Paul Levi

Our Path: Against Putschism

Source: Historical Materialism 17 (2009). [Thanks to Sebastian Budgen]
Translated (from german): by David Fernbach.
Transcribed: by Martin Fahlgren.

The title page of the german original edition reads: “Unser Weg. Wider den Putschismus von Paul Levi Mit einem Artikel von Karl Radek als Anhang”. The appended Radek article (not included here) was “Die Lehren eines Putschversuchs” (”Lessons of a Putsch Attempt”), directed at the Vienna action of June 1919. Levi’s aim was to show how Radek had argued in similar vein against the Austrian Communists.

Heavens above, what is going on here! Genuine remorse, even if enforced, or nothing of the kind? Do you really know what you have done? The best action, the noblest and highest cause ... a cause that God just for once put in your hands, you have treated like muck in a pigsty.
(Gerhart Hauptmann, Florian Geyer)

At the time that I was planning this pamphlet, Germany had a Communist Party with half a million members. When I came to write it eight days later, this Communist Party was shaken to its foundations, and its very existence put in question.

It may seem risky in such a serious crisis as that in which the Communist Party presently finds itself, to come out with such an unsparing criticism. But it needs little reflection to conclude that this criticism is not only useful but necessary. The irresponsible game played with the existence of a party, with the lives and fates of its members, must be brought to an end. It has to be ended by the will of the members, given that those responsible for it still refuse to see what they have done. The Party must not be dragged with eyes closed into anarchism of a Bakuninist kind. And, if a Communist Party is to be built up again in Germany, then the dead of central Germany, Hamburg, the Rhineland, Baden, Silesia and Berlin, not to mention the many thousands of prisoners who have fallen victim to this Bakuninist lunacy, all demand in the face of the events of the last week: “Never again!”

It goes without saying that the white terror now raging must not be used as a cloak behind which those responsible can escape their political responsibility. Nor should the anger and insults now raised against me be a reason for refraining from this criticism. I address myself to the members of the Party in this spirit, with an account that must tear the heart of anyone who worked to build up what has now been torn down. These are bitter truths, but “what I hand you is medicine, not poison”.

Written 3–4 April 1921

Paul Levi


Working-class debate about the revolution immediately raises the question of tempo. Opinions spread between those of little faith at one extreme, who see the whole question as “still on the horizon”, and, at the other extreme, the optimistic ones who believe the revolution could “break out tomorrow” if some people somewhere were not putting the brakes on. When such questions are discussed, however, it is rare for people to indicate the concrete factors that are decisive for this faster or slower pace, so that the question as to the timescale of the revolution fails to rise above the level of whether a particular date would be too soon or too late. In prison, the day is always long, walking in the woods in spring it’s always short, even though it’s the same day of twenty-four hours. In fact, the pace of the revolution depends on two kinds of factors: objective and subjective. The objective factors are the strength of the contradiction between relations of production and the system of distribution, the possibility and ability of the existing system of production continuing to function, the condition of the proletariat, how acute is the antagonism between proletariat and bourgeoisie, the intensification of crises within the world-bourgeoisie, and so on.

It would be superfluous here to repeat again what has so often been said. Rising unemployment, the growing impoverishment of the proletariat as well as the commercial and intellectual middle class and civil servants, the ever greater bankruptcy of the state, the reorganising of bourgeois states into new and hostile interest-groups, the world contradiction of the oppressors against the oppressed of all countries, with the latter being for the first time in world-history united into a conscious body, thinking and planning on a world-political level in the Communist International with Soviet Russia at its head: these are the objective factors.

In the present case, however, we need to consider the subjective factors, or, rather, the subjective factor which today is always decisive in the formation of objective conditions: How far is the revolutionary class willing and able, indeed mature enough, to take power? How far has the counter-revolutionary class been spiritually worn down and exhausted so that power can be taken from its hands? These two forces, the conquering will of the revolutionary class, and the defensive will of the counter-revolutionary class, are not two distinct things. Each is, rather, a function of the other; the struggle of parties is the reflection of this, possession of state-power its goal, and the strength of the use of state-power its measure.

It is a well-established fact that, in this sense, despite its growing economic decay, the German bourgeoisie has managed a certain consolidation. In November 1918, state-power was a “no man’s land”. It had slipped from the bourgeoisie, yet no one would claim today that the proletariat took it up. The bourgeoisie, despite the numbing blow it had received, was the first to get back on its feet; Noske’s mass slaughters of January and March 1919 were the milestones, the Weimar constitution the outwardly recognisable sign, that it felt itself master once more. Since that time, the rule of the German bourgeoisie – its political rule – has not experienced any further serious shock: the Kapp putsch, which might have led to such a shock from either Right or Left, passed without serious damage to it.

This victory of the bourgeoisie is, of course, not an absolute one, but to the highest degree something relative, maintaining its character as a victory only so long as the forces of the revolutionary class do not overtake it. That the forces of the proletariat are in the process of doing so is quite assured. Not just because there are far more proletarian fists than bourgeois leather gloves: the bourgeoisie is under pressure from the ever-growing economic decay, and completely pervaded by a sense of the hopelessness and inescapability of its situation, living from one day to the next, devoid of further hope. The proletariat is the only class bearing on its breast the star of hope and thus of victory: both physical and (as Napoleon would have put it) moral factors are on the side of the proletariat, and thus of its victory.

Everything thus depends on the state of the revolutionary forces and their development. Is this happening quickly or slowly? Marx himself gave a certain answer to this. In The Class Struggles in France, he wrote:

Revolutionary progress cleared a path for itself not by its immediate [...] achievements, but, on the contrary, but creating a powerful and united counter-revolution; only in combat with this opponent did the insurrectionary party mature into a real party of revolution.[1]

Nothing could express the intensity and rapidity of revolutionary development in Germany more clearly than this. What Marx referred to here was the development of the revolutionary power in struggle against a stabilised counter-revolutionary power. In Germany however, in this present revolution, the revolutionary forces are more-or-less keeping pace with the development of the forces of counterrevolution. This is expressed in two ways. The strength of a revolutionary class, the proletariat, grows in proportion to the strength and number of its clearest, most conscious and decisive vanguard. In November 1918, the Communists in Germany formed a group, but not a large one. In February 1921, they were a force halfa million strong. The other phenomenon in which the growing strength of the revolutionary forces finds expression is that the German proletarian class has already received terrible blows in the two and a half years of the German revolution. It has lost blood in streams. Once, twice, and again a third time it has suffered heavily from this, yet, on each occasion, it has taken only a short time for it to rise up again with new forces, with a giant’s stature and strength. No class in the world has ever managed this before. The development of the revolutionary forces in Germany – no matter how much this may surprise the impatient heads among us – is proceeding at an unexpected and tremendously rapid pace. The proletariat, which, for four years, ran behind the Kaiser but today counts half a million Communists, has acquired a new face, both intellectually and politically.

The impatient ones, however, will ask what use all this might be if the proletariat has still not conquered power. And now we come to the real problem: what can the Communist Party do in this situation, in order to conquer state-power?


Many Communists commit two mistakes in their thinking. The first is to see in the contending classes only the proletariat. In reality, however, it is not revolutionary tactics to keep examining and measuring oneself in the mirror; far more important is the relationship of the Communists to all other classes and strata in struggle against capitalism, who all work together for the fall of the bourgeoisie. Of all these classes and strata, of course, only the proletariat is the one that by virtue of its conditions of existence “abolishes the old relations of production, and along with these relations of production marked by class antagonism, abolishes classes altogether”;[2] the proletariat is the only really revolutionary class. It is only the working class whose goal as a class is directed at a change in the present relations of production and of all relations that follow from this. At a later stage of the revolution, indeed, a contradiction must necessarily emerge, even if temporarily, between the proletariat and those classes and strata that today stand alongside it, but in no way does this justify the proletariat treating these classes and strata as nonexistent, as incapable of alliance with it, let alone as enemies.

Yet precisely this has most frequently been the case. There are many Communists who see outside the proletariat only “a single reactionary mass”. This “single reactionary mass” was a slogan dreamed up by Lassalle, and, like many others, has more of a good sound than a sound meaning. Marx bitterly criticised it in this very sense, showing that it was completely devoid of content. In his Critique of the Gotha Programme of 1875, he wrote:

In the Communist Manifesto [...] the bourgeoisie is conceived of as a revolutionary class – as the bringer of large-scale industry – in relation to the feudal lords and the lower middle class, who want to retain all the social positions created by obsolete modes of production. These do not, therefore, form a single reactionary mass together with the bourgeoisie.

On the other hand the proletariat is revolutionary in relation to the bourgeoisie because it has itself sprung up on the ground of large-scale industry; it is struggling to divest production of its capitalist character, which the bourgeoisie seeks to perpetuate. The Manifesto adds, however, that the lower middle class is becoming revolutionary “in view of (its) impending transfer into the proletariat”.

From this point of view, therefore, it is once again nonsense to say that in relation to the working class it “forms a single reactionary mass”, “together with the bourgeoisie” and with the feudal lords to boot.[3]

As well as these ideas of theory and principle, tactical considerations also come into play in times of revolution. In non-revolutionary times, these non-proletarian and non-bourgeois elements are the least conscious of their class position. In the slow course of development, they fail to see and understand how their goals and those of the bourgeoisie are distinct and opposed. This is the very reason why, like the impoverished artisans in Germany, they are so frequently and bitterly seen as an appendage of the bourgeoisie or the feudal classes, and even identified with them. But revolutions dissolve all social veils of this kind. They act like a solvent to separate those who do not belong socially together. They break with tradition and force both individuals and classes to see the reality behind the appearance. The class antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the classes exposed to proletarianisation – if not yet actually proletarianised – becomes flagrant.

What is the composition of these strata? In Germany, they are extraordinarily multifarious, more so than in Russia. Certainly, all the strata present in Germany were also present in Russia, but their centre of gravity there was the land-poor peasantry. In both number and power, this outweighed all other petty-bourgeois and semi-proletarian strata, so that it could be said that, in Russia, whoever had the peasants had half the proletariat.

In Germany, no single intermediate class is so preponderant. Here, the rural proletariat is itself divided both socially and geographically into the land-poor small peasants of the south and the estate-workers of the north. Then there are artisans of the most varied levels, from the bow-legged village tailor in Upper Bavaria working for the peasants for his meals and 50 pfennig a day, through to the self-employed craftsman with electrical tools. There is also a third stratum that is incomparably more important in Germany, that of clerical workers and civil servants, impoverished intellectuals, etc. All these experience the revolution in their own lives. Consider, for example, the development of the German railway-workers in the two years of revolution. Or read the recently published booklet by the Saxon government adviser Schmidt-Leonhardt, Das zweite Proletariat. None of these are proletarians, at least not in their class existence, but they are all anti-bourgeois, and they have to be taken into account.

