The Communist International’s incorrect theory of fascism Ruthless Criticism

Translated from Der Faschismus und seine demokratische Bewältigung, by Konrad Hecker (GegenStandpunkt Verlag, Munich: 1995) p. 305-26.

On the origins of East Germany’s anti-fascism:

The Communist International’s incorrect theory of fascism

In the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Germany’s communists realized a project that had failed when it mattered, namely to resist fascism with a powerful defensive front. In its own right, this was neither a bad nor a wrong undertaking; however, it was only as correct as the concept of the enemy held by the anti-fascists, and only as good as the reasons they gave to win over fellow combatants. And here the German communists, as well as their international umbrella organization, were unfortunately quite wrong.

They were quite certain about the “class character” of fascism, i.e., its place in the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat:

“Comrades, fascism in power was correctly described by the Thirteenth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International as the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.”[1]

This definition does not want to know anything about the political will to order that came to power in fascism:

“Fascism is not a form of state power ‘standing above both classes -- the proletariat and the bourgeoisie,’ as Otto Bauer, for instance, has asserted.... No, fascism is not a power standing above class, nor government of the petty bourgeoisie or the lumpen-proletariat over finance capital. Fascism is the power of finance capital itself. It is the organization of terrorist vengeance against the working class and the revolutionary section of the peasantry and intelligentsia.”

The “vengeance” against those sections of the people that the communists chalked up as sympathizers was undoubtedly a different way of exercising rule than the judicious usage of interest-bearing capital and the private power that the bourgeois state attaches to money. However, the comrades did not want to distinguish between the – thought to be main – beneficiary of the fascist state power and its – political – subject. They thought they knew who needed fascist repressive actions and for what; and with that everything was already clear to them:

“With the development of the very deep economic crisis, with the general crisis of capitalism becoming sharply accentuated and the mass of working people becoming revolutionized, fascism has embarked upon a wide offensive. The ruling bourgeoisie more and more seeks salvation in fascism, with the object of taking exceptional predatory measures against the working people, preparing for an imperialist war of plunder, attacking the Soviet Union, enslaving and partitioning China, and by all these means preventing revolution.”

One should not conceive of this functionalism much too naively:

“... the accession to power of fascism must not be conceived of in so simplified and smooth a form, as though some committee or other of finance capital decided on a certain date to set up a fascist dictatorship. In reality, fascism usually comes to power in the course of a mutual, and at times severe, struggle against the old bourgeois parties, or a definite section of these parties ...”

But this does not change the fact that here, ultimately, finance capital shows its teeth and thus the decisive point is made about the fascist way of transforming a state. Fascist terror is the offensive means of struggle of a bourgeoisie which – especially after the epochal victory of the proletarian cause in the Soviet Union – is no longer able to assert its rule in any other way. To that extent, it “expresses” on the one hand

“the weakness of the bourgeoisie itself, afraid of the realization of a united struggle of the working class, afraid of revolution, and no longer in a position to maintain its dictatorship over the masses by the old methods of bourgeois democracy and parliamentarism.”

The fact that the bourgeoisie succeeds in changing over to fascist methods “bears witness” on the other hand to

“the weakness of the proletariat, disorganized and paralyzed by the disruptive Social-Democratic policy of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie.”

– so that one might think it could have stuck to its tried and tested method.... In any case, the overall picture is one of a struggle surging back and forth between the working class which, as a matter of principle, is in the process of finding its class unity, rallying the progressive sections of the rest of the people around it, and thus continuing the revolutionary victory of October 1917, and a capitalist class whose rule is becoming ever more contested and at the same time ever more predatory, is concentrated in ever smaller and more extremist minorities, and can consequently only be sustained with naked terror.

This was the Communist International’s level of insight into fascism when it had already been successful in Italy and Germany. So it had neither a correct concept of its sworn enemy nor an accurate awareness of the class it wanted to unite for the defensive struggle.

