Fascism in Germany. Robin Blick 1975

Chapter I: The Roots of German Reaction

England, and later France, were the only nations to enjoy the relative historical luxury of a thoroughgoing bourgeois-democratic revolution. For behind Cromwell and Robespierre there stood not a modern industrial proletariat, already taking its first steps towards political and organisational independence, but an amorphous plebeian mass which, because of its social and political heterogeneity, could the more easily be harnessed to the goals of an emergent bourgeoisie in its struggle against the nobility. This is not to deny that the revolutions of 1640-49 and 1789-94 projected a ‘proletarian’ wing with its own utopian-communist programme – we have the examples before us of Winstanley and the Diggers, of Babeuf and his ‘Conspiracy of the Equals’, proving that even the classic bourgeois revolutions contained within them the embryo of the modern proletarian movement and the socialist revolution.

Why, the reader might well ask, the preoccupation with France and England when the nation under discussion is Germany? The answer is quite simple. The modern class struggle is fought out under economic conditions dominated by a worldwide system – imperialism. But the classes – and this applies with particular force to Western and Central Europe – do battle on a national terrain steeped in the traditions, forms of thought, organisation and political culture generated by conflicts reaching back to the very dawn of capitalist society. Whether conscious of it or not, the combatants of the class war under imperialism, while responding to modern economic, social and political demands, pressures and crises, do so in a way which has been moulded to a considerable degree by the struggles of their ancestors. As Marx put it:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please: they do not make it under circumstances directly encountered, given from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionising themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language. [1]

Though financed, supported and armed by modern monopoly capitalism, enforcing its dictatorship through the most up-to-date techniques of propaganda, repression and mass mobilisation, and waging its wars with a truly formidable combination of military precision and political audacity, German fascism marched to power brandishing the symbols of ancient Aryan tribes, shrieking the curses of medieval pogromists and proclaiming the pagan myths of ‘blood and soil’. The eastwards drive of German imperialism shrouded itself in the cloak and visor of the Teutonic Knights. From beginning to end, the counter-revolution of German finance capital decked itself out in the garb of the Dark Ages.

So the emergence (as distinct from victory) of National Socialism cannot be explained purely in terms of the 1929 economic crisis, nor by the inflation of 1923. Nor is it enough to refer to the failures of leadership on the part of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) from 1914 onwards, or the German Communist Party (KPD) in the post-1918 period. These are factors which, to a greater or lesser extent, contributed to the triumph of German fascism in 1933. They also help to explain why National Socialism found favourable conditions both politically and economically for winning the leadership of the middle class in the period immediately prior to its seizure of power. But they are in no way adequate in unearthing the origins of the social forces which predisposed the German petit-bourgeoisie to the programme of fascist counter-revolution. Nor do they tell us anything about the precise forms which Hitler’s bloody crusade against Marxism and the workers’ movement took. Yet without such a study in depth of German fascism, without a dimension which begins with the assembly of the major classes of German capitalist society in the period of the bourgeois revolution, a history of National Socialism must of necessity confine itself either to banal generalities about the 1929 crisis or the sophistries of ‘cultural determinism’. [2]

These ‘explanations’ of German fascism – the ‘general’ and those that focus almost exclusively on the ‘particular’ – are the reverse sides of the same non-dialectical coin.

So too must we dismiss those superficial accounts which treat National Socialism as the creation of individual leaders or skilful propaganda. The most gifted leader, agitator or propagandist – and the Nazi Party certainly had its share of these – must still strike a chord in the hearts of the masses before they can stand at the head of a movement numbering millions. The seed requires fertile soil and the necessary amounts of sunshine and rain. Thus the Nazi counter-revolution not only required a political camouflage to mobilise its petit-bourgeois and lumpen-proletarian battering-ram against the entrenched organisations of the German working class. The whole course of German history determined the form this onslaught took. The prime issue therefore is one of method, of analysis and synthesis, of delineation between form and content, between general and particular, between the subjective and the objective:

The difference between subjectivism (scepticism, sophistry, etc) and dialectics... is that in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and absolute is itself relative. For objective dialectics there is an absolute within the relative. For subjectivism and sophistry the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute... [In objective dialectics]... the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual... [3]

So to laying bare those historical forces which nurtured National Socialism, we seek to throw fresh light on the possible – indeed probable – forms that counter-revolution might, given the opportunity, assume here in Britain. Not in the sense that German and British fascism will share many common points of social origin – the absence of a peasantry and artisan class in Britain suggests that mass movements of reaction will find other points of support than they did in Germany and, to a lesser degree, in Italy. No, the point is not to hunt for superficial historical parallels. Rather we should bear in mind Lenin’s proposition that within every relative we can discern an absolute, that in probing German fascism to its deepest roots we can develop methodological concepts and tools of analysis which will enable us better to equip the workers’ movement in this country for the inevitable struggle against those who seek its destruction. [4]

This now brings us to the problem of the relationship between National Socialism and the aborted bourgeois-democratic revolutions of 1848.

The ironies, paradoxes and tragedies of German history over the last 150 years only become intelligible when viewed within the larger context of the combined yet uneven development of capitalism in both its imperialist and pre-imperialist epochs. Indeed, Engels held that one of the two main causes of Germany’s failure to emerge as a unified, modern state in the sixteenth century was the sudden shifting of the focus of European trade away from its traditional routes through Germany towards the maritime powers in the West. The discovery of the New World disrupted an entire network of commercial, social and political relations in Central Europe, draining the confidence of the German people and throwing the previously rich and politically aroused burghers into utter disarray. Lutheranism quickly lost its revolutionary cutting edge and evolved a quietist character which was to play a pernicious role in German politics for the next four centuries. The bourgeois-Protestant reformation was destined to find its truly democratic and plebeian expression in the ‘Lunatiks’ of Cromwell’s revolutionary army, the Ironsides.

The defeat of Germany’s first attempt to carry through the bourgeois-democratic revolution doomed its people to more than a century of fratricidal conflicts as the cat’s-paw of contending religious and dynastic factions, a decline which culminated in the Thirty Years War in which at least a third of the German population died and its meagre economic resources were pillaged or laid waste.

The only victors proved to be the petty and greater nobility and clergy. Unlike the burghers, peasants, artisans and workers, they had much to gain from a weak and divided Germany, torn by religious dissension and shattered into several hundred political fragments. The downward plunging curve of German history after the defeat of the 1525 Peasants’ Revolt without doubt sapped the political fibre of the German bourgeoisie and kindled within it that trait of extreme conservatism and craving for an all-powerful protector which reached its malignant zenith under the regimes of Bismarck and Hitler.

Here we must warn against any tendency to adopt a ‘unilinear’ view of German history. Each nation, it almost goes without saying, has internal driving forces which develop characteristics and peculiarities which constitute precisely the concept of ‘nation’. But the nations, and the classes which their boundaries encompass, are also the unique products of a much larger process of crystallisation and fermentation which, since the earliest phases of human history, has not only transcended national and continental barriers, but helped shape them. To return to our first methodological principle, ‘the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual.’

So to understand the many vivid contrasts in the course of German, French and English history, it is necessary not only to familiarise oneself with internal developments, but their mutual interaction and penetration, as parts of a unified yet divided and contradictory whole. Concretely, in what ways did the multifarious layers of Germany’s and Europe’s past prepare the political soil for the seeds of fascist counter-revolution?

Let us take as our starting point a remark made by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels during a broadcast speech on 1 April 1933, when he declared in all seriousness that with the formation of the Hitler dictatorship, ‘the year 1789 is hereby eradicated from history’. [5]

The German bourgeoisie – and here we are speaking principally of its dominant industrial and banking segment – in 1933 found itself compelled to place in power a party and regime which stridently proclaimed its total repudiation of the bourgeois revolution! And yet beneath this paradox there is concealed a class logic which lies at the core of fascism. In order to retain power in periods of profound social, economic and political upheaval, in order to divide and destroy those class forces which threaten not only its profits but its very right to rule, the bourgeoisie has to declare war on all those ideals which it used in an earlier epoch to rally the people against feudalism, and those institutions with which it both buttressed and popularised its own rule. This is one of the universal aspects of fascism, one which can be detected in every particular national case. But the precise form and course of this reaction by a pro-fascist bourgeoisie against its own democratic-revolutionary past will vary widely according to both circumstances and history. In Germany, it was greatly conditioned both by the success of the French Revolution and the miserable fiasco of its own, not only in the sixteenth century, but far more important, in that of 1848-49. Trotsky aptly summed up the essential difference between the German and French bourgeoisie when he wrote that the latter:

... succeeded in bringing off its Great Revolution. Its consciousness was the consciousness of society and nothing could become established as an institution without first passing through its consciousness as an aim, as a problem of political creation. It often resorted to theatrical poses in order to hide from itself the limitations of its own bourgeois world – but it marched forward.

This bourgeois class confidence and aggression contrasted with that of the German capitalist class, which:

... from the very start, did not ‘make’ the revolution, but dissociated itself from it. Its consciousness rose against the objective conditions for its own domination. The revolution could only be carried out not by it but against it. Democratic institutions represented to its mind not an aim to fight for but a menace to its welfare. [6]

Great social and political upheavals mould all their participants, whether victor or vanquished, hero or traitor. Those industrialists and bankers who made their counter-revolutionary compact with Hitler in the last years of the Weimar Republic were acting as the heirs of a reactionary tradition reaching back to the very birth of German capitalism.

Enthusiasm for the ideals of the French Revolution – democratic republican government and a world ruled by reason – was to be found not in the propertied strata of the German bourgeoisie nor indeed its associated political circles, but among philosophers, musicians and writers. The young Beethoven (born 1770) was profoundly moved and artistically inspired by the political cataclysm across the Rhine from his native Bonn. At a time when fainter hearts were recoiling from the Jacobin ‘reign of terror’ the composer had written in the autograph of a friend:

I am not wicked – fiery blood
Is all my malice and my crime is youth.
To help wherever one can
Love liberty above all things
Never deny the truth
Even at the foot of the throne. [7]

Consciously a revolutionary in music, he readily identified with all those struggling to liberate mankind from the fetters of the past. His third symphony, the Eroica, which marks the explosive transition from Beethoven’s youthful and more conventional First Period to the full maturity of his Second, was initially dedicated to Napoleon, whom the composer hero-worshipped as the liberator of Europe. But when Napoleon crowned himself as Emperor, Beethoven’s rage knew no bounds. Tearing out the dedication page, he declared:

So he is no more than a common mortal! Now too, he will tread underfoot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambitions, now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant. [8]

And although ambivalent in his attitude to the political methods of the Jacobins, Germany’s great writer Johann von Goethe undoubtedly sympathised with many of their goals, and looked forward to the day when they would be realised in his own country:

I have no fear that Germany will not become one, for our good roads and our future railways will play their part. Above all, may it be the one in mutual love, may it always be one against the foreign foe. May it be one, so that the German thaler and the German groschen have the same value everywhere in the nation, so that my travelling bag can pass unopened through all the 36 states. May it be one, so that the municipal passport of a citizen of Weimar is not treated by the frontier officials of some great neighbouring state as invalid... Furthermore, may Germany be one in weights and measures, in trade and business and in a hundred similar things... [9]

Here one cannot help but detect an emphasis on those goals closest to the heart of the German bourgeoisie. Economic unity and nationalist fervour have crowded out those other essential elements of the classic bourgeois revolution which Goethe followed so closely in France: political freedom, equality before the law and staunchly republican government. In this respect, both Hegel and Kant, Germany’s most outstanding philosophers, were Goethe’s superiors.

The ageing Kant (born 1724), though opposed in principle to violent revolution, perceived in the struggle against French despotism and the solidarity it evoked throughout the civilised world proof ‘that the human race... will henceforth improve without any more total reversals’. [10]

And Kant went further than this. He fervently hoped the French Revolution would establish new political and moral principles which could be emulated by all mankind:

For the occurrence in question is too momentous, too intimately interwoven with the interests of humanity and too widespread in its influence upon all parts of the world for nations not to be reminded of it when favourable circumstances present themselves, and to rise up and make renewed attempts of the same kind as before. [11]

Who can doubt that Kant had Germany most of all in mind when he advised his readers to prepare themselves for ‘favourable circumstances’. This much must be granted the Koenigsberg philosopher – that he recognised the categorical imperative of the bourgeois revolution.

Hegel would seem an exception to this progressive trend, but this in fact is only partially true. While in his later years reconciled to the Prussian state bureaucracy as the political vehicle for the earthly rule of reason (at least in its Germanic form), [12] he too had been stirred to the depths of his being by the unprecedented historical drama of the French Revolution and the military exploits of Napoleon.

The latter’s conjuncture with the pinnacle of his own philosophical development was as dramatic as it was symbolic.

Whilst staying in Jena, Hegel had just completed the final draft of his monumental The Phenomenology of Mind when Napoleon’s armies entered the Thuringian city in their triumphant march across Europe. Hegel’s work had ended with the following lines:

History intellectually comprehended forms the recollection and the Golgotha of absolute Spirit, the reality, the truth, the certainty of its throne, without which it were lifeless, solitary and alone.

Barely had the ink dried on the page when the author caught a glimpse of Napoleon himself:

... the soul of the world, riding through the town on a reconnaissance. It is indeed a wonderful sensation to see, concentrated in a point, sitting on a horse, an individual who overturns the world and masters. [13]

Here indeed was the world spirit, living flesh and blood, challenging and overturning all those social and political relations which Hegel lashed with such fiery eloquence in his Phenomenology. And it must have surely been with his own German bourgeoisie in mind that he wrote, in his chapter ‘Lordship and Bondage’, that:

... it is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained; only thus is it tried and proved that the essential nature of self-consciousness is not bare existence... is not its mere absorption in the expanse of life... The individual, who has not staked his life may, no doubt, be recognised as a Person; but he has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness. [14]

Scorn for passivity in the face of great events found not only a philosophical expression. Exasperated by the utter political impotency of the German princes, Hegel wrote shortly after his confrontation with Napoleon:

The great teacher of constitutional law sits in Paris... The German princes have not yet grasped the concept of free monarchy, nor have attempted to realise it.

And he drew the sober conclusion that, as a consequence: ‘Napoleon will have to organise all this.’ [15]

Certainly at this stage in his philosophical development, Hegel placed the modernisation of Germany above any narrow national pride. And although a devout Lutheran, his thoroughly bourgeois outlook enabled him to praise the French anti-clerical and materialist school of philosophy, the Enlightenment, which ‘heroically and with splendid genius, with warmth and fire, with spirit and with courage... [maintained] that a man’s own self, the human spirit, is the source from which is derived all that is to be respected by him’.

This ‘fanaticism of abstract thought’, which in its purest political form expressed itself in the rule of the Jacobins, Hegel contrasted sadly with the conduct of his fellow-countrymen:

We Germans were passive at first with regard to the existing state of affairs, we endured it: in the second place, when that state of affairs was overthrown, we were just as passive: it was overthrown by the efforts of others, we let it be taken away from us, we suffered it all to happen. [16]

For Hegel, unlike so many German politicians of the period, had grasped the great truth that a thoroughgoing revolution functions like a broom, sweeping away all the accumulated backwardness and superstitions of previous epochs. Through its revolution:

... the French nation has been liberated from many institutions which the human spirit had outgrown like baby shoes, and which weighed on it, as they still do on others, as fetters devoid of spirit: and the individual has taken off the fear of death... This is what gives the French the great strength they are demonstrating against others. [17]

And when the worthy burghers of his native Württemberg did eventually gather at Frankfurt to draw up and enact a German constitution, Hegel was rightly contemptuous of their puny, half-hearted efforts:

What we see in the behaviour of the Estates summoned in Württemberg is precisely the opposite of what started 25 years ago in a neighbouring realm [that is, the Revolution in France – RB] and what at the time re-echoed in all heads, namely, that in a political constitution nothing should be recognised as valid unless its recognition accorded with the right of reason. [18]

It can be seen from these extracts alone that more than any other German thinker prior to Marx, Hegel was involved to the point of obsession with the problem of his nation’s political backwardness. Time and again he found himself asking the question, why did the French ‘pass over from the theoretical to the practical, while the Germans contented themselves with theoretical abstractions'? [19] Personifying as he did the pinnacle of German – and indeed all – bourgeois thought, Hegel evolved a solution consistent with his entire objective idealist system. German unity had been delayed, and a rational form of government conducive to capitalist development thereby frustrated, ‘because the formal principle of philosophy in Germany encounters a concrete real World in which Spirit finds inward satisfaction and in which conscience is at rest’. German ‘revolutions’ were, from Luther on, inner revolutions of the spirit: ‘In Germany the enlightenment was conducted in the interests of theology: in France it immediately took up a position of hostility to the Church.’ [20]

Further than this essentially idealist explanation – containing nevertheless profound insights into the paradoxes of German history – Hegel could not go. He saw world history as the materialisation in time of the absolute idea, and was therefore driven to the conclusion that differences in the material and political circumstances of the European nations were but detours and skirmishes in the march of the world spirit to its final realisation in Hegel’s own philosophical system – and the Prussian monarchy! [21]

It fell to the young Marx, steeped in the Hegelian philosophical tradition, but already seeking to liberate its rational ‘kernel’ from its idealist ‘husk’, to begin the task of placing the ‘German problem’ in its true material setting and, more than this, to evolve a progressive practical solution.

We have already noted that Hegel, despairing of any viable political initiative for German unity from the burghers and princes, and unable, because of his very firm views on the rights of private property, to welcome a ‘plebeian’ movement for German emancipation, ended his days as the official state philosopher of the Hohenzollerns.

Following Hegel, Marx recognised ‘that the real life embryo of the German nation has grown so far inside its cranium’, that ‘in politics the Germans thought what other nations did’. [22] And also like Hegel, Marx was sceptical of the ‘will to power’ of the German bourgeoisie. But here their ways parted. Marx turned his back on his own class, and his face towards the emergent German proletariat:

In Germany emancipation from the Middle Ages is possible only as emancipation from the partial victories over the Middle Ages as well [that is, the half-hearted and belated reforms introduced in the wake of the French Revolution when popular support had to be rallied against Napoleon’s invading armies – RB]. In Germany no kind of bondage can be shattered without every kind of bondage being shattered. The fundamental Germany cannot revolutionise without revolutionising from the foundation. The emancipation of the German is the emancipation of man. The head of this emancipation is philosophy, its heart is the proletariat. Philosophy [and here Marx is referring to that of Hegel – RB] cannot be made a reality without the abolition of the proletariat, the proletariat being made a reality. When all the inner requisites are fulfilled the day of German resurrection will be proclaimed by the crowing of the cock of Gaul. [23]

Four years after these lines were written, the German bourgeoisie was, for the third time, compelled by the force of events to supplement its ‘weapon of criticism’ with what Marx aptly termed ‘the criticism of the weapon’. For in political and social, as opposed to intellectual revolution, ‘material force must be overthrown by material force’. [24]

A detailed history of the 1848 Revolution lies outside the scope of this book. However, certain of its phases and unique features must be touched on in order to place the rise of German imperialism and the political strategy of the modern German bourgeoisie in its correct historical perspective.

As Marx had prophesied, the bulk of the bourgeoisie spurned consistent republicanism like the plague. Its political spokesmen in the Frankfurt Assembly (which, as it turned out, proved no more effective than its forerunner of 1815) would venture no further than a call for the establishment of an all-German constitutional monarchy, based on a franchise limited to the propertied classes. Yet this timid demand was advanced while the Prussian monarchy was reeling from its military defeat at the hands of the Berlin workers and artisans in the great uprising of 18-19 March. And within days of this initial success, the revolt had spread even to the villages, the backbone of old Prussia, with peasants seizing land wherever it was left undefended by its old owners.

Cromwell’s Independents and Robespierre’s Jacobins both leaned on the plebeian movements beneath them to settle accounts with the ancien régime. Without the Levellers and the Parisian sans cullottes there would have been neither a 1649 nor a 1793. This is not to say that the English and French bourgeoisie entered such an alliance willingly or without misgivings. But the revolutionary front endured long enough to ensure the defeat of its common foes. The guillotining of the Hébertistes and Thermidor followed the fall of feudal power, just as in England, Cromwell’s brutal repression of the Diggers and the most radical of the Levellers was undertaken after the execution of Charles I.

