Trotsky on Nazism and the ‘German puzzle’ (1932)

In an article from 1932, the Russian socialist leader Lev Bronstein, better known as Trotsky, offers the following account of the ‘German puzzle’:

“The political situation in Germany is not only difficult but instructive. Like a compound fracture, a rupture in the life of a nation cuts through the flesh. Rarely has the inter-relationship of classes and parties been laid bare so starkly as in contemporary Germany. The social crisis is chipping away the conventions and exposing the reality. Those in power today might have seemed phantoms not so long ago. Was not the rule of the monarchy and the aristocracy abolished in 1918? But the German Junkers do not at all feel like phantoms. On the contrary, the Junkerdom is making a phantom out of German republicanism.

The present rulers stand above parties. No wonder, since these rulers represent a dwindling minority. Their inspiration and their direct support comes from the DNP (German National Party), a hierarchical association of property owners under their traditional leaders, the Junkers, the only class used to giving orders in Germany. The barons would like to erase the last eighteen years of European history in order to start all over again.

The same could not be said for the leaders of the German bourgeoisie. The political history of the German Third Estate was uninspiring; its parliamentary collapse inglorious. The decline of British liberalism, today still able to garner millions of votes, can scarcely be compared with the annihilation of the traditional parties of the German bourgeoisie. Of the Democrats and the National Liberals, who once had a majority of the people behind them, nothing remains but discredited staff officers — without an army and without a future.

Turning away from the old parties, or awakening to political life for the first time, the motley masses of the petty bourgeoisie have rallied around the swastika. For the first time in their entire history, the middle classes – the artisans, the shopkeepers, the “liberal professions,” the clerks, functionaries, and peasants – all those divided by tradition and interests, have united in a crusade, a stranger, more fantastic, more discordant one than the peasant crusades of the Middle Ages…

In National Socialism, everything is contradictory and chaotic, as in a nightmare. Hitler’s party calls itself socialist, yet it leads a terrorist struggle against all socialist organizations. It calls itself a workers’ party, yet its ranks include all classes except the proletariat. It hurls its lightning bolts at the heads of the capitalists, yet is supported by them. It bows before Germanic traditions, yet aspires to Caesarism. With his eyes turned toward Frederick II, Hitler apes the gestures of Mussolini – but with a Charlie Chaplin moustache. The whole world has collapsed inside the heads of the petty bourgeoisie, which has completely lost its equilibrium. This class is screaming so clamorously out of despair, fear, and bitterness that it is itself deafened and loses the sense of its words and gestures.

The overwhelming majority of the workers follow the Social Democrats and the Communists. The first party had its heroic age before the war; the second traces its origin directly to the October Revolution in Russia. The efforts of the National Socialists to break through the Marxist front have not yet achieved any tangible results. Roughly 14,000,000 petty-bourgeois votes are arrayed against the votes of approximately 13,000,000 hostile workers…

In the formal sense, today in the last days of August, Germany is still numbered among the parliamentary republics… But two extreme wings of the Reichstag, representing the majority of voters, regard democracy as definitively bankrupt. The National Socialists want to replace it with a fascist dictatorship on the Italian model. The Communists aspire to a dictatorship of Soviets. The bourgeois parties, which have tried to administer the affairs of the capitalist class through parliamentary channels for the past fourteen years, have lost their entire electoral following. The Social Democrats have not only let the power conferred on it by the November Revolution slip from its hands, has not only lost millions of votes to the Communists but is in danger even of losing its legal status as a party.