Socialist Equality Party (Germany)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Germany)

The Second World War

100. Like the First, the Second World War was an imperialist war. “It derived its origin inexorably from the contradictions of international capitalist interests”, Trotsky wrote in 1940. “Contrary to the official fables designed to drug the people, the chief cause of war as of all other social evils―unemployment, the high cost of living, fascism, colonial oppression―is the private ownership of the means of production together with the bourgeois state which rests on this foundation.” So long, however, as the main productive forces of society were held by isolated capitalist cliques, Trotsky continued, “and so long as the national state remains a pliant tool in the hands of these cliques, the struggle for markets, for sources of raw materials, for domination of the world, must inevitably assume a more and more destructive character. State power and domination of the economy can be torn from the hands of these rapacious imperialist cliques only by the revolutionary working class.”[1]

101. As in 1914, the initiative in the struggle to re-divide the world emanated from Germany. Arriving on the imperialist world stage later than its rivals England and France, it tried in 1914 to create room for its dynamic productive forces by reorganizing Europe at the expense of its rivals―and thereby failed. The second attempt was better prepared―by a regime that suffocated every internal resistance and concentrated all its economic resources on the setting up of an enormous military machine.

102. However, the tremendous aggressiveness of German imperialism did not make the Allies’ war an anti-fascist one. In both the British and American ruling elite there had been substantial sympathy for Hitler before the outbreak of war, while the French ruling elite, after its military defeat, came to an arrangement with the German occupying forces. With the exception of the Soviet Union, the Allies pursued their own imperialist goals. England fought for the defence of its colonies and former supremacy. The United States intervened in order to secure its global hegemony in Europe and the Pacific. Hitler’s goal of smashing the Soviet Union was met in the US and England with considerable sympathy. But in view of the threat of German supremacy, they allied with the Soviet Union―which made the biggest sacrifices in the war―and postponed their confrontation with the USSR to a later date.

103. For its part, the Stalinist bureaucracy did everything to prove to its allies that it had no revolutionary intentions. From 1935 onwards it had supported “democratic” bourgeois regimes in the name of the popular front against fascism. Then, in 1939, Stalin entered into a pact with Hitler and handed over to him numbers of German Communists. After Hitler had broken the pact and attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, the communist parties unconditionally supported the warring bourgeoisie and suppressed every expression of the class struggle. In the occupied countries, they subordinated the anti-fascist resistance to rightwing bourgeois figures such as General de Gaulle. In the colonial countries they demanded that the national movements provide support to their colonial oppressors in the war. And in the Soviet Union they appealed not to the class consciousness of the workers, but to Russian nationalism. Up to this day the Second World War is still identified in Russian by the Stalinist term the “Great Patriotic War”.

104. The Trotskyists conducted a courageous and heroic struggle against fascism and war. Persecuted by the Nazis and Stalinists, they participated in the anti-fascist resistance and strove to place it on a proletarian class basis. The German Trotskyists, who from October 1933 called themselves the International Communists of Germany (IKD), had early on prepared for illegality. They had approximately one thousand supporters when Hitler seized power. Some well-known leaders, who had to reckon with their arrest, went into exile. A committee abroad led the work in close co-operation with the International Secretariat under Leon Sedov. It published the newspaper Unser Wort (Our Word), which was distributed illegally into Germany. In particular, members of the Dresden group of the IKD smuggled many of the most important works of Trotsky over the Czechoslovakian border for underground distribution in Germany―at the risk of their lives.

105. Many members of the IKD were murdered by the National Socialists or incarcerated in concentration camps. In autumn 1935, there was a wave of arrests of German Trotskyists. The Gestapo uncovered cells in Gelsenkirchen, Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Kassel, Magdeburg, Dresden and Danzig. Approximately 150 were sent to prison or to concentration camps. In the summer of 1936, the superior regional court in Hamm condemned 23 members of the IKD to a total of 70 years detention. Three prominent members of the Gelsenkirchen group were condemned by the Volksgerichthof (people’s court). In January 1937, in the free city of Danzig, ten Trotskyists were brought before the court and sentenced. They had called for “the overthrow of fascism by the armed might of the proletariat”. “The organization of workers in the industrial enterprises, in the unemployment offices, and in the forced labor camps to resist and actively struggle against National Socialism―that is the sole means of overthrowing fascism”, read one of their flyers.[2]

106. In 1938, the IKD was represented by two delegates at the founding conference of the Fourth International. In occupied France, German and French Trotskyists jointly circulated the newspaper Arbeiter und Soldat (Worker and Soldier)among German troops. In contrast to the Stalinists, who subordinated themselves to the bourgeois national resistance, the Trotskyists fought for an alliance of the European workers, which included the German working class. The publisher of Arbeiter und Soldat, Widelin (Martin Monat), was later murdered by the Gestapo.

107. Widelin represented the German section in February 1944 at a six-day, secret conference of the Fourth International in occupied France, which elected a European executive committee and agreed upon extensive perspectives resolutions. The conference assumed the war would culminate in a revolutionary crisis. While it rejected alliances of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie, it supported the resistance struggle against the German occupying forces: “The proletariat supports this struggle in order to facilitate and hasten its transformation into a general struggle against capitalism. This position implies the most energetic fight against attempts of the agents of the national bourgeoisie to win the masses and use their support to rebuild the capitalist state and army. Everything possible must be done, on the contrary, to develop the embryonic workers’ power (militias, committees, etc.) at the same time as the most vigorous struggle is pursued against all forms of nationalism.”[3]