Karl Radek

The Downfall of Levi

Epilogue to the Pamphlet: Tactical Dissensions
in the United Communist Party of Germany


Source: The Communist International, 1921, No. 16–17, pp. 20–30.
Transcription: Ted Crawford.
HTML Mark-up: Brian Reid.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

When I ended this pamphlet in April and sent it to Germany I knew nothing of Paul Levi’s confession on the subject of his downfall or of his pamphlet Unser Weg (Our Way) to which the Central Committee of the United Communist Party of Germany (VKPD) was compelled to reply by an immediate exclusion of Levi as a representative of the Right wing tendency of the party. The readers of this pamphlet will have felt, in reading the last chapter that I had already had a presentiment that Levi was on the point of breaking with the party. This impression of mine was founded on his letter to Comrade Lenin, a copy of which he sent me, as well as on the stenographic report of his speech at the meeting of the Berlin representatives on April 7th. But I must confess here that even although I had considered Paul Levi’s withdrawal from the party as probable, I never for a moment thought that he could leave it as a renegade, who would help the class adversary in a difficult moment of the party, who would consciously help the executioner by his arguments, who would repeat the most lying calumnies of Scheidemann and Dittmann against the Communist International. Hard as it may be to avow that one could have considered as one s companion in arms a man capable of such faithlessness, I believe that Levi’s fall will do much towards the clearing of the atmosphere of the Communist Party of Germany.

In my pamphlet I have demonstrated the development and the substance of the Right wing of the party on the basis of quotations from Paul Levi’s article. But naturally it would be a mistake to imagine that the Right wing of the party consists of Levi alone. Behind Levi there stand not only a part of the organisers, who are accepting the principles of Communism in words, but who are practically too much under the influence of the old routine to be able to really carry on the revolutionary struggle; but also good reliable comrades who in their careful estimation of the correlation of forces see the danger of a defeat, but do not see that the party is threatened by still greater dangers if it is and if, while engaged in agitation and propaganda work it does not awaken the confidence of the suffering working masses in their own forces, which only action, only a struggle can awaken.

In our pamphlet we tried to show these comrades in respect to all points in dispute that the matter does not lie in casual differences with Levi, but in his consecutive opportunist policy, whose connection with the Centre these comrades did not clearly perceive. But even before the pamphlet reached the hand, of these comrades Levi confirmed this point of view of ours, in a way that not one of us could have thought possible. He put himself on a line with Hilferding, Dittmann and Crispien, whom he had treated as swindlers in his letter to Comrade Lenin. He joined their ranks, and is now yelling against adventurous tactics and provocations of the Central Committee, against the adventurous tactics of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. There is not a single argument that he is using against the party, whose Chairman he had been hitherto, which has not been forged by the Scheidemanns and Hilferdings. Levi had fought against these arguments with the greatest energy, with the deep voice of absolute conviction, but to-day he is using the sane arguments as independent productions of his own brain. By this means he has proved better than by any theoretical demonstrations how right we were when we strove to prove in the present pamphlet that the controversy with Levi was only a repetition of our dispute with Hilferding.

We could end this epilogue by crossing out Levi’s name as a comrade’s from our memory, and only ask the comrades who stood behind him to think over our statements in the light of the downfall of their leader. But much as we had tried not to bring Levi’s name into our pamphlet so as not to embitter the controversy we now consider it to be our political and personal duty to examine and explain the history of this renegade.

Paul Levi was not much known in the Communist Party of Germany at the moment when the death of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg left the party without leaders. Levi is not the man to inspire the masses of workers. Neither is he the man to know, when he is taking the first step, what his next step will be. When the controversy arose in the party in regard to the altitude towards the trade unions, towards Parliamentarism and the rule of the party, and Levi had made a mark in it owing to his oratorical and literary talents. I supported him both theoretically and practically and frequently also personally when he wished to throw up the struggle and retire into private life. Many of my nearest political friends mistrusted Levi, and saw in him only a political raisonneur, not a revolutionary fighter. I had many a quarrel with them over Levi; and now I am responsible before my comrades for this man whose political corpse now lies before me. But even more important than this personal duty is the political necessity to explain why and how a man so gifted as Paul Levi could have become a direct traitor to the cause of the working class, a direct assistant of White Guard justice.

The German workers have been accustomed to much treachery on the part of their proletarian leaders. They have seen how one group of leaders after another sank into the political grave, and passed over to the bourgeois camp. They have seen how the chairman of the German party, Ebert, became the Imperial Chancellor of State; how the worker Noske became the Gallifet of the German counter revolution; how Haase and Dittmann helped the bourgeoisie to swing itself into the saddle again; how, after revolutionary phrases and gestures, after recognising the dictatorship of the proletariat and the system of Soviets, Dittmann and Crispien became the assistants of Scheidemann and Ebert, whom they had cursed a thousand times. They have seen how the organiser of the opposition in the trade unions, Dittmann, has become Legien’s successor and as a man of influence is now preparing the, expulsion of all the revolutionary workers from the trade unions, in order that they might be punished by the employers by means of the scorpions of unemployment. They see how Laufenberg and Wilhelm, personally honest minded and self sacrificing revolutionists, are now rolling in all the gutters of the counterrevolution. And in spite of all this, each new instance of treachery is a blow of the dagger in the heart of the proletariat, which cannot understand how such a deep abyss can yawn between word and deed, how it can be possible that one man after another whose name had stood so high in the ranks of the workers, becomes transformed into a traitor of the working class in the most literal sense of the word. The downfall of Paul Levi is not the last and therefore it is necessary to examine in his case the special grounds for his fall from the leadership of the party, and for the downfall of the leaders which mark every forward step of the German proletariat.


