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The New International, November 1946


H. Leder

Why the Germans Failed to Revolt

A Reply to Henry Judd


From New International, Vol.12 No.9, November 1946, pp.277-281.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


See the May and June issue of New International


The great flood of propaganda on the “collective guilt of the German people,” “the responsibility of peoples,” the “national character of the Germans” which makes them “unfit for democracy,” is written for a definite purpose: to justify the policies of the victorious powers of mass enslavement, starvation, humiliation, looting, raping, expropriation – all in the name of “democracy.” Nor are the outrages imposed on the German people an outgrowth of the enraged feelings of formerly suppressed peoples who now take their revenge. This explanation is a fairy tale told to the people in the United States.

The “statesmen” of the victorious powers defend their class interests in accordance with a “great design.” Russian acts of barbarism in Germany were a matter of policy – not only of Stalin but also of Roosevelt. American-Russian “friendship” (world rule) was to be sealed with the extermination of Germany as an industrial country. No German proletarian revolution was to be allowed to upset this “holy alliance.” No chances were to be taken with a German Badoglio, for then forces might have arisen that American imperialism would be unable to control. In this light, the policies imposed on the German people have a definite meaning.

A huge educational campaign has been conducted in defense of this policy. Official reports have suppressed facts which may have revealed the real nature of the official policy. From this point of view, Henry Judd’s article, “The Germanies?,” is embarrassing indeed. We do not doubt his good intentions. But he completely misunderstands the historical significance of the events in Germany. He does not sufficiently understand the background of the German labor movement and the German working class under fascism. Finally, he gives a wrong interpretation of trends in Germany today. As a result his predictions are utterly misleading.

Anything may happen to the German proletarians. They may die of starvation. They may become paupers, or slave laborers. They may be hired as mercenaries by foreign powers. They may even again become industrial workers and free proletarians. The only thing that they cannot become is the prediction of Henry Judd: “farmers and artisans.”

The same applies to the fate of the German bourgeoisie. They may be eliminated by the foreign conqueror (especially in the Russian zone, but to a great extent also in the western zones). They may become proletarians or even paupers themselves. They may emigrate into foreign countries, for most of them still have money or some wealthy relatives abroad. Under certain conditions they may even revitalize their former existence under a new German fascist dictatorship (though this is most unlikely). The only thing that cannot happen to them is the prediction of Henry Judd: that they will “continue their existence as some kind of compradore bourgeoisie.” They cannot become industrial capitalists and exploiters of German labor, “under a foreign imperialist victor with whom they must share, their profits.”

These “predictions” are derived from a basically false conception: According to Henry Judd, Germany may exist as a colony of the victorious imperialist powers, with an economic structure mainly agrarian, and the German “compradore bourgeoisie” may be able to run such a colonial Germany. Thus a new stability for German “compradore capitalism” may be found.

Thus we are to conclude that a new stability can be established in Europe without Germany as a real nation, with Russian and American imperialism as the new foreign overlords in Europe, with French and British imperialism playing additional but secondary roles. Such a transformation of European capitalist-imperialism into a colonial area for exploitation by foreign imperialism is a trend reflecting the general decline of the world economic position of Western capitalism. But this trend cannot be decisive, for it presupposes a new stability of the present regimes in Central and Western Europe.

There are several possibilities for future changes in Europe, but the above fate for Europe does not belong to them. European, and in particular German society, will enter a period of such acute crisis that American capitalism may not be able to play its role as overlord of Germany. Proletarian revolutions may fail or never take place, but this will not create new social stability. The crisis may also lead to new violent overthrows of the existing regimes, to new fascist dictatorships and to immediate preparations for new wars.