a) The proletariat: The good half of class society

The “proletarian class consciousness” in whose name the parties of the Communist International competed was – absurdly for communist subversives! – boundlessly affirmative. The class working for wages was seen by these friends of progress as the good side of capitalist society, as the force marching forwards, that is, towards a future without exploitation and oppression – and they represented this idealism with reference to Marx, of all people, who explained the necessity for a proletarian revolution precisely on the basis of the fact that the wage system brings forth a working class as a functional part of capital, as a dependent variable in the hands of money owners, and imposes on adult human beings the hopeless calculation of betting on themselves being useful for capital in order to survive and, as a result, harm themselves. The fact that wages are a source of income peculiar to capitalism, and the worst conceivable one, which, by producing wealth, reproduces exclusion from it, i.e. poverty and dependence – from this marxist finding the advocates of the workers’ cause did not take the necessity of systematically putting an end to the calculation in wages as a cost factor, to labor as a means of production, and to the kind of wealth which exists abstractly in money; they drew from this the mission of the state power to forcibly improve the situation of the wage workers and went as far as the expropriation of the capitalists for this goal. Because the fact that wage workers, insofar as they have no other choice than to adapt themselves to the conditions of their source of income, are themselves a systemic part of capitalist society and the most miserable one at that, was not for the radicals in the workers’ movement the convincing argument for abolishing the proletariat – i.e., the class state along with its creatures – but for them resembled a deprived right which the true socialist people’s state would know how to procure for its toiling masses. When they spoke of revolution, they meant just this: Justice for the class that does all the (wage) work; and that is something different than radically overthrowing those rules, including law and justice, according to which economically operating humanity competes as a functionary of money sums and money flows and accordingly separates itself into classes. Therefore, even the self-evident fact was alien to these communists that communist politics cannot consist in gathering together self-confident wage workers, but relies on their insight and will to not be that any longer. The finding that wage workers harm themselves, that is, that they make a crucial mistake, if and as long as they rely on wages for work as their sustenance, was therefore also not the prelude to the agitational effort to fight against this mistake, but rather the contrary: it justified the comforting certainty that the wage workers were basically already finished with the system of wage labor and its born opponents who had only not yet succeeded in victory. The insight that it is solely the wage earning class that not only benefits from the overthrow of class society, but that the dependence of the capitalist valorization process on its labor also gives it the means to abolish it, was for the champions of the workers’ movement certainly not the reason to aim all their subversive efforts at this class and against its fatal obedience, but a cause for joyful excitement about the power of the class that has basically long been anti-capitalist, which only has to be drawn together and used properly in order to achieve class victory. Every bit of proletarian status consciousness, even if it was clearly still nothing but a false understanding of the exploitation it put up with, even pride in what it achieves in the service of others, signaled to them the natural human goodness of the social class they intended to lead “to victory”; the fact that this pride reduced to being able to punctually and undauntedly endure something that is quite outrageous seemed to them – following Lenin – to be clear proof of the revolutionary discipline of the masses, and the factory regime to be the origin of the character aptitude for communism.

If they want to topple capitalism, communists, like it or not, have to start by agitating against the self-confidence with which workers make ends meet, but this was of no interest to these communists with their optimistically revised view of the class struggle. Instead, as their “task” in the service of “social progress,” they came up with the development, updated adaptation, and enactment of a tactic of class struggle that existed only in their concept of the proletariat as a class that is militantly anti-capitalist as it is. And this tactic boiled down to the wonderful maxim of “being in the vanguard” wherever there was “struggle” and giving the struggle a “revolutionary perspective” that allowed the results to be “correctly assessed” – usually optimistically as a “concrete partial success,” even if the defeat could hardly be overlooked. In this way, any sliver of a workers’ movement was endorsed in principle – in the name of goals that the participants did not even have and as a “stage” in the class struggle. Only struggles that were instigated under truly revolutionary “slogans” seemed problematic to them: These routinely “asked too much” of the masses, and communists had reason to criticize themselves for having misjudged “conditions”....

b) The class enemy and its factions: Monopolies versus Democracy

Logically, the image of the “class enemy” to be defeated with this tactic turned out to be just as wrong as the idea of their “own” class.

For all their polemics against “finance capital,” Dimitroff, Stalin, Pieck and their comrades had no useful knowledge to offer about the reason and substance of its power in capitalist society. They had noticed the fact that a great deal depends on the decisions made by the big banks and financial magnates; they were confronted with the fact that strikes and other proletarian struggles – especially those they instigated – were crushed by police violence when they went too far; and from this they drew their conclusions: “Obviously,” at least ultimately, the big bankers commanded the state apparatus of repression – as if the bourgeois state power was nothing more than a kind of private army of the big corporations of the finance business. So again Marx had tried in vain to shed light on the strangely “objective” nature of capitalist class society and its relations of domination: that money is a sufficient means of private power, a means of command over social wealth, and, above all, its production, because the state power, in caring for persons and property, has made all production and consumption dependent on money; so that, conversely, if everything depends on money and serves its capitalistic increase, the accumulation of capital is the objectively coercive law of social life and becomes recognized as the common good; finally: that the special power of the financial sector in capitalist business life is based on it having society’s money at its disposal and the freedom to create credit based on this, and simply consists in deciding over the business world’s access to its first and decisive means of business: money, under the criterion of creditworthiness. The theorists of the Communist International wouldn’t have been all that wrong in their diagnosis that “finance capital” dominates capitalist class society – but not because it commands the police in addition to credit or by using its money, but because it commands over the economic means of life of this society, as a whole and in all its parts and even including its political authorities. That the state power does its work and forces all sections of class society to function according to the system is a prerequisite to which the money capitalists lay claim as self-evident; if they had to wage constant political struggles over this, then there could be no question of a halfway functional class society, let alone of a credit industry with the power to dominate the business scene.

For the militants of the Communist International, class society was exactly the opposite of class struggle; and just as, in their worldview, the workers were not so much utilized in service to capital as involved in struggles against malicious capitalists, so the money capitalists were less concerned with their credit business than with the suppression of the working class, as well as with imperialist conquests, i.e. with defensive and offensive power struggles both internally and externally. They were engaged in the strategy and tactics of successful suppression instead of techniques of making money – and on top of that were also at odds with each other and with their borrowing customers. The communist theorists had their own view of this imaginary dispute and the level it had reached in the 20th century, indicated by the accusatory label “monopoly capital.” This was not in fact the title for a diagnosis of economic competition and its results, for example, with special attention to the conflicting interests between finance capital and companies in need of credit. Rather, “monopoly” stood for a bold theory of the decline of bourgeois democracy: It would have worked with its pluralism of bourgeois parties in the days when capitalist entrepreneurs, large and small, still competed with each other en masse; this free competitive struggle, which would have also given the workers’ parties the chance to legally join the struggle for power, was said to have been brought to an end by the triumphant advance of the “monopolies”; their rule, because it belonged to a fairly shrunken clique of big string pullers, could no longer be dealt with by parliamentary-pluralistic means, but only by class struggle tactics, and had even gotten rid of the political conventions of the majority of the bourgeoisie: In terms of interests, particularly imperialistic; in comparison with the – never seen before – idyll of bourgeois democracy, particularly reactionary; in the attempt to make demands on the people, particularly chauvinistic. With this monopoly “theory,” it would be quite misplaced to try to find an objective reason for finance capital’s tendency to a fascist orientation that had anything to do with the specific business interests of the banking industry: the whole diagnosis was that a small number wanted undivided rule of the contemporary bourgeoisie and this told the militant communists everything. In particular, for their tactics; therein lay the meaning, i.e. the ideological reason for this incorrect view of bourgeois things. Allegedly divergent and competing bourgeois techniques of struggle and strategies of rule were assigned to certain capitalist factions which were not really distinguished economically, but with reference to their respective functions in the capitalist system and the corresponding range of interests, as if certain special positions in the class struggle resulted with objective necessity from the political economy of the respective trade; and the party theorists thought that this gave them a handle for their tactics. Namely, first, an unbeatable argument for their decision to lead the proletarian struggle for democracy, which they, as communists, at the same time proclaimed was only the instrument of bourgeoisie rule in good times; secondly, useful points of view for a political division of the opposing party, for partial alliances precisely in the name of defending “democratic gains,” for playing off one imagined subdivision of the enemy class against another, especially the losers of the competition against the “monopolies,” in order to weaken the opponent by divisiveness – according to the very same model with which they explained the weakness of their side in the class struggle.

In the spirit of these battle tactics, the communist parties then also prepared a plan for their political opponents: the enemy parties they had to deal with – by no means merely in democratic opinion disputes, but very tangibly.

c) The Social Democrats: Labor traitors and allies

It was clear to these communist leaders and not a problem that the bourgeoisie, inter alia in the form of its political parties, was fighting against the proletariat, which was “revolutionizing itself,” with fair permissible means of violence and impermissible wickedness – it was the enemy, so naturally and out of self-interest evil and – still – in possession of the state’s means of coercion. What they could not understand at all, neither morally nor materially, was the politics of social democracy and the reformist labor unions. Because, according to their conception of class society as class struggle, the unquestionably good side, the militant proletariat, had organized itself into this party and its workers’ associations. The result was, however, anything but a powerful front against the class enemy which could have carried along the still unorganized and some “wavering intermediate layers.” Instead, there was a – “only formal,” of course – democratic state apparatus which, with the decisive participation of socialist leaders, served the interests of capital well as a whole, but did not satisfy the desire for revolutionary progress and had even purged its communist vanguard; and a union movement operating in an equally system-stabilizing manner dominated the scene inside and outside the factories and contributed its share to the failure of the communist class struggle tactics.

