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

There cannot be the slightest doubt that the course of events will demonstrate the correctness of our position. But in what manner will history demonstrate its proof: through the catastrophe of the Stalinist faction, or through the victory of Marxist policies?

Therein lies at present the crux of the entire question. This question is the question of the fate of the German nation, and not of its fate alone.

The problems that are analysed in this pamphlet did not originate yesterday. For nine years now the leadership of the Comintern has busied itself with the revaluation of values and with disorganising the vanguard of the international proletariat by means of tactical convulsions which in their totality fall under the label of “the general line.” The Russian Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists) was formed not only because of Russian problems but also because of international ones. Among these, the problems of the revolutionary development in Germany occupied by no means the last place. Sharp divergences on this subject date back to 1923. During the succeeding years the author of these pages spoke more than once on these controversial questions. A considerable portion of my critical works has been published in German. The present pamphlet is in its turn a contribution to the theoretical and political work of the Left Opposition. Much that is mentioned hereafter only in passing was in its time submitted to detailed analysis. Therefore I must refer my readers for particulars to my books, The Third International After LeninThe Permanent Revolution, etc. Now, when these differences confront everyone in the form of a great historical problem, it is possible to estimate their origins much better and more profoundly. For the serious revolutionary, for the true Marxist, such a study is absolutely essential. Eclectics live by means of episodic thoughts and improvisations that originate under the impact of events. Marxist cadres capable of leading the proletarian revolution are trained only by the continual and successive working out of problems and disputes.

(From Trotsky's introduction)

Transcribed for the Trotsky Internet Archive in 1998. This essay on Germany by Trotsky was first published in 1932. It was written originally in Russian and then translated immediately into German for distribution by German Left Oppositionists. Each section is footnoted by the author. Edited for Marxist.com in November 2019 (HTML, spelling, scan errors).



Capitalism in Russia proved to be the weakest link in the chain of imperialism, because of its extreme backwardness. In the present crisis, German capitalism reveals itself as the weakest link for the diametrically opposite reason: precisely because it is the most advanced capitalist system in the conditions of the European impasse. As the productive forces of Germany become more and more highly geared, the more dynamic power they gather, the more they are strangled within the state system of Europe – a system that is akin to the “system” of cages within an impoverished provincial zoo. At every turn in the conjuncture of events German capitalism is thrown up against those problems which it had attempted to solve by means of war. Acting through the Hohenzollern government, the German bourgeoisie girded itself to “organise Europe.” Acting through the regime of Brüning-Curtius it attempted ... to form a customs union with Austria. It is to such a pathetic level that its problems, potentialities, and perspectives have been reduced! But even the customs union was not to be attained. Like the witch’s house in fairy-tales, the entire European system stands on a pair of hen’s legs. The great and salutary hegemony of France is in danger of toppling over, should a few million Austrians unite with Germany. For Europe in general and primarily for Germany no advance is possible along the capitalist road. The temporary resolution of the present crisis to be achieved by the automatic interplay of the forces of capitalism itself – on the bones of the workers – would signify only the resurrection of all the contradictions at the next stage, only in still more acute and concentrated form.

The specific weight of Europe in world economy can only diminish. Already the forehead of Europe is plastered beyond removal with American labels: the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, Hoover’s moratorium. Europe is placed thoroughly on American rations.

The decay of capitalism results in social and cultural decomposition. The road is barred for further normal differentiation within nations, for the further growth of the proletariat at the expense of the diminution of intermediate classes. Further prolongation of the crisis can bring in its trail only the pauperisation of the petty bourgeoisie and the transformation of ever larger groups of workers into the lumpen-proletariat. In its most acute form, it is this threat that grips advanced capitalist Germany by the throat.

The rottenest portion of putrefying capitalist Europe is the Social Democratic bureaucracy. It entered upon its historical journey under the banner of Marx and Engels. It set for its goal the overthrow of the rule of the bourgeoisie. The powerful upsurge of capitalism caught it up and dragged it in its wake. In the name of reform, the Social Democracy betrayed the revolution, at first by its actions and later by its words. Kautsky, it is true, for a long time still defended the phraseology of revolution, making it serve as a handmaiden to the requirements of reformism. Bernstein, on the contrary, demanded the renunciation of revolution: for capitalism was entering the period of peaceful development without crises, and without wars. Exemplary prophecy! Apparently, between Kautsky and Bernstein there was an irreconcilable divergence. Actually, however, they symmetrically complemented one another as the right and left boots on the feet of reformism.

The war came. The Social Democracy supported the war in the name of future prosperity. Instead of prosperity, decay set in. Now the task no longer consisted in deducing from the inadequacy of capitalism the necessity for revolution, nor in reconciling the workers to capitalism by means of reforms. The new task of the Social Democracy now consisted in making society safe for the bourgeoisie at the cost of sacrificing reforms.

But even this was not the last stage of degeneracy. The present crisis that is convulsing capitalism obliged the Social Democracy to sacrifice the fruits achieved after protracted economic and political struggles and thus to reduce the German workers to the level of existence of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers. There is no historical spectacle more tragic and at the same time more repulsive than the fetid disintegration of reformism amid the wreckage of all its conquests and hopes. The theatre is rabid in its straining for modernism. Let it stage more often Hauptmann’s The Weavers: this most modern of modern dramas. And let the director of the theatre also remember to reserve the front rows for the leaders of the Social Democracy.

However, these leaders are in no mood for drama: they have reached the utmost limits of their adaptability. There is a level beneath which the working class of Germany cannot drop willingly nor for any length of time. Moreover, the bourgeois regime, fighting for its existence, is in no mood to recognise this level. The emergency decrees of Brüning are only the beginning, only feelers to get the lay of the land. Brüning’s regime rests upon the cowardly and perfidious support of the Social Democratic bureaucracy which in its turn depends upon the sullen, halfhearted support of a section of the proletariat. The system based on bureaucratic decrees is unstable, unreliable, temporary. Capitalism requires another, more decisive policy. The support of the Social Democrats, keeping a suspicious watch on their own workers, is not only insufficient for its purposes, but has already become irksome. The period of halfway measures has passed. In order to try to find a way out, the bourgeoisie must absolutely rid itself of the pressure exerted by the workers’ organisations; these must be eliminated, destroyed, utterly crushed.

At this juncture, the historic role of fascism begins. It raises to their feet those classes that are immediately above the proletariat and that are ever in dread of being forced down into its ranks; it organises and militarises them at the expense of finance capital, under the cover of the official government, and it directs them to the extirpation of proletarian organisations, from the most revolutionary to the most conservative.

Fascism is not merely a system of reprisals, of brutal force, and of police terror. Fascism is a particular governmental system based on the uprooting of all elements of proletarian democracy within bourgeois society. The task of fascism lies not only in destroying the Communist vanguard but in holding the entire class in a state of forced disunity. To this end the physical annihilation of the most revolutionary section of the workers does not suffice. It is also necessary to smash all independent and voluntary organisations, to demolish all the defensive bulwarks of the proletariat, and to uproot whatever has been achieved during three-quarters of a century by the Social Democracy and the trade unions. For, in the last analysis, the Communist Party also bases itself on these achievements.

The Social Democracy has prepared all the conditions necessary for the triumph of fascism. But by this fact it has also prepared the stage for its own political liquidation. It is absolutely correct to place on the Social Democrats the responsibility for the emergency legislation of Brüning as well as for the impending danger of fascist savagery. It is absolute balderdash to identify Social Democracy with fascism.

By its policies during the revolution of 1848, the liberal bourgeoisie prepared the stage for the triumph of counterrevolution, which in turn emasculated liberalism. Marx and Engels lashed the German liberal bourgeoisie no less sharply than Lassalle did, and their criticism was more profound than his. But when the Lassalleans lumped the liberal bourgeoisie together with the feudal counterrevolution into “one reactionary mass,” Marx and Engels were justly outraged by this false ultra-radicalism. The erroneous position of the Lassalleans turned them on several occasions into involuntary aides of the monarchy, despite the general progressive nature of their work, which was infinitely more important and consequential than the achievements of liberalism.

The theory of “social fascism” reproduces the basic error of the Lassalleans on a new historical background. After dumping National Socialists and Social Democrats into one fascist pile, the Stalinist bureaucracy flies headlong into such activities as backing the Hitler referendum, which in its own fashion is in no way superior to Lassalle’s alliances with Bismarck.

In the present phase, German Communism in its struggle against the Social Democracy must lean on two separate facts: (a) the political responsibility of the Social Democracy for the strength of fascism; (b) the absolute irreconcilability between fascism and those workers’ organisations on which the Social Democracy itself depends.

The contradictions within German capitalism have at present reached such a state of tension that an explosion is inevitable. The adaptability of the Social Democracy has reached that limit beyond which lies self-annihilation. The mistakes of the Stalinist bureaucracy have reached that limit beyond which lies catastrophe. Such is the threefold formula that characterises the situation in Germany. Everything is now poised on the razor edge of a knife.

When of necessity one must follow conditions in Germany through newspapers that arrive almost a week late; when one must allow another week before manuscripts may bridge the gap between Constantinople and Berlin, after which additional weeks must pass before the pamphlet reaches its public, involuntarily the question arises: “Won’t it be altogether too late?” And each time one answers oneself: No! The armies that are drawn up for battle are so colossal that one need not fear a lightning-quick settlement of the issue. The strength of the German proletariat has not been drained. Its powers have not as yet been brought into play. The logic of facts will make itself heard more imperiously with every passing day. And this justifies the author’s attempt to add what he has to say even if it is delayed a few weeks, i.e., an entire historical period.

The Stalinist bureaucracy came to the conclusion that it would be able to complete its labours more peacefully were the author of these pages confined in Prinkipo. It obtained from the government of Hermann Müller, the Social Democrat, a refusal of a visa for the ... “Menshevik”: in this instance the united front was established without any wavering or delay. Today, in official Soviet publications, the Stalinists are broadcasting the news that I am “defending” Brüning’s government in accordance with an agreement made with the Social Democracy, which in return is pulling strings to allow me the right of entry into Germany. Instead of becoming indignant over such viciousness, I permit myself to laugh at its stupidity. But I must cut short my laughter, for time is pressing.

There cannot be the slightest doubt that the course of events will demonstrate the correctness of our position. But in what manner will history demonstrate its proof: through the catastrophe of the Stalinist faction, or through the victory of Marxist policies?

Therein lies at present the crux of the entire question. This question is the question of the fate of the German nation, and not of its fate alone.

The problems that are analysed in this pamphlet did not originate yesterday. For nine years now the leadership of the Comintern has busied itself with the revaluation of values and with disorganising the vanguard of the international proletariat by means of tactical convulsions which in their totality fall under the label of “the general line.” The Russian Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists) was formed not only because of Russian problems but also because of international ones. Among these, the problems of the revolutionary development in Germany occupied by no means the last place. Sharp divergences on this subject date back to 1923. During the succeeding years the author of these pages spoke more than once on these controversial questions. A considerable portion of my critical works has been published in German. The present pamphlet is in its turn a contribution to the theoretical and political work of the Left Opposition. Much that is mentioned hereafter only in passing was in its time submitted to detailed analysis. Therefore I must refer my readers for particulars to my books, The Third International After LeninThe Permanent Revolution, etc. Now, when these differences confront everyone in the form of a great historical problem, it is possible to estimate their origins much better and more profoundly. For the serious revolutionary, for the true Marxist, such a study is absolutely essential. Eclectics live by means of episodic thoughts and improvisations that originate under the impact of events. Marxist cadres capable of leading the proletarian revolution are trained only by the continual and successive working out of problems and disputes. 

1. The Social Democracy

The “Iron Front” is essentially a bloc of numerically powerful Social Democratic trade unions with impotent groups of bourgeois “republicans” which have lost entirely the support of the people and all confidence in themselves. When it comes to fighting, cadavers are worthless, but they come in handy to keep the living from fighting. Their bourgeois allies serve the Social Democratic leaders as a bridle around the necks of the workers’ organisations. We must fight! We must fight! ... but that is only empty talk. With God’s help, everything will be settled ultimately without any bloodshed. Is it possible that the fascists will really decide to stop talking and get down to business? They, the Social Democrats, never so much as ventured on such a course, and they, the Social Democrats, are no worse than other people. In case of actual danger, the Social Democracy banks not on the “Iron Front” but on the Prussian police. It is reckoning without its host! The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among Social Democratic workers is absolutely meaningless. Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance. The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker. Of late years these policemen have had to do much more fighting with revolutionary workers than with Nazi students. Such training does not fail to leave its effects. And above all: every policeman knows that though governments may change, the police remain.

In its New Year’s issue, the theoretical organ of the Social Democracy, Das Freie Wort (what a wretched sheet!), prints an article in which the policy of “toleration” is expounded in its highest sense. Hitler, it appears, can never come into power against the police and the Reichswehr. Now, according to the Constitution, the Reichswehr is under the command of the president of the Republic. Therefore fascism, it follows, is not dangerous so long as a president faithful to the Constitution remains at the head of the government. Brüning’s regime must be supported until the presidential elections, so that a constitutional president may then be elected through an alliance with the parliamentary bourgeoisie; and thus Hitler’s road to power will be blocked for another seven years. The above is, as given, the literal content of the article. [1] A mass party, leading millions (toward socialism!) holds that the question as to which class will come to power in present-day Germany, which is shaken to its very foundations, depends not on the fighting strength of the German proletariat, not on the shock troops of fascism, not even on the personnel of the Reichswehr, but on whether the pure spirit of the Weimar Constitution (along with the required quantity of camphor and naphthalene) shall be installed in the presidential palace. But suppose the spirit of Weimar, in a certain situation, recognises together with Bethmann-Hollweg, that “necessity knows no law”; what then? Or suppose the perishable substance of the spirit of Weimar falls asunder at the most untoward moment, despite the camphor and naphthalene, what then? And what if ... but there is no end to such questions.

The politicians of reformism, these dextrous wire-pullers, artful intriguers and careerists, expert parliamentary and ministerial manoeuvrists, are no sooner thrown out of their habitual sphere by the course of events, no sooner placed face to face with momentous contingencies, than they reveal themselves to be – there is no milder expression for it – utter and complete fools.

To rely upon a president is to rely upon “the state”! Faced with the impending clash between the proletariat and the fascist petty bourgeoisie – two camps which together comprise the crushing majority of the German nation – these Marxists from the Vorwaerts yelp for the night watchman to come to their aid. They say to the state, “Help! Intervene!” (Staat, greif zu!). Which means “Brüning, please don’t force us to defend ourselves with the might of workers’ organisations, for this will only arouse the entire proletariat; and then the movement will rise above the bald pates of our party leadership: beginning as anti-fascist, it will end Communist.”

To this Brüning could reply, unless he preferred silence: “With the police force I could not handle fascism even if I wanted to; but I wouldn’t even if I could. Setting the Reichswehr in motion means only splitting the Reichswehr, if not throwing it altogether against us. But what is most important is that the turning of the bureaucratic apparatus against the fascists would mean untying the hands of the workers, restoring their full freedom of action: the consequence would be precisely those which you, Social Democrats, dread so much, and which I accordingly dread twice as much. “

The effect which the appeals of the Social Democracy produce on the state apparatus, on the judges, the Reichswehr, and the police cannot fail to be just the opposite to the one desired. The most “loyal” functionary, the most “neutral,” the least bound to the Social Democracy, can reason only thus: “Millions are behind the Social Democrats; enormous resources are in their hands: the press, the parliament, the municipalities; their own hides are at stake; in the struggle against the fascists, they are assured of the support of the Communists; and even so these mighty gentlemen beg me, a functionary, to save them from the attack of another party comprising millions whose leaders may become my bosses tomorrow; things must be pretty bad for the gentlemen of the Social Democracy, probably quite hopeless ... it is time for me [the functionary], to think about my own hide.” And as a result, the “loyal,” “neutral” functionary, who vacillated yesterday, will invariably re-insure himself, i.e., tie up with the National Socialists to safeguard his own future. In this manner the reformists who have outlived their own day work for the fascists along bureaucratic lines.

The Social Democracy, the hanger-on of the bourgeoisie, is doomed to wretched ideological parasitism. One moment it catches up ideas of bourgeois economists, and the next, it tries to utilise bits of Marxism. After citing from my pamphlet the reasons against the participation of the Communist Party in Hitler’s referendum, Hilferding concludes: “Truly, there is nothing to add to these lines in order to explain the tactics of the Social Democracy as regards the Brüning government.” Remmele and Thalheimer step forward, “Please take note, Hilferding relies on Trotsky.” A fascist yellow sheet steps forward in turn, “Trotsky is paid for this job by the promise of a visa.” Next a Stalinist journalist comes to the fore and wires the communication of a fascist paper to Moscow. The editorial board of Izvestia, which includes the unfortunate Radek, prints the telegram. This chain deserves only to be mentioned and passed by.

Let us return to more serious questions. If Hitler can afford himself the luxury of fighting against Brüning, it is only because the bourgeois regime as a whole leans for its support on the back of that half of the working class which is led by Hilferding & Co. If the Social Democracy had not put through its policy of class betrayal, then Hitler, not to mention the fact that he would have never attained his present power, would have been clutching at Brüning’s government as a life-saving anchor. If the Communists together with the Social Democracy had overthrown Brüning, that would have been a fact of the greatest political significance. The consequences, in any case, would have risen over the heads of the leaders of the Social Democracy. Hilferding attempts to find justification for his betrayal in our criticism, which demands that the Communists take Hilferding’s betrayal into account as an accomplished fact.

Although Hilferding has “nothing to add” to Trotsky’s words, he nevertheless does add something: the correlation of forces, he says, is such that even in the event of united action of Social Democratic and Communist workers, there would be no possibility “by forcing the fight, to overthrow the enemy and to seize power.” In this remark, glossed over in passing without any evidence, lies the very crux of the question. According to Hilferding, in Germany today, where the proletariat composes the majority of the population and the deciding productive force of society, the united front of the Social Democracy and the Communist Party could not place the power in the hands of the proletariat! When is the precise moment, then, that the power can pass into the hands of the proletariat? Prior to the war was the perspective of the automatic growth of capitalism, of the growth of the proletariat, and of the equal growth of the Social Democracy. This process was cut short by the war, and no power in the world will restore it. The decay of capitalism means that the question of power must be decided on the basis of the now existing productive forces. By prolonging the agony of the capitalist regime, the Social Democracy leads only to the further decline of economic culture, to the disorganisation of the proletariat, to social gangrene. No other perspectives lie ahead; tomorrow will be worse than today; the day after tomorrow worse than tomorrow. But the leaders of the Social Democracy no longer dare to look into the future. Theirs are all the vices of the ruling class doomed to destruction; they are light-minded, their will is paralysed, they are given to blubbering over events and hoping for miracles. Come to think of it, Tarnow’s economic researches fulfill now the same function as did once the consoling revelations of a Rasputin ...

The Social Democrats together with the Communists would not be able to seize power. There he stands, the snobbish, educated, petty bourgeois, an utter coward, soaked from head to foot with distrust and contempt for the masses. The Social Democracy and the Communist Party together hold about 40 percent of the votes, despite the fact that the betrayals of the Social Democracy and the mistakes of the Communist Party drive millions into the camp of indifferentism and even National Socialism. Once a fact, the joint action of these two parties alone, by opening before the masses new perspectives, would incommensurably increase the strength of the proletariat. But let us limit ourselves to 40 percent. Has Brüning perhaps more, or Hitler? But there are only these three groups that can rule Germany: the proletariat the Centre Party, or the fascists. But a notion is firmly implanted in the heads of the educated petty bourgeois: for the representatives of capital to rule, 20 percent of the votes suffice, because the bourgeoisie, you see, has the banks, the trusts, the syndicates, the railroads. True, our educated petty bourgeois made ready to “socialise” all these twelve years ago. But enough is too much! A program of socialisation – yes; the expropriation of the expropriators – no, that is already Bolshevism.

We have taken the correlation of forces in their parliamentary cross section. But that’s a trick mirror. In parliamentary representation the strength of an oppressed class is way below its actual strength and contrariwise: the representation of the bourgeoisie even the day before its downfall will still be a masquerade of its supposed strength. Only revolutionary struggle tears away all the covers from the actual relation of forces. During a direct and immediate struggle for power, the proletariat, unless paralysed by sabotage from within, by Austro-Marxism and by all other forms of betrayal, develops a force incommensurably superior to its parliamentary expression. Let us recall once again the invaluable lessons of history. Even after the Bolsheviks had seized power, and firmly seized it, they had less than one-third of the votes in the Constituent Assembly; together with the Left SRs, less than 40 percent. Yet despite a fearful economic collapse, despite the war, despite the betrayal of the European and, first of all, of the German Social Democracy, despite the postwar reaction of weariness, despite the growth of Thermidorean tendencies, the first workers’ government stands on its feet fourteen years, And what can be said of Germany? At the moment the Social Democratic worker together with the Communist arises to seize power, the task will be nine-tenths completed.

Nevertheless, says Hilferding, had the Social Democracy voted against Brüning’s government and thereby overthrown it, the consequence would have been the coming of the fascists to power. That is the way, perhaps, the matter may appear on a parliamentary plane; but the matter itself does not rest on a parliamentary plane. The Social Democracy could refuse to support Brüning only in the event that it decided to enter upon the road of revolutionary struggle. Either support Brüning, or fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat. No third course is given. The Social Democracy, by voting against Brüning, would change at once the correlation of forces-not on the parliamentary chessboard, whose chess pieces might surprisingly enough be found underneath the table – but on the arena of the revolutionary struggle of the classes. After such an about-face, the forces of the working class would increase not twofold but tenfold, for the moral factor holds by no means the last place in the class struggle, particularly during great historical upheavals. Under the impact of this moral force, the masses of the people, one stratum after another, would be charged to the point of highest intensity. The proletariat would say to itself with assurance, that it alone was called to give a different and a higher direction to the life of this great nation. Disintegration and decomposition in Hitler’s army would set in before the decisive battles. Battles of course could not be avoided; but with a firm resolution to fight to victory, by attacking boldly, victory might be achieved infinitely more easily than the most extreme revolutionary optimist now imagines.

Only a trifle is lacking for this: the about-face of the Social Democracy, its taking the road of revolution. To hope for a voluntary shift on the part of the leaders after the experiences of 1914-1922 would be the most ludicrous of all illusions. But the majority of Social Democratic workers – that is something else again; they can make the turn, and they will make it; it is only necessary to help them. And this turn will be not only against the bourgeois government, but against the upper layers of their own party.

At this point, our Austro-Marxist, who has “nothing to add” to our words, will try once more to bring against us citations from our own books: didn’t we write point blank that the policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy represent a chain of errors; didn’t we stigmatise the participation of the Communist Party in the Hitler referendum? We did write, we did stigmatise. But we wage battle with the Stalinist leadership in the Comintern precisely because it is incapable of breaking up the Social Democracy, of tearing the masses from under its influence, of freeing the locomotive of history from its rusty brake. By its convulsions, its mistakes, its bureaucratic ultimatism, the Stalinist bureaucracy preserves the Social Democracy, permits it again and again to regain its foothold.

The Communist Party is a proletarian, anti-bourgeois party, even if erroneously led. The Social Democracy, though composed of workers, is entirely a bourgeois party, which under “normal conditions” is led quite expertly from the point of view of bourgeois aims, but which is good for nothing at all under the conditions of a social crisis. The leaders of the Social Democracy are themselves forced to recognise, though unwillingly, the bourgeois character of the party. Referring to the crisis and the unemployment situation, Tarnow mouths moth-eaten phrases about the “disgrace of capitalist civilisation,” quite in the manner of a Protestant minister preaching on the sinfulness of wealth; referring to socialism, Tarnow talks after the manner of this same minister when the latter preaches about rewards beyond the grave; but when it comes to concrete questions he assumes another tone: “If on September 14 [1930], this spectre [unemployment] had not hovered over the ballot box, this day would have been written differently into the pages of German history.” (Report at the Leipzig Congress) The Social Democracy lost votes and seats because capitalism, on account of the crisis, had revealed its authentic visage. The crisis did not strengthen the party of “socialism,” on the contrary, it weakened it, just as it depressed the trade turnover, the resources of banks, the self-assurance of Hoover and Ford, the profits of the Prince of Monaco, etc. Today, one is obliged to look, not in bourgeois papers, but in the Social Democratic press for the most optimistic evaluations of the conjuncture. Can more undebatable proofs of the bourgeois character of this party be produced? If the atrophy of capitalism produces the atrophy of the Social Democracy, then the approaching death of capitalism cannot but denote the early death of the Social Democracy. The party that leans upon the workers but serves the bourgeoisie, in the period of the greatest sharpening of the class struggle, cannot but sense the smells wafted from the waiting grave.

2. Democracy and Fascism

The eleventh plenum of the ECCI came to the decision that it was imperative to put an end to those erroneous views which originate in “the liberal interpretation of the contradictions between fascism and bourgeois democracy and the outright fascist forms ...” The gist of this Stalinist philosophy is quite plain: from the Marxist denial of the absolute contradiction it deduces the general negation of the contradiction, even of the relative contradiction. This error is typical of vulgar radicalism. For if there be no contradiction whatsoever between democracy and fascism – even in the sphere of the form of the rule of the bourgeoisie – then these two regimes obviously enough must be equivalent Whence the conclusion: Social Democracy equals fascism. For some reason, however, Social Democracy is dubbed social fascism. And the meaning of the term “social” in this connection has been left unexplained to this very moment. [1] Nevertheless, the nature of things does not change in accordance with the decisions of the ECCI plenums. A contradiction does exist between democracy and fascism. It is not at all “absolute,” or, putting it in the language of Marxism, it doesn’t at all denote the rule of two irreconcilable classes. But it does denote different systems of the domination of one and the same class. These two systems: the one parliamentary-democratic, the other fascist, derive their support from different combinations of the oppressed and exploited classes; and they unavoidably come to a sharp clash with each other.

