[Classics] What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat

4. Stalinist Zigzags on the Question of the United Front

The former Social Democrat Torhorst (from Düsseldorf), who has come over to the Communist Party, spoke in the name of the party in mid-January, in Frankfurt. In her official report she said, “The leaders of the Social Democracy are sufficiently exposed, and it would be only a waste of energy to continue our efforts in this direction, with unity from above.” We quote from a Frankfurt Communist newspaper which lauds the report highly. “The leaders of the Social Democracy are sufficiently exposed.” Sufficiently – so far as the spokeswoman herself is concerned, who came over from the Social Democracy to the Communists (which, of course, does her honor); but insufficiently – so far as those millions of workers are concerned who vote for the Social Democrats and who put up with the reformist bureaucracy of the trade unions. It is hardly necessary, however, to cite an isolated report. In the latest proclamation to reach me, Die Rote Fahne (January 28, 1932) argues once again that the united front can be established only against the Social Democratic leaders, and without them. Proof: “None will believe them who has lived through and has experienced the handiwork of these ‘leaders’ for the last eighteen years.” And what, may we ask, is to be done about those who have participated in politics fewer than eighteen years, and even fewer than eighteen months? Since the outbreak of the war, several political generations have matured who must recapitulate the experience of older generations, even though within a much smaller space of time. “The whole point of the matter is,” Lenin coached the ultra-leftists, “that we must not assume whatever is obsolete for us to be obsolete for the class, for the masses.”

Moreover, even the older generation that did pass through the experience of eighteen years hasn’t at all broken with the leaders. On the contrary, it is just the Social Democracy that still retains many “old-timers,” who are bound to the party by long-standing traditions. It’s sad, surely, that the masses learn so slowly. But in a goodly measure to blame for this are the Communist “pedagogues” who have been palpably unable to expose the criminal nature of reformism. The least that can be done now is to utilise the situation; and at the same time when the attention of the masses is strained to its highest pitch by mortal danger, to subject the reformists to a new and this time, perhaps, really decisive test

Without hiding or mitigating our opinion of the Social Democratic leaders in the slightest, we may and we must say to the Social Democratic workers, “Since, on the one hand, you are willing to fight together with us; and since, on the other, you are still unwilling to break with your leaders, here is what we suggest: force your leaders to join us in a common struggle for such and such practical aims, in such and such a manner; as for us, we Communists are ready.” Can anything be more plain, more palpable, more convincing?

In precisely this sense I wrote – with the conscious intention of arousing the sincere horror of blockheads and the fake indignation of charlatans – that in the war against fascism we were ready to conclude practical military alliances with the devil and his grandmother, even with Noske and Zörgiebel. [2]

The official party, itself, violates its stillborn policy at every step. In its appeals for the “Red United Front” (with its own self), it invariably puts forward the demand for “the unconditional freedom of the proletarian press and the right to demonstrate, meet, and organise.” This slogan is clear-cut through and through. But when the Communist Party speaks of proletarian and not only of Communist papers, meetings, etc., it thereby, in fact, puts forward the slogan of the united front with that very Social Democracy that publishes workers’ papers, calls meetings, etc. To put forward political slogans that in themselves include the idea of the united front with the Social Democracy, and to reject the making of practical agreements to fight for these slogans – that is the height of absurdity.

Münzenberg, whose practical horse-sense occasionally falls foul of “the general line,” wrote in November in Der Rote Aufbau, “It’s true that National Socialism is the most reactionary, the most chauvinistic, and the most bestial wing of the fascist movement in Germany; and that all true left circles [!] are most vitally concerned in interfering with the growth in influence and power of this wing of German fascism.” If Hitler’s party is “the most reactionary and most bestial” wing, then Brüning’s regime is, at least, less bestial and less reactionary. Münzenberg, here, is stealthily flirting with the theory of the “lesser evil.” To preserve a semblance of piety, he goes on to differentiate between different kinds of fascism: mud, medium, and strong, as if it were a question of Turkish tobacco. However, if all “the left circles” (and have they no names?) are interested in the victory over fascism, then isn’t it imperative to put these “left circles” to a practical test?

Isn’t it self-evident that Breitscheid’s diplomatic and equivocal offer should have been grabbed with both hands; and that from one’s own side, one should have submitted a concrete, carefully detailed, and practical program for a joint struggle against fascism and demanded joint sessions of the executives of both parties, with the participation of the executives of the Free Trade Unions? Simultaneously, one should have carried this same program energetically down through all the layers of both parties and of the masses. The negotiations should have been carried on openly before the eyes of the entire nation: daily accounts should have appeared in the press without distortions and absurd fabrications. Such an agitation by its directness and incisiveness would tell with far greater effect on the worker than the incessant din on the subject of “social fascism.” Under such conditions, the Social Democracy could not hide for a single day behind the pasteboard pageant of “the Iron Front.”

Everyone should read “Left-Wing” Communism; today it is the timeliest of timely books. It is in reference to just such situations as the present one in Germany that Lenin speaks of (we quote verbatim) “the absolute necessity for the vanguard of the proletariat, for its class-conscious section, for the Communist Party to resort to tacking and veering in its course, to agreements and compromises with different proletarian groups, with different parties of workers and of small proprietors ... The whole matter lies in being able to apply this tactic for the sake of raising and not lowering the common level of proletarian class consciousness, revolutionary spirit, and the capacity to fight and to win.”

But what steps does the Communist Party take? Day in and day out, it reiterates in its newspapers that the only united front it will accept “is the one directed against Brüning, Severing, Leipart, Hitler and their ilk.” In the face of a proletarian uprising, there is no gainsaying it, there will be no difference between Brüning, Severing, Leipart, and Hitler. Against the October Bolshevik uprising, the SRs and the Mensheviks united with the Cadets and Kornilov; Kerensky led the Black Hundreds and the Cossacks of General Krasnov against Petrograd; the Mensheviks supported Kerensky and Krasnov; the SRs engineered the uprising of the Junkers under the leadership of monarchist officers.

But this doesn’t at all mean that Brüning, Severing, Leipart, and Hitler always and under all conditions belong to the same camp. Just now their interests diverge. At the given moment the question that is posed before the Social Democracy is not so much one of defending the foundations of capitalist society against proletarian revolution as of defending the semi-parliamentarian bourgeois system against fascism. The refusal to make use of this antagonism would be an act of gross stupidity.

“To wage war for the purpose of overthrowing the international bourgeoisie,” Lenin wrote in “Left-Wing” Communism, “and to refuse beforehand to tack and veer in one’s course and to make good use of the antagonism (no matter how temporary) in interests between the enemies; to eschew agreements and compromises with possible (no matter how temporary, vacillating, and adventitious) allies – isn’t that too ridiculous for words?” Again we quote verbatim; the words we italicise in parentheses are Lenin’s.

We quote further: “It is possible to vanquish a more powerful enemy only by straining one’s forces to their utmost; and it is imperative that one make use, most painstakingly, carefully, cautiously and expertly, of any ‘rift’ between the enemies, no matter how tiny.” But what are Thälmann and Remmele under Manuilsky’s guidance doing? With might and main they are striving to cement, with the theory of social fascism and with the practice of sabotage against the united front, the rift – and what a rift – between the Social Democracy and fascism.

Lenin enjoined that use be made of “every opportunity to gain a mass ally, no matter how temporary, vacillating, unreliable, and adventitious. Whoever hasn’t been able to get that into his head,” he said, “doesn’t understand an iota of Marxism, and of contemporary scientific socialism in general.” Prick up your ears, prophets of the new Stalinist school: it is written here in black and white that you don’t understand an iota of Marxism. It’s you Lenin spoke of. Please let us hear from you.

But, the Stalinists reply, without a victory over the Social Democracy, victory over fascism is impossible. Is this true? In a certain sense it is. Yet the converse theorem is also true: without victory over Italian fascism, victory over the Italian Social Democracy is impossible. Both fascism and the Social Democracy are tools in the hands of the bourgeoisie. So long as capital rules, fascism and Social Democracy will exist in divers combinations. All the questions, therefore, are reduced to the same denominator: the proletariat must overthrow the bourgeois regime.

