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Ria Stone & Willie Gorman

Germany – Still the Key

A Pre-Convention Discussion Article

(May 1946)

From New International, Vol. XII No. 5, May 1946, pp. 154–157.
Ria Stone was a pseudonym used by Grace Lee Boggs.
Transcribed and marked up by Damon Maxwell.
Proofread by Einde O’ Callaghan (May 2013).

Germany is the heart of Europe. It is not only that it is the center of European economy. Until recently it was the centralizing and unifying force of the entire industrial and commercial system of that continent. Germany monopoly capitalism achieved a unified Europe by military conquest and counter-revolution. This was the inevitable result of the failure of the European proletariat to unify Europe by socialist revolution.

Today, no revolutionary situation exists in Germany. But those who think that thereby the German question can be dealt with episodically, only show their fundamental misconception of the stage of development reached by European capitalism. Germany is still the heart of Europe. It is the basis for rapacious imperialism on the continent. From this center, imperialist political and military intervention can be directed against the proletariat of any European nation. As long as Germany remains under the heel of foreign conquerors, it is a threat to the revolution in any European country. From their control of Germany, the imperialists control the economic development, in fact, the day-to-day existence of the individual European countries. Moreover, Germany contains the boundary at which the chief imperialist antagonists of today conflict with one another. The German working class must today oppose with all its strength both imperialist camps, just as yesterday the whole European proletariat had to oppose the Axis and Allied camps. The principled and practical struggle against all imperialism continues. Our task, in this pre-convention discussion and as a guide to clear perspectives in the coming period, is to evaluate the political positions of the past two years in the light of events and as a guide to a perspective for the coming period.

The effective mass insurgence of the German working class was the link missing in the revolutionary wave over Europe with the end of the war. Greece, Italy, France, Holland, Belgium, Poland – the armed working class of these countries in the critical stages of the war cooperated with their own bourgeoisie and the Allied imperialists, to whatever degree and for whatever length of time, on the grounds that oppressive Nazism had to be defeated. A working class upheaval in Germany would have torn through the fabric of this argument, already weakened by the distrust of the European proletariat in bourgeois democracy and its hatred for its own collaborationist and escapist bourgeoisie. It would have immensely sharpened the underlying class character of the national struggle in the occupied countries. It would have won the sympathy and support of the European masses for the German proletariat which, many of them recognized, was also under the heel of Fascism. The Allied imperialists strove with might and main to isolate the German proletariat from the European masses by denigrating the German proletariat, by linking the German workers with the German fascists and by linking the national struggle to the imperialist war camps. The political struggle for the European proletariat revolved around these two perspectives. Either the imperialist perspective for the isolation of the German proletariat from the European revolution, the perspective endorsed and stimulated by the Stalinists and the Social Democracy. Or the revolutionary perspective of the German revolution under the unifying formula of the Socialist United States of Europe. Thus the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe was brought closer and not further away from the tasks of the day by the revolutionary wave of the national resistance movements.

Today, how shall the German workers defeat the oppression and dismemberment by the four imperialist powers? The German workers will carry on their struggle in a Europe filled with social turmoil and consistently disturbed by a working class, more class-conscious, more socialist-conscious than ever before in its history. The struggle of the Italian and French workers against their own bourgeoisie must become fused with the struggle of the German workers against their imperialist oppressors precisely because the native bourgeoisie cannot defeat the revolutionary proletariat except with the aid of the imperialist conquerors. Germany is the geographic, the economic and the political link between the countries under the brutal Russian occupation and those countries which are in the orbit of Anglo-American imperialism. If yesterday, there was no way to save the German proletariat from imperialist occupation except the revolution on a European scale, today there is no way for the European proletariat to save itself from the counter-revolution except the struggle for the socialist United States of Europe with Germany as the center.

The political program for Germany must be based on the stable elements of the objective situation.

  1. The defeat of German imperialism by Allied imperialism has not only smashed Germany physically but it has dealt the German bourgeoisie a mortal blow. This leaves the German proletariat, however disorganized, as the greatest social force in Germany today.
  2. The proposed deindustrialization of Germany is not a settled question. The bourgeoisie itself balks before the consequences. France wants an industrial Ruhr. Britain increases steel production, Russia loots factories but at the same time initiates production. The political jockeying in preparation for World War III involves the industrialization of Germany. Such is the nature of modern war.

