From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 37 (Whole No. 96), 26 December 1931, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
In the political complex which constitutes the heritage of the World War, Germany has consistently occupied the most valuable position in European capitalism. As a consequence of this, the eyes of the world have always been concentrated on Germany affairs. German conjuncture has played an effective part in the lives of all the capitalist nations. The Dawes plan, the Young plan, the Hague Conferences, the Hoover Moratorium – all involving immediately the fate of this war crippled country – have been milestones in post-war history.
Today we are witnessing in Germany a regime barely short of Fascism, comparable only to the most desperate war-time administration among the bourgeois governments. By official decree, the wages of the workers are cut ten percent, prices are submitted to regulation by a dictator appointed to this office, interest rates are reduced, etc., etc. Needless to say only the wage-cut decree actually remains effective. There is no tool so pliant in carrying out the orders of the Bruening Government as the reformist betrayers in the Trade Unions. The American press generally admits as much and skeptically smiles at the other decrees.
Police force and war ministry are united in the hands of one of Germany’s “strong-men”, the Hohenzollern General Groener. Street meetings are prohibited. Indoor political meetings can only take place in the presence of an “officer of the Law”. Groener raids Communist headquarters, suspends Communist newspapers, and encourages the “marching Nationalist Youth” of the Hitler forces in their murder expeditions through the proletarian quarters. Freedom of the press is denied not only to Communists but even to the radical bourgeois intelligentsia. Carl von Ossietsky, editor of the radical Weltbuehne and one of his fellow journalists have recently been convicted of “espionage”, for an article published some two years ago! The reactionary supreme court at Leipzig, in the formation of which Fritz Ebert and other Social-democratic worthies played quiet prominent parts, have discovered “literary high-treason”, with which to incarcerate ... novelists and fiction writers sympathetic to the working class. The unemployed army has grown to the five million mark and there is talk of instituting the Nazi propagated “Zwangsarbeit”, a practice similar to that of the chain-gang – so very popular in the South of the United States – as a solution to the unemployed problem.
This is the way the bourgeoisie is attempting to cope with the crisis at present. It is quite well known at this time that it enjoys the loyal support of the social-democratic “opposition” in the Reichstag. The Social-democrats are, namely, “tolerating” the Bruening regime as the “lesser evil” in preference to an openly fascist regime. As a result of this there is a great deal of commotion in the ranks of the social-democracy and its electorate. That the Communists have not been able to benefit by this situation to the full extent, is to be ascribed entirely to the stupid and obdurate tactical mistakes of the leadership, receiving their instructions from the Comintern. The Nazis however have been the greatest profiteers of the general situation, roping ever-greater numbers of supporters among all the declassed elements, by their political mimicry: the golden mean of their compound of nationalism and “socialism”. All the local elections confirm this trend completely.
American finance and business, heavy investors in Germany since the days of the Dawes Plan – the present state of United States investments in Germany has been under discussion in the bankers’ testimony before the Senate Finance Committee this last week – have in the past been inclined to cast a not altogether favorable eye on Hitler and National Socialism. There are too many sacrifices at stake under a Hitler rule and American Imperialism has always been accustomed to play the hypocritical democrat. But less than two weeks ago we were faced with a veritable Hitler boom in the American press.
How is this to be explained? Quite simply: For weeks there have been strong rumors of a “Socialist-Communist alliance” in Germany, based probably on the many spontaneous and semi-spontaneous united front actions of reformist and revolutionary workers against the fascist terror und no doubt also on the demagogic offer of cooperation made to the Communists by the Social-democratic leader, Breitscheid. That all this happened under the pressure of the rank and file workers is indisputable. One has only to be acquainted with the daily anti-Bolshevik tirades of the Berlin Vorwaerts to realize this. The rising sentiment for united action in the German working class, the threatened crumbling of reformist influence, aroused the American imperialists to a now orientation for a moment. With the apparent dissipation of the rumored possibilities of united working class action, the Hitler boom once more subsided. As long as reformism and social-democracy can prevent militant, united action on the part of the German working class, the American imperialists will withhold complete support of Fascism. In the meantime, however, the Hitler forces are steadily increasing, a continued menace to the very existence of the as yet divided German working class.
Hitler’s Nazi Party has recently made a turn towards “legalism”. That is, they are staking their cards on a “peaceful” entry into the government either by full control or in coalition with Bruening, with the Clerical Party. Hitler is not troubled by any theories or principles. His strength lies in adapting his reactionary motives to the currents in the mass. His penetration into
tho proletarian camp has not met with any degree of success similar to the one he has enjoyed among the declassed bourgeois elements. Hence, the “socialist”, the “revolutionary”, elements in his program have practically been shelved for the time being. Having succeeded in rallying the pauperized petty-bourgeois masses around him, he quite naturally appeals to outside help to throw its weight into the balance. His aggressive tone, so familiar in referring to the French “arch-enemy” has calmed down considerably. He is negotiating, bargaining for a compromise with the foreign imperialists.
