Leon Trotsky
Fascism: What it is and how to fight it

The German cops and the army

From What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat

In case of actual danger, the social democracy banks not on the “Iron Front”[1] but on the Prussian police. It is reckoning without its host! The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among social-democratic workers is absolutely meaningless. Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance. The worker who becomes a policeman, in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker. Of late years, these policemen have had to do much more fighting with revolutionary workers than with Nazi students. Such training does not fail to leave its effects. And above all: every policeman knows that though governments may change, the police remains.

In its New Year’s issue, the theoretical organ of the social democracy, Dar Freie Wort (what a wretched sheet!), prints an article in which the policy of “toleration” is expounded in its highest sense. Hitler, it appears, can never come to power against the police and the Reichswehr [German army]. Now, according to the constitution, the Reichswehr is under the command of the president of the Republic. Therefore fascism, it follows, is not dangerous so long as a president faithful to the constitution remains at the head of the government. Brüning’s[2] regime must be supported until the presidential elections so that a constitutional president may then be elected, through an alliance with the parliamentary bourgeoisie; and thereby Hitler’s road to power will be blocked for another seven years…

The politicians of reformism, these dexterous wire-pullers, artful intriguers and careerists, expert parliamentary and ministerial machinators, are no sooner thrown out of their habitual sphere by the course of events, no sooner are they placed face to face with momentous contingencies than they reveal themselves to be—there is no milder expression for it—inept bodies.

To rely upon a president is only to rely upon “the government”! Faced with the impending clash between the proletariat and the fascist petty bourgeoisie—two camps which together comprise the crushing majority of the German nation—these Marxists from the Vorwärts [principal social-democratic newspaper] yelp for the nightwatchman to come to their aid, “Help! Government, exert pressure!” (Staat, greif zu!)


“The Iron Front”: A bloc between several big trade unions and bourgeois “republican” groups with little or no following or prestige among the masses. It was created by the social democrats toward the end of 1931. Combat groups called the Iron Fist were set up within the unions, and workers’ sports organizations were brought into the Iron Front. However, its first parades and rallies were organized to campaign for the reelection of Hindenburg.


Heinrich Brüning (1885-1970) was chancellor from 1930-32. Regular parliamentary government in Germany ended in March 1930. There followed a series of Bonapartist regimes—Brüning, von Papen, von Schleicher, i.e., chancellors ruling not by ordinary parliamentary procedures but by “emergency” decrees. These Bonapartist figures presented themselves as political saviors needed to get the country through its crisis, and thus as above class and party. They depended not on the old bourgeois democratic party system but on their command of the police, army, and government bureaucracy. Ostensibly saving the nation from the dangers on both the left (socialists and communists) and the right (fascists), they struck their heaviest blows against the working class, since their primary interest was saving capitalism.