Russia has had to encourage the organization of the working class in the Communist Party. Britain has countered by sponsoring the Social-Democracy. Sidney Hillman arrived from the United States to strengthen German trade-unionism. The imperialists connive for the support of the proletariat because they know very well that there is no other class in Germany today with potential social power. There have been other indications. Food riots in Hamburg, the continuous crisis of the American military machine, the growing demand by German parties and leaders for national unification. This does not mean that the revolution will take place tomorrow. But any program for the national reunification of Germany which does not base itself on the stage of class relations between the German bourgeoisie and the German proletariat, and on th6 general revolutionary situation in Europe will in effect propose a defeatist perspective for the entire European. revolution. In that sense it will only be a continuation of the absence of a revolutionary perspective which, despite vacillations, characterized the position of the Workers Party majority during the war.

Tendencies in Fourth International

The errors of the Workers Party majority, unless consciously recognized and repudiated, form the premise for future disorientation.

The disputes in the Workers Party before the 1944 convention on the program and perspectives for Germany demonstrated the confused but nevertheless obviously negative position of the Workers Party majority on the relation of Germany to the European socialist revolution. Though Germany was objectively the key to the European revolution (as explained above), the Majority Resolution (New International, February 1943) failed to contain the semblance of a program or perspective for the tens of millions of German workers. Not even by a phrase were the German workers distinguished from the Nazi overlords.

Under pressure from the minority and the beginning of the Italian Revolution, an attempt was made to correct this revealing omission in a supplementary resolution (November 1943). After describing the “active intervention of the Italian masses in the political, scene” the Supplementary Resolution continues: “A similar intervention by the German masses may be expected ...” But then the German workers are merely advised to solidarize themselves with the workers from other countries struggling for their freedom from German imperialism. As if any revolution was ever made by the proletariat of an “oppressing country” on the slogan of national independence for the oppressed countries!

The majority thereafter continued to vacillate on the German question. “The victorious proletarian revolution will not, it is clear, directly replace the fallen Nazi regime.” (NI, August 1944) Here the perspective of mass revolutionary action is confused with the prospect of victorious revolution. But on the previous page, the same editorial declared (in regard to the conflict between Hitler and his generals):

“If the crisis endures, the rift at the top becomes a breach which widens down to the bottom. The masses, yesterday silent, docile, passive, depressed, impotent – at least apparently – change overnight, and pour through this breach with irresistible force. The regime crumbles. The people are masters of the street and the palace.

“With one change or another, this is the way the history of the coming German revolution will write itself.” (NI, Aug. 1944, p. 245)

The majority is the victim of its own contradictions. It attempts to maintain some semblance of revolutionary policy while repudiating in advance the inevitability of proletarian revolution and emphasizing instead the inevitability of counter-revolution. It is not only a question of expecting setbacks and retreats, an expectation which is inseparable from the process of development of a revolution. It is rather a timidity about proposing revolutionary policy because of a conviction that the proletariat is impotent without a revolutionary party and therefore is certain to be defeated.

The incapacity of the majority to pose the German question was merely an expression of its blindness to the developing revolutionary situation in Germany and a tacit acceptance of the concept of the German proletariat, later elaborated by the German retrogressionists.

Listen to the retrogressionists: “Germany received an especially unfavorable place in this [retrogressive] movement, which deprived it of any immediate revolutionary perspective and kept the masses in political paralysis.” (NI, Oct. 1945)

Now on the eve of a new convention the comrades of the Workers Party majority and the IKD triumphantly repeat: “There was no German revolution. This is conclusive proof that Johnson was wrong and that the majority policy was correct.” Which policy? The entire negative policy that the revolution would not come!

The Founding Conference Theses asserted that the Soviets would be organized before the Reichstag would be reconvened. This prediction has not yet been fulfilled. But those who consider this a triumph for their own political positions are playing with the very foundations and methods of Marxism. They are calling into question the very nature of the vanguard’s role in striving to utilize every crisis of bourgeois society for the advancement of the proletarian revolution.

Fascism could not be destroyed by parliamentary negotiations but by shock and violence. Such is the nature of our epoch. Military defeat for Germany offered an objectively revolutionary situation for the German masses. And it is obligatory for the revolutionary to propose revolutionary policy for an objectively revolutionary situation. The military blows shattered the German state, disorganized the economy, broke the masses from the Nazi ideology and hierarchy. It was the most genuine opportunity for revolutionary action which had arisen in Nazi Germany for twelve years.

