The official political line of the Communist Party of Germany during the period of Soviet-German diplomatic ‘friendship’
Probably nothing has caused more chaos and confusion within the international communist movement than the ‘Pact of Non-Aggression and Friendship’ concluded between Hitlerite Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. Communist parties which had spent over a decade denouncing fascism as the most dangerous form of capitalism were suddenly faced with the complex, unenviable task of trying to explain how an act of Realpolitik accorded with Marxist-Leninist theory. Probably those most strongly affected were the remaining members of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), many of whom had gone underground or had fled into exile after 1933 and whose leader, Ernst Thälmann, was still languishing in a German prison cell. At least one German Communist was so dismayed by Stalin’s “betrayal” that he committed suicide after hearing the news. Others conversely allowed themselves the optimistic hope that, if the ‘Friendship Pact’ persisted, persecution against communists in Germany would decrease and the KPD might even one day be fully legalized within the Third Reich. The remnant KPD leadership, now largely situated in Moscow, was faced with the unenviable task of trying to rally these bewildered elements and of presenting them with a coherent political line which made sense of everything. The platform they eventually produced, translated below, is a fairly remarkable document. Always careful never to praise or to apologize for the Hitler regime, the new political programme nonetheless recasts National Socialist Germany as a state which has at least made some steps towards progressive improvement, with the Reich’s signing of the Soviet-German Friendship Pact presented as the principle evidence for this claim. German Communists, moreover, are charged with doing everything they can to encourage the further development of progressive conditions in Germany, from organizing a united “fighting front” with National Socialist and Social-Democratic workers against their common enemies (bourgeois-conservatives, English and French imperialism), to infiltrating the NSDAP’s various mass organizations and directing them towards a more pro-Soviet orientation. By January 1940 this platform had received official approved from both the Comintern executive and from Stalin (who was supplied with a translated copy by Georgi Dimitrov), and was utilized as an ideological guideline for speeches and articles produced by KPD members throughout the lifespan of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, such as this 1940 essay by Walter Ulbricht.
Political Platform of the Communist Party of Germany
Drafted by the German Commission of the
Executive Committee of the Communist International,
30th December 1939
I. The Tactical Orientation of the Party in the Present Situation.
The tactical orientation of the Communist Party of Germany in the present situation must be directed towards the development of a broad popular movement and towards the creation of a popular front of the working masses – including the National Socialist workers – in order to defend the interests and rights of the masses of the people, in order to consolidate and deepen friendship with the Soviet Union, and in order to end the imperialist war in the interests of the Volk. Only in this way can the interests of the working-class and the national freedom and independence of the German Volk be ensured, which are presently being put to the sword by the aggressive war plan of the bloc of English and French imperialists. Their plan is aimed at breaking Germany away from its Pact of Friendship with the Soviet Union, subjugating the German Volk, imposing outrageous burdens upon them, robbing them of their national independence, converting Germany into an English vassal-state, and driving the German Volk into war against the Soviet Union.
This tactical orientation requires the Communist Party’s policy to be completely independent in order to safeguard the interests of the working Volk; it does not mean supporting the war on the side of German imperialism, and under no circumstances does it mean toning down the struggle against the repressive policy of the present regime in Germany.
When it comes to this orientation, the Party must be aware of the regrouping of political forces and the shifting mood of the German masses, both of which are taking place in the context of the war by reason of the conclusion of the Soviet-German Friendship Pact. In opposition to the front of the ruling regime, which concluded the Pact of Friendship with the Soviet Union – albeit without guaranteeing a consistent friendship with the Soviet Union – a second front is beginning to emerge from parts of the German bourgeoisie (Thyssen,1 etc.) and from parts of the Catholic and Social-Democratic leaderships, a front which is directed against the Pact and against friendship with the Soviet Union, and which has placed itself in the service of the English-French war bloc against the German Volk and against the Soviet Union. It is to be expected that with the longer duration of the war, in conjunction with the increasing difficulties in the country, there will be a growing tendency within the German bourgeoisie to implement a break with the Soviet Union, to capitulate before the English-French war bloc, and to ready itself for war against the Soviet Union.
