Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The New International, March 1935


Oskar Fischer

Why the Saar Was Lost

From New International, Vol. II No. 2, March 1935, pp. 67–69.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE RESULT of the vote in the Saar district came as a surprise. Not even the Fascist hangman really counted upon so overwhelming a majority for reincorporation into the Third Reich; still greater, however, was the astonishment in the anti-Fascist camp, where nobody was prepared for so small a percentage in favor of the status quo. No quibbling and twisting gets us past the fact: the anti-Fascist forces have suffered a grave defeat, whereas Hitler has gained a great victory. Up to the very last the chances for the status quo were calculated at a far higher figure than the bare 10% that was finally assembled for it. The forces of German Fascism proved to be stronger than the anti-Fascist. What is now necessary, in the first place, is to examine into and to lay bare the causes that led to the Fascist victory and the anti-Fascist defeat. It would only mean a further weakening of the anti-Fascist forces were one to pass over the Saar defeat with confusing and tortuous explanations, or worse yet, with sentimental extenuations.

The Fault of the Terror

In all the explanations and commentaries on the anti-Fascist defeat, the Fascist terror occupies the foreground. It is set down as the main reason for the Fascist victory. It may be a good consolation to many to feel that they became the victims of a frightful Fascist pressure, but this is but a feeble consolation and in the best case perhaps a quarter-truth. Naturally, there was a strong Fascist terror, there was a constant pressure. Yet this assertion does not yet signify much. It is much more important, however, to emphasize that there was no anti-Fascist counter-pressure, or practically none! And the blame for Hitler’s significant victory in the Saar district is shared both by Fascist terror and anti-Fascist impotence and passivity.

That terror and Fascism are inseparably connected, is certainly not new. The additional evidence of the Saar vote was not required to prove it. Something different had to be shown in the Saar, namely, that the Fascist terror represents no invincible force and that the power of the proletarian, anti-Fascist united front is strong enough to break the Fascist terror, at the very least, to dam it and to attenuate its effects. Otherwise, why the struggle against rejoining Hitler-Germany? It was necessary to harness and exert every bit of strength, genuinely and actively. And it is from this standpoint that a position must be taken on the Saar vote. Innocents may content themselves with the argument that the terror was to blame. The question to be answered is: How could the Fascist terror acquire such extraordinary significance despite the anti-Fascist united front?

The United Front

At the beginning of July 1934, the united front was effected in the Saar district between the CP and the SP, a year and a half after Hitler’s seizure of power, half a year before the Saar referendum. It took a long time before the social democratic and the Stalinist bureaucrats recognized the most elementary need of the anti-Fascist struggle: the close organization of all forces for the struggle against Fascism. The Fascist “united front” had long become a fact – all the bourgeois and reactionary organizations had been brought together in the Deutsche Front under Fascist leadership – before the bureaucrats of the labor organizations, not least of all under the pressure of the membership masses, condescended to form the anti-Fascist united front.

It is no accident that the anti-Fascist united front in the Saar district came into existence so tardily. What was primarily decisive, generally speaking, was the fact that the movement of the social democratic and the Stalinist bureaucracy in the direction of the united front first started everywhere towards the summer of 1934. But this “reason” could surely have been overcome with ease in the Saar district on the basis of the special situation obtaining there – the dated referendum – had there existed between; the CP and the SP the political premises for a united front. But precisely this was absolutely not the case.


For a long time, an exceptionally great confusion prevailed among the bureaucrats of the labor organizations and by that also among the masses of the membership. Nobody knew what was actually going to happen in the Saar now that the Fascist dictatorship had been established in Germany. For years, the working class organizations had worked for the reincorporation of the Saar into Germany – was an end to be put with a single stroke to the good old slogan? After all, one had grown so used to it and nobody ventured to propose a reversal, the political turn that had become necessary. Blandest of all – naturally! – were the Stalinists. To them, the singular “program of national liberation” of the German Communist Party of Germany still held good, and besides – had something really happened in Germany? The CPG hadn’t suffered a defeat, Hitler wouldn’t last in power for more than a few days, everything was in the best of order. Whoever didn’t believe it, could read it for himself, black on white, in Fritz Heckert. And as the matter was so clear, the CP retained its old slogan in the Saar: Back to Germany. But since something like a Fascist terror nevertheless ruled in the Reich, the CP felt itself constrained to alter its old slogan; thenceforth it read. Back to Germany under all circumstances!

For months on end propaganda was made in favor of this slogan. Its success, it goes without saying, consisted in an enormous strengthening of Fascism. Great masses must have said to themselves: “If indeed we are to go back to Hitler, then let it be with the Fascists and not with the Communists.” So did the CP render Fascism the service of whipping up support for it.

