E. Belfort Bax

The Outlook in Germany

(20 March 1919)

E. Belfort Bax, The Outlook in Germany, Justice, 20th March 1919, p.2.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).

For the outside world the real meaning of events and the true character of the forces that are at work among the populations of Central Europe is involved in much shifting mist. Throughout Germanic Europe we can discern at the present time four clearly marked general movements. First, we have the old reactionary group – the militarists, the monarchists, the Catholics of the Centre, and the old landowning and big capitalist Conservatives. All these groups of the reactionary party have undoubtedly as their aim the resuscitation of the old regime in all its glory – monarchy, militarism, privilege, and the rest. But just now, and since the revolution of November 9, the reactionary party has been prudently lying low. We hear little of it as such. But let us make no mistake, the reactionists are none the less there and only biding their time.

The “Majority” and the Independents

Secondly, there are the men representing the dominant movement of the hour – the “Majority Socialists.” But it seems to most of us that the Majority Socialist Party comprises plenty of “Majority” and very little Socialism. Majority Socialism certainly plays the spectacular role in German politics at the present moment. The principal leaders of this Party we all know as fire-eating jingoes and Pan-Germanists during the war, whose services have been at the disposal of the Kaiser and his Government.

Thirdly, there is what we may term the true German Socialist Party – viz., the Independents or the “Minority Socialist” Group. They are represented by 24 members as against 160 “Majority Socialists” in the National Assembly at Weimar. These Independent Socialists represent the doctrines of Marx and the traditionally recognised principles of Social-Democracy – to wit, those of constructive revolutionary Socialism.

The Spartakists

Fourthly, we have the Spartakists. The Spartakist movement, as regards the bulk of its supporters, is apparently Marxist in its aims, but its views as regards direct action would seem to approach those of the old French Blanquist Party, who placed their entire faith in the violent seizure of power by insurrectionary means and the immediate achievement of the whole Socialist programme. In this, as old Friedrich Engels said of the French Blanquists, they ignore the probable contingency of their whole movement being wrecked or discredited by the blunders resulting from their own incapacity to deal with the immense task they have imposed upon themselves. This view has been certainly justified recently by the Russian Bolshevist Revolution and the abortive efforts of its authors to make twelve o’clock at eleven.

Whence Comes Their Strength

As may naturally be supposed from what is said, there are elements in the German Spartakist Party which strongly sympathise with the Russian Bolshevists. But it would be quite unjust to regard the two movements as identical. There are undoubtedly large numbers of the German Spartakists who have no sympathy whatever with the methods of Russian Bolshevism. The strength of the Spartakist movement is doubtless drawn largely from the hatred inspired in all sincere German Socialists for the “Majority Socialist” leaders now in power, whom they regard as traitors, and whom many believe to be reactionary agents in disguise. At the time of writing the Spartakists are making another attempt to seize the political power by force of arms. Their chances of ultimate success in overcoming the Government troops would seem to be very doubtful – though, of course, after our experience of recent Russian history, one cannot help feeling that anything may happen as the result of a popular rising.

Probable Result of a Spartakist Success

In the event of a Spartakist success it is difficult to foresee the course of events. That Bolshevism of the Russian brand should supervene I regard as scarcely possible in Germany. There are three conceivable alternatives in such an event: – (1) The Anarchist elements within and outside the Spartakist movement itself might get the upper hand, and after a period, a general disruption lead to a modified victory for the reactionary parties by a revulsion of sentiment on the part of the middle classes, reinforced by a considerable section of the peasantry. (2) The constructive elements among the Spartakists might join hands with the Independent Minority Socialists and thereby lay the foundations of a true Social-Democratic Republic (3) The Majority Socialists might with the blandishments again succeed in capturing by indirect means the governmental machine by a show of compromise.

If the “Majority” Win By Armed Force

In the more probable event of the definite victory of the present Government by army force over the various insurrectionary attempts of the Spartakist Party, we may expect to see the introduction of what is au fond a reactionary political constitution masked by a show of concessions to Liberalism and Labour. The present Government, manned largely as it is by Majority Socialists, has drafted a scheme of constitution in which the old Centralism, founded apparently upon the Bismarckian Prussian hegemony (though this is, I believe, not expressly stated), is retained. The maintenance of Berlin as the capital of the united German Empire minus the Emperor is openly admitted as the intention of those at present in power. The fact can no longer be concealed that the bulk of the Majority Socialists (?) are to all intents and purposes identical in their policies and aims with the old German Liberal Party. In fact, the so-called progressist section of the Liberal Party, lead by the late Eugen Richter was in some respects more Radical than many of these misnamed Socialists of the Majority. The near future will show in how far the above forecast will be realised.


Last updated on 28.5.2007