Karl Radek


1. The Days of the Downfall
of German Imperialism

Comrade Yoffe, our Political Representative in Berlin, called me on the Hughes machine. [1] ‘I have just learned,’ he reported, ‘that the German government has decided to approach the Allies with an offer for an armistice and peace negotiations.’

The very fact that Yoffe transmitted the information, not in code, but openly, not only removed all doubt of the authenticity of the news but also showed that he saw no need for restraint. Nevertheless I asked him cautiously: ‘Are you aware of the significance of your information and its possible consequences?’

Yoffe replied: ‘I take full responsibility for the information’.

It goes without saying that I immediately passed on the information to the Government. Its effect on us was like the news of liberation. The situation had much deteriorated in the last months. Our intelligence reports showed that the ring around the neck of Soviet Russia was tightening from day to day. The Germans were not only in the Ukraine, but also establishing contact with Krasnov and Denikin. White detachments were training in Pskov. Rakovsky, passing through Vienna, saw in a hotel a completely undisguised sign-board of a recruiting office. The Germans had strengthened their position in Finland, and Petrograd was threatened. In our opinion, the Germans were reckoning with the return of Belgium to the Allies and were therefore preparing to seize Moscow and Petrograd, in order to have in their hands a bargaining counter. Several memoirs which appeared after the German revolution, have fully confirmed our misgivings. The records of the deliberations of the German Government, published in 1919, show in black and white that General Hoffmann was demanding authority to close the ring. But now the Germans were offering talks on peace. Obviously the position at the front was worse than we had assumed. Nevertheless comrade Sverdlov told the officials of the Narkomindel and the People’s Commissariat for War: ‘Be on your guard. Autumn flies bite hard.’

We awaited developments with extreme tension. Every day brought fresh news of the growing panic in Berlin. The cat and mouse game began. Wilson began to drop undisguised hints of the need to remove the Hohenzollerns as a condition of peace negotiations. He combined the Hoffmanite method of threats with the propaganda methods of Trotsky. The wireless of the Allied Governments was informing the whole world of Wilson’s correspondence with the German Government. These radio tickings dealt the German front no less dangerous blows than the American and French guns. Bukharin, from Berlin, reported the growing ferment among the workers, and the crystallization of the revolutionary left wing among the Independents. News came of the release of Liebknecht. We received from him a few glowing lines. We felt that the German revolution had a leader. The Independents asked us to stop the payment of the tribute imposed on us by the Peace of Brest. Vladimir Ilyich objected. ‘It is worth while paying so that Yoffe can still remain in Berlin,’ he said. And we sent the gold. Suddenly came the news of the breakthrough on the Bulgarian front. This was followed by the report that Austria was surrendering to the enemy. The Austrian Ambassador, de Poteri, a polished clean-shaven little old man, like an eighteenth-century toy, came running to me; he was perplexed. I showed him on the map the demands which Italy had presented to Austria. The old man, usually so correct, burst into tears.

‘Oh, come!’ I tried to calm him, ‘it would be understandable if you were a German Ambassador. But what does it matter to you, a Hungarian of Italian origin, if Austria is nibbled at, or if she crumbles somewhat!’

– ‘You see, I have been in the diplomatic service for 35 years and patriotism is partly a habit and partly a diplomatic duty.’

The glad news came of the beginning of the revolution in Austria. It was Saturday night, when the papers were already in the printing presses. Ilyich and Sverdlov instructed me to write an appeal. ‘But where shall we print it? There are no compositors to be got.’ ‘There will be,’ said Bela Kun; ‘just produce bread and sausages.’ And with the pupils of the Hungarian Party School he went at once to look for compositors among the war prisoners. At four a.m. he rushed in for the manuscript of the appeal. And when I got into the street in the morning, the leaflets with the news of the revolution in Austria were circulating from hand to hand. From every corner of the town demonstrations were moving towards the Moscow Soviet. From the balcony of the Soviet we were looking on to the sea of heads which came in waves from Strastnaya Square and Mokhovaya Street. Suddenly there was shouting which grew into a roar. A car was slowly moving through the crowd. We guessed that Ilyich, unable to stay any longer in the Kremlin, had, for the first time since his injury in the attempt on his life, come out. Kun and I ran out to meet him. His face showed excitement and at the same time profound anxiety. I did not understand at that moment why this champion of the revolution was anxious. When Ilyich appeared on the balcony, tens of thousands of workers burst into wild cheering. Never have I seen anything like it again. Until late in the evening the workers and Red Army soldiers were filing past. The wold revolution had come. The mass of the people were listening to its iron tramp. Our isolation was over.

