The REDSTAR2000 Papers

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Losing the Battle of the Streets -- Reflections on the KPD 1930-33 January 29, 2005 by RedStar2000

Comparisons between the modern American Empire and the Third Reich are becoming increasingly common.

I thought it would be interesting, therefore, to take a look at the "run-up" to the Third Reich from the vantage point of the Kommunistche Partei Deutschlands (KPD).

Some of this experience could turn out to be very relevant.



I have been reading a new book lately. It is called The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans.

It's a very good introduction to this subject; though, like most bourgeois historians, he downplays the role of the highest circles in the German ruling class in bringing Hitler and the Nazis to power because the bourgeoisie basically agreed with the Nazi aims.

But the work contains some interesting information about the KPD (Kommunistiche Partei Deutschlands) -- the Communist Party of Germany -- in the years leading up to the Nazi "revolution".

First, a bit of background. The KPD was the "crown jewel" of the Communist (3rd) International. It was the largest and most militant of all the communist parties then -- with a membership hovering around 350,000. Although most trade unions were allied with the German Social-Democratic Party, the KPD was very strong among industrial workers in Berlin and in the Ruhr, dockworkers in Hamburg and Bremen, coal miners in Saxony, etc.

It had a large parliamentary delegation that gained more seats with each election up through November of 1932. In that last "free election" of the Weimar Republic, the communists won exactly 100 seats...about 1/6th of the total of all the seats in the Reichstag.

And the KPD had its own group of paramilitaries -- the Red Front Fighters' League -- to contest the streets with the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) and the ultra-nationalist Stahlhelm. It's almost certain that most of the abundant street violence in the early 1930s consisted of battles between the SA and the Red Front.

But for all their bravery and combativeness, the Red Front lost the "battle for the streets".

I was curious as to why this happened and Professor Evans (indirectly) suggests some answers.

You understand, of course, that most of the SA (or "brownshirts") were not members of the Nazi party but rather loyal to the "idea" of Nazism and the personality of Hitler himself. Similarly, probably two-thirds of the Red Front were not members of the KPD but loyal to the idea of a communist revolution...and probably to some extent to the personality of Ernst Thälmann, the working class leader of the KPD.

On both sides, of course, there were a fair number of people who simply "liked a good punch-up" and were not above switching sides.

Both of these groups were composed almost exclusively of young men who were unemployed...and, by 1930, had no hope of regular employment.

To be in a paramilitary group, therefore, was a kind of "job". You got a place to stay (sleeping space on the floor of a bar) and something to eat on a fairly regular basis (bread and soup, mostly, I expect).

I say "on the floor of a bar" because a local tavern was often the "headquarters" of a unit of the SA or the Red Front. There were "Nazi bars" and "Communist bars"...and a street battle would often begin when one group would raid the bar of the other group.

In theory, an SA or KPD fighter was supposed to pay for his own uniform, etc.,...but in practical terms, I doubt if that happened very often, especially after 1930.

So where did the money come from? Financing for the paramilitary groups came from their respective parties, of course.

But the KPD was at a serious disadvantage in this regard. Most people who were members of the Nazi party (1,200,000) were employed or had other resources and paid dues to the party; upwards of 95% of the KPD membership (350,000) were unemployed -- in fact, most of the demonstrations and large public events organized by the KPD after 1930 were on behalf of the unemployed.

The Nazis enjoyed a substantial income by charging people to hear Hitler speak in person...something many people paid for out of curiosity or out of fear of "Jewish-Bolshevik revolution".

The KPD had no such "attraction".

Then, of course, the Nazis enjoyed direct financial support from the ruling class...initially from a few ultra-conservative businessmen but from the class as a whole by mid-1932.

It's known now that the KPD was largely financed by "Moscow gold" (Comintern subsidies)...though we don't know how much.

So, up to 1932, the parties "paid" their respective paramilitary groups to fight each other...and the KPD's Red Front "held its own" against the brownshirts.

