Karl Radek


Mr. M. Philips Price


I remember that in the early days of the November Revolution in Germany after the fall of the Hohenzollerns Radek suddenly appeared in Berlin. The eastern frontier of Germany was still fairly open and conditions fluid. During December 1918 I met him on several occasions in cafes and restaurants, mostly I think in Neukölln. He appeared to be busy all this time in organizing the German Communist Party and advising the leaders, of whom I remember Knief and Fröhlich especially. I never saw Karl Liebknecht or Rosa Luxemburg with him during these days; and since these two persons were quite the most important of the German Communist leaders, it seems now, looking back on it, that they probably did not regard too favourably Radek’s intervention in the politics of the German revolution. This was probably particularly true of Rosa Luxemburg of whom it was known that she had differences of opinion on policy and tactics with Lenin.

In January 1919 came the assassination of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Radek immediately went into hiding and was no more seen for a while. But a few weeks later I read in the papers one morning that Radek had been arrested and was put in Moabit prison. He was held there under Schutzhaft or detention without trial which had just been proclaimed by the Prussian Government. Some time later, I received a message from a German Communist to the effect that if I presented myself at Moabit prison I would be able to see Radek. I did so and was shown into a room where he was. Many other German Communists were there too, the same in the main as I had seen in the Neukolln cafes and restaurants in the previous December. Lively conversations were going on about the prospects of the German Communist Party. I was much surprised to see that, as it seemed, open Communist work was being planned inside a Prussian prison, when only a few weeks before Communists had been shot at sight in Berlin! Prussian secret service man was present all the time but he certainly did not seem to be acting as a deterrent to what was going on and indeed seemed at times to be taking part in the discussion in a friendly way! I had the impression that Radek had succeeded in finding some elements in influential circles in Prussia, either of the Left or Right, who were prepared to use him against the Entente Powers who were at that time in process of forcing the Versailles Treaty on Germany. That probably accounted for the astounding scene that I witnessed in Moabit prison. Later I heard that Radek had become: friendly with certain officers of the Reichswehr, and quite possibly this was the beginning of the move that led later to Reichswehr units getting training in Russia to escape from Entente control.

On the first occasion that I met Radek in prison he asked me about conditions in England, the relative strengths of the Communist and Labour Parties there and the general political situation. I remember him saying that he had seen an article I had done for the Daily Herald showing the inequalities of German society, and that he had liked it. Then he told me that he had just got information that Japan was taking steps to initiate discussions with Russia for a peace treaty. This information he said, I could use, and I did in fact, incautiously as it turned out, cable this to the paper for which I was working. The message was printed and soon after there came a denial from Japan. About a month later I visited Radek in Moabit prison again; and when I told him of the categorical Japanese denial he smiled and said that of course the information was not true, but that he had only told it to me in order to see what the reaction in Japan to that statement would be!

At the end of 1919 Radek was sent back to Russia by the German authorities. But some time in the following year (I cannot now remember the month) someone came to me and asked me to go to a house in Schöneberg where I should meet someone interesting. I did so and there was Radek again, who had come back secretly to Germany and was living incognito. I cannot remember what I talked about with him on this occasion. He was probably wanting to know my reactions to current events and was seeking information about conditions in Britain. In the light of subsequent events I think it likely that he was busy at this time in contacting Right elements in German politics with a view to bending German foreign policy in a direction favourable to Russia and to exploiting the anti-Entente feeling that there was in the country at that time. After the murder of the German Communist leaders, which went on all through 1919, he probably despaired of the prospects of a Communist revolution in Germany of the Russian type, and came to the conclusion that it was better to contact elements of the Right in German politics and form a temporary alliance with them against the Western powers who were then the force most dangerous to Russia. This is fully in keeping with the traditional tactics of the Russian Communists.

Last updated on 18.10.2011