What is the significance of these strata? As long as they belong to the bourgeoisie, they signify hands which the bourgeoisie uses to beat the proletariat; if this tie is broken, but they still stand at a distance from the proletariat, they signify at least an extraordinary obstacle to the seizure of power by the proletariat; if they sympathise with the proletariat, then they make this seizure of power easier or even make it possible for the first time.

It goes without saying, in this connection, that no Communist thinks of waiting until these strata have become Communist themselves. Lenin put this question as follows in his article on “The Elections to the Constituent Assembly and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”:

[O]nly the proletariat can lead the working people out of capitalism to communism. It is no use thinking that the petty-bourgeois or semi-petty-bourgeois masses can decide in advance the extremely complicated question: “to be with the working class or with the bourgeoisie”. The vacillation of the non-proletarian sections of the working people is inevitable; and inevitable also is their own practical experience, which will enable them to compare leadership by the bourgeoisie with leadership by the proletariat.[4]

Further on, Lenin writes: “[I]t was this vacillation of the peasantry, the main body of the petty-bourgeois working people, that decided the fate of Soviet rule and of the rule of Kolchak and Denikin.”[5]

Thus these strata may be decisive in certain situations. It is the task of the Communists to win influence over them. But how should they do so?

In Russia, where this middle stratum was less complicated, consisting essentially of just the peasants, the question was similarly more straightforward. Whoever gave the peasants land had their support. The Bolsheviks were the only ones resolved, not just to give the peasants land – everyone was “resolved” on this – but to create the precondition for it by taking the land from the proprietors, and this made it possible for the Bolsheviks to gather this middle stratum under their banner.

The German Communists have not as yet found a way to even approach these middle strata.

An agrarian programme, even one that satisfies both peasants and farm-workers, is not sufficient, as the peasants and farm-workers are not decisive here as they were in Russia. Nor is it enough to assure the artisans that their death as a class is certain from the laws of the capitalist economy; for even if someone is going to die, you don’t win them as a friend by prophesying their death each day. It is also insufficient to maintain that intellectuals and officials are already proletarians, but simply unaware of this; this is not adequate for the particular character of this social stratum. There is no doubt that Communists must seek to get closer to these strata on questions that interest them as a whole.

In Russia there were two such questions besides the agrarian question. The one with overriding importance was the question of peace, which, at the present time, does not come into consideration for Germany. The other was the national question, which, of course, had a completely different content in Russia than it does in Germany.

The very term “national question” immediately arouses feelings of disquiet among some people in Germany. Remembering national Bolshevism, a danger that they narrowly escaped, they can no longer bear to hear the word “national”.[6] But the reason national Bolshevism was un-Communist was not because of its concern with the national question, but because it sought to solve the national question by a pact of “all classes of the people”, by the road of fraternisation of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie, of the Communists with Lettow-Vorbeck.[7] That was what was un-Communist. But neither is it Communist to refuse now to examine the national question. At the very start of the revolution, a Berlin littérateur tried to get rid of the national question by founding an “anti-national-socialist party”. Getting rid of the national question in this way is simply like saying: “There are no more donkeys in this world, because I’m an ox.”

The national question exists, and Karl Marx, as an internationalist, was the last person not to see it and take it into account politically. The “abolition” of the nation is not the object of a decree, still less of a party resolution, it is rather a process:

Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, it is, so far, itself national [...]. National differences, and antagonisms between peoples, are daily more and more vanishing [...].  The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster. [...]            In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another is put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.[8]

At the present time, therefore, the nation is, for the proletariat, still an existing entity; comrades who, because we are internationalists in our final goal, refuse already today to see the national question and to treat it as something existing, commit just the same mistake as those who, holding that in our final goal we are against parliaments and for soviets, refuse to see parliaments now, or, holding that we are for the abolition of the state, treat the state as no longer existing and, like the anarchists, want nothing to do with politics. The comrades in question are likewise anti-politicians, simply that they transfer this to the field of foreign policy.

The national question exists, I repeat, it exists in Germany in the form of “the exploitation of one nation by another”, and this is the most burning question for all those middle strata in Germany. Only in this way will we win over these strata. And, for this reason alone, it should be the task of Communists to come out, at the most critical moments for the national question, with slogans that signify to those middle strata a solution of their national pains. The slogan of alliance with Soviet Russia would have been such a slogan,[9] and should have been given out as a national slogan, i.e. not as a slogan under whose shadow Communists and Prussian junkers would embrace as brothers, but, rather, as a slogan under which the Communists, and proletarians in general, would act together with those middle strata in a struggle against the junkers and the bourgeoisie, who sabotage this only escape route, as they are trying to ensure their continued existence as an exploiting class by betraying their country, negotiating with the Western bourgeoisie to hand over portions of German territory to France (the Rhineland) or deliberately fragmenting the country (Bavaria); by this demand, we would further the proletarian struggle. It is no more than foolish talk for a small troop of Marxist sycophants to raise the cry that demanding alliance with Soviet Russia from a bourgeois government would be something counterrevolutionary or – still worse – opportunist, not a “revolutionary slogan”. One might remind these careful individuals that the Bolsheviks conducted their entire political propaganda before the seizure of power with “opportunist slogans” such as these. They demanded from the bourgeois government the immediate conclusion of peace, even though no Bolshevik was unaware that a peace concluded by a bourgeois government would not be peace, and that a genuine peace could be concluded only from proletariat to proletariat. They conducted their propaganda under the slogan: land to the peasants, and even carried out the distribution of land, though no Bolshevik was unaware that the final goal of communism is not the division of land into private peasant-property, but more or less the opposite of this. This is what they did, and what they had to do. Was this a task of Marxism? In no way. Revolution is not a Communist Party matter, and not a Communist monopoly. To use Marx’s phrase in a letter to Kugelmann, it is a “people’s revolution”, i.e. a violent process in which all working people and oppressed forces come into flux, are aroused and come into opposition – each in their particular way – against the oppressors, in which process the highest art of the Communists is to bring all these forces together and lead them towards one goal, the overthrow of the oppressors. For, only in so far as they understand this, are the Communists what they are supposed to be: the best leaders of the revolution and at the same time its best servants. It was with this in mind that Marx said in his “Address to the Communist League” of March 1850: “At the beginning, of course, the workers cannot propose any directly communist measures.” [10]

Communism comes not at the beginning of the revolution but at the end, and the Communists are not those who mistake the end for the beginning, but those who want to continue from the beginning to the end. If the Communist Party is not to come to grief at the very beginning, it will thus have to bring into its purview those questions that concern these middle strata, it will have to treat the national question as something existing, and offer a slogan that brings a solution for these strata, if only a temporary one.


What is decisive in everything, of course, for the Communists, is their relationship to the genuinely revolutionary class, the proletariat. It is in their relation to the proletariat that the Communists show their very viability. If the connections of the Communists to those other, semi-proletarian, middle strata are of a tactical kind, in which a right or wrong attitude can speed up or slow down the revolution, the connection of the Communists to the proletariat is one of principle. Anyone who does not understand the relationship of the Communists to the proletariat, and act accordingly, ceases to be a Communist. We would not need to dwell on this question if recent events had not shattered everything that we believed was taken for granted.

”In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?” This is the question that Marx raises in the Communist Manifesto, and he goes on to answer it as follows:

These paragraphs are the basic law of Communism. Everything else is its elaboration and ex1planation. And on this assumption I would like to examine three questions:

The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties.

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only:

1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.

2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.[11]

a) What is the numerical relationship of the German Communists to the German proletariat?

b) What are the preconditions for a conquest of state-power by the proletariat?

c) How is state-power to be conquered?

a) What is the numerical relationship of the German Communists to the German proletariat?

My object in introducing the following figures from various election campaigns is not in any way to argue that any action by the proletariat or its seizure of power is possible only after a particular numerical relationship has been established by election or vote. Still less the amusing theory expressed in Vorwärts some time last year that a seizure of state-power by the proletariat would be possible only if 51 per cent of the electors had voted for the proletariat – Vorwärts having rebuked some SPD member for maintaining that, in certain circumstances, a seizure of power by the proletariat would be possible even if only 49 per cent of the “general population” had voted for the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, as these gentlemen put it. Least of all am I trying to use these figures to indicate the possibility that the aims of the Communists can be realised by elections and votes. I completely agree rather with what Lenin wrote in “The Elections to the Constituent Assembly and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”:

Universal suffrage is an index of the level reached by the various classes in their understanding of their problems. It shows how the various classes are inclined to solve their problems. The actual solution of these problems is not provided by voting, but by the class struggle in all its forms, including civil war.[12]

It is in this sense that I indicate certain figures. It is unfortunate – and not only for this reason – that the first figures that would be needed for this comparison are lacking; i.e. figures from the first general election after the start of the revolution, that of 19 January 1919, which the Communists boycotted. We must therefore start with the election to the Prussian parliament of February 1921. The workers” parties received in this election the following votes (rounded to the nearest thousand):

 1,156,000   1,087,000   4,171,000 

These figures show that, at this time, Communists made up about a fifth of those proletarians who recognised themselves as members of their class. Even together with the USPD, who should certainly not be counted with the Communists, but rather with the Social Democrats, they would make up only a third of these proletarians.

Berlin 112,000 197,000 221,000
Greater Berlin (Berlin together
with Potsdam I and II)  
233,000 397,000 564,000
Magdeburg 26,000 48,000 264,000
Halle 204,000 76,000 71,000
North Westphalia 49,000 23,000 196,000
South Westphalia 108,000 84,000 283,000
East Düsseldorf 105,000 84,000 131,000
West Düsseldorf 65,000 23,000 94,000
Rhine-Westphalia industrial region   372,000 214,000 704,000

What is decisive, however, as I will discuss in more detail below, is not this total number; I therefore emphasise certain particularly striking examples:

As I said, I shall discuss later on the significance of these figures, and make only the following point here. Comparing the Berlin vote in particular, though this applies also to all other figures, with that for the Reichstag election last summer, it is clear that, following the split in the USPD, as many of its voters turned to the Social Democrats, the party of Noske, as to the Communists. This fact is also apparent from the figures for the Mecklenburg state election in June 1920 and March 1921. The votes were (in round numbers):

June 1920 1,200   24,500   128,000
March 1921   15,000 2,600 137,000

In this timeframe, the USPD lost 22,000 votes, the Communists won some 13,800 votes, and the Majority Socialists around 9,000. If we take account on the Communist side what they won from other parties than the USPD, and bear in mind that the Social Democrats would have experienced a loss of votes in this strongly rural constituency without those drawn from the former USPD, we can conclude, as said, that the UPSD voters went more or less equally to the right and left, insofar as they did not vanish altogether (as happened particularly in Berlin).

