Trotsky: The Struggle against Fascism in Germany - Introduction to the Spanish edition

Fundación Federico Engels is publishing a new edition of Trotsky's book on Germany. Alan Woods runs through the events that finally led to the defeat of the German working class. The leaders of the German Communist Party - advised by Zinoviev, Stalin and co. - had a big responsibility in that historic defeat. It also deals with the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1920s and early 1930s. This tragic event could have been avoided had the leaders of the German labour movement had a clear understanding of genuine Marxism.

The decision by the Fundacion Federico Engels to publish a collection of Trotsky’s writings on Germany is a very important contribution to the education of the new generation of workers and youth. Trotsky’s writings on the rise to power of the Nazis represent major contributions in modern Marxist thought. Nowhere is it possible to find a better analysis of fascism and how to fight it. These marvellous works are in a direct line of tradition from Marx’s 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Here we have a finished and comprehensive explanation of the mechanics of the class struggle in the modern epoch, the laws of revolution and counterrevolution.

The author of these lines also has personal reasons for welcoming this marvellous initiative. The first work by Leon Trotsky I ever read was Germany, the Key to the International Situation, which was published at that time in a modest little pamphlet printed in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). That was in 1960. I was 16 years old and had only just joined the Young Socialists. At the time I was still a convinced Stalinist and I remember having heated discussions about the rise of fascism in Germany with the comrades who defended the ideas of Trotsky. I later read The Turn in the Communist International and the situation in Germany and The Only Road. These writings made a profound impression on me and played a considerable role in convincing me of the correctness of Trotsky’s ideas.

The historical background

In order to understand what Trotsky writes it is necessary to know something of the historical background. The rise of Nazism in Germany was the response of the German ruling class to the revolutionary events that followed the First World War. In November 1918, exactly one year after the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia, the German working class followed their example. There was a general strike, workers’ councils (soviets) were set up all over Germany; the army mutinied. German warships entered Kiel and Hamburg flying red flags and without officers:

“Sunday, November 3, deserves to be called the first day of the German Revolution”, writes Richard M Watt. “The streets of Kiel rapidly filled with sailors and dockyard workers, and by five in the afternoon the Exercise Field was jammed with nearly 20,000 men. The emergency recall signals were sounded, hooting and racketing down the streets – but in vain. No one paid any attention.

“At the Exercise Field, Altelt and Popp addressed the crowd. They said they did not regard themselves as mutineers any more than they did their imprisoned comrades. The sailors were being punished simply for being loyal to the intentions of the present German government. They must free the Markgraf prisoners. They must restrict the power of their officers. They must form a ‘workers’ and sailors’ council’. With a roar the crowd agreed. Then, forming a huge column, the men marched off to the Feldstrasse and the naval prison. Carrying torches and singing the Internationale, they thundered through the narrow streets.” (Richard M Watt, The Kings Depart, pp. 164-5.)

The tidal wave of revolution swept through Germany. The workers armed themselves and soldiers disarmed and arrested their officers. The following report of the situation was sent by the War Ministry to the government in Berlin:

“9am: serious riots at Magdeburg.

1pm.: In Seventh Army Corps Reserve District rioting threatened.

5pm.: Halle and Leipzig Red. Evening: Dusseldorf, Halstein, Osnabrueck, Lauenburg Red: Magdeburg, Stuttgart, Oldenburg, Brunswick and Cologne all Red.

7.10pm. General officer commanding Eighteenth Army Corps Reserve at Frankfurt deposed.” (Ibid. p. 186.)

In practice, power was in the hands of the German working class. However, there was a fundamental difference with Russia. There was no Bolshevik Party. Under such conditions, it is a law that the masses will always turn to the old, traditional mass organizations – the old familiar names, the well-known leaders. This was the Social Democracy (SPD) – the same Social Democratic Party that had betrayed the working class in 1914 by voting for the war credits and supporting the imperialism.

The Social Democratic leaders – Ebert, Scheidermann, Noske and the others – had no intention of taking power. They were impatient to hand power back to the bourgeoisie as soon as possible. This derailed and destroyed the revolution. Their servile attitude is graphically conveyed in the following conversation between the Social Democratic leader Ebert and Groener, the representative of the German general staff immediately after the Kiel mutiny and the fall of the Kaiser:

“The two men exchanged a few brief amenities. Then Ebert cautiously asked Groener what the army’s intentions were. Groener replied that the Kaiser, who was now asleep in his private train, had decided to go into exile in Holland and had ordered Field Marshal von Hindenburg to take complete charge of the field army. Hindenburg had done so, and he intended to march it back to Germany upon the conclusion of the Armistice. It was evident that the Supreme Command did not intend to begin a civil war or an insurrection against the Ebert government. Without actually saying it, Groener indicated that he and Hindenburg would recognise the new government as legitimate. They had even given instructions that the new soldiers’ councils were to be dealt with in ‘a friendly spirit.’ The Groener paused.

“There was an awkward silence, which was cautiously broken by Ebert. ‘And what do you expect from us?’ The Chancellor asked.

“ ‘The Field Marshal expects the government to support the officer corps in maintaining discipline and strict order in the Army. He expects that the Army’s food supplies will be safeguarded and that any disruption of rail traffic will be prevented.’

“ ‘What else?’

“ ‘The officer corps expects that the imperial government will fight against Bolshevism and places itself at the disposal of the government for such a purpose.’

“So great was Ebert’s relief that he could only ask Groener to convey the thanks of the government to the Field Marshal.” (R.M. Watt, The Kings Depart, pp. 199-200.)

The German revolution, like the February revolution in 1917 in Russia, had produced a regime of dual power, in which the revolutionary workers and soldiers were organised in the workers’ councils (soviets), and the forces of the counterrevolution were rallying around the slogans of “democracy”. While the Social Democratic leader talked about democracy, behind the scenes the forces of reaction were rallying for a counterattack.

The shock troops of the counterrevolution were the right-wing “Freikorps", a gang of reactionary army officers and NCOs, many of whom later became the cadres of the future National Socialist Party (Nazis). The Allies were alarmed by the revolutionary events in Germany. Although Germany was supposed to be disarmed under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, Britain and France allowed the German ruling class to keep thousands of machine guns in order to put down the working class.

Feeling the power slip through their fingers, the most advanced workers, organised in the Spartakists, staged an unsuccessful uprising in Berlin in January 1919. The right wing Social Democratic leaders connived with the Freikorps to crush the rising. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered by counterrevolutionary officers.

