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What Next? – Book of Hour

(July 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 31 (Whole No. 127), 30 July 1932, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

WHAT NEXT? by Leon Trotsky
Translated from the Russian original by U. Vanzler. 200 pages
Pioneer Publishers, New York, Paper, 35¢; Cloth, 65¢

Events are moving with dazzling rapidly in Germany. Within a brief two years span, government control has passed over from the hands of the socialist coalition under Hermann Mueller and into the hands of the Junker dictatorship under Von Papen. Only a few months ago, the main popular prop of the government – then led by Bruening – was constituted by the reformist trade unions under the control of the social democracy. Today, the government of Germany leans for its mass support upon the motley following of Hitler and the Fascist party.

From Harzburg to Von Papen

As late as December of last year, the French jingoes were still howling blue murder because the Harzburg meet of the Hitler-Hugenburg Opposition had been permitted by the authorities. In these days, when nationalism runs rampant in Germany, when Minister of the Reichswehr Von Schleicher announces disregard, in the future for the armament provisions of the Versailles Treaty, the Paris press appears to forget all its fears for “French security”. Von Papen even suggests “occasional conversations between the general staffs of Germany and France” to Premier Herriot (Interview of Von Papen, N.Y. World Telegram, July 27, 1932.)

A year ago, Bruening appealed for aid from American financiers against the threat of “Right wing radicalism”. Today, the Junkers call for help to fight against Communism.

Dark doings are going on behind the scenes of international politics. Dense, black clouds hang over the heads of the peoples of all nations.

What Next?, by Leon Trotsky illuminates this sombre situation with the brilliancy of an acetylene lamp. It penetrates into the deepest background of recent happenings. It supplies the thread that links them with the social developments of the past. It brings out with utmost clarity and sharpness, the staggering implications of the facts we have seen with our own eyes.

This latest pamphlet by the great international revolutionist gives an appraisal of German political life in the incomparably lucid terms of Marxist thought. What are the causes for the rise of Fascism, what is the social composition of the movement, what is its specific role in the capitalist system, what does Fascism mean in so far as the workers are concerned, what are its international connections – all these questions are treated with Trotsky’s characteristic incisiveness. The problems, the reactions, the reflections evoked by the German situation are painted on the broad canvass of historical continuity. Each event, every factor is seen as part of an all-embracing whole.

Lessons of the Past

German political developments of the present day are tested on the touchstone of past experiences. No lesson of the past, whether it be connected with the rise of Mussolini in the Italy of 1920-21 or the crushing of the reactionary Kornilov in pre-revolutionary Russia of September 1917 is left out of account. The whole post-war period of world political development, is deftly utilized to set off the struggle of the classes in Hindenburg-Germany, in bold relief.

A scathing analysis of social democratic activity in the last 18 years, beginning with the vote of socialist Reichstag fraction for the war credits in 1914 and coming down to their policy of the lesser evil, serves to lay bare the putrid and decadent character of the reformist movement of our times. Trotsky exposes the inexorable logic of the collapse of the social democracy by voluminous quotations from their press, by citing an abundance of incidents and actions which strike at the very core of this diseased and outlived political organism. But even more convincing than the bare facts – which are enlightening enough – is the Marxian explanation given to them as they are woven into the texture of declining German and European capitalism as a whole. The puny soul of this withering reformist pillar of backsliding capitalist Germany – the social democratic functionary – shrivels and shrinks into insignificance before the masterful sociological and psychological scrutiny of Trotsky’s eye: The question of the struggle against the social democracy is posed on the following premises: “(a) the political responsibility of the social democracy for the strength of Fascism; (b) absolute irreconcilability between Fascism and those workers organizations on which the social democracy itself depends.”

A Critique of Stalinism

On the basis of these premises, the Bolshevik leader proceeds to a thoroughgoing criticism of the Stalinist leadership of the German Communist Party and the Communist International. The hopeless blunders of the Stalinist bureaucracy, their theoretical confusion – “social Fascism”; their disastrous slogans – “For National and Social Emancipation of the German People”, “People’s Revolution”, “Down With Versailles”; their self-discrediting actions – the support of the Fascist referendum in Prussia during July of last year; their hapless policy of the “Red United Front under the leadership of the Communist party” – all of which have kept the German Communists from measuring up to the tasks imposed by the needs and possibilities of the hour, from uniting the working class for a victorious struggle against Fascism – all these are traced through the zigzag course of the post-Leninist Comintern to their roots, to the principle political character of the Stalin faction and its basic tenet: socialism in one country. The why and the wherefore of the Stalinist policies, their flesh and blood expression stands out as clear as daylight after a reading of What Next? These sharp and penetrating lenses of historical research and theoretical analysis are all focused on the present German scene:

“The contradictions within German capitalism have at present reached such a state of tension that an explosion is inevitable. The adaptability of the social democracy has reached that limit beyond which lies self-annihilation. The mistakes of the Stalinist bureaucracy have reached that limit beyond which lies catastrophe. Such is the threefold formula that characterize the situation in Germany. Everything is now poised on the razor edge of a knife.’’

The Leninist Program Unfolded

In this poignant, epigrammatic rhythm, the leader of the International Opposition unfolds the Communist program for the German crisis in full. His criticism is positive as well as negative. There is not a trace of pessimism in his words. Every line breathes an inspiring, optimism. And if his negative criticisms have the effect of stinging needle points, his positive proposals react like hammer blows. We read:

“... involuntarily the question arises: Won’t it be altogether too late? And each time one answers oneself: No! The armies that are drawn up for battle are too colossal that one need fear a simultaneous settlement of the issues at the speed of greased lightning. The strength of the German proletariat has not been drained. Its powers have not been brought into play. The logic of facts will make itself heard more imperiously with every passing day.”

The propositions are put forward. The manner of correcting the mistakes of the Communist party leadership. The methods of establishing the united front of the entire German working class. The role of the Communists to leadership and control of the class. The ways of international revolutionary cooperation in the proletarian solution of the epoch-shaping social crisis in Germany. We have before us an outline of Communist action as precise, as concrete, as complete as a military campaign plan.

What Next? is the book of the hour. No other work on the German events exists, as informative as instructive, as thought-provoking as this masterpiece by Leon Trotsky. For the Communists everywhere it is an indispensable source of education and training, a guide to Leninist action. For the world at large, it is a clarion call to rally against the inevitable relapse into barbarism that a prolongation of the capitalist system entails. It is the voice of historical truth speaking.

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