Commentary Magazine

The Ghost of Social-Fascism

Why should anyone today want to bother with such a relic of the past as “the theory of social-fascism”? One reason is that it once bothered us so much; another is that it may be bothering us again.

Historically, the so-called theory of social-fascism and the practice based on it constituted one of the chief factors contributing to the victory of German fascism in January 1933. Yet this theory has not been given any careful study, and the existing material deals most inadequately with what is still a terribly painful and appalling subject. I hope in what follows to fill out some part of the story, if only in outline, and thus to make it more intelligible both to those old enough to have lived through that dark time and to those young enough to have heard of it without quite knowing what it was all about.

But I would be less than candid if I did not confess that I was moved to look back at social-fascism because it is no longer of merely historical interest. In its original incarnation, it helped to bring about such a vast and shattering catastrophe that it once seemed such ideas could never again be revived on a large and dangerous scale. Yet this is exactly what has been happening. The term itself has not come back into general use, but the thinking behind it again has its devotees.

A new revolutionary generation has raised questions that are not altogether new. Who is the “main enemy”? Are “reformists” more dangerous than “reactionaries”? Is liberal democracy nothing but a “mask” for bourgeois dictatorship or even some form of totalitarianism? Is it necessary to provoke violent confrontations in order to unmask this type of liberalism? If a revolutionary minority strives to destroy a democratic, even a “bourgeois-democratic,” order, is it necessarily going to be the main beneficiary—or even avoid the fate of the democratic order it has helped to pull down?

Answers to such questions made the difference between life and death for millions of people a few decades ago. In what follows, I have tried to restudy and reconstruct the earlier experience as a historical phenomenon that deserves to be better known for its own sake and that presents us with some large and difficult problems of special interest today.



Most students of Communist history associate the theory of social-fascism with Stalin and Stalinism.1 There is good reason for this, but the theory itself had deeper roots.

The first seeds of the theory of social-fascism were sown as far back as 1922-24—and not by Stalin. The term itself was reminiscent of other uncomplimentary terms—“social-patriots,” “social-chauvinists,” “social-imperialists,” and “social-traitors”—used by Lenin during the First World War to denote those Social-Democrats who wished to fight for the defense, rather than the defeat, of their own countries. These older terms provided a precedent for an analogous use of the word “social” in connection with the postwar phenomenon of “fascism.”

The problem of fascism first arose in reference to Italy. In October 1922, Benito Mussolini staged his “March on Rome” and formed his first government. Mussolini's success brought the subject of fascism sharply to the attention of the Communist International, which had previously given it little consideration. An Italian Commission was set up at the Comintern's Fourth Congress in November—December 1922, and its resolution referred to the fascists as “the most radical wing” of the bourgeoisie. But the old Italian Socialist party was blamed most for Mussolini's victory. “The real forerunner of fascism was reformism,” the resolution declared. “The treachery of the reformists is primarily responsible for the great sufferings of the Italian proletariat.”2

Though this inquest on the Italian debacle tried to blame fascism on “reformism,” it was still quite far from the peculiar amalgam that made up social-fascism. But something of the sort must have been in the air in Communist circles throughout the world because an American Communist came much closer to the idea of social-fascism the following year. In 1923, Earl Browder, then a Communist trade-union leader in Chicago, wrote an introduction to a pamphlet by Andrés Nin, an early Spanish Communist leader. In it Browder hazarded the opinion that, as in Italy, where Mussolini had formerly belonged to the Italian Socialist party, “so we may expect the real fascist leadership in America to spring from the Gompers bureaucracy [in the American Federation of Labor].”3 This “affinity between the AF of L bureaucracy and the fascist idea,” as Browder put it, was much closer to the idea of social-fascism, but Browder did not try to generalize.

It did not take long, however, for the generalization to make its appearance. The central idea now arose in connection with events in Germany.

In October 1923, the German Communists suffered two disastrous setbacks. The German army took over the states of Saxony and Thuringia in which Communists had entered the local governments. A few days later a short-lived Communist uprising was put down in Hamburg. The German Communist leadership, in November 1923, accused General Hans von Seeckt, the German army commander, of establishing a military dictatorship which represented the victory of fascism over the republic.4


But during the post-mortem held in Moscow in January 1924, the Comintern's first chieftain, Grigori Zinoviev, was not satisfied with this interpretation. It implied that “fascism” in the person of General von Seeckt had also defeated the German Social-Democrats, who had been most instrumental in founding the German Republic at Weimar in February 1919. For Zinoviev, the Social-Democrats, four of whom served in the government then headed by Gustav Stresemann, were among the “fascist” victors. In this view, German fascism was represented by Seeckt and Stresemann, not by Adolf Hitler, whose first bid for power, the “beer hall Putsch” in Munich, was also put down by Seeckt and Stresemann in the same month of November 1923. With France occupying the Ruhr at the same time, the Stresemann government was beset by so many enemies from Left and Right and abroad that its desperate efforts to survive did not readily lend themselves to an ideological interpretation of such far-reaching significance. Nevertheless, Zinoviev chose this occasion to present Social-Democracy in a new historical role, not merely in Germany but internationally.

If Seeckt and Stresemann were the real “fascists,” what were the Social-Democrats implicated with them? In answering this question, Zinoviev brought together a rather mixed group—Marshal Joseph Pilsudski of Poland, like Mussolini a backsliding Socialist; Filippo Turati and Lodovico d'Aragona of Italy, two moderate Socialists (the latter but not the former later went over to Mussolini); a Socialist minister in the Bulgarian government of the day, who soon resigned; and J. Ramsay MacDonald, then about to form the first British Labour government. Zinoviev leaped from Germany to international Social-Democracy in a passage which contained the idea of social-fascism in essence, even if he inverted the term. As the first statement of the theory, it is worth giving in Zinoviev's own words, which I have tried to render as close as possible to his oratorical style:

What are Pilsudski and the others? Fascist Social-Democrats. Were they this ten years ago? No. It goes without saying that they were already then fascists in nuce. But they have become fascists precisely because we are living in the epoch of revolution. What is Italian Social-Democracy? It is a wing of the fascists; Turati is a fascist Social-Democrat. Could this statement have been made five years ago? No. Think of a group of academicians who gradually developed into a bourgeois force. Italian Social-Democracy is now a fascist Social-Democracy. Take Turati, D'Aragona, or the present Bulgarian government Socialists. There were opportunists, but could one say ten years ago that they were fascist Social-Democrats? No, that would have been stupid then. Now they are that.

But it was MacDonald who inspired Zinoviev to coin the phrase which summed up the theory of social-fascism in its first phase:

You may hurl insults at MacDonald: You are a traitor, a servant of the bourgeoisie. But we must understand in what period we are living. International Social-Democracy has now become a wing of fascism.5

The Comintern's resolution of January 19, 1924, on the German events followed this line: “The leading ranks of German Social-Democracy are at the present moment nothing but a part of German fascism in a Socialist mask.”6 At the Comintern's Fifth Congress in June—July 1924, Zinoviev repeated the charge that German Social-Democracy had been “converted into a wing of fascism.”7

Zinoviev, then, was the author or at least the first exponent of what was essentially the theory of social-fascism, even if he did not yet use the exact term. The theory was related to a use of the term “fascism” which was not aimed at Hitler at all; it was intended for the German government headed by Stresemann, whom no one ever again thought of as a fascist. Zinoviev's thinking was rooted in the Leninist tradition of regarding Social-Democrats, reformists, Mensheviks, and the like as “agents of the bourgeoisie” (as Lenin called the Mensheviks as late as 1922),8 not as a permissible tendency in the labor and revolutionary movements. When Zinoviev at the Comintern's Fourth Congress in November 1922 stigmatized the Second (Social-Democratic) International as “the chief support of the bourgeoisie,”9 without which capitalism would collapse, he was speaking as a good Leninist and in the spirit that was initially reflected in his theory of social-fascism. If the bourgeoisie was going fascist, it was unthinkable for him not to blame the Social-Democrats, a reflex in the Bolshevik movement for at least a decade. This is not to say that Lenin or Zinoviev would have driven the theory and practice of social-fascism as far as Stalin drove them later. But the original theory arose in Lenin's own lifetime and was sponsored by the man who had been his chief co-worker for the previous fifteen years. It seemed at first to be an adaptation, not an aberration, of orthodox Leninism.



