Willi Dickhut

Willi Dickhut

May 1945: “Problems of Proletarian Unity”

Paper of the Solingen County Leadership; Author: Willi Dickhut

Von RW-Redaktion

Foreword to the publication of two writings of Willi Dickhut from May 1945

Willi Dickhut: Two policy papers from May 1945 (Note: publication of the second paper is planned for June 2020)

These two policy papers are impressive also because of the fundamental positions they take on all essential issues directly following the Second World War.

They have major importance also today particularly for the building of a united front against fascism and war.

For their understanding, two historical facts are essential: On the one hand, German monopoly capital temporarily was deprived of power after the defeat of Hitlerite fascism. On the other hand, “the result of the years of fascism [was] a general trend to the left among the working masses,” Willi Dickhut said.

We thank the Solingen City Archives for making these writings from the estate of Willi Dickhut available to us.

KPD County Leadership Solingen

May 1945


In the summer of 1932, when the great world economic crisis was approaching its deepest point and one emergency decree followed another, it was clear that the bourgeoisie no longer could maintain its rule by means of democracy. The Brüning government was superseded by the Papen government. A lieutenant and ten men appeared to escort the “socialist” minister Severing out of his minister’s office. Instead of calling on the working class and its unions to fight, the “little metalworker” yielded to force.

The Papen government stood for one of the forms of fascism, but was not yet the open fascist dictatorship. The world economic crisis moved persistently towards the abyss. More and more industrial enterprises, commercial undertakings, craft businesses and banks collapsed, and the agricultural sector was saddled with unbearable debt burdens. Bankruptcies, foreclosure sales, evictions and the like were the order of the day. The army of unemployed grew to avalanche proportions. Signs of the dissolution of capitalism were becoming more and more evident. The fascist Papen government wanted to arrest this development with even more stringent, even more radical emergency decrees.

A large part of the social reforms wrested from capitalism by the proletariat in 1918 under the pressure of the social revolution had already been dismantled; now the remaining gains of the proletariat were to be crushed. This attempt was thwarted by the growing will to resist in the working class. Powerful strikes and demonstrations were initiated against Papen’s emergency decrees. Developments were moving towards a revolutionary crisis, and Social Democracy was no longer able to halt this process; its own members became radicalized despite the politics of the “lesser evil.” The revolutionary process of ferment in the masses grew to ever greater proportions and at a further accelerated pace.

On the other hand, the petty and middle bourgeois strata, bankrupt or approaching bankruptcy with rapid strides, and the masses of the peasantry in their majority (with the exception of the mass of small and smallest farmers who followed a revolutionary course) fell for the demagogic slogans of the Hitlerite fascists and quickly enlarged the fascist mass base. A race ensued between the revolutionary forces and the fascist forces.

Around this time – mid-September 1932 – the Deutsche Führerbriefe (German Führer Letters), featuring an article from the private correspondence of the “Reich Association of German Industry,” went round within the top hundred of the German bourgeoisie. This article, entitled “The Social Reconsolidation of Capitalism,” writes:

The problem of consolidating the bourgeois regime in postwar Germany generally is characterized by the circumstance that the leading, to wit, economy-controlling, bourgeoisie has become too thin to support its rule alone. It requires for this rule, if it does not wish to trust in the highly dangerous weapon of the purely military exercise of power, the binding of strata which do not belong to it socially, but which perform for it the indispensable service of giving roots to its rule in the people and thereby constitute its real or ultimate support. This ultimate or “critical” stay of bourgeois rule in the initial period of postwar consolidation was Social-Democracy. …

In the first reconsolidation period of the bourgeois postwar regime from 1923‑24 to 1929‑30, the rift in the working class was based on the wage and social policy gains into which Social-Democracy had translated the revolutionary onslaught. Specifically, these gains functioned as a kind of sluice gate by which the employed and solidly organized section of the working class enjoyed a graduated but consistent differential advantage in the labor market over the unemployed and fluctuating masses of the lower categories; it was relatively well protected against the full impact of unemployment and the general crisis of the economy on its standard of living.

The political boundary between Social-Democracy and Communism runs almost exactly along the social and economic crest line of the dam containing this sluice gate, and all the efforts – to date in vain – of Communism are directed at breaking into this protected territory of the trade unions. But, furthermore, since the Social-Democratic translation of revolution into social policy coincided with the transfer of the struggle from the factories and the streets into parliament, into the ministries and government offices, i.e., with the transformation of the struggle “from below” into the safeguarding of this policy “from above,” from this point on Social-Democracy and the union bureaucracy, and consequently also the entire section of the working class led by them, were chained lock, stock and barrel to the bourgeois state and their participation in its power, as long as, to be precise, firstly, even the least of those gains remain to be defended by that path and, secondly, the working class follows their leadership.

