Karl Radek

The Stresemann Government

The Lessons of Democracy

(30 August 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 58 [36], pp. 627–629.
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.

On Wednesday, August 8, the German Chancellor, Cuno, began a great speech in the German Parliament. The communists gave him a demonstrative reception: “Down with the bankrupt! Living corpse!” – such were the shouts from the benches of the little communist Reichstag fraction. The Reichstag listened in silence to the Chancellor’s speech, for what reply could it make to the torrent of words, words, and again words, flowing unceasingly from the lips of the speaker – and all words in when nobody believed The Chancellor spoke against placing any hope in help from England. But who other than his government awakened this hope? The Chancellor said that Germany must help herself by an active policy. But he had no program for an active policy. The Chancellor said that the propertied classes must be prepared to make sacrifices for the salvation of the nation, but the program which he submitted was mere derision of the sufferings and ruin of Germany.

The Chancellor’s speech was followed by addresses from representatives of all the bourgeois parties and of the social democracy. They repeated the speech of the Chancellor in other words. Not a single speaker ventured to say what every bourgeois newspaper, without exception, had written against Cuno’s government. For when a writer writes, the reader reads, and nothing more happens But to vote against the government in Parliament might overthrow it And who was going to replace it, once overthrown? There is not one bourgeois party which knows a way out of the situation, and therefore no bourgeois party wanted to take the Initiative in overthrowing Cuno’s government

The social democratic press had been bowling against Cuno. A few days before the opening of the Reichstag, a section of the social democratic fraction resolved, at the Weimar conference, to demand Cuno’s resignation. But the majority of the Reichstag fraction rejected this demand. Cuno’s government was the government of the right w ng of the Stinnes party, of the right wing of the centre party, and of the democrats, whose right wing does not differ from their left. The removal of Cuno and his substitution by another person, by a representative of another combination of forces, signified for the bourgeois parties the choice between two alternative possibilities only: either the social democrats entered the Stinnes-Centre-Democrat bloc – this alternative was feared by the social democrats, for they are aware that at least one half of the workers composing their party is against a coalition with Stinnes. Or, the second alternative, a bloc composed of social democrats, Centre, and Democracy – this was impracticable, as neither the Centre Party nor the Democrats would part from the Stinnes party, the German People’s Party.

Thus there was not one bourgeois party that refused to accord Cuno the confidence which he demanded in his speech. All that the social democrats attempted to do was to persuade Cuno, behind the scenes, to abstain from causing them any unpleasantness, and not to insist on a formal division in the confidence question. “The will of the nation” was thus declared through the mouth of the Reichstag to be in favor of the Cuno government, for, as we have been sufficiently informed by democratic theory, the “democratic parliament is the best expression of the will of the nation”; This expression of the will of the nation proved contradictory to another mode of expression possessed by the representatives of the nation. The Exchange lowered the value of the mark from day to day, and thus voted continuously against any motion of confidence in the Cuno government. The working people contributed to the want of confidence vote by demonstrating and striking energetically. In Chemnitz alone there was a demonstration of 150,000 workers, communists and social democrats, who demanded the resignation of the Cuno government. But as the parliament did not know what to do, it concluded that Herr Cuno was still the best man for the job, as he did not know what to do either. On Friday the newspapers announced that there was no government crisis whatever, that certain changes might be made in the composition of the Cuno government, but nothing more. The central organ of the social democracy declared on Friday that the “brain of the working class” had expressed its thoughts through the mouth of Herr Hermann Müller, the representative of the social democracy.

But the brain of the working class, as embodied in Herr Müller, did not say what the workers said. On Saturday the printers’ strike began, as well as the strike of the tramway and railway workers. The “brain” of the working class thus received a fresh stimulus. The printers’ strike was most felt. Germany is at the present time covering two per cent of her expenditure (we repeat: two per cent) by taxation. The printers’ strike made it impossible for the Reichsbank to print more paper money The shops were closed. The police made an attack on the editorial offices of the central organ of our party, as this called upon the workers to extend the strike. But the editors of the central organ of our party do not print money. Hence the prohibition of the paper for one day and the indictment of high treason could not retard the fall of the government The social democrats decided to make the jump. They demanded Cuno’s resignation. Cuno handed it in- Germany and the whole world received a plain lesson that the famous democracy and parliamentarism are but a screen upon which shadows dance, now that we are living in such times of misery, want and acute antagonisms.