This must be concluded from the special position of Germany. Germany is a country with great traditions and a long history. National peculiarities play an eminent role, and the national character certainly differs from that of other countries. One of the national peculiarities is the great contrast between the historical growth of the upper class and of the proletarian class. This contrast is much greater in Germany than for instance, in America or Great Britain. In this sense Germany has two histories and two national traditions more distinctly than do most other Western countries. The intellectual life and the habits of the German working class were far more distinct from those of the upper classes than in other Western countries, (especially England and France). Thus while the spirit of narrow nationalism was especially deeply rooted among certain sectors of the upper classes, the spirit of internationalism was more deeply rooted among the German working class than in other countries. National peculiarities had little to do with the inability of the German working class to prevent fascism and to replace old reformist leaders who would necessarily miss the historical opportunities that arise during a revolutionary crisis.

We may be disappointed in the failure of the German proletariat to become master of its fate during the crisis and breakdown of the old system. But this disappointment is only the expression of a sentiment or feeling; it does not help to guide us toward an understanding of the real problems involved in its defeat in Germany.

The German working class embodies the experiences and historical conditions of the Western European labor movement, which has completed the “bourgeois revolution” and where the task of the proletarian revolution was the socialist (international) revolution and not the completion of the bourgeois revolution.

The first immediate task of the Russian revolution was the completion of the bourgeois revolution. This could be done only through a proletarian revolution. Historical conditions seemed to make it possible to combine the completion of the bourgeois revolution of the Russia with a proletarian world revolution. Yet character of the Russian revolution was molded by the fact that the proletarian revolution occurred in a country where semi-feudal conditions had curbed the growth of modern capitalism. Such conditions did not exist in Germany, either before the First World War or before the second. Certain national traditions and even social institutions still reflected the traditions of feudalism (for instance, the fact that a relatively great number of high army officers came from the old nobility – but even this proportion was rapidly declining). The general nature of German capitalism was molded not by remnants of feudalism hut by the most advanced forms of capitalist growth (or “ripeness”). For this very reason the problem faced by the German labor movement, to seize power at a moment when the old traditional movements collapsed, is the problem that all Western countries have to face.

This point must be stressed for another reason: Germany and the German proletariat had a special importance for the international labor movement.


The fate of the international labor movement will ultimately depend on events in Germany; and vice versa, there is little chance for German labor to liberate itself from the foreign overlord without the aid of the international proletariat. There is no possibility for a revival of the international labor movement as a force that can prevent a third world war or find a revolutionary way out of the great decay of our era without the German working-class as an active revolutionary participant. For if they cannot act as a strong positive force, the German worker will not be neutral but a powerful negative force. As paupers and starving proletarians they will be the cheapest labor force European capitalism ever had at its disposal. As state slaves they will lower the social position of the proletariat all over Europe, They will be forced to become “Stakhanovites” to be played against rebellious workers who struggle against their oppressors. Thus the German workers cannot be simply ignored in an analysis of the situation in Europe, written off as if they now had only a historical existence.

Failure to stress the international significance of the terrible policy of enslavement and extermination of the German proletarians will help to seal the fate of the European proletarian liberation movements with corresponding consequences for international labor.

Marx and Engels, as well as Lenin and Trotsky, expected that the Western European proletariat would be the leading force in a proletarian world revolution. Without the working class of Western Europe there was no possibility for the international proletariat to free itself from capitalist-imperialism. This conception did not derive from a narrow nationalist or “European” point of view. Western Europe was the primary training ground for the international labor movement. In Western Europe capitalism had created industrial world centers with concentrated masses of industrial workers largely organized in labor movements. The very dependence of the European proletariat on the world economy made it necessary to find an internationalist anti-imperialist way out for the working class, a new economic revolution which would create the foundations for international socialism. If the European working class failed, where could the working class movement find forces of greater strength, with better training in class warfare, with prouder traditions of struggle against capitalism, militarism and imperialism? And in Europe, the German proletariat held a key position. This refers to the Second as well as to the Third International, and also to the conglomeration of forces existing at the time when both Internationals had died as revolutionary forces and had become agents of imperialist forces.