Four conclusions from this analysis are important:

1. The policy of the “lesser evil” is not a tactic, it is the political substance of Social-Democracy.

2. The ties of the union bureaucracy to the way of government “from above” are more cogent than their ties with Marxism, i.e., with Social-Democracy, and apply to any bourgeois state which seeks to involve them.

3. The ties of the union bureaucracy with Social-Democracy stand or fall politically with parliamentarism.

4. The possibility of a liberal social constitution of monopoly capitalism hinges on the existence of an automatic splitting mechanism in the working class. A bourgeois regime to which a liberal social constitution is important must not only be absolutely parliamentarian, it must also rely on Social-Democracy and leave Social-Democracy sufficient gains; a bourgeois regime which destroys these gains must sacrifice Social-Democracy and parliamentarism, must procure itself a substitute for Social-Democracy and go over to a controlled social constitution.

The process of this transition, in which we momentarily find ourselves, because the economic crisis automatically has crushed those gains, is passing through an acutely dangerous phase, to the effect that, with the elimination of those gains, the mechanism for splitting the working class based upon them also ceases to operate; the working class consequently begins to drift towards Communism, and bourgeois rule approaches the threshold of the emergency state of a military dictatorship. …

Rescue from this abyss is only possible if the dividing and binding of the working class succeeds on a different, direct route (since that sluice gate cannot be sufficiently rebuilt). This is where the positive opportunities and tasks of National Socialism lie.

If National Socialism were to succeed in bringing the trade unions into a controlled social constitution, just as Social-Democracy formerly brought them into the liberal constitution, then National Socialism would thereby become a holder of a function indispensable to future bourgeois rule and necessarily would have to take its organized place in the state and social system of this rule.

The danger of a state-capitalist or even state-socialist development, often raised as objection against such a corporative integration of the trade unions under National-Socialist leadership, in reality is precisely warded off by that.  Between the two possibilities of a reconsolidation of bourgeois rule and Communist revolution there is no third possibility.

According to these Führerbriefe, the ruling class had recognized the trend of domestic politics with a clarity and perspicuity that left nothing open to the imagination. The consequence was support of the National Socialists by every conceivable means and setting of a course for open fascist dictatorship. This was the job of the Schleicher government as a cabinet of transition. Speedy action had to be taken; consequently, this cabinet could only be allowed a short life. This characterized the weakness of the German bourgeoisie.

Whereas quick agreement was reached in all strata of the bourgeoisie, the working people were not able to complete the building of a big antifascist, anticapitalist united front, which was in the process of developing and growing,

firstly, because the reformist leaders sabotaged this slowly crystallizing unity of the working class, thus betraying the working class and paving the way for fascism, and

secondly, because the revolutionary party, the KPD, applied its unity policy, correct in principle, too rigidly, without revolutionary flexibility and elasticity.

This characterized the weakness of the working class.

In this connection the victory of fascism in Germany must be regarded not only as a symptom of the weakness of the working class and a result of the betrayals of the working class by Social-Democracy, which paved the way for fascism; it must also be regarded as a sign of the weakness of the bourgeoisie, a sign that the bourgeoisie is no longer able to rule by the old methods of parliamentarism and bourgeois democracy, and, as a consequence, is compelled in its home policy to resort to terrorist methods of rule…” Stalin wrote in the “Report to the Seventeenth Party Congress” in 1934. (Works, Vol. 13, pp. 299 f.)

Consequently, the fascist forces gained victory and the revolutionary forces were defeated in this race.

Twelve years of fascist dictatorship in Germany, twelve years of terrible exploitation and brutal oppression ending in tremendous misery have forced upon the working class the recognition that it is necessary to form the unity of the working class, and the desire to do so. But how is the unity to be established? Formation of a united front between Communist, Social Democratic, Christian and independent workers, or unity party, i.e., merger of KPD and SPD?

In form and content the development of the proletarian party took place under the influence of the development and interdependence of the material life of society; that is to say, the party was formed, developed, and changed in parallel with the development and change of the capitalist social order from the capitalism of free competition to imperialism, from capitalism that could still made economic concessions to the worker, still grant social reforms, to the capitalism of most brutal exploitation and oppression, of the end of the social reforms.

