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The New International, December 1938


Oscar Fischer

The New Phantom: “Socialist Concentration”


From New International, Vol.4 No.12, December 1938, pp.375-377.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


NOT A SINGLE stone has been left standing of what was once called the “German People’s Front”. The flood of appeals, declarations, resolutions and letters that gushed forth for months on end from this Front of Bureaucrats without People, now runs along the gutter in the form of viscous, murky squabblings of the “prominent”. Mutual disclosures and exposure-manoeuvres are the shabby remnants of what was originally to be or to become the mighty lever for die overthrow of Hitler fascism. Indeed, if the elimination of fascist barbarism depended upon such “fronts” and “levers”, then Hitler, Göbbels, Rosenberg and Consorts would not have exaggerated in proclaiming that the Third Reich was founded for thousands of years.

The single practical result that remains of the People’s Front specter is a recent sharpening of the antagonisms between Stalinist bureaucrats plus their lackeys and the remaining partners in the People’s Front. This development is not without its irony: the “People’s Front” leaves behind it as a result precisely that which it sought to bridge and eliminate. The result characterizes retrospectively once more the whole “Front”. As in all the preceding years of the Weimar legality and of the emigration, the balance-sheet of every one of the old bureaucracy’s undertakings ends with an awful flop. Only, the latest flop of the People’s Front is the most harmless. There is nobody to lament its passing, now that the German proletariat has paid with the blood and freedom of its best sons for the preceding adventures of the bureaucratic bankrupts.

It would be underrating (better: overrating) the old bureaucrats to assume that now, after the lamentable end of the People’s Front, a period of reflection and political self-criticism will ensue. The bureaucratic apparatuses have their own mechanics: they continue to turn round and round like squirrels in a cage. It is scarcely worth mentioning the summits of the whilom Communist Party of Germany; this crew even continues to play politics with the cadaver of the “German People’s Front”. It turns out open letters, articles of exposure and protest resolutions (“from the Reich” – not produced, as is known, by the old swindlers themselves) by the bushel. After all, stipends and honorariums must be earned somehow ...

The other non- (or: not quite) Stalinist partners of the People’s Front have meanwhile found another possibility of giving free rein to their yearning for activity. If they hoped originally to achieve political and organizational unity, that is, the unity party, through the “German People’s Front”, nothing is left to them now but to seek “unity” on a different basis. And this new basis is – the old social democracy.

On the “Claim to Leadership”

The condition of what could be salvaged from the SPG in the emigration, certainly offers opportunities for all kinds of bureaucratic combinations. Apart from the old Party Board [Parteivorstand] which is, not least of all because of its control of the old apparatus and the cashbox, the dominant factor of the social-democratic emigration, there is no lack of factions and tendencies. The political differences of opinion of the various social-democratic groupings are entirely of a secondary nature: they all move strictly within the confines of the Second International. The basic question around which the dispute revolves is a narrowly bureaucratic one: the claim to leadership. The arguments over this point are as old as the emigration itself. Up to now, however, the old Party Board has been able, by and large, to retain the apparatus firmly in its hands.

The narrowly-limited bureaucratic character of the social-democratic factional fight is a very clear example of how little the remnants of the German labor movement have to do with politics. It is a question of purely apparatus interests – just as in the fat years before Hitler. In contrast to the old days, however, the apparatus today, fortunately, is completely suspended in mid-air. The role of the old bureaucracy of all shadings is played out; what it now does and practises boils down to one thing: to preserve its own highly esteemed political corpse.

Are we not perhaps underestimating, with this judgment, the importance of the tendencies and groupings within the social-democratic camp? Not at all. In the first place, these discussions do not reach further than narrow bureaucratic circles, which represent nothing but themselves and a minimal following of people largely dependent upon them (a very important phenomenon precisely in the emigration!). Matters are still worse with regard to the political platform. Just try to discover differences between the Deutsche Freiheit and the Neue Vorwärts ... Always and everywhere the old social-democratic narrow-mindedness, mediocre and below-the-average feuilletons in place of politics. The social-democratic office managers are tossed between events like wreckage among the reefs. That is how it used to be and it is certainly so today. But therewith is answered the question of the significance of the struggle of the social-democratic groups over the “claim to leadership”. It is simply a question of narrow apparatus interests, which do not become a hair’s breadth more important when they are given the stamp of “unity endeavors”. If one seeks a serious political characterization of this situation, there is only one formula: All these internal discussions of the bureaucrats, cloaked as unity endeavors, are in reality the manifestations of decay of the remnants of the old apparatus.

