Fascism in Germany. Robin Blick 1975

Chapter XXII: Stalin Over Germany: From Rapallo to Red Referendum

Don’t you think, Neumann, that if the nationalists came to power in Germany, they would be so exclusively concerned with the Western powers that we could build socialism in peace? (Stalin to Heinz Neumann, November 1931, quoted in M Buber-Neumann, Kriegs-schauplätze der Welt-revolution (Stuttgart, 1967), p 332)

At all events, under all conceivable circumstances, if the German revolution does not come, we are doomed. (VI Lenin, 7 March 1918)

Social Democracy’s betrayal of the November Revolution meant that the young Soviet Republic had to establish diplomatic and economic relations with a capitalist and not Soviet Germany. Only bitter necessity drove Germany’s new political rulers along the path towards collaboration with the Bolsheviks. The main government parties – namely the Social Democrats, the Catholic Centre, bourgeois radicals and, from 1921, Stresemann’s liberals – all naturally inclined towards a ‘Western orientation’; the SPD to the Second International (whose strongest representatives outside Germany were to be found in France, Britain and Scandinavia), the Centre towards Entente and Catholic Italy and France, the DDP towards democratic capitalism of the West, and Stresemann, for so long the guiding hand behind German foreign policy, towards a détente with the victorious Versailles powers. However, with the exception of the Social Democrats, these partisans of collaboration with the West soon discovered – much to their discomfort – that no major Western power was in the least bit anxious to clasp the proffered hand of friendship of a defeated, dismembered and debt-ridden nation. All that the rulers of France and Britain wanted from Germany was the prompt payment of reparations and its permanent reduction to a second-rate continental power. Deprived of allies in the West, the Weimar parties reluctantly and with much internal dissension took the road to Rapallo, towards rapprochement with what was for Social Democratic as well as bourgeois Germany, the very incarnation of political and moral evil – Bolshevik Russia. In concluding the Rapallo Treaty with the Soviet Union on 16 April 1922, the representatives of reformist and bourgeois-democratic Germany were, ironically, only following a course that had been advocated for some years by the temporarily eclipsed rulers of the old Empire. Thirsting for revenge against the Entente, and especially ‘decadent’ France (the original source of all liberal – republican – Marxist infection), the monarchist ‘national’ right, both in the armed forces and in the agrarian-dominated DNVP, was outspoken in its insistence on the need to exploit the strong antagonism that existed between the Soviet Union and the Versailles powers, who for three years had sought the overthrow of the Bolsheviks by means of blockades, espionage and force of arms. Here was a natural, even if temporary and dangerous, ally of Germany against the ‘plutocratic’ West, they argued. But treating with Moscow involved no relaxation of the struggle against Communism at home. It was, even for its most fervent partisans, a marriage of convenience with the ever-present prospect of a rapid divorce. As Herbert von Dirksen, a leading German diplomat under both Weimar and Hitler, and German Ambassador to Moscow in 1929-33, explains:

The warmth of political friendship between two nations will always vary according to the events of the day and the strength of foreign pressure. The new-born Russo-German friendship was all the more susceptible to such climatic influences, as one of the partners was an emphatically novel and revolutionary state, and the other fragile in its structure by reason of social upheavals, crushing defeat after an exhausting war and control by foreign powers. Slowly the doctrine developed that the relations with the Soviet Union were to be managed strictly on a two-road basis; on one road political friendship and economic exchange were fostered; on the other, a life and death struggle encouraged unrest, trouble and chaos in Germany, with all the constructive forces in the country reacting against this subversive activity with all the vigour they could muster... Thus the mutual relations were liable to abrupt changes, the thermometer falling overnight from warm friendship to cold disgust whenever the Comintern had its way... There were comparatively few pillars on which the edifice of stable and good relations could be erected... Military relations proved to be of a more permanent value... on the German side, General von Seeckt and the Reichswehr were the most stable and reliable adherents of friendship with Russia... Economic relations never reached the strength of a solid pillar, or at least not before the great credits were granted and business done on a big and secure scale. Our industries recovered slowly and the banks, preferring great gains with no risks, turned a cold shoulder to Russia... only individual members, like Professor Hotzsch of the DNVP, von Raumer and Baron Rheinbaum of the DVP and Wirth of the Centre... could be relied upon as supporters of an understanding with Russia. [1]

Rapallo was also treated as a holding operation in Moscow – at least, until the promulgation towards the end of 1924 of Stalin’s doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’. Karl Radek, foremost among the partisans of a strong pro-German orientation, outlined the rationale behind the treaty when he wrote, shortly before its conclusion:

The Soviet government knows that the first wave of world revolution has subsided and that the next will mount only slowly, it knows that the Russian economy cannot be restored without the help of European economy. It hoped that it would be the European workers with machines and the Russian peasants with ploughs... But the European workers are not yet masters in their own house. Therefore the Russian government declares: we need world capital and therefore we must give it profits... Fools who call themselves Communists and even left Communists [a reference to the KAPD, which accused the Bolsheviks of selling out the world revolution and the German working class by establishing diplomatic and economic relations with the German bourgeoisie – RB], have accused us on this account of treachery to the proletariat... We answer: ‘Then show us another way.’ ... Split into hostile camps, the capitalist world fears that we shall ally ourselves with the enemies of any state which tries to starve us out. We shall ally ourselves not only with the devil but with his grandmother too if it is a question of defending the rights for which the Russian working class bled and starved.

But despite this alliance – and in fact through it – the long-term strategic goal, to which the tactical requirements of Soviet diplomacy were subordinate, remained the consummation on a world scale of the revolution begun in Russia in 1917. This was made abundantly clear in the ECCI resolution of 19 May 1922 on Soviet foreign policy and specifically the recently-concluded Rapallo Treaty:

The democrats and ‘Social Democrats’ who are at the helm in Germany resisted for a long time the alliance with Soviet Russia although the entire working class for two years unanimously demanded this alliance. Only the merciless greed which characterised the attitude of the victor states at Genoa to defeated Germany induced the present German government to sign a treaty with Soviet Russia. The treaty between Russia and Germany signed at Rapallo is of enormous historical importance. Russia with its 150 million population and its predominantly agrarian character, in alliance with Germany with its first-class industry, represents such powerful economic cooperation that it will break through all obstacles. On the German side the treaty was signed by the present bourgeois – Menshevik government, but everybody understands that while the position of the bourgeois – Menshevik German government is a temporary thing, the German working class remains. The German working class will one day inevitably conquer power in their own country. Germany will become a Soviet Republic. And then, when the German-Russian treaty brings together two great Soviet republics, it will provide such unshakeable foundations for real Communist construction that the old and outworn Europe will not be able to withstand it for even a few years. In this sense the fate of humanity in the next few years will be determined by the success of the German working class. The victory of the German proletariat over ‘its’ bourgeoisie will involve unprecedented changes in the social structure of the whole of Europe... Workers of Germany, you must seize power in your country as quickly as possible. In doing so you will remove the weight on the spirit of the world proletariat and accelerate historical progress... [Emphasis added] [2]

Relations with Germany did not figure prominently in the political and theoretical controversies that were produced by the rise to dominance of the Stalin faction in the Soviet party and state. In so far as German affairs were discussed, they pertained to the false perspectives of the Stalin – Zinoviev – Kamenev Troika concerning the prospects of the imminence of a revolutionary situation in that country. The main controversies centred on Britain, where Stalin had staked the defence of the USSR on an alliance with the bureaucrats of the TUC General Council; China, where the Stalin – Bukharin orientation towards a coming purely national bourgeois-democratic revolution drove the Chinese Communist Party into a suicidal bloc with the Kuomintang (again on the grounds that its leader, Chiang Kai-shek, would prove – under pressure of the masses of course – a loyal ally of the USSR); and Poland, where the prevailing rightist line had led to the Communist Party throwing its full weight behind Marshal Piłsudski’s coup of May 1926, which the pro-Bukharin leadership of the party took to be a progressive, anti-feudal bourgeois-democratic overturn meriting the support of the proletariat and poor peasants. In each of these cases, the Stalin line, which flowed from the false perspective that it was possible to build ‘socialism in one country’, took as its starting point not the preparation of the working class, supported by the rural masses, for power, but the subordination of the proletariat and its Communist party to opportunist blocs with left reformists and bourgeois nationalists (such as those to be found on the General Council of the TUC – Cook, Purcell, Hicks – and the Central Committee of the Kuomintang – Wang Ching Wei, Feng Yu-hsiang) whose purpose was to provide a counterweight to the military and diplomatic pressure of imperialism upon the still-isolated workers’ state. Stalin enunciated the opportunist nature of this tactic when defending his bloc with the British TUC (and this was a full two months after its betrayal of the General Strike and at a time when it was openly scabbing on the still-striking miners) at a joint session of the CPSU Central Committee and Central Control Commission on 15 July 1926:

The Anglo-Russian Committee is the expression of a bloc, of an agreement between our unions and the British unions, and this bloc is not without its political character. This bloc sets itself two tasks. The first is to establish contact between our trade unions and the British trade unions, to organise a united movement against the capitalist offensive, to widen the fissure between Amsterdam and the British trade union movement... and lastly, to bring about the conditions essential for ousting the reformists from the trade unions and for winning over the trade unions of the capitalist countries to the side of Communism.

Since this tactic was conceived of opportunistically, as a united front only at the top, as a supposedly clever organisational manoeuvre in which the staid British bureaucrats would be hopelessly outwitted by the shrewd Stalin, it could – and indeed did – only rebound to the advantage of precisely those whom the bloc was allegedly intended to undermine. The TUC bureaucracy emerged from the bloc with Tomsky – Stalin (the General Council broke up the Committee in August 1927) far stronger than when it had entered it in the winter of 1924-25. In this case, Stalinist opportunism supplemented the reformists by a right-wing policy.

The second task of the bloc is to organise a broad movement of the working class against new imperialist wars in general, and against intervention in our country by (especially) the most powerful of the European imperialist powers, by Britain in particular. [3]

Stalin’s line prepared only defeats for the working class – not only in Britain, [4] but in Poland and China. And by the same token, it gravely weakened the international position of the Soviet Union, enabling a world bourgeoisie emboldened by its domestic victories to intensify still further its pressures on the workers’ state. Chiang’s bloody triumph over the Shanghai proletariat in April, facilitated and encouraged by the criminal Stalin – Bukharin policy of the ‘bloc of four classes’, abruptly ended the upwards thrust of the second Chinese revolution, and made possible the regroupment of imperialist forces – French, British, Japanese – not only in China but throughout South-East Asia. Instead of enjoying the protection of an ally to the south of Russia’s vast and invitingly exposed Asiatic territories, there now, thanks to Stalin’s policy of ‘blocs’, existed a bitterly anti-Communist regime prepared to align itself with almost any imperialist power or combination of powers that would protect it from a resurgence of popular revolution at home, and the magnetic revolutionary attraction exerted on China’s oppressed by the USSR to the north. Piłsudski’s victory in Poland also marked a very serious setback to the strategic position of the USSR, since the dictator wasted no time in strengthening Warsaw’s already close ties with the Entente, and especially with French imperialism.

Neither were relations with Germany blossoming as ‘pro-Berliners’ such as Radek had hoped. Though formally separate entities, the Soviet government and the Communist International had been as one in their support for the revolution that loomed in the summer and autumn of 1923. The Red Army was alerted and prepared politically for a massive intervention to support an embattled German proletariat menaced by foreign as well as domestic counter-revolution; while the Soviet government, loyal to its international responsibilities, made ready to send precious grain and other essential supplies to Germany in the likely event that a successful revolution would be met by an imperialist blockade. The Soviet government’s open commitment to the cause of revolution in Germany confirmed for even the most determined advocate of an Eastern orientation what the sceptics had always argued that Moscow placed world revolution above even the most valuable tactical alignment with a bourgeois power. Consequently in the period that followed the failure of the 1923 revolution, adherents of the ‘Western orientation’ gained the upper hand. As one leading German diplomat of the day, Gustav Hilger, recalls, despite repeated and quite unbecoming protestations of loyalty to the ‘spirit of Rapallo’ by Chicherin and Radek to the German Ambassador to Moscow, Count Ulrich Brockdorff-Rantzau, ‘the scars made by the events of October 1923 could never be removed’. [5] With Stresemann in charge of foreign affairs, Germany moved progressively along the course that was to result, at the beginning of 1926, in Germany’s application for membership of the League of Nations and (a little earlier) the conclusion of the Locarno Pact with the Entente powers. Underpinning this realignment was of course Germany’s dependent economic relations with Western, primarily United States, capitalism. US bankers and investors had paid – or rather loaned – to the piper, and now they were beginning to call their anti-Soviet tune. Stresemann’s pro-Western course naturally caused great dismay in Moscow, where Germany’s impending defection to the Entente powers was quite correctly seen as a further weakening of the USSR’s already isolated international position. Soviet diplomats were charged by the ruling Stalin faction with the task of mending Moscow’s relations with Berlin, and to stress the immense advantages Germany was surrendering by turning its back on the policy of accord initiated by Rapallo. It is at this point that we begin to detect serious deviations from the principles of revolutionary foreign policy laid down and practised by the Soviet government in its Leninist period.

These had been enunciated by Lenin in the early days and weeks of Soviet power, when the tardiness of the revolution in Germany compelled the Soviet government to negotiate and finally to conclude a peace treaty with its polar opposite – imperialist Germany. Defending this line of action against his leftist critics (who as in the case of Bukharin, advanced the adventurist demand of a ‘revolutionary war’ against Germany), Lenin wrote:

Workers who lose a strike and sign terms for resumption of work which are unfavourable to them and favourable to the capitalists, do not betray socialism. The only people who betray socialism are those who secure advantages for a section of the workers in exchange for profit to the capitalists; only such agreements are impermissible in principle. He betrays socialism who calls the war with German imperialism a defensive and just war, but actually receives support from the Anglo-French imperialists, and conceals secret treaties concluded with them from the people. He does not in the least betray socialism who, without concealing anything from the people, and without concluding any secret treaties with the imperialists, agrees to sign terms of peace which are unfavourable to the weak nation and favourable to the imperialists of one group, if at that moment there is not strength to continue the war... The correct conclusion is that the moment a socialist government triumphed in any one country, questions must be decided, not from the point of view whether this or that imperialism is preferable [as it was under Stalin – RB], but exclusively from the point of view of the conditions which best make for the development and consolidation of the socialist revolution which has already begun... the underlying basis of our tactics must not be, which of the two imperialisms it is more profitable to aid at this juncture, but rather, how the socialist revolution can be most firmly and reliably ensured the possibility of consolidating itself, or at least, of maintaining itself in one country until it is joined by other countries. [6]

The triumph of Stalin’s theory of ‘socialism in one country’ in the CPSU and the Communist International inevitably found its reflection in the diplomacy of the Soviet government, which, needless to say, had no existence independent of the ruling Stalin faction in the party. Here the process of the revision and perversion of Leninist principles was more masked in its early stages than was the case with the Communist International and the Bolshevik Party. Lenin had readily acknowledged that the Soviet power, for as long as the revolution found itself surrounded by its imperialist enemies, would have to negotiate, trade and treat with sections of the world bourgeoisie, with a class that not only sought the overthrow of Soviet power, but waged often brutal class warfare against its own workers. This was a grim tactical necessity, and Lenin, unlike many leftist ‘purists’, minced no words in acknowledging it. Stalin’s perversion of Leninist internationalism did not begin by a frontal assault on the principles of Soviet diplomacy as outlined by Lenin at the time of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. On the contrary, groping his way towards the counter-revolutionary line of 10 years later, he intuitively adapted the forms and phraseology of Communist internationalism to a nationalism that expressed the conservative interests and outlook of the burgeoning Soviet bureaucracy. Acting as the unwitting (in its early phase of development) spokesman of this privileged caste, Stalin began to insert into these forms the tactical and strategic conceptions that corresponded on a diplomatic plane to the theory of socialism in one country. Instead of relations with imperialist and other capitalist countries being seen as subordinate to the long-term goal of world revolution, and therefore as subordinate to the policies and activities of the Communist International, the parties of the Communist International by almost imperceptible stages became transformed into auxiliaries of this diplomacy, which in turn represented the interests not of the Soviet working class, but the privileged bureaucratic caste which had usurped its political power. Thermidor in party, state and society was accompanied by no less a thoroughgoing reaction in the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs.

Each defeat for the international working class – made possible not only by the treacherous role of the Social Democrats, but the opportunist ‘bloc’ policy of the Stalin faction in the Comintern – rendered the Soviet bureaucracy progressively more dependent on direct relations with the world bourgeoisie. While this development certainly accorded with the most conservative elements of the bureaucracy, and especially those layers of the old exploiting classes that had rallied to the Stalin regime, it also proved a source of constant embarrassment to the Stalinist leadership, since from 1925 to 1928 it was constantly under attack from the left (from the Trotskyists) for the Comintern’s policy of seeking opportunist blocs with Social Democratic and trade union bureaucrats. With the breakdown of this system of defensive blocs (with the British TUC and in China, the Kuomintang), and the beginnings of a leftwards turn in domestic economic policy, the Stalinist faction was compelled to seek new relations with world imperialism and the world capitalist market that urgently required a ‘left’ camouflage if the bureaucracy was to sustain its spurious claim to the mantle of October and Leninist internationalism. Once again, the processes by which this turn was accomplished were by no means premeditated or fully conscious. Stalin groped his way towards the diplomacy of the ‘Third Period’ just as he edged his way over from Zinoviev’s leftism of early and mid-1924 to his theory of socialism in one country by the end of that same year and, with it, the notion of defending the USSR by means of unprincipled blocs with reformists and bourgeois nationalists – pragmatically, uncertainly and without for one moment seriously considering where these adaptations to the pressure of imperialism would eventually lead him.

The great irony was that in breaking from his anti-Trotskyist ally Bukharin, and opting for a programme of panic forced collectivisation and industrialisation, Stalin was thrown willy-nilly into dependence on the very forces which his theory of ‘socialism in one country’ had decreed were unnecessary for the construction of socialism in one country – namely the world market and international division of labour. Thus relations with Germany, the most technically advanced and heavily industrialised state in Europe, became absolutely crucial for the fate of Stalin’s bid to ‘catch up and overtake’ the capitalist West.

Here the bureaucracy was fortunate in being able to exploit the already-established links that had been built up over the previous decade with industrial and political circles in Germany. [7] Try as he might, with all his petit-bourgeois utopian plans for an autarkic Soviet economy (and in this, he shared much with Hitler), Stalin could not escape the laws of political economy, laws that recognise neither national frontiers nor those of different systems of production and property relations. This can be better appreciated by tabulating statistically Soviet Russia’s economic relations with the major capitalist countries over the period in question. The table shows the source of Soviet imports in percentage terms:

* Tsarist Russia

These few figures tell more about Stalin’s German policy in the three years preceding the victory of National Socialism than any number of volumes of memoirs by those Soviet diplomats responsible for implementing his reactionary international strategy. Precisely at the point where Stalin launched his campaign to establish Soviet economic self-sufficiency, the technical and investment requirements of the First Five-Year Plan threw Stalin into the arms of the most reactionary and anti-Soviet industrialists and financiers in Europe! The key to understanding how the very industrialists who were financing the Nazis to crush the working class and its Communist Party in Germany came to be, at the same time, underwriting Stalin’s First Five-Year Plan is to be found not only in the Soviet economic crisis, but that of the world capitalist system, which found German industry more exposed to its effects than any other sector of the world economy. We have already noted that the downturn had set in even prior to the Wall Street crash of October 1929, and that, in heavy industry especially, falls in output rendered more than 50 per cent of capital installations idle. Only in the USSR, where a long-delayed but now headlong drive towards an advanced industrialised economy was generating insatiable hunger for capital investment and technical managerial expertise, [8] could be found the massive demand German industry so desperately required. Not even the most fascist-minded monopolists could restrain themselves from casting a greedy and envious eye on the industrial upsurge unleashed by Stalin’s about-turn in economic policy after 1928. We have already tabulated the steady upturn in German exports to the USSR over the period of the Five-Year Plan – increasing from 22.1 per cent in 1929 to 46.0 per cent of all Soviet imports by 1932. Now let us consider the relative importance to German industry of the First Five-Year Plan. While Germany’s overall exports to the USSR never approached the proportion of Soviet imports from Germany (obviously, since the German economy had a far larger national product, the major part of which, unlike the USSR of the period, was derived from industry and not agriculture), in certain spheres they assumed crucial importance. Thus machinery exports to the USSR in 1930 comprised 8.1 per cent of total German exports in this department, rising to 18.2 per cent in 1931 and 30.5 per cent by 1932. Here then was a clear case of mutual interdependence of the two economies, as Lenin had pointed out only a matter of weeks after the October Revolution:

In 1918 Germany and Russia have become the most striking embodiment of the material realisation of the economic, the productive and the socio-economic conditions for socialism on the one hand, and the political conditions on the other... [9]

But for as long as state power in Germany remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie, economic relations between the two countries would be not the harmonious and mutually beneficial ones envisaged by Lenin (and feared, we should recall, by Lloyd George) but distorted, not only to the detriment of the USSR, but the workers of Germany. Stalin’s reliance on industrial and technical aid from the German bourgeoisie (forced upon him, as we have already noted, by his ruinous policies in Britain and China) had profound implications for the struggle for socialism in Germany, and, specifically, a disastrously disruptive impact upon all attempts by the German proletariat to close its ranks against the mounting Nazi threat. This counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism in Germany flowed directly from the bureaucracy’s false, nationalist perspectives of building socialism to one country, a line that prevailed throughout both the right-opportunist period of 1925-27, when blocs with reformists were the order of the day, and 1928-33, when the reformists were branded as social fascists and the only united front permitted was one ‘from below’ and against the reformist leaders and organisations. It is now therefore necessary to see how the Stalinist left turn of 1928 on domestic economic questions became inextricably linked with both Kremlin diplomacy towards Germany, and the policies of the KPD between 1930 and the victory of Hitler in 1933.

Stalin and German Imperialism

Following his defection from the Foreign Division of the GPU in 1937, Walter Krivitsky revealed many of the secrets and motives behind Stalin’s foreign policy, and especially his attitude towards German imperialism, which contrasted vividly with the official line of the Communist International and the KPD:

If one can speak of a pro-German in the Kremlin, Stalin has been that figure all along. He favoured cooperation with Germany from the moment of Lenin’s death, and he did not alter this basic attitude when Hitler rose to power. On the contrary, the triumph of the Nazis strengthened him in his quest for closer bonds with Berlin. [10]

And indeed, if one looks hard enough, the evidence for this assertion can be found – even in the public speeches and statements of Stalin. For having adopted his nationalist utopia of building socialism in a Soviet Union completely encircled by imperialism, and without the advantages accruing from the socialist international division of labour and a planned world economy and market, then it was incumbent upon Stalin to prove that inter-imperialist antagonisms could be exploited in such a way as not only to postpone, but to prevent altogether the military intervention that Lenin had regarded as inevitable should the revolution not triumph in the advanced capitalist countries, the foremost being, of course, Germany. What for Lenin and Trotsky had been a tactical ploy forced upon them by the uneven development of the revolutionary forces in Europe became, under Stalin’s leadership, a strategic line, one which increasingly cut across the struggle for socialist revolution in Central and Western Europe. Stalin regarded the smouldering antagonism between the victorious and vanquished imperialists’ alliances not so much as an adjunct to a strategy for world revolution, but as the principal support, or one of the most important supports, for his policy of defending the USSR while it advanced gradually towards complete socialism. Blocs with reformists and bourgeois nationalists, and inter-imperialist conflicts, together with the ‘example’ of Soviet power – these, and not the independent class action of the international proletariat, were to become the main pillars of Kremlin diplomacy in the first three years of Stalin’s ascendency in the CPSU and the Communist International. In fact as early as June 1924 (several months, that is, before his promulgation of ‘socialism in one country’) Stalin had begun to argue along these lines:

The very existence of the Soviet regime, its growth, its material prosperity [this may have been true for the bureaucracy Stalin represented, but for the mass of workers and poor peasants, it was a demagogic lie – RB], its indubitable consolidation, are all most effective propaganda among the European workers in favour of Soviet power. Any worker who comes to the Soviet land and takes a look at our proletarian order of things will not fail to see what Soviet power is... This is real propaganda, but propaganda by facts... Today everyone, both friend and foe, admits that ours is the only country that can be rightly called the buttress and standard-bearer of the policy of peace throughout the world. Does it need to be proved that this circumstance was bound to increase support and sympathy for the Soviet Union among the European masses? Have you noticed that certain European rulers are endeavouring to build their careers on ‘friendship’ with the Soviet Union, that even such of them as Mussolini are not averse, on occasion, to ‘profit’ from this friendship? ... These... are the factors which have determined the success of our foreign policy in the past year. [11]

Stalin’s pro-German diplomatic orientation, one which stressed the ‘national’ factors in internal German politics to the neglect of the class struggle between the proletariat and its own imperialist bourgeoisie, becomes discernible for the first time in an article written for Bolshevik in September 1924, on the eve of his volte face on the question of ‘socialism in one country’.

Surveying the factors making for instability in world politics, Stalin wrote of ‘the desperate struggle of Britain and France for hegemony in Europe, the growing contradiction between Britain and America in the struggle for domination in the world market, and the superhuman struggle of the German people against Entente oppression’. [12] Hardly a phrase to be used by a Marxist to denote the struggle of the German imperialist bourgeoisie to regain what it had lost to its rivals in the war of 1914-18. And in a reference to the recently-convened Dawes conference, Stalin employed an equally non-Marxist, in fact national-populist, formulation when he declared that ‘in settling the German problem, the conference reckoned without its host, the German people’. [13]

And here for the first time we find a reference to the ‘intense antagonism between Germany and the Entente[14] that overshadowed his diplomatic and political strategy in the years of the world crisis and the triumph of German fascism. With the recognition – a year after the event – that the great revolutionary opportunity in Germany had been missed, this stress became more and more pronounced. In March 1925 Stalin wrote in Pravda that it was ‘beyond doubt that in Germany the period of revolutionary upsurge has come to an end’, a fact which Stalin correctly saw as of ‘positive significance for the bourgeoisie’. Stalin then cast around for other ‘facts’ which could be depicted as ‘of negative significance for capitalism’ and therefore, by the same token, positive for the Soviet Union. And first among them was the ‘growth of the contradictions between the capitalist groups, a growth of the forces which weaken and disintegrate capitalism’, among these being listed ‘the struggle between enslaved Germany and the dominant Entente...’. [15] So it is scarcely surprising to find Stalin giving first place, in his summary of ‘the tasks of the Communist Parties’, to the utilisation ‘to the utmost [of] all contradictions in the camp of the bourgeoisie with the object of disintegrating and weakening its forces and of strengthening the position of the proletariat’. [16] Now the outlines of Stalin’s policy, one which flowed inexorably from the theory of ‘socialism in one country’, were becoming clear: namely the dangerous (for the USSR) and reactionary (for the workers of the capitalist countries) policy of relying primarily on inter-imperialist contradictions to ward off attacks on the Soviet Union. In May 1925, Stalin further developed this strategy when he spoke of ‘two camps’ into which the world had been divided by the Russian revolution, ‘the capitalist camp, headed by Anglo-American capital, and the socialist camp, headed by the Soviet Union’. How then was the USSR to be defended against the might of this camp ‘headed by Anglo-American capital’ which was in the process of becoming ‘stabilised'? Clearly, since the perspective was one of building ‘socialism in one country’ unaided by workers’ revolutions in the rival camp, then the USSR had to seek its supports in those capitalist forces and powers working to undermine the ‘stability’ of the Anglo-American camp:

In what way has the stabilisation of capitalism found concrete expression? ... in the fact that America, Britain and France have temporarily succeeded in striking a deal on the methods of robbing Germany and on the scale on which she is to be robbed... they have struck a deal on the Dawesation of Germany. Can that deal be regarded as being at all durable? No, it cannot. Because, firstly, it was arrived at without reckoning with the host, that is, the German people; secondly, because this deal means imposing a double yoke upon the German people, the yoke of the national bourgeoisie and the yoke of the foreign bourgeoisie. To think that a cultured nation like the German nation and a cultured proletariat like the German proletariat will consent to bear this double yoke without making serious attempts at a revolutionary upheaval, means believing in miracles. [17]

But here Stalin was paying mere lip service to the revolutionary capacities of the German working class. He was already looking elsewhere for forces in Germany that would take up the struggle against ‘the yoke of the foreign bourgeoisie’: ‘Even such a reactionary fact as the election of Hindenburg as President, leaves no doubt that the Entente’s temporary deal directed against Germany is unstable, ridiculously unstable.’ [18]

Now we can see the justification for Krivitsky’s statement that from the death of Lenin in January 1924, Stalin became the most outspoken advocate of a pro-German orientation in Soviet diplomacy, a line that, as the above reference to the monarchist Hindenburg’s election as President shows, was not averse to speculating on the growth of the most reactionary anti-Communist forces if such a development could lead to a worsening of relations between imperialist Germany and the Entente. Grouped behind Hindenburg in his campaign for the Presidency were precisely those counter-revolutionary, ultra-imperialist forces – agrarian, bourgeois and military (not to speak of the Nazis, who in the second ballot withdrew Ludendorff and swung their supporters behind the Marshal) – who were demanding an aggressive stance against the Versailles powers. Only the Social Democrats (who in the second ballot withdrew their candidate in favour of Marx of the Centre) consistently oriented towards a détente with the West. And here was the origin of Stalin’s special animosity towards the SPD, not on account of its reactionary, class-collaborationist role in domestic German politics (for he was not averse to treating with open representatives of the bourgeoisie and the Reichswehr), but because of its foreign policy, its opposition to the ‘Eastern orientation’ favoured by a section of the military, agrarians, bourgeoisie and even the volkisch movement (that is, the ‘National Bolsheviks’). So we can see that with the beginning of the left turn in the Communist International, hostility towards the Social Democrats in Germany would receive a double impulse. Not only would they be castigated as ‘social fascists’ with whom no Communist or honest worker should have any dealings, but in addition – and for Stalin, engrossed in his strategy of manoeuvring between the imperialist blocs, primarily – attacked as the most stubborn obstacles to the fulfilment of the aims of Kremlin diplomacy. It mattered not to Stalin how the influence of Social Democracy on the political life and government policies of Germany was undermined and destroyed. His sole concern was to facilitate the formation in Germany of a government that would do two things: pursue a vigorous anti-Entente and especially anti-French policy in the West, and a pro-Soviet policy, involving large-scale economic and technical aid, in the East. To these twin aims was the KPD, a party commanding the support of millions of German workers, subordinated and finally sacrificed right up to and even beyond the conquest of power by the Nazis in January 1933.

On the very eve of the left turn in Soviet economic and Comintern policies, at the Fifteenth Congress of the CPSU, Stalin speculated at some length on the possibility of the intensification of antagonisms between German and French imperialism (though Stalin, in accordance with the dictates of Kremlin diplomacy, never used the term ‘imperialism’ in relation to Germany, only its rivals):

The whole [Dawes] plan is well constructed, but it reckons without the host, for it means for the German people a double yoke – the yoke of the German bourgeoisie on the German proletariat, and the yoke of foreign capital on the whole German people [that is, on all classes, Junkers and bourgeoisie as well as middle class and proletariat – RB]. To say that this double yoke will have no effect upon the German people would be a mistake... [19]

It is in this same speech that Stalin gives a clear exposition of the basis of his hostility to the German Social Democrats and the entire Second International, as agents of ‘Locarno’ and the ‘Entente’ (and not, in the case of the SPD, of their own bourgeoisie):

It is the leaders of the Second International who are most of all leaping and dancing, assuring the workers that Locarno is an instrument of peace and the League of Nations as an ark of peace. [It would take Stalin another seven years to come around to this ludicrous notion – RB] ... What does the present position of the Second International in relation to Locarno show? That the Second International is not only an organisation for the bourgeois corruption of the working class, but also an organisation for the moral justification of all the injustices of the Versailles Peace; that the Second International is a subsidiary of the Entente, an organisation whose function is... to give moral justification to all the injustices and all the oppression that have been created by the Versailles-Locarno regime. [20]

Naturally, these statements did not pass undetected or unappreciated by those for whose ears they were intended, and whose assignment it was to record and analyse them. Imperialist Germany’s enforced eastwards orientation gave an enormous fillip to the serious study in diplomatic circles of every aspect of Soviet life, not least the factional struggles that erupted inside the Bolshevik Party and the Communist International following the death of Lenin in January 1924. Here Germany proved to be far in advance of its Entente rivals, whose bourgeois politicians, diplomats and advisers only really came around to appreciating the significance of the struggle between Trotsky and Stalin when the Kremlin went over to its openly class-collaborationist, counter-revolutionary policy of the Popular Front. German diplomats such as Gustav Hilger (who, as a top-ranking official in the German embassy in Moscow, witnessed the signing of the Stalin – Hitler Pact in August 1939) and Berlin’s Ambassadors to Moscow Herbert von Dirksen and Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, had grasped the essence of Stalin’s theory of ‘socialism in one country’, and its implications for German-Soviet relations, some 10 years earlier; almost, in fact, from the day that it became official party and Comintern policy. For example, Hilger writes in his highly informative memoirs:

More than any other event, the failure of the ‘German October’ [that of October 1923] determined the subsequent history of world Communism and the strategy of the Third International. Within the Russian Communist Party it caused severe disagreements over policy and sharp personality clashes to break into the open; it was one of the immediate reasons for the outbreak of the Stalin-Trotsky feud, and it gave Stalin occasion to develop his theory of ‘Socialism in a single country’. In Moscow’s relations with Germany, it resulted in a determined return to the Rapallo policy of friendship with the bourgeois government in Berlin. [21]