The Cuno Government

What did the Cuno government represent? It was the government of the German industrial bourgeoisie. It was not led by Herr Cuno. but by Herr Becker, i It was a union of the junker, the capitalist, and the bureaucrat. Becker was the representative of Stjnnes in ihe government. Herr Cuno, whose career had been that of an official in the service of the greatest German shipping company, the Hamburg-American line, was personally opposed to, Stinnes. Precisely for this reason he was pushed forward, in order to conceal the fact that his government represented Stinnes’ policy. He is a man without any political experience whatever. Unsupported by any definite political party; he has been a plaything in Becker’s hands, as Becker is the instrument oi the People’s Party. Second violin has been played in the .government by Herr Hermes, a man of the Exchange.

What was the line followed by the Cuno government? It . came into power, n the first place, as a result of the increased strength of the German trusts, which were supported by the Fascist organizations, and, in the second place, as a result of the growing antagonisms between the Allies. The German bourgeoisie speculated on the degeneration and inactivity of the social democracy, and on the controversies between England and France, and resolved to obtain the revision of the Versailles peace and a fresh agreement with the Entente, which would make it possible to solve the reparations Question at the expense of the toiling masses of Germany by lengthening working hours and reducing wages. But as no understanding was reached by England and France with regard to the reassessment of the amount to be paid by Germany, and as the Cuno government, which had evoked such great hopes of a firm policy with reference to the Entente, did not venture to make any proposals satisfactory to France. Poincaré resolved to act He occupied the Ruhr area. A struggle began which could have decided the whole conflict between Germany and France in favor of the former. For this it was only necessary for the Cuno government to desist, if but for the time being, from worsening the position of the working class, and to tax the capitalists in order to mobilize means for the Ruhr struggle, proving to France that it could not obtain any money by the employment of force. The Cuno government was in an extraordinary an historical position. Although a government composed of enemies of the working class, it actually enjoyed the support of the whole working class for a time in the struggle against French imperialism. For although the communists carried on a campaign against ‘fib government, and did not conceal for a moment the real nature of this government from the masses of the people, still they Stood for the resistance to French imperialism. But they did not do this for the sake of Herr Cuno and his government. They were actuated by the interests of (he vanguard of the German revolution, and these interests’ demanded that the heart of the revolution, the Ruhr basin, should not be delivered over to French imperialism. They acted in the firm conviction that the bourgeoisie would not succeed in defending the Ruhr area, and that the leadership of the struggle would pass into the hands of the revolutionary working class. Whatever their motives and calculations, Herr Cuno and the German bourgeoisie could have relied upon the fact that the interests of the two hostile classes of Germany coincided for the moment, if only the German bourgeoisie had been able to bring itself to sacrifice :ts profits, if but for a year, in their further common interests.

There will be new elections in France in the spring of 1924, and if Poincaré has not managed to get coal and iron out of the Ruhr by that time, but is still compelled to expend enormous sums for the Ruhr expedition, then he will be overthrown and the national bloc with him. This is clear. But the German bourgeoisie, which pillaged the masses of the people during the war, and which contrived to loot the German petty bourgeoisie after the war with a thoroughness unexampled in any workers revolution, despite its shrieks about the defence of private properly against Bolshevism – the German bourgeois e wanted to w n even the Ruhr war over the bodies and at the expense of the working class. Instead of carrying through a financial program of taxation, which would have enabled the government to draw from the profits of the bourgeoisie the means of paying .wages, and of giving the workers in the Ruhr area the possibility of conducting their struggle against high prices, the German government began to print billion after billion, in order to supply the industrialists, who had been prohibited by the French from exporting goods from the Ruhr valley, with the means for support ng their workers. Billion after billion, in order to give the industrialists means for the purchase of foreign securities enabling them to buy coal and foreign raw materials. The result of this has been that the amount of money in circulation has increased between April and July from 2,000 to 70,000 milliard marks, and the rate of exchange of the dollar has leaped from 20,000 M to 7 millions.

The high prices attendant on this procedure resulted in a strike wave, and the government, though owing its existence to the slogan of protecting Germany from the Entente, applied in Dr. Lutterbeck’s letter to the commander-in-chief of the French occupation troops, Genera Degoutte, with the request for permission to use German troops for the suppression of a non-existent insurrection. This letter was not only the expression of the bankruptcy of Cuno’s policy, it was the result of the desire to capitulate when it appeared certain that in this situation a further struggle in the Ruhr was impossible. The Minister for Economic Affairs. Herr Becker, proposed an extremely ingenious plan: To provoke a great strike movement, to oppose it with Fascist aid, to raise a loud outcry all over Germany that the communists had destroyed the anti-French front by their insurrection, and that the government was therefore forced to abandon all resistance in the Ruhr and to come to an agreement with the invaders.

