Karl Radek


8. A Political Salon

The investigation was concluded. With it, my isolation came to an end. I was kept in jail and was told that I should be released when Soviet Russia returned the hostages taken for me and when it would be possible to send me. I was allowed to have visitors. Apart from comrade Frieda Winkelmann, a German teacher and old friend who, with extraordinary self-denial was feeding and bringing up the children of our illegal comrades and who looked after me in prison, the first who hastened to visit me was my old friend the Swiss comrade Moor, an ex-member of the First International who, for the remainder of his life, belonged to the Left wing of the Swiss labour movement. I made his acquaintance as early as 1904 when I was studying in Berne, where he was editing the Party paper. During the war he helped those of our comrades who had no legal documents; he was guarantor for Lenin and Zinoviev when they were expelled from Austria to Switzerland. The old man came from a German aristocratic family, but having become a socialist during his university years, he broke with it and worked as an agitator and editor in Switzerland. A man of immense erudition, especially in history, with in ardent temperament, he could not fit into the narrow, philistine frame of Switzerland. He was friendly with the Narodovoltsy, supported out of his scanty means Warynski and Dickstein, the leaders of the first Socialist party in Poland, and had incessant conflicts with the Swiss Party on account of his radicalism and Bohemian way of life. The respectable burghers could forgive him neither his disbelief in democracy, nor his weakness for women. And on the occasion of the many splits, in which he was the chief figure, the walls of the city of Berne were frequently adorned with placards on the harm of radicalism leading to free love as shown by the amorous adventures of Karl Moor, whose conduct was an ‘honour’ to his family. Moor’s parents died before the war, and he inherited a considerable fortune. He supported us Bolsheviks and Spartakists, and immediately after the Revolution he hastened to Russia. When I was arrested he came to Germany and, using his connections with the German Social Democracy then in power, and with the German militarists among whom he had many relations, he worked behind the scenes in order to get me out of prison. Though he did not succeed, it is to a large extent due to him that nothing happened to me in jail. Moor brought me a mass of encouraging news about the situation in Russia and began to arrange for visits of people who, without his assistance, would not have been able to get to me. Within a few days my cell had become a political salon.

Two of my first guests were the former Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha, the Head of the Young Turk Government, and his War Minister Enver Pasha, the hero of the defence of Tripoli. After the rout of Turkey, they lived semi-illegally in Berlin – the Entente was demanding their extradition – and they were planning how to conduct the further defence of Turkey. Enver, having fled after the rout through Soviet Russia illegally to Germany, was the first to bring home to the German militarists that Soviet Russia was a new and growing world force with which they would have to count, if they in fact meant to struggle against the Entente. I knew Talaat from the time of Brest-Litovsk. There I had seen him at the victors’ table. Here in the Berlin prison, a broken man, he recalled that he was the son of a telegraphist and himself a former telegraphist, and kept saying that the Moslem East could free itself from slavery only with the support of the popular masses and an alliance with Soviet Russia. They described their relations with Kemal Pasha, who was leading the defence of Turkey after her defeat in the world war, in such a way as to suggest that, while Kemal was allegedly compelled to dissociate himself from the fallen Young Turk regime, there were no essential divergences between them, and they were organizing help for him abroad. I tried to persuade them to go to Russia, which in fact Enver Pasha did later on. Talaat Pasha was killed by Armenians in revenge for the inhuman massacres. We discussed the Armenian question many times. Talaat did not defend his policy, but pointed out that, surrounded as they were on all sides by the Entente which used the Armenians as an element of internal disruption, they were compelled to resort to the most brutal measures. I must say that Talaat struck me as a man with great innate intelligence and will power; he spoke a mixture of broken German and French. Enver Pasha, expressing himself freely in French and German, nervous by temperament, gave the impression of an unstable man who had completely lost his balance and was fighting more for his personal position than for his country.

Then, without any preliminaries, came Rathenau. I knew him only from his books, from his activity as president of the board of the Allgemeine Elektrizitaetsgesellschaft (AEG), and as the organizer of Germany’s raw materials supply during the war. I had occasion later on to meet him many times in his capacity as German Minister for Foreign Affairs, and I was able to form a clear idea of this very complicated man. Already at the first meeting, his basic qualities became evident to me – a great abstract intellect, the absence of any intuition and a morbid vanity. Crossing his legs, he asked permission to give his views on the world situation. He spoke for more than an hour, listening attentively to the sound of his own voice. Soviet Russia would not be defeated. Tsarism was rotten through and through; there was nothing to induce the Russian peasant to return to the yoke of the landlords; the Russian bourgeoisie had always been weak. But we should not be carried away by our military victories. The Huns had also been victorious. The question was whether we would be capable of creating a new system. The whole world stood at the cross-roads. There could not be any return to the old capitalist order. There would be a break-up of social relationships, but the working masses by themselves could only destroy; creative work was a matter of brain; only under the leadership of the aristocracy of intellect would the working class be able to create the new society. This would not be a society of equality, for equality was impossible. But the new order would destroy the right of inheritance. The most intelligent and the strongest, in effect, would be the leaders. Scope would be given to the most gifted elements of the popular masses.