We have also another measure for the numerical proportion of the Communists to the proletariat, the relationship in the trade unions. While the election results do not show a sharp separation of proletarian and non-proletarian elements, and a section of the proletariat finds no expression in the election figures, the trade unions are purely proletarian, and every Communist trade unionist is also undoubtedly a member of the Communist Party. The number of KPD members to the number of trade-union members thus gives a maximum figure for the present numerical (not intellectual) influence of the Communists on the unionised proletariat as a whole.

Now, the trade unions affiliated to the ADGB had the following membership:

End 1918     2,866,012
End 1919   7,338,123

There were also 858,283 members of the Christian trade unions at the end of 1919. At the end of 1919, therefore, some 8.2 million German workers were organised in trade unions. This figure most likely rose again in 1920, particularly for the ADGB. But, if we take just these figures in relationship to the number of Communists at the start of 1921, i.e. 500,000, it follows that the Communists made up about 1 in 16 of the trade-union organised proletariat, and about 1 in 14 of those proletarians organised in free trade unions.

This is the numerical proportion, and it is nothing to be afraid of. For, in revolutionary situations, such proportions shift very quickly, while on top of the numerical influence there is also, or should be, the intellectual influence.

I shall come on to speak later of this intellectual influence and its significance, also how it is won and lost. Here, I simply want to stress one thing, as we have often put it. There is a certain sense in which, despite the growing Communist organisation and the – at least formerly – growing Communist influence, the situation of the Communists has become more difficult. At the start of the German revolution, the social reformists of every kind were completely on the defensive. They did indeed have large masses behind them, but their ranks were in disarray; we had free access to them and were able to influence them. Today however, social reformism has put up a conscious and tough resistance against Communism; here and there, indeed, it has already passed from the defensive to the offensive, and has expelled Communists from their positions. This means that the intellectual influence of the Communists on those proletarian masses that are still undecided or inclined to reformism can no longer be taken for granted. It has to be struggled for.

And, for the time being, it is clear, the Communists are a minority in the proletariat.

b) What are the preconditions for a conquest of state-power by the proletariat?

I have already explained above what is not a precondition. It is not a precondition that the majority of the German proletariat have a membership card of the Communist Party in their hands. Nor is it a precondition that the proletariat has already gone manfully to the electoral urns and proclaimed its readiness on written or printed ballots.

It is not even a necessary precondition that those middle strata that I referred to above should be Communist or completely in sympathy with the Communists. Certainly, their sympathy means, in every case, an extraordinary easing of the task of the proletariat, both in and after the seizure of power, and circumstances can also be conceived of in which the hostility and refusal of these strata makes the seizure of power impossible. These however are matters that for the most part arise only in the course of struggle, so that it is hard to lay down rules in advance; applied mechanically, these would only weaken the offensive spirit.

But, leaving these aside, there are indeed certain preconditions for the seizure of state-power. Lenin says in the aforementioned article:

[W]e have studied the three conditions which determined the victory of Bolshevism: (1) an overwhelming majority among the proletariat; (2) almost half of the armed forces; (3) an overwhelming superiority of forces at the decisive moment at the decisive points, namely: in Petrograd and Moscow and on the war fronts near the centre.[13]

As far as these conditions obtain in Germany, we have already discussed the first of these, a decisive majority among the proletariat, with numerical examples, and will bring up other evidence in due course. The second condition, i.e. almost half of the votes among the armed forces, needs no numerical example, being too small for this to be relevant. We have no influence in the army, and whenever we obtain any at all, we always lose it again. We can, however, say that the German army today does not have the decisive importance which the army had in Russia. Lenin goes on to say: “by October– November 1917 the armed forces were half Bolshevik. If that had not been the case we could not have been victorious.”[14] The army does not have this importance in Germany.

The third precondition is the “crushing superiority at the decisive moment and at the decisive point”. This standpoint is completely correct. A majority is not needed to win a battle. One need only be in a majority at that point on the battlefield where the decision is made. Nor need one be in a majority to win a war; it is enough to have crushing superiority at the points where battles are fought.

What, then, are the decisive points? For Russia, Lenin described these as follows: the capitals and the military fronts in their vicinity. This last factor is also different for us, for the above-mentioned reasons. There remain the capitals, and especially the capital with its government buildings and central apparatus, which has to be held if state-power is to be seized.

Unfortunately, despite – or should we say “because of” – the strongly developed nose of some Berlin comrades for any kind of “opportunism”, and their no less strongly developed talent for speaking against it, the Berlin organisation is more or less the worst that we have in the whole Reich. This is evident not just from the election figures, but also in other ways. In short, these Berlin comrades who are responsible for it have done nothing to achieve this precondition for the goal that they strive for more eagerly than all others.

There are also other points in Germany, however, that can be decisive in certain circumstances.

The railways. The situation here is not very different from that of the army. The strong influence that we formerly had has been spoiled time and again by certain stupidities. In these semi-bourgeois and semi-intellectual circles of public officials we are most strongly revenged for what we have omitted in our dealings with these strata. For all that, however, we do have some influence with the railwaymen, if only in particular towns or districts.

Then the industrial districts. There is no single industrial district in Germany that could lay low the bourgeois state with one stroke and force it to capitulate, as Berlin can if the government buildings, banks etc. are occupied. There are, however, two industrial districts that are of vital importance for the state, and that could force it to capitulate after a while: Rhineland-Westphalia and central Germany. As far as Rhineland-Westphalia goes, we have already seen how 372,000 Communist voters are outweighed by 214,000 Independents and 704,000 majority Social Democrats. There can be no talk of a crushing majority here, therefore.

The other area is central Germany. In the Halle district, we had 204,000 Communist voters against 76,000 Independents and 71,000 majority Social Democrats. We had a powerful support and a strong and heroic organisation prepared for sacrifices. We had...

In any case, however, it is clear that, apart from central Germany, which is not decisive in terms of a rapid blow, there is nowhere that we have a “crushing majority”.

Anyone who launches an action now, in this situation, for the conquest of state-power is a fool, and anyone who tells the Communist Party that all it needs is to apply itself, is a liar.

c) How is state-power conquered?

The conquest of political power by the proletariat is as a general rule (exceptions have already occurred, such as in Hungary) the result of a successful insurrection, whether by the proletariat alone, or supported also by other strata drawn into the revolution. What then are the preconditions for such an insurrection? Lenin says the following in “Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?”[15]

If the revolutionary party has no majority in the advanced contingents of the revolutionary classes and in the country, insurrection is out of the question. Moreover, insurrection requires: (1) growth of the revolution on a country-wide scale; (2) the complete moral and political bankruptcy of the old government, for example the “coalition” government; (3) extreme vacillation in the camp of all middle groups, i.e. those who do not fully support the government, although they did fully support it yesterday.

Here, again, I want to check these preconditions for Germany, and go on to criticise the processes that took place here in recent days.

1) The basic precondition that must be present alongside all others, i.e. a majority for the revolutionary party “in the advanced contingents of the revolutionary classes and in the country”, did not and does not exist in Germany, as we have already seen. Even leaving aside the rural population, which does not play the decisive role here that it does in Russia, the Communist Party (”the revolutionary party”) still does not have a majority among the proletariat (the “advanced contingents of the revolutionary classes”).

2) The revolution was not “growing on a country-wide scale”. Certainly, the advanced section of the working class was growing ever more embittered, the number of unemployed was rising daily, the poverty and misery of the masses was ever greater. But the moment had not yet arrived at which the visible discontent was translated into rising mass-activity; for the time being, as often happens, it was expressed in growing resignation.

3) No one can speak of a complete moral and political bankruptcy of the old (e.g. the “coalition”) government. In Prussia, where the Social Democrats are in coalition with the bourgeois parties, they received almost double the vote of the other proletarian parties together, and more than in June of the previous year.

4) Just as untenable would be the assertion of an “extreme vacillation in the camp of all middle groups”; the Communist Party had done nothing to make them uncertain, even when such suitable occasions arose as the London diktat.[16]

We believe no one in the German Communist Party can have had any doubt about these conditions.

What, then, were the preconditions, how did the action come about?

I declare in advance that the situation in which the Party finds itself is more difficult than ever before. Whether the KPD can still exist, whether German Communism can still exist as a Party, will be decided in a matter of weeks, perhaps days. It is a duty in this situation to address the Party with complete openness and truthfulness; those responsible for undertaking this action must bear this responsibility, just as every last party comrade. Only in this way shall we manage to avoid supplying new victims to white justice, and the misfortune of what has already happened affecting wider circles than the German Communist Party. In this context, however, truth – the whole truth – is needed.

How did the action come about? It was not the German Communist Party that gave the initial impulse. We do not even know who bears responsibility for it. It became more frequent for emissaries of the ECCI to exceed their plenipotential authority, i.e. for it subsequently to emerge that these emissaries did not in fact have such authority.[17] We are not, therefore, in a position to ascribe responsibility to the ECCI, even if it cannot be concealed that certain ECCI circles showed a certain misgiving about the “inactivity” of the German Party. Apart from serious mistakes in the movement against the Kapp putsch, however, the German Party could not be accused of actual failures. There was thus a certain strong influence on the Zentrale to embark on action now, immediately and at any price.

It was then necessary to justify this immediate action. At the Central-Committee session of 17 March, a responsible speaker[18] addressed himself as follows:

The same is to be said of the general situation as Levi explained at the last session, only that since this report [four weeks previous!! – P.L.] the antagonisms between the imperialist states have sharpened, and the antagonisms between America and Britain have come to a head. If revolution does not lead to a new turn of events, we shall shortly [!! – P.L.] be faced with a British-American war ...

... internal political difficulties make it possible that on 20 March sanctions will be sharpened [! – P.L.], while on the same date the referendum in Upper Silesia will take place, which with high probability will incite military conflict between the German and Polish imperialists. As far as we are informed, the former French occupation forces have been replaced by British troops; whereas the French troops displayed a friendly attitude towards Poland, according to our information [!!] the new English troops have a quite strong position in favour of Germany. The likelihood of matters coming to armed conflict is 90 per cent. The Polish counter revolution is arming itself, while the German government has been deliberately working for military conflict, as documentary evidence shows, since the beginning of October. The speaker made these documents known to the meeting, remarking that they should not be published ...

Our influence will reach beyond our organisation of four to five hundred thousand members. I maintain that today we have two to three million non-Communist workers in the Reich whom we can influence through our Communist organisation, and who will fight under our banners even in our offensive actions. If my view here is correct, than this state of things obliges us to no longer remain in a passive attitude towards tensions in domestic and foreign policy, no longer simply use these external and internal relations for agitational purposes; the present situation rather obliges us to launch actions to change things in our direction.

