Category Archives: Germany

Leon Trotsky: The Workers’ Militia And Its Opponents (1934)

As we’ve been going through the always inspiring and illuminating writings of Bolshevik revolutionary and founder of the Red Army Leon Trotsky searching for works that can illustrate the need for multiracial union-based workers defense squads to beat back the rising tide of fascism in the US, we have been learning and re-learning so much that it is amazing.  So many of the 1930s-era arguments against the creation of a workers militia to smash fascism are being repeated almost word-for-word every day on Twitter!  We know that in the USA, thanks to advertising and television and its inducement of short-attention-spans in way too many workers here, the idea that something written about political events of 70 years ago could remain relevant in 2017 seems absurd.  You want “NEW!” and “IMPROVED!” political science, right?  But just as the works of Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein are still considered to be among the finest examples of scientific writing on their subjects to date, so it goes with political science.  And as it is absolutely necessary for a doctor or a physicist to study the history of developments in her field of expertise in order to more fully understand the modern approaches and discoveries, in political science we can obtain a wealth of vitally important information from the writings of the top revolutionaries of the past two centuries and apply that information directly to today’s political challenges.  It may come as a surprise, but the fundamental class structure of a capitalist state hasn’t changed much in the past 175 years or so: we still have the working class majority, a smaller petit-bourgeoisie (middle class small business owners) and a relatively tiny capitalist class to whom the majority of the national wealth is funneled year after year.  The actors change but the roles do not; petit-bourgeois politicians and businesspeople have the same complaints and roles in 2017 as they had in 1917 – with relatively minor differences in scenery and plot.  It’s like seeing a modern production of a Mozart opera, in which the clothing of the 1700s is replaced by hip-hop fashion: it looks very different but the music and lyrics remain the same.  And we are sure that our very perceptive readers will find themselves surprised to hear Trotsky, writing in 1934 (in this case) making incisive comments which, if the names of the old politicians were replaced with current US politicians, you would imagine the article was written last week.

In political science, the famous warning that “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” carries full force.  We assure those of you who laugh at us for using the events of 1934 as a warning in 2017 that you ignore these works at your peril.  The options for modern politicians – working class, petit-bourgeois and bourgeois – have NOT changed in the past century.  If the working class does not overthrow capitalism in 2017, and the fascists are allowed to grow, the result will be largely the same as what occurred in Germany in 1933.  The USA has a whole slew of would-be Hitlers jockeying to reprise his role in the 2017 production of “The Collapse of Bourgeois Democracy”.  The working class has its own contingent of feckless, class-collaborationist fake-socialists and pro-capitalist trade union “leaders” eager to show what they can bring to the roles of Scheidemann and Noske.  Today’s anarchists have their Bakunins, Berkmans, Makhnos and Goldmans; and the revolutionary socialists have their own up-and-coming Stalins, Kollontais, Lenins, Maos, Guevaras, and Trotskys.  All of these actors will be vying for the hearts and minds of the masses of workers, without whom there will be no play. 

“History repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” We do not intend to fall into the same traps that our ancestors fell into; more than that – we do not intend to lead YOU into those same traps YOUR ancestors fell into!   So that we do not do so, we must study the development of the various class forces in the past who were faced with essentially the same collapse of bourgeois democracy and essentially the same rise of fascism we are facing today around the capitalist world.  In Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s the Communist Party refused to make a united front with the Social Democrats and form armed workers brigades capable of smashing Hitler’s gangs, paving the way for the rise of Nazi Germany.  Fascism then rose in France as well, paving the political road to the wartime Nazi-collaborationist Vichy government.  Why did bourgeois democracy fail throughout Europe in the 1930s?  Was the rise of fascism inevitable?  Is it inevitable now?  By studying the historical record of the workers movement as it struggled to overcome the obstacles hurled into its path during the interwar period of 1918 -1939 we can answer these questions. These tragic errors of the 20th century need not – and must not be – repeated in the 21st century.

— IWPCHI

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THE WORKERS’ MILITIA AND ITS OPPONENTS

From Whither France?, 1934

To struggle, it is necessary to conserve and strengthen the instrument and the means of struggle — organizations, the press, meetings, etc.  Fascism [in France] threatens all of that directly and immediately.  It is still too weak for the direct struggle for power, but it is strong enough to attempt to beat down the working-class organizations bit by bit, to temper its bands in its attacks, and to spread dismay and lack of confidence in their forces in the ranks of the workers.

Fascism finds unconscious helpers in all those who say that the “physical struggle” is impermissible or hopeless, and demand of Doumergue the disarmament of his fascist guard.  Nothing is so dangerous for the proletariat, especially in the present situation, as the sugared poison of false hopes.  Nothing increases the insolence of the fascists so much as “flabby pacificism” on the part of the workers’ organizations.  Nothing so destroys the confidence of the middle classes in the working-class as temporizing, passivity, and the absence of the will to struggle.

Le Populaire [the Socialist Party paper] and especially l’Humanite [the Communist Party newspaper] write every day:

“The united front is a barrier against fascism”;
“the united front will not permit…”;
“the fascists will not dare”, etc.

These are phrases.  It is necessary to say squarely to the workers, Socialists, and Communists: do not allow yourselves to be lulled by the phrases of superficial and irresponsible journalists and orators.  It is a question of our heads and the future of socialism.  It is not that we deny the importance of the united front.  We demanded it when the leaders of both parties were against it.  The united front opens up numerous possibilities, but nothing more.  In itself, the united front decides nothing.  Only the struggle of the masses decides.  The united front will reveal its value when Communist detachments will come to the help of Socialist detachments and vice versa in the case of an attack by the fascist bands against Le Populaire or l’Humanite.  But for that, proletarian combat detachments must exist and be educated, trained, and armed.  And if there is not an organization of defense, i.e., a workers’ militia, Le Populaire or l’Humanite will be able to write as many articles as they like on the omnipotence of the united front, but the two papers will find themselves defenseless before the first well-prepared attack of the fascists.

We propose to make a critical study of the “arguments” and the “theories” of the opponents of the workers’ militia who are very numerous and influential in the two working-class parties.

“We need mass self-defense and not the militia,” we are often told.

But what is this “mass self-defense” without combat organizations, without specialized cadres, without arms?  To give over the defense against fascism to unorganized and unprepared masses left to themselves would be to play a role incomparably lower than the role of Pontius Pilate.  To deny the role of the militia is to deny the role of the vanguard.  Then why a party?  Without the support of the masses, the militia is nothing.  But without organized combat detachments, the most heroic masses will be smashed bit by bit by the fascist gangs.  It is nonsense to counterpose the militia to self-defense. The militia is an organ of self-defense.

“To call for the organization of a militia,” say some opponents who, to be sure, are the least serious and honest, “is to engage in provocation.”

This is not an argument but an insult.  If the necessity for the defense of the workers’ organizations flows from the whole situation, how then can one not call for the creation of the militia?  Perhaps they mean to say that the creation of a militia “provokes” fascist attacks and government repression.  In that case, this is an absolutely reactionary argument.  Liberalism has always said to the workers that by their class struggle they “provoke” the reaction.

The reformists repeated this accusation against the Marxists, the Mensheviks against the Bolsheviks.  These accusations reduced themselves, in the final analysis, to the profound thought that if the oppressed do not balk, the oppressors will not be obliged to beat them.  This is the philosophy of Tolstoy and Gandhi but never that of Marx and Lenin.  If l’Humanite wants hereafter to develop the doctrine of “non-resistance to evil by violence”, it should take for its symbol not the hammer and sickle, emblem of the October Revolution, but the pious goat, which provides Gandhi with his milk.

“But the arming of the workers is only opportune in a revolutionary situation, which does not yet exist.”

This profound argument means that the workers must permit themselves to be slaughtered until the situation becomes revolutionary.  Those who yesterday preached the “third period” do not want to see what is going on before their eyes. The question of arms itself has come forward only because the “peaceful”, “normal”, “democratic” situation has given way to a stormy, critical, and unstable situation which can transform itself into a revolutionary, as well as a counter-revolutionary, situation.  This alternative depends above all on whether the advanced workers will allow themselves to be attacked with impunity and defeated bit by bit or will reply to every blow by two of their own, arousing the courage of the oppressed and uniting them around their banner.  A revolutionary situation does not fall from the skies.  It takes form with the active participation of the revolutionary class and its party.

The French Stalinists now argue that the militia did not safeguard the German proletariat from defeat.  Only yesterday they completely denied any defeat in Germany and asserted that the policy of the German Stalinists was correct from beginning to end.  Today, they see the entire evil in the German workers’ militia (Roter Frontkampferbund) [i.e., Red Front Fighters: Communist-led militia banned by the social- democratic government after the Berlin May Day riots of 1929].  Thus, from one error they fall into a diametrically opposite one, no less monstrous. The militia, in itself, does not settle the question.  A correct policy is necessary. Meanwhile,the policy of Stalinism in Germany (“social fascism is the chief enemy”, the split in the trade unions, the flirtation with nationalism, putschism) fatally led to the isolation of the proletarian vanguard and to its shipwreck.  With an utterly worthless strategy, no militia could have saved the situation.

It is nonsense to say that, in itself, the organization of the militia leads to adventures, provokes the enemy, replaces the political struggle by physical struggle, etc.  In all these phrases, there is nothing but political cowardice.

The militia, as the strong organization of the vanguard, is in fact the surest defense against adventures, against individual terrorism, against bloody spontaneous explosions.

The militia is at the same time the only serious way of reducing to a minimum the civil war that fascism imposes upon the proletariat.  Let the workers, despite the absence of a “revolutionary situation”, occasionally correct the “papa’s son” patriots in their own way, and the recruitment of new fascist bands will become incomparably more difficult.

But here the strategists, tangled in their own reasoning, bring forward against us still more stupefying arguments. We quote textually:

“If we reply to the revolver shots of the fascists with other revolver shots,” writes l’Humanite of October 23 [1934], “we lose sight of the fact that fascism is the product of the capitalist regime and that in fighting against fascism it is the entire system which we face.”

It is difficult to accumulate in a few lines greater confusion or more errors. It is impossible to defend oneself against the fascists because they are — “a product of the capitalist regime”. That means, we have to renounce the whole struggle, for all contemporary social evils are “products of the capitalist system”.

When the fascists kill a revolutionist, or burn down the building of a proletarian newspaper, the workers are to sigh philosophically: “Alas! Murders and arson are products of the capitalist system”, and go home with easy consciences. Fatalist prostration is substituted for the militant theory of Marx, to the sole advantage of the class enemy. The ruin of the petty bourgeoisie is, of course, the product of capitalism. The growth of the fascist bands is, in turn, a product of the ruin of the petty bourgeoisie. But on the other hand, the increase in the misery and the revolt of the proletariat are also products of capitalism, and the militia, in its turn, is the product of the sharpening of the class struggle. Why, then, for the “Marxists” of l’Humanite, are the fascist bands the legitimate product of capitalism and the workers’ militia the illegitimate product of — the Trotskyists? It is impossible to make head or tail of this.