In 1924, Stalin was Zinoviev's ally in the already raging internecine struggle against Trotsky in the Russian party. Stalin had not yet come forth with an original idea, and there is no reason to suppose that he was instrumental in giving birth to the theory of social-fascism. But two months after the Fifth Congress, Stalin took up this theme for the first time publicly and even added a literary embellishment.

Stalin's contribution occurred in an article entitled “Concerning the International Situation,” published on September 20, 1924, and famous because it was his first effort in this field. In it he wrote: “Social Democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism.” And furthermore: “They are not antipodes, they are twins.”10 Later the theory of social-fascism was traced back to this article in Communist references to its genealogy. The images, “wing” and “twins,” were repeated endlessly. Zinoviev's role was blotted out, perhaps to the benefit of his reputation.

The first to put the words “social” and “fascism” together in that order was apparently Heinz Neumann, one of Stalin's early German protégés. In the Comintern's German organ, dated October 7, 1924, Neumann contributed an article subtitled “The Newest Form of Social Fascism in Germany.” The subtitle referred to the formation by the German Social-Democratic party of the Reichsbanner Schwartz-Rot-Gold, a semi-military republican defense force named after the colors of the Republican flag. This type of organization was common in Germany at the time; the Communists themselves had one in their Roten Frontkämpferbund (Red Front Fighters League). By now, however, the idea was being applied somewhat indiscriminately, and Neumann proclaimed that “the Reichsbanner is the classic form of social-fascism.”11

For the next two years, Zinoviev still clung to what was essentially his brainchild. In the spring of 1925, he spoke of Italian fascism as “a synthesis of the capitalist bourgeoisie and Social-Democracy” and of “Social-Democracy as a wing of fascism.”12 At the end of 1925, he insisted that the “top layer” of Social-Democracy was correctly characterized as the “third party” of the bourgeoisie, the “left wing of the bourgeoisie,” and a “wing of fascism.”13 But after his break with Stalin and forced retirement from the Comintern in 1926, this line seems temporarily to have gone out of fashion. By applying it to figures as far apart as General von Seeckt, Marshal Pilsudski, Turati, and Ramsay MacDonald, Zinoviev made social-fascism into little more than a catch-all for Communism's enemies and opponents from moderate Left to far Right.

Zinoviev's successor in the Comintern, Nikolai Bukharin, was rather more relaxed, flexible, and opportunistic in his approach to the Social-Democratic movement. In the years of his leadership, 1926 to 1928, the Communists continued to fall behind the Social-Democratic parties and trade unions in membership and influence, and Bukharin encouraged efforts to decrease the gap between them and the Communists. Such a policy discouraged use of a term, “social-fascist,” that was anathema to the Social-Democrats.

Nevertheless, the theory of social-fascism began to make its comeback at the end of Bukharin's reign in the Comintern. In order to understand how this came about, it is well to recall two other terms on which Communist policy was then based—the “third period” and “class against class.” These seemingly technical terms may still, for those who remember, embody the terrifying reality of the years that enabled Hitler to take power.

The first to make its appearance was “class against class.” It was introduced at the Ninth Plenum of the Comintern in February 1928 (a “plenum” was an enlarged meeting of the top leadership or, in effect, a miniature world congress). The slogan signified that there were now only two classes facing each other in mortal combat—the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The Communist parties alone represented the interests of the proletariat. All other parties, movements, and groups represented the bourgeoisie. Of the latter, the most dangerous were the Social-Democrats (they were still being called that, not “social-fascists”) and all species of “reformists.” This excommunication from the true family of the proletariat included not only the Social-Democratic parties but also the trade-union movements associated with them. “Class against class” was first applied in Great Britain, where it was taken to mean that the British Communists could no longer support the Labour party electorally. Thus the British Communist leaders were persuaded in Moscow to put up, for the first time, their own candidates against the Labour party.14

Even in Germany, which had the largest and strongest Communist party outside Russia, “class against class” meant that the Communists consigned to an enemy class the organizations which contained the vast majority of workers. In 1930, for example, the German Communist party reported a membership of 135,808; the German Social-Democratic party, 1,021,777. The Communist trade-union opposition claimed a following of 136,000. But the “free trade unions,” associated with the Social-Democratic party, contained 4,716,569 members; the so-called salaried employees (angestellten) unions, 1,620,970; the Christian (Catholic) trade unions, 778,863; and another group (Deutsche Gewerkvereine), 163,302. The Communist vote was about half that of the Social-Democrats—4,592,100 to 8,577,700. Even at the Communist high point and Social-Democratic low point in November 1932, the latter's vote was still considerably larger—7,248,000 to 5,980,200.15 Many more workers, of course, voted for the Catholic Center and other parties. The theory of social-fascism, then, put by far the largest number of organized workers into quasi-fascist parties which were so far gone that, for the Communists, there was only one thing to do—destroy them.

The “third period” completed theoretically what “class against class” began tactically. In brief, the post-World War I years were divided into three periods. The first, from 1917 to 1923, was that of a “revolutionary wave.” After 1923, the capitalist world entered a recovery phase, or what the Comintern called the “partial stabilization of capitalism.” At the end of 1927, Stalin suddenly announced that the second period was coming to an end, that capitalist stabilization was “collapsing,” and that the world was on “the eve of a new revolutionary upsurge.”16 The immediate result of Stalin's pronouncement was the “class against class” slogan early the following year. But the “third period” was officially unveiled at the Sixth World Congress in the summer of 1928 by Bukharin in a manner that displeased Stalin. Bukharin failed to emphasize the decline of capitalism strongly enough, and so the Tenth Plenum the following year took it up again and gave it a more Stalinist slant. Now the “third period” was defined in purely negative terms as one “leading inevitably” to imperialist wars, to great class conflicts, to a new revolutionary “upward swing,” and to “great anti-imperialist revolutions.”17

The third period was supposed to be one of revolution; it proved to be a period of rampant, barbarous counterrevolution; and for this miscalculation, the chief article of faith of the third period—the theory of social-fascism—was not a little responsible.



The second incarnation of the theory of social-fascism took place between the Sixth World Congress in the summer of 1928 and the Tenth Plenum in the summer of 1929.

Bukharin first broached the theme at the Sixth World Congress. He did so, however, with the same kind of hesitancy that marked his sponsorship of the third period at the same time. After saying that “there is not the slightest doubt that Social-Democracy reveals a social-fascist tendency,” Bukharin immediately cautioned that “this is merely a tendency and not a completed process, for it would be a mistake to lump Social-Democracy and fascism together.” The Congress's “theses” stopped somewhat short of this by declaring that Social-Democratic ideology “has many points of contact with fascism” and that the Social-Democratic parties employed fascist methods “in a rudimentary form.”18

Bukharin's dictum that Social-Democracy was revealing a “social-fascist tendency” was not followed up the rest of that year. In February 1929, however, a leading Russian member of the Comintern's Secretariat, Dmitri Z. Manuilsky, picked up the thread again by remarking that “economic democracy” was “the fascist slogan of the Social-Democracy.” But this was still an isolated reference. The first serious restatement of the theory apparently came the following month. It appeared in an article by a leading German Communist, Wilhelm Koenen, in the Comintern organ, International Press Correspondence, of March 8, 1929. In it, Koenen discussed alleged political pressure in Germany to transform the parliamentary Weimar regime into a dictatorship. Significantly, he never once mentioned Hitler or the National-Socialist party in this connection, as if they were too unimportant to be in his consciousness. Instead, he argued that Italian fascism might not be the model for German fascism in the sense that the latter did not need a “strong man a la Mussolini.” He immediately offered as an alternative road “the fascist tendency which the SPG [Social-Democratic party of Germany] leaders and the SPG trade-union bureaucracy is revealing more sharply every day.” He concluded: “Social-fascism is becoming more and more the open form of expression of the SPG.”19

This theme was then taken up in an unsigned article entitled “Social-Fascism in Germany” in the Comintern's theoretical organ, The Communist International, dated May 1929 and obviously issued earlier. The article was mainly based on events of the previous March and represents a political line probably adopted at about that time. This article elaborated on the idea presented by Koenen about the German road to fascism:

It would, however, be incorrect to conclude from this [criticism of the parliamentary regime], that Germany is directly faced with the establishment of a fascist government a la Mussolini. Even fascist methods are subject to the changes of time and circumstances, i.e., to the development of capitalism, and are adapted to the economic and political situation of the country in question. The great change that has taken place is the growth of fascism within social-democracy, and in German social-democracy particularly the German capitalists have found a strong support with increasingly definite fascist tendencies.

The article went on to charge that “the Social-Democrats are now concentrated on proving to finance capital that it can very well set up its dictatorship without attacking the Weimar consitution and the ‘foundations of democracy.’” And it added: “Thus, in every respect, a synthesis of social-democracy and fascism is provided for the regime, in a political form, of the dictatorship of finance capital.”20

Once such a line was adopted, occasions were not lacking for applying it, and the resulting incident was then used to justify the line. This pattern was followed in the spring of 1929.

Traditionally, the Berlin trade unions sponsored a single, united May Day demonstration. That year, however, the Communists made it known that they could not bring themselves to march, even under their own banners, in the same demonstration as the Social-Democrats. In March, the Prussian Social-Democratic Minister of the Interior, Albert Grzesinski, issued a warning against outdoor demonstrations and marches “which represent an immediate danger to public security,” aimed at both the Communists and right-wing nationalists. Afraid of possible clashes between rival street demonstrations, the Social-Democratic administration decided to ban all outdoor May Day demonstrations, Communist and Social-Democratic alike. Whether the situation justified this kind of precaution is extremely doubtful. Tactically the ban undoubtedly misfired. The Communists were spoiling for a fight, and the prohibition gave them a suitable occasion for it. Walter Ulbricht, then head of the Berlin-Brandenburg district of the party, later boasted that the May Day street fights and political strikes were “necessary prerequisites for bringing about an acute revolutionary situation.”21 In any event, the Communists decided to defy the ban; their militants clashed with the police who, from all reports, behaved with unnecessary brutality; blood flowed in the streets. In two working-class districts, Wedding and Neukölln, the Communists erected barricades which held for two days. The bulk of the Berlin working class remained aloof, but the Communists were strong enough to give the impression, for about three days, of a minor civil war in Berlin. In retaliation, the Social-Democratic administration outlawed the Communists' semi-military organization.

Thus the theory of social-fascism had inspired the Communists to separate themselves from the traditionally united May Day demonstration, which then resulted in sanguinary street battles that were used to confirm the validity of the theory of social-fascism. The official East German Communist history of the Weimar Republic characteristically reverses the order of events and makes the May Day street battles the reason for the Communist position that German Social-Democracy “had developed into social-fascism.”22 But this tragic May Day in Berlin was effect rather than cause. As we have seen, the revival of the theory of social-fascism had taken place before May Day of 1929, and no such event was needed to apply the same theory to Britain or elsewhere. An obscure Berlin Polizeipräsident, Carl Zörgiebel, became the symbol of the new archfiends—the “social-fascists.” Millions of people around the world who had only a vague idea of what had happened in Berlin shuddered at the mention of that peculiarly unprepossessing name. The German Communists never again took to the streets to battle the police and build barricades against the later Brüning, Papen, Schleicher, or Hitler regimes.


May Day 1929 was the high point of German Communist belligerency—against a Social-Democratic regime. It did not help matters that the same Social-Democratic regime in Prussia banned the right-wing semi-military Stahlhelm in October 1929 for holding extensive military maneuvers in violation of the constitution. In 1929 the theory of social-fascism said that the social-fascists were introducing fascism in Germany because the outright fascists were too weak for the task, and, therefore, the capitalists had elected to work through the social-fascists. Once this theory was implanted in the Communist movement, events could be used to bear it out, never to cast doubt on it.

In 1929, especially in the first half of the year, it was economically and politically premature to locate the threat of fascism in Germany in fascism itself. Unemployment rose gradually, but so did the average wage. The massive despair brought on by the world economic crisis took over only after the Wall Street crash in October of that year. Hitler's following was still much too limited to be considered threatening. He had succeeded in electing only twelve deputies out of a total of 491 in May 1928. The Social-Democrats had gained so heavily in that election that one of their most respected leaders, Hermann Müller, headed a coalition government formed in June. A Social-Democratic administration prevailed in Prussia, by far the largest state, containing three-fifths of the country's population.

Later, social-fascism was held responsible for the victory of German fascism on the ground that it had split the working class or had tolerated bourgeois regimes which paved the way for fascism. But this was not the way the theory of social-fascism was presented in 1929. It then insisted that social-fascism was the specific form fascism was actually taking.

In Britain, it was a good deal harder to work up the same kind of case against the bloodless MacDonald regime. In 1929, the British Communist party claimed no more than 4,000 members against over 3,000,000 for the Labour party. Some British Communist leaders were understandably reluctant to cut themselves off from the Labour party and to pretend that they, not the Labourites, represented the British working class. But this feat was accomplished, not without considerable prodding from the Comintern, by the simple expedient of reclassifying the Labour party as one of the three capitalist parties and, indeed, the worst of all.23 If social-fascism could be applied to Britain it could be applied everywhere—and was. The theory of social-fascism helped to bring about a catastrophe in Germany; it merely produced a caricature in Britain.

Yet Germany and Britain provided the main justification for the new line at the Tenth Plenum in July 1929. The first report, made by Otto Kuusinen, the loyal Finnish servitor of whatever Russian happened to rule in the Comintern, took the line that the difference between fascists and social-fascists was that the latter used a “smoke screen.” But, he went on, the more social-fascism developed, the closer it came to being “pure” fascism. He thought that British Labourism could be thought of as social-fascism “in the caterpillar stage” whereas German Social-Democracy was already in the “butterfly stage.” To unmask social-fascism, he said, was the most important duty. The second report, by one who spoke with even greater authority, Dmitri Z. Manuilsky, one of the three top Russians in the secretariat, stated that the German Social-Democratic party was already ready to establish an “open bourgeois dictatorship” by itself. Béla Run, then the ranking Hungarian member in the Comintern hierarchy, raised the possibility that social-fascism might be the typical form of fascism in the more advanced capitalist countries. In any event, he declared, any struggle between social-fascism and fascism was merely a struggle “between two methods of fascisation.” The Russian leader of the world Communist trade-union movement, Solomon A. Lozovsky, took to task the idea, which he said was very widespread in Communist circles, that the broad masses of Social-Democracy were less reactionary than their leaders. He insisted that the leaders, top, middle, and bottom, and even some of the rank-and-file, with the exception of some insignificant groups, were going fascist.24

If this was madness, it was methodical. Everything flowed from the proposition that the capitalist world was teetering on the brink of collapse. Therefore, a new revolutionary wave was imminent. Therefore, the Communist parties had to prepare themselves to “fight for power.” Therefore, those who could be counted on to oppose all power to the Communists were agents and representatives of the bourgeoisie. Therefore, the Communists viewed as their greatest enemies their rivals for the support of the working class—the Social-Democrats. Therefore, the destruction of the mass base of the Social-Democratic parties and allied trade unions became the key to the coming struggle for power.