It therefore follows that there is a pressing need to develop a broad popular movement (workers, peasants, artisans, the working intelligentsia), a Popular Front from Below2 for the consolidation and deepening of friendship with the Soviet Union and for securing the national freedom and independence of the German Volk. This third front within the German Volk will only develop, however, in the struggle for the political rights of the working Volk, for the improvement of their standards of living, for the burdens of war to be shifted onto the shoulders of the rich, and against every form of social and national oppression. This struggle must be directed against the ruling regime, because it opposes the working masses in their fight to achieve these demands; at the same time it weakens the German Volk’s strength of resistance against the aggressive war plan of English and French imperialism, and also hinders the struggle against the enemies of friendship with the Soviet Union and against the accomplices of English and French imperialism within Germany. As the working masses wage their struggle against the two fronts within Germany, the main emphasis of this struggle must be placed upon preventing the war plans of English and French imperialism and on striking against the enemies of the German Volk: those in Germany who wish to wreck the Soviet-German Friendship Pact, to support the English-French war plan against the German Volk, and to plunge the German Volk into the greatest of misfortunes, a war with the great Soviet people.
The Party’s tactics must furthermore be directed towards preparing the working masses so that they will under no circumstances permit a breach of the Friendship Pact with the Soviet Union, and so that, in the case of a crisis of the present regime eventuating in Germany as a consequence of the war’s development, they will be capable of taking the fate of the German Volk into their own hands, as well as their country’s defense against the war plans of English and French imperialism.
With this tactical orientation it is especially important and necessary that the Party undertakes tireless and systematic propaganda for socialism and an ongoing popularization of the principles of Marxist-Leninist theory, and that it instructs the working masses in the spirit of proletarian internationalism and on the German working-class’s struggle in solidarity with the working class of other capitalist countries, particularly England and France.
II. The Political Tasks of the Party in the Present Situation.
On the basis of this tactical orientation, the principal tasks facing the Party in the present situation are: Organizing the struggle to terminate the war, consolidating and deepening friendship with the Soviet Union, hindering the war plans of the English and French imperialists, and strengthening the organizational power of the working masses within Germany. From these principal tasks the following, additional tasks are derived:
1. Rigorous education of the working masses…
a) on the imperialist character of the European war, in particular on the aggressive role played by English and French imperialism and on their war plans. Comprehensive exposure of the enemies of the Soviet-German Friendship Pact in their own country. Whoever intrigues against the Friendship Pact or whoever spreads slander against the Soviet Union must be denounced as an enemy of the German Volk and as an accomplice of the English and French imperialists. To this end comes the demand for these enemies of the people to have their assets confiscated, and for them to be expelled from the army and from the apparatus of state.
b) on the significance of the Soviet-German Friendship Pact and on the profound changes which it has brought about, in conjunction with the war, in the international situation and in the class forces within Germany.
c) on the resulting new conditions and tasks in the struggle of the working masses of Germany.
2. Rigorous education of the working masses on the Soviet Union, on its consistent policy of peace, on the implementation of socialism, on the Stalinist Constitution3 of socialist democracy, on the national freedom and coexistence of peoples [Völker] within the country of socialism, on the economic and military power of the Soviet Union, and on the character of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army. It must be proved to the working masses that their interests are in complete accord with those of the Soviet Union and with its foreign policy, thereby enlightening the masses on the enormous importance of the Pact of Friendship while consolidating and deepening the friendship of the masses with the Soviet Union.
3. Organization of the struggle against the political disenfranchisement of the working masses and for their political rights.
The working people, on whom the harshest sacrifices and privations are imposed in wartime, are being deprived by the ruling regime of every right to express their opinions on the vital issues of the people, and of every right to advocate for their legitimate demands in meetings or in the press. But those who deny the people their rights in turn undermine the national existence of the German Volk. The working peoples’ lack of rights within Germany is being used by English imperialism to conceal its true war aims under the mask of “fighting for democracy,” and to instigate a chauvinist incitement against the German Volk with the claim that the German Volk are incapable of managing their own destiny and hence must be placed under an “educational dictatorship” of the so-called “Western democracies.”
