Erwin Bauer (Ackerknecht), then a leading member of the German Left Opposition reports from Berlin on the unfolding catastrophe as the left fails to stop Fascism’s march to power.
‘The Character of Fascism: An Analysis of the Composition of the Hitlerist Camp’ by Erwin (Bauer) Ackerknecht from The Militant. Vol. 5 Nos. 8-9. February 20-27, 1932.
In October 1930, the central committee of the C.P.G. decided overnight, that Fascism is reigning in Germany and that Bruening is its prophet. The 11th Plenum of the E.C.C.I. put its seal upon that, and all expectations, nourished by the “deviations” and inconsistencies in the resolutions, in the speeches of Remmele, etc., that the German central committee would revise this decision and take reality into account, have come to naught. Under the mask of a “theoretical elaboration”; a large current of confusion is flowing through the party into the minds of its membership and the only one of the four credos of the Thaelmann article in December which is actually being preached, is: “We live under Fascism!” “Fascism and social-Fascism in the last analysis are two different shades of one and the same basis for the bourgeois dictatorship” (Manuilsky’s report to the 11th plenum)
It is therefore not at all strange that the resolutions of the 5th world congress have been raised from their graves and that Stalin’s theoretical infantile maladies, like “social-democracy as a moderate wing of Fascism”, “social democracy and Fascism as twins” and other abortions of the same sort are being preached as eternal truths. It is only being consistent for a Warner Hirsch (Die Internationale, Vol. 15, No. 1) to counterpose democratic England and France to “Fascist” Germany!
The question of the evaluation of the situation, the question whether we really have Fascism already in Germany, is of the greatest strategic importance. If one takes an affirmative position on this question then one must come to an entirely different point of departure, to an entirely different (and distorted) evaluation of Hitler, as well as of the Fascist danger in the perceptible future. For in that case the question of a formulation becomes the question of a prognosis of the most likely development.
The theoreticians of the Comintern are operating with commonplaces like “Bruening and Hitler are both merely dictators of the bourgeoisie. Between an open Fascist dictatorship and the Bruening government there is in no case any class difference whatsoever.” These are elementary truths for every Marxist.
The essence of Marxist analysis does not, however, consist in the recognition of the general, but of the particular, of the concrete. The essence of a valid political characterization does not consist of the ability of fastening it on to every, but to a definite, political situation.
Can the expression “Fascism” serve as a characterization for a specific political phenomenon, for a definite situation? It can. But in that case, what is “Fascism” actually? A review of European, and especially Italian, Fascism permits us to elaborate certain specific features of it, without any difficulty. Fascism is a unique and new phenomenon of the period of monopoly capitalism, a product of post-war capitalism, an offshoot of reformism.
As the collapse of economy spreads, as reformism begins to disappoint the masses looking for a way out, Fascism is saddled everywhere with the task of intercepting the radicalized masses who are about to turn revolutionary channels and of faking them useful once more for the purposes of finance capital. It is a matter, in this case, first of all, of radicalized petty bourgeois masses and consequently, we see everywhere, as a particular feature of Fascism – its broad petty bourgeois mass basis. Furthermore, we see as a consequence of this, the super-radical and quasi-revolutionary, typically petty bourgeois phraseology, the desecration of the idols of yesterday – democracy, pacifism – and the idealization of the most brutal strongman dictatorship. We see further an unrestricted terror of the Fascists against the working class and all its organizations before and after its seizure of power, through particular organs (Fasces, Storm Divisions, etc.) – a terror of such a great quantitative proportion that it becomes transformed into a specific quality. Finally we see the nationalist ideology as a maneuver of diverting attention from social misery and as the basis of an aggressive foreign policy, which is possible only on the backs of a defeated working class, for whom the revolutionary way out is closed. It is especially significant to take into account, as Alfred Kurella has done, the strong war sentiments current among the Italian workers.
Its origin and the tasks asigned to it by the bourgeoisie account for the position of Fascism with regard to the social democracy. Fascism, which cannot tolerate any other party, not even a petty bourgeois one, at its side, can least of all tolerate those for whom it must substitute, because they have compromised and outlived themselves. It is quite true that the social democratic leaders would like to rule together with Fascism, but Fascism would not share its power with them. Despite the offer for a coalition made by the Baldesi of the Socialist Party of Italy, the S.P.I. was proscribed even before the C.P.I. Despite all the services rendered to Pilsudski by the Socialist Party of Poland, its leaders nevertheless landed in the fortress of Brest-Litovsk. Just as it is certain that several D’Aragonas will go over to Fascism, it is certain that the reformist organizations in themselves will be totally crushed.