I declare that, in a party with any self-esteem, a responsible member of the leadership who maintained that, in the time from mid-February to mid-March of this year, antagonisms between the imperialist states had sharpened, and antagonisms between Britain and America intensified, to the point that “we shall shortly be faced with a British-American war”, would be sent off for hydrotherapy. A member of the leadership who, in such a weighty decision, relied on “secret information”, “documents that must not be published”, “90 per cent probability” of a war, in short, a member who gave a report alongside which one by a spy of Weismann[19] would seem a document of historical value, would be immediately removed from his post. If that were not enough, this responsible leading comrade added the fairy-tale of these two to three million non-Communists who would fight with us in “offensive actions” – and this was the political basis for the ensuing action.

For clarification of what an “offensive action” should be, another responsible member[20] explained:

What the Zentrale now proposes is a complete break with the past. Up till now we had the tactic, or rather the tactic had been forced on us, that we should let things come our way, and as soon as there was a situation of struggle we should make our decision in this situation. What we say now is: we are strong enough, and the situation is so serious, that we must proceed to force the fate of the Party and of the revolution itself. 

We now have, for the sake of the Party, to take the offensive, to say that we are not prepared to wait until things come our way, until the facts confront us; we want as far as possible to create these facts.... We can to an extraordinary degree intensify the contradictions by leading the masses on strike in the Rhineland, which must sharpen to an extraordinary degree the differences between the Entente and the German government ...

In Bavaria the situation is similar to how it was for a long time in Germany, that we had to wait until the attack came from the other side. What is our task in this situation? We have to make sure by our actions that this outbreak comes, if it must come, by the provocation of the local defence forces  ...

To which, a third responsible comrade added: “In conclusion, we have to break with the Party’s former attitude, one of avoiding partial actions and refusing to give out slogans that might appear as if we were demanding a final struggle ...”.

This is the theoretical construction upon which the existence or non-existence of the Communist Party of Germany was put at risk.

One thing, first of all. There are Communists for whom the words “sharpening”, “coming to a head”, “conflict”, etc. arouse certain forcible revolutionary images. What else can be meant, if this speaker expected a mass-strike in the Rhineland to lead to a sharpening of Germany’s conflict with the Entente? In the meantime, we have had a test-case. In Düsseldorf, the workers came out on strike, and this strike sharpened Franco-German relations to the point that the French occupation-forces in Düsseldorf returned the German security-police their weapons so that they could defeat the strike.

A second “sharpening” was reported in the press on 4 April. This was in a report from Moers:

It was clearly on higher authority that the Belgian military intervened on Sunday to protect the non-Communist inhabitants, and when the Communists began to defend themselves, made use of their weapons. The Belgian troops succeeded in restoring calm. In the clashes with the Communists, three trouble-makers were killed and 27 wounded. The Belgians took several prisoners. When the Communists tried to free their comrades, opening fire on the Belgians again as well as throwing stones, the Belgians returned fire. Troop reinforcements are under way to Moers. The pits have been occupied by Belgian soldiers.

This is the supposed “sharpening of relations between Germany and the Entente”, and, if the speaker at the Zentrale had anywhere in his speech given any thought to the matter, he must have immediately expected that the German government would rouse itself against the Entente because of the shooting of German Communists.

These would-be forcers of fate of the German Communist Party and the German revolution do at least recognise that there must be a conflict situation, i.e. a situation in which the masses understand that they have to fight and are ready to do so. The “new tactic”, the “break with the past”, however, is that such situations are to be created. This is nothing new in itself. We too have always upheld the view that a political party can, and a Communist Party must, create conflict situations. But it must do so by the clarity and decisiveness of its positions, by the sharpness and boldness of its agitation and propaganda, by the intellectual and organisational influence that it wins over the masses; in other words, by political means. The only new thing that this break with the past of the KPD means is the view that such a conflict situation can also be created by unpolitical means, by police-spy manoeuvres, by provocation. What is meant here by provocation was revealed by another responsible comrade at another session, while the action was taking place. He said: “Our view is that with an intensive propaganda activity, the peaceful way in which the security-police previously behaved will give way, so that those workers who are not in struggle today will be incited.”

And the same speaker went on to say – this was on 30 March, when the action had long since been lost: “We must try and achieve a withdrawal in good order, create conflicts, incite the security-police, incite all counter-revolutionary elements. If we succeed in creating [! – P.L.] the movement in this way, clashes will take place ...”

This is certainly something new in the party founded by Rosa Luxemburg; it is a complete break with the past that the Communists are supposed to act like cheap hustlers[21] and provoke the death of their brothers. I would rather not cite the evidence that this last remark is no exaggeration. This, I repeat, was the new theoretical basis on which the game began.

The action was launched. For a time, the Zentrale did not have to put its newly acquired theoretical basis into practice. Hörsing got there first.[22] He occupied the Mansfeld district with one success already to his name: the right moment. With the cunning of an old trade-union bureaucrat he chose the week before Easter, knowing very well what the four-day closure of factories from Good Friday through Easter Monday would mean. Because of this, the Zentrale was, right from the start, a prisoner of its own “slogans”. It was unable to exploit this provocation of Hörsing’s in any way that corresponded to the situation. The Mansfeld workers went on strike. A member of the Zentrale stated at a session sometime later:

”Our comrades in Mansfeld took the slogan of the Zentrale rather too vigorously, and not in the proper sense that was meant. What happened in Mansfeld was an incursion, but not the occupation of factories.”

This depiction is no more than a slander of the battling comrades. If a slogan was given out against the factory-occupation, then can any reasonable person, even a member of the KPD Zentrale, assume it was not to be applied against the visible preparations for a factory-occupation, the incursion? And the comrades in Mansfeld interpreted the Zentrale’s slogan in this way when they took up weapons. This, too, seems to be contested in the above quoted passage. Not the first time that the Zentrale did not know what was happening, and only noticed later what slogan it had given out.

On 18 March, Rote Fahne proclaimed the call to arms: “No worker should give a hoot for the law, but get a weapon where he can find it!”

Rote Fahne launched the movement with this unusual text for a mass action, and it kept up the same tone. On 19 March it wrote: “The Orgesch[23] band proclaims the sword. Its words speak naked force. The German workers would be cowards if they did not find the courage and strength to answer the Orgesch band in its own clear terms.

On the 20th, Rote Fahne wrote: “The example of the Halle district, which is answering the challenge of Hörsing with a strike, must be followed. The working class must immediately take up arms, to confront the armed enemy. Weapons in the workers” hands.”

On 21 March, Rote Fahne wrote: “Only the proletariat can defeat the infamous plans of the Orgesch bands. It can do so only through united action if it sloughs off the chattering Social-Democratic traitors and beats down the counter-revolution just as it would itself be beaten, weapons in hand!

At the same time, the “new theory” was making its way through our organisation, with its call for activity and the declaration to attack as soon as possible, be it only by way of provocation. In this situation, the Mansfeld workers took the slogan in the sense that any reasonable person would do so. It is a cowardly slander of the dead heroes, who fell in good faith, to say now that these Mansfeld workers had committed a “breach of discipline”. No one could believe that, if Rote Fahne issued a call to arms, this meant that, for the time being, these arms were to be kept behind the stove. No worker could understand the talk of arms in any other sense than the newspaper’s head of advertising did in the issue for 24 March 1921 (supplement no. 139):

The Communists” weapons
consist in the present moment not least in their Party press, which mercilessly exposes the
cancer of capitalism. It is the duty of every single Communist to take part in this
distribution of weapons
and win new fighters to our cause. Tirelessly strive in the workplace and with friends for
the Party press, so that
the Red Army
of proletarian fighters will receive new recruits each day!

The insurrection in the Mansfeld region thus broke out in an unfavourable week, in a quite impossible political situation, on the defensive from the very first day, without any organisational preparation, thanks to the toying with insurrection pursued in the Zentrale.

Evidently, no member of the Zentrale, not even the “best Marxist in Western Europe”,[24] had read or taken to heart Marx’s words on the subject:

Now, insurrection is an art quite as much as war or any other, and subject to certain rules of proceeding, which, when neglected, will produce the ruin of the party neglecting them. Those rules, logical deductions from the nature of the parties and the circumstances one has to deal with in such a case, are so plain and simple that the short experience of 1848 had made the Germans pretty well acquainted with them. Firstly, never play with insurrection unless you are fully prepared to face the consequences of your play. Insurrection is a calculus with very infinite magnitudes, the value of which may change every day; the forces opposed to you have all the advantage of organisation, discipline, and habitual authority; unless you bring strong odds against them you are defeated and ruined. Secondly, the insurrectionary career once entered upon, act with the greatest determination, and on the offensive. The defensive is the death of every armed rising; it is lost before it measures itself with its enemies.[25]

But events now took their course. The spark sprang from Mansfeld to Hamburg. There were immediately a large number of dead, and we will not judge here whether the “new theory” had fallen on fertile soil. In any case, the Hamburg comrades were naïve enough to believe that a party-leadership that raised the torch of insurrection knew what it was doing, and that the leadership meant what it said. They went at it “tooth and nail”. An express-messenger was sent to tell them that they should put on the brakes. When this was done, they were found to have braked too much. Another messenger came to say they should go easy on the brakes. But, by the time the second messenger arrived, the Hamburg movement was already broken. And, with this, the entire “action” had essentially reached the end of its strength. The “action”, which originated with an individual who had not the least idea of German conditions, and was politically prepared and carried out by unpolitical simpletons, left the Communists holding the can.

It is now the most natural thing in the world – to anticipate a bit – that the commanders of this putsch should seek to shift the blame for the defeat away from themselves. The hunt has already begun for “saboteurs”, “pessimists” and “defeatists” within the Party. The gentlemen who undertook this attempt are just like Ludendorff in this respect, and other similar traits can be found as well; they are like Ludendorff not just in finding a poor excuse for blaming other people, but also in the underlying mistake they committed. Ludendorff was from the school who believed that war is made “with the principles of the general staff in command and slavish obedience in the ranks”. This may have worked sometime in the past. In the era of Old Fritz and the Potsdam Guards, it was quite sufficient if the soldiers marched round blindly in squares, and the king’s will decided everything. In the era of mass-armies, however, of people’s armies, this was no longer enough. The “moral factor” came increasingly into its own. Great armies are not just a military instrument, but a political one as well. They are linked with the civilian masses by a thousand threads; there is a constant exchange of desire, feeling and thought between the one side and the other, and a commander who is unable to lead his army politically in this sense, ruins the best armies – precisely as Ludendorff did.

