Fascism in Germany. Robin Blick 1975

Chapter XXI: ‘Red Unions’

Whether the trade unions and their leaders are good or bad one thing is clear, namely, that the workers regard the trade unions as their bastions against the capitalists... Hurling abuse and violent epithets at the reformist leaders will not help, on the contrary, abuse and violent epithets can only create the impression among the workers that the aim is not to secure the removal of bad leaders, but to wreck the trade unions. (JV Stalin, Interview With the Participants in the Conference of Agitation and Propaganda Departments, 14 October 1925)

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? (JV Stalin, The Right Danger in the KPD, 19 December 1928)

The central thrust of Trotsky’s critique of Third Period Stalinist policy in Germany was that far from its flood of invective against ‘social fascism’ weakening the hold of reformism on the working class, the net result of the German Communist Party’s ultra-left tactic of the ‘united front from below’, and the refusal of any agreement with the reformist organisations from above, was quite opposite to the one intended. Instead of the Social Democratic Party’s workers deserting their ‘social fascist’ and a thousand times ‘exposed’ leaders en masse for the KPD, the theory and practice of ‘social fascism’ erected a barrier between Communism and the reformist workers. Far from accelerating the disintegration of the reformist bureaucracy at a time when Social Democracy came out quite openly for the defence of a hideous capitalist status quo, the verbal leftism and tactical adventurism of the KPD leadership played into the hands of the reformists, permitting them a new lease of life that historically they never merited. Thus the Social Democrats were, despite the objectively favourable conditions for the victory of Communism over reformism, allowed to live on to perpetrate a betrayal no less monumental than those of 1914 and 1918 – capitulation to fascism without even a token gesture of opposition. That the reformists were in a strong enough position to commit this act of perfidy was due not to any inner virility of Social Democracy – it had exhibited all the signs of decay in the earliest years of Weimar Germany – but exclusively the political and historical responsibility of the KPD leadership, and, above all, of the guiding circles of the Communist International headed by Stalin, who alone determined the ruinous course pursued by the party in Germany. And there could be no better example and lesson of ultra-leftism, the craving for an opportunist short cut to winning the ‘independent leadership’ of the entire working class, than the adventurist policies adopted by the KPD in the trade unions.

While errors of tactics, emphasis and perspective were undoubtedly made, it had never been the intention of the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) in its early years to split a minority of revolutionary-minded workers away from their reformist brothers in the Social Democratic-led trade unions of the International Federation based in Amsterdam. To what extent the decision to launch ‘red’ breakaway unions in Germany, taken by the KPD and Communist International leadership towards the end of 1930, violated the spirit as well as letter of official RILU policy can be seen from a brief examination of the main resolutions and manifestos adopted by the Communist trade union centre in the first two years of its activity. The initial proposal to found a trade union centre rivalling that of the reformists came from Zinoviev, who made it in March 1920 at the Ninth Congress of the Russian Communist Party. The next month, a letter proposing the formation of a red trade union international was sent ‘to the trade unions of all countries’ calling on them to break from Amsterdam and adhere to the Comintern centre. Bearing in mind that this letter was drafted at a time when hopes were at their highest of a revolutionary breakthrough in Central and Western Europe (the Italian proletariat was still on the offensive, and in Germany, the flames of revolt lit by the Kapp putsch were still burning brightly in the Ruhr and other industrial centres), we can understand why it adopted a perspective that proved to be unduly optimistic. [1] The letter announced that:

... in opposition to the yellow international of unions which the bourgeois agents are trying to recreate in Amsterdam, Paris and Washington [the venue of a proposed ‘international labour conference’ to which the reformist trade union leaders had been invited – RB], we should put up a genuinely proletarian red international of trade unions, marching side by side with the Third International.

To this end, sympathetic and interested trade unions or leaders were invited to attend the forthcoming Second Congress of the Communist International where the formal decision was taken to launch the new red trade union international. Here too, the manifesto of the new organisation was on several counts proved wrong in its perspective of reformist trade unionism withering away under the double blows of an ever-deepening capitalist crisis and a progressively more radicalised proletariat. Far too simple was the idea conveyed by the phrase ‘the working masses are for the revolution, the old trade union organisations are against it’, for if it were indeed true that the majority of proletarians had made a conscious decision to reject reformism and go over to Communism, then the reformist bureaucracy was certainly doomed to a very rapid and violent death. But this telescoped and to a degree vulgarised conception of the complex, oscillating and contradictory fashion by which the masses accomplish the break from opportunism (one confirmed by the experiences of Bolshevism in Russia) does not negate the value of the general tactical proposals developed by the RILU in this and other documents of the period. And in fact, it soon became obvious to the RILU leadership that with the decline in the immediate postwar revolutionary wave and the onset of a phase of strong capitalist reaction (heralded by the betrayal of the Italian revolution in September 1920) a longer perspective would have to be adopted in relation to the reformist-led trade unions and their international. At no time did the RILU advocate splits of ‘red’ minorities, which then proclaimed their adherence to Moscow. From the very outset, the goal was the winning of a clear and firm majority within the existing trade union, then in the national trade union centre, and only then on the basis of these consolidated victories for Communism over reformism, adherence to the RILU. [2]

The Third Comintern Congress, held in the summer of 1921, was almost entirely taken up with the struggle against leftism, whose most dangerous and virulent expression had been the KPD-initiated revolt in central Germany in the spring of that year – the so-called ‘March Action’. Leftism was also attacked in the congress theses on the Communist International and the RILU, the latter organisation having held its founding congress in July 1921 (380 delegates attended from 41 countries, the vast majority representing not the unions, but minority revolutionary tendencies within reformist or syndicalist trade unions). Opposition to consistent work in the reformist trade unions had been advocated at the Comintern congress by delegates from the syndicalist splinter from the KPD, the KAPD, their arguments being mainly a stale rehash of the old Spartacist theory that participation in trade union and parliamentary activity was unbecoming for a revolutionary, and a capitulation to opportunism. F Meyer of the KAPD anticipated the line of Third Period Stalinism when he claimed that in the period of capitalist decline, the trade unions were finished as bodies for winning reforms, and consequently should be deserted by revolutionaries. New ‘red’ unions had to be built up alongside and against the doomed reformist ones (these leftist views, the logical outcome of syndicalist thinking, were endorsed by shop steward delegates from Britain, and syndicalists from France, Italy and Spain). The theses repudiated their line of a retreat from the trade unions:

Communists must explain to the proletarians that salvation is to be found not in leaving the old trade unions and remaining unorganised, but in revolutionising the trade unions, ridding them of the spirit of reformism and of the treacherous reformist leaders, and so transforming the unions into real mainstays of the revolutionary proletariat. In the forthcoming period the chief task for all Communists is to work steadily, energetically and stubbornly to win the majority of the workers in all unions, not to let themselves be discouraged by the present reactionary mood in the unions, but to seek, despite all resistance, to win the unions for Communism by the most active participation in their day-to-day struggles. [Emphasis added] [3]

This remained the RILU perspective throughout the next two years, a period which, contrary to the early expectations of the Comintern leadership, saw the temporary stabilisation of capitalist rule and with it a retrenchment of its left support in the proletariat, the reformist bureaucracy. Thus the ECCI resolution On the Tasks of Communists in Trade Unions, adopted at its first enlarged plenum in February 1922, at a time when the Comintern was pressing hard for a united front with the Second and Vienna Internationals, stressed the necessity of continuing the fight to win the existing unions and union federations for Communist policies, and to combat any tendency in the working class or the Communist parties to turn their backs on the reformist trade unions:

In the forthcoming period the task of Communists is to extend their influence in the old reformist trade unions, to fight the splitting policy of the Amsterdam leaders, and to carry out carefully and consistently the tactics of the united front in the trade union movement. However large the minority within an individual union or trade union federation is, Communists must see that this minority stays within its organisation and fights for carrying through the programme and tactics of the minority. The adherence of such trade unions to the RILU can only be an ideological one, which they must demonstrate by the practical execution of the decisions of the first congress of the revolutionary unions and by following RILU tactics... We remain inside the national trade union associations and only join the RILU as organisations if we succeed in winning the majority for the principles of the RILU. At their trade union congress workers of every country will have to decide whose programme and tactics serve the interests of the working class – those of the Amsterdam International or those of the RILU. This is the only way in which the broad masses will learn who are the splitters, who are hampering the formation of a powerful centre against the powerful employing class. [Emphasis added]

Stalinist trade union policy in the Third Period violated every one of these tactical recommendations and principles, and nowhere more so than in Germany, where the ADGB unions were deeply rooted in the culture, consciousness and struggles of the working class, and where their sectarian neglect would serve only the purposes of the monopolist bourgeoisie and the Nazis who sought their destruction. But, as we have already seen, this ultra-leftist turn was prepared as well as preceded by a period of right opportunism, during which the leadership of the Soviet bureaucracy allied the parties of the Comintern – notably the British party – with the uppermost circles of the Social Democratic trade union bureaucracy in the capitalist countries – a united front only at the top, a bloc which tied the hands of the Communist parties in their fight for the leadership of the working class against the reformists, left as well as right. Such was the nature of the Anglo-Soviet Trade Union Committee, formed following a visit to the Soviet Union by a TUC delegation towards the end of 1924. Founded initially to organise the joint defence of the Soviet Union against possible imperialist intervention, under the combined leadership of the Stalinist faction in the USSR (which included at that time the future Right Oppositionist Tomsky, head of the Soviet trade unions) and the General Council of the TUC, it made possible the betrayal of the British General Strike and the isolation and eventual defeat of the miners. The Communist Party-influenced trade union organisation, the National Minority Movement, limited itself both before and during the strike to the slogan ‘All Power To the General Council’, thus providing an essential left cover for the trade union bureaucracy as it sought only to capitulate to Prime Minister Baldwin at the earliest possible moment. Trotsky was scathing in his criticism of the Stalinist course during the period surrounding the British General Strike, and he attacked it ferociously both in the programmatic document of the Left Opposition (The Platform of the Left Opposition, 1927) and in one of his last speeches to a Soviet party body, that of 1 August 1927, to a joint session of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission:

Is it possible to pose seriously the question of a revolutionary struggle against war and of the genuine defence of the USSR while at the same time orienting towards the Anglo-Russian Committee? Is it possible to orient the working-class masses toward a general strike and an armed insurrection in the course of a war while simultaneously orienting towards a bloc with Purcell, Hicks and other traitors? I ask: will our defencism be Bolshevik or trade unionist? ... You turned the Minority Movement bound hand and foot to the gentlemen of the General Council. And in the Minority Movement itself you likewise refuse to counterpose, and are incapable of counterposing, genuine revolutionists to the oily reformists. You rejected a small but sturdier rope for a bigger and an utterly rotten one. [4]

Trotsky at no time turned the tactic of the united front into a fetish or, after the manner of the Brandlerites, a strategy. If its continued application fails to serve its original purpose (which for a Communist is that of strengthening the unity of the working class in its struggle against capitalism), then the united front must be terminated forthwith, and a merciless campaign of exposure conducted against the reformist leaders who have, under the cover of unity, sought to weaken the fight of the working class against capital, and to adapt it to their policy of class-collaboration with the bourgeoisie. The experience of the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee (and, indeed that of Brandler’s centrist bloc with the German left Social Democrats in the autumn of 1923) serves as a warning as to the ever-present dangers of an opportunist adaptation to reformism, one that can transform the united front tactic into a weapon not of struggle against capital (and in the longer term, as a means of clarifying workers on the role of Social Democracy and therefore of eventually breaking them from it), but as a sophisticated means of preserving its rule and with it the continued domination of the reformist bureaucracy over the working class.

