History of the World Crisis

Lecture 6:
The German Revolution

Translated by Juan R. Fajardo, 1998
(Delivered to the “Gonzales Prada” People’s University,
at the Peruvian Student Federation hall, Lima, on July 13, 1923.)

The subject of tonight's lecture is the German Revolution.

In the preceding lectures I have explained the main aspects of the German Revolution's process of generation, of incubation.

I have stated already that the war was not popular in Germany, that the German government carried out the war with the old criterion of relative war, of military war, of not total war; that the German government was unable to create any popular myth capable of ensuring it the solid support of the popular classes; and, that the war was presented to the German people solely as a war of national defense. While the German government kept alive the hope of victory, while no military failures discredited its adventure, while it was able to keep the populace from hunger and privations, it succeeded in that public opinion withstand the war without rebellion. But, it did not manage to excite the people toward its imperialist ideals. The war was not popular with the proletariat. The intellectuals, the German intelligentsia, in their majority, placed themselves at the service of the war, of aggression, and created a cynical, ranting war literature.

The German poets chanted war and denigrated peace. Thomas Mann wrote, " Man is spoiled in peace. Slothful repose is the heart's tomb. The law is the friend of the weak; she wishes to level everything; if she could she would flatten the world; but war makes strength emerge."

Heinrich Vierordt wrote his Deutchland, Hasse (Germany, Hate). Professor Oswald wrote, "Germany wishes to organize Europe, since Europe has, to now, never been organized."

Finally, the famous 93 German intellectuals signed that notorious manifesto servilely sponsoring and defending the German war. But, all this bellicose literature notwithstanding, only the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie were delirious with nationalism. The proletariat declared that its support for the war was not from conviction, but duty. The proletariat never subscribed to the bourgeois and petty bourgeois intellectuals' cynical ideas.

What is more, almost from the first instant, as soon as the period of intoxication and confusion from the declaration of war had passed, some honest and brave voices of protest were raised in Germany.

Four German wisemen took a position against the ninety-three intellectuals of the manifesto, and published their own counter-manifesto. I have already spoken to you of these four wisemen, who were the physicist, Einstein, the physiologist, Nicolai, the philosopher, Buek, and the astronomer, Foerster. The poet, Herman Hesse -like Romain Rolland, in asylum in Switzerland- wrote an ode to peace and a call to Europe's thinkers to rescue what little of peace could still be saved and to not themselves, with their pens, pillage Europe's future. The journal, Die Wiessen Blaetter, was a home to German intellectuals loyal to the cause of Europe's, and Western civilization's, moral unity. And, various leaders of the proletariat -Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Kurt Eisner, Franz Mehring, Leo Jogiches, and others- reacted against the war and denounced its imperialist and counter-revolutionary goal. Karl Liebknecht was one of the fourteen deputies opposed to war credits on August 4; but these fourteen deputies did not vote against war credits in Parliament, but in the heart of the socialist group in parliament.

The great majority of the group agreed to vote for the credits. The fourteen deputies in the minority, Karl Liebknecht among them, resolved to submit to the majority's decision. However, Karl Liebknecht soon felt the necessity of rescuing his own and personal responsibility as a leader and as a socialist intellectual. In December of 1914 he voted against the new war credits, without paying attention to the will of the socialist parliamentary group.

Of course, inside and outside of the Reichstag, of the German parliament, a tempest was unleashed against Karl Liebknecht. In January of 1915 Karl Liebnecht was drafted into the army. He was sent to Kustrin. Liebknecht refused to accept a gun. He was then transferred to a company of laborers, of suspects, in Lorraine. Later he was sent to the Russian front. From the front, Karl Liebknecht wrote to his children on December 21, "I will not shoot." He still attended other sessions of the Reichstag, where he again spoke out on several occasions against the German government and against the war. The clamor of the Chamber invariably covered, overwhelmed, and drowned out his solitary and heroic voice. But Karl Liebknecht did not renounce his propaganda, and together with Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin, he wrote those famous letters signed with the pseudonym of Spartacus, which later was the name of the German Communist Party.

On May 1 of 1918 there took place in Berlin the first public demonstration against the war. Karl Liebknecht, disguised as a civilian, attended. He was arrested and tried for treason against the fatherland. The military tribunal sentenced him to four years of forced labor. A year later, the revolution opened the doors to his jail. The figure of Liebknecht, as we can see, was not the only one in the leading ranks of the German proletariat which struggled against the war.