What else – educated Marxists could have said to themselves: The leftist reformers organize the working class just as they find it, i.e. as it is needed, created, used, reproduced and impoverished by capital, namely as a crew of servants who rely on wages as their means of life and demand recognition from the national class state as an indispensable, honorable status. Their inevitable experience that wages are not suitable for a lifelong, let alone decent, livelihood, and that the nation state demands significantly more services from its masses than it provides, was constructively processed by social democracy and the unions into the only reaction that conforms to the system: supplementing wage labor with an additional struggle for fair wages and the demand for adequate state acknowledgement of the services rendered. Their program was not the abolition of the wage system, but – something Marx had already unsuccessfully criticized in the workers’ movement of his day – “fair wages for a fair day’s work,” which the unions were to negotiate with the capitalists by honestly recognizing all business “needs” and interests; they sought “social security” for the class of insecure existences from the superior force authority, the state power, which brings about all class antagonisms, keeps them under control, and perpetuates them through legal regulations. To succeed in being recognized as collective bargaining partners and participating in state power, unions and social democratic workers’ organizations gladly included in their program all the “reasonable demands” of the “employers’ side,” as well as the entire catalog of state regulatory tasks – including the suppression of any workers’ unrest that went against the system. They did not even see the latter as the price they had to pay for a share in power, but as confirmation of the political maturity with which they had acquired a right to participate in political and economic events.

The communists deeply resented their “class comrades” for this transition to – militant when necessary – loyalty to the system, without understanding its reason and its logic. To realize that the politics of participation in the class state, up to and including granting war credits and deploying police against rebel workers, exploited nothing but the wrongly affirmative class consciousness of the proletariat would have seemed to them a clean break with “the workers' cause,” a rejection of their own all-decisive appellate authority – and indeed it would have been. This also meant, of course, that these communist subversives could not have found the content of the “class standpoint” as represented by social democrats and unionists – the desire for full legal and political recognition of wage workers – to be particularly wrong. In any case, they did not criticize the demand of the “disenfranchised” for law and justice as submission to the conditions that dictate what each “estate” has to claim as its good right according to its economic assignment; rather, they shared this demand – and considered their indignation about injustice to be the same as the will for revolution. They located their opposition to the social democratic-reformist “renegades” not at all in the substance of their critique of capitalism – and then also, consequently, in their ideas about how to deal with this system – but rather, with the identical diagnosis of injustice, in the merely quantitative difference of being more radical in their revolt against “humiliation and insult” – just as the Social Democrats and union reformists saw themselves as more realistic and reasonable representatives of the workers’ cause. The supporters of Lenin’s October Revolution hurled at them the accusation that they were not pursuing their actually correct cause consistently enough. The intense debate about the alternatives of “reform or revolution” did not get beyond such fruitless arguments about the appropriate degree of radicalism. The debate, however, was conducted with the greatest moral bitterness – from the communist side with the moral verdict that the fighters for a more pro-worker bourgeois state lacked loyalty to the common cause of the proletarians.

For “revolutionary tactics,” the most diverse practical consequences could be derived from this accusation, and the parties of the Communist International didn’t leave out any mistakes either. From rejecting the leadership of the opposing workers’ party, which would “betray the proletariat,” to offering alliances in favor of the “common cause,” for the success of which the communists themselves “betrayed” their radicalism and tolerated social democratic regulatory policies; from attempting to create a split between the leaders of the Social Democrats, who were “bribed by the bourgeoisie,” and their base, who were to be filled with enthusiasm for united struggles, to attacking the many “little Zörgiebels,” namely the Social Democratic rank and file, who were allegedly no different from the SPD police chief of Berlin, the notorious organizer of the Berlin “Blood May”: Everything was tried, found inexpedient, revised with moral (self-)reproaches, sometimes against “social democratic sissies,” sometimes against “left wing radical sectarians” in their own ranks, a different line was followed until the next disappointment ... At the same time, the decisive, if not the only, means of agitation used by the communist vanguardists always remained the same, regardless of whether it was a matter of shaming the Social Democrats as cowards, denouncing them as traitors, or winning them over as fellow fighters: They did not criticize, but presented themselves as the more determined fighters, as role models of strong character and courage in their commitment to “the workers’ cause,” as model proletarians in the sense of their ideology of the organically progressive wage worker. There were many poets who were impressed by this peculiar boast. They did not bring about the united front with the Social Democrats, at least to fight fascism together – which was not only their fault. Their mistake was that they could not carry off any other opposition to the Social Democrats than complaining that the others were preventing the unity and agreement of the proletariat, the necessity of which should be obvious to every upstanding democratic worker – and not even in the face of the political victories of fascism did they lapse in their self-deceiving “revolutionary optimism”:

“Furthermore, the victory of fascism arouses the deep hatred and indignation of the masses, helps to revolutionize them, and provides a powerful stimulus for a united front of the proletariat against fascism.”

