The following extract was translated by Mike Jones from Gegen den Strom, Vol.2, No.29, 20 July 1929, p.13. It forms a part of Cde Jones’s continuing study of the range of oppositional positions within German communism. The writer expresses a criticism widely held among the German communist oppositionists, that the Trotskyist organisation showed all the characteristics of a cult, from the time of its birth.
The Master and the Pupils
The Editorial Board of the soon to appear International Revue ‘Opposition’, i.e. L. Trotsky, sends its German adherents an article What Does the 1st of August Offer Us?, that is dutifully published in Fahne des Kommunismus, number 25, and in which the master gives the pupils the following advice regarding the 1st of August.
“One must get the demonstration called off. The opposition must apply all its forces in order to achieve this. One must call on all party organisations. The demonstration was announced behind their backs."
This purely negative attitude is too much even for Urbahns, all the more so, since before he has read Gegen den Strom, Urbahns comes to precisely the opposite conclusion as the master, and on behalf of the Leninbund declares (in the same Fahne des Kommunismus) that:
“We are therefore in favour of the organisation of an anti-war demonstration on the 1st of August"
Just how the demonstration should be linked to the present struggle tasks of the working class Urbahns – exactly like the CC – does not say.
Though on the one hand such a relationship is shown between master Trotsky and his pupils, that the master, from his high chair, hands down instructions that, with the best will, cannot be put into practice by the pupils, yet on the other hand, a letter from A. Treint to Leon Trotsky (in the same issue of FdK), gives a plainly alarming picture of how awfully a pure sect-like relationship between master and pupils influences the pupils.
A few sentences from Treint’s letter as proof:
“It is time that a labour of clarification under the control of your authority puts an end to a situation,” etc.
“It is thus impossible to maintain this contradiction any longer, the whole support of your great authority to sanction a group, that …„
“But then our group must … receive without reservation the support of your political authority …„
“Comrade Trotsky, one also lies to you!„
“Comrade Trotsky, we have spoken to you clearly and openly. Tell us our faults and errors.„
That must surely be enough!
This biography of Otto Schüssler was translated by Ted Crawford in preparation for an early issue of Revolutionary History but was not used for publication. It is an extract from Quelques proches collaborateurs de Trotsky by Pierre Broué in Cahiers Léon Trotsky No.1, January 1979. Broué’s article dealt with numerous of Trotsky’s collaborators and gave particular attention to Jan Frankel, Irwin Wolf, Rudolf Klement and Walter Held. The original footnotes have been renumbered.
A biographical sketch
Otto Schüssler was born in 1905 in Leipzig. He was a genuine worker, and at the end of the twenties, a packer of art books at a specialised printing works in Leipzig. He probably belonged to the KAPD left, and at the end of 1928, with Roman Hell and the medical student Edwin Ackerknecht, took part in the creation of an opposition group called “Bolshevik Unity” which sought to regroup the different sectors struggling to “straighten out” the line of the KPD in Saxony. Then he was one of the foremost leaders at the head of the Unified Left Opposition (VLO) in Saxony, formed by the fusion of this Saxon organisation with the other oppositions of Wedding (Schwalbach), Palatinate (Frenzel) and the old Leninbund minority (Grylewicz).
In the crisis which occurred in 1930 this opposition had hardly been born but it put itself alongside the International Secretariat and fought Landau. Furthermore, this self-taught worker showed himself to be one of the most gifted writers of the group. In 1932, when Leon Sedov, who had left Prinkipo for Berlin, looked for a German speaking secretary for his father, Ackerknecht suggested Schüssler which was finally agreed. Arriving at Prinkipo in May 1932, Otto Schüssler proved to be an excellent secretary and found himself given confidential political tasks, such as drafting the pamphlet, Leninism Against Stalinism, in 1933, which he signed with the pseudonym of Oskar Fischer.
In 1933 the repression struck hard in Germany and the cadres in the emigration felt the absence of the organisation of political work. Schüssler was chosen to go to Prague to direct the new opposition journal, Unser Wort, a task which until then had been temporarily undertaken by the young Walter Held (Heinz Epe). From the correspondence of LDT it seems that he was able to achieve little in Germany, even with a clandestine stay there remaking contacts in conditions that were more than difficult. However, in September 1933 restrictions on press liberty imposed in Czechoslovakia forced the transfer of Unser Wort to Paris. It was there, with the exception of brief stays in Belgium and Holland, that Schüssler lived until 1939.
Still the editor of Unser Wort, where he signed the editorials “O…r”, he was simultaneously a member of the leadership abroad (Auslandkomitee) of the German group which became the IKD. In 1934, with the minority, he supported Trotsky’s proposals on entrism into the SFIO against his old comrade Ackerknecht (Bauer), the secretary of the International Secretariat. After the split in December 1934, when Bauer had left the international organisation, the German section approved the policy on entrism at the Dietikon conference where the leadership was entrusted to the “Johre-Fischer” group, Johre being the pseudonym of Josef Weber, a veteran activist from Gelsenkirchen.
It was the start of a long period of sombre quarrels among the emigres. At the beginning of 1934, the Johre-Fischer group was resolutely opposed to entry into the IKD by the old Zinovievites of the KPD and its “left”, Ruth Fischer and Maslow , though this was proposed with insistence and consistency by Trotsky himself. It did not stop fighting them even when Ruth Fischer, at the personal suggestion of Trotsky, was co-opted to the International Secretariat under the name of Dubois. In their own ranks Johre and Fischer found themselves faced with several successive oppositions: that of the Saxon Wenzel Kozlecki (Julik) and above all that of Jan Bur , the leader of the group in Germany for two years, who supported a deal with Fischer-Maslow and was heterodox on the question of the social characterisation of the USSR. The quarrel grew into a struggle for influence with Rudolf Klement, another member of the AK of the IKD, and adminstrative secretary of the IS, who attempted a number of replies in support of Jan Bur. The result was that there appeared alongside Unser Wort, edited by Johre and Fischer, another paper Der Einzege Weg edited by Klement. The tragic death of Klement in 1938, the break between Bur and his friends, the mass emigration to America and the discouragement of many others, left Schüssler, with Johre, undoubtedly master of the field, but at the head of an almost phantom organisation.
Still using the name Fischer, Otto Shussler was one of the delegates at the so-called “Lausanne” conference – held in fact at Rosmer’s home in Perigny – where he supported Trotsky’s proposal to found a Fourth International. It was probably at this time that it was decided that he should go to Mexico, where he arrived by sea in February 1939. He went to live with Trotsky for more than eighteen months and was the only one of his veteran helpers who was present at the time of the assassination. Several days after the attempt of 24th May 1940, he was arrested by the Mexican Police, who accused him of “passivity” during the attack and thought his nervousness “suspicious”. He was quickly freed at the personal intervention of Trotsky, who was indignant at these proceedings. Like all the companions at Coyacan, but perhaps even more than them, he was deeply depressed by the success of the GPU’s murderous enterprise. But, contrary to what has been said or written, he did not then abandon political activity.
He continued to be active in the Mexican section during the whole war and together with the Mexican Octavio Fernandez was one of the principal instigators of the 1945 split and the forming of the Grupo Socialista Obrero, of which he was one of the main leaders, under the pseudonym of Julian Suarez. He was at this period convinced – like Van Heijenoort and like Frankel – of the necessity of the Trotskyist movement revising its analysis of the nature of the Soviet Union, which he, for his part, characterised as “bureaucratic imperialism”. The expulsion of the GSO from the 4th International in 1948, after proceedings which he regarded as more than summary, totally estranged him. In the next few years he worked episodically with the review Dinge der Zeit, edited in Great Britain and then in Germany, by his old comrade Johre with whom he broke in 1946, and, in the middle of the coldest part of the Cold War, went on to support the idea of a “war against the USSR”.
Otto Schüssler still lives in retirement in Mexico. He refuses to have any contact with those who could remind him of his Trotskyist past.
1. On these two militants see Révolution en Allemagne (1918-1923), by Pierre Broué , Minuit, Paris 1971. Willy Buschak, in his still unpublished thesis at the University of Mannheim, has devoted an excursus to their political itinerary.
2. Walter Nettelback, called Jan Bur (1901-1976), had led the clandestine organisation in Germany until 1935, when he emigrated on the orders of the International Secretariat.
The following passage was translated by Mike Jones from Neues Deutschland, 10-11 May 1997. Readers will find more material on Walcher’s discussions with Trotsky in Revolutionary History Vol.5 No.2, Spring 1994
Why Jacob Walcher was a non-person for much of the time
The consequences of a flirtation with Trotsky
by Ernst Stock
The paths of Leon Trotsky and Jacob Walcher crossed in two fateful German years: 1923 and 1933. The conversations of both the revolutionaries were intensive and of consequence. Jacob Walcher, born on 7th May 1887, 110 years ago, in the upper Schwabian village of Wain, was living in Moscow in the summer of 1923. Trotsky, away on leave, heard alarming news from Germany about unrest because of the inflation and a General Strike against the Cuno government. He called Walcher to him in south Russia. The big question: Is an uprising possible? Walcher, a Politbureau member of the KPD Zentrale, related the facts of a victory he had just achieved and which seemed very promising to him. In the election of delegates to the metalworkers union congress, twice as many voted for the list which he headed in Berlin as for the SPD orientated candidates. Trotsky and Walcher began to think that the communists could reach out for power. Trotsky, the shining hero of the October Revolution, assured Walcher that he would station divisions on the border, ready to lend a fraternal hand. He, who had received a positive judgement about Walcher from Lenin (in 1920, they had both discussed the Kapp Putsch), wanted Walcher at the head of the KPD. But Walcher opposed that.
As the plans for the uprising were completed, the situation in Germany became stabilised, the revolutionary atmosphere disappeared. The KPD leadership cancelled the rising. Most members of the Zentrale, Walcher among them, had the label ‘right-opportunist’ stuck on their coats, and would never get rid of it again. In Moscow Stalin plotted against Trotsky.
Exactly ten years later, in August 1933, Walcher and Trotsky met together in wholly different circumstances. Walcher had passionately resisted the Stalinisation of the KPD (particularly the anti-trade union tactic of the Revolutionary Trade Union Opposition), and had been expelled. Following an interlude in the KPD-Opposition, he represented the left-wing of the Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei (SAP). The illegal congress, held in Dresden in March 1933, elected him the leader of the SAP external leadership in Paris.
From Turkey, Trotsky, outlawed by Stalin, came to France seeking allies for his plan to set up a new, Fourth, International. Walcher’s SAP, for its part, sought contacts with the other left-socialist forces in Europe. From the 17th to the 20th April, they vainly strove to reach a common position, as is clear from the record of proceedings kept by Walcher and accepted by Trotsky. First of all they both still wanted a unification of the SAP and the Trotskyist Left Opposition (LO), but the following exchange of letters led to a break. Trotsky wanted to lead ‘the vanguard of the vanguard‘. Walcher: “Trotsky proceeds with an ‘ideological out-throat razor’”. Trotsky called Walcher’s efforts to create a broad alliance unprincipled. Walcher stated that they disagreed over strategic questions, and there could no longer be any talk of unification between the SAP and the LO. “It seems to me that we are writing past each other”, he stated in the letter of the 12th August 1933. Shortly after that, the SAP external leadership set out the differences in a pamphlet entitled Trotskyism or Revolutionary Realpolitik – a Necessary Explanation. Thereafter, for Walcher, the subject of Trotskyism appeared to be exhausted.
In spite of this the opponents of the SAP were soon ready with the accusation of representing Trotskyist ideas. First, the Nazis in their trials of resistance fighters of the SAP, spoke of ‘Trotskyists’. During the Peoples Front talks in Paris, the KPD representatives, icluding Walter Ulbricht, accused the SAP of following Trotsky’s line. Walcher countered on 7th September 1937: “From experience, pretty well everything that isn’t 100% in agreement with Stalinism inside the labour movement is described and evaluated by you as Trotskyism ”.
Following the meeting with Trotsky, Walcher energetically strove for a united workers party. The SED seemed to him to be this party, so logically he joined it upon his return from the USA in early 1947. On 29th May 1951, the Berlin provincial commission wrote, about him “Walcher has worked together with the criminal Trotsky and other paid agents”. The implication was of betrayal and political degeneracy. Expulsion from the SED and summary dismissal followed. In 1956, the decision was reversed but Ulbricht would not allow Walcher’s original ideas about the lessons of history to become public. He was only allowed to remember the 1918 revolution and the 2nd Comintern Congress in 1920. And just prior to the death in March 1970 of “this vigorous representative of the old German Labour movement” (Willy Brandt), Mielke’s people wrote about Bertolt Brecht’s close friend, “the politically negative life history of W.“
Note by Mike Jones : (Erich) “Mielke’s people” were of course the DDR State Security – the Stasi.