At Liebknecht's side stand several glorious figures.

I have already mentioned Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, Eugen Leviné. All these leaders recognized that their duty was to fight against the war, as they later recognized that their duty was to carry the revolution through to the end. All of them belonged, like Karl Liebknecht, to the Spartacus group, the initial cell of the German Communist Party. But, I shall deal with their conduct during the revolution itself in due time. Right now, what is under examination is but their conduct during the pre-revolution, because, based on it, I hold that there was in the German proletarian movement a different attitude toward the war than in the proletarian movement in the allied nations. A numerous nucleus of proletarian opinion -repressed militarily, it is true, by the government's action- struggled to turn the German proletariat against the war. And the one hundred deputies of German socialism, the majority of social-democracy's leaders, could not give the war ardorous and unconditional support. The German bourgeoisie and middle class fought for the ideals of Prussian militarism, for world domination, for Deutschland Uber Alles, for ubervolk, for Europe's submission to German organization; but the German proletariat, in accordance with the marching orders from its majority leaders, fought but in the interest of national defense. The German proletariat did not feel the absolute need for war jusqu'au bout, for war to the end, for total war, and, above all, until the enemy's total annihilation.

Consequently, Wilson and his democratic propaganda, Wilson and his Fourteen Points, Wilson and his illusions of a new code of international justice, found a permeable front, a vulnerable front, a yielding front, in the German front. I have already stated the revolutionary resonance which the Wilsonian program attained amongst the populace. Ever since the Austrian people were told that the allies fought, not against them, but against their governments, ever since they were assured that they would not have imposed on them a peace of annexations, nor of indemnizations, the German and Austrian peoples began to feel ever less a need for the war. Furthermore, as I have also said already, the Wilsonian propaganda stimulated and awoke old and deep-rooted ideals of national independence in the nationalities locked in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

On the other hand, the Russian Revolution also revolutionarily echoed within the Austrian proletariat and in the German proletariat. Two propagandas joined to undermine and break through the Austro-German front: Wilson's democratic propaganda and the Bolsheviks' maximalist propaganda.

The effects of these propagandas had to be manifest following the first Austro-German military defeat. The Italian offensive in Piave found the Austrian army little disposed toward sacrifice.

The Czechoslovakian troops gave up almost en masse. And, on the German front, the news of this disaster and of the French offensive, unleashed the explosion of revolutionary seeds, so long accumulated.

The German people and the German army made evident their desire for peace and capitulation. They rose up against the Kaiser and the monarchy, against the regime responsible for the war and to blame for the defeat. They defined the responsibility of the German government and that of the German people. And they swept away the monarchy and all its institutions.

November 9 of 1918, little more than a year from the Russian Revolution, the German Revolution took place. The history of the events of those days is well known. There broke out a revolutionary strike in Kiel and Hamburg. The sailors rebelled and, in automobiles, marched on Berlin. A general strike was declared. The troops refused to repress the insurgent proletariat. The Kaiser abdicated and left Berlin. And the revolutionaries proclaimed a Republic in Germany. The revolution had, at that moment, a purely proletarian character.

Workers' and soldiers' councils -in effect, soviets- were created in Germany. A cabinet of majority socialists was formed. But this cabinet did not include socialism's left wing -the group of Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin, etc.- contrary to an agreement with the majority socialists who had supported the war. Moreover, hostilities quickly arose between the group of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg and the governing socialists. Karl Liebknecht founded the Spartacus Union, the German Communist Party, and the Spartacists' news organ, Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag).

