Revolution and counterrevolution in Germany

Image: Gill Rosselli


January 1933 preface to the book by Leon Trotsky

The works gathered here are for the first time grouped together in volume, under the title Revolution and counterrevolution in Germany. Written at different times, they deal, however, with the same theme: the problem of the German proletarian revolution, put on the agenda with extraordinary accuracy by the outbreak of the crisis in 1929. And the first article dates precisely from there.

The title given makes, moreover, perfectly clear the internal unity that binds these writings. It is a matter, as Leon Trotsky says, not of saving German capitalism, but of saving Germany from its capitalism. This is the central theme of the work.

The problems of the destiny of the German people, especially of its proletariat, are studied in these pages with the precision and astuteness that only the dexterous handling of that extraordinary instrument of sociological investigation that is Marxism can provide. Even more so when it is handled by hands that are not just those of a great theorist, but of a man of action who has already experimented, in the social laboratories of the Revolution, with its ideas and doctrine. The analyst and the revolutionary merge here, and it is this synthesis that characterizes the true Marxist.

Revolution and counterrevolution in Germany repeats the title of the work by Friedrich Engels (attributed, incidentally, to Karl Marx) on the German revolution of 1848. Both study the class relations of German society in two decisive periods of its history.

Leon Trotsky's book continues that of the master at a higher stage of historical development. The premises then raised by Marx's collaborator are now confirmed in the work of Vladimir I. Lenin's companion, and there they have their final development. Predictions only sketched by the first are completed by the second. On the perspectives that Friedrich Engels drew, already realized by historical evolution, Leon Trotsky builds new ones that the march of events will or is already putting to the test.

Thus, in the distance of almost a century, the continuity of the historical process is evident, attesting to the fecundity of the Marxist method and objectively confirming the discoveries and brilliant predictions of the founders of scientific socialism.

In 1848, the struggle was raging between feudal society and the growing bourgeois society. It was the struggle of the rising bourgeoisie, especially its middle classes, against the feudal nobility, bureaucracy and crown. Today, the struggle is between dying capitalism and socialism in management, and the fighters on both sides are the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

So the vast majority of the nation was made up of small industrialists, shopkeepers, artisans and peasants. Today, the absolute majority are industrial workers.

In 1848, there were no large urban centers, and there was a complete absence of masses concentrated in large cities, and this fact prevented the middle classes from achieving political supremacy, as the French and English bourgeoisie did. The bourgeois revolution has since lagged behind in Germany, and when the opportunity arose for it to develop, it was already in the midst of the proletarian revolution.

In 1848, political decentralization prevailed in the country, divided into a hundred rival principalities, provincial, isolated, reactionary, hindering with their feudal privileges not only political development, but also general economic development, whose interests had already been nationalized, overcoming its primitive localism.

Today, the proletariat, by its mere existence as an organized class, collides with bourgeois legality, constantly threatening the capitalist regime itself.

Friedrich Engels noted at that time that “the working-class movement will never be independent, it will never have a proletarian character, as long as the different fractions of the middle class, and especially its most progressive part, the big manufacturers, do not conquer political power. and recast the State according to their interests”.

Then he had the mass of the working class as an employer - not the great modern industrialists, but the small industrialist, whose system of exploitation was nothing more than a survival of the Middle Ages.

“The man that the (workers) exploited, even in the big cities, was the small boss”. The modern mode of production had barely begun in Germany then, and the general economy was still characterized by the absence of large industrial enterprises, by the lack of modern conditions of existence. This economic backwardness was reflected in the mentality of the worker, who was distinguished by provincialism and craftsmanship.

“All workers expected their turn, after all, to become a small boss. […] These proletarians were not yet proletarians in the full sense of the term, […] they were just an extension of the petty bourgeoisie on the eve of becoming the modern proletariat, they were not in direct opposition to the bourgeoisie, that is, to the big capital”.

At present, this process of differentiation between the petty bourgeoisie and the working class has reached its complete end – and it is the petty bourgeoisie which, fearing being absorbed into the proletariat, desperately seeks to defend its place in the sun, threatened with definitively foundering in proletarianization.

Like the feudal caste in 1848, now, above all classes in the nation, hover the new barons of finance, the caste of finance capital.

Finally, this is how Friedrich Engels put the political problem of the proletarian party in his time: “The immediate needs and conditions of the movement were such that they did not allow the launching of any special demands of the proletarian party. […] Indeed, as long as the ground is not cleared to permit independent action by the workers, as long as universal and direct suffrage is not established, as long as the thirty-six states continue to divide Germany into innumerable pieces, what could the party do? proletarian, or else… fight alongside the small traders to acquire the rights that would later allow them to lead their own struggle?”.

Disorganized, neglected, the workers only woke up to the political struggle, feeling only the “simple instinct of their social position”.

From his analysis, Friedrich Engels concluded that it would be necessary to wait for “the turn of petty-bourgeois democracy to arrive first, before the working and communist class can hope to seize power and definitively abolish this wage system that keeps it under the yoke of the bourgeoisie” .

Thus, almost a century later, it is clearly perceived today that what is currently being decided in Germany is nothing more than the same historical process that began in 1848. The process of industrial development pari passu with the development of the proletariat and its consciousness of class, begun at that time, now finds its epilogue. The petty bourgeoisie, then revolutionary, had inevitably to occupy the first place on the political scene, and it was the natural leader of the proletariat on the path of revolution. The proletariat was forced to take up arms to defend interests that were not directly its own.