Those, however, who came out for the status quo in the Saar district immediately after the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship in Germany, were called “separatists” by the CP and even abused as “creatures bought by France”. The slogan of status quo was thus combatted by all sides at first, both by the Fascists and the CP Only the strength of the anti-Fascist resistance was weakened thereby; weakened also, however, was the CP itself. Renegacy from the CP to Fascism became very widespread.

Finally, when the CP, especially under the influence of strong oppositional sentiments in its own ranks, was compelled to give up its slogan of reincorporation, then picked up the confusing and meaningless slogan of “A Red Saar inside a red Germany”, but nevertheless had to come out in favor of the status quo in the end,, a long and precious period had been lost for the struggle in, favor of the status quo. Among undoubtedly large sections, the CP itself had discredited the status quo as separatist and French, and had decided the masses in favor of Germany, i.e., of Hitler. And in the period that followed, Fascism made not inconsiderable use of those insults and calumnies which originated in the arsenal of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

More cautious was the SP It too hesitated a long time before issuing a clear slogan for the referendum. First it made a prolonged attempt to get a postponement of the voting, a solution.; which was no solution and which necessarily ended in failure. Nevertheless, the SP arrived at the slogan of the status quo much sooner than the CP, but unlike the latter, without having previously made good propaganda for Hitler-Germany.

This development, which occurred before the formation of the united front in the Saar district, must not be overlooked when examining into the Saar struggle. On the contrary, it is of importance, for the original weaknesses of the status quo, the shameful and treacherous policy of the CP and the hesitancy of the SP, could not but have their effect. The masses were thus driven into the arms of the Fascists and kept there; a subsequent departure from the Fascists was tied up with great difficulties and dangers. The loss of time had its bitter revenge; time is a priceless factor in politics, especially when so embittered a struggle is involved as the one that was carried out in the Saar.

Optimism of Parades

It is clear that the united front – after about a year and a half had been lost and only half a year still remained till the decision – immediately had to unfold the most active anti-Fascist resistance. The Deutsche Front had thoroughly exploited the confusion in the anti-Fascist camp, had plunged forward everywhere, and established its positions. Fascism could be driven back again only in the course of unintermittent, tenacious daily work. The masses, having felt up to then only the Fascist pressure, should now likewise have been made to feel the pressure and the might of the united front. Although the united front had come into existence late enough, it was nevertheless not too late. Much could still be saved, very much. But one condition had to be fulfilled before the work could be successful: the united front would have to be a genuine fighting front, it would have to develop the greatest possible activity.

This is just what did not happen. There was no trace of a serious work of the united front among the masses; all its activity was exhausted by joint meetings, fine speeches and strong phrases. But behind them stood nothing. The leaders of the united front complained incessantly about the Fascist terror, did nothing and only complained. Thus the Saar district, so far as it was anti-Fascist, was turned into a wailing wall. But neither the voice of Max Braun, nor Pfordt’s, nor yet Father Dorr’s, was capable of filling the Fascists with fear and of breaking down the Fascist terror. Other means were needed for the purpose.


To drive through the country in automobile and to deliver big speeches, is certainly a good thing, but entirely inadequate. Not much could be achieved that way, even less in the Saar district than anywhere else. Only an unremitting daily work of activizing the masses against the Fascist pressure could be of any help. The Fascist terror should have been checked and counter-measures taken immediately and in every single case. The individuals and the vacillators should have been worked on systematically, the Fascist test votes should have been prevented, the Fascist questionaries seized, etc.; the oft-mentioned Fascist “Block Guards” should have been opposed by agents of the united front. The masses should have been in a position to feel that the united front is backing them up. But nothing of the kind occurred. The united front was completely preoccupied with parades : the Sulzbach demonstration sufficed for a prolonged wave of enthusiasm, the demonstration in Saarbrücken, the so-called “greater Sulzbach”, created even more enthusiasm – until, one week later, the result of the referendum, as the “greatest Sulzbach”, brought with it a brusk awakening.

While the united front talked itself to death, the Fascists systematically and planfully prepared the referendum. Besides talking, they did not forget the organizing, the organized pressure. The united front only organized meetings, and beyond that its organizing activity was nil. And if the former “leaders of the Saar proletariat” today tell us and the whole world about the terror of the Fascist Block Guards, then only one question is of interest: how were these creatures able to play such a disastrous role in spite of the united front? In answering this question it should not be overlooked that the failure of the united front became the strength of the Fascist Block Guards.

The Pope

Instead of living on active struggle, the united front lived on hopes. It placed its hopes in everything and therefore did nothing. It made its victory depend upon the League of Nations and the Pope: upon the League of Nations, if it would express itself for the possibility of a new referendum later on; upon the Pope, if he would declare himself for the status quo. Where it was necessary to fight in the Saar with one’s own forces, and if help was needed, to appeal for it to the international proletariat, only longing glances were cast towards Geneva and Rome. But the Pope remained silent. Only the bishops made speeches – for Hitler.