Much has been written about the reasons why the leaders of the Labour movement, in a great majority of cases have betrayed the cause during the war and after the war. The former leaders, both from the working class and from the bourgeoisie, had been brought up in times of peace when they agitated, demonstrated, made speeches in Parliament, wrote in the papers, treated with the employers, but had no revolutionary struggles to conduct, The mind and the soul of the leaders were intent on a peaceful course of affairs. Some of them remembered heroic times in which they had to suffer want and persecutions, but they remembered them with a feeling of relief, in that they were over and done with, and that conditions are much better now, when even the ministers have to be friendly with the leaders of the working class. Many of the leaders had grown fat and comfortable. Incapable of self-sacrifice, incapable of struggle, when it was a question of risking all, they sat waiting for the proletariat to pass over to Socialism slowly and in a peaceful way, and expected that they would end their days in peace and honour as veterans of the Labour movement. The younger generation knew of the bitter days of the Labour movement only from hearsay. It had grown up watching the growth of the labour organisation day by day and seeing in it the apple of its eye. Already before the war, when the rising cost of living nullified all the results that the trade unions succeeded in attaining, when armaments engulfed all the means of the State and made any progress in social reform impossible when the syndicalisation of industry only strengthened the power of the bourgeoisie, and Imperialism called forth the development of the reaction, when everything was calling to fight, then these leaders looked with anxiety at the “unruly spirits” who tried to drive the working masses into the struggle in which they feared the bourgeoisie might destroy the whole organisation. The fear for the organisation was joined to a superstitious awe of the power of capitalism, which was invincible in their eyes, ruling supreme over the whole world, armed from top to toe. Only crazy romanticists could dream of a struggle against it.

When the war broke out, when all the dreams of a peaceful development were shattered like broken glass, then naturally the leaders of the larger labour organisations did not venture to go against the cruel fate. Was it not perfectly clear, that they and the labour organisation would perish and the workers be defeated? They disguised their cowardice under such phrases as the defence of the country, the defence of the achievements of their struggle. They became the assistants of bloodthirsty and blood-shedding Imperialism; they were compelled to support it, because they did not dare to struggle against it. There was no neutral position in the great struggle. They saved the organisations at a price which converted them into organisations fighting for capitalism instead of proletarian organisations for the struggle against capitalism. The proletarians sank in millions to their graves, were mutilated and crippled, their children came into the world weak and a young generation grew up with no marrow in their bones. When German Imperialism broke down, when the power of the government was driven out into the streets, they were so prostituted by the three years’ policy of support of capitalism that they had only one care: how to help the capitalists, their lords and masters, to acquire the power again as quickly as possible, and to take the reins into their hands once more. Capitalism transformed the world into a heap of ruins, but they considered the bourgeoisie alone capable of building it up anew, and the proletarians – well they had allowed themselves to be duped so cruelly during four years had they not proved by that that they were incapable of ruling! Any rising of the proletariat seemed to them to be madness, and in the same way as a doctor puts a madman into a strait jacket it was decided to help the bourgeoisie to tame the workers who had been struck with the delirium. tremens of the post war period. Read the memoirs of Noske and you will see how this proletarian leader, who has become transformed into an executioner of the proletariat, feels himself to be in the right. It is not cynicism that is to be noted in Noske’s avowals: it is the assurance that he is right that is the most depressing in his book.

A minority of the leaders understood the act of betrayal of August 4th, but they found no strength to protest against it. They were cut out of the same stuff as Scheidemann and Ebert; like the latter, the Haases and Hilferdings did not dare to enter the struggle: like them they were hypnotised by the power of capitalism, by distrust of the power of the proletariat, anxiety to preserve their organisation. These leaders did not go with Scheidemann and Ebert partly because they estimated more correctly the world political correlation of forces and did not wish to set themselves against the inclinations of the awakening working masses. The followers of Dittman who had been ardent patriots on August 44h lost their patriotic assurance after the battle on the Marne, and they had not the courage to go against the growing opposition of the working class. But neither had they any confidence in the revolution, nor any courage to work for it. They begged and entreated the capitalist governments not to refuse to accede to their exaggerated demands as this would only lead to a revolution. When Dittman was accused of organising the January strike of 1918 he swore high and low before the Court that since he had left the workshop he had never agitated for a strike. After the collapse of German imperialism, the centrists, the Haases and Dittmans, together with the Scheidemanns and Eberts, were all persuaded that the German people can only exist by the mercy of victorious world capital, and therefore a bourgeois government must be restored in Germany, as it would enjoy the confidence of American capitalism. It appeared later on, when the Noskes and Maekers had killed 15,000 workers in the streets, as if the Dittmans and the Crispiens had summoned courage to enter the struggle: they recognised the dictatorship of the proletariat and made the Soviet power their aim. But it soon became evident that this was no change of front, only a result of cowardice; the Dittmanns and Crispiens had engraved the slogans of the struggle on their swords, but the latter were only cardboard. They were afraid of the revolutionary workers, and acceded to all their demands in order to win their confidences, and then persuade them to desist from the struggle. The masks were torn off their faces in Moscow, and the revolutionary workers turned away from them. Then, when it was clear that they were not able to dupe the revolutionary proletariat, they showed themselves openly to be what they are, namely: the adherents of the German counter revolution. They are now its agents, and are striving by all the means in their power, by calumnies and persecutions to help the bourgeoisie to keep its stronghold – the trade unions – clear of Communists. They are serving the cause of the counter-revolution by trying to build a bridge between it and the capitalists of the Entente. They are helping it by endeavouring to crush and stifle every movement of the workers, be it only a demand for a piece of bread, out of fear that it might lead to a revolutionary struggle for power. They are its assistants not only by betraying the proletariat in each of its revolutionary struggles, but by representing the victims of the White terror to be those of Communism. They are the betrayer’s of all that the proletariat holds most sacred, its international solidarity, by daily undermining its faith in Soviet Russia, which, although bleeding, naked, and hungry, is still the only bulwark of the working class against world capitalism, and the only hope of the struggling proletariat.


Ninety-nine per cent. of the former leaders of the proletariat have betrayed it: through their mistrust of its forces, through a superstitious slavish awe of the power of the capitalist slave-owner. Only a small part of them followed the path of struggle. The best have perished by the hand of the enemy. Westmeyer, although seriously sick; was sent to the front and to death at the time when the well fed Kael flourished at the base as a patriotic herald. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered. Johann Knief died surrounded by the watchdogs of Noske. Jogiches was killed by a White guard bullet. And the assembling revolutionary workers stood there with a small group of leaders, partly without any theoretical training, partly without any revolutionary experience, and partly without close contact with the masses. The revolutionary workers faced the enemy knowing full well that they had been betrayed thousands of times by their leaders, and that even then they were surrounded by treachery. How were they to struggle? How to form their fighting columns? Whither to go? And there was no one to show them clearly which was the right path to follow, no one to help them to dispel the mists which divided them from their victory.

Only by their own experience, only after long searches on their own account, only after coming into a blind alley time and again, could the German workers find the right path to victory: There was no one to save them from long searchings, from losses, because even if there were any prescriptions to show how a victorious revolution might be carried out quickly and well, they were all useless, because the workers did not trust the doctors. Deceived by their Social Democratic leaders, daily betrayed by the Independents, and, recognising this, the workers lost all confidence in their leaders. In the wider circles of the Communist workers the tendency which found its expression in the Communist Labour Party predominated, namely: it made a renunciation of all leadership of the proletarian masses a revolutionary principle: But reality does not cease to exist even though one should rise against it by high sounding phrases. The struggling working masses needed men who would make inferences from their experiences, who would help them to learn by the very defeats which had made them bleed. Every fighting column must have a chief. No army can fight without leaders, and the radical revolutionary workers of all tendencies sought for them. New leaders had not been formed during the short time in the furnace of the struggle. The Communist Party of Germany had to seek among its members for some one who would be capable of taking the leadership. Paul Levi was among the first of these.

This was not because he was very closely connected with the struggles in which the Communist Party of Germany had been born. Among the younger generation Thalheimer was more connected with these struggles; he had taken an active part in the discussions on Kautskyism from which the Left radical tendency had sprung up before the war. Paul Fröhlich was still more connected with the past of the party; he had been engaged in the first great demonstrations which even before the war had been proving the necessity of a complete reorganisation of the trade unions. Still nearer to the party were Brandler and Pieck, men of great organisational experience, who had worked and made great sacrifices for the Spartacus union during the whole time of the war. Paul Levi had not participated in the intellectual contests which had created the theoretical basis of the United Communist Party of Germany before the war. As a young lawyer he had just begun to work in the Frankfurt Labour movement. Rosa Luxemburg, summoned before the court for her anti-militarist activities, met him casually, and thoroughly appreciated the brilliant oratorical talent and dialectic capacities of the young advocate, who was then an adherent of the Left wing of the party. When the war broke out Levi was one of the group which had loosely organised around Rosa Luxemburg. He was soon mobilised, and thus remained unknown to the fundamental nucleus of the Spartacus’ union. In 1916 Levi went to Switzerland for a couple of months; where, thanks to me, he entered into relations with Lenin and Zinoviev. We all appreciated this excellent orator, and we tried to influence his further development. There was no doubt for us that he was not sufficiently firm in questions of tactics and principle which the war and the approaching revolution were raising to become a leader A well-read man, with a wide range of thought, he was also thoroughly well acquainted with the history and theory of the. Labour movement. But he lacked the firmness of conviction of a man for whom the Labour movement is not only one of the departments in which he is interested, but the one on which are concentrated all the thoughts and wishes, all the moral forces of a fighter. Continuing to maintain friendly relations with Levi, we came nearer to him, and we valued this acquaintanceship because it helped us to collect the dispersed forces of the internationalists.

The Spartacus Union, which belonged to the group of the International, at that time was passing through a period of fermentation which prevented it from openly and definitely going over to the side of the Bolsheviki. In Zimmerwald the representatives of the Spartacus Union went hand in hand with Martov. Comrade Clara Zetkin adopted a pacifist point of view in the only number of the “International” which appeared there. The pamphlet “Junius” seemed full of contradictions, and at the Berne Women’s Conference we engaged organisationally in a conflict with Comrade Zetkin when she attempted by all means to enter in contact with the Centre, and therefore would not consent to go any further politically than was permitted by the pacifist women of the British Independent Labour Party. As a result of the split between the Russian and the Polish social democracies personal dissensions arose, between Lenin, Zinoviev, and myself on the one hand, and Rosa Luxemburg and Jogiches on the other. Between the group of our nearest partisans in Germany which had united around the Arbeiterpolitik in Bremen and the group of the International there arose not only theoretical discussions, which were most useful, but also a complete organisational alienation which only led to a split. Under these conditions it was most important for us to have such a talented man as Levi on our side, and by his help to bring about a friendship between the two German groups, as well as to exercise our influence in favour of the International. Levi began to write for the Bremen Arbeiterpolitik, and acted in complete solidarity with us in Switzerland. But even then we noticed that he lacked much that was necessary for a leader: We saw quite clearly that under the conditions in which the Spartacus group had found itself it was Levi’s duty to return to Germany, where after the arrest of Liebknecht and Luxemburg there were no leading forces; or to create in Switzerland an illegal base for the Spartacists from which the latter could draw reserve forces for the struggle: Levi worked in Switzerland like a dilettante, passing half the time in travelling about. On his return to Germany he was again called to the army, and he was able to resume work in the Labour movement only just before the revolution. After the collapse of German Imperialism he entered the Central Committee and became editor of the Rote Fahne, and was known in the widest working circles as a brilliant orator and clever journalist. During the January days he showed his lack of assurance as a leader of the party. Although he criticised the January events, he did not attempt to come forward openly and decisively in the Central Committee in order to bring clearness into the tactics of the party. He allowed himself to be set aside, although on January 8th, in answer to my letter in which I demanded that the Central Committee should cease the struggle, he completely agreed with me.

After the death of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht he was the representative of the party in its outward appearance. Jogiches, who was the real leader up to the very time of his death in the last day of March, remained in the background owing to his unsociability and non-German origin. Thalheimer, a cautious theorist, was no orator. Therefore, Levi appeared everywhere in the Central Committee and at all the meetings. But when after Jogiches’s death the whole responsibility of the leadership over the party was laid on him, his forces very soon became exhausted. In August, 1919, when I succeeded in re-establishing relations between myself, then in prison, and the party, he informed me that he wished to give up the leadership. It was above his strength to work illegally, especially at a moment when he met with a great mistrust on the part of the adventurous and Syndicalist elements of the party. It was the most difficult moment for the party. The latter was so small and weak, the Left wing was urging for action, the result of which could only be the dispersion and destruction of the insignificant forces of the Spartacus Union. The task consisted on the one hand in forming a single party out of the disordered heap which the Spartacus Union represented by introducing clearness in the theory, and, on the other hand, in preparing this young and small party for the preliminary struggles. The seizure of power was as yet impossible. Ninety-nine per cent. of the proletarian masses were totally incapable of forming the basis of this power. In their majority they were under the influence of social democracy, and even the revolutionary minority was confused and not class-conscious. It is sufficient to state that we had first of all to proceed to the formation of Communist factions in the workers’ councils, and that we had not undertaken any steps to unite the Communists in the trade unions. The task of the party was to explain to the workers the actual correlation of forces, but not in a doctrinaire form which might repel the revolutionary forward streaming elements. Levi was not able to carry out this task. In the question of the trade unions, when he had to come forward decisively and firmly, he hesitated. He understood hazily that it was wrong to leave the unions, but he did not have the moral courage to openly proclaim the slogan: “enter the unions.” He manoeuvred and made it appear as though it were a question of when and how we were to withdraw from the trade unions. But wherever it was necessary to reckon with the revolutionary feelings of the masses, to spare them, even in the instances when they had led the party, into a hopeless struggle, he was a pedantic, sharp, and provoking doctrinarian. It is sufficient to remember Munich. Our Munich comrades were against the isolated attempt in Bavaria. When the Soviet Republic was proclaimed and the Munich proletariat was threatened by the White Guards, then Levine said to himself with the instinct of a proletarian revolutionist: “Where the masses are ready to shed their blood, the Communist Party dares not withdraw into theoretical safe corners.” Levine remained at his post. The task of the party consisted in attempting to call the whole German proletariat to the defence of Munich. But this was prevented by the policy of the social democracy and the independents. Levine met his death with hundreds of other comrades, and before the dead body of this hero Levi raised the question whether it would not be better to draw back. After the fall of the Bavarian Soviet Republic he made the party happy with the same wise petit-bourgeois phrases which had made him be looked upon as a political raisonneur. In my private letters to him I endeavoured to straighten out his political line, and in my pamphlet, to help the party to direct its tactics with two points in view: the assembling of the party forces for the preliminary struggle, and the preserving of the contact with the onward pushing elements. But although I was well aware of Levi’s weaknesses, I strove to keep him from deserting the party. The latter was so poor in forces that it seemed to me to be my duty to do all in my power to keep such a gifted orator and writer in the party. I wrote to him that his withdrawal from the party would be an act of desertion for which a leader of the revolution ought to be shot. Levi gave in. His threats of withdrawal will often be used by Levi later on, and I must confess that it was a result of the over estimation of the importance of intellectual leaders that made me ever and again persuade and convince Levi to remain in the party on the one hand, and to soothe and calm the comrades who were indignant at his behaviour on the other. The struggle against the Left elements in the party grew more acute. It was carried on by Levi without tact or measure. When I learnt a few day before the Heidelberg conference that Levi was going on for a split with the Left wing at a moment when the struggle for the establishment of clear tactics was just beginning, I warned him not to be too hasty. It was hard for me to break with the Left wing workers, although I understood the counter-revolutionary attitude of Laufenberg, Wolffheim, and Schröder much more clearly than Levi; the question lay not in these leaders, but in the revolutionary workers standing behind them. Levi asserted afterwards that my letter had come too late. Meanwhile in Heidelberg irreparable events had taken place. In order to make another attempt to retain the working masses whom Levi had repulsed by his insisting on their submission to the thesis elaborated in Heidelberg, which they were to discuss only later on, I persuaded the Central Committee to propose new theses in order that the Labour organisations would lose the idea that they were to be placed before an accomplished fact. They were the theses which the Central Committee had submitted to the party for discussion together with the West European Bureau in January, 1920. The object of these theses was also to separate and eliminate some of the opportunist resolutions which had been included in the Heidelberg theses and which had been the result of Levi’s purely empiric views and his lack of revolutionary perspective.