Hitler was not yet dreamt of in this philosophy. The Communists in 1929 were concerned with the fact that the German government was then headed by a Social-Democrat, Hermann Müller, and the British government for the second time by a Labourite, J. Ramsay MacDonald. The official Protokoll of the Tenth Plenum contains 953 pages. Its index lists Hitler twice—once in reference to 1920-23 and again to 1920-21. Müller gets six listings, and MacDonald twenty-one. The main theme of the Plenum was why they were far more dangerous than the “open” fascists who had not yet any great strength in Germany or Britain.


I have dwelt on this 1929 version of social-fascism because it may have more than the later period to tell us today. It demonstrates that the theory did not originate in any real fear of the kind of fascism that Hitler represented. In Britain, the theory clearly lived a life of its own, with but the slightest respect for reality. In Germany, the best the Communists could do to breathe life into it was the May Day affair in Berlin, which the Communists themselves helped to provoke, which had nothing to do with fascists as such, and which proved to be a fairly isolated incident. The Berlin ban on street marches was soon lifted, and the anti-war demonstrations on August 1, 1929, went off without conflict. After Hitler came to power, the Müller government appeared in retrospect to be almost ethereally democratic, and many Germans, including the Communists, would have given virtually anything get it back.

In 1928-29, the theory of social-fascism derived from Communist doctrine, not from the existing reality of some tie-up between fascists and Social-Democrats. The doctrine said that capitalism was collapsing and a new revolutionary wave was about to flood over it. With Social-Democrats in office in two key countries, they and not the fascists or even the extreme right-wing nationalists seemed to be the barrier holding back the new wave. The Social-Democrats were all the more exasperating because a majority of the German and British working classes persisted in supporting them. Yet the real issue was not Social-Democracy. The enemy was something far more general and fundamental.

For the theory of social-fascism was based on the proposition that “bourgeois democracy” and “fascism” were merely different forms of the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.” One was “masked,” the other “naked.” The “democratic form” of the bourgeois dictatorship was considered by far the more dangerous and detestable of the two because it was supposedly harder to expose.

The real enemy, then, was “democratic forms.” The theory of social-fascism made the German and British Social-Democrats of the period the main carriers of this contagious disease. But they were not the only ones, and it could be applied to many others in different circumstances. In the United States, it was discovered in the “New Deal” of Franklin D. Roosevelt.25 In a later decade, similar thinking could make “liberals” stand-ins for Social-Democrats.

The rationale of social-fascism, then, explains why it could be whipped up in 1929 before the emergence of a major fascist threat. The theory was intrinsically designed to destroy the “democratic forms” of bourgeois society, not to hold back fascism. It succeeded in doing the former far better than it did the latter. It was intended to justify a Communist dictatorship in the name of the proletariat by making the alternative a “masked” Social-Democratic dictatorship or a naked fascist dictatorship, both equally in the interests of the bourgeoisie. If the only choice were between dictatorships, then the Communist variety would not appear to be so fearsome or so great a change.



That the theory of social-fascism was adapted to fighting democracy, not fascism, was soon demonstrated. In the parliamentary elections of September 1930, Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Workers Party emerged for the first time as a major political force. The National Socialists, or Nazis, increased their 1928 representation in the Reichstag from 12 to 107, and their popular vote shot up from 809,000 to over 6,400,000.

Yet the Communists—who also gained, but much less—were not greatly alarmed. By using the terms “dictatorship” and “fascism” so loosely and broadly, to cover so much ground from Ramsay MacDonald to Adolf Hitler, they hopelessly confused what dictatorship and fascism were. In order to make their own dictatorship appear to be less fearsome and not so great a change, they performed the same service for Hitler's.

The Müller government had been a coalition of moderate parties excluding the extreme Right and extreme Left, as those terms were understood in Germany at the time. It was replaced in March 1930 by a government headed by the (Catholic) Center party leader, Heinrich Brüning, who replaced the Social-Democrats with right-wingers. This reshuffle forced the Social-Democrats into opposition just before Hitler scored his first great electoral success. As economic and political paralysis fastened on Germany, Brüning increasingly ruled by means of “emergency decrees” which solved nothing and satisfied no one. The “democratic forms” of the German Republic needed defense from every possible quarter long before Hitler came to power.

That the Communists should have underestimated Hitler's threat before September 1930 is understandable. But why afterward?

For one thing, the Communists had already decided by 1929 that the Müller government was introducing fascism. The chief Communist slogan in the September 1930 elections was: “Fight Against the Fascist Dictatorship—For the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”26 After the election, with Brüning in power, the German Communist organ, Die Rote Fahne, announced: “The bourgeois-democratic state form of the German Republic has ceased to exist. We have a fascist Republic.”27

If Germany was going fascist under Müller and Brüning, Hitler was not needed to do the job. The Social-Democrats, in effect, made Brüning the “lesser evil,” and the Communists made him the greater one. After the September 1930 elections, the Social-Democratic leaders decided on a policy of “toleration” vis-à-vis the Brüning regime on the theory that the alternative was a Nazi takeover.28 In retrospect, this decision was probably one of the fatal miscalculations; it appears to have been based on little more than an abdication of responsibility and failure of will. For the next year and a half, it made the Social-Democrats, however heavy of heart, tacit accomplices of Brüning's “presidential government,” which drifted farther and farther away from what had been a parliamentary regime. On the other hand, the Communists went to the opposite extreme and made Brüning so fascist-minded that his replacement by Hitler was unnecessary. Or, in the words of the German Communist leader, Ernst Thälmann: “The more energetically we unmask the nature of the fascist policy of the Brüning government, the more convincingly we prove to the masses that this bourgeois government is itself striving for the actualization of the fascist dictatorship, and need not be replaced by Hitler or [Alfred] Hugenberg [then leader of the extreme right-wing Nationalists], as far as this is concerned, then the more thoroughly do we refute and shatter Social-Democratic agitation, etc., etc.” (my italics, T.D.).29

The obvious alternative to Social-Democratic “toleration” of Brüning would have been some measure of Social-Democratic-Communist collaboration, or at least toleration. After 1930, the Social-Democrats and Communists had between them over one-third of the votes and almost two-fifths of the seats in the Reichstag. In November 1931, one of the foremost Social-Democratic spokesmen, Rudolf Breitscheid, made an overture to the Communists to reach an understanding. Thälmann brushed off the offer as “a new demagogic maneuver.” Die Rote Fahne called it “a cunning game” and demanded: “Intensification of the fight against the Social-Democracy along the whole line.”30 This appears to have been the last time the breach between the two parties might have been healed.

For another thing, the theory of social-fascism made Hitler weaker than either Müller or Brüning. This conclusion inevitably followed from the proposition that a “masked” bourgeois dictatorship was harder to overthrow than a “naked” one. At the Tenth Plenum, Kuusinen rebuked those Communists who still thought that fascism might not weaken the bourgeoisie. “In reality,” he instructed them, “the fascisation of the state regime is absolutely no indication that the position of the bourgeoisie is being strengthened.”31 In Germany, where it counted most, the Communists went farthest in discounting the fascist danger. Thälmann assured the Eleventh Plenum in June 1931 that Hitler had reached the high point of his influence at the September 1930 elections and could only go downwards. The fascist offensive, he said, was merely a “secondary fact” that reflected the “revolutionary upsurge,” and, therefore, a sign that the proletarian revolution was reaching “a higher stage of development.”32 Another outstanding German Communist leader, Hermann Remmele, declared in the Reichstag on October 14, 1931: “We are not afraid of the fascists. They will shoot their bolt sooner than any other government.”33

