maclenna at pigeon.qut.edu.au
Tue Feb 13 23:44:08 MST 1996
Comrades, what follows is my attempt to redrerss the balance of my post on
Dimitrov. the the KPD was at fault, but in fact the real villains of the
piece were the moderates.
The central theme of this post is quite simple, namely, that Capitalism is a
zero-sum game. Capitalists win-workers lose or vice versa. Of course in
life this basic motif has been enhanced, fugued, paraphrased and developed
as in a Strauss composition to such an extent that one tends to lose sight
of the simplicity of the underlying melody. But in times of acute crisis,
as in Germany from 1929-32, the fundamental reality of capitalism asserts
I will be concerned here with what I regard as an incredibly persistent
attempt to evade this same reality. I refer of course to the project of
German Social Democracy (SPD). This was in its day the most important
example of market socialists in action. They were men (sic), moderates, who
were devoted to the notion that reform was possible even as the jackboot,
heavily subsidised by capital, descended on their necks. Here my purpose in
discussing the role played by moderates in the rise of Fascism will be "ex
uno disce omnes".
Sources: The accounts I rely upon are almost all contemporary. They are
largely publications of the Left Book Club (LBC). These enjoyed I believe a
wide circulation among the Left and I purchased years ago a large number of
them at a CPA book fair. They have lain largely neglected and unread in my
library until the advent of the Fascism Seminar.
They are then history written as it happens. They are full of the vividness
of language used to record and report rather than analyse and theorise.
This immediacy does of course have its methodolgical drawbacks but to my
mind the great advantage is that it acts as a defence against the
accusation that one is reading contemporary insights back into the thirties.
For example if a present-day moderate or market socialist were to ask me
what else could the Social Democrats have done, I can point them to a text
where alternatives were canvassed. These remarks, incidentally, apply a
fortiori to Trotsky's writings on fascism. Their brilliance can possibly
only be realised when they are compared with the products of his contemporaries.
Histories of the path to power of the Nazis tend of course to select out
details and this has the unfortunate result of making a particular event
seem inevitable. However such is the complexity of life when political time
becomes faster than biological time that I thought a time line and summary
of main events would be useful.
1919-24 Period of social, political and economic ferment and revolutionary
botchups ( both Left and Right)
1925-29 Period of social Peace. The Weimar Republic "works". The economy
is however dependent on foreign investment and is also geared to the
external rather than the home market. Hence wages are low.
1925 Hindenburg becomes president
1929- 32 Heinrich Bruning (Catholic) is Chancellor.
March 1932 Hindenburg re-elected with the support of the Social Democrats.
June 1 -Nov 17 1932-von Papen is Chancellor.
Dec 2 1932 von Schleicher is Chancellor
Jan 30 1933 Hitler becomes Chancellor
Presidential Election March 1932
Hindenburg 18 m, Hitler 11 m,Thaelmann 5 m
20.7.1932 The Social Democratic Government in Prussia sacked.
1. 14.9.1930 Figures in brackets represent 1928 results.
Nazis 6.4 m (.8) 18.3 (2.6) 107 (12)
Communists 4.5 m (3.2) 13.1 (10.6) 27
Soc Dem 8.5 m (9.1) 24.5 (29.8) 143 (153);
Nazis 13.7 m 37.4 230
Communists 5.2 14.6 89
Soc Dem 7.9 21.6 132
3. 6.11.1932 (Last free election)
Nazis 11.7 33.1 195
Communists 5.9 16.9 100
Soc Dem 7.2 20.4 ?
I have compiled the above from a number of sources chiefly Trotsky 1971.
The number of voters has been rounded out but the percentage figures are
accurate. I have also put in where possible the number of seats the parties
gained. But even here caution is necessary. There are disagreements among
the sources as to the figures and I do not have access to a really
Some of the most important points to be gained from the above
1. The combined Soc. Dem. & Communist vote peaked at 40.4% in 1928 but even
in the terror election of March 1934 it still stood at 30.6%. The Nazi
gains were mainly at the expense of the right wing Nationalist Party. So in
electoral terms the Nazis did not win over large numbers of those who voted
for the Left.
2. The election of Nov 1932 marked a low point in the fortunes of the Nazis.
They lost 2 m votes while the Communists made gains. The decline in support
for the Nazis was even more marked in the municipal elections of December
1932. These results and severe financial difficulties had a devastating
impact on the party. Thus Goebbels noted "the originally strong confidence
of the Party has given way to a grey depression." (in Ward Price, 1937:103)
Von Schleicher attempted to split off the Strasser element within the Nazis
and so great was the threat of a division that Hitler contemplated suicide.
(Ward Price, 1937:105)
3. Strachey argues that the increase in the Communist vote and the decline
in the Nazi vote of 1932 caused the German ruling class to panic.
"If the eyes of the senile Hindenburg could still see anything, they could
see this-that if the Fascist movement was allowed to disintegrate, nothing,
literally nothing, stood between them and the workers' revolution."
