Book Reviews by Max Beer 1922

Max Beer 1922

Book Reviews
Socialisation in Germany

Source: Labour Monthly, August 1922, pp. 124-127;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Die Sozialisierung von Kohle und Stahl. By Alfons Horten. Berlin. 15 marks
Der Sozialismus. By Professor Dr. Rob. Wilbrandt. Jena. (Only first edition valuable.)
Die Sozialisierung. By Heinrich Ströbel. Berlin, 1922. 40 marks.
Was ist Sozialisierung? By Karl Korsch. 3 marks.
Deutschlands Wiederaufbau. By Professor Dr. Emil Lederer. Tubingen. 20 marks
Das Sozialisierungsproblem in Deutschland. By Spectator. Seehof Verlag, Berlin, 6 marks.
Revolutions-Dokumente. By Eberhard Buchner. Berlin, 1922. Verlag für Politik und Geschichte. 400 pages. 10 marks. (Indispensable for the history of November, 1918.)

Part from the three large volumes of the Proceedings and the two Reports of the official Socialisation Commission (published by Robert Engelmann, Berlin) a very considerable number of books, pamphlets, and papers have appeared on the socialisation movement which spontaneously set in at the outbreak of the November revolution. Only few of them deserve the attention of the social student, either from their theoretical grasp of the problem or practicability of their proposals, or, finally, from their attempting to survey and summarise the various acts, publications, and discussions concerning our subject. The publications mentioned in our list may be counted among the best.

At first a few notes on some of their authors. Herr Horten was successively for twenty years one of the most efficient directors of Prussian State mines, of private iron and steel works (Thyssen concern), of the metals department of the Imperial War Ministry, and, finally, of the Lorraine Briey works during the last war. In 1918 he embraced socialism, from the consideration as the result of his long experience that capitalism was incompatible with national welfare. Herr Wilbrandt is Professor, at the Heidelberg University, lecturing on political economy and social reform. His work consists of three parts: the first two parts were composed in pre-revolutionary days and are in no way remarkable; the third part, the most important one, is the product of the apocalyptic winter months, 1918-19; it was written under the overpowering impression he received on his journeys in 1918-19, through the Ruhr valley, where Spartacus swayed the mining population. In the second edition of the book (1922) the whole third part is missing; the Herr Professor is rewriting it in the calm atmosphere of a university town. Ströbel, a former editor of the Vorwärts, joined the Independents, opposed war and Bolshevism; he has now returned to the Majority Socialists, but remains Independent at heart. His work attempts to survey the Russian, Hungarian, and German socialisation movement, but its chapters read like vividly written leading articles rather than consecutive sections of an historical treatise. On the whole, there is still lacking a methodical and thoughtful narrative of the German socialisation movement, with its abundance of materials, researches, and striking sidelights on capitalism, as well as with its tragic failures and cowardly betrayals.

On November 9 1918, the political structure of Prussia and Germany reared by Frederick the Great and Prince Bismarck was shattered. The national sovereignty, wielded for so many centuries by the German princes, fell automatically into the hands of a people whose possessing classes appeared to be hopelessly involved in the collapse of the traditional authorities. The bourgeoisie was paralysed and supinely expecting social dismissal and economic expropriation. The insurgent proletariat, manual and brain workers, seized the reins of power, and in a memorable Berlin meeting on November 10, in the unconscious exercise of national sovereignty, nominated a Provisional Government, which consisted of three Majority Socialists and three Independents. Karl Liebknecht was invited to join, but declined.

The Provisional Government was a dictatorship without dictators. Its authority was derived from a mandate of the insurgents, but the mandatories failed to use it. This act accomplished, the proletariat all over the country assembled in public meetings, in which the cry for the socialisation of the means of production grew more and more distinct. Within a few days this demand became so urgent that on November 14 the Government promised socialisation and four days later set up a Socialisation Commission, which, after preliminary work in camera, held its first public sitting on December 4, 1918.

Meanwhile, the masses were losing all trust in the Government whose Majority Socialist members, led by Gustav Noske, called back the royalist military to kill Spartacists. Strike after strike occurred, the three Independent Socialist Ministers resigned office (December 28, 1918), and while the Berlin masses were engaged in trying to secure political power through the workmen’s councils, the Ruhr valley became the focus of the socialisation movement. Similar movements were going on in Saxony, Bavaria, and Württemberg. The spirit which animated the Ruhr valley at that time is described by the Protestant minister, Rev. Mennicke: –

“I was deeply moved,” he relates, “by the serious determination which fills these people. There lives among the miners, at least in the district which is in my charge, something of the primitive Christian feeling. They believe we have arrived at a turning point of history, and they have the great consciousness to be engaged in a sacred fight. And this fight, they think, is directed against exploiting capital, which cynically rides roughshod over man’s life and existence.” (Horten, p.23.)