In accordance with this development and change of the social structure of society, the proletarian party transformed from a parliamentary party of the pre-revolutionary era into the revolutionary party that met the requirements of the period of open and armed class struggles, the period of proletarian revolution. How did this development and transformation of the proletarian party take place? Stalin explains in The Foundations of Leninism:

In the pre-revolutionary period, the period of more or less peaceful development, when the parties of the Second International were the predominant force in the working-class movement and parliamentary forms of struggle were regarded as the principal forms – under these conditions the Party neither had nor could have had that great and decisive importance which it acquired afterwards, under conditions of open revolutionary clashes. Defending the Second International against attacks made upon it, Kautsky says that the parties of the Second International are an instrument of peace and not of war, and that for this very reason they were powerless to take any important steps during the war, during the period of revolutionary action by the proletariat. That is quite true. But what does it mean? It means that the parties of the Second International are unfit for the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, that they are not militant parties of the proletariat, leading the workers to power, but election machines adapted for parliamentary elections and parliamentary struggle. This, in fact, explains why, in the days when the opportunists of the Second International were in the ascendancy, it was not the party but its parliamentary group that was the chief political organisation of the proletariat. It is well known that the party at that time was really an appendage and subsidiary of the parliamentary group. It scarcely needs proof that under such circumstances and with such a party at the helm there could be no question of preparing the proletariat for revolution.

But matters have changed radically with the dawn of the new period. The new period is one of open class collisions, of revolutionary action by the proletariat, of proletarian revolution, a period when forces are being directly mustered for the overthrow of imperialism and the seizure of power by the proletariat. In this period the proletariat is confronted with new tasks, the tasks of reorganising all party work on new, revolutionary lines; of educating the workers in the spirit of revolutionary struggle for power; of preparing and moving up reserves; of establishing an alliance with the proletarians of neighbouring countries; of establishing firm ties with the liberation movement in the colonies and dependent countries, etc., etc. To think that these new tasks can be performed by the old Social-Democratic Parties, brought up as they were in the peaceful conditions of parliamentarism, is to doom oneself to hopeless despair, to inevitable defeat. If, with such tasks to shoulder, the proletariat remained under the leadership of the old parties, it would be completely unarmed. It scarcely needs proof that the proletariat could not consent to such a state of affairs.

Hence the necessity for a new party, a militant party, a revolutionary party, one bold enough to lead the proletarians in the struggle for power, sufficiently experienced to find its bearings amidst the complex conditions of a revolutionary situation, and sufficiently flexible to steer clear of all submerged rocks in the path to its goal.

Without such a party it is useless even to think of overthrowing imperialism, of achieving the dictatorship of the proletariat.

This new party is the party of Leninism. (Stalin, Works, Vol. 6, pp. 175 ff.; emphasis W.D.)

The conditions outlined by Stalin for the role of a revolutionary party are met by the parties of the Communist International. The Communist Party is the vanguard of the proletariat which incorporates in its ranks those workers who possess more or less developed knowledge of cause and effect, strategy and tactics, conditions and results of the class struggles; who do not hesitate to place the revolutionary interests of the movement as a whole above the individual interests and wishes of different strata and tendencies within the proletariat; who know how to create awareness among the masses of the conditions and the course of the class struggles, their connections and interdependence, their paths and their aims; who know how to break them away from the influence of the bourgeoisie and fill them with revolutionary energy and revolutionary will. Only in this way can the Marxist-Leninist party lead the masses to victory.

The Marxist-Leninist party can fulfill the task in the period of the proletarian revolution only if it conducts an irreconcilable struggle against opportunists of all shades, against conciliators, compromisers and capitulationists who served the interests of the bourgeoisie through their behavior. In order to do this it must keep its own ranks free of these elements.

Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation,” Lenin demands.

The history of the Bolshevik Party teaches that it waged an irreconcilable struggle against the opportunist groups within the party to destroy these groups of “economists,” Mensheviks, Trotskyites, Bukharinists, and others.

Our Party succeeded in achieving internal unity and unexampled cohesion of its ranks primarily because it was able … to rid its ranks of Liquidators and Mensheviks. Proletarian parties develop and become strong by purging themselves of opportunists and reformists, social-imperialists and social-chauvinists, social-patriots and social-pacifists. The Party becomes strong by purging itself of opportunist elements. (Stalin, “The Foundations of Leninism,” Works, Vol. 6, pp. 192 f.)

What lessons must we draw from this? The twelve years of fascist dictatorship have left a lasting impression on the masses of members and a part of the leaders of Social Democracy. They recognize that if it were not for the active participation of the Soviet Union, if it were not for the use of its economic and military strength, the awesome fascist war machinery could not have been smashed, or smashed only with extreme difficulty, and certainly not at that tempo. A large section has comprehended that in the present revolutionary period the social question only can be solved by revolutionary struggle to overthrow capitalist rule. Since only the Communists wage a consistently revolutionary struggle according to uniform guidelines, the broad proletarian masses increasingly lean towards the Communist Party. The result of the years of fascism is a general trend to the left among the working masses.