Whatever the case the steel millionaires, esp Thyssen, came to the rescue
and poured millions into the Nazi party coffers (Smith, 1942:200)
4. Hindenburg's election in 1932 was largely due to Social Democratic
support. In 1925 he had been elected by the conservatives but now the
Social Democrats promoted him as "the saviour of the Republic, of the
Constitution, of Justice, of humanity and peace, their guardian and prop
against Hitler." (Reed:1938:105)
Within months of his election,the "saviour" was to sign the decree
authorising the dissolution of the Prussian Social Democratic government.
In Jan 1933 he appointed Hitler Chancellor.
The decay of Social Democracy
The outbreak of WW1 had revealed the spectacle of the SPD voting for war
credits in the Reichstag. For Lenin they were the most responsible for the
disgrace of socialism because they were "the strongest and most influential
party in the second International". (Lenin,1946:621)
Perhaps an even more defining moment in the decline of Social Democracy
occurred in Nov 1918 when the SPD took government after the collapse of
Imperial Germany. The choices facing them were either reform or revolution.
There was simply no middle way. The Social Democratic leader Ebert's initial
statement on taking over government is extremely interesting. It contains
the following plea
"Citizens: I beg you to leave the streets. A city of law and
An American Liberal gives this description of the period
"and the component parts recovered their human individuality, the power
slipped from the nerveless hand of the generals.
Fritz Ebert, the saddler President, Philipp Scheidemann, the tailor, Gustav
Noske, the carpenter, snatched it from the street where the Communists were
about to seize it- and handed it back to the astonished generals. Through
patriotism. Through fear of Communism. Through abhorrence of disorder.
Through the deference obviously owed by the "lower orders" to their social
superiors. Ebert knew his place." (Mowrer in Strachey, 1933:183)
Ebert and his colleagues made their decision and they attacked the
revolution with ultra-right wing elements drawn from the Army. Here
Strachey gives an interesting opinion which
has relevance for all those who abhor violence to the extent that they are
attracted to "non-violence"
"Is not this the classical illustration of the fact that in a situation of
social crisis the "moderate" Social Democratic or Labour Party leaders can
no more avoid the use of violence than can the revolutionaries? The
difference between the policy of the Social Democrats and the
revolutionaries is not that the one leads to peaceful and constitutional
evolution and the other to violence: the true difference is that the Social
Democratic policy leads to violence used against the workers on behalf of
the capitalists and the revolutionary policy lead to violence against the
capitalists on behalf of the workers." (1933:187-8)
It is worth noting that in Dec 1918, Clemenceau, the "Tiger of France",
exempted 50,000 machine guns from the general destruction of German
armaments, in order that Noske & Co could slaughter the Spartacists in
Berlin and crush the Soviets in Bavaria. (van Paasen,1939:74)
The crowning glory of the Social Democrats was the creation of the Weimar
constitution and thus the Bourgeois State. For this Eisner, Luxembourg and
Liebknecht were murdered. The constitution was to protect the people from
dictatorship. But as with all pieces of papers it did not resolve the
crucial question of class power. As Poulantzas points out the "State is not
a monolithic bloc but a strategic field" and "institutions-apparatuses that
normally have an altogether secondary, or purely decorative function may
suddenly take on a decisive role".(1978:138)
Thus Article 48 of the Weimar constitution gave the President dictatorial
powers to act in a "case of emergency", i.e socialist revolution. This power
was in fact evoked in 1931 by the Catholic Chancellor Bruning to ram through
extremely harsh austerity measures. (Bithell, 1955:122)
The nature of Social Demo.
The SPD claimed still to be a marxist party. But as Neumann points out its
policy was one of "pure gradualism". It retained the Marxist link because
to renounce Marx would have delivered thousands of adherents into the
In face of the threat of the Nazis it developed the policy of "the lesser
evil". This meant it supported Bruening's attack on the working class. It
also refused to move against the landlords and thus it let hundreds of
thousands of peasants be beggared and driven into the arms of the Nazis. It
also threw its support behind Hindenburg in the Presidential race of 1932,
in the process building him up as the "saviour" of the constitution. He and
his cohorts represented the landowners and they were of course personally
Yet to some the choice between Hindenburg and Hitler would suggest that to
support the former was reasonable. However as Trotsky points out SPD
support for figures like Bruening and Hindenburg meant that the capitalists
had the luxury of throwing their wight behind Hitler. If the SPD had joined
with the Communists, Hitler (and the capitalist class) instead of attacking
Bruening, "would have been clutching at Bruening's government as a
lifesaving anchor" (Trotsky, 1971:150)
The policy of the "lesser evil" was in essence a proto-Popular Front and the
consequences of adapting it were just as disastrous.
Acceptance of sacking of Prussian govt.
I am inclined to designate this as the key moment in the rise of the Nazis.
Of course such a choice is fraught with theoretical difficulties. There
were many, many moments in the Nazi success story.
van Paasen for instance suggests that the fate of the Weimar Republic was
decided when Laval, the French Prime Minster, ignored the pleas of
Chancellor Bruening for a relaxation of reparations. Even though the latter
went down on his knees! (1939:122-3) How then does one decide which one is
Ultimately it is of course a matter of judgement. Mine is influenced by the
contemporary record which shows that the mass of the people regarded this
moment of the sacking of the Braun-Severing Government as very significant.