So that was what their “theory” about the fascist enemy then looked like.

d) The fascists: Pied pipers with exemplary recipes

The fact that the fascists represented the “cause of the class enemy” was experienced by the communists firsthand in the “interwar” and wartime periods. Why they did was of interest to the affected class warriors, for all their “scientific socialism,” only in a very narrow moral sense. They didn’t even want to acknowledge a positive political program, or anything like a civic consciousness and a national will to shape things, to their main political enemy – even less than they did to their social democratic opponents, whose diagnosis was as good as finished with the labels “splitter” and “traitor.” Instead, the theorists of the Communist International asked themselves how a “movement” that went to work without any apparent profit interest of its own – because the mass supporters of the fascists were certainly not recruited from a “jeunesse dorée” or other militant bourgeois! – could only be so wicked and evil as to finish off the militant workers’ movement by all the means, especially illegal ones, which nevertheless were shamefully tolerated by the bourgeois state power. And as is usually the case with such moral conundrums, the question was already the answer: the fascist parties gathered the worst elements of the rotting capitalist society – just as the workers’ parties did the good ones: lumpen who were willing to do the bourgeoisie’s dirtiest business for a little share in its power and wealth.

Admittedly, this riffraff included a rank and file whose political leadership was actually claimed by the vanguard of the proletariat; that is, from those “wavering intermediate strata” – peasants, employees, intellectuals – who a resolutely fighting working class would have to convince only had a future at its side, in socialism; and even from the working class itself – not even the industrial workers in the narrowest sense were completely immune! – which per se was posted as a born mass base of socialist progress. The communist class analysts could think of nothing better to say about these masses than about the supporters of social democracy: that if they refused allegiance to their true avant-garde, if they even allowed themselves to be stirred up against their natural vanguard, they could only have been seduced. Accordingly, the fascists were bitterly accused of fraudulently manipulating a people that intrinsically inclined toward the good, namely by means of an “unprecedented demagogy.” Now that was a very revealing accusation – not as far as the agitational achievements of the Nazis were concerned; revealing, rather, of the political mistakes of this anti-fascism. The accusation of demagogy wants – in never consists of anything more! – to rehabilitate the morals of the masses, which so obviously disgraces itself, that is, allows itself to be “abused” by the worst swindlers. They are accused of having struck exactly the exact same tone, with reprehensible intentions, that the revolutionary left still regarded as its unmistakable seal of quality. They are thus denied nothing more than the right to present themselves in the role of advocates of all the legitimate concerns of the good people, which after all would only be in good hands with the honest class fighters.

In his “great speech” at the VII Congress of the CI, Comrade Dimitroff exemplified this mistake in every detail:

“What is the source of the influence of fascism over the masses? Fascism is able to attract the masses because it demagogically appeals to their most urgent needs and demands. Fascism not only inflames prejudices that are deeply ingrained in the masses, but also plays on the better sentiments of the masses, on their sense of justice and sometimes even on their revolutionary traditions. Why do the German fascists, those lackeys of the bourgeoisie and mortal enemies of socialism, represent themselves to the masses as ‘Socialists,’ and depict their accession to power as a ‘revolution’? Because they try to exploit the faith in revolution and the urge towards socialism that lives in the hearts of the mass of working people in Germany.”

There is no criticism of the “demagogic” arguments with which the fascists in fact “appealed” to the “needs” of the people. One waits in vain for a clear word against the völkisch communal ideal which the representatives of a “national” conception of “socialism” advertised with. No suspicion was raised against the “sense of justice” of the masses, that most stubborn bad habit of perfect subjects who trust in the power of higher moral points of view. The leftist revolutionaries found no contradiction in their hopeful idea that revolution is a tradition familiar and dear to the German working people. They attested to the good faith and “better sentiments” of their addressees, even if this world of sentiments apparently led those who held them to not only confuse Hitler with the CP, but even to consider him the better representative of their hearts’ cause. Instead of calling to mind, which a German proletariat also has, the interest that must be asserted against the fascists, the leftist vanguard confirmed their faith in their image of humanity as a believer in revolution who admittedly has the flaw of certain “deeply rooted prejudices,” but otherwise proves its indestructibly better nature precisely in its attachment to false prophets, which the communists laid exclusive claim to as their point of contact with the masses. Their indignation at the fact that the fascists drew up an image of themselves in which the radical leftists believed they recognized their own smash hits of agitation was correspondingly great:

“Fascism acts in the interests of the extreme imperialists, but it presents itself to the masses in the guise of champion of an ill-treated nation, and appeals to outraged national sentiments, as German fascism did, for instance, when it won the support of the masses of the petty bourgeoisie by the slogan ‘Down with the Versailles Treaty.’

Fascism aims at the most unbridled exploitation of the masses but it approaches them with the most artful anti-capitalist demagogy, taking advantage of the deep hatred of the working people against the plundering bourgeoisie, the banks, trusts and financial magnates, and advancing those slogans which at the given moment are most alluring to the politically immature masses. In Germany –‘The general welfare is higher than the welfare of the individual,’ in Italy – ‘Our state is not a capitalist, but a corporate state,’ in Japan – ‘For Japan without exploitation,’ in the United States – ‘Share the wealth,’ and so forth.

Fascism delivers up the people to be devoured by the most corrupt and venal elements, but comes before them with the demand for ‘an honest and incorruptible government.’ Speculating on the profound disillusionment of the masses in bourgeois-democratic governments, fascism hypocritically denounces corruption....

It is in the interests of the most reactionary circles of the bourgeoisie that fascism intercepts the disappointed masses who desert the old bourgeois parties. But it impresses these masses by the vehemence of its attacks on the bourgeois governments and its irreconcilable attitude to the old bourgeois parties.” And so on ...

Impressing the masses who have been disappointed by bourgeois politics with radicalism, sharpening the image of one’s own association as an assembly of men of honor by means of the scandals of others, castigating the wealth of the few as theft by invoking the ideal of national solidarity, serving the patriotism of the people with incendiary slogans: The fascists mean none of this honestly; with them, all that is just a masquerade that the communists would evidently consider the opposite of imperialism, exploitation, and reaction if it were only meant seriously and honestly. This finding naturally raises the question why the fascists, with their mendacious masquerade and a “cynicism” that “eclipses all other varieties of bourgeois reaction,” are better received by the mass public than the good people from the left where the honest original was available. The answer is self-critical and consists of three steps of thought:

“One of the weakest aspects of the anti-fascist struggle of our Parties is that they react inadequately and too slowly to the demagogy of fascism, and to this day continue to neglect the problems of the struggle against fascist ideology. Many comrades did not believe that so reactionary a brand of bourgeois ideology as the ideology of fascism, which in its stupidity frequently reaches the point of lunacy, would be able to gain any mass influence. This was a serious mistake. The putrefaction of capitalism penetrates to the innermost core of its ideology and culture, while the desperate situation of wide masses of the people renders certain sections of them susceptible to infection from the ideological refuse of this putrefaction.”

The correct ideological defense therefore consisted first of all in insulting the fascist ideology with particularly derogatory metaphors, but secondly in developing an understanding for the masses who let themselves be beguiled by the fascist stench of decay, according to the absurd maxim: If the masses are worse and worse off, one can’t blame them if they allow their situation to be explained in an increasingly incorrect way.[2] If this empathetic theory of impoverishment clarified the question of guilt in favor of the masses, who are more and more easily seduced, then thirdly it was clear what the true leaders of the masses had to do:

“Under no circumstances must we underrate fascism's power of ideological infection. On the contrary, we for our part must develop an extensive ideological struggle based on clear, popular arguments and a correct, well thought out approach to the peculiarities of the national psychology of the masses of the people.”

If fascists manage to manipulate a mentally confused people with reprehensible tricks, then of course “we” as communist enlighteners must “for our part”.... Then whatever, in relation to the fascist bacillus, is a danger of infection caused by putrefaction, when administered to by leftists, is “national psychology.” And when Nazi criminals impress the people with their lying slogans, this challenges the radical class fighters to use “clear” language. For it is necessary to make up for the fascists’ lead in matters of popular seduction through the calculated deployment of “popular arguments.” Of course, this is not just a style issue; the Communist International’s self-criticism was directed at a false political standpoint, namely all party members who had confused “proletarian internationalism” with a No to the nation state:

“Our comrades in Germany for a long time failed to fully reckon with the wounded national sentiments and the indignation of the masses against the Versailles Treaty … they were late in drawing up their program of social and national emancipation.”

Not even the militant nationalism of the fascists was able to convince these communists that the “liberation of the nation” is incompatible with class struggle; not even National Socialism taught them that “social” and “national liberation” go together only under a national sign with a violent abstraction from the class antagonism. On the contrary, they learned from the mass success of the fascists that, aside from the evil nationalism of the bourgeoisie which harnesses the people to its interests, there is also a good mass need for nationalism, because otherwise the Nazis could not have fraudulently exploited it. And a clear declaration was made on this by the Moscow International:

“We Communists are the irreconcilable opponents, in principle, of bourgeois nationalism in all its forms. But we are not supporters of national nihilism, and should never act as such. The task of educating the workers and all working people in the spirit of proletarian internationalism is one of the fundamental tasks of every Communist Party. But anyone who thinks that this permits him, or even compels him, to sneer at all the national sentiments of the broad masses of working people is far from being a genuine Bolshevik, and has understood nothing of the teaching of Lenin on the national question.”