Therefore – and this is especially pertinent now, during the war – the struggle for the political rights of the working people must be waged for the right to freedom of expression in word and writing; for the self-government of communities by people whom they trust, selected by the masses; for the Councils of Trust4 in the factories, and the functionaries in the mass organizations, to be chosen through election; for the rights of workers, peasants, artisans, working intelligentsia, and soldiers.
No longer should men like Ernst Thälmann – and a thousand others like him who have always fought for friendship between the German Volk and the Soviet peoples, and against imperialism and the Diktat of Versailles – remain imprisoned. The battle for their emancipation must be waged with the greatest determination.
4. Organization of the struggle against national oppression and for the right to self-determination of the Austrian, Czech, Slovakian, and Polish peoples.
The struggle of the working masses for their political rights in Germany must be waged in close connection with the struggle against German imperialism’s national oppression of the Austrian, Czech, Slovakian, and Polish peoples, as well as with the struggle of these people for their guaranteed right to self-determination. The policies of Germanization and plunder within the annexed countries, and the propaganda of Greater German chauvinism, are only grist to the mill for the martial aggression of English and French imperialism; they engender nothing but bitter hostility against the German Volk in annexed peoples, and only hinder the common struggle of the German, Austrian, Czech, Slovakian, and Polish working-classes against imperialism and capitalism. The struggle for the withdrawal of the Gestapo and the SS, for the release of prisoners, for the liquidation of the concentration camps, for the total self-governance of the people, and for the development of their national cultures, must be waged immediately.
5. Organization of the struggle against great-capitalist exploitation and for the betterment of the working- and living-conditions of the working masses.
The great-capitalist powers force the full burden of the war onto the shoulders of the working masses. The National Socialist claim that there are progressive social conditions in Germany, that an even distribution of burdens exists, that no war profiteering is allowed, that a German Socialism has been established, does not correspond to the facts. It is essential to make the masses aware of the contradictions between National Socialist claims and the facts, to expose the swindle of the alleged “Volksgemeinschaft,” and to wage the struggle for the improvement of the living standards of the working masses and for the safeguarding of the people’s health.
a) As a result of rising prices and the deterioration in employment conditions, a resolute struggle of the workers – underpinned by vigorous work within the mass organizations – is to be waged for higher pay; for the continued payment of wage supplements and the continued fulfilment of holiday provisions; for the reduction of working hours; for health protection for women and the youth; for compliance with the regulations for the protection of young people; for satisfactory support for factory workers, white-collar employees, and self-employed individuals; and against the unjust distribution of goods, as is reflected in the privileged supply afforded to propertied circles. We fight too for the free movement of agricultural laborers and for the betterment of their wages and working conditions.
b) Vigorous support for the demands made by the small and medium peasants in the Reichsnährstand5 for: the annulment of arrears of rent and interest and for the suspension of these payments throughout the duration of the war; for the reduction of taxes; for farmers’ rights to co-determination within Reichsnährstand organizations and in their subordinate cooperatives, etc.; for the repeal of all legislative decrees which bring ruin to the peasant economy, which cause the the poor and middling peasants to have fewer rights than the large landowners, and which ensure that the later-born children of entailed farmers end up thoroughly disinherited and disenfranchised; and against the preferential treatment of large landowners when it comes to the provision of foodstuffs and feed.
Furthermore, a struggle must be waged for land to be allocated to the small peasants at the expense of the large landowners, and for the mechanization of the peasant economy through the provision of sufficient interest-free loans and other forms of state assistance.
c) Vigorous support for the demands by made by artisans, small traders, and shopkeepers for the protection of their property and their businesses, for a fair distribution of contracts and supplies of raw materials, for the annulment of outstanding taxes and capital interest, and for the reduction of taxes and relief from rental payments.
d) Struggle against the many taxes, collections, and duties (Winterhilfe etc.), which are especially burdensome to the working masses; the transformation of these taxes, collections, and duties into special levies,6 and the imposition of progressive taxation and special levies upon the propertied circles of the population. War profits, and any alternative form of enrichment by the capitalist classes through the war, are to be seized via progressive property levies, up to the complete confiscation of the property of those plundering the German Volk.
