Fascism in Germany. Robin Blick 1975

Chapter XXIII: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Franz von Papen

We must admit that even among the revolutionary workers sentiments were expressed to the effect that perhaps after all the Braun – Severing government was a lesser evil than a Hitler – Goebbels government in Prussia. To say the least, this revealed inadequate class consciousness, and for this... we must take responsibility... (Ernst Thälmann, Communist International, Volume 8, no 21, 15 December 1931, p 717)

I have come to know the Reich President as a man in whose word one can trust, a man of pure intentions... (Otto Braun. Prime Minister of Prussia, 10 March 1932)

It is necessary for us to conquer Prussia. The Prussian State must become once again the bulwark of the national idea, the guardian of the Eastern frontier, threatened by death. (Alfred Hugenberg, 22 March 1932)

The 10 months that elapsed between the Harzburg rally of October 1931 and Hitler’s abortive bid for the Chancellorship in August 1932 were a period of deepening economic and political crisis for the bourgeoisie, uninterrupted growth for the Nazi Party and continued headlong retreat on the part of the Stalinist and reformist leaders of the working class. This chapter will attempt to analyse each of these three interrelated processes in turn, and to show how they culminated in the 20 July coup of von Papen against the Social Democratic government of Prussia (the same government that the KPD, together with the Nazis, had attempted to bring down the previous summer in the ‘Red Referendum’), and the high-tide of Nazi strength in the Reichstag elections of 31 July, when the NSDAP received 13.7 million votes – 400 000 more than were given to the two workers’ parties.

Throughout the entire capitalist system, industrial production since 1929 had steadily fallen, trade declined and capital investment dwindled to a trickle. From a 1929 peak of 33 024 million dollars, world exports had plunged by more than half to 12 885 million dollars three years later. Over the same period industrial production in Europe had slumped by 30 per cent, while in the USA, where the crisis had originated, the decline was nearer 40 per cent. And in Britain, to take but one example, new capital issues declined by more than 50 per cent between 1930 and 1932. But nowhere was the economic crisis more severe, and its political consequences more cataclysmic, than in Germany. Industrial production had fallen by 40 per cent overall (well above the average for the capitalist world as a whole), but in certain key sectors of the economy, the slump was worse again. Pig iron output fell from 1.1 million metric tons per month in 1929 to 0.33 in 1932, while steel showed a similar drop – 1.35 million to 0.48 million. Machine production, even with the bonus of its Soviet contracts, fell to a mere 38 per cent of its 1929 level. However, we should also note that there were sectors of German industry not so severely hit by the crisis, namely those concerned not with the extraction and processing of raw materials, but with finished goods for the domestic consumer market, where demand, while obviously reduced by the sharp reduction in spending power of the masses, still retained a certain buoyancy. Textile production, for example, had only dropped by around 10 per cent – far less than the average for the German economy as a whole. Neither were the electrical goods industries, food, etc, so severely affected. The light and medium industries were least hit by the world crisis because they produced almost exclusively for the domestic market, while a considerable portion of Ruhr output before the slump was destined for European and overseas markets. Thus the catastrophic shrinkage of world trade that set in from 1929 discriminated more against heavy than light and medium industry. Overall German exports fell from 124.8 (on a base year of 1927) in 1929 to 53.1 in 1932 – once again, a decline of more than half. So as German capitalism moved into its peak crisis year of 1932, the leaders of the economy confronted a series of problems of a magnitude that could only be resolved by the most drastic and brutal of measures. How was production to be stimulated? Where were the capital reserves to be found to initiate a new upturn in the economic cycle? How could production be expanded when everywhere rival imperialist powers were adopting protectionist policies? How could a domestic market be created without permitting labour power a yet larger proportion of the total product? Would not a revival in production so stimulate the demand for labour power that the trade unions would once again step up their demands for higher wages and the restoration of all the social service cuts undertaken by the Brüning administration? And finally, there were political questions whose solution was imperative before any of the preceding economic issues could be resolved. Could the Weimar system (even in the castrated form that it assumed under Brüning) provide the necessary guarantees that the desired economic upturn would not impart a modicum of resistance even to the reformist leaders of the SPD and ADGB, who, during the period of rising unemployment and the growth of National Socialism, had been intimidated into ‘tolerating’ Brüning’s programme of economic and social retrenchment? Could the Social Democrats, so loyal in past crises, be trusted any longer to endorse and implement the counter-revolutionary programme of big business? Or were the proposed ‘reforms’ of such a severe and thoroughgoing nature that not even the most craven of trade union bureaucrats could be expected to acquiesce in their execution? [1] The nature and extent of the attack on working-class living standards envisaged by the monopolies and banks (and one privately endorsed by their Nazi accomplices) was enunciated with cold brutality by the Berliner Börsen Zeitung on 7 June 1932, at a time when millions of German workers, peasants and urban petit-bourgeois had been reduced to pauperism:

Certainly extreme want exists in some places... Nevertheless, in 1931, the standard of food, clothing and housing of the German people taken as a whole was greater than in 1913; but this is incompatible with their very greatly reduced income... This increasingly low level of existence is the only possibility for a revival of production and thereby for the lessening of unemployment. More work and simpler life – this is the unavoidable fate for Germany. [Emphasis added]

Until 1914, German Social Democracy had been nourished on the sap of a steadily expanding and flourishing capitalism. The outbreak of war found its leaders tying the fate of the movement to the success of the Kaiser’s armies on the battlefields of Europe. There then set in, between 1918 and 1923, a period of social and political turmoil in which the reformist bureaucracy, while always rallying to defend the status quo, had not been obliged to sanction wholesale reductions in the living standards of its millions of supporters in the working class. Indeed, after 1924, a steady rise in wages and an expansion of the welfare budget had enabled the reformists to regain some of the ground lost to the KPD in the previous period of crisis. But now the big bourgeoisie were demanding ‘sacrifices’ far larger than any surrendered by the reformists in the early postwar years. The great historical dilemma confronting the German bourgeoisie, one resolved in spectacular fashion in August 1914 by intimate class-collaboration – with or against the reformist bureaucracy – had been at the heart of every major political controversy since the formation of the Müller government in June 1928. In 1932, the first serious attempts would be made to resolve it in the opposite direction to that of 1914.

The Bourgeoisie Divided

We have said, ‘against the reformists’. But in making that momentous decision, the ruling class was not simply dispensing with the service of its loyal servants in the workers’ movement. An end to ‘toleration’ of the Social Democratic bureaucracy, and with it the organisations upon which it rested and drew its privileges, at once posed the question: upon what social bases would the new regime entrusted with implementing the policies of monopoly capitalism rest? Should the banks, agrarians and trusts revert to the bureaucratic-monarchist type of regime that served them so well under Bismarck and Wilhelm II, a government that while exploiting the leverage that a powerful Nazi movement provided against the workers’ parties and the bourgeois liberals, anchored its rule not on the fascist plebeians, but on their own kith and kin of the Reichswehr? Could Brüning’s half-hearted, tentative Bonapartism be transformed into a permanent system of government, which, once it dispensed with parliamentary reliance on the Social Democrats and the toleration of the trade union bureaucracy, would by-pass the Reichstag entirely? Presidential rule, monarchy without a monarch, was seen as the solution by the majority of business leaders right up to the very eve of Hitler’s accession to power. Very much in a minority (albeit a highly influential and vocal one) were those industrialists and bankers such as Thyssen and Schacht who canvassed for the formation of a Hitler cabinet, and even here they still envisaged the real political power remaining in the hands of the Nazis’ bourgeois coalition partners.

These differences could be masked to a certain extent by the common struggle against the reformists, whose removal from all positions of political and economic influence united the entire National Opposition, and even those in the Centre Party who on other issues were prepared to side with Brüning. But when it came to the point of actually implementing the policies and principles jointly agreed on at Bad Harzburg, the factional struggle between the advocates of a Bonapartist or ‘Presidential’ solution and the supporters of a governmental bloc with the Nazis flared out into the open. The immediate issue which provoked the conflict was the choice of a new President, elections for which were due in the spring of 1932. Around this question there crystallised not two groupings in the bourgeoisie, but three: the Nazis, who at the last moment put forward Hitler as their candidate; the monarchists, represented by Duesterberg; and the bourgeois supporters of Brüning, who came out for a renewed term of office for Hindenburg (the question of the SPD’s endorsement of Hindenburg’s candidature is discussed further on in this chapter).

Initially, Hitler had not intended to run as a candidate in the Presidential elections. Towards the end of 1931, he proposed a deal whereby in return for Nazi acquiescence in another term for the octogenarian marshal, Hindenburg was to effect the dismissal of Chancellor Brüning, whose continued reliance on the Social Democrats blocked the road to the formation of a ‘national’ government, the last step but one before the final triumph of the Nazis. That Hindenburg himself would have favoured the first stage of this development is clear from his letter of 15 February 1932, to his close friend Friedrich von Berg, explaining the reasons for the failure of the right-wing parties and leaders to unite behind a single candidate. Much embarrassed by the support given to him by the Social Democrats, Hindenburg protested:

... the allegation that I am opposed to a rightist government is entirely false. I did not put any obstacle in the path of such a development, nor did Chancellor Brüning. It was the disunity of the right, its inability to agree even on the main points. It is most regrettable that the right – torn as it is – is being led into insignificance and self-destruction by leaders one-sidedly concerned with their party political ambitions. Whether and when this state of affairs will change none can tell... Despite all these setbacks, I shall not give up all my efforts to further a healthy development toward the right. I hope that it will be possible after the Prussian elections [scheduled for 24 April, a month after the Presidential elections]... to resume the negotiations about the formation of a National government of concentration. [Emphasis added]

By ‘leaders one-sidedly concerned with their party political ambitions’ Hindenburg had in mind first of all Hitler, who, at meetings with Schleicher and Brüning on 6 and 7 January respectively, had turned down their compromise solution to the crisis over the Presidential elections. They had proposed to Hitler that the Reichstag extend Hindenburg’s term, thus avoiding the damaging splits and controversies concerning his re-election. In return, Brüning promised to stand down from the Chancellorship to make way for a government of the type favoured by Hindenburg – a cabinet of ‘national concentration’ which dispensed with the support of the Social Democrats and even the sanction of the Reichstag. Hitler would have none of this plan, since its Bonapartist purpose was not only to exclude the SPD, but to deny any direct governmental influence to the Nazis. Instead he demanded new elections to the Reichstag in return, not for an extension of Hindenburg’s term, but Presidential elections in which the entire right-wing bloc would campaign and vote for Hindenburg.

Neither Brüning nor his critics in the Hugenberg wing of the National Opposition had any desire to match their waning mass support against the Nazis in an election contest. The inevitable Nazi landslide would enormously enhance Hitler’s bargaining power in any future negotiations over the formation of a ‘national’ cabinet, and expose the old bourgeois parties as officers without armies. Schleicher’s turn towards collaboration with the Nazis was not intended to draw them into the government – certainly not at this stage – but to exploit their mass appeal among the nationalist petit-bourgeoisie as a counterweight to the reformists and the working class as a whole. As he confided to Brüning’s defence Minister Gröner on 23 March 1932, shortly before the latter’s dismissal, ‘if there were no Nazis, it would be necessary to invent them’. But Hitler’s was a movement in its own right, and was not so easily subordinated to Schleicher’s political ploys as the General would have liked. Following the deadlock with Brüning and Schleicher, Hitler now sought – and gained – an audience with the President himself. What he proposed both astounded and outraged the ageing aristocrat. Hitler would indeed endorse Hindenburg’s Presidential candidature if, in return, Hindenburg would dismiss Brüning and appoint Hitler as the Chancellor of a ‘national’ cabinet. On 12 January, Hitler received official word from the President that his deal had been rejected, that for all his leniency towards the Social Democrats, Brüning was to stay – at least for the duration of the Presidential election campaign and pending the outcome of the crucial election in Prussia. Now Hitler faced the most important political decision of his career. Should he accept the humiliation inflicted on him and his movement, and either tacitly or openly endorse Hindenburg’s candidature; or should he maintain the offensive by running himself for the Presidency, risking defeat and consequent internal strife? Either course was fraught with dangers, since to acquiesce in the election of a President who enjoyed not only liberal bourgeois but Social Democratic backing exposed his leadership to fresh attacks from the Nazi ‘radicals’ and other volkisch dissidents, while to engage in an open fight against the man whom almost the entire bourgeoisie and agrarians regarded as the symbol of ‘national’ Germany would, temporarily at the very least, alienate all but the most fanatical of his supporters and financiers in the business world, and at the precise time when he needed their political and economic assistance more than ever before. The dilemma that faced Hitler at the beginning of 1932 was, in essence, that which had plagued all his attempts to build a mass-based movement of counter-revolution – how simultaneously to protect and strengthen his links with the ruling class while extending the base of his movement amongst the plebeians. Small wonder that the decision whether to run for the Presidency was not taken for a full month.

Hitler’s indecision is reflected faithfully in the diary entries of his propaganda chief Goebbels. On 19 January, he is discussing ‘the question of the presidency with the Führer’ and recording that ‘no decision has yet been reached’, while at the end of the month Hitler’s candidacy is seen as depending on ‘what the Social Democrats do’. [2] Even as late as 9 February with the elections now only a month away, Goebbels notes that after a ‘new debate [with Hitler] on the Presidential elections, everything is still in the air’. The announcement that Hindenburg is to stand again for the Presidency draws from Goebbels the cautious response that ‘now we have a free hand’, [3] but to do what? Three days later the Hugenberg monarchists announce their candidate Duesterberg – but even now, with two rivals in the field, Hitler baulks at joining them. Only on 22 February, after weeks of soul-searching, is Goebbels finally given permission to announce Hitler’s candidacy, to a mass Nazi rally at the Berlin Sportspalast.

So there were now no fewer than three candidates representing various sectors of the ruling class. Around Hindenburg were grouped not merely the wretched reformist bureaucrats, who depicted the unrepentant monarchist as a bulwark of republican legality, but some of the biggest names in German industry and banking. While the Ruhr interests in the main opted either for Hugenberg’s stooge Duesterberg, or in rarer cases Hitler, we find such firms traditionally associated with a more liberal policy such as von Siemens and IG Farben still clinging to the shadow of the Weimar ‘grand coalition’, now ironically personified by the man dedicated to its destruction. Hindenburg was only too aware of his own contradictory position, and on several occasions attempted to pacify his bemused and discountenanced allies in the national camp by explaining that his acceptance of Social Democratic and liberal support was a lesser evil when compared with the disasters that might ensue from a direct confrontation between candidates representing the polarised forces of revolution and counter-revolution. He was, he claimed in a radio address on 10 March, the candidate of national unity and class harmony:

I cannot believe that Germany is to be plunged into domestic feuds and civil war. I recall to you the spirit of 1914 and the front-line attitude which was concerned with the man and not with his social status or his party... I will not give up the hope that Germany will come together again in the new unity.

The next day, Hindenburg issued a statement repudiating charges that he was in any sense a candidate of the left, an accusation that must have outraged this relic of Hohenzollern Germany:

Had I declined, the danger would have arisen that at the second ballot either the candidate of the extreme right or of the extreme left would have been elected. It was false that I have accepted my candidature from the hands of the left or from a black-red [Centre-SPD] coalition. All classes of the population have combined to offer it to me. I would have refused to be the candidate of a party or group of parties.

Unease about the unpredictable alignments occasioned by the Presidential elections extended beyond the highly heterogeneous Hindenburg bloc. Hitler realised that his chosen strategy of assuming power legally required, at some stage in the future, a deal with Hindenburg and the political advisers grouped around him. Under the Weimar Constitution, it was the President that appointed the Chancellor. So long as Hitler sought power by this route, he was obliged to observe its conventions. So Hitler also found himself compelled to justify his candidature – not to his millions of plebeian followers, who were delighted to see their Führer cock a snook at the ‘united front’ of superannuated monarchists, plutocrats and ‘Jewish Bolsheviks’ – but to his present or potential supporters in the business world, who must have found his tactics divisive and exasperating in the extreme. This he did in an open letter addressed to Hindenburg, expressing profound regret that he could not agree to Brüning’s proposal to avoid the contest by extending the President’s term of office: ‘Old man, we honour you too much to suffer that those whom we want to destroy should use you as a front. We are sorry, but you must step aside, for they want to fight, and so do we.’

At the first ballot, with the SPD machine working in top gear on his behalf, Hindenburg failed by a mere 0.4 per cent to secure the required majority. Full returns were: (in millions) Hindenburg: 18.6; Hitler: 11.3; Thälmann: 5.0; Duesterberg: 2.6. Quite apart from the continued upwards surge of the Nazis – from 6.7 million votes in September 1931 to 11.3 million 18 months later – there is the incredible fact that the open candidates of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat received between them only 20 per cent of the total poll. The bulk of the workers had been dragged by their leaders – in most cases against their better class instincts – behind the ‘non-class’ and ‘national’ camp of Hindenburg, leaving the Stalinists with a mere five million proletarian votes, while Duesterberg, the candidate of the Ruhr and the East Prussian agrarians, could barely secure half of this sum. The nationalist masses had deserted the National Opposition monarchists for Hitler, attracted by the latter’s counter-revolutionary dynamism and social demagogy. This contradiction was partly resolved on the second ballot, when the Hugenberg faction withdrew Duesterberg and instructed their supporter’s to vote for Hitler, suggesting that the Harzburg Front still maintained a modicum of inner unity when confronted by the common enemy. [4] As the ultra-nationalist Deutsche Zeitung put it: ‘... the present issue is whether the internationalist traitors and pacifist swine, with the approval of Hindenburg, are to bring about the final ruin of Germany.’ And the paper was referring not to the supporters of Thälmann, but the Social Democrats, bourgeois democrats and Catholics behind Hindenburg!

As expected, in the second ballot held on 10 April, Hindenburg emerged the clear victor, even though the bulk of the Duesterberg vote – and a far smaller slice of that of Thälmann, who stood once again – went to Hitler. The final returns were: Hindenburg: 19.4 million (53 per cent); Hitler: 13.4 million (36.8 per cent) and Thälmann: 3.7 million (10.2 per cent). So in his first serious trial of strength with the Weimar bloc, Hitler had received a serious setback. Moreover, electoral defeat involved Hitler and the Nazi high command in fresh internal disputes over the question of tactics and strategy. On the eve of the first poll, anticipating victory, Röhm had deployed several hundred thousand SA men around Berlin, a move which not only alarmed the legal rulers of Germany, but Hitler, since he had no intention of repeating on a national scale the error and disaster of the 1923 Munich Putsch. The SA remained at full battle stations up to the day of the run-off ballot, indicating that the SA leadership had refused to acquiesce in Hitler’s ‘constitutional’ path towards power. Goebbels, the ex-'radical’, understood well the forces that were activating the SA ranks, but, as one of Hitler’s closest confidants, knew that the time had not come to harness them for the task of dismembering the workers’ movement. First, the Nazis had to gain a foothold in the government, and a premature ‘putsch’ would ruin the prospects of such a development. As he noted on 2 April:

The SA getting impatient. It is understandable enough that the soldiers begin to lose morale through these long, drawn-out political contests. It has to be stopped, though, at all costs. A premature push, or worse still, an overt gesture of compulsion would nullify the whole of our future. [5]

Bearing in mind that the Hitler strategy for power visualised as the intermediate stage between Brüning and a Nazi regime the formation of a ‘national’ government, with National Socialist support, we can understand Goebbels’ alarm at the prospect of an SA revolt. At all costs, the movement’s links with the ‘national’ opposition to Brüning and Weimar had to be preserved, especially at a time when relations between the party and the army, after years of mutual hostility, had on a joint initiative of Schleicher and Röhm begun to improve. Yet Hitler could not afford to move too openly or harshly against his SA ‘radicals’ for the day was not far off when he would summon them for the final battle against the organised proletariat.

Hitler was saved from the embarrassment of once again calling his plebeians to order by the action of the Brüning government, which, in the wake of Hindenburg’s election victory, moved quickly to impose a ban on all paramilitary formations of the NSDAP. Although opposed by Schleicher (who, as has been noted, valued the Nazis as a counterweight to the reformists and the organised working-class movement), Brüning and his Defence Minister Gröner succeeded in persuading Hindenburg to sign the decree outlawing the SA, which became law on 14 April.

Brüning’s stroke against the SA initially stunned the Nazi leadership, and superficially appeared to strengthen his own position. But in a matter of weeks, even days, it became evident that it had accelerated his own political demise.

The Fall of Brüning

Bonapartism as a species of state power can present an outward face of strength and stability. It embodies the extreme centralisation of state authority, the usurpation of the legislature and the party-political system, and, more often than not, involves the direct intervention of the armed forces and the police in the formulation of government policy. Hence the appearance of stability, of independence from the turmoil associated with a parliamentary regime in crisis, and from the sectional interests which those parties seek to represent. But herein also lies the organic instability of Bonapartism. Arising on the basis of a temporary social and political equilibrium between the classes and within the various contending factions of the ruling class, and in attempting to maintain this equilibrium ‘administratively’, by regulating social conflicts and political divisions, it necessarily inherits, in an ever more acute fashion, all the contradictions which have undermined the more normal forms of bourgeois rule, and prepared the ground for the rise of Bonapartism. Resting on this temporary and precarious social equilibrium, and consequently also deriving its partial political independence from the ruling class from this mutual counter-balancing, the Bonapartist regime will immediately be threatened by any shift, however slight, in the relative strength of the contending forces at the base. Brüning’s was a regime which from the autumn of 1930, when it placed its continued survival in the hands of the SPD, leaned to the left on the reformist bureaucracy, and, through this stratum, on the millions of workers who remained tied to it – largely as a result of the criminally adventurist policies of the KPD Stalinists. But although inclining to the left, where it found a degree of mass support mediated through the reformists that Brüning himself lacked, his regime also sought to extend its base to the right, beyond the bourgeois liberals, the Centre politicians and the German hierarchy, through the defectors from the Hugenberg nationalists even as far as attempting to effect a working compromise with the Nazis. Such a deal, even assuming that Hitler would honour his side of the bargain by not striving for a monopoly of power, was however impossible so long as Brüning continued to lean on the reformists. Brüning needed their ‘toleration’; Hitler their annihilation. Brüning used the Nazi threat to club the trade union and SPD bureaucrats into submission, but also saw in it his own political death. Thus we find Brüning throughout his two years of office pursuing a political course which, while oscillating in both directions, back-tracked consistently towards the left and the reformists who held in their hands the fate of his regime.

It is of the very nature of Bonapartist governments that they attempt to ‘freeze’ social and political relations, that they attempt to preserve the equilibrium of social forces that first brought them to power. But the world economic crisis did not ‘freeze’ at its March 1930 level, and, consequently, neither did its most acute manifestations in Germany. The deepening of these economic and social tensions arising from the world crisis found its expression on the political-parliamentary plane in the far too slow growth of the KPD at the expense of the SPD to Brüning’s left, and the continued explosive upsurge of National Socialism to his right. In September 1930, 6.7 million voters opted for the Nazis. By April 1932, this number doubled, while the combined strength of the workers’ parties over the same period had slightly declined. These profound dislocations of the political equilibrium that produced Brüning’s semi-Bonapartist government, with its reliance on Social Democratic support in the Reichstag on the one hand, and Hindenburg’s endorsement of his decrees on the other, were already subjecting the Chancellor to unendurable pressures and tensions. Hence the ban on the SA. But what finally brought Brüning down was the shift at the top, in the bourgeoisie itself, in the army leadership and amongst the agrarians, away from Brüning’s policy of maintaining the semblance of the old Weimar bloc, based on the compromise enacted in the wake of the November Revolution between the Centre, the SPD and the now-defunct bourgeois democrats.

Writing in January 1932, Trotsky characterised the Brüning regime as one which danced:

... on a tightrope between two irreconcilable camps, balancing itself with the emergency decrees instead of a pole. But such a condition of the state and the administration is temporary in character. It signalises the transition period, during which the Social Democracy is on the verge of exhausting its mission, while in that same period, neither Communism nor fascism is ready as yet to seize power. [6]

But Brüning’s fragile semi-Bonapartism was not the final transitional regime before the establishment of fascism or the seizure of power by the proletariat. Using the analogy of the Russia of 1917, the transition to each of these conclusions would be opened by a ‘Kerensky’ government, either of the left, or of the right. Such was the intended function of the von Papen regime, installed with Nazi support, and ‘tolerated’ by Hitler as long as Papen performed his allotted role of beating back the organised proletariat and hounding the reformist bureaucrats from their last redoubts in the state and government apparatus of Prussia. The first blows against Brüning had of course been struck as far back as October 1931, when a highly influential group of bankers and industrialists repudiated his policy of piecemeal economic and social ‘reforms’ and opted for the more radical programme advocated by Schacht and Thyssen. The result was their participation in the Harzburg rally of the National Opposition. Brüning then sought to adapt to this pressure from the right, by restructuring his cabinet and introducing yet more cuts in wages and welfare payments. But there were limits to the attacks Brüning could unleash on the working class without risking an open split with the reformist bureaucracy which supported his regime from the left, and the most reactionary sections of big business were aware of them. Resistance to further attacks on the living conditions of the working class came even from within Brüning’s own party, which, as we have noted, comprised a potentially unstable bloc of clerical, bourgeois and Catholic trade union elements. Minister of Labour Stegerwald, a prominent Catholic trade union official, issued a public warning to profit-hungry employers that their greed might provoke the proletariat into open rebellion unless they agreed to curb it. On 27 November 1931, with new deflationary measures by the cabinet due to be enacted on 8 December, he declared:

The withdrawal of the protection of wages, which has been demanded by the employers, would be very tactless under the present circumstances and would cause political disturbances on a large scale. A certain protection of wages in Germany will be an absolute necessity for the next few years.

The effect of Brüning’s decree was to reduce all wage rates to the level of 1927, while the budget showed a reduction of 25 per cent on the previous financial year as a result of the Chancellor’s cuts in social services. Yet still the monopolies and banks were not satisfied, even when the same Stegerwald boasted to a meeting of the Centre Party in Munster on 8 December that ‘an attack has been made by the Reich’s government not only on wages but also on prices to an extent unknown in the history of any other modern state’, even claiming that Brüning ‘has in many respects gone farther than Mussolini did in Italy years ago’.

While this statement spoke volumes for the real class nature and intent of ‘social catholicism’, it cut precious little ice with the leaders of heavy industry, who were now passing over to the side of the National Opposition. They correctly saw in Mussolini’s fascist corporate state not only a regime which served capital by cutting wages and reducing social services (the National Government of Ramsey Macdonald was implementing the same programme in Britain), but which went further than any other reactionary bourgeois government by physically destroying the organisations which the proletariat had built to defend itself against such attacks. This was the appeal of fascism to the big bourgeoisie, and Brüning, for all his decrees and emergency measures, and despite all Stalinist claims to the contrary, could not institute such a system. Hence the gravitation of big business away from Brüning, through the monarchists and eventually, after a period of experimentation with the Bonapartist regimes of von Papen and Schleicher, into a bloc with the Nazis.

Although serious negotiations between Hitler and leaders of big business date from the early crisis months of 1930, the final decision to endorse the formation of a Nazi-led cabinet of ‘National Concentration’ was not made by the main representatives of industry and finance until the early days of 1933. A turning point in this process of the coming together of the monopolies and fascism was reached in January 1932, when Hitler delivered his speech to the assembled Ruhr tycoons of the Düsseldorf Industry Club. [7]

Thyssen says of this speech, made in the Park Hotel on 27 January 1932, and lasting some two-and-a-half hours, that it ‘made a deep impression on the assembled industrialists and in consequence of this a number of large contributions flowed from the resources of heavy industry into the treasuries of the National Socialist Party’, [8] a claim supported from within the Nazi movement by Otto Dietrich, who writes:

The twenty-seventh of January 1932 will always remain a memorable day in the history of the NSDAP. On this day, our leader succeeded in piercing the armour of the West German industrial magnates. On this evening, Hitler achieved decisive success in the Industrial Club in Düsseldorf. [9]

The Nazi press chief sets the scene for what was to be one of Hitler’s most decisive political speeches:

We came from Godesberg, and drove up to the Park Hotel, amidst the hooting of the Marxists. The room was overcrowded. Huddled together sat the chief West German magnates. There were familiar and unfamiliar faces. Men in the public eye, and those quiet, but no less influential powers, who moving behind the scenes, control the fate of the economy by the soft sounds issuing from their private offices. Joyful expectation brightened the faces of those already converted. But the vast majority bore an air of superiority and cold reserve – probably flattered that Hitler had approached them. Mere curiosity, and general interest, lured them to the meeting. They wanted to hear Hitler speak. They had no intention of being converted; they came to criticise, seeking confirmation of their own infallible opinion. [10]

Hitler’s speech dealt at some length with a number of familiar Nazi themes – the incompatibility of parliamentary democracy and an organised and independent workers’ movement with the continued existence of German monopoly capitalism; the need for imperialist ‘living space’ in the Soviet east; the impossibility of rebuilding Germany’s military and economic strength until Marxism and the last vestiges of internationalism had been ripped out of the proletariat, and finally the unavoidable necessity of the ‘plebeian’ solution to the political and economic problems of the bourgeoisie, however distasteful this might be to exponents of more genteel forms of political struggle:

Private property can be morally and ethically justified only if I admit that men’s achievements are different. Only on that basis can I assert: since men’s achievements are different, the results of those achievements are also different. But if the results of those achievements are different, then it is reasonable to leave to men the administration of those results to a corresponding degree... Thus it must be admitted that in the economic sphere, from the start, in all branches men are not of equal value or of equal importance. And once this is admitted it is madness to say: in the economic sphere there are undoubtedly differences in value, but that is not true in the political sphere. It is absurd to build up economic life on the conceptions of achievement, of the value of personality, while in the political sphere you deny this authority, and thrust in its place the law of the greatest number democracy. In that case there must slowly arise a cleavage between the economic life on the conceptions of achievement, of the value of personality, while in the political sphere you deny this authority, an attempt will be made to assimilate the former into the latter – indeed, the attempt has been made, for this cleavage has not remained bare pale theory. The conception of the quality of values has already, not only in politics but in economics also, been raised to a system... This economic system is alive in gigantic organisations [that is, those of the German working class – RB] and it has already today inspired a state which rules over immense areas [the USSR].

But I cannot regard as possible that the life of a people should in the long run be based on two fundamental conceptions... It is absurd to allow this principle to hold good only in one sphere – the sphere of economic life and leadership – and to refuse to acknowledge its vitality in the sphere of politics... In the economic sphere Communism is analogous to democracy in the political sphere. We find ourselves today in a period in which these two fundamental principles are at grips in all spheres which come into contact with each other; already they are invading economics... This struggle will continue until a nation is finally engulfed in internationalism and democracy and thereby falls into complete disintegration, or else creates for itself once more a new logical form for its internal life [that is, a fascist dictatorship – RB] ... For 50 years you may amass wealth, and then in three years of mistaken political decisions you can destroy all the results of the work of those 50 years ['very true’ from the audience]... We see that since the world war there was no further important extension of export markets: on the contrary, we see the numbers of those export markets contracted, that the number of exporting nations gradually increased, and that a great number of former export markets became themselves industrialised, while finally a new wholesale exporter, the American Union, can reckon on advantages which we in Europe assuredly do not and cannot possess. And as the last momentous feature we regard the fact that, parallel with the gradual growth of confusion in Europe, a world outlook has seized on a part of Europe and a great part of Asia which threatens to tear this continent out of the framework of international economic relations altogether... Cannot people see that in our midst already a cleavage has been opened up... which is not merely a fancy born in the heads of a few persons but whose spiritual exponents form today the foundations of one of the greatest world powers? Can they not see that Bolshevism today is not merely a mob storming about in some of our streets in Germany, but is a conception of the world which is in the act of subjecting to itself the entire Asiatic continent? ... Bolshevism, if its advance is not interrupted, will transform the world as completely as in time past did Christianity... it is not as if this gigantic phenomenon could simply be thought away from the modern world... Do you believe that when seven or eight million men have found themselves for 10 or 20 years excluded from the national process of production that for these masses Bolshevism could appear as anything else than the logical theoretical complement of their practical, economic situation? ...

There has arisen such an increase in productive capacity that the present possible consumption market stands in no relation to this increased capacity. But if Bolshevism as a world idea tears the Asiatic continent out of the human economic community, then the conditions for the employment of these industries which have developed on so gigantic a scale will no longer be even approximately realised... it was not German business that conquered the world, followed by the development of power, but the power-state which created for the business world the general conditions for its subsequent prosperity ['very true’ from the audience]. There is only one solution – the realisation that there can be no flourishing economic life which has not before it and behind it a flourishing, powerful state as its protection... There can be no economic life unless behind this economic life there stands the determined political will of the nation ready to strike – and strike hard... The essential thing is the formation of the political will of the nation, that is the starting point for political action...

What use is it for a government to publish a decree with the aim of saving the people’s economic life, when the nation... has two completely different attitudes towards economics? One section says: the precondition for economics is private property; the other section maintains that private property is theft... You may raise the objection that these views represent pure theory: no! Was a view only theory when as its consequence the revolution broke out in 1918 and ruined Germany? ... I believe that such views, unless we give a clear understanding of them, must lead to the disruption of the body politic... the government says, the state must be saved, but another 50 per cent of the people wish only to smash the state in pieces and feel themselves to be the vanguard not only of an alien attitude towards the state... but of a will which is hostile to the state... It is no good appealing for national unity when only 50 per cent of the people are ready to fight for the national colours, while 50 per cent have hoisted another flag which stands for a state which is to be found only outside the bounds of their own state... How is a people still to count for anything abroad when in the last resort 50 per cent are inclined to Bolshevism and 50 per cent are nationalists or anti-Bolshevists? It is quite inconceivable to turn Germany into a Bolshevist state... It is also quite conceivable to build up Germany as a national state. But it is conceivable that one should create a strong and sound Germany if 50 per cent of the citizens are Bolshevists and 50 per cent nationally minded ['very true!’ from the audience]. From the solution of this problem we cannot escape [loud applause]...

For even though today there are many in Germany who believe that we National Socialists would not be capable of constructive work, they deceive themselves! If we were not, already today there would be no more bourgeoisie alive in Germany, the question of Bolshevism or not Bolshevism would have long ago been decided. Take the weight of our organisations, by far the greatest organisation of the new Germany – out of scale of nationalist fortunes and you will see that without us, Bolshevism would already tip the balance – a fact of which the best proof is the attitude adopted towards us by Bolshevism. Personally I regard it as a great honour when Mr Trotsky calls upon German Communists at any price to act together with the Social Democrats, since National Socialism must be regarded as the one real danger for Bolshevism...

Here [in the NSDAP] is an organisation which is filled with an indomitable, aggressive spirit, an organisation which when a political opponent says ‘Your behaviour we regard as a provocation’ does not see fit immediately to retire from the scene, but brutally enforces its own will and hurls against the opponent the retort: ‘We fight today! We fight tomorrow! And if you regard our meeting today as a provocation we shall hold another next week – until you have learned that it is no provocation when Germany also proves its belief...’ And when people cast in our teeth our intolerance, we proudly acknowledge it – yes, we have formed the inexorable decision to destroy Marxism in Germany down to its very last root. The bourgeois parties had 70 years to work in; where, I ask you, where is the organisation which could be compared with ours? Where is the organisations which can boast, as ours can, that at need it can summon 400 000 men into the street, men who are schooled to blind obedience and are ready to execute any order...?

I know quite well, gentlemen, that when National Socialists march through the streets and suddenly in the evening there arises a great tumult and commotion, then the bourgeois draws back the window curtain, looks out and says: Once more my night’s rest disturbed... Why must the Nazis always be so provocative and run about the place at night? Gentlemen, if everyone thought like that, then one’s sleep would not be disturbed, it is true. But then the bourgeois today could not venture into the streets... [emphasis added]

Dietrich records the changing reactions of the audience to this remarkable speech:

The general impression upon this group of most impassive listeners was astounding. After an hour, their chilly reserve gave way to intense interest. They began to flush, fixed their gaze upon our leader and it seemed as if their hearts were moved. He spoke to their very souls. Faint, then thundering applause greet Hitler at the conclusion of his speech; he had won a battle. [11]

Hitler’s place at the speaker’s rostrum (which throughout his address was flanked by a guard of SA men) was then taken by Thyssen, ‘for long an ardent National Socialist’ who ‘sounded Brüning’s death knell as he stated our creed of Liberation: Only National Socialism and its Leader’s spirit could save Germany from her doom.’ [12]

Even if the National Opposition found itself divided in the approaching Presidential elections, a considerable degree of agreement was evident in business circles over the dire need to remove the ‘Marxist'-tolerated Brüning government. Here Hitler’s pledge to destroy the German workers’ movement ‘down to its very last root’ placed him in an advantageous tactical position for the political battles to come. As Dietrich (not only Hitler’s press chief, but an important liaison man between the party and heavy industry) observed, ‘the effect [of the speech] upon the economists... was great, and evident during the next hard months of struggle’. [13] And in fact the very day after his Düsseldorf triumph, Hitler:

... addressed with equal success the Crefeld silk magnates in Godesberg, [and] later the National Club in Hamburg. Everywhere the scene was the same. Our leader’s power of conviction and his indefatigable pioneer work successfully pierced the armour of economy. His plan succeeded... The seed of National Socialism had found fertile soil in the important and influential circles of the old system. The clouds began to gather around Brüning. [14]

Also on the day following the Düsseldorf meeting there was held at Thyssen’s castle at Landsberg a conference between Thyssen, Ernst Pönsgen and Albert Vögler of the Steel Trust, and on behalf of the NSDAP, Hitler, Goering and Röhm. According to a later account of the meeting given by Pönsgen, Goering asked the three steel barons whether they would support the appointment, as Hitler’s Minister of Labour, of Ludwig Grauert, Chairman of the Employers’ Federation and a recent convert to the Nazi cause. The outcome of these negotiations proved abortive (the Stahlhelm leader Franz Seldte, and not Grauert, became Labour Minister in the Nazi – Nationalist coalition of January 1933), but they did reveal on the part of a powerful section of the monopoly bourgeoisie a growing awareness that at some time in the near future, the question of bringing the Nazis into the government would have to be faced up to, before the movement lost its forward impetus and its effectiveness as a counter-weight to the workers’ parties and the trade unions. Thyssen (by this time a party member) made no attempt to conceal his political sympathies for the NSDAP in the forthcoming Presidential elections. ‘I am voting for Adolf Hitler’, he announced, ‘because I know him well and am firmly convinced that he is the only man who can and will rescue Germany from ruin and disintegration.’

The prospects of ruin and disintegration, though on a company and not national scale, were also instrumental in propelling towards the Nazis another illustrious name in the German steel industry – Friedrich Flick. Early in 1932, Vögler, Chairman of Flick’s United Steel Works, secretly informed the German civil service that the concern would shortly collapse unless it was provided with considerable credits. The effect on the German economy would of course have been disastrous since the United Steel Works accounted, in 1932, for 38 per cent of all German steel output. [15] The immediate cause of the crisis in the Flick combine was, of course, the world economic situation, with its attendant slump in demand for the products of basic and heavy industries. But Flick’s own methods of trust-building also contributed to the near-bankruptcy that faced him in early 1932. His system of securing control over nominally independent companies by acquiring in them a minority but controlling interest, had seriously depleted his own liquidity reserves, a policy whose dangerous implications were masked, but not overcome, by the period of industrial expansion between 1924 and 1928.

The plight of the Steel Trust was accurately reflected in the last quotation for its shares on the Berlin Bourse at the end of 1931. On their flotation, Steel Trust shares stood at 125 per cent of their nominal value. Now they barely fetched 15 per cent. The Brüning government therefore had no alternative but to pump fresh reserves into the foundering concern; buying up roughly half of its stock (worth nominally 125 million marks) not at the market price, but for 100 million marks – 90 per cent of their face value, and more than five times the price they could command on the Berlin Bourse. Flick and his associates acquired the liquid funds necessary to avert bankruptcy, and the state became a temporary part-owner of Germany’s largest concern. The question which remained to be settled was – to whom would the ownership of the state’s shares revert, and at what price, when the time came for private industry to claim its own? In common with not only his fellow directors of the United Steel Works, but large sectors of heavy industry, Flick had, by the beginning of 1932 at the latest, come to regard the participation of the Nazis in a future ‘national’ government almost inevitable. The NSDAP leadership would, therefore, have their own views on how the affairs of the Steel Trust should be resolved, and in whose favour. Accordingly, through the good offices of Walter Funk, Flick met Hitler in February 1932 to discuss this and other, broader problems concerned with future political developments in Germany. Though this meeting was Flick’s first encounter with the Nazis, his private secretary Otto Steinbrinck had been in touch with the NSDAP since 1930. And at the Nuremberg Trials he explained why, in a remarkable lucid and class-conscious manner:

A concern of the importance of Flick’s group cannot stay out of politics in the long run, although until about 1930, we took no notice of politics [Flick himself was a not very active supporter of the DVP – RB], particularly in view of the fact that we had close connections with the United Steel Works and through the leading members of the United Steel Works had a series of contacts with parliament and the press. When the crisis of 1931-32 began, this picture changed. In connection with the problem of unemployment the difficulties among the parties of the Left, that is the Communists and the Socialists, increased and correspondingly the movement of the groups of the Right were increased too. One has to consider that our plants were situated in the most radical territories of the Reich; that is Saxony... This district has always been one of the reddest parts of Germany, and the plants Brandenburg and Hennigsdorf, very close to Berlin, were almost on the same level as this Red Saxony. That’s why our plant managements in these plants... were rather worried because the same troubles which we had experienced eight years previously might revive again... Consequently we observed the formation of radical groups, as well as of independent groups and also the formation of opposed groups. Those were the Stahlhelm, later the SA and the SS, and also the more central groups, the Iron Front [the SPD-dominated Republican Defence organisation, formed in the spring of 1932 – RB]. All of these movements we watched with great interest from Berlin and from the plants. That was one reason for our first contact with politics. Up to that time, wherever interesting political questions turned up we had always been able to rely on the support of Baron von Richthofen in the parties of the centre, and in the parties of the right on Vögler, Hugenberg and Dr Reichart. [16]

The affairs of the Flick concern had become such a public scandal by 1931 that the company had become a target for demagogic attacks by the Nazi press, and it was in order to silence Flick’s fascist critics that Steinbrinck made his first serious approach to the NSDAP, though he had met Ley, Funk and Keppler during the course of the previous year. Steinbrinck met the aristocratic Berlin SA chief Count Heldorf in order to secure a better press for the ailing Steel Trust. In return, Steinbrinck agreed to take part ‘in an open rally as listener on the benches of the NSDAP’, [17] and later, to provide cash for the party treasury (much depleted by the two Presidential election campaigns of March and April 1932). Steinbrinck’s other channel of communication to the Nazi leadership went through Funk’s business news service: ‘In this way we first made contact with Robert Ley and Count Reischach, who were the press representatives for the party.’ [18] Funk he had known well since 1928, and it was Hitler’s future Economics Minister who arranged the meeting between Hitler and Flick in February 1932. Of these initial contacts with the Nazis, Steinbrinck stated that they had the full approval of Flick himself. There was no question of their being broken off, ‘because in 1932, in the big economic crisis, there was still the very grave danger of a Communist revolution, which... could only be stopped by the right-wing parties, Stahlhelm, SA’. [19]

Steinbrinck says little of the meeting between Flick and Hitler, merely that his chief ‘had a long private chat’ with the Nazi leader. Some agreement does seem to have been reached, however, on the policy a future Nazi government would adopt towards the Steel Trust. For in a later series of discussions with Goering, Flick secured Hitler’s approval of the sale of the trust’s shares to the Brüning Government, as was established some eight years later in a letter from Odilo Burkart, a Nazi industrialist, to Mining Director Dr Gillitzer. Dated 17 September 1940, the letter stated:

With respect to the sale of the Stahlverein majority shares Herr Flick has asked me to inform you officially as follows: ‘The sale of the majority shares in the Stahlverein had been personally examined and sanctioned at the time – in the year 1932 by the present Reich Marshal [Goering] in conference, at the Belle Vue Strasse which lasted several days. The Reich Marshal has further personally reported the transaction relating to the majority shares of the Stahlverein to the Führer with the result that the Führer has also recognised this transaction as necessary and has explicitly approved it.’ [20]

Although occasioned by exceptional circumstances, and being something in the nature of an insurance policy, Flick’s cautious move towards the Nazis was part of a general rightwards shift against Brüning under way in the winter and spring months of 1932. Keppler was in the early stages of forming his ‘circle’ at this time, having been told in December 1931 by Hitler ‘to get a few economic leaders – they need not be party members – who will be at our disposal when we come to power’. [21] Fellow Nazi manufacturer Fritz Kranefuss assisted him in this work, ‘winning for my idea men whom I had not previously known personally’, [22] to such good effect that by May the circle was large and sympathetic enough to hold its first meeting. Keppler related that:

... the Führer received the gentlemen in the small hall of the Kaiserhof [the Berlin headquarters of the NSDAP] on 18 May 1932... The Führer made a short speech and in it disclosed among other things, as points of his programme, abolition of the trade unions and the abolition of parties other than the NSDAP. No one raised any objection. These points of the Führer’s programme met with the fullest approval of the members of the Circle of Friends, but they expressed their apprehension that we would not be able to carry out these excellent ideas. [23]

So the leaders of German industry and finance knew exactly who and what they were supporting when they entered into political relations with the Nazis. Destruction of the parliamentary system, destruction of the trade unions – these were the twin planks in Hitler’s platform that, from the spring of 1932 on, attracted ever greater numbers of businessmen into and around the NSDAP. [24]

Thyssen summed up the mood of German business leaders at this time when he later told Rauschning:

We thought [at first] Brüning was our man. But we couldn’t make out what he was up to... what will be the end of it when they start confiscating? If private property is only tolerated so to speak, there won’t be much left after the next chap has come along and taken his whack. Brüning was obstinate enough to let half the business concerns go bankrupt, and that’s what he called putting industry on a sound footing. Breaking the revolution by timely reforms, he called it. And who backed him up? Not even his own party. [25]

Growing dissatisfaction with Brüning in business circles (reflected in the activities of the Keppler Circle) merged with the revolt against the Chancellor by army and agrarian leaders. Brüning’s decree banning the SA outraged even moderate ‘national’ opinion, since it was not balanced by a similar outlawing of the Reichsbanner, the SPD defence formation. Brüning still needed his allies on the left in the reformist bureaucracy, and now not only industry but the Reichswehr deemed this course intolerable. And what was even more telling against Brüning and his Defence and Interior Minister Gröner, these forces had the backing of President Hindenburg. The news that Brüning’s decree had aroused deep hostility in these august circles quickly percolated back to the Nazi leadership, for on 14 April, Goebbels remarked: ‘Gröner has launched his bolt. But perhaps it will prove his undoing. We are informed that Schleicher does not agree with his action.’ [26] And it is easy to see why, in view of his letter of 25 March to Gröner, which after making derogatory remarks about the Prussian Social Democrats for their placing curbs on the activities of the SA during the Presidential election campaign, made the classic Bonapartist observation:

After the events of the last few days, I am really quite happy that we have a counterbalance in the form of the Nazis, even though they are ill-behaved and to be used only with greatest care. Indeed, if the Nazis did not exist, we should have had to invent them.

Death sentence on Gröner, the ‘strong man’ of the Brüning cabinet, was passed by the President in a letter to the Defence and Interior Minister, which demanded the repression of the SPD defence formation, a concession which Gröner was not prepared to grant. That Hindenburg’s communication found its way into the national press was taken as confirmation of the President’s determination to oust not only Gröner, but Brüning, the same Brüning who had, only a matter of days before, secured Hindenburg’s re-election to the Presidency. Gröner also saw things in this light, confiding to a close friend on 25 April that his ruin was ‘being readied with all available means. Hindenburg has bared his old conservative heart and desires a government oriented even further to the Right than that of Brüning.’ The Chancellor attempted to stave off his own removal by offering Gröner’s head on a platter to his enemies after a bitter debate in the Reichstag on 10 May over the ban on the Nazi fighting organisations. A broken man, Gröner resigned three days later, full of remorse for his decision of 29 January, which lifted his ban on Nazi membership of the Reichswehr.

By this time, Brüning’s end was in sight too, for the elections to the Prussian Diet, held on 24 April, had administered a crushing blow to his Reichstag allies, the SPD. As in the other state elections held on the same day in Bavaria and Württemberg, the Nazis made enormous gains at the expense of the old bourgeois parties with the exception of the Centre, while on the left, the KPD was able to make only marginal inroads into the voting strength of the Social Democrats, as the table below illustrates:

Elections to the Prussian Diet, April 1932
PartyVotes (millions)SeatsSeats in previous Diet
DDP (State)0.3222
Christian Socialist0.324

In the old Prussian Diet, the SPD – Centre coalition, though two seats short of an absolute majority, could rely on the support of the DDP and even the DVP while the two parties shared office in the Müller cabinet. The mass defection of the former liberal middle class to the Nazis had reduced the Diet fractions of the DDP (now the State Party) and the DVP to mere rumps. And what was even worse for the reformists, the results of the elections showed that while a small proportion of their proletarian supporters had deserted to the KPD, their middle-class following had passed over en masse to the Nazis, rendering the combined vote of the two workers’ parties in the Diet 35 seats less than in the old house. Now the parties of the National Opposition – the NSDAP, DNVP and DVP – were the dominant bloc with 200 seats as against 150 for the KPD and the SPD. In which direction would the Centre, without whose support a new cabinet could not be formed, turn? This was the question that preoccupied the German press and party leaders in the days and weeks that followed the elections. No party or class could remain indifferent to the outcome of the struggle for power in Prussia, since involved here was not simply a scramble for cabinet posts, but the destiny of Germany’s largest and historically and strategically most decisive state. Even before the elections, the Nazis had begun to make fresh overtures to the Centre. On 6 April, Goebbels addressed a meeting of the Centre Party at Aachen, and commented afterwards that ‘things are better than I thought’. [27] On the morrow of the Prussian election, we find Goebbels taking a similar line: ‘The Centre is playing the silent wiseacre. Nevertheless some of their pronouncements are worthy of attention.’ [28] and on 4 May saying that ‘the Centre is seeking to get in touch with the Leader, but he is making himself particularly elusive’. [29] For what the Nazis desired was not simply a change of regime in Prussia, important though that would be, but the removal of Brüning himself, a step his own party, even for the sake of a common front against the ‘Godless Bolsheviks’, would hesitate to take. [30] As Goebbels himself noted on 26 April, after the Berlin SA leader Count Helldorf had met Schleicher to discuss measures ‘to alter the political course’, ‘a change in Prussia... is only possible if it takes place in the Reich at the same time’. [31]

Apart from these confidential exchanges, the possibility of a Nazi – Catholic bloc was aired publicly. Kube, the NSDAP Prussian Diet fraction leader, declared on 25 April that his party was:

... prepared to take over the government of Prussia and to work together with those who desire a national, ennobled Prussia filled with a socialist sense of justice. We will reject nobody who is prepared to work together with us in building up the state.

To which the Centre replied that it was ready:

... to work together with all parties which are resolved, on the bases of the Constitution, to serve the well-being of the whole people... the party stands for a policy of securing the German people’s inner and outer freedom... and a place among the nations of the world.

A basis had been found for discussion between the two parties, and a few days later the Centre Party leader, Monsignor Kaas (who stood to the right of Brüning), met Hitler for an exchange of views on the future course of developments both in Prussia and in the central government. Already undermined by the near total loss of confidence in his cabinet on the part of big business, the ‘national’ parties, the Reichswehr and the President himself, all that Brüning needed to ensure his demise was the enmity of the big agrarians, and this he duly provoked by the presentation to Hindenburg of his plan to ease the chronic strain on the welfare budget by resettling some 600 000 unemployed urban workers in that sacred preserve of Junkerdom, East Prussia. Each settler was to be given approximately 60 acres, which meant that, in all, around 36 million acres would be allocated to people whom the east Elbian landowners regarded as proletarian riff-raff. When first presented to the Reichstag on 9 May 1932, the plan was denounced by the DNVP deputies, and especially by their mentor Hindenburg, as ‘agrarian Bolshevism’. The President viewed the settlement programme as a covert attempt to socialise German agriculture, and when on 29 May he summoned Brüning to an interview in order to make plain his opposition to the Chancellor’s proposals, the President declared:

We cannot continue in this fashion under any circumstances. We cannot engage in Bolshevik wage laws [under Brüning, wages had been cut by some 15 per cent – RB] and Bolshevik colonisation schemes. The two trade union leaders must get out of the cabinet. I mean you and Stegerwald... I must turn right at long last. The newspapers and the whole nation demand it. But you always refused to do so.

By ‘the newspapers’ and ‘the whole nation’ Hindenburg meant of course those of ‘national’, for him the only, Germany. Business, army, agrarian, clerical leaders were with a united voice daily demanding Brüning’s scalp. The pressure was irresistible. Hindenburg presented the Chancellor with an ultimatum which both knew could not be accepted. Future government policy had to veer sharply and permanently to the right, collaboration with the reformist SPD and trade union leaders had to end, and the East Prussian resettlement programme scrapped.

Brüning resigned the next day, leaving the way clear for the formation of the cabinet that even more than Brüning’s would make possible the triumph of Hitler and the destruction of the German workers’ movement.

Von Papen Strikes in Prussia

Brüning resigned on 30 May 1932. At least three weeks before this date, however, plans were far advanced not only to secure his removal, but for the installation of a cabinet that avowedly severed all links with the party system, and dispensed with all but the trappings of parliamentary rule. It was to be, in short, a ‘Presidential Cabinet’, a fully-developed Bonapartism which, unlike Brüning’s, leaned firmly to the far right, while basing itself full square on the permanent organs of the state apparatus – the bureaucracy, judiciary and, above all, the army. There was to be no place in such a system for even the most craven of reformists, as the dramatic events in Prussia of 20 July were to demonstrate. Von Papen claims in his Memoirs that the first intimation of his impending appointment as successor to Brüning came on 28 May, when Schleicher informed him ‘that it was the President’s wish to form a Cabinet of experts independent of the political parties’. [32] Facts suggest otherwise. Papen’s name was being mentioned by Goebbels as early as 4 May as the probable successor to the doomed Brüning. And in fact the Nazi leadership were privy to all the major moves and decisions which secured his appointment three weeks later. On 4 May, Goebbels remarks jubilantly that ‘some of Hitler’s mines are beginning to explode’, and that ‘the first to blow up must be Gröner, and after him, Brüning’. [33] On 8 May, the propaganda chief’s diary entry reflects the growing optimism in the Nazi camp that not only are Brüning’s days numbered, but that his successor will lift the irksome ban on the SA and SS:

The leader has an important interview with Schleicher in the presence of a few gentlemen of the President’s circle. All goes well. The leader had spoken decisively. Brüning’s fall is expected shortly. The President of the Reich will withdraw his confidence in him, the plan is to constitute a Presidential Cabinet. The Reichstag will be dissolved. Repressive enactments are to be cancelled. We shall be free to go ahead as we like. [34]

By 19 May, with Gröner already out of the way, Goebbels records another important development – the selection of the new cabinet to replace Brüning’s – eight days before Papen claims he first learned of the Hindenburg-Schleicher plan to appoint him Chancellor. What is not in dispute is that Papen’s cabinet took office on the basis of a deal concluded with Hitler whereby the Nazis would ‘tolerate’ Papen in return for a lifting of the ban on the SA and SS. [35]

Quite apart from Papen’s policy statements, which were the most reactionary uttered by a German Chancellor since the fall of the Hohenzollerns, the new Cabinet’s political sympathies were easily discernible from its social composition. Apart from von Papen himself, who represented a fusion of Saar industry and Westphalian nobility, the Cabinet contained no fewer than four barons. The only one of its eight ministers who could be described in any way as a common burgher was the Minister of Justice, Dr Gürtner, who, in this same capacity in the Bavarian government, had acted as benefactor and protector to the NSDAP. The other members of this ‘Cabinet of Barons’ were Baron von Gayl (Interior), General von Schleicher (Defence), Professor Warmbold – the sole survivor from Brüning’s cabinet – (Labour and Economics), Baron von Braun (Food and Commissioner for Eastern Agrarian Relief), Baron von Rubenach (Post and Communications), Baron von Neurath (Foreign), Lutz Earl Schewerein von Krogsik (Finance). Neurath, Papen and Krogsik also served the Third Reich as Hitler’s cabinet ministers, Papen being Vice-Chancellor until his resignation after the purge of 30 June 1934. So this Cabinet served as a stepping-stone to the Nazi seizure of power in more senses than one.

Papen makes no bones in his Memoirs about his motives for accepting the Chancellorship. He intended nothing less than to undo all the social, political and economic reforms brought about by the November Revolution; austerity, the progressive weakening of bourgeois parliamentary democracy and the undermining of the power of organised labour – these were his goals:

The condition of the country required the collaboration and effort of every patriotic member of the community [which by definition excluded the 13 million ‘anti-national’ Social Democratic and Communist workers – RB], whatever their political inclinations. The financial framework of the federal, State and local government was broken, plans for the basic reform of public life had never got beyond vague proposals. Unemployment [running at roughly six million] was threatening the corporate life of the community and social security funds were exhausted. The postwar governments had embarked on welfare schemes and a system of state socialism which were beyond the country’s means and had turned it into a sort of charity institution. [This was of course the argument of Schacht and the leaders of heavy industry – RB] The moral strength of the nation had been weakened. Public life, if it was to combat Marxist and atheist teachings, would have to be rebuilt on the basis of Christian principles. [36]

This differs only in small details from Papen’s government declaration of 5 June, which in addition to warning of impending bankruptcy and the need to make an end with the ‘state socialism’ charity, spoke of a ‘cultural Bolshevism poisoning the moral fibre of the German people’, and criticised the ‘Christian forces of the state’ for being lax in compromising with the ‘atheistic Marxist element invading the cultural centres of the country’. Press reactions to Papen’s policy statement of course varied. The Catholic Kölnische Volkszeitung, reflecting the Centre Party’s disgust for the renegade who knifed Brüning, said with some justice that ‘it might be a leading Nazi article’, [37] while Papen’s former journal Germania (with which he had severed all connections on assuming the Chancellorship) thought it was surprising to find ‘the reactionary aims of the new regime expressed with such candour’. The stolidly Protestant and right-wing Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung on the other hand found the Catholic Chancellor’s pronouncement praiseworthy for its ‘honesty and lack of illusions’.

The Nazi press naturally had to be more discreet. The blatantly aristocratic composition of Papen’s cabinet, not to speak of its obviously pro-monarchist political orientation, made it impossible for the Nazi leaders to come out openly as the champions of the regime they had helped to install. Goebbels’ Angriff, the most popular of the party dailies among the SA plebeians, had already pressed Nazi claims to enter the government in its issue of 30 May, when with the fall of Brüning it proclaimed:

Now or never the moment has come when the Reich President is meeting an historical hour. The right of the NSDAP to the leadership of the state is confirmed doubly and afresh. Will the Reichs President simply evade this inevitable development? That is impossible. [38]

The editors of Angriff knew full well that Hindenburg had no intention of appointing Hitler Chancellor and that in fact Papen had already been selected for the post. But time was running out for the Nazi leaders. Their restless plebeian following had been kept in a state of suspended and frenzied anticipation for longer than was advisable in a movement based on social demagogy, and incorporating such contradictory strata as declassed proletarians, pauperised peasants, industrial magnates and East Prussia landowners. Only the immediate prospect of power and a share in the rewards of office staved off the inevitable day when the movement would cease to grow and stagnation be followed by decomposition and then rapid disintegration. Closer to the party ‘plebeians’ than almost any other Nazi leader, Goebbels sensed the dangers of openly aligning the party with the ultra-reactionary von Papen government at a time when the SA men were demanding – and arming for – the overthrow of the Weimar system. As early as 9 May, he commented in his diary: ‘It is high time we came to power. The “Reds” are tampering with our rank and file.’ [39]

The von Papen cabinet formally took office on 1 June. Four days later, Goebbels addressed an SA rally at Schoneberg, where he obviously encountered unrest with the party’s policy of ‘tolerating’ the new government. For in his diary he remarked that after the meeting he had ‘a long conversation with a few partisans on the tactics of the coming revolution. We must dissociate ourselves at the earliest possible moment from the temporary bourgeois cabinet.[40]

That moment, however, had not yet arrived. As far as the Nazis were concerned, the Papen Cabinet had been entrusted with three main tasks to perform – the dissolution of the Reichstag (thus making possible new elections in which the Nazis could expect to double their vote of September 1930), the rescinding of the ban on the SA and SS, and finally the forcible removal of the ‘caretaker’ Social Democratic government in Prussia. When Goebbels made his worried diary entry on the need to make a tactical ‘left turn’, only the first and simplest of those measures had been carried out. No open breach with Papen could be contemplated until the Nazi combat units were free to resume their street war on the forces of organised labour, and the last remnant of Social Democratic influence in affairs of state uprooted in Prussia. Concern that the Papen cabinet was hesitating to act on these two fronts was reflected in Goebbels’ entry for 14 June (the ban on the SA and SS was lifted two days later) when we find him once more recording unrest amongst the Nazi ‘plebeians’ at the slow tempo of events:

Have a long conference with General Schleicher. I call him to task for all resentment and discontent that has grown up in our ranks. This government is irresolute and slow. If we make ourselves responsible for their doings, we shall lose all our chances. The ‘Reds’ are growing arrogant in the face of the fact that the government lets things slide. [41]

By 22 June, with the SA-SS ban already lifted, the decision to strike against the Social Democrats in Prussia has been taken, and, what is more, the Nazi leadership is fully informed of it. Goebbels notes that ‘the Prussian question is settled at last’, though as a tactical ploy the party would not be taking responsibility for Papen’s overturn of a legally-elected government. Goebbels’ comments at this time betray a grave fear that the Nazi tide was ebbing, and that the workers’ movement, despite its deep internal divisions (accentuated by the ultra-leftist line of the KPD), was at last beginning to regain the initiative that had been lost with the defeat of the Berlin metal-workers’ strike of October 1930 and the Ruhr miners’ strike of January 1931:

13 June: After the first rebuff the Socialists and the Communists are in spirits again. The provinces are preparing for an attack. If it were not for us it would be only a matter of a very short time when the Bolshevik revolution would break out...

22 June: The Bolshevist reign of blood is assuming unbearable proportions. The government remains completely inactive against it...

23 June: ... the Communists have erected barricades at Moabit [a Berlin working-class suburb]... The ‘Red Front’ is returning the right answer to [Interior Minister] von Gayl. If this sort of man was in office for a year Germany would be ripe for a Bolshevist revolution. [42]

In the Ruhr especially, the organised proletariat seethed with hatred for the Nazis, the spearhead of the coal and steel barons’ onslaught against German labour. Goebbels experienced this loathing at first hand in the course of his propaganda campaign for the Reichstag elections, fixed for 31 July:

12 July: We force our way through the howling mob in Düsseldorf and Elberfeld. [The town Goebbels in his radical days had dubbed the bastion of National Socialism! – RB] A wild trip. We had no idea that things would go so seriously. In all our innocence we drive into Hagen in an open car and wearing our uniforms. The streets are black with people. All of them mob and Communist rabble. They close off the road, so that we can go neither forward nor back... We cut our way through the middle of the pack. Each of us has a pistol in his hand and is determined, if the worst comes to the worst, to sell his life as dearly as possible... The meeting is on a hill, framed by a forest of beeches... The Communists have ingeniously set fire to this forest so that it is impossible to carry on the meeting... On our departure we are followed by a bombardment of stones. We manage to leave the city by detours.

13 July: The experience in Hagen has made us more circumspect. Now we travel in disguise. Constantly we pass lurking groups of Communists. We can hardly get into Dortmund. We have to take a side-street to keep from falling into the hands of the Communists who have occupied all other entrances.

14 July: A trip to the Ruhr involves mortal peril. We take a strange car, because our own with its Berlin number is known... In Elberfeld the Red press has called the mob into the streets. The approaches to the stadium are blocked off completely. It is only because they take us for a harmless passenger car that we get through... After a speech we change into a new car. Again the mob has occupied the streets...

15 July: I must leave my own native city [Elberfeld] like a criminal, pursued by curses, abuse, vilification, stoned, and spat upon. [43]

The reception was no more friendly in Hamburg and Altona, both centres of proletarian militancy and armed resistance to the Nazi terror. So violent was the reaction to Goebbels’ appearance in the two neighbouring harbour towns that he expressed private doubts as to whether the party would ever break down these workers’ loyalty to Marxism and the organisations which they had built over the previous half-century and more. [44]

Every day that the Prussian Social Democratic government was allowed to remain in office made it more difficult for both Papen and his allies on the extreme right to hit back at this resurgent proletariat. Two-thirds of Germany came within the ambit of the Prussian state government, including not only welfare services, education and other branches of social policy, but the police. Up till now, the energies of the Prussian police had been expended almost exclusively on combating the revolutionary workers. But with the Weimar system breaking up and the central government no longer in the hands of its party representatives (Papen’s was an explicitly non-party regime), there was a distinct possibility that the Social Democrats would, even if purely in order to save their own cowardly hides, sanction police action against the combat units of the Nazi movement. The Nazis were fully alert to such an eventuality, unlike the Stalinists, who even at this late stage were stridently accusing the Prussian Social Democrats of being direct accomplices of the fascists. On 26 June, the NSDAP issued a statement on the Prussian crisis which demanded ‘the immediate proclamation of martial law throughout the Reich and the ruthless carrying out of an order suppressing the KPD and the cleaning up of the police force, particularly in Prussia’.

Pressure on Papen to act against the Prussian Social Democrats was being applied not only from the Nazis and the Reichswehr (which in the person of Defence Minister von Schleicher had, for the first time, a direct representative in the cabinet) but also from the leaders of industry. At a cabinet meeting on 16 July, it was announced that no less a magnate than Gustav Krupp himself had demanded that Papen proclaim a state of siege in the strife-torn Brandenburg district of Prussia, a call endorsed by, among other industrialists, Brandes of Stuttgart. The business world was alarmed at the sudden growth in street-fighting since the lifting of the ban on the SA and SS on 16 June. Groups of workers in areas invaded by the brown-shirted army organised their own proletarian defence, frequently in defiance of commands by their reformist and Stalinist leaders; and to such good effect that the Nazis for the first time began to suffer serious casualties in their own ranks. In the four weeks since the lifting of the bans (applied one-sidedly, since the KPD defence guard, the Red Front Fighters League, remained outlawed under the 1929 ban of the Müller government) in Prussia alone there had been 99 deaths and many hundreds more seriously wounded. In the more keenly contested districts of Berlin and Hamburg, the pitched battles between Nazis and workers threatened to assume civil war proportions. The climax and day of decision for Papen came on 17 July, when the SA high command attempted to take by storm the working-class stronghold of Altona, the harbour city which more than any other proletarian centre had remained immune to infection from the Nazi virus.

The workers of Altona hit back at their fascist enemies to such good effect that by the end of the day (it was a Sunday), the Nazis were put to flight, leaving behind them several dead and many more wounded (total casualties were 19 killed and 285 wounded). [45] Goebbels was thunderstruck at the rout:

Terrible news from Altona. The Communist assault our SA on the march in an organised attack. Fifteen dead and 50 seriously injured. That is open civil war. When will the government intervene? [46]

And that was a question also being asked with some insistence in the bourgeois press. The right-wing Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung ranted the next day:

It is certain that the KPD organises shootings, systematically and in accordance with orders, especially the shooting of National Socialists. There exists no doubt that these groups possess weapons and make use of them also against the police. Here it is necessary to take action – ruthless and immediate. The state of affairs which at present prevails in Germany cannot in fact be tolerated another 24 hours. [47]

The specific measures proposed by the paper were draconian in the extreme – suspension of the Constitution, the ‘setting up of courts martial and summary courts’ empowered to pronounce sentence after a ‘very simplified procedure’. Sentences of death were to be imposed on those guilty of ‘unlawful possession of weapons’. The paper had demanded action within 24 hours. Papen concurred. That same day, he invited Prussian Prime Minister Otto Braun and Interior Minister Carl Severing to a conference on the Prussian crisis, a meeting which took place on the 20th (Braun was unable to attend through illness, and Severing was joined by two fellow ministers, Klepper and Hirtsiefer). Meanwhile the machinery had been set in motion to topple the Braun administration. Here too the Nazis were kept fully informed of Papen’s intentions, since on 19 July, Goebbels commented in his diary: ‘There is no other way out than to appoint a State Commissioner in Prussia... Dr Bracht of Essen is designated.'[48]

Bracht, the Centre Party Lord Mayor of Essen, is described by Papen as a ‘moderate and intelligent politician and administrator’, [49] but the mere fact that not only Papen’s Cabinet but the Nazis approved of his appointment as overlord of Prussia gives the lie to this claim. When Severing and his two fellow Ministers arrived at the Chancellery on the morning of 20 June, they were confronted with a fait accompli. Papen informed them that Prime Minister Braun and Interior Minister Severing were dismissed, their functions to be usurped by Bracht. Severing replied that Papen’s decree was unconstitutional, and that he would only yield to force. Papen had already taken the necessary precautions to deal with such a show of resistance:

Another decree of the same date had been signed by the President and counter-signed by Gayl..., Schleicher and myself. This decree, declaring a state of emergency to exist in Greater Berlin and the Province of Brandenburg, was now promulgated [precisely as demanded two days before by the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung – RB], and Lieutenant General von Rundstedt... was entrusted with the military measures necessary to put it into effect. [50]

These ‘military measures’ were not exactly of the scale needed to overturn a government enjoying the support of some six million workers and the nominal control of the state’s security apparatus and bureaucracy, for reasons that will be discussed below. Estimates of the number of police officers required to effect Severing’s eviction from his Ministry office vary from three to five, while Papen himself says that a ‘lieutenant and 12 soldiers’ carried out the arrest of the Prussian Police Commissioner, Albert Grzesinski, who was unceremoniously hustled off to one of his own cells, together with his deputy and the head of the uniformed Prussian police force, Colonel Heimannsberg.

The Nazis were jubilant at the ignominious capitulation of the Prussian government. What they, together with the monarchists – and the Stalinists – had not been able to accomplish a year previously in the referendum, Papen had achieved almost at the stroke of the Presidential pen. Goebbels wrote:

20 July: Everything goes off according to plan. Bracht is appointed commissioner of the Reich. Severing declares that he will only yield to force. We only have to press the button. That would be to declare an exceptional situation in Berlin, Brandenburg... In the capital all remains quiet, the socialists and trade unions do not stir a finger.

21 July: Everything goes off smoothly. The Reds are done away with. Their organisations offer no resistance... The Reds have let slip their opportunity. It will never occur again... The Reds are quite tame. [51]

Goebbels’ judgement on the decisiveness of Papen’s coup was shared in retrospect by Lüdecke, who considered that ‘on 20 July, Marxism sustained a body blow, for on that day the remains of the unconstitutional Red Power in Prussia were wiped out’. [52] And also like his then Nazi colleague Goebbels, he noted gleefully that:

... the coup d'état met with no resistance, no general strike – nothing but protest. The Marxian giant made a cowardly retreat; it was a miserable exit of a miserable regime. Marxism had been routed in its stronghold. [53]

These assessments were exaggerated, for although the reaction had scored a tactical victory in Prussia, the organisations of the working class – the KPD, SPD and the trade unions – had not been broken, had not lost their independence or the support of their members and followers, despite their leaders’ joint capitulation to Papen on 20 July. Nevertheless, the purge of officials that followed the coup enabled Papen – and after him Schleicher and Hitler – to press ahead with his attack on the working class unhindered by the resistance of bureaucrats still loyal to the party that appointed them; and free from the worry that Severing’s ministry might disclose evidence of a compromising nature concerning relations between Papen’s Cabinet, the Reichswehr, big business and the Nazis. Bracht himself became the new Interior Minister, and Hans Lammers (subsequently Hitler’s State Secretary), Minister of Education. In a matter of days, a clean sweep had been made of all real or suspected ‘red’ officials, ranging from Police Presidents of large cities such as Cologne and Altona to quite minor administrators in the municipalities. The new Prussia so fervently desired by Hugenberg was now taking shape. On 26 July, Prussian civil servants were informed they could now join the NSDAP, a move that betrayed Bracht’s true political sympathies. ‘Now it is necessary’, declared the Reich Commissioner, ‘again to write large the word State, and to set up service to state and nation as the sole objective of all our work.’

These measures followed hard on the heels of Papen’s first economic and social measures, and were part and parcel of his overall attack on the democratic rights and living standards of the proletariat. On 14 June, Papen enacted by Presidential decree drastic cuts in unemployment benefit and war disabled pensions, while imposing new tax burdens on wage earners. The dole was reduced by 23 per cent, and recipients required after seven weeks of benefit to produce new evidence of need before payments could continue. This measure cut government dole expenditure by 14 per cent. The remainder of the deficit – some 11 per cent – was to be met by lowering the bottom end of the income tax scale to include all but the worst paid of workers. Unemployment, pauperism, semi-starvation, the usurpation of elementary democratic liberties – this was the meaning of Papen’s ‘Social Catholicism’, of the programme which pledged his Cabinet of Nazi-supported Barons to ‘reconstruct Germany on a basis of immutable Christian philosophy’. No wonder that Goebbels privately noted that the Westphalian aristocrat and ‘gentleman rider’ had stolen ‘all our ideas’. But it was a complaint that could not be made in public, for with the vital Reichstag elections of 31 July drawing near, and unrest mounting daily in the ranks of the SA (now nearly half a million strong), the Nazi leaders had to steer a political course well to the ‘left’ of the most reactionary government in the history of the Republic.

Hitler Stalemated

The need to project a radical image was acutely felt by the Nazi leaders in the summer months of 1932. Papen’s regime lacked even the semblance of popular support, and even in the Reichstag could count only on the help (grudgingly given) of its 41 DNVP deputies. The horrendous prospect of mass desertion by the party’s plebeian followers to the KPD was never far from the thoughts of Hitler and the remainder of the Nazi high command while Papen held office, and this helps to account for the prominent role taken by former ‘radical’ Gregor Strasser in promulgating NSDAP policy in the Reichstag election campaign. It was Strasser who, following Papen’s policy statement of 5 June, declared on behalf of the party that it ‘decidedly refused to have its name coupled with this government’ and that the party was ‘resolved after the Reichstag elections to take over the helm of state’. Nine days later, Strasser broadcast an election address in which he was at pains to distinguish Nazi nationalism from that of the Papen variety. He also emphasised the ‘socialist’ aspects of Nazi policy, much as he had done in his days as theoretician of the north German ‘lefts’ of 1925-26. At the same time, while turning his face leftwards to the impatient Nazi plebeians, Strasser included in his speech references to the traditionalist nature of Nazi ‘German socialism’ and his party’s hostility to a ‘systemless’ that is, proletarian, revolution. In all it was a tour de force of demagogic tight-rope walking, made necessary on the one hand by the stubborn refusal of Papen and a still-decisive section of the ruling class to hand over the government to Hitler; and on the other, by exasperation in Nazi ranks with their leaders’ reluctance to seize power by force:

We understand by socialism measures carried out by the state for the protection of the individual, or a larger body, against exploitation. The nationalisation of the railways, the municipalisation of the tramways, the electric light and gas works, Baron von Stein’s liberation of the peasants, the Prussian officers’ principles of achievement, the incorruptible German professional official, the walls of the town hall, the cathedral, the hospital of a free imperial city – all that is the expression of German socialism as we conceive and demand it. The synthesis of nationalism and socialism in National Socialism means the internal and external freedom of Germany and the freedom of his place of labour to the poorest compatriot. The Nazis do not want reaction, but healing, not a systemless revolution, but an organic new order. They are revolutionary because they want to overthrow the decaying immoral ideas of the French Revolution. They want protection for honourable labour against abuse by capitalism, they want to root out that speculation which bankrupted the people. They do not want to persecute the Jews, but they want German leadership, without the Jewish spirit, without the Jews pulling the strings, and without Jewish capital.

Now more than ever before, Hitler needed an electoral triumph. Party morale, and negotiations with the current rulers of Germany and the holders of industry’s purse strings, demanded that the Nazis prove themselves to be still on the ascendant. But as Trotsky pointed out at the time, the social reserves of fascism had been drained. The nation now stood polarised between a Nazified petit-bourgeoisie and a proletariat which, despite the treachery of its leaders, remained rock-firm in defence of its organisations and social conquests. The deadlock could not be broken by sheer weight and volume of propaganda, as the election results of 31 July confirmed. Despite more than a month of ceaseless campaigning on a scale and with an intensity matched not even during the Presidential elections of the previous spring, the Nazis succeeded in pushing up their share of the popular vote by less than one per cent compared with the run-off ballot for the Presidency on 11 April.

