C.L.R. James
The World Revolution 1917–1936

Chapter 7


THE GERMAN REVOLUTION WAS FOR YEARS THE MOST urgent and important for the Communist International. In the war Germany lost over one and a quarter million men killed and four and a quarter million wounded. The allied bourgeoisie blockaded Germany for nine months after the war so that a million children died; (meanwhile they called on God and man to witness how the wicked Bolsheviks were shooting thousands of good Russian bourgeois). Germany lost 100,000 horses, 175,000 cattle, 220,000 sheep, 20,000 goats and 250,000 poultry. The allied capitalists deprived her of all her colonies and twelve per cent of her European territory, ten per cent of her population, seventy-four per cent of her iron industry, sixty-eight per cent of her zinc industry, twenty-five per cent of her coal industry and eighty per cent of her mercantile fleet. In addition they saddled her with a debt which was unpayable. From August, 1914, Lenin had preached openly that there could be no democratic peace except by revolution. Now the advanced Liberals, the advanced Social-Democrats, the advanced churchmen, all the war-mongers on behalf of democracy, raised their lamentations over the peace. But their urging and protests being of no avail, they said never again, and forthwith proceeded to confuse the great masses of the people with a ceaseless babbling about democracy.

Lenin had warned them from August 1914 to cease their nonsense about a democratic peace. He was equally simple and equally clear about the fate of democracy in the post-war world. Speaking as far back as April 1918, before the Soviets, Lenin gave the theoretical prognosis of the future history of Europe. For any country passing through a difficult transition or the desperate disorganisation caused by a horrible war, democracy and all other middle courses were advanced by the bourgeoisie in order to deceive the people, or through stupidity by “the petty-bourgeois democrats prattling of a united democracy, of the dictatorship of democracy, of a single democratic front [1] and similar nonsense. Those who have not learned even from the course of the Russian revolution of 1917–1918 that middle courses are impossible, must be given up as hopeless.” Have the democrats learned? As we write, the revolution in Spain is fighting for its life, and not only from the democratic press (they are incurable) but also from the press of the Third International, the clamour for a democratic Spain fills the air. And yet the whole history of Europe since the war, and of Germany in particular, shows that for Capitalism in crisis no middle course is possible and that the banner of democracy serves one purpose and one purpose only – to blind the masses to the inevitable onslaught of Capitalist reaction.


Ebert, Noske, Scheidemann and the Social Democrats remained in power in Germany, and when the German proletariat and petty-bourgeoisie realised that the Social Democratic Party intended to do nothing to change the social system they lost interest in the revolution. The premature insurrection of the Spartacists had deprived the revolutionary proletariat of vigorous leadership. The Independent Social Democratic Party, a typical centrist party, opposed Ebert and Noske in speeches and resolutions, but gave no lead. A dangerous unrest developed in the country, just the kind of situation in which the forces of reaction can take advantage of the lassitude and disillusionment of the workers, shatter their vanguard, and by their very decision, win over those wavering elements of the petty-bourgeoisie and even some of the proletariat to the temporary support of a reactionary regime. The old ruling-class of Germany planned attempt after attempt, but was so thoroughly discredited that it could not succeed and would have been completely crippled had the labour leaders not leaned on it against Socialism and the revolutionary workers. Whenever the old ruling-class fell prostrate after an attempt at counter-revolution the Social Democrats hastened to its rescue and propped it up again. The Social Democrats allowed the Reichswehr to develop great power and encouraged various illegal military organisations, like the Black Reichswehr. They gave huge pensions to the Kaiser and the old royal families, they subsidised German industrialists and the large landowners, who used the money to finance the counter-revolution. The more adventurous of the counter-revolutionaries formed secret societies and regularly murdered anyone who seemed dangerous to their future plans, from workers and Socialist deputies and editors to Rathenau, author of the Russo-German Entente. Courts in which the old ruling-class still dominated let these criminals off with light sentences or did not punish them at all. Many of these judges have been rewarded today by the Hitler Government.

As the Social Democratic Government disgraced itself before the only class which would fight for it – the workers, General Kapp on March 13, 1920, marched on Berlin, aided by some of these same counter-revolutionary military organisations with which the Social Democrats had made war against the Bolsheviks in the Baltic States and on the Communists at home. Despite all the votes they could point to, the Ebert-Scheidemann Government again proved powerless, and fled from the capital. Kapp seized Berlin. In Bavaria the army officers pushed out the Social Democratic Government, and waited. The army was divided, and waited. It was the masses who rose all over Germany and, by taking power in Rhineland-Westphalia and fighting the counterrevolutionary troops elsewhere, broke the Kapp counterrevolution. Kapp retired on March 18. The Ebert-Scheidemann Government returned to Berlin, and failing to form a coalition with the Independents turned again to the capitalists and the German generals. A Government was formed with Herman Muller as Chancellor and regiments which had stood neutral while the workers had fought for the republic, and even Kapp battalions, were sent against those workers in the Ruhr whose successful uprising had been mainly responsible for Kapp’s defeat. Severing, the Social Democrat, induced these workers to surrender their arms, and as soon as they had done so the Kapp battalions massacred them. Social Democratic leaders and workers who seemed dangerous were murdered with or without court-martial. On the other hand, the leaders of the Kapp revolt were given light sentences, most of which were never served. One of them, Ehrhardt, received his full pension; another, Lutterwitz, received an annual pension of 12,000 marks.

The indignation of the workers forced a split in the centrist leadership of the Independent Social Democrats. A minority went back to the Social Democratic Party, while the majority at last joined the old Spartacist organisation and formed the Communist Party of Germany. [2] Lacking in experience but determined, this new party, standing by the principles of the Third International, could constitute a serious danger to the State in times of crisis. In the mining district of Mansfield the proletariat was powerful and maintained its hostility to the increasing reaction of the new Coalition Government. Hörsing, a Social Democrat, was sent down to Mansfield with a police detachment to destroy the movement. His slogan was, “The first day shall be a bloody one.̶i; The German Communist Party put itself at the head of the fighting, and under the influence of Zinoviev and Bucharin led the Mansfield workers to a crushing defeat. Zinoviev, President of the Communist International, always unstable and lacking the patience so characteristic of the great revolutionaries, had been disappointed by the failures of the workers since November, 1918, and had developed a new theory, the theory of the offensive – desperate attack by the Communist Party and the vanguard, by this means to electrify the great masses. The Mansfield action was fought under this theory. On March 17, the Communist Party press was peaceful. The next day, without that wide preparation for revolution among the organised workers without which revolution becomes an anarchistic adventure, the Communist Party press summoned the proletariat all over Germany to the general insurrection against Capitalism. The Mansfield workers, instead of fighting defensive battles against Hörsing, opened an offensive with the hope of kindling a nation-wide insurrection. They failed. To these fighters the Ebert Government distributed 1,500 years of imprisonment. A reward of 100,000 marks (eight years value of the pension paid to Lutterwitz), was offered for the capture of Max Hoelz, leader in the fighting, and Weiss, the Social Democratic assistant chief-of-police in Berlin, offered 50,000 marks for evidence that might help to convict him. Hoelz finally received a sentence of life imprisonment and served eight years. Thus the Social Democratic leaders, enjoying their new-found camaraderie with Junkers and big capital, protected them on behalf of democracy and crushed the militant proletariat. The counter-revolution bided its time.

It was under the influence of these events that the Third Congress met at Moscow in June, 1921.


It is fashionable [3] today to say that the Bolsheviks in 1921, seeing the possibility of the Soviet Union surviving for some time at least in a hostile capitalist world, changed the tactics of the International from world revolution, as embodied in the documents of the Second Congress in 1920, towards its present line of propaganda for the defence of the Soviet Union. There is no foundation whatever for that view. Communist tactics must be, and, until the death of Lenin were, based strictly on an analysis of the objective economic and political situation. The Third Congress realised that Capitalism had to some degree recovered from the shock of 1919. But Trotsky, the undeviating protagonist of the theory of Permanent Revolution, made the report to the Third Congress and insisted that, despite the possibility of a temporary recovery, the danger and instability of the system were proved now to every worker, and the perspective of world revolution still remained. The recent experiences of the masses had altered the pre-war relationship of class-forces. The development of Capitalism was not a matter of trade figures and prices, but was conditioned by the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat which, since 1917, had reached and would by the very instability of Capitalism be maintained at a pitch far higher than before the war. The boom, such as it was, was temporary. In accordance with his pre-war theory, prosperity would only strengthen the masses for another decisive clash. Tactics would have to be changed, but the world revolution was only temporarily postponed.

After a heated debate he carried the conference with him. On the question of specific tactics, however, there was almost a split, and it needed all the prestige and authority of Lenin and Trotsky to swing the congress their way.

The March rising had been condemned by Paul Levi, hitherto leader of the German party, and he had been expelled. Mere condemnation of thousands of proletarians who risk their lives against the bourgeoisie has never been tolerated by Marxists. But the Russian Bolsheviks in true Marxist fashion made the action the subject of an exhaustive analysis, and Lenin and Trotsky condemned the theory of the offensive. The German party should, of course, have put itself at the head of the rising under any circumstances. It should have told the workers clearly that if Horsing invaded Central Germany it would stand by them, but that if they allowed themselves to be drawn they would be defeated.

The German representatives, however, stood by the theory of Zinoviev and Bucharin, and Lenin had to speak very harshly against them. “Some people say that we were victorious in Russia though we formed a small party, but those who say this betray their utter ignorance of the Russian Revolution and of how revolutions are prepared.” And Trotsky was equally uncompromising; “We must say frankly and clearly that the philosophy and tactics of the offensive is a great menace and any application of it in the future will be a crime.”

Under such pressure the congress reluctantly gave way. The new slogan – To the masses – was adopted, though it was not until December, 1922, that the final thesis on the United Front designed to give the Communist Party a preponderating influence among the majority of the workers was adopted. Lenin fought stubbornly for the word “majority,” for without the sympathy at least of the majority of workers, there can be no successful proletarian revolution.


We have hitherto avoided discussion of tactics in the abstract. But it is necessary to understand thoroughly the tactic of the United Front, which is fundamental to any understanding of the history of Communist revolutions after 1923. Misunderstanding of it was at the root of the failure in Germany in 1923, in China in 1925–27, and, most catastrophic of all, in Germany in 1929–1933. It is being shamefully abused today. Yet it remains a basic tactic for any revolutionary Socialist Party. Without a thorough realisation of all its dangers, the party that attempts it will be lost in a swamp of opportunism. On the other hand, without it there can be no success.

It is based on the fact that except at moments of very high tension in national affairs, moments which though long in preparation are of comparatively short duration, a Communist Party is likely to be a definite minority among the organised workers. Most of these are in the Trade Unions, where they struggle for the maintenance or improvement of wages and working conditions. These Trade Unions are the basis of Social Democracy, and the workers, for instance on the outbreak of war, succumb to Social Democratic leadership, their war to end war, neutrality of Belgium, independence of Abyssinia, collective security or whatever capitalist ballyhoo these Social Democratic leaders may be using at the moment. A Communist Party knows that a revolutionary crisis will inevitably approach, but the revolutionary crisis is itself conditioned by the militancy of the masses whom the reformist leaders do everything to deceive, mislead and, when necessary, crush ruthlessly. Hence the slogan, “To the masses.” The masses can be reached by worker Communists entering the Trade Unions, Co-operative Societies, sports’ organisations, etc., of the workers, and struggling for influence there. But there must be a political approach also. They can form secret groups, fractions as they are called, inside the Social Democratic parties and with discretion propagate Communist ideas there. But this is not sufficient to perform the main task, opening the eyes of the workers to the real nature of the Social Democratic leaders. Party must approach party, and a Communist Party constantly offers the United Front to the Social Democratic parties for purposes of struggle. Obviously to offer a Social Democrat the United Front for the purpose of overthrowing Capitalism is an absurdity. The Social Democratic worker is Social Democratic precisely because he does not believe in revolution. He has seen it fail so often, he dislikes bloodshed, or more simply because the great majority of mankind decide on revolution only after they have tried every other possible way out of their difficulties. But the Social Democratic worker will struggle for an eight-hour day, he will, under certain circumstances, join in a determined struggle against war, if the Capitalists begin an assault on living standards he will resist. While the Communist rank-and-file are assiduously urging the struggle for these or similar measures in the rank-and-file of the Social Democratic workers “from below,” the official Communist Party offers the United Front “above” to the Social Democratic leaders. These offers must be unremittingly made at every opportunity which presents itself. The Communist knows that these gentlemen will not carry the fight any distance, very often will not fight at all. He knows that and says so openly. But the Social Democratic worker does not know it. The pathetic faith the average worker has in the leaders of the organisations he has created is one of the chief supports of the capitalist system. By constantly offering the United Front for measures that the Social Democratic Party worker is willing to fight for, not as a revolutionary but merely as a worker, the Communist Party hopes to expose to the workers, before the actual crisis approaches, that the Social Democratic leaders, having to make a choice, will always choose the bourgeoisie. If the Social Democratic Party were homogeneous, its leaders could afford to neglect these appeals, while continuing to assure the workers that everything can be left in their hands. But as capitalist pressure increases, as the State machine becomes more oppressive, the more militant of the Social Democratic workers begin to press on their leaders for action of some sort. These are compelled to stop mouthing phrases and act, or face the loss of large sections of their party and the distrust of others. The Communist Party offers a definite programme of struggle for definite ends. It knows that once a struggle does begin, the revolutionary party inevitably takes the lead. [4]

All the negotiations are made openly and in the light of day before the workers, so that all the responsibility for refusals or broken agreements can be laid at the proper door. The United Front is not for all times. The Social Democratic worker must sense some nation-wide danger to his class before he can be stirred. But persistently carried on during a period of growing crisis, the tactic of the United Front can result in a vast strengthening of the influence of the Communist Party over the millions of workers who might not join the Communist Party en masse, but mentally compare its energy and its activity in the face of danger, with the rhetorical passivity of their own leaders. At the moment of crisis, decisive action over the heads of the Social Democratic leaders will bring enough of the masses to make the revolution. Action is the final pillar of the bridge. Millions of people are never moved to revolution by propaganda alone.

Obviously the tactic of the United Front has great dangers. Few men are like Lenin, and before him, Marx, able to pass from the most furious onslaught on Capitalism to ordinary humdrum, everyday constitutional action a few months later. Few parties have the discipline to respond with the least amount of loss to such leadership. A Communist Party not homogeneous enough might lose its revolutionary identity in the effort for the United Front, especially over a comparatively quiescent period where active struggle is impossible. In such periods, with Communist leaders who have Social Democratic tendencies, especially in Communist parties which have sprung out of Social Democratic parties, the clear line of demarcation that must always exist between the two parties becomes blurred, with fatal results when the time for action comes. A party might still be fiddling about with the Social Democratic leaders at a time when it has already won influence over a majority of the workers and should pass to action, before its influence over the majority, always temporary under Capitalism, evaporates. The party must be able to take united action with Social Democrats and yet remain an independent organisation with an independent banner. A most rigorous principle of the Leninist United Front, therefore, is that never under any circumstances must the right of criticism be abrogated. A joint struggle for the eight-hour day, even if agreed upon and carried out, must not prevent a Communist Party from attacking a Social Democratic Party for supporting, let us say, the despatch of British troops to crush a national movement in China. Yet the revolutionary must exercise discretion. Lenin’s letter about the method of attack against Kerensky in the face of Kornilov shows that his granite intransigence was quite compatible with knowing when not to say certain things though in the very heat of revolution.

In December 1921 the theses on the United Front were finally agreed upon, and in the Fourth Congress, held in November 1922, they were amplified by a careful consideration of how fast entry of a Communist Party into a workers’ government could be contemplated. It was decided that a Liberal Labour government such as was likely to be formed in Britain in the near future (the MacDonald government came in 1924) was a capitalist government. A Social Democratic government, such as the German Ebert government, was the same. Communists could under no circumstances take part in these governments but should ruthlessly expose them. Under certain conditions, however, Communists, for the sake of proving to the workers the futility of such governments, might support them. There might, however, be a workers’ and peasants’ government in such countries as the Balkans or Czechoslovakia; or a workers’ government determined to struggle against Capitalism. Communists might enter such a government, but only for the purpose of carrying the struggle further. For such governments did not constitute the dictatorship of the proletariat. They might serve, however, as a starting-point for the completion of the dictatorship, though this would depend on the results of struggle. [5]

The theses met with opposition. Certain parties, like the French, were hostile to operating them. But after the March Congress of 1921 a large majority of the German party set itself with a will to win the majority of the German proletariat by the new tactic. As was inevitable some sections of the leadership went so far in their rapprochement towards the Social Democrats that there was violent opposition within the party, and in Berlin, Hamburg and the Ruhr Basin a minority opposition of the left arose under the leadership of Ruth Fischer and Maslov. Brandler was the dominating figure of the right and at the Leipzig Congress in January he was made chairman of the party. In this January, national and international events with startling suddenness put a revolution in Germany on the order of the day.


The Social Democratic leaders, useful only so long as they had some mass support, were by now merely encumbrances to the capitalists. By January, 1923, they were thrown out of the Coalition Government and Cuno, managing director of the Hamburg-American Steamship Line, became the head of a purely capitalist government. He had to put a stop to the inflation by which the middle classes and the masses were being steadily ruined, and to mitigate the intolerable burden of debt to the allies which lay on the German workers. On the German workers, for if Germany paid she had to export. This meant selling goods at cheaper prices than the goods of other countries, and the profits of German capitalists could be made only at the cost of less wages and longer hours. Yet Germany could not pay and French Capitalism, hoping to break up the German State altogether, established Germany’s default and sent an army into the Ruhr in January 1923. Clara Zetkin, in a speech of welcome at the Leipzig Conference, pointed out the possible consequences of the Ruhr invasion. But neither the party nor the International took any decisive attitude nor put forward any decisive resolution on the possibilities of revolution created by this unprecedented situation. It was the first of a series of colossal blunders.

The invasion necessarily threw a heavy strain on the economic and political system of Germany, but the German capitalists, month after month, showed exactly what the word patriotism means in such mouths. They decided on passive resistance to the attempts of the French to collect coal by force. But nothing, not even the love of the dear country on behalf of which they had helped to devastate the world for four years, ever stands in the way of profits. Says Arthur Rosenberg: “The so-called passive resistance of Germany in the year 1923 is a fable.” [6] While the German workers were at first willing to make any sacrifice, the German industrialists, on the specious plea that coal was needed for the inhabitants and for industries, carried on as much production as they could, thus breaking the back of the national resistance. They negotiated with French heavy industry for combining French and German Capitalism against labour. The State had advanced these industrialists money with which to buy securities for the purchase of cheap coal. They accumulated large stocks of raw material and then manipulated the most terrible inflation in history so as to pay back what they had borrowed in worthless currency. The mark at par was 20 – 40 to the pound. In January, 1923, it was 33,500; by June, 1923, it was 344,500. Prices soared. In inflation wages will follow, but usually at a rate so far behind the rise in prices that the working-class, as always, suffers. But in this crisis the German bourgeoisie set itself to keep wages as low as possible. The Government officials were given increases, but wherever Government officials sat with workers and employers to regulate wages the Government representative sided with the employer to put as much of the national burden as possible upon the workers. The industrialists, the great landowners, made fabulous profits. With costs what they were, German capitalists were able to sell abroad and undercut the foreign competitors. The savings of the middle classes vanished, and the working-class was reduced to a depth of deprivation and misery beyond anything they had suffered during the war. The workers in the Ruhr district took matters into their own hands with mass strikes, organised a militia, disarmed the Fascist bands, fixed prices in the local markets, punished profiteers, and in fact exercised political power in large areas. Capitalism will always forget national rivalries in the face of danger to capitalist property, and Dr. Lutterbeck, the representative of the German Government, asked General Degoutte for French help to crush the rising in the Ruhr. The fatherland lie, for which the German working-class had sacrificed itself in the war, was once more exposed.

Yet the majority of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany, and Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev in Moscow were blind to what was happening around them. The Troika was immersed in their campaign against Trotsky. Brandler and the majority of the Central Committee were busy working for the United Front under the slogan of a Workers’ Government. On June 12 the enlarged Executive of the Communist International opened in Moscow and held sessions until June 24. Preparations for the coming German revolution had no place on the agenda. Instead the chief discussion was about the Workers’ Government which was to be formed by the United Front of Social Democrats and Communists. Zinoviev, always opportunist, said that it was a pseudonym for the dictatorship of the proletariat, and was severely attacked for it, because Brandler and the others knew quite well that it was nothing of the kind. In those days Lenin’s tradition was still strong enough to prevent any such deception of the masses, though it could not prevent confusion among the advanced workers.

By July 30 the mark was five million to the pound, and the German proletariat, fifteen millions in the towns, seven millions in the country, had turned towards the Communist Party. The German Communist Party called for a demonstration on July 29, Anti-Fascist Day. Cuno prohibited the demonstration. The left-wing of the Communist Party demanded “the conquest of the streets.“ Brandler and his majority called the demonstration off – a criminal mistake as the whole of Germany was able to see before a fortnight. On July 29, 150,000 workers assembled at the meetings of the Communist Party in Berlin, expecting the party to act. The Communist Party did nothing. Cuno declared a state of siege; the workers refused to obey. They seized motor-trucks and drove out into the country to the peasants to get supplies of food which was running short. The Communist Party seemed paralysed; Moscow gave no lead. Then in the second week of August the mass movement boiled over and a general strike brought down the Cuno Government. Had the Communist Party challenged the Government on Anti-Fascist Day, a fortnight before, they could not have failed, and whatever its ultimate fate the German Revolution would have begun. From July 30 to August 31 the mark went from five million to the pound to forty-seven million.

Not since 1918 had there been such a revolutionary situation in any European country, and it is not likely that there will be one so favourable (at least in peace-time) for many years to come. For in addition to the hunger and the revolutionary indignation of the masses, the middle classes, deprived of every half-penny and reduced to destitution, with the treachery and dishonesty of the capitalists clear to all, had no reason to support far less fight for the existing regime. There was the Reichswehr, but an army is composed more of men than of officers. No profound upheaval such as was imminent in Germany of 1923 could fail to have its effect on the army, and the idea that an army of 100,000 men could hold down a mass uprising of millions, in an industrial country like Germany where the workers control the life of the community, is a bogey with which to frighten children. What army could hold down the millions of workers in the hundreds of German towns? How could the Reichswehr distribute itself in the face of a general strike of railwaymen? What could 50,000 men do in Berlin if half a million workers came into the streets? When the masses in an industrial country move under the leadership of a resolute party they will be invincible. Catalonia is visible proof, and there was no party there in any way comparable to the German party of 1923. The republican police were sympathetic; the German workers were trained to the use of arms. But, outweighing all these things and yet giving them their true significance for an insurrection, was the fact that the German Communist Party had the majority of the German proletariat behind it even before it took decisive action.


The evidence for this is overwhelming. Rosenberg quotes one of the rare elections held during this period, at Strelitz, where in 1920 the Social Democrats had received 25,000 votes and the Independents 2,000. In July 1913 the Social Democrats polled 12,000 votes and the Communist Party 11,000. He notes also that voting at the Berlin metal workers’ union in July gave 54,000 votes to the Communists and 22,000 to the Social Democrats. The Social Democratic Party was falling to pieces. On July 29 a conference of left-wing deputies demanded an end of coalition with the bourgeoisie and co-operation with the Communist Party, evidence of the mass pressure from the Social Democratic workers. The State printing workers in Berlin demanded the formation of a new editorial staff for Vorwaerts, the Social Democratic paper, and a Socialist Government to seize property values and dissolve the Reichswehr. But there is no need to draw deductions. Brandler, who (under orders from Moscow) led the retreat and had every reason not to exaggerate the forces at his disposal, stated at the meeting of the E.C.C.I. [7] held to discuss the German events: “There were signs of a rising revolutionary movement. We had temporarily the majority of the workers behind us, and in the situation believed that under favourable circumstances we could proceed immediately to the attack,” an estimate which was endorsed by every member of the German party present.[8] But the leadership of the Communist Party of Germany was as helpless after the Cuno strike as before it. Brandler, faithful to his misunderstanding of the United Front, could not see that when at last Social Democratic workers turn to a Communist Party it is for action, and negotiations then with Social Democratic leaders, however “left,” will gain nothing and may lose everything. He continued with his agitation for a Workers’ Government, a dangerous slogan always, and now trebly so since Zinoviev’s mischievous pronouncement a few weeks before. And now, to add to the weakness and vacillation, and destroy completely whatever chances the German Communist Party might have had to brace itself and rise to the level of events, Stalin in Moscow, the same man in 1923 as in 1917, set himself to hold the German proletariat back.


The Executive Committee of the International had remained quite unmoved by events in Germany, and it was the Cuno strike which brought the heads of the German Communist Party and the Comintern out of the sand. We have an account of this period by one of them, “In June,” says Kuusinen, “the situation in Germany was still such that no person of any common sense could have thought of regarding the organisation of armed insurrection as the next task ... At the beginning of August an abrupt change took place in Germany. The general situation became revolutionary. Of this we have proof in the mighty mass movement leading to the overthrow of the Cuno Government.” [9] As if a general situation can just become revolutionary in a few days. And then again in typically contradictory Stalinist fashion he places all the blame on the local leadership: “Had the German C.P. foreseen this movement, it should have entered courageously into the struggle in July, and have taken over the initiative and leadership of the movement.” But after the fall of the Cuno Government the Executive Committee belatedly bestirred itself. Zinoviev, with all his timidity and weakness of character, was a revolutionary, trained in the school of Lenin, and in three days he had his first draft on the immediate tasks in Germany prepared. “The crisis is approaching. Enormous interests are at stake. The moment is coming nearer and nearer in which we shall need courage, courage, and again courage.“ The leadership of the German party was weak, but there were to be four months before them. There were still possibilities of an attempt at struggle. But here entered Stalin, with his characteristic policy of 1917, an organic-distrust in the proletarian revolution, a distrust which was to make him before long the supreme representative of the workers’ bureaucracy with its bureaucratic determination never to risk its own position in defence or support of any proletarian revolution. In this month of August where Lenin, as in 1905 and 1917, would have been calling for the party to organise the revolution, Stalin wrote a letter to Zinoviev and Bucharin:

“Should the Communists (at a given stage) strive to seize power without the Social Democrats, are they mature enough for that? That, in my opinion, is the question. When we seized power, we had in Russia such reserves as (a) peace, (b) the land to the peasants, (c) the support of the great majority of the working class, (d) the sympathy of the peasantry. The German Communists at this moment have nothing of the sort. Of course, they have the Soviet nation as their neighbour, which we did not have, but what can we offer them at the present moment? If today in Germany the power, so to speak, falls, and the Communists seize hold of it, they will fall with a crash. That in the ‘best’ case. And at the worst, they will be smashed to pieces and thrown back. The whole thing is not that Brandler wants to ‘educate the masses,’ but that the bourgeoisie plus the Right Social Democrats will surely transform the lessons – the demonstration – into a general battle (at this moment all the chances are on their side) and exterminate them. Of course, the Fascists are not asleep, but it is to our interest that they attack first: that will rally the whole working class around the Communists (Germany is not Bulgaria). Besides, according to all information the Fascists are weak in Germany. In my opinion the Germans must be curbed and not spurred on.“ [10]

That is the voice of Citrine, Otto Bauer, and Leon Blum, and that is the real Stalin. “If today in Germany, the power, so to speak, falls, and the Communists seize hold of it, they will fall with a crash. That in the ‘best’ case.” 1917, 1923, 1925–1927 in China, 1930–1933 in Germany, we have always that distrust of the revolutionary proletariat which makes Stalin the banner-bearer of national Socialism. As an old Bolshevik the masses and the party thought him to be a disciple of Lenin. The bureaucracy rallied round this super-bureaucrat early. It is thus that the German revolution was side-tracked.

Stalin, master of the apparatus, imposed his view, and after that one thing only was certain, that the German revolution would never be led to victory by the Communist International.

With the collapse of the Cuno Government German Capitalism faced disaster. Once more nothing could have saved it but the Social Democracy, and these sycophants who can never lead anything except expeditions against colonials and their own followers, rushed to the rescue. Stresemann, the capitalist, formed a Coalition Government, putting the Social Democrats in the most dangerous positions, Home Affairs and Justice, where they would be responsible for the shooting down of revolting workers, and Finance, where they would be responsible for any further fluctuations of the mark.

The new Government was to stabilise the mark and tax the rich. But between August and October the inflation continued, with increasing misery, destitution and the exasperation of the population. The German proletariat waited for the Third International and the Third International waited for the German proletariat.

The pressure of events had had its effect even on the Social-Democratic leadership, driving some of them far to the Left. First in Thuringia in March, and then in Saxony in September, the Left Social Democrats had formed Social Democratic governments dependent on Communist support. Stresemann in Berlin wanted to strike at them, but they were legally elected governments, and fearing the workers he dared not make any move. But a revolutionary situation does not stand still. If the Left do not act the Right will. The weeks passed, the revolutionary party did nothing, and reaction, gaining courage, took the offensive. In Bavaria the counter-revolutionaries, hostile to Social Democracy, declared a Right-wing dictatorship. Stresemann in Berlin, ostensibly acting against them, gave full power to the Reichswehr to restore the authority of the Central Government and placed Germany under martial law. At once the capitalists challenged Hilferding with his stable mark and taxation of the rich. To this they added a demand for the abolition of the eight-hour day. Hilferding was thrown out and the Stresemann Government assumed dictatorial powers over economic affairs.

The revolution, says Marx, needs sometimes the whip of the counter-revolution. Here was a heaven-sent opportunity for the Communist Party. The preparation for revolution could be made under the legitimate slogan of the defence of the legal rights of the workers.

Trotsky, in Moscow, was already out of the secret councils of the leaders, and Stalin’s part in checking the revolution became known only later when Zinoviev and Kamenev broke with him and exposed the origins of the struggle against Trotskyism. But the incompetence of the German Communist Party for its tasks could be seen by any trained revolutionary. In September Trotsky warned the Central Committee of the German party’s “fatalism, sleepy-headedness, etc.” He was ridiculed. Claiming that the German revolutionary situation was now fully mature, he asked that a date should be fixed provisionally (subject to sudden changes in the general situation) some eight or ten weeks ahead, and that the party should concentrate all its energies on organising the masses for the revolution. The Stalin-ridden International turned the proposal down. [11]

The “November mood” [12] was over the German people. Remmele has related how the masses remained in the streets the whole night, how they confiscated luxurious automobiles, and what the temper of the women was. Comrades, this, for us, was far more important than the volumes of the theses we wrote. We must have this mass sense. The picture that Remmele described, that Koenig has given, and Thaelmann has often drawn, that was the most important thing in Germany. On October 25 it was not in Leipzig but it was in Germany. Were you the megaphone of this mood?

“The masses were acting spontaneously, but members of the Central Committee, like Heckert, were not acting spontaneously. If he is a leader, he must be able to sense what is in the masses ...” [13]

Thus after the defeat Zinoviev apostrophised Brandler and Heckert. But Brandler, Right-winger as he was, was an honest revolutionary. Seeing that the revolution was at hand he went to Moscow in September asking for instructions and assistance. [14] For days he went from office to office, but the leaders of the world revolution evaded him and he could not get an interview. At last, at the very end of September, he had a meeting at which Stalin and Zinoviev were present. They gave him the extraordinary instruction to enter the Social Democratic Government in Saxony and form a Workers’ Government. Brandler refused. He knew that to do that would be the death of the revolution. They told him that the entry was for the purpose of arming the proletariat and so preparing for the insurrection. He replied that if this was the aim, before the entry there should be intensive preparation both in Saxony and the rest of Germany. Without that, the entry into a Social Democratic Government would be a sign of a retreat, and not of preparation for revolution. Stalin insisted on immediate entry, and under the Bolshevik tradition of discipline which Stalin knew so well how to abuse, Brandler gave way, making, as he has since confessed, the greatest mistake of his life. But Stalin (as always working secretly) was taking no chances. Against Brandler’s wishes, [15] Zinoviev, as President of the Executive Committee, sent a telegram to the Communist headquarters in Saxony ordering them to enter the Government at once. To ensure that Brandler would not take any individual action, he himself was instructed to enter the Government also. Every avenue of escape was blocked. At the investigation meeting in January, Zinoviev, reading this notorious telegram, read that entry was to be made only on condition that Zeigner and the Social Democratic ministers were prepared to arm fifty to sixty thousand men. But it is doubtful if this condition was sent in the telegram. For when Zinoviev read this passage, Pleck said that the party was not informed of this condition, [16] and Pleck was a member of the Central Committee. Brandler and his colleagues entered the Government. [17] They could not arm sixty, far less sixty thousand men. Some days later the arrangements with the Thuringian Social Democratic Government were also completed. And all that happened afterwards was bluff.

The plan of campaign of the Executive Committee was that the proletariat should rise in Saxony and thus create a barrier between the counter-revolution in the North and Bavaria in the South. At the same time the party was to carry out a national mobilisation of the masses. But between October 8 and October 21 there was not only no arming of the proletariat, there was no national mobilisation, there was no wide-spread preparation for insurrection. The arming of the proletariat for a revolution, the technical preparation, is by far the most insignificant part of insurrection. Given the temper of the masses, the correct political preparation, and the decisive leadership, the actual arming will never be an insuperable nor even a grave difficulty. But of this political preparation there was none. Instead, in every Communist centre a few hundred comrades had been armed and were waiting a signal which was to be given according to the result of a conference at Chemnitz. This was conspiracy, not revolution. Rosenberg, who was a member of the German Communist Party and later on the Executive, suggests that the strategy behind the Communist leadership was that if a revolution broke out they would lead it, but if it didn’t they would seek to stave off reaction by means of coalition with the Left Social Democrats. It is a characteristic Stalinist manoeuvre, and every movement of the Communist Party during the weeks which succeeded Stalin’s letter bears out its truth.

On October 21 the conference at Chemnitz took place. Brandler, whose cabinet activities during the previous fortnight we have noted, proposed a general strike and armed insurrection. The Social Democratic members of the cabinet refused, whereupon Brandler called off the revolution. Through a misunderstanding, and as if to give adequate proof of how miserably the German Communist Party had conducted its agitation, Thaelmann began in Hamburg. The episode conforms Rosenberg. That revolutionary city (Hitler fears a visit to it even today) was seething. On October 11 a Trade Union conference of all the shipyard workers had demanded a general strike in order to prevent the Reichswehr units near Hamburg being sent to crush the Saxon Government. The Communist Party in Hamburg restrained them. Yet two days later, at five in the morning, three hundred Communists attacked twenty police-stations and began the German Revolution. No more than three hundred fighters when the membership of the Communist Party alone in Hamburg was two thousand. Since October 1917, the masses in the countries where there is a strong Communist Party have learnt to look to it for revolutionary leadership, and instead of each of these two thousand being in his factory or union calling on thousands after weeks of preparation, the Hamburg proletariat saw with amazement one Communist in every six engaged on what was no more than a criminal adventure. Misguided as they were these few score fought with astonishing bravery. By half-past five they had captured nearly all the police stations they had attacked and had possessed themselves of precious arms and ammunition. But the rising petered out and left the situation worse than before.

Immediately after the Hamburg fiasco Radek arrived in Saxony from Moscow at the head of a Russian delegation, and found the same situation there as had been made so plain in Hamburg. Insurrection under those circumstances was madness. The party had missed its opportunity and must recognise its defeat. What was to be feared now was the panic of the masses and their flight from the Communist Party. To make the party once more the rallying centre of the masses so as to be able to resume the fight at a later stage, Radek counselled partial struggles (demonstrations, political strikes, etc.). But the spirit of the party was broken. For three months they had let the grass grow under their feet. The rank and file knew that had the party prepared for concentrated action and taken it the masses would have followed them. Even while the comedy in the Saxon parliament was being played out the Social Democratic Party was falling apart in Berlin. A motion in favour of coalition with the bourgeoisie found so little support that it could not be put to the conference. The proposal to dismiss the staff of Vorwaerts was carried by 219 votes to 215. This and similar decisions were deferred to the next meeting and again carried, and delegates are always to the right of the rank and file. The correspondent of the Observer estimated that of the rank and file eighty per cent were no longer following the old Social Democratic leaders. The United Front tactic and the objective situation had prepared the ground. Action only was needed, and after August action could have been undertaken after eight or ten weeks of ardent preparation in the mass organisations of the workers. But Stalin did not want himself and his bureaucracy to be disturbed by any German Revolution and had seen to it that there should be no such action. Radek tried to organise demonstrations, but from Berlin, where were concentrated the foremost battalions of the German working-class movement, came the news that the bitterness and disappointment of the party members were so great that the party could not rally the masses, not even to a demonstration. And once more as the impotence of the Left became plain the counter-revolution took the offensive. Stresemann destroyed the Social Democratic Governments of Saxony and Thuringia without a hand being raised in their defence. Hitler tried his first coup in Bavaria and failed, but the Right-wing in Bavaria remained in power, and Hitler and Ludendorff escaped almost scot free. The terror, however, was loosed on the German workers. The Communist Party was made illegal; 9,000 workers were put on trial. “Prison suicides” and “shot while trying to escape” multiplied. And after the political defeat came the cutting of wages and the loss of the eight-hour day, one of the few conquests of the 1918 revolution. The German workers had turned from the Second International to the Third and had gained nothing from it – not even the satisfaction and the experience of a struggle. That part of the lesson many of them were to remember. But though it was clear to some few observers at the time, [18] the German workers did not know, it is only today the workers of Europe are beginning to see, that the Russian bureaucracy under Stalin has wanted only to be left in peace, and will risk every working-class movement in Europe going down to defeat rather than face the complications of a proletarian revolution.


The failure of the German revolution clinched the victory of Stalin in Russia. It strengthened the development of the bureaucracy towards the nationalism to be proclaimed a year later in Stalin’s monstrous theory. The world revolution does not come on a plate. It has to be fought for. But the consequences of failure are almost automatic.

It is impossible to minimise the importance of the German defeat. Today, Trotskyists and Stalinists (all except Brandler and his followers) agree that the finest of postwar revolutionary situations was missed in 1923. The roots of the failure were in Moscow, not in Berlin, and in Moscow in more senses than one.

We have been careful to point out Lenin’s role in October, 1917, and the role he would have played in Moscow had he been vigorous in October, 1923. Trotsky has made a valuable admission in his recent book, La Revolution Trahie, [pg 118] where he states that if Lenin had lived, the advance of the bureaucracy would have been slower “at least in the early years.” The significance of this for us is of far more importance outside of Russia than in. If Brandler had met in Moscow, not Stalin, the advance-guard of Revisionism, but revolutionary Socialism incarnate in Lenin, there would have been a revolution in Germany in 1923. A defeat might have been the result. But a defeat in 1923 would have been the surest preparation for the new upsurge a decade or so later. The inaction of 1923 hung heavily over pre-Hitlerite Germany. There are accidents in history. Cleopatra’s nose might have been shorter, and a stray bullet might have killed General Bonaparte. The broad outlines of history would have remained unchanged. But we who live today in a period where a revolutionary defeat or victory affects in the most literal sense the lives of half the world’s inhabitants, cannot afford to be too philosophical about the reasons which made for success or failure. Leninism is the only solution to the problems of the modern world. It might have saved us another world-war on the scale of the one which approaches. But there was too much need of Lenin in both the planning and the execution of Leninism.

There is another aspect closely linked to the first. Neither Danton, Marat nor Robespierre were as individuals essential to the success of the French Revolution. The Jacobin club was an unconscious growth. Cromwell did not ever seem to know where exactly he was going but dealt with the circumstances as they came. The moment we reach the Bolshevik Party and the Communist International, however, we have organisations, based on historical science, created and trained for the purpose of entering and consciously influencing the objective processes of history. At first sight the role of individual genius should be lessened. Instead, in the only success such organisations can boast, it assumes an almost terrifying importance. And it is not difficult to see why, especially after a close study of 1917–1936. Bolshevism is a double-edged weapon. The very emphasis on party and leadership throws an enormous responsibility on party and leadership. But the reading of history and the passing of resolutions is one thing. The capacity to build, to advance, to retreat, to seize the correct moment, to translate theory into practice, not only to see a correct line of action, but to be able to persuade colleagues to act on it with the necessary speed and cohesion, these things require at the centre men of unusual stature. Respect for a theory, valuable as it is, can be a dead weight, which when backed by the force of an organisation can ruin a revolutionary situation. Lenin’s democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, as interpreted by Stalin and the old Bolsheviks, nearly prevented October. The Petrograd workers knew better. Over and over again we shall see this instinctive superiority during revolution of the advanced workers to the learned blindness and conservatism of the organisation. Men who can use theory and organisation, and not be used by them, are rare.

Bolshevism is a two-edged weapon in another sense, the emphasis on the centralism of the International. Brandler running around in Moscow asking what to do is a pitiable and warning figure. No revolution can ever be led to victory by such leaders. Under Stalin as far back as 1923 this subservience was a trap. But even under Lenin it was a danger. The successful leadership of a revolutionary party, collective or individual, is a work of creative genius. The long succession of failures should teach us that. Centralism can assist and guide, it cannot create that leadership. But it can, by the mere weight of the organisation, stunt and kill it. We shall see how the dependence on the centre created a body of leaders who looked always to Moscow and were incapable of independent appraisal and action. The revolutionary movement, in a period of unceasing revolution, has thrown up no great figures. Lenin and Trotsky, Liebknecht and Luxemburg all developed in another period. The heavy hand of Stalin, the need for bureaucratic control in Russia, had its full influence on the International. But the seeds of the trouble were always there. Lenin saw it, warned ceaselessly against it. Even to Trotsky, his destined successor, he administered an admonition in his Testament as being “far too much attracted to the purely administrative side of affairs,” that is to say control from above, leading consciously or unconsciously to the suppressing of individual initiative. Democratic centralism demands at the centre men not only of exceptional ability but breadth of vision, far-reaching wisdom and immense patience. Here again Leninism depended too much on Lenin. Small pillars cannot sustain the vast structure of the world revolution.

We must bear these things in mind as essential to a just understanding of Lenin’s basic conceptions. If we do not, we leave the door open to those who consider the successive failures as evidence of the Utopian wish – fulfilment of Leninism and point to Stalinist Russia as an “inevitable” development of history. Such fatalism has no place in Marxism. Nor is a just recognition of the role of gifted individuals in the historical process as exemplified by recent history a concession to defeatism. To all except the busy-bodies who spend their off-hours running round and round in the revolutionary movement it should mean an increased consciousness of responsibility, the necessity for training and selflessness to measure up to the demands. The disintegration of Capitalism has brought and will continue to bring the masses thus far. But the decisive action, and it is the decisive action which matters, rests and will always rest with a few men who see the historical process as a whole, have the organising skill and determination to solidify the growing dissatisfaction of the masses into a party, and at the given moment consciously make history as history was made in 1917.


After the failure of the revolution in Germany the first task of the International was to examine with scrupulous honesty the causes of the defeat. It is a commonplace that the 1905 defeat in Russia was, in Lenin’s phrase, the dress rehearsal for 1917. Trotsky tells us that in the fateful months before October he went ahead with the utmost confidence, reaping the fruit of 1905 and the intense study of that experience. But neither the International nor the German Communist Party ever knew the truth about 1923. Stalin and Zinoviev could not let them know it. Here again, therefore, they were driven to use their power over the organisation to stifle criticism. Stalin drew liberally from his bottomless armoury of slander and intrigue. The Polish section which had its own views on the German defeat was abused as factional. One of its members was appointed to work on a commission dealing with German events. Zinoviev did not invite him to the sittings. A meeting of the Executive Committee was held in Moscow in January to draw the lessons of the German defeat. There Zinoviev placed all the blame on Brandler for not being able to arm the workers when he entered the Saxon Government. No attempt was made to plumb the enormous significance of the greatest defeat the International had yet sustained. But certain unmistakable revelations were made at the meeting. The report was never made public, and to ensure that Brandler should not inform the German Party as a whole of what had happened, and how it had happened, a resolution was passed forbidding him and his close associate Thalheimer from returning to Germany. Thus in the party discussion and elections that took place in Germany in 1924 the Right was not represented, the causes of the defeat were never analysed, and the Left leadership, Ruth Fischer and Maslow, supporters of Zinoviev, assumed the direction of the party. These new appointments were significant. For here appeared for the first time in the International a feature which has ever since distinguished it, and has cost the international proletariat thousands of valuable lives – the Stalinist congenital incapacity to understand not only when a revolutionary situation has come but also when it has gone. The revolution was dead in Germany. It would be years before it rose again. The new orientation therefore was to recognise this openly, fall back on the defensive and do years of patient spade-work in preparation for the new upsurge. But by an obvious compensatory requirement for his propaganda (we shall see it again and again) Stalin, now that the opportunity had passed, was vociferous in his call for the revolution. [19] Zinoviev his mouthpiece of these days demanded that the German workers prepare for it. He prophesied the spring or the summer. On January 21 the International issued a manifesto: “The work of arming the workers and of technically preparing for the decisive struggle must be carried on with tenacity.” On March 26, 1924, the Executive Committee of the International wrote to the German party: “The mistake in the evaluation of the tempo of events made in October 1923 caused the party great difficulties. Nevertheless, it is only an episode. The fundamental estimate remains the same as before.”

Trotsky and his followers, now known as the Opposition, took the view that the revolutionary crisis in Europe had passed, that owing to the shameful defeat of the German proletariat European Capitalism had entered upon a period of stabilisation, and that the political basis for the future tactics of the Communist Parties should be based on such a reading of the situation. For some months Trotskyism (how strange this sounds today) was labelled as a “deviation of the Right” and the Trotskyists as “liquidationists” of the revolution. Trotsky refused to acquiesce in Brandler being made the scapegoat, and was immediately identified with Brandler. The Fifth Congress met in 1924, and Zinoviev and Bucharin, leaders in the attack against Trotskyism, dominated the congress.

The German Communist Party though for some months an illegal party had polled 3,600,000 votes in the May elections, against six millions by the Social Democrats (it is easy to guess what their power had been in the revolutionary crisis between August and the turn-tail defeat in October). In Britain there was a Labour Government, in France Herriot ruled at the head of the Coalition of the Left. This and other things, said Zinoviev, “showed the enormous progress of the class-struggle and the imminence of final victory.” Radek, who was the chief spokesman for the Opposition, was abused as a “defeatist” and “reformist,“ and the Executive Committee finally passed a resolution which stated that by its brilliant victories in the recent elections, the C.P. of Germany had shown that “its revolutionary force is greater than ever before. The electoral victories in France and Czechoslovakia similarly showed the decisive growth of the influence of Communism on the masses.”

For nearly a year Communist Parties all over the world, working on this directive, compromised themselves before the workers, and by their adventurism and needless violence weakened themselves and strengthened the growth of the Social Democracy. The most tragic expression of this exaggeration came in Esthonia where at 5.15 a.m. on December 1, 1914, 227 Communists started a revolution, and by 9 o’clock were completely defeated, doing untold harm to their own party and the idea of proletarian revolution all over the world.