But there was a presidential election in 1932 (with a runoff) and two parliamentary elections in the same year.

Those elections were a massive strain on the finances of the Nazi party (which was the first party in Germany to run "American-style" campaigns)...and simply overwhelmed the KPD. Resources diverted from the Red Front to those campaigns resulted in a "shrinking" of the Red Front. The tavern owners could no longer be paid to serve as gathering points for Red Front fighters -- the bars closed or were taken over by the SA.

And worse, the KPD could no longer feed its paramilitaries...some number of which undoubtedly defected to the SA.

Thus the SA began to win the battle of the streets...and people seeing this drew the "obvious" conclusion. The Nazis "were going to win".

Many Germans were shocked that the Red Front was nowhere to be seen on January 30, 1933 when Hitler came to power...or in the weeks and months that followed. Even the Nazis were puzzled and a little afraid...surmising that the KPD was hoarding its strength in preparation for a massive uprising.

Their fears were groundless; the Red Front didn't really exist anymore. In fact, the KPD itself was "withering away" under Nazi violence...though a hard core did remain in existence.

And the irony? The KPD's parliamentary delegation never accomplished anything throughout the history of the Weimar Republic. The resources diverted from the Red Front was "money down the toilet"!

The KPD won "a lot of votes" -- over six million at their peak -- but those votes never translated into any kind of revolutionary strength.

Does that mean that if the KPD had avoided the Reichstag like the plague and used all of its available resources to support active resistance to the capitalist order and its Nazi thugs that "things would have turned out differently"?

We'll never know, sad to say.
First posted at RevLeft on January 23, 2005


By "street battles" and "fighting" do you mean with actual guns?

Usually not...Germany did not really have the kind of "gun culture" that America had (even back then).

But occasionally, yes, the SA and the Red Front opened fire on each other. Since neither side had much training in weapons handling, deaths were not common but certainly took place...quite a few on both sides suffered gunshot wounds at one time or another.
First posted at RevLeft on January 24, 2005


The fact that the KPD failed to take the state out of the hands of the bourgeoisie and pretend Marxists is almost criminal.

I think you are much too "hard" on the forerunners of the KPD (the Spartakist Bund and the Independent Social Democrats -- the groups that later formed the KPD).

The Spartakist Bund did try to mount an armed uprising in Berlin in January of 1919...but the support needed from the German working class was simply not there.

Yes, there was some...but not nearly enough.

And although there were many revolutionary sailers (as in Russia), there were almost no revolutionary soldiers or ex-soldiers in Germany.

Indeed, ex-soldiers were mostly to be found in the "freikorps" -- paramilitary organizations that were thoroughly reactionary. They frequently massacred groups of rebellious workers and leftists throughout Germany.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks were confidant that conditions were "ripe" for revolution in Germany at the end of World War I.

And indeed they were...but they were ripe for a bourgeois revolution.

Lenin made that mistake all the time.
First posted at RevLeft on January 24, 2005


During the early 30s, the Communist International and KPD were on an ultraleft, super-revolutionary-seeming course. They rejected the united front, labeled every other party "fascist", really most everything RedStar could ask for except boycotting elections. This ultraleft course failed, and helped make it possible for Hitler to seize power.

That's the verdict of history. For anyone to come along now and say, if only they'd been even more ultraleft, maybe that woulda helped....fer crying out loud.

That is the "boilerplate" Trotskyist criticism of the Comintern's "third period" strategy...not "the verdict of history".

Its central assumption is that it was "possible" in that period for the KPD and the Social Democrats to "unite" in some fashion (carefully left unspecified) such as to frustrate the Nazi drive to power.

So, let's specify...what "could" the KPD and SPD have "united on" that would have made a difference?

After the elections of 1930, the only thing the Reichstag could ever agree on was dissolving itself and calling fresh elections. That would not have changed even had the SPD and the KPD been a "united parliamentary delegation" and voted the same way on every issue. The three chancellors prior to Hitler -- Brüning, von Papen, and von Schleicher -- all ruled by decree under the infamous Article 48 of the Weimar constitution.