Hilger was not alone in his estimation of the historic import of the struggle between the Stalin faction and the Trotskyist Left Opposition, as the following extract from his work on Soviet-German relations shows:

The Russian Revolution, they [the Left Opposition] warned, was in danger of becoming bourgeois; and only a frank return to the dictatorship of the industrial proletariat would preserve the revolutionary heritage. The fate of Soviet Russia, however, was not the only concern of the Left. The Russian Revolution made sense to them only as part of the major world revolution they desired. In this connection they warned that the interests of the world revolution should not be subordinated to the narrow interests of the Soviet state. The Kremlin’s raison d'état should not interfere with revolutionary developments abroad; on the contrary, the Soviet regime should openly identify itself with the world proletariat and support its revolutionary activities... Against this, the so-called Centre, controlled by Stalin... was preoccupied with the problem of keeping the party apparatus in power... Stalin’s programme was based on three principles: (1) appeasement of the peasantry; (2) appeasement of the capitalist world; (3) industrialisation. [This only became true after 1928, when Stalin’s centre broke from the pro-Kulak Bukharin Right to introduce plagiarised and distorted versions of Trotsky’s own programme for industrialisation – RB] ... Against this the Left asserted that, because the Soviet economy was dependent on the world economy of capitalism, ‘socialist construction’ could only succeed with the help of further revolutions in the West. Denouncing these warnings as ‘defeatism’, Stalin in a sense built his policy on the continued existence of the bourgeois governments, even though he lived in constant fear that the bourgeois world might band together against the Soviet state in an anti-Bolshevik crusade... The development of the Stalin-Trotsky controversy took place openly enough so that the outside world could follow its main steps. In and around the German Embassy there were some disagreements over the interpretation these developments should be given, and over the future course they were bound to take. Together with the Ambassador [Count Rantzau, who died in 1929] I [Hilger] tended to regard the Trotsky faction as radical dreamers who offered nothing constructive to Soviet Russia. Moreover, as representatives of the German Reich, we felt that the coming to power of the faction demanding world revolution would seriously endanger the working of the Rapallo relationship which we sought to promote. Ever since the end of 1923, when Trotsky had lent support to Petrov, the Comintern agent who had been involved in the preparations for the abortive Communist revolution of October-November, Count Rantzau was deeply suspicious of the opposition leader; and [Soviet Foreign Commissar] Chicherin did his best to confirm Rantzau’s attitude by pointing out the dangers to Rapallo should Trotsky come to power. The Ambassador, in a report to Berlin stressed that the elimination of Trotsky and Zinoviev would be a tremendous gain for Germany, and that it would be a great mistake to side with the Opposition out of humanitarian considerations... it would be very short-sighted, he thought, if the German press were to emphasise that aspect of the story and thus create sympathy for the fallen leader among the German people [something that would have also embarrassed, apart from the German ruling class, the Stalinist leadership of the KPD – RB]. [22]

Neither were the German diplomatic corps in Moscow taken in by Stalin’s fire-eating speeches on the prospects of revolution in Germany, which in order to preserve his Communist credentials, he was obliged to make more often than harmonious Soviet-German relations would have otherwise found politic. Steeped for years in the complexities and ambiguities of inner-party affairs, Hilger and Rantzau detected the subtle nuances that distinguished Lenin’s reaction to a revolutionary opportunity from that of Stalin:

Eight years after the proclamation of the NEP [1921], 11 years after Brest-Litovsk, the world depression once again provided fertile soil for revolutionary discontent, and the left-wing internationalists within the Communist movement were heartened by a new intensification of the Comintern’s revolutionary activities. A new revolutionary situation seemed to be in the making. Yet it is interesting to compare Stalin’s reaction to this new rise of the tide with Lenin’s customary reaction. At the peak of world prosperity, on 5 December 1927, Stalin spoke before the Fifteenth Party Congress. We live, he said, on the eve of a new revolutionary period. Imperialism is rotten to the core, but, in its agony, it is preparing desperate moves. A new anti-Bolshevik crusade is being planned. How should the party meet this threat? Stalin’s proposed policy is remarkable. The task, he said, is to postpone and avoid war. Soviet Russia should pay ransom to the capitalist world and try to maintain peaceful relations with it... Lenin would have drawn the entirely opposite conclusion from Stalin’s first sentence. A new revolutionary tide is rising? A crisis is ripening? How wonderful. The party’s task will be to further this development and speed it up, to deepen the crisis and sharpen the class war so as to bring it to a revolutionary clash. Now we see how much the strategy of world Communism was [under Stalin] being subordinated to the national policy of the Soviet state. [23]

So not even the ultra-radicalism of the ‘Third Period’ could conceal from the expert eyes of Hilger and Dirksen (who took up his duties as Ambassador to Moscow early in 1929, when the ‘new line’ was in full swing) the non-revolutionary content of Stalin’s policies in the Comintern and, needless to say, in the party which concerned Berlin most – the KPD. Dirksen writes in his memoirs:

The slow, systematic work of organisation on the part of the relentlessly stubborn and wily Caucasian had triumphed over the brilliance, the wit, the oratorical genius and valour of the somewhat unbalanced and fickle leader of the army. The slow-working party machine, manned by carefully selected and reliable henchmen of Stalin, proved superior to the flaming appeals of Trotsky and the enthusiastic cheering of his admirers... Gradually the hard political core began to emerge... in the form of Stalin’s doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’ as opposed to Trotsky’s slogan of permanent world revolution... [24]

Now we can better appreciate how much a blow to Stalin’s German policy was the formation of the Müller government in June 1928. With the pro-Western Stresemann as its foreign minister, here was a cabinet composed largely of forces hostile to the close collaboration with Moscow favoured both by the Reichswehr High Command (now under its pro-Eastern Chief-of-Staff von Schleicher) and influential members of the DNVP.

Hilger reveals that this was a development that Stalin, working through his top diplomats, as well as the KPD, had done his utmost to prevent:

... even though the right-wing parties in Germany claimed to have a virtual monopoly on patriotism and anti-Communism, no political group was more consistent in its opposition to Moscow than the SPD. This opposition expressed itself not only in domestic affairs, where alliances with the Communists were almost inevitably shunned [after 1928, the KPD was to be even more rigorous in rejection of united action between the two rival workers’ parties – RB], but also in an equally strong preference for the West in foreign policy. No wonder, then, that the Kremlin worked hard to prevent the establishment of a Socialist [that is, Social Democratic] government in Germany, an effort which was watched with satisfaction by some of the embassy personnel. In retrospect it seems really remarkable that Chicherin and Litvinov [who succeeded Chicherin as Soviet Foreign Minister after the latter’s death in 1929 – RB] could openly discuss with German diplomats the desirability of keeping SPD out of office... [25]

Yet the formation of such a government was an absolute precondition for the development of the struggle for socialism in Germany, which in its turn would at last enable the Soviet Union to break the imperialist encirclement and harness Germany’s advanced technology and industrial resources to modernise its own still-backward economy. The assumption of office by the Social Democrat Hermann Müller, as has been discussed in previous chapters at some length, presented the KPD with a splendid opportunity to break from reformism the nine million workers who still, to one degree or another, followed the SPD rather than the Communists. And having done his best to block the formation an SPD-dominated government (preferring one dependent on the ultra-nationalist DNVP) Stalin, by his new policy of rejecting any united action with the reformists, and in fact of aligning the KPD with any party determined to oust the pro-Western Social Democrats from positions of influence in the central or state governments (as on the occasion of the Prussian Referendum in August 1931), demonstrated how ‘socialism in one country’ subordinated in practice as well as in theory the interests of the struggle of the proletariat for power in the advanced imperialist states to the narrow, national requirements of the privileged Soviet bureaucracy.

At the worker-base of the KPD, and even up to quite high levels of its central as well as local leadership, the strident leftism of the ‘Third Period’ was taken as good Communist coin, as a genuine attempt to break Social Democracy as the essential prerequisite for the proletarian revolution. True, Stalin did seek to destroy the institutions and mass influence of German reformism – but not in order to clear the road for socialist revolution. His aim was the formation of an ultra-nationalist government in Berlin, dominated by the pro-Eastern Reichswehr generals, a regime bent on an aggressive anti-French course in foreign policy, and eager to collaborate with Moscow in providing Stalin with desperately-needed economic and technical assistance for his First Five-Year Plan. Even the rise of National Socialism did not divert Stalin from his chosen German policy. Indeed, all the available evidence indicates that Stalin saw in the Nazis not an enemy that sought the destruction of both German Communism and the USSR, but a potential, if unreliable, ally in the struggle against the ‘social fascists’, whom the KPD vied with the Nazis in denouncing as agents of French and Anglo-American imperialism.

But before considering in detail the working-out of Stalin’s German policy, we should examine some of the economic factors which underpinned the Kremlin’s orientation towards the most reactionary, chauvinist-imperialist segments of the German bourgeoisie.

Germany and the Five-Year Plan

For five years, Stalin had resolutely opposed Trotsky’s proposals for industrialisation as ‘economic adventurism’, as an attempt to plunder the peasantry. First in a bloc with Zinoviev and Kamenev, and then, after their temporary defection to Trotsky, in alliance with the Bukharin – Tomsky – Rykov Right group, Stalin retreated before the growth of capitalist elements in town and country alike, until in the winter months of 1927-28, the refusal of Kulaks to sell their grain to the state at the customary prices drove a wedge into the heart of the ruling clique in the party and state. After a period of hesitation and vacillation, Stalin broke from Bukharin and opted for a programme of collectivisation of private farming in the countryside and, in the towns, crash industrialisation. Here in all its stark reality was posed the issue which had divided the party and the Communist International since 1924 – that of whether full socialism could be built in a single workers’ state independent of the world market and the international division of labour. Stalin, as we know, insisted most vehemently that it could. Yet in 1929, in embarking on the First Five-Year Plan, Stalin now found himself compelled to go cap in hand to representatives of those very economic and technical forces he had claimed were unnecessary for the fulfilment of his policy of building ‘socialism in one country’.

The establishment of formal economic links between the USSR and Germany predated diplomatic recognition by almost a year when on 6 May 1921 representatives of the two countries concluded a commercial agreement whereby the German mission in Moscow was granted right of direct access to all Soviet economic agencies for the purposes of trade and securing concessions on behalf of private German firms. The next step followed towards the end of 1922, when the Otto Wolff steel combine launched, together with the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Trade, a mixed Soviet-German trading corporation ‘Rusgertorg’ which operated as an agency for German firms selling in the Soviet Union. Other firms – mainly in heavy industry – quickly followed suit, and over the next few years of NEP, Junkers, the Rhine-Elbe Union steel cartel, the Himmelsbarch lumber company and Krupp either secured concessions to exploit Soviet natural resources on the basis of a division of the profits, or contracts to supply the USSR with much-needed capital equipment and finished manufactured goods. These developing links were further consolidated with the conclusion on 12 October 1925 of a comprehensive trade, economic and technical treaty between the two countries. However the upturn in the German economy which dated from the previous year turned most companies’ attentions away from the Soviet market, hedged in as it was with numerous regulations, and restrictions not encountered in capitalist countries, towards the expanding domestic and European market. For the next five years, the USSR declined in importance as an investment outlet and market, and interest only revived with the onset of the economic crisis in 1929-30. As late as 1928, the USSR ranked twelfth as an importer of German goods, receiving a mere 3.3 per cent of total German exports.

The capitalist slump and, in the USSR, Stalin’s crash industrialisation programme changed this relationship dramatically. The first of January 1929 saw the launching of the First Five-Year Plan, which had as its strategic target the transformation of a backward rural and semi-illiterate Russia into one of the world’s front-ranking industrial states. Nine days later, there began in Moscow a ‘German Technology Week’ which had as its central theme the idea of German technological prowess assisting the USSR in its bid to become a modern industrial power. Organised by the German Embassy in conjunction with leading German technologists, engineers and scientists, it aroused the immediate and enthusiastic support of the Soviet government, with the Commissar for Heavy Industry Kuibyshev speaking, together with the newly-appointed Ambassador von Dirksen, at the official opening ceremony of the exhibition. Even though this was a time of bad German-Soviet relations (this was of course the period of office of the pro-Western Müller government), individual capitalists soon began to see that the Five-Year Plan offered them enormous possibilities for trade and construction contracts. This interest turned into action over the following two years as the bottom dropped out of both the domestic and world capitalist markets, and entire plants lay idle through dearth of contracts and consumer demand. The year of 1931 therefore proved to be one of boom for Soviet-German economic relations, the high point in this collaboration being the visit to the USSR in March of a team of leading industrialists from some of the largest concerns in Germany. The invitation had come from Grigori Ordzhonikidze, chairman of the Supreme Economic Council, whose Five-Year Plan had run into all the problems associated with hasty, bureaucratic methods of economic leadership – lack of coordination, bottlenecks, shortage of basic capital equipment, breakdowns due to lack of skilled staff and technologists, the exhaustion of the workers, the stubborn and sometimes even violent resistance of the peasants, the absence of any democratic control over and participation in the drawing up and application of the Plan itself by the workers, etc. Now German resources and expertise had been summoned to rescue Stalin’s industrialisation programme from impending disaster, a fiasco that would not only undermine the rule of his own bureaucratic caste, but the very foundations of Soviet power. Stalin’s economic zigzags had led the USSR to such an impasse that it could now only survive by relying on the aid of some of Germany’s most reactionary, anti-Communist and anti-trade-union industrialists. For these were just some of the firms and tycoons to make the journey to Moscow: Krupps, AEG, Demag, Peter Klöckner, Otto Wolff, Siemens, Borsig, United Steel, Reinecker, Schichau. Hilger, responsible for trade and economic questions at the time of the visit, recalls:

At first the Russians seemed to believe that they could have the capitalists in their pockets by merely making their mouths water at the prospect of huge sales. For they immediately dangled big deals before their eyes, talking about orders amounting to over a billion RM. At the same time they demanded commensurate credits. They were greatly disappointed when the delegation declared that they had come in order to look around and not to close business deals. This, in turn, was no more than a device which gave the Germans a tactical advantage. Before the delegation left the Soviet Union [and after a meeting with Ordzhonikidze – RB], an agreement had been reached that an additional 300 million RM worth of orders would be accepted... On 24 March 1931, the Reich cabinet agreed to give default guarantees for the additional 300 million credit, and two weeks later Georgi Pyatakov [a former Left Oppositionist, but now Stalin’s deputy Commissar for Heavy Industry, purged in the 1937 Moscow Show Trial – RB] came to Berlin to discuss and sign the so-called Pyatakov Agreement which specified the precise conditions of the transaction. [26]

In fact the total of Soviet orders placed with German firms in 1931 exceeded this sum by more than three times. For concerns in certain spheres of business closely linked to Soviet requirements, these orders provided their main source of export trade. In the first half of 1932, sales to the USSR accounted for the following percentages of total German exports: cast iron and nickel – 50; earth-moving equipment – 60; metal-working machines – 70; cranes and sheet metal – 80; steam and gas turbines and steam presses – 90. But this reliance on the Soviet market also had a negative side so far as the German firms were concerned. Their quest for profits in a period of slump had, despite their understandable rejection of an economy based upon socialised property relations, served to strengthen a system of production whose historical tendency and mission was to supplant their own. The Soviet market was at best a stop-gap one, pending the revival of German and world capitalism. And we must go even further. There were, even during this period of collaboration, business leaders who, like Lenin, called for the unification of the Russian and German economies, but on the basis of capitalist production relations. The USSR was, they argued, destined to become a German colony, the provider of raw materials, markets, investment outlets and ‘living space’. [27] And here of course lay common economic and military as well as political ground with the Nazis, whose leader demanded quite explicitly in Mein Kampf the conquest of Soviet Russia as the natural and historical zone of expansion and colonisation for German imperialists.