It was no longer possible to prevent the split. I managed only to win over my old comrades from Bremen and to form a group which took up the struggle against Lauffenberg, after Levi had driven it into the latter’s arms. During the Kapp days Levi took up an extremely suspicious position. After criticising sharply the inactivity of the Central Committee while he was in prison, he began to carry out the opportunist policy of a loyal opposition when he was set free. In Moscow after the Second Congress of the Communist International we both protested against the acceptance of the Communist Labour Parry of Germany as a fully empowered member of the Communist International. But also in the defence of the correct point of view Levi showed such an absence of tact and such unreasonableness that he awoke the mistrust of the whole Executive Committee. It is sufficient to say that in the evening when the Executive Committee decisively passed the resolution to invite the Communist Labour Party of Germany he declared that he would leave the congress. I stopped him and asked: “Whither do you intend to go in a political sense?” Again out of anxiety for tine party I endeavoured with all my power to bring about an understanding between him, the Executive Committee, and part of the German comrades who were distrustful of him. Comrade Ernst Meyer will remember the conversation I had with him before his departure for Germany. I told Meyer that I was sure that he (Meyer) would never leave the party whereas I could not say the same of Levi. But until new and better leaders would be formed in the furnace of the struggle, we needed Levi especially in the Reichstag for agitational purposes, and we must keep him. Meyer said that I was right. In a letter to the Central Committee I laid special stress on the fact that Levi also recognised the necessity of developing the activity of the party, and that we must work hand in hand like brothers. After his return from Halle, Comrade Zinoviev informed me that Levi had become quite reasonable, and that he was full of the best intentions. To my great surprise I learnt soon after this that Levi wished to return to Frankfurt, that he was tired of politics and the whole struggle. As he had won the confidence of the Left wing Independents, and could thus help to remove all friction in the joint work of both wings of the party which were otherwise quite prepared to become fused, Comrade Thalheimer and I brought all the pressure we could to bear on him. We explained to him that in a Communist party the comrades are appointed to their posts by the party, that they have no right to dispose of themselves, and whoever does not submit to these conditions is a deserter. We threatened him with expulsion from the party if he would withdraw from the leadership. “You cannot carry a dog to the hunt,” he said, and after he had ceded to our insistence we soon had occasion to see how perfectly right he was. His participation in the leadership of the party was a minimal one. The refined aesthete, who during the period of revolution could find time and moral force to add to his collection of antique vases, and to study the problems of the pyramids of Cheops, found the ordinary everyday work of the party too strenuous for him. On the other side he brought into the Central Committee the spirit of arbitrariness, self-love, and a continuous irritation. Without any sympathy for the former comrades in his party, he sought to enter into closer relations with the former leaders of the Left wing Independent Party. The conflicts in regard to the acceptance of the Communist Labour Party of Germany into the Communist International as a sympathising party arose at the time. Notwithstanding that the resolution of the Executive Committee was an irrevocable decision; adopted after long and repeated discussion, and that this resolution made it possible to begin the work of attracting a good group of revolutionary workers, to the party, Levi declared that, the United Communist Party of Germany is carrying a struggle against the Left tendencies. He practically sabotaged the possibility of using the bridge which the Executive Committee had erected between the United Communist Party of Germany and the Communist Labour Party of Germany.

As to the Italian question, he showed that while destroying the bridges to the Left he was leaving those leading to the Centre and to the Right wing untouched. And even in a greater degree than these Right wing tendencies did he show the barren scepticism, the unbelief and mistrust in the International which were so inherent in his very nature. On arriving in Italy he considered that the representative of the Executive Committee was making a great mistake, but he did nothing to rectify it, and he announced his solidarity with the representative of the Executive Committee. On his return to Germany, instead of addressing the Executive Committee in the organised fashion by submitting the point of view of the Central Committee, he opened a vigorous campaign against the Executive Committee in the “Rote Fahne,” accusing it of having intentionally destroyed a healthy revolutionary party, and trying to circumvent the opinion of the Central Committee. “Only when the cart will be quite worn out,” he said, “can remedies be thought of.” His attitude created at once a closed front against him of all the experienced comrades from the former Central Committee. Only Comrade Zetkin defended him for the sake of their friendship of many years standing and in reverent memory of Rosa Luxemburg. Also, part of the old leaders of the Left Independents began after some hesitation to see in Levi a disorganising element in the Central Committee, and in the party itself, and a leader of the Centrist faction just beginning to develop. Pressed for an explanation, Levi was compelled to vote for a resolution which practically disavowed all his former policy. But as soon as the representative of the Executive Committee was gone he proceeded to carry on the struggle within the organisation, and tried to transform the German party into a weapon of Serrati’s. In order to put an end to his intrigues the Left wing of the Central Committee passed a much sharper resolution on the Italian question. Levi then resorted to an open infringement of discipline. In a proletarian party which can demand from every rank and file worker that he should face death if called to do so, he set an example of a complete disregard of discipline by throwing away the mandate of a member of the Central Committee entrusted to him by the party. His demoralising work brought speedy results. Proletarians like Brass and Hoffmann, faithful old fighters like Däumig and Comrade Zetkin, who formerly in the opportunist social democracy would never have ventured to think of leaving a party post without the consent of the party, found it possible and allowable to follow his example. After having trampled upon their duties as officers, they declared their willingness to do their duty “as ordinary soldiers.” It will be seen how they regard their duty as soldiers.

