John Reed

How Soviet Russia Conquered Imperial Germany

(January 1919)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 39, 28 September 1932, p. 3.
Originally published in The Liberator, January 1919.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

This is the story of how the Bolsheviks helped blow up the Kaiser and then brought the last world war to an end.

It was written by John Reed, the brilliant revolutionary journalist, and author of the famous Ten Days That Shook the World, who lived through the Russian Revolution of 1917 and recorded its stirring events. In the vast socialist propaganda campaign which the Bolsheviks carried on among the Germans in occupied Russia and in Germany itself, John Reed was himself an active participant. His record of that campaign, here reprinted, originally appeared in the revolutionary magazine, The Liberator, in January 1919.

Labor Action in its issue announcing this series by John Reed, published an introductory article which contrasted the behavior of the Bolsheviks of 1917 with the behavior of the Stalinists of 1942. To understand the story John Reed tells, to understand its vital significance as it relates to today, to understand it for what it actually is, an indictment of the Stalin regime written years before that regime was established, be sure to read the introduction in Labor Action of September 21.

Now that Imperial Germany is overthrown, we are told by the capitalist press of all countries that the Allied armies did it

The pressure of superior Allied arms undoubtedly broke the power of the German offensive in the West, but that is all. Soviet Russia conquered Imperial Germany.

Two months ago our government warned us that the war might last five years longer. At the very height of the German retreat, the Army and Navy Journal and the military experts of the New York Tribune and the London Times pointed out that the German armies were falling back in perfect order, according to well worked out strategic plans. When the Allied armies entered Lille they were not even in contact with the German rear guard. Germany could have defended her frontiers almost indefinitely ...

It was not the Allied armies which broke the morale of the Central Powers, but something else, something internal. It is generally admitted that Germany had plenty of men, plenty of arms, and even food. ... Why couldn’t she answer Bulgaria’s call for help? And Austria’s? Because in Germany itself, in the heart of the greatest military machine in history, was a more powerful enemy than the Allies – the rising of the proletariat.

The German imperial government, the German bourgeoisie, preferred surrender to the bourgeois nations of the West, which respect private property, to the social revolution ... Even now, as the Russian bourgeoisie before them, they are appealing to the Allies for help against their own “red” working class ...

Effects of Galician Offensive

In July, 1917, after three months of inaction, the Russian armies were ordered to advance in Galicia. During those months there had been almost continuous fraternization on the Eastern front. The German armies were becoming demoralized – whole regiments refused to fire on the Russian lines, were reorganized, and many soldiers executed. There was alarm throughout Germany. But the Galician offensive broke the spell. Nothing could have been more welcome to the German high command. In Stockholm, in August, I saw a letter written by Rosa Luxemburg to a friend:

“So, you Russians have broken the peace! The Russian Revolution was everything to us, too. Everything in Germany was tottering, falling ... For months the soldiers of the two armies had fraternized, and our officers were powerless ... Then suddenly, without a word of warning, the Russians fired on their German comrades! After that it was easy to convince the Germans that the Russian peace was a lie. Alas, my poor friends! Germany will destroy you now, and for us is black despair come again ...”

It was because of this that, the German advance on Riga was so effective, although there had been no fighting in that sector since April ... When the Army Committee of the Twelfth Army evacuated the city, however, soldiers went about under bombardment, posting on all walls and open spaces this proclamation:

German Soldiers!

“The Russian soldiers of the Twelfth Army draw your attention to the fact that you are carrying on a war for autocracy against revolution, freedom and justice. The victory of Wilhelm will be death to democracy and freedom. We withdraw from Riga, but we know that the forces of the Revolution will ultimately prove themselves more powerful than the force of cannons. We know that in the long run your conscience will overcome everything, and that the German soldiers, with the Russian Revolutionary Army, will march to the victory of freedom. You are at present stronger than we are, but yours is only the strength of brute force. The moral force is on our side. History will tell that the German proletarians went against their revolutionary brothers, and that they forgot international working class solidarity. This crime you can expiate only by one means. You must understand your own and at the same time the universal interests, and strain all your immense power against imperialism, and go hand in hand with us – toward life and liberty!”

A month later mutiny broke out on the German fleet at Kiel. The sailors of the Russian battleships in the Baltic, in convention assembled, sent this greeting:

“The revolutionary sailors of the Baltic fleet ... send their brotherhood greetings to their heroic German comrades who have taken part in the insurrection at Kiel.

“The Russian sailors are in complete possession of their battleships. The Sailors’ Committees are the high command. The yacht of the former Czar, the Polar Star, is now the headquarters of the Fleet Committee, which is composed of common sailors, one from each ship.

“Since the Revolution, the Russian Fleet is as busy as formerly, but the Russian sailors will not use the fleet to fight their brothers, but (everywhere to fight under the Red Flag of the International for the freedom of the proletariat throughout the entire world.”

Bolsheviks Appeal to Workers

The first act of the Bolshevik uprising in November was to order all company, regimental and army committees on the Russian front to begin fraternization with the Germans and to conclude immediate temporary armistice treaties with the military units opposing them.

On the night of November 8, in the Congress of Soviets, Lenin read the decree of peace, part of which said:

“Addressing this proposal for peace to the governments and peoples of all the belligerent countries, the Provisional Workers’ and Peasants’ Government of Russia addresses itself also in particular to the conscious workmen of the three most advanced nations of humanity and the greatest of the powers participating in the present war – England, France and Germany. The workers of these countries have rendered great service to the cause of progress and socialism; the Chartist movement in England, the series of revolutions carried out by the French proletariat, and lastly, the heroic struggle against the laws of exception in Germany, and the long, stubborn, disciplinary work of creating proletarian organizations in Germany, which ought to serve as a model for the whole world – all these models of proletarian heroism and historical creation are guarantees that the workers of the above-named countries will understand their duty, which is to deliver humanity from the horrors and results of war. These same workers, by their decisive and energetic action, will help us bring to a successful conclusion the fight for peace and at the same time the liberation of all the working classes from slavery and exploitation ...”

At the same time a proclamation to the German soldiers was drawn up, printed in millions of copies and not only smuggled across the front but dropped from airplanes inside Germany. It begins:

“To the German Soldiers!

“Soldiers, Brothers!

“On October 25 (old style), the workmen and soldiers of St. Petersburg overthrew the imperialistic government of Kerensky and placed the whole power in the hands of the Soviets of. Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. The new government, under the name of the Council of Russian Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Our program, to the execution of which the government has immediately proceeded, consists in a proposal of an immediate democratic peace, which has already been communicated to the belligerent nations and their governments, in the transfer without compensation of all the land to the peasants for their use, and in the realization of workers’ control over production and industry.

“We have taken all measures and will in the future leave none untried, in order that all the belligerent governments and peoples shall be informed of the full content of our peace negotiations. In addition to the above-mentioned peace proposal, we consider it our duty to address ourselves particularly to you, as representatives of a nation which is at the head of the coalition engaged in war against Russia on an extensive front.

“Soldiers, Brothers! We ask you to stand by socialism with all your might in the struggle for immediate peace, as that is the only means to secure an equitable and permanent peace for the working classes of all countries and to heal the wounds which the present most criminal of all wars has inflicted on humanity ...”

This was followed by the Appeal to the Toiling and Exploited Peoples of All Lands, and the texts of the decree on peace and the decree on land.

A proclamation printed for the Austrian trenches hailed Friedrich Adler, arrested for assassinating a reactionary Minister in Vienna, as the “Eagle” (ADLER) of the international social revolution.

(Continued in next issue)

Last updated on 30 September 2014