Leon Trotsky
Fascism: What it is and how to fight it

The fascist danger looms in Germany

From The Turn in the Communist International and the German Situation

The official press of the Comintern is now depicting the results of the [September 1930] German elections as a prodigious victory of Communism, which places on the order of the day the slogan of Soviet Germany. The bureaucratic optimists do not want to reflect upon the meaning of the relation of forces which is disclosed by the election statistics. They examine the figure of the increased Communist vote independently of the revolutionary tasks created by the situation and the obstacles it sets up. The Communist Party received around 4,600,000 votes as against 3,300,000 in 1928. From the viewpoint of “normal” parliamentary mechanics, the gain of 1,300,000 votes is considerable, even if we take into consideration the rise in the total number of voters. But the gain of the party pales completely beside the leap of fascism from 800,000 to 6,400,000 votes. Of no less important significance for evaluation of the elections is the fact that the social democracy, in spite of substantial losses, retained its basic cadres and still received a considerably greater number of workers’ votes [8,600,000] than the Communist Party.

Meanwhile, if we should ask ourselves, “What combination of international and domestic circumstances could be capable of turning the working class towards Communism with greater velocity?” we could not find an example of more favorable circumstances for such a turn than the situation in present-day Germany: Young’s noose[1], the economic crisis, the disintegration of the rules, the crisis of parliamentarism, the terrific self-exposure of the social democracy in power. From the viewpoint of these concrete historical circumstances, the specific gravity of the German Communist Party in the social life of the country, in spite of the gain of 1,300,000 votes, remains proportionately small.

The weakness of the position of Communism, inextricably bound up with the policy and regime of the Comintern, is revealed more clearly if we compare the present social weight of the Communist Party with those concrete and unpostponable tasks which the present historical circumstances put before it.

It is true that the Communist Party itself did not expect such a gain. But this proves that under the blows of mistakes and defeats, the leadership of the Communist parties has become unused to big aims and perspectives. If yesterday it underestimated its own possibilities, then today it once more underestimates the difficulties. In this way, one danger is multiplied by another.

In the meantime, the first characteristic of a really revolutionary party is—to be able to look reality in the face.

* * *

In order that the social crisis may bring about the proletarian revolution, it is necessary that, besides other conditions, a decisive shift of the petty bourgeois classes occurs in the direction of the proletariat. This gives the proletariat a chance to put itself at the head of the nation as its leader.

The last election revealed—and this is where its principal symptomatic significance lies—a shift in the opposite direction. Under the blow of the crisis, the petty bourgeoisie swung, not in the direction of the proletarian revolution, but in the direction of the most extreme imperialist reaction, pulling behind it considerable sections of the proletariat.

The gigantic growth of National Socialism is an expression of two factors: a deep social crisis, throwing the petty bourgeois masses off balance, and the lack of a revolutionary party that would be regarded by the masses of the people as an acknowledged revolutionary leader. If the communist Party is the party of revolutionary hope, then fascism, as a mass movement, is the party of counter-revolutionary despair. When revolutionary hope embraces the whole proletarian mass, it inevitably pulls behind it on the road of revolution considerable and growing sections of the petty bourgeoisie. Precisely in this sphere the election revealed the opposite picture: counter-revolutionary despair embraced the petty bourgeois mass with such a force that it drew behind it many sections of the proletariat…

Fascism in Germany has become a real danger, as an acute expression of the helpless position of the bourgeois regime, the conservative role of the social democracy in this regime, and the accumulated powerlessness of the Communist Party to abolish it. Whoever denies this is either blind or a braggart…

The danger acquires particular acuteness in connection with the question of the tempo of development, which does not depend upon us alone. The malarial character of the political curve revealed by the election speaks for the fact that the tempo of development of the national crisis may turn out to be very speedy. In other words, the course of events in the very near future may resurrect in Germany, on a new historical plane, the old tragic contradiction between the maturity of a revolutionary situation, on the one hand, and the weakness and strategical impotence of the revolutionary party, on the other. This must be said clearly, openly and, above all, in time.

