Karl Radek


The Impending Bankruptcy of
the German Bourgeoisie and the Tasks
of the Communist Party of Germany

(16 August 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 56 [34], 16 August 1923, pp. 600–602.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2022). 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.

The German bourgeoisie has lost the second war. The dollar already posts over a million marks. This seals the issue of the Ruhr war. But it need not necessarily have been sealed by this fact – had the German bourgeoisie taken heroic measures to win the victory, and given to the masses of workers and petty bourgeois the means of holding out, at the cost of big capitalist profits, then the German bourgeoisie could have kept up the struggle much longer. The rouble is lower in value than the mark, and yet the Russian working class and the Soviet government have not only not capitulated, but are growing in strength day by day. But the German bourgeoisie will capitulate in order to prevent the further fall of the mark and its inevitable result of uprisings among the masses of a people plunged ever deeper into misery. It is kept back from capitulation by the morphia injections administered by the English government.

Mr. Keynes has now betrayed Punch’s secret in the English Nation, where he points out that nothing would be more disastrous to the English government than German capitulation to France. For when the German bourgeoisie capitulates to France, then it is Poincaré who dictates the terms. Mr. Baldwin is attempting to intervene in the capitulation negotiations, in order to save as much as possible for England from the bankrupt’s estate.

The worthy German Philistine, filled once more with hopes of English aid, will get the shock of his life when he sees Baldwin’s note Poincaré demands either his money or his pound of flesh in the Ruhr. Mr. Baldwin tells him that he cannot cut away the flesh from Germany’s heart without her bleeding to death. And as Germany is not in a position to pay at present, she must be enslaved and made to work off her debts. And she is not to work off her debts to Poincaré only. That is the difference between Baldwin and Poincaré.

The conservative world-politician, Professor Hotzsch, asks in melancholy tones if Poincaré and Baldwin will leave off talking before the collapse of the German bourgeoisie. We do not know. But one thing is certain. If the German bourgeoisie does not go bankrupt before the discussion between London and Paris is ended, then it will go bankrupt afterwards. For the first condition set by united Anglo-French capitalism – should agreement be reached – will be taxation measures for stopping the depreciation of the mark. These taxation measures will lay such a burden on the working class and petty bourgeois, that they will have to rebel. Should the depreciation of the mark be successfully stopped, or even succeeded by a slight rise ,this will render German export so difficult that great unemployment will be inevitable.

The crisis of the German.bourgeoisie is now entering the decisive stage, and the German Communist Party is thus faced with the hardest tasks which it has ever known.


History has created the premises for the fulfilment of these tasks by the C.P. of Germany. The Party, beginning in November 1918 as an organization of about 30,000 loosely connected adherents, is now approaching the point of winning the support of the majority of the active workers of Germany. This has been proved beyond doubt by the elections to the metal workers’ congress. In a number of great industrial centres we have gained majorities, in part very large majorities, and the workers have participated in comparatively large numbers in the elections. In a number of towns we are contending with the social democrats for the majority. The social democrats preponderate in the small towns only. The work of those faithful toilers who sowed the seed of communism during the war, at the greatest personal sacrifice, is now bearing fruit. Mighty men are arising from the blood of Liebknecht, of Rosa Luxemburg, of the 15,000 workers murdered by Noske’s White Guards. The united front tactics – the appeal made to the every day interests of the working class, interests common to the proletariat without difference of Party – is being crowned with success. All the shrieks of the social democrats about the swindling manoeuvres of the Comintern have been of no avail. The workers must rally round the flag of communism, for this alone carries on the struggle for their vital interests. The Vorwärts scolds angrily after the victory of the communists in the elections to the metal workers’ congress. It declares that the capitalists are to blame for this victory, since their greed for profits renders the situation of the workers unbearable. And the government is also to blame, for looking on inactively at the growing misery and want. And the demagogy of the communists is likewise to blame. Yes, yes, my dear Vorwärts, everything has its reasons in history. If the capitalists were kind enough to allow the workers an existence worthy of human beings, and if the capitalist government were kind enough to trouble itself about the interests of the working class, then “communist demagogy” could not be victorious, for this consists of telling the workers straight out, in opposition to the “love of truth” shown by the social democratic agitators, that the capitalists exist for the express purpose of squeezing profits out of the workers, and that the capitalist government exists for the express purpose of aiding the capitalists in this, 60 that our object is to defeat capitalism and the capitalist government. And as facts prove the correctness of the communist assertions, the tissue of democratic-reformist illusions is torn away, and social democracy begins to wither and die.

The first sign of the approaching death of social democracy was the cessation of all life in its still existing mass organizations. It is only necessary to glance through the Vorwärts and the Rote Fahne of the last few months, and to compare the notices of meetings. Among the communists there are dozens and more than dozens of meetings every day, among the social democrats’ dead silence. Only the exalted party executive meets, and the parliamentary fractions. The social democratic bureaucrats in the trade unions, cooperative societies, municipal councils, and official positions, have their hands full holding back the working masses from the struggle. One section of the social democratic workers sinks into complete apathy, another section resolves to fight and goes over to the communists, a small sect on even goes over to the Fascisti. Social democracy has ceased to be a decisive factor in public life. It is not even a decisive factor of counter-revolution, as it was in 1919–20. It has become an inert mass.


The active force of bourgeois counter-revolution is to be found among the Fascisti, among the hundreds of organizations which compose the nationalist movement. In 1919 the nationalists, the students, the officers bereft of means of livelihood, put themselves at Noske’s disposal. In 1922–1923 they do not dream of doing this. Now Scheidemann, Noske, Ebert, etc. are known as the November criminals, and the Fascisti are not holding marshalls’ batons in readiness for them, but gallows. The Fascisti want to be the marshalls of Germany themselves. Can they attain this object? Should they succeed, they will be the rulers of Germany for the moment, but not for longer. Germany is not Horthy Hungary. Ludendorff would break his teeth on the German working class. The German working class is tremendous force when it cares to fight. And it would have to fight against a Fascist government, for this government would attempt to stabilize German capitalism at the expense of the workers, under conditions making it impossible for the working class to receive even a scrap of bread. For even if Ludendorffs adherents were not counter-jumpers without a creative political idea in their heads, without even the demagogic capabilities, undoubtedly possessed by a Mussolini, still they would find themselves in a position thousands of times more difficult than that of Fascist Italy. Despite the growth of industry since the war, Italy is still chiefly an agrarian country. Industrial Germany, only able to feed herself by industrial export, is besides burdened by gigantic reparation debts. To govern Germany means to feed her. Fascism can give Germany the White Terror and the Hohenzollerns, but it can give her no bread. The more German Fascism increases in strength, the weaker it becomes.

In the year 1919, when he was still weak and the waves of revolution rolled high in Italy, Mussolini attempted to win over the Italian workers by accommodating himself to their ideals. He spoke of the “control of industry”, of the “parliament of labor”. When the German Fascisti were weak, they could only hiss: “Death to the working class!” And now that they have become powerful, not through reinforcements from the working class, but through gaining the ear of the impoverished middle class, now Ludendorff and Colonel Bauer have to don the red cap, and we see in the program of the national socialists, in the program of Herr Kunze of the cudgels, even in the programs of Grafe and Henning-Ludendorff, dressed up as Spartacus. Maintained as. it is by Vogler, Stinnes, Krupp, and the like, Fascism still demands in its organs the nationalization of the banks, the nationalization of the trusts, and the gallows for the speculators. Why does it demand this? Merely to get round the workers? No. It suffices to peruse the Völkische Beobachter, the Deutsche Tagcblatt and the Deutsche Volksblatt, to see that they demand all this in order to attract the petty bourgeois masses sinking ever deeper into poverty, now that these masses are grasping the fact that if the present speculation economics are continued, there is no salvation for them.

Heavy industry and the junkers have formed Fascist organizations with whose aid they intend to seize power. But they have only been able to form these organizations because they have driven the petty bourgeois masses from want and misery to despair. But in doing this they have undermined their own position. The ground begins to quake beneath their feet. On the day that they seized power their own followers would turn against them, and it is very probable that they will never seize this power, not only because the railwaymen’s strike, and the strike of the workers all over the country, would paralyze them, but because disintegration in their own ranks is already beginning. The petty bourgeois cannon fodder of heavy industry is already beginning to, think, even before the civil war has reached its acutest stage. The German bourgeoisie possesses an admirable organization. In the war it organized death most brilliantly. It organized the campaign of robbery which followed the war with equal efficiency. Today it holds all the. threads of Germany’s economic life in its hands, gathered into the hands of a few trusts. But it possesses nothing which it can give to the masses of the lower middle class, except the further increase of its poverty and want. And thus the second condition for the victory of the German revolution is beginning to be realized. The isolation of the German working class is commencing to be a thing of the past. The petty bourgeoisie, the pillar of counter-revolution, is beginning to be the potential ally of the working class.


The tasks incumbent on the Communist Party are thus clearly laid down. The first task consists in organizing the majority of the active elements of the working class under the flag of the Communist Party, and of winning at least the sympathy of the majority of the whole working class for the Communist Party. There are many comrades who maintain that agitation and organization of the majority of the working class are excellent things, but can only be attained by means of great actions. We maintain the contrary, that great actions are only possible when our agitation is increased a hundredfold; when our message has reached the broadest masses of the workers; when we convert the rebellion of the working people into conscious knowledge and determination. Hitherto we have bungled our agitation. Now we must become a bell heard by, the whole of the working people. We have 300,000 organized communist workers. But we have not yet understood how to gather together, even in a loose association, the three million trade union workers who are on our side. Our factory councils, our trade union fractions, our control committees, ouj defence, units, all these should now include millions of workers.

The German bourgeoisie is better organized than any other in the world. The Communist Party of Germany must be better organized than any other Communist Party in the world.

The Bolsheviki were able to seize power with 70,000 members only, for the bourgeoisie was unorganized, and we had at our disposal such an organization as the Russian army. A million members is the minimum which the Communist Party of Germany must attain in the near future. Our organization must not be a mere election apparatus, is must be a clenched fist, a fighting organization, held together not only by the communist idea, but by the iron bands of the storm troops of our defence units.

It is very possible that the CP of Germany will be faced with the question of a fight to the death before it has fulfilled these tasks. But it will then have to struggle against a thousandfold disadvantages and unfavorable conditions. And if it wants to be able to light by fair weather or foul, to fight under the circumstances in which it will have to fight, then it must Set itself the above tasks, and seek to fulfil them with energy and determination.


Our growth does not liquidate the united front tactic; it imposes much greater tasks upon us in this respect. When we first attempted to approach the social democratic workers, we were obliged to swallow a great deal in order to avoid losing all contact with them. The time has now come to act with more courage, to take up an attitude consistent with our increased power. – This does not mean that we are to go too far; it does not mean that we are to demand from the social democratic worlds that they accept our slogans before they understand -them. We must constantly place in (he foreground those points understood by the whole working class, and for which it is ready to fight. Bui these necessary transitional demands must form not only the basis of our agitation; they alone can form the basis of our understanding with those sections of the social democracy found to take sides with us under the pressure of the working class.

Thus the Party must confront the left social democrats with the choice – as in the case of Zeigner in Saxony – of either honestly fighting against the bourgeoisie for the salvation of the working class from impoverishment, misery, and counter-revolution, or of doing without our assistance. If Zeigner and his like are more concerned about Cuno, Ebert or Lipinski, than they are about us, then they are no fit travelling companions for us. Coalition means an alliance between horse and rider, said Talleyrand. The social democratic leaders are fully agreed, but fhev want to play the part of rider. We for our part, are not endeavoring to make sincere social democratic workers play the part of horse. We want to combine with them to make a pair of horses capable of palling the cart of the German working class out of the mud into which social democracy has driven it But then the left social democratic horse has got to pull as well, and to pull forwards, not backwards.

Today the united front signifies the hundredfold multiplication of our agitation among the broadest masses of the working class.

Today the united front signifies the tenfold multiplication of the conditions for the formation of joint defence units, joint factory councils, joint control committees, with the Left social democratic workers.

Today the united front signifies that we hold firmly to our transitional demands, to the watchwords of control of production, arming of the proletariat, seizure of real values and workers’ and peasants’ government, as the basis for cooperation with the Left social democrats.