This biography of Erwin Wolf was translated by Ted Crawford in preparation for an early issue of Revolutionary History but was not used for publication. It is an extract from Quelques proches collaborateurs de Trotsky by Pierre Broué in Cahiers Léon Trotsky No.1, January 1979. Broué’s article dealt with numerous of Trotsky’s collaborators and gave particular attention to Jan Frankel, Otto Schüssler, Rudolf Klement and Walter Held. The original footnotes have been renumbered and slightly reorganised.
A Biographical Sketch
Of Erwin Wolf whose nickname, Kiff, became his first political pseudonym, Vereecken, who also counted him among his adversaries, gives a very different portrait when he writes of “his pleasant and agreeable face, which inspired confidence, his quick and energetic words and fluent speech with which he used to defend in a frank manner what he thought necessary in the cause of the movement.”
He was born at Reichenberg, now Liberec, in the Sudetenland in December 1902 to a rich Jewish business family, (Wolf und Sohn, Kolonialverein – Grosshandlung). Though a Czechoslovak citizen he does not seem to have been politically active in his own country. He followed the higher education of a rich man’s son in Berlin, Paris and Oxford. In the Sudentenland he had been sympathetic to the “Left Front” but he had never belonged to a mass workers’ party, which was rare among the Left Opposition at that time. He joined it when he was studying in Berlin in 1932. After Hitler’s victory he decided not to return to Czechoslovakia but to emigrate to Paris, where he arrived in March 1933. He decided to become a full-time political activist after refusing the offer of his Uncle Heinrich, who was established in the United States and who wanted him to do a doctorate in business at Columbia. He was registered at the Sorbonne for a statistics course, where, with the companion of Ackerknecht, he ran a little shop selling jewellery trinkets, but a year later a settlement with his brother gave him his share of his inheritance and thus financial independence and enabled him to devote his whole time to political activity.
It was no doubt in 1933 that he was co-opted to the leadership of the IKD abroad without having played any previous part in it. In the course of the debate on “entrism” in 1934 he found himself on the side of Bauer but he did not follow the logic which led to a split in the international organisation. According to an oral tradition, which cannot be confirmed, in changing his opinion he brought his money with him and then allowed the pro-entrist minority to defend its positions in Unser Wort. He was present at the Dietikon conference. A shared hostility to Ruth Fischer and Maslow brought him closer to Johre (Josef Weber) and Oskar Fischer (Schüssler), whom he supported without reservation in their refusal to allow these two old Zinovievites to join the organisation. Apparently he had to endure the sarcasms of the these two who both expressed astonishment at the presence in Paris of a “German” emigre of Czechoslovak nationality and asserted that the place for a activist could only be in his own country, that very Sudetenland where the Nazis were making great advances.
Did Erwin Wolf meet Trotsky before the departure of the latter for Norway? It is possible, according to a report made of a discussion about the S.A.P. with a German identified by the initial N. and a later allusion by Trotsky to a discussion on the S.A.P. “with Braun” (Nicolle or N. Braun was one of Wolf’s pseudonyms.) But van Heijenoort thinks that Wolf never met Trotsky then.
It was at any rate his availability, his linguistic knowledge and his personal qualities that qualified him in November 1935 to take the place at Hø nefoss left empty by Frankel. According to the evidence of van Heijenoort he seems to have been a far from perfect secretary, but Trotsky at any rate appreciated his political and moral qualities and in confidence, gave him the job, on the basis of his archives, of writing against the “Molinieristes”, in the internal bulletin Organe de Masse, signed by Nicolle Braun.  He quickly learnt Norwegian and was going to marry Hjordis Knudsen, the daughter of his hosts.
His stay at Hønefoss gave him an altogether different stature. At the end of June 1936 together with LDT, Walter Held and Shachtman he undertook the preparatory work, called the “pre-conference of Berne” for what was called the “Geneva” conference. It was to take part in this last that he left Hø nefoss in July.  That conference elected him to the International Secretariat. In August he returned to Norway, at the same time as Van, just when Trotsky’s situation became dangerous. Both were arrested on the 26th August and deported on the 28th. Through Denmark and Belgium they returned to France, where l’Humanité advertised them as men with blood-stained hands.  He stayed in Britain and then established himself at Brussels with the International Secretariat.
Upon the news of the second Moscow trial, on his own initiative, he sent on 21 January, a letter to the Manchester Guardian in which he said that he was ready, in his capacity as a former Secretary of Trotsky’s to appear before any court that would guarantee him the means to defend himself. The detailed deposition on the subject of the famous “journey by Piatakov to Oslo by plane” that he sent to the same paper on 17th February, was according to Trotsky himself, a “tour de force”. In the weeks that followed, Trotsky quoted his initiative as an example and he played a central role in the preparation of the material necessary to refute the lies of the second trial.
At the same time he took on most of the political responsibility for the International Secretariat, going on, in November 1936, to defend its attitude to the P.O.U.M. before the Central Committee of the Belgian Revolutionary Socialist Party and against Vereeken, in January 1937 taking an active part in the debates within the enlarged Amsterdam Bureau, holding back Otto Schussler and Johre who were prematurely ready to break lances against Sneevliet and the leadership of the R.S.A.P and did his best to prepare a counter-offensive on the controversial question of the P.O.U.M. He became a target in the faction fights. Sneevliet called him “the banker’s son” or “the class enemy” and refused to have anything to do with him. In an internal bulletin of the P.C.I. Jeanne Martin finished a “description” of him in these terms “Yes, Nicolle Braun, in his trade as a wholesale grocer or ex-rentier and bureaucrat, is in the true sense of that term a petty-bourgeois. A petty man anyway.” 
Nevertheless when at the end of April 1937, the question arose of sending a member of the I.S. to Spain for a few months, who could help on the spot with the reorganisation and reorientation of the minuscule Bolshevik-Leninist section, he demonstrated his courage by volunteering, in spite of the publicity attached to his name over the last few months and the attention which the GPU must have given him. He prepared himself methodically, set his personal affairs in order and put his papers in a safe place – they were only found thirty years later – got himself cover as a correspondent of the News Chronicle, which seemed persuasive, and went to Barcelona with his young wife just after the May days, perfectly aware, as his letters show , of the mortal danger he risked in the full flood of the Stalinist repression against the revolutionaries of Catalonia. We know that he was active and sent back a number of reports – including that of the 19th July and probably also the one on the demonstration of the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists on the first anniversary of the Spanish revolution. In the Barrio Chino café Paul Thalmann met him with the Spaniard Munis and the German Freund, alias Moulin, and Thalmann described him as very optimistic, too “orthodox” for his taste, but conciliatory in his manner. 
He was arrested on the 27th July, then, because his papers were quite in order, was set at liberty the same day.  But the GPU – at this time the Hungarian Gero, who operated under the name of Pedro – did not then let its prey go. A second arrest on the 28th was for good. Paul Thalmann is a witness to the presence of Wolf in the prison of the Puerto del Angel in Barcelona from which he was officially “liberated” on the 13th September.  He disappeared then. Rumours supported by tiny clues, backed up by some ambiguous statements by high Czech officials and a press story , suggested the possibility of a kidnapping from a Catalan jail followed by a secret transfer to the USSR, with a view to preparing a new trial where “confessions”, gained by torture, would serve to back up the new indictments of a Soviet or Spanish Vyshinsky. Whether in Spain or the USSR Erwin Wolf was killed by his executioners.
Doubtless only the archives of the GPU are able to reveal the circumstances of his death, the one thing that is a certainty. The international press only gave a feeble mention of this “disappearance” – one among many – in spite of Trotsky’s declarations, interviews, press releases and personal letters, which once more denounced the hand of the GPU in the assassination of one of his collaborators.
1. Letter of the 10th May 1978 to Broué.
2. Van Heijenoort, De Prinkipo à Coyoacán. Sept ans auprés de Trotsky, Paris, M.Nadeau, p.121.
3. Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section 1935-6, New York 1977, in an appendix.
4. The Wolf file in the Vereeken papers has two letters, now published in the Oeuvres, from Trotsky to Wolf, dated the 27th and 29th July 1936, which seem to indicate that Wolf was in Paris where the so-called “Geneva” conference had started on the 26th.
5. L’Humanité of the 7th July 1936, p.3. has under the headline, “The envoys of Trotsky must be prevented from doing harm.” announced the arrival of “van Heyenoat and Erwin Walf” (sic) and “their provocative activity against the country which has signed a pact of non-aggression and mutual assistance with France”, and demanded that they be put “out of harm’s way”. The 5th July 1936, p3, the same paper stated “They behave like criminals and already have on their hands the blood of Sergei Kirov and three men of the Spanish Popular Front”.
6. Letter from Trotsky to Harold Isaacs, 20th Feb 1937, Cannon papers.
7. Bulletin interieur of the P.C.I. Jan 1937, pp.22-23.
8. Most of these letters are preserved in the Wolf file, Vereeken papers, Brussels, notably that where he tells his young wife of his decision to go to Spain.
9. Revolution für die Freiheit, Clara & Paul Thalmann, Hamburg, Verlag Ass. 1977, pp.198-200.
10. We learnt through Paul Thalmann of the possibility of talking about this matter with a militant of the German Communist Party, who was in the republican police in the Generalitat of Catalonia, when he had been Paul’s gaoler in a tcheka at Barcelona, and who worked in the section in charge of the surveillance of foreigners under the direct control of the GPU agent the Hungarian Gero. This man, who we will call “Bucher”, as did Thalmann in La Révolution Espagnole, p.527, has been dead for several weeks. Without revealing his identity – he thought he had “atoned” for his activity with the GPU who were after him when he defected and he wished to die peacefully – it is now possible to use his evidence which he gave us on this matter. It was he who first arrested Wolf and took the decision to set him free. This earned him insults and threats from Pedro (Geroe) and he learned from the howls that it was the goings-on of Trotsky’s secretary, of whom “by his fault” they had “lost all trace”. If we admit the truth of this witness – and there are hardly any reasons for not doing so – it ruins the theory of Vereeken that an Italian emigre, with whom Wolf stayed was the GPU agent. For Geroe would not “lose trace” of a man who was living with one of his agents. At the time we sent this information to Vereeken who did not dignify it either with a reply or by mentioning it.
[Note by translator. See also Revolutionary History, Vol.1 No.2 Summer 1988, pp.54-55.]
11. This information was given at the time to Wolf’s sister by the Czechoslovak ambassador to Spain, when she asked about his disappearance. The evidence of Paul Thalmann is found in his book, pp.213-215.
12. Le Matin 10 Feb 1938.
This article by Thalheimer was first published by Marken Press in 1993 and the translation is copyright by the translator Mike Jones. It is made available here by Revolutionary History in the strong belief that in any serious debate both sides in the Communist movement should be heard. To think that any leader however gifted, always got everything right has more in common with Scientology than the Marxist method. With the enormous benefit of hindsight many may feel, as might, it would be fair to say, the majority of members of our Editorial Board, that Trotsky was far more accurate than Brandler/Thalheimer on the nature of the Soviet Union and the prospects for Socialism in One Country while accepting that on other issues the latter may have sometimes been more correct.
The text is taken from: 1923: Eine verpasste Revolution? Die deutsche Oktober-legende und die wirkliche Geschichte von 1923, by August Thalheimer, pub1ished by Juniusver1ag, Berlin 1931. Reprinted by Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik. Available from Gesellschaft zur Förderung des Studiums der Geschichte der Arbeiterwegung e.V. (GFSA e.V.), Postbox 106426, 20043 Hamburg, Germany.
Please note that all of the emphases in the original text has been retained. Although there may appear to be an overuse of such emphasis to the contemporary reader, it was not unusual in the era in which the text was written. Mike Jones desired to remain as true to the original text as possible.
Introduction to 1923: A Missed Opportunity? by Mike Jones
1923: A Missed Opportunity? The German October Legend and the Real History of 1923 by August Thalheimer
THE 1923 LEGEND
1. Why Must the Issues of 1923 Be Explained?
2. Of What Does the Left October Legend Consist?
3. The Rise of the Left October Legend
4. The High Point of the October Legend
5. The Start of the Revision of the October Legend
THE CLASS FORCES IN RUSSIA IN 1917 COMPARED WITH GERMANY IN 1923
THE REAL STORY OF 1923
1. The Effect of the Occupation of the Ruhr
2, The Behaviour of the Party Until the Strike Against Cuno
3. The Speculative Plan of Action of the Comintern
4. The Intervention of the Bourgeoisie Changes the Situation
5. The Decisive Mistakes of the Party After the Cuno Strike
5. The Retreat and the Chemnitz Conference
7. Some of the Most Important Lessons
INTRODUCTION TO 1923: A MISSED OPPORTUNITY?
As far we know the pamphlet by August Thalheimer on the events in Germany during 1923, and their subsequent elevation into a legend which, as he points out, was revised by its creators as the occasion demanded, does not exist in an English language edition. Its relevance today owes itself to a number of factors. Not only are we obliged to set the historical record straight, but to examine whether this acknowledged turning-point in the history of Communism was the cause of a degeneration or whether the degeneration was the source of the myth-creation around the events.