But just now, when this regime is tottering in Germany, fascism steps forward in its defence. To knock down this defender, we are told, it is first necessary to finish off the Social Democracy ... Thus we are led into a vicious circle by schematism dead as a herring. The only conceivable way out is in the domain of action. And the character of this action is determined not by juggling abstract categories but by the real interrelations between the living historic forces.

“Oh, no!” the functionaries keep drumming, “we shall ‘first’ liquidate the Social Democracy. How? Very simply, we shall order our party organisations to recruit 100,000 new members within such and such a period.” Instead of political struggle – merely propaganda; instead of dialectic strategy – departmental plans. And what if the real development of the class struggle, at this very moment, has posed the question of fascism before the working class, as a life and death question? Then the working class must be wheeled about with its back to the question; it must be lulled; it must be convinced that the task of fighting against fascism is a minor task; that it will wait and solve itself; that fascism in reality rules already; that Hitler will add nothing new; that there is no cause to fear Hitler; that Hitler will only clear the road for the Communists.

Is that exaggerating, perhaps? No, this is the exact and indubitable idea that motivates the leaders of the Communist Party. They do not always follow it to its ultimate conclusion. On coming in contact with the masses they recoil often from the ultimate conclusions; they make a hodgepodge of diverse policies, confusing themselves and the workers; but on all those occasions when they try to make both ends meet, they proceed from the inevitability of the victory of fascism.

On October 14, 1931, Remmele, one of the three official leaders of the Communist Party, said in the Reichstag, “Herr Brüning has put it very plainly: once they [the fascists] are in power, then the united front of the proletariat will be established and it will make a clean sweep of everything. (Violent applause from the Communists)” Brüning’s scaring the bourgeoisie and the Social Democracy with such a perspective that is intelligible: he thus safeguards his sovereignty. Remmele’s solacing the workers with such a perspective – that is infamous: he thus prepares the way for Hitler’s domination, for this perspective in its entirety is false to the core and bears witness to an utter misunderstanding of mass psychology and of the dialectics of revolutionary struggle. Should the proletariat of Germany, before whose eyes the development of events now proceeds openly, permit fascism to come into power, i.e., should it evince a most fatal blindness and passivity, then there are no reasons whatever for the assumption that after the fascists are in power, this same proletariat will shake off its passivity immediately and “make a clean sweep.” Nothing like this, for instance, happened in Italy. Remmele reasons completely after the manner of the French petty-bourgeois phrasemongers of the nineteenth century who proved themselves entirely incapable of leading the masses but who were quite firmly convinced, nevertheless, that should Louis Bonaparte plant himself over the republic, the people would rise, on the instant, in their defence, and “make a clean sweep.” However, the people that had permitted the adventurer Louis Bonaparte to seize the power proved, sure enough, incapable of sweeping him away thereafter. Before this happened, new major events, historical quakes, and a war had to occur.

The united front of the proletariat is achievable – for Remmele, as he has told us – only after Hitler assumes power. Can a more pathetic confession of one’s own impotence be made? Since we, Remmele & Co., are incapable of uniting the proletariat we place the burden of this task upon Hitler’s shoulders. After he has united the proletariat for us, then we will show ourselves in our true stature. Remmele follows this up with a boastful announcement “We are the victors of the coming day; and the question is no longer one of who shall vanquish whom. This question is already answered. (Applause from the Communists) The question now reads only, ‘At what moment shall we overthrow the bourgeoisie?’” Right to the point! As we say in Russian, that’s pointing one’s finger and hitting the sky. We are the victors of the coming day. All we lack today is the united front. Herr Hitler will supply us with it tomorrow, when he assumes power. Which still means that the victor of the coming day will be not Remmele but Hitler. And then, you might as well carve it on your nose, the moment for the victory of the Communists will not arrive so soon.