The SPD even supported the Brüning government -- not that it made any difference. The SPD also supported von Hindenburg in the presidential runoff against Hitler and the KPD's Thälmann in 1932. When faced with voting for a working class communist or a reactionary Prussian aristocrat/militarist, the SPD naturally chose the Prussian aristocrat/militarist. (!)

This was no surprise to veteran members of the KPD...who (correctly) regarded the SPD as the murderers of Luxemburg and Liebknecht (in the January 1919 uprising in Berlin).


The Nazis could have been defeated with a strategy for mobilizing the full strength of KPD-sympathizing workers - not just the Red Front - and for bringing SPD workers into the fight, with or without their leaders. The KPD never seriously tried to reach out to SPD workers for common action, calling them "social fascists" certainly did not help.

The KPD called the leadership of the SPD "social fascists"...and with considerable justification in my opinion.

The KPD did call for a "united front from below" -- an attempt to reach out and mobilize ordinary workers in the SPD against the Nazis...with little success. In all probability, most SPD members approved of their leadership's policy...though there was a steady decline in SPD support at the polls and a corresponding increase in KPD support. I can rather easily imagine an SPD member being quite moderate...until he got laid off. Then it was "time to have a look at the KPD".

The SPD, rightly or wrongly, considered that their employed membership "would not respond to a call for a general strike under any circumstances" for fear of losing their jobs to an army of unemployed and desperate strikebreakers. The SPD leadership even rejected the idea of a general strike when Hitler actually became chancellor!

The only way in which any sort of "unity" between the SPD and KPD would have been possible is if the KPD had surrendered its positions on every question and become an auxiliary of the SPD.

The Communist Party of France, later in the 1930s, actually did what Trotsky thought the KPD should have done -- just rolled over like a puppy to the French Socialist Party and even the "progressive" bourgeoisie.

That didn't accomplish anything either.

Finally, I think that this ancient debate is another illustration of the "unworldly options" that seem so characteristic of Trotskyism.

When I suggest that the KPD should have put nearly all of its resources into the Red Front...that's something they actually could have done.

The Trotskyist plea for "unity" with the SPD could not have happened without the KPD's unconditional surrender to the SPD.

That could and did happen in France; it was never an option in Germany.
First posted at RevLeft on January 24, 2005


Trotskyists are far from the only people who think the Comintern's strategy during this period was totally wrongheaded. Actually, I have a hard time thinking of anyone (other than you) who still thinks "social fascism" was a good idea.

Yes, I don't think I've come across even one bourgeois historian who puts the "blame" on the SPD rather than the "ultra-left" and "totally wrongheaded" KPD.


As should be apparent from my post, what I'm talking about is not a united parliamentary delegation but united physical self-defense against the Brownshirts, and other united mass actions opposing fascism.

No, actually it was not "apparent"...but be that as it may, so what?

Yes, occasionally the SPD paramilitaries also violently confronted the Nazis...but you know as well as I how rare that was -- and why.

The SPD were, in all likelihood, employed...meaning they were "weekend warriors" at best. A lot of them probably had family responsibilities -- unlike the single young guys in the Red Front and the SA. Most of the time, the SPD probably only defended their meetings and demonstrations from the Nazis...and then only when the Nazis thought it useful to attack them. 99.99% of Nazi violence was directed against the KPD and random Jewish victims. (One of the things that I don't think the KPD ever did was to publicly offer to protect Jewish assemblies from Nazi attacks. Such an offer might have sent a good message about the KPD.)

The idea of SPD paramilitaries "going to bat" for the KPD is ludicrous.


Worse and worse....if the SPD is fascist, what does it matter whether they or Hitler are in power?

In 1919, it didn't! The SPD turned the army and the freikorps loose against the most radical workers in precisely the same fashion as the Nazis turned the SA loose after January 30, 1933.

And there was no chance of the SPD returning to power in 1932...they were losing votes, remember?


