From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.7, July 1945, pp.213-215.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The propagandists of Mussolini and Hitler have gone, but the Allied and Stalinist liars are continuing where Goebbels left off. The swinish vilification of nationalities continues unabated, with the Japanese and German peoples as targets in place of the “non-Aryans.” We shall deal here only with the case of Germany.
Prior to the crushing of Germany, these gentlemen justified the “Big Three” plans for the military occupation of that country by the need of combatting a large-scale underground Nazi-led resistance movement. Now they aver that the German people are authoritarian by nature, and never evinced any will whatever to anti-Nazi resistance. At the same time, the Allied military authorities install Nazis in office. PM and its Lerners, The Nation and. The New Republic, literary lights like Nobel Prize Winner emigré German novelist Thomas Mann and kindred spirits who parade as champions of progress, culture, and—of course! of course! — anti-fascist struggle—all these liberals repeat the Allied lies; they all allege that the German people must first be “re-educated” to imbue them with a will to resist Nazism.
In these quarters it has even become fashionable to lament the “failure” of the German masses to overthrow Hitler’s regime. Naturally, the source of this argument makes it highly suspect, coming, as it does, from such servile flunkeys of the imperialist cannibals. It emanates from the very people who are without a spark of revolutionary ardor, and who manifest in any serious struggle, only a will to retreat.
The hall-mark of a revolutionist is his readiness to fight the masters and oppressors at home. It is cheap enough to favor struggle and revolution abroad, especially one that hasn’t yet taken place, and especially, in the milieu the fascists found the easiest to cow. And this not accidently.
For the argument from revolution is now being used by the people who are the most terrified of and by revolution. They hate it instinctively. They, like all “friends of the Soviet Union,” accept the revolution, only after it has conquered, and then only after it has been shackled. What they hail and accept in the USSR is not the revolution but the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy and the degeneration that ensued after the revolution. Such are the individuals who now talk so pompously about the “failure” of the masses in Germany to make a revolution against Hitler.
This canard of “failure” is even more insidious and cunning than the racial-degeneracy and atrocity campaign, because it is an appeal not solely to emotions but to reason. And, on the surface, it does sound like a plausible political argument. Even in Lenin’s time, during the Civil War, complaints were occasionally voiced at the “failure” of the Western European proletariat to come to the aid of the Russian Revolution. Lenin never permitted such remarks to pass unnoticed, pointing out that an attitude of this sort was “unworthy of internationalists.” Essentially the same argument is employed today primarily to confuse the class conscious workers in America and to weaken their instinct of international solidarity. It is a hook baited for all those who lack scientific knowledge of a revolution and its decisive factors.
In the first place, did the German revolution necessarily have to erupt in the very course of the war? No one can predict the exact date of revolutions. Marxists leave such occupations to numerologists, astrologers and crystal gazers.
The interrelationship between wars and revolutions is neither simple nor automatic. Wars sometimes act to retard revolutions. Trotsky pointed out long ago that the Russian revolution was retarded in 1914 precisely by the inception of World War I. Nor are the ruling classes unaware of this. To cite only one instance, Czarism engaged in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904, calculating in this way to avert revolution.
On the other hand, situations frequently arise in peacetime, which are the most favorable for revolution. The dialectic of wars and revolutions has been popularly explained many times. In a reply to a question as to the “desirability of war as furthering the interests of Socialism,” Trotsky elucidated:
It is almost the same as if the question were asked: What is your opinion of cholera and epidemics for human civilization? (Laughter) When there was cholera—there was in Russia, and is now from time to time—we revolutionists sought by illegal leaflets to help the peasants. We denounced the regime of the Czar. You know it is an interesting parallel. The Black Hundreds, our specific Russian reactionaries, accused us of spreading the germs of cholera. There were pogroms against the doctors, the students, the radical intelligentsia, and Jews, as a vengeance for spreading cholera. It was the measure of the reaction to reject the responsibility about sanitary conditions and to place it on the radical elements. I thank you very much for your question because I find the analogy very important. I assure you, under Czarism we had twenty-five years of revolutionary activity, and I never asked for cholera. (Laughter) The same with war. If war comes in spite of us, we will use all the means to place the responsibility on the ruling classes and to accelerate the revolution. But to wish a war—it is absurd from every point of view. What do we need with artificial means for revolution? We have a revolution in Spain without war, but we are not capable of being victorious yet. We had in Germany two and three revolutions. There was in 1918, and in 1923 during the Ruhr occupation, a totally revolutionary situation. Before the victory of Hitler we had a totally revolutionary situation. The lack was not objective revolutionary situations, but revolutionary parties which had the necessary confidence of the masses and adequate leadership. Now, we need the creation of such parties and such leadership. For that we need time, and not to provoke artificial revolutionary situations with the purpose of losing them and so to allow millions of workers, hundreds of thousands to perish in defeat. (The Case of Leon Trotsky, pp.306-7.)
