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International Socialism, August/September 1969


Fascism, Stalinism and the United Front, 1930-34




From International Socialism (1st series), No.38/39, August/September 1969, pp.2-3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In 1929 German society entered a profound crisis for the third time in less than twelve years.

The first period of crisis had followed defeat in 1918. Mutinies in the navy, strikes in the factories, and massive demonstrations led by revolutionary socialists forced right-wing Social Democrat leaders who themselves believed in a constitutional monarchy to proclaim a republic. For a time effective power lay in the hands of workers’ and soldiers’ councils. Only their ability to command a majority in these permitted the Social Democrats to rule, and dissolve them in favour of a bourgeois parliament. Even so until well into 1920 a stable unified structure hardly existed. The Social Democratic government was only able to restore ‘normalcy’ by relying on the army and the right wing semi-official freikorps. These murdered thousands in putting down the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, the Bavarian Soviet Republic and in occupying Bremen and Hamburg.

By 1921 this initial period of acute political instability had passed. An attempt by the Communist Party to stage a national uprising in March of that year (the ‘March Action’) was a disastrous failure. In 1923, however, a very large question mark was once again placed over the continued existence of capitalism in Germany. In their greed for the spoils of war the victorious powers had forced the German government to agree to reparations under the Treaty of Versailles that far exceeded the capacity to pay of the German economy. The result was continual inflation of the mark. After the failure in 1922 to deliver the required quantities of reparation coal to France, the French army occupied the Ruhr in January 1923.

Immediately the whole of German society was thrown into crisis. The economy became chaotic. Inflation proceeded at an unprecedented pace. In January there were about 10,000 marks to the dollar, by June 47,000, and by September 200 million. German currency became valueless. Whole sections of the middle classes suddenly found their savings to be worthless. In the Ruhr spontaneous mass strikes broke out, not just against the French, but also for the nationalisation of the mines. In August there was a general strike throughout Berlin and other major industrial areas. Everywhere bitterness against the French occupation was combined with bitterness against the government for being unable to deal with it. There was complete disillusion with the status quo. On the right people poured into the radical nationalist and fascist parties; on the left the Communist Party was for the first time commanding something like majority support among the workers. (Even a year later its vote was 60 per cent of the SPD’s). And even many of those supporting the right wing parties were prepared to accept any sort of change, even a revolutionary left change, that might solve the crisis.

Yet the bourgeois republic survived. The CP at first ignored the implications of the crisis, then called for an uprising without adequately preparing its followers, and finally called this off at the last minute (in Hamburg a break in communications led to a few hundred Communists attempting to take power in isolation from anything happening elsewhere in Germany). The result was a rapid disillusioning of the millions who had momentarily turned to the revolutionary left. The only compensation was that in Munich a Fascist coup (’the Beer Hall putsch’) failed equally miserably.

By the spring of 1924, the government had begun to solve the crisis. The ‘Dawes Plan’ eased the burden of reparations; the currency was revalued and stabilised; a flow of American loans and investments gave a boost to the economy. The revolutionary left and the fascist right quickly lost the support they had gained. For the next five years it seemed that German society had at last stabilised. In 1928, although the Communists received three million votes, that was little compared with the nine million of the SPD. The Social Democrats seemed to be recovering all the strength and influence they had lost. One of their leaders, Mueller, formed a coalition government. They also ruled in Prussia and many provincial cities. They had 900,000 individual members, 10,000 local parties, five million in the free trade unions.

At the same time, the Nazis seemed confined to the lunatic fringe. They received a mere two and a half per cent of the popular vote.

The Wall Street Crash and the slump that followed shortly afterwards transformed all this completely. The foreign loans which the German economy depended upon for its stability were no longer forthcoming. Thousands of factories closed down. The number of unemployed rose to three million by mid-1930, while the number on short-time was similar. Whole sections of the middle class were poverty-stricken as large and small businesses went bankrupt. Agricultural prices fell and the peasants faced ruin. Everything that had seemed beneficial in the preceding period now seemed harmful. What had been marginal irritants -the effects of Versailles and reparations – now seemed like major evils.

