Max Shachtman


Hitler in Power; Civil War Starts

Opposition’s Demand for United Front Is Need of the Hour in Germany
Responsibility for Rise of Fascism Must Be Established

(February 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 5, 4 February 1933, pp. 1 & 3.
Abridged version copied with thanks from the 4 Articles on the Rise of Fascism in Germany, The Fate of the Russian Revolution: Lost Texts of Critical Marxism, vol. 1.
Additional transcription by Einde O’Callaghan.
Marked up by A. Forse & Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

President von Hindenburg, the victorious candidate of the socialist “Iron Front”, the “bulwark of the Republic against fascism”, has finally appointed Hitler to the Chancellorship of the Reich. With the Fascist leader are his lieutenants, Hermann Goering, Speaker of the Reichstag, who is in control of the Prussian police force of 150,000 armed men, and the notorious Dr. William Frick, who has taken over the Ministry of the Interior.

The Hitler government starts out with the inclusion of all the other representatives of the extreme reaction in Germany. The von Papens, Hugenbergs, von Krosigks, von Neuraths and Seldtes represent all that is intensely chauvinistic in Germany, all that stands for the domination of heavy industry and the preservation of the “dirty East Prussian” agrarian lords. In the first collection of forces under Hitler, the monarchists, nationalists, militarists, bankers, landlords and trust magnates rub shoulders amicably with the most prominent representatives of Fascism.

Schleicher’s Role

The von Papen government, and the von Schleicher regime which succeeded it, fell after having accomplished to the maximum of their abilities the task and role assigned to them. Neither of the two “Presidential” governments which preceded Hitler had behind it a parliamentary majority upon which to lean, or a mass movement to base itself on. These representatives of the Bonapartist bourgeoisie could only be stop gaps, creating the illusion among sections of the working class that they stood “above the classes” and would regulate the conflicts between them. Even more than Papen, von Schleicher succeeded in winning the benevolent neutrality of the reactionary social democratic trade union leaders, headed by Leipart, a neutrality which meant nothing short of a new betrayal of the working class. In the period of their domination, Papen and Schleicher did all they could to stave off the resistance of the working class, to weaken and demoralize it, to avoid – in the interests of the bourgeoisie – the heavy costs of a civil war, and to stake their cards upon the mirage of an economic boom.

The fact that Hindenburg, who was undoubtedly hostile to Hitler, even if not in a fundamentally class sense, finally called upon the Fascist leader to take over the government, is eloquent testimony to the desperation of the German bourgeoisie. Capitalism, in its “normal” state, never does more than keep its Fascist hordes in reserve. The German ruling class knows that the seizure of power by the Brown-shirted bandits, especially in a country with a well-organized and socialistically schooled working class, means civil war and the consequent disruption of the economic and political life of the country, at least until the issue of the struggle is decided. The German bourgeoisie has gone to all conceivable lengths to avoid the heavy expenses of a civil war: It has turned over the government to social democrats; it has drawn them into bourgeois coalitions; it has sought to preserve an equilibrium with the aid of the Bruening party of ultramontanism; it has resorted to the Bonapartist regimes of Papen and von Schleicher. But none of these expedients has enabled it to emerge from the profound crisis undermining its domination, the crisis which has driven hundreds of thousands of workers to the support of the party of social revolution. For just as the bourgeoisie finds it impossible to rule in the old way, the masses refusing to live in the old way.

That is why the bourgeoisie has been forced to resort to the desperate expedient of Fascism! Hitler in power means the commencement of the civil war in Germany. It is entirely unthinkable that the German working class, millions strong, trained in the school of the class struggle for years, having at its head the most powerful Communist party in the world outside of the Soviet Union, will permit the Nazi assassins to remain in power without a violent struggle. It is entirely unthinkable that Hitler will be able to accomplish his principal task without a bitter fight. His role is to crush every semblance of organized strength and militancy in the German working class, beginning with the Communist Party, the spearhead of the proletariat, following with the social democracy and the big trade union movement, and ending with the extermination of every other class conscious proletarian organization. It is already clear from the first news dispatches that the German proletariat, alarmed by the recent events and aroused out of the lethargy and the imaginary security into which they were lulled for the past year, has begun to resist with all the means at its disposal.

