[Classics] What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat

12. The Brandlerites (KPO) and the Stalinist Bureaucracy

Between the interests of the Soviet state and those of the international proletariat there is and there can be no contradiction. But it is false at the root to transfer this law over to the Stalinist bureaucracy. Its regime is coming into an ever greater contradiction with the interests of the Soviet Union as well as the interests of the world revolution. Hugo Urbahns cannot see the social foundations of the proletarian state for the Soviet bureaucracy. Together with Otto Bauer, Urbahns constructs the conception of a state resting above the classes, but in contradistinction to Bauer he finds the example not in Austria but in the present Soviet republic.

On the other side, Thalheimer asserts that “the Trotskyist position as regards the Soviet Union, which casts doubt [?] upon the proletarian character [?] of the Soviet state and the socialist character of the economic construction” (Arbeiterpolitik, January 10, 1932) bears a “centrist” character. Thereby Thalheimer only demonstrates the extent to which he identifies the workers’ government with the Soviet bureaucracy. He demands the Soviet Union be regarded not through the eyes of the international proletariat but exclusively through the spectacles of the Stalinist faction. In other words, he reasons not as a theoretician of the proletarian revolution but as a flunkey of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Insulted and disgraced, but a flunkey just the same, who awaits forgiveness. Wherefore even when in “opposition” he does not dare so much as mention the bureaucracy out loud: it, like Jehovah, does not pardon this: “Thou shalt not take my name in vain.”

Such are these two poles in the Communist groupings: the one cannot see the forest for the trees, the other is kept by the forest from distinguishing the trees. However there is absolutely nothing unexpected in the fact that Thalheimer and Urbahns find in each other kindred souls and actually make a bloc against the Marxist appraisal of the Soviet state.

A perfunctory “support” which commits them to nothing, of the “Russian experiment” from the sidelines has become, in recent years, a rather widespread and very cheap commodity. In all parts of the world there is no lack of radical and semi-radical, humanitarian and pacifist “also-socialists,” journalists, tourists, and artistes who take toward the USSR and Stalin the same attitude of unconditional approval as do the Brandlerites. Bernard Shaw, who in his time savagely criticised Lenin and the author of these lines, is now wholeheartedly IN favour of Stalin’s policies. Maxim Gorky, who was in opposition to the Communist Party during Lenin’s period, is now wholeheartedly for Stalin. Barbusse, who went hand in hand with the French Social Democrats, supports Stalin. The American monthly New Masses, a publication of second-rate petty-bourgeois radicals, defends Stalin against Rakovsky. In Germany, Ossietzky, who cites with sympathy my article on fascism, finds it imperative to remark that I am unjust in my criticism of Stalin. Old Ledebour says, “As regards the chief question in dispute between Stalin and Trotsky, to wit: may socialisation be undertaken in one country and worked out happily to its conclusion, I am entirely on Stalin’s side.” The number of such examples can be produced ad infinitum. All these “friends” of the USSR approach the problems of the Soviet state from the sidelines, as observers, as sympathisers, and occasionally as flaneurs. Of course, it accrues more to one’s honor to be a friend of the Soviet five-year plan than a friend of the New York stock market. But just the same this passive, middle-class left sympathy is too far removed from Bolshevism. The first major failure of Moscow will suffice to scatter the majority of this public like dust before the wind.

By what is the position of the Brandlerites in relation to the Soviet state to be distinguished from the position of all these “friends”? Perhaps only by a greater lack of sincerity. Such support is neither fish nor fowl to the Soviet republic. And when Thalheimer lectures us, the Left Opposition, the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists, on what our attitude should be to the Soviet Union, he cannot fail to evoke a feeling of aversion.

Rakovsky was in direct charge of the defence of the frontiers of the Soviet revolution; he participated in the first steps taken by the Soviet national economy and in the elaboration of the policies towards the peasantry; he was the initiator of the committees of landless villagers (the peasant poor) in the Ukraine; he was in charge of applying the policies of the NEP to the singular Ukrainian conditions; he knows every twist and turn of this policy, he is following it even now, from Barnaul, with passionate interest and from day to day he warns against mistakes and suggests the correct ways. The old warrior Kote Tsintsadze who died in exile, Muralov, Carl Gruenstein, Kasparova, Sosnovsky, Kossior, Aussem, the Elzins—father and son—Dingelstedt, Shumskaya, Solntzev, Stopalov, Pozhriansky, Sermux, Blumkin, shot down by Stalin, Butov, tortured to death in prison by Stalin, and tens, hundreds, thousands of others thrown into prisons and exile—yes, these are all warriors who fought in the October insurrection and in the civil war; these are all participants in the socialist construction who are abashed by no difficulties and who at the first signal are ready to take their post in the front line. Are they to go to school to Thalheimer to learn the correct attitude toward the workers’ state?