The Mueller government was completely incapable of dealing with this new crisis. In March 1930 it fell after disputes between the various parties in the coalition. The president, Hindenburg, then asked the leader of the Catholic Centre Party, Brüning, to form a right-wing government. This was unable to obtain a parliamentary majority, and elections were held in September.

The new feelings of anger and despair were recorded dramatically in these elections. The Communist vote grew by 40 per cent. But this was completely overshadowed by a 800 per cent increase in the Nazi vote. The Fascists were suddenly a far greater and more menacing force than they had ever been in 1923.

The Comintern and the KPD

In the years 1925-28 the Comintern, under Stalin and Bukharin, followed a policy that laid stress upon alliances with non-revolutionaries as a way of obtaining mass support. This was known as the strategy of the ‘second period’ of capitalist consolidation (as opposed the ‘first period’ of capitalist instability, 1917-24). Trotsky criticised this policy (as he later did the ‘popular front’), not because it involved united action with non-revolutionary bodies, but because in order to achieve this unity, the Comintern leaders sacrificed independence and the freedom to criticise of the CPs.

In 1928 Stalin turned sharply against his previous ally, Bukharin, and the previous policies. At the Sixth Congress of the Communist International in Summer of 1928 capitalism was proclaimed to have passed its second period of temporary stabilization and to be entering a ‘third period’ of ‘rapid development of the contradictions in the world economy’ and of ‘maximum sharpening in the general crisis of capitalism’ which would ‘inevitably’ lead to wars and revolution. From this the need for a complete change in tactics was deduced. Not only was the completely unsuccessful policy of uncritical dependence on ‘left’ Social Democrats of the previous period abandoned, but now any sort of co-operation with them was ruled out.

At the same time all those in the different national parties who had previously supported the rightist policies of Bukarin and who showed any degree of independence from Stalin were expelled (together with the remnants of the left opposition): in Italy Tasca, in India Roy, in the US Lovestone, in Czechoslovakia Hais and Jilek, in Sweden Kilboom, in Spain Nin, Maurin and Andrade.

It was announced that a ‘radicalisation’ of the masses was taking place, there was ‘a loss of faith of the masses in Social Democracy.’ The role of Social Democratic parties was seen to be a purely reactionary one in preventing the forward movement to revolution. As such, they were argued to be barely distinguishable from the fascists. Stalin had written that ‘social democracy and fascism are twins.’ This slogan was taken up and elaborated by a host of functionaries. ‘In countries where there are strong Social Democratic Parties, fascism takes the particular form of social fascism ...’ [1] The term ‘social fascist’ was applied not merely to the hardened right wing of the Social Democrats, but especially to the left wing ‘... As a matter of fact it (the “left” wing of social democracy) wholeheartedly supports the policy of social fascism.’ [2]

This designation was accompanied by a continuous failure to understand the extent of the real fascist menace. As early as February 1930, the German Communist Party (KPD) leader Thaelmann was calling the Social Democratic government of Mueller a ‘social-fascist gang’ and announcing that ‘the rule of fascism has already been established in Germany? [3] If fascism already existed, why the need to fight against the Nazis, who only stood for a ‘different form of fascism’?

Faced with the massive Nazi gains, and the rather smaller KPD gains, of the 1930 elections, the Communist daily, Rote Fahne could call this a ‘victory for the Communists’, and write that

‘Last night was Herr Hitler’s greatest day, but the so-called election victory of the Nazis is the beginning of the end.’ (Sept. 15th, 1930)


‘September 14th was the high point of the National Socialist movement in Germany. What comes after this can only be decline and fall.’ (Sept. 16th 1930). [4]

The Turn in the Communist International and the German Situation was written immediately after the election of September 1930. It is one of Trotsky’s earliest attempts to assess the new array of forces revealed, and to show the incapacity of the recently Stalinised Comintern to come to terms with them. It was translated by Morris Lewitt and published by the Communist League of America in 1931.

The Turn in the Communist International and the German Situation


1. Theses of 10th Plenum of Executive Committee of Comintern (ECCI), published by CPGB, quoted by C.L.R. James, World Revolution, London 1937.

2. Ibid.

3. Quoted in Braunthal, The History of the International, Vol.II, p.366.

4. Quoted in C.L.R. James, op. cit.

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