However, much more important is an examination of the methodology of the protagonists. In essence it can be summed up as a choice between the argument presented by the ultra-left, whereby a minority around the KPD should have launched themselves into an uprising in the belief that decisive leadership would resolve things regardless of the objective conditions, and the view that the objective conditions for an uprising were not present and thus its launching in that situations would be an irresponsible adventure leading to disaster.
Many questions are discussed by Thalheimer in this pamphlet, these can be summarised as follows: Whether and when Communists should join a coalition government with Social Democrats. Could factory committees replace Soviet-type organs. Can uprisings be planned months in advance, based upon speculation. And in the meantime should political activity be downgraded and substituted by military technical-organisational preparation. Is it permissible to take power with a minority of the working class, so to speak behind the back of the class as a whole. Is consciousness wholly different once a hated government is removed during a mass movement to be replaced by another, in which the biggest working class party has a stake. This when steps are taken to stabilise the political and economic situation, and concessions are granted to the workers. And, at the same time, repression is meted out to the Communists. All these and other questions are treated in this pamphlet.
The translator encountered the arguments presented here over twenty years ago, at a time he considered himself a Trotskyist, and having accepted the 1923 October Legend along with the rest of the Trotskyist canon. From then on it became difficult to defend the Trotskyist view. Having had his faith undermined he sought out everything he could find in Trotsky’s writings to bolster it again. Alas it proved impossible. Trotsky never provides any serious evidence for his view but merely asserts it, based mainly on theoretical generalisations. Over the years since then the translator read every book he found, from biographies of participants, to general historical treatments, to those dealing with the economic issues, Soviet foreign policy, German-Soviet relations, diplomacy, etc., bearing on the 1923 events, and became confirmed in the arguments presented by Thalheimer. A number of historians, including those having Marxist views, such as Julius Braunthal (1) and Fernando Claudin (2), see Soviet foreign policy as the decisive factor for the apparent failure of the Comintern to make any revolutionary preparations in Germany until after the fall of the Cuno government. Cuno represented the anti-Versailles, anti-West orientation of certain bourgeois sectors not unfriendly to the Soviet Union, whilst Stresemann represented sectors with an opposing orientation. In the belief of the translator, whilst that certainly affected Soviet government circles, it was not a factor affecting the Comintern. In this regard, it is worthwhile looking at the books of the two Trotskyists engaged in high level Comintern work at the time: Alfred Rosmer’s Lenin’s Moscow (3), and Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary (4), who both focus on power struggles among the Russian leadership resulting in no attention being given to events in Germany, and see Brandler, Thalheimer and Radek as scapegoats.
It was during October 1923 that Trotsky opened up his attacks on the triumvirs over the situation in Russia and the bureaucratisation inside the party, and as newly published material in the USSR shows, Trotsky’s ‘demontage’ (demolition) began in the same month. (5) In his contribution towards Aufstieg und Zerfall der Komintern a series of essays on the rise and fall of the Comintern, Wladislaw Hedeler refers to recently published documents from the literary remains of Stalin’s secretary Bashanov verifying this. (6) As Thalheimer points out, the October 1923 events became, mixed up in the growing Trotsky debate. He mentions the speech by Radek making threats against the Russian CC majority if they should turn against Trotsky. Thalheimer saw that speech as the signal for Zinoviev initiating a change in the line of ECCI over its evaluation of Brandler’s CC and its decision to make a retreat.
In K.H. Tjaden’s study of the KPD-O (7), he says that Thalheimer is mistaken, and that Zinoviev’s letter came before Radek’s speech. However, that small detail is not of significance, and Tjaden sees Zinoviev, the figure really responsible for the outcome of events in Germany, as seeking to shift the blame, to hit at Trotsky through Radek, who in turn was allied with Brandler-Thalheimer,and thus avoid the KPD lining up with Trotsky, while at the same time winning allies among the ultra-left critics of Brandler’s CC majority in the KPD.
Thalheimer’s talk of panic in the Russian leadership caused by Zinoviev is likely to be the case. He had his own agents within the CP leaderships reporting to him. Any danger of a finger pointing in his direction would be cause for white-washing and scapegoating as is common in all institutions. The acknowledged Russian expert on the Comintern archives Friedrich Firsov, in his contribution to Aufstieg und Zerfall … quotes from the letter to the ECCI presidium and the RCP(B) CC of 23.12.1923, from the Polish CP CC, in which it places responsibility for the German defeat on the ECCI, voices its concern over the methods of the struggle inside the RCP(B), expresses its support for Trotsky without taking any position on the disputed issues, and proposed to put ‘the crisis in the RCP(B)’ on the agenda of the next ECCI plenum (pp.39-40). Apparently Amadeo Bordiga also blamed the ECCI for the defeat in Germany.
An article in Sozialismus No.2, 1993, on the internal struggles in the KPD during the 1920s, and the Comintern role therein, based on the documents newly studied from its archives, by Theodor Bergmann and Alexander Watlin (the latter is a pupil of Firsov and also contributes to Aufstieg und Zerfall) deals with the October events and describes them as being above all an idea of the CPSU summit which, after the illness and political absence of V.I. Lenin, wanted to strengthen its position through world-revolutionary activities’. ‘Victory has many fathers, defeats none’, they remind us, and the intention of being father to the victory in Germany played a not unimportant role with Lenin’s successors’, but ‘immediately after the defeat both in the CPSU and in the Comintern, the search to establish its paternity began’. Those who would be designated as responsible could then be labelled “rightists”, while the Comintern lurched into a frenzy of ultra-leftism.
Trotsky set out his analysis of the German defeat in Lessons of October, and kept to the fundamentals of it in every published text, although his original opposition to scapegoating the KPD CC majority and his pointing the finger at Zinoviev, gradually degenerated into describing Brandler and his associates as Social Democrats. Unwittingly, as Thalheimer points out, he provided a theoretical basis for the ultra-leftism which, until then had been unable to develop anything beyond assertions. In the belief of the translator, Trotsky’s arguments illustrate his tendency towards subjectivism which emerged again and again later. Practically this reflects itself in voluntarism, a characteristic common to the Fourth Internationalist movement. The contributions of other communist figures quoted by Thalheimer in regard to Trotsky’s methods are, it seems to me, pertinent in a study of Trotskyism.
If Trotsky’s published position on the German October never changed fundamentally, his private one seems to have done so (worth noting is the fact that although promising his German adherents a counter-balance sheet to the KPO one, it never emerged) according to the minutes of the meeting between him and SAP leader Jakob Walcher, in August 1933. These minutes, as well as containing a report of Walcher’s talks with dissident communist and left socialist parties and groupings in many European countries over establishing a new international centre to rival the degenerate ones, discusses differences with Trotsky’s ILO, among them its evaluation of the 1923 events. In them Trotsky declares his complete agreement with Walcher, asserting that he had not seen the retreat in October as the decisive fault, but the bad policy of the KPD CC and the ECCI earlier in that year. Readers must judge for themselves, but it appears that he is making an adjustment in his opinions. At present however, they must consult the French text published in Oeuvres, Vol.2, as although these very important minutes were known at the time, they were not included in the two supplementary volumes of Trotsky’s Writings, published by Pathfinder Press, New York 1979. A possible explanation for both the non-appearance of Trotsky’s balance sheet of 1923, and the minutes of the discussion with Walcher is, that his adherents in Germany originated from the ultra-left factions, as did those in some other countries, who did uphold the view that an uprising should have been launched in October 1923, just as the Trotskyist organisations do today.
August Thalheimer, author of the pamphlet presented here, is one of the major theoreticians of the Communist movement, yet today in Britain his name is obscure, largely linked to bygone polemics as a villain. As far as is know, the only writings of his in print here today are three texts on fascism in Marxists in Face of Fascism, by David Beetham (8), and his Notes on a Stay in Catalonia, in Revolutionary History Vol.4, No.1 & 2. His writings were available in oppositional Communist publications in the 1930s, and in the early 1920s, could be found in official CPGB and Comintern publications. Among them are analyses and in particular programmatic contributions.
In 1922, the KPD submitted a draft programme for the Comintern, written by Thalheimer, during the 4th Congress. Owing to sharp differences over the type of programme it was decided to delay adoption. Thalheimer insisted on the inclusion of transitional demands, which some saw as opportunism.. That view was rejected in a resolution adopted. (9) Whether an English translation was published by the Comintern is not known at this time, but the Contributions to a Programme of Action for Germany by Heinrich Brandler, can be found in the The Communist International Vol.5, Nos.3 & 4. This begins with a theoretical explanation and puts the struggle for workers control of production in the centre. It was jointly written by Brandler, Thalheimer and Leo Borochowicz, according to K.H. Tjaden. It became the rallying point for those desiring a strategy founded on transitional politics and a break from the inconsistency and leftist inclination of the Thälmann faction. Although drafted in 1927, it was suppressed until 1928. After 65 years hidden in the archives, Thalheimer’s critique of the draft programme for the 6th Congress of the Comintern has just resurfaced. (10).
Taking up ten points Thalheimer develops his fascism analysis, which is the longest section. He began this analysis in late 1922 and during 1923, seeing the Italian experience and the incipient Nazi movement in Germany. He introduced correction vis-a-vis the bourgeoisie and its use of the fascists after 1923. This analysis would be further elaborated in the KPD-O journal Gegen den Strom, following the expulsion of the “right” in late 1928 and early 1929. The text On fascism, whose torso is found in Marxists in Face of Fascism … is basically the section on fascism from Programmatische Fragen. The weakest section, in Thalheimer’s eyes, is on strategy and tactics, where he argues for, and explains the concept of, transitional demands. In the next section he does the same regarding partial demands. these ideas are set out in detail in the Platform der KPD(O), (1930), adopted after extensive discussions among the KPO membership, but it is necessary anyway to translate Programmatische Fragen into English, in order to set the historical record straight.
As well as delivering one of the major analyses of fascism and his programmatic contributions, Thalheimer can probably be considered as the theoretical exponent of the United Front par excellence. Brandler is rightly seen as the “father of the United Front” (11), usually through his action in Chemnitz during the Kapp Putsch, but K.H. Tjaden, in his research established that “the Stuttgart Demands” were formulated, after an exchange of opinions with Brandler and Walcher, by the Württemberg District Committee, whose secretary was Hans Tittel. (12) After the struggle for these demands took off, Levi recommended by Radek, drafted them into the famous Open Letter of January 1921, the first United Front campaign by the Communist movement.
Thalheimer was Editor in Chief of Rote Fahne & and the theoretical journal Die Internationale at that time, until the downfall of the ’right’ after 1923. The United Front as wielded by the KPD at that time was a product of that group of old Spartacists moulded politically by Rosa Luxemburg, and she was the source of their understanding. Luxemburg’s interpretation of Marxism. But if these concepts were common to them, they arose from a similar methodology, the duo Brandler-Thalheimer – the man of action and the thinker – were the major exponents.
The adopted positions on the Workers Government at the Comintern’s 4th Congress, emerged out of the arguments inside the KPD, between ultra-lefts and the ’right’. From the Kapp Putsch to the events in 1923, all these tactics were being put into practice (Thalheimer lost his head for a while around the ’March Action’, theorising a ’revolutionary offensive’). In his pamphlet Wie Schafft die Arbeiterklasse die Einheitsfront gegen den Faschismus? (1932), Thalheimer gives a ten page compressed historical account of the struggle for a United Front from the Open Letter to the 1923 events to remind or tell KPD members what the party was capable of earlier, in an attempt to convince them of the necessity against the Nazi threat. We hope to publish our translation of it, which should enlighten everyone who reads it.
August Thalheimer was born on the 18th March 1884 in Affaltrach, Württemberg, of Jewish origins. He studied at a number of universities, became adept at various languages and became a Doctor of Philosophy in 1907. He had already established links with the SPD left around Fritz Westmeyer, including Clara Zetkin. In 1910 he joined the SPD. Talent-spotted by Rosa Luxemburg, he edited a number of SPD newspapers. At the outbreak of war in l9l4 he joined the group around Liebknecht and Luxemburg. He wrote in the first issue of Internationale and participated in the first national conference of the Spartacists on 1st January 1916. His sister Bertha and Ernst Meyer represented the group at Zimmerwald in 1915. Thaiheimer was conscripted in 1916 and after being wounded at the front was employed as a translator. He returned to Stuttgart in the autumn of 1918. On the 6th November 1918 he published the first edition of Rote Fahne in Stuttgart. The day after he was arrested and gaoled.
Without his knowledge he was named as Finance Minister by the USPD in the Württemberg provisional government, a post he declined, refusing to join the ’government socialists’. Was active in the Stuttgart Workers and Soldiers Council. Member of Spartakusbund leadership, then KPD whose founding conference he attended. From then on he operated in Berlin at his political-theoretical posts.
