This work was translated by David Broder. Reprinted here with the permission from the Alliance for Workers Liberty website.
WHAT DOES ARBEITER UND SOLDAT STAND FOR?
Is proletarian revolution coming?
Once again the spectre of communist revolution haunts the globe. In Germany Goering invites his “compatriots” to eliminate any German worker who speaks out about the coming proletarian revolution. Goebbels writes that “this war is synonymous with social revolution”. He uses exorcisms like this and others to try and escape the abyss of the now inevitable revolution. In Britain even the Tories, hoping to calm the proletarian tide, are talking of projects to improve the well-being of the masses after the war. In the United States high finance warns “If Stalin goes over to the Trotskyist theory of world revolution”—or, more precisely, if communist revolution breaks out—“we will crush it with arms”. In the name of the capitalists of the United States and the rest of the world, Roosevelt demanded that Stalin dissolve the Comintern. In Russia—yes, in Russia!—the Stalinist clique has indeed dissolved the International. The Russian bureaucrats have called for revenge against the German people and they have made great pains to prove to their dear allies their honourable intention to crush any communist revolution in the egg.
This is how these gentlemen view the danger of communist revolution, and this is how they prepare to greet it. But what of the workers, the hundreds of millions of exploited? Most importantly, what of the German proletariat? Are we really on the threshold of communist revolution, or will the ruling class have more to show for itself than the bloodbath of peoples it has organised in its quest for profit?
The question must be posed even more sharply. These gentlemen would have no objection to an uprising against Hitler’s clique which ushered in victory for the Anglo-Saxon imperialists: on the contrary. It is with this goal in mind that working-class districts are bombed day and night with the aim of heightening exasperation and thus pushing the desperate masses into revolt. An uprising would have its place in these heroes’ programme, as long as it brought some dictator to power or, in the worst case scenario, some sort of “democratic” régime, which they would simply require to respond to the wishes of Anglo-American capital.
But revolutions are a dangerous thing, and a lot can change. If millions of workers took to action they may well go beyond that and fight for their own objectives, creating a Soviet Republic as the basis for socialist construction. But is there any sign that the leaders in Washington, London and Moscow will not get their way? Didn’t the German proletariat let the revolution slip through its fingers once already? Haven’t Himmler’s terror and Goebbels’ brutal propaganda broken the German working class and completely destroyed its faith in its own revolutionary strength? Can anyone really believe that the European revolution will go beyond the tight confines of the Anglo-Saxon imperialists’ plans? That is the question posed.
Have we gone forward since 1918?
The 1918 Revolution failed because of three main errors. First and second: millions of workers were still full of illusions about the capitalist system and the democratic republic. Third: millions of workers who did want to fight for socialism still trusted the old Social Democrat Party which had been degenerate for many years and whose bureaucrats only had one idea in mind: pass the power they held into the hands of the bourgeoisie, disarm the proletariat and take away the main organs of revolution, the workers’ and soldiers’ soviets.
That millions of workers could still have expected capitalism to improve their conditions can be explained by the fact that before the First World War the capitalist system was still experiencing growth. This period is now definitively over. After the post-war crisis; inflation; a brief stabilisation which nevertheless saw a million German workers unemployed; the great crisis which saw eight million unemployed; and rearmament under the Nazi régime—the only answer to the crisis but inevitably leading to war—the working class has now been broken from its illusions in the capitalist system.
Much the same goes for its illusions in democracy. The “democratic republic” was ushered in on the end of bayonets directed at the working class. In place of their guns and workers’ councils the workers were given ballot papers, the Reichswehr and prison cells. Whether bribed by the capitalists’ money, ministerial offices or big jobs in the unions, the workers’ leaders blocked any advance towards proletarian revolution. But when crisis came these gentlemen’s “democracy” itself became an obstacle. It was necessary to force down wages and make rapid preparations for the coming war. Little by little, brick by brick, the democratic edifice was dismantled. The Constitution of the Republic left the way clear for such developments. Handing over power to the fascists, the bourgeoisie dealt the final blow to a democracy no longer useful to it. However, at the same time the German worker was freed from his illusions in the peaceful, democratic path to power and gradual progress towards socialism.
There still exists the danger that the Stalinist party, which calls itself Communist, will deny the German workers their revolution via mass repression and GPU terror, much as the Social Democrats did 25 years ago. During the Spanish Civil War this danger was played out in all its glory. But the danger should not be overestimated. The capitalist governments’ distrust obliges the Russian bureaucracy to unmask itself more and more in front of the international proletariat. Moreover, the German worker has understood this problem and its origins. The misery of the Russian masses and the high life of the bureaucracy teach him that after the failure of the German revolution, and indeed the European revolution, the victorious but isolated October revolution was bound to—and did—collapse. Besides, this bureaucratic layer which came to power after Lenin’s death constituted the centre of the Third International and chose the leadership and policies of its member parties. The Russian bureaucrats thus have no more ability or even desire to lead the masses into struggle than the SPD bureaucrats or the unions.
So it is wrong to believe that the German workers have learnt nothing since 1918. It is wrong to believe that the tragedy is bound to repeat itself. It is superficial to say that after ten years of fascist rule we will have to start all over again. In the years following the First World War the German workers learned very rich, albeit very bitter, lessons. They witnessed the collapse of capitalism to a greater extent than the workers of almost any other country; they saw at close quarters the rottenness of bourgeois democracy; they learned to distrust parties and to be careful in choosing their leaders.
All this recently won experience will only be made clear in the struggle itself. When the rancour against the capitalists responsible for the war sweeps away the layer of slurry laid down by the fascists’ lying propaganda, it will not take the workers much time to learn and gain experience in struggle, since it will only be necessary to rediscover memories of the past and teach the knowledge of the older generation to the young. This is a sure thing. Gentlemen of London and Washington, Berlin and Moscow, although it is threatened by many dangers, the proletarian revolution you see in your nightmares is at the door and closer still.
It is impossible to predict on what day revolution will come. But it will begin to ripen long before it breaks out. When after its quick victories over the less well-prepared and well-armed peoples the German army first met with serious resistance, the fascist attempt to smother the worldwide class struggle was also shown to be impossible. Fascism did succeed, using massive terror, to banish it from the surface for some time. But it came back again! A process of decomposition began both at the front and in the rear. The drunkenness of victory relapsed, the spirit of combativity was dampened, and the foundering of speed-ups and sabotage in the factories became more and more widespread; only the bloodiest terror was just able to keep the front and the economy afloat.
But for the moment there are few who know what the goal to be reached is. The curtain of smoke of fascist propaganda has not yet completely dissipated. For the moment the lessons the German worker in uniform has learnt in Russia bring him more confusion than they do clarity, more doubt than they do hope. Already, however, groups are arising everywhere to answer the questions posed. Old cells which survived the years of terror by keeping themselves to themselves are again putting out feelers. New groups are being organised. Light is being cast on the issues in discussion and in writing, in papers and in leaflets. On the first day of open struggle these groups will unite into a revolutionary communist party.
Arbeiter and Soldat is geared for this process of destroying fascist rule and all bourgeois rule, undermining the capitalist war front, rebuilding the proletarian class front and preparing the communist revolution. These are the goals it has set itself.
ON THE DISSOLUTION OF THE THIRD INTERNATIONAL
The Stalinist bureaucrats have dissolved the Comintern. “Beware”, declares the Axis propaganda, “this is just a manoeuvre, a chimera, playing dead”. “Hurrah!” the Anglo-Saxon imperialist press cries with joy, “our allies are not communists, they are good Russian patriots”. “Of course, it’s just a manoeuvre” is the rationalisation the communist worker still committed to the Third International despite all the defeats uses to reassure himself; they are tricking their capitalist adversaries, folding up the flag only to unfurl it again in the future. Such manoeuvres, he tells himself as he reflects, can and must be made when faced with the class enemy. But he starts to have doubts: is the dissolution of the International really another move to trick the class enemy, or might it be a manoeuvre against the workers of the world?
Might the dissolution of the International be a manoeuvre which impacts on the proletariat’s class struggle? “The struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat necessitates a single, joint, international organisation of all communist forces fighting for that goal” declares the resolution which founded the Third International. But now the man who dissolved this organisation (even if he only ‘appeared’ to do so) and only in order to wrong-foot the enemy, is also confusing the workers about the task to be accomplished, which is indeed the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Today when millions of oppressed people hope that the end of the second imperialist war will bring the end of all oppression and the end of all war, today when society readies itself for violent revolutionary struggles, the dissolution of the International can only serve to paralyse the fighting strength of the proletariat, to discourage it and sow confusion in its ranks. No, such a manoeuvre as this is not directed against the class enemy, but it is an effort to trick the workers and above all the International’s adherents themselves. This move is a clear rejection of communist revolution.
It is not the first move of this character made by the Russian bureaucracy. We shall only mention the most recent and the worst. In Spain, the proletariat’s struggle against fascism and for the establishment of a Soviet Republic was labelled a “national liberation struggle": the workers’ councils were strangled, revolutionary workers were submitted to GPU terror and the cornerstone of the resistance to Franco was broken. In France in June 1936 it put the brakes on the strike wave and buried the nascent revolutionary movement by trapping it into the Popular Front. In Germany it recommended the creation of a Popular Front wide enough to include the Stahlhelm and set as the objective of the struggle the establishment of a “national-popular government”.
The dissolution of the proletarian front just before the rise of the new revolutionary wave is not simply abandonment or rejection of revolution. It is above all a declaration of war against the coming proletarian uprising. The sole task of the surviving national sections of the Comintern is to suffocate any revolutionary proletarian struggle, following the Spanish model. The communist revolution is international, but it will be strangled country by country.
None of this is very surprising for the German proletariat. They can see for themselves in the East that the Russia of the Stalinist bureaucracy has replaced the Russia of Lenin’s day, the Russia of workers, peasants and their soviets. The bureaucracy has long been characterised by its deep, deep hostility towards mass revolutionary struggles. That is why the bureaucrats have always portrayed themselves as intelligent and terribly ‘realistic’. “We will thank you a thousandfold”, said Roosevelt, “if you will dissolve the International”. A thousand thanks and the confidence of Roosevelt, the bureaucrats say, are worth more than the coming revolution and the confidence of the masses”.
But these days no politics are ‘realistic’ apart from the politics of revolution. Through their aversion of revolution, which they have betrayed and sold out to Anglo-American capitalism, through their dogged chauvinism and their barbarous treatment of their prisoners, the bureaucrats have only succeeded in exasperating the German soldier, masking the possibility of revolution and so throwing him disarmed into the hands of Goebbels and his propaganda: in so doing they have prolonged the war. One German worker, upon receiving revolutionary propaganda from a comrade, said: if these publications were distributed widely it would surely take only a few days before revolution broke out in Germany and the war was over. This worker had a more ‘realistic’ political outlook than that of the bureaucrats over their corrupt twenty-five year rule.
The German media, which tries to pass off the rapacious war of capitalists like Krupp, Kloeckner, Roechling and Borsig as a crusade against “Bolshevik chaos” must of course do all in its power to expose this “manoeuvre”. Thus it argues that the dissolved Third International will just turn into a Fourth International. The first part of this story serves to flatter the Stalinist bureaucracy—the second part is an outrage against the organ of the coming revolution: the Fourth International has indeed been created, but as a rallying point for authentic revolutionary communists. It follows the tradition of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, Liebknecht and Luxemburg. The organisation has been created to struggle against the treachery of Stalin and his followers, not as some new version of the Comintern. To the extent that it represents a continuation of the Third International, this is only insofar as it will fight to accomplish the tasks set by Lenin—long betrayed by Stalin—in the coming revolutionary struggles: building a single, joint, international organisation to struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Revolutionary communists welcome the dissolution of the Comintern. Of course, at first it will serve to discourage the workers and sow confusion among their ranks. However, in the last analysis—against the will of the Stalinist clique—it will facilitate the struggle for the proletariat’s goals in the coming revolution. It will expose the treachery of the Russian bureaucrats and their Comintern before the eyes of all proletarians. In the last analysis, it can only help to convince the workers of the need to build a new revolutionary International.
You want to fight for a proletarian revolution. You are convinced of the need for a new revolutionary communist party. You want to win your work colleagues and your comrades on the front and in the barracks over to these ideas. You are yet to succeed in doing so. Many among them are still Stalinists, others hope to see the SPD resurrected, a third group want to re-live the “good times” of before 1933 and a fourth group is totally uninterested in any talk of politics. But this must not stop you talking to all of them when resistance arises confronting a boss, a tyrannical foreman, an officer or reprisals by the Nazi clique. On the contrary. You, as revolutionary communists, must be the first to prove your courage, energy and prudence. Many who would today be unwinnable even with the best arguments could be won over by your attitude. Many will only find the courage to join us when struggle emerges.
19TH JULY 1936
On July 19th seven years ago General Franco rose up against the Spanish Republican government. With an amazing action the Spanish proletariat rose up, crushing the military uprising in Madrid and Barcelona. The Republican government, proving its inability to stop the reactionary putsch, was forced to give in faced with the resolve of the working masses. In Barcelona the old Catalan government was replaced with the Central Committee of the Militias, which exercised de facto governmental power. All political parties were represented in the Committee. The Militia Committee was the Spanish version of a soviet. In Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia and Malaga the movement went way beyond the bounds of bourgeois republicanism: it carried out expropriations, collectivised agricultural property and distributed basic goods between workers’ and peasants’ co-operatives. The old Catalan government was a shadow of its former self. In the provinces mentioned above the workers and peasants held power.