Another telegram from Yoffe. He was being expelled from Berlin. What was the meaning of this? Are the Social Democrats afraid of our propaganda? Ilyich interpreted the matter differently. Germany, capitulating before the Entente, was offering the latter her services in the struggle against the Russian revolution. This was his solution of the riddle. As we know, it was perfectly correct. Erzberger plainly offered the Allies, in return for more advantageous peace terms, to throw the German troops against Soviet Russia. Yoffe was put on the train within 24 hours. But he had not yet reached our frontier when the wireless station in Khodynka picked up a telegram sent from a warship in Kiel: ‘Today we are burying the first victims of the revolution. The Red Flag has been hoisted over the German fleet. May it be hoisted over the whole of Germany, and may our victims be the last.’ The telegram, transmitted from Khodynka, lay before me. I drove immediately to Khodynka. We were calling Kiel incessantly, but the radio station in Nauen was jamming us. However, within a few hours we had already intercepted from the Allied radio stations news o the revolution in Germany. Yoffe’s train arrived in Borisov. We gave him the news by telegram and told him not to leave the territory occupied by German troops, for we were immediately going to propose to the new German revolutionary Government a revocation of the expulsion order made by the last Imperial Government. I began to call the Berlin Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The connections, which went through Kovno, had been cut by General Hoffmann. In the end the Ministry replied.

– ‘Who is at the other end?’

– ‘The telegraphist of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin.’

– ‘Call Herr Haase, the People’s Commissar.’

– ‘He is not in the Ministry.’

– ‘Call his Deputy, Minister Solf.’

– ‘He is not in the Ministry.’

– ‘Who is deputizing for them?’

– ‘There is no one in the Ministry. Everyone has run away.’

– ‘Then find some one to look for Haase or Liebknecht.’

– ‘There is no one to send.’

– ‘I order you in the name of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets and on your responsibility before the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies of Berlin.’

Silence. But the connection had not been interrupted. The apparatus kept up the signal Berlin. Berlin. Berlin. Berlin. At last an answer.

– ‘Very well. I shall go and look.’

In the factories something which defies description was going on. I had never seen such elation. I spoke in the Prokhorov plant. I said that the German revolution was not only our greatest victory, but at the same time our supreme duty. Only this summer we had learned what hunger was. But they, the German workers, had lived for three years on two ounces of bread and turnips. I said that, out of our scanty means, we would have to help the German revolution with bread. I watched with greatest attention the faces of the audience. Always in meetings, at a difficult moment, my eyes look for the weakest link in the chain. I always select the most backward worker and I speak solely for him or her, and if that hearer is convinced one can be sure of having convinced them all. But now, in front of me, there were faces full of elation. I could not find anyone indifferent or tired. ‘Even if we starve, we shall help our German brothers!’ This cry of mine was unanimously taken up by the masses of workers.

I returned to the Commissariat. The German Embassy informed me by phone that Berlin was calling us. I followed Chicherin to the Denezhny Lane. At first the Independent deputy Oskar Cohn came to the apparatus. He informed me briefly of the situation. He expressed the hope that Yoffe would soon be able to return to Berlin. He announced that the vice-president of the Government of the People’s Commissars, the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Georg Haase, was going to speak to me. Haase, with a lawyer’s politeness, conveyed to us the greetings of the Government of the People’s Commissars, and their thanks for our offer of bread. He hesitated for a moment. There was an uneasy silence. I felt the beating of my heart. Comrade Chicherin and I stood without taking our eyes from the tape. Slowly the letters began to appear:

‘But as we are aware that there is hunger in Russia, we ask you to divert the bread which you are prepared to sacrifice for the German revolution to the benefit of the hungry in Russia. The President of the American Republic, Wilson, has guaranteed to Germany the supply of bread and fats required for feeding the population during the winter ...’

I saw the face of the old textile woman worker of the Prokhorov plant who, despite her hungry children at home, willingly sacrificed a piece of bread in order to help the German brothers. Her outstretched hand remained hanging in mid air. The leader of the German revolution, Haase, was prepared to take bread and fats from the leader of American plutocracy. He did not want help from the Russian revolution. A second August 4th; [2] Judas Iscariot completed his betrayal.

We inquired whether Yoffe’s expulsion remained in force. Haase replied that his Government would be glad to enter negotiations with us on the resumption of diplomatic relations, but he asked that, before negotiations began, the German consuls still remaining in Moscow should be permitted to leave for Berlin in order to report, while comrade Yoffe should proceed to Moscow; and afterwards both Governments could come to terms. Our worst expectations were confirmed. We stated that we had no intention of detaining the German consuls, but that we were notifying the Government of the People’s Commissars that the General Staff of the German forces in the Baltic, Belorussia and Lithuania was arming the bourgeoisie, and suppressing the workers and peasants; this was liable to lead to clashes with our troops, for, having annulled the Treaty of Brest, we did not consider these territories as having seceded from the RSFSR. In our opinion, the population of these territories must determine its fate by a free vote, which was impossible in the presence of the armed forces of Germany, or under conditions where the bourgeoisie had arms and the workers and peasants had none. On these grounds, we should regard as indispensable negotiations with plenipotentiaries of the Government of the People’s Commissars. We were suggesting that for this purpose Yoffe or someone else should go to Berlin, or that a German plenipotentiary should come to Moscow. Haase replied wearily and briefly that he would convey our offer to his Government. We pointed out that time was short. Any day could lead to a clash. He answered that he could not on his own responsibility fix the time limit for the reply. Then we replied: ‘We are informing you that, unless we receive from you within three days a definite answer to the questions raised by us, the Red Army will have freedom of action, and the responsibility for complications in the evacuation of your forces will be entirely yours.’ ‘I shall endeavour to accelerate the reply’, announced Haase and, after some conventional courtesies, discontinued the conversation.

The position was quite clear. The same night a long radio telegram was sent to the Berlin Soviet, defining the policy of Ebert and Haase as the policy of a deal with the Allied bourgeoisie against the Russian and German revolution. We informed the Berlin Soviet of the desire of VTsIK to send a delegation to the projected congress of German Soviets. The very same night, I wrote a pamphlet for distribution among the German soldiers entitled Trau, Schau, Wem? (Know Thine Enemy!)

The Austrian and German war prisoners had seized the premises of their Embassies. The Austrian Ambassador, de Poteri, came to see me.

‘Well, are they inconveniencing you a lot?’

‘No’, he replied with a smile, ‘they are very nice young men, the left me my bedroom and the study. They have settled down in all the other rooms. But if you are so kind as to concern yourself about my affairs, then you could perhaps draw their attention to the fact that I have no objection to their receiving girls at night, but is it really necessary for them to pass through my bedroom? I am not old enough yet to remain indifferent to young girls.’

De Poteri had more life in him than the Austrian Monarchy. And I asked Comrade Tomann not to annoy him unnecessarily.

The German officials behaved with unheard of cowardice. Only the Military Attaché, Col. Schubert, came to me, in order to borrow the Communist Manifesto and Anti-Duehring. He had read Lenin’s State and Revolution and showed in his conversation glimpses of an understanding of what was happening.

We received an invitation to the Congress of German Soviets, signed by Brutus Molkenbuhr. A delegation was formed consisting of comrades Yoffe, Rakovsky, Bukharin, myself and Ignatov. We had a meeting with Lenin and Sverdlov in order to discuss our line of conduct at the Congress. After the talk, Ilyich stopped me. His face was as worried as it had been on the balcony of the Moscow Soviet.

‘The gravest moment has arrived. Germany is beaten. The Entente’s road to Russia is cleared. Even if Germany does not take part in the campaign against us, the hands of the Allies are free. Franchet d’Esperet can move with the whole Balkan army of the Allies through Hungary and Rumania against the Ukraine. They can throw troops across the Dardanelles. The Straits are in their hands.’

‘The troops longing for peace will hardly want to go against us,’ I replied.

‘They will send over coloured troops. How will you work among them?’

‘We shall use pictures. But coloured troops will hardly stand our climate. If revolution does not come soon to the countries of the Allies and they are able to send their armies into Russia then these armies will disintegrate here’, I said.

‘We shall see,’ was Ilyich’s reply.

Later, in a speech made in 1920, he recollected this conversation. He began to instruct me on my work, in the event of my remaining in Germany.

– ‘Remember that you will act in the rear of the enemy. Intervention is inevitable, and much will depend on the situation in Germany.’

– ‘The German revolution’, I answered intently, ‘is too great an event to be regarded as a diversion in the rear of the enemy.’

– ‘Yes,’ said Ilyich, ‘I don’t suggest that you should force developments; they will proceed according to the internal laws of the German revolution.’

Sections 2–7 (’General Falkenhayn’s Prisoner’, ‘Illegally into Germany with the Retreating German Army’, ‘In Berlin’, ‘The Putsch and Murder of Rosa and Karl’, ‘Arrest’ and ‘Investigation’) are not translated.


1. The Hughes machine was a form of teleprinter in use for communications between Moscow and Berlin.

2. August 4th, 1914, was the date on which the Social-Democratic fraction in the German Reichstag voted unanimously for the war credits.

Last updated on 18.10.2011