Fascism in Germany. Robin Blick 1975

Chapter XVII: The World Crisis and the Fall of Müller

The theory of ‘general over-production’ is only an apparition conjured up by empty speculation. It is neither theoretically tenable, nor proved by existence. Are we not producing at a fabulous tempo? (Emil Lederer, SPD ‘theoretician’, August 1929)

... social fascism [that is, Social Democracy]... is the weapon-bearer of the fascist dictatorship. It is very difficult to maintain the line of separation between the development of a social fascist dictatorship when it has reached the stage, as in Germany, of a Social Democratic government using the most reactionary weapons of violence, and the methods of fascist dictatorship... We are [therefore] of the opinion that the present Social Democratic government will remain at the helm for a long time. (E Thälmann, ‘The Problem of the KPD’, report at the enlarged Presidium of the ECCI, Communist International, Volume 7, no 4, 15 April 1930, pp 112-13)

For all their mutual hostility, German Social Democracy and Stalinism embraced an identical principle; namely that it was possible to build ‘socialism in one country’. Stalin invented nothing when he first enunciated this anti-Communist theory in the autumn of 1924. The notion of ‘national roads to socialism’ had been implicit in the practice of nearly all the parties of the Second International many years before its reactionary implications were confirmed in the carnage of the First World War, when almost the entire leadership of European Social Democracy went over to its ‘own’ bourgeoisie and the defence of the capitalist nation state against rival imperialist powers. In doing so, it claimed that it was not only protecting the national labour movement from its foreign and internal foes, but that in helping the ruling class to wage war, Social Democracy was defending the sacred frontiers of a fatherland that, one day, the worker would claim as his own. For numerous cadres of the Second International, and even a portion of its leaders, this theory was not just a cynical justification for supporting imperialism, but a genuinely held view that had arisen in the course of the movement’s adaptation to the most privileged layers of the proletariat within the advanced nations of Europe.

In breaking irrevocably from the theory, programme and organisation of the Second International, Lenin demarcated himself as sharply and demonstratively as possible from all advocates, covert no less than overt, of nationalism within the workers’ movement – a tendency he contemptuously dubbed variously as ‘social imperialism’, ‘social chauvinism’ or ‘social patriotism’. Without this split from the International of Kautsky, there could have been no October Revolution, for the Bolsheviks were only able to win the support of the majority of the proletariat, and a strong base in the poor peasantry, as a direct result of their principled opposition to the imperialist war, an opposition which did not content itself with pacifist yearnings for peace, but strove to transform the imperialist war into a civil war, a policy of revolutionary defeatism. The Bolsheviks owed no loyalty to state frontiers established by the Tsars, but to the international proletariat and the labouring masses oppressed by imperialism. As far as the leaders of the revolution were concerned (and this included Stalin up to the end of 1924), the seizure of power in Russia was but the prelude to far more serious blows to be inflicted on world imperialists in the centre and west of Europe. This thoroughgoing internationalist perspective underlay all the preparatory work for the Communist International, and was codified in all the main resolutions adopted at its founding congress in March 1919. The theory of ‘socialism in one country’ was explicitly condemned in the Platform of the Communist International (approved on 4 March) which declared:

The international, which subordinates so-called national interests to the interests of the international revolution, will embody the mutual aid of the proletariat of different countries, for without economic and other mutual aid the proletariat will not be in a position to organise the new society. On the other hand, in contrast to the yellow social-patriotic international, international proletarian Communism will support the exploited colonial peoples in their struggles against imperialism, in order to promote the final downfall of the imperialist world system.

The Congress Manifesto, written by Trotsky, was even more adamant in rejecting the conception of class struggle and socialism evolved in the period of the Second International:

... the centre of gravity of the workers’ movement during this period remained wholly on national soil, wholly within the framework of national states, founded upon national industry and confined within the sphere of national parliamentarianism. Decades of reformist organisational activity created a generation of leaders the majority of whom recognised in words the programme of social revolution but denied it by their actions; they were bogged down in reformism and in adaptation to the bourgeois state.

Therefore the world economy and the world division of labour, already established in a distorted and one-sided fashion by the development of imperialism, became the foundation for the construction of socialism in any single nation. Socialism, as a system of production that seeks to harness the resources of the planet, natural as well as human, in a democratic, planned and harmonious way, can only be built on this international basis. Cramped within the confines of a single state (however vast and bountifully endowed by nature), nationalised production and state planning cannot, on the basis of autarchy, raise the productivity of human labour above that of the most advanced capitalist states (which are, by virtue of their relationship to the world market, able to exploit the advantages of the international division of labour), which alone can provide the material basis for the flowering of a genuine socialist society and culture. Stalin’s 1924 statement that socialism could, and indeed, had to be built independently of the world economy and therefore without all the enormous advantages that flow from the exploitation of the principle of the international division of labour, was therefore a clear break with the programme of the Leninist Comintern, and a turning back towards the national conceptions of the Second International. The very way in which Stalin posed the question showed that he conceived of internationalism not as a principle which flowed from the nature of the world economy, but as acts of solidarity on the part of the workers in the capitalist countries, whose task it would be to protect the USSR from imperialist attacks.

Stalin soon became far more bold in his formulations when he saw how enthusiastically the more conservative elements in the party rallied to his new perspective. Thus in January 1925, we find him writing:

Let us assume that the soviet system will exist in Russia for five or ten years without a revolution taking place in the West; let us assume that, nevertheless, during that period our Republic goes on existing as a Soviet Republic, building a socialist economy under the conditions of NEP – do you think that during those five or ten years our country will merely spend the time in collecting water with a sieve and not in organising a socialist economy? It is enough to ask this question to realise how very dangerous is the theory that denies the possibility of the victory of socialism in one country. But does that mean that this victory will be complete, final? No, it does not... for as long as capitalist encirclement exists, there will always be the danger of military intervention. [1]

It was only a matter of time before this reactionary nationalist theory spread into the sections of the Communist International, finally becoming endorsed as official Comintern policy with the approval of its programme at the Sixth Congress in 1928, which schematically divided up the world economy into two self-sufficient wholes, and deduced from this purely artificial separation that full socialism could be built in the sector dominated by the USSR, provided only that imperialist intervention could be kept at bay. [2] Stalinist diplomacy, far from supplementing the struggles of the working class for socialism, became an active brake upon them as the ruling Kremlin clique employed the national sections of the Communist International as bargaining counters in Stalin’s dealings with imperialism and those who represented its interests within the workers’ movement. This tendency was already evident in the right opportunist policy adopted towards the British TUC and the Kuomintang, both being seen as valuable bulwarks of the USSR against a possible imperialist attack on the Soviet West and East respectively. Similar and even more conscious motives lay behind Stalin’s repeated interventions in the affairs of the KPD during Hitler’s rise to power, when Kremlin diplomacy assigned to Germany the role of a counter-weight to imperialist France (until 1934 regarded, with Japan, as the main threat to the USSR), so enabling the USSR, without the aid of further revolutions in the imperialist countries, to build ‘socialism in one country’.

Stalin was far too shrewd to challenge openly the entire internationalist doctrine of Marxism, all the more so in view of his April 1924 speech to students of the Moscow Sverdlov University, in which he declared categorically that ‘for the final victory of socialism, for the organisation of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country as Russia, are insufficient...’. In the revised edition of the same speech, republished towards the end of 1924 under the title The Foundations of Leninism, this passage now read as follows:

After consolidating its power and leading the peasantry in its wake the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society. But does that mean that it will thereby achieve the complete and final victory of socialism, that is, does it mean that with the forces of only one country it can finally consolidate socialism and fully guarantee that country against intervention, and, consequently, also against restoration? No, it does not. For this, the victory of the revolution in at least several countries is needed. [3]

Stalin still asserted that the final victory of socialism in one country was impossible. But the grounds he gave for doing so had shifted, in the course of the summer months of 1924, from economics to those relating to military intervention. It was no longer a question of Russia’s economic, cultural and technological backwardness, isolated from the economies of the advanced capitalist nations, that stood between the Soviet Union and the construction of a fully socialist society, but simply the danger of imperialist invasion.

Under the Stalinist regime both in the USSR and the Communist International, the Communist parties in the capitalist countries were progressively transformed from movements struggling to lead the working class of their own countries to power, into submissive tools of Kremlin foreign and domestic policy. They were repeatedly called upon to approve both Stalin’s latest diplomatic volte face and his murder of Lenin’s closest comrades. And through all these twists and turns abroad, and barbarous repressions at home, the theoretical foundation of the Stalinist course remained ‘socialism in one country’. And here we have the theoretical point of contact – and at times of confluence – with the parties of the Second International. In both cases, the class struggle, and the building of socialism, was viewed through the prism of the capitalist nation state, while the national-reformist perspectives of both tendencies led them not to welcome the periodic crises of imperialism as opportunities to strike powerful blows at a dangerous but now divided and weakened class enemy, but to view them with dismay and foreboding, as unwelcome intrusions into a smooth evolutionary process which at some unforeseeable future date would lead to the establishment of socialism. [4] Such was Bukharin’s conception of the construction of socialism in the USSR, one shared by Stalin until rudely shattered by the grain strike and near-revolt of the kulaks in the winter of 1928-29.

And thus too did the pundits of German Social Democracy reason, as their party prepared to assume office for the first time since the crisis days of November 1923. Like the Stalin – Bukharin utopia of the Kulakgrowing into socialism’ at a ‘snail’s pace’, the iron logic of world economic reality was to reduce it to tatters.

The Müller government took office at the precise point in time when the fortunes of both Social Democracy and German capitalism had reached their postwar peak. But as we have already noted, this joint revival was attributable far more to a temporarily favourable conjuncture of the European and United States economies than any vitality that either German capitalism or reformism might still have possessed. It was the dollar that breathed fresh life into the movement Rosa Luxemburg had once described as a ‘stinking corpse’, just as US credits provided the funds for German monopoly capitalism to rationalise its plant and continue the process of concentration that began with the cartel system under Bismarck. After 1924, when the revival in the economy had become apparent, the leaders of German Social Democracy quite consciously trimmed their sails to the wind of Wall Street largesse blowing in from across the Atlantic. The citadels of world capitalism were allotted the unaccustomed role of the benefactors of the SPD’s experiment in ‘socialism in one municipality’. What did the banking houses of Morgan, Chase and the rest care as long as they received their annual seven per cent?

Wherever the SPD held office, whether in the communes, the city councils or on a state level (as in Prussia) the party undertook vast welfare programmes involving the construction of well-appointed workers’ flats, public baths, clinics, maternity homes, theatres, cultural centres, sports facilities, libraries, child-care centres and numerous other projects designed to raise the living standards of the working class. But almost without exception, they were financed by funds borrowed from Wall Street brokers. It was one of the most grotesque partnerships in the history of the German or any other labour movement. The reasoning behind this programme of social reform was as clear as it was faulty and utterly opportunist. Why provoke a head-on clash with the business community in Germany by pressing for even higher social taxation and insurance levies when far larger sums were readily forthcoming from another and even more lucrative source? The SPD’s Fabian-style ‘gas and water’ socialism could be built, municipality by municipality, city by city, state by state, without waging class war against the bourgeoisie – in fact even with their toleration, since at no time would their property rights be in question, merely their attitude to their social responsibilities. The German worker was to be rescued from the abuses of capitalism not by revolution (only barbaric Russians indulged in such excesses) but by his party’s encasing him in a protective cocoon. If he was a paid-up member of the SPD – and throughout the boom year of the republic, more than a million workers were – then nearly all his social needs would be catered for by the party, even more so if he lived in a state, city or commune where his party held office. His wife would shop at the local cooperative, his children spend their holidays and their evenings with the Nest Falcons (6-10 years), Young Falcons (10-12), Red Falcons (12-14), Socialist Workers Youth (14-20) and the Young Socialists (18-25), while all his own cultural and sporting needs could find their outlets in the numerous SPD-run societies ranging from chess clubs to theatre groups and athletics associations. Unifying this entire structure was of course the party itself, with its gigantic propaganda machine of 187 daily papers and scores of journals devoted to specialist and theoretical questions. Running parallel to the political movement, and to a certain degree merging with it, were the free trade unions of the ADGB, whose resources were even more enormous. Millions of German workers, by no means all labour aristocrats, dyed-in-the-wool anti-Communists or hardened reformists, genuinely believed that this all-embracing movement could not only defend them against any attacks by the ruling class on their hard-won political rights, working conditions and living standards, but eventually carry them forward to socialism. The average German worker believed in and desired socialism with a passion and firmness of conviction that found its highest expression in his devotion to the organisations which he and his ancestors had built up at such enormous financial sacrifice in the face of a barbaric and utterly ruthless class enemy. The sheer magnitude of this edifice is a tribute to the noble struggle of an oppressed class for dignity and emancipation. The Müllers, Kautskys, Eberts and Scheidemanns forfeited all right to represent that tradition when they deserted the German proletariat in its hour of greatest need in August 1914, chaining the party of Marx and Engels to the war chariot of Krupp, Thyssen, Stinnes and Hindenburg; and in November 1918, when, after the political power dropped into their laps, they handed it back to the ruling class and launched their bloody campaign of extermination against the finest leaders of the German working class. Yet even then, the party leadership could not afford to effect an open break with the Marxism which it had betrayed. Fearing the attractive power of the KPD, the true historical inheritor of the Marxist legacy, the SPD wove around its reformist and, in moments of crisis, counter-revolutionary policies, a tapestry of pseudo-Marxist phrases and analyses. Thus at a time when the party’s leaders were carrying their begging bowl to the richest bankers in the world, the 1925 SPD Congress at Heidelberg adopted a programme which declared, in the grand style so beloved of the pre-1914 Kautsky:

The number of proletarians is growing; the conflict between exploiters and those who are exploited increases in violence; the class warfare between the capitalist rulers of economy and those whom they oppress becoming fiercer... The goal of the working class can only be achieved by transforming the capitalist private ownership of the means of production into social ownership. When capitalist production is replaced by socialist production by the people for the people, then the growth and development of productive forces will become the source of great prosperity and universal betterment. Only then will society, in harmony and solidarity, rise from its subjection to blind economic forces and from general disintegration, and achieve free self-government.

The revolting hypocrisy of those who drafted this programme almost defies description when one recalls that it would have been redundant had the SPD taken in 1918 the measures against the Junkers and the big capitalists that the proletariat and a sizable minority of the middle class were demanding. And even if we take its socialist pretensions seriously, there immediately arises the question – how was such a programme to be implemented? Rudolf Hilferding, who blandly brushed aside calls for socialisation of heavy industry at the Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils in December 1918, gave the answer at the 1927 SPD Congress in Kiel:

We are now in the midst of a period of transformation, a time of peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism... the task is set for our generation of organising capitalist economy with the aid of the state, and of transforming the capitalistically organised and conducted economy into an economy conducted by the socialist state. This signifies nothing more nor less than our generation has to solve the problem of socialism.

Hilferding’s notion of ‘organised capitalism’ and a neutral state provided the theoretical gloss for the opportunist, class-collaborationist policies of the SPD and ADGB leaderships. They dinned into the heads of millions of workers that capitalism could be gradually abolished through the agencies of the Weimar Constitution (namely the articles pertaining to trade union and works council participation in economic affairs) and through legislating social and economic reforms at a national and local level. The main task of the movement was therefore deemed to be the preservation of the machinery that would make these measures possible – namely bourgeois democracy and its various institutions – against attacks from the counter-revolutionary right and the revolutionary left. Meanwhile, within the shell of Weimar democracy would grow, slowly but surely, the embryo of a future German socialism. Indeed, some claimed that the chicken had already begun to sprout some feathers, like Herr Klemens, who told the August 1928 Congress of the German Transport Workers Union:

I challenge the view that in the German republic we are still justified in talking of a capitalist and bourgeois state. In such a country as Germany, which in so many ways is already organised in accordance with our desires, where we have comrades and colleagues on almost all the government and social organs, it is ignorant nonsense to talk of a capitalist, bourgeois state, which one has to struggle against.

A similar line was taken by ADGB Chairman Leipart, who wrote shortly before the formation of the Müller government:

Working-class property, producing cooperatives, labour banks, etc, also exercise considerable influence on economic life today. Representatives of the working class even took part in the negotiations for commercial treaties, workers’ representatives have positions on the administration of the councils of the Post, National and State Railways, and on the canal councils, on all the bodies concerned with production and administration of the affairs of the nation and of the state, and are provided for on the supreme national economic council. [5]

As far as the facts went, Leipart was certainly not exaggerating. The deal of November 1918, as we have repeatedly emphasised, involved the big employers in a series of concessions to organised labour that they would never have entertained in any other predicament than a revolutionary crisis. Social Democracy exercised the influence that it did in the economic, social and political affairs of Weimar for this reason more than any other. It was the reformist bureaucracy’s reward for betraying the November Revolution. But like all social phenomena and processes, the pact of November 1918 contained a contradiction. The entire history of the Republic from the earliest counter-revolutionary blood-lettings of Noske’s Free Corps, through the Kapp and Munich Putsches, to the abortive coup of May 1926, had testified to the existence of a hard core of industrialist, Junker and military opposition to the Weimar Republic, which, since it flowed from a fulminating hatred and fear of the proletariat, could not but direct itself against the largest and historically the most influential wing of the German labour movement. Every Social Democrat, however reformist, however great his detestation of revolution (and we need only recall President Ebert’s heartfelt comments on this subject) was for them a red-blooded Marxist who had merely chosen another than the Communists’ road to subvert the integrity of the German nation. Indeed, some looked with even more suspicion on the Social Democrats, who had succeeded in capturing literally thousands of posts in the central and local government machinery, than the Communists, whose threat was easily identifiable. So here the subjective factor, though of course having its objective roots in the history of the German bourgeoisie and its half-century battle against German labour, played an important part in shaping relations between the ruling class and the reformist wing of the workers’ movement in this period.

In November 1918, the formation of a Social Democratic government proved to be the salvation of the German ruling class. Yet in 1928, we find this same bourgeoisie now bitterly hostile to an identical Social Democracy, even though in the course of the intervening 10 years, the latter had proved time and again its undying loyalty to capitalism. The reasons are not hard to discover, though they utterly escaped Third Period Stalinism, ever anxious to prove to doubters that Social Democracy, far from becoming an obstacle to the strategy of the German bourgeoisie, was functioning as the advanced guard of fascist counter-revolution and dictatorship. At no time during the lifetime of the Müller government was the possibility seriously discussed of the bourgeoisie seeking to eject the Social Democrats from the cabinet. According to the Stalinist theory of social fascism, the reformists were the chosen instrument for the ‘fascisation’ of the German republic. Thus declared Stalin’s protégé in the KPD, Heinz Neumann, at the Tenth Plenum of the ECCI in July 1929:

While Italy is the classic country of fascism, Germany is the classic country of social fascism. There is no country in the World where social fascism has already found such completion, such thorough formation, also ideologically, as it has in Germany. What is one of the most decisive levers for the acceleration of the social fascist tendency? It is the part played by Social Democracy in the government... [down to the small local administrations]. All this implies the coalescence of the SPD apparatus with the state machine, and the police machine, which has accelerated the development of social fascism. [6]

Although couched in obligatory ‘Third Period’ jargon, Neumann’s estimation of the relationship between the SPD and ADGB bureaucracy and the capitalist state was in its essentials identical with that of the ‘social fascists’ Leipart and Klemens. All three, as is evident from their quoted statements, shared the illusion that the German ruling class had made its peace with Social Democracy, and had finally accepted the latter’s permanent presence in the leading as well as subsidiary organs of state and government. Neumann, like the leaders of German reformism he denounced with such shrill and empty demagogy, depicted the formation of the Müller government as accelerating a process of fusion between the reformist apparatus and the capitalist state, including even its directly repressive organs such as the police. In fact, the basic trend was in the opposite direction. Even before the May 1928 elections which lifted Müller into the chancellorship, issues had arisen which were destined to place enormous strain on the new government from the moment it took office.

Early in 1928, the new Defence Minister Gröner (Ebert’s saviour in November 1918) had won – with very little difficulty – the support of President Hindenburg for a warship building programme, which was to commence with the construction of cruiser ‘A’. With the evidence that is now available, it is clear that this proposal was part of a far broader plan to prepare German imperialism for a new European war. And as such, it immediately became a central issue in German politics, with the workers’ and middle-class radical parties ranged against the cruiser plan, and the entire forces of the Junkers and big bourgeoisie in its favour. It was a line-up similar to that which crystallised around the election of Hindenburg and the referendum on the princes’ property. As the date for the Reichstag elections approached, the entire Social Democratic campaign revolved around this single, immensely important issue. Hermann Müller, as SPD Reichstag fraction leader, was well to the fore in denouncing the war-mongering activities of the right-wing parties and their allies in the military. In fact the main SPD slogan, one which earned a truly heartfelt response from a war-weary working class, was ‘Cruisers or feeding centres for children?’. In the crisis-laden months that followed, Müller and his fellow reformist leaders must have bitterly regretted the employment of that slogan. For President Hindenburg made it a condition of Müller’s taking office that he accept into his cabinet Gröner as Defence Minister, and proceed to implement the cruiser programme proposed by the out-going centre-right coalition. Müller, after hesitations that were resolved with the assistance of Scheidemann, capitulated to the general staff just as he and his predecessors had done in August 1914. But in stark contrast to those heady days, when Social Democracy became elevated overnight to a status undreamt of in peacetime Imperial Germany, the reformists received precious little thanks for their servility. And to add to Müller’s troubles, the issue was to provoke a revolt not only among the party’s more militant members, but even within the ranks of the predominantly right-wing Reichstag fraction, who when the question finally came before the house on 17 November 1928, voted against the policy being pursued by their party comrades in Müller’s cabinet. The decision to begin building cruiser ‘A’ was carried with the enthusiastic support of all the right-wing parties, against the votes of the SPD and KPD, by 225 to 203. But by this time, new and even greater problems confronted the Müller government.

By the end of 1928, the SPD’s election programme was in ruins. The Müller government had already agreed to build warships for the imperialists, and now there were to be no more feeding centres for children. The SPD’s crawl to ‘socialism in one municipality’ had ground to a halt not because the cruiser programme had eroded funds previously allocated for social welfare (building did not commence until some time later), but for an altogether different reason, one for which the SPD had made no provision whatsoever in their political and economic planning. Religious faith in United States capitalism proved to be their undoing. June 1928, the month the Müller government took office, was also by coincidence the period of the highest US investment in Germany. In the second quarter of 1928, 153.8 million dollars flowed from the US into the German economy, much of it of course in the form of loans to Social Democratic administrations to finance their welfare programmes. But the next quarter showed a dramatic drop to barely 14 million dollars, only partially offset by a rise in the last quarter to 62.4 million. This drying-up of US investment, unlike the total famine of a year later, was due to a new upsurge in the boom on Wall Street, where far quicker and higher returns could be secured than by lending money to a German industrialist, municipal council or government authority at a modest seven per cent interest.

This trend continued into 1929, with 21.0 million dollars in the first quarter, and negligible amounts in the second and third. So a full year before the Wall Street crash of September-October 1929, German capitalism, and with it Social Democracy, was beginning to suffer the negative effects of its subordinate relationship to the USA, established after the defeat in 1918 and formalised under the terms of the Dawes Plan. As for the German working class, what would be the consequences of this sharp downturn in foreign investment? Within months it would mean a rapid rise in the number of jobless workers, as firms starved of new capital and raw materials began to trim their labour force to lower levels of production and an anticipated drop in sales. Deprived of US credits, firms would be forced to accumulate capital almost exclusively either with loans from German banks, or through increased exploitation of their own workers. In the latter case, this would inevitably lead to a sharpening of the wages struggle. The proportion of foreign loans to domestic share issues brings out this trend. Domestic share issues were at their highest between the third quarter of 1926 and the second quarter of 1927, when they reached 395.5 million marks. Over the next three quarters, however, foreign loans ran at 657, 566 and 336 million marks. Thus any appreciable fall in foreign investment in German industry, unless compensated by an approximate equal rise in investment from domestic sources, would obviously have a catastrophic effect on the German economy, and consequently on the living standards of the German working class. And here much was indeed at stake. In the five years of boom that followed the crises of the early postwar years, the German working class had succeeded in restoring its pre-1914 level of real wages. With 1913 as the base year of 100, skilled workers’ real wages had climbed from a low of 58 in 1923 to 93 by 1927, while unskilled workers, gaining from the Republic’s system of collective bargaining, had risen over the same period from 86 to 105. No other working class in Europe had managed to force up its wages at a comparable rate (in Fascist Italy, wages had remained stationary over the period, while in France they had actually fallen). In terms of food consumption, the German worker had also restored much of what he had lost as a result of wartime deprivations and the periodic near-collapses of the economy in the early postwar years:

Consumption per head of population (kg or litres)
Wheat and Spelt964778

Modest and inadequate though they were, these hard and recently-won improved living standards, together with the eight-hour day and the rest of the social legislation enacted under the Weimar Constitution, became an increasingly intolerable burden for a German employing class starved of capital investment by the sudden decline in loans from the United States, and under growing pressure from its falling profit margins. Far from welcoming the formation of the Müller government (as the Stalinists vainly attempted to claim), the monopoly capitalists saw it as an unmitigated evil, since it would raise hopes amongst millions of workers for a continued improvement in their wages and social conditions, and therefore find it all the more difficult to come out openly on the side of the employers in any big confrontation between the classes. The only consolation for the big industrialists was the presence in the cabinet of two representatives of the DVP whose task it was to veto any measures Müller and his SPD colleagues might propose that did not accord with the interests of big business; the remainder of the Cabinet posts were taken by the DDP (two), BVP and Centre (one each), and Gröner (non-party).

But as had so often been the case in previous periods of political and economic crisis, the traditional party of heavy industry found itself bitterly divided over what policy to adopt towards the Social Democrats, a rift further widened by the DVP’s participation after June 1928 in a cabinet headed by a ‘Marxist’.

The dwindling band of Ruhr industrialists who still remained loyal to the party were much perturbed by the catastrophic decline in capital accumulation which followed the sharp decline in loans from the USA. The 1929 level of industrial investment was barely 25 per cent of that in 1928, which in its turn was down on the previous year.

Even before the formation of the Müller cabinet – in November 1927 to be precise – heavy industry had begun to exert pressure for a drastic revision of national and local financial policy. On 23 November, 1927, the Federation of German Industries Presidium presented a memorandum to Chancellor Wilhelm Marx containing a series of far-reaching economic and by implication, political proposals:

The most important objective of all financial measures in the immediate future must be a minimum reduction of 10 per cent in the expenditure of national, state and local authorities compared with the 1927 budgets... We are convinced that this demands a radical change in the constitution. However, circumstances demand such action. As long as reparations responsibility lasts, it cannot be denied that the lack of moderate financial responsibility by the people’s representatives at state and local level make it impossible for the Reich government to function on sound economic and financial principles, and at the same time a successful foreign policy is endangered.

In the discussion that ensued the next day (24 November 1927) between a deputation from the Federation Presidium and the Marx government, the following points were argued for vigorously by Privy Councillor Kastl on behalf of the deputation:

The need to strengthen cabinet powers in the economic sphere and to combat a) the all too great eagerness of the Reichstag to spend money; b) the opposition of the state governments to cooperate actively [in proposed economies]. Finally, German industry must aim to keep to world market prices. It was [therefore] the duty of the Reich government to avoid anything that would raise price levels. That applied specially to wages policy, social taxes and guaranteed working hours.

If the industrialists stuck to this programme – and they did – then they were certain to collide with the new Müller government, which had pledged itself in SPD pre-election agitation to continue with its policy of expanding social welfare, raising wages and improving working conditions. Particularly ominous in this regard was the remark made in the discussion by the arch-reactionary heavy industrialist Paul Reusch, a co-thinker of Vögler, who said:

The attitude of foreign countries which in England and America a year ago had been favourable towards Germany, has recently turned rather alarmingly against Germany. Therefore the struggle against the masses and with the Reichstag must be taken up with the utmost inflexibility. [Emphasis added]

From the beginning of 1929 – nine full months before the crash on Wall Street made its impact felt in Europe – German heavy industry applied yet greater pressure through its political and propaganda agencies to secure a drastic cut in the social welfare programmes which had been pursued with such vigour by the reformists over the previous five years. And the first step towards their goal of slashing social expenditure, cutting real wages, lengthening hours and so increasing profits and funds for capital accumulation was naturally the removal of the reformists from office and what was even more integral to the success of their strategy, the progressive whittling away of the influence of the SPD and trade unions in the affairs of the national economy and the administration of the machinery of state and government. Stresemann sympathised with the motives behind such belligerent thinking, while rejecting the methods proposed to realise them. He still clung to the hope – vain as events were to demonstrate – that a modus vivendi could be preserved between organised labour and organised big business. It had proved difficult enough during the years of boom. How could such a policy of compromise work when capitalism in crisis offered not reforms, but demanded the clawing back of all that it had conceded in more prosperous days? Not that Stresemann denied the need for economies along the lines proposed by heavy industry. But he looked at them from another and more sophisticated angle, with one eye on the dangerous political situation that could be created by a policy which neglected the economic interests of the millions-strong propertied petit-bourgeoisie, the traditional backbone of the moderate German conservatism personified by Stresemann.

This was the central theme of his remarkable speech to a session of the DVP Central Committee on 26 February 1929. The meeting had been convened to define the party’s attitude to the Müller government following the withdrawal of the Centre Party from the cabinet two weeks earlier. Stresemann was under strong pressure from the right wing in the DVP to follow the Centre’s example, [7] and indeed a resolution had been passed in November 1928 by the DVP Central Committee that the party was not irrevocably committed to supporting the Müller government (this decision had been taken in the light of Social Democratic opposition to the cruiser programme). Stresemann implored the assembled representatives of heavy industry not to pursue a policy of naked class warfare, since its repercussions would be felt far beyond the confines of the labour movement:

We are faced by a crisis in the parliamentary system which is more than a crisis of confidence... One thing must not be forgotten; that the silent reserves of industry are also the silent reserves of the state. If a boom is followed by a slump, these reserves hold the balance... Unless we encourage the formation of these reserves, we cannot extricate ourselves from the intolerable state of affairs in which the modernisation, and to some extent, the very maintenance of undertakings, is dependent upon foreign capital... Since the days when I was engaged in industry... I have always taken the view that we must take care to maintain what may be called the independent middle class, and especially the independent businessmen that have not yet assumed the form of a company, and can set a personal initiative and responsibility against the lack of accumulated capital. There is no doubt that this entire branch of independent German industry will meet a speedy death through want of capital backing. We shall be confronted, if matters go on as present, by trusts on the one side, and millions of employees and workers on the other. Social distinctions will also become intensified. All this may stimulate the financial forces of German competitive industry, but the forces of personality and independence will sink to zero. Nothing can hasten this course of events so much as the continued rise in the expenditures [on unemployment pay, welfare, etc – RB] approved by parliament, which is expressed in the continued rise in taxation... Our production is suffering from Germany’s want of purchasing power, and indeed, nearly the whole of that industry has come to a crisis that amounts to a catastrophe... That is the reason why the parties must give up competing in the race for popularity. The DVP proposed that in the Budget estimates expenditure shall not be raised nor introduced without the consent of the Reich government... [8]

In order to prevent the rapid erosion of the mass basis of bourgeois rule in Germany, Stresemann was arguing, the big monopolies would have to pursue a more flexible economic as well as political policy towards the middle class. Certainly there had to be drastic cuts in social expenditure. This was not in dispute between Stresemann and the Ruhr tycoons who were increasingly dominating his party. But whereas a capital-hungry and profit-starved heavy industry wanted all the spoils, Stresemann, sensitive as ever to the moods of the petit-bourgeoisie, insisted that the smaller independent producers should be permitted to share in the capital reserves released by a more stringent economic policy. So once again, the struggle for the division of the surplus product became a key factor in German politics.