The Social Democracy, which is today the chief representative of the parliamentary-bourgeois regime, derives its support from the workers. Fascism is supported by the petty bourgeoisie. The Social Democracy without the mass organisations of the workers can have no influence. Fascism cannot entrench itself in power without annihilating the workers’ organisations. Parliament is the main arena of the Social Democracy. The system of fascism is based upon the destruction of parliamentarism. For the monopolistic bourgeoisie, the parliamentary and fascist regimes represent only different vehicles of dominion; it has recourse to one or the other, depending upon the historical conditions. But for both the Social Democracy and fascism, the choice of one or the other vehicle has an independent significance; more than that, for them it is a question of political life or death.

At the moment that the “normal” police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium – the turn of the fascist regime arrives. Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie, and bands of the declassed and demoralised lumpen-proletariat; all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy. From fascism the bourgeoisie demands a thorough job; once it has resorted to methods of civil war, it insists on having peace for a period of years. And the fascist agency, by utilising the petty bourgeoisie as a battering ram, by overwhelming all obstacles in its path, does a thorough job. After fascism is victorious, finance capital gathers into its hands, as in a vise of steel, directly and immediately, all the organs and institutions of sovereignty, the executive, administrative, and educational powers of the state: the entire state apparatus together with the army, the municipalities, the universities, the schools, the press, the trade unions, and the cooperatives. When a state turns fascist, it doesn’t only mean that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance with the patterns set by Mussolini – the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role – but it means, primarily and above all, that the workers’ organisations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallisation of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism.

The above is not at all contradicted by the fact that during a given period, between the democratic and the fascist systems, a transitional regime is established, which combines the features of both: such, in general, is the law that governs the displacement of one social system by another, even though they are irreconcilably inimical to each other. There are periods during which the bourgeoisie leans upon both the Social Democracy and fascism, that is, during which it simultaneously manipulates its electoral and terroristic agencies. Such, in a certain sense, was the government of Kerensky during the last months of its existence, when it leaned partly on the Soviets and at the same time conspired with Kornilov. Such is the government of Brüning as it dances on a tightrope between two irreconcilable camps, balancing itself with the emergency decrees instead of a pole. But such a condition of the state and of the administration is temporary in character. It signalises the transition period, during which the Social Democracy is on the verge of exhausting its mission, while, in that same period, neither Communism nor fascism is ready as yet to seize power.

The Italian Communists, who have had to study the problems of fascism for a long time, have protested time and again against the widespread abuse of these concepts. Formerly, at the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, Ercoli was still formulating views on the question of fascism which are now credited as “Trotskyist.” Ercoli at that time defined fascism as being the most thorough and uncompromising system of reaction, and he explained: “This administration supports itself not by the cruelty of its terroristic acts, not by murdering large numbers of workers and peasants, not by applying on a large scale varied methods of brutal torture, not by the severity of its law courts; but it depends upon the systematic annihilation of each and every form of the independent organisation of the masses.” In this Ercoli is absolutely correct: the gist of fascism and its task consist in a complete suppression of all workers’ organisations and in the prevention of their revival. In a developed capitalist society this goal cannot be achieved by police methods alone. There is only one method for it, and that is directly opposing the pressure of the proletariat – the moment it weakens – by the pressure of the desperate masses of the petty bourgeoisie. It is this particular system of capitalist reaction that has entered history under the name of fascism.

“All questions as to the relation between fascism and Social Democracy,” wrote Ercoli, “belong to the same sphere [the irreconcilability of fascism with the existence of the workers’ organisations]. It is in this relation that fascism clearly differentiates itself from all other reactionary regimes established hitherto in the contemporary capitalist world. It rejects all compromise with the Social Democracy; it persecutes it relentlessly; it deprives it of all legal means of existence; it forces it to emigrate.–

So reads an article published in the leading organs of the Comintern! Subsequently, Manuilsky buzzed in Molotov’s ear the great idea of the “third period,” France, Germany, and Poland were assigned to “the front rank of the revolutionary offensive.” The seizure of power was proclaimed to be the immediate task. And since, in the face of the uprising of the proletariat, all parties, except the Communist, are counter-revolutionary, it was no longer necessary to distinguish between fascism and Social Democracy. The theory of social fascism was ordained. And the functionaries of the Comintern lost no time in realigning themselves. Ercoli made haste to prove that, precious as truth was to him, Molotov was more precious, and ... he wrote a report in defence of the theory of social fascism. “The Italian Social Democracy,” he announced in February 1930, “turns fascist with the greatest readiness.” Alas, the functionaries of official Communism turn flunkies even more readily.

As was to be expected, our criticism of the theory and application of the “third period” was decreed counterrevolutionary. Nevertheless, the cruel experiences that cost the proletarian vanguard dearly, forced an about-face in this sphere also. The “third period” was pensioned off, and so was Molotov himself from the Comintern. But the theory of social fascism remained behind as the lone ripe fruit of the third period. No changes could take place here: only Molotov was tied up with the third period; but Stalin himself was enmeshed in social fascism.

Die Rote Fahne begins its researches into social fascism with Stalin’s words, “Fascism is the military organisation of the bourgeoisie which leans upon the Social Democracy for active support. The Social Democracy, objectively speaking, is the moderate wing of fascism.” Objectively speaking, it is a habit with Stalin, when he attempts to generalise, to contradict the first phrase by the second and to conclude in the second what doesn’t at all follow from the first There is no debating that the bourgeoisie leans on the Social Democracy, and that fascism is a military organisation of the bourgeoisie; and this has been remarked upon a long time ago. The only conclusion which follows from this is that the Social Democracy as well as fascism are the tools of the big bourgeoisie. How the Social Democracy becomes thereby also a “wing” of fascism is incomprehensible. Equally profound is another observation by the same author: fascism and Social Democracy are not enemies, they are twins. Now twins may be the bitterest enemies; while on the other hand, allies need not be born necessarily on one and the same day and from identical parents. Stalin’s constructions lack even formal logic, to say nothing of dialectics. Their strength lies in the fact that none dares challenge them.

“As regards ‘the class content’ there are no distinctions between democracy and fascism,” lectures Werner Hirsch, echoing Stalin (Die Internationale, January 1932). The transition from democracy to fascism may take the character of “an organic process,” that is, it may occur “gradually” and “bloodlessly.” Such reasoning might dumbfound anyone, but the epigones have inured us to becoming dumbfounded.

There are no “class distinctions” between democracy and fascism. Obviously this must mean that democracy as well as fascism is bourgeois in character. We guessed as much even prior to January 1932. The ruling class, however, does not inhabit a vacuum. It stands in definite relations to other classes. In a developed capitalist society, during a “democratic regime, the bourgeoisie leans for support primarily upon the working classes, which are held in check by the reformists. In its most finished form, this system finds its expression in Britain during the administration of the Labour government as well as during that of the Conservatives. In a fascist regime, at least during its first phase, capital leans on the petty bourgeoisie, which destroys the organisations of the proletariat. Italy, for instance! Is there a difference in the “class content” of these two regimes? If the question is posed only as regards the ruling class, then there is no difference. If one takes into account the position and the interrelations of all classes, from the angle of the proletariat, then the difference appears to be quite enormous.

In the course of many decades, the workers have built up within the bourgeois democracy, by utilising it, by fighting against it, their own strongholds and bases of proletarian democracy: the trade unions, the political parties, the educational and sport clubs, the cooperatives, etc. The proletariat cannot attain power within the formal limits of bourgeois democracy, but can do so only by taking the road of revolution: this has been proved both by theory and experience. And these bulwarks of workers” democracy within the bourgeois state are absolutely essential for taking the revolutionary road. The work of the Second International consisted in creating just such bulwarks during the epoch when it was still fulfilling its progressive historic labour.

Fascism has for its basic and only task the razing to their foundations of all institutions of proletarian democracy. Has this any “class meaning” for the proletariat, or hasn’t it? The lofty theoreticians had better ponder over this. After pronouncing the regime to be bourgeois – which no one questions Hirsch, together with his masters, overlooks a mere trifle: the position of the proletariat in this regime. In place of the historical process they substitute a bald sociological abstraction. But the class war takes place on the soil of history, and not in the stratosphere of sociology. The point of departure in the struggle against fascism is not the abstraction of the democratic state, but the living organisations of the proletariat, in which is concentrated all its past experience and which prepare it for the future.

The statement that the transition from democracy to fascism may take on an “organic” and a “gradual” character can mean one thing and one thing only and that is: without any fuss, without a fight, the proletariat may be deprived not only of all its material conquests – not only of its given standard of living, of its social legislation, of its civil and political rights but also even of the basic weapon whereby these were achieved, that is, its organisations. The “bloodless” transition to fascism implies under this terminology, the most frightful capitulation of the proletariat that can be conceived.

Werner Hirsch’s theoretical discussions are not accidental; while they serve to develop still further the theoretical soothsayings of Stalin, they also serve to generalise the entire present agitation of the Communist Party. The party’s chief resources are in fact being strained only to prove that there is no difference between Brüning’s regime and Hitler’s regime. Thälmann and Remmele see in this the quintessence of Bolshevik policy.

Nor is the matter restricted to Germany only. The notion that nothing new will be added by the victory of fascists is being zealously propagated now in all sections of the Comintern. In the January issue of the French periodical Cahiers du Bolchevisme we read, “The Trotskyists behave in practice like Breitscheid; they accept the famous Social Democratic theory of the ‘lesser evil,’ according to which Brüning is not as bad as Hitler, according to which it is not so unpleasant to starve under Brüning as under Hitler, and infinitely more preferable to be shot down by Groener than by Frick.” This is not the most stupid passage, although – to give it due credit – stupid enough. Unfortunately, however, it expresses the gist of the political philosophy of the leaders of the Comintern.

The fact of the matter is that the Stalinists compare the two regimes from the point of view of vulgar democracy. And indeed, were one to consider Brüning’s regime from the criterion of “formal” democracy, one would arrive at a conclusion which is beyond argument: nothing is left of the proud Weimar Constitution save the bones and the skin. But this does not settle the question so far as we are concerned. The question must be approached from the angle of proletarian democracy. This criterion is also the only reliable one on which to consider the question as to when and where the “normal” police methods of reaction under decaying capitalism are replaced by the fascist regime.

Whether Brüning is “better” than Hitler (better looking perhaps?) is a question which, we confess, doesn’t interest us at all. But one need only glance at the list of workers’ organisations to assert, fascism has not conquered yet in Germany. In the way of its victory there still remain gigantic obstacles and forces.

The present Brüning regime is the regime of bureaucratic dictatorship or, more definitely, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie enforced by means of the army and the police. The fascist petty bourgeoisie and the proletarian organisations seem to counterbalance one another. Were the workers united by soviets, were factory committees fighting for the control of production, then one could speak of dual power. Because of the split within the proletariat, because of the tactical helplessness of its vanguard, dual power does not exist as yet. But the very fact that mighty organisations of workers do exist, which under certain conditions are capable of repelling fascism with crushing force, that is what keeps Hitler from seising power and imparts a certain “independence” to the bureaucratic apparatus.

Brüning’s dictatorship is a caricature of Bonapartism. His dictatorship is unstable, unreliable, short-lived. It signalises not the initiation of a new social equilibrium but the early crash of the old one. Supported directly only by a small minority of the bourgeoisie, tolerated by the Social Democracy against the will of the workers, threatened by fascism, Brüning can bring down the thunder of paper decrees but not real thunderbolts. Brüning is fit for dissolving parliament with its own assent; he’ll do to promulgate a few decrees against the workers; to proclaim a Christmas truce and to make a few deals under its cover; to break up a hundred meetings, close down a dozen papers, exchange letters with Hitler worthy of a village druggist – that is all. But for greater things his arms are too short.

Brüning is compelled to tolerate the existence of workers’ organisations because he hasn’t decided to this very day to hand the power over to Hitler, and inasmuch as he himself has no independent means of liquidating them. Brüning is compelled to tolerate the fascists and to patronise them inasmuch as he mortally fears the victory of the workers. Brüning’s regime is a transitional, short-lived regime, preceding the catastrophe. The present administration holds on only because the chief camps have not as yet pitted their strength. The real battle has not begun. It is still to come. The dictatorship of bureaucratic impotence fills in the lull before the battle, before the forces are openly matched.

The wiseacres who boast that they do not recognise any difference ‘between Brüning and Hitler,’ are saying in reality; it makes no difference whether our organisations exist, or whether they are already destroyed. Beneath this pseudo-radical phraseology there hides the most sordid passivity; we can’t escape defeat anyway! Read over carefully the quotation from the French Stalinist periodical. They reduce the question to whether it is better to starve under Hitler or Brüning. To them it is a question of under whom to starve. To us, on the contrary, it is not a question of under which conditions it is better to die. We raise the question of how to fight and win. And we conclude thus: the major offensive must be begun before the bureaucratic dictatorship is replaced by the fascist regime, that is, before the workers’ organisations are crushed. The general offensive should be prepared for by deploying, extending, and sharpening the sectional clashes. But for this one must have a correct perspective and, first of all, one should not proclaim victorious the enemy who is still a long way from victory.

Herein is the crux of the problem; herein is the strategical key to the background; herein is the operating base from which the battle must be waged. Every thinking worker, the more so every Communist, must give himself an accounting and plumb to the bottom the empty and rotten talk of the Stalinist bureaucracy about Brüning and Hitler being one and the same thing. You are muddling! we say in answer. You muddle disgracefully because you are afraid of the difficulties that lie ahead, because you are terrified by the great problems that lie ahead; you throw in the sponge before the fighting is begun, you proclaim that we have already suffered defeat. You are lying! The working class is split; it is weakened by the reformists and disoriented by the vacillations of its own vanguard, but it is not annihilated yet, its forces are not yet exhausted. No. The proletariat of Germany is powerful. The most optimistic estimates will be infinitely surpassed once its revolutionary energy clears the way for it to the arena of action.

Brüning’s regime is the preparatory regime. Preparatory to what? Either to the victory of fascism, or to the victory of the proletariat. This regime is preparatory because both camps are only preparing for the decisive battle. If you identify Brüning with Hitler, you identify the conditions before the battle with the conditions after defeat; it means that you admit defeat beforehand; it means that you appeal for surrender without a battle.

The overwhelming majority of the workers, particularly the Communists, does not want this. The Stalinist bureaucracy, of course, does not want it either. But one must take into account not one’s good intentions, with which Hitler will pave the road to his Hell, but the objective meaning of one’s policies, of their direction, and their tendencies. We must disclose in its entirety the passive, timidly hesitant capitulating and declamatory character of the politics of Stalin-Manuilsky-Thälmann-Remmele. We must teach the revolutionary workers to understand that the key to the situation is in the hands of the Communist Party; but the Stalinist bureaucracy attempts to use this key to lock the gates to revolutionary action.


[1] The article is signed with the modest initials E.H. They should be engraved for posterity. Generations of workers have not laboured in vain. Great revolutionary thinkers and fighters did not journey over this earth without leaving their mark. E.H. exists, stays on his job, and points the way to the German proletariat.

Evil tongues would have it that E.H. is closely related to E. Heilmann, who so besmirched himself during the war by the most sordid kind of chauvinism. Impossible! What, such a lucid head ...?

3. Bureaucratic Ultimatism

When the newspapers of the new Socialist Workers Party (the SAP) criticise “the party egoism” of the Social Democracy and of the Communist Party; when Seydewitz assures us that so far as he is concerned, “the interests of the class come before the interests of the party,” they only fall into political sentimentalism or, what is worse, behind this sentimental phraseology they screen the interests of their own party. This method is no good. Whenever reaction demands that the interests of the nation” be placed before class interests, we Marxists take pains to explain that under the guise of “the whole,” the reaction puts through the interests of the exploiting class. The interests of the nation cannot be formulated otherwise than from the point of view of the ruling class, or of the class pretending to sovereignty. The interests of the class cannot be formulated otherwise than in the shape of a program; the program cannot be defended otherwise than by creating the party. The class, taken by itself, is only material for exploitation. The proletariat assumes an independent role only at that moment when from a social class in itself it becomes a political class for itself This cannot take place otherwise than through the medium of a party. The party is that historical organ by means of which the class becomes class conscious. To say that “the class stands higher than the party,” is to assert that the class in the raw stands higher than the class which is on the road to class consciousness. Not only is this incorrect; it is reactionary. There isn’t the slightest need for this smug and shallow theory in order to establish the necessity for a united front.

The progress of a class toward class consciousness, that is, the building of a revolutionary party which leads the proletariat, is a complex and a contradictory process. The class itself is not homogeneous. Its different sections arrive at class consciousness by different paths and at different times. The bourgeoisie participates actively in this process. Within the working class, it creates its own institutions, or utilises those already existing, in order to oppose certain strata of workers to others. Within the proletariat several parties are active at the same time. Therefore, for the greater part of its historical journey, it remains split politically. The problem of the united front – which arises during certain periods most sharply originates therein.

The historical interests of the proletariat find their expression in the Communist Party – when its policies are correct. The task of the Communist Party consists in winning over the majority of the proletariat; and only thus is the socialist revolution made possible. The Communist Party cannot fulfil its mission except by preserving, completely and unconditionally, its political and organisational independence apart from all other parties and organisations within and without the working class. To transgress this basic principle of Marxist policy is to commit the most heinous of crimes against the interests of the proletariat as a class. The Chinese Revolution of 1925-1927 was wrecked precisely because the Comintern, under the leadership of Stalin and Bukharin, forced the Chinese Communist Party to enter into the party of the Chinese bourgeoisie, the Kuomintang, and to obey its discipline. The experience resulting from the application of Stalinist policies as regards the Kuomintang will enter forever into history as an example of how the revolution was ruinously sabotaged by its leaders. The Stalinist theory of “two-class workers’ and peasants’ parties” for the Orient is the generalisation and authorisation of the practice employed with the Kuomintang; the application of this theory in Japan, India, Indonesia, and Korea has undermined the authority of the Comintern and has set back their revolutionary development for a number of years. This same policy – perfidious in its essence – was applied, though not quite so cynically, in the United States, in Britain, and in all countries of Europe up to 1928.

The struggle of the Left Opposition for the maintenance of the complete and unconditional independence of the Communist Party and of its policies, under each and every historical condition, and on all stages of the development of the proletariat, strained the relations between the Opposition and the Stalinist faction to the breaking point during the period of Stalin’s bloc with Chiang Kai-shek, Wang Chin-wei, Purcell, Radich, LaFollette, etc. It is quite unnecessary to recall that both Thälmann and Remmele as well as Brandler and Thalheimer, during this struggle, were completely on Stalin’s side against the Bolshevik-Leninists. It is not we, therefore, who have to go to school and learn from Stalin and Thälmann about the independent policies of the Communist Party!

But the proletariat moves toward revolutionary consciousness not by passing grades in school but by passing through the class struggle, which abhors interruptions. To fight, the proletariat must have unity in its ranks. This holds true for partial economic conflicts, within the walls of a single factory, as well as for such “national” political battles as the one to repel fascism. Consequently the tactic of the united front is not something accidental and artificial – a cunning manoeuvre – not at all; it originates, entirely and wholly, in the objective conditions governing the development of the proletariat. The words in the Communist Manifesto which state that the Communists are not to be opposed to the proletariat, that they have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole, carry with them the meaning that the struggle of the party to win over the majority of the class must in no instance come into opposition with the need of the workers to keep unity within their fighting ranks.

Die Rote Fahne is completely justified in condemning all discussions concerning the contention that “the class interests must be placed above party interests.” In reality, the correctly understood interests of the class are identical with the correctly formulated problems of the party. So long as the discussion is limited to this historico-philosophical assertion, the position of Die Rote Fahne is unassailable. But the political conclusions which it deduces therefrom are nothing short of a mockery of Marxism.

The identity, in principle, of the interests of the proletariat and of the aims of the Communist Party does not mean either that the proletariat as a whole is, even today, conscious of its class interests, or that the party under all conditions formulates them correctly. The very need for the party originates in the plain fact that the proletariat is not born with the innate understanding of its historical interests. The task of the party consists in learning, from experience derived from the struggle, how to demonstrate to the proletariat its right to leadership. And yet the Stalinist bureaucracy, on the contrary, holds to the opinion that it can demand outright obedience from the proletariat, simply on the strength of a party passport, stamped with the seal of the Comintern.

Every united front that doesn’t first place itself under the leadership of the Communist Party, reiterates Die Rote Fahne, is directed against the interests of the proletariat. Whoever doesn’t recognise the leadership of the Communist Party is himself a “counterrevolutionary.” The worker is obliged to trust the Communist organisation in advance, on its word of honour. From the identity, in principle, of the aims of the party and of the class, the functionary deduces his right to lay down the law to the class. The very historical problem which the Communist Party is yet to solve – that of uniting the overwhelming majority of the workers under its banner – is turned by the bureaucrat into an ultimatum, into a pistol which he holds against the temple of the working class. Formalistic, administrative, and bureaucratic thinking supplants the dialectic.

The historical problem that must be solved is decreed as solved already. The confidence yet to be won is announced as won already. That, it goes without saying, is the easiest way out. But very little is achieved that way. In politics one must proceed from facts as they are, and not as one would like them to be, or as they will be eventually. The position of the Stalinist bureaucracy drawn to its conclusion leads, in fact, to the negation of the party. For what is the net result of all its historical labour, if the proletariat is obliged beforehand to accept the leadership of Thälmann and Remmele?

From the worker desirous of joining the ranks of the Communists, the party has a right to demand: you must accept our program and obey our regulations and the authority of our electoral institutions. But it is absurd and criminal to present the same a priori demand, or even a part of it, to the working masses of workers’ organisations when the matter of joint action for the sake of definite aims of struggle is broached. Thereby the very foundations of the party are undermined; for the party can fulfil its task only by maintaining correct relations with the class. Instead of issuing such a one-sided ultimatum, which irritates and insults the workers, the party should submit a definite program for joint action: that is the surest way of achieving leadership in reality.

Ultimatism is an attempt to rape the working class after failing to convince it: workers, unless you accept the leadership of Thälmann-Remmele-Neumann, we will not permit you to establish the united front The bitterest foe could not devise a more unsound position than the one in which the leaders of the party place themselves. That is the surest way to ruin.

The leadership of the German Communist Party stresses its ultimatism all the more sharply by the casuistic circumlocution in its proclamations, “We make no demands that you accept our Communist view beforehand.” This rings like an apology for policies for which there is no apology. When the party proclaims its refusal to enter into any kind of negotiations with other organisations but offers to take in under the party leadership those Social Democratic workers who want to break with their organisations without their being obliged to call themselves Communists, then the party is using the language of pure ultimatism. The reservation as regards “our Communist views” is absolutely ludicrous; the worker who is at this very moment ready to break with his party and to participate in the struggle under Communist leadership, would not be deterred by the fact that he must call himself a Communist. Jugglery with labels and subtleties of diplomacy are foreign to the worker. He takes politics and organisations as they are. He remains with the Social Democracy so long as he does not trust the Communist leadership. We can say with assurance that the majority of Social Democratic workers remain in their party to this day not because they trust the reformist leadership but because they do not as yet trust that of the Communists. But they do want to fight against fascism even now. Were they shown the first step to take in a common struggle, they would insist upon their organisations taking that step. If their organisations balked, they might reach the point of breaking with them.

Instead of aiding the Social Democratic workers to find their way through experience, the CEC (Central Executive Committee) of the Communist Party abets the leaders of the Social Democracy against the workers. The Welses and the Hilferdings are enabled to mask successfully their own unwillingness to fight, their dread of fighting, their inability to fight by citing the aversion of the Communist Party to participation in a common struggle. The stubborn, doltish, and insensate rejection by the Communist Party of the policies of the united front provides the Social Democracy, under the present conditions, with its most important political weapon. This is just the reason why the Social Democracy – with the parasitism inherent in its nature – snaps up our criticism of the ultimatistic policies of Stalin-Thälmann.

The official leaders of the Comintern are now expatiating with an air of profundity upon the need to elevate the theoretical level of the party and to study “the history of Bolshevism.” Actually “the level” is falling constantly, the lessons of Bolshevism are forgotten, distorted, and trampled underfoot. In the meantime, it is by no means difficult to find in the history of the Russian party the precursor of the present policy of the German CEC: he is none other than the deceased Bogdanov, the founder of ultimatism. As far back as 1905 he deemed it impossible for the Bolsheviks to participate in the Petrograd Soviet, unless the Soviet recognised beforehand the leadership of the Social Democrats. Under Bogdanov’s influence, the Petrograd Bureau of the CEC (Bolsheviks) passed a resolution in October 1905: to submit before the Petrograd Soviet the demand that it recognise the leadership of the party; and in the event of refusal – to walk out of the Soviet. Krassikov, a young lawyer, in those days a member of the CEC (Bolsheviks), read this ultimatum at the plenary session of the Soviet The worker deputies, among them Bolsheviks also, exchanged surprised looks and then passed on to the business on the order of the day. Not a man walked out of the Soviet. Shortly after that Lenin arrived from abroad, and he raked the ultimatists over the coals mercilessly. “You can’t,” he lectured them, “nor can anyone else by means of ultimatums force the masses to skip the necessary phases of their own political development.”

Bogdanov, however, did not discard his methodology, and he subsequently founded an entire faction of “ultimatists” or “up and outers,” called Otzovists. They received the latter nickname because of their tendency to call upon the Bolsheviks to get up and get out from all those organisations that refused to accept the ultimatum laid down from above: “you must first accept our leadership.” The ultimatists attempted to apply their policy not only to the Soviets but also to the parliamentary sphere and to the trade unions, in short, to all legal and semi-legal organisations of the working class.

Lenin’s fight against ultimatism was a fight for the correct interrelation between the party and the class. The ultimatists in the old Bolshevik Party never played a role of the slightest importance, otherwise the victory of Bolshevism would not have been possible. The strength of Bolshevism lay in its wide awake and sensitive relation to the class. Lenin continued his fight against ultimatism even when he was in supreme command, in particular and especially as regards the attitude to the trade unions. “Indeed, if now in Russia,” he wrote, “after two and a half years of unheard-of victories over the bourgeoisie of Russia and of the Entente, we were to place before the trade unions as a condition for their joining us that they ‘recognise the dictatorship’ we would be guilty of stupidity, we would impair our influence over the masses, we would aid the Mensheviks. For the task of the Communists consists in being able to convince the backward; to know how to work among them and not to fence ourselves off from them by a barrier of fictitious and puerile ‘left’ slogans” (“Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder). This holds all the more for the Communist Parties of the West, which represent only a minority of the working class.

