C L R James
The World Revolution 1937-1936

Chapter 4


IT WOULD TAKE US TOO FAR TO TELL IN ANY DETAIL the history of the revolutionary movements in Europe after the war. Yet we shall have to consider the movement in Germany and to some extent in Austria to see how far Lenin's expectation of international revolution was justified, how far his conception of the political party as necessary to the revolution was proved valid. It was to Germany that he looked most anxiously.

The obvious leaders of a revolution in Germany were Karl Liebknecht, and Rosa Luxemburg. If we confine ourselves here chiefly to pointing out their errors, it is simply because in the historical period which is approaching we have to bear in mind what caused the failure of such splendid intellectual gifts and revolutionary fervour. Their virtues we know, nothing that could be written here would exalt them further. Nor do we imply any reproach. We today who can point out where they failed know that what is so clear to-day, after twenty years of revolution and the works of Lenin and Trotsky, could not possibly have been as clear in 1919 and before. Yet it must be remembered that Lenin, who before 1914 had several sharp controversies with Rosa Luxemburg, nevertheless saw the Sahara that separated her and Liebknecht from the opportunist leaders of their party. In 1914, at the meeting of the Social Democratic Party which decided to vote for the war-credits, Liebknecht fought for three days and was defeated by seventy-eight votes to fourteen. He tried to convince the other thirteen to vote with him against the credits. Such a vote at the beginning would have exercised a powerful influence. They refused, and Liebknecht followed them. It is in crises like these that the individual quality of men tells.

Rosa Luxemburg, immediately after the treachery of the Social Democratic Party, proposed to issue an anti-war manifesto which should be signed by a number, however small, of leaders known to the workers. At once some of the left fell away. She called a small meeting at her house. Only seven came, and of these Clara Zetkin, Franz Mehring and herself alone were willing to sign.

Liebknecht did not yet see the necessity of a clean break, and to issue the leaflet without him was to make the workers ask why the name of the most widely-known of their militant leaders was not there. They decided to wait. Is it necessary to state that Lenin would have issued the manifesto alone, and set about building an organisation to spread his ideas? It is in this way that individual men make history. It was December that Liebknecht recognised his error and decided to vote against the war-credits. That month Lenin had a personal report on the situation in Germany. His first question was whether Liebknecht had made a clean break with the opportunists. He had not. But even his solitary vote and declaration had raised enthusiasm in the party and among the left section of the workers. He and Rosa Luxemburg began to issue illegal literature under the pseudonym of Spartacus. The Government mobilised Liebknecht in a labour battalion, but had to move him from place to place because wherever he went the soldiers gathered round him in crowds. The ground was fertile but the seed had been lacking.

Late in 1915 another group finally split off from the German party and voted against the war-credits. Its leaders were Kautsky and Bernstein, whose return to Marxism consisted in their being now "against the war," but nothing more. Later the Spartacists although they knew Kautsky and Bernstein and the vacillating centrist nature of these Independent Social Democrats, entered the new party, a mistake that was to have disastrous consequences.

For months Liebknecht had preached the negative "Peace with no annexations." It was only nearing Zimmerwald that he approached Lenin's initial position that to lead the workers to expect a peace with no annexations except by overthrowing imperialism was hypocrisy or ignorance. By Zimmerwald Liebknecht had reached "Not civil peace but civil war"--"The main enemy is in your own country," and sent a letter embodying his views to that conference.

To Zimmerwald Rosa Luxemburg also sent theses calling for the new International. She differed widely from Lenin on many points of organisation, [1] she opposed the harshness of his democratic centralism, with very clear ideas as to the necessity of democracy and the participation of the masses in the Government. Rejected much too unceremoniously by Marxists because of Lenin's criticisms, time has proved that her views foresaw only too well the dangers of excessive centralism and the glorification of the idea of dictatorship, but she was with him on the necessity for centralised control of the new International. On this question the Spartacists and the Independent Social Democratic group split sharply at Zimmerwald. Ledebour, the representative of the Independents, wanted, as centrists always do, an International in which each section could do exactly as it pleased, in other words, no International at all. Lenin pressed the Spartacists to break with these new allies. Rosa Luxemburg refused. She could not see the necessity of establishing a clear position and organisation of her own so that all could see what the Spartacists stood for, on this basis establishing contacts with all who were moving towards her position, and working for those sudden turns in the moods of the masses that the war was bound to bring.

The movement of the masses towards revolution was taking place day by day. A down-with-the-war meeting summoned by Liebknecht in May, 1916, brought 10,000 workmen into the streets of Berlin, and sympathetic demonstrations in many big towns in Germany. Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were arrested and imprisoned. They continued their underground work, hut the movement naturally suffered.


The revolution which came in Berlin on November 9, 1918 is still thought by many to have been nothing more than a spontaneous explosion of anti-war feeling. The bourgeois publicists, as usual, go out of their way to prove that every revolution always aims at everything else except socialising bourgeois property. The German Revolution was anti-war but it was much more than that.