6. The decisive force in all these struggles is the working class, whose political and organizational strength must be increased to the highest level. Hence the most important task is the creation of a unity of action by winning over the Social-Democratic and National Socialist workers for the common struggle.
As a consequence of the situation created by the war and the tasks which have resulted thereof, the Social-Democratic workers are now faced with the following decision of responsibility: either to conclude a United Front from Below together with the Communists; to advocate for common struggle, a popular front of workers, peasants, artisans, and working intelligentsia; to work for active friendship with the socialist Soviet Union and to split from the anti-Soviet, reactionary, Social-Democratic leadership – or to be complicit in the implementation of the predatory plans of the English and French imperialists and the reactionary plans of German big business.
The orientation towards friendship with the Soviet Union which has developed among the National Socialist working people as a result of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression and Friendship Pact opens up great opportunities for their being won over and incorporated into the common fighting front with the Communist and Social-Democratic workers, a fighting front directed against the predatory plans of English and French imperialism, against the great-capitalist national traitors within Germany associated with this imperialism, against the rule of big business, and for the consolidation of the political and organizational strength of the working masses within Germany – with the goal of thereby establishing a firm guarantee that the friendship between the Soviet Union and Germany will be fostered and expanded.
It is essential that the National Socialist mass organizations be made into outposts of the struggle for the vital interests of the working masses, that a steady course be taken towards the attitudes of lower functionaries within National Socialist mass organizations and towards selecting as officials of such organizations those workers who honestly stand up for the interests of the working people.
With utmost severity did the war set before the working classes the task of incorporating the mass of youth into the struggle of the working masses, a youth who are being used by the “Hitler Youth” and the “League of German Girls” for the mobilization of the hinterland. The working class is strongly committed to the economic and social demands of youth, to actively helping set them upon the right path towards the fulfilment of their socialist ideals, thus preventing the broad masses of the youth from falling under the influence of chauvinism in opposition to the working masses.
7. The leading role of the Communist Party in all of these struggles is an absolute necessity, one which the Party must secure through its work among the masses. The deeper the Party anchors itself among the masses, the more actively it leads the struggle for the interests of the working masses, all the more strongly will it be supported by the masses themselves and safeguarded against terrorist measures, and all the sooner will the Party be able to transition to semi-legal activities and, ultimately, to secure full legality for itself. This perspective requires of the Party that it pay careful consideration to any important changes in circumstances, so that the cadres are able to respond to them in a correct and timely fashion.
III. The Organizational Tasks of the Party in the Present Situation.
Standing before the Party is the task of building a stable party organization in the country, with a uniform leadership which, in close connection with the masses, is able to implement the Party’s political line and its tasks within the nation.
The Party leadership is responsible for the unified political orientation of the cadres, based upon the resolutions of the Central Committee and the Comintern. Strenuous efforts are required in order to overcome the ideological uncertainties which have arisen as a result of insufficient attention being paid to changes in circumstances, out of a deficiency of collective resolution of political questions within the Party organization, and from neglecting the ideological education of the cadres. Current tendencies within the Party – speculation on the spontaneous development of events, a limitation to whispering campaigns and commentating, an opportunistic underestimation of the possibilities for the creation of a permanent Party organization, an inadequate connection to the masses through neglecting work in the mass organizations – must be thoroughly overcome.
Carrying out the tasks of the Party depends primarily on the careful selection of cadres, on their systematic Marxist-Leninist education, on the daring recruitment of new forces. The systematic recruitment of experienced worker cadres is necessary in order to strengthen the Party organization. It is important to rally a wide circle of sympathizers around the Party. The Party organization is responsible for establishing the Communist Youth Association within the Hitler Youth and League of German Girls, for the constant guidance and support of its work, and for the ideological education of its members.
1. Fritz Thyssen (b.1873 – d.1951) was a leading industrialist in Germany, one of the few who was an enthusiastic supporter of National Socialism before 1933. By 1934 Thyssen had already begun to lose favor with the National Socialists, and he soon became disillusioned with the NS regime, upset at its rejection of corporatist economics, dismayed by its ill-treatment of economist Othmar Spann, and disgusted by the harsh measures imposed upon the moneyed bourgeoisie, on the Jews, and on certain prominent Christians. In 1939, horrified at the prospect of impending war, he and his family fled into exile in Switzerland and Thyssen became a prominent and fairly vocal bourgeois-conservative opponent of the NS regime. He later ended up in a concentration camp, although managed to survive the War.
