Th. Rothstein, under his pseudonym W.A.M.M. 1918

The German Socialist Minority

A Rejoinder

Source: The Call Index, 23 May 1918, p.3, (1,439 words)
Transcribed: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Dear Comrade, — I am much obliged for comrade Douthan Popovitch’s courteous criticism of my view of the German “Independent” Social Democrats, but I must confess it has failed to convince me.

Comrade Popovitch begins by quoting the difference in the action of the two sections of the German Socialists in regard to the questions arising out of the war. I quoted them myself. But I also pointed out their inner meaning. The Haase group is now voting against the war credits, but its members voted for them three and some even four times before they found their present way. Kautsky himself did not on August 8th, 1914, go so far as to propose rejection of the credits. All he did was, since the “situation was extremely difficult and complicated,” to use his own words, to suggest that the party abstain from voting; and when this proposal was rejected, to offer an alternative: to accept the credits if the Government agreed to “give guarantees” about the defensive character of Germany’s war aims. As the idea of exacting “guarantees” rightly seemed ridiculous to the majority, this alternative was also rejected, and Kautsky and his friends submitted to the decision to vote the credits.

On August 8th, 1914, in his first war article, Kautsky wrote:

“We must preserve the organisation and the institutions of the party and the trade unions intact . We are a party of self-criticism, but in time of war the latter must be silent. Never was it more difficult, never less easy, to adopt an attitude which would satisfy every comrade without exception . But discipline in war is as necessary for the party as for the army . Not criticism, but trust, is the most important condition of our success.”

It was the same fetishism of party unity which before the war led Kautsky to surrender all the positions and all revolutionary policy to the Right wing of the Party, with the result which became apparent even to the blind on August 3th-4th, 1914. But it took Kautsky nearly eighteen months to discover that principles were something more important than formal unity, and even then he was afraid to make the separation between the two wings final, until he and his friends were expelled. As against this, think of Liebknecht, Rosa Luxembourg, Franz Mehring, Klara Zetkin and the whole Stuttgart organisation which at once broke away from the Scheidemannites.

Was this fetishism a mere error of judgment? On August 13th Kautsky, defending the French and Belgian Socialists, wrote:

“Their voting of credits was dictated by precisely the same motives as ours; they, too, regarded their Fatherland, its liberties and integrity, as jeopardised. It has always been for us a self-understood matter that in such a case it is the duty of Social Democrats to defend their nation with all their strength.”

And he adds that “neither can objection be taken to Vandervelde’s entry in a bourgeois Ministry of National Defence,” since that, too, was provided for in 1900 by the famous Paris resolution, of which, by the way, the unfortunate author was Kautsky himself!

In fact, Kautsky’s attitude throughout was based on the duty of national defence. On October 2nd, 1914, conveniently forgetting the Stuttgart-Basel resolution, he wrote:

“Should war, in spite of all efforts of Social Democracy, break out, it is the natural duty of every nation to protect its skin as best it can. Hence the equal right or equal duty of the Socialists of all countries to take part in this work of defence, and no one has the right to reproach the other for doing so.”

A truly revolutionary attitude, is it not, comrade Popovitch? Why then did your two deputies in the Chamber vote against the war credits? Read Kautsky’s article on “Internationality and the War,” published on November 27th, 1914, which sets out to prove that “the International is not an efficient instrument in war, but essentially an instrument in peace time,” this being its limitation against which it would be preposterous and Utopian to revolt; or another on May 28th, 1915, in which he indignantly denied that the present war was Imperialist in the sense in which the extremists on both sides were representing it, and argued, by referring to the case of Serbia and the nationalities in Austria, that this was “also” a “national” war. With all due respect to Serbia, I do not think that even comrade Popovitch will see in the present war a struggle for her emancipation.

Such was Kautsky at the beginning of the war, and the rest of his group may be judged by him. Has he and his group improved since then? In form they have, in substance they have not. They have become more anti-war and pacifist; some of them have become distinctly pro-Entente; but their fundamental standpoint on national defence has remained exactly the same. In the course of the same series of articles which comrade Popovitch quotes, Kautsky acknowledges the duty of taking part in national defence and of voting the war credits, provided the Government and general political system of the country are such as to offer sufficient guarantees that the war is a defensive war. This, mind you, in the era of Imperialist wars and after the experiment of Kerensky’s Government!

I am not attacking Kautsky and friends for not making a revolution in Germany, as if revolution, could be made! I am attacking them because they are doing nothing to prepare one, because, in fact, they do not want one and are essentially anti-revolutionary. The great strike movement of January was not their work, but that of the masses themselves. So far from trying to make use of it, the “Independents” tried their hardest to turn it into a mere demonstration for a “democratic” peace. Comrade Popovitch mentions Dittmann, who got five years for taking part in the strike movement. Has he read Dittmann’s speech before the Court? There he strenuously defended himself against the charge of helping the strikers to “stab Germany in the back at the moment of her hardest trials,” by saying that he had never advocated that or any other strike in his life, and that the charge was the more baseless as the strike had been intended merely as a three days’ demonstration in favour of a “peace by understanding.” Compare this apology with Liebknecht’s speech before his judges or that of our own John Maclean, and then say whether Dittmann and his friends “are in the best way preparing the basis for strong revolutionary action.”

And it is precisely this anti-revolutionary attitude which was at bottom of the attacks of Kautsky and his friends on the Bolsheviks. It is all very well to say that none of us is without faults, and that it is our Socialist duty mutually to correct them, but it is strange that this thirst for mutual correction should have arisen solely in respect of the Bolsheviks. And to think that this critical itch should have arisen just when the Bolsheviks had to fight not only the innumerable internal enemies, but also Kautsky’s and Bernstein’s own junkers and generals at Brest! At that time the “Leipziger Volkszeitung,” the chief organ of the Kautsky-Haase group, as well as the “Sozialistische Auslandskorrespondenz,” were carrying on a most scurrilous campaign against the Bolsheviks, and Kautsky himself, in a widely quoted article, set out to prove that the proletarian dictatorship established by the Bolsheviks is incompatible with Democracy (blessed word!) and Socialism. It is true that since then (owing probably to a talk which he had with comrade Petroff on the occasion of the latter’s visit to Berlin) Kautsky has considerably modified his attitude towards the Bolsheviks; but that does not alter the fact that he, together with the Scheidemannites and the junkers, had been pouring dirty water on the heads of the only true Socialists, Revolutionists, and Internationalists of our day, helping the task of the German Imperialists at Brest and in the Ukraine and damping all sympathy with the Bolsheviks and every revolutionary endeavour on the German workers’ part to come to the assistance of Socialist Russia.

To me the test of Socialist parties and leaders at present is not their pacifism, but their attitude, revolutionary or otherwise, towards the war, towards Imperialism, and the classes and systems which uphold it. I must confess that both my heart and mind are impervious to pleas for “tolerance” towards the Scheidemannites and Kautskians and other avowed and disguised anti-revolutionists at a time when their treachery or impotence stare us in the face.