Paul Frölich

The German Railway Strike

(7 February 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. II No. 10, 7 February 1922, pp. 69–70.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2019). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The present railway strike is without parallel. The first railway strike in Germany occurred in 1919 when the first stormy period of the German revolution was coming to an end. It was significant that only the lower ranks of railway workers took part in the strike, while only a small number of officials participated. The railways were again paralyzed at the time of the Kapp Putsch. But at that time the strike was approved of by the government, in fact the latter called for a general strike against the counter-revolutionaries. A number of partial This time all the railwaymen in Northern Germany are on strike. Traffic is completely paralyzed. The strike has extended to Baden. In Wurttemberg the railwaymen are about to decide as to whether they go out on strike or not. Traffic in Bavaria is severely curtailed on account of the scarcity of coal. In the occupied regions the strike has been suppressed by the Allied authorities. Traffic however is limited because those trains which at the beginning of the strike left the occupied regions have not returned. A further curtailment is to be expected when the scarcity of coal makes itself felt.

The strike was commenced by those officials, train conductors and firemen who are organized in the Reichsgewerkschaft Deutscher Eisenbahner (National Union of German Railwaymen). These workers were driven into the class struggle by their desperate situation – a struggle which they are carrying on with the greatest energy. The strike was declared in spite of the brutal threats of the government and police oppression. In answer to the trade-union leaders and the Allgemeine Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (General Federation of Labor) who declared that the strike was a crime and brazenly demanded that it be broken off, the strike was intensified. Those workers organized in the Deutsche Eisenbahner Verband (German Railwaymen’s Union) struck in sympathy with the locomotive engineers against the will of their own leaders. The strike has not only the sympathy of the battle- tried workers but also the active solidarity of the lower government officials. It has been indirectly supported and intensified by a strike of the Berlin municipal workers, who have shut down the electricity, gas and water works and paralyzed the street-car system, and by a number of important strikes in the rest of the country. The strike movement is continually spreading.

The railway strike has been caused by the railwaymen’s pitiable wages which are much lower than those of the factory workers and in the government’s threats of mass dismissals in order to re-establish the railways on a self-supporting basis, however, the strike is at the same time an answer to the tax compromise recently concluded between the Social Democrats and the bourgeois parties. The standard of living of the workers and officials will be reduced by half should the supposed taxes come into effect The railway strike is therefore the first warning and the announcement of even more serious struggles in the near future which will shake the state to its very foundations. The tax compromise and together with it the Wirth government are aIready in danger. The government recognized the peril and acted accordingly. It employed the sharpest measures against the railwaymen before the strike even commenced. All its threats have proven mere empty words up to the present, and it has only one hope – the destruction of the strike front in negotiations with the trade unions.

The Social Democratic Party is in a very difficult situation. It was compelled by its entire past to oppose such a test of strength between the government and the proletariat. Up to now it has been able to crush almost all the great movements of the German proletariat through the moral influence of its party and the ruthless employment of the White Terror. It is compelled to continue along this path and has recently made an important step in this direction – the alliance with the capitalistic People’s Party and the “compromise of the hunger taxes”. Burdened with the entire weight of this alliance with Stinnes against the working class, this party had to stake its last remnants of prestige among the working class and at the same time its prestige with the government officials which it had won in the course of the past year. It played and lost. Even if these skilful tacticians should again be able to confuse the striking railwaymen and bring about their defeat their party will have lost its prestige and power. And it will have lost these not only with the workers but with the bourgeois parties as well.

The Independent Socialists present a deplorable spectacle They again attempted their old tactics of waiting for things to develop and then seeing which side would be the stronger. They have even today not yet showed their colors. They have not solidarized with the struggling workers but merely made a beautiful gesture of protest against the extraordinary decrees of President Ebert and the Berlin Chief of Police, Richter. At the same time they tried to weaken the moral strength of the railwaymen and the Berlin municipal workers with all the petty weapons of publicity and political routine. The Independent Socialist Party has been completely eliminated as a factor in this giant struggle. It is satisfied with the despicable role of an intermediary who is suffered, but respected as a force by no one.

This giant strike is the most effective contradiction of the theories of the Hilferdings and Levis on the political development in Germany and their slanderous statements about the tactics of the German Communist Party (K.P.D.). For the K.P.D. has in this struggle proved that it is able to suppress all putchist tendencies in its ranks and in the working class and demonstrated its worth as political leader ol the striking workers. Its moral victory is certain. The Communist Party will emerge from this struggle strengthened and with greater political prestige than before.

The effect of the strike will be most profoundly felt by the German trade unions. Even in their long chain of betrayals die German trade-union leaders have never declared themselves so outright as understrappers of the bourgeois state. They have never before proceeded with such ruthlessness against a group of striking workers.

Never before have the workers overridden the decision of the Federation of Labor with such firmness and determination. In some degree the fact that the strike was commenced by an organization which is not affiliated to the Federation of Labor may have acted as a contributory factor. This however does not affect the working of these facts upon the entire working class. The German trade-union leaders have for the first time suffered a great moral defeat. For the first time the workers see how a large body of workers go their way paying no attention to the slanders, machinations and orders of the labor leaders. For the first time they see how powerless the state is against the determined will of the working class. And for the first time they have employed the tactics continually advocated by the Communists as the only weapon for the winning of economic victories – the large-scale strike. The authority of the trade-union leaders has suffered a grave blow. It is wavering: it may perhaps fall. The leaders are still trying to maintain themselves in power by the employment of the most brutal measures. The Deutsche Elsenbahnerverband believed that it could prevent the spread of the strike by expelling the local organizations which had gone on strike. It tailed completely. Its leaders will not even be able to split the union. But the Railwaymen’s Union together with the whole German trade-union movement will as a result of this strike make an enormous step forward on the road to the revolutionizing of the trade unions.

This strike, the outcome of which at the present moment appears to be an eventual victory for the railwaymen, may end either in victory or defeat – the political situation in Germany will have been decisively changed.

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