Wright Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

German Defeat

John G. Wright

Discussion on the German Defeat

(September 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 41, 2 September 1933, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The article appearing below is a second contribution to the discussion on the problems of the German situation after the victory of Fascism. The views expressed are those of the writer. – Ed.


The victory of Fascism in Germany is now an irrefutable fact. The defeat of the German proletariat means, of course, an indubitable set back to the revolutionary re-organization of society. To minimize the Fascist victory is to open wide the gateway to subsequent disasters. But there is no less danger in overestimating it. Fascism is victorious but its victory is not final. Its triumph was gained in Germany over a demoralized proletariat. It won because the workers were demoralized by the betrayal of the party of social democracy and the party of Stalinism in Germany. To draw erroneous political conclusions from this betrayal – to blame the workers – is to lead to further demoralization, despair and catastrophe on the international scale.

The “amazing thing” about the experience in Germany is that Hitler was able to come to power legally, i. e., that Hitler’s assumption of the state power did not provoke elemental resistance on the part of the workers. The worshippers of the elemental are aghast at this discrepancy between the dynamic background and the inertia of the proletarian mass. The proletariat of Germany, they sigh, is the “best organized working-class in the world” and yet despite its strength and organization, the Fascists literally slid into power without any resistance. Nothing approaching such passivity can be cited from past history. There are no analogies that seem to apply. The incentive to set them in motion seems to obtain, and yet the masses do not budge. Their lives are at stake and yet the workers remain docile, indifferent or stupefied. Learnedly, facts and figures are being culled to prove that the masses did act spontaneously in the past. Why, the same workers openly resisted the very same Fascists even before Hitler assumed power. Still more preplexing is the fact that even at the beginning of its historical journey the proletariat evinced unmistakable initiative. At their weakest, the workers tended “instinctively” to organize themselves, rising up spontaneously, throwing up their own leaders, and at times acting despite their leaders when the latter tried to stem their elemental urge. But now, almost on the brink of their historic goal, the workers seem paralyzed. Once Fascism assumes power, they permit it to crack their skulls and destroy their organizations. There are a number of revolutionists who are at present voicing privately their indignation, if not disgust with the workers of Germany and their “psychology”. The German workers, they say, are after all Germans and like all Germans they have been drilled and organized to the point of becoming automatons, ready to goose-step no matter who commands. It is a shameful fact that today in America there are Marxists who produce such psychology to account for the passivity of the German workers. In order to explain the situation in Germany, they find it unnecessary to dig into the tragic historical course of the working class in Germany; the role of their parties explains nothing; the treachery of social democracy and the supplementary treacherous policies of the official German Communist Party explain nothing. Psychology explains everything – “ the racial psychosis” fully accounts for everything, not only in Germany but in America also. Why are the American workers so inert? Are they not imbued with the psychology of rugged individualism and not the psychology of hay-foot, straw-foot? Answer – “They suffer from the racial American psychosis”. Our rugged individualists, if they happen to be American workers are also provincial and hence “terribly backward”. Clearly, the American workers – all workers – are to blame if they do not know how or why to fight; clearly, the workers and only the workers are to blame for failing to learn what their psychopathic leaders cannot teach them.

But according to our fetishists of the elemental, the American, just like the German worker is supposed to fight anyway, no matter what he knows and what he doesn’t. Why aren’t the American workers responding elementally like the American petty-bourgeoisie, the farmers, who are in open revolt? The farmers are seething, militantly they try to force their demands upon the state, they mobilize – and the workers ...? “They are still too backward,” replies our revolutionary thinker. Small wonder that with such Marxists abroad one finds the most sanguine perspectives of the conjuncture in the American revolutionary press. The big bourgeoisie is prepared for riot, for spontaneous mass outbursts; it has put all its state machinery in order to meet the gravest eventualities, even to the extent of preparing the Army to take over the railroads, if and when necessary. The ruling gang is alarmed by the lull below, fearful that the longer the masses remain dormant the sharper and more violent may prove the expulsion. [sic] But the revolutionists are busy manufacturing alibis, maintaining their prestige, and screening their own bewilderment.

Is the big bourgeoisie of America merely hysterical from an acute attack of “crisis psychosis”? Not quite. Though somewhat distended in panic, its eyes see clearly nevertheless. For one thing the big bourgeoisie sees danger on the part of the petty bourgeoisie which as a class responds the quickest and easiest to the elemental in accordance with its subordination to bourgeois ideology which is propagated and instilled in all individuals in society by the bourge-ois state, especially its propagandist agencies.

It is precisely because of this in capitalist society that we find in history “spontaneous and instinctive” mutinies of the workers. Whoever sees in the elemental uprisings of the workers organic, political acts – the beginnings or expressions of revolutionary class struggle – does not understand an iota of Marxism.

The proletariat, as a class fully class-conscious, as a class for itself, is historically the irresistible force for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. In the class struggle between the big bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the hegemony of the bourgeoisie depends upon its maintaining the proletariat permanently in a demoralized condition, in the condition of a class in itself. To this end all the agencies of the bourgeois state are directed to permeate the workers with bourgeois ideology. And because of this, as Lenin pointed out, “the elemental development of the workers’ movement takes its course precisely in subordination to bourgeos ideology.” The less the workers are imbued with Socialist ideology the more readily do they respond elementally, to mutiny in despair or revenge.

(Continued in next issue)

Last updated: 25 October 2015