In the same year, the German monarchy collapsed, and the Weimar Republic proclaimed. The Social Democrats presented this as the victory of “democracy”. They even proposed to combine a bourgeois parliament with the workers’ councils (soviets). In fact, this was the triumph of the counterrevolution in a democratic form. In the 1919 Reichstag elections, 45 percent of the electorate voted for the Communists and Social Democrats. Yet the SPD formed a coalition with “democratic” bourgeois parties to save German capitalism. The first Weimar cabinet was headed by the SPD, and their Chancellor Philipp Scheidemann, in coalition with two capitalist parties, the Catholic Centre Party and the German Democratic Party.

The Kapp Putsch

The German revolution continued to develop with ups and downs for several years. Even in backward Bavaria a soviet republic was declared, only to be drowned in blood by the Freikorps assassins. Not content with murdering Social Democratic and Communist workers in their homes, the White Guards even killed Catholic trade unionists. In two weeks, over 5,000 people were murdered. So cruel was the White Terror in Munich that even the bourgeois demanded the withdrawal of the Freikorps.

The pendulum now swung back violently to the right. In March 1920, encouraged by the defeat of the workers, general Kapp marched on Berlin at the head of 12,000 counterrevolutionary troops. He very quickly occupied Berlin. He had the government in his hands. What he did not have was telephones or post, transport or food. The Social Democratic workers declared a general strike that spread like wildfire. In the end, general Kapp had to retreat from Berlin with his tail between his legs.

Under the hammer blows of events the German workers began to draw revolutionary conclusions. This led to a rapid growth of Communism:

“The KPD had grown from 3-4000 members in January 1919 to 78,000 immediately after the Kapp putsch, despite an ultra-left split-off. It was nevertheless tiny in comparison to the two other mass parties, which had approaching one million members apiece. Under the impact of events, however, the ranks of the USPD were moving away from reformism and towards the ideas of Marxism. At its March 1919 conference, the USPD came out in favour of the dictatorship of the proletariat and a soviet government. In December it broke with the Second International and began negotiations with the Comintern. In October at its Halle Congress the USPD, after a four-hour appeal by the president of the Comintern, Zinoviev, voted to accept the 21 conditions and affiliate to the Communist International. Negotiations then opened up with the KPD with a view to the creation of a merged united Communist Party, which was founded in December with a membership approaching a half a million workers. The German Communist Party was now a truly mass party, which under the guidance of the Comintern, began to make preparations for the socialist revolution in Germany.” (Rob Sewell, Germany, from Revolution to Counterrevolution, p. 41.)

The creation of a mass Communist Party should have been a sufficient guarantee of victory. But here again we see the vital importance of leadership. The deaths of Luxemburg and Liebknecht had effectively beheaded the young German Communist Party. The inexperienced leaders who replaced them made many mistakes, both of an ultra-left and opportunist character. In March 1921, against the advice of Lenin and Trotsky, the ultra-left leaders of the German Communists staged an uprising when the conditions were not present, leading to another serious defeat.

After this defeat, Lenin and Trotsky insisted that the tactics of the European Communist Parties should be directed at winning over the millions of workers who remained under the influence of the reformists. The Third International (the Comintern) initiates the united front strategy as a means of strengthening Communist parties and winning the masses.

The revolution of 1923

The post-war period was a period of deep economic depression. Unemployment was high and wage increases were wiped out by the rising cost of living. A large part of the population was on the verge of starvation. For the whole of the post-war period, German productive capacity was never employed at more than 80 percent, and for protracted periods it stagnated at around 50-60 percent. At the same time agricultural indebtedness steadily increased, averaging around $400 million (1,000,000,000 Marks) per annum.

By 1922, Germany was on its knees. Its position was rendered hopeless by the ruthlessness of the Allies. After the defeat of Germany, the victorious powers – especially France and Britain – imposed ruinous terms on Germany. The result was economic chaos, mass unemployment and poverty on an unprecedented scale. Crippled by the intolerable war reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, the Berlin government was unable to meet its repayments. As a result, in January 1923 the French imperialists sent troops to occupy the Ruhr.

The occupation of the Ruhr produced immediate economic collapse. Inflation soared to unimaginable levels. German workers had to take their wages home in wheelbarrows of worthless paper notes. A million Marks would scarcely buy a box of matches. The middle class had its savings wiped out. In retaliation, the working class launched massive strikes. The government was paralysed. The temperature was rising, and the conditions for revolution were rapidly maturing.

Under these conditions, the Communist Party could have taken power. Throughout 1923 the KPD membership continued to grow at a vertiginous rate. Not only the workers but also the petty bourgeois masses were looking to the Communists for a way out. Even the Fascists (who were also beginning to grow) said: “Let the Communists take power first, then it will be our turn.”

Here we see the vital importance of leadership. It is a law that in a revolutionary situation the revolutionary party, and especially its leadership, comes under the pressure of alien classes. Bourgeois “public opinion” weighs heavily on the leaders, who keenly feel their personal responsibility. We see this in November 1917, when a section of the Bolshevik leadership (Kamenev and Zinoviev) lost their nerve and opposed the insurrection. We saw the same thing in Germany in 1923.

The ultra-left leaders who had launched the ill-fated “March Action” in 1921 had been replaced by a new leadership (Brandler and Thalheimer). Unfortunately, they went to the opposite extreme. In a situation where decisive action was demanded, they vacillated and lost their nerve. The German leaders went to Moscow to seek advice from the Comintern, but here historical accident intervened with tragic results. Lenin was seriously ill and incapacitated, and Trotsky was also ill, so the German leaders instead met with Stalin and Zinoviev, who recommended caution.

In a letter to Zinoviev and Bukharin, Stalin wrote:

"Should the Communists strive to seize power without the Social Democrats, are they mature enough for that? If today in Germany, the power, so to speak, falls, and the Communists seize hold of it, they will fall with a crash...the bourgeoisie plus the right Social Democrats will...exterminate them. Of course the fascists are not asleep, but it is to our interest that they attack my opinion, the Germans must be curbed, and not spurred on." (Quoted in Rob Sewell, op. cit., pp. 54-55, emphasis added)

Brandler and Thalheimer were advised to wait and allow the German fascists to make the first move! This sealed the fate of the German revolution. In a revolutionary situation delay is fatal, as Marx pointed out in relation to the Paris Commune. It is impossible to keep the masses in a state of white-hot agitation indefinitely. The hesitant conduct of the German Communist leaders meant that they missed the opportunity. The masses were disappointed in the CP and drifted back into apathy.