During the life of the KPD-0, Thalheimer continued that activity with Gegen den Strom, the Arbeiterpolitik which went daily in 1930 until 1932, and international publications. From 1933 he first went to Strasbourg then to Paris, where the KPD-O and IVKO established their centre. With the start of the Second World War he was interned, but in 1941 succeeded in reaching Cuba. Gradually he and Brandler renewed links with a few comrades in exile, and planned the re-establishing of their grouping in the post-war. Political analyses were sent, with great difficulty, into Germany, once links were established with survivors.
In 1945 Thalheimer wrote his analysis of the Potsdam Agreement and its consequences for the working class (Die Potsdamer Beschlüsse) in which an independent class position is set out. (13) 1n 1946 fol1owed Grundlinien und Grundbegriffe der Weltpolitik nach dem Weltkrieg, where he again analysed the situation from the independent class viewpoint. Both texts are available today from Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik.
Though trying to return to Germany, both Brandler and Thalheimer were prevented from so doing by the Allied authorities, although the former succeeded in reaching London in 1947, where he stayed until 1949, developing a close relationship with Isaac and Tamara Deutscher. Thalheimer died in Cuba on 19th September 1948.
Those wishing to learn more can turn to my key sources:
Struktur und Funktion der KPD-Opposition (KPO), K.H. Tjaden, Meisenheim/Glan, 1964, which emerges in reprint from time to time; and Theodor Bergmann, Gegen den Strom – Die Geschichte der Kommunistischen-Partei-Opposition, VSA, Hamburg 1987, as well as the numerous pamphlets and other more substantial items, including the analyses of fascism, kept in print by the Arbeiterpolitik group.
1. History of the International, Julius Braunthal Vol.2, Thomas Nelson, London 1967.
2. From Comintern to Cominform, Penguin Books 1975.
3. Alfred Rosmer, Lenin’s Moscow Pluto, London 1971.
4. Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary 1901-1941, OUP, London 1963.
5. Aufstieg und Zerfall der Komintern, Eds. Theodor Bergmann and Mario Kessler, Podium Progressiv, Mainz, 1992.
6. ibid. see p.105, note 22,
7. K.H.Tjaden, Struktur und Funktion der KPD-Opposition, Vol. 2,1964. pp.1 13 114, note 1.2.11
8. Marxists in Face of Fascism, David Beetham, Manchester University Press, 1983.
9. The Communist International 1919-1943, Documents, Ed. Jane Degras, Vol.1, Cass 1971, pp.445-446).
10. Programmatische Fragen, A.Thalheimer, Decaton, Mainz 1993.
11. Zinoviev during the post-mortem on 1923 in International Communism in the Era of Lenin, ed. H.Gruber, 1972, Anchor Books, Garden City New York 1972, p.391.
12. Struktur und … Vol.2, pp.90-91, note 1.1.80.
13. Oskar Hippe quotes approvingly from it in … Red Is The Colour of Our Flag, Index 1991, on p.278.
1923: A MISSED OPPORTUNITY?
THE GERMAN OCTOBER LEGEND AND THE REAL HISTORY OF 1923
In 1923 the conditions were absolutely ripe for a victorious proletarian revolution but the then leadership of the KPD, with Brandler at its head, prevented this revolutionary victory. At first sight this view appears so fantastical and frivolous that a seems odd to be bothered about it today. But this view, known as the October Legend, is still today the official view of the Communist Party of Germany. It is hammered into the young party members as dogma, which they accept out of faith and trust, without suspecting that it is a historical legend, invented for the purpose of explaining away and supporting a erroneous KPD tactic. it is a historical legend, which has prevented the Party, and thus the working class, from abandoning a disastrous course and which has prevented any criticism of the KPD from being as effective in degree and tempo, as it otherwise would surely have been.
For that reason, the questions of the tactics and strategy of the KPD in 1923 are, alas, still highly relevant today. Or to be precise today, when the leadership of the KPD is making, in a more intensified form, the errors for which the October legend of 1923 provides an ideological refuge, they are more relevant than ever.
The official October legend is by now eight years old. In the meantime it has almost become canonical. It is one of the most important mainstays of the ultra-left policy. The ultra-left legend helps the real ultra-left orientation. And now, entangled together, they both mutually support one another. Whenever the October legend is encountered, ultra-left policies are met, and whenever the ultra-left action strikes, the legend strikes. As both originated jointly together and have sustained each other, so they will jointly collapse. But the longer the legend and the ultra-left policy flowing from it last, so much the greater will be the danger that the collapse of the revolutionary working class in Germany, which in 1923 was only a legend, will become bitter reality.
After the Reichstag elections on 14th September 1930, Pravda wrote that the KPD had never been so close to power as now. A greater self-deception cannot be imagined. Objectively, during the last two years the conditions for the victory of communism in Germany have been unusually favourable. Subjectively however, the KPD has never been so remotely distant from the possibility of a victory. Just as it has never been so far from, and for so long a period, genuine Communist politics, so it has never possessed such a leadership – wholly inept in every respect.
In 1923, a Communist victory was prevented primarily by the timely concessions of the bourgeoisie and only secondarily by errors of the Party and its leadership. But even if the KPD was not capable of achieving victory itself, it was capable of preventing the victory of fascism.
It was able to do this by virtue of the generally correct policies which it pursued up to August 1923, and, with the retreat in October, the timely and determined corrections of its own mistakes which it undertook.
If the ultra-left policy of the Party is carried on further – and, when the Party and the Executive of the Communist International perceive a triumph for this line in the election success of 14th September, the prospect of this not happening is extremely poor – then the way is open for the victory of fascism. And that means a real, severe and long lasting defeat of the workers movement and the Party. Then a new legend will have to be created which will prove that the Executive has always been correct and new ‘guilty’ people will have to be found.
But we believe that the first precondition for a Communist Party and leadership, which understands how to conquer, is that it rejects all legend-making and really starts to learn. As long as this learning from its own history has not begun, the Party, and with it the working class, instead of progressing will only permanently go in circles, and the result will always be new and successively greater defeats. The working class will forgive the Party any infantile sickness at its birth. It will not forgive it if it remains stuck in babyhood and childhood feebleness. And if the Party does not want to learn, then the class enemy will learn in its stead.
Today the KPD leadership wrongly quotes 1923 to confirm its crude and dangerous deviations on the national question. In 1923, in spite of individual mistakes and exaggerations, the Party had, on the whole, understood very well how to reject and thwart nationalist ideology. Today we see the opposite phenomenon, the distorting and thwarting of communist ideology by the nationalist one. Finally, we see how, after 10 years the infantile disorder on the trade union question which was understandable and which was overcome 10 years ago, has been raised to the official doctrine of the Party, the Communist International and the Red International of Labour Unions.
In a essay on Jena, Mehring quotes the words of Engels: “A great army, as any other great social organisation is never better than after a great defeat, when it repents and does penance for its past sins.” Whereas the opposite, constant repetition and eulogising of past sins, in spite of more and more partial failures and partial defeats, the delusion which insists very precisely that black is white, that leads directly to – Jena.
Anyone today who impartially examines the state of the Party which has the task of leading the working class to the proletarian revolution, will have no doubt that it does not exhibit the image of the Prussian army after Jena.
The following account is the text of one of the lectures on October 1923 which I have frequently made during the last two years. Of course within the framework of a lecture only a outline can be developed. I hope soon to have the opportunity of submitting a more detailed exposition.
Berlin, 15th February, 1931,
THE 1923 LEGEND
1. WHY MUST THE ISSUES OF 1923 BE EXPLAINED?
Why is it still necessary to explain the 1923 events and the tactics and strategy of the Party at this time? Not primarily to defend or to justify the then leadership of the Party. That is not a very noble aim. it is not worth engaging in a long discussion about it. What Brandler, Thalheimer and so on, who were then among those participating in the Party leadership, had shown of leadership qualities, is not a question of great significance. The main purpose of such a discussion can only be to draw out the real lessons for the proletarian revolution by examining the mistakes made by the Party in 1923. It is often repeated that we, the then leadership of the Party, are not willing to admit that serious mistakes were made. That is absolutely not the case. Such an opinion could only arise because a series of, in part, detailed declarations, which we made to the CC of the Party in the years 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926 and still later, were not brought to the attention of party members and as the latter were not told they must think that we admit to no mistakes at all. That is not so. But it does concern finding out which type of mistakes were made and which lessons from the future can be drawn from them. This is the nub of the question. The events of 1923 have a general significance in so far as the questions of strategy and tactics involved are not unique questions but general issues of strategy and tactics of the proletarian revolution which are contained within them.
Hence it follows that we will not get clarity on questions about the communist movement in Germany until these questions, which do not just concern the past, have been fully explained. That, through the hitherto existing discussions, it has been neither formally or factually explained is best illustrated by the fact that, later on in Germany, the lessons which were drawn from the events of that year, were in fact the conclusions of Ruth Fischer and Maslow – and this, the ultra-left line, almost led to the break-up of the Party. The first open letter addressed to the German Party in 1925 by the Executive of the Communist International is spot-on in examining the failure of Ruth Fischer’s and Maslow’s ultra-left line and in liquidating and clearing it up, but it protected the legend fabricated over 1923. It was stated then that it was not the left that was bankrupt but some left leaders. And thus it was possible to break some of the worst leaders from the line, to liquidate some of the crudest practices but then a new exaggerated relapse into the ultra-left line followed.
This second relapse, which we are still seeing today, is the empirical evidence that shows that without a genuine clarification of the 1923 events, that is the direction of the proletarian revolution in Germany, then a secure, clear and solid deployment of the Party cannot be attained. One cannot fool history. It is not possible to arrive at a clear and definite balance through little tricks and legends. The account must be settled in full.
2. OF WHAT DOES THE LEFT OCTOBER LEGEND CONSIST?
We now ask what the October legend, on which from 1924 onwards the ultra-left line was built, comprises and which, today, still underpins this ultra-left line and frightens off Party members from listening to our arguments since the question of 1923 is brought up repeatedly. The content of this ultra~left legend can be summed up in a few words. The core of the case is the claim that 1923 was comparable with 1917 in Russia, that is that objective conditions in Germany were just as ripe as in 1917 Russia. If the revolution conquered in Russia then it was thanks to the leadership of the Party through its Central Committee headed by Lenin. If the victory did not occur in 1923 it was because no such party and no such leadership existed at the time, that the leadership both made clumsy mistakes, was not sufficiently alert or “missed” the revolutionary moment – or even betrayed it. Such was the left legend.
Moreover in addition the then Party leadership was accused of betrayal, neglect and idiocies which prevented the otherwise objectively ripe revolution – all arising from its opportunist attitude. The tactics and leadership in 1923 were the natural and necessary result of its opportunist attitude, which it had demonstrated in previous years. What was stressed as the essence of this “Opportunist attitude” was first, the United Front tactic, as carried out by the then Party leadership and Party. It was declared erroneous and opportunist. In part this was direct since the United Front was absolutely rejected but in part it was stated that the United Front “from below”, – whatever that might mean – was permissible but that the United Front “from above” was wrong because it was opportunist. It was also stated that the leadership of the Party then had imagined that power could be conquered in a government coalition with Social Democracy. The evidence for this was the coalitions with Social Democracy in Saxony and Thuringia that we had entered.
According to the left legend the third opportunist crime was that we thought that the trade unions could be won to Communist ideas from within. In the spring of 1924 the left comrades went around the country declaring far and wide that the slogan of winning over the Trade Unions was erroneous. This went so far that Maslow declared at a conference in Moscow in January 1924 that the slogan of winning over the trade unions should be rejected and replaced with the call for the destruction of the Trade unions! The practical consequences drawn by Maslow and the other ultra-lefts from their evaluation of the opportunism of the previous leadership are the following, that first that the United Front tactic had to be abandoned. This was done and entitled the ‘United Front from below’. Under the mask of ‘United Front from below’ the United Front was totally abandoned because, by this, it was understood that proletarian organisations, Trade Unions as well as the lower level organisations of Social Democracy, did not have to be approached. In this conception of ‘United Front from below’ attempts were to be made to win Social Democratic, Christian and other workers directly to joint action with the Communist Party without regard to their organisational affiliations.
If that is a United Front, how simple it would be. But the particular problem of the Communist Party in Germany, and in a number of other countries, consists precisely in resolving the question that when there exist two tendencies in the workers’ movements, how, in spite of their fundamental differences, joint working class action can be achieved. How can the workers, involved in their partial struggles, be brought together? Where only one party dominates the workers movement, as was the case before the war, this situation does not arise at all. It is a specific problem of the post-war period that cannot be disposed of by ignoring it.