Everything which is progressive in Stalin’s policies was formulated by the Left Opposition and was hounded down on the part of the bureaucracy. For its initiative in inaugurating the planned economy, the higher tempos of development, the fight against the kulaks and for broader collectivisation, the Left Opposition has paid and is paying with ears in prison and exile. What has been the contribution to the economic policies of the USSR by all these unconditional supporters and sympathetic friends, including the Brandlerites? All told—nothing! Behind their vague and uncritical support of everything that is being done in the USSR there lurks no international enthusiasm whatever but only a lukewarm sympathy; because, you see, the things are taking place beyond the frontiers of their own fatherland. Brandler and Thalheimer opine and declare openly on occasion, “for us Germans, Stalin’s regime would, of course, hardly do; but for the Russians it’s good enough!”

The reformist looks upon the international situation as a sum of the national situations; the Marxist observes the national policy as a function of the international. In this key question the group of the KPO (Brandlerites) takes a national-reformist position, i.e., it rejects in deeds, if not in words, international principles and the criteria of national policy.

The closest adherent and colleague of Thalheimer was Roy, whose political program for India as well as for China was entirely derived from the Stalinist idea of “worker-peasant” parties for the East. For a number of years, Roy came forward as the propagandist of a national-democratic party for India; in other words, not as a proletarian revolutionist but as a petty-bourgeois national democrat. This did not interfere in any way with his active participation in the central staff of the Brandlerites. [6]

The national opportunism of the Brandlerites evinces itself most crudely in their attitude toward the Soviet Union. The Stalinist bureaucracy, if you take their word, operates in its own back yard absolutely without mistakes. But somehow or other the leadership of the identical Stalinist faction becomes fatal for Germany. How is that? For, involved in the matter are not Stalin’s personal mistakes, which are engendered by his not being acquainted with other countries, but a definite course of mistakes, an entire trend. Thälmann and Remmele know Germany as Stalin knows Russia, as Cachin, Semard, or Thorez know of France. Jointly they form an international faction and elaborate the policies for the different countries. But, it appears, this policy, irreproachable in Russia, is ruinous to the revolution in all other countries.

Brandler’s position becomes particularly jinxed if it is transferred into the USSR, where a Brandlerite is bound to support Stalin unconditionally. Radek, who essentially was always closer to Brandler than to the Left Opposition, capitulated to Stalin. Brandler could not but approve this action. But Stalin immediately compelled Radek, after he had capitulated, to proclaim Brandler and Thalheimer as “social fascists.” The platonic wooers of the Stalinist regime in Berlin do not even attempt to crawl out from under these degrading contradictions. Their practical goal is self-evident however, even without commentaries. “If you place me at the head of the party in Germany,” says Brandler to Stalin, “I on my part shall bind myself to recognise your infallibility in Russian matters, provided you permit me to put through my own policies in German matters.” Can one have any respect for such “revolutionists”?

But the Brandlerites also criticise the Comintern policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy in a manner extremely one-sided and theoretically dishonest. Its sole vice appears to be “ultra-leftism.” But can anyone accuse Stalin’s four-year bloc with Chiang Kai-shek of being “ultra-left”? Can one call the creation of the Peasant International ultra-left? Can one assign to putschism the bloc with the strikebreakers of the General Council? Or the creation of worker-peasant parties in Asia and the Farmer Labor Party in the United States?

Furthermore, what is the social nature of Stalinist ultra-leftism? What is it? A temporary mood? A fit of sickness? One seeks in vain for an answer from theoretician Thalheimer.

Meanwhile the riddle has long been solved by the Left Opposition: the matter concerns the ultra-left zigzag of centrism. But precisely this definition, which has been verified by the developments of the last nine years, cannot be accepted by the Brandlerites because it finishes them off too. They perpetrated with the Stalinist faction all its right zigzags but rebelled against the left; thereby they demonstrated that they are the right wing of centrism. That they, like a dry branch, broke off from the main trunk of the tree—that is in the nature of things; during sharp evolutions of centrism, groups and layers are inevitably torn off from the right and from the left.