In March 1924, at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern, the leaders of the KPD were blamed for the defeat in order to deflect criticism from the role of Stalin and the other Comintern leaders. Trotsky attempted to explain the lesson of the German events in The Lessons of October. This provoked the fury of the leading triumvirate that had secretly taken over the reins of power after Lenin’s death. Zinoviev, in particular, was obsessed with his personal prestige. Lenin once said that spite in politics plays the most fatal role. Zinoviev was motivated by personal ambition and petty spite against Trotsky, whose popularity he resented. He launched a vicious campaign against Trotsky, where he invented “Trotskyism” in an attempt to drive a wedge between the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky. In reality, Trotsky was defending the true heritage of Lenin and the October revolution.

The defeat of the German revolution of 1923 had very serious consequences for the Russian revolution. The isolation of the Revolution accelerated the tendencies towards bureaucratisation against which Lenin had warned repeatedly in his last articles and speeches. It is no accident that Stalin first publicly defended the idea of Socialism in one country in the autumn of 1924. The attack against Trotsky and “Trotskyism” was an integral part of the bureaucratic reaction against October. This in turn had a disastrous effect on the Communist International.

The failure of the German Communists to take power in 1923 gave the bourgeoisie a breathing space. By 1924, the German bourgeoisie managed to partially stabilize the situation, with the assistance of American aid. This was reflected in the elections to the Reichstag in May 1924. The Communist and Social Democratic Parties saw their voting strength drop to 33 per cent of the electorate, although the Nazis’ vote declined even more steeply. In the Reichstag elections the SPD vote grew at the expense of the KPD. In the Presidential election of 1925 the monarchist general Hindenburg was elected president.

This was a period of relative stability, in which the SPD remained Germany’s largest party with huge support in the working class. Nearly ten million Germans belonged to the trade unions in 1924 (the total world trade union membership at the time was about 36.5 million). With a population of some four million less as a result of the War, the number of trade union members in Germany had more than doubled since 1914.

From 1920 to 1924 the number of workers organised in the unions fell, reflecting the depth of the economic crisis and the rise of unemployment. But from 1924 the trend was reversed. From then till 1932 the number of German workers in trade unions increased continually. More than half of these were members of the Social Democratic unions. The task of the Communists was therefore to win over the Social Democratic workers. But instead of maintaining Lenin’s position of the united front tactic, the Stalinists adopted an ultra-left policy that further cut them off from the mass of the working class, setting up separate “red” unions in complete contradiction to Lenin’s line.

If the Communist International had remained on Lenin’s position, it could have recovered its strength and influence. But here events in the USSR exercised a decisive effect on the Comintern. The isolation of the Russian revolution in conditions of frightful backwardness led to the bureaucratic reaction against October.

The expulsion of the Left Opposition

After Lenin’s death in 1924, power passed to the hands of Stalin’s clique. The opposition to Stalin came from Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition, which fought a stubborn rearguard action to return to the democratic and internationalist principles of Lenin and the October revolution. But the Russian workers were exhausted by the long years of war and revolution. The rise of the Stalin faction in the state and Party reflected the unfavourable class balance of forces.

The bureaucracy – the caste of millions of soviet officials in the factories, trade unions and Party offices – wanted an end to the storm and stress of the revolution and a peaceful life to consolidate their power and privileges. With every defeat of the world revolution, the confidence of the bureaucracy grew. They elbowed aside the workers and captured positions of power and influence in the state and in the Communist Party. This explains the irresistible rise of the Stalin faction. In the person of Stalin the rising layer of bureaucrats found their ideal leader.

Finally, in 1927, Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Communist Party. In 1928, he was deported to Siberia. In 1929, he was deprived of Soviet citizenship and exiled to Turkey. But Stalin did not succeed in silencing his opponent. From his house on the island of Prinkipo, Trotsky continued to write articles and books against Stalinism and in defence of Bolshevism. Trotsky and the Left Opposition still considered themselves a faction of the Communist International. Until Hitler came to power, they tried to reform the Comintern and the Soviet Union, to return them to the Leninist principles of internationalism and workers’ democracy.

However, in this period, the Stalinists purged the Comintern. By 1930, the Communist International and its affiliated parties were little more than bureaucratic appendices of Stalin’s foreign policy. The leaders of the Communist Parties were too young and inexperienced to resist the pressure of Moscow. Those who tried to do so were expelled.

When Lenin was still alive the Comintern was a live organism, where there were annual congresses and lively debates. Lenin and Trotsky never feared controversy. They used political differences to educate the cadres of the International. They never sought to impose the “Moscow Line” but relied instead on the weapons of argument and debate. Lenin would never have approved of the methods later introduced by Zinoviev and Stalin, when the leaders of the Communist Parties were expected to behave like zombies. On one occasion Lenin rebuked Bukharin with the following words: “If you want obedience you will get obedient fools.” But for Stalin and the bureaucracy of the Comintern after Lenin’s death, obedient fools were just what were required. The leaders of the KPD were now yes-men - appointees of the Kremlin.

The “Third Period”

Stalin and the bureaucracy were uninterested in the problems of the European Communist parties. Narrow and nationalist in their outlook, they paid little attention to the Comintern and the problems of the world revolution. Their policies reflected the immediate interests and the necessities of the factional struggle in the Russian Party.

Stalin was never a theoretician. He was an organiser – a Party “practico”. He left theory to his ally Bukharin, who held a right wing position inside the Party. Bukharin and Stalin originally stood for conciliation of the rich peasants (the Kulaks) and the Nepmen. They rejected the Opposition’s proposals for industrialisation, voluntary collectivisation and Five Year Plans as “left adventurism”.

This right wing policy was reflected internationally in an opportunist policy. In Britain the CP was encouraged to tail end the “Lefts” of the TUC. That ended in the betrayal and defeat of the 1926 general strike. Worse still in China the CP, which was a mass force, was instructed to enter the Kuomintang of Chang Kai Shek, who was even made an honorary member of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. That ended in the crushing of the Chinese CP in Chang’s bloody coup in 1927.

However, by 1927, the situation in Russia had changed. The Kulaks had amassed large stocks of grain, which they were refusing to release. The cities were threatened with starvation. This posed a serious danger to the Soviet power. Alarmed, Stalin performed a 180-degree somersault, broke with Bukharin and announced an offensive against the Kulaks.

In his struggle against the Kulak danger in Russia, Stalin swung over to an ultra-left position, expressed by forced collectivisation and “Five Year Plans in four years.” This adventurism was replicated in foreign affairs by the so-called policy of the Third Period. In an extremely formalistic way, the Stalinists characterised the world situation since 1917 as follows:

The First Period (1917-1924) was characterised as one of capitalist crisis and revolutionary upswing. This was followed by the Second Period (1925-1928), a period of capitalist stability. But the Third Period, announced by Stalin and his followers, was said to represent the “final crisis” of capitalism.