The industrialists’ visit to Moscow resulted in some highly piquant situations in the German press. While the pro-French Germania, organ of the Centre Party, attacked the delegation – one of whom, Peter Klöckner, happened to be a member of the Centre Party Central Committee! – as ‘short sighted’ for a ‘fatal’ policy in aiding the Soviet Five-Year Plan (a criticism which brought the immediate riposte from the returned delegation that ‘a developed Russia is bound to develop fresh requirements which European industry would have to satisfy for a long time to come’), the Stalinists weighed in on the side of the Ruhr tycoons. An article by Neubauer reflected obvious satisfaction with the prevailing trend of thinking in industrial circles, seeing it as a powerful blow against forces seeking to turn Germany towards closer links with the Entente (a policy favoured by Brüning and von Papen of the Centre as well as by the SPD). Neubauer’s article also attempted to answer demagogic charges by the Social Democrats that the Kremlin was in league with pro-Nazi employers. An SPD press comment on the visit said: ‘Borsig [who had been providing cash and political support to Hitler since the early 1920s – RB] goes on a visit to Stalin. The worst exploiters among the German employers are received by Moscow.’ Neubauer, as a loyal Stalinist, could not answer this charge in a Communist manner, since to do so would have involved pointing out that the Soviet Union was compelled to seek economic assistance from capitalist countries and individual – even pro-fascist – industrialists for as long as the imperialist encirclement of the USSR continued, and for as long as the bourgeoisie continued to rule in countries such as Germany where the technical and industrial resources for the Soviet Union’s advancement to a full socialist society lay. To answer in this honest, Marxist fashion was impossible, since it would demand a clear break with Stalin’s nationalist utopia of building socialism in a single country. Instead, all that Neubauer could do was complain lamely of the SPD’s Western policy and that instead of accompanying Borsig and Klöckner on their pilgrimage to Stalin, ‘Hilferding, Brüning and Hitler are pursuing the same policy of the Western orientation’. [28] Neubauer was far softer on the big industrialists. These were charged with mere inconsistency and lack of resolve:

... the leaders of German industry were quite aware that business with Russia could be greatly increased if the political obstacles set up by the German capitalists which hitherto stood in the way of such a development were finally removed. The German bourgeoisie has been vacillating for years between a Western orientation and business with its powerful Eastern neighbour. It has more and more sought to rely on the Western powers and obviously yielded [sic!] to anti-Bolshevik tendencies, but at the same time has whined about every big Soviet order which instead of going to Germany has gone to some other country... There has now been a change of tactics... [but] it has still to learn that its present double game cannot be carried on indefinitely. [29]

Kremlin Diplomacy and the German Working Class

This leads logically on to the actual role of the Communist International and the KPD in the supplementing and disguising of Stalin’s foreign policy. This was based exclusively on the bureaucracy’s mortal fear of, firstly, any revolutionary upheaval in Europe, Germany especially, that might endanger the supply of industrial goods necessary for the fulfilment of the First Five-Year Plan, and secondly, the equal dread of the formation of a united anti-Soviet imperialist front under the leadership of France, until the rearmament of Germany under Hitler, the largest military power on the continent of Europe.

The rise of National Socialism in Germany demanded, from the summer of 1930 onwards, that a united front of all proletarian organisations be formed for the purposes of mutual self-defence against the fascist terror squads. Trotsky tirelessly argued for this policy from the first days following the Nazi election success of September 1930, right through to the formation of the Hitler government in January 1933. As we have seen from numerous excerpts, from the Comintern and KPD press, together with the pronouncements of these two organisations on the main questions of strategy and tactics, united fronts with either the SPD or the ADGB were ruled out as a matter of principle. There could be no blocs with the ‘social fascists’. But there was a second line of defence against those who insisted on maintaining a united front of the workers’ parties against fascism – the SPD was a tool of the Versailles powers, and the Second International was little else than an organisation for organising imperialist intervention against the USSR. It never seems to have entered the heads of those who peddled this leftist nonsense that German and not French imperialism could become the major threat to the Soviet Union, and that the SPD, together with the other parties of the reformist international, might have to be destroyed in order to create the type of regime necessary for launching ‘total war’ on the USSR. Here the Stalinists saw future developments through the distorting prism of August 1914, when the German bourgeoisie embraced the reformists on their return to the ‘nation’. The crude, simplistic leftism of Third Period Stalinism could envisage only another and even more comprehensive betrayal of the type perpetrated on the outbreak of the First World War – but with this important difference: the German Social Democrats would capitulate not so much to ‘their own’ bourgeoisie, but to those of the Versailles powers, primarily France. Thus we find that in Germany, the Stalinist war against ‘social fascism’ became invested with a special savagery not encountered in other countries where Social Democratic influences in the working class were strong. Determination to weaken and destroy the reformist organisations by any means led the KPD leadership – on the direct orders of Stalin – into unofficial blocs with the most deadly enemies of the entire German proletariat. Nor were the party’s leaders above stealing from the demagogic arsenal of their chauvinist bedfellows in a futile attempt to convince ‘national’ Germany that the KPD lacked nothing in patriotism and hatred for the Entente. But it was not easy to swing a mass-based proletarian party, reared in the traditions of proletarian internationalism personified by its founders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, along such a blatantly chauvinist course. The ‘main enemy’ was still at home but it was Social Democracy, not the bourgeoisie. That Stalin and his ECCI placemen had been pushing for a ‘national’ line in Germany for some time prior to 1930, when it became most pronounced, is clear from the KPD’s initial reaction to the National Opposition referendum of Hitler and Hugenberg against the Young Plan, and the criticisms subsequently made of it. Thus while the Thälmann leadership was only too willing to give vent to its organic leftism by railing against the SPD for its pro-Western foreign policy (one that was deemed to be no less reactionary than Mussolini’s, who at least made friendly noises in the direction of the Kremlin), it baulked at supporting, even under its own banner, the Hitler – Hugenberg campaign for the German ‘Freedom Law’. An article in the Communist International written shortly after the campaign began declared that:

The only objective of this referendum move is to distract the workers’ attention from the capitalist offensive and to weaken their fighting capacity. It is therefore our urgent duty to expose this shameful manoeuvre and to appeal to the masses not to take part in it. [30]

This decision – a perfectly correct one – was later to be sharply condemned by the ECCI, and admitted as a serious error by the KPD leadership itself. [31] By the summer of 1930, the mistake had indeed been rectified. Privately disturbed at the growth of mass support for the Nazis, the KPD came out with its pre-election programme ‘For the National and Social Liberation of the German People’.

What had been implicit in Stalin’s repeated references since 1924 to the struggle of the ‘German people’ against its Entente oppressors, now became explicit. [32] For the programme began not with a call to the proletariat to struggle for a socialist policy against its German class enemies, but for demands which could be endorsed without any embarrassment to his capitalist paymaster by a Nazi demagogue: ‘We Communists will tear in pieces the robber treaty of Versailles and the Young Plan and repudiate all the international debts and repayments which enslave German workers.’

The purpose behind this new turn towards ‘national demands’ (in a country that had consummated its bourgeois-national stage of development as long ago as 1871) was explained in an article called ‘National Fascism’ in the Communist International. After making the routine observation that the Nazis were ‘breaking up’ and ‘at the beginning of their decomposition’ – and this only weeks before the ‘broken’ Nazis recorded 6.7 million votes! – the prudently anonymous author went on:

What should be the tactics of our party in the struggle against National Socialism? ... The basic task consists in tearing the National Fascist mask of struggle for national independence and the social emancipation of the German people, and to counterpose their empty demagogy with a real revolutionary programme of salvation for the toiling masses of Germany... [33]

‘Exposure’ of the national demands of Nazis now became the order of the day – and a quite impossible task, since Hitler and his supporters were in deadly earnest when they proclaimed their intention of smashing the entire Versailles system. The KPD’s programme stridently denounced all other parties for having betrayed Germany’s national interests, especially the Social Democrats who had ‘sold the goods and chattels, the life and existence of the working people of Germany to the highest bidder among the foreign imperialists’. The SPD leaders were ‘not only the hirelings of the German bourgeoisie’, but were ‘at the same time the voluntary agents of French and Polish imperialism’. (By a strange coincidence, the Nazis were using just these terms to describe the Social Democrats, who in their eyes were not ‘social fascists’ but... ‘Marxists’.)

All the acts of the traitorous culprits, Social Democracy, are continual high treason [another term employed by the Nazis against the ‘November criminals’ who allegedly, as far back as 1918, betrayed Germany to France – RB] add betrayal of the vital interests of the working masses of Germany.

Then the programme made a pledge which openly violated what Lenin had written on the question of the Versailles Treaty against the KPD ‘lefts’ and ‘National Bolsheviks’ in his ‘Left Wing’ Communism:

We solemnly declare before all peoples of the world, before all foreign governments and capitalists that in the event of our seizing power we shall declare null and void all obligations arising out of the Versailles Treaty.

What Lenin wrote on this question is quite clear and consistent with the principles that guided his actions both before and after the revolution in Russia:

One must realise [polemicised Lenin against Laufenberg’s ‘National Bolshevism'] that it is utterly false tactics to refuse to admit that a Soviet Germany... would have to recognise the Treaty of Versailles for a time, and to submit to it... The German Communists should obviously not deprive themselves of freedom of action by giving a positive and categorical promise [as in fact did the 1930 KPD programme] to repudiate the Treaty of Versailles in the event of Communism’s victory... The possibility of its successful repudiation will depend, not only on the German, but also on the international successes of the Soviet movement... The Soviet revolution in Germany will strengthen the international Soviet movement, which is the strongest bulwark (and only reliable, invincible and world-wide bulwark) against the Treaty of Versailles and against international imperialism in general. To give absolute, categorical and immediate precedence to liberation from the Treaty of Versailles and to give it precedence over the question of liberating other countries oppressed by imperialism from the yoke of imperialism, is philistine nationalism... not... revolutionary internationalism. [34]

The KPD Stalinists were not merely repeating all the errors of the old ‘National Bolsheviks’. By promising unilaterally to repudiate all Germany’s foreign treaties, they were in fact opting for a German version of Stalin’s ‘socialism in one country’, a policy which entirely discounted the development and outcome of the class struggle in the other major countries of capitalist Europe. As Trotsky insisted in his polemic against what he termed ‘National Communism’, the KPD should have had inscribed on its banner not the ‘people’s revolution against Entente slavery’ but ‘for a Soviet Germany as part of the United Socialist States of Europe’. Such a programme and perspective would have been anathema to Stalin, who viewed the political struggle in Germany and the rest of Europe through the prism of the purely domestic requirements of the Soviet bureaucracy. These dictated that the KPD should throw its considerable and growing weight, not on the side of those millions of reformist-led workers faced like their Communist brothers by the menace of fascism, but on to the other end of the class scales, with chauvinists, anti-Semites and pathological anti-Communists of the ‘national’ Right. Many were the occasions on which the KPD parliamentary fraction lined up with the Nazis and DNVP in Reichstag votes when the principled position would have been either to move amendments to resolutions sponsored by the National Opposition that would have exposed their brazen demagogy, or, failing this, to abstain. The regular sight of KPD and Nazi deputies raising their hands in unison for chauvinist resolutions directed against the Young Plan and the Versailles Treaty played straight into the hands of the SPD leaders, who without any difficulty (and with some justification) were able to demonstrate that the Communists were blocking with the most rabid enemies of the working class and, for good measure, of the USSR. [35]

Collaboration and imitation went beyond Reichstag divisions. Pursuant to their new tactic of exposing the ‘left national fascists’, the KPD leadership invited the ‘radicals’ Gregor Strasser and Goebbels to write in the party’s evening paper Welt am Abend while even slimier depths were plumbed when the KPD published a collection of party statements on foreign policy (entitled Soviet Germany Breaks the Fetters of the Young Plan) which contained the proud boast that there was not a single Jew on the Central Committee of the German Communist Party. While this revolting capitulation to the ideology and prejudices of National Socialism predictably failed to attract the chauvinist petit-bourgeoisie towards the party (in fact it was counter-productive in so far as it further repelled the reformist workers), the manoeuvre did ensnare a sprinkling of volkisch aristocrats, ‘National Bolsheviks’ and the prize capture of them all, Lieutenant Scheringer, the officer jailed in October 1930 for his activities on behalf of the Nazis in the Reichswehr.

The motives for the young officer’s break from the NSDAP, and his public adherence to the KPD, are themselves eloquent testimony to the chauvinist degeneration of the party. His doubts about the wisdom of Nazi policy had not been aroused by its violent anti-Communism or hostility to the organisations of the German working class, but by Hitler’s order of 20 February 1931 forbidding SA men to carry arms and engage in street fighting with... the ‘Reds’. Scheringer also considered that in knuckling under to the Brüning regime in this fashion, Hitler was abandoning the holy crusade against the Versailles powers. This was too much for Scheringer, who like thousands of his kind, yearned for the day when the Reichswehr, millions-strong, would avenge the humiliation inflicted on German imperialism at Versailles. Scheringer announced his break from Hitler in a fashion that indicated that he had not repudiated Nazism, but rather Hitler’s supposed betrayal of the party policy. In a letter to KPD deputy Hans Kippenverger, he wrote:

Whoever compares the practical policy of the Nazi leaders with their radical phrases will realise that their deeds are in vivid contrast with what they say and write, and what we expected from them. [36]

Scheringer’s defection (confirmed when a KPD deputy read out a telegram from the officer to a stunned Reichstag) caused a political sensation. The Stalinists set about exploiting it by building up their recruit from fascism as the focal point of a ‘National Bolshevik’ movement guided from behind the scenes by the KPD leadership. In July 1931, a new journal appeared – Aufbruch – to cater for the national prejudices of these chauvinists in ‘Communist’ garb. Prominent in its pages apart from Scheringer were its editor the old volkisch ‘National Bolshevik’ Beppo Romer, former Free Corps officers Count Stenbok-Fermour and Bruno von Salomon, and the Schleswig-Holstein ex-Nazi leader Bodo Uhse. The first number of the journal contained a ‘National Bolshevik’ manifesto signed by seven former army officers, one former police officer and four ex-leaders of the NSDAP. Through this group and its journal, says Mrs Buber-Neumann, ‘the KPD intended to infiltrate right-bourgeois circles’. [37] But as for opening up the road to the millions of reformist workers, the undertaking proved a disaster.

Once again the reformist leaders were given an undeserved opportunity to point out gleefully that it was not they, but the Stalinists, who were guilty of consorting with extreme reaction. But the greatest blow to proletarian unity in the struggle against fascism was still to come.

The Red Referendum

As with the Young Plan referendum of the previous year, the KPD leadership’s initial reaction to the proposed referendum to dissolve the Prussian state government – a coalition of Social Democrats and Catholic Centrists – was the correct one of denouncing it as a demagogic fraud. When first mooted by the ‘National Opposition’ following the Nazi election triumph of September 1930, the proposal to unseat the Prussian reformists was roundly condemned in the Prussian Diet on 15 October 1930 by a KPD deputy: ‘This move of the Nazis has the sole aim of preparing the ground for the establishment of a fascist dictatorship.’ Which was of course perfectly true. Yet the party leadership, even then, was not speaking with one voice, for in the first flush of what official KPD and Comintern circles deemed to be a great election victory for the German party, Neubauer wrote that:

... the party in Prussia and all other provinces will immediately take up the fight for the dissolution of the Diets [State Parliaments], the Reichstag election having shown what a glaring contradiction there exists between these bodies and the real opinions of the people. [38]

But once the Nazis and their monarchist allies began to raise the same demand and with almost identical arguments, nothing more was heard of this call for the dissolution of the Prussian Diet.