What has been said above does not imply that the Brandlerites were mistaken in everything. Not at all. Against Thälmann and Remmele they were and they remain right in many things. There is nothing extraordinary in this. Opportunists may occupy correct positions in their struggle against adventurism. And, on the contrary, an ultra-left trend may correctly seize the moment of the transition from the struggle for the masses to the struggle for power. In their criticism of Brandler, the ultra-lefts aired many correct ideas at the end of 1923, which did not hinder them from committing the grossest mistakes in 1924-1925. The fact that in their criticism of the monkeyshines of the “third period” the Brandlerites reiterated a number of old but correct concepts, does not at all vouch for the correctness of their general position. The policies of each group must be analysed in several stages: during defensive battles as well as during offensives; during periods of high as well as ebb tide; under the conditions of the struggle to win the masses; and under the conditions of a direct struggle for power.

There can be no Marxist leadership specialising in questions of defence or offence, or the united front, or the general strike. The correct application of all these methods is possible only if there exists the capacity for synthetically appraising the environment as a whole; the ability to analyse its moving forces, to establish stages and turns, and to build upon this analysis a system of action which corresponds to the existing environment and which prepares for the next stage.

Brandler and Thalheimer consider themselves to be almost monopolistic specialists in “the struggle for the masses.” Keeping their faces straight and serious, these gentlemen insist that the arguments of the Left Opposition for the policy of the united front are in themselves ... a plagiarism of their—the Brandlerites’—views. One should deny no one the privileges of being ambitious! Just imagine, for example, that while you are explaining to Heinz Neumann his error in multiplication, some valiant teacher of arithmetic appears on the scene and informs you that you are committing a plagiarism because he, year in and year out, expounds in just this way the mysteries of the art of reckoning.

The pretensions of the Brandlerites have at any rate afforded me a merry moment in the present uncomical situation. The strategic wisdom of these gentlemen is no older than the Third Congress of the Comintern. I was then defending the ABC of the struggle for the masses against the then existing “left” wing. In my book The New Course, which was devoted to a popular exposition of the policy of the united front, and which was in its time published by the Comintern in various languages, I stressed in every which way the elementary character of the ideas therein propounded. Thus, for instance, we read on page 70 of the German edition, “All that has been said constitutes ABC truths from the point of view of the serious revolutionary experience. But certain ‘left’ elements of the congress have discovered in this tactic a shift to the right.” ... Among those certain elements, together with Zinoviev, Bukharin, Radek, Maslow, and Thälmann, was to be found Thalheimer himself.

The charge of plagiarism is not the only charge. After stealing Thalheimer’s spiritual property, the Opposition, it appears, gives it an opportunistic interpretation. This oddity deserves notice insofar as it enables us in the course of our discussion to throw into sharper relief the question of the policies of fascism.

In an earlier pamphlet, I expressed the thought that Hitler cannot attain to power through parliamentary procedure; even if we allow that he could muster his 51 percent of the votes, the growth of the economic and the sharpening of the political contradictions would necessarily lead to an open outburst before that moment could be reached. In this connection the Brandlerites ascribe to me the idea that the National Socialists will leave the scene of action “without the need of extra-parliamentary mass action on the part of the workers.” Wherein is this superior to the fabrications of Die Rote Fahne?

From the impossibility of the National Socialists’ coming “peacefully” into power, I deduced the inevitability of other ways of attaining power: either by way of a direct overturn of the government or by way of a coalition stage with the subsequent inevitable governmental overturn. A painless self-liquidation of fascism would have been a possibility in one and only in one case: in the event that Hitler applied that policy in 1932 to which Brandler had resorted in 1923. Without overestimating the National Socialist strategists, I still am of the opinion that they are more farsighted and of sterner stuff than Brandler & Co.

Even more profound is the second refutation of Thalheimer: the question as to whether Hitler attains power in a parliamentary manner or otherwise has no significance whatever, because it does not change “the essence” of fascism which in either case can entrench its rule only on the fragments of the workers’ organisations. “The workers may calmly leave to the editors of the Vorwärts the task of research as regards the contrasts between the constitutional and unconstitutional coming of Hitler to power” (Arbeiterpolitik, January 10). Should the most advanced workers listen to Thalheimer, Hitler will without fail cut their throats. To our sage schoolteacher only the “essence” of fascism is important and he leaves the editors of Vorwärts to judge how that “essence” will be realised. But the whole matter lies in the fact that the pogrom “essence” of fascism can become palpable only after it comes to power. And the task consists precisely in not permitting it to attain power. For this, one must understand the strategy of the foe and explain it to the workers. Hitler is straining to his utmost to bring the movement outwardly into the constitutional channel. Only a pedant who deems himself a “materialist” is capable of thinking that such behaviour leaves no effect on the political consciousness of the masses. Hitler’s constitutionalism serves not only to keep the door open for a bloc with the centrists but also to fool the Social Democrats, or to put it more correctly, to make it easier for the leaders of the Social Democracy to fool the workers. If Hitler swears that he will attain to power only constitutionally then it is clear that the danger of fascism is not so great today. At any rate there will be time enough left to verify a few more times the correlation of forces during all sorts of elections. Under the cover of the constitutional perspective which lulls his adversaries, Hitler aims to reserve for himself the possibility of striking the blow at a convenient moment. This military cunning, no matter how simple in itself, secretes a tremendous force, for it leans upon not only the psychology of the intermediate parties, which would like to settle the question peacefully and legally, but, what is more dangerous, upon the gullibility of the national masses.