Presidential Elections, 1930 and 1932
PartyVotes (million)%Deputies
DDP (State)
Christian Socialist0.>14
Other Agrarian0.

Taking into account the special case of the two Catholic parties (Centre and BVP) we see that the Nazi gains on September 1930 came almost entirely from the old bourgeois and agrarian parties, while no votes at all were lost by the two workers’ parties, as the table below illustrates:

Bloc1932 %1930 %% loss or gain
Fascist37.418.3+ 19.1
Bourgeois + Agrarian10.426.6-16.2
Proletarian36.237.6- 1.0
Catholic15.714.8+ 0.9

(The one per cent drop in the vote for the workers’ parties was on a larger total poll. The combined KPD – SPD vote actually increased in gross terms by some 80 000.)

Deadlocked on the electoral plane, Hitler also found his path to power barred by the old élites that his plebeians sought to displace (or, more accurately, join). On 1 August, von Papen declared, much to the chagrin of the Nazi leaders:

The election... proves that there is no clear majority in the Reichstag and that no party can secure a majority. The government must therefore return to its original task of constructive legislation. It views the impending debates calmly since, owing to the present situation, a majority sufficient to defeat it could not be found. [54]

To which next day he added the curt observation ‘the time has come when the Nazis must cooperate in the reconstruction of the fatherland’, implying that there could be no question even now, when the Nazis had become by far the largest single party, of offering Hitler the Chancellorship. Yet this was precisely the demand being raised by the Nazi leadership. Once again, as on the eve of the Presidential elections, the SA ringed Berlin and fought bloody pitched battles with SPD and KPD workers in the streets of proletarian Germany. Hitler journeyed to Berlin on 5 August to confer with his closest ally in the Papen cabinet, Defence Minister and Army Chief-of-Staff von Schleicher. Realising that every day which passed without tangible political success brought rebellion in his own ranks closer, Hitler demanded not only the post of Chancellor, but the now-vacant office of Prussian Prime Minister. He promised Schleicher that if permitted to form a government, he would, ‘like Mussolini in 1922’, assemble a majority in the Reichstag for his regime, thus meeting the objections of Papen. And while their Führer horse-traded with the wire-pullers and the king-makers, his SA chieftains strained at Hitler’s constitutional leash. Goebbels perhaps exaggerated when he noted that ‘the whole party has prepared itself to take power. The SA men are leaving their places of work [in fact most were unemployed – RB] in order to make themselves ready.’ For no one, not even Röhm, dared give the order to rise. Their leader appeared to be making headway along the legal path. There was talk of an audience with President Hindenburg, and the possibility of Hitler being invited (as was the normal constitutional practice for the leader of the largest party) to form a government. [55] Then on 9 August came disaster. Fearing an SA coup, the Papen government declared martial law at noon, under which the death penalty could be administered for politically-inspired acts of violence. This was the first severe setback to Hitler’s bid for the Chancellorship, since it struck from his hand the stick he was employing to intimidate Papen, Schleicher and the camarilla around the President. Worse followed that same night, when five Nazis burst into the home of a Communist miner in the Silesian village of Potempa and literally trampled him to death in front of his mother and brother. Even circles far outside the orbit of the workers’ movement were outraged by the sheer wanton brutality of the murder, a crime that foreshadowed the treatment which would be meted out to hundreds of thousands of workers under the tyranny of the Third Reich.

The threatened SA coup, Gregor Strasser’s rekindled radicalism – now the Potempa murder, with its immediate and inevitable backlash effect on organised labour – all these factors came together in the days that preceded Hitler’s interview with Hindenburg on 13 August to reinforce the already existing doubts in business, army and agrarian circles as to the wisdom of permitting this party of gutter gangsters and parvenus to guide the destinies of the German state and economy. Valued as a counterweight to the workers’ parties and the trade unions, the Nazi movement had still to convince the king-makers of the general staff, the East Prussian estates and the Ruhr that it could not only subdue the proletariat but pursue a ‘constructive’ policy once in power. Frantic conferences ensued in the Brown House, while news arrived from Berlin via Walter Funk, party contact man with big business, that Schacht’s capitalist friends were opting for the continuation of the Papen experiment in pure Presidential rule, whose aim was counter-revolution by instalments, and not open civil war against 20 million workers.

Hitler could not afford to retreat now, even when his benefactors and protectors at the top were spurning him. Had he done so, countless SA men would have deserted him from below. On 11 August, Hitler and his entourage drove to the capital. ‘If they do not afford us the opportunity to square accounts with Marxism’, wrote Goebbels that night, ‘our taking over power is absolutely useless.’ [56] But Schleicher and Papen, who conferred with Hitler before the latter’s interview with the President on 13 August, were not even prepared to allow the Nazis any semblance of power. All they offered Hitler was the Vice-Chancellorship, the role of plebeian ‘drummer’ for the governing caste Hitler and his fellow parvenus so envied. Yes, they might be permitted to ‘square accounts with Marxism’ – but a Nazi-dominated cabinet was out of the question. The bitter truth only dawned on Hitler when he confronted Hindenburg, who still regarded the Nazi leader as an upstart ‘Bohemian corporal’.

According to the testimony of the Presidential secretary Otto Meissner (who had served Ebert and was later to serve Hitler in this capacity!):

Hindenburg proposed to Hitler that he should cooperate with the other parties, in particular with the Right and Centre, and that he should give up the one-sided idea that he must have complete power. In cooperating with other parties he would be able to show what he could achieve and improve upon. If he could show positive results, he would acquire increasing influence even in a coalition government. This would also be the best way to eliminate the widespread fear that a National Socialist government would make ill use of its power. Hindenburg added that he was ready to accept Hitler and his movement in a coalition government, the precise composition of which could be a subject of negotiation, but that he could not take the responsibility of giving exclusive power to Hitler alone... Hitler however was adamant in his refusal to put himself in the position of bargaining with the leaders of the other parties and of facing a coalition government. [57]

And on this cold note, the interview ended, with Hitler being exhorted to ‘conduct the opposition on the part of the NSDAP in a chivalrous manner, and to bear in mind his responsibility to the Fatherland and to the German people’. [58] For the first time since it was dashed to fragments by the Munich fiasco of 1923, the Nazi movement faced the prospect of political and organisational ruin. Spurned by the ruling classes, and distrusted by many of his own followers as a compromiser with ‘the system’, Hitler and his party began to reveal many of the symptoms of a leader and a movement in decline. The very next day, Goebbels noted in far away Heiligendamm on the Baltic coast: ‘The events in Berlin have repercussions even here. Deep despondency besets the party.’ [59] And referring to Hitler’s order of 13 August to the SA high command to halt all preparations for a putsch, he added: ‘Their task is the most difficult. Who knows if their units will be able to hold together... the SA Chief of Staff [Röhm] stays with us a long time. He is extremely worried about the SA.’

The line in the Brown Shirts could only be held by exploiting the most reckless demagogy, even at the risk of further alienating the party’s dwindling band of bourgeois supporters. On 22 August, the five Nazis who murdered the Potempa miner were sentenced to death under the provision of the martial law declared by von Papen on 9 August. So great was the outcry in the SA that neither Hitler nor Goering, the two party leaders closest to ‘better’ society, could afford to remain silent for fear of being branded as Papen’s accomplices. Hitler dispatched a telegram to the five Nazi murderers:

My comrades: In the face of this most monstrous and bloody sentence I feel myself bound to you in limitless loyalty. From this moment, your liberation is a question of our honour. To fight against a government which could allow this is our duty.

Then rounding on Papen, Hitler declared in a public statement on the sentences:

German fellow countrymen: whoever among you agrees with our struggle for the honour and liberty of the nation will understand why I refused to take office in this Cabinet... Herr von Papen, I understand your bloody ‘objectivity’ now. I wish that victory may come to nationalist Germany and destruction upon its Marxist despoilers, but I am certainly not fitted to be the executioner of nationalist fighters for the liberty of the German people.

Not to be outdone in solidarity with these depraved butchers, Goering thundered on 24 August:

In nameless embitterment and rage against the terror sentence which has struck you, I promise you, my comrades, that our whole fight from now on will be for your freedom. You are no murderers. You have defended the life and honour of your comrades. [60]

Verbal fireworks still could not mask the fact of the party’s decline following the rebuff administered to Hitler on 13 August. Support for the party was on the wane both in industrial circles and amongst sections of the petit-bourgeoisie who feared its strident social radicalism. When on 28 August von Papen unveiled his new economic programme, one which, unlike Brüning’s, contained measures to stimulate investment, [61] the Deutsche Bergwerkszeitung, often sympathetic to the Nazis, commented enthusiastically: ‘That is the policy for which our paper has been working for years’, and, equally ominously for Hitler’s future political prospects, four days later, added ‘what nationalist Germany has been propagating for years is now being put into practice in the most daring fashion by the von Papen cabinet’. [62]

Disaffection was also rife at the plebeian base of the party. On 12 September, SA units in the Ruhr revolted against their commanders and the party tops in Munich, 18 of their number at Elberfeld going over to the KPD. Feuds amongst leaders and ranks flared up in Düsseldorf and Crefeld, while on 20 September, the SA command had to dissolve units at Eschweiler, Cologne, Hanover, Berlin and Königsberg. Ten days later, the first strikes against Papen’s wage cut decree broke out in Berlin at the Zellendorf printing works, a strike which, unlike so many over the previous period, ended in complete victory for the workers. Cuts in wages were also blocked at the Rheinshagen Cable Works, Wuppertal-Rausdor, after a stoppage lasting six days, while the threat of strike action proved sufficient to halt cuts at the Leipzig metal firm of Pittler, and at Mohr and Federhoff of Mannheim. At last the proletariat was fighting back, despite and even against the wishes of its bureaucratic leaders in the trade unions. The eighth of October saw the opening of a big metal strike in lower Silesia, while more victories were recorded at the Berlin engineering works of Orenstein and Koppel, and by various groups of workers in Stettin, Hamburg and Leipzig. North Sea and Baltic fishermen and trawler-men joined the daily-swelling, nation-wide front of workers battling against the wage cut imposed by the Papen regime. And on 6 October came the first tangible evidence that the Nazis were indeed losing their grip. On that day – one that could and should have been an historic and joyful one for not only the German proletariat, but workers all over the world, the results of five commune elections – Stalluporen, Rodensleben, Grosse-Koppelsdorf, Ratekau and Neustadt – showed a drop of more than 40 per cent for the Nazi candidates. This result – a real body-blow for the Nazi leadership – confirmed the report sent to Munich a month earlier by the Gau Hanover – South Brunswick which spoke of ‘a very depressed, pessimistic mood’ amongst ‘every strata of party members’, and that ‘everywhere people are saying that there would be a noticeable fall in our vote if an election were held now’. Faced with the daunting prospect of another Reichstag election contest on 6 November (Papen having dissolved parliament after one abortive sitting on 12 September, when a KPD motion of no-confidence in the government was passed by a vote of 513 to 32), the Nazi leaders braced themselves for the inevitable losses in popular support and upheavals within their own ranks. After more than two years of uninterrupted ascent and success, the political initiative was slipping from their grasp. The question of the hour was – could the KPD, with the working class daily demonstrating its determination and ability to resist the capitalist offensive, seize it?

Appendix: One Year of Retreat

We have quite deliberately abstained in the foregoing chapter from any extended comment on the policies pursued in the period under review by the leaderships of the main workers’ organisations – the KPD, SPD and ADGB. Trotsky more than once in his writings on Germany drew attention to the little-appreciated fact that far from undermining the position of Social Democracy in the working class, the ultra-leftist, adventurist tactics and policies of Third Period Stalinism supplemented the openly opportunist role of the reformist bureaucracy in holding back the proletariat from a serious struggle against the bourgeoisie and its fascist agencies. And he also stressed with equal insistence that the KPD’s failure to reckon with the absolute irreconcilability of the rule of fascism with the continued legal existence of the Social Democratic organisations, including their reformist leaders, dashed from its hands the very tactical lever that, properly employed, could not only have broken the backs of the Nazis, but in the very process of this struggle prepared the political conditions in the working class for the disintegration of the reformist bureaucracy and the winning of a majority of the proletariat for Communism. We are referring, of course, to the Leninist tactic of the united front.

In his review of the penultimate volume of GDH Cole’s History of Socialist Thought, [63] the Communist Party of Great Britain’s General Secretary John Gollan makes the following claim:

The German Communists no doubt made mistakes [though we learn nothing of them from the article in question – RB], but they fought consistently for the united front both before the Nazi movement developed and especially in the 1930s when fascism was advancing. [64]

Gollan cites as evidence of the KPD’s eagerness for a united front with those it called ‘social fascists’ (a point understandably overlooked by this loyal Stalinist) a call in April 1932 for a ‘struggle of all working-class organisations against wage cuts’ and the KPD’s general strike call on the occasion of the von Papen coup in Prussia on 20 July 1932. [65]

Leaving to one side for a moment the strange circumstance that Gollan is able to unearth precisely two examples of the KPD applying the united front tactic in the entire period of the rise of National Socialism from 1930 to Hitler’s victory three years later, Gollan’s contention that the party attempted to form a bloc with the reformist organisations to halt the rise of reaction in Prussia itself merits closer scrutiny. But first it will be necessary to follow through the main developments in the workers’ movement that led up to the serious reverse suffered by the proletariat in Prussia on 20 July.

As we have said, the opportunity – as well as necessity – for the united front arises when the bourgeoisie, which in more prosperous and calmer times has found it possible and even desirable to collaborate with the reformist bureaucracy, under the pressure of profound economic and political crises, makes a sharp turn to the right. This turn may stop short at the Bonapartist stage (as in Gaullist France), but it can also, depending on a whole constellation of factors subjective as well as objective, swing right through the bourgeois political spectrum to fascism. It is at the crucial point when dominant sections of the ruling class begin to shift their political stance in this direction, deserting not only parliamentary democracy, but dispensing with the services of their agents in the workers’ movement, that the conditions are created for the application of the united front tactic.

Such a situation had been maturing in Germany throughout Brüning’s tenure of office, and became glaringly obvious to all but the politically blind or bureaucratically blinkered in the months that followed. The united front is not primarily a question of propaganda. The tactic will only bear fruit for the revolutionary party under conditions where the reformist leaders are forced into a temporary relationship with the vanguard by the sheer pressure of events, by fear for their very necks. To what extent the revolutionary party is able to turn this tactical relationship to its advantage depends on the skill which it brings to bear in the course of the struggle for the united front, and the firmness with which it pursues its own long-term revolutionary objectives independently of the wishes of the reformist leaders and of those workers who still follow them.

Naturally, a party which is insensitive to the internal strains which are created inside the bureaucracy by a crisis on the scale of Germany in the early 1930s, and which is therefore unable to exploit them tactically, cannot hope to win the allegiance of the broad majority of the working class, since it is in these very periods of reformist crisis that the opportunities present themselves for breaking workers from Social Democratic ideas and leaders. A simplistic model of reformism moving ever more rapidly to the right as the crisis deepens (such as was presented by the Stalinist leadership of the Communist International and KPD in the Third Period, and again today by the WRP, though in a different guise), far from being a guide to effective intervention in the workers’ movement, becomes its most pernicious obstacle. Once again, the lesson of Germany demonstrates this to be so. At the May 1931 Congress of the SPD, the party bureaucracy appeared to be in a much stronger position against the lefts than at the Magdeburg Congress of two years before, when resolutions critical of the executive secured the support of some 40 per cent of the delegates. In 1931, this percentage was roughly halved, indicating that a considerable section of the party’s middle cadres (from where the bulk of delegates were drawn) had moved closer to the bureaucracy. And so too had the left elements within the SPD Reichstag fraction. Whereas a comfortable majority had been forthcoming to reject Müller’s cruiser-building programme, and later to veto Müller’s proposed reform of the unemployment insurance system (opposition which brought Müller down), when the question of financing the second cruiser came before the Reichstag in March 1931, all but a handful of the lefts capitulated. In the fraction meeting that preceded the parliamentary vote, 60 deputies favoured abstention, and another 40 a straight negative vote. Party discipline now dictated that all deputies abstain in the Reichstag division. In the event, a mere nine dared to raise their hands against the motion approving funds for the construction of cruiser ‘B’ – at a time when millions of workers’ families had been reduced to destitution by the slump and Brüning’s ‘hunger’ decrees. The retreat turned into a rout at the Leipzig congress two months later, when the nine were condemned for their conduct by a vote of 324 to 62, with eight abstentions.

As was to be expected, the Stalinists took this as further crushing proof of ‘the growing fascisation of the Social Democratic leaders’, a process which could ‘only accelerate the revolutionising of the masses’. [66] But to the more discerning eye, or rather one not riveted to purely diplomatic perspectives and intrigues, the picture presented by the Leipzig congress was more complicated, and from a revolutionary standpoint more instructive. While the organic opportunism of the lefts had facilitated their capitulation to the right, there were also other forces involved. In 1929, the Nazis were a brown speck on the horizon. By 1931, the Hitler movement numbered its supporters in millions, and its fighting columns in hundreds of thousands. The genuine fear of fascism supplemented the opportunism of lefts such as Aufhauser, Sender and Kuenstler in their making peace with the right-wing reformists at Leipzig. Just as Braun, Severing and Wels tolerated Brüning as the ‘lesser evil’ to Hitler, so the majority of their critics tolerated the bureaucracy as the ‘lesser evil’ to a party divided in the face of its enemies. Both theories were false, but both played an important part in driving the SPD to the right in the period to the fall of Brüning and Papen’s coup in Prussia.

As long as Brüning held office, so the SPD leaders reasoned, the party would be protected from the ravages of fascism. Therefore any economic concessions were justified in order to preserve the political status quo. In the words of Müller, who addressed the congress on the thorny issue of ‘toleration’, ‘we must keep Brüning alive so long as he is determined to resist fascism’. The manner in which certain speakers abased themselves in the pursuit of this goal was truly remarkable. Trade union leader Fritz Tarnow openly admitted that the role of Social Democracy was no longer to speed the death of capitalism, but preserve its life – in the interests of combating fascism!

Are we sitting at the sick-bed of capitalism, not only as doctors who want to cure the patient, but also as cheerful heirs who cannot wait for the end and would like to hasten it with poison? Our entire situation is expressed in this image. We are condemned... to be doctors who seriously desire a cure, and yet we also maintain the feeling that we are heirs who wish to receive the entire legacy of the capitalist system today rather than tomorrow. This double role, doctor and heir, is a damned difficult task.

