Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 4, 2019

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

Filed under: Werner Angress — louisproyect @ 6:36 pm

This is the fifth and final part of a series of excerpts from Werner Angress’s “Stillborn Revolution: the Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923”.

Part one reproduces the chapter “The Genesis of the March Uprising” that deals with the poorly conceived ultraleft March 1921 Action of the German Communist Party that was based on a strategy shared by the CP leadership and the Comintern representatives in Germany, including Bela Kuhn. Breaking with the German party, Paul Levi called it the “greatest Bakunist putsch in history”.

Part two reproduces the chapter “The March Uprising and Its Failure”. It gets into the incredibly counter-productive tactics of the CP that treated SP workers who failed to join their adventurism as class enemies.

Part three reproduces the chapter “Retribution, Recrimination and Critique”, which sums up the thinking of the German CP and the Comintern on what went wrong. The united front strategy was an attempt to avoid the ultraleft mistakes of the March Action but it failed to acknowledge its author Paul Levi, who was the only Communist capable of overseeing its application.

Part four reproduces the chapter “Revolution in Preparation” that covers another fiasco that took place only two years later during October 1923. It flows from the same difficult circumstances, namely the goal of overthrowing a government led by the SP. Since the SP head of the government in Saxony supported the CP’s goal, this was not out of the question. However, the failure of the CP to win over the SP rank and file precluded a positive outcome.

In this the final part, you will be reading the final chapter of Angress’s book, which is titled The Abortive “German October”. It describes the inability of the CP to rally SP workers around the goal of overthrowing a government that many identified with. As stated above, this was not out of the question given the misery of the German population in 1923. But it required a more intelligent leadership in both the German party and the Comintern, which at this point was led by Zinoviev. The final pages of the chapter discuss how Zinoviev blocked with the German CP’s ultraleft faction led by Ruth Fischer and Arkadi Maslow against Trotsky. In 1924, the Comintern adopted the “Bolshevization” measures that both undermined a thorough accounting for what went wrong in Germany as well as fetishized the organizational methods of Lenin’s party, which became the norm for “Leninist” parties until now.

DESPITE THE FACT that the Communists were not at all sure of the mass support on which their projected enterprise entirely depended, the party did very little during the weeks immediately after Zinoviev’s telegram either to sound out the sentiment of the workers, or to prepare the masses psychologically for the struggle in which the KPD expected them to play an important part. The KPD concentrated all its efforts on mobilizing and arming its own members, without paying much attention to what went on outside the party. Where strikes or other signs of unrest erupted anywhere in the country, as for instance in Baden, the Zentrale saw to it that such movements did not receive Communist encouragement lest they interfere with the preparations for the uprising. The rationale behind this attitude is easy to understand, but one cannot help wondering why the party decided to stake everything on the rigid plan based on the entry of Communists into the Saxon government, a plan in whose wisdom the majority of the Zentrale did not even believe.

What little was done by way of political preparation was done haphazardly. This was, at least to some extent, because the chief organ of the party, the Rote Fahne, was banned throughout most of the crucial period of preparation! The only means of communication which remained at the disposal of the KPD was leaflets and the Communist press in some of the provinces. One such leaflet, headed “Mobilization,” was distributed by the Communist-controlled Federal Committee of Factory Councils (then in Thuringia) on October 7, the day before Brandler returned from Moscow. The leaflet announced that any counterrevolutionary attack on the workers would be met by a general strike, and urged all proletarians to arm action committees and defense organizations within the next week, and to meet daily in the factories and other places of work for discussions of the situation.

On October 8 Hermann Remmele, a member of the Zentrale and of the party’s Reichstag delegation, delivered a speech in the Reichstag which said in so many words that the KPD was contemplating civil war. After a furious attack on the Stresemann government, the presidential emergency decree of September 26, and the industrial leaders of the country, Remmele pointed to the threat which the “reactionary forces of the Whites” posed to German labor,

“We do know exactly: the White dictatorship which rules in Germany many today can only be destroyed by the Red dictatorship…working classes have no other choice but to recognize that the rule of force can only be abolished through the same means and methods employed by you. (Very true! from the Communists.)…And if you make the workers conscious [of the fact] that hand grenades and machine guns are better weapons than all the speeches made in parliament, that the weapons of the White dictatorship are more effective than votes, then you only create the conditions by Milt II you will liquidate [erledigen] yourselves. (Very true! front the Communists.)”

On the following day, the Rote Fahne made the first of two appearances before it was banned again for two weeks. The pdp4 carried a poem by “a worker,” entitled “Before the Battle”; an appeal from the KPD in Thuringia, which began with the words “We must act!”; and another poem, “That Reichstag…,” which ended with the words “Ours must be the country! Ours the Power” It also again advocated a general strike and, in a little “interest story,” reproduced a conversation, allegedly held in a machine shop, which contained lines reminiscent of the opening scene of Macbeth:

“And the Social Democrats?”…”Their hour of decision”…”Everything is at stake!—The demand is: Stand together!”. “Are you willing?” “Will you fight with us?” “Everything is at stake—yes, indeed! We must stick together.” “Bravo—Then we can fight—and win!”

Still more provocative than the revolutionary threats made by the German Communists was a letter which Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Russian Communist party, wrote to Thalheimer, the editor of the Rote Fahne. The letter, handwritten in Russian, appeared in facsimile form and with a German translation in the paper on October 10.

“Dear Comrade Thalheimer!

The approaching revolution in Germany is the most important world event in our time. The victory of the revolution in Germany will have a greater importance for the proletariat of Europe and America than the victory of the Russian Revolution six years ago. The victory of the German proletariat will undoubtedly shift the center of world revolution from Moscow to Berlin. The Rote Fahne can congratulate itself on a genuine success, because it has been the steadfast beacon which has shown the German proletariat the road to victory and which has helped it to regain the leadership of the European proletariat. From the bottom of my heart I wish the Rote Fahne new, decisive successes in the struggles ahead, for the conquest of power by the proletariat, for the unity and independence of a Germany about to be born. J. Stalin.”

Letters from Bukharin and Zinoviev, written in German and rather innocuous in tone and content, had appeared in the paper the previous day. But it was the letter from Stalin, the man who only a month earlier had been most outspokenly sceptical of a revolution in Germany, which aroused the apprehensions of the German authorities. Alerted by the tumult and the shouting of the KPD, the German central government prepared to meet the challenge. It decided to do so in Saxony, the very part of the country which the Communists had selected for their revolutionary staging area.

Negotiations between the KPD and the Zeigner government of Saxony had commenced immediately after the receipt of Zinoviev’s telegram. The party’s intention of joining the Saxon and Thuringian governments had been publicized by the Zentrale as early as October 5, and Hermann Remmele had shouted it to the assembled Reichstag delegates three days later! His ostentatious demonstration, however, was premature. The talks were still going on, and Brandler, who had just that day arrived in Germany, proceeded at once to Dresden where he joined the negotiations the next morning, October 9.

Both sides were in a peculiar position. They needed each other’s cooperation, but for very different reasons. Zeigner was still feuding with Berlin. He was also genuinely concerned about the ominous situation in Bavaria, about the recent Küstrin putsch, and other manifestations of a resurgent nationalism. Although he was neither a Communist nor a believer in revolutionary action, Zeigner was determined to turn Saxony into a bastion of the Left. During his first months in office he had done everything possible to mollify the KPD in order to retain its vitally needed support in the diet. Now, faced with what he considered a serious threat from right-wing Bavaria, he was prepared to form a coalition government with the Communists in order to assure himself of their further cooperation, so that at least in Saxony the working class would be in a position to repulse any attacks made upon it by the Right.

The Communists, on the other hand, were under orders to enter the Saxon government, though they could not admit this in public. Whereas Zeigner wanted to strengthen the defensive position of the working class in his state, the KPD wanted to use the projected coalition to turn Saxony into an armory for their revolutionary designs. Thus the Communists were committed to join Zeigner’s cabinet regardless of the outcome of negotiations. For this reason they proved to be much more yielding and conciliatory than they had been in the past, and accepted in advance most of Zeigner’s government program. They used the “Fascist danger” to explain their eagerness to come to terms, but they did drive a hard bargain on points of detail. One of these was that a Communist should be appointed to head the ministry of the interior, which controlled the police. This Zeigner would not grant, and the Communists had to be satisfied with seeing one of their number—it happened to be Brandler, the party chairman—appointed Ministerialdirektor (approx.: Assistant Secretary) in charge of the state chancellery, an office which allowed at least an indirect influence over the police. It was agreed in addition that the former Communist delegate to the Saxon diet, Paul Böttcher, should become Minister of Finance, while Fritz Heckert became Minister of the Economy. Both were members of the Zentrale. All these preliminary agreements were concluded on October 10, and two days later the new Saxon government was officially formed.

On this day, the diet convened to hear Zeigner announce his government’s program. The session began on a note of unrest when the chairman of the KPD delegation, Siewert, staged a one-man demonstration under the pretext of making a point of order: “Prepare everywhere for a general strike! Make provisions for tying up every transport designed to move Reichswehr and armed gangs [hired to] crush the workers. Now I have finished.”

After the house had quieted down, Zeigner was able to speak. He introduced the new ministers who, he stated, had sworn an oath to protect the constitutions of the Reich and of Saxony, and then called his reconstituted government one of “republican and proletarian defense.” The program which he outlined was phrased in rather general terms and contained three major points: Saxony, based on an alliance of all the workers and those sincerely dedicated to the republic, would form a bulwark against the combined forces of reaction, which ranged from the big industrialists to the rabble-rousers in Bavaria. Saxony would stand loyally by the Reich and would fight to the utmost to preserve its unity. Finally, the new government pledged itself to do everything possible to help the poor, the downtrodden, the dispossessed.”

The entry of two Communist ministers and one Ministerialdirektor into the Saxon government was a distinct tactical achievement by the KPD. Since three members of the Zentrale, including the chairman, were now permanently stationed in Dresden, it was found convenient to move the rest of the Zentrale also to the Saxon capital. In theory, at least, it was a perfect setup: the leaders of the KPD, some as cabinet ministers, were safely situated in a state which sympathized with many of the party’s views; proletarian “defense” forces were still operating freely in the open, “ignoring” General Muller, and the Communists seemed justified in anticipating that at least in Saxony their plans for an uprising early in November would meet with few obstacles. Thus, as soon as they were sworn in, Brandler, Böttcher, and Heckert settled down to their various offices, Brandler to peruse the files in search of information concerning secret arms caches, Böttcher and Heckert respectively to wrestle with the state’s financial difficulties and an acute food shortage.

Up to the moment when the new Saxon government took office, everything had gone well for the Communists. But the next day, October 13, the political horizon began to cloud over. General Müller, Commander of the Fourth German Military District, issued an order which banned all proletarian hundreds “or similar organizations.” The Saxon government launched an immediate and strong protest in which it stated that the proletarian hundreds were loyal to the constitution and would defend the republic against any attacks. It became apparent at once that neither side was prepared to give in. On the same day that General Müller published his order, Finance Minister Paul Böttcher made a speech in Leipzig and demanded that all proletarian hundreds be armed at once. A congress of Saxony’s proletarian hundreds, scheduled in September to convene on October 14, was now moved up a day and met illegally in a suburb of Chemnitz during October 13 and 14. The police proved unable to locate the meeting place where representatives of the SPD, KPD, and the unions deliberated for two days. The proceedings were published a few days later in the Communist press.

But October 3 was a black day for the Communists in other respects. On that day the Reichstag passed a hotly debated Enabling Act which empowered the government to take all measures necessary to meet any emergencies in the fields of finance, economics, or social welfare. Stresemann had asked for this Act in order to give the government a chance to work out the most urgent domestic problems without interference from political or other pressure groups. All parties, except for the Nationalists and the KPD, had voted for the Act. Only the extremes on the left and right were not interested in strengthening the hand of a government which both sides would have liked to see disappear. At the same time, however, the passage of the Enabling Act held some advantages for the Communists because it proved a very unpopular measure with German labor as a whole. Although the Reichstag delegation of the SPD had supported the Act, that party’s rank and file by and large opposed it. There had been too much talk about abolishing the eight-hour day, and the workers were also concerned by the repeated demands of the big industrialists for a “dictatorship,” i.e. a dictatorship of the Right. There were numerous demonstrations against the high cost of living, especially by the unemployed, and the mood of the working class in general, by the middle of October, was by no means uncritical of the government, so much so that many Social Democratic party members objected to General Müller’s decree outlawing the proletarian hundreds in Saxony. It was probably due to this dissatisfaction with economic and social conditions that the KPD’s Berlin organization felt encouraged to initiate talks with the Social Democrats in the capital. The Communists were trying to form a common front and draw up a common program of action, ostensibly to defend labor against any possible attacks from the “reactionaries,” in reality to mobilize the non-Communist workers for a revolution which the latter did not know was in the offing. But the Berlin organization, led by Ruth Fischer, overplayed its hand by demanding too much, and creating what the papers coiled a “general strike atmosphere.” The negotiations broke down, and non-Communist labor in Berlin worked out an agreement without the KPD.

Meanwhile in Saxony the reaction on the part of the KPD and the Saxon government to General Müller’s ban of the hundreds, and to the passage of the Enabling Act in the Reichstag, was defiance. The Communists were heartened by the fact that on October 13 they had come to terms with the Thuringian government. Here, too, a coalition of left-wing Socialists and Communists was agreed upon, and three days later the Communists Dr. Karl Korsch and Mimi Tenner joined the Thuringian government. They were appointed Ministers of Education (Volksbildung) and Economy, respectively. Thus encouraged, the Zentrale circulated a proclamation on October 14 which called on the workers to arm themselves and to prepare for “a battle to establish a government of all working people in the Reich and abroad.” The party organ in Chemnitz, Der Kämpfer, wrote on October 15 that the working class “…was not prepared to tolerate the policy of suppression [which was practiced] by the government of Stresemann-Sollmann. It will defend German unity and its own existence as a class against the great-capitalistic-military counterrevolution by means of economic pressure and, if need be, by arms.”

If the KPD was not prepared to tolerate the government’s policy of suppression, Stresemann was equally averse to tolerating the Communist threat of civil war. He had enough troubles already. There was the situation in Bavaria, where nationalist agitation was on the increase, and where the local Reichswehr commander was in open conflict with his superiors in Berlin. The economic crisis was still acute, and while the government was hopeful that it would be alleviated by the creation of the Rentenmark, which had just been announced, as yet there was more hope than actual success. As early as October 6, during a cabinet meeting, the Reich Defense Minister Gessler had suggested with his customary bluntness that if conditions in Saxony should deteriorate any further, the central government would be forced to depose the government of that state, and to appoint a civilian Reich commissioner. In short, Gessler proposed to apply a Reichsexekutive (federal executive action, as authorized by Article 48 of the constitution) against Saxony. During the following days, the chancellor’s initial reluctance to accept Gessler’s advice was effectively worn down by the conduct of the Communists and the Saxon government, as well as by pleas for help from regional organizations of Stresemann’s own People’s Party in various parts of central Germany.

But before the central government had reached a decision on this point, General Müller in Saxony, acting after consultation with the Reichswehrminister, resumed the initiative on the local level. On October 16 he informed the Zeigner government that from that date the Saxon police were to be placed under the immediate authority of the Reichswehr. As the KPD deputy Siewert said the same day in the diet, this was in effect the Reichsexekutive and, in practical terms, amounted to the deposition of the Saxon government. With the police removed from his control, Zeigner was powerless, and Brandler became a Ministerialdirektor in charge of meaningless police files.

Having once resumed the offensive, General Müller continued to press his advantage. The day after he put the Saxon police under his command he sent the Zeigner government an ultimatum, demanding submission to his orders. After a sharp condemnation of Paul Böttcher’s Leipzig speech on October 13, the general’s communication read as follows: “In all my previous measures I have proceeded on the assumption that I possessed the cooperation of the Saxon government. . . . I ask you, Herr Minister-President, to comment on Minister Böttcher’s statements, and to let me know me know unequivocally by 11 A.M. on October i8 whether the ministry as a whole agrees with the letter and spirit of Minister Böttcher’s statements, and whether it intends to conduct the affairs of government further along these lines, or whether it is willing . . . to act according to my instructions. Should the latter be the case I must demand, in order to clarity matters, that the Saxon government publish a declaration to effect in the press. I furthermore ask to be informed of what measures the government is contemplating to prevent in the future repetition of incidents [Entgleisungen, literally, derailments] such as the speech of Minister Böttcher undoubtedly constitutes.”

Zeigner’s response to General Müller’s ultimatum was a resounding and uncompromising “No.” The minister-president declared in the diet that he was not going to honor the general with a reply. The Saxon government, he exclaimed, stood on constitutional ground, whereas the general did not. He demanded that the Reich government take immediate steps to rectify the humiliating position in which the Saxon government had been placed. During the same session, Finance Minister Böttcher announced that preliminary talks were at present being held with Soviet Russia about a trade agreement between Saxony and the Soviet Union. Russia was prepared to send grain shipments to Saxony to help alleviate the food shortage, and in return Saxony was to send industrial goods to Russia. Böttcher expressed hopes that the negotiations would be concluded by October 19, in which case 20,000 tons of grain would reach Saxony by the end of the month.

Saxony’s decision to turn to Russia for food supplies was not a mere gesture of protest, but arose from real necessity. The military commanders of East Prussia and Silesia had prohibited the transport of potatoes from their respective military districts to any part of the republic, a measure which affected especially the densely populated central German industrial region, including Saxony. When Böttcher had turned to the banking concerns in Dresden and asked for a loan of 150 million gold marks to provide the state with food supplies, the banks had refused to loan any money to the Saxon government, but had offered to advance the needed sum to General Müller. A similar situation existed in Thuringia, where the Communist International Workers’ Aid made the new workers’ government a present of 788 tons of grain. Here, too, the state drifted into conflict with the regional military commander, General Reinhardt, who on October 17 issued a decree forbidding labor to call a general strike.

The growing tension in central Germany as a whole, and in Saxony in particular, was discussed on October 17 during a cabinet meeting of the Stresemann government. General Muller’s ultimatum of that day to Minister-President Zeigner had been delivered with the prior consent of Ebert and Stresemann. Its form and content aroused the concern of Social Democratic Reich Minister of the Interior Sollmann, who told Stresemann that General Muller’s measure constituted an open provocation of the SPD. When the chancellor defended the general and pointed to the very disturbing situation which existed in Saxony, Sollmann replied that he had received assurances that the Communist ministers in Zeigner’s cabinet intended to remain quiet and orderly. But Stresemann was not convinced, and expressed lack of confidence in Zeigner’s ability as a politician. He stated that if the Saxon government failed to take energetic measures to cope with mounting radicalism, those circles in Saxony that felt themselves threatened might turn to Bavaria for aid. Such a move, Stresemann said, would mean civil war and the collapse of the republic.

Sollmann and his two Social Democratic colleagues in the cabinet, Gustav Radbruch and Robert Schmidt (Rudolf Hilferding, the fourth Social Democrat, had resigned when the cabinet was reconstituted early in the month), found themselves in a difficult position. Zeigner was a fellow Social Democrat, and as such warranted their support. But the three Reich ministers were also fully aware of his shortcomings. They knew that he was basically a weak person whit tried to conceal this fact behind a show of ruthlessness and that he was easily influenced, and that he was one person when they met him in Berlin and another in the radical atmosphere of Dresden. But since they were unaware of the role which the KPD was playing in Saxony behind Zeigner’s back, and since they felt obligated to defend their party comrade, they tended to make light of Zeigner’s unorthodox ways as head of state, and pretended to consider his behavior simply as the “antics of a silly child.”

On October 18 the Saxon crisis grew sharper. Around noon, Zeigner received the following letter from General Muller: “As you him thought it proper not to reply to my communication of October 17, 1923, I am respectfully informing you that I have passed on the matter to the Reich Defense Minister for further action. With the assurance of my highest esteem, (signed) Muller, Lieutenant-General.”

During the morning session, before he received General Muller’s letter, Zeigner had taken a step which was bound to infuriate Reich Defense Minister Otto Gessler, and the entire Stresemann cabinet as well. For that morning Zeigner delivered in the diet what came to be known as his “Black Reichswehr Speech.” He began by saying that his speech would undoubtedly have repercussions in France, and that although he regretted the necessity to speak out, he was also convinced that he had nothing to say which was not already known to the French intelligence service. Then he delivered a sharp attack on the Reich government’s induction and training of illegal troops, men whose training was so brief that they could not possibly be a threat to another nation, but would be an acute threat at home, notably to the workers. Zeigner charged that the government defended the formation of irregular units with the argument that they were needed to protect the republic, while those organizations sincerely dedicated to just this purpose (i.e. the proletarian hundreds) were officially banned. The question was not, he said, “whether or not my procedure is formally correct, the question is, whether there is the will and the possibility to smash [zerschlagen] these organizations within a few weeks, because they are a tremendous danger to the continuance of the Reich and to the smooth functioning of administration and justice.”

However sincere, honorable, and even patriotic Zeigner’s intentions may have been, in making this speech he rendered a disservice to his own cause and to the security of the republic. Undoubtedly he wanted to embarrass the Stresemann government and the army, but he completely miscalculated the consequences. Rather than striking a blow against the irregulars, he antagonized the regular army, the Reichswehr, and played into the hands of Defense Minister Gessler, who now had an excellent pretext for carrying out his projected Reichsexekutive against Saxony. In fact, Berlin could justify such a step on more than one count. The government faced a difficult political situation both in central Germany and Bavaria. The nascent rebellion in the latter state was much more serious and dangerous than was the threat from either Saxony or Thuringia. Thus logic would have required the government to proceed at once against Bavaria, but in this case logic yielded to expediency. Armed intervention in Bavaria would have been by far the greater risk, and for several reasons. Under the circumstances it could easily have led to civil war, which Stresemann was determined to avoid. Furthermore, the Reichswehr could be trusted to intervene in Saxony and Thuringia, two states with Communist-Socialist coalition governments, whereas the reliability of the troops in case of open conflict with Bavaria was doubtful. Sentiments similar to those of the Reichswehr were held by many middle-class nationalists, sentiments which weighed heavier with Stresemann and the majority of his cabinet than the opinions of the Social Democrats. Nor could the government overlook the practical advantages of sending troops into central Germany. The presence of the Reichswehr in this region would effectively forestall any putsches which the Communists might want to stage in Saxony and Thuringia. It was hoped, moreover, that such a move would create a military barrier against Bavaria, and at the same time would deprive this state of an excuse for sending in moil bands of nationalists into central Germany, and from their possibly toward Berlin. Rumors concerning the existence of such plans were circulating widely at the time.

Consequently, during a cabinet meeting on October 19, the Chancellor mentioned briefly that he had been told about illegal bands suspected of planning to interfere in Saxony and Thuringia, and tat for this reason Reichswehr formations would be concentrated at several points in that region. Stresemann said that he expected this measure “to intimidate radical elements, and to restore public order and security.”

On October 20 Zeigner received a letter from Berlin which informed him that movements of Reichswehr troops into Saxony were not intended to constitute a “hostile act.” The purpose of troop movements was rather to protect Saxony against any possible attacks from “right-radical Bavarian forces.” This communication, the sender of which Zeigner failed to reveal, seems to have been the first indication he received concerning the central government’s decision to intervene in his state. But if he still had illusions about the intentions of Berlin, they were destroyed a few hours later by another communication from General Muller, as clipped, correct, and concise as the earlier ones. The most crucial passage in it read as follows: “…I have been instructed [by the Reich Defense Minister] to restore and maintain constitutional and orderly conditions in the Free State of Saxony with those means of enforcement … at my disposal. I shall communicate the reasons for the interference by the Reichswehr to the population. . . .” This General Muller proceeded to do forthwith, by publishing his letter to Zeigner with an official commentary on his action, and by posting it in the streets. Without knowing it, the general thereby gave official notice to the KPD that the Reichswehr, as Professor Carr puts it, “had fixed the date on which the Communists must either act, or confess their impotence.” Reports of the army’s impending march into Saxony apparently reached the party shortly before General Muller announced it publicly. During the night from October 19 to 20 the KPD had circulated a leaflet, 150,000 copies of it, which instructed party members to seize all available weapons. For unknown reasons, this order was almost completely ignored. On October 20, the Rote Fahne was published again after an interval of two weeks, and carried an article by Brandler which made reference to the newest threat facing the Saxon proletariat. The article was entitled “Everything is at Stake,” and expressed the conviction that the German workers “will not allow the Saxon proletariat to be struck down.”

The news of these developments took the Communists by surprise, although they were largely responsible for them. Böttcher’s reckless speech at Leipzig a week earlier had started the political avalanche which was now about to descend on them. Moreover Zeigner, whom they had consciously deceived about their motives for joining his government, had unwittingly contributed to ruining their plans when he loyally defended Böttcher and refused to obey General Muller’s orders to dissolve the proletarian hundreds, on the existence of which depended success or failure of the projected Communist uprising.

On October 20, as soon as the Zentrale received word of General Muller’s proclamation, the Communist leaders met for a hasty conference. The original plan of action had been to call a national conference of factory councils, but for this there was no longer sufficient time. The conference, improvising rapidly, decided to utilize a workers’ conference at Chemnitz, which had been scheduled several days earlier for October 21, to sound out the mood of the labor representatives and, if the mood was favorable, to call for a general strike which would give the signal for the uprising. This decision allowed the party less than twenty-four hours of preparation.

The Chemnitz Conference opened as scheduled the following day, October 21, 1923. Its composition was fairly representative of Saxon labor. Aside from 66 KPD delegates, the conference was attended by 140 delegates of factory councils, 122 representatives of labor unions, 79 delegates of control commissions, 15 delegates from action committees, 16 unemployed, 7 representatives of the SPD and one from the practically defunct USPD.48 The principal speakers were the Social Democratic Minister of Labor Graupe, Finance Minister Böttcher, and his fellow Communist, Minister of Affairs Heckert. All three stressed the critical food shortage in the state, the equally catastrophic financial situation, and the misery of the unemployed. These reports were followed by a public discussion of the political crisis in Saxony. Repeated demands were made to resist the threatening “military dictatorship,” and several speakers urged the proclamation of a general strike as a means of collective protest.

Then Brandler took the floor. From the preceding discussion he may have received the impression that the suggestion he was about to make would be met with approval, for he called bluntly for the immediate proclamation of a general strike. He added that such a proclamation would serve as labor’s fighting slogan against the Reichswehr, and urged that the conference put the matter to a vote at once. But Brandler’s suggestion was greeted with icy silence. Whether this was due to the manner in which he had broached the question, or whether the delegates considered his proposal a case of indecent haste cannot be determined. It was evident, however, that the delegates were not prepared to make any rash decisions on the spur of the moment. After a brief moment of embarrassed silence the Saxon Minister of Labor Graupe rose and announced that if the Communists insisted on pressing the suggestion just made, he and his six fellow delegates from the SPD would at once leave the conference. Graupe’s statement met with no protest. It was, in Thalheimer’s words, a “third-class funeral.”

Why did the conference discuss at length the feasibility of calling a general strike, but reject out of hand Brandler’s motion to proclaim one immediately? Were the non-Communist participants hypocrites? The subsequent course of the conference does not substantiate such an assumption. For as soon as Graupe had rejected the Communist motion he in turn moved that a special commission be formed, comprising an equal number of Social Democrats and Communists, to study the prospects for a general strike. Graupe’s motion was adopted, and the commission formed. Its members reported back shortly and moved the creation of an action committee, likewise composed of Communists and Social Democrats, which was to contact the leading echelons (Spitzenorganisationen) of the political labor parties, the trade-unions, and the government of Saxony, and was to negotiate with them about the proclamation of a general strike. Only if these negotiations should fail was the action committee entitled to proclaim a general strike. The motion was passed by an overwhelming majority. The outcome shows that the conference members, however much they may have been provoked by General Muller, were simply not inclined to make a weighty decision without first exploring its every aspect. Brandler’s motion, as he might well have known, flew in the face of German labor’s traditional insistence on proper procedure and proper channels. Moreover, the most determined resistance to Brandler’s motion came from the representatives of the trade-unions and the SPD, who had no desire to let themselves be led into a possible putsch by the Communists. In the end, Brandler’s dutiful execution of orders, which he had only reluctantly accepted in Moscow a few weeks earlier, proved to have done more harm than good. For the special action committee apparently never reported back, and a general strike was not called in Saxony at that time. Instead, Reichswehr formations began to march into the state on the day of the conference, with bands playing, flags unfurled, and rifles loaded with live ammunition.