“We have to deal with the whole system,” we are told.

How? Over the heads of human beings? The fascists in the different countries began with their revolvers and ended by destroying the whole “system” of workers’ organizations. How else to check the armed offensive of the enemy if not by an armed defense in order, in our turn, to go over to the offensive.

L’Humanite now admits defense in words, but only in the form of “mass self-defense”. The militia is harmful because, you see, it divides the combat detachments from the masses. But why then are there independent armed detachments among the fascists who are not cut off from the reactionary masses but who, on the contrary, arouse the courage and embolden those masses by their well-organized attacks? Or perhaps the proletarian mass is inferior in combative quality to the declassed petty bourgeoisie?

Hopelessly tangled, l’Humanite finally begins to hesitate: it appears that mass self-defense requires the creation of special “self-defense groups”. In place of the rejected militia, special groups or detachments are proposed. It would seem at first sight that there is a difference only in the name. Certainly, the name proposed by l’Humanite means nothing. One can speak of “mass self-defense” but it is impossible to speak of “self-defense groups” since the purpose of the groups is not to defend themselves but the workers’ organizations. However, it is not, of course, a question of the name. The “self-defense groups”, according to l’Humanite , must renounce the use of arms in order not to fall into “putschism”. These sages treat the working-class like an infant who must not be allowed to hold a razor in his hands.  Razors, moreover, are the monopoly, as we know, of the Camelots du Roi [French monarchists grouped around Charles Maurras’ newspaper, Action Francaise, which was violently anti-democratic], who are a legitimate “product of capitalism” and who, with the aid of razors, have overthrown the “system” of democracy.  In any case, how are the “self-defense groups” going to defend themselves against the fascist revolvers? “Ideologically”, of course. In other words: they can hide themselves.  Not having what they require in their hands, they will have to seek “self-defense” in their feet.  And the fascists will in the meanwhile sack the workers’ organizations with impunity.  But if the proletariat suffers a terrible defeat, it will at any rate not have been guilty of “putschism”.  This fraudulent chatter, parading under the banner of “Bolshevism”, arouses only disgust and loathing.

[NOTE: “The Third Period”: According to the Stalinist schema, this was the “final period of capitalism”, the period of its immediately impending demise and replacement by soviets. The period is notable for the Communists’ ultra-left and adventurist tactics, notably the concept of social-fascism.]

During the “third period”  of happy memory — when the strategists of l’Humanite were afflicted with barricade delirium, “conquered” the streets every day and stamped as “social fascist” everyone who did not share their extravagances — we predicted: “The moment these gentlemen burn the tips of their fingers, they will become the worst opportunists.”  That prediction has now been completely confirmed.  At a time when within the Socialist Party the movement in favor of the militia is growing and strengthening, the leaders of the so-called Communist Party run for the hose to cool down the desire of the advanced workers to organize themselves in fighting columns.  Could one imagine a more demoralizing or more damning work than this?

In the ranks of the Socialist Party sometimes this objection is heard: “A militia must be formed but there is no need of shouting about it.”

One can only congratulate comrades who wish to protect the practical side of the business from inquisitive eyes and ears.  But it would be much too naive to think that a militia could be created unseen and secretly within four walls.  We need tens, and later hundreds, of thousands of fighters.  They will come only if millions of men and women workers, and behind them the peasants, understand the necessity for the militia and create around the volunteers an atmosphere of ardent sympathy and active support.  Conspiratorial care can and must envelop only the technical aspect of the matter.  The political campaign must be openly developed, in meetings, factories, in the streets and on the public squares.

The fundamental cadres of the militia must be the factory workers grouped according to their place of work, known to each other and able to protect their combat detachments against the provocations of enemy agents far more easily and more surely than the most elevated bureaucrats.  Conspirative general staffs without an open mobilization of the masses will at the moment of danger remain impotently suspended in midair.  Every working-class organization has to plunge into the job.  In this question, there can be no line of demarcation between the working-class parties and the trade unions.  Hand in hand, they must mobilize the masses.  The success of the workers’ militia will then be fully assured.

“But where are the workers going to get arms” object the sober “realists” — that is to say, frightened philistines — “the enemy has rifles, cannon, tanks, gas, and airplanes. The workers have a few hundred revolvers and pocket knives.”

In this objection, everything is piled up to frighten the workers.  On the one hand, our sages identify the arms of the fascists with the armament of the state.  On the other hand, they turn towards the state and demand that it disarm the fascists. Remarkable logic!  In fact, their position is false in both cases.  In France, the fascists are still far from controlling the state.  On February 6, they entered in armed conflict with the state police.  That is why it is false to speak of cannon and tanks when it is a matter of the immediate armed struggle against the fascists. The fascists, of course, are richer than we.  It is easier for them to buy arms.  But the workers are more numerous, more determined, more devoted, when they are conscious of a firm revolutionary leadership.

In addition to other sources, the workers can arm themselves at the expense of the fascists by systematically disarming them.

This is now one of the most serious forms of the struggle against fascism.  When workers’ arsenals will begin to stock up at the expense of the fascist arms depots, the banks and trusts will be more prudent in financing the armament of their murderous guards.  It would even be possible in this case — but in this case only — that the alarmed authorities would really begin to prevent the arming of the fascists in order not to provide an additional sources of arms for the workers.  We have known for a long time that only a revolutionary tactic engenders, as a by-product, “reforms” or concessions from the government.