What has happened in Germany is a most serious defeat for the entire European working class. We have not yet grasped the full meaning of the fact that the German working class – formerly over a third of the Western European working class – now consists mostly of paupers, slave workers (state slaves), or prisoners of war. With the defeat of the German working class, slave labor has become a social institution in Europe.

After the defeat of Nazism in Germany, the German proletariat suffered a second great defeat due to the intervention of the foreign imperialist powers. They have crushed the German proletariat before it had a chance to recover after the collapse of German fascism. A discussion of individual or “collective guilt” does not help us to achieve an understanding of the historical conditions under which the dramatic events occurred, nor does it give an explanation of the “failure” of the German proletariat. Without a historical approach to the conditions under which the German working class was expected to make a revolution, We cannot critically approach the “facts” reported by authors and writers who themselves never understood the real problems but wrote to please the American public or to defend a popular thesis.


Many books have been written about the pre-history of fascism and the failure of the German working class to revolt. But this does not mean that Judd is right, that, therefore, “the reasons for this failure to ‘revolt’ are well known.” Until now no major critical study has been written about the working-class struggle before the Nazis rose to power and the failure of the German working class to “revolt.”

Often, events that were milestones on the road to fascism have been ignored or falsified; for instance, the preparations for a general strike of the Berlin workers during the days when von Papen dissolved the Prussian coalition government (under Severing). During those days the workers in the big factories of Berlin and other towns prepared a general strike – almost spontaneously – and made concrete preparations for a revolutionary uprising. These workers waited for the reformist leaders to act because they were in control of the only organization that could start a general strike on a national scale against the powerful dictatorial regime. Or we may mention the Berlin Transport workers strike in 1932. It also has never been accurately described.

The same applies to social class conflicts under fascism. Here it is even easier to cloud the truth, for a totalitarian regime makes it more difficult to see behind political surface appearances, There are few visible phenomena such as strikes, elections or the numerical strength of political parties. The only “objective” record is the numbers of prisons, prisoners and concentration camps. This record has been available to the occupying powers in Germany. But they have been careful not to publish the data collected by the Gestapo and the concentration-camp authorities which they now have in their possession.

During the days of Munich, for example, the German Army High Command had sent a dossier to Hitler containing reports and data that the workers in the factories were more anti-Nazi and anti-war than ever before and were absolutely “unreliable” from the point of view of the Army. For this reason, therefore, war would have to be avoided. The Allied powers must have discovered this document among the captured documentary materials. But it belongs to that great pile of secret documents whose publication is forbidden.

It is true that the German workers never revolted against the Nazi rulers. But the technique of revolt against a totalitarian dictatorship that still commands a well-organized terror-machine has not yet been invented. It is also difficult to overlook the fact that German prisons and concentration camps were filled with German anti-Nazis, and that civil war preparations of the Nazis were greatly intensified during the war, despite the scarcity of material and manpower. Furthermore, war planning was greatly influenced by the lack of inner unity of the nation. The entire history of the war could be written as a chain of decisions that can be understood only in terms of the growing internal social antagonisms. Hitler’s policy of leading Germany gradually into war – with Chamberlain as his reliable collaborator – was related to the precarious inner situation. The reluctance of the Army High Command to act independently was largely due to the fear that the overthrow of Hitler would release revolutionary forces that the Army would be unable to control.

The final course of the war was also modified by the fear of a revolutionary conclusion to the war. We cannot determine now how real this danger was. It was certainly taken seriously by Stalin as well as by Roosevelt. They adapted their propaganda campaigns and their strategy accordingly.

