Fascism must be defeated
On August 30, 1932, in the shadow of the rising Nazi power,--German Marxist and member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD)--opened what would become the last session of the Reichstag (Germany's parliament).
As the oldest member of the assembly, Zetkin was its chairwoman and had the right to an opening speech. She used her speech to call for all working and oppressed people to unite to smash the fascist threat and move towards a socialist revolution to overthrow the bourgeois government, because of its complicity in the Nazis' rise, violations of the German constitution and impotence in the face of the horrors of the Great Depression. Despite being nearly blind and unable to walk (she had to be carried to the podium), and in the face of Nazi threats that they would assassinate her, Zetkin gave an impassioned speech outlining the strategy of the "united front of all workers in order to turn back fascism."
The workers' movement didn't succeed in turning back the Nazis. By the following January, the "Machtergreifung" (seizure of power) took place: President von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on January 30. The Reichstag was dissolved. The Communist Party was banned. Its members either went underground, into exile, or were tortured and murdered. The organizations of the working class were annihilated. Nearly 100 of the non-Nazi members of the Reichstag were hunted down and killed. Clara Zetkin fled to Moscow, were she died the following June. In a period of a little over a decade, Germany went from a country on the brink of working-class communist revolution to a Nazi dictatorship which would bring war and genocide to all of Europe.
Below is the text of Zetkin's speech, as recorded in the Reichstag's minutes and published in the International Publishers collection of Zetkin's selected writings and speeches. This test is republished from the Diary of a Walking Butterfly blog. An audio recording of Zetkin's speech is available at Archive.org.
LADIES AND gentlemen! The Reichstag is meeting in a situation in which the crisis of collapsing capitalism is showering the broad laboring masses of Germany with a hailstorm of the most terrible suffering. The millions of unemployed, who are starving either with or without the beggar's allowance of social welfare, will be joined by additional millions during the autumn and winter. Increased hunger is also the fate of all the other people who happen to be on social welfare.
Given their low wages, those who are still working cannot replace the muscular and nervous energy which the ever-increasing rationalization of industry is extracting from them nor can they, of course, have their cultural needs met. The restrictions on collective bargaining and labor mediation boards will further depress the already depressed wages.
Growing numbers of artisans and small tradesmen as well as small and middling peasants are being ruined. The collapse of the economy and shrinking of the subsidies for cultural activities are destroying the economic basis of existence for all those who work with their minds.
The field of activity for their knowledge is constantly narrowing. The conflagration which has been set off in the East (and which is being fanned mightily by the West, in part, in order to destroy the Soviet Union and its Socialist construction) could eventually cause a destruction and horror in Germany which could pale the havoc wrought by the last world war.
The political power in Germany has been seized at this time by a Presidial Cabinet which was formed by the exclusion of the Reichstag as the servant of trustified monopoly capitalism and big agriculture and whose driving force consists of the Reichswehr generals. (Communist delegates' shouts of "very good").
In spite of the omnipotence of the Presidial Cabinet, it has until now totally failed in both its domestic and foreign policy. Its domestic policy is distinguished, like that of its predecessors, by emergency legislation which creates emergencies by increasing the emergencies which already exist.
At the same time, the Cabinet impugns the right of the masses to combat this suffering. For the government, those in need consist of big landlords, bankrupt industrialists, big bankers, shipyard owners and unscrupulous speculators. Its tax, tariff and trade policies take from the broad strata of the working population in order to reward the small special interest groups.
It worsens the crisis by putting restrictions on consumption as well as on import and export goods. Its foreign policy harms the interests of the working people (Communist shouts of "very true"). It is guided by imperialist designs and allows Germany to waver irresolutely and dilettantishly between unabashed subservience and saber rattling, and attitude which makes Germany more and more dependent upon the great powers of the Versailles Treaty. (Communist shouts of "very true").
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Such a policy damages its relationship with the Soviet Union, the one state which by its honest peace policy and its economic rise, constitutes a support for the German working class (Communist shouts of "how true!").
The Presidial Cabinet bears full responsibility for the assassinations of the past weeks because of its lifting of the uniform ban on the Nazi Storm Troopers (SA) and its beneficent attitude towards the fascist civil war units. It tries in vain to make people forget about its moral and political guilt by its strife with its allies over the distribution of state power, but the spilled blood will tie it forever to the fascist assassins.
The impotence of the Reichstag and the omnipotence of the Presidial Cabinet are symbolic of the decline of bourgeois liberalism and the collapse of the system of production. This decay can also be detected with the reformist Social Democracy, which both in theory and practice stands upon the rotten ground of the bourgeois social system.
The policy of the Papen-Schleicher Government is merely the undisguised continuation of the Bruning Government (that had been tolerated by the Social Democrats) which had, in turn, been preceded by the example-setting policy of the Social Democrats. (Communist shouts of "very good"). The policy of "the lesser evil" strengthens the feeling of power of the reactionary forces and it's supposed to create the greatest of all evils: the passivity of the masses.
They are persuaded not to make any use of their full power outside of Parliament. Thus the significance of Parliament for the class struggle of the proletariat is also diminished. If Parliament today, within limits, can be used for the workers' struggle, it is only because it has the support of the powerful masses outside of its walls.
BEFORE THE Reichstag can take issue with the special questions of the day, it must address itself to its central task: The toppling of the Reich's government which, in violation of the constitution, threatens to push aside the Reichstag completely.
The Reichstag could indict the Reich's President and the Reich's Ministers for violations of the constitution and in case of further violations to take them before the State Court at Leipzig. To take them before this high court, however, would be to accuse the devil before his grandmother. (Shouts of "very true" and applause on the part of the Communist delegates).
It is obvious, of course, that a parliamentary decision will not be able to break a power which is based on the Reichswehr and all the other supporting agencies of the bourgeois state as well as the terror of the fascists, the cowardice of bourgeois liberalism and the passivity of large sections of the proletariat.
The topping of the government in the Reichstag can only be a signal for the mobilization and seizure of power by the broad masses outside of Parliament. (Communist shouts of "very true"). The aim in this battle must be to employ the full weight of the economic and social accomplishments of the workers as well as their great numbers.
The battle must be fought particularly in order to defeat fascism, which intends to destroy with blood and iron all class expressions of the workers. Our enemies know very well that the least amount of strength of the proletariat is derived from the number of parliamentary seats. Its strength rather is anchored in its political, trade union and cultural organizations.
The example of Belgium shows the workers, that even during the severest economic depression, a mass strike proves an effective weapon, provided that its usage is backed up by the determination and willingness to sacrifice of the masses who do not shrink from enlarging the battle and using force to repel the forces united by the enemy. (Shouts of "very true" by the Communist delegates).
The extra-parliamentary muscle flexing of the working class, however, must not be limited to the toppling of a government which has violated the constitution. It must go beyond the goal of the moment to prepare itself for the overthrow of the bourgeois state and its basis which is the capitalist system.
All attempts to alleviate the crisis while the capitalist system still prevails can only worsen the disaster. Intervention by the state has failed because the bourgeois state does not control the economy, but the capitalist economy controls the state. (Shouts of "very true" from the Communist deputies).
As the power apparatus of the possessing class, it can only operate to its advantage and at the expense of the producing and consuming masses. A planned economy on the basis of capitalism is a contradiction in terms. Such attempts are all defeated by the private ownership of the means of production. A planned economy is only possible once the private ownership of the means of production has been abolished.
The way to overcome the economic crises and all threats of imperialist wars is solely by the proletarian revolution (shouts of "bravo" by the Communists) which will do away with the private ownership of production and thus guarantee a planned economy.
The great world historical proof of all of this happens to be the Russian Revolution. It has demonstrated that the workers possess the strength to defeat all of its enemies, the capitalists in its own country and the imperialist robbers from abroad. It has torn up slave treaties like the Treaty of Versailles. (Shouts of "very true" by the Communists).
The Soviet state has also confirmed the fact that the workers possess the maturity to construct a new economic system in which a higher economic development of society can occur without devastating crises because the cause of anarchic method of production has been destroyed--the private ownership of the means of production.
The fight of the laboring masses against the disastrous suffering of the present is, at the same time, the fight for their full liberation. The glances of the masses must be steadily directed towards this luminous goal which must not be shrouded by the illusion of a liberating democracy. The masses must not allow themselves to be frightened by the brutal use of force by which capitalism seeks its survival in the form of new world wars and fascist civil strife.
THE MOST important immediate task is the formation of a United Front of all workers in order to turn back fascism (Communist shouts of "very true") in order to preserve for the enslaved and exploited, the force and power of their organization as well as to maintain their own physical existence.
Before this compelling historical necessity, all inhibiting and dividing political, trade union, religious and ideological opinions must take a back seat. All those who feel themselves threatened, all those who suffer and all those who long for liberation must belong to the United Front against fascism and its representatives in government.
The self-assertion of the workers vis-à-vis fascism is the next indispensable prerequisite for the United Front in the battle against crises and imperialist wars and their cause, the capitalist means of production. The revolt of millions of laboring men and women in Germany against hunger, slavery, fascist murder and imperialist wars is an expression of the indestructible destiny of the workers of the entire world.
This international community of fate must become an iron fighting community which connect them to the vanguard of their brothers and sisters in the Soviet Union. The strikes and revolts in various countries are flaming signs which tell the fighters in Germany that they do not stand alone. Everywhere the disinherited and oppressed people are beginning to move towards a seizure of power.
The United Front of workers, which is also constituting itself in Germany, must not lack the millions of women, who still bear the chains of sex slavery (Communist shouts of "very good"), and are therefore exposed to the most oppressive class slavery. The youths that want to blossom and mature must fight in the very front ranks.
Today they face no other prospects but blind obedience and exploitation in the ranks of the obligatory Labor Service. All those who work with their minds and augment the prosperity and culture by their knowledge and diligence, but who in today's bourgeois society have become superfluous, also belong in this United Front.
Those who, as salary and wage slaves, are tribute-paying dependents of capitalism and simultaneously constitute preservers and victims of capitalism, also belong in the United Front.
I am opening this Congress in the fulfillment of my duties as honorary president and in the hope that despite my current infirmities, I may yet have the fortune to open as honorary president of the first Soviet Congress of a Soviet Germany.