The Central of the Communist Party forced the Cuno government to drop these plans for blood letting being prepared against the workers of the Ruhr. From this moment the Cuno government never managed to bring forward a new idea. It could scarcely just capitulate, for the Fascist organizations which it had summoned to defend the Ruhr would cease to be its weapons in the face of such capitulation. The German White Guard clique regarded the Cuno government as the:r signboard. They did not try to seize power, for they feared that the Entente, headed by France, would dictate even harder terms to them than to Cuno’s government, and that the working class would rebel against the open dictatorship of. Ludendorff, Stinnes, and Helfferich. But the white organizations of Germany do not consist only of those elements which are acting consciously in the interests of the large landowners and of heavy industry, but also of masses of proletarianized officers deprived of their careers, of students, and of petty bourgeois, all .filled with burning and passionate zeai to defend their country against victorious French imperialism. One of the leading authors of German nationalism, Moller van den Bruck, wrote recently that at the beginning of the Ruhr events dozens of young people came to him, and declared that they would go over to the communists if the bourgeosie turned traitor. Herr Cuno and his government feared the rebellion of the nationalist organizations, and entangled themselves in their own contradictions. During this time the mark depreciated at a catastrophic rate, and want and misery increased among the working and petty bourgeois classes. The attempt to incite the nationalist petty bourgeois masses against the working class has not y 1 succeeded, thanks to the skilful policy of the Communist Party, which has contrived to combine the mobilization of the working masses against the danger of armed nationalist organizations with a policy of agitation among the proletarianized nationalist petty bourgeoisie. This policy is beginning to open the eyes of the petty bourgeois masses to the real situation of Germany and to the fact that they are not serving the emancipation of Germany from the yoke of foreign capitalists, but the combination of German with French capitalists at the expense of the German people. Herr Cuno went bankrupt He was ousted from his position as Chancellor.


Not merely Cuno was bankrupt, but his policy also. But what new policy can Herr Stresemann pursue in cooperation with the social democrats who have resolved to replace Herr Cuno? The reply to this question will be found in Herr Stresemann’s past

Herr Stresemann, the son of a small tradesman in Berlin, after first concluding his university studies, began his political career with the left wing of the German bourgeoisie. He belonged to the small party of Pastor Naumann, the [illegible] National Social Party. This party wanted to combine the support of German imperialism with a policy of far-reaching social reforms. Naumann was not only the best speaker in the German parliament, but a sufficiently sensible man to realize that it was impossible to carry on a policy of imperialist exploitation threatening a world war without simultaneously creating a labor aristocracy anxious to support imperialism. Therefore he drew up programs, in his well known book Democracy and Empire, in his periodical Die Hilfe, and in his annual Das Vaterland, by which imperialism, personified by the Kaiser, was to be united with the working class. He strove for a democratization of the forms of state and for social reforms, and carried on a widespread agitation on this basis, mainly among the intelligenzia. Its policy suffered shipwreck; for the social democracy, which actually pursued Naumann’s policy during the war, was not yet ripe for this policy. And it suffered shipwreck besides because the old Junker class did not believe in any democracy whatever, and defended with all its might the privileges of the capitalist Germany of the Junkers. Herr Stresemann soon left the ranks of the Naumann group, and abandoned all philandering with democracy and reforms; he entered the National Liberal Party, before the war the principal party of German imperialism. While still quite young he became the secretary of the Saxon Manufacturers’ Association, and with the aid of this society he got into parliament as a candidate of the National Liberal Party.

There was a struggle going on in the National Liberal Party between heavy industry and the “working up” industry. Stresemann was the leading advocate of the interests of the latter. As the iron and coal Kings had not yet completely outstripped medium industrial undertakings, Stresemann’s importance increased with every year, and after the death of Bassermann, the leader of the party, he became its parliamentary leader.

During the war Stresemann belonged to the most determined advocates of fighting to the end; he also championed the submarine war against England, and belonged in every respect to the German capitalist party most hostile to England.

The war ended with the dissolution of German imperialism by the German revolution, and with a regrouping of parties. The People’s Party rose from the ashes of the old National Liberal Party. Stresemann appeared at its head. But during this time the centre of gravity had shifted in a surprising manner to the side of heavy industry, headed by Stinnes. A few great trusts began to rule over the whole economic and political life of the German bourgeoisie. Stinnes is capturing not only one economic position after another, but one newspaper after another. He dictates to the People’s Party its anti-republican, anti-democratic line; he is surrounded by a staff of former officers of the army and navy, who are his chief political advisors, and he rejects the policy of fulfilling the Versailles treaty in the hope that, as is invariably the case in a coalition war, the victory won by the coalition – in this case France and England – will lead to conflicts between the former allies, as a result of which the burdens imposed on Germany by the Entente may be raised.

