Karl Radek


10. Half-Free

At that time Comrade Kopp arrived in Berlin and established himself as a semi-legal Plenipotentiary Representative (Polpred) in the guise of a commissioner dealing with war prisoners. From Kopp I learned in detail about the situation in Russia, and received papers and new Russian books from him. I was particularly impressed by the discussion on the Party programme at the IX Congress, which I translated and provided with a preface. Kopp began to seek ways and means to get me out of prison. The difficulty was that Moscow was afraid to release the hostages before my return. The Germans did not want to let me out without the return of the hostages, and, apart from that, there was an uninterrupted front between Germany and Soviet Russia from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. Our negotiations with Estonia began. The Soviet Government appointed me a member of the peace delegation – but how was I to get to Estonia? The Lithuanians put forward their own demand in return for a free passage for me. Their Government sought the release of Lithuanian prisoners; but these could not be handed over without obtaining the release of our comrades languishing in Lithuanian jails. The Lithuanian Minister in Berlin demanded petrol for a motor-car. Suddenly I got information from a Jesuit priest released from prison simultaneously with the Archbishop of Vilna, Kropp [1], that the Soviet Government and Pilsudski had concluded a secret agreement, under which Poland undertook to let me pass through. [2] But the Germans did not believe it, until they receiver a corresponding telegram from Warsaw. Thereupon I was permitted to move into the private apartment of Baron Reignitz, from which I was to start my journey. Towards evening four police agents turned up in my cell and, disregarding my protests, threw me out of prison. I protested, for I needed at least a whole day in order to pack my books. But they were implacable. As I had been forcibly installed in prison, so was I forcibly driven out of it.

With much noise they took me to the apartment of Baron Reignitz and settled down in the bedroom with me. There had to be long talks with Noske’s Staff, while his aide-de-camp, Major Gilsa, contented himself with one policeman in the ante-room. When I got up next morning, Baron Reignitz inquired whether I would object if Colonel Bauer, a German artillery commander during the war and chief advisor of Ludendorff, had lunch with us. Naturally, I did not object. In the dining-room I discovered a man with the movements of a cat, quite unlike a soldier, and we began to talk of Germany’s internal and external position. A few days before, in the Reichstag’s Commission investigating the causes of the protraction of the war, Ludendorff had checkmated the worthy parliamentarians. Referring to his performance, I told Bauer I had the impression that they were preparing a coup d’etat. Bauer replied that they did not even think of such a thing. Ludendorff was of the opinion that it was very easy to seize the Government, but in such an event the railways would stop. It was impossible at this time to rule Germany against the will of the workers. It was necessary to wait until the workers were disillusioned with the bourgeois democracy and they realized that the ‘dictatorship of labour’ in Germany was possible only by an agreement of the workers with the officer class. He implied that, on this basis, it might be possible for the officer class to make a deal with the Communist Party and Soviet Russia. They realized that we were invincible and that we were Germany’s allies in the struggle against the Entente. I replied that General Ludendorff had a representative in Parliament in the person of the press king Hugenberg, one of the leaders of heavy industry. Let Hugenberg make this offer publicly to the German working class. Bauer, understanding the implication, maintained that during the war he and Ludendorff had struggled against Hugenberg’s predatory policy, and suggested that we should come to terms after all. I told him that only the German Central Committee could speak for the German Communist Party, and that with the Soviet Government it was necessary to negotiate in Moscow. He left.

The next visitor was Ernst Heilmann, one of the leaders of German Social Democracy. Before the war, when he was editing the Chemnitz Party organ, I fought with him literally every day because he was one of the consistent reformists, and in this literary struggle we came to know one another very well. At the time of my adventures connected with the split in Polish Social Democracy, Heilmann stood up very energetically to the base attitude of Ebert and Scheidemann towards me; and since then there had been a certain personal bond between us. I valued very much the straightforwardness of this reformist equestrian. He displayed it also now in this talk.

– ‘The Socialist revolution is impossible at the present time, for German industry lacks raw materials and the country is without bread.’

– ‘What then, in your opinion, is the way out? Do you believe that, in the situation which you are presenting, the country will go through democracy to socialism?’

– ‘That is propagandist nonsense,’ Heilmann replied, ‘the restoration of German economy is impossible without the enslavement of the country to American capital. Only when the economy is restored and the class struggle against capitalism merges with the struggle against national oppression will it be possible to think of revolution.’

Stampfer, the Editor of Vowärts, came. I told him that I was convinced the Whites were preparing a putsch, and hinted that, in the struggle against the counter-revolution, the Communists would consent to a temporary bloc with Social Democracy, but that the creation of such a bloc would defend on the restoration of the Soviets, dispersed by Noske, as organs of struggle against counter-revolution. Stampfer denied the evidence of counter-revolutionary danger and said that they would never consent to a renewal of the activity of the Soviets.