The Coming Civil War

Nor could it be otherwise, for the ascension to power of the Hitler gang could mean nothing else but the opening of a period of civil war in Germany. When we speak of Hitler’s ascension to power, it does not yet mean that the power of Fascism has been established in Germany. Before this is definitely accomplished, blood will flow and many sanguinary battles will be fought. But only a blind man could fail to see that Hitler today is in a better position than the Hitler of several months ago. Hitler out of office has only his own forces at his disposal, the “illegal” detachments of black reaction. Hitler in office has the opportunity of strengthening the inchoate mass of demoralized petty bourgeoisie, students, and duped proletarians, who compose his forces. Hitler in office has the opportunity of really creating a powerful military force. It is not yet too late to smash Hitler and Fascism—only renegades and scoundrels will speak that way to the still undefeated working class of Germany. The decisive battle is still ahead. But it is now clear beyond dispute that the warnings of the International Left Opposition, the demand it made that Hitlerism be smashed before it reached the seats of power—were justified a thousand times over. Had the slogan of the Left Opposition for a genuine united front of the Communists, socialists and the trade unions, been realized in life at the right time, many many months ago, the Fascist monster would have been crushed like an eggshell and the revolutionary movement of the proletariat would have been far ahead on the road to victory.

Who bears the responsibility for the rise to power of Fascism? It is high time to draw the balance sheet and draw it completely.

Above all in the first place, the leadership of the yellow social democracy. The course embarked upon in August 1914 has been crowned with the triumph of Hitlerism. It is the social democracy which first turned the masses into the slaughter house of the world war in the name of the imperialist fatherland. [couple of sentencces] It is in the name of the social democracy that Noske the Bloodhound martyred the Berlin working class during the heroic days of the Spartacan uprising in 1919. It is the social democracy which sent Hoersing to slaughter the workers of Central Germany in 1921. It is the social democracy which joined with the reaction in 1923 to strangle the rising revolutionary movement in Saxony and Thuringia.

It is the social democracy which dragged its followers down to the lowest depths of degradation, giving active or “tolerant” support to one reactionary regime after another. It is the social democracy which made possible Bruening of the Emergency Decrees. It is the social democracy which dragged the workers into the shameful policy of the “lesser evil”, during which it seated in the presidential chair the present patron of Hitler—Paul von Hindenburg, generalissimo of the Kaiser’s Imperial armies during the war, and candidate of the social democratic “Iron Front”, “bulwark of the Republic against Fascism” in 1931.

At every stage of its development in the past years, the social democracy paved the road for the march to power of Fascism, by dividing the ranks of the working class, by tying it to the chariot of the bourgeoisie, by bringing demoralization and confusion into the proletariat, by weakening it physically and morally so that its power of resistance to Fascism was appreciably lessened. Hitler will reward it for its services with the same contemptuous kick which its Italian colleagues received from Mussolini for their equally invaluable services to Fascism.

Stalinist Blunders

But the social democracy has not been the only force in the ranks of the proletariat that has served the interests of Fascism. It must be said straight out that without the criminal blundering of the Stalinist leadership of the Communist International and of the German Communist Party, the Fascist hordes would not today be in the favorable position they actually occupy. The party had the matchless opportunity of mobilizing the masses of the German proletariat around the militant banner of the class struggle. It stubbornly refused to seize the opportunity. The Left Opposition was the very first to sound the alarm signal that Fascism threatened, that it had to be crushed by the united front of all the workers’ organizations. We demanded that the Communist party initiate the movement for a real united front of all the workers to smash the Brown Shirts. Our demands fell on the deaf ears of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The latter operated on the theory of the “third period” and “social Fascism”. No better assistance could have been offered to the Fascists on the one hand, and the Social Democratic leaders on the other. Instead of building a solid front, with their class brothers in the social democracy, the Communists were forced by the Stalinist leadership to enter into an indecent nationalistic competition with the Nazis.

The party reconstructed its program to read a “program of national and social emancipation.” It allowed itself to be poisoned by the “national-Bolshevism” and anti-Semitism of the Lieutenant Scheringers. It alienated itself from the socialist masses by its criminal support of the Fascist referendum in Prussia. While the Fascists were gaining victory after victory, the party confined itself to the sterile ultimatist policy of demanding that the socialist workers concede in advance the leadership of the Communist party or else there would be no united front. The minds of the class conscious militants were hopelessly befuddled by the irresponsible Stalinist declarations that the Bruening regime was already the victory of Fascism, then, that the von Papen regime and finally the von Schleicher regime, were all the rule of Fascism. In this manner, the vigilance of the proletariat was relaxed, its attention was diverted from the real danger, its strength was not mobilized and consolidated. When the elections showed a momentary decline of Fascism several months ago, the bureaucracy became intoxicated with its purely parliamentary successes and the parliamentary decline of the Nazis, and announced with smug self-contentment that the acute Fascist danger was at an end. The parliamentary cretins in the Stalinist ranks did not, in this case, rise above the level of their socialist brothers-under-the-skin.

