Pierre Broué

The German Revolution

Chapter Two
Social Democracy Before 1914

The split between Social Democrats and Communists, the basis for which had existed since August 1914, when almost every socialist party supported its government on the outbreak of the First World War, and which was realised in 1919 with the establishment of the Communist International, has projected a distorting light on the history of the International. Many writers, politicians and historians who have attempted to discover the roots of this significant split treat it as a phenomenon which could have been foreseen. Although the tensions and debates within the International prior to 1914 were implicit pointers to a split, few if any socialists desired a schism. The Russian Bolshevik faction, the nucleus of the future world Communist movement, regarded itself as no more than a Russian faction constructing a workers’ social-democratic party – which in the language of those times meant ‘revolutionary Marxist’ – in the given historical conditions of the empire of the Tsars. When Lenin was polemicising in 1905 against Peter Struve, he angrily denied that he wanted to split the Party:

When and where did I call the ‘revolutionism of Bebel and Kautsky’ opportunism? When and where did I ever claim to have created any sort of special trend in international social democracy not identical with the trend of Bebel and Kautsky? When and where have there been brought to light differences between me, on the one hand, and Bebel and Kautsky, on the other – differences even slightly approximating in gravity the differences between Bebel and Kautsky, for instance, on the agrarian question in Breslau? [1]

The indignation of the Bolshevik leader in 1905 was legitimate. Despite many discussions and differences, he maintained this attitude until 1914, and let slip no occasion to pay homage to German Social Democracy, the model of that ‘revolutionary social democracy’ which he wished to construct in Russia, in opposition to those he regarded as the opportunists, whom he wished to exclude from the Party only because they denied the necessity for its existence and wished to ‘liquidate’ it.

A model of revolutionary social democracy

Lenin believed up to the Stuttgart Congress in 1907 that German Social Democracy ‘had always upheld the revolutionary standpoint in Marxism’. [2] When he condemned the German delegates at that congress for their opportunism, he concurred fully with Kautsky’s criticism of them. He maintained this position right up to the eve of the First World War. On 6 August 1913, he ended an article in Pravda devoted to the life and work of August Bebel with these lines:

The period of preparation and the mustering of working-class forces is in all countries a necessary stage in the development of the world emancipation struggle of the proletariat, and nobody can compare with August Bebel as a brilliant personification of the peculiarities and tasks of that period. Himself a worker, he proved able to break his own road to sound socialist convictions, and became a model workers’ leader, a representative and participant in the mass struggle of the wage-slaves of capital for a better social system. [3]

On 4 April 1914, Lenin sharply criticised the opportunist positions which the trade-union leader Karl Legien had defended during his visit to the USA, but he again hailed ‘the great services’ performed by German Social Democracy, its ‘strictly formulated theory’, its ‘mass organisation, newspapers, trade unions, political associations’. [4]

Amongst those who were central to the founding of the Communist International, perhaps Trotsky alone had glimpsed the destiny of German Social Democracy He wrote, after the 1905 Revolution, in his book Results and Prospects:

The function of the socialist parties was and is to revolutionise the consciousness of the working class, just as the development of capitalism revolutionised social relations. But the work of agitation and organisation amongst the ranks of the proletariat has an internal inertia. The European socialist parties, particularly the largest of them, the German Social-Democratic Party, have developed their conservatism in proportion as the great masses have embraced socialism and the more these masses have become organised and disciplined. As a consequence of this, social democracy as an organisation embodying the political experience of the proletariat may at a certain moment become a direct obstacle to open conflict between the workers and bourgeois reaction. [5]

In fact, the criticisms of German Social Democracy from within the Second International arose not from revolutionaries but from opportunists such as the French Socialists. The German leaders had been the pupils of Marx and Engels, their direct successors at the head of the world socialist movement. No one could dispute the ‘right of succession’ of men such as Kautsky [6] and Bebel. [7] The latter personified the organisation of the German working class in the period when capitalism was rapidly expanding. This worker, a turner in the metallurgical industry, a deputy in the Reichstag in 1871, launched the slogan ‘War on the Palaces’ at the very moment when Bismarck’s troops were helping those of Thiers to crush the fighters of the Paris Commune. Twice imprisoned and twice sentenced, he was the soul of the resistance to the anti- socialist laws in the last third of the nineteenth century, the patient builder, the broad-shouldered fighter who tirelessly recruited, trained and convinced crowds of workers, by his solid arguments and his calm confidence in the struggle, that they must take their destiny into their own hands.

Fourteen years younger than Bebel was the Austrian, Karl Kautsky, born in 1854. He embodied the intellectual ambition of scientific socialism. By the side of Bebel the practitioner, he was the theoretician, the scholar, who gave clear guidance to the party and the masses alike. In Switzerland, he had edited the Sozialdemokrat, which activists distributed clandestinely in Germany at the time of Bismarck’s anti-socialist Exceptional Laws. He was a friend and disciple of Engels, and continued in the columns of Die Neue Zeit, the Party’s theoretical journal, the work of the founders of scientific socialism. His adversaries called him the ‘Pope’ of social democracy, and said that he claimed to be infallible. The fact is that his authority was immense and his prestige considerable. He seemed to be the agile brain of a firm arm.

A new universe

In forty years, despite persecution and prosecutions, the German Social Democrats succeeded in organising the workers in every field, not merely in respect of political action in every form, but also in respect of short-term demands, and the organisation of the workers’ leisure pursuits, education and culture. The activists of the SPD provided the working class with a real organising framework. They were the Vertrauensmänner, the trusted representatives of the party in the localities or the workplaces, trade-union delegates, and elected officials of trade unions, cooperatives and mass organisations at all levels. Within the state and in opposition to it, the followers of Marx and Engels constructed a party so powerful that it formed a real state within the state.

The SPD had 1,085,905 members in 1914. In the legislative elections in 1912, its candidates collected more than 4,250,000 votes. The trade unions which it had brought into existence, and for which it provided the leadership, had over two million members and an annual income of 88 million marks. Around it, its activists knew how to build a broad network of parallel organisations; these organised at different levels nearly all wage-earners, and extended into every sphere of social life: associations of socialist women, the youth movement, people’s universities, libraries and reading societies, leisure organisations and open-air movements, publishing houses, newspapers, journals and magazines. This edifice rested upon the solid framework of a competent, efficient administrative and technical apparatus, experienced in modern methods of management and propaganda. On its 90 daily papers, the Party employed 267 full-time journalists and 3,000 manual and clerical workers, managers, commercial directors and representatives. The majority of the leading members, especially the Executive (the Parteivorstand), and the central offices, all the responsible people in the different states, and the majority of the secretaries of the local organisations, were full-time functionaries of the Party, professionals appointed by it, devoting all their time to it, as were the majority of its elected representatives, its 110 deputies in the Reichstag, the 220 deputies which it had in the various Landtags, and its 2,886 elected municipal councillors. The leaders of the trade-union federations, the craft unions or the local groups, who had themselves become professionals over the years, were overwhelmingly members of the Party.

Such a large movement, organised on a class basis in Imperial Germany, could not be regarded as a common-or-garden political machine, nor even as the model of a ‘workers’ party’ in a parliamentary democracy. Ruth Fischer wrote:

The German social democrats were able to realize a type of organization that was more than a loosely knit association of individuals coming together temporarily for temporary aims, more than a party for the defence of labor interests. The German Social Democratic Party became a way of life. It was much more than a political machine; it gave the German worker dignity and status in a world of his own. The individual worker lived in his party, the party penetrated into the workers’ everyday habits. His ideas, his reactions, his attitudes, were formed out of this integration of his person with his collective. [8]

