Fascism in Germany. Robin Blick 1975

Chapter XXIV: The Last Chance

Once the attempt to force a recovery through the Bonapartist therapy has failed, it must be tried with fascist surgery... (LD Trotsky, The Only Road, 14 September 1932)

President Hindenburg had not been acting for himself alone when on 13 August he rejected Hitler’s impassioned pleas for the Chancellorship. Decisive action against the Prussian Social Democrats, together with a programme of economic expansion, had persuaded many bankers and industrialists previously sympathetic to the Nazis that Papen’s military-Presidential Bonapartism was a safer method of combating the working class and reviving the economy than a gamble on a government dominated by brown-shirted plebeians. Trotsky wrote in September 1932:

Through the Papen government, the barons, the magnates of capital and the bankers have made an attempt to safeguard their interests by means of the police and the regular army. The idea of giving up all power to Hitler, who supports himself upon the greedy and unbridled bands of the petit-bourgeoisie, is a far from pleasant one to them. They do not, of course, doubt that in the long run Hitler will be a submissive instrument. [And even in this, they were not wholly correct – RB] Yet this is bound up with convulsions, with the risk of a long and weary civil war and great expense... It is clear that the possessing classes would prefer a more economical path, that is, the path of Schleicher and not of Hitler, not to speak of the fact that Schleicher himself prefers it that way. [1]

Wishes, however, are one thing, reality, and therefore necessity, quite frequently something else. While Papen’s political economic programme certainly enjoyed the support of the majority of the business community and the Reichswehr leadership, it failed utterly to arouse the least enthusiasm amongst even the most reactionary lower strata of the population. Papen’s was a regime without any roots in the masses, a ‘featureless point of intersection of great historical forces [whose] independent weight is next to nil’. [2] And for this reason, Trotsky continued, it was incapable of implementing its reactionary programme, ‘it can do nothing but take fright at its own gesticulations and grow dizzy at the vacuum unfolding on all sides of it’. [3] Nor was the support of and participation in the government by the Reichswehr sufficient to compensate for Papen’s social isolation from the masses:

... for all its preponderance over the government, the Reichswehr nevertheless cannot lay claim to any independent political role. A hundred thousand soldiers, no matter how cohesive and steeled they may be... are incapable of commanding a nation of 65 million torn by the most profound social antagonisms. [4] The Reichswehr represents only one element in the interplay of forces, and not the decisive one. [5]

Lending the Papen cabinet credence in the eyes of the bourgeoisie (and the semblance of a stability it did not possess) was not only the temporary equilibrium established between the polarised forces of the Nazified petit-bourgeoisie and the KPD – SPD-led proletariat (each camp numbering some 13 millions), but also the economic upturn which first became visible in the summer months of 1932. Unemployment ceased to rise, then steadily declined, while on the Berlin Bourse, which had resumed dealings the previous April after being closed for nine months, the index climbed from 46 points in June and July (45 in April) to 49 in August and 56 by September. On the basis of this upturn (the product of a world-wide revival of trade and production which began mid-way through 1932), together with Papen’s initial successes in combating the reformists and keeping the Nazi upstarts in their place, [6] industry, banking and agrarian interests alike rallied to the ‘Cabinet of Barons’, disillusionment only setting in when the methods of military-police Bonapartism proved themselves inadequate to counter the sudden upsurge of militancy in the working class which appeared towards the end of September.

The causes of this revival were manifold. It cannot be attributed exclusively to Papen’s attempted wage cuts, since under Brüning similar measures had, more often than not, been carried through without organised or protracted resistance by the workers. Just as important was the fact that the reformist workers (who comprised the large majority of the workforce in the large plants, the bulk of the KPD’s following being either unemployed or in the medium and small concerns) no longer felt obligated in any sense to hold back from strike action against the government. Brüning had gone, and with him the SPD-ADGB policy of ‘tolerating’ his programme of wage cuts and reductions in social services. The enforced return of Social Democracy to an oppositional role (however timid) therefore became a radicalising factor in the struggle of the workers against Papen’s wage-cutting offensive. Finally there was the economic revival itself. Drawing attention to symptoms of an upturn in the production cycle, Trotsky also took note of their repercussions in the consciousness of the proletariat:

We can predict with full assurance that an upward turn in the cycle would give a powerful impetus to the activity of the proletariat, at present in decline. At the moment when the factory stops discharging workers and takes on new ones, the self-confidence of the workers is strengthened; they are once again necessary. The compressed springs begin to expand again. Workers always enter into the struggle for the reconquest of lost positions more easily than for the conquest of new ones. [7]

And Trotsky went on to make another prediction borne out by the events of the following three months:

Neither emergency decrees nor the use of the Reichswehr will be able to liquidate mass strikes which develop on the wave of the upturn. The Bonapartist regime, which is able to maintain itself only through the ‘social truce’, will be the first victim of the upturn in the cycle. [8]

Certainly the shrewdest among Papen’s ministers, von Schleicher realised that his own Reichswehr could only act as political arbiter so long as the proletariat and the fascist petit-bourgeoisie counter-balanced one another. The question therefore remained – on what social forces would the state power consolidate itself in the event of a dislocation of this equilibrium either to the right or the left? Schleicher addressed himself to this problem in a radio speech in August 1932:

If we understand by military dictatorship a government solely supported by the bayonets of the Reichswehr, then I can only say that such a government would rapidly run down in a vacuum, and would be bound to end in failure. In Germany perhaps more than in any other country, the government must be borne on a broad current of the people.

Schleicher’s notion of a ‘broad current’ involved a bloc of the Nazi ‘lefts’, headed by Gregor Strasser, and the trade union bureaucracy, these two unlikely bedfellows serving as the base to a pyramidal structure at whose apex rested the German Officer Corps. The fall of Papen in November would provide the General with the opportunity to put these unorthodox ideas into practice. Meanwhile, the ‘Cabinet of Barons’ was running into serious difficulties with the mounting strike wave [9] and the progressive disaffection of the business world. Early in October, the pro-Nazi Berliner Börsen Zeitung commented apprehensively:

From the recognition of the political character of these strikes as combating the decrees of the German government there follows the political conclusion: no government can permit its measures for an energetic and definite combating of unemployment to be sabotaged for political reasons or for the purpose of election tactics. [New Reichstag elections had been fixed for 6 November – RB]

But the Papen government had to ‘permit’, for it lacked the material and social resources to make its paper decrees laws that the proletariat accepted without question. The Berliner Börsen Zeitung would, of course, have remedied matters by bringing the Nazis into the government, even to the extent of making Hitler Chancellor. Only slightly less intransigent was the independent Kölnische Zeitung, which issued a stern warning to the trade union leaders in its issue of 30 September:

The government programme requires aid and cooperation of all who aim to improve the economic situation. At the same time criticism of details is possible. The trade unions do not feel responsible for the government programme. Perhaps a way can be found to include them in this responsibility and cooperation. [But if they reject this]... then it is the task of the government to make the position clear regarding the carrying out of their emergency decrees. They will definitely have to face up to the question of a strike prohibition which, it is said, has already been raised in the cabinet.

A contrary view was expressed by the liberal Berlin Zwolf-Uhr Blatt, a paper which still held out hopes of compromise and even collaboration with the trade union bureaucracy:

It is feared that in the event of a strike prohibition these partial strikes could degenerate into a general strike movement... For this reason there is a disinclination in government circles to issue a strike prohibition. It is believed that before long, with the support of the trade unions, it will be possible to avoid all strikes.

So once again, the question of questions was – with or against the reformist bureaucracy? The Taglische Rundschau tried like Schleicher either to evade or postpone an answer by demanding a broad coalition reaching from the ADGB bureaucrats on the left to Hitler on the right:

The method of government cannot be changed for the time being, but the persons and aims can be changed. After 6 November, we need a change of Chancellor. Otherwise the situation in Germany will become dangerously acute. One can govern without parliament [as Papen was virtually doing – RB] but one cannot govern without the people. A cabinet of national concentration is necessary, but it must include real personalities from all camps. If the NSDAP is approached honestly, it will certainly be ready to send two representatives into this concentration, whilst the trade unions of all tendencies will be unable to remain outside.

This sudden and all-pervading interest in the trade unions arose as a result of the already-discussed renewal of working-class militancy. Sections of the bourgeoisie still hoped that in lieu of more drastic measures (which involved the formation of a Nazi-dominated government) the proletariat could be curbed through the classical mechanism of the reformist bureaucracy.

But this same bureaucracy, nourished by half a century of capitalist expansion, could no longer promise the workers social reforms, higher wages and regular jobs in return for another era of class-collaboration. [10] The bourgeoisie now sought the ADGB’s participation in a government that, in order to make possible a revival of German capitalism, would be compelled to make even deeper inroads into the incomes, living standards and political rights of the proletariat. This is what was new in the proposed participation of the trade union leaders in a government of ‘national concentration’, whose real class purpose was betrayed by the invitation to the NSDAP. Certainly, it was a utopian programme, for as Trotsky pointed out repeatedly in his polemics against the Stalinist theory that reformism had turned ‘social fascist’, fascism and its ruling-class supporters desired not the collaboration of Social Democracy, but its annihilation. Therefore there could be no question of the trade unions being ‘incorporated’ into the capitalist state, whether that state be represented by a Bonapartist or Nazi regime. The proof of Trotsky’s argument against ‘social fascism’ came on 2 May 1933, when Hitler liquidated the ADGB unions and on their ruins established on 10 May the ‘German Labour Front’.

However the utopian nature of the Schleicher programme must not blind us to the immense pressures that were bearing down on the trade unions as the most basic organisations of the proletariat, and to the fact that the continued retreats of the ADGB and SPD leaderships before Brüning and then Papen had prepared the political conditions for their destruction.

The trade union question also preoccupied certain of the Nazi leadership in the autumn of 1932, for we find Goebbels making several worried entries in his diary about the growth of the strike movement and Papen’s palpable inability to check it:

28 September: Minor strikes flare up throughout the Reich. The government is perfectly helpless against them. The trade unions are being carried away by the radicalism of the masses...

30 September: The gentlemen of the Wilhelmstrasse are beginning to feel uncomfortable. Strikes are becoming too numerous in the country. Fury and discontent everywhere. Things are getting more dangerous than they had perhaps imagined...

1 October: Strikes and rioting are increasing all over the country. The dilettantism of the present government must one day meet with an awful retribution... [11]

Naturally such sentiments could not be expressed openly in the Nazi press or at party rallies. Hitler had already ordered a ‘left turn’ following the rebuff of 13 August. To come out now against the strike movement would have ranged the Nazi Party quite unambiguously on the side of Papen’s ‘Cabinet of Barons’. Papen therefore had to be attacked in tones no less strident than were being employed in the KPD press, and the strikers ‘supported’, through the activities of the NSBO. Again the diary entries of Goebbels illustrate how and why this manoeuvre was undertaken:

31 August: There is an indescribably strong antagonistic feeling against Reaction amongst the people. It has only the apparatus of the state at its disposal, nothing else whatever. No party, no powerful group.

4 September: I write an article sharply attacking the ‘upper ten’. If we wish to keep the party intact, we must again appeal to the primitive instincts of the masses.

15 September: At the Sportspalast in the evening, I deliver a well-thought address directed against the Cabinet and its political practices and tactics. Gradually we manage to get a firm hold on the masses again. [12]

‘Getting a hold on the masses again’ necessarily involved the Nazi leadership in propaganda tactics which, to say the least, disconcerted all but the party’s firmest supporters. Even before the NSDAP’s participation in the Berlin transport workers’ strike, donations to the party treasury had tailed off alarmingly. Here the sly hand of Papen was at work. The Chancellor still hoped to bring Hitler to heel by financial as well as political pressures, not only persuading industrialists and bankers to cease subsidising the party, but exhausting its resources and energies in yet another costly Reichstag election campaign. Papen also hoped that the ebbing of the Nazi tide detectable in the elections of 31 July would by 6 November have gathered sufficient momentum to convince Hitler that unless he accepted Papen’s offer of the Vice-Chancellorship, his last opportunity of entering the government would have been missed. [13] This plan seems to have had the approval of all but a handful of business leaders. On 16 September, Goebbels recorded that the election of 6 November ‘will be difficult this time as the Party exchequer is empty. The past elections have used up all the money at our disposal.’ And four days later, ‘the election campaign costs money, and money, at present, is very difficult to obtain’. [14]

The Nazi leaders’ only consolation in this bleak period was the manifest inability of the Papen government to command the support of any segment of the population. [15] Neither big business nor the army command relished a situation in which the Reichswehr and the police would be the only organised force standing between the propertied class and revolution. Somehow the state had to anchor its authority in a section of the masses.

This problem was the subject of a quite remarkable article in the confidential information and policy bulletin of heavy industry, Deutsche Führer Briefe, edited by Dr Franz Reuter, an official of the Federation of German Industries. Entitled The Social Reconsolidation of Capitalism, and published in the issues of 16 and 20 September 1932, the article comes to the historic conclusion that an end had to be put to the policy of collaboration with the Social Democratic bureaucracy if German capitalism was to preserve and consolidate its rule. Mass support there had to be, but it was to be found not among the reformist workers, but the Nazified petit-bourgeoisie:

The problem of consolidating the capitalist regime in postwar Germany is governed by the fact that the leading section, the capitalists controlling industry, has become too small to maintain its rule alone. Unless recourse is to be had to the extremely dangerous weapon of purely military force [the Kapp solution, and one rejected by Schleicher – RB], it is necessary for it to link itself with sections which do not belong to it from a social standpoint, but which can render it the essential service of anchoring its rule among the people, and thereby becoming its special or last defender. This last or ‘outermost’ defender of bourgeois rule, in the first period after the war, was Social Democracy. National Socialism has to succeed Social Democracy in providing a mass support for capitalist rule in Germany... Social Democracy had a special qualification for this task, which up to the present National Socialism lacks... Thanks to its character as the original party of the workers, Social Democracy, in addition to its purely political force, also had the much more valuable and permanent advantage of control over organised labour, and by paralysing its revolutionary energies chained it firmly to the state... In the first period of the capitalist regime after the war, the working class was divided by the wages victories and social-political measures through which the Social Democrats canalised the revolutionary movement [that is, the November 1918 Working Agreement between the ADGB and the employers – RB]... the deflection of the revolution into social-political measures corresponded with the transfer of the struggle from the factories and the streets into parliaments and cabinets, with the transfer of the struggle ‘from below’ into concessions ‘from above’.

From then onwards, therefore, the Social Democratic and trade union bureaucracy, and with them also the section of the workers whom they led, were closely tied to the capitalist state and participation in its administration – at least so long as there was anything left of their postwar victories to defend by these means, and so long as the workers followed their leadership. This analysis leads to four important conclusions:

1. The policy of the ‘lesser evil’ is not merely tactical, it is the essence of Social Democracy.

2. The cords which bind the trade union bureaucracy to the state method [of reforms] ‘from above’ are more compelling than those which bind them to Marxism, and therefore to Social Democracy; and this holds in relation to the bourgeois state which wants to draw in this bureaucracy.

3. The links between the trade union bureaucracy and Social Democracy stand or fall, from a political standpoint, with parliamentarianism.

4. The possibility of a liberal social policy for monopoly capitalism is conditioned by the existence of an automatic mechanism for the creation of divisions within the working class. A capitalist regime which adopts a liberal social policy must not only be entirely parliamentary, it must also be based on Social Democracy and must allow Social Democracy to have sufficient gains to record; a capitalist regime which puts an end to these gains must also sacrifice parliamentarism and Social Democracy, must create a substitute for Social Democracy and pass over to a social policy of constraint.

The process of this transition, in which we are at the moment, for the reason that the economic crisis has perforce blotted out the gains referred to, has to pass through the acutely dangerous stage when, with the wiping out of these gains, the mechanism for the creation of divisions in the working class which depended on them also ceases to function, the working class moves in the direction of Communism [though at a far slower tempo than would have been the case had the KPD pursued a correct tactic in relation to the SPD workers – RB], and the capitalist rule approaches the emergency stage of military dictatorship [that is, of pure Bonapartism – RB]...

The only safeguard from this acute stage is if the division and holding back of the working class, which the former mechanism can no longer adequately maintain, is carried out by other and more direct methods, in this lie the positive opportunities and tasks of National Socialism.

Here the analysis is false. Although National Socialism did succeed in mobilising a section of the working class against the proletariat as a whole, these workers were recruited from the bourgeois parties, not the SPD. More important, fascism is principally a method of setting the petit-bourgeoisie against the working class, its social basis therefore being very different from that of Social Democracy. The document continues:

... If National Socialism succeeds in bringing the trade unions into a social policy of constraint as Social Democracy formerly succeeded in bringing them into a liberal policy, then National Socialism would become the bearer of one of the functions essential to the future of capitalist rule, and must necessarily find its place in the state and social system. The danger of a state capitalist or even socialistic development, which is often urged against such an incorporation of the trade unions under National Socialist leadership, will in fact be avoided precisely by these means... There is no third course between a reconsolidation of capitalist rule and the Communist revolution. [16]

Once again, we should note that this extremely class-conscious analysis is conducted from the ‘Schleicher’ standpoint. It speaks of the severance of the umbilical cord connecting the trade union bureaucracy with its historical parent, the SPD, and more than this, the ‘incorporation of the trade unions [into the capitalist state] under Nazi leadership’. Even if the ADGB bureaucracy, or a section of it, might be ready to undertake such a role, the Nazis had no intention of seeking its assistance in subordinating the proletariat to the economic and military requirements of German imperialism. This was September 1932, and not August 1914. What applied to the SPD flank of the reformist bureaucracy held good for its trade union wing. The trade unions stood or fell with the Weimar party system and the entire structure of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. Yet as late as the autumn of 1932, a considerable section of the pro-Nazi bourgeoisie appears to have believed that the trade union bureaucracy could continue to serve monopoly capitalism under a regime which had eliminated both.

This illusion was, ironically, shared not only by the Stalinists, who, ever since the onset of the ‘Third Period’ in 1928, had been arguing that reformist ‘social fascism’ was in the last stages of fusion with the bourgeois state and, after 1930, National Socialism, but also by the reformist trade union bureaucrats themselves. Amidst this discussion – public as well as private – on the destiny of the German trade unions, ADGB President Theodor Leipart made a speech on 14 October at the trade union centre in Bernau (north of Berlin) in which he intimated that the bureaucracy was willing to do its duty by the fatherland as it had done in the war of 1914-18: ‘No socialist can escape the nationalist development. We also did not when we fought in the world war for the fatherland until our sad collapse.’ This hint did not pass unnoticed. Six days later, on 20 October, Gregor Strasser told a Nazi rally in the Berlin Sportspalast:

More important still appears to me the declaration which the leader of the ADGB Theodor Leipart made on 14 October in Bernau. In this declaration we find passages which, if they are acted upon honestly, open up wide prospects for the future. [Emphasis added]

In the case of the Catholic trade unions, these overtures had actually led to informal exchanges between Strasser and the Catholic trade union leader Imbusch. And behind the scenes, orchestrating this obscene dialogue was Schleicher himself. The first contacts between the general and the ADGB went back to 24 August 1932, when Dr Kubbert, a friend of both Schleicher and Strasser, and also a director of Verkehersengesellschaft AG, paid a call on the Berlin headquarters of the ADGB at the suggestion of an executive member of the Reichsbanner, the Social Democratic defence organisation. On this first occasion, Kubbert’s proposal that the trade unions and the NSDAP ‘lefts’ should collaborate in the formation of a broad-based ‘national’ government was turned down by three ADGB officials – Eggert, Schlimme and Erdmann. They would, they said, have nothing to do with an undertaking that might set the ADGB against its traditional ally, the SPD (Erdmann, editor of an ADGB journal, informed Leipart of this approach in a letter dated 29 August 1932).

These first tentative contacts were not resumed in earnest until after Schleicher’s appointment as Chancellor in December. Meanwhile, there had been developments of an equally sinister nature in the leadership of the other, Communist, flank of the German workers’ movement.

The Twelfth ECCI Plenum

The suicidal course forced on the KPD by the Kremlin after 1930 had on more than one occasion provoked conflicts within the top party leadership between critics of the ‘general line’ and Stalinist stalwarts such as Thälmann, Pieck and Ulbricht (though even Thälmann had joined with the majority of the KPD Central Committee in initially opposing Stalin’s proposal to support the Nazi referendum in Prussia). This factional struggle, which had already led to the demotion of Neumann and Remmele from the top leadership at the beginning of 1932, came out into the open at the Twelfth ECCI Plenum held in Moscow in the September of that year, at a time when the German working class had begun to hit back at the Papen government and the Nazis.

The Twelfth ECCI Plenum coincided with a profound conjunctural crisis of the Soviet economy, Communist Party and state. The bureaucratically projected targets of the First Five-Year Plan had so hindered the harmonious development of the various sectors of the economy that, by the autumn of 1932, entire branches of industry stood on the verge of breakdown, while in the countryside enforced total collectivisation had led to such extreme conditions of famine that starving peasants had even resorted to cannibalism. Stalin’s economic adventurism (itself the panicky reaction to the crisis created by the years of retreat before the Kulaks and Nepmen) had brought the USSR to the brink of civil war. The Soviet oppositionist Roy Medvedev has described the parlous state of the Soviet economy at this time in his historical survey of Stalinism, Let History Judge:

Stalin... brushed aside reports of famine, which appeared in many areas in 1932-33, as a result of crop failures and forced grain collections. Tens of thousands of peasants died of starvation and hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, left their homes and fled to the cities... In 1930, Stalin predicted an increase in industrial output of 31 to 32 per cent. The actual increase, according to the yearbooks of the Central Administration, was 22 per cent. For 1931, a new target was adopted: an increase of 45 per cent. The actual increase in 1931 was 20 per cent. In 1932, it dropped to 15 per cent, and on 1933 to five per cent... Ten million tons of pig iron were planned for the last year of the Five-Year Plan, and Stalin in 1930 declared this goal raised to 17 million tons. In 1932, 6.16 million tons were poured... Only in 1950 did the figure pass 17 million. [17]

Naturally not a word concerning the real state of the Soviet economy was permitted to appear in the official Comintern press. And it was not only for reasons of political prestige that Stalinist hacks and their liberal hirelings, throughout these years of famine and industrial dislocation, presented to the outside world a picture of a land flowing with milk and honey, and peopled by a loyal and happy proletariat and peasantry. Even more than worldwide exposure of his disastrous economic policies, Stalin feared invasion by the imperialist powers, a threat the USSR had never been worse equipped politically and militarily to meet than since the first days of the wars of intervention. Rural unrest had spread even into the ranks of the Red Army, and there were grave doubts as to the reliability of units composed mainly of peasants. Red Army men had been known to mutiny when called in to put down local village uprisings against Stalin’s collectivisation policy. Would they be any more reliable if called upon to fight against an invader who demagogically promised them freedom of trade, the break-up of the collective farms, and the restoration of private land ownership? [18]

Stalin’s ruinous economic course had regenerated previously inert oppositional tendencies in the party – on the left, Zinoviev and Kamenev, and the Bukharinite right, now headed by Riutin, who was arrested in October 1932. Zinoviev and Kamenev were also expelled along with the Rights, the bogus charge being that they had become ‘traitors to the party and the working class’, and were ‘trying to create by underground means, under the fraudulent cover of the banner of Marxism-Leninism, a bourgeois-Kulak organisation for the restoration of capitalism, especially the Kulaks, in the USSR’. Riutin, a former close ally of the Moscow Right Oppositionist Uglanov, who had been one of the first to fall foul of Stalin’s anti-Bukharin drive in 1929, had drafted a programme calling for a slackening of industrialisation tempos and a temporary retreat to private farming. So great was support given to this secretly circulated programme that Stalin feared his own political defeat on the CPSU Politbureau. Certainly there were voices raised on that body against the ‘excesses’ of Stalin’s line, and when Stalin proposed that the arrested Riutin be executed, he was outvoted by his Politbureau comrades, with only Kaganovich supporting him. Despite the eclectic nature of the Riutin programme, with its attempt to combine a Bukharinist economic policy with endorsement of Trotsky’s criticisms of the Stalinist bureaucratic regime in party and state affairs (Riutin also called for the reinstatement of expelled party members, including the exiled Trotsky), Stalin had good grounds for fearing its possible disintegrating effect on his domination of the foreign sections of the Communist International, where various and in some cases contradictory oppositionist trends were beginning to manifest themselves, as we have already seen in the case of the KPD. Weeding out real, potential or imagined critics of the Stalinist line therefore became one of the main preoccupations of the Twelfth ECCI Plenum.

Finally there was the question of Stalin’s foreign policy, which now more than ever before was a projection of the narrow caste interests of the Soviet bureaucracy. The near-breakdown of the First Five-Year Plan now meant that the economy was thrown even more into dependence on German technical and material aid. In 1932, nearly half of all Soviet imports came from one country – Germany. Teetering on the brink of industrial chaos, nation-wide famine and a many-millioned peasants’ revolt, Stalin feared class upheavals nowhere more than in Germany, the country closest to a revolutionary crisis. The Kremlin feared that revolution in Germany could bring counter-revolution in the USSR, and, accompanying it, massive imperialist intervention. Stalin’s German policy therefore had two aims. Firstly, the avoidance of major class battles of a scale that would threaten Moscow’s trade and technical links with Berlin, and secondly, the formation of a government which would disrupt the threatening united anti-Soviet front by turning its guns westwards towards France, the country still regarded even at this stage as the main instigator of war against the Soviet Union.

Here Papen’s government by no means filled the bill, for although stridently nationalist, from its very formation it had sought a détente with France, and was avowedly hostile to the USSR (before becoming Chancellor, Papen had addressed a meeting of the Herren Klub on 27 February 1932, in which he called for a German-French-Polish alliance against the USSR). Papen’s memo of 29 June 1932, on his conversation with French Prime Minister Herriot at the Lausanne conference, denotes the direction of German foreign policy at this time:

... the German government was extraordinarily serious in its striving to remove the barriers which lay between France and Germany. As proof of this I wanted to tell him how far we are determined to go in connection with this thing. We were ready for a customs union with France... and in this field of security we could give no greater proof of our sincerity... than that we were thinking of an entente between the French and German armies. [19]

Great was the alarm among Soviet diplomats when they learned what had transpired at Lausanne. Papen was preparing to turn the Soviet Union’s western defences by a military alliance with French imperialism and its vassal state Poland! Soviet Ambassador to Berlin Leo Khinchuk (purged by Stalin some five years later) demanded and was granted an interview with Chief of Staff and Defence Minister von Schleicher that very same day. According to notes made on the meeting by the general, Khinchuk had been perturbed by ‘rumours of a stronger western orientation of German foreign policy’ and ‘that this orientation could have a harmful effect upon relations with Russia’. To which Schleicher replied that the still-intimate Red Army-Reichswehr relations were a guarantee against any untoward changes in Germany’s attitude towards the USSR. [20]

That Stalin viewed the rise to power of an extreme right-wing, even Nazi government with equanimity is not only suggested by the general orientation of Kremlin diplomacy and Comintern policy at this time, but confirmed by the personal testimony of one of his most trusted and experienced international secret agents, Walter Krivitsky, who writes:

Some seven or eight months before his [Hitler’s] ascent to power, in the early summer months of 1932, I met in Danzig one of the high officers of the German general staff, a confirmed monarchist who came from Berlin expressly to meet me. He was an old-school military man and believed in the restoration of the German empire in cooperation with Russia. I asked this officer for his opinion on Germany’s policy in the event of Hitler’s becoming the head of the government. We discussed Hitler’s views as outlined in his book Mein Kampf. The German officer gave me his analysis of coming developments, and concluded: ‘Let Hitler come and do his job. And then we, the army, will make short work of him.’ [Hitler’s ‘job’ included, among other pressing tasks the physical destruction of the German Communist Party – RB] I asked the officer if he would be good enough to submit his views in writing for me to forward to Moscow, and he agreed to do so. His report created a stir in Kremlin circles. The prevailing view there was that military and economic ties between Germany and Russia were so deep rooted that Hitler could not possibly disregard them. Moscow understood Hitler’s fulminations against Bolshevism as a manoeuvre on the road to power. They had their function. But they could not change the basic interests of the two countries, which were bound to make for cooperation. Stalin himself derived much comfort from the report of the German officer. Although fully alive to the Nazi doctrine of ‘pressure towards the east’, he was habituated to the tradition of collaboration between the Red Army and the Reichswehr, and he had a wholesome respect for the German Army and its leadership under von Seeckt. The respect of the German Staff Officer dovetailed with his own views. Stalin looked on the Nazi movement primarily as a reaction to the Versailles peace. It seemed to him that all Germany would do under Hitler was to throw off the shackles of Versailles... For these reasons Stalin made no effort after the rise of Hitler to break the secret Berlin-Moscow tie. On the contrary, he tried to keep it in force. [21]

The crises in the Soviet economy and Communist Party, the danger of imperialist intervention, the possibility of a realignment of German foreign policy – all now became factors influencing and shaping the policy of the Comintern leadership and, more than any other, that of its section in Germany. Despite the extreme radicalism of phraseology, the general tenor of the resolutions adopted at the Twelfth Plenum was cautious in content, referring in only the most general way to a ‘growing revolutionary upsurge’ which as yet nowhere posed immediately the question of the proletariat taking power. Even more illuminating was the astonishing statement that ‘capitalist stabilisation’ had only just come to an end – three full years after the Wall Street crash and the onset of the world slump! These ambiguous formulations had a definite political purpose. The main task before the sections was not the preparation of the working class for power, but ‘to organise and lead the struggle of the workers, peasants and all the toilers... for the defence of the fatherland of all the workers of all countries, the USSR, against the closely approaching intervention...’. [22] The dangers of a war of intervention against the USSR also occupied much of the main Plenum Thesis, On the International Situation and the Tasks of the Comintern Sections, with once again the main sources of this threat being quite wrongly located in Japan and France.

Significantly, in view of Stalin’s foreign policy orientation at this time, German imperialism was depicted as a possible victim of Polish aggression. Its resistance to such pressures made Germany ‘one of the main centres of the sharpest and most intense world imperialist conflicts’. Germany also stood in the way of ‘French imperialism’ which through ‘feverish activity in the struggle for hegemony on the European continent, is trying to strengthen its old military and political alliances and form new ones... [23]

As for the Plenum’s conclusions on the relations between fascism and bourgeois democracy, and the tactics to be pursued by the Communist parties in relation to the Social Democrats, nothing had changed. Whilst it was conceded that ‘fascism and social fascism’, in standing for ‘the maintenance and the strengthening of capitalism and bourgeois dictatorship’ adopted ‘different tactical views’, the difference amounted merely to the ‘social fascists’ preferring ‘a more moderate and more “lawful” application of bourgeois class coercion’, while the fascists stood for a dictatorship shorn of its ‘"democratic” drapings’. Rejecting oppositional tendencies and appeals for working-class unity on the part of Social Democratic leaders as ‘manoeuvres’, the sections were called upon, as before, to ‘direct the main blows against Social Democracy’, as ‘the social mainstay of the bourgeoisie’; while ‘by means of the united front from below’ they were summoned to ‘break down the wall which often [sic!] separates them from the Social Democratic workers’. [24] And as at the previous Plenum of April 1931, ‘liberal’ residues of an earlier era, when alliances with reformists and the defence of bourgeois democracy were the rule, had been detected in the work of certain parties:

In the overwhelming majority of the sections serious shortcomings and a number of serious opportunist mistakes have been discovered in carrying out the tactic of the united front from below, which have been utilised by the Social Democrats and the reformist trade union bureaucrats in their tricky manoeuvres. [25]

It transpired that in the unions especially, Communists had been guilty of putting forward the slogan ‘make the leaders fight’, which was tantamount to violating the Stalinist law of unity only ‘from below’. Summing up the various deviations in the Communist International, the Plenum came to the predictable conclusion that ‘capitulation to the reformist trade union bureaucrats’ was ‘the chief danger’, and not ‘sectarianism’, whose greatest sin was to ‘give up work in the reformist trade unions’ (an understandable error, in view of the fact that for several years, these unions had been characterised as fascist strike-breaking machines, and deserted en masse by Communist workers for the chimera of ‘red’ unionism).

What was remarkable about the resolutions and theses adopted at the Twelfth Plenum, in view of the unprecedented economic and political tensions accumulating in that country, was the paucity of materials devoted to Germany, then more than ever before the political fulcrum of Europe. We merely glean from the main Theses the quite false information that ‘the von Papen – Schleicher government, with the help of the Reichswehr, the Stahlhelm and the National Socialists, has established a form of fascist dictatorship’. But so too had Brüning, and before him, even the ‘social fascist’ Müller. What made this new ‘form’ different from its predecessors? Was it in fact different? The reader searched for the answers to these questions – vital to the future of the class struggle – in vain. The authors of the Theses clearly did not wish to become involved in a detailed and possibly therefore dangerous analysis of the real political situation in Germany. This becomes even more obvious in the section devoted to the immediate tasks of the parties, where little more than 100 words are expended on outlining the truly monumental and epoch-shaping responsibilities that weighed on the none-too-steady shoulders of the KPD. The tasks of the KPD were:

... to mobilise the vast masses of toilers in defence of their vital interests, against the bandit policy of monopolist capital, against fascism, against the emergency decrees, against nationalism and chauvinism, and by developing economic and political strikes, by struggle for proletarian internationalism, by means of demonstrations, to lead the masses to the point of the general political strike: to win over the bulk of the Social Democratic masses, and definitely overcome the weaknesses of trade union work. The chief slogans which the KPD must put forward to offset the slogan of the fascist dictatorship (the ‘Third Empire’) and the slogan of the SPD (the ‘Second Republic’) is the slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ republic, that is, Socialist Soviet Germany, which will guarantee the possibility of the voluntary affiliation of the people of Austria and other German territories. [26]

Quite apart from the blatant concession to chauvinism, whereby the slogan of a Soviet Germany served as a device for furthering nationalist ends, the perspective and programme foisted on the KPD was ultimatistic in nature, it lacked a worked-out series of transitional demands through which the reformist workers could be won to a united struggle against the capitalist offensive and fascism. Instead there was the administrative injunction to ‘win over the bulk of the Social Democratic masses’ – while at the same time, the line of the Comintern denied to the KPD the tactic necessary to this goal: the Leninist united front. The majority section of the proletariat still loyal to the SPD was to be detached from its leaders purely through the attractive power of the KPD, by artificially launching ‘economic and political strikes... demonstrations’, etc, steps in a campaign intended to culminate in the ‘general political strike’ – all of course under the ‘independent’ and exclusive leadership of the KPD. But what was equally to the point, the KPD had no concrete perspective for power. After the ‘general political strike...’ – what? The formation of organs of dual power? Workers’ councils? Factory committees? But these would be dominated, in their early stages at least, by representatives of ‘social fascism’. And since there could be no question of participating in bodies under the leadership of ‘social fascism’, the KPD implicitly repudiated in advance entry into genuine German workers’ soviets. The slogan of a ‘Socialist Soviet Germany’ therefore possessed purely a propagandistic and not agitational character. And a party that does not constantly address itself to the question of power and raise this question in the minds of the entire working class in forms most appropriate to the level of struggle, does not deserve to be taken seriously.

More important issues than the fate of the German working class were engrossing the ECCI Plenum. There was the problem of the KPD leadership struggle, which although resolved in Thälmann’s favour, continued to plague the ECCI bureaucrats and of course Stalin himself, who now more than ever before needed a strongly entrenched group at the head of the KPD willing and able to carry through the betrayal his foreign and domestic policies required.

According to his widow, Neumann began to oppose the Stalin – Thälmann line in the autumn of 1931, after the Prussian referendum, when he had:

... realised... that the CI was preparing the way for a new despicable and dangerous line in Germany. The formation of the so-called Neumann group coincided with this fatal political manoeuvre and Neumann’s later realisation.

She adds that Neumann:

... saw the fascist danger with clear eyes. He did not underestimate the enemy and he realised that the KPD would disappear with the republic. Did he recognise that the new Comintern line for a temporary alliance with the Nazis was due to Stalin’s change in foreign policy? I do not know. Anyway he opposed this new line and still stood for a militant struggle against the Nazis... He saw with horror and dark foreboding that those people who had met at Harzburg were mostly the ones with whom the KPD had made common cause over the referendum. [27]

Sheer fear of fascism, and the instinct of self-preservation, were the main driving forces behind Neumann’s opposition to Comintern policy for Germany. It had nothing in common theoretically with Trotsky’s critique of Third Period Stalinism, and does not seem to have involved even a questioning of Stalin’s designation of Social Democracy as the ‘moderate wing of fascism’. Even so, Neumann soon became a focal point of opposition to Thälmann in the KPD and youth leadership. Among his supporters included the veteran worker-Communist Hermann Remmele (purged with Neumann in 1937), Leo Flieg and Willy Münzenberg. Lacking a firm political and theoretical foundation for a serious factional struggle against Thälmann, and what was more important, his patrons in Moscow, the Neumann group attempted to change KPD policy by a series of bureaucratic manoeuvres. It was the method they had learned from Stalin, and now they sought to turn it against him – without success.

... the vast majority of party members knew nothing of the existence of a ‘Neumann group’. There were no discussions at the lower levels. Neumann and his friends thought it imperative to gather like-minded support and thereby to change the balance of power within the party. A large section of the Central Committee showed sympathy for Neumann’s critical attitude, and the youth leadership practically all expressed solidarity with his political line. Heartened by this, Neumann thought he could carry out his policy behind the Comintern’s back. He believed his policy was in the interests of the German proletariat and would be the best way of preventing the Nazis from obtaining power. He had no doubts about success and hoped finally to present Moscow with a fait accompli. Historical developments would justify him and the Comintern would be obliged to give him its blessing. It is significant that it occurred to nobody in this allegedly democratic organisation to ask the opinion of the mass of comrades. [28]

Once Neumann’s oppositional activities and views were discovered, Moscow moved quickly against him and his comrades. Stalin issued an order to remove him from the KPD leadership ‘at the beginning of 1932’, Neumann being summoned to Moscow in April to give an account of his sins. Nothing was said or written publicly about the disgrace of Stalin’s former protégé until the Twelfth ECCI Plenum, though news of it leaked out through the press of the Left Opposition: [29] ‘The party membership only learned of a “Neumann group” six months after he had been removed from the leadership of the KPD.’ [30]

Reading between the lines of Thälmann’s main speech to the Twelfth Plenum (published under the title ‘Unleash the Proletarian Rebellion’), it is clear that serious divergences over tactics had indeed arisen within the KPD leadership, even if they did not derive from a wholly principled stand by the opposition. Thälmann referred to the existence of ‘petit-bourgeois views of a defeatist and pessimistic nature which find their expression in such statements as “if fascism comes to power it’s all up with us"’. [31] This was certainly not in accordance with the views of the ECCI, which held that:

Hitler’s accession to power in Germany would mean a sharpening of the contradictions of the Versailles Treaty [something to be welcomed by Stalin – RB], unprecedentedly strained relations in Europe, which would speed up the growing revolutionary crisis in its central section – Germany... We must see to it most carefully that we bring our struggle against wage robbery and emergency decrees into correct relation with our struggle for liberation from the fetters of the Versailles Treaty. [32]

Which of course was also the tactic pursued by the Nazi ‘lefts’ in the NSBO, who sought to blur over the class struggle against the German imperialist bourgeoisie by directing it against ‘Versailles slavery’. Presumably there had also been rumblings of criticism against the KPD’s chauvinist programme of ‘national and social liberation’, especially those of its sections which were blatantly designed to undercut the patriotic appeal of the Nazis, for Thälmann went on:

In our struggle against Versailles, we must speak a comprehensible language... which the middle strata of toilers [that is, those supporting the NSDAP! – RB] can understand... We must rid many of our comrades of certain inner inhibitions which they still possess, of certain ‘apprehensions’ that we may have borrowed certain sections from the National Socialists’ demands and incorporated them in our liberation programme. We must fill the whole party with a much stronger consciousness that we were and are the first and only opponents of the Versailles system in Germany. [33]

Thälmann also took issue with another heretical notion prevalent in the KPD – namely that with the emergence of National Socialism as a mass movement commanding the support of some 13 millions, together with von Papen’s moves against the reformists in Prussia, Social Democracy was no longer the ‘main social support of the bourgeoisie’, and therefore it might be permissible to approach its middle and local cadres for a united front against the Nazis. Thälmann would yield not an inch:

After the coming to power of the Papen government, certain tendencies to deviation from the general line of the party... manifested themselves among individual comrades in Germany. [An article in the KPD press on the Papen regime]... contains one absolutely false formulation, namely, ‘that the bourgeoisie is temporarily renouncing the cooperation of Social Democracy as its main social support’. In this we see a wholly inadmissible estimation of the role of the SPD in the present situation. The tactical conclusions which have been drawn are substantially on a par with the proposals of the Berlin District leadership – proposals which were made to the SPD with the view to holding joint demonstrations, and which were rightly rejected by the CC of our party, and corrected [sic!] in the case of Berlin. [34] ... The proposal made by the leaders of the Berlin district to the Iron Front was sharply criticised by us, because it expressed an overestimation of the degree of maturity attained by Social Democratic workers, and an underestimation of our own power among the working class, for the organisation of widespread demonstrations of the united front from below, coupled with a surrender in the face of certain sentimental feelings of unity [sic!] which are to be met with. [35]

Thälmann was clearly perturbed that after more than four years of campaigning in the KPD against the Leninist united front, there were still comrades prepared to advocate its use in the fight against fascism. Worse still, a united front between the KPD and SPD smacked of... Trotskyism:

There existed a great lack of clarity in our own ranks, in the judgement passed up on Luxemburgism, and also in the question of Trotskyism as a counter-revolutionary ideology... The historically important letter of Stalin [36] helped us to correct, and abolish with all speed, the vagueness... in the party and the mistakes made in Die Rote Fahne... Trotskyism wants in all seriousness to see the Communists going hand in hand with the murderers of Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg... Trotsky has attempted on more than one occasion to lead the working class astray by his writings, by demanding negotiations between the leaders of the KPD and the SPD. [37]

Significantly Neumann, who although disgraced was present at the Plenum, was singled out by Thälmann for failing to pose sharply enough the ‘counter-revolutionary’ nature of Trotskyism. In an introduction to a German translation of Stalin’s attack on Rosa Luxemburg, he had lapsed into unforgiveable ‘conciliationism’ by designating Trotskyism simply as a ‘left ideology’. The vigilant Ulbricht detected this lapse, and inserted the correct formulation, which according to Thälmann, was ‘the counter-revolutionary vanguard of the bourgeoisie’. Neumann’s phrase, he said, ran ‘counter to the clear words of comrade Stalin’. This little incident is in fact important, for it demonstrates how greatly the Stalinist leadership of the KPD and the ECCI feared the penetration into the party of Trotsky’s analysis and criticism of Comintern policy in Germany. Relations were so strained between Thälmann and Neumann that at one point the latter challenged a claim by Thälmann that it was Neumann who was responsible for the KPD slogan ‘smash the ADGB’ and its campaign to stop trade unionists paying subscriptions to ADGB unions. Neumann burst out ‘Never!’ to which Thälmann replied: ‘I expected that everything I said about your political mistakes would be described by you as a lie.’ [38]

Although vociferous in his attacks on Neumann, Thälmann was strangely reticent concerning the situation in Germany (as indeed were the theses and resolutions adopted at the Plenum). In his concluding speech to the Plenum, Thälmann returned to the well-worn themes of the impermissibility of united fronts with reformists and the counter-revolutionary role of Trotskyism, but had absolutely nothing to say about the nature of the Papen government or the KPD’s evaluation of the likelihood of a Nazi take-over. It fell to J Lensky – of the Polish party – to attempt the thankless task of analysing the political situation in Germany, one which he accomplished in the classic ‘Third Period’ Stalinist manner, fudging over all distinctions between bourgeois democracy and fascism, Social Democracy and National Socialism, and between Papen-Schleicher Bonapartism and Hitler fascism:

The government which has come to power is in the main of a fascist character... To regard this government like the Brüning government as a transitional government would reveal a failure to understand the qualitative changes that have taken place in the situation and would be an underestimation of the real fascist menace... [Lensky quotes here from a letter of the Polish Communist Party Central Committee of 25 June on the German situation – RB] It seems to me that the fascist coup in Prussia and the further development of events as a whole have confirmed the correctness of this estimate. The German bourgeoisie have already begun to build their military fascist dictatorship... the fascist regime which is rising in Germany will rather resemble the Polish variety of fascist dictatorship, including the considerable role played by the militarists in both countries, each with a marshal at the head. The military-fascist dictatorship in Germany which is growing organically out of the Weimar Republic may be accompanied by the outward forms of parliamentarism, that is, a certain amount of democratic decorations which will help to carry through the policy of open deception [sic!] of the broad masses of the people jointly with the policy of open violence. Is the complete abolition of Social Democracy necessary? Evidently not. The whole experience of the development of the fascist system in Poland has refuted the position of the Rights and the Trotskyists on this question, viz, that the fascist dictatorship would mean the death of Social Democracy. From this they drew the conclusion that Social Democracy would willy-nilly have to fight against the attacking fascist regime... Further, is it necessary to carry through the so-called liquidation of the other bourgeois parties in Germany? I think that it is not. [39]

The events of the next six months were to provide crushing refutations of every one of Lensky’s contentions and predictions. One can therefore appreciate why a Pole, and not Thälmann, had been selected to speculate on the future course of events in Germany. Lensky rendered Stalin and his stalwarts in the German leadership another valuable service when quite unexpectedly, in a lengthy digression on the vacillations of the German petit-bourgeoisie and unemployed workers, he blurted out:

We must here put up the strongest opposition to any attempts to shake the leadership of the KPD. The tremendous task of fighting against fascism demands that the correct general line be pursued with complete unanimity, and it demands Bolshevik discipline in the party. [40]

There was no letting up on the drive against Neumann’s group. At the KPD conference, held in Berlin on 20 October, the party Central Committee passed unanimously a resolution condemning Neumann and others ‘who, on the basis of their political mistakes and deviations from the line of the party and with the method of group struggle, attempted to interfere with the turn of the party to intensified mass proletarian policy’. The conference significantly endorsed another resolution which approved the expulsion of the Riutin – Zinoviev bloc from the CPSU. In Stalin’s eyes at least, the two factions were linked. [41]

Two opportunities to reorient the Comintern and its German section had been lost. Neither at the Twelfth ECCI Plenum nor the KPD Conference a month later had there been any open or serious discussion of the political situation in Germany and its implications for the proletariat. Past tactical and strategic errors of the KPD leadership had been either ignored, depicted as victories or blamed on the Neumann group’s activities. At all costs, Thälmann’s position in the party as its infallible leader had to be protected, for what was at stake was the prestige of Stalin himself. Hence the fulsome tributes to the KPD leadership at the Plenum, and the pledges of support against all attempts to ‘shake’ it. That nothing had changed in relation to policy and tactics became obvious shortly after the Plenum and the KPD Conference, when there appeared in the Comintern organ an article optimistically entitled ‘The KPD Takes the Offensive’. As one might have guessed, the ‘offensive’ was not directed in the first place against the Nazis, but the Social Democrats. This article, it should not be forgotten, appeared less than two months before the formation of the Hitler government:

The fascist dictatorship, which was established in Germany after 20 July, is attempting to rally the forces of counter-revolution. But these attempts... are being brought to nought by the ever more rapid tempo of the growing wave of the revolutionary upsurge... No one is able to stop the growing discontent and indignation of the workers against the bourgeoisie and its fascist government... The changes in the relation of the forces of revolution and counter-revolution are continuing to move irresistibly in a direction beneficial to the working class and its Communist vanguard... The Social Democratic leaders are making desperate efforts to consolidate their influence over the working masses... by developing clap-trap about the ‘united front’. By the united front they understand a bloc of leaders, the abandonment of the struggle for Communism by the Communists, the salvation of capitalism under the flag of ‘saving the republic'... This new attempt at bare-faced spoofing of the working masses, this juggling trickery with the slogan of the united front... is also a result of the defeat of the National Socialists [a grossly exaggerated estimation of the election setback suffered by the NSDAP on 6 November, when it lost roughly two million votes – RB] and the strengthening of the role of Social Democracy as the main social bulwark of the bourgeoisie in connection with this... The task of the KPD remains as before – to direct the chief blow, at the present stage, against Social Democracy. Therefore the prompt and rapid defeat of the new manoeuvres of Social Democracy [that is, its calls for a united front with the KPD against fascism – RB] is the task of the moment. [42]

Strident in his denunciations of Social Democracy, the author of this article nevertheless betrays a political method and outlook which has much in common with Kautskyism, pre-1914 vintage, namely its child-like faith in the inevitability of socialism, the ‘irresistible’ movement of the working class towards power, which ‘no one is able to stop’. And since this steady upward advance towards socialism is inevitable and irresistible, what need is there for tactics, for combinations with forces that are anyway historically doomed? Thus the united front, for which the Social Democratic bureaucrats were now frantically calling in order to save their own necks from the Nazi axe, was ridiculed and dismissed as ‘spoofing’ and ‘juggling trickery’ which no genuine Communist could have any truck with. This determination to resist each and every demand for a workers’ united front against fascism had been one of the main fruits of the Twelfth ECCI Plenum. But the German workers had still to taste its bitterest.

The Berlin Transport Strike

Temporarily spurned as candidates for power by the bourgeoisie, and in danger of losing their hard-won positions in the petit-bourgeois masses and especially the more backward proletarians and unemployed, the Nazi leaders had to undertake the most radical of all their ‘left’ manoeuvres at the time of the strike in the Berlin Transport Company, which broke out on 3 November, three days before the Reichstag elections in which the Nazi vote fell from 13.7 to 11.7 millions. The strike itself was a high point in the counter-offensive against the Papen wage-cutting decrees which began towards the end of September, and therefore by the same token was an expression of the determination of the working class to defend its conditions against the capitalist offensive. Therefore the KPD leadership was not to be criticised for doing everything in its power to win the workers for united strike action in the ballot, and when it narrowly failed to win the necessary 75 per cent majority of all workers, for throwing its full organisational and political weight behind the strike which developed in direct opposition to the wishes of the trade union bureaucracy.

What was utterly unprincipled, and rightly earned the condemnation of Social Democratic workers involved in the dispute, was the cynical exploitation of the strike by the Stalinists as a means of establishing a bloc with the Nazi ‘lefts’ of the NSBO, as a club to beat the ‘social fascists’. This reactionary tactic played directly into the hands of the hard-pressed Nazi leadership, who were casting around anxiously for a ‘cause’ that would restore their tarnished radical image in the eyes of disaffected proletarian supporters. The Berlin transport strike presented them with just such an issue, as is evident from Goebbels’ diary entries of the period:

2 November: The workmen of the Berlin Transport Company are on strike. We have proclaimed a sympathetic strike in the Party. The entire press is furious with us and calls it Bolshevism; but as a matter of fact we have no option. If we had held ourselves aloof from this strike, our position amongst the working classes... would have been shaken. The public is solidly behind the strikers, and the Red press can bring forward no arguments at all against us... Many of our staunch partisans [probably a reference to the party’s rich patrons – RB] are beginning to have their doubts. But in spite of that we must hold firm. If we do a volte-face now, as some advise, we should lose everything.

4 November: If we had not acted as we have done we would no longer constitute either a socialist or workers’ party... [43]

Given the strategic orientation of the KPD, it was inevitable that the party would gravitate towards an alliance with the Nazis during the strike, just as it had done in the Prussian referendum and numerous smaller but no less despicable attempts to break up the Social Democratic movement in concert with the Hitlerites. The Twelfth Plenum, together with numerous articles in the KPD and Comintern press, had made it very plain: ‘social fascism’ and not National Socialism was the main enemy, and against this enemy had therefore to be directed the main blows of the party. The Berlin transport strike fitted the bill perfectly. The Nazis – for demagogic purposes – supported it, the SPD and ADGB opposed it. Therefore, no united front with the ‘social fascists’ – not even with its lower cadres and officials but a united front with the NSBO. Naturally, every attempt was made by the KPD leadership to disguise the harmonious relations established between RGO and NSBO officials during the course of the strike action. [44] Nevertheless, the Stalinist and RILU press could barely conceal its embarrassment, with references to the central strike committee being ‘elected on the basis of the widest united front, including representatives of the RGO, and the Social Democratic, unorganised and National Socialist workers’. [45] Yet the NSBO had a very weak position amongst the striking transport workers, having a year previously won only two of the 26 seats in the annual elections to the factory committee. (The ADGB had 14, the RGO 10.) As a matter of principle there should have been no collaboration with card-holding members of the NSDAP, and its union-breaking industrial arm, the NSBO, should have been excluded from the strike committee; and there is no doubt that had the RGO fought for such a policy, it would have won the overwhelming support of the strikers, demonstrating at the same time to the reformist workers that despite the KPD’s profound differences with the ADGB and SPD leadership, it would always conduct its fight against the bureaucracy on a principled class basis, and not seek dubious allies among the pseudo-radicals of the NSDAP ‘left’, even if their origins were proletarian. For as long as they identified themselves with the Hitler movement, they remained open traitors to their class, and had to be branded as such.

Contrary to the propaganda claims of the Stalinists, the strike was directed first of all against the von Papen government, for it was under a Papen decree that the wages of the 22 000 Berlin transport workers had been cut by two pfennigs an hour, the action that precipitated the strike. The KPD leadership, true to the ‘general line’ of striking the ‘main blow’ against Social Democracy, still ‘the principal social support of the bourgeoisie’, with some success, and with the eager backing of the Nazis, tried to turn the strike solely against the ‘social fascist trade union leaders’, [46] while fraternising with the cadres of the NSBO. And naturally, this reactionary manoeuvre played right into the hands of the Nazis and reformists alike. The Nazis, because they would have been unable, with their weak base amongst the transport workers, to stage their show of militancy on the eve of the Reichstag elections without the support and collaboration of the KPD; the reformists, because they were once again able, as they had been at the time of the Prussian referendum, to present the KPD as a willing stooge of Hitler’s drive to smash the German labour movement.

On 5 November, Vorwärts reported on the tactics of the NSBO in its ‘united front’ with the RGO:

The KPD stands quite helpless before the Nazis’ ‘united front from below’. It does not even march with them. The slogan until it is changed is... ‘Fraternise with the Communists wherever you meet them.’