But it did not go the same way in Madrid. The Popular Front government from the start tried to denude the mass movement of its revolutionary characteristics. Only where absolutely unavoidable did it carry out measures to expropriate the bourgeoisie. It engaged in armed struggle against the workers’ and peasants’ committees. The Republicans, right-wing Socialists and Communists were the protagonists of this effort. It was inevitable that conflict would break out between the two centres, reformist Madrid and revolutionary Barcelona. The international situation was marked by the weakness of the proletariat. Of course, a powerful factory occupations movement was in motion in France. But even there the mass movement was hijacked by the Popular Front government: the Communists and social-democrats put the brakes on the movement, smothering it with a joint agreement. Furthermore the Great Powers each took a stance on Spain. The so-called “democratic powers” decided on non-intervention, despite the existence of a struggle against the reactionary generals. From the start the fascist powers sent aid to Franco. As for the Soviet Union, at first it took part in the farce of non-intervention, before taking sides with the bourgeois Republic. But it was certainly not on the side of the mass revolutionary movement. All the USSR’s arms shipments to Spain had the sole aim of strengthening the bourgeois republic by crushing the workers’ revolution. It only gave weapons to organisations who loyally followed this line.
In the second month of the war the Russians demanded the dissolution of the Central Committee of the Militias and the re-establishment of the former bourgeois government. After a weak show of resistance the anarchists capitulated. The workers’, peasants’ and militia committees were deprived of their authority and were gradually broken up. The GPU hunted down revolutionary workers’ organisations and suppressed them.
The proletarian masses rose up against this anti-working class agenda one more time in Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia in May 1937. During their three-day uprising the masses took control of the streets and neutralised the Communist and Republican organisations. Unfortunately, they did not have a workers’ party which could have given the masses’ struggle direction. The movement was decapitated by the treachery of the anarchist leaders and the uprising was crushed into the ground. The defeat of the revolutionary movement broke the cornerstone of the resistance against Franco. The fascist uprising could not be defeated on the basis of defending the bourgeois Republic.
How can we explain the Communists’ behaviour? There is only one possible explanation for such an attitude: the Russian bureaucracy’s only fundamental political principle was staying in power and hanging onto its privileges. Any mass revolutionary movement would threaten the power of the bureaucracy. Therefore any revolutionary movement was a mortal enemy. No to revolution! No problem with the imperialist Great Powers! The Russian bureaucracy is the incarnation of counter-revolution. It is not just Stalin. The bureaucracy is a social force, a new generation motivated by stark nationalism, a heartfelt sense of self-entitlement and parasitism. The bureaucracy would sacrifice anything to remain in power, including the social and political gains of the October revolution.
The example of Spain teaches us this: the revolution cannot succeed without a revolutionary party. There was none in Spain and the revolution perished. Moreover, any future revolution will have as its enemy not only the local bourgeoisie but also the Russian bureaucracy. In the coming German and European revolutions we must take account of these two lessons.
PEACE! BREAD! FREEDOM!
THE WORKING CLASS IN THE WAR
The Belgian workers, the majority of whom saw in advance that the war was fought solely in the interests of the wealthy capitalists, entered the war reluctantly. That was one of the main reasons for Belgium’s quick defeat, saving the lives of many of its people. However, the workers’ movement suffered a heavy blow from the German victory. A wave of nationalism and enthusiasm for the Royal Air Force swept over the country and had a significant effect over even the working class. The main reason for this was the deterioration of living standards caused by the decline of imports and the export of basic goods and coal to Germany. One of the first German decrees slashed wages, forcing poverty on the working class. The workers and their families tried to make the best of things with Sunday trips to the countryside where basic goods were not so expensive. Those unable to do so could “freely” travel to Germany. Despite the poverty of the working class, or indeed because of it, the Belgian and German industrialists producing armaments made a roaring trade. Prices went up, but wages did not budge. This was the Belgian proletariat’s first experience of national socialism.
During winter 1942 the German authorities started mass deportations of workers to Germany. A protest strike broke out in a large firm of around 10,000 workers in Liége. After a three-day strike the authorities postponed the deportation of the workers until February 1943. The Liége province was the main theatre of a feverish revival of workers’ organisations seeking to resist the deportations. New trade unions, weapons of a class-conscious proletariat, were established to replace the old ones which had been broken up. The still weak revolutionary communist party made its first steps in heavy industry.