Such cynical utterances offered scant opportunity for the KPD to develop a united front tactic at this stage of the crisis, had the party’s leaders even desired to do so. The first sign of a turn in that direction came at the Congress of the Second International, held at Vienna from 25 July to 1 August 1931. Unlike the previous congress of 1928 (when the prospect of fascism coming to power in an advanced capitalist country was dismissed out of hand by the Belgian reformist Vandervelde), the proceedings were dominated by the advancing tide of reaction in Central Europe. Naturally the proposals put forward to combat the economic crisis were utterly utopian – the German workers, for example, were to be rescued from poverty and fascism by an international financial aid programme, the main recipients and beneficiaries of which would not be the proletariat, but the German employers! But there were also more realistic comments to be heard on the great perils confronting the workers’ movement that only the most obtuse would have attributed exclusively to motives of demagogy and the desire to put up a ‘left front’. Thus the ‘Austro-Marxist’ Otto Bauer evoked ‘prolonged and thunderous applause’ when he declared:

If the democratic way [to socialism] is barred to the workers of Central Europe, the working class... will still fight... and if they are not allowed to fight by democratic means they will have to take up other weapons. [67]

Even more important from the standpoint of the tactics of the KPD were the remarks of Rudolf Breitscheid, a former leader of the right-centrist faction in the USPD who after the lefts had fused with the KPD in October 1920, returned to the Social Democratic fold. He told delegates that the KPD’s support for the Nazi-inspired referendum in Prussia was sabotaging all attempts to build a united workers’ front against fascism. Perhaps Breitscheid was not sincere when he declared that ‘nobody would more gladly than we stand shoulder to shoulder with the Communist workers [vehement applause]’. [68]

But to reduce the argument to one of individual morality was not the point. The task of the day was to take Breitscheid at his word, sincere or otherwise, and put him and his party to the test. The Stalinist course decreed a different policy. On no account were such offers to be taken up. They represented the most cunning ploy in the armoury of ‘social fascism’ – the ‘left manoeuvre’. That reformists will manoeuvre to the left is not in question, and the working class must be alerted by its vanguard to the dangers that arise when such a development takes place. These dangers, however, are not combated simply by the revolutionary party denouncing each and every left turn of the reformists. They must also be exploited as opportunities to drive a wedge into the tension-wrought upper echelons of the bureaucracy; and the more left-talking of its spokesmen challenged to translate words into deeds. Here again, the KPD took the diametrically opposite line, one which in fact enabled the left flank of the reformist bureaucracy to retain its militant credentials at a time when the fascist threat demanded that they be put to the test before the eyes of the millions of workers who still trusted the Breitscheids rather than the KPD.

The German Stalinists were no more responsive to the impending split in the SPD. When it came on 29 September 1931, with the expulsion from the party of Seydewitz and Rosenfeld for publishing an oppositional journal Die Fackel, they denounced their decision to found the centrist Socialist Workers’ Party (SAP) as nothing more than the creation of ‘an anti-Bolshevik troop of finance capital’. [69] Seydewitz and his comrades were ‘left social fascists’, and that was all there was to be said about it. In passing, it should be noted that Seydewitz must have had a most forgiving nature, for after the end of the war, he went over to the Stalinist-dominated ‘Socialist Unity Party’, the product of the 1946 shotgun wedding between the old KPD and the SPD carried out under the direction of Walter Ulbricht, with the Social Democrats at the business end of the barrel. A recent East German publication describes this former ‘anti-Bolshevik troop of finance capital’ in the most glowing terms, his departure from the SPD no longer being attributed to some deep laid plot by the ‘left social fascists’, but to his refusal ‘to vote for a naval construction programme’. [70]

Not even the formation of the Harzburg Front impelled the KPD leadership towards an anti-fascist bloc with the SPD. The same could not be said of Breitscheid, who again let drop a broad hint that with the reaction gathering pace, it was time for all workers to unite against fascism. Needless to say, the offer was rebuffed, but the manner in which this was done can teach us much about the theory and practice of ultra-leftism, especially since there are those who seem hell-bent on repeating these tactical blunders today. On 14 November Breitscheid publicly called on Brüning to use force to put down the Nazi terror, a demand which, if refused, would be answered by the SPD making common cause with the KPD. Breitscheid also made the observation that the KPD’s recent statement opposing individual terror made it easier to reach agreement on a common programme of struggle against the Nazis. Here was a golden opportunity to forge the anti-fascist unity the KPD leadership spoke of so often and for which the entire organised proletariat yearned. On that very day, the KPD Central Committee should have proposed to the SPD and ADGB leaders a united front along the lines proposed by none other than Breitscheid. This was certainly Trotsky’s reaction:

Isn’t it self-evident that Breitscheid’s diplomatic and equivocal offer should have been grabbed with both hands; and that from one’s own side, one should have submitted a concrete, carefully detailed and practical programme for a joint struggle against fascism and demanded joint sessions of the executives of both parties, with the participation of the executives of the free trade unions? Simultaneously, one should have carried this same programme energetically down through all the layers of both parties and of the masses. [That is, the united front above and below – RB] The negotiations should have been carried on openly before the eyes of the entire nation: daily accounts should have appeared in the press without distortions and absurd fabrications. [Something that the impatient and noisy radicals of Workers Press would have found irksome in the extreme – RB] Such an agitation by its directness and incisiveness would tell with far greater effect on the worker than the incessant din on the subject of ‘social fascism’. [Or in today’s parlance, ‘corporatism’ – RB] [71]

Let those who merrily prattle on about the necessity for ‘independent working-class leadership’ ponder on these lines, not one of which contains the least hint of a concession to reformism, but which recognise that the struggle for independent revolutionary leadership at times involves the adoption of tactics that bring the vanguard into close relations with the most opportunist elements in the workers’ movement. Only those leaders who secretly fear that their members, or even they themselves, might capitulate, or adapt to this hostile environment can possibly have motives for rejecting the tactic.

Such was the reaction of the KPD leadership, most notably Thälmann, who in the course of rejecting Breitscheid’s offer, wrote the following. It remains a model of how not to exploit a heaven-sent opportunity simultaneously to fight fascism and weaken reformism. It should be obligatory reading for anyone considering him- or herself to be a Trotskyist:

The SPD, which because of the recent election successes of Hitler’s party, and because it knows full well that the negotiations for a coalition between the Centre and the Nazis have not been broken off for ever, is afraid of losing its ministerial positions in Prussia... It is therefore undertaking a new demagogic manoeuvre, it is ‘threatening’ to form ‘a united front with the KPD’. [Breitscheid’s speech of 14 November]... shows that the Social Democrats are conjuring up the devil of Hitlerite Fascism in order to keep the masses from effective struggle against the dictatorship of capital. And this bait, which is another form of the policy of the lesser evil, is to be made more palatable to the masses by the addition of the sauce of strange and sudden friendship for the Communists... We have to ask ourselves the question: has the KPD created the conditions that are necessary to enable us easily to counteract this new treachery [that is, a united front offer to the KPD! – RB] this misleading of the masses! We cannot answer this question with an unconditional yes... We have not conducted our fundamental struggle against Social Democracy with sufficient sharpness and clarity. The fact that, for example, in our trade union work, we have worked from above, have made offers of a united front to local leaders or the reformist trade unions... also demonstrated that we are not carrying on our principled struggle against Social Democracy with sufficient determination... the struggle, in the first place against all democratic illusions, particularly the one which seeks to make Social Democracy a ‘support in the struggle against fascism’, is an indispensable condition for mobilising the masses for the struggle against the fascist measures of the Brüning-Severing dictatorship... Any attempt to draw contrast, in liberal fashion, between fascism and bourgeois democracy, as systems contradictory to one another in principle, would in effect help to deceive the workers and would weaken the mass struggle against fascist dictatorship. [72]

Breitscheid’s united front offer must have evoked a more class-conscious response in the working-class base of the KPD because, over the next days and weeks, the party and Comintern press carried a series of hysterical articles attacking Breitscheid, and seeking to draw a false analogy between his united front proposal to the KPD and the official support given to the Berlin munitions workers’ strike of January 1918 by Ebert and the other right-wing reformist leaders. Then, it was a case of ‘taking over’ a strike movement that threatened to spill over into the rest of Germany. Now, in 1931, with not revolution but fascism on the immediate agenda, the reformists were turning to the Communist workers not in the first place to knife them in the back, but because they sensed the Nazis at their own backs. This historical and tactical nuance utterly escaped the scribes of Die Rote Fahne, who on 17 November lectured their readers:

Nothing would be more harmful than to have any illusions regarding the meaning of Breitscheid’s declaration. The leaders of the SPD are today compelled to speak of the united front of the proletariat because this united front of the proletariat has long commenced to become a fact [that is, the Stalinist ‘united front from below, the KPD’s united front with... itself – RB]... They wish once again to hold the rebellious masses in check, and, at the same time, to exercise a certain pressure on their masters, the capitalists in the Brüning camp... A cunning game! But Messrs Breitscheid and Wels are mistaken if they believe that the German working class are to be caught a second time. Therefore we reply to the latest manoeuvres of the SPD committee: Not an atom of faith, not the slightest confidence in the declarations of Wels and Breitscheid, who in the past 13 years have shown beyond all doubt who they are. [For the workers who trusted the KPD yes; but not for the eight million who still followed the SPD – RB] Intensification of the fight against the Social Democracy all along the line. Wrest the Social Democratic workers, the workers in the reformist trade unions, the comrades in the Reichsbanner, from their leaders, who can only lead them into misery and fascism. United front at any time and hour in every fight for every proletarian demand... the united front will not be forged ‘from above’ but ‘from below’. [73]

An equally categorical and criminal rejection of the SPD’s offer appeared in an article written by L Breuer at the same time. Gloating at the plight of reformist leaders threatened by fascism (a fear the author rashly did not share) became a demagogic substitute for serious Marxist analysis of the crisis that was compelling the bureaucracy to make its overtures, not to Brüning, but the KPD:

The SPD leaders are trembling for their positions. The more they lose their mass following, the less indispensable they become to the ruling class. The Social Democrats are in a tight corner. Their veiled offer of an alliance to the KPD is only an expression of their helplessness... The KPD has given the only correct reply to this offer of an alliance. ‘With your leaders, never! With your masses, always and at any time.’ [74]

Let the Stalinist Gollan dare claim that ‘the German Communists... fought consistently for the united front both before the Nazi movement developed and especially in the 1930s when fascism was advancing’. These reactions by leading KPD officials to Breitscheid’s unsolicited offer of a united front of all workers’ organisations against fascism prove just how false is this statement.

The KPD had rejected the ‘opportunist’ united front ‘from above’ in favour of the ‘revolutionary’ and ‘red’ ‘united front from below’. The Presidential elections held in the spring of 1932 presented the Stalinists with a splendid opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of their tactics over those favoured by Trotsky, and before him by Lenin and the entire Communist International. Splendid because unlike the first ballot of 1925, the SPD declined to run its own candidate, preferring to function as vote-gatherer-in-chief for Hindenburg, the candidate of the pro-Brüning bourgeois.

As early as September 1931, the Reichsbanner came out in favour of a second term for Hindenburg, a proposal defended as ‘the only way of preventing the Presidency of a National Socialist without civil war’, a policy consistent with the SPD’s support of Brüning as the ‘lesser evil’ to Hitler. From this date, the entire SPD and ADGB leadership swung into action to drum up reluctant and bewildered working-class support for the monarchist Field Marshal. Many and fulsome were the tributes uttered to the President, who, a matter of weeks after his re-election, authorised the ousting of his main vote collectors from the government of Prussia. Reichsbanner chief Karl Holtermann and Gustav Noske were among those who on 1 February 1932 published an appeal to the President to run once again. The appeal ran: ‘Around this name there shines the glory of Tannenberg and the undying memory of the German army of the world war which for four years protected the soil of our homeland and carried Germany’s arms victoriously to far-away lands.’ Surely the KPD could not fail to attract millions of SPD followers behind its Presidential campaign for Thälmann? The SPD organ Sozialistische Monatshefte rashly ventured the prediction that ‘the very fact he is not only the guarantor of the Constitution, but also the conservative leader assures us that the republic will be safeguarded’. Even this paled before the panegyrics of Prussian Prime Minister Otto Braun. The man who was to pronounce the death sentence on his own government he described as the:

... embodiment of tranquillity and steadfastness, of manly loyalty and devotion to the fulfilment of his duties to the entire people whose life lies open before everybody’s eyes; who has shown, and by no means least so during his seven-year term as Reich President, that all those can rely on him who want to deliver Germany from chaotic conditions and lead it upwards, out of her economic misery, in peaceful cooperation of all classes, bound together in a common fate. I am separated by a deep gulf from Hindenburg in my world view and political standpoint [a claim that was open to question on the strength of these statements – RB]. Yet the human factor... has built across that gulf a bridge that has brought us together... I have come to know the Reich President as a man whose word one can trust, a man of pure intentions and detached, filled with Kantian sense of duty... [75]

The essence of the Stalinist ‘united front from below’ lay in its appeal to individual workers to break from their ‘social fascist’ leaders, and, without actually joining the KPD (or even necessarily leaving their own party or unions, which were designated as fascist), to join with the Communist Party in various actions directed not only against the fascists, the state or the employers, but the reformist leaders themselves. The decision of the SPD and ADGB to endorse Hindenburg’s Presidential candidature now meant that the reformist workers could only vote for a genuine proletarian candidate – Thälmann – by breaking party discipline. The KPD’s hopes of success in the elections were high, since, unlike the first ballot of 1925, it faced no direct competition from the SPD. This optimism was reflected in an article on the forthcoming elections by Remmele, which claimed ‘through the whole of Germany the red united front is being welded together ever more firmly’ and that the ‘millions masses of the German working class are rallying to give their votes to the representative of the KPD’. [76] The results of the first ballot were therefore a bitter blow for the KPD leadership, since they palpably demonstrated the utter inability of the party to make all but the most marginal impact upon the reformists. In fact in some KPD strongholds, the KPD vote was down on the 1930 Reichstag elections – Berlin for example, where Thälmann received 685 000 votes compared with 739 000 on 14 September 1930. Overall, the KPD vote had increased – in a period that should have favoured a revolutionary party and gravely undermined reformism – by a mere 300 000 votes – a mere trifle when compared with the staggering rise in the Nazi vote over the same period. The KPD press was predictably subdued in its comments on the result, Die Rote Fahne saying ‘we must openly admit that we Communists have not yet succeeded in breaking away millions of Social Democratic and trade union workers from the anti-working-class policy of the lesser evil’. The paper also admitted that ‘in some districts... there has been stagnation and even retrogression’. [77] But there would be no question of a change of line. The fault lay in its wrong application, and therefore with the ranks, and not the infallible leaders, least of all those who masterminded the exercise from the Kremlin. ‘We Communists will in the second round answer with a still bolder revolutionary class policy’, promised the Stalinist organ, [78] and in the second round, even bigger reverses were suffered, as Thälmann’s vote plummeted from 4.9 to 3.7 million. Far from the ‘united front from below’ winning workers away from the reformists to the KPD, it was now operating in the opposite direction, some workers who voted for Thälmann on the first ballot opting for Hindenburg and others for Hitler.

There is evidence suggesting that, just as after the Nazi election success of September 1930, at least some of the KPD leaders were genuinely alarmed by the continued growth of support for the Nazis, and the failure of their own party to make serious inroads into the ranks of the reformists. Little press comment was made on the second ballot, while greater attention than hitherto was paid to the prospects of the formation of a Nazi government. No such qualms beset the editors of the Moscow Pravda, who in their snug offices clearly felt they had no grounds for fearing such a development (a decade later, with Hitler’s tanks at the gates of the Soviet capital, they just possibly may have seen matters in a new light). An article of 17 March spoke of not only Hitler and Duesterberg but Hindenburg as being ‘united in their open fascist convictions’, their candidatures demonstrating ‘the fascist unity of the German bourgeoisie towards the revolution’. If this were so, why then three and not one ‘open fascist’ candidates? This question was left unasked and unanswered, as was the question which necessarily flowed from it: if the German workers were confronted by the choice of a Communist candidate and what Pravda called the ‘triple candidature of the fascist bourgeoisie’, why did an overwhelming majority of them plump for one or other of the latter? [79]

This article, distinguished only by its bureaucratic smugness and indifference to the desperate plight of the KPD and the entire German working class, concluded with what must have been unconscious irony: ‘The Communists do not consider it necessary to make a great outcry over their success.’ [80] Nor did they. Following their humiliation in the second ballot came the army, bourgeois and Junker revolt against Brüning, not least for his ban on the SA. Even though the KPD leadership made the predictable ‘Third Period’ error of anticipating what was called ‘an organic intermerging of the Hindenburg and Hitler fronts’, [81] there was mounting distaste shown in the party press for the line summed up in the notorious dictum: ‘After Hitler – our turn.’ A concession to this feeling even found its way into an article by Knorin, who in an analysis of the second round of the Presidential elections, declared:

No thinking Communist would for a moment entertain the idea of allowing the most naked reaction to come to power on the pretext that this would aggravate the whole situation and then it would be easier to overthrow the whole regime. [82]

Yet what other inference could have been drawn from Thälmann’s article of the previous autumn which first appeared in the KPD theoretical organ Die Internationale, which in part reads:

We have regarded fascism, including the growth of the National Socialist movement, too one-sidedly and too mechanically only as the antithesis of the revolutionary upsurge, as the defensive action of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat... We have not taken sufficiently into account the fact that fascism bears within it two elements, the element of the offensive of the ruling class and also the element of its disintegration that the fascist movement can lead to a victory of the proletariat, as well as to a defeat of the proletariat. [83]

After Hitler – our turn. Ironically, just as the KPD veered temporarily from this suicidal line, Vorwärts declared on 26 April: ‘Apart from constitutional considerations it is a precept of political sagacity to allow the Nazis to come to power before they have become the majority.’ [84]

Further reverses at the Prussian Diet elections on 24 April accentuated these growing anxieties about the fascist menace, and the very next day the KPD Central Committee and the National Committee of the RGO issued an appeal addressed ‘to all German workers, to all trade union organised workers, to all members of the ADGB unions and to all Social Democratic workers’ for a united front against the capitalist offensive. This was, presumably, the united front call referred to by Gollan: ‘In April 1932 the Communist Party proposed a joint struggle of all working-class organisations against wage cuts. It was rejected.’ [85] It could not have been ‘rejected’, since the call had not been addressed to either individual leaders or organisations. The text of the call specifically excluded either the SPD or the ADGB as organisations, but was directed purely towards their workers – in other words, it was the same old ‘united front from below’. This can be checked in the text of the appeal, which has been republished in a collection of documents pertaining to the anti-fascist struggle in Germany in 1932-33. [86]

Then on 18 May, with Germany in political turmoil as a result of the sacking of Gröner and the mounting pressure by right-wing circles for the lifting of the ban on the SA and SS, Die Rote Fahne reiterated the KPD’s categorical rejection of a united front with the words:

We Communists turn to all Social Democratic, trade union and unorganised workers, to all workers in the Reichsbanner [frequently bracketed with the SA, SS and Stahlhelm as a fascist combat organisation – RB] and the SAP ['left social fascists’ – RB]. We call upon them to understand that every struggle against wage cuts and reduction of unemployment relief, every economic strike, every resistance to the fascist offensive helps to activate the working class in the creation of the Red Million Front against fascism and bankrupt capitalism. Of course, the united front against fascism cannot be a bloc with the Social Democratic leaders, the lackeys of Hindenburg and Hitler... This struggle cannot be waged either with police ministers and police presidents, but together with any genuine worker and worker official in the Social Democratic Party. [87]

Little did the editors of Die Rote Fahne suspect that Hitler and Hindenburg, with the assistance of von Papen, would soon be moving ruthlessly against their ‘lackeys’ – Police Ministers and Presidents included.