Stresemann’s advice fell on deaf ears. The party he had originally founded to represent the broader stratum of German burgherdom was fast degenerating into an ultra-reactionary mouthpiece of heavy industry, [9] as he admitted to a close party colleague:

The discontent within the party is strengthened by the fact that we are associated with the Social Democrats in a government. On the right, the word ‘traitor’ is used in connection with the Social Democrats... we are no longer a party with a broad view of affairs, we are more and more developing into a purely industrial party... Today the group can no longer muster the courage to enter into opposition to the great employers’ and industrial associations. We are quite concerned that 23 members [out of a total of 45] of the [Reichstag] group should be directly or indirectly connected with the control of industry, and are indignant when a second wage earner is to become a member of the group. [10]

The belligerent stand of the ‘Ruhr lobby’ in the DVP was but a pale reflection of the class war it had been waging throughout the Rhine-Westphalian industrial belt since November 1928. A clash over wages had only narrowly been averted the previous year, but now, with recession already biting deep into the reserves of even the biggest concerns, the leaders of Ruhr industry decided it was time to resist the demands of the trade union leaders for their customary annual wage increase. The old contracts covering 200 000 workers in the iron industry lapsed on 1 November 1928, and so well before this date the ADGB unions put in for a 15 pfennig wage rise; partly on the grounds of the increased cost of living, but also because the employers had only recently increased the prices of their products. Naturally, the Ruhr bosses rejected this classic reformist argument, since prices had been raised not with a view to paying more wages, but to increasing profits and so, partially at least, enabling them to offset the decline in capital accumulation resulting from the dramatic falling off in foreign credits. The trade union leaders naturally looked to their allies in the Müller government to lend them support in the forthcoming conflict with the Ruhr iron masters since the Minister of Labour, Rudolf Wissell, was himself an old trade unionist with something of a left reputation (as Minister of Economics in the first SPD government of 1919, Wissell had resigned when the cabinet rejected his proposals for the socialisation of industry). With the negotiations deadlocked, and all the stages of local arbitration exhausted, the chairman of the Düsseldorf arbitration board ruled on 26 October (five days before the current contracts lapsed) that the unions should be awarded an increase of six pfennigs an hour. Even though this sum was well under half the original claim, the employers still found it exorbitant, while the union leaders readily snapped it up. Thus on 1 November 1928 began the biggest lock-out in the history of Ruhr heavy industry. In taking this momentous step, the iron masters were not only challenging the unions, but openly defying the Müller government and the Weimar Constitution, whose arbitration procedure had determined the level of the wage award. It was the opening salvo in a war that was to end four and a half years later with the total destruction both of German trade unionism and the party of Hermann Müller. The issues involved in the lock-out were indeed of enormous significance. Here were at most a few score employers defying with impunity a government headed by a party that less than a year before had won the votes of more than nine million German workers, and which enjoyed the backing of the most powerful and richest trade union movement on the continent of Europe. Yet the legally elected government, acting in accordance with the constitution – its own constitution – and armed with a massive Reichstag majority of 208 in support of welfare for the locked-out workers, found itself paralysed when confronted with this challenge to its authority from the arrogant iron masters of the Ruhr; the same men who two years later would be financing Hitler’s Nazis in their final onslaught on German labour. As a last bid to find common ground between the Metal Workers Union and the employers, Müller appointed the notoriously right-wing Social Democrat Carl Severing, the Interior Minister of Prussia, as the final arbitrator in the dispute. Both parties agreed in advance to accept his ruling, and when he finally gave it on 21 December 1928, the employers’ confidence in him was vindicated. Severing found that the Düsseldorf award had been too generous to the workers, and they had to accept another cut in their original claim, to take effect from 1 January 1929. Thus did the reformists bend to the pressure of organised big business, even when it was in their interests to resist it. For far from reconciling the iron masters to the rule of the reformists, it served as an example to all German industrialists that with a little more firmness, the whole ‘Marxist’ crew could be driven from office for good.

The victory of the iron masters over Müller and the Metal Workers Union led on directly and immediately to demands being made in the DVP Central Committee and Reichstag Fraction for a break with its SPD coalition partners. With the Centre Party temporarily outside the cabinet, the DVP held the fate of the Müller government in its hands, and even the more liberal elements in the party were in favour of using this leverage to extort far-reaching concessions from the Social Democrats. In view of the dangerous situation for the working class created by the Ruhr lock-out defeat, how treacherous was the smug comment of the SPD official organ on the Düsseldorf award of 26 October, which the paper regarded not only as a great victory for the metal-workers, but proof that under Social Democratic rule, the capitalist state was in the process of discarding its repressive functions:

Ten years ago the conflict over wages would have been settled entirely by a social struggle by force only of trade union resources. Ten years ago the workers’ organisations would have found no protection from the state and its organs, they would then have had to be convinced in practice of the bitter truth that the state was on the side of the employers. But now the state guarantees the collective agreement. The great social differences are settled not only by resort to the trade union method of struggle, but simultaneously by the force of the political influence which the workers possess in the state. [11]

The employers’ answer to that utterly opportunist argument had been given in the course of the Ruhr lock-out. The methods of ‘social struggle’ were not so outdated as the SPD leaders fondly believed. And the contention that under the Müller government, the workers exercised a political influence on the state invited the reply – which was not long in coming – that this was an excellent justification for removing the Social Democrats from the government. But first some more softening up had to be done, and the annual budget, drawn up by Finance Minister Hilferding, provided the big employers and bankers with their opportunity. Presenting his budget to the Reichstag on 14 March 1929, Hilferding was at pains to point out that the financial difficulties being encountered by the Müller government were not the responsibility of the Social Democrats, but originated from two sources: the drying-up of foreign loans, and deficits incurred by previous ministries in 1926 and 1927. The crisis had been further exacerbated by an unprecedented and totally unexpected increase in the number of unemployed. The 1927 unemployment insurance act had been approved on the general understanding that the jobless rate would not go much above the half million mark, and this seemed a reasonable assumption in the boom conditions then prevailing. But with unemployment now nearing the three million mark – and this, it will be remembered, was still six months before the Wall Street crash – the funds set aside for dole payments were proving hopelessly insufficient to meet the most elementary needs of the unemployed. Already 150 million marks had been borrowed from the Treasury to meet this crisis, and another 250 million would probably be needed for the next fiscal year, even on the basis of the prevailing jobless rate. Where then were the cuts to be made? Hilferding proposed economies and taxes amounting to 379 million marks, but since these were to be mostly made from and imposed at the expense of propertied interests, the Müller government was once again confronted with the same ruling-class intransigence that had forced it to retreat in the Ruhr lock-out. After prolonged bargaining, with the Social Democrats predictably making most of the concessions, the budget was finally approved by the Reichstag on 10 April 1929, only now the cuts proposed by Hilferding had been whittled down to a mere 110 million marks. Once again, landed and industrial interests had found that concerted pressure, supported from within the coalition by the bourgeois parties, paid off. But still they were not satisfied. The Social Democrats had not been persuaded to yield on the basic question of unemployment insurance and other welfare benefits, since to do so would open up its entire left flank to the inroads of the KPD. Refusal to budge on this issue produced an angry comment from the highly influential organ of heavy industry and finance, the Berliner Börsen Zeitung:

[The]... regulation of the finances of the Reich... calls for an immediate rigorous cut in unemployment insurance, particularly in the direction of an exclusion from benefit of the seasonally and permanently unemployed. The rates of unemployment insurance must be reduced all round, while the supervision of unemployment and the exemption of all cases of proved unemployment must be far more severely carried out. Economies can also be effected in other directions in regard to national insurance, which should gradually be divested of its coercive government character and transformed into an optional matter of thrift [sic!]. [12]

The article, a clear indication of the dominant trend of thinking in big-business circles, also demanded a revision of the tax system, away from direct taxation (a progressive income tax hampers the accumulation of capital) towards taxation on consumption, which always hits the lower income groups hardest. Reductions in death duties, company taxes, etc, were also demanded. Finally, the article called for a new wages policy, one which marked a clear break from the established Weimar system of ‘political wages’:

The economy of labour within the country must also be subjected to a fundamental change. The coercive regulations governing wages and working hours must be abolished and we must introduce the freedom of employment and a wage system on the basis of the work actually performed. [13]

Merging with the controversy concerning the Müller government’s domestic policies was the equally fierce and emotionally charged debate on the terms of the new reparations agreement being negotiated with the Allies. After nearly four years of operations under the Dawes Plan, it had been proposed that yet another schedule of payments should be devised at a conference in Paris under the chairmanship of the American Owen Young, from whose name the new plan derived its title. The very composition of the German delegation gave a clear indication of who really ruled in Berlin. Arriving in Paris in the February of 1929, ostensibly to represent the Müller government, were the following leaders of German big business: Reichsbank President Hjalmar Schacht, United Steel Works General Manager Albert Vögler, Ludwig Kastl, Privy Councillor and Director of the Federation of German Industries, and Carl Melchior, of the Hamburg bank of Warburg and Co.

No Social Democrat dared so much as show his face at this summit of international high finance and industry. Schacht, the main spokesman for the German delegation, presented a memorandum which clearly indicated the growing aggressiveness of imperialist-oriented circles of the bourgeoisie. Not only did it propose a drastic reduction in annual reparations payments (which were anyway being met largely out of loans borrowed from the Allies), the memorandum called for Germany’s right to acquire colonies to be recognised by the Allies. It rapidly became obvious in the course of the Paris conference – which dragged on until May – that Schacht and Vögler were acting as independent agents, and not as representatives of the German government. Stresemann, Müller’s foreign minister, and the entire SPD leadership, were committed to a policy of détente with Germany’s former Western enemies, and Schacht’s aggressive stance threatened to disrupt what for the dying Stresemann was now his life’s work. Once again, big business had indicated the contempt it felt for the politicians who ruled Germany. Before long, both Schacht and Vögler were to translate their scorn into active support for fascism.

The Reichsbank President had already given a clear indication of the direction of his thinking in April 1929, at a meeting with government leaders in Berlin on the progress of the talks. When Carl Severing warned Schacht that his belligerent behaviour at the Paris conference could endanger Germany’s fragile economic stability, and that the withdrawal of Allied support credits would immediately precipitate mass unemployment and political upheavals, Schacht replied coolly: ‘Then we will simply have to shoot.’ But who was to do the shooting? True, Severing, as Prussian Interior Minister, had no hesitation only a few days later in ordering the Berlin police to fire on Communist workers celebrating May Day, a crime applauded in every bourgeois paper, however hostile their attitude towards the Social Democrats. But firing on demonstrations of SPD workers was another question altogether, and both Severing and Schacht knew it. The latter’s evolution from being a founder of the republican-radical DDP to an open supporter of National Socialism was well under way.

Meanwhile, as the controversy raged over the Young Plan, the Müller government became increasingly bogged down by the inability of its constituent parties to agree on economic and social policies. Any prospects of a deal between the reformists and the DVP were killed stone dead by the collapse of the US boom in October 1929. From this date onwards, however much the Social Democrats desired it, no stable compromise or coalition with the bourgeoisie was possible. Subjectively, the overwhelming majority of the SPD leadership gravitated organically towards a policy of coalition with the left flank of the bourgeoisie, spurning the possibility of a bloc with any party or tendency to its left against the capitalist parties. But such a strategy – the essence of the ‘grand coalition’ – demanded not only an economic situation which permitted at least a modest programme of reforms to render the exercise palatable to the millions of workers who followed the SPD. There had also to be a significant fraction of the bourgeoisie itself willing to cooperate in such an undertaking. The basis for such a collaborationist trend in the bourgeoisie, quite wide in the first months of the republic, had been eroded not only by the steady decline of the DDP, but by the rise of an ultra-reactionary tendency in the Centre headed by Monsignor Ludwig Kaas, who replaced Marx as party leader in December 1928, and the increasing isolation of Stresemann in the DVP. As for the largest ruling-class party, the DNVP, there had never been any question of its collaboration with representatives of the SPD in a coalition government. From the birth of the republic until the Reichstag elections of September 1930, when the Nazis erupted from obscurity to the position of Germany’s second-largest party, governments had the choice of anchoring their parliamentary support either on the SPD or the DNVP. As Count Westarp declared at the Nationalists’ congress in September 1927: ‘We or the socialists.’ And in the unlikely event of both parties going over to a policy of all-out opposition, no majority could have been commanded by any other parliamentary combination, since together with the KPD, which rejected the Weimar system as a matter of principle, they comprised a permanent majority of the Reichstag from January 1919 to the eve of the September 1930 elections. Any alliance policy pursued by the SPD was therefore of necessity predicated on a clear preference on the part of the remaining bourgeois groupings for a bloc with reformists, rather than an homogenous ‘national’ bloc with the DNVP. Schacht’s defection to the ultra-nationalist right was immensely significant in this respect, since in the early days of the republic, it was he more than almost any other bourgeois who had initiated a policy of close collaboration with the reformists against the threat of Communist revolution. Now, with the crisis gathering momentum almost hourly, [14] he had only one political aim: the destruction of the Müller government, and its replacement by a regime that could, without hesitation, do the necessary shooting. Within weeks of the slump on Wall Street, and with United States loans now being recalled in a panic bid to meet debts incurred at home as a result of the crash, German big business stepped up its offensive against the Social Democrats and the trade unions. Carl Duisberg of IG Farben told a conference of 3000 industrialists in Berlin on 13 November 1929 that Paul Silverberg’s proposed policy of mass redundancies and intensified exploitation must have the support of all employers. Evidently not having either himself or his audience in mind, he declared that ‘the German people must learn to work more and eat less’. Willi Wittke, the spokesman for Saxon industrialists, went even further, and demanded to loud applause that the Müller government should make way for ‘tougher men who could stand unpopularity’.

Three weeks later, on 2 December 1929, the all-powerful Federation of German Industries issued a manifesto under the intimidating title Go Ahead Or Go Under. Although couched in often abstruse phrases and long-winded economic jargon, its message was as clear as it was brutal. The German working class had to be reduced to conditions of near pauperism and servitude such as it had not experienced since the years of oppression and unfettered exploitation under Bismarck:

The German economy is at the parting of the ways. If it is not possible to adjust taxation and to bring about a decisive turnabout of our economic, financial and social policy, then the collapse of the German economy is inevitable. Rationalisation of the economy has undeniably been energetically pursued and has had some success. It would, however, have had more favourable results had it not been impaired by increased burdens. [Precisely the point made and illustrated statistically in Chapter XIV! – RB] It has often had disadvantageous consequences for individual concerns and can only benefit industry as a whole if it is relieved of unproductive expenditure, if interest rates are reduced and if private investment is assured of a reliable return. [In other words, the problem of the falling rate of profit, also discussed in the same chapter – RB] The German economy must be made free. It must not be interfered with by experiments and political influence. The process of socialisation leads to the destruction of the economy and the distress of the masses [sic!]. We therefore reject the attempts at industrial democracy [that is, the system of works councils and trade union ‘participation’ in economic affairs – RB] as a means of socialisation and therefore as a precursor of collectivisation. German industry sees this as a great danger, not only for employers and workpeople, but for the nation as a whole. The democratisation of the economy for which the socialists are striving, stifles initiative and destroys the sense of responsibility without which no progress is possible. [Therefore we demand]... the building up of capital. This is a prerequisite for increasing production... The German economy must be freed from all economic restrictions. Production must be freed from taxation... There must be a fundamental recognition of the limit to which the state can interfere in the economy. State enterprise must be limited to those areas where individual enterprise cannot or should not operate. Where public enterprise is justified, it must be run on private business lines. It must have no preferential financing [an obvious attack on Social Democratic welfare financing – RB] or taxation and must work under the same conditions as private enterprise... The claims of social policy must be limited to what the economy can support. Economic productivity is the source of social achievement. Recognising this, we unanimously demand: As regards the social insurance laws, their present basis may remain, but payment of benefits and their administration must, unlike at present, conform to what the economy can support. Unemployment insurance: the partial reforms of 3 October [wherein the Müller government sanctioned the disqualification of certain categories from benefit, and reduced benefits for others – RB] does not go far enough. Contributions must be sufficient to meet benefits... Arbitration and compulsory wage regulations: state compulsory regulation of wages and working conditions must be abolished... Finance and taxation policy. Taxation in recent years has increased so much as to make the return on investment below the customary rate of interest. This will eventually lead to the disappearance of investment capital... Indirect taxation must be increased, with the abolition of profits tax as soon as possible, at once by at least one half. [15]

Schacht was thinking along similar lines, as became evident when he published his attack on Social Democratic economic and social policy, The End of Reparations, in the year following the fall of the Müller government:

It cannot be denied that the postwar policy of Germany has through its socialistic system of financial irresponsibility, hidden from the world the exhaustion of Germany’s economic and financial life... since socialism has so extensive an influence upon the conduct of business and finance in Germany, it remains to be seen whether the productive forces of the people will be adequate to pay for the welfare measures, the bad economics and expensive bureaucracy of this Marxism [that is, Social Democracy]... Not less arbitrary and injurious to the national economic system has been the evolution of wage regulations under the Marxist system... The result is that often enough the profitability of an undertaking depends upon political rather than economic conditions... The more the political domination of the socialist trade unions succeeded, by the wage agreement system, in equalising wages, the more emphatically the employers demanded that wages should correspond to actual performance. The decisive historical mistake which must be charged against the SPD is that it seized the occasion of a lost war to promise the masses of the population greater comforts than they had enjoyed before the war. [16]

Schacht penned these incredibly reactionary lines, full of scorn for even the most modest demands of Social Democracy, shortly after he made his fateful decision to support the Nazis.

