Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 5, 2019

Werner Angress’s “Stillborn Revolution: the Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923” (part four)

Filed under: Werner Angress — louisproyect @ 7:45 pm

Although I can’t really remember how I made a connection between the 1923 abortive German revolution and the evolution of the “Leninist” organizational model, about 20 years ago I wrote a series of six articles collected under the title “The Comintern and German Communism” that broke with the “heroic Comintern” mythology of the Trotskyist movement. I discarded the illusions of my youth after reading Werner Angress’s 1963 “Stillborn Revolution: The Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923”, which convinced me that the German CP would have been better off if it had simply ignored the Comintern’s advice.

Much of the same story was told by Pierre Broué in his “The German Revolution, 1917-1923” that was published by Haymarket in 2006 although he was a bit more willing to give the Comintern the benefit of the doubt. Written in French in 1971, this was the first English-language translation. Although a life-long Trotskyist, Broué was unsparing in his assessment of the German events. You can read his book online and see for yourself. I have not read it but doubt that there’s anything in it that would encourage socialists today to look back at the early 1920s Comintern, prior to Stalin’s usurpation of power, as a model to emulate.

There were two fiascos that Angress described. The first was the infamous “March Action” of 1921 when the CP went off the deep end, trying to carry out a revolution that most workers were not willing to participate in. This account is contained in three chapters that is linked to here.

So disastrous was this action and so unwilling the CP ultraleft leaders to properly take responsibility for it, that Paul Levi—a critic of the leadership and former party chairman—took the extraordinary measure of writing a public critique that led to his expulsion for “breaking discipline”. His “Our Path: Against Putschism” took no prisoners. Despite being ostracized from the German CP and the Comintern, Lenin incorporated Levi’s united front strategy as a way of preempting ultraleft, putschist actions in the future.

Unfortunately, Lenin’s failing health prevented him from overruling the next foolish adventure that took place only two years later. This is reviewed in the final two chapters of “Stillborn Revolution”. Below you can read chapter XII, which is titled “Revolution in Preparation” that describes the Comintern foisting a foolhardy insurrectionary action on a party whose leader Heinrich Brandler had deep doubts about. This excerpt from the chapter will give you a good sense of the distance between his take on the state of the class struggle and the Kremlin’s wildly overoptimistic assessment:

The key words emphasized by the Russians were “[the proletariat] will attempt in Saxony to use the state power in order to arm itself.” This, according to Brandler, was putting the cart before the horse. Brandler argued that it would be a mistake to enter the Saxon cabinet before the country, including Saxony, was politically prepared for an uprising which a Communist-infiltrated government in Saxony might bring on much sooner than was desirable or prudent. The weapons, which such a coalition government was to obtain, would be useless if the masses were not yet properly prepared politically for a revolution, and, Brandler argued, such a government might not even have sufficient time for the procurement of arms if the Communists should enter the Saxon government prematurely. In short, Brandler disagreed with the Russians on the practical entry into the Saxon government. The Russians saw only the weapons, while Brandler saw primarily the absence of the political and psychological preparedness of the masses prerequisite for a successful uprising.

The next chapter that I hope to post next week covers what amounts to a stillborn revolution, as Angress puts it. So damaging was it to Zinoviev’s reputation, who was the president of the Comintern in 1923, that he offered up a proposal for “Bolshevization” at the 1924 Comintern. It was the critical organizational measure that facilitated Stalin’s seizure of power first of the Russian party and then the international movement.

You can get a sense of the stakes at hand in Germany from Isaac Deutscher in V. 2 of his Trotsky biography, even if he is loath to place much blame on Trotsky, who among other things convinced Brandler to set a date for what amounted to a putsch on the anniversary of the Russian Revolution:

Even if conditions in Germany had favoured revolution, the artificiality and the clumsiness of the plan and the remoteness of its direction and control would have been enough to produce a failure. The conditions were probably less favourable than they were assumed to be, and the social crisis in Germany less deep. Since the summer the economy had begun to recover, later the Mark stabilized, the political atmosphere had become calmer. The Central Committee failed to arouse the mass of workers and to prepare them for insurrection. The scheme for arming the workers miscarried: the Communists found the arsenal in Saxony empty. From Berlin the central government sent a military expedition against the Red province. And so when the moment of rising arrived, Brandler, supported by Radek and Pyatakov, cancelled the battle orders. Only through a fault in liaison did insurgents move into action at Hamburg. They fought alone and, after a hopeless combat lasting several days, were routed. These events were to have a powerful impact on the Soviet Union. They destroyed the chances of revolution in Germany and Europe for many years ahead.

They demoralized and divided the German party and, coinciding with similar setbacks in Poland and Bulgaria, they had this effect on the International whole. They imparted to Russian communism a deep and definite sense of isolation, a disbelief in the revolutionary capacity of the European working-classes—even a disdain for them. Out of this mood there developed gradually an attitude of Russian revolutionary self-sufficiency and self-centredness which was to find its expression in the doctrine of socialism in one country. Immediately, the German debacle became an issue in the Russian contest for power. Communists both in Russia and Germany delved into the causes of the defeat and were eager to fix the responsibilities. In the Politbureau the triumvirs [Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Stalin] and Trotsky laid the blame on each other.


CHAPTER XII

REVOLUTION IN PREPARATION

THE DECISION of the Comintern to engineer a Communist revolution in Germany was largely based on faulty premises. In their eagerness to revive the revolutionary wave in Europe, the Bolshevik leaders succumbed to wishful thinking, to a misjudgment of the true situation in Germany, and to the temptation to sponsor a “German October” uprising.

That the situation in Germany remained grave even after Cuno’s resignation cannot be disputed. Nevertheless, the apex of the 1923 crisis had been passed on August 12, although few contemporaries realized this fact at the time. With the collapse of the Cuno government, which had demonstrated a nearly unprecedented incompetence in dealing with problems both at home and abroad, the confused and embittered nation, except for extremists on the right and left, rallied hopefully behind the new chancellor and the Great Coalition cabinet which he headed.

Gustav Stresemann had several important advantages over his predecessor. His economic knowledge, acquired early in life during his years of apprenticeship in industry, was more profound than Cuno’s. He was also politically more astute, particularly with respect to foreign policy, and, unlike his predecessor, he possessed the courage to make necessary, though unpopular, decisions. Finally, he commanded greater confidence from German labor than had Cuno. All these were factors in Stresemann’s favor, but the new chancellor was fully aware of the enormous difficulties which his government would have to overcome in the immediate future. The seriousness of the over-all situation was clearly enunciated by the participating ministers at a cabinet meeting on August 20. The exchange rate to the dollar, which on August 13 had stood at 3,700,000 marks, had risen within a week to six million marks. Prices kept rising everywhere. Most parts of the country were faced by economic strikes, and the food problem grew daily more difficult. Radicalism on the right and the left grew in intensity as Bavaria, Saxony, and Thuringia seemed to be drifting into open rebellion against the Reich. In short, the home front was in need of drastic emergency measures.

The international picture looked equally somber. A brief ray of hope had been provided by the Curzon Note of August 11, in which His Majesty’s Government informed France and Belgium that Great Britain held the occupation of the Ruhr to have been in violation of international law. The note made it plain that the British government would not back France and Belgium in their contemplated move to demand from Germany the unconditional cessation of passive resistance in the Ruhr. The note was polite, assured the two continental powers of England’s good will, but left no doubt that France and Belgium would receive no British support for any future démarches to Germany in connection with the Ruhr.

This British demonstration of sympathy for Germany’s position might have boosted German morale had it been issued earlier. As it was, the effect was largely lost in the turmoil which accompanied Cuno’s resignation, although the note did achieve a temporary relaxation of tension. On August 21 the French Premier, Raymond Poincare, issued the statement that France would be willing to abandon her occupation of the Ruhr, gradually and by stages, if Germany would end her policy of passive resistance. Poincare’s gambit led to a series of statements and counterstatements on both sides of the Rhine, without, however, bringing the two countries closer to a satisfactory solution. Meanwhile the inflation reached astronomical proportions. On September 1, the dollar rate stood at 98,800,000 marks. Passive resistance proved an ever increasing burden on the German treasury, and made it mandatory for the government to terminate the hopeless struggle in the Ruhr. On September 24 Stresemann announced in a cabinet meeting that passive resistance would have to be abandoned. To do so was the only way out of a serious dilemma. A continuation of this policy could offer the nation no advantages, and there was no alternative solution to the problem which had not been tried. On September 26 passive resistance was officially ended by a joint proclamation of the Reich President and the government.

On the same day, President Ebert declared a state of emergency in Germany and transferred the executive power to Minister of Defense Otto Gessler. The decree announced stiffer penalties for all crimes pertaining to high treason, or violence vis-a-vis the state. The minister of defense received the right to transfer his executive power to the military district commanders whenever the need arose; he also had the power to appoint governmental commissioners to assist the military commanders in the field of civil administration. Gessler lost no time: he at once appointed the commanders of the seven military defense districts as regional executives.

These drastic measures had become necessary in the face of growing disturbances in several parts of the Reich. One very critical problem was that of Bavaria, which throughout the summer of 1923 seethed with conspiracy and terror, and where political tension led to Hitler’s beerhall putsch on November 9. Thuringia presented another trouble spot. There a Socialist government, ever since its formation in October 1921, had had to rely for support and for its very existence on Communist backing in the diet. Although the cabinet tried to steer a moderate course, under the leadership of Minister-President August Frolich, distrust of the Socialists by the middle-class parties, and constant Communist pressure, combined to drive Thuringia steadily toward the left. By 1923 the state began to drift into open opposition to the central government in Berlin. In March, Frolich justified in the diet the formation of proletarian defense organizations which, he said, wore necessary as long as right-wing fighting leagues were permitted to operate freely. During the month of May the Socialist ministers entered into negotiations with the Communists in an attempt to form a coalition government, but the negotiations collapsed on May 26 because Communist demands proved unacceptable to the government. Five days later the KPD moved a vote of no confident which was defeated only after the middle-class parties refused to support the motion, although they expressly declared that the government did not possess their confidence either.