Roosevelt may have believed that it would be easier for Stalin than for him to deal with the four million proletarian anti-Nazis in Berlin immediately after the collapse of the Nazi regime. In this connection we may quote the experiences of the American and British armies in Western Germany. In many towns, especially in the Ruhr area, local revolutionary governments were established upon the downfall of the Nazis. They began to remove the Nazi leaders and took active steps toward the immediate ending of the war. They also tried to survive under Allied occupation. But the American and British commanders had strict orders to liquidate this movement before it had a chance to spread over greater areas. Not one American war writer dared report the truth about this movement until finally Paul M. Sweezy in a book review in the New Republic (April 22, 1946) gave the following account:

It is a curious fact, which certainly reflects on the adequacy of press reporting of the occupation, that the American public knows nothing about the proto-revolutionary movement which sprang up in city after city as the Allied armies swept eastward from the Rhine. Organizationally, this movement took the form of anti-fascist committees led in most cases by Communists or left-wing Social-Democrats. These committees had a variety of local titles (e.g., in Bremen, Kampfgemeinschaft gegen den Faschismus; in Leipzig, Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland, etc.), but they soon became widely known under the generic name of Antifa (for anti-fascist). In many cases they undertook direct action against Nazis, resisting notorious local bosses, confiscating food hoards and evicting party members from their houses in favor of the bombed-out. This reviewer attended a meeting in Bremen two weeks after the fall of the city at which were gathered some 70 or so representatives of district groups with a total membership of several thousand. Most of those present were workingmen with pre-1933 political experiences; anyone listening to their impassioned discussion could not doubt for a moment that their hatred of Nazism was much more personal and profound than that of Americans who have never experienced it and yet find it so easy to moralize about the guilt of all the German people.

But the Antifa movement never got a chance to develop. Direct action against Nazis was, in the view of the MG, “illegal” and subversive of law and order. Buildings which had been seized for headquarters (in Bremen, the building which had belonged to the Labor Front) were taken over by the MG. In many cases the organizations were suppressed out of hand; American (and British) officers weren’t going to have anyone telling them how to run their business; and besides how could you be sure that these weren’t Nazi outfits in disguise? The result was that within a month or so most of the Antifas, deprived of the possibility of functioning openly and being in principle opposed to the formation of an underground movement against the Allies, dropped out of the picture. When political activity was once again permitted, it ran for the most part into the old party channels. It is this reviewer’s considered judgment that the Antifas represented the beginnings of a genuine revival of working class revolutionary activity, and that their strangulation gave the played-out politicos of the Weimar period a new opportunity to divide the workers and to reinstate themselves in party and trade union bureaucracies.


Many writers and authors now write about the German people, what they think, what their real character is, what their social status ought to be or will be. Some of these writers have made trips to the new colony in order to have a look at the “natives”. Special researchers in medicine are sent over to collect scientific data on the various stages of mass starvation. These new experts on Germany have one great handicap. They meet many Germans; but very few German workers. They always find it difficult to penetrate German society beyond the strata that are close to the life of occupation armies: prostitutes, hungry children and those demoralized job-hunters who are ready to sell “reliable” aid to the powerful conquerors. The Nazi conquerors had such “natives” throughout Europe. Now it is the turn of the Americans and British. What is alarming is that these impressions of the modern conquerors should also poison the critical minds of anti-imperialists. They draw long-term conclusions from personal experiences which are not typical of the “waves of the future.” We can read between the lines of Judd’s article a contempt for “the Germans” who did not fight against Hitler, who were “atomized” and deeply influenced by Nazi ideas, for the “German youth – these demoralized young people,” and for “the young German girls” who “have reached the lowest level, at the greatest speed.”