In addition I believe that ultimately the struggle with an ascendant fascist
movement can only be resolved through force and this was the last moment
when the Socialists had under their control a highly trained body of armed
men, the Prussian Police.
In the momentous year of 1932 there were 3 Chancellors and Hindenburg
himself had to face election. However the crucial moment was surely the
acceptance of the Socialists of the unconstitutional sacking of the Prussian
SPD govt. The Socialists had command of a Police Force of 100,000. There
were also the socialist and communists militias together numbering
1,550,000. But when the moment to fight came the Socialists went quietly
even though or perhaps because the streets were full of expectant workers
who thought that the call for the general strike was about to be made
(Oliveira:161-2). The heroes of the SPD decided that they should take the
matter to court.
At that moment the capitalist class must have known that the Hitler option
was on. I suspect that it remained only to get guarantees from Hitler that
he would take out the radical Strasser and Roehm elements which he duly did
on the Night of the Long Knives, 30.6.34.
The end of the SPD was suitably undignified. When Hitler was given power on
Jan 30 1934, Urich, a prominent trade union leader, said "it is still too
early to fight and at present there is no reason for a General Strike."
(Strachey, 1934:215). One month later Kautsky said that it was too late and
that to attempt resistance would be a "senseless adventure" (:216)
Worse was to follow. After the terror election of March 34, Stamfer the
editor of the Socialist Paper Voerwarts said that if "they (the Nazis)
choose to...remain within the framework of the Constitution, we shall
confine ourselves to the role of fair critics." (:217) How any one could be
a "fair critic" of a bunch of murderous thugs Stamfer did not explain. Nor
did he get a chance. On May 10th 1933 Hitler seized the entire assets of the
SPD and proscribed its organisations.
Some minor acts of SPD politicians should be noted. Wels, their
parliamentary leader, resigned from the Second International because of its
anti-Hitler attitude. (Smith, 1942:204), and in 1934, Noske, the butcher of
1918, wrote anxiously to the new Nazi Govt begging them to continue paying
his pension. (Strachey, 1934:184)
Marxists especially of the Trotskyist persuasion have correctly been very
critical of the role of the Comintern in the rise of Fascism. As my report
on Dimitrov showed I accept a lot of this. however it cannot be doubted
that the primary responsibility for the rise of Hitler rests with the Social
What lessons then can we draw from this history? Well it seems to me that
firstly the Trotskyist tradition lays great emphasis on the correct use of
the term "fascism". This is partly to avoid the disastrous "social fascist
period" that the Comintern went through, when no distinction was made
between the Social Democrats and the Fascists.
Secondly it is necessary to restrict the use of the term Fascist to ensure
that people grasp that there is a qualitative difference between fascists
and reactionaries and right wingers. The difference is that, to use
Trotsky's phrase, the Fascists "pulverise" the working class.
Thirdly I believe it is necessary to hold one's nerve when the whole
question of Fascism emerges. Fascists are of course incredibly dangerous.
But as Trotsky put it the best part of the fascist movement is "human dust".
For stabbing pensioners or beating up the defenceless the Fascists are
unmatchable, but they fear the organised strength of the working class. One
must not be frightened by the theatrical displays of strength, the strutting
and the candle light processions.
But it is precisely this fear which I believe overcame the Socialists.
Consider the following contemporary description of the Reichstag following
the 1930 election.
"The next time I went to the Reichstag it was surrounded by a mob, shouting
"Heil Hitler!" as each of the 107 members of the National Socialist Party,
who had been elected in September, drove up. Within the building there was
the spectacle of these 107 men, all wearing khaki shirts with red armbands,
blazoned with swastikas, marching to their places in a long file. Members
of the moderate parties, among them women with white hair,looked bewildered
as they saw the invasion of the house by men who might have been colonial
Let me be absolutely clear here. It is necessary to recognise that Fascists
must be fought with all the power that the workers can bring to bear. But
having said that it is vital that we understand that it is the capitalist
class which puts the Fascists in power and that the primary struggle is
still against Capitalism. Thus the point of smashing Fascism in its
embryonic stage is to let the Capitalist class know that the Fascist option
is not on.
Bithell,J., Germany: A Companion to German Studies, Methuen: London, 1955
Lenin, V.I. Selected Works Vol 2, Foreign languages Publishing House:
Neumann, F., Behemoth, London, LBC, 1942
Oliveira, A.R., A People's History of Germany, London:LBC, 1942
Poulantzas, N. State, Power, Socialism, London:NLB, 1978
Price, G.W., I Know these Dictators, London: Harrap, 1937
Reed, D.,Insanity Fair, London: Jonathan Cape, 1938
Reynolds, R., When Freedom Shrieked, London: Victor Gollanz, 1939
Smith, A.D., Guilty Germans?, London: LBC, 1942
Strachey, J., The Menace of Fascism, London:Victor Gollanz, 1933
Trotsky, L., The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, Pathfinder Press, New
van Paasen, P., Days Of Our Lives, London:Heinemann, 1939
school of media & journalism
--- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---
More information about the Marxism