The Ruhr miners, having vainly demanded from the Government a clear pronouncement for the socialisation of the coal industry, declared on January 9, 1919, a general strike, which was to be followed by a forcible seizure of the mines. On the same day the Spartacists, the Independents, and the Majority Socialists united, formed a Committee, and in the name of the miners occupied the mines the following day. In a leaflet, under the heading “Triumph of Socialism,” they announced to the Miners that “the centre of capitalist exploitation and the castle of the coal lords has been transferred to the people,” and asked the miners to return to work in the interest of the whole community. Cheerfully they followed this advice, and with all their might they worked in the mines. The output rose by 400 waggons daily, the rest shifts diminished in one month from 255 to 155; the mining people were anxious to demonstrate that they needed no capitalist directors. Such was the magic effect of the prospect of “socialisation” in the winter 1918-19 (Wilbrandt, pp. 254-258). Likewise, the Berlin Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Council pledged its word for it that in case of socialisation all strikes would cease.

Urged by these demonstrations the Socialisation Commission drew up its Preliminary Report (February 15, 1919), the majority of the Commissioners declaring for the “expropriation of State and private capital in mining.” Simultaneously with these events the Socialist Provisional Government, surrounded by the Noske guard, prepared for an appeal to the whole nation to send representatives to the Constituent Assembly at Weimar. The general elections took place on January 18, 1919, two days after the murder of Liebknecht and Luxemburg, and resulted in a Coalition Government of Majority Socialists, Democrats, and Catholics. They carried, in the middle of March, two Socialisation Bills, published on March 23, 1919, one empowering the Government to socialise natural resources and the production and distribution of various industries, the second, concerning the coal industry, eschewing socialisation of the mines, and only providing for their joint management by representatives of employers, workers, consumers, and the Empire; it created an Imperial Coal Council as well as Coal Associations, and left the question of property untouched. This arrangement they call “Gemeinwirtschaft” (common economy). The effect of the whole “Gemeinwirtschaft” has been an enormous rise of coal prices and the complete trustification of the mines to the detriment of the consumers. The Coalition Government was from the outset of its career uncompromisingly hostile to any practical socialisation measure. In the Economic Ministry, headed by a Majority Socialist, no industrial expert had the slightest chance of being employed there if he was favourable to socialisation (Horten, p.19). The Socialisation Commission lost all influence on the Coalition of Social Democrats, and quietly dissolved in April, 1919, for “owing to all sorts of opposition and obstruction on the part of the Economic Ministry and, in general, the departmental chiefs” no useful work could be accomplished. The Government Social Democrats surrendered to the insidious suggestions of the Revisionist and capitalist pamphleteers (Dr. August Müller, Wichard von Möllendorf, Walther Rathenau, Vossische Zeitung) that Germany, the most highly developed industrial organism of Europe, was not ripe for socialisation. The socialist meetings and conferences kept on passing resolutions in favour of socialisation, but it was only after the Kapp coup in March, 1920, when the organised proletariat, having defeated the royalists, got the upper hand for a few days, that the Coalition Government was forced to reconstitute the Socialisation Commission. It sat till July, 1920, issued a Report which was disregarded by the Government, for at that time the proletariat had relapsed into inactivity owing to the massacres of its most energetic elements in the Ruhr valley during the sanguinary conflicts with the Kappist officers and soldiery in March and April, 1920.

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The socialisation episode forms one of the most tragic chapters of the story of the German revolution. Its vicissitudes are well characterised by Professor Lederer (p.70-71): “When in November, 1918, political power fell into the hands of the proletariat the idea of socialisation soared upwards; not as a plan for saving society from decay, but as the full effect of the position of power that fell to working class in empire and industry owing to the collapse of the ruling classes. After the first spurt, after declaration of principles and appointment of a Socialisation Commission, the whole thing fizzled out. The wild strikes, the unrest in the workshops were again and again allayed by temporary measures and high-sounding words. .... As often as the rising tide of the working class threatened the existing order, official placards glaringly announced SOCIALISM HAS COME! As soon as the ebb set in, one could hear the official or semi-official view that the time for socialism had not come, that Germany was not ripe for socialisation, that one could not socialise deficits – as if socialisation consisted in despoiling industry and not in bespeaking and organising for it the common efforts of all.”