But the mobilization of the working class is not enough in itself. We must go to the petty bourgeois masses proletarianized by the capitalist economics of Germany. The small peasants, the settlers, the officials, the private officials, the proletarianized intellectuals – these are the reservoir of our power, even though they still think in terms of nationalist reaction today. When the Communist Party of Germany declares that it wants to fight not only for the interests of the industrial workers, but for the interests of all who groan beneath the capitalist yoke, this is no tactic, but the class strategy of the proletariat. Tactics are the measures necessary to win a battle; strategy is the totality of the measures required to win a war. Our war will not be won on the day that we conquer power; it will not be won until the day when We have made good this power, when we have at least completed the rough scaffolding of the structure of a socialist state of society. When we try to win over the petty bourgeois masses, it is not a question of employing petty artifices, of bringing about momentary splits in the Fascist movement; it is not even a question of gaming allies in the fight for power. It is a question of winning over a great dass, comprising millions of human beings, Whom we need not only for the seizure of power, but for the struggle for socialism. We require the engineers, we require the officers, we require the competent bank officials, if we are to rescue Germany from her desperate situation with the least powtole loss. In order to win over his class, we must be prepared for two things. We must make devoted efforts to help them to east off their old prejudices; we roust try to make a great part of them communists. But at the same time we must be ready to ally ourselves with those members of this class who, without being willing to accept our theory, and clinging to their own ideological forms, are still in actual practice anxious to fight for the same aims as we are fighting for in this period of history. The historic rise of the Russian intelligentsia began with socialist ideology, and, even at the time when it was still fighting on the side of capital against the working class, it waved the banner of socialism. The German petty bourgeoisie is already compelled to fight against capitalism, and yet it still clings not only to capitalist ideology, but even to precapitalist ideology. There are people in Germany who demand the nationalization of the banks, and who want at the same time to substitute Catholicism and Protestantism by the cult of Odin. The Communist Party must discern the realities, despite the mists of ancient ideologies.

Work among the petty bourgeois masses is still in its initial stage But heavy industry is already aware, the vultures battening on German ruin, in the midst of their efforts to establish their rule on the shoulders of the petty bourgeoisie and with the aid of petty bourgeois nationalism, are already aware, that they are threatened by a great danger if the petty bourgeoisie. is awakened, and lets the scales fall from its eyes. The financial supporters and organizers of Fascism will try to manoeuvre the petty bourgeois nationalist masses Into collision with the working class, in order that an abyss may divide the two armies of revolution in Germany, its vanguard and its rearguard. It is our task so to form the front of the militant working masses, to mobilize them so efficiently and render them so capable of defence, that the petty bourgeois masses lose all inclination to oppose them. We must show the petty bourgeoisie that our arm is strong, even though at the same moment we stretch out our hand to it in friendship; for we may be quite sure thst these masses will be with us as soon as they see that we have the power and determination to declare war against the misery and want of the German people.


The time has not yet come for the general attack. But it is approaching. Its approach is heralded by the following signs: a) the hopeless prospects of the German bourgeoisie, which cannot solve the crisis in Germany; b) the growing confusion and schisms in the German bourgeoisie; c) the decay of the power of the social democracy; d) our growth. The strategic task of the German communists consists in consciously assisting the maturing of the revolution by our organizatory work; in strengthening our forces, calling forth the reserves of the working class, seeking allies among the proletarianized petty bourgeoisie, combining the maximum of our dear communist agitation with a deliberate acceptance of such compromises as are necessary for broadening our basis and such as lie along the line of historical development, making the Communist Party the living conscience of the suffering German people, that it may be the leader of these people. We must fight the battles with which history confronts us, but at the same time we must not forget that at the moment we are still the weaker side. Not only must we not yet advance to the decisive battle, but we must avoid everything which could give the enemy an opportunity to inflict a partial defeat upon us. The days of such defeats as we suffered in March 1921, which was a defeat of an army in retreat which was not aware that the time for an offensive was over for the moment, are now past. But those defeats are still possible which an army suffers when it begins an offensive without sufficient artillery preparation. It bleeds to death against the barbed wire entanglements of the enemy. Should the enemy take up the offensive, he will find himself out in his reckoning. We must make the Party ready not only to repulse the attack of the enemy, but also to pass to the counter attack after a victorious defence. But it is not yet time for us to provoke the decision.


Such is the situation in Germany. Such is the situation of the Communist Party. Such are its tasks. Tasks demanding from the Party the greatest exertion of its powers, the greatest assurance, confidence in its own strength, energy, enthusiasm, but at the same time cool judgement and superior strategy. The time will then come when the German communists can say to themselves; Courage, courage, and again courage!

Last updated on 3 September 2022