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Arne Swabeck

Sunday’s Elections in Germany

The Alignment of Class Forces in the Campaign Struggle

(March 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 11 (Whole No. 107), 12 March 1932, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On Sunday, March 13 elections of enormous historical consequences are taking place in Germany. Behind these elections stands the mobilization of forces to decide the issue of who shall prevail, Communism or Fascism. Its historical consequence lies not so much in the direct outcome as to which candidate will win; but in the expression these elections give to the line-up and the strength of the class forces involved.

In its purely parliamentary aspect the present line-up represents itself as fellows: To the Right the extreme reaction of Fascists, (Nazi) nationalists and steel helmets, in the Center the bloc around the candidacy of Hindenburg of the various capitalist center parties and social democracy, to the Left the Communists.

Thus while the blurring of the class lines is still expressed in the fact of workers under social democratic influence being swung into the camp supporting Hindenburg together with outright capitalist reactionaries the two forces on either side of this grouping remain distinct. The strength of these two forces will be decisive for the immediate future. Fateful indeed will this event be for the German working class.

As to how decisive for the future this coming recording of strength of class forces will be is amply testified in the pre-election campaigns. There are already the evidences of the conflict being transferred ever more out of the purely parliamentary field into sharp street battles. In this respect violence against the workers is on the increase. But there are also the accompanying hopeful signs of increasing working class unity in such skirmishes against the Fascist reaction. On the other hand Fascism is now more clearly proclaiming Communism as its real enemy.

The Working Class Divided in Two Main Groups

As already indicated in this fateful situation the working class is still in its main aspect divided, by organization and by ideology. Today they appear in two main groups under the, for the actual situation, rather sumptuous names the “iron front” and the “red united front” In the former is included the trade unions, the Social Democratic party, the republican Reichsbanner and the labor sports organizations. Their leaders are the social chauvinists of S.P.G. It has of course nothing in common with a workers’ iron front, but represents an attempt of the treacherous social democratic bureaucrats to swing these workers into a servile support of the reactionary capitalist government of Hindenburg and Bruening – for the maintenance of the capitalist system. Yet these organizations who make up the “iron front” embrace the bulk of the German working class. The “red united front” is under the leadership of the official Communist party, but unfortunately it is not a united front. How could it be with all the other workers organizations mentioned not included. The “iron front” embraces the workers who are still under the influence of social democratic ideology. The “red united front” embraces the workers won for the Communist ideology. A serious division in face of a dangerously vicious common enemy bent upon the destruction of all vestiges of working class organization.

The Social Democratic party bureaucracy is about to complete its course which passed through deception and treason to complete depravity. No longer even useful to rule on behalf of German capitalism they face the final test of ability to sell the workers whom they influence for Judas’ silver. Their leadership over so many years has brought the ultimate result of enormous retreats for the workers of Germany. Today wages are cut to the very bone. It is estimated that 7 to 8 million workers are in the ranks of the permanently unemployed army, while starvation and misery stalks the land. The social democratic bureaucrats have given up their last shred of pretense of fighting for a reform program. Their whole course of abject servility is now reaching its culmination in the fact that they have prepared all the prerequisites for a victory of Fascism. But that is also their most severe test. The workers are rapidly extricating themselves from their ideology and domination. The Social Democratic youth has long shown dissatisfaction with their toleration policy.

Growth of Fascist Reaction a Threat to Whole Working Class

In elections held during the last couple of years throughout Germany the Fascist gains have mounted at a dizzying speed. That gives expression to their menacing strength. Moreover, in a rapidly sharpening revolutionary situation, its role as the final means of maintaining capitalist rule becomes so much more pronounced. And so it is now. The Nazis can count on growing numbers of direct supporters amongst the great monopoly institutions.

Its true character as the darkest force of reaction, combining its aims of brutal working class suppression with a philosophy of adopting pre-capitalist forms of economy, was expressed, perhaps unwittingly, by a reporter of the New York Times of March 1. In describing the economic program of the parties to the Right he said:

“All three groups (Nazis, Nationalists and Steel Helmets) fervently believe Germany should adopt a policy that they call ‘autarkic’, or economic independence. They admit this would be difficult, but think Germany in the long run could succeed in cutting herself off from Western Europe and feeding herself from her own land with the help of the Eastern European agricultural states. It would involve writing off parts of the vast capital Germany has put into her industrial plant, with a view to following a course exactly opposite to flooding the world with manufactured goods. It would involve an economic revolution and a terrific strain on the nation.”