Whether considered as a world or a counter-society German Social Democracy, with its traditions, practices and ceremonies, sometimes similar to those of religious bodies, provided not just a political attitude or a way of thinking, but a framework, a way of living and of feeling. That is how we can explain that tendencies as widely divergent as those personified by Eduard Bernstein and Rosa Luxemburg could coexist within the same organisation. That is how we can understand why Luxemburg, the leader of the revolutionary wing of German Social Democracy could write in her polemic against the conception of the party which Lenin developed in What Is to Be Done?: ‘The fact is that the social democracy is not joined to the organisation of the proletariat. It is itself the proletariat.’ [9]

Reform or revolution

Although the SPD was fully engaged in all the great battles of ideas in respect of strategy and tactics which raged in the international workers’ movement, its organisational unity was never affected.

Whilst the other socialist movements in Europe fragmented in quarrels which often seemed Byzantine, German Social Democracy presented the spectacle of a cohesive party in which all manner of tendencies cohabited, the equivalents of which elsewhere would have taken the form of rival parties. Since the fusion at the Gotha Congress of 1875 of Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht’s Social-Democratic Workers’ Party with Ferdinand Lassalle’s General Association of German Workers, tendencies had arisen within the SPD, tendencies in which a specialist of the French workers’ movement would easily have detected the German equivalents of ‘possibilists’, ‘Guesdists’, ‘Blanquists’ and ‘Allemanists’. But they remained in the same party, and lived in the same world, and this gave their disagreements a special complexion, because debates which are settled by compromises, and which are to lead to action, are more fruitful than dialogues of the deaf.

Marx had been worried by the important concessions which his followers had made to Lassalle in the Gotha Programme. [10] When, in 1878, Bismarck tried to crush the young party under the blows of his Exceptional Laws, one current in it declared itself in favour of accepting the restrictions which the law imposed. But this current, inspired by Karl Hochberg, which presented its ideas as being ‘realistic’, was quickly overcome by the Marxists. Without rejecting either the possibilities for legal expression, however limited they might be (as the impatient elements, the forerunners of the future ultra- leftists, proposed), the Social Democrats were also to wage an illegal campaign of propaganda, agitation and organisation, which enabled the Party to continue to grow despite the repression. [11]

The socialists had to adjust their activities when the Exceptional Laws were annulled in 1891. In opposition, on the one hand, to the ‘youth’ who advocated boycotting elections and a permanent policy of the offensive, as well as, on the other hand, to the right wing of Georg von Vollmar who wanted to reorient the Party towards ‘possibilism’ and exclusively electoral struggle, the leadership secured victory, in the programme adopted at the Erfurt Congress, for the conception developed by Kautsky. Kautsky did not renounce the maximum programme, the socialist revolution, which the expansion of capitalism had made a distant prospect, but laid down that the Party could and must fight for the demands of a minimum programme, partial aims, and political, economic and social reforms, and must work to consolidate the political and economic power of the workers’ movement, whilst raising the consciousness of the working class. [12]

In this way, the dichotomy was created which distinguished the maximum programme – revolution and socialism – from the minimum programme of reforms which could be realised within the framework of the existing capitalist regimes. This separation was to dominate the theory and practice of social democracy for decades.

The first serious attack on the theoretical level against the Marxist foundations of the Erfurt Programme started in 1898, and originated from within the leading nucleus of the Party, from a friend of Engels, an organiser of the illegal press in the time of the Exceptional Laws. This was the ‘revisionism’ of Eduard Bernstein. He based himself upon his observations of the preceding twenty years, during which capitalism had developed peacefully, and he questioned Marx’s perspective that the contradictions of capitalism would sharpen. At the same time, he questioned the philosophical foundations of Marxism, dialectical materialism. Bernstein believed that socialism was no longer the dialectical solution of these contradictions, imposed by the conscious struggle of the working class. He now saw socialism as being the result of the free choice of people, independently of their economic and social conditioning, as a moral option instead of a social necessity. He counterposed to what he regarded as outdated revolutionary phraseology the realistic search for reforms, for which the working class should sink itself into a broad democratic movement with important sections of the bourgeoisie. [13]

The ‘Bernstein affair’, the debate which opened in this way, was both very sharp and very rich. Kautsky devoted himself to refuting the economic arguments of Bernstein [14], and by his side the group of radical defenders of Marxism found a spokesperson of high quality in Rosa Luxemburg. She breathed new life into the revolutionary forces when she proposed her own interpretation of the Erfurt combination of minimum and maximum demands: the dilemma of ‘reform or revolution’ was meaningless, because the struggle for reforms could only have revolutionary resolution, and could only be carried out by Social Democrats with this perspective. [15] The Dresden Congress in 1903 closed the debate, at least formally, by condemning the attempt of the revisionists to ‘replace the policy of conquering power through victory by a policy which accommodates itself to the existing order’. [16]

Nonetheless, the debate was to continue throughout the following years. The Russian Revolution of 1905 struck the German Social Democrats like a thunderbolt. Kautsky wrote that it was ‘the event which many of us had come to believe to be impossible after we had waited in vain so long for it’. [17] It coincided with a spontaneous agitation within the working class which culminated in the same year in the widespread unofficial strike of the Ruhr miners. [18] A new conflict developed between the trade-union full-timers and the radical elements. The former, for fear of adventurism, tried to hold back the workers’ struggles, and refused to politicise them. The latter concurred with Luxemburg that the ‘political general strike’ was an effective means of raising the political consciousness of large numbers of previously backward workers, and was thus one of the essential weapons of the socialist movement. Bebel’s motion on the political general strike was carried at the Jena Congress in September 1905. [19] The radicals seemed to have carried the day against the new revisionists, who thereafter regrouped in the trade unions round Legien, who, for his part, had announced that the general strike was ‘general nonsense’.

In reality, the battlefield had changed during these few years. The congress debates no longer reflected it faithfully, as the real battle was developing in a muffled way within the Party and trade-union apparatus. At the Mannheim Congress in 1906, the trade-union leaders won the support of Bebel for a resolution which placed the trade-unions and the Party on a basis of equality, by providing for obligatory consultation between the two organisations on matters of common interest. [20] This annulled the vote at Jena. One of the radical newspapers, the Leipziger Volkszeitung, could write: ‘The revisionism which we killed in the party is reviving with greater vigour than ever in the trade unions.’ [21] Luxemburg summed up the new relations between unions and Party in the phrase attributed to a peasant (the unions) who tells his wife (the Party): ‘When we agree, you decide. When we don’t agree, I decide.’ [22] The revisionist Eduard David rejoiced: ‘The short flowering of revolutionism has, most fortunately, passed ... The party can now devote itself to positively exploiting and extending its parliamentary power.’ [23]

When the leadership of the SPD concluded the Jena compromise with the leaders of the trade unions, it categorically turned its back on the Party’s identification with revolution, and its references to revolution in the ensuing debates were few and far between. From that time onwards, it was the ‘Centre’, at an equal distance from the new revisionism – which was fed by the success of imperialism and intended to adapt the party to what it called the ‘modern’ economy – and from radicalism, which was sustained from 1910 by growing economic difficulties and by the workers’ strikes in response to them.

Moreover, the Party suffered a serious defeat in the general elections of 1907, and the leaders persuaded themselves that, before they could think of important or lasting success, they must win the petty-bourgeois voters whom they considered to be frightened by excessively revolutionary phraseology. Kautsky was the theoretician of the centrist leadership. However, the debates on the national question and anti-militarism, not to mention those on imperialism in connection with the Morocco affair, and on how to win electoral reform and universal suffrage in Prussia, led to the emergence of an ever-closer alliance between the Right and the Centre. This led to the coalescence of a left-wing current which placed increasing emphasis on the problems of the Party’s internal functioning, to the degree that, in 1912, it was accused of factional activities.

The years of economic expansion in Europe had come to an end, and Germany and its fellow European countries had entered a period of crisis with the rise of inter-imperialist rivalries and the intensification of class conflict. The SPD Centre remained sceptical of the chances of a revolution, and was anxious about becoming involved in anything which could threaten the unity of the Party at the moment when reformist practice was no longer obtaining the reforms which justified it. It tried to contain all the centrifugal tendencies by continuing legal day-to-day activities together with a formal attachment to revolutionary perspectives, as it had done in the period of the Erfurt Congress, but now in a very different context.

The Party bureaucracy

The analyses of sociologists such as Max Weber and Robert Michels [24], and the furious attacks by French Socialists such as Charles Andler, have contributed to painting a somewhat schematic picture of German Social Democracy. They tried to explain the victory of revisionism in its ranks by depicting the SPD as a sclerotic, bureaucratised organisation, fundamentally conservative, tightly subjected to an apparatus of politically-limited functionaries, and consequently integrated into the society which it originally claimed to be struggling against and transforming.

There is a real basis for these accusations. The Executive, which had been strengthened at the demand of the radicals in the period of the struggle against revisionism, was dominated by full-timers who in practice were not subject to control. The Executive appointed and paid the local and regional secretaries who made up the hierarchy which contained all the activity of the organisations in a fine-meshed net. Discipline was strict, and the elected members or the representatives in the mass organisations were subject to tight control in the Party fractions which the full-time members of the leadership controlled. The Executive also nominated the candidates in elections, made the careers of the full-timers, transferred functionaries, technicians, instructors and journalists, and conducted the electoral campaigns, which were their main business, like military operations.

Michels explained this complete centralisation of the apparatus and the reign of strict discipline as the result of the victory of conservatism in the ideology of the Party from 1906 onwards. However, these same characteristics led Lenin to regard the German Party as the model of revolutionary social democracy. In his opinion, Bebel and the activists of his generation had realised the aim, which the Bolsheviks proclaimed but had not yet attained, of a disciplined, centralised mass party which would constitute the framework for a workers’ army firmly led by a professional general staff. From this point of view, German Social Democracy was the object of the somewhat envious admiration of the few Russian émigrés who had the good fortune to familiarise themselves with its functioning.

The contradiction existed only in appearance. Carl Schorske remarks in his discussion of the sociologists and of Michels in particular: ‘The purposes for which – and the circumstances under which – the bureaucracy was constructed were far stronger forces for conservatism than the mere fact that the functionaries were salaried.’ [25] The professional revolutionaries who had built the Bolshevik faction in order to bring revolutionary consciousness and social-democratic organisation to the Russian working class did so in conditions of illegality and repression which hardly gave them the possibility or even the temptation to adapt themselves to, or to integrate themselves into, Tsarist society. They had maintained their revolutionary objective, which might have seemed even more remote than in Germany, in the forefront of their general propaganda, whilst they strongly centralised their organisation – yet no conservatism found its way into their daily practice. On the contrary, the apparatus of German Social Democracy, which did not reject in principle its long-term revolutionary objective any more than the Russian Bolsheviks, was constructed entirely between 1906 and 1909.

In this period, it was seeking electoral effectiveness, to increase the number of votes won and candidates elected, during a period of relative social calm and reflux of the working class, and it was preoccupied with ensuring that internal conflicts did not weaken its electoral impact, and that the revolutionary phraseology of its radical wing or the demands of the least-favoured workers did not scare off potential voters amongst the democratic petty bourgeoisie and the most conservative strata of the workers. The revisionism of Bernstein and the reformism of the leaders of the trade unions had taken root in an economic conjuncture which encouraged optimistic beliefs in continued, peaceful progress.

This was what Zinoviev was to do his best to demonstrate by means of a study of the statistics which were published by the organisation in Greater Berlin in 1907. He was trying, after the event, to explain the change in the nature of the Party and the ‘treachery’ of its leaders in 1914, and emphasised that, at that date, the percentage of members who were definitely not wage-earners – ‘self-employed workers’ including proprietors of inns and taverns, barbers, artisans, traders and even small-scale manufacturers – could be estimated at 9.8 per cent. The specific political weight of these elements was all the greater because the Party was orienting its electoral effort and adapting its language in order to win this clientèle. The counterweight was insubstantial; only 14.9 per cent of the members of the Party figure in the statistics under the simple label of ‘workers’, or to be more precise, unskilled workers, who, in fact, made up the mass of the working class. [26]

The core of the Party’s supporters was composed of skilled workers who had a trade, whom Zinoviev called ‘the labour aristocracy’. [27] It was from their ranks that the Party’s full-time staff was recruited, an apparatus of some thousands of privileged functionaries [28], who often held more than one job and salary, and controlled promotions in the Party’s apparatus – its press, treasury and mass organisations – in brief, what Zinoviev called ‘the labour bureaucracy’. He defined this as a caste which tried to hide the fact that it existed, but which had its own clearly defined interests. Its aim was ‘order and peace’, the social status quo, which gave an increasingly conservative character to the Party’s policies. He drew the conclusion that the members of this caste were, in reality, emissaries of the bourgeoisie within the ranks of the proletariat. [29]

Carl Schorske arrived at a very similar analysis and conclusions, though he formulated them differently, in his study of the manner in which conservatism seeped into the party:

What the party functionary wanted above all else was peace and unity in the organisation. In the riven condition of the party this made him a natural opponent of both criticism and change. And as the pressure for change came increasingly from the left, the functionary identified himself increasingly with the right. [30]

He stressed that this phenomenon could be sensed particularly in the functioning of the Party, and especially in the preparation of the congresses. The workers in the big cities, who generally were radicals, were swamped by the representatives of less sharply proletarian and revolutionary organisations. At the congress of the Land of Württemberg in 1911, the 8,659 members of the Stuttgart organisation, nearly all workers, were represented by 43 delegates, whilst the 723 Party members in small towns and villages had 49 delegates. In the same Land in 1912, the 17,000 members in Stuttgart and Cannstadt had 90 delegates, whilst 5,000 others from non-proletarian centres had 224 delegates. [31] The state executives accordingly relied for support on the majority of delegates from semi-rural units, which felt more heavily the pressure of the state and the ruling classes, and thereby held in check the local units in the workers’ centres, in a framework very precisely based no longer on the workplace but on the electoral constituencies.

Konrad Haenisch, who at the time was the radical editor of the Dortmunder Arbeiterzeitung in a stronghold of very radical miners, wrote to one of his friends in 1910 that, ‘despite the unanimous and repeated votes of confidence of the miners’ organisation’, his conditions of work had become so intolerable under the control of those whom he called the ‘high bureaucrats [Oberbonzen]’ that he was going to give up his job. After being elected to a responsible post by a conference of the Party, he was removed from it by the regional executive at the direct demand of the trade-union full-timers. [32]

A study of the composition of the supreme organ of the Party, its national congress, reveals the same phenomenon. In 1911, 52 per cent of the members, those in districts with more than 8,000 members each – in principle, the working-class centres – were represented by only 27 per cent of the delegates. The general ratio of representation varied from one delegate per 57 members in the small units of the Party, to one delegate per 5,700 in those of the great industrial cities. [33] The industrial proletariat was under-represented in the decision-making organisations, and this is not the least important cause of the repeated defeats of the radicals in the congresses after 1905. This situation was desired and systematically exploited by the men who held the levers of command in the apparatus. Such men were often former proletarians whose rise to professional functions amounted to a real social promotion.

Historically, the Social-Democratic bureaucracy was personified by Fritz Ebert [34], who became Secretary in 1906 at the age of 36, and Chairman of the Party in 1913 after Bebel died. This former saddler, who joined the Party when very young, had a noteworthy talent for organisation. At first, he was a manual worker in the shipyards in Bremen, and then manager of a Party canteen which was a centre of Social-Democratic propaganda. In 1900, he was a full-timer, a member of the Party secretariat in Bremen responsible for labour problems, where he won the reputation of being an efficient official. When elected General Secretary, he made himself the champion of modern methods of organisation, introduced telephones, stenographers and typists into the dusty offices, multiplying reports and questionnaires, card-indexes and circulars. Schorske writes of him: ‘Colourless, cool, determined, industrious and intensely practical, Ebert had all those characteristics which were to make of him, mutatis mutandis, the Stalin of social democracy.’ [35]

It was Ebert who constructed the apparatus, and in whom the revisionists finally placed their confidence. In 1911, he had the support of Legien and the trade-union leaders against Haase – whom Bebel supported – for the succession to the chairmanship vacated by the veteran radical Singer. [36] He was defeated on this occasion [37], but was to succeed Bebel himself two years later, this time without difficulty. His lieutenants, the other bosses of the apparatus, seem at first sight to be less dull. Otto Braun, of working-class origin, had belonged in his youth to the left-wing opposition group which opposed the Erfurt Programme. Later a journalist in Königsberg, he subsequently kept his distance from the great theoretical disputes in the Party. The former compositor Philip Scheidemann had become a journalist in Hesse; he was a talented agitator, and passed for a radical until he was elected to the Executive, but he too had stood back from the great debates, and did not speak at any of the three congresses to which he was delegated between 1906 and 1911. In the Reichstag, he became the Party fraction’s expert on stock-rearing. [38]

At first, one may feel surprised at the importance of the role which such insipid personalities played in a movement as broad and as important as Social Democracy. The fact is that Ebert, Braun, Scheidemann and the others found themselves placed in what was in a certain sense a privileged position, between opposed class forces. The economic transformation of Germany and the relative social peace in Europe, interrupted only by the revolution in the Russian Empire in 1905, the advances in social legislation, which were won by Social Democracy and the trade unions, together with the prospects of social advancement and individual success which the workers’ organisations and their closed world offered to capable members of the working class, all nourished the revisionist tendencies.

These tendencies were fundamentally opposed to Marxism, in particular the tendency which favoured a ‘national-socialist’ movement, in which the standard of living of the German workers was considered to be linked to the prosperity of ‘its’ capitalists and the expansion of German imperialism.

Such perspectives were developed in the wake of Bernstein’s revisionism, but much more crudely and cynically, and without the idealism and the moral preoccupations which inspired him. [39] These people were ‘socialists’ for whom the working classes were in league with capitalism, with its colonial and military policies, defensive in principle, but offensive where necessary. If the German Empire were drawn into a war, whether it be offensive or defensive, the German workers could under no circumstances desire its defeat.

Noske, a former woodcutter who had become a Party functionary and then a deputy expressed more clearly than anyone else this repudiation of the very foundations of proletarian internationalism, when he declared in the Reichstag that the socialists were not ‘vagabonds without a fatherland’, and called on the deputies of the bourgeois parties to give the German workers sound reasons for being soldiers of Germany. [40] The forces at work behind Noske were not disguising themselves.

The junker and Prussian Minister for War, von Einem, grasped the opportunity which this speech offered, and called upon Bebel to repudiate the anti-militarist writings of his comrade, Karl Liebknecht. [41] Indeed, it was through Noske and the Prussian minister as intermediaries that the SPD was to be brought to engage in the debate on the national question and, in particular, the problem of national defence. The Imperial High Court was to pronounce when it sentenced Karl Liebknecht to eighteen months in prison. [42]


1. V.I. Lenin, The Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, Collected Works, Volume 9, Moscow 1972, p. 66.

2. V.I. Lenin, The International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart, Collected Works, Volume 13, Moscow 1978, p. 85.

3. V.I. Lenin, August Bebel, Collected Works, Volume 19, Moscow 1977, p. 300.

4. V.I. Lenin, What Should Not be Copied From the German Labour Movement, Collected Works, Volume 20, Moscow 1977, p. 257.