Here begins a statement of the events which represent for the German workers, and for the Communist International, the saddest but the most instructive page of their young history. In view of the threatening internal and external dangers, and also in view of the general world situation, the Central Committee of the party decided on March 17th, after long and careful deliberations, to start an active policy, not of avoiding conflicts, but on the contrary, of encountering them. It was not a disorganised outbreak that the party decided upon, but an organised formation of fighting columns. The soldier Levi hears the call. He reassures himself that the fight will not begin to-morrow, and starts for Italy to recruit his strength for the coming battles. The other ordinary soldiers of the party, the half a million of proletarians, do not go to Italy for a rest. They get their order to strain all their efforts and to prepare for the fight. But even as a rank and file soldier Levi demands for himself an extra ration. As an adversary of unorganised action, he certainly knows very well that a combat does not begin by a shot from a. revolver, that a preliminary agitation and organised preparation is necessary. But he is quite certain that the Committee will carry out this work itself. The news of the first fights which began earlier than the Committee expected reached Levi when he was in Vienna. He sacrificed his railway ticket to Italy to the world revolution, and returned to Germany. But he is not to be seen in Central Germany, nor in Hamburg; he is not busy in agitational or organising work in Berlin. The “ordinary” soldier is accomplishing his revolutionary duty in another way; he begins his work of disorganisation during the very struggle. Not one of his adherents takes part in the latter. The rank and file members of the party notice their absence; and this naturally does not heighten their wish to fight or their morale. March 29th, when the fate of the struggle was not only not yet decided but when it was necessary to strain all efforts to continue the fight, Levi writes a letter to Comrade Lenin in which he characterises the whole action as a crazy prejudical outbreak. And what did he say in respect to this “outbreak”? Does he accuse himself of having made a great mistake when he and his friends left the Central Committee, and thus removed all obstacles which might have averted the disaster? On the contrary, he explains: “Anyone who knows me, knows that I was glad to give up the leadership of the Communist Party.” The same man who in this letter foretells that “the present leadership of the party will bring it to a complete breakdown in six months,” explains further that “he will not oppose this policy”. “I shall take no other steps than to write a pamphlet in which I shall state my views. But I shall make no further representations either before the corresponding institutions in Germany or to the Executive Committee, The comrades who are responsible for this must not feel themselves hampered by me.” The pamphlet that Levi intended to write was handed to the printers on April 3rd. The views that he developed in it were those of Stampfér and Hilferding. The Central Committee of the party is accused of a crime against the party: the disappearance from political life is demanded of people whom – if we take only Brandler and Thalheimer – Levi is not even worthy to serve, who are known for their self-sacrificing and life-long work in the ranks of the Labour movement. The Executive Committee of the Communist International whose nucleus is formed of the leaders of the Russian Communist Party are represented as a band of conscienceless adventurers. Comrades whom the Russian Party in spite of the hard struggle that it has to carry on itself has placed at the disposition of the Communist parties abroad, who although pursued like wild animals are doing their duty as internationalists, are treated as dirt in this pamphlet by a man who is far below them, But this is not all. At the moment when thousands of true proletarians are languishing in prisons, hundreds of proletarian bodies lie unburied, when the bourgeois press is calling for the heads of the Communist Party, when the final treachery of the Independents raises the bloodthirsty executioners of Ebert’s shameful justice to the level of lawful representatives of the nation struggling against robbers and murderers instigated by foreign countries, at this moment the former Communist leader and present soldier rises and exclaims: “True, those who have fallen have not fallen in the fight against Hörsing’s attack or in the fight for Red Central Germany, but they have fallen victims to the criminal madness of the Central Committee of the KPD. You, orphans and widows of the murdered proletariat, do not hate capitalism! Do not hate the social democratic flunkeys and executioners, do not hate the Independent swindlers, who have dealt you a blow in the back, but hate the leaders of the Communist Party! And you, workers, who, ill-treated in the prisons, still raise your bleeding heads in the proud consciousness that you have fallen into the hands of the enemy in your struggle for the interests of the proletariat, you are mitaken, you have no right to be proud of your wounds, you are the victims of new Ludendorfs who have cynically and thoughtlessly sent you, to your death!” This is all written in the same pamphlet in which Paul Levi on page 34 states how one town after another and village after village of Central Germany, one column of proletarians after another bravely marched forward to the struggle. “It was so ordered by the Central Committee” sneers this “Marxist” without feeling that he is revealing himself as a liar and calumniator to every thinking Communist. Because whoever will believe him, that in a young party the Central Committee would enjoy so completely the confidence of hundreds of thousands of proletarians that they would be willing to go to their death at its call even when it is given out thoughtlessly. Who will believe him especially at a moment when every one knows that the withdrawal of comrades Zetkin, Däumig and Levi had weakened the already not very strong authority of the Central Committee? It is not a silly outbreak but the revolutionary struggle of the German proletariat that Paul Levi is impugning! Denouncing it to the State Attorney! Denouncing it to the bourgeois press!