But if that appeal to the ranks were combined with an offer to the leadership [of the SPD] the latter would be put on the spot.

And what "spot" would that be? The "spot" of telling the KPD that they would have to "stop fighting in the streets" or else it was "no deal"?

What neither you nor Trotsky seem to grasp is that the SPD (leaders and most members) did not really want to oppose the Nazis if it meant fighting them. Their whole "shtick" was bourgeois legality.

Their response to right-wing atrocities file a lawsuit!


You're using the the logical fallacy known as the "excluded middle": you pretend only reformist or ultraleft policies exist, and ignore the revolutionary policy because you can't come up with a good argument against it.

I exclude the "middle" because I've observed that it never seems to amount to anything but delayed capitulation to the right.

And the delay is rarely a long one.


Trotskyist "unreal" criticism: Trotsky himself was certainly not unreal. He helped led a real revolution, remember? He knew how it was done.

And undone. First you hire some Czarist generals, then you crush the Workers' Opposition, then...
First posted at RevLeft on January 25, 2005


My only criticism is maybe that you don't mention that how far the KPD was really controlled by Moscow/Stalin, and how hesitant Moscow was to support revolutionary, militant action in Germany.

Yes, I didn't say anything on that subject because I'm not sure how much is actually known.

The KPD was financed by the Comintern...but how much that translated into "control" is difficult to ascertain. Obviously, the Red Flag newspaper was not going to publish anything critical of Stalin or the USSR.

But did the Comintern (and ultimately Stalin) "order" the KPD to spend the money on electioneering or lose it?

I don't think that was likely to be the case; I think it was the judgment of the KPD leadership of that period that electioneering was the best way to "build the party". For all their combative rhetoric, I think the KDP leadership also had a "bias" towards legality...they didn't want to have the KPD banned (something that was possible to do under the Weimar constitution and had actually happened to the Nazis for a couple of years in the mid-1920s).

I think the picture of the Comintern as an "all-powerful" entity is overdrawn. If you look at the accounts of the congresses through the 1920's, you see that over and over again the Comintern tries to pull the Germans to the right and push the French to the left...and with a notable lack of success in both endeavors.


Some kind of (verbal) truce would have been more appropriate. In the early 30s the enemy clearly were the brown fascists NOT the SPD.

Yes, I think you're right about this. It was the KPD analysis that revolution would not be possible "until" the working class was united in and behind the KPD -- and thus they did think that the SPD had to be removed as a major "player" before progress could be made. Although the KPD's attacks on the SPD were entirely journalistic (the KPD did not fight the SPD in the streets...that's a bourgeois myth), it was still the wrong thing to do. It would have been better to simply report the SPD's parliamentary bad behavior "dead pan" and let the readers draw their own conclusions, while reserving the verbal fireworks for the Nazis.

Perhaps the most serious blunder was that the KPD thought that the Nazi government would be a brief one (like the previous two governments)...even though they had the example of Italy right in front of them (Mussolini wiped out the Italian Communist Party!).

And here is another curious note: in the two elections of 1932, the KPD combed through their list of candidates and carefully removed any names that "sounded Jewish" to German ears. I think that sort of "tactical" anti-semitism was self-defeating; it would have sent a better and clearer message to have some prominent German-Jewish communists up towards the top of the list and publicize them...if you're going to play parliamentary politics, at least do it in a way that spits in the Nazi face.
First posted at RevLeft on January 25, 2005


The leadership of the KPD were complete traitors to the movement, far more than they would of been had they united with the SPD - they actually organised a transport strike with the Nazi party! They should have been beating up the Nazis, not standing side by side with them.

One wonders if the Berlin public transit workers had any idea that a whole "school" of "historical analysis" was going to be built on their efforts to avoid a pay cut and layoffs.