Stresemann blows Stinnes’ trumpet. But the piratical trusts of the heavy industry, which levy tribute from the working class and the petty bourgeoisie, as well as from light industry, force these to rise up in their own interests. Stresemann is again the exponent of this policy. He seeks to find support in the new regroupings of capitalists which have begun during the process of Germany’s economic collapse, a process which he’s also led to the formation of a large number of new trusts of varying dimensions, competing with the old magnate. Haniel, Krupp, and Stinnes – this last a magnate who came into power during the war. Stresemann looks for support to the Otto Wolff concern, which is headed by the Russian Jew Litwin, who supplies him with the means ot publishing newspapers independent of Stinnes. It goes without saying that Stresemann has sufficient sense to know that in the case of a conflict with Stinnes be has to look for support to the democratic masses, that he has to stand for a foreign policy against which the social democracy – a party shrinking from any shock – would not rebel. Stresemann begins his agitation with the argument that the state is of greater importance than economics, and that, if the salvation of Germany require that she pay more to the Entente, there is no sense whatever in quarrelling about a milliard here and there. He is beginning to talk about the sacrifices which capital has got to make. At the same time he attempts an approach to England, where he is regarded as a counterpoise to the Chancellor Wirth, whom English imperialism held to be an advocate of a pro-French policy. But in proportion as it appears increasingly clear to everyone that England is not going to quarrel with France for the sake of Germany, Herr Stresemann begins to regard a compromise with France with growing favor. Stresemann’s latest ideas are not to be found in his own articles, but in articles written by Georg Bernhard, the editor of the Vossische Zeitung, an organ preaching the so-called continental policy, the policy of a concert of European states against England. This newspaper also published an article by the Councillor of Commerce Litwin, in which a program was drawn up ceding a certain part of Germany’s industrial shares to France. Stinnes’ press, well informed as to Stresemann’s newest ideas, has already commenced agitation against him as a capitulator; for Herr Stinnes is still hoping to come to an understanding with France enabling him to become lord of the Franco-German coal and steel trust. The Fascist press represents Stresemann as a second Erzberger, and threatens him with the fate of this Minister of Finance, who was murdered by the nationalists. Herr Stresemann, in the speech which he delivered on the Thursday in the Reichstag declared himself in favor of the continued defence of the Ruhr valley, and of taxation of the bourgeoisie as the means of raising the money required for this defence. But at the same time he attempted, as he has already done several limes before, to open the way for negotiations with France.

Stresemann thus represents, from the social standpoint, the German middle bourgeoisie. Politically, he represents the attempt to achieve financial reform by taxing the bourgeoisie, the attempt to make a fresh compromise with the social democracy. In respect of foreign policy, he represents the attempt to find a way out of the blind alley by negotiating with France.

The Great Coalition

The social democrats have for a long time been preparing it, with Stresemann as its head. Rudolf Hilferding, at present the brain of the German social democracy, is closely connected with Stresemann. The social democrats hope that Stresemann will succeed in counteracting Stinnes’ influence, and that, as a result of this, the coalition with the whole of the parties of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie will not bear so odious a character as if Stresemann were not Chancellor. The social democrats hope that certain financial reforms will now put a stop to the depreciation of the mark and to the rising prices, and will discharge the electricity from the social atmosphere; they hope that Stresemann will take up the struggle with the nationalist organizations and come to an understanding with France. They put precisely the same hopes in Stresemann as they pul in the government of Prince Max of Baden in the autumn of 1918. They have utilized the moment of a new wave of revolution to throw overboard the Cuno government, which they were anxious to save only yesterday in order not to be obliged to enter a coalition. They thereby prove that they themselves do not believe in any saving measures to which Herr Stresemann may resort.

There is no doubt whatever that Stresemann is a more experienced politician than Cuno. But adroitness and eloquence will not suffice to extricate Germany from her present straits. Even should the wave of the labor movement which swept Cuno away now subside for the moment, as is quite possible, Herr Stresemann and the social democrats will nevertheless encounter the savage resistance of the heavy industry, which is determined not to pay, and which is endeavoring to unchain every nationalist passion against Stresemann as the politician of capitulation. Social democracy has already demonstrated that it cannot exercise pressure, and cannot fight. And Herr Stresemann has never been the man for a determined struggle. The coalition with Stresemann will not yield the result hoped for by the social democrats, but merely that which they dread above all. It will render the antagonisms in their own ranks more acute. It is obvious that from Moscow it is not possible to form a correct judgment of the extent and profundity of the movement. It is possible that in spite of every thing Herr Stresemann signifies a stage at which the movement will come to a standstill for a fane. Should this prove the case, then the German communists will utilize this time to improve their organization, to gain the majority of the working class, to create forms for its unity and the unification of its actions, and to permeate the petty bourgeois masses and bind them to the proletariat.

Last updated on 3 September 2022