Throughout the subsequent weeks, Communist pressure to force the resignation of the Frolich government increased. By August 4, the middle-class parties decided to force the issue, and in their turn introduced in the diet a motion of no confidence against the Frolich ministry. A vote on this motion was postponed with until September 11, however, presumably because the diet adjourned for summer vacation. The Socialists attempted during this period of grace to regain Communist support, but their efforts were in vain. When the day of decision approached, the KPD delegation joined with the middle-class parties in voting the Frolich government out of office. The Socialist government resigned, but it proved impossible to form a new one. Frolich and his colleagues continued to take care of the affairs of state and at the same time resumed their negotiations with the Communists, whose primary objective it was to impose a proletarian dictatorship upon Thuringia. This was to be a first step toward the creation of a “red bloc” in central Germany, consisting of Saxony, Thuringia, and Brunswick, The Socialist ministers faced a serious dilemma. None of the three party-blocs could form a government without support from one of the other two. The middle-class parties had initiated the ouster of the Frolich cabinet, with the aid of the Communists; in addition, the middle-class parties had moved to dissolve the diet, although no vote on that motion was taken. As it was quite unlikely that Socialists could come to terms with the middle-class parties, their only remaining hope was an agreement with the Communists with whom they had likewise been feuding for months, and who had just secured the downfall of their government. A deadlock ensued which continued for weeks. That it was eventually broken was largely due to the presidential decree of September 26, by which Thuringia was placed under the jurisdiction of General Walther Reinhardt, commander of the Fifth German military district. Constant altercations arose between the general and the caretaker government of Frolich. The ministers protested because Reinhardt insisted on his own prior approval of any political demonstrations and the publication of any new newspapers. He also forbade Communist mass meetings, and repeatedly banned KPD publications, measures which the ministry resented. In turn, the general did not take kindly to the government’s hostile attitude in regard to all so-called patriotic activities in Thuringia. He resented particularly the fact that the acting chief of the state police, Ministerialdirektor Brill, referred to patriotic organizations which had expressed a desire to celebrate a “German Day” as “national-socialist rabble.” In short, though he too had justified grievances, there is little doubt that General Reinhardt’s paternalism contributed, by mid-October, to the reconciliation of Frolich and his friends with the Thuringian Communists.

Saxony was an even thornier problem than Thuringia. At the end of January 1923 the Saxon government, which was headed by right-wing Social Democrat Johann Wilhelm Buck, was compelled to resign after a vote of no confidence had been passed by a coalition of middle-class parties and Communists.” To justify their action the KPD charged that the Saxon Social Democrats had betrayed the workers by clandestine arrangements with the “counter-revolutionaries.” The entire maneuver was an obvious move to drive a wedge between the rank and file of the Saxon SPD and their leaders. A subsidiary motive seems to have been to split the Saxon Social Democrats, whose left wing was stronger than their right one, in the hope of reaching a working agreement with the left wing, preliminary to the formation of a joint workers’ government. The SPD held its regional party convention at Dresden on March 4 and 5. A majority rejected a right-wing motion to form a new government with the Democratic Party, and resolved to continue negotiations with the Communists in the hope of finding a basis for future cooperation. A mixed commission of the two workers’ parties met on March 17 to work out directives for a common program, and two days later they announced the main points of a preliminary agreement. A new Saxon government would strengthen the power of the proletarian control commissions and would establish a chamber of labor. Furthermore, such a government would sponsor the formation of proletarian defense units which were to protect demonstrations, assemblies, and the property of the workers against “Fascist” attacks. Although the Communists declared that they would not join a new Saxon cabinet, they promised their support to a Socialist government if it followed the directive worked out and agreed upon by the joint commission. On March 21 the Saxon diet voted 49 to 46 to make Dr. Erich Zeigner, a left-wing Socialist, the new minister-president.

Zeigner, formerly minister of justice in the Buck ministry, formed his new cabinet on April 10, and outlined his program in an address to the diet the same day. The speech, like the composition of the cabinet, showed a decided trend toward the left. The new Saxon minister-president criticized the central government’s Ruhr policy and suggested to Berlin a course of moderation, and negotiations conducted on a reasonable basis. The German propertied classes would have to make sacrifices, and would have to pay their share of the costs which the French were liable to demand as a price for settlement of the Ruhr conflict. Zeigner announced that his government would do everything to speed up the transformation from private to collectivized economy. He followed up this promise with a bitter attack on the propertied classes, which fostered Fascist organizations in order to use them in their exploitation of German labor. To protect their lives and their interests, the working class would have to form defense units. Another blast was directed against the Reichswehr which, according to Zeigner, was turning into a threat to the republic, as were the numerous clandestine paramilitary organizations which the Reichswehr protected.”

Although Zeigner ended his speech with a profession of loyalty to the republic and a promise to keep his oath of office, in which he had sworn to defend the Saxon constitution, his accusations and veiled threats weighed heavier in the scales than did his closing statement, both inside and outside Saxony. But the tenor of his address went a long way toward pleasing the Communists. They could hardly help being overjoyed when the Saxon SPD leaders resolved on May 17, with the approval of the Zeigner government, to form joint proletarian defense organizations with the KPD. In the course of the summer, Zeigner’s attacks against the central government became more frequent and progressively less restrained. On June 16, in a speech delivered at Niederplanitz, he repeated his charges against the Reichswehr, accused German industrialists of corrupt practices and profiteering, and lashed out sharply against the Cuno government. When this speech was debated in the Saxon diet on June 28, the chairman of the Democratic Party delegation, Dr. Seyfert, accused the minister-president of having talked treason, having incited the masses to class warfare, and having lowered German prestige in foreign states. But a motion of no confidence, introduced by the middle-class parties, was defeated 48 to 43.

On July 11 the diet accepted a new communal administration for Saxony, by which the existing order was drastically changed. A new political “standard community” was created, former differences between large and small communities were eliminated, and the executive power, formerly held by mayors and city councilors, was transferred to the communal representatives. This reorganization was plainly designed to strengthen the political influence of the lower classes in the communities.

Despite Zeigner’s numerous concessions to the extreme left, he was not immune to attacks from that quarter. This was demonstrated a day after the communal reorganization law was adopted, when Paul Bottcher, speaking for the KPD, called a recent visit which Zeigner had paid to Cuno a “walk to Canossa.” Zeigner replied with dignity that, despite the differences of opinion which existed between the central government and that of Saxony, Saxon policies could not and would not be divorced from those of the republic as a whole. But he also repudiated charges, raised by the middle-class parties, that certain measures which his government had taken violated the spirit of the Weimar constitution. His entire speech reflected the precarious course which his government was pursuing. In trying to strike a balance between the the workers and the middle class on the one hand, the interests of Saxony and those of the Reich on the other, Zeigncr risked alienating all sides

With the beginning of August, as the national crisis was approaching its height, relations between Saxony and the Reich reached a new low. In a public speech on August 7, Zeigner repeated his assertion that a number of Reichswehr officers were anti-republican and a threat to the nation, because the Reichswehr maintained close relations with extreme right-wing organizations which had large arms depots at their disposal. These charges were reiterated a few days later in an article which lie wrote for the Sadchsische Staatszeitung. In response to Zeigner’s attacks on the Reichswehr, the ministry for defense issued orders to the troops stationed in Saxony not to participate in any celebrations which the Saxon government planned to conduct on August 11, Constitution Day. The ministry also instructed all military personnel to refrain from maintaining direct contact, in any form, with the Saxon government, except in case of a public emergency. And on September 5 the ministry, in an official announcement, condemned and rejected Zeigner’s charges against the military.

Contrary to what might have been expected, the creation of a Great Coalition government after Cuno’s resignation did not improve relations between Saxony and Berlin. Zeigner prohibited all celebrations of Sedan Day, which patriotic organizations in Saxony had scheduled for September 2. But on September 9 eight thousand workers gathered in Dresden for a muster of the proletarian defense units. The formations drilled for two hours under the command of a minor Social Democratic official, who then addressed the workers’ militia, telling them that the immediate future would show whether the republic could be saved. It was quite possible, he said, that very soon a decisive struggle would begin between the political right and left, a struggle in which each side would try to establish a dictatorship. If this showdown should come, it would be the task of the proletarian defense forces to fight in behalf of a dictatorship of the left. The muster ended with the units avowing, in chorus: “We all shall stand firmly together, as comrades united, come what may!

The Saxon question was discussed during a Reichstag caucus of the People’s Party delegation on September Chancellor Stresemann attended the meeting. A representative from Saxony described the local political conditions, and claimed that Saxon industries no longer received any business from outside the state on account of Zeigner’s radicalism. If businessmen elsewhere in Germany considered it too risky to entrust the manufacture of their goods to Saxon factories, half of the working population of this state would soon be unemployed. He predicted that both Saxony and Thuringia would turn to Communism unless the federal government soon took some energetic measures to counter this dangerous trend. A representative from Thuringia fully endorsed the opinion of his Saxon colleague, emphasizing especially that the economy of his state was being terrorized by the proletarian hundreds.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1923, the German Communists had watched the Saxon situation closely. The arrangement between the party and the Zeigner government proved on the whole satisfactory to the KPD. In contrast to the situation in Prussia, Bavaria, and most other German states, the party’s freedom of movement was unrestricted in Saxony. Here the Communists could train their proletarian hundreds unhampered by suspicious, or even hostile, police forces. But they were not blind to the dangers which their Saxon sanctuary posed. Before the formation of the Zeigner cabinet, Communist activities had been largely confined to the parliamentary arena. After their agreement with the new government in March, however, their activities extended beyond this sphere and included, for instance, the formation of joint proletarian defense corps. From then on they were, so to speak, on parade. Every move which they made in Saxony was open to the scrutiny of a suspicious public, a watchful central government, and a hostile array of nationalist organizations throughout the country.

The unique position which the party faced in Saxony (and to a lesser extent in Thuringia as well) remained a disputed issue within the KPD during the better part of 1923. The majority of the Zentrale believed that if constant Communist pressure were brought against the Zeigner government and the left wing of the SPD, on which the government was largely based, the Saxon Social Democratic Party would eventually disintegrate. The Communists could speed up this process by leading and intensifying the pressure for a change in the social order—a pressure already emanating from the desperate masses. At the decisive moment, the Saxon government would have to decide whether to join the masses in an all-out struggle against the bourgeoisie, or to draw back and thereby to destroy the last illusions still harbored by Socialist workers about the sincerity of their leaders. This view was rejected by the Left Opposition, whose members demanded the overthrow of the Zeigner government whenever the party came into conflict with the Saxon Social Democrats. The dispute over this issue lasted throughout the summer and part of autumn. It was only settled in October and, like most of the fundamental differences which divided the party at the time, it was settled from and by Moscow.”

Foreign political difficulties, the paper mark still falling in value, ominous developments in Bavaria, Thuringia, and Saxony—these were the principal problems which Stresemann faced during his first weeks in office. And these were not all. From September 14 to 24 the southwestern part of Baden was rocked by a series of wage riots, which for a while threatened to spread throughout the entire state. The upper-Badensian Wiesental, close to the Swiss border, was part of the demilitarized zone which lacked adequate police protection. The region was also suffering from large-scale unemployment. The KPD in upper Baden had been able to enlist many new members during the summer of 1923, but had not succeeded in organizing its new recruits, or in controlling them adequately. On September 14 an action committee of factory workers, with the blessings of the local Communist organization, called a general strike at Lorrach which led to demonstrations in the streets and demands for higher wages. These were granted, and the movement might have died down had not the Baden government grown panicky. The state’s ministry of the interior dispatched a special police force to Lorrach on September 17, a move which at once rekindled violence and led to armed clashes between demonstrators and police. New strikes, called in Lorrach proper and in the surrounding towns, soon led to street fights. What had started as a largely spontaneous movement, set off by economic grievances, threatened to turn into serious riots which were encouraged and supported by local Communist organizations. The Zentrale, however, had no desire to have an isolated uprising in a remote corner of Germany jeopardize the Communist party as a whole, merely because some of its local branches were lacking in discipline. Thus when the party’s Baden organization called a statewide general strike, which had not been authorized beforehand by the Zentrale, the latter sent orders from Berlin to avoid every act which could conceivably lead to any further clashes with the police. This interference by the Zentrale, coupled with the promise of the Baden government to withdraw its forces as soon as quiet and order were restored, brought the upheaval in Baden to a halt. By September 25 the strikes and demonstrations were over.

Nearly simultaneously with the Baden uprising, the Separatist movement in the Rhineland threatened to erupt in full finer, Public meetings, protected by the French occupation forces, weir held by the Separatists toward the middle of the month in Aachen. Large-scale demonstrations in Cologne, Trier, Wiesbaden, and Aachen on September 23 and 24, under the leadership of Achim Dorten, Joseph Matthes, and Joseph Smeets, led to street fighting with the local population. The Separatist movement, though, frequently violent and enjoying underhanded French support, never became strong enough to pose a serious threat to the republic. Its followers were rather confused; they were led by what an American scholar has called “an assorted group of criminals,” and their cause found little sympathy among the Rhenish population during the last two weeks of September the disturbances thy Rhineland added to the dangers which the central government faced, and therefore contributed to the pressures which finally prompted Stresemann to terminate passive resistance, and to lilt pose a state of emergency throughout Germany.

The positive factors at work in this period seem at first sight to have been eclipsed by the more obvious calamities. Nevertheless, positive aspects there were. They operated very subtly, and it is difficult to gauge their influence on the nation with any accuracy. Probably the most important factor, and one which was recognized by the Communists several months later, was the impact of the Great Coalition on the mass of Social Democratic workers: the fact that their party was prominently represented in the cabinet undoubtedly strengthened their confidence in the government of the Great Coalition.

Closely connected with this factor was the stormy relationship between Bavaria and the Reich, which in its effects on the nation was not entirely negative. Whereas the Communists were trying to create the impression that the Bavarian “Fascists,” the enemies of the working class, were in some sinister way connected with the national government and the entire German “ruling class,” events in Bavaria clearly invalidated this view. It did not require superior intelligence on the part of the public, including the by no means insensitive or illiterate German workers, to notice that the most vitriolic attacks emanating from Bavaria were reserved for the national government and the republic as such. As the majority of German labor either belonged to, or at least supported, the SPD, which, in turn, was in the Great Coalition, only devoted Communists could fail to realize that the national government and the workers stood side by side in defense of the republic against the various anti-republican forces in the south.

Hopeful signs appeared also on the economic front. The grain harvest proved to be above average in yield, thereby alleviating fears of an insufficient bread supply. With regard to the most pressing problem, the monetary inflation, the Stresemann government displayed more imagination and initiative than had the Cuno administration. As early as August 14, one day after the new chancellor had formed his cabinet, a law was passed to float “a loan of fixed value” (wertbestandige Anleihe), designed to make the sum of five hundred million gold marks available for public expenditure. To be sure, this step had no immediate effect on the inflation, for the value of the paper mark continued to drop at an alarming rate. But the measure demonstrated that the government was resolutely trying to stop the devaluation of the currency. In the meantime, while various schemes to that effect were investigated and tried, one of the most pressing problems was the adjustment of wages to the cost of living. Here an agreement, concluded on August 23 between representatives of the working class and of employers, proved at least temporarily beneficial. The agreement attempted to establish a method of payment by which the falling value of the mark was taken into account: wages were to be fixed on the basis of the prices expected to exist in the week when these wages would be spent. For this purpose a “multiplier,” deduced from the exchange rate of the dollar at Berlin on the day the wages were paid, had to be calculated on the basis of forecast prices. If a forecast proved inaccurate, it could be corrected by either supplementing the wages, or deducting from them, the following week. Unfortunately, the system proved to be far from foolproof but, uneven though it was in practice, it had a salutary effect on the morale of wage earners. On September 2 Stresemann announced in a public speech his intention of creating a new and sound currency, and from then on the government devoted its energies to this problem.” In mid-October it issued a decree for the creation of a Rentenbank, and with it a Rentenmark, a measure signifying the definite and final assault upon the inflation.

Germany, then, presented a complex and confusing picture in the fall of 1923. Hopes and fears, loyalties and defections, unifying and particularist trends, revolutionary threats from right- and left-wing extremists—all appeared to be operative at the same time, intermixing and bewildering, without providing any clue as to where the nation was going in the days ahead. Under these circumstances it is easy to see why the Bolshevik leaders mistook Cuno’s resignation for a sign of Germany’s impending collapse, and laid their plans accordingly.

Bolshevik leaders had watched the troubled country for months without having made any decisive move in the direction of a Communist revolution. Preoccupied as they were with their own factional strifes and the anticipation of Lenin’s death, they had been marking time and, at the meeting of the Enlarged Executive in June, had not even bothered to discuss the situation in Germany except in very general terms. After the meeting was over, most of the top ranking members of the Politburo and the ECCI had gone on vacation.

It was at their remote retreats in southern Russia that Zinoviev and Trotsky learned about the apparently mounting crisis in Germany. Zinoviev, it will be recalled, had already been stirred in the latter part of July by the plans for the anti-Fascist day. Now, only a fortnight later, he learned of the Cuno strike and of the formation of Stresemann’s Great Coalition government. Whatever the exact source or the nature of his information may have been, the news prompted Zinoviev on August 15 to communicate to Moscow that the KPD should take stock of the approaching revolutionary crisis, because “a new and decisive chapter is beginning in the activity of the German Communist Party and, with it, the Comintern.”

Equally enthusiastic was Trotsky’s reaction to the news from Germany. In the written exchanges which preceded the anti-Fascist day, Trotsky had refused to commit himself because he lacked sufficient information at his holiday retreat to make a decision. But after he learned about the Cuno strike and the new Stresemann government, he reached the conclusion that developments in Germany were, indeed, pointing toward a domestic crisis which the KPD ought to exploit. Eager to receive additional information, he invited two members of the German party, August Enderle and Jakob Walcher, to visit him at once in southern Russia. The two men were then serving as KPD delegates to the executive committee of the Profintern, and were for this reason stationed in Moscow. At the end of the conversation Trotsky sent one of the two men, probably Walcher, back to Berlin, presumably to act as his contact man and on-the-spot observer.

During the following week the Russian leaders broke off their vacations and returned to Moscow. On August 23 the Politburo met for a secret session which was also attended by Radek, Pyatakov—then deputy chairman of the economic supreme council—and possibly Tsyurupa, subsequently president of the Gosplan.

According to the only existing account of this session, Radek, the ECCI expert on Germany, presented what appears to have been an optimistic report on the rapid increase of revolutionary sentiment in that country, and asked the members of the Politburo for their comments. If this story is true—and we have only one man’s record of it—it again throws a peculiar light on Radek’s character. He may have sounded optimistic, but his subsequent behavior would indicate that his heart was not in the report he presented. During the weeks of negotiations that followed, he generally favored a cautious approach to the German problem, an attitude indicative of barely concealed scepticism as to the chances of a successful revolution. Such a position was indeed well in line with his article of August 2, in which he told the German Communists that the time for revolution had not yet come. On the other hand, Radek was not the man openly to oppose the general consensus of opinion, especially at a moment when the Bolshevik leaders, under the shadow of Lenin’s illness, were engaged in a bitter, though still subdued and premature, struggle for power. Thus it is conceivable that when he realized how strong an impression the Cuno strike had made, especially on Trotsky and Zinoviev, two men otherwise unable to agree on virtually anything, Radek would not have been Radek had he tried openly to oppose them. His forte was equivocation and subtle maneuver rather than frontal assault, and it is quite likely that at this session Radek presented a report which expressed the beliefs of his audience rather than his own, hidden, viewpoint.

In the ensuing discussion Trotsky spoke first, and warmly advocated that the KPD be encouraged to prepare for revolution. To the inventor and chief exponent of “permanent revolution,” the allegedly mounting revolutionary tide in Germany promised to justify the theory, which he had always maintained, of the close interrelation between the Russian and German revolutions. This theory he briefly reiterated at the meeting, and he closed with the prediction that a showdown in Germany was now only a matter of weeks.

Zinoviev generally concurred with Trotsky’s views, but did not share his optimism in regard to the time factor. Counseling prudence and soberness, he suggested that it would be safer to think in terms of months rather than weeks. Only Stalin, who spoke very briefly, voiced scepticism as to the imminence of a German upheaval. He doubted that it would occur in the fall, and was even dubious about its chances in the following spring.

Despite these differences of opinion, the Politburo decided to proceed without delay to a number of measures designed to stimulate the nascent revolutionary movement in Germany. A committee of four was appointed by the Politburo and charged with the preparations for, and subsequent supervision of, the German Aktion. It consisted of Radek, who as the representative of the ECCI was to keep in close touch with the Zentrale of the KPD; Pyatakov, who was put in charge of “agitation” and was also to maintain contact with Moscow; Unshlikht, then a high-ranking official of the secret police (later deputy commissar for war), whose task it was to supervise the formation of “red army” detachments in Germany; and finally Vasilij Shmidt, commissar of labor, who was commissioned with the organization of revolutionary cells in the German trade-unions.”

A fifth, though apparently “informal,” member of the committee, who was added to the original four shortly after the secret session, was Nikolai Krestinsky, the Soviet Union’s Ambassador to Germany. He was entrusted with the management of secret funds which were channeled into Germany during this period to finance the preparations for revolution.

The reasons for this abrupt about-face on the part of the Russian leaders have puzzled historians ever since the autumn of 1923. It has been suggested that Stresemann’s appointment to the chancellorship was interpreted in Moscow as a possible German move to come to terms with the West, at the expense of her still very recent and tenuous ties with Soviet Russia. This may well have been an important consideration, but the most decisive factor seems to have been the encouraging news from Germany, with its prospects of a “second October.” Throughout the weeks of deliberation which followed the initial decision to support an uprising of the German Communist party, the Bolshevik leaders inevitably invoked their own revolution, drew comparisons from it, and set it up as an ex-ample. The historical parallel which they thought they had detected kept them spellbound, and blinded them to the fact that Germany was not Russia, that 1923 was not 1917, and that the German Zentrale had neither a Lenin nor a Trotsky. Hard realists though they were in every other respect, they turned into sentimental dreamers at the thought that the greatest event of their lives might soon be re-enacted under their experienced guidance, marking another milestone on the road to worldwide Socialism.

The excitement stimulated among the Bolshevik leaders by their anticipation of the German revolution also communicated itself to the Russian people. Meetings were held throughout the country by Russian labor organizations and workers in local factories to debate the importance of the coming German events, and to vote resolutions to support their proletarian brothers in the West. Such resolutions, moreover, were not mere formalities. Russian workers were expected by the government to make genuine sacrifices in behalf of the German revolution. Thus, according to the records of the ECCI, “the Russian working-classes agreed to suspend the increase of their wages and to submit to reductions if it were necessary in the interest of the German revolution.” The workers were told that a defeat of the German proletariat would constitute a defeat of the Russian workers as well. Women were asked at public meetings to donate their wedding rings and other valuables for the German cause. The Trade Commissariat distributed circulars which stated that “the advent of the German revolution confronted the Trade Commissariat with new problems; the present routine of trading must be replaced by the establishment of two German reserves: gold and corn, for the benefit of the victorious German proletariat”; and the various agencies of this Commissariat within the individual soviet republics were ordered to send altogether sixty million feud of grain toward Russia’s western frontiers.5° The Russian Communist Party, by orders of the Politburo, drew up lists of members who spoke German, in order to create a Communist-trained reserve corps which could, at the appropriate moment, be transferred to Germany where it would assist the revolution.” Special attention was paid to the mobilization of Russia’s Communist youth organizations, whose members were told that they might have to risk their lives on behalf of the German proletariat and the cause of revolution.” In October, revolutionary slogans were coined: “Workers’ Germany and our Workers’ and Peasants’ Union Are the Bulwark of Peace and Labor,” and “German Steam Hammer and Soviet Bread Will Conquer the World.” And Soviet newspapers wrote that, if the German workers were successful, the new German government would join with Soviet Russia and thereby “unite in Europe the tremendous power of 200 million people, against which no war in Europe will be possible . . . because no one would be able to face such a force.”

It was to this scene of ebullition and fantasy that Heinrich Brandler, a man not easily given to romantic illusions, was summoned—for discussions of a German revolution which his Bolshevik hosts not only expected him to launch, but which to their minds was already as good as won. Brandler arrived in Moscow sometime during the latter part of August or the first part of September—the exact date has never been determined, and probably never will be.” He was followed in due course by Maslow, Thalmann, and Ruth Fischer. In addition, Edwin Hoernle and Clara Zetkin, two members of the Zentrale who belonged to the Brandler faction, were stationed in Moscow at the time as delegates of the KPD to the Executive Committee of the Comintern.

Brandler was in a peculiar and difficult position. He had been called to Moscow for consultations in connection with the projected German revolution. Another man might have cherished the idea that he was to be cast in the role of a martial people’s tribune. But the role did not fit Brandler, and he knew it. The greatest virtue of this sober, cautious, and essentially shrewd ex-union official was his sense of responsibility and proportion. This quality had failed him only once, in March 1921, and the memory of that fiasco had served to strengthen his aversion to gambling. And now, only two and a half years after the abortive March uprising, he was in Moscow to prepare for what he was convinced would be another gamble, with the odds stacked once more against the party to which he was dedicated. On the other hand, Moscow was the capital of the revolutionary motherland, and here, for weeks on end, Brandler was exposed to the pressure and influence of men whom every Communist in the world acknowledged as prophets and veterans of the revolutionary cause. When he stepped out of the Kremlin he found the streets bedecked with slogans welcoming the German revolution. No wonder that he was torn between the demands made upon him and his own bitter forebodings, that he began to act inconsistently, and that he eventually faltered.

During the drawn-out negotiations which lasted until the first week of October, Brandler was gradually worn down by the arguments of the Bolshevik leaders and by his own colleagues, the members of the Left Opposition. The latter presented the German situation in a light which reflected their own wishful thinking rather than reality. Conditions in Germany, according to their estimates, favored a Communist revolution in the near future. Their views on this matter were shared to varying degrees by Trotsky, Zinoviev, and the majority of the Politburo. The decisive factor which determined their views was not so much the political uncertainties which the Stresemann government had to face, though these, of course, entered into their calculations, but rather their optimism in regard to the influence which the Communists would be able to exert over German labor in a revolutionary situation. It was Zinoviev in particular who played a rather curious numbers game. He wrote, in October 1923, “in the cities the workers are definitely numerically superior [to the rest of the population],” and “the forthcoming German revolution will be a proletarian class revolution. The twenty-two million German workers who make up its army represent the cornerstone of the international proletariat.” Finally, in a euphoric lapse of all commonsense, he stated that “in the forthcoming decisive events, seven million agricultural workers will exercise a great influence on the countryside.

Overwhelmed by such buoyant confidence in the chances for a successful German revolution, Brandler began to yield. He did so despite his secret doubts as to the wisdom of the projected uprising. Only a few weeks earlier he had warned the party that the distribution of strength was not yet in favor of the Communists, and that they must work harder than ever to tip the scales in their direction. Now, under duress, he bowed before the superior knowledge and experience of the Bolshevik veterans who, moreover, were strengthened in their optimism by the members of the Left Opposition. Brandler acknowledged that a revolution could and should be at-tempted, and that seizure of power by the Communists would be “a fully practicable task,” though he added that it would be “more complicated and difficult” to retain power.

But although Brandler consented to the feasibility of a revolution in principle, he remained a stumbling-block whenever the planning reached a point where a practical, concrete issue was involved. Of these there were several, all interrelated, and every one led to heated arguments.

The point of departure for the revolution was to be Saxony. Here was a government which for months had cooperated with the Communists, had tolerated, and even actively supported, the formation of proletarian hundreds, and which was not averse to a workable government coalition with the KPD. Zeigner was a left-wing Social Democrat, suspect to the right wing of his party, but he enjoyed popular support in his state. The Russians, and notably Zinoviev, believed that the Communists should enter this government, and from their strategic position lay the groundwork for an armed uprising. The problem was subsequently put most succinctly by Radek. “The proletariat concentrates its strength [marschiert auf] in Saxony, taking its start from the defense of the workers’ government, into which we enter; and it will attempt in Saxony to use the state power in order to arm itself and to form, in this restricted proletarian province of central Germany, a wall between the southern counter-revolution in Bavaria and the Fascism of the north. At the same time the party throughout the Reich will step in and mobilize the masses.”

The key words emphasized by the Russians were “[the proletariat] will attempt in Saxony to use the state power in order to arm itself.” This, according to Brandler, was putting the cart before the horse. Brandler argued that it would be a mistake to enter the Saxon cabinet before the country, including Saxony, was politically prepared for an uprising which a Communist-infiltrated government in Saxony might bring on much sooner than was desirable or prudent. The weapons, which such a coalition government was to obtain, would be useless if the masses were not yet properly prepared politically for a revolution, and, Brandler argued, such a government might not even have sufficient time for the procurement of arms if the Communists should enter the Saxon government prematurely. In short, Brandler disagreed with the Russians on the practical entry into the Saxon government. The Russians saw only the weapons, while Brandler saw primarily the absence of the political and psychological preparedness of the masses prerequisite for a successful uprising. Entry into the Saxon government, in the opinion of Brandler, should not be undertaken on a coalition basis, and was not to serve primarily as a convenient means for the procurement of arms. Rather, the Communists should enter the Saxon cabinet fully when they could be assured that such a step would have popular backing, which would make it possible to create a genuine workers government. Once Saxony had a genuine workers’ government, this could serve as a signal for revolution. By then the party could Ito reasonably sure of receiving substantial mass support, in Saxony as well as in Thuringia, and beyond, in the rest of the Reich.

The problem of when the revolution was to be attempted limed equally knotty. Should a date be fixed, or should the proper liniment be left to the discretion of the KPD? The foremost proponent fat fixing an exact date was Trotsky, and his attitude seems to have been determined in part by his intense preoccupation wit historical parallels. On September 23, 1923, Trotsky published an article in Pravda which he entitled “Is It Possible to Fix a Definite for a Counterrevolution or a Revolution?” Trotsky thought that it was.

“Obviously, it is not possible to create artificially a political situation favorable for a . . . coup, much less to bring it off at a fixed date. But when the basic elements of such a situation are at hand, then the leading party does . . . choose beforehand a favorable moment, and synchronizes accordingly its political, organizational, and technical forces, and—if it has not miscalculated—deals the victorious blow. . . .

“Let us take our own October Revolution as an example. . . . From the moment that the Bolsheviks were in the majority in the Petrograd Soviet . . . our party was faced with the question—not of the struggle for power in general, but of preparing for the seizure of power according to a definite plan, and at a fixed date. The chosen day, as is well known, was the day upon which the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets was to convene. . . .”

Armed with these arguments, the Father of the Red Army insisted on fixing a date for the outbreak of the German revolution. Over the protests of Brandler, whose misgivings were apparently shared by Radek, November 9 was chosen. It was a fine historical landmark. On November 7, 1917, the Russian Revolution began, and on November 9, 1918, the German revolution. At this point, however, Brandler balked and refused to be bound by any definite date. What resulted, judging from the very confusing and inconclusive evidence available, was a compromise. Zinoviev, who was then engaged in a fierce intraparty fight with Trotsky in connection with the struggle for succession to Lenin, stipulated that the date was to serve merely “for orientation,” and that the uprising was to take place sometime during the next four to six weeks. As the deliberations took place at the end of September, early November remained, in principle, the target date. But no specific day was named—in this matter Brandler had been given some leeway.”

Three additional questions had to be settled before the deliberations could be ended. The first one was raised by Brandler and concerned the supreme command of the projected German revolution. Brandler, as he himself put it, was not “a German Lenin,” and he asked both Trotsky and Zinoviev whether the former could not be assigned to take charge of the German operations—to come incognito and establish himself either in Saxony or Berlin. Trotsky was tempted to go. He was at the time thoroughly disgusted by the in fighting which took place, day after day and behind closed doors, among the Bolshevik leaders. But Brandler’s request was rejected, presumably because Trotsky’s enemies, notably Zinoviev and Stalin, preferred to hold him at home where he could be kept under surveillance. The commission of four which had originally been appointed remained in charge.”

The second question revolved around another historical parallel: should the outbreak of the revolution in Germany be accompanied by the immediate formation of soviets, on the Russian model or should the movement rely instead on the factory councils which were already in existence and did not require special organizational efforts? Zinoviev argued in favor of soviets, but he was opposed by Trotsky and Brandler who, on this issue at least, won their point, Trotsky argued that the organization of soviets in the midst of revolutionary activities would merely handicap operations; their creation prior to the revolution would be a “dead giveaway” to the government that the Communists were planning an insurrection. It was resolved that after the revolution had succeeded a special congress of factory councils should be called, which was to proclaim a German soviet republic and thereby sanction the fait accompli.

One unpleasant detail still remained; it concerned another of the many intraparty squabbles among the Left Opposition members and Brandler. The constant disagreements and disputes within the German delegation during its stay in Moscow aroused Trotsky’s apprehensions. Although he could not have been unaware of Brandler’s sceptical approach to an undertaking which the Bolshevik veteran anticipated with something approaching gusto, Trotsky shared Brandler’s distrust of his Left Opposition colleagues. They had acted irresponsibly in the past. They had repeatedly come close to an open violation of party discipline. It was safer to keep at least Maslow and Ruth Fischer in Moscow. But this led to another row between Trotsky and Zinoviev and ended once again in a compromise. Ruth Fischer was permitted to return to Berlin, but Maslow was retained. He had to submit to an investigation, conducted by a special commission of the Comintern, in connection with his past party record, and returned to Germany only at the end of the year. Interestingly enough, no one seems to have thought of retaining Thalmann as well. “Teddy” was not yet taken seriously by either the Russians or Brandler.”

By the end of September, all the decisions had been made. Brandler had yielded, “in principle,” on most points of controversy: the entry of the Communists into the Saxon cabinet, himself included; the launching of the uprising within the next four to six weeks; and the appointment of a commission, headed by Radek rather than Trotsky, to supervise the coming operations. Overawed by the enthusiasm which he encountered in Moscow, Brandler set aside his own misgivings, and even became affected by the spirit of optimism which reigned among the Bolshevik leaders. In the end he seems to have gone so far as to claim that the Communists could count on the active support of from 50,000 to 6o,000 proletarians in Saxony, an estimate which was to prove woefully wrong.

On October 1, 1923, Zinoviev, in the name of the ECCI, sent th following telegram to the Zentrale of the KPD: “Since we estimate the situation in such a way that the decisive moment will arrive not later than in four–five–six weeks, we think it necessary to occupy at once every position which can be of immediate use [to our purposes]. On the basis of the [present] situation we must approach the question of our entry into the Saxon government in practical terms. We must enter [the Saxon government] on the condition that the Zeigner people are actually willing to defend Saxony against Bavaria and the Fascists. 50,000 to 60,000 [workers] have to be immediately armed; ignore General Muller. The same in Thuringia.”

This telegram signified the end of the deliberations in Moscow. The decision to start a revolution was made, the blueprints written drawn, and Russian hopes were high. Brandler left Moscow sometime during the first week of October. He arrived in Germany on October 8 and, if we can trust Ruth Fischer’s description of his departure, he carried with him the trust and good wishes of at least Leon Trotsky: “As I left the Kremlin, I saw Trotsky bidding farewell to Brandler, whom he had accompanied from his residence inside the Kremlin to the Troitski gate—an unusual gesture of extreme politeness. There they stood, in the sharp light of an autumn afternoon, the stocky Brandler, in his unpressed civilian suit, and the elegant Trotsky in his well-cut Red Army uniform. After the last words, Trotsky kissed Brandler tenderly on both checks in the usual manner. Knowing both men well, I could see that Trotsky was really moved; he felt that he was wishing well the leader of the German revolution on the eve of great events.”

* * *

The period between the Cuno strike and Brandler’s return from Moscow proved rather trying for the KPD. For several weeks, while Brandler and his colleagues were deliberating with the Bolshevik leaders in the Kremlin, the Zentrale in Berlin continued to work toward the capture of mass support, the party’s most pressing objective. Although the Communists did not know what decisions would be taken in Moscow, they had to count on the possibility that they would be ordered to act while the situation in Germany seemed favorable for an insurrection. And they did not doubt that the situation was indeed favorable. The Cuno strike, its inconclusive results for the KPD notwithstanding, had raised expectations within the party that a revolutionary situation might soon be shaping up. But since no one knew when or how it would come, nor what directives Brandler would bring home from Moscow, all the party could do was to keep political agitation at a high pitch, without setting off isolated and premature incidents which could easily lead to drastic and possibly disastrous countermeasures by the authorities. It was a difficult task, which required more skill than either Thalheimer or the other members of the caretaker Zentrale could muster!”

The increasingly aggressive tone of the Communist press, from mid-July on, did not escape the attention of the German authorities. Not very much had been done about it until the day of Cuno’s resignation, but from that moment on the attitude of the national government and of the individual states toward the Communists became noticeably more determined. In a discussion on August 13 between Stresemann and Lord D’Abernon, the British ambassador, the new chancellor left no doubt that he was aware of the Communist threat, and that he was fully prepared to meet it.” On August i6, the Rote Fahne printed a little poem, signed by one Mally Resso, which expressed the Communist spirit of the day very neatly, and thus seemed to justify the apprehensions of the government: Entitled: “It Approaches!” (Sie naht!), the poem ran as follows:

Tough, like ivy creepers
Our thoughts are twisting
Around the goal!
Many Have run ashore on the way to it,
Landed Have in spirit already the prophets,
They have seen the proletarians
Depending on their own strength
As Lords of the World.
Pioneers, what you envisioned,
For the freeing of the slaves,
The deed,
Fighters for justice,
It approaches!

The poem marked the beginning of a tug of war between the German Communists, with their “thoughts twisting around the goal,” and the republic, which was threatened by the “approaching deed.” One day after the poem appeared, the Prussian Minister of the Interior Carl Severing announced that the Federal Committee of Factory Councils and its subcommittees, all situated in Berlin, were dissolved and banned. The KPD was outraged. “The first act of the Great Coalition,” jeered the Rote Fahne, and put the entire blame for the measure on the Social Democrats, who were now represented in the federal as well as in the Prussian government. The Communists charged that the Social Democratic ministers in Stresemann’s cabinet were the spiritual fathers of the blow against the factory councils, duly executed by the Prussian Social Democrat Severing. “We shall take up the challenge of the Social Democrats,” wrote the Rote Fahne, “but the consequences they will have to bear them-selves.”

Severing’s move against the Federal Committee of Factory Councils was a severe setback for the KPD. Although the agency was not officially connected with the party, the Communists controlled it well enough to allow them considerable influence over the important German Factory Council movement. The ban, against which the party press protested vociferously but ineffectively for days, made it necessary to move the Committee from its strategically located position in the German capital to the more congenial, but also more remote, regions of Thuringia.”

The days which followed the ban saw the party in a defiant mood. Its press on August 19 depicted the country as a passenger taking a “ride into the abyss,” predicted new struggles ahead, and reprinted a chapter from S. J. Gussev’s brochure, Lessons of the Civil War, entitled “Let the Proletariat Prepare Itself.” Two days later, under the heading of “Preparations for a New Struggle,” the Rote Fahne told its readers that new and difficult struggles lay ahead for which the proletariat must arm. “Workers’ control and workers’ government, these are our aims. . . . Workers! Employees! Officials! Arm for battle.” On August 22 the same paper carried an appeal by the Zentrale “To the Workers of the SPD and USP,” in which the two parties were violently condemned and their members invited to “get out of the SPD . . . the accomplice of the class enemy . . . and the harmful, illusory . . . impotent USP. . . Join the KPD, that is the demand of the hour! Long live the proletarian class struggle!. . . the dictatorship of the proletariat! . . . the Communist International!”

The last week of August brought a series of repressive measures directed against the Communists. On the 22nd, the government of Wurttemberg banned the regional party convention which was scheduled to meet in Stuttgart on the 25th and 26th. On the 24th, the French occupation forces prohibited the publication of every Communist newspaper—five altogether—in the Ruhr region. The Rote Fahne of August 26 was seized in the early morning hours by the orders of the police president of Berlin. No reasons for this act were given. August 28 was an especially black day. The police once again raided the editorial offices of the Rote Fahne in Berlin, confiscated a number of files, and arrested five party functionaries who happened to be on the scene. In Hamburg, the local party organ Hamburger Volkszeitung was banned for three days. And Carl Severing outlawed the Central Committee of the Factory Councils of Greater Berlin which, his decree pointed out, had become a front organization for one of the subcommittees of the Federal Committee of Factory Councils that had been banned two weeks earlier. The Prussian Minister of the Interior explained that it had become apparent, on the basis of material seized from the offices of the Rote Fahne a few days earlier, that the Central Committee of Berlin’s factory councils was actually run by the Communist district command of Berlin-Brandenburg, notably by Ruth Fischer and Arkadi Maslow. On August 29, presumably as a result of this incriminating information (some of which must have been known beforehand to the local authorities), the police raided the offices of the party’s Berlin district command. The apartments of party leaders were also searched by police officers who had warrants for the arrest of the entire Communist hierarchy of the district Berlin-Brandenburg. But since five leading functionaries had been apprehended the day before in the office of the Rote Fahne, and a number of others were apparently “unavailable,” only two additional party leaders were actually arrested that day. A warrant against Ruth Fischer was issued, but could not be served, because she was by then already on her way to Moscow.”

Far from being intimidated, the Communists continued their propaganda offensive throughout the better part of September. They now concentrated with increasing tenacity on the exploitation of grievances held by segments of the population outside the ranks of labor. Peasants with marginal holdings, farm workers, and especially government officials became targets of their agitation. “The Rote Fahne has virtually become an officials’ newspaper,” noted the recorder of the chancellery for the information of Stresemann on September 11. But the party’s chief concern and principal propaganda target remained the mass of non-Communist workers. To demonstrate the alleged gap between the words and deeds of the Socialist leaders, the KPD demanded, in the parliaments of the states and in the individual communities throughout the country, that communal efforts be made to aid the starving poor. To accomplish this, the Communists proposed a redistribution of goods. They suggested, in practical terms, that communal stores of provisions and goods be given free of charge to wounded war veterans, the unemployed, and those on the rolls of the social welfare department. These goods should be sold at reduced prices to all low-income groups. They further suggested a graduated charge for public utilities according to the income and the number of children of each family, to “soak the rich and spare the poor.” Homeless proletarian families were to be given quarters in the large apartments of the bourgeoisie, while all wealthy and childless middle class families were to be resettled in the “cave dwellings” of the proletariat. Finally, they demanded the immediate institution of public food kitchens where pregnant proletarian women, nursing mothers, and working-class children would be able to receive a balanced diet free of charge and at public expense. These were the principal items of the Communist program to alleviate the worst effects of the economic crisis.”

Such positive suggestions could not help but appeal to workers even if they did not agree with the Communists on other matters. It is revealing that the circulation of the Communist press increased in the summer and fall of 1923, at a time when the rising cost of living caused a decline of subscriptions among most other German newspapers. Nor could the government and the captains of industry and business fail to notice the benefits which the Communists derived from the critical economic situation. They could not deny the truth when the Rote Fahne claimed on August 31 that the mark stood at two million to the dollar, that there was a shortage of food, and that queues were forming in front of stores. And one copy of the Rote Fahne itself cost l00,000 marks. The seriousness of the situation was frankly admitted by Stresemann who met in conference with the members of the People’s Party’s Reichstag delegation on September 11.One participant, Siegfried von Kardorff, pointed to the importance of keeping the nation’s food supply steady, and added, with reference to the conditions in Saxony: “One cannot shoot at starving women.” Hugo Stinnes predicted at the same conference that the country could expect civil war to break out within a fortnight.

The appeals in the Rote Fahne became more ominous in tone and content. On September 1, the Zentrale published a proclamation to “Workers, Employees, Officials!” in which the party reviled the government, the middle class, and the Social Democratic ministers—these last were called the figleaves of the bourgeoisie. The proclamation repeated the Communist demands for the control of production by the workers, the confiscation of real values [Sachtewertel], and the creation of a government of workers and “small” peasants. The appeal ended with the slogan: “Let us fight then victory will be certain!” The same issue carried an article by Zinoviev, written for the occasion of the 9th International Youth Day, in which the chairman of the ECCI predicted that the German proletariat was moving rapidly toward decisive struggles. “There is no power on earth that can defeat twenty million proletarians! Twenty million proletarians, . . . every man able to read and write. . . .” But the non sequitur paled beside the magic figure of twenty million! Finally, the issue carried an unsigned article which was headlined “Onward to the Decisive Battle!”

On the following day the paper outdid itself. The front page carried a joint appeal to the workers of all countries by the executive committees of the Comintern and the Profintern, as well as an article by Radek entitled “Hands off Germany!” The former urged world-wide support for the German proletariat and, in effect, urged the international working class to prevent foreign interference if and when the German proletariat engaged in a revolutionary struggle with the German bourgeoisie. Such a struggle was seen to be approaching, and the appeal contained a note of concern that it might come prematurely: “The [German] working class is to be driven to despair, is to be provoked into battle, before it has put its ranks in order.” The joint appeal was directed at the international labor movement, but Radek addressed himself to the governments of the western nations, warning them that Soviet Russia would not take it lightly should any nation interfere with the affairs of Germany while that country was engaged in a revolutionary struggle.

“Soviet diplomacy will do everything to make it clear to all concerned that it would be best for the capitalist part of the world to leave the decision of Germany’s fate to the mass of the German people rather than to throw the sword into the scales of history; for not only the capitalist powers hold a sword, but also the first proletarian state, Soviet Russia.” No government could afford to ignore such an array of cold-blooded affronts, and from such formidable quarters. On September 4, the German Minister of Interior, the Social Democrat -Wilhelm Sollmann, banned the Rote Fahne and another Communist paper, the Volkswacht, for a period of eight days. In his explanation of the reasons for the ban, which the paper printed in full before closing down, the minister presented a long list of offenses which the Communist papers had committed in violation of the presidential decree of August 10, 1923. Quoting chapter and verse from a series of utterances designed to incite the population to revolution, Sollmann’s list was impressive and disturbing. Apparently from a sense of diplomatic delicacy the explanation omitted mention of the Russian contributions of September 2, and instead closed with the quotation of a little verse by one Hardy Worm [sic] which had appeared the previous day.

Proudly form ranks for final strife!
Unite, be brave, till victory’s here!
Unfold the flags, as red as life,
And sacrificial death don’t fear!

It was quite appropriate, therefore, that the Rote Fahne printed another poem on the first day of its reappearance, September 11. It was entitled: “You Cannot Force Us!” [Ihr zwingt uns nicht!], the text of which the reader shall be spared. But it soon became evident that the poem’s title expressed the attitude of the German Communists. Issue after issue of the Rote Fahne contained incendiary headlines, articles, appeals, and “theoretical” discussions of Russian civil war tactics. “Down with the Regiment of Blood and Hunger!” read the headline on September 15. On September 19, the paper printed a resolution taken by the Moscow Soviet on August 28. The resolution, which pledged the support of the Russian workers and soldiers to the German proletariat, had been adopted after an address by Radek. The meeting had been attended by representatives of the Russian labor unions and the Red Army. On September 21, the Zentrale published another proclamation, “To the Working Population of Germany!”, this time to protest against the rumored termination of passive resistance in the Ruhr. The document contained the usual diatribes against the government, together with the customary gamut of Communist objectives. It ended by calling on the workers, employees, officials, “small” peasants, and members of the (lower) middle class to hold mass meetings and demonstrations, and to prepare for a political mass strike, the principal aims of which were the overthrow of the Stresemann government, creation of a workers’ and peasants’ government, and “closest” alliance with Soviet Russia. Two days later, when the paper carried on its front page an article headed “The Road to the Proletarian Dictatorship in Germany (An Additional Word to the Social Democratic Worker),” the government decided to step in again. The next day, September 24, the Rote Fahne was banned once more, and this time for a fortnight. As on the previous occasion, the agency from which the ban emanated—this time the police president of Berlin—presented a bill of particulars.

Thus for two crucial weeks the central organ of the Communist party was not published, depriving the party of its principal mouthpiece just at the moment when the Zentrale received word from Moscow to prepare for revolution in from four to six weeks’ time. This two-weeks’ ban coincided with a series of portentous developments. On the day after the central government announced the end of passive resistance in the Ruhr and proclaimed a national decree of emergency, the National Socialist newspaper Volkischer Beobachter, in Munich, printed an unrestrained attack on President Ebert, Chancellor Stresemann, and the commander of the Reichswehr, General von Seeckt. This led to an exchange of communications between Seeckt and General Otto von Lossow, the Reichswehr general in command of the army contingents stationed in Bavaria, centering around Seeckt’s order to Lossow to proceed at once against the Volkischer Beobachter. Lossow, backed by the newly appointed general commissioner for the state, Gustav von Kahr, refused to obey, with the result that the Bavarian army contingents virtually “seceded” from the rest of the Reichswehr and, under Lossow’s leadership, took an oath of allegiance to the state of Bavaria on October 22. The extremely belligerent attitude which Bavaria adopted toward the central government was paralleled by a series of repressive measures which von Kahr applied against the Bavarian labor movement, such as the outlawing of strikes and the banning of Socialist paramilitary defense organizations.

The Bavarian problem, combined with controversies between the SPD and the People’s Party over the nature of a contemplated Enabling Act and over the eight-hour working day, threatened to break up the Great Coalition and led to a government crisis. On October 3 the cabinet resigned. A number of compromises, including the continued inviolability of the eight-hour day (a concession to the SPD) , the chancellor’s decision for the time being not to interfere actively in Bavaria (partly as a concession to the People’s Party), and a change of ministerial appointments for the posts of Finance and Economy saved the Great Coalition. On October 6 Stresemann was able to form his second cabinet.

The government crisis had been accompanied by an abortive right-wing putsch which a Major Bruno Buchrucker staged against the Reichswehr garrison of Küstrin on October 1. Buchrucker, who commanded five hundred members of the clandestine Arbeitskom-mandos, or Black Reichswehr troops, seems to have had only the vaguest concept of his ultimate objective. The putsch was unsuccessful, and led to Buchrucker’s arrest and subsequent trial and conviction. But its occurrence at this particular time further aggravated the prevailing political tension.

In this troubled atmosphere the KPD approached the moment of decision. On September 27 the party issued another proclamation to the German working class in those of its publications not banned by the government. The proclamation took issue with the cessation of passive resistance and warned that the “German imperialists” were now preparing to move against the proletariat. To counter this threat, the workers were urged to arm themselves and stand together. The document ended with the battle cry: “Long live the mass strike! Long live the struggle!”

A day before the party received Zinoviev’s telegram, presumably on September 30, the Zentrale held a meeting to discuss what action the situation required. One unidentified member of the Zentrale suggested that if circumstances in Saxony were “ripe,” the party ought to start an uprising [losschlagen]. The suggestion was rejected out of hand because it was considered to smack of putschism. Then, as Remmele, the source of this information, has related, the telegram arrived and “the whole policy of the party became focussed on what had been rejected the day before.”

The German Communists threw themselves into preparations for the contemplated uprising with feverish intensity. The target date, according to party calculations based on Zinoviev’s telegram, was to be sometime in the first half of November. The remaining six weeks had to be used to mobilize the party for action, to coordinate the political and military preparations, and to draw up a strategic plan for revolutionary conquest. From the inconclusive and often vague evidence available, it appears that the party gave most of these measures its wholehearted and undivided attention only after October 1. Whatever was done prior to this date—as far as can be established at all—consisted of conspiratorial work conducted by the military-political Apparat. But in the absence of definite plans and clearly defined objectives, these activities were restricted to preliminaries, and seem to have suffered from a multiplicity of frequently overlapping and poorly coordinated secret agencies. A great deal has been written about the technical preparations for the projected uprising, notably on their so-called “military” aspects. Much of the information has been provided by former Communist agents who in one way or other participated in the work of the clandestine party Apparat. Unfortunately, the reliability of most of these accounts is open to serious doubts, so that any historical treatment of this particular phase of Communist activities must remain, in part, conjectural.

It has been mentioned earlier that, after the Second World Congress of the Comintern, the KPD and all other Communist parties affiliated with the Comintern were expected to create an illegal party apparatus. At that time, the haphazard organization which had existed in Germany prior to the summer of 1920 was scrapped, and a new one established in its place. This is when the military apparatus (M-Apparat) and intelligence apparatus (N- or Nachrichten-Apparat) were created. For the next two and a half years these agencies played a very subordinate role, though the exact extent of their effectiveness, or lack of it, cannot be established with any certainty. But while the party was preoccupied with winning mass sup-port, i.e., while the united front policy dominated the tactics of the German Communist Party, cloak and dagger activities could serve no useful purpose, and we have seen that even during the March uprising of 1921 the role of the Apparat was negligible.

The situation changed after the Ruhr occupation in January 1923. Soon after this event a group of twenty-four Russian “civil war” experts arrived secretly in Germany and apparently acted for several months mainly as observers. There is no reliable indication, however, that any decisive steps to prepare the party for the anticipated fighting were taken before the late summer, or even early autumn, of 1923. Initiation of the most elementary measures required for the contemplated revolution came in the course of negotiations between the Bolsheviks and representatives of the German party in September. On Brandler’s request the Russians agreed to send one of their civil war generals, Rose, alias Gorey, but most commonly known as Petr Aleksandrovich (or Alexis) Skoblevsky, reputedly a Lett by birth, to assist the KPD on questions of military organization. Shortly after this decision was taken, the actual build-up of the German Apparat began in earnest.

What emerged, at least in skeleton form, was an elaborate network of organizations. The “general staff” of the planned uprising was a “Revolutionary Committee,” abbreviated to REVKO. It was headed by August Guralsky-Kleine, of March 1921 fame, and since January 1923 a member of the Zentrale. REVKO had to prepare and organize the party for the coming struggle, which was con-ceived primarily in terms of partisan warfare. But the committee was not in charge of military operations. These were entrusted to General Skoblevsky, supreme commander (Reichsleiter) of the party’s military-political (MP) organization. He was assisted by a military council (Militarrat), headed by Ernst Schneller (later a member of the party’s organizational bureau, or Orgburo) and composed of leading party members, including Walter Ulbricht, who was then a member of the Zentrale. Subordinate to Skoblevsky and his military council were six regional military-political commanders (MP-Oberleiter), each of them responsible for the military organization and the anticipated operations of the KPD in his region. The regions approximated the military defense districts of the German Reichswehr: West, North-West, Central Germany, Berlin, South-West and East Prussia. Bavaria, for obvious reasons, was for the time omitted from the strategic calculations of the KPD. The regional commanders were trusted party leaders, each of them assisted by a military adviser who functioned as chief of staff, but had no command position.

A corresponding setup to that of the regional MP-Oberleitung existed on the district and sub-district levels. The latter were commands (Kampfleitungen) which were expected to organize and train the proletarian hundreds, and eventually lead them into battle.

Parallel to the MP-organization the Communists created, or in some cases merely revitalized, auxiliary agencies designed to aid anti supplement the work of the military-political Apparat. To these belonged the T- (for Terror) and Z- (for Zersetzung, i.e. infiltration and subversion) groups, as well as the highly important Office for the Procurement of Weapons and Ammunition (Waffen-und Munitionsbeschaffungsamt, abbreviated as WUMBA) . These were apparently coordinated by the chairman of the party’s organizational bureau (Orgbüro), mild-mannered and quiet Leo Fleig who was also in charge of administering the secret funds which, in dollar currency, flowed from Moscow to Germany via the Russian Embassy in Berlin. The connecting links in these transactions, which Ruth Fischer used to call the Russian water-pipe line (russische Wasserleitung), were the Soviet Ambassador Krestinsky and the representative of the Comintern’s Department for International Liaison (Otdel Mezhdunarodnoy Syvazi, or OMS), Jacob Mirov-Abramov, who resided in the Russian Embassy where he nominally belonged to the press department. Finally, it must be remembered that all these different agencies were expected to function, when the time came, under the supervision of Radek and his three fellow representatives of the ECCI.

The formation of conspiratorial agencies was accompanied by training and mobilization of the party’s rank and file, including the communist youth groups. Military training was largely left to the proletarian hundreds, who drilled, paraded, and conducted secret tactical maneuvers in isolated parts of the country, where they were protected against detection by police or political enemies by rigid security measures, such as outposts and patrols. Practice alerts were conducted, and special courses given on the handling and use of weapons. Consumption of alcoholic beverages during training sessions was strictly forbidden.

Local party headquarters throughout Germany drew up lists of places where vitally needed goods were stored, such as food, fuel, and clothing, and special Erfassungsgruppen (procurement squads) were appointed to secure these goods as soon as the revolution broke out. Everywhere party cadres were formed to take over local administrative duties, a process which involved a preliminary screening of those officials who would be allowed to stay on their jobs, and those who were subsequently to be arrested or liquidated. To this must be added the pinpointing of special targets such as power plants, tele-phone exchanges, and centers of communication and transportation, all of which were to be secured when “The Day” came.

These preparations (and this account does not pretend to have exhaustively covered them) looked impressive and formidable. In practice, however, the whole plan, including the preparatory measures, suffered from a variety of shortcomings and inefficiencies. There was, in the first place, the strategic blueprint for the uprising, which had been drawn up by the regional military supreme commanders. On the day of the uprising, the signal for which was to be either the proclamation of a general strike or an important conference of labor groups, the Communist-led red hundreds were to rise in every part of Germany except the occupied Ruhr region. There the proletarian formations were to march in closed formations into unoccupied territory and arm themselves at once. The Communist forces in southwestern and central Germany were to take over power, secure their positions, and then dispatch all available units to Berlin where the decisive battle was expected to take place. Bavaria was to be sealed off, and in northern and northeastern Germany, where the rural population was hostile to Communism, the proletarian hundreds were to wage partisan warfare to prevent the enemy from rallying his forces, and were also to capture arms, ammunition, vehicles, and other needed equipment. Skoblevsky had calculated that in order to carry out this plan successfully it would be necessary to confront each unit of the Reichswehr and police with Communist forces three times as strong, and he had given his orders accordingly.

The “plan” had a number of evident loopholes. To outnumber every “enemy” unit three to one would have required a minimum of 750,000 well-armed Communist fighters. Furthermore, the l00,000 men who composed the Reichswehr and the 150,000 police were not only superbly trained, but were in possession of weapons and equipment such as the Communists could only hope to capture in the process of revolution. Finally, the plan left out of account the paramilitary right-wing organizations, many of which had never been effectively disarmed, and most of which were strategically concentrated in Bavaria which the Communists hoped to “seal off.”

This raises the questions of Communist strength and procurement of arms. According to party estimates, total membership of the KPD amounted in the fall of 1923 to 294,230, including women and, presumably, older persons unfit for combat.109. According to a recent East German estimate, the total number of proletarian hundreds in October 1923 amounted to eight hundred, with an over-all strength of l00,000 fighters. These, however, are paper figures and we can only guess at the true effective strength. The fact that some members of these organizations did not participate in training exercises with the excuse, “We’ll be there for the real thing,” casts a dubious light on the discipline of the troops. In some areas, local party organizations apparently submitted lists of proletarian hundreds which had been compiled from the files without notifying the persons concerned that they were now members of a Communist fighting unit. And occasionally a simple resolution voted on by a Communist-infiltrated union local or factory council sufficed to “create” a proletarian hundred, although presumably the process began and ended with the vote and a report submitted to higher echelons.

To make a revolution, men alone are not enough. They have to be armed, and the KPD tried hard to meet this requirement. Like the question of strength, estimates as to how many weapons were at the disposal of the German Communists vary widely, ranging from six hundred to fifty thousand rifles. How many there really were is impossible to establish, and judging from the way in which the party proceeded to arm its members it is very doubtful that anyone, including the Zentrale or the Communist military high command, knew even remotely the approximate number of weapons available. A number of schemes for the procurement of weapons existed. By far the easiest was a “do-it-yourself” system which was used to produce hand grenades and explosives. All that was needed was dynamite, usually stolen from stone quarries and construction projects, old tin cans, and fuses. Production of such homemade weapons was entrusted to the proletarian hundreds. For the purpose of blowing up trains, power stations, and other targets, the party also manufactured makeshift bombs, such as sticks of dynamite placed in a small paper carton, which was then made to look like a piece of commercial pressed coal (briquette) . Home production of weapons was limited, however, and had to be supplemented by other means of procurement. Theft was one of these. Apart from stealing explosives, the party had plans to pilfer secret arms caches of right-wing organizations, armories of the Reichswehr and the police, gun stores, and weapons of individual, non-Communist, citizens, especially the guns of farmers. It was in the nature of these ventures that they could not be carried out on a large scale, and in many cases the thefts remained projects. This meant that “intelligence reports” were compiled by the local party organizations as to where weapons could be easily and quickly obtained once the signal for the uprising had been given. At that moment, special squads (“action committees” ) were to raid the places previously earmarked, and the weapons and vehicles thus obtained were to be quickly distributed among the Communist troops. It appears that under this scheme many a patty member came to look at the pistols, guns, and rubber truncheons hanging from the belts of the local police force as future booty. In some cases weapons were “confiscated” from private persons by party members posing as plain-clothes police officers.

Finally, there was the method of buying weapons. Ample funds for this purpose were available to the German party through the Russian Embassy. WUMBA’s purchasing agents, usually equipped with U.S. dollars, roamed the country in quest of arms. It soon became apparent, however, that the Communists were not too well suited to the capitalist game of doing business. As all purchases had to be conducted in a conspiratorial manner, the process allowed for all kinds of shady dealings. Despite the fact that the party tried to control its own buyers through special control agents, usually members of the Terror-Apparat, some comrades succumbed to the temptation of filling their own pockets while conducting transactions with corrupt police officers, army quartermasters, and even members of paramilitary right-wing organizations. After all, it sufficed to list in the party’s accounts a figure higher than the actual price, a procedure which was easy to suspect, but virtually impossible to prove. It also happened that weapons, which had been painstakingly obtained and hidden, were detected by right-wingers and stolen, only to be bought a second time by Communist agents. On some occasions, the party’s buyers were deceived, and purchased boxes of rocks, carefully hidden beneath a top layer of rifles.

All these preparations were conducted intensively and, it appears, with a real sense of anticipation. And yet one cannot escape the impression that much of what was done was amateurish, and carried out in a spirit of juvenile, if not frivolous, exuberance. Granted that the young men of the proletarian hundreds probably enjoyed the war games with improvised or simulated weapons in the depths of the German forests, that the cloak and dagger activities of mapping targets, ferreting out hidden arms caches, and stealing shotguns from isolated farmhouses at night provided excitement as well as a sense of importance. The fact remains that these activities failed to take into account the real odds which the party would be facing in the case of an armed uprising. Besides their unbelievably naïve disregard for the excellently trained and equipped forces at the disposal of the government, the party leaders also failed to give their attention to the popular support they could expect in a revolution. Throughout the preceding months the German masses, restless and irritated though they were, had at no time given any clear indication that they were prepared to follow the lead of the KPD. The May strikes in the Ruhr, the mass strikes during the height of the summer, the anti-Fascist day, the Cuno strike, all these occasions had shown that the Communists were unable to wrest the allegiance of the working class as a whole away from the SPD and the unions. Nor had the Schlageter line been a glowing success. True, the party had made inroads here and there, had captured control of many factory and had grown in numbers. But all these factors did establish the KPD as a leading force in the German labor movement the only position from which it could hope to carry the proletariat to victory. Moreover, nothing had happened since the Cuno strike to change this picture materially—nothing, that is, but minds of the Russian leaders. The men in the Kremlin thought they detected a growing revolutionary spirit in Germany after Cuno’s resignation. They thought in terms of twenty million proletarians poised for action and eager to do battle. They held illusions with regard to the “working-class elements” in the Reichswehr at a decisive moment “which will not defend the bourgeoisie very stoutly.” They believed that arming the German workers required merely the presence of a few Communist ministers in the government of medium-sized German state, and for this purpose transferred sizeable sums to the Russian Embassy in Berlin. In short, Moscow was steeped in illusions, and on the basis of these illusions the German party prepared itself for an uprising.

 

2 Comments »

  1. “Although a life-long Trotskyist, Broué was unsparing in his assessment of the German events. You can read his book online and see for yourself. I have not read it but doubt that there’s anything in it that would encourage socialists today to look back at the early 1920s Comintern, prior to Stalin’s usurpation of power, as a model to emulate.”

    Believe it or not, I have read it. While gentler in his criticisms, you are correct, and he highlights the expulsion of Levi as an error from which it was not possible for the party to recover from. The book also has a couple of other features which are important: (1) the chapter on World War I and the conditions which resulted in the 1918 revolution is informative for people, like myself and many others here in the US, who, I assume, are unfamiliar with this history; and (2) the manner in which the various strands of the German revolutionary left outside of the SPD came together to form what eventually became the KPD after the failed action of January 1919.

    As you might expect, both had a great deal to with the tragedy that subsequently transpired. The brief biographies of many of the participants in the back of the book are enlightening as well. Needless to say, I recommend the book highly.

    If the KPD had successfully represented the working class, the history of the 20th Century would have been very different. Sounds rather obvious, but it is something that falls outside the boundaries of contemporary history as commonly understood here.

    Comment by Richard Estes — June 6, 2019 @ 10:04 pm

  2. I’ve never read anything by Angress, but have read Pierre Broué’s book.

    Broué was a Marxist.

    Angress wasn’t.
    He was never actively involved in German politics .
    (As a youth he was trained at Gross Breesen, a vocational farm run by the left-Zionist HeHalutz movement)
    He fled Germany in 1937, aged 17 , joining the 82nd Airborne Division, which parachuted him into
    France one day before D-Day.
    Captured by the Nazis , he was soon freed by US forces who employed him interrogating German POW’s. After the war he settled in the US and became a historian.
    Broué joined the PCF as a school student and was actively involved in the French resistance.
    He developed Trotskyist sympathies and resigned from the PCF by 1944
    He joined the 4th International, supporting the Lambertiste tendency from 1952-1989.
    After leaving them, he became a Professor of History at Grenoble University, producing over 17 books and numerous articles on Marxist history .
    He was a supporter of the International Marxist Tendency until his death.

    Broué’s account of the KPD’s tactics between 1922-3. “The German Revolution”- Chapter 37) makes clear that its policy vis-a-vis the nationalists wasn’t just down to Radek.
    The KPD began to concentrate on “non-proletarian” strata due to mass unemployment and the Ruhr crisis, engaging in polemics and debates it often won.

    While there were examples of opportunist excess, the KPD didn’t make concessions to Nationalist’s politics; as Radek’s article implied, Schlageter was “a wanderer into the void”
    This tactic arose due to the growth of the Nazi organisation between 1922-3 and the example of Mussolini’s “March on Rome”
    It led many (both on the left and right) to believe that the overthrow of the “November Regime” was imminent.

    In the end no one got October 1923 100% right.
    (The Comintern took months to even recognise there’d been a defeat)
    But once their paramilitary organisation had consolidated itself, it was much harder to stop them seizing total power using electoral tactics.
    While the SPD were incapable stopping them, the KPD had the wrong tactics.

    The “German October” was never more than possibility.
    But while the ultra leftist wing of the KPD had no strategy for taking power, it was possible to form a Workers Government despite the opposition of the wishes of the SPD’s central leadership.
    Brandler had the chance to do this and blew it .

    Comment by prianikoff — June 7, 2019 @ 10:42 am


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