Furthermore the conclusion was drawn that only total solutions must be advanced: the “organisation of the revolution” – something totally misunderstood too. These ultra-left conclusions reacted quite disastrously on trade union work. I have already mentioned Maslow’s proposals for the destruction of the trade unions’ at a conference in Moscow during January 1924. It is very characteristic that a man like Tomsky, for many years the leader of the Russian Trade Unions, at first accepted this slogan. That showed that he had no real idea of the conditions for struggle of the Trade Unions in the West. This crude formulation was later corrected, but, even then, such loopholes remained that it was possible for quite some time to follow an ultra-left trade union line and to move to the creation of new separate trade unions. The formula, ”organisation of the unorganised,” provided an opportunity for this. The result was that the influence of the Party in the trade unions, which had reached a high point in 1923, declined continuously and was almost destroyed.
Yet another conclusion drawn from 1923 was that, only in 1924, with the appearance of Maslow and Ruth Fischer was ‘Bolshevisation’ started. Everything done by the Party until then, even during the stormy revolutionary years of 1918-1923 and the war as well, had been, according to the left legend, more or less opportunism. The real Bolshevisation only began in 1924.
Hence the further conclusion was drawn that the older party cadre had to be expelled and the Party had to be based on the younger cadre which had not had the unhappy experience of going through the Spartakusbund. This ‘Bolshevisation’ led to the establishment of an authoritarian regime in the Party, to the suffocation of any free discussion and to the lack of any control over the leadership by the members. This was considered ‘Bolshevist’ until the 1925 Open Letter of the Executive of the Communist International demanded the “normalisation of Party life” and characterised the party regime introduced by Fischer and Maslow (though with the aid and toleration of that same Executive) as a caricature of the essence and requirements of a Communist Party. These are the practical effects of the left legend concerning the 1923 events, the politics of the then party leadership and the opportunist sins that led to such politics. When such practical consequences are displayed, it can be implicitly deduced that the theoretical basis from which these consequences flowed is not a firm one.
3. THE RISE OF THE LEFT OCTOBER LEGEND
How did this legend arise? For this I must quote from some documents, some facts which will throw light on the methods of the leadership of the Communist international. The facts were either unknown to most comrades until now or have been in part forgotten. Therefore they must be quoted again. First then I must mention the fact that until December 1923, that is well after the October retreat, the then leader of the Communist International, Zinoviev, had repeatedly declared both in speech and writing that the tactics agreed by the KPD in 1923 were essentially correct. Implicitly this was the view put forward in a series of articles in Pravda which was then published in Germany under the title, Probleme der deutschen Revolution, which, after October, were distributed throughout Germany. I want to quote one passage from it. Here, Zinoviev says the following about the tactics chosen by the German Party leadership in 1923:
“There is not the smallest doubt that the German Party has, on the whole, used the United Front tactic with great success. By correctly using these tactics the German Party has won over the majority of the working class – a success that it could only dream about with difficulty two or three years ago.” (p.68)
During 1923 it did not succeed in winning over the majority of the working class to struggle for power by means of the United Front. But this is a partial truth for without the previous success gained through the United Front tactic, the question of taking power in 1923 could not even have been raised. If the Party only had the influence in the Metal Workers or other unions that it had under Ruth Fischer or has today, no-one would have dared to do so. Only because of the colossal progress that we made using this tactic was it at all possible to raise the question. Now I want to quote yet another witness, who – after October too – intervened to agree that the tactics and strategy of the then Party leadership had been basically correct. This witness is Hermann Remmele. The quotation is taken from the statement made by Remmele at a meeting of the German comrades with the Executive Committee (of the CI) on 11th January 1924. What Hermann Remmele said on that occasion is as follows:
“I want to refer to the time of the fascist movement when not only in Stuttgart but also in central Germany and the north, east and west, in fact everywhere in the country, demonstrations took place in spite of the ban. Then, during July and the August days in central Germany, in Thuringia, we had the situation where the workers had entirely taken over the food supply and had confiscated lorries to drive them into the countryside to fetch food directly from the farmers, so nobody could then be in any doubt that we stood on the threshold of great events. Undoubtedly, the strike against Cuno was the high point of the movement but it is my heartfelt opinion that it was the turning point in the movement as well. As the Social Democratic Party joined the coalition the Social Democratic workers were once more filled with illusions.
With the entry of the Social Democrats into the government in mid-August, there began, as it were, the ebb of the revolutionary high tide. When we had discussions with the Social Democrats we found that they placed high hopes on the entry to the government of Hilferding. Social Democrats who, quite spontaneously, had stood shoulder to shoulder with us in every struggle, who had joined in the strike against Cuno, the whole mass of them were filled with new illusions.
Of course the decision that our Saxon comrades should enter the government occurred because of misleading reports and information. The decision was taken on the basis of the conviction that the arming and mobilisation of the masses existed already to such an degree that such a thing could be risked. We thought the decomposition of the enemy to be much further advanced than it actually was …. Was it correct to prepare for a decisive struggle at the stage at which we found ourselves? Could we arm, could we fix the date and prepare for the decisive battle? We thought not. We said that because of the particular structure of Germany, its class relations and class forces, we do not yet stand at the stage at which we could set the exact date for a decisive struggle. We said that before we reach the decisive struggle we will have to go through a whole period with a series of violent armed clashes …
This passage can be found in the pamphlet Die Lehren der deutschen Ereigneisse, pp.40-44. It was Hermann Remmele who said that in January 1924 with the immediate experience of 1923 behind him.
A change first occurred – as can be established in the documents – in the Executive’s evaluation of the tactics of the German Party in December 1923. Only subsequently have we been able to find out the precise date and the reasons for this change. How did the change come about? How was it that Zinoviev and the Executive, which until then had approved of the tactics in substance, made a 180 degree change of course. The context was the following: on the 13th December – if I do not err – comrade Radek gave a speech in a large Party gathering in Moscow where he intervened in the then growing Trotsky debate when he declared that, if the majority of the Russian CC turned against Trotsky, then not only he but the leaderships of the French and German parties, that is the main parties in the West, would turn against the Russian CC majority. That was on the 13th December.
A few days later Zinoviev sent a letter to the leadership of the German Party in which he completely changed course and opened up a violent attack against it. In this way there began the general witch-hunt against the leadership. The real reason for the turn was a panic in the leadership of the Russian party caused by Zinoviev because he took seriously Radek’s assertion that the German Party leadership would back Trotsky against the Russian majority. That was the cause of the turn. The story had nothing at all to do with any event in Germany, France or the Comintern as such. It was simply the result of a manoeuvre in the internal Russian factional struggle. We only heard of Radek’s speech very much later. As we, at the 5th Congress, first heard about the real reason for the turn in Moscow, the campaign, the bombardment was in full swing and Maslow and Co had been unleashed. The peculiar thing about it was that Radek’s assertion was a total invention. Nobody had authorised him to say that we would back Trotsky if he was attacked. When we first heard about the dispute with Trotsky we said that we would have to have more facts about the basis of the dispute before we made up our minds. As soon as something was known about it I wrote an article in Die Internationale which was opposed to Trotsky’s ideas. Therefore it was not even our genuine view about the internal Russian factional struggle but an imaginary one.
4. THE HIGH POINT OF THE OCTOBER LEGEND
It was the perfidious letter from Zinoviev mentioned above, which followed Radek’s speech, which introduced the turn. The fact that Clara Zetkin and Wilhelm Pieck were both asked where they stood on the October 1923 retreat and whether or not it was correct, was even more typical. Previously the Executive had always claimed that it was correct. Now Zinoviev started to oil out of it. Despite repeated requests he refused to put down anything in writing about it. As a result the ultra-left legend was given the green light. Since there was no official decision to the contrary, Maslow could claim that this retreat was wrong, had been a betrayal and had ruined the revolution. This conclusion was drawn by Maslow and Ruth Fischer in the crudest and most insane way. At the Rhineland-Westphalia district Congress on 6th March 1924, in the presence of Ruth Fischer, a resolution was submitted which said on this point:
‘This conference declares that a decisive revolutionary battle was historically necessary in October of last year. Neither the avoidance of the battle, nor the substitution of the final struggle by so-called rearguard actions, partial actions or similar activities was admissible.’
Reading these things in cold blood one can only wonder how a party majority, how an Executive, could accept such total nonsense. In effect it is saying that we were totally unprepared for the struggle, the decisive battle, but, in spite of that, the showdown had to be attempted in October – such an assertion is completely contradictory but it is swallowed whole. In Germany that was the high-point of the legend. It attained its highest point in Russia a series of speeches by Trotsky. One of them was made in Tiflis. In this his intention was not to take aim at the majority of the leadership of the German Party but he wanted to demonstrate the following – that the revolution was not victorious in Germany in 1923 because we had at the head of the International not Lenin but the opportunist Zinoviev. He wanted in other words to strike at Zinoviev, at that time his bitterest enemy and who, with Kamenev and Stalin, were waging the fight against him. As part of this dispute Trotsky published a text, Lessons of October, in which he set down his detailed view, first of the Russian October of 1917 and then of the German October of 1923. And here can be found the October legend in its bluntest, and if one can use the term, classical form. The passage to be considered is as follows:
“Point 2. Germany. the question of the defeat of the German proletariat in October is even more interesting. In the second half of last year we saw there a classical demonstration of the fact that a quite extraordinarily favourable revolutionary situation of world historical significance can be missed.”
That was in fact the lesson. An ‘extraordinarily favourable revolutionary situation’ had been missed because of the leadership and, by this, Trotsky meant, primarily the leadership of the Comintern.
5. THE START OF THE REVISION OF THE OCTOBER LEGEND
But now at this point, both ideas and public statements in official circles in both Germany and Russia underwent a change. This involved, in opposition to Trotsky, an attempt to show that both his conception of the Russian October 1917 as well as the German October 1923 was quite wrong and there was a concern as to whether it was correct that, the objective conditions for revolution in Germany in 1923 as asserted by Maslow, tolerated by Zinoviev and sharpened by Trotsky, had been present, as they had in Russia during October 1917. From now on this idea started to be revised in official circles – the left legend had to be changed. I want to quote here some particularly suggestive passages but by no means the only ones. Let me mention first some statements by comrade Bukharin from an article on the Lessons of October in a Pravda feuilleton:
“According to comrade Trotsky’s conception, here the mistakes consist in a ‘classical’ moment being missed. At whatever cost the decisive struggle had to be taken up and the victory would have been ours. Here comrade Trotsky makes an analysis resembling October 1917 in Russia in every respect. The same medicine had to be taken there as here. Here, under the pressure of a Lenin, action was decided upon and we conquered. Without Lenin’s pressure – no such decision was taken and thus the suitable moment was missed. But now, influenced by the October Revolution in Russia, the forces for the decisive struggle were insufficient. That, according to Trotsky, is the schema of the German events.
“But also here, in the evaluation of 1924, we had a schematised and sad realm of grey abstraction before us. Comrade Trotsky describes how history would have been written if the majority of the members of the Russian CC had been opponents of the uprising; then it could be said that our forces had been too meagre, that the enemy was frightfully strong, etc.
“All that is only superficially convincing; yes one probably should write history in this way but that in no way shows that the forces of the German Revolution in October were wrongly estimated. It was above all erroneous that it was a ‘classic’ moment. Social Democracy proved itself much stronger than we had thought. Here an analogy with the Russian October is hardly relevant at all. In Germany there were no armed soldiers on the side of the revolution. We could not put forward the demand for ‘peace’. There was no peasant agrarian movement. There was no other party like ours. Although everyone disregarded it, Social Democracy had not outlived its time, so these concrete facts had to refuted. At the time of the decisive events the ECCI declared for the October line (emphasised by Bukharin). Now as objective conditions and also the right leadership failed as a force, the failure ‘was greater than necessary’. Comrade Trotsky, who supported precisely this wing of right opportunists who tended to capitulate, and had repeatedly fought the left, delivers a ‘profound’ theoretical analysis for their conceptions and so strikes a blow at the leading circles of the CI.
“But it is wholly inadmissible to persist in mistakes, such as the ones that comrade Trotsky still clings onto today. One of the lessons (the real lessons) of the German October is that before any rising there must a huge participation of the masses. But such work was very backward. For example during the uprising in Hamburg there were no workers’ councils and our party organisation was unable to draw into struggle the tens of thousands of strikers. Soviets were absent from the whole of Germany. In comrade Trotsky’s conception it would have been correct if there had been the ‘substitution’ of the Soviets by factory councils. In reality though the factory councils could not replace them as they could not unite the whole class, including the most backward and the most indifferent, as the Soviets do at the critical moments of the class struggle.”
So Bukharin wrote against Trotsky in 1925 and note well that it was the same Bukharin who, together with the majority of the Politburo and the majority of the Russian CC, had led the struggle against Trotsky at the time. Then Kuusinen, the present Comintern secretary, followed by Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife and finally Stalin intervened in the debate on the revision of the October legend. in an article attacking Trotsky, Kuusinen said: “It must here be added that whether such moments did or did not exist, not only Trotsky, but also Maslow and other comrades, ignored a possible army of millions on the side of the revolution.”