The same applies to political parties. It works perfectly well for an anarchist club if the will of the leader commands and the believers follow unto death. For a mass-party, one that does not just seek to set the masses in motion but is itself a mass, this is quite insufficient. What must be expected from the Communists is that they rapidly detect struggle-situations, energetically exploit them and bear in mind at all times not just the aim of the present struggle but the final aim as well. No Communist, however, because he belongs to the Communist Party and possesses a membership-card, is therefore obliged, or even in a position, to seek out a struggle-situation where this does not exist, and where it is only the will of the Zentrale that, in a secret and invisible conventicle, and for reasons different from those that the proletarians see before their eyes, decides that a struggle-situation exists. The Zentrale is not even as ingenious as the Indian prince who, to show his power over all things, pointed to the sunrise from his tent and said: “Sun, follow the course that I show you”, signalling from east to west. The Zentrale, feeling the same almighty power, rather signalled from west to east. And, in this way, it offended against the basic law by which alone a mass-party can be moved. Only their own will, their own understanding, their own determination, can move the masses; and, given these preconditions, a good leadership is able precisely to lead. The Zentrale, however, refused to recognise the conditions in which alone a mass-party, which is a mass among masses, and everywhere connected with the proletariat, personally, at work and in the trade unions, and accordingly subject to the strengthening and enabling influence of sympathy, or the blaming one of hostility or enmity, can fight. And, here, we come back to the question: what should the relation of the Communists to the masses be in an action? An action that corresponds simply to the political needs of the Communist Party, and not to the subjective needs of the proletarian masses, is ruined in advance. The Communists do not have the ability to take action in place of the proletariat, without the proletariat, and ultimately even against the proletariat, especially when they are still such a minority in the proletariat. All they can do is create situations, using the political means described above, in which the proletariat sees the necessity of struggle, does struggle, and, in these struggles, the Communists can then lead the proletariat with their slogans.

But how did the Zentrale see the relation of the Communists to the masses? As already mentioned above, it thought, first of all, that it could create the situation by non-political means. Then, it had its dead, in Hamburg and the Mansfeld district. But the situation was right from the start so lacking in any precondition for action that not even these dead could manage to set the masses in motion. Another means was thus prepared. Issue 133 of Rote Fahne, for Sunday 20 March, contained an article with the title: “Who Is Not for Me Is Against Me! A Word to the Social-Democratic and Independent Workers.” This article, however, explained only the “for me”, and only at the end did it tell the workers on what conditions they should collaborate. It reads:

Independent and Social-Democratic workers! We stretch out a brotherly hand to you. But we also say to you, if you want to fight with us, you must be equally hard not just towards the capitalists, but also to those in your ranks who pursue the capitalist cause, who take the field with the Orgesch bands against the workers, and against the yellow-bellied cowards who lull you to sleep and discourage you, just when the Orgesch are sticking their swords into your breasts.

Consider this. The situation gave the Independent and Social-Democratic workers no reason for action. The genius who proclaimed the action was unknown to them, and a decision by the Communist Party was no reason for them to rise for action without any reason being given. I am sure, indeed, that if they had known the reason, their will to action would have been no stronger. These workers, faced with an action that they completely failed to understand, were given as the condition for their collaboration that they should string up their former leaders from the lamppost as soon as possible. And, in case they were unwilling to accept this condition, they were given the alternative: “Who is not with me is against me!” A declaration of war on four-fifths of the German workers, right at the start of the action!

I don’t know whether the author of this article is sufficiently experienced to know that he had a forerunner in this line of thought – though this forerunner was at least modest enough so say: “Who is not for us is against us.” He was neither a Marxist nor a socialist; his name was Bakunin, the Russian anarchist, who in 1870 issued an appeal to Russian officers with just this alternative. The Rote Fahne author can find Marx’s verdict on him, and other related matters, in “The Alliance of Socialist Democracy and the International Working Men’s Association”.[26] It should be noted in this connection that the whole attitude towards revolutionary classes of “who is not for is against” is precisely that of anarchism; the proposition “Who is not with us is against us” was precisely the favourite motto of both Bakunin and his disciple Nechayev, and it is precisely this general attitude that gives rise to the methods anarchism applies: not to defeat the counter-revolution, but, rather, in the words of a member of the KPD Zentrale, “to force the revolution”. Communism is never at any time against the working class. This Bakuninist basic attitude, a mockery of everything Marxist, this complete misunderstanding and complete slander of any Marxist attitude of the Communists towards the masses, gave rise to all the resulting anarchistic features of this March uprising, conscious or unconscious, desired or not, deliberate or otherwise: the struggle of the unemployed against those in work, the struggle of Communists against proletarians, the emergence of the lumpenproletariat, the dynamite attacks – these were all logical consequences. All this characterises the March movement as the greatest Bakuninist putsch in history to date.

In other words, a declaration of war against the working class. The Zentrale seems not even to have noticed this. For a member of the Zentrale already mentioned also blamed the Mansfeld workers for this “false start” to the movement. And there is no word to describe what then happened. To call it Blanquism would be an insult to Blanqui. For if Blanqui maintained, in permanent opposition to Marx and Engels, that “revolutions do not make themselves, they are made, and by a relatively small minority”, for him this was at least a minority that carried the majority by force of its example. A writer in Rote Fahne, however, under the authority of the Communist Party Zentrale, declared war on the workers at the start of the action, as a way of drumming them into action. And the war began. The unemployed were dispatched in advance as assault columns. They occupied the factory-gates. They forced their way into the plants, started fires in some places, and tried to drive the workers off the premises. Open warfare broke out between the Communists and the workers. From the Moers district came the following report:

On Thursday morning the Krupp Friedrich-Alfred works in Rheinhausen saw violent clashes between the Communists, who had occupied the plant, and workers trying to get to work. Finally the workers set on the Communists with cudgels and forcibly cleared their way in. Eight men were wounded at this point. Belgian soldiers intervened in the fighting, separating the two sides and arresting twenty Communists. The Communists thrown out of the plant returned in greater numbers and once again occupied the premises.

Still more shocking reports came from Berlin. As reported to me, it must have been a terrible sight to see the unemployed, crying in pain from the blows they received, driven out of the factories and cursing those who had sent them in there. Now, when it was already too late, when the war of Communists against workers had already started and the Communists had already lost, Rote Fahne suddenly came out with good advice. On 26 March, an apparently different editor from the one who wrote the article “Whoever Is Not for Me Is Against Me” wrote that there should be no war of workers against workers! This Pontius Pilate washed his hands in innocence.

But enough of this. As if there were not already enough unemployed, new ones were created. The Communists in the factories were in the difficult position of deciding whether they should leave those plants in which they were a minority, and where accordingly their strike had not led to a stoppage of work – often not even to any obstruction. The Zentrale’s instruction was in such cases to remain in the factories. The Berlin secretary wanted the same thing, but there was a text of the Berlin organisation stating: “Under no circumstances must a Communist go to work, even if he is in a minority.” The Communists thus left the factories, in troops of two or three hundred, more or less. Work went on, and now they are unemployed, the employers taking the opportunity to make their factories “Communist-free”, and indeed with a good number of workers on their side. In short, the “action” that began with the Communists declaring war on the proletariat, and the unemployed against the workers, was lost from the very first moment; in an action that starts off in this way, the Communists can never make any gains, not even any moral ones.

The Zentrale then had to decide what to do next. It decided to “step up the action”. An action that had begun misguidedly, in which no one knew what they were actually fighting for, in which the Zentrale, evidently because it could think of nothing else and the trick seemed frightfully clever, fell back on the trade-union demands from the time of the Kapp putsch (!) – the action, the foolishness, was to be stepped up. It could be stepped up. The dead in Mansfeld and Hamburg were joined by the dead in Halle. But even this didn’t make the right atmosphere. The dead in Halle were joined by the dead in Essen. After the dead in Essen, the dead in Mannheim. But the atmosphere still wasn’t right. This made the Zentrale increasingly nervous. That was the situation on 30 March, when a member of the Zentrale gave a sigh of relief that perhaps in Berlin the security-police would “lose their calm” and give the working class a bit of “incitement”.

It was in the interest of “inciting” the working class, then, that on 30 March 1921 Rote Fahne treated them as follows:

We say quite frankly to the Independent and SPD workers: the blame for the blood spilt lies not just on the heads of your leaders, but on the heads of each one of you, if you silently or with just weak protests tolerate Ebert, Severing and Hörsing unleashing white terror and white justice against the workers, beating down the whole proletariat ...

Freiheit[27] demands the intervention of the trade unions and the Social-Democratic parties. We spit on an intervention by these scoundrels, who have themselves unleashed the bourgeoisie’s white terror, themselves done butcher’s work for the bourgeoisie ...

Shame and disgrace on those workers who stand aside at this time, shame and disgrace on those workers who still fail to realise where their place is.

This was indeed a “complete break” with the Communist Party’s past, “inciting” the workers into action in this way. There is nothing left here of the spirit of Karl Liebknecht, never mind Rosa Luxemburg, and yet it was felt appropriate, in the issue of Rote Fahne for 26 March (”Combat Appeal no. 1”) for some wretch (forgive me the harsh word, but I am defending the memory of the dead unable to defend themselves) to write: “The spirit of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg marches at the head of the revolutionary proletariat of Germany.”

We have enough fresh corpses for “incitement”; let us leave the old ones in peace.

What followed now was a shocking performance. The Zentrale “stepped up the action”. Banner upon banner was raised. There was no distinction here between “old Communists” and those “new” ones at whom the anointed still turn up their noses.[28] Heroically and disdaining death, the comrades rose up in an unparalleled fashion. In the small towns and villages of central Germany, at the Leuna works, in factories large and small: banner after banner rose up, just as the Zentrale commanded. Banner after banner joined the attack, as the Zentrale commanded. Banner after banner went to their death, as the Zentrale commanded. Ave morituri te salutant! Not just once, but dozens of times, the fate of Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans was repeated in central Germany. Dozens and hundreds of unmarked graves in central Germany speak today to the traveller who passes: “Tell them, you who have seen us lying here, how we obeyed the law!”

And the Zentrale? It met in Berlin and “stepped up the action”. Already some days before the action was broken off, the votes at one session were five to three for such a decision. But, once again, this majority fell into the ditch of “slackness”, “opportunism”, “inactivity” that they had dug for others. Against the minority of three who were for “holding out”, the five did not dare to press their view, for fear of being accused of a lack of revolutionary will. Vague “reports” from three districts that “something was afoot”, that the agricultural workers of East Prussia were “stirring”, were all that was needed. So the call went out again to “step up the action”. And what were the reasons of the three diehards? I am not certain that all shared the same view, but the reason expressed by one of them was that now that the action was lost, it had to be pursued as far as possible, so that after it was broken off they would have no need to defend themselves against the “Left”, but only the “Right”.

