Trotsky and the fight against Fascism

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

trotsky-vs-fascism.jpgSeventy-five years ago today, on January 30th 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. Two months later the Reichstag voted him dictatorial powers. The workers' parties were banned and their leaders thrown into concentration camps. The strongest labour movement in Europe was destroyed without even breaking a pane of glass, as Hitler boasted. The way was clear for genocide and world war.

How was this possible? The working class movement was divided. Revolutionaries might well have felt inclined to write off the Social Democratic Party. The traditional mass party of the working class had betrayed the German Revolution of 1918-23, even colluding in the murder of Communist leaders Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. But the Communist Party had been founded to fight for socialism by arguing against the influence of Social Democracy within the workers' movement. It was potentially the lever of change. Instead rank and file Communists were ordered by Stalin to turn their backs on Social Democratic workers, whom they called 'social fascists'. This insane policy led directly to the victory of fascism and the destruction of the working class movement, both Communist and Social Democratic.

Who warned against this policy? Leon Trotsky. Here is an exerpt from his 1931 pamphlet, 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 bail 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.

What Trotsky proposed

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. 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, 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. (In the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks defended the Provisional Government of the reformist Kerensky against open counter-revolution by Kornilov through a workers' united front.)

When the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany adopts the position (of a workers' united front), 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 hundreds of thousands and millions of new workers. The differentiation within the Social Democracy will proceed at an increased pace. 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 ultra-radical 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 anywhere; 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!

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