E. Belfort Bax

Germany and the Political Situation

(27 February 1919)

E. Belfort Bax, Germany and the Political Situation, Justice, 27th February 1919, p.2.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The affairs of the Peace Conference do not seem to advance very rapidly. In fact, there seems some colourable pretence for the opinion sometimes heard that the job is being too much “nursed”, as the phrase goes. Banqueting and speechifying there is galore, but the real business seems to lag behind.

The German National Assembly seems at last under way. “Majority” Socialists show certainly a majority over any two of the other parties taken together. It is difficult to say whether we ought to regard this result from the point of view of the actual situation as satisfactory or not. Had the elections been held six weeks earlier, I take it there is no doubt whatever that the “Independents” (the “Minority” Socialists) would have received at least twice as many votes as they have in the recent polling. The events of the Berlin insurrection early last month entirely altered the position. The temporary alliance of the “Minority” men in Berlin with the Spartakist group, which was as regards many of its adherents strongly under Bolshevik influence, has unquestionably for the time being damaged the prestige of the party throughout the country.

The Mistake of the Independents

Socialists, of course, ought to know that the “Independents” have no Bolshevist tendencies, and that any favour they may have shown to the Spartacus insurrection was chiefly due to a desire to throw out of power the sinister figures of Ebert, Scheidemann, and Noske – especially the two latter. In this desire every honest Socialist must share. But the event showed that the tactics pursued were a mistake. The “Majority” Socialists, after having triumphed in arms in Berlin, seem to have triumphed at the voting stations throughout the country. Still we may hope that the more honest men of the Majority may have enough of their old Socialist traditions left to put a spoke in the wheel of reaction, if nothing more. But it is useless speculating on the immediate future of Germany before the National Assembly shows us what we may expect.

Karl Liebknecht

Meanwhile one must not omit to do justice to those who fell in the ill-starred Spartacus rising of the second week in January. The news of the death of Karl Liebknecht will have come as a shock to Socialists all the world over. True to his ideals and convictions from start to finish through good report and evil report this heroic figure cannot fail to evoke both now and in the future, all workers in the cause of Socialism. It may well be that the policy boldly pursued by Liebknecht was a mistaken one. Many of us may be inclined to agree with Bernstein that the Spartacus group, is carrying out a policy of misery, leading to sheer anarchy, yet we can, nevertheless, heartily agree with the expressions of that excellent Socialist, one of the best men in Germany at the present time, Kurt Eisner, of Munich, in admiring the heroism and self-sacrifice of those who perished in the Berlin rising. That Kurt Eisner should have said what he did in a public speech is the more to his credit, since he himself, as head of the Provisional Government of the recently created Bavarian Republic, has had trouble with the exigencies of the Spartacan extremists.

The Arraignment of the Kaiser

If the attitude of the new Assembly is a factor indisputable to the formation of any sound judgment as to the future relations of the German people with the rest of the world scarcely less can be said of the arraignment before a court of criminal jurisdiction of the Kaiser and others primarily responsible for the war. As regards the first point, it is essential that the new National Assembly should once for all proclaim the determination of the German people no longer to be governed by an oligarchy of nobles and military men, and as an earnest of this determination at once abolish the institution of a standing army on the basis of compulsory military service. This, coupled with the constitution of the new Republic on a loosely federal basis, with a large measure of autonomy for each State and no centralised power in military matters, ought to afford a sufficient primary guarantee to other nations of the unaggressive character of the new Germany.

Punishment of Those Responsible for This Necessary

As to the second point mentioned, it is to be feared that the bitterness now so largely felt towards the German people on the part of other nations will hardly die down before the general sense of justice has been satisfied by the exemplary punishment of those responsible for the war and the manner in which it has been conducted, chief among whom are the Kaiser and the head men of the General Staff of the army. With this question is further involved that of the confiscation of the enormous wealth of the Hohenzollerns and the Habsburgs to meet the indemnities, and thereby lighten the burden of the German nation, many of whom may claim to be at worst only indirectly responsible for the course of events. For the rest, the future is uncertain enough. With such men as Schiedemann and Noske giving the tone to German politics one cannot help being pessimistic, but, on the other hand, one must not forget that Germany also has her Kurt Eisners, her Rühles, and her Bittmann and others like them.

[Since our comrade Bax wrote the article, Kurt Eisner has been assassinated. – ED. J.]


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