File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-01-29.113, message 22

Date: Mon, 27 Jan 1997 15:20:13 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: M-I: Hitler's democratic victory: a big lie

Louis and I don't differ about what would have been the ideal response to
the rise of Hitler: a socialist revolution under the leadership of a
united left party, or at least a coalition of the SDP and the KPD, one
that replaced bourgeois Weimar, or, after March '33, the Hitler regime,
with with a democratic worker's state. 

One thing we differ about is how good the prospects were for that bu early
'33. I think they were not good, and if the workers' parties as they were
then and there had been serious and smart about stopping Hitler there were
lesser things they could have done that would have had that effect. These
would have involved a Popular Front to save Weimar and push it to the
left. That would surely have been better than the Nazism. 

Louis asks why I don't the proletarian revolution in Germany was in the
cards in '33. I said that it had been defeated by '23. He replies that 

> First of all, when he says "the proletarian revolution" instead of "a
> proletarian revolution", he is allowing a turn of phrase to substitute for
> rigorous political analysis. If you say "a proletarian revolution had been
> defeated" you indicate that a battle was lost. If you say "the proletarian
> revolution was defeated", then you indicate that the war was lost.
> You ask for "more evidence" that proletarian revolution was on the agenda in
> the early 1930s. What evidence do you need other than a mass fascist
> movement and big business support for Hitler.

Well, this just goes to show that a proletarian revolution would have been
a good idea, as indeedit was in 1918-23 or any intervening year befor '33,
or indeed after '33. It doesn't show that the revolution was a plausible
short term goal given the alignment of forces. What we had in Germany
after '33 was 

	1) a KPD which was increasingly an ultra-left sect, by '33
totally Stalinized and under the control of the Comintern, not responsive
to German conditions as much as it was to the Comintern's dictates (i.e.,
to the perceived needs of Soviet foreign policy) and 

	2) a SPD that was not
only bureacratized and unresponsive to the worker's needs but desperately
compromised by years in a class-collaborationist government, as witness
itspretty uncritical  support for the bourgeois candidates in '33.

	3) Moreover, the leaderships and to a lesser extent the membership
of thes parties hated and distrusted each other. There was no credible
revolutionary force organized as such in the German working class. Under
these conditions, 

I don't see that a proletarian revolution was possible in the early '30s.
So, losing the battle in 1918-23 meant that the "war" was lost in the
following sense: it was impracticable, and politically unwise, to respond
to the rise of Hitler in the early '30s with the demand for that
revolution, as long as there were lesser but more reasonably possible
thigs that could have been done. 

 If you want evidence of a
> guranteed victory, then I can give you none. It would be irresponsible for a
> revolutionary socialist to make such guarantees, however. There will always
> be an element of risk in our enterprise, but we have no choice.
Sure. But in the circumstances, a Communist or Social Democratic worker,
or an independent Marxist,had gotten on her soapbox to agitate for the
proletarian revolution and against the Weimar Republic, it would probably
have failed to advance the revolution one iota. Of course if the majority
of workers had chosen that course, we'd be talking about  a different

> The bourgeoisie prefers to rule through parliamentary democracy. When
> parliamentary democracy lacks a material base of capitalist prosperity to
> sustain it, society polarizes. The working-class radicalizes and the
> ruling-class plots coup d'etat. When the polarization is most deep as it was
> in Germany and Italy, it opts for the most extreme coup d'etat: fascism. If
> the workers parties can not rise to the occasion, but muddle along in
> parliamentary cretinist fashion, the middle class will be drawn to fascism
> while the workers will lose heart. This is what occurred in Germany in the
> 1930s.

Well, I think that is a simplistic analysis of what happened. In Germany,
the ruling classes--both the industrialists and the Junkers--were
concerned about social instability, but they didn't want what they got:
they were hoping that Hitler would a be a compliant tool without an agenda
of his own that he could effectively press. Doubtless they were not
unhappy with the suppression of labor and democracy in the mid and late
'30s, but Hitler ran them and not they him. This is one reason that Marx's
analysis of Bonapartisism is particularly illuminating in regard to

As to the working class response, I think that the main problem was not
the SDP's commitment to parlaimentary means--although that was an obstacle
to socialist revolution--but the split in the left, in particularly the
division between the SDP and the KPD, which was decidedly not committed to
purely or mainly parlaimentary means.
 You are
> an attorney for Weimar Republic reformism here, aren't you?

Not particularly. 
I am always interested in how Justin
> formulates his ideas. What history did he read to help him form this
> opinion? Was it a book with good photos? Or was it that fine documentary
> about the Abraham Lincon Brigade? Great characters, bad politics. 

Louis, this is not constructive. I have read a lot of books and articles,
just like you. Some of them have photographs. Sometimes this is
historically relevant. For example, what do you think is better evidence
of the character of the Nazi terror: the text or the photos in the Stroop
Report (documenting the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto)? 
> Louis: What confusion! Justin, I regard the Socialist Parties of the Second
> International--in general--to be part of the workers movement. My model of
> how to relate to these formations is the FMLN-FDN in El Salvador, which
> included social democrat Gulliermo Ungo as a major spokesman. He stood side
> by side with the CPers, who were led by Shafiq Handal. This is called a
> united front. This was what was needed in Germany in the 1930s. Instead we
> had the German equivalent of Shafiq Handal characterizing the German
> equivalent of Ungo as being as bad as Hitler. This disunity led to Hitler's
> triumph. The attitude the worker's movement in Germany should have had
> toward the Weimar Republic is one of implacable hostility, like the left had
> toward the US sponsored government in El Salvador. 