The British General Strike of 1926 provides the classic case of a trade union bureaucracy being protected by the openly right-opportunist policies of Stalinism: namely those that prevailed in the Communist International and the RILU in the period between 1925 and the end of 1927, which found Stalin’s faction closely allied with the Bukharin group and dependent for social support on the richer elements of town and country. Germany in the period between 1930 and 1933 provides us with the other classic instance of Stalinism insulating the trade union bureaucracy from the pressure of its radicalised workers, only on this occasion this role was performed from the ultra-left, in the period when the Stalinist leadership had undertaken a sharp turn towards the ‘liquidation’ of its former Kulak allies, and had broken from the group of Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov. [5]

As we saw in Chapter XVI, the ‘new line’ on trade union tactics and strategy was formally introduced at the Fourth Congress of the RILU in the spring of 1928. At the congress, the RILU chief Lozovsky set the tone for the trade union policy pursued in Germany in the three years before Hitler came to power, when he declared that the Amsterdam unions were becoming fused ‘with the employers’ organisations’ and transformed ‘into organisations for strikebreaking’. The evidence available suggests that if Lozovsky had had his way, the KPD would have been instructed to launch its breakaway ‘red’ unions in 1928, and not towards the end of 1930, as was in fact the case. And why not, if indeed the reformist bureaucracy which dominated these unions had been transformed ‘into the instrument of fascism in the trade union movement... working in the united front with fascism'? ‘Part of the leaders of the reformist trade unions are already in open and full ideological and political union with fascism’ was the contention of one of the theses approved at the RILU congress. However, both in the ECCI and the KPD itself, more ‘moderate’ forces succeeded in delaying this drastic – and disastrous – turn for another two years. But the ever-leftwards drive was irresistible, nourished not only by the adventurist economic policy of Stalin in the Soviet Union, but the opportunist errors of the Communist International in the previous period and the continued betrayals of the reformist trade union bureaucracies in the capitalist countries. [6]

The Reichstag election of September 1930 indicated that despite the false leftist line being pursued by the KPD in relation to the reformist-led workers, the party had begun to make inroads into the working-class supporters of the SPD. Where the Stalinists erred was to transform this tendency – one that flowed from the deepening economic and political crisis, and not from any tactical prowess on the part of the KPD leadership – into a victory of the first magnitude. Only in a few though important regions was the KPD on anything like equal terms with the local reformist organisations in terms of popular support; as can be seen from the following table, which gives the comparative votes in the 1930 elections for the two workers’ parties, in selected districts.

Percentage of Popular Vote
East Hanover28.17.5
South Hanover39.45.5
Westphalia North19.811.3
Westphalia South21.317.0
East Düsseldorf13.726.0
West Düsseldorf11.817.5

And in fact these figures give an inflated impression of the real influence of the KPD in those strategic positions where Communist leadership counts most – namely in the workplaces and the trade unions. The high-point of KPD influence in the ADGB unions had been reached in the crisis year of 1923, when wholesale defections from the reformists led to Communist fractions assuming positions of leadership in many districts. Even in 1924, when the trend was overwhelmingly back towards the reformists and away from the defeated KPD, Communist candidates recorded their best ever successes in elections to the works councils set up by the Weimar Constitution. On the railways – always a stronghold of the reformists – KPD candidates won 19.46 per cent of the total votes recorded. In the radical Ruhr, the figures were even better, the KPD winning 34.23 per cent of the votes in the mines, as opposed to 33.85 per cent running on the official ADGB ticket (the remaining votes went to Catholic and other non-socialist union candidates). Thereafter, with the consolidation of the bourgeoisie and its reformist agencies in the workers’ movement, came decline, until by 1926 in the elections to the railway works councils, the KPD won a mere 2.06 per cent of the total votes. Neither had these weak positions been markedly improved when, with the inauguration of the new trade union tactic in 1928, the ECCI and the RILU instructed the KPD to make its bid for ‘independent’ leadership of the class struggle in the plants, mines and other workplaces. Another enormous obstacle to the party’s securing a broad base in the trade unions was the chronic instability of the party membership itself. The bureaucratic style of leadership by decree, first instituted by Zinoviev in 1924, and taken to its ultimate under Stalin through his henchmen Thälmann, Neumann and Ulbricht, together with the constant zigzags in policy from ultra-leftism to right opportunism and back again to even wilder adventurism, had the inevitable (and under Stalin, desired) result of driving out of the party the most critical-minded and class-conscious workers without whose aid the KPD could not hope to gather around itself the majority of the proletariat. There thus developed an incredibly rapid turnover of membership, at a rate far above that arising from the process of selection, necessary to every revolutionary party, of assimilation and rejection. The training of a powerful cadre in the workplaces and in the unions capable of challenging the reformists for leadership of the class was therefore hampered at every turn, since few workers remained long enough in the party to receive such a basic Leninist training (quite apart from the fact that under the party’s Stalinist regime, no such training could be provided anyway). Yet another handicap was the KPD’s reliance on unemployed workers as its main source of recruitment and field of activity. While no revolutionary party should neglect the task of organising workers excluded from production (to do so would invite and facilitate the intervention of fascists), it remains a basic truth of the class struggle that it is the workers at the point of production and, in countries where there is a strong tradition of trade unionism, in the unions who are going to make the revolution. For that reason, the main energies and the strategic orientation of the revolutionary party must be directed towards this layer of the proletariat. [7] This had been one of the cardinal principles insisted upon by the RILU in its early years. Now, on the expressed order of the ECCI and the RILU, it was to be openly flouted.

A clear hint of the line that was shortly to be forced on the KPD in the trade unions came at the Plenary session of the RILU held at the end of 1929, where Paul Merker, who had been one of the most vocal advocates of the ‘new line’ (and had even taken it to excesses that embarrassed the ECCI), declared on behalf of the German delegation that ‘the social fascist apparatus was merging more and more with the state apparatus and the national fascist [that is, Nazi] movement...’, adding the warning that ‘whoever opposed or sabotaged the new policy of the RILU would be removed from the leadership’. [8] Lozovsky, not to be outdone in verbal radicalism, pointed out that ‘the new fact in the situation was that the higher and middle officials and a large section of the lower officials of the reformist trade unions and a great section of the aristocracy of labour were already fascist...’. [9] The sixth session of the RILU, held several weeks later, upheld this judgement – one that consigned not only the entire German trade union movement, but several million workers, to the camp of fascism – in its main policy resolution:

The reformist bureaucracy have passed over from covert sabotage of strikes to the open recruiting of blacklegs and the direct organisation 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 and to pit them against this blacklegging trade union machine, to sharpen the struggle against the scab functionaries of social fascism... [10]

A resolution of the February 1930 enlarged Presidium of the ECCI on the forthcoming fifth congress of the RILU (held in August 1930) demanded of the Communist parties that they ‘ensure that preparations for the fifth congress be made with wide application of severe self-criticism and determined struggle against trade union legalism and opportunism in practice...’. [11] It soon became clear what was meant by ‘trade union legalism’. In his report to the Sixteenth Congress of the CPSU on 5 July 1930 (a month before the Fifth RILU Congress) Molotov dwelt on the opposition that existed inside the KPD to its new tactic of running on a separate ‘red’ ticket in the factory council elections earlier that year (previously party candidates had stood as individual Communists on a joint list with the SPD candidates). Three hundred Communist candidates had been expelled from the party for refusing to follow the new policy of running as candidates of the Red Trade Union Opposition (RGO), the KPD trade union fraction within the ADGB. The resistance to the new tactic, said Molotov, highlighted the need to ‘struggle against subordinating our policy to trade union reformist legalism, the struggle against all blocs with Social Democracy and for the Bolshevik application of the tactic of the united front from below’. [12] Molotov, who was currently fast emerging as one of the leaders closest to Stalin in the USSR (he also served him as Bukharin’s successor in the ECCI), then revealed that important changes were being planned for the RGO’s activities:

We must bind this struggle with the strengthening in every possible way of our trade union opposition in the reformist unions and with the transformation of that opposition into the genuine centre of organisation of the working masses against Social Democracy and against the reformist trade union bureaucracy. In Germany we have already taken a number of steps in that direction. [13]

Molotov returned to the question of the KPD and the German trade unions in his reply to discussion two days later:

In connection with the increased acuteness of class contradictions and increased activity of the proletarian masses, the CI advanced and consistently applied the tactic of ‘class against class’. The essential principle of these tactics consists in rejecting any agreement whatsoever with Social Democracy and in reinforcing the struggle to win the working masses away from social fascism by achieving the united proletarian front from below... The adoption of the tactics of ‘class against class’ meant not only the complete abandonment of any blocs with the Social Democrats but the beginning of an intensified struggle against social fascism all along the line. The transition to the tactics of ‘class against class’ meant more than the elimination of electoral agreements with Social Democracy. In Germany... such agreements, even previously, used not to be concluded. But in the sphere of economic struggle, the KPD, like the Communist parties in other countries where there are no red trade unions, worked almost exclusively within the framework of the reformist trade unions. [However]... the sharpening of the class struggle, and the creation of the triple alliance of the employers, the bourgeois state and the Social Democrats against the workers have brought new tasks before the Communist parties. [They]... have been faced with the question of the independent leadership of class battles... Hence inevitably there followed the struggle against the subordination of the Communist parties’ policy to reformist trade union legalism, and, in connection with this, such fighting tasks as the organisation of the unorganised, the setting up of mass struggle in spite of and against the Social Democratic and trade union leaders, the promotion of ‘Red lists’ at factory elections, etc... [14]

There then followed the long-awaited Fifth RILU Congress, which the most extreme of the leftists hoped to use as a springboard to launch the KPD on its suicidal course towards the formation of ‘red’ unions in direct competition with those of the ‘social fascist’ and ‘blacklegging’ ADGB. In his report, Fritz Heckert of the KPD said that ‘comrades have dropped the old dangerous slogan of “make the leaders fight” and adopted the line of organising and leading the independent struggle of the workers, alongside but apart from and in opposition to the reformists...’. He also attacked Trotsky’s call for a united front against unemployment between the RILU and IFTU unions, a demand that had to be rejected in favour of ‘creating a united front from below against the reformist trade union bureaucracy merged in the bourgeois state...’ [15] The congress resolution pushed the KPD to the banks of the trade union Rubicon when it endorsed the RGO’s decision to drop the slogan of ‘into the reformist unions’. For the next step, and one that flowed logically from a refusal to strengthen and recruit to the existing trade unions, was a repudiation of a Communist’s basic duty to defend the organisations of his class, however reactionary the policies being pursued by their current leaders. And finally, by recommending to workers that they remain outside the ADGB unions, the KPD was forced to take the ultimate sectarian step of proclaiming its own ‘revolutionary’ and ‘red’ unions, organisations which, by their very minority nature and leftist political line, could only further weaken and divide the working class, and so play directly into the hands of its enemies. As far as the ADGB leadership were concerned, nothing suited them more than to have the most class-conscious militants in their unions march off into the Stalinist wilderness, to organise the make-believe ‘independent leadership of all economic struggles’ that had been prescribed for such ‘unions’ by the RILU Congress. And as a double bonus for the bureaucracy, it enabled them – with some justification – to depict the Stalinists as the splitters and wreckers of trade union unity, which in Germany, with its long tradition of organisational discipline and solidarity, was an enormous crime in the eyes of millions of workers. All the Stalinists now required was a pretext on which to split – and here the ADGB bureaucracy proved most obliging.

The Berlin Metal-Workers’ Strike

October 1930 was in many ways a crucial month for the German working class. It saw the SPD leadership torn on the rack between preserving their cherished links with the ‘liberal’ bourgeoisie (represented by the semi-Bonapartist regime of Brüning) and protecting their increasingly menaced position in the working class by going over to a policy of opposition against the government. October was also the month in which the Brüning cabinet made its first serious attempt to reduce the living standards of the working class by a direct cut in wage rates, and in which a strategically important and powerfully organised section of the working class undertook the first large-scale action to defend its existing conditions and democratic rights. On 10 October, wage cuts of eight per cent were announced for all adult workers in the metal (engineering) industry, to come into effect on 3 November. Berlin, the centre of German engineering, immediately became the focal point for resistance to this decree when more than 75 per cent of its metal-workers balloted to reject the cut and take strike action to defend their existing wage agreements with their employers. By 15 October, 140 000 metal-workers in the Berlin area were on strike. Not a single enterprise in the industry remained open. Three days later, with the ADGB metal-workers’ union leadership forced into a position of leading a directly political strike against the wage-cutting edicts of the Brüning government, the SPD Reichstag fraction voted against a motion of no-confidence in the government. By this act of support (and not mere ‘toleration’) of Brüning’s regime, the SPD leadership had ranged itself against the metal-workers’ union. Could a Communist fraction in a trade union have asked for a more favourable situation? Here, presented on a plate, was the perfect issue with which to deepen the gulf between the rank-and-file SPD worker and trade unionist, and the SPD bureaucracy, a development that required the most careful approach to the trade union leaders who had been forced – against their wills in most cases – into a fight against the SPD-supported Brüning government. Above all, it was necessary to exploit this momentary but tactically priceless antagonism between the two segments of the reformist bureaucracy; a tactic that could only be pursued if the KPD avoided like the plague all sectarian experiments with RGO ‘independent leadership’ and ultimatism towards the many thousands of workers who still followed the leadership of the metal-workers’ union. But as we know, the KPD was committed to an altogether different course. Right from the first day of the strike, the RGO set out to ‘capture’ it and by a series of bureaucratic manoeuvres, hopefully prevent the official union leadership from exerting any control over the course of the strike, even though a majority of the strikers themselves remained loyal to the reformist union leadership right to the end of the dispute and beyond.

As evidence that a majority of strikers had broken from the reformists, Paul Peschke cited the recruitment of ‘20 000 new members in two weeks’ into the RGO, a fact that was also taken as proof of the possibility ‘for building up a red metal-workers’ union in Berlin...’. [16] Apparently it did not suffice to announce, even as the strike was in progress, that the RGO intended to split away from the embattled metal-workers’ union to form a ‘red’ rival. No, Peschke had to prove that he had learned his leftist lessons from Molotov, Lozovsky et al, and that therefore, despite a lack of tangible evidence to back up his wild claims, ‘the national and social fascists are working hand in hand in order to disintegrate the strike front’. If this were indeed true, then there may well have been some basis for his claim that ‘the majority [of strikers] are following the RGO and the KPD...’. [17] But in fact, the rash and unfounded charge that fascists and reformists were jointly strikebreaking could only serve to alienate reformist-inclined workers from the RGO, and so buttress the bureaucracy in the metal-workers’ union. Moreover, the KPD was able to coast along on the waves of a strike militancy only so long as the workers themselves were not faced up with the stark alternatives of accepting a return to work recommendation by their reformist leaders, or continuing the strike under the ‘independent leadership’ of the RGO, which had now staked out its claim to full red union status. The moment of truth for the Stalinists came when Carl Severing (on behalf of an SPD leadership that found itself increasingly embarrassed by a strike directed against a government dependent on Social Democratic support for its survival) intervened in an attempt to end the dispute. Acting as an unofficial arbitrator between the union leaders and the employers (who included the big engineering works of the pro-Nazi Ernst Borsig), Severing ‘persuaded’ the metal-workers’ officials to recommend a return to work, on 29 October, even before a ballot had been conducted, as in accordance with union rules. Here the RGO leadership made a fatal tactical error, one which flowed directly from their false analysis of Social Democracy which, according to Stalinist theory, had become organically fused with the capitalist state and the employers. The terms of the return to work were that the old wage contracts should prevail until a final decision on the dispute had been made by an arbitration court, and that there would be no victimisation of strikers. The arbitration court, composed of ‘three impartial persons’, was to give its ruling – binding on both parties – by the beginning of November. The Berlin Stalinist leadership responsible for the line of the RGO in the strike grossly misread the reactions of the majority of the strikers to this deal. Walter Ulbricht, secretary of the Berlin-Brandenburg District party organisation, brashly declared to a conference of 4000 RGO metal worker ‘delegates’ (precisely whom they represented became something of a mystery in the next few days) that:

Urich [a leading official of the metal-workers’ union], Severing and Co can carry on what negotiations they like with Brüning and Borsig. Only the central strike committee, elected by the workers themselves, is entitled to represent the demands of the workers... The metal-workers will continue to carry on the strike in defiance of the arbitration award. [18]

This was a model of ‘red’ unionism in action. Totally ignoring the existing workers’ organisations – the trade unions, factory councils and reformist parties – and (especially important in Weimar Germany) the complicated mechanisms devised by the constitution for regulating labour disputes – procedures which in the eyes of millions of reformist workers contrasted favourably with the high-handed practices of the employers in Imperial Germany – the Stalinists proclaimed their own rival centre to be the ‘real’ and ‘only’ leadership of the strike, irrespective of whether its delegates and committees represented a majority or minority of the men. The RGO’s intention to split from the official union was once again proudly announced, when Dahlem told the meeting that ‘thousands and thousands of workers are coming to the RGO, a revolutionary trade union organisation springing up out of the ground. The foundation is being created for the coming red metal-workers union...’ [19]

But even as Ulbricht made his arrogant, ultimatistic claim that only the RGO was entitled to represent the 140 000 striking metal-workers, the strike had begun to crumble. Many plants obeyed Urich’s call for a return to work before the ballot, though the giant enterprises of Siemens and the AEG remained strike-bound for several more days. The real distribution of forces amongst the Berlin metal-workers became clear for all – except those wearing regulation Stalinist Third Period blinkers – after the ballot. Of the 73 000 who voted (out of a total strike-force of 140 000 workers) 32 847 voted to continue with the strike, and 40 431 for a return. At this point, 25 000 workers were still out (less than those who had voted for such a stand), mainly in the Osram, Telefunken, Krupp and North German Cable works (at Osrams, strikers had voted 300 – 12 to stay out). The correct tactic at this point, given the obvious deep divisions in the ranks of the workers, was to secure a united return to work, and to channel the hostility towards the union bureaucracy, shown during the strike by many workers, into a concerted campaign to replace the leadership of the existing ADGB union on the basis of a principled fight for Communist policies. The KPD took precisely the opposite course. First it persisted in maintaining the fiction that the RGO remained the sole authorised leadership of the fast-disintegrating strike, and then, when it found the ground shifting under its feet, it retreated into the isolated pockets of militancy still to be found in some plants where feeling ran highest against the deal. When the collapse became complete, the RGO leadership then decided, in the wake of this serious setback, to launch their first ‘red’ union. This, and not a fight inside the ADGB metalworkers’ union against the treacherous reformist bureaucracy, was to be the Stalinist shortcut to ‘capturing’ a majority of the working class and ‘smashing the social fascists’. Die Rote Fahne commented on 3 November, ‘the reformists must be deprived of the possibility of betraying the metal-workers a second time’ – to be done, in other words, by splitting off the most advanced, class-conscious minority from the reformist and as yet slowly-awakening and still confused majority! Two days later, in Wedding, the new ‘red’ metal-workers’ union was founded at a conference attended by ‘over 1600 delegates’ – less than half the number that had been present at the RGO conference held just before the strike ended. Defeat had therefore already taken its toll of a wide section of the RGO’s support, but the Stalinists were oblivious to unpalatable realities such as this. The ‘line’ was to build ‘red’ unions, so built they had to be.