2. Beginning in the early 1920s, the Communist Party of Germany began employing a tactic called the ‘United Front from Below’. This involved issuing propagandistic appeals to the “common interests” of workers in other parties, made over their party-leaders’ heads, encouraging them to organize together into unified grass-roots activist campaigns focused on bread-and-butter issues (wages, rent, taxes, working-hours, etc.). Communists believed that mobilizing socialists in such a fashion would help break down the ideological barriers between Social-Democrats and Communists, radicalizing moderate socialists and leading them to quit the Social-Democratic Party for the more active and vital KPD. As the NSDAP began growing in influence and started to make inroads into factories and plants in the late ’20s and early ’30s, United Front operations in many work sites were expanded to try and also win over National Socialist workers and to incorporate them into Communist-led industrial actions. The ‘Popular Front from Below’ concept mentioned here is a direct allusion to this earlier tactic of the pre-1933 years, although obviously made in the context of the NSDAP now being in power in Germany.
3. “Stalinist Constitution” – A reference to the new constitution adopted by the Soviet Union on 5 December, 1936, replacing the original 1924 document which had formalized the USSR’s structure as a federative state. The 1936 constitution was explicitly referred to as the “Stalinist Constitution” or the “Stalin Constitution” both within the USSR and in propaganda directed towards foreign audiences. Stalin’s role in drafting the constitution was particularly emphasized as a byproduct of his mammoth personality cult, with the constitution’s vast array of promised rights and freedoms (political, social, and economic) depicted as stemming directly from his influence. The new constitution was especially valuable as a propaganda document to the Communist International; members of non-Soviet Communist Parties emphasized it in their recruiting, arguing that it was the most democratic constitution in the world and that it guaranteed the Soviet peoples a far greater breadth of freedom and comfort than that offered by liberal-democratic governments.
4. The ‘Law for the Ordering of National Labor’ was introduced by the National Socialist government on 20 January, 1934. Under this law ‘Councils of Trust’ were established within every business of 20 employees or more. These were intended to serve a quasi-corporatist function, providing workers with a representative body for advising management on the setting of work rules, the improvement of safety measures and working conditions, the settling of industrial disputes, etc. According to the law, membership of the Councils was not decided solely by the workers themselves. Instead the plant manager was supposed to work with the site’s NSBO cell (the NSBO was the NSDAP’s trade union; it was absorbed into the German Labor Front in 1935) in drawing up a list of suitable candidates from whom the workers would elect their Council representatives by secret ballot . Membership of the Councils could also be influenced by the Trustees of Labor, regional economic functionaries who were appointed by the Reich Ministry of Labor and charged with the maintenance of “economic peace.” Although some employers regarded the Councils as hotbeds of radicalism, they were viewed as insufficiently independent by many workers, and abstention from Council elections was very high. The lack of participation in Council elections proved sufficiently embarrassing to the regime that the elections were suspended altogether after 1935.
5. Reichsnährstand – In English, “Reich Nutritional Estate.” The Reichsnährstand was a state agricultural body set up by the National Socialist regime on 13 September, 1933. The Reichsnährstand and its various subsidiary organizations were responsible for governing all food production and distribution within Germany, exercising oversight over farmers, peasants, cooperatives, wholesalers, retailers, processors (mills, dairies), etc., including over their prices and marketing. The Reichsnährstand enforced its dictates through the issuance of fines, and via forcible closure or confiscation of non-compliant farms or businesses.
6. “Special levies” – In German, “Sonderabgaben.” Sonderabgaben are taxes imposed upon a specific segment of the population with the express proviso that the collected funds will be used in relation to the social segment from whom they were taxed. An example would be a special levy raised from the agriculture and food industry, with the collected funding then being expressly used by the state to help promote that industry to international customers. Legislative structures will typically be in place to ensure that money raised through Sonderabgaben cannot be diverted to other areas of state expenditure.