Comrade Morrow shares the opinion of the Workers Party majority on this question. To both of them we recommend as our own position in this matter the following statement by the Secretariat of the Fourth International. It repeats from its 1945 resolution:

“‘Contrary to our optimistic prognosis – issued on the eve and at the beginning of the new imperialist carnage – relative to the latter’s probable duration which we deemed would be brief, and the reaction of the masses which we deemed would be far more rapid and far more efficacious, this war, despite the colossal havoc it caused and despite the unprecedented sufferings it inflicted upon the masses, lasted much longer than the war of 1914–18 and terminated in Europe only in the total military destruction of one of the belligerent camps ...

“‘Another important factor which has conditioned the development of the revolutionary crisis in Europe, its scope and its tempo, is the partial destruction of the material and human premises for the German revolution ...

“‘One cannot count on the revolutionary action of the German proletariat until material life is reorganized in Germany and until several million prisoners are able to find their place in the country’s economic life.’”

Commenting on this excerpt from the resolution, it goes on to say:

“Comrade Morrow is not satisfied with this self-criticism. He desires a precise condemnation of the errors committed in the ‘earlier documents,’ that is to say, the February 1944 theses of the European Conference and the January 1946 resolution of the EEC.

“It is difficult to understand exactly what ‘errors’ are referred to here. The elucidations provided by Comrade Morrow up to now are not sufficiently clear to us. On the other hand, his manner of conceiving the relationship between the objective and subjective premises of the revolution renders spurious, in our opinion, his criticism as a whole.”

What alternative policy to the policy of the Fourth International and the Workers Party minority could have been proposed for the period between the imminent collapse and the full consolidation of imperialist occupation? Passivity? Receptivity to the invaders? Struggle for democratic rights? Abstention? In reality there were only two alternatives. Self-reliance and revolutionary activity by the German proletariat or capitulation to the invading imperialists while waiting for a reconstruction of the labor movement and the re-foundation of the Trotskyist party.

Comrade Johnson repeatedly warned against the confusion between the revolutionary prognosis and perspective and the actual working out of events. In the 1943 resolution (p. 16), he wrote:

“Indispensable to the vanguard for an understanding of its own tasks, the analysis is in no way to be confused with prophecy. Some of the trends may overshoot their mark, some may stop short. The question is to recognize them and work consciously in the direction to which they point.”

Johnson only reiterated the remarks of Trotsky:

“A prognosis is not a promissory note which can be cashed on a given date. Prognosis outlines only the definite trends of a development ... All those who seek exact predictions of concrete events should consult the astrologists. Marxist prognosis aids only in orientation.”

Lenin was even more forceful.

“Revolutions such as Turati and Kautsky are ‘ready’ to recognize, i.e., revolutions for which the date and chances can be told in advance, never happen. The revolutionary situation in Europe is a fact. The extreme discontent, the unrest and anger of the masses are facts. It is on strengthening this torrent that Revolutionary Social Democrats must concentrate all their efforts.”

It is not only the question of a German revolution which failed to come. If that were all, the whole business might be forgotten. It is that the method to which the majority have been committed is thereby strengthened and carried over not only to Germany today but as we shall see, affects its policy in every field.

So much for yesterday, but what of tomorrow?

For the clearest expression of the majority analysis and perspectives for Germany, we must look at In the Land of the Political Vacuum, by Roger Judson. (NI, Oct. 1945) (And no article contradicting Judson’s has yet appeared.)

Judson employs the most superficial journalistic impressionism in order to reach the most profound political conclusions. Judson sternly warns (p. 217) that “the left-wing and democratic press” is overestimating the recuperative powers of the German workers.

“The German worker is a worker only in memory ... He is an atom, moving from one day to the next ... He is, in a word, just another German.”

This is a most astonishing statement. Do the university professors in Germany go into the coal mines or do the railway workers consort with the American officers of occupation?

But Judson is not through yet. There may be perhaps German workers who remember Liebknecht and Luxembourg, or the intermittent revolutionary battles between 1918 and 1933. Against them, Judson aims his heaviest blows. The German trade unions are “the first halting step in that lengthy process ... the hesitant step of a baby ... they will develop but at an extraordinarily slow speed.” “The German workers ... are beginning all over again, from scratch, to crawl up the road of democracy and independent action.”

The climax of Judson’s psychoanalysis of the German people is his insistence that the German worker “or what remains of him” is devoid of political ideas. “To live” (food, money and shelter) “that occupies exclusively the mind of the German worker.” How painful it is to have to correct such a departure not only from Marxism but from even bourgeois common sense. Is it not precisely in order to “to live” in the Germany of today, that the German masses will be forced to organize themselves and take political action? And isn’t it precisely because Germany is in the condition that it is today that the German workers from the very beginning of their resurgence are faced with the most fundamental questions?

Judson’s concentration on his subjective impressions of the German proletariat leads to a complete blindness as to the real situation in Germany today. In class terms the German proletariat is the leader of the German nation. That is where the Marxist has to begin. The Allied imperialists know that. The revolutionists, therefore, must base themselves upon this premise: that any serious struggle in Germany today or tomorrow or whenever it does come, for the most elementary democratic rights, for national independence, for food and clothing, must be led by the German proletariat. Therefore it is the first task of the Fourth International to make clear to the German proletariat that the future of Germany must be a proletarian future, i.e., no return whatever of the German bourgeoisie and the German capitalism which have so ruined Germany during the past forty years.

The Method

These comrades of the IKD and the Workers Party majority have consciously or unconsciously departed from the Marxist method which fundamentally asserted that the very decay of bourgeois society is what gives birth to social revolution. This is the class analysis of the law of motion of bourgeois society. Instead they base themselves on a new law of motion of social development, the ruination of all contending classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The crisis of bourgeois society is synonymous with the atomization of the proletariat. That is what Judson means when he says that the German worker is not a worker at all but “just another German.” In the prevailing misery and decay, he sees not the decisive impetus to proletarian action culminating in the proletarian revolution, but the paralysis of the class struggle. Judson never poses the relation of the German proletariat to the German bourgeoisie. It is outside of his consideration.

Once you lose the firm ideological basis of class relation and class struggle, your method degenerates inevitably into the methods of the pre-Marxian, i.e., the pre-scientific socialists. These methodological tendencies can best be understood and checked when seen in relation to their historical development.

Marx wrote of the Utopians:

“... they see in misery nothing but misery without seeing in it the revolutionary, subversive side, which will overthrow the old society.” (The Poverty of Philosophy)

Engels carried this further:

“The proletariat, which then for the first time evolved itself from these ‘have nothing’ masses as the nucleus of a new class, as yet quite incapable of independent political action, appeared a suffering order, to whom, in its incapacity to help itself, help could, at best, be brought in from without, or from above.” (Socialism, Scientific and Utopian)

The IKD and the Workers Party majority are not relying upon the bourgeoisie to “help” the proletariat. Therefore only one political alternative is open to them – “help (that) could, at best, be brought in from without.” To compensate for their depreciation of the revolutionary capacity of the masses, these comrades must exaggerate the role of consciousness, i.e., the party.

The Role of the Party

The comrades of the IKD, famous for the thoroughness of their errors, have persistently confused and interchanged the absence of a mass revolutionary party with (1) the non-existence of the labor movement and (2) the disintegration of the proletariat as a class. Comrade Morrow, while not guilty of this type of historical sweep, expresses accurately the opinions of the Workers Party majority when he asserts: “The absence of the revolutionary party transforms the conditions which otherwise would be revolutionary into conditions in which one must fight, so far as agitation is concerned, for the most elementary demands.” (FI, March 1946.) Morrow’s phrase, “as far as agitation is concerned,” can not save him from total confusion on the relation between objective and subjective factors. Our program, analysis, perspectives and demands, are now to be based not on the developing objective situation but on the size of the vanguard. More than that, there is a tendency to judge the temper of the masses by the size of the vanguard.

Trotsky, who recognized very well not only the Marxist method and revolutionary line but also the dangerous alternatives, warned well in advance:

“The orientation of the masses is determined first by the objective conditions of decaying capitalism and second, by the treacherous politics of the old workers’ organizations. Of these factors, the first, of course, is the decisive one. The laws of history are stronger than the bureaucratic apparatus.”

The Founding Conference Program stated definitively the relation of the proletariat to its leadership.

“The economy, the state, the politics of the bourgeoisie and its international relations are completely blighted by a social crisis characteristic of a pre-revolutionary state of society. The chief obstacle in the path of transforming the pre-revolutionary into a revolutionary state is the opportunist character of proletarian leadership, its petty-bourgeois cowardice before the big bourgeoisie and its perfidious connection with it even in its death agony.”