What is most depressing in the whole matter is not only Levi’s case. I think that after what has been said of Levi’s history, his downfall and the substance of the same is sufficiently clear to the eyes of the proletariat. A gifted intellectual becomes a Social Democrat in the stifling atmosphere of the regime of Wilhelm. Intelligent and well educated he is disgusted with the petit bourgeois tendencies of the party bonzes. He comes of a rich family whose petit bourgeois life cannot tempt him and is repulsive to him. The war breaks out with its waves of dirt and patriotic lies. The young intellectual with his knowledge of languages and a clear might into the world situation does not believe naturally the patriotic tales of invasion, etc. Without any connection with the trade unions and party organisations he cannot naturally cross the bridge by which many an “honest minded” Social Democrat has gone over to social patriotism: what is he in regard to the proletarian organisations and what are they to him? Their maintenance cannot serve as a self deceit for covering the compromise with the bourgeoisie. He is against the war. His relations with Rosa Luxemburg; his aesthetic love for classical beauty; for all that is great brings him to the Spartacus Union. But the latter cannot be as a mother country to him, to give up his blood for which would have been his greatest joy. Free from military Service he does not go into illegal hiding corners in order to sacrifice his life for the ideas of the Spartacus Union. Johann Knief did so. Pieck did this also. So did Karl Becker. Paul Levi travels abroad, considering himself a Spartacist by the way. “What is compassion, if one does not glow for it?” asks Nietzsche. Levi did not glow in the fire of revolutionary ideas. The revolution sets the gifted writer and orator at the head of the Spartacus Union. The revolution is at an ebb, party work is hard work, surrounded by many dangers, demanding the greatest self denial, privations not only of a physical kind. One must renounce everything if one really desires to serve the cause. For the intellectual dilettante and aesthete this work is a heavy burden. It is one that makes youths mature quickly into men, men grow hard as steel, but the aesthete, dilettante and intellectual feels himself oppressed, he wishes to run away thousands of times. One has to inoculate him with the germs of the struggle, to flatter his self-love, to evoke the bloody image of Rosa, Luxemburg. The ashes of the martyr are reposing, but not in his heart and so he revolts again and again. The cursed proletarians, they even have no conception of how he is sacrificing himself for them, having no time to admire his beloved vases more than once a week! They cry out to his very face: “Down with the bonzes!” and threaten him with the revolver when he is exhausting himself in persuading them. Furious with the plebian horde he enters into a conflict with experienced comrades, who feel his rottenness but who are too far away from the German movement to excuse his weak side as I do, knowing how poor the movement is in orators and writers. He feels the mistrust that he awakens, but this does not drive him to think over his own defects, and he is driven towards the Right wing and unconsciously he seeks for support in the comrades who are only just passing over to Communism. He is frightened when he sees that the international is prepared to renounce whole groups of workers in order only not to have vacillating leaders in the ranks. The centralisation of the struggle, the support of the younger Communist parties by the older ones, which he has himself frequently advocated, seem to him now as insufferable constraint. He revolts against the International but understanding quite well that he is not equal to a struggle with it because he can only set Hilferding’s ideas against it, which the workers refuse to accept, but he does not come forward, and becomes a latent disease in the party. When he is unmasked he retires. A thousand times he has been wishing to desert, to retire into private life, to a cosy home after his useful lawyer’s work and give himself up to the enjoyment of his vases and flowers: but now he goes as a grudging Achilles. No one sheds a tear after him., no one asks him to come back and he does not feel the relief that he had expected. But the moment arrives. The party enters upon a struggle the prospects of which are pretty bad. He raises his head, he does not interfere in the matter. He washes his hands in innocence. He informs the International of his warnings but declares that he will not go against the party. The party suffers a great defeat, it is bleeding from a thousand wounds and the intellectual man thinks that the workers are made of the same stuff as he, that they have lost courage, are demoralised. And the pamphlet which he began as a; theoretical lecture, becomes a bomb against the party. The passive weakling, the psychological enigma, the man with his inconsistencies manifests himself fully in his pamphlet together with his cry: “Down with the Communist Party, down with the International!” A son of the bourgeoisie whom the putrid odour of the decomposing corpse of his class had driven to the side of the proletariat becomes a renegade! He goes so far as to appeal for assistance to the President of the Reichstag against his own party in order to be delivered from some of his liabilities towards it. This assistance is given him. The prodigal son of the bourgeosie has returned to his mother’s lap.

Levi’s downfall is a common instance of the downfall of an intellectual person whose mind is able to grasp the slogans of Communism but whose heart and nerves are not equal to the demands of the revolution. Such betrayals will take place hundreds of times during the hard struggle that we shall have to lead for a period of many years. The path of the proletariat will be sown not only with the bodies of our best comrades whom we shall bear reverently on our shoulders to their last resting place, which will then become a place of pilgrimage for the struggling proletariat. The path of the proletariat will also be sown with the decaying cadavers of the men who will fall on the way not as exhausted warriors, but like a horse that had not been trained to bear the hardships of war. And we say: If is not the political corpse of Levi, which the German proletariat will contemptuously kick into the grave that is of political importance. It is the train of mourners which is accompanying him to his grave that matters!


Comrades Zetkin, Däumig, Hoffmann and Brass, to name only the best, are raising a protest in the name of “freedom of criticism” against Levi’s expulsion, and they are asserting that Levi’s points of view correspond to those of the Communist International. The last statement we shall not dispute at all. The views for the sake of which not only Stampfer, not only Hilferding, but even the Stinnes Press are making a mental hero of Levi cannot be the views of the Communist International. This attempt to save him is so ludicrous that one need not waste one’s time over it. We shall only say a few words on the subject of the “freedom of criticism” in the Communist Party, because this reproach can be taken seriously by some of the workers. What object must criticism serve in the Communist Party? It must serve to establish the bearings of the position before the struggle, to select the means of struggle, or, after a campaign, after a battle, to consider the mistakes that have been committed so as to avoid them in the future. Does the Communist Inter national need to explain that it considers such criticism both necessary and essential? Is it necessary to explain that the UCP has to submit all its actions to a careful discussion? Is it necessary to prove that in the first battle which the party had conducted on a large scale there must have been hundreds of mistakes? This is quite indisputable. But the freedom of criticism in the Communist Party is bound by the three conditions: the one relates to the substance of the criticism, the second to the moment of critcism, the third – to the limits of criticism. Our criticism is not unconditional, just as the joining of the party is not unconditional, but it is bound by the condition that the principles of Communism be fully recognised. It is clear that if anyone is assailed by doubts as to whether democracy does not lead to Socialism by a surer path than the dictatorship and that therefore it is better to avoid civil war – then it is of no use to bring such criticism to the Communist Party; the doubter must fight out these questions alone and if he does not solve them he must leave the party, because the Communist Party is an association of people who are fighting for the dictatorship by means of a civil war. Did Levi in his criticism remain within the limits of the principles of Communism? The fact that he is accusing the Communist Party of the same defects which made the Hilferdings refuse to join it – sectarianism, Bakunin’s outbreak tactics, and the dictatorship of Moscow – proves that his criticism is a criticism from the point of view of the adversary, from the point of view of Centrist considerations. All the theses of Levi’s result, as we have proved in our pamphlet, in the assertion that the Communist Party is in general not entitled to start any revolutionary mass action before it has the majority of the proletariat on its side, as otherwise these actions will represent a struggle against the majority of the proletariat. The Communist International has rejected this standpoint both theoretically and practically. Therefore Levi’s pamphlet is a doctrinaire assault against the principles of the Communist International.