During the last few years, however, the situation in the USSR has changed radically. The arming of the Communist Party with sovereignty means the introduction of a new element into the interrelation between the vanguard and the class: into this relation there enters the element of force. Lenin’s struggle against party and Soviet bureaucracy was in its essence a struggle not against the faulty organisation of departments, nor against departmental red tape and inefficiency but against the apparatus laying down the law to the class, against the transformation of the party bureaucracy into a new “ruling” clique. Lenin’s counsel, from his deathbed, that a proletarian Control Commission be created, independent of the CEC, and that Stalin and his faction be removed from the party apparatus, was aimed against the bureaucratic degeneration of the party. For various reasons, which cannot be dealt with here, the party ignored this counsel. Of recent years the bureaucratic degeneration of the party has reached the extreme limit. Stalin’s apparatus simply lays down the law. The language of command is the language of ultimatism. Every worker must perforce and forthwith accept as infallible all the past, present, and future decisions of the CEC. The more erroneous the policies become, the greater are the pretensions to infallibility.

After gathering into its hands the apparatus of the Comintern, the Stalinist faction naturally transferred its methods to the foreign sections also, i.e., to the Communist Parties in the capitalist nations. The policy of the German leaders has for its counterpart the policy of the Moscow leadership. Thälmann observes how Stalin’s bureaucracy rules the roost, by condemning as counterrevolutionary all those who do not recognise its infallibility. Wherein is Thälmann worse than Stalin? If the working class does not willingly place itself under his leadership, that is only because the working class is counterrevolutionary. Double-dyed counterrevolutionaries are those who point out the balefulness of ultimatism. The collected works of Lenin are among the most counterrevolutionary publications. There is sufficient reason why Stalin should – as he does – submit them to such rigid censorship, particularly on their publication in foreign languages. As baleful as ultimatism. is under all conditions, if in the USSR it dissipates the moral capital of the party – it breeds double disaster for the Western parties, which must yet begin accumulating their moral capital. Within the Soviet Union, at least, the victorious revolution has created the material grounds for bureaucratic ultimatism in the shape of an apparatus for repression, whereas in capitalist countries, including Germany, ultimatism becomes converted into an impotent caricature, and interferes with the movement of the Communist Party to power. Above all, the ultimatism of Thälmann-Remmele is ridiculous. And whatever is ridiculous is fatal, particularly in matters concerning a revolutionary party.

Let us for a moment transfer the problem to Great Britain, where the Communist Party (as a consequence of the ruinous mistakes of Stalinist bureaucracy) still comprises an insignificant portion of the proletariat. If one accepts the theory that every type of the united front, except the Communist, is “counter-revolutionary,” then obviously the British proletariat must put off its revolutionary struggle until that time when the Communist Party is able to come to the fore. But the Communist Party cannot come to the front of the class except on the basis of its own revolutionary experience. However, its experience cannot take on a revolutionary character in any other way than by drawing mass millions into the struggle. Yet non-Communist masses, the more so if organised, cannot be drawn into the struggle except through the policy of the united front. We fall into a vicious circle, from which there is no way out by means of bureaucratic ultimatism. But the revolutionary dialectic has long since pointed the way out and has demonstrated it by countless examples in the most diverse spheres: by correlating the struggle for power with the struggle for reforms; by maintaining complete independence of the party while preserving the unity of the trade unions; by fighting against the bourgeois regime and at the same time utilising its institutions; by relentlessly criticising parliamentarism – from the parliamentary tribunal; by waging war mercilessly against reformism, and at the same time making practical agreements with the reformists in partial struggles.

In Britain, the incompetence of ultimatism hits one in the eye because of the extreme weakness of the party. In Germany the balefulness of ultimatism is masked somewhat by the considerable numerical strength of the party and by its growth. But the German party is growing on account of the pressure of events and not thanks to the policies of the leadership; not because of ultimatism, but despite it. Moreover, the numerical growth of the party does not play the decisive role; what does decide is the political interrelation between the party and the class. Along this line, which is fundamental, the situation is not improving, because the German party has placed between itself and the class the thorny hedge of ultimatism.

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.

5. An Historical Review of the ... United Front

The contentions regarding the policies of the united front take their origin from such fundamental and inexorable exigencies of the struggle of class against class (in the Marxist and not the bureaucratic sense of these words) that one cannot read the refutations of the Stalinist bureaucracy without a feeling of shame and indignation. It is one thing to keep on explaining, from day to day, the most rudimentary ideas to the most backward and benighted workers or peasants, One can do it without any feeling of exhaustion; for here it is a matter of enlightening fresh strata. But woe to him who is perforce obliged to explain and to prove elementary propositions to people whose brains have been flattened out by the bureaucratic steam roller. What can one do with “leaders” who have no logical arguments at their disposal and who make up for that by referring to the cyclopedia of international epithets. The fundamental propositions of Marxism they parry by one and the same epithet, “counter-revolution”! This word has become inordinately cheapened on the lips of those who have in no manner as yet proved their capacity to achieve a revolution. Still, what about the decisions passed by the first four Congresses of the Comintern? Does the Stalinist bureaucracy accept them, or not?

The documents still survive and still preserve their significance to this day. Out of a large number, I have chosen the theses worked out by me, between the III and the IV Congresses; they relate to the French Communist Party; they were approved by the Politbureau of the CPSU and the Executive Committee of the Comintern and were published, in their time, in various foreign Communist publications. Below is reprinted verbatim that part of the theses which is devoted to the formulation and the defence of the policy of the united front:

It is quite obvious that the class life of the proletariat does not cease during the period preparatory to the revolution. Clashes with industrialists, with the bourgeoisie, with the state, at the initiative of either side, occur with the self-same regularity. In these clashes, in so far as they involve the vital interests of the entire working class, or of its majority, or any part of it, the working masses realise the need for united action ...The party that mechanically counterposes itself to this need ... will be inevitably condemned in the minds of the workers.

“The problem of the united front-notwithstanding the inevitable split, in a given period, between the political organisations which lean upon the working class-originates in the urgent need to guarantee to the working class the possibility of the united front in its struggle against capitalism. For him who does not understand this. problem, the party is a society for propaganda, and not the organisation for mass action.

“Had not the Communist party broken definitely and irrevocably with the social democracy, it could have never become the party of the proletarian revolution. Had not the Communist party sought for organisational means to the end that, at each given moment, joint action, mutually agreed upon, be made possible between the Communist and non-Communist (including the social-democratic) working masses, it would have revealed thereby its incapacity – on the basis of mass action – to win over the majority of the working class.

“After dissociating the Communists from reformism, it is not enough to bind them by organisational discipline; it is also necessary that the organisation be taught how to guide all collective activities of the proletariat, in all spheres of its living struggle. That is the second letter of the ABC of Communism.

“Is the united front to be extended so as to include only the working masses, or so as to include also opportunistic leaders? The very manner in which this question is posed is the outgrowth of a misconception. Were we able to simply unite the working masses around our banner ... by eliminating the reformist party, or trade union organisations – that, of course, would be the best way. But, in that case, the very question of the united front, in its present form, would be non-existent.

“We are interested, beyond all other considerations, in dragging the reformists from out of their lairs and in opposing them before the eyes of the struggling masses. With a correct tactic, we alone stand to gain thereby. The Communist who is dubious or afraid of this behaves after the fashion of a swimmer who, after approving the propositions as regards the best method of swimming, dares not risk jumping into the water.

“Upon entering into agreements with other organisations, we bind ourselves, of course, to a certain discipline of action. But this discipline must not take on an absolute character. In the event that the reformists begin applying the brake to the struggle, to the evident detriment of the movement and in counterpoise to the situation and the state of mind of the masses, we, as an independent organisation, always reserve the right to lead the struggle to its conclusion without our temporary semi-allies.

“One can see in this policy a merger with the reformists only from the point of view of a journalist, who flatters himself that he is far removed from reformism because he criticises it in the self-same pat phraseology, without leaving the editorial room, but who is leery of encountering it in the eyes of the working masses and thus giving them the opportunity to appraise the Communist and the reformist under the equal conditions of the mass struggle. Behind this ostensibly revolutionary dread of ‘merger’ there hides, in fact, a political passivity which yearns to maintain such an order of things as will allow both the Communists and the reformists to have their own sharply demarcated spheres of influence, their own audiences at meetings, and their own press – which all together creates the illusion of a serious political struggle.

“In the question of the united front, as it is raised, we observe a passive and wishy-washy tendency masked by verbal intransigence. At once, the following paradox hits one in the eye: the Right wing elements of the party, with their Centrist and pacifist tendencies… step forward as the most irreconcilable opponents of the united front. And on the other hand, those elements, which, during the most difficult moments held their position entirely on the grounds of the 3rd International, now step forward for the tactic of the united front. What is actually the case is that the supporters of the temporising and passive tactic are now stepping forward behind the mask of pseudo-revolutionary intransigeance.” (Trotsky, Five Years of the Comintern, pp.375-378; Russian edition.)

Doesn’t it seem as if these lines were written today against Stalin-Manuilsky-Thälmann-Neumann? Actually, they were written ten years ago, against Frossard, Cachin, Charles Rappaport, Daniel Renoult and other French opportunists disguising themselves with ultra-leftism. We put this question point blank to the Stalinist bureaucracy: Were the theses we quoted “counter-revolutionary” even during that time when they expressed the policies of the Russian Politbureau, with Lenin at its head, and when they defined the policy of the Comintern? We warn them duly not to attempt in answer to reply that conditions have changed since that period: the matter does not concern questions of conjuncture; but, as the text itself puts it, of the A B C of Marxism.

And so, ten years ago, the Comintern explained that the gist of the united front policy was in the following: the Communist party proves to the masses and their organisations its readiness in action to wage battle in common with them, for aims, no matter how modest, so long as they lie on the road of the historical development of the proletariat; the Communist party in this struggle takes into account the actual condition of the class at each given moment; it turns not to the masses only, but also to those organisations whose leadership. is recognised by the masses; it confronts the reformist organisations before the eyes of the masses with the real problems of the class struggle. The policy of the united front hastens the revolutionary development of the class by revealing in the open that the common struggle is undermined not by the disruptive acts of the Communist party but by the conscious sabotage of the leaders of the social democracy. It is absolutely clear that these conceptions could in no sense have become obsolete.

Then how explain the rejection of the policy of the united front by the Comintern? By the miscarriages and the failures of this policy in the past. Were these failures, the causes for which reside, not in the policy but in the politicians, examined and analysed and studied in their time, the German Communist Party would be strategically and tactically excellently equipped for the present situation. But the Stalinist bureaucracy chose to behave like the near-sighted monkey in the fable; after adjusting the spectacles on its tail and licking them to no result, the monkey concluded that they were no good at all and dashed them against a rock. Put it as you please, but the spectacles are not at fault.

The mistakes made in the policy of the united front fall into two categories. In mot cases the leading organs of the Communist party approached the reformists with an offer of joining in a common struggle for radical slogans which were alien to the situation and which found no response in the masses. These proposals partook of the nature of blank shots. The masses remained indifferent, the reformist leaders interpreted these proposals of the Communists as a trick to destroy the social democracy. In each of these instances only a purely formal, declamatory application of the policy of united front was inaugurated; whereas, by its very nature, it can prove fruitful only on the basis of a realistic appraisal of the situation and of the condition of the masses. The weapon of “open letters” became outworn from too frequent and thereto, faulty application, and had to be given up.

The second type of perversion bore a much more fatal character. In the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the policy of the united front became a hue and cry after allies at the cost of sacrificing the independence of the party. Backed by Moscow and deeming themselves omnipotent, the functionaries of the Comintern seriously esteemed themselves to be capable of laying down the law to the classes and of prescribing their itinerary; of checking the agrarian and strike movements in China; of buying an alliance with Chiang Kai-Shek at the cost of sacrificing the independent policies of the Comintern; of re-educating the trade union bureaucracy, the chief bulwark of British imperialism through educational courses at banquet tables in London, or in Caucasian resorts; of transforming Croatian bourgeois of Radich’s type into Communists, etc., etc. All this was undertaken, of course, with the best of intentions, in order to hasten developments by accomplishing for the masses what the masses weren’t mature enough to do for themselves. It’s not beside the point to mention that in a number of countries, Austria in particular, the functionaries of the Comintern tried their hand, during the past period, at creating artificially and “from above” a “Left” social democracy-to serve as a bridge to Communism. Nothing but failures were produced by this tomfoolery likewise. Invariably these experiments and filibusterings ended catastrophically. The revolutionary movement in the world was flung back for many years.

Thereupon Manuilsky decided to break the spectacles; and as for Kuusinen – he, to avoid further mistakes, decreed everyone, except himself and his cronies, to be Fascists. Whereupon the matter was clarified and simplified, no more mistakes were possible. What kind of a united front can there be with “social Fascists” against National Fascists, or with the “Left social Fascists” against the “Rights”? Thus by describing over our heads an arc of 180°, the Stalinist bureaucracy found itself compelled to announce the decisions of the first four Congresses as counter-revolutionary.

6. Lessons of the Russian Experience

In one of our earlier pamphlets, we made reference to the Bolshevik experience in the struggle against Kornilov; the official leaders answered with bellows of disapproval. We shall recapitulate here once again the gist of the matter, in order to show more clearly and in greater detail how the Stalinist school draws lessons from the past. During July and August 1917, Kerensky, then head of the government, was in fact fulfilling the program of Kornilov, the commander-in-chief of the army. He reinstated at the front military court-martials and the death penalty. He deprived the duly elected soviets of all influence upon government matters; he repressed the peasants; he doubled the price of bread (under the state trade monopoly of the foodstuffs); he prepared for the evacuation of revolutionary Petrograd; with Kornilov’s consent, he moved up counter-revolutionary troops towards the capital; he promised the Allies to initiate a new attack at the front, etc. Such was the general political background.

On August 26, Kornilov broke with Kerensky because of the latter’s vacillation, and threw his army against Petrograd. The status of the Bolshevik Party was semi-legal. Its leaders from Lenin down were either hiding underground or committed to prison, being indicted for affiliation with the General Staff of the Hohenzollerns. The Bolshevik papers were being suppressed. These persecutions emanated from Kerensky’s government, which was supported from the left by the coalition of Social Revolutionary and Menshevik deputies.

What course did the Bolshevik Party take? Not for an instant did it hesitate to conclude a practical alliance to fight against Kornilov with its jailers – Kerensky, Tseretelli, Dan, etc. Everywhere committees for revolutionary defence were organised, into which the Bolsheviks entered as a minority. This did not hinder the Bolsheviks from assuming the leading role: in agreements projected for revolutionary mass action, the most thoroughgoing and the boldest revolutionary party stands to gain always. The Bolsheviks were in the front ranks; they smashed down the barriers blocking them from the Menshevik workers and especially from the Social Revolutionary soldiers, and carried them along in their wake.

Perhaps the Bolsheviks took this course of action only because they were caught unawares? No. During the preceding months, the Bolsheviks tens and hundreds of times demanded that the Mensheviks join them in a common struggle against the mobilising forces of the counterrevolution. Even on May 27, while Tseretelli was clamouring for repressions against Bolshevik sailors, Trotsky declared during the session of the Petrograd Soviet, “When the time comes and the counterrevolutionary general will try to slip the noose around the neck of the revolution, the Cadets will be busy soaping the rope, but the sailors of Kronstadt will come to fight and to die side by side with us.” These words were fully confirmed. In the midst of Kornilov’s campaign, Kerensky appealed to the sailors of the cruiser Aurora, begging them to assume the defence of the Winter Palace. These sailors were, without exception, Bolsheviks. They hated Kerensky. Their hatred did not hinder them from vigilantly guarding the Winter Palace. Their representatives came to the Kresty Prison for an interview with Trotsky, who was jailed there, and they asked, “Why not arrest Kerensky?” But they put the query half in jest: the sailors understood that it was necessary first to smash Kornilov and after that to attend to Kerensky. Thanks to a correct political leadership, the sailors of the Aurora understood more than Thälmann’s Central Committee.

Die Rote Fahne refers to our historical review as “fraudulent.” Why? Vain question. How can one expect reasoned refutations from these people? They are under orders from Moscow, on the pain of losing their jobs, to set up a howl at the mention of Trotsky’s name. They fulfil the command, as best they can. Trotsky produced, in their words, “a fraudulent comparison” between the struggle of the Bolsheviks during Kornilov’s reactionary mutiny, at the beginning of September 1917 at the time when the Bolsheviks were fighting with the Mensheviks for a majority within the soviets, immediately before an acutely revolutionary situation; at the time when the Bolsheviks, armed in the struggle against Kornilov, were simultaneously carrying on a flank attack on Kerensky – with the present “struggle” of Brüning “against” Hitler. “In this manner, Trotsky paints the support of Brüning and of the Prussian government as ‘the lesser evil’.” (Die Rote Fahne, December 22, 1931) It is quite a task to refute this barrage of words. A pretence is made that I compare the Bolshevik struggle against Kornilov with Brüning’s struggle against Hitler. I don’t overestimate the mental capacities of the editors of Die Rote Fahne – but these gentlemen could not be so stupid as not to understand what I meant. Brüning’s struggle against Hitler I compared with Kerensky’s struggle against Kornilov; the struggle of the Bolsheviks against Kornilov I compared with the struggle of the German Communist Party against Hitler. Wherein is this comparison “fraudulent”? The Bolsheviks, says Die Rote Fahne, were fighting at the time with the Mensheviks for the majority in the soviets. But the German Communist Party, too, is righting against the Social Democracy for the majority of the working class. In Russia they were faced with “an acute revolutionary situation.” Quite true! If, however, the Bolsheviks had adopted Thälmann’s position in August 1917, then instead of a revolutionary situation a counterrevolutionary situation could have ensued.

During the last days of August, Kornilov was crushed, in reality not by force of arms but by the singleness of purpose with which the masses were imbued. Then and there, after September 3, Lenin offered through the press to compromise with the Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks: you compose the majority in the soviets, he said to them. Take over the state; we shall support you against the bourgeoisie. Guarantee us complete freedom of agitation and we shall assure you of a peaceful struggle for the majority in the soviets. Such an opportunist was Lenin! The Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries rejected the compromise, i.e., the new offer of a united front against the bourgeoisie. In the hands of the Bolsheviks, this rejection became a mighty weapon in preparation for the armed uprising, which within seven weeks swept away the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries.

Up to now there has been only one victorious proletarian revolution in the world. I do not at all hold that we committed no errors on our road to victory; but nevertheless, I maintain that our experience has some value for the German Communist Party. I cite the closest and the most pertinent historical analogy. How do the leaders of the German Communist Party reply? With profanity.

Only the ultra-left group, Der Rote Kaempfer, attempted to refute our comparison “seriously,” accoutred in the complete armour of erudition. It holds that the Bolsheviks behaved correctly in August, “because Kornilov was the standard-bearer of the Czarist counter-revolution, which means that he was waging the battle of the feudal reaction against the bourgeois revolution. Under these conditions the tactical coalition of the workers with the bourgeoisie and its Social Revolutionary Menshevik appendage was not only correct but necessary and unavoidable as well, because the interests of both classes coincided in the matter of repelling the feudal counter-revolution.” But since Hitler represents not the feudal but the bourgeois counter-revolution, the Social Democracy which supports the bourgeoisie cannot take the field against Hitler. That’s why the united front does not exist in Germany, and that’s why Trotsky’s comparison is erroneous.

All this has a very imposing sound. But coming down to actual facts, not a word of it is true. In August 1917, the Russian bourgeoisie was not at all opposed to the feudal reaction; all the landowners supported the Cadet Party, which fought against the expropriation of the landowners. Kornilov proclaimed himself a Republican, “the son of a peasant” and the supporter of agrarian reform and of the constitutional assembly. The entire bourgeoisie supported Kornilov. The alliance of the Bolsheviks with the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks was made possible only because the conciliationists broke with the bourgeoisie temporarily: they were compelled to, from fear of Kornilov. The representatives of these parties knew that the moment Kornilov was victorious the bourgeoisie would no longer need them, and would allow Kornilov to strangle them. Within these limits there is, as we see, a complete analogy with the interrelations between the Social Democracy and fascism.

The distinctions begin not at all where the theoreticians of Der Rote Kaempfer see them. In Russia, the masses of the petty bourgeoisie, above all the peasants, gravitated to the left and not to the right. Kornilov did not lean upon the petty bourgeoisie. And just because of this, his movement was not fascist. The counter-revolution was bourgeois – not at all feudal – in conspiracy with the generals. Therein lay its weakness. Kornilov leaned upon the moral support of the entire bourgeoisie and the military support of the officers and Junkers, i.e., the younger generation of the same bourgeoisie. This proved to be insufficient. But had Bolshevik policies been false, the victory of Kornilov was by no means excluded.

As we see, the arguments in Der Rote Kaempfer against the united front in Germany are based on the fact that its theoreticians understand neither the Russian nor the German situation. [3]

Since Die Rote Fahne doesn’t feel secure on the slippery ice of Russian history, it attempts to tackle the question from the opposite direction. “To Trotsky, only the National Socialists are fascists. The declaration of the state of emergency, the dictatorial wage reductions, the effective prohibition of strikes ... all this is not fascism to Trotsky. All this our party must put up with.” These people almost disarm one with the impotence of their spleen. When and where did I suggest anyone’s “putting up with” Brüning’s government? And just what does this “putting up with” mean? If it’s a matter of parliamentary or extra-parliamentary support of the Brüning regime, then you should be ashamed of even bringing up such a topic for discussion among Communists. But in another and a wider historical sense you, raucously bleating gentlemen, are nevertheless compelled to “put up with” Brüning’s government, because you lack the thews and sinews to overthrow it

All the arguments which Die Rote Fahne musters against me in relation to the German situation might have been used with equal justification against the Bolsheviks in 1917. One might have said, “For Bolsheviks, Kornilovism begins only with Kornilov. But isn’t Kerensky a Kornilovite? Aren’t his policies aimed toward strangling the revolution? Isn’t he crushing the peasants by means of punitive expeditions? Doesn’t he organise lockouts? Doesn’t Lenin have to hide underground? And all this we must put up with?”

So far as I recall, I can’t think of a single Bolshevik rash enough to have advanced such arguments. But were he to be found, he would have been answered something after this fashion. “We accuse Kerensky of preparing for and facilitating the coming of Kornilov to power. But does this relieve us of the duty of rushing to repel Kornilov’s attack? We accuse the gatekeeper of leaving the gates ajar for the bandit. But must we therefore shrug our shoulders and let the gates go hang?” Since, thanks to the toleration of the Social Democracy, Brüning’s government has been able to push the proletariat up to its knees in capitulation to fascism, you arrive at the conclusion that up to the knees, up to the waist, or over the head isn’t it all one thing? No, there is some difference. Whoever is up to his knees in a quagmire can still drag himself out Whoever is in over his head, for him there is no returning.

Lenin wrote about the ultra-lefts: “They say many flattering things about us Bolsheviks. At times one feels like saying, ‘Please, praise us a little less, and try your hand a little more at investigating the tactics of the Bolsheviks, and become a little better acquainted with them.’”


[3] The French periodical Cahiers du Bolchevisme, the most preposterous and illiterate of all Stalinist publications, pounced greedily upon this reference to the devil’s grandmother, never suspecting, of course, that she has a long history in the Marxist press. The hour is not distant, we hope, when the revolutionary workers will send their ignorant and unscrupulous teachers to serve their apprenticeship with the above-mentioned grandmother.

7. Lessons Of The Italian Experience

Italian fascism was the immediate outgrowth of the betrayal by the reformists of the uprising of the Italian proletariat From the time the war ended, there was an upward trend in the revolutionary movement in Italy, and in September 1920, it resulted in the seizure of factories and industries by the workers. The dictatorship of the proletariat was an actual fact; all that was lacking was to organise it, and to draw from it all the necessary conclusions. The Social Democracy took fright and sprang back. After its bold and heroic exertions, the proletariat was left facing the void. The disruption of the revolutionary movement became the most important factor in the growth of fascism. In September, the revolutionary advance came to a standstill; and November already witnessed the firs major demonstration of the fascists (the seizure of Bologna). True, the proletariat even after the September catastrophe, was capable of waging defensive battles. But the Social Democracy was concerned with only one thing: to withdraw the workers from under fire at the cost of one concession after the other. The Social Democracy hoped that the docile conduct of the workers would restore the “public opinion” of the bourgeoisie against the fascists. Moreover, the reformists even banked strongly upon the help of Victor Emmanuel. To the last hour, they restrained the workers with might and main from giving battle to Mussolini’s bands. It availed them nothing. The Crown, along with the upper crust of the bourgeoisie swung over to the side of fascism. Convinced at the last moment that fascism was not to be checked by obedience, the Social Democrats issued a call to the workers for a general strike. But their proclamation suffered a fiasco. The reformists had dampened the powder so long, in their fear lest it should explode, that when they finally and with a trembling hand applied a burning fuse to it, the powder did not catch.

Two years after its inception, fascism was in power. It entrenched itself thanks to the fact that the first period of its overlordship coincided with a favourable economic conjuncture, which followed the depression of 1921-1922. The fascists crushed the retreating proletariat beneath the offensive power of the petty bourgeoisie. But this was not achieved at a single blow. Even after he assumed power, Mussolini proceeded on his course with due caution: he lacked as yet ready-made models. During the first two years, not even the constitution was altered. The fascist government took on the character of a coalition. In the meantime the fascist bands were busy at work with clubs, knives, and pistols. Thus, slowly, the fascist government was created that meant the complete strangulation of all independent mass organisations.

