The SPD leadership’s treachery in the First World War left the German working class disarmed. Talk of revolution was smothered by the state of emergency. Therefore it was liberating when on 1 May 1916 Karl Liebknecht organised a demonstration in Potsdamer Platz with the support of thousands of workers from Berlin, to remind the workers and particularly the German workers that: this war is not our war. It had to be transformed into a proletarian revolution. The enemy was in our own country. Of course, Liebknecht was thrown in jail by the capitalist state’s machinery of repression. But his liberatory ideas had already got out.
Revolution came with the Kiel sailors’ uprising, putting an end to the war. All of Germany was covered with a network of workers’ and soldiers’ soviets. The bourgeois order was shaken to the core. German capital had to take action to hold on to power, most importantly using the help of the Social-Democrat bureaucracy. The soviets were dissolved or transformed into a shadow of their former selves as factory councils. In the place of peace, freedom and bread the German workers were given ballot papers, inflation and the Reichswehr.
In the following period there were two 1 May celebrations in Germany: that of the reformists, who for all their treachery still had the confidence of thousands of workers, and that of the young Communist Party, the German section of the Third International, whose task was to win over the majority of the working class to the goal of socialist revolution and lead it to power. Of course, the Third International’s centre of gravity was in Russia, where the workers had taken power under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party. But the Russian workers’ and peasants’ victorious revolution was left isolated by the failure of the German revolution. In addition to the economic backwardness of the country, this situation inevitably led to the bureaucratisation of the workers’ state and the Bolshevik Party itself. There was sclerosis at the very heart of the Third International. The German CP, the strongest CP outside Russia, was itself transformed into a wing of the Stalinist bureaucracy without connection to the working masses.
This was made clear on 1 May 1929. In the interests of its domestic policies, the centre in Moscow declared from its ivory tower upon high that a new revolutionary period had begun. This was far from being the case. But to justify its line it had to stage all sorts of “revolutionary demonstrations”. For this purpose it chose 1 May. The workers in Berlin and many other regions of Germany were called on to build barricades. The police chief Zoergiebel, a Social-Democrat, seized upon this excellent opportunity to send his troops against the isolated communist workers. Despite putting up heroic resistance they were crushed. The result of this senseless adventure was to demoralise activists and leave the Social-Democrat workers indignant and appalled.
The bureaucrats never learned anything, even from the bloody defeat of their supporters. The errors of the Communist Party increased in number. Disoriented by the theory of social-fascism, its policy of splitting the unions and the tactic of united fronts from below, the revolutionary proletariat was led to defeat after defeat, up until the decisive one: the victory of the Nazi Party without a fight.
The Nazis made 1 May 1933 a national holiday. One more time — and this would be the last — the Social Democrat leaders and the union bureaucrats showed themselves in all their crapulence. Attempting to curry favour with their new masters, these Judases called on their members to participate in the Nazi rally.
It was totally in keeping with the methods of the Nazis to keep 1 May as a day of celebrations. They use such slogans as “German socialism”, “the dignity of work” and “the common interest comes above individual interests” to mask the most shameful of exploitation and the most absolute control. They place a shovel in the hands of the German worker so that he can dig — and lie in — his own grave. That is the meaning of their production of tanks, bombs and warships. War preparations were not enough for the capitalist state to breathe life into the economy, so war itself came.
The period which saw a series of victories — which can be attributed to Germany’s weapons advances — is over. We can still not say exactly how many victims the second world imperialist war will have claimed among the German workers. They have been led into the abattoirs in the four corners of Europe, while their families and homes have been pulverised by bombs.
If the war — which had already been lost in advance given the Americans’ technical superiority in several fields — does not last ten or fifteen years, as German, British and American capital would have liked, then for this workers across the world will be indebted to the Russian workers who, despite the enormous burden represented by the parasitic rule of the bureaucracy, have repulsed the capitalist aggression against the first workers’ state and have thus saved the great conquest of the October revolution, the planned economy.
We must rebuild the class front!
Today, in May 1944, the greater part of the people of Europe is still under the German jackboot. But the course of events, both at home and abroad, show that the final reckoning is imminent. It may arrive one day or the next. But that does not mean that it will just ‘happen’. The Nazi clique and its capitalist backers are ready to fight down to the last German worker. Like in 1918 only the working class itself can bring an end to the reign of terror and the war. We can only achieve peace with revolution. But what kind of peace? And what revolution?
The old parties, in particular the Stalinist parties, enter the scene hoping to put the brakes on the revolution as soon as possible. They have formed a so-called liberation committee in Moscow, mainly composed of captured Nazi generals. The main task set for this committee is to suffocate the revolution like in 1918, installing a bourgeois government and saving the capitalist system. If they succeed in doing so Anglo-American capital and the Russian bureaucracy will dictate a peace to Germany alongside which Versailles will look charitable. And German capital for its part would dump the entire burden on the workers.