But how to disarm the fascists?  Naturally, it is impossible to do so with newspaper articles alone.  Fighting squads must be created.  An intelligence service must be established.  Thousands of informers and friendly helpers will volunteer from all sides when they realize that the business has been seriously undertaken by us.  It requires a will to proletarian action.

But the arms of the fascists are, of course, not the only source.  In France, there are more than one million organized workers.  Generally speaking, this number is small.  But it is entirely sufficient to make a beginning in the organization of a workers’ militia.  If the parties and unions armed only a tenth of their members, that would already be a force of 100,000 men.  There is no doubt whatever that the number of volunteers who would come forward on the morrow of a “united front” appeal for a workers’ militia would far exceed that number.  The contributions of the parties and unions, collections and voluntary subscriptions, would within a month or two make it possible to assure the arming of 100,000 to 200,000 working-class fighters.  The fascist rabble would immediately sink its tail between its legs.  The whole perspective of development would become incomparably more favorable.

To invoke the absence of arms or other objective reasons to explain why no attempt has been made up to now to create a militia, is to fool oneself and others. The principle obstacle — one can say the only obstacle — has its roots in the conservative and passive character of the leaders of the workers’ organizations.  The skeptics who are the leaders do not believe in the strength of the proletariat.  They put their hope in all sorts of miracles from above instead of giving a revolutionary outlet to the energies pulsing below.  The socialist workers must compel their leaders to pass over immediately to the creation of the workers’ militia or else give way to younger, fresher forces.

A strike is inconceivable without propaganda and without agitation.  It is also inconceivable without pickets who, when they can, use persuasion, but when obliged, use force.  The strike is the most elementary form of the class struggle which always combines, in varying proportions, “ideological” methods with physical methods.  The struggle against fascism is basically a political struggle which needs a militia just as the strike needs pickets.  Basically, the picket is the embryo of the workers’ militia.  He who thinks of renouncing “physical” struggle must renounce all struggle, for the spirit does not live without flesh.

Following the splendid phrase of the great military theoretician Clausewitz, war is the continuation of politics by other means.  This definition also fully applies to civil war.  It is impermissable to oppose one to the other since it is impossible to check at will the political struggle when it transforms itself, by force of inner necessity, into a political struggle.

The duty of a revolutionary party is to foresee in time the inescapability of the transformation of politics into open armed conflict, and with all its forces to prepare for that moment just as the ruling classes are preparing.

The militia detachments for defense against fascism are the first step on the road to the arming of the proletariat, not the last. Our slogan is:

“Arm the proletariat and the revolutionary peasants!”

The workers’ militia must, in the final analysis, embrace all the toilers.  To fulfill this program completely would be possible only in a workers’ state into whose hands would pass all the means of production and, consequently, also all the means of destruction — i.e., all the arms and the factories which produce them.

However, it is impossible to arrive at a workers’ state with empty hands.  Only political invalids like Renaudel can speak of a peaceful, constitutional road to socialism. The constitutional road is cut by trenches held by the fascist bands. There are not a few trenches before us.  The bourgeoisie will not hesitate to resort to a dozen coups d’etat aided by the police and the army, to prevent proletariat from coming to power.

[NOTE: Pierre Renaudel (1871-1935): Prior to WWI, socialist leader Jean Jaures’ righthand man and editor of l’Humanite. During the war, a right-wing social patriot. In the 1930s, he and Marcel Deat led revisionist “neo-socialist” tendency. Voted down at the July 1933 convention, this tendency split from the Socialist Party. After the fascist riots of February 6, 1934, most of the “neos” joined the Radical Party, the main party of French capitalism.]

A workers’ socialist state can be created only by a victorious revolution.

Every revolution is prepared by the march of economic and political development, but it is always decided by open armed conflicts between hostile classes.  A revolutionary victory can become possible only as a result of long political agitation, a lengthy period of education and organization of the masses.

But the armed conflict itself must likewise be prepared long in advance.

The advanced workers must know that they will have to fight and win a struggle to the death. They must reach out for arms, as a guarantee of their emancipation.

[Source: https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1944/1944-fas.htm#p1   Corrected and emphasis added in bold type by IWPCHI]

 

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Leon Trotsky: “For a Workers’ United Front Against Fascism” (1931)

The events of this past week in Charlottesville, VA have led us to call for the immediate formation of multiracial, union-based workers militias to smash the fascist threat now feeling the wind under its wings thanks to the support of the US’ new racist, immigrant-hating real-estate swindler president Donald “Andrew Johnson” Trump.

If the US Government is going to allow armed white supremacist scum to parade in the streets of US cities threatening to murder antifascist protestors then the working class must be organized to defend itself with the very same weaponry that is being brandished by the fascists.  We call for the immediate formation of  union-based workers defense guards.   Led by military vets who are union members these powerful workers battalions can harness the creative energy of the entire multiracial US working class to provide a reliable, trustworthy and  disciplined defense against the rise of the fascist scum, and can easily overwhelm any fascist mobilization that dares to make the mistake of attempting to march in the multiracial bastions of US trade unionism: our major US cities.

We are presenting the best revolutionary Marxist/Leninist/Trotskyist writings of the great revolutionary leaders of our movement who organized the global fight to smash fascism in the 1930s and 1940s.  It was not the belated Normandy invasion (undertaken only after it was clear that the Nazis would not defeat the USSR as the western imperialists had hoped) but the might of the USSR’s Red Army that crushed the Nazi hordes who tried and failed to overthrow the bureaucratically deformed Stalinist workers state in World War II.  The collapse of the Nazi Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front in 1944 proved the inherent superiority of the socialist system – even one so poorly led as the Stalinist USSR was – on the battlefields of Eastern Europe, where the mightiest military force ever deployed by the capitalist world found itself overwhelmed by the superior organizational and economic power of socialism, backed by superior morale and internationalist ideals of global collective struggle to defend the gains of the Bolshevik Revolution.

