When the Stalinists are accused of assassinating the German working class struggle they explain that on various occasions between 1925 and 1933 they proposed a United Front with the German Social -Democrats. Their assertions in this matter must be correlated to their charge against the Social Democrats in 1924 of being the enemy of the working-class and in 1928 of being the Social-Fascists.
The indictment of Social Democracy as a political principle or organization is correct. Social Democracy has ever been the enemy of working-class struggle and was so in the days when William Liebknecht organized the famous union of Marxians and Lassalleans, and Engels flirted with the alliance whilst Marx denounced the Anarchists and in most instances wrongly denounced them.
This acknowledgment of a simple political fact does not mean to say that the Social Democratic worker has any more to gain from the perpetuation of capitalist society — or is any less its fundamental class enemy — than the Communist or Anarchist worker.
The approaches that the Stalinists made towards the Social Democrats were always party political approaches concealing the jealous struggle between two parties for political power. The approaches were never class approaches seeking to liquidate the various factions and political sections in the struggle towards emancipation of the working class. They were merely expressions of the Stalinist zig-zag policy forced on the Communist Party by the realities of life itself. They condemned the entire program of the Comintern and were actually a mockery of the working-class struggle.
Here are the occasions on which the Communist Party sought a United front with the German Social Democrats : —
1925.- Prussian Parliamentary Group of the C. P. offered to unite with the Social Democratic members in a concentration of all forces to fight the Monarchist danger. They proposed that joint demands should be put forward for the cleansing of the Courts, police and army of Monarchists. On the Berlin City Council the C. P. and the S.D.P. Were in a majority. Here the C. P. urged the united program. It is obvious that these advances were unreal and fantastic. There was no Monarchist danger. The suggestion was merely so much clamor that concealed the rising Fascist danger which had nothing in common with the old Monarchy. The Municipal alliance would have been purely revisionistic and quite unreal. Further, the Social Democrats had the feeling, quite rightly, that the purpose of these approaches was not to advance the cause of the workers, but to dispossess the Social Democrats of their place and pelf, and to secure positions and careers for the Communist Party leaders. The latter were merely disgruntled Social Democrats who believed that since the old Social Democrat movement was living under the shadow of failure, their careerism would be advanced more rapidly if they sheltered beneath the flag of the Russian Revolution. They hoped to gain from the greater glamour.
1926.- In January the C. P. asked the Social Democratic leaders to unite in a plebiscite on the question of returning property to the former German royalty. The Social Democrats did not agree until the campaign was over, and then reversed their decision by moving in Parliament that payment be made to the ex-Kaiser. This issue was altogether unreal and purely political. It had no relation to the Social Revolution, since the revolution destroys the property system itself.
It is quite true that Socialism or Communism should be opposed to royalty on principle, but it is a known fact that in Britain, Walter Newbold (when Communist M.P. for Motherwell) defended the oath of allegiance to the British Monarchy with the approval of the Communist Party, and in terms much more subservient than those employed by George Lansbury, who at least did not disguise his final republican ambition. Saklatvala also as Communist M.P. for Battersea defended the allegiance to Monarchy.
The German C. P. proposal was purely demonstrative and designed to serve the interests of the party as distinct from the workers. It was political opportunism, and had no relation to the economic class struggle.
1928.- The C.P. called on the Social Democracy, with some local successes, despite official Social Democratic prohibitions, to organize joint May Day demonstrations. This again was purely a struggle for party political careerism and the control of working-class organization. It argued no belief in unity on the part of the C.P., and the refusal to participate did not imply that the Social Democrats were opposed to unity. Indeed, the refusal of the Social Democrats, although dictated by similar motives to those which inspired the approach of the Communists and by no ideas of abstract honor, was the more honorable of the two attitudes. Again it was not a question of working-class unity but of the birds of prey hovering over the carcass.
In October, the C.P. invited the Social Democrats to join in the plebiscite against the building of a German cruiser. In view of the revelations contained in another chapter of this work, revealing how Soviet Russia armed the German bourgeoisie and how Bucharin defended that arming at the Comintern, and Clara Zetkin defended the arming in the Reichstag, this gesture was sheer hypocrisy.