Such reports stung the Stalinist into counter-charging that the Social Democrats and Nazis were united in their opposition to the strike, and that therefore ‘it was only from purely agitational considerations and in view of the election situation that the district leadership of the National Socialists tried to create the impression that it supported the strike’. The RILU press spoke of the ‘struggle against the reactionary front from Hitler to Leipart, against the arbitration machine of the capitalist state [swept away by Hitler! – RB] and against the social fascist trade union policy...’. This quite obliterated the all-important distinctions between reformism and fascism, and the consequent differences between labour relations and wages policy under the Weimar system of collective bargaining and arbitration settlements; and the fascist wage and labour laws the Nazis and their capitalist supporters sought to introduce. All this was brushed aside as the KPD, egged on by Goebbels’ Angriff and the NSBO demagogues, led the Berlin strikers into a series of adventures and violent confrontations that resulted in four deaths, hundreds of arrests, and, when the strike was over, the sacking of more than 2000 militants. It was a repeat performance of the 1929 May Day ‘battle of the barricades’ – only in an infinitely more dangerous political setting. The gulf between reformist and Communist workers widened still further, and the Nazis were able to slow down the rate of defections from the SA and the NSBO to the left. [47]

The Reichstag Elections and the Fall of Papen

To superficial observers, it might have seemed that Papen had emerged the main victor from the elections of 6 November. The Nazis had been compelled to undertake yet another costly campaign, while their popular support had been demonstrated to be on the wane. Papen also had good cause to be satisfied with the way in which a large portion of those defecting from the Nazi camp had not gravitated to the left, but reverted to supporting Hugenberg’s DNVP. Neither had the KPD made anything like the inroads in the SPD vote that the political crisis and the cowardly policies of the reformist bureaucracy warranted. Stalinist ultra-leftism had ensured that the Social Democrats went unpunished for their monumental betrayals of the German working class:

Reichstag Elections 1932
PartyVote (millions)Per centDeputies
 Nov 32Jul 32Nov 32Jul 32Nov 32Jul 32
Christian Socialist0.
Economist Party0.

Again if we evaluate the election results from a predominantly parliamentary plane (as did not only the SPD, but the KPD) we see that the relative strength of the workers’ parties as against the Nazis had increased appreciably. The combined SPD – KPD share of the total vote had risen from 36.2 per cent to 37.3 per cent, while that of the NSDAP had fallen from 37.4 to 33.1 per cent. And it cannot be denied that this shift reflected the upturn in the workers’ movement which had expressed itself more directly through the strike battles of the previous two months. The reaction of the reformists to Hitler’s election reverse was completely in character. ‘It was 10 years ago’, Vorwärts jubilantly proclaimed after the results were announced, ‘that we foretold the bankruptcy of National Socialism; it is there in black and white in our paper.’ The SPD Leipziger Volkzeitung was no less sanguine: ‘We cannot escape from the smell of the rotting carcass. Fascism is definitely beaten: it will not rise again.’ Bankruptcy and rotten carcasses there undoubtedly were in plenty but not in the places suggested by the reformists.

Amazingly, in view of the party’s furious and unremitting barrage of invective against the Social Democrats, the KPD’s reaction to the election differed from that of Vorwärts only in details. Hitler was on the run, the working class was advancing, and a fascist seizure of power a fast-fading nightmare – these were the conclusions arrived at by the German, Comintern and Soviet Stalinists. Nothing could have been better calculated to facilitate Hitler’s triumph. Neubauer bragged of a ‘magnificent election victory’ and predicted that in view of its losses to the KPD, the SPD would ‘still more shamelessly support the fascist fight against Communism, and still more openly express its social fascist character’. [48] Kautskyite automatism was rampant in the KPD Central Committee resolution on the election results. The KPD was ‘uninterruptedly continuing its victorious advance’, while the Nazi loss of two million votes marked the ‘rapid decline of the National Socialist movement’. [49]

So with Hitler no longer a serious contender for power, now more than ever before, Social Democracy became the main enemy of the German proletariat:

The decline of the SPD in no way reduces its role as the major social buttress of the bourgeoisie, but on the contrary, precisely because the Hitler party is at present losing followers from the ranks of the workers... the importance of the SPD for the fascist policy of finance capitalism increases. [50]

These unbelievably myopic judgements were far surpassed by those of Pravda, which made the following comment on the German political situation and the prospects for fascism after the fall of von Papen on 17 November:

The German bourgeoisie is for a fascist dictatorship. But the task of consolidating the fascist dictatorship encounters obstacles which the first open fascist government, the von Papen government, was unable to overcome. Now will another government of the German bourgeoisie succeed in overcoming these obstacles? While a few months ago it appeared to considerable sections of the German bourgeoisie that Hitler could lead German capitalism out of the cul-de-sac, today Hitler’s star is declining... the influence of the NSDAP is steadily waning. [51]

What these Stalinist confusion-mongers either obscured or overlooked in their estimation of the election results was the possibility that far from diminishing Hitler’s chances of entering the government as Chancellor, the bourgeoisie might take fright at the decline in the Nazi vote and support the formation of a Nazi-led cabinet before the party’s proletarian – plebeian supporters swung over in their millions, and not thousands, into the camp of Communism. These fears were indeed expressed at a meeting of the von Papen cabinet on 9 November, and, the next day, Hindenburg instructed Papen to open a dialogue with those party leaders willing to enter or support a broad-based ‘national’ government. Naturally neither the SPD (despite charges of ‘social fascism’ from the Stalinists) nor the KPD could lend their support to such an undertaking, so Papen’s exchanges were mainly with the Centre and the NSDAP.

The opening shots in the fateful Hitler-Papen duel had in fact been fired during the Reichstag election campaign. Papen’s repeated appeals to the Nazi leader to yield to reason and cease his demands for total power for himself and his party tell us much about the nature of the conflict between the fascist plebeians and the old bourgeois conservatives on the eve of the counter-revolutionary overturn, and the basis of the tensions that developed in its aftermath. On 12 October, Papen told a meeting in Munich:

It is an historical falsification when it is claimed today that I... had prevented National Socialism from taking over the responsibility. The offer of 13 August gave the NSDAP a share in the power of the Reich and in Prussia which could have assured his decisive influence. Hitler didn’t accept this offer because he believed that he as leader of a movement represented by 230 deputies could claim the position of Chancellor. [52]

Papen’s election manifesto of 4 November contained a section addressed directly to Hitler:

It is the exclusiveness of your movement, your demand for everything or nothing, which the Reich President could not recognise and which led to his decision of 13 August. What is at stake today is this: the question is not whether this or that party occupies the Chancellor’s chair, whether his name is Brüning, Hitler or von Papen, but rather that we meet on common ground. [53]

What Papen still refused to recognise was that by the very nature of his movement, and its aims, and not only Hitler’s intolerant personality and iron will, the Nazi leader had no choice other than to be ‘exclusive’ and to demand ‘everything or nothing’. Following the NSDAP set-back on 6 November, Papen renewed the debate, which up to this point had been distinctly one-sided. First he approached the Centre, whose leaders ‘desired a majority government with Hitler’. [54] Hitler however ‘did not wish to govern with a parliamentary majority’, [55] in other words to be dependent on such an unreliable and divided ally as the Centre Party. Papen then wrote to Hitler directly on 13 November, asking him to reopen talks on the formation of a new government:

The recent elections on 6 November have provided a new situation and a new opportunity for uniting the country... The National Socialist press has stated that it would be presumption on my part to enter into discussions with any personalities suited to this work of national concentration. Nevertheless I consider it my duty to approach you in the course of my present negotiations. I learn from your press that you still maintain your right to the post of Chancellor... I still think that the leader of a major national movement remains under obligation to discuss the situation and the measures that have to be taken with the present responsible head of affairs... [56]

Hitler’s reply virtually sealed the fate of Papen’s government. First he berated the Chancellor for laying down prior conditions that made agreement impossible – namely that Hitler had to drop his claims to the Chancellorship. He then set out four main guidelines for negotiations with Papen, the most important being the last:

You say in your letter that as a result of 6 November ‘a new opportunity has arisen for the concentration of all National elements'... I am unable to understand the purport of this remark... that possibility has obviously only deteriorated through the dissolution of the Reichstag in September, because the result [that is, of the 6 November elections] is on the one hand an immeasurable strengthening of Communism and on the other a revival of the small splinter parties... The formation of a politically practicable bloc within the German people... is, from a party point of view, only imaginable by the inclusion of the DNVP and DVP, because I have to decline a prior suggestion, which you seem to have in your mind, to include the SPD. As you know yourself, the leader of the DNVP had, prior to the elections, unambiguously branded any cooperation with the Roman Catholic Centre Party as treason and a crime against the nation... and useless as long as you are unable to inform me that Mr Hugenberg has changed his mind after all.

Snubbed in every direction, Papen reported to his President the next day, and offered the resignation of his entire cabinet. There then commenced a new series of exchanges, only now between Hindenburg and the main party leaders, with Hitler once again occupying the centre of the stage. This time, the President reacted differently to Hitler’s demand for total power. An official record of the second round of talks between the two, held on 21 November, shows that having explored all other combinations, the President was at last seriously considering the appointment of the ‘Bohemian corporal’ as Chancellor:

You have declared that you will only place your movement at the disposal of a government of which you, the leader of the party, are the head. If I consider your proposal, I must demand that such a Cabinet should have a majority in the Reichstag. Accordingly, I ask you, as the leader of the largest party, to ascertain if, and on what conditions, you could obtain a secure workable majority in the Reichstag on a definite programme.

Contrary to the obtuse speculations of the reformist and Stalinist press, Hitler’s strongest card proved to be the decline in the Nazi vote registered at the 6 November elections. He said:

If this movement perishes, Germany would be in the greatest danger, for she would then be faced with 18 million Marxists, among them perhaps 14 to 15 million Communists. In the interests of the fatherland my movement must be preserved and this means that it must have the leadership. [We supported the Berlin strike]... because people are very bitter. If I had tried to restrain my people, the strike would have taken place nonetheless, but I would have lost my following among the workers; this would not have been in Germany’s interests.

To which Hindenburg replied:

I can only repeat my request: give me your help. I do appreciate the great idea which inspires you and your movement, and I would like to see you and your movement join the government. I do not doubt the sincerity of your intentions, but I cannot accept a [one] party government... meet me half-way in this matter so that we can work together.

Hitler, had he even wanted to, could not oblige the President, since the formation of a majority-based coalition required the support of both the Centre and the DNVP. These two parties were, however, bitter rivals, and while this conflict raged, Hitler could not achieve his majority. The initiative temporarily passed back to Papen, who began to toy with the idea of ruling by decree pending the reform of the constitution. A state of emergency would be declared, and the Reichswehr alerted to put down any revolts against the government, whether originating from the Communist left or the Nazi right. This proposal proved Papen’s undoing, as Otto Meissner explained to the Nuremberg investigators after the war:

Almost up to the time of his resignation, Papen and some of the ministers agreed on the necessity for pressing the fight against the Nazis by employing all the resources of the state and relying on article 48 of the Constitution, even if this led to armed conflict. Other ministers however believed that such a course would lead to civil war... [He was opposed by General Schleicher and Major Ott] ... who produced detailed statistical material... that the weakened Reichswehr... would not be equal to military operations on a large scale, and was not suited and trained for civil war... If the Nazis began an armed revolt, one must anticipate a revolt of the Communists and a general strike at the same time... If such a ‘war on two fronts’ should take place, the forces of the state would undoubtedly be disrupted... All present in the cabinet meeting were clearly impressed by Schleicher’s statement.