The masses want unity of the working class on a revolutionary basis. Since the goal of the working class – to achieve the socialist social system – can only be reached in a revolutionary way, the masses willingly put themselves under the leadership of the Communists, provided these advocate a clear Marxist-Leninist line and prove themselves through activity in the struggle. Can this prerequisite be fulfilled by amalgamation of the KPD with the SPD through the building of a unified party?

Either both leadership and membership of the SPD have really left the grounds of reformism and parliamentarism, have brought themselves to recognize the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat and have resolved to cooperate practically, then they will find their way into the Communist Party; or they have not yet been able to get rid of the reformist and parliamentarian eggshells sticking to them, have not yet been able to free themselves from their opportunist tendencies, then the unification of opportunist and revolutionary elements in a unified party would blur the revolutionary line and weaken the fighting power of the party. The Bolshevik party teaches us the lesson that precisely the removal of the opportunist, reformist and Menshevik elements strengthened the Leninist party.

It is therefore wrong to form a unified party that is founded on a mishmash of revolutionary phrases and reformist acts. Only where the Communist Party is organizationally and ideologically extremely weak, face-to-face with a strong Social Democratic party (such as the Labour Party in England or also the national-revolutionary Kuomintang in China), does it fight for organizational unification while maintaining its organizational independence as faction within Social Democracy. The purpose of such unification is to have a better opportunity under such conditions to win Social Democratic workers for the revolutionary struggle. However, if the Communist Party has become a real mass party, then it must also present itself to the outside world as an independent factor, because such strength has a psychological impact on the masses, attracting them as a magnet does iron filings. Consequently, the organizational independence as a revolutionary mass party must be preserved.

The establishment of the unity of the working class under the present circumstances therefore must not take the form of the organizational amalgamation of the KPD with the SPD, but must provide for the creation of a broad united front of Communist, Social Democratic, Christian and non-affiliated workers, in which the Communists vie for leadership. The goal of such a united front policy is to win the majority of the working class for the revolutionary struggle for power, for the dictatorship of the proletariat as a period of transition from the capitalist system to the socialist.

However, the word dictatorship has been discredited by the twelve years of fascist dictatorship, and a strong aversion has arisen to any dictatorship. Threadbare bourgeois democracy has had its status enhanced by this. The broad masses do not understand the concrete differences between fascist and proletarian dictatorship, bourgeois and proletarian democracy. Here it is necessary to do broad educational work. The fascist dictatorship is a dictatorship of a small minority, of a handful of capitalists against the great majority of the working people. Proletarian dictatorship is a dictatorship of the great majority, of the masses of working people against the counterrevolutionary capitalist circles who seek to destroy the achievements of the proletarian revolution.

Bourgeois democracy is a democracy for the capitalist class, not for the masses of working people; it is a veiled dictatorship of the bourgeoisie for better control over the masses. Even universal, equal and secret suffrage serves the bourgeoisie as means of deception for maintaining its capitalist rule, and should this means no longer serve the purpose, then it will be restricted or eliminated.

Proletarian dictatorship embodies proletarian democracy, the interests and the will of the working people, of the great majority of humanity; consequently it is the true democracy. Bourgeois democracy is also one of the forms of rule of capitalism, just as the fascist dictatorship is. The difference between them is the following:

Whereas the fascist dictatorship operates more with terror, without dispensing with the tool of deception, in bourgeois democracy the method of deception is more in evidence, but along with that the means of terror also finds use.

Both forms serve the domination of the bourgeoisie over the broad masses. Proletarian democracy, the democracy of the working people, is a form of rule of the working class against the remnants of the bourgeoisie; it is identical with the dictatorship of the proletariat, which provides for the liquidation of the capitalists as a class.

Thus, proletarian democracy is neither a pseudonym for the dictatorship of the proletariat, nor an intermediate stage between capitalist and proletarian rule. Proletarian democracy can be achieved only through the conquest of power by the working class, and the power of the working class only can be preserved by the dictatorship of the proletariat. If for tactical reasons we emphasize the word proletarian democracy, we must be clear about the fact that there is no difference between proletarian democracy and proletarian dictatorship as form of rule of the proletariat. Proletarian democracy means democracy for all working people; proletarian dictatorship means dictatorship against the capitalist elements.

The clarification of these fundamental questions is the necessary prerequisite for the formation of the proletarian united front. Without a clear phrasing of what we want, without a sharp distinction between all tendencies and opinions, a united front becomes a mishmash. A mishmash leads to opportunism, always has a harmful effect on the working class, and renders it impossible to carry out the proletarian revolution. So the overall problem of working-class unity is connected with the overall problem of the proletarian revolution; the first is part of the latter.

(Written by Willi Dickhut)