Lenin had explained many times that there is no such thing as a “final crisis” of capitalism. The capitalist system will always recover from even the deepest crisis – unless and until it is overthrown by the working class. But in order to overthrow capitalism, it is first necessary for the proletarian vanguard to win over the masses – hence Lenin’s policy of the united front. But Stalin threw Lenin’s teachings overboard in favour of the lunacy of “social fascism”.

According to this “theory”, revolution was on the order of the day everywhere and all other parties, except the Communist Parties were objectively fascist. This crazy policy led to open confrontations between the Communist workers and the Social Democratic workers. It had disastrous consequences everywhere, and particularly in Germany.

In the Reichstag elections of May 1928 the SPD formed a government with Chancellor Hermann Mueller. The KPD got a third of the SPD’s vote, while the Nazis got less than a tenth. However, the SPD leadership swung even further to the right than before. It formed a so-called Grand Coalition including the People’s Party. This coalition clung to power for about two years.

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 was the start of the Great Depression. The German economy, already enfeebled by the depredations of the Allies, collapsed. Unemployment soared to three million. The middle class was ruined, and a sizeable layer pauperised and driven into the lumpenproletariat. There was a sharp polarisation to the left and the right, expressed as a rapid growth of the Communist Party and the Nazis.

In March 1930 the SPD Mueller cabinet resigned, opening up a period of tremendous political instability. President Hindenburg appointed Heinrich Bruening of the Centre Party as Chancellor. The ejection of the Social Democrats was the first step of the bourgeoisie towards reaction. Since no Party could get a majority without the Social Democrats, Bruening began to rule by decree, basing himself on Paragraph 48 of the “democratic” Weimar Constitution. This was what Marxists call a regime of parliamentary Bonapartism.

Stalin splits the movement

Under the harmful influence of Stalin’s Comintern, the Communist Parties everywhere abandoned the Leninist policy of the united front. In Britain they proclaimed that it was “a crime equivalent to strike-breaking to belong to the Labour Party”. As a result the advanced Communist workers were cut off from the mass of the working class who supported the Social Democracy. In flat contradiction to the position worked out by the Comintern in its first four congresses, they even split the unions, setting up so-called “red” unions.

Stalin had proclaimed: “objectively, Social Democracy and fascism are not antipodes but twins.” "Fascism,” said Stalin, “is the fighting organisation of the bourgeoisie, which rests upon the active support of the social democracy. Objectively, the social democracy is the moderate wing of fascism. There is no reason to admit that the fighting organisation of the bourgeoisie could obtain decisive successes either in the struggles or in the government of the country without the active support of the social democracy...There is also little reason to admit that social democracy can obtain decisive successes either in struggles or in the government of the country without the active support of the fighting organisation of the bourgeoisie. These organisations are not mutually exclusive, but on the contrary are mutually complementary. They are not antipodes but twins. Fascism is a shapeless bloc of these two organisations. Without this bloc the bourgeoisie could not remain at the helm. (Stalin, quoted in Die Internationale, February 1932.)

Manuilsky faithfully repeated this idea at the 11th Plenum of the Communist International April 1931:

"The social democrats, in order to deceive the masses, deliberately proclaim that the chief enemy of the working class is fascism...Is it not true that the whole theory of the 'lesser evil' rests on the presupposition that fascism of the Hitler type represents the chief enemy?" (The Communist Parties and the Crisis of Capitalism, page 112)

This was against all the teachings of Lenin. It divided the working class and weakened the influence of the Communists among the mass of workers. Nowhere were the results of this policy more disastrous than in Germany, where the Communists were instructed to treat the SPD workers as “social fascists”. These hooligan tactics split the powerful German labour movement right down the middle and paralysed it in the face of the fascist reaction.

What is fascism?

Fascism differs from other forms of reaction like Bonapartism because it has a mass base. This is what makes it so dangerous to the working class. Its mass base permits it to smash and atomise the workers’ movement in a way that ordinary military police dictatorships can never do.

The social base of fascism is always the same: the petty bourgeoisie and the lumpenproletariat. In order to win the mass of ruined petty bourgeois, the Nazis imitated the language of socialism. They used anti-capitalist demagogy and even called themselves “national socialists”.

The petty bourgeois shopkeeper hated the big capitalist monopolies that were ruining him, but he also hated and feared the proletariat into which he feared he would be pushed. He fulminated with equal vehemence against strikers who were “destroying the country” and the big banks and monopolies that were “sucking our blood”. In order to win over this layer, the fascists demagogically attacked “big Capital”, usually in the shape of finance capital. The nationalisation of the banks always figures in the programme of fascist parties.

This concentration on finance capital then enabled them to attack the “bad” Jewish capitalists as opposed to the “good” Arian capitalists. Hitler denounced the big bourgeoisie for its “proverbial cowardice”, its “senility”, its “intellectual rottenness” and its “cretinism”. And yet the Nazi regime, like the regime of Mussolini in Italy, was nothing but the naked dictatorship of monopoly capitalism. He offered, in effect, to save the bourgeoisie from itself, to seize the reins of state power from its trembling hands, to discard the old, senile, cowardly regime of bourgeois parliamentarism, with its compromises and deals, and replace it with the open, undisguised rule of Capital. Of course, the bankers and monopolists would be forced to pay the fascist gangsters handsomely for the privilege!

The bourgeoisie does not take lightly to fascism. It is not the first resort, but the last resort, when all the other options are exhausted and the bourgeoisie is faced with overthrow by the working class. The German capitalists and Junkers looked with a mixture of contempt and alarm at the plebeian upstart Hitler and his Nazi gangsters. They did not relish the prospect of handing them state power. It was a leap into the dark that they only undertook because they were terrified of the alternative.

The plebeian masses that followed Hitler were naturally amorphous and unorganised. With the large sums of money donated by big business, he put the declassed lumpenproletarians and ruined petty bourgeoisie into uniform and gave them a military discipline, slogans and esprit de corps. The Nazi storm troops of the SA (Sturm Abteilung) grew to 100,000 members. Hitler’s gangs terrorised the workers on the streets. They began to feel that they were the masters, when in reality they were merely the mindless pawns of big business.