Attacking Trotsky, Krupskaya said:
“Comrade Trotsky wants October to be studied. But he wants the role of individuals and opinions in the Central Committee to be studied. But what should be examined is not these but the international situation situation during the October days as well as the relationship of class forces at the time. Trotsky overlooks this question. So he underestimates the role of the peasantry. Besides the Party at the time of October must be studied. Trotsky writes a lot about the Party, however he confuses the party with its General staff. Detached from the Party the party leadership would not have been able to win.
“Comrade Trotsky does not understand at all either the role of the Party or the function of unanimity within the Party also. For him the Party is the same as its general staff. Today too comrade Trotsky thinks that Bolshevisation consists of the selection of the appropriate general staff. Such a purely administrative view is incorrect. More correct is the assessment of the role and significance of the masses as the Bolsheviks did in October. Trotsky forgets this aspect of the question.
“When assessing the German events comrade Trotsky underestimates the passivity of the masses.”
Here comrade Krupskaya also stresses that it is essential to examine and establish the objective circumstances and the relative class forces in October 1923 and not the subjective factors stressed by Trotsky. Lastly I want to quote some remarks by Stalin which, if not directly, are at any rate closely linked to this and which he made to comrade Wilhelm Hertzog who asked him about the conditions for a proletarian revolution in a country like Germany. What Stalin said then throws a very clear light on the process of how the question should be correctly posed and on the question of what the conditions for a revolution in Germany are. Stalin said:
“This circumstance is not the only favourable condition of the German revolution. For the victory of the revolution to occur the Communist Party must represent the absolute majority of the working class and it must be the decisive force within the working class. Social democracy must be unconditionally smashed and exposed, reduced that is to an insignificant minority of the working class. Without this the dictatorship of the proletariat is unthinkable. In order to win, the workers must be inspired with determination and the working class masses must be led by a party which possesses their undisputed confidence. When two competing parties of equal strength exist within the working class, then, even with unusually favourable conditions, a permanent solid victory is impossible. Lenin, especially in the period before the October Revolution, insisted on this priority as the most essential pre-condition for the victory of the proletariat.
What Stalin says here is that a lasting solid victory of the Communist Party and the proletarian revolution is only possible when the Social Democratic Party has been reduced to an insignificant minority, and when the great mass of workers uniformly follow the Communist leadership already. If this question, of whether the Social Democratic Party had been reduced to an insignificant minority, is asked in respect of 1923, then it must be totally rejected. This was absolutely not the case.
With the revision of the left October legend, a process was begun but not finished and therefore we must deal directly with the questions posed by comrade Krupskaya: the question of the objective class forces, that of the relative strengths and influence of the KPD and SDP and that of the real factors influencing events.
2. THE CLASS FORCES IN RUSSIA IN 1917 COMPARED WITH GERMANY IN 1923
Fundamentally we must examine in outline the question as to whether the objective situation in Germany in 1923 could be compared with that of Russia in 1917 as far the conditions for a revolution were concerned. If the main elements of Russia in 1917 are contrasted with those in Germany in 1923 then fundamental differences observed. What were the main factors which favoured the October Revolution of 1917?
First the war question. The great mass of workers and peasants wanted peace and the end of imperialist war. There was no other party except the Bolsheviks ready to enforce peace, to break off the imperialist war and to give up the alliance with the Entente. It soon became clear that the Bolsheviks were the only ones for peace. This was a great boost for them. Millions had to back peace and to do so that had to back the Bolsheviks as it turned out that there was no other political force than them which wanted to struggle for this demand.
Second the land reform question. The peasants wanted the landlords’ land. For years the Social Revolutionaries had promised the peasants the land. But as the peasants did not wait for the Constituent Assembly but chased away the landlords, seized the land and cultivated it, everyone turned against them. Kerensky sent out military expeditions to recover the land. The Bolsheviks alone represented the standpoint of the peasants and said that it was right to immediately occupy the land and supported the peasants in so doing. The peasants, that is the overwhelming majority of the Russian people, saw their interests here represented by the Bolsheviks. Then this affected the workers. In Russia during 1917 the stage was reached when the supply of food to the towns failed. Factories were shut down in order to try to break the power of the workers’ councils. From this situation, not out of any theoretical reflections but out of necessity, the idea spread among the Russian workers of wanting to restart the factories and supply them with raw materials. The idea of’ Workers Control of production’ developed. The struggle over this logically evolved into the idea that the factories had to be confiscated from the employers. But this demand too, for the confiscation of the capitalist employers, was only put forward by the Bolsheviks.
The national question was a further driving force of the revolution. Here also the Bolsheviks were alone in representing the idea of complete national self-determination which embraced secession from the Great Russians. All the other parties that had previously represented the idea of national liberation turned against it when the time came for its realisation as when, for example, the Finns wanted to be independent. Only the Bolsheviks were consistent on this issue. A not unimportant circumstance is that, in Russia at the time, the army consisted of conscripts, the overwhelming majority peasants and workers, who wanted the land, the landlords’ land, and peace and a decisive majority of whom rallied to the Bolsheviks. So the question of power, of the proletarian revolution in Russia, was simple to resolve inasmuch as the decisive military forces in Petrograd, Moscow and other centres went over to the Bolsheviks.
The problem that we faced in 1923, and which faces us again today, that of arming the workers, did not really exist at all in 1917. The key regiments in Petrograd went over to the Bolsheviks. The armed struggle there was very slight. In Moscow it was harder. In the last analysis the fact that the key military forces, the great majority of those in possession of arms, stood behind the Bolsheviks meant that the victory of the October Revolution was very easy. Lenin never tired of stressing how easy that victory had been. He repeatedly stressed how the revolution spread through the country in triumph, how it swept away everything before it in a few weeks and months while the great majority of the people stood behind it. This was particularly obvious when the foreign powers appeared to organise and support the counter-revolutionary forces.
If we examine it in detail the picture of the motor forces of the German Revolution of 1923 is quite different. The first question, that of the war, was that in 1917 the Bolsheviks could appear as the peace party – the party the masses hoped would give them peace. But what about 1923? There was no bloody war as in 1917. The Ruhr War was only a pretend war. Britain and France were armed but Germany limited itself to passive resistance. But this Ruhr war oppressed the population and they were weary of it so it played a significant role in developing the forces which were brought about by the end of this struggle. But it was not us but the bourgeoisie which foresaw growing danger in the continuation of this struggle and, after getting an understanding with the French capitalists, broke it off. Then there is the question of the international situation in 1917 as compared with 1923. In Russia in 1917 the revolutionary forces could develop without being checked by external forces – that is by German imperialism. The Central Powers saw the Bolshevik revolution assisting their aims. The Entente was unable to intervene. In Germany in 1923 the situation was totally different. At that time it was above all both Britain and the USA which had a direct and indirect interest in supporting the German bourgeoisie against an approaching revolution. Britain wanted to counter France with a strong bourgeois Germany. The USA was interested in supporting them and thus getting back the money that it had invested there. Above all the USA must have feared that a victorious revolution in Germany in the autumn of 1923 meant grave danger to the whole of European bourgeois society. So the USA and Britain intervened against the proletarian revolution to help the German bourgeoisie.
I will later set out in more detail the facts that are important here. The most important economic motor of the revolution was the inflation or the depreciation of money. This caused conditions which increasingly upset the population. But in Germany this economic crisis was solved by the bourgeoisie itself and resulted in the stabilisation of the currency. Here it gave concessions which weakened the revolutionary forces by splitting the forces within the working class between those who wanted to take up the fight for power and those who wanted a few small adjustments to alleviate the immediate situation and who were inclined to renounce the fight for power. As a result of these concessions on inflation and the Ruhr war the working class was split and the Communist Party did not succeed in getting the majority of the working class behind it as the Bolsheviks had done in Russia during 1917.
Then there is the question of the armed forces. This too was wholly different in the Russia of 1917 from the Germany of 1923. We had no general conscription in Germany but the Reichswehr, not only by its size, but above all by its class composition, was constituted quite differently. In Russia the great bulk of the army was made up of peasants, whereas the Reichswehr was made up of socially backward elements in its ranks and trustworthy reactionaries and counter-revolutionaries in its leadership. In no way could it be said that the Reichswehr reflected the true class composition in the country. The Reichswehr is a class army in the reactionary sense. What did the Reichswehr do in 1923? It stood firm and stayed totally controlled by its leadership. We did get a series of reports that some symptoms of disaffection existed in the Reichswehr and even today many comrades still base their expectations of what would have happened on these reports. But we learnt later that these reports had been intentionally leaked to us by the Reichswehr leadership to mislead us.
Naturally the peasant masses did not play the same numerical role here as they did in Russia in 1917 and still do today. That was very closely linked to the inflation and its effect on the peasantry or a large part of it. The inflation had affected the peasantry in such a way that the majority were better off because of it. They had used the inflation to get rid of their mortgage debt which had been reduced to ridiculously low sums by it. A second factor that favoured the peasants during the inflation was the much greater fall in the prices of industrial products than in those of agricultural ones. That price-scissors benefited the peasants. In no way can it be said that the mass of the peasantry in Germany in 1923 became radicalised. They became worried in July and August when the inflation was on such a scale that the food supplies to the town stopped but became quite happy again when the currency stabilisation was introduced.
Thus if the decisive events which promoted the revolution in Russia in 1917 and Germany in 1923 are examined then the essence of these two situations is seen to be entirely different and all the decisive factors, which led in Russia to the support for us of the majority of the population, were not present in Germany.
THE REAL STORY OF 1923
1. THE EFFECT OF THE OCCUPATION OF THE RUHR.
After this general overview of the motor forces of the revolution in Russia in 1917 and the events in Germany in 1923, I come to a short description to the main events of 1923. This is all the more necessary as in any case during the whole discussion nobody in the Party took the trouble to explain the objective march of events and the economic conditions in 1923 and since then no-one has returned to these topics either.
First the question must be asked as to what were the effects of the Ruhr occupation and the inflation up to August. The effects were very different on the occupied and unoccupied areas. Germany had been split into two with contrasting political and economic conditions. In the occupied area the whole of heavy industry lay inert because of passive resistance. But that was quite an extraordinary state of affairs. Workers went on strike but with the consent of their German employers. They were praised as patriots for closing down the mines and steel works and so on. But not only that – they were paid for their time on strike. This was hardly a situation conducive to revolutionary consciousness – to strike and simultaneously to be paid by the bourgeoisie and even hailed as patriots for doing so!
The situation in the rest of Germany was such that the rising inflation led to growing pressure on wages. Real wages fell but, as can be seen from contemporary data, unemployment up to August 1923 was below the normal pre-war average. Unoccupied Germany experienced a sharp rise in production which was impelled by the export premium provided by inflation. This rise in production was made possible by the wholesale import of British coal which replaced the Ruhr production. Germany exported at dumping prices. I do not want to go into details but as far as a great many goods were concerned, exports in 1923 were higher than in 1922. A huge accumulation of capital occurred then. Wages had fallen below their value. The reduction of real wages to a fraction of ‘normal’ wages daily increased the poverty and want of the working class.
As far as the peasantry was concerned until July-August it did brilliant business because of the inflation and it got rid of its debt and acquired equipment and durable goods. Taxes more or less disappeared in the inflation. So in this period it was, apart from the working class, only the urban petty bourgeoisie which came under great pressure and endured colossal privations. These were the most important objective effects.
2. THE BEHAVIOUR OF THE PARTY UNTIL THE STRIKE AGAINST CUNO.
What did the Party do? In this situation it issued a series of partial slogans and partial demands. I mention the slogan of shifting the burden of the Ruhr struggle on to the bourgeoisie, the confiscation of tangible assets, control of production, the creation of control committees for commodity prices, which also occurred, the slogan of Workers Hundreds (Defence Squads eds.) and, as the unifying slogan, the workers government, which based on its own class organs, would carry out the workers’ demands.
For the unoccupied area the Party issued a ten point programme including the distribution of the Ruhr coal, 6 hour shifts, cost-of-living wage rises and a forced loan from the bourgeoisie. Of these slogans, only the one for Defence Hundreds really took off in the Ruhr. This was so successful that the Hundreds sprang up with great rapidity. The Party aimed for the struggle for power. And it prepared it correctly through partial slogans, transitional slogans and partial struggles appropriate to the situation. It avoided adventures such as the left proposal to occupy the enterprises in the Ruhr in face of French bayonets.
Thus things developed until the Cuno strike. This was the high point of the mass movement in 1923. At the time the Party had the illusion that it had initiated and led the Cuno strike. If the matter is examined, then it can be seen that the main cause was the breakdown in food supply, brought about by the acceleration of inflation.