Treading in the footsteps of their ancestors of 1525, the German bourgeoisie retreated from their own revolution with every forward step of the plebeian masses. The sources of their fears were two-fold. Uppermost in their minds was undoubtedly an ever-present dread that the upsurge against feudal rule would not stop short at the boundaries of bourgeois political rights and property. Thus one ‘democratic’ spokesman – Paul Pfizer of Württemberg – warned:

Every demand to abolish existing feudal dues and revoke rights which have until now been recognised by the state... to break down by a stroke of the pen the distinction between right and wrong must be rejected. For we know that from the destruction of ledgers and registers [these were being burned with great relish by the oppressed and land-hungry peasants – RB] of landed holdings is but one step to the destruction of mortgage records and promissory notes, and from the destruction of promissory notes it is again but one step to the division of property or a common ownership of goods.

Pfizer’s shrewd, if reactionary, class instinct differed but little from that of General Ireton who during the famous debate at Putney in the autumn of 1647 with Colonel Rainborough and other Leveller radicals, countered their claim for a voice in the government of England by arguing that:

... since you cannot plead to it by anything but the law of nature, or for anything but for the end of better being, and since that better being is not certain, and what is more, destructive to another; upon these grounds if you so, paramount to all constitutions hold up this Law of Nature, I would fain have any man show me their bounds, where you will end, and why you should not take away all property. [25]

But Ireton stayed his hand for more than a year, allying himself with his Putney antagonists to carry through the purging of Parliament and so clearing the political road for the trial and execution of the King. In Germany, far from the bourgeoisie seeking the removal (let alone execution) of their main enemy, the King of Prussia, they besought him to anoint himself the constitutional ruler of a united Germany. The cringing reformers of Frankfurt received the reply they deserved. Frederick William IV informed them that such a crown could be accepted only from the German princes. It was not the German bourgeoisie’s to give. And furthermore, if such a state did come into being, it would stand not under their ineffectual protection, but that of ‘the Prussian sword’. But before the Frankfurt leaders could grovel at the feet of the Prussian junkers, they had to create the necessary conditions for their own defeat. This they did under the lash of titanic battles fought out across the length and breadth of Europe, from Hungary in the East and Sicily in the South to Norway and Finland in the North, and Spain, France and England in the West. Germany (with Austria) was the vortex of a revolutionary whirlpool, and this fact, readily appreciated by all those involved in the unfolding drama, raised the already acute social and political tensions to fever pitch. And once again, France was the catalyst in transforming revolution into counter-revolution. Each of the 1848 revolutions began as a movement of the entire people against absolute monarchy and the many other residues of feudal rule, economic as well as political. This seeming unanimity of purpose was soon shattered by the unfolding of even more compelling contradictions between the various classes and leaderships of the revolutionary camp. And nowhere was this process of differentiation more rapid, clear-cut and violent than in France, where the great traditions of 1789 and 1830 lent the collisions between the classes an explosive quality they lacked in nations with a weaker revolutionary and democratic tradition. Events in France were therefore followed – as far as the rudimentary communications systems of the time allowed – with great avidity by the more conscious sections of every class. Nowhere was this more true than in Germany; a country which had not experienced a truly popular uprising of the people for more than three centuries. Each class looked to Paris for a mirror to the future of its own development and strategy.

And the great lesson was not long in coming. On 22 June 1848, the Paris proletariat, provoked beyond endurance by the repressive measures of the newly-entrenched bourgeoisie and the temporising of its own leaders, staged the first working-class insurrection against the rule of capital in human history: ‘It was a fight for the preservation or annihilation of the bourgeois order. The veil that shrouded the republic was torn asunder.’ [26]

The impact of this defeat reverberated from Frankfurt to Berlin. The scale and ferocity of the conflict rapidly convinced the German bourgeoisie, already in the process of damping down the revolutionary fires in their own country, that their main enemy was not the Prussian monarchy and the lesser kings and princes but the plebeian movement stirring into life and political consciousness beneath them. True, the plebeians were not spearheaded, as had been the case in Paris, by a large and compact industrial working class steeped in the tradition and well versed in the art of insurrection. The retarded industrial development of Germany – itself partly a consequence of past failures to consummate the national-democratic revolution – ensured that in 1848 a weak German bourgeoisie faced an equally weak, numerically speaking, proletariat. The major proportion of the mass movement was comprised in its early stages of artisans, with the most radical elements being drawn from the apprentices and journeymen. But it was more a question of quality than quantity.

The mere presence of an incipient proletarian movement on the extreme left of the democratic camp was sufficient to alert the Frankfurt parliamentarians to the dangers of another 1525. The savage battles in Paris convinced them that a bargain must be struck by all men of property in the face of this new and terrible foe, even if it meant repeating German history a third time by strangling the democratic revolution:

It became evident to everyone that this was the great decisive battle which would, if the insurrection were victorious, deluge the whole continent with renewed revolutions, or, if it was suppressed, bring about an at least momentary restoration of counter-revolutionary rule. The proletarians of Paris were defeated, decimated... And immediately, all over Europe, the new and old Conservatives and counter-revolutionaries raised their heads with an effrontery that showed how well they understood the importance of the event. [27]

Treachery on the part of the upper bourgeoisie, and utter incompetence or cowardice within the petit-bourgeois democrats and republicans forced the German working class and those sections of the plebeian movement allied with it to strike out along its own political road. Theoretically, the first blows for the independence of the German proletariat from all other classes had been struck several months before the outbreak of the Berlin uprising with the completion and publication of that foundation stone of the modern revolutionary movement – the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels. In its closing section, the two authors made the following recommendation for the conduct of the working class in the bourgeois revolution which they knew to be imminent:

In Germany they [the Communists – RB] fight with the bourgeoisie wherever it acts in a revolutionary way, against the absolute monarchy, the feudal squirearchy and the petit-bourgeoisie. But they never cease, for a single instant, to instil into the working class the clearest possible recognition of the hostile antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat, in order that the German workers may straightway use, as so many weapons against the bourgeoisie, the social and political conditions that the bourgeoisie must necessarily introduce along with its supremacy, and in order that, after the fall of the reactionary classes in Germany, the fight against the bourgeoisie itself may immediately begin. [28]

It is clear from this passage that Marx and Engels expected the German bourgeoisie, supported ‘by a much more developed proletariat than that of England in the seventeenth century and of France in the eighteenth’, [29] to defeat its feudal enemies. And they made this assumption without any illusions about the political capacities or enthusiasm for struggle on the part of the German burgher. Marx and Engels also believed that because of the relative preponderance of the working class in comparison with France and England at the time of their bourgeois revolutions, the national-democratic uprising in Germany ‘will be but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution’. [30]

The events of the next few months proved this optimistic prognosis to be ill-founded. But the core of the perspective was sound, and has, despite its revisionist and Stalinist traducers, remained the bedrock of all revolutionary working-class strategy and tactics up the present day. That is, the working class, as the sole force capable of overturning all social systems based on private property in the means of production, must at all costs maintain its total political and organisational independence if it is to carry out this task. [31]

In the Revolution of 1848, sheer necessity, and not adherence to previously elaborated principles or strategy, compelled the German proletariat to make its first bid for political independence. The circumstances under which this took place had a particularly important bearing, not only on the future development of the workers’ movement, but on relations between all the classes of German society.