The situation today is different. And the problem that now arises in all its grandeur and acuteness is the problem of the seizure of power by the proletariat. The petty bourgeoisie became forever incapable of leading any independent movement. The roles are reversed: now, either she follows the proletariat into the future, or she takes the right for reaction.

From revolutionary democratic that it was, it becomes reactionary, from Jacobin to becoming fascist. Fascism, according to Leon Trotsky's definition, is nothing more than the reactionary caricature of Jacobinism, in the epoch of capitalism in decay.

While, in 1848, the petty bourgeoisie made the proletariat fight for it against feudal society, in 1933 it saw itself mobilized by finance capital, like a battering ram against the organized working class: in this way it hoped to overcome the crisis that was corroding the regime and that the leads to misery, to get out of the desperate situation in which it finds itself, seeking to destroy the factors that intensify the relentless struggle that fills our entire epoch, waged between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This is the foundation of fascism.

After the proletarian revolution was decapitated in 1918, the Weimar democratic republic that emerged as a result has been characterized by impotence and sterility. It was a cripple coming out of the senile hands of bureaucrats and corrupted politicians of Social Democracy. But in the dynamics of the class struggle, in the present state of historical conditions, there is no longer any place for the pedantic articles of the Weimar constitution. The result is what has been seen: under the weight of events, under the clashes of the class struggle, this liberal abortion has come, now more or less disguised, in a slow but progressive march, revealing more and more, under the cover bookish and rosy of the Weimar constitution, its reactionary character.

Its evolution towards the right, after the new defeat of the proletariat in 1923, and after the aggravation of the crisis that now devastates the economic and social organism of capitalist Germany, has accelerated. That is why we are seeing, against the perspective of the know-it-all doctors of social democracy, the return of all the retrograde elements of the Prussian monarchy. The reactionary ghosts of the seemingly dead past rise in Germany's current political arena as if nothing had happened since the great war. Let us recall here the prophetic words of Friedrich Engels in 1848, in the face of the revolutionary bankruptcy of the petty bourgeoisie and the middle classes, at the time of the formation and growth of the proletariat: “Political liberalism, the reign of the bourgeoisie in the form of monarchical or republican, became forever impossible in Germany.

Leon Trotsky clearly shows this process: “The haunted world will revise the image of the past period, only in the form of even more violent convulsions. And at the same time, German militarism will rise again. As if the years 1914-1918 never existed! The German bourgeoisie again places the barons of the east of the Elbe at the head of the nation.

Here is the culmination of this march to the right: Hindenburg, the old marshals and barons, the princes, neo-Bonapartism – and as a new form of reaction –, finally, fascism. Marx's genial words before the Cologne jury, at the end of the 1848 revolution, are updated with an irresistible force of evidence: "After a revolution, permanent counter-revolution becomes for the crown a matter of everyday existence".

After the defeats of 1918 and 1923, this is precisely what we are witnessing – the gradual installation of the counterrevolution. Fascism is nothing more than this permanent counterrevolution in its final and decisive expression.

Faithful to the teachings of his great masters, and continuing them dialectically, Leon Trotsky opposes the process of permanent counterrevolution to that of permanent revolution. In this opposition, there is no room for the senile dreams of democracy and liberalism of old migraines and lackeys and clerks in tailcoats of social democracy; the question will be decided as Marx put it in 1849 – either by “the complete triumph of the counter-revolution, or else by a new, victorious revolution”.

This is the decisive historical question of today's Germany. And this whole question now boils down to winning over the majority of the working class to the revolutionary banner of communism. This is the task of the German Communist Party, its immediate and urgent task. Within the capitalist regime, there is no way out for the German people. All conditions exist to facilitate this task for the Communist Party. It is enough for him to understand – points out Trotsky – that “even today he only represents the minority of the proletariat”, and put aside the policy of bureaucratic ultimatism that has paralyzed him until now. The fate of the German revolution depends only on the conquest of the social-democratic workers. And there is only one way to accomplish this achievement, and that is through the united front policy advocated by the Left Opposition, in accordance with Lenin's teachings, and of which this book is a veritable manual.

Feverishly poring over the events unfolding in Germany, from his Prinkipo exile, in his tireless vigilance over the destinies of the heroic German proletariat, Leon Trotsky has written in these pages a complete treatise on Marxist revolutionary strategy and tactics, worthy of being paired alongside of the great classical political works of Marx and Engels and which is a true continuation of the immortal pages of Communism's childhood disease of Lenin, at the present time, in this new decisive phase for the world proletarian revolution, which opened with the outbreak of the 1929 crisis.

The only difference is that, in this case, evil is the opposite of infantilism: bureaucratic senility. But then as now, the therapy is just as right, and just as effective.

*Mario Pedrosa (1990-1981) was a political activist, journalist and visual arts critic. He was one of the founders of the PT. Author, among other books, of The imperialist option (Brazilian Civilization).


Leon Trotsky. Revolution and counterrevolution in Germany. Organization: Mario Pedrosa. Introduction and technical review: Dainis Karepovs. São Paulo, Perseu Abramo Foundation\Editora Veneta, 2023, 484 pages.

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles