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New International, April 1949



Stalinism in Germany

A Critical Discussion of Ruth Fischer’s Book

(7 May 1949)


From The New International, Vol. XV No. 4, April 1949, pp. 107–114.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Stalinism will go down in history as a reactionary regime of incredible blackness and horror. It stood at its inception as a major cause of the fatal historic turn in European history in 1923. The defeat of the German proletarian revolution in that year also served to consolidate its grip on Russia. An entire generation has gone by since those decisive events, a generation which saw the rise of Hitler, the second imperialist world war and, again with the aid of the finished totalitarian system in Russia, the continued setback to the socialist revolution after that war. The great stir of hope felt by the masses everywhere with the October Revolution has given way to greater and greater apathy, even despair, with the downsliding of the revolution under Stalin. Today the very word communism stands besmirched and dishonored.

The Kremlin has cleverly bewildered people everywhere, more especially workers and intellectuals, as to the nature of present-day Russia by its continued use of Marxian terminology and by the unfolding of the bureaucracy directly out of the Bolshevik Party. Coupled to this has gone the systematic attempt under the dictator to loot and pervert history just as the bureaucracy has despoiled Russia. How desperately the rulers have tried to twist the past so as to fill it with their glory, thus to enhance the prestige of the Leader while denigrating that of the great Bolshevik revolutionists! If this attempt has failed by and large, it can be attributed most of all to the writings of L.D. Trotsky. It is his work that has salvaged the true ideas and ideals of socialism for humanity. No greater contribution can be made to the cause of the working class, which is at the same time the cause of all suffering humanity, than to further the efforts to unmask the frauds of Stalinism and to reveal the true history of the defeats brought about by the present Russian rulers. Only in this way will workers learn to distinguish between real socialism and the great conspiratorial lie that is called socialism today in Russia.

It is with this in mind that one approaches the work or Ruth Fischer, Stalin and German Communism. There are not many left who can reveal what went on in Germany as direct participants in the struggle of the Communist Party to take power under the guidance of the Comintern. Why did they fail? The correct analysis of that failure can be of utmost importance for the future. The working-class movement, when it revives from the depths of defeat and disaster, must not and will not start again from the beginning. Certainly, if it does not make use of all previous experience, it is almost foredoomed to repeat old mistakes under whatever new conditions it confronts. This experience of decades is summed up in the theoretic writings of the Marxists. Where does Ruth Fischer stand in relation to this fund?

Ruth Fischer came to the communist movement directly from her student days. She did not undergo the arduous and painful novitiate of the Russian Bolsheviks before they became the recognized leaders of their party. Ruth was projected into the topmost ranks of the German Communist Party during a most critical period and in a very brief time. She became an activist and organizer before having any real opportunity to perfect herself in the theoretic foundations laid down by the great Marxist teachers. It was but natural for the German leadership, as for every other, to look with respect verging on veneration to the Russian leaders who had brought about the first great proletarian victory. The trouble came when a deep rift appeared in the Bolshevik Party with Lenin’s illness. A profoundly significant political choice had to be made among those contending for leadership. Fischer, unaware of the real nature of the struggle and unequipped to make a principled choice based on theoretic understanding of what was transpiring, chose the wrong side along with thousands of others. She followed in the wake of Zinoviev who proved in the sequel to be nothing but a cats paw in the hands of the Macchiavellian Stalin. Fischer was one of those who entered into the game of vituperation and denunciation of Trotskyism. Like it or not, she helped lay the basis for the counter-revolution in Russia, for the coming to power of Stalin and his totalitarian regime.

Lacking in Analysis

The present work appears not in the midst of the events with which it deals, nor even after a short passage of time, but a quarter of a century later. The writer of the book has had every opportunity therefore to check the validity of her views, as well as those of others, in the light of everything that has happened since those fateful days. The ripened wisdom that might have proved of value to the vanguard today is unfortunately not manifest in Ruth Fischer’s writing. Fundamentally she remains the same “activist” insufficiently equipped with powers of analysis to sum up her experiences in a form that will throw real light on the past. Her vision remains narrow and personalized. This impels her to a semi-eclectic interpretation of the sweep of historic events.

The central theme in this first volume is the fateful year 1923 in Germany, the period immediately preceding, and the one that followed. Fischer was greatly influenced by and worked closely with Maslow. The latter subscribed in 1921 to Bukharin’s “theory of the offensive,” according to which a military action by the workers, even if only by a small minority, would electrify the working class so that each time in renewed (“permanent”) offensive, it would mobilize in greater strength till victory was achieved. Maslow, in support of this unfortunate theory, wrote in Die Internationale (Berlin, 1921):

“If it is asked what was actually new about the March action [the attempt at a putsch], it must be answered precisely that which our opponents reprove, namely, that the party went into the struggle without concerning itself about who would follow it.”

Lenin had written his famous pamphlet on Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder precisely against this ultra-left, light-minded attitude (in 1920). This criticism, perhaps, and the course of the struggle in Germany, pushed Maslow and Fischer in the other direction, for when the crisis of 1923 arose, they were pessimistic and felt that the party was insufficiently prepared and under the wrong leadership. Yet never was there a situation more fraught with the possibility of working-class success than in 1923. The Ruhr crisis, helping to deepen and to speed up the economic crisis with its inflationary chaos, the complete bankruptcy of the ruling class, the rift among the imperialist victors, the active aid from revolutionary Russia – everything seemed auspicious for victory. Everything, that is, except the one essential element, a correct and courageous leadership in the German CP as well as in the Russian CP which dominated the Comintern.

How Maslow-Fischer Took Leadership

Ruth Fischer outlines from her present vantage point the steps in the failure of the German revolution in September-October, 1923. Neither Maslow nor she, however, thought at the time that the defeat was decisive. They helped (whether consciously or unconsciously) the Russian Troika (Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin) to cover up the depth of the debacle for which they were responsible, by subscribing to the Stalin-Zinoviev thesis that the revolution was still on the agenda and just ahead. Brandler was removed from the German leadership and Maslow-Fischer were placed in control. The Fischer narrative that this was really brought off by the German workers themselves, actually against the will of the Comintern, is simply laughable. Their removal from leadership only ten months later is blamed quite correctly on Stalin. Their ascent to leadership is ascribable to the identical source. Stalin said at the time that this meant the real Bolshevizing of the German party. Their “success” was due solely to the fact that they supported the (Stalin-inspired) Zinoviev campaign of falsification against Trotsky. Trotsky’s analysis of the situation showed that the peak of the revolutionary wave had passed and was not ahead. Fischer repeated with the Troika that they saw in the Russian Opposition “the loss of perspective of world revolution, the lack of faith in the proximity of the German and European Revolution, a hopeless pessimism.” (Pravda, June 25, 1924.)

The art of revolutionary leadership reveals itself above all else in the ability to evaluate in time the sharp turns of our epoch. The sudden ups and downs in the economico-political conjuncture require new direction of the line of strategy pursued by a party. Everyone of these turns has brought in its train the bitterest conflicts in the communist parties; and under Stalinism whole leaderships have been sloughed off to conform to the need of the Kremlin bureaucracy to find scapegoats so as to maintain the proper “infallibility” and to evade responsibility. Maslow-Fischer were precisely such sacrifices when it became obvious that Trotsky had been right a year earlier in saying that the revolutionary situation in Germany had changed to its opposite, and that the “line” pursued after 1923 had been false.

Trotsky and Brandler

Ruth Fischer never learned to distinguish between Bolshevism and Stalinism, more specifically between Trotskyism and Stalinism; which is to say in reality, between revolution and counter-revolution. Her book reflects this lack. She is concerned to justify herself and follows the old precept that the best defense is the offense. Without trying to vindicate her past in so many words (in this she shows wisdom), she attacks – Trotsky! She reveals in this attack, of course, not Trotsky, but Ruth Fischer, confused to this day and with all her problems unresolved. The groundwork for the attack on Trotsky is laid by means of a lurid picture of Radek and his intrigues in Germany.

“All the leading men of the Russian Politburo nursed their personal connections with selected groups of foreign communists ... Radek lined up with Trotsky. He tried to bring the Brandler group into his orbit [that is, Radek’s], a major link in a chain of Trotskyite strong points throughout Europe ...”

The tone is that of Stalinist politics, from which Ruth Fischer never quite recovered, it seems. She never understood the difference between a leader who tries to influence the minds of others by the sheer power of his ideas, to teach them to think for themselves and thus to act correctly; and one who corrupts and warps the minds of others by means of bribes and appeals to ambition and self-interest. This quotation is only one among many that tend to reduce the struggle between political tendencies entirely to that of a personal struggle for power. (Thus one does not have to analyze the ideas and their application to events; the ideas become mere covers for intrigue.) Whatever Fischer’s attitude at the time concerning Trotsky’s responsibility for Radek’s course in Germany, she is later forced to admit that this was not the case. Her suspicion of Trotsky and his motives, however, never abated. And she tries to picture him as the firm supporter of Brandler and the German right wing. Her version pictures Trotsky as shuffling off his unreliable partners, Brandler and Thalheimer, in his work on the Lessons of October written just after the German debacle.

L.D. Trotsky answered the Fischers long ago. He answered by picturing all the events in which he played so large a role exactly as they occurred, painstakingly quoting all the available documents, above all those of his enemies, Thus he writes in the Third International After Lenin:

“There have been several attempts, after the event, to attribute to me a solidarity with the line of Brandler. In the USSR these attempts were camouflaged, because too many of those on the scene knew the real state of affairs. In Germany this was done openly because no one knew anything there. Quite accidentally, I find in my possession a printed fragment of the ideological struggle that occurred at that time in our Central Committee over the question of the German Revolution.”

He then quotes from the speech of one of his opponents made after the events:

“... Comrade Trotsky, before leaving the session of the Central Committee [in September 1923], made a speech which profoundly disturbed all the members of the Central Committee and in which he alleged that the leadership of the German “Communist Party [Brandler, etc.] was worthless and that the Central Committee of the German Party was permeated with fatalism, sleepy-headedness, etc. Comrade Trotsky then declared that the German Revolution was doomed to failure.”

Intrigue and Personal Politics

The event verified Trotsky’s opinion. He nonetheless opposed the removal of Brandler after the capitulation of the, German leaders without a fight, because he objected to Brandler’s being made a scapegoat for the much more criminal failure of the Comintern under Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin. Trotsky fought this system of removals as being demoralizing, whereas Ruth Fischer not only supported it but became temporarily the immediate beneficiary. It was this opposition to Brandler’s removal, misunderstood by the Fischers because they took their politics on a different level entirely, that gave rise to the idea that Trotsky supported Brandler. Fischer herself never rose above the level of intrigue and personal politics and it is only on this plane that she throws her obscuring light. Thus speaking of Thalheimer’s book on the year 1923 written only in 1931, she shows him attempting to win his way back into the good graces of Stalin. She says; “This colored presentation is a fabricated post-crisis defense, garnished with servile observations on Stalin’s lucid analysis of German politics. In reality, every participant on the committee in Moscow during January, 1924, knew exactly what he was selling and what he was buying.”

Fischer couldn’t focus properly on events during the 1923 crisis and after, nor has she been able to correct this inability with the years. For that would require complete candor concerning her own role. Thus she writes (p. 364):

“The Politburo and the General Secretariat, it was obvious, had fatally underestimated the importance of the developments in Germany and their influence on the Russian Party and on Russia. In the fall of 1923 it was evident in Moscow that the German disaster was a major turning point in post-war Europe ... Thus every Russian politician had to reconsider his German policy. Trotsky concentrated his attack on Zinoviev’s personal responsibility ...”

Interesting, is it not, that Trotsky’s name comes under review first of all – and nobody else’s? If anybody did not have to reconsider his previous policy, it was surely Trotsky, whose analysis had been proved a thousand times correct by the events.

Fischer on Trotsky

The assertion that the debacle was understood in Moscow in 1923 is also false as applied to all the others, as can be proved from Ruth Fischer’s own, book. The Triumvirate, and Ruth Fischer with them, thought that the revolution was still ahead and they had to wait another year to convince themselves that a profound revolutionary crisis had been permitted to pass without a Communist bid for power. As for Trotsky holding Zinoviev “personally responsible,” his writings are at hand and constitute a crushing reply. They analyze the rise of the bureaucracy in Russia, the completely Menshevist policies of the Troika, the weighing down of the revolution by the backwardness of Russian economy and culture, the isolating of the October Revolution by the failure of other European revolutions. The personal elements are surely not lacking, but they take only their proper place.

The book which purports to reveal Stalin’s role in relation to German communism, shows real venom when it deals solely with Trotsky. Let us glance at some of her comments before attempting to fathom why this is so. Trotsky opened up his fight against the bureaucracy which threatened the degeneration of the Bolshevik Party, in his writing, The New Course; somehow Fischer becomes optimistic today concerning the possibility that Trotsky might have gained the upper hand after the German debacle. Then she continues:

“At the climax of the campaign, however, Trotsky suddenly disappeared from the open battle and declared himself too sick to continue the discussion. The confusion in the oppositionist camp was enormous; the party bureaucracy fought with greater ferocity, and by large transfers of opponents from. Moscow to other areas the group of shrewd party organizers won the day ... In Trotsky’s My Life, published in 1930 and written much more dogmatically than his later book, the reader comes to a curious paragraph. In the midst of reporting the decisive 1923 crisis, Trotsky takes three pages to describe the pleasures of duck hunting. He gives a portrait of a certain duck hunter, who is interested only in shooting ducks in swamps. Because of him, Trotsky got wet feet and came down with an attack of influenza, followed by ‘some cryptogenic temperature,’ which kept him away from party life for several months.”

Further on we read:

"He decided that his influenza made a sojourn in the sunny south necessary and on January 18 departed for Sukhum. As Lenin’s death was expected from one week to the next, this trip is one of the most puzzling incidents in the whole complex picture. The simplest explanation is the most probable: that Trotsky, following a party custom [!], removed himself from the site of the factional struggle in order to give his opponent enough of an advantage to facilitate a reconciliation. On January 21, Lenin died. Here the student of the period cannot avoid considering the possibility that Trotsky may have had a secret understanding with the Politburo that he would not return to Moscow. The normal procedure would have been to hurry back immediately, not only for the funeral, at which Trotsky’s silhouette should have been seen by the Russian people, but for the subsequent distribution of key posts and the first political decisions after Lenin’s death. Both of Trotsky’s books describe his absence as necessitated by circumstances, but it is evident that he did not want to return to Moscow.”

Unfounded Slander

This passage characterizes Ruth Fischer’s mind. She goes further and attributes to the Left Opposition the views and feelings of the Stalinists and of those who were played upon by Stalin’s gross fabrications.

“Several Russian friends of Maslow, especially Lutovinov (a member of the Workers Opposition, not in sympathy with Trotsky although for a brief spell this group made an alliance with Trotsky’s Left Opposition), reacted to Trotsky’s ‘flight to Sukhum,’ as it was called among the oppositionists [!], was incorrectly interpreted as an attempt to avoid drastic measures against him. Discussions began to include what shrewd steps were best to avoid expulsion from the party and deprivation of Soviet legality. If Trotsky went to Sukhum, the others associated with him in his caucus had to fear a less voluntary transfer to a less healthful climate. His flight, his silence, were understood as meaning ‘Attention, danger ahead!’ For he could, and he should, have risked more than his more vulnerable supporters.”

Is it necessary to characterize this version as anything but vicious slander, the kind of slander resorted to by the Stalinists? Trotsky’s name stands above all others but Lenin as that of the most fearless leader of the October Revolution. How does Fischer forget that his remarkable life stands open before the whole world? His illness, a periodic form of fever accompanied by complete nervous exhaustion, remained with him the rest of his days. Trotsky has explained how he was tricked from attending Lenin’s funeral. Fischer has not even a remotely valid reason to give to explain why Trotsky should have desired to stay away from Moscow. She says, and we can well believe her in this regard:

“For many reasons, Maslow and I were not able to accept Trotsky’s point of view. All of his points concerning democracy were artificially limited to the narrow field of party legality; he ignored the major issue of the relation between the party and other soviet organizations. The temporary alliance between the Workers’ Opposition groups and Trotsky had been made in spite of their continued distrust of his autocratic methods. Hidden behind discussions about the new and the old generation, about the lessons of October, about nuances in the interpretation of party history before 1917, the real issue was the persistence of terrorist measures, which had outgrown their original function of combating the counter-revolution.”

A Mystery – and No Key

One can hardly believe one eyes in reading this explanation. This, mind you, is written about the one man (there was no other!) who best of all explained the relations between the party and the Soviet institutions, the party and the class. The man who showed the Bolshevik Party in advance with the vision of genius, where it was heading and where the revolution would wind up under the continued leadership of Stalin and the bureaucracy which he headed and encouraged.

There is surely irony in Ruth Fischer’s rather grudging admission, after “explaining” (without the slightest pretense of real analysis) why she could not agree with Trotsky, that he understood best of all the turning points in German history. She pictures him as a “spetz” on Spain and France, not at all on Germany! “Lessons of October was not an effective weapon in the fight against Stalin’s rise. As a component interpretation of the German events of 1923, however, it remains of great value. The turning points in the history of the German Republic were grasped more clearly by Trotsky than by any other contemporary. That is true of his analysis for 1933 as well as 1923; his three pamphlets on the German situation, written in Istanbul just before Hitler came to power, represent a succinct and correct presentation of the German crisis of 1932, fully confirmed by Hitler’s victory and its consequences.”

This fact must puzzle Fischer no end! For she has no true grasp of the type of mind capable of integrating a theoretic approach to the relation of classes with a wide grasp of the given conjuncture and its trend, the party strategy necessary to meet the conjuncture properly, the interrelated corollaries in program, tactics and organization down to the very question of personnel. This dialectic approach from the side of analysis she tends to sweep aside as abstract and irrelevant. Witness her remark on Trotsky’s work on the Chinese revolution, in which he threw the same brilliant light on the Chinese events as on the German, the latter being near enough for Fischer to appreciate.

“As early as 1923, Trotsky had begun opposing the Stalinist policy in China. Through a maze of irrelevancies and scholastic refutations, he kept hitting at the vulnerable point – the illusion that the Comintern had found loyal allies in Chiang and his Kuomintang.”

Curious Spectacle

Too bad that Ruth Fischer does not enter more into detail on what she considers irrelevant and scholastic. But we do have her word for it. It is again, unfortunately, not written anywhere that she supported Trotsky’s correct criticism. In fact we have the rather curious spectacle of witnessing the reading of lessons by one who was almost invariably wrong to one who was almost invariably right!

No doubt it may seem curious that a review of a book on Stalin and German communism should devote itself so largely to Fischer’s views on Trotsky. There is the best of reasons for this. No book dealing with communism in our day can avoid, at whatever, level, dealing with the ideas of the movement. The contributions made by Stalin to these ideas need halt nobody for long. The history of Stalin and his influence is the history of the building of an apparatus inside the Bolshevik Party to dominate and then destroy that party from within. It is a history of cunning, nay diabolical, intrigue combined with ruthlessness, of the use of the GPU (first conceived to fight the counter-revolution) to brake and canalize the revolution and to terrorize into silence and submission all opposition to the brutal and privileged rule of the new bureaucracy. The new rulers ousted the workers completely from power and built a totalitarian regime with complete control of the economy. That regime can best be called today state capitalism. Fischer does not even plumb to the depths of Stalinist degradation. Nor does she cast any new light on the entire phenomenon, On the contrary, she leaves gaping holes where analysis is necessary; the malignant role of Stalin is under-emphasized rather than overplayed.

Fischer builds her book around a thesis that has been advanced by every philistine writer on the revolution. She tries to place that thesis in the mind and mouth of Lenin, but her own claim to it need not be disputed. She bases herself on the testament of Lenin which warned against Stalin and his power as General Secretary. Lenin says: “I propose to the comrades to find a way to remove Stalin from that position and appoint another man who in all respects differs from Stalin only in superiority ....” Trotsky, according to Fischer, was represented by Lenin as being equally dangerous, although from another angle. “The most able man in the present Central Committee [has] .... a too far-reaching self-confidence and a disposition to be far too much attracted to the purely administrative side of affairs.”

Ruth Fischer interprets Lenin:

“Lenin classes ‘the two most able leaders of the Central Committee’ together as being both, if not equally dangerous; in the leadership of either there would be an overgrowth of organizational power, a possible deformation into personal dictatorship. As a counter-measure, Lenin proposes that the Central Committee be increased to fifty or a hundred, emphasizing the necessity for a larger collective control.”

Fischer tries in this manner to justify the conduct of Zinoviev and others (including herself) in opposing Trotsky. They based themselves, allegedly, on the fear that Trotsky would become a Bonapartist dictator. How is it that Fischer fails to explain why, instead of ousting Stalin, they united with him against Trotsky?

Interpretation of Testament

Fischer’s account of the testament leaves much to be desired, is in fact disingenuous. It is true that Lenin weighed all the members of the Central Committee. Long before the testament Lenin had made up his mind concerning Stalin. His remark at the time Stalin was first proposed for General Secretary, is quite well known: “That cook will concoct nothing but peppery dishes.” He reluctantly agreed to give Stalin the post (this was in 1922) on the urging of the scheming Zinoviev, who felt he could control Stalin. How is it that Fischer omits mention of the close relations between Lenin and Trotsky, particularly toward the end? Stalin’s conduct in Georgia (and that of his agent Ordjonikidze) outraged Lenin, who showed deep pleasure when he learned that Trotsky shared his views on the Georgian question. Lenin turned to Trotsky not merely in this matter, but secured Trotsky’s agreement to open a bitter fight against the growing bureaucracy which centered around Stalin.

Lenin never tried to impose his views on the Central Committee; he never handed down decisions, but used persuasion. That fact sets in striking relief his categoric demand in the testament that Stalin be removed from his post as General Secretary. It signalizes Lenin’s alarm. And he turned for aid to overcome this enemy (remember he took the most unusual step of breaking off all personal relations with Stalin) to Trotsky.

Lenin wished also to have Trotsky appointed officially as his deputy when he felt that his illness might remove him from all activity. Isn’t all this enough to show whom Lenin wished to see as his successor? The rather innocuous sentence about Trotsky in the testament was put there (see Trotsky’s My Life) to placate the others for criticism of them. Fischer simply ignores all the richness of facts to try to twist an interpretation out of the testament that would fly in the face of reality. But this being her premise (now as in the pact, if we are to accept her coin as genuine and not counterfeit), she gazes with jaundiced eye on every move of Trotsky’s to show that what he intended was to build up his own personal power.

Lessons of October

This inability on her part to approach any question from an impersonal standpoint is shown also in her treatment of Trotsky’s classic Lessons of October,

Lessons of October attacks an even narrower question, that of the party leadership. Trotsky desired first of all to destroy the authority of Zinoviev and Kamenev, whom he regarded as the most noxious personifications of the Lenin legend. Since Lenin personified the 1917 revolution [not Lenin and Trotsky?], Trotsky wanted to destroy their identification with the Lenin of October. He linked their ‘desertion’ in 1917 with Zinoviev’s lack of leadership in the German October. [And wasn’t it desertion?] But the purpose of Trotsky’s proof that the Old Guard was fallible was only too obviously to propose himself, and during 1924 the Old Bolsheviks united to rebut Trotsky’s attack.”

That is to say, it was not a conspiracy on the part of Zinoviev-Kamenev-Stalin-Bukharin to undermine Trotsky’s prestige and influence, as was stated later by Zinoviev, but rather a conspiracy on the part of Trotsky to undermine them! There isn’t the ghost of a hint here either, that this book, like Trotsky’s New Course, was part of the attack on bureaucratism which Lenin had asked Trotsky to inaugurate! Trotsky’s intention was more far-reaching indeed than any merely personal attack on Zinoviev and Kamenev. It was to save the revolution from the degeneration which he saw taking place, and above all to warn the new generation of what was consuming the vitals of the old one. How can one who pretends to Marxism today, and who is not a Stalinist, even remotely conceive that Trotsky was wrong?

The urge in Fischer to justify instead of examine critically her past, forces her to, aim her blows as much at Trotsky as at Stalin. She has read much of Trotsky but has resisted digesting any of his ideas. But some things evidently escaped her altogether, which leads her to pure invention. Thus she has this to say concerning the Kronstadt revolt:

“On March 7, at the order of the Politburo, Trotsky began the bombardment ... Lenin had given Trotsky the order to take the Kronstadt fortress under artillery fire ...”

Fischer is here in accord with all the philistines who raise their hands in horror over the putting down of a revolt. And by forcible means! But she never took the trouble to read Trotsky’s reply to these critics on Kronstadt. Lenin could not have given Trotsky any orders to fire for the simple reason that Trotsky was not there. But Trotsky never evaded the issue. He was a member of the Politburo and he assumed full responsibility for its actions on that basis, besides justifying the action on the ground that Kronstadt had become the focal point of counter-revolution. Fischer resorts not to analysis of the events, but to a description; she appears today to be in sympathy with the demands made by the Kronstadters, again a somewhat belated sympathy!

Fischer seems to forget her theme in the final chapter, but only momentarily. Her juxtaposition of names serves as a cover to confuse rather than to clarify.

“In Russia, the Trotsky-Zinoviev bloc fought the new phenomenon in full awareness of its character ... Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin ... names besmirched by the most tremendous campaign of calumniation ever organized ... are the names of men, of living beings, who, like other men, were both strong and weak, with moments of confusion and despair, of fear, and even of panic. They did not always behave as we, with our comfortable armchair post facto analysis, would advise; they were not models of Marxist righteousness, of proletarian strength. Since they were everyone of them deeply involved in the making of the new Russian state, they shared the responsibility for the product of their creation ...”

From the Stalinist Arsenal

The linkage of these names together with a “common” characterization is nothing short of malice. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin – they have our sympathy and partial understanding if not our admiration. The characterization may well apply to them, since by their participation in the plot against Trotsky, by their capitulations over and over again to Stalin, they did make themselves responsible for the Russian “product,” the totalitarian state. Trotsky never compromised with his principles (which does not mean that he never compromised in tactical matters), and far from sharing any responsibility for the Stalinist product, fought it from the start and exposed it for what it was.

Trotsky was surely a model of “Marxist righteousness” and of proletarian strength. Isn’t it unfortunate that Fischer, summing up her book with this generous remark, demonstrates in the very making of it, not to say in so many other instances throughout, precisely bits of that calumniation against which she seems to polemize?

Where, for example; can she find corroboration for her remarks concerning Trotsky’s conduct of military affairs except in the archives of Stalinist slander? We “learn” from her book that “opposition to Trotsky’s military measures led to serious internal party strife, which Lenin moderated. He made the party realize [the workers and party members didn’t otherwise, you see] that it owed the salvation of the revolution and the country to Trotsky’s military genius; on the other hand, he countered the centralization of the army by means of greater control of its commanders by the party. The term “military opposition,” used by party historians and Trotsky alike to denote this faction, is inadequate to characterize the fundamental schism between party power and army power, united under Lenin’s command. This conflict is a major element in Stalin’s rise, for Lenin protected him against Trotsky’s extreme hostility.

“The improvization of a modern army from scratch, brilliantly carried out by a Bolshevik newcomer, created in the decisive first three years of the new state a permanent and dangerous friction between the new cadres in formation, the Red Army officers’ corps, and the party organizers.”

The foundation for this schema will be found nowhere but in the archives of Stalinist behind-the-scenes slander and falsification.

Little Bit of Everything

Further to clinch matters, we read the following:

“After the end of the Civil War, the army lost its predominant place in Soviet life to the advantage of the party apparatus. However, Trotsky, the organizer of the army, had become the most popular leader among the Russian people generally, more popular than Lenin, the party leader. To the masses, he was Trotsky the Victorious, Trotsky the Savior ...