It is significant that it is precisely along these lines that the European Secretariat has replied to Morrow. (FI, March 1946)

They write:

“... it seems to us puerile to repeat that the Fourth International proposes to solve the crisis of mankind which coincides in our epoch with the crisis of the revolutionary leadership, precisely by building such a leadership ...”

Then, after quoting from the transitional program, they go on to say:

“Comrade Morrow will therefore not find it so secondary a matter that we, having understood once and for all that our principal task is to build revolutionary parties, seek to discern in the objective development of the situation factors favorable to the accomplishment of this task.”

The small vanguard party cannot push nor drag the whole working class into motion. Its point of departure is the revolutionary yearnings of the masses and the inevitability of socialist revolution which arises from the bankruptcy and perplexity of the bourgeoisie. The absence of a mass revolutionary party or the size of the party can only decide the nature of the actions which the party can lead in its own name. The primary task of the vanguard is to teach the proletariat the methods of revolutionary struggle for whatever demands are current and immediate and which will most speedily and effectively tear them away from their repressive labor leadership and set them onto the road of social revolution.

This is the role of the party in the present pre-revolutionary period which began after the First World War. The struggles of the working class go through various phases in this period, advances and retreats, explosions and stagnation, isolated struggles and unified actions. It may be more visible in certain countries than in others. The contention for supremacy by the opposing classes can continue for an indefinite length of time. But the pre-revolutionary period becomes non-revolutionary only by a definitive victory over the proletariat by the counter-revolution. The serious danger exists that the defeats of the past will become the premises for anticipation in advance of defeat in the future.

The German Question and the American Question

It is when we look at the position of the Workers Party majority in relation to the United States (see Bulletins of the Workers Party, VI, Nos. 5, 8, 9) that we see what is for us the most serious example of what has distinguished its analysis of Europe in general and Germany in particular.

Whereas the European workers have retrogressed from their advanced position, the American workers have never even advanced to political understanding. Just as a “democratic interlude” was discovered as an arena for the reorganization of the European labor movement, an independent Labor Party is needed as an arena for revolutionary propaganda. Rather than scientifically analyzing the objective development, the Workers Party majority seeks indices to the mentality of the American workers. The tremendous revolutionary potential of the Negro masses is deprecated because the Negroes are struggling consciously – not for socialism but only for racial equality; not in the trade unions but in their independent organizations. As a result, the struggle of the Negro masses is in effect ignored because they have unfortunately not yet achieved trade union consciousness. The revolutionary instincts, pressure and initiative of the trade union masses, both black and white, are deprecated because they have not yet built an independent Labor Party. When the Labor Party is built, the inference is open that this only demonstrates how deeply rooted are the reformist illusions of the masses. Every social phenomena, no matter how transitory, superficial or illusory, becomes a confirmation that the social revolution is not nearer but further away.

Trotsky, we are told, made a mistake in analyzing the situation in the U.S. as pre-revolutionary. The vanguard party must wait for the very eve of the revolutionary situation before it tells the masses that they are living in a pre-revolutionary situation. And if there is a pre-revolutionary situation, it exists elsewhere, not in the U.S.

The hesitations and vacillations of the Workers Party majority today on the question of putting forward revolutionary socialist propaganda to the militant American workers is thus rooted in the same false conceptions which governed its approach to the whole German question.

We can summarize the basis for a serious analysis of the American question as follows:

  1. The blight upon all aspects of bourgeois society which renders the bourgeoisie incapable of solving all problems of present-day society, creates a pre-revolutionary situation.
  2. The labor leadership does not represent the sentiments of the masses who are impelled toward a reconstruction of society.
  3. The party can only build itself if it recognizes this objective situation and seeks to develop the instinctive revolutionary strivings of the masses against the imposition of bourgeois reformist ideas by the labor bureaucracy.
  4. This demands that the party in the United States above all represent itself as a revolutionary socialist organization, using the day-to-day events as a basis for teaching “the truths of communism and the methods of social revolution.”
  5. To recognize this is merely to recognize the principles of the Founding Conference of the Fourth International as applied to the American scene.

It is of the utmost importance to realize that those who oppose the minority position on the German and the European question must naturally find themselves in opposition to these ideas on the American question. That is why we have posed the German question in particular as an exemplification of the need today in the Workers Party for a strategic reorientation.

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