A Materialist Analysis of the German Tragedy
A response to an anarchist view of German fascism's rise
On 24-9-08 the Dublin-based Workers' Solidarity Movement recorded a meeting on the rise of Nazism and the failure of the left to prevent it. The recording can be found on Ireland's indymedia website: http://www.indymedia.ie/
It's not only a fascinating topic, but as the speaker noted, of immense importance as the global economic crisis creates bleak conditions for many workers around the world, already causing the cost of food to rise beyond the means of many in poorer countries. This creates the conditions that could aid the fascists as they gain support by scapegoating vulnerable minorities and leading the working class into destruction. This is clearly on the rise in the USA for instance, where "minutemen" rightist paramilitaries wage armed attacks on suspected immigrant workers and more disturbingly have reached a mainstream audience with their ideas. Hatred of asylum seekers is similarly on the rise here in Ireland. So an analysis of fascism and how to fight it has rarely been more timely.
Unfortunately the anarchist analysis was quite shallow and peddled the same cliches steeped in anti communist prejudice that one has come to expect. As usual, it is difficult to tell an ultra left analysis from a bourgeois analysis. The theme followed the line that the Communists are to blame, a thesis found readily among both bourgeois scholars and anarchists. But in actuality it is not necessary to invent an evil Leninist conspiracy: a materialist analysis of the actual events is more productive.
Primary attention was given in the speech to the German Communist Party (KPD) designation of the social-democratic SPD as 'social fascist', and this was attributed to aiding the rise of the real fascists, the Nazi party. It was also claimed repeatedly that the Soviet Union was responsible for the KPD attitude towards the SPD. This is however a weak argument that is undermined by historical research. The KPD did not adopt the 'social fascist' label until 1929- and this followed on the heels of a massacre by SPD police of thirty-three Communist workers on May Day, 1929.
The sectarianism of the KPD (while often wrong, but not always), was not the central factor in the failure of the left and workers' movement to defeat the Nazis, but the consistent record of betrayals and class collaboration of the SPD (more on this later). There are many faults to criticise the KPD on that are both true and pertinent to today: their lapse into electoralism towards the end of the Weimer Republic (though in fairness they polled an impressive vote in the millions); the KPD pandering to anti-Semetism; the KPD failure to build a solid base of support, etc. Yet none of these points are mentioned in the speech or following discussion.
Nor did the Communists focus much energy on attacking the Social Democrats, despite the anarchist claims to the contrary, and in reality such attacks were almost purely rhetorical, primarily in their speeches to the unemployed (the Communists' base of support) and within the pages of their own press. The claim that the Communists focused their attacks on the SPD and preferred the Nazis is quite ironic when one considers that the Communists were the only force actively engaging the Nazis (sometimes going so far as assassinating leading brownshirts!) and physically challenging them on the streets!
While it is true that the SPD had its own paramilitary wing as the Communists did, this force was purely defensive, and even them quite reluctant. For instance in Coming of the Third Reich, author Richard Evans (certainly no friend of communism) describes an event at which Communist paramilitaries from the Red Fighters' Front arrive to protect a social democratic politician they believed was set up to be murdered by Nazi Brownshirts- and yet the politician's own allies in the social democratic paramilitaries were no-where to be seen!
So a more nuanced and developed analysis is called for to explain the rise of fascism in Germany, and specifically the failure of the left and working class movement to deal with it. And clearly, the KPD is less the invention of Stalinist manipulation than it is the inherited German Communist tradition that was always a bit ultra-left. However even this ultra-left leaning is understandable, considering that the social democrats were the party responsible for the slaughter of German communists during their revolution led by the Sparticist League. This also saw the death of Rosa Luxembourg at the hands of the ex-soldiers known as the freikorps. It is out of these freikorps veterans' associations that the Nazis were to rise from.
Therefore, if any party or section of the Left is to be blamed for the rise of the Nazis, it is the counter revolutionary and anti communist policies of the SPD while it was in power. This fact is very important, for it demonstrates the dangers of class collaboration, the deadly threat to the working class if it sacrifices its own political independence for opportunism. These lessons loom largely over events today as many Marxist currents still pin their hopes on the Chavez regime years after any workers' revolution has failed to materialise in Venezuala and likewise cheer on the Morales government even after it has failed to implement event tepid reforms. Surely there is an undeniable argument to be made that social democratic and left of centre governments are of a huge advantage to the working class compared to the old Latin American regimes dominated by the landed oligarchy and comprador bourgeoisie. However it is quite another argument to make that Chavez and his kind are in any way "socialist".
It is understandable that contemporary Trotskyists would still attempt to portray the KPD as the "villains" in the Nazi rise to power. Afterall, they have to defend their failed policy of entryism into the social democratic "workers" parties, such as the SPD. Therefore, they will gloss over the anti-working class and clearly counter-revolutionary record of the SPD "workers party" and focus on the mistakes of the KPD. It is less clear why the anarchists have followed this line.