The Stalinists spoke scornfully of the trade union bureaucracy, denying its roots in the working class and attributing its survival purely to the ‘fusion’ of ‘social fascism’ with the capitalist state and the employers. But in reality, they capitulated to its domination of the working class, and, in their saner moments, inadvertently conceded that the formation of ‘red’ unions was based on a tacit recognition that the bureaucracy could not be defeated on its ‘own’ territory in the ADGB unions. Thus Erich Auer, in an article heralding the foundation of the red metal-workers’ union, wrote that ‘the strike of 130 000 Berlin metal-workers had proved once against that the reformist trade union apparatus has become a centre of organised strikebreaking’ [20] – a centre supported in these activities by the majority of its members! All Auer’s talk of ‘sham ballots’ was an evasion of this inescapable conclusion. Nor were the Stalinists averse to blaming the working class for their own failings of leadership. In this same article, Auer sneered at the 43 000 Siemens workers (more than a quarter of the entire strike force) ‘who on the command of Urich and under the leadership of Urich’s creatures were the first to abandon the strike, [who]... slunk back to the factories...’. [21]

Yet despite what Auer considered to be an abject capitulation to the employers and the Brüning government by the largest contingent of strikers in Berlin, he concluded that ‘the Berlin workers were not defeated in this strike’. It was just a question of the RGO not yet being ‘strong enough organisationally to render ineffective the strikebreaking of the social fascist trade union leaders’. But defeat it was, for on 8 November, the arbitration court handed down its ruling, one which entirely upheld the original wage-cutting decree of the Brüning cabinet. All that had changed was the eight per cent cut was to be introduced in two stages: three per cent on 17 November, and the remaining five per cent on 19 January. This may have been a defeat for one of the most politically advanced and best organised sections of the German working class, but as far as the KPD and ECCI leaderships were concerned, it had been a tremendous victory for the ‘new line’. F Emrich of the Berlin party organisation wrote on the Wedding conference of the new union that ‘in Germany the time is past when the revolutionary trade union members contented themselves with replying to the shameful treachery of the Amsterdamers with empty protests...’, [22] while Manuilsky saw in the defeated Berlin strike ‘a sign of the collapse of the buttresses of social fascism, of the reformist trade unions, and the turning point of the masses to Communism and to the red trade union opposition’. [23]

This last claim deserves to be examined in more detail. Towards the end of November, the RGO announced that 16 000 workers had joined the new ‘red’ metal-workers’ union, compared with a total of 140 000 workers who had been on strike the previous month. Even if we take the considerably smaller number who voted in the ballot to stay out, the RGO had signally failed to attract into its ranks the main body of workers who comprised the core of the strike movement. Nor did this 16 000 approach even the KPD membership for the Berlin-Brandenburg district, which at the beginning of 1931 stood at around 30 000. The first German ‘red’ union clearly represented little more than a small and highly unstable collection of militant workers eager to fight the treacherous reformist bureaucracy, but prevented from doing so by the leftist trade union tactics and strategy of the RGO and its KPD leadership.

The Lozovsky – Molotov – Stalin line of breakaway unions not only aided the reformist bureaucracy, but also the employers. The wage cuts imposed on the defeated Berlin metal-workers became the pattern for other industries, as the government and the employers saw that despite their militancy, even the best-organised workers could be pushed back through the treachery of their leaders and the pressure of the Social Democrats. On 18 November, the Rhine steamboat firms announced their intention of sacking all employees who did not accept, by 21 November, wage cuts ranging from nine to 25 per cent. The same day, 100 000 woodworkers had their existing wage contracts torn up by their employers, while Baden and Bavarian metal-workers faced wage cuts of 15 per cent imposed by an arbitration court. Textile employers were also pressing for wage cuts ranging from 10 to 15 per cent. But it was in the coal-fields that the biggest battle loomed, where a quarter of a million miners confronted the Ruhr coal barons, many of whom were already ranging themselves behind the rapidly growing Nazi movement.

The Ruhr Miners’ Strike

On 25 November 1930, the Ruhr coal barons announced their intention of cutting miners’ wages by 10 per cent, while the price of coal (in accordance with Brüning’s deflationary policies) was to be reduced by only six per cent. The RGO’s role in the impending conflict was, if anything, even more crucial than had been the case in the Berlin metal-workers’ strike, since concentrated in the compact Ruhr mining region was perhaps the most combative and battle-steeled detachment of the entire German and even Central and West European proletariat. The Ruhr miners had pioneered the formation of the Red Armies at the time of the Kapp Putsch, and had been to the fore in a series of bloody clashes with the armed forces of the state from the very first days of the Weimar Republic. Now the miners were to be pitted against the most reactionary employers in Germany, at a time when the halting of Brüning’s offensive against wages was imperative for the stiffening of the resolve of the entire working class, which in turn could greatly enhance its ability to close ranks against the fascist menace.

If the KPD did appreciate the strategic significance of the looming miners’ strike, its conduct both before and during the strike suggested the contrary. On 2 December, with the deadline for the proposed cuts only a month distant, the International Mines Committee of the RILU convened a conference in Essen for 20 December to prepare the fight against the coal owners and the Brüning government. The next day, the Reichstag voted its approval for another package of Brüning emergency measures, involving further cuts in social services and higher taxes. At once, smouldering discontent against the ‘Hunger Chancellor’ flared up into open revolts in major industrial centres across Germany. Unemployed workers, many of whom had just been deprived of their benefits by Brüning’s decrees, clashed with police in Hamburg, Dresden and Chemnitz, while in Leipzig, a march of unemployed workers on the town hall was met by police with fixed bayonets. Two workers were killed and nine seriously injured when the police opened fire on the demonstrators. Here the KPD was in its element, staging ‘confrontations’ with the state, which while provoking enormous resentment against the Brüning government and its reformist supporters, failed to dislodge the trade union bureaucracy from its dominant position in the trade unions, which as always were the real cockpits of the political struggle for leadership of the working class. More fighting broke out in Hamburg on 11 December, with police shooting dead an unemployed worker, while in Düsseldorf, 165 workers were arrested after a march by unemployed. Then into this ferment the Ruhr coal owners tossed their own bombshell – they now increased by a further two per cent their original demand for a 10 per cent wage cut, a demand that was due to come before the industry’s arbitration board on 19 December. The next day, the RILU miners’ conference opened in Essen, with 25 delegates attending from Poland, Belgium, France, the USSR, Britain and Czechoslovakia. It quite correctly made plans to ensure that no ‘black’ coal reached Germany for the duration of the anticipated strike. This conference, however, since it was conducted on the basis of the leftist tactics and strategy of Third Period ‘red’ unionism, could provide no Communist leadership for the German miners. Determined to repeat the disastrous experience of the Berlin metal-workers’ strike, the RGO convened its own miners’ conference in Gelsenkirchen on 21 December. The RGO claimed that the 506 delegates represented 121 pits and no less than 180 000 miners – a clear majority of those involved in the dispute. But once again, the struggle itself was to expose the hollowness of these claims, just as had been the case in the Berlin strike of October 1930. The expected strike against the wage cuts began on 1 January, but only in pits where the RGO had a clear majority of miners behind it – 22 pits in all, involving 65 000 miners (and not 180 000). At no time did the reformist-led miners, or those adhering to the Catholic unions, respond to the strike call of the RGO in the manner that had been so confidently predicted. No attempt had even been made to draw them into the struggle, since the ‘new line’ in the trade unions ruled out approaches to the ‘social fascist’ bureaucracy for united action on wages or any other issue. And since the majority of miners, despite their criticisms of their reformist leaders, chose to follow them rather than the RGO (which they saw as a rival, usurping trade union and not as a firm ally in struggle against the common capitalist enemy), the Communist vanguard was isolated, and eventually forced back to work on the terms of the coal owners. The strike was over in little more than a week, proving that the whole undertaking had been an ill-prepared and ill-conceived adventure, which far from advancing the solidarity of the miners, greatly undermined it. But once more, the lesson could not be learned. Even though the RGO had not been strong enough to lead or sustain a strike of miners, it nevertheless felt strong enough to launch a ‘red’ miners’ union. On 12 January, Germany’s second red union saw the light of day, doomed like its forerunner never to lead a single serious battle of workers against the employers and the government, let alone to challenge effectively what the Stalinists presumably deemed to be the ‘rump’ reformist union (the previous day, the RGO initiated a third such abortion when it held a port workers’ conference in Hamburg ostensibly to fight a proposed 14 per cent cut in wages). Two unions had been launched in the worst possible circumstances – in conditions of widespread demoralisation created by defeat and the abject surrender of the official ADGB leadership. By creaming off the most resolute and militant workers, and turning its back on the problems of those left inside the reformist unions, the RGO became an active agent in the further weakening of the resolve of the working class to fight back against the mounting capitalist offensive and the increasingly brazen assaults of the Nazis. Perhaps the greatest indictment of Stalinist trade union strategy were the membership figures for the RGO at the end of 1931, after a full year of red unionising. At the beginning of 1930, the Red Trade Union Opposition, still mainly working inside the ADGB unions, stood at 106 000, compared with a party membership of 120 000. Thus the RGO had signally failed even to enrol all party members into the Communist trade union fraction! Far worse, however, were the figures for December 1931. KPD membership had doubled to around 240 000 but the RGO’s had meanwhile, after a string of brilliant ‘victories’ over the ADGB ‘social fascists’, blackleggers and policemen of the working class, managed to increase by precisely 914.

A Balance Sheet of Red Unionism

How had the ADGB unions fared in this period, organisations which, according to the Stalinists, had become irrevocably fused with the fascist bourgeois state and the employers? While hit hard by the massive growth of unemployment, which in some trades rose well above 50 per cent, the reformist trade unions clung onto the bulk of their members, registering a decline from 4.9 million in 1929 to 4.1 million by 1931. Various theories were devised to explain away this continued ability of the ‘social fascists’ to hold their own against the challenge of the RGO – all of them so putrid that they do not even deserve mention, let alone refutation.

That all was not well in the affairs of the RGO was discernable not only from the static membership of the red unions, but reports delivered to the eighth session of the RILU Central Council at the beginning of 1932. Lozovsky conceded that ‘the mass influence of the social-fascist strikebreaking bureaucracy has still not been undermined’, that, as admitted by the Central Committee of the KPD in a recent report on its trade unions work, ‘the leading party organs have not been the organs of resistance against the attacks upon the workers’ living standards’, [24] and that ‘the wage cuts in the North-West German metal industry were carried out without any resistance on the part of the party and the RGO. The same can be said of most of the other branches of industry.’ [25] A speech by Dahlem of the KPD at the same session helped to explain why the RGO had not become the focal point of resistance to the offensive of the employers and the Brüning regime. He outlined how an RGO group in a large Berlin department store had put forward a programme of economic demands on which the workers could fight against wage cuts, for a seven-hour day, free supply of stationery, etc – all well and good. But such a programme was not ‘political’ enough, it did not demarcate itself with the required sharpness from the ‘social fascists’, who might even (for purely demagogic purposes, of course) support it. So to preserve the red purity of the RGO faction, and to ensure that the ‘social fascist bureaucrats’ would not enter a joint struggle for this programme, the cell ended its list of demands with the call, from the heart of a Berlin store, ‘for a free socialist Soviet Germany’. Commented Dahlem, obviously proud of the way in which his RGO cell had accomplished in one sectarian bound the leap from the minimum to the maximum programme, ‘this is an example of general [sic!] demands which are applicable to the position of the whole country and should be concretised for every individual enterprise in conformity with its conditions’. [26] For the KPD and its trade union fractions, there was no question of developing a transitional programme of demands (of the type laid down by the founding programmatic documents of the RILU, not to speak of those of the Communist International in 1921-22), demands which took into account the existing level of struggle and consciousness, not only of the Communist workers, but those still tied to reformism, and which through their transitional – and not maximalist – nature, led the mass of the working class forwards towards the realisation of the need to seize state power in order fully to implement the programme on which they were united. By insisting on the maximalist demand, ‘for a Soviet Germany’, the RGO immediately repelled the majority of German workers, who had proved by their continued adherence to Social Democracy that they rejected with varying degrees of conviction the KPD policy of the revolutionary, Soviet road to socialism. Thus the ‘red unions’, by campaigning on a maximum and not transitional programme (always bearing in mind that in a period of capitalist crisis in which economic conditions and political rights are being constantly eroded, elements of today’s minimum programme can acquire a transitional character) could only attract those workers who had already become convinced of the need for a Communist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. There could be no question of a united front with the ADGB unions or even of one ‘from below’ with their reformist members since such united action was conditional on the acceptance of the KPD – RGO maximum programme. [27] And Dahlem made this quite clear:

No, there can be no united front with the leaders of the Social Democracy and the ADGB, with the assistants and henchmen of fascism. But on the other hand, we proposed to the Social Democratic workers and members of the trade unions to form united fronts from below... we emphasise that in the struggle against the chief enemy, capitalism, the chief enemy within the working class is the Social Democracy. Here began the demagogy of the Social Democrats, the manoeuvre of following the masses. [Hardly a charge that could be levelled against the RGO – RB] The Social Democrats declared that the Communists were the assistants and henchmen of fascism... We have found that such manoeuvres of the Social Democracy evoke a certain response in the ranks of the SPD and ADGB, and even a portion of our supporters. For instance, in one factory in Berlin, at which a reformist, a member of the factory shop committee, declared that we should bury the hatchet, and abandon discussions about our differences, our comrades agreed to act on this basis. [While it would indeed have been wrong to silence their criticism of the reformists, the workers in question would have been a hundred times right to seize on this offer of a united front, while upholding their rights to an independent political line and mutual criticism – RB] We have another example where the local heads of the KPD, the SPD, the RGO and the ADGB formed jointly a so-called [sic!] defensive cartel against fascism. This shows that the importance of fascism has not been sufficiently explained, that sufficient clarity has not been introduced into the question of the role of Social Democracy in the capitalist front, which is the fascist front... I must point out a mistake which the RGO made in the Ruhr area, when it proposed to the heads of the ADGB to hold a joint conference for the organisation of a 24-hour mass strike against the one before the last emergency decree of the Brüning government. It was proposed to hold this conference as means for the exposure of their manoeuvres. [Not of course, in order to achieve a united front against the mine-owners and the government – that would have been even more sinful – RB] But in practice, it turned out to be an illusion and snare, as though there was still some possibility of maintaining the interests of the workers in common with the treacherous trade union bureaucracy. The task therefore, is the necessity of intensifying the struggle against reformism. [28]

Need one ask for any more evidence as to why ‘red unionism’ aided the victory of fascism? This quotation alone bears out everything that Trotsky wrote against the trade union policy of Third Period Stalinism:

The Comintern must strip off the last remnants of the theory of the ‘Third Period’, must begin to investigate concretely the economic and social terrain of the struggle and must stop issuing dictatorial commands to the proletarian vanguard [a method derived in part from the Stalinist bureaucracy’s relationship to the Soviet proletariat – RB], but through the latter guide the real development of the class struggle. In the very first place is work in the trade unions. Lozovsky’s ‘Third Period’ as well as Manuilsky’s ‘Third Period’ must be discarded, and an end put to the policy of self-isolation. The question of restoring the unity of the German trade union movement through the integration of all RGO members into the mass of the ‘free trade unions’ must be posed with the greatest sharpness. Every party member who can must be obliged to join a trade union. The development of the economic struggle [which, in the autumn of 1932, weeks after these lines were written, acquired a new momentum – RB] will place enormous tasks before the reformist bureaucracy. The exploitation of their difficulties can best be accomplished by a flexible and energetic united front policy. [29]

The programmatic declaration of the first conference of the International Left Opposition, drafted by Trotsky only days before Hitler’s assumption of power on 30 January 1933 (the conference was held between 4 and 8 February) was, if anything, even more scathing in its judgement on Stalinist trade union policy:

The paralysis of the proletariat in this critical period is to be traced above all to the abandonment of a real united front policy with the proletariat, and especially in the splitting policy of the RGO. This policy of the RGO is all the more criminal since it prevents the workers from using the weapon of the strike, particularly of the general strike, and since the workers are less armed than in the historical years 1923, 1919, 1918. The latest experiences with the proclamations of a general strike [notably the RGO – KPD strike call on the overthrow of the Prussian Social Democratic government by von Papen on 20 July 1932, a call rendered all the more insincere in the eyes of reformist workers by the fact that up to the very day of its removal, the Prussian government had been denounced as a fascist regime! – RB] have proven that it is the Social Democracy which still has the dominant influence over the workers who are still employed in production, while the influence of the KPD in general rests on the unemployed. The [Left] Oppositionists who join in the mistake of the RGO policy [of calling on workers to leave the reformist unions – RB] support, whether they want to or not, the handing over of the masses to Hitler, and the execution of the betrayal of the Stalinist faction. [30]

This handing of the masses over to Hitler was underway a full year before his final victory in January 1933. Involved in this monumental betrayal were not only the ADGB bureaucrats, with their declared policy of accepting wage cuts imposed by Brüning (the lesser evil) in order to avoid even worse impositions on their members under Hitler, but the Stalinists. Their adventurist policy split the trade unions in their hour of mortal peril, a tactic which succeeded only in demoralising thousands of workers by leading them into a blind alley, isolated struggles that, following their inevitable defeat, exposed them to the demagogy of the Nazis, with their propaganda that the KPD took its orders from a foreign power, and was using the workers as tools of Stalin’s foreign policy. The fruits of ‘red unionism’ first became visible in the early months of 1932, when, with unemployment at its peak of six million, and millions of other workers on short time, the trade unions were at their weakest. All the alibis in the world cannot conceal the responsibility of the Stalinists for the successes achieved by the Nazi factory group, the NSBO, in penetrating deep into the plants in the early months of 1932, a development so sinister that the RILU central leadership was compelled to report on it following an investigation into the industrial work of the KPD conducted in the spring of 1932. Despite the fact that the RILU central leadership was itself politically to blame for the crisis in the German plants, this does not detract from the value of the truly horrific picture painted by its team of investigators, since the reader will find in the account that follows a terrible warning of the fate that awaits the British workers’ movement if its Stalinist, reformist and would-be ‘Trotskyist’ (but in reality, either centrist or ultra-leftist) leaders are permitted to repeat the criminal betrayals and errors committed by their counterparts in Germany.

Appendix I

Extracts from ‘Result of the Investigations on the Work of the RGO in the Halle-Merseburg District’ (Report by Comrade Farkash), RILU Magazine, Volume 2, no 16, 1 September 1932, pp 655-63:

... There are 740 000 workers in the Halle-Merseburg District. Eighty thousand are employed in the chemical industry [IG Farben], 60 000 in the mining industry, and 40 000 in the metal industry. The number of unemployed amounts to 270 000 persons. The RGO has 63 factory branches and 265 unemployed committees in this district... [KPD membership at the end of 1931 – shortly before this survey was conducted – stood at 13 061. In the November 1932 Reichstag elections, the party polled 27.1 per cent of the total vote – 220 755 – as compared with 17 per cent for the SPD. It was therefore a region where the Stalinists could claim to have won the majority of the working class – RB]... The fascists [that is, the real ones, and not the ‘social fascists’ – RB] are trying to penetrate the factories in Halle-Merseburg with the aid of the officials and the staff. In the Launa enterprise they have 180 members, including 50 to 60 workers. What is the attitude of our comrades to this group? They do not wage any struggle against factory fascism. In March [1932] the political leader of the RGO factory group in the Launa enterprise was still trying to convince us all that the fascist group in the factory represents no danger, that the fascists are conducting themselves peacefully, that they do not come out openly, and that they therefore provide no concrete possibilities for their exposure. The comrades have entirely forgotten the illegal work of the fascists; they have calmly tolerated the working up of individual workers by the fascists, the visits of the fascist agitators to the homes of workers, etc. Even in April, after the second round of the Presidential elections [in which several hundred thousand workers who had voted for Thälmann on the first ballot switched to Hitler as the more likely anti-Weimar candidate on the second – RB], our brigade saw leaflets of the RGO in which there was not a word about the danger of fascism and the struggle against it. And at the same time the indignation of the workers against fascism is growing more and more... The fascists... have organised a number of food kitchens and dining-rooms for the unemployed. The Stahlhelm, for instance, is issuing in Halle dinners for 800 unemployed daily, and besides this the Nazis are providing dinners for 200 unemployed. These organisations have also organised the collection of old clothes, provisions of food, etc, for distribution among the unemployed. The Stahlhelm and the Nazis frequently organise for the unemployed so-called evenings of culture with the object of diverting attention of the unemployed from the class struggle... The unemployed committee and the RGO have paid no attention to these machinations of the fascists. The consequence of the passivity of the RGO in this sphere is the fact that the fascists have succeeded in penetrating the ranks of the unemployed clerks who, particularly in Halle, form a considerable part of the unemployed, and whom... the fascists are utilising for penetrating into the enterprises and among the masses of unemployed...

Extracts from ‘Activities of the RGO and the Red Trade Unions in the Ruhr District’ (Report by Comrade Karolsky), RILU Magazine, Volume 2, no 16, 1 September 1932, pp 664-73:

Over 200 000 miners are employed in the Ruhr mining industry, and 100 000 workers in the metal industry. There are 900 000 unemployed workers in this district... In March last [1932] the RGO had 1600 dues-paying members in the enterprises and 7000 unemployed members. The Red Miners’ Union had 2400 members in the pits and 7000 unemployed members. [KPD membership: 24 512; votes in the November 1932 elections: 24 per cent (589 000) – twice that of the SPD in the region – RB]... In all the enterprises we visited we observed hostility to the fascists. But this did not lessen the danger of the organisational strength of the fascists in the enterprises. In some places they have already penetrated into the thick of the workers... It must be said that the issue of the Presidential elections strongly affected the sentiments of the workers in the enterprises. They were greatly surprised, stating that on the whole, the enterprises had voted for Thälmann [on the first ballot, on 13 March 1932, the voting had been Hindenburg (with SPD support) 18.7 million, Hitler 11.4 million, Thälmann 5.0 million and Duesterberg (monarchist-DNVP) 2.6 million; in the run off on 10 April, Hindenburg increased his vote to 19.4 million (53 per cent of the total) and Hitler his to 13.4 million (from 30.1 per cent to 36.8 per cent) while Thälmann dropped badly to 3.7 million and from 13.2 per cent to 10.2 per cent – RB], but that in the second round matters would have a different aspect, and that some of the workers who voted for Thälmann were buying fascist uniforms. A tendency has even crept in to underestimate the fascist danger. One comrade in the group of the RGO in the Hescha factory declared that the possibility of Hitler having recourse to a putsch was excluded. In reply to my question, what should be our stand in case of a putsch, he said: ‘Let them scrap; we'll stand aside, and our turn will come later.’ The group understood that this statement was incorrect, but was unable to explain the mistake to him. [No wonder! It was simply taking to its logical conclusion the official party line that the conflict between the Nazis and the ‘social fascists’ was a sham, and of no concern to the class-conscious worker: ‘After Hitler – our turn.’ – RB] What is the way in which the fascists penetrate into the enterprises? They penetrate, not through the basic cadres of workers, but through the office workers, the foremen, and the members of the Hirsch Dunker unions... In some places, organisationally and numerically, the fascists have larger nuclei than the RGO, but politically the influence of the fascists over the masses is slight. Through the hostility of the workers in the enterprises the fascists are having recourse to illegal methods of work... they put leaflets in the workers’ bags or pockets. It is characteristic that the fascists penetrate into the enterprise according to a definite plan. They strengthen themselves, primarily, in the strategical commanding heights, in the Krupp and Hescha factories, the blast furnaces, in the Duisburg port; they have taken strong root in the tow boats, which are of great importance, for without them the steamers in the fairway cannot be brought into port. They employ the crassest social demagogy in their factory literature. In the Wedau railway shops they literally reprint in their paper materials which they have taken from our factory paper... Activities among the youth, among whom the fascists have very great influence, assume tremendous significance. While, on the one hand, in our factory press, we see exaggerations with regard to the workers who follow the fascists – for instance, the statement that the fascist workers have the same interests as Thyssen – on the other hand, there are also cases... as that in the Zolverein pit, when our comrades turn to the fascists and propose to them that they demand that their leaders fight for wage increases. [These same workers would, on the other hand, never have considered addressing such a demand to the ADGB ‘social fascists’, since this would have been denounced as an example of the old, ‘opportunist’ slogan of ‘make your leaders fight’ – RB]... To a certain extent it is explained by the widespread opinion among our comrades that it is far easier to talk with the fascists than with the Social Democrats... [Being criticised here was simply the extension into the trade unions and the plants of the tactics adopted – on Stalin’s direct orders – at the time of the Prussian referendum of August 1931, when the KPD blocked with Nazis and monarchists against the ‘social fascists’ in the state government – RB]

Extracts from ‘Investigation of Trade Union Work in the Factories and Amongst the Unemployed in Berlin’ (Report by Comrade Ondracheks), RILU Magazine, Volume 2, no 16, 1 September 1932, pp 652-53:

... When we started our investigation in Berlin and raised before factory groups the question about the positions occupied by the Nazis in the factories, we got an answer to the effect that the Nazis occupy no positions at all in the factories, there are individual Nazis who represented no force in the factory. However, the second ballot of the Presidential elections might convince us of the fact that the Nazis consolidated in a number of factories and workplaces. We had to state that the Nazis deeply penetrated into some factories and exercise their influence in some significant strata of workers, particularly in Siemenstadt. On the last decisive day before the second ballot we received a directive from the district committee of the party in Siemenstadt for the distribution amongst the Siemens workers of 30 000 copies of a special issue of the Rote Fahne containing special material on Siemens... All the comrades... had to go to the factory gate in order to distribute the newspapers... A crowd of newsboys selling the Angriff [the ‘radical’ Nazi daily edited by Goebbels, which featured articles on industrial issues and gave prominence to the activities of the NSBO – RB] were standing together with us at the gate of the M factory. When the gate opened and the workers rushed onto the street, hundreds of them did not take the Rote Fahne but the Angriff... As a consequence of this event our comrades decided to find out the number of Nazis in Siemens... The results were striking. We are absolutely isolated from the overwhelming majority of the departments of the F Factory, and even where we have some supporters we found that a great number of workers were organised by the Nazis... in the electrical assembling department, in which 30 workers are engaged, all of them, with the exception of only one, are affiliated to the Nazis’ organisation [the NSBO]. At the Wernerwerk F Factory, the chauffeurs of the electrical cars, who are fulfilling an important function in the factory, are organised in the ranks of the Nazis. After the second ballot of the Presidential elections those workers were coming to the factory with Nazi badges on their shirts. While driving the electrical cars they were demonstratively greeting one another with shouts: ‘Long Live Hitler!’ We observed a similar fact at the Werner M Factory, and partly at the cable works. At the AEG Plant... there is a group of 60-70 Nazis... They [the NSBO activists] work according to quite a definite system which is based on the secret and inconspicuous organisation of work in the departments. They seldom demonstrate openly at any rate, never before they have become a certain organisational force in the factory. Only then they begin to act openly. At first they carry on propaganda amongst the office workers; they then pass over to the foremen and fitters, seize the commanding heights in individual departments, attract those people exercising a certain influence on the departments, and make the workers, through these people, join their organisation by means of persuasion, intimidation and persecution... the Nazis take care to attract to them people who would help them to maintain contacts among various departments. This refers first of all to porters, lift boys, etc. They conduct the whole work in Siemens very skilfully, so that our comrades do not notice it, until the Nazis become a greater force and begin to act openly. Then our comrades say they cannot understand how this happened. The Nazis in Siemenstadt have for a few months already had a special Factory and Political Secretariat... They do not wait until the workers come to them, but daily send their people to the factory gate, before the working day is up, and these individuals instruct all the workers organised by the Nazis... Thus the Nazis go to the factory workers themselves, while our comrades are waiting for the workers to come to them.

Appendix II: Trotsky and Workers’ Control

In line with the tactics and strategy developed and codified by the first four congresses of the Communist International, and especially by the experiences of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky and his supporters in Germany attempted to win the KPD for a policy of workers’ control, through which, it was hoped, the reformist-led workers could be drawn into a broad movement for the rebuilding of the decaying German economy on socialist foundations and in a fraternal alliance with the planned economy of the USSR. In arguing for such a policy, Trotsky clashed with both the left and right opportunist opponents of workers’ control. There were those such as the Stalinists who chanted the slogan ‘workers’ control’ without regard to either the political and economic situation, or the consciousness of the workers; and the Brandlerites, who equated workers’ control with the workers’ management; that is, with the forms of industrial administration introduced after the overthrow of capitalism and the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.

Trotsky, following the principles applied by the Bolsheviks in and after the Russian Revolution, insisted that workers’ control corresponded on a factory level to the situation of dual power in the state:

Control lies in the hands of the workers. This means: ownership and right of disposition remain in the hands of the capitalists. Thus, the regime has a contradictory character, presenting a sort of economic interregnum. The workers need control not for platonic purposes, but in order to exert practical influence upon the production and commercial operations of the employers. [In other words, contrary to the notions of the ultra-lefts, the employer is still the legal owner of his plant: he has not been ‘nationalised without compensation and under workers’ control’ as the WRP incantation would have it – RB] This cannot, however, be attained unless the control, in one form or another, within such and such limits, is transformed into direct management. In a developed form, workers’ control thus implies a sort of economic dual power in the factory... [31]

Now we can see how remote from Leninism is the approach of the WRP (not to speak of the revisionist International Marxist Group and International Socialists) with its demand, addressed to the Labour leaders, to nationalise the basic industries, banks, etc, ‘without compensation under workers’ control’. Workers’ control is the vital preparatory step that alone can make possible the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, it is not a gift handed down by Parliament to a working class that is the passive onlooker of a reformist government legislating socialism. The WRP Policy for the Crisis (1 December 1973) says the following:

A Labour government must nationalise... the basic industries and... all large companies, banks, building and insurance societies... Workers’ control of these, as well as the present nationalised industries, will run them in the interests of the workers and consumers.