5. L.D. Trotsky, Results and Prospects, The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, New York 1974, p. 114. He was later to write: ‘I did not expect the official leaders of the International, in case of war, to prove themselves capable of serious revolutionary initiative. At the same time I could not even admit the idea that the social democracy would simply cower on its belly before a nationalist militarism.’ (L.D. Trotsky, My Life, Harmondsworth 1979, p. 241)

6. See Karl Renner’s Karl Kautsky. Skizze zur Geschichte der geistigen und politischen Entwicklung der deutschen Arbeiterklasse, Berlin 1929.

7. There is as yet no biography of Bebel worthy of his historical significance. See his memoirs, Aus meinem Leben, Berlin 1910–14.

8. R. Fischer, Stalin and German Communism, Cambridge, MA. 1948, p. 4.

9. R. Luxemburg, Leninism or Marxism, The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism?, Ann Arbor 1961, p. 89.

10. Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, which he wrote in 1875, was first published by Engels in 1891. See F. Mehring, Geschichte der deutschen Sozialdemokratie, Volume 2, Berlin 1960, pp. 48–51.

11. Ibid., pp. 556, 577, 579–81.

12. Ibid., pp. 563–4, 676–8, 681–3.

13. C.E. Schorske, German Social Democracy, 1905–1917, Cambridge, MA. 1955, pp. 16–20. See E. Bernstein, Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie, Stuttgart 1909.

14. Schorske, op. cit, pp. 19–20, and Kautsky, Bernstein und das sozialdemokratische Programm, Eine Antikritik, Stuttgart 1899.

15. Schorske, op. cit., pp. 21–2, and R Luxemburg, Sozialreform und Revolution, Leipzig 1899.

16. Quoted by Schorske, op. cit., pp. 23–4.

17. K. Kautsky, Der politische Massenstreik, Berlin 1914, p. 109.

18. Schorske, op. cit., pp. 35–7.

19. Ibid., pp. 42–4.

20. Protokoll über die Verhandlungen des Parteitages der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands, 1905, pp. 131–2.

21. Quoted in Schorske, op. cit., p. 52.

22. Protokoll über die Verhandlungen des Parteitages der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands, 1906, p. 315.

23. Quoted in Schorske, op. cit., p. 53.

24. R. Michels, Zur Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der modernen Demokratie, Leipzig 1911; Die deutsche Sozialdemokratie. Parteimitgliedschaft und soziale Zusammensetzung, Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, Volume 23, 1906, pp. 471–556.

25. Schorske, op. cit., p. 127.

26. G. Sinowjew (Zinoviev), Der Krieg und die Krise des Sozialismus, German edition, 1924, pp. 548–9. The first edition appeared in Petrograd in 1917.

27. Ibid.

28. Estimated by Zinoviev at about 4,000 (ibid., p. 510).

29. Ibid., pp. 507, 532.

30. Schorske, op. cit., p. 127.

31. Ibid., pp. 130–1.

32. Ibid., p. 134.

33. Ibid., pp. 138–9.

34. G. Kotowski, Friedrich Ebert. Eine politische Biographie, Volume 1, Wiesbaden 1963.

35. Schorske, op. cit., p. 124.

36. Ibid., pp. 211–12.

37. K.R. Collins, The Election of Hugo Haase to the Co-Chairmanship of the Pre-war German Social Democracy, International Review of Social History, no. 2, 1968, pp. 174–88.

38. Schorske, op. cit., pp. 206–8, 280.

39. Perspectives similar to those of Bernstein’s were developed and applied from that time onward by the representatives of the current which Charles Andler called ‘neo-Lassallean’.

40. Schorske, op. cit., p. 77.

41. Ibid., p. 78.

42. W. Bartel, Die Linken in der deutschen Sozialdemokratie im Kampf gegen Militarismus und Krieg, East Berlin 1958, pp. 75–7.

Last updated on 13.2.2014