But behind the scenes, and especially in the Kremlin, pressure was building up for an altogether different line on the Nazi – Monarchist referendum. We now know from the account by Mrs Buber-Neumann of the events leading up to the KPD’s endorsement of the National Opposition referendum in Prussia that, as early as the first weeks of 1931, Stalin had criticised her husband Heinz for his reservations in linking the party publicly with a movement regarded by all class-conscious workers as their mortal enemy:

At the beginning of 1931, [39] in a talk with Neumann, Stalin criticised for the first time his methods in the fight against the Nazis. He reproached him over his ‘sectarian mass policy’ [Neumann had advanced the slogan ‘beat the fascists wherever you meet them’ – RB] and because the KPD leadership had avoided participation in the referendum in Prussia... At that time, Neumann could not understand Stalin’s attack. Almost a year later, after Neumann had been repeatedly criticised by the CI on the same grounds, Stalin had a further discussion with him. It was one of the peculiarities of the dictator to cloak his orders or opinions by suggestive questions. During this conversation, at the end of 1931, Heinz sought to defend his policy over the growing Nazi threat. Stalin interrupted him and asked: ‘Don’t you think, Neumann, that if the Nationalists [that is, the National Opposition of Nazis and monarchists who had recently held their rally at Harzburg – RB] came to power in Germany, they would be so tied up with the West that we could build socialism peacefully?’ [40]

Despite the understandable paucity of official documentation on the question, there is no room for doubt that Stalin ordered KPD participation in the Prussian referendum for reasons of foreign policy. Already the ousting of the Müller government in March 1930 had led to a marked improvement in Moscow-Berlin relations (just before Müller’s fall, the SPD journal Sozialdemokratischer Pressedienst commented with ample justification that ‘there can no longer be any doubt that German-Soviet relations have now reached their lowest point’), [41] as Molotov noted in his report to the Sixth Soviet Congress on 8 March 1931:

The chief part in creating the anti-Soviet front is played by the so-called European Committee formed on the initiative of the French Foreign Minister Briand for the purpose of creating a bloc of European states against the Soviet Union... France... represents at the present time the most belligerent imperialist circles of Europe... [However]... from the middle of 1930 [that is, after the fall of the Western-oriented Müller government – RB] these relations [with Germany] showed a favourable change, which I record with satisfaction. The fundamental line in German policy in regard to the USSR has of late been one of friendly cooperation and the further consolidation of relations which, we are convinced, can and should be developed further to the mutual advantage of both countries and in the interests of the general peace. The presence in Moscow of a delegation of leading German industrialists is further proof of the understanding which German leaders have shown of the importance and value of Soviet-German economic collaboration. [42]

These ‘German leaders’ most certainly did not include those of the SPD, whose departure from the government a year previously was regarded in Moscow as a precondition for improved Soviet-German relations. Betraying the cynical indifference to the internal nature of regimes that has become a hallmark of Stalinist diplomacy whether practised by Stalin himself, or his successors and emulators Khrushchev, Mao and Brezhnev, Molotov remarked, a propos the forthcoming meeting between Foreign Commissar Litvinov and Mussolini’s Foreign Minister, Count Dino Grandi:

As at the present time the greatest threat to peace is the creation of an anti-Soviet bloc of capitalist powers, any rapprochement between the USSR and another country, the more when it is such an important country as Italy, is bound to serve the cause of peace. [43]

What then could be more natural than friendship with equally reactionary forces in Germany, provided only that such an alliance ‘served the cause of peace'? This was the rationale behind Stalin’s insistence that the KPD join with the Nazis in their bid to depose the SPD government of Prussia, one of the last remaining substantial obstacles to the removal of Social Democratic influence over the conduct of German government affairs. With the National Opposition ensconced in Prussia, a state which, quite apart from its historical significance as the political and economic heart of Germany, contained fully two-thirds of the nation’s population, the road would be clear for an assault by the extreme right on the central government. And as Stalin well knew, the formation of a regime dominated by the Nazi – monarchist bloc would inevitably lead to the development of hostile relations between German and French imperialism, and indeed to an accentuation of inter-imperialist antagonisms throughout Europe and between Europe and the United States. But however willing Stalin’s representatives in the KPD might have been to wage war on ‘social fascism’ and pursue his policy of splitting the workers in the factories through the adventurist tactic of launching ‘Red Unions’, they were in no hurry to satisfy the Kremlin’s foreign policy requirements to the extent of helping into power their most deadly foes. In his intensely gripping and moving (not to say accurate) memoirs, the KPD and Comintern seamen’s organiser Richard Krebs ('Jan Valtin’) records that as early as January 1931, considerable unrest was created in the party ranks when the command was given to join with the Nazis in a combined assault on the ‘social fascists’. So it had to be presented not as the cynical manoeuvre that it was, designed to further Stalin’s foreign policy, but as a necessary tactical device to break up the last barrier to social revolution in Germany, this barrier being not the Nazis, but the SPD and the reformist trade unions:

The blind hatred for the Social Democrats took a decisive turn about the middle of January 1931 [the month when Ordzhonikidze invited the German industrialists to Moscow – RB] when Georgi Dimitrov, head of the ECCI West European Secretariat in Berlin, issued a secret memorandum of instructions to all leaders and sub-leaders of the Communist columns. A special committee headed by Thälmann, Heinz Neumann and Wollweber [head of KPD security] was set up to carry the instructions into effect. Summed up in one sentence the instructions were ‘united action of the Communist Party and the Hitler movement to accelerate the disintegration of the crumbling democratic bloc which governs Germany’. My chief aide... and I stared at each other in consternation. ‘Who is crazy? ... We or the Central Committee?’ ‘Without the help of the SPD the German bourgeoisie cannot survive’, Wollweber growled in a meeting of party functionaries. [Important sections of the bourgeoisie were coming to the opposite conclusion – that they could not survive without the destruction of the Social Democratic organisations – RB] ‘With the liquidation of the social fascists we are preparing the soil for civil war. We shall then give Hitler our answer on the barricades.’ Those who objected were threatened with expulsion from the party. From then on in spite of the steadily increasing fierceness of their guerrilla warfare the KPD and the Hitler movement joined forces to slash the throat of the already tottering democracy. It was a weird alliance never officially proclaimed or recognised by either the Red or the Brown bureaucracy but a grim fact all the same. Many of the simple party members resisted stubbornly. Too disciplined to denounce openly the Central Committee they embarked on a silent campaign of passive resistance if not sabotage. [44]

Krebs describes one such ‘united front’ action with the Nazis against the ‘social fascists’ undertaken, it should be noted, some several months before their joint participation in the Prussian referendum:

In the spring of 1931 the socialist [that is, ADGB] Transport Workers Union had called [in Bremen] a conference of ship and dock delegates of all the major ports of Western Germany... It was public and the workers were invited to listen to the proceedings. The Communist Party sent a courier to the headquarters of the Nazi Party with a request for cooperation in the blasting of the trade union conference. The Hitlerites agreed as they always had in these cases. When the conference opened the galleries were packed with two to three hundred Communists and Nazis. I was in charge of operations for the Communist Party and a Storm Troop leader Walter Ticow for the Nazis. In less than two minutes we had agreed on a plan of action. As soon as the conference of the Social Democrats was under way I got up and launched a harangue from the gallery. In another part of the hall Ticow did the same... the chairman gave the order to eject the two troublemakers from the building... As soon as the first trade union delegate touched one of us our followers rose and bedlam started. The furniture was smashed, the participants beaten, the hall turned into a shambles... The next day both the Nazi and our own party press brought out front page accounts of how socialist workers incensed over the ‘treachery’ of their own, corrupt leaders had given them a thorough ‘proletarian rub-down’. [45]

But still the KPD leadership hesitated to take the plunge of joining openly with the Nazis in the latter’s campaign for the removal of the Prussian government Social Democrats. In April 1931, the following scathing remarks on the proposed referendum appeared in the Comintern bulletin International Press Correspondence, suggesting that Stalin had still not succeeded in winning over either the ECCI or the KPD Central Committee to his proposal to back the Nazi demand for the dissolution of the Prussian Diet: [46]

There is no doubt that it is due to the KPD and its uncompromising fight against fascism [an example of which we have just illustrated! – RB] and the Prussian government that this demagogic exploitation of the criminal policy of the Social Democrats in Prussia proved a failure among the industrial proletariat [a reference to the collection of signatures for the referendum, which had been successfully completed by April – RB]... it has been possible to expose to the main strata of the proletariat the deceitful plans of the reactionary parties and organisations and to make plain to the masses the real character of the alleged fight of the Stahlhelm and the Hitlerites as a mere competitive struggle for soft jobs and offices in the state apparatus. [It was to this that the theory of Third Period Stalinism reduced the mortal conflict between fascism and Social Democracy – RB] It is an important political success for the KPD and its popular action against fascism and the Prussian government. [47]

However, the door was left ajar for a change of line, since the same article insisted in orthodox Stalinist fashion that ‘there is no doubt that the Social Democracy at present represents the most important support of the dictatorship of capital of the Brüning government in the carrying out of the fascist dictatorship’ and that in the camp of ‘national’ fascism, the monarchist Stahlhelm, and not the Nazis, represented ‘the more solid and socially reliable defence formation of fascism from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie’. [48]

So Brüning was ‘carrying out... the fascist dictatorship’ with the support of the ‘social fascists’, the main social bulwark of the bourgeoisie, while the Nazis represented the least formidable of the reactionary formations of the ruling class. The ‘main enemy’ therefore was not the Hitler movement, but the reformists. Theoretically the groundwork had been laid for the ‘Red Referendum’. It still remained, however, to convince the KPD leadership to put it into operation. The opportunity arose at the Eleventh Plenum of the ECCI, held in Moscow in April 1931. [49]

With the KPD obviously in mind, the Plenum Theses sharply condemned what it termed a ‘liberal’ deviation in the sections, one which hindered the successful application of the ‘united front from below’:

The struggle demands the speedy and determined correction of the mistakes that have been committed which, in the main, consist of drawing, after the Liberal fashion, a contrast between the parliamentary form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and its open fascist forms. These mistakes represent a reflection of the Social Democratic influence in the Communist ranks. [50]

As if to make the point doubly clear to the ‘liberals’ of the KPD delegation, the theses stressed that it was the reformists, and not the Nazis, who were ‘the principal instrument for sabotaging and disrupting the struggle of the workers’ and, as the Social Democrats were providing the bourgeoisie with ‘direct aid towards introducing the Fascist dictatorship’, the ‘successful struggle against Fascism in Germany’ called not for a united front with the SPD against the Nazis, but ‘the timely exposure of the Brüning government as the government which is introducing the Fascist dictatorship’. [51] And how better to do this than join the campaign to oust his main supporters in Prussia, the Social Democrats? Still the top KPD leadership were not convinced, and finally, after all other methods had failed, the party troika of Thälmann, Neumann and Remmele were summoned to Moscow and told by the ECCI chiefs that Stalin himself had ordered the KPD to back the Nazi referendum. Whilst still in Moscow, an article by the rising Stalinist servitor Walter Ulbricht appeared in the KPD press announcing party support for the referendum. Confronted by this fait accompli, the three returned to Berlin to explain to bewildered and in many instances deeply-worried party members why they should now support with all their strength a measure which a matter of days before had been denounced by the KPD press as a blatantly reactionary campaign by the Nazis and their allies in the Stahlhelm, the DNVP and the DVP. What made things worse for the party was that this about-turn, one which produced days of complete paralysis at every level of the party, from the plants right up to the top leadership, was forced on the KPD by Stalin at the height of the banking crisis, at a time when the party needed the maximum political clarity and stability. This state of paralysis did not escape the more shrewd bourgeois commentators and observers. Thus the Polish envoy in Berlin, Dr Alfred Wysocki, reporting on political reactions to the banking crisis on 20 July 1931, noted:

Germany constantly threatens that, if it is not granted a loan or this or that political concession, it will become a stage for Communist disturbances and a Bolshevik country. This argument can be heard here at every step. However, it is difficult to believe... when the banks were closed the Communists had a unique opportunity to start disturbances. The population was stupefied, deprived of cash, and whipped into panic by the press... and what did the Communists do? They issued a rather mild proclamation and avoided clashes with the police anywhere in Berlin; in the provinces... they did shoot at the police, and the police shot back at the Communists, but it was all done so delicately that not a single man was killed or even injured. Does this not appear as a sort of insurance of the German rear by Bolshevik organisations, with the silent blessing of Moscow? [52]

The Polish diplomat, whose government had a vested interest in divining Stalin’s intentions vis-à-vis German imperialism and the rising Nazi movement, had put his finger right on the pulse of Kremlin diplomacy. What Stalin wanted in Germany was not a proletarian revolution, but an ‘insurance of the German rear’, a Germany that would confront both France and its semi-vassal Poland as an enemy and not, as the reformists of the Second International intended, as a reconciled ally. The political strain imposed on the party jointly by the economic crisis in Germany and Stalin’s insistence on a pro-Nazi line in the referendum drove Thälmann to distraction. When the stock exchange and the banks closed their doors on 13 July, the party Politbureau convened an emergency meeting to discuss what line the KPD should adopt, only to find its chairman missing. He had in fact beaten a panic-stricken retreat to his native Hamburg, whither Neumann was duly sent to bring him back from his family home to Berlin. These comings and goings could not fail to attract the attentions and barbs of the party’s political critics on the left. The organ of one oppositional tendency enjoyed itself immensely at the expense of these super-Bolsheviks. Under the title ‘World Revolution Takes a Holiday’ it commented:

On Tuesday, 15 July, the French and English Communist Parties, bourgeois newspapers and pressmen enquired by telephone to Karl Liebknecht House [the KPD headquarters]. They were all asking: ‘What will the KPD do? How did it judge the position? The enquirers could get no answer, because none of the responsible Bolshevik leaders were present. Thälmann and Heckert were on leave, some were in Moscow, the others kept their mouths shut, as in such a situation, responsible and independent decisions needed taking, and by doing that, a 100 per cent Bolshevik and Stalin worshipper could get his neck broken. It is an old joke that bad weather in the drawing room can cause a fever. But it has not yet happened that a revolution did not occur because the weather was fine and all the leaders were on holiday. [53]

Before the news could be broken to the party membership and the working class in general that the KPD was to support the Nazi – monarchist referendum, a stratagem was employed by which, its creators hoped, the wrath of the reformist workers would be diverted away from the KPD towards their own leaders. On 21 July, the KPD addressed to the Prussian government an ultimatum consisting of four demands, so devised as to ensure that they would be rejected out of hand. They were:

1. Freedom of the press and withdrawal of all emergency legislation;

2. Restoration of all social service cuts, etc;

3. Payment of claims on banks;

4. Lifting of the ban on the KPD militia, the Red Front Fighters League, banned after the May Day clashes of 1929.

In presenting these demands, the KPD did not offer in exchange a united front with the reformist organisations against fascism. It simply warned that the KPD would:

... make its attitude towards the proposed People’s [sic!] Referendum against the Prussian government dependent on the answer. [The changed nomenclature gave a clear hint of what that attitude would be – RB] The People’s Referendum referred to by the Communist Diet fraction is the referendum organised by the Fascist and German Nationalist parties. Its fate at the moment is uncertain, but with Communist support its victory would be made certain and the Prussian government overthrown. [54]

This was no offer of a united front, but political blackmail of the lowest kind. Do as we say... or we will unite with the fascists to bring you down. How could the Stalinists hope to win a single reformist worker to the struggle against fascism with such unprincipled tactics? In fact, the evidence suggests that this was not the intention anyway, and that the main purpose of the manoeuvre was to justify to the KPD’s workers that the party had given the reformists a chance to prevent the united front of their party with the Nazis. Events now moved fast. The ultimatum expired on 23 July, and the next day Thälmann announced ‘to an overcrowded functionaries’ meeting of the revolutionary mass organisations in Berlin’ [55] that the KPD had joined the ranks of the future Harzburg Front, the ‘National Opposition’ of those militant people’s revolutionaries Hitler, Hugenberg, Seldte, Vögler, Thyssen and Schacht. Faced with the thankless task of explaining why the party now had to support as revolutionary that which it had previously, and with some vehemence, denounced as counter-revolutionary, Thälmann told the meeting:

Fighting against fascism does not mean combating only the Nazis, but above all fighting against finance capital itself, against the Brüning cabinet as a cabinet which is carrying out the fascist dictatorship. From this there follows of necessity our sharp offensive attitude towards the Prussian Severing government because it is the strongest bulwark of the Brüning dictatorship, and finally, our referendum action intensifies extraordinarily the class antagonisms... How ridiculous it is when the SPD talk of a united front with Hitler and Hugenberg. Quite the contrary... by taking over the leadership of the Referendum, we have thwarted the demagogic plans of the Stahlhelm, of Hitler, Hugenberg, of the DVP and the conservatives. Precisely our participation in the Referendum gives us the best possibility of exposing the Nazi and the German Nationalist office hunting and demagogy. The more the parties of the Right sabotage the Referendum, the more deeply we shall force a breach in the ranks of the Nazis’ followers. [56]

Thus the main purpose of the manoeuvre was to ‘expose’ and recruit from the Nazis, and not the SPD! Hence the frantic attempts to outbid them in chauvinism, a tactic that would have only alienated the reformist workers still further from the KPD. Now all that remained was to dress up the Nazi referendum in suitably ‘Bolshevik’ garb in order that Prussia’s 10 million or so proletarians could be induced to vote for it. Thus was born the ‘Red Referendum’. The character of the KPD campaign soon became clear when 13 ex-Nazis, including Count Stenbock-Fermour, the Free Corps officer who never tired of boasting of his prowess in murdering Communists in the fighting of 1919-20, issued a statement supporting the KPD’s decision to back the referendum, while on 1 August the KPD bulletin Fanfaren, which devoted most of its columns to reports on the anti-fascist struggle, published a picture of the ex-Nazi Lieutenant Scheringer with the caption (a quotation from one of his writings): ‘Whoever opposes the people’s revolution and the revolutionary war of liberation, betrays the cause of the fallen who in the last war gave their lives for a free Germany.’ So the war denounced by Liebknecht and Luxemburg as one for plunder and conquest now became elevated by the Stalinists to a noble struggle for a ‘free Germany’. Stalin’s foreign policy of rekindling national hatreds between the imperialist powers in order to split up potential enemies of the USSR had led, in the case of the KPD, to the party becoming retrospective defencists in the First World War, and defencists also for the next – even while the bourgeoisie still ruled! This revolting debasement of Leninist internationalism, of Bolshevik defeatism, provoked Trotsky to write:

Marxism of course, cannot fail to take into consideration the possibility of a revolutionary war in the event that the proletariat seizes power. But this is far removed from converting an historical probability... into a fighting political slogan prior to the seizure of power... The ‘national liberation’ of Germany lies... not in a war with the West, but in a proletarian revolution embracing Central as well as Western Europe, and uniting it with Eastern Europe in the form of a Soviet United States. Only such a statement of the question can unite the working class and make it a centre of attraction for the despairing petit-bourgeois masses. In order for the proletariat to be able to dictate its will to modern society, its party must not be ashamed of being a proletarian [and not a people’s – RB] party and of speaking its own language, not the language of revanche, but the language of international revolution. [57]

The KPD’s participation in the referendum proved a godsend to the hard-pressed reformists, who, over the previous weeks and months, had fast been losing ground to the Communists in Berlin, the Ruhr and other industrial centres. Already on 22 July, Vorwärts had been able to depict the KPD as the allies of counter-revolution, saying that the party had ‘decided to line up with Hitler, Hugenberg and Duesterberg, against the Prussian coalition and to join them to bring about a government of the extreme right’. Next day, the KPD lamely replied to this charge by claiming that not their Nazi allies, but the Prussian Social Democratic Ministers Braun and Severing had ‘become the trail-blazers for fascism’ and that ‘in consequence the watchword must be “Red Referendum"’. This in turn drew the scornful riposte from Vorwärts that the Stalinists were ‘obviously suffering from colour blindness or the effect of the swastika flag. The KPD are the accomplices of the most brutal reaction, the pacemakers and bait for fascism.’ The SPD scored another bulls-eye when it published a leaflet attacking the referendum with a photograph of Thälmann addressing a Stahlhelm meeting! Others were more appreciative of Stalin’s initiative. Goebbels wrote exultantly in his Angriff on 29 July that ‘success was doubtful up to now. But now that the Communist Party has joined the great opposition front, success seems entirely possible and indeed probable.’ Small wonder that when polling day – 9 August – arrived, no reformist workers could be seen in the vicinity of the polling booths, many of which were festooned with KPD Red Flags and the Swastika emblem of the Nazis. [58] Nor was the turn-out of Communist workers as high as the KPD leaders would have liked. In fact the referendum failed by 13 per cent to secure the 50 per cent plus one votes required to secure the dissolution of the Prussian Diet.