In this selection, Lenin’s right-hand man during the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, the organizer and leader of the Red Army and leader of the anti-Stalinist Left Opposition in the Communist Party Leon Trotsky warns German communist workers in 1931 of the impending fascist coup that was bound to occur if the working class did not form an antifascist united front against Hitler and his Nazis.

Writing for the Bulletin of the Opposition in December of 1931, here is Trotsky’s analysis of the situation in Germany.  He accurately predicts that Hitler would provoke a civil war in and then come to power not through bourgeois-democratic means but through a coup.  He talks about the disastrous concept of voting for the “lesser evil” which is so sadly prevalent in the United States today; there is much here that will be food for thought for those who are serious about fighting fascism in 2017.  We hope you find this historical gem from the archives of Trotskyism to be helpful in answering your questions as to what must be done to smash fascism in the here and now.

— IWPCHI

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For a Workers’ United Front
Against Fascism

Germany is now passing through one of those great historic hours upon which the fate of the German people, the fate of Europe, and in significant measure the fate of all humanity, will depend for decades. If you place a ball on top of a pyramid, the slightest impact can cause it to roll down either to the left or to the right. That is the situation approaching with every hour in Germany today. There are forces which would like the ball to roll down towards the right and break the back of the working class. There are forces which would like the ball to remain at the top. That is a utopia. The ball cannot remain at the top of the pyramid. The Communists want the ball to roll down toward the left and break the back of capitalism. But it is not enough to want; one must know how. Let us calmly reflect once more: is the policy carried on at present by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany correct or incorrect?

What Does Hitler Want?

The fascists are growing very rapidly. The Communists are also growing but much more slowly. The growth at the extreme poles shows that the ball cannot maintain itself at the top of the pyramid. The rapid growth of the fascists signifies the danger that the ball may roll down toward the right. Therein lies an enormous danger.

Hitler emphasizes that he is against a coup d’état. In order to strangle democracy once and for all, he wants to come to power by no other route than the democratic road. Can we seriously believe this?

Of course, if the fascists could figure on obtaining an absolute majority of the votes at the next elections in a peaceful way, then they would perhaps even prefer this road. In reality, however, this road is unthinkable for them. It is stupid to believe that the Nazis would grow uninterruptedly, as they do now, for an unlimited period of time. Sooner or later they will drain their social reservoir. Fascism has introduced into its own ranks such terrific contradictions, that the moment must come in which the flow ceases to replace the ebb. This moment can arrive long before the fascists have united about them even half of the votes. They will not be able to halt for they will have nothing more to look for here. They will be forced to resort to an overturn.

But even apart from all this, the fascists are cut off from the democratic road. The immense growth of the political contradictions in the country, the stark brigands’ agitation of the fascists, will inevitably lead to a situation in which the closer the fascists approach a majority, the more heated the atmosphere will become and the more extensive the unfolding of the conflicts and struggles will be. With this perspective, civil war is absolutely inevitable. Consequently, the question of the seizure of power by the fascists will not be decided by vote, but by civil war, which the fascists are preparing and provoking.

Can we assume even for one minute that Hitler and his counselors do not realize and foresee this? That would mean to consider them blockheads. There is no greater crime in politics than that of hoping for stupidities on the part of a strong enemy. But if Hitler is not unaware that the road to power leads through the most gruesome civil war, then it means that his speeches about the peaceful democratic road are only a cloak, that is, a stratagem. In that case, it is all the more necessary to keep one’s eyes open.

What Is Concealed Behind Hitler’s Stratagem?

His calculations are quite simple and obvious: he wants to lull his antagonists with the long-run perspective of the parliamentary growth of the Nazis in order to catch them napping and to deal them a deathblow at the right moment It is quite possible that Hitler’s courtesies to democratic parliamentarism may, moreover, help to set up some sort of coalition in the immediate future in which the fascists will obtain the most important posts and employ them in turn for their coup d’état. For it is entirely clear that the coalition, let us assume, between the Center and the fascists will not be a stage in the democratic solution of the question, but a step closer to the coup d’etat under conditions most favorable to the fascists.

We Must Plan According to the Shorter Perspective

All this means that even independently of the desires of the fascist general staff, the solution can intervene in the course Of the next few months, if not weeks. This circumstance is of tremendous importance in elaborating a correct policy. If we allow the fascists to seize power in two or three months, then the struggle against them next year will be much harder than in this. All revolutionary plans laid out for two, three, or five years in advance will prove to be only wretched and disgraceful twaddle, if the working class allows the fascists to gain power in the course of the next two, three, or five months. In the polity of revolutionary crises, the calculation of time is of just as decisive importance as it is in war operations.

Let us take another, more remote example for the clarification of our idea. Hugo Urbahns, who considers himself a “Left Communist” declares the German party bankrupt , politically done for, and proposes to create a new party. If Urbahns were right, it would mean that the victory of the fascists is certain. For, in order to create a new party, years are required (and there has been nothing to prove that the party of Urbahns would in any sense be better than Thälmann’s party: when Urbahns was at the head of the party, there were by no means fewer mistakes).