The Maryland Leader, socialist organ, proclaimed in its headlines in November: Hitler Through in Germany. The Stalinist press rang with the same refrain. At that time we warned the bureaucratic optimists in the columns of the Militant (November 12, 1932) not to 𔆐roar with vicarious pride over the party’s gains in Germany as if the loss of two million Fascist votes and almost a million socialist votes had settled the whole problem”. We emphasized how erroneous was the idea “that the Fascist danger to the German proletariat is now eliminated or even definitely on the decline. Such a conclusion can be drawn only by those for whom the class struggle begins at the ballot box and ends with a parliamentary mandate”.

Unbelievable as it might appear, the Daily Worker, as late as last Monday, that is, on the very day of Hitler’s appointment to the Chancellorship, declared that “the tactics pursued by von Schleicher of splitting the Hitler party, have also caused widespread disintegration in the ranks of the National Socialist party, with several of Hitler’s chief lieutenants breaking away from their allegiance to him”. (Our emphasis) Both Schleicher and von Papen did indeed negotiate with some of Hitler’s lieutenants, but only in the hope of drawing Hitler into a cabinet in an entirely subordinated position. Hitler was too wise to fall into the snare, and that is why all the “breaking away” of some lieutenants had no appreciable significance. The Daily Worker merely mistook Hitler’s strength, his plan of campaign for the taking over of the government, for the “widespread disintegration” of Fascism! This is the way in which the Stalinists put the masses on the alert against the Fascist danger. This is how they refuted the thousand-times-over corroborated, analyses of comrade Trotsky and the Left Opposition!

The news dispatches, which are so annoyingly inadequate and unclear, declare that the Communist and social democratic parties have formed a united front in Berlin, with eight socialists and seven Communists on the Committee of Action to resist Hitlerism: also, that the Communist party has issued the call for a general strike. It is still too early to comment on the exact nature or significance of these reports, for the superficiality and unreliability of the bourgeois press is only too well known.

United Front Imperative

But it is not too early to declare that unless a genuine united front of the Communist party, the social democracy, the socialist trade unions, the Reichsbanner and the Communist Red Front Fighters, is immediately formed, unless the Communists immediately take the initiative in calling for this united front and compel the social democratic leaders to enter into it—the results will be catastrophic not only for the German working class, but for the working class movement of the whole world, for the Communist International, and the Soviet Union! A crushing defeat for the working class of Germany means a crushing defeat of the Communist Party, for it is the first organization against which the attack of the brigands of Hitler’s shock troop detachments—assisted by the armed forces of the state—will be directed. A mortal blow at the German Communist Party means the breaking of the backbone of the Communist International and for this calamity we declare that the Stalinist leadership of the International will have been primarily responsible. A lasting triumph of Fascism in Germany, furthermore, is inconceivable without an armed attack upon the Soviet Union. Fascism in Germany can maintain itself in the face of chauvinist France only if it becomes the vanguard of the imperialist intervention against the arch-enemy of imperialism—the Soviet Union. The consequences of a Fascist triumph are thus, it is easy to see, of far-reaching historical import for the whole ensuing period. That is why the Left Opposition cries out today more loudly than ever: The Communist International must speak out in the language of Lenin, in defense of the international proletarian revolution, in defense of the German working class. It must speak out for the mobilization of the world proletariat to crush the monster of Fascism in Germany. It must speak out to say how this is to be done, for it can be done successfully in only one way: by the establishment of a Leninist united front of the whole German proletariat. To smash Fascism is an obligation and task of the workers everywhere. Upon the class conscious militants and the Communist workers in this country devolves the solemn duty of joining with the Left Opposition to force that turn in party policy which is now so absolutely imperative, without which the worst calamities are ahead. Our call to the party to form the united front to smash Fascism before it took the governmental helm was not heeded, and the proletariat in Germany and the rest of the world has been set back accordingly. Today again we repeat: It is not too late! But the time to act is now! The fate of the German working class of the Communist International, of the Soviet Union, of the world revolution hangs in the balance.

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