Racism in the form of anti-Semitism was a key element in German Nazism, although originally it played hardly any role in Italian and Spanish fascism. It was, however, not original but an old tradition going back to the Middle Ages, a period from which much of the Nazis’ intellectual stock-in-trade was derived. Hatred of the small Jewish moneylender served as a means of diverting the attention of the masses away from the big capitalists. The declassed plebeians and ruined shopkeepers were made to feel racially “superior” to the “lesser races” of Europe – the Poles, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Russians and, of course, the Jews.

Fascism is the distilled essence of imperialism. Racism is only the most striking reflection of this fact. Just like the poor whites in the Southern States of the USA, who like to feel that the blacks are beneath them, so the dispossessed mass of German petty bourgeois and lumpenproletarians were seduced by racial poison. Despite their empty pockets and the holes in the seat of their pants, they were made to feel that they partook of a mystical union of all “pure” Arians and the Great German Nation, which (in their addled brains) belonged to everyone. The fact that it belonged to some rather more than others was conveniently forgotten.

Rise of the Nazi Party

The German ruling class were happy to let Hitler deceive the petty bourgeois masses. From the late 1920s the Nazi Party received huge financial backing from the German capitalists – including Jewish capitalists – who saw it as an insurance policy against Bolshevism. They did not attach much importance to his racial ravings. They were more interested in his attacks on Bolshevism and his ability to compete with the workers' parties. Robert A. Brady comments:

"As early as 1930 almost any businessman one might have talked to in Germany would frankly have admitted the eventual success of 'Communism' unless recognised trends could be reversed. In the spring of 1931 an interviewer in the main offices of the great Steel Trust at Dusseldorf, was told by an official spokesman of the industry that the alternative to Hitler and National Socialism was 'Communism to the Rhine by 1935." (Robert A. Brady, The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism, p. 33.)

The Bonapartist Bruening government did not last long. In September 1930 Hindenburg was compelled to dissolve the Reichstag and call new elections. Under conditions of sharp social polarisation, the moderate socialists lost ground. The SPD vote fell by 6 percent, while that of the KPD rose by 40 percent. However, their combined vote fell from 40.4 per cent of the electorate to 37.6. The most striking element in the equation was the Nazi vote, which shot up by 700 per cent. The Nazis went from ninth to second-largest party.

The KPD called the election result a victory for the Communists and "the beginning of the end" for the Nazis. This was plain foolishness. While deceiving everybody with declarations of peaceful parliamentary intentions, Hitler was preparing to seize power and crush the working class. The alarm bells were sounding. Yet the Stalinists closed their eyes to the danger and continued with their irresponsible policy of splitting the workers' movement.

At this time there was one lone voice appealing to reason. In one urgent letter and article after another, Trotsky called on the German Communist Party to return to Lenin's united front policy to stop the Nazis. If they had paid attention to Trotsky, the whole history of Europe and the world could have taken a different course. Unfortunately, they ignored his advice and instead continued to follow the disastrous line of Stalin and the Stalinised Comintern. In August 1931 he wrote:

"We must therefore talk openly to the Social Democratic, Christian, and non-party workers: 'the fascists, a small minority, wish to overthrow the present government in order to seize power. We Communists think the present government is the enemy of the proletariat, but this government supports itself on your confidence and your votes; we wish to overthrow this government by means of an alliance with you, not by means of an alliance with the fascists against you. If the fascists attempt to organize an uprising, then we Communists will fight with you until the last drop of blood-not in order to defend the government of Braun-Bruening, but in order to save the flower of the proletariat from being strangled and annihilated, to save the workers' organizations and the workers' press, not only our Communist press, but also your Social Democratic press. We are ready together with you to defend any workers' home whatsoever, any printing plant of a workers' press, from the attacks of the fascists. And we call on you to pledge yourselves to come to our aid in case of a threat to our organizations. We propose a united front of the working class against the fascists. The more firmly and persistently we carry out this policy, applying it to all questions, the more difficult it will be for the fascists to catch us unawares, and the smaller will be their chances of defeating us in open struggle.'" (Against National Communism, in The Struggle against Fascism in Germany, pp. 108-9.)

Frightened by the size of the Nazi vote, the SPD leaders decided to support the Bruening government as "the lesser evil". This false policy enabled Bruening to remain Chancellor for another 26 months, carrying out unpopular anti-working class policies. This played into the hands of the Nazis. Hitler combined a policy of parliamentary sabotage with violence against the workers' movement on the streets.

The "Red Referendum"

By 1931 there were over 4 million unemployed. The Nazis began a campaign to oust the Social Democrats from their traditional stronghold in Prussia, the largest state in Germany, where over two-thirds of the population lived. They organized a referendum to oust the Prussian SPD-coalition government. Incredibly, the KPD leaders called upon the workers to back the Nazi campaign, which they dubbed the "Red referendum". Communists campaigned together with Nazis against the SPD in Prussia, but in the end they failed to remove Prussia's SPD-led government.

The opportunist policies of the SPD leaders led to a crisis in the Party, with splits and expulsions of Social Democrats who opposed the leadership and demanded a united front with the KPD against Hitler. Trotsky analyses this phenomenon, which Marxists call centrism – a tendency that vacillates between Marxism and left reformism. This led to the formation of a new party, the SAP (Socialist Workers' Party). But although the centrists had a base among the Socialist Youth and even some of the Parliamentary Faction, when they stood as an independent party in the elections of July 1932, they failed to get a single member of parliament.

The SAP got only 72,630 votes and in the November 1932 elections, their vote fell further still. Trotsky explained that the working class does not easily abandon its traditional mass organisations. The workers will test a party like the SPD many times before they finally decide to abandon it and seek an alternative.

In December 1931, the SPD leaders set up the Iron Front for Resistance Against Fascism. This organization united the Social Democratic militia - the Reichsbanner – with the SPD youth, with other labour and liberal groups. The SPD leaders wanted to limit the scope of the new organisation to peaceful activities like mass demonstrations. But the Social Democratic workers wanted to go further. They armed themselves and fought the Nazis in the streets.

This opened up tremendous possibilities for the Communist Party. In August-September 1917, the Bolshevik Party won over the masses that supported the Mensheviks and SRs by offering them a united front against Kornilov. Remember this was at a time when the Mensheviks and SR leaders were persecuting the Bolsheviks ferociously. The Bolsheviks concentrated all their efforts on defeating the immediate threat of reaction, and in the process won over the decisive majority of the workers in the soviets, and then went on to take power.

In his writings of this time, Trotsky draws the analogy with the tactics of the Bolsheviks in order to show the criminal nature of the policies and tactics of the German Stalinists, who instead of linking arms with the rank and file Social Democratic workers, were collaborating with the Nazis in the so-called "Red referendum" against the Social Democrats.