There are periods in history when the events of a few hours or a few weeks exercise an overwhelming influence on the history of a continent for years to come. Such a period were the few weeks that followed November 9 and also, of even more importance, the few weeks that preceded that day. Lenin was ten thousand times right in the expectation that the Russian Revolution would unloose Socialist revolutions in Western Europe. The revolutionary workers of Berlin had prepared an uprising in October, 1918. They, comprising chiefly those key workers in any capitalist society, the workers in heavy industry, had been stirred by October, had organised a shop steward movement, and were aiming at a Socialist republic. But Lenin was more right than he knew when he had insisted on the necessity for a revolutionary party. He thought that the European revolutions might succeed without one. It was, on the whole, a justifiable assumption. What neither Lenin, nor for that matter, any man could have foreseen, was the incredible treachery of the Social Democratic leadership. With Capitalism defenceless they stepped into the breach on its behalf. But for them all Europe would have been Socialist to-day.

First Ebert, Scheidemann and others joined the Kaiser's Government at a time when, if they had stood firmly against any entanglement with a war that at least was none of their making, the Government would have fallen. No one but these leaders of the workers could have deceived the workers. And they did it voluntarily. The Independent Social Democrats, with Kautsky and Bernstein on the right almost indistinguishable from Ebert and Schiedemann, and Ledebour on the left near Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, represented such a diversity of aims and views (it is always thus in a party without tight organisation and a clear programme) that they lacked all capacity for cohesive action, the life of a revolutionary party. Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg had delayed too long, and it was to this centrist party that the shop stewards perforce looked for revolutionary leadership. Even led as it was, this revolution, definitely prepared with definite aims, could not have failed to succeed, so rotten was the Government of the Kaiser. Who among the soldiers or sailors would have fought for it? These shop stewards after the revolution were powerful enough to seize the Executive Committee of the Greater Berlin Soldiers' and Workmen's Councils. They had wide support all over Germany. The masses would infallibly have followed them. The masses, without whose partial support and goodwill a revolution is impossible, do not revolt for Socialism or for Communism. They revolt against intolerable conditions or for some concrete issue, as the peasantry for land or against a war or to stop Fascism. In Lenin's phrase, a revolution is made on the slogans of the day. The masses will follow whoever has the will and courage to lead the revolt and bring it to a successful conclusion; they will accept a programme and support it so long as the political actions of the leaders are progressive and in harmony with their general aspirations. The Socialist measures which the shop stewards planned would have been backed by the demand for Socialisation which was so widespread in Germany in 1919. The possessing classes were powerless. There was the question of Entente intervention. We shall deal with that later. It is sufficient to say here that a revolution which waits to be guaranteed from hostile capitalist interference will never take place.

But as history would have it, this revolution, aiming at a Soviet Republic in Germany, was accidentally forestalled by the mutiny at Kiel. And this mutiny, already very different in aim from the other, was safely side-tracked by the Social Democrats. The Social Democrats to-day try to say that they acted as they did in Germany after November, 1918, because the people were merely anti-war and did not want Socialism. They lie. Ebert had seen the revolution coming. He could have put himself at the head of it and declared for Socialism. But he feared the Socialist revolution. He therefore conspired with Prince Max of Baden, and these two prepared in advance a policy which would switch the revolutionary fervour of the masses into harmless channels--a kind of Popular Front manoevre. When the mutiny broke out at Kiel, Ebert, primed for treachery, went down to interview the sailors. Skilfully putting himself at the head of the mutiny he and his circle appeared to the great millions as leaders of the very revolution they had been preparing to stab in the dark. Now that it had broken out they directed it into purely political channels, against the Kaiser, and succeeded ultimately in strangling it.

There was no revolutionary political party in Germany known throughout the length and breadth of the country. It was not until December 30, 1918, that the Spartacists split at last with the Independent Social Democrats. At their conference in January, the nearest approach to a revolutionary party, they had less than a hundred delegates. It had proved impossible to build an organisation during the heat of the conflict, and in addition to this organic weakness, at every crisis the two on whom so much depended acted in exactly the opposite way to which Lenin acted in similar crises. They had no control over the party, for the party had not yet learnt their value by individual experience. They had had no time to educate their followers in the very elements of Marxism. Not only the objective situation, but Lenin's authority and prestige, had enabled him to swing the party very quickly round to his own views in 1917 Lenin would have fought for independence, but also for a common agreement with the obvious revolutionary force in Berlin--the shop stewards' union. He would have taken what terms he could and trusted to events to bring them to his side. But the anarchist tendencies of the Spartacists frightened the shop stewards and the necessary alliance between them and the Spartacists did not take place. Liebknecht was against taking part in the elections. Rosa Luxemburg was in favour. The party decided against, 62 votes to 23. The leaders of the shop stewards were definitely in favour of revolution, but not of adventurism, and we recall here again Lenin's admonitions to his party and the workers in April against the premature slogan of "Down with the Provisional Government." On the one hand is Lenin, master of tactics and able to carry them out through his organisation, relatively small but powerful in its cohesion. On the other we see two highly gifted revolutionaries, able, honest and fearless, widely-known and respected, but unable to make headway against the tendencies of every type which surrounded them. They lacked the organised party and the training and experience which the building of the party would have given to them as well as to the members.


The Social Democrats who formed the Revolutionary Government were, as always, afraid of the people, and looked instinctively to the bourgeoisie. In the inevitable clashes of that uncertain time they compromised themselves so completely with the discredited German generals that on December 6, not a month yet after November 9, one of these actually attempted a counter-revolution with the aim of putting Ebert at the head of the Government. The counter-revolution so soon after the revolution startled Germany. It was the opportunity that a revolutionary party expects, foretells and prepares to seize, though few could have foreseen that so-called Socialists would turn counter-revolutionary so quickly. There was a mass swing of opinion against Ebert, and on January 5 the crisis came to a head over the dismissal of a left-wing Independent, Eichorn, the Berlin Chief of Police. For the moment Independents, Spartacists and shop stewards formed a bloc and called the workers into the streets.

The response was magnificent. There were arms to be had and trained fighters in thousands among the workers. On January 6, the next day, a hundred thousand revolutionary workers again filled the streets of Berlin. But even then none of the three groups of leaders knew its own mind. Some were thinking only of a demonstration, others of revolution. Fighting began without any preconceived plans. In this action the Spartacist group was as bewildered as the other two. And yet despite all this confusion they could have held, and very nearly did possess themselves of, the power that day. [2]

The Government fled for refuge to a private house, and the Chancellor's palace, the seat of government, was open to the revolution. Usually it is only by desperate mass fighting and barricades that a section of the army, refusing to shoot its own people any more, massacres its officers and comes over to the side of revolution, giving point and edge to the weight of the masses. In this action, even before the fighting, the soldiers, sailors and police in Berlin were neutral. But the revolutionaries, lacking all organisation and leadership, instead of installing themselves in the traditional seat of power and making themselves a Government in the eyes of the masses, directed their main attention to seizing newspaper offices of rival political parties. Not many revolutions could have recovered from such an error. For the German Revolution, deflected from the start, the mistake was fatal. Yet even when the movement had begun to disintegrate the Government dared not remain in Berlin and had to move to the suburbs. And to crush the revolution Noske had to go to the German junkers, who joyfully took the opportunity of destroying the extreme left.

It can be urged that a party and leaders of Lenin's type only arise on a background vastly different from that of pre-war Germany. That can be freely granted, but the argument should not be allowed to stifle the consideration of all other possibilities. We have seen that without Lenin much the same charge in all probability would have been made against similar indecision and inexperience in the Russian Bolshevik Party. We have seen Stalin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev, in 1917. We shall see them again. The lessons of history are there to be learnt by all men. The Russian Revolution of 1905, the causes of its failure, Lenin's views about organising revolution, all were the subject of heated discussion by Rosa Luxemburg and the left-wing of the German Social Democracy. Kautsky, destined to prove himself one of the most reactionary of Social Democrats, had been Lenin's master, and quoted by him as such for years until he ratted in 1914. Marx and Engels had worked out a complete armoury of tactics nearly seventy years before. In the years before 1916, when revolution seemed dead in Ireland, James Connolly had studied the history of every revolutionary movement in Europe, preparing for the moment to overthrow British Imperialism in Ireland. The discipline and organisation of his Irish Citizen Army was in its own way quite comparable to that of the Bolshevik Party. We need pursue the subject no further except to state the last and greatest of the mistakes that Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg made. When the revolution was finally crushed they could have escaped, but remained and were murdered, the murderers being openly incited by the official Social Democratic paper Vorwaerts. It was the greatest mistake of all. Liebknecht was not thoroughly a Marxist, and he had defects of character which might have impeded his development. But for Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg was an eagle, and Lenin did not throw bouquets. 1919 would have been to them, certainly to her, what 1905 had been to Lenin. And, equally important, being head and shoulders above all in the Third International except Lenin and Trotsky, they and they alone could have prevented the corruption from Moscow of the German party leadership which began during Lenin's last illness and ended in the ruin of 1933.


It was the Social Democratic leadership that killed the European revolution in 1919. To prove this finally we shall let one of these, the Austrian Otto Bauer, speak for himself.

Before the war the Austrian Social Democrats had a great reputation for Marxist learning. Like their English counterparts of to-day they were advocates of freedom, independence of nations, and all that is included in Socialism, but collaborated willingly with the suppression of the subject peoples by the Austrian monarchy. They invented a special theory wherein the economic and political oppression of subject nationalities was compensated for by unity of culture (or its independence--which it was is not important). Czechs, Serbs, Slovenes and Slovaks were as necessary to Austro-Hungarian Capitalism as Indians, Egyptians and Africans to British Capitalism. Like their counterparts in Britain, these servants of the bourgeoisie acquiesced in any action of their masters which allowed them to bargain with employers about wages and make speeches in parliament urging the Government and bringing pressure to bear. Every day when the Emperor Francis Joseph read their paper, Wiener Arbeiterzeitung, he used to say, "They reason very sensibly, but what do they want of me?"

When war broke out Austrian Social Democracy unreservedly placed its influence on the masses at the disposal of the military authorities. They were men of war until the mood of the working-classes began to change. After the February revolution in Russia "the revolutionary ferment made itself felt more and more in the ranks of German-Austrian workers." The Austrian Social Democracy felt that if a revolution was on the way they had better take charge of it. But they did not yet know how things would develop. So they played both sides. "If we wanted to address the masses openly, we had to remain within the limits of censorship; we could not speak openly of revolution, we had to speak of it in some such terms as the complete 'victory of democracy,' 'convocation of the Constituent Assembly'; we could not openly bring forward the slogan of the disintegration of Austria, but had to use such expressions as 'there can be common government for all those who agree to it of their own free will.' " [3] Thus one of the leaders of these despicable timeservers. Otto Bauer had been a war-prisoner in Russia, and was released by the February revolution. Of the Russian Revolution he wrote in 1920: "For the first time the proletariat has assumed power in a great state....The Capitalist world is trembling..... With the help of cannon and howitzer.... the international bourgeoisie makes war on the proletarian revolution. But all this makes the hearts of the proletarians of all countries beat in unison with the heart of the Russian proletariat." [4] His own heart, however, beat with the heart of Austrian Capitalism. The proletarian dictatorship in Russia was possible, he argued, owing to the numbers and backwardness of the peasantry. For Europe there was no possibility of any such thing. In 1920 he propounded a new brand of Revisionism tinged with Guild Socialism by which, peacefully and by parliament, the proletariat would establish Socialism. Meanwhile, immediately after the war, Otto Bauer, Fritz Adler and the other leaders set themselves with might and main to prop the collapsing bourgeoisie of Austria. When Germany was on the verge of defeat, eleven days before Poland was declared an independent State, ten days before the Czech National Assembly put forward its demand for a Czech Republic, Austrian Social Democracy, seeing that the oppressed nationalities could not possibly be held in subjection any longer, declared boldly for the national independence of all the German regions in Austria. This Bauer called "a revolutionary act." When the Emperor Charles had informed William II that he would make a separate peace and a truce within twenty-four hours, and after Croatia, Slovakia, Dalmatia and Serbia had been amalgamated into an independent State, with the whole Austrian structure crumbling to ruins, the Austrian Social Democracy then called for a revolution, Social Democratic brand. "On the battlefields of the Balkans and of Venice the revolution smashed the iron mechanism which hindered its development. In the meantime we in the rear could make revolution without using violence." [5] Meanwhile, day after day, the soldiers and enormous crowds of workmen demonstrated in Vienna. The workers were ready to seize the power. "Every newspaper brought news of the struggle of the Spartacists in Germany, every speech gave information of the glorious Russian Revolution, which by one stroke had put an end to all exploitation. The masses who had recently witnessed the downfall of a strong empire had no suspicion of the strength of the Capitalist Entente. They imagined that revolution would spread like wildfire through the victorious countries. 'A dictatorship of the proletariat!'--' All power to the Soviets!'--nothing else was heard in the streets." The peasants were ready. "Peasants had also returned home from the trenches full of hatred for war and militarism, for the bureaucracy and for the plutocracy. They too welcomed the freedom which had been won; they welcomed the republic and the downfall of militarism. They rejoiced at the fact that local organs which were formerly under the administration of the representatives of the king-emperor were now under the administration of representatives of the peasantry. Together with the proletariat they imagined that the political revolution must needs bring with it a revolution with respect to property ownership." Without the party, without organisation, despite all the treachery to the cause of the Social Democrats, the revolutionary tide was flowing strongly; the German Social Democracy and the Austrian Social Democracy had the fate of European Capitalism in their hands. But the Austrian Social Democracy did not look to the masses. They had their eyes fixed on the bourgeoisie, on the Entente leaders and President Wilson. No one except these leaders could have checked the revolution, and like Ebert they had proclaimed their revolution "without violence" only to place themselves in a position where they could kill the mass movement. Bauer bursts with pride as he explains this. "The Social Democrats alone could put a stop to the stormy demonstration by means of negotiation and remonstrances. The Social Democracy alone could negotiate with the unemployed, could manage the People's army, could restrain the masses from revolutionary adventures which might have been conducive to revolution. How deeply the bourgeois social order had been affected was best shown by the fact that bourgeois governments without participation of Social Democrats had become an impossible proposition." This was the world revolution that Engels had written about and Lenin was counting on. Come it did. Austrian Soviets developed. Bauer and his Socialist friends crushed them. Next door the Hungarian Soviet Republic begged for arms. They refused. But they arrested the Austrian Communist leaders and when a mass demonstration of Communists marched to the House of Detention to free the imprisoned leaders, these servants of the bourgeoisie shot them down. "The bourgeoisie could not have shown any resistance either in Vienna or in the industrial regions of Lower Austria; the police would have been quite powerless." There is no need to continue with the miserable record. They were afraid of France: with whom they sought to curry favour, they were afraid of famine, they were afraid of starting Socialism with a ruined economy. They were afraid of everything except fighting tooth and nail to preserve that system of property which they had sworn to destroy. The people trusted them because they believed that they really meant the things they had said so often and so long. Germany, Austria, Hungary and Russia, each proletarian dictatorship stretching out its hand to the other, and sending out a united call to the workers of the world for support. The Entente would have been powerless. After November, 1918, Lenin in a public speech offered the German Revolution a million Red soldiers and all the resources of Russia if the Entente should interfere with it. Ebert's reply was to send German soldiers to the Baltic to do a little Social Democratic imperialism against what was Russian territory. All history was there to tell them, Russia was soon to show, that war-weary and tired as the masses were, under a strong and inspiring leadership, in the hope of a new society, they would fight again and endure threefold the very privations that had driven them in the first place to revolt. The Austro-Marxists stuck to Capitalism. Lenin and Trotsky had watched and waited and prepared all the years for the world revolution, knowing by 1919 that without it another Imperialist war would cripple civilization and kill millions, could see the new Socialist order striving to be born all over Europe, and a thin scum of bureaucrats with the ear of the masses holding up the historical process and throwing humanity a generation back. And what have they got for it? To-day in all Central Europe a dreadful tyranny reigns. The state that Lenin founded, isolated, is in deadly peril from the very forces they helped to maintain. In exile, their parties broken to pieces, living on sufferance (or on money saved and carefully put away) they continue to spread their pernicious doctrines and encourage Blum, Attlee, and those whose turn has not yet come, in the same dangerous folly and treachery which has ruined them. "Whatever happens the democrat comes forth unspotted from the most shameful defeat, just as he was a blameless innocent before he entered the battle; defeat merely fortifies his conviction of ultimate victory; there is no reason why he and his party should abandon their old outlook, for nothing more is requisite than that circumstance should come to their aid." Noske, Scheidemann, Adler, Bauer, Leon Blum, Attlee, Morrison, Bevin, Citrine, Lansbury. Marx knew them a hundred years ago. When the international working-class movement knows them the road to victory is clear.


The Hungarian Soviet failed; so did the Bavarian. This is not a complete history but a thesis, and their failure can be studied elsewhere. It was the German and the Austrian Revolution that would have saved them. Lenin's expectations seemed to have failed. But only on the surface. Lenin and Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party, Trotsky and the organisation of the Red Army, the heroism of the workers, the determination of the peasants to fight for the land, these things alone did not save Russia. Without them Soviet Russia would have collapsed. It was the international proletariat which was the decisive factor, and in a way that is not too clearly realised even up to the present time. It is not only what it did but what its masters feared it might do. Capitalism tried its hardest to crush the Workers' State, but could not find the forces to do so. Of Europe in February and March, 1919, Louis Fischer says: "The whole continent seemed on the brink of a social upheaval that threatened to sweep all governments into the ashbin of history," [6] and he gives the evidence of the capitalist statesmen themselves. For Sir Henry Wilson, the soldier, the main problem was "getting our troops out of Europe and Russia, and concentrating all our strength in our coming storm centres, viz England, Ireland, Egypt, India. "

Lloyd George had almost as little doubt of the imminence of world revolution as Lenin had. "If a military enterprise were started against the Bolsheviki, that would make England Bolshevist, and there would be a Soviet in London." "We are sitting on the top of a mine which may go up at any minute," wrote Sir Henry Wilson. And again at a Cabinet meeting in London: "I emphasized the urgency of the situation, pointing out that unless we carried our proposals we should lose not only our armies of the Rhine, but our garrisons at home, in Ireland, Gibraltar, Malta, India, etc and that even now we dare not give an unpopular order to the troops and discipline was a thing of the past." The Council of Ten in Paris reported officially for January 21, 1919: "Bolshevism was spreading. It had invaded the Baltic provinces and Poland and that very morning they received very bad news regarding its spread to Budapest and Vienna. Italy, also, was in danger. The danger was probably greater there than in France. If Bolshevism, after spreading in Germany, were to traverse Austria and Hungary and so reach Italy, Europe would be faced with a great danger. Therefore something must be done against Bolshevism." Twenty years before Engels had written just that, but Marxism was not taught in European universities any more than it is taught to-day. But history goes on just the same. They had to do something against Bolshevism. But they could do little. The armies they sent mutinied. The Russian counter-revolution they supported was defeated on front after front. When they tried to support Poland as a last hope, Czechoslovak workmen stopped trains, searched them for munitions and, when they found them, refused to let the trains proceed. The workers in Danzig harbour refused to load munition ships which lay idle for days; the workers of Britain organised Councils of Action and threatened the British Government with revolution if British Capitalism did not cease its support of Poland against Russia. The man whom H. G. Wells had the impertinence to call "the dreamer in the Kremlin " had learnt in the works of Marx and Engels that the international workingclass movement was a living reality, had based his calculations fearlessly upon it, and had not been disappointed.


The vast stage of history at its most dramatic moments is full of large-scale comedy. The war was no sooner over than the leaders of the Second International set about with undiminished ardour to become international once more. They passed international resolutions for peace, quarrelled about war-guilt, and sent a memorandum and a deputation to Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Wilson, giving their idea of a just peace. British delegations took their part in resolutions demanding self-determination for small nations, what time British imperialism rained bullets Indians, Egyptians and Irish to of British rule. But now, to their former stock-in-trade, they soon added something else--a shrill faith in democracy. First a conference at Berne in February, 1919, and preliminary conferences of a Permanent Commission at Amsterdam in April and Lucerne in August, prepared for a General Congress in Geneva on February 2, 1920. But despite these antics and the old how of words all was not the same as before. The international Socialist revolution had begun, Soviet Russia was visible proof; and opposition to these Social Democratic futilities was strong, even among the participants at these preliminary conferences; great bodies of the workers were indifferent or hostile to these men without principle passing resolutions which meant nothing and ready at every turn to shoot down workers on behalf of Capitalism. In March, 1919, the Third International was founded and so strong was the response that it nearly destroyed the Second.

That the Third International was formed at that time was due primarily to Lenin. And the circumstances of its formation is yet another example of his grasp of revolutionary processes, his insistence that the business of leaders is to lead, to show the way, and then fight to carry the masses. After Kienthal the left-wing of the Second International, under the influence of the Russian Revolution had attempted to hold an anti-war conference at Stockholm. By this time they had powerful support among the workers of their own countries. Inside the ranks of the Second International, the movement for peace defied the efforts even of governments and was silenced by the only forces able to do it--the Social Democratic leaders themselves. The Stockholm Conference failed. In September the Zimmerwaldists held a small conference of their own and decided on the formation of a new international. But the second revolution in Russia made this decision a dead letter. German imperialism at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March, 1918, dismembered Russia, only to be treated in like manner when their English and French rivals got their chance at them. Then came the war of intervention and the invasion by the counter-revolution financed by allied capital, armed with allied arms. The new Workers' State was blockaded and the Soviet armies suffered defeat after defeat late in 1918 and early in 1919. It was in the midst of this crisis that Lenin decided to call immediately for the new International. He, Tchitcherin, Sirola, (of Finland) and Fineberg, a member of the British Socialist Party, met one night in January, 1919, in the Tsar's large bedroom in the Kremlin to discuss Lenin's proposals. It was in one sense almost like the old meetings in holes and corners of the emigre days. The huge room was lighted by a single lamp, for electricity was precious in Russia in those days. The meeting was almost informal; Fineberg. had been asked to come only that morning. Russia was attacked within and without. In Europe the world revolution was being sabotaged by the Social Democratic leaders. The revolutionary workers were in confusion, being continually misled and deceived by the men who stood at the head of their outworn organisations. Lenin proposed the immediate formation of a new revolutionary International with a Marxist programme of its own which would make a decisive break with the Second International. The plan was agreed to and the manifesto and invitation broadcast by radio, Trotsky signing instead of Lenin for the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party. The Congress was fixed to take place on February 15, but had to be postponed to March. Passports were refused, delegates were arrested, some lost their lives, and in the circumstances of the blockade very few were able to enter Russia. Furthermore, the democracy which the Second Internationalists were asserting so vigorously in speeches and resolutions did not extend to invitations for a revolutionary conference, and there was little information in Europe, and that inexact, as to the aims and scope of the conference. The only delegates from abroad were Eberlein, representing the Spartacists, Rutgers, representing the American League of Propaganda, and representatives from Sweden, Norway, Austria and some of the smaller countries. The other foreign parties were represented by persons already staying in Moscow. The most important question was whether the congress was an inaugural congress or only a preliminary conference for the purpose of discussing the ultimate formation of an international. And here Rosa Luxemburg nearly prevented the decisive step. She got the invitation at the beginning of January, 1919. As neither she nor Karl Liebknecht were able to leave Berlin at that moment, she proposed to Eberlein that he should go, and discussed with him what line he should take. She told him that even if there were only a few delegates the Bolsheviks would most certainly propose the immediate formation of the International. She, however, thought that it should be definitely founded, but only when Communist parties would have arisen out of the revolutionary movement of the masses, which was growing in nearly every European country. In particular it would be necessary to choose the moment for founding the International in such a manner as to accelerate the detachment of the revolutionary masses from the German Independent Party. She asked Eberlein to press for the point of view that this February conference should he a preparatory conference. A commission should be created composed of the representatives of the different countries, and the foundation congress should take place between April and June. Three days later Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered. But the Spartacists endorsed her point of view, and Eberlein and Levine set out with an imperative mandate. Levine was arrested before they got out of Germany, but Eberlein reached Moscow.