In this desperate situation the German proletariat does have an ally; but it will not be able to win it over unless it finally starts fighting for its own interests and fights for them until victory. The emergence of workers’ power and the establishment of a government of soviets, whose first task would be to expropriate big capital and wealthy landed interests without compensation, is the only solution to the growing barbarism of decaying capitalism. The pioneering struggle of the German working class will set the tone for the proletarian revolution across Europe. The revolutionary drive of the German revolution will everywhere overcome the chauvinist and counter-revolutionary influence of the Stalinist clique, first of all in Russia itself. It was the defeats of the German working class in 1923 which had dealt the last blow to the morale of the Russian proletariat and shored up the rule of the bureaucracy.
The German and European workers’ struggle for the victory of socialism will give the Russian working masses the courage and strength to overthrow the bureaucracy with a fresh revolution, re-establishing soviet democracy and, in collaboration with the more advanced workers’ states, climbing out of their miserable situation.
The union of soviet socialist republics of Europe and the Soviet Union, with its hundreds of millions of collective farms and its carefully planned industry, will be an impregnable communist bastion, a base from which communism will be able to spread across the world.
The Nazi press, totally submitted to the régime’s gag, makes great play of mass strikes in Britain and in America. The German workers will not conclude from this — as the propaganda machine oh-so suddenly favourable to strikes would like them to — that the plans of their so-called enemies are bad ones, but rather that they are good.
That is because they now see that Britain and America does not just mean Churchill and Roosevelt, the City and Wall Street, but also the striking workers in Yorkshire and Minnesota. Which of them emerges strongest depends on the actions of the German proletariat in the coming revolutionary period.
In the struggle to lead the revolution to victory the construction of a revolutionary party is indispensable. The Fourth International was established before the dissolution of the Third International, and indeed in a long and unforgiving struggle against it. Its internationalist communist parties fight, whether openly in democratic countries or covertly in fascist countries and occupied territory, for the unity of the revolutionary proletariat. The struggle for the construction of a new internationalist communist party in Germany has also begun. Arbeiter und Soldat is one of the means of this struggle.
1 May 1944 must mark a turn in the fate of the German working class! It must start the development of the class front! Our gun barrels and bayonet points must be turned against the real enemy, capital and its agents in our country.
In this vein, we must build secret four-comrade cells in every workplace and in every army unit! These should bring together the most active militants gifted with the strongest class consciousness. They must follow the latest political developments with the greatest diligence. Everywhere where workers act to resist the apparatus of repression, action groups must go straight to the site of struggle.
They must also prepare for the establishment of soviets when the capitalist war front collapses. That day every unit and every factory must elect a soviet which will be the main organ of struggle as well as the basis for workers’ power!
For a long time the German working class was at the heart of the world proletarian movement. After the defeat of the revolution it lost this central role. But it shall again be at the centre of struggle in the coming period. The eyes of the class-conscious workers of the world are fixed on Germany. Weakness and indecision for a long time kept the German working class in poverty and ignorance, but its confidence in its own strength and its courage driven to the limit will make it the vanguard of the world working class and the whole of humanity.
Workers in overalls and in uniform!
On 1 May there will be strikes in the occupied territories and perhaps also working-class demonstrations. The Nazi clique wants to use you as their executioners.
Sabotage these actions!
Refuse to do this dirty work!
Every blow struck against a European worker is a blow struck against the German revolution!
Fraternise with the workers in struggle!
Their fight is your fight!
On 1 May take up the old slogan of joint action: workers of all countries, unite!
German train drivers show the way
A train full of SS returning from Russia derailed. Terrorism, or an accident? That hardly mattered to the SS officer. He needed revenge, so put the French train drivers in charge up against the wall, sent troops to arrest all the men who could be found in the village, and had them shot. What did a few human lives matter to this professional killer, accustomed to mass graves of workers?
But he had not counted on the fact that despite five years of war the German workers haven’t lost their good sense and still have some idea of solidarity. The German train drivers helped many Frenchmen to escape, thus saving their lives.
When an inquest later found that the accident was not caused by sabotage but rather the poor condition of rolling stock, revolt took hold of the French and German train drivers. They declared a one hour strike to protest against the murder of innocent workers.
The trains stopped for an hour on this line, with the German train crews supporting the French workers and their protest strike.
With their courageous action the German train drivers showed that workers do not feel national hatred and that their sense of solidarity knows no national boundaries.
When all the workers come to realise this and when they have the courage to act on their convictions, the officers can always shout “fire!”, but the workers, whether or not they are in uniform, will link arms and march together against the common enemy.
The Fourth International on the march!