Working-class disenchantment with the revolution’s bourgeois leaders began to turn to anger when the Frankfurt Assembly agreed to exclude the property-less classes from the franchise. The true face of German liberalism was already becoming visible at a time when the workers were rightly regarding themselves as the real backbone of the revolution after their heroic fighting in the streets of Berlin in the March days.

Nor did the only threat to the revolution come from those bourgeois leaders seeking a compromise with the reaction. Contradictory political and social currents were also at work among all those intermediary layers between the big bourgeois and the industrial proletariat, from the richest of guild masters to the poorest of peasants.

For over the previous decade, Germany’s ancient structure of trade and craft guilds, organised in the strict traditional hierarchy of master, journeymen and apprentices, had been subjected to increasingly bitter competition from large-scale production methods. Capitalist production, though still accounting for a relatively small proportion of Germany’s national product – it should be remembered that Germany was still an overwhelmingly agricultural nation – had taken firm root in both textiles and mining, and had begun to spread its tentacles into other preserves of the medieval guilds. The Krupp dynasty had already established its first Essen factory 21 years previously, while in Berlin, the Borsig engineering works had been operating for 10 years when its workers took to the streets to overthrow the Prussian monarchy. (By one of history’s ironies, both firms were destined to figure in a later era of violent class struggle as prominent supporters and financiers of National Socialism.)

This deep-seated antagonism between the pre-capitalist guilds, which were organised on corporative and not competitive principles, and the modern industrial and financial bourgeoisie differed in every essential from the struggle between the proletariat and the capitalist class. Unlike the working class, which at the time of the revolution numbered about 700 000, the far more numerous guild artisans saw in the upheavals of 1848 their opportunity to arrest the wheel of history and, if possible, set it trundling back to a supposedly idyllic past. Insofar as the guilds acted as a coherent force, they tended to regard the bourgeoisie, and not the princes and kings of feudal Germany, as their chief enemies. When under the leadership of their masters, artisans pressed for the restoration of the old but now threatened guild privileges and with them state restriction on the development of capitalist industry and commerce, theirs was an ‘anti-capitalism’ that looked back longingly – and hopelessly – to the Germany of the middle ages.

It had absolutely nothing in common with the anti-capitalism of the emerging industrial working class. In the 1848 Revolution, the bourgeoisie embodied the miserable present, the guilds the romantic but irretrievably distant past, and the proletariat all the hopes for a socialist future.

The impact of the revolution on the guilds has, though this may not be readily appreciated, a special significance for our study of the historical roots of German fascism. One of the most potent appeals of National Socialism among the German petit-bourgeoisie – and here we are referring mainly to either self-employed or small, independent producers or traders – was its virulent ‘anti-capitalist’ propaganda, especially when directed at banking capital or joint-stock industrial enterprises. Can it possibly be that the Nazis themselves injected this reactionary anti-capitalism into those millions of Germans tenaciously clinging to their status as independent – even if often semi-pauperised – property owners and producers?

Surely we must probe back into Germany’s past, to a period when pre-capitalist layers of the population first engendered this fear and hatred of the big bourgeoisie, adapting their already established corporatist ideology and programme to explain and counter this new threat to their existence.

And because the bourgeois revolution provides the key to understanding so much of a nation’s subsequent history, we must also look to 1848 for the origin of that classic petit-bourgeois fascist notion which lumps together the industrial proletarian and the capitalist as enemies of all that is decent and healthy in the body politic. For here we are dealing with ideological and social ‘residues’ which while lying dormant for long periods of relative class peace, can be capable of rearing their heads and seizing hold of millions in moments of great economic crisis and political stress.

In short, the betrayal of the revolution by the German bourgeoisie helped provide the raw political material which, eight decades and more later, the Nazi demagogues worked up into a machine of counter-revolution to rescue this self-same bourgeoisie. Such is the ‘irony of history'!

The guilds, it should always be remembered, were more than simply economic organisations. They were woven into the very fabric of pre-capitalist German society. With their strict and highly ritualised rules of membership and codes of conduct, they were rightly regarded as pillars of stability by the rulers of feudal Germany. Their corporative ideology, which stressed the supposed (and generally accepted) harmony of interest between a master and his servants, penetrated deeply into the consciousness of all guild members, and reinforced by the church, percolated down through every level of the population. So although powerful economic forces were at work undermining the old predominance of the guild system and its medieval outlook, the entrenched forces of resistance were also strong, buttressed by literally centuries of backwardness. And once it struck, the counter-revolution gave them added nourishment.

But even in the revolution’s early days, guild leaders were anxiously pressing their own ‘anti-capitalist’ but essentially reactionary views. The Open Letter of the Leipzig Masters of April 1848 expressed the growing concern of guild masters throughout Germany that their further economic decline would lead not only to the triumph of their hated capitalist rivals, but eventually to the establishment of communism. The guild system was lauded as the backbone of not only the family and Christian morality, but political stability. The Leipzig Masters roundly denounced the ‘French’ principle of free trade and economic competition, demanding instead that the entire German nation should be organised on guild or ‘corporative’ lines. The Open Letter – a truly significant historical document – ended by condemning liberal-inspired proposals for the ‘emancipation of the Jews’ whom the masters, entirely in keeping with both Germany’s feudal past and fascist future, depicted as the ‘greatest enemy’ of the artisan and small property owner.

The guild masters found themselves battling on two fronts. On the one hand, they fought for economic survival against the political representatives of industrial and banking capital which, as the preceding example suggests, they tended to equate with the Jews; and on the other, the proletariat, whose struggle for democratic freedoms and, amongst its more advanced layers, for socialism, they saw as a challenge to the very foundation of the guild system.

Acutely aware of these threats, the masters were quick to organise on a national as well as local scale to combat them. The master-dominated Hamburg Artisan Congress in June adopted a declaration, condemning competition and calling on the Frankfurt Assembly to include the abolition of free trade in its projected German constitution. [32] The guild masters also kept a wary eye open for suspected troublemakers in their own ranks. At the next guild congress, which opened in Frankfurt a month later, attempts were made to exclude journeymen from the hall. One speaker, apparently labouring under the delusion that he was scolding unruly apprentices in his own workshop, suggested to the unwanted intruders that they should ‘go quietly home and await written news, consoled in the expectation that the masters would look after their interests’.