Between 1929 to 1932, the Communist Party made repeated proposals to the Social Democrats for a United Front against wage-cuts effected by compulsory arbitration. All these proposals were rejected.
The above record of approaches to unity is the Communist Party reason for declaring that the Social Democrats prepared the way to Fascism and were the enemies of the working-class. The reason for making these approaches was said to be that the Communist Party was not strong enough to organize the working-class without the aid of the Social Democrats.
In reply to this statement, it may be asked how, if the Social Democracy was the enemy in 1924, and was Social Fascism in 1928, the Social Democracy could be expected to organize the working-class against capitalism. If the Communist Party had been a revolutionary party, its line of conduct and strategy is perfectly clear. It should definitely have attacked the Social Democratic leadership and the Social Democratic organization, but it should not have attempted to undermine that leadership by intrigue. It should have attacked the leadership, but its own rank and file should have welcomed as comrades in the real issues of economic and social life the rank and file members of the Social Democratic movement.
The Russian Revolution knew how to win over the soldiers of the White Army invaders. It knew how to defeat Deniken’s army and to win over its regiments. It knew how to defeat the Cossacks when called out by the counter-revolution against the starving people and to win over the individual Cossack. Despite his reputation as a soldier and expIorer, and he was both, the revolution knew how to defeat Kolchak, win over his army, and have him made prisoner by his own troops, who executed him for counter-revolution.
If the revolution knew how to do this why could not the Communist Party in Germany, with its Russian traditions and influence, win over the rank and file of the Social Democracy. Had it been the movement of the working-class, had it been the spontaneous movement of the masses, it would have destroyed the Social Democratic party and captured its every local for Socialism and Communism. But the German Communist Party was not the movement of the workers. Despite its parades of the Iron Front, despite its wild talk about civil war, it was a political party, highly centralized, inspired by careerism and not by proletarian class struggle. Its purpose was not to destroy the Social Democratic party by struggle but to overthrow it by competition. It wanted capitalism to remain. It wanted Parliamentarism. It wanted careerism. But where yesterday the members of the Reichstag were Social Democrats, to-day and to-morrow they were to be Communist Deputies. And so careerism wrecked the revolution ; careerism dictated by ‘lie bureaucrats of the Comintern, careerism dictated by the I ricnds of Chiang Kai Shek, careerism dictated by the Moscow allies of the Kulaks, careerism that defended State Capitalism with the absurd cry: “ Socialism in One Country.”
The case against the Social Democrats of Germany from 1924 onwards was a strong one. No indictment could be too severe. In 1924, there was an anti-Fascist demonstration of 10,000 workers at Halle. They were fired on and many were killed and wounded by the police under the orders of a Social Democratic Chief Constable, with the agreement of a Social Democratic Governor, and the official concurrence of a Social Democratic Home Secretary or Minister for the Interior, Severing. This sort of conduct continued until Social Democracy was supplanted by Fascism.
On May Day, 1929, in Berlin, the Social Democratic Chief of Police, Zoergibel, prohibited demonstrations for the first time in the history of the German Labor Movement since the days when Most, William Liebknecht and Bebel were imprisoned under the anti-Socialist laws of Bismarck. Thirty-three workers were shot in the streets of Berlin.
Between 1929 and 1932, the Social Democrats supported three successive capitalist governments which ruled in defiance of Parliament and so prepared the way for Hitlerism. These were the governments of Bruning, Papen and Schleicher. The Social Democrats also supported President Von Hindenburg, when he was obviously preparing the way for Fascism by saying that it represented the lesser evil. During this period the Social Democrats supported the governmental policy of wage-cuts.
In the winter of 1930, the Social Democrat, Severing, defended the “ Law for the Defense of the Republic “ before the Nazis. He explained that it was not directed against them but against demonstrations of the masses. His conduct established the sincerity of his explanation.
In July, 1932, the first semi-Fascist government of Von Papen was established. On the eve of the 20th of this month the CC. of the German Communist Party adopted a resolution, as it said, “ before the proletarian public.” This resolution was addressed to the S.P.D., that is, the Social Democrats, to the Alpha-Bund, and to the A.D.G.B., and asked these parties if they were “ prepared to carry out, together with the Communist Partly, the General Strike for the proletarian demands.”