As any bourgeois ideologue will tell you (without asking!), the KPD "fought along side the Nazis" and "that's why Stalin was responsible for the rise of Hitler". *laughs*

Yes, the KPD was involved in a militant transit strike in Berlin. Yes, the Nazis opportunistically "supported" that strike (they never supported any other strikes) -- possibly because the Nazis were starting to get a "rep" for hanging out with business leaders and aristocrats. (Also possibly because Berlin Nazis were slightly to the "left" of the "Munich cabal" around Hitler.)

So what do you think the KPD should have done? Quit supporting the workers because the Nazis had jumped into the situation?

Do you imagine that even while the strike was going on that the Red Front was not still fighting the Nazis in the streets?

That strike was exceptionally bitter, by the way. There were gun battles between workers (and their KPD and Nazi supporters) on one side and the police on the other...and fatalities on both sides.

The police chief in Berlin was a prominent member of the SPD.

Think about it.
First posted at RevLeft on January 25, 2005


Different budgetary priorities, fer crying out loud, how petty can ya get?

Your idealism is showing.

Red Front fighters who have nothing to eat and no place to sleep cannot fight the Nazis in the streets.

Material reality prevails...something you seem to have overlooked.


There was nothing revolutionary about this course - it wasn't aimed at nor capable of producing revolutions or bringing them closer - but it was exactly the kind of thing ultralefts usually mean by "revolutionary, militant action". Heck, there was more militant action and less purely rhetorical facade than is usual from ultralefts, since it was carried out by some quite large parties. Including, for example, the hopeless '28 Canton uprising, which should be militant enough for anyone.

And clearly too militant for you.

How is it that for Trotskyists, any kind of militant resistance that's not led by them is "ultra-left" and "hopeless"?

You don't like it when Greek anarchists burn down a police station now. You didn't like it when German "Stalinists" (heaven forbid!) fought the Nazis in the streets in the 1930s. And I remember from the 1960s that you didn't much care for SDS's "style of work" either...too confrontational, perhaps. I'm curious now as to what your position on the French student uprising and the general strike of 1968 was. Were French Trotskyists part of all that...or did they issue a critical manifesto?


I disagree: all the basic issues of the 30s are before people attempting to resist fascism today.

Let's do the time warp again!

People of various ideologies will fight fascism in the streets and you will provide links to Trotsky's articles on the subject.


And we also have the groups of radical young people going out to do single combat with fascist gangs, as if that by itself could stop fascism, which is a deep-rooted social phenomenon.

Resistance to fascism, may I remind you, is also a "deep-rooted social phenomenon".


As in the 30s, so today, a strategy that can bring broader layers of the working class into action is needed.

It would be something nice to have -- if it existed.

Trotsky's strategy (and yours) has no real-world meaning. It simply boils down to dropping all pretense of communism (and any acts of actual resistance) in the hope that social democrats and bourgeois liberals will tell their constituencies to vote for someone besides the fascist...which they will do anyway.

You want to know how the Nazis could have been stopped? It's easy! When the ruling circles around the senile von Hindenburg were still debating about bringing the Nazis on board, one of their major concerns was the possibility of civil war.

Suppose that concern had been an even larger Red Front (who got fed and had a place to sleep) and who were conducting daily pitched battles with the SA all over Germany? Suppose even the German Army (still limited to 100,000 troops by the Treaty of Versailles) hesitated at the prospect?

Do you think the German ruling class would not have seriously considered "other options"?

And they had them, of course. The SPD would have been delighted to lead a "government of national unity" as long as the Nazis were excluded. With few or no KPD members of parliament (no electioneering for them), the SPD would have had a delegation close to the size of the Nazis...and maybe even a little larger. Even army head General von Schleicher was predisposed to SPD-like measures (think FDR) to deal with the depression.

They could have frozen the Nazis out...had their fears of civil war been great enough.


The worse problem with "social fascism", along with labeling all types of bourgeois party as fascist, was that it led to passivity. This is already fascism, the Nazis can't be much worse, "after Hitler, us" and other excuses for inaction.

The Red Front was fighting the Nazis in the streets until they ran out of food and places to sleep...and this is called "passivity" and "inaction".