Inherent in this fatal reasoning was a still more suicidal implication—that Hitler was “unconsciously” serving the cause of the proletarian revolution by tearing the mask away from bourgeois democracy. However reactionary he appeared to be, according to this logic, his historic role was “objectively” revolutionary. In this way, as we shall see, the Communists actually rationalized the accession of Hitler to power. But it was built into the very fabric of the theory of social-fascism. It was impossible to maintain that “democratic forms” were the main enemy, that Hitler's predecessors were already introducing fascism, that Hitler excelled all of them in tearing the mask away from bourgeois democracy, that the Nazi regime was the weakest form of bourgeois dictatorship—without preferring Hitler to Müller or Brüning, without making Hitler's victory into a quasi-victory for the proletarian revolution, and without making Hitler do the work of the Communists, “unconsciously” and “objectively.”34

The pre-Hitler regimes of 1930-32 present a real problem. Brüning's regime, and even more so the two that followed in the last half of 1932, headed by the execrable Franz von Papen and the futile General Kurt von Schleicher, were no longer functioning democracies even by German standards. The question arises whether the distinction between democratic and undemocratic governmental forms becomes less or more important in precisely such a pre-fascist period. In practice, as Brüning, Papen, and Schleicher whittled down the democratic structure, the differences among democratic forms, authoritarian forms, “presidential” forms, dictatorial forms, and fascist forms became increasingly blurred, for one reason because no one had yet lived through the type of fascism that Hitler produced. But they could not have been blurred at all if there had not been any real differences among them. Those responsible for blurring these “forms” were Weimar's guilty men; those responsible for denying the real differences among them were no less guilty. Both helped fascism take power.

The lesson would seem to be that it is dangerous to use the term “fascism”—or today “totalitarianism”—too lightly and too indiscriminately. The problem is how to preserve a very sizable margin of difference in order to make room for the full enormity and horror of fascism in power. To reduce this margin is to make fascism more familiar, more tolerable, more domesticated. By making fascism cover all the ground from Müller to Hitler, the Communists demonized the inoffensive Müller and humanized the demonic Hitler.



In the two years before Hitler came to power, the theory of social-fascism managed to remain virtually intact.

In 1931, some mistakes were noted, some criticisms made. The mistakes, “in the main,” the Eleventh Plenum ordained, “consist of drawing, after the liberal fashion, a contrast between fascism and bourgeois democracy and between the parliamentary form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and its open fascist forms.” It was, in fact, not merely liberal, it was specifically Social-Democratic to draw “a contrast between the ‘democratic’ forms of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and fascism.”

This criticism served to reinforce rather than weaken the basic idea of social-fascism. The other criticisms were purely tactical in nature. One advised against completely identifying social-fascism with fascism. A second admonished against completely identifying “the social-fascist upper stratum with the rank-and-file Social-Democratic masses of workers.” The latter criticism had proven especially costly in Germany, where the Communists had attacked the Social-Democratic rank and file as “little Zörgiebels.” These criticisms indicated that such complete identifications had been common for the past two years.

But these were changes in nuance, not in substance. They were designed to make it easier to expose, isolate, and overcome Social-Democracy, which was given as the “immediate task” of the Communist parties. The main report to the Plenum, delivered by the chief Russian member of the Comintern's secretariat, Manuilsky, still accused German Social-Democracy of “striving to usher in the fascist dictatorship by the ‘dry road,’” and international Social-Democracy of assisting the bourgeoisie “to establish the fascist form of dictatorship.”35 In the 121 pages of Manuilsky's report, Hitler was not mentioned even once. The “theses” of the Plenum mentioned Hitler only once in passing and in parentheses, but devoted pages to the need for destroying Social-Democracy. Hitler could be virtually ignored if it was true, as the theses said, that “the successful struggle against fascism in Germany calls for the timely exposure of the Brüning government as the government which is introducing the fascist dictatorship.”36 If ruling by emergency decrees was all there was to fascism, one did not need to wait for the outlawing of all other parties, Gleichschaltung, concentration camps, Führerprinzip, racial doctrine, Lebensraum, genocidal anti-Semitism, and all the rest.

By the end of 1931, the German Communists were sufficiently impressed with the threat of fascism to admit that it might be playing an offensive as well as a defensive role. “We have regarded fascism, including the growth of the National Socialist movement, too one-sidedly and too mechanically, only as the antithesis of the revolutionary upsurge, as the defensive action of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat,” Thälmann self-criticized himself. This view of fascism was correct but inadequate, he allowed. “We have not taken sufficiently into account the fact that fascism bears within it two elements, the element of the offensive of the ruling class and also the element of its disintegration; that the fascist movement can lead to a victory of the proletariat, as well as to a defeat of the proletariat.”37 It had taken only three years of the most intensive application of the theory of social-fascism to get this concession from him. Hitler in power was little more than a year away.

Yet 1932 made little difference to the theory. The Reichstag elections in July of that year gave the Nazis 230 seats, a gain of 123, and doubled their popular vote. The Social-Democrats went down to 133 seats, a loss of ten. The Communists gained twelve, from 77 to 89. Without the Nazis or Communists, a majority government had become impossible, and neither could or would take part. Brüning had already given way to von Pa-pen who was willing to take in Hitler as vice-chancellor, and Hitler would not settle for anything less than total power.

At this juncture, in September of that cursed year, the Twelfth Plenum met in Moscow. According to the Comintern's spokesman, Kuusinen, the “revolutionary upsurge” had moved on to an even higher stage. The only united front was the “united front from below” which he defined as one between the “Communist vanguard” and the non-revolutionary masses for the purpose of isolating the Social-Democratic “agents of the bourgeoisie.” He admitted that “for a long time, the Communist party of Germany underrated the National Socialist movement; and in part neglected to struggle against it.” But social-democracy was still “the main social support of the bourgeoisie” and “we ought to direct our main offensive against social-democracy.” The only concession lie would make was that this offensive should be waged “in such a way that we may win over the Social-Democratic workers.” In his concluding remarks, four months before Hitler took power, he reiterated: “The main blow, as I have already stated in my report, must in the present period of preparing for the revolution be directed against social-fascism and the reformist trade-union bureaucracy” (italics in original).38

Soon the Communists had their wish. Two elections were held in 1932, on July 31 and on November 6. In the latter, the Social-Democrats lost ground, from 133 Reichstag seats to 121, and from a total vote of 7,959,700 to 7,248,000. The Communists gained almost as much, from 89 seats to 100, and from 5,282,600 votes to 5,980,200. For the first time in four years, the Nazis fell back, from 230 seats to 196, and from 13,745,800 votes to 11,737,000. Between them, the Social-Democrats and Communists still managed to hold well over one-third of the total vote. The Nazis were slipping, and a real Social-Democratic-Communist united front might conceivably have blocked the way to Hitler's power.

But the theory of social-fascism held firm. In its post-election statement, the Central Committee of the Communist party of Germany declared: “The decline of the Social-Democratic party in no way reduces its role as the main social buttress of the bourgeoisie, but on the contrary, precisely because the Hitler party is at present losing followers from the ranks of the workers, instead of penetrating still more deeply into the proletariat, the importance of the Social-Democratic party for the fascist policy of finance capital increases.”39

Ten weeks later, on January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler gained power.

Twenty-one years later, Walter Ulbricht, the present master of East Germany, admitted that the Communists had concentrated their main fire on the Social-Democrats, not on Hitler, Brüning, Papen, or Schleicher, “without sufficiently distinguishing between the Social-Democratic leadership and the Social-Democratic membership.”40 In all those years, Ulbricht could think of nothing else that had been wrong with the theory of social-fascism.



The reader may have had enough. But there is reason for not stopping here with the career of this seemingly incredible theory. In order to grasp how truly perverse and pertinacious it was, it is necessary to follow its course to the end. For unlikely as it may seem to those who did not live through it, the theory of social-fascism lived on after Hitler took power.

For this purpose, I have made up a little anthology that takes the subject into 1934. The various items require little comment, and I have merely grouped them under appropriate subject headings. All of these quotations have been taken from the most authoritative Communist sources and spokesmen for a period of over a year after January 1933.