Yes, should the fascists really conquer power, that would mean not only the physical destruction of the Communist Party, but veritable political bankruptcy for it. An ignominious defeat in a struggle against bands of human rubbish – would never be forgiven the Communist International and its German section by the many-millioned German proletariat. The seizure of power by the fascists would therefore most probably signify the necessity of creating a new revolutionary party, and in all likelihood also a new International. That would be a frightful historical catastrophe. But to assume today that all this is unavoidable can be done only by genuine liquidators, those who under the mantle of hollow phrases are really hastening to capitulate like cravens in the face of the struggle and without a struggle. With this conception we Bolshevik-Leninists, who are called “Trotskyists” by the Stalinists, have nothing in common.

We are unshakably convinced that the victory over the fascists is possible – not after their coming to power, not after five, ten, or twenty years of their rule, but now, under the given conditions, in the coming months and weeks.

Thälmann Considers the Victory of Fascism Inevitable

A correct policy is necessary in order to achieve victory. That is, we need a policy appropriate to the present situation, to the present relationship of forces, and not to the situation that may develop in one, two, or three years, when the question of power will already have been decided for a long time.

The whole misfortune lies in the fact that the policy of the Central Committee of the German Communist Party, in part consciously and in part unconsciously, proceeds from the recognition of the inevitability of a fascist victory. In fact, in the appeal for the “Red United Front” published on November 29, 1931, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany proceeds from the idea that it is impossible to defeat fascism without first defeating the Social Democracy. The same idea is repeated in all possible shades in Thälmann’s article. Is this idea correct? On the historical scale it is unconditionally correct. But that does not at all mean that with its aid, that is, by simple repetition, one can solve the questions of the day. An idea, correct from the point of view of revolutionary strategy as a whole, is converted into a lie and at that into a reactionary lie, if it is not translated into the language of tactics. Is it correct that in order to destroy unemployment and misery it is first necessary to destroy capitalism? It is correct. But only the biggest blockhead can conclude from all this, that we do not have to fight this very day, with all of our forces, against the measures with whose aid capitalism is increasing the misery of the workers.

Can we expect that in the course of the next few months the Communist Party will defeat both the Social Democracy and fascism? No normal-thinking person who can read and calculate would risk such a contention. Politically, the question stands like this: Can we successfully repel fascism now, in the course of the next few months, that is, with the existence of a greatly weakened, but still (unfortunately) very strong Social Democracy? The Central Committee replies in the negative. In other words, Thälmann considers the victory of fascism inevitable.

Once Again: The Russian Experience

In order to express my thought as clearly and as concretely as possible I will come back once more to the experience with the Kornilov uprising. On August 26 (old style), 1917, General Kornilov led his Cossack corps and one irregular division against Petrograd. At the helm of power stood Kerensky, lackey of the bourgeoisie and three-quarters a confederate of Kornilov. Lenin was still in hiding because of the accusation that he was in the service of the Hohenzollerns. For the same accusation, I was at that time incarcerated in solitary confinement in Kresty Prison. How did the Bolsheviks proceed in this question? They also had a right to say: “In order to defeat the Korniloviad – we must first defeat the Kerenskiad.” They said this more than once, for it was correct and necessary for all the subsequent propaganda. But that was entirely inadequate for offering resistance to Kornilov on August 26, and on the days that followed, and for preventing him from butchering the Petrograd proletariat. That is why the Bolsheviks did not content themselves with a general appeal to the workers and soldiers to break with the conciliators and to support the red united front of the Bolsheviks. No, the Bolsheviks proposed the united front struggle to the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries and created together with them joint organizations of struggle. Was this correct or incorrect? Let Thälmann answer that. In order to show even more vividly how matters stood with the united front, I will cite the following incident: immediately upon my release after the trade unions had put up bail for me, I went directly to the Committee for National Defense, where I discussed and adopted decisions regarding the struggle against Kornilov with the Menshevik Dan and the Social Revolutionary Gotz [2], allies of Kerensky who had kept me in prison. Was this right or wrong? Let Remmele answer that.

Is Brüning the “Lesser Evil”?

The Social Democracy supports Brüning, votes for him, assumes responsibility for him before the masses-on the grounds that the Brüning government is the “lesser evil.” Die Rote Fahne attempts to ascribe the same view to me – on the grounds that I expressed myself against the stupid and shameful participation of the Communists in the Hitler referendum. But have the German Left Opposition and myself in particular demanded that the Communists vote for and support Brüning? We Marxists regard Brüning and Hitler, Braun included, as component parts of one and the same system. The question as to which one of them is the “lesser evil” has no sense, for the system we are fighting against needs all these elements. But these elements are momentarily involved in conflicts with one another and the party of the proletariat must take advantage of these conflicts in the interest of the revolution.

There are seven keys in the musical scale. The question as to which of these keys is “better” – do, re, or sol – is a nonsensical question. But the musician must know when to strike and what keys to strike. The abstract question of who is the lesser evil – Brüning or Hitler – is just as nonsensical. It is necessary to know which of these keys to strike. Is that clear? For the feeble-minded let us cite another example. When one of my enemies sets before me small daily portions of poison and the second, on the other hand, is about to shoot straight at me, then I will first knock the revolver out of the hand of my second enemy, for this gives me an opportunity to get rid of my first enemy. But that does not at all mean that the poison is a “lesser evil” in comparison with the revolver.