* * *

From Moscow, the signal has already been given for a policy of bureaucratic prestige which covers up the mistakes of yesterday and prepares tomorrow’s by false cries about the new triumph of the line. Monstrously exaggerating the victory of the party, monstrously underestimating the difficulties, interpreting even the success of fascism as a positive factor for the proletarian revolution, Pravda nevertheless explains briefly: “The successes of the party should not make us dizzy.” The treacherous policy of the Stalinist leadership is true to itself even here. The analysis of the situation is given in the spirit of uncritical ultraleftism. In this way the party is consciously pushed on the road of adventurism. At the same time, Stalin prepares his alibi in advance with the aid of the ritualistic phrase about “dizziness.” It is precisely this policy, shortsighted, unscrupulous, that may ruin the German revolution.

* * *

Can the strength of the conservative resistance of the social-democratic workers be calculated beforehand? It cannot. In the light of the events of the past year, this strength seems to be gigantic. But the truth is that what helped most of all to weld together social democracy was the wrong policy of the Communist Party, which found its highest generalization in the absurd theory of social fascism. To measure the real resistance of the social democratic ranks, a different measuring instrument is required, that is, a correct Communist tactic. With this condition—and it is not a small condition—the degree of internal unity of the social democracy can be revealed in a comparatively brief period.

In a different form, what has been said above also applies to fascism: It emanated, aside from the other conditions present, in the tremblings of the Zinoviev-Stalin[2] strategy. What is its force for offensive? What is its stability? Has it reached its culminating point, as the optimists ex-officio [Comintern and Communist Party officials] assure us, or is it only on the first step of the ladder? This cannot be foretold mechanically. It can be determined only through action. Precisely in regard to fascism, which is a razor in the hands of the class enemy, the wrong policy of the Comintern may produce fatal results in a brief period. On the other hand, a correct policy—not in such a short period, it is true—can undermine the positions of fascism…

If the Communist Party, in spite of the exceptionally favorable circumstances, has proved powerless seriously to shake the structure of the social democracy with the aid of the formula of “social fascism,” then real fascism now threatens this structure, no longer with wordy formulae of so-called radicalism, but with the chemical formulas of explosives. No matter how true it is that the social democracy, by its whole policy, prepared the blossoming of fascism, it is no less true that fascism comes forward as a deadly threat primarily to that same social democracy, all of whose magnificence is inextricably bound with parliamentary-democratic-pacifist forms and methods of government...

The policy of a united front of the workers against fascism flows from this situation. It opens up tremendous possibilities to the Communist Party. A condition for success, however, is the rejection of the theory and practice of “social fascism,” the harm of which becomes a positive measure under the present circumstances.

The social crisis will inevitably produce deep cleavages within the social democracy. The radicalization of the masses will affect the social democrats. We will inevitably have to make agreements with various social-democratic organizations and factions against fascism, putting definite conditions in this connection to the leaders, before the eyes of the masses. … We must return from the empty official phrase about the united front to the policy of the united front as it was formulated by Lenin and always applied by the Bolsheviks in 1917.


“Young’s noose”: a reference to the Young Plan. After Owen D. Young, American big businessman, who was Agent-General for the German Reparations during the 1920s. In summer of 1929, he was chairman of the conference that adopted his plan, which replaced the unsuccessful Dawes Plan, to “facilitate” Germany’s payment of reparations as per the Treaty of Versailles.


“Zinoviev-Stalin strategy”: Gregory Y. Zinoviev (1883-1936), chairman of the Comintern from its founding in 1919 till his removal by Stalin in 1926. After Lenin’s death, Zinoviev and Kamenev made a bloc with Stalin (the Troika) against Trotsky and dominated the Soviet party. In the period of the Zinoviev-Stalin domination of the Comintern, an opportunist line led to a series of defeats and missed opportunities, most notably the calling off of the German revolution of 1923. After breaking with Stalin, Zinoviev united his following with the Trotskyist Left Opposition. But in 1928, after the expulsion from the party of the United Opposition, Zinoviev capitulated to Stalin. Readmitted to the party, he was expelled again in 1932. After disavowal of all critical views, he was again readmitted, but in 1934, he was expelled and imprisoned. He “confessed” at the first of the Moscow Trials in 1936 and was executed.