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The New International, March 1939



The Great Test


From The New International, Vol.5 No.3, March 1939, pp.88-90.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


IN MARCH 1919, WHEN THE German population of the Czechoslovakia concocted at Versailles on the basis of “the right of self-determination of the peoples” sought to make real use of precisely this right and endeavored to join the German Reich, it received not the right of self-determination of the peoples but lead from the rifles of the army of the young Czechoslovakian miniature-imperialism by grace of France and England. Naturally, in complete agreement with these two “democratic” Powers, who had indeed just fixed the frontiers of the new state in accordance with their strategical considerations.

The social revolution in Germany betrayed and strangled by the leaders of the social-democratic party, also sealed the fate of the German minority in Czechoslovakia for years to come. The Czech social democracy, loyally devoted to the nationalism of the young Czech bourgeoisie, willingly and eagerly served its interests also in the question of the minorities. Not only by silently tolerating the measures of its government; no, it demanded and supported in practise the Czechification of the German region of the state, which it proudly labelled its own.

The German Social-Democratic Party in Czechoslovakia followed strictly in the footsteps of its big Czech brother. As reward, it too became a government party and was allowed to squeeze into a few ministerial chairs of the Czechoslovak republic up to the middle of 1938.

The Czechoslovakian section of the Third International (CPC), once the second strongest party of the Comintern in Europe, transformed itself slowly but surely, after 1933, into a Czech-national labor party. From 1937 onward, it entered into keen competition with the reformists for the prize for the best social-patriotism. In spite of the great competition – the old reformist bureaucrats knew their trade pretty well – it emerged as the acknowledged winner. At the beginning, it still put conditions for its support of the Czechoslovakian bourgeoisie in the question of the defense of the fatherland. “The rich must pay for the armaments; democratization of the army; away with the reactionary officers’ corps; formation of a genuine people’s government excluding the reactionary Agrarians”; etc.

Even the national question was treated by it only from the standpoint of the defense of the fatherland:

“Satisfaction of the wishes for equal rights; state subsidies and state orders for the Sudeten German industry; all public works in Sudetenland to German businessmen; only a well-fed people is prepared to fight.”

With these demands, however, the CPC only landed at the tail-end of the Henlein movement, which came much closer to the mark and did not stop there. In the parliamentary and municipal elections, the CPC was almost annihilatingly defeated. In the German region, it lost more than 60 percent of its votes. Similarly also the German social democrats. And this in spite of the fact that the Sudeten German Party of Henlein (SdP) was compelled more than once to show its real face.

The short-lived economic revival which set in at the beginning of 1937 in Czechoslovakia as elsewhere, lead, especially in the German region, to big strikes in the glass and textile industries and in the mines. For weeks at a time, factories and mines were occupied after the French model. Most of the owners of the struck factories and mines were widely known functionaries of the Henlein party. The Henleinist “German Workers Union” declared itself against the strikes. The greed for profit of the Sudeten German capitalists naturally stood higher than their nationalism. The Henlein party went through a heavy crisis. Under the pressure of its members, the Henfein union, in which 40 percent of the Sudeten German working class was then organized, declared itself against its own party. Yet the social democrats and the communists did all in their power to help the SdP overcome this difficult crisis. The workers demand a fake increase of 20 percent, in order once more to receive at least that wage standard that they had at the time of the depth of the crisis in 1932-1933. Instead of this, the free [social-democratic] trade unions, with the support of the communists who represented the strikes as being dangerous to the defense of the country, negotiated a single supplementary sum to cover high food prices, payable in three installments. The wage scales remained unchanged. The police – the Czech! – was let loose upon the strikers by the Henlein proprietors and the trade union bureaucrats, and the plants were cleared by police action. The bankruptcy of the two labor parties was now sealed.

* * *

The “solution” of the Czechoslovakian crisis should by now have clarified even the most stupid as to the “independence” of the state. Czechoslovakia was a Franco-English bastion against a possible expansion drive of German imperialism into Southeastern Europe and far beyond it. Now she is the vassal state of the Third Reich and an important strategical position for Hitler’s march to the East But who made Hitler’s victory possible? Only, but really only, the agents of “democratic” imperialism in the ranks of the working class: the leaders of the parties of the Second and Third Internationals. Instead of leading the proletariat against its own bourgeoisie and weakening, if not overthrowing it, they united with the “democratic” imperialists for better or for worse. For internal political reasons, Hitler would have thought ten times before attacking a country in which the working class had gone over to action. Instead of the imperialist alliance of the Franco-Czechoslovakian bourgeoisie, the alliance of the French and Czechoslovakian workers in struggle for the United Soviet States of Europe – that’s what the goal of a revolutionary policy should have been. The proletariat of Germany, in that case, would not have marched very long under the banners of Hitler.

The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia went so far in its patriotism as to urge the destruction of the German Reich by the armies of the “democratic” alliance, as the panacea for the next future of humanity. In place of the existing national oppression, these “communists” advocated a still more violent one. When the articles that appeared in the Rote Fahne, the German organ of the CPC, are read over again, they fill the reader with unutterable revulsion.

Not very much was left of that Czechoslovakian democracy which we allegedly had to defend. Through the Law for the Defense of the State, which the CPC also swallowed by abstaining in the vote, the whole country was placed under a military dictatorship, A general ban on all meetings was issued, the working day could be lengthened without restriction and without overtime pay if it was required in the interests of state defense, strikes were made subject to military court action. Everybody, at any time, could be drawn into any work for the defense of the state, regardless of age or sex. The entire labor press was placed under rigorous censorship, so that the press of the CPC appeared every day with large white spaces, and very often not at all. No, against the German Reich and its regime the press of the CPC was forbidden to write anything; the government press reserved that prerogative to itself. Finally, the prohibition of the communist press was announced. That was Czechoslovakian democracy in the summer of 1938.