What can one say to that? Even Ludendorff pales in comparison, when, with certain defeat before his eyes, he sent men outside his class, class enemies, to their deaths. But these people sent their own flesh and blood to die for a cause that they themselves already acknowledged was lost, so that their position, the position of the Zentrale, should not be endangered. We are not asking these comrades, with whom we have been through good and bad times for a long while, to do penance for what they have done; only one punishment is appropriate, for their own sake and that of the party in whose interest they believed themselves to have acted: never again to show their faces to the German workers.

It was pretty well unavoidable in this anarchist witches” sabbath stirred up by the Communist party Zentrale that an element should appear that was already the preferred force of Bakunin, discoverer of this kind of “revolution”: i.e. the lumpenproletariat. I should make one thing clear here. I assume – without, but even after, the assurances given – that the Communist Party and its Zentrale had neither officially nor unofficially anything to do with the dynamite attacks of recent time. The Zentrale can’t avoid disavowing such things publicly, taking a political attitude towards them, rejecting them no matter who might be at the bottom of them. It is forced to do so all the more in that, after its “complete break with the past”, the obviousness that formerly prevailed in such matters no longer exists after what we have described above. To come back to the lumpenproletariat, I must remark that love for them had already spread beyond the strict school of Bakunin. A few months ago, I already had occasion to quote a phrase of Engels on the lumpenproletariat, and the danger for Communists in getting involved with it. Some comrades evidently felt this warning was meant for them. Comrade Frölich, in the Hamburger Volkszeitung, tried to shake the bush to see what hare was hiding beneath it. Comrade Frölich received some support in this. In an article by Comrade Radek, which has not yet been published and which I don’t know whether its author still wants to publish, we read:

His revolutionary instinct immediately led Comrade Frölich to sense that something rotten was afoot here. Nothing more nor less was at issue than the fact that with the rapid decay of capitalism and the slow development of the revolution, ever greater proletarian masses are being thrown into the ranks of the unemployed, impoverished and lumpen-ised. Anyone who now starts turning up a theoretical nose at these “lumpenproletarians” in the old Social-Democratic fashion will never manage to mobilise these masses for revolutionary action.

Mark this well: the “rottenness” that Comrade Frölich sensed with his “revolutionary instinct” was not the lumpenproletariat, but rather my warning of involvement with it.

I hope Comrade Radek will allow me, as a poor and erring soul, “lacking clear insight” and only “in the process of development”, since I am a “revolutionary results-politician”, to offer the great Marxist some notes from my weak understanding. Comrade Radek speaks of “turning up a theoretical nose” at the lumpenproletariat in the “old Social-Democratic fashion”. The fashion is indeed a very old one. It started already in the first “Social-Democratic” text there is, the Communist Manifesto:

The “dangerous class”, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.[29]

This “turning up a theoretical nose”, therefore, began with Marx, and in his early years at that. The spiritual forefather of this latest Communist uprising, Mikhail Bakunin, had quite a different opinion. In the previously mentioned text of Marx and Engels, the following quotation from Bakunin is cited:

Brigandage is one of the most honourable forms of the Russian people’s life. The brigand is a hero, a protector, a people’s avenger, the irreconcilable enemy of the state, and of all social and civil order established by the state, a fighter to the death against the whole civilisation of the civil servants, the nobles, the priests and the crown.... He who fails to understand brigandage understands nothing of Russian popular history. He who is not in sympathy with it, cannot be in sympathy with Russian popular life, and has no heart for the measureless age-long sufferings of the people; he belongs to the enemy camp, among the supporters of the state... . The brigands in the forests, in the towns and in the villages scattered all over Russia, and the brigands held in the countless gaols of the empire make up a single, indivisible, close-knit world – the world of the Russian revolution. It is here, and here alone, that the real revolutionary conspiracy has long existed. [30]

You see how grateful I should be to Comrade Radek. While he accuses me only of “turning up a theoretical nose” and being “devoid of clear insight”, his lord and master Bakunin is not so sparing with those unwilling to share his heroic robbers” tales. He declares that they “belong to the enemy camp”, they are “partisans of the state”. Marx and Engels bore this fate of being for Bakunin “partisans of the state”, and I too will have to bear it; for, at present, even Radek’s reasons convince me just as little as Bakunin managed to convince Marx and Engels.

What are Radek’s reasons? In the lumpenproletariat Comrade Radek sees the “ever greater masses thrown into the ranks of the unemployed”. This is quite wrong from the start. Unemployment is neither universal, nor is its extent and length anything new for capitalism. It is the constant shadow that accompanies capitalism. No one has ever thought of identifying the “industrial reserve army” with the lumpenproletariat. The lumpenproletarians are classless, fall-out from all possible classes and strata. The unemployed, precisely because their unemployment is a constant and inevitable result of their economic condition as sellers of labour-power, are member of the class of sellers of labour-power, the proletariat. They share, and necessarily so, in the life of their class. Through the ties of trade unions, cooperatives, political organisations and, above all, political activity, the unemployed remain proletarians and must remain so. True, prolonged unemployment does indeed declass certain individuals from the stratum of unemployed and push them down into the lumpenproletariat. But this process is precisely encouraged by those who break these connections between the unemployed and their working-class comrades, especially the connection of common political activity between those in work and those without. This is indeed what happened, and not just by sending the unemployed as assault troops against those in work. It happened also by misusing the unemployed, demoralised by hunger and poverty, for methods that are otherwise characteristic of the lumpenproletariat; this meant declassing them and hurling them forcibly (and with worse means than force) into the ranks of the lumpenproletariat.

One might object that if the Communists ally themselves with all other revolutionary classes, as we have seen above, then why not with the lumpenproletarians? The answer to this is quite simple. The other classes with which the Communists can ally themselves for the purpose of overthrowing the existing state, i.e. the peasants, the artisans, the bourgeoisie when it is still revolutionary, are classes. In other words, collections of people who are bound into a social body by their similar relation to the means of social production. The lumpenproletarians are not a class. They do not belong to the sellers of labour-power, as do both employed and unemployed proletarians; they are leaves blown from different trees, and if they certainly are victims of an unjust social order, the most damaging loss they have suffered is that they are precisely declassed, classless, and no longer have even what the proletarian still has: the ability to fight as a class for a change in the conditions of which they are victim. Certainly, movements of lumpenproletarians, robber bands, etc. can lead to a situation that enables Communists to use them politically – if the state is greatly weakened. It would be foolish not to make use of such a situation, and “theoretically wooden-headed” to let such a situation pass simply because it was created by lumpenproletarians. But, as for involvement with the lumpenproletarians, Engels’s word still holds:

The lumpenproletariat, this scum of the depraved elements of all classes, which establishes headquarters in the big cities, is the worst of all possible allies. This rabble is absolutely venal and absolutely brazen... . Every leader of the workers who uses these scoundrels as guards or relies on them for support proves himself by this action alone a traitor to the movement.[31]

The big distinction between a fighting proletarian and a “political” lumpenproletarian is always this: the fighting proletarian commits even criminal acts for political ends, while the lumpenproletarian commits even political acts for criminal ends.

We have had relevant practical experiences of all this in Germany. The particular characteristics of the German worker have also to be taken into account here. I will spare Comrade Radek the attempt to make a cheap joke here, and say only that, just as the Russian worker has his strong and weak points, so the German worker has his too; and one of the strong points of the German workers, as Engels put it, is that: “they belong to the most theoretical people of Europe; and they have retained that sense of theory which the so-called ‘educated” classes of Germany have almost completely lost.” [32]

It is this very particularity of the German workers that makes even an external connection with the lumpenproletariat unfavourable in the highest degree. We gathered our experiences of this in the Spartacus League, in which we decisively rejected the least involvement with the lumpenproletariat, and when in the sudden days of November and December 1918 we did all that we could to shake the lumpenproletariat off our backs, so that it would not colour in any way the opinion the workers had of us. In a long struggle, by which I am not referring to our argument with the KAPD,[33] we purified ourselves of this, not without having the experience that the lumpenproletariat far prefers to sell itself to the bourgeoisie than to go with the workers – with the result that the workers took us seriously, our influence among them grew and they gained confidence in us. And, now, the Communist uprising of 1921! Here, I shall just give voice to one individual comrade, with extraordinary experience in railway matters, and belonging not to my school of thought but rather to the “Berlin” one. He said the following at a meeting on 30 March:

The tomfoolery at Ammendorf, and the derailment of a passenger train, brought the workers against us. Now the railwaymen and the entire personnel come and say: couldn’t you at least have blown up an arms train or a military transport? Dresden is just assembling military transports. We should work there with all our forces to prevent these trains being assembled. This prevention has been made impossible by the ridiculous attacks. The government has won the railwaymen to its side. I attribute this to the ridiculous dynamite attacks. They contributed to it ...

This was the effect. And, in passing, I declare it that if one single train was prevented from being assembled in Dresden, out of solidarity and an understanding of the situation by the railwaymen, that would have helped the cause of the workers in central Germany, indeed in Germany as a whole, far more than five trains blown into the air.

These are our German experiences. And I would prefer to go astray with Marx and Engels than to find the truth with Radek and Bakunin. It is pertinent here to return once more to the “old Social-Democratic fashion”. Comrade Radek would be the last person not to know this position of Marx and Engels. I have certainly not told him anything new with all this. This fact, however, casts a peculiar light on this kind of Marxism. I am certainly not a person to accept each single dead or living word with an “autos epha” – the master has spoken. What is powerful and overwhelming in Marx’s body of ideas, acknowledged even by those who reject this as a whole, is that not only does it recognise and take into account the thousandfold complexity of political and social events, but it brings this diversity back to that simplicity, that singleness, that is peculiar to everything major. It is thus impossible for me, just because it seems suitable, to stuff certain chapters of Marxism into a back pocket and “turn up my nose” at “old Social-Democratic fashions”. But this is perhaps because I am a poor simple-minded fellow, “lacking any understanding”, and it takes a greater mind – not that of a “results-politician” – to make an occasional flying visit to Bakunin, simply because it seems convenient or because an eight-month wait is beginning to have its effect.

How are the Communists to conquer state-power? After making this “complete break with the past”, it would seem, only by completely fundamentally and irrevocably breaking with this present, with a state of affairs in which no one knows where tomfoolery ends and political criminality begins. The only thing is to return to the sentence from our party’s founding programme:

The Spartacus League will never take over governmental power except in response to the clear, unambiguous will of the great majority of the proletarian mass of all of Germany, never except by the proletariat’s conscious affirmation of the views, aims, and methods of struggle of the Spartacus League.[34]

This means first of all the following. Never again in the history of the Communist Party must it happen that the Communists declare war on the workers. Anyone who believes in Bakuninist style that the workers can be driven into action by dynamite or cudgels, has no place in a Communist Party.