The technical negotiations with Poland over my transit were protracted. Lest I should abuse the hospitality of Baron Reignitz who was not used to the kind of to-do which was going on in my quarters, I had to move into the apartment of Police Commissar Gustav Schmidt, where I spent a few more days. A police agent sat in the hall munching potato cakes. I started I to talk to him about his conditions of life which were very depressed, and soon I had the fellow so much in my pocket that he bought for me a leather suit and a big revolver from the police stores. It was his duty to write down the names of my visitors but he was content with the list which I gave him. He was very shaken when my first visitor in the new flat proved to be the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rear-Admiral Hintze.

Hintze, of small stature, elegant, with a motionless Chinese face, made a strong impression on me. He was a man deeply shaken by Germany’s fate. He told me much about the mood of the workers in Silesia where he had a landed estate. He had had many talks with them, and considered that the essence of the revolution lay in the refusal of the workers to work any longer for the capitalists. The Catholic workers had spoken to him of the injustice of the capitalist order and of the need to organize a new life. The bourgeoisie was hated. Germany would hardly be able to rise again without a change of regime. He was for a deal with Soviet Russia, and said that he would very much have liked to see our present conditions with his own eyes. In 1905 he had been naval attaché at the Imperial Court. He had watched the events in Petersburg, had hunted a great deal in Russia’s forests, had had opportunities to observe the attitude of the landlords to the peasantry, and had convinced himself, on the basis of his observations, of the final downfall of the old Russia. He questioned me on the probability of revolution in the West, and whether it would come there before the Entente had t; allowed up Germany.

Rathenau brought the Director General of the AEG, the clever old Felix Deutsch, who had old connections with Russia and a very good knowledge of the Russian technical world. Felix Deutsch was very sceptical about the possibility of the existence of any system other than capitalism.

– ‘You recognize an evolution from the savages in the African woods to the director of the AEG? Why do you think that it can not go further?’ I asked him.

– ‘In all epochs there has existed a class of organizers, and it is impossible to do without it,’ he replied.

That the advanced section of the proletariat could be the organizer of industry, by absorbing the best elements of the technical intelligentsia, he did not believe. Work was so hard that the workers could not compel themselves to work. But let the regime be what it pleases, as long as we trade with the AEG. He inquired delicately whether we did not intend to return to them their confiscated factories. But when I laughingly inquired why we should make presents to them, he started to moan about my perverted views. But he too wanted to go to Russia.

The German comrades were already visiting me in whole groups. Klara Zetkin, as cheerful as ever, came with Levi, and we worked out the theses of the west European Bureau of the Comintern on the world situation and Communist tactics. [3] They began with the words that the correct tactics of the Communist Parties must start from the premise that revolution, even on a European scale, will be a lengthy process. When I returned to Moscow, this passage caused much head-shaking on the part of Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. I saw the leading comrades of the Communist Party and a number of Left Independents one after the other. Däumig, the most respectable of the latter, stood for a split in the Party. Crispien took up a waiting position and represented the Party Centre.

The delay in the departure began to worry me. We ordered a plane, and I was to fly together with Enver Pasha. But upon receipt of a telegram from Captain Ignat Berner, the Chief of the Polish military intelligence, fixing the time for my transit through Poland, I gave up the journey by plane. Later on, the reactionary Polish publicist Niemojewski published the tape of conversations by Hughes machine between the Polish Consul in Berlin and the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Patek, which showed that there had been negotiations about the bribing of the pilot, who was to land with me in Poland, where I was to remain as a hostage.

At last we moved by train to the Polish-Prussian frontier in Prostken. I was accompanied by Police Commissar Schmidt with two agents, and the present Counsellor of the German Embassy in Moscow, the former Major Hey. I carried with me, in four enormous trunks, the whole basic economic literature of the first post-war year, the complete files of the Communist press, and the works of Einstein, at that time still unknown in Russia. In Prostken we stopped in a hotel whose owner fed us magnificently, taking us for an Entente frontier commission. The Poles, without asking anyone’s permission, arrived in a special train at the German station. I took leave of the Germans and entered the Polish train.


1. The archbishop was a Baron Ropp (Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919–1939: First Series III, 1949, 793).

2. An agreement between the RSFSR and Poland for the exchange of civilian prisoners was signed on November 9th, 1919 (Krasnaya Kniga: Sbornik Diplomaticheskikh Dokumentov o Russko-Polskikh Otnosheniakh, 1920, pp. 76–80); but there may have been a special agreement relating to Radek.

3. The Theses were probably the pamphlet Die Entwicklung der Weltrevolution und die Taktik der Kommunistischen Parteien im Kampfe um die Diktatur des Proletariats: herausgegeben vom Westeuropaischen Sekretariat der Kornmunistischen Internationale (Berlin 1919); cf. Section 9, note 9.

Last updated on 18.10.2011