In an interview with a New York Times correspondent, Hitler cynically poses the question whether “the world” would not “prefer German universal military service” – that part of the Hitler program hardest to digest for the foreign imperialists – “to a German Red Army”? In England, his emmisary Rosenberg, according to another Times dispatch, openly speaks of “a Germany ... throwing her whole weight for the conquest of territory needed for her colonization in Eastern and Central Europe.” And more bluntly even, he predicts that “southern Russia will be thrown open to German colonists”. All of this, only to show the trend of Nazi “foreign policy”. At one time, it should be remembered, when the Nazis were still very weak and fishing in all waters, they even spoke of an “eastern orientation” against the enemy across the Rhine.
There is a tendency among German radicals as a whole to laugh off the Fascist menace, to regard the whole Hitler movement as pure quackery. Hitlerism is a sort of “German Science”, a witty journalist once remarked. When one considers the Teuton Cult, the fantastic brand of anti-semitism and the other ideological embellishments of Hitlerism, one is inclined to agree in part. But how is it possible to forget the generous funds of German heavy industry backing Hitler, how can the wave of reaction in Great Britain, its strength in France, in Italy, be left out of account? And it is just these factors that ultimately motivate the Hitler policy.
Unfortunately, this light attitude with regard to German Fascism, this confidence in its inevitable corrosion from within has also been shared by the leadership of the Communist Party of Germany and has served to disorientate many workers along the path of fatalism. There is a widespread apathy in the ranks of the proletariat. And this is precisely what accounts for the deadlock between the forces of revolution and reaction in Germany. It is on the basis of such a situation that Bruening is able to remain in power for any length of time.
The official Communist Party, with its utterly false strategy of awaiting the coming into power and the subsequent collapse of Fascism, has become entangled in a net of strangling contradictions – it has attempted to outwit Hitler by imitating his national slogans. “Peoples Revolution”, “National and Social liberation of the German people” have been inscribed on the banner of the German Party. The necessity of casting off all this national-socialist rubbish has been gradually if not quickly enough impressed on the Party by reality itself. The prophet of this reawakening is Thaelmann, the leader of the C.P. He writes in an article in the theoretical organ of the Party, Die Internationale:
“For every Marxist-Leninist, it should be self-evident, that the first requisite of Communist policy is the struggle for the winning over of our own class, of the proletariat. Only after we have won over a proletarian majority for Communism, can we realise the further tasks of attracting the allies of the proletariat in the middle classes to the anti-capitalist front of struggle and thereby create the premises for a popular revolution in the sense of Marx and Lenin. Every attempt to distort these principles, every attempt to deny the preponderance of the struggle for our own class, means a rupture with Marxism, with Leninism”.
It must be added here, that this article is heralded in the Communist press as a sort of revelation. Thaelmann is not, of course, speaking in the abstract. He is attacking mistakes in the past, and he is attacking persons, in the quite customary terms of the Stalinist bureaucracy: The General Line was absolutely correct, it was applied in the wrong manner. It is significant, however, that this time not only the fourth and fifth line functionaries are under fire, but even some of the top leaders, as well.
For the time being, anonymously, under the cover of the Party’s organ for the functionaries, the Propagandist. The editors of the Propagandist are accused of considering a social democratic coalition government more anti-working class than an openly Fascist Dictatorship; they are accused of under-estimating Fascism in the manner of the Social-democrats, of lulling the masses to sleep; they are accused of “sectarian fatalism”, etc. It must be stressed “once more that the Propagandist is the Party organ for the functionaries and consequently the mouthpiece of its highest body. Thaelmann, therefore, appears to mean serious business. Whether this is just another factional maneuver on the part of a Stalin henchman or a really sincere move remains to be seen. But the situation does demand an ideological rearming of the German Party, in the first place. Any step that would aid it must be welcomed.
Thaelmann does not as yet, despite the correct restating of the principle of winning over the majority of the proletariat, demand that the tactical mistakes be corrected; that serious efforts toward fruitful united front action with the reformist workers be made. In fact, a Breitscheid is still allowed to take the initiative to such action without the slightest intention of going through with it. It is true that it is hard for the Party to extricate itself from the octopus hold of its rotten past. But if it realizes the seriousness of conditions, then it will not do for it to conceal the same tactical fallacies under the cloak of a correct statement of principle.
The tactic of the working class united front is at the center of the political scene in Germany. It is a question of Communists reaching the masses over the backs of the decrepit social-democracy and all its centrist by-products – like the newly formed Socialist Labor Party – or of a victory for reaction that will not stop at the borders of Soviet Russia. An enormous responsibility rests on the shoulders of the German Communists. Upon their action or inaction depends the fate of the world revolution.
Last updated: 24.2.2013