Karl Radek


Soviet Russia and
the German Proletariat

(20 March 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 27, 20 March 1923, pp. 208–209.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). 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.

With money collected by the Russian workers, the All-Russian Trade Union Council has bought half a million puds of bread, and has sent this to the workers of the Ruhr basin.

The perusal of this piece of news awakens sad recollections.

It was in October 1918 that Lenin, on the occasion of the Soviet congress, suddenly rose to his feet and appealed to the congress to exert every possible endeavor to collect a special Reserve Bread Fund for the support of the coming German revolution. Deeply moved, the congress passed Lenin’s motion. Every participator in the congress realized that the coming German revolution would release Soviet Russia from the noose of the Brest-Litovsk peace, but would at tire same time confront the Russian proletariat with fresh and gigantic tasks. All realized that international capital would try to starve out the German revolution, and that Soviet Russia would have to feed the German workers. But the Russian workers shouldered this difficult task joyfully, for they knew that the alliance with the great German proletariat would give us the possibility of accelerating the economic rehabilitation of Russia, that it would strengthen the power of international revolution a thousandfold.

But it was not only the Congress that enthusiastically accepted Lenin’s proposal, it was taken up by the broadest strata of the proletariat. I recollect, as clearly as if it were today, a meeting held in a Moscow factory after we had received life news of the Austrian revolution. It was evident that this would be followed by the German revolution. I spoke of the wide prospects thus, opened before us, and of the great burdens which would be imposed on us at the same time. At that time the life led by the workers of Moscow was very hard, and yet, when I declared that the Russian proletariat would share its last piece of bread with the German workers, the whole meeting rose to its feet and applauded enthusiastically. An old working woman stood up, her face and hands bearing the unmistakeable stamp of years of heroic toil and unheard of suffering. She gazed at me in an almost religious ecstasy. It could be read in her fact that she had probably gone hungry to bed more than once, or even hundreds of times she had perhaps seen her children starving; and yet, without complaint, she took an inward oath to starve further, and to bring an offering for the joint victory of the Russian and German proletariats.

The night came when our radio station caught up the clumsy radio of some German warship, beginning with the following words: “To-day we buried the first victims of the German revolution. May they be the last." The storm of the German revolution raged. The Kaiser fled. The republic was proclaimed, and workers’ and soldiers’ councils were founded all over Germany. The Berlin Council appointed a government of Peoples’ Commissars, headed by Scheidemann, Ebert, Haase, and Dittmann. For four days we exerted ourselves to the utmost, by cable and radio, to open communication with the Berlin Soviet government. Apart from the tasks attendant on the continuance of the struggle, it was imperatively necessary for us to negotiate with them regarding the most immediate tasks, and above all on the actions of the imperial officers in Minsk and Riga, their blood baths and their arming of the bourgeoisie. It was clear that Scheidemann and Haase, however cowardly they might tie as politicians, must certainly grasp the fact that if a wall of armed bourgeoisie were erected between Germany and Soviet Russia, this would not only mean the arming of our enemies, but of theirs also, for the bourgeoisie of the one-time Russian border districts would not throw in their lot with a vanquished Germany, but with the victorious Entente. But it was impossible to establish any connection with Berlin. During this time the All-Russian Central Executive Committee decided to despatch the first consignment of bread to Germany, in order by this symbol to show the workers of Germany that the Russian workers were stretching out their hands to join them in a common struggle. On November 15. or 16., we succeeded in getting a message through to Berlin. At one end of the apparatus there stood the leader of the German Independent Socialist Party, who only a year before had helped us, at the Stockholm conference, to work out a plan against the world war; and at the other end there were comrade Tchitcherin and I. When I informed Haase of the bread consignment, the apparatus gave the cod reply: The German government is very grateful to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee for the fraternal solidarity, but has received the assurance from Wilson that America will supply Germany adequately with food. He therefore begs that that the bread be used for feeding the starving in Russia. I gazed upon the black letters of the rolling ribbon, but what I saw was the face of the working woman who had stretched out her hand towards the German proletariat, but who now met no outstretched hand in reply.

The whole press of the Independents end followers of Scheidemann declared an alliance with Soviet Russia to be an empty delusion. The Soviet republic would go to pieces. And even if it did not, such an alliance, after four years of war, would only signify further famines, and fresh ware. Germany must submit to Entente capital, and Wilson will give her peace and bread. And she submitted. Despite the resolutions passed by the Berlin workers’ and soldiers’ councils, the delegation seut by us to the congress of the German workers’ Soviets was arrested near Vilna, with the connivance of the government led by Ebert and Haase.