Henry Judd has been unable to recognize the basic trends in Germany today. Therefore, he is wrong even where, in the light of personal experiences, he may appear to be right, Even the facts he reports are outdated, or will be within a few months. He draws a picture, for example, that shows a great contrast between Anglo-American and Russian methods of occupation. The former is “quite peaceful, moderate and even tolerant”; the latter is “barbaric and criminal.” It is true that in the Anglo-American zones there were no officially-ordered mass rapings and deportations. But even these omissions have not made the American conquest “quite peaceful, moderate and even tolerant.” It is true that at the beginning there was more “order” and less individual terror in the Anglo-American zones. But there was also plenty of looting, wanton destruction, rape and other acts that were to make the German feel “guilty,” inferior and completely crushed, This was the first stage. During the second stage, economic conditions, and therefore also, political conditions, have greatly deteriorated. Hamburg, a center of the British zone, has become a hotbed of anti-British sentiment. There is not a single social stratum in this traditional anti-Nazi town that is pro-British. The destruction of the great Blohm and Voss shipyards by British troops almost a year after the ending of the war has infuriated the population, especially the workers who have thereby lost their means of existence.

It may be true that there is more personal freedom in the British than in the Russian zone. But even this difference is vanishing – not because there is now more freedom in the Russian zone but because there is now less in the British. Another difference, however, that has become political dynamite is that the degree of starvation is now greater in, the Western than in the Russian zone. That is not entirely because of the industrial character of Western Germany. The great starvation in Western Germany is mainly due to the occupational policies of curbing large-scale industrial reconstruction, looting and “denazification” which aims at the extermination of the technical intelligentsia, suppression of reconstruction etc.


Another phenomenon must be dealt with: slave labor. It is true that several millions of Germans have been taken away from their homes and their families by the Russians. When the Russians first started these mass deportations many Germans looked to the Western powers as the representatives of “Western civilization.” This difference too is vanishing. It is no secret in Germany that most of the sons, husbands and fathers whom Hitler conscripted into the army have not yet returned home. This applies to those who were captured by the “civilised” conquerors as well as those whom the Russians took captive. It has been estimated that five and a half million German prisoners of war are still kept as slave laborers in Europe and Siberia. This means that only a, small fraction of the total number of German prisoners of war have been released. These include mostly cripples or those otherwise incapacitated and a few peasants or agricultural workers from the Western zone. Thus the institution of slave labor is traveling from East to West, and has become acceptable even to the “democratic labor” governments of Great Britain, Belgium, Holland, Norway, etc.

European labor has no chance to free itself or ever improve its position unless it opposes the institution of slave labor. Slave labor more readily corrupts the working class of those countries that enslave than it does those who are enslaved. Thus there is not one known working-class demonstration by a labor party against the exploitation of German slave workers in Britain, France, or Norway. German labor, degraded, starved and pauperized, will draw the working classes of the whole Western world into pauperism or enslavement after it.


This brings us to our final point. Nowhere in the world outside of Russia in 1917, was there such a body of workers who had participated in proletarian revolutionary activities as in Germany. At the time Hitler came to power there were hundreds of thousands of German workers who were politically experienced but disillusioned with the failures of the Communist movement and the Russian revolution. They belonged to no party, or had withdrawn from party activities. But they were potential followers of new revolutionary movements whenever a new revolutionary crisis should arise. They also were more disillusioned with Russian policies than the working class of other Western countries.

During the war, the German workers had more opportunities to find out the truth about Russia today than did the workers of the other Western countries. Yet, it is a matter of fact that thousands of German workers are again joining the Communist Party, which is reorganized by the bureaucratic Stalinist clique. Personal opportunism as well as coercive measures (in the Russian zone) play a great role in the recruitment campaign of the German CP. It is difficult and dangerous, in the Russian-controlled zones, for a worker who was in the party in 1932 to declare that he does not want to be a member now. But this is only part of the story. Thousands of former oppositional Communists, even former Trotskyists, have deliberately decided to join the Communist Party. To a great extent many revolutionary workers are being attracted by the same Stalinist organization that shares responsibility for barbaric acts of Russian imperialism. We may be sure that the outrages of the Russian armies or GPU troops and Russian imperialist policies have left a deep impression among most Germans. But this has not prevented many former oppositional Communists from returning to the Party. How explain this phenomenon?

Some people may declare that this is only another proof for the claim that the German working class has not yet succeeded with “the tremendous task – wiping out the effects of Nazism within its ranks.”