Enter the Austro-Marxists

After Austria’s annexation by the Third Reich, there was automatically posed the question of the fate of the Austrian social democracy. From the theoretical conception of the “Revolutionary Socialists” of Austria follows inevitably the unification with the German social democracy. In practise, however, there first arise certain difficulties. The Austrian social democracy, after its defeat in February 1934, still had the possibility for a few years to build up an illegal organization on a fairly large scale. However, the destruction of the Vienna workers’ quarters brought with it the crumpling of the old Austro-Marxian phraseology. Austro-Marxism was driven to the left in the wreckage of the February days. The phraseology of the epoch of legality no longer suited illegality. This evolution was expressed outwardly in renaming the party “Revolutionary Socialists”, with the illegal organization enjoying a certain measure of independence from the emigrated old party leadership of the Austrian social democracy.

Now the question of organization rises for the RS What is to become of them? What about the unification with the Reich-German SPG?

This is the point at which the Austrian party intervenes in the German “concentration” debate. The official Austrian standpoint is made known by Gustav Richter in the Sozialistische Kampf (No.1): According to it, there is no hurry about unification, for “the splitting up of the German socialist movement stands in the way of a simple organizational unification of the socialists of Austria and Old-Germany”. The old German Party Board in no way represents the German party, so far as the RS are concerned, but only one of its groupings, which must first unite with other groupings. As such groups Richter mentions, among others, the tendency around Max Braun (Landesverband der deutschen Sozialdemokraten in Frankreich – National Alliance of German Social Democrats in France), the Neu-Beginnen [New Beginning] group, and finally also – the SAP [Socialist Workers Party]. Only after the German concentration has taken place, can concentration with the Austrian party be put on the order of the day. A decision of the RS says “that the unification can take place only when the German movement has created the political and organizational premises for it”.

The position of the spokesman of the RS concludes with a number of organizational proposals according to which the concentration can be directed, for “the Austrian socialist movement is greatly interested in a speedy advancement of the All-German concentration. It faces the danger of having the splitting up of the German movement transferred also to the Austrian movement. Hence, it will not stand in the future on the standpoint of non-intervention with respect to the problems of the German labor movement.” And: “Those who have understood that the German working class needs a new socialist party must be determined to come forward resolutely against all obstacles standing in the way of the ‘concentration’.”

The article of G. Richter brought new life into the old concentration debate. The Austrians had how, so to speak, formulated their positions, or rather, put an ultimatum. Stampfer, Max Braun, Paul Hertz, Neu-Beginnen and – Jacob Walcher expressed themselves on the Austrian conditions in the following numbers of the Sozialistische Kampf. Friedrich Stampfer hammered especially upon Richter’s formulation that “the German working class needs a new socialist party”. Stampfer is in no way of this opinion and he “knows of no Reichs-German social democrat who has associated himself openly or half-openly with this thesis”.

The further course of the discussions seems to have proved Stampfer right. Not another word was said about a “new socialist party”. Gustav Richter had allowed himself to be carried away too far by the phraseology of illegal Austro-Marxism. And after all, the RS themselves are not at all a “new party” but rather the highly legitimate continuation of the old Austro-Marxian party under the conditions of illegality. A partly renovated bureaucracy is still far from being a new party. And Gustav Richter has to this day made no further effort to defend his remark about the “new socialist party”.

What is really the content of the “concentration” was formulated most typically and clearly by Max Braun: “The renaissance of the German social democracy.” However, the words of the bureaucrats need not be overestimated. “Renaissance” means in this case quite simply: the continuation of the old social democratic course with a re-division of the bureaucratic positions. Not even the entrance of the Austrian RS has caused the slightest change hi this real content of the debate. The RS inject themselves only into the game of apparatus diplomacy and the conditions formulated by Gustav Richter speak only too plainly of the fact that they are dictated by the interests of the new RS bureaucracy, which is seeking guarantees for itself.

For this fact, there is an exceptionally characteristic circumstance: In all the discussions on the concentration, political problems are spoken of only quite incidentally. And why political problems? After all, it is only the bureaucracy discussing among itself. Paul Hertz even said so openly: “Common action failed up to now not because of objective differences of opinion, but because of the lack of any common organizational relationship.” And these organizational relationships – are in reality the apparatus and the bureaucracy.

How long the concentration debate will last, cannot be foreseen. It is taking place in a vacuum. But even if the bureaucratic manoeuvres should finally conclude with an agreement, things will not have changed in the slightest. It is a matter of complete indifference to the destiny of the German and European working class whether a couple of old or a couple of young social-democratic prominent figures “concentrate” or not. The vital interests of the working class are, on the contrary, concentrated today on quite different questions.