The Revolutionary Upsurge

“The fact of the Hitler government coming into power enormously accelerates the maturing of the revolutionary crisis in Germany. Germany is on the threshold of a revolutionary crisis (italics in original).”41

“The fascist dictatorship is not only incapable of solving the social and national conflicts, but it is also incapable of really consolidating its political rule.”42

“In spite of the most ruthless and bloody terror, a revolutionary upsurge is growing among the working class, which is completely deprived of all rights by fascism.”43

“After the establishment of the fascist dictatorship, the revolutionary mass movement is experiencing a fresh upsurge.”44

“The revolutionary uprising of the German working class—that is the perspective in Germany.”45

“The present stage in Germany, in Austria, is no longer simply a period of struggle to win over the majority of the working class, but a period of the formation of a revolutionary army for decisive class battles for power, a period of the mobilization of such cadres as are prepared to make any sacrifice in order to destroy the existing regime, in order to lead the proletariat to victory.”46


The Usefulness of Fascism

“The establishment of an open fascist dictatorship, by destroying all the democratic illusions among the masses and liberating them from the influence of Social-Democracy, accelerates the rate of Germany's development toward proletarian revolution.”47

“The bourgeoisie is compelled to abandon the democratic façade and to put the naked dictatorship of violence in the foreground. This development makes it easier for those carrying out a correct, united front, anti-fascist policy to overcome the illusions, which have been fostered by Social-Democracy for decades, with regard to the role of the State, and with regard to economic democracy and the policy of the ‘lesser evil.’”48

“Even fascist demagogy can now have a twofold effect. It can, in spite of the fascists, help us to free the masses of the toilers from the illusions of parliamentary democracy and peaceful evolution . . . ,”49

“The rapid fascisation of the capitalist governments naturally confronts us with added difficulties, but the bitterness of class antagonisms and the complete bankruptcy of the Second and Amsterdam [trade union] Internationals offer us tremendous new possibilities” (italics in original).50

“The present wave of fascism is not a sign of the strength, but a sign of the weakness and instability of the whole capitalist system. . . . Germany was and remains the weakest link in the chain of imperialist states. . . . That is why the proletarian revolution is nearer in Germany than in any other country.”51

“Fascism does not only make the struggle of the working class more difficult; it also accelerates the processes of the maturing of the revolutionary crisis.”52


The Main Enemy

“The Social-Democracy proves once again that it is inseparably allied with capitalism, that it still remains the chief buttress of the bourgeoisie, even when the latter go over to measures of open violence, including repressive measures against Social-Democracy.”53

“If the fascists are persecuting Social-Democracy as a party, they are beating it as a faithful dog that has fallen sick. They are beating it because they know that it is incapable of resistance, that, when it is beaten, it will come forward all the quicker to the service of the bourgeois dictatorship, even in the open fascist form.”54

“The complete exclusion of the social-fascists from the state apparatus, and the brutal suppression even of Social-Democratic organizations and their press, does not in any way alter the fact that Social-Democracy is now, as before, the chief support of the capitalist dictatorship.”55

“History now offers a real possibility of liquidating the mass influence of the Social-Democratic party, which is responsible for the victory of fascism and which is the main support of the bourgeoisie, and the possibility of establishing the unity of the labor movement.”56

“Social-Democracy continues to play the role of the main social prop of the bourgeoisie also in the countries of open fascist dictatorship.”57

“In spite of all their disagreements, the fascists and social-fascists are, and remain, twins, as Comrade Stalin remarked. . . . There are no disagreements between the fascists and the social-fascists as far as the necessity for the further fascisation of the bourgeois dictatorship is concerned. The Social-Democrats are in favor of fascisation, provided the parliamentary form is preserved.”58

“Even after the prohibition of its organization, Social-Democracy remains the main social prop of the bourgeoisie. . . . The present situation [December 1933] in the German labor movement offers us the possibility of destroying the mass influence of the SPG [Social-Democratic party of Germany] and of reestablishing the unity of the labor movement on a revolutionary basis.”59

“Every revolutionary must know that the path toward the annihilation of fascism, the path to the proletarian revolution and to its victory can only be the path that leads via the organizational and ideological abolition of the influence of Social-Democracy.”60

“It is, therefore, necessary above all to make a clear stand in regard to Social-Democracy, and first and foremost in regard to ‘Left’ Social-Democracy, this most dangerous foe of Communism” (italics in original).”61

“We must destroy the Social-Democratic influence on the working masses and we must not tolerate any vacillations in our ranks in the struggle against the Social-Democracy as the chief social support of the bourgeoisie.”62


I hope the reader has not skipped too quickly over this collection of seemingly quaint, musty quotations. Not so long ago, men paid for them with their lives, Communists and Social-Democrats alike. In March 1933, the “mask” was finally torn from the Weimar constitution. A newly elected Reichstag voted, 441 to 94, to give Hitler dictatorial powers. All 94 negative votes were cast by Social-Democrats (the remaining 27 Social-Democratic deputies and all 81 Communists could not vote, being already in exile, in hiding, or under arrest). The Communist party was officially outlawed on March 31; the trade unions were smashed in May; the Social-Democratic party was banned on June 22. Thereafter, Hitler made no distinction between Communists and Social-Democrats; he took their lives, cast them into concentration camps or, if they were lucky, drove them into exile, impartially.

Yet the theory of social-fascism survived many more months. It was finally discarded in 1934 in order to make way for the Popular Front line adopted the following year. At the Seventh World Congress in July-August 1935, speakers admitted that it had been a mistake to hold the view that the Müller government had worked for fascisation and that the Brüning government was already a “government of fascist dictatorship,” to have underrated the Nazi movement on the assumption that it could not take power, to have concentrated the main fire against Social-Democracy instead of the growing menace of fascism.63 These mea culpas quietly interred the theory of social-fascism which then became so embarrassing that the Communist movement has gone to extraordinary lengths to expunge it from the historical record. There is almost nothing in its entire history that the Communist movement is more ashamed of and so unwilling to defend.

But this was no ordinary aberration, and it demands far more study and reflection than it has received. Hitler's accession to power in January 1933 was the decisive dividing line, the crucial turning point, of the inter-war years. It led directly to World War II, from which our most oppressive and intractable international problems still derive. The responsibility for Hitler's victory was undoubtedly widespread. I know of no party, no economic interest, no secular or religious group, and no foreign country, including our own, which can escape some measure of culpability. But of all of them, the theory and practice of social-fascism was the most devastating, the most unnecessary, and the most self-destructive.

The problem it raises is: What are the limits, if any, of criticism and opposition in a democratic or, if you will, a “bourgeois-democratic” society—even from a revolutionary standpoint?

It was one thing to criticize the Social-Democrats for banning the 1929 May Day street demonstrations or the Brüning regime for governing so highhandedly. There was a sense, I believe, in which it could be reasonably argued that such policies undermined or endangered the Republic and made it more vulnerable to Hitlerism. But it was quite another thing to charge that these policies proved the Social-Democrats and the Bruning regime were themselves “introducing fascism” or “masked” forms of fascism. This type of criticism could only aim at bringing the democratic house down on all alike, including its revolutionary critics.

Such critics could not be interested in whether wrong policies undermined or endangered the Republic; they were themselves doing all in their power to undermine and endanger the Republic. Indeed, they assumed that the Republic was a greater enemy than anything that could follow it. They were chiefly concerned with drawing a line of blood between themselves and all others to the “right” of them, including the most “left-wing” of the Social-Democrats. This line made sense only on the assumption that the Communists were going to seize power themselves. In this case they knew that they were going to suppress Social-Democrats as well as Nazis, as the Russian Bolsheviks had suppressed Social-Democrats as well as Tsarists. The theory of social-fascism was a rationalization of Communist dictatorship in the guise of rationalizing everyone else into a variety of fascism.

