Victor Serge

Year One of the Russian Revolution

The German Revolution


July and August had been no less decisive in the West than in Russia. The great spring offensives of the Germans, begun at a moment when the American forces were still away from the battle and Russia had opted out of fighting, had failed to break the Allies’ will to resist. The German pincer-movement had managed only to get nearer to Paris. At the end of April, Hindenburg’s and Ludendorff’s troops had moved from their positions at Cambrai, St Quentin and La Fere and advanced as far as Albert, Montdidier and Noyon (battle of the Somme); at some points they penetrated fifty kilometres ahead, and their progress threatened Amiens and the link between the British and French armies, as well as Compiègne and the road to Paris. At the end of May, a further effort had taken them on from L’Ailette on the Marne, another advance of forty kilometres which was marked by the capture of Soissons and Chateau-Thierry.

However, now that the greatest industrial and financial power in the world, the United States, had entered the war, it had become impossible for the Central Empires to achieve victory, so long as the Allies did not slacken. The ruthless submarine warfare which might have brought Britain to her knees before the American intervention was now no more than a pointless waste of forces and money: the American and British shipyards were every month building more vessels than the U-boats sank. The exhaustion of the Allied armies was more than recompensed by the arrival of the excellent human material sent from the USA, since the end of April, at a rate of 300,000 men per month.

Germany and Austria were at the limit of their strength, while the United States had scarcely begun its own effort, marked by a calculated enthusiasm. The occupation of the Ukraine had yielded only a little grain for the benefit of the Central Powers, and the Russian front continued to immobilize considerable German forces: twenty-two divisions, and these all the more vulnerable (as events would soon show) to ‘the contagion of Bolshevism’ since they were composed of reservists. Around the middle of July, Chancellor von Hinze had asked Ludendorff about the chances of bringing off an unmistakeable victory, and had received. the astonishing reply: ‘I answer categorically: Yes.’ This pronouncement, excessively categorical as it happened, resulted in the offensive of 15 July which was the start of the catastrophe. A sharp attack was launched between Reims and Chateau-Thierry, towards Epernay. After crossing the Marne, however, the Germans ran up against a new and immovable front: their effort was crushed within twenty-four hours. Two days later, Foch turned to the offensive against the ‘Chateau-Thierry pocket’, beginning his action at Villers-Cotterets with a formidable tank attack. It was the beginning of the end. In the closing days of July, the Germans retreated back over the Vesle.

‘The eighth of August was the German army’s blackest day in the whole of the World War,’ as Ludendorff remarked. On it the third battle of Picardy began, between Albert and Moreuil. There the tank established irrevocably the superiority of the Allies’ military technology. The Second German Army broke, and its losses were so great that several divisions had to be re-formed.

The extraordinary new fact, which brought the leaders to a realization of the approaching end, was that the soldiers were no longer willing to fight.

Events occurred which would have been thought impossible in the German Army: our soldiers surrendered to enemy horsemen; whole units laid down their arms when a tank approached. A fresh division going bravely up to the firing-line was met by the retreating troops with shouts of: ‘Strike-breakers!’ and ‘They still haven’t had enough of the war!’ The officers, who had often lost all their influence, tailed behind the movement ... The war had to be ended [Ludendorff]. [1]

From now on the Germans were falling back along the whole front, under the insistent, measured pressure of an enemy that was increasingly coming to dominate them. From one week to the next their resistance seemed about to collapse altogether. The General Staff demanded that the government should seek peace without further delay. [2]

On 15 September, the Allies attacked in Macedonia, between Vardar and Czerna. From the American diplomatic staff who were still, most conveniently, accredited to Sofia, they knew that Bulgaria was at her last gasp. The peasant soldiers were refusing to fight, and the Second and Third Divisions abandoned their positions without any resistance. The Bulgarian army disintegrated in the space of a few days. Tsar Ferdinand, enraged at the state of affairs, sent Stambolisky, the leader of the peasant opposition, who was just out of jail, to the front. A Republican army was marching on Sofia. These events are still obscure. What is certain is that in order to strangle the revolution energetic intervention was necessary, first from the German forces, who kept the rebel army off Sofia, and then from the Allied forces. Tsar Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his brother Boris. The opposition party got control of the government. Under the cannon of the foreigner, the peasant revolution continued to trouble the nation. Bulgaria’s official surrender, made to Franchet d’Esperey, was on 27 September.

Austria, on the verge of collapse, was already suing for peace (Note to the USA of 14 September). On 4 October Germany and Austria made a joint proposal for an armistice to President Wilson. A new government came into power in Berlin, with Prince Max of Baden as Chancellor and Scheidemann, the Social-Democrat, as Deputy Chancellor. Long weeks went past in arduous negotiations with President Wilson. The Central Powers accepted the Fourteen Points he had put out in January (open diplomacy, freedom of the seas, commercial equality, right of self-determination of peoples, independence of Poland, League of Nations). Wilson declared that he would parley only with a democratic Germany. The work of the blockades and the tanks was completed by propaganda for democracy and the rights of nationalities. It was a revelation of the superiority of the structurally most advanced capitalist countries over empires that were burdened down with survivals of an ancien régime. Germany, now beset by the spectres of invasion and revolution, agreed to all conditions. Emperor Charles of Austria suddenly discovered a reformer’s soul within himself and proclaimed, on 16 October, a ‘federative State’. He was too late. The Czechs, tired of waiting on his edicts, organized themselves into an independent state. On 31 October, revolution descended on the streets of Vienna and Budapest.

In Sofia, in Budapest, in Vienna, in Berlin all eyes are now on Russia: it is the example, the hope, the faith. Clandestine or open Soviets are being established everywhere. An illegal conference of the Spartacus League at Berlin, on 7 October, decides that Soviets must be founded; Liebknecht is amnestied and released from prison while the General Staff draws up detailed plans for the repression of disorder. The signal for the outbreak of the revolution is an insane decision by the Admiralty. The fleet is ordered to sail out and engage in a final battle, self-evidently hopeless, with the Allies for the sake of German honour. The Kaiser’s admirals want to end with a flourish. The sailors do not have the same reasons for dying; on the contrary, they have found new reasons for living. The crews, now organized around clandestine Soviets, mutiny, and the workers of Kiel support them in a general strike (28 October–4 November). The Social-Democrat Noske makes speeches to the insurgent sailors – in vain. The flame of rebellion is spreading nearer. On 6 November the Social-Democrat statesmen confer under the chairmanship of Prince Max of Baden with General Groener on ‘the best means of maintaining the monarchy’. The obstinacy of Wilhelm II, who refuses to abdicate, compromises the dynasty in the eyes even of its last defenders. Max of Baden assumes the Regency on 9 November; Fritz Ebert, a Social-Democrat deputy and former saddler, becomes Imperial Regent [3]; the Kaiser hastily leaves the army headquarters at Spa, by car, and departs for Holland, while Karl Liebknecht, from a balcony of the Imperial Palace in Berlin, proclaims the Republic and the coming of Socialism.

From the Scheldt to the Volga the councils of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies – the Soviets – are the real masters of the hour. Germany’s legal government is a Council of People’s Commissaries, made up of six Socialists.

All events in Russia from the end of September to the end of January 1919 take place against this glowing background. This period is marked by a victorious offensive of the Russian revolution on all fronts, simultaneously with the immense victory which the German revolution means to the revolutionary Marxists who have prophesied and anticipated its coming: it is the realization of their deepest hopes, the beginning of the revolution in the West.


The Vee-Tsik and the Moscow Soviet met in joint session on 3 October, the day on which a new German Cabinet was formed under the auspices of Prince Max of Baden and of Scheidemann. Lenin, who was still recovering, could not attend, but a short letter from him was read out.

The German crisis [he declared] means either that the revolution has begun, or that it is imminent and inevitable. The government is wavering between a military dictatorship, which has existed de facto since 2 August 1914 and has ceased to be feasible now that the troops are unreliable, and a coalition with the Socialists. The admission of Scheidemann into the cabinet will only hasten the explosion, because the impotence of the miserable lackeys of the bourgeoisie will soon be exposed. The crisis is only beginning. It will end infallibly in the seizure of power by the proletariat.

The proletariat of Russia must bend its every effort to aid the German workers ... who are called on to wage a most stubborn struggle against their own and British imperialism. The defeat of German imperialism will for a while have the effect of increasing the arrogance, cruelty, reaction and annexatory designs of French imperialism ...

The Russian proletariat will understand that soon they will have to make the greatest sacrifices in the name of internationalism. The time is approaching when circumstances may require us to confront British and French imperialism and come to the aid of the German workers, who are struggling against the yoke of their own imperialism.

We must build up grain stocks for the German revolution, and speed up our efforts to create a powerful Red Army.

We had decided to have an army of one million men by the spring; now we need an army of three million. We can have it. And we shall have it.

The sharpest changes in the situation are possible: it is still in the bounds of possibility that German imperialism and Anglo-French imperialism will ally together against the Soviet power. [4]

Trotsky traced a broad outline of events:

It can be said that, as materialists, we have understood the nature of these events and forecast their outcome. History is accomplishing itself, against our will perhaps, but following the curve that we have traced. And even though heavy sacrifices may be necessary, the end will be that which we have predicted: the downfall of the gods of capitalism and imperialism. It seems as though history has wanted to give mankind a final, shattering lesson. The workers were too lazy, apathetic and indecisive. It is quite certain that we should never have been faced with this war if the working class had shown enough determination in 1914 to oppose the designs of the imperialists. But nothing of the sort happened: the working class needed to be given a new, a cruel lesson from history. History permitted the most powerful, the most organized nation to raise herself to an inconceivable height. The 420 cannon dictated the will of Germany to the whole world. Germany seemed to have enslaved Europe forever ... And now, see how history, having raised German imperialism to this height and hypnotized its masses, plunges her dizzily into an abyss of impotence and humiliation, as if to say: Behold! It is destroyed – go and sweep Europe and the world free of its debris ...

Trotsky took pains to establish that the salvation of Germany lay in the seizure of power by the proletariat:

Germany would then attract to itself a powerful current of sympathy he German Revolution from the peoples and oppressed masses of the world, above all from France ... The French working class, which has shed more blood than that of any other nation, is waiting, deep in its revolutionary heart, only for the first signal from Germany ...

He concluded:

If the proletariat of Germany undertakes the offensive, the first duty of Soviet Russia, in the revolutionary struggle, will be to take no account of national frontiers. Russia of the Soviets is no more than the vanguard of the German and the European revolution ... The German proletariat with its technical expertise, on the one hand; our ill-organized but vastly populated Russia, full of natural resources, on the other – these will form a redoubtable bloc against which all the waves of imperialism will be smashed ... Liebknecht has no need to conclude a treaty with us. We shall help him without a treaty, to the limit of our strength. We give everything to the world-wide proletarian struggle. Lenin has urged us in his letter to build an army of a million men for the defence of the Republic of Soviets. This programme is too restricted. [5] History tells us: perhaps tomorrow the German working class will call you to its assistance; create an army of two million men ...

Such were the sentiments, and such the teachings, not only of the Bolshevik party but of all the revolutionaries of Russia, be they Left S-Rs, anarchists or Menshevik-Internationalists. Had not Lenin written during the debates on the Brest-Litovsk peace that, in the presence of a German revolution which was threatened in its decisive battle, ‘it would not only be expedient but a down-right duty to risk a defeat and even the loss of Soviet power. [6] The Socialist Republic of a backward country might be called upon to sacrifice itself for the Socialist revolution (which would be much more important for the international proletariat) in an advanced country, i.e. one with a far stronger industrial base and a more numerous proletariat. From the standpoint of proletarian internationalism, this proposition displays the simple rigour of an axiom. Lenin wrote on 20 August, in his Letter to American Workers:

He is not a real socialist who fails to understand that, for the sake of victory over the bourgeoisie, for the seizure of power by the workers, for the sake of beginning the world proletarian revolution, we cannot and must not shrink before any sacrifice, be it the sacrifice of territory, be it a sacrifice which inflicts on us heavy defeats at the hands of imperialism. He is not a real socialist who has failed to prove by deeds that he is willing for ‘his’ country to make the greatest sacrifices so that the cause of the Socialist revolution may take a real step forward.’ [7]

The resolution adopted by Vee-Tsik pledged to the proletariat of Germany and Austria the unstinted support of the Russian working class; the Revolutionary Military Council was instructed to ‘undertake an expanded programme for the formation of the Red Army’; the Commissariat for Food was ordered to set up a food fund without delay for the benefit of the German and Austrian workers.


Lenin, who had by then recovered from his wounds, spoke on 22 October at a joint session of Vee-Tsik, the Moscow Soviet and the Council of Trade Unions. He spoke to the theme that ‘never have we been so near the world revolution and never have we been in such a perilous position, because this is the first time that Bolshevism has been regarded as a worldwide danger’. Before the collapse of the Central Empires it could have been thought that the Russian revolution was specific to Russia. But now the opposite was obvious: ‘Bolshevism has become the world-wide theory and tactics of the international proletariat.’

The studied prudence of some of the formulations is to be noted:

A popular revolution, and perhaps a proletarian revolution, in Germany has become inevitable.

Let us take care not to interfere with the revolution in the Ukraine. One must understand the variations in growth of every revolution. In each country – and we who have seen and experienced it should know this better than anybody else – the revolution proceeds in its own way ...

Interference by those who do not know the rhythm at which the re-volution is growing may hamper those intelligent Communists who are saying: ‘Our principal-effort must be to make this a conscious process.’

No revolution is worth anything unless it can defend itself; but a revolution does not learn to defend itself at once. [8]

The decomposition of German imperialism was, paradoxically, causing immense dangers for the Russian revolution. The Allies from now on had a free hand in their activities against the Soviet Republic. Bolshevism was now threatening them on the Rhine, not simply on the Vistula. The German and Allied bourgeoisies could perfectly well, in these new circumstances, become reconciled with each other against the Soviets. A tacit bargain had apparently been struck between Germany and the Allies over the occupation of the Ukraine. One must expect an attack by the Allies in the south, either through the Dardanelles and the Black Sea or through Rumania. Lenin’s vision was clear. The Allies were indeed thinking of occupying the Ukraine. General Franchet d’Esperey was planning large-scale operations in southern Russia. As we shall see, this campaign began to be implemented, with serious and bloody consequences.

Lenin’s speech made no reference whatever to the recent dissension that had arisen around the Brest-Litovsk peace. This is a leader modest in his victories, so modest that they pass him unconcerned. The correctness of the ideas he expounded in February, in his polemic against Left-Communist proponents of revolutionary war, is now unmistakeably revealed. The great spring offensives launched by Hindenburg and Ludendorff on the western front had shown the enduring strength of German imperialism, which was still to hold on for nine more months. We know today that General Hoffmann was trying to persuade the German General Staff to launch a decisive onslaught against the Soviet Republic. The precarious and painful respite that had been won through the Brest-Litovsk treaty had allowed the revolution to gather strength, to master its enemