Fascism in Germany. Robin Blick 1975

Chapter XXV: National Concentration

A Social Democratic coalition government, faced by a disunited, confused proletariat incapable of giving battle, would be a thousand times worse than an open fascist dictatorship opposed by a united class conscious proletariat ready to give battle. (The Propagandist, KPD internal organ, September 1931)

While Hitler had the Stalinist and reformist leaders to thank for his victory over the German working class, their aid was unsolicited and, in the subjective sense, unintended. Neither Thälmann, Breitscheid nor Hilferding consciously wished that they each would end their days in Nazi concentration camps achieving in death the unity that they prevented in the last years of their political lives. It was otherwise with the leaders of the German bourgeoisie, the captains of industry, bankers, agrarians and generals. They quite consciously sought the crushing of German labour, and finally united around the banner of fascism in order to accomplish this aim. But like every material, social process, the manner of their gravitation towards Hitler was uneven both in its tempo and in the degree to which it involved the various segments of the ruling class. In the summer of 1932, certain of Hitler’s supporters took fright both at the prospects of a protracted civil war and possible Nazi economic ‘experiments’ inspired by the Feder – Strasser wing of the party, and swung behind Papen’s Cabinet. In contrast, other industrialists and concerns that had previously stood aside from the Nazis now began to take an interest in the Hitler movement. Undoubtedly the most important recruits to the Nazi camp in this period were Dr Butefisch, Dr Gattineau and Max Ilgner, prominent officials of the giant Chemical Trust, IG Farben. The company had traditionally pursued a liberal political and social policy, supporting the left-bourgeois, democratic DDP after its foundation in November 1918. The crisis of 1929 took its toll here as in the Weimar system of compromise as a whole, and by 1931, certain of IG’s directors were looking favourably towards the NSDAP as a possible contender for power – and, what was equally important, as a provider of profitable government contracts. An official IG Farben publication, Twenty-Five Years at the Leuna Works, recorded some 10 years later how this alliance between the Third Reich and the Chemical Trust first came about, an alliance that at Auschwitz and other Nazi slave camps ended in the systematic exploitation and then mass murder of literally millions of human beings:

The men who created Leuna gasoline between 1926 and 1932 acted as if someone were standing behind them driving them on to greater speed. Actually this was not the case by any means. All the agencies which might have had a say in the matter rather had the effect of brakes... But Geheimrat Bosch and Director Kraunch seemed as if possessed by an inner restlessness... We now know that this haste was necessary from an historical point of view... The men who urged haste at the time could one day in the not too distant future make one of the most important decisions easier for the re-creator of the German people, the Führer, Adolf Hitler. Without this hurry, the calm certainty of Germany’s independence of foreign imports of motor fuels for the Luftwaffe and the most important parts of the rest of the Wehrmacht would have been doubtful... Economic considerations were, however, not the only decisive factor at that time. There was a very great political tension in the summer of 1932, everyone felt that soon a great decision had to be made. The masses of unemployed, as well as industry, which was forced to throttle production, hoped that a change would soon come. Many already anticipated what shape this would take, but no one knew with what fighting and under what conditions it would take place. Therefore, the future of German motor fuel still seemed uncertain...

The National Socialist movement, which was growing tremendously, served to counter-balance such tendencies [as were threatening the German economy and state – RB]. This movement had not yet, however, adopted a definite attitude on the question of the motor fuel [import] duties, and there were indications that the assertion that hydrogenation [the process whereby synthetic oil was extracted from coal – RB] was too expensive had also made an impression on the National Socialist side. In this difficult situation, Director Dr Butefisch decided to clarify the attitude of the National Socialist movement on the question of German motor fuel at the only really appropriate place, that is the Führer himself. Through Dr Gattineau he asked the personal staff of the Führer to set a date for the discussion, and this was approved. The day of this remarkable conference has remained indelibly imprinted on Dr Butefisch’s memory. He reports on it: ‘It was... in June 1932, the Reichstag had once again been dissolved and the German people were engaged in an election campaign... Hitler said: “Today an economy without oil is inconceivable in a Germany which wishes to remain politically independent. Therefore German motor fuel must become a reality, even if this entails sacrifices. Therefore it is urgently necessary that the hydrogenation of coal be continued... I have to leave the technical execution in your hands... But the road is the same, and I hope that soon this road will lead to a tremendous strengthening of our Germany."’

This result of the conference with the Führer constituted a great support for Leuna at that time. Now hydrogenation could be continued without hesitation, even if the power of the ‘systemperiod, now about to fall, were to start a new policy on customs duties at the last moment. Now the leading men in IG Farben industry made the important decision to maintain Leuna in full operation, even if this entailed sacrifices... We wanted to use it [the hydrogenation plant] on a far larger scale. We waited in vain. The decision to do this was not made during the ‘system’ time. First 30 January 1933 had to come. This beginning of a new destiny era for Germany also meant an important turning point for Leuna. [1]

Though among the relative latecomers to National Socialism, the Chemical Trust had evolved its own brand of corporatist ideology during the First World War, this being expounded in a remarkable document written by plant manager Werner Daitz:

A new type of state socialism is appearing, totally different from that which any of us have dreamed or thought of. Private economic initiative and the private capitalist economy will not be crippled, but will be regimented from the point of view of state socialism in that capital will be directed outwards with uniform impetus... This change in capitalism demands... a reconstruction of a former counterpoise, international socialism. It breaks up into national socialism whose election promise will be: work rather than phrases.

Largely through the good offices of Schacht and Thyssen, the Keppler (or Himmler) Circle continued to function through the difficult summer months of 1932, drawing into its orbit prominent directors of the mammoth Steel Trust. Flick’s representative Otto Steinbrinck states that he first met Himmler ‘in 1932’ and that he became a member of his circle of pro-Nazi business leaders:

... in the summer of 1932. At that time Keppler and Kranefuss [both Nazi employers] approached me, that is Vögler and Flick [directors of the United Steel Works] with the suggestion to take part in the consideration of the economic problems and of the economic-political line to be followed by the NSDAP. The suggestion originated with Schacht... I remember it well, because at that time Dr Vögler had his office right above the office of Mr Flick, and he sent these two men, Kranefuss and Keppler, one flight down to my office. [2]

Schacht, the former democrat, founder of the DDP and advocate of collaboration with Social Democracy, was now working day and night to install Hitler as Chancellor, in order to atomise the organisations of the working class and set German capitalism back on the road of imperialist expansion, even at the cost of another world war. In the summer of 1932, he paid a visit on Chancellor Papen, who was proving obdurate over the question of handing power to the Nazis. ‘He’s a very intelligent man’, he said to Papen. ‘Give him your position. Give it to Hitler. He is the only man who can save Germany.’ [3] (This account, which was given by Papen at Nuremberg, was confirmed by Schacht.) Schacht later justified his support for Hitler on the grounds that ‘a government under the Chancellorship of Adolf Hitler could no longer be avoided if one did not wish to run the risk of military dictatorship and civil war. I was, however, opposed to both these possibilities.’ [4] And Brüning must have had Schacht amongst others in mind when he wrote in 1947:

The financing of the Nazi party, partly by persons of whom one would least have expected that they would support it, is a chapter in itself... This... group included a number of bankers who exerted a special influence upon the President... At least one of them... had since October 1928 lavishly supported the treasuries of the Nazi and the Nationalist parties with money... These same bankers in the autumn of 1930 tried to influence United States Ambassador Sacket against my government and in favour of the Nazi party. [5]

Schacht was no fair-weather friend of the Nazis. Having joined them when Hitler’s star was in the ascendant, he now stood by them when others began to turn against the party, even during the episode of the NSDAP’s support for the Berlin strike, which alienated and alarmed wide layers of the propertied classes, [6] and the gloomy days which followed the election setback of 6 November. And gloomy days they were. On the night of the election, Goebbels entered in his diary:

Every new announcement is that of a new defeat... The Communists have strongly increased. That was to be expected... We have suffered a defeat... We are now on the eve of desperate effort, calling for much sacrifice. [7]

As for the Berlin strike, it was cracking up for lack of mass support. ‘The chief thing now’, he wrote the next day ‘is to find a way to wind it up. The sacrifices entailed in going on with it are out of proportion to any results that could be obtained.’ [8] Goebbels had good reason to dump the Berlin strikers, as fresh moves were being initiated by Schacht to secure business support for a government headed by Hitler. Finance, and the need for a change of course back towards the ‘respectable’ classes and the nationalist right, these were the two problems that predominated in Goebbels’ entries through to the end of the year:

11 November: Receive a report on the financial situation of the Berlin organisation. It is hopeless. Nothing but debts and obligations with the complete impossibility of obtaining any reasonable sum of money after this defeat... Our attacks against the Communists must be pressed with greater force. During the strike we more nearly approached them than we intended. Now we must place them at arms’ length again...

15 November: If now we proceed with care we shall crown the next phase of our struggle with victory... I am shaping the new course of our press. It is to be directed against Communism... [9]

Sure enough, two days later there appeared in Angriff an important article by Goebbels spelling out the new line:

We are entering a winter which lets us expect the worst and the very worst. Overnight the 100 Bolsheviks in the Reichstag may double in number as a result of the economic depression and the limitless misery in which the majority of the German people finds itself. The hopeless desperation in which the masses are vegetating allows for even the most absurd possibilities to come true. As a rule the responsible circles do not take our warning seriously; but if words carry no conviction, the facts are speaking an unmistakeable language. [10]

That same day (17 November) von Papen resigned. Centre Party leader Kaas at once advised President Hindenburg that unless Hitler was appointed Chancellor, his supporters would desert the Nazis for the Communists – precisely the point being made by Goebbels. He told the President:

We are facing a terrible winter, with 12 million Germans opposing the government on the Right and 13 on the Left. The goal of a National Concentration including the National Socialists is thus a necessity.

Others were also coming around to the same conclusion, following their disenchantment with Papen’s experiment in ‘pure’ Bonapartism. The precarious equilibrium upon which its seeming stability rested had already been disturbed by the autumn strike wave. Now it was shattered by the election of 6 November which indicated an even clearer trend away from the extreme right; the principal, if unreliable, mass support of the Papen cabinet which the Chancellor had leaned on to fight the left.

The bankers Schacht and Schröder, and Thyssen of the Steel Trust, saw the terrible dangers to capitalist rule implicit in such a development. Together with Keppler and Funk, they began to canvass for the signatures of leading industrialists, financiers and other prominent businessmen to a petition calling on President Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor of the Reich. Explaining the motives for this momentous initiative to the Nuremberg tribunal, Schröder said that ‘when on 6 November, the NSDAP suffered its first setback and appeared to have passed its peak, its support by Germany’s heavy industry became a matter of special urgency’. [11] Likewise Thyssen, who told the Danzig Nazi leader Rauschning shortly after Hitler’s conquest of power: ‘Should we let the National Socialists break their necks? And then have the whole tide of the masses come flowing back on us? That would be the end...’ [12]

It has proved impossible to ascertain the exact day [13] on which the petition, signed by 34 prominent business leaders, reached the President (that it did so reach him was confirmed by Schacht at Nuremberg), but the intention of its main sponsors Schacht, Keppler and Schröder was that Hindenburg should be acquainted with the views of industry and finance on the need for a Nazi government before Hitler’s first audience with the President on 19 November. (Papen must have been playing a double game at this juncture, for he advised the petitioners on the best form and moment of presentation. Days later, he was contemplating armed action against the SA!) Schacht kept the Nazi leadership fully informed of this new approach to Hindenburg, writing the following letter to Hitler shortly after the election of 6 November:

Permit me to offer you my congratulations on the firm attitude you have taken [against Papen] after the elections. It leaves me in no doubt that developments can only have one result – that you will become Chancellor. It seems that our attempt to get a number of signatures from industrialists in support was not without success, but I believe also that heavy industry is unlikely to cooperate. They rightly bear their name. I hope that in the coming days and weeks the small inconsistencies, which have of necessity slipped into propaganda [the class-conscious banker obviously understood why the Nazis had made their ‘left turn’ before and during the Berlin strike – RB], will become less conspicuous. The stronger your own internal position, the bolder can be the form of struggle. The more things go your way, the more you will be able to dispense with personal methods of contest. I am completely confident because the entire present system is certainly doomed. [14]

The actual text of the petition indicated that an important lesson had been learned by the big bourgeoisie from the experience of the von Papen cabinet. Capitalist rule, in order to weather the most severe of the economic and political crises which periodically beset German imperialism, had to seek and, to a greater extent than hitherto, base itself on support amongst a section of the masses – namely those who followed National Socialism. At last, after exhausting the possibilities of Brüning’s SPD-tolerated semi-Bonapartism, and Papen’s abortive attempt to by-pass parliament altogether by ruling exclusively through the coercive machinery of the state and Presidential decrees, important – though numerically small – elements of the ruling class were reluctantly admitting the necessity of resorting to the ‘plebeian’ solution to the ‘social question’. What had not, and indeed could not have been achieved only from above – that is, the uprooting of all independent workers’ organisations – now had to be carried through also ‘from below’, with the aid of Hitler’s brown-shirted ‘Jacobins’, the SA:

... the undersigned welcome hopefully the fundamental change which your Excellency has initiated in the conduct of state affairs. We agree with your Excellency on the necessity of a government run independently from parliamentary party matters; the ideas which your Excellency formulated with regard to a Presidential cabinet bring this thought into the open. The outcome of the Reichstag elections of 6 November of this year had demonstrated that the former cabinet [Papen’s], whose sincere intentions no one among the German people doubted, did not find adequate support within the German people for the pursuit of its course. It also demonstrated that the goal at which your Excellency is aiming has the support of a full majority of the German people if we – as we should – exclude the Communist Party whose attitude is negative to the state. Not only the Black-Red-White Party [DNVP, whose colours were those of the Hohenzollerns] and its related smaller groups, but the NSDAP as well are fundamentally opposed to the former parliamentary party regime; thereby they have agreed to the aim of your Excellency. We consider this result extremely gratifying and cannot imagine that the realisation of the goal should now founder at the maintenance of ineffective methods. It is evident that an oft-repeated dissolution of the Reichstag with increasingly frequent and sharpening elections would not only be detrimental to a political pacification and solidity, but to an economic one as well. It is equally clear, however, that any constitutional change which is not supported by the broad mass would elicit even worse economic, political and physical results. We therefore consider it a moral duty to ask your Excellency respectfully that, in order to attain the goals of your Excellency which all of us support, the reorganisation of the Reich Cabinet be carried out in a manner which would line up the greatest popular forces behind it.

We confess to be free from any narrow party-political attitude. We recognise in the national movement which penetrates our people the promising beginning of an era which, through overcoming of class contrasts, only now creates the essential basis for a rebirth of the German economy. We know this rebirth will claim many sacrifices yet. We believe that these sacrifices can be made willingly only when the largest group of this national movement receives a leading share in government. Entrusting the leader of the largest national group with responsible leadership of a Presidential cabinet which harbours the best technical and personal forces will eliminate the blemishes and mistakes with which any mass movement is perforce afflicted; it will incite millions of people who are today standing apart, to a positive effort. [15]

At about this time (late November 1932) there was also a resumption of relations between Hitler and another prominent member of the Steel Trust, Friedrich Flick. In common with many other business leaders, he had turned against the Nazis prior to the elections of 6 November, and had in fact given his support in them to the near-defunct DVP. However, when it became clear that despite – or rather because of – Hitler’s setback at the polls, moves were again afoot to install Hitler as Chancellor, Flick found it expedient to once again seek the Nazi party’s approval for his transactions with the government in connection with his near-bankruptcy of the previous winter. According to his chief aide Otto Steinbrinck,

... at the end of 1932 and the beginning of 1933, we were faced with a very few important transactions – the sale of the majority interest in the Rheinische Braunkohle and the exchange for the Harpen shares, the concentration on the Vereinigte Stahlwerke, and the remaining solution of the Vereinigte Stahlwerke. All these transactions seemed only possible to me if we could make sure that on the part of the economic-political Nazi [Party] agency Keppler, who at the same time was the economic adviser to the Führer, would make no difficulties. [16]

However, even at this late hour, certain influential concerns and magnates hesitated to take the gamble on a government headed by Hitler. [17] Unlike the Stalinists, who persistently lumped together conservative, Bonapartist and fascist regimes in one sack, the big bourgeoisie intuitively sensed that Hitler would take them across the Rubicon – and that there would be no crossing back. Not that they had a viable alternative to a Nazi government – there was none, as the fiasco of Schleicher was to demonstrate rapidly and conclusively. They feared the price that a ‘plebeian’ solution to their crisis demanded would prove too costly, both in terms of social dislocation, and their necessary political reliance on a movement whose leaders and methods were utterly alien to the parties that had represented their interests throughout the entire life of the Weimar Republic.

Less than a week after the formation of the Hitler government, Trotsky wrote:

It was not with a light heart that the high and mighty clique made a deal with malodorous fascists. There are far too many, all too many fists behind the unbridled upstarts; and therein lies the dangerous side of the brown-shirted allies; but in that very same thing is also their fundamental, more exactly, their only advantage. And this is the advantage that decides, for such are the times now that there is no guaranteeing property except with fists. There is no way of dispensing with the Nazis. [18]

But first the waverers – and even at the end of 1932 they were still the majority – had to become convinced of the indispensability of Hitler’s malodorous fist-wielders. General Schleicher’s abortive attempt to find a third route, between proletarian revolution and fascist counter-revolution, did precisely that.

Like Papen before him, Schleicher’s assumption of power on 2 December aroused cautious optimism in business quarters. Certainly his administration enjoyed one advantage that his predecessor never really had – the confidence of the Reichswehr high command. Schleicher intended that with the army as his power base, he could extend the support of his regime both leftwards and to the right, building a bloc ranging from the extreme right-wing trade union bureaucrats to Nazi ‘radicals’ such as Gregor Strasser. His was to be a ‘social’ Bonapartism, [19] with the class struggle being muffled and regulated through the agencies of the reformist bureaucracy and the pseudo ‘state socialism’ of the Nazi ‘lefts’. By welding together this amalgam of incompatible forces, Schleicher hoped to avoid the political and social isolation from the masses that was Papen’s undoing. The movement of the stock market reflected this initial optimism. Having sagged by two points in the last month of Papen’s rule, the share price index on the Berlin Bourse rallied in December and closed at 59, five points up on the November average. No doubt industry believed that by attempting to tie the union bureaucracy to the state, Schleicher would be able to blunt the working-class offensive that had begun under Papen, and greatly contributed to his downfall. Certainly the new cabinet did not lack its backers in the business world. The Taglische Rundschau reported that the general partly owed his appointment:

... to the chairman of the Federation of German Industries, Krupp von Bohlen, [who] had endeavoured to bring about the formation of the Schleicher cabinet and even brought influence to bear in this respect on the NSDAP. It looks as if a number of leaders of heavy industry, shipping, etc, insisted on the candidature of Schleicher.

However the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, which had swung in behind the carefully orchestrated press campaign for Hitler as Chancellor, saw Schleicher’s cabinet as a transitional one (as indeed did Goebbels):

The purpose of the Schleicher cabinet is to secure a breathing space for German politics of 12 weeks during which negotiations can be conducted between the holder of power and Hitler... The new government will place this chief aim in the foreground, and while holding firmly to the great achievements of the Papen era – economic revival and Prussian counter-revolution – must make concessions in all minor spheres to meet the needs of the people, economy and parties for peace. [20]

Schleicher wasted no time in putting his unorthodox theories to the test. Having been rebuffed yet again by Hitler when, on 30 November, he offered him the Vice-Chancellorship in a cabinet headed by himself, Schleicher made a new and more devious approach to the party through Gregor Strasser, head of the NSDAP organisation department, and the Nazi leader mainly responsible for the preparation of its alternative government and economic machinery in the event of the party’s coming to power. Schleicher had detected signs of restlessness in the Strasser wing of the movement at the failure of Hitler’s ‘all or nothing’ tactics, and that they were daily becoming more ready to share power in a government headed by a representative of the ‘system’ they were dedicated to destroying. Hitler immediately moved against Strasser, thereby blocking Schleicher’s bid to split the crisis-wracked party. At an emergency conference of party leaders on 5 December, only Frick amongst them spoke up for Strasser, though Goering is generally thought to have sympathised with Schleicher’s coalition plan. After an acrimonious confrontation between Hitler and Strasser two days later, the rebellion fizzled out, with Strasser resigning all his posts of responsibility in the party. On 9 December, Strasser left Germany for Italy on ‘sick leave’. Schleicher’s plan to anchor one flank of his regime in the Nazified ‘plebeians’ organised by Strasser’s apparatus (one section of which included the proletarian-oriented NSBO) had proved abortive. Not even the tempting bait of the Vice-Chancellorship and a hand in shaping the general’s social policy could persuade Strasser to betray his leader, even though he found it no longer possible to serve under him.

Schleicher had no more lasting success with his ‘opening to the left’, though here too his overtures met with a favourable response. He had presumably been encouraged by the nationalist tone adopted by the ADGB President Leipart in his speech of 14 October (quoted in the previous chapter) and the enthusiastic reception awarded to it by Strasser some days later. Even before his appointment as Chancellor, Schleicher had praised Leipart’s views at a meeting of Berlin Works’ Council representatives in the same month of October, and on 28 November, when it had become clear that Papen would be unable to form a new cabinet, he invited some of the ADGB executive to a private discussion. Breitscheid, one of the most left of the SPD leadership, denounced this manoeuvre publicly in Vorwärts, making it clear that if the union leaders should take up this offer (which they did) they would receive no support from the party. Only notorious ultra-rightists like Gustav Noske supported the talks, and they were so discredited that they carried little weight in the movement. Initially undeterred by Breitscheid’s reprimand, Leipart and Wilhelm Eggert began discussions with Schleicher in the first days of his rule. Schleicher for his part tried to create a favourable atmosphere by disowning any allegiance to capitalism. He wanted to bring the classes together in social peace, not wage war on the workers on behalf of the big employers. To which the two bureaucrats replied that collaboration would only be possible if the Chancellor rescinded von Papen’s wage-cutting decrees and high tariffs on imported food, which greatly increased the cost of living in order to fill the pockets of the agrarians.

One snag, however, was that as part of the deal between Leipart and the ‘social general’, the ADGB unions had to sever all ties with the ‘Marxists’ of the SPD. When news of what had been discussed between Schleicher and Leipart appeared in the Paris paper Excelsior on 4 December, the outcry in the SPD was so great that Leipart conducted all future negotiations with the Chancellor through intermediaries. The ADGB President hit back at his critics on 31 December, when the trade union journal Gewerkschafts Zeitung published an Open Letter from Leipart, addressed to all trade unionists, in which Leipart defended his discussions with Schleicher. The Chancellor was, of course, not a socialist, he argued, but his proposals for public works and other schemes to combat unemployment – including a ‘labour service’ which, unknown to Leipart, was to be staffed by the SA! – merited the support of responsible trade union leaders. (A week earlier, in the ADGB journal Alarm, Leipart had declared the trade unions were ready to observe a class truce until he saw ‘whether the deeds of the government corresponded to its words’.)

The polemic had now become a public one on both sides, and since it concerned the destiny of not only the trade unions, but the entire organised working class in Germany, the SPD leadership was compelled, if only for reasons of self-preservation, to put a halt to Leipart’s collaboration with Schleicher. In an SPD statement of 5 December, the party executive denounced Schleicher’s government as ‘one-sided’ and ‘representing that capitalist economic system, the failure of which has become more apparent from day to day’. To which a Leipart partisan replied: ‘Allow Schleicher to work. Even an adjournment [a euphemism for suspension] of the Reichstag no longer frightens us.’ Naturally the SPD left was the most vehement in its rejection of Leipart’s counter-revolutionary policy, one which, if carried through unhindered, would leave the working class defenceless in the face of the attacks of the employers, the state and the fascists. One left Social Democratic journal, Neue Blätter für den Sozialismus, held that while trade unions could not avoid negotiations with the government of the day, they had no business collaborating with the state. The trade unions were the ‘shock troops’ of the workers’ movement, and should act accordingly.

Leipart’s proposed deal with Schleicher met with such determined and widespread opposition in the SPD (not a single executive member openly endorsed it) that on 6 January, the ADGB President, when summoned to party headquarters to explain his conduct, undertook to sever all contacts with the Chancellor. Noske relates that at the meeting: ‘Breitscheid told him that the party rejected any collaboration with the reactionary Schleicher, and expected the same attitude from him. Leipart... yielded to party pressure.’ [21] The episode was not closed, however, for even though Leipart had been pulled back into line very much against his will, a precedent had been established whose counter-revolutionary implications were to be starkly revealed in the first three months of the Hitler regime.

Exit Schleicher

Schleicher’s brief period of power was brought to an end by the same combination of forces as had destroyed Brüning – namely heavy industry, finance, the agrarians and the Reichswehr. And as on that former occasion, one of the main agencies in Schleicher’s downfall was von Papen. Subjective motives obviously played a role here, as it was Schleicher’s intrigues which had contributed to the collapse of the Papen cabinet in November. But Papen’s prime concern was the creation of a government able to preserve the rule of his own class, and it was in this that he found Schleicher wanting. He was sceptical from the very outset of the general’s attempt to construct a broad-based coalition reaching from the Strasser Nazis to the reformist bureaucracy. Papen claims that when Schleicher’s plan was first mooted in the last days of November, he had great doubts whether it was feasible: ‘It seemed highly unlikely... that the left wing of the Nazi Party would split off.’ [22] Even more fundamental was Papen’s opposition to the general’s avoidance of a ‘reform’ of the constitution, a project close to Papen’s monarchist heart. In departing from the system of Presidential cabinet rule instituted by Papen, and seeking a majority in the Reichstag:

Schleicher’s plan would now mean that this line of action would have to be abandoned. Even if Schleicher obtained his parliamentary majority, it would not be strong enough to put through basic reforms [since this majority would depend on the support of the SPD – RB], and therefore would not only be a provisional solution, but a far from satisfactory one. [23]

Schacht was no more enthusiastic about Schleicher’s plan. Indeed, he had every reason to wish its failure, since, unlike Papen, Schacht had stood out for a Hitler government when others had been turning against the Nazis. He warned Schleicher after the latter had been appointed Chancellor that his scheme for splitting the Nazi ‘lefts’ away from Hitler was doomed to failure:

I think, General, that you underrate the iron discipline of the party so assiduously maintained by Hitler. Anyone who tried to speak out of turn he would send to Coventry [sic! – both Strasser and Schleicher were murdered in the purge of 30 June 1934, for their part in this abortive enterprise – RB] with no more ado. [24]

Finally there was Thyssen, who on learning of Schleicher’s intrigues with Strasser and Leipart:

... sent Rudolf Hess a copy of the letter addressed to the secretary of a Rhenish industrial enterprise and in which I expressed the opinion that the manner in which Strasser worked against Hitler was contemptible. Hess answered me in a very cordial letter. [25]

In his attempt to ensnare the ADGB bureaucrats, the ‘social general’ was leaning back too far to the left. And just as dangerously, his approach to Strasser had threatened to rend in half the only mass bulwark against the dreaded proletarian revolution. Slowly at first, the Chancellor’s adherents began to desert him. A matter of days later, Thyssen:

... invited a number of gentlemen to my house in order to enable them to put their questions to Hitler. Hitler answered all questions directed to him to the utmost satisfaction of all present... Directors General Kirdorf and Vögler and other great industrialists were present... [26]

Schacht’s ‘heavy’ industrialists were stirring themselves at last.