“Fascism, nourished by the social democracy, will and must eventually crush its skull, in order to reach power. The Austrian social democracy does all it can to facilitate this surgical operation for it.” (Trotsky)
That is why the formula of “social Fascism” is not only harmful in agitation, but also false as a political prognosis.
When we consider, after this brief analysis of Fascism, the present day Bruening government, the differences are unmistakable. Its social basis consists unfortunately, as yet of the reformist workers chained to it by their treacherous leaders and not of the petty-bourgeois masses of Fascism even though it does indeed maneuver with the latter from time to time, The ideology of the Bruenings who base themselves upon a parliamentary majority, is conservative and not quasi-revolutionary. The terror of the state apparatus is as yet in its embryo. It restricts itself to the toleration of the Nazi terror. The foreign policy of Bruening is not that of Hitler. That is what differentiates Bruening from Fascism. What brings him closer to it we know full well; it is the regime of emergency decrees, the factual even if not formal, suspension of democracy, the active support of the Nazis, etc. If we want to evaluate the Bruening government as a whole, we must characterize it not as Fascism but much more precisely as the government of the transition to Fascism, of the active preparation (Groener!) of Fascism.
The difference between Hitler and Bruening consists not in the aim but in the social basis (what Thaelmann, Manuilsky and Co. say about their common social basis is pure twaddle). It consists in the methods. And that is something that must not be overlooked.
It is, however, conscious deception to characterize this order of things as the “lesser evil”, as the social democracy is doing. Because the “lesser evil” Bruening is being tolerated by the S.P.G. and not fought by it, it becomes by itself an ever “greater evil” and is enabled thereby to prepare the “greatest evil” so impudently. It is clear that to differentiate between Bruening and Hitler does not as yet signify a policy of toleration. The Marxist manner of posing the question is given by Trotsky in his latest pamphlet:
“We Marxists consider Bruening, and Hitler, together with Braun, as component parts of one and the same system. The question which one of them is the lesser evil has no sense, because the system against which we are fighting, needs all these elements. But for the moment, these elements are in conflict with one another and the party of the proletariat must take advantage of this conflict in the interest of the revolution”.
Today, the task stands before us, before the Communists, to gather the entire working class around the slogan of the struggle against the threatening Fascist overthrow. There is no doubt, that this struggle will also bring about a conflict with the “lesser evil”. There is no doubt that the struggle against wage robbery, which is a struggle in the trade unions and in the factories and which constitutes an inseparable element of the formation of the united front, will also bring about a struggle against the regime of emergency decrees.
The Struggle Against Social Democracy, and the United Front
No one (and least of all ourselves) desires the suspension of the struggle against the S.P.G., the suspension of criticism – a “reconciliation”. But it is necessary to realize that the struggle against the S.P.G. must be conducted in the form of a united front tactic, under the slogan “against the seizure of power by Hitler”. Lenin demonstrated very cleverly the essence of this tactic when he recommended that the English Communists “support” Henderson under certain conditions (Infantile Leftism, page 76, German edition). By making it clear for them that they would support Henderson “as the hangman’s rope supports the hanged.”
Manuilsky and Thaelmann make very light of the matter, by substituting here also, for the question of a concrete analysis, for the question of the varying struggle on the different fronts, a non-Marxist commonplace like: “the main enemy is the dictatorship of capital – that is, every bourgeois government and its supporters”. According to this schema, it will always remain a mystery, why the Bolshevik! fought with Kerensky against Kornilov and did not carry on the struggle against Kerensky in a stereotyped fashion.
It speaks of a high degree of insensitiveness to the development of events, not to want to see the Facsist danger, not to want to see the practical consequences which genuine Fascism will bring.
People who regard Bruening as Fascist, that is, the overture as the opera, can very easily become altogether blind and deaf.
Thaelmann Fails to Correct False Views
The party, far from revising its false theory, has “deepened” it by the article in the January issue of Die Internationale, composed by the group of authors that works under the pseudonym of Thaelmann.
“It may be assumed that the execution of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie – no matter through what methods, and particularly when it is a question of Fascist methods – will in the first instance, and in the long run, be in the hands of the Centre in a very strong measure”. (Die Internationale, Vol. 33, No. 1)
The content of the present situation is characterized crudely but not incorrectly by Thaelmann:
“Today, the Centre is the carrier of the policy of an interchangeable exploitation of the social democracy and the National Socialists for the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.” With this, he has finally reached the estimation formulated by Trotsky in the following manner in 1929:
“This will also determine the policy that the bourgeoisie will adopt in the near future: to force the social democracy, with the aid of Fascism, to reconstruct the constitution, so that the bourgeoisie will be able to combine the advantages of Fascism with those of democracy, those of Fascism in essence, those of democracy in form. In this manner, they hope to save themselves the high expense of democratic reforms, and if possible, also the new expense inherent in a Fascist overthrow”.
