Karl Radek


The Opposition in the German Social Democracy
and the Tasks of the CP of Germany

(6 September 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 59 [37], 6 September 1923, pp. 644-645.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2023). 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 conference held by the opposition social democrats at Weimar, and the article by Crispen in the Vorwärts, are facts which the German CP cannot simply ignore. These events raise three questions The first question is:

What does this opposition in the social democracy represent?

The opposition of a section of the social democratic leaders is a weak reflection of the ferment at work among the broad masses of social democrats. This ferment expresses itself, in part in a great feeling of discouragement prevalent among the social democratic masses, causing them to stand aside from the conflicts between social democracy and German CP. (Elections in the trade unions, elections to the provincial diets, etc.) It further expresses itself in the influx of social democratic workers into our party. And, finally, it has found expression in the recent opposition of great social democratic organizations to the policy of secret support for Cuno’s government, and in the present opposition to the policy of open coalition with the bourgeois parties. This opposition among the social democratic masses is still extremely indefinite. One section is against the Great Coalition with Stinnes, but in favor of the Little Coalition, the restoration of the Wirth government. The sect on opposed to both Little and Great Coalitions is afraid of a fight; it does not yet trust our leadership. We have not yet made it quite clear that we alone have represented the interests of the working class during these years of ebb-tide in the revolution. The battles which we have fought within our own tanks, and our defeats, have still left the impression on these masses that we have pursued a zig-zag course. We have not yet made it clear to these masses that it has been precisely these inner conflicts which have enabled us to struggle through to perfect clarity and increased strength. Our tactics with regard to the petty bourgeoisie are still inexplicable to these masses. Therefore this opposition within the social democratic ranks may, for some time still, be the object of political manoeuvres on the part of politicians who have sufficiently proved that they are neither capable nor desirous of being the leaders of a revolutionary movement.

The Leaders of the Opposition Movement in the Social Democracy

The leaders of the opposition movement in the social democracy are, with a few exceptions, not plain social democratic workers who, taught by experience, have progressed from the standpoint of coalition with the bourgeoisie to that of the united front with the communists. Leaders of this type are lacking, a fact proving that the masses from which such leaders would rise are not yet deeply enough affected by the movement. Their spokesmen are such men as Breitscheidt, Rosenfeld, Crispien, and Levi.

It need not be said that the Communist Party pursues no policy of rancor. Whatever great sins against the labor movement Levi, Rosenfeld, Crispien, and Breitscheidt may have committed in the past, we should offer our hand to them the moment they brought actual proofs that they sincerely desire to serve the working class. But until such proof has been given, the Party must remind the masses that Levi, Rosenfeld, Crispien, and their colleagues, have once before gone through the development to revolutionary policy, only to fall back into reformism again. Not only was Levi a communist at one time, but Crispien and Rosenfeld also once stood for the dictatorship, to desert this standpoint most ignominiously later on. The Party must demonstrate to the left social democratic masses, by means of the historical facts of the German revolutionary movement, that hitherto their leaders have not been champions of the proletariat, but weather-cocks turning with the wind. When the wave of revolution rose, they went with the revolutionary workers. When the wave fell, they deserted the revolutionary proletariat and drove it into the camp of the Scheidemanns. But the importance of the past of the social democratic opposition leaders is not so great as the importance of their present policy, of the proposals which they are now laying before the masses of social democratic workers.

Up to the present the social democratic opposition has pursued no single line. Apart from Breitscheidt, who demanded opposition to Cuno. but did not dare to raise the slogan of the overthrow of the Cuno government, we see two groups in the opposition at the present time. The first is represented by Crispien, who issued, in the Vorwärts of August 2, the slogan of: Dissolution of the Reichstag, refusal of any coalition with the bourgeoisie, and a struggle for a purely “socialist” government. Some vague allusions to the “great coalition of the workers” convey the idea that he would be in favor of a coalition with the communists. But some passages at the close of his article show that Crispien, in spite of his big talk, does not seriously dream for a moment of a real fighting community with the Communist Party. To do this he would have to formulate a concrete criticism of the errors of the CP of Germany, and to offer concrete propositions for common action. Properly considered, Crispien’s thunders against the coalition with the bourgeoisie, and his calls for courageous deeds, are in the end nothing more than a mask biding the longing tot by the one-time Independent for a policy of opposition without consequences. This has always been the policy of the independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. It has only felt happy when able to give loud expression, in its capacity of a parliamentary opposition, to its dissatisfaction with prevailing conditions, it enjoyed the role of hero, it made the air tremble – and no more. Should we be in error, we shall be very pleased. But in this case Crispien and his followers must state dearly and distinctly their attitude towards the C.P., and what attitude they want to adopt in order that the proletariat may replace the government by a workers’ government. Or does Crispien hone that all this will be done by his convincing Papa Ebert that “better business can be done in socialism than in capitalism”? And further: it does not suffice merely Io form a government. We must know what this government is going to do, what social measures it is going to take to alleviate the misery of the working class and petty bourgeoisie, what foreign policy it is going to pursue, what attitude it is going to take towards the masses of the petty bourgeoisie. Crispien leaves us entirely in the dark about all this. He merely shows himself on a pedestal full of detestation against a coalition with capitalism and of anxiety to perform courageous deeds. This is all very well in the theatre, when Wilhelm Tell is being played. But it is not politics

The second document of the social democratic opposition consists of the resolutions passed by the Weimar conference. These are to the following effect:

Social democracy enters into opposition against the Cuno government. It demands various things of this government. These are refused by the Reichstag and the Cuno government. And what then? A fight for the workers’ government? God forbid. Levi, Rosenfeld, and the others, demand: “Rejection of every coalition as long as the party has not secured, by means of a clear and independent proletarian policy, a degree of power securing it the supremacy in any coalition.

What does this signify? That which we guessed in Crispien’s case is perfectly clear in Levi’s and Rosenfeld’s. They see that social democracy is losing its prestige with the masses and for this reason they are desirous of going over to the opposition, that they may regain their influence with the working class through the opposition, this once attained, then they may outstrip Crispien and once more enter into a coalition with the bourgeoisie. They do not even reject the idea of a coalition with Stinnes. Their object is to be able to play a leading role in any future coalition.

We see that Levi and Rosenfeld do not represent any rejection of social democratic policy; all that they ask is a pause for breath before resuming the betrayal of the workers’ interests with renewed vigor.

They differ from Crispien in expressing themselves in favor of a possible cooperation with the communists for the attainment of the most immediate proletarian aims. This is all very well. But do the most immediate proletarian aims consist in freshening up the somewhat damaged appearance of social democracy, in order to put this in a position enabling it once more to join forces with the bourgeoisie against the proletariat? We are ready to cooperate, not only with Levi and Rosenfeld, but with the devil and his grandmother as well, for the sake of strengthening the power of the German working class. But if these clever persons imagine that we are going to let them climb over our backs into new secure positions in a coalition with the bourgeoisie, they are very much mistaken.

We thus see that the social democratic masses, at present in a state of ferment, are still confused and unclear, but that the leaders of the social democratic opposition, though equally confused and unclear in what they say, are striving for a very clearly defined end. And the aim of their strivings is not a struggle for power, not an honorable coalition with the communist workers, not a united front with the suffering petty bourgeoisie in a struggle against the big bourgeoisie, but a mere parliamentary opposition, a few demonstrations and newspaper campaigns intended to arrest the decay and disintegration of the social democracy, and then a return, with renewed powers, into a coalition with the big bourgeoisie.

The task of enlightening the social democratic working masses as to these aims of the social democratic opposition is incumbent on the Communist Party; these masses must be asked if they are going to allow themselves to be again made use of, in such a way as to enable a fresh set of social democratic leaders io enter a fresh bourgeois coalition government. We are convinced that the social democratic masses will not allow this, and that the Communist Party will succeed in winning them for the united front which will, at no distant date, realize the workers’ and peasants’ government in Germany, so that the fight may be begun, by the forces of the united working class and of the suffering petty bourgeois masses, for their emancipation from the yoke of German and foreign capital.

Without rejecting the idea of agreement with the opposition social democrats in given circumstances, it must be our first endeavor to approach the broad masses of social democratic workers now in a state of ferment, and to win these for the common struggle.

Last updated on 30 April 2023