The SAP Seeks Asylum

The SAP plunged into the “German People’s Front” with great hopes. Long without any political principles and already fallen into wooden isolation, the SAP hoped for a saving way out by participating in bureaucratic top combinations. It fled from its own hopelessness into the People’s Front, making use of a pseudo-radical phraseology in order to justify a separate existence which had long ago become superfluous. But the hopes placed in the 7th World Congress of the Comintern, in Dimitroff and in the People’s Front, were all too speedily shattered. The SAP faced the danger of having to follow its own path again as a result of the collapse of the bigger bureaucrats. Towards this end a whole theory of the “unity party” was elaborately contrived. Jacob Walcher bent all his efforts against being hurled out of the path he had chosen. The SAP clutched convulsively at the Landesverband deutscher Sozialdemokraten in Frankreich (Max Braun), as soon as the palmy days of the People’s Front came to an end, and thus slipped into the commending social-democratic concentration. Jacob Walcher was permitted to attend the national convention of the Max Braun German social democrats as a guest – and now the SAP received acknowledgment in writing even from the Austrian RS that it must not be forgotten in the social-democratic concentration.

In the Sozialistische Kampf, Jacob Walcher developed the standpoint of the SAP on the “concentration”. In essence, this “standpoint” is an offer of subservience to the RS which, according to the SAP, “is especially qualified to exercize an active influence upon the re-formation of the socialist movement of Greater-Germany”. The SAP dressed itself, by way of change, Austro-Marxistically. The next aim of ‘the concentration cannot be the restoration of the old SPG – yet the revolutionary unity party also “still stands in the far distance”. Thus the SAP winds its way between the problems only to land in the end at a concentration which should be consummated on a basis “which is acceptable from the standpoint of revolutionary socialists, who possess the necessary self-confidence and are clear about the tendencies of development”. Here Walcher is no longer even original: empty phrases about “self-confidence” and “development” have already given him the possibility more than once of doing some very gingerly dances of demagogy. The position of the SAP becomes ever more repulsive and fraudulent. It does not want to miss the opportunity of having itself “concentrated” and at the same time looks about for a “revolutionary” mantle. As if cheap phrases could conjure away the fact that the SAP today leads only a politically parasitic existence. As a political organization, it has been dead for some time; it continues to “live” only by bureaucratic combinations.’ It squirms painfully around all political questions. To be sure, a political platform for the concentration is necessary – but, Walcher adds worriedly, “such a platform will not have to contain everything that corresponds to the doctrines of revolutionary Marxism, for at the present stage, that would mean to narrow down too sectarianly the framework of the concentration”. So the concentration ought not to collapse because of political questions and a deal can always be made over revolutionary Marxism ...

In the Neue Front of August 1938 the SAP defends itself from the suspicion that it is for the restoration of the old SPG The SAP casts off all such suspicion and spouts forth a spray of phrases on the complete renovation of German socialism. A shabby play of words. The same thing that Walcher calls “renovation” was called “renaissance of the German social democracy” by Max Braun. And from the position Walcher has taken in the question of the “political platform” and of revolutionary Marxism, it follows clearly that the SAP is painfully avoiding any possibility of coming into conflict with Stampfer, Wels and Hilferding. Finally, the question is not decided by the cheap words but by the political attitude of the SAP But it is precisely politically that the SAP has long ago fallen into the most unprincipled opportunism. What political reasons could stand in the way of the unification of Walcher with Stampfer and Max Braun? None – if only Stampfer was willing. The SAP is at all events ready (there is nothing else left for it to do) to dissolve into the social-democratic concentration – not, mind you, into the “old” but into the “concentrated, renovated” SPG.

For the New Party!

The social-democratic “concentration” is just as little a politically important factor as the “German People’s Front”. The events have passed beyond the old bureaucracy and no bureaucratic manoeuvre can turn back developments. Whether the social-democratic groups now concentrate or not, their importance is becoming ever smaller. And if tomorrow the great unity-apparatus from Stampfer to Walcher were to be created, it would be born only to rot away. The closer they move to the concentration, the more swiftly they approach the next collapse. The consummated concentration would be the clique fight in permanence, which would decompose the last remnants of the social democracy.

No matter how much the bureaucratic cliques squabble among themselves, they are speedily united when it is necessary to combat the idea and the formation of the new German revolutionary party. That is when they take up the cry of “splitting”. Another form of the struggle against the new party consists in pasting the label of “new” on the old apparatuses – as the SAP is trying to do with the old SPG But therein lies the confession that the position of the old and shattered organizations is hopeless and that they can never recover by their own forces. The bureaucratic bluff of polishing up again the old ruins will not, however, bring about their recovery.

Our task is clearly marked out: the creation of the new revolutionary party of Germany together with the revolutionary vanguard of the Austrian proletariat. The exposing of the manoeuvre of the old bureaucrats in palming off “People’s Fronts” or “concentration” as new political life or a “renaissance”, is an indispensable step in preparing the road for the new revolutionary party of Germany.

PARIS, October 1938

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