Papen struck his first blow against Schleicher on 16 December when, on the day following the Chancellor’s broadcast exposition of his ‘social’ programme, he addressed a meeting of the Berlin Herrenklub. Most of the 300 members present rightly assumed his remarks to be a thinly-veiled attack on the Schleicher government, and a call for one headed by Hitler. After assuring the club’s largely aristocratic clientele that while Chancellor his aim had been to draw the ‘great National Socialist freedom movement into a national concentration’, Papen stressed that this should be the end of all future governments too:

No one could have longed more strongly than I for the union of all national forces and no one worked more earnestly and more sincerely for that goal than I did. How much further ahead would we be now if on the evening of 13 August we could have said to the German people: we are marching together, against all opposition at home and abroad... I expect that regardless of all tactical manoeuvres which may at the moment be needed [a sly dig at Schleicher’s dealings with Leipart and Strasser – RB], the government will keep in mind the objectives which I have just outlined.

These words fell on receptive ears. After he had spoken, Papen was approached by the Cologne banker Baron Kurt von Schröder, who, as we have already noted, was in regular contact with Hitler’s economic adviser Keppler, and active on behalf of the Nazis in canvassing support amongst industry and finance for a Hitler government. The gist of the conversation that followed was this: Papen proposed to Schröder that he would use his influence with Hindenburg to effect a rapprochement between Hitler and the President, while Schröder would arrange for a meeting between Papen and Hitler (this taking place at the banker’s private residence in Cologne on 4 January). Schröder must have informed Keppler almost immediately of this startling development, because on 19 December, Keppler wrote to Hitler that: ‘Papen wishes to have confidential talks with you in order to inform you about the previous developments and discuss with you some possible future action.’ [27]

This ‘possible future action’ was nothing less than the formation of a cabinet of ‘National Concentration’ headed by Hitler in which Papen would figure as his deputy, with the remaining ministries being distributed between the NSDAP and the so-called ‘Black-White-Red’ bloc of assorted monarchists. The final steps towards the consummation of the Papen-Hitler deal, the role played in it by the various segments of the ruling class, and the miserable, capitulationist response that the march towards fascist dictatorship evoked from the leaders of the German working class, are best presented and analysed in the form of a chronology.

4 January: Papen and Hitler meet in the home of the Cologne Nazi banker, Baron Kurt von Schröder. The following is Schröder’s own account of this historic confrontation between the principle representatives of patrician and plebeian reaction, one which results in their agreement to unite against the common class enemy:

The meeting at my house on 4 January 1933 between Papen and Hitler arose after Papen had asked me on 16 December to make the arrangements. I first spoke to a number of gentlemen in the government and got some idea of their views on cooperation with these two. The general aim of these government members [these included several of Schleicher’s ministers such as the Papen ‘Barons’ von Neurath (Foreign) [28] and von Schwerin-Krosigk (Finance) – RB] was to install a strong leader who would form a government which could stay in power for a long time. When the NSDAP suffered its first setback in November 1932 and was thus in decline, it required support from German industry in fear of Bolshevism and in the hope that the Nazis if in power would bring about an enduring political and economic basis. A further common interest was the wish to translate Hitler’s economic programme into deeds. It was expected, and it subsequently transpired, that the whole economy would be reorganised. In it, the industrial and commercial associations would have greater say than hitherto. It was also expected that there would be an economic boom as a result of the award of large state contracts. This was dependent on Hitler’s projected increase of the German Wehrmacht from 100 000 to 300 000, building of Autobahns and spending by public bodies (states, local authorities, etc) for improvement of public transport systems, in particular the state railways and the orders to such industries as the automobile, aircraft and ancillary industries. It was generally recognised that one of the foremost points in Hitler’s programme was the repudiation of the Versailles Treaty and the restoration of a Germany economically and militarily strong. It was clear that in a strong Germany the economy would flourish and no longer be dependent on foreign countries. These aims, to make Germany self-sufficient, were regarded in certain quarters, not as idealistic but as a means of profit and increase of power. This view was specially prevalent in the sphere of synthetic oil and rubber [IG Farben and Conti]. Hitler’s programme was well known to industry and welcome...

On 4 January 1933, Hitler, von Papen, Hess, Himmler and Keppler came to my house in Cologne. Hitler, von Papen and I went to my den where we were closeted in a discussion lasting two hours... Hitler made a long speech in which he said that if he were made Chancellor, it would be necessary for him to be head of the government but that supporters of von Papen could go into his [Hitler’s] government as ministers when they were willing to go along with him in his policy of changing many things. These changes he outlined at the time included elimination of Social Democrats, Communists and Jews from leading positions in Germany and the restoration of order in public life... Von Papen and Hitler reached an agreement in principle. [29]

5 January: Goebbels notes in his diary:

The conference between the Leader and Herr von Papen has taken place in Cologne. It was meant to be kept secret, but through some indiscretion news of it got abroad and von Schleicher is making use of it... If we are successful, we cannot be far from power. [And the next day] Considering the gratifying development in politics, I scarcely feel inclined to bother about the bad financial situation of the organisation. Once we strike, all this will be over. [30]

The Völkischer Beobachter publishes Hitler’s New Year Message:

The Bolshevik danger looms gigantic and the Bolshevik chances of interfering with the world order are strengthened by the blindness and the delusive ideas of the so-called statesmen. The consequences must be disastrous. Party politicians and ministers have no idea of the terrible danger which threatens the world. In a country which contains six million Communists, seven and a half million socialists and six million more or less pacifist elements it would be better not to talk any longer of ‘equal rightsand such high-sounding words. The inner state of decay, which was looked upon as only a crisis phenomenon in 1918, has now become chronic. If Germany is to be put on its feet again this can only be done by a movement which is as intolerant and ready to take prompt action as its opponents are. Where other movements have failed, only the NSDAP can gain victory. [31]

The same day there appears in the Comintern press the KPD’s perspectives for 1933. Its hallmarks are an utterly false appraisal of the real course of developments in the bourgeoisie, and an imbecilic blind optimism regarding the immediate prospects for the Communist Party. Schleicher, not Hitler, is the weapon-bearer of fascist dictatorship, and all attempts to stabilise such a regime are doomed to rapid failure. Meanwhile, the main enemy remains Social Democracy, which is becoming an auxiliary agency of the fascist dictatorship:

In view of the relations of class and groups existing in Germany at the time, the choice fell upon the Minister for War as the man most likely to solve the chief and most pressing task of the bourgeoisie, namely to create for the fascist dictatorship the mass basis which the Papen regime lacked. [On the contrary, Schleicher’s is a regime seen as an alternative to fascism – RB] ... the Social Democracy is to be linked more closely to the fascist apparatus of power [wrong again, in a matter of weeks, it will be repulsed and crushed savagely – RB] ... The closer linking up of the Social Democracy with the fascist apparatus is... to be effected in stages. It is the turn of the trade union leaders [to be jailed on 2 May after Hitler spurned their offer of collaboration – RB], who are to be followed by the leaders of the Reichsbanner, and finally the leaders of the SPD [whose party will be outlawed on 22 June – RB] ... The first weeks of the existence of the Schleicher government have shown that it enjoys the toleration of all bourgeois parties, from the Nazis to the SPD... The short history of the Schleicher cabinet before and after the opening of the Reichstag already shows that the toleration front from Hitler to Leipart is functioning well... The revolutionary ranks have increased and become stronger and are facing the new year with optimism. [32]

6 January: The SPD Executive instructs ADGB President Theodor Leipart to break off all contact with Schleicher. The Nazi campaign for the state elections in Lippe, due on 14 January, gets under way. Hitler is determined to record a spectacular success in this tiny rural province (with an electorate of 90 000) in order to demonstrate to friend and foe alike that his movement is not disintegrating.

7 January: Papen continues to sound out support in the business world for a Hitler government, meeting a group of prominent industrialists in the Ruhr city of Dortmund.

8 January: Schleicher approaches Papen in a bid to avert a negative vote by the NSDAP against the government when the Reichstag reconvenes on 24 January. The KPD has declared it will move a censure motion on Schleicher’s regime at this session. If it succeeds, then Schleicher’s cabinet will fall, followed by yet another election. The outcome of the talk is inconclusive.

10 January: Papen and Hitler meet again, this time at the home of Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s future Foreign Minister, where discussions continue concerning current political developments and the formation of a Nazi – Monarchist coalition.

11 January: The DNVP demands representation in the Schleicher cabinet, and that Hugenberg be given the post of Minister of Economics. The farmers’ association, the Reichslandbund, represented by its four leaders (two of whom, Vice-President Werner Williken and Director von Sybel, are Nazis) calls on President Hindenburg to deliver to him a protest against Schleicher’s agricultural policy which, like Brüning’s, they hold to be ‘agrarian Bolshevism’. Schleicher has little sympathy for the Prussian landowners and smaller farmers, being more concerned with the demands of industry, and seeking a modus vivendi with the labour bureaucracy, who have been antagonised by Papen’s protectionist agricultural policies. Hindenburg upholds the complaints of the Reichslandbund against Schleicher, and thunders at him:

I request – and as an old soldier, you realise of course that a request is simply a polite form of a command – that your cabinet assemble this evening, prepare laws of the kind we have just discussed, and present them for my signature tomorrow morning.

Nazi demagogy has played its part in mobilising the peasants against Schleicher and the ‘system’, the Reichslandbund leaders declaring shortly before their meeting with the President that ‘the exploitation of the German farmer by the omnipotent money-bag interests of internationally-minded export industries and their vassals has not been checked by the present government’; and that the decline of German agriculture has been permitted to reach ‘proportions considered impossible even under a purely [sic] Marxist regime’. First industry – and now the agrarians, headed by that sinister neo-medievalist, the Junker neighbour of President Hugenberg’s East Prussian estate at Neudeck, the monarchist who finds the Nazis ‘rather attractive’, and Hugenberg’s loyal supporter in the Reichstag, Elard von Oldenburg-Januschau – are clambering onto the Hitler bandwagon as it begins to gather speed.

12 January: Commenting on the Hitler-Papen meeting of 4 January, a KPD official writes: ‘It is not Hitler who has been the main driving force against the Schleicher cabinet, but Hugenberg and the forces of landowning and finance capital behind him.’ A note of reality intrudes, however, when the same writer admits that ‘Schleicher’s plans for the formation of a broad fascist mass basis have proved... a complete failure’, even though the characterisation of Schleicher’s Leipart – Strasser bloc as ‘fascist’ is false. [33]

Fresh alarms in the Hitler camp about the activities of Schleicher. Goebbels, engaged with Hitler in the crucial Lippe election campaign, records that ‘politically everything is still in suspension. The Strasser clique is still agitating. Everything depends on the result of the Lippe contest.’ [34] Another broadside from the Nazi-infested Reichslandbund. Hugenberg is now taking up their cause and using it as a stick to beat Schleicher into submission.

13 January: More consternation for the Nazis. Goering arrives at Hitler’s temporary election headquarters – the castle of Baron von Oynhausen, yet another aristocratic Nazi sympathiser – with the news that Strasser intends to enter Schleicher’s cabinet as Vice-Chancellor. The next day Goebbels writes in his diary: ‘Only a great success in the Lippe contest can get us out of this dangerous situation.’ But there is also good news from Berlin: ‘Von Schleicher. has caused a conflict with the Reichslandbund. The peasants are furious with him. That is good news for us just now.’ [35]

Hugenberg sees Schleicher, and again demands posts in the cabinet for his party. Naturally he insists on becoming Minister of Economics. Schleicher turns him down, as he still entertains hopes of a deal with Strasser.

14 January: Hugenberg is still pressing hard for representation in the Schleicher cabinet. He discusses this question with President Hindenburg, and mentions to him the possibility of bringing more moderate bourgeois parties into a coalition. He still fears handing over power to Hitler. He insists as a condition of participation in the government that the Reichstag be adjourned for at least six months to permit the implementation of his economic policies, which are reactionary in the extreme.

About this time, Schleicher begins to toy with the idea of blackmailing his agrarian opponents – and even the President himself – by publicly exposing the scandal of the Osthilfe. [36]

15 January: The Nazi propaganda machine roars its claim of victory in Lippe. In reality, the returns show that while the party has succeeded in reversing the slump that set in at the Reichstag elections of 6 November 1932, it has failed to regain all the support it lost after 31 July:

Reichstag Elections, 1932-33
 31 July6 Nov15 Jan

Now Hitler feels he can resume his negotiations with Papen as the leader of a party that stands solidly behind him, and has proved its strength in battle. Ribbentrop hurries to see him at Oynhausen: ‘Long talk with Hitler alone. Back to Berlin at night. Arranged Papen – Hitler meeting for Monday [16 January] ... or for Tuesday.’ [37]

16 January: Goebbels is now triumphant, and sensing power at last:

The papers are clearly dropping Strasser. He has lost his game... The situation of the party has changed fundamentally overnight. Our prestige is much enhanced. All sensible folk have given up the Schleicher cabinet. [38]

Schleicher is indeed in great difficulties. Kaas of the Centre Party turns down an invitation from the Catholic Chancellor to allow Stegerwald to enter his cabinet as Labour Minister. ‘Never with Hugenberg’ is the angry reply. Schleicher threatens to declare a state of emergency as he finds his government becoming increasingly isolated from all major social groups and classes – agrarians, industry, the Nazis, the labour bureaucracy, the proletariat, the peasants, the hierarchy... and the President. Hindenburg refuses to give Schleicher the powers he requests. Free Corps veteran and ‘left’ Nazi Ernst von Salomon will write later:

As time went by Schleicher came to the conclusion that what appealed less and less to the old gentleman was Schleicher’s socialism. The old man could stomach socialist views when they were presented to him by the proper people, by professional socialists as it were. But now comes along Schleicher and talks as though he were in earnest. A man from his own regiment! A deserter, you might almost say! ... on the highest level men like Meissner and Papen... kept whispering in the old gentleman’s ear: ‘They're coming, the Nazis, they're inevitable. And anyhow its quite constitutional that they should get in, in fact it’s high time that things were made easy for them so as to save what is still to be saved, so as to avoid the worst...’ [39]

The imperialist trend in German politics hardens. With the Geneva disarmament conference less than a month away, the Federation of German Industries is aligning itself with its old friends in the Reichswehr to commence a programme of rearmament, and to organise the avoidance of international control over German arms production. Today the following communication has been sent from the Federation of German Industries to the War Ministry Army Weapons Department, care of Lieutenant General von Bockelburg:

With reference to the conversation at the Ministry on 13 January, we have pleasure in enclosing a summary of the interpretation of special [sic!] industry concerning the negotiations over the international control of armaments at Geneva, together with a transcript of the statements of various people on individual points of these statements... In brief, the attitude of special industry to the negotiations for international control of armaments manufacture and dealing is:

1: As the result of any agreement to set up control commissions, there must be recognition in principle of equality of status for Germany.

2: German private industry must fundamentally refuse all controls on armaments manufacture.

3: If international pressure forces the German government to do a deal over the foregoing, then the following demands will be made:

A: Germany must be represented at the consultations of all committees and sub-committees whose decisions may be of importance to the economy...

B: National control can only be tolerated on the strength of national licensing. International controls, also on the strength of already admitted publication, are to be refused...

D: Commissions may only concern themselves with actual weapons, munitions and war supply, and not with plant available for export. Term ‘arms, munitions and war materials’ is to be kept as restricted as possible and not to be applied to war supplies...

E: Manufacture and export shall not be subject to quota... the basis for calculations of exports must be discussed with the individual industrial groups. The participation of experts from industry and from all individual industrial groups is therefore necessary. Nominations by the Federation of German Industries will be made on request...

F: All quantitative publication of manufacture and trading is to be refused...

H: Any proposals made at Geneva must be agreed between private industry and the national federations...

The Third Reich will soon give these ‘merchants of death’ – and their cohorts in the army – all they desire.

17 January: An important development. Hugenberg is turning against Schleicher; he sees Hitler ‘without immediate result’. They may well have discussed the inclusion of Hugenberg as minister of economics in a possible Hitler cabinet. Goebbels now exudes confidence: ‘Through a conference with the District Leaders I ascertain that the party’s morale is excellent again. Also the financial situation has improved all of a sudden.’ [40] Perhaps this is due not only to the good offices of Papen, but the détente with Hugenberg, who enjoys the closest links with heavy industry. The Cologne industrialist Otto Wolf is also proving helpful here. Goering tells the now despairing Schleicher that Hitler no longer wishes to treat with him. Hitler plans to threaten the general with a renewal of his alliance with the KPD, discarded after the collapse of the Berlin transport strike. If the NSDAP throws its 196 Reichstag mandates behind the Communist censure resolution, Schleicher will almost certainly fall.

Comments Theodor Neubauer of the KPD, which remains blind as ever to the chasm looming before it, ‘the most likely government to emerge from these manoeuvres is a Schleicher – Hugenberg – Stegerwald combination’. [41]

18 January: The twice-postponed meeting between Papen and Hitler takes place in Dahlem at noon. Röhm for the SA, and Himmler for the SS, are also present:

Hitler insists on being Chancellor. Papen again considers this impossible. His influence with Hindenburg is not strong enough to effect this. Hitler makes no further arrangements for talks. Joachim [Ribbentrop] tentatively suggests a meeting between Hitler and Hindenburg’s son. [42]

Despite the slow progress of negotiations with Papen, Goebbels detects a favourable turn in developments, reflected in the press, which is ‘abandoning Schleicher. This is an obvious sign that things are bad with him.’ [43]

The sharp increase in the sackings of Social Democratic and liberal school teachers by the Prussian education authorities (now headed by state commissioner Bracht’s ultra-conservative place-men) stirs some SPD leaders to action. In the Prussian Landtag Professor Wilhelm Nolting denounces the trend towards chauvinism and anti-Semitism in the seats of German learning. ‘In the wild ravages of the barbarians much lies trampled on the ground’, he declares to the Nazi and Nationalist deputies. But like the Stalinists, he makes the fatal error of underestimating the determination and staying power of the enemy, for he goes on:

We shall see to it that your movement continues to move, but that it goes downhill... Your power of fascination is gone. You charm neither the bourgeoisie nor the political power complex. Your days of disenchantment have begun. You are in the autumn of your year.

However, there must be growing unease in the reformist camp about the comings and goings in the Brown House, the Kaiserhof, the Wilhelmstrasse and the President’s residence, because detectable in Nolting’s speech is a searching for a more left line than has been pursued by the SPD hitherto. He will have no truck with Schleicher, for between the Chancellor and the SPD:

... lies 20 July 1932, across this chasm can be built no bridge of understanding and unity by the coup against Prussia an unalterable hostility has been set between us and him... Schleicher personifies for us a system, and against the representatives of this system there is nothing but hostility.

Where then can Nolting and his fellow Social Democrats turn for allies but to the KPD? ‘Nothing doing’ is the reply of their fellow bureaucrats at the Karl Liebknecht House. The SPD has ‘secretly tolerated the Leipart-Schleicher talks’ (in fact the SPD blocked them on 6 January); and as for the fight against fascism ‘the German working class has only one leader in the struggle against Schleicher, Hugenberg and Hitler, against the fascist dictatorship of the German bourgeoisie – and that leader is the KPD’. [44]

19 January: A busy day for von Papen. First he sees Ribbentrop, with whom he has a ‘long talk’. Then off to Hindenburg to press Hitler’s claims to the Chancellorship. Pressure is also being mounted on another sensitive flank. A meeting is arranged for 22 January between Hitler and the President’s son Oskar, whose hand has been caught deep in the Osthilfe till.

Goering is now taking a hand in the negotiations. The former fighter ace, the most socially acceptable of all the Nazi leaders, will write a year later:

By the middle of the month it was already clear that the final decision was coming. There was feverish activity on all sides. From 20 January on I was, as political delegate, in constant touch with the leader of the Stahlhelm, Seldte [who will enter Hitler’s cabinet on January 30 as Minister of Labour – RB], and with the leader of the German Nationalists Hugenberg, and was discussing with them future developments. It was clear that our goal could only be reached by the union of the National Socialists with all the remaining national forces under the sole leadership of Adolf Hitler. And then it was seen by Herr von Papen, against whom for political reasons we once had been forced to fight, now realised what a momentous occasion this was. With sincere cordiality he entered into an alliance with us, and became the honest mediator between the aged Field-Marshal and the young lance corporal of the Great War. [45]

The Reichstag Steering Committee is in session, and has postponed to 31 January the reopening of parliament. This move gives all the parties to the current spate of negotiations and manoeuvrings a little more time to come up with an acceptable solution to the government crisis. In another chamber of the Reichstag building, the Nazis have carried out their threat to unite with the KPD. An NSDAP statement against the Lausanne agreements of the previous June is passed by the Reichstag Committee on Foreign Affairs with the votes of the KPD deputies. Still the Stalinists cling to the suicidal Kremlin line of backing any political force which, however counter-revolutionary, seeks revenge for the ‘crime’ of November 1918.

In the evening, Ribbentrop pays a call on Papen, who confirms ‘that young Hindenburg and Meissner will come to Dahlem on Sunday’ to meet Hitler. [46] The presence of Hindenburg’s state secretary indicates that something really sensational is in the offing. Can the President be at last changing his mind about the ‘Bohemian corporal'?

Over at the Sportspalast, Hitler addresses a huge Nazi rally. ‘He is in excellent form’, records Goebbels. He needs to be, for the Nazis are planning to hold a mammoth demonstration outside the headquarters of the KPD in the Bulow Platz on 22 January. This will be the most vital mass action Hitler has ever undertaken, since with it he intends to demonstrate once and for all to the hesitant bourgeoisie that his storm-troopers command the streets of Red Berlin. Moreover, it will give him an excellent opportunity to prove that a Nazi regime, once it has taken all the machinery of state into its hands, can make a clean sweep of the ‘red pest’. This is why Goebbels is so anxious that there should be ‘no hitches’: ‘It would be very awkward... if the police should prohibit our demonstration at the last moment’, he writes. [47]

The Communists have got wind of the Nazis’ plans, because a leaflet is circulating amongst the Berlin workers entitled Red Berlin in Alarm. The tone is bold and militantly anti-Nazi, and whilst it does not call on the reformist leaders to join with the KPD in the defence of the Karl Liebknecht House, it refrains from hurling the usual stupid abuse about ‘social fascism’ which has so alienated SPD workers in the past:

All the week the murderous Hitler gangs have been terrorising, shooting workers. Increasing provocation against the revolutionary Berlin working class is being prepared. On Wednesday [18 January] a troop of Nazi students in uniform appeared outside the Karl Liebknecht House and hurled abuse, under police protection. The Sunday demonstration will be the climax. All Berlin workers are seething. There is a wave of protests in the factories and at the labour exchanges. Berlin is Red. The KPD has 860 000 electors on its lists. Together with the SPD and the ADGB there is an overwhelming majority against the Nazi terror... Red Berlin, give your answer. Show your strength. Answer the Nazi provocateurs with the stormy mass protest of the entire working class. Comrades in the Reichsbanner, the SPD, the trade unions, form a common fighting front against the common enemy... If the fascist storm-troopers dare strike down a single worker or attack Karl Liebknecht House, every factory in Berlin must be brought to a standstill... Your own mass demonstrations must prevent the provocative Nazi assembly in the Bulow Platz. Everyone to the city centre on Sunday, to the Bulow Platz... [48]

Perhaps at the very last minute, the Communists are going to fight. With the Brown-Shirts literally at the door, they seem to have no option.

21 January: Hugenberg definitely breaks with Schleicher. Goering’s influence might be telling here. Only the Centre Party supports the Chancellor now. He has ended up with no more backing in the country or the Reichstag than Papen. Meanwhile preparations are going ahead for two vital events. Ribbentrop sees Hitler about tomorrow’s meeting with Hindenburg junior and Meissner. He will not have Schleicher present on any account. Goering will be there, however, together with Frick. These two eminently bourgeois Nazis will be Hitler’s only two National Socialist ministers in the cabinet formed on 30 January. But before the coalition can be consummated ‘at the top’, the battle ‘down below’ in the streets of proletarian Berlin must be won. This is the responsibility of Röhm and Goebbels, who are whipping the SA men up into a frenzy of anti-Communist hatred ready for tomorrow’s parade. Röhm is bringing in hand-picked SA units from all over Germany by train and motor vehicles. Goebbels anxiously awaits the outcome of the expected battle of Berlin, which even with the police protection assured the Nazis, is by no means certain:

The whole day goes by making plans for our demonstration on the Bulow Platz. The Communist press has sounded the alarm, and overnight the parade in consequence has developed into a matter of significance... The demonstration is permitted... which factor now exemplifies our strength...

Goebbels is also conversant with the progress of the Hitler – Meissner – Hindenburg junior negotiations, for he adds: ‘The work in anticipation of the downfall of the von Schleicher cabinet is well in hand. Even the form in which the Leader is to take power is seriously discussed.’ [49]

22 January: The day of decision for the workers of Berlin and all Germany has arrived. The turnout for the Nazi demonstration has not proved as large as was expected. One KPD observer estimates it as low as 16 000. Be that as it may, the Berlin proletariat possesses the numerical strength and class-consciousness to block the SA’s path to the Karl Liebknecht House. At the elections of 6 November, the KPD emerged the strongest single party in the capital, with 37.7 per cent of the total poll. Then followed the SPD with 23.8 per cent and the NSDAP with 23.2 per cent. Two Berliners in three voted either KPD or SPD on that day! As for the workers, they are behind these two organisations almost to a man and woman. If the brown tide can be checked in the capital, the reverberations of such a famous victory will echo throughout proletarian Germany, giving fresh heart to its 20 million embattled workers. And it can demonstrate to the wavering middle-class elements in the Hitler camp that their leader is not all-powerful, that the abused and despised Marxists are capable of fighting and winning. This is how even old guard Stalinists like Hermann Remmele are thinking. He has begun to criticise in a confused fashion the suicidal line being forced on the party from Moscow, and now is arguing inside the KPD Central Committee that:

... this fascist provocation be answered by a Communist counter-demonstration. His view is that the German workers should not be abandoned defenceless to the Nazis, and that it is possible to avert the worst happening only through spirited resistance. [50]

But hours before the demonstration is due to begin, there appears on the streets of Berlin another leaflet issued by the KPD. No longer are the Berlin workers summoned to block the Brown-Shirts’ path to the party headquarters; instead the KPD appeal talks vaguely of the need to ‘defend your interests’ and to ‘protect your life, your party, its Bolshevik Central Committee from the provocative assault of the hirelings of capital’. The proletariat, with the brown onslaught only hours away, is merely advised to ‘stand prepared’ and to use its ‘mass strength in unity against the wave of fascist terror’. ‘Unity committees’ were to be elected – whereas in the previous appeal, specific demands had been addressed to the SPD and ADGB workers to stage a general strike in the event of the SA marching on the Karl Liebknecht House. ‘Everybody to the Bulow Platz’, had been the slogan then. Now, someone, somewhere, was sounding the most ignominious retreat in the history of German Communism, no less treacherous than the capitulation of the reformists in Prussia to Papen on 20 July. The order to clear the way for Hitler’s onslaught has come from Stalin! As Mrs Neumann will later recall:

... shortly before the day of the planned demonstration there came a telegram from Moscow. It was a categorical instruction that no counter-demonstration by the KPD was to take place. The party leadership was made responsible for seeing that there was no sort of clash with the Nazis. [51]

Instead of meeting the fascist challenge with the might of the Berlin proletariat, the fire-eating leftists in the Karl Liebknecht House behave no differently from the ‘social fascists’. ‘State – help us!’, is their plaintive cry. Workers are now invited to send letters of protest to the Berlin Chief of Police, while the Central Committee issues a statement to the press saying that the KPD ‘holds the authorities responsible for what will happen in the Bulow Platz’. And what happens there, by permission not only of Schleicher’s police, but the Kremlin bureaucracy and its servile henchmen in the KPD leadership, is the blackest day yet in the history of German Communism. Goebbels cannot contain his glee at the spectacle of the headquarters of the largest Communist Party in the capitalist world encircled by a sea of leering Brown-Shirts:

Berlin has got the wind up. Our marching in the Bulow Platz has caused a great commotion. The police are patrolling the slums with machine guns and armed motor cars. In spite of the prohibition the Communists have proclaimed a huge demonstration. [Goebbels does not know the decision to call it off has been taken – RB] If it fails, they will suffer an irreparable loss of prestige. We can only hope the police will not thwart our plans, for as things stand, the Karl Liebknecht House could be conquered in one single assault... We assemble on the Bulow Platz... The square looks like a military camp. Armed motor cars and machine guns are everywhere to be seen. The police have posted themselves on the roofs and at the windows facing the Platz waiting the course of events. Punctually at two, the Führer arrives. The SA marches to the Karl Liebknecht House... The leader speaks in the cemetery. He points out the significance for the party of the figure of Horst Wessel [the Nazis’ anti-Communist martyr]. Outside the House the SA is posted, and in the side streets the Communists are shouting with impotent rage. The SA is on the march and overawes the Reds on their own ground, Berlin. The Bulow Platz is ours. The Communists have suffered a great defeat... This day is really a proud and heroic victory for the SA and for the Party... We have won the battle... [52]

The Stalinists try to save face by claiming that it is the Nazis who have suffered a defeat, and not the workers. The fact that the SA could only march with police protection ‘naturally not raised but lowered the political prestige of the National Socialists’ writes B Steinemann of the Berlin party organisation. [53] But the demonstration has not been staged to raise the prestige of the Nazis in the estimation of the Berlin workers, but to prove to those negotiating with Hitler over the formation of a new cabinet that the NSDAP has the forces to cow the ‘Reds’ in their own stronghold, and that Hitler has ended his opportunist manoeuvrings with the KPD. This is well understood in both Nazi and bourgeois quarters. Otto Dietrich, one of Hitler’s liaison men with heavy industry, sees the humiliation of the KPD as a turning point in Hitler’s bid for power:

Instead of negotiating... [Hitler] ordered his Berlin SA men to parade on the Bulow Platz, with their front facing the Karl Liebknecht House. This was a bold and brilliant demonstration of power, which the Commune, impotent and boiling with rage, was forced to witness. [54]

Some 10 years later, Hitler will recall that ‘the day after the SA assault on the Karl Liebknecht House in Berlin had resulted in a tremendous loss of prestige for the KPD and caused great indignation in Berlin, I was again invited by von Papen to a conference...’ So Hitler too understands that a turning point has been reached as a result of the Kremlin’s capitulation.

On May Day 1929, the KPD leadership had no qualms about summoning workers to the barricades in an adventurist armed struggle against ‘social fascism’. Now, with the real fascists mobilising in their last drive for power, these same leaders sound the retreat. For Stalin’s foreign policy deems that it should be so. Flushed with his victory on the Bulow Platz, Hitler travels across Berlin to the fashionable Berlin suburb of Dahlem, where he is due to meet Oskar Hindenburg and Meissner at the home of von Ribbentrop. He takes Goering and Frick with him. Matchmaker Papen is also present: ‘Hitler talks alone to young Hindenburg for two hours, followed by a Hitler – Papen talk. Papen will now press for Hitler as Chancellor...’ [55]

Motoring back to the Wilhelmstrasse, Oskar Hindenburg remarks with a sigh to his companion Meissner: ‘It cannot be helped. The Nazis must be taken into the government.’ When Goebbels learns of this dramatic development, he is delighted:

Several discussions with the men who in the future will be of importance have cleared the ground. Generally speaking there is conformity among them... One thing is certain, feeling in general is everywhere against the present cabinet. In the new cabinet, the Leader will take over. Herr von Papen will become Vice-Chancellor. [56]

23 January: Papen sees Hindenburg, who still baulks at a Hitler cabinet. But perhaps Schleicher’s admission to the President that his attempt to split the NSDAP and form a coalition with Strasser’s ‘left’ Nazis has failed, will compel him to think again. Also ominous for Schleicher is Hindenburg’s refusal to declare a state of emergency and dissolve the Reichstag, now due to reopen on 31 January. The President reminds him that his predecessor von Papen had fallen because the Reichswehr leaders feared the use of the army against a possible mass uprising of the left or right. ‘Since then the situation has been worsening for several weeks... If civil war was likely then, it is even more so now, and the Army will be still less capable of coping with it...’ [57] There is talk of a ‘businessmen’s government’ headed by Schacht, but Hitler will have none of it. Such a cabinet would be no less an open incitement to revolt than one based purely on the Reichswehr. The German bourgeoisie needs Hitler’s plebeians.

Berlin is seething with rumours of plots and counterplots. They all revolve around one question – how and when the Nazis will be brought into the government. That they must be brought in is not disputed save by a daily shrinking fraction of the ruling class.

However in Moscow, where the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party is in session, the Kremlin bureaucracy sees no cause for alarm at the most recent developments in Germany. Stalin has already delivered a lengthy report on the results of the Five-Year Plan, in which true to his metaphysical conception of political economy, he has inverted the relationship between national and world economy. For him ‘the successes of the Five-Year Plan are mobilising the revolutionary forces of the working class of all countries against capitalism’, [58] whereas in reality, as the events of the last days have shown, the menace of fascism in Germany is casting its long shadow over the Soviet economy. For Molotov, who today gives his report on the USSR’s foreign policy, this relationship between the Soviet Union and Germany is simply one of maintaining friendly contacts with whoever happens to be in power in Berlin, be he Schleicher or Hitler:

The Soviet Union’s international position must be regarded in the light of the results of the First Five-Year Plan. Germany occupies a special place in our foreign relations. Of all the countries maintaining diplomatic relations with us, we have had and now have the strongest economic connection with Germany. That is no accident. It arises from the interests of the two countries. [59]

And if there is a danger to the further development of the Soviet economy, it comes not from Germany, where the Nazis are now only one week away from taking power, but France and Japan.

24 January: Another meeting at Ribbentrop’s: ‘Frick, Goering, Papen, Joachim [von Ribbentrop]. Resolved to form national front which is to support Papen vis-à-vis old Hindenburg.’ [60] The Hugenberg Nationalists step up their campaign against Schleicher, whom they depict as dangerously radical. A day of more manoeuvrings, with some Reichswehr officers now edging away from their former chief-of-staff. Others, like Colonel Walter von Reichenau, Commander of the East Prussian Military District 1, and General Werner von Blomberg, who will be Hitler’s first Minister of Defence, have already made up their minds. They want Hitler. Already Reichenau and Hitler have exchanged letters concerning the political situation in Germany, Hitler writing on 2 December 1932 that it was ‘just childish’ to believe that Marxism could be crushed simply by military methods. It had now ‘conquered a gigantic part of the world’. Neither was Germany’s home front secure in the event of war. As soon as the first troops set out to meet the foreign foe, ‘the red mob would break loose at home’. November 1918 would be ‘child’s play’ by comparison. That was why neither Papen nor Schleicher could accomplish their aim of overcoming Marxism, since ‘neither the police nor the army has destroyed and still less created a world view’. Hence the need for Hitler’s plebeian, ‘political’ army steeped and steeled in anti-Marxism. Hitler’s letter to von Reichenau proposed a five-point programme on which the Reichswehr could find common ground with the NSDAP:

1. Total destruction of Marxism in all its forms, including the free trade unions (no question, as with Schleicher, of their ‘incorporation into the state’).

2. Inward ‘regeneration’ of Germany.

3. Rearmament.

4. Legal recognition of the Nazi state by the rest of the world.

5. Total involvement of the population in the preparations for war. ‘Social’ militarism.

These ideas are now seducing the younger Reichswehr officers. If Hitler will give them the arms and men to fight, then his lack of social pedigree can be overlooked.

25 January: Ribbentrop notes:

Again tea in Dahlem. Joachim sees young Hindenburg alone. Hitler’s Chancellorship under the auspices of a national front does not appear quite hopeless. Young Hindenburg promises to talk to Joachim again before his father makes final decision. [61]

Goebbels is also cautiously optimistic: ‘It looks pretty bad for von Schleicher. His downfall is expected on Saturday [28 January]... Even the Nationalists now are against him. He is absolutely isolated.’ [62] Despite a continued slow revival in production (up by 10 per cent on September 1932), unemployment is still chronic. Figures released today show that the number of workers without jobs has risen by 193 000 between 1 and 15 January. Thirteen workers shot dead by police at a meeting in Dresden. Protest strikes erupt throughout the city, but lack of unity at the top prevents the movement from growing.

26 January: Ribbentrop has a ‘long talk with Frick and Goering in the Reichstag. Negotiations with German Nationals. In the evening at Prince Oskar’s house in Potsdam. Letter to Hugenberg.’ [63] Von Papen meets Hugenberg, whose support for the proposed Hitler cabinet is essential if it is to carry a majority in the Reichstag. And Hugenberg is in the unique position of being able to speak for both agrarian and industrial interests. Hitler needs him – if only while he consolidates his own independent power base. Also present at the meeting with Hugenberg is that other stalwart of ‘national’ Germany, the Stahlhelm leader Franz Seldte. Papen tells them that the new cabinet being formed to succeed Schleicher will be led by Hitler. Düsterberg, also invited to the meeting, but the least important of the three monarchists, rejects Papen’s proposal. But Hugenberg and Seldte agree. Like Papen, Hugenberg genuinely believes that Hitler will serve as their stooge. Having finished off the Marxists and sent parliament packing, the Nazi upstarts will be put in their place and the stage set for a comeback by the ‘old gang’. It suits Hitler to cultivate such illusions. Hugenberg’s conversion to a Hitler cabinet will have a big effect on Hindenburg. And so much still depends on the opinion of the President... This is now Goebbels’ main worry.

The Leader is in Berlin once more. He has very difficult decisions before him to make. Von Schleicher’s position is definitely shaken. The last word lies with the President of the Reich. [64]

27 January: Simultaneous crisis in the Nazi and government camps. The Reichstag Steering Committee upholds its decision to reopen the Reichstag on 31 January. Schleicher faces near-certain defeat there. And a blow against Hitler. General von Hammerstein calls on Hindenburg and warns him of the consequences of appointing the Nazi leader Chancellor. ‘I have no intention whatever of making that Austrian Corporal either Minister of Defence or Chancellor of the Reich’, replies the President. So all Papen’s intrigues have so far been of no avail. Neither has the tactic of working through the President’s errant son Oskar produced dividends. Ribbentrop and Hitler meet at Goering’s Berlin flat.

Hitler wants to leave Berlin forthwith. Joachim proposes link up with Hugenberg for a national front. New meeting with old Hindenburg arranged. Hitler declares that he has said all there is to say to the Field Marshal, and does not know what to add. Joachim persuades Hitler that this last attempt should be made, and that the situation is by no means hopeless. Joachim suggests that the national front should be formed as soon as possible and that Hitler should meet Papen in Dahlem at 10.00 pm. Hitler agrees to negotiate with Papen and Hugenberg in the evening... Late in the afternoon Goering telephones to say that Joachim should go to the Reichstag President’s house immediately. There, talks with Hugenberg, Hitler and Goering broken off because of impossible demands by German Nationals. Hitler very indignant, wants to leave for Munich immediately. Goering persuades him to stay or at least to go only as far as Weimar. Gradually Goering and Joachim calm Hitler down, but his suspicions are revived. Situation very critical. Hitler declares he cannot meet Papen in Dahlem that evening, because he is not in a position to talk freely...

Ribbentrop takes up the story from his wife, whose diary entries these are:

I have never seen Hitler in such a state; I proposed to him and Goering that I should see Papen alone that evening and explain the whole situation to him. In the evening I saw Papen and convinced him eventually that the only thing that made sense was Hitler’s Chancellorship and that he must do what he can to bring this about. Papen declared that the matter of Hugenberg was of secondary importance and that he was absolutely in favour of Hitler becoming Chancellor; this was the decisive change in Papen’s attitude. [65]

Papen earlier pays a call on Hindenburg, to tell him that there is no question of his assuming the leadership of a new cabinet in the event of Schleicher’s resignation, which is now expected hourly.

Unrest is so great in the ranks of the KPD after its leaders’ capitulation to the Nazis on 22 January that they compel the party bureaucracy to hold a massive anti-fascist march past the Karl Liebknecht House. Those responsible for the humiliation of 22 January now appear to take the salute from the hundreds of thousands of workers, many of whom have come from all corners of the country, who file past in the bitter cold. Thälmann, Pieck, Schehr, Ulbricht are among them. But not Remmele, who is in disgrace for his outspoken opposition to the ECCI directive halting the planned KPD counter-demonstration of 22 January. The response to the KPD’s rally – delegations are marching from the AEG, Borsig, Osram and Siemens works in Berlin – proves yet again that when the call is given, the workers will respond. But the Communist workers, many of them unemployed, cannot fight and defeat the Nazis alone. They need the active support of the workers who follow the SPD. And not only the reformist, but the Stalinist bureaucracy is keeping them apart.

28 January: Schleicher has fallen! Unable to assemble the elements of a coalition broad based enough to rule without the direct intervention of the army and police in daily politics, he tells Hindenburg that there is now only one way out of the crisis – appoint Hitler Chancellor. The President now summons his old friend and confidant, von Papen, to advise him on the next move. Does it have to be the ‘Austrian Corporal’ after all? Papen, after his conversation with Ribbentrop yesterday, will be pushing hard for such a solution. Papen reports to Ribbentrop that ‘a turning point has been reached’, that ‘after a long talk with Hindenburg, he considers Hitler’s Chancellorship possible’. [66] The main problem now is Prussia. Hitler is demanding Bracht’s position of Reich Commissioner, which Papen – with Hindenburg’s approval – covets for himself. Goering (who will soon annexe Prussia for the Third Reich) is called in to mediate in the dispute:

Goering promises to persuade Hitler to accept the Prussian settlement proposed by Papen. Goering and I [Ribbentrop] go to see Hitler. Long talk with Hitler, explaining that a solution depended on trust and that his Chancellorship does not now appear to be impossible. But first Hitler wants to think over the question of Prussia, and see Papen again on Sunday morning [29 January]... Then we arrange a Hitler – Papen meeting for 11 am on Sunday morning. [67]

Papen is busy sounding out the leaders of the old bourgeois parties. He learns that two fellow Catholics – von Schaffer of the BVP and Brüning of the Centre, are willing to serve as Ministers in a Hitler cabinet. But Hitler needs neither, for he already has the support of not only Papen, and Hugenberg and Seldte, but stalwarts of the ‘old Germany’ such as Neurath, Schwerin-Krosigk, Guertner and Eltz, all of whom have served Schleicher and are now ready to function under Hitler. The Centre is to be left out in the cold. Late at night, Papen reports back to his President that a provisional list of cabinet ministers has been drawn up, save for that of Defence, previously held by Schleicher himself. Hindenburg proposes the pro-Nazi Blomberg, who is rapidly coming under the influence of von Reichenau. Everything is now ready for the vital meeting between Papen and Hitler, fixed for tomorrow at 11 am.

29 January: Agreement! The President will appoint Hitler Chancellor:

At 11 am a long Hitler – Papen talk. Hitler declares that on the whole everything was clear. But there would have to be general elections and an Enabling Law. Papen saw Hindenburg immediately. I lunched with Hindenburg at the Kaiserhof. We discuss the elections, as Hindenburg does not want these, Hitler asks me to tell the President that these will be the last elections. In the afternoon Goering and I go to Papen, Papen declares that all obstacles are removed and that Hindenburg expects Hitler tomorrow at 11 am. [68]

Papen and Hitler have fixed a deal over Prussia. Fearful of massive working-class resistance to his regime, Hitler insists with Papen that the two posts responsible for security – the Interior Ministers of the Reich and Prussia, be held by Nazis – namely Frick and Goering.

Both my visitors [Hitler and Goering] insist that the Prussian police, which has been in the hands of the Social Democrats for 10 years, would have to undergo certain changes in personnel. They declare that this is necessary if the police are to be relied upon to deal effectively with the Communists... [69]

Papen agrees, while retaining formal control over Prussia in his capacity as Vice-Chancellor. Papen then sees Hugenberg, who has already agreed to take the portfolio of Economics, and the Stahlhelm leaders Seldte (Minister of Labour), and Düsterberg, who has now changed his mind about Hitler, and pledges the support of the monarchist war veterans’ movement. By the evening, everything is settled. Hitler will be appointed Chancellor tomorrow.

The bourgeoisie has settled its internal differences. There is now no other candidate but Hitler. Social Democracy, liberalism, Catholic – reformist coalitions, Presidential and ‘social’ Bonapartism – all have been tried, and, in the predicament that German imperialism now discovers itself, found wanting. But that is not how the dominant group in the KPD leadership sees things. Hitler is on the down-grade, his plebeians are deserting him for the Communists, the military and the bourgeoisie are afraid of civil war – so there will be no Hitler cabinet. KPD Reichstag friction leader Ernst Torgler has his doubts however, and on this day asks Thälmann to declare a state of special alert in the party. Thälmann replies scornfully: ‘You are mad. The bourgeoisie won’t let Hitler anywhere near power. Let’s go to Lichtenberg to play skittles.’ [70] Within days, both men will be inside the prisons of the Third Reich, Thälmann never to emerge. And as for the millions they have for years misled, they are about to suffer the greatest catastrophe in the history of the international workers’ movement.

30 January: At noon, after a morning of wild and as it turns out, unsubstantiated rumours of an army plot to arrest the President and install a military regime, Hitler and his cabinet of ‘National Concentration’ are sworn in by Hindenburg. As the former corporal takes his leave of the Field Marshal, the President says with some emotion: ‘And now gentlemen, forward with God.’ Hitler’s cabinet goes into immediate session. There can be no question of the reopening of the Reichstag, fixed for tomorrow, as without the guaranteed support of the Centre Party, the new government will not command a majority. The minutes of this first meeting record the discussion that ensues:

The Minister of Economics [Hugenberg] said that he certainly had no wish to see a general strike. However he saw no way of avoiding the suppression of the KPD. Otherwise one could get no majority in the Reichstag, certainly no two-thirds majority [the proportion of votes required for the passing of an Enabling Act – RB]. With the KPD suppressed, it was possible that the Reichstag will accept an enabling act. He did not anticipate a general strike if the KPD were suppressed. He preferred the suppression of the KPD to a general election. [Naturally, as Hugenberg has every reason to expect that Hitler would use it to strengthen his own position in the Cabinet vis-à-vis the ‘Red-White-Black’ bloc represented by Papen and himself – RB]

Reichsminister Goering reported that he had prohibited a demonstration planned for that evening. According to his information, the SPD would not at this time join a general strike. The Social Democrats relied on speeches in the Reichstag. He thought it best to dissolve the Reichstag as soon as possible and have new elections. The Reichschancellor had given his word that the composition of the cabinet would not be altered after the election. The Chancellor confirmed this. The Minister of Labour [Seldte] said there was rejoicing in the ranks of the Stahlhelm over the formation of the present government... In his view, it would be awkward if the first act of the present government was to ban the KPD and precipitate a general strike. The representative of the Treasury [von Krosigk] and the Commissioner for Prussia [Bracht] pointed out that what the German people needed now was a period of tranquillity. The Chancellor said that a general strike should not be lightly risked. It would probably not be possible to use the army to suppress one should it break out. The Minister of Defence [von Blomberg] thanked the Chancellor for his attitude and expressed the view that a soldier looked on himself only as a possible opponent of a foreign enemy. The Foreign Minister [von Neurath] thought it very doubtful that dissolution of the KPD would result in a general strike. Secretary of State Dr Meissner suggested an Enabling Act to give the central government power to take measures to fight unemployment... Dr Gereke [Commissar for Re-employment] said the Centre Parties would not tolerate the government. An early general election was necessary... [Emphasis added]

The new government is evidently obsessed with the possibility of working-class resistance, even to the extent of a general strike. And since there is no question of the army being used to quell it, everything depends on Hitler’s storm-troops – not the most reliable and disciplined of forces. Even at this late hour, with the Hitler cabinet now in office, there is still a chance that the working class can fight back and defeat the fascists. The strongholds remain unconquered, the trade unions are weakened but unbroken by their leaders’ collaborationist policies of recent weeks, while the two workers’ parties still command the loyal following of 13 million proletarians. United action now can bring Hitler down, before his brown-shirted gangsters have the opportunity to carry out their mission of pulverising the entire workers’ movement.

Spontaneous strikes against the Hitler government have already broken out in various parts of the country – Hamburg, where dockers are out, Halle, Mannheim and Düsseldorf. Many Social Democratic functionaries have arrived in Berlin to receive directives from their central leadership, while members of the Iron Front are assembling weapons that have been kept hidden for just such a dire emergency. Many are therefore perplexed when they read in the afternoon edition of their party daily, Vorwärts, that ‘any drive on the part of a single working-class organisation might very easily result in exactly the opposite of what it intended to achieve’. Obviously a reference to the general strike call issued by the KPD on the formation of the Hitler cabinet, a call issued, unlike all the party’s previous summonses to strike action, not only ‘below’ to the reformist workers, but to their ‘social fascist’ leaders at the top. But one call for a genuine united front cannot overcome years of sectarianism, false tactics and strategy. Because the KPD tactic of setting up ‘red’ unions, splitting the vanguard away from the mass, has led to the isolation of the party from the majority of trade union workers, the KPD is now unable to exert any leverage inside these basic class organisations, without whose support there can be no successful struggle against the Nazi regime. For four years now the Stalinists have been denouncing the ADGB unions as ‘social fascist’ strike-breaking machines, fused organically with the bourgeoisie and the capitalist state. Now when disaster stares them in the face, these super-revolutionary bureaucrats turn themselves inside out, and address plaintive appeals to the ‘strike-breaking social fascists’ to... call a strike against fascism! Had the KPD deeply entrenched itself inside the ADGB unions, and established comradely, principled relations with their reformist members (and also their more left cadres and officials), neither the SPD nor ADGB bureaucracy could so easily have spurned today’s call for a general strike. To compel reformists into a united front requires not only a correct demand on the day, but real forces at the core of the class. The ‘Third Period’ has ensured that the KPD’s six million supporters are now unable to exert the pressure on the reformist movement and its leaders that the situation so desperately requires. Tonight, as hordes of triumphant and expectant SA men troop past the President’s Palace, where Hindenburg, Hitler and his cabinet are taking the salute, to the north and east, in the ‘red’ quarters of the capital, and throughout every proletarian district in Germany, millions of workers are waiting for the word to be given, the word that will bring them into battle united against the common enemy. Generations of struggle to build and defend their organisations has taught them that individual or isolated acts of resistance are useless, and in fact serve the enemy. They know they can only fight to win through their basic class organisations – their unions (which the Stalinists scornfully deride as strike-breaking machines), their parties, factory councils and cooperatives. Either these organisations are made to fight, or they will be destroyed, the working class enslaved, and all Germany driven to barbarism.

31 January: The SPD has published its proclamation, approved jointly by the party executive and Reichstag fraction, in Vorwärts this morning:

The enemies of the working class have united in a cartel of reactionary big capitalists and agrarian interests to wage joint battle against the working class. We stand to use every means to ward off any attack upon the political and social rights of the people, guaranteed to them by the Constitution and by law. Any attempt by the government to pervert or violate the Constitution will be met by the utmost resistance of the working class and all liberty-loving people. [71]

True to form, the reformists are preparing to fight fascism – within the framework of the constitution. The only problem here is that Hitler is planning use the same weapon against the reformists! In the evening edition of Vorwärts, Franz Künstler, something of a left, declares ‘the working class is ready to mount the barricades to defend its constitutional rights’. But in the meantime, while Hitler keeps to the legal path, the strike weapon must be ‘kept in reserve so that the decisive moment will not find workers already exhausted’. The same paper argues a few days later that ‘a general strike at this moment would simply be firing the ammunition of the working class foolishly into the air’. Members of the SPD and ADGB are therefore asked not to take ‘precipitate, and therefore, harmful, isolated actions’.

The general feeling among reformist leaders is that the Hitler cabinet has a very short life ahead of it, that neither the bourgeoisie nor the army will permit the Nazis to indulge in their promised orgy of red-baiting, and that finally the backward layers of the masses who support Hitler will very quickly sober up once they see that Hitler has nothing to offer them except long speeches and noisy demonstrations. This criminally short-sighted view is not confined to SPD and ADGB officials. Brand of the KPD places far, far too much emphasis on the uneasy reactions of certain bourgeois papers to Hitler’s appointment. He cites the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung’s comment that the new cabinet is a ‘leap in the dark’ as evidence that the dominant sections of the bourgeoisie are not behind Hitler. Even if this were so – which it is not – this would by no means signify defeat for Hitler. Brüning held power for more than two years with only a fraction of the ruling class behind him, and without a genuine mass base in the population. Hitler has a far larger proportion of capitalist support, and an organised plebeian base numbered in millions. Those workers who yesterday hoped that the KPD’s strike call to the reformist organisations marked a change of line will be saddened by Brand’s references to the Social Democrats, who are once again being cast in the role of ‘the most valuable buttress of the Hitler – Papen – Hugenberg dictatorship’. [72] If that is indeed so, then yesterday’s united front appeal was nothing short of treachery! Reports are coming in of violent clashes between armed Nazis and workers all over Germany. The strike of Hamburg dockers continues, while street battles have flared up in the ‘red’ districts of Berlin – Wedding and Neukölln – and in Dresden, Düsseldorf and Halle. In Berlin, the Rote Fahne offices are raided by police, and today’s issue banned. Already the shape of things to come is visible.

Pravda has a straightforward factual report of the formation of the Hitler cabinet. Yesterday there was great commotion in the editorial offices of the Soviet party paper. Over the previous weeks, the staff had been endlessly repeating to each other: ‘Never will the old Field-Marshal entrust the fate of Germany to a corporal.’ [73] The paper’s political director Knorin tries to cool his staff, some of whom were KPD ‘exiles’ seconded to the paper:

In contrast to the excitement of the editorial staff, his mood was quiet and collected. He seemed to wish to stress through his demeanour that nothing unusual had happened or was expected. At the very beginning of his brief introductory speech, he emphasised that the paper had got to take the lead in fighting the ‘panic and hysteria’ that had got the upper hand in most Western press organs. It was not to be assumed, Knorin said, that the German bourgeoisie would give up even the slightest part of its powers to Hitler. The possibility of a coup by the SA was even less likely. Finally, the Reichswehr would in no circumstances put up with a Hitler dictatorship. [74]

In all essentials, the same analysis as was made the same day by the German reformists!

The Hitler cabinet meets again today, and discusses once more the necessity of holding new elections. The problem of attitude of the Centre Party also is causing Hitler some worry:

The Reich Chancellor reported about his conversation on the morning of 31 January with representatives of the Centre Party, Prelate Dr Kaas and Dr Perlitius. The representatives had told him that they did not wish to join the government at this time. They did not consider abstention from opposition to the cabinet by the Centre Party impossible... The Reich Chancellor declared that he wished to make the following binding promises: a) the outcome of the new election of the Reichstag is to have no influence on the composition of the present government; b) the forthcoming election of the Reichstag is to be the last election. Any return to the parliamentary system is to be absolutely avoided. [75]

Goebbels notes in his diary:

In a conference with the Führer we lay down the line for the fight against the Red terror. For the moment we shall abstain from direct counter-measures. The Bolshevik revolution must first burn into flames. At the proper moment we shall strike.

The London Times displays more class consciousness than its Moscow opposite number. An editorial on the new cabinet declares:

That Herr Hitler... should be given the chance of showing that he is something more than an orator and agitator was always desirable. Now that the Harzburg Front has been restored, the opportunity has come. [76]

The Berlin stock exchange presents the most amazing spectacle today. Outside the citadel of German capitalism, Nazi youths demonstrate against ‘profiteers’, while inside, business is booming. As one observer notes:

Hitler himself has addressed a message to the capitalists promising them there is to be ‘no question of any kind of experiments in the industrial or financial fields’ and on this reassurance the Bourse has done a day of roaring business. [77]

Shares showing an improvement include IG Farben (up from 103 to 107.25), Siemens-Schuckert (23.25 to 25.80), Reichsbank (154.75 to 157.75) and the two ailing shipping lines Hamburg-America and North German Lloyd. World capitalism also has confidence in the new cabinet, judging from the comment today of Pierre Quesnay, General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements, who is quoted as saying that ‘the most powerful personages in international finance seem to have decided that the Hitler Chancellorship will bring no innovations in economic or financial policy’. [78]

1 February: Fears mount in the cabinet that the workers will unite against the new government. But Goering has plans to deal with that threat:

The Reich Chancellor stated that a united front extending from the trade unions to the KPD appeared to be forming against the present government. The Reich President had declared himself willing to dissolve the Reichstag. He, the Reich Chancellor, was thinking of the slogan ‘Attack Against Marxism’ as the election slogan of the government. Reich Minister Goering pointed out that acts of terrorism on the part of the Communists were becoming increasingly frequent. The police had partly fallen down on the job, especially in the west. Unfortunately, the existing statutes were inadequate, especially for taking action against the press. It was therefore necessary to put the so-called ‘drawer decree’ into effect as soon as possible. He had some doubts whether it would be possible to work with the present staff of the Prussian Ministry of the Interior. [79]

At the same session, Frick proposes that the government should provide one million marks for its own election campaign. Both Hitler and the Nationalists oppose this. They say that the cabinet should in these austere times set an example in frugality. Big business will be asked to finance Hitler’s last election campaign.

SPD chairman Otto Wels reports to fellow executive members on measures taken to resist the Hitler government. ‘We have had an all-night meeting with our comrades in the Reichsbanner and the Iron Front’, he says. ‘All is in readiness for action.’ That may well be true. But when is the action going to begin? Time is vital, and the Nazis are not wasting any. Hitler’s fifth column in the factories, the NSBO, is preparing to synchronise its own intrigues against the trade unions with the onslaught of Goering’s purged and strengthened police. A directive from the NSBO leadership issues the slogan ‘conquer the factories’. The goal – smash the red strongholds. The ‘reds’ will be no pushover. At the elections to the works councils in the Hamburg shipyards of Blohm and Voss, the KPD for the first time take the majority of seats – seven out of 13. Important sections of the working class are still moving left. Can the KPD give them the leadership they deserve? More clashes reported in the Ruhr towns of Essen, Düsseldorf and Crefeld, and from Chemnitz in Saxony. The danger is that the working class will dissipate its energies in these localised battles for lack of a centralised leadership, which neither the KPD, ADGB nor SPD is yet providing.

The entire thrust of Nazi propaganda is being directed against the workers’ parties and, to a lesser degree, the left flank of the Centre Party. In his radio broadcast today, Hitler rages:

Fourteen years of Marxism have ruined Germany: one year of Bolshevism would destroy her... If however Germany is to accomplish this political and economic revival and conscientiously fulfil her duties towards the other nations, one decisive step is absolutely necessary first: the overthrow of the destroying menace of Communism in Germany.

2 February: The government bans all KPD open-air meetings, and institutes closer supervision of its indoor ones. The net is closing. With new Reichstag elections set for 5 March, the SPD swings into action as if it was just one more parliamentary contest. Its programme is quite radical – too much so in fact, since while it talks about the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, it has no plan for the disarming of the fascist bands that now threaten the party’s very existence:

Defend yourself, defend your independence as citizens against your oppressors, against the upper ten, against the miserable minority of barons, against the capitalists; break their economic power! Fight with us for the expropriation of the landowner and the division of the land among the peasants and agricultural labourers! Fight with us for the socialisation of heavy industry, for the construction of a socialist planned economy. [80]

Who then is to disarm the fascists, if not the workers? The reformists have the answer. ADGB President Leipart has written today to his friend Privy Councillor Hans von Nostitz, Chairman of the Berlin Society for Social Reform. He asks him to help in drafting a letter to President Hindenburg protesting ‘against the unprecedented partisan abuse of the German working class and of all other people’s organisations’ contained in the radio speech by Hitler yesterday. Nostitz declines to help. Hitler’s vitriolic attacks on the workers’ movement he finds ‘nothing more than electioneering’. ‘It is the same in England’, he assures Leipart ‘when extreme accusations are made of how the country has been ruined by the opposing party.’ Leipart is shown how much such protests are worth when the SPD press is suspended for three days for publishing the party’s ‘seditious’ manifesto. The KPD is also limbering up for the elections, officially confident that it is the Communists, and not Hitler or his ‘social fascist’ stooges, who will emerge the real victor. Die Rote Fahne declares:

We Communists grasp the banner which our deadly enemy, Hitler, yesterday derided as the ‘red flag of destruction’. We will not budge one inch before the threats of the fascist counter-revolution. Hitler rules – but Communism marches forward. [81]

In fact the Stalinist press positively exudes confidence. Neubauer sees definite advantages in the formation of Hitler’s cabinet. It will help to clear up confusion in the working and middle classes, and provoke deep rifts in the ranks of the bourgeoisie:

The enormous excitement [!] which has seized the broad masses, sweeps away all the illusions regarding an improvement in the economic situation, sharpens the class antagonisms to the extreme, and definitely raises the question of power. It is precisely the industrial capitalists therefore who are raising objections to this policy... a great part of the bourgeoisie already sees today looming up behind Hitler and the brown terror bands the spectre of Bolshevism. [82]

After Hitler... us!

Vorwärts goes in for some odious bootlicking today. It answers Hitler’s diatribes of yesterday thus:

Herr Adolf Hitler: you speak of the ‘November Crime’, but had it not been for this ‘November Crime’, a man from the working people, such as you, would never have become German Reichs Chancellor.

For once, the reformists speak the whole truth, even if unintentionally.

Goering’s police purge in Prussia has begun. Count Helldorf, the Berlin SA chief, was today appointed Police President of the capital. This means that the SA is being converted into an auxiliary arm of the existing state machine. The fascist plebeians are about to unleash their assault on the organised proletariat.

3 February: Anxious to secure the unqualified political support of the armed forces, Hitler addresses Reichswehr and Navy leaders on the goals of Nazi policy:

Our policy has but one aim. Reconquest of political power. The whole national leadership must be thus utilised.

I: Internally. Complete reversal of current domestic policy. In Germany, no toleration or propagation of opinions opposed to this aim (Pacifism). Those who will not be led must be forced. Extermination of Marxism root and branch. Instil in youth and the entire nation the idea that only fighting can rescue us.

II: Abroad. Struggle against Versailles. Equality of status at Geneva, but this is useless unless the nation is prepared to rearm.

III: Economy. The farmer must be saved! A resettlement policy! Increased exports purposeless. World demand is limited and there is overproduction. Colonisation provides the only possibility of reducing the army of unemployed. But this will take time and a radical change cannot be expected as German living space is too small.

IV: Building up the armed forces is the most important prerequisite. Conscription must be reintroduced. The government must see to it that those conscripted are not already poisoned by pacifism, Marxism, Bolshevism or become so poisoned after service. How shall political power be used when obtained? ... Perhaps to secure new export fields, perhaps, and much better, to conquer new living space in the East and relentlessly to Germanise it...

4 February: The ADGB bureaucrats, who have been laying very low these last five days, finally venture a comment on the new government. The Gewerkschafts-Zeitung says that the trade unions would treat Hitler’s cabinet like any other, and present demands to it to be acted on. The watchword is ‘organisation, not demonstration’.

After an adverse vote in the Prussian Landtag, Papen orders its dissolution. New elections are fixed for 5 March.

5 February: Former Prussian Premier Otto Braun protests to President Hindenburg about the illegality of Papen’s action, but to no effect. ADGB leader and SPD Reichstag deputy Peter Grassmann indulges in a little radical noise-making. His members are getting restless, so he tells them: ‘We need only press the button. Then everything will come to a standstill.’ But this worthy bureaucrat’s index finger is atrophied through lack of exercise. And the button is stiff for the same reason.

7 February: A huge workers’ rally staged by the Iron Front in Berlin at the Lustgarten. Vorwärts takes the marchers’ enthusiasm and determination as advanced proof of victory. With a blindness rivalled only by the Stalinists, it will write tomorrow: ‘Berlin is not Rome. Hitler is not Mussolini. Berlin will never be the capital of a fascist Reich. Berlin will stay Red.’ [83]

The KPD Central Committee holds its last legal session. Thälmann’s report contains not a single concrete demand on which the working class can fight to stem the Nazi advance, nor a call to the reformist organisations for a united front against fascism. It is in effect a confession of political bankruptcy, an admission that after five years of the sharpest polemics against ‘social fascism’ its grip on the bulk of the workers is as strong as ever:

What is the balance sheet of our past fight against fascism? We were not able to prevent the establishment of the fascist dictatorship although we organised mass struggle. [In the case of the November 1932 Berlin transport strike, on the side of the Nazis! – RB] That is surely a negative conclusion. We could not achieve more because we were not able to eliminate the influence of the leaders of the SPD, the ADGB and the Christian Socialist trade unions. We were hindered in this struggle by the deficiencies of our work in the trade unions and factories, in the creation of a united front and in the battle over principles against the treacherous manoeuvres of Social Democracy. [That is, their offers of a united front to the KPD against the Nazis – RB] We could only have succeeded in the fight against fascism if we had been able to overcome these deficiencies. [Emphasis added]

8 February: The Social Democratic machine grinds on, blind to the fate that awaits it. Under the title ‘A Model Official’, Vorwärts publishes today a report on the activities of one party functionary, ‘comrade Fritz Nobis’, who ‘recruited in 1932 no less than 78 new comrades who all became readers of Vorwärts. This exemplary successful work of a party comrade demonstrates the strength of Social Democracy.’

The Berlin Bourse, quiet over the last few days, shows another burst of activity following a statement by Economics Minister Hugenberg which rules out all ‘experiments’ in economic policy.

In Moscow, the new catchphrase being bandied about in party and Comintern circles is: ‘Should Hitler dare to do anything against their will, Hugenberg and Papen, supported by the President and the army, will simply usher him out with a kick.’ [84] Which of course is just what the Social Democrats are saying – and hoping – as well.

10 February: The elections campaign is in full swing, with Hitler delivering a blistering attack on Marxism at a Nazi rally in the Sportspalast:

The parties of class division may be convinced that, as long as the Almighty permits me to live, my determination to destroy them will be unalterable... We must abolish the cause of our decay, we must destroy Marxism... Just as treachery to the working class is the result of Bolshevism, similarly Marxism means treachery to the German peasant, and to the masses in their millions of the equally poverty-stricken members of the bourgeoisie and the craftsmen... The German peasant is the main pillar of our German house. The German worker is the second main pillar, and must be led back into the community of our people.

In the NSDAP election appeal, there is this ominous sentence: ‘If Germany is to experience political and economic revival, this presupposes a decisive act: the overcoming of Communist disintegration.’ The new Berlin Police President and SA leader Count Helldorf gives an interview to the Paris magazine Le Petit Journal. Like Goering, he is not too worried about the SPD. It is the Communist workers he fears:

The KPD represents a deadly danger for Germany and must be suppressed... we deny the workers... the right to organise in a class party... If a general strike occurs we should be the victors... the Communists are more numerous in industry than we are, but there are enough Nazis to secure the maintenance of the main industries and our storm detachments would defend them against interference. The Social Democrats are tame enough. Despite their speeches they are not really dangerous. The enemy we must destroy is Communism. That is a vital question for us. [85]

11 February: The Black-White-Red front holds its own election rally in the Sportspalast. A tame affair by comparison with last night’s Nazi spectacular. Hugenberg, Seldte and Papen speak. The Economics Minister is adamant that after this one, he wants no more elections in Germany: ‘Ever since 1919 I have sat in the German parliament without being a parliamentarian... I am not afraid of a new election, but this is going to be the last one.’ Von Papen strikes an ethereal, aristocratic, élitist note: ‘Trusting in God, we shall fight against spiritual and social proletarianisation. We want quality instead of quantity.’ Papen hasn’t much choice in the matter, because everyone knows that on 5 March the Nazis are going to get the quantity. And in Germany, sheer brute force and weight of numbers count for a great deal just now. Vorwärts editor Friedrich Stampfer addresses an Open Letter to Communist workers explaining why his party has turned down appeals for a united front against the Nazis. The KPD leaders are not genuine in their demands, they seek to undermine the Social Democratic movement. Stalinist leftism now becomes an excuse for reformists to evade their own responsibilities to the working class.

12 February: Is there a split at the top of the SPD? Yesterday Stampfer turned down the united front with the KPD. Today, Breitscheid proposes it, in the Berliner Volkszeitung. He is in favour of ‘partial and temporary’ agreements with the Communists. As for the KPD leaders, they say nothing.

Peter Grassmann tells a Berlin workers’ rally that Hitler ‘has declared war on the organised workers’ – but says nothing about how he and his fellow trade union leaders intend to organise the fight against Hitler. His audience has to be content with the vague promise that they ‘will not crawl into a mouse-hole but will take up the challenge in the firm conviction that they will meet it successfully’. A slightly more militant tone than of late is also evident in Vorwärts.Gagging the press may suppress criticism, but nothing can stop us from showing the people the historical truth. Truth must win out.’ But the voice of Kantian ‘pure reason’ is already being drowned out by the baying of Hitler’s hordes, the bastard offspring of the revolution the reformist leaders betrayed in November 1918. ‘We wish to cleanse Germany of the rule of irrational passions and terror. We wish to demonstrate on 5 March that freedom and reason still rule supreme.’ [86] These fine-sounding abstractions not only obscure the realities of the struggle developing in Germany, they befuddle the brain of any worker who takes them seriously. He is being asked on 5 March to defeat a brown army one million strong with a cross on a ballot slip.

13 February: Die Rote Fahne suppressed for two weeks. With it, the ‘social fascist’ Reichsbanner organ Das Reichsbanner, together with numerous other reformist and Communist journals. Today the RGO Red metalworkers’ and builders’ unions offered a united front against fascism to their reformist opposite numbers. The appeal is not rejected out of hand. The two red unions are advised to negotiate directly with the ADGB executive. Still no comment on the Hitler government in the Soviet press.

15 February: The Kremlin breaks its silence. Karl Radek, renegade from the Left Opposition and Stalin’s adviser on foreign and especially German affairs, writes in Bolshevik. The gist of his article is that the mounting repressions against the KPD are welcome, since they will radicalise the working class. Neither is Hitler capable of crushing the entire proletariat:

Hitler may be able to destroy the legal organisation of the KPD. But every blow against it will help to rally the working masses to its support. A party that receives six million votes, deeply linked to the entire history of the German working class, cannot be dismissed from the balance sheet of history. This cannot be done by administrative decrees declaring it illegal; it cannot be done by a bloody terror, or else this terror will have to be directed against the whole working class. [87]

Fritz Heckert writes in a KPD journal appearing today that the SPD has ‘just completed its transformation from social chauvinism to being a conscious weapon of the fascist dictatorship’. [88] In which case, no united front.

Vorwärts,conscious weapon of the fascist dictatorship’, is suppressed by the fascist dictatorship for a week.

17 February: Goering makes a speech in Dortmund which gives carte blanche to his police and SA men to kill whoever and whenever they see fit:

Police officers who make use of their firearms in the exercise of their duties will, regardless of the consequences of this use of firearms, benefit by my protection; those, however, who, through misplaced leniency, fail in their duty will face disciplinary consequences... Every officer must always bear in mind that failure to take a measure is a graver offence than mistakes made in the exercise of the measure... Every bullet fired from the barrel of a police pistol is my bullet, if you call that murder then I am the murderer. [89]

Molotov addresses a conference of collective farm workers. If the news has leaked through to him that Hitler is in the Chancellery, then it doesn’t seem to worry him a scrap. ‘What are our views about the international situation in the near future?’, he asks rhetorically. ‘To this we must [sic!] reply: the international situation of the USSR has been substantially strengthened.’ As for Stalin, not a word about the situation in Germany will escape his lips for another year until the Seventeenth CPSU Congress in January 1934, when he will tell the assembled delegates:

... some German politicians say... that this change [in German-Soviet relations] is to be explained by the establishment of the fascist regime in Germany. That is not true. Of course, we are far from being enthusiastic about the fascist regime in Germany. But it is not a question of fascism here, if only for the reason that the fascism in Italy, for example, has not prevented the USSR from establishing the best relations with that country. [90]

18 February: Confusion is rife in the SPD bureaucracy over what attitude to adopt towards the KPD. Some officials agitate for a united front (which is usually spurned by the Stalinist bureaucrats as a ‘left manoeuvre’), while others, as in the Hanover organisation, oppose it. A circular dispatched today, after advising party members to stay away from Nazi election rallies ('let the Nazis have their middle-class supporters, their awakening will come soon enough’ is the complacent remark), makes the following comment:

The time has not arrived for us to enter into relations with the Communists. The Communists regard us as their chief opponents in this struggle. The Communists are disrupting the united front of the working class. When they talk of the united front, the Communists should not be attacking us but the fascists. So long as they persist in this, every worker who has the united front at heart should keep clear of their meetings. On election day, 5 March, we want all our comrades to go to the poll early, so that we can check on the laggards and get all supporters on our lists out to vote. Some comrades say the hour has come. Stay united, resolved and disciplined and fight for the electoral victory of our party.

Could there be a clearer example of how Stalinist ultimatism and leftism supplements and strengthens the parliamentary cretinism of the reformists?

19 February: The SPD’s main election slogan, as promulgated by party Chairman Otto Wels, runs: ‘Strict masters do not rule for long.’ These hopeless reformists behave as if Hitler is an updated version of Bismarck, for that slogan originated in the party’s years of struggle against the Iron Chancellor. And it differs little from the Stalinist aphorism: ‘After Hitler – Us.’

The LSI (Second International) calls upon the Comintern to join in a united workers’ front against fascism. Neither the ECCI nor the KPD take this up. Attacks on ‘social fascism’ continue unabated in the Stalinist press.

20 February: The NSBO leader Muchow announces at a Nazi election rally in Brunswick that after 5 March, the NSDAP will ‘take up the fight against the trade unions, and will not allow the trade unions to influence politics’. Papen is also thinking along the same lines. He declares:

I recognise that the trade unions have done much to imbue the working classes with professional honour and professional pride. Many trade unions, for instance the union of clerks [sic!], have made exemplary achievements in this respect. The conception of class conflict, however, stood in the way of real reform and constructive work in this direction... If the trade unions would recognise the signs of the times and remain out of politics to a greater extent, then they could, especially now, become a strong pillar of national life.

While Papen and Muchow soften up the union bureaucrats for the kill, big business swings its full weight behind Hitler’s election campaign. Among those present at the meeting in the Reichstag President’s (Goering’s) house include Schacht, soon to be appointed Reichsbank President, Krupp, Vögler, von Lowenfeld (an Essen industrialist), Dr Stein, head of an IG Farben-owned mine, and Georg von Schnitzler, also of the Chemical Trust. Hitler speaks first:

Private property cannot be maintained in the age of democracy. It is conceivable only if the people have a sound idea of authority and personality. Everything positive, good and valuable which has been achieved in the world in the field of economics is solely attributable to the importance of personality. When, however, the defence of the existing order, its political administration, is left to a majority, it will inevitably founder. All the worldly goods which we possess, we owe to the struggle of the chosen... The same mentality that was the basis for obtaining these values must be used to preserve these values... Our people has not yet sufficiently recognised that there are two souls struggling for it... It is an impossibility that part of the people recognises private ownership while another part denies it. Such a struggle splits the people. The struggle lasts until one side emerges victorious... No two ideologies can continuously live alongside one another. This condition of attrition lasts until one party emerges victorious or the state dissolves itself... We live in such times now, when the die must be cast, and when we must decide whether we want to adopt a form of life that supports the state or to have Communism... The Communist principle does not hold water. It is not by chance that one person accomplishes more than another. The principle of private ownership which has gone into the general conception of justice, and has become a complicated process of economic life, is rooted in this fact... Weimar imposed upon us a certain constitutional order by which they put us on a democratic basis. By that we were, however, not provided with an able governmental authority. On the contrary... Communism had to bore its way constantly deeper into the German people. The result was an ever increasing tension... Two fronts have thus shaped themselves which put to us the choice – either Marxism in its purist form or the other side... We must first gain complete power if we want to crush the other side completely...

Only when one knows that one has reached the pinnacle of power, that there is no further possible upward development, shall one strike, In Prussia, we must gain another 10 seats and in the Reich proper another 33. Then only begins the second action against Communism. Now we stand before the last election. Regardless of the outcome there will be no retreat... For the economy I have one wish that it go parallel with the internal situation to meet a calm future. The question of the restoration of the Wehrmacht will not be decided at Geneva, but in Germany. When we have gained internal strength through internal peace. There will, however be no internal peace until Marxism is eliminated. Here lies the decision which we must go to meet, hard as the struggle might be.

Goering follows Hitler:

No experiments will be made with the economy. However, to attain the goal, all forces must be mustered on 5 March. Above all, it is necessary to penetrate into the circles that are still discontented with Marxism and slumber uselessly in aggravation and bitterness... The National Socialists will be given a task which has no prospects for the others... Without doubt we must do the most work, for we must penetrate with our SA men into the darkest quarters of the cities and operate there from mouth to mouth and fight for every single soul.

Goering now makes an appeal for cash to finance the Nazi election campaign. He tells the assembled industrialists and bankers: ‘The sacrifices asked for surely will be so much easier for industry to bear if it is realised that the election of 5 March will surely be the last one for the next 10, probably the next 100 years.’ Banker Schacht appropriately conducts the collection, raising some three million RM, 800 000 coming from IG Farben alone. Gustav Krupp, who also contributes to the fund, has become a fanatical Nazi almost overnight. At the end of Hitler’s speech, Krupp takes the floor briefly to declare that industry is completely with the Führer. When Schacht makes the collection, he pitches in with one million RM. After a factional struggle lasting several years, the big employers and bankers are closing their ranks behind the Nazis. The leaders of the proletariat are displaying no such tactical sagacity.

21 February: ADGB President Theodor Leipart makes a brief and as it will later prove mainly verbal left turn when he warns a gathering of trade union officials that the anti-working-class statements and actions of the new government mean the trade unions must prepare for ‘a life and death battle’ for survival.

Some trade unionists are taking Leipart at his word. ADGB (’social fascist’) trade union district organisations in Thuringia (Ruhla, Zella-Mehlis, Kranichfeld, Graefentonna) and in Arten (central Germany) issue a call for a workers’ united front against fascism to embrace organisations of all tendencies, under the slogan ‘One Enemy, One Struggle’. The unions involved are the woodworkers, metalworkers, leather-workers and general workers.

Too late, some of the SPD leaders begin to draw the lessons of their 14-year record of class-collaboration with the German bourgeoisie. Paul Löbe tells a rally of 4000 workers at Halle:

The bourgeoisie has banged the doors in our faces after we had worked for years to permeate the whole state, from the humblest village to the highest government posts, with the socialist spirit. Very well then, we shall take up the struggle and attempt to seize complete power over the state. We shall come back again, but we shall not hear again of coalition and compromises.

The Centre Party is gravitating towards the Nazis, though it still feels unsure where their violent methods will lead. A statement issued on the elections reads:

On the Right there are those who wage war on Marxism, on the Left there are the Marxists of two shades who are being driven into a dangerous alliance for common action. [Would that it were true! – RB] What will be the end? A life and death struggle, front against front, and Germany exposed to all the horrors of civil war.

22 February: The build-up of the forces of mass terror against the workers’ movement is gathering pace. Today Goering absorbs into the Prussian police force 25 000 SA men, 15 000 SS and 10 000 from the Stahlhelm. The reckoning with the KPD and the SPD cannot now be far away. The Nazis’ plan seems to be to exploit the split in the workers’ ranks by hitting first at the vanguard – the Communist workers – and then turn to finish off the mass organisations – the ADGB trade unions and the SPD.

24 February: The KPD stages its last legal rally, at the Berlin Sportspalast. Thälmann, who will be arrested by Nazi police on 3 March, delivers his last speech. He calls for a united front with the reformists, but in such an ultimatistic fashion that there is little chance of either the SPD or ADGB accepting, since the front is to be based on the KPD’s programme. Nevertheless, that Thälmann has had to drop his abusive language and address the reformists as fellow members of the workers’ movement is another sign that at the proletarian base of the party there is an enormous yearning for class unity against the Nazis. Thälmann, despite his orders from Moscow, cannot afford to ignore it. And this is why Trotsky is still refusing to write off the KPD as a revolutionary factor in the German class struggle.

27 February: Stampfer of Vorwärts and KPD Reichstag deputy Neubauer arrange to meet at 10 am tomorrow to make one last attempt to form a united workers’ front against the Hitler government. The cabinet meets to endorsed Gürtner’s draft of a decree authorising drastic measures to combat ‘treasonable’ activities. They are aimed at the two workers’ parties, whose leaders will tomorrow discuss the formation of a united front. In the evening, the SPD holds a meeting in the Sportspalast to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Karl Marx.

The rally has scarcely begun when Nazi officials arrive to close it down. Enraged workers cry ‘death to the Nazis’ as they leave the stadium. They do not yet know that the Reichstag building is in flames, and that their fellow workers of the KPD are being singled out as the arsonists. Though it will never be finally established beyond all doubt, the real culprits are believed, in circles far removed from the workers’ movement, to be the Nazis themselves, who have been waiting for just such an incident to unleash their onslaught on the workers’ organisations.

28 February: The holocaust, predicted, warned and struggled against by Trotsky and the German Left Opposition since 1930, has begun. Hitler convenes a cabinet meeting, and declares to his ministers that:

... a ruthless reckoning with the KPD is now urgently needed. The right psychological moment for that reckoning has arrived. It is useless to wait any longer. The KPD is resolved to resort to extremes. The struggle against it must not be made dependent on legal considerations.

Nobody disagrees. This is the moment for which Papen and Hugenberg, as well as Hitler, Goering and Frick, have been waiting and preparing. A decree is promulgated – ‘For the Protection of People and State’ – which in accordance with Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, drafted and approved by the Social Democrats, is now to be used as the legal foundation of the Third Reich. Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153 of the Constitution are suspended ‘until further notice’. This means the end of free trade unionism, of the right of personal liberty. Germany has become a fascist state in law without violating ‘the most democratic constitution in the world’. Deed will follow within hours.

1 March: The KPD is outlawed. Funk issues a statement to foreign newsmen on the emergency laws against the workers’ movement:

The Communist press will remain forbidden. There will no longer be any Communist press in Germany. It is doubtful whether there can be any socialist press either. The government campaign will be directed not only against the Communists, but against all sympathisers and indirect supporters of Communism. The days of parliament and democracy are finished in Germany.

Goebbels is just as pleased with the way things are going:

No Marxist papers are published in the Reich any more. Goering has initiated energetic measures in Prussia against the ‘Red’ parties. It will end in their complete destruction... Now the ‘Red’ pest is being thoroughly rooted out. No sign of resistance anywhere. [91]

The Nazis issue a new election slogan: ‘Crush Communism’. Goering’s terror squads, swelling daily with fresh enrolments from the Nazi combat units, the SA and the SS, swing into action, rounding up leading militants of the KPD all over Prussia. On the night of the Reichstag fire, Goering will write a year later:

... when I had given the order for the arrest of 4000 Communist officials, I knew that before dawn the Communists would have lost a great battle... Of centres in the provinces, with Berlin as the headquarters, I am kept daily, I might almost say hourly informed. We had to proceed against these enemies of the state with complete ruthlessness. It must not be forgotten that at the moment of our taking over the government there were... about 14 million supporters of Communism and Marxism... And so the concentration camps were set up to which we sent first of all thousands of officials of the Communist and socialist parties... [92]

Crushing a movement of 14 million workers cannot be done in the Papen – Schleicher fashion, through the Reichswehr and the police alone. This is the task of the SA ‘plebeians’, who now occupy the centre of the political arena. Just as Hitler predicted in Mein Kampf, mass is now pitted against mass, no longer at the ballot box, but in the streets, the meeting places and tenement blocks of proletarian Germany. Only a movement of the scale of Hitler’s, and with the anti-Communist fanaticism which comes from years of indoctrination, can uproot organisations planted so deep in the soil of the working class. One who witnessed the assault at first hand will later give us this vivid account:

The first phase of the Gestapo raids consisted in the apprehension of all militants as far as they could be found – whose name appeared on the ‘blood’ lists. Many of the intended victims escaped capture by changing their quarters every night. But this became increasingly difficult. The number of available cover addresses decreased rapidly. The families in whose households the Gestapo found an active Communist in hiding were doomed. Neighbours distrusted each other and parents feared their children... Then the Gestapo sprang anew and in a different manner. Every member of the Nazi party was ordered to collaborate with the Secret Police. Informers were appointed to ferret out the secrets of every factory, every block and every house. An avalanche of denunciations poured in. Nazi spies who had operated in the Communist ranks for years came out into the open. They were out in motor cars together with a Gestapo squad, from dawn to dark and all through the night these cars criss-crossed the city. Whenever the spy saw a Communist acquaintance on the street he gave a signal, the car stopped and the comrade was arrested. In a city like Hamburg which harboured more than 100 000 Communist followers such tactics had devastating results... There was a third phase in the Gestapo raiding technique against which there was no adequate defence... Without warning several hundred Gestapo agents aided by thousands of Élite Guards [SS] and storm-troopers snooped down on a certain section of the city. The storm-troopers formed a defence cordon around many city blocks. No one was permitted to enter or to leave the surrounded area. A trooper was posted at the entrance of each house. No inhabitant was permitted to leave the house nor was anyone allowed to enter it. The Gestapo and Élite Guards then searched each house from roof to cellar... All who could not identify themselves satisfactorily were herded into waiting caravans of trucks. The hauls were huge. Secret printing presses, stored arms and explosives, depots of illegal literature, codes, documents and hungry-looking fugitives without identification papers were brought to light in almost every block. [93]

The Hitler regime, its hands drenched with the blood of countless murdered Communists, appoints its military attaché to Moscow, where a blind eye is being turned towards the liquidation of the German workers’ movement. Litvinov informally tells a leading German diplomat in Moscow: ‘We don’t care if you shoot your German Communists.’ [94]

Goering makes a broadcast speech: ‘The German government’s fight is not a defensive campaign: it aims at the extermination of Communism, root and branch.’ Yet amazingly, the hard core of the proletariat stands firm. Elections held today to the Berlin municipal gas and electricity works council produce the following results, on a 90 per cent turnout:

Berlin Municipal Works Council Elections

The NSBO lists secure less than 10 per cent in both grades combined, and in the manual division, a paltry three per cent – 244 votes in all. And this election is conducted in the crucible of the most ferocious red-hunting campaign ever experienced by the Berlin proletariat. Berlin is indeed still Red – overwhelmingly so.

But the power and the initiative rests with the fascists.

2 March: The nationwide purge of Communists and other working-class militants is delighting big business, now drawing a handsome dividend on its investment in the Nazi movement over the previous three years. A financial correspondent writes that ‘the anti-Communist decree stimulated the market and the tendency was firm’. [95]

The Nazis are still concerned that the two workers’ parties might form a united front against the government. At a cabinet meeting today, von Neurath wonders ‘whether the measures against the SPD cannot be softened or abolished’. Goering replies that the SPD is ‘making a very strong effort to enter a united front with the Communists’.

At a Nazi election rally at the Sportspalast Hitler launches into yet another tirade against Marxism. He attacks it for upholding the equality of men, which:

... was long ago scientifically disproved. It is not present in the world of fact and the doctrine leads perforce to a deterioration of men of high capacity, to a lowering of the values of life. The same is true of democracy. At all times it is personality and not democracy which has created values.

Hugenberg’s DNVP, anxious to prove that it is committed to the red-hunt, issues a statement on the emergency laws stressing both the party’s support for them – and hinting that too much power must not be permitted to slip into the hands of Hitler’s Brown-Shirts in the process:

Relentless energy must be used in suppressing the growing danger of Bolshevism, but not only energy. Violence against violence means civil war. A battle of all against all must never be allowed. The state must use a firm hand in enforcing and securing order. Germany has the good fortune of having at the head of the executive a hand which has proved its firmness – the hand of von Papen, state commissioner for Prussia. Papen’s firmness is a guarantee that the Bolshevik menace will be overcome.

3 March: Ernst Thälmann, chairman of the KPD, is seized by Nazi police. He begins a term of imprisonment that will end with his murder in the Buchenwald concentration camp in August 1944. In a speech at Frankfurt, Goering declares:

... my measures will not be crippled by any judicial thinking. My measures will not be crippled by any bureaucracy. Here I don’t have to worry about Justice. My mission is only to destroy and to exterminate, nothing more. This struggle will be a struggle against chaos and such a struggle I shall not conduct with the power of the police. A bourgeois state might have done that. Certainly I shall use the power of the state and the police to the utmost, my dear Communists, so don’t draw any false conclusions; but in the struggle to the death, in which my fist will grasp your necks, I shall lead those down there – the brown-shirts.

The counter-revolution from below has begun, and neither Papen, Hugenberg nor even Hindenburg can stop it. Until the proletariat is crushed, its organisations shattered, its cadres murdered or imprisoned, its spirit broken, it is the Nazi plebeians who will wield the power on the streets. And they will be loath to surrender it. The Nazis stage a pre-election march through bourgeois and middle-class Berlin today. An observer describes the contrasting reactions of the onlookers, and the unbridgeable class gulf that now separates proletarian from bourgeois Berlin:

The supporters kept saluting the troops as they marched by. They were nearly all middle-class and lower-middle-class people, and many shopkeepers could be seen standing outside their doors contemplating the troops with profound satisfaction... The people who seemed to take no delight in the parade were mostly workmen. Numerous houses, especially in the west end, through which they passed, were decorated with Nazi flags... In the vast and dreary working-class quarters of the north and east of the town no flags at all are to be seen – except a Nazi flag here and there. But no Socialist and no Communist flags. The people there are grimly silent. One has indeed to be not only a brave man but also a reckless man in Berlin today to put up a red flag outside one’s home. [96]

An entire quarter of north Berlin, described by the police as ‘notoriously Communist’, is sealed off today as the manhunt for working-class militants continues. The regular prisons are already full to bursting point, and soon the Nazis will be setting up special camps to house, torture and kill their Socialist and Communist inmates. All of Germany is being converted into one gigantic prison for the proletariat.

As the death toll of workers mounts, so the stock exchange booms. A financial correspondent reports that ‘the government’s home political measures stimulated the Bourse, which ruled firm’ with ‘unusual all-round activity developing’ and ‘many quotations rising three to six points’. [97]

How does Moscow view the annihilation of the largest section of the Communist International outside the USSR? Pravda, in its first serious comment on the German disaster, writes:

The heroic KPD has already lived an illegal existence. German fascism will not break its strength. One can arrest hundreds of Communists and revolutionary workers, but in such a country as Germany, it is impossible to exterminate the advance guard of the proletariat, to destroy the party for which six million workers voted... German fascism, which has kindled the flames of civil war, is only helping to accentuate all the inner political antagonisms... The result of its foreign policy in the 30 days of its rule are the isolation of Germany and the worsening of its foreign political situation. Only fools, only clowns, can conduct a policy which leads to the isolation of Germany. [98]

So Hitler and his fellow Nazis are mere ‘fools’ and ‘clowns’. Moreover, being fools and clowns, they are unwittingly accelerating the crisis of German capitalism, so paving the road to the proletarian revolution. We will read and hear a lot more of this anti-Leninist garbage in the next weeks and months. It will lead to the needless arrest and deaths of untold numbers of heroic Communist workers, who take seriously the Moscow lie that revolution is only around the corner, that Hitler’s regime is the harbinger of socialism.

4 March: Izvestia, The Soviet government paper, and therefore Stalin’s direct mouthpiece, makes haste to befriend the jailers of Thälmann:

The USSR is the only state which is not nourished on hostile sentiments towards Germany and that is independent of the form and the composition of the government of the Reich.

The Comintern has at last decided to break its silence on the events in Germany. Knorin has written an article on the Reichstag fire which while correctly nailing the big lie that the KPD is responsible, peddles the equally large falsehood that ‘the increased provocation of the fascist bourgeoisie is proof of the fact that the historic time has come for the end of capitalist rule’ – that ‘only a short period of power remains to the bourgeoisie’. [99] The Stalinist Comintern leadership cannot countenance admitting a defeat in Germany, so they bend their entire propaganda apparatus to the reactionary end of proving that Hitler’s victory is a pyrrhic one.

5 March: The organ of Ruhr heavy industry, Stahl und Eisen, is smacking its lips in anticipation of a crushing Nazi victory at the polls today:

The elections of 5 March will only be of use if they are to last a long time... only if no heed needs to be paid to votes can the outstanding great changes in constitution, administration, fiscal and social matters be carried out.

But the incredible courage of the German proletariat denies to Hitler the majority he craves. Only with the support of his Nationalist allies can his government command a majority in the Reichstag. Defections from the two workers’ parties have been amazingly few, as the results show:

Reichstag Elections November 1932 and March 1933
 Vote (millions)Per centDeputies
Mar 1933Nov 32Mar 1933Nov 32Mar 1933Nov 32

In Berlin, the capital of the fascist Reich, the Nazis are humbled by the hounded ‘reds’. Nearly one in three Berliners vote Communist today, and another 22 per cent SPD. Between them, the two workers’ parties win 52.6 per cent of the Berlin poll, the all-powerful Nazis 31.3 per cent. Such defiance in the face of unbridled terror is deserving of better leadership than either the reformists or the Stalinists are providing: the former with their pathetic appeals to President Hindenburg to protect the workers’ organisations from Nazi looters; the latter with their inane chatter about the imminent downfall of Hitler and the triumph of the proletarian revolution.

7 March: The cabinet assesses the election results and the next steps in the battle against the workers’ movement. Hitler speaks first:

There will now have to be a large-scale campaign of propaganda and information in order that no political lethargy should set in. It must be borne in mind that the overwhelming electoral victory of the National Socialists was achieved in part with the help of persons who would ordinarily not vote and who would, if not given adequate information, soon return to the ranks of the non-voters. The assertion that many Communists have switched to the National Socialist side is not true. The situation is the contrary, that former SPD voters had voted NSDAP and former Communist voters had voted SPD. As for the voters of the Centre, they will not be won over by the national parties until the curia drops both parties... I regard the events of 6 March as a revolution. In the end, Marxism will no longer exist in Germany. What is necessary is an enabling law with a two-thirds majority. I am convinced that the Reichstag will pass such a law. The deputies of the KPD will not appear at the opening of the Reichstag because they will be in jail. [100]

The intensification of the anti-Communist onslaught does not seem to be causing any sleepless nights in the offices of Pravda and Izvestia. The CPSU daily organ, in a comment on the Reichstag elections, says:

German fascism mobilised all its forces in order by means of a frontal attack to shatter the advanced guard of the European working class, the proletariat of Germany. This frontal attack of fascism has been repelled... [The election results]... are an irrefutable proof of the further revolutionary upsurge in Germany. [101]

Karl Radek is doling out the same lies in Izvestia. He calls the results a ‘brilliant victory’ for the KPD and a ‘Marne defeat’ for the Nazis:

The failure of the fascists to break the compactness of the Communist masses strengthens the tendency amongst the Social Democratic workers towards a united front with the leading portion of the working class. This means that the fascists will have to go over to a regular siege, to trench warfare against the working class. Time is now the decisive factor and time is not on the side of the fascists, but on the side of the KPD. For every month of fascist policy will inevitably strengthen centrifugal tendencies in the petit-bourgeoisie, to whom the fascists can offer nothing, and will continue to increase the friction inside the fascist bloc itself. [102]

Sections of the Social Democracy are crawling on all fours, seeking ways and means of securing admission to the Third Reich. They are wasting their time. Nevertheless, the SPD organ Sozialdemokratischer Pressedienst declares today:

The new Reich government has received its mandate from an ‘indisputable majority’. It is perfectly obvious that it holds power lawfully. Moderation and wisdom are therefore necessary, both in foreign policy and home policy.

8 March: After a criminal delay of more than two weeks, the ECCI has finally accepted the LSI offer of 19 February for a united workers’ front against fascism. But in doing so, the Comintern leadership not only executes the turn too late, but in an opportunist fashion. In sanctioning the formation of defensive blocs with reformist organisations, ‘against fascist attacks on workers’ organisations’ and ‘in defence of living and working conditions’, the ECCI adds that it is ‘possible to recommend the Communist parties during the time of common fight against capital and fascism to refrain from making attacks on Social Democratic organisations’. [103] This is a flagrant violation of the principles of the Leninist united front, enunciated at the Fourth Comintern Congress in December 1921, when it was stated categorically:

While accepting a basis for action, Communists must retain the unconditional right and the possibility of expressing their opinion of all working-class organisations without exception, not only before and after action has been taken but also, if necessary, during its course. In no circumstances can this right be surrendered. [104]

Now the Stalinist ECCI is proposing to do just that – to the leaders whom until now it has denounced as ‘social fascists’ and as being solely responsible for the victory of Hitler. Just as was the case with the KPD’s proposal to the SPD and Centre in the Prussian Diet to form an exclusively parliamentary bloc against the Nazis, we are seeing a glimpse of the line that will emerge out of the debris of the Third Period in the summer of 1934 – the ‘People’s Front’.

The first attacks on the trade unions begin. A squad of SA thugs invade and wreck the spacious 147-room headquarters of the ADGB at Breslau. Leipart and Grassman write a letter of protest to President Hindenburg:

We appeal to you... as the leader who combines in his person the tradition of the old Germany and the dignity of the new fatherland. In our fatherland, which is torn by political contradictions, you are the representative of the unity of our people. We appeal to you to put an end to the terror which is threatening the lives and the property of the workers. The trade unions are opposed to the use of force. During the war the trade unions were the advance guard which fought for the freedom and unity of our people. We look to you to prevent the destruction of our property, the property of the trade unions, and the persecution of their members.

Leipart believes he can protect his unions – or rather his own skin – by invoking the nationalist memories of August 1914, when the ADGB bureaucracy rallied to the imperial cause. Times have changed. Hitler is not William II. Hindenburg, elected a year ago with Social Democratic votes, ignores Leipart’s plea.

9 March: Nazi Interior Minister Frick disabuses the Social Democrats of any illusions they are harbouring about their political survival in the Third Reich. They are to be dealt the same treatment as the Communists:

When the Reichstag meets on 23 March, the Communists will be prevented from attending by urgent labour elsewhere. In concentration camps they will be re-educated for productive work. We will know how to render harmless permanently sub-humans who do not want to be re-educated. But the Communists are not the only people who must disappear. Their allies the Socialists must disappear as well, for Socialism is the root from which Communism has sprung.

10 March: The first official indication that the ‘plebeians’ are getting out of hand, and taking the ‘socialist’ side of the Hitler programme a little too seriously for the comfort of either their leaders or the bourgeoisie. Hitler issues a manifesto redirecting their energies back towards the main enemy – the workers’ movement:

Where resistance is being offered it must be immediately and thoroughly broken. Molestation of individual persons, interference with motorcars, or disturbances of business life, are prohibited on principle... you must take care that the national revolution of 1933 shall not compare in history with the revolution of 1918. You must not permit yourself for a minute to be lured away from our slogan, which is ‘Death to Marxism’.

11 March: Vorwärts editor Friedrich Stampfer gives his reply to Hitler’s tirade against Marxism:

They have only to act as a legal government, and it will follow naturally we shall be a legal opposition. If they choose to use their majorities for measures that remain within the framework of the Constitution we shall confine ourselves to the role of fair critics until such time as the nation calls upon us to play another part.

Goering issues a statement to the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on his government’s attitude towards the ADGB trade unions: ‘We will not tolerate any Marxist internationalist propaganda in Germany, and for the same reasons we shall also be unable to permit socialist trade unions in Germany.’

But as Hitler’s policy is to string along the union bureaucracy in their belief that it will not share the fate of the SPD and KPD leaders, he speaks not of the destruction of the trade unions, but their being ‘reconstructed as in Italy and constituted as a national trade union movement’. A blatant lie, since in Italy the socialist trade unions were outlawed and destroyed by Mussolini, and replaced with the ‘supra-class’ fascist corporations. Some days later, after another Nazi attack on an ADGB premises (the trade union school at Bernau 15 miles north of Berlin), ADGB Deputy President Peter Grassmann sees Goering, who tells him that the raid was carried out by ‘undisciplined’ Nazis. But then he adds: ‘I can tell you that thorough changes will have to take place in the trade unions. They shall not remain in our state what they were before.’ To which Grassmann replies: ‘We will not evade any discussion about that.’ As if it is a matter for discussion!

14 March: Trotsky begins to revise his policy of reforming the Communist International. He writes his famous article ‘The Tragedy of the German Proletariat’, in which he performs the fundamental duty of a Marxist to state what is:

The most powerful proletariat of Europe, measured by its place in production, its social weight and the strength of its organisations, has manifested no resistance since Hitler’s coming to power and his first violent attacks against the workers’ organisations. This is the fact from which to proceed in subsequent strategic calculations... It must be said clearly, plainly, openly: Stalinism in Germany has had its 4 August [1914]. Henceforth, the advanced workers will only speak of the period of the domination of the Stalinist bureaucracy with a burning sense of shame, with words of hatred and curses. The official KPD is doomed... German Communism can be reborn only on a new basis and with a new leadership... The German proletariat will rise again, Stalinism, never. Under the terrible blows of the enemy, the advanced German workers will have to build up a new party. The Bolshevik-Leninists [Trotskyists] will give all their forces to this work. [105]

While shares slump in the other major capitalist countries in the wake of a new US banking crisis, ‘the German stock exchange [is] experiencing almost boom conditions. The view expressed in the Frankfurt Bourse is that the Hitler government is favourable to industrial and trading interests, and extensive share purchasing is observed.’ [106] Two weeks later, the same correspondent will write:

The German stock markets, in isolation from the rest of the world, have done a roaring trade at rising prices in the last fortnight. The Bourses, especially the government stock markets, have for four weeks [that is, since the Reichstag fire and the banning of the KPD – RB] been booming. Clothing industries were favoured on the expectations of big orders for uniforms by the defence authorities. [107]

Optimism rules not only on the Berlin and Frankfurt stock markets, but in the headquarters of the Comintern. An article is written for the Comintern organ entitled ‘The Collapse of Weimar Germany and the Preparation for the German October’. It declares quite unambiguously that Hitler’s assumption of power and bloody persecutions of Communists are speeding up the revolution:

Unprecedented fascist terror is rife in Germany. Bourgeois reaction is trying to grind down the German proletariat beneath its heel... The Hitler – Papen – Hugenberg fascist government hopes to stop the wheel of proletarian revolutionary history by its methods of savage terror, torture and shootings. But it is not within their power to stay the indomitable advance of history. The new emergency law against the Communists will cost the German proletariat big sacrifices. But this means also that the revolutionary movement will develop and all the contradictions will increase still more. The Hitler government... is not able to solve a single one of the contradictions of German capitalism. [108]

15 March: Cabinet meeting discusses measures to ensure a two-thirds majority for the proposed Enabling Act when it is put to the vote before the Reichstag on 23 March. Frick speaks first:

Now, according to the Reich Constitution, a two-thirds majority is required, therefore a total of 432 delegates will have to be present for the ratification of the Enabling Act, if the Communist vote were to be considered and we had to proceed on the basis of 647 elected Reichstag deputies. By subtracting the number of Communist deputies the result is 566. Then the presence of only 378 delegates would be required... The prohibition of the KPD is indicated. Eventually it might be necessary to commit to work camps those persons who remain faithful to Communism. [109]

Goering:Expresses his conviction that the Enabling Act will be ratified with the required two-thirds majority. Eventually, the majority could be obtained by refusing admission to a few Social Democrats.’ [110]

16 March: Schacht is reappointed President of the Reichsbank three years after his resignation under the Social Democrat Hermann Müller. The Bourse continues its upward trend.

21 March: Decree issued by the cabinet establishing special courts to deal with political enemies of the regime. Its precedent is ‘Chapter II, part 6 of the third decree of the Reich President, to safeguard the economy and finances and to combat political excesses, of 6 October 1931’. The SPD voted for this decree in order to defend the lesser evil – Brüning – against the greater evil – Hitler. Now Hitler is to clap these same reformists in jail under the terms of Brüning’s decree. The first concentration camps are being opened up to house militant workers and their leaders who can no longer be accommodated in the overcrowded jails of the Third Reich. One is sited at Oranienburg, north of Berlin, and houses Communist and Socialist workers from the capital, while to the far south, in Bavaria the notorious Dachau camp is filling up fast. Its opening is celebrated by the Völkischer Beobachter:

This is where all Communist and, where necessary, Reichsbanner and Social Democratic officials are concentrated, because to house these officials in ordinary prisons is impossible in the long run and imposes too great a burden on the machinery of state. It has become apparent that these people cannot be permitted to remain free as they continue to agitate and to cause unrest. [111]>

23 March: The Reichstag meets to vote on the Enabling Act. No KPD deputies are present. They are either dead, in custody, exile or in hiding. Twenty-six of the SPD’s 120 deputies are also missing. Some are with the Communists in prison, while others again are lying low, fearing arrest if they present themselves at the Reichstag session. The Centre Party, following the lead of Prelate Kaas, has voted to support the Enabling Act against the objections of Brüning. All the other bourgeois parties follow suit. Hitler is therefore assured of his two-thirds majority when it is put to the vote. Only the SPD will vote against. Hitler opens the session that will mark the final liquidation of the tattered remnants of the Weimar Republic with a raging attack on Marxism; which he says will be stamped out ‘with barbaric ruthlessness’:

The splitting up of nations into groups with irreconcilable views, systematically brought about by the false doctrines of Marxism, means the destruction of the basis of a possible communal life... Starting from the liberalism of the last century, it is bound by natural laws to end in Communistic chaos... It is only to be the creation of a real national community, rising above the interests and differences of rank and class that can permanently remove the source of nourishment of these aberrations of the human mind.

Kinder words are devoted to the leaders of the economy:

In principle, the government will not protect the economic interests of the German people by the circuitous method of an economic bureaucracy to be organised by the state, but by the utmost furtherance of private initiative and by the recognition of the rights of private property.

But even more important from an immediate tactical point of view is Hitler’s cultivation of the peasant, who has upheld the banner of National Socialism more stolidly than any other section of the movement’s supporters. Hitler now thanks them – quite genuinely – for their political loyalty, and promises them – with less sincerity – their reward:

The salvation of the German farmer must be achieved at all costs. The ruin of this class in our nation would lead to the gravest inconceivable consequences. The restoration of the remunerative capacity of agriculture may be hard on the consumer. But for the counterpoise of the German agricultural class, the Communist madness would have already overrun Germany, and thus finally ruined German business... We must, therefore, devote our greatest solicitude in future to pursuing the back to the land policy in Germany. [112]

After a recess the vote on the Enabling Act is taken. Otto Wels, SPD Chairman, explains why his party will oppose the Act:

Never, since a German Reichstag has existed, has the control of public affairs through the chosen representatives of the people been eliminated to such an extent as is now the case and will still be more so as a result of the new Enabling Act... you... want first of all to eliminate the Reichstag in order to push forward your revolution... We socialists have borne responsibility in difficult times, and for this we have been stoned. What we have accomplished towards the rebuilding of the state and the economy, towards the liberation of the occupied zones, will stand up before history. We have established equal right for all... We recognise the power-political fact of your momentary domination. But the people’s sense of justice is also a political power, and we will not cease appealing to that sense. The Weimar Constitution is not a socialist constitution. But we remain faithful to the principles incorporated in it, the principles of a state based on law, of equality, of social justice. At this historic moment we German Social Democrats solemnly affirm our allegiance to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom and socialism. No Enabling Act can give you the power to destroy ideals which are eternal and indestructible... We greet all those who are persecuted and oppressed. We greet our comrades in the Reich. Their steadfastness and their loyalty deserve the admiration of the whole world. Their courageous profession of faith, their unbroken confidence, are guarantees of a brighter future for the working people.

As an exposition of classic Social Democracy, Wels’ speech, courageous in that he delivers it before a largely hostile audience and in a building surrounded by SA men, cannot be bettered. But the weapons of justice, liberty and reason are a poor match for the truncheons and revolvers of Goering’s police, and the death camps and torture chambers of Himmler’s SS. This Hitler knows, for he leaps to this feet and screams at Wels:

I believe that you do not support this act because your mentality makes the purpose which inspires us in connection with it incomprehensible to you. I do not want your votes. Germany will become free, but not through you! ... The star of Germany is in the ascendant, yours is about to disappear, your death-knell has sounded.

The other party leaders all declare their support for the Act, which is then duly passed by the required two-thirds majority, 444 to 94, with all the negative votes being cast by those whom the Stalinists will for another full year call ‘social fascists’.

24 March: The stock exchange boom continues unabated. AEG shares have climbed from 30 to 37 points under Hitler’s rule, while IG Farben have improved from 96.5 to 133.75. Siemens are up from 121.5 to 155.5, and Hamburg America lines, from 16.75 to 23.5. Business is good in the Third Reich. But for the proletariat, crushed by the sheer ferocity and scale of the Nazi terror, and betrayed by its leaders, life is a nightmare. A foreign correspondent describes their agony in what was once proudly known as Red Berlin:

In the working-class quarters the inquirer will be told in almost every street that the Nazis murdered so and so living at number so and so; they have beaten so and so living round the corner. Almost all workers who were at all prominent in the local organisations of the Socialist or Communist parties, or who were known in their district as keen politicians, are in danger of their lives. Many are in hiding, they cannot emigrate with their wives and families, having no money even to pay the fare. The German working class is now dominated by an intense mass emotion compounded of fear... and a controlled fury. A hatred such as never existed before in Germany has been aroused... [113]

And on the Bourse? ‘Firm and active... with the improved political situation in Germany.’ [114]

Appendix I: The Destruction of the Trade Unions

There was never any doubt in Hitler’s mind that when he assumed power, his most pressing task would be to destroy the free trade unions. This is made very clear in Mein Kampf, where he declares that the newly-formed Nazi movement only held back from a struggle against the trade unions from a lack of forces able to carry it through to victory:

Anyone who at that time would have really shattered the Marxist unions, and in place of this institution of destructive class struggle, helped the National Socialist trade union idea to victory, was among the very great men of our people... The Marxist trade union fortress can today be administered by ordinary bosses; but it will only be stormed by the wild energy and shining ability of an outstanding great man on the other side... Here we must apply the maxim that in life it is sometimes better to let a thing lie for the present than to begin it badly or by halves for want of suitable forces... For important as these matters may be, their fulfilment will only occur on a large scale when we are in a position to put the state power into the service of these ideas. [115]

So the formation of the Hitler cabinet on 30 January 1933 placed the destruction of the trade unions on the immediate agenda. Big business was now eager to see this measure carried out, having exhausted every other governmental combination that either depended on the toleration of the ADGB bureaucracy, or shrank from a total rupture with it. We also know, from accounts of Hitler’s discussions with economic leaders such as Schacht, and the activities of pro-Nazi industrialists and financiers in the Keppler or Himmler Circle, that a section of the bourgeoisie had been pushing for the break-up of class trade unionism from as early as the autumn of 1930. But Hitler had to move cautiously at first. He did not want so to antagonise the union bureaucracy that its leaders were driven into such an extreme position that they had no option but to form a united front with the KPD. The Communist workers bore the brunt of the initial Nazi onslaught, then the attack broadened out to embrace the organisations and press of the SPD. Apart from localised instances of SA thuggery and intimidation, however, the trade unions were left alone. This was deliberate policy on the part of the Nazi leadership. They sensed that if the bureaucracy gave the word to their members to take concerted strike action against the regime, the resulting movement could gather momentum into a revolutionary offensive that could very rapidly sweep the fascists and their capitalist supporters back into the sewers. Once again this proved that, unlike the leaders of the working class, the Nazis developed both strategy and tactics for power. Within the limitations of bourgeois ideology, refracted as it was in their case through racialist mysticism, they knew what they wanted and how to get it.

If during the period between the formation of the Hitler cabinet on 30 January and the destruction of the trade unions on 2 May 1933, the Nazis hinted that a less harsh fate awaited the ADGB than the KPD (or for that matter the SPD), then that was purely a tactical manoeuvre. Naturally the Stalinists chose to present this ploy in a false light. The ADGB leaders were ‘social fascists’, and would accordingly not only permit their unions to be ‘incorporated’ into the state, but would continue to run them on behalf of the Nazis and the employers, The Stalinists still tried to cling to this absurd theory (demolished by Trotsky in his numerous articles on Germany between 1930 and 1933) even after events had overtaken and disproved it. As will be shown, the Stalinist press was still proclaiming its inane theory of the ‘incorporation’ of the trade unions and their leaders into the fascist state when these same unions had been liquidated and their leaders thrown into prison.

History has exposed the absurdity of this theory, which originates from a false conception of the nature and role of the bureaucracy in the workers’ movement, and which through its schematicism is unable either to perceive or exploit the contradictions that exist between fascist corporatism and even the most opportunist of trade union leaderships. Therefore one would expect in a movement which bases itself on the Trotskyist theory of bureaucracy (a theory which analyses and fights bureaucracy as a counter-revolutionary force within the workers’ movement) that the notion that bona fide class trade unions can be peacefully ‘incorporated into the state’, together with their existing leaderships and even lower cadres, by acts of parliament and various mechanisms of wage control, would be rejected as petit-bourgeois radicalism posturing as Marxism; as in fact an ideological and methodological residue from Third Period Stalinism which has no place in the Trotskyist movement, and which should have been rooted out along with all the other reactionary lumber that bureaucracy and petit-bourgeois radicalism brings into the workers’ movement and even its revolutionary vanguard. How all the more disturbing, therefore, is it when we find this theory, rampant amongst anarchists, Maoists and other anti-Trotskyist tendencies, not only tolerated in the Workers Revolutionary Party (which with all its defects, represents the living continuity of Bolshevism in this country) but raised to the plane of a veritable credo. At all costs, the entire TUC leadership – left, right and centre – has to be proved to be not merely class-collaborators, reformists and obstacles to the development of revolutionary class struggle (which they undoubtedly are, and this is quite sufficient both to designate their role and to brand them as class traitors), but as ‘corporatists’, as upholders of the idea and practice of the fascist corporate state. In other words (words which the Workers Press cannot bring itself to utter, since they violate quite brutally everything Trotsky wrote against Third Period Stalinism on this question), they are social fascists. We will return to this problem, absolutely crucial for the revolutionary party’s strategy and tactics in the class struggle, in the appendix which ends this book. Here it is necessary to show how the WRP’s false estimation of the role of the trade union and Labour Party bureaucracy today has led it, perhaps against the subjective intentions of many of its older cadres (who should, and do, know better) to distort and even completely to rewrite the history of the rise to power of National Socialism in Germany, and thereby to obscure the immensely important theoretical, political and organisational conclusions that Trotsky extracted from this experience. Let us not forget (and let us also teach those who do not yet know): the Fourth International was founded in the wake of the defeat of the German proletariat by fascism, and grounded in the lessons Trotsky and the International Left Opposition drew from the role of both Social Democracy and Stalinism in that defeat. Those who obscure these lessons do so at the risk of undermining the theoretical foundations of the Fourth International.

To be more specific, we cite instances of where the WRP organ, the Workers Press, has in fact distorted the actual course of events culminating in the victory of Hitler and the destruction of the German labour movement, especially its trade unions.

The Industrial Correspondent of a workers’ paper, especially when it is a paper fighting to give revolutionary leadership to the advanced workers in the trade unions, must possess more than a passing knowledge of the history of trade unionism not only of his national labour movement, but of all the major capitalist countries. It is not a question of academicism, but of the very life-blood of the Trotskyist movement, which must stand in the front rank of those fighting to defend the past gains of the organised proletariat. But we have to be very frank here. The Workers Press Industrial Correspondent, former Stalinist Royston Bull, exhibits an abysmal lack of comprehension of the real course of the class struggle in Germany. In its place, he appears to have substituted a make-believe history which is little more than the projection back into the past of the current ultra-leftist line of the WRP on the mass workers’ organisations in Britain, and is derived also from a superficial and non-historical understanding of the nature and role of Stalinism. Since Stalinism today pursues an openly right-wing line, the argument runs, it must have always done so from its very inception. Thus we read the following in the Workers Press:

[Jack] Jones [the T & GW leader] is pushing the most reactionary corporatist ideology within his own union by his policies of co-partnership with the capitalist class in industry as a permanent solution to the class struggle... [The CPGB’s]... acquiescence in Jones'... collaboration with the Tories... will not be the end of the matter... Eventually, it will lead to a complete capitulation to the right wing and the corporate state... But the pattern of capitulation to the right wing and reformism has often been repeated in Stalinist history and always with disastrous results to themselves and unfortunately to the rest of the working class as well. Hitler’s Germany is only the most famous example, but there are many others... [116]

Leaving aside the radical nonsense about Jones being a pusher of ‘the most reactionary corporatist ideology’ within Britain’s largest trade union – a state of affairs which if true, has not only escaped the notice of its 1.5 million members, but renders it a non-class union fit only for instant expulsion from the TUC – we see that Bull finds fault with the KPD in the period prior to Hitler’s seizure of power not for its ultra-leftism, for its categorical refusal to enter into a united front with the reformist ('corporatist’ or ‘social fascist’) organisations and leaders, but with its alleged ‘capitulation to the right wing and reformism’. Of course it is true – though not in the sense implied by Bull – that the ultra-left course of the KPD did protect Social Democracy, leaving it free to conduct its betrayal of the working class (we make essentially the same criticism of the sectarian, ultimatistic line pursued by the WRP in the trade unions and in relation to the Labour Party). But Bull nowhere says that the Stalinists have in the past protected and strengthened reformism by ultra-leftist tactics. For him, Stalinism has always been an openly right-wing force, working hand in glove with the reformist bureaucracy. That we are not mistaken in our estimation of Bull’s one-sided grasp and presentation of the history of Stalinism and its role in the German workers’ movement, is evident from the article which he wrote on 25 August 1973, where he examines what he calls ‘the mushrooming of an outright corporatist attitude among leaders of the Union of Post Office Workers’. Bull’s notion of what fascism means for the working class and its organisations is that of a radical, not a Marxist. For him it is not the annihilation of every last independent organisation of the proletariat, of the elimination of its precious ‘bulwarks of proletarian democracy’ within the womb of capitalism. Neither is its rule established by unbridled terror carried out on a mass, plebeian-based scale in which not only militants, but the leaders of the workers’ movement ('corporatists’ and all) are hounded into submission, jail and their graves. No, it is all achieved by a few clever manoeuvres at the top, between the government, the employers and the trade union leaders themselves. It is nothing less than the ‘Third Period’ Stalinist theory of the ‘cold’ or bloodless transition to fascism, carried out behind the backs of an unsuspecting working class.

This is what Bull has to say about ‘corporatism’ as implemented in the UPW. Bull quotes from the minutes of a meeting, held on 19 July 1973, between UPW officials and the GPO, ‘to negotiate the recruitment of more temporary staff’. Hardly a fascist undertaking, one might have surmised. Bull thinks otherwise:

The official minutes... read like one long hymn to corporatist collaboration. The chairman, a high Post Office functionary, welcomed the unions’ ‘offer to help’ to overcome the difficulties in recruiting postmen...

The GPO had submitted a memo to the Pay Board pointing out that staff shortages were due in part to low pay, and asked ‘for improved pay policy in stage three’. Bull continues:

But the UPW delegation agreed that the Post Office would inform its regions that ‘recourse should be had to the use of part-time and full-time temporary force (male or female) if the gap between resources and service on commitment could not be bridged’. Or in plain English [continues Bull]: that if the rates of pay for postmen remain so unattractive that not enough workers can be recruited to do the job, then use casualised labour. The fight for a decent living wage for postmen would presumably [NB] go by the board. It is the perfect corporatist set-up. The democratic decision of the industry’s workers is ignored. The corporatist-minded [that is, fascist-minded – RB] union leaders then do a deal with the corporatist-minded representatives of the state industry to keep the business running at all costs – even at the cost of a proper level of wages for union members. [117]

So for Bull – and, we must presume (since the Workers Press is the daily organ of the Central Committee of the WRP), for the entire leadership of the Workers Revolutionary Party – corporatism in this instance is nothing more lethal than the UPW bureaucracy collaborating with the GPO over staffing. Bull is not even in a position to state with certainty whether this deal (one which we must condemn categorically, without giving it a false label) involves an agreement to hold down the wages of workers. He only presumes so. What words would Bull have used to describe the conduct of the ADGB trade union leaders who accepted without a struggle Brüning’s wage-cutting decrees on the grounds that Brüning was the lesser evil compared with Hitler? The Stalinists, as we know, denounced these union bureaucrats as ‘social fascists’. Trotsky refused to join them in this reactionary game of name-calling. He deemed them to be reformists – treacherous, counter-revolutionary, certainly – but reformists, Social Democrats, nevertheless. Bull knows better. He calls their British counterparts (who have some way to travel before they emulate the Leiparts and Grassmanns in their capitulation to the bourgeoisie) ‘corporatists’. And lest there be any confusion about this point, let us cite the last sentence of Bull’s article. It proves two things. One, that Bull genuinely believes the KPD’s great mistake was to collaborate with the reformists in the period before Hitler’s victory; and two, that corporatism is fascism, is the regime established by the Nazis in Germany:... leading the way into this corporatist trap is the same amalgam of reformists and Stalinists that took the same path in Germany in the early 1930s.’ [118] The ‘corporatist trap’ in Germany was, as Bull is fully aware, the... Third Reich.

And in this ‘perfect corporatist set-up’ that was Nazi Germany, Bull presumably believes that trade union leaders and employers collaborated over such projects as staffing at the expense of workers’ wages. Does he know that Hitler put the Leiparts behind bars, even as they licked the fascist jackboot? That there was no ‘corporatist collaboration’ in the Third Reich? That if the UPW leadership is taking the ‘same path’ that Leipart and company took in Germany, then it will lead them into the prisons of a corporatist Britain, along with the thousands of worker-militants they will have betrayed? Lest the reader think the author is belabouring a point, it must be made clear Trotsky held that Hitler was able to triumph over the German proletariat precisely because the KPD failed to exploit, by use of the united front tactic, the irreconcilable antagonism between fascism and Social Democracy. Bull’s noisy abuse of reformist leaders as ‘corporatists’ creates the precedent for rejecting the united front with the reformists no less than did Stalin’s theory that Social Democracy and fascism were not antipodes, but twins.

Indeed, there is one instance where we find Bull drawing a direct analogy between Victor Feather, former Secretary of the TUC, and Robert Ley, head of the Nazi Labour Front. Bull became annoyed when Feather declared to a ‘conference on the economy’ attended by Tories and CBI officials on 8 May 1973, that ‘Mussolini banned trade unions as one of the first things he did’. Bull, whom as we have already shown, is hardly one to cast the first stone in such a dispute, replies:

Here, Feather simply reveals the usual contempt of trade union bureaucrats for the lessons of history. [Sic!] It is precisely the tendency towards absorption of the trade unions into the capitalist state structure that always [NB] precedes the establishment of a fully-fledged corporate state. It was so in Italy, and in Germany during the Weimar Republic. [119]

Here we find Bull equating corporatism – more precisely, ‘fully-fledged’ corporatism – with Fascist Italy and the Third Reich, the ‘perfect corporatist set-up’. So Jones and Jackson actually desire a Third Reich type regime in Britain! And not only Jones and Jackson. For Bull writes:

For Feather to talk about the democratic procedures of a trade union movement which has already [NB] been stripped in law of its most important rights, the right to free collective bargaining and the right to organise, unrestricted by police and courts, is in fact to emulate the principle of the German Labour Front under fascism. [120]

Need anything more be said? Feather is a Nazi!

It is also sad to see those organisations in political sympathy with the WRP echoing this reactionary bombast, even to the extent of emulating Bull’s cavalier interpretations of German history. The Workers League (USA) has broken from the opportunist adaptation to present-day Stalinism of the Socialist Workers Party, only now to teeter on the brink of reproducing the ultra-leftism of the Stalinism of the Third Period. The danger signal for this turn is an article, ‘Watergate and Revisionism’, by Melody Farrow, published in the Workers League’s Bulletin in February 1974. It describes the policy of the SPD: ‘... on the eve of Hitler’s rise to power, they [the Social Democrats] refused to recognise the fascist danger [more accurately, it refused to combat it by class struggle methods – RB] and relied on a section of the bourgeoisie to stop Hitler.’ As we know, the sins of the KPD lay in another direction. They refused to form a united front with the SPD and ADGB against Hitler. In other words, its errors were of a leftist, and not class-collaborationist nature. Not so, says Farrow:

The American Communist Party is following in the footsteps of the German Communist Party which relied on a section of the capitalist class to stop Hitler’s rise to power, the very section that turned around and handed Hitler the leadership of the country. [121]

In other words, the very policy pursued by the reformists! By liquidating all the differences between Third Period Stalinism (which Trotsky designated as a left aspect of bureaucratic centrism) and reformism, which since 1914 played an openly class-collaborationist role in the workers’ movement, Farrow blinds her own party to the dangers of leftism. All the crimes of Stalinism are depicted as being carried through on a rightist line. We know that this is not so. The German betrayal was made possible through the imposition of a criminally adventurist policy on the KPD, and through it, onto the entire vanguard of the German proletariat. If this for one moment is lost sight of, the vanguard is again exposed to similar errors of tactics and policy, though of course in a different social and political setting.

This having been said, we can now turn to the last stages of Hitler’s campaign to crush the organised German proletariat – the destruction of the free trade unions. As we have earlier observed, the Nazi tactic was to pick off the various sectors of the workers’ movement singly, a policy only made possible by the tragic lack of unity between the reformist and revolutionary wings of the organised proletariat. The Hitler government only began to step up its pressure on the trade unions when thousands of Communist militants were safely behind barbed wire in the concentration camps. They were encouraged in their offensive by the conciliatory attitude of the ADGB leadership, notably its President, Leipart, and deputy Grassmann, who after making militant noises in the early days of Nazi rule, quickly – and vainly – sought ways of accommodating the trade unions to the Nazi regime. Each attack by SA toughs on a trade union building or editorial office only accelerated this drift towards attempted collaboration. Discovering to their dismay that President Hindenburg was not the benevolent protector of workers’ rights it had imagined him to be, the ADGB bureaucracy threw itself on the tender mercies of the Nazis themselves. Hints – some of them none too subtle – were given through the trade union press that the trade unions were prepared to adjust to the ‘new Germany’, even to the point of severing their traditional links with the SPD and the reformist trade union international, the IFTU. Papen did nothing to discourage this trend, letting it be known that ‘if the trade unions recognise the sign of the times, and depoliticise themselves in great measure, they can become precisely at this moment a strong pillar in a new people’s order’. A few days later, on 21 March, the ADGB announced its organisational severance from the SPD, pointedly informing the Nazi government of this fact. The ADGB funds, which ran into hundreds of millions of marks all told, were brought back from abroad, whither, fearing the worst, they had been sent for safe keeping prior to the formation of the Nazi cabinet. On 25 March, the ADGB journal Gewerkschafts Zeitung made the following statement:

The trade union organisations are the expression of an irrefutable social necessity, an indispensable part of the social order itself. They have been created by the working class in its effort to help itself, and in the course of their history, according to the natural order of things, they have become more and more integrated into the state. The social function of the trade unions must be fulfilled whatever the nature of the regime of the state. Having recognised the arbitration of the state and availed themselves of it, the trade union organisations have shown that they recognise the state’s right of intervention in discussions between the organised workers and the employers, when the general interests require it. [122]

Under Weimar, the trade union bureaucracy and lower cadres had been conceded the right to exercise certain functions in the running of the enterprises and the direction of general social and economic policy. This had been a concession made by the employers as an alternative to a head-on conflict with the workers in which their expropriation may well have been posed. The character of the state into which the ADGB bureaucracy had become ‘integrated’ was therefore bourgeois democratic. The onset of the economic crisis, the rise of mass reaction, and a hard anti-union line by the monopolies, far from accelerating this trend towards integration, halted and even reversed it. Voices were raised not only at Bad Harzburg, but in boardrooms all over Germany, demanding the exclusion of the ‘Marxists’ from all positions of influence in the state, the economy and social policy. Only National Socialism could carry this task of eliminating the pressure of the workers’ organisations through to the end, to their destruction. This process had already begun under Papen. Hitler was to consummate it, with the aid of his armed plebeians. The trend towards collaboration with the state by the reformist trade union bureaucracy, contrary to the claims of Bull, was brought to a brutal halt. Not ‘integration’, based on a series of concessions to the working class (the economic foundation of the reformist bureaucracy), but annihilation – this was what lay in store for the ADGB unions, even though their leaders could not perceive it.

SA attacks on union offices were now a commonplace. The sheer wantonness of these raids is described by Lorenz Hagen, Chairman of the Nuremberg ADGB:

During the night of 17-18 March, the offices of the ADGB... as well as the offices of the Builders Union, and the Unions of the Bookbinders, Bookprinters, Lithographers, Textile Workers and Carpenters, were completely destroyed by the SA... All the office furniture was smashed and thrown into the courtyard, the safes overturned, forced open from the back and robbed. The typewriters, adding machines, mimeograph machines, etc, were stolen. The ADGB possessed a huge library of about 10 000 volumes for the use of its members. Every single book was torn and thrown into the courtyard. The Workers’ Secretariat... had an extensive professional library of about 500 volumes... These were also thrown out and torn to pieces. A similar fate met about 750 to 800 files covering the cases of beneficiaries of pensions... whose claims for pensions were being worked on... [123]

In many cases, the SA vandals, worked up into an anti-Marxist frenzy, did not confine their attacks to the property of trade unions. Frequently members were seized and beaten, as one victim related at Nuremberg, namely Gustav Schiefer, Munich ADGB Chairman. His offices had first been raided by the SA on 9 March, and closed down until 15 March. When Schiefer visited his union headquarters on 13 March, ‘safes and strong boxes had been smashed open... safes and tills were empty’. He therefore refused to resume his duties until these losses had been made good:

I was dragged to the great hall, paper and pencil put before me with the challenge to designate those Nazis who had committed thefts during the period of 9 to 15 March. I could not do that, since I did not know the individuals. As I refused my signature about 10 Nazis beat me incessantly and indiscriminately until I collapsed. Upon that they seized me and threw me into the bottom of the lift shaft of the Trade Union Headquarters building. After lying there for some time I summoned up my strength and tried to raise myself. When the Nazis noted that, they again dragged me into the hall and beat me until I collapsed and fainted. [124]

Fellow trade unionists rescued him and rushed him to hospital. On his discharge, Schiefer ‘had to report to the police every third day for almost two years’. [125] And this man was a thoroughgoing reformist, in Stalinist parlance a ‘social fascist’ (or as Royston Bull and his fellow super-radical, Stephen Johns, would say, a ‘corporatist’). If this was the ‘perfect corporatist set-up’, then thousands of ADGB officials and bureaucrats wanted no part of it. The holocaust now descending on them and their members was a direct product of their own opportunist policies, pursued with such devotion not only throughout the 1929-33 crisis, but from the first days of the German Republic (and indeed, from the outset of the First World War). Their top leaders sought to deflect these blows by negotiations with those who were inflicting them.

They attempted to buy their right to survive in the Third Reich by rendering the destruction of their organisations unnecessary. De-politicisation was enforced on the branches by forbidding members to discuss politics. Certain union leaders even stooped so low as to depict the Hitler government as a potential friend of the workers. The Metallarbeiter Zeitung declared quite shamelessly:

The Hitler – Hugenberg – Seldte government is resolved to free the German peasants and workers from their intolerable economic misery. It said so in its first appeal and repeated it many times, and on 23 March, in the Chancellor’s speech to the Reichstag, this task and the determination to accomplish it were given an importance. [As was the destruction of Marxism! – RB] After all this is it permissible to doubt that the necessity of freeing the masses of the German people from economic distress is recognised, in all its harshness, by the present government. Neither can it be doubted that the government has in its hands all the means to this end. If economic misery is now really to be combated, and energetically, no one will greet this action more warmly than the trade unions. Nothing will be lacking to make their cooperation zealous and resolute... The preceding German governments had in fact accomplished nothing towards putting an end to the economic misery of the masses. Perhaps they lacked the necessary decision and forcefulness. But both are certainly not lacking in the present government. [Sic!] Its legal and full powers allow it unquestionably to limit, and even to suppress, economic misery. And it can rest, for sure, on the loyal cooperation of the trade unions of all tendencies. If the government now sets to work with a will, it will be possible for it to make moral conquests also among the 45 per cent of the people who did not vote for it on 5 March. [126]

But Hitler did not seek their ‘loyal cooperation’, though it suited his tactical plan to pretend that he did. The miners’ union organ, Bergbauindustrie, had meanwhile come out with a similar line: ‘Our union is against any party and any government which injures or neglects the interests of the miners. It is thus for any party or government which supports and fulfil its demands.’ [127] What makes this statement all the more disgusting is that eight days previously, the SA raided the miners’ union premises and arrested three union leaders – Husemann, Martmoller and Bittner. The harder the Nazis hit the bureaucracy, the more craven its crawling before the regime.

On the day after the passing of the Enabling Act, Leipart wrote to Hitler along the lines of the article published in the ADGB journal of 25 March. In it he assured Hitler that:

... the trade unions do not make any claim immediately to influence the policy of the state. In this respect their task can only be to voice the justified wishes of the workers in regard to social and economic-political measures of the government and legislation, as well as to help the government and parliament [sic] with their knowledge and experience in this sphere...

We must repeat again if only for Royston Bull’s benefit, who would doubtless have seen in Leipart’s offer to Hitler the ‘perfect corporatist set-up’ – the Nazis had no intention of availing themselves of Leipart’s ‘knowledge and experience’. Not even the leaders of the Catholic trade union had been allotted a place in the Third Reich, as an entry by Goebbels in his diary for 18 March makes clear:

A few sly foxes of the Christian trade unions pay me a visit to negotiate as to the participation of their followers in the new state. I cold shoulder them. They will not be able to speak of ‘followers’ much longer. [128]

If the Nazis intended to wind up the avowedly anti-Marxist and class-collaborationist Christian trade unions, what hope was there for the ADGB? A further indication of the fate that lay in store for the free trade unions was the promulgation on 5 April of a law empowering employers to dismiss workers ‘on suspicion of hostility to the state’. Employers responded by sacking the most prominent Communist and Socialist militants in their plants, and replacing them with unemployed workers attached to the Nazi Party, either through the SA or the party factory organisation, the NSBO. Also in early April, known Communists and Socialists were banned from holding office in the elected works’ councils. Power was vested in the hands of NSBO ‘delegates’, even though the Nazi lists had won a paltry three per cent of the total vote in the council elections held in March. At this stage of the Nazi campaign to crush the unions, Hitler found it expedient to turn his ‘left’ face towards the working class, in the shape of the NSBO. This bogus Nazi ‘union’, which even now drew its main support from the clerical workers, staged a rally at the Berlin Sportspalast at which one of its leaders and founders, Johannes Engel, attempted to outflank Leipart from the left:You [employers] are only servants. We do not recognise the employer as an employer. Without the people, you are a heap of dung...’ This tactic began to pay dividends. The less resolute and more backward workers began to turn their backs on their own organisations and drift towards the NSBO, which not only often sounded more ‘socialist’ than Leipart, but enjoyed the patronage of the government. Bending to this pressure ‘from below’ as well as from above, Leipart agreed to discussions with the NSBO leaders, which began on 5 April. On the ADGB side, they were attended by Leipart, Grassmann, Leuschner and Eggert, and for the NSBO, Muchow and Brucker. The trade union bureaucrats, even at this late stage, still believed they could bargain their way into the Third Reich. Unknown to them, however, measures were already being discussed by the top Nazi leadership to put both them and their organisations out of business for good. Robert Ley, who became head of the Labour Front when it was established on 10 May, revealed at Nuremberg after the war that the destruction of the trade unions was being planned as early as the middle of March, at a time when the Stalinists were prattling on about their integration into the fascist state. This is what Ley recounted to the Nuremberg investigators:

... the party came to power on 30 January, and in March there were to be elections... Clashes occurred between the NSBO and the trade unions, and this conflict threatened to grow worse. The labour unions had planned to use force on 1 May, but whether this is true or not I cannot possibly know. [It was certainly untrue – RB] ... That was the middle of March. I took these reports to Hitler and stated the case. Hitler told me then he had the intention of taking over the unions and dissolving them. [129]

So Leipart, Grassmann and the rest were doomed men when they began their shameful talks with the NSBO chiefs on 5 April. The only outstanding problem for Hitler was who to put in charge of the operation; Ley suggested Schumann, an NSBO official. Hitler turned this down, ‘postponed the matter for 14 days, and said that I [Ley] should keep on watching these happenings, and as soon as danger threatened, to report to him’. In ‘early April’ – at about the time the ADGB – NSBO conference took place – Ley reported to Hitler again:

I told him time was getting shorter and that the matter was becoming more and more pressing. I also gave him details of some instances where clashes had already taken place between the NSBO and the trade unions. [130]

On this occasion, Ley proposed Martin Bormann to supervise the dissolution of the trade unions, but again Hitler said no, and asked him to think the matter over. This then was the background to the talks between Leipart and the NSBO.

These talks had in fact been authorised by the Hitler cabinet on 24 March, for on that day, Goebbels entered in his diary: ‘Now the discussions with the trade unions begin. We shall not have any peace before we have entirely captured these.’ [131] Once the discussion began, it became clear who were the masters. The NSBO spokesman demanded that the ADGB leadership resign their posts to avert the collapse of their organisations, since ‘we as National Socialists have no interest in that. On the contrary, we want to create a unified trade union.’