The more the CPC was squeezed out, the more patriotic became its garb. Deputations appeared in the barracks with enormous bouquets of flowers and packages of cigarettes. This was called: “Fraternization of the working people with the army.” In parliament, the CPC complained bitterly that its gymnastic and sport clubs were not admitted to military training. In order to increase the patriotism of the Czech people, all the large Czech cities were given a run of the film The Red Army, in which the latter’s enormous strength was demonstrated. Stalin appeared on the screen and the workers sang the International. But it went no further: the powerful “Red Army” was seen only on the screen. The Moscow radio propaganda competed with Göbbels.

“If Hitler attacks Czechoslovakia, 3,000 Soviet bombers will reduce Berlin to ashes on the same day. After three days every large German city will look like a heap of ruins. The Red Army knows its way in Czechoslovakia.”

To the social-patriots, the unity attained in Munich between fascist and democratic imperialism over the fate of Czechoslovakia, was absolutely incomprehensible. The stiff wallop – and the long faces! Yet they went their way to the shameful end. The Czech bourgeoisie got into an ugly situation. A million and a half men under arms, the Czech Maginot Line choked with troops, the population whipped into a patriotic frenzy. The trade unions pulled the workers out of the factories. Eighty thousand marched to the parliament. The CPC undertook the leadership and put up the main speakers. Gottwald, the leader of the CPC, gave the slogan:

“Resignation of the Hodza capitulation-government; the military in power; long live General Syrovy; defense of our republic to the last drop of blood; the Red Army stands ready!”

Syrovy, glorified by the communists as the “Red General,” took over the government and ... withdrew into silence. The press took over the job of making the bitter pill palatable. The government of the “Red General” Syrovy placed membership in the CPC under heavy penalty; a little later it was banned and dissolved. The leadership fled. Neither hide nor hair is left of the third strongest party in the Czechoslovakian parliament (800,000 votes). The Czechoslovakian section of the Third International ended on the rubbish-heap of history. Its last act was a tender of services to the Czech social democrats who of course gave the belated and uninvited guest a cold shoulder.

The Czech social democracy understood the sign of the times. It speedily declared its withdrawal from the Second International and, together with the remnants of the split-up Beneš party, it founded a new one, the “Party of the Working People.” Its program: in the first place, rejection of the class struggle as a dangerous heresy, which imperils to the utmost the further existence of the new state of Czechs and Slovaks; loyal collaboration with the government party; protection of the interests of the working people ... Chosen as president of this famous party was the former president of the Czech social democracy and trade union leader, Antonin Hampl. Tolerated by this party, the fascization of Czechoslovakia proceeds at a speedy pace. It is quite possible that Hampl will yet become Minister of Labor in a Czecho-Fascist government.

It can be said again with absolute certainty, after the confirmation by the Czechoslovakian experience: At the first salvos of the now more imminent imperialist war, and even before it, the European parties of the Second and the Third Internationals will collapse like a house of cards, they will be swept away by the events like chaff before the wind. But the class struggle will go on and presently reach its greatest sharpness. The Fourth International will lead the world proletariat in its final, great struggle, and will triumph.

Only one single political current of the working class survived the test of social-patriotism: the Fourth International. That is the guarantee for its future. Our German and Czech comrades in Czechoslovakia did not waver or vacillate. Tirelessly they created clarity in their press on the position of the proletariat in the national question and the war question.

The right of self-determination of the peoples, including theright of state separation, is an old, but still valid demand of Marxism. Yet it is not a dogma for Marxists. If the revolutionists came forward after Hitler’s victory against the Sudeten German regions joining the Third Reich, it was only out of purely class struggle considerations. With Hitler it is not a question of abolishing national oppression but of extending his strategical basis, of influence in Southeastern Europe. But neither do the revolutionists stand on the side of the Czech oppressors and their Franco-English patrons. It is the task primarily of the Czech proletariat of the oppressor nation, to fight against the oppression of the national minorities. The common task is to overthrow one’s own government and therewith to open up the struggle for the United Socialist States of Europe, for only the proletariat can really solve the national question.

“The main enemy of every people is in its own country.” Our comrades in Czechoslovakia held firmly to this splendid slogan of Karl Liebknecht for the proletariat of all imperialist countries in case of war. Living in illegality, denounced by the social-patriots, persecuted by the police, cut off from the international organization, they held aloft the banner of Liebknecht, Lenin and Trotsky. Their publications found an increasing circulation in the critical days and led to embittered discussions. After the events, voices were heard in increasing number to say:

“The Trotskyists did judge everything correctly, after all; their defeatism was only too well grounded; we had completely forgotten that we are supposed to be Marxists.”

In spite of the social-patriotic poison, internationalism nevertheless did break through in certain, if few, places. The social-democratic workers who were sent against the Sudeten German brigade and a few regular troop detachments of the German army, formed speaking choruses in certain places and cry: “Proletarians of all countries, unite!” rang across the frontier, There were only small, isolated actions. The working class would have marched in the September days. But for how long?

No matter how many more times Mr. Chamberlain boards an airplane, or with better weather crosses the Channel by boat, he will not stop the death-agony of capitalist society, nor banish from this earth the contradictions of imperialism. In the Fourth International, a new leadership has arisen for the world proletariat. It is possible that the ghastliest war of all times, will precede the social revolution. But one way or the other – there is no other road left for the masses, they must and they shall rally around the banner of the Fourth International.

Feb. 1939

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