The Spartacists propounded the fulfillment of socialism through the dictatorship of the proletariat, through soviet government. They demanded the confiscation of all Crown properties for the benefit of the collective; the annulment of state debts and war loans; the expropriation of large and medium agricultural properties and the formation of agricultural cooperatives to administer them, while small properties remained in the hands of their smallholders until they voluntarily desired to join the cooperatives; the nationalization of all banks, mines, factories, and large industrial and commercial establishments. In sum, the Spartacists proposed the carrying out in Germany of the program carried out by the maximalists in Russia. The majority socialists -Ebert, Scheidemann, etc.- were averse to this program. And the masses who followed them were not spiritually ready for so radical a transformation of the order in Germany. The independent socialists -Kautsky, Hasse, Hildferding, etc.- were vacillant. They inclined neither toward the limited and opaque reformism of the majoritarians, nor toward the Spartacists' revolutionism. In the Bolshevik manner, the Spartacists began a campaign of mounting agitation. The figures which led the Spartacus Union were, certainly, figures of the front rank of the German proletarian movement. Karl Liebknecht was the son of Wilhelm Liebknecht, one of the patriarchs of German socialism. He was, thus, heir to a glorious name in the history of German socialism, aside from possessor of a bright, intense figure continuously in the vanguard of the proletariat. Rosa Luxemburg, an international figure and an intellectual and dynamic figure, also had an eminent position within German socialism. Her double capacity for action and for thought, for realization and for theory, were seen and respected. Rosa Luxemburg was, at once, a brain and an arm of the German proletariat. Franz Mehring was one of the most profound, shining, and erudite theoreticians of Marxism, author of a series of deep and admirable works, he had written a fundamental book precisely on Marx and on Marxism. He was old, he was 72, but he kept the temper and fervor of his youth. Eugen Leviné, a Russian Pole, who participated in the 1905 Revolution in Russia, and who then endured prison in Siberia, was another noble and bizarre revolutionary figure -he came from a rich family and possessed a vast literary and scientific culture. He had, nonetheless, renounced his prerogatives as an intellectual and had become a worker.

Leo Jogiches, Polish journalist, also a noteworthy kind of agitator, propagandist, and revolutionary, was the collaborator, the confidant, the friend of Rosa Luxemburg. In the Polish socialist party he had played an outstanding role, and in the Spartacus Union he was the energetic and untiring organizer of action and propaganda.

Clara Zetkin, the sole survivor from this group of leaders, conductors, and apostles, was of the same moral and intellectual stature.

This strong, homogeneous, and intelligent general staff of Spartacism, managed to agitate, to powerfully shake up the German proletariat. The German working masses lacked spiritual and revolutionary preparation, and I will speak to you of this in a moment in critiquing the revolution. Nevertheless, the Spatarcist leaders managed to organize a new proletarian vanguard. This proletarian vanguard was a vanguard of action; but the Spartacist leaders did not intend to launch it prematurely to the seizure of power. The proposed to use it to awaken the proletariat's consciousness, to day by day prepare it for action, strengthen it numerically, ready it for the decisive assault at the opportune moment.

The tactic of the majority socialists, of Ebert and Scheidemann's government, thus consisted in precipitating the Spartacists' revolutionary action, in drawing the Spartacists into combat prematurely, in obligating them to begin the battle unpreparedly. The majority socialists needed the Spartacists' violence in order to repress their violence with an even greater violence, and, in this way, to eliminate an increasingly dangerous enemy. The Spartacist masses, imprudently, did not measure their steps. The governor of Berlin, Eichorn, was a left socialist, a revolutionary, widely popular in the German capital. He was an element undocile toward the reaction and loyal to the revolution and to the proletariat. The majority socialist government decided to demand his resignation. This was a provocation toward Berlin's revolutionary proletariat.

On Sunday, January 5 of 1919, there were large revolutionary demonstrations in Berlin. The next day a strike was declared. The masses, angry at the official organ of the Socialist Party, Vorwärts, -which had been taken over by several majority socialists- resolved to forcibly occupy this and other dailies. They built barricades, but took pains to avoid the spilling of blood, inviting the troops -by means of large signs- to not fire upon their proletarian brothers. Nonetheless, the clashes soon began. Some agents provocateurs, it seems, were used to spark the struggle. The fact of the matter is that between the troops and the Spartacist masses battle was begun. Noske, a majority socialist, took charge of the Ministry of War and, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the old regime's officers, organized the repression of the insurgents. There were, in Berlin, several days of bloody battles.

On Sunday the 12th, the Spartacists who were occupying Vorwärts sent six unarmed parleyers to negotiate peace with the besiegers of the occupied press. The six parleyers were shot. The fighting continued. The Spartacist leaders had not wanted to lead the masses into struggle, but once it begun, once the battle had started, they felt it that their duty was to take up their posts alongside the masses.

The authorities attributed to them sole responsibility for the insurrection of the Spartacist masses and set out in pursuit of them. On the afternoon of January 15th, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who had hidden in a friendly house, in a neighborhood in west Berlin, in Wilmersdorf, were arrested by the troops. Hours later, they were murdered.

The official version of their deaths states that both tried to escape from their guards' hands, and that these, in order to avoid the escape, were forced to open fire and kill them. The truth, however, was another.

Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg fell into the hands of officers of the old regime, fanatical enemies of the revolution, ranting reactionaries, who hated all the authors of the Kaiser's fall, believing them responsible for Germany's capitulation. These people did not want the two great revolutionaries to enter prison alive.

But the revolutionary wave was not extinguished with this bloody episode of the deaths of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. The German proletariat's vanguard kept on demanding socialist policies from the government. The majority socialists, who -with the cooperation and approval of the bourgeoisie- had truculently put down the Spartacist insurrection, were each day more encumbered for carrying out a socialization program in government.

In February and March the proletariat gradually resumes a combative posture. Again, strikes break out, which from the Rhine region, and from Westphalia, spread to central Germany, to Baden, Bavaria, Wurtenberg. In these strikes the workers move from demands for wage increases to the demand for socialization and the establishment of a soviet government. The majority government appeases these movements with a series of vague and pompous promises. With these promises it manages to quiet the masses. But, a part of them showed a decidedly revolutionary will, and new bloody days took place in Berlin. The victims of the repression were, once again, counted in the thousands. Spartacism lost another of its best leaders. Leo Jogiches, captured soon after the March days, had a fate analogous to that of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. He was not murdered on the way to prison, but in the prison itself. It was said tha he tried to escape (the eternal tale of escape), and that, because of this, it had been necessary to fire upon him.

However, with these battles by Berlin's proletarian vanguard that period of revolutionary activity in Germany did not end. The Munich proletariat also waged courageous battles, and the repression in Munich was bloodier, and more costly for the proletariat than the repression in Berlin.

In Munich, in Bavaria, soviet governments were put in place. The soviet republic of Munich was one of artificial sovietism, of communist window dressing, but this was natural. In the government, reformist elements, semi-bourgeois elements -which did not give the Bavarian Republic a truly revolutionary orientation- predominated. Thus, the life of this soviet republic could not be a long one. On the one hand, because this government -soviet in form, reformist in content- was incapable of disarming the bourgeoisie, of abolishing its privileges, nor of evicting it from its positions. On the other hand, because Bavaria was the region of Germany least ready for the establishment of socialism.

Bavaria is Germany's agricultural region. Bavaria is a country of estates and latifundia, not of factories.

The industrial proletariat, the axis of proletarian revolution, is, thus, in the minority. The agricultural proletariat, the agricultural middle class, absolutely predominates. As is known, the agricultural proletariat does not have enough socialist saturation, enough class-conscious education, to serve as the basis for the socialist order.

The instrument of the socialist revolution shall always be the industrial proletariat, the proletariat of the cities. Furthermore, the carrying out of socialism in Bavaria was not possible while capitalism survived in the rest of Germany. Even so much as a socialist Bavaria, a communist Bavaria, within a bourgeois Germany was inconceivable.

Once the revolution was defeated in Berlin, it was so in Munich as well. The Bavarian communists did not give up the struggle, however, and fought without quarter to turn the Munich soviet republic into a true communist republic. Little by little, this transformation began to take place. The Bavarian proletariat's consciousness developed day by day. Truly revolutionary workers were chosen for the leading posts. That was, simultaneously, the moment of the bourgeois counteroffensive. Victorious over the proletariat in Berlin, the German bourgeoisie began the attack on the proletariat in Munich. The communist masses of Munich had no better fortune than those of Berlin.

And, another of the leaders of Spartacism, Eugen Leviné -that Polish-Russian intellectual of whom I spoke to you a few moments ago- was the martyr of that revolutionary endeavor. Eugen Leviné was not murdered like Karl Liebknecht, like Rosa Luxemburg, etc., but was executed by firing squad in a Munich prison. He was given a lightning trial and was condemned to death. Facing the execution squad, Eugen Leviné behaved courageousl, and died with the cry, "Long live Universal Revolution!" on his lips.

These, briefly narrated, are the main Spartacist episodes of the German Revolution. This was the sharpest and climactic moment of the revolution.

Once this period of agitation -which Spartacism's leaders created with their unflagging activity- had passed, the German people showed each day less revolutionary zeal.

Power was, to begin with, in the hands of the majority socialists, backed by the independent socialists, in other words, by the centrist socialists. It was then in the hands of the majority socialists alone. Later, the majority socialists, educated in the democratic school, required the collaboration of two bourgeois parties: the Catholic Center, the party of Erzberger, and the Democratic Party, the party of Walter Rathenau and of the Berliner Tageblatt.

As the majority socialists, opposed to the thesis of the dictatorship of the proletariat, had scheduled parliamentary elections, they were left at the mercy of the combinations of parliamentary equilibrium. Lacking the collaboration of one part of the socialist votes, they had to look for cooperation from an equal or greater number of bourgeois votes. The national assembly sanctioned a democratic constitution in Weimar; but not a socialist constitution. The majority socialists could not entirely hold on to power within the parliamentary order; but they were indispensable for the formation of a majority. That is why we have seen them enter all the coalition cabinets that have followed. But it the present cabinet, the cabinet of Cuno, the majority socialists no longer appear.

Their benevolent neutrality in parliament continues being necessary for the life of the cabinet. However, the cabinet is no longer a cabinet with majority socialist participation, but a coalition cabinet of the German bourgeois parties, a coalition in which only the extreme bourgeois right is missing, only the pan-Germanic party, that is, the party of the monarchy.

Following the Spartacist insurrection, the German Revolution has done naught but turn to the right, always to the right. First, power was exercised by the right and center socialists jointly; then, by the right socialists alone. Later, by the right socialists in collaboration with the more liberal bourgeois parties.

Currently, through these bourgeois parties, sheltered by the right socialists' benevolent neutrality, little by little, the German Revolution has been losing all socialist character and been affirming its democratic character, its bourgeois character. That is why it is now said that the German Revolution hasn't yet been consummated. That the German Revolution has but begun.

Rudolf Hilferding, he old leader of the independent socialists, said in the Halle Congress in 1920 that, "We have always said that December 9, in a certain way, was not a true revolution. We did all that was possible, first during the war, and then at the start of the revolution, to give the latter the most decisive shape." And, Walter Rathenau -democratic leader, notable thinker of the German bourgeoisie, who, as you will recall, was killed a year ago by a German nationalist- in his noteworthy book, The Triple Revolution, puts forth some very interesting opinions about the shape and reach of the German Revolution. Walter Rathenau says: "We call the 'German Revolution' something that was the general strike of a defeated army."

Later, Walter Rathenau points out that, while in Russia there was an old revolutionary preparation, in Germany there was no revolutionary preparation at all. The German proletariat lacked revolutionary stimulus. It enjoyed a discretely comfortable lifestyle. It was able to live with hygiene, with relaxation, with cleanliness. It was even able to save modestly. The State helped large families. In the economic field, the German proletariat had made greater gains than any other proletariat. That is precisely why it had lost interest in conquests in the political field.

The Kaiser, the monarchy, reserved for themselves the conduction of the State's foreign and internal policy. This mostly did not bother the proletariat because it did not infringe on any of its immediate interests. Consequently, in the German proletariat there was no true state of revolutionary consciousness. Said differently, this state of consciousness was too embryonic, too nascent, too incipient. Thus the revolution caught the German proletariat unprepared. Naturally, since then, the German proletariat's revolutionary preparation has made strides. Today that preparation is much greater than in 1918.

The bourgeois State turns each day further to the right, but the popular masses turn each day further to the left. Each day they show greater revolutionary saturation, consciousness, and preparation. Precisely that separation of the majority socialists from government has occurred under pressure from the masses.

For all these reasons, the current German events are but episodes in the German Revolution, the current bourgeois government of Germany is but a period, a chapter, of the German Revolution. The German Revolution has not been consummated because a revolution is not consummated in months nor in years; but, neither has it been aborted, nor has it failed. The German Revolution only begun. We are witnessing its development.

A period of bourgeois reaction is a period of bourgeois counteroffensive, but not of definitive proletarian defeat. From this point of view -which is logical, which is fair, which is exact, which is historical- the fascist government, the fascist reaction in Italy, is but an episode, a chapter, a period of the Italian Revolution, of the Italian civil war. Fascism is in government, but the Italian proletariat has not capitulated, it has not disarmed, it has not surrendered. It prepares for revenge.

Meanwhile, in order to get into government, fascism has had to trample the principles of democracy, of parliamentarianism; it has had to undermine the institutional bases of the old order of things, to teach the people that power is seized through violence, to give practical demonstration that it is retained but through dictatorship. And, all this is eminently revolutionary. All this is a service to the revolution's cause.

In the next lecture I will deal with the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and with the Hungarian Revolution. I shall then begin the examination of the Versailles Peace, of that peace which has been the failure of Wilson's democratic illusions, and which has left Europe the legacy of this situation.

However, this will not be next Friday because next Friday is July 27, night of fireworks and revelry, but Friday the 4th of August.

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