When another strike resisting the deportations broke out at the end of February—30,000 workers struck in the Liége province alone—we saw the interesting spectacle of the capitalist owners helping the German authorities break the strike. The workers thus saw that all the chatter about national unity was just bluffing, and it only took a few days to collapse when profits and good business were threatened. The workers feared that if there was any trouble or any demonstrations the German soldiers, under the control of the military authorities, would open fire. A leaflet circulated among the workers calling for fraternisation with the German workers in uniform who wanted to go back to their homes just as much as the Belgian workers wanted to stay in theirs. There had not been any fighting or any fraternisation, but the leaflet had a profound impact on the workers. They had realised who the real enemy was and where they could find their real ally. At the start of the fighting the artificial front of national unity was replaced by the class front of the Belgian and German workers against the Belgian and German capitalists and their military backers.
The struggle finished after three days. It proved that the new organisation was still too weak and too inexperienced to unite the masses faced with reprisals by the German repressive apparatus. But at root this struggle was a rehearsal of the coming revolutionary period. The defeat of the workers can therefore only mean a limited period of demoralisation. They will realise their mistakes and resolve to put their experience to use in future struggles. The organisation is growing. There have indeed been other isolated strikes in big factories to prevent fresh attacks on living standards.
Many foreign workers, tricked by the bourgeoisie’s lying propaganda, believe that all of you are fascists. They believe that you wanted the war. They reproach you for not having thrown down your guns as they have. They do not understand the cocktail of lies, terror and espionage which have driven you to take up arms. Talk to them, wherever possible! Explain your situation to them! Tell them that you hope for the end of this war no less than they do! Tell them that you are reading yourself for this outcome and the proletariat’s settling of scores with the class enemy! In doing so you can guarantee the future proletarian revolution today. In doing so you will help its spread across Europe. In doing so you will be leading a better and more effective foreign policy than no matter what bourgeois minister!
DO YOU REMEMBER?
1) That in July 1917 there was a powerful working-class demonstration in Petrograd? At the time the Bolshevik Party, led by Lenin, was a revolutionary party. The Bolsheviks had understood that the countryside and the front were not yet ripe for the conquest of power by the proletariat and that the movement had gone too far in Petrograd and Moscow. That is why they tried to hold back the action. This showed itself to be a mistake when the leadership of the masses then fell into the hands of anarchists and provocateurs. Realising their error they soon corrected it. The party tried to limit the movement to an armed—but peaceful—demonstration, which was a partial success. Thanks to its thought-through conduct, after the defeat of the action the party won the confidence of the best working-class militants. Despite this there was soon a massive campaign of lies. The Bolsheviks were falsely accused of being agents of Ludendorff. Lenin and Zinoviev were forced into hiding. Trotsky, Lunacharsky and others were thrown into prison. However, three months later, they seized power and the Second Congress of Soviets could take charge.
2) That in July 1932 the von Papen government sacked the Prussian Social-Democrat ministers Braun and Severing? The Social-Democrat bureaucrats held back the workers. Indeed, the Reich government had acted in a perfectly “legal” fashion, and there would soon be elections. In place of the armed struggle, the ballot paper. The KPD called a general strike. But no-one listened. Why? Because less than one year previously it had called for workers to vote with the Nazis in a referendum against these same Prussian ministers. Because its policy of splitting the unions (RGO) had isolated it from the workers in the factories. Because its theory of social-fascism had divided it from Social-Democrat workers who wanted to fight. That was how it prepared the worst of all defeats, defeat without a fight.
ONCE AGAIN, FEED YOUR MOUTH WITH THEIR PROMISES
“Dear compatriots, rations will now be increased further still. The excess in the Ukraine which already this year has... etc., etc.” Thus spoke the party propagandists, Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and others last winter. Long-term continuation of the war and continuing military profits depended on the maintenance of the front. That is what Messrs Krupp, Siemens, Roechling and others, the suppliers in heavy industry, wanted to see.
But promising something and having the means to supply it are not the same thing. Now they have cut the meat ration by 100g a week: not of course without rubbish excuses. Workers are tightening their belts and clenching their fists: with which, when the time is right, they will one happy day feed their mouths.
PEACE! FREEDOM! BREAD!
PEACE: Only world proletarian revolution can bring us peace and the end of all wars. FREEDOM: This is not possible for all the exploited except in the framework of a Socialist Republic of Soviets. BREAD: Only the expropriation of capital and the establishment of a socialist planned economy can guarantee bread for all and an end to economic crises.
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