Each partner in the Nazi – Stalinist ‘united front’ accused the other of sabotaging the referendum. The NSDAP in its statement on the result claimed that:

... of the 10 million Prussians who gave a public demonstration against Red Prussia [a Prussia the KPD held to be already fascist! – RB], at least six to seven million can be reckoned as National Socialists. A new election in Prussia today would send the Nazis back to the landtag as the strongest party in the state.

Which of course was precisely what Stalin had in mind when he instructed the KPD leaders to support the referendum. [59] However, the Stalinists could not let this claim pass unchallenged, since it lent support to SPD charges that the referendum, despite its allegedly ‘Red’ hue, had chiefly been the work of the reaction. Also on 10 August, the KPD press service issued a statement on the result which declared that the referendum had been ‘a tremendous mass mobilisation against the Brüning – Braun – Severing system’ and that the result proved ‘that over 50 per cent of the electors are against the Prussian government’. Hitler and Hugenberg were scolded for having ‘sabotaged the victory of the referendum’ which in industrial regions was allegedly ‘completely under the leadership of the Communist Party’. This was probably so, but the statement failed to explain how it was that in precisely these areas of proletarian militancy and concentration, the poll for the ‘Red’ referendum was lowest. Thus to take one example, Düsseldorf West, where of a total electorate of 402 000 less than a third voted for the referendum. Taking the pro-referendum parties as a whole, they polled 150 000 votes less than in the Reichstag elections of 1930. In other words, throughout Germany, literally hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of KPD supporters simply stayed at home on 9 August, and left voting to the supporters of the National Opposition. They had precious little love for the government of Otto Braun, but even less for one headed by Hitler and Hugenberg. Somehow this demonstration of working-class opposition to the referendum had to be obscured, so Willi Münzenberg leapt into the breach with an article claiming that the abstentionists were all to be found in the ranks of the Nazis and monarchists:

There is no doubt whatever that the National Socialists and Stahlhelm people carried on their campaign in a very half-hearted manner indeed, and that large masses of the supporters of the right parties kept away from the poll so as not to vote on 9 August for a Soviet Prussia. [60]

Supporting the referendum had proved an unmitigated disaster for the KPD. Not only had it confused and demoralised many of its own members and sympathisers, causing them to break discipline in order to prevent a possible Nazi take-over in Prussia. By openly lining up with the Nazis, the KPD leaders had provided the reformists with just the proof they needed to convince their own wavering supporters that Communism served the interests of reaction. But still Stalin and his henchmen in the KPD leadership pressed ahead with these new tactics. Neumann’s slogan of ‘beat the fascists wherever you find them’ was withdrawn as ‘sectarian’, and party members were instructed instead to pursue an ‘ideological’ struggle against National Socialism, a movement that answered the logical arguments of its opponents with clubs, knives and pistols. Neumann himself was instructed to lead this new campaign by challenging Goebbels to a debate at a Nazi rally in Berlin, the meeting ending in uproar when Neumann, challenged by a Nazi to declare where he stood on his now-discarded slogan, declared to the massed Nazi hordes that he still upheld it.

For all their betrayals of the German working class, the reformists never descended so low in the Weimar Republic as to share the same platform with Nazis. [61] In the workers’ movement, this was a doubtful distinction that could be claimed only by Stalinists such as Ulbricht and Neumann, whose appearances at these functions only lowered their prestige in the eyes of class-conscious workers, and did nothing tangible to break the backward proletarian elements from the grip of the Nazi demagogues. There could be no more damning testimony to the reactionary consequences of the ‘Red Referendum’ than the capital made out of it by the leaders of world reformism at the Fourth Congress of the Second International, whose proceedings coincided with the campaign for the referendum in Prussia. Introducing a resolution on the ‘fight of the working class for democracy’, Otto Bauer of the Austrian party declared:

We are convinced that the German working class will not let itself be led astray by the dazzling and irresponsible appeals of those who today in the referendum that is taking place in Prussia, are, in the name of the proletarian revolution, making common cause in the struggle for power in Prussia with the Fascist counter-revolution [loud applause]... [62]

SPD Executive member Rudolf Breitscheid also attacked the KPD’s action in Prussia to some effect, since its support of the referendum enabled the Social Democrats to stand before the workers as the spurned champions of proletarian anti-fascist unity:

Comrades, nobody would more gladly than we stand shoulder to shoulder with the Communist workers! [Vehement assent] But as things stand in Germany the KPD has taken a line which unhappily renders it impossible for us to fight on the same ground with it. [Assent] Must I remind you once again what is going on at present in Prussia, in that German state which in the postwar days constituted the real stronghold of democracy? Must I remind you that the Communists there are making common cause in the referendum with the fascism of the Hitlers and the Hugenbergs? ... Those very Communists who a few weeks ago, nay perhaps a few days ago, were still reporting this referendum as a reactionary move now go and lend their support to fascism. Their support against whom? German democracy and German socialism! [Loud applause] ... Would it be a success for the Communists? No, it would... remain a success for German reaction, for German nationalism, for German fascism [loud applause] and the Communists would have the merit of having brought this about. [63]

And for once, the Stalinist propaganda machine was silent. For nearly every word was true.

Appendix: The Eleventh ECCI Plenum: April-May 1931

That the strategy and tactics of Third Period Stalinism supplemented the secret diplomacy of the Kremlin can be demonstrated by an analysis of the proceedings of the Eleventh ECCI Plenum held in Moscow in the months of April and May 1931. Here, in the resolutions and the speeches of delegates, were interwoven – in almost all cases unconsciously – the twin-pronged attack of Stalin on the reformist-led organisations of the German working class. First the Theses (On the Tasks of the Sections), adopted on the reports of Manuilsky, Thälmann and Chemodanov. In line with Kremlin thinking on this question, the Theses referred to the ‘existence of a wide international conspiracy against the USSR led by French imperialism’ which was ‘squeezing the last ounce out of the nations enslaved by the Versailles system’ and ‘supporting and organising the Fascist regime in Europe’. As evidence of this, the Theses cited the recent ‘trials’ of Soviet and foreign economic experts (the ‘Industrial Party’) and of former Menshevik leaders (both of which were based on forged evidence and testimonies). These trials allegedly proved that:

... the imperialists, with the aid of the Second International, prepared for the spring of 1930, and are now preparing a counter-revolutionary war against the USSR and for this purpose are utilising the vassals of French and British imperialism – Poland, Romania and Finland. [64]

On the global plane therefore, Social Democracy was nothing but a pliant tool in the hands of Anglo-French imperialism. Domestically, it played the same role of an auxiliary of extreme reaction, not clashing with, but actually supporting the rise of the various national fascist movements. Since appearance (and reality) seemed to confound this claim that fascism and Social Democracy had become fused – ‘not antipodes, but twins’ – the Theses warned against taking seriously assertions by reformists that there was any real ‘contrast between the “democratic” forms of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and Fascism’. It would take less than two years for the KPD leaders who endorsed this pre-natal leftism to discover just how real this contrast was, and that for many of them and their comrades, it proved to be a matter of life or death.

Much time at the Plenum was taken up with demonstrating (in complete violation of all the available evidence) that despite the rise of fascism in Germany to the proportions of a mass movement embracing millions and commanding a militia of some 500 000 men, a movement that enjoyed the direct and indirect support of influential business leaders and politicians; Social Democracy, and not National Socialism, remained ‘the principal social support of the bourgeoisie’. This became a point of honour for all hard-line Stalinists, for to admit the truth, that the rise to power of the Nazis spelt doom for the reformist leaders and organisations, was to discard the very theoretical foundation on which rested the tactics and strategy of not only the KPD, but every section of the Communist International. The Theses therefore proclaimed that far from revealing the inadequacies of Social Democracy for the task of crushing the proletariat, ‘the whole development of Social Democracy from the time of the war and the rise of the Soviet government of the USSR is an uninterrupted process of evolution towards fascism’. By the same token, the reformist parties of the Second International had been allotted by the world bourgeoisie the task of ‘the preparation for the blockade and military attack against the first proletarian state in the world’, a function which transformed the Second International ‘into a shock brigade of world imperialism which is preparing for war against the USSR’. Such wild statements as these, which totally left out of account the contradictory trends at work within parties of the Second International (developments which became clearly visible following the victory of the German fascists, when a section of the badly-scarred reformist leaders made a hesitant turn to the left) made impossible any genuine approach to the reformist workers on the question of the fight against imperialist war and the danger of intervention against the USSR. Contrast, for instance, this defeatist attitude to the task of winning the reformist workers to the defence of the Soviet Union (an aim to which the majority of them were not hostile) with the tactics employed by the Communist International at the 1922 Berlin conference of the three workers’ internationals, where agreement was reached on a limited programme of demands which included the defence of the USSR. Yet according to the Theses the reformist signatories to this united front agreement were already well on the road towards fascism! If only Lenin had known...

In ‘Germany: The Key to the International Situation’ (26 November 1931) Trotsky declared categorically and with complete accuracy of foresight that:

... a victory of fascism in Germany would signify an inevitable war against the USSR, [that] none of the ‘normal’ bourgeois parliamentary governments can risk a war at the present time against the USSR, for it would bring with it the threat of immense internal complications. But if Hitler comes to power and proceeds to crush the vanguard of the German workers, pulverising and demoralising the whole proletariat, the fascist government will be the only government capable of waging war against the USSR. [65]

Not so, said the Stalintern general staff:

In this criminal work for the organisation of the economic blockade and the preparation for military intervention against the USSR, the Second International and the Social Democratic parties play a direct and leading role for which they bear full responsibility... The parties of social fascism openly take the most direct part in carrying through the policy of armaments, blockade and intervention. The strongest party of the Second International, the SPD... is the most active of all the parties in Germany which are organising the anti-Soviet front. [66]

Of the National Opposition, with which, on Stalin’s direct orders, the KPD was shortly to ally itself to bring down the Prussian ‘social fascists’ – not a word. Let us read these simply incredible lines again: ‘The SPD... is the most active of all the parties in Germany which are organising the anti-Soviet front.’ Since the Nazis and their monarchist partners were anti-French, presumably their pathological anti-Sovietism could be excused. No such indulgences were extended to the reformists, for, you see, they favoured the ‘Western orientation’. On grounds of diplomatic manoeuvring, one can see how Stalin arrived at his fateful decision to commit the KPD to its suicidal policy of blocking with the Nazis against the Social Democrats; in effect, becoming a temporary honorary member of the Harzburg Front!

But the Nazis were not only depicted as of little or no consequence on the international political arena. Domestically too, the Hitler movement was treated as a factor of secondary importance, as a threat on the wane. Presenting his report to the Eleventh Plenum on the situation in Germany and the tasks of the KPD, Thälmann smugly declared of the 1930 Reichstag elections which gave the Nazis 6.7 million votes:

We did not permit ourselves to be led astray by the panic seizing many working-class strata at that time, and especially among the adherents of the SPD. Most comrades will remember that in our own ranks the great danger of this development was not only signalised, but was even overestimated. We however concluded seriously and soberly that 14 September had been Hitler’s best day, so to speak, and would be followed not by better ones, but by worse... Today the Nazis have nothing more to laugh about. [67]

Hitler’s ‘worse day’ came almost exactly a year later, when, in the second ballot for the Presidential elections, he received 13.4 million votes, 9.7 million more than Thälmann. A similar blindly optimistic note was struck by Manuilsky in his concluding speech to the plenum. The Nazis were, despite all appearances to the contrary, on the way out, and the main danger as before remained the ‘social fascists’, the ‘main social support’ of the bourgeoisie, who anyway had no need of Hitler since they already had a fascist regime in the form of the Brüning government:

Fascism in Germany, in the Hitler form [sic!] is maybe on the downgrade, and in fact is already on the downgrade as a result of the activity of our party, but the bourgeois dictatorship in Germany, which is taking on fascist forms under Brüning and the Social Democracy, can become strengthened if one can imagine the paradoxical situation arising of the German proletariat being lulled by its victory over the Hitler form of the fascist movement... [68]

Comrades were warned not to be taken in by the ‘seeming struggle’ of Social Democracy with fascism. No real blows were being landed, nor could they be, since ‘fascism and social fascism are two aspects of one and the same social bulwark of bourgeois dictatorship’. [69] ‘The same social bulwark'? But the Nazis rested on the nationalist petit-bourgeoisie, who, in order to solve their own social crisis, sought salvation in the destruction of the organisations of the proletariat, those of the reformists (the ‘social fascists’), included. The rule of the Nazis therefore necessarily involved an abrupt and brutal termination of the role played by Social Democracy over the previous decade and more, one crudely described by the Stalinists as that of ‘principal social bulwark of the bourgeoisie’. But once again, to recognise this fact, the ABC of the struggle against fascism and the fight for the united front, would reduce to rubble the theoretical edifice of Stalin’s dictum that Social Democracy and fascism were twins. That resistance to the idea still hindered the application of the ‘new line’ was evident from Manuilsky’s remark that:

... mistakes in our midst which occur in the direction of opposing in principle fascist to bourgeois democracy or the Hitler party to Social Democracy... constitute the most pernicious mistakes for the Communist movement. At the moment this [that is, the notion that perhaps fascism and reformism were not the same, and that one might therefore ally with the latter against the former – RB] represents our chief danger. [70]

Manuilsky – and therefore Stalin, whose Comintern mouthpiece he was – had not finished with these obdurate ‘liberals’ who had still to rid themselves of the residues of Leninist tactics and strategy:

Our younger and even some of our more experienced experts endeavour to search out literally with a microscope the minutest details distinguishing the fascist form of bourgeois dictatorship from bourgeois dictatorship of a so-called ‘normal’ type... [Under the Third Reich, these ‘details’ could even be observed with the naked eye – RB] What is the use of this? In all these theoretical labours which only confuse the question, the worst of all is that they conceal the putting of fascism as a ‘new type’ of bourgeois rule in opposition to the old democratic type of this rule. The whole intensification of the class struggle testifies that the differences between so-called bourgeois democracy and fascism will become ever more blurred. [71]

As proof of this, Manuilsky cited the foreign policies of Mussolini and the SPD, clearly preferring the former:

Let, for example, anyone attempt to prove that the policy of German Social Democracy in regard to the USSR is ‘progressive’ and better than the policy of Italian fascism. The Social Democrats, in order to deceive the masses, deliberately proclaim that the chief enemy of the working class is fascism [when every good Stalinist knew it to be the Social Democrats themselves – RB], in order thereby to direct attention from the question of the struggle against the dictatorship of capital in general. [72]

The ‘dictatorship of capital in general'? But Communists do not fight and in fact cannot fight capitalism ‘in general’, as an abstraction, but its concrete, historical embodiment, which in Germany took not only the form of the semi-Bonapartist Brüning regime, and the support lent to it from the left by the Social Democrats, but its right support in the camp of the National Opposition and principally the Nazis. Thus the fight against Brüning – a task which the KPD was correct to emphasise as against the class-collaborationist arguments of the reformists that to do so would open the door for the Nazis – could in fact be prosecuted only by striking the hardest blows at those forces on the right that sustained, despite their inner conflicts, the Brüning government. And since the KPD did not command the support of a majority of the working class, this task could only be carried out in concert with the eight to nine million workers who still followed the reformist leaders – Brüning’s left prop. A united front between the KPD and SPD would therefore not only have the effect of bringing together the titanic forces of the German proletariat, but would also, if correctly applied, have weakened the ties between the reformist leaders and the Brüning government, disrupting the policy of ‘toleration’ and so clearing the road for further splits in the camp of Social Democracy.