The masters’ concern for the welfare of their servants was well-founded. Journeymen and apprentices had fought shoulder to shoulder with the industrial proletariat in the March days, and had imbibed more than a little of their militant republicanism and radical social outlook. It was this which gave them their new-found confidence to challenge their masters. But their demands were still couched in the archaic language of the guilds, and were aimed at the reform rather than the abolition of the system. They would probably have found very little to criticise in the opening address of the chairman at Frankfurt, who defiantly declared:

We may be sure that speculation and usury will oppose us with all their resources, for what is at stake is their domination over industriousness. Yet the German handicraftsman has come of age, and he will no longer endure the yoke of slavery imposed by the money interests.

We must pause here to note the astonishing similarity between the anti-capitalism of the guilds and the ‘National Socialism’ of Gottfried Feder, who drafted the economic section of the Nazi Party’s founding programme. Very much in the style of the Frankfurt Artisans, point 11 demanded the ‘abolition of incomes unearned by work’ and the ‘abolition of the thraldom [that is, slavery] of interest’. Point 18 called for ‘ruthless war upon all those whose activities are injurious to the common interests’ including under this heading ‘usurers, profiteers, etc’, whose sins were to be ‘punished with death’. Elsewhere, in a work expanding on the main planks in the Nazi platform, Feder declared quite unambiguously that ‘the abolition of the Thraldom of Interest’ was ‘the Kernel of National Socialism’. [33] Yet this is precisely the slogan which the guild masters employed to rally their servants behind a programme of backward-looking utopian anti-capitalism and against an industrial working class seeking to break the back of feudal rule and thus releasing Germany from the fetters of the past. Even as early as 1848, the ideology and organisations of the guilds were serving as tools of reaction, though in this instance their wielders were not the bourgeoisie but the rulers of pre-capitalist Germany.

And as was the case with those millions of deluded petit-bourgeois followers of National Socialism before 1933, the guild master – and indeed many a journeyman and even apprentice – interwove their fear of big capitalism with a contempt for the industrial working class.

The first threatened him with economic strangulation from above, the latter with revolt and expropriation from below. A class thrown into panic by what it takes to be its impending doom can quite readily lump its real and imagined enemies together and depict them as it sees them in the distorting mirror of its own bewildered consciousness. Thus a petition drawn up by the artisans of Bielefeld complained bitterly that:

... recent times have wounded the artisans deeply, the limitless freedom of industry, the production of handicraft goods in factories, the superior power of capital which enslaves the artisan, threatens to destroy the position which the artisans have held up to now and to make them into a proletariat, will-less tools in the hands of the capitalists.

And the proletarianisation of the artisans would not merely be a disaster for the guilds, but for all Germany, as upon the guild:

... rests the actual power of the cities: it is the core of the state. It is called to end the great schism which separates the property-less from the property owners... it stands between, the scales of justice in its hand.

Far from siding with the proletariat, into whose ranks many artisans feared they might be thrust, the guilds harboured a deeply-felt contempt for those it termed ‘the property-less’. The entire guild tradition militated against such an orientation, and it was one that could only be shattered through decisive victory in the struggle against the entire structure of feudal reaction. [34] The leaders of the 1848 Revolution rendered this impossible. The lower ranks of the guilds were thus driven back into the clutches of their exploiters, only in rare cases fighting their way towards a lasting alliance with the industrial proletariat and a perspective oriented towards the future. Repudiation and even open hatred of all forms of class struggle were endemic to the guilds’ self-appointed role as arbiter between the various strata of German society, and the masters therefore looked with grave disquiet upon all those economic policies which threatened to disturb the social equilibrium in favour of the proletariat.

We see this clearly in a petition submitted by the artisans of Prussia. It voiced alarm that Prussia’s recent rapid industrial growth had ‘called forth so great a number of proletarians through the freedom of trade that in fact the Prussian state does not know how it is to satisfy them even slightly’.

Historians of National Socialism often stress those facets of its ideology and propaganda which, on the surface at least, seem to militate against the role, ascribed to fascism by Marxists, of a bulwark of capitalism. Thus they point to the ‘ruralism’ of Nazi leaders such as Walter Darre (Hitler’s Minister of Agriculture), Himmler and Rosenberg as proof of this tendency, ignoring the fact that their deep-seated mistrust of large cities and romanticised view of country life is itself a petit-bourgeois fear of the organised proletariat, mediated and refracted through the particular forms of consciousness inherited by the modern German middle classes from their guild ancestors.

And insofar as Nazi ruralism and anti-industrialism helped mobilise the petit-bourgeoisie of town and country alike against the workers’ movement – and there is ample evidence at hand to prove that it did – this apparent historical throwback, far from colliding with the strategic plans of German monopoly capitalism, actually supplemented them. We shall have cause to return to this theme more than once, but here it is sufficient to stress that the role played by political ‘residues’ in the rise of National Socialism is unique to Germany only in form. As regards content, fascism possesses a universal character, battening as it does on all that is backward in human consciousness and demagogically combining with it a seemingly radical programme of demands aimed at the most depressed and politically immature sections of the population.

Nazi agitators were only able to make the absurd synthesis of Marxism and economic liberalism seem plausible to their petit-bourgeois audiences because this fantasy – the ‘Jewish conspiracy’ of ‘international loan capital’ and ‘international Marxism’ had – in a less developed form, it is true – gripped a numerically large and politically important section of the German nation in the period of the 1848 Revolution. Subsequent chapters will trace the development of this reactionary anti-capitalism, how it became saturated with an equally potent tradition of anti-Semitism, and how, at every crucial stage of German history, the ruling classes fostered and exploited this counter-revolutionary ideology to further their imperialist aims abroad and their anti-working-class strategy at home.

But first we must complete our balance sheet of the 1848 Revolution. On the debit side, we must record the revolution’s defeat, in so far as its goal of a united, democratic German republic was frustrated by the timidity, cowardice and even downright treachery of the leadership which gathered at Frankfurt. They debated while dynastic Prussia armed itself. And we must add to this the consequent reactionary modes of consciousness which were either generated or strengthened by the dashing of countless hopes for a brighter future. Every profound social upheaval – irrespective of its outcome – brings about equally profound shifts in the thinking of those who, at whatever level of awareness, take part in them. This process is at its most intense in periods of revolution, when every established idea and institution is subjected to the closest scrutiny and fiercest criticism. So it was in the England of 1640-49, the France of 1789-94, and the Germany of 1525 and 1848. But in raising the masses to this fever pitch of moral and political passion, the revolution also poses and creates problems which it cannot possible solve:

Revolution is impossible without the participation of the masses. This participation is in its turn possible only in the event that the oppressed connect their hopes for a better future with the slogan of revolution. In this sense the hopes engendered by the revolution are always exaggerated... from these same conditions comes one of the most important and moreover one of the most common elements of the counter-revolution... The disillusionment of these masses, their return to routine and to futility is as much an integral part of the post-revolutionary period as the passage into the camp of ‘law and order’ of those ‘satisfied’ classes or layers of classes, who have participated in the revolution. [35]

Trotsky is here writing specifically about the political and social basis of the Stalinist bureaucratic counter-revolution in the Soviet Union, but his remarks about the process known as Thermidor (after the anti-Jacobin reaction in the French Revolution) are equally valid for the period of counter-revolution which sets in after a successful bourgeois-democratic revolution.