Fascism and democracy

The deepening economic crisis, which pushed unemployment up to five million by 1932, demanded urgent measures to defend the living standards of the masses. This required an independent socialist policy. But instead the Social Democrats clung to the shirttails of the bourgeoisie, arguing that it was necessary to defend democracy by uniting with the "democratic" bourgeoisie, though the latter was preparing to abandon parliamentary democracy and pass over to fascism.

In the Presidential elections of March 1932 there were three main candidates: the monarchist militarist Hindenburg, Hitler, and the KPD candidate Thaelmann. The SPD supported the right-winger Hindenburg, as the "lesser evil" against Hitler. The Iron Front, which should have been a weapon of struggle against the Nazis, instead was turned into an electoral machine for a right wing Junker.

This policy of class collaboration had fatal results. It discredited the Social Democrats, who assumed responsibility for the criminal policies of the German bourgeoisie. As a result, the Nazi vote continued to increase. In the second elections of April 1932 (the result of the first elections was inconclusive), Hindenburg won, but the Nazi vote had doubled in 17 months.

The same month Bruening presented Hindenburg with a decree outlawing the Nazi militias, SA and SS, in a bid to halt the Nazi advance. But the Nazis merely continued their activities under different names. It was not possible to stop them with the methods of bourgeois legality. Within one month, Chancellor Bruening was forced to resign and replaced by Franz von Papen of the Centre party.

The right-winger von Papen, however, had no base in the Reichstag. In June 1932 he was forced to dissolve the Reichstag and call new elections. At the same time von Papen rescinded the ban on Nazi private armies. The street fighting reached a new pitch of intensity, with hundreds dead and wounded. In July the Nazis marched, under police escort, through proletarian Hamburg. The result was 19 dead and 285 wounded. Using the Hamburg clashes as a pretext, von Papen carried through a coup d'etat in Prussia. Claiming that the Prussian government was unable to maintain law and order, he deposed the Social Democrats and appointed himself Reich Commissioner for Prussia.

We must bear in mind that the German labour movement at this time was the most powerful in the world. Not only did it have mass trade unions, but the Social Democrats and Communists had armed militias that probably numbered a million members between them. Had they been united, they would have been a formidable fighting force that could have scattered Hitler's gangs. The German workers were waiting for a call to action. But no such call ever came. Instead, the SPD leaders promised to appeal to the courts. Naturally, they did nothing.

The appeals of the Social Democratic leaders to the existing bourgeois legality were both useless and counterproductive. The bourgeoisie was far more worried about the threat from the working class than the fascists. The law courts and the police were secretly sympathetic to the Nazis and hostile to the labour movement. Therefore, the slogan of the Social Democratic leaders, "Staat, griff zu!" (State, intervene!) only served to confuse the workers and divert their attention from what was necessary.

The masses paralysed

The only way to defeat the Nazis was by confronting them with the united might of the working class. What was necessary was not the defence of the existing government and legality but that the working class should fight to defend its own organizations, as Trotsky pointed out in 1931:

"In the course of many decades, the workers have built up within the bourgeois democracy, by utilizing it, by fighting against it, their own strongholds and bases of proletarian democracy: the trade unions, the political parties, the educational and sport clubs, the cooperatives, etc. The proletariat cannot attain power within the formal limits of bourgeois democracy, but can do so only by taking the road of revolution: this has been proved both by theory and experience. And these bulwarks of workers'* democracy within the bourgeois state are absolutely essential for taking the revolutionary road. The work of the Second International consisted in creating just such bulwarks during the epoch when it was still fulfilling its progressive historic labour." (Trotsky, What Next? In The Struggle against Fascism in German, pp. 158-9.)

Despite their appearance of strength, Trotsky pointed out that the Nazis were "human chaff" – petty bourgeois and lumpenproletarians who would run for their lives when confronted with a serious proletarian fighting force. But the policies of both the Social Democrats and Stalinists kept the movement divided and helpless in the face of the Nazi menace.

Yet the Stalinists remained deaf to all these warnings. This is how Thaelmann, the main leader of the KPD, answered Trotsky's call for a united front:

"Trotsky wants in all seriousness a common action of the Communists with the murderer of Liebknecht and Rosa (Luxemburg), and more, with Mr Zoergiebei and those police chiefs whom the Papen regime leaves in office to oppress the workers. Trotsky has attempted several times in his writings to turn aside the working class by demanding negotiations between the chiefs of the German Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party. (Thaelmann's closing speech at the 12th Plenum, September 1932, Executive Committee of the Communist International." (Communist International No 17-18, Page 1329.)

In an article published in Die Internationale (November, December 1931, page 488), Thaelmann indignantly repudiated the proposal of a united front with the Social Democratic Party:

"It (the Social Democratic Party) threatens to make a united front with the Communist Party. The speech of Breitscheid at Darmstadt on the occasion of the Hesse elections and the comments of Vorwaerts on this speech show that social democracy by his manoeuvre is drawing on the wall the devil of Hitler's fascism and is holding back the masses from the real struggle against the dictatorship of finance capital. And these lying mouthfuls...they hope to make them more palatable with the sauce of a so-called friendship for the communists (against the prohibition of the German CP) and to make them more agreeable to the masses."

And again:

"In his pamphlet on the question, How will National Socialism be Defeated? Trotsky gives always but one reply: 'The German CP must make a bloc with the Social Democracy...' In framing this bloc, Trotsky sees the only way for completely saving the German working class against fascism. Either the CP will make a bloc with the social democracy or the German working class is lost for 10-20 years.

"This is the theory of a completely ruined fascist and counter-revolutionary. This theory is the worst theory, the most dangerous theory and the most criminal that Trotsky has constructed in the last years of his counter-revolutionary propaganda." (Thaelmann, closing speech at the 13th Plenum, September 1932: Communist International, No. 17-18, page 1329.)

In their madness, the Stalinists openly incited the communist workers to beat up socialist workers, break up their meetings, etc, even carrying the fight to the school children in the very playgrounds! Thaelmann put forward the slogan "Chase the social fascists from their jobs in the plants and the trade unions." Following on this line of the leader, the Young Communist organ The Young Guard propounded the slogan: "Chase the social fascists from the plants, the employment exchanges, and the apprentice schools." The organ of the Young Pioneers which was aimed at the children of CP members, even put forward the incredible slogan: "Beat the little Zoergiebels in the schools and the playgrounds".

This line was uncritically accepted by all the parties of the Communist International: "It is significant", wrote the paper of the British CP, the Daily Worker of May 26th, 1932, "that Trotsky has come out in defence of a united front between the Communist and Social Democratic Parties against fascism. No more disruptive and counter revolutionary class lead could possibly have been given at a time like the present".

This policy led to complete demoralisation and impotence. I remember conversations I had years ago with a marvellous old worker comrade, Dudley Edwards, who was a young shop steward in the early 1930s at the Morris car factory in Cowley, Oxford and a member of the Communist Party. Dudley visited Germany shortly before Hitler came to power and stayed in the house of a German Communist worker. The worker showed Dudley a revolver he had, but Dudley told me: "I could see from his face that he would never use that revolver." The workers were paralysed by the actions of their leaders.

The KPD called for a general strike. But the Social Democratic workers had not forgotten the "Red referendum." They regarded the KPD with suspicion and hostility. But without the support of the Social Democratic workers, however, no general strike was possible. The Reichstag elections of July 31, 1932 revealed the shocking truth: the Nazis were now Germany's largest party.

The leaders of the labour movement were not the only ones who underestimated Hitler. The German bourgeoisie also made the same mistake. They imagined that Hitler would be their obedient tool. They gave him money while ridiculing him behind his back. But they were to receive a rude shock once Hitler held in his hands the reins of state power. Right wing politicians like von Papen thought he could manipulate Hitler and make him do his bidding. But in fact, the boot was on the other foot. The Nazis supported a vote of censure against von Papen in the Reichstag, which was passed by 513 votes to 32. The Reichstag was dissolved and new elections called for November 6.

Hitler prepares for power

In the elections of November 1932 - the last free elections before Hitler took power - the combined vote of the Socialists and Communists was greater than that of the Nazis. They had, in fact, lost two million votes:

Party                                 Vote                 Percent

National Socialist       11,737,000                  33.1

Social Democratic        7,248,000                 20.4

Communist                   5,980,000                 16.9

Centre                          4,231,000                 11.9

Nationalist                    2,959,000                   8.8

Bavarian People's         1,095,000                  3.1

Others                          2,635,000                  7.6

Fascism is a special kind of reaction, which uses the frenzied mass of petty bourgeois and lumpenproletarians to smash and atomise the working class. The bourgeoisie temporarily loses control of its own state, which passes into the hands of the fascist bandits. A mass petty bourgeois movement, however, can only succeed if it goes from one victory to another. By the end of 1932, it was clear that the Nazis had passed their peak. Their petty bourgeois and lumpenproletarian supporters were beginning to get tired of Hitler's parliamentary games. They desired decisive action, and when this was not forthcoming they became discouraged and apathetic. This is what is reflected in these results.

Hitler therefore was forced to move quickly, or lose his base. Since he did not have a majority for taking power, he had to resort to manoeuvres with the bourgeois parties and Hindenburg. In December 1932, Hindenburg appointed a new Chancellor, Schleicher, but this was only a temporary arrangement, as the bourgeoisie prepared to hand over power to the Nazis.

The Schleicher government lasted barely a month. On January 30 1933 Hindenburg duly appointed Hitler, as Chancellor and Von Papen as Vice-Chancellor. To the last minute Hitler maintained his tactic of deception, modestly agreeing to take only three of 11 cabinet posts. But this parliamentary charade was only a legal cover for the real preparations that went on uninterruptedly outside parliament.

Even at the eleventh hour, the total Communist and SPD vote exceeded that of the Nazis. The combined vote of the workers' parties was 13,232,000. And, as Trotsky explained, the superiority of the workers over the Nazis was not merely numerical. The German workers' movement was still intact. A serious resistance would have scattered the Nazi riff raff to the wind. But this was definitely the last opportunity to stop Hitler. Trotsky still hoped that the workers' parties would mobilize to resist the Nazis. But this did not occur.

The SPD leaders announced that Hitler's appointment was constitutional and refused to support any action against the Nazis. On February 7, 1933, the head of the Berlin Federation of the SPD gave the following advice to the workers:

"Above all do not let yourselves be provoked. The life and health of the Berlin workers are too dear to be jeopardised lightly; they must be preserved for the day of struggle." (Quoted by Ted Grant in The Menace of Fascism, p. 54.)

For their part, the Stalinist KPD concentrated on denouncing the Social Democrats. Like the Social Democrats, they continued to deny that the Nazis could come to power. Their public statements were almost identical to those of the Social Democrats. The Stalinist Wilhelm Pieck stated on February 26, 1933: "Let the workers beware of giving the government any pretext for new measures against the Communist Party!" (Ibid.) Unfortunately, the Nazis did not need any pretext for crushing both the Socialists and Communists.

The mighty German labour movement surrendered without firing a shot. Hitler could scarcely believe his luck. He later boasted that he had come to power "without breaking a window pane." Yet he could have been stopped. He did not yet control the state. The army and the police were not yet in his hands. Once he had manoeuvred himself into power, however, it was too late.

Unlike the Socialist and Communist leaders, Hitler acted decisively. He got Hindenburg to dissolve parliament, supposedly to call new elections. But this was only a legal façade to cover up the initiation of a reign of terror against the workers' movement. KPD meetings were banned and its press shut down. The police force was flooded with storm troopers. The whole might of the state was brought down on the labour movement.

On February 27 1933 the Nazis burned down the Reichstag and blamed it on the Communists. The very next day President Hindenburg suspended all Constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, press, assembly and association. Thousands of KPD and SPD officials were arrested. Only the Nazis and their right wing Nationalist allies were permitted to campaign in the last week before the election.

Now, at last, the KPD called for national strikes. But it was already too late. The morale of the workers was completely undermined. Despite everything, the Nazis could not get a majority. But that did not matter. Hitler asked the new Reichstag to grant him dictatorial power. That required a two-thirds Reichstag vote. But since the Communist deputies were in prison, and the remainder were thoroughly intimidated, the result was a foregone conclusion. The Liberal and conservative parties voted for Hitler's proposal. Only the Social Democrats voted against it.

Hitler skilfully used parliament and elections to strengthen his position, while working to undermine and destroy bourgeois democracy. The Nazis made no attempt to conceal their contempt for democracy, while making use of every democratic opening to build their forces. Goebbels wrote: "The masses were for me a dark monster (ein dunkles Ungeheuer). National Socialism does not, like the democratic-Marxist parties, blindly adore the masses and numbers." (Quoted in Daniel Guerin, Fascism and Big Business, p. 173.). Roehm, the leader of the SA, declared: "Many values that are sacred to democracies […] have been devalued in the modern Germany […] the absolute equality of all who wear a human face, the deification of the will of the majority and of numbers." (Ibid.). And according to Moeller van den Bruck, "The masses realise very well that they cannot direct themselves." (Ibid.)

