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George Clarke

The Last Time the Stalinists Peddled
That “Radical” Line,
the Nazis Took Power ...

(17 November 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 88, 17 November 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When a medicine man “makes a pitch,” as they say in the circus vernacular, his one hope is that the crowd has changed from the day before. After all, the poor sucker who purchased a bottle of colored water to cure diabetes or an Indian herb to cure a skin infection, is not likely to give the fakir a friendly reception, certainly he won’t bite the second time.

But when the greatest medicine man in the history of our times, the Stalinist leadership, brazenly set up shop at the same old stand for a second time, a lot of people either through ignorance or through design pass off his wares as the real article. And the commodity being peddled here is not some harmless patent medicine, but a poisonous policy that has delivered the workers into capitalist slavery on every continent of this planet.

We are not addressing ourselves here to the officials and leaders of the Communist party. They know better. They not only know what the policy was before this recent turn and before that change of line, but they know what the policy of the Communist International was under Lenin and Trotsky, when the International was revolutionary. These Stalinist officials are cynical and corrupt. They are bought off at so much a week and they know how to serve the boss. They try to alibi a defeat into a glorious victory; they seek to make the foulest of treachery look like heroic revolutionary action. We won’t waste our time with the pitchman, but we’d like to talk to his audience.

Thousands of revolutionary workers in the Communist Party sincerely believe that after Molotov’s speech in Moscow and Browder’s speech in Boston, the Communist International has made a genuine turn toward a revolutionary policy. They believe that now the Communists will wage an uncompromising struggle against capitalism and for socialism.

The “New Line” Is Old Stuff

What most of the new followers of the Communist Party do not know is that the current wares of Stalinism were peddled once before to the workers of Europe and America – with fatal consequences.

The year 1929 marked a complete gyration in the line of the Stalinist International. Capitalism, they announced, had entered its “third period,” and was breathing its last gasp. The workers were engaged in a vast “revolutionary upsurge.” The task of the Communist Parties was set forth as the conquest of power.

Germany, it was declared, was at the very center of this revolutionary struggle. An official resolution declared that “of exceptional importance to the fate of the revolution in Europe and the whole world is the revolutionary upsurge in Germany.”

And that was a true enough statement. The new economic crisis that broke loose in 1929 hit Germany most of all. German economy had never fully recovered from the depression it had sunk into following the war. Millions were unemployed. The middle class was discontented and restive. Cabinets were made and remade in quick order. The labor organizations, the Social Democratic and the Communist parties, piled up huge votes running into six and seven millions each for the workers’ parties. Each election saw a greater swing to the left. It was true – there was a revolutionary situation in Germany. How did the Stalinist party meet this situation?

What Stalin Did to the German Workers

The fate of the German workers was clearly in the hands of the Communist Party. No class conscious worker expected anything but compromise, betrayal and defeat from the Social Democratic Party.

But still millions of workers followed the Social Democratic Party. Their party numbered a million members. The trade unions under their control almost 5,000,000. They polled up to 7,000,000 votes in the elections. Before the workers could establish their own rule in Germany, it was indispensable that the influence of these corrupt leaders over the labor movement be broken.

The issue was at hand. German labor was menaced with destruction by the rising fascist hordes of Hitlerism. The workers clamored for unity and for a struggle to the death against this menace. The Social Democratic leaders had nothing to offer but the pious hope that “Germany was not Italy” and an armful of resolutions “deploring,” and “viewing with alarm.”

The Communist leaders had the magnificent opportunity to force the bureaucrats of the labor unions and the Social Democrats to the wall with a concrete program for united action against the fascist gangs. The course of this struggle on the immediate issues would have soon brought the whole labor movement squarely before the issue of who was to rule in Germany. It would have smashed the Fascists like an eggshell – as Goebbels later admitted could have been done without difficulty.

But the Communist leaders did nothing of the kind. Everything they did was designed to divide the workers, to pit communist workers against social democratic workers. In no case to unite communist and social democratic workers against the fascists.

They began with the insane theory that social democracy was the twin-brother of fascism. From that it followed that the main enemy of the workers was not the fascists but the social democrats. They pronounced Trotsky’s program of united front “counter-revolutionary,” and expelled from the party anyone who advocated it.

The “United Front Only from Below”

In the trade unions, the workers were abandoned to the tender mercies of the bureaucrats. All of the militants were withdrawn into a pure “revolutionary” trade union organization dominated by the Communist Party. The inevitable result was the division of the labor movement, the Social Democracy dominating the trade unions and therefore the employed workers in the factories. Only the unemployed followed the Communist Party.

On the streets and in the actions against the Brown Shirts, the movement was divided as with a knife. The social-democratic workers were called upon to quit their organizations and join a “red united front from below.” (Dimitrov now revives this slogan.) Naturally they did nothing of the kind although they would have eagerly. entered a common front that respected their organizations.

Then, as if deliberately intended to enhance the distrust and suspicion of social democratic workers in Communist leadership, the Stalinist gang joined with the fascists in 1931 in Prussia in what came to be known as the infamous “red referendum” to oust the social-democratic Prussian government.

While the Fascists grew in numbers and in boldness, the Stalinists continued to play into their hands by their divisive tactics of “Social fascism.” The Social-Democratic leaders could hamstring the struggle of the workers against fascism by citing the record of the Communists. And the record was rotten. In the Reichstag, Remmele, the Communist fraction leader, made his notorious speech: “We are not afraid of the fascist gentlemen. They will shoot their bolt quicker than any other government.” Let the fascist take power, we will come next! This was how the loud “revolutionary” line of Stalin worked out in practice.

Disoriented by the tactics of Stalinism, the workers remained passive and quiescent in face of the fascist threat. Hitler’s Brown Shirts grew in strength, unmolested, like a snowball rolling downhill. They became more arrogant, more ruthless. Until on a fateful day in January 1933, Hindenburg – the hero of the social democrats – called Hitler to the chancellery.

The Fascists had arrived. This was the last chance for the “revolutionary” action the Stalinists had prated so loudly about. Soon the fascists would ride over the skulls and bones of the German workers. But the Stalinists lifted not a finger of resistance! The leaders had their passports. The workers were abandoned to the fate of concentration camps. The Communist Party collapsed like a house of cards.

The cold fact was that Stalin had helped Hitler to power. As Trotsky put it: “Stalin held the stirrup for Hitler to mount the white horse.”

Now the medicine man is back again with the same kind of poison in his bottle. Yesterday’s poison with a revolutionary label on the bottle gave the German workers the worst reaction history has ever known. Today’s poison, label the same, will give the workers, if they swallow it, reaction on a world scale.

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