He had an interview with Lenin and told him the views of Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacus Central Committee. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg knew each other well, for Lenin said he was not surprised at what she thought and had foreseen this attitude. Her arguments, however, had only a certain tactical value. The International must be formed immediately. The revolutionary movement, the influence of the Russian Revolution on the advanced section of the proletariat, the recognition by great numbers of working men that the Second International was bankrupt, and above all the historic necessity of directing and coordinating the revolutionary actions of the proletariat, demanded it imperiously. Rut Eberlein was rigidly mandated, in 1918-1919 everything revolved around Germany; so that when Eberlein put his position before the fifty-seven delegates there was consternation. Only a few weeks earlier Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg had been killed. Even as the conference was going on Noske and the Social Democrats were using the old German army officers and shooting down the revolutionary workers. Yet Eberlein maintained this hesitant attitude as the final word of his party. Doubt and distrust seized the delegates. Could the German Revolution ever succeed if this was their spirit? Yet even Lenin and the Bolshevik delegation accepted Eberlein's proposal, such was their respect for the German party, and for the first forty-eight hours the conference sat as a preliminary conference. But the delegates were dissatisfied. They felt that the decision was wrong, and on the evening of the second day Gruber, the Vienna delegate, cleared the air; "He was an agitator of the masses, full of talent. Electrified still more before his departure from Vienna by the deadly struggle of the few cadres of Austrian Communists against the social-traitors, clericalism, the bourgeoisie and militarism, Gruber with his colleague struggled for seventeen days against a thousand dangers to arrive at Moscow. They had travelled on locomotives and on tenders, on springs and on cattle wagons, they had tramped, had got by trickery through the front lines of Petlioura and Polish bands. See them finally in Red Moscow. Gruber hardly takes time to wash and runs to the Kremlin to be the sooner among his comrades, to help raise the standard of a new, a third International, truly revolutionary. Here among the delegates he speaks to them, describing in flaming words the struggle, the enthusiasm, the devotion of the Austrian comrades. What magnificent speaking! It is impossible to give any account of it. Moved as one was by it, it seemed that he gave forth magnetic waves, communicating to his listeners his boundless enthusiasm, his audacity, his faith in our movement. I had many opportunities later in Moscow to hear Steingart, [7] but never have I heard anything comparable to this first speech." [8]

The speech was followed by the formal proposition to found the new international. With the German five votes abstaining, the congress unanimously decided to found it at once. Lenin had almost been betrayed against his better judgment into a weak and vacillating position.


The congress issued a manifesto signed by Rakovsky, [9] Lenin, Zinoviev, Trotsky and Fritz Platten.

"...The national State, which gave such a mighty impulse to Capitalist development, has become too restricted for the continued development of the productive forces.....
"The only means of securing the possibility of a free existence for the small nations is by a proletarian revolution which releases all the productive forces in every country from the tight grip of the national States, unites the nations in the close economic co-operation based on a joint social economic plan, and grants to the smallest and weakest nation the possibility of developing its national culture independently and freely without detriment to the united and centralised economy of Europe and of the whole world....
"The last war, which was certainly a war for the sake of the colonies, was also a war that was waged with the help of the colonies' populations on a scale never before known. Indians, Negroes, Arabs, Madagascans, all fought in the European contingent--and for what? For their right to remain in the future the slaves of England and France....
"The liberation of the colonies will only be feasible in conjunction with the liberation of the working classes in the mother countries. Not until the workmen of England and France have overthrown Lloyd George and Clemenceau will the workmen and peasants, not only in Annam, Algiers, and Bengal, but also in Persia and Armenia, have a chance of an independent existence. In the more highly developed colonies the fight is already proceeding not merely under the banner of national liberation but with a social character quite openly expressed. If Capitalistic Europe forces the most backward parts of the world into the whirlpool of capital, Socialist Europe will come to the aid of the liberated colonies with its technique, its organisations, and its spiritual influence, to facilitate the transition to a methodically organised Socialist establishment.....

"The outcry by the bourgeois world against civil war and the Red Terror is the most abominable hypocrisy ever noted in the history of political fighting....

"Civil war is forced on the working classes by their mortal enemy. The working classes must return blow for blow, unless they would prove faithless to themselves and their future, which is also the future of all mankind. The Communist parties never try by artificial means to encourage civil war, but exert themselves, as far as possible, to shorten the duration of it, and, if it does become an imperative necessity, they endeavour to keep down the number of victims, and, above all, to secure victory for the proletariat....
"Fully conscious of the world-historical character of their undertaking, the enlightened workmen, as the first step in organising the Socialist movement, aimed at an international union.
"In repudiating the vacillation mendacity, and superficiality of the Socialist parties, we--the united Communists of, the Third International--feel ourselves to be the direct successors of a long series of generations, heroic champions and martyrs, from Baboeuf to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.
"Even though the First International foresaw the coming development and inserted a wedge, and though the Second International collected and organised millions of proletarians, still it is the Third International that stands for the open action of the masses and for revolutionary operations.
"Socialist criticism has thoroughly stamped the bourgeois world-order. It is the duty of the International Communist Party to overthrow that order, and to establish instead the system of Socialist order.
"We appeal to Labour men and women in all countries to join us under the Communist banner, under which the first great victories already have been won.
"Proletarians in all lands! Unite to fight against imperialist barbarity, against monarchy, against the privileged classes, against the bourgeois State and bourgeois property, against all kinds and forms of social and national oppression.
"Join us, proletarians in every country--flock to the banner of the workmen's councils, and fight the revolutionary fight for the power and dictatorship of the proletariat!"