How unready the working class was to take up the immediate fight for power during the Cuno strike is indicated by the fact that some relatively small measures were sufficient to bring the strike to an end and to check the movement. The result of the Cuno strike was the creation of a grand coalition with the entrance of the SPD into the government. And, as Remmele correctly said in January 1924, the entrance of the SPD into the government awakened new illusions amongst the workers. These were strengthened by a series of measures which alleviated the immediate want of the workers. First food supplies were secured. There was a supply of fats. One key measure undertaken was the introduction of gold-wages.
3. THE SPECULATIVE PLAN OF ACTION OF THE COMINTERN.
I now turn to the Comintern and to an evaluation of its intervention. The then leadership of the German Party has been accused of not realising at all the revolutionary effects the occupation of the Ruhr could produce. From the outset it had not considered the seizure of power, not “unrolled the question of power” as Ruth Fischer said. Of course in January we had already quite clearly seen the possibility of a revolutionary development arising from the Ruhr occupation, but also another possibility, namely, that it could result in a compromise between German and French capitalists, which was in fact the case. That was expressed in Rote Fahne, especially by Radek.
It is very interesting if one looks back on the position of the Executive, since in no way does it accord with what the upholders of the legend claim was the correct one. Not at all in January, not even in June, had it considered the revolutionary struggle for power. In June, there was a plenum session of the Executive. There was no talk of an impending revolutionary struggle in Germany. At the heart of the session was the question of Anglo-Russian tension, where Radek reported on the issue of the growing danger of war between Soviet Russia and Britain. Zinoviev, the president of the Communist International, made a report on the question of the united front tactic. Not even he considered the struggle for power as immediately on the agenda. In June 1923 then, the Comintern still saw the situation thus.
The leadership of the Russian Party and the Comintern first became aware of the problem through the appeal of the CC of 11th July for an Anti-Fascist Day and the campaign of the KPD for the Anti-Fascist Day on 29th July, which saw the call for a dictatorship unfolded through the German bourgeois press, and where the leadership of the German Party raised the question of arming the workers. The Executive first became aware of the question of the armed struggle by the Party and then by the working class in that way. That first set it in motion. What did it do about it? It summoned a conference in which the leading comrades from here participated, together with the Executive. Most of the Russian comrades were away when the conference was called. Brandler and others had already arrived in Moscow by the end of August. Plenty of time was allowed before opening the talks and in carrying them out. Seven weeks were spent in Moscow, drafting a plan of action for the revolution, while the events in Germany developed. in weeks of long negotiations a plan of action for the revolution was drafted, which was worked out in advance.
What was characteristic of the plan of action was that it was not drafted on the basis of the already existing facts but was drafted weeks and months in advance on the basis of a hypothesis about the events which ought or should occur in Germany in four to eight weeks time. In Russia, once the Bolsheviks had attained a majority in Leningrad, once they were already sure about the armed forces there, once Kerensky had been ruined, once the situation was ripe, then a date was set for the uprising in 1917. The plan of action for October 1923, was not based on such facts but on the hypothesis that the events in Germany from August on would take the same course as had occurred in Russia from August to October, that is, that in the meantime the Party would have attracted the majority of the population behind it, that in the meantime the workers would have armed themselves sufficiently and the enemy, in the meantime, would have become impotent and undermined. In Russia a plan for the uprising was fixed on the basis of real assumptions, but not weeks, as Trotsky says, but days beforehand. But in Germany it was fixed months beforehand. That is the decisive thing. The schema of October 1917 was transferred to Germany, without the facts being present – it was hypothetical!
A few more things relating to this must be mentioned. The entry into the Saxon government was not Brandler’s error, but resulted from a decision taken against Brandler’s opposition. Brandler opposed it arguing that the preconditions for this were not yet present amongst the workers. First concerned the creation of the preconditions for entering the government. He asked for a certain delay in order to create these preconditions in the factories. So it was put to him: if you believe in the revolution then you must carry this out. They appealed to his discipline. Moreover, the question was raised as to whether the factory councils could provide a base for the organs of power of the proletarian revolution. In Moscow it was decided that they could be substituted for the political workers councils. A wrong decision was made. The plan of action, after many weeks of deliberations, was now finished.
4. THE INTERVENTION OF THE BOURGEOISIE CHANGES THE SITUATION
Unfortunately, not only we, the revolutionary party, drafted plans of action, but so did the enemy. Not only that, it acted. Furthermore, the situation was such, that, after the plan of action was finished and the comrades had returned here to carry it out, the hypothetical situation upon which the plan was constructed had totally changed and in fact had turned into its opposite. The bourgeoisie had seized the initiative. The basis upon which the plan of action was built proved to be castles in the air. The bourgeoisie knew that it it did not actively intervene through concessions to the workers and compromises with French capitalism, then a real danger of revolution threatened it. But it did not let it passively approach but in the shortest time it made the necessary concessions. It hastened to break off passive resistance and called off the Ruhr struggle. Stresemann stepped forward to take the path of diplomatic negotiation. Social Democracy, especially its left-wing, urged the end of passive resistance. After the Cuno strike, the bourgeoisie, headed by Stresemann, soon brought the Ruhr struggle to a close. The most important dates are below:
23rd August – Stresemann made a speech in which he offered a compromise to France.
2nd September – Speech in Stuttgart.
6th September – Speech for representatives of the foreign press.
11th September – Negotiations started with France.
24th September – The German government issued official instructions to end passive resistance.
25th September – These instructions were published.
26th September – An appeal of the Reich President and the government, in which a public request to end passive resistance was made.
In a few weeks the bourgeoisie was capable, in its turn, of ending the Ruhr struggle, thus leading to peace, and making a compromise with the French capitalists. Linked to that was the reining in of the Fascists. After using them for sabotage attacks in the Rhineland, for the Black Reichswehr, as it was then called, they were now kicked out. Breaking off the Ruhr struggle was the first policy change. The second, enacted by the bourgeoisie after the Cuno strike, was the end of inflation and the start of stabilisation. This turn started with the introduction of accounting in gold, first in wholesale trade; it had already been accomplished in a large part of industry.
At the start of September, accounting in gold had already become general in industry and trade and had even penetrated the retail trade. If the bourgeoisie reduced inflation after August, it was not only because of the danger of the revolution that it brought, but also because, after a certain point, the effects of inflation change into its opposite. After a certain point inflation no longer acts as an export stimulus, but the reverse. The bourgeoisie had quite coolly exploited the inflation conjuncture to the very end. It had gone as far as it could possibly go, and had only stopped as the inflation conjuncture began to turn into an inflation crisis.
The second act after the introduction of accounting in gold was the introduction of gold wages, the fixed-value wages. Since June agreements had already been reached over fixed value wages and wage payments 2-3 times a week. Of course it was not a real fixed value wage but it meant an alleviation of the depreciation of real wages.
On the 14th August Stresemann appeared in the Reichstag and officially announced the introduction of fixed value wages. Then stabilisation was tackled.
According to Reichsbank statistics on fixed-value emergency funds, between August and the issue of the Rentenmark on the 15th November, no fewer than 989 million gold marks had been issued. Thus a change of direction through a whole series of emergency measures had occurred well before the introduction of the Rentenmark.
The decisive turn that occurred in mid-August after the Cuno strike is given convincing testimony by E Pawlowski (Varga) in his pamphlet Vor dem Endkampf in Deutschland the forward of which is dated 10th October 1923. Varga was as officious then as he is today.
We can read on p.42:
“The fourth stage is that from the 15th August. Through their mass movement the workers achieved a large wage rise and compensation for cost of living increases. The entry of the Social Democrats into the government and the intervention of the top trade union organisation acted to damp down the broad masses will to struggle. They still had the illusion that Social Democracy would come to their aid.”
And on p.47:
“Following the General Strike in mid-August, the German ruling class suddenly changed tactics; it now demanded currency reform …. Then simultaneously, also under the influence of the general strike, fixed-value wages were introduced as the maintenance of the paper mark had become superfluous for the German big bourgeoisie and big farming interests. Hence towards the end of August we see emerge a whole series of plans for the creation of a new stable currency. These plans were energetically supported by big capitalist circles, The aim was represented as being so urgent that the government ought not to be left even a few weeks time for consideration.”
And on p.64:
“Although the German workers had already deceived themselves countless times about Social Democracy, broad layers of workers were again taken in. Letting themselves be deceived by the phrases of Hilferding, parliamentary democratic cretinism and the delusion that parliamentary horse trading decides the fate of the proletariat, many proletarians were moved to adopt a wait and see attitude after the wage rise achieved through the huge strike movement.”
5. THE DECISIVE MISTAKES OF THE PARTY AFTER THE CUNO STRIKE
Both these series of events show how the preconditions on which the plan rested were totally changed by the intervention of the bourgeoisie. So what did the Party do then? The main error of the Party consisted of this – that it believed the already drafted plan, it went on with it and thus omitted to take measures towards the political preparations for the struggle for power just limiting itself technical-organisational preparations. Trotsky had declared “Politics is made by the enemy”. He considered that the chief defect of revolutionaries in the west hitherto was they had insufficiently valued the question of the technical and organisational preparations of uprisings. The enemy certainly used politics, very appropriate for themselves, while it was precisely the main error of the Party after the Cuno strike for they put forward no policies, that is they omitted the political preparations through partial struggles and partial actions but limited itself to technical-organisational preparations. What kind of error is this? Is a ‘right’ or ‘left’ mistake? I believe that it is a pronounced left error to want to engage in a uprising. On the basis of purely technical organisational preparations without sufficient political preparations and preconditions. It must be understood that after the Cuno strike the enemy dealt the workers’ movement a whole series of blows to which the Party did not reply because it did not want to waste its energies in partial struggles. By doing this the Party neglected to link up the rest of the masses and to establish and to establish which forces among the masses it could control.
Among the government actions after the Cuno strike must be mentioned.
17th August – Severing dissolved the National Committee of the Factory Councils without any protest activity from the Party.
13th October – The government gave itself emergency powers again without any Party reaction.
The Party limited itself to continuing its technical organisational preparations. Then on the 12th October it joined the Saxon government and shortly after the Thuringian one too. As already mentioned, joining the Saxon government was not the result of our free will but was a decision of the Executive with which the whole leadership of the German Party, including the left of Ruth Fischer and so on, had agreed.
Had any of us imagined that we could gain and hold power while linked with Social Democracy? None of us thought that. But the belief underlying the Executive’s decision to join the Saxon and Thuringian governments was that the Party could use the government apparatus to arm the workers. The Executive had the notion that we could sit in the government, arm the workers, do nothing meanwhile and that we could ‘ignore’ General Müller, the head of the Reichswehr. But General Müller by no means ignored us but intervened at once. He immediately took over the State Police. When Böttcher made a speech calling for the arming of the Proletarian Hundreds, Müller issued, with Ebert’s agreement, an ultimatum and the Reichswehr immediately marched in. From these events it can be seen that the situation in which we had gone into the Saxon and Thuringian governments hardly accorded with the preconditions which we thought would justify Communist participation in the government. The opposition which Brandler had put up in Moscow was fully justified. A government could only have been built when we could have acted as Communists and revolutionaries and crushed the resistance of the bourgeoisie. But that could only have been done on the basis of the support from the majority of the working class for the dictatorship of the armed proletariat and an uprising which had already been victorious.
So the entry into the Saxon government occurred under erroneous assumptions. What actually happened? There were only two possible courses of action. The first was to act immediately as a revolutionary dictatorship which would naturally stir up the bourgeoisie to resist and so the coalition would inevitably break up. The second, the one actually decided on, was to use the state to arm the workers but in every other respect to stay within constitutional limits hoping that the enemy would not react. Both courses of action would have stopped our plan being carried out. But in the first case the plan would have been prevented by a series of measures which would have functioned in a revolutionary propagandist way. A government which included Communists would have had to impose dictatorial measures immediately. There was huge unemployment in the country. To help the unemployed money had to be confiscated from the employers at once. To create work the closed factories had to be reopened immediately. Food supply also needed dictatorial measures. No real action could be taken by the government without such measures. We had drafted a whole programme of such measures to be carried out at once. But allied in government with the Social Democrats it was neither possible to do these things using the existing bourgeois state machine nor to remain long enough in power to push them into it. The Reichswehr arrived with a rush.
THE RETREAT AND THE CHEMNITZ CONFERENCE
The retreat is closely linked to the Chemnitz conference of 21st October where the decision was taken. Some facts. It has frequently been claimed that this conference was not really fully representative of the Saxon working class and that it was not a conference of workers representatives but only of officials. This was not the case. The composition of the conference was as follows:
140 factory workers, 15 representatives of action committees, 26 delegates from the co-operative societies, 102 representatives from Trade Unions, 16 unemployed, 7 official SPD delegates, 60 official KPD representatives, 1 official USPD delegate, 102 trades union delegates representing Trades Councils.
The majority of delegates present were from factories. If the composition of this conference is examined it cannot be denied that it was, in its essentials, an accurate reflection of the mood in the Saxon-Thuringian working class.
