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German Defeat

John G. Wright

Discussion on the German Defeat

(September 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 42, 9 September 1933, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last issue)

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.

That the proletariat is the only revolutionary class in modern society is due to the fact that the same forces that atomize all other classes tend to consolidate the workers, making them cohere more and more. It is the only class in society capable of revolutionary organization. But it cannot fulfill its historic mission without Socialist ideology. So long as the proletariat is not imbued with Socialist ideology it remains a class in itself, the workers cannot achieve class consciousness spontaneously or instinctively. To quote Lenin, “it can only be brought to them from without.” And again, “Since there cannot even be talk of the working masses developing their own ideology independently during the course of their movement – the question is to be posed only thus: bourgeois or Socialist ideology”. There is no third. Of course, this does not imply that the workers do not participate in the formation of Socialist ideology. But they participate not as workers but as theoreticians of Socialism, only to the extent to which they are able to master the scientific knowledge of their generation and are capable of advancing it. Lenin expressed his complete agreement with Kautsky in condemning as absolutely incorrect the opinion that “Socialist consciousness (i.e., class-consciousness) is the inevitable and direct result of the proletarian class struggle.” Socialism and the class struggle spring up side by side and not one from the other. They spring from different prerequisites. Of course, Socialism as a science is rooted in the same contemporary economic relations as the class struggle of the proletariat. But Socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. And the vehicle of science is not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia. “Thus, Socialist consciousness is something that is brought from the outside (von Aussen Hineingetragenes) into the class struggle of the proletariat, and not something elemental (urwuechsig) that springs from it.”

It is by means of the party, and the party alone, that the proletariat can be organized politically and transformed into a class for itself; and it is by means of the revolutionary party that the proletariat is instilled with Socialist ideology. Thus the party opposes itself to the state. In relation to the proletariat, the class in itself, in capitalist society, the party is an objective force (von Ausseu Hineingetragenes) and not a subjective force (urwuechsig).

The task of the party, as Lenin posed it, lies precisely in diverting the workers’ movement from its elemental channels – from its urge to bourgeois ideology as a class in itself – and attracting under the wing of the party – imbuing it with Socialist ideology as a class for itself. Once a party has achieved this task, the fate of the proletariat becomes inextricably linked with the fate of the party which gains absolute control over the allegiance of the workers. This does not mean that the party having once achieved its task cannot degenerate and fail to fulfill its historic role and thus betray the proletariat. If the workers obey the party blindly, it is only because they have been blindfolded by treacherous leadership; it is only because the treachery of the leaders has not been exposed to them. To first blind the workers and then to accuse them of their blindness is to heap treachery upon treachery. The bulk of the workers in Germany have been attracted to the parties that claim to be the agencies of Socialist ideology. They have been trained to believe that the party of social democracy – originally a revolutionary party – truly continued to represent their class interests. Hence they obeyed it. The Communist party of Germany attracted another section but failed to gain over the social democratic workers because its own policies were at the core as treacherous as those of social democracy, and therefore could not counter-act or expose the perfidy of social democratic leaders. The workers attracted to the Communist party could not but obey the Stalinists. Outside of these two parties, there remained that section of the German proletariat that was still imbued with bourgeois ideology and those German workers therefore could not identify their own interests with either the socialists or the Stalinists. If they responded at all elementally it was only to gravitate into the camp of Fascism.

The German workers who were imbued with Socialist ideology could not and would not act without their parties. Only a petty bourgeois can pretend astonishment at such “subservience or servility”; only knaves or fools could presume that the workers should have broken on the instant with their traditions of decades and have acted on “their own”. The solidarity of the workers is no myth. They cohere so solidly, in fact, that nothing can prevent their being organized internationally as well as nationally – but on one condition, and one condition only, if an organization exists capable of directing them in their historic course. Alone they cannot and will not find the way. At all times and under all conditions in capitalist society a true revolutionary party is necessary.

No true revolutionary party existed in Germany. There, the leaders usurped the authority of the once revolutionary parties to corrupt the ideology and decapitate the working class. Not Hitler, but the Socialists and the Stalinists paralyzed the workers. By their silence or by their spoken order, the proletariat of Germany was mobilized not to oppose Fascism until the order to act would be given. The order never came, and now Marxists are “amazed” who do not know either what the proletariat is and what it is capable of, or what the party is and what the party may degenerate into. To repeat, the proletariat of Germany was defeated by Fascism because no true revolutionary party existed in Germany. The betrayal of its party reverted the proletariat back into a condition of a class in itself. As such it was helpless in the face of Fascism. Unless this lesson is learned once for all the disaster that threatens mankind will become a reality.

Whether or not Fascism will succeed in establishing itself in the majority of industrial countries is a life and death question for all these countries. An epoch of imperialist wars will inevitably follow the Fascist victory. In every country where the proletariat remains a class in itself, Fascism must win in conflict with the proletariat.

Leaving all other considerations aside for the moment, the proletariat of no nation can fulfill its historic mission, defeat Fascism and reorganize society, unless it is imbued with its international essence. In other words, the proletariat cannot become a class for itself unless the workers in each nation can think and act in international terms. The workers cannot so act – unless a true international party obtains. Regardless of all other forms of organization, if there be no such party, the, proletariat will remain politically unorganized, and either remain in or revert to the demoralized condition of a class in itself and therefore prove unable to wrest the power from the bourgeoisie no matter what its strength, no matter what the objective conjunction of events.

Fascism is the inevitable program of those who rule our destinies at present. To their program, and to the program of the Socialists as well as that of the Stalinists, i.e., the official Communist Party) must be counterposed the revolutionary scientific program – to win the decisive majority of the working class of America, sweeping along behind the true revolutionary party the broadest masses of the population in order to overthrow the bourgeois state within the national boundaries, and to lay the foundations for the socialist state as an integral part of the permanent revolution the goal of which is the establishment of a world-wide socialist society. The necessary and only means for achieving these aims is the International revolutionary mass party based upon the platform of the Communist International of Lenin and Trotsky.

This is the lesson of the German experience.

Last updated: 25 October 2015