The “third-class funeral” was over. The Communists had sounded out the collective mood of Saxony’s labor representatives and had found it wanting in spirit. It was clear to Brandler and his colleagues that the party could hardly count on substantial support for their venture from German labor as a whole, if not even the Saxony proletariat was willing to take any risks. That this was consensus of the Communists present in Chemnitz became evident as soon as the general conference had adjourned. The Zentrale immediately summoned a meeting to discuss the situation. In addition to the members of the Zentrale present, the meeting was attended by several MP commanders and their Russian advisors. Absent were Radek and his three fellow “supervisors” who had not been in Chemnitz at all and, in fact, had not yet arrived in Germany. Without waiting for Radek, the party functionaries attending the meeting agreed that no large-scale uprising could be risked under the present circumstances. There seemed little else to do after the original scheme, which had marked out Saxony as the starting point of the rising, had miscarried. This conclusion was in accordance with the resolution taken a day earlier to await the outcome of the Chemnitz Conference before committing the party to any definite course of action. The Chemnitz Conference, however, had a bloody sequel, an armed proletarian uprising in Hamburg. Unfortunately, many of its underlying causes are still shrouded in mystery and, pending the discovery of additional evidence, an account of its origins will have to remain tentative.

The man in charge of the party’s political organization in Hamburg was Hugo Urbahns, a teacher, who was secretary of the KPD District Command Wasserkante. After Zinoviev’s telegram of October 1, 1923, when all party districts were ordered to prepare for the anticipated uprising, Urbahns complied for Hamburg by forming a committee of three on October 8. He himself retained charge of the political organization. To Hans Kippenberger was entrusted the military organization. A third, unidentified party member was to be responsible for the city’s food supply in the event of armed struggle. Kippenberger’s “military” superior was Albert Schreiner, MP Oberleiter Nord-West, who was assisted by the Russian military “General” Moishe Stern (alias Emilio Kleber, under which name he became known during the Spanish Civil War). Kippenberger organized the party members in the various sections of the city into action groups, the leaders of which were given considerable leeway in training their men for the anticipated fighting. The objectives to be taken by each group were communicated to the individual leaders, who were instructed not to take action until they were ordered to do so.

On October 20, the Zentrale called on all German party districts to send representatives to the Chemnitz Conference. Urbahns decided to go himself and took along two workers, Inselberger and Ruhnau, who were to attend the conference officially as factory council representatives rather than as delegates of the KPD. The three men left Hamburg sometime around noon of October 21 and arrived in Chemnitz only after the conference was over. When Urbahns was informed that as a result of the conference the Communist plan for an uprising was canceled, he sent Inselberger to Hamburg party headquarters with a report to this effect. The next day Urbahns proceeded first to Dresden. From their he sent Ruhnau to Hamburg with another report, the contents of which are unknown. Urbahns himself returned home via Berlin, arriving in Hamburg around midnight of October 22, and went straight to bed.

During Urbahns’ absence the pace of events in Hamburg had quickened. The atmosphere in the city was tense. The dock workers went on strike on October 20, and some of the related labor installations were likewise affected by the walkouts. The movement spread to the warehousemen and construction workers, all of whom demanded wage increases. In addition, repeated demonstrations by the unemployed led in some places to clashes with the police. On October 21 the Hamburg dock workers held a meeting, and passed a resolution to call a general strike if the federal government moved troops into Saxony. The projected Reichsexekutive and the resolution of the dock workers were debated the following day by a conference sponsored by the Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, and attended by delegates from the SPD, KPD, and trade unions. After some discussion a spokesman for the trade unions proposed a resolution which urged all organizations participating in the conference to wire their respective central offices in Berlin, asking them to disregard differences dividing the workers and to issue a joint proclamation for a nationwide general demonstration strike. In the meantime, while waiting for a reply to this proposal, all workers, employees and officials were to refrain from local strikes serving the same purpose as the projected demonstration strike, and were not to leave their places of employment without prior permission from their organizations.

The resolution was immediately opposed by the two KPD representatives present, Esser and Rühl, who announced that they would consult with party headquarters and then would make known in writing the Communist position. The consultation took place during the afternoon and evening of October 22, and a statement on the party’s views was drafted. It was communicated by Rühl to the city’s Gewerkschaftshaus (trade-union headquarters) the following morning, thus after the Hamburg uprising had begun. The Communists refused to sign the resolution proposed during the joint conference of October 21. Their reply stated bluntly that as a result of the Chemnitz Conference a general strike had been proclaimed in Saxony and was already in effect. Armed clashes between workers and Reichswehr supported by Fascists, were taking place in Saxony and Thuringia, where the fighting workers had appealed for outside help. The situation in Hamburg was also becoming tenser. In view of all these developments the proposed resolution was inadequate. It was designed to deceive the Hamburg workers in order to keep them from joining the battle. The KPD demanded that the Hamburg proletariat follow the example set by Chemnitz.

Who was responsible for the misrepresentation of events in central Germany? Was it the handiwork of Urbahns’ two travel companions, Inselberger and Ruhnau, or had the reports they transmitted been edited by someone at party headquarters, conceivably by Kippenberger, or perhaps Thalmann? Had Urbahns’ message concerning the outcome of the Chemnitz Conference been ambiguous? No conclusive answer to these questions can be given. But it can be said with reasonable certainty that both the contents and tone of the Communist response to the trade-union resolution indicate that it was drawn up after party headquarters had decided on staging an uprising in Hamburg the following morning. In all probability the decision was taken sometime during the course of October 22, thus in the absence of Urbahns. Throughout that day unruly crowds milled through the streets of the working-class quarters, and were addressed by Communist “minute men” who mingled with them and frequently resisted police efforts to disperse them. In many parts of the city the party conducted hastily improvised meetings, usually in rented halls, and Communist speakers promised their audiences that the KPD would soon “go into action” (losschlagen). This promise the men at party headquarters intended to keep. They were aware of the widespread anger which the military occupation of Saxony had evoked among the Hamburg workers. They noticed also that Reichswehr units, stationed in the vicinity of the city, were being transported south, presumably to Saxony. Opportunity beckoned and men like Kippenberger and Schreiner resolved to use it. The original plan of starting a revolution in Saxony had miscarried. Could not Hamburg take the place of Saxony, acting as a signal and an example for the proletariat elsewhere in the country, even in beleaguered central Germany? Aside from Urbahns’ negative report, no messages or orders had been received by the Hamburg organization. The decision thus lay with the men who were in charge of it, and they fixed the hour of the uprising for 5 A.M. the next day on October 23, 1923. And in order to justify this act in the eyes of the workers, especially of the non-Communists whose support would is so vitally needed, Communist headquarters misrepresented the facts about developments in Saxony in the party’s reply to the Hamburg trade-unions.

A plan of battle was ready. It had been developed by the Oberleitung, the party’s MP high command. The Communists were to isolate Hamburg during the night by disrupting all channels of communication, and by blocking all arterial roads and railway lines leading into the city, in order to prevent reinforcement of the police from outside. Then they were to attack police stations, army barracks, and arsenals in the working-class suburbs of the northwestern, northern, northeastern and eastern parts of the city. Once these initial objectives had been captured, the weapons thus obtained were to be distributed to the people; the Communists shock troops, which would then be reinforced by the mass of workers in the suburbs, would lead this expanding army of proletarians into the heart of Hamburg, pressing the bourgeois enemies before them toward the south and the river, and there disarm them. It was expected that once Hamburg was in the hands of the insurgents, the spirit of the revolution would spread beyond the city in the course of a few days. In accordance with this strategic blueprint, special detachments began to fell trees across some of the arterial roads at 2 A.M. October 23. But difficulties developed even at this early stage. Some of the demolition crews failed to cut the railway lines, telephone cables, and telegraph wires, because they could not agree on whether this would really be an effective and necessary measure. Around 5 A.M. the assaults on a number of police stations began, in the suburbs of Barmbeck, Wandsbeck, Hamm, St. Georg, Schiffbeck, Eimsbüttel, Hummelsbüttel, etc. Within a few hours, seventeen out of twenty-six police stations attacked were captured by the Communists.

Despite these initial successes, the Communists were fighting a losing battle in Hamburg. The decisive factor which broke the back of the uprising by the end of the first day was that the hoped-for mass support failed to materialize. The Communists, whose small and scattered squads fought bravely against growing opposition from police, navy troops, and SPD Reichsbanner formations, remained isolated. Once again the party met the now familiar reaction of distrust, if not open hostility, from the non-Communist part of the working-class population. Not even the striking dock workers moved a finger to assist the KPD against the forces of the government. Throughout the city labor was more concerned with the negotiations for higher wages, which the trade-unions were conducting with employers, than with the handful of determined radicals who were sniping at policemen from the roofs or at armored cars from behind barricades.

When it became obvious that they could not expect support from the population, the fighting spirit of the various Communist detachments scattered throughout the northern and eastern suburbs began to decline. Communications and coordination had not been very good from the start. In some cases, party squads either ignored orders from their high command, or wilfully disobeyed them. One district after another ceased fighting, especially when the word got around that messengers from the Zentrale had come with orders to abandon the struggle. Only in the suburb of Barmbeck did fighting continue throughout October 24, and in some isolated areas skirmishes lasted until the 25th. After this date, Hamburg settled back to an uneasy quiet. The one and only violent manifestation of the “German October” was over.

How little the Hamburg uprising actually affected the KPD revealed by the events which followed in the wake of the Chemnitz Conference. After the original plan for a revolution, launched from Saxony, was abandoned on the evening of October 21, the Zentrale settled down to await the arrival of the ECCI delegation. Radek and his companions seem to have made their appearance, presumably in Dresden, sometime on October 22. There followed a series of discussions between the ECCI delegation and members of the KPD Zentrale on what had taken place at Chemnitz. Radek fully approved of the party’s decision not to stage an armed uprising in Saxony, but he urged the Zentrale to proclaim a general strike. His suggestion was met with nearly unanimous opposition. The German Communist leaders argued that if Radek did not think it wise to start a revolution, then he could not have a general strike either; as matters stood in Saxony at the moment, general strike and armed uprising were virtually interdependent. The opinion of the Zentrale prevailed.

Sometime during the night of October 22 the Communist leaders left Saxony for Berlin, where they reassembled the following day and received the news of the Hamburg insurrection. The Zentrale reconvened at once, together with Radek, to discuss what action to take in view of this new development. Two motions were made. The first came from Ruth Fischer, who suggested the proclamation of a mass strike in Berlin on October 25, in the expectation that such a strike would lead within two or three days to an armed proletarian uprising. The second motion called for the party not to engage in any action. Thereupon Radek suggested a compromise, a strike without an armed uprising. None of the motions passed, and for the next few days the Communist leaders were engaged in a series of conferences on what the party should do. The Zentrale appointed a committee of seven to draft a set of guiding principles for the party’s policy in the immediate future. The committee reported back on October 25 with a resolution which, in tone and content, was a remarkable document, for it revealed that the party had learnt nothing from its recent experiences. The most pertinent sections of the resolution read as follows:

1) The social and political opposites [in Germany] are moving daily closer toward a crisis. Every day may bring decisive struggles of the revolution and counterrevolution.

2) The vanguard of the working class . . . presses for the resumption of the struggle; however, the working class as a whole, despite its great embitterment and misery, is not yet ready to fight.

3) For this reason, the reserves of the proletariat must be drawn closer to the vanguard by means of resolute agitation. . . . Technical preparations must be pursued with the utmost energy. In order to achieve unity among the proletariat for the struggle ahead, [the party] must conduct negotiations with Social Democracy, centrally and locally, in order either to force the Social Democrats into battle, or to split the Social Democratic workers and their traitorous leaders.

4) In view of these circumstances it will be necessary for the party to keep the comrades out of armed struggles, so as to gain time for the preparations. But if great spontaneous fights should break out among the working class, the party will support them with all  means at its disposal. The party must also parry the blows of the counterrevolution by way of mass struggles (demonstrations, political strikes). Armed combat during these struggles is to be avoided, if possible. . .”

The resolution was adopted unanimously, and was then circulated throughout the KPD. Thus the party was back where it had been before the Cuno strike three months earlier—back to those tactics of political attrition which went under the euphemism of “united front policy.” The Communists had tested the revolutionary fervor of the workers in “red” Saxony, and had found it wanting. They had, inadvertently, tested it again in Hamburg, and the resulting fiasco had been nearly as complete as that of March 1921. But whether from stubbornness or from blindness, they continued to behave for the time being as if the revolution was still a real possibility.

They were soon undeceived by the actions of the central government. In the last ten days of October the Stresemann cabinet was confronted by explosive situations in central Germany and Bavaria. Of the two trouble spots Bavaria proved the more dangerous, and Berlin had to move cautiously, but without delay, in order to forestall disaster. On October 20 the Reich Defense Minister relieved General von Lossow of his command over the Reichswehr troops stationed in Bavaria, and replaced him with General Kress you Kressenstein. The Bavarian government reacted with open defiance. General Commissioner von Kahr declared at once that the decree of the federal defense minister was null and void, and appointed von Lossow Landeskommandant (state commander) of the Reichswehr units stationed in Bavaria. On October 22 the troops took an oath of allegiance to the Bavarian government. Stresemann faced trouble from all directions: while fruitless negotiations between Berlin and Munich continued, the Communists rose in Hamburg, and simultaneously Rhenish Separatists attempted to turn the Palatinate into an independent state.”

In the face of these multiple difficulties, the central government decided to move against the point of least resistance–the Zeigner government of Saxony. That state was already occupied by the Reichswehr, which on October 25 had arrested several low-ranking government officials. The population was sullen and restless, but the troops were firmly in control of the situation. Aside from sporadic attempts by Communist agitators to incite the workers against the military occupation, Saxony was quiet. Nevertheless, it was in Dresden rather than in Munich that the government first asserted itself. Defense Minister Gessler was the driving force behind this move. Whether from personal pique in consequence of Zeigner’s verbal attacks on the Reichswehr, or from mere tactical considerations, Gessler, during a cabinet meeting on October 27, recommended immediate intervention in Saxony. He gave as his reason the unbearable situation which the troops faced in the state. Stresemann supported Gessler, arguing that a government which contained Communist ministers was irreconcilable with the spirit of the Weimar constitution. But his real reason, which he revealed a few minutes later, was one of expediency rather than of principle. The chancellor pointed out that the government might be crushed between right-wing radicalism in Bavaria and left-wing radicalism in Saxony. If the government were to enforce the German constitution in Saxony, the position of the Reich vis-à-vis Bavaria would be strengthened, and open conflict with the latter state would be avoided. Stresemann’s and Gessler’s views won out, over the objections of the Social Democratic cabinet members. On the same day the chancellor wrote a letter to Zeigner in which he demanded in no uncertain terms the expulsion of the Communist ministers from the Saxon cabinet:

“. . . The spirit of recalcitrance and violence displayed by the Communist Party was demonstrated by the statements which the chief of your state chancellery, Herr Ministerialdirektor Brandler, made at Chemnitz on October 21 when he called publicly for open opposition to the Reichswehr….

“In the name of the federal government I herewith demand .. . that you arrange for the resignation of the Saxon state government since in view of recent events the participation of Communist members within said government has become incompatible with constitutional conditions.

“I request that you inform me of the government’s resignation by tomorrow, October 28. Should the formation of a new government… not be carried out immediately, without the participation of its Communist members . . . , the holder of executive power will designate a federal commissioner who will assume the administrative functions of the state until constitutional conditions are restored.”

This was the second ultimatum within a fortnight which the Saxon minister-president received, and with which he refused to comply. His Bavarian counterpart, Ritter von Kahr, was guilty of the same offense and remained unscathed, but Zeigner’s disobedience led to his political demise. On October 29 President Ebert invoked Article 48 of the federal constitution, and empowered the chancellor “…to deprive the members of the Saxon state government and of the Saxon state and municipal administrations of their offices…” This presidential decree was immediately followed by the appointment of a Reichstag deputy of the People’s Party, Dr. Rudolph Heinze as Reichskommissar (federal commissioner) for Saxony, and the occupation of the ministerial offices in Dresden by federal troops. Zeigner “resigned” his office the following day, and on the 31st the diet elected a new minister-president, the rather moderate left-of-center Social Democrat, Dr. Karl Fellisch. The coalition government of left-wing Social Democrats and Communists in Saxony was over.

The Reichsexekutive against Saxony, and subsequently Thuringia, accentuated the fact that the KPD had reached a political impasse. As soon as the federal ultimatum to Zeigner became known in Berlin, Radek instructed the Communist ministers Böttcher and Heckert not to resign without some show of resistance.” This was attempted. Supported by left-wing Social Democrats and some trade-unions, the Saxon Communists proclaimed a general protest strike on October 30. Although it was scheduled to last for three days, the trade-unions decided to call it off after only twenty-four hours. Labor’s fighting spirit in Red Saxony was broken, and only smouldering resentment over the military occupation and the forceful removal of Zeigner’s working-class coalition remained. This resentment found its expression in a continued show of sympathy for the Communists by large segments of the Saxon Social Democrats, and during the months that followed the left-wing faction of the SPD made several futile attempts to form another government coalition with the KPD. Interestingly enough, the opposite was true in Thuringia, where the two parties quarrelled incessantly over which was most responsible for the failure of the coalition government in that state.

Meanwhile Radek tried hard, but in vain, to organize Communist protest demonstrations in Berlin. His return to Moscow was only a question of weeks, and he was not in an enviable position. As nominal supervisors of the projected uprising, he and his three colleagues from the ECCI would be held responsible for having failed to accomplish their mission. Radek tried desperately to salvage as much as possible from a situation which was actually beyond repair. He suggested that the party sponsor street demonstrations by the unemployed. They were attempted, but proved to be listless and ineffective ventures. He also demanded that the party stage protest marches which were to be protected by armed (and illegal) proletarian hundreds. Most members of the Zentrale declared themselves essentially in agreement with this plan, but insisted that they needed a prolonged period of preparation before they could hope to attempt such demonstrations. In contrast, Ruth Fischer flatly rejected the idea, with the argument that the masses were too disheartened by the recent events in Saxony and Hamburg to support Communist-organized protest actions. For the second time within three months she turned down an opportunity to act in a crisis. Although the arguments with which she justified her position in each case were sound, her behavior raises some doubts as to the sincerity of her often professed radicalism.

It is difficult to say how soon after Chemnitz and Hamburg the Communist leaders came to realize the full extent the party’s latest, relatively bloodless, but ultimately most decisive defeat. At the meeting of the Central Committee on November 3 the proceedings were still largely dominated by the Brandler faction, which tried to discuss the abortive uprising without lending it an air of finality. Up to that point there had been no official word from Moscow on this issue. In fact, as late as October 28, Zinoviev gave a speech in Petrograd in which he again mentioned his mythical figure of twenty million German proletarians who were still waiting to be led to the barricades. As long as the Comintern had not spoken, it would have been imprudent of Brandler and Radek to admit openly the true significance of the party’s October retreat, even if they had been fully aware of it, which is doubtful. Thus the proceedings of the Central Committee were pervaded by an atmosphere cautious optimism. Brandler himself delivered the principal report and accepted full responsibility for having called off the planned insurrection, but indicated that the revolution was merely postponed, not cancelled. Most of the theses which Brandler advanced were subsequently written into the resolution which was submitted to the committee for adoption. Its text was drafted by Brandler, with the aid of Radek and Pyatakov. The main theme of the resolution was that there had been a “Fascist” victory over the “November Republic”. This victory was evident from the recent events in Saxony, the repeated bans of the party press, the Bavarian situation, and related examples. The greatest share of responsibility for these developments was attributed to the Social Democrats, and to the Social Democratic leaders in particular, because they had refused to support the Communists in their struggle against the “military dictatorship.” It was held that the latest betrayal of the SPD leaders required a new approach to the united front policy. From then on the party will refrain from any dealings with the Social Democratic bureaucracy, but was to concentrate exclusively on winning the rank and file of the SPD for the ultimate struggle against the “Fascist” dictatorship. In short, the resolution called for a united front policy “from below.” As far as references to any future uprising were concerned, the resolution was ambiguous. It stated that “armed insurrection remains on the agenda,” and stressed the need for “the preparation of the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship.” But the radical tone of these passages was qualified by the statement that the projected struggle would have to begin by opposition to the attempted onslaughts against the eight-hour day, and by fighting unemployment, suppression of the labor press, the national state of emergency, and low wages. In other words, the qualifications embodied in the resolution indicated an implied admission that at least in the near future there would be no chance of a major revolution. The resolution was adopted at the committee meeting by a vote of 40 to 13. The majority of the party hierarchy thus endorsed the future plans of the Brandler Zentrale, and at the same time approved of its past policies.

Had the matter been allowed to rest there, the October retreat would have remained just another episode in the history of the German Communist party, just another attempt to capture power which, though it had failed once again, would be repeated at the earliest possible opportunity. For several weeks after the meeting of the Central Committee it actually looked as if the party was returning to its old course, which consisted of probing for soft spots and at the same time continuing conspiratorial activities. But the Brandler  Zentrale was permitted neither time nor opportunity to return the KPD to the status quo prior to October. Both in Berlin and Moscow forces were at work which brought about a reorientation of the party, a new leadership and, involuntarily but irrevocably, a termination of the phase of revolutionary experimentation.

The month of November had few favors to bestow upon the German Communists. The abortive Hitler putsch in Munich on November 9 had a cathartic effect on all Germany: the shots at the Feldherrnhalle which killed fourteen National Socialists cleared the air and laid the basis for speedy settlement of most of the outstanding differences between Bavaria and the Reich. Equally important for the nation as a whole was the issue of the new Rentenmark on November 16, which restored public confidence in the currency and prepared the way for the eventual economic recovery of Germany. It was only natural, however, that the transition from acute crisis to gradual stabilization, economically and politically, was accompanied by certain stresses and strains. Thus the stabilization of the mark led to a temporary dislocation of the economy because of a nation wide shortage of capital, a shift in demand from capital (or instrumental) goods to consumers’ goods, and a rapid rise of unemployment which lasted until the spring of 1924. On the political front, full emergency powers had been temporarily granted to General von Seeckt by the Stresemann cabinet on the evening of November 8. He used these powers to deal firmly with Bavaria and the Munich putsch, and on November 23, when Stresemann’s chancellorship came to an end, Seeckt banned the German Communist Party, the National Socialist Party, and the Deutsch-Volkische Freiheits-partei.

None of these events could bring comfort to the KPD. The collapse of the Hitler putsch, and the détente between Berlin and Munich which followed, weakened all arguments concerning the “Fascist” nature of the government. Moreover, the prevention of the attempted coup d’etat in Bavaria had a salutary effect on the German workers. So had the monetary stabilization which transformed nominal wages into real wages, and led to a sudden rise in the purchasing power of the working classes. Not even the temporary increase in unemployment benefited the KPD, since a surplus of idle workers rendered strikes, and notably large-scale political strikes, illusory. Finally, the enforced illegality of the party from November 23, 1923 until March 1, 1924 paralyzed all organizational activities, and for months rendered the Communists politically ineffective.

Meanwhile Radek and his ECCI delegation had made repeated attempts throughout November to prod the party’s Berlin organization into showing some revolutionary spirit. But these efforts proved as futile as they had been immediately after the Chemnitz Conference. In a letter of November 20, written to the Berlin district command of the KPD, Radek complained bitterly about Ruth Fischer’s failure to stage protest demonstrations in Berlin on the 9th and the 13th of that month. He called on her to make another attempt on the 22nd, urging her to mobilize as many workers as possible for a demonstration in the center of the city. The demonstration was to be accompanied by Communist disturbances in the Reichstag on the same day. Ruth Fischer answered that it was impossible to mobilize the apathetic masses within two days, but promised to try on the 27th. On that day, a demonstration of about three to four thousand actually took place in the Berlin Lustgarten, but it lacked spirit and the demonstrators merely milled around the square until the police dispersed them. It was obvious that even the most radical portion of the German party could no longer be relied upon to display revolutionary élan.

A few days later, early in December, Radek and his colleagues from the ECCI returned to the Soviet Union. They departed under a cloud, for the reports that they took back with them were bound to be unpopular in Moscow. Indications of trouble ahead may have reached them prior to their departure. During November, while Radek had desperately tried over and over again to offset the undeniable letdown after the October retreat by calling for a series of spirited and face-saving demonstrations, Zinoviev, in articles and speeches, had expressed his growing, though still veiled, disapproval of the German party’s recent policies and decisions. This disapproval, which was at first directed mainly against the Brandler Zentrale, was tied up with the inner party struggle among the Russian leadership.

This conflict had been shaping up ever since 1922, when Lenin’s health began to deteriorate at an alarming pace, and it gained momentum in 1923. On one side was the party’s Secretariat, composed of the somewhat ill-matched triumvirate of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, and on the other side Trotsky and his supporters, among them Radek. The issues on which the struggle was ostensibly fought were political and economic in nature, and restricted to party affairs and Russian domestic problems. Throughout the summer and fall of 1923, Trotsky was steadily losing ground. When Lenin died on January 21, 1924, the triumvirs were in control of the party, and Trotsky in bitter, and daily more forlorn, opposition. The aftermath of the German October can only become comprehensible if seen against this general background.”

It was several weeks before Moscow fully realized that the German revolution was a failure. Zinoviev, who as chairman of the ECCI was most immediately concerned with the German events, refused to recognize for some time after the Chemnitz Conference that the October retreat was final, and not merely a temporary set-back. Thus his initial reaction was approval of the tactics which the German Zentrale had applied in Saxony, and he blamed the Social Democrats for the failure of the Saxon experiment and the abortive Hamburg uprising. But as the weeks passed, his attitude began to change. At first he had found nothing basically wrong either with the policies which the KPD had pursued in Saxony, or with the resolution approving these policies which the party had adopted at its Central Committee meeting on November 3, but by the end of that month he severely criticized the Zentrale on both counts, and in December turned openly against both Brandler and Radek.

Zinoviev’s volte-face was a matter not of conviction, but of expediency. As the magnitude of the German debacle was gradually revealed to the Bolshevik leaders, Zinoviev found himself in a vulnerable position. As chairman of the ECCI he formally shared the responsibility for the political actions and omissions of the KPD, a member party of the Comintern. The easiest way to escape, or at least to lessen, this responsibility was to shift it to someone else, in this case to Brandler, and subsequently to Radek as well. In reaching this decision he seems to have been prompted in part by Maslow and Fischer. The former had been in Moscow ever since September in order to submit to an investigation of his past party record. In November Zinoviev suddenly dropped his erstwhile aloofness and began to treat Maslow in a friendly fashion. During this period, Maslow wrote an article in which he strongly attacked the entry of the KPD into the Saxon government of Zeigner. Although it was not published until two months later, Zinoviev may well have known  it, and at least he knew Maslow’s position on the question. Furthermore, Ruth Fischer wrote a letter to Zinoviev on November 22 in which she complained bitterly about the incompetence of Brandler and implored Zinoviev to invite a delegation of the KPD for a discussion of the party’s outstanding differences. The letter was intercepted by the German police, and its contents wired to the German Embassy in Moscow, where Brockdorff-Rantzan handed it it accusingly to the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, on December 2nd or 3rd.” There is little doubt that Chicherin showed the letter to Zinoviev. It was probably at this point that the chairman of the ECCI sent a confidential letter to the German Zentrale in which he castigated the KPD’s Saxon policy.

The crucial passage in the letter, which is undated, read “…We here in Moscow . . . regarded the entry of Communists into the Saxon Government only as a military-strategic maneuver. You turned it into a political bloc with the ‘left’ Social Democrats, which tied your hands. We thought of your entry into the Saxon Government as a way of winning a jumping-off ground  to deploy the forces of our armies. You turned participation in the Saxon cabinet into a banal parliamentary coalition with the Social Democrats. The result was our political defeat. . . .”

By the middle of the month the German issue became intimately fused with the Russian intraparty struggle, as Zinoviev used his growing display of hostility against the Brandler Zentrale to undermine the position of his antagonist Trotsky. It was a devious approach, for Trotsky was as outspoken as Zinoviev in his condemnation of the German Communists for having bungled what he considered a perfect opportunity for a revolution. But he differed from Zinoviev on the conclusions to be drawn. While he unhesitatingly criticized Brandler and Radek for having blundered, he was not pre pared to make either of them a scapegoat, especially since he believed that Zinoviev himself was far from blameless. Nor did Trotsky see any advantage in changing the leadership of the KPD by replacing Brandler, whom he personally liked and respected, with Fischer and Maslow, whom he distrusted. Just such a switch, however, was contemplated by Zinoviev, and it was Radek who inadvertently convinced him and his friends in the Russian party that this was not only a desirable measure, but an urgent necessity. On December 13, shortly after his return from Germany, Radek told a party meeting in Moscow that if the majority of the Russian leaders should turn against Trotsky, the majority of the German and French Communists would side with Trotsky against his opponents. To the triumvirate this sounded like an open challenge. Radek was known as Trotsky’s staunchest supporter in the current struggle, a fact which their differing views on the recent handling of the German situation did not alter. Radek’s warning seemed to be substantiated a few days later when the Central Committee, not of the French but of the Polish Communist Party, sent a letter which left no doubt about the high reputation Trotsky enjoyed in those quarters. Zinoviev’s faction realized the need of preventing Trotsky from acquiring more allies outside the Soviet Union. For the moment nothing could be done about the Polish party, but the abortive German October served as a convenient excuse for Russian intervention in the affairs of the KPD.

In mid-December, invitations to send representatives to Moscow by the end of the month were extended to the KPD. By that time the apparent unity (except for the Left Opposition) of the party, which had been displayed on November 3 regarding the Central Committee’s resolution on the October events, had totally disappeared. The KPD Zentrale was split into three factions rather than the customary two, respectively representing a right wing, a center wing, and a left wing. Each faction claimed leadership over the party. The divisive issue was the interpretation of the October events. The right wing, represented by Brandler and Thalheimer, staunchly defended the recent “retreat,” and continued to uphold the united front policy as the party’s only hope of winning mass support in the future. The left wing, represented by Fischer and Thalmann (Maslow was still in Moscow), maintained that the Brandler faction had discredited the party, that the united front policy in its previous form was untenable, and that the revolution had failed because of timid and opportunist leadership. The center group, which included Remmele, Eberlein, Kleine, Stoecker, Koenen, and Pieck, was very critical of Brandler’s past policies, but was not yet prepared to join forces with the radicals on the Left. Its members believed that a retreat had been necessary, but argued that it should have been “a fighting retreat” rather than a timid and passive surrender.

As it turned out, the creation of a center group spelled doom to the Brandler Zentrale. When the party chairman departed for Moscow around the turn of the year, he could only rely on the support of Thalheimer, Pieck, and Zetkin. By the time the German delegation arrived, Brandler found that Zinoviev had already taken a step toward depriving him and his remaining supporters of the party leadership: on December 27, during a session of the Politburo, Zinoviev had opened an all-out offensive against Brandler’s principal mentor, Karl Radek.

The attack on Radek served a dual purpose. It was designed to strip the Brandler faction of its remaining influence in the KPD, thereby strengthening Brandler’s opponents. Furthermore, by discrediting Radek, Zinoviev and his colleagues in the triumvirate could weaken the position of their opponent Trotsky. Moreover, the resolution which the Politburo adopted left no doubt that the Zinoviev faction was openly bidding for the support of the Left Opposition within the German party.

“Comrade Radek directs his course entirely in support of the Right minority of the Central Committee [meaning the Zentrale] of the KPD and [tries] to disown the Left wing of the party . . . whereas the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RKP bases its policy on support of the great majority of the Central Committee of the KPD and on collaboration with the Left. . . .

“The general view of comrade Radek on the course of the further struggle in Germany arises from an incorrect assessment of the class forces in Germany: an opportunist overestimation of the differences within Fascism and an attempt to base the policy of the working class in Germany on these differences.”

It was as simple as that. Not only did the resolution identify Radek with the errant Brandler, it also tagged on, for good measure, an official, albeit belated, censure of Radek’s Schlageter policy, which had proved a failure. The stage was now set for the final reckoning.

Despite an unprecedented, foolhardy counterattack by Radek, who informed the Russian Politburo that he was only responsible to the world congress of the Comintern for his actions in Germany —a point which Zinoviev grudgingly conceded in principle—Radek’s days as the Comintern expert for Germany were numbered. On January 11, 1924, the Presidium of the ECCI convened in Moscow for a joint conference with the German delegation to air the problem of the October defeat. The details of these proceedings, which lasted several days, need not detain us here. Both Radek and Brandler offered a spirited defense of their views. They pointed out that the German proletariat was not yet ready for revolution, and maintained that the Communist retreat in October had been necessary and prudent. Radek also let it be known that he considered demands for a change in the leadership of the KPD unwise and un-called-for. The two spokesmen of the Right were followed by Remmele, who represented the new center group. His résumé of the October events, delivered with malice toward none, was measured in tone, rational, and searching. He did not hesitate to criticize the ECCI, by implication, for its part in the defeat, especially 11., realistic assessment of the German situation, and its equally unrealistic insistence on starting an all-out revolution from Saxony. According to Remmele, the recent experience showed that the party would have to tread the road to revolution by stages, by setting for itself limited objectives, and only after having aroused the German proletariat should the party attempt to make its bid for power. As for the mistakes of the KPD, Remmele did not hesitate to enumerate them too, emphasizing especially the ineffectiveness of the Communist ministers in Zeigner’s cabinet. He censured Brandler for having too often acted independently of the Zentrale as a whole and suggested that, if Brandler should continue to lead the KPD, he should do so in closer cooperation with his colleagues. As for the Left, Remmele praised Thalmann as a true representative of the proletariat whose help and advice were needed by the party, but left no doubt that he considered both Fischer and Maslow radical intellectuals with a lot of theories but little understanding of practical politics.

Ruth Fischer, speaking for the Left Opposition, delivered her customarily unrestrained attacks on Radek and the Brandler faction without throwing much light on the issue in question. The only remarkable part of her speech was the courtesy which she showed to Remmele. The fact that she ignored his less than flattering remarks about herself and Maslow was probably due to her eagerness to win the support of the center group in her quarrel with the Right.”‘

The next speaker was Zinoviev, the sole representative of the Russian party except for Radek, who belonged to Trotsky’s camp. Zinoviev was in a precarious position because there was still a great deal of difference between the views held by the center group and the left-wing Fischer-Maslow faction. In order to discredit Brandler, and thereby Trotsky’s friend, Radek, he had to aim at a working compromise by which the potential new majority of the German party could be lined up against the Right. Taking a leaf out of Ruth Fischer’s book, Zinoviev also made a barely disguised bid for the support of the vital center group when he suggested that the present majority in the Zentrale should join with the Left in constituting the new KPD leadership. His censure of Brandler’s policies, in particular his handling of the so-called “Saxon experiment,” was nearly as unreserved as Ruth Fischer’s had been, but he took the precaution of not yet identifying himself too closely with the Left Opposition, whose representative he chided good-naturedly for her tendency to exaggerate.

After the reports, the matter of the German October defeat was entrusted to a commission which was given the task of drafting an official resolution. Only the left and center factions, and one representative of the Comintern (Kuusinen) were on the commission—Brandler and Radek were barred from it by an adverse vote. During the commission’s deliberations, Zinoviev continued to work behind the scenes for a still more unqualified condemnation of Radek. This he obtained from the Central Committee of the Russian party, which met on January 14 and 15. On January 18, when the Russian party leaders met for a conference, Zinoviev himself delivered the most blistering series of accusations that had yet been directed against his adversary. True to form, Zinoviev’s charges were embedded in a party resolution, unanimously adopted but for one abstaining vote—Radek’s.

The commission reported the following day to the Presidium of the ECCI with its report on the draft resolution. This was a patch-work of inconclusive statements concerning the causes of the German October debacle, and bore all the marks of a Zinoviev-inspired compromise between the views of the center and the left wing. The text of these “Lessons of the German Events” incorporated criticisms raised by Remmele and Ruth Fischer as well as by Zinoviev, but ignored those of Brandler and Radek. After some political maneuvering and fencing, including the submission of a minority report by Brandler, Pieck, Zetkin, and four others, protesting against the letter and spirit of the resolution draft, it was finally adopted unanimously on January 21, 1924, a few hours before Lenin died. Zinoviev had put himself on record that he considered the retreat to have been inevitable after all.

In making this gesture, Zinoviev had nothing to lose. His admission did not appear in the official resolution which, on the other hand, was now adopted without dissent. This looked good on the record and could only strengthen Zinoviev’s position versus his opponents, notably Trotsky and his supporters in Russia and abroad. For although Zinoviev could not saddle Trotsky with the responsibility for the German fiasco, he could discredit him by implication through the latter’s alliance with Radek, who in turn was a staunch defender of the deviationist Brandler-Thalheimer faction. The fact that Brandler and Radek had voted for the resolution did not weaken Zinoviev’s case, as their vote could easily be construed as an admission of guilt.

While Zinoviev had so far refrained from openly articulating his devious linkage, his “observer” in the German Zentrale, August Guralsky-Kleine, could afford to be more outspoken. Writing in the spring of 1924, he stated that “The alliance between Thalheimer-Brandler and Radek-Trotsky in the German question is no accident. It touches on a fundamental question: de-Bolshevization of the Russian Communist Party and de-Bolshevization of the European parties, or maintenance of the Bolshevik tutelage of the Russian Communist Party and Bolshevization of the European parties.

Bolshevization of the European parties, including the KPD, was what the triumvirate hoped to achieve now that the recent defeat had shown the need for such a measure. It was the third defeat suffered by the KPD (1919, 1921, 1923), but the first in which the Bolshevik leaders, and Zinoviev as chairman of the ECCI in particular, bore a large share of responsibility. Hence their eagerness to shift the blame, a procedure which had the additional advantage of benefiting them in their vendetta against Trotsky, the only man, incidentally, who could conceivably endanger their leading position in the Comintern. But shifting the blame was not enough. With Lenin dead, and with the Russian intra-party struggle at its height, the triumvirs had to make sure of securing the unconditional support of non-Russian Communist parties, Such support could only be secured through tightening the Bolsheviks’ control over the leaders of the foreign parties, who had to be relied on, in turn, to extend the same iron discipline throughout their own organizations. Since this had to be done largely through the Comintern, and since Zinoviev was chairman of its executive committee, the introduction of Bolshevik discipline required replacement of all those Communist leaders abroad who were anti-Zinoviev or pro-Trotsky, or both, by persons who would do Zinoviev’s bidding. Since Zinoviev was known as a left-wing Communist, it was only logical that he would look for supporters abroad among men of his own persuasion.

The KPD was the first European party to tread the road toward Bolshevization, and the October defeat was both cause and effect of this development. For the abortive uprising, which coincided with the conflict among the Bolshevik leaders on the eve of Lenin’s death, first pointed up the desirability of Bolshevization, and at the same time provided the opportunity for putting it into effect. The first step in this direction had been taken when the committee, which drafted the resolutions on the October defeat, inserted a clause making it mandatory that all party officers elected in the various district organizations have their election confirmed by the next higher echelon of the party hierarchy. This eliminated for all practical purposes the remaining vestiges of democracy, and enabled the leadership to exercise a stricter control over their subordinates. Furthermore, it made it easier to suppress all oppositional trends from the outset.

The stage for this process had been set in Moscow by the Comintern Presidium. Now Zinoviev could settle back and leave all further developments along these lines to the elements within the KPD which had the blessing of the Russian leaders. The first Central Committee meeting of the KPD, which convened on February 19 for the purpose of electing a new Zentrale, demonstrated the success of Moscow’s intrigues. Pending elections at the next party congress, membership in the Zentrale was temporarily reduced to seven officers, five of whom belonged to the center group, two to the Left Opposition. The Brandler faction was no longer represented, and Brandler himself was permanently barred from holding office in the KPD. To be sure, the Left Opposition was not in control of the party, but it was well on the way. By what means Ruth Fischer and her friends made their way to the top of the greasy pole is still shrouded in mystery, and numerous unsavory rumors have defied all attempts at substantiation. What is known is that the Left Opposition received a considerable amount of backing from Zinoviev, not only because the Left was anti-Brandler, but because its members were also anti-Trotsky. There was no conceivable reason for them to adopt this position, save one: calculated expediency. They knew that Trotsky was as critical of the KPD’s bungling of the projected uprising as they were, but they allowed themselves to be enlisted in the camp of Trotsky’s enemies because they stood to profit by it. When they voted on February 19 in favor of the Central Committee resolution which condemned Trotsky, they presumably did so less reluctantly than did Brandler, for their votes helped pay the fare to the top.

Between April 7 and l0, the party held its Ninth Congress in Frankfurt au Main. Although the ban on the KPD had been officially rescinded on March 1, the congress did not meet in the open, but retained all the precautions of the period of illegality. Warrants of arrest against several party leaders were still pending, which made it necessary to move the place of meeting daily, and to omit mention of the speakers’ names from the verbatim report of the proceedings.

The composition of the congress left no doubt as to who had captured control of the KPD. There were ninety-two delegates from the Left Opposition and only thirty-four from the center group. The Brandler faction had sent no delegates at all. Once more the debates centered around the abortive October revolution, but the rhetoric—especially of the speakers of the Left, which was now in effect no longer the “Opposition”—amounted to beating a dead horse. When the new Zentrale was elected, only four out of fifteen party offices went to the center group. The radical wing of the party had finally arrived.

The victory of the Left was a personal triumph for Ruth Fischer. Although she nominally shared power with her colleagues, her own inclination and favorable circumstances enabled her to set the tone and dominate the stage.'” A few weeks after the Frankfurt Congress, Die Weltbühne, a periodical known for its sympathies with many Communist ideals, published a brief profile of Ruth Fischer. After a cursory review of her past political career, the article closed on the following note.

“Now she is the undisputed leader of the party. Radicalism has triumphed. Radicalism demands actions [Aktionen], demands the split of the free labor unions, demands, in order to stabilize the dictatorship of the party leadership, blind obedience from the Communist parliamentary delegates. Ruth Fischer wants to command absolutely, and wants to be adored . . . like the Dalai Lama. But is she the spirit capable of ruling over men and objects? Or is she, since all good spirits seem to have deserted the KPD, the last glimmer of light film shines for the Communist masses in the darkness?”

As it turned out, her short but turbulent reign proved disastrous for the party and her own political future. What is more, It was during this “Left interlude,” for such it was destined to he, that h a whimsical twist of history the revolutionary phase of German Communism came to an end. This was not apparent at the time, nor was it in any way a conscious decision taken by the new party leadership; it was primarily determined by forces beyond the control of the KPD. One important factor in this development was the economic and political stabilization of Germany which followed in the wake of the Dawes Plan. Domestic recovery, coupled with an improvement of the country’s international relations, eased the tensions which had beset Germany ever since the end of the war. Furthermore, Stalin’s consolidation of power in Russia marked a new era in the history of world Communism. Although the term “revolution” remained part and parcel of Communist vocabulary, in  practice it became rather meaningless, after Stalin, in 1924, proclaimed a new Russian course with the slogan of “Socialism in One Country.” The new course was accompanied by an emphatic return to the basis of Rapallo which, by the silent consent of both treaty partners, had weathered the October interlude. Stalin’s new course also affected the position of the Comintern, which was no longer permitted to occupy an independent place in Communist strategy. Stalin converted it into a subordinate body so as to prevent it from interfering with the policies of the Politburo and the best interests of the Soviet Union. As a by-product of this measure, carried out In the midst of further intraparty struggles from which Stalin ultimately emerged the victor, Moscow also tightened its grip on the non-Russian parties.

In Germany, then, the final process by which Rosa Luxemburg’s party was transformed into a pawn of Stalinist Russia occurred during the “Left interlude.” But after a year and a half of zealous Bolshevization, of unbridled verbal assaults on the trade-unions and the SPD, of intrigues and infighting, Fischer and Maslow were caught up in the struggle between Stalin and his two fellow-triumvirs. In the fall of 1925, Stalin removed Fischer and Maslow from the Zentrale, leaving the more pliable, more genuinely proletarian “Teddy” Thälmann in control of the KPD. The two ousted leaders left behind a party which they had deprived of any chance to regain the trust and sympathy of German labor. The rift in the working-class movement was beyond repair. In obediently carrying out the process of Bolshevization they had destroyed the few traces of party democracy and independence which had survived the stormy past.


August 6, 2019

How the German Communist Party adapted to nationalism in the early 1920s

Filed under: fashion,Germany,Werner Angress — louisproyect @ 4:36 pm

Karl Radek

In my follow-up commentary on the El Paso killer’s manifesto, someone took issue to my pointing out that the German Communist Party adapted to ultraright nationalist ideology in the early 1920s. I had called attention to Karl Radek’s eulogy to Albert Schlageter, a member of the Freikorps—the rightwing militia that killed Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Additionally, I referred to a speech by Ruth Fischer that contained anti-Semitic rhetoric, designed to appeal to fascists in a mass meeting.

In comment #7 at https://louisproyect.org/2019/08/04/understanding-the-el-paso-killers-manifesto-in-context/#comments, he wrote:

Radek was never a “National Bolshevik”. In the early 20’s his views reflected the official policy of the Communist International, which he represented in Germany.

When I responded that his comment omitted any reference to Ruth Fischer’s anti-Semitic demagogy, he dismissed her as having nothing to do with Radek in another comment: “Ruth Fischer was always a ultra-left windbag.”

The problem, however, is that Karl Radek and Ruth Fischer had a history together. As Comintern emissary, Radek endorsed the policies of the ultraleft leadership that had been responsible for the 1921 March Action–a complete fiasco. Two years later, a new leadership had replaced Fischer but a new tendency had developed that was just as misguided as the earlier ultraleft adventurism—an adaptation to German nationalism that historian Werner Angress calls the “Schlageter Line” in chapter 11 of “Stillborn Revolution: the Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923”. Developed during the United Front period, a correction of the earlier ultraleft strategy, it hoped to exploit the nationalism that was gestating in Germany during the 1920s as a result of the Allies punishing treaty.

Angress describes Radek’s initiative as follows:

It was Radek who gave real impetus to Communist attempts in Germany to win sympathizers, if not allies, from the political Right, especially from the nationalist-minded lower middle class. The occasion arose when the enlarged Executive Committee of the Communist International met for a regular session in Moscow from June 12 to 23, 1923. During the first four days of the session, Radek spoke no less than three times, and in each of his speeches touched on the problem of nationalism in Germany. None of the ideas which Radek advanced were startling. In essence, and with a semantic virtuosity of which he was a past master, he merely repeated the main points of a policy which the German Communists had followed for months. His fine distinction between “national” and “revolutionary-national” interests may have puzzled his audience, but his meaning was actually quite clear: to smite Poincare at the Ruhr was the demand of the hour for the German proletariat. The German bourgeoisie, from pure self-interest, had initially held the same objective, and to this end had fostered a wave of extreme patriotism. But the bourgeoisie was ready to capitulate to France, at the expense of the German working class. It therefore fell to the latter to rally the masses to the defense of the nation, and in this endeavor the KPD had to lead the way. Once the masses, including the misled segments of the petty bourgeoisie, now still in the nationalist camp, came to realize that their interests were better represented by the proletariat than by the “corrupt capitalist classes,” the moment would arrive when the old order would be overthrown and replaced by a workers’ government. That such a government would then be in a position to conclude a firm and binding alliance with Soviet Russia went without saying.

Later on Angress described the political impact of Radek’s “turn”:

Radek’s speech was the cue for the KPD to embark upon a nationalist propaganda campaign, which at the time aroused much attention but netted the party few, if any, tangible advantages. The most sensational aspect of the Schlageter line was that it provided the public for a few weeks with the unprecedented spectacle of nationalist and Communist writers engaged in a series of intellectual exchanges on the feasibility of political cooperation between Right and Left.

The civilized tone which marked the exchange of ideas on the Schlageter line among the literati of both camps was generally absent from the party’s street-corner debates. The “man on the street” was rarely susceptible to lofty ideas, the nature of which contrasted with his own concepts of what a nationalist and a Communist had or had not in common. This was as true for the “Fascists,” whom the party tried to convert, as it was for the Communist rank and file who were more accustomed to exchanging bullets with the Fascists than to engaging them in public discussions.” Nevertheless, the street-corner approach was tried, at first especially with the academic youth. Oratorically gifted Communist functionaries ventured into such hostile strongholds of nationalism as university campuses and student eating-houses to do missionary work. Early in July a Comrade Schneider, KPD member from Hannover, addressed students at Gottingen University, or, as the Rote Fahne put it, penetrated the sticky atmosphere of the small universities. He spoke on the subject: “For What Did Schlageter Die?” The same topic was used as a basis for discussion at Jena, and toward the middle of the month in Berlin as well.” There the party distributed handbills in various restaurants, frequented mostly by students, with this announcement:

Wednesday, July 25, 1923, 7 P.M.

Auditorium of the Dorotheenstadtisches Realgymnasium


AGENDA: “For What Did Schlageter Die? Communism, Fascism, and the Political Decision of the Students.” Speaker: Comrade Ruth Fischer

Students: Gain an understanding of the ways of the revolutionary fight for freedom. We want to point out especially to our völkischen opponents that unlimited opportunities for discussion will be maintained.”

According to the report of the Rote Fahne, the discussion at this particular gathering lasted several hours without leading to any incidents. Ruth Fischer stated that “the giant, who is going to liberate Germany, is here. . . . The giant is the German proletariat, to which you belong, and with which you should align yourselves.” This was greeted, so the paper says, with “loud applause.” Then the meeting broke up, and the opposing groups separated “not exactly conciliated, but with a feeling of mutual respect.” The Social Democratic organ, Vörwarts, threw an interesting sidelight on this particular performance of Comrade Ruth Fischer. Quoting an eye-witness account, the paper claimed that the Communist speaker appealed openly to the anti-Semitic sentiments of her audience.

“Whoever cries out against Jewish capital…is already a fighter for his class [Klassenkampfer], even though he may not know it. You are against the stock market jobbers. Fine. Trample the Jewish capitalists down, hang them from the lampposts. . . . But . . . how do you feel about the big capitalists, the Stinnes, Klöckner? .. . Only in alliance with Russia, Gentlemen of the volkische side, can the German people expel French capitalism from the Ruhr region.”

Anti-Semitic remarks, innuendos rather than open expressions, occasionally cropped up during this period in the Communist press. Thus the Rote Fahne printed on August 7 a little item on “Stresemann’s Jewish Kommerzienrate” (councilors of commerce, a title conferred on distinguished financiers), in which the paper drew attention to the fact that such prominent Social Democrats as Friedrich Stampfer, the editor of Vorwarts, Carl Severing and Hermann Muller were closely connected with these Jewish capitalists. Although the Communists tried on the whole to stay clear of the anti-Semitic issue, they could not always avoid it, especially when it was raised by nationalist hecklers during joint discussion meetings. This was clearly demonstrated in the case of Hermann Remmele, who on August 2 addressed a mixed audience of Communists and National Socialists in Stuttgart. When he told his listeners that anti-Semitism was an age-old device which those in power employed to distract the attention of the blind and ignorant masses from the real causes of their misery, he was interrupted by shouts of contradiction from the floor.

Remmele continued: “How such anti-Semitism arises I can easily understand. One merely needs to go down to the Stuttgart cattle market in order to see how the cattle dealers, most of whom belong to Jewry, buy up cattle at any price, while the Stuttgart butchers have to go home again, empty-handed, because they just don’t have enough money to buy cattle. (`Quite right!’ from the Fascists.)”

A little later in his speech, Remmele again touched on this subject, and again with the apparent purpose of appeasing the audience in order to put his own point across: “You, the Fascists, now say [that you want] to fight the Jewish finance capital. All right. Go ahead! Agreed! (Stormy applause from the Fascists.) But you must not forget one thing, industrial capital! (Interjections from the Fascists: ‘We fight that too!’) For finance capital is really nothing else but industrial capital.”

How eager the party was to use any expedient to reach some common ground with the nationalists was evident from another public debate in which Remmele participated on August 10. Besides Remmele, one speaker each from the National Socialists and the Social Democrats had been invited by the Communists to participate in the discussion. The SPD, however, turned down an invitation. In his eagerness to win the sympathies of the Nazis, Remmele made a number of statements which were in flagrant violation of the party’s official united front policy. Thus he told his 8,000 listeners that he considered an alliance with the National Socialists less objectionable than one with the Social Democrats, and then added that the Communists would even be willing to cooperate with the murderers of Liebknecht and Luxemburg.

Aside from engaging in literary debates and holding joint meetings with nationalists, the party concentrated in the summer of 1923 on winning converts among the Reichswehr and the police forces throughout Germany. Two different avenues of approach were used for making inroads into these organizations. One was designed for officers, either active or retired, and another for enlisted men.

Early in August, the Social Democratic newspaper Vorwarts published a “Blueprint for the Solicitation [Gewinnung] of Officers,” copies of which had been found on two Communists arrested by the police. The blueprint outlined various means of establishing contact with officers, such as propaganda literature and the use of Communist officers or ex-officers as intermediaries, and also specified the manner of properly addressing men of military rank. The instructions stressed that ideological differences should be minimized in the arguments used by party members, and common interests should be emphasized, for instance, mutual hostility to France and the German republic. Furthermore, promises of high army positions “after the revolution” were to be given to prospective collaborators.

Another instance of this campaign was a circular letter which a “Group of Communist Officers of Germany” [Gruppe kommunistischer Offiziere Deutschlands] sent to officers in the Reichswehr and the police. This eight-page communication, adorned with quotations from Clausewitz and Trotsky, contrasted the Communist struggle against the Entente with the attitude of the “Social Democratic traitors.” The party membership was portrayed as constituting the “most splendid human material among the German working class.” Eighty percent of the KPD, claimed the letter, were former soldiers. The circular then depicted the future national liberation movement as an extensive guerilla war which would follow in the wake of a proletarian revolution. To make the latter acceptable to members of the officers’ corps, the letter invoked Oswald Spengler as a means of affirming that “Prussianism is Socialism,” and claimed that the system of councils (Rätesystem) was by no means an alien institution but a “Prussian idea, based on the concepts of elite, co-responsibility, and esprit de corps among colleagues [Kollegialität].”

It is doubtful that the KPD had any illusions as to the effectiveness of its ambitious recruiting drive. However, one retired officer from Munich, a world war veteran by the name of Hans von Hentig, responded to the Communist efforts with a letter to the Rote Fahne, which appeared under the heading “Worker and Soldier.” Herr von Hentig lamented Germany’s present condition, and the demoralizing effects of political and economic chaos on the population, in particular on the educated youth. After the enigmatic statement that “petty-bourgeois masses and intellectual strata [Schichten] will soon exist only as displays in museums,” he wrote that “. . the working class, . . . [especially] Communism, shall know that hundreds of veteran frontline officers, who really put Germany über alles, will march by its [Communism’s] side through every social upheaval, through every political change, unmindful of their own treasured concepts, im gleichen Schritt und Tritt, once the drum has sounded the call to battle.”

The propaganda approach to the non-commissioned personnel of the Reichswehr and the police forces was similar to that applied to the officers. The same methods of dissemination were used, personal contacts and the illicit distribution of leaflets, pamphlets, and newspapers. The emphasis, however, was different. The material designed for the soldiers and policemen concentrated on what the Communists assumed were perennial grievances among the lower ranks in every military or paramilitary organization. Soldiers were encouraged to report to the party any incidents of ill-treatment by superiors. They were reminded of the privileges which the officers enjoyed over the men, and in some instances were encouraged to disobey unpopular orders en masse. Similar instructions were deposited in the hallways of police headquarters, though here the party faced some very thorny problems. The policemen were those agents of the “bourgeois” state with whom the Communists collided most frequently. The party press referred to them usually as “henchmen of capitalism,” or applied other, equally unflattering terms to them. On the other hand, most policemen, unlike the majority of Reichswehr soldiers, were city-bred and normally lived on a modest, lower middle-class level. For this reason the party leadership encouraged the Communist rank and file in the summer of 1923 to fraternize with the guardians of the law, and to persuade them that they were, after all, merely exploited proletarians in uniform.

The efforts to win sympathizers among the lower echelons of Reichswehr and police forces proved on the whole as unsuccessful as did those to convert the officers. This was not surprising. Reichswehr soldiers were very carefully selected. The military authorities took great care to concentrate the recruiting drives primarily in the traditionally conservative rural regions of Germany, and as a rule excluded from the army Jews, Socialists, Communists, or even men of outspoken democratic leanings. In addition, the soldiers were not conscripts but volunteers, career men who generally had nothing but contempt for the Communist “rabble.” The police forces, especially the hand-picked and strictly disciplined Prussian police, were equally immune to Communist propaganda.

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.



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.


July 29, 2018

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

Filed under: Werner Angress — louisproyect @ 8:35 pm

This is the third chapter from Werner Angress’s “Stillborn Revolution: The Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923” that deals with the March 1921 Aktion that was an ultraleft adventure sanctioned by the Comintern. When it turned out to be a disaster, Paul Levi, who had already been ousted from party leadership, wrote a blistering and public critique titled “Our Path: Against Putschism” without bothering to get the whacked-out CP leadership’s approval. This got him expelled from the CP even though Lenin plagiarized his analysis and defended it at the Third Congress Of The Communist International that met in Moscow between June 22-July 12, 1921.

Unlike Pierre Broué, whose history of the German CP in the 1920s shares the same criticisms, Angress sees the Third Congress as the first step in the Comintern’s assumption of a centralizing dynamic that prefigures Stalin’s totalitarian control. Even if Lenin and Trotsky had the authority to read the German ultraleft the riot act and set the CP’s on a more rational course, that authority served to rob the CP’s of the independence they once enjoyed. Specifically, in the case of Germany, it meant undermining the Rosa Luxemburg’s conception of how a revolutionary party should function that was defended by Paul Levi, her successor.

In my next series of excerpts, I will be dealing with another fiasco imposed on the German CP by the Comintern that led to the Fourth Congress’s “Bolshevization” turn, which in turn led to the sect formations the left has been trying with mixed results to supersede in the past 30 years or so.

THE BATTLE was over, the party counted its losses, and victors proceeded to punish the vanquished. Public opinion was bitterly hostile to the Communists, particularly because, during the last stages of the uprising, the fighting in Prussian Saxony been ferocious, and charges of atrocities were raised by both sides. On March 29 the Prussian government established special courts for the prosecution of captured agitators, and for weeks after the end of hostilities the legal mills ground out sentences which altogether amounted to an estimated 3000 years of prison and penitentiary terms for 4000 insurgents. Five years earlier, when the British under somewhat similar circumstances crushed another Easter rebellion, that of the Sinn Feiners, they executed Sir Roger Casement and fifteen other leaders, but showed marked restraint in dealing with the rank and file of the Irish Volunteers and the Citizen Army. In Germany, on the other hand, only two prominent leaders, Max Hoelz and Heinrich Brandler, were tried and convicted, whereas on the rank and file, who had borne the brunt of the fighting, fell most of the retribution that followed. It was therefore hardly surprising that the membership of the Communist Party, which at the beginning of the uprising had numbered about 350,000, dropped to a mere 180,443 by the summer of 1921.

As soon as the insurrection had collapsed, the Communist Party underwent a grave internal crisis, set off by Paul Levi. News of the Aktion had reached him in Vienna, on his way to Italy, and he returned at once to Germany. As he was no longer a leading official, Levi had to gather his information from friends and acquaintances who had participated in the various decisive conferences held by the party prior to and during the initial stages of the uprising. On March 29 he sent a summary of his findings to Lenin in a confidential letter in which he made it quite clear that he felt in no way responsible for what had occurred, but that he would not interfere while the uprising was in progress.

The first Central Committee meeting after the debacle was held on April 7 and 8. The new leadership failed to invite Levi, presumably because they did not care to have him state his views on their conduct of the party’s affairs. But they could not very well exclude Clara Zetkin, then in her sixties. After Brandler had given his version of the recent developments, the old lady proceeded to castigate the Zentrale for having recklessly precipitated an Aktion. She criticized the use of extreme and unrealistic political slogans which, she said, had turned the masses against the KPD. She called for an end to “revolutionary calisthenics” and for a return of concern for the interests of the masses; she concluded her speech with a motion for a vote of censure of the Zentrale’s policy and asked for a special party congress (ausserordentlicher Parteitag) in the near future to air all problems in open debate. After a brief discussion, Clara Zetkin’s motion was put to the vote and defeated 43 to 6, with three abstentions. Encouraged by this initial victory, the Zentrale introduced a resolution of its own which turned into a lengthy and involved justification of the revolutionary offensive, presenting it as the only proper revolutionary approach in the face of counterrevolutionary provocation and assault: “The overall situation . . . required . . .the sharpest class struggles; it demanded that the working class seize the revolutionary initiative . . . resolve upon independent action, and meet the counterrevolution in a powerful counterattack. . . .” In answer to Zetkin’s criticism that faulty tactics had alienated the masses, the Zentrale produced the excuse that the German workers had remained passive as a result of unemployment and Socialist demagogy. Under the circumstances the KPD could not afford lo wait until the reluctant workers took courage, and the party chose to risk defeat rather than to do nothing. The resolution, meandering on through twelve paragraphs, praised the fighting spirit displayed by the party, re-emphasized that revolution was the ultimate duty of every Communist, and consigned responsibility for defeat to the counterrevolutionaries and their Socialist lackeys. It concluded with the same tone of self-righteousness with which it began: “Therefore the Central Committee approves of the political and tactical attitude taken by the Zentrale; condemns in the strongest terms the passive and active opposition of individual comrades during the Aktion; and calls upon the Zentrale to put the organization into top fighting condition by introducing all measures required to do so. The resolution was voted upon and passed 26 to 14. A number of additional motions, dealing primarily with organizational improvements, enforcement of discipline, and the right of the Zentrale to expel any individual who was found unworthy of remaining a party member, passed equally handsomely and enhanced the triumph of the Zentrale. One of its members, Max Sievers, was deprived of hit office because he had broken party discipline during the uprising, and the Central Committee adjourned.

The failure of Clara Zetkin’s criticism prompted Paul Levi to address himself directly to the public. As soon as he was informed of the outcome of the Central Committee meeting, he sent to press a polemical pamphlet on the Aktion which he had written a few days earlier, April 3 and 4. Unser Weg was a blistering attack on the methods and errors of the Zentrale, interspersed with several oblique references to Kun and his colleagues. Levi wrote the pamphlet with a lawyer’s touch and the pathos of a thwarted lover. He had been forced to watch the party, which he had helped to found, fall into the hands of incompetents, adventurers, and misguided idealists who, within the short span of a week, had almost succeeded in thoroughly discrediting the Communist cause. All the bitterness, the disappointment, the indignation of the author were reflected in the sharp and aggressive tone of the pamphlet. Levi revealed, sometimes openly, sometimes by insinuation, that the initial plan for an uprising did not originate within the KPD; that the theory of the revolutionary offensive dominated the thinking of party leaders, thus belying the insistent use of the word “defensive”; and that provocations were employed as a means of creating mass action. At the Central Committee meeting on March 16, Frolich had said that the proposed course of action was “a complete break with the past.” Levi commented sarcastically: “It is indeed an innovation in the history of the party which Rosa Luxemburg has founded; it is a complete break with the past that the Communists should labor like juvenile male prostitutes [Achtgroschenjungen] to provoke the murder of their brothers.” But Levi reserved the highest pitch of his angry eloquence for the manner in which the Zentrale had ordered the rank and file into battle, while the leaders themselves stayed in Berlin.

“The Zentrale accelerated the action [steigerte die Aktion]. Squad upon squad rose. . . . Heroic and disdainful of death, the comrades got ready. . . . Squad upon squad prepared for the assault—as the Zentrale ordered. Squad upon squad moved up into battle—as the Zentrale ordered. Squad upon squad met with death—as the Zentrale ordered. [Fahnlein urn Fahnlein ging in den Tod—wie es die Zen-trale gebot.] Ave morituri to salutant“. This passage contained the gist of Levi’s argument: the Zentrale, acting with criminal irresponsibility, had needlessly caused the death of many of its followers. Levi demanded that the guilty ones resign from the leadership of the party.” The pamphlet was published on April 12 and caused a sensation in party circles. The Zentrale was outraged, not only because former chairman washed the party’s dirty linen in public, but also because he revealed secrets which most Communist leaders were not eager to see in print. The only ray of light was the receipt of a congratulatory message from the Communist International, dated April 6, 1921, which was printed in the Rote Fahne immediately after the appearance of Levi’s accusations. Its closing words lead: “The Communist International says to you: You acted rightly! The working class can never win victory by a single blow. You have turned a new page in the history of the German working class, prepare for new struggles. Study the lessons of your past struggles Learn from your experience. Close your ranks, strengthen your organization, legal and illegal, strengthen proletarian discipline and Communist unity in struggle . . . .

Long live the Communist proletariat of Germany!

Long live the proletarian revolution in Germany!

Long live the Communist International!”

Encouraged by the emphatic slap on the back, the Zentrale prepared to deal with Levi, whose expose made him liable to disciplinary action. But Levi did not stand alone. Many of his friends. some still in leading positions, shared his views. One of them, a former leader of the Revolutionary Shop Stewards, Richard Muller, had gone at the height of the uprising from one Berlin factory to the next in order to dissuade the metal workers from supporting the general strike. Others, too, had made no secret of their disapproval, In short, the Zentrale knew that the party faced a crisis. But most of its members, irritated by the defeat and stung to the quick by Levi’s public exposure of their actions, were eager to turn on the rebel and his supporters. On April 15, 1921, he was formally expelled from the party on the grounds that he had violated party discipline and solidarity. Upon being asked to surrender his Reichstag seat, Levi refused and appealed to the Central Committee for a hearing.

Levi’s expulsion had immediate repercussions. Eight prominent Communists sided with him by affirming their solidarity with his aims and endorsing his charges against the Zentrale. Four of the frondeurs, Clara Zetkin, Adolf Hoffmann, Ernst Daumig, and Otto Brass, were former members of the Zentrale; one, Curt Geyer, was a member of the Brandler Zentrale, and the remaining three, Heinrich Malzahn, Paul Neumann, and Eckert, were members of the party’s ReichsgewerkschaftsZentrale, a subdivision of the Zentrale in charge of union affairs. Yet the majority of the Communist leaders remained unimpressed. Neither Levi’s criticism nor the demonstrative attitude of his supporters could shake their conviction that they had done the right thing. By way of emphasis they put themselves on record when in mid-April they published a defense of the March uprising under the title Taktik and Organisation der Revolutionaren Offensive: Die Lehren der Marz Aktion.

The Central Committee held another meeting from May 3 to 5, and on May 4 invited Levi to appeal his expulsion. Since Brandler had been arrested by the police on April 18, Wilhelm Pieck presided as acting chairman. It had been Pieck’s intention to restrict the discussion of the “Case Levi” to the question of whether or not Levi had committed a breach of party discipline. To the chairman’s chagrin, Levi shifted the issue by asking whether the March uprising was justifiable or not. He answered this question in the negative and proceeded to repeat the charges which he had made earlier in his pamphlet Unser Weg. Taking issue with such terms as “offensive,” “defensive,” “transition from agitation to action,” all of which were being bandied about indiscriminately by the Zentrale, Levi pointed out that the use of these terms amounted to hairsplitting because throughout the uprising the party leadership had exhibited an offensive spirit. Only necessity had eventually transformed the Aktion into a defensive struggle. Furthermore, the party’s policy during those fatal March days had been full of irresponsible decisions, faulty judgments, inadequate preparation, and poor organization. Terrorist measures—the responsibility for which Levi ascribed, by implication, to Kun—and ill-conceived strategy had ruined the party’s hold on a district which had been one of the foremost Com. munist strongholds in Germany. In addition, the Zentrale had given no thought to public opinion and had grossly overestimated the in. fluence and strength of the KPD.

In this context Levi said: “And now, comrades, another matter . . . It is now being said that it is the duty of the vanguard to engage in an Aktion in order ‘to speed up the [coming of the] revolution,’ Let me read you the following passage: ‘The most important thing is the ideological conquest of the vanguard. Without it even the first step toward victory becomes impossible. Yet from there to the final victory is still quite a distance. One cannot win with only the vanguard. To engage the vanguard in a decisive struggle before the entire class . . . and the broad masses have taken a position by which they can either support the vanguard directly, or at least express their benevolent neutrality . . . would not be merely folly, but a crime as well.’

“The man who wrote this is fortunate that he has not yet been labeled a `Levite’; though he still has every chance to become one, He is Lenin.”

If Levi had any illusions that he could achieve a reversal of the original decision to expel him, he was disappointed. The Central Committee was unimpressed by his eloquence. Reuter-Friesland voiced his regret that Levi’s expulsion was to be based solely on his breach of discipline. Presumably he was more concerned with the heresy of Levi’s behavior, a sentiment quite in line with the fiery defense of the Aktion which Reuter-Friesland had offered at a meeting of Berlin’s KPD leaders a few days earlier. At that meeting, Levi had watched with dismay the enthusiastic reaction of the audience and had commented resignedly with a pun on a line from Schiller’s Wallenstein, “It must be night where Friesland’s [Friedland’s] stars are shining!” The night did not lift at the meeting of the Central Committee which, by a roll call vote, upheld Levi’s expulsion 36 to 7.

With the “Case Levi” apparently closed, the Central Committee got ready to deal with Levi’s supporters. On April 20 the Zentrale had notified the eight principal “Levites” that those of them holding Communist seats in the Reichstag must surrender them to the party at once. Following Levi’s example, they refused, and they persisted in their refusal when the Central Committee reiterated the order on May 4. Faced with what amounted to open rebellion, the committee resorted to a half-measure by passing a vote of censure (31 to 8) against the recalcitrant group, probably in the expectation that the matter would be taken up anyway at the Third Congress of the Communist International which was scheduled to meet in June. There remained one piece of business, a reshuffling of the Zentrale. Max Sievers had been already expelled from his post. Now Paul Wegmann and Curt Geyer joined his fate. The three openings were filled by Jakob Walcher, Emil Hollein and Hugo Eberlein, all old party hands who could be trusted to support the present Zentrale.

The first leader purge conducted by the German Communist Party war over. A renowned party member, a protege of Rosa Luxemburg, and a man who for a crucial year had occupied the highest office the KPD could bestow, had been driven from the party in disgrace. In addition, eight of Levi’s supporters faced the prospect of sharing his fate before long. It would be wrong to assume, however, that the “Right Opposition,” as the group came to be called at the Comintern Congress, had rejected Communism. Levi and his friends were still loyal adherents to the cause, and some of them, notably Clara Zetkin, remained so to their death. They were up in arms because they felt that the new Zentrale had abandoned the course which Rosa Luxemburg had laid down for the party. The Zentrale, with the full support of the left wing, indignantly denied this charge. Neither faction perceived that the fundamental issue was not whether the Levites or the Brandlerites had followed the right course, but to what extent both had failed, and what consequences this would have for the future. None of them, in fact, real-ized that the KPD had arrived at a major crossroad.

The split within the party remained unresolved during the preparations for the Third Comintern Congress. The official delegation of the KPD, all firm champions of the March action, was led by Thalheimer and Frolich. Together with the Communist youth group, it numbered thirty-three delegates. Clara Zetkin, virtually constituting a delegation of her own, went as representative of the Communist Women’s League and also acted as the unofficial spokesman of the Right Opposition. In addition, and by special request from Lenin, Heinrich Malzahn and Paul Neumann attended the congress to state the views of the opposition. As they had not received a mandate from the Zentrale to speak for the party, they had only an advisory vote, and attended to all intents and purposes as a disenfranchised grievance committee. Finally, the KAPD sent four delegates, which put the Germans, divided though they were, among themselves, in second place as far as numerical strength at the congress was concerned. But they, and everyone else, were dwarfed by the Russian delegation of seventy-four voting members.

The German delegation left for Moscow with the expectation that the Russian leaders would receive them as heroes, especially after the ECCI, on April 29, had endorsed Paul Levi’s expulsion from the party in a letter bristling with expressions of disgust and contempt for “the traitor.” They were to be disappointed. The Russians had in the meantime “reinterpreted” the March uprising. The process had been accompanied by severe factional struggles, because the debate on the uprising was only part of a more fundamental problem, the future of world revolution. Ever since the Russo-Polish War of 1920, the revolutionary wave in Europe had subsided, a development which Lenin, at least, was unwilling to ignore. During the winter of 1920-1921, when general unrest all over Russia culminated in the Kronstadt mutiny and made it abundantly clear that the Bolshevik government could strengthen its hold on the people only by giving the country a chance to recover from the civil war, Lenin decided to buy time by making concessions at home and abroad. The first of these was the introduction of the New Economic Policy, which included vigorous efforts to improve trade relations with Western capitalist countries. The German March uprising was thus completely out of tune with the trend that was developing in the fatherland of the revolution. On March 16, the day that Hörsing’s appeal was published, and the German Central Committee listened to Brandler’s variations on a theme by Kun, Russia signed a trade agreement with Great Britain. The Kronstadt mutiny was crushed on March 17, and Lenin had officially introduced N.E.P. on March 15. No wonder that Lenin was unenthusiastic about the German events, that he was hardly surprised when the uprising failed, and that he profoundly disapproved of the whole adventure.

Since the KPD was the strongest Communist party outside Russia, its fortunes and misfortunes served as a useful gauge to assess the chances for further revolutions in Europe. The recent fiasco, therefore, confirmed Lenin’s view that a temporary retreat on the revolutionary front was necessary, and he wanted to impress this view on the congress by making the German debacle a starting point for a change in over-all Comintern strategy. In order to be effective, Lenin had to secure prior unanimity among the Russian leaders, which was not easy. Trotsky and Kamenev sided with Lenin in condemning the German putsch, but Zinoviev, Bukharin, and Radek defended it. We do not know the details of these factional struggles which preceded the opening of the congress; nor do we know whether a personal report by Clara Zetkin to Lenin was made before or after the Russians had settled the matter. It is very likely, however, that Zetkin’s detailed description of what had occurred in Germany strengthened Lenin’s determination to disavow the Kun-Brandler-Thalheimer-Frolich theory of the revolutionary offensive, especially after Zetkin’s report was confirmed and elaborated by Neumann, who were likewise questioned by Lenin. Whatever the exact sequence of events may have been, by the time the congress was about to convene the Russians presented a united front on the German question. The Lenin-Trotsky faction overruled Zinoviev and Bukharin after Radek, always a flexible man, abandoned the latter, an action which netted him their angry abuse.

News of the latest official Russian position came as a shock to the German delegates. After the initial congratulatory message from the ECCI they had counted on full Comintern endorsement of their policy. Now, on the eve of the congress, they were informed that they had blundered, and that they must under no circumstances embark on a similar unprepared venture in the future. Although the Russians upheld the German party in the matter of Levi’s expulsion, Lenin let it be known that he basically agreed with Levi’s criticisms and only objected to the methods which the former party chairman had employed in making them.

“The Congress will condemn Paul Levi, will be hard on him… But his condemnation will be only on account of breach of discipline, not of his basic political principles. How could it be otherwise at the very moment when those principles will be recognized as correct? The way is open for Paul Levi to find his way back to us, if he himself does not block the road. His political future lies in his own hands!”

By the time the proceedings began, Lenin and Trotsky were assured of the unconditional, though not entirely enthusiastic, support of their Russian colleagues. They had whipped the ECCI into line and had duly warned the German delegation to prepare for some rough treatment. With these preliminaries out of the way, they could entrust the issue to the congress, confident that their views would prevail. And so they did. Despite occasional fierce verbal duels, indignant interjections, and angry charges and countercharges, an air of unreality pervaded the debates whenever the March uprising was on the agenda. The Russians had set the stage very well. Any direct references to such precarious subjects as the role of the ECCI, especially as far as the Kun mission and Zinoviev’s share in it were concerned, and the Zentrale’s attempts to create a revolutionary spirit artificially, were excluded from open debate. These topical taboos benefited the ECCI and the Bolshevik leadership, and restricted both German factions in their arguments. The critics of the uprising had to couch their charges in carefully worded insinuations, and the proponents of the revolutionary offensive could not invoke Kun, Zinoviev, or any other member of the Executive Committee in their defense. Nor does it seem a coincidence that on the Russian side the principal speakers were Radek and Trotsky rather than Zinoviev, who would have been the logical person to place the “German question” before the congress, since he was chairman of the ECCI. Zinoviev had evidently been too deeply implicated in the German imbroglio, and was moreover too reluctant a convert to the official Russian position to serve as its most suitable spokesman. His references to this explosive topic in his official report on the activities of the Executive Committee were accordingly brief and rather innocuous. He complimented the German party for having fought bravely in a struggle imposed from the outside, but when he touched upon the crucial problem of the revolutionary offensive, he skillfully spouted commonplaces with great oratorical emphasis while dodging the issue.

“Too much loose talk has been wasted on the revolutionary offensive. May God preserve us from a repetition of such foolishness…. The enemy attacked us. You need not lament about the mis-conceived offensive. Many mistakes were made, many organizational weaknesses were revealed. Our comrades in the German Zentrale have not shut their eyes to them; they want to correct their mistakes.”

After posing the rhetorical question whether the past struggle constituted a step forward or should be labeled a putsch, Zinoviev said emphatically: “The Executive is of the opinion that the March action was not a putsch. It would be ludicrous to talk of a putsch when half a million [sic] workers have fought. . . . We must clearly point out the mistakes [committed by the KPD] and learn from them. We conceal nothing, we don’t conduct . . . secret diplomacy. And we are of the opinion that, by and large, the German party need not be ashamed of this struggle, quite the contrary.”

Zinoviev delivered his report on June 25. The following five days were taken up by discussions of the report, with the Comintern bosses presiding from the bench rather than sitting in the dock. They had, moreover, used their privileged position to help formulate the “Resolution to the Report of the ECCI,” Article II of which dealt with the German question. In its relevant part it read as follows: “The Congress . . . sanctions completely the attitude of the Executive in regard to the further developments within the V.K.P.D. The Congress expresses its expectation that the Executive will apply in the future these principles of international revolutionary discipline with equal strictness.””

The resolution, including its Article II, was scheduled for a vote of adoption at the end of the discussion period. In spite of its deceptive vagueness its significance could hardly be missed. Its wording clearly expressed the right of the ECCI, retroactively as well as for the future, to interfere in the affairs of a member party. In this particular instance, the interference to be sanctioned by the congress referred to the approval by the ECCI of Paul Levi’s expulsion from the KPD. In this respect, therefore, it appeared to be intended primarily as a chastisement of the so-called Right Opposition, but at the same time the phrasing provided sufficient leeway to allow for its application to any other faction. That the resolution made no mention at all of any possible connection between the March uprising and Comintern was hardly surprising.

The discussion which preceded the vote on the first vital resolution also touched on the German insurrection, even though this topic was officially scheduled for later debate. Ostensibly the arguments centered around Paul Levi’s role, since the pending vote would determine once and for all his status as a Communist. But actually the charges and countercharges hinged on the larger question of principles and thereby constituted a continuation of the German intraparty feud, only now being fought coram populo. The high point of these preliminary skirmishes was a debate between Clara Zetkin and Ernst Reuter-Friesland, each expressing the point of view of his own faction with great frankness. Zetkin put up a spirited defense of Paul Levi. With her usual bluntness the old lady lashed out against all her opponents in the KPD and the ECCI, and even included the German police who had confiscated all her documentary ammunition. Her principal point was that both the ECCI and the apologists of the March action were trying to make Paul Levi the scapegoat for their own blunders and, while she was careful not to endorse Unser Weg, in essence she repeated many of the charges Levi had raised in his brochure. “It remains a fact . . . that representatives of the Executive bear indeed a large share of responsibility for the way in which the Marzaktion was conducted, [and] that representatives of the Executive bear a large share of responsibility for the wrong slogans, the wrong political attitude of the party, or, more correctly, of the Zentrale.” Equally outspoken was her opinion on the attitude of the Brandler Zentrale: “If Paul Levi is going to be severely punished for his criticism . . . and for mistakes which he has undeniably committed, what punishment, then, deserve those who are really guilty? The putschism against which we have raised our charges did not consist of the actions of the fighting masses . . . but was endemic in the heads of the Zentrale who led the masses in this manner into battle.”

Measured by the limited degree of free speech which prevails nowadays at Communist conferences, Zetkin’s performance was indeed daring. It must be remembered, however, that in the early twenties, before the days of Stalin, debates among Communists were still relatively unimpeded by fear of retribution. Moreover, Clara Zetkin knew that Lenin was in agreement with her on this question. For this reason she made hardly any effort to defend Levi against the charge of having broken party discipline but concentrated instead on the substance of his criticism, which coincided with her own views and Lenin’s. From the lengthy talk she had with Lenin before the congress opened, she knew that he was less concerned with crushing the right wing of the KPD than he was with labeling as harmful the principles underlying the Marzaktion. It was a foregone conclusion that once the “Case Levi” had been settled by the vote on the “Executive Report,” attention would be focused on the uprising proper, during the “Debate on Tactics.” Then the Bolshevik leaders would be free to bear down on the Brandlerite errors, since they had successfully barred any further debate on the role of the ECCI by means of the innocuously phrased “Resolution to the Report of the ECCI.”

Zetkin’s attack on the errors of the Zentrale were met by a no less fiery counterattack from Ernst Reuter-Friesland. The man who only six months later was to share Paul Levi’s fate now directed all his indignation against Levi and his supporters, notably against Clara Zetkin whom he accused of intellectual dishonesty. While admitting that the March uprising had suffered from mistakes committed by the party leadership, he made it clear that “we shall talk about these mistakes only with those comrades who fought alongside us, and not with those who systematically sabotaged the Aktion.” After a lengthy diatribe against Levi, whom he accused of having persistently undermined the reputation and influence of the ECCI ever since the Second Comintern Congress, Friesland invited Levi’s followers at the congress to take an unequivocal stand condemning him, or forfeit the right to call themselves Communists and members of the Communist International. Shortly before the vote on the “Resolution on the Report of the Executive,” Malzahn and Neumann, the two right-wing opposition delegates who had only an advisory vote, requested that a final vote on the resolution be postponed until after the full-fledged debate on the uprising. They argued that only at the conclusion of this debate could the members of the congress properly judge whether or not Levi ought to be definitely excluded from the Communist movement. Radek employed all the biting sarcasm for which he was famous to discredit the two hapless Levites, badgering them mercilessly.

When he had finished, Malzahn and Neumann asked the congress once again, this time formally, to postpone voting on the resolution until after the discussion on the March uprising. Their plea was read aloud and then ignored. Five minutes later the “Resolution on the Report of the Executive Committee of the Communist International” was adopted. The only delegation which abstained from voting on Article II was that of Yugoslavia. No one voted against, but Clara Zetkin stated publicly that the “Case Levi” had been settled “over our protest.” It was a clear-cut victory for the ECCI, though not for the Brandlerites, as they were soon to find out.

Now that the Executive had effectively removed itself from the sphere of controversy, the Bolshevik leaders felt free to encourage wide-open discussion of the March Aktion on the floor. Up to this point the debate had centered around Levi’s attitude, with special reference to his criticism of KPD and ECCI. From then on the uprising proper became the chief issue and was discussed within the framework of the “Tactics of the Communist International.” By the time this phase of the congress began, the behind-the-scenes efforts of the Russians had succeeded in noticeably narrowing the gap which divided the views of the Right Opposition from those of the Zentrale, although many important points of conflict were still unresolved.4

The vital debate on tactics was introduced by a lengthy speech by Radek, who was the first member of the ECCI to criticize the mistakes of the Zentrale publicly and in detail. But the part of his speech that dealt with the German party lacked force and conviction; his heart apparently was not in it. His introductory remarks amounted to a virtual apology to those whose mistakes he was about to discuss, and one wonders whether this unusual civility was not partly due to the realization that his own role in the March event had not been free of ambiguity.

Radek’s criticism of the March uprising included most of the major points later to be incorporated in the official theses of the congress, e.g., the need for capturing the masses prior to any revolution; the need for better party organization and discipline; and the dogma that the uprising had been a defensive action which us spirit of its failure constituted “one step forward.” He carefully concealed how many arguments he had borrowed from the opposition. Moreover, he did not mention that without the constant pressure for “greater activity” which the Executive had applied to the German party, and which culminated in the Kun mission, many of the “errors” would never have been committed in the first place. He was not challenged on these omissions, due to the “oratorical taboos” so prudently devised by the ECCI.

Although Radek’s arguments were couched in the deceptively optimistic phrases so peculiar to Marxist rhetoric, the underlying call for a strategic retreat on the revolutionary front was unmistakable. Even when read today, his sophistries sound hollow and they must have impressed his listeners in that way on the afternoon of June 30, 1921. With capitalism inevitably on the decline, he argued, Communism is moving forward to great struggles. However, the decline of capitalism does not proceed in a straight line; nor does revolution, which. has its ebb and flow. If Communists want to fight and win, they must prepare for the struggle—which does not mean that preparation and propaganda should become a substitute for action. But action lies still in the future, and in the meantime the Communists must be the bell which calls the living to battle. The watchword of universal Communism must be, “first and foremost, to the masses, with all means.” The Communists must actively prepare the masses for the eventual struggle by means of propaganda and agitation.

“Prepare yourselves and the proletariat for the [coming] struggles . . . , lead it into the struggles which history will produce. It will not be necessary to look for these struggles; they will come to us. And we shall fight the better if we prepare for them. The mistakes we make always mean a step backward, and there is no doubt that we have suffered such a setback . . . in Germany. . . . If the left comrades have made mistakes . . . during the March Aktion, then I say that these mistakes speak in favor of them [as] they demonstrate the will to fight. For this reason we were with them, their mistakes notwithstanding. But it is better to win than merely to prove that one wanted to win. And therefore, comrades, our tactical line is focused on world revolution. We see the road toward world revolution in the conquest of the great masses. These masses we want to lead into the great struggles which history has decreed for us. . . . We stand at the threshold of a historical turning point, and there is no power . . . which can save capitalism. We want to hasten its death, and this can only be done if we unify the great masses under the Communist banner. We are but the heralds, the organizers. The proletariat will bury capitalism. The proletariat will also be the hammer driving the nail into its coffin.”

Radek’s report heralded a decisive swing to the right, but, as was to be expected, this projected shift of policy was promptly challenged from the left. On the following day a speaker of the KAPD, Hempel, agreed with Radek on only one point, the impending decline of capitalism. The rest of the report he rejected, with all its implications, defending in particular the justification of the revolutionary offensive and partial actions (Teilaktionen), which must precede the all-out revolution. Since the KAPD was not affiliated with the Comintern and its delegates attended merely as guests, this first assault could be ignored by the ECCI. It was a more serious matter, however, when Ernst Reuter-Friesland requested in the name of the German delegation that the next speaker, Comrade Terracini from the Italian Communist Party, be granted a longer speaking time than was customary to justify a number of suggested amendments to the theses developed by Radek. He added that these amendments had been drafted by the German, Italian, and Austrian delegations, and that additional delegations would most probably endorse them at a later time. The request was granted.

Terracini, like the KAPD speaker before him, criticized Radck’s report from a radical point of view. He took issue with the condemnation of the theory of the offensive and charged that Radek’s critics were too pronouncedly directed against the radical left wing of the Comintern and its affiliates. As he was probably unaware of the hectic behind-the-scene struggles among the Bolsheviks which had preceded the congress, Terracini said naïvely, “Comrade Zinovicv has spoken at length in his Report on the Executive against rightist tendencies. If we now suggest amendments to the theses on tactics, we herewith merely endorse once again the arguments of Comrade Zinoviev. We do not think that Comrade Radek will raise object ion4 to our amendments.” It was not Radek who raised objections, but Lenin. In a brief speech, delivered in a mildly ironic vein which barely concealed the underlying intensity of his arguments, Lenin tore into the leftist s by ridiculing their charges and amendments. He stated bluntly that all future feuds against the so-called “centrists” within the various Communist parties would have to cease, as the real centrists (Inclining Levi) had been expelled. Violations of this injunction would be fought ruthlessly by the Comintern. He reiterated the necessity to win the masses prior to any future Communist revolution, and defended those passages in the draft which bore on this question and which had become subject to a leftist amendment.

Lenin said, “Whoever does not understand that we must conquer the majority of the working class in Europe, where nearly all proletarians are organized, is lost to the Communist movement. . . . Comrade Terracini has not understood the Russian Revolution very well. We in Russia were a small party, but we had a majority  in the workers’ and peasants’ councils throughout the country. Where do you have anything like it? We had at least half of the army, which then numbered at least ten million men. Have you the majority of the army? Show me such a country. If these intentions [to make amendments] of Comrade Terracini are supported by three delegations, then something is rotten [krank] in the International. Then we must say: Stop! Fight to the bone! [entschiedener Kampf] otherwise the Communist International is lost.”

After he had repeated in no uncertain terms that the theory of the offensive, as applied in the March uprising, was wrong, Lenin gave his definition of “the masses” as “not only the labor movement, but also the majority of the working and exploited rural population. Then he came back to intraparty feuds: “We have not only condemned the centrists, but also chased them away. Now we must turn against the other side, which we also deem dangerous. We must tell the comrades the truth in the politest possible way. Our theses are also held in a congenial and polite form, and nobody can feel hurt by our theses. We must tell them: we now have other tasks than to hunt centrists. Enough of this sport. It is already getting a little boring.”

Lenin’s unequivocal defense of the theses, and his equally unequivocal rejection of the attempts by the left to amend them, did not end the debate on tactics in general, nor on the tactics of the Marzaktion in particular. One German speaker after the other, Heckert, Reuter-Friesland, Thalheimer and Ernst (“Teddy”) Thalmann, the future idol of the German proletariat, tried to salvage as much of their point of view as was possible. Ignoring Lenin’s warning not to prolong the feud with the former Levites, the spokesmen for the Zentrale, and especially the extreme left-wingers of the German delegation, Reuter-Friesland and Thalmann, persisted in hurling charges at Zetkin, Malzahn, et al. Their bitterness increased the more they realized that they were fighting a losing battle. Their colleagues of the Right Opposition had won a significant advantage when they signed a statement that they were now willing to go along with the general interpretation which the Comintern had given to the March uprising. This left the German majority delegation in the uncomfortable position of obstructionists who held up a generally desired settlement of their intraparty feud, not to mention their reluctance to bow to the ECCI on the crucial issue of tactics

The last speaker on the question of “Tactics of the Cominlen was Trotsky. He had angered those who defended the Marzaktion on principle by an earlier report, “The World Economic Crisis and the New Tasks of the Communist International,” delivered at the beginning of the congress. In this report he had given an estimate of the worldwide economic situation and its probable effect on revolution. While predicting the inevitable collapse of capitalism in the long run, he had been outspokenly sceptical with regard to revolution in the near future: “. . . In a word, the situation now at the time of the Third Congress of the Communist International is not the same as at the time of the First and Second Congresses, for the first time we see and feel that we are not so immediately near to the goal, to the conquest of power, to the world revolution. At the time, in 1919, we said to ourselves: ‘It is a question of months. Now we say: ‘It is perhaps a question of years.'”

It was under the shadow of Trotsky’s essentially pessimist evaluation that the debates on the March action took place. The left-wingers at the congress, and not only the Germans, proved unwilling to accept his perspectives at face value. Most of them not see, or did not want to see, that the debate on the uprising essentially served as a rallying point for two opposing schools of thought concerned with the most fundamental issue confronting the Congress, namely what course the Communist movement was to take in the days ahead. Trotsky alluded to this point when he again addressed the congress, prior to Radek’s summary, to wind up the debate on the German question. After a few brief and condescending remarks directed at Thalmann, who had been the last of the enrages to defend the leftist position, Trotsky turned his attention to the essence of the March action. Many delegates, he said, had complained to him that the German delegation took up so much of the congress’ time in discussing its internal affairs. Such an impatient attitude on the part of these critics was unwarranted. The March action was the main issue under discussion. The congress had to choose between two tendencies. One was represented by Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, and himself. The other tendency was expressed by the various amendments to the theses on tactics that were soon to be submitted for a vote.

Trotsky granted the German delegation that the March action, as compared to the past history of the party, constituted a step forward, “but it does not mean that the first action, this first attempt to play an independent leading role, has proved successful.” With considerable sarcasm Trotsky then leveled his guns at the Brandlerites: “They tell us that they have learned a great deal from it [the March action] and, moreover, precisely from their own mistakes. That is what their own amendments say. . . . They state that the major merit of the March action consists precisely in this, that it provided an opportunity for clarifying the mistakes committed therein, only in order to eliminate them subsequently. Isn’t it a little too audacious to seek for special merits in this connection?”

Trotsky proceeded to expose the errors of the March action, and to enumerate the contradictory reports on the uprising which members of the German delegation had given at the congress. All these reports, he thought, served primarily to confuse and becloud the issue. “From all this one gets the impression that the members of the German delegation still approach the issue as if it had to be defended at all costs, but not studied nor analyzed. . . . I think that for your situation in Germany it is best to introduce clarity into this question. I don’t believe what Levi has said, that is, that the party will perish from it. However, the congress must say to the German workers that a mistake was committed, and that the party’s attempt to assume the leading role in a great mass movement was not a fortunate one. We must admit that this attempt was completely unsuccessful in this sense—that were it repeated, it might actually ruin this splendid party. . . . It is our duty to say clearly and precisely to the German workers that we consider this philosophy of the offensive to be the greatest danger: and in its practical application to be the greatest political crime.”

As soon as Trotsky had finished, a motion was made by the American delegation to close the debate and to let Radek give his summary. But Trotsky’s speech, in which he had expressed the attitude of the Bolshevik leaders more plainly than any of the preceding speakers, including Lenin, had stirred up the emotions of many delegates. Bela Kun rose to protest against the motion to terminate the debate: “Comrade Trotsky has just spoken for one hour against the so-called Left; he has done so in such a tone that we must absolutely [unbedingt] reply to his speech. . . . In my estimation that motion . . . is a low political trick [Schiebung] and against this, a trick I firmly protest.” But the motion was passed, and Radek made a summarizing speech which was remarkable for its conciliatory tone. When he had finished, the congress prepared to vote on whether the theses on tactics, in their existing draft form, were acceptable to the delegates in principle. If the vote was in the affirmative, the draft was to go to a committee where the final version would be worked out for subsequent approval by the congress, However, a few minutes before the vote, the left die-hards made what can only be called a demonstration against Trotsky, in the form of a “declaration.”

“The undersigned delegations, Poland, Germany, Youth International, Hungary (majority), ‘Deutschbohmen,’ and Austria declare that they will accept, in principle, the tactical theses suggested by the Russian delegation, but that they make express reservations concerning the interpretation which Trotsky has given to the theses in his speech.” Thalheimer and Kun were among the signers. The congress then voted to send the draft of the theses to the committee. The great debate on the March uprising was over.

While the congress moved to less controversial issues, such as the trade-union question, the economic question, the women question, etc., the committee which worked on the definitive version of the theses on tactics made every effort to eliminate all remaining differences between the two German factions, in order to secure unanimity in the final vote. The Russian leaders were clearly worried by the possibility of a further split within the KPD. During the debate on tactics, Zinoviev had said, “There can be only one answer: under no circumstances must there be a further split in the ranks of the German Communist Party. . . . Therefore the congress must press for an agreement.” On the surface at least such an agreement was reached. On July 9, three days before the theses on tactics were adopted, the congress passed a special “Resolution on the March Action and the Internal Situation in the V.K.P.D.,” which bore all the earmarks of compromise inasmuch as its tone was conciliatory toward the defenders of the uprising, although the congress had rejected their policy. The resolution, proposed by Zinoviev in the name of the Russian delegation, reemphasized that “The congress considers any further disintegration of forces within the VKPD, any factionalism—not to mention a split—as the greatest danger for the entire movement.” The congress, the resolution continued, expected that the Zentrale and the party majority would treat the former opposition with tolerance, and expected from the members of the opposition that they would loyally carry out the decisions reached at the Third Congress. The resolution concluded with a warning.

“The congress demands of the former opposition … the immediate cessation of any political collaboration with persons expelled from the party and the Communist International. . . .

“The congress instructs the Executive to observe carefully the further development of the German movement, and in the event of the slightest breach of discipline to take immediately the most energetic steps.”

Before the congress voted on this resolution, Malzahn presented in the name of the former opposition an alternate version. Thalheimer immediately protested because Malzahn’s version, signed by Malzahn himself, Clara Zetkin, Paul Neumann, and Paul Franken, was too vague in form and content. Zinoviev supported Thalheimer and suggested that the former opposition offer their draft as a mere declaration rather than as a formal countermotion. The suggestion was accepted, and the Russian-sponsored resolution was unanimously adopted a few minutes later.

The adoption of the theses on tactics on July 12, the final day of the congress, presented no more difficulties. They expressed with meticulous conciseness the principal tenets which the leaders had previously developed in their speeches. Although they bristled with militant expressions, the call for a retreat from an aggressive revolutionary policy was too plain to be missed. “The world revolution, that is, the downfall of capitalism . . . will require a fairly long period of revolutionary struggle,” read the first sentence of the second section. The third section began with the statement that “The most important question before the Communist International today is how to win predominating influence over the majority of the working class, and to bring its decisive strata into the struggle.” The fourth one warned that “The attempts of impatient and politically inexperienced revolutionary elements to resort to the most extreme methods . . . frustrate for a long time the genuine revolutionary preparation of the proletariat for the seizure of power.” All parties were admonished to reject “these extremely dangerous methods.”

Section seven, “The Lessons of the March Action,” was a document the tone of which was on the whole rather unenthusiastic. Perhaps its most important statement was the first sentence, with roundly asserted that “The March action was a struggle forced on the VKPD by the Government’s attack on the proletariat of Central Germany.” This statement became a Communist dogma from which no party publication has deviated since. There followed an enumeration of the mistakes committed by the party, with special emphasis on the fact that the mistake of not having clearly defined the “defensive” nature of the struggle “was aggravated by a number of party comrades who represented the offensive as the primary method of struggle. . .” Despite the errors, however, the congress was willing to grant that it considered the uprising “as a step forward.” The Russian leaders had been initially content with letting the matter stand at that, but in the process of formulating the final draft in committee had decided to elaborate on the meaning of this phrase. The uprising constituted one step forward because “it was a heroic struggle by hundreds of thousands of proletarians against the bourgeoisie,” and because the KPD, “by assuming leadership . . . showed that it was the party of the revolutionary German proletariat.” With these sparse compliments the German party had to rest satisfied. The balance of the section on the March action contained once again the look-before-you-leap sort of warning with regard to future revolutionary situations, although the congress stated explicitly that once the party had decided on action, everyone must obey and co-operate to the best of his ability. Criticism of an action was to be allowed only after the action was over, and then only within the framework of the party organization. The congress pointedly reminded all potential future critics that Levi had been expelled for having violated this basic principle of party discipline.

On that same day, July 12, 1921, the “Theses on the Communist International and the Red International of Labor Unions” were also adopted.” The gist of what the Bolsheviks envisaged in the fore-seeable future as the principal task of all Communist parties was contained in section IV: “In the forthcoming period the chief task of Communists is to work steadily . . . to win a majority of the workers in all unions . . . to win the unions for Communism by the most active participation in their day-to-day struggles. The best measure of the strength of any Communist party is the influence it really exercises over the working masses in the trade-unions. The party must learn to exercise decisive influence in the unions without subjecting them to petty control. It is the union cell, not the union as such, which is under the authority of the party.”

Here was spelled out in very practical terms the new party line which all the member organizations of the Comintern were expected to follow. They were not to engage in putsches, but were to talk softly and persuasively to their fellow proletarians in the unions and Socialist parties. Direct action had dismally failed in the German March uprising. Capitalism was dying much more slowly than had been anticipated. Finally, since the Russians needed that breathing space which the Bolshevik leaders so tenaciously pursued, and so manifestly expressed by NEP and international trade agreements, the Communist International switched its emphasis at the Third Congress from crusading to missionary work. “For the power of capital can only be broken if the idea of Communism is embodied in the stormy pressure of the great majority of the proletariat, led by mass Communist parties which must form the iron clamp holding together the fighting proletarian class. To the Masses -that is the first battle-cry of the Third Congress to the Communists of all countries!”

The congress was over. Before the German delegation left for home to devote itself to its new tasks, the Russian leaders arranged for one more meeting with both German factions. The purpose of this get-together was to confirm the “treaty of peace” that had been concluded so laboriously and, as time was to show, so superficially between the majority delegation and its Right Opposition, Harmony seemed to have been established. Significantly, Reuter-Friesland who had held many private conversations with Lenin and other leading Bolsheviks, had been won over to the newest shift in policy as expressed in the slogan “To the Masses!” Thus the Russians had every reason to be pleased with the outcome of the Third Comintern Congress.

This peace treaty marked a turning point in the development a German Communism. A distinct phase had come to a close. For when the conflict which divided the KPD after the March uprising was settled by the Russian-dominated Third World Congress, the German party unwittingly surrendered to Moscow a large share a its former independence which it was never to regain. Luxemburg’s maxim of friendly aloofness was buried for good, and its place was taken by Leninist centralization and discipline. The spirit of independence which Rosa Luxemburg had infused into the KPD had still been very pronounced during the first two Comintern congresses. The Zentrale had then felt free to weigh any advice the Bolsheviks gave, had argued with the Russian leaders from a position of strength and confidence, and in the end had made its own decisions. True, as an affiliate of the Comintern, the party had been bound by the over-all policy adopted at the first two congresses, especially by the twenty-one conditions of the Second Congress. But as long as Levi was chairman of the Zentrale, these policies had been interpreted liberally and with discretion. The Third Congress, where the intraparty feud over the March uprising became the key issue of debate, put an end to all this. The change came about for a number of reasons. In the summer of 1921 the Soviet Union, for the first time since the revolution, was in a position to exert more than a nominal influence over the Communist parties of Europe. Foreign and civil war, and Allied intervention, were past, making physical contact with the West easier, and at the same time giving Russia time to recover. Lenin was eager to utilize the relatively favorable situation to stabilize Bolshevik gains at home, and to strengthen the Communist movement abroad. As far as Lenin was concerned, the latter task could only be accomplished if the Russian Communist Party strengthened its control over the various European parties, something which he had always thought necessary and which now, for the first time, had become possible of realization. It was done at the Third Congress by tightening the bonds of organization and discipline within the Comintern. Special emphasis was placed on the authority of the ECCI over the member parties, thereby ensuring a better control over the Communist movement than had been possible in the past.

The KPD, second in strength and importance only to the Russian party, facilitated the task of the Bolsheviks in no small measure. In their effort to change the general course of Communist strategy, Lenin and Trotsky in particular made the German question a key issue at the congress, incorporated the specific lessons learned from the March uprising into the theses and resolutions, and thus turned the German disaster into a Bolshevik asset. What was more, in the process of making the March action a convenient vehicle for implementing a major shift in policy, the Russians effectively destroyed most of the still remaining sparks of independence among the KPD leadership. Both factions of the German delegation had gone to Moscow in the hope of winning approbation for their respective stands on the uprising, and they were so deeply involved in their intraparty feud that they failed to see how much their disunity benefited the Russians. Without the coarse dictatorial manner which Stalin was to employ on similar occasions in later years, Trotsky, Radek, and Zinoviev displayed excellent teamwork in their handling of the German delegates. In private talks and on the floor of the congress, both factions were subjected to unsparing criticism but with the exception of Levi no one was punished for his or her past errors. After the Russians had censored the Right opposition for having abetted Levi, they turned around and used many of Levi’s and Zetkin’s arguments to chastise the Zentrale and its left-wing supporters. When it was all over, the German delegates could not help but agree that the Kremlin knew best. So strong was the prestige and personal magnetism of the Bolshevik leaders that the Germans submitted, however reluctantly in some cases, to the demands made of them. They let themselves be maneuvered into accepting theses and resolutions which, at least in part, were distasteful to them. Clara Zetkin was honored by the congress on her sixty-fifth birthday, and the Russians scored a minor triumph when Heckert delivered the principal ovation in the name of the German delegation, and showered the old lady with good wishes. Only four days earlier he had been one of her most outspoken critics. Finally, after Lenin had persuaded both Zetkin and Reuter-Friesland of the rightness of the Russian position, the way was clear to a general reconciliation, and in the interest of the common cause both Getman factions buried their differences, at least on the surface.

Thus, as far as the KPD was concerned, the most significant result of the Third Congress was the increase of Russian influence over the affairs of the party. This was a notable achievement by Lenin and Trotsky, whose dialectical skill and singleness of purpose were not matched by the divided German leadership. The old argument tween Lenin and Luxemburg over the tactical questions of discipline and centralization had been finally won, for all practical purposes, by Lenin. The victory had been made easier by the default of the KPD, which no longer had a Luxemburg to defend its independence, and which had now lost in Levi the last strong champion of the Luxemburg tradition. The position of the Comintern had been immeasurably strengthened. Not only had the congress expressly endorsed that body’s recent interference in the affairs of member parties, notably those of the KPD, but had also voted to give it enlarged and additional powers for the future. Thus the right of the ECCI to dispatch meddling Turkestaner to the member parties remained unimpaired; this was a distinct victory over the western organizations by what Levi had sarcastically called “the mullahs of Khiva and Bokhara.”

Essentially, then, strong Russian influence over the affairs of the KPD dates from the Third Congress rather than from a later date. To be sure, it was initially neither as noticeable nor as rigid and oppressive as it was to become in Stalin’s time; yet it was there. Its foundation had been firmly laid by Lenin and his colleagues, firm enough for Stalin to build on and to make more effective. This is not to say that there was henceforth no more opposition to Russian interference in the German party. But what opposition there was never had a chance to restore the original spirit of independence, after Lenin had so successfully disposed of the Luxemburg tradition.

In March 1922 Lenin wrote: “Paul Levi now wants to get into the good graces of the bourgeoisie . . . by publishing precisely those works of Rosa Luxemburg in which she was wrong. . . . Rosa Luxemburg was mistaken on the independence of Poland; she was mistaken in 1903 in her appraisal of Menshevism; she was mistaken in July 1914. . . She was mistaken in the works she wrote in prison in 1918, especially her book on the Russian Revolution. . . . But in spite of her mistakes she was and remains for us—an eagle.” Indeed, Lenin was by then quite safe in calling her that. He did not need to add that the wings of this eagle had been securely nailed to the wall, to serve as decoration for Communist meeting-halls and party offices—and that it was a very dead eagle.


July 5, 2018

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

Filed under: Werner Angress — louisproyect @ 12:22 am

This is the second in a series of reproductions of chapters in Werner Angress’s “Stillborn Revolution: the Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923”. In the first installment, I posted the chapter on “The Genesis of the March Uprising” that discussed the factors that led to what Paul Levi called the “greatest Bakunist putsch in history”. This chapter titled “The March Uprising and its Failure” is a horrifying narrative of how the Communist Party of Germany under the direct influence of a Comintern emissary named Bela Kun staged an ultraleft adventure that in some ways makes the Weatherman “Days of Rage” in 1969 look sane by comparison.

As a preface to the chapter, there are some terms that need clarification.

  • The“Zentrale” was the central committee of the German CP that got its marching orders from Bela Kun.
  • The “Rote Fahne” was the newspaper of the CP that served as the main propagandist for the so-called March Action.
  • The “Orgesch” was an anti-Semitic militia that was a forerunner of Hitler’s Stormtroopers.
  • The “KPD” is the initials for the CP.
  • The “KAPD” is the initials for the Communist Workers Party of Germany that was a split from the KPD, on an even more ultraleft basis. Among the better-known members were Antonie Pannekoek, Karl Korsch, and Paul Mattick.

Politically, the disastrous outcome was a major factor in the rise of Nazism because it discredited the CP. Some of Angress’s chapter might be unfamiliar to those who have not studied the scandalous “March Action”. As background, I recommend this brief article by Pierre Broué, who like Angress, wrote an important book on the German Communist Party in the 1920s: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/broue/works/1964/summer/march-action.htm



Horsing’s move became known at the Central Committee meeting on the morning of March 17 and found the Communist leaders unprepared. As there were at the moment no details, apart from the text of the appeal, the assembled delegates refrained from dealing with the unexpected development except for agreeing on the advisability of postponing any direct involvement in central Germany until after Easter. The fourday holiday, from Good Friday to Easter Monday, was held to be unsuitable for strikes and related actions. The party organizations in the affected region were advised, presumably through those of their members who attended the conference in Berlin, that they should merely threaten to call a general strike once the police marched in, but were not to carry out the threat until the plants and mines were actually occupied. Before the day was over, however, this prudent attitude was abandoned by the Zentrale in favor of a barely disguised attempt to exploit the new situation. According to the Communist version, the initial desire to avoid a struggle in Prussian Saxony prior to Easter week was foiled by the Mansfeld miners, who reacted to Horsing’s “provocation!’ by precipitating a spontaneous uprising, and thereby compelled the KPD to rush to their assistance.

In the light of subsequent events this argument is not convincing. it is much more likely that, after the immediate impact of Horsing’s appeal had worn off, at least some members of the Zentrale experienced a change of heart by the time the conference adjourned on March 17. Once again, all signs point to the machinations of Kun with his flair for concocting illstarred revolutions. In view of the delicacy of his mission, neither he nor his associates attended the Central Committee meeting—the presence of the Comintern agents was to be known only to a restricted circle. It stands to reason, however, that Kun was informed of the outcome of the conference as soon as it stood adjourned, and that he then gave his views on the situation. If Kun had come to Germany with the express purpose of goading the KPD into action, the news of Horsing’s intention to move police into Prussian Saxony was in perfect accordance with his plans. All he had to do was to persuade those members of the Zentrale who had already fallen under his influence that the projected police occupation offered an excellent opportunity for the German Communists to launch the revolution which they had just decided was in the offing anyway. He may well have pointed out that any delay would diminish the chances for a successful operation. There were nine more days until Good Friday (March 25), time enough for Horsing’s forces to get a firm foothold in the occupied region unless they were met by organized resistance. And who but the KPD could furnish the leadership for such resistance?

Whatever the circumstances which prompted the Zentrale to reverse its earlier decision to postpone action, the fact remains that from March 17 on the KPD sounded and acted like a party resolved upon revolution. At the same time, in order to justify the party in the eyes of the working class in general, and of the Communist rank and file in particular, great pains were taken to give the impression that German Communism was merely responding to the wishes of the treacherous bourgeoisie.

On March 17, the Communist press, led by the Rote Fahne, opened a propaganda barrage so violent as to be inconsistent with the party’s alleged intention to hold the line until after Easter week. Under the heading “The Counterrevolution Strikes,” the early edition of the Rote Fahne carried a leading article urging the proletarians to abandon their previous passivity, which had merely encouraged the reactionaries. “It is not enough,” the paper warned, “to only announce the immediate fight of the proletarian masses against . . . the counterrevolution can frustrate its criminal intentions.” There was but one way out of the present crisis: alliance with Soviet Russia which, however, could only be realized “over the bodies of the bourgeoisie.” Excerpts from Horsing’s appeal appeared in the early edition, and the full text was printed in the evening edition of the Rote Fahne. The Communist targets on March 18 were the Orgesch and the SPD. Pointing to Bavaria’s refusal to disarm her civil guards, the paper commented at length on the helplessness of the unarmed workers. “The gang of majority Socialists” had agreed that, under the pretext of law, armed might in Prussian Saxony should be permitted to march against “the naked chest of the working class.”

“The bourgeoisie stands in arms and refuses to surrender them .. . and the German workers have no weapons! It was not the Entente that disarmed them—the Entente cannot even disarm the Orgesch. The German bourgeoisie and the rabble of Social Democratic leaders have wrested the weapons out of the hands of the proletarians. . . . Now the law means nothing any more; nor does Versailles. Weapons will decide, and the counterrevolutionaries refuse to surrender theirs. . . . Every worker will simply ignore the law [pfeift auf das Gesetz] and must seize a weapon wherever he may find one!

This blast, drafted by Kun himself, led to the confiscation of the issue by the Prussian authorities, whereupon the identical text was promptly reprinted in the Rote Fahne on the following day. The entire approach was so clumsy that it met with the disapproval even of Ernst ReuterFriesland, who registered a protest with the Zentrale. Yet the same argument was put forth on March 18 in the Reichstag where the KPD deputy Däumig demanded that the proletariat be armed because the Reichswehr was counterrevolutionary and anti-proletarian.

On March 19, the day the police occupation of Prussian Saxony went into effect, the Rote Fahne announced that the Central Committee had decided at its recent meeting to mobilize the party, organizationally and spiritually, for the coming struggle against a bourgeoisie which was collaborating with the Entente in a joint effort to exploit the workers. “The difficulties faced by the government in the Upper Silesian plebiscite and the sanctions make it essential that the proletariat develop the greatest possible activity!” All workers would have to be prepared to fight in answer to Horsing’s provocation.’

Although the logic of the article left much to be desired. Inasmuch as collaboration between Germany and the Entente was mentioned in one breath with Allied sanctions, the general tenor was clear enough. Every stop of the propaganda organ was pulled in order to bracket events in Prussian Saxony with all the other crisis factors, real or imaginary, that loomed so large in the imagination of the party strategists. It was quite in line with this policy to devote the evening issue of the Rote Fahne on March 19 to the problem in Upper Silesia, where the plebiscite was scheduled to be held the next day. The paper pointed out that Polish and German counter-revolutionaries were facing each other in Upper Silesia and were ready to engage in combat. The Orgesch in that part of the country was spoiling for a fight because the spirit of nationalism there was strong. The Silesian plebiscite, the Rote Fahne informed its readers, was no local affair but concerned every proletarian. The adventure planned by the German counterrevolutionaries in these regions was to be the first battle of the Orgesch, to be followed by a second, the battle against the German proletariat. “Once the Polish and German counter-revolutionaries in Upper Silesia begin to clash, the iron fist of the proletariat from both countries must smash in between the [combatants].

On March 20, the day after the police occupation had gone into effect, the Rote Fahne carried the banner line: “Horsing orders his gang of murderers to march in!” The days of the Bloodhound Noske had returned. The workers in central Germany had decided to offer resistance and thus had set an example which should be followed by workers throughout the country. SPD and Independents came in for a sharp attack because they supported Horsing, and Severing and Weismann were labeled “henchmen of the Orgesch.” Once again the Rote Fahne demanded: “Weapons into the hands of the workers!” And the entire German working class was urged to come to the assistance of their embattled brothers in central Germany. This frantic appeal to the German working class at large was neutralized by an editorial in the same issue, entitled, “He Who Is Not For Me, Is Against Me! A Word to the Social Democratic and Independent Workers.” This editorial, instead of addressing the Socialists as potential allies, told them that they, and the rest of the German proletariat, were on the wrong road; only the Communist Party knew where it was going. After a lengthy enumeration of the virtues inherent in the Communist cause, the Rote Fahne listed a number of conditions under which the misled workers might join the Communist ranks, one of which was a barely concealed suggestion that the Socialists should string their own leaders from the lamp posts. It was, in Levi’s words, “a declaration of war against four-fifths of the German workers at the beginning of the Aktion.” The ineptness of the Communist propaganda effort was succinctly expressed by Vorwärts when it told its readers: “Moscow needs corpses . . . . We warn the working class. . . . Do not let yourselves be provoked!”

Although slogan after slogan rolled off the Communist presses, no serious unrest accompanied Horsing’s appeal in Prussian Saxony. The Zentrale, which gradually realized that it was illusory to rely on the spontaneity of the population, decided that some outside help was needed to arouse the masses, and acted accordingly. On March 18, the Communist district executive for Halle-Merseburg received orders from the Zentrale to start a revolutionary action at once. The directives stipulated that Horsing’s police measures were to serve as an excuse for the insurrection. Two local party leaders, Lemck and Bowitzki, were entrusted with the direction of the operations (Aufstandsleitung), with headquarters to be situated at Halle. The next day, March 19, the Halle district committee of the KPD met for a conference to determine the line of action which the party was to take in the region. Representatives from various subdistricts and individual towns attended the conference, which was chaired by a leading official of the Halle district, Fred Oelssner. Oelssner started out by giving a brief summary of the domestic and foreign political problems which Germany faced, a résumé that followed closely the familiar arguments of Kun. The situation in Upper Silesia, according to the speaker, was tense, and in Bavaria the Orgesch was on the move. Large-scale strikes by farm workers in Germany’s eastern provinces were assuming political overtones. In view of these circumstances the KPD had to decide on how best to exploit the situation to produce revolutionary action. The problem, thus stated, was then thrown open for discussion. The prevailing atmosphere at the conference was later described by a participant: “We were all convinced that Horsing’s decree would never suffice to produce an Aktion in Germany, but that we had to resort to provocation . . . the first shot, the notorious first shot, had to come from the side of the enemy.” It was suggested in the course of the discussion that favorable results might be achieved by harassing the police, who sooner or later were bound to open fire. Some of the members present were less than enthusiastic, but all indications of faintheartedness were speedily quashed from the chair. Oelssner terminated the conference by stating, contrary to the facts, that fighting had already begun and that it was now the duty of the party to increase the intensity of the struggle. The immediate objective was to arm the workers, then to capture political power.

During the session of the district executive at Halle came the first reports that the police occupation was already in progress. Another conference was called in Halle for March 20, this time by the regional executive, and all central German districts sent representatives who gave their individual situation reports. The conference was overcast by a cloud of deep depression. It was the general consensus that the spirit among the population was anything but revolutionary, and that artificial means would have to be used in order to bring matters to a head (um die Sache hochzubringen). Indeed, all was not well with the revolutionary spirit of the masses, which had figured so prominently in the calculations of the party leaders. The proletarians in Prussian Saxony, who according to subsequent Communist claims were so desperately in need of assistance, behaved initially with unforeseen timidity in the face of the Prussian police uniforms. Despite some ripples of discontent and attempts by agitators to stir up the workers and get them to stage walkouts, everything remained calm throughout March 19 and 20 (the latter being a Sunday) in the Eisleben area which had been the first to be occupied. Only on Monday, March 21, had agitation progressed sufficiently to encourage the Communist district executive of Mansfeld to call for a general strike, and on that day leaflets were distributed throughout the mining region which, in part, read as follows:

“Mansfeld workers! The reactionaries have carried out their threats and have turned your peaceful homes into a staging area for the White Guards. . . . They did not come with the ordinary weapons of the police forces but armed with machine guns and handgrenades . . . Mansfeld workers! Show that you are not slaves and use your power to repulse this onslaught. A general strike must be called. All wheels must stop turning . . . . Workers! you hold the power in your hands. Use it in proper time and be prepared for all eventualities (seid gewappnet fur alle Fälle].” The appeal was reproduced the same day in the Mansfelder Volkszeitung, the local Communist paper, and the strike began to spread, with moderate success, in the heart of this mining area. Yet outside of the immediate Mansfeld district most factories went on working, and there was still no sign of open violence.

Up to this point the Zentrale had been content to sit back and grind revolutionary tunes on the propaganda organ. But when the proclamation of the general strike failed to have the desired effect, Hugo Eberlein, who had recently been put in charge of the party’s military-political organization (MP-Apparat), was dispatched to central Germany on March 22. Eberlein was a Spartacist veteran who had participated in the founding of the KPD, and who in March 1919 represented the young party at the Founding Congress of the Communist International. He was a member of the Zentrale from the founding of the party up to the unification with the USPD, and it is conceivable that he was not elected into the Levi-Daumig Zentrale because of his delicate position as chief of the MP-Apparat. Eberlein enjoyed in party circles a reputation as an experienced saboteur, and was known among the rank and file as “Hugo mit der Zündschnur (Hugo with the fuse).”

As soon as Eberlein arrived in Halle he conferred with the local party functionaries. He told them that the Zentrale had ordered him to direct strategy in the region and to do his utmost to accelerate the pace of the projected operation. When some scepticism was ex pressed by two local leaders, Eberlein left no doubt that he intended to carry out the uprising under any circumstances. He rejected all talk of calling off the general strike, and then proceeded to develop his plans. It was essential, Eberlein argued, to win mass support, first in central Germany and ultimately in the rest of the Reich. Artificial means would have to be used to arouse the workers from their passive attitude. He suggested that trusted comrades were to commit acts of violence which could be blamed on the police—in this manner, even the most reluctant of workers would be provoked into action. But Eberlein’s fertile imagination provided a number of additional suggestions. He wanted to stage a mock-kidnapping of the two regional Communist leaders, Lemck and Bowitzki, who were nominally in charge of directing the Aktion. Other popular leaders should disappear for a day or two, only to re-emerge with fairy tales about how they had been liberated from the reactionaries. Another scheme was to blow up an ammunition train of the police and then to charge in the Klassenkampf, the Communist newspaper in Halle, that carelessness on the part of the reactionaries had ruined the homes of numerous workers, and had caused the death of hundreds of victims. Once it became known that the report was false, the paper could print a correction a few days later. Two more targets for Eberlein’s store of dynamite were an ammunition factory at Seesen, and a workers’ producers’ cooperative (Produktivgenos-senschaft) in Halle.

None of these projects was carried out successfully, although several abortive attempts were made to blow up both the ammunition factory and the producers’ cooperative. Eberlein’s reaction to the initial failure of the dynamiting exercises was a blast at the inefficiency of the local illegal apparatus which, he complained, did not even own a decent piece of fuse to do a reliable job. Yet before the day (March 23) was over, Eberlein’s tactics were largely overshadowed by the activities of a less sophisticated, albeit more renowned, revolutionary figure who had appeared in the Mansfeld district—Max Hoelz. Hoelz was no unknown to the revolutionary movement. He had first won prominence in 1918, when he organized the unemployed in his Saxon hometown of Falkenstein in the Voigtland during the revolution. His activism and initiative attracted the attention of the entire region at the time, and he won nationwide fame during the Kapp Putsch by his talented organization of workers’ brigades, which he led in guerilla warfare all over Saxony. In the course of the fighting he came into conflict with the leader of the Communist Chemnitz branch, Heinrich Brandler, who resented what he termed Hoelz’s undisciplined inroads on Brandler’s territory. The grudge continued, and after the Kapp Putsch Brandler had Hoelz expelled from the party, which he had joined in 1919. His expulsion from the KPD did not discourage Hoelz from continuing in his role of a German Robin Hood, a “condottiere with a social conscience nod the temperament of a rebel fighting for the poor and oppressed.”

When Hoelz learned on March 21 that a general strike had been called in the Mansfeld district, he left Berlin, where he had lived underground ever since the spring of 1920, and journeyed into the industrial region of Prussian Saxony. He arrived at Kloster Mansfeld late at night, but still in time to attend a meeting on the general strike. There was, as yet, no mention of armed insurrection. The situation changed on the following day, March 22, when walkouts increased in the Mansfeld-Eisleben mining district, and armed bands prevented non-striking mining crews from entering the pits. During the day Hoelz addressed strike meetings at Hettstedt, Mansfeld and Eisleben, and it was as a result of his Eisleben speech that the situation got out of hand. According to a Prussian police major, Hoelz spoke in support of the general strike, urged his audience to arm themselves, and allegedly incited them to beat up police patrols. His suggestion was followed immediately after the meeting was over, when a group of his listeners marched to Eisleben’s market square and attacked four policemen who were out shopping, armed only with dress bayonets. The policemen were rescued before long, but the incident encouraged many unruly elements in the neighborhood, and from the night of March 22-23 on the strike movement began to turn into an open, and spreading, insurrection. Incited by Hoelz and his “adjutant” Josef Schneider, the editor of the Mansfelder Volkszeitung, a growing number of persons among the local population provided themselves with rifles, machine guns, and large amounts of explosives, which were easily obtained in a mining area. Some of the weapons came from secret depots which dated from the days of the Kapp Putsch and its aftermath; others were either captured or stolen from the police. Hoelz then began to form shock troops. He recruited strikers and unemployed miners most of whom were in possession of arms, organized them into units, and then descended with his motley troops upon the region around Mansfeld, Eisleben, and Hettstedt. For the next ten days Hoelz’s “army” terrorized the countryside by arson, looting, bank robberies, and the dynamiting of buildings, trains, and other suitable targets. Aimless though most of these activities were, Hoelz nevertheless succeeded where the KPD, Eberlein’s exertions notwithstanding, had so far failed: only two days after he came to the region, Hoelz had transformed the strike movement into a bloody insurrection. 27 Drobnig, pp. 9-10. Hoelz has presented a different version of this incident. According to his account (pp. 139-140), he had only urged the workers to support the general strike. Trouble started when the police, following his Eisleben speech, arrested and maltreated several strikers who had attended the meeting. When their comrades tried to liberate them by force, fighting broke out. The incident convinced the workers and Hoelz that it was time to seize weapons and organize fighting units.

From March 23 on, the situation in central Germany was extremely confused. Although the strike was spreading, and resistance to Horsing’s police was gathering momentum, the SPD, Independents and unions continued their initial opposition to what they felt was an irresponsible Communist adventure, and made every effort to prevent the workers in Prussian Saxony and elsewhere in Germany from lending support to the movement. There was, moreover, little or no coordination among the various proletarian groups that participated in the insurrection. Communist headquarters at Halle lacked effective control over the operation as a whole, and in particular over developments in the vital mining district around Mansfeld, Hettstedt and Eisleben. Eberlein’s presence in Halle could not change this fact. He was given but lukewarm cooperation from the local party leaders, and most of the attempts to extend the scope of the uprising in accordance with Eberlein’s unorthodox directives were either bungled, or they actually backfired. For example, the repeated dynamiting and derailing of passenger trains alienated railroad personnel, whose support of the insurrection would have been of vital importance for its success.

Most of the actual fighting took place in the Mansfeld district, the heart of the insurgent region, where Hoelz and his guerilla bands wreaked havoc and stole the Communists’ thunder. Supported by scattered contingents from the KAPD, hordes of unemployed, and the inevitable sprinkling of undefinable drifters who participated in the uprising for reasons of their own, this latter-day Schinderhannes battled police and ransacked the countryside, all in the name of social justice. There was little system to his burning, dynamiting and plundering, but no one, least of all the local KPD, could control him or gain his cooperation. Stubborn and self-righteous, he did not accept advice, much less orders, from anyone. Whoever joined his forces became subject to his command: this happened to a few impatient hotheads from the KPD organization in Halle who, without authorization from headquarters, collected six thousand men during a street demonstration, marched them to the Mansfeld district, and there joined Hoelz.

Relations between KPD and KAPD were also poor during the entire course of the uprising. The radical KAPD men admired Hoelz and hardly disguised their contempt for the KPD. Hoelz rewarded this admiration by handing over to the war chest of the KAPD the money that his desperados robbed from the local banks, and this incurred the jealousy of the rival party. Lack of cooperation between the two Communist organizations was prominently displayed in the “defense” of the chemical works at Leuna, south of Merseburg. This large industrial complex, which employed roughly twenty thousand workers, would have been eminently suited as a strong. point for the entire insurrection, but the potential strength of the Leuna works was never effectively utilized. A mammoth protest meeting, attended by an alleged eighteen thousand employees, was held on March 21, and an action committee was elected. Two days later, the Leuna works joined the regional general strike. The majority of workers went home, either to stay there and await the resumption of work, or to join battle against the police. At Leuna proper, a garrison, consisting of an estimated two thousand armed strikers, barricaded themselves inside the works and prepared to defend the compound against a police assault. But the defenders were neither unified nor well organized. The action committee which had been elected on March 21 was dominated by KAPD men who quarrelled incessantly with their comrades from the KPD. No agreement was reached on the essential question of whether they should remain on the defensive, or take the initiative and partake in the regional fighting. A further reason for controversy was the problem of emergency maintenance of the plant’s most vital installations, a measure which the KAPD opposed. Mutual recriminations among the members of the action committee, coupled with the failure of KPD headquarters to maintain contact with the garrison, left Leuna an isolated, albeit armed, citadel.

Thus Hoelz’s excessive violence, the ineffective efforts of the KPD to gain control over the movement, and the factional rivalries, all combined to jeopardize the chances of the uprising from the outset. Yet, for a few days after the outbreak of fighting, the fate of the insurrection hung in the balance; success or failure depended on whether the government could suppress it before the Zentrale extended it beyond central Germany.

On March 23, news of the radical turn of events in Prussian Saxony reached Berlin and was discussed by the cabinets of the Reich and Prussia. Additional bad news came from Hamburg, where labor trouble had erupted the same day, and the authorities had to find means of protecting the country from possible civil war. After some deliberations, which concentrated on central Germany, it was decided not to declare martial law in the insurgent region unless such a step should become unavoidable. Probably at this point, or very shortly thereafter, a decision was reached to rely primarily on police forces, but to keep several army units in readiness. They were to be employed only in case of emergency. The question of whether these Reichswehr contingents would then come under the command of the police or would act independently was temporarily left open.

Meanwhile, disturbing reports continued to reach the capital. Toward evening it became known that fighting around Eisleben had grown more intense, that the Leuna works had been hit by a general strike, and that the insurrection threatened to spread to the state of Saxony, where bomb plots against law courts had been discovered in Dresden, Leipzig and Freiberg. In Halle, where Communist headquarters in charge of regional operations was located, no strikes had developed so far, but the insurgents had distributed pamphlets with the following text: “On to the barricades, long live Soviet Russia! The revolutionary Ruhr district has been cut off by imperialist designs of the Entente powers, and central Germany has therefore become the heart of the German revolution. On to the barricades! Conquer the world!”

Equally somber was the news from Hamburg, where the senate had imposed a state of emergency that day at 4 P.M. Under the impact of these reports, President Ebert became convinced that drastic measures were needed. During the night he consulted with federal and Prussian officials and, still shying away from a declaration of martial law, proclaimed on the morning of March 24 a non-military state of emergency for Hamburg and the province of Saxony. Horsing was appointed (federal) civilian commissioner and entrusted with the execution of all measures which he deemed necessary for the restoration of order.

As the government was trying to find ways and means to quell the insurrection, the Communist Zentrale in Berlin made every effort to spread it beyond central Germany. Placards all over Berlin announced that in Prussian Saxony the (legal) factory councils had been replaced by revolutionary workers’ councils, an example which proletarians everywhere should follow. On March 22, the morning edition of the Rote Fahne called for mass demonstrations, to be held in the evening of March 24 at four points in the capital. The demonstrators were urged to protest Horsing’s police action and to express their solidarity with their comrades in central Germany. To add some local color, the Berlin workers were also asked to register a protest against the arrest of Ernst Reuter-Friesland by the police. In the course of the day the Zentrale changed its mind and scheduled the demonstrations for the same evening, March 22, presumably because somebody had realized that to hold a mass meeting on Maundy Thursday, shortly before the Easter holidays, was inpropitious. Despite the short notice the meetings were well attended, but revolutionary fervor was strikingly absent. Some wind had been taken out of the Communist sails when Reuter-Friesland was released shortly before the demonstrations were held—after he had spent two days in jail the police revealed that his arrest was a case of mistaken identity. His return deprived the Zentrale of an effective local slogan and made it necessary to concentrate solely on central Germany. Party spokesmen addressing the crowds urged all workers to stand by and be prepared to come to the aid of their imperiled comrades. The audience listened attentively but without any display of emotion. When some hecklers from the KAPD registered their dissatisfaction with mere preparedness, and demanded that a general strikc be called at once, they elicited hardly any response.

The evening edition of the Rote Fahne that day was likewise devoted to the situation in central Germany. The editorial emphasized, with unconcealed gratification, that this was the third time since the end of the war that the workers in the Mansfeld district were attracting everyone’s attention. This time, however, neither Horsing nor the Orgesch would succeed in provoking the workers to dissipate their collective strength in isolated skirmishes. Nor would the German labor movement as a whole be misled again by so-called anti-putschist phrases which had bred so much cowardice and passiveness in the past. The general strike called by the workers in central Germany was no putsch. It was the beginning of a collective action (Gesamtaktion), essential for the German proletariat if it was to prevent in time the disastrous consequences of the inevitable collapse of capitalism. The editorial ended with the usual revolutionary ruffles and flourishes: “The proletarian battalions in central Germany stand ready to fight. German workers, show your revolutionary solidarity, join your brothers, cast off your indifference, get rid of your cowardly and treacherous leaders, and fight—or you will perish!”

Despite all inflammatory slogans the Berliners did not stir. Not even the Communist-sponsored mass demonstrations elicited as yet more than polite curiosity, mixed with the traditional scepticism for which the population of the capital was famous. But on March 23 the Zentrale was compensated by encouraging news from Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, where the propaganda efforts of the Red press had fallen on fruitful ground. Widespread unemployment had created a dangerous atmosphere which the KPD skillfully exploited. Communist agitation became noticeable in Hamburg on March 22. On that day the city’s Communist leaders, Ernst Thalmann among them, held a conference in the business office of the KPD in order to determine how the Hamburg workers could render immediate assistance to the proletariat in central Germany. It was resolved, among other things, to make use of the unemployed in any mass actions taken.

The local party organ, Hamburger Volksblatt, set the tone in an impassioned report on events in central Germany, and called on the workers of Hamburg to prove their solidarity with their comrades in Prussian Saxony. The paper demanded that the government disarm the Orgesch, arm the proletarians, create jobs for the unemployed, and call off Horsing’s police action in central Germany. The paper threatened a general strike by Hamburg’s proletariat if the government should reject these demands. In order to lend some substance to their threats, the Communists scheduled a protest meeting for March 23 at the Heiligengeistfeld, a fairground not far from the waterfront.

Radical Communist agitation proved more effective in “red” Hamburg than in Berlin. On the morning of March 23rd a huge crowd of unemployed, led by the KPD, marched to the waterfront and invaded three of Hamburg’s largest shipyards, Blohm & Voss, Vulkan, and Deutsche Werft. The plant managers tried to order the crowd off the premises by threatening to close down the yards unless they were obeyed. The unemployed shouted back that they wanted jobs and urged the workers in the shipyards to support them. Support was not forthcoming, nor could it have been expected, since most shipyard workers were loyal supporters of the Social Democratic Party. The issue did not long remain in doubt, Arguments led to threats of force, and strong-arm tactics eventually succeeded in dislodging from the yards all opponents of the Communist-led mob. The managers retreated along with thy Socialist personnel, and the invaders occupied the premises. Once in possession, they elected ad hoc action committees and hoisted red flags The KPD had attained its objective of infusing revolutionary spirit into a section of Hamburg’s labor movement, although this done at the expense of unemployed desperate enough to act as shock troops for the “revolutionary vanguard.” Nothing constructivc could have been accomplished in the long run by the forceful occupation of the yards, as the Communist leaders undoubtedly knew.

And the occupation proved of short duration. The KPD had issued instructions to keep the yards occupied, but the crowd within the gates, the group which occupied the Vulkan wharf, left the yards in the early afternoon perhaps through some misunderstanding, and marched into the city, presumably to attend the protest demonstration at the Heiligengeistfeld which was scheduled for 5 P.M. They were met by police forces, who tried to break up the formation, and after heavy street fighting succeeded in dispersing the would-be demonstrators, including those who had already reached the Heiligengeistfeld. The police then surrounded the wharves of Blohm & Voss, firing into courtyards and buildings. By early afternoon the shipyards were cleared, but Hamburg remained dangerously restless. Street battles between unemployed and police continued throughout the rest of the day in various parts of the city, and at 4 P.M. the senate proclaimed a state of emergency, which was given full backing the following day by the federal emergency decree of President Ebert.”

The president’s proclamation of a state of emergency for Hamburg and Prussian Saxony on March 24 posed a challenge to the Communist leaders which they decided to meet head on. With the Easter holidays just ahead, the Zentrale had to do something to sustain the movement and, if possible, to accelerate its intensity. For this purpose the KPD called a nationwide general strike on March 24, urged the proletarians to seize arms, to get organized, and to join the struggle against the counterrevolution. It was a desperate step, for all plants closed down anyway from Good Friday (March 25) through Easter Monday. But the response to the Communist appeal was negligible. Both Socialist parties countered the call for a general strike by instructing their members to ignore it. In Berlin, the seat of the Zentrale, the strike movement was a total fiasco. Most workers reported to their jobs on the 24th, and only a few factories were idle, despite the aforementioned attempts by the KPD to enforce the shutdown of working plants through attempted invasions by unemployed. These methods aroused sharp criticism even from within the party. Ernst Daumig, for instance, sent a furious letter to the Zentrale in which he protested the practice of pitting proletarians against proletarians. Equally indignant were the party officials in charge of trade-union activities, who complained that the tactics employed by the Zentrale were wrecking their influence within the unions.

The Zentrale scored slightly better in the Ruhr region and the Rhineland. In the Communist Ruhrecho, and through handbills, the regional KPD organizations followed the lead of the Zentrale by exhorting the population to join the general strike. Throughout March 24 and 25, the Communists kept up an untiring propaganda barrage by calling for demonstrations, for support of the embattled comrades in Prussian Saxony, and for support of the general strike. Party leaders recommended “Easter promenades” through the streets, especially in the working-class districts. They hoped in this way to keep the issue alive over the holidays, and to win support from non-Communist labor for the intensified struggle which they expected in the days ahead. On Easter Monday, armed clashes betwcen workers and police occurred in Essen. During the next few days similar incidents took place in a number of mines, and in nearly every sizable city of the Rhenish region. Only a fraction of the population, however, supported the general strike, most walkouts that were staged were of short duration and, by March 30, order was restored to the region except for some isolated pockets. Germany’s largest industrial area, traditionally a radical stronghold, had proven of little help to the KPD.

Equally unspectacular was the impact of the insurrection on southern Germany, the northern plains, and the East Elbian region. Only token strikes and isolated minor riots briefly disturbed these otherwise quiet areas. Thus, in the last analysis, success or failure of the uprising hinged on developments in central Germany, where the fighting had taken a more violent turn after President Ebert’s decree had become known. Because Horsing’s police forces were restricted in numbers, and the Reichswehr units continued to stand by without participating in the fighting, the operations of the government proceeded at first at a rather slow pace. On March 24, insurgent forces held Eisleben and Hettstedt against the police, and Halle and Merseburg were affected by the strike movement. There were reports that in the area around Leuna, now occupied by armed strikers, every male between the ages of fifteen and fifty had become eligible for “conscription” into the ranks of the insurgent proletariat, and that compulsion was used on some occasions to enlist unwilling recruits.”

Heavy fighting continued for several days. On March 25, government forces gradually won the upper hand in Eisleben and Hettstedt, and on the following day took Mansfeld, Helbra, and Sangershausen. At the same time, however, they suffered some setbacks when new riots broke out in such peripherally situated towns as Wittenberg, Delitzsch, and Bitterfeld, which until then had not been affected by the insurrection.

On Good Friday, some confusion was thrown into the ranks of the insurgents when rumors circulated throughout the region that Horsing had offered immunity from punishment to anyone willing to surrender and to hand his weapons over to the police. Whatever substance there may have been to this rumor, it was quickly quashed. On March 26, Severing sent a telegraphic order to the government forces, forbidding all negotiations with the fighting workers, and instructing the police to proceed without leniency.”

The attitude of Communist headquarters in Halle was equally uncompromising, as was evident from the instructions issued by this body on Good Friday: “Provocation at any price! Overturn street cars, throw handgrenades . . . !” But in spite of these desperate exhortations, from March 27 on the Aktion turned gradually into a rout, as bands of insurgents, varying in size, engaged in desperate and usually fruitless rearguard skirmishes with the police. Hoelz’s account of his own movements during these last hectic days constitutes very representative description of the collapse. He and some of his men spent Easter Sunday (March 27) at Schraplau, a small town roughly ten kilometers southeast of Eisleben, where he paid his “troops” for the first time. Hoelz has recounted this momentous occasion with customary modesty: “The finance and commissariat department of the troops was entrusted with the payment. Each received fifty marks.” He does not indicate the source of the money.

At Schraplau he met Lemck (Hoelz calls him “Lembke”) and Bowitzki, nominally the Aufstandsleiter appointed by the KPD, who had, however, lost contact with their own headquarters. Hoelz planned originally to march to the Leuna works and reinforce the garrison there, but changed his mind and set out for Halle, by way of Ammendorf. He intended to launch a surprise attack upon Halle in the hope of capturing some artillery pieces. In the night from March 27 to 28, Hoelz led his men in a belated Easter parade from Schraplau to Ammendorf, a distance of roughly twenty-five kilometers. On the following day he advanced on Halle with two thousand men, but ran into police who surrounded his force before he reached the city. Hoelz sent Lemck to the garrison of the Leuna works with the urgent request for immediate reinforcements, and ordered his men to hold the line until the expected relief arrived. It never came, although Lemck returned, after two hours, in a car with one thousand rounds of ammunition and the promise of speedy aid from Leuna. After waiting in vain for some time, while the police were tightening their ring, Hoelz’s troops began to disperse in an effort to escape from the trap before it was too late. In the ensuing confusion Hoelz became separated from his men and hid in a mine-shaft. When he emerged from his concealment, his troops had disappeared. During the next few days he wandered north, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanying small groups of stragglers and participating in running fights with police, in the hope of eventually reaching Mansfeld where he expected to find the remnants of his troops. But he never reached his destination. On March 31 he found himself in Beesenstedt, a village halfway between Halle and Mansfeld, and here on April 1 he joined in the last sizable battle of the insurrection. The outcome of the workers’ last stand at Beesenstedt was never in doubt. Hoelz was captured after the police closed in, but got away two days later when he successfully fooled his captors with false identity papers and the brazen tale that he was unjustly arrested while peacefully buying eggs from a local farmer. With a price of 185,000 marks on his head, Hoelz made his way to Berlin where he was soon arrested, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment. His revolutionary career was over for good when the March uprising, in which he had played such a prominent part, collapsed before his eyes.

The backbone of the insurrection as a whole was, in effect, broken several days before Hoelz saw its last dying spasms at Beesenstedt. Hamburg was the first area where order was restored. The riots which had broken out on March 23 were quelled three days later, and by March 29 most shipyards began to resume full operations. On that day the insurrection suffered another blow, as police forces, reinforced by one battalion of Reichswehr artillery, captured the Leuna works and took most of the defenders prisoner. Although Leuna had played a rather undistinguished role in the regional struggle, the mere fact that the famous chemical works were in the hands of proletarian fighters had been played up for days by the Communist press as a symbol of revolutionary triumph.

With Hamburg pacified, the rumblings in the Rhineland subsiding, and the Leuna works captured, the Zentrale could see the handwriting on the wall. Everywhere the movement was collapsing; everywhere the Communists found themselves isolated. The majority of German labor followed the lead of the two Socialist parties and the trade-unions, whose spokesmen were denouncing the putschism of the KPD in no uncertain terms. In view of these circumstances the Zentrale called a high-level conference on March 30 to deliberate on whether or not to continue the uprising. An emissary, just arrived from the Rhineland, reported on the situation in western Germany and demanded that the Aktion be called off at once. His bleak account prompted four leading members of the Zentrale, Brandler, Heckert, Thalheimer and Stoecker, to speak in favor of ending the fighting, and one unidentified member sighed that he wished the police in Berlin would lose their nerve and start antagonizing the workers. The pessimistic mood which permeated the conference was dispelled, however, when another participant in the conference rose, banged the table, and asserted that contrary to prevailing opinion the uprising was still gathering force and should be allowed to continue, at least for a few more days. Clinging tenaciously to the belief that the tide might yet turn in favor of the Communists, the speaker cited a number of encouraging examples from various parts of the country in support of his position. Although we know no further details of the ensuing debate, its outcome was a resolution to hold out for another two or three days. During this period of grace the Zentrale was to prepare a suitable plan for ending the struggle as uniformly as possible.

Thus, a day after Leuna was taken and Horsing’s control of the insurgent region virtually assured, the Zentrale made a last desperate effort, against the better judgment of some of its members, to postpone the inevitable. On the same day the Rote Fahne appealed once more to the German workers to support the uprising. But in doing so, the paper hurled one vituperative insult after another against the leaders of the same Social Democratic and Independent rank and file whom the Communists were trying so hard to win as allies. All the setbacks which the Communists had just suffered the Rote Fahne blamed on the Socialist leadership, and the paper ended the appeal on a note of “revolutionary solidarity” with “all workers.” Finally, the attempt to win friends was topped by the last sentence of the editorial which appeared in the same issue of the paper: “Shame [Schmach und Schande] upon the worker who at this moment still stands aside; shame upon the worker who still does not know where his place is.”

The decision to prolong needlessly the agony of those who did the fighting, taken by a few party functionaries in Berlin, introduced to the KPD a pattern of thinking which in the years ahead was to become primary law for over one-third of the world’s population: the individual is nothing, the party everything. “For the movement was without scruples,” writes Arthur Koestler in Darkness at Noon, “she rolled toward her goal unconcernedly and deposed the corpses of the drowned in the windings of her course.” But the proletarians who in March 1921 manned picket lines, were wounded or killed, or lost their jobs, did not realize that in the eyes of their leaders they were expendable. The rank and file, whether party members or sympathizers, knew nothing of Comrade Bela Kun. They did not know that Brandler’s theory about an existing revolutionary situation had been imparted to him by a few ill-informed and reckless individuals. The rank and file joined in the insurrection because their press told them that Horsing had attacked the German workers; that they must show their solidarity with their brothers in Mansfeld and Eisleben; that the Orgesch was about to slaughter the “defenseless” workers; and that the capitalists everywhere were plotting a new war for which the proletariat would have to foot the bill. Deceived and poorly led, they fought and died for the most part in good faith, the victims of what Levi came to call the “greatest Bakunist putsch in history.”

For two more days, following the conference of March 30, the Zentrale waited in vain for a miracle. Rumors of growing unrest among the farm workers of three eastern provinces briefly rekindled sparks of hope, only to prove another disappointment when no uprisings materialized. On April 1, even the most stubborn diehards among the Communist leaders had to recognize the futility of further waiting, and the Zentrale resolved to end the insurrection by calling off the “nationwide” general strike. The proclamation by which this decision was communicated to the party at large blamed the defeat on the counterrevolutionaries, ranging from Ludendorff to Hilferding, and culminated in the promise that the Communists would fight another day: “The strike and the insurrectionist movement have been crushed. Hundreds of proletarians lie murdered on the battlefield. Thousands remain out on the streets, punished by their employers. . .” Despite the defeat, however, the party’s spirit had remained unshaken, and its members were looking forward to new challenges ahead. “Let us not waste time. Close ranks for the coming fight. Be prepared. Soon we shall hear again: tighten chin straps! Forward, against the enemies. . . . Long live the German Revolution! Long live the World Revolution!” On this note of defiance the Marz Aktion ended. In view of the facts, the self-righteous attitude which the Zentrale assumed in blaming others for the failure of the uprising was, to say  the least, inappropriate. From the moment of its conception until the final call for retreat on April 1, the entire operation, with its grandiose scheme of capturing the power of state, was conducted by a few Communist leaders who approached it in a spirit of recklessness and irresponsibility. Without a careful appraisal of the situation, these men proceeded from the premise that a revolutionary opportunity was shaping up and should be exploited by the party. This was a misconception, as no less a person than Trotsky was to tell them later on at the Third World Congress. Based, as it was, on a contrived analysis of the national and international situations, the project was then pushed down the throats of an unenthusiastic and sceptical assembly of party officials who were left with the impression that the enterprise in question would be undertaken only when the time was ripe, and in any case not prior to the Easter holidays. To all appearances, this original plan was to be adhered to even in the face of Horsing’s announcement that a police occupation of Prussian Saxony was impending. But appearances proved deceptive. The decision to postpone any overt action by the KPD until after Easter was quietly dropped in favor of interference in central Germany, and strenuous efforts were made to utilize Horsing’s so-called provocation for triggering all the other anticipated crises, mostly mythical in nature, on which the original plans had been based. There is good reason to assume that the party reversed itself on this issue primarily because of Kun, and because of the support he received from those members of the Zentrale who had advocated a more aggressive course even before the arrival of the Comintern agents. But neither Kun nor his German disciples took the trouble to assess the chances for a Communist-led revolution at this particular moment; nor did they give any serious consideration to the party’s state of preparedness, an omission which in view of the stakes involved bordered on criminal neglect. Impulsive, ignorant of the true political situation, and without a clear conception of the risks involved, the Communist leaders plunged the party into a disastrous adventure.

Everything went wrong from the beginning. Contrary to later legends, the Mansfeld workers and miners did not rise “spontaneously” after Horsing’s appeal had been published, not even when local Communist organization proclaimed a general strike. It took Max Hoelz with his revolutionary experience and his personal magnetism to get the workers to move. But neither Hoelz’s ends nor Hoelz’s means were those of the KPD. He came to the Mansfeld region on his own initiative, because he wanted to render whatever assistance he could to the local proletariat. Hoelz had his own ideas on how to be helpful, and he did not want anyone to tell him what to do. Once he was on the scene, the old revolutionary zeal carried him away, and he succeeded in transforming what began as a strike movement into a bloody orgy. The haphazardly recruited insurgent bands under his command terrorized the mining district without a clearly defined aim, without a strategic plan, and with a minimum of discipline.

It was bad enough for the KPD that Hoelz usurped control and leadership over the mounting insurrectionist movement. But in addition to this sizable handicap, the party’s own organizational efficiency proved none too adequate. Confusion and poor coordination bedeviled operations from the first to the last day. Communications between the Zentrale in Berlin and the party organizations in central Germany were never effectively established. Despite the presence of Hugo Eberlein, Communist headquarters in Halle dragged its feet. Chemnitz waited for Halle to take decisive measures, Leipzig felt altogether too weak to do anything, and other local KPD organizations wanted to be assured of a successful outcome before taking any initiative. And so it went everywhere.

The party’s failure to provide adequate direction and purpose to the insurrection in central Germany was also evident in other trouble spots in the nation. The sporadic strikes in the Rhineland and Ruhr, the protest demonstrations in south Germany and Berlin, the unrest among East Elbian farm laborers, and the abortive riots in Hamburg remained isolated and relatively ineffective incidents. Although they all possessed some nuisance value, they never developed into he strong, coordinated revolutionary movement on which the initial plans of the Zentrale were based. But the most decisive factor in the defeat of the March uprising was the lack of mass support. The KPD proved incapable of rallying the millions of non-Communist workers behind the revolutionary banner. “The March struggle broke on the passiveness of the German workers,” a Communist leader subsequently complained; he might have added that such passiveness was inevitable because no genuine revolutionary situation existed on a nationwide basis. Whatever the party did to create such a situation, whether by “artificial means” or by clumsy and tactless propaganda, only repelled the majority of German workers, and without their backing and participation any revolution in Germany was doomed from the outset. In short, the March uprising was an undeniable fiasco, the aftereffects of which were to haunt the KPD for the remainder of the year.


June 12, 2018

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

Filed under: Werner Angress — louisproyect @ 8:09 pm

A couple of years before an English-language version of Pierre Broue’s “History of the German Revolution 1917-1923” was published, I was motivated to find out about this period since I was fairly sure that the catastrophe in Germany not only led to the rise of Nazism but to the “Leninist” model adopted by the entire left.

In searching for a scholarly account of the defeat of the German revolution, I turned to a book by Werner Angress titled “Stillborn Revolution: the Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923” that gave me the details I needed to flesh out an article written in the early 2000s titled “The Comintern and the German Communist Party”, which covered Paul Levi’s opposition to the insane ultraleft March Action of 1921 as well as another fiasco two years later that was orchestrated by Gregory Zinoviev. When Zinoviev’s meddling in the German class struggle damaged his reputation almost beyond repair, he sought to keep a lid on discontent in the world Communist movement by carrying out a “Bolshevization” turn in 1924 that codified a rigid “democratic centralist” method of functioning that has led to sect and cult formations everywhere it has been followed. To show you how universal it became, James P. Cannon voted enthusiastically for the turn and even after he became a Trotskyist, he never abandoned this dogmatic version of Bolshevik practice. Neither did Trotsky, for that matter.

Following the release of Broue’s book, the name of Paul Levi became well-known on the left and was invoked by Marxist scholars grappling with the problem of sectarianism. This matter came up recently when John Riddell, a major scholar of the early Comintern, posted an article by Paul Le Blanc on his blog that originally appeared in Historical Materialism as a critique of Antonio Negri who had written a broadside against Leninist parties on the basis that Zinoviev’s “Bolshevization” made them “cut some vanguards off at the legs and made it impossible for them to make themselves adequate to the particular situations they were meant to intervene in.” I tend to agree with this even though I generally regard Negri as even more foolish than those responsible for the March Action. In fact, it was his support for Italian “autonomists”, who were in the habit of breaking the bones of professors who they disagreed with politically, that helped to destroy the Italian left.

Like Broue, Le Blanc believes that the March Action and the 1923 abortive revolution that Zinoviev tried to direct from afar were mistakes but credits the sublime wisdom of Lenin for trying to triangulate between Levi, who had been expelled from the German CP for his public critique of the March Action, and the ultraleft CP leadership and the Comintern emissaries (Bela Kun and Karl Radek) who were their partners in political mayhem. Le Blanc puts it this way:

This deference to a majority in the German Communist leadership actually reflects democratic rather than bureaucratic tendencies in the early Comintern (even though Lenin agreed with Levi’s critique of what the hotheads had done).

I have a different take on this entirely. There was never anything “democratic” about the early Comintern. As I point out in my article, Leon Trotsky gave instructions to the French CP about what should go on the front page of their newspaper and even cajoled the feckless German CP leader Heinrich Brandler into scheduling the misbegotten 1923 uprising to coincide with the anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

I have no problem recommending Pierre Broue even though he comes at things from the same angle as Paul Le Blanc. Broue, who died in 2005, was a member of Pierre Lambert’s movement and could obviously not go so far as to repudiate the Comintern. For the ISO, there is much less of that kind of baggage since they broke from Tony Cliff’s mother ship.

Since Le Blanc’s article generated a lot of very good discussion on FB and since the role of Paul Levi continues to be a hot topic on the left, I am starting a series of posts that are drawn from the chapters in Werner Angress’s books that deal directly with the March Action and Zinoviev’s 1923 adventure.

A word or two about Angress is in order. He died in 2010 at the age of 80. He and his family left Germany in 1937, barely escaping the holocaust. He was drafted in 1941 and ended up serving with the “Ritchie Boys”, a group of German-speaking paratroopers who fought behind German lines just like in “Inglourious Basterds”. After the war, Angress became a history professor and taught at SUNY, Stony Brook for 25 years.

Below you will see the chapter titled “The Genesis of the March Uprising” sans footnotes. They would be too laborious to reproduce and are not necessary for understanding the analysis. The word Zentrale appears repeatedly. It is a reference to the KPD’s (German CP) Central Committee that Levi had resigned from after he and his supporters lost a vote involving who to support in the Italian CP. Except for the fact that those who had a majority on the Zentrale were bonkers ultra-left, it is not worth getting into.

Any inquiry into the origins of the series of events, which in Communist parlance has become known as the into the origins of that complex series of events known as the März Aktion of 1921 must take into account the KPD’s rise to the status of mass party. Although its estimated importance may have been unrealistic when compared to the overwhelming labor support that was given to the two Socialist parties, the mere concept of being an organization which claimed half a million members created in party ranks a confident and optimistic mood. Veteran Spartacists and newcomers from the Independents alike expected the party to follow henceforth a more dynamic, more activist course, and watched eagerly for any indication of growing Communist influence on the German domestic scene. Electoral gains In Prussia, Lippe-Detmold, Hamburg, and even an increased Communist vote in union elections of the Berlin woodworkers and railway workers were interpreted as signs of mounting party strength. The buoyant spirit of the rank and file was in sharp contrast to the continued cautious policies of Levi. The result was a progressive dissatisfaction with the Zentrale among the party membership, a development which in the weeks following the unification congress of December 20 led to an increase of independent activities on the part of local Communist organizations. By far the most serious effect of this trend was an increase in sporadic underground work.

It had been resolved at the Second World Congress of the Communist International that all Communist parties were immediately to form “illegal organizations . . . for the purpose of carrying out systematic underground work. . . .” This was presented as a defensive measure made necessary by reactionary persecutions of Communists everywhere. Underground organizations for illegal political work had existed in Germany ever since the war years, but they had originated with the Revolutionary Shop Steward movement, not with the Spartacists. In the summer of 1918 the Shop Stewards had come under the leadership of Ernst Daumig, who was then still a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party. The two organizations had an informal and non-committal relationship. The Revolutionary Shop Stewards were the earliest advocates of a system of workers’ councils, and in November 1918 were far more influential in creating them than were the Spartacists. Even before the revolution broke out they had begun to buy weapons and to form secret military detachments, referred to as Der Apparat ( the apparatus) and directed by Daumig in close cooperation with two other Shop Steward leaders, Emil Barth and Richard Muller. Der Apparat formed the model for future Communist underground organizations. After the November revolution and the founding of the KPD, such Communist underground organizations sprang up haphazardly throughout Germany but remained without effective coordination and control from the Zentrale in Berlin. During the proletarian uprising in the Ruhr region in March and April 1920, the police discovered in several local party offices blueprints for a red army and other documents pertaining to Communist military plans. Whether the organizations responsible for these materials were offshoots of the old Daumig apparatus, or whether they were the more recent creations of local KPD cells is impossible to say. But on no occasion between 1918 and 1920 was the role of Communist underground organizations of vital importance, because, lacking central direction, they were weak and ineffective

Communist underground work intensified after unification with the left-wing Independents. Two principal illegal “Apparate” were created prior to 1921, an N-group (Nachrichtenapparat) for intelligence work, and an M-group (Militarapparat) intended to train cadres of Communist fighters. Both groups had the additional mission of maintaining liaison with Russian agents passing illegally through Germany. The formation of these groups was in accord-ance with the directives of the Second World Congress, which the party was obligated to obey. There is no indication, however, that they functioned efficiently, or that they were effectively supervised and coordinated by the Zentrale while Levi was still its chairman. Moreover, basic disagreement existed between the Zentrale and the party’s underground on what the functions of the illegal groups were to be. The latter stressed the need for storing weapons and ammunition for future use, while the Zentrale tried to divert the conspiratorial ambitions of the would-be underground fighters into relatively harmless channels. This was done by forming them into study groups on military theory and by using them as guards at party meetings. But it was in the nature of the situation that the restraining efforts made by the leadership met with only limited success. Local Communist underground organizations frequently acted on their own initiative and, as was inevitable, incidents occurred which aroused the suspicion of the German authorities that the KPD was secretly but actively preparing for revolution. On January 19, 1921, Prussian police raided Communist offices in Essen, Dusseldorf, Elberfeld, and Luenen, near Dortmund, arested a number of Communist leaders, and confiscated party files.

On the basis of what Dr. Robert Weismann, Prussian State Commissioner for Safeguarding Public Security, termed “partial confessions,” and after an examination of the captured material, Weismann reported to his superiors that he had discovered evidence for the existence of a red army. Its headquarters, the report said, was in Berlin, and several subordinate command posts (Kommandobe-horden) were in western and central Germany. Weismann claimed to have found proof beyond doubt that the organization was designed to overthrow, by force, government and constitution: its ultimate objective was to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. On February 3, 1921, State Commissioner Dr. Weismann made another discovery. This one involved the Soviet Mission in Berlin, headed by Victor Kopp. It appears that staff members of this mission were engaged in a series of occupations totally unconnected with their official duty of negotiating with the Germans for the exchange and repatriation of prisoners of war. A number of copied documents, which had found their way into Weismann’s office, contained strong indications that the Soviet Mission was involved in smuggling arms and explosives, furthering Communist propaganda, and financing Communist underground activities in Germany and other parts of Europe. Later in the month, raids on Communist party offices in Magdeburg, Stendal, and Frankfurt am Main led to the arrest of several local KPD functionaries. Dynamite, arms, and other military equipment had been found.

Alarmed by these ominous discoveries, a number of German, and particularly Prussian officials became firmly convinced that the KPD was preparing for an uprising sometime in the spring. Throughout the first two months of 1921, rumors of a red underground army caused particular concern in official quarters. State Commissioner Weismann maintained in his report of January 20 that the KPD was directly supporting the formation of such an army. His assertion was based on documents found during raids on the party offices in the Rhineland. But either because the evidence proved too inconclusive, or because the Zentrale habitually (and perhaps not always untruthfully) denied all knowledge of these uncovered plots, Weismann refrained from taking statewide action against the party as a whole. He continued instead to rely on preventive measures, keeping the party’s activities under constant surveillance in the expectation that sooner or later local organizations would become careless enough to lay themselves open to police raids. Thus, despite their suspicions of Communist intentions, the authorities took no steps to arrest the Zentrale. Levi was allowed to travel abroad to attend the Leghorn conference and, understandably enough, nothing was done about the delicate problem posed by Victor Kopp’s Soviet Mission. How correct were the appraisals concerning the threat of an armed Communist insurrection that were voiced by various German officials early in 1921? Ironically enough, no specific plans for such an uprising existed prior to March of that year; and when the uprising did occur, unprepared, improvised, and absolutely unorganized, no red army materialized even in central Germany, the heart of the insurgent region. This is not to say that the KPD was a peaceful club. Nor does it mean that among the German Communists there were not some who seriously advocated a revolutionary offensive at the earliest possible opportunity. But dedication to the principle of revolution and actual preparation for such an event are not the same, and while the KPD never denied that revolution was its ultimate aim, no practical measures to implement it seem to have been taken by the Zentrale, certainly not while Levi was still its chairman. The plots which the German authorities discovered during January and February were examples of the same naïve and irresponsible “putschist” attitude which since the days of Luxemburg and Liebknecht had made it so hard for the party leadership to control the radical elements, especially on the local level. Moreover, the tendency to indulge in cloak and dagger games was hard to block after the ECCI had made underground work by all Communist parties mandatory. But the government officials who sounded the alarm and predicted bloodshed in the near future can hardly be blamed for being misled by overenthusiastic Communist busybodies. Only when the insurrection finally came, at Easter, and apparently justified the most dire predictions of the German security agencies, did it become evident that the KPD had acted on impulse and faith, without benefit of either organization or preparation.

The various steps which led to the March uprising are even today a matter of controversy. Whoever wants to reconstruct the complex and involved circumstances must take into consideration that both the Communists and the various government representatives have tried to obscure many of the issues in their respective accounts. To this must be added that official Communist interpretation moved through several phases before the final version was adopted at the Third Congress of the Communist International in the summer of 1921. According to this version, which is still upheld today, the March uprising was the result of calculated provocation of the workers by the Prussian government. Because it contained a few grains of truth, this formula proved to be the most feasible way in which a number of very inconvenient facts could be left unexplained in official Communist annals, past and present.

The key factor that made a Communist insurrection possible in the first place was the change in leadership of the Zentrale. Heinrich Brandler, the new chairman, was a simple and pedestrian man whose intellectual qualities were overshadowed by most of his more sophisticated colleagues, especially Ernst Meyer, Paul Frolich, and August Thalheimer. Levi had led the party without paying too much attention to views which did not coincide with his, thereby alienating large segments of the party, but Brandler went to the other extreme and too often accepted the opinions of others as his own. He had proved his mettle in the past in trade-union work, and during the proletarian uprisings that followed in the wake of the Kapp Putsch he acted as a capable though cautious commander of the armed Saxon workers. But now he had assumed a much greater responsibility, ant he was to show before long how difficult it was to live up to it.

It soon became apparent that the switch in the Communist high command caused a great deal of consternation within the party. Although Levi had been a controversial figure from the first to the last day that he served as chairman of the Zentrale, he still commanded the allegiance of many party members who saw in him the heir and disciple of Rosa Luxemburg, and who respected his ability even when they did not care for his personality. The fact that Zetkin, Brass, Daumig, and Hoffmann, some of them old war-horses who had won renown in the prewar SPD, had declared their solidarity with Levi created additional unrest and uncertainty in party circles. Thus the new Brandler Zentrale faced a difficult situation from the start. On the one hand Moscow, where Levi’s cavalier attitude toward revolution had incurred strong disapproval, wanted the German party to adopt a more vigorous policy, although what exactly was expected of the KPD remained for the time being uncertain. On the other hand, the resignation of the Levi faction had aggravated rather than eliminated the internal crisis of the party. How could Moscow’s expectations be met when the Communist leadership was divided on the principal issue of the day, the prospects for a proletarian revolution in Germany? On this point all factions disagreed. While it was generally recognized, in a vague and hazy way, that the Communists as the vanguard of the proletariat had to win influence over the masses in order to lead them to victory, the propitiousness of the moment as well as the tactics to be applied toward this end remained constant subjects of controversy among the party hierarchy.

Up to the moment when the Levi Zentrale resigned, the views of the party’s right wing had determined policy and set the course. While its spokesmen had admitted to the presence of “objective” factors which favored revolution, particularly rising unemployment, the threatened financial collapse of the state, and the growing misery of the masses, they had maintained that such “subjective” factors as the relative strength of the Communists vis-à-vis the state, and the absence of a genuine revolutionary spirit among German labor, offset the aspects favorable for a successful revolutionary movement. The right wing, under Levi’s guidance, had advocated that for the moment the only feasible slogan which the party could employ with any hope of success was that of “Alliance with Soviet Russia.” Levi thought this slogan particularly opportune in view of the growing tension between Germany and the Western Allies, a theory which he elaborately defended before and after the March uprising. In April 1921 Levi wrote: “With the Paris demands [Diktat] the German Reich entered upon a new, acute crisis, and this acute crisis, as was self-evident, had to be utilized for an Aktion. . . . The former Zentrale accepted the slogan [Alliance with Soviet Russia] . . . unanimously. . . . At the first sign of crisis it [the KPD] marched forward with the corresponding slogan . .. [and] this slogan—`Alliance with Soviet Russia’—had to become, of course, the leitmotif of all Communist propaganda during the weeks preceding the actual crisis. . . . We were convinced that this common struggle . . . would for the first time really close the ranks of the party.”

Whatever Levi may have meant with his vague reference to an Aktion in the event of possible conflict between Germany and the West, he had certainly not visualized a putsch. This is evident from his own interpretation: “During times of crisis when the masses are in a state of political turmoil . . . the Communist party has the duty to show a positive way out of the present dangers. The slogans of the V.K.P.D. must not be humdrum, everyday slogans, but must issue directly from any given crisis. . . . Such a slogan can only be `Alliance with Soviet Russia’. . . . It had been issued as a concrete slogan, i.e. one which could also be immediately realized by the bourgeois government, and at the same time could guide the proletariat in its struggle for the fulfilment of these demands.”

In short, the party’s right wing set its hopes upon a possible conflict between Germany and the Western Allies, a conflict which might lead to a Russo-German alliance. How exactly the German Communists were to profit from such an alliance Levi never made clear. What he did make clear was his determination not to permit rash actions to anticipate events, but to wait for an international crisis, and meanwhile to prepare the proletariat for a war in which the Western powers would be faced by the Soviet Union and its ally—the German bourgeois republic!

It will be recalled that Levi’s views had evoked vehement criticism from the Left Opposition. In contrast to Levi and the majority of his colleagues in the Zentrale, the Berlin Left believed that a new revolutionary wave was in the offing, and that the party had to prepare its own members and as many non-Communist workers as possible for the event. On February 12 the Rote Fahne had published an article by Reuter-Friesland in which he had clearly enunciated the position of the Left.

“We were all of the opinion, up to now, that the German bourgeoisie is not oppressed, that the German bourgeoisie enjoys life, and that it counts on the fraternal support of the Entente imperialists while oppressing the German proletariat . . . ; it is exactly for this reason that we have made it our task to fight against every nationalist slogan. Let me remind you that the Communist party neither approved of the Versailles treaty, nor opposed it, but demanded the revolutionary solution of the world crisis. . . .

“For the time being, the German proletariat must first solve its mission in Germany. Hic Rhodus, hic salta!. . . . Let the German proletariat first break the resistance of this [bourgeois] society; let the German proletariat first secure possession of all factories and [other] enterprises; then we shall see how this struggle for liberation waged by the German workers will affect the proletariat of England, France . . . of the western countries. . . . We do not want contrived [an den Haaren herbeigezogen] measures designed to convince either the German workers or the Executive [of the Comintern] how active we are. We want to show the German working masses the clear, unequivocal, though difficult road to the German revolution.”

The conflicting opinions on party strategy were still a burning issue when Levi and his friends resigned, saddling the Brandler Zentrale with the thankless task of choosing a proper solution. It soon became apparent that the views of the Left were gaining ground. They did so despite the fact that this faction was not represented in the new Zentrale, and that its criticism of the right wing had been voted down in the same meeting which had culminated in the resignation of the Levi group. But the spokesmen of the left wing were also in control of the party’s strong and radical Berlin organization, which Reuter and two of his colleagues represented in the Central Committee. And since the Zentrale likewise had its headquarters in Berlin, it was constantly exposed to the influence of the Reuter-Fischer-Maslow triumvirate. After Levi and his friends were no longer in positions of authority, the Berliners had the field largely to themselves, and they made good use of their opportunity.

The Left tried hard to convince the new leadership that now was the time to show the German working class the road to the German revolution. This approach had in its favor the awareness of the new Zentrale that Moscow and large segments of the KPD expected German Communism to adopt a more vigorous approach toward its ultimate objective. Nevertheless, the underlying preconceptions held respectively by the Berliners and the Brandler Zentrale were fundamentally different. While Reuter, the most prominent figure of the Left, wanted the party prepared to make use of he new revolutionary wave which he sincerely anticipated, the Wandler Zentrale wanted to conjure up a revolutionary situation, even though few of its members shared Reuter’s optimistic view of the revolutionary wave on the horizon. They were primarily concerned to demonstrate that the KPD, under new management, would no longer be a do-nothing party, but a party of action, and that it would daringly lead the lethargic German workers out of the bondage of bourgeois capitalist exploitation. With the Communist mission thus formulated in theory, the sole remaining question was how to go about it in practice. To find the answer, the new party leaders began to scan the national and international scenes the hope that they would somehow, somewhere, find both an occasion and a justification for an Aktion.

During the first three months of 1921 the international situation was tense. The Allied conference which was held at Paris between January 24 and 29 had yielded some definite proposals for German reparation payments, and a German delegation was invited to come to London on March 1 to negotiate on the foundation laid by the Paris conference. Public opinion in Germany was unanimously hostile to the Paris decisions, and the German plenipotentiaries were not expected to display a very conciliatory attitude in London. This expectation proved to be correct, and the negotiations which began on March 1 ended in an impasse. An ultimatum to comply with Allied demands on reparations was rejected by Germany on March 7, and at 7 A.M. of the following day French troops occupied the cities of Duisburg, Thisseldorf, and Ruhrort in the Ruhr region. The situation was critical, and no rapid solution was in sight. The Allies remained firm, threatened that further sanctions might be applied, and demanded payment of twenty million gold marks by May 1. In addition, a new customs line was drawn along the Rhine, which cut off normal commercial intercourse between the Reich and its territory on the left bank of the river.

Difficulties between Germany and the Western Allies were intensified in the East by the approaching plebiscite in Upper Silesia, which was to determine where the German-Polish frontier would be drawn. Throughout 1920, and especially in August of that year, armed clashes between Poles and Germans had occurred sporadically along the disputed border region. The threat of new outbursts of violence remained constant. As the day of the plebiscite approached (March 20, 1921), tension mounted in Upper Silesia, partly because of renewed anti-German agitation in the Polish press. The situation was decidedly dangerous.

One domestic problem, Bavaria, flared up with fresh bitterness early in 1921. All attempts by the German government to make Bavaria disband her civil guards (Einwohnerwehren), particularly the controversial Orgesch, had failed. The Bavarians justified their obstinacy with the argument that the civil guards alone stood between the security of the population and Communist anarchy. On February 5, 1921, a conference of prime ministers from the individual German states (Lander) met in Berlin to discuss the whole sordid question once again. The Allied conference at Paris had issued a final injunction on January 29 under which the German government was instructed to enforce the disbanding of all paramilitary organizations inside the Reich by June 30, 1921. But despite the urgency of the matter, the conference of prime ministers reached no agreement. The central government insisted that the Allied demands would have to be met, and Bavaria’s Minister President von Kahr refused to comply. Kahr added that Bavaria would await the outcome of the London conference before making a decision. This stand was reaffirmed on February 8 by a council of the Bavarian ministry, and reiterated by Kahr before the Bavarian diet on February 17 and March 7. At this point the German government finally lost patience. Faced with Allied sanctions in the West on account of the reparations deadlock, and threatened by possible international complications arising from the Upper Silesian plebiscite, the government was determined to stave off additional trouble with the Allies by taking a firm stand on the civil guard issue. On March 12, a draft bill was introduced in the Reichsrat, the German upper house representing the individual states, which provided for general German disarmament in accordance with articles 177 and 178 of the peace treaty. The bill went to the Reichstag on March 14, was slightly revised in committee, and finally passed into law inn March 19, 1921. It was another two and a half months, however, before Bavaria finally admitted defeat and agreed to comply with time law. In the meantime, the issue continued to hang in the balance.”

The combination of domestic and foreign political problems which the republic faced by the end of February was indeed formidable—a fact which was not lost on the German Communists. But although they recognized the political potentials of the situation, they were so overwhelmed by what appeared to be a wealth of opportunities that they did not know how to deal with them. The Brandler Zentrale resembled a group of explorers at the edge of a vast wilderness, impatient to go, but undecided where to start and how to proceed. Thus in the absence of a clear and suitable plan the Communist leaders resorted to half-measures and improvisations. The program—if the muddle which resulted can be honored with this term—consisted merely of a formula which had served the KPD repeatedly, albeit ineffectually, in the past: strengthen the party, prepare it for action, and infuse revolutionary spirit into the German working class! But there was as yet no clear conception of what kind of action the party was to prepare, nor any clear idea as to what exactly it was to accomplish. In the absence of more substantial plans, the Zentrale restricted its activities for the moment to the dissemination of revolutionary propaganda to the masses, leaving the rest of its program to the future. In spite of the recent fiasco of the first Open Letter (January 8, 1921), the Zentrale, mindful of the fact that persistence was a virtue, published another manifesto in the Rote Fahne on March 4. The appeal was addressed “To the German Proletariat,” and began with the jeering observation that the diplomatic negotiations at London had led the German capitalists nowhere. Their surrender to the demands of the Entente powers was imminent, and the present negotiations had but one objective, to sell out German workers in order to reap benefits for German capitalists. The working class had only one alternative—the overthrow of the bourgeois government. No God was going to help the workers; they must help. themselves. Then the tone became shrill.

“The German working class faces once again an hour of destiny. Your fate will not be decided in London, but in Germany and by you.. . . The choice is yours. . . . You cannot evade this struggle. . . . Hesitate no longer. You have nothing to lose. Be resolved to take action. Demonstrate on Sunday [March 6], stir up all who are dilatory. March against your oppressors! Against the dual yoke of foreign and German exploiters! For the Communist reconstruction! Away with all bourgeois governments! For the rule of the working class! Alliance [Schutz-und Trutzbandnis] with Soviet Russia! Economic Union with Soviet Russia!”

This appeal elicited a letter from Paul Levi the following day. Directing himself to the Zentrale, the former party chairman called the appeal mere irresponsible propaganda, and its slogans unconvincing except to members of the KPD. He charged that the Zentrale had surrendered to the Berlin Left when the new line of propaganda was adopted. Instead of expounding highly unrealistic aims in the appeal, the Zentrale should have retained “Alliance with Soviet Russia” as its only slogan, without the other nonsense which at the moment could have no effect on most Germans. His letter closed with the words: “I see in the general attitude a weakness of the German Zentrale, the consequences of which I am as yet unable to foresee!”

This letter resulted in a meeting on March 8 in Berlin between the members of the Zentrale and the Communist Reichstag delegation, which included Levi and Zetkin. Levi’s account of this meeting is the only available source. According to him, all but one member of the Zentrale, Paul Frolich, proved amenable to his criticism of the most recent party line. Frolich defended the appeal, and demanded that once matters came to a head the party should issue the slogan: “Overthrow the Government and Elect Workers’ Councils.” Although no formal decision was taken on the matter, Levi left the conference apparently in the belief that he had convinced all members of the Zentrale, except Frolich, of the clumsiness and untimeliness of the party’s latest approach to revolution. He was soon to learn that he had been mistaken.

For in the first days of March, 1921, the German Communists received an unexpected visit. From the East appeared three emissaries of the ECCI, the Hungarians Bela Kun and Joseph Pepper, alias Pogany, and the Pole August Guralsky, alias Kleine. The latter two, it appears, kept discreetly in the background and left the transaction of business to Kun. After a short and unhappy career as leader of the Hungarian Communist revolt in 1919, Bela Kun had found a job and a home with the Executive Committee of the Third (Communist) International, where he soon made a name for himself by his unscrupulous tactics and extreme left-wing orientation. Sir Harold Nicolson, who met Kun in April 1919, has given a thumbnail sketch of the then triumphant revolutionary chief: “A little man of about 30: puffy white face and loose wet lips: shaven head: impression of red hair: shifty suspicious eyes: he has the face of a sulky and uncertain criminal.”‘ And now Kun had come with his fellow travelers to Germany in order to launch the KPD on the road to revolution.

The situation which they encountered upon their arrival proved very favorable for their plans. The leaders of the KPD, eager to prove their mettle but at a loss how to proceed, were easy prey for Kun who, in their eyes at least, represented the will of the Kremlin. Whether the party’s appeal of March 4 was the handiwork of the “Turkestaner,” as Levi called them, is doubtful; it is certain only that no final decision was taken during the first two weeks of March. Kun used this time to convince the Zentrale that the KPD must exploit the unique combination of national and international crises for an action of its own. The party, Kun urged, must take the offensive even if it should have to resort to provocative measures. Once an offensive was launched, two to three million German workers would follow the lead of the Communists. Kun was generous with optimistic estimates, and his enthusiasm captured the imagination of most members of the Zentrale. By March 10 Kun felt sufficiently sure of his success to reveal his ideas to Clara Zetkin, who was so shocked by what she had heard that she immediately informed Paul Levi and told him that she refused to have any further conversations with Kun unless witnesses were present. On March 14 Levi himself talked to Kun and was treated to the same grandiloquent schemes which had outraged Clara Zetkin a few days earlier. One might have expected that the former party chairman would have tried his utmost to block Kun’s ventures then and there, that he would have used whatever authority his opinion still carried to beat the alarm, to warn his comrades not to listen to a tempter whose ineptness had been so clearly revealed during the Hungarian revolution of 1919. But if Levi did so he has left no record of his attempts. Perhaps he refused to take Kun’s revolutionary overtures seriously; perhaps he put his faith in the sanity of his former colleagues or, conscious of his political eclipse, fatalistically shrugged off any further responsibility. -Whatever his reasons may have been, Levi resolved to take a vacation and, shortly after his talk with Kun, departed for Vienna, with Italy as his ultimate destination.

On March 16 and 17, 1921, the Zentrale met with the Central Committee in Berlin for a high-level conference, to determine what strategy the KPD was to adopt in the immediate future. Brandler presided and delivered the keynote address, which began with an analysis of the political situation as he saw it. The analysis presented the assembled functionaries and the Communist newspaper editors from every German district with a number of amazing statements. In addition to a sweeping and rapid recapitulation of all existing crises at home and abroad, which ranged from the effects of the London conference and the Upper Silesian plebiscite to the counter-revolutionary plans of the Orgesch, Brandler outdid himself by conjuring up the acute possibility of war between the United States and Great Britain. The new party chairman, perhaps affected by Kun’s optimism, stated that the chances of conflicts along Germany’s borders were nine to one, and that in the event of their outbreak the influence of the KPD would extend beyond the four to five million [sic!] Communists.

“I maintain that we have in the Reich today two to three million non-Communist workers who can be influenced by our Communist organization, who will fight under our flag . . . even in an offensive action [started by the KPD]. If my view is correct, then the situation obligates us to deal with the existing tensions at home and abroad no longer passively; we must no longer exploit . . . [them] merely for agitation, but we are obligated … to interfere through Aktionen in order to change matters in our sense”.

The speech was followed by a general discussion in which the members of the Zentrale voiced their support of Brandler’s theses. The most enthusiastic endorsement came from Paul Frolich, who called the projected plan of action a “complete break with the past” because the Communists, up to then always on the defensive, had finally reached the point when they would have to challenge fate by way of revolution. Frolieh elaborated that “we must now . . . go over to the offensive. . . . We can aggravate the existing [international] complications tremendously by calling on the masses in the Rhineland to go on strike, thereby sharpening . . . the prevailing differences between the Entente and the German government.” In Bavaria the party’s task would be provocation of the civil guards, in order to stir up trouble in that region.

Similar sentiments were voiced by Ernst Reuter-Friesland, who represented the Berlin organization in the Central Committee. He told the conference that the party must take action now, even if the Communists should find themselves fighting alone in the coming struggle. But the activists were not unopposed. Dissenting voices were raised, one of them by Heinrich Malzahn, a union official, member of the Reichstag, and an adherent of the Levi faction. Malzahn, unimpressed by Brandler’s rhetoric which struck him as exceedingly hazy, suggested that it was inadvisable to sanction blindly any future commitment by the party for a revolutionary offensive.” But his objections and those raised by like-minded sceptics carried no weight. The opponents of the suggested policy of action were hesitant and irresolute in their attempts to combat the bravado of the assembled party leaders. “The best lack all convictions, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” wrote William Butler Yeats in 1919, and his words well sum up the atmosphere in which the KPD leadership in March 1921 decided to embark upon revolution. Kun and his friends, though not personally in evidence during the conference, ultimately carried the day. In a series of resolutions it was decided to alert the party and to work toward a further increase of tensions wherever feasible. The party was to engage in armed struggles as soon as the combination of crisis atmosphere and Communist agitation produced an outbreak of violence anywhere. The overthrow of the existing German federal government was to be the first objective of the projected operation. “Overthrow the Government” was to serve as a fighting slogan in conjunction with the familiar demand, “Alliance with Soviet Russia.” Finally, in order not to jeopardize needlessly the success of the whole scheme, the conference resolved to make every effort to postpone the Aktion until after Easter week, a period unsuitable for strikes since factories were closed.

The decision was reached, the plans were laid, but the party’s freedom of action was lost even before the conference voted to adjourn. In her last editorial, published in the Rote Fahne on January 13, 1919, Rosa Luxemburg had warned that “the revolution just does not operate of its own accord, on an open battlefield, and according to a plan cleverly laid by ‘strategists.’ Its opponents can also take the initiative; moreover, they usually avail themselves of it more often than does the revolution.” Brandler, his colleagues, and Kun and company were soon to learn how true her observation was. While the conference was still in session, on March 17, the Communist leaders received word that the Social Democratic Oberpräsident (approx.: governor) of the Prussian province of Saxony, Otto Horsing, had the day before issued a proclamation announcing his intention to dispatch police forces into the Eisleben-Mansfeld districts of the province. The proclamation stated that the purpose of this measure was the restoration of order and security in that strike-ridden industrial region. The occasion for which the Zentrale had been waiting so eagerly had arrived, but prematurely, and from an unexpected quarter. All of a sudden the Communists were forced to face an unforeseen situation in which their opponents had taken the initiative.

* * *

Situated in the heart of Germany, the Prussian province of Saxony and the neighboring states of Thuringia and Saxony formed an economic unit which in industrial importance ranked with the Ruhr region and Upper Silesia. Prussian Saxony was the home of the Leuna Works which produced gasoline and chemicals; it was also a mining center where lignite, potash, and copper slate were dug. It rated high in steel production and had a number of processing industries.

The region was densely populated by industrial workers and had already seen labor trouble before the war. In January 1910, during a strike wave in the Mansfeld coal district, the regular army was sent in to maintain order. The district of Halle, one of six regional organizations which as early as 1913 belonged to the left wing of the SPD, was expelled by that party in the fall of 1916, and in the spring of 1917 participated in the founding of the Independent Social Democratic Party. After the November revolution, radicalism in the region became endemic. The rapidly expanding lignite mining and chemical industries attracted many newcomers, especially from the western provinces, after Germany, under the terms of the peace treaty, lost the large hard coal deposits of Alsace-Lorraine and Eupen-Malmedy. The new arrivals included a good number of rootless and shiftless people, many of whom had been toughened, if not brutalized, by years of trench warfare. Apart from these local conditions, the region shared with the rest of the country the political confusion, economic dislocation, and the disillusionment and de-moralization which followed in the wake of the lost war. Itinerant agitators, roving from mining town to mill town, addressed audiences of disgruntled and hungry workers who listened eagerly to anyone who offered to improve their miserable lot. Immediately after the war the region became a stronghold of the USPD, but, as economic conditions deteriorated further, the Communists gained around. In the elections to the Prussian diet on February 20, 1921, in the electoral district of Halle-Merseburg, the KPD obtained 197,113 votes as compared to 70,340 for the SPD, and 74,754 for I he USPD.

The Prussian government realized as early as 1919 that the province of Saxony, notably the Halle district, was a center of economic and political unrest. Wildcat strikes, clashes between workers and police, and thefts in factories and on the farm lands occurred with Increasing frequency. After the Kapp Putsch, a state of siege was proclaimed in the province and was not lifted until September 1920. In the following month the Prussian Minister of the Interior Carl Severing suggested to the Obärprasident of Prussian Saxony, Otto Horsing, that a drastic reorganization of the police in the troubled region was essential if order and security were to be restored. It was also known that the population had surrendered only a small number of arms after the upheavals which had followed the Kapp Putsch, and the existence of undiscovered arms caches was a constant source of concern to the Prussian authorities.

The situation continued to deteriorate during the winter months of 1920-1921. The Prussian government received complaints from factory owners and farmers who charged that thefts were increasing. All attempts to prevent theft by means of private plant detectives, bodily searches, and stricter supervision were answered by spontaneous strikes, beating of guards, sabotage, and other terroristic acts. Conditions were particularly tense in the Leuna Works near Merseburg, and in the Eisleben copper slate works. Both industrial plants were harassed by strikes at the end of January and the beginning of February, 1921. At Leuna the issue was a demand for shorter hours, at Eisleben resistance to the presence of plant detectives. Both strikes were settled, apparently by promises on the part of management which satisfied the workers.

In view of the constant stream of complaints which reached the office of the Obärprdsident, Horsing called a conference at Merscburg for February 12 to which he invited the Landrdte, mayors, and chief representatives of industry from the region. The discussions at the conference revealed a gloomy picture, and Horsing was particularly shocked by reports that farmers had their manure carted away under cover of darkness. It is uncertain whether the decision to send a police expedition into the Eisleben-Mansfeld districts was reached on that occasion or only on February 28, when Horsing called another conference with the same participants. In any event, plans for such a measure were definitely made in February. The original plan called for the occupation of Eisleben by 300 policemen, and of Hettstedt by 200. The occupation was not to commence be-fore March 19 in order not to jeopardize the plebiscite in Upper Silesia, scheduled for March 20. Horsing was afraid that an operation at an earlier date might harm the German cause in the plebiscite by reducing rail transportation needed to take voters to the region, and by prompting possible sympathy strikes on the part of railway personnel.

It seems that up to this point Horsing considered the pacification of his bailiwick as strictly his own responsibility, to be handled by local officials and local police forces. Though he kept the Prussian government abreast of developments, Horsing was apparently not eager to have his superiors interfere in what he believed were his own affairs. There was in addition a distinct difference of opinion as to what exactly the projected police occupation was to accomplish, and against whom it was to be primarily directed. Horsing went out of his way to emphasize the non-political nature of the disturbances, and before and after the uprisings in central Germany insisted that all his efforts were directed toward restoring the authority of the state (in this case, Horsing’s authority), which was being undermined by criminal elements and trouble makers.

In contrast to Horsing’s parochial views, the Prussian State Commissioner for Safeguarding Public Security, Dr. Weismann, saw central Germany primarily as a political powder-keg which at any moment could be blown sky high by Communist conspirators. But Weismann was in a difficult position. His suspicions were largely hosed on intuition, a fact which he admitted after the uprising, and ns he was unable to prove that left-wing radicals in Prussian Saxony were planning a revolt, he could not convince either Severing or Horsing of the validity of his point of view.

Severing’s ideas on how to handle the unruly province differed from both Horsing’s and Weismann’s. Severing was willing to allow the Oberpräsident a free hand as long as unrest remained restricted to Prussian Saxony and did not acquire political overtones. Thus he kept in touch with developments and, although he was unimpressed by Weismann’s somber predictions of a putsch, he did not rule out the possibility that the Communists would sooner or later exploit  the tensions in the Mansfeld region. In such a case, Severing was determined to “clear the air” by every means at the disposal of the Prussian government. The moment when Severing decided to interfere arrived on March 13, 1921. On that day, an unsuccessful attempt was made to dynamite the Siegessaule (victory column), a famous and venerable land-mark in the heart of Berlin. Twelve pounds of high explosives, packed in a cardboard box, were discovered by visitors to the monument on the morning of March 13. Only a defective fuse had prevented damage, and possibly casualties.

A number of East German historians, who in February 1956 conducted a colloquium on the March uprising, have once again proffered a charge, which dates back to 1921, that the attempt against the Siegessaule was part of a deliberate plot by the Prussian government to implicate the Communists, and that the dynamite was in fact placed by police spies. Since this charge constitutes the key argument on which the Communists, then and now, have based their interpretation of the origins of the March uprising, it will be necessary to dwell briefly on the bomb plot.

When the dynamite was discovered, 50,000 marks were offered as a reward to anyone who could lead the police to the persons who had placed it. In addition, a thorough description of the bomb and its wrappings appeared in the newspapers. The description stated that six kilograms of dynamite had been placed in a cardboard box marked “Dr. Oetkers Saucenpulver,” that the color of the box was brown, and that the detonation caps were marked “Anhaltische Sprengwerke.” On March 21, thus after the police occupation in central Germany had begun, the Berlin police arrested eleven persons, some of whom carried membership cards of the KAPD. These men confessed that they placed the bomb. The explosion, according to the testimony of some, was intended to intimidate the population, initiate a new revolutionary wave and, incidentally, mark the first anniversary of the Kapp Putsch. None of the prisoners revealed the identity of the man who had given them their orders. None of them was a member of the KPD.

There is little doubt that this project was neither conceived nor executed by any political party, but was a typical example of “individual terror” on the part of revolutionary cranks, who abounded in Germany during the postwar period. According to the account of Max Hoelz, one of the most colorful revolutionaries of this period, the idea of blowing up the monument came from a freewheeling radical named Ferry, alias Hering. Ferry met Hoelz in Berlin (no date is indicated, except that Hoelz went to Berlin in December 1920), and asked for money with which to buy explosives necessary for his plot. He promised in return to manufacture bombs and hand grenades for Hoelz. The deal went through, to the satisfaction of both individuals concerned. The Siegessaule incident convinced Severing of the need for a large-scale, state-supported operation in central Germany. Since all indications pointed toward the plot’s having originated in the province of Saxony, Severing dispatched police agents of the criminal detachment to the region, with instructions to investigate whether dynamite had been stolen there. He also ordered police reinforcements from Berlin and other places to be alerted for the projected operation, and arranged with Horsing that another conference be called at Merseburg on March 17. One day before the conference was held, Horsing published his proclamation to the workers in the central German industrial districts. It was a lengthy appeal which began with a description of diverse lawless acts that of late had increased in number and severity. Wildcat strikes, robbery, looting, and terrorist activities by roving armed bands headed the list of offenses. The damages done to agricultural and industrial property were mentioned, and also bodily injuries inflicted on guards who had tried to prevent theft and looting. The appeal called attention to the fact that workers who had refused to go on strike had been threatened, and at times brutally beaten. Furthermore, lawfully elected factory councils had been replaced on many occasions by so-called action committees. Horsing pointed out that his impression during a recent tour of inspection had been that these outrages were not instigated by Communists, but by “international criminals” who were posing as Communists and were using the most absurd slogans in their attempts to stir up trouble.

The appeal closed as follows:

“In the interest of labor, agriculture, industry, commerce, and trade I have given orders that strong contingents of police forces will be sent into many towns of the industrial region within the next few days. . . . The police forces will treat with equal firmness both the criminals themselves and all those who should attempt to prevent the forces from carrying out their duty, offer open opposition, or try to incite the population . . . in an effort to hinder the police forces in the execution of their mission.”

The conference on March 17 was attended by Horsing, Severing, Weismann, the highest administrative official of the district of Merseburg, Regierungsprasident von Gersdorff, and representatives of all political parties except the Communists. The discussion was primarily concerned with strategy, and two days later, March 19, the police occupation began.

Who, then, bore the largest share of responsibility for the ensuing disorders? The Communists put the entire blame on the Prussian government in general, and on Severing in particular, charging that lie workers of central Germany were to be provoked into active opposition, so that Severing could crack down and settle accounts with Ilse Communists. But the proponents of this theory conveniently disregard a number of relevant facts. They discount, or even deny, the role played by Bela Kun and his fellow “Turkestaner,” who spent the first half of March trying to sell their plan for a revolution to the Zentrale of the KPD. They also misrepresent the tenor of the debate at the Central Committee meeting on March 16 and 17, falsify the reasons why the conference was called in the first place, and do not mention either the Zentrale’s intention to prepare for an uprising before Horsing’s appeal became known to the delegates, or the objections that were raised against these plans by some of the functionaries present. Although the fact is mentioned that one faction at the conference favored a theory of revolutionary offensive, no attempt has been made to point out the effect of this theory on the decisions taken by the party caucus on March 17. True, the uprising which the KPD originally conceived was to have taken place after the Easter holidays, and, according to the party theoreticians, was to have grown out of international complications. What happened instead was that the Prussian government unwittingly anticipated the insurrectionist intentions of the Zentrale by its decision to execute a police occupation of Prussian Saxony. Taken unawares, the Communists, for reasons which will be discussed shortly, allowed themselves to become involved in a struggle at a time and place not of their own choosing, and under circumstances that favored the Prussian government, which had seized the initiative.

It is conceivable that the March uprising would not have occurred at all if the bomb plot against the Siegessdule had not prompted the Prussian government to make a show of force. Persuaded by Severing, Horsing revised his earlier plan to deal with the disturbances in the province exclusively with his own police forces. The area of occupation, which originally was to be confined to the Eisleben-Mansfeld districts, was extended to include the Merseburg area as well, and the number of police contingents was doubled by calling on out-side reinforcements. These measures gave the operation from the beginning an appearance quite out of proportion to its alleged objective, the suppression of a local crime wave. The man behind these changes was Severing. There is good reason to believe that after the Siegessdule plot Severing, and through him Horsing, were converted to Weismann’s point of view that the series of incidents discovered during the early part of 1921 were indicative of a contemplated Communist putsch. They happened to be right, but the indications on which the Prussian officials based their assumptions were largely incidental and not part of the actual plan which the KPD finally adopted on March 17.

Despite their suspicions, Severing, Horsing, and Weismann upheld the official version that the police occupation of Prussian Saxony had no political motives, but was entirely a measure designed to stamp out crime. In view of the fact that the Communists were the only political party not represented at the Merseburg conference of March 17, coupled with the large-scale preparations for the his pending move, the argument is unconvincing. It was nevertheless maintained after the uprising had been crushed, except for a revealing remark made by Severing. He was questioned by a member of the investigation committee appointed by the Prussian diet as to whether it was true that the police forces employed in Saxony were intentionally kept below the numbers required for a quick operation lest “the thunderstorm would not have broken, leaving the atmosphere sultry.” Severing denied the intention but agreed that the relative weakness of the police proved a blessing in disguise, because it brought the simmering insurrection out into the open where it could be fought. In his memoirs, Severing went even further by adding that “it was not, after all, the objective of the police action merely to punish the misdeeds of a few evildoers, but to pacify the region by means of a thorough disarmament action (Entwaffnungsaktion).” To this extent, and only to this extent, can the Communist charge of government “provocation” be eonsidered justified. But it must also be kept in mind that the Prussian officials were leaning over backward not to challenge the KPD openly, going so far as to maintain the legal fiction of an operation against crime. Under these circumstances, the Communist leaders could easily have ignored Horsing’s appea1. That they chose not to do so was to cost the life of many a comrade from the rank and file.


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