However, the hostility of the Nazis to bourgeois democracy was really an expression of something else: the fact that the class struggle had gone beyond the boundaries of the institutions of bourgeois democracy. Although it bases itself on the frenzied masses of ruined petty bourgeois and lumpenproletarians, fascism in fact represents the interests of the big monopolies. Monopoly capitalism creates its opposite in the modern proletariat and its organizations. Sooner or later, the two antagonistic classes confront each other in open struggle. When that critical point is reached, the old mechanisms of parliamentary democracy and bourgeois legality prove insufficient to contain the protests of the workers. The capitalists are compelled to mobilize the mass reserves of reaction to crush the workers. The bourgeoisie can make the transition from formal democracy to open reaction and dictatorship with the same ease of a man changing from the smoking to a non-smoking compartment of a train.

Fascism is an attempt to destroy the embryo of the new society in the womb of the old. The main aim of Nazism was not so much the destruction of bourgeois democracy (which it also naturally accomplished) but above all the complete destruction of the organizations of the working class. The Nazis not only smashed the trade unions and workers' parties – they even closed the workers' chess clubs.

The Comintern refuses to learn

Thousands of KPD members were being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. They were soon joined by the Social Democrats and trade unionists, as Hitler closed down the trade-union movement and replaced it with the Nazi Arbeiterfront. Yet the Stalinists to the last refused to recognise the seriousness of the situation. Under the slogan "after Hitler, our turn", the Comintern predicted that Hitler's victory would be only the prelude to proletarian revolution.

At the plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International in April 1931, Thaelmann, leader of the German Communist Party, denounced the "pessimists," in the following terms:

"We have not allowed the moods of panic to rout us.... We have soberly and firmly established the fact that September 14 [1930] was in a certain sense Hitler's best day, and that afterwards will come not better days but worse. This evaluation, which we made of the development of this party, is confirmed by the events.... Today, the fascists have no reasons for laughing." (Quoted in Trotsky, The Tragedy of the German Proletariat, March 1933. See The Struggle against Fascism in Germany p. 376.)

The real reason for the defeat of the German working class was explained by Ted Grant: "The truth of the matter is that the Stalinists devoted the major part of their energy to ridiculing the danger of the nazis and concentrated their whole attention on fighting the social democrats as the 'main enemy'. They fought viciously against Trotsky's suggestion that the united front was the only means of smashing Hitler and preparing the way for the victory of the working class." (Why Hitler came to Power, Dec. 1944.)

The policy of the workers' leaders led to a terrible defeat, which was made even worse by the fact that the workers knew that they had allowed Hitler to triumph without a fight. This produced profound demoralisation among the German workers. So deep was the demoralisation that not a few former members of the KPD joined the Nazis.

In Britain the following year there was uproar in the TUC. Delegates indignantly asked the leaders how it had happened that the powerful German labour movement could be defeated without a fight. The TUC leaders answered: "If our German brothers would have fought there would have been civil war. The streets would have been running with blood." But as it was, the victory of Hitler was a death sentence for thousands of worker activists. That was followed by the Second World War in which 55 millions perished, and the horrors of the Holocaust that killed six million Jews and an unknown number of gypsies and other members of  "inferior races."

Yet all that was unnecessary. Hitler could have been stopped and should have been stopped. The way in which this could have been done is explained in these pages. If Trotsky's advice had been heeded, the whole history of the world could have been different. That is why it deserves the most careful study by every conscious worker, trade unionist or young person.

Bourgeois or workers' democracy?

Today the spectre of fascism seems to be a bad dream of times long past. There are no longer mass fascist parties like those that existed before the Second World War, although there are extreme right wing and xenophobic parties like that of Le Pen in France. But that does not mean that reaction is off the agenda permanently. The worldwide crisis of capitalism means that the ruling class can no longer tolerate meaningful reforms as in the past. On the contrary, they are attempting to take back the reforms that the working class had conquered in the past.

The stage is set for an explosion of the class struggle everywhere. And the ruling class is preparing. Under the pretext of the so-called "war on terror", they are systematically whittling away the democratic rights won in struggle by the labour movement. They are placing on the statute books reactionary laws that can be used in the future against the labour movement.

For the time being the capitalists prefer the system of formal democracy. It is the most economical system from their class point of view. But when the polarization between the classes reaches an extreme point, the mechanism of formal bourgeois democracy begins to break down. History shows that in such circumstances the bourgeoisie will not hesitate to abandon democracy and rule by other means.

Under present day conditions it is not likely that reaction will assume the forms of classical fascism as in the 1920s in Italy or the 1930s in Germany. The bourgeoisie had a very bad experience with Hitler and Mussolini, and are in no hurry to repeat it. They will not easily relinquish control of the state to a fascist madman again.

The small fascist groups that resort to terrorist methods against immigrants and left-wingers make a lot of noise and occasionally win some seats in local elections. But they are really impotent. They have no possibility of taking power, although in the future they can be used by the bourgeoisie as auxiliary forces to intimidate the labour movement.

More likely the bourgeoisie will move to some kind of Bonapartist regime – that is, a classical military police state. But under modern conditions such a state can have a ferocious character, utilising the same methods of murder and torture that were used by the fascists in the past to intimidate the working class and the labour movement.

The labour movement will ignore this threat at its peril! We must fight for the preservation and extension of all democratic rights, rejecting the curtailing of rights under the pretext of the "war on terror" or anything else. We will combat reaction in all its guises, mobilising the might of the labour movement to oppose the fascists wherever they raise their heads. We will combat racism and strive to unite the working class, cutting across all lines of racial, linguistic, and religious or national distinctions.

However, for the working class the struggle to defend democratic rights is not an end in itself but only a means to a greater end. We recognise that as long as capitalism exists, democracy can never be more than a fragile, incomplete and unstable plant. Formal bourgeois democracy, while infinitely preferable to fascism or Bonapartism, is only a façade that aims to disguise the dictatorship of the big banks and monopolies.

We are fighting, not to defend the existing society and its legal and constitutional regime, but to transform society from top to bottom, sweeping away the dictatorship of Capital and replacing it by a real democracy – a democracy of all the working people: a workers' democracy that will prepare the way for a movement towards a higher stage of human society, when classes, wars, the nation, the state, and all other remnants of barbarism will only be bad memories of the past.

February 25, 2004