What does Trotsky say about the place of workers’ control in the struggle for state power and a planned economy?

What state regime corresponds to workers’ control of production? It is obvious [to all, that is, except the WRP leaders – RB] that power is not yet in the hands of the proletariat, otherwise we would have not workers’ control of production but the control of production by the workers’ state as an introduction to a regime of state production on the foundations of nationalisation. [32]

Thus workers’ control pertains to private ownership, under a capitalist regime. Workers’ state control is the stage passed through by the dictatorship of the proletariat on the road to the nationalisation of the means of production, which then makes possible workers’ management. The WRP obliterates these stages (which are objectively determined by the development of the revolutionary struggle) and instead transposes the first stage – workers’ control – to the last – workers’ management. We must therefore ask, since the bourgeoisie has now been expropriated, whom are the workers controlling?

Let there be no confusion on this issue. Trotsky writes:

What we are talking about is workers’ control under the capitalist regime [that is, what the WRP would call ‘corporatism’ – RB] under the power of the bourgeoisie. However, a bourgeoisie that feels it is firmly in the saddle will never tolerate dual power in its enterprises. Workers’ control, consequently, can be carried out only under the condition of an abrupt change in the relationship of forces unfavourable to the bourgeoisie and its state. Control can only be imposed by force upon the bourgeoisie, by a proletariat on the road to the moment of taking power from them, and then [and only then] also ownership of the means of production. Thus the regime of workers’ control, a provisional, transitional regime by its very essence, can correspond only to the period of the convulsing of the bourgeois state, the proletarian offensive, and the falling back of the bourgeoisie, that is, to the period of the proletarian revolution in the fullest sense of the word. [33]

Workers’ control therefore opens up the road towards the seizure of power within the plant, and does not follow it, bestowed by decree after the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. In fact there can be no question of nationalising the trusts and banks unless such state measures rest on the massive mobilisation and active participation of the workers in the plants, who have already established workers’ control over the employers, and are preparing themselves to run, to manage, the enterprises, on a planned foundation. The WRP’s conception of ‘socialism’ reveals a paternalistic, bureaucratic attitude to the working class, one that betrays itself in its wrong approach to the question of workers’ control and workers’ management.

Yet there can be no excuse for this confusion of workers’ control (which precedes the revolution and workers’ management (which follows it) on the part of the WRP. Two of the party’s own publications make the distinction between the two forms of economic administration abundantly clear. In Germany 1931-1932 (a selection of writings by Trotsky published by the SLL in 1970) we read the following:

Workers’ control over the outlays of industry and the profits of trade is the only real form of struggle for lower prices... Here the matter does not as yet concern the management of industry; the working class woman will not go so far at once, such an idea is far from her mind. But it is easier for her to pass from consumer control to control of production and from the latter to direct management, depending upon the general development of the revolution... [Workers’ control]... signifies control not only over the operating but also over the partly-operating and shut-down industries. This presupposes the association in control of those workers who worked in those industries prior to their dismissal. The task must consist of setting the dead industries in motion, under the leadership of Factory Committees on the basis of an economic plan. This leads directly to the question of governmental administration of industry, that is, to the expropriation of the capitalists by the workers’ government. Workers’ control is thus not a prolonged, ‘normal’, condition, like wage-scale agreements or social insurance. Control is a transitional measure, under the conditions of the highest tension of the class war, and conceivable only as a bridge to the revolutionary nationalisation of industry... For us therefore the slogan of control is tied up with the period of dual power in industry, which corresponds to the transition from the bourgeois regime to the proletarian... They, the Brandlerites, will not allow the revolutionary slogan [of workers’ control] to be ‘castrated'... To them, ‘control over production signifies the management of the industries by the workers’. But why then call management control? In the language of all mankind by control is understood the surveillance and checking by one institution of the work of another. Control may be active, dominant, and all-embracing. But it remains control. The very idea of this slogan was the outgrowth of the transitional regime in industry when the capitalist and his administrators could no longer take a step without the consent of the workers; but on the other hand, when the workers had not yet provided the political prerequisites for nationalisation, not yet mastered the technique of management, not yet created the organs essential for this... Workers’ control begins with the individual workshop [and not, as the WRP seems to think, with the acts of Parliament – RB]. The organ of control is the factory committee... At this stage, there is no general economic plan as yet. The practice of workers’ control only prepares the elements of this plan. On the contrary, workers’ management of industry, to a much greater degree, even in its initial steps, proceeds from above, for it is inseparable from state power and a general economic plan. The organs of management are not factory committees but centralised Soviets. [34]

Ironically, the editors of this publication inserted a footnote to clarify further the distinction between control and management:

In English ‘control’ often, indeed usually, has a much stronger meaning than similar looking words in French, German, etc. What is conventionally translated as ‘workers’ control’ means merely ‘workers’ supervision’ and is not a synonym for ‘workers’ management’. [35]

Just so. But the official publications of the SLL, and now the WRP, make precisely this identification. And if by control is meant management, by what term do they propose to designate the form of control or supervision established by the working class prior to nationalisation? Corporatism perhaps?

Finally we come to the Transitional Programme, the founding programme of the Fourth International. Drafted by Trotsky, this document is no less emphatic than the preceding texts on the nature and role of workers’ control:

The abolition of ‘business secrets’ ['open the books!'] is the first step towards actual control of industry. Workers no less than capitalists have the right to know the ‘secrets’ of the factory, of the trust, of the whole branch of industry, of the national economy as a whole. First and foremost, banks, heavy industry and centralised transport should be placed under an observation glass... The working out of even the most elementary economic plan... is impossible without workers’ control, that is, without the penetration of the workers’ eye into all the open and concealed springs of capitalist economy. On the basis of the experience of control, the proletariat will prepare itself for direct management of nationalised industry when the hour for that eventuality strikes... If the abolition of business secrets be a necessary condition to workers’ control, then control is the first step along the road to the socialist guidance of economy. [36]

For the WRP, it is the last. Here too, the leaders of this party have proved themselves unable to draw on the rich experience of the Communist movement, of the revolutionary struggles in Russia, and the criminal role of Stalinist ultimatism in Germany, where the KPD repelled the reformist workers by equating workers’ control with the dictatorship of the proletariat. By babbling on interminably about ‘nationalisation without compensation and under workers’ control’, the WRP makes a similar error, for it omits the tactical and strategic steps necessary to mobilise the working class to carry out the revolutionary expropriation of the bourgeoisie. The maximum programme of classic Social Democracy replaces the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International.


1. Thus it predicted that ‘within a year we shall not recognise them [the ‘old unions']. The old bureaucrats will be generals without armies...’ In the ‘Third Period’ of Stalinist-inspired ‘parallel’ unions, this description could with much justification be applied to the leadership of most of the ‘red’ unions of the RILU with the possible exceptions of France and, to a lesser extent, Germany.

2. The founding RILU Manifesto stated: ‘... besides winning the trade unions in each country, the union members in all countries have the task of creating an international centre for the trade union movement, which, together with the CI, will make one whole, a single steel bloc. This task will be accomplished when the unions reject the Labour Office. [The ILO founded after the war, with its headquarters at Geneva – RB]... Take into your own hands these powerful organisations, not shrinking from the most resolute struggle against those who are distorting the workers’ organisations into instruments of bourgeois policy... It is not necessary to split the unions, but it is necessary to expel from them the treacherous groups of leaders who are making the unions into a plaything of the imperialists.’ [Emphasis added] We should bear in mind these remarks about winning the unions when we come to examine Stalinist trade union policy in Germany, which utterly denied the possibility of the working class re-establishing its control over its own organisations. Once again, leftism masked a thoroughly defeatist policy, one of complete capitulation to the dominance of the reformist bureaucracy in the unions.

3. At the Third Comintern Congress in July 1921, much attention was paid to the question of partial, transitional demands and slogans, since these were very much related to the central theme of the congress, ‘To the Masses’. The Theses on Tactics declared: ‘If the demands correspond to the vital needs of broad proletarian masses and if these masses feel that they cannot exist unless these demands are met, then the struggle for these demands will become the starting point of the struggle for power. In place of the minimum programme of the reformists and centrists the CI puts the struggle for the concrete needs of the proletariat, for a system of demands which in their totality disintegrate the power of the bourgeoisie, organise the proletariat, represent stages in the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship, and each of which expresses in itself the needs of the broadest masses, even if the masses themselves are not yet consciously in favour of the proletarian dictatorship... The workers who fight for partial demands will automatically be forced into a struggle against the entire bourgeoisie and their state apparatus...’ The theses of the Communist International and the RILU adopted at the same congress further developed this tactical approach to the problem of winning the broad masses, stressing the fight against unemployment: ‘The closing down of undertakings and short-time working are today among the most important means of the bourgeoisie for reducing wages, lengthening hours of work, and nullifying collective agreements,. Therefore the workers must fight against the closing down of factories, and demand investigation of the reasons for such action. For this purpose, special control commissions must be set up, to supervise raw materials, fuel, orders... Specially elected control commissions must thoroughly investigate the financial relations between the concerns in question and other concerns, to do which it will be necessary to suggest to the workers as an immediate practical task to put an end to commercial secrecy... The entire industrial struggle of the working class in the immediate future should be concentrated around the party slogan: “workers’ control of production” and this control must be established before the government and the ruling class have created substitutes for control.’ These ideas and forms of struggle were subsequently to comprise one of the fundamental bases of the founding programme of the Fourth International (1938), enriched by the experiences of the intervening 16 years: ‘Workers no less than capitalists have the right to know the “secrets” of the factory, of the trust, of the whole branch of industry, of the national economy as a whole. First and foremost, banks, heavy industry and centralised transport should be placed under an observation glass. The immediate task of workers’ control should be to explain the debits and credits of society, beginning with individual business undertakings; to determine the actual share of the national income appropriated by individual capitalists and exploiters as a whole... The working out of even the most elementary economic plan... is impossible without workers’ control, that is, without the penetration of the workers’ eye into all open and concealed springs of capitalist economy. Committees representing individual business enterprises should meet at conference to choose corresponding committees of trusts, whole branches of industry, economic regions, and finally, of national industry as a whole. Thus workers’ control becomes a school for planned economy. On the basis of the experience of control, the proletariat will prepare itself for direct management of nationalised industry when the hour for that eventuality strikes.’ (LD Trotsky, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International (London, 1963), pp 22-23) How different in its realism and subtlety of approach from the parrot-like incantations of the WRP and its Workers Press:nationalisation without compensation and under workers’ control’ – not a transitional demand but the maximum programme, and one that entirely overlooks – in the leftist fashion so typical of the pseudo-Trotskyists of the WRP – that both the Third Congress of the Comintern (on which, together with the first, second and fourth, the WRP claims to base itself) and the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International, quite specifically stated that the slogan of workers’ control pertains to the period of preparation and education of the working class for the responsibilities of running a national economy – and of seeing the need to do so – immediately prior to the conquest of state power and the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. Under nationalisation, not workers’ control, but workers’ management would be the norm (as is made clear in the Transitional Programme). Once again, the WRP debases and perverts genuine Trotskyism, very much to the advantage of its enemies.

4. LD Trotsky, ‘The War Danger and the Opposition’ (speech to the joint plenary session of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission, 1 August 1927), The Stalin School of Falsification (New York, 1962), pp 163-64.

5. We should note that even the brief period of Zinovievist leftism that followed the defeat of the German revolution was faithfully reproduced in the RILU. Tomsky declared to the Petrograd provincial trade union congress on 17 December 1923: ‘I think that those comrades who say “Save the German trade unions!” are wrong. I think that what is needed is not to save them, but to say to them: “Rest in peace: you lived in shame, and you have died in shame.” Neither the Communists nor anyone else can at this time restore the German trade union movement.’ Tomsky could not have been more mistaken. Within a year, desertions from the ADGB unions (occasioned by the defeat of 1923) had ceased.

6. Not even the normally cerebral world of chess could escape the strident leftism of the Third Period. The RILU trade union propaganda and cultural work bulletin for September 1929 informed working-class chess enthusiasts why it was now politically necessary to effect a split from the ‘social fascist’ chess organisations of the IFTU. Henceforth proletarian chess had to take place, like all strikes and forms of class action, under the exclusive and independent leadership of the Communist International – which in this instance meant the chess section of the Red Sports International. This ‘left’ turn by Stalin’s chess pawns was all the more absurd in that one of the justifications for the split was that the chess ‘reformists’ had accused – with some justification – Soviet chess players of ‘compromising their proletarian purity’ by competing in tournaments organised by capitalist countries and ‘bourgeois’ chess federations. (However this too was consistent with the Third Period theory that ‘social fascism’ and not the bourgeoisie and its parties, was the main enemy of the working class.)

7. Of the 1927 membership of the KPD, only 27.79 per cent joined the party in or before 1920, while the following percentages were recruited ever the next seven years: 1921: 14.42; 1922: 6.80; 1923: 13.34; 1924: 6.61; 1925: 9.15; 1926: 14.73; 1927: 7.88. This trend was enormously accentuated after 1930 when the KPD began to concentrate on the non-trade-union workers and the unemployed. In Berlin, regarded as the stronghold of the KPD, 40 per cent of the membership was turned over annually between 1930 and 1932, while of the delegates to the Berlin District Congress in 1932, 109 (44 per cent) had less than one year’s membership of the party to their credit, while only 15 delegates (6.5 per cent per cent) had been in the party for more than 10 years, that is, since 1922, when KPD membership ran at about 200 000 mark. Thus nearly all the workers who had passed through the history-shaping struggles of that period under the leadership of the KPD were now lost to the party, unable to transmit their invaluable experiences to the younger generations of workers attracted around and into the KPD. This lack of a battle-hardened and experienced older layer of the workers at every level of the party placed the KPD at a serious disadvantage in training its youth and in combating reformist cadres in the trade unions and plants, who had behind them many years of experience in defending their opportunist policies against attacks from the left. This already acute deficiency was further exacerbated by the KPD’s weak position inside the plants. With the increase in unemployment after 1928, the KPD became a party mainly of jobless workers. From a percentage of 62.3 members in factories and other industrial centres in 1928, the ratio of employed members fell through 51.6 per cent in 1929 and 32.2 per cent in 1930 to between 20 and 22 per cent by 1931. Once again, the party’s turn away from the unions and union workers to the ‘pure’ militancy of the non-union and unemployed worker, untainted by reformist or trade union consciousness, enabled the trade union bureaucracy to maintain its hold on its members in a situation where it should have been either forced to enter a united front with the KPD against the Nazis, or stand exposed as an open agency of the class enemy.

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

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

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

11. The enlarged presidium also foisted the most incredibly sectarian municipal council policy on the Comintern sections. In a document entitled ‘The Need for Bolshevik Municipal Work’, the pronouncement was made that ‘both in the central machinery of the bourgeois state and in the municipal machinery all disparities between municipal representatives of the bourgeoisie and those of the social fascists have been wiped out. In present conditions, when the reformists have become social fascists, any course for the establishment of a so-called “labour” majority... composed of Communists and reformists, is an opportunist course... The Communists can neither support the Social Democratic candidates for mayors nor can they carry on any negotiations to obtain support for the Communist candidates... The social fascist evolution of the Social Democrats excludes all possibility of any form of cooperation between the Communist and Social Democratic groups in the municipalities... Any attempt to draw distinctions between the Social Democratic national leaders is only an attempt to find a cover for opportunist practice in municipal work.’ (The Communist Review, Volume 2, no 9, September 1930, pp 382-83)

12. V Molotov, The Developing Crisis of World Capitalism and the Revolutionary Tasks of the Comintern (London, 1930), p 36.

13. Molotov, The Developing Crisis of World Capitalism and the Revolutionary Tasks of the Comintern, p 36, emphasis added.

14. Molotov, The Developing Crisis of World Capitalism and the Revolutionary Tasks of the Comintern, pp 45-46.

15. International Press Correspondence, Volume 10, no 40, 17 August 1930, p 849.

16. International Press Correspondence, no 49, 30 October 1930, p 1015.

17. International Press Correspondence, no 49, 30 October 1930, p 1015.

18. International Press Correspondence, no 49, 30 October 1930, p 1016.

19. International Press Correspondence, no 49, 30 October 1930, p 1016.

20. International Press Correspondence, no 50, 6 November 1930, p 1042.

21. International Press Correspondence, no 50, 6 November 1930, p 1042.

22. International Press Correspondence, no 51, 13 November 1930, p 1058.

23. International Press Correspondence, no 52, 20 November 1930, p 1063.

24. In an article on the RGO red miners’ union, S Perevoznikov admitted that after the spring of 1931 (that is, following the formation of the new union) ‘the strike struggle in the Ruhr has been marked by a steady decline. In October 1931 the party and the Red Unions succeeded in leading the fight against the seven per cent wage cut only scattered groups of miners (about 25 000 to 30 000 on the whole) and keeping them in the strike for only a few days... In January 1932 the KPD and the RGO of the Ruhr mobilised an even smaller number of miners against Brüning’s emergency decree, only a few thousand miners striking for one or two days in six mines. [A year previously, it will be recalled, the RGO claimed support from 121 pits, while its strike call was followed by 22 – RB] This decline of the strike movement in the Ruhr has been accompanied by a retardation of the growth of the influence of the party (and even by its weakening) and by stagnation in the party organisations, in the Red Miners Union, and in the RGO of the Ruhr province. One of the main causes of the temporary discontinuation of the growth and political decline of the influence of the party among the masses of the Ruhr consists in that the KPD and the RGO failed to organise the workers’ response to the lowering of their living standards.’ (S Perevoznikov, ‘Lessons [Sic!] of the Miners’ Strike Struggle in the Ruhr 1931-32’, Communist International, Volume 9, no 10, 15 May 1932, pp 397-98) The inefficacy of the ‘united front from below’ was inadvertently betrayed in Perevoznikov’s admission that an RGO miners’ conference in June 1931, attended by 720 ‘delegates’, attracted one Christian trade union miner and three from the ADGB! An improvement was, however, registered at a further RGO conference held during the abortive strike of January 1932: ‘Among 800 delegates from the mines only 36 were members of the reformist union, 12 members of the Christian union and four fascists.’ [Emphasis added] No wonder most reformist workers looked with distrust on the activities of the KPD and RGO, seeing that in their struggle against ‘social fascism’, they were prepared, while rejecting the united front with the ADGB and SPD, to enter one with Nazis.

25. RILU Magazine, Volume 2, nos 1-2, 1 February 1932, p 29.

26. RILU Magazine, Volume 2, nos 1-2, 1 February 1932, p 114.

27. This policy was quite deliberately intended to prevent any unity with ‘social fascist’ trade union officials and activists, as one Comintern trade union organiser confirms: ‘The aim was to unite with the rank and file against the will of their Socialist leaders. This was called the “united front from below” and was calculated to drive a wedge between the real leaders and their masses and to split the trade union. All Communist proposals were intentionally so worded as to be rejected by the Socialist chiefs. These proposals invariably ended with the appeal “Defend the Soviet Union, the fatherland of all workers.” The Socialist leaders rejected this formula and the Communists then cried “Traitors! Saboteurs!"... Thus the “united front” manoeuvre became one of the main causes of the impotence of organised German labour in the face of Hitler’s march to power.’ (J Valtin [R Krebs], Out of the Night (New York, 1941), p 251)

28. RILU Magazine, Volume 2, nos 1-2, 1 February 1932, pp 118-19, emphasis added.

29. LD Trotsky, ‘Perspectives of the Upturn’ (18 August 1932), Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932 (New York, 1973), pp 174-75.

30. ‘The International Left Opposition, Its Tasks and Methods’, Documents of the Fourth International (New York, 1973), pp 36-37, emphasis added.

31. LD Trotsky, ‘Workers’ Control of Production’ (20 August 1931), The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (New York, 1971), p 77.

32. Trotsky, ‘Workers’ Control of Production’, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, p 87, emphasis added.

33. Trotsky, ‘Workers’ Control of Production’, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, p 78, emphasis added.

34. LD Trotsky, ‘What Next?’ (27 January 1932), Germany 1931-1932 (London, 1970), pp 190-93.

35. Trotsky, ‘What Next?’, Germany 1931-1932, p 192.

36. Trotsky, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, pp 18-19, emphasis added.