The strange thing about this resolution is that on July 20, 1932, the Communist Party regarded the Social Democrats as a proletarian party. But on July Ist, 1932, they refused to consider the Social Democrats as a proletarian body, but denounced them as Social-Fascists and declared that only the “ United Front from below “ was possible. They repeated this declaration on August 1st, 1932.
In the Daily Worker (America), Bela Kun, the Hungarian strategist, describes how the German Communist Party appealed to the leadership of the Social Democracy for a United Front against the Fascist terror on the date given, namely, July 20th, 1932. This is in the issue of The Worker for September 21st, 1934. Continuing his life story, Bela Kun three days later answers the question why the Communists did not make the offer to the Social Democratic parties before the Fascist danger in Germany was an immediate one. He admits that no genuine proposal for unity was made in the following answer to this self-posed question.
” We answer as follows:
... To propose a united front at that time to the party leadership of Wels, Severing, Braun, Leipart and the rest would indeed have been purely a maneuver designed to unmask them.... This would not only have been a maneuver; it would have been a stupid maneuver.”
In the face of this declaration of what consequence is the C.P. argument that they renewed this offer of a United General Strike on January 30, 1933, against the first Hitler government and repeated it on March 1st of the same year on the eve of the State elections. Of what consequence is the further explanation that in June 1932, the C.P. members of Parliament offered the United Front to the Social Democrats for the Socialist control of Parliament.
If the Social Democrats were not Socialists and had no Socialist policy, how could there be a Socialist control of Parliament? And what is the worth of a Socialist control of parliament if there remains a capitalistic control, of industry? The very declaration self-exposes lthe politician and presents us with an apology of a counter-revolutionist.
The Stalinists declare that owing to Social Democratic treachery, the conditions for a successful revolution did not exist in Germany in January and March, 1933. But what of the years of Communist Party pretense, the speeches in Moscow, the war on the K.A.P.D., the ineffective political posing; before the marionettes of the Comintern.
Trotsky has devoted four pamphlets to this question of the German Communist Party debacle. The subject is dealt with very thoroughly in his “ What Next? “ and “ The Only Road,” both of which are obtainable in English.
Germany is the key country in Europe. After the Paris Commune it gave us parliamentary Socialism, and down to the outbreak of the world war dominated socialist thought and activity. After the Russian revolution Germany recovered its importance in relation to proletarian struggle. Had Germany turned Soviet in 1918, had Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg triumphed, the whole civilized world would have been plunged into the class struggle, and the battle would have been fought on the streets of the cities and in the villages, of Soviets or Parliament, of Soviets or bureacracy, of world socialism or world capitalism. Leibknecht and Luxembourg were assassinated by the social democracy they had pioneered, and German capitalism scored its first victory.
In 1923, the German revolutionary forces tamely surrendered to the reaction, and a decisive turning point was reached in the revolutionary struggle in Europe. Huge demonstrations and meetings were held in the Soviet Union to support the German proletarian revolution that the Cornintern had forbidden to take place. These meetings were held purely for the purpose of camouflage, and to prevent the Russian worker from becoming restless. Actually, the capitalist world was able to breathe deeper and freer. Within ten years it was clear that the class struggle in Germany had reached a crisis, and that the issue must now be fought of world communism or world fascism.
Despite the assassinations of Liebknecht and Luxembourg, despite the terrible Social Democratic betrayals, the German working-class still ranked as the most powerful and the most important in all Europe. It was reputed to have a high intellectual level. It was versed in the doctrines of Karl Marx, which does not say too much for the doctrines of that gentleman.
Contrary to the logic of Marxism the German workers had loyally experienced war, and had emerged from the capitalist battlefield to pass through three revolutions. They were thoroughly industrialized. Six millions of them had voted communist, and eight millions had voted socialist in the last election against Fascism. If parliamentarism signified anything, fourteen million workers stood behind the doctrines of Socialism. Against them was a ruling class that had lost the war, lost its Kaiser, and lost its business prestige and tradition of ruling. The ruling class army was limited to 100,000 men. In addition to this small standing army the ruling class had some political troops like those of the Nazis of Hitler. They were mainly students, youth without military experience, declassed petty bourgeoise and lumpen proletarian elements. This combination of trash could not be considered a match for the well organized war heroes and industrially trained workmen. Yet this inexperienced scum of reaction defeated overwhelmingly and crushed mercilessly the strongest working class in the world. The wonderful German Communist Party, with its much boasted storm troops, 250,000 strong, gave up without a fight.