But Leipart was not interested in a ‘unified unionnot headed by his own reformist bureaucracy. He declined to resign, and moreover demanded an end to Nazi attacks on trade union property and the persecution of trade union officials and activists. ‘You’, he retorted ‘have the intention of smashing the union.’ ‘No we do not’, was the outraged reply of the NSBO delegation. ‘It is Hugenberg who wants that.’ Not convinced by the affirmations of men who carried very little weight in the Nazi hierarchy (the NSBO was in fact one of the first victims of the capitalist consolidation of the Hitler regime), Leipart said that the violent acts of the regime against the trade unions were driving the ADGB leadership into opposition. Had Hitler acted otherwise, ‘the attitude of the trade unions towards this government would be the same as towards any previous government’. But he could not be a traitor to a movement hounded by the Nazi regime, he insisted.

Brucker tried again: ‘Adolf Hitler himself has demanded that the trade unions must not be destroyed... Every worker must be organised.’ But he was not able to satisfy Leipart that the NSBO delegation carried the full authority of the Hitler government. ‘We have no direct commission, but the Leader expects us to handle everything in the sense of the new State idea.’ In other words, no trade unions! Brucker admitted as much when he enunciated the principles of Nazi labour policy:

We do not recognise that trade union leaders must come from the unions and from the same trade as the workers. The chairman of a trade union can, for example, be a doctor. Wage negotiations with employers will not exist in the future. Wage contracts: no! Wage schedules: yes! In the future the state will regulate wages and prices.

Leipart and Grassmann rightly sensed that these proposals rendered not only the trade unions, but their bureaucracy, redundant. Grassmann declared heatedly:

The working-class leader must come from the same social class as the worker if he wants to be understood. We have the same upbringing and feel the same pressure. Even if the workers beef at their leader off and on, they know that he is their man.

To which an NSBO official, Fikenscher, answered: ‘In our shop cells all active persons have equal rights and equal obligations: the editor, the engineer, and the doctor, side by side with the worker.’ The Nazi ‘union’ of ‘workers of hand and brain’ – not the industrial and craft unions built by the German working class in struggle against the employers and the reactionary layers of the petit-bourgeoisie. Nazi ‘trade unionism’ placed on an equal footing the middle class and the industrial proletariat, subordinating the latter to the former, and, through the petit-bourgeoisie, to the big capitalists. Here, too, there was no place for the labour bureaucracy, which during the Weimar era had interposed itself between the employers and the proletariat. Now the state leaned for its mass support on the fascist middle classes, to the direct and brutal exclusion of the reformist bureaucracy. This qualitative shift in class and political relations lay behind the tensions between the NSBO and ADGB delegations at the conference of 5 April. Eggert, of the ADGB, expressed this perfectly when he declared:

In our trade unions we speak our own language which permits us to think and feel with the worker. If you try to approach the worker from the outside, you will never be able to get inside him. The stock of skilled workers will always stand behind us.

This was true, as long as there were legal trade unions for them to support (the works council elections of March 1933 demonstrated that the mass of the workers remained loyal to their persecuted organisations). But just because this was true, it was all the more necessary for the Nazis to smash the trade unions, and to put Eggert and his kind behind bars or at least out of a job.

Two days after the conference, which produced no agreement whatsoever, the Hitler government proclaimed May Day a national public holiday. A demagogic master-stroke, since no Weimar government, not even when headed by the Social Democrats, had dared to take this measure. Then on 11 April, the Christian trade union leaders made a new approach to Goebbels. They:

... ask for a deal with inept familiarity. They promise, in exchange, to order their followers to march with us on 1 May. Harmless, naive souls... They do not seem to be aware of what is really going on. Six months will not have elapsed before they are swept away, root and branch. [132]

More attacks on trade union premises followed, bringing forth yet another declaration of willingness to collaborate with the Hitler regime. Hans Ehrenteit of the Hamburg ADGB organisation stated at a local union congress on 13 April:

We are ready and able to fulfil the hopes and desires of the proletariat in the economic-social sphere in agreement with the present rulers. We do not doubt for one moment that the events of 5 March represent a revolution of enormous depth and scope; a revolution which is to surpass the liberal and capitalist economic system; a revolution putting an end to that democratic parliamentarianism which for the past few years has been so deceptive. The trade unions have built bridges to the state and to its rulers. We must now proclaim our attitude in respect of the state and the nation. This attitude will have a foundation. The best course... is to build bridges for those who, through ignorance, would wish, today more than yesterday, to destroy the trade union movement, and we hope to be able to assist in this. The function of the trade unions must be to continue to fulfil their social and economic mission. This same duty has been carried out by the present government of the Reich, and collaboration between the trade unions and the government is therefore possible. [Emphasis added]

Now the bureaucrats were even attempting to assume the protective coloration of the Nazi vocabulary in order to save their own skins and if possible, soft jobs in the union apparatus. On 15 April, the ADGB executive welcomed the Nazi government’s decision to make May Day a public holiday a festival of ‘national labour’ – while Hitler appointed Ley to head the party group charged with the liquidation of the trade unions and the seizure of their assets. On 17 April a discussion took place between Hitler and Goebbels on the trade union question:

We shall make the First of May serve as a demonstration of our German purpose. On 2 May, the houses belonging to the trade unions to be seized. This may entail a few days’ disturbance, but then they will be ours... Once the trade unions are in our hands the other parties and organisations will not be able to hold out long. [That is, the SPD, which was still nominally legal, though its press had long since been banned – RB] [133]

Naturally the ADGB leaders knew nothing of this momentous decision, though they had every reason to suspect that the end was near. On 19 April they gave new emphasis to their declaration of 15 April. Trade union members were now requested to join in the Nazi May Day festivities. The ADGB leaders themselves resolved to take part, thus completing their prostration before Hitler. They could stoop no lower. On 22 April, the last edition of the ADGB organ, Gewerkschafts Zeitung, published its official welcome to the Nazi May Day rally in words that have justly earned infamy in the annals of the German and world labour movement:

We certainly need not strike our colours in order to recognise that the victory of National Socialism, though won in the struggle against a party [the SPD] which we used to consider the embodiment of the idea of socialism, is our victory as well; because, today, the socialist task is put to the whole nation. [134]

The day prior to the publication of this statement, the NSDAP set up an ‘Action Committee’ under its chairman Ley, whose task it would be to carry out on 2 May the ‘coordination action of the free trade unions’. The leading personnel of the Action Committee were Robert Ley (Chairman), Rudolf Schmeer, (Deputy), Schumann (Commissar for the ADGB), Peppler (Commissar for the General Independent Employees Federation), Muchow (NSBO), Bank Director Müller (Commissar Director for the Bank for Workers, Employees and Officials, which the Nazis also intended to seize along with the other assets of the unions), Brinkmann (Commissar Chief Cashier), Bialles (Propaganda and Press). NSBO members were instructed to aid in the seizure operation, while ‘SA and SS are to be employed for the occupation of the trade union properties and for taking into protective [sic!] custody personalities concerned’. Targets for the operation included ‘the trade union houses and offices of the free trade unions, the party houses of the SPD in so far as trade unions are involved there; the branches and pay offices of the Bank for Workers, Employees and Officials, the District Committees of the ADGB...’. Those scheduled for arrest included ‘all trade union chairmen, the district secretaries and the branch directors of the Bank for Workers, Employees and Officials...’. Ley’s directives also included advice on the style of the operation:

The taking of the independent trade unions must proceed in such a fashion that the workers will not be given the feeling that the action is directed against them, but, on the contrary, an action against a superannuated system which is not directed in conformity with the interests of the German nation... As soon as possible mass assemblies are to be arranged for the free attendance by all trade union members. In these meetings the meaning of the action is to be set forth and it is to be explained that the rights of the workers and employees are being unequivocally guaranteed... [135]

The stage was now set for the last act in what Trotsky described as the tragedy of the German proletariat. The support of the ADGB bureaucracy for Hitler’s phoney ‘May Day’ rally in Berlin was already secured, which meant that they would bring with them hundreds of thousands of their own members. Those courageous workers who defied their own leaders also had to contend with intimidation from both the Nazis and the employers. IG Farben issued a notice on 25 April to all local managements instructing them to ensure a maximum turn out on 1 May:

The government requests that 1 May be celebrated as the holiday of national labour. Since it is essential that on this day all of Germany stands behind its government, we are asking all colleagues and associates to join the rally on this day of demonstration and thus prove our will to cooperate. To show the personnel of our plant as a uniform group, we request that you adhere to the published organisational chart of the NSBO which has been compiled in agreement with the other national agencies... [136]

The show piece of the Nazis’ ‘holiday of national labour’ was the speech by Hitler to the rally on the Tempelhofer Feld near Berlin. Goebbels ecstatically describes the scene, which he takes as proof that National Socialism has conquered both Marxism and the class struggle:

The Tempelhofer Feld teems with the multitude. Berlin is already on its way there, lock, stock and barrel, workmen and bourgeoisie, high and humble, employers and employees now these differences are obliterated... A few years ago, machine guns were rattling in Berlin. [137]

Then this petit-bourgeois cynic, himself sold lock, stock and barrel to monopoly capitalism, added with malevolent satisfaction: ‘Tomorrow we shall occupy the trade union buildings, there will be little resistance.’ There was in fact none. That had already been broken by a combination of mass terror and state persecution, aided by the treacherous policies of class-collaboration pursued by the ADGB bureaucracy and its co-thinkers in the leadership of the SPD. And supplementing them, though unwittingly, in this reactionary work had been the Stalinists, with their sectarian policy of setting up Red Unions, of isolating the vanguard from the broad mass of workers, of refusing – until it was too late – to offer a principled, genuine united front to the SPD and ADGB; not in order purely to ‘expose’ them à la Zinoviev 1924 vintage, but in order to mobilise the entire forces and organisations of the proletariat – its press, property, financial resources, fighting spirit and discipline – against the class enemy, against principally the Nazi terror bands and the monopolists who supported and financed them. This the KPD, acting under explicit orders from the ECCI leadership in Moscow, refused to do. The end result, disastrous for not only the German proletariat but the working class of the entire world, was the destruction of the German trade unions.

Loud and long were the celebrations amongst the Nazis and their capitalist cronies following the occupation of the ADGB headquarters and local offices on 2 May. Barely concealing its glee behind the obligatory veneer of radical demagogy, the Nazi Press Agency, edited by Hitler’s bourgeois friend Otto Dietrich, announced:

The first of May 1933 was the death of the hour of the Marxist class struggle. Workers from the factories, manual and intellectual workers, clerical employees, they all marched behind the Swastika banner. The folk community is here – the most splendid and exalted dream has become a reality. The working masses have testified to their faith in National Socialism. But as yet the trade associations of the German working class, the representative bodies of workers and employees, were in the hands of the Marxist leaders [by which was meant Leipart and company – RB], who did not guide the German labour movement for the benefit of the working people, but only considered it as the shock troop of their crazy international Marxist class struggle ideology. National Socialism, which today has assumed leadership of the German working class, can no longer bear the responsibility for leaving the men and women of the German working class, the members of the largest trade union organisation in the world, the German trade union movement, in the hands of the people who do not know a fatherland that is called Germany. [138]

All Leipart’s protestations of national loyalty, his severance of the ADGB’s ties with the SPD and the IFTU, had abjectly failed to appease the Nazis:

New German labour leaders have replaced the big-wigs. The proven pioneers of the NSBO, who have fought to the limit for the rights of German labour from the beginning, have taken over the leadership of the trade union associations. [This was, as we know from Ley’s directive of 21 April, merely a prelude to winding them up – RB] That proves that the struggle of National Socialism is not directed against the trade union idea as such, but against the bureaucratic leaderships, because they are the foes of the German labour movement. [As we can see, the Nazi ‘lefts’ were not averse, when the occasion demanded, to taking a leaf out of the Communists’ book, with their attacks on the union bureaucrats (Bonzen as they were called by Nazis and Stalinists alike) as traitors to the working class – RB] The old, painstakingly attained rights of the workers’ and employees’ associations will not be touched. On the contrary the new National Socialist trade union leadership will make good the harm inflicted on the German working class by class struggle and internationalism. Have confidence in the proven fighters of the NSBO! Attempts at sabotage by unscrupulous mischief makers will be avenged with the whole severity of the law. Comply with all future directives, it is a matter of your and your children’s future. Now to work! Long live Socialism! Long live Germany! [139]

The threatening tones assumed at the conclusion of this statement revealed that the ‘folk community’ of workers and employers had not been established with the finality that Dietrich would have his readers believe. The ‘social fascists’ Leipart and Grassmann, together with scores of other ADGB bureaucrats, were in custody after their arrest on 2 May. But a major task still lay ahead of the Nazi regime – the subjugation of the Marxist proletariat, which as the results of the Reichstag election of 5 March showed, still numbered at least 10 million. The enormity of this task was publicly acknowledged by Ley in his proclamation of 2 May announcing the seizure of the trade unions:

Today we are entering into the second chapter of the National Socialist revolution. You may say, what else do you want, you have the absolute power. True, we have the power, but we do not have the whole people, we do not have you workers a hundred per cent, and it is you whom we want; we will not let you go until you stand with us in complete, genuine acknowledgement. You shall also be freed of the last Marxian manacles so that you may find your way back to your people. [140]

The German proletariat denied that final pleasure to the Nazis. Betrayed by their own leaders, daunted by unprecedented terror from which there was no refuge except exile or death, the workers bowed their heads to their Nazi conquerors – but they never accepted them, nor embraced their barbarous imperialist ideology.

The Nazi message was dawning even on the most obtuse union bureaucrat – May 1933 was not August 1914. A bogus ‘national reconciliation’ for the workers – but not for their leaders:

Marxism pretends to be dead in order to plunge the Judas dagger into your back. Just as in 1914, the sly old fox doesn’t deceive us. Rather we will give him one last fatal shot so that we shall never again suffer with his resurrection. The Leiparts and Grassmanns may pretend ever so much fidelity to Hitler, but it is better that they should be in protective custody. Therefore we shall strike the main weapon out of the hands of the Marxist group and thereby take from it its last possibility of renewed strength. [141]

As for their followers, Ley posed as their true comrade and brother:

Not that we want to destroy the trade unions. Workers! Your institutions are sacred to us National Socialists, they are not to be touched. Workers! I give you my word, not only shall we preserve everything that exists, but we are going to extend the protection and the rights of the workers. [142]

Needless to say, the events of 2 May had a stimulating effect on the activities of the business community. On 5 May, Hitler declared in a speech on the winding up of the unions that:

... the Reich government has every interest in economic life becoming inwardly peaceful. All rigorous interference must and will be avoided. The economy is in a position to embark immediately on economic projects and plan a long way ahead, as the stabilisation of conditions offers the necessary guarantee. Those who commence quickly can be assured of the warmest moral support of the Reich government. Any nervousness in economic circles is quite out of place. Now that the trade union action has been carried out, a consolidation of conditions has become apparent in economic life. [Emphasis added]

The destruction of the trade unions had created an enormous void in the ranks of the German working class, and now the Nazis hastened to fill it. On 10 May, in Berlin, Hitler addressed the rally that founded the German Labour Front of Dr Robert Ley. Advance billing for the rally adopted a typical NSBO leftist slant:

For the first time in the German labour movement a concentration of all workers and employees will thus be reached and one of the greatest undertakings recorded in the history of the German working class brought to fruition.

So the despoilers of the trade unions were now depicting themselves as the true heirs to the traditions of Bebel! Hitler struck a different note at the rally. Rarely given, unlike Goebbels and Strasser, to radical, pseudo-socialist rhetoric, he praised the employers (now enrolled into the Labour Front along with their workers) as ‘god-favoured inventors, gifted organisers to whom we and our fellow countrymen owe their lives... One cannot therefore oppose the employer to the worker, but the point is that the mind [that is, the employer], as always in human affairs commands the ordinary forces [that is, the workers].’

Ley also took a ‘moderate’ line:

The trade unions will never return... You will realise that work should not merely be a means of earning wages, but that the organisations representing the German workers should become the representatives of a new state under the term, ‘the German worker’.

In the week between the seizure of the union buildings and the Berlin Labour Front rally, Ley had been busy rounding up the secondary union leaders and sequestering their union’s assets. Ley’s account is undoubtedly prejudiced and exaggerated, but it conveys the capitulationist mood that had gripped the entire bureaucracy, leading it to acquiesce in the Nazi takeover:

I myself took over the headquarters of the Free Trade Unions in Berlin. The head of the union was sitting there as if he had been waiting. The whole thing took place within four days. It was on a Monday. All the heads of the unions as well as the heads of the employers came voluntarily, altogether there were 216 different unions, and they came to the Prussian Upper House where they signed papers to the effect that all their property and funds were to go over to the new organisation... On Friday, four days later; I could report to the Führer that the taking over of the unions had taken place, and the German Labour Front was established... The head of the Free Trade Unions in Berlin told me – he sat in his chair when I came in. When I told him ‘I am taking over this’, I asked him to help me, and then he told me: ‘I am glad that you have come and we can finally have order.’ Such were conditions... Everything was done very fast. Two hundred and sixteen of them all came voluntarily to my office. I had a paper saying, ‘I turn over all rights and privileges of my organisation to the signed’, and it was finished. [143]

A dismal – and fitting – end to their careers as the betrayers of the German trade union movement. The next few days and weeks saw Ley tidying up the legal side of his campaign. On 12 May, all property and assets of the ADGB were legally confiscated. Then on 24 June, the Christian trade unions, whose leaders had been permitted to collaborate with the Nazi government, appearing with Ley at the ILU Conference in Geneva on 8 June as his tame ‘labour representatives’, were wound up and their assets made over to the Labour Front. The role of the Labour Front will be discussed in the next – the last – chapter of this book. So it remains to trace the reactions within the Stalinist movement to Hitler’s onslaught on the German trade unions, in fact to see once again how the theory of ‘social fascism’, the blind assertion that the trade unions, together with their reformist leaders, were being ‘incorporated into the state’ disarmed the vanguard in the face of the fascist offensive.

Even after the Nazi seizure of power and the beginning of the Hitler government’s attacks on the reformist leaders, the Stalinists clung stubbornly to their theory that Social Democracy and fascism were ‘twins’. Thus the Comintern publication, Guide to the Twelfth Plenum ECCI, spoke of the ‘community’ of Social Democracy with fascism, and criticised the ‘opportunist idealisation of Social Democracy as an anti-fascist force’. [144] Far more explicit, however, on the question of the reformist trade unions is the pamphlet written by Piatnitsky, The World Economic Crisis, The Revolutionary Upsurge and the Tasks of the Communist Parties. The main part of this substantial pamphlet was written after the formation of the Hitler cabinet, but prior to the Reichstag fire and the resultant banning of the KPD. Piatnitsky therefore wrote a short postscript dealing with this dramatic turn in the German situation which contains the following assertion:

In order to carry out its programme of a bloody offensive against the toilers, the ‘National Government’ is striving to annihilate the KPD, the vanguard of the working class, and to convert the Social Democrats into obedient executors of this programme. For this purpose they must transform the trade unions into a weapon for their policy... the trade union bureaucratic leaders... are of course doing their utmost to convert the Social Democratic ‘free’ trade unions into weapons of the fascist policy. [145]

These lines may seem vaguely familiar. They are indeed. They can be found, in various permutations, and with the substitution of ‘corporatist’ for ‘fascist’, in numerous articles on the alleged policies and activities of the trade union leaders in this country that have appeared in Workers Press over the last 18 months. For has not Jack Jones, leader of the T & GW, been described by Stephen Johns (perhaps, with Bull, the most enthusiastic exponent of a petit-bourgeois, radical approach to the workers’ movement and its problems) as nothing less than a ‘devoted disciple of corporatism'? And has not Royston Bull likened Feather to Robert Ley, the Nazi who put the German Feathers behind bars? [146] To return to Piatnitsky, in a sense a spiritual forefather of today’s leftists in the WRP. He was determined, despite glaring evidence to the contrary, to prove that there existed no significant antagonism between the labour bureaucracy and the fascist regime, even when it was hounding some of the former’s leading representatives into exile: ‘The fascists want to convert the German “free” and catholic reformist trade unions into corporations of fascist trade unions on Italian lines.’ [147] But in Italy, Mussolini did no such thing. He wore down by terror, and then outlawed, the trade unions, replacing them by fascist ‘syndicates’ staffed from top to bottom by hard-line fascists. It seems that rewriting the history of fascism, and of the labour movement’s struggle against it, has some long-established precedents. And that, surely, must give pause to think to those who condone the outrageous violations of Marxist theory and principles contained in the articles of Bull and Johns especially.

Even the action of 2 May 1933 did not persuade the Stalinists to look again at their ‘incorporation’ theory. The first Comintern report on the closing down of the ADGB on 2 May spoke of the ‘incorporation of the trade unions in the National Socialist system of power’ and of Leipart and company, who were by this time in ‘protective custody’, as ‘social fascist trade union leaders’. Nevertheless, there was some explaining to be done. Hitler had jailed his ‘social fascist’ allies, and wound up their unions. Without turning a hair, the author of this article continued:

Up to the last moment the social fascist trade union leaders were convinced that Hitler would graciously accept their declarations of submission and allow them to place their services at the disposal of the fascist dictatorship. They were completely surprised by the violent action of the National Socialists and still more when, in spite of their slavish capitulation, they were placed under arrest. [148]

Also ‘surprised’ were the Stalinists, who for years had been insisting stridently that Social Democracy and fascism, to quote Stalin’s famous aphorism, were not antipodes but twins.

Brave attempts were made to sustain the ‘incorporation’ theory well after the establishment of the Labour Front on 10 May. On 26 May, it was said that the ‘trade unions [have been] converted from organs of the class struggle into fascist organs’, [149] while in June, the same organ spoke of ‘the incorporation of the whole of the trade union movement in the fascist system’. [150] Perhaps here we have uncovered – at least partially – the historical and methodological origins of a theory that can still be encountered in left-wing and even Marxist circles: namely that Hitler did not destroy the German trade unions, but with the assistance of their leaders, ‘incorporated’ them into the state. The reality was far richer, as this note has tried to demonstrate. Finally, there is the question of the Stalinists’ own opportunist adaptations to Nazi pressure on the trade unions, and to the Nazi factory organisation, the NSBO.

Five years of ultra-leftism, and nearly three of ‘red unionism’ had inculcated into Communist workers some very false and potentially very reactionary notions about work in the ADGB ‘social fascist’ trade unions. This bad political education, attributable largely to the Stalinist course imposed from Moscow, but also (though to a lesser degree) to the deep tradition of sectarianism on the trade union question that first emerged in the early days of the KPD, bore its bitter fruit in the first weeks of the Nazi regime. An article in the Comintern press admitted that:

... although in recent months the RGO has been emphasising the need for wholesale enrolment in the ‘free trade unions’ of members schooled in its own ranks... RGO comrades have been tending to let themselves be enrolled for preference in the NSBO rather than join the ‘free trade unions’. In fact the hatred felt for the reformist leaders has been blinding them to recognition of the obvious truth to them as revolutionaries that even today, with the NSBO beginning to turn into a mass organisation, the ‘free trade unions’ do not lose their importance as outstanding mass organisations. Similar leanings have been observable during the shop committee elections as well. [Where the RGO candidate has been prevented from standing]... the sentiment has been created [sic!] which makes the rank and file look at things this way: Well, we're not going to vote the ‘free trade union’ ticket... [151]

So much for Stalinist ‘schooling'!

The net result of this schooling was that when faced with the choice of voting for a reformist or fascist candidate in the works council elections, many KPD workers voted for the fascist. This was the brutal logic of Stalin’s theory of ‘social fascism’.

Nor was this all. Certain KPD-controlled bodies actually voluntarily enrolled in Nazi mass formations, as was later admitted by Wilhelm Pieck at the Thirteenth ECCI Plenum of November 1933:

In the first period of the Hitler dictatorship, a number of groups of the RGO went over to the NSBO with the intention of carrying on revolutionary work in it. But their tactics... led to the discrediting of our movement, especially when it was a matter of leading functionaries in the factories. In one of the larger industrial towns, a revolutionary sports organisation allowed itself to be ‘incorporated’ by the fascists [precisely the charge levelled at the reformist trade union leaders by the Stalinists! – RB] on the ground that it could thereby remain in possession of its property. [Again, a classic Social Democratic justification – RB] They were first-rate sportsmen who obtained first prize at a fascist sports meeting and they were glad to carry on the political life of their body under the mask of ‘incorporation’. [152]

The ECCI and KPD leadership blamed the rank-and-file Communist workers for these scandalous instances of adaptation and even open collaboration with the Nazi regime. An article on the new tactics to be adopted under the Nazis which appeared in the Comintern press on 26 May 1933, said the following:

The slogan issued [by the KPD] in Germany [is]: all class conscious proletarians join the Labour Front. There exists great possibilities for strengthening the anti-capitalist elements in the NSBO. [153]

This line was reiterated on 2 June, when the same organ declared:

The class front of the workers is being formed in the NSBO cells under the slogans of the economic fight for existence. Many workers in the NSBO are acting in a Marxist manner and conducting the class struggle without being aware of it. [154]

Need more be said? The struggle against ‘social fascism’ had been transformed into a united front ‘from within’ with the Nazi ‘plebeians’. Could there be a more crushing indictment of Stalinist trade union policy in Germany than this?