Mussolini attained this at the cost of bureaucratising the fascist party itself. After utilising the onrushing forces of the petty bourgeoisie, fascism strangled it within the vise of the bourgeois state. He couldn’t have done otherwise, for the disillusionment of the masses he had united was transforming itself into the most immediate danger ahead. Fascism, become bureaucratic, approaches very closely to other forms of military and police dictatorship. It no longer possesses its former social support. The chief reserve of fascism – the petty bourgeoisie – has been spent. Only historical inertia enables the fascist government to keep the proletariat in a state of dispersion and helplessness. The correlation of forces is changing automatically in favour of the proletariat. This change must lead to a revolution. The downfall of fascism will be one of the most catastrophic events in European history. But all these processes, as the facts bear out, need time. The fascist government has maintained itself for ten years already. How much longer will it hold on? Without venturing into the risky business of setting dates, one can still say with assurance that Hitler’s victory in Germany would mean a new and a long lease of life for Mussolini. Hitler’s crash will mean the beginning of the end for Mussolini.

In its politics as regards Hitler, the German Social Democracy has not been able to add a single word: all it does is repeat more ponderously whatever the Italian reformists in their own time performed with greater flights of temperament The latter explained fascism as a post war psychosis; the German Social Democracy sees in it a “Versailles” or crisis psychosis. In both instances, the reformists shut their eyes to the organic character of fascism as a mass movement growing out of the collapse of capitalism.

Fearful of the revolutionary mobilisation of the workers, the Italian reformists banked all their hopes on “the state. “ Their slogan was, “Victor Emmanuel! Help! Intervene!” The German Social Democracy lacks such a democratic bulwark as a monarch loyal to the constitution. So they must be content with a president. “Hindenburg! Help! Intervene!”

While waging battle against Mussolini, that is, while retreating before him, Turati let loose his dazzling motto, “One must have the manhood to be a coward.” The German reformists are less frisky with their slogans. They demand, “Courage under unpopularity (Mut zur Unpopularität).” Which amounts to the same thing. One must not be afraid of the unpopularity which has been aroused by one’s own cowardly temporising with the enemy.

Identical causes produce identical effects. Were the march of events dependent upon the Social Democratic Party leadership, Hitler’s career would be assured.

One must admit, however, that the German Communist Party has also learned little from the Italian experience.

The Italian Communist Party came into being almost simultaneously with fascism. But the same conditions of revolutionary ebb tide which carried the fascists to power served to deter the development of the Communist Party. It did not take account of the full sweep of the fascist danger; it lulled itself with revolutionary illusions; it was irreconcilably antagonistic to the policy of the united front; in short, it called from all the infantile diseases. Small wonder! It was only two years old. In its eyes fascism appeared to be only “capitalist reaction.” The particular traits of fascism which spring from the mobilisation of the petty bourgeoisie against the proletariat, the Communist Party was unable to discern. Italian comrades inform me that with the sole exception of Gramsci, the Communist Party wouldn’t even allow of the possibility of the fascists’ seizing power. Once the proletarian revolution had suffered defeat and capitalism had kept its ground, and the counter-revolution had triumphed, how could there be any further kind of counter-revolutionary upheaval? The bourgeoisie cannot rise up against itself! Such was the gist of the political orientation of the Italian Communist Party. Moreover, one must not let out of sight the fact that Italian fascism was then a new phenomenon, and only in the process of formation; it wouldn’t have been an easy task even for a more experienced party to distinguish its specific traits.

The leadership of the German Communist Party reproduces today almost literally the position from which the Italian Communists took their point of departure: fascism is nothing else but capitalist reaction; from the point of view of the proletariat the differences between divers types of capitalist reaction are meaningless. This vulgar radicalism is the less excusable because the German party is much older than the Italian was at a corresponding period; and in addition, Marxism has been enriched now by the tragic experience in Italy. To insist that fascism is already here, or to deny the very possibility of its coming to power – amounts politically to one and the same thing. By ignoring the specific nature of fascism, the will to fight against it becomes inevitably paralysed,

The brunt of the blame must be borne, of course, by the leadership of the Comintern. Italian Communists above all others were duty-bound to raise their voices in alarm. But Stalin, with Manuilsky, compelled them to disavow the most important lessons of their own annihilation. We have already observed with what diligent alacrity Ercoli switched over to the position of social fascism, i.e., to the position of passively waiting for the fascist victory in Germany.

For a long time, the international Social Democracy solaced itself with the notion that Bolshevism was conceivable only in a backward country. It found refuge in the same solace afterwards as regards fascism. The German Social Democracy is now compelled to experience on its own back the falseness of this comforting notion: its fellow travellers from the petty bourgeoisie have gone and are going over to the fascist camp; the workers are leaving it for the Communist Party. Only these two groups are growing in Germany: fascism and Bolshevism. Even though Russia on the one hand and Italy on the other are countries incomparably more backward than Germany, nevertheless they have both served as arenas for the development of political movements which are inherent in imperialist capitalism as such. Advanced Germany must recapitulate the processes which reached their fulfillment in Russia and Italy. The fundamental problem of German development may be at present formulated thus: which way out the way of Russia, or the way of Italy?

Obviously this does not mean that the highly developed social structure is of no significance from the point of view of the development of the destinies of Bolshevism and fascism. Italy is a petty-bourgeois and peasant country to a much greater degree than Germany. One need only recall that to 9.8 million engaged in farming and forestry in Germany there are 18.5 million employed in industry and trade; that is, almost twice as many. Whereas, in Italy, to 10.3 million engaged in farming and forestry there are 6.4 million employed in industry and trade. These bare totals do not by far give an adequate representation of the preponderant relative weight of the proletariat in the life of the German nation. Even the tremendous number of the unemployed is only a proof, turned inside out, of the social might of the German proletariat. The whole question consists in how to translate this might into the language of revolutionary politics.

The last major defeat of the German party, which can be placed on the same historical board with the September days in Italy, dates back to 1923. During the more than eight years that have elapsed since, many wounds have been healed, and a new generation has risen to its feet. The German party represents an incomparably greater force than did the Italian Communists in 1922. The relative weight of the proletariat; the considerable time elapsed since its last defeat; the considerable strength of the Communist Party – these are the three advantages, which bear a great significance for the general summation of the background and of the perspectives.

But to make the best of one’s advantages, one must understand them. That is lacking. Thälmann’s position in 1932 reproduces Bordiga’s in 1922. In this direction, the danger takes on a particularly acute character. But here too there exists one supplementary advantage which was nonexistent ten years ago. Within the revolutionary ranks in Germany there is a Marxist opposition, which leans upon the experience of the preceding decade. This opposition is weak numerically, but the march of events adds extraordinary strength to its voice. Under certain conditions a slight shock may bring down an avalanche. The critical shock of the Left Opposition can aid in bringing about a timely change in the politics of the proletarian vanguard. In this lies our task at present

8. Through the United Front – To the Soviets as the Highest Organs of the United Front

Verbal genuflections before the soviets are equally as fashionable in the “left” circles as the misconception of their historical function. Most often the soviets are defined as the organs of struggle for power, as the organs of insurrection, and finally, as the organs of dictatorship. Formally these definitions are correct. But they do not at all exhaust the historical function of the soviets. First of all they do not explain why, in the struggle for power, precisely the soviets are necessary. The answer to this question is: just as the trade union is the rudimentary form of the united front in the economic struggle, so the soviet is the highest form of the united front under the conditions in which the proletariat enters the epoch of fighting for power. The soviet in itself possesses no miraculous powers. It is the class representation of the proletariat, with all of the latter’s strong and weak points. But precisely and only because of this does the soviet afford to the workers of divers political trends the organisational opportunity to unite their efforts in the revolutionary struggle for power. In the present pre-revolutionary environment it is the duty of the most advanced German workers to understand most clearly the historical function of the soviets as the organs of the united front.

Could the Communist Party succeed, during the preparatory epoch, in pushing all other parties out of the ranks of the workers by uniting under its banner the overwhelming majority of the workers, then there would be no need whatever for soviets. But historical experience bears witness to the fact that there is no basis whatever for the expectation that in any single country – in countries with an old capitalist culture even less than in the backward ones – the Communist Party can succeed in occupying such an undisputed and absolutely commanding position in the workers’ ranks, prior to the proletarian overturn.

Precisely in Germany today are we shown that the proletariat is faced with the task of a direct and immediate struggle for power, long before it has been completely united under the banner of the Communist Party. The revolutionary situation itself, if approached on the political plane, arises from the fact that all groups and layers of the proletariat, or at least their overwhelming majority, are seized with the urge to unite their efforts in changing the existing regime. This does not mean, however, that they all understand how to do it; and still less that they are ready at the very moment to break with their parties and to join the ranks of the Communists. The political conscience of the class does not mature so methodically and uniformly; deep inner divergences remain even in the revolutionary epoch, when all processes develop by leaps and bounds. But, at the same time, the need for an organisation above parties and embracing the entire class becomes extremely urgent. To crystallise this need into a form – that is the historic destiny of the soviets. That is their great function. Under the conditions of a revolutionary situation they arise as the highest organised expression of proletarian unity. Those who haven’t understood this, have understood nothing in matters relating to the problem of the soviets. Thälmann, Neumann, and Remmele may keep on writing articles and uttering speeches about the future “Soviet Germany” without end. By their present policies they are sabotaging the inception of the soviets in Germany.

Removed from the actual sphere of action, unable to gather direct impressions from the masses or to place a hand daily on the pulse of the working class, it is very difficult to forecast the transitional forms which will lead in Germany to the creation of soviets. In another connection I offered the hypothesis that the German soviets may arise as an expanded form of the factory committees: in this, I leaned chiefly on the experience in 1923. But of course that is not the only way. Under the pressure of want and unemployment on the one hand and the onset of the fascists on the other, the need for revolutionary unity may all at once come to the surface in the form of soviets, skipping the factory committees. But whichever way the soviets arise, they cannot become anything save the organisational expression of the strong and weak sides of the proletarian of its inner contradictions and the general urge to overcome them; in short, the organs of the united front

The Social Democracy and the Communist Party divide in Germany the influence over the working class. The Social Democratic leadership does its best to repel the workers from itself. The leadership of the Communist Party strives with all its might to counteract the influx of the workers. As a consequence we get the formation of a third party and a comparatively slow change in the correlation of forces in favour of the Communists. But even if Communist Party policies were entirely correct, the workers’ need for a revolutionary unification of the class would have grown incomparably faster than the preponderance of the Communist Party within the class. The need of creating soviets would thus remain in its full scope.

The creation of the soviets presupposes that the different parties and organisations within the working class, beginning with the factories, become agreed, both as regards the very necessity for the soviets and as regards the time and methods Of their formation. Which means: since the soviets, in themselves, represent the highest form of the united front in the revolutionary epoch, therefore their inception must be preceded by the policy of the united front in the preparatory period.

Is it necessary to recall once again that in the course of six months in 1917, the soviets in Russia had a conciliationist Social Revolutionary-Menshevik majority? Without renouncing for one moment its revolutionary independence as a party, the Bolshevik Party observed, within the framework of soviet activities, discipline in relation to the majority. There isn’t the slightest doubt that in Germany, from the very first day on which the first soviet is formed, the Communist Party will occupy in it a place much more important than that of the Bolsheviks in the soviets of March 1917. Nor is the possibility excluded that the Communists would very shortly receive the majority in the soviets. This would not in any way deprive the soviets of their significance as the apparatus of the united front, because the minority – the Social Democratic, non-party, Catholic workers, etc. – would at first still number millions; and any attempt to hurdle such a minority is the best conceivable method of breaking one’s neck under the most revolutionary conditions obtainable. But this is all the music of the future. Today, the Communist Party is in the minority. And that must serve as our point of departure.

What has been said above doesn’t mean, of course, that the infallible means of achieving the soviets lies in preliminary agreements with Wels, Hilferding, Breitscheid, etc. If in 1918 Hilferding cudgelled his brain for ways of including the soviets in the Weimar Constitution without injuring the latter, then one must assume that his brain is now at work over the problem of how to include fascist barracks in the Weimar Constitution without damaging the Social Democracy ... One must begin creating the soviets at the moment when the general condition of the proletariat permits soviets to be created, even against the will of the upper crust of the Social Democracy. But to do so, it is necessary to tear away the Social Democratic mass from the leading clique; and the way to do that is not by pretending it is already done. In order to separate the millions of Social Democratic workers from their reactionary leaders we must begin by showing these workers that we are ready to enter the soviets even with these “leaders.”

One must not, however, discount entirely beforehand the possibility that top layers of the Social Democracy will be once again compelled to venture into the red-hot atmosphere of the soviets in order to try to repeat the manoeuvre of Ebert, Scheidemann, Haase, etc., in 1918-1919: here the outcome will depend not so much on the bad faith of these gentlemen as upon the degree and manner in which history will seize them in its vise.

The formation of the first important local soviet in which the Communist and Social Democratic workers would represent not individuals but organisations, would have an enormous effect upon the entire German working class. Not only Social Democratic and non-party workers but also the Catholic and liberal workers would be unable long to resist the pull of the centripetal force. All the sections of the German proletariat most adapted to and capable of organisation would be drawn to the soviets, as are iron filings to the poles of a magnet. Within the soviets, the Communist Party would obtain a new and exceptionally favourable arena for fighting for the leading role in the proletarian revolution. One may hold absolutely incontrovertible the statement that even today the overwhelming majority of the Social Democratic workers and even a considerable part of the Social Democratic apparatus would be participating within the framework of soviets, had not the leadership of the Communist Party so zealously aided the Social Democratic leaders in paralysing the pressure of the masses.

If the Communist Party holds inadmissible any agreement on a program of definite practical tasks with Social Democratic, trade-union and other organisations, then this means nothing else but that it holds inadmissible the joint creation of the soviets together with the Social Democracy. And since there cannot be purely Communist soviets, and since, indeed, there wouldn’t be any need of them in that case, then the refusal by the Communist Party to make agreements and take joint action with other parties within the working class means nothing else but the refusal to create soviets.

Die Rote Fahne will doubtless answer this deduction with a volley of curses, and proceed to prove that just as two times two are four, so am I surely Brüning’s campaign agent, Wels’s secret ally, etc. I am ready to stand indicted under all these charges, but under one condition: that Die Rote Fahne on its part undertakes to explain to the German workers when and in what manner the soviets may be organised in Germany without accepting the policies of the united front in relation to other workers’ organisations.

Just to clarify the question of the soviets as the organs of the united front, the opinions expressed on this subject by one of the provincial Communist papers, Der Klassenkampf of Halle-Merseburg, are extremely instructive. “All workers’ organisations,” says this paper ironically, “in their present form, with all their faults and weaknesses, must be combined into great anti-fascist defensive unions. What does this mean? We may dispense with lengthy theoretic explanations; history itself proved a severe teacher in these questions to the German working class: the formless hodge-podge united front of all workers, organisations was paid for by the German working class at the price of the lost revolution in 1918-1919.” In truth, an unsurpassable sample of superficial verbiage!

In 1918-1919, the united front was realised primarily through the soviets. Should the Spartacists have entered the soviets or shouldn’t they? According to the exact meaning of the passage cited, they should have remained apart from the soviets. But since the Spartacists represented only a small minority of the working class, and since they could in no way substitute for the Social Democratic soviets their own, then their isolation from the soviets would have meant simply their isolation from the revolution. If the united front was “formless” and a “hodge-podge,” the fault lay not with the soviets, as the organs of the united front, but with the political condition of the working class itself; with the weakness of the Spartakusbund; and with the extreme power of the Social Democracy. The united front, in general, is never a substitute for a strong revolutionary party; it can only aid the latter to become stronger. This applies fully to the soviets. The weak Spartakusbund, by its fear to let slip the extraordinary occasion, was pushed into taking ultra-left courses and premature demonstrations. Had the Spartacists kept apart from the united front, that is, the soviets, these negative traits would undoubtedly have been yet more sharply pronounced.

Can it be possible that these people have gathered nothing at all from the experience of the German revolution in 1918-1919? Have they at least read “Left-Wing” Communism? Truly, the Stalinist regime has caused a mental havoc that is horrifying! After bureaucratising the soviets in the USSR, the epigones look upon them as a technical weapon in the hands of the party apparatus. Forgotten is the fact that the soviets were founded as workers’ parliaments and that they drew the masses because they offered the possibility of welding together all sections of the proletariat, independently of party distinctions; forgotten is the fact that therein precisely lay the great educational and revolutionary power of the soviets. Everything is forgotten; everything is jumbled and distorted. O, thrice-cursed epigonism!

The question of the interrelationship between the party and the soviets is of decisive importance for revolutionary policy. While the present course of the party is in fact directed towards supplanting the soviets by the party, Hugo Urbahns, loath to miss the opportunity to add to the confusion, is preparing to supplant the party by the soviets. According to a Sozialistische Arbeiter Zeitung dispatch, Urbahns, in refuting the pretension of the Communist Party to the leadership of the working class, said at a meeting in Berlin, in January, “The leadership will be kept in the hands of the soviets, elected by the masses themselves and not in accordance with the desires or at the discretion of the one and only party. (Violent applause)” One can easily understand that by its ultimatism the Communist Party irritates the workers, who are ready to applaud every protest against bureaucratic presumption. But this does not alter the fact that Urbahns in this question as well has nothing in common with Marxism. No one will gainsay that the workers will elect the soviets “themselves.” But the whole question lies in whom they will elect. We must enter the soviets together with all other organisations such as they are, “with all their faults and weaknesses.” But to avow that the soviets “by themselves” are capable of leading the struggle of the proletariat for power – is only to sow abroad vulgar soviet fetishism. Everything depends upon the party that leads the soviets. Therefore, in contradistinction to Urbahns, the Bolshevik-Leninists do not at all deny the Communist Party the right to lead the soviets; on the contrary, they say, “Only on the basis of the united front, only through the mass organisations, can the KPD conquer the leading position within the future soviets and lead the proletariat to the conquest of power.”

9. The SAP (Socialist Workers Party of Germany)

Only functionaries gone mad, who are sure they can do anything, or stupid parrots, who repeat epithets without understanding their meaning, can label the SAP as a “social fascist” or “counter-revolutionary” party. Yet it would be an act of inexcusable light-mindedness and cheap optimism to place one’s faith, in advance, in an organisation which after breaking with the Social Democracy still finds itself midway between reformism and Communism, under a leadership which is closer to reformism than to Communism. In respect to this question as well, the Left Opposition does not assume the slightest responsibility for Urbahns’s politics. The SAP is without a program. We are not discussing the matter of a formal document; the program holds water only in the event that its text is tied up with the revolutionary experience of the party and with the lessons gained from battles which have entered into the flesh and blood of its cadres. The SAP has none of these. The Russian Revolution, its separate stages, the struggle of its factions; the German crisis of 1923; the civil war in Bulgaria; the events of the Chinese Revolution; the battles of the British proletariat (1926); the revolutionary crisis in Spain – all these events, which must live in the consciousness of a revolutionise as luminous guideposts for the political road, are for the cadres of the SAP only murky recollections culled from newspapers and not revolutionary experiences lived through and assimilated.

That a workers’ party is compelled to carry out the policy of the united front – that is not to be gainsaid. But the policy of the united front has its dangers. Only an experienced and a tested revolutionary party can carry on this policy successfully. In any case, the policy of the united front cannot serve as a program for a revolutionary party. And in the meantime, the entire activity of the SAP is now being built on it. As a result, the policy of the united front is carried over into the party itself, that is, it serves to smear over the contradictions between the various tendencies. And that is precisely the fundamental function of centrism.

The daily paper of the SAP is steeped in the spirit of going fifty-fifty. Despite Ströbel’s departure, the paper remains semi-pacifist and not Marxist. Isolated revolutionary articles do not change its physiognomy, on the contrary, they only accentuate it. The paper goes into raptures over Küster’s letter to Brüning on militarism which is, in spirit, tasteless and petty-bourgeois through and through. It applauds a Danish “socialist,” former minister to His Majesty, for refusing to accept a place in the government delegation upon terms too degrading. Centrism is content with trifles. But the revolution demands a great deal. The revolution demands everything absolutely everything.

The SAP condemns the trade-union policy of the Communist Party: the splitting of the unions and the formation of the RGO (Revolutionary Trade Union Opposition). Undoubtedly the policy of the Communist Party in the sphere of the trade unions is extremely erroneous: Lozovsky’s leadership is not being bought cheaply by the international proletarian vanguard. But the criticism of the SAP is not a bit less false. The fault of the Communist Party does not lie in that it “splits” the ranks of the proletariat, and “weakens” the Social Democratic unions. That is not a revolutionary criterion because, under the present leadership, the unions serve not the workers, but the capitalists. The Communist Party is guilty of a crime not because it “weakens” Leipart’s organisation but because it weakens itself. The participation of the Communists in reactionary unions is dictated not by the abstract principle of unity but by the concrete necessity to wage battle in order to purge the organisations of the agents of capital. With the SAP this active, revolutionary, attacking element in the policy is made subservient to the bald principle of the unity of unions that are led by agents of capital.

The SAP accuses the Communist Party of a leaning toward putschism. Such an accusation is also borne out by certain facts and methods; but before it has the right to fling this accusation, the SAP must formulate in detail and show in action its own attitude to the basic questions of the proletarian revolution. The Mensheviks were forever accusing the Bolsheviks of Blanquism and adventurism, i.e. of putschism. On the contrary, the Leninist strategy was as far removed from putschism as heaven is from earth. But Lenin himself understood and taught others to understand the significance of ’the art of insurrection’ in the proletarian struggle.

The criticism of the SAP in this respect becomes all the more suspicious in character the more it leans upon the authority of Paul Levi, who became frightened of the infantile diseases of the Communist Party and preferred to them the senile complications of the Social Democracy. During the intimate conferences on the events of March 1921 in Germany, Lenin said about Levi, “The man has lost his head entirely.” True, Lenin immediately added slyly, “He, at least, had something to lose; one can’t even say that about the others.” The term “others” denoted Bela Kun, Thalheimer, etc. No one can deny that Paul Levi had a head on his shoulders. But the man who lost his head and in that condition made a leap from the ranks of the Communists into the ranks of the reformists, is hardly qualified to be a teacher for a proletarian party. The tragic end of Levi, his leaping out a window in an irresponsible state of mind, seems to symbolise his political orbit.

Although for the masses centrism is only a transition from one stage to the next, for individual politicians centrism can become a second nature. At the head of the SAP stands a group of desperate Social Democratic functionaries, lawyers, and journalists – all people of such an age that one must consider their political education as having been completed. A desperate Social Democrat still does not mean a revolutionist.

Representative of this type – its best representative – is Georg Ledebour. Not long ago I chanced to read the official report of his trial in 1919. And while reading, more than once I mentally applauded the old warrior, for his sincerity, his temperament, and his nobility of nature. But Ledebour just the same did not step over the boundaries of centrism. Wherever the matter touches mass actions, the highest forms of class struggle, their preparation, and the assumption by the party of the outright responsibility of leadership in mass battles, there Ledebour remains only the best representative of centrism. This separated him from Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. It separates him from us now.

Indignant over Stalin’s accusation that the radical wing of the old German Social Democracy is passive in its attitude to the struggle of oppressed nations, Ledebour in response refers to the fact that he always had evinced great initiative on precisely national questions. Ledebour personally never failed to respond with great passion to the notes of chauvinism in the old German Social Democracy, not at all hiding thereby his own powerfully developed national feeling. Ledebour was always the best friend of Russian, Polish, and other revolutionary emigrants; and many of them preserve a cherished memory of the old revolutionise who in the ranks of the Social Democratic bureaucracy was referred to with patronising irony either as “Ledebourov” or “Ledeboursky.”

Nevertheless Stalin, who is acquainted with neither the fact, nor the literature of that period, is correct on this point, at least insofar as he repeats Lenin’s general appraisal. In his attempt to refute, Ledebour only corroborates this appraisal. He advances the fact that in his articles he gave vent to his indignation more than once over the complacence with which the parties of the Second International observed the handiwork of their fellow members: Ramsay MacDonald, for instance, while he was solving India’s national problems with the aid of bombing planes. This indignation and protest provides an undebatable and honourable distinction between Ledebour and an Otto Bauer, not to mention the Hilferdings and the Welses: those gentlemen lack only an India for proceeding with democratic bombings.

Nevertheless, Ledebour’s position even on this question does not leave the precincts of centrism. Ledebour demands that a battle be waged against colonial oppression; he is ready to vote in parliament against colonial credits; he is ready to take upon himself a fearless defence of the victims of a crushed colonial insurrection. But Ledebour will not participate in preparing a colonial insurrection. Such work he considers putschism, adventurism, Bolshevism. And therein is the whole gist of the matter.

What characterises Bolshevism on the national question is that in its attitude toward oppressed nations, even the most backward, it considers them not only the object but also the subject of politics. Bolshevism does not confine itself to recognising their “right” to self-determination and to parliamentary protests against the trampling upon of this right. Bolshevism penetrates into the midst of the oppressed nations; it raises them up against their oppressors; it ties up their struggle with the struggle of the proletariat in capitalist countries; it instructs the oppressed Chinese, Hindus, or Arabs in the art of insurrection and it assumes full responsibility for this work in the face of civilised executioners. Here only does Bolshevism begin, that is, revolutionary Marxism in action. Everything that does not step over this boundary remains centrism.

The policy of a proletarian party can never be appraised solely on the basis of national criteria. The Marxist holds this as an axiom. What then are the international connections and sympathies of the SAP? Norwegian, Swedish, and Dutch centrists, organisations, groups, or individuals, whose passive and provincial character enables them to straddle between reformism and Communism – such are its closest friends. Angelica Balabanoff is the symbolic figure for the international affiliations of the SAP: she is even now busy trying to merge the new party with the shreds of the Two-and-a-half International!

Leon Blum, the defender of reparations, the socialist godfather of the banker Oustric, is termed “comrade” in the pages of Seydewitz’s paper. What is this, politeness? No, lack of principle, lack of character, lack of backbone! “Petty quibbling,” some office wiseacre will reply. No, these trifles reveal the political undercurrent much more correctly and honestly than does the abstract recognition of the soviets, which is not attested by revolutionary experience. There is no sense in making oneself ridiculous by calling Blum a fascist. But he who does not feel hatred and disgust toward this political breed – is no revolutionist.

The SAP divorces itself from “comrade” Otto Bauer within the same limits as does Max Adler. To Rosenfeld and Seydewitz, Bauer is only an ideological antagonist perhaps even a temporary one, whereas to us he is an irreconcilable foe who has led the proletariat of Austria into a fearful quagmire.