Whilst this disgraceful capitulation was taking place, the Communist International printed no news of the events, called no emergency Congress, and opened no discussion on the matter. Stalinism no longer considered that the safety of the Soviet Union depended upon the international proletariat. The era of revolution had given place to that of diplomacy, and the Communist International had served its historic purpose of assassinating the world revolution. The death of the German revolutionary movement was the sign, according to the ordinary political revolutionary calendar then in vogue, that the world revolution had been but a dream that was ended. If the world revolution should yet prove to be a reality it will be no thanks to Stalinism or to the old socialist philosophy; it will be because these savants, or professional wise-men of the revolution, worked accord ing to the wrong calendar. In the cant term of the Trotskyist and Stalinist discussions, thev did not understand the tempo of events. Perhaps that explains how they prepared the monumental betrayal of the German and international proletariat by the pursuit of a false line of policy from almost the first day of the forming of the communist International. It is noticeable, as contrasted with the demonstrations in the Soviet Union of 1923, no anti-Nazi demonstration took place in the U.S.S.R. before or after Hitler’s rise to power.
In 1929, the Communist Party split the German Trade Unions. It did not argue, as Communists are entitled to argue that Trades Unionism does not express the Class War but the commodity struggle. It did not take its stand against the Trades Unions because they were reformist organizations. It entered into competitive reformism and, withdrew their members and sympathizers from the established Trade Unions. The Trade Unions were 8,000,000 workers strong and they were controlled by the avowed reformists and careerists of the Socialist Party. The Communist Party withdrew 300,000 members and organized into their own paper unions. This did not develop the revolutionary movement but isolated nominally Communist workers from Socialist workers. The power of the careerists of the Socialist movement was cemented and the so-called Communists were left to organize little sectarian groups in each factory or industrial center. This was not making war on Social Democratic careerism. This was not inspiring the workers by promulgating a new principle. It was only splitting the workers on the field of industry and causing them to lose battle after battle. It was the disaster of intrigue and not the advance of revolution.
Proceeding with their party warfare against the Socialist Democratic party, the Communist Party declared that the chief enemy of the German workers was not Fascism but Social Democracy. The Communist Party may have offered a United Front to the Social Democrats, but to the workers they issued the slogan that the first task of the working-class struggle was to destroy the Socialist movement, the so-called Social-Fascists. If anyone visualizes the organization of Ihc Labor movement, the gathering of actual workers in the small local halls, one must realize, however great the indictment may be of the careerist leaders, that to denounce the working-class locals of the Socialist movement as gatherings of Fascists is the quintessence of absurdity. The result of this absurd slogan was the complete sectarian division of the workers themselves which spread among the laboring masses like some unholy religious war. The Fascists had an easy time developing their movement owing to this incapacity of the Communist Party for revolutionary understanding and revolutionary struggle. The Fascists shot Socialist workers in the street and if the Communist Party did not actually applaud it most certainly did not protest. The Fascists shot Communist workers on the street and of course the Socialists made no protest.
The next step in this strange revolutionary struggle, which emphasizes Bakunin’s point that a social revolution must not be regarded as a political revolution and must not be dominated by the metaphysics of party dogma, was the deliberate alliance of the Communists with the Fascists to destroy parliamentary Socialism and to place the Fascists in power.
In 1930 the referendum was taken to decide the question whether the Landtag, that is the Prussian Parliament, should be abolished. The Communists voted — with the Fascists — against the Socialists and Democrats. Had the Communists and Fascists really won and had the German Parliament been abolished, the result would have been not the establishment of Soviets, but the erection of a Fascist dictatorship.