But what are we to say of the political aftermath of a revolution which, after carrying all before it, fails ignominiously; and, if, together with the peasants’ revolt, we include the feeble post-Napoleonic attempts at political and economic union (the Württemberg Estates and the Zollverein) fails not once but thrice?

In this case, the masses do not even enjoy the vicarious thrill of victory. The very notion of revolution becomes discredited where and when its erstwhile advocates capitulate miserably, as they did in Germany before the Prussian sabre: revolution’s defeat affected different classes in different ways. It certainly gave new life to the guilds, by thrusting those they exploited back into the shadows of the past. But it also forced the German working class out along the road of independent political organisation and action. This we must put on the credit side of the revolution’s balance sheet. Beginning with the Mainz print-workers’ congress in June, [36] the most advanced elements of the proletariat began to develop their own programme in conflict with the demands of both the guild masters and their own employers.

The climax of the workers’ struggle for political independence came in August, at a time when the bourgeoisie was in full-scale retreat before the gathering forces of counter-revolution in Prussia. Consciously inspired by the example of English Chartism (the movement had just reached the zenith of its power, and was about to plunge into headlong decline), the organisers of the Berlin Workers’ Congress declared that the delegates should have as their sole aim ‘the expression of the material interest of the working classes’, and would seek to draw up a ‘social people’s charter of Germany’.

Prominent in the charter were demands for the right to work, state care of the sick and aged, public education, progressive income and inheritance taxes, legal limits on hours of work and finally the abolition of feudal land taxes, a demand which made explicit working-class solidarity with the cause of the oppressed rural population. This socially advanced programme was worlds apart from the demands being formulated at that time by the guild masters. Indeed, as if to underline the point, the convenors of the congress declared in their ‘Appeal to the German Workers’ that it had been summoned explicitly ‘in opposition to the Masters’ Congress’ (this being the Masters’ Congress in Frankfurt).

Under attack from Junker, bourgeois and master alike, the workers’ leaders were making a determined bid to win allies from among the lower ranks of the artisans in the towns and the peasants in the countryside. But in both cases, their efforts met with failure. The German proletariat simply lacked the political experience and social weight to achieve such an enormous task. Although containing within it the embryo of a future powerful workers’ movement, the revolution was essentially bourgeois in both content and goals, and it stood or fell according to the calibre of the leadership the bourgeoisie gave it. But even here, there was a positive side to things. The course of the German Revolution provided Marx and Engels, as active participants, with ready-made laboratory conditions to test out, modify, enrich and codify their scientific theory of class struggle. And it not only enabled Marx and Engels to draw conclusions of a general nature concerning bourgeois revolutions and the role of Communists within them, but compelled them to examine even more closely those political features which were unique to Germany.

These are the two opposites which emerged out of the defeat of the 1848 Revolution. At one pole, the initial steps of the German proletariat along the road of political and organisational independence, and with it an added material impulse to the development of Marxism; and at the opposite pole, the strengthening of the ideology and mass basis of reaction.

From 1848 to 1933, German history is at its core a history of the clash of these polar opposites, their conflict being driven to a brutal and tragic climax both by their own mutually contradictory nature and a series of varied and powerful external impulses which ranged from the First World War and the Russian Revolution to the rise of Stalinism and the Wall Street Crash.

This is why a real history of German fascism must begin with the year of 1848.


1. K Marx, ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’, Marx-Engels Selected Works, Volume 1 (Moscow, 1962), p 247.

2. Exponents of the latter theory, which tends to regard the triumph of National Socialism as an inevitable outgrowth of cultural patterns and derived political structures developed in Prussian-dominated Imperial Germany, are not confined to bourgeois sociology. Thus the Hungarian Stalinist George Lukács has argued that the German bourgeoisie was not so much a prime mover in the assumption of power by Hitler (a claim flatly refuted by all the historical evidence) as an unwitting agent in an irresistible historical process, and finds in one of Thomas Mann’s novels (Mario) ‘all the kinds of helplessness with which the German bourgeois faces the hypnotic power of fascism’ (G Lukács, Essays on Thomas Mann (London, 1963), p 37).

3. VI Lenin, ‘Philosophical Notebooks’, Collected Works, Volume 38 (Moscow, 1961), pp 360-61.

4. The old Engels made precisely this point, although from another angle, in a letter to Conrad Schmidt, a leader of the German Social Democratic Party: ‘In general, the word “materialistic” serves many of the younger writers in Germany as a mere phrase with which anything and everything is labelled without further study... they stick on this label and then consider the question disposed of. But our conception of history is above all a guide to study, not a lever of construction after the manner of the Hegelian. All history must be studied afresh, the conditions of existence of the different formations of society must be examined individually before the attempt is made to deduce from them the political, civil-law, philosophic, religious, etc, views corresponding to them... too many of the younger Germans simple make use of the phrase historical materialism... only in order to get their own relatively scanty historical knowledge... constructed into a neat system as quickly as possible...’ (London, 5 August 1890, Marx-Engels Selected Correspondence (Moscow, nd), pp 494-95)

5. Nazi and anti-Semitic diatribes against the French Revolution are legion. For example, that infamous forgery Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion has the archetypical ‘Jewish conspirator’ reveal that it was ‘wholly the work of our hands’ (Protocols (London 1960), p 25). And the quack Nazi ‘philosopher’ Alfred Rosenberg, who first encountered the Protocols whilst a student in Moscow at the time of the 1917 Revolution, divided his racially-inspired hatred equally between the Jacobins – ‘raving philistines, vain demagogues and... hyenas of political battlefield who rob the abandoned of their belongings’ – and the Bolsheviks – ‘Tartarised sub-humans [who] murdered anyone who by his tall form and confident gait could be suspected of being a master.’ (A Rosenberg, ‘The Myth of the Twentieth Century’, Alfred Rosenberg: Selected Political Writings (London, 1970), pp 78-79)