The severity of the economic crisis was further underlined by the Federation at its extraordinary general meeting held 10 days after the publication of its document. A succession of employers took the floor to deliver blistering attacks on the Müller government and especially the trade unions, which they quite correctly saw as the first obstacle to the implementation of plans to cut wages and to speed up the tempo of work. Wittke was again prominent in the discussion, drawing the remarks of earlier speakers on the need for a new economic policy to their logical political conclusion:

To carry out what today’s speakers have demanded, requires a firm and durable government. Our present party system does not give this. I am not alone in saying that an enabling act can perhaps be the only means to get us out of our predicament... This of course demands, above all, civic courage, an attribute which unfortunately is in short supply and which brings temporary unpopularity.

Director Eugen Schnaas of Berlin went still further, proposing not only the suspension of parliamentary party government, but, by implication, the destruction of the trade unions. The wild shouts of approval which greeted his anti-union diatribe, and even more, the invocation of the name associated throughout Europe with anti-socialist terror and repression, gave more than a hint of the direction in which German big business was moving:

Those who have had occasion in recent years to sit down at the table with the trade unions in wage negotiations must have realised that they haven’t got a clue about economics ... I echo the words of the late President Ebert that there will be no industrial peace in Germany until 100 000 party officials have been expelled. [Cries of ‘Bravo!’ and ‘Mussolini!'] I don’t have to say that this radical measure is necessary.

And Germany’s Mussolini was already waiting in the wings...

Between the publication of the Federation’s manifesto and the meeting of 12 December there exploded the biggest anti-Müller bombshell of them all – the Schacht Memorandum. Issued by the Reichsbank President on 5 December, it not only announced Schacht’s repudiation of the Young Plan agreement he had signed in Paris on 7 June, but his total opposition to the domestic, principally economic policies of the government whose servant he supposedly was (the Memorandum was not even shown to the government before its release). Echoing the arguments of heavy industry, Schacht claimed that a:

... true balance of the budget has yet to be achieved; no steps have been taken toward an organised settlement of the former deficit; while new, constantly increasing deficits and fresh demands keep appearing, deficits and demands which in the final analysis can only be covered by further taxation, that is, by a still greater financial burden on the nation.

Schacht had succeeded in drawing first blood. For the immediate target of his attack was Finance Minister Rudolf Hilferding, who, having lost the confidence of the head of the state bank, decided to resign rather than fight it out. [17] Hilferding’s successor was not a Social Democrat, but Paul Moldenhauer, a professor of insurance at Cologne University and, what was more to the point, a member of the DVP. The SPD government leaders had already retreated over the questions of cruiser ‘A’, the Ruhr lock-out, the 1929-30 budget, the Young Plan talks in Paris, unemployment insurance, and now Schacht’s attack on their own party comrade Hilferding. What followed was even more capitulatory. Although in no sense a member of the government, Schacht in effect laid down the guidelines for its future budgets by compelling the government, on pain of being denied credits by the Reichsbank to meet its debts, to establish a ‘sinking fund’ of 450 million marks. Once this deflationary proposal was acceded to by a thoroughly intimidated Reichstag and Cabinet, Schacht authorised a consortium of German banks to provide the government with the required funds to meet its more pressing obligations (Schacht’s financial dictatorship was rendered all the more effective by the drying-up of other sources of loans as a result of the slump in the USA).

Continued differences with the Müller government over the Young Plan (and not, it should be noted, financial policy) eventually precipitated Schacht’s resignation from the Reichsbank on 3 March 1930, nine days before the Plan was ratified by the Reichstag by 266 votes to 193. Schacht had gone, much to the relief of many rank-and-file Social Democrats and trade unionists (he was to return three years later as Hitler’s Reichsbank chief), but his aim – the removal of the SPD from the government – was now only days away. On the day of the Reichstag vote, Heinrich Brüning, leader of the Centre Party Reichstag fraction and a fast ascending protégé of Kaas, visited Hindenburg to inform the President of his party’s determination to carry out the financial ‘reforms’ Schacht and the big employers’ organisations had been demanding with mounting urgency over the previous year. And like those from whom he took his cue, Brüning declared he would not shrink from by-passing normal parliamentary methods to achieve his goal. The Centre organ Germania, whose editorial policy was directed by von Papen’s reactionary Catholic clique, revealed that in the course of the conversation, Hindenburg had promised Brüning that he would ‘make use of all constitutional means’ to bring about such a reform of German financial policy. And Germania added darkly, in tones clearly inspired by von Papen himself, that ‘if the German parliament cannot accomplish this task, then the President will assume whatever powers are appropriate and necessary... The dissolution of the Reichstag, or Article 48, or both, stand ready for service if the parties fall.’ With this Bonapartist injunction, sentence had been pronounced on the Müller government, [18] all that needed to be done was to carry it out. The SPD now stood alone, its ‘grand coalition’ in ruins. The DVP had voted to withdraw its support from Müller at the end of 1929, and now, with Brüning’s decision to invoke the authority of the President to force even more reactionary policies on the government, the Social Democrats were obviously about to lose the support of their other main coalition partner, the Centre Party. The issue on which Müller’s government finally fell was that of unemployment insurance. In January 1930, the number of workers without jobs had risen to well over the two million mark, and even with the reduction in categories qualified to receive benefit undertaken by the government in October 1929, there was no hope of their being maintained at subsistence level unless new funds were made available to replenish the exhausted treasury. The SPD proposed that the deficit be made good by a four per cent levy on higher income groups, notably civil servants. The DVP, whose support was drawn from just these privileged layers of the population, rejected the plan point blank. Then Finance Minister Moldenhauer came up with a compromise solution. He proposed on 24 March that unemployment contributions, which currently stood at 3.5 per cent for employers and workers alike, should be raised to four per cent providing that a majority of the trade union and management representatives on the directorate of the national unemployment service agreed to this. The DVP turned down this plan also, even though the sum involved was the seemingly trifling one of a half per cent of employers’ incomes. Then with the other two government parties, the Centre and the DVP, acting as mediators, a third plan was drawn up. It now involved an increase of a mere quarter per cent in contributions, and only then in the event of a government subsidy of 150 millions failing to make good the deficit. This version seemed to satisfy both the DVP and the SPD cabinet members until, at the very last moment, Müller’s Minister of Labour Rudolf Wissell declared that he could not vote for it. Wissell was not speaking for himself alone. Thirty-seven per cent of the SPD Reichstag fraction were trade union officials and leaders, among them being five members of the ADGB Executive Committee. On 27 March 1930, Wissell informed his other three party colleagues in the Cabinet – Müller, Severing and Schmidt – that the trade union delegation in the Reichstag could under no circumstances vote for the proposed reform of the unemployment insurance scheme. They were in fact unanimous in their opposition to it, and were assured of a majority in the SPD Reichstag fraction by the support of sympathetic party deputies. Outvoted for the second time by his party, Müller had no choice but to hand in his resignation on 28 March 1930. The last ‘grand coalition’ had collapsed, torn apart by forces that none of its members could properly comprehend. The liberal Berliner Tagblatt was utterly bemused by what it called the ‘crisis over one-quarter per cent’, and superficially it must have indeed seemed absurd that a government that had swallowed so many capitalist camels now strained at such a minute gnat. In fact the fall of Müller had proceeded in accordance with a law first enunciated – in an idealist form – by Hegel; namely the dialectical transition, the leap, from quantity into quality.

In his Science of Logic, Hegel says that an objectively existing thing, a ‘Being-for-Self, is not only constituted qualitatively (thus demarcating itself from and setting itself in opposition to other Beings-for-Self), but ‘is also essentially a relation of Quanta, and therefore open to externality and variation of Quantum: it has some play, within which it remains indifferent to this change and does not alter its Quality’. [19] However, this degree of tolerance or ‘play’ is not infinite. There exist objective, and as Hegel observes, often unpredictable limits beyond which quantitative changes (either negative or positive) become impossible without subverting the Being-in-Self, ‘a point in this quantitative change at which Quality changes and Quantum shows itself as specifying so that the altered quantitative relation is turned under our hands into a Measure and thereby into a new quality and a new Something’. [20] The very nature of this process – a protracted period of quantitative change within a seemingly permanent or at least stable framework, culminating in an explosive and often dramatic leap to a new qualitative state – leaves all but the most perceptive bewildered. For it appears that the last quantitative addition or subtraction was responsible for the sudden transformation, that, to return to the subject in question, the ADGB’s refusal to sanction a reduction one quarter of a per cent in employers’ contribution to unemployment insurance was the cause of the rift in the Müller cabinet between its Social Democratic and bourgeois partners. Hegel explains how this illusion arises:

Men like to try to make a change conceivable by means of the gradualness of transition; but rather gradualness is precisely the merely indifferent change [that is, that which is containable within the existing quality – RB], the opposite of quantitative change. Rather, in gradualness the connection of the two realities – whether taken as state or independent things – is suspended; it is posited that neither is limit of the other, but that one is just external to the other; and hereby, precisely that which is needful in order that change may be understood is eliminated, however little may be required to this end. [21]

And after illustrating the working out of this law in the natural world with the famous example of liquid water becoming transformed, by quantitative additions and subtractions of heat, into the qualitatively different states of steam and ice (a process which in both cases culminated in a sudden and not gradual change of state), Hegel detects it also in human history:

Thus too do states – other things equal – derive a different qualitative character from magnitudinal difference... The state has a certain measure of its magnitude, and if forced beyond this it collapses helplessly under that very same constitution which was its blessing and its strength for as long as its extent alone was different. [22]

These lines could well serve as fitting epitaph on the fate of Weimar democracy, and as a judgement by Germany’s foremost exponent of objective idealist dialectics on the miserable theoretical degeneration of that same nation’s most vulgar evolutionists.

The political relations and institutions established by the November Revolution held together only so long as they were able to absorb the quantitative additions in class tension (that is, between the polar opposites which comprise the quality in question) precipitated by the general crisis of world imperialism as refracted and mediated through the specific and chronic crisis of German capitalism. On one historic occasion, in the summer and autumn of 1923, an historic opportunity presented itself to bring about a qualitative leap in this struggle between the classes. For unlike the transformation of water into steam or ice, historical change, and most of all the proletarian revolution, requires deep-going transformations in the consciousness of men, a change which reaches its highest theoretical and practical expression in the revolutionary Marxist party. Such a leap in political thinking, in the form of revolutionary tactics, strategy and organisation, did not take place. The opportunity slipped by, the process of addition was replaced by subtraction, and the stabilisation of 1924-28 supplanted the crisis of 1919-23. Then, beginning with the formation of the Müller government in June 1928, and the simultaneous onset of the economic crisis, a renewed process of quantitative change began; one however which found the bourgeoisie, and not the working class, on the offensive.

That it was able to retain this initiative beyond the fall of Müller and through the next three years to the triumph of Hitler was not an inevitable outcome of the objective nature of the crisis, but entirely the consequence of the policies pursued by the two main tendencies in the German workers’ movement.

Appendix: The Comintern, the KPD and the Müller Government

How did the Stalinist leadership of the Communist International and the KPD analyse and respond to the events and crises discussed in the foregoing chapter? Did the very obvious deepening of the conflict between the SPD and the reformist trade unions on the one side, and the entire bourgeoisie on the other, occasion any revision of the theory that Social Democracy had now turned fascist, and was in Germany, more than any other country, destined to spearhead the bourgeoisie’s bid to install a fascist dictatorship over the working class? On the contrary, the more evident these tensions became, the more the Stalinists frantically tried to deny their existence, since to admit that a split was indeed taking place within the Müller cabinet was to concede that the ‘new line’ ushered in at the Sixth Comintern Congress was founded on theoretical quicksands. Equally important was the fact that Stalin had openly fallen out with the Bukharin group in the Politbureau of the CPSU, and had finally opted for a course of breakneck industrialisation and forced collectivisation as his bureaucratic answer to the deepening crisis of the Soviet economy. On 19 October 1928, Stalin delivered a report to party officials in Moscow in which he spoke of a ‘right danger’ in the CPSU, though he repudiated suggestions that it had any supporters on the Politbureau. Significantly, in view of the holocaust that was about to descend on Bukharin and his followers in the Comintern, Stalin linked the ‘right deviation’ in the CPSU to a similar, and equally – at this stage – anonymous tendency in the International:

Under capitalist conditions, the Right deviation in Communism signifies a tendency... of a section of the Communists to depart from the revolutionary line of Marxism in the direction of Social Democracy. When certain groups of Communists deny the expediency of the slogan ‘class against class’ in election campaigns (France [where in the elections of 1928, the French Communist Party had, contrary to earlier practice, refused to stand down on the second ballot to support better-placed socialist candidates – RB]), or are opposed to the Communist Party nominating its own candidates (Britain [this had been the line of a right-wing group headed by JR Campbell and A Rothstein – RB]) or are disinclined to make a sharp issue of the fight against ‘Left’ Social Democracy (Germany), etc, it means that there are people in the Communist parties who are striving to adapt Communism to Social Democratism. [23]

This trend, whose supporters in Germany were near to exercising a decisive voice on the KPD Central Committee, Stalin equated with the Right deviation in the Soviet Union, which ‘denied the need for an offensive against the capitalist elements in the countryside’ and thereby adapted ‘to the tastes and requirements of the “Soviet” bourgeoisie’. [24] This speech is important in that in attacking Stalin’s rightist opponents in the CPSU, it gave a broad hint that war was shortly to be declared on those in the sections of the Comintern and its central leadership who, justly or otherwise, were alleged to share their views. From October 1928 onwards, Stalin’s onslaught on the Kulakfar more severe than anything envisaged by either Trotsky or Lenin, who had both stood for voluntary collectivisation of the peasantry – and forced march to an industrialised economy were organically fused with his fight to gain total control of the International, a battle waged under the banner of war to the death against ‘social fascism’.

The biggest challenge to Stalin came from the KPD, the largest party of the Comintern outside of the Soviet Union, and one that even after its series of maulings and decimations at the hands of successive cliques in the ECCI leadership, still retained something of its former independent and critical revolutionary spirit. A new crisis in the KPD forced Stalin’s hand, since it threatened to overturn the leadership of his most trusted representative in Germany, Ernst Thälmann, who even before the Sixth Comintern Congress had been vociferous in his support for the theory of ‘social fascism’.

Throughout the summer of 1928, rumours had been rife in the Hamburg party organisation (where Thälmann began his career) that KPD funds had been embezzled. A commission set up to investigate the charges finally discovered, after an anonymous tip-off over the telephone, that the culprit was none other the secretary of the Hamburg party organisation, Wittorf, and that several leading party members, including two of those serving on the Control Commission that was investigating the affair, had known about it from the beginning, and had done everything to cover it up. Then an even deeper scandal broke. The two commission members – Presche and Riess – together with Johnny Schehr, KPD Organising Secretary and a close friend of Thälmann, had been ordered by none other than Thälmann to protect Wittorf from the consequences of his act. And Wittorf was Thälmann’s brother-in-law! If Wittorf had to be expelled – and on this there was no disagreement – then at the very least, Thälmann had to be disciplined as an accessory after the fact. On 26 September 1928, a plenary session of the KPD demanded that Thälmann return to Berlin from Moscow to face the music. On his arrival in Berlin, the party Central Committee carried the following resolution:

The CC sharply disapproves, as a severe political blunder, the attempt on the part of Comrade Thälmann to keep the events in Hamburg secret from the proper authorities within the party. On his own initiative the affair is referred to the ECCI. He is removed from all party functions until a decision by the ECCI has been reached.

