Written: 23 March 1933.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VII No. 8, 17 February 1934, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2016. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.
(Almost a year ago, on March 23, 1933, Leon Trotsky wrote an analysis of the relationship of forces in Austria and the problems of the working class confronted by Bonapartism and Fascism. This study, while obviously not applicable to the present events in their entirety, nevertheless retains an essential validity in so many respects as to invest the extracts which we reproduce below with a particular timeliness which will, moreover, be of great value in facilitating an understanding of the turbulent events now occurring before our eyes. – Ed.)
Despite the experiences of Italy and Germany, the leaders of the Austrian social democracy do not understand the situation. In order to live and breathe, these people must fool themselves. This they cannot do otherwise than by fooling the proletariat.
Bauer places the blame for the defeat in Germany upon the Communists. We are not the ones to defend the German Stalinists! But their chief crime consists in their having given the social democrats the possibility of preserving their influence upon the basic part of the German proletariat and of loading upon it the tactic of debasing and fatal capitulation, despite all the crimes and betrayals committed by the social democracy. In essence Bauer’s policies are no different from the policies of Wels-Stampfer. But there is a distinction. Bauer will be unable to shift the responsibility upon the Austrian Stalinists, who have managed to doom themselves to complete impotence. The Austrian social democracy is not only the leading party of the proletariat, but is the strongest social democratic party in the world as regards the population. The political responsibility lies upon the Austrian social democracy, solely and entirely. All the more fatal will prove to be the consequences of its present policies.
The Austro-Marxists say – If we are deprived of liberty, then we shall fight to “the end”. By such subterfuge they want to “gain” time for their vacillations, when in reality they are losing the most precious time for the preparation of defense. After the enemy deprives them of liberty, it will be a hundred times more difficult to fight, for the liquidation of rights will be accompanied by military and police destruction of the proletarian press and the proletarian apparatus. The enemy prepares and acts while the social democracy bides its time and whines. The Vorwaerts also repeated times innumerable: “Woe to Fascism, if it ventures against us!” The events have demonstrated the value of such rhetoric. The party which proved incapable of giving battle when it held in its hands almost impregnable positions and powerful resources will crumble into dust when it is completely expelled from the legal arena.
By their seemingly dreadful but in reality pathetic chorus of “If we are attacked”, the Austro-Marxists reveal their genuine suffering, they still hope that things will be left in peace, that things, God help us, will not go beyond mutual threats and waving of fists. What this means is that they are chloroforming the proletariat to facilitate Fascist surgery. A genuine proletarian politician, on the contrary, would be duty bound to explain to the Austrian workers that their class enemy, himself, has been caught between the paws of history; that no other way out remains for him except to destroy proletarian organizations; that in this instance there is no escaping the mortal struggle; and that this struggle must be prepared for in accordance with all the rules of revolutionary strategy and tactics.
Otto Bauer has been hinting that in the event of a direct attack on the part of the enemy, the workers will resort to a general strike. But his too is an empty threat. We have heard it more than once in Germany. The general strike cannot be produced out of one’s vest pocket. The workers may be led to a general strike, but to do so one must fight and not play hide and seek with reality; a call to battle must be issued, one must organize for the struggle, arm for the struggle, widen and deepen the channel of struggle, not confine oneself to the legal forms of straggle, i. e., the framework dictated by the armed enemy. And first of all, the party itself must be permeated through and through with the idea that unless it engages in a decisive battle, it is lost.
It is quite possible that the General Committee will actually issue a call for a general strike, after the “open” (that is to say, the decisive) blow has been dealt. But this would mean that after leaving the stage, one calls upon the masses for a naked protest, or manifestations of impotence. Just so did the liberal opposition call upon the people not to pay their taxes after the monarch had told it to go to hell. As a rule, nothing ever came of it. In all probability, the workers will not respond at all to the belated and hopeless appeal of a party already smashed.
But let us allow that the Fascists will give the social democracy time enough to call for a general strike at the last minute, and that the workers will respond’ solidly to the call. What then? What is the goal of the general strike? What must it achieve? In what forms must it develop? How should it defend itself against military and police repressions, and against the Fascist pogrom? Wiseacres will reply that it is impossible to answer such questions beforehand. That is the usual subterfuge of people who have nothing to say, who hope in their hearts to get along without fighting, and who consequently shy away in cowardice and superstition from questions of military resources and methods.
The general strike is only the mobilization of revolutionary forces, but still not war. To utilize the general strike successfully as a demonstration or a threat, i.e., to confine oneself only to the mobilization of forces, without engaging, in battle – that is possible only within strictly defined historical conditions; whenever matters touch an important but still a partial task; when the enemy wavers and waits only for a push in order to retreat; when the possessing classes are still left with a wide field for retreat and maneuver. None of this obtains at present, at the time when all the contradictions have reached their highest intensity and when every serious conflict puts on the agenda the question of power and the perspective of civil war.
The general strike could prove to be a sufficient means for repelling the counter-revolutionary overturn only in the event that the enemy is unprepared and lacks sufficient forces and experience (the Kapp putsch). But even in the latter case, after having repelled the adventuristic onset, the general strike only restored fundamentally that situation which obtained on the eve of the conflict, and consequently gave the enemy the opportunity to utilize the experience of his own defeat and to prepare better for a new attack. But the general strike turns out to be completely insufficient even for defensive purposes in the event that the enemy is powerful and experienced, all the more so if he leans upon the state apparatus, or even has at his disposal its benevolent “neutrality”. No matter what the basic reason for the conflict may be, under the present conditions general strike will close the ranks of the bourgeois parties, the state apparatus and the Fascist bands, and in this united front of the bourgeoisie, the preponderance will fall inevitably into the hands of the most extreme and determined elements, i.e., the Fascists. When face to face with the general strike, the counter-revolution will be compelled to stake all its forces on one card in order to break the ominous danger with a single blow, in so far as the general strike remains only a strike it inevitably dooms itself under these conditions to defeat. In order to snatch victory the strategy of the strike must grow into the strategy of the revolution, it must elevate itself to the level of resolute actions, replying with a double blow to every blow. In other words, under the present conditions the general strike cannot serve as a self-sufficient means for the defense of an impotent democracy, but only as one of the weapons in the combined struggle of two camps. The strike must be accompanied by and supplemented with the arming of the workers, the disarming of the Fascist bands, the removal of Bonapartists from power, and the seizure of the material apparatus of the state.
Once again we repeat, if the establishment of a Soviet regime cannot be realized without the seizure of power by the Communist party – and we admit that this is altogether excluded by the unfavorable correlation of forces iu the immediate future – then the restoration of democracy, even temporarily, is already unthinkable in Austria without the previous seizure of power oy the social democracy. If the leading workers’ party is not prepared to bring the struggle to its conclusion then the general strike, by sharpening the situation, can only hasten the crushing of the proletariat.
The Austro-Philistine will catch up these words in order immediately to deduce reasons in favor of “moderation” and “cautiousness”. For, is it permissible for a party to take upon itself the grandiose “risk” involved in the revolutionary methods of struggle? As if the Austrian proletariat has the freedom of choice! As if millions of workers can depart for their villas in Switzerland like Otto Braun! As if a class can duck mortal danger without incurring any danger! As if the victims of Fascisized Europe, with its perspectives of new imperialist wars, will not surpass one-hundredfold the sacrifices of all revolutions, past and future!
Last updated on: 8 February 2016