Remmele feels himself that his optimism limps on its left leg, and he attempts to bolster it up. “We are not afraid of the fascist gentlemen. They will shoot their bolt quicker than any other government (‘Right you are!’ from the Communists)” And for proof: the fascists want paper-money inflation, and that means ruin for the masses of the nation; consequently, everything will turn out for the best. Thus the verbal inflation of Remmele leads the German workers astray.

Here we have before us a programmatic speech of an official leader of the party; it was issued in immense numbers and was used in the Communist membership drive: appended to the speech is a printed blank for enrolment in the party. And this very programmatic speech is based part and parcel upon capitulation to fascism. “We are not afraid” of Hitler’s assuming power. What is this, if not the formula of cowardice turned inside out “We” don’t consider ourselves capable of keeping Hitler from assuming power; worse yet: we, the bureaucrats, have so degenerated as not to dare think seriously of fighting Hitler. Therefore, “we are not afraid.” What don’t you fear: fighting against Hitler? Oh, no! they are not afraid of ... Hitler’s victory. They are not afraid of refusing to fight. They are not afraid to confess their own cowardice. For shame!

In one of my previous pamphlets I wrote that the Stalinist bureaucracy was baiting a trap for Hitler – in the guise of state power. The Communist journalists, who flit from Münzenberg to Ullstein and from Mosse to Münzenberg, announced immediately that “Trotsky vilifies the Communist Party.” Isn’t it really self-evident that Trotsky, out of his aversion for Communism, out of his hatred for the German proletariat out of his passionate desire to save German capitalism – Yes, Trotsky foists a plan of capitulation upon the Stalinist bureaucracy. But in reality I only gave a brief summary of Remmele’s programmatic speech and of a theoretical article by Thälmann. Where does the vilification come in?

Moreover both Thälmann and Remmele are only holding steadfastly to the Stalinist gospel. Let us recall once again what Stalin propounded in the autumn of 1923 when everything in Germany was – as now – poised on the razor edge of a knife. “Should the Communists (on the given plane)” wrote Stalin to Zinoviev and Bukharin, “strive to seize power without the Social Democracy? Are they sufficiently mature for this? that’s the question as I see it ... Should the power in Germany at this moment fall, so to speak, and should the Communists catch it up, they’ll fall through with a crash. That’s ‘at best.’ If it comes to the worst – they’ll be smashed to pieces and beaten back ... . Of course, the fascists aren’t asleep, but it serves our purposes better to let them be the first to attack: that will solidify the entire working class around the Communists ... In my opinion the Germans should be restrained and not encouraged.”

In his pamphlet, The Mass Strike, Langner writes, “The assertion [Brandler’s] that a battle in October [1923] would have resulted only in a ‘decisive defeat,’ is nothing but an attempt to gloss over opportunistic mistakes and the opportunistic capitulation without a fight.” That is absolutely correct. But who was the instigator of “the capitulation without a fight”? Who was it that “restrained” instead of “encouraging”? In 1931, Stalin only amplified his formula of 1923: let the fascists assume the power, they’ll only be clearing the road for us. Naturally it is much safer to attack Brandler than Stalin: the Langners understand that quite well ...

In point of fact, in the last two months – not without the influence of the outspoken protests from the left – a certain change has occurred: the Communist Party no longer says that Hitler must assume power in order to shoot his bolt quickly; now it lays more stress on the converse side of the question: the battle against fascism cannot be postponed until after Hitler assumes the power; the battle must be waged now by arousing the workers against Brüning’s decrees and by widening and deepening the strife on the economic and political arenas. That is absolutely correct. Everything that the representatives of the Communist Party have to say within this sphere is not to be gainsaid. Here we have no disagreements whatever. Still the most important question remains: how to get down from words to business?

The overwhelming majority of the members of the Communist Party as well as a considerable portion of the officialdom – we haven’t the slightest doubt – sincerely want to fight. But the facts must be faced openly: there’s no fighting being done, there is no sign of fighting in sight. Brüning’s decrees passed by scot-free. The Christmas truce was not broken. The policy of calling sectional and improvised strikes, judging by the accounts of the Communist Party itself, has not achieved any serious successes to date. The workers see this. Shrieking alone will not convince them.