Trotsky took little part in the Fifth Congress, but though his views were repudiated, his personal prestige was still strong inside and outside Russia, and he was elected a member of the Executive Committee. It was, though not in all respects, the last real congress of the International. No other met for four years, and by that time with the growth of bureaucratic power in Russia and the corrupting personal influence of Stalin, Lenin’s centralism became merely a cloak for bureaucratic tyranny backed by the power of the purse and the prestige of the first Socialist State. The most powerful weapon of the Stalinist International became slander. That could not defeat the bourgeoisie, but it could help to destroy anyone who refused to submit to the bureaucracy. The change had begun, as so many things in Russia, from the moment Lenin fell ill, and those three whom he feared took the opportunity of consolidating their power. This is a very simple thing to prove. At that very secret session of the Executive which obscured the important question it was designed to clarify, the Polish delegation presented a long protest against the corrupting influence of Stalin’s methods in the International. It was not only the German defeat itself but the abuse and discrediting of all who disagreed with the pronouncements of Stalin’s henchmen.

“The second point, which is of more international significance, but which is directly bound up with the fate of the German party, is the danger arising out of the crisis to the authority both of the Communist International and of the German Communist Party.

“Since the time that Lenin, the greatest and most authoritative leader of the world revolutionary proletariat, ceased to take part in the leadership of the Communist International, and since the time that the authority of Trotsky, one of the recognised leaders of the world proletariat, was placed in doubt by the Russian Central Committee, the danger has arisen that the authority of the leadership of the Communist International may be destroyed.

“It is therefore our common duty not only to devote all our energies to maintaining the authority of the Executive Committee and of its Presidium, but also to avoid every step that may make this task difficult.

“Under these circumstances we regard the charge of opportunism levelled against Radek, a leader who has performed great services for the Communist International, not only as unjustified, but also as in the highest degree harmful to the authority of all the leaders of the Communist International. We can see no ground for such a charge; for however important the question is as to who was victorious in Germany in October, it is clear that no side was guilty of drawing opportunist tactical conclusions. The differences of opinion that have arisen on the German question between some of the best known leaders of the Communist International are such as are inevitable in a live revolutionary party, particularly when the party is in so difficult a situation. Such differences of opinion have arisen in the past within the leadership of the Executive Committee without giving rise to mutual accusations of opportunism.

“We refuse to see in this the seed of tendencies foreign to Communism.” ...[20]

Everything is there, the authority of Lenin and Trotsky until Lenin fell ill, the violent personal abuse of Trotsky by the Russian Central Committee under Stalin, their ignorance or carelessness of the consequences, their habit of hiding their own mistakes and deceptions by pouring abuse on those who had urged the correct course, the absence of all these things in the days when Lenin still had authority and Stalin, “tyrant and brute,” was building up his power silently but dared not show his hand openly. The International was not blind to all these things, but the fate of the International was sealed with the victory of Stalinism over Trotskyism. The movement is one, must be seen as one, and cannot be understood otherwise.


Expecting a world revolution Zinoviev and Stalin looked for insurgent masses and not finding any invented them. They formed a Peasants’ International, which they informed the faithful contained several millions of members. In America they founded a Farmer-Labour party. At the Fifth Congress Kolarov reported: “In the United States the small farmers have founded a Farmer-Labour party which is becoming ever more radical, drawing closer to the Communists and becoming permeated with the idea of the creation of a workers’ and peasants’ Government in the United States.” Zinoviev reported that several million farmers in America were being pushed by the agrarian crisis towards the side of the working class “all at once.”

The Peasants’ International, the millions of middle-west Communist farmers, are dead today; as dead as Social Fascism and as the Popular Front will be tomorrow. It is the inevitable fate of all the Stalinist violations of Marxist theory. But the Peasants’ International and its kindred silliness died quicker than most, for they had lived only in the corrupt imagination of a few powerful bureaucrats. Yet they played their part in the demoralisation and ultimate destruction of the International. In August 1924, Trotsky, attacking obliquely, had delivered a characteristic analysis of the role which America was now to play in the regeneration of Europe to be followed by the inevitable crisis in America, its repercussions in Europe, and the development of new revolutionary situations. Before the mastery of Marxism, the oratorical brilliance, all the glamour surrounding the man of October and the hero of the Red Army, the attacks on Trotsky and Trotskyism faded. Students and intellectuals seized hold of the document, and Lenin’s natural successor was once more revealed.

Stalin owed it to his prestige to reply, and took upon himself the role of theoretician on international affairs, a subject which in Lenin’s time he would not have dared to touch, for he had neither theoretical knowledge nor practical experience. In September came his article, by reflex action attacking Trotskyism, that is to say whatever Trotsky was saying at the moment. “Secondly, it is not a fact that the decisive struggles have taken place already, and that the proletariat has been defeated in these struggles and that the bourgeois power has, in view of this, been confirmed. There have been no decisive struggles yet, because there were no Bolshevist mass parties who were fit to lead the proletariat to dictatorship. Without such parties, under conditions of imperialism, decisive struggles for the dictatorship are impossible. The decisive struggles in the West are still to come. There have only been the first serious attacks, which were beaten back by the bourgeoisie, a first serious trial of strength, which proved that the proletariat yet strong enough to defeat the bourgeoisie, and that the bourgeoisie no longer possesses the strength to defeat decisively the proletariat. And just because the bourgeoisie no longer has enough power to force the proletariat to its knees, it was compelled to give up the frontal attack, to enter upon byeways and compromises, to take refuge in ‘Pacifism’.” [21]

He published this article in September, but by October he had decided to accept stabilisation. The imminent revolution had hastily to be dropped. Stabilisation was declared, and Stalin produced his most distinctive personal contribution to Marxism – Socialism in a single country. In that month also came Trotsky’s Lessons of October. Stalin could see to it in Russia that this poisonous piece of Trotskyism got its deserts. There his control was absolute. But it is important for us to see how in addition to internal intrigue and corruption he prepared for his victories in the International.

The Communist International publishes a weekly journal, the International Press Correspondence, in numerous languages, including English. It deals with all aspects of Communism inside and outside Russia, and in it are published all the important official documents of the Russian Party and the International. [22]

Trotsky’s book appeared in October, and the English edition of International Press Correspondence of November 18, 1924, published a special number devoted to one long article – How One Should not Write the History of October. On January 5 appeared another special number containing an article by O.W. Kuusinen A Misleading Description of the German October; and two others: Comrades Brandler and Thalheimer on Comrade Trotsky’s attack, and The German Trotskyists and Comrade Trotsky’s attitude. On January 20 came yet another special number with an article by Bucharin: A New Revelation as to Soviet Economics, or How the Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc Can be Destroyed. (A Discussion on the Economic Substantiation of Trotskyism). This number contained a resolution by the Central Committee of the Communist Youth in Germany which stated that Trotsky’s book was merely an attempt to raise questions already decided by the Thirteenth Party Conference of the Communist Party of Russia and the Fifth Congress of the International. Trotsky, they said, was at his old game of violating party discipline. On January 22, 1925 appeared an ordinary number in which was printed the decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Russia on the “attitude” of Comrade Trotsky, and a statement that Trotsky was completely isolated in Russia and in the whole Communist International (including Britain) except in Norway and France. On January 23 appeared another special number, October and Comrade Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution, by Stalin himself; also an article aimed at Trotskyism, The New Discussion, by Rykov; The Lessons of October and the Communist Party of Bulgaria, by V. Kolarov; Was Lenin Really the Leader of the Proletariat and of the Revolution? by Kamenev; The Lessons of October, by N. Krupskaya. On January 29 another special number – The Ideological Principles of Trotskyism, by Bela Kun; The Theory of Comrade Trotsky and the Practice of our Revolution, by G. Sokolnikov; How the Revolution Took Up Arms, by S. Gussyev, an attack on Trotsky’s mistakes as leader of the Red Army, with details of the Communists he had shot. On February 7, 1925, another special number – Trotsky’s Letter to the Plenum of the Central Committee, and the Resolution of the Plenum condemning Trotsky; an article, Concerning the Theory of Permanent Revolution, by N. Bucharin. Then at last, on February 26, 1925, came Cinderella – a special number containing, The Lessons of October, by L.D. Trotsky. Two months later the Executive Committee met in Russia, condemned Trotskyism, and adopted Stalin’s new thesis that Socialism could be built in a single country. Against this typical example of Stalin’s methods the rank and file party members, both inside and outside Russia, some of the bureaucrats themselves, were helpless. The curious thing was that the thesis propounded by Trotsky in the Lessons of October, that pusillanimous leadership in Germany killed the uprising, is orthodox doctrine today. His condemnation of Zinoviev and Kamenev for their shortcomings in 1917 was soon to be one of Stalin’s main themes. But whereas Trotsky at the time believed that they and not Stalin were responsible for the treacherous policy in Germany of 1923, and linked the two episodes together as concrete evidence of a political tendency, Stalin merely abused both of them in order to discredit them personally. Zinoviev was in fact, by April, 1925, already in disgrace, and Bucharin represented Stalin at the joint session of the International and the Executive of the C.P.S.U. which condemned Trotskyism. At the end of the debate Bucharin thanked the delegates for their adhesion to Leninism against Trotskyism, and told them how the victory had been won.

“Comrades, in this discussion, in this struggle, we naturally did not only take organisational steps. We mobilised all the intellectual forces of our Party. We have created quite a new literature on the subject, and as a result of these two discussions we can say that our Party has risen a stage higher. ... We do not want to maintain that our Party is now 100 per cent Bolshevist. But in these two discussions, we won brilliant Bolshevist victories. We overcame Trotskyism ideologically; we isolated the opposition leaders, and only then did we take various organisational measures. We know what measures we took and what decisions the Party Central Committee arrived at concerning Comrade Trotsky’s last move. Comrade Trotsky was removed from the War Commissariat ...“[23]

Before many years Bucharin, and later nearly every single one of those who had helped Stalin to destroy Trotsky, were to have some personal experience of ideological victories followed by organisational measures. The leaders, Zinoviev and Kamenev, were to pay with their reputations and their lives. The toll is not yet finished. What insurance company would risk a penny on Bucharin’s life? But all this was yet to come. Meanwhile on the basis of his ideological preparation Stalin struck at his opponents in the International. The stabilisation was officially recognised and the Lefts went. Fischer and Maslow were expelled, and replaced by Thaelmann and Neumann. In Poland the group led by Domsky were replaced by the Varsky-Kostreva group; Treint and Girault in France were removed, then expelled and replaced by Doriot, Barbe and Thorez. Never has such power been wielded by any man in modern history, never has it been used more viciously and with such immediate consequences. Stalin’s dominating personality, his will to power, were reinforced by his empiricism, his ignorance, his cunning, which he and so many others have mistaken for intelligence. Nearly all who had sheepishly followed Lenin were ultimately to follow Stalin. Trotsky alone of the old Central Committee was to maintain the opposition to Stalinism. These men, Zinoviev, Bucharin, Tomsky, aided Stalin in the destruction of what they had always admitted in words to be fundamentals, but did not think to be worth a struggle. Little over a decade afterwards most of them stood in the dock, conscious that one half of the work to which they had given their lives was now destroyed, and the other half, the Socialist structure in the Soviet Union unutterably degraded and imperilled. Conscious victims of their own moral and intellectual weakness, yet they were so humiliated and so defeated that they were compelled to sue for their lives by a still further betrayal, a further condemnation of Trotskyism, a still more abject abasement before the author of their destruction.

The Stalinist regime has become intellectually so degenerate that it has lost the capacity of making even reasonably intelligent propaganda. While Stalin used Zinoviev and Kamenev against Trotskyism, he of course decried the importance of the disagreements in 1917. Lenin while pointing out in the Testament their political weaknesses expressly warned that their behaviour in 1917 should not be used against them. Stalin, however, could not miss the opportunity of personal slander, and when Zinoviev and Kamenev turned against them he dragged up this old failure and wallowed in it. Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution being so brilliantly received, the Stalinists hastened to produce replies. One of them was a collection of Stalin’s articles and speeches, called the October Revolution, published by Martin Lawrence. The material covers the period between 1924 and 1928. On page 70 appears the following, delivered on November 19, 1924: “From the minutes it is clear that the opponents of an immediate uprising – Comrades Kamenev and Zinoviev – entered the organ of the political leadership of the uprising on a par with the advocates of the uprising. There was no question, nor could there be any question, of a split.” But on page 165 we read, delivered on December 3, 1927: “You know that Kamenev and Zinoviev went to the uprising only when shown the rod. Lenin drove them with a rod threatening to expel them from the Party (laughter, applause) and they were constrained to drag their feet to the uprising (laughter, applause).𔄙

Stalin’s contradictions do not concern us. He can get away with them in Russia. What is so extraordinary is that his supporters in this country have got away with crudenesses such as these – they are legion – among highly progressive persons in Western Europe. The signs are, however, that the Stalinists are approaching the end of their boom period.


[1] A Popular Front.

[2] Another revolutionary party, the German Workers’ Party with syndicalist tendencies, had been formed but did not consolidate itself.

[3] See Arthur Rosenberg, The History of Bolshevism.

[4] The United Front can, of course, be offered for a minor struggle as a small strike. Co-operation here is easier and often does take place with good results.

[5] Experience, chiefly in China, has shown that this was a mistake and that Communists should never associate themselves with any government except one based on Soviets or other workers’ organisations.

[6] History of the German Republic.

[7] The Executive Committee of the Communist International.

[8] The author has in his possession the report of this conference, The Lessons of the German Events, a secret document published by the Communist International in 1924. It was circulated to members of the various national committees only, and with good reason. The treachery and corruption of the Comintern are visible on every page, especially in the light of the revelations made afterwards by Brandler and Zinoviev. Brandler made many mistakes, but the worst of them were forced upon him.

[9] The Errors of Trotskyism. A symposium, published by the C.P.B.G., 1925, p. 345.

[10] P. 312, The Third International after Lenin, by L. Trotsky. Pioneer Publishers, New York. The letter was read by Zinoviev at the Plenum of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission in 1927 and noted in the official record of the Plenum.

[11] See the Labour Monthly, January 1924, where Trotsky, though not actually mentioning the German Revolution, argued that a date could and should have been fixed. Today, strangely enough, the Stalinists all agree that there was a revolutionary situation in Germany in 1923. Brandler, they say, ruined it.

[12] Of 1918.

[13] Lessons of the German Events, p. 47. If any of these references are inaccurate or false, doubtless the Stalinists will expose them.

[14] Brandler went to Moscow convinced and optimistic. “Comrade Brandler succumbed to fantastic revolutionary visions. The seizure of power now appeared to him as an easy and certain matter.” Thus Kuusinen in the Errors of Trotskyism, p. 348.

[15] Lessons of the German Events, p. 38.

[16] Lessons of the German Events, p. 38.

[17] The writer is reliably informed by a very close associate of Brandler that his only activity at meetings of the cabinet was to relieve his stomache perturbations in a manner that was highly disturbing not only to the physical comfort but to the polite sensibilities of the Social Democratic ministers. This unpleasant anecdote is related here only on account of its political significance.

[18] See After Lenin, by Michael Farbman, 1924.

[19] It is possible that whatever Zinoviev and the others said and thought, Stalin himself never believed that any revolutionary situation was near in Germany.

[20] The Lessons of the German Events, p. 61.

[21] International Press Correspondence, October 9, 1924

[22] It is in its files, lying though they are since Lenin’s death, that one can read the history of the Soviet Union and the Third International, and not in the constant refurbishing and falsification of Stalin and his bureaucracy at home and abroad, and the faithful transcriptions of these by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Maurice Dobb, Remain Rolland, and all the other Friends of the Soviet Union.

[23] Bolshevising the Communist International. Published for the Communist International by the C.P.G.B., p. 96.

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Last updated on 24 January 2021