Revolutions do arise out of war, but not in accordance with any time-table set in advance. Depending upon the objective situation, the alignment of class forces and the mood of the masses, the revolution can break out either during the war, or during its aftermath.
The revolutionary wave reached its crest in Western Europe in the era of World War I, not during the hostilities but in the course of the liquidation period of the war (1918-1919) and after Versailles (Germany, 1923). Another revolutionary wave in Western Europe followed after the economic crisis of 1928.
The argument that the Germans were obliged to make the revolution “somehow” during the war is false from the standpoint of theory. Such an approach is purely fatalistic. If the masses were able, of their own accord, to make revolutions there would be no need whatever of programs, parties, leadership.
From the standpoint of practice, this approach seeks to impose fantastic demands on the masses, especially on those who had experienced defeats in the entire previous period. It is the masses who pay for the defeats. After the massacre of the Paris Commune, the revolutionary movement in France remained dormant for years. The defeat of the 1905 revolution in Russia led to more than six years of prostration. The German proletariat has shown, if anything, the most remarkable recuperative powers.
Betrayed by the Social Democratic leadership in the 1918 revolution, with its vanguard decimated in the Spartacus uprising of 1919, and again in the adventurist “March Action” of 1921, the German workers were nevertheless marching toward power in 1923. This time they fell victims of a vacillating Brandlerite leadership, which, with the backing of Zinoviev-Bukharin-Stalin in the Communist International, let slip one of the most favorable revolutionary situations in history. Yet six years later the German workers were prepared to fight the rising Nazi movement to the death. Once again they were betrayed (1929-1933) both by the Social Democrats and by the Stalinists. Not the masses but their official leadership permitted Hitler to assume power without a battle.
Six years of Nazi peacetime rule were followed by six years of imperialist war. Vast as the powers of the German working class are, they are not inexhaustible. Even the best-led armies need time to recover from a single defeat, let alone a series of defeats in the course of three decades. The German workers have not only needed breathing spells, but have lacked the decisive instrument in the struggle—revolutionary leadership.
From recent—and past—history of the German working class not a single instance can be cited of the refusal of the ranks to respond, in a revolutionary situation, to the summons of the leadership. In every instance the masses did all they were asked to do, and more. They suffered three defeats, each more catastrophic than the one before. Upon whom ought the responsibility be placed for these defeats and any apathy resulting from them? We say, upon the official leadership, the Social Democrats and the Stalinists.
What did the official leadership do in all the peace and war years to prepare Hitler’s overthrow? What program did they offer? What revolution were they preparing to lead?
The Kremlin and all its foreign agents—including those in Germany — first collaborated with Hitler and then with the Anglo-American imperialists. The German Social Democrats in emigration remained throughout tied to the “democratic” imperialists.
What alternative to fascism did the Allies and the Kremlin (or the liberals) offer to the German people? No propaganda more calculated to strengthen the Nazi regime and to imbue the German people with the conviction that Hitler was their sole recourse could have been devised by Goebbels than the propaganda supplied him by Washington, London and the Kremlin.
They and their agents have done everything in their power to add their own brands of poison to the virus disseminated abroad by Nazism. They and their agents have done and are doing everything in their power to crush every manifestation of revolution in Germany and everywhere else.
Needless to say the Gestapo did not remain idle all this while, either. They crushed every oppositional element, arresting or shooting the most courageous and devoted fighters, in order thus to terrorize the masses and keep them beheaded.