Why the affirmative position on the nationally marked off state coercive social bond of class society is supposed to be some better thing if it is not the bourgeoisie that practices it and demands it from the masses, but the working people who are declared capable of carrying it out, because they actually manage to feel as nationally hued legal subjects – the theorist of anti-fascism keeps this to himself. The fact that the revered masses harbor such feelings is reason enough for him not only not to fight this ideology, which has become a “deeply rooted prejudice,” but to honor it and to set his party the following task – according to the maxim, which is good for every step in a reactionary direction, that a leftist must not simply leave state brutality and civic madness to the political enemy:

“It goes without saying that it is necessary everywhere and on all occasions to expose before the masses and prove to them concretely that the fascist bourgeoisie, on the pretext of defending general national interests, is conducting its selfish policy of oppressing and exploiting its own people, as well as robbing and enslaving other nations. But we must not confine ourselves to this. We must at the same time prove by the very struggle of the working class and the actions of the Communist Parties that the proletariat, in rising against every manner of bondage and national oppression, is the only true fighter for national freedom and the independence of the people.”

For only if every nationalist is convinced that the cause of the class struggle serves the national good and in no way contradicts it; if the communists succeed in taking the national element away from the Nazis just as they stole faith in the revolution from the Marxists: only then can the broad front of struggle be established, which the very success of the fascists makes more urgent than ever. So much the worse, on the one hand, that – once again – the first interlocutor for such a policy, the Social Democrats, eluded the communist courtship; on the other hand, the policy of a national unity pact became all the more unavoidable and the willingness of the Communist International parties to compromise became all the more uncompromising. With their anti-fascism, they came to the conclusion that their entire communist-revolutionary objective had to be absorbed in the program of bringing about the great unifying alliance, without any ulterior motive:

“Precisely for the reason that for us the question of political unity is not a maneuver, as it is for many Social-Democratic leaders, we insist on the realization of unity of action as one of the most important stages in the struggle for political unity.”

e) Instead of communist activities: popular front policy for peace with the Soviet state

Lastly, the leaders and supporters of the Communist International were adamant that this policy of an unconditional alliance partnership would inevitably benefit the “revolutionization” of the masses and the victory of communism. Not because they had a few better arguments up their sleeves for why national liberation and communist revolution elonged together, for why self-renunciation in unified action leads to revolution; the imperative of adapting to the masses was already and remained their whole “argument.” However, they did not in any case derive their ultimate certainty of being right from justifications – whether wrong or right – for their anti-fascist struggle and its inevitably revolutionary quality, but from an external point of view: the success of the revolution in Russia and the survival interest of the Soviet Union that had evolved out of it. Here, “the proletariat was victorious”; this victory – in the short-sighted conclusion of the parties allied with the CPSU – had to be taken as a yardstick for the struggle of communists all over the world and could no longer go astray if it was of use to the Soviet power.[3]

So one was not really convinced – contrary to all official assurances – that the victory in Russia had gained momentum for the proletarian world revolution and conquered a first firm bastion; otherwise the consequence would have been to press ahead with the revolution in other nations. But not only that: the Moscow internationalists were also not ready to realize that there was only one really effective means for the security of the Soviet power, if was about the epochal victory of the revolutionary proletariat and safeguarding it, namely communist revolutionary successes in the great imperialist states where the essential danger to the first “dictatorship of the proletariat” came from. On the contrary, the leaders and friends of the Soviet power in Russia immediately translated the need to ensure the success of the October Revolution into a program of national self-assertion for which the proletarian revolutionary character of the new Moscow polity proved to be a bad condition on the one hand and a good one on the other: Bad, because the Soviet state thereby incurred the hostility of the bourgeois world, threats of war, and the danger of a counterrevolutionary invasion from outside; good, because it could count on the communists in all countries as energetic sympathizers opposed to anti-Soviet war policies.