“But in the party Trotsky’s position was less secure. During the two and a half years he traveled about the front in his commander’s train, his rulings had been in constant friction with the party; his attitude toward party interference was irritable and contemptuous. He attracted to him, nonetheless, all the forces in the party opposed to the Moscow center, for he was the alternate candidate with the best chances of success.”

Ruth Fischer is nothing if not eclectic. She forgets that she herself had already indicated how Stalin worked first of all in the provinces to gain adherents in order to overwhelm the center; She forgets too that elsewhere she has criticized Trotsky for too narrow a vision in upholding the party as the sine qua non for success of the revolution! Suffice it to say that the slant given to the friction, not between the party and Trotsky (the party on every major occasion but one supported Trotsky and not those intriguing against him), but between Trotsky and the undercover Stalinist opposition which found a point of support now in the “military opposition,” a small minority faction in the civil war days, now in any other handle that offered. The characterization of Trotsky’s attitude toward the party is false and bends the facts of history in accord with the Stalinist version.

In her usual fashion, Fischer gives bits of all versions with either a minimum of space or none at all to Trotsky’s painstaking, documented evidence. Thus she remarks in passing: “Trotsky is undoubtedly right when he reports in his memoirs the rumors and intrigues against him in Moscow during the two and a half years he commanded the front from his mobile train.” Please explain how one can be undoubtedly right and undoubtedly wrong at one and the same time on the self-same issues! (When Ruth Fischer tries to be fair and “impartial,” it sticks out like a sore thumb.)

This work is so badly balanced and ill-digested that it would require an even more ponderous tome to set straight all the warpings of fact. Ruth Fischer may give her recollections just as she remembers them. But she never really checked meticulously, documents in hand, what was fact and what manufactured fiction in the accounts of the history of the period. Is it necessary to warn that such a process is trebly essential in dealing with a portion of history that has been falsified to the extreme by the present rulers of Russia? The book therefore throws light on the mode of activation of one of the German leaders in the post-October epoch. None of the Germans, it must be said, has been able to write a truly authoritative and, above all, analytic account of the experiences of the German movement from 1918 to the present time. What this means is that none of them has grown through the experience to the height necessary for independent leadership in the proletarian revolution.

German Leadership Failed

Fischer summarizes at the end of her account of the failure of the German revolution. It is interesting to observe that blame is accorded – quite correctly, of course – to the Russians, but little is said on the light shed by the events on the German leadership.

“German communism, however, could have matured, could have exploded the fetters of inhibiting dogmas, trade-union narrowness and a lack of realistic audacity, if the revolution in retreat in Russia had not added a new bridle ... By this corrosion, proceeding in perceptible gradations, the German revolt of 1923, which from the outside appeared to be undertaken under the most favorable conditions, was by inner necessity transformed into an impossible adventure. The details of this abortive coup reflect the process of disintegration of Russian communism. The defeat of the German Communists marks the close of the period of revolutionary internationalism 1917–1923.”

By the same token, the failure of the German leaders to guide the ready and willing German working class to victory under exceptionally favorable circumstances – and this leadership extends from right to center to left – gave an enormous impetus to the degeneration in Russia. Fischer speaks of the great possibility afforded Trotsky to succeed in place of Stalin after the German defeat, but Trotsky, who understood great class forces far better, saw that failure of the revolution abroad would strengthen the reactionary elements in Russia, not the international revolutionary ones.

It must be said, too, that neither Fischer nor any of the other German leaders combatted the corroding influence of the Comintern under Zinoviev-Stalinist misguidance. How is it that this corroding influence was so successful in gaining its adherents abroad as well as at home? On this important question Ruth Fischer throws no light, for while indicating its influence and effects in individual cases, she rejects it for herself. And yet her book shows the lasting influence that training in the Stalinist Comintern had on her. Which means that she is still wanting as a leader.


May 7, 1949

Ruth Fischer has been invited by the Editors of The New International to reply to this critical review of her book in a forthcoming issue of our magazine. – Ed.

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Last updated on 29 September 2018