Hopes were put in the Catholics. To be sure, these hopes were not baseless in advance. But if the Catholic sections were to be won for the status quo camp, they had to be convinced of its power and strength. Yet it was just the other way that it happened: instead of bringing the Catholics under the influence of the united front, the united front passed itself off as Catholic, almost as more Catholic than the Pope. The Stalinist Arbeiterzeitung wrote about the sanctity and the protection of monstrances and processions, and also that these things were all protected by the Communists, etc., etc. A Comintern-Catholicism grew up and produced astounding blossoms. The referendum showed unequivocally and clearly that the abandonment of vigorous activity by the proletarian united front for the sake of a stupid toadying to Catholicism, did not achieve the slightest results and was not even taken seriously by the Catholic circles. At most, the CP recruited a few of its members for the Catholic church, just as it did a short time previously for reincorporation into Fascist Germany.

“Hold Fast to What You Have”

This is the slogan under which recruiting went on for the status quo. The very choice of the slogan expresses the whole helplessness of the united front. With it was stifled any fight in the Saar for new rights, for higher wages, etc. The position of the Saar miners, one of the most important sections, is extremely bad and miserable. The united front wanted to “hold fast”, but the working masses wanted to have living conditions. Fascism promised them all kinds of improvement and made full use of corruption throughout the ranks of the workers. Hitler’s work among these workers was facilitated by the fact that the exploiter who paid such miserable wages was the French mine administration.

In this respect also the united front did nothing. There wasn’t even the thought of a struggle for higher wages, for better working conditions. Yet, by means of such a struggle large masses of workers could have been showed that for them too the status quo would bring about an improvement. In this way, however, the slogan of the status quo remained a hollow one to broad masses and Fascism profited by promising them economic improvements, etc., after the reincorporation. The proletarian united front forgot the daily struggle of the working class, forgot the struggle for raising the proletarian living standards and was thus defeated by Hitlerian demagogy.

An After-Effect

The struggle for the status quo was badly conducted, very badly. But that alone does not explain the depth of the anti-Fascist defeat in the Saar. A bare 10% of the votes for the status quo is such a catastrophic result that other factors besides the miserable policy of the bureaucracies must have been at work.

The outcome of the Saar struggle plainly illustrates the effects which the victory of Hitler has had upon broad masses of the people. The defeat of the German working class did not pass by without a trace. Widest sections of the people have lost all confidence in the power of the proletariat and are attracted and held fast by Fascism. So heavy a defeat as that of the German proletariat is not so quickly forgotten and straightened out; two years of Hitler dictatorship only led to 90% of the Saar population expressing itself for Hitler. Such a result should not be underestimated; it allows of important conclusions about the situation in the Reich itself. To be sure Hitler’s position within the Reich is not as strong as in the Saar, but the rumors about the convulsions of the Fascist dictatorship will be greatly diminished for a period of time. Fascism is no mere “king for a day”. The evaluations which the Stalinist bureaucrats gave about German Fascism proved once again to be stupid and false. Wasn’t it the Saar which, according to the Stalinist theories, was to become a great anti-Fascist victory? Yet, out of about 127,000 votes cast for the labor parties in the Federal Council election of 1932 in the Saar district, only about 46,000 remained for the status quo. Even if one assumes the most favorable case, and estimates that only half of the voters of 1932 had the right to vote on January 13, 1938, there still remains a great proletarian loss to record. To find a solution for this, will hardly be attempted by the Stalinist theoreticians.

Perhaps they will adopt the clever explanation which all the baffled and helpless politicians are now employing: “Large sections of the Saar population voted for Germany but not for Hitler.” Here indeed is an explanation that might have been produced by a low comedian. In the Saar itself it looked quite different. The whole referendum battle took place under the sign of the swastika, Germany’s propagandists employed the Fascist phraseology, the Deutsche Front was a purely Fascist organization. Everybody knew: For Germany meansfor Hitler! And the Fascist “liberation uproar” throughout the land after the referendum, confirmed this. over again. Not Germany – but Fascism, Hitler, drew the population of the Saar into its orbit; it voted for the Third Reich. No confusing or clever tricks can get around this; they have nothing in common with politics and are merely a gross nuisance. In order to combat the enemy, he must be acknowledged; you don’t arm yourself for new struggles with cock-and-bull stories.

One thing was confirmed by the Saar referendum: the effects of the defeat of the German working class are extremely long-lasting and deep-going. The proletariat cannot emerge from this defeat by means of the old bankrupt policy of the bureaucracies.

Also confirmed, however, was the law: proletarian passivity signifies automatically the strengthening of the class enemy, the weakness of the proletarian defensive struggle is the strength of the Fascist terror. The working class of all countries must thoroughly assimilate and attend to these lessons which were emphasized anew in the Saar struggle, if it would guard itself from new defeats.

Paris, January 20, 1936

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 26 February 2016