– ‘And how do you intend to organize the new commodity production?’ I inquired.

– ‘Read my books’, Rathenau replied, ‘Marx merely gave the theory of destruction. From my works you will derive the theory of constructive socialism. This is the first advance in science since the time of Marx,’ he announced modestly.

Noticing that I was smiling, he continued to hold forth: ‘The victory of the revolution in Germany is impossible for a long time to come. The German worker is a philistine. Probably in a few years time I shall come to you in the capacity of a technician, and you, the Soviet notables, will receive me as an old acquaintance in the Kremlin, wearing silken garments.’

– ‘Why silk?’ I asked him.

– ‘Because after many years of the asceticism of illegal revolutionaries, you will wish to enjoy life after victory. There will be nothing wrong n that, as long as you do your job of creating the new society.’ With these words Rathenau, assuming the role of a gracious and indulgent control commission, concluded our first talk.

During one of the visits of Talaat Pasha and Enver Pasha, Harden came. I had very little love for this brilliant publicist of the Wilhelmine era. In his youth he had toyed with socialism; later, having founded his weekly Die Zukunft, he was a champion of the Bismarckian opposition to William II and remained a fashionable castigator of the latter’s regime. But in his strivings for effects, in his high-flown style, there were many of the most negative features of the Wilhelmine era. Socially he represented a cross between Carlyle and Nietzsche. My attitude to Harden was also influenced by the hatred which my teacher Mehring felt for him. But during the war he displayed great courage in the struggle against the German military myth, and after the assassination of Rosa Luxemburg he was the only German bourgeois publicist who, without fear of the ‘White’ gangs, exposed all the evasions of the murderers who were endeavouring to cover up their traces. Before me sat an elegant old man, somewhat anxious to disguise his advanced age. He was full of melancholy and pessimism regarding Germany’s future and full of the most withering contempt for German Social Democracy and the bourgeois democracy that dared not wage a genuine struggle against the entire Wilhelmine apparatus, which remained untouched. He showed a great interest in the communist movement, as the only live and growing force in Germany. As an opponent of the policy of immediate resistance to the Entente, and a defender of the Versailles peace as an inevitable stage, he regarded as absurd the policy of ignoring Soviet Russia whose growing strength he understood completely. He suggested that I write an article for his weekly about Russo-German relations, which I did with great pleasure. [1]

Old Moor brought Baron Raivnitz [2], Ludendorff’s colleague in the Cadet Corps, to see me. Raivnitz was the first representative of the species labelled ‘National-Bolsheviks’ with whom I had to deal. He was the champion, in officers’ circles, not only of alliance with Soviet Russia, but of the so-called peaceful revolution. He was of the opinion that the central task of restoring the productive forces of Germany was insoluble without the nationalization of industry and without factory committees. The factory committees must, even before nationalization, draw the proletariat into the problems of organizing industry. During that time, while the workers would be ‘drawn’ into the organization of production, it would be necessary to bring about a moral revolution and, through the pressure of the organized proletariat and the intelligentsia, compel the propertied classes to consent to a deal which would include compensation. He begged me to write an article in this sense, referring to Lenin’s April 1918 speech on the next tasks of Soviet power. The speech, which appeared in Germany at that time, made a tremendous impression on a section of bourgeois public opinion. I pointed out to him that Lenin had made that speech after the seizure of power, and I suggested to him that he should persuade the bourgeoisie to capitulate, whilst we Communists would organize the ‘pressure’ of the working class.


1. The article appeared in Die Zukunft, no. 19, February 7th, 1920, and was reprinted as a pamphlet under the title Deutschland und Russland: Ein in der Moabiter Schutzhaft geschriebener Artikel für ‘richtiggehende’ Bourgeois (Berlin 1920).

2. The correct spelling is Reibnitz (Eugen Freiherr von Reibnitz): Radek gives the name here as Raivnitz and later as Reignitz.

Last updated on 18.10.2011