Behold! Another "miracle of the dialectic".


Oh so you'd be perfectly happy standing on a picket line next to someone holding a Nazi banner?

Actually, it would have been more like me and a guy next to me wearing a swastika on his arm shooting at cops who were shooting at us.

I told you it was a very bitter strike.


They should have been campaigning amongst the trade unionists to inform them of the bourgeois nature of the Nazis.

When cops are shooting at you, you don't, as a rule, stop and have an ideological discussion with the guy next to you.

I have no doubt that the KPD explained, as best they could, that the Nazi "support" was unreliable and opportunistic. I also have little doubt that the workers' reply was along the lines of "we need help now...afterwards we'll talk politics."


I don't know the details of the Nazi policy towards the working class...

The Nazis did attempt to set up party cells in factories...but without much success. Their rhetoric emphasized nationalism and anti-semitism...not any kind of specific benefits for workers. It was sort of "when Germany is great again, then German workers will prosper".


It proves that the SPD were social fascist, does it? Even if it does, so what? The real enemy was the Nazis, not the SPD.

To be sure...but when an SPD police chief orders the Berlin police to open fire on striking workers, it's a little harder to tell the difference.

Think about that, too.
First posted at RevLeft on January 26, 2005


The presence of the KPD in the Reichstag did a few things, for one it gave the Reds a presence in the bourgeois media and allowed many workers to hear the KDP's Message. Also it helped the workers defend reforms on parliamentary grounds and gave the marxists a chance to knock on doors to "sell" the "word" of communism .

Yes, I've heard that one before...a million times. My point is that when the "crunch" came, those "accomplishments" didn't amount to a puddle of warm spit.

If your message is "vote for me and I'll set you free", people might do exactly that...but neither you nor they will be liberated.


Why wasn't the Red Front...attacking SA and Nazi Party headquarters?

That's a very good question and one I've asked myself.

One possible answer is that the KPD sought to preserve its legal standing as long as possible (under the Weimar constitution, parties could be banned). By acting "in self defense", the KPD could preserve a "legal fiction" of non-violence.

It didn't fool anyone and often left the tactical initiative to the SA.

But I'm pretty sure that the Red Front did take the initiative from time to time...once they ran Joseph Goebbels out of his own home town and, if they hadn't been such poor shots, might have removed the future Minister of Propaganda from the stage of history altogether (they wounded several of his bodyguards but missed him).

There's also a deeper meaning to your question. In the 19th and 20th centuries, revolutionary workers showed a marked tendency to take up "a defensive position" -- to occupy some portion of the social (or physical) terrain and then attempt to defend it without really considering the option of taking the offensive.

This goes at least as far back as the Paris Commune...when the workers stoutly defended Paris but evidently never considered the option of a march on Versailles (where the bourgeoisie had gathered). Engels thought this a blunder of the first magnitude!

There were districts in Berlin and other German cities that were "red zones" -- neither police nor Nazis entered except in very large numbers (and for very short periods of time) for fear of being severely beaten or killed.

But there doesn't seem to have been any concerted effort to extend those zones...or, with rare exceptions, to "take the battle to the enemy" by attacking major Nazi party offices or gatherings.


And at the same time, the KPD was also wrestling with the powerful pull that Nazis ideas (including especially imperialist revanchism) was having on the masses. The idea of "Germany standing up" was becoming popular. And the KPD went so far as to change its view of [the] Versailles Treaty (which imposed heavy punishment on imperialist Germany after World War I) and the KPD even started acting like Germany had become an oppressed nation, and its national interests of self-defense (against Versailles) had a justified edge. This was done in a very tortured and pained way -- but they were making concessions to this kind of nationalism.

Yes, I agree that bourgeois and even Nazi ideas were "seeping in" around the edges of the KPD.

For example, in the parliamentary elections of 1932, the KPD carefully combed through their list of candidates, removing any that had "Jewish-sounding" names to German ears.