Here we have, though not yet clearly formulated, a theory of capitalist national self-sufficiency with an implied aspiration to become the spearhead of armed intervention for subjugation of the Soviet Republic. A return to pre-capitalist forms of production and exchange of commodities, squeezed in within national boundaries. A return to barbarism with the “terrific strain” to. rest upon the shoulders of the working class.

Is the Way Out Through a Fascist Dictatorship

Today there is no way for Germany from her present economic dilemma on a capitalist basis. It exists within an economically declining capitalist Europe, ever more receiving the imprint of being put on rations in world economy by the more powerful American imperialism. German capitalism, after its re-stabilization following the events of 1923, has accomplished two successive waves of rationalization of its industry. Existing within a declining capitalist Europe and cut off from its former colonies, its economic problems become today that much more acute. Even a temporary relief for German capitalism through a Fascist dictatorship could, of course, only serve to further intensify these contradictions. However, the menacing threat in such a temporary way out for German capitalism is the sinister prospect of the crushing of the German working class movement, and with that the enormous danger to the whole world’s working class movement – above all to the Soviet Union and the Communist International.

To German capitalism, and to world capitalism, the crushing of the German working class and, in the first instance its revolutionary section, has already become a life and death necessity. The German revolutionists must recognize this fact. The issue is more than ever Communism or Fascism.

Communist Party Fails in Great Possibilities

What is the position of the German Communist party in this situation of menacing threats? Strenuous efforts are being made by the S.P. bureaucracy to swing the bulk of the working class, under the sumptuous name of the “iron front”, into support of the Hindenburg candidacy, into support of capitalism and, in its ultimate sense, into support of preparation for the Fascist regime. Obviously, this latter aspect is not yet clear to these workers. They are being held under the illusion that at the moment their support to Hindenburg will offset the Fascist advance. To what extent and by what methods has the official Communist party endeavored to shatter this illusion?

Undoubtedly here was an excellent opportunity to split the working class forces away from the Center block of reaction now supporting Hindenburg. But that would presuppose the Communist party genuinely offering a united front embodying the serious immediate objectives of working class struggle. There should even have been no objection to serious efforts to find the common grounds for unity around one working class candidate as a means of utilizing these elections to further stem the tide of Fascist reaction.

At the 1925 German presidential elections there were three candidates, the Communist, the social democrat and the capitalist. Hindenburg as the latter candidate, supported by the extreme reactionary parties, signified the monarchy hovering over Germany. The E.C.C.I. then wrote correctly pointing out to the German Communist Party 10th congress, held July 10th, 1925:

“The 10th congress of the Communist Party of Germany must frankly admit that the party committed an error by not following the advice given by the Executive Committee of the Communist International after the first presidential ballot and before the election of Hindenburg, namely, to signify to the German social democrat that the Communists were prepared to withdraw their candidate in favor of the social democratic candidate on certain conditions. Such errors and delays are unforgivable in politics and always costly to the party of the revolutionary proletariat.”

Germany 1925 is, of course, not Germany 1932. Today there is an objectively revolutionary situation in the country: Today there is the yet more serious and more direct menace of Fascism hoovering over Germany. Today so much more is the question of working class unity, of a united front from organization to organization, from movement to movement, of workers under social democratic ideology and those of Communist ideology against Fascism, the vital issue of the moment. It is not yet too late. The German proletariat is still in a powerful fighting position. It has created a powerful Communist Party; but the supreme need is for the party to understand how to apply this essential united front tactic on a genuine and honest basis.

German Left Opposition Appeals to Party for United Front Policy

This our German comrades of the Left Opposition have already proposed in a very concrete form embodied in its appeal to the official Communist Party in addition to putting forward a worker’s united front presidential candidate also to create:

  1. Committees of Action consisting of representatives of factories, trade unions, political groups and other workers’ organizations.
  2. A Joint Council of Action to be constituted at a congress of delegates from these Committees of Action ... to represent the proletarian concentration against the concentration of the reactionaries.
  3. The congress must be organized in advance as the proletarian counter-parliament in the event of a Fascist Reichstag, or against an extra-parliamentary or parliamentary Fascist government.
  4. The congress must solve three tasks concretely:
  1. the preparation of the general strike to prevent the seizure of power by Hugenberg and Hitler;
  2. the formation of one common, non-party workers’ defense corps;
  3. the elaboration of a common minimum program with regard to the next steps to be taken by the Committees of Action.

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