The Communists gained ground in Germany from 1928 to 1932. But they never came close to winning a majority of the German working class, let alone a majority of the German people. In order to make their bid for power, they opened a chasm between themselves and the rest of the German working class and most of the German people, which, once they realized that their bid had failed, they could not close. They tried vainly in the last half of 1932 to tinker with the practical implications of the theory of social-fascism, but it was always too little and too late. Then they paid as heavily as or even more heavily than those whom they had once defiled as “social-fascists” and whose cooperation they were ultimately forced to seek.

By 1935, the German Communist leader, Wilhelm Pieck, had to avow that “we Communists fight with might and main for every scrap of democratic liberty,” and the new head of the Communist International, Georgi Dimitrov, gave assurances that “in the capitalist countries we defend and shall continue to defend every inch of bourgeois-democratic liberties which are being attacked by fascism and bourgeois reaction, because the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat so dictate.”64 Whatever these words were worth for the future, they were a pitiless commentary on the Communist past. An official obituary was never written for the theory of social-fascism; it was buried silently, furtively, and shamefully, as if its very name would dishonor those who might utter it.

This was how the original theory of social-fascism came to an end. It amounts to a case history of an extraordinary political aberration. And this is precisely what is so important and fascinating about it. Other movements, other revolutionary movements, have shown an amazing devotion to fanciful and self-defeating ideas. But these traits have usually marked relatively small movements which harmed themselves more than anyone else. There is hardly a comparable example in this century of a great movement—and the Communist movement may well be the greatest historical phenomenon specifically of the 20th century—in the grip of a political pathology capable of causing such havoc to itself and to so many others on such a monstrous scale. So extreme a divorce between ideology and reality deserves far more attention than it has received. It may be especially commended to the attention of those who are flirting with a new anti-liberal version of the theory of social-fascism.


1 In his earlier book, World Communism, the late Franz Borkenau wrote that “here and there the idea had been raised within the Communist ranks that a fascist policy could be carried through by a socialist party,” but this refers to the careers of Mussolini and Pilsudski. Borkenau then places “social-fascism” itself in 1929 (Norton, 1939, pp. 341-42). In his later book, European Communism, Borkenau flatly declared that “in 1929, it was discovered that the Social-Democrats were—'social-fascists' “(Harper & Row, 1953, p. 70). The year 1929 was significant because it was the year Nikolai Bukharin was removed from the Comintern and Stalin took over completely. Günter Nollau states: “The Social-Democrats, so ardently courted by the Communists from 1924 to 1926, were known as ‘Social Fascists’ from 1929 onwards” (International Communism and World Revolution, Praeger, 1961, p. 108). Isaac Deutscher also identified “social-fascism” with Stalin's removal of Bukharin from the Comintern in 1929 (Stalin, Vintage Books edition, 1961, p. 405). Ruth Fischer said that the “new theorem of ‘social-fascism’ which Stalin enunciated in person” came in 1929-1933 (Stalin and German Communism, Harvard University Press, 1948, p. 655). The only book I have found which does not seem to have made this mistake is C. L. R. James, World Revolution 1917-1936 (Seeker & Warburg, 1937, pp. 309-10). An early article by Sidney Hook, “The Fallacy of the Theory of Social Fascism” (The Modern Monthly, July 1934), is still worth reading. It has been reprinted in The Anxious Years, Louis Filler, ed. (Capricorn Books, 1963, pp. 319-35).

2 Resolutions and Theses of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (Communist Party of Great Britain, 1923), p. 105.

3 Introduction by Earl Browder to Andrés Nin, Struggle of the Trade Unions Against Fascism (Trade Union Educational League, 1923), p. 6. Nin left the Spanish Communist party in 1931 or 1932 and later became a leader of the revolutionary but anti-Communist POUM in Catalonia. He was assassinated by Soviet secret police agents in Spain in 1937 in the midst of the Civil War (Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, Harper Colophon edition, 1963, pp. 452-55). As for anticipations of the idea of social-fascism before 1924, this is a neglected field and more intensive research may turn up others. The two given, however, indicate that the essential idea must have developed between 1922 and 1924.

4 Ossip K. Flechtheim, Die KPD in der Weimarer Republik (Bollwerk Verlag, 1948), p. 102.

5 Die Lehren der deutschen Ereignisse (Verlag Carl Hoym Nachf., 1924), pp. 69-70. This pamphlet was originally issued for party members only.

Zinoviev subsequently published a “Preliminary Draft Proposal for Theses on the German Question” as an article in The Communist International (No. 2, new series, undated, but probably February 1924). It contained a section on the same theme, with somewhat different phraseology and personal references (the Italian Modigliani and the Germans Ebert and Severing were added). Among the formulas in this article were: “In its gradual degeneration, the entire international social-democracy has become objectively nothing but a variety of fascism” (p. 93), and “the leading strata of German social-democracy have themselves turned fascist” (P 97).

The career of Marshal Pilsudski illustrates how difficult it was to apply this line. After classifying him as a fascist, the Polish Communists made common cause with him and assisted his coup of May 1926, not without the Comintern's knowledge (M. K. Dziewanowski, The Communist Party of Poland, Harvard University Press, 1959, pp. 118-19).

6 Ibid., pp. 105-6.

7 G. Sinowjew, Die Weltpartei des Leninismus (speeches at the Fifth Congress) [Verlag Carl Hoym, 1924], p. 40.

8 V. I. Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. X, p. 310 (March 1922).

9 Protokoll des Vierten Kongresses der Kommunistischen Internationale (Verlag der Kommunintischen Internationale, 1923), p. 63.

10 Stalin, Works (Foreign Languages Publishing House, [Moscow], 1953), Vol. VI, pp. 294-95.

11 Internationale Presse-Korrespondenz (Berlin), October 7, 1924, pp. 1724-25. Stalin's article on the “International Situation” appeared in the same organ dated September 30, 1924, only about a week earlier. The English version of Neumann's article may be found in International Press Correspondence, October 23, 1924, pp. 838-39, with the subtitle as title.

12 Protokoll der Erweiterten Exekutive, March-April 1925 (Carl Hoym Nachf., 1925), p. 40.

13 Protokoll der Erweiterten Exekutive, November-December 1926 (Carl Hoymn Nachf., 1927), p. 563.

14 The process of persuasion may be followed in Communist Policy in Great Britain (Communist Party of Great Britain, 1928), which gives the main speeches and resolutions. However, the first use of “class against class” seems to have come in France in an “Open Letter to Party Members” in l'Humanité of November 24, 1927. But it was here intended for the opposite purpose—to induce the French Socialist party to enter into an electoral alliance.

15 These figures are taken from an East German Communist source: Siegfried Vietzke and Heinz Wohlgemuth, Deutschland und die deutsche Arbeiterbewegung in der Zeit der Weimarer Republik 1919-1933 (Dietz Verlag, 1966), pp. 324-25, 329.

16 Stalin, Works (Foreign Languages Publishing House [Moscow], 1954), Vol. X, pp. 291, 297.

17 Protokoll: 10. Plenum des Exekutivkomitees der Kommunistischen Internationale, 1929, p. 412.

18 International Press Correspondence, September 4, 1928, p. 1039 (Bukharin) and November 23, 1928, p. 1571 (theses).

19 Ibid, February 22, 1929, p. 140 (Manuilsky), and March 8, 1929, p. 227 (Koenen).

20 “Social-Fascism in Germany,” The Communist International, May 1929, pp. 529-30.

21 Protokoll des 10. Plenums, op. cit., p. 368. This passage may also be found in Ulbricht's collected works, Zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung (Dietz Verlag, 1954), Vol. I, p. 444. Otherwise, this speech has been ruthlessly cut and bowdlerized to remove all traces of the term “social-fascism” which was generously sprinkled about in the original. Without any warning to the reader, the material in this volume, supposedly documentary, has been altered to conform to the postwar line, and the tell-tale words, “social-fascist,” have been changed to the more respectful “Social-Democratic.”