All doubts as to whether there had been a real change of front were resolved at the plenary session of the KPD Central Committee on 24 May, when Thälmann insisted that ‘the most important thing is to put the party on a course of a united front from below...’ and that ‘under no circumstances can we consider a united front with Severing, Zörgiebel or Hilferding’. [88]

But the KPD leaders, despite their leftist bluster and pseudo-revolutionary radicalism, were frightened men. Moscow decreed there could be no question of a bloc with the reformist workers organisations – so why not therefore engage in a little horse-trading with their parliamentary representatives? Thälmann and company went even further than this. At the Central Committee Plenum an appeal was drafted and approved which not only presented the Prussian Diet deputies with a thinly disguised offer of a united front at the top only, but one addressed to the clerical reactionaries of the Centre Party! At the forthcoming elections of officers to the new Prussian Diet elected on 24 April, the KPD would:

... confront the Social Democracy and the Centre Party allied with it with the decision, whether they really intend by means of obstruction – or other parliamentary means – to prevent the National Socialists from taking over the government. [89]

So encased within the husk of Third Period leftism were the seeds of Popular Front opportunism, the tactic of forming unprincipled blocs ‘at the top’ with not only the reformists – the ‘social fascists’ – but the political representatives of the liberal – and often not-so-liberal – bourgeoisie. The rising Nazi tide, although it undeniably compelled even Thälmann to consider new ways of combating it, did not drive the KPD leadership back towards the Leninist path, a step that Trotsky and his supporters in the German Left Opposition were insisting was the only means of blocking Hitler’s ascent to power. The right-opportunist zigzag briefly undertaken by the KPD Central Committee at its Plenum of 24 May remained within the framework of Stalinist tactics and strategy, of the Stalinist theory of socialism in one country and everything that flowed from that reactionary, nationalist perspective. And as Trotsky pointed out, this right oscillation was perfectly consistent with the nature of centrism, which constantly veers between a reformist and a revolutionary policy (Trotsky of course revised his designation of Stalinism as ‘bureaucratic centrism’ after the German defeat of 1933 and the Kremlin’s sharp turn in 1934 towards open class collaboration. It had now, he insisted, become a counter-revolutionary force on a world scale.)

On 24 May, the KPD Central Committee therefore made an offer to the Centre and SPD Prussian Diet fraction to support their candidates in the election to the Diet Presidium, not in order to effect a united front of the workers who followed these two parties, but ‘by means of obstruction or other parliamentary means to prevent the National Socialists taking over the government’. Without a bloc of the two main workers’ parties, from top to bottom, this proposal remained on the plane of the most blatant parliamentary cretinism, of the type denounced by Lenin and utterly repudiated by the founders of the Communist International. Here too in this formulation were the germ cells of that Popular Front monstrosity, the alliance of all ‘men of good will’ against fascism and war. Its fleeting appearance in the midst of a welter of Stalinist left verbiage, red union adventurism and squalid manoeuvrings with the Nazis against the reformists gave Trotsky cause to comment, when the KPD repeated its offer of a Prussian Diet bloc with the SPD and Centre on 22 June 1932:

In the face of the danger that the Presidium of the Landtag might fall into the hands of the Nazis, all the consecrated principles flew to the devil... To explain these goat-leaps, however, is not so difficult... many superficial liberals and radicals continue to joke all their lives about religion... only to call for a priest when they face death or serious illness. So also in politics. The mark of centrism is opportunism. Under the influence of external circumstances (tradition, mass pressure, political competition) centrism is at certain times compelled to make a parade of radicalism. For this purpose it must overcome itself, violate its nature. By spurring itself on with all its strength, it not infrequently lands at the extreme limit of formal radicalism. [As the pages of Workers Press frequently testify – RB] But hardly does the hour of serious danger strike than the true nature of centrism breaks out to the surface. [90]

These zigzags assumed a feverish character and tempo, far more violent and swift than in the period between 1924 and 1928, when the Comintern line swung to the ultra-left, back through to the centrist right, and back again even further to the adventurist left. Now the oscillations were almost daily occurrences as the deepening political crisis threw all class relations into flux. On 24 May came the bloc offer to the SPD and Centre. The very next day, the KPD swung back to the left as Wilhelm Pieck, Prussian Diet fraction leader, moved a vote of no-confidence – with Nazi support – in the Centre – SPD Prussian coalition! All the brawling that ensued in the chamber between KPD and Nazi deputies during Pieck’s speech could not disguise the fact that the offer to the reformists and Catholics had not been made on any principled basis, but was a panic reaction to a crisis that neither Thälmann nor any of his fellow leaders had the least comprehension of how to fight. Their paralysis in the face of the fascist offensive was all the more criminal in that the reformist bureaucracy was on the verge of having its last links severed with the government, a development that would have opened up enormously rich opportunities for forging a genuine united front from top to bottom with the SPD and ADGB.

While the SPD leaders had supported Brüning in parliament, the ADGB bureaucracy had endorsed – albeit with grave misgivings – his programme of deflation and cuts in wages and social services. The reformist press nevertheless emitted rumblings of discontent with Brüning’s more severe measures in order to prevent wholesale defections to the KPD. For example, on 29 April 1931, Vorwärts warned Brüning:

Wage reductions and increases in the price of bread – this is the last straw. A government which permits both is heading for disaster. An end must be put to the system under which the workers are robbed in every direction. There are limits to everything, including the patience of the German workers. [91]

While the Stalinists recognised the truth of this last statement, they interpreted it mechanically. They believed that the reformist workers would, at some point, be driven en masse over to the KPD – via the ‘united front from below’ when they could stomach no longer the wage-cutting decrees of the Brüning regime, and their reformist leaders’ endorsement of them. Where this theory erred was in its false supposition that the reformist bureaucracy’s patience was limitless, that it would not be affected by the growing restlessness of its members with the policy of the ‘lesser evil’, and that the ‘social fascists’ were fused once and for all with the capitalist state and the bourgeoisie. Finally, the KPD and the Communist International asserted right up to the eve of its fall that the Brüning government, and no other, had been selected to ‘carry through the fascist dictatorship’.

This is not to deny that the reformist bureaucracy did all that it could to subordinate its unions and party to the requirements of the bourgeoisie and the Brüning government. This has been acknowledged by Hans Schlange-Schöningen, a minister in Brüning’s cabinet, who in its last days witnessed the following spectacle:

No party was called upon to make greater sacrifices in the interests of the whole than the SPD, and no class was called upon to make greater sacrifices than the working class. That is the bare truth. I remember one of the famous night sessions... when the government was represented by Brüning, Stegerwald and me, whilst opposite us sat workers’ representatives of all shades. Once again the topic was the government demand that social expenditure should be cut. An almost [sic!] fierce discussion proceeded for several hours, and the dawn was actually breaking when the Social Democratic trade union chairman, Leipart, said finally: ‘Well, if there is no other way to do it...’ [92]

Within a matter of days it became clear that there was to be another way, that of von Papen, whose ‘Cabinet of Barons’ took office precisely in order to eliminate the so-called ‘trade union influence’ on the conduct of government, social and economic policy.

Nor was it a case of the reformists refusing to ‘tolerate’ Papen, but of Papen – together with his army, Junker and bourgeois supporters – refusing to tolerate the Social Democrats. The SPD was forced to take up an oppositional line, whether its leaders enjoyed such a prospect or not. Indeed, the SPD organ conveyed a sense of relief that, at long last, the party could assume the role of opposition unfettered by any responsibilities for the unpopular policies of the government – the first occasion on which it had been able to do so since June 1928: ‘The SPD has the best prospects of being freed from all, including indirect, responsibility for the conduct of the government. It has no reason to be annoyed with the Reich President...’

So the reaction of the SPD to the fall of Brüning was a turn towards the left – a manoeuvre which at last made possible the fruitful application of the united front tactic. Thälmann thought differently. Despite the comment of Pravda on 3 June that Papen’s government would ‘lead Germany immediately to a fascist dictatorship’ (previously a task ascribed to first Müller, then Brüning), the KPD chairman told a national conference of party officials on 9 June that ‘the policy of the SPD has not changed’ as a result of Brüning’s removal and that:

... the overthrow of the Brüning government and the more and more open use of the fascist mass party as the prop of capitalist exploitation does not under any circumstances mean that the revolutionary strategy of the KPD must be altered.

On the contrary, continued Thälmann:

... the intensification of the fascist terror in the methods of bourgeois government compelled the revolutionary party of the proletariat to launch its main blow with even greater energy against the Social Democracy in order to win the masses away from the social fascist leaders and draw them into the anti-fascist front. [93]

Meanwhile in the Prussian Diet, the KPD fraction continued to swing between the extremes of a parliamentary opportunism and the wildest adventurism. On 24 May came the offer of a bloc with the SPD and Centre on the elections to the Presidium, yet on 15 June, the KPD (as reported in the CPGB’s Daily Worker of two days later) voted for a ‘fascist motion demanding the trial of certain Social Democratic and democratic state officials for breaches of the constitution... The Communists and fascists voted for it.’ [94] Then there followed the renewed ‘bloc’ offer of 22 June to the SPD and the Centre Party! Further tangible proof of the deepening crisis in the KPD, and especially of the impact Trotsky’s searching critiques of the Stalinist line were having on sections of the membership, was Thälmann’s long article ‘Our Strategy and Tactics in the Struggle Against Fascism’, published in the June number of the KPD’s theoretical organ Die Internationale. Its purpose was two-fold: firstly to justify the policies which were leading the German proletariat into the inferno of fascism; and secondly, to attempt to discredit Trotsky and the German Left Opposition by linking their criticism of the KPD line with the reformists and bourgeois democrats.

First Müller, then Brüning had been designated by the KPD leadership as the chosen instruments of monopoly capital for the introduction of fascism in Germany. Unfortunately, both Chancellors were ousted by this very big business as being far too dependent on the support of organised labour. This sad experience, however, taught Thälmann nothing, as he began his article with a reference to the ‘fascist Papen – Schleicher government which had come to power on 1 June’. The task of this regime was, as we know, not the introduction of fascism, but the further whittling away of the democratic liberties and living standards of the proletariat. It was not, therefore, a fascist government, as Thälmann so rashly claimed, because it did not seek and in fact, with the social reserves at its disposal, could not achieve, the annihilation of the organisations of the working class, a task which in an advanced capitalist country can only be carried through by a fascist movement and government. Papen’s was a rightwards-leaning Bonapartist regime, based on the army and bureaucracy, and employing the fascists on the right to beat back the workers on the left. Such an analysis obviously could not be undertaken by any Stalinist, since the phenomenon of Bonapartism necessarily involves a balancing between hostile social forces and their political expressions. Stalinist Third Period theory held that Social Democracy and fascism were becoming fused, not forced into opposition, by the capitalist crisis. Therefore there could be no question of a Bonapartist development, since all parties save the KPD comprised ‘one reactionary mass’. By the same token, all governments were fascist – Müller, Brüning, Papen, Schleicher – and all such regimes depended to varying degrees on the ‘social support’ of Social Democracy. Hence the rejections of the united front with the reformist organisations since these were being drawn into the very machinery of fascist dictatorship. This was the gist of Thälmann’s argument. A Hitler government was a luxury for the German bourgeoisie, since they already had their mass fascist movement in the SPD and the ADGB. A Hitler regime:

... would be conceivable – theoretically – if the Hitler party in a fully developed fascist dictatorship after the destruction of the reformist organisations [why should Hitler destroy social fascist organisations? – RB] would attract to itself very considerable sections of the working class: if the SPD were to sink to insignificance among the proletariat, without we Communists being in a position to win over the masses. That would be roughly the case as with Italy. In Germany, with its enormous industrial proletariat and strong Communist Party, such a prospect is even theoretically improbable in view of the whole objective conditions...[95]

This was not the first occasion on which Thälmann had made such a prophecy. A year back, in June 1931, he had written:

The more energetically we unmask the nature of the fascist policy of the Brüning government, the more convincingly we prove to the masses that this bourgeois government is itself striving for the actualisation of the fascist dictatorship, and need not be replaced by Hitler or Hugenberg... then the more thoroughly do we refute and shatter Social Democratic agitation... [96]

Now Thälmann was more convinced than ever that the main danger came from the ‘social fascists’, and not Hitler – even though the Nazis recorded more than 13 million votes for their candidate at the Presidential elections in April:

In the fascisation of Social Democracy a whole gamut of the most diverse methods and phenomena reach maturity... right to the ‘left’ agents of the SPD, the SAP and the tiny Brandler group [the pro-Bukharin Communist Opposition – KPO] who are the most dangerous disrupter of the proletarian united front in the service of the bourgeoisie and fascism... On the basis of our class policy we must, in the new situation, apply the strategy of the ‘main fire against Social Democracy’ more than ever before, without the slightest concessions to any kind of Social Democratic fraudulent manoeuvres in oppositional tendencies... Nothing has changed as far as this principal orientation is concerned. Through our revolutionary practice we must put a stop to all speculations about a change of front, a new departure or a right vacillation on the part of the KPD. [97]

Trotsky’s polemical shafts delivered from faraway Prinkipo were finding their mark. Not only was the logic of the objective situation proclaiming ever more loudly the need for a ‘new departure’, even within the KPD leadership itself. Unease about the rising fascist menace had led to differences over the party’s tactical line, which some held to be aiding the Nazis in their offensive against the working class. Thälmann’s remarks were addressed to this as yet unnamed group, as well as the numerically tiny forces of German Trotskyism:

This strategic orientation of the chief fire against the Social Democracy... does not in the least signify any weakening of our fight against Hitler fascism as the slanderers of the Communists – such as those cast in the mould of Leon Trotsky – above all assert. On the contrary it is an... essential prerequisite for a successful struggle against the fascist dictatorship. Mr Trotsky occupies himself anew at the present time in the service of the German bourgeoisie in carrying through definite deceptive manoeuvres against the class-conscious workers. He preaches a ‘bloc’ of the SPD and KPD ‘against fascism.’ A considerable part of the bourgeois press accords him vociferous applause for this. Of late the official leadership of the SPD is also beginning to play with the ball thrown down by Trotsky and is attempting to cover up its real struggle against the proletarian united front against the anti-fascist mass struggle under revolutionary leadership, by treacherous ‘united front’ manoeuvres and ‘bloc’ proposals to the KPD. [98]

Papen’s Nazi-supported offensive against the Prussian proletariat found the KPD leaders hopelessly divided as to what line to adopt towards the SPD leaders threatened with removal from their government posts. Richard Krebs describes the scene:

The Nazi storm brigades were reported to be concentrating in huge camps around Berlin. The Reichswehr had been put in a state of highest alarm. The storm-troopers spoke openly of the coming night of the long knives. Chancellor von Papen prepared to strike in Prussia... The cry ‘drive the Marxists out of the Prussian Ministries’ swelled to a thunderous surf... I repaired post-haste to a meeting in the Karl Liebknecht House. It was an extraordinary meeting. The whole Central Committee of the party was assembled there, together with the leaders of all auxiliary corps. It was a stormy meeting which lasted from eight in the evening to five in the morning. A dozen factions were at loggerheads; roars and screams punctuated the debates and at times I thought the élite of German Bolshevism would come to blows. Some advocated that the fury of the party should be turned against Hitler. Some spoke for a last minute alliance with the Social Democrats. Others held that a violent Nazi coup would drive the socialist workers into the Communist camp. However, the tenet that the socialists were the main foe of Soviet power prevailed. Ernst Thälmann raged like a maddened bull, formidably seconded by Hugo Eberlein, the party treasurer [murdered by the GPU in the USSR during the great purges – RB], Hermann Schubert, the President [also killed in the Soviet purges – RB] and by Willy Leow, Leo Flieg, Fritz Schulte and other members of the Reichstag and the Central Committee. Ernst Wollweber and Hans Kippenberger [purged by Stalin] sat silently and so did Hotopp, a leader of the League of Proletarian Writers. In the end all proposals to form an honest alliance with the Social Democrats were defeated. [99]

This was how the KPD leadership prepared the working class of Germany for Papen’s blow in Prussia: ‘Not a bloc with the social fascist leaders, nor under any circumstances a united front only from above, but a united front from below’, as Thälmann put it. Little wonder that when Papen struck, not a single worker answered the KPD’s strike call to defend a regime which only the previous day had been depicted as a variant of fascist dictatorship. Why should workers risk life and limb to defend one set of fascists against the attacks of another? Indeed, eyewitnesses testify to Communist workers at a KPD rally in Berlin on 20 July bursting into applause on the news that Papen had ousted the ‘social fascists'! No one, their own members included, took the KPD strike call seriously, and this was quite openly stated to be the case at the Twelfth ECCI Plenum held in September 1932. Piatnitsky said that the strike call had been politically correct:

... but the party organisations did not respond to the call for a strike. That is fact – they not only failed to respond in the Berlin-Brandenburg district; not a single organisation in any other district responded. This is a fact... the work in the factories and the trade unions could not produce any other result... [100]

Kuusinen was even more forthright in his criticism:

... as very little work had been done during the whole year to mobilise the workers for mass actions, it was quite natural that the sudden appearance of the party with the slogan of the political mass strike should not have met with any success. There had been too little preparation for this, during the previous period, by means of strikes for partial demands. Moreover, this slogan was not supported by any organised demands. Immediately after the slogan was issued, every effort should have been made to launch and organise demonstrations. This would have been quite possible in Berlin, at any rate. Various comrades, who were in Berlin on 20 July, have told us that a definite urge towards direct action was to be observed there. But the moment was allowed to pass by. [101]

And this was true. There existed in Berlin, and also in other proletarian centres of Prussia, a real desire to hit back at Papen’s coup. But caught between the twin bureaucratic vices of Social Democracy and Stalinism, each supplementing the other’s passivity by their right and left opportunism, the proletariat was deprived of leadership, of a unified centre of struggle and resistance, of any tactic that could have enabled the proletariat to confront as a class the offensive of the bourgeoisie expressed in the coup of 20 July. And in placing such a heavy responsibility on the KPD and ECCI leadership for the defeat of 20 July, one must not for one moment underestimate the criminal role of the reformist bureaucracy, which even when faced with direct persecution by the state, preferred to retreat gracefully and await the rout of Papen at the polling booths on 31 July.

We have already seen that having been supplied with the necessary show of force, Interior Minister Carl Severing yielded up his seals of office to State Commissioner Bracht. One could argue that in this instance, it was a case of yielding to force majeure. His police President Grzesinski reveals, however, that when Lieutenant Colonel Rundstedt telephoned him the order to leave his office, and he sought advice from Severing on what to do, his chief replied: ‘Blood must not be shed. The establishment of martial law is a perfectly legal measure.’ Pressed to justify his statement, Severing continued: ‘The military commander, under martial law, is the legal executor of authority. He acts within his rights in dismissing you. This is also the opinion of others in my ministry.’ [102] The bulk of the SPD and ADGB bureaucrats took their cue from Severing’s cowardly compliance with Papen’s coup, and were permitted to do so by the KPD, which had steadfastly refused to address any demands on them to break from their policy of class collaboration and unite with the Communist workers in a single front against fascism and the capitalist offensive.

Even so, on the morning of 20 July, sporadic strikes broke out in several Berlin plants, while at the giant Siemens and IG Farben concerns, workers stopped work and assembled in the factory forecourts in anticipation of hearing an SPD or ADGB official address them on the need for action against the coup. No one came. Members of the Iron Front, which on 4 July had staged a mammoth anti-Nazi rally, 100 000 strong, in the Lustgarten, congregated at various points in the capital to await combat instructions from their commanders, a plan agreed upon some days before the coup. Here too, no lead was forthcoming. When the ADGB executive met later that day, its members could not claim there existed no support amongst trade unionists for action. The question was – would their leaders lead? Berlin’s workers did not have to wait long for the answer. The ADGB resolved to take no immediate action against the coup. Indeed, some board members even argued, like Severing, that Papen’s action could not be opposed, since it was legal, while others, like the leader of the Rail Workers Union, claimed that unemployed workers would readily break any strike undertaken by his members. There was also talk of ‘defeatist moods’ amongst the working class which made strike action impossible. The real defeatists sat in the leadership.