At least one of their campaign posters was pretty bad as well -- the legend was something like "The Nazis always scream about the Jews...but they never attack Jewish capitalists!"

In my view such "tactical" anti-semitism was counter-productive; a frontal attack on Nazi anti-semitism would have served them better.

Indeed, I wonder if a direct approach to the Jewish community and an open-ended offer to defend them from the Nazis might not have made good strategic sense.
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on January 26, 2005


The KPD didn't control the SPD's response, of course, but it was obviously an option to offer a united front. You've given no reason not to. What's the worst thing that could happen?

I have responded to that point repeatedly.

There is no reason to make an offer that is certain to be rejected. At least, that's how the KPD perceived it and I see no reason to question their judgment on the matter...the SPD had already demonstrated its unwillingness to seriously (violently) confront Nazism.

A secondary reason might have been that such offers, when made and rejected, tends to make the offerer "look weak". And the KPD would have seen no advantage to that.

Trotsky's "option" was imaginary!


Proclaiming one's opposition to free speech is really not the best tactical approach to getting broader support either.

Idolatry...completely ignores the class nature of "free speech".


Um, yeah, the German Army would have hesitated before the prospect of combat with the mighty fists of the unarmed Red Front. Yes, as we all know, if fighters are sufficiently well-fed, things like numbers, weapons, military training, and experienced military leadership are don't give any estimate of the Red Front's size.

No, I don't...I don't think there are anything but estimates for the size of both the Red Front and the SA. It's certain, however, that both were substantially larger than the German army.

My point is that civil war and the undesirability of that was actually discussed at length in the months and weeks leading to Hitler's those who were directly involved in that elevation.

Had the Red Front been even larger and more aggressive than it was...???


Here we go with the spoiled brat syndrome again, just like in the Redstar's youth with SDS! All kinds of children of privilege smashed windows and escalated their rhetoric, in an effort to scare Daddy into being nicer. Then they grew up and became stockbrokers.

I think that slice of reactionary bullshit speaks for itself.


Truly it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

As does that.


So the whole ultraleft strategy is, as usual, reformist at heart: aimed at influencing the ruling class, not mobilizing the working class into a force strong enough to stop the fascist gangs ourselves.

That's what the Stalinists said about the "ultra-left": "left in form; right in content!"

I rather doubt the KPD placed any hopes in "influencing the ruling class"...except in trying to keep their party from being banned.

That motive probably did inhibit the aggressiveness of the Red Front to some degree...unfortunately.


Under the SPD police chief, and the conservative national government, the workers had a union and were able to strike, despite repression which is sometimes bloody.



As you keep evading: if the SPD are social fascists, and the various bourgeois parties are all fascist, why fight to keep the Nazis out of power?

I don't think the KPD was fighting to "keep the Nazis out of power"...I think they were fighting to win the streets -- and from there to win power themselves.

The Nazi SA had the same motive...the road to power for Nazism passed through the city streets of Germany.
First posted at RevLeft on January 26, 2005


The KPD also had a mechanical view that the Nazis couldn't consolidate German capitalist society on some new basis. They had a slogan "Nach Hitler Uns" (meaning "After Hitler, its our turn!" -- assuming he would "crash and burn."

Yes, I agree, that was very definitely their view.

But they had some good "excuses" for that view. The previous two governments prior to Hitler did "crash and burn".

And given the general incoherence of Nazi ideology (they promised everything to everybody without any silly inhibitions about consistency)...why would the KPD not have assumed that the Nazis in power would flail away for a few months and collapse in ignominy?

And there's another matter; both the KPD and many other political observers in January 1933 assumed that Hitler was a "prisoner" of the non-Nazi conservative-nationalist majority of his cabinet...that von Papen or Hugenberg was "the real power" and Hitler was "window-dressing".

Von Papen (if most historians are to be believed) actually thought that himself. He's the one who famously quipped "we've hired Hitler".


The KPD thought that the Social Democrats were "the main enemy" -- during a period where the Nazis made powerful inroads.