What happened at this conference? On the previous evening the Zentrale had unanimously taken the decision that, in view of the news of the advance of the Reichswehr, the demand for a general strike which would include an armed rising should be put forward. But it was then decided that we would have to await the outcome of the conference to find out the real mood. There, with the agreement of the Zentrale, comrade Brandler put forward the demand that the conference issue the slogan of a general strike as a battle cry against the Reichswehr invasion. If there had been a real revolutionary mood at the conference which was already in favour of a struggle for power then, obviously, the gathering would have taken up the slogan with enthusiasm and, from the general strike, the armed rising would have developed.
However the effect was totally different. Brandler’s proposal to the meeting fell flat on the floor and the gathering acted icily towards the suggestion. What took place then was that the left SPD minister, Graupe, declared that if the Communists did not give up the call for a general strike here and now then he would leave the meeting with his seven people. Had there been a really battle-ready revolutionary gathering a storm of indignation would have swept the defeatist away. But the contrary occurred. At once the gathering decided to reject the call for a general strike and instead appoint a small committee to look into the matter. It was a pauper’s burial of the proposal.
What did this mean? It meant that all the measures taken by the bourgeoisie had had their effect on the Saxon workers, that the working class was split and that it was quite out of the question that at that moment the majority of Saxon workers were prepared to fight for power. There were some towns where that was the case but for Saxony and Germany as a whole it was on no account so. The real situation was totally different from that envisaged in the plan of action. On the basis of an appreciation of the real situation the Zentrale took the unanimous decision that there had to be a retreat. Not only Brandler but all the “left” comrades of the Zentrale too and also all the foreign comrades at that time in Germany agreed with the decision without exception. Some of the latter had hurried to Saxony just to prevent the decision for a rising.
If this decision had not been taken the Party would have let itself become involved with a superior enemy which would only have left a real mess behind. In similar situations, in Bulgaria for instance, other acted differently and there are other examples of the same kind. But they do not invite imitation. The Leadership of a Party cannot justify the call for a decisive struggle if it foresees certain defeat. It can be objected that there are other situations where the Party had fought alongside the working class with only the prospect of defeat. Indeed we had fought thus in January 1919 when there was no hope of conquering power and in Munich too when everyone know that there was no prospect of winning. But the difference in the situation was that in one case it was the great mass of the working class that rose and the Party did not dare to forsake them in their struggle. It is quite different if the battle is confined to the Party and the masses do not stand behind it and if the defeat, when it comes, is because of the mistaken tactics of the Party which arise from its faulty assessment of the situation. That does not improve the standing of the Party in the eyes of the masses but discredits it. In such a situation it takes more courage to sound the retreat than to lead an adventure which takes the Party into battle in isolation and destroys it for years.
This impression of the situation which was made at the Chemnitz conference was confirmed by some later events. Here I only want to mention two.
First the Hamburg Uprising. Remmele has given the impression that, as one of the messengers of the Zentrale, he had left Chemnitz too early to be recalled (Remmele was in charge of Kiel but not Hamburg.) The call for a general strike was made in Hamburg and two hundred brave Communists rallied to the call but the great majority of Hamburg workers behaved in such a manner as if to say ‘The Communists are brave fellows, courageous lads’ and kept their hands in their pockets. This is easily understood if it is remembered that there was plenty of work in Hamburg. Just four items of economic data illustrate this quite adequately.
In 1923 Hamburg was a key port for the import of raw materials and coal from Britain and the USA. Consequently the main mass of Hamburg workers had no inclination for a general strike and armed uprising. Incidentally six hundred workers fought with the republican defence force. When there was an attempt to create a new legend about the May 1929 events in Berlin, suddenly the story about the Hamburg uprising was dropped and in The Theses for Agitators and Propagandists one can read about “the significance and lessons of the May fighting in Berlin” while on 1923 “The Hamburg rising was a rearguard battle, a fighting retreat in the moment of a downswing of the revolutionary wave as the mass movement in the country had already passed its highest point.”
Secondly what happened in Berlin as the Berlin leadership at that time was ‘left’. The Zentrale repeatedly called on it to arrange mass demonstrations under armed protection. But as soon as the demonstrations were called only a few dozen people turned up who soon disappeared again.
These other examples show the real nature of affairs after Chemnitz, namely that the vast majority of workers were not prepared to fight for power.
In spite of all attempts by Ruth Fischer and Maslow to fan the fire of factional struggle, the Party was about to make an orderly retreat and to employ its whole fighting energy against the SPD but in Decernber the then left, with the open support of the Executive unleashed its factional onslaught and so removed the possibility of making any breakthrough into the SPD for which otherwise there were the most favourable pre-conditions. The Party was undermined through methodological panic-mongering. When Maslow and Ruth Fischer boast that they had, “saved” the Party after the October retreat the truth is that they first generated the panic which then allowed them to pose as Party saviours. Besides their task was eased by the fact that for weeks after the October retreat the Party was still under extreme strain. In an army which had thought victory was securely in its grasp and which instead is forced to withdraw under the heaviest enemy attack it is not too difficult to start a panic. It is the easiest thing in the world if, instead of being called to order by the highest army leadership, the panic-mongers are encouraged.
But the German Party and Communist International suffered grave damage because of this, not only at the time but for years afterwards. Indeed the Party has not recovered from this even today.
7. SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS
With that I end my presentation of the main points about the events of 1923. I only want to add briefly what my views are in regard to some of the most important lessons of these events.
I believe that the first and most important lesson must be that revolutionary plans of action cannot be drawn up some 2,000 kilometres away for eventualities eight to ten weeks later but can only be done by those actually on the battlefield who can follow events with their own eyes. A further lesson for the Communist Parties outside Russia is that they can only hope to carry out a revolution in their own countries it they have learnt to assess independently the relationship of class forces in their own countries, to develop through their own judgement tactics and strategy of revolutionary struggle and if they are capable of critical and independent thought even it opposed by the international leadership. The gravest and most fatal error in 1923 was that the Party and its leadership failed to insist on their independent and critical judgement.
Why was this? Certainly not from a slavish attitude to the Russian comrades but for reasons which, on the face of it, appear quite plausible. Brandler often recounted what had induced him, often against his better judgement, to follow the advice of our Russian comrades in 1923. His train of thought ran thus: “So far our Russian comrades are the only ones to have carried out a victorious revolution. I like to think that I know something about German workers and German conditions. But we have not carried out a revolution. Therefore, where the case is doubtful, we must submit to the judgement of those who have.” Today we must say that this is wrong, a most grave danger and one of the reasons for the crisis in the Communist International. Unless that question is settled by accepting that parties in other countries have to learn to lead the class struggle by using their own judgement then the revolution will not be victorious in any other country. In order to defeat the bourgeoisie in reality it must first be beaten intellectually. All revolutionary battles are fought out in the head before they are fought out in reality. In the Russian revolution too it is not just a question of looking at October. Thirty years of fundamental thinking about the ways and means of revolution was the political preparation for the Russian revolution. That was decisive. And it will be exactly like that in other countries too.
As the genuine leader of the proletarian revolution the Communist International needs both a collective leadership and mature communist parties.
The next lesson that we can draw is that the revolution demands political preparations and not just technical and organisational ones and that the majority of workers, the majority of the working class, must be won over through partial actions and partial demands before the conditions arise where it is possible to lead a struggle for power.
Next I think we must learn from the events in Saxony about some aspects of arming the working class. It is an illusion to think that it is possible to distribute arms to the workers behind the backs of the ruling class. The arming of the workers must go hand-in-hand with the political struggle and it is not just a technical organisational matter.
Moreover we ought to learn that, even with a Communist-Social Democrat coalition, parliament cannot lead the struggle for power. In order to win the Party must have a solid majority behind it, ready to give their lives to establish their class in power. Another lesson is that factory committees cannot replace the political workers’ committees.
Of course the above list is not exhaustive, I have only touched on the most important lessons here. Also I have given only a small selection of facts on the economic and political developments in 1923. But I think that these are enough to blow away the Left October Legend. And I furthermore believe that the lessons that we can still draw today from 1923 are not just historical lessons from the past but are also extremely relevant in a situation where the Communist international suffers even more severely from the errors which were so prevalent then. The ultra-left policy in the Communist International and Communist Party of Germany still prevails. So this lesson on the erroneous nature of this policy is always useful as the bogey of October 1923 raises its head again.
The victory of the proletarian revolution in Germany poses the resolution of its tactical and strategical issues beforehand. These questions cannot be resolved on the basis of a legend but only on the basis of hard facts.
The left legend of 1923 has already attained great antiquity and has almost entered the canon. But that is no help. It must be liquidated and it will be liquidated as unquestionably as the revolution in Germany will be carried out by a communist party that has mentally mastered the task beforehand.
An indispensable part of the task is to understand the issues of 1923.
How Stalin evaluated the 1923 events at the time can be judged from the letter he sent to Zinoviev and Bukharin at the beginning of August. Zinoviev made its contents public at a plenum of the Russian Central Committee in late 1927. This is what he wrote:
“Should the communists (at a given stage) strive to seize power without the Social Democrats, are they mature enough for that? That, in my opinion, is the question. When we seized power, we had in Russia such supports as (a) peace, (b) the land to the peasants, (c) the support of the great majority of the working class, (d) the sympathy of the peasantry. The German Communist at this moment have nothing of the sort. Of course they have the Soviet Union as their neighbour, which we did not have, but what can we offer them at the present rnoment? If in Germany today the state power, so to speak collapses and the Communists seize hold of it, they will fall with a crash. That is the ’best’ case. At the worst they will be smashed to pieces and thrown back. It is not so much that Brandler wants to ‘educate the masses’ but that the bourgeoisie plus the right Social-Democrats have decided to turn this demonstration for educating the masses into a general battle (at present they have every chance of succeeding) and to destroy the Communists. Of course the fascists are not sleeping. But it is to our advantage that the fascists attack first and that we unify the whole working class around the Communists (Germany is not Bulgaria). According to all reports the fascists in Germany are weak everywhere. In my opinion the Germans must be held back and not driven forward.”
From a speech by Zinoviev against Trotsky from the Leningrad Pravda, no.106, Sunday 11th May 1924.
It is no secret that the opposition also considered the Comintern leadership to be wrong. In Germany things went badly wrong in October. Now today a new theory is constructed that we allowed the revolution in Italy to be sabotaged and slept through in Germany. That is how they try to talk. So because someone yawned the revolution is supposed to have failed. A wonderfully deep Marxist conception of the revolution. And we poor souls learnt from Marx and Engels that there are more important factors in the rise of a revolution than someone’s yawn.
“As far as Germany is concerned it is now quite clear that it is not a case of our having slept through a revolution but the opposite as we were too quick to see the time as ripe when this was not the case. As Plekhanov said we mistook a pregnancy of two months for one of nine. Such an error is no disgrace and anyway it happened now and then to Marx and Engels too. Such an error is quite understandable because revolutionaries want to show their revolutionary temper as soon as possible. When one considers everything that has happened in Germany then we should be accused of the opposite, namely that we overestimated events excessively, were far too eager to throw ourselves into battle, and overestimated the maturity of the situation far too much but not to accuse us in any way of having slept through a revolution as some profound strategists say, while they tell of fairy tales about a crisis in the Comintern and the KPD.”
The Brandlerist Zentrale was accused of failing to recognise the opportunist role of the SPD and of giving up the Leninist conception of the state by entering the governments of Saxony and Thuringia in 1923. So sections of the appeal written by Brandler to the party members on 11th July 1923 which concern the Anti-Fascist day are given below:
“Party Comrades! We face difficult battles. We must make the most massive preparations for action. We cannot rely on the SPD and the Trade Union bureaucracy. As in all other defensive struggles of the revolutionary proletariat against the counter revolution, the SPD and the trade union bureaucracy will once again abandon the workers and betray them …
“We Communists can only win in the fight against the counter-revolution it we succeed, without and against, the treacherous Social-Democratic Party and Trade Union bureaucracy in leading Social-Democratic and non-party working masses to battle alongside with us.
“For this purpose all preparations for a battle-worthy defensive action must immediately be made ….
“The joint proletarian defence organisations based on the factories must be organised immediately in spite of any resistance.
“Party districts in which factory cell work is still not complete must begin establishing functioning party cells in the next few days in the shortest possible time.
“The links between the district leaderships and the town organisations of the district and the national centre as well, together with the courier service, must be organised in the most careful way.
“The Party must ensure that its organisation is so battle tempered that it can engage in open civil war without a failure in any district.
“In case the normal communication facilities, the railways and post office, are paralysed because of a general strike or military action, the links between our organisations and the printing and spreading of all propaganda material, must be safeguarded …
“The fascist rising can only be put down it White Terror is met by Red Terror. If the fascists who are armed to the teeth kill the proletarian fighters the latter must ruthlessly destroy all the fascists. If the fascists put every tenth striker against the wall so the revolutionary workers must put every fifth member of the fascist organisation up against the wall.”
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