By denying the Bonapartist nature of the Brüning and later the Papen and Schleicher regimes, which were all classified as fascist, the Stalinist theoreticians gave to these governments an inner power and cohesion which they never possessed. The united front tactic was designed expressly for political conditions such as those that prevailed in Germany between the fall of Müller and the consolidation of the Hitler regime, for it poses the question directly to the leaders as well as workers of the reformist organisations – with the proletariat and the Communist workers in the united struggle to defend the gains of the movement; or with the bourgeoisie, and surrender to it everything the working class has won in its struggle against the class enemy. The very act of repudiating this lethal tactical weapon became the biggest single factor in the political consolidation of Bonapartist regimes that ruled Germany for the three years between the fall of Müller and the final victory of Hitler. For ‘Third Period’ Stalinism not only protected reformism, but in so doing enabled the Social Democrats to continue lending their support to regimes that would otherwise have been ripped apart by the very class antagonisms that brought them into being.

Manuilsky would have none of this. The reformists, not the Nazis (who only had 13.7 million behind them at the zenith of the influence), were providing the mass basis for the coming fascist dictatorship:

Social Democracy has become an integral part of the bourgeois dictatorship in all its forms. Its chief role is to provide a mass basis for fascism, for as Lenin correctly emphasised, no regime can exist without a certain mass basis. [73]

So the four million workers of the ADGB trade unions, the one million members of the SPD, and presumably also the nine millions who gave the party its votes at elections times, were now to serve as the ‘mass basis’ for a fascist regime in Germany! Precisely against whom, therefore, was fascism directed? The petit-bourgeoisie perhaps? Or only the members (at its peak, 350 000) and electoral supporters (six million maximum) of the KPD? Or possibly both – in which case the tactics employed during the Prussian Referendum become comprehensible, since it represented a bloc of two potential victims of fascism against the party that was introducing it – with the support of more than half the German proletariat! As if by mutual agreement, speakers at the Plenum maintained total silence on the activities of the Nazis. Manuilsky for example, had nothing whatsoever to say about the organised mass violence unleashed on workers’ meetings and premises by the SA (possibly because on more than one occasion, these assaults – when directed against the ‘social fascists’ – enjoyed the backing of the KPD), but he had detected signs of ‘the growth of fascist armed units’ in other quarters – namely the Stahlhelm, whose monarchist leadership studiously avoided such clashes – and... ‘boy scout... organisations which are in fact also fascist organisations’. [74] At the climax of the Popular Front, the ‘fascist boy scouts’ were much sought after as allies in the fight against fascism!

Such was the Eleventh Plenum of the ECCI, a convention which did as much as any gathering of Social Democratic bureaucrats to disorganise and disorient the German working class in its life-and-death struggle against fascism. There can be no better comment on its proceedings than that of Pravda, which in praising the plenum’s resolute rejection of calls for a united front between the two workers’ parties against fascism, said on 24 April 1931:

Social Democracy... is the most active party in the carrying out of the fascisation of the bourgeois state. The evolution of Social Democracy to fascism goes back to the time of the imperialist world war... Social Democracy is carrying out the fascisation of the bourgeois state under the pretext of defending bourgeois democracy, as the alleged ‘lesser evil’, compared with fascism. The role of Social Democracy, which in words comes out against fascism and which is praised in the press of the right wing and the Trotskyists as an opponent of fascism, must be ruthlessly exposed. There can be no compromise or bloc with the Social Democratic workers against fascism and social fascism! To support Social Democracy means to support fascism, to support the capitalist offensive against the working class, to support the preparations for war against the Soviet Union. [75]

This was the voice of Stalin.


1. H von Dirksen, Moscow, Tokyo, London (London, 1951), pp 59-61.

2. This was also the theme of the CPSU Central Committee resolution on the Rapallo Treaty, published in Izvestia on 18 May 1922. The treaty provided the only possible means of securing ‘equality of rights of the two systems and agreement between them... until the whole world has advanced from private property to a higher system of property’. Nevertheless, a difference of emphasis could be detected in the statements of various Soviet leaders on the treaty and its political implications. Trotsky stressed its short-term, tactical nature, and denied that its conclusion betrayed a special pro-German orientation on the part of the Soviet government: ‘Germany is separated from the Soviet Republic by the same contradictions of property systems as the countries of the Entente. This means that the possibility of... the Rapallo Treaty... [becoming] some offensive-defensive alliance to counterbalance other states is excluded. It is a question of the re-establishment of the most elementary inter-state and economic relations, on the principles of the Rapallo Treaty. Soviet Russia is ready to sign a treaty with any other country.’ ('Reply to Question from the US International News Service’, Izvestia, 19 May 1922) Foreign Commissar Chicherin and Radek took a more ‘diplomatic’ line, and tended to project the treaty further into the future than was justified by the immediate revolutionary prospects in Germany which were at this time promising in the extreme. Radek’s views on Soviet-German relations greatly influenced his adaptation to ‘National Bolshevism’ in 1923, when he wrote that ‘the strong emphasis on the nation in Germany is a revolutionary act, like the emphasis on the nation in the colonies’ (International Press Correspondence, 21 June 1923, p 869). This opportunist view was not shared by the editors of Izvestia, who declared on 21 April 1922, that the ‘German bourgeoisie is imperialist through and through’ and that it was prevented from achieving its imperialist aims only through the defeat of 1918 and the consequent consolidation of Entente hegemony on the continent. And ‘if she did cherish such plans then in this matter she could in no case count on support from Soviet Russia’. The reader will have ample opportunity to contrast this principled position with the opportunist one adopted towards German imperialism in later years when Stalinist policies ruled not only in the CPSU and the ECCI, but the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs.

3. JV Stalin, ‘The Anglo-Russian Unity Committee’ (speech delivered at a joint plenum of the CC and the Central Control Commission of the CPSU, 15 July 1926), Works, Volume 8, p 193.

4. The Conservative government of Baldwin used the Anglo-Russian Committee as a pretext to mount a clamorous anti-Soviet campaign which reached a crescendo at the October 1926 Tory Party conference, where a resolution was passed demanding the immediate annulment of the Soviet-British Trade Agreement (which dated from 1921), the closure of all Soviet offices and the expulsion from Britain of all Soviet officials. Winston Churchill, then Chancellor of the Exchequer and jubilant after his victory over the miners, was the orchestrator of this anti-Soviet chorus, declaring: ‘I have always thought the United States policy [of non-recognition] toward Bolshevik Russia a right one.’ Churchill’s campaign finally bore fruit on 26 May 1927, when following the famous police raid on the premises of the Soviet trade delegation ('Arcos’) and the fabrication of incriminating documents allegedly found in the police raid, the British government severed all diplomatic and trade links with the USSR, relations that were only re-established with the formation of the Macdonald Labour-Liberal coalition in 1929. Events in China followed a similar course, where days before Chiang’s Shanghai coup, forces loyal to the northern warlords broke into the Soviet embassy in Peking (a raid carried out with the direct approval of the British and American governments) and, like their counterparts in London, forged materials which were then used to launch an anti-Soviet and anti-Communist campaign in militarist-dominated China, supplementing the bloody reign of terror unleashed by Chiang in the south.

5. G Hilger and A Meyer, The Incompatible Allies (New York, 1953), p 125.

6. VI Lenin, ‘Theses on the Question of the Immediate Conclusion of a Separate and Annexationist Peace’ (20 January 1918), Collected Works, Volume 26, pp 444-45, emphasis added.

7. The biggest event in German-Soviet relations in the period between Rapallo and Stalin’s left turn in the USSR and the Communist International was the conclusion of the Berlin Treaty on 24 April 1926. It was – on the side of its German signatories – a reaction to the temporary cooling of relations between Berlin and its Entente partners in the recently-concluded Locarno Pact, and to the rebuff Germany had suffered in its attempt to secure admission to the League of Nations. Soviet diplomacy was quick to seize on Stresemann’s frustration, the latter seeing in the Berlin Treaty a means both of insuring himself against further worsening relations with the West (over such questions as reparations) and as a clear hint that despite its defeat in 1918, German imperialism was still capable of – and ready to – pursue an independent foreign policy. And of course, throughout this period (and in fact well into Hitler’s Reich) the Soviet and German High Commands collaborated intimately on a whole series of questions ranging from the secret manufacture of arms and training on Soviet territory (in order to escape the provisions of the Versailles Treaty) to political dealings of a complexity that have to this day still to be fully unravelled. It is necessary, however, to emphasise that what had under Trotsky’s leadership been an exclusively technical collaboration between the two armies in the early years of Soviet-German relations became, under Stalin, a means of furthering the reactionary ends of Kremlin diplomacy, something that will be demonstrated at a later stage of this chapter.

8. In a speech to the enlarged Praesidium of the Communist International on 25 February 1930, Molotov revealed that ‘most [foreign experts] came from Germany. The recruiting of new workers from Germany... will be increased in the future.’ (V Molotov, The New Phase in the Soviet Union (London, 1930), p 39) In March 1931, the director of the supreme council of the national economy, M Gurevich, stated that ‘about 5000 foreign specialists and workmen were employed in Soviet industry’. Russia’s cultural as well as economic backwardness was therefore a crucial factor in accentuating the USSR’s dependence on Germany precisely at the time when its rulers sought to establish Soviet economic independence from the capitalist system and world market.

9. VI Lenin, ‘"Left-Wing” Childishness and the Petit-Bourgeois Mentality’, Collected Works, Volume 27, p 340.

10. W Krivitsky, I Was Stalin’s Agent (London, 1939), p 18. Trotsky valued these revelations highly, seeing them as a confirmation of his own analysis of Stalin’s diplomacy. In an interview with the St Louis Post-Dispatch in January 1940, he said, in relation to the Stalin – Hitler Pact concluded the previous summer: ‘The former chief of the foreign GPU agency, General Krivitsky, revealed extremely interesting details of the relations between Moscow and Berlin...’ However, he found one-sided Krivitsky’s conclusion that ‘Stalin’s whole international policy during the last six years [that is, 1933-39] has been a series of manoeuvres designed to place him in a favourable position for a deal with Hitler’, and that ‘when he joined the League of Nations [October 1934], when he proposed the system of collective security, when he sought the hand of France [the Stalin – Laval Pact of May 1935], flirted with Poland, courted Great Britain, intervened in Spain [November 1936] he was calculating every move with one eye upon Berlin. His hope was to get such a position that Hitler would find it advantageous to meet his advances.’ (Krivitsky, I Was Stalin’s Agent, pp 18-19) Trotsky said that it ‘would be incorrect to conclude that the five-year campaign of Moscow in favour of a “united front of the democracies” and “collective security” (1935-39) was a pure swindle as is represented now by the same Krivitsky who saw from the quarters of the GPU only one side of the Moscow policy [precisely that side obscured from public view – RB], not perceiving it in its entirety. While Hitler spurned the extended hand, Stalin was compelled to prepare seriously the other alternative, that is, an alliance with the imperialist democracies. The Comintern naturally did not understand what was involved; it simply made “democratic” noises, carrying out the instructions.’ (LD Trotsky, ‘The World Situation and Perspectives (1)’, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939-40 (New York, 1969), p 20) Krivitsky, like his friend and fellow defector from the GPU Ignace Reiss, was murdered by Stalinist agents. Though he did not adhere to the Fourth International (Reiss did), Krivitsky had a deep respect for Trotsky and his comrades, especially his son Sedov, of whom he writes: ‘Early in November [1937] I came back to Paris [where] through the attorney for Mrs Reiss I established connections with Leon Sedov... who was editing the Bulletin of the Left Opposition, and with the leaders of the Russian Menshevik socialists exiled in Paris... When I saw Sedov I told him frankly that I did not come to join the Trotskyists, but for advice. He received me cordially, and I saw him thereafter almost daily. I learned to admire this son of Leon Trotsky as a personality in his own right. I shall never forget the disinterested help and comfort he gave me in those days when Stalin’s agents were after me... In the treason trials in Moscow it was said that he received vast sums of money from Hitler and the Mikado. I found him living the life of a revolutionist, toiling all day in the cause of the opposition, in acute need of better food and clothing’. (Krivitsky, I Was Stalin’s Agent, pp 290-92) Neither had long to live. Sedov was murdered while in hospital by Stalin’s killers in February 1938, while Krivitsky survived another three years until he was found shot to death in a New York hotel room.

11. JV Stalin, ‘Results of the Thirteenth Congress of the CPSU’ (report delivered at the CC CPSU courses for secretaries of uyezd party committees, 17 June 1924), Works, Volume 6, pp 250-51, emphasis added. Stalin’s readiness to befriend the Fascist dictator aroused open hostility inside the Italian Communist Party, which by this time was on the verge of being driven underground by the Mussolini regime. Diplomatic links with Italy had been established before the March on Rome, but no cooling of relations could be detected even following the murder in June 1924 (in fact, a matter of days before Stalin made the speech in question!) of the reformist leader Matteotti by a gang of black-shirted thugs. Quite the contrary in fact. The Comintern functionary Humbert-Droz wrote from Rome to the ECCI Presidium, on 14 October 1924, that feelings against Moscow’s warm relations with the fascist regime were running high in the PCI, adding: ‘It is in this atmosphere of political isolation and scandal [for the Mussolini regime] that our Soviet Ambassador here intends to invite Mussolini to a banquet on the 7 November anniversary [of the Russian Revolution]... It would scandalise the Italian proletariat. On 7 November the workers who try to demonstrate will be beaten up and arrested in the streets, and on the same day Mussolini will be the guest of the Russian Ambassador.’ These lines have a familiar, contemporary ring about them, and bring to mind the infamous participation of a troup of Soviet dancers in Franco’s ‘May Day’ festivities of 1971. The same day as the Kremlin’s high steppers went through their paces at the fascist rally, Franco’s police hunted down workers in the industrial centres who risked life and liberty to commemorate this day of international proletarian solidarity not under the banners and slogans of Franco fascism, but the red flag of socialism.

12. JV Stalin, ‘Concerning the International Situation’, Works, Volume 6, pp 298-99.

13. Stalin, ‘Concerning the International Situation’, Works, Volume 6, p 302.

14. Stalin, ‘Concerning the International Situation’, Works, Volume 6, p 302.

15. JV Stalin, ‘The International Situation and the Tasks of the Communist Parties’ (22 March 1925), Works, Volume 7, pp 51-52.

16. Stalin, ‘The International Situation and the Tasks of the Communist Parties’, Works, Volume 7, p 56.

17. JV Stalin, ‘The Results of the Work of the Fourteenth Conference of the CPSU’ (report delivered at a meeting of the active of the Moscow Organisation of the CPSU, 9 May 1925), Works, Volume 7, pp 98-99.

18. Stalin, ‘The Results of the Work of the Fourteenth Conference of the CPSU’, Works, Volume 7, p 99.

19. JV Stalin, ‘Political Report of the Central Committee’ (Fifteenth Congress of the CPSU, 18 December 1927), Works, Volume 7, p 278.

20. Stalin, ‘Political Report of the Central Committee’, Works, Volume 7, p 283, emphasis added.

21. Hilger and Meyer, The Incompatible Allies, pp 123-24, emphasis added.

22. Hilger and Meyer, The Incompatible Allies, pp 211-13, emphasis added.

23. Hilger and Meyer, The Incompatible Allies, pp 106-07, emphasis added.

24. Dirksen, Moscow, Tokyo, London, pp 87-88.

25. Hilger and Meyer, The Incompatible Allies, pp 152-53, emphasis added.

26. Hilger and Meyer, The Incompatible Allies, pp 241-42.

27. Dansberg, President of the Aniline Concern, a subsidiary of IG Farben, declared, in the spring of 1931, that the proposed (and abortive) customs union between Germany and Austria was but a first step towards the economic unification of Europe under German hegemony: ‘Only a united economic bloc from Bordeaux to Odessa will give Europe the economic backbone she needs for her preservation.’ Shades of de Gaulle’s call for a united Europe ‘from the Atlantic to the Urals'! Schacht was also arguing along these lines at this time, along with the Chairman of the Deutsche Bank, Solmssen, who in a speech in Zurich on 5 February 1930 declared in what was a clear attack on advocates of the Eastern orientation in the business world: ‘Behind the next war stands Bolshevism... This danger is far greater than is realised by those many people who have remained caught in a one-sided [that is, anti-Entente] chauvinism. Bolshevism sees in Europe only a promontory of Asia, which one day is to be carried by storm by the throng of masses from the East... It is therefore very worthy of consideration when one who knows Russia like the late General Hoffman expresses the conviction that the destructive will of Bolshevism... will stir up the coloured races of Asia and Africa against the Europeans and will surprise the highly industrial and over-populated Western and Central Europe with the loss of its Asiatic and African colonies and with the resulting food supply crisis. The big German banks are placed in the middle of the problems arising from this. Germany is not only Russia’s neighbour; it is also the power whose violent collapse would bring about the overthrow of the rampart which Germany forms against the advance of Bolshevism.’