Max Adler – there one has quite a sensitive centrist barometer. One cannot deny the usefulness of such an instrument, but one must know definitely that while it is capable of registering changes of weather, it is incapable of acting upon them. Under the pressure of the capitalist impasse, Max Adler is ready once again, not without philosophic grief, to accept the inevitability of revolution. But what an acceptance! What reservations! What sighs! The best thing possible would be for the Second and Third Internationals to merge. The most would be gained if socialism were installed in a democratic manner. But, alas, this method is apparently impossible. It seems that even in civilised countries, not only among barbarians, the workers will have to – O me! O my! – make a revolution. But even this melancholy acceptance of the revolution is – only a literary fact Such conditions as would enable Max Adler to say, “The hour has struck!” never obtained in history and never will. People like Adler are capable of justifying the revolution in the past and of accepting its inevitability in the future. but they can never issue a call to it in the present. One must accept as hopeless this entire group of old left Social Democrats who were changed neither by the imperialist war nor by the Russian Revolution. As barometric instruments – if you please. As revolutionary leaders – never!

Towards the end of September, the SAP issued an appeal to all workers’ organisations that meetings be organised throughout the entire country during which orators of every tendency would be allotted equal times. It is plain enough that nothing can be achieved in that fashion. Indeed, what sense can there be in the Communist Party or the Social Democratic Party sharing the platform on equal terms with Brandler and Urbahns and the spokesmen of other organisations and groups which are too insignificant to pretend to a special place in the movement? The united front is to unite the Communist and Social Democratic working masses and not to patch up an agreement with political groups that are without the masses.

We shall be told that the bloc between Rosenfeld-Brandler-Urbahns is only a propaganda bloc for the united front. But it is precisely in the sphere of propaganda that a bloc is out of the question. Propaganda must lean upon clear-cut principles and on a definite program. March separately, strike together. A bloc is solely for practical mass actions. Deals arranged from above which lack a basis in principle will bring nothing except confusion.

The idea of nominating a candidate for president on the part of the united workers’ front is at its root a false one. A candidate can be nominated only on the grounds of a definite program. The party has no right to sacrifice during elections the mobilisation of its supporters and the census of its strength. The party candidacy, in opposition to all other candidates, can in no instance conflict with any agreement made with other organisations for immediate aims of struggle. Communists, whether official members of the party or not, will support Thälmann’s candidacy to their utmost What we are concerned with is not Thälmann but the banner of Communism. We shall defend it against all other parties. Breaking down the prejudices with which the rank and file of the Communists have been inoculated by the Stalinist bureaucracy, the Left Opposition will clear the road into their consciousness for itself. [4]

What were the policies of the Bolsheviks in relation to those workers’ organisations that developed from the left or reformism or centrism toward Communism?

In Petrograd, in 1917, there existed an intermediate interdistrict organisation, embracing about 4,000 workers. The Bolshevik organisation in Petrograd counted tens of thousands of workers. Nevertheless, the Petrograd Committee of the Bolsheviks entered into agreements on every question with the interdistrict organisation and advised it of all plans and in this way facilitated the complete merger.

It might be argued that the interdistrict workers were politically close to the Bolsheviks. But the matter was not confined solely to the interdistrict workers. When the Menshevik-Internationalists (Martov’s group) aligned themselves against the social patriots, the Bolsheviks left nothing undone in order to achieve joint action with the Martovists, and if in the majority of instances this was not achieved, it was not the Bolsheviks who were to blame. Incidentally, one must add the fact that the Menshevik-Internationalists formally remained within the framework of their party in common with Tseretelli and Dan.

The same tactic, but in an immeasurably wider scope, was likewise applied in relation to the Left Social Revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks even drew a section of the Left SRs into the Revolutionary War Committee, i.e., the organ of the overturn, although at the time the Left SRs still belonged to the same party with Kerensky against whom the overturn was directly aimed. Of course, this was not very logical procedure on the part of the Left SRs and it showed that not everything was in order in their heads. But if one waited until everything was in order in everybody’s head, there would never have been victorious revolutions on this earth. Subsequently, the Bolsheviks concluded a governmental bloc with the party of the Left SRs (left “Kornilovists,” or left “fascist” according to the new terminology), which lasted a few months, and broke up only after the insurrection of the Left SRs.

Here is how Lenin summarised the experience of the Bolsheviks in relation to the left-leaning centrists. “The correct tactic of the Communists must consist of exploiting these vacillations, and not at all of ignoring them: to exploit them, concessions must necessarily be made to those elements which turn to the proletariat and join ranks with it then and wherever and insofar as they do so in the struggle against those elements which turn to the bourgeoisie ... By making a rapid fire decision ‘to dispense with all compromises whatsoever and not to tack or veer on our course,’ one can only do harm to the further strengthening of the revolutionary proletariat ...” In this question as well, the tactic of the Bolsheviks had nothing in common with bureaucratic ultimatism.

It is not so long since Thälmann and Remmele were themselves in an independent party. If they strain their memories, they will succeed perhaps in recalling their political sensibilities during those years when, after breaking with the Social Democrats, they joined an independent party and pushed it to the left. Suppose somebody had then said to them that they only represented “the left wing of the monarchist counterrevolution” ? In all probability they would have concluded that their accuser was either drunk or crazy. And yet this is just their manner at present of defining the SAP!

Let us recall the manner in which Lenin reasoned upon the inception of an independent party: “Why is it that in Germany the same, entirely identical (with that in Russia 1917) gravitation of the workers from the right to the left has brought not the immediate strengthening of the Communists but of the intermediate party of the ‘Independents’ at first? ... Obviously one of the causes for this lies in the erroneous tactic of the German Communists, who should admit their mistake fearlessly and honestly and who must learn how to correct it ... Their mistake originated in the numerous manifestations of that ‘left’ infantile disease, which has now broken out openly. and which will be cured all the better and sooner and to the greatest advantage of the organism.” Yes, this was indeed written just for the present moment!

The present German Communist Party is much stronger than the then Spartakusbund. But if today there appears the second edition of the independent party, under the same leadership in part, then the blame for it that falls upon the Communist Party is so much the greater.

The SAP is a contradictory fact. Of course, it would have been best had the workers joined the Communist Party directly. But for this, the Communist Party must have another policy and another leadership. In appraising the SAP, one must take one’s point of departure not from an ideal Communist Party, but from the one that actually exists. To the extent to which the Communist Party, remaining on the positions of bureaucratic ultimatism, counteracts the centrifugal forces within the Social Democracy, to that extent, the inception of the SAP is an inevitable and a progressive fact.

The progressive character of this fact is, however, extremely weakened by the centrist leadership. Should the latter entrench itself, it will wreck the SAP. To reconcile oneself with the centrism of the SAP for the sake of its general progressive role would mean that one would thereby liquidate its progressive role.

The conciliationist, compromising elements that stand at the head of the party are experienced manoeuvrers, and they will smear over the contradictions and put off the crisis. But these means will suffice only until the first serious onset of events. The crisis within the party may develop at the very moment that the revolutionary crisis flares up, and it may paralyse its proletarian elements.

The task of the Communists consists in giving timely aid to the workers of the SAP to purge their ranks of centrism and to rid themselves of the leadership of their centrist leaders. To achieve this, it is imperative that nothing be hushed, that good intentions be not accepted for deeds, and that all things be called by their names. But only by their own names, and not by fanciful ones. One must criticise, not vilify. One must seek ways for coming together and not hold one’s fist ready to slam away.

Regarding the left wing of the independent party, Lenin wrote, “To fear compromise with this wing of the party – that is simply comical. On the contrary, it is obligatory that the Communists seek and find a suitable form for a compromise with them; i.e., such a compromise as would on the one hand facilitate and hasten the inevitable final fusion with this wing; and on the other in no way hamper the Communists in their ideological-political battle against the right wing of the Independents.” There is nothing to add even today to this tactical course.

To the left elements of the SAP we say, “Revolutionists are tempered not only during strikes and street battles but, first of all, during struggles for the correct policies of their own party. Take the ‘twenty-one conditions’ worked out, in their own time, for the admission of new parties into the Comintern. Take the works of the Left Opposition where the ‘twenty-one conditions’ are applied to the political developments of the last eight years. In the light of these ‘conditions’ open a planned attack against centrism within your own ranks and lead the matter to its conclusion. Otherwise nothing will remain for you except the hardly respectable role of serving as a left cover for centrism.”

And then what? And then – face in the direction of the Communist Party. Revolutionists do not ever straddle fences between the Social Democracy and the Communist Party, as Rosenfeld and Seydewitz would like to. No, the Social Democratic leaders represent the agencies of the class enemy within the proletariat The Communist leaders, though confused, poor, and incapable, are revolutionises or semi-revolutionists that have been led from the right track. That is not one and the same thing. The Social Democracy must be destroyed. The Communist Party must be corrected. You say that this is impossible? But have you seriously tried working at it?

Just now, at this very moment, when events are pressing down on the Communist Party, we must help the events with the onset of our criticism. The Communist workers will all the more attentively listen to us the sooner they are convinced in action that we do not seek a “third” party but are sincerely straining to help them turn the present Communist Party into an authentic leader of the working class.

And what if we don’t succeed?

Should we not succeed, that would almost certainly signify in the given historical environment the victory of fascism. But on the eve of great battles the revolutionist does not ask what will be if he fails but how to perform that which means success. It is possible, it can be done – therefore it must be done.


[4] All the other views of this group rest on the same plane and are only a rehash of the grossest blunders of the Stalinist bureaucracy, but accompanied by even more exaggerated ultra-left grimaces. Fascism is enthroned already; there is no independent danger in Hitler; and besides, the workers don’t want to fight. If that’s the way matters stand; if there’s still plenty of time left, then the theoreticians of Der Rote Kaempfer might as well put their leisure to some use; and instead of scribbling bad articles they ought better to read a few good books. Marx long since explained to Weitling that ignorance never did anyone any good.

10. Centrism “in General” and Centrism of the Stalinist Bureaucracy

The errors of the leadership of the Comintern and consequently the errors of the German Communist Party pertain, in the familiar terminology of Lenin, to the category of “ultra-left stupidities.” Even wise men are capable of stupidities, especially when young. But, as Heine counselled, this privilege should not be abused. When, however, political stupidities of a given type are repeated systematically in the course of a lengthy period, and moreover in the sphere of the most important questions, then they cease being simply stupidities and become tendencies. What sort of a tendency is this? What historical necessities does it meet? What are its social roots? Ultra-leftism has a different social foundation in different countries and at different periods. The most thoroughgoing expressions of ultra-leftism were to be found in anarchism and Blanquism, and in their different combinations, among them the latest one, anarcho-syndicalism.

The social soil for these trends which have spread primarily through Latin countries was to be found in the old and classic small industries of Paris. Their stability added an indubitable significance to the French varieties of ultra-radicalism and allowed them to a certain degree to influence ideologically the workers’ movements in other countries. The development of large-scale industries in France, the war, and the Russian Revolution broke the spine of anarcho-syndicalism. Having been thrown back, it has become transformed into a debased opportunism. At both of its stages French syndicalism is headed by one and the same Jouhaux; the times change and we change with them.

Spanish anarcho-syndicalism preserved its seeming revolutionary character only in the environment of political stagnation. By posing all the questions point-blank, the revolution has compelled the anarcho-syndicalist leaders to cast off their ultra-radicalism and to reveal their opportunist nature. We can rest definitely assured that the Spanish revolution will drive out the prejudice of syndicalism from its last Latin hideout.

The anarchist and Blanquist elements join all kinds of other ultra-left trends and groups. On the periphery of a great revolutionary movement there are always to be observed the manifestations of putschism and adventurism, the standard-bearers of which are recruited either from backward and quite often semi-artisan strata of the workers, or from the intellectual fellow travellers. But such a type of ultra-leftism does not attain ordinarily to independent historical significance, retaining, in most instances, its episodic character.

In historically backward countries, which are compelled to go through their bourgeois revolutions within the environment of a full-fledged and worldwide workers’ movement, the left intelligentsia often introduces the most extreme slogans and methods into the semi-elementary movements of the predominantly petty-bourgeois masses. Such is the nature of petty-bourgeois parties of the type of the Russian Social Revolutionaries, with their tendencies toward putschism, individual terrorism, etc. Thanks to the effectiveness of the Communist parties in the West, the independent adventurist groups will hardly attain there to the importance of the Russian Social Revolutionaries. But on this account the young Communist parties of the West may include within themselves the elements of adventurism. As regards the Russian SRs, under the influence of the evolution of bourgeois society they have become transformed into the party of the imperialist petty bourgeoisie and have taken a counter-revolutionary position in relation to the October Revolution.

It is entirely self-evident that the ultra-leftism of the present Comintern does not fall under any one of the above specified historic types. The chief party of the Comintern, the CPSU, as is well known, leans upon the industrial proletariat, and operates for better or for worse from the revolutionary traditions of Bolshevism. The majority of other sections of the Comintern are proletarian organisations. Are not the very differences in conditions in the various countries in which the ultra-left policies of official Communism are raging simultaneously and to the same degree, tokens of the fact that there are no common social roots underlying this trend? Indeed, an ultra-left course is being taken in China and in Great Britain, moreover one having the same “principled” character. But if so, where are we then to seek for the key to the new ultra-leftism?

The question is complicated, but at the same time is also clarified by one other extremely important circumstance: ultra-leftism is not at all an unvarying or a fundamental trait of the present leadership of the Comintern. The same apparatus, in its basic composition, held to an openly opportunistic policy until 1928, and in many of the most important questions switched over completely onto the tracks of Menshevism. During 1924-1927, agreements with reformists were not only considered obligatory but were permitted even if thereby the party renounced its independence, its freedom of criticism, and even its proletarian foundation. [5] Therefore the discussion concerns not at all a particular ultra-left trend, but a prolonged ultra-left zigzag of such a trend as has demonstrated in the past its capacity for launching into profound ultra-right zigzags. Even these outward symptoms suggest that what we are dealing with is centrism.

Speaking formally and descriptively, centrism is composed of all those trends within the proletariat and on its periphery which are distributed between reformism and Marxism, and which most often represent various stages of evolution from reformism to Marxism – and vice versa. Both Marxism and reformism have a solid social support underlying them. Marxism expresses the historical interests of the proletariat. Reformism speaks for the privileged position of proletarian bureaucracy and aristocracy within the capitalist state. Centrism, as we have known it in the past, did not have and could not have an independent social foundation. Different layers of the proletariat develop in the revolutionary direction in different ways and at different times. In periods of prolonged industrial uplift or in the periods of political ebb tide, after defeats, different layers of the proletariat shift politically from left to right, clashing with other layers who are just beginning to evolve to the left. Different groups are delayed on separate stages of their evolution, they find their temporary leaders and they create their programs and organisations. Small wonder then that such a diversity of trends is embraced in the concept of “centrism”! Depending upon their origin, their social composition, and the direction of their evolution, different groupings may be engaged in the most savage warfare with one another, without losing thereby their character of being a variety of centrism.

While centrism in general fulfills ordinarily the function of serving as a left cover for reformism, the question as to which of the basic camps, reformist or Marxist a given centrism may belong, cannot be solved once for all with a ready-made formula. Here, more than anywhere else, it is necessary to analyse each time the concrete composition of the process and the inner tendencies of its development. Thus, some of Rosa Luxemburg’s political mistakes may be with sufficient theoretical justification characterised as left centrist. One could go still further and say that the majority of divergences between Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin represented a stronger or weaker leaning toward centrism. But only the idiots and ignoramuses and charlatans of the Comintern bureaucracy are capable of placing Luxemburgism, as an historical tendency, in the category of centrism. It goes without saying that the present “leaders” of the Comintern, from Stalin down, politically, theoretically, and morally do not come up to the knees of the great woman and revolutionist.

Critics who have not pondered the gist of the matter have recently accused me more than once of abusing the word “centrism” by including under this name too great a variety of tendencies and groups within the workers’ movement. In reality, the diversity of the types of centrism originates, as has been said already, in the essence of the phenomenon itself and not at all in an abuse of terminology. We need only recall how often the Marxists have been accused of assigning to the petty bourgeoisie the most diverse and contradictory phenomena. And actually, under the category “petty bourgeois,” one is obliged to include facts, ideas, and tendencies that at first glance appear entirely incompatible. The petty-bourgeois character pertains to the peasant movement and to the radical tendencies of urban reformism; both French Jacobins and Russian Narodniks are petty bourgeois; Proudhonists are petty bourgeois, but so are Blanquists; contemporary Social Democracy is petty bourgeois, but so is fascism; also petty bourgeois are: the French anarcho-syndicalists, the “Salvation Army,” Gandhi’s movement in India, etc., etc. If we turn to the sphere of philosophy and art a still more polychromatic picture obtains. Does this mean that Marxism indulges in playing with terminology? Not at all; this only means that the petty bourgeoisie is characterised by the extreme heterogeneity of its social nature. At the bottom it fuses with the proletariat and extends into the lumpenproletariat; on top it passes over into the capitalist bourgeoisie. It may lean upon old forms of production but it may rapidly develop on the basis of most modern industry (the new “middle class”). No wonder that ideologically it scintillates with all the colors of the rainbow.

Centrism within the workers’ movement plays in a certain sense the same role as does petty-bourgeois ideology of all types in relation to bourgeois society as a whole. Centrism reflects the processes of the evolution of the proletariat its political growth as well as its revolutionary setbacks conjoint with the pressure of all other classes of society upon the proletariat. No wonder that the palette of centrism is distinguished by such iridescence! From this it follows, however, not that one must give up trying to comprehend centrism but simply that one must discover the true nature of a given variety of centrism by means of a concrete and historical analysis in every individual instance.

The ruling faction of the Comintern does not represent centrism “in general” but a quite definite historical form, which has its social roots, rather recent but powerful. First of all, the matter concerns the Soviet bureaucracy. In the writings of the Stalinist theoreticians this social stratum does not exist at all. We are only told of “Leninism,” of disembodied leadership, of the ideological tradition, of the spirit of Bolshevism, of the imponderable “general line”; but we never hear a word about the functionary, breathing and living, in flesh and bone, who manipulates the general line like a fireman his hose.

In the meantime this same functionary bears the least resemblance to an incorporeal spirit He eats and guzzles and procreates and grows himself a respectable potbelly. He lays down the law with a sonorous voice, handpicks from below people faithful to him, remains faithful to his superiors, prohibits others from criticising himself, and sees in all this the gist of the general line. Of such functionaries there are a few million. A few million! Their number is greater than the number of industrial workers in the period of the October Revolution. The majority of these functionaries never participated in the class struggle, which is bound up with sacrifices, self-denials, and dangers. These people in their overwhelming mass began their political lives already in the category of a ruling layer. They are backed by the state power. It assures them their livelihood and raises them considerably above the surrounding masses. They know nothing of the dangers of unemployment, if they are gifted with the capacity to stand at attention. The grossest errors are forgiven them so long as they are ready to fulfill the role of the sacrificial scapegoat at the required moment, and thus remove the responsibility from the shoulders of their nearest superiors. Well, then, has this ruling stratum of many millions any social weight and political influence in the life of a country? Yes or no?

We know from older books that the labour bureaucracy and the labour aristocracy are the social foundation for opportunism. In Russia this phenomenon has taken on new forms. On the foundation of the dictatorship of the proletariat – in a backward country, surrounded by capitalism – for the first time a powerful bureaucratic apparatus has been created from among the upper layers of the workers, that is raised above the masses, that lays down the law to them, that has at its disposal colossal resources, that is bound together by an inner mutual responsibility, and that intrudes into the policies of a workers’ government its own interests, methods, and regulations.

We are not anarchists. We understand that the necessity of a workers’ government and therefore the historical inevitability of a bureaucracy during a transitional period. But we likewise understand the dangers that are inherent in this fact, particularly for a backward and an isolated country. The idealisation of Soviet bureaucracy is the most shameful mistake than can be made by a Marxist. Lenin strove with all his might to raise the party as a self-acting vanguard of the working class above the governmental apparatus in order to control, cheek, direct, and purge it, placing the historical interests of the proletariat – international, not only national – above the interests of the ruling bureaucracy. As the first condition of the party control over the government Lenin prescribed control by the party masses over the party apparatus. Read over attentively his articles, speeches, and letters during the Soviet period, particularly for the last two years of his life – and you will remark with what alarm his mind turned time and again to this burning question.

But what has happened in the subsequent period? The entire leading stratum of the party and of the government that was at the helm during the revolution and the civil war has been replaced, removed, and crushed. Their place has been taken by the anonymous functionary. At the same time the struggle against bureaucratism which was so acute in character during Lenin’s lifetime, when the bureaucracy was not yet out of its diapers, has ceased entirely now when the apparatus has grown sky-high.

And indeed, who is there capable of carrying on this struggle? The party as a self-controlling vanguard of the proletariat no longer exists now. The party apparatus has been fused with the administrative. The most important instrument of the general line within the party is the GPU. The bureaucracy not only prohibits the criticism of the top from below, but it also prohibits its theoreticians from even talking about it and noticing it. The mad hatred for the Left Opposition is aroused, first of all, by the fact that the Opposition talks openly about the bureaucracy, about its particular role and its interests, thus revealing the secret that the general line is inseparable from the flesh and blood of the new national ruling stratum, which is not at all identical with the proletariat

From the proletarian character of the government, the bureaucracy deduces its birthright to infallibility: how can the bureaucracy of a workers’ state degenerate? The state and the bureaucracy are thereby taken not as historical processes but as eternal categories: how can the holy church and its God-inspired priests sin? Yet, if a workers’ bureaucracy which has raised itself over the proletariat, waging battle in a capitalist society, could degenerate into the party of Noske, Scheidemann, Ebert, and Wels, why can’t it degenerate after raising itself over the victorious proletariat?

The ruling and uncontrolled position of the Soviet bureaucracy is conducive to a psychology which in many ways is directly contradictory to the psychology of a proletarian revolutionist. Its own aims and combinations in domestic as well as international politics are placed by the bureaucracy above the tasks of the revolutionary education of the masses and have no connection with the tasks of international revolution. in the course of a number of years the Stalinist faction demonstrated that the interests and the psychology of the prosperous peasant, engineer, administrator, Chinese bourgeois intellectual, and British trade-union functionary were much closer and more comprehensible to it than the psychology and the needs of the unskilled labourer, the peasant poor, the Chinese national masses in revolt, the British strikers, etc.

But why, in that case, didn’t the Stalinist faction carry to the very end its line of national opportunism? Because it is the bureaucracy of a workers’ state. While the international Social Democracy defends the foundations of the bourgeois sovereignty, the Soviet bureaucracy, not having achieved a governmental overturn, is compelled to adapt itself to the social foundations laid down by the October Revolution. From this is derived the dual psychology and policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Centrism, but centrism on the foundation of a workers’ state, is the sole possible expression for this duality.

Whereas in capitalist countries, the centrist groupings are most often temporary or transitional in character, reflecting the evolution of certain workers’ strata to the right or to the left, under the conditions of the Soviet republic centrism is equipped with a much more solid and organised base in the shape of a multimillioned bureaucracy. Representing in itself a natural environment for opportunist and nationalist tendencies, it is compelled, however, to maintain the foundations of its hegemony in the struggle with the kulak [rich peasant] and also to bother about its “Bolshevik” prestige in the worldwide movement. Following its attempted chase after the Kuomintang and the Amsterdam bureaucracy, which in many ways is close to it spiritually, the Soviet bureaucracy each time entered into sharp conflict with the Social Democracy, which reflects the enmity of the world bourgeoisie to the Soviet state. Such are the sources of the present left zigzags.

The peculiarity of the situation arises not from the supposed special immunity of the Soviet bureaucracy to opportunism and nationalism but from the fact that, being unable to occupy a thorough-going national-reformist position, it is compelled to describe zigzags between Marxism and national reformism. The oscillations of this bureaucratic centrism, in conformity with its power, its resources, and the acute contradictions in its position, have attained an altogether unheard-of sweep: from ultra-left adventurism in Bulgaria and Estonia to the alliance with Chiang Kai-shek, Radich, and Purcell; and from the shameful fraternisation with British strikebreakers to a complete renunciation of the policy of the united front with mass organisations.

The Stalinist bureaucracy carries over its methods and zigzags to other countries, insofar as it not only leads the Com. intern through the party apparatus but also lays down the law to it. Thälmann was for the Kuomintang when Stalin was for the Kuomintang. At the seventh plenum of the ECCI in the fall of 1926, the delegate of the Kuomintang, ambassador of Chiang Kai-shek, Shao Li-tsi by name, fraternally came forward together with Thälmann, Semard, and all the Remmeles against “Trotskyism.” “Comrade” Shao Li-tsi said, “We are all convinced that under the leadership of the Comintern, the Kuomintang will fulfill its historic task.” (Minutes of the Seventh Plenum) This is a historical fact!

If you take up Die Rote Fahne for 1926, you will find in it multitudinous articles all harping on one note, to wit, that by demanding a break with the British General Council of strikebreakers, Trotsky demonstrates his ... Menshevism! And today “Menshevism” consists already in defending the united front with mass organisations, that is, in applying that policy which was formulated by the Third and Fourth Congresses under the leadership of Lenin (against all the Thälmanns, Thalheimers, Bela Kuns, Frossards, etc.).

These breakneck zigzags would have been impossible were it not for the fact that within all Communist sections a self-sufficient bureaucracy – i.e., independent of the party – had been formed. Here is the root of all evil!

The strength of a revolutionary party consists in the independence of its vanguard, which checks and selects its cadres and, while educating its leaders, gradually elevates them by its confidence. This creates an unbroken connection between the cadres and the mass, between the leaders and the cadres, and it induces in the entire leadership an inward confidence in themselves. There is nothing of the kind in the contemporary Communist parties! The leaders are appointed. They handpick their aides. The rank and file of the masses is forced to accept the appointed leaders, around whom there is built up the artificial atmosphere of publicity. The cadres depend upon the upper crust and not upon the underlying masses. Consequently, to a considerable degree they seek for the source of their influence as well as for the source of their livelihood outside of the masses. They draw their political slogans not from the experience in the struggle, but from the telegraph. And in the meantime Stalin’s files secrete incriminating documents against possible emergency. Each leader knows that at any moment he can be blown away like a feather.