The misfortune consists precisely of the fact that the leaders of the German Communist Party have placed themselves on the same ground as the Social Democracy, only with inverted prefixes: the Social Democracy votes for Brüning, recognizing in him the lesser evil. The Communists, on the other hand, who refuse to trust either Braun or Brüning in any way (and that is absolutely the right way to act), go into the streets to support Hitler’s referendum, that is, the attempt of the fascists to overthrow Brüning. But by this they themselves have recognized in Hitler the lesser evil, for the victory of the referendum would not have brought the proletariat into power, but Hitler. To be sure, it is painful to have to argue over such ABC questions. It is sad, very sad indeed, when musicians like Remmele, instead of distinguishing between the keys, stamp with their boots on the keyboard.

It is Not a Question of the Workers Who Have Already Left the Social Democracy,
But of Those Who Still Remain With It

The thousands upon thousands of Noskes, Welses, and Hilferdings prefer, in the last analysis, fascism to Communism. [3] But for that they must once and for all tear themselves loose from the workers. Today this is not yet the case. Today the Social Democracy as a whole, with all its internal antagonisms, is forced into sharp conflict with the fascists. It is our task to take advantage of this conflict and not to unite the antagonists against us.

The front must now be directed against fascism. And this common front of direct struggle against fascism, embracing the entire proletariat, must be utilized in the struggle against the Social Democracy, directed as a flank attack, but no less effective for all that.

It is necessary to show by deeds a complete readiness to make a bloc with the Social Democrats against the fascists in all cases in which they will accept a bloc. To say to the Social Democratic workers: “Cast your leaders aside and join our “nonparty” united front” means to add just one more hollow phrase to a thousand others. We must understand how to tear the workers away from their leaders in reality. But reality today is-the struggle against fascism. There are and doubtless will be Social Democratic workers who are prepared to fight hand in hand with the Communist workers against the fascists, regardless of the desires or even against the desires of the Social Democratic organizations. With such progressive elements it is obviously necessary to establish the closest possible contact. At the present time, however, they are not great in number. The German worker has been raised in the spirit of organization and of discipline. This has its strong as well as its weak sides. The overwhelming majority of the Social Democratic workers will fight against the fascists, but – for the present at least – only together with their organizations. This stage cannot be skipped. We must help the Social Democratic workers in action – in this new and extraordinary situation – to test the value of their organizations and leaders at this time, when it is a matter of life and death for the working class.

We Must Force the Social Democracy into a Bloc Against the Fascists

The trouble is that in the Central Committee of the Communist Party there are many frightened opportunists. They have heard that opportunism consists of a love for blocs, and that is why they are against blocs. They do not understand the difference between, let us say, a parliamentary agreement and an ever-so-modest agreement for struggle in a strike or in defense of workers’ printshops against fascist bands.

Election agreements, parliamentary compromises concluded between the revolutionary party and the Social Democracy serve, as a rule, to the advantage of the Social Democracy. Practical agreements for mass action, for purposes of struggle, are always useful to the revolutionary party. The Anglo-Russian Committee was an impermissible type of bloc of two leaderships on one common political platform, vague, deceptive, binding no one to any action at all. The maintenance of this bloc at the time of the British General Strike, when the General Council assumed the role of strikebreaker, signified, on the part of the Stalinists, a policy of betrayal. [4]

No common platform with the Social Democracy, or with the leaders of the German trade unions, no common publications, banners, placards! March separately, but strike together! Agree only how to strike, whom to strike, and when to strike! Such an agreement can be concluded even with the devil himself, with his grandmother, and even with Noske and Grezesinsky. [5] On one condition, not to bind one’s hands.

It is necessary, without any delay, finally to elaborate a practical system of measures – not with the aim of merely “exposing” the Social Democracy (before the Communists), but with the aim of actual struggle against fascism. The question of factory defense organizations, of unhampered activity on the part of the factory councils, the inviolability of the workers’ organizations and institutions, the question of arsenals that may be seized by the fascists, the question of measures in the case of an emergency, that is, of the coordination of the actions of the Communist and the Social Democratic divisions in the struggle, etc., etc., must be dealt with in this program.

In the struggle against fascism, the factory councils occupy a tremendously important position. Here a particularly precise program of action is necessary. Every factory must become an anti-fascist bulwark, with its own commandants and its own battalions. It is necessary to have a map of the fascist barracks and all other fascist strongholds, in every city and in every district The fascists are attempting to encircle the revolutionary strongholds. The encirclers must be encircled. On this basis, an agreement with the Social Democratic and trade-union organizations is not only permissible, but a duty. To reject this for reasons of “principle” (in reality because of bureaucratic stupidity, or what is still worse, because of cowardice) is to give direct and immediate aid to fascism.

A practical program of agreements with the Social Democratic workers was proposed by us as far back as September 1930 (The Turn in the Comintern and the German Situation), that is, a year and a quarter ago. What has the leadership undertaken in this direction? Next to nothing. The Central Committee of the Communist Party has taken up everything except that which constitutes its direct task. How much valuable, irretrievable time has been lost! As a matter of fact, not much time is left. The program of action must be strictly practical, strictly objective, to the point, without any of those artificial “claims,” without any reservations, so that every average Social Democratic worker can say to himself. what the Communists propose is completely indispensable for the struggle against fascism. On this basis, we must pull the Social Democratic workers along with us by our example, and criticize their leaders who will inevitably serve as a check and a brake. Only in this way is victory possible.