28. Neubauer, ‘The Visit of the German Industrialists to Moscow’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, no 15, 19 March 1931, p 288.

29. Neubauer, ‘The Visit of the German Industrialists to Moscow’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, no 15, 19 March 1931, pp 288-89. When Brüning appealed to Western bankers and governments to provide credits to Germany at the time of the bank crisis, Neubauer wrote: ‘Germany might have been able to find a support in this fight against the tribute system but the German bourgeoisie would not adopt this course, it could not escape its class ties. Only a consistently Eastern policy, only a definite alliance with Soviet Russia could have created a counter-weight to the pressure of the imperialist Western powers. The Rapallo Treaty furnished a foundation for this solidarity... the bourgeoisie used it as a basis for business dealings with the East, but it lacked the courage to use it as a basis of an Eastern policy. It was hindered by its class blindness. The German Reich, hitherto a tributary state of the big imperialist powers, is on the way to becoming their vassal state... But this development only proves again how absolutely right the KPD was when [it launched]... its programme on the national and social emancipation of the German people...’ (International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, no 31, 11 June 1931, p 588, emphasis added) Neubauer could venture no further towards ‘National Bolshevism’ without openly declaring that Stalinist policy in Germany involved and demanded a bloc with the ‘national bourgeoisie’ against the ‘imperialist Western powers’.

30. ‘The Development of the Revolutionary Class Struggle in Germany’, Communist International, Volume 6, no 25, 15 November 1929, p 1019.

31. In Communist International in October 1930, the admission was made that ‘we Communists were late in broadcasting to the masses our revolutionary programme of social and national liberation of Germany’ (Communist International, 15 October 1930, p 247, emphasis in original). O Piatnitsky returned to this question at the Twelfth ECCI Plenum of September 1932, where he declared: ‘The fascists... opposed the Young Plan, and the only thing we did was to call on our comrades to beat up the fascists. Could the petit-bourgeoisie be expected to understand this in any other way than that we were champions of the Young Plan? ... The victory of the Nazis in 1930 can be partly explained by this mistake. If our party, assisted by the Comintern [sic!] had not proclaimed its programme of national and social liberation, it would not have got so many votes.’ (O Piatnitsky, The Work of the Communist Parties of France and Germany (London, 1932), p 29)

32. The first hint of a change of line on the Young Plan came in a speech by Thälmann to the Reichstag on 11 February 1930, when, not to be outdone in patriotic passion by the spokesmen for the National Opposition, he declared, in complete defiance of the fact that considerable layers of the German bourgeoisie stood to gain by the overthrow of the Versailles Treaty and its Young Plan, that ‘today two fronts face each other in Germany: the victims of the Young Plan and all those who benefit from the Young Plan. The victims are toilers without exception. The beneficiaries are all exploiters along with their social fascist and National Socialist agents.’ (International Press Correspondence, Volume 10, no 9, 20 February 1930, p 159) Even the struggle of Luxemburg and Liebknecht was given a ‘national’ coloration, Thälmann claiming that their murder helped make possible the imposition on Germany of the Versailles Treaty! And it was Liebknecht who coined the immortal internationalist slogan ‘The main enemy is at home’.

33. ‘On the Question of National Fascism in Germany’, Communist International, Volume 7, no 10, 1 September 1930, p 168.

34. VI Lenin, ‘"Left-Wing” Communism’, Collected Works, Volume 31, pp 75-77. The 1930 KPD Programme also deviated towards nationalism in that it spoke of the need for the German ‘people’ to struggle not only against the German bourgeoisie (who were portrayed, like the reformists, as traitors) but the bourgeoisies of the Versailles powers. This was of course an embellished, leftist version of the line taken by the SPD leadership on the outbreak of the First World War, when they called on German workers to fight against Tsarist reaction – under the banner of the Hohenzollerns. Here too, the KPD violated Comintern principles of the pre-Stalin period. From 1919 until the Ruhr crisis of 1923, it was made clear to all sections of the Comintern that the prime duty of the KPD was to mobilise the proletariat for the overthrow of its own imperialist bourgeoisie, and that it should have no truck with ‘national’ or ‘people’s’ revolts against the forces of the Entente. Shattering the Versailles Treaty was the prime responsibility of the workers of those countries whose governments had imposed it on Germany. One example will suffice to prove how far the Stalinist KPD had departed from Leninist internationalism by applying Stalin’s line of ‘socialism in one country’ to the class struggle in Germany. A manifesto issued on 2 September 1922 by the ECCI and addressed to the workers of France and Germany (following a meeting of the Communist Parties of the two countries on the question of the Versailles Treaty) did not call upon the German proletariat to ‘shatter the bond of Versailles slavery’, but, on the contrary, summoned them to fight the main enemy at home: ‘... fight the German bourgeois – Social Democratic government, for a proletarian workers’ government, which will relieve the French masses of the fear of a resurgence of German militarism and help them to liberate themselves from the spell of nationalism.’ [Emphasis added] In France, the tactics were different, the goal the same: ‘... struggle against the policy of your government, against French imperialism, not in order to help German imperialism to get on its feet again, but so that the removal of the military pressure of French imperialism may liberate the forces of the German proletariat [not ‘people’ – RB] for the German revolution.’ [Emphasis added]

35. Vying with the Nazis in nationalist fervour more than once found the KPD hopelessly outmanoeuvred by the NSDAP Reichstag fraction. Just before the opening of the newly-elected Reichstag in October 1930, a KPD official wrote that the party’s first demand ‘will be the unconditional cessation of the payment of tribute under the robber Young Plan, which we shall move in the Reichstag. Here the Nazis have to show their true colours.’ (International Press Correspondence, Volume 10, no 45, 2 October 1930, p 946) Unfortunately, the Nazis obliged, for they had not the least compunction in voting for a resolution that expressed the policy of the National Opposition. And so we find the same author, now somewhat embarrassed, admitting two weeks later that ‘for demagogic reasons’ the Nazis intended to vote for the KPD Reichstag resolution against the Young Plan (International Press Correspondence, Volume 10, no 47, 16 October 1930, p 974). And it was certainly not ‘for demagogic reasons’. The Nazis were utterly serious in their imperialist intentions – and this was precisely why Stalin believed they could be harnessed to his strategy of accentuating the divisions and antagonisms between the victors and vanquished of the First World War.

36. M Buber-Neumann, Kriegs-schauplätze der Welt-revolution (Stuttgart, 1967), p 317. Margaret Buber-Neumann, widow of Heinz Neumann (murdered on Stalin’s orders in 1937 while seeking refuge from the Nazis in Moscow), confirms that it was the national as well as the ‘social’ aspects of the KPD 1930 programme that appealed to Scheringer: ‘The abrogation of the shameful Versailles diktat and the destruction of the capitalist system were music in his ears. When the Communists made it plain to him that Germany would only be freed from the bonds of the Versailles peace treaty through a close relationship with Soviet Russia and the help of the Red Army, Scheringer responded more and more to their arguments.’ (p 316)

37. Buber-Neumann, Kriegs-schauplätze der Welt-revolution, p 317.

38. International Press Correspondence, Volume 10, no 45, 2 October 1930, p 946.

39. January 1931 also saw a sinister turn in KPD policy with Walter Ulbricht participating in a debate with Nazi speakers at a NSDAP rally at the Friedrichshain Hall in Berlin on 22 January 1931. The main gist of his speech (reported in full in Die Rote Fahne of 24 January 1931) was that the employers were guilty of not fighting the Young Plan, and were consequently the ‘hod carriers of international high finance’ (a term frequently used by Nazis). Even more revolting was Ulbricht’s demagogic attempt to appeal to Nazi workers on the basis of a shared hostility to Social Democracy, when the KPD should have been coming out clearly for a united front with the SPD against the Nazis, their deluded working-class supporters notwithstanding. A similar line was pursued by Ulbricht in his open letter to NSDAP workers ‘SPD, Nazis and the Workers’ published in Die Rote Fahne of 14 January 1931, where no distinction at all was made between the SPD-ADGB reformist programme of ‘economic democracy’ and the Nazis’ economic policy of ‘the state regulation of working conditions’ under which even the class-collaborationist activities of the works councils would have been ruthlessly eliminated. And it is a distinction that would also have eluded Workers Press, since it too detects a fully-developed ‘corporatism’ – which elsewhere in WRP publications is equated with fascism – in TUC and Labour Party proposals for ‘worker participation’. Unlike Ulbricht and his latter-day emulators, the German employers did appreciate the difference between the two economic programmes, just as in Britain today we can be sure that reformist and centrist schemes for ‘workers’ control’ will be given short shrift by the monopolies when the time comes for them to make a clean sweep of reformist trade unionism and bourgeois democracy.

40. Buber-Neumann, Kriegs-schauplätze der Welt-revolution, p 332, emphasis added. Though confused and wrong in several ways, Mrs Buber-Neumann’s explanation for this incredible remark is highly illuminating, coming from one who was privy to many of the life-and-death decisions taken by the KPD and the ECCI at this time: ‘After 1930 Stalin abandoned all belief in international and world revolution in the old, Bolshevik sense and replaced it by a thorough Russian nationalism... Revolution in neighbouring countries was from now on to be accomplished with the help of the Red Army. This new foreign policy concept, which bore no relation to the original Communist programme of the Bolsheviks, also altered Stalin’s policy towards Germany. In place of Lenin’s hope for the German revolution, Stalin’s efforts were aimed at preventing it. His aim was a nationalist Germany leading to a Communist one. He therefore did everything to make impossible any united Communist – Socialist action. He even went so far as to order the KPD to cooperate with Nazis, at the same time encouraging even more violent opposition against the SPD. Stalin might have been scared of a Socialist – Communist alliance in Germany, because he assumed that the Communists would then come to power and would thus dominate the Comintern through Germany’s industrial strength. So from 1931 he did all he could systematically to weaken the fighting strength of the KPD and thus prevent a Communist revolution.’ (M Buber-Neumann, Von Potsdam nach Moscau (Stuttgart, 1957), pp 284-85) In this same work, the following incident is described, one that took place at Stalin’s Black Sea dacha at Sochi early in 1932: ‘It was now evening, and the whole company took themselves off to a skittle alley... Neumann likened the skittles to the Nazi leaders, and when one was knocked over, he yelled out “That was one for Hitler’s head"... or whatever Nazi leader occurred to him. Stalin seemed irritated by this and finally he retorted: “Look here Neumann! In my opinion this man Hitler is one hell of a fellow."’ (p 317)

41. Sozialdemokratischer Pressedienst, 12 February 1930.

42. V Molotov, ‘Report to Sixth Soviet Congress’, 8 March 1931, quoted in J Degras, Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy, Volume 6 (London, 1952), pp 476-77.

43. Molotov, ‘Report to Sixth Soviet Congress’, 8 March 1931, quoted in J Degras, Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy, Volume 6, p 477.

44. J Valtin, Out of the Night (New York, 1941), p 252.

45. Valtin, Out of the Night, p 253.

46. The KPD’s volte face on the referendum was praised by Piatnitsky at the Twelfth ECCI Plenum in September 1932: ‘You know that the KPD leadership was opposed to participation in the referendum on the dissolution of the Prussian Landtag. Some party newspapers had published editorial articles against participation. But after the Central Committee, in consultation with the Comintern, reached the conclusion that the party should take an active part in the referendum, our German comrades managed in a few days to get the whole party on its feet. [In reality, down on its knees to the Nazis – RB] Apart from the CPSU, no other party could have done that. It shows that the KPD knows how to manoeuvre.’ (O Piatnitsky, The Work of the Communist Parties of France and Germany (London, 1932), pp 24-25)

47. WH (W Hirsch?), ‘The Result of the German Stahlhelm Petition for the Dissolution of the Prussian Diet’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 10, no 23, 30 April 1931, p 429.

48. WH, ‘The Result of the German Stahlhelm Petition for the Dissolution of the Prussian Diet’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 10, no 23, 30 April 1931, pp 429-30.

49. The proceedings of the Plenum, which, under the direct influence of Stalin, codified the new line of welcoming the rise of National Socialism as an objective process accelerating the disintegration of Social Democracy, and therefore not to be viewed with alarm, are discussed in some detail in a note at the end of this chapter.

50. Eleventh Plenum of the ECCI, Theses (London, nd), p 9.

51. Eleventh Plenum of the ECCI, Theses, pp 10-11.

52. J Lipski, Diplomat in Moscow (Colombia University, 1968), pp 40-41, emphasis added. Yet only a month before, after a 100 000 strong KPD rally at the Berlin Lustgarten on 15 June 1931, the bourgeois Der Deutsche, quite overwhelmed by this massive demonstration of the party’s power and proletarian support, commented: ‘Who will be the victor in the struggle for sovereignty in the awe-inspiring kingdom of socialism? Judging by the picture of Berlin yesterday the decision is much inclined to be in favour of Communism.’

53. Flag of Communism, 16 July 1931.

54. ‘Communist Party Demands Presented to Prussian Government’ (Berlin, 21 July 1931), International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, no 39, 23 July 1931, p 722.

55. International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, no 40, 30 July 1931, p 746.

56. International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, no 40, 30 July 1931, emphasis added.

57. LD Trotsky, ‘Against National Communism! (Lessons of the “Red Referendum”)’ (25 August 1931), The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (New York, 1971), pp 105-06.

58. The KPD had campaigned under the slogan ‘Vote for a Red Prussia’; the Nazis: ‘Save Prussia from Marxism.’

59. There is corroborating evidence of a documentary nature that Stalin had indeed firmly opposed the KPD’s taking a revolutionary line in the summer crisis of 1931. Around the time of the Prussian referendum, a special commission composed of representatives of the Soviet government, the CPSU and the ECCI Presidium held a series of secret meetings on the German situation, the details of which were forwarded to the commission by the Soviet Consul General in Hamburg, Krumin. Krumin’s report stated that although the KPD had aligned itself for tactical reasons with the Nazis, the party was on the verge of winning the majority of the workers, but lacked the financial resources to continue with its work. The CPSU Politbureau held an emergency session on 17 August, and after ascertaining that the KPD needed 60 million RM to meet its requirements, put the matter before a joint session of the ECCI Presidium, the CPSU Politbureau and the financial department of the Soviet government. Divisions arose over what policy to pursue in Germany, with the Foreign Commissariat coming firmly down on the side of preserving the status quo and the Kremlin’s strong ties with the German bourgeoisie. A final decision was made on 5 September, when after hearing both points of view, Stalin opted for the policy favoured by Litvinov, on the grounds that a civil war in Germany would worsen the Soviet Union’s relations with Western Europe and would hinder the Five-Year Plan. A Politbureau resolution on the German crisis declared: ‘The chances for a world revolution will be better served through the success of the construction of the Soviet Union and not through street actions which are condemned to failure.’ The details of these events found their way via unknown channels to the Brüning government, the Chancellor seeing the report for the first time on 20 October 1931. He marked on it in his own handwriting ‘Strictly confidential. In no case to name the source of secret report.’ The report is now in the files of the German Foreign Office in Washington, AA 147/2860, 562241-6/A, and is referred to in J Korbel, Poland Between East and West (Princeton, 1963), pp 269-71.

60. W Münzenberg, ‘The Result of the Referendum Action of the KPD’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, no 44, 20 August 1931, p 811.

61. Days after the Harzburg rally, at which the Nazis had pledged themselves to work with the monarchists for the total destruction of Marxism and Bolshevism, Neubauer threw down a challenge to Hitler in the Reichstag, in effect inviting him to join with the KPD in the ‘people’s revolution’ against the ‘foreign yoke’ of Entente capitalism: ‘France is today the concentration centre of the perishing capitalist world, the concentration centre that is directed against another world, namely Soviet Russia... What foreign policy will Hitler conduct? We put it to him concretely. Would Hitler declare to the French we shall not pay anything more? If Hitler were even to hint at such a thing the French would shatter the German industry and the German banks... You, National Socialists, will have to submit to all the conditions which will be put to you.’ (International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, no 54, 15 October 1931, pp 978-79, emphasis added)

62. Fourth Congress of the LSI, Vienna (25 July – 1 August 1931), Reports and Proceedings (London, 1932), p 687.

63. Fourth Congress of the LSI, Vienna (25 July – 1 August 1931), Reports and Proceedings, p 711.

64. Theses (On the Tasks of the Sections), p 7.

65. LD Trotsky, ‘Germany: The Key to the International Situation’ (26 November 1931), The Struggle against Fascism in Germany, p 126.

66. ‘The Increased Danger of Interventionist War Against the USSR and the Tasks of the Communists’, Theses, p 24, emphasis added.

67. International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, no 31, 11 June 1931, p 612.

68. Communist International, 15 June 1931, p 343.

69. Communist International, 15 June 1931, p 345.

70. Communist International, 15 June 1931, p 345.

71. Communist International, 15 June 1931, p 345.

72. Communist International, 15 June 1931, pp 345-46.

73. Speech on the Theses, pp 2-3.

74. Speech on the Theses, pp 41-42.

75. Pravda, 24 April 1931.