It is easy for an outsider to look down at the miserable existence of the German proletariat. without a deeper understanding, he may condemn the former revolutionary worker in Germany who now returns to one of the two parties which share the “guilt” for the defeats of the German working class. Thus we may circumvent the crucial question:

What are the underlying reasons for this new political trend in Germany?

It has nothing to do with the revival of the old Communist movement of the 1919-1923 type. Such hopes still existed among many German workers in the spring of 1945, during the collapse of the Nazi regime. Since then something has been lost by many German workers – the belief in international proletarian class struggle, or in the possibility that international socialist movements can be made effective in our lifetime. Hence the cynicism, and in part also, the apathy with which many former German Socialists and Communists consider the question of party membership.

The second underlying reason is the feeling that the national, existence must be defended against the foreign conqueror in order to be able to struggle for social liberation. Finally miserable economic conditions make corruption by an extra dish of soup for the children at home much easier and simpler.

But there are many others, individual workers, who resist the current trend of moral decay and corruption and who, excel in strength of their personal integrity. The visible “facts” are not on their side, They may talk about proletarian solidarity and internationalism. They may point out that liberation from foreign oppression and exploitation is not possible without the aid of the foreign proletariat. They may appeal for an understanding of why the masses of starving German workers., children and slaves find so little effective support among the working class of countries which now enslave and starve the German proletariat. But these German working class families cannot wait. They are hungry today and tomorrow.

They have seen the destruction of their physical means of livelihood. The need for an immediate way out – which cannot be found – is the basic dilemma. Therefore many individuals are inclined to clutch at promises coming from the East like a drowning man to a straw. There is only one party that can make such promises. It represents the most powerful state in Europe today – Russia.

The experiences of German workers seem to indicate that the entire foreign world is trying to enslave, starve or pauperize them. As a result, for the first time in the history of German labor, a genuine national spirit is arising among them. Without reconstruction of a German nation and without complete freedom and independence for their organizations there is little chance for a regeneration of a socialist proletarian movement. At present, the proletarian vanguard may know that a final socialist victory is not possible without a European socialist revolution. But in the immediate period ahead the workers will be in the forefront of the struggle for national liberation. It is the next step in the struggle for social liberation and international socialism. Both issues cannot be separated from each other although they exist as two different problems.

An example of the practical dilemma: How can the workers effectively use the strike weapon against their exploiters if the foreign overlords are not really interested in increased production or in conditions which would raise the productive capacity?

The foreign overlord wants to curb the old and new industries. The struggle is mainly against foreign imperialism, with the German capitalists – insofar as they still exist – playing only a minor role.

There is no proletarian force abroad that now helps German enslaved workers in a task which they cannot accomplish alone under present conditions. Thus it is enticing for many former Communists and Socialists to try to participate in the play of power politics by backing the foreign power which seems to be more willing than the others to let the Germans exist as a modern nation.

Therefore, the main slogan of the German Communist Party now is national unity, and national recovery, together with the propaganda that this national salvation is possible only if Germany joins the Russia bloc.

Such a German-Russian “bloc” will introduce the worst kind of totalitarian dictatorship, But German workers who resist such a development cannot show an alternative unless proletarian movements abroad come to their aid. Foreign socialists may blame the German Socialists or Communists for their defeats and failures. But the latter will blame the foreign labor leaders for not having helped them in the hour of greatest need for international solidarity.

In Germany today the German proletariat feels more the loss of national freedom and oppression by foreign imperialist powers than does any other social class. It cannot make the slightest move forward without coming into conflict with the powers which have deprived the German nation of its independence and which challenge the right of the German people to exist as a nation. Dealing with “the German problem” today, we must stress the point that the enslavement and destruction of Germany as a nation and the enslavement of the German proletariat must have fatal consequences for the international labor movement.


Rebuttal by Henry Judd

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