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Harry Strang

The Unpleasant Task of O. Piatnitsky
and How Lenin Is Used to Help Him

(February 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 7, 10 February 1934, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

I was just reading O. Piatnitsky’s pamphlet, The Present Situation in Germany, published by the Communist International. This piece of apologetics is pretty sickening, especially the impudent way in which Piatnitsky talks down to the suffering workers of Germany. But I want to point out one thing in particular:

This pamphlet has the unpleasant task of explaining away the collapse of the C.P. of Germany in the face of Hitler’s attack. It has to answer the questions: Why was no better defensive struggle put up by the German proletariat? Why did not the C.P. lead in organizing such a struggle? Why did not the C.P. force the S.P.D. into a united front? Instead of answering them, however, it concentrates on another question: why did not the C.P. make a revolution in Germany last year?

Now it is indisputable that, in the last analysis, German capitalism’s willingness to use Fascism to preserve itself could be answered only by a proletarian seizure of power. This, however, need not necessarily have occurred in any given mouth of last year. It is conceivable that, had the C.P. and the working class put up a better fight, the balance of forces which prevailed under Schleicher might have been shifted in favor of the working class. In other words Fascism would not have been immediately crushed, but would have been held off from power for a period by means of mass struggle falling short of the seizure of power by the proletariat. The seizure of power might have occurred at a somewhat later date when, as a result of that mass struggle and partial victory, the ranks of the class had been further consolidated and the enemy further weakened.

Ignores Real Issue

All this Piatnitsky ignores. Pointing to the historically indisputable axiom that only the dictatorship of the proletariat can stave off Fascism whenever the latter threatens, he argues that, a revolutionary situation did not exist in Germany, that therefore power could not be seized, and that therefore Hitler could not be stopped. Hence the C.P. was right to do nothing. And in case you don’t believe it, he warns, the ECCI has said it and you’d better believe!

All this is fishy enough, but the worst is yet to come. How does Piatnitsky prove that there was no revolutionary situation in Germany? Partly by referring to facts about the concrete situation, facts pulled out of their context, twisted, fabricated, misinterpreted. But largely by quoting from Lenin. And it is to one of these quotations that wish to refer. Piatnitsky opens Lenin’s pamphlet, “Left” Communism – and quites Lenin’s definition of a revolutionary situation in the following way :

“For revolution it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the conscious, thinking, politically active workers) should fully understand the necessity for revolution, and be ready to sacrifice their lives for it; secondly, that the ruling class be in a state of government crisis, which attracts even, the most backward masses into politics ... weakens the government :ind facilitates its rapid overthrow by the revolutionaries.”

How Piatnitsky “Edits” Lenin

This seems clear: a majority of the workers must be for revolutionary struggle, even to tho death; the government crisis must do two things: (a) draw even the most backward into politics, and (b) weaken the government and facilitate its overthrow. But why the three dots toward the end of the quotation? Was Lenin so long-winded that a big chunk of his definition hud to be dropped? No. Here is the last part of the passage without omitting thirty-seven little words Piatnitsky overlooked:

“The ruling class (must) be in a state of government crisis, which attracts even the most backward musses into politics. It is a sign of every real revolution, this rapid tenfold, or even hundredfold, increase in the number of representatives of the toiling and oppressed masses, heretofore apathetic, who are able to carry on a political fight which weakens the government and facilitates its overthrow by the revolutionists.” (“Left” Communism, Toiler edition, page 66)

So it is not the crisis which weakens the government, but the struggles of the once-apathetic masses “who are able to carry on a political fight” because of the existence of a crisis. Now the point about the three dots becomes clear. If a revolutionary situation did not exist, it was just because these masses were not carrying on such a fight. And whose fault was that if not the vanguard’s, the C.P.’s? Piatnitsky’s whole pamphlet being written in order to avoid this question, naturally he does not hesitate to amputate Lenin a little bit lest the rottenness of his bureaucratic argument become suddenly apparent.

The alternative theory is that Piatnitsky couldn’t find room in this 64-page pamphlet with its closely packed type for thirty-seven additional words by Lenin out of the middle of a sentence.

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