The Communist Party places on the shoulders of the Social Democracy the responsibility for the passivity of the masses. In a historical sense that is indubitable. But we are not historians, we are revolutionary politicians. Our task is not one of conducting historical researches, but of finding the way out.

The SAP, which during the first period of its existence took up formally the question of fighting fascism (especially in articles by Rosenfeld and Seydewitz) made a certain step forward by timing the counterattack coincidentally with Hitler’s assumption of power. Its press now demands that the fight to repel fascism be begun immediately by mobilising the workers against hunger and the police yoke. We admit readily that the change in the policy of the SAP was brought about under the influence of Communist criticism: one of the tasks of Communism precisely consists in pushing centrism. forward by criticising its dual tendencies. But that alone does not suffice: one must exploit politically the fruits of one’s own criticism by proposing to the SAP to pass from words to action. One must subject the SAP to a public and clear test; not by analysing isolated quotations – that’s not enough – but by offering to make an agreement towards taking specified practical steps against the foe. Should the SAP lay bare its incompetence, the higher the authority of the Communist Party would rise, the sooner an intermediate party would be liquidated. What’s there to fear?

However, it is not true that the SAP does not seriously want to fight. There are various tendencies within it. For the moment, so long as the matter is reduced to abstract propaganda for a united front, the inner contradictions lie dormant. Once the battle is begun, they will become apparent. The Communist Party alone stands to gain thereby.

But there still remains the most important question as regards the SPD. Should it reject those practical propositions which the SAP accepts, a new situation would arise. The centrists, who would prefer to straddle the fence between the KPD and the SPD in order to complain first about one and then about the other, and to gain in strength at the expense of both (such is the philosophy evolved by Urbahns) – these centrists would find themselves suspended in mid-air, because it would immediately become apparent that the SPD itself is sabotaging the revolutionary struggle. Isn’t that an important gain? The workers within the SAP from then on would definitely lean towards the KPD.

Moreover, the refusal of Wels & Co. to accept the program of joint action, agreed to by the SAP, would not let the Social Democrats go scot-free either. The Vorwärts would be deprived immediately of the chance to complain about the passivity of the KPD. The gravitation of the Social Democratic workers towards the united front would increase immediately; and that would be equivalent to their gravitation towards the KPD. Isn’t that plain enough?

At each one of these stages and turns the KPD would tap new resources. Instead of monotonously repeating the same ready-made formulas before one and the same audience, it would be enabled to set new strata into motion, to teach them through actual experience, to steel them, and to strengthen its hegemony among the working class.

Not for a moment should one even discuss that the KPD must thereby renounce its independent leadership of strikes, demonstrations, and political campaigns. It reserves to itself complete freedom of action. It waits for nobody. But on the basis of its new activities, it puts through an active political manoeuvre in relation to other workers’ organisations; it breaks down the conservative barriers between the workers; it drives out into the open the contradictions in reformism and in centrism: it hastens the revolutionary crystallisation of the proletariat.


[2] Metaphysicians (people who do not reason dialectically) assign to one and the same abstraction two, three, or more designations, often directly contradictory. “Democracy” in general and “fascism” in general, so we are told, are in no way distinguished from one another. But in addition there must also exist in the world, on this account, “the dictatorship of workers and peasants” (for China, India, Spain). Proletarian dictatorship? No! Capitalist dictatorship, perhaps? No! What then? A democratic one! Somewhere in the universe, it appears, there exists a pure classless democracy. Yet according to the eleventh plenum of the ECCI, democracy differs in no wise from fascism. That being so, wherein does “the democratic dictatorship” differ from ... the fascist dictatorship?

Only a person utterly naive will expect to get a serious and honest answer to this fundamental question from the Stalinists. They will let loose a few more choice epithets – and that’s all. And meanwhile the fate of the revolutions in the Orient is tied up with this question.

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