Never again in the history of the Communist Party must it happen, or even any attempt be made, to “create struggle-situations” by police-spy manoeuvrings. The Communist Party is a party of struggle, it is glad of the day and waits for the day on which it can fight with the proletariat and at its head, and it works politically and organisationally for this day, seeking to create struggle-situations by political means, instead of circumventing them by compromises as the social reformists do.

The Communist Party is only the vanguard of the proletariat, and never a bludgeon against the proletariat; it cannot march out if it has lost its connection with the main force.

This is first of all the first precondition for getting rid of the tremendous mistrust that the majority of German workers feel towards us after this crazy escapade. Here lies the greatest damage that the March events of this year have caused. No one should deceive themselves as to the difficulty of this task. Never has the mistrust – to use no stronger word – of the German workers towards the Communists been as strong as it is today. And yet we had an infinitely hard struggle to gain a foothold in the working class, organisationally and, above all, intellectually. The fruit of this work has now been destroyed, and it is worth saying openly that as long as the workers do not regain trust in the Communist Party, there can be no talk of the German Communist Party having the capacity for action. The correction for the March events must therefore be made visibly to those outside, in a manner that is visible to the workers. If the Communist Party persists in its present standpoint, it will become a sect, sharing the fate of all sects: reduced to insignificance in numbers and influence within three months.

It is necessary in this connection to make an immediate and energetic start with a political leadership of party business. Here too the tremendous damage wreaked by the movement is apparent. If the Zentrale, instead of fooling itself with “secret information”, had considered the political facts, it would certainly have acted otherwise. In England at this time, the miners” strike broke out. A state of emergency was proclaimed, not unexpectedly. Anyone who followed events on the English coal-market would know what would happen – the whole English coal-export, a pillar of England’s world-market, collapsed; since October last year, the United States has exported more coal than England produces; the entire English coal-industry rests on an export price of 150 shillings, while America is offering coal-freight paid to France and Belgium for 90 shillings. If the Zentrale, instead of rooting through my Reichstag speech of 12 March for “opportunism”, had actually read it, they would have found this already predicted – without any “secret information”! The blockade of Germany is beginning. Not, as the “secret information” ha it, on 20 March, but gradually. A slow starvation like that in wartime. The conflict between Bavaria and the Reich is opening up, as the Reich has to carry out disarmament. Not because of the Communist uprising, but despite it. Indeed, “the situation is crying out for struggle”. But, through a Bakuninist adventure, in which the Zentrale let itself be inflamed by a putschist hothead, for the sake of “stepped-up activity”, the fighting power of the German proletariat has been weakened, as in the struggles ahead it will not have confidence in the plans of its leaders. “It would only have needed combining into a united proletarian front in order to conduct the struggle together.” So the Zentrale wrote at the end of its putsch, to show that even after it they had learned nothing. “Only”, indeed. It would only have taken the understanding of the Zentrale that the unity of the proletariat is the result of a political process and cannot be won by police-spy provocations. It would only have needed the understanding of the Zentrale that it is there for the proletariat and the Party, and not the Party and the proletariat there for it. Then we would be in an excellent situation today, strong and armed for struggle. Then we would have been able to say: “Down with the government!” Instead, we have to be more modest and say: ”Down with the putschists!”


There still remains in this connection the question of the relations of the German Communist Party with the Communist International. Not only because such a catastrophic defeat for the KPD also affects the International, but because, without going into details, the Executive Committee of the Communist International bears at least a part of the blame.

One thing, first of all. The ECCI saw and still sees a certain danger in the fairly strong anti-putschist attitude of myself and other comrades. It is so disturbed by this that it has sent out its most expert spies and analysts to establish whether there is not already “opportunism” somewhere or other. It is appropriate to speak quite openly about this and say that this entire approach is incorrect. As far as opportunism and social reformism is concerned, it should be borne in mind that in no country is this so clear, so unambiguous, so unconcealed and so unmistakably crystallised as in Germany.

The German Communist Party and its leading comrades, like the great majority of its members, have emerged from the Social-Democratic Party. The struggle with Social Democracy, internal and external argument with it, was an argument with opportunism. And not just that. Our daily struggle in the press, in parliament, and, above all, that of the workers in the trade unions and factories, is a constant, living, energetic and successful struggle against opportunism. The great power we have to fight against is opportunist Social Democracy. In such conditions, therefore, there is no great danger that opportunism can be found in the German Communist Party, if it is to be found anywhere. Opportunism within the Party is thus a very minor concern.

There is, however, within the Party a danger of putschism. Comrade Radek least of all needs me to explain how much putschism has already damaged us, as he has followed these things very closely since 1919. I have already perused our literature of the time for quotations. After our arguments with the KAPD, in which they shared our theoretical standpoint, the comrades of the ECCI, and, steadily following them, Comrade Radek, were of the view that the danger of putschism had now been overcome, and that a bit more “unrest”, as we might put it, could not do any harm. This idea was wrong. The danger of putschism had not been overcome, but was acute, and necessarily became so, at the moment that the majority of the USPD came over to us, not having been through the learning experience that our original Communist Party had. It was now more necessary than ever to keep a firm hand on the tiller against putschism, but the comrades of the ECCI were of a different opinion, and the ship is now on the rocks!

So as to avoid the danger of errors, I shall say something more about putschism.

That what has taken place in Germany, an uprising fired from a pistol against the bourgeoisie and four-fifths of the working class, was a putsch, needs no further word on my part. It is not my view however that every partial action is a putsch. We were against partial actions in 1919, when the revolution was on the decline and any armed movement only gave the bourgeoisie and Noske the hotly desired occasion for drowning the movement in blood. In declining revolutionary situations, partial actions are to be avoided. In rising revolutionary situations, however, partial actions are absolutely necessary. Despite the high revolutionary training of the German proletariat, it can still not be expected – that would need the re-run of a miracle like the Kapp putsch, but this time not misconstrued by the Communists – for the proletariat to stand ready on one particular day for the button to be pressed, as a Social-Democratic party-secretary, or Rudolf Hilferding, understands it. If the revolutionary wave rises again in Germany, then, just as before 1918, there will be partial actions, even if the greater maturity of the German proletariat compared with that time will find expression in such partial actions being more powerful and more solid than previously. But, by a partial action, we understand only one thing – the proletarians rising up in struggle in one part of Germany, or a large city, or an economic region. We do not mean that, in one part of the Reich, or in the Reich as a whole, Communists strike or take action. Partial action should always be interpreted in a vertical, nor a horizontal sense.

Apart, however, from the different assessment of the putschist danger in Germany, there is a second subordinate difference in the judgement of our activity. Our propaganda, our activity in parliament, and so on, were not considered sufficiently revolutionary. There is no dispute about certain things, for instance the agitational effectiveness of Rote Fahne. For the most part, however, here again the complaints of the ECCI seem to rest on a wrong assessment. It would like things to be more “noisy”, as the English say. Here, again, however, we have already gained experience, and its implications are quite different. We, too, at the start of the revolution sent out our street speakers and propagandists to make forceful speeches. They had great success at their first meetings, but, after the second ones, our organisers wrote in to say that we should send other speakers, the workers didn’t want to hear insults. We must openly say that a large part of the propaganda literature, appeals, etc. that we receive from Russia, if not actually damaging to us, is not as useful in content as it might be, on account of its excessively robust form. I recall a case in which although the German Zentrale, by a unanimous vote, had declared a certain text inappropriate, it was published all the same over our heads.

It is just the same with the work of the parliamentary group. A Communist parliamentary group would be in dereliction of duty if it did not make proper use of a revolutionary situation, with all means at its disposal. But parliament is the last place in which revolutionary situations can be “made”. Parliament is the “mirror image” of what is happening outside, especially in revolutionary times. A parliamentary group which expressed itself in a constant fit of rage would make itself ridiculous. What it comes down to again is that the German workers are reflective and theoretical. Perhaps far too much so; but they cannot be brought to do something by insults; they have to be convinced. And this is not just our experience in the two and half years” existence of the Communist Party, it is my experience in well over a decade of practical party-work, and the experience of comrades who have spent a long lifetime in this work. It also did not escape Comrade Zinoviev, I believe, when he wrote after the Halle Congress: “The old school is making itself felt. The work of the best German revolutionaries was not in vain.”

Zinoviev saw how the great effect of his speech at Halle rested precisely on the fact that it was so factual, and avoided any impulsive form.

All this however pales before the tasks of the Communist International and the practical resolution of these tasks.

One point first of all. I believe it is not just in Germany, but everywhere, that the leadership of the ECCI is experienced as inadequate. This is not because we have at its head neither a Marx, as at the head of the First International, nor a Lenin. The problem is one of the great technical difficulties, inadequate postal connection, etc. The ECCI is isolated from Western Europe, its most important region of activity. I believe that the ECCI is by no means the last to feel this. Its solution, however, is most unfortunate, and, on this point, I had to express myself as party-president with some reservation, while now, as an ordinary party-member, I can speak with complete openness. This is the system of confidential agents. First of all, Russia is not in a position to send out its best forces. They have positions in Russia that are not replaceable. Cadres and comrades therefore arrive in Western Europe, each of them with the best will, each full of their own ideas, and each full of an eagerness to show how well they can “handle it”. Western Europe and Germany thus become a test-bed for all kinds of duodecimo statesmen, of whom we get the impression that they are keen to develop their skills. I have nothing against these Turkestanis,[35] and only wish them well; but I often have the impression that they would do less harm with their tricks in their own country.

The position becomes most serious, however, when representatives are dispatched who are quite inadequate even from a human point of view. I come back again here to the Italian events. Comrade Räkosi, after representing the Third International in Italy, then arrived in Germany. He was introduced at the sessions of the Zentrale and the Central Committee as representative of the ECCI. He explained in so many words that in Italy “an example had been given”, and declared both privately and in public that the German Party would also have to be split again. He had indeed brought the Italian division to breaking point with this idea of the need for new splits. The speeches are there in the stenographic record; a hundred witnesses can attest to it. Rákosi, however, reports to Moscow, and what is the Communist International to make of it? The semiofficial (or maybe quite official, if still apocryphal) article by Comrade Radek states:

The attempt (at a further split) exists only in Levi’s imagination, basing himself on a supposed expression of the Hungarian Comrade Rákosi, who was the representative of the ECCI in Italy, and who is supposed to have said, in Levi’s report, that the German Communist Party would again have to be purged. Comrade Rákosi, who took part in the session of the Berlin central committee as a private individual, denies having said anything of the kind. And even if Comrade Rákosi did say it, he was not authorised to do so.