Thus, throughout the entire Comintern a closed bureaucratic stratum is being created which constitutes a culture broth for the bacilli of centrism. While organisationally it is very stable and solid, for it is backed by the bureaucracy of the Soviet state, the centrism of the Thälmanns, Remmeles & Co., is distinguished by extreme instability in political relations. Bereft of assurance, which can be derived only from an organic liaison with the masses, the infallible CEC suffices only for monstrous zigzags. The less it is prepared for a serious ideological battle, the more proficient it is in profanity, insinuations, and calumnies. Stalin’s lineage, “coarse” and “disloyal,” as described by Lenin, is the personification of this layer.

The characterisation of bureaucratic centrism given above determines the attitude of the Left Opposition to the Stalinist bureaucracy: a complete and unqualified support insofar as the bureaucracy defends the boundaries of the Soviet republic and the foundations of the October Revolution; an outspoken criticism insofar as the bureaucracy hinders by its administrative zigzags the defence of the revolution and of socialist construction; a merciless resistance insofar as it disorganises by its bureaucratic overlordship the struggle of the international proletariat.


[5] Unfortunately, an article was printed in Die Pemanente Revolution, not an editorial one, true enough, but in defence of a single workers’ candidate. There cannot be any doubt that the German Bolshevik-Leninists will condemn such a position.

11. The Contradictions Between the Economic Successes of the USSR and the Bureaucratisation of the Regime

One cannot work out the foundations of revolutionary policy “in one country.” The problem of the German revolution is at present inextricably tied up with the question of political leadership in the USSR. This connection must be understood thoroughly. The proletarian dictatorship is the reply to the resistance of the possessing classes. The restriction of liberties arises from the military regime of the revolution, i.e., from the conditions of the class war. From this point of view it is entirely self-evident that the inner stabilisation of the Soviet republic, its economic growth, and the weakening of the resistance of the bourgeoisie, especially the successes in “liquidating” the last capitalist class, the kulaks, should result in the burgeoning of party, trade-union, and Soviet democracy.

The Stalinists never weary of repeating that “we have already entered into socialism”; that the present collectivisation signifies by itself the liquidation of the kulaks as a class; and that the next five-year plan will carry these processes to their conclusion. That being so, why did this same process lead to the complete suppression of the party, the trade unions, and the soviets by the bureaucratic apparatus, while the latter in its turn has taken on the character of plebiscitarian Bonapartism? Why did the life of the party proceed in full swing in the days of famine and civil war? Why didn’t it even enter into anyone’s mind to question whether it was or wasn’t permissible to criticise Lenin or the CEC as a whole? And why does the slightest divergence with Stalin now lead to expulsion from the party and to administrative repressions?

The threat of war on the part of imperialist governments can in no case explain, much less justify, the growth of bureaucratic despotism. If within a national socialist society the classes have been liquidated more or less, then that should signify that the dissolution of the state is beginning. The socialist society may victoriously combat foes from without precisely as a socialist society and not as a state of proletarian dictatorship, much less a bureaucratic one.

But we are not speaking of the dissolution of the dictatorship: it’s too early for that, we have not as yet “entered into socialism.” We speak of something else. We want to know: How to explain the bureaucratic degeneration of the dictatorship? What is the origin of the strident monstrous, and murderous contradiction between the successes of the socialist construction and the regime of personal dictatorship which leans upon an impersonal apparatus and which holds by the throat the ruling class of the nation? How explain the fact that economics and politics are developing in directions directly opposite?

The economic successes are very great. Economically the October Revolution has justified itself fully even now. The high coefficients of economic growth are irrefutable demonstrations of the fact that socialist methods reveal themselves to be immeasurably superior even for the solving of those problems of production which were solved in the West by capitalist methods. How great then will be the superiority of socialist economy in the advanced countries!

Nevertheless, the question posed by the October overturn has not been answered as yet even in outline.

The Stalinist bureaucracy calls the economy “socialist” on the strength of its postulates and tendencies. These are not enough. The economic successes of the Soviet Union are still taking shape on a low economic base. The nationalised industry is passing through stages which have been passed long since by the foremost capitalist nations. The working woman who stands in line has her own criterion of socialism, and this “consumer’s” criterion, as the functionary scornfully refers to it, is the decisive one in the given question. In the conflict between the views of the working woman and the bureaucrat we, the Left Opposition, side with the working woman against the bureaucrat who exaggerates the achievements, glosses over the contradictions, and holds the working woman by the throat lest she dare criticise.

Last year, a sharp about-face was made from the equalised to the differential (piecework) working wage. It is absolutely undebatable that given a low level of productive forces and hence of general culture, equality in payment for labour cannot be realised. But this itself means that the problem of socialism is not solved by social forms of ownership only, but postulates a certain technical power of society. Meanwhile the growth of technical power automatically draws the productive forces beyond the national boundaries.

After returning to wages by piecework, which was abandoned too soon, the bureaucracy refers to the equalised wage as a “kulak” principle. This is an out-and-out absurdity and shows into what blind alleys of hypocrisy and falsehood the Stalinists drive themselves. As a matter of fact they should have said, “We have rushed too far ahead with methods of equalised wages for labour; we are still far from socialism; and since we are still poor, we must needs turn back to semi-capitalist or kulak methods of paying for labour.” We repeat, in this there is no contradiction with the socialist goal. Here we only have an irreconcilable contradiction with the bureaucratic falsification of reality.

The retreat to piecework wages was necessitated by the resistance of a backward economy. There will be many such retreats, especially in the sphere of rural economy, where too great an administrative leap forward has been executed.

Industrialisation and collectivisation are being put through by the one-sided and uncontrolled laying down of the law to the labouring masses by the bureaucracy. The trade unions are deprived entirely of any means of influencing the correlation between consumption and accumulation. The differentiation within the peasantry is still being liquidated not so much economically as administratively. The social measures of the bureaucracy as regards the liquidation of the classes run much too far ahead of the basic process, the development of productive forces.

This leads to the rise in basic industrial costs, to the lowering of the quality of products, to an increase in prices, and to a dearth in goods for consumption, and it offers as a perspective the threat of a return to unemployment.

The extreme tension in the national political atmosphere is the consequence of the contradictions between the growth of Soviet economy and the economic policies of the bureaucracy, which either straggles monstrously behind the economic needs (1923-1928) or, taking fright at its own straggling, leaps forward and tries to make up for lost time by purely administrative measures (1928-1932). Here, too, after the right zigzag, we get a zigzag to the left. During both zigzags, the bureaucracy finds itself in contradiction with the realities of economy and consequently with the mood of the workers. It cannot permit them to criticise—neither when it straggles behind, nor when it leaps ahead.

The bureaucracy cannot exercise its pressure upon workers and peasants except by depriving them of all possibility of participating in decisions upon questions that touch their own labour and their entire future. Herein lies the greatest danger! The constant dread of meeting opposition on the part of the masses leads in politics to the “closed ranks in double time” of the bureaucratic and personal dictatorship.

Does this mean that the tempos of industrialisation and collectivisation should be lowered? For a given period—undoubtedly. But this period may not long endure. The participation of workers themselves in the leadership of the nation, of its politics and economy; an actual control over the bureaucracy; and the growth in the feeling of responsibility of those in charge to those under them—all these would doubtless react favourably on production itself: the friction within would be reduced, the costly economic zigzags would likewise be reduced to a minimum, a healthier distribution of forces and equipment would be assured, and ultimately the coefficients of growth would be raised. Soviet democracy is first of all the vital need of national economy itself. On the contrary, bureaucracy secretes within itself tragic economic surprises.

Surveying as a whole the history of the period of epigonism in the development of the USSR, it is not difficult to arrive at the conclusion that the basic political postulate for the bureaucratisation of the regime was the weariness of the masses after the shocks of the revolution and civil war. Famine and epidemics ruled the land. Political questions were relegated to the background. All thoughts centred on a piece of bread. Under War Communism, everybody received the same famine ration. The transition to the NEP brought the first economic successes. The rations became more ample but they were no longer allotted to everybody. The reestablishment of a commodity economy led to the calculation of basic costs, to rudimentary rationalisation, and to the elimination of surplus hands from the factories. For a long time economic successes went hand in hand with the growth of unemployment.

One must not forget for a single moment that the strengthening of the power of the apparatus arose from unemployment. After the years of famine, every proletarian at his bench stood in fear of the reserve army. Independent and critical workers were fired from factories, blacklists of oppositionists were kept In the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy this became one of the most important and effective weapons. Lacking this condition, it could have never succeeded in strangling the Leninist party.

Subsequent economic successes gradually led to the liquidation of the reserve army of industrial workers (the concealed rural overpopulation, masked by collectivisation, still remains in full force). The industrial worker already no longer fears that he will be thrown out of the factory. Through his daily experience, he knows that the lack of foresight and the self-will of the bureaucracy interfered enormously with the fulfillment of his tasks. The Soviet press exposes individual workshops and factories where insufficient freedom is allowed the initiative of workers, as if the initiative of the proletariat can be restricted to factories, as if factories can be oases of industrial democracy amidst the complete subjugation of the proletariat within the party, the soviets, and the trade unions!

The general state of mind of the proletariat now is no longer what it was in 1922-1923. The proletariat has grown numerically and culturally. Having accomplished the gigantic labour of restoring and uplifting the national economy, the workers are now experiencing the restoration and uplift of their self-confidence. This growing inner confidence is beginning to change into dissatisfaction with the bureaucratic regime.

The strangling of the party and the overgrowth of the personal regime and the personal arbitrariness may at first glance evoke the idea that the Soviet system is weakening. But that is not so. The Soviet system has become very much stronger; but simultaneously the contradiction between this system and the iron rule of its bureaucracy has been sharpened extremely. With amazement the Stalinist apparatus observes that economic successes, instead of strengthening, are undermining its sway. In fighting for its positions, it is forced to turn the screws still tighter and to forbid all forms of “self-criticism” other than the Byzantine flattery addressed to the leaders.

It is not the first time in history that economic development has come into contradiction with those political conditions within whose framework it is achieved. But one must clearly understand precisely which of these conditions engenders dissatisfaction. The oncoming opposition wave is not in the least degree directed against socialist tasks. Soviet forms, or the Communist Party. The dissatisfaction is directed against the apparatus and its personification, Stalin. Whence arises the new phase of the furious battle against the so-called “Trotskyist contraband.”

The adversary threatens to become unconquerable; he is everywhere and nowhere. He bobs up in factories and in schools, he penetrates into historical journals and into all textbooks. This means that facts and documents convict the bureaucracy, exposing its vacillations and mistakes. One cannot calmly and objectively recall the bygone day, one must remodel the past, one must plaster up all the cracks, through which suspicions might leak out as regards the infallibility of the apparatus and its head. We have before us all the traits of a ruling caste that has lost its head. Yaroslavsky himself proves to be unreliable! These are not accidental episodes, not trifles, nor personal quarrels: the root of the matter lies in the fact that the economic successes, which in their first stages strengthened the bureaucracy, are now becoming, by the dialectic of their development, opposed to the bureaucracy. That is why during the last party conference, i.e., during the conference of the Stalinist apparatus, the thrice and four times annihilated and buried “Trotskyism” was decreed to be “the vanguard of bourgeois counterrevolution.”

This silly and politically quite unterrifying resolution lifts the veil from some very “practical” plans of Stalin in the sphere of personal reprisals. Not for nothing did Lenin warn against the appointment of Stalin as general secretary, “This cook will prepare only peppery dishes.” ... The cook has not yet completely exhausted his culinary prowess.

But despite the tightening of all theoretical and administrative screws, the personal dictatorship of Stalin is clearly nearing its eclipse. The apparatus is all in cracks. The crack called Yaroslavsky is only one of a hundred cracks who today still remain nameless. The fact that the new political crisis is being prepared on the basis of the self-evident and undebatable successes of Soviet economy and the numerical growth of the proletariat and the initial successes of collective farming—that is sufficient guarantee that the liquidation of bureaucratic absolutism will coincide not with the breakdown of the Soviet system, which was a danger some three or four years ago, but on the contrary, with its liberation, advance, and flowering.

But precisely in this, its final period, the Stalinist bureaucracy is capable of causing much evil. The question of prestige has now become for it the central question of politics. If nonpolitical historians are expelled from the party only because they proved incapable of shedding lustre on Stalin’s feats in 1917, can the plebiscitary regime permit the recognition of the mistakes it perpetrated in 1931-1932? Can it renounce its theory of social fascism? Can it whitewash Stalin, who formulated the gist of the German situation as follows: let the fascists come first, then we will follow?

By themselves the objective conditions in Germany are so imperative that, had the leadership of the German Communist Party at their command the necessary freedom of action, they would no doubt even now be orienting to our side. But they are not free. At the time when the Left Opposition submits the ideas and slogans tested by the victory of 1917, the Stalinist clique, aiming to create a diversion, sends orders by telegraph to inaugurate an international campaign against “Trotskyism.” The campaign is carried on not on the basis of the questions of the German revolution, that is, on the life-and-death questions of the world proletarian but on the basis of a wretched and falsified article of Stalin on the questions of the history of Bolshevism. It is difficult to conceive of a greater disproportion between the tasks of the epoch on the one hand and the petty ideological resources of the official leadership on the other. So degrading and unworthy and at the same time profoundly tragic is the position of the Comintern.

The problem of the Stalinist regime and the problem of the German revolution are tied up with an absolutely indissoluble knot. The coming events will untie or cut this knot—in the interests of the Russian as well as of the German revolution.

12. The Brandlerites (KPO) and the Stalinist Bureaucracy

Between the interests of the Soviet state and those of the international proletariat there is and there can be no contradiction. But it is false at the root to transfer this law over to the Stalinist bureaucracy. Its regime is coming into an ever greater contradiction with the interests of the Soviet Union as well as the interests of the world revolution. Hugo Urbahns cannot see the social foundations of the proletarian state for the Soviet bureaucracy. Together with Otto Bauer, Urbahns constructs the conception of a state resting above the classes, but in contradistinction to Bauer he finds the example not in Austria but in the present Soviet republic.

On the other side, Thalheimer asserts that “the Trotskyist position as regards the Soviet Union, which casts doubt [?] upon the proletarian character [?] of the Soviet state and the socialist character of the economic construction” (Arbeiterpolitik, January 10, 1932) bears a “centrist” character. Thereby Thalheimer only demonstrates the extent to which he identifies the workers’ government with the Soviet bureaucracy. He demands the Soviet Union be regarded not through the eyes of the international proletariat but exclusively through the spectacles of the Stalinist faction. In other words, he reasons not as a theoretician of the proletarian revolution but as a flunkey of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Insulted and disgraced, but a flunkey just the same, who awaits forgiveness. Wherefore even when in “opposition” he does not dare so much as mention the bureaucracy out loud: it, like Jehovah, does not pardon this: “Thou shalt not take my name in vain.”

Such are these two poles in the Communist groupings: the one cannot see the forest for the trees, the other is kept by the forest from distinguishing the trees. However there is absolutely nothing unexpected in the fact that Thalheimer and Urbahns find in each other kindred souls and actually make a bloc against the Marxist appraisal of the Soviet state.

A perfunctory “support” which commits them to nothing, of the “Russian experiment” from the sidelines has become, in recent years, a rather widespread and very cheap commodity. In all parts of the world there is no lack of radical and semi-radical, humanitarian and pacifist “also-socialists,” journalists, tourists, and artistes who take toward the USSR and Stalin the same attitude of unconditional approval as do the Brandlerites. Bernard Shaw, who in his time savagely criticised Lenin and the author of these lines, is now wholeheartedly IN favour of Stalin’s policies. Maxim Gorky, who was in opposition to the Communist Party during Lenin’s period, is now wholeheartedly for Stalin. Barbusse, who went hand in hand with the French Social Democrats, supports Stalin. The American monthly New Masses, a publication of second-rate petty-bourgeois radicals, defends Stalin against Rakovsky. In Germany, Ossietzky, who cites with sympathy my article on fascism, finds it imperative to remark that I am unjust in my criticism of Stalin. Old Ledebour says, “As regards the chief question in dispute between Stalin and Trotsky, to wit: may socialisation be undertaken in one country and worked out happily to its conclusion, I am entirely on Stalin’s side.” The number of such examples can be produced ad infinitum. All these “friends” of the USSR approach the problems of the Soviet state from the sidelines, as observers, as sympathisers, and occasionally as flaneurs. Of course, it accrues more to one’s honor to be a friend of the Soviet five-year plan than a friend of the New York stock market. But just the same this passive, middle-class left sympathy is too far removed from Bolshevism. The first major failure of Moscow will suffice to scatter the majority of this public like dust before the wind.

By what is the position of the Brandlerites in relation to the Soviet state to be distinguished from the position of all these “friends”? Perhaps only by a greater lack of sincerity. Such support is neither fish nor fowl to the Soviet republic. And when Thalheimer lectures us, the Left Opposition, the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists, on what our attitude should be to the Soviet Union, he cannot fail to evoke a feeling of aversion.

Rakovsky was in direct charge of the defence of the frontiers of the Soviet revolution; he participated in the first steps taken by the Soviet national economy and in the elaboration of the policies towards the peasantry; he was the initiator of the committees of landless villagers (the peasant poor) in the Ukraine; he was in charge of applying the policies of the NEP to the singular Ukrainian conditions; he knows every twist and turn of this policy, he is following it even now, from Barnaul, with passionate interest and from day to day he warns against mistakes and suggests the correct ways. The old warrior Kote Tsintsadze who died in exile, Muralov, Carl Gruenstein, Kasparova, Sosnovsky, Kossior, Aussem, the Elzins—father and son—Dingelstedt, Shumskaya, Solntzev, Stopalov, Pozhriansky, Sermux, Blumkin, shot down by Stalin, Butov, tortured to death in prison by Stalin, and tens, hundreds, thousands of others thrown into prisons and exile—yes, these are all warriors who fought in the October insurrection and in the civil war; these are all participants in the socialist construction who are abashed by no difficulties and who at the first signal are ready to take their post in the front line. Are they to go to school to Thalheimer to learn the correct attitude toward the workers’ state?

Everything which is progressive in Stalin’s policies was formulated by the Left Opposition and was hounded down on the part of the bureaucracy. For its initiative in inaugurating the planned economy, the higher tempos of development, the fight against the kulaks and for broader collectivisation, the Left Opposition has paid and is paying with ears in prison and exile. What has been the contribution to the economic policies of the USSR by all these unconditional supporters and sympathetic friends, including the Brandlerites? All told—nothing! Behind their vague and uncritical support of everything that is being done in the USSR there lurks no international enthusiasm whatever but only a lukewarm sympathy; because, you see, the things are taking place beyond the frontiers of their own fatherland. Brandler and Thalheimer opine and declare openly on occasion, “for us Germans, Stalin’s regime would, of course, hardly do; but for the Russians it’s good enough!”

The reformist looks upon the international situation as a sum of the national situations; the Marxist observes the national policy as a function of the international. In this key question the group of the KPO (Brandlerites) takes a national-reformist position, i.e., it rejects in deeds, if not in words, international principles and the criteria of national policy.

The closest adherent and colleague of Thalheimer was Roy, whose political program for India as well as for China was entirely derived from the Stalinist idea of “worker-peasant” parties for the East. For a number of years, Roy came forward as the propagandist of a national-democratic party for India; in other words, not as a proletarian revolutionist but as a petty-bourgeois national democrat. This did not interfere in any way with his active participation in the central staff of the Brandlerites. [6]

The national opportunism of the Brandlerites evinces itself most crudely in their attitude toward the Soviet Union. The Stalinist bureaucracy, if you take their word, operates in its own back yard absolutely without mistakes. But somehow or other the leadership of the identical Stalinist faction becomes fatal for Germany. How is that? For, involved in the matter are not Stalin’s personal mistakes, which are engendered by his not being acquainted with other countries, but a definite course of mistakes, an entire trend. Thälmann and Remmele know Germany as Stalin knows Russia, as Cachin, Semard, or Thorez know of France. Jointly they form an international faction and elaborate the policies for the different countries. But, it appears, this policy, irreproachable in Russia, is ruinous to the revolution in all other countries.

Brandler’s position becomes particularly jinxed if it is transferred into the USSR, where a Brandlerite is bound to support Stalin unconditionally. Radek, who essentially was always closer to Brandler than to the Left Opposition, capitulated to Stalin. Brandler could not but approve this action. But Stalin immediately compelled Radek, after he had capitulated, to proclaim Brandler and Thalheimer as “social fascists.” The platonic wooers of the Stalinist regime in Berlin do not even attempt to crawl out from under these degrading contradictions. Their practical goal is self-evident however, even without commentaries. “If you place me at the head of the party in Germany,” says Brandler to Stalin, “I on my part shall bind myself to recognise your infallibility in Russian matters, provided you permit me to put through my own policies in German matters.” Can one have any respect for such “revolutionists”?

But the Brandlerites also criticise the Comintern policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy in a manner extremely one-sided and theoretically dishonest. Its sole vice appears to be “ultra-leftism.” But can anyone accuse Stalin’s four-year bloc with Chiang Kai-shek of being “ultra-left”? Can one call the creation of the Peasant International ultra-left? Can one assign to putschism the bloc with the strikebreakers of the General Council? Or the creation of worker-peasant parties in Asia and the Farmer Labor Party in the United States?

Furthermore, what is the social nature of Stalinist ultra-leftism? What is it? A temporary mood? A fit of sickness? One seeks in vain for an answer from theoretician Thalheimer.

Meanwhile the riddle has long been solved by the Left Opposition: the matter concerns the ultra-left zigzag of centrism. But precisely this definition, which has been verified by the developments of the last nine years, cannot be accepted by the Brandlerites because it finishes them off too. They perpetrated with the Stalinist faction all its right zigzags but rebelled against the left; thereby they demonstrated that they are the right wing of centrism. That they, like a dry branch, broke off from the main trunk of the tree—that is in the nature of things; during sharp evolutions of centrism, groups and layers are inevitably torn off from the right and from the left.

What has been said above does not imply that the Brandlerites were mistaken in everything. Not at all. Against Thälmann and Remmele they were and they remain right in many things. There is nothing extraordinary in this. Opportunists may occupy correct positions in their struggle against adventurism. And, on the contrary, an ultra-left trend may correctly seize the moment of the transition from the struggle for the masses to the struggle for power. In their criticism of Brandler, the ultra-lefts aired many correct ideas at the end of 1923, which did not hinder them from committing the grossest mistakes in 1924-1925. The fact that in their criticism of the monkeyshines of the “third period” the Brandlerites reiterated a number of old but correct concepts, does not at all vouch for the correctness of their general position. The policies of each group must be analysed in several stages: during defensive battles as well as during offensives; during periods of high as well as ebb tide; under the conditions of the struggle to win the masses; and under the conditions of a direct struggle for power.

There can be no Marxist leadership specialising in questions of defence or offence, or the united front, or the general strike. The correct application of all these methods is possible only if there exists the capacity for synthetically appraising the environment as a whole; the ability to analyse its moving forces, to establish stages and turns, and to build upon this analysis a system of action which corresponds to the existing environment and which prepares for the next stage.

Brandler and Thalheimer consider themselves to be almost monopolistic specialists in “the struggle for the masses.” Keeping their faces straight and serious, these gentlemen insist that the arguments of the Left Opposition for the policy of the united front are in themselves ... a plagiarism of their—the Brandlerites’—views. One should deny no one the privileges of being ambitious! Just imagine, for example, that while you are explaining to Heinz Neumann his error in multiplication, some valiant teacher of arithmetic appears on the scene and informs you that you are committing a plagiarism because he, year in and year out, expounds in just this way the mysteries of the art of reckoning.

The pretensions of the Brandlerites have at any rate afforded me a merry moment in the present uncomical situation. The strategic wisdom of these gentlemen is no older than the Third Congress of the Comintern. I was then defending the ABC of the struggle for the masses against the then existing “left” wing. In my book The New Course, which was devoted to a popular exposition of the policy of the united front, and which was in its time published by the Comintern in various languages, I stressed in every which way the elementary character of the ideas therein propounded. Thus, for instance, we read on page 70 of the German edition, “All that has been said constitutes ABC truths from the point of view of the serious revolutionary experience. But certain ‘left’ elements of the congress have discovered in this tactic a shift to the right.” ... Among those certain elements, together with Zinoviev, Bukharin, Radek, Maslow, and Thälmann, was to be found Thalheimer himself.

The charge of plagiarism is not the only charge. After stealing Thalheimer’s spiritual property, the Opposition, it appears, gives it an opportunistic interpretation. This oddity deserves notice insofar as it enables us in the course of our discussion to throw into sharper relief the question of the policies of fascism.

In an earlier pamphlet, I expressed the thought that Hitler cannot attain to power through parliamentary procedure; even if we allow that he could muster his 51 percent of the votes, the growth of the economic and the sharpening of the political contradictions would necessarily lead to an open outburst before that moment could be reached. In this connection the Brandlerites ascribe to me the idea that the National Socialists will leave the scene of action “without the need of extra-parliamentary mass action on the part of the workers.” Wherein is this superior to the fabrications of Die Rote Fahne?

From the impossibility of the National Socialists’ coming “peacefully” into power, I deduced the inevitability of other ways of attaining power: either by way of a direct overturn of the government or by way of a coalition stage with the subsequent inevitable governmental overturn. A painless self-liquidation of fascism would have been a possibility in one and only in one case: in the event that Hitler applied that policy in 1932 to which Brandler had resorted in 1923. Without overestimating the National Socialist strategists, I still am of the opinion that they are more farsighted and of sterner stuff than Brandler & Co.