From a political/ideological standpoint, the KPD leadership viewed the German Social Democrats as "the main enemy" to unity of the working class under the leadership of the KPD.

But the KPD's attacks on the SPD as "social fascists" were speeches and newspaper articles. The contention that the KPD ever fought the SPD in the streets is apparently a bourgeois myth -- the KPD fought the Nazis.
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on January 26, 2005

A note on the numbers...

As you probably know, google either hands you what you're looking for right away or else a million sites where the fact you want is hopelessly buried.

I found one site that said that the SA had 700,000 members at the end of 1932. That's about 58% of the size of the Nazi party membership of 1,200,000.

Assuming that the ratio was about the same for the Red Front/KPD, it's probably "in the ballpark" to suggest that the Red Front peaked at around 200,000 members in the first three months of 1932.

With KPD resources diverted to electioneering, the size of the Red Front probably began to shrink dramatically...especially after mid-1932.

By the end of 1932, the Red Front could have been down to as little as 20,000 or so.

I also came across an interesting footnote: there were adolescent street gangs in Berlin that were in quasi-alliance with the Red Front. They weren't very "political" but they really enjoyed kicking Nazi ass. And since they tended to be concentrated in the same parts of Berlin as the Red Front, mutual agreements were easy to reach.

The KPD could never decide if these kids were "true proletarians" or not. But the KPD did mount a campaign against Prussian "reform schools" -- detention centers for adolescents...sort of like our modern "boot camps" -- as snakepits of official brutality and abuse.

The kids were astonished...and attracted to an adult group that spoke up for them. Probably more than a thousand of them ended up in the KPD.
First posted at RevLeft on January 27, 2005


Given that you've formally disavowed your past political loyalty, how come you keep deciding to defend it?

In your eyes, the Comintern's policy (the "third period") in the late 20s and early 30s was "ultra-left".

In my view, it was further to the left than their policies before or afterwards.

I am an ultra-leftist.

Therefore, why would I not defend the Comintern's outlook? Indeed, it was almost certainly not ultra-left enough.

The Comintern should have sent the KPD more "gold" and should have insisted that it be used to build up the Red Front.

If anything, the Comintern's third period outlook was "ultra-left in form; not ultra-left enough in practice".


Hint: when people have an exaggerated fear of appearing weak, it's usually because they are weak.

So the thing to do is publicly display that weakness for all to see...including the enemy?

Were I a soldier, I would not trust you as an officer...your "tactical sense" leaves much to be desired.


More logically, they could have meant the possibility of larger forces mobilizing and taking up arms against the now-fascist in Spain.

Dear me. That would have been remarkably prescient of those who brought Hitler to the Spanish civil war didn't begin until more than three years later.


Which is exactly the problem. I think most people would agree.

I said the KPD/Red Front sought to win the battle of the streets as a road to power...not simply to defeat the Nazis.

You imply that this was incorrect of them...and suggest that "most people" would agree.

But whether it was correct or incorrect, that did seem to be their view of things (or at least a strong current of opinion within the KPD). Therefore, they had still another reason to disdain a "united front" with the SPD -- their goal was certainly not to "share power" with a corrupt reformist party.

So what does Trotsky's "united front" do had it even been possible? It cannot call a general strike -- the SPD leadership was opposed to the idea because they believed their employed members would not respond to such a call out of fear of losing their jobs. The SPD's paramilitaries (with rare exceptions) were not going to aggressively fight the Nazis in the streets -- that would have been totally out of character for them.

What's left is a parliamentary bloc. One in which the SPD would have had a slight edge on the KPD...and both together would have still been smaller than the Nazis plus their Nationalist and Center party allies.

Hitler would still have been named Chancellor, the SA terror against the KPD would still have happened, the "elections" of 1933 would still have taken place, the "Enabling Act" would still have passed, etc.

Another reason (admittedly in hindsight) for Trotsky's imaginary "united front" not to wouldn't have made any difference at all.
First posted at RevLeft on January 27, 2005
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