22 Vietzke and Wohlgemuth, op. cit., p. 167.

23 In his autobiography, Serving My Time (Lawrence & Wishart, 1940), Harry Pollitt, the long-time general secretary of the British party, tells how he ran against Ramsay MacDonald in the 1929 election. The text of his election address, given in full in the book, makes little sense without some reference to the “third period,” “class against class,” and “social-fascism,” which Pollitt carefully avoided mentioning by the time the book was published. This address stated in the true style of its period: “The Labour party is the most dangerous enemy of the workers because it is a disguised party of capitalism” (italics in original). The vote in Seaham Harbour, a largely miners' constituency, was 35,615 for MacDonald, candidate of the disguised party of capitalism, and 1,451 for Pollitt, candidate of the only party of the proletariat.

24 Protokoll: 10. Plenum des Exekutivkomitees der Kommunistischen Internationale, July 3-19, 1929 (Verlag Carl Hoym Nachf., 1929/?), pp. 39-40 (Kuusinen); 63 (Manuilsky); 191 (Bela Run); 390-91 (Lozovsky). It should be noted, as a curiosity, that some of the foremost Comintern leaders earned their credentials as refugees from revolutionary failures. Kuusinen came to Russia after the Finnish defeat of 1918, Béla Kun after the Hungarian fiasco of 1919, and the same was true in different circumstances of the Italian, Palmiro Togliatti, then known as Ercoli, and the Bulgarian, Georgi Dimitrov.

25 “It is now necessary to point out that the Roosevelt ‘new deal’ program represents not only the strengthening of the open fascist tendencies in America, but also that it is quite consciously and systematically supporting and developing social-fascist ideas, organizations, and leaders. Roosevelt has a very special need for the social-fascists” (The Communist, August 1933, p. 734).

26 Flechtheim, op. cit., p. 164.

27 Die Rote Fahne, December 2, 1930, cited in International Press Correspondence, December 4, 1930, p. 1125.

28 Das Ende der Parteien 1933, edited by Erich Mattias and Rudolf Morsey (Droste Verlag, 1960), pp. 105-9. For good reason the Social-Democratic leader, Otto Wels, confessed in August 1933 that his party had been “driven” by events more than any other party and had been “really only an Objekt of developments” (p. 101).

29 International Press Correspondence, June 30, 1931, p. 611.

30 The Communist International, December 15, 1931, p. 717 (Thalmann); International Press Correspondence, November 19, 1931, p. 1056 (from Die Rote Fahne).

31 Protokoll des 10. Plenums, op. cit., p. 38.

32 International Press Correspondence, June 30, 1931, pp. 607 and 612.

33 Evelyn Anderson, Hammer or Anvil (Left Book Club 1935), p. 144.

34 The idea that the fascists might in some way help the revolution goes back to Lenin. In his speech to the Comintern's Fourth Congress on November 13, 1922—the next-to-last of his life—Lenin remarked: “Perhaps the fascists in Italy, for example, will render us a great service by explaining to the Italians that they are not yet sufficiently enlightened and that their country is not yet insured against the Black Hundreds. Perhaps this will be very useful” (Selected Works, Vol. X, p. 333). The “Black Hundreds” were extra-legal armed bands organized in 1905 to defend the Tsarist regime. Lenin's statement was made only two weeks after Mussolini's takeover, before he or anyone else had much experience with fascism in power. Nevertheless, Stalin took the same line, much more strongly, and with much less excuse, eleven years later after Hitler took power.

35 D. Z. Manuilsky, The Communist Parties and the Crisis of Capitalism (Modern Books, 1931), pp. 37 and 73.

36 XIth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International: Theses, Resolutions and Decisions (Modern Books, 1931), pp. 8 (Hitler); 9 (main mistakes); 15-16 (immediate task); 18 (tactical criticisms).

37 Ernst Thälmann, International Press Correspondence, December 10, 1931, p. 1137, from a condensed version of an article in Die Internationale, November-December 1931 (italics in original).

38 O. Kuusinen, Prepare for Power (Workers Library Publishers, 1932), pp. 35, 85-87, 96, 106-7, 141. The same line was taken by the theses and resolutions, Capitalist Stabilization Has Ended (Workers Library Publishers, 1932), pp. 10-13.

39 International Press Correspondence, November 17, 1932, p. 1100.

40 Walter Ulbricht, op. cit., p. 455. This admission was slipped into a special Author's Note of one-half page to say something about “social-fascism” in Ulbricht's collected works. It apparently serves the function of covering up for the omission of the term where it should have appeared in what is, after all, a collection of documents, in order not to open Ulbricht to the charge that he did not mention it at all. But this confession did not inhibit the East German Communist historians, Vietzke and Wohlgemuth, from claiming that the German Communist party genuinely changed its united front line in an appeal for “anti-fascist action” dated May 25, 1932 (op. cit., pp. 261-64). Unfortunately for this claim, they give the complete text of the appeal in an appendix, and thereby spoil the effect. Among other things, the appeal stated that “only the Communist Party stands at the head of the anti-fascist struggles of the German working class and fights for your demands, etc.” (p. 518). This was typical, of course, of our old friend, the “united front from below,” which was meant to take away the rank and file from the Social-Democratic party and put it under Communist leadership.

41 V. Knorin (head of the Central European secretariat of the Comintern), International Press Correspondence, March 9, 1933, p. 263.

42 “Resolution of the CC of the Communist Party of Germany on the Situation and the Immediate Tasks,” ibid., June 2, 1933, p. 529.

43 “The Present Situation in Germany and the Tasks of the CPG,” ibid., October 27, 1933, pp. 1040-41.

44 Ibid., November 3, 1933, p. 1065.

45 Wilhelm Pieck, ibid., January 30, 1934, p. 116.

46 V. Knorin, ibid., April 23, 1934, pp. 634-35.

47 “The Situation in Germany,” Resolution of the Presidium of the ECCI (Executive Committee of the Communist International), adopted April 1, 1933, ibid., April 13, 1933, p. 378.

48 Resolution of the CC of CPG, ibid., June 2, 1933, p. 527.

49 Kuusinen, ibid., January 30, 1934, p. 109.

50 Lozovsky, ibid., March 19, 1934, p. 474.

51 V. Knorin, ibid., April 23, 1934, p. 635.

52 Manuilsky, ibid., May 7, 1934, p. 712.

53 Knorin, ibid., March 9, 1933, p. 263.

54 Fritz Heckert (German representative to the Comintern), ibid., April 21, 1933, p. 418.

55 Resolution of the CC of CPG, ibid., June 9, 1933, p. 547.

56 Resolution of Polit-Bureau of the CC of CPG, ibid., November 3, 1933, p. 1064.

57 Theses of XIII Plenum, ibid., January 5, 1934, p. 13.

58 Kuusinen, ibid., January 30, 1934, p. 109.

59 Wilhelm Pieck (then Secretary of the German Communist party), ibid., January 30, 1934, pp. 124-25. (According to Babette L. Gross, widow of the former German Communist leader, Willy Munzenberg, who was expelled in 1938, Pieck told a personal friend in early 1933: “If the Nazis come to power, they will be at the end of their rope in two months, and then it will be our turn!” And Fritz Heckert wrote to Münzenberg in Moscow, January 1933: “The Nazis will perform no miracles and will be at the end of their rope in no time” [The Comintern—Historical Highlights, edited by Milorad M. Drachkovitch and Branko Lazitch, Praeger, for Hoover Institution Publications, 1966, p. 117]. The recollections and documents in this collection make it one of the prime sources on Comintern history.)

60 Fritz Heckert, ibid., March 19, 1934, p. 463.

61 Knorin, ibid., April 23, 1934, p. 637.

62 Pieck, ibid., May 7, 1934, p. 748.

63 Ibid., August 15, 1935, p. 902 (Pieck); August 20, 1935, p. 961 (Dimitrov); August 28, 1935, p. 1055 (Franz [Dahlem?]).

64 Ibid., August 8, 1935, p. 855 (Pieck); August 20, 1935, p. 963 (Dimitrov).

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