Unfortunately, however, Thaelmann, who characterizes this situation as Fascism and who neglects entirely the economic relationships and the political perspectives that lie in this situation, has not yet reached the conclusions of Trotsky!
“Will the bourgeoisie be able to take this path? To its actual conclusion and for a prolonged period of time – most certainly not. In other words, the bourgeoisie cannot build up a regime that will allow it to base itself in a peaceful manner, on the workers as well as on the ruined petty bourgeoisie, without bearing the expense for the social reforms or for the convulsions of a civil war. The contributions are too great, they will be broken in one direction or the other.” (Trotsky, The Austrian Crisis)
Dangers of Calling Present Condition Fascism
The fundamental error, of characterizing this condition as Fascism, is avenged by the prognosis. We have already heard above, of Thaelmann’s “prolonged Centre-Fascism”. What is even more grotesque, is the sentence he attaches to the quotation brought above: “At times, the preponderance rests with the social democracy and that will probably be true, from the class point of view, also in the future, up to the proletarian revolution in Germany.”
A truly annihilating prognosis, this prognosis put forward by Thaelmann: Germany has already reached its Fascist form and it will remain so. Year after year, the genial Bruening will continue to rule, nourished by the starvation of the patient proletariat, interchangeably supported by his zealous and inexhaustible retainers, the National Socialist Party of Germany and “social Fascism”, in which case the seizure of power by Hitler is just as unlikely as the disintegration of the S.P.G., until such a time, when, probably after the completion of the second five year plan – the “people’s revolution” finally arrives.
It is clear that this prognosis is somewhat dulled by the struggle with the Nazis. It is clear, that the party and its Brandlerist page boys underestimate and mock at the significance of the slogan of the General Strike (which we, for our part, have never separated from the question of immediate partial strikes).
It is clear that the entire ideological confusion with regard to Fascism can lead to capitulation at the moment of the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship, because these people will say – just as the despicable Kolaroffs, the Bulgarian Thaelmanns, did on June 9, 1923 – “Why get excited particularly now, when one Fascist is merely replacing another Fascist?” The Comintern, which has most unhappily capitulated to Fascism three times already (Bulgaria, Poland, Finland) is coming to another cross-road. The very reserved criticism of the defeatist attitude made by Thaelmann serves no purpose at all as long as his own theories, false to the roots, are not cast aside.
We must pose the question here: why this fatal error in the problem of Fascism? Simply by referring to the thinking ability of the Thaelmanns and Manuilskys, this question is not solved for the Marxist.
Basis For False Analyses and Tactics
Manuilsky has, however, perhaps unintentionally, informed us why it is impossible, in the last analysis, for the Stalinist Comintern leadership to differentiate between Hitler, Bruening and Wels.
“The entire aggravation of the class struggle proves that the differences in the methods of class rule between so-called bourgeois democracy and Fascism are constantly being wiped out, and are actually, in practice, wiped out already. Can anyone attempt to prove that, for example, the policy of the German social democracy with regard to the country of socialist construction – the U.S.S.R. – is any more “progressive” than the policy of Italian Fascism!” (Report of Manuilsky to the XI Plenum of the E.C.C.I. – our emphasis, E.B.)
That means: the final touchstone in the policy of the Stalinist Comintern leadership, whose basic task is no longer the world revolution but the construction of socialism in one country, are the foreign trade relations of the Soviet Union: and so it happens that a considerable lack of sensitiveness arises in these people, their eyes glued on Mussolini, with regard to the Hitler question. But even in this case, these people, generalizing mechanically, are falling into error. In the instance, the often misused argument of the difference between Germany and Italy is very much in place. Mussolini means – oil exports. But Hitler means – war of intervention.
The nationalist attitude towards Marxism, which in Germany has led through the program of the national and social liberation, (to use Manuilsky’s own jargon) to the “descent to the level of the middle classes, in the Menshevik, and not in the Bolshevik manner”, here too proves to be fatal.
The Militant was a weekly newspaper begun by supporters of the International Left Opposition recently expelled from the Communist Party in 1928 and published in New York City. Led by James P Cannon, Max Schacthman, Martin Abern, and others, the new organization called itself the Communist League of America (Opposition) and saw itself as an outside faction of both the Communist Party and the Comintern. After 1933, the group dropped ‘Opposition’ and advocated a new party and International. When the CLA fused with AJ Muste’s American Workers Party in late 1934, the paper became the New Militant as the organ of the newly formed Workers Party of the United States.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/themilitant/1932/feb-20-1932.pdf