The second condition of criticism is that it should serve the Communist Party and not its enemies. Whoever begins to criticise the actions of the party during a battle, or during a retreat when the blows of the foe are falling on the party, or bring forward accusations against it – sows weariness in the ranks of the fighters, mistrust in the retreating columns. Against all persecutions the party must close ranks is an iron phalanx. If mistakes are being made which demand instant rectification or cessation of action, the party has organs where such may be insisted upon. On April 7th Levi censured the party severely at a meeting of the Berlin representatives. He did not suffer for this in the least. At a meeting of the Central Committee on April 8th comrade Zetkin attacked the latter most sharply; her resolution was rejected by an overwhelming majority, but the Central Committee did not resort to any measures against her. At a time when it was necessary to unite the whole party for a joint resistance and struggle against White terror, when the matter concerned the lives of arrested comrades, and the preservation of the organisations for which they were shedding their blood – Levi openly accused the party of being a herd of sheep driven by a band of adventurers. If even nine-tenths of his accusations had been true, his pamphlet would still be nothing less than a barefaced betrayal of the party.

Whoever demands such freedom of criticism demands the dissolution of the party, the right to deal it a blow in the back during any of its actions. Any party which would allow such freedom of criticism would become a football for hysterical or arbitrary minds, or simple agents of the bourgeoisie. That this is a demand that is quite comprehensible, not a special theory evolved in consequence of Levi’s downfall, is well illustrated by the following instance in the history of the Communist Party of Germany.

When the January struggle of 1919 developed into a fight for power, I considered it to be a mistake that the party did not conduct the struggle within the limits of a demonstration against the dismissal of Eichhorn. The party had no organisation behind it. The overwhelming majority of the proletariat had not begun to awaken as yet. When I received the information on January 8th, 1919, that Noske was organising a White guard, that as the provinces remained silent the struggle would result in a bloody slaughter of the workers in Berlin, I wrote a letter to the General Committee urgently advising it either to stop the struggle, openly explaining to the proletariat that the moment for the seizure of power had not arrived, or, seeing that the Government was feeling itself insecure, to enter into negotiations with it as with an adversary, in regard to the conditions under which the struggle was to be stopped. After the defeat, after the death of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, I placed a copy of my letter in safe custody. It was necessary to me to have it as a document for the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party, but I feared that in the event of my arrest it might fall into the hands of the Government, and be used by it for the sowing of distrust against the fallen leaders of the party. When I was arrested the judge had heard of the existence of this document, and as I had been accused of organising the January events together with Liebknecht, he demanded of me that the letter be remitted to him. Naturally, I refused to do this, saying that it was not my business to prove my innocence but theirs to prove my guilt. My sojourn in the prison continued for several months, and my life was in danger all the time. I did not shorten my stay by giving up the letter, because I saw clearly, that I ought not to do this, that it would be an act of treachery against the party. Before my arrest I wrote a pamphlet on the lesson to be learnt from the history of the Berlin civil war in which I pointed out the mistakes that had been committed. But I had showed them up in such a way that the historical causes of the same became quite clear, and I estimated their historical importance as the first awakening of the German proletariat, as the beginning of the proletarian revolution in Germany. Such criticism could be of help to the party, in spite of the disclosing of all the mistakes, because even in its mistakes it could see how it should move forward. And the necessity of treating the committed mistakes in a very cautious historical manner was quite natural to me as a Communist. It is quite natural, from the point of view of Marx’s doctrine, that the struggle of large proletarian masses does not develop arbitrarily, but only because the leaders at the head had lacked historical precedents. When the Paris Commune was proclaimed, Karl Mark expressed himself in his letter to Kügelmann very critically and sceptically on its prospects, and at the same time he supported it with the whole passionate ardour of his soul. When the Commune broke down he did not disguise its weaknesses, but at the same time he made the international proletariat learn to understand the great historical progress which lay in it. Anyone who has but an atom of revolutionary feeling and Marxist consciousness never consider the mistakes of a revolutionary movement in any other sense.

That comrades of such moral importance as Clara Zetkin or with such a proletarian past as Adolf Hoffmann, Brass and Däumig could forget these simple truths even for a moment, demands from us, young Communists, who certainly cannot be their equals in our services to the cause, that we should say calmly but decisively: “Up to here, but no further!” For these comrades the passage from agitation to action is very difficult. They are afraid of becoming separated from the masses, they are afraid of defeats, and they thought themselves obliged to warn the party. The party had listened to these warnings and replied: we are aware of the dangers that you are pointing out to us, but inactivity is still more dangerous. The party did not remove these comrades, but left them at their responsible posts. But the party must demand of them that they should not become embittered and allow themselves to be driven to action which would demand their exclusion from the party. Owing to the declaration of solidarity between these comrades, the conflict has reached a point when it threatens to end in a split. Should this split, as I hope, not take place at the following meeting of the Central Committee, should these comrades submit to the discipline of the party at the point at which they have stopped, the workers of Germany will rejoice. Should, however, at the moment when this pamphlet reaches Germany, the split have become an accomplished fact, then the party will bear this much more easily than the right wing comrades. Let them succeed in duping part of the workers, and carrying them off from the party. Between the Communist party and the Scheidemannists there is no place for the Right wing Independents: they are falling to pieces and perishing. For a part of Left wing Independents or Right wing Communists there is still less place. Under what slogans could they form a party? “Long live the tertitbrihily limited struggle,” or perhaps, “Down with the Turkestaners”. We can only hope for them that they will be spared this attempt. If they do undertake it the tragic struggle of the German proletariat will pass through a lively episode. But the United Communist Party of Germany as a large mass party of the proletariat, cleared and freed of all vacillating elements, will by its struggle day by day more and more earn the confidence of the workers in spite of all defeats, and it will form an iron company of men who will have forgotten the meaning of fear and who know what revolution means.

Moscow, May 1st, 1921

Last updated 15 October 2021