The utterance reveals the completely frivolous way in which parties, causes and people are played with. Comrade Radek is aware that private individuals have no access to meetings of the Central Committee of the KPD. Comrade Radek declares that Rákosi was not authorised to make such a statement. But Comrade Rákosi was the ECCI’s plenipotentiary at Livorno. He gave us the authentic reasons that led to the split in this form. He gave us reasons, therefore, that could lead to a split in the German Party tomorrow. Rákosi himself drew these conclusions; myself and 23 Central-Committee members expressly disagreed with these reasons,[36] and the ECCI then explained that Rákosi was not authorised to make such a statement. Presumably, he was authorised only to carry out a split without reasons. This is a frivolous game being played here; the method of dispatching irresponsible people, who can later be approved or disavowed as need be, is certainly very convenient, but even if it was blessed by long party tradition, it is fateful for the Third International. I may remark in passing that some people are all too hasty in toying with new splits, at least these foreign representatives of the ECCI. I hope I shall not be compelled to give evidence that in German circles close to the ECCI, at least in circles for which the ECCI bears political responsibility, the dreadful defeat of the Party is brushed aside with the words that, if the March Action only led to cleansing the Party of its right wing, the price would not be too high. The comrades now lying dead in central Germany were not told, when they were sent to their deaths, that their corpses would be used as dynamite for the Party. If the ECCI is not able to cast off such unconscionable fellows of this calibre, it will ruin both itself and us.

Comrade Radek’s semi-official statement, however, only reveals a further and still more damaging effect of the delegate system. This is the direct and secret contact between these delegates and the Moscow leadership. We believe that more or less in all countries where these emissaries are working, discontent with them is the same. This is a system like a kangaroo court. They never work with the Zentrale of the country in question, always behind its back and often even against it. They find people in Moscow who believe them, others don’t. It is a system that inevitably undermines all confidence for mutual work on both sides, that of the ECCI as well as the affiliated parties. These comrades are generally unsuitable for political leadership, besides being too little trusted. The hopeless situation that results is that a centre of political leadership is lacking. The only thing of this kind that the ECCI manages are appeals that come too late, and excommunications that come too early. This kind of political leadership in the Communist International leads either to nothing or to disaster. The only thing left for the whole organisation is what we have described above. The ECCI works more or less like a Cheka projected beyond the Russian frontiers – an impossible state of affairs. The clear demand that this should change, and that the leadership in certain countries should not be taken over by incompetent delegates with incompetent hands, the call for a political leadership and against a party-police, is not a demand for autonomy. In the same passage in which Marx uses the most forceful words against autonomy in the International, he also says:

Without damaging in the least the complete freedom of the movements and efforts of the working class in individual countries, the International has managed to combine them in an association, and for the first time make the ruling classes and their governments feel the world-embracing power of the proletariat.[37]

The ECCI is in the best position to measure how far removed it is from this ideal situation. The present situation may be good for an international of sects; it is pernicious for an international of mass parties.

In this connection, I want particularly to mention the seriousness of the decision which this collapse of the German Party poses for the International. For understandable reasons, we cannot go into a detailed discussion of who is to blame. We have to emphasise, however, that the German Communist Party, now endangered in its very existence, for which in part the ECCI is to blame, and is at least responsible for, is the only Communist-led mass party in Europe up to now. The German Communists are faced with the question of life and death, whether they can still maintain their Party as Communist or whether it will collapse into a heap of Bakuninist ruins. It is the fate of revolutionary parties, when the revolutionary process goes quiet, when there are long counter-revolutionary epochs, that they consume themselves; in cases such as these, anarchism completes the fate of Communist parties. No one can see behind the weaving of history, or can measure the diversity of forces according to their strength and aim and constancy: “no eye that sees the golden scales of time”. It is only from the symptoms that the victorious tendency among those in struggle can be discerned. If the Germans do not manage to rebuild the Communist Party, if the March affair is to be their fate, then it is definite proof that the counter-revolutionary tendencies which we are seeing throughout the world are of longer duration and greater strength than we had formerly believed. If this is our destiny, it is also the destiny of the Communist International.

If we do succeed, however, as we hope and wish, in rescuing the Communist idea in Germany and so proving that there are still revolutionary forces that can seize the hour, let the International not put obstacles in our path if we return to the past of the Communist Party and the doctrine of its founder. She depicted the route we have to take in the following words:

The unification of the broad popular masses with an aim reaching beyond the whole existing social order, of the daily struggle with the great world transformation – that is the task of the Social Democratic movement, which must successfully work forward on its road of development between two reefs: abandonment of the mass character or abandonment of the final aim; the fall back to sectarianism or the fall into bourgeois reformism; anarchism or opportunism.[38]


Gruber, Helmut (ed.) 1967, International Communism in the Age of Lenin, New York: Fawcett Publications.

Hudis, Peter and Kevin Anderson (eds.) 2004, The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, New York: Monthly Review Press.

Lenin, Vladimir I. 1964, Collected Works, Volume 26, London: Lawrence & Wishart. —— 1965, Collected Works, Volume 30, London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Levi, Paul 1969, Zwischen Spartakus und Sozialdemokratie, Frankfurt a. M.: Europäische Verlagsanstalt.

Marx, Karl 1973a, The Revolutions of 1848, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
—— 1973b, Surveys from Exile, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
—— 1974, The First International and After, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels 1979, Collected Works, Volume 11, London: Lawrence & Wishart.
—— 1985, Collected Works, Volume 21, London: Lawrence & Wishart.
—— 1988, Collected Works, Volume 23, London: Lawrence & Wishart.


[1] Marx 1973a, p. 35.

[2] “The Communist Manifesto”, in Marx 1973a, p. 87.

[3] Marx 1974, p. 349.

[4] Lenin 1965, p. 267.

[5] Lenin 1965, p. 268.

[6] [National Bolshevism was a widespread current after the German defeat of 1918, standing for a united struggle of all classes in Germany together with Soviet Russia against the Entente. It was represented particularly by the Hamburg Communists Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim, who formed the KAPD after their expulsion from the KPD in August 1919, though they broke with it soon after.]

[7] [Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, Prussian general and commander in German East Africa; as a Reichswehr general he put down the Hamburg uprising of 1919.]

[8] Marx 1973a, pp. 84–5.

[9] [In his “Open Letter” of 8 January 1921, Levi called on behalf of the KPD for joint action with other socialist parties and trade unions in support of the immediate needs of the working class, including the formation of self-defence organisations against right-wing terror, and the establishment of trade and diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia.]

[10] Marx 1973a, p. 329.

[11] Marx 1973a, pp. 79–80.

[12] Lenin 1965, pp. 271–2.

[13] Lenin 1965, p. 262.

[14] Lenin 1965, p. 261.

[15] Lenin 1964, p. 134.

[16] Ibid.

[17]  [At the beginning of March, Béla Kun, former leader of the Hungarian Soviet and a member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, arrived in Germany armed with the new theory of a revolutionary “offensive’. As Levi wrote to Lenin on 27 March, Kun explained that “Russia now faces an extremely difficult situation. It was unconditionally necessary to relieve Russia by movements in the West [. . .]. He was thus for the immediate launch of a struggle with the slogan of overthrowing the government” (Levi 1969, p. 38). The editor’s note to this edition wrongly names the ECCI emissary as Rákosi, who was already in Germany and had triggered Levi’s resignation from the KPD leadership. See What Is the Crime?, infra.]

[18]  [In the Levi archive, P83/9, the name “Brandler” is written in the margin of a copy of the pamphlet.]

[19] [Robert Weismann, Prussian state commissioner for public order under prime minister Wirth.]

[20] [In the Levi archive, P83/9, the name “Frölich” is written in the margin of a copy of the pamphlet.]

[21] [Achtgroschenjungen in the original.]

[22] [The Social Democrat Otto Hörsing was governor of Prussian Saxony from 1920 to 1927. On 16 March, he proclaimed a police-occupation of the province, on the grounds that strikes, looting and acts of violence had to be stopped.]

[23] [The Orgesch, i.e. Organisation Escherich, was a national association of home guards [Einwohnerwehren], named after its founder Dr George Escherich, a Bavarian state-councillor, and serving as paramilitaries in crushing the workers” movement.]

[24] [Apparently a reference to August Thalheimer, leader of the “left” faction in the KPD and cultivated at this time by Radek to replace Levi as party-leader, together with Heinrich Brandler and Paul Frölich.]

[25]  [The series of articles “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany” appeared under Marx’s name in the New York Daily Tribune, and were published in book form in the original English by Eleanor Marx in 1891. They are now known to have been written by Engels, and this quote is taken from Marx and Engels 1979, pp. 85–6. The emphasis is that of Levi, who cites a 1919 German edition that still ascribed the articles to Marx.]

[26] Marx and Engels 1988.

[27] [The newspaper of the USPD (Independents).]

[28] [The “new Communists”, at this point the great majority in the KPD, were those who had joined from the USPD after its Halle Congress in November 1920.]

[29] Marx 1973a, p. 77.

[30] Marx and Engels 1988, p. 520; emphasis P.L

[31] F. Engels, “Prefatory Note to The Peasant War in Germany”, Marx and Engels 1985, pp. 98–9.

[32] Addition to “Prefatory Note to The Peasant War in Germany”, Marx and Engels 1988, p. 630.

[33] [I.e. with the “Left” Communists who formed the Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands after their expulsion from the KPD in August 1919. At the time of writing, it was a sore point for Levi that the Comintern had recently given the KAPD consultant status, without even consulting the KPD leadership.]

[34] “What Does the Spartacus League Want?”, in Hudis and Anderson (eds.) 2004, pp. 356–7.

[35] [Reference to Béla Kun. See the Editorial Introduction, supra.]

[36] [At the Livorno Congress of the Italian Socialist Party, Levi was critical of the Comintern delegates” heavy-handed approach to the majority Serrati faction. At a meeting of the KPD Central Committee on 24 February, he developed his characteristic thesis that a mass Communist party necessarily has a different structure from a small party operating in illegal conditions, and that splits should only proceed from political experience, not be mechanically decreed. Rákosi called for a vote condemning Levi’s stand, and when this was passed by 25 votes to 23, Levi resigned from the Zentrale, accompanied by Clara Zetkin and Ernst Däumig, former leader of the left wing of the USPD.]

[37] “The Alliance of Socialist Democracy and the International Working Men’s Association’; Marx and Engels 1988, p. 554.

[38]  ”Social Reform or Revolution”, in Hudis and Anderson (eds.) 2004, p. 165.