That same day, Schleicher became the last Chancellor of the Weimar Republic. His aim – simultaneously to combat proletarian revolution and avert civil war. His method – a triple coalition of trade union bureaucrats, ‘left’ Nazis and the Reichswehr.

The Nazis knew better than anybody the futility of such an undertaking. Goebbels noted in his diary that day: ‘General von Schleicher has been appointed Chancellor. That is the final choice left. When he is overthrown, our turn comes.’ [57] After Schleicher – Us.


1. LD Trotsky, ‘The Only Road’ (14 September 1932), The Struggle Against Fascism In Germany (New York, 1971), p 278.

2. Trotsky, ‘The Only Road’, The Struggle Against Fascism In Germany, p 278.

3. Trotsky, ‘The Only Road’, The Struggle Against Fascism In Germany, pp 278-79.

4. A point that seems to have been overlooked by the WRP leadership, since it foisted on the readers of Workers Press, in the period following the army exercises at Heathrow Airport in January 1974, a perspective of a Tory-organised ‘Police-Military provocation’ whose consequences for the working class (destruction of trade unions, arrest of thousands of militants, etc, and the abolition of bourgeois-democratic rights) would have been no different from those experienced by the German proletariat under Hitler.

5. Trotsky, ‘The Only Road’, The Struggle Against Fascism In Germany, p 279.

6. Considerable pressure was building up in certain ruling-class quarters associated with the DNVP to carry through a programme of comprehensive constitutional and political reform akin to his reactionary measures in the economic sphere. Unambiguously monarchist in tone, this offensive against parliamentary democracy was launched by former DNVP chairman Count Westarp, who in an article written in August declared: ‘Constitutional law and politics are in transition. Even the enthusiasts of popular freedom as it was created in Weimar perceive the “crisis of parliamentarism.” In the uncertainties of a transition period there is only one thing certain and that is that the party rule of parliamentary democracy has fulfilled its course and will never return as its representatives conceived and practised it.’ Graef, also of the DNVP, followed suit in a speech on 27 September, in which he said: ‘We can never finish off the Weimar system without a violation of the constitution. Herr von Papen will take care of that.’ And on 6 October, Hugenberg endorsed the call of Graef, adding that constitutional reform would if necessary have to be carried through ‘without the consent of parliament’. Papen himself frankly admits in his memoirs that this had indeed been his intention: ‘The new Reichstag elections had been set to take place on 6 November, and we tried to discover some method of holding them under a new system of voting. But it was not possible to change the electoral law by emergency decree... we would have [had] to persuade the President to break with the Constitution in order to elect a parliament capable of carrying out the business of the nation.’ (F von Papen, Memoirs (London, 1952), pp 210-11)

7. Trotsky, ‘The Only Road’, The Struggle Against Fascism In Germany, p 315.

8. Trotsky, ‘The Only Road’, The Struggle Against Fascism In Germany, p 315.

9. This revival in the working-class movement produced 286 strikes between 16 September and 3 October, compared with 280 for the whole month of January 1932. Of these 286 strikes, 142 ended in a clear victory for the workers, with the employers being compelled to withdraw wage cuts sanctioned by the decrees of the Papen regime. Then between 3 October and the beginning of the Berlin transport strike, there erupted more than 200 more disputes, with similar beneficial results for the strikers. This total of 500 strikes in less than two months should be contrasted with the totals for 1929 (441 strikes), 1930 (336 strikes) and 1931 (363 strikes). Three whole years produced 1304 strikes, an annual average of 435. Now in the autumn of 1932, with both the employers and the workers on the offensive, this average had been surpassed in six weeks.

10. Two years of capitalist crisis and Bonapartist rule by decree had taken a terrible toll of the Weimar system of social welfare, the pride of international Social Democracy. The proportion of unemployed workers receiving benefit had fallen from 66 per cent in 1928 to 19 per cent under Papen, while the average sum allocated to a worker receiving such benefit had likewise fallen from 81 marks in 1927 to 46 marks in 1932. On the other hand, contributions by workers had been increased from 3.5 per cent of their wages up to August 1930 to 6.5 per cent by the summer of 1932. Finally, the duration of the period over which relief was payable had been cut from 26 weeks to a mere six weeks. And what is more, all these cuts had been initiated (though not consummated) with the support of the SPD while that party pursued its policy of ‘tolerating’ the Brüning regime as the ‘lesser evil’ to Hitler.

11. J Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight (London, 1938), pp 143-45, emphasis added.

12. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, pp 128-37, emphasis added.

13. Rauschning, who earlier than most agrarians saw the need to enlist the aid of the Nazi plebeians in preserving Junker privilege and property, later made the following observation on Papen’s tactics in the autumn of 1932: ‘The danger of Papen’s solution degenerating in spite of him into black reaction seemed to threaten from one side, the danger of a revolution from the other. The responsible leaders of the Reichswehr, especially, felt unable to accept a regime that rejected and eliminated strong national elements [that is, the Nazis] instead of enlisting them. The testing and searching for a practicable combination of forces that was in progress betrayed anything but a definite aim in view. In the midst of it all Papen’s second idea, that of an alliance with National Socialism, seemed the very thing that was wanted. The new feature in Papen’s plan, which remained essentially monarchist, was the idea of securing the support of the revolutionary mass movement of National Socialism, in the assumption that it would submit to control... sanguine in their superficial judgement, the monarchist elements imagined that they would easily put those attractive young men in their place. But there was another motive also, the fear that the National Socialist masses might go over to the extreme left. It was decided to avert this... even at the risk of an unavoidable interregnum of National Socialist disorder and experiment... the summons of National Socialism to power at a time when it was at its last gasp.’ (H Rauschning, Germany’s Revolution of Destruction (London, 1940), p 9) Papen’s ‘second idea’ was of course his proposal, agreed to by Hindenburg in January 1933, to install Hitler as Chancellor with himself as deputy – the cabinet of ‘National Concentration’ which took office on 30 January 1933.

14. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, pp 137-40.

15. ‘7 October: Receive the news from a go-between that the government’s economic programme has as yet been a failure. Consequently all branches of industry and production are seized with panic. The rats flee from the sinking ship... 11 October: The cabinet is cracking. When will it go? 12 October: The Reichswehr has already fallen away from the cabinet. Upon what will it base itself now?’ (Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, pp 147-49, emphasis added) The answer was given on 17 November, when the Papen cabinet, deprived even of its base in the armed forces, resigned.

16. The Social Reconsolidation of Capitalism, Deutsche Führerbriefe, nos 72 and 75, 16 and 20 September 1932, emphasis added. Gustav Krupp was also utterly disillusioned with the Weimar system, but unlike the author of the article in question, saw the solution more in terms of a ‘strong man’ riding rough-shod over the discredited parties and Reichstag alike: ‘It has been shown, in the September dissolution of the Reichstag, that the political parties have eliminated themselves from all active work for the welfare of the nation and people... they have shown themselves incapable of forming and supporting a government which with vigour and determination replaces, by practical deeds, theoretical consideration of possible betterment. [In as much as]... the internal political situation can no longer be mastered by political parties, [Hindenburg should name]... a government enjoying his confidence... to step into the breach.’ (G Krupp, ‘Objectives of German Policy’, Review of Reviews, November 1932) The eventual solution adopted by big business involved a combination of both these methods – the mass-based dictatorship and the ‘strong man’ at the head.

17. R Medvedev, Let History Judge (London, 1972), pp 94-105. Medvedev cites the vivid description of the 1932 famine which appears in the novel Death by V Tendriakov, written during the Khrushchev literary ‘thaw’: ‘... cattle died from lack of fodder, people ate bread made from nettles, biscuits made from one weed, porridge from another... You got used to seeing corpses there in the morning, a wagon would pull up and the hospital stablehand... would pile in the bodies.’ (p 95)

18. Such doubts were well grounded. In 1941, millions of Ukrainian and also Russian peasants greeted the Nazi invaders as liberators. Entire brigades were quickly recruited to fight on the side of the Wehrmacht, eventually comprising an army some one million strong. Here again, the Stalinist line of ‘socialism in one country’ played a counter-revolutionary role, creating the economic and political conditions for the flourishing of quite openly restorationist tendencies and moods among wide layers of the Soviet people which in turn undermined the defence capacity of the USSR in war.

19. Documents on German Foreign Policy, Series C, Volume 1 (London, 1958), p 91, emphasis added.

20. The Kremlin was understandably, from its narrow nationalist point of view, delighted when the Francophile Papen made way for the ‘eastern-oriented’ Schleicher. When Litvinov met the new Chancellor in Berlin on 19 December, Schleicher assured him that ‘the fact that he was sitting on this chair was a guarantee of friendly relations towards the Soviet Union, and so it would always remain as long as he occupied this office’ (Memo by Dirksen). To which Litvinov replied that Schleicher ‘could of course expect to find it so if the Communists in Germany were dealt with as they were accustomed to be dealt with in the countries opposed to the Soviet Union’. Unfortunately for Litvinov (who personally feared a Hitler victory), not to speak of the German Communists, Schleicher’s chair was soon to be filled by another occupant.

21. W Krivitsky, I Was Stalin’s Agent (London, 1939), pp 20-22, emphasis added. Krivitsky’s estimation of Stalin’s German policy is substantiated and supplemented by the German contemporary diplomat Gustav Hilger: ‘In order to forestall... a change of German policy, the Russians made every effort to show their own good will even before the National Socialists came to power. A conversation I had with the manager of TASS, Doletsky, in July 1932, was typical. Doletsky voiced all the worries that were bothering Moscow, but in the same breath he expressed his conviction that healthy political common sense would win out in a National Socialist government... All he feared was that the accession of Hitler might be followed by a rather disturbing period of transition before normal relations could again be achieved. The general impression in the German Embassy [in Moscow] was that the Soviet government would have liked to establish contact with the National Socialists for the purpose of preventing such temporary difficulties.’ Indeed, Hilger goes further. He asserts that ‘certain circles within the Soviet government actually gave silent welcome to Hitler’s succession to power’, the justification for this treacherous policy ostensibly being that Hitler ‘could not last long, and that his fall would speed the development of a proletarian revolution’ (Hilger and Mayer, The Incompatible Allies (New York, 1953), pp 252-53, emphasis added). There is also the account of German-Soviet relations in the pre-Hitler period given by former Nazi Intelligence Officer Walter Schellenberg: ‘From 1929 Stalin directed the KPD to regard not the NSDAP of Hitler, but the SPD as their chief enemy, and party strategy was conducted accordingly. Whether under a nationalist or under a socialist leadership, Stalin’s chief aim was to mobilise Germany against the West. And when Schleicher, then Chancellor of Germany, secretly advanced Hitler 42 million marks, at a decisive point in the rise of the National Socialist movement, it is quite certain that he did this under the influence of Colonel Nicolai, who in this was surely acting as Stalin’s instrument, for Stalin hoped that Hitler would turn Germany against the Western bourgeoisie.’ (W Schellenberg, Memoirs (London, 1956), p 43) Schellenberg furnishes no evidence to substantiate either these alleged money transactions, or their political motives. But his presentation of Stalin’s foreign policy aims concurs with those of his opposite number Krivitsky, the German diplomat Hilger, and from inside the top leadership of the KPD, the wife of Heinz Neumann.