6. LD Trotsky, Results and Prospects (1906) (London, 1962), p 188.

7. L van Beethoven, Letters, Journals and Conversations (London, 1951), pp 22-23.

8. Beethoven, Letters, Journals and Conversations, p 47.

9. Conversation with Johann Eckermann, 23 October 1828.

10. E Kant, The Contest of Faculties, 1798.

11. Kant, The Contest of Faculties.

12. Thus Hegel writes, in his Philosophy of Right (1820): ‘The development of the state to constitutional monarchy is the achievement of the modern world, a world in which the substantial Idea has won the definite form of subjectivity. The history of this inner deepening of the world mind... the history of this genuine formation of ethical life is the content of the whole course of history.’ (G Hegel, The Philosophy of Right (London, 1962), p 176) That he had a bourgeois monarchy in mind when he wrote these lines is evident from the many attacks on feudal economic and political institutions which can be found in this work, that is, in the section ‘Alienation of Property’, where Hegel writes: ‘Examples of the alienation of personality are slavery, serfdom, disqualification from holding property... and so forth...’ (p 53) And elsewhere, he repudiates the religious institutions and relations generated by feudalism: ‘It is in the nature of the case that a slave has an absolute right to free himself and that if anyone has prostituted his ethical life by hiring himself to thieve and murder... everyone has a warrant to repudiate this contract. The same is the case if I hire my religious feelings to a priest who is my confessor, for such an inward matter a man has to settle with himself alone...’ (p 241) The analogy between murders and thieves and catholic priests was not, for Hegel the Lutheran, an accidental one!

13. Letter to FI Niethammer, Jena, 13 October 1806.

14. G Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind (London, 1961), p 233.

15. Letter to FI Niethammer, Bamburg, 29 August 1807.

16. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Volume 3 (London, 1955), pp 390-91.

17. Letter to CG Zellmann, Jena, 23 January 1807.

18. Hegel, The Württemberg Estates (1815-16). Hegel added the scathing comment that the Estates, like the returned French émigrés, had ‘forgotten nothing and learnt nothing. They seem to have slept through the last 25 years, possibly the richest that world history has...’

19. Hegel, The Philosophy of History (London, 1956), p 444.

20. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, p 444.

21. Johann Fichte, a follower of Kant, was the third great German idealist philosopher to be caught up by the French Revolution and driven to formulate a political, economic, social and constitutional programme for the bourgeoisie. Thus in his The Science of Rights (1796) Fichte seeks, very much in the Kantian tradition, to devise a German constitution with the aid of ‘pure reason’ alone. Certainly the most radical of the three, Fichte laid down specific situations where the people had the right to overthrow their rulers when they deviated from the dictates of pure reason. The people had this right because they were ‘in fact and law, the highest power and the source of all power, responsible only to God’. He also made plans for a body of ‘elders’, the ‘Ephorate’, which would check on the activities of the government, and be empowered to bring a charge of treason against it should the government, in its eyes, be guilty of breaking the spirit and letter of the constitution. And here Fichte, like the Jacobin offspring of the Enlightenment, understood that even the power of pure reason had its limits: ‘It is... one of the chief aims of a rational constitution to provide that when the people are called together in convention by the Ephorate, larger masses of people shall congregate in different places, ready to quench any possible resistance on the part of the government.’ (J Fichte, The Science of Rights (London, 1970), p 161)

22. K Marx, ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’ (1844), K Marx and F Engels, On Religion (Moscow, 1957), p 44.

23. Marx, ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, Marx and Engels, On Religion, p 58.

24. Marx, ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, Marx and Engels, On Religion, p 50.

25. ASP Woodhouse (ed), Puritanism and Liberty (London, 1965), p 58.

26. K Marx, ‘The Class Struggles in France’, Marx-Engels Selected Works, Volume 1, p 160.

27. K Marx, Revolution and Counter-Revolution (London, 1952), p 70. (Engels is now generally recognised to be the author of this series of articles on the course of the German and Austrian revolutions of 1848.)

28. K Marx and F Engels, ‘The Communist Manifesto’, Marx-Engels Selected Works, Volume 1, pp 64-65.

29. Marx and Engels, ‘The Communist Manifesto’, Marx-Engels Selected Works, Volume 1, p 65.

30. Marx and Engels, ‘The Communist Manifesto’, Marx-Engels Selected Works, Volume 1, p 65.

31. With the German experience fresh in their minds, the authors of the Manifesto enriched this principle in their Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League (of Germany). Written in March 1850, the Address scolded the leaders of the German workers’ movement for allowing it to come ‘completely under the domination and leadership of the petit-bourgeois democrats’. Instead of which the proletariat should have ‘marched together with them against the faction which it aims at overthrowing’, and ‘opposed them in everything whereby they seek to consolidate their position in their own interests’. In all future revolutions which found either bourgeois or petit-bourgeois parties allied, however fleetingly, with the proletariat, Marx and Engels warned that unless the workers established ‘an independent secret and public organisation of the workers’ party alongside of the official democrats’, they would inevitably ‘lose its whole independent position and once more sink down to being an appendage of official-bourgeois democracy’. Neither was political independence enough. In a period of revolutionary ferment, the working class must seek to secure and retain arms, forming its own proletarian (that is, Red) army and military command. Under this banner of intransigent opposition to all other class interests and political movements, Marx and Engels summoned the German working class to prepare, in the next revolutionary upheaval, for their own emancipation and not to serve as cannon fodder for their bourgeois ‘allies’: ‘Their battle cry must be: The Revolution in Permanence.’ (K Marx and F Engels, ‘Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League’, Marx-Engels Selected Works, Volume 1, pp 106-17)

32. Whatever other issues the Frankfurt Parliamentarians might be expected to compromise on, this one was excluded. Earlier government legislation repealing many of the old laws protecting the guilds had helped prise open the doors barring the road to Germany’s industrial expansion. Between 1825 and 1850, pig iron production leapt by 500 per cent while coal output had tripled. Even the most passionately-worded appeals were powerless in the face of this upsurge.

33. G Feder, Hitler’s Official Programme (English Edition, 1934), p 44.

34. In sharp contrast with England, where the shell of the old guilds, their economic and political power eroded by the Cromwellian Revolution and the industrial revolution which followed, became encrusted on the first independent organisation of skilled workers, notably printers. The guild socialism of Fabian radicals like GDH Cole can therefore not be compared in any sense with the Nazi ‘guild socialism’ of Feder and company, for theirs was a ‘socialism’ that presupposed the wholesale destruction of the working-class movement and the establishment of a state based – in form alone – on the medieval corporation or guild. Hence the term, which has become identified with the Italian species of fascism, ‘corporate state’.

35. LD Trotsky, Extract from his Diary, 26 November 1926, Workers International News, October-November 1942. [LD Trotsky, ‘Thesis on Revolution and Counter-Revolution’, The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-27) (New York, 1980), p 166 – MIA]

36. As is so often the case, print-workers were the pioneers of an independent workers’ movement in Germany.