Written: March 1933.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 24, 29 April 1933, p. 4.
Originally published: Manchester Guardian.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2015. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.
The old view about the backwardness of countries seized by dictatorship can no longer be maintained. Though it was possible to apply it to Italy, with some exaggeration, it cannot possibly be applied to Germany, which is a highly developed capitalist country in the very heart of Europe.
There is one common reason for the collapse of democracy: capitalist society has outlived its strength. The national and international antagonisms which break, out in it destroy the democratic structure just as world antagonisms are destroying the democratic structure of the League of Nations. Where the progressive class shows itself unable to seize power so as Co reconstruct society on the basis of socialism, capitalism in its agony can only preserve its existence by using the most brutal, anti-cultural methods, the extreme expression of which is Fascism. That historic fact appears in Hitler’s victory In February 1929, I wrote as fol lows in an American review:–
“On the analogy of the electrical industry democracy may be defined as a system of switches and fuses directed against the violent shocks of national or social struggle. No epoch in the history of man has been so filled with antagonisms as our own. The switches of democracy are fusing or breaking under the violent pressure of class and international antagonisms. That is the kernel which explains the rapid rise of dictatorship.”
My opponents relied on the fact that the process had only laid hold of the fringe of the civilized world. But I replied: “The strength of internal and world antagonisms is not declining but growing ... Gout begins with the little finger or the big toe, but once it has begun it progresses till it reaches the heart.” For many the choice between Bolshevism and Fascism is rather like a choice between Satan and Beelzebub. I shall find it difficult to say anything comforting about this. It is clear that the twentieth century is the most disturbed century within the memory of humanity. Any contemporary of ours who wants peace and comfort before anything has chosen a bad time to be born.
Hitler’s movement has been lifted to victory by 17,000,000 desperate people; it proves that capitalist Germany has lost faith in decaying Europe which was converted by the treaty of Versailles into a madhouse but was not provided with strait jackets. The victory of the party of despair was only possible because Socialism, the party of hope, was unable to seize power. The German proletariat is both numerous and civilized enough to achieve this, but the party leaders have shown themselves incompetent.
The social democrats, with their peculiar conservative limitations, hoped, along with the other parliamentary parties, to “educate” Fascism gradually. They gave the position of chief drill sergeant to Hindenburg, the Field Marshall of the Hohenzollerns; they voted for him. The workers had the right instincts and wanted to light. But the social democrats held them back, promising to give the signal when Hitler should have finally abandoned legal methods. Thus the social democracy not only summoned the Fascists to power through Hindenburg but allowed them to carry out the governmental revolution by stages.
The policy of the Communist party has been thoroughly wrong, its leaders started from the absurd axiom that social democrats and National Socialists represented “two varieties of Fascism”, that they were, in Stalin’s formula, not opposite poles but twins”. It is undoubtedly true, that social democracy, like Fascism, stands to defend the bourgeois regime against the proletarian revolution. But the methods of the two parties are entirely different. Social democracy is unthinkable without parliamentary government and mass organizations of the workers in trade unions. The mission of Fascism, however, is to destroy both. A defensive union of Communists and social democrats should have been based on this antagonism. But blind leaders refused to take this line. The workers were left divided, defenseless, without plan or prospects, before the attacking enemy. This position demoralized the proletariat and strengthened the self-confidence of Fascism.
Two and a half years ago, in September 1931, I wrote as follows:
“Fascism has become a real danger in Germany; it expresses the extreme hopelessness of the bourgeois regime, the conservative part played by the social democrats in relation to that regime, and the incompetence of the Communist party to shake that regime. Whoever denies that is either blind or boastful.”
I expressed this idea in a series of pamphlets which have appeared during the last two years in Germany. Thus in October 1931, I wrote:
“The advance of the National Socialists to power means, above all, the extermination of the power of the German proletariat, the break-up of its organizations, the destruction of faith in itself and in its future. In view of the much greater ferocity and bitterness of social antagonisms in Germany, the hellish work of Italian Fascism will probably appear mild and almost humane when compared with that of German National Socialism.”
The Stalinist faction said that this was panic-mongering. Out of the vast political literature devoted to this question I shall only refer to a speech made by the official leader of the German Communist Party, Thaelmann, before the Executive Committee of the Communist International in April 1931, when he exposed so-called pessimists – i.e., people who were capable of foresight – in the following words:
“We have not allowed panic-mongering to divert us from our path ... We are convinced that the 14th of September, 1930 (when the Nazis won 107 seats in the Reichstag), was Hitler’s best day, and that now he cannot expect to do better, only worse. Our estimate of the development of that party has been confirmed by events ... Today the Fascists have no reason to be pleased.”
That quotation is enough!
Thus, while bourgeois democracy was collapsing Fascism was assisted to power by the united efforts of the leaders of both the workers’ parties.
Hitler’s government has lost no time in setting a fast pace. It announces that it will educate the Communists in concentration camps. Hitler promises to exterminate the social democrats, that is, to achieve, in much harder conditions, the task which was beyond the strength of Bismarck and Wilhelm II. Hitler’s political army is made up of officials, clerks, shopkeepers, tradesmen, peasants, all the intermediate and doubtful classes. In point of social consciousness they are human dust.
It is a paradox that Hitler, for all his anti-parliamentarism, is much stronger in the parliamentary than in the social plane. The Fascist dust remains dust after each new counting of heads. On the other hand, the workers are united by the process of production. The productive forces of the nation are strongly concentrated in their hands. Hitler’s struggle for control is only beginning. His main difficulties are before him. The change of trade and industry is changing the relation of forces not in Hitler’s favor but in favor of the proletariat. The mere fact of the reduction of unemployment will increase the self-consciousness of the workers. The spring which has been too tightly compressed must ease itself. After the extraordinary decline of the workers’ standard of living during the years of crisis a period of widespread economic struggles can be expected with confidence.
Hitler’s principal difficulties are before him, like his principal struggles. In the international arena further gestures and phrases cannot be expected from Hitler in the immediate future. He has too long and sanguinary a war to fight out inside Germany for him to think seriously of war against France. On the other hand, he will try with all his strength to prove to France and the other capitalist states the necessity of supporting him in his providential mission of fighting Bolshevism. Allowing for all diversion, the foreign policy of Fascist Germany is essentially directed against the Soviet Union.
Prinkipo, March 1933
Last updated on: 3 September 2015