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George Stern

Seven Years Ago They Let
Hitler Take Over Power

(3 February 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 5, 3 February 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

On the night of Jan. 30, 1933 in a great semi- colonial metropolis a former member of the Central Committee of the German Communist Party paced an apartment floor pale and strained, his hands fisting and unfisting convulsively.

“It is impossible!” he cried again and again. “Impossible! Without even a fight! It is impossible!”

But it was not impossible. It was already a fact. The great Communist Party with millions of followers had melted away before Hitler.

It was the most critical hour in the post-war history of the working class of Europe. And in that hour the workers of Germany were left leaderless. The chiefs of the vast Social Democratic party and trade unions were grovelling before the new chancellor of the Reich, offering him support which he contemptuously spurned. The great Communist apparatus crumbled, its leaders panic-strickenly seeking refuges in the homes of their liberal “friends.” There was no serious resistance. The criminal misleadership of more than a decade had led the workers of Germany into the black pit of Hitlerism.

A few days later our friend, the ex-Central Committee member, had regained his composure. Like all of Stalin’s puppets, he had all but lost any capacity he had ever had as an independent revolutionist.

“Never mind,” he assured me. “I give Hitler two years and then our turn will come. Two years, not more.”

But nearly four times two years have gone by. This week Hitler celebrates his seventh year in power. Each one of those years has been like another turn in the pitiless vise that holds the German workers helpless. And the workers of the entire world are paying with lifeblood drained out in economic misery and war for the fatal errors of the working class leaders who made Hitler’s uncontested victory possible.

Remember the Lessons!

We have to understand clearly why and how Hitler and his Fascist legions were permitted to seize power in Germany. Memories are short and it is safe to say that to the working class youth of this country the years that preceded Hitler’s rise to power in Germany are a total blank. Yet those years are rich in revolutionary lessons.

Hitler was the direct consequence of the failure of the workers’ revolution in Germany and that failure was the failure not of the German workers but of the parties which led them, the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party.

The workers rose in revolution at the close of the war. But the great Social Democratic Party which fell heir to the power abandoned by the Kaiser had no thought of establishing a workers’ power. Its chief concern was to preserve the power of the capitalists. And when the workers rose in the streets, the Social Democrats, led by Scheidemann and Noske, called in the Kaiser’s generals to shoot them down. Liebknecht and Luxemburg, the great leaders of the workers, were shamefully assassinated.

The Social Democratic republic, however preserving capitalist property, could solve none of the problems of the permanent German economic crisis. The imperialist victors in the war, Britain and France, exacted their pound of flesh and helped complete the process of draining the country white.

The German Communist Party began to win the support of millions of workers because it represented the October revolution in Russia, the revolution in which the workers had really seized power for themselves and driven the capitalists out. But that party was in the hands of the apparatus built by Joseph Stalin for the sole and exclusive purpose of consolidating the power of the bureaucratic clique which had usurped the workers’ power in Russia. With this dead hand upon it, it could not lead a revolution, for Stalin wanted nothing less. He wanted peace and quiet in which to try hopelessly to build “socialism in one country.”

Ripe for the Storm Troops

So millions of the dispossessed, especially of the large impoverished middle class, of the youth who had never been in industry, never given a chance to become workers, began to listen to the voice of Hitler, who promised revolution to the workers and counter-revolution to the bosses, and national regeneration to all Germany. He took the dregs of the dispossessed and with funds provided by the big financiers and industrialists fashioned them into the Storm Troops, designed to smash the working class organizations, the unions and the parties.

In those years of his steady growth the working class organizations remained divided. Stalin in Moscow preached that the Communists would have to dispose of the Social Democrats first before dealing with Hitler. Fascism and the Social Democracy – in his famous or infamous phrase – were “twins.” The result was that the Stalinists and Fascists frequently joined against the Social Democratic authorities, as in the case of the notorious “red” referendum in Prussia in 1931.

The Communist and Social Democratic workers were kept poles apart instead of being united on a common policy of struggle against the Fascist menace. The Communists were told that the Social Democrats were their worst enemies. The latter were told that they would be safe if they abided by the regular, orderly processes of parliamentary government.

The Social Democratic governments gave way to the authoritarian governments of Bruening, Von Schleicher, and Von Papen, which tried to balance themselves on the police apparatus of the state and act like umpires between the great opposing camps. Actually they proved to be nothing but Hitler’s stepping stones to power. Each time they “suppressed” the Fascists – like Daladier did later in France – the Hitlerite hordes were permitted to emerge with new strength. But the workers’ leaders stubbornly refused to take action by themselves, leaving the workers instead in the hands of the government.

Hitler took one provincial state after another and finally prepared to assault the citadel of central power at the end of 1932. By that time it was no longer even necessary for him to stage a coup d’état. Otto Braun, the Social Democrat, true to the “legalities” to the end, permitted himself to be kicked out of his office as head of Prussia. Hitler drove a sharp bargain with his Nationalist and Junker allies and on January 30 Hindenburg, elected president by the votes of the Social Democracy, handed the keys of the chancellery over to the Fascist leader.

The blood of the martyred workers of Germany cries out to us: “Do not follow our path! Neither Social Democracy nor Stalinism. Only the socialist revolution can save humanity!”

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