A Good Quotation From Lenin

The present-day epigones, that is, the thoroughly bad disciples of Lenin, like to cover up their shortcomings on every occasion that offers itself with quotations – often entirely irrelevant. For Marxists, the question is not decided by a quotation, but by means of the correct method. If one is guided by correct methods, it is not hard also to find suitable quotations. After I had drawn the above analogy with the Kornilov insurrection, I said to myself: We can probably find a theoretical elucidation of our bloc with the conciliators in the struggle against Kornilov, in Lenin. And here is what I actually found in the second part of Volume XIV of the Russian edition, in a letter from Lenin to the Central Committee, written at the beginning of September 1917:

“Even at the present time, we are not duty-bound to support the Kerensky government That would be unprincipled. It is asked: then we are not to fight against Kornilov? Of course we are. But that is not one and the same thing. There is a limit to this; it is being transgressed by many Bolsheviks who fail into ‘conciliationism’ and allow themselves to be driven by the current of events.

“We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, but we do not support Kerensky; we are uncovering his weaknesses. The distinction is rather delicate, but highly important and must not be forgotten.

“What does the change of our tactics consist of after the Kornilov insurrection?

“In this, that we are varying the forms of struggle against Kerensky. Without diminishing our hostility to him even by one single note, without taking back one word from what we have said against him, without giving up the task of overthrowing Kerensky, we say: we must calculate the moment. We will not overthrow Kerensky at present. We approach the question of the struggle against him differently: by explaining the weaknesses and vacillations of Kerensky to the people (who are fighting against Kornilov).”

We are proposing nothing different. Complete independence of the Communist organization and press, complete freedom of Communist criticism, the same for the Social Democracy and the trade unions. Only contemptible opportunists can allow the freedom of the Communist Party to be limited (for example, as in the entrance into the Kuomintang). We are not of their number.

No retraction of our criticism of the Social Democracy. No forgetting of all that has been. The whole historical reckoning, including the reckoning for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg [6], will be presented at the proper time, just as the Russian Bolsheviks finally presented a general reckoning to the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries for the baiting, calumny, imprisonment and murder of workers, soldiers, and peasants.

But we presented our general reckoning to them two months after we had utilized the partial reckoning between Kerensky and Kornilov, between the “democrats” and the fascists – in order to drive back the fascists all the more certainly. Only thanks to this circumstance were we victorious.

When the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany adopts the position expressed in the quotation from Lenin cited above, the entire approach to the Social Democratic masses and the trade-union organizations will change at once: instead of the articles and speeches which are convincing only to those people who are already convinced without them, the agitators will find a common language with new hundreds of thousands and millions of workers. The differentiation within the Social Democracy will proceed at an increased pace. The fascists will soon feel that their task does not at all consist merely of defeating Brüning, Braun, and Wels, but of taking up the open struggle against the whole working class. On this plane, a profound differentiation win inevitably be produced within fascism. Only by this road is victory possible.

But it is necessary to desire this victory. In the meantime, there are among the Communist officials not a few cowardly careerists and fakers whose little posts, whose incomes, and more than that, whose hides, are dear to them. These creatures are very much inclined to spout ultraradical phrases beneath which is concealed a wretched and contemptible fatalism. “Without a victory over the Social Democracy, we cannot battle against fascism!” say such terrible revolutionists, and for this reason … they get their passports ready.

Worker-Communists, you are hundreds of thousands, millions; you cannot leave for anyplace; there are not enough passports for you. Should fascism come to power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a terrific tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle. And only a fighting unity with the Social Democratic workers can bring victory. Make haste, worker-Communists, you have very little time left!

[Source: https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1931/311208.htm


Postscript by IWPCHI:

Liberals and fake-socialists denigrate the revolutionary Trotskyists’ adherence to dialectical materialism, the scientific method of analyzing the class basis for every political movement which, if properly utilized in a Marxist/Leninist/Trotskyist manner, enables us to predict – not perfectly, but with a high degree of accuracy – the roles which will be played by every political actor presently on the historical stage.  The apologists for bourgeois democracy, lovers of “common sense” laugh at us – but what bourgeois politician, Stalinist blowhard or social democrat in Germany or anywhere else in the world saw as clearly what the future would bring as did Trotsky?  He urged the Communist Party of Germany to abandon their idiotic Stalinist programme that equated the Social Democrats and the Nazis as one and the same; he urged the Communists to form a united front with the Social Democrats against the Nazis.  By the time the CP tried at the last minute to steer the ship of workers revolution away from the fascist shoals lying dead ahead it was too late.  The Stalinized Communist Party of Germany bears a large degree of the blame for the rise of Hitler;  the Stalinized Comintern’s zigzagging political programs of the 1920s and ’30s that had disoriented their party to such a degree had simultaneously created a breach in the working class forces which Hitler was able to bludgeon his way through, enabling his long rise to power.  If we are to successfully stop the rise of fascism in the US today, we must learn the hard lessons of the failure of the revolutionary workers parties to do so in Germany in the 1930s.  We, too can not count on the rise of fascism in the US to be a long, gradual ascent; fascism is far more prone to sudden leaps forward as we saw this past weekend in Charlottesville, VA.  The fascists have leaped far ahead of the level of development of the antifascist forces.  Unless we immediately begin to organize and build revolutionary socialist parties and workers defense brigades to smash the rising fascist threat, we might very well face the same dire penalty our revolutionary worker-ancestors faced in Germany in the 1930s.  Small, disorganized groups of even the bravest anti-fascist workers are no match for heavily-armed fascist killers backed by the cops, courts and government.  We need to organize the power of the entire multiracial US working class to stop the rise of fascism and to fight ultimately to overthrow the capitalist system which gives rise to the fascist gangs.  Once the working class is in power the fascists will be denied the ability to ever raise their heads again, just as the monarchists were never able to show their faces after the American Revolution.