Communist parties all over the world were given a clear task – albeit one that was no longer compatible with the goal of a complete overthrow of the nationally constituted class society: instead of inciting the venerated masses against their authorities, it was now a matter of influencing social democratic and bourgeois governments, namely as defined by a benevolent foreign policy toward the Soviet Union. This might still occasionally happen in the form of the proletariat refusing to serve in the fight against the Soviet power; but it took a great deal of optimistic misinterpretation to pass off such actions as interim victories in the class struggle; their aim in any case was not subversive at all, but subordinated to the cynicism of the foreign policy calculations of imperialist states. Communism was no longer propagated as the program to abolish war, namely by eliminating its subjects, the nation states with their supremely totalitarian “egoism,” but was spelled out as peace policy: as anti-critical idealistic precautions against the imperialist competition between states ultimately turning into the open use of violence; and this, above all, in the relation between one’s own respective nation and the Soviet Union. The absurdity was imposed on communists outside Russia, under the “central slogan: struggle for peace and defense of the Soviet Union,” that they had to amicably help define the security needs of the state power to which they were in radical opposition, and indeed to the effect that they were in principle compatible with the security needs of a foreign power, namely the Soviets’ – an absurdity, if not for obedient communists who might still imagine that they were putting the interests of the world revolution ahead of their interest in a national revolution, then at least for every true patriot; he would actually be surrendering himself if he were to recognize the interests of a foreign nation as in principle a premise for the claims of his own. In the eyes of normal citizens who understand politics as a competition between nations anyway and take note of it in a correspondingly partisan way, the communists, with their shift to a pro-Soviet peace policy, only exposed themselves, in addition to their revolutionary hostility to the state, as agents of a foreign power; not even unjustly by prevailing political standards. This was also not helped by the further, explicitly and definitively anti-revolutionary order to the sister parties of the CPSU that they present proof to themselves and in all their national propaganda that their socialism, which had come to power in the Soviet Union, did not contradict a single national interest supported by social democratic and bourgeois governments and parties elsewhere: they gave up any opposition to the national consensus, submitted completely to the “cause of the nation” and nevertheless remained under suspicion of acting treasonously as the “5th column” of the Soviet state.

The attack by fascist Germany on its neighbors in the east and west, its war for “living space” in the sphere of Soviet power and against the imperialist division of the world and hierarchy of nations, compelled for a few years of war the anti-fascist alliance which could never have been achieved with the program of an all out compromise- and cooperation-ready pro-Soviet-anti-fascist peace policy, neither within the decisive nations nor internationally.

Nevertheless, the decisive authorities of the communist world movement told the fib that the united war and victory was a resounding success of their anti-fascist alliance policy. They left it to their bourgeois partners to perceive that the alliance they had reached was “unnatural” and to denounce it and terminate it after the fascist war machine was defeated. And afterward they did not want to give up the ingenious, admittedly completely futile political trick of presenting their real socialism as an ongoing offer of peace and reconciliation to the imperialist world. The Soviet socialists reduced the anti-imperialism of the communists to the absurd program of having an ennobling and pacifying effect on the competition of nations in order to save the existence of the “socialist camp.” Imperialism did not thank them for that either....

When the GDR was founded, Germany’s communists explicitly invoked continuity with the Communist International’s fight against the Nazis, staged the construction of their republic as a battle against the ghosts of the long disbanded NSDAP, and in doing so repeated all the mistakes of their anti-fascist do-gooderism. In particular, the mistake of spelling out socialism as the virtue of a just state system and of commending themselves as appointed leaders on the way to the true, namely proletarian, fatherland. As a counter-image to Nazi rule, their socialist partial state was to win the applause of the masses who had been disappointed by Hitler and win the moral competition against the West German Federal Republic for the honor of a more thoroughly reformed Germany – an offer to purified national comrades that really only crosses the mind of particularly purified patriots.

[1] G. Dimitroff on August 2, 1935 at the VII Congress of the Communist International.

[2] The notion that socially caused misery almost automatically leads the people affected by it to fascist ideas or makes them “susceptible” to them, as if the mind were an organism and deviant thinking an infection, is by no means exclusive to the communist theorists of fascism. Predominantly left-wing sociologists and psychologists developed this idea into whole theoretical edifices about the “authoritarian character,” about the opposition between the food instinct, the suppression of which makes people revolutionary, and the sexual instinct, the negation of which leads to the desire for (self-)repression, about soil and handicrafts as a source of wrong thinking, about the petty bourgeoisie, which reflexively answers its proletarianization with hatred of the proletariat, and the like – some of this is worked out in the chapter on democratic theories of fascism in this book. In the meantime, the association of “social distress” and “right-wing radicalism” has become a fixed topos of civic thinking – and just as wrong as it was at the beginning. It ignores the intellectual effort that is also and especially needed among the victims of capitalist impoverishment to meet the experienced misery not with the question of its real reasons, but with state-idealistic fantasies about allegedly lost privileges for native citizens. It is of course all too understandable that this make-shift error is not only not criticized, but is not even considered to be a criticizable basis for every transition from experiencing restrictions to nationalistic rebellion: to politically responsible citizens, a sense of right and wrong that is loyal to the state is never found to be the ideological mistake that it is.

As one can see: not even the theorists of the Communist International realized this.

[3] This clarification was assigned to the Italian comrade Ercoli – pseudonym for P. Togliatti – at the VII Congress of the Cimmunist International.