Again, I'm not sure that I disagree with you if the point is just that a
KPD-SPD united front against Nazism and Weimar would have been the best
alternative. If that wasn't possible, the next best alternative--and this
is my point--was a Popular Front. The KPD and the SPD came to this
realization too late. However, I don't regard Weimar as equivalent to the
Salvadoran dictatorship.

> The left's goal should not be to preserve bourgeois constitutional rule, but
> to transform society. Its interest in "democracy" has more to do with
> fighting for the right to demonstrate, publish newspapers, run workers
> candidates, etc. It uses the institutions of bourgeois democracy in order to
> overcome it through proletarian revolution. This is the Marxist view of the
> state and nothing particularly novel. Your views are different, however, and
> represent concessions to liberal democracy.

I agree with everything you say up to the last sentence. Or maybe I agree
with the last sentence too, except for the "your views are different"
part. I think liberal democracy is a great thing. It guarantees, or
promises, anyway, the rights to demonstrate, etc. that we need to organize
the proletarian revolution.

> Louis: All forms of bourgeois rule are the same in that they represent the
> dictatorship of capital. The real question is how to fight bourgeois
> reaction, not whether there is a difference between Richard Nixon and George
> McGovern. The electoral policy of the social democracy and the CP of the
> Popular Front is to urge political support for "lesser evil" bourgeois
> politicians like Bill Clinton and their German and Spanish equivalents.

You dodge the question. I agree with you about Clinton and McGovern. But
the question the German left faced in '33 was between Weimar and Nazism.
Are those really just the same? I think not. For one, Weimar had a modicum
of liberal democracy, almost up to the end, offering workers the
opportunity to publish, demonstrate, organize, run candidates, strike etc.
Nazism didn't offer these things. It offered instead terror, repression,
concentration camps, censorship, and official lawlessness of a very naked
kind. Do really regard those as equivalent?

> My interest is not in "blaming" anybody. This is the Trotskyite method. I am
> simply looking for political allies at the tail-end of the 20th century who
> are ready to build socialist parties based on sound Marxist principles. What
> sounder principle can there be than to not urge workers to vote for
> nationalist militarists like Hindenburg as a way to stop Hitler?

If there is no better way to stop Hitler, vote for Hindenberg, and use the
space you have to organize for something better. Fascism is so much worse
than bourgeois democracy that it is irresponsible to say that it makes no
difference which you have, the only thing you should settle for is
socialist revolution. (I don't necessarily extend this idea to the various
shades of difference between bourgrois politicians, who are not all that
much worse than one another.)

 Or to vote
> for a government that is a coalition of the Spanish equivalent of Hindenburg
> and the workers parties, especially when the main goal of that government is
> to bring proletarian revolution to a grinding halt in the name of
> "anti-fascist" unity.

It's a ridiculous insult to the Spanish Republic to treat even its
bourgeois leaders as Hindenbergs. And what brought the proletarian
revolution to a halt was, if Bolleten is right, the savage repression
exercised against its POUMist and anarochosyndalist advocatists by the
Soviet Union's agents in Spain. 

In any case, I think that in an environment of international isolation,
with Nazism in Germany and fascism in Italy, with a West that would have
been actively hostile instead of merely indifferent to a Spanish
proletarian revolution, and a USSR that was actively hostile to it, that
such a revolution could not have survived. That doesn't mean that I
wouldn't have advocated it in Spain, where, unlike Germany, it actually
had mass organized working class support. I am a sucker for lost causes. 

> Louis: What you call "Republican Spain" was a proletarian revolution that
> had been started prior to the formation of the Popular Government. The
> purpose of that government was to abort the proletarian revolution. It was
> the attempt of the Spanish bourgeoisie to set up a Spanish version of the
> Weimar Republic, with the added novelty of participation of the workers
> parties.

A not incidental difference.

 The tragedy, of course, is that the workers parties accepted the
> invitation. In order to get accepted to the dinner table of the bourgeoisie,
> it had to drive peasants off of liberated farmland and workers out of
> collectivized factories.

After '36, though, this sort of conduct was reversed and old property
rights were not so stringently enforced.

But again, you have to look at the total situation. Before '36, organizing
for revolution against the government made sense. After June '36, there
was this problem called Franco. He had to be beaten if there was to be any
security for the cooperatives (which you misleading call "collectivized
factories") and liberated land. I suppose it is possible that the Soansih
workers and peasants could have ownerthrown the Reoublican government and
organized things quickly enough to be able to defeat Franco. The
Bolsheviks did something analogous in the Russian Civil War. Of course
they hada  lot more territory they could lose, and a lot less serious and
effective military opposition. Because I don't think that was impossible,
I basically would have supported the POUM or the CNT, who, however, had a
much more qualified and less hostile attitude towards than Republican
government than you do, at least in the short term. 

> >Funny thing about this. Trotskyists always have correct positions, but they
> >never seem to be able to translate them into a meaningful political
> >alternative. What does this tell us? (NB, many of my comrades are
> >Trotskyists, and Solidarity is descended from the Schachtman breakaway from
> >the SWP.)
> >
> Louis: What does this tell us? It tells us that Trotskyists are professional
> sectarians. I used to be one myself in the years 1967 to 1978. Since 1981 I
> have been a generic Marxist strongly influenced by the Cuban and Nicaraguan
> revolution. I also identify strongly with the editorial boards of Monthly
> Review and Socialist Register. These publications are not Trotskyist, the
> last time I checked.

The reason I mentioned it is that it seems to me that your maximalist
positions are in the spirit of Trotskyism. Perhaps that makes you a sect
of one.


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