When Stalin heard the news of Thälmann’s fall from grace, he was enraged, immediately dispatching a telegram instructing a delegation from the KPD Central Committee to attend a meeting in Moscow to ‘discuss’ the matter with leading ECCI officials – Piatnitsky, Kuusinen, Molotov (Stalin’s new rising star in the ECCI political secretariat), Manuilsky, Kun and the Swiss supporter of Bukharin, Humbert-Droz. Stalin did not deign to break his holiday-making in Sochi to see the KPD delegation, but simply sent a curt telegram which rendered all further discussion superfluous: ‘Thälmann to be confirmed in all his functions, the [Right] opposition to be excluded from the CC.’ Only Droz, who also had close ties and sympathies with those being excluded so high-handedly from the German party leadership, voted against this ukase. As one who participated in both the investigation and the ‘meeting’ in Moscow comments, ‘what had at first seemed a petty financial scandal in Hamburg became a major turning point. The moral backbone of a great working-class party had been broken.’ [25]

The official Stalinist stamp of approval was put on Thälmann’s leadership on 6 October 1928, when the ECCI Presidium issued its decision on the Wittorf affair. After mildly rebuking Thälmann for his failing to report the embezzlement as soon as he learnt of it (an oversight put down to his desire to protect the party from ‘the class enemies of the proletariat’) the resolution unleashed a barrage of invective against those who voted originally for Thälmann’s removal from the Central Committee. This ‘crass mistake’ was part of a conspiracy against Thälmann being organised by his ‘political opponents within the CC’, and ‘an attempt to change the party leadership and so obstruct the execution of the political line adopted by the Sixth World Congress’, a line, the resolution significantly emphasised, that was best represented in the KPD by none other than Thälmann. The resolution ended by expressing the presidium’s ‘complete political confidence in comrade Thälmann’ and called upon him ‘to continue to discharge the functions in the party and the ECCI imposed on him by the Essen party congress and the Sixth CI congress’. For once, the presidium’s confidence was justified. Thälmann never deviated once from the line imposed on his party from Moscow, even when it entailed placing his own head in the Nazi noose.

With his trusty servitor now bound even more closely to him as a result of his intervention on Thälmann’s behalf in the Wittorf affair, Stalin felt free to move openly against the German supporters of Bukharin. In December 1928, the Stalinised Central Committee of the KPD voted to expel, against the solitary vote of Ernst Meyer, not only Brandler and Thalheimer, but Walcher, Frölich and Enderle, who up until the recent crisis had been prominent in the party leadership (and even more significantly all five were old Spartacists and comrades of Rosa Luxemburg). The purge went both wide and deep. Ten members of the Central Committee and more than a hundred on the district committees now found themselves outside the party they had devoted their lives to building. And climbing over them to the top were careerists who, unlike the disgraced Luxemburgists, found it easy to adjust their bureaucratic phraseology to the latest zigzag of Stalinist policy. On 19 December 1928, Stalin summed up the results of the purge in the German party in a speech to the Presidium of the ECCI. His main theme was that the Rights (real and alleged alike) denied that the period of capitalist stabilisation was drawing to a close, to be replaced by a ‘Third Period’ of the ‘sharp accentuation of the general crisis of capitalism’. Singling out Humbert-Droz as the main spokesman for this tendency in the ECCI – Stalin’s open break with Bukharin was still two months away – Stalin criticised him for maintaining that the struggles of the working class against the employers were ‘in the main only of a defensive character, and that the leadership of this struggle on the part of the Communist parties should be carried out only within the framework of the existing reformist unions’. Now Stalin employed this centrist conception to smuggle in an alternative, ultra-left line on the trade unions, one which set the pace throughout the Communist International, but especially in Germany, for the drive towards parallel ‘red’ unions that almost without exception lacked real stability and deep roots in the factory proletariat:

At the time of the Ruhr battles [the lock-out of November 1928 – RB] the German Communists noted the fact that the unorganised workers proved to be more revolutionary than the organised workers. Humbert-Droz is outraged by this and declares that it could not have been so. Strange! Why could it not have been so? There are about a million workers in the Ruhr. Of them, about 200 000 are organised in trade unions. The trade unions are directed by reformist bureaucrats who are connected in all manner of ways with the capitalist class. Why is it surprising then that the unorganised workers proved to be more revolutionary than the organised? Could it indeed have been otherwise? ... a situation is quite conceivable in which it may be necessary to create parallel mass associations of the working class, against the will of the trade union bosses who have sold themselves to the capitalists. We already have such a situation in America. [Lozovsky had, it will be recalled, written off the AFL as a ‘fascist’ union at the Fourth RILU Congress in July 1928 – RB] It is quite possible that things are moving in the same direction in Germany too. [26]

Those such as Lozovsky who were already inclined towards such leftist tactics were strengthened in their desire to foist them on the parties of the International by the open breach between Stalin’s faction and the Bukharin group, which came at the end of January 1929. For the first time, Stalin spoke openly of:

... a separate Bukharin group... consisting of Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov, [with] its own separate platform, which it counterposes to the Party’s policy. It demands, firstly – in opposition to the existing policy of the party – a slower rate of development of our industry, asserting that the present rate is ‘fatal’. It demands – also in opposition to the policy of the party – curtailment of the formation of state farms and collective farms, asserting that they cannot play any serious part in the development of our agriculture. It demands thirdly – also in opposition to the policy of the party – the granting of full freedom to private trade and the renunciation of the regulating function of the state in the sphere of trade, asserting that the regulation of the state renders the development of trade impossible. In other words: Bukharin’s group is a group of Right deviators and capitulators who advocate not the elimination, but the free development of the capitalist elements of town and country. [27]

On this occasion, Stalin made no reference to the issues in dispute in the Communist International. But he did so two months later in a long speech to the April 1929 CPSU Plenum, convened to take organisational measures against the Bukharin Right Opposition.

After slanderously linking the Bukharinites with the Left Opposition (who were their bitterest critics) on the strength of a single conversation in the summer of 1928 between the renegade Left Oppositionist Kamenev and Bukharin (a discussion which mooted the formation of an unprincipled anti-Stalin bloc of former Lefts and supporters of Bukharin’s rightist course), Stalin answered Bukharin’s charge, made in a declaration to the CPSU Central Committee on 30 January, that ‘the Central Committee is disintegrating the Comintern’. Evidently Bukharin – still nominal head of the Comintern – could no longer acquiesce in the ‘new line’ which was daily lurching further and further to the ultra-left with its adventurist slogan of new ‘red’ unions and claims that the entire Social Democratic movement from top to bottom was turning ‘social fascist’. And while in contrast to Trotsky, Bukharin’s opposition to the tactics of ‘Third Period’ Stalinism was not based on a rejection of the theory of ‘socialism in one country’, he nevertheless, precisely because of his organic leaning towards centrist tendencies in the Comintern and the left elements in the reformist parties, grasped more quickly than most the suicidal implications of the Stalin – Molotov line. Thus Stalin:

... capitalist stabilisation is being undermined and shaken month by month and day by day... the swing to the left of the working class in the capitalist countries, the wave of strikes and class conflicts in the European countries... all these are facts which indicate beyond a doubt that the elements of a new revolutionary upsurge are accumulating in the capitalist countries. Hence the task of intensifying the fight against Social Democracy, and above all, against its ‘Left’ wing [the same ‘Left’ with whose British trade union representatives Stalin had been aligned during their betrayal of the General Strike and the nine-month struggle of the miners – RB], as being the social buttress of capitalism. Hence the task of intensifying the fight in the Communist Parties against the Right elements, as being the agents of Social Democratic influence. Hence the task of intensifying the fight against conciliation towards the Right deviation, as being the refuge of opportunism in the Communist Parties. Hence the slogan of purging the Communist Parties of Social Democratic traditions. [A task allegedly accomplished a full four years previously by the Stalin – Zinoviev ‘Bolshevisation’ campaign, which on that occasion was directed at supporters of Trotsky – RB] Hence the so-called new tactics of Communism in the trade unions. [28]

The German party, destined to serve as the proving ground for the new leftist course, figured most prominently in the clash between Stalin and Bukharin over international policy. According to Stalin, Bukharin had supported the initial move to depose Thälmann over the latter’s involvement in the Wittorf affair:

... instead of swinging the tiller over and correcting the situation, instead of restoring the validity of the violated directive of the Sixth Congress [on the ‘fight against conciliation towards the right deviation’ – RB] and calling the conciliators to order Bukharin proposed in his well-known letter to sanction the conciliators’ coup, to hand over the KPD to the conciliators, and to revile Comrade Thälmann... If the Sixth Congress decided to declare war on the Right deviation and conciliation towards it by keeping the leadership in the hands of the main core of the KPD, headed by Comrade Thälmann, and if it occurred to the conciliators Ewart and Gerhart to upset that decision, it was Bukharin’s duty to call the conciliators to order... [29]

Bukharin was also taken to task for procrastinating over:

... routing the Brandler and Thalheimer faction, and... expelling the leaders of that faction from the KPD... At bottom, it was the fate of the KPD that was being decided. Yet Bukharin and his friends [Humbert-Droz], knowing this, nevertheless continually hindered matters by systematically keeping away from the meetings of the bodies which had the question under consideration... presumably for the sake of remaining ‘clean’ in the eyes of both the Comintern and the Rights in the KPD. [30]

Finally, Bukharin had sinned against the new Stalinist code of conduct in the Comintern by objecting to the intrigues being woven in the KPD on Stalin’s behalf by Neumann.

Bukharin, who had good cause to doubt Neumann’s motives in the light of the Canton adventure of December 1927, demanded his recall. No other party of the Comintern was referred to by Stalin in his diatribe against Bukharin, underlining the fact that the battle between the Stalinist ‘centre’ and the Bukharin Right was being waged not only in Moscow, but Berlin. The Stalinist faction in the CPSU could not tolerate an oppositional tendency – of whatever complexion – gaining ascendancy in the largest party of the International. Therefore the leftist line assumed a more exaggerated form in the KPD than almost any other section in a party which, had it pursued a Leninist tactic (and not a Bukharinite adaptation to left Social Democracy), could have won the leadership of the majority of the German working class and through a determined struggle for power, blocked the road against the advance of National Socialism. Stalin’s ultra-leftist line cut clean across such a development, isolating the KPD from the Social Democratic workers in the trade unions and the SPD with its dictum that the reformists were ‘social fascists’, and that no tactical agreements were permissible between the KPD and the Social Democratic organisations. With the removal of the Brandler faction, the KPD was now ready to implement Stalin’s suicidal policy. The Ruhr lock-out provided the first opportunity, where the KPD came forward with the line, first propounded at the Fourth RILU Congress in July 1928, that the reformist unions were fast becoming transformed into strike-breaking machines tied to the capitalist state and the employers’ organisations – this despite the fact that the lock-out arose as result of the reformist-led Metal Workers Union’s failure to agree with the iron masters over a new pay claim! Stalin’s already-quoted reference to the alleged emergence of a revolutionary layer of workers completely outside (and presumably hostile to) the reformist trade unions in this dispute – never substantiated by any evidence – became converted into an entire system of trade union tactics and strategy. Thus in an article on the Ruhr lock-out, S Gusiev (a Soviet Stalinist) wrote that the old slogan of ‘Make the [trade union] leaders fight’ now had to be withdrawn. ‘The new united front tactic is the direct projection of the former tactics in the face of conditions which have changed.’ But despite this brave attempt to preserve a semblance of outward continuity between the old and now discarded line of a united front from above and the new line of a united front only ‘from below’, Gusiev’s article marked a clear shift in Comintern, and especially KPD tactics:

Now we are strong enough to have been able largely to extend our tactics of the united front, spreading it among the wide mass of unorganised workers. Our activities have come to depend much less on the conduct of the leaders of Social Democracy, and that dependency grows weaker every day.

In other words, the KPD was now seeking to anchor itself on the unstable masses outside the unions, and beginning to turn its back on the five million strategically crucial workers organised in the ADGB, and largely still loyal to the SPD. The ‘new line’, with its brash talk of ‘independent leadership’, simply became a left cover for capitulation to the continued domination of the reformist bureaucracy over millions of German workers without whose support or at the very least, passive sympathy, there could be no question of a successful revolution.

The Stalinist course also rendered impossible inside the KPD a serious discussion of the highly unstable compromise that existed between the reformist leaders and the big employers and their political spokesmen, a compromise that, as we have seen, was being rapidly undermined by the gathering crisis of German capitalism. Gusiev would have none of it:

Class against class connotes the organised capitalist class (including the Social Democrats in this category) attacking the proletariat on the one hand, and on the other, the swiftly organising working class, driving and leading a counter-attack against the capitalists under the direct leadership of the Communist Party. Such are the tendency and prospect in the coming weeks and months.

And if this were so then obviously there could be no question of the big bourgeoisie falling out with the very Social Democrats with whom it had concluded an organised bloc:

It is erroneous... to explain the capitalists’ attack [on the Müller government] (as does Vorwärts and as certain Communists think) by the influence of the DNVP, who are said to be striving to inflict a blow at the existing coalition government... A number of political differences exist among the various of the bourgeois parties (including the SPD) but none of these differences has any importance in the struggle now unfolding. [31]

With the SPD now designated as a ‘bourgeois party’, the Müller government’s problems could be depicted – quite wrongly, as subsequent events proved – as normal differences within the ruling class, and having no relation to the struggle between classes, mediated in a highly attenuated form through the SPD’s participation in a cabinet which also included the leading party of big business. This false leftist analysis left KPD workers completely unprepared both theoretically and politically for the political crisis which erupted over the issues of cruiser ‘A’, cuts in wages and unemployment insurance, the Hilferding – Schacht conflict, and finally the refusal of the trade unions (who were, of course, in a bloc with the employers) to accept the DVP’s revised schedule of unemployment insurance contributions. The remoteness from reality of the new Comintern leadership’s analysis is illustrated in this excerpt from an article in the Comintern organ on the ‘Right Danger in the KPD’, which declared that the basis of the party’s trade union tactics was:

... the most recent evolution of the Social Democrats and the reformist trade unions, their complete assimilation into the bourgeois state machine and trust capital, their new methods of strangling the independent struggles of the proletariat, their social fascist splitting tactics... [hence] the emphasis laid on the necessity for the Communist parties and revolutionary trade union opposition of winning the leadership in mass struggles, and on the question of new forms of struggle and new organisations for the greatest possible mobilisation and activating of militant workers. [32]

The ECCI ‘May Day Manifesto’ dwelt at some length on this theme of the organic fusion of Social Democracy with the bourgeoisie. First it quite mechanically, without any regard for the uneven development of the capitalist crises and the class struggle in the imperialist world, projected an identical political perspective for every section of the Comintern – one of imminent civil war: ‘The accentuation of the class struggle leads with all capitalist governments to civil war methods in their dealings with the toilers.’ We find a similar schematic approach to the current crisis being adopted today by Workers Press. On 24 November 1973, Workers Press carried a headline on page 3: ‘Military Coup a Threat In All Major Countries.’ And indeed, over the previous two months, confident predictions of such imminent coups and civil wars had been made for the USA, Ireland, Japan, West Germany, Mexico, France, Italy and Britain. The method which leads the WRP Central Committee to this conclusion bears a remarkable resemblance to the idealist schematicism of Third Period Stalinism, since this perspective is put forward for ‘all major countries’ irrespective of whether they are already ruled by military or fascist regimes (such as Chile, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Indonesia, Brazil, to name but six cases), a bourgeois parliamentary system with the direct representatives of the capitalist class in office (as in France, Japan, Britain) or a government comprised either wholly on in part of representatives of the Stalinist or Social Democratic movements. Thus reformists, Stalinists, bourgeois liberals and conservatives, militarists and fascists are lumped together, after the manner of the original draft of the 1891 SPD Erfurt Programme so sharply criticised by Engels, in ‘one reactionary mass’. We are told that ‘the admiration at the top of the Tory cabinet for President Pompidou’s Bonapartist regime is part of the Europe-wide preparation for civil war against the working class’, and that the ‘purpose of the Pompidou club is to pool the experience and knowledge of the heads of state in order to organise counter-revolution throughout the Common Market’. [33] Anyone familiar with Trotsky’s writings on Germany, and especially on the policies the Stalinists pursued in that country between 1929 and 1933, will of course know that he took enormous pains to emphasise the differences between the Social Democratic, Bonapartist and fascist varieties of reaction. Brandt will not and cannot, without severing all his links with the SPD and the entire German labour movement – and at the moment he does that, he loses all value for the bourgeoisie! – join with Heath and Pompidou to ‘organise counter-revolution throughout the Common Market’, since the goal of such a counter-revolution can only be to eliminate bourgeois democracy and the existence of independent workers’ organisations, and to establish fascism. Yet in Workers Press we can read (in an article reprinted from Der Funke, the organ of the Socialist Workers League, which at the time of writing is in political solidarity with the WRP) that ‘under the Social Democratic government [of Willy Brandt] civil war preparations are being made which have no precedent in the history of the West German republic’. No one doubts for a moment that the technical preparations being made by the West German police are for use against the working class. But what this article overlooks – in fact, studiously avoids mentioning, although the history of Weimar should surely teach its writer not to do so – is that the repressive machine being built up under the rule of Brandt can and in all probability will be turned against Brandt and his fellow Social Democratic leaders, just as Noske’s Free Corps revolted against the Frankenstein that created them. The fact that Der Funke does know this is revealed unwittingly by its demand, which, in the context of the rest of the article, is absurd, that ‘the unions must force this government to reverse all its civil war measures’ and that ‘the working class must demand that they [the FDP liberals] should be thrown out of the government and force the SPD to carry out socialist policies’. [34] So there is a difference – and a vital one at that – between Pompidou’s regime and that of Brandt. For who, unless he is an inveterate opportunist, would consider addressing such demands to the French Gaullists, Heath, the Greek military or the Italian Christian Democrats, all of whom, we are told, are plotting counter-revolution and civil war in cahoots with Brandt? Yet, in other articles published in the Workers Press, no distinction is made between Brandt’s reformist-liberal coalition and purely bourgeois cabinets on this most vital of all questions – that of the destruction of the workers’ movement and the installation of fascism. It is a false perspective that just as surely as in the last years of Weimar Germany will lead the working class to certain defeat if it is permitted to gain ascendancy in the workers’ movement. Such leftism supplements to perfection the open opportunism of the Stalinists, Social Democrats and centrist revisionist groups, as once again, the example of Weimar Germany, to which we now return, proves.