There has already been a great deal of talk about the news of strikes in Britain, which are said to have broken out against the will of the union bureaucrats and on the instigation of ‘dubious’ elements. Indeed the minister Bevin, that worthy member of the Second International, has called these shadowy figures by their real name: the Trotskyists, our comrades on the other side of the Channel.
At the same time the police were ordered to make the necessary arrests. Poor Interior Minister! Trying to wipe the coming revolution and the growing revolutionary party off the map with arrests sounds like trying to conjure up a tidal wave with a child’s rattle.
The British workers are on strike today because they cannot bear their poverty, the other side of the coin of the capitalists’ billions in profits. It is easy to understand why the union bureaucrats are opposed to this. The same goes for the British Stalinist party. The Stalinist bureaucracy has for a long time been selling out workers across the world in the interests of its ally, Anglo-American capital. Only the Trotskyists, the British section of the Fourth International, have taken sides with the British workers’ struggle. They must make the British workers aware that their struggle is a rehearsal of the coming revolution, which they must prepare for by uniting their ranks.
The Voelkische Beobachter makes fun of Mr Bevin. It has no right to. It has still not “observed” that the Trotskyists are playing an active role in workers’ struggles in countries occupied by the German Gestapo. It believes that police tyranny and Gestapo terror will succeed in crushing forever the class struggle in Germany and preventing the creation of a revolutionary party. These illusions will not last for long.
The German Finance Minister spoke on the radio on 9 April on the question of funding the war. He is called Schwerin-Krosigk, and is a count. Such types were saved by the Republic ruled by Noske and Scheidemann, those butchers of workers, and now occupy lucrative public offices, for example the Ministry of Finance. But let him speak for himself:
“In the last world war the Secretary of State Helfferich had to fight against a divided Parliament afraid to take the responsibility of raising desperately needed taxes”. Thank you, Mr Minister! At the time the taxpayer’s voice could make itself heard — alas, all too weakly! — in a divided Parliament. But now we have the Gestapo, so... shut it! We now know what tasks, among others, the Nazi state has been set by big capital. Look at what followed: “Until now we were able to cover around 50% of total war costs through taxation”. So 50% is left which is not supplied by taxes: he must therefore have made recourse to the tried and tested method of credit. This is indeed the case. But how did he get credit? Let’s listen!:
“Unlike in the First World War we have not made a public call for war bonds: we obtained most of the necessary credit from banks and financial institutions (read — savings banks!). We think this to be the most discreet means of financing the war. It relies in its greatest part on the savings made by the German people.” So, the money the worker takes to the savings bank is taken by compulsion by the state in exchange for a “treasury bond” with no value (a bond on a treasury with no money). The state hands the money over to the armaments factory owners so that they can do their great work. All of this has a wonderful name: ‘the discreet financing of the war’. But the German worker calls it stealing, and he is right. Pickpockets work ‘discreetly’ too!
But wait! When the war is over, surely everything will be reimbursed, mark for mark and pfennig for pfennig? Indeed: “The German saver who does not today spend his money on unnecessary items but takes it to the savings bank is not only helping the war effort but is also acting in the best-advised manner.” Thus following in the vein of the usual promises of paradise the Nazis make... to be fulfilled once they have won the final victory. The count tells us: have faith in the Nazi state and you can become its creditor! And don’t worry about that inflation, I already have the solution worked out in my ministerial head. Let us listen closely to the idea he has worked out up there. This is what will really make you laugh:
“The Reich’s debts are at root a debt the German people owes itself. Consequently, it can and will be paid off at the end of the war, with part of it made up for by raising taxes on newly flourishing private incomes and the other part consolidated in the long term”. Listen carefully! The money you saved makes you your own creditor. My debts are your debts, jests this ingenious Finance Minister. In order that the state can pay you back its debt it will have to bleed it out of you after the end of the war. Since the birth of capitalism taxes on private incomes have always hit the poor guy hardest. So: this gentleman has taken something off you but in order to pay it back to you he will have to take it off you again. The rest of the debt will be ‘consolidated’, which means: the payment will be dragged out forever.
Along with His Excellency we have had a brief glimpse of the paradise the Nazi clique and its capitalist backers are diligently preparing for us for after the war. This is reassuring, as we can see that capital will not win out after this final victory. But what does our dear Finance Minister see? Would he like to draw up, as the Berlin stock exchange papers suggest, fresh tax hikes for the distinguished public? Have they not had enough already with an increase of 30% or more? Or would he like to entice the workers with a new ‘savings supplement’?
If so he is kidding himself. The workers will not swallow his April Fools, even on the 9th! He should have economised on his wind and used it to cool the burning hot revolutionary soup which the German proletariat will soon serve up for him, his colleagues and his capitalist masters.