As is proper with the initial statement of a Marxist political organisation, the manifesto stands to-day, after nearly twenty years, far more valuable than when it was written. The analysis of Capitalism has been proved correct over and over again since 1919. Millions all over the world are far more ready for the call to-day, more will be to-morrow, even than in 1919. Yet to repeat those words to-day is Trotskyism. Men are imprisoned, tortured and shot in Russia for doing so, and outside Russia reviled without ceasing by the agents of the Third International. For this manifesto, and all that it means, the Third Internationalists have substituted as tattered and torn a collection of outworn political rags as can be found in the footnotes of any old Liberal school-book. A strong, free, and happy France; merry England; the Popular Front, with progressive individuals and right-thinking persons; and, despite the stench from the corpse of Abyssinia, the League of Nations and Collective Security. They dare not publish to-day the old documents of the International and for years have suppressed them, for many years it should be noted, and not since 1935.

But the men who wrote and signed and the men who voted for that manifesto meant it, and some of them are in exile to-day still fighting for the principles it maintains. At that first conference Trotsky, describing the Red Army, of which he had organised and which was fighting on thousands of miles of front, told the delegates: "And I can assure you that the Communist workmen who form the true foundation of the army conduct themselves not only as the army for protection of the Socialist Soviet Republic, but also as the Red Army of the Third International....

"And if to-day we do not even think of invading East Prussia--on the contrary we would be very much obliged if Messrs. Ebert and Scheidemann leave us in peace--it is yet true, that when the moment comes in which our brothers of the West will call to us for help we shall reply: Here we are, during this period we have learnt to handle arms, we are ready to struggle and to die for the cause of the world revolution!" And not only the leaders but the people of Russia were animated by the same spirit.

Through Moscow itself ran a fire of enthusiasm. Ever since October the idea of the Third International had caught on. Orators of various countries, ex-prisoners of war, spoke at crowded Moscow meetings about the Third International. The revolutionary workmen gave the name to clubs and organisations. Leaders and proletariat were convinced that the Soviet Union was merely the beginning of what the Third International and the international proletariat would conclude; and further that the existence of Russia as a Workers' State depended upon the international proletariat led by the Third International.

As the news of the new International penetrated into Europe it was seen how right Lenin was in opposing Rosa Luxemburg's idea of waiting. Millions rallied to the call, and many of the leaders of the Second International, fighting hard to avoid contact with the Third, had for the time being to abjure association with the Second. The Geneva Conference of the Second Internationalists, already put off from January to July, was a complete failure. Of the great countries in Europe only the German and the British were represented, and in addition to their urgings and pressures, resolutions about international peace and national self-determination, they added violent denunciations of the Bolsheviks as violators of their precious democracy. Henceforth that was their slogan. How tightly they hold on to it. It is not quite straightforward dishonesty, nor rhetoric, nor habit, nor ignorance, though there are solid elements of all these in it. The basis of it all is self-preservation, and when that is at stake men do not reason. Bourgeois parliamentary democracy was that form of political organisation which had brought the Social Democrats into being and on which they flourish. They can find a place in neither Fascism nor Communism. They are therefore democrats and will remain democrats, though the world fall to ruins around them.


[1] Rosa Luxemburg has recently fallen into disfavour with Stalin and the Stalinists. It is to her credit. A study of her life and work is badly needed in England.

[2] This is admitted even by G. P. Gooch, a Liberal historian, and Liberal historians as a rule only countenance revolutions when they are successful and at least 150 years old. See his chapter on the revolution in his book, Germany. See also F. Lee Benn's Europe since 1914, 1930, p. 308: "If they had had determined leaders with clearly defined aims, they might have seized the city; but these they lacked."

[3] The Austrian Revolution of 1918, by Otto Bauer. See The Communist International, No. 16.

[4] Bolshevism or Social-Democracy? by Otto Bauer. See The Communist International, No. 16.

[5] The Austrian Problem of 1918, by Otto Bauer. See The Communist International, No. 16. All other quotations are from the same source.

[6] Louis Fischer, The Soviets in World Affairs, 1930. Vol. I, Chap. IV.

[] For obvious reasons revolutionaries have different names.

[8] B. Rheinstein, Sur la voie du Ler Congres de L'I.C. Dix Annees de lutte pour la Revolulion Mondiale, Bureaux d'Editions, Paris, 1929.

[9] Of the four Russians Lenin is dead, Zinoviev murdered by Stalin, Trotsky driven into exile by Stalin. Rakovsky, after years of exile, has "recanted," and after the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial, wrote (or signed) a denunciation of Trotskyism, in which he called Trotsky Fascist, unclean fellow, etc.

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