Even more profound is the second refutation of Thalheimer: the question as to whether Hitler attains power in a parliamentary manner or otherwise has no significance whatever, because it does not change “the essence” of fascism which in either case can entrench its rule only on the fragments of the workers’ organisations. “The workers may calmly leave to the editors of the Vorwärts the task of research as regards the contrasts between the constitutional and unconstitutional coming of Hitler to power” (Arbeiterpolitik, January 10). Should the most advanced workers listen to Thalheimer, Hitler will without fail cut their throats. To our sage schoolteacher only the “essence” of fascism is important and he leaves the editors of Vorwärts to judge how that “essence” will be realised. But the whole matter lies in the fact that the pogrom “essence” of fascism can become palpable only after it comes to power. And the task consists precisely in not permitting it to attain power. For this, one must understand the strategy of the foe and explain it to the workers. Hitler is straining to his utmost to bring the movement outwardly into the constitutional channel. Only a pedant who deems himself a “materialist” is capable of thinking that such behaviour leaves no effect on the political consciousness of the masses. Hitler’s constitutionalism serves not only to keep the door open for a bloc with the centrists but also to fool the Social Democrats, or to put it more correctly, to make it easier for the leaders of the Social Democracy to fool the workers. If Hitler swears that he will attain to power only constitutionally then it is clear that the danger of fascism is not so great today. At any rate there will be time enough left to verify a few more times the correlation of forces during all sorts of elections. Under the cover of the constitutional perspective which lulls his adversaries, Hitler aims to reserve for himself the possibility of striking the blow at a convenient moment. This military cunning, no matter how simple in itself, secretes a tremendous force, for it leans upon not only the psychology of the intermediate parties, which would like to settle the question peacefully and legally, but, what is more dangerous, upon the gullibility of the national masses.

It is also necessary to add that Hitler’s manoeuvre is two-edged: he fools not only his adversaries but his supporters. And meanwhile, a militant spirit is essential for a struggle, particularly an offensive one. It can be sustained only by instilling in one’s army the understanding that an open battle is inescapable. This consideration bespeaks also the fact that Hitler cannot too long protract his tender romance with the Weimar Constitution without demoralising his ranks. He must in due time produce the knife from under his shirt.

It is not enough to understand only the “essence” of fascism. One must be capable of appraising it as a living political phenomenon, as a conscious and wily foe. Our schoolteacher is too ’sociological to be a revolutionist. Isn’t it clear, in reality, that Thalheimer’s profundity enters into Hitler’s reckoning as a favourable circumstance; for when one lumps together into one pile the broadcasting of constitutional illusions by the Vorwärts and the exposure of the military cunning of the enemy that is built upon these illusions, then one aids the enemy.

An organisation may be significant either because of the mass it embraces or because of the content of those ideas that it is capable of bringing into the workers’ movement. The Brandlerites have neither the one nor the other. But despite this, with what grandiloquent contempt do Brandler and Thalheimer hold forth on the centrist morass of the SAP! In reality, if one juxtaposes these two organisations—the SAP and the KPO—all the advantages are on the side of the former. The SAP is not a morass but a live stream. Its direction is from the right to the left, to the side of Communism. The stream has not been cleared, there is much rubbish and slime in it, but it is no swamp. The denomination “morass” is much more applicable to the organisation of Brandler-Thalheimer, which is characterised by a complete ideological stagnation.

Within the KPO group there has long existed its own opposition which is chiefly dissatisfied with the fact that their leaders tried to adapt their policies not so much to the objective conditions as to the moods of the Stalinist general staff in Moscow.

That the opposition of Walcher-Frölich, etc. has tolerated for a number of years the policies of Brandler-Thalheimer, which, particularly in relation to the USSR, bore not simply an erroneous but a consciously hypocritical and politically dishonest character—that, of course, no one will enter to the credit of the group that has split off. But the fact remains that the group of Walcher-Frölich has finally recognised the utter hopelessness of the organisation, whose leaders orient themselves at the beck and call of their superiors. The minority deems it necessary that an independent and active policy be undertaken not against the hapless Remmele but against the course and the regime of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR and in the Comintern. If we interpret correctly, on the basis of still rather extremely insufficient material, the position of Walcher-Frölich, then it represents a step forward in this question. But having split from an obviously dead group, the minority is only now faced with the question of a new orientation, national and, particularly, international.

The minority that split off, so far as one can judge, sees its chief task in the immediate future in concentrating upon the left wing of the SAP, and after winning over the new party for Communism, in subsequently breaking up with its aid the bureaucratic conservatism of the KPD. In regard to this plan in its general and undefined form, it is impossible to comment, because those basic principles upon which the minority stands are still unclear, as are the methods which it intends to apply in the struggle for these principles. A platform is essential! We have in mind not a document recapitulating the commonplaces of the Communist catechism, but clear and concrete answers to those questions of the proletarian revolution which have torn the ranks of Communism for the past nine years and which retain their burning significance even now. Lacking this, one can only become dissolved in the SAP and hinder, not facilitate, its development toward Communism.

The Left Opposition will follow the evolution of the minority attentively and without any preconceived opinions. More than once in history, the rift within a lifeless organisation has given an impulse to the progressive development of its viable section. We shall rejoice indeed should this law verify itself in this case also, in the fate of the minority. But only the future can supply the answer.


[6] A detailed analysis of this opportunistic chapter of the Comintern that lasted a few years is given in our works, The Third International After LeninThe Permanent Revolution, and Who is Leading the Comintern Today?

13. Strike Strategy

In the sphere of the trade unions the Communist leadership has entirely confused the party. The common course of the “third period” was directed toward parallel trade unions. The presupposition was that the mass movement would surge over the old organisations and that the organs of the RGO (the Revolutionary Trade Union Opposition) would become the initiative committees of the economic struggle. A mere trifle was lacking for the realisation of this plan: the mass movement During floods in springtime, the waters carry away many a fence. Let us try removing the fence, decided Lozovsky, perhaps the floods of spring will then rise! The reformist trade unions have survived. The Communist Party succeeded in getting itself thrown out of the factories. Thereupon partial corrections began to be introduced into the trade-union policy. The Communist Party has refused to call upon the unorganised workers to join reformist unions. But it likewise has taken a stand against workers leaving the trade unions. While creating parallel organisations it has resurrected the slogans of a battle for influence within the reformist unions. The whole mechanism represents an ideal self-sabotage.

Die Rote Fahne complains that many Communists consider meaningless the participation in reformist unions. “Why should we revive the old pushcart?” they declare. And as a matter of fact, why? If one intends seriously to fight for the control of the old unions, one should appeal to the unorganised that they enter them; it is precisely the new strata that can supply the backing for the left wing. But in that case one cannot build parallel unions, i.e., create a competitive agency to enroll the workers.

The policy that is recommended from above for work within the reformist unions is on a par with the rest of the hopeless mess. Die Rote Fahne on January 28 laced into the Communist members of the Metal Workers’ Union of Düsseldorf because they issued the slogan ’War without mercy against the participation of trade-union leaders’ in the support of the Brüning government. Such “opportunistic” demands are disallowed because they presuppose (!) that the reformists are capable of refusing to support Brüning and his emergency decrees. Truly, this is like a bad joke! Die Rote Fahne deems it sufficient to call the leaders names but disallows their being subjected to a political test by the masses.

And all the while it is precisely within the trade unions that an exceptionally fruitful field is now open for action. While the Social Democratic Party still has the wherewithal to fool the workers by political hullabaloo, the trade unions are confronted by the impasse of capitalism as by a hopeless prison wall. The 200,000 to 300,000 workers who are now organised in independent RGO unions could serve as a priceless leaven within the reformist brotherhoods.

Towards the end of January there was held in Berlin a Communist conference of the factory committees from the entire country. Die Rote Fahne carried the report, The factory committees are welding the Red Workers Front (February 2, 1932). But you would seek in vain for information regarding the composition of the conference, the number of industries and workers represented. In contradistinction to Bolshevism, which painstakingly and openly marked every change in the correlation of forces within the working class, the German Stalinists, following in the footsteps of the Russian, play hide and seek. They are loath to admit that less than 4 percent of the factory committees are Communist, as against 84 percent which are Social Democratic! In this correlation is summed up the balance of the “third period.” Suppose one does call the isolation of Communists in industry the “Red United Front”; will this really help advance matters?

The prolonged crisis of capitalism induces within the proletariat the most virulent and dangerous line of demarcation: between the employed and the unemployed. Through the circumstance that the reformists control the industrial centres while the Communists control the unemployed, both sections of the proletariat are being paralysed. The employed are in a position to bide a while longer. The unemployed are more impatient. At present their impatience bears a revolutionary character. But should the Communist Party fall to find such forms and slogans for the struggle as would unite the employed and the unemployed and thereby open the perspective of a revolutionary solution, the impatience of the unemployed will inevitably react against the Communist Party.

In 1917, despite the correct policy of the Bolshevik Party and the rapid development of the revolution, the more badly off and the more impatient strata of the proletariat, even in Petrograd, began between September and October to look away from the Bolsheviks towards the syndicalists and anarchists. Had not the October insurrection broken out in time, the disintegration within the proletariat would have become acute and would have led to the decay of the revolution. In Germany there is no need for anarchists; their place can be taken by the National Socialists who have wedded anarchist demagogy to conscious reactionary aims.

The workers are by no means immunised once for all against the influence of fascism. The proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie interpenetrate, especially under the present conditions, when the reserve army of workers cannot but produce petty traders and hawkers, etc., while the bankrupt petty bourgeoisie effuses proletarians and lumpen-proletarians.

Salaried employees, the technical and administrative personnel, and certain strata of the functionaries composed in the past one of the most important supports of the Social Democracy. At present, these elements have gone or are going over to the National Socialists. They are capable of drawing in their wake, if they haven’t already begun to do so, a stratum of the labour aristocracy. In this direction, National Socialism is penetrating into the proletariat from above.

Considerably more dangerous, however, is its possible penetration from below, through the unemployed. No class can long exist without prospects and hopes. The unemployed do not represent a class, but they already compose a very compact and substantial layer, which is vainly striving to tear itself away from intolerable conditions. If it is true in general that only the proletarian revolution can save Germany from disintegration and decay, this is especially true as regards the millions of unemployed.

Alongside of the impotence of the Communist Party in the factories and in trade unions, the numerical growth of the party resolves nothing. Within a tottering nation shot through with crises and contradictions, an extreme left party can rind new supporters in the tens of thousands, especially if its entire apparatus is directed to the sole purpose of capturing members, by way of “competition.” Everything depends upon the interrelation between the party and the class. A single employed Communist who is elected to the factory committee or to the administration of a trade union has a greater significance than a thousand new members, picked up here and there, who enter the party today in order to leave it tomorrow.

But the individual influx of members into the party will not at all continue indefinitely. If the Communist Party continues any longer to delay the struggle until that moment when it shall have entirely pushed out the reformists, then it will learn for certain that after a given point the Social Democracy will cease losing its influence to the Communist Party, while the fascists will begin disintegrating the unemployed who are the chief support of the Communist Party. Failure to utilise its forces for the tasks that spring from the total situation never allows a political party to go scot-free.

In order to clear the road for the mass struggle, the Communist Party strives to stimulate isolated strikes. The successes in this sphere have not been great. As ever, the Stalinists devote themselves to self-criticism: “We are as yet incapable of organising” ... “We haven’t yet learned how to attract” ... “We haven’t as yet learned how to capture” ... And when they say “we,” it unfailingly means “you.” That theory of the March Days in 1921, of blessed memory, is being resurrected, which proposed to “electrify” the proletariat by means of the offensive activities of the minority. But the workers are in no need whatever of being “electrified.” What they want is to be given a clear perspective, and to be aided in creating the basis for a mass movement.

In its strike strategy the Communist Party is obviously motivated by isolated citations from Lenin as interpreted by Manuilsky or Lozovsky. As a matter of fact, there were periods when the Mensheviks fought against the “strike frenzy,” while the Bolsheviks, on the contrary, took their place at the head of every new strike, drawing into the movement ever-increasing masses. That corresponded to the period of the awakening of new working-class strata. Such was the tactic of the Bolsheviks in 1905; during the industrial upward trend in the years preceding the war; and during the first months of the February revolution.

But in the period directly preceding October, beginning with the July clash of 1917, the tactic of the Bolsheviks assumed another character: they held back strikes; they applied the brake to them, because every large strike had the tendency to turn into a decisive battle, while the political postulates for it had not as yet matured.

However, during those months the Bolsheviks continued to Place themselves at the head of all strikes which flared up, despite their warnings, chiefly in the more backward branches of industry (among textile workers, leather workers, etc.).

While under some conditions the Bolsheviks boldly stimulated strikes in the interests of the revolution, under other conditions, on the contrary, they restrained strikes in the interests of the revolution. In this sphere as well as in others, there is no ready-made formula. But in every given period, the strike tactics of the Bolsheviks always formed part of their general tactics, and to the advanced workers the connection between the part and the whole was always clear.

How do matters stand now in Germany? The employed workers do not resist wage cuts because they are in fear of the unemployed. Small wonder; in the face of several million unemployed, the ordinary trade-union strike, so organised, is obviously futile. It is doubly futile in the face of political antagonism between the employed and the unemployed. This does not exclude the possibility of individual strikes, especially in the more backward and less centralised branches of industry. But it is just the workers of the more important branches of industry who, in such a situation, are inclined to heed the voices of the reformist leaders. The attempts of the Communist Party to unleash a strike struggle without changing the general situation within the proletariat lead only to minor guerrilla operations, which, even if successful, remain without a sequel.

According to the testimony of Communist workers (cf., say, Der Rote Aufbau), there is a great deal being said in factories to the effect that the strikes in different industries have no meaning at present, and that only a general strike could lead the workers out of their troubles. “The general strike” here signifies the prospect of struggle. The workers are less apt to become inspired by isolated strikes because they have to deal directly with the state power; monopoly capital speaks to the workers in the language of Brüning’s emergency decrees. [7]

At the dawn of the workers’ movement, in order to draw the workers into a strike, the agitators often refrained from launching into revolutionary and socialist perspectives, in order not to scare the workers away. At present the situation bears just the opposite character. The leading strata of the German workers can decide to begin a defensive economic struggle only in the event that they are clear about the general perspectives of subsequent struggles. They do not feel that these perspectives obtain among the Communist leadership.

In relation to the tactic of the March Days of 1921 in Germany (to “electrify” the minority of the proletariat instead of capturing its majority), the writer spoke at the Third Congress as follows: “When the overwhelming majority of the working class takes no account of the movement does not sympathise with it or is doubtful of its success, at the same time when the minority rushes ahead and by mechanical means strives to drive the workers into strikes—then this impatient minority in the guise of the party can fall foul of the working class and break its own head.”

Does this mean that the strike struggle should be renounced? No, not renounced but sustained, by creating for it necessary political and organisational premises. One of these is the restoration of the unity of the trade unions. The reformist bureaucracy, of course, is averse to this. The split has hitherto assured its position in the best manner possible. But the immediate threat of fascism is changing the situation within the trade unions to the detriment of the bureaucracy. The gravitation to unity is growing. Should Leipart’s clique try under present conditions to prohibit the restoration of unity, this would immediately double or triple the Communist influence within the unions. Should the unification materialise, nothing could be better; a wide sphere of activity would be opened to the Communists. Not halfway measures are urgent, but a bold about-face!

Without a widespread campaign against the high cost of living, for a shorter work week, against wage cuts; without drawing the unemployed into this struggle hand in hand with the employed; without a successful application of the policy of the united front, the improvised small strikes will not lead the movement out onto the open road.

The left Social Democrats chat about the necessity of resorting to the general strike “in the event that the fascists come into power.” Very likely, Leipart himself flaunts such threats within the four walls of his study. On this account Die Rote Fahne makes reference to Luxemburgism. This is vilifying the great revolutionist. Even though Rosa Luxemburg overestimated the independent importance of the general strike in the question of power, she understood quite well that a general strike could not be declared arbitrarily, that it must be prepared for by the whole preceding course of the workers’ movement, by the policies of the party and the trade unions. On the lips of the left Social Democrats, however, the mass strike is more of a consoling myth superimposed over sorry reality.

For many years, the French Social Democrats had promised that they would resort to the general strike in the event of war. The Basle Congress of 1912 even promised to resort to a revolutionary uprising. But the threat of general strikes as well as of uprisings assumed in these instances the nature of theatrical thunder. What is here involved is not the counterposition of the strike to the uprising, but the lifeless, formal, and merely verbal attitude to the strike as well as to the uprising. The reformist armed with the abstraction of the revolution—such in general was the Bebel type of Social Democrat prior to the war. Next to him the postwar reformist brandishing the threat of a general strike is an outright caricature.

The Communist leadership, of course, bears to the general strike an attitude that is much more conscientious. But it lacks clarity on this question also. And clarity is urgent. The general strike is a very important weapon of struggle, but it is not universal. There are conditions under which a general strike may weaken the workers more than their immediate enemy. The strike must be an important element in the calculation of strategy and not a panacea in which is submerged all other strategy.

Generally speaking, the general strike is the weapon o struggle of the weaker against the stronger; or, to put it more precisely, of the one who at the beginning of the struggle feel himself weaker against him whom one considers to be the stronger; seeing that I myself cannot make use of an important weapon, I shall try to prevent my opponents using it; if I cannot shoot from cannons, I shall at least remove the gun locks. Such is the “idea” of the general strike.

The general strike was always the weapon of struggle against an entrenched state power that had at its disposal rail roads, telegraph, police and army, etc. By paralysing the governmental apparatus the general strike either “scared” the government, or created the postulates for a revolutionary solution of the question of power.

The general strike is the most effective method of fighting under the conditions where the masses are united only by revolutionary indignation but are lacking military organisations and staffs, and cannot beforehand either estimate the correlation of forces, or work out a plan of action. Thus, one may suppose that the anti-fascist revolution in Italy, after beginning from one or another sectional clash, will inevitably go through the stage of the general strike. Only in this way will the present disjointed proletariat of Italy once again feel itself as a united class and match the strength of the enemy’s resistance, whom it must overthrow.

One would have to fight in Germany against fascism by means of the general strike only in the event that fascism was already in power, and had firmly seized the state apparatus. But so long as the matter concerns the repelling of the fascist attempt to seize power, the slogan of the general strike turns out to be just so much space wasted.

At the time of Kornilov’s march against Petrograd neither the Bolsheviks, nor the soviets as a whole, even thought of declaring a general strike. On the railroads the fight was waged to have the workers and the railroad personnel transport the revolutionary troops and retard the Kornilov detachments. The factories stopped functioning only in proportion as the workers had to leave for the front. The industries that served the revolutionary front worked with redoubled energy.

At the time of the October insurrection there was likewise no talk of a general strike. The factories and regiments in their overwhelming majority were already, on the eve of the overturn, following the leadership of the Bolshevik Soviet. Under these conditions, to call the factories to a strike meant to weaken oneself and not the enemy. At the railroads, the workers strove to aid the uprising; the railway officials, under the guise of neutrality, aided the counter-revolution. A general strike of railroad workers would have lacked any significance: the question was decided by the preponderance of the workers over the officials.

Should the struggle flare up in Germany through sectional clashes initiated by fascist provocation, the call for a general strike would hardly meet the general situation. The general strike would first of all mean that city would be isolated from city, one section of the city from another, and even one factory from the next. It is more difficult to find and collect the unemployed. Under such conditions the fascists, who have no lack of staffs, can obtain a certain preponderance thanks to centralised leadership. True, their masses are so disjointed that even under these conditions the fascist attempt could be repelled. But that is already another side of the matter.

The question of railroad communications, for instance, must be taken up not from the point of view of “prestige,” which demands that everybody should strike, but from the point of view of military expediency: for whom and against whom would the ways of communication serve in the time of conflict?

It is necessary, therefore, to prepare not for a general strike but for the repulsion of fascists. This means that everywhere there should be created bases of operation, shock troops, reserves, local staffs and central authorities, smoothly working means of communication, and elementary plans of mobilisation.

That which was accomplished by the local organisations in a provincial corner, in Bruchsal and Klingenthal, where the Communists together with the SAP and the trade unions, although boycotted by the upper crust of the reformist bureaucracy, have created the organisation for defence—that, despite its modest scope, serves as a model for the whole country. O, supreme leaders!—would that one’s voice could carry from here and one could shout—O, sevenfold sages of strategy, learn from the workers of Bruchsal and Klingenthal! Imitate them! Widen the scope of their experience and elaborate upon their forms! Learn from the workers of Bruchsal and Klingenthal!

The German working class has at its command potent political, economic, and sport organisations. Therein lies the difference between “Brüning’s regime” and “Hitler’s regime.” This is not Brüning’s virtue; a weak bureaucracy is no virtue. But one must see what is. The chief, the fundamental and crowning fact is that the working class of Germany stands even today in the full panoply of its organisations. If it is weak, that is only because its organised force is incorrectly applied. But it is only necessary to spread throughout the country the experience of Bruchsal and Klingenthal and the entire outlook in Germany would be different. In relation to the fascists, the working class under these conditions would be able to apply much more effective and direct methods of struggle than the general strike. But if through a concatenation of circumstances, the need for resorting to the general strike should still arise (such a need could arise from definite interrelation between the fascists and governmental organs), then the system of the Committees of defence on the basis of the united front could put through the mass strike with success assured beforehand.

The struggle would not stop on this stage. For what is the Bruchsal or Klingenthal organisation of defence in its essence? One must be able to observe the great in the little; it is the local soviet of workers’ deputies. That is not what it calls itself, that is not how it feels, for the matter concerns a small provincial nook. Quantity here too determines quality. Transfer this experiment to Berlin and you will get the Berlin soviet of workers’ deputies!


[7] Roy has just been sentenced to many years’ imprisonment by MacDonald’s government. The papers of the Comintern do not feel themselves obligated even to protest against this: one may ally oneself intimately with Chiang Kai-shek, but one absolutely cannot defend the Indian Brandlerite Roy against the imperial butchers.

14. Workers’ Control and Collaboration with the USSR

Whenever we speak of the slogans of the revolutionary period, the latter should not be construed in too narrow a sense. The Soviets should be created only in a revolutionary period. But when does that begin? One cannot consult the calendar and thus learn. One can only feel one’s way through action. The soviets must be created at the time when they can be created. [8]

The slogan of workers’ control over production relates, particularly and in general, to the same period as the creation of soviets. But neither should this be construed mechanically. Special conditions may draw the masses toward control over production considerably prior to the time when they will show themselves ready to create Soviets.

Brandler and his left shadow—Urbahns—have used the slogan of control over production independently of the political background. This has served no purpose other than to discredit the slogan. But it would be incorrect to reject the slogan now, under the conditions of the looming political crisis, only because on the face of it the mass offensive doesn’t exist as yet For the offensive itself, slogans are necessary which would define the perspectives of the movement. The period of propaganda must inevitably precede the penetration of the slogan into the masses.

The campaign for workers’ control can develop, depending upon the circumstances, not from the angle of production but from that of consumption. The promise of the Brüning government to lower the price of commodities simultaneously with the decrease in wages has not materialised. This question cannot but absorb the most backward strata of the proletariat, who are today very far from the thought of seizing power. Workers, control over the outlays of industry and the profits of trade is the only real form of the struggle for lower prices. Under the conditions of general dissatisfaction, workers’ commissions with the participation of worker-housewives for the purpose of checking up on the increased cost of margarine can become very palpable beginnings of workers’ control over industry. It is self-evident that this is only one of the possible manners of approach and it is given only as an example. Here the matter will not as yet concern the management of industry; the working woman will not go so far at once; such a thought is far removed from her mind. But it is easier for her to pass from consumer control to control over production and from the latter to direct management, depending upon the general development of the revolution.

In contemporary Germany, under the conditions of the present crisis, control over industry signifies control not only over the operating but also over the partly operating and shutdown industries. This presupposes participation in control by those workers who worked in those industries prior to their dismissal. The task must consist of setting the dead industries into motion, under the leadership of factory committees on the basis of an economic plan. This leads directly to the question of the governmental administration of industry, i.e., to the expropriation of the capitalists by the workers’ government. Workers’ control, then, is not a prolonged, “normal” condition, like wage-scale agreements or social insurance. The control is a transitional measure, under the conditions of the highest tension of the class war, and conceivable only as a bridge to the revolutionary nationalisation of industry.

The Brandlerites accuse the Left Opposition of having snitched from them the slogan of control over production after having jeered at this slogan for a number of years. The accusation has quite an unexpected tone! The slogan of control over industry was first issued, on a wide scale, by the Bolshevik Party in 1917. In Petrograd, the charge over the entire campaign in this sphere, as well as in others, was placed in the hands of the Petrograd Soviet. As an individual who watched this work and participated in it, I bear witness that we were never obliged to turn to Thalheimer-Brandler for initiative, or to make use of their theoretical information. The accusation of “plagiarism” is formulated with a certain imprudence.

But that is not the chief trouble. The second part of the accusation is much more serious—until now, the “Trotskyists” have argued against a campaign under the slogan of control over production, but right now they come out for this slogan. The Brandlerites see herein our inconsistency! As a matter of fact they only reveal a complete ignorance of the revolutionary dialectic embodied in that slogan of workers’ control, which they reduce to a technical prescription for “mobilising the masses.” They condemn themselves when they cite the fact that they have been repeating for a number of years the slogan which is suitable only for a revolutionary period. The woodpecker who has drilled away at the bark of an oak tree, year in and year out, in all probability at the bottom of his heart also holds to the conviction that the woodsman who chops down the tree with the blows of his axe has criminally plagiarised from him, the woodpecker.

For us, therefore, the slogan of control is tied up with the period of dual power in industry, which corresponds to the transition from the bourgeois regime to the proletarian. Not at all, objects Thalheimer: dual power must signify “equality [!] with the proprietors”; but the workers are fighting for total direction of industries. They, the Brandlerites, will not allow the revolutionary slogan to be “castrated” (that is the way they put it!). To them, “control over production signifies the management of the industries by the workers” (January 17, 1932). But why then designate management as control? In the language of all mankind control is understood to mean the surveillance and checking of one institution over the work of another. Control may be active, dominant, and all-embracing. But it remains control. The very idea of this slogan was the outgrowth of the transitional regime in industry when the capitalist and his administrators could no longer take a step without the consent of the workers; but on the other hand, when the workers had not as yet provided the political prerequisites for nationalisation, nor yet seized the technical management nor yet created the organs essential for this. Let us not forget that what is involved here concerns not only taking charge of factories, but also the sale of products and supplying of factories with raw materials and new equipment as well as credit operations, etc.