From its arid, non-dialectical appraisal of the world situation, the conclusion was drawn by the ECCI manifesto that ‘in Germany, France, Great Britain, United States, conditions of an open dictatorship are maturing’, obliterating not only widely differing degrees of manoeuvre available to the ruling class in these countries on the foundations of bourgeois democracy, but also the actual composition of the governments in the countries concerned. But according to the Stalinist theory of ‘social fascism’ that did not matter in the least, since all governments and parties (save those of the Soviet Union and the Comintern respectively) were becoming ‘fascisised’ and therefore capable of serving as the ‘instruments’ of fascist dictatorship. The class struggle therefore assumed a new form – the working class, led by the Communist Party, against a bloc of the trade unions, the Social Democratic parties, fascists, all the bourgeois parties and the capitalist state:

The struggle of the CI against the Second International... will not be simply an ideological struggle within one class, but a struggle between two classes developing into civil war against the bourgeoisie who the Social Democrats are now serving.

A Communist-led civil war against the SPD and the ADGB – this was the lunatic perspective foisted on the KPD at the precise moment when the bourgeoisie was preparing to launch its own offensive against the same organisations. Oblivious to the crisis of the Müller government, the anonymous author of the already-quoted article ‘Social Fascism in Germany’ declared with rare conviction that:

... it would be incorrect to conclude that Germany is directly faced with the establishment of a fascist government à la Mussolini... The great change that has taken place is the growth of fascism within Social Democracy, and in German Social Democracy in particular. The German capitalists have found a strong support with increasingly definite fascist tendencies. And Germany shows, more clearly than elsewhere, how correct our programme was in its description of the relations between the bourgeoisie, Social Democracy and fascism, and of the openly fascist role of the Social Democrats. Facts seem to show that the German capitalists are getting ready for a bourgeois Social Democratic coalition with fascism... in every respect, a synthesis of Social Democracy and fascism is provided for the regime in a political form of the dictatorship of finance capital. [35]

Stalinist stalwart Walter Ulbricht developed this theme with two contributions in the same organ, emphasising that the new line determined that ‘the policy of the united front becomes exclusively the policy of the united front from below’, and that there now existed a ‘tendency towards fascism both in the government and in the SPD and trade union reformist leadership’. For good measure, he called for the ‘break-up of the Reichsbanner’, the SPD paramilitary organisation, and counterpart to the KPD’s own Red Front Fighters League. The ever-vigilant Ulbricht also detected the influence of the Brandler school in the thinking of some party officials, ‘who expect to secure tactical victories by mobilising the masses to the call of the reformist leaders in order to prove later to the workers that everything had been done to secure “unity in the struggle’.” These officials had not grasped the new Stalinist truth that the trade union leaders were now ‘strike-breakers’ and that therefore the demand of the hour was no longer to work for a united front within the trade unions both at the top with the leaders and at the base with the workers, but to devise ‘new organisational forms’ that would create a pole of attraction against the reformist unions. [36]

There must have been many rank-and-file KPD workers whose doubts about the validity of the new line were set to rest by the conduct of the SPD leadership in first banning, and then dispersing by force, the Communist May Day March in Berlin. The actions of the Prussian Social Democratic leaders in authorising the use of armoured cars as well as armed police on the marching workers was entirely consistent with their behaviour in the even more tumultuous clashes of January 1919, when Noske’s Free Corps were set loose on the Spartacists in the same working-class quarters of Berlin that witnessed the barricade fighting of May 1929. But once again it has to be said quite categorically that the KPD leadership deliberately sought such a ‘confrontation’ with the Berlin reformists, and gloried in the bloody repressions that followed. It will be recalled that the KPD, having dubbed the SPD a fascist party and an instrument of fascist dictatorship, obviously could no longer march jointly with that party in Berlin’s traditional May Day celebrations. A separate march was called, one whose purpose could be divined from the appeal published in Die Rote Fahne which summoned all workers to demonstrate with the KPD on May Day ‘for the united proletarian front against the bourgeoisie and reformism’. Thus the march was explicitly an anti-SPD one, the reference to the ‘united front’ being purely decorative. The same appeal also spoke of the march as being a protest against the SPD’s ‘social fascist coalition politics’. [37] So well before the banned march got under way, Communist workers had been quite cynically and demagogically incited to single out as the main object of their class hatred the reformist movement, a hatred not confined to its leaders, but the millions of workers who understandably ignored the ultimatistic demand for a ‘united front’ against their own ‘social fascist’ organisations. Justly enraged by the murder of their comrades, the KPD workers swung solidly behind the new line at the party’s Twelfth Congress, held in a suitably militant venue at Wedding (the centre of the barricade fighting) between 5 and 10 May. If Thälmann, Ulbricht, Remmele and Neumann required proof of their theory of ‘social fascism’, then henceforth they could – and often did – point to the May Day massacre to silence their critics. Yet shooting workers, as Trotsky pointed out in 1924, does not constitute fascism. On that basis, the Ebert government must be designated a fascist regime! Fascism is the total destruction of all independent workers’ organisations, and while the reactionary policies and repressions of the SPD facilitated the victory of fascism, they did not constitute fascism. To introduce and administer a fascist corporate state, the SPD and ADGB would have had to destroy themselves!

Lubricated with the blood of Berlin workers, who lost their lives in a reactionary adventure that had nothing to do with the struggle against either Social Democracy or German capitalism, the ‘social fascist’ bandwagon really began to gather pace throughout the Communist International. A statement issued after a meeting of the West European Bureau of the ECCI on 16 May demanded that ‘all parties... systematically continue the international campaign of enlightenment regarding the bloody terror of German social fascism in the May days...’, and that in their agitation they should expose Social Democracy ‘as organiser of the war against the Soviet Union’, with the hardest blows being delivered against left Social Democracy. How this particular tactic served to strengthen the SPD right wing will become evident when we come to the 1929 Magdeburg Congress of the SPD, held simultaneously with the KPD Congress at Wedding. Grave unrest had been generated in the SPD, and not only in its working-class base, concerning the policies of the Müller government, which marked a big retreat even from its modest election programme. The issue which rankled party members most was Müller’s reversal of the SPD’s official pre-election opposition to the building of cruiser ‘A’ (it will be remembered that the SPD had fought – and largely won – the May 1928 election on the slogan ‘children’s feeding centres before cruisers’). While by no means adopting a consistent internationalist position on this question, a caucus of left delegates to the congress succeeded, much to the discomfort of the party leadership, in forcing a debate on the SPD’s military policy. In three separate votes related to the military budget, the Social Democratic left secured the following percentages of the total vote of delegates: 35.4 against a motion from the party executive to table resolutions against the building of cruiser ‘A’, the military budget and – most important of all – further participation in a coalition with the bourgeois parties; 42.5, a resolution to delay the finalising of military policy to the next party congress (in 1931) – this being an unprincipled delaying tactic; and 38.6, the percentage of votes cast against the SPD executive’s statement on military policy. Bearing in mind that as at all SPD Congresses, the votes and procedure were heavily stacked in favour of the established leadership, which did all that it could to ensure that the ‘right’ delegations were sent to the congress, this marked a serious setback for the Müller leadership, and confirmed that after less than a year in office, the SPD was undergoing a severe party crisis that contained all the symptoms of leading to an open split. Had the KPD pursued the correct Leninist tactic towards the SPD as a whole, and its growing left flank in particular, enormous gains would have been registered for Communism in the following months and years. But we already know that in accordance with Stalin’s schema of the left Social Democrats (who were to be dubbed ‘left social fascists’) being the main enemy of the working class, no such tactic would be employed. No attempt was made to differentiate between the right and left wings of the SPD, despite there being open rifts between them on several important issues. Thus the Comintern organ, in an editorial on the May Day events, utterly failed to exploit this conflict by appealing to the left elements to dissociate themselves from the massacre ordered by Severing and Zörgiebel, and to wage a struggle inside the SPD to drive them out of its ranks. Instead, the entire party was branded as having ‘openly taken the road of fascism’, and as having become an ‘openly social fascist party’. [38] Hardly conducive to opening up a dialogue with the leftward moving elements in this ‘social fascist party’. Even worse was the article on the SPD Congress by Karl Kreibich. Once again, the main task to be accomplished was the justification of the Stalin line that Social Democracy, left, right and centre, was turning fascist at full speed. Therefore, there could be nothing but ridicule for the challenge mounted by the ‘left social fascists’ to the executive at Magdeburg:

The ‘lefts’ are an even more indispensable and dignified part of Social Democracy. Their task is to play some seemingly radical accompaniment to the SPD’s rapid progress to fascism. The most outstanding characteristic of the Magdeburg congress is that it completed not only the transition of Social Democracy to social fascism, but also the recent capitulation of the ‘lefts’. [39]

Then Kreibich, writing as if a 35.4 per cent vote against continued participation in the coalition had never taken place, drew the predictable conclusion – one on which his job (and possibly neck) depended – that ‘never has a Social Democratic congress so unanimously recognised in principle the policy of coalition’. As if there could be degrees of unanimity! This seemingly blind denial of a reality that was staring the KPD in the face was taken up not only by Trotsky, who roundly denounced the Stalinist ultra-left course from a Leninist standpoint in his The ‘Third Period’ of Comintern Errors, but by the Brandler group in Germany, who in their centrist organ Against the Current made the correct observation that by describing the SPD as a fascist party, the KPD was repelling workers who were moving to the left away from Social Democracy towards Communism. For at this stage, ‘the Social Democratic workers do not understand the policy of their leaders at all as a betrayal’. To which Gusiev replied: ‘But if that is so, then one has to admit that the Social Democratic workers are in favour of a fascist dictatorship.’ [40] And that was soon to become the opinion of a considerable section of the Comintern, RILU and KPD leaderships.

In yet another article on the May Day events, H Kurella (later purged by Stalin), the editor of International Press Correspondence, roundly proclaimed that:

... the Social Democracy as a whole has become an inseparable part of capitalist society. Broad cadres of functionaries of the SPD and of the reformist trade unions are firmly bound up with the state apparatus of the bourgeoisie. [How firmly Hitler was to prove four years later! – RB] The party apparatus of the SPD and of the reformist trade unions have themselves become a part of the apparatus of suppression, have become prop and executive organs of the capitalist state in the working class... The SPD is developing into a social fascist fighting organ of the bourgeoisie. [41]

This even more leftist analysis and perspective was aired at great length at the Tenth ECCI Plenum held in July 1929. Kuusinen’s opening report rambled on about the ‘fascisation of the bourgeois class rule’ and its being accompanied by ‘the process of the fascisation of the reformist trade union bureaucracy and of the parties of the Second International’, adding that as a result of this process, and ‘since German fascism openly declares in favour of bourgeois dictatorship [quite false – RB], since social fascism openly shows itself up as fascism, it will no longer be difficult to win the majority of the working class in Germany for the proletarian revolution’. This is one of the first instances of that notorious Stalinist theory which found its most malignant expression in the slogan that gained currency in the last months and weeks of Weimar: ‘After Hitler – us.’ Manuilsky plumbed even murkier depths on the second day of the Plenum in his report on ‘the struggle for the majority of the working class’. Far from the bourgeoisie ever seeking to eject the reformists from the German government – already the declared aim of a sizeable group in the DVP Reichstag fraction, not to speak of the entire DNVP! – Manuilsky envisaged that the SPD ‘will take ever greater initiative from the bourgeoisie in the suppression of the working class. It will become the more savage, it will become the more rapidly fascised, the more its influence on the working class will decline’. In other words, the SPD was even more reactionary and eager to crush the proletariat than the bourgeoisie itself! How easy then to ‘expose’ it, and ‘capture’ the majority of the working class for Communist policies:

... it follows that although the power of resistance of Social Democracy increases, the task of the Communist parties of exposing the social fascist nature of contemporary Social Democracy is being facilitated.

Now there could be no room for doubts. Only one form of ‘united front’ could be pursued – that ‘from below’:

The united front is neither a coalition with the Social Democrats at the top nor a policy of compromise with their officials below. It is a direct appeal of the Communist Party to the mass of workers, to the Social Democratic and non-party workers, to the organised and unorganised. The united front tactic could be the easiest thing in the world if it were to consist of the formation of more or less ‘cordial’ agreements of the Communist Parties with the other lower organisations in the factories for the purpose of common action.


The united front tactic means a most irreconcilable struggle against the reformist and Social Democratic organisations for the mass in the factories. [Not, as in Lenin’s day, for the unity of the class in struggle against the bourgeoisie, be it noted – RB] We do not idolise the Social Democratic lower officials in the factories (members of factory committees and delegates, etc. [In other words, not ‘officials’, but Social Democratic workers – RB] ... The task of the Communist Party is to press these elements to the wall in the face of the working masses of the factories, to give them no chance to spread illusions to the effect that they, being connected with the rank and file, are of a different quality from their leaders, that they are capable of fighting honestly in the interests of the workers. We must isolate them, advancing commensurate with the degree of our influence, the demand on behalf of the entire mass of the workers, that the Social Democratic workers should leave their party. [42]

And this was called the united front.

But worse was to follow. There had been a running debate in the Comintern leadership between partisans and opponents of a policy, favoured by the RILU leadership, of calling on workers to leave the ‘social fascist’ trade unions and set up Communist Party-dominated ‘red’ unions. Stalin had encouraged this leftist trade union tactic when he declared, in his already-quoted attack on Humbert-Droz, that workers outside the trade unions were more revolutionary, as a matter of course, than workers organised in the reformist unions. RILU chief Lozovsky declared, at the beginning of 1929:

... where is the most backward, the most reactionary part of the working class today? That part of the working class which is organised in the reformist unions and follows the reformist leadership is the most consciously reactionary part of the working class... the workers following Social Democracy are sabotaging the movement. A split in the unions in Germany is [thus] approaching, to fail to see it is to commit a crime against the German proletariat... During the Ruhr conflict our comrades put forward the slogan ‘unorganised workers, join the reformist unions’ as though the reformist unions were better than the Christian and Hirsch-Duncker [liberal] unions. I consider that slogan unsound. It deludes the workers.