And when German officers belonging to Falkenheim’s military staff surrounded our carriage, and forced us to turn back at the mouths of machine guns, they incited the soldiers against us, and shouted: “The Bolsheviki are going to Berlin to plunge us into a fresh war.” When I then proceeded illegally to Berlin, in order to take part in the conference founding the German Communist Party, I saw posters all over the city: “The Bolsheviki want a fresh war!”

Relying on the backwardness of the masses, the social democracy prepared to capitulate before world capital. When defending this policy, Haase referred to the pause-for-breath policy pursued by the Bolsheviki at Brest-Litovsk. But here he overlooked one small point. At the first German trade union congress, the Scheidemann-Haase government succeeded in having a resolution passed on the convocation of a constitutional assembly, that is, on the surrender of power to the bourgeoisie. Soviet Russia accepted the sacrifice of Brest-Litovsk in order to gain time to organize the working masses of Russia, and to organize Russia’s defence. When we signed the Brest peace, the peoples’ commissar for foreign affairs, Trotzky, gave over the diplomatic leadership to comrade Tchitcherin, and turned to the great task of organizing the Red Army. But after the German social democracy had capitulated before Entente capital, it abandoned power to the German bourgeoisie in the hope that the allies would dictate better conditions of peace if Germany were ruled by the bourgeoisie. And to ensure this bourgeoisie, the strong nun of German social democracy, Noske, was appointed minister of war. He placed himself at the head of the German white guard officers, organized a white army, and subjugated and disarmed the German proletariat within a year.

The German proletariat can now sum up the results. We in Russia starve as the German proletariat starves. We had to fight for three years longer, the working masses of Russia have borne unending sufferings. It is possible that even to-day their standard of living is no better than that of the German workers. But only go into a factory in Germany, and then into one in Moscow, and compare the atmospheres. In Berlin the main trend of feeling prevailing is that of the complete hopelessness of the situation, but here with us every worker is confident that the worst is over, that we are beginning to make strides forward. The gentlemen of the social democratic party are triumphing over the so-called retreat of our new economic policy, but God grant that when five years have passed they may have as many means of production in their hands, so many mediums towards the development of a new life, as we have under our new economic policy. It is not long since the bourgeois statistician, Kuczinsky, wrote:

Never before has capitalism ruled so insolently in Germany, never has it wasted the capital of the nation as it is doing now, never before has it created such a hopeless situation, we have fought; after four years of imperial war we took upon ourselves the burden of three years of civil war; we fought, clad in rags; we lacked not only anaesthetics for operations on wounded soldiers, we had not even enough beds in the war hospitals.

But Russia is not being converted into a colony. Our forces will grow from year to year. Germany is not fighting in the Ruhr for her independence, but merely for the sake of becoming an Anglo-American instead of a French colony.

We hear the lamentations of the suffering German proletariat. And we, who passed through this same purgatory of starvation yesterday, are to-day gathering together our forces to come to the aid of the German proletariat wherever we can. The Russian proletarian passes on his morsel of bread to help Iris German brother. But he cannot save him. The German proletariat can only be saved by the German proletariat itself; if it has faith in its own powers, if it will arise and take upon itself the heavy burden of responsibility for its own fate and the fate of its nation, now groaning under the additional burden of occupation by foreign military forces; if it will set itself the task of emancipating itself and its country from the yoke of the foreign and German capitalists, who are not only no longer capable of upholding any idea of human progress or even of independence for their own country, but are only capable of seeking for a yoke which cuts less deeply into the living flesh than the French one.

Had the German proletariat made common cause with the Russian in 1918, it would have suffered much, but Europe would have looked very different today. The German proletariat has suffered for the sake of capital, for the reconstruction of bourgeois economics, and its severest sufferings are yet to come if it does not shake off the fetters of the bourgeoisie. When the German proletariat starves, it cannot even console itself with the thought that the bourgeoisie will treat it as well as it would a beast of burden. The prospect in store – the restoration of colonial capitalism – will be realized across the bodies of the proletariat. But on the day when it resolves to unite with the Russian proletariat, on that day a fresh page in history will be turned, the German proletariat will then play that great role which fell from its trembling hands in 1919.

We cannot tell when this day will come, but come it will.

Last updated on 10 August 2021