It is also necessary to add that Hitler’s manoeuvre is two-edged: he fools not only his adversaries but his supporters. And meanwhile, a militant spirit is essential for a struggle, particularly an offensive one. It can be sustained only by instilling in one’s army the understanding that an open battle is inescapable. This consideration bespeaks also the fact that Hitler cannot too long protract his tender romance with the Weimar Constitution without demoralising his ranks. He must in due time produce the knife from under his shirt.

It is not enough to understand only the “essence” of fascism. One must be capable of appraising it as a living political phenomenon, as a conscious and wily foe. Our schoolteacher is too ’sociological to be a revolutionist. Isn’t it clear, in reality, that Thalheimer’s profundity enters into Hitler’s reckoning as a favourable circumstance; for when one lumps together into one pile the broadcasting of constitutional illusions by the Vorwärts and the exposure of the military cunning of the enemy that is built upon these illusions, then one aids the enemy.

An organisation may be significant either because of the mass it embraces or because of the content of those ideas that it is capable of bringing into the workers’ movement. The Brandlerites have neither the one nor the other. But despite this, with what grandiloquent contempt do Brandler and Thalheimer hold forth on the centrist morass of the SAP! In reality, if one juxtaposes these two organisations—the SAP and the KPO—all the advantages are on the side of the former. The SAP is not a morass but a live stream. Its direction is from the right to the left, to the side of Communism. The stream has not been cleared, there is much rubbish and slime in it, but it is no swamp. The denomination “morass” is much more applicable to the organisation of Brandler-Thalheimer, which is characterised by a complete ideological stagnation.

Within the KPO group there has long existed its own opposition which is chiefly dissatisfied with the fact that their leaders tried to adapt their policies not so much to the objective conditions as to the moods of the Stalinist general staff in Moscow.

That the opposition of Walcher-Frölich, etc. has tolerated for a number of years the policies of Brandler-Thalheimer, which, particularly in relation to the USSR, bore not simply an erroneous but a consciously hypocritical and politically dishonest character—that, of course, no one will enter to the credit of the group that has split off. But the fact remains that the group of Walcher-Frölich has finally recognised the utter hopelessness of the organisation, whose leaders orient themselves at the beck and call of their superiors. The minority deems it necessary that an independent and active policy be undertaken not against the hapless Remmele but against the course and the regime of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR and in the Comintern. If we interpret correctly, on the basis of still rather extremely insufficient material, the position of Walcher-Frölich, then it represents a step forward in this question. But having split from an obviously dead group, the minority is only now faced with the question of a new orientation, national and, particularly, international.

The minority that split off, so far as one can judge, sees its chief task in the immediate future in concentrating upon the left wing of the SAP, and after winning over the new party for Communism, in subsequently breaking up with its aid the bureaucratic conservatism of the KPD. In regard to this plan in its general and undefined form, it is impossible to comment, because those basic principles upon which the minority stands are still unclear, as are the methods which it intends to apply in the struggle for these principles. A platform is essential! We have in mind not a document recapitulating the commonplaces of the Communist catechism, but clear and concrete answers to those questions of the proletarian revolution which have torn the ranks of Communism for the past nine years and which retain their burning significance even now. Lacking this, one can only become dissolved in the SAP and hinder, not facilitate, its development toward Communism.

The Left Opposition will follow the evolution of the minority attentively and without any preconceived opinions. More than once in history, the rift within a lifeless organisation has given an impulse to the progressive development of its viable section. We shall rejoice indeed should this law verify itself in this case also, in the fate of the minority. But only the future can supply the answer.


[6] A detailed analysis of this opportunistic chapter of the Comintern that lasted a few years is given in our works, The Third International After LeninThe Permanent Revolution, and Who is Leading the Comintern Today?