Lozovsky then drew the conclusion that since the reformist unions had ceased either to be organs of class struggle or movements where one could find large numbers of class-conscious workers, it was necessary to launch new, pure, revolutionary unions, starting in Germany: ‘First we must organise the opposition in the metal-workers’ union on an all-German scale, the same in regard to the miners and other industries.’ [43] After that would come the founding of the new ‘red’ unions. Piatnitsky, while not denying the social fascist nature of the unions, favoured what was by comparison a more moderate course:

Should we now adopt the slogan for Germany ‘abandon that work and form mutual aid societies'? I consider that dangerous. Comrade Lozovsky’s proposal plays into the hands of the shirkers who do not wish to work in the enterprises and the unions, for them it is easier to organise new unions.

But he wisely left the door ajar lest the line continue to veer leftwards as it had done throughout 1928:

I think that at a certain moment the KPD may, with a development of the class struggle and for the purpose of transforming the unions into fighting class organs, create parallel unions from the members of reformist unions – members who at the call of the KPD abandon those unions. [44]

How deserting the reformist unions en masse was to ‘transform’ them ‘into fighting class organs’ was understandably left unexplained, but one can appreciate Piatnitsky’s dilemma in seeking to combine his own line with that of Lozovsky.

The dispute appears to have remained unresolved until the Tenth Plenum, where Lozovsky found an influential supporter for his new trade union tactic in Thälmann, now the unchallenged leader of the KPD and close confidant of Stalin. In the general discussion on the main reports, Lozovsky returned to his argument that the reformist parties and unions were turning fascist from top to bottom:

It is clear that fascisation cannot only affect the leading cadres. There is... a very strong preconceived notion in Communist circles that only the upper stratum is reactionary, whereas the lower cadres are less reactionary... we will find that reaction is rife not only in the middle and upper strata, but also among the lower functionaries who are dragging with them a certain stratum of demoralised corrupt workers. The development of Social Democracy into social fascism will take, on the one hand, the fascisation of all strata with the exception of a few insignificant groups, and secession in Social Democratic ranks will take place precisely to the right [sic: why to the right, when the party has already turned fascist! – RB] and to the left. [45]

A little later, Thälmann took the floor to deliver his report entitled ‘The Economic Struggle, Our Tactics and the Tasks of the Communist Parties’, whose second section was headed ‘The Fascisation of the Trade Unions, Their Merging With the State Apparatus and Finance Capitalism’. It provided a broad hint of what was to follow:

Today we no longer advocate indiscriminate entering of all workers into the reformist trade unions. We advocate only entering of class-conscious revolutionary workers to strengthen the revolutionary opposition. [46]

What was to become of non-revolutionary workers who nevertheless wanted to engage in the economic struggle? No answer was forthcoming to this awkward question, since the line was still in transition from the old tactic of ‘transforming the unions into organs of class struggle’ to that of establishing ‘red’ unions that would also seek – quite fruitlessly – to enrol reformist as well as revolutionary workers. Lozovsky’s report on trade union work brought the new line a little nearer when, in rebutting Brandlerite and Trotskyist criticisms of the breakaway union tactic, he declared, in a remark obviously also directed at his ECCI rival Piatnitsky, that ‘it is necessary to abandon the somewhat hackneyed idea so frequently encountered... that to form a new trade union means to follow the line of least resistance’. [47] Yet that is precisely what it did mean.

The main theses adopted at the Plenum marked a new stage in the further evolution of the Comintern line to the adventurist ultra-left, since it endorsed Lozovsky’s line of setting up, in the not too distant future, ‘red’ unions; even though it did so in a cautious, ambiguous formulation:

The rising tide of the labour movement and the growing crisis of the reformist trade unions have brought forth the dangerous tendency of refusing to work in the reformist trade unions. At the same time this rising tide of the labour movement has brought forth the new problem of establishing at certain stages, under certain conditions, new revolutionary unions... Communists cannot be opposed on principle to splitting the trade unions... The growth of the strike movement [a claim, which as Trotsky pointed out at the time, was not born out by any strike statistics – RB] since the Sixth Congress, and the further onslaught of the social fascist bureaucracy, has created in a number of countries the conditions under which it has become necessary to establish new revolutionary unions. [48]

A Plenary session of the RILU in December 1929 presented Lozovsky with the opportunity to carry his offensive on the trade union tactic even closer to the point when he could call for the formation of breakaway ‘red’ unions in most of the capitalist countries. In his closing speech Lozovsky stressed once again that the reformist unions were useless as organs of class struggle: ‘The new fact in the situation is that the higher and middle officials and large sections of the lower officials of the reformist trade unions and a great section of the Labour aristocracy are already fascist.’ [49] This theory – false to the core – was inscribed in the final resolution of the Plenary session:

The reformist trade union bureaucrats have passed over from covert sabotage of strikes to the open recruitment of blacklegs and the direct organising of police-reformist raids on strikers and their strike committees. Today every strike is opposed by the open blackleg machinery of the reformist unions. We find a rapid fascisation of the reformist trade union apparatus taking place... our most important task is to intensify the struggle for the trade union masses [such as were not, by Lozovsky’s exacting standards, ‘consciously reactionary’ – RB] and to pit them against this blacklegging trade union machine, to sharpen the struggle against the scab functionaries of social fascism. [50]

How did the ultra-left Stalinist course and the theory of ‘social fascism’ equip the advanced workers in Germany to strengthen their party in its fight against reformism, and the bourgeoisie which it sought to serve? The brutal fact is that the KPD was unable to make even the slightest impact in the developing crisis, on either the SPD or the trade unions, where the ADGB leadership had been forced by the sheer pressure of the capitalist offensive to take up a partially oppositional stance on the question of unemployment insurance. Indeed, how could the KPD intervene fruitfully in these favourable situations when its entire analysis led rank-and-file workers of the party to believe – often against their better class judgement – that the ADGB unions had turned fascist, become tied to or fused with the state machine, and were nothing but instruments for exploiting and repressing the working class? The only logical conclusion from such a false premise was that the sooner one left such ‘unions’, the better, and that any conflict that did arise between the ADGB leadership and the employers was nothing more than a stunt to dupe such class-conscious workers into believing that the trade unions were still fighting the boss. In fact these conflicts were being fought out – certainly on the part of the employers – in deadly earnest, as can be seen from the statements of the Federation of German Industries and Reichsbank President Schacht, reproduced in the foregoing chapter. The arguments employed to explain away the bourgeoisie’s offensive on the Müller government were tortuous even by Stalinist standards, and produced the most calamitous results. The following extract is from an article that appeared in the Comintern organ after the fall of the Müller government, an article devoted entirely to proving that such an event was impossible:

As for the monopoly capitalists, they also, in the person of their DNVP, manoeuvre. They pretend that they are now directing their main attack against the ‘dangerous’ Social Democratic and reformist trade unions, against their ‘socialist’ policy, and against ‘economic democracy’ and state capitalism, with which it was ‘time to end’. This manoeuvre tripped up even certain of our German comrades, who thought that having exploited Social Democracy, monopolist capitalism was now ready to dismiss it. That was a great mistake. The monopoly bourgeoisie knew very well that modern social fascism is one of the most important instruments for the fascisation of the state, with which Social Democracy has now organically fused. The outcry raised by the great bourgeoisie against ‘economic democracy’ was a pure comedy. [One that ended for many Social Democrats in the death camps of the Third Reich – RB] ... The German great bourgeoisie had no intention of eliminating the Social Democrats from participation in the fascist dictatorship. [51]

A little earlier, Hermann Jacobs of the Berlin party organisation had written, in similar vein, that the ‘social fascists’ were ‘an indispensable instrument of the fascist dictatorship’. [52] It was hardly surprising therefore when following the removal of the SPD from the government coalition, and the formation of Brüning’s all-bourgeois cabinet, neither the KPD nor the ECCI were eager to discuss the reason for Müller’s fall. The only coherent – if false – analysis attempted was that by A Norden of the Berlin organisation, who lamely argued that ‘as it is now a question of carrying out the inner Young Plan [that is, attacks on workers to pay for it – RB]... it is more advantageous for the big bourgeoisie to have a sham opposition of the SPD than that the latter should remain in the government’. [53] The theory however remained unchanged, since for the KPD leadership, there could still be no question of a genuine (as opposed to ‘sham’) conflict between the reformist leaders and the bourgeoisie. Every denunciation of the SPD’s ‘Marxism’, its programme of ‘economic democracy’ (that is, those articles of the Weimar Constitution which provided for trade union and works council representation on local and national economic boards, etc) and municipal reforms, was ridiculed as a put-up job to delude workers into remaining loyal to Social Democracy. For this Stalinist, idealist method could conceive of no other conflict than that between a revolutionary working class struggling for power under the exclusive leadership of the Communist Party, and a united front of the bourgeoisie reaching from Trotskyists and ‘left social fascists’ to the main bourgeois parties and the fascists. Everything else was a pure show, or a ‘manoeuvre’ staged to dupe the less advanced workers. Yet the events of the next three years were to give ample evidence that far from shamming, the monopolies were in deadly earnest when they demanded an end to the reforms of the SPD, and the interference of the trade unions and works councils in the running of their plants and mines. For how else can we explain the enthusiastic support the trusts later gave to Hitler’s secret programme of crushing these same ‘social fascist’ trade unions, which, according to the Stalinists, were capable only of conducting a ‘sham’ fight with the employers'?

One would have thought that after the experience of Germany, and especially on the basis of Trotsky’s voluminous writings on the subject, no tendency calling itself Trotskyist today would repeat this most crude of all ultra-leftist errors: namely that of denying the existence of a contradiction (not a social, but a political one) between big business and reformist labour. Yet this is precisely what the Workers Press did in its analysis of the 1973 Labour Party conference. The entire bourgeois press fulminated against the line being put forward by certain speakers on the need for extensive nationalisation if and when a Labour government was returned to office. Naturally, Labour lefts such as Anthony Wedgwood Benn and Eric Heffer will not be able to implement the type of programme they said was necessary if a Labour government was to make serious inroads into the power of big business. That is the task of the working class mobilised and led by the revolutionary party. But does that mean that the ruling class and its press see things in the same Marxist light? Was Benn attacked simply because the bourgeoisie and the Tories wanted to build him up as a fake alternative to the WRP? In other words, was it a ‘sham fight’ or a ‘manoeuvre’ such as the KPD Stalinists claimed was being pursued by the German bourgeoisie on the very eve of the fall of the Müller government? Or is it rather a case (similar to, though by no means identical with the capitalist offensive unleashed against the German reformists in 1929-30) of the Tories and the big employers quite genuinely fearing the impact that the election of a Labour government, committed to a radical-reform programme along the lines proposed by Benn, could have on the millions of workers who voted for it? Is it not the case that in this period of rapidly worsening capitalist crisis, the economic basis for concessions to the working class, concessions mediated through their reformist leaders, is in the last stages of erosion, and that therefore capitalism will find even the most modest reformist demands of the trade union and Labour leaders intolerable, as the German bourgeoisie did in the last four years of the Weimar Republic?

We often encounter analogies in Workers Press between the present situation in Britain and that of Germany in the early 1930s. But let us make the analogy a correct one, let us emphasise that just as the reformists sought to betray in Germany, yet were spurned, persecuted and even murdered by the fascist agents of the bourgeoisie, so too in Britain the ruling class will reach a point in the development of the crisis and the class struggle when it will dispense with the services of the reformists (as it did in Chile) and, however strong may be the desire of the latter to continue serving the capitalist master, this ruling class will turn to other, far more brutal forces, uninhibited by any links with the organised workers’ movement, to complete the job that the labour and trade union reformists, with their policies of class collaboration, have begun. The capitalist press onslaught on the 1973 Labour Party Conference was the harbinger of just such a strategic turn:

The doctrines of class conflict and state ownership are Marxist doctrines, and so long as both are preached at their conference, the Labour Party really must not complain at being described as under the influence of Marxist ideas... [The Labour Party is] ... increasingly socialist, believing that the working class should use state power in order to enforce an egalitarian society... [54]

How did Workers Press respond to this almost unprecedented attack on the Labour Party? Amazingly, in view of the WRP’s claims to Trotskyist orthodoxy, the paper saw the attack – for such it was – through the spectacles of classic Third Period Stalinism. The whole thing was a sham:

There must be two conferences going on at Blackpool this week. There is the one being covered by Workers Press, and the other being covered by The Times. Take Monday’s coverage. On that day the Workers Press revealed that the ‘lefts’ had done a deal to sabotage the proposal to nationalise the top 25 companies in Britain. But The Times carried the front-page headline ‘Marxist Challenge to Party Leadership’. The paper’s illustrious political editor said that the nub of the conference was the ‘power struggle between Marxist and non-Marxist'... By feeding these fraudulent distortions to the capitalist press they [the alleged source of these stories – the Labour Party and trade union leaders – RB] achieve two ends: The working class knows that the capitalist press is lying – there is no Marxist challenge in the Labour Party nor is there a fight for socialist policies. Cynicism, a plague on political consciousness, results. The middle class is terrified into believing that Labour’s half-baked solutions will tax them into pauperism and industry will be brought into chaos... It is done wilfully by professional confusion-mongers who want to keep the Labour Party free of any specific commitment to the rank and file at the next general election. [55]

In fact, there were three Labour Party conferences, just as in Germany, there were three Magdeburg Congresses of the SPD. The German bourgeoisie, like The Times, saw only Marxists on the rampage, seeking to commit the SPD leadership to a policy of total pacifism, all-out socialisation and brutal class war. Supplementing the bourgeois right analysis was that of the Stalinists, who dismissed out of hand the existence of any conflict, either between the SPD and the trade unions as a whole and the bourgeoisie (an analysis wrecked within a year) or the possibility of a split between the SPD left and the bureaucracy. Here too, events proved the Stalinists wrong, for after a protracted battle lasting more than two years, a sizeable segment of the Social Democratic lefts, together with a proportionally far smaller number of former party workers, split from the SPD to form the Socialist Workers Party (SAP), a development predicted and welcomed by Trotsky. And this was the real Magdeburg Congress, a contradictory and many-sided reality that could not be forced into the arid schemas of Third Period Stalinism without doing violence to the Marxist method and disorienting literally millions of German workers.

Likewise with The Times and Workers Press. They each caught only one side of the Labour Party Conference, abstracting it from its national and international setting, not to speak of the entire history of British and world Social Democracy. Where The Times could see only the so-called ‘Marxist intellectual base of the Labour Party’ and a concerted campaign by its main exponents to drive the party further and further to the left, Workers Press only had eyes for betrayal, deception, confusion-mongering, lying. That these were all present in abundance at Blackpool is not in dispute. But there was much else that should have caught the attention of a trained Marxist journalist, but which escaped Workers Press because the entire orientation of the movement is towards a perspective which has the trade union and Labour Party leaders moving steadily towards their enthusiastic creation of – and participation in – a corporate state. Such also was the perspective of the KPD after the official inauguration of the ‘Third Period’ at the Sixth Comintern Congress, and for that very reason it too could neither detect nor exploit the growing tensions arising between the reformist leaders and the gathering forces of reaction and fascist counter-revolution.

We could continue to point to other and related flaws in this article – for example, that the very demand to nationalise the 25 top companies sabotaged by Wilson and the lefts was, when first proposed by the Labour Party National Executive, roundly denounced as ‘corporatism’ – Workers Press said of the proposal to nationalise 25 top companies that it was ‘not socialist nationalisation but its opposite – corporatism... by implication a clear move to the right...’. [56] But the central question is one of method. The Workers Press treatment of the reformists is based on a rationalist conception of the class struggle. Since every Trotskyist knows that the Labour Party is neither led nor influenced by Marxists, then when The Times says that it is, it must be lying, and that its only motive must therefore be to deceive the working class, who are searching for an alternative to reformism. Let us overlook the rather obvious fact – one that should have immediately occurred to whoever wrote and checked the article in question – that The Times is written for and read by the ruling class, and not 10 million trade unionists or 13 million Labour voters: a fact which, when it suits Workers Press, it too is prepared to admit. On 30 April 1973, when commenting on the fact that the more ‘popular’ daily papers were going out of their way to ‘play down the abject capitulation to the Tories uttered by TUC general secretary Victor Feather’, Workers Press observed: ‘Of all the capitalist newspapers, only The Times, which is not widely read by workers, told the real story ... The Times has a clear duty – to tell the truth to the class it represents.’ [57] Except, it seems, when it violates the ultra-leftist perspectives and schematic analyses of Workers Press.

There still exists the possibility that The Times is worried by the repeated, if vague and, as the Workers Press correctly points out, ineffectual demands for nationalisation heard at the Labour Party Conference. For if we adopt the position that the ruling class and its various agents are always lying when they describe those Communists know to be reformist traitors as ‘Marxists’; then how are we either to understand or fight fascism? Did not Hitler in his Mein Kampf, not to speak of his numerous speeches to leaders of big business, everywhere and always refer to the Social Democrats, the men who permitted the murder of Liebknecht and Luxemburg, who voted for the Kaiser’s war credits in August 1914, who betrayed the November Revolution of 1918, who time and again preferred coalition with the bourgeoisie to a fighting united front with the KPD – did not Hitler without fail refer to these historic traitors to the German and international working class as Marxists? What then are we to make of fascism? Does it too consciously build up the Social Democrats in this way – by calling them Communists and Marxists, agents of Moscow, etc – in order to head off the working class from the real Communists? Can those responsible for the production and political line of Workers Press really argue this? Yet that is the direction in which their rationalistic method, exemplified by their treatment of the 1973 Labour Party Conference, is leading them. Should a big right-wing movement develop in this country towards fascism, and should its leaders declare war on the ‘Marxist’ Labour Party and the ‘Communist’ TUC (not to speak of those who merit such labels), what will the Workers Press say then? That such fascist leaders are lying? As if it was just a question of truth or falsehood. Yes, it is quite correct to say that the reformists are not Marxists and, almost without exception, never will be. Yet that still does not answer the vital question – why does The Times say they are? (Just as the KPD never answered the same question in relation to the big business and then Nazi onslaught on the ‘Marxists’ of the SPD and the ADGB.) Every KPD official could repeat by rote all the betrayals – small as well as big – of the German reformists. Yet that did not prevent them suffering the same fate at the hands of the Nazis as the ‘social fascists’, just as similar recitations by Workers Press will not in themselves insure either the WRP or the working class in this country against ending up in the same camps and death cells as those whom it so glibly and recklessly dubs as ‘corporatists’. Trotsky gave the answer to this question more than 40 years ago, but tragically few were prepared or able to listen. Can it be that the leadership of the WRP is also deaf?

Brüning’s regime rests upon the cowardly and perfidious support of the Social Democratic bureaucracy which in its turn depends upon the sullen, half-hearted support of a section of the proletariat. [The SPD policy of ‘toleration’ adopted by the reformist leaders after the sensational Nazi election triumph of September 1930 on the spurious grounds that Brüning was a ‘lesser evil’ to Hitler – RB] The system based on bureaucratic decrees is unstable, unreliable, temporary. Capitalism requires another, more decisive policy. The support of the Social Democrats, keeping a suspicious watch on their own workers, is not only insufficient for its purposes, but has already become irksome. [Witness the anti-SPD tirades of Schacht in his The End of Reparations – RB] The period of half-way measures has passed. In order to find a way out, the bourgeoisie must absolutely rid itself of the pressure exerted by the workers’ organisations; these must be eliminated, destroyed, utterly crushed. [Please note, not ‘tied to’, ‘fused with’ or ‘incorporated into’ the capitalist state, as Third Period Stalinism – and now Workers Press – tells us – RB] [58]

Hence the fulminations against ‘Marxism’ by the bourgeoisie and its fascist agents. For this is the word with which they can best express their hatred of the organisations – and leaders – that bar their way to the goals outlined by Trotsky. Only a political simpleton can reduce this conflict to one of a ‘sham’ fight, or in the case of The Times (though we are far from lapsing into Third Period Stalinism by identifying this paper with fascism) to a ruse for the deception and demoralisation of workers, the vast majority of whom never read The Times from one year to the next. Despite its own monumental record of betrayals, British Social Democracy can also become an expendable commodity for the British bourgeoisie, should the working class not be broken from it before this point and led towards the direct struggle for state power. Its leftist line and false analysis of Social Democracy will mean, unless these faults are corrected, openly and in good time, that the WRP will be unable to exploit the opportunities presented by such a sharp turn in the political situation, one that will obviously demand, given the growth of the revolutionary party to a serious mass force, the tactic of the united front. And on such a tactical turn could rest the entire fate of the British working class. That was the lesson of Germany. Has the leadership of the WRP forgotten it?


1. JV Stalin, quoted from a letter written in January 1925, in ‘The Results of the Work of the Fourteenth Conference of the RCP’ (9 May 1925), Works, Volume 7, p 120.

2. ‘The principal manifestation of the profound crisis of the capitalist system, is the division of world economy into capitalist countries on the one hand, and countries building socialism on the other...’ The USSR possesses ‘in the country the necessary and sufficient prerequisites not only for the overthrow of the landlord and the bourgeoisie, but also for the establishment of complete socialism...’ (The Programme of the Communist International, p 44)

3. JV Stalin, ‘Foundations of Leninism’, Works, Volume 6, pp 110-11 (emphasis added).

4. Two examples will suffice. Rudolf Hilferding, next to Kautsky the leading theoretician of German Social Democracy (though an Austrian by birth), lectured delegates to the all-German congress of workers and soldiers in December 1918 on the impracticability of ‘socialising’ the heavy industries. It was a task that would have to be deferred until calmer times, he argued. It was impossible to legislate a socialist economic programme in a period of capitalist breakdown. Hilferding was a prominent member of the ‘socialisation commission’ appointed by the Ebert government ostensibly to devise a programme for the expropriation of the biggest trusts and monopolies. Thanks partly to Hilferding’s pseudo-Marxist sophistries, the tycoons who later backed Hitler survived the holocaust of November 1918 with their property intact. But Hilferding did not. Fleeing from the Nazi terror in 1933, he sought exile in France, where in 1940 fate finally caught up with him. Deported to Germany, he died in a concentration camp in 1942, a victim of protracted political suicide. The second instance concerns the Stalinist – and not Social Democratic – bureaucracy. Stalin’s bloc with the bourgeois-landlord Kuomintang was threatened from the left throughout 1926 by the upsurge in the peasant movement, which had gone over to direct seizures of the land, much of which belonged to pro-Chiang Kai-shek landlords. Stalin attempted to restrain this elemental movement by sending a telegram to the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, who were allotted the thankless task of not only restraining such seizures, but actually restoring seized property to its former owners.

5. Leipziger Volkszeitung, 10 March 1928.

6. H Neumann, ‘Discussion at Tenth ECCI Plenum’ (July 1929), International Press Correspondence, Volume 9, no 51, 17 September 1929, p 1082, emphasis added.

7. The Centre’s temporary withdrawal arose as a result of a dispute over the allocation of cabinet posts. The DVP would only accede to the Catholics’ demand for three seats in the Müller cabinet if, in return, the Centre would make two portfolios available to the DVP in the Prussian cabinet, where the Centre was in a coalition with the SPD. The Centre won out on this occasion, and in April 1929 returned to the government with its three ministerial seats.

8. G Stresemann, Diaries, Letters and Papers, Volume 3 (London, 1940), pp 459-64, emphasis added.

9. On 2 October, the DVP Reichstag fraction voted down a proposal by Stresemann to accept a new unemployment insurance bill being presented to the Reichstag the next day by the Müller government. Its proposed cuts in benefits and eligible categories were not nearly severe enough for the DVP industrialists, who succeeded in defeating Stresemann’s resolution to accept the bill by 17 votes to 10, with two abstentions. It marked a decisive defeat for the DVP Chairman’s avowed and well-known policy of collaboration with the SPD. On 3 October, Stresemann died of a stroke. The DVP then decided to remain in the Müller government only until the ratification of the Young Plan, due in March 1930.

10. G Stresemann to Geheimrat Kahl (13 March 1929), Diaries, Letters and Papers, Volume 3, pp 468-69.

11. Vorwärts, 3 November 1928, emphasis added.

12. Berliner Börsen Zeitung, 30 May 1929. Walther Funk, later Hitler’s Minister of Economics, was the editor-in-chief of this organ of German high finance, taking up his appointment in 1916. With the development of the economic crisis in Germany, a group of reactionary industrialists (Thyssen, Vögler, etc) invited Funk to lead an ‘Economic and Political Service’ to serve as a liaison between heavy industry and the newly-emerging Nazi Party, an offer which Funk readily accepted. He joined the NSDAP in 1931. The Berliner Börsen Zeitung was a thermometer for the political temperature of the big concerns and banks throughout the crisis up to and even beyond the formation of the Nazi regime.

13. Berliner Börsen Zeitung, 30 May 1929.

14. In terms of share prices, the German boom had reached its peak more than two years before the Wall Street Crash, with the share index ascending to 168 in May 1927, as compared with an average of 100 in the years 1924-26. From June 1927 onwards, it slid slowly downwards to 125 in September 1929. Then followed the headlong plunge to 107 by the end of the year, and a rock bottom of 45 in April 1932. The extreme fragility of the German boom is brought out by the continued upwards swing of the stock market in all the other major capitalist countries until the spring or summer of 1929, when stagnation, and then slump, set in. Measured by the index of production, however, the German boom survived until the very eve of the Wall Street crash, the peak being attained in July 1929. Production alone, however, gives a distorted picture of the health of German capitalism, because for more than a year before this date, its industry had been progressively starved of new capital, which alone provides the basis for continued expanding production. The rapid shrinkage in the number of bankrupted firms brings this last point out well. There were 31 543 business ‘deaths’ in 1928, but only 26 864 in the following year, and nearly 2000 less in 1930, suggesting that the capital famine of 1928 had bitten deep into the soft underbelly of the credit-financed firms well before the first reverberations of the US crisis were being felt on the Berlin Bourse.

15. Go Ahead Or Go Under, Memorandum of the Presidium of the Federation of German Industries, 2 December 1929. There were also demands for drastic economies by public corporations, state and local government authorities, etc.

16. H Schacht, The End of Reparations (London, 1931), pp 111-202.

17. Hilferding’s resignation was celebrated in papers close to industry and finance. But as the organ of the iron and steel industry, the Deutsche Bergwerkszeitung, cautioned on 29 December 1929, an alternative regime and policy had to be ready to take over when the final coup de grâce was administered. Meanwhile, the Social Democrats still had some useful work to perform: ‘... there is much to indicate that the Social Democrats are thirsting to return to opposition again. The bourgeois parties should by no means render it too easy for Social Democracy to realise these intentions. The government will only have successes when the prerequisites are established for a radical abandonment of the present methods, for a break with the ruling system, against the destructive economics of socialism in all spheres. We are drawing near to this, but we have not yet arrived at this state. Before that, let all the nation call for salvation from slavery and exploitation as the result of socialisation, arbitrariness, imprudence and corruption.’ Hilferding’s removal certainly aroused anger in Social Democratic circles. On 15 January, Vorwärts headlined a report of the controversy surrounding the finance minister’s departure ‘Away with Schacht!’, while the next day, it declared that his ‘disappearance is an urgent political necessity. In what manner that is to be achieved is a matter of secondary importance.’ And also on 15 January, the Berliner Börsen Zeitung declared in confident tones that it ‘would not mind at all if the Social Democrats were to bring about a Parliamentary Schacht crisis. It would at least demonstrate to them that the party of trade union secretaries is not qualified to take part in the discussion of great things and decisions.’

18. Although Brüning is generally regarded as the pioneer of rule by Presidential decree based on Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, the idea had first been mooted a year earlier by Carl Severing, who in a speech in Essen on 3 March 1929, declared: ‘If it should really come to pass that this country should be governed by Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, I am not afraid of the responsibility. I place myself at the disposal of the Republic.’ In July 1932 Severing, as Minister of Interior in the Prussian State government, was deposed along with his fellow SPD Ministers by von Papen, who of course, invoked this same Article 48.

19. GWF Hegel, Science of Logic, Volume 1 (London, 1961), p 387.

20. Hegel, Science of Logic, Volume 1, p 387.

21. Hegel, Science of Logic, Volume 1, p 388.

22. Hegel, Science of Logic, Volume 1, p 390.

23. JV Stalin, ‘The Right Danger in the CPSU’ (19 October 1928), Works, Volume 11, pp 233-34.

24. Stalin, ‘The Right Danger in the CPSU’, Works, Volume 11, p 235. Stalin should have known all about these, because while his alliance with Bukharin endured, he had been instrumental in catering for the prejudices and greed of the rich in town and country alike.

25. ‘Financial Agent of the Comintern: From the Memoirs of Comrade Y’, in Ypsilon, Pattern of World Revolution (New York, 1947), p 132.

26. JV Stalin, ‘The Right Danger in the KPD’, Works, Volume 11, pp 309-15, emphasis added.

27. JV Stalin ‘Bukharin’s Group and the Right Deviation in Our Party, Speech to a Joint Meeting of the CPSU Politbureau and Presidium of the Central Control Commission of the CPSU’ (end of January 1929), Works, Volume 11, pp 332-33.

28. JV Stalin, ‘The Right Deviation in the CPSU, Speech to the Plenum of the CC and the CCC of the CPSU’ (April 1929), Works, Volume 12, pp 7-18, emphasis added.

29. Stalin, ‘The Right Deviation in the CPSU’, Works, Volume 12, pp 26-27.

30. JV Stalin, ‘The Right Deviation in the CPSU’, Works, Volume 12, p 27.

31. S Gusiev, ‘Lesson of the German Lock-Out’, Communist International, Volume 6, no 3, 1 January 1929, pp 76-82, emphasis added.

32. ‘The CI and the Right Danger in the KPD’, Communist International, Volume 6, no 6, 15 February 1929, p 180.

33. Workers Press, 20 November 1973.

34. Workers Press, 19 October 1973.

35. ‘Social Fascism in Germany’, Communist International, Volume 6, no 11-12-13, pp 529-30.

36. Communist International, Volume 6, no 14, 1 June 1929, pp 498, 574-77, 582.

37. Die Rote Fahne, 12 April 1929.

38. ‘May Day in Berlin’, Communist International, Volume 6, no 16, 15 June 1929, p 620.

39. The obligatory quotes denote that there could be no question of a genuine left tendency in Social Democracy – a notion also to be found in circles that on paper at least repudiate Third Period Stalinism.

40. S Gusiev, ‘On the Road to a New Revolutionary Rise’, Communist International, Volume 6, no 19, 16 August 1929, p 720.

41. H Kurella, ‘The Bloody First of May’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 9, no 9, 19 April 1929, p 497.

42. International Press Correspondence, Volume 9, no 40, 20 August 1929, pp 848, 855-56, 860.

43. Communist International, Volume 6, no 17, 15 July 1929, pp 659-61.

44. O Piatnitsky, ‘Speech to Trade Union Commission of ECCI’ (28 February 1929), Communist International, Volume 6, no 17, 15 July 1929, p 655.

45. International Press Correspondence, Volume 9, no 47, 11 September 1929, p 1038.

46. International Press Correspondence, Volume 9, no 55, 4 October 1929, p 1185.

47. International Press Correspondence, Volume 9, no 55, 4 October 1929, p 1197.

48. ‘On the International Situation and the Immediate Tasks of the Communist Parties’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 9, no 46, 4 September 1929, p 985.

49. International Press Correspondence, Volume 10, no 1, 2 January 1930, p 15.

50. International Press Correspondence, Volume 10, no 12, 6 March 1930, p 217.

51. ‘Decaying Capitalism and the Fascisation of the Bourgeois State’, Communist International, Volume 7, no 2-3, 1 April [sic!] 1930, p 73.

52. International Press Correspondence, Volume 10, no 3, 23 January 1930, p 66.

53. International Press Correspondence, Volume 10, no 17, 3 April 1930, p 331.

54. ‘Mr Wilson and the Liberals’ (first leader), The Times, 4 October 1973.

55. Workers Press, 5 October 1973.

56. Workers Press, 11 June 1973.

57. Workers Press, 30 April 1973, emphasis added.

58. LD Trotsky, ‘What Next?’ (27 January 1932), The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (New York, 1971), p 144.