On 21 July, the SPD executive met and took the same line. All party organisations were to be brought to a ‘state of readiness’ but no immediate action was sanctioned. In March 1920, the Kapp regime had been brought to its knees in a matter of days by a general strike called by these same two bodies. Now, when the reaction had struck again, they were paralysed. In the words of the SPD Executive’s statement, workers outraged by Papen’s action were advised ‘to restore the dislocated republican constitution and to recover the influence on public affairs which is its due by the election of Social Democrats on 31 July’. The efforts of the bureaucracy in damping down resistance to the coup did not go unrecognised. Von Rundstedt issued a press statement which said: ‘I must thank the SPD for the fact that it does not support the strike call [of the KPD] but on the contrary called for calm restraint and prudence in order not to impede the normal procedure of an election.’ True to the ‘Third Period’ fantasy that the more monumental the betrayals of Social Democracy, and the more brutal the capitalist oppression, the greater the radicalisation of the proletariat and the more favourable the situation for the revolutionary party, Knorin wrote in Pravda that even though Papen had been charged with ‘setting up the fascist dictatorship’ and that his 20 July coup proved that the bourgeoisie intended to ‘destroy the workers’ organisations and do away with all the revolutionary achievements of the working class’, this was a highly desirable state of affairs, since it would lead to a ‘considerable acceleration of the process of mobilising the forces of the proletariat’ and of the ‘creation of a real united front of the working masses from below under the leadership of the KPD’. [103] After Papen – our turn.

Exploiting the profound hatred felt by millions of workers for the reformist bureaucracy, the Stalinists succeeded in turning this healthy class feeling against their fellow workers in the SPD and the reformist trade unions. This chasm of hatred divided the Prussian proletariat on 20 July, and continued to keep them apart even in the days that followed the elections of 31 July, when the SA awaited Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor to begin their bloody assault on Communist and reformist workers alike. Some notion of this tragic rift in the ranks of the German working class is conveyed by Lüdecke, who in the days that preceded Hitler’s interview with Hindenburg on 13 August, reconnoitred enemy territory in Berlin:

In Communist circles and meetings, where curiosity led me, I heard socialists attacked as violently as Nazis, and the existing government mentioned with contempt rather than fear. It was strange to find that certain responsible leaders really seemed to desire a temporary Nazi regime as the ‘last stand of capitalism’ which they believed a necessary evil before Communism could seize the reins of power. Instead of forming at the twelfth hour a common front... the Marxists in Germany... were fighting each other with such hatred that they were easily beaten in the Nazis’ final onslaught. [104]

And this from a leading Nazi! What better refutation could there be of Gollan’s wretched evasions concerning the policy of the KPD in the period of the rise of fascism? The Stalinists cleared Hitler’s road to power no less than the Social Democrats; of that there can be no doubt. But even as late as the autumn of 1932, there was still time to change course, and there were sufficient reserves within the proletariat to transform a defensive battle against fascism into an offensive, revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the entire bourgeoisie.


1. The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung posed the problem quite candidly on 20 October 1931, when in commenting on Brüning’s proposed cuts in wages and social services, it said: ‘When one comes to consider the measures which must be included in the future economic programme, measures which are bound to come into conflict with the mass agitation being conducted by the trade unions, then one is justified in being sceptical whether all the trade union leaders, even if they should inwardly agree to the necessary conditions, will have the courage to acknowledge them openly.’

2. J Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight (London, 1938), p 29.

3. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 37.

4. Thus the Kaiser’s eldest son, the former crown prince Wilhelm, who voted for the monarchist candidate in the first round, demonstratively declared his allegiance to the Nazi candidate on the second: ‘Abstention from voting in the second ballot is incompatible with the idea of the Harzburg Front. As I consider an unbroken national front absolutely necessary, I shall vote for Adolf Hitler in the second ballot.’ The turn towards Hitler by the Hugenberg bloc was duly noted by Goebbels, who obviously appreciated its strategic as well as passing tactical significance: ‘We have come far short of defeating the enemy [on the second ballot], but we have managed to rope in nearly all the votes of the Conservative parties.’ (Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 64)

5. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 61.

6. LD Trotsky, ‘What Next?’ (27 January 1932), The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (New York, 1971), p 156.

7. Earlier the same month, on 9 January, Goebbels had addressed a meeting of industrialists in Essen. ‘The more desperate their situation, the better they understand us’, was Goebbels’ terse but accurate comment on the increased interest of big business in the Nazi programme (Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 16).

8. F Thyssen, I Paid Hitler (London, 1941), p 132.

9. O Dietrich, With Hitler on the Road to Power (1934), p 12.

10. Dietrich, With Hitler on the Road to Power, p 13.

11. Dietrich, With Hitler on the Road to Power, p 13. Thyssen says in his memoirs that the speech ‘made a deep impression on the assembled industrialists’ and that as a result, ‘a number of large contributions flowed from the resources of heavy industry’ (Thyssen, I Paid Hitler, p 101). This later comment is probably somewhat exaggerated. Nevertheless. Goebbels’ comments on the financial situation of the party at this time suggest that Hitler’s efforts had not been without reward. On 5 January, Goebbels is ‘giving them [the NSDAP gauleiters] hell because our work for the collection of gifts is going so indifferently... Money is wanting everywhere... Nobody will give us credit.’ By 8 February, however, he is able to record that ‘money affairs improve daily. The financing of the electoral campaign is practically assured.’ And by 6 March: ‘... our election funds have somewhat recovered once more. We are safe for the last week [of the campaign].’ (Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, pp 13, 34, 46)

12. Dietrich, With Hitler on the Road to Power, p 14.

13. Dietrich, With Hitler on the Road to Power, p 14.

14. Dietrich, With Hitler on the Road to Power, p 14.

15. The Steel Trust also produced 50 per cent of Germany’s coal. Other assets put at risk included its 209 electrical power stations, its private railway network, 14 harbours, 134 million square metres of land and 60 000 workers’ dwellings.

16. Testimony of Otto Steinbrinck, the Trial of Friedrich Flick, IMT, pp 346-47.

17. Testimony of Otto Steinbrinck, the Trial of Friedrich Flick, IMT, p 358.

18. Testimony of Otto Steinbrinck, the Trial of Friedrich Flick, IMT, p 358. Steinbrinck also had close connections with the Nazi banker Baron Kurt von Schröder, as is clear from the following letter written by Steinbrinck to Funk on 11 December 1931: ‘Baron Kurt von Schröder, partner of the banking firm of JH Stein, Cologne, and a cousin of the well-known London banker, is in Berlin today and tomorrow and would like to see you for a short while. For some years he has been connected with the whole [Nazi] movement and therefore had much understanding when I told him your new ideas on enlightening foreign countries. As he has far-reaching connections abroad and sees foreign bankers frequently because of his close friendship and connection with the international firm in London, he is naturally very much interested in the attitude of the party towards the problem of foreign debts.’

19. Testimony of Otto Steinbrinck, the Trial of Friedrich Flick, IMT, p 373.

20. Testimony of Otto Steinbrinck, the Trial of Friedrich Flick, IMT, p 43.

21. Testimony of Wilhelm Keppler, Trial of Friedrich Flick, IMT, p 285.

22. Testimony of Wilhelm Keppler, Trial of Friedrich Flick, IMT, p 285.

23. Testimony of Wilhelm Keppler, Trial of Friedrich Flick, IMT, pp 285-86, emphasis added.

24. Keppler lists as the founding members of his circle (which later came into the orbit of SS leader Himmler) the following businessmen, all of whom bar Steinbrinck appear to have been present at the inaugural meeting with Hitler on 18 May: Kranefuss, Vögler, Schröder, Dr Karl Buetefisch (IG Farben), Karl Krogmann, Friedrich Olscher, Flick, Karl Lindemann, Wilhelm Borger, Karl Walz, Heinrich Schmidt, Hermann Waldhecker, Herbert Goering, Theodor Kaselowsky, August Rosterg (Potash syndicate), Rudolf Bringel (Siemens), Karl Blessing, Kurt Schmitt, Emil Meyer, Steinbrinck, Hans Kehrl, Karl von Half, Emil Helfferich (Hamburg-America Line), Friedrich Reinhardt, Hans Fischbock, Otto Heuer (Heidelberger Portland Zement Werke AG), Ewald Hecker, Otto Ohlendorf, Oswald Pohl, Graf von Bismarck, Karl Wolff, Dr Woffram Sievers, Franz Hayler, Werner Naumann, Dr Hermann Behrens, Dr Ernst Schafer, Dr Fritz Dermitzel, Erich Hilgenfeldt. Lindemann had many business interests, among them a Bremen – China trading firm, a Salzburg cement works, the Bremen Norddeutsche Kreditbank, the ill-fated Wollkammerei (of which he was the acting chairman) and the shipping line Norddeutsche Lloyd, which, like the Steel Trust, became a recipient of government aid in the spring of 1932. His career prospered under the Nazis, with the acquisition of further interests – the Hamburg-America Line, the Atlas Works, the Bremen Reichbank, Dresdner Bank and Vereinigten Industriell Unternehmen.

25. H Rauschning, Men of Chaos (1942), pp 219-20.

26. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 66.

27. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 63.

28. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 72.

29. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 76.

30. The dilemma in which the German hierarchy found itself placed by the simultaneous rise of National Socialism and proletarian radicalism was well expressed by Bishop Buchberger of Regensburg in a letter to Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Pacelli (December 1931): ‘In Bavaria the National Socialist danger is growing more and more. It has fruitful ground in the dreadful and almost unbearable distress which is driving the widest circles to despair. With this despair it is a question of the irrational, simply of feelings and impulses, and for this National Socialism is suitably equipped. [As indeed was the Catholic Church! – RB] If it comes to power, then the Bavarian Concordat is lost... And yet Communism, which proceeds from hatred of God to the radical destruction of the Christian religion and culture, is a much greater danger here...’ A conclusion which indicated the direction in which the Vatican and its German representatives would travel when the time came to choose between the greater and lesser evils.

31. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 73.

32. F von Papen, Memoirs (London, 1952), p 151.

33. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 76.

34. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 77, emphasis added.

35. ‘When I took over the post I had been assured by Schleicher that it was the wish of both Hindenburg and the Army that the decree should be annulled. He has promised Hitler that this would be done, against an undertaking that the Nazis would not act in opposition to my Government.’ (von Papen, Memoirs, p 150) The deal seems to have been finalised on 30 May, after Hitler had met the President. Goebbels records on that day that ‘the conference with the President went well. The SA prohibition is going to be cancelled... The Reichstag is going to be dissolved. That is of first importance. Von Papen is likely to be appointed Chancellor, but that is neither here nor there.’ (Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 87)

36. F von Papen, Memoirs, p 160.

37. The Centre Party’s hostility towards Papen derived not from his pro-Nazi orientation, but his desertion of Brüning. The party was in fact in favour of permitting the Nazis to enter a coalition, as a communiqué issued after Brüning’s fall made clear: ‘The party rejects the temporary solution provided by the present [Papen] Cabinet and demands that the solution should be clarified by placing the responsibility for forming a government in the hands of the NSDAP.’

38. An even more frantic note had been struck by Frick in the Völkischer Beobachter on 4 May: ‘... the National Socialist movement for freedom is now the last hope and the last reserve force of the German people. If it is employed in vain and is wrecked, then its force will be broken and Germany will sink into the Bolshevist chaos.’

39. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 78.

40. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, pp 89-90, emphasis added.

41. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 92.

42. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, pp 92-97.

43. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, pp 106-07.

44. ‘Drive through Hamburg and Altona... Both cities are strongly “Red.” Will it ever be possible to make a change here?’ (Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 111)

45. Krebs conveys the drama and pathos of the ‘battle of Altona’ in the following extract from his autobiography: ‘Communist spies in the storm troops ferreted out the route the Nazi parade was to take. Units of Red Front fighters were stationed in advance on the roofs of houses along the route of the storm-troop invasion... The storm-troops marched... with bands crashing and swastikas flying. Their demonstration was flanked by police. Police lorries with machine guns preceded and followed the marchers. The parade entered the sinuous old districts of the city winding forward like an immense brown snake... The side streets along the route seethed with many thousands of workers and their womenfolk shaking fists, hurling rocks and garbage at the Brownshirts and shouting their abuse. The storm-troops marched like one machine. The faces of the youngsters were set and pale. At minute intervals at a signal of detachment leaders they broke into a hollow roar: ‘Death to the Red Pest! Germany – arise!’ Then the first shots cracked from the roofs... The storm troopers crowded into the houses to trap the attackers on the roofs. Garbage cans hurtled out of the windows, policemen hurled gas grenades and people ran like cockroaches. The storm-troopers were broken up in irregular, badly-shaken groups. Some continued their march, most of them fled...’ (J Valtin, Out of the Night (New York, 1941), pp 361-62)

46. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 109.

47. Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, 18 July 1932.

48. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 110.

49. Von Papen, Memoirs, p 190.

50. Von Papen, Memoirs, p 190.

51. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, pp 110-11, emphasis added.

52. K Lüdecke, I Knew Hitler (New York, 1937), p 372.

53. Lüdecke, I Knew Hitler, p 372.

54. Hitler would have found more favour with Papen’s judgement that the ‘increased strength’ of the Communists ‘proved what a danger Communism would have been if the government had not taken the matter in hand’.

55. Among those favouring Hitler’s admission into the cabinet at this juncture was Conrad Adenauer, first postwar Chancellor of West Germany, who on 6 August wrote to his friend Graf Wolff Metternich that the Centre Party would join with the Nazis in a coalition if invited to do so. Also interesting was the Cologne Mayor’s sympathies for Mussolini at this time, Adenauer having written to the fascist dictator in near-adulatory terms.

56. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 119.

57. Affidavit of Otto Meissner, Nuremberg, 28 November 1945, 3309-PS.

58. Hitler issued a rather lame statement on 16 August which said: ‘We are willing to support the government so long as the Nazi movement is not being weakened. But when it tends to hamper the national cause, we shall oppose it strongly.’ One can understand Hitler’s dilemma. Papen barred his way to power – yet the same Papen was taking stern measures against the ‘reds’. Until such times as the Nazis could supplant Papen in the estimation of the bourgeoisie and agrarians as defenders of German imperialism, Hitler had no alternative than to continue performing the humiliating role of a right prop to Papen’s Bonapartist regime. He had become what the Social Democrats were to Brüning – a tolerator of the ‘lesser evil'!

59. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 123.

60. Papen rescinded the death sentences a matter of days later. He could not afford irrevocably to sever links with the Nazis, despite his profound tactical differences with Hitler concerning the struggle against Marxism. Papen later justified this act of clemency with the claim that he ‘did not want to provide the more radical National Socialists with unnecessary propaganda material’ (Von Papen, Memoirs, p 200).

61. Apart from undertaking public works schemes to stimulate investment and combat unemployment, the Papen economic programme anticipated future Nazi policies in other ways. For example, employers were authorised to reduce their workers’ wages by 12.5 per cent if they increased their total labour force by 25 per cent. Not only production, but profits, would therefore rise. Also included in Papen’s package were profits tax cuts and other forms of concessions for the propertied classes. Naturally, this programme won enthusiastic support from the big concerns, many of which had just begun to detect the first symptoms of a business upturn. Utilisation of productive capacity had increased in the iron and steel industry from 32.0 per cent to 39.1 per cent in the six months between January and June 1932, while overall, utilisation in the capital goods industries had risen from 27.6 per cent to 31.2 per cent, and against the seasonal trend, unemployment was on the downturn, from 6.0 million on 31 January and 5.5 million on 30 July to 5.1 million on 30 September.

62. Deutsche Bergwerkszeitung, 30 August and 4 September 1932.

63. GDH Cole, History of Socialist Thought, Volume 4, Part 2: Communism and Social Democracy (London, 1959).

64. J Gollan, ‘GDH Cole’s Socialist Thought’, Marxism Today, Volume 3, no 3, March 1959, p 69, emphasis added.

65. J Gollan, ‘GDH Cole’s Socialist Thought’, Marxism Today, Volume 3, no 3, March 1959, p 69.

66. Pravda, 7 June 1931.

67. Fourth Congress of the LSI, Reports and Proceedings (London, 1932), p 695.

68. Fourth Congress of the LSI, Reports and Proceedings, p 712.

69. International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, no 52, 8 October 1931, p 945.

70. Anti-Fascists in Leading Positions in the GDR (Dresden, nd), p 85.

71. Trotsky, ‘What Next?’, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, p 172.

72. Communist International, Volume 10, no 21, 15 December 1931, pp 717-55, emphasis added.

73. Die Rote Fahne, 17 November 1931.

74. L Breuer, ‘The Political Situation in Germany’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, no 59, 19 November 1931, pp 1055-56, emphasis added.

75. Vorwärts, 10 March 1931.

76. International Press Correspondence, Volume 12, no 7, 18 February 1932, p 117.

77. Die Rote Fahne, 16 March 1932.

78. Die Rote Fahne, 16 March 1932.

79. Pravda, 17 March 1932.

80. Pravda, 17 March 1932.

81. International Press Correspondence, Volume 12, no 18, 21 April 1932, p 346.

82. International Press Correspondence, Volume 12, no 18, 21 April 1932, p 349.

83. International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, 10 December 1931, p 1137, emphasis added.

84. Vorwärts, 26 April 1932.

85. J Gollan, ‘GDH Cole’s Socialist Thought’, Marxism Today, Volume 3, no 3, March 1959, p 69.

86. See Institut für Marxismus-Leninismus beim ZK der SED, Die Anti-Faschistische Aktion (Dietz Verlag, [East] Berlin, 1965), p 11.

87. Die Rote Fahne, 18 May 1932, emphasis added.

88. International Press Correspondence, Volume 12, no 23, 26 May 1932, p 451.

89. International Press Correspondence, Volume 12, no 23, 26 May 1932, p 451.

90. LD Trotsky, ‘The Only Road’ (14 September 1932), The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, p 300.

91. Vorwärts, 29 April 1931.

92. H Schlange-Schöningen, The Morning After (London, 1948), p 48.

93. International Press Correspondence, Volume 12, no 27, 16 June 1932, p 544, emphasis added.

94. Daily Worker, 17 June 1932.

95. E Thälmann, ‘Our Strategy and Tactics in the Struggle Against Fascism’, Die Internationale, no 6, June 1932, emphasis added.

96. International Press Correspondence, Volume 11, 30 June 1931, p 611, emphasis added.

97. E Thälmann, ‘Our Strategy and Tactics in the Struggle Against Fascism’, Die Internationale, no 6, June 1932, emphasis added.

98. E Thälmann, ‘Our Strategy and Tactics in the Struggle Against Fascism’, Die Internationale, no 6, June 1932.

99. Valtin, Out of the Night, pp 358-59.

100. Communist International, Volume 11, no 17-18, 1 October 1932, pp 633-34.

101. O Kuusinen, The Struggle of the KPD (nd), p 99.

102. A Grzesinski, Inside Germany (New York, 1939), p 158.

103. W Knorin, ‘The Situation in Germany’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 12, no 33, 28 July 1932, p 674.

104. Lüdecke, I Knew Hitler, p 392.