22. Resolution on the War in the Far East and the Tasks of the Communist Parties in the Struggle Against Imperialist War and Military Intervention Against the USSR.

23. Theses on the International Situation and the Tasks of the Communist Parties.

24. Theses on the International Situation and the Tasks of the Communist Parties.

25. On the Lessons of Economic Strikes and the Struggle of the Unemployed.

26. Theses on the International Situation and the Tasks of the Communist Parties.

27. M Buber-Neumann, Krieg-schauplätze der Welt-revolution (Stuttgart, 1967), p 329.

28. Buber-Neumann, Krieg-schauplätze der Welt-revolution, p 332, emphasis added.

29. The demotion of the Neumann group also provided the Thälmann leadership with a convenient scapegoat for the party’s poor showing at the Presidential and Prussian diet elections, as the Trotskyist organ Permanent Revolution pointed out in its June 1932 issue: ‘After the heavy defeat at the polls, there was a lot of chatter in Moscow, but no change of the course which had caused the defeat. Instead, two cliques fought one another. Thälmann on one side and Neumann and Remmele on the other. Those in Moscow did not want Teddy [Thälmann] overthrown, neither Neumann. But in the end Neumann took the rap. A new god arose in the shape of Wilhelm Pieck... Neumann was shoved off to Moscow... Leo Flieg went also... He first occupied a third ante-room with Piatnitsky, and received gradual promotion to the number one ante-room. He quietly unfolds that bundle of newspapers in which Moscow will be informed of the suppression of the KPD. Franz Dahlem is also among the fallen, another is Ernst Reinhard [former chief editor of the Die Rote Fahne]. Wilhelm Pieck... has now become a big man again. Moscow have stuck him in with Teddy, as there must be at least one in the secretariat who can count up to three... this then is the great change! The KPD policy is unchanged. The reckoning however will be paid by the German workers with their blood! Only chasing out their “leaders” and a complete return to the united front can save them!’ (Die Permanent Revolution, June 1932)

30. M Buber-Neumann, Von Potsdam nach Moskau (Stuttgart, 1957), p 299.

31. E Thälmann, ‘Unleash the Proletarian Rebellion’, Communist International, Volume 12, no 1, 15 January 1933, p 28.

32. ‘On the XII ECCI Plenum Theses’, Communist International, Volume 11, no 17-18, 1 October 1932, p 604, emphasis added.

33. E Thälmann, ‘Unleash the Proletarian Rebellion’, Communist International, Volume 12, no 1, 15 January 1933, p 33, emphasis added.

34. Thälmann’s criticism of the Berlin-Brandenburg District call for a joint demonstration with the Social Democratic Iron Front has proved no obstacle to East German historians in incorporating the proposal into the mythology of the KPD, where it is depicted as evidence of the party’s earnest in desiring a united front with the SPD against fascism. Thus in Walter Ulbricht’s On the History of the German Labour Movement, we find this initiative credited to the author, who was then the head of the Berlin-Brandenburg party organisation. The appeal was issued on 16 June 1932, in the name of the Party District Committee, and called upon the local SPD, ADGB and Reichsbanner organisations ‘to support the demand of the working masses for freedom to demonstrate for all organisations wishing to fight fascism’ (Die Rote Fahne, no 132, 17 June 1932, quoted – without Thälmann’s critical comments – in W Ulbricht, On the History of the German Labour Movement (East Berlin, 1953), p 588).

35. E Thälmann, ‘Unleash the Proletarian Rebellion’, Communist International, Volume 12, no 1, 15 January 1933, pp 35-36, emphasis added.

36. A reference to Stalin’s article ‘Some Questions Concerning the History of Bolshevism’, which appeared in the journal Proletarskaya Revoliutsia towards the end of 1931. Although ostensibly aimed at the editors of this publication for their ‘rotten liberalism’ in permitting criticism of Lenin in an article by Slutsky on the pre-1914 history of Bolshevism, Stalin’s real purpose was to slander Trotsky and disparage all that was finest in the heritage of Rosa Luxemburg. ‘Luxemburgism’ Stalin denounces as a centrist tendency of the prewar Social Democratic left, little better than Menshevism, while as for Trotskyism, it was ‘the advanced detachment of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, which is fighting against Communism, against the Soviet regime, against the building of socialism in the USSR’ (J Stalin, ‘Some Questions Concerning the History of Bolshevism’, Works, Volume 13, p 101). The eagerness with which the Thälmann leadership (which had long since rid the KPD of its Spartacist pioneers) seized on Stalin’s excursion into German labour history suggests that it had a more immediate political purpose than the demagogic defence of Lenin against ‘rotten liberalism’ and ‘smugglers’ of Trotskyist contraband. Trotsky’s principled defence of Rosa Luxemburg, ‘Hands Off Rosa Luxemburg’ (28 June 1932), appears in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932) (New York, 1973), pp 131-42.

37. E Thälmann, ‘Unleash the Proletarian Rebellion’, Communist International, Volume 12, no 1, 15 January 1933, p 40, emphasis added.

38. E Thälmann, ‘Unleash the Proletarian Rebellion’, Communist International, Volume 12, no 1, 15 January 1933, p 39.

39. J Lensky, ‘Germany and Poland: Key Points of the Revolutionary Front’, RILU Magazine, Volume 2, no 23-24, 1 January 1933, pp 968-69, emphasis added.

40. J Lensky, ‘Germany and Poland: Key Points of the Revolutionary Front’, RILU Magazine, Volume 2, no 23-24, 1 January 1933, p 971. Even more emphatic and pointed, in view of the crisis in the German party, was the declaration with which the Czech Stalinist Klement Gottwald wound up the entire proceedings of the Plenum: ‘We want to say expressly that the line of the KPD is correct, and we have declared that, in agreement with the Comintern and with all other parties, we are supporting the leadership of the German party with all our power...’ (Communist International, Volume 11, no 19, 15 October 1932, p 688) This support consisted of upholding the political line that was to send the KPD – including its leader Ernst Thälmann – to its doom.

41. The several versions of Neumann’s oppositional activities that have subsequently appeared in Stalinist publications have varied widely, according to the current party and international line. In June 1933, while the Third Period still had nearly a year to run, Neumann was attacked for his ‘opposition to the referendum in Prussia’ and his slogan of ‘beat the fascists wherever you meet them’ ('Resolution of the CC of the KPD on the Situation and the Immediate Tasks’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 24, 2 June 1933, p 526). At the Thirteenth ECCI Plenum of November 1933, Manuilsky launched into a violent tirade against Neumann and Remmele. Once again, their errors were of a ‘rightist’ nature. Their political line reflected ‘the demoralisation of those sections of the backward workers who have followed Social Democracy and lost their bearings after the capitulation of Social Democracy to fascism... Remmele and Neumann have got stuck in the Social Democratic swamp...’ (D Manuilsky, Revolution, Crisis, Fascism and War (London, 1934), pp 11-12). Postwar evaluations of their role took an opposite slant. Neumann was now an incurable leftist and servile henchman of Stalin to boot: ‘The KPD showed itself to be strong enough to oppose the attempt of such an adventurist sectarian as Heinz Neumann and to frustrate his attempts to form a faction... The victory over the sectarian Neumann group decisively enabled the party to carry out the Leninist principles of mass struggle.’ Neumann was also held responsible for the KPD’s acceptance of the Prussian referendum, whereas in the 1933 version of his factional activities, he had been denounced for being its main opponent:Heinz Neumann demanded a complete turnabout and participation in the referendum. He met determined opposition by Ernst Thälmann and other Politbureau members to this opportunist line.’ (Institut fur Marxismus-Leninismus beim Zentralkomitee der SED, Geschichte Der Deutschen Arbeiter Bewegung, Band 4 (Berlin, 1966), pp 300, 372-73)

42. ‘The KPD Takes the Offensive’, Communist International, Volume 11, no 20, 1 December 1932, pp 695-700, emphasis added.

43. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, pp 159-61, emphasis added. As at the time of the Prussian referendum, the Nazis were quick to exploit and deepen this cleavage in the ranks of the German proletariat already exacerbated by the tactics of the Stalinists. Instructions issued from Goebbels’ propaganda department recommended that in their dealings with Communist workers, ‘we are the old revolutionaries who always advised to grind down the main enemy, the SPD, before the unification of the working class is to be carried out. Any attempt of the KPD to form a united front with the SPD is to be branded as betrayal to the class-conscious proletariat’. And so said Thälmann, Manuilsky et al. Stalin’s German policy here dovetailed almost perfectly with the strategy of the Nazis, which was to smash the mass, reformist-led organisations of the working class.

44. One example being the joint collections conducted by Nazi and KPD activists for the strike fund. NSBO and RGO members would stand together in the streets of Berlin chanting in unison: ‘For the strike fund of the RGO – for the strike fund of the NSBO.’

45. Hans Becker, ‘The Strike of the Berlin Transport Workers’, RILU Magazine, Volume 2, no 23-24, 1 January 1933, p 953.

46. Hans Becker, ‘The Strike of the Berlin Transport Workers’, RILU Magazine, Volume 2, no 23-24, 1 January 1933, p 952.

47. Almost a year passed before the remnants of the KPD leadership that had survived the Nazi holocaust ventured to criticise the tactics employed in the Berlin transport strike. In an article on work inside the Labour Front, ‘LK’ of Berlin wrote that members of the illegal RGO had supported a ‘united front’ with NSBO activists and not opposed the idea that ‘it only requires pressure from below in order to force the Hitler government into the anti-capitalist front’. This error ‘LK’ traced back to the tactics of the RGO in the November 1932 Berlin strike, where: ‘... some comrades, factory and trade union functionaries drew... the conclusion that “during the time of the common action, and in the interests of the common action against the common enemy,” that is, the reformists, it was necessary to weaken the fight on principle... Any lack of principle in this respect... would facilitate fascist demagogy and, as was the case after the Berlin traffic workers’ strike, in which the NSBO took part, unwittingly, conceal the fascist strike-breaker regime.’ (International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 41, 15 September 1933, p 892, emphasis added)

48. International Press Correspondence, Volume 12, no 50, 10 November 1932, p 1070.

49. International Press Correspondence, Volume 12, no 51, 17 November 1932, p 1100.

50. International Press Correspondence, Volume 12, no 51, 17 November 1932, p 1100, emphasis added.

51. Pravda, 19 November 1932, emphasis added.

52. The same point had been made by Papen in an article published in the Frankfurter Zeitung of 2 September, where he argued that ‘the hope in the hearts of millions of National Socialists can be fulfilled only by an authoritarian government’ and not one based on squalid manoeuvres between the parties. In other words, a government headed by Papen, and not Hitler.

53. IMT, Volume 16, p 256, emphasis added.

54. IMT, Volume 16, p 256.

55. IMT, Volume 16, p 256.

56. Papen, Memoirs, p 213.

57. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 177.