What would have been so astonishing about moods of apathy or cautious watchfulness throughout this period? But the German workers are really cast in a heroic mold. Even amid the incredible havoc of the war, in the shambles of bombed cities, they have fought the Nazi regime in war as they had in peace. The very horror camps—Buchenwald, Dachau, Belsen—used in newsreels, press, radio and pulpit as proof of congenital German degeneracy, were filled—as they have been from the outset—by the political opponents of Nazidom. This truth is now cutting a way for itself in the world public conscience.
Recently sufficient evidence has seeped through the Allied military censorship, to stamp indelibly the brand of infamy on all the vilifiers of the German masses. This evidence consists of official Gestapo records of arrests and death sentences in “Greater Germany” from the outbreak of the war to the autumn of 1944. This news was released by the London Tribune, organ of the Laborite “lefts.” Our citation is from a digest of the London Tribune report made by The Call (June 18):
“The total number of death sentences in the ‘Greater German Reich’ for 1943 was 5,326, as against 3,660 in 1942; 1,292 in 1941; and 926 in 1940. For 1943 we know the detailed distribution of this total. 1,421 out of the 5,336 death sentences refer to non-Germans, i.e., 894 sentences pronounced in the ‘occupied Eastern territories,’ 282 for ‘crimes against the occupying power,’ 138 for ‘sabotage and insubordination by foreign workers,’ 66 for ‘sabotage in the Protectorate,’ 39 for ‘retention of arms by citizens of the Protectorate,’ and 2 for ‘retention of arms by Poles’.
“Disregarding the thousands of deaths of Germans in Nazi concentration camps the London Tribune notes, there were 1,883 political sentences against Germans in that same year, for ‘high treason, undermining of the armed forces of the nation, desertion, and crimes against broadcasting laws.’ Another 2,034 death sentences occurred for ‘crimes against the war economy, race pollution, and against the decree protecting the winter relief.’
“The figures of the Gestapo arrests during the first half of 1944 are even more startling. They amount to more than 310,000 for the Greater Reich including the annexed territories — 133,853 for the first quarter and 176,660 for the second. That makes 2,000 arrests a day for the three months preceding July 20 and the subsequent wave of mass arrests.”
Added to this irrefutable proof of large-scale mass resistance, we have also proof that the anti-Nazi fighters not only had but still retain the support of the population as a whole. Despite Allied prohibition of demonstrations, the allegedly “passive” Germans have already given ample proof of their will to struggle. Suffice it to cite a single instance. The May 25 issue of Maple Leaf, the daily paper of the Canadian forces reported:
An unauthorized meeting of 6,000 Germans at Cologne was broken up by US troops who fired over their heads.
The meeting was organized to welcome Germans returning home from Buchenwald. The crowd was dispersed after signs appeared expressing dissatisfaction with the mildness with which the Americans were treating the Nazis.
In the very teeth of Anglo-American imperialist terror the German masses are waging the struggle against Nazism which they began in 1933, intensified during the war, and are continuing under Allied occupation.
The same betrayers who are responsible for the tragic lot of these heroic fighters are now crowning their crimes by chiming in the vilifaction of the German people. The worst betrayers have ever been the worst vilifiers. In its latest Manifesto the German Stalinist Party “repeats the charge that the German people bear guilt and responsibility” for the crimes of the Nazis. What program do they offer to “rehabilitate” Germany? They oppose the sovietization of the country. They start where the despicable Social Democracy left off at Weimar. They propose to repeat the same course that led to the rise of Nazism after Weimar.
The heroic workers of Germany will yet give a fitting answer to all their executioners, betrayers and slanderers.
There is only one force that can inspire the German people, restore their confidence in themselves and in the revolutionary solution. That force is the proletarian party of Trotskyism.
The objective conditions have been ripe for the revolution ever since the first imperialist war. The German workers have proved over and over again their unconquerable will to struggle. The task today is to constitute the indispensable instrument of the revolution—the German Section of the Fourth International, the party that would sweep aside the discredited, crime-splotched Social Democratic and Stalinist Parties and lead the German proletariat to victory. That day of historical vengeance must and will come.
Then, the great people of Germany whose true national traits and contributions to mankind’s progress and culture remain second to none, will, under the leadership of the working class, unfold all their colossal creative powers. They will make their greatest contributions in the coming German revolution, and Germany will take her rightful place among the Socialist United States of Europe.
Last updated: 28.12.2005