the Social Democratic leadership is cited in voluminous detail, the author weakens the appreciation of the enormity of the betrayal in its historic significance. Of this, there is no rounded evaluation anywhere in the book.

And yet, the subsequent degeneration of the Russian Revolution, and of the Communist movement to which it gave birth, cannot be understood without taking into account the role of the Social Democracy. It was the extreme corruption of this first great labor bureaucracy that halted the extension of the Russian October and isolated the young Soviet Republic in a hostile capitalist world. The rise of Stalinism can be understood objectively only as a result of this isolation. In failing to give sufficient weight to this factor. Fischer, regardless of her intentions, makes Stalinism appear as a solely subjective phenomenon. This fits in – the aims of the author notwithstanding – with the current ideological campaigns of American imperialism and its intellectual apologists. It hardly serves historical truth, particularly at a time when the true role of social democracy is obscured by the barrage against Moscow.

The section on “National Bolshevism” uncovers many new facts. It shows how dangerous for the revolutionary movement of the time was Karl Radek’s confusion of the diplomatic and military needs of the isolated Soviet Republic with the development of an independent policy for the German Communist Party. It was a model in embryo for the monstrous national opportunism subsequently pursued by Stalin throughout the world. Fischer’s attempt to attribute Radek’s aberration to the Leninist leadership lacks documentary substantiation. On the contrary, it is well known that Radek was publicly repudiated at the time by Lenin’s co-workers. The author does not deny this but she leaves the implication that this prototype of Stalinist policy was inherent in Bolshevism. Again her ambiguity and confusion lend themselves to use by the present-day propagandists of anti-communism.

In discussing the crucial years before and after the aborted revolution of 1923, Ruth Fischer often writes as though she were still engaged in the factional struggles of that time. She attributes to Trotsky an analysis of the pre-1923 situation that “was regarded as closer to Levi’s than to Lenin’s” (p.177). Paul Levi was the intellectual inspirer of the inept and disastrous right wing leadership in the German Communist Party. Yet in refutation of the parliamentary illusions of the right wing she herself quotes from the manifesto of the Second Congress of the Communist International: “The German parliamentary system is a void space between two dictatorships” (p.214). It has been common knowledge for years that this manifesto was written by none other than Trotsky!

Trotsky’s monumental work Lessons of October which climaxed his struggle for a revolutionary policy in Germany against Stalin, Zinoviev and their allies, she dismisses as “irrelevant” only to cite passages from this work which show how correctly he evaluated this decisive period. In this regard, she makes the utterly unfounded contention that Trotsky’s Lessons of October “fostered a dangerous illusion of German Communists that they could seize power soon if only they would thoroughly ‘Bolshevize’ their party” (p.378). The fact is that Trotsky took a diametrically opposite position and that Ruth Fischer herself falsely accused him at the time of “the loss of the perspective of world revolution, a hopeless pessimism and the liquidation of the European Revolution, etc.” (Quoted from Pravda in The Third International After Lenin, by Leon Trotsky, p.103.)

Ruth Fischer attributes to Trotsky her own erstwhile view which he castigated so mercilessly at the time. It was only much later that she and her faction veered to the other extreme in a parliamentary policy that out-Brandlered Brandler in its opportunism. This incident reveals how unreliable are memories clouded by attempted self-justification.

The chapters on Stalin’s intervention in German Communist affairs, beginning with his injunction that the revolutionists there must be “curbed and not spurred on,” are perhaps the most interesting in the whole book. They show in detail the organizational methods he employed in corrupting the cadres of the Comintern. But the most criminal of his interventions, the theory of “social fascism” – which paralyzed the German working class ard opened the road for Hitler – is merely mentioned in passing.

Together with the lacunae on the role of the Social Democracy and the confusion on the events of 1923, this shortcoming reveals the woeful political weakness of Ruth Fischer’s book as an interpretive work. The theory of “social fascism” is not unlike a nefarious concept abroad today, namely that Stalinism is the main enemy of the world working class. Can it be that her lack of clarity on this present problem led Ruth Fischer to skip so lightly over the theory of “social fascism” which one would assume is a major question in any work on Stalin and German Communism?

Fischer’s book can be characterized succinctly as an interesting personal document, valuable for historical research, but lending itself to diverse interpretations, at best to confusion and at worst to manipulations in the current ideological campaigns against Marxism.

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