Everyone knows that the Versailles Treaty was a damnable piece of reaction. Its menace to proletarian development was that it inspired inevitably German militarism and a German war spirit and made that militarism seem a radical expression of Justice. It was the function of Communists to understand this treaty and to explain it in relation to the class struggle. The German Communists took up the slogan “ Gegen Versailles “ (Against the Versailles Treaty) and so made a United Front with the Nazis. This completely destroyed the class struggle. The Communists made this slogan their chief watchword and so catered to those reactionary national prejudices to which the Nazis were appealing and the result of which made inevitable the rise of hascism. Instead of preaching a German revolution and challenging the capitalist countries to make war on the proletarian Social Revolutionary struggle in Gerrnany, thereby casting aside all capitalist treaties and the diplomats of Europe, the Communists taught the German masses that they were to unite with their capitalist foes within the country to make war on the capitalist enemy of the country. Of what country? The German Fatherland, the German capitalist country, the country that enslaved the workers of Germany. And so, the Communist Party aped the Fascists and raised the slogan of a Folks’ Revolution, a People’s Revolution. And this criminal folly was indulged by the alleged extreme disciples of Marx in the most advanced industrial country of Europe, in which the Capitalist Republic could have been overthrown and some suggestion of a proletarian state established.
The Communists forgot that the mass of the workers were behind the Socialist Party and that the only way to undermine the Socialist Party was incessant propaganda, more powerful revolutionary struggle, real proletarian appeals to the workers, and not flamboyant ultimatums, senseless parades without force or courage, and the hundred and one theatrical activities in which the Communist Party loved to indulge. When they should have been preparing for revolution, the Communists evinced their hopeless reformism by parading against wage-cuts. It was easier to rally the masses to such parades. It was easier and so thoroughly futile. The Communist Party did the same thing in America during the interlude between two world wars, with its hunger marches and it did the same thing in Britain. It termed these anti-wage-cuts and anti-dole-cuts parades revolution, whereas such protests did not touch the fringe of the question.
In Britain we witnessed the complete transformation of the workers’ insurance system and the Poor Law of Public Assistance. We had the complete destruction of local government in the administration of unemployed relief and we had established the Board which is virtually a Court of Administration, the members of which are non-responsible to Parliament, receive judges’ salaries, and are appointed by Royal Warrant. The Communist Party protested not against the establishment of such Courts, which is Fascism in local government and is part of the general Fascist undermining of Democracy, but only against the dole cuts that marked the first steps of this administration.
The German Communists forgot that the workers were en masse behind the Socialist Party until the time came to apologize for the triumph of Hitlerism. Then it remembered in order to excuse. But what had the Communist Party been doing since 1919 and what was the worth of all its braggadocio when reporting the triumphs of the Communist Party over the Socialist Party to Moscow? The way to destroy the Socialist Party was to unite all working-class organizations against Fascism and to leave the leadership of the Social Democracy high and dry, its yellow color betrayed in the time of crisis, as on the occasion when it voted for Hindenburg.
The result of this Communist Party intrigue and inability to distinguish between a party dictatorship and the class struggle, between party political aspirations and proletarian social revolution, was to place Hitler and his gunmen in power in Germany in March, 1933, to destroy all working-class and all radical thought organization; to see the Trade Unions smashed to bits, their buildings seized, their treasuries confiscated ; to have the Socialist and Communist parties dissolved, and to have all proletarian elements of struggle driven underground. Thousands of Communists and Socialists were killed. Tens of thousands were jailed and held in concentration camps. Others were brutally beaten and terrorized throughout the land. Stalin declared during this period of Socialist collapse that everything was going along as predicted, that the Social Revolution was right ahead in Germany, that Leninism and the Communist International were vindicated.
The events in Germany were the turning point of the world proletarian struggle. They ended the epoch of Social Democracy. So far as the proletariat of Britain and the English speaking countries of the world were concerned the European struggle ceased to count. It gave the British workers no political backing, no organizational hope.
In 1790, France was the Revolutionary center of the world. After the Paris Commune, Germany became, despite its notorious authoritarianism, the political center of working-class thought. German Socialism was never satisfactory for it was always heavy and dull and lacked the elan that belongs to revolution. It lacked the spirit of fire and vigor. When it did discover spirit in Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, all it could do was to murder the heroes that embodied it. After Germany and the war debacle there came Russia.
The Soviet Union turned a Social Revolution into a political revolution and a diplomatic intrigue. And now the whole of Europe lies in ruins. Fascism has made inroads among the English-speaking races under the guise of democratic defense and military necessity. It is left to the workers of those races to make the stand for revolution and so rally the workers of the world for Socialism.