Appendix II: Trotsky on Stalin’s Diplomacy

In a discussion with CLR James concerning issues raised in his book World Revolution 1917-1936, Trotsky takes issue with James one-sided estimation of Comintern policy in the period that preceded Hitler’s rise to power. While conceding that ‘the foreign policy of Moscow, and the orientation of the Social Democracy to Geneva’ could have played a role in shaping the Kremlin bureaucracy’s ultra-left turn of 1929-33, he added that ‘Stalin hoped that the KPD would win a victory’ and that ‘to think that he had a “plan” to allow fascism to come to power is absurd’. This Trotsky considered to be ‘a deification of Stalin’. In this exchange, Trotsky expressed the view that ‘Stalin sincerely wished the triumph of the KPD in 1930-33’. [155]

Here the author is bound to differ with Trotsky as he expresses himself in this discussion. There is now available considerable evidence – some circumstantial, much of it documentary – that Stalin, while not desiring necessarily or specifically a Nazi victory in Germany, certainly wished to see in power an extreme right-wing, nationalist, anti-Western regime dominated or strongly influenced by the ‘Eastern oriented’ faction in the Reichswehr High Command. Where Stalin was ‘sincere’ was in his delusion that the generals and the old nationalist politicians could control, and if needs be, oust Hitler if and when they chose. Nearly all the texts cited in support of this theory only became available after the assassination of Trotsky by a Stalinist agent in August 1940, and therefore could not enter into Trotsky’s evaluation of the question. But it is important to record here that Trotsky put a different emphasis on Stalin’s German policy on several other occasions, suggesting that in his exchange with James, in order to ‘straighten out’ the formalist distortions contained in the latter’s book, he bent the stick, in true Leninist fashion, a little the other way. For we find Trotsky saying something very different in his article calling for a new German Communist Party, which appeared in July 1933:

In its theory the KPD did not project the possibility of revolutionary development. That is because the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR wished to avoid revolutionary troubles abroad. [Which is also the contention of the present author – RB] In practical terms, the KPD proposed as the main task increasing its influence by the parliamentary path, limiting all the activity of the vanguard to the parliamentary struggle, electoral campaigns, etc. It poisoned the workers through the theory of ‘social fascism’ and, lumping everyone together as fascists (the fascist Brüning, the fascist Papen), condemned the workers to passivity. [156]

In the important analytical and programmatic document, ‘The Evolution of the Comintern’ (1936), we find an even more explicit linking of Stalin’s foreign policy with the line of the KPD in the period of the rise of National Socialism:

The absolutely inane estimation of the Social Democracy as ‘social fascism’ led to rapprochement with real fascism (programme of national and social liberation, support of the fascist referendum in Prussia in 1931, etc). This programme of adapting oneself to nationalist agitation, and the bureaucratic-cowardly evasion of a military struggle against the fascist opponent found its support in Soviet foreign policy which was solely governed by day-to-day considerations. This foreign policy saw as its task in keeping alive German-French antagonism in order thus to exclude an intervention from the West. Soviet foreign policy is, of course, absolutely justified in exploiting for its own ends the differences between imperialist powers. But it is an unheard-of crime to sacrifice the interests of the proletarian revolution to day-to-day considerations of foreign policy. [157]

Finally there are the remarks made by Trotsky to the Dewey Commission, set up to investigate the charges made at the Moscow Trials that Trotsky and other leading Bolsheviks had collaborated with Hitler to overthrow the Soviet regime. Trotsky turned the tables, showing that it was Stalin, and not he, who had come to the aid of the Nazis (thus aiding, though unwittingly, the war moves of German imperialism against the USSR):

Stalin in the first six months of 1933 hoped to keep in good relations with the fascists in Germany. I can introduce articles, my articles against him on that occasion. I quote from Izvestia about 15 March [actually 4 March] 1933: ‘The USSR is the only state which is not nourished on hostile sentiments towards Germany and that, independent of the form and composition of the Reich.’ It was Hitler who repulsed it, not he. Then only did he begin to look in the direction of France and so on. [158]

Elsewhere Trotsky asserted that shortly after Hitler’s assumption of power: ‘Stalin declared and it was repeated in the press, that “we never opposed the Nazi movement in Germany.”’ [159] We have already cited the testimonies of German diplomats, KPD leaders and a leading Soviet secret service agent to substantiate that which Trotsky said in 1936: namely that Kremlin diplomacy consciously speculated on an ultra-nationalist or Nazi victory in Germany as a means of creating divisions between the major imperialist powers in Europe. Comintern functionary Eudocio Ravines reveals in his memoirs The Yenan Way that Stalin’s order to acquiesce, if not assist, in the victory of Hitler went hard against the grain even in the highest echelons of the KPD leadership. At a Comintern meeting held in Moscow during the Spanish Civil War, Dimitrov berated the anti-Nazi activities of the underground KPD, at which point Wilhelm Pieck could not contain himself any longer:

You simply can’t talk that way! ... The time has come to speak frankly in front of all these comrades. We are sick of being told the German Communists did not fight, that they gave up without resistance. These things happened in order to prevent civil war from breaking out in Germany. The Western powers would have intervened, they would have reached the borders of the Soviet Union. [Precisely because the KPD blocked the revolution, Hitler was to reach the outskirts of Moscow and Leningrad! – RB] ... Moscow ordered us to give up. I want to clarify this here in front of these comrades, because we are being held up to ridicule... [160]

True to form, Pieck was at this time to the fore in heaping lavish praise on Kremlin diplomacy. In his message of greetings from the KPD Central Committee to Stalin on the twentieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, he wrote that the ‘German working class knows that the Soviet Union is a friend of the German people, and that it has only one desire: to preserve peace...’ ‘Preserving peace’ meant for Stalin, aiding Hitler’s bid for power. [161]

Once again, this account accords with Trotsky’s assessment of Stalinist diplomacy in the early 1930s, his exchange with CLR James (‘Johnson’) excluded. In the International Left Opposition declaration ‘On the Need for a New German Party’ (issued in the summer of 1933), the assertion is made that the KPD leaders:

... on the basis of the reactionary theory of ‘socialism in one country'... did everything possible to avoid battle, and thus permit Stalinism to practice its pernicious policy in the USSR. In its theory the KPD did not project the possibility of revolutionary development. That is because the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR wished to avoid revolutionary troubles abroad. [162]

Six years later, we find Trotsky hammering just the same point:

In 1932... Moscow’s foreign policy was entirely impregnated with a spirit of national conservatism... France, the country most interested in maintaining the Versailles peace, still remained Enemy Number One of the Kremlin. The second place was occupied by Great Britain. The United States... was in the third rank. Hitler’s coming to power did not immediately change this estimate. The Kremlin wanted, at all costs, to maintain with the Third Reich the relations which had been established with the government of Ebert and Hindenburg, and continued a noisy campaign against the Versailles Treaty... [163]

We conclude by quoting from the reminiscences of a Comintern functionary who worked in the editorial offices of Pravda at the time of Hitler’s assumption of power:

The foreign policy of the Soviet Union... viewed the antagonism between the victorious states of the First World War and defeated Germany as the indispensable condition for the existence of the Soviet Union in the ‘capitalist encirclement’. When the outlines of a Franco-German agreement began to take shape in the course of negotiations between Briand and Stresemann, this development gave rise to veritable panic in the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, because such a development might lead to a united European front against the Soviet Union. From this standpoint, the policy of the Weimar coalition... was the arch-enemy of Soviet policy. On the other hand, the policy of the nationalist opposition parties (DNVP, NSDAP) constituted a guarantee that a bloc of capitalist states would not be formed... As the Foreign Affairs Commissariat formulated its tasks, the object was to ‘drive a wedge between the capitalist states’. A nationalist government in Germany (supported by the Seeckt – Hammerstein group in the army, with whom direct links had been established since the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922) was in the opinion of leading Soviet diplomats stationed in Germany the ‘lesser evil’ in comparison with a left-wing government capable of forming a European bloc against the Soviet Union. Stalin was convinced that a right-wing government in Germany would turn its attention first of all to ‘breaking the fetters of Versailles’. [Also a KPD slogan! – RB] It would take a good deal of time before agreement with the Western states could be reached (based on German hegemony). ‘During this interval of time, the Soviet Union would put its political and economic situation on a sufficiently sound basis to be prepared for war.’ [164]

So on the balance of the evidence – and also the weight of Trotsky’s own arguments – we find for the Trotsky of 1933, 1936, 1937 and 1939 against Trotsky’s single remark to James. Only those who desire infallible and all-seeing leaders will be disturbed or outraged by such a conclusion.


1. Twenty-Five Years at the Leuna Works (a wartime IG Farben publication), cited in ‘The IG Farben Trial’, IMT, Volume 7, pp 536-40, emphasis added.

2. ‘Flick Trial’, IMT, pp 356-57, emphasis added. Steinbrinck recounts one incident which presents the SA ‘revolutionaries’ in an absurd light. Two Storm-Troop aristocrats, the Counts Helldorf and von Arnim, arrived at Steinbrink’s office to ask for a cash donation for the SA. ‘These men said they needed money because after the elections... they were going to have a torchlight procession for Hindenburg. For this purpose they wanted to buy shoes for the SA men. When we discussed this matter, they had arrived in a beautiful white car and I told them that that was a suitable car for a film star but not for poor SA officials. So I didn’t give them anything, but later they came back in a little Opel car and I gave them a thousand marks.’ ('Flick Trial’, IMT, p 351)

3. IMT, Volume 12, p 568.

4. H Schacht, My First Seventy-Six Years (London, 1955), p 295.

5. Deutsche Rundschau, July 1947.

6. The NSDAP’s demagogic adaptation to the strike movement and the ‘left’ turn necessitated by growing unrest in the SA after the failure of 13 August alienated not only the party’s big bourgeois sympathisers, but smaller employers too. Thus on 10 October, a Nazi activist amongst artisans in the shoe-making trade wrote to party headquarters: ‘The measures which the NSDAP is now adopting are crassly opposed to the interests of the employers. I am therefore compelled to resign my posts as Leader... I welcome any wage-cuts which help us return to normal conditions and deeply regret that, as well as me, many other master craftsmen are being alienated from the NSDAP because it calls on German workers to strike.’

7. J Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight (London, 1938), p 163.

8. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 164.

9. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 166.

10. Angriff, 17 November 1932.

11. Lending even greater urgency to these moves was the continued electoral decline of the NSDAP. In council elections held on 14 November in Saxony, the party suffered major reverses in the state’s three major cities: Dresden, down from 134 000 on 6 November to 104 000; Leipzig, 129 000 to 102 000; and Chemnitz, 80 000 down to 70 000. The decline accelerated in Thuringia, where on 3 December, despite a Nazi propaganda blitz to halt the slide (Hitler even taking time out from his summit negotiations to campaign there), large losses were incurred: Weimar, 12 000 down to 7000; Gera, 17 000 to 14 000; Gotha, 10 000 to 8000. These were the returns in the urban areas. Even more disturbing from Hitler’s point of view were the losses in the rural districts of the same towns, where previously the Nazi vote had been the firmest: Weimar, 21 000 to 16 000; Gera, 18 000 to 13 000. Throughout Thuringia, the Nazis lost 40 per cent of their July vote!

12. H Rauschning, Men of Chaos (London, 1942), p 220.

13. Keppler wrote to Schröder on 13 November that after a discussion between Himmler and Schacht ‘concerning earlier negotiations for the formation of a government’, Papen’s support was secured for the presentation of the petition to Hindenburg. Keppler informed Schröder: ‘As von Papen is favourably disposed towards this step (it will be submitted to him in official form before dispatch) the misgivings in many circles about signing it will disappear. It will be sent off in eight days’ time. We can also ensure that the Berliner Börsenzeitung, the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung and the Hamburger Nachrichten will come out for Hitler as Chancellor, which all add emphasis...’ (NI-209)

14. Schacht’s unstinting efforts on behalf of the Nazis did not pass unrecognised. On 21 November, the day of Hitler’s second meeting with Hindenburg, Goebbels noted in his diary: ‘In a discussion with Dr Schacht I ascertain that his views coincide with ours. He is one of the few who stand firmly by the Leader.’ (Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 172) This talk probably concerned the progress of the banker’s campaign on behalf of Hitler amongst Schacht’s numerous business contacts.

15. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Volume 11, pp 922-24, emphasis added. Listed below the petition, and generally believed to have signed it, were the following names of leading German industrialists, bankers and employers: Helferich (Hamburg-America lines, German-American Petrol Company) Krogmann (also of Hamburg-America Lines) Slomann, Witthoft (Hamburg shipping), Cuno (former Chancellor, Hamburg-America), Kiep (Hamburg-America), Albert, Much, Woermann, Schacht, Reinhardt (director Mitteldeutsche Creditbank), Schröder, Fink, Eichborn, Vögler, Haniel, Krupp, Siemens, Springorum (Hoest-Stahl Gruppe), Tischein, Janicke, Rob, Bosch, Ullrich, Lubbert, Beidorff, Reindorff, Nentzky, Kaljreuth, von Oppen, Keudell, Rabethge, Wenzel, Keyserling.

16. Testimony of Otto Steinbrinck, ‘Flick Trial’, IMT, p 358.

17. Keppler refers to their anti-Hitler activities in another letter to Schröder, dated 28 November. Whilst able to report the impasse Papen had reached in trying to reform a new Cabinet under his leadership – ‘the mood in the Wilhelmstrasse is said to be very pessimistic and it is therefore lucky that nobody any longer counts on a solution by continuing as at present’ – Keppler had less happy news concerning the activities of certain Ruhr industrialists: ‘I learn by chance that the Rhine-Westphalian organisation is working strenuously against our movement. They are said to have gone so far as to have carried out espionage in Brown House and to have sent most dangerous reports to the Chancellor and similar places.’ Others, however, had remained loyal, for Keppler thanked Schröder for his ‘efforts with the gentlemen of the Ruhr establishments. Dr Vögler’s letter came at just the right time and has been passed on to Secretary of State Meissner...’ (N1211)

18. LD Trotsky, ‘Before the Decision’ (5 February 1933), The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (New York, 1971), p 340.

19. Schleicher’s ‘social Bonapartism’ is well illustrated by his radio broadcast of 15 December, in which he gave a little with his left hand, and threatened to take back a great deal more with his right: ‘In view of the undoubted calming down of the situation I have asked the President to suspend the emergency decrees. Relying on the good sense of law-abiding citizens, the President has agreed. In doing so, he let it be known that if his expectations proved wrong, he would not hesitate to enact a severe decree in order to defend the German people. The professional agitators, as well as certain atmosphere-poisoning sections of the press, are warned that such a decree is ready in its pigeonhole for instant use. I hope that its use will be just as unnecessary as bringing in the army. I must however leave the treacherous Communist movement in no doubt that the government will not shrink from using draconian special measures against the KPD, should it abuse this easing of the bridle to increase popular opposition.’

20. Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, 5 December 1932.

21. G Noske, Aufsteig und Niedergang der Deutschen Sozialdemokratie (Zurich, 1947), p 311.

22. F von Papen, Memoirs (London, 1952), p 217.

23. Von Papen, Memoirs, p 217.

24. Schacht, My First Seventy-Six Years, p 297.

25. F Thyssen, I Paid Hitler (London, 1941), p 138.

26. Thyssen, I Paid Hitler, p 142.

27. Keppler was anxious lest past conflicts between the two should poison the atmosphere at the proposed meeting, so he wrote to Schröder on 26 December: ‘In consequence of the events of 13 August, which the Führer always took as a personal defeat, his attitude to von Papen was, for a long time, very bad. I have always interceded with him for von Papen and against von Schleicher; the feeling became better with time and he is said to have taken well the recently expressed wish [for a conference]. I hope that your adroitness will succeed in removing the last obstacles to the conference.’

28. Von Neurath, who served under Papen, Schleicher and Hitler, explained his motives for joining Hitler’s cabinet to the Nuremburg tribunal: ‘The development of party relations in 1932 had come to such a head that I was of the opinion that there were only two possibilities. Either there would have to be some participation of the NSDAP in the government, or should this demand be turned down, there would be civil war.’ Neurath revealed that while German Ambassador to Rome in the Weimar era, he overcame his ‘initial sharp disagreements’ with Mussolini, and their relations developed into one of ‘confidence on his part towards me’.

29. Statement of Baron K von Schröder, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Volume 2, pp 922-24, emphasis added. Otto Dietrich placed a high value on the importance of Hitler’s 4 January meeting with Papen and Schröder. In the car with Hitler after the conference, he ‘sensed that... [Hitler] was extremely satisfied with the success of his mysterious mission. We had no idea that on this day our leader had advanced the course of events in Cologne, and had made the moment of decision even more imminent.’ (O Dietrich, With Hitler on the Road to Power (1954), pp 61-62) Thyssen is equally emphatic on this point: ‘Whether... [Hitler] could have succeeded in his legal conquest of the Chancellorship without Papen’s help is a matter of speculation. At any rate, the prospects of the party at the time were particularly poor. The Nazis had suffered great losses at the last Reichstag elections... Moreover the secession of Gregor Strasser and his group would have weakened not only the party but the SA organisations. It is certain that huge expenditures had completely exhausted the Nazi Party’s funds. This was also the reason why Herr von Papen arranged the meeting between Adolf Hitler and the Cologne banker von Schröder. The party finances, which at that time were threatening to reduce the party to an unbearable position, had to be remedied. Its subsequent success in obtaining the necessary funds was complete.’ (Thyssen, I Paid Hitler, p 146) And on 17 January, Goebbels observed: ‘The financial position has improved all of a sudden.’ (Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 200)

30. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 194.

31. Völkischer Beobachter, 5 January 1933, emphasis added.

32. ‘From Papen’s Plans to Revive the Economy to Schleicher’s Programme’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 1, 5 January 1933, pp 5-6.

33. T Neubauer, ‘The Schleicher Cabinet on Uncertain Ground’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 2, 12 January 1933, pp 32-33.

34. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 198.

35. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 199.

36. This was the agrarian aid programme launched in 1927 to rescue insolvent, mainly small East Prussian farms. In practice, nearly all the vast sums involved were lavished on the Junkers, the biggest landowners of them all. Hindenburg’s son Oskar had been prominent in these shady dealings, and this was to prove a useful lever in securing his collaboration with the Nazis in persuading his father to appoint Hitler Chancellor.

37. The Ribbentrop Memoirs (London, 1954), pp 22-23.

38. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 200.

39. The Answers of Ernst von Salamon (London, 1954), pp 107-08.

40. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 200.

41. T Neubauer, ‘Schleicher Plans to Reshuffle Cabinet’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 3, 19 January 1933, p 53.

42. The Ribbentrop Memoirs, p 23.

43. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 201.

44. T Neubauer, ‘Schleicher Plans to Reshuffle Cabinet’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 3, 19 January 1933, p 54.

45. H Goering, Germany Reborn (London, 1934), pp 111-12.

46. The Ribbentrop Memoirs, p 23.

47. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 202.

48. Quoted in Die Anti-Faschistische Aktion (East Berlin, 1965), pp 332-34.

49. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 202.

50. As related by M Buber-Neumann, Von Potsdam nach Moskau (Stuttgart, 1957), p 294.

51. Buber-Neumann, Von Potsdam nach Moskau, p 294.

52. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, pp 202-03.

53. B Steinemann, ‘The National Socialist Parade in Berlin’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 4, 26 January 1933, p 89.

54. Dietrich, With Hitler on the Road to Power, p 65.

55. The Ribbentrop Memoirs, p 23.

56. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 204.

57. Papen, Memoirs, p 236.

58. JV Stalin, ‘Results of the First Five-Year Plan’ (7 January 1933), Works, Volume 13, pp 173-74. Stalin conceives of the international class struggle as a debate between the bourgeoisie and proletariat which is being resolved purely within the state frontiers of the USSR: ‘... the capitalist countries are pregnant with the proletarian revolution, and that precisely because they are pregnant with the proletarian revolution, the bourgeoisie would like to find in a failure of the Five-Year Plan a fresh argument against revolution; whereas the proletariat, on the other hand, is striving to find, and indeed does find, in the success of the Five-Year Plan a fresh argument in favour of revolution and against the bourgeoisie of the whole world.’ (p 173) That the survival and development of the Soviet economy does play a beneficial role in the struggle of workers in the capitalist countries is not in dispute. However, what the theory of socialism in one country does deny is the reciprocal relations of national and world economy, and, with them, the dominant part played by the latter.

59. V Molotov, Report to Central Committee of CPSU, 23 January 1933.

60. The Ribbentrop Memoirs, p 24.

61. The Ribbentrop Memoirs, pp 23-24.

62. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 204.

63. The Ribbentrop Memoirs, p 24.

64. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 204.

65. The Ribbentrop Memoirs, pp 24-25.

66. The Ribbentrop Memoirs, p 25.

67. The Ribbentrop Memoirs, pp 25-26.

68. The Ribbentrop Memoirs, p 26.

69. Von Papen, Memoirs, p 241.

70. E Torgler, Letter, 30 January 1942.

71. Vorwärts, 31 January 1933.

72. F Brand, ‘Hitler Chancellor of Germany’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 5, 2 February 1933, p 118.

73. ‘Moscow-Berlin 1933: Interview with an Ex-Insider’, Survey, no 44-45, October 1962, p 163. ‘Ex-Insider’ is a former KPD official and staff member of Pravda, the CPSU official daily organ.

74. Moscow-Berlin 1933: Interview with an Ex-Insider’, Survey, no 44-45, October 1962, p 163.

75. Documents on German Foreign Policy, Series C, Volume 1, pp 6-7, emphasis added.

76. The Times, 31 January 1933.

77. Manchester Guardian, 1 February 1933.

78. Manchester Guardian, 1 February 1933.

79. Documents on German Foreign Policy, Series C, Volume 1, pp 15-16.

80. Vorwärts, 2 February 1933.

81. Die Rote Fahne, 2 February 1933.

82. T Neubauer, ‘The Dissolution of the Reichstag’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 6, 9 February 1933, pp 149-50.

83. Vorwärts, 8 February 1933.

84. ‘Ex-Insider’, ‘Moscow-Berlin 1933’, Survey, no 44-45, p 164.

85. Le Petit Journal, 10 February 1933.

86. Vorwärts, 12 February 1933.

87. Bolshevik, 15 February 1933.

88. Unsere Zeit, 15 February 1933.

89. Liberals and others who might fondly believe that Goering’s savagery is attributable to a special ‘Germanic’ barbarism should be reminded of the words of Colonel Smyth, Divisional Commissioner for Munster at the time of the Irish war of independence. He told his police on 17 June 1920: ‘You may make mistakes occasionally, and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped, and you are bound to get the right parties some time. The more you shoot, the better I will like you, and I assure you no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man.’

90. JV Stalin, ‘Report to Seventeenth CPSU Congress’ (26 January 1934), Works, Volume 13, pp 308-09, emphasis added. This statement caused great excitement in Berlin, as it was taken that despite the butchery of German Communists, Stalin still desired friendly relations with Hitler. On 30 January 1934, Hitler gave his answer to Stalin, in a speech to the Reichstag on the first anniversary of the Third Reich: ‘... in spite of the great difference of the two forms of philosophy, the German Reich continued to endeavour in this year [that is, 1933] to cultivate friendly relations with Russia. As Mr Stalin in his last great speech expressed the fear that forces hostile to the Soviet might be active in Germany, I must correct this opinion by stating here that Communistic tendencies or even propaganda would be no more tolerated in Germany than National Socialist tendencies in Russia. The more clearly and unambiguously this fact becomes evident, and is respected by both parties, the easier will be the cultivation of the interests common to both countries.’

91. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 223.

92. Goering, Germany Reborn, pp 128-33.

93. J Valtin, Out of the Night (New York, 1941), pp 403-04.

94. G Hilger and A Mayer, The Incompatible Allies (New York, 1953), p 252. Leading German diplomat Gustav Hilger will write later of this cynical episode: ‘... during the first five or six months of Hitler’s rule we noted marked efforts at restraint in the Soviet press. While Hitler was rooting out the entire KPD apparatus which Moscow had spent so much care and money to build up, considerations of Soviet foreign policy retained paramount importance in the minds of Russia’s leaders to such an extent that willingness to go on with Germany as before was expressed again and again. Such persons as Krestinsky, Litvinov and Molotov went out of their way to assure us that their government had no desire to reorient its foreign policy. The chief of the German Division in the Foreign Commissariat, Stern, went so far as to tell us that the French had more than once asked Moscow to join the free world in its condemnation of the new government of Germany, and still the Soviet press had, in the main, refrained from unfavourable comments.’ (Hilger and Mayer, The Incompatible Allies, pp 255-56)

95. The Times, 2 March 1933.

96. Manchester Guardian, 4 March 1933.

97. The Times, 3 and 4 March 1933.

98. Pravda, 3 March 1933, emphasis added.

99. W Knorin, ‘The Barometer Indicates Storm’, Communist International, Volume 11, no 5-6, 14 March 1933.

100. Documents on German Foreign Policy, Series C, Volume 1, p 114.

101. Pravda, 7 March 1933.

102. Izvestia, 7 March 1933.

103. ‘For a United Front Against Fascism’, ECCI resolution, Labour Monthly, Volume 15, no 4, April 1933.

104. Directives on the United Front, 18 December 1921.

105. LD Trotsky, ‘The Tragedy of the German Proletariat’ (14 March 1933), The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, pp 375-84.

106. Manchester Guardian, 14 March 1933.

107. Manchester Guardian, 29 March 1933.

108. ‘The Collapse of Weimar Germany and the Preparation for the German October’, Communist International, Volume 11, no 7, 15 April 1933, pp 211-13.

109. 2962-PS.

110. 2962-PS.

111. Völkischer Beobachter, 23 March 1933.

112. In a speech delivered to agrarian leaders on 5 April 1933, Hitler is even more candid about the role of the peasantry in raising the Nazis to power: ‘Believe me, the resurgence which we have just lived through would not have been possible if a part of the people in the countryside had not always been in favour of our movement. It would have been impossible in the cities alone to conquer these starting points which have given us in our action the sanction of legality.’

113. Manchester Guardian, 28 March 1933.

114. The Times, 25 March 1933.

115. A Hitler, Mein Kampf (London, 1943), pp 603-05, emphasis added.

116. Royston Bull, ‘Revolution or Reform’, Workers Press, 30 June 1973, p 8, emphasis added.

117. Royston Bull, ‘Casual Labour for the Post Office’, Workers Press, 25 August 1973, p 4, emphasis added.

118. Royston Bull, ‘Casual Labour for the Post Office’, Workers Press, 25 August 1973, p 4.

119. Royston Bull, ‘Feather Boosts Corporate State’, Workers Press, 9 May 1973, p 1.

120. Royston Bull, ‘Feather Boosts Corporate State’, Workers Press, 9 May 1973, p 1, emphasis added.

121. M Farrow, ‘Watergate and Revisionism’, Bulletin, 5 February 1974, p 7.

122. Gewerkschafts Zeitung, 25 March 1933.

123. Statement, 17 November 1945, 2334-PS.

124. 2330-PS.

125. 2330-PS.

126. Metallarbeiter Zeitung, 1 April 1933.

127. Bergbauindustrie, 18 March 1933.

128. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 223.

129. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Supplement B, p 1514, emphasis added.

130. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Supplement B, p 1514.

131. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 236.

132. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 245, emphasis added.

133. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 246, emphasis added.

134. Gewerkschafts Zeitung, 22 April 1933.

135. All extracts from Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Volume 3, pp 380-82.

136. IG Farben Trial, p 570.

137. Goebbels, My Part in Germany’s Fight, p 252.

138. O Dietrich, ‘The End of Marxist Class Struggle’, NSK, no 381, 2 May 1933, p 1.

139. O Dietrich, ‘The End of Marxist Class Struggle’, NSK, no 381, 2 May 1933, p 2.

140. Proclamation by the Action Committee for the Protection of German Labour, 2 May 1933.

141. Proclamation by the Action Committee for the Protection of German Labour, 2 May 1933.

142. Proclamation by the Action Committee for the Protection of German Labour, 2 May 1933.

143. Statement, 6 October, 1945, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, p 1517.

144. ECCI, Guide to the Twelfth Plenum ECCI, p 66.

145. O Piatnitsky, The World Economic Crisis, The Revolutionary Upsurge and the Tasks of the Communist Parties (London, 1933), p 113, emphasis added.

146. Workers Press, 9 May 1973, p 1.

147. Piatnitsky, The World Economic Crisis, p 120.

148. International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 21, 12 May 1933, pp 460-61.

149. International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 23, 26 May 1933, p 502.

150. International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 24, 2 June 1933, p 521.

151. ‘Revolutionary Trade Union Work under Fascist Terror’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 20, 5 May 1933, p 445.

152. W Pieck, ‘We are Fighting for a Soviet Germany’, Thirteenth ECCI Plenum Reports, pp 11-17.

153. International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 23, 26 May 1933, p 504, emphasis added.

154. International Press Correspondence, Volume 13, no 24, 2 June 1933, p 521, emphasis added.

155. LD Trotsky, ‘On the History of the Left Opposition’ (April 1939), Writings of Leon Trotsky (1938-39) (New York, 1969), p 62.

156. ‘A New German Party’ (9 July 1933), Documents of the Fourth International (New York, 1973), p 53, emphasis added.

157. ‘The Evolution of the Comintern’, Documents of the Fourth International, p 125, emphasis added.

158. The Case of Leon Trotsky (New York, 1968), p 293.

159. The Case of Leon Trotsky, p 311.

160. Cited in C Stern, Ulbricht (London, 1965), p 93, emphasis added.

161. The World Hails the Twentieth Anniversary of the Soviet Union (Moscow, 1938), p 183.

162. ‘On the Need for a New German Party’, Documents of the Fourth International, pp 52-53, emphasis added.

163. LD Trotsky, ‘The Kremlin In World Politics’, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1938-39), p 30, emphasis added.

164. ‘Ex-Insider’, ‘Moscow-Berlin 1933’, Survey, no 44/45, October 1962, p 161.