The correlation of forces in the factory is determined by the strength of the overall drive of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. Generally speaking, control is conceivable only during the indubitable preponderance of the political forces of the proletariat over the forces of capitalism. But it is wrong to think that in a revolution all questions need to be and are solved by force: the factories may be seized with the aid of the Red Guard, but their management requires new legal and administrative prerequisites, and over and above that, knowledge, skills, and proper organisational forms. A certain period of apprenticeship is required. The proletariat is interested in leaving the management during that period in the hands of an experienced administration, but compelling it to keep all the books open and establishing an alert supervision over all its affiliations and actions.

Workers’ control begins with the individual workshop. The organ of control is the factory committee. The factory organs of control join together with each other, according to the economic ties of the industries between themselves. At this stage, there is no general economic plan as yet. The practice of workers’ control only prepares the elements of this plan.

On the contrary, the workers’ management of industry, to a much greater degree even in its initial steps, proceeds from above, for it is inseparable from state power and the general economic plan. The organs of management are not factory committees but centralised soviets. The role of the factory committees remains important, of course. But in the sphere of management of industry it has no longer a leading but an auxiliary role.

In Russia where, like the bourgeoisie, the technical intelligentsia was convinced that the Bolshevik experiment would endure only a few weeks, and therefore had steered its course towards all sorts of sabotage and had refused to enter into any agreements, the stage of workers’ control did not develop. Moreover, the war was destroying the economic structure by changing the workers into soldiers. Therefore there is comparatively little in the Russian experience to be found in relation to workers’ control, as a special regime in industry. But this experience is all the more valuable for the opposite reason: it demonstrates that even in a backward country under the general sabotage of not only the proprietors but also of the administrative-technical personnel, the young and inexperienced proletariat, surrounded by a ring of enemies, was able nevertheless to organise the management of industry. What wouldn’t the German working class then be able to accomplish!

The proletariat, as has been said above, is interested in seeing to it that the transition from the private capitalist to the state capitalist and then to the socialist method of production be accomplished with the least economic convulsions and the least drain upon the national wealth. That is why, while nearing power and even after seizing power by way of the boldest and most decisive struggle, the proletariat will demonstrate complete readiness to establish a transitional regime in the factories, plants, and banks.

Will the relations in industry in Germany during the period of revolution differ from those in Russia? It is not easy to answer this question, particularly from the sidelines. The actual course of the class struggle may not leave room for workers’ control as a special stage. Under the extreme tension of the developing struggle, under the increased pressure of the workers on the one side and the sabotage on the part of the proprietors and administrators on the other, there may be no room left for agreements, even though temporary. In such a case, the proletariat will have to assume, together with the power, the full management of industry. The present semi-paralysed state of industry and the presence of a great army of unemployed make such an abridgement quite possible.

But, on the other hand, the presence of mighty organisations within the working class, the education of the German workers in the spirit of systematic activities and not of improvisations, and the tardiness of the masses in swinging towards revolution can tip the scale in favour of the first way. Therefore it would be inexcusable to reject beforehand the slogan of control over production.

In any event, it is obvious that in Germany, even more than in Russia, the slogan of workers’ control has a meaning apart from that of workers’ management. Like many other transitional slogans, it retains an enormous significance independent of the degree to which it will be realised in reality, if realised at all.

By its readiness to establish transitional forms of workers’ control, the proletarian vanguard wins over to its side the more conservative strata of the proletarian and neutralises certain groups of the petty bourgeoisie, especially the technical, administrative, and banking staffs. Should the capitalists and the entire upper layer of the administration demonstrate an utter irreconcilability by resorting to methods of economic sabotage, the responsibility for the severe measures that follow therefrom will fall, in the eyes of the nation, not upon the workers but upon the hostile classes. Such is the additional, political import of the slogan of workers’ control, along with the above-mentioned economic and administrative meaning.

In any case, the extremes of political cynicism are attested by the fact that those people who have issued the slogan of control in a non-revolutionary situation, and have thereby given it a purely reformist character, accuse us of centrist duality, because of our refusal to identify control with management.

The workers who rise to comprehend the problems of the management of industry will not wish nor will they be able to become drunk with words. They have become used in factories to dealing with materials, less flexible than phrases, and they will comprehend our thoughts better than bureaucrats; genuine revolutionary thinking does not consist in applying force everywhere and at all times, and far less in choking with verbal enthusiasm over force. Where force is necessary, there it must be applied boldly, decisively, and completely. But one must know the limitations of force, one must know when to blend force with a manoeuvre, a blow with an agreement. On anniversaries of Lenin’s death the Stalinist bureaucracy repeats memorised phrases about “revolutionary realism” in order the more freely to jeer at it during the remaining 364 days.

The prostituted theoreticians of reformism attempt to discover the dawn of socialism in the emergency decrees against the workers. From the “military socialism” of the Hohenzollerns to the police socialism of Brüning!

Left bourgeois ideologists dream of a planned capitalist economy. But capitalism has had time to demonstrate that in the line of plans it is capable only of draining the productive forces for the sake of war. Disregarding everything else, in what manner can the dependence of Germany—with its enormous figures of import and export—upon the world market be regulated?

We, on our side, propose to begin with the sector of German-Soviet relations, i.e., the elaboration of a broad plan of collaboration between the Soviet and German economy in connection with and supplementary to the second five-year plan. Tens and hundreds of the largest factories could go ahead full steam. The unemployment in Germany could be entirely liquidated—it would hardly take more than two or three years—on the basis of an all-embracing economic plan involving just these two countries.

The leaders of capitalist industry in Germany, obviously, cannot make such a plan, because it means their social self-elimination. But the Soviet government, with the aid of German workers’ organisations, first of all the trade unions and the progressive representatives of German technology, can and must work out an entirely practical plan, capable of opening truly grandiose perspectives. How petty all these problems of reparations and added pfennigs for customs will appear in comparison to those possibilities which will be opened by coupling the natural, technical, and organisational resources of the Soviet and German national economies.

The German Communists are spreading wide-scale propaganda concerning the successes of Soviet construction. This work is necessary. But they go off into sickly-sweet rhapsodies. That is entirely superfluous. But worse yet, they have been unable to link together both the successes and the difficulties of the Soviet economy with the immediate interests of the German proletariat; with unemployment, with the lowering of wages, and with the general economic impasse of Germany. They have been unable and unwilling to pose the question of Soviet-German collaboration on a strictly practical and at the same time deeply revolutionary basis.

During the first stage of the crisis—more than two years ago—we posed this question in print. And the Stalinists immediately set up a hue and cry that we believe in the peaceful coexistence of socialism and capitalism, that we want to save capitalism, etc. They failed to foresee and understand just one thing, to wit, what a potent factor in a socialist revolution a concrete economic plan of collaboration could become, if it were made the subject of discussion in trade unions and at factory meetings, among workers of operating as well as shut-down industries; and if it were linked with the slogan of workers’ control over production and subsequently with the slogan of seizing power. For international planned collaboration can be realised only under monopoly of foreign trade in Germany and the nationalisation of the means of production, in other words, under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Along this road, one could pull new millions of workers, non-party, Social Democrat, and Catholic, into the struggle for power.

The Tarnows are scaring the German workers with the prospect that the industrial breakdown as a consequence of the revolution would result in frightful chaos, famine, etc. Let it be kept in mind that these same people supported the imperialist war, which could bring to the proletariat in its train nothing save tortures, hardships, and degradation. To burden the proletariat with the agonies of war under the banner of the Hohenzollerns? Yes! Revolutionary sacrifices under the banner of socialism? No, never!

Discussions concerning the topic that “our German workers” would never agree to suffer “such sacrifices” consist in simultaneously flattering the German workers and vilifying them. Unfortunately, the German workers are too patient. The socialist revolution will not exact from the German proletariat one hundredth of those sacrifices that were swallowed up in the war of Hohenzollern-Leipart-Wels.


[8] Some ultra-lefts (for instance, the Italian Bordigist group) hold that the united front is permissible only in economic struggles. The attempt to separate the economic struggle from the political is less feasible in our epoch than ever before. The example of Germany, where wage agreements and workers’ wages are cut by means Of administrative decrees, should instil this truth even in small children.

We shall add in passing that in their present stage, the Stalinists are reviving many of the early crotchets of Bordigism. Small wonder that the “Prometeo group,” which has learned nothing and which has not taken one step forward, stands today, in the period of the ultra-left zigzag of the Comintern, much closer to the Stalinists than to us.

15. Is the Situation Hopeless?

It is a difficult task to arouse all at once the majority of the German working class for an offensive. As a consequence of the defeats of 1919, 1921, and 1923, and of the adventures of the “third period,” the German workers, who on top of that are bound by powerful conservative organisations, have developed strong centres of inhibition. But, on the other hand, the organisational solidarity of the German workers, which has almost altogether prevented until now the penetration of fascism into their ranks, opens the very greatest possibilities of defensive struggle. One must bear in mind that the policy of the united front is in general much more effective for the defensive than the offensive. The more conservative or backward strata of the proletariat are more easily drawn into a struggle to fight for what they already have than for new conquests.

Brüning’s emergency decrees and the threat on the part of Hitler are, in this sense, an “ideal” signal of alarm for the policy of the united front It is a matter of defence in the most elementary and obvious meaning of that word. Under such conditions the united front can encompass the widest mass of the working class. And moreover, the goals of the struggle cannot but evoke the sympathy of the lowest layers of the petty bourgeoisie, right down to the street vendors in the workers’ sections and districts.

With all its difficulties and dangers the present situation in Germany bears in itself also tremendous advantages for a revolutionary party; it imperiously dictates a clear strategic plan, beginning on the defensive, then assuming the offensive. Without for an instant renouncing its basic goal—the conquest of power—the Communist Party may occupy a defensive position for the sake of immediate and urgent actions. “Class against class!” It is high time to restore to this formula its real significance!

The repulsion by the workers of the offensive of capital and the government will inevitably call forth a redoubled offensive on the part of fascism. No matter how modest the first steps of the defence, the reaction from the enemy would immediately weld together the ranks of the united front, extend the tasks, compel the utilisation of more decisive measures, throw out the reactionary layers of the bureaucracy from the united front, extend the influence of Communism by weakening the barriers between the workers, and thus prepare for the transition from the defensive to the offensive.

If the Communist Party conquers the leading position in defensive battles—and it is assured of this under a correct policy—then it will in no way require the assent of the reformist and centrist upper crust when the transition to the offensive is reached. The masses are the ones who decide; the moment that the masses are separated from the reformist leadership, any agreement with the latter loses all meaning. To perpetuate the united front would be to misunderstand the dialectic of revolutionary struggle, and to transform the united front from a springboard into a barrier.

The most difficult political situations are in a certain sense the easiest; they allow only of one solution. Once the task is lucidly stated then it is in principle already solved: from the united front in the name of defence to the conquest of power under the banner of Communism.

Can this be done? The situation is difficult. Reformism is backed by ultra-left ultimatism. The bureaucratic dictatorship of the bourgeoisie is supported by reformism. Brüning’s bureaucratic dictatorship intensifies the economic agony of the nation and nourishes fascism.

The situation is very onerous, very dangerous, but far from hopeless. No matter how powerful the Stalinist apparatus may be, armed as it is with the usurped authority and the material resources of the October Revolution, it is not omnipotent. The dialectic of the class war is more powerful. One need only give it timely assistance.

At this moment many “lefts” are making a display of pessimism as regards the fate of Germany. In 1923, they say, when fascism was yet very weak, while the Communist Party had a serious influence in the trade unions and factory committees, the proletariat failed of victory; how then may one expect victory now when the party has become weaker and fascism incomparably stronger?

Imposing as this argument may seem at first glance, it is nevertheless false. In 1923 matters did not reach the stage of battle; the party shunned battle before the phantom of fascism. Where there is no fight, there can be no victory. It is precisely the strength of fascism and its thrust that eliminate this time the possibility of avoiding battle. Battle will have to be given. And if the German working class begins to fight it may conquer. It must conquer.

Even yesterday the supreme leaders said, “Let fascism assume power, we are not afraid, they will quickly shoot their bolt, etc.” This idea ruled the summits of the Communist Party several months at a stretch. Had it become absolutely entrenched, it would have signified that the Communist Party had undertaken to chloroform the proletariat prior to Hitler’s lopping off its head. Herein lay the greatest danger. At this moment no one repeats it any longer. The first positions have been won by us. The working masses are becoming imbued with the idea that fascism must be crushed before they can come to power. That is a very valuable victory. One must lean upon it in all subsequent agitation.

The mood of the working class is deeply troubled. They are tormented by unemployment and need. But they are goaded even more by the confusion of their leadership and the general mess. The workers understand that Hitler must not be allowed to come to power. But how? No way is visible. From above there comes not assistance but interference. Yet the workers want to fight.

There is an astounding fact, insofar as one may judge from afar, which has been insufficiently appraised, to wit: the Hirsch-Duncker coal miners have resolved that the capitalist system must be supplanted by the socialist! Why, this means that tomorrow they will be ready to create soviets as the organs of the entire class. Perhaps they are ready for it even today; one must only know enough to ask them! This symptom alone is a thousand times more important and convincing than all the impressionistic appraisals of literary gentlemen and orators, who are haughtily displeased with the masses.

Within the ranks of the Communist Party there seems to be passivity, factually and demonstrably, despite the proddings of the apparatus. But why? The rank and file of the Communists attend more and more rarely the meetings of the cells, where they are fed dry chaff. The ideas, which are supplied to them from above, can be applied neither in the factory nor on the street. The worker feels the irreconcilable contradiction between that which he needs when he stands face to face with the mass and that which is dished out to him during the official meetings of the party. The false atmosphere that is created by the shrill and boastful apparatus that brooks no contradiction is becoming insufferable for the rank and rile of the party. Hence we get emptiness and frigidity at party meetings. But this is not an unwillingness to fight, only political confusion as well as a dumb protest against the all powerful but brainless leadership.

The perplexity in the ranks of the proletariat raises the spirits of the fascists. Their offensive is extended. The danger grows. But precisely the nearness of the fascist danger will sharpen extremely the sight and hearing of the leading workers and will create an advantageous atmosphere for lucid and simple propositions that lead to action.

Citing Brunswick as an example, Münzenberg wrote in November of last year, “As regards the fact that this united front will spring up all at once, elementally, under the pressure of the increased fascist terror and fascist attacks—as regards this fact, there can be no doubt even today.” Münzenberg does not explain to us why the Central Executive Committee, of which he is a member, has not made the Brunswick events a point of departure for a bold policy of the united front. But just the same, without ceasing thereby to be an admission of his own insufficiency, Münzenberg’s prognosis is correct.

The imminence of the fascist danger cannot but lead to the radicalisation of the Social Democratic workers and even of considerable sections of the reformist apparatus. The revolutionary wing of the SAP will indubitably take a step forward. So much the more inevitable, under these conditions, does the about-face of the Communist apparatus become, even at the cost of inner rifts and splits. One must orient oneself precisely towards this direction of developments.

A turn by the Stalinists is inevitable. Symptoms here and there, measuring the force of pressure from below, are to be observed already; some arguments are supplanted by others, the phraseology becomes more and more obscure, the slogans more equivocal; at the same time all those are being excluded from the party who were careless enough to comprehend the task before the CEC. All these are unmistakable symptoms of the approaching about-face; but they are only symptoms.

More than once in the past it has happened that the Stalinist bureaucracy, having spoiled paper in hundreds of tons in polemics against counterrevolutionary “Trotskyism,” thereafter made an abrupt turn and tried to fulfil the program of the Left Opposition—in truth, sometimes after hopeless delays.

In China the turnabout came too late and in such form as to finish off the revolution (the Canton insurrection!). In Britain the “turnabout” was made by the adversaries, i.e., the General Council, which broke off with the Stalinists when it no longer needed them. But in the USSR the 1928 turnabout came just in time to save the dictatorship from the impending catastrophe. It is not hard to find the reasons for the differences in these three important examples. In China, the young and inexperienced Communist Party believed blindly in the Moscow leadership; the voice of the Russian Opposition did not generally, succeed in even getting there. Approximately the same thing happened in Britain. In the USSR, the Left Opposition was on the spot and ceaselessly continued its campaign against the kulak policies. In China [9] and Britain, Stalin & Co. took risks at a distance; in the USSR the matter concerned their own heads directly.

The political advantages of the German working class consist in the fact that all questions are posed openly and in good time; that the authority of the leadership of the Comintern has been greatly weakened; that the Marxist Opposition operates on the scene, in Germany itself; and that in the composition of the proletarian vanguard there are to be found thousands of experienced and critical individuals, who are capable of making themselves heard, and who are beginning to make themselves heard.

Numerically the Left Opposition in Germany is weak. But its political influence may prove decisive on the given, sharp, historical turn. As the switch-man, by the timely turn of the switch, shifts a heavily laden train onto different tracks, so the small Opposition, by a strong and sure turn of the ideological switch, can compel the train of the German Communist Party, and the still heavier train of the German proletariat, to go on in a different direction.

The correctness of our position will become apparent in action with each passing day. When the ceiling overhead bursts into flame, the most stubborn bureaucrats must forget about prestige. Even genuine privy councillors, in such situations, jump out of windows in their underwear. The pedagogy of facts will come to the assistance of our criticism.

Will the German Communist Party succeed in making the turn in time? At present one may speak of timeliness only conventionally. Had it not been for the frenzy of the “third period,” the German proletariat would today be in power. Had the Communist Party, after the last elections to the Reichstag, taken the program of action proposed by the Left Opposition, victory would have been assured. One cannot now speak of an assured victory. It is necessary now to call that turn timely which will enable the German workers to give battle before fascism takes over the state apparatus.

To accomplish such a turn, it is necessary to exert every effort. It is necessary for the leading elements of Communism, within the party and without, not to shy away from action. It is necessary to fight openly against the dumb ultimatism of the bureaucracy both within the party and in the face of the working masses.

“But that is a breach of discipline,” the wavering Communist will say. Of course, it is a breach of Stalinist discipline. No serious revolutionary will commit a breach of discipline, even formally, if there are no imperative reasons for it. Yet they are no revolutionists but rags and irresolute riffraff who under the cover of discipline tolerate policies the balefulness of which is quite obvious to them.

It would be a criminal act on the part of the Opposition Communists to take, like Urbahns & Co., to the road of creating a new Communist Party, before making some serious efforts to change the course of the old party. It is not difficult to create a small independent organisation. To create a new Communist Party is a gigantic task. Are there cadres for such a task? If there are, what have they done to influence tens of thousands of workers that are enrolled in the official party? If these cadres consider themselves capable of explaining to the workers the need for a new party, they should first of all test themselves in the work of reviving the existing party.

To pose now the question of a third party is to counterpose oneself on the eve of a great historical solution to the millions of Communist workers who are dissatisfied with the leadership but who, from a feeling of self-preservation, hold on to the party. One must find a common tongue with these millions of Communist workers. One must find access to the consciousness of these workers, ignoring curses, calumny, and the persecutions of functionaries; one must show them that we want the same things as they do, that we have no interests other than the interests of Communism, that the road we point out is the only correct road.

We must mercilessly expose ultra-radical capitulators and demand from the “leaders” clear answers to the question what to do; and we must offer our answer, for the entire country, for every section, every city, every district, every factory.

Within the party, nuclei of Bolshevik-Leninists must be created. On their banner they must inscribe: change the course and reform the party regime. Wherever they can assure themselves of serious support they must proceed to the actual application of the policy of the united front, even within a small local scope. The party bureaucracy will resort to expulsions? Certainly. But under the present conditions its omnipotence will not long endure.

Within the ranks of Communism and the entire proletariat there must be free discussion, without breaking up meetings, without falsified citations, without venomous vilification—but an honest interchange of opinions on the basis of proletarian democracy. It was thus that we conducted debates with all parties and within our own party throughout the entire year of 1917. Through a widespread discussion the extraordinary session of the party must be prepared for, with the sole question on the order of the day: “What next?”

Left Oppositionists are not intermediaries between the Communist Party and the Social Democracy. They are the soldiers of Communism, its agitators, its propagandists and its organisers. All eyes to the Communist Party! We must explain to it, we must convince it!

Should the Communist Party be compelled to apply the policy of the united front, this will almost certainly make it possible to beat off the fascist attack. In its own turn, a serious victory over fascism will clear the road for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But even at the helm of revolution, the Communist Party will still bear within itself many contradictions. The mission of the Left Opposition will not at all be completed. In a certain sense it will only begin. In the first place, the victory of proletarian revolution in Germany would signify the liquidation of the bureaucratic dependence of the Communist Party upon the Stalinist apparatus.

On the very next day after the victory of the German proletariat, even before, while yet in the process of its struggle for power, the hoops that bind the Comintern will burst. The barrenness of the ideas of bureaucratic centrism, the national limitations of its outlook, the anti-proletarian character of its regime—all these will at once be revealed in the light of the German Revolution, which will be immeasurably more brilliant than the light of the October Revolution. The ideas of Marx and Lenin will gain their inevitable hegemony within the German proletariat.


[9] Let it be borne in mind that in China, the Stalinists worked against the creation of Soviets during the period of revolutionary upsurge; whereas, when they decided upon an uprising in Canton during the wave of recession, they appealed to the masses to create Soviets on the very day of the insurrection!


A cattle dealer once drove some bulls to the slaughterhouse. And the butcher came nigh with his sharp knife. “Let us close ranks and jack up this executioner on our horns,” suggested one of the bulls.

“If you please, in what way is the butcher any worse than the dealer who drove us hither with his cudgel?” replied the bulls, who had received their political education in Manuilsky’s institute.

“But we shall be able to attend to the dealer as well afterwards!”

“Nothing doing,” replied the bulls, firm in their principles, to the counsellor. “You are trying to shield our enemies from the left; you are a social-butcher yourself.” And they refused to close ranks.

– from Aesop’s Fables

“To put the liberation from the Peace of Versailles necessarily, absolutely, and immediately first in precedence to the liberation of other nations downtrodden by imperialism, from the yoke of imperialism—that is middle-class nationalism (worthy of Kautskys, Hilferdings, Otto Bauer & Co.) but not revolutionary internationalism” (Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder).

What we need is the complete rejection of national Communism; an open and decisive liquidation of such slogans as “People’s Revolution” and “National Liberation.” Not “Down with the Versailles Treaty!” but “Long Live the Soviet United States of Europe!”

Socialism can be realised only on the basis of the highest achievements of contemporary technology and on the basis of the international division of labour.

The socialist construction of the USSR is not a self-sufficient national process, but an integral part of the international revolution.

The conquest of power by the German and European proletariat is a task infinitely more real and immediate than the building of a closed and self-sufficient society within the boundaries of the USSR.

Unconditional defence of the USSR, the first workers’ state, against the inside and outside foes of the proletarian dictatorship!

But the defence of the USSR cannot be carried on with the eyes blindfolded. International proletarian control over the Soviet bureaucracy. Merciless exposure of its national-reformist and Thermidorean tendencies that find their generalisation in the theory of socialism in one country.

What does the Communist Party require?

The return to the strategical school of the first four congresses of the Comintern.

The rejection of ultimatism in relations with mass workers’ organisations; Communist leadership cannot be imposed; it can only be won.

The rejection of the theory of social fascism which aids both Social Democracy and fascism.

Persistent exploitation of the antagonism between Social Democracy and fascism: (a) for the sake of more effective struggle against fascism; (b) for the sake of counterposing the Social Democratic workers to the reformist leadership.

To us the criteria for appraising changes in political regimes of bourgeois rule are not the principles of formal democracy but the vital interests of proletarian democracy.

No direct or indirect support of Brüning’s regime!

Bold, self-sacrificing defence of proletarian organisations against fascism.

“Class against class!” This means all organisations of the proletariat must take their place in the united front against the bourgeoisie.

The practical program of the united front is determined by agreements with organisations made in full view of the masses. Every organisation remains under its own banner and its own leadership. Every organisation obeys in action the discipline of the united front.

“Class against class!” Indefatigable agitation must be conducted in order that the Social Democratic organisations and the reformist trade unions shall break with the perfidious bourgeois allies in the “Iron Front” and that they join in common with the Communists and all other organisations of the proletariat.

“Class against class!” Propaganda and organisational preparation for workers’ soviets, as the highest forms of the proletarian united front.

Full organisational and political independence of the Communist Party at all times and under all conditions.

No combining whatever of programs or banners. No unprincipled deals. Complete freedom of criticism of temporary allies.

The candidacy of Thälmann for the presidency is, self-evidently, the candidacy supported by the Left Opposition. In the struggle for the mobilisation of workers under the banner of the official Communist candidacy, the Bolshevik-Leninists must be in the front line.

The German Communists must take their inspiration not from the present regime in the CPSU, which reflects the domination of the apparatus on the foundation of a victorious revolution, but from that party regime which led to the victory of the revolution.

The liquidation of bossing by the apparatus within the German Communist Party is a life-and-death question.

There must be a return to party democracy.

Worker-Communists must attempt first of all to initiate an honest and serious discussion in the party on questions of strategy and tactics. The voice of the Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists) must be heard by the party.

After a thorough discussion, the decisions must be passed by a freely elected special congress of the party.

A correct policy of the Communist Party in relation to the SAP should consist of an irreconcilable criticism (but conscientious, that is, corresponding to the facts) of the dual nature of its leadership; an attentive, comradely, and sensitive relation to the left wing—with a complete readiness for practical agreements with the SAP and for more intimate political ties with the revolutionary wing.

A sharp turn of the helm in the trade-union policy; a struggle against the reformist leadership on the basis of trade-union unity.

A systematically applied policy of the united front in industry. Agreements with reformist factory committees on the basis of a definite program of demands.

Fight for lower prices. Fight against lower wages. Switch this right onto the tracks of a campaign for workers’ control over production.

Campaign for collaboration with the USSR on the basis of a single economic plan.

A draft plan must be worked out by the respective organs of the USSR with the participation of interested organisations of the German proletariat.

Campaign for the change of Germany to socialism on the basis of such a plan.

They lie who say that the situation seems hopeless. Pessimists and skeptics must be driven out of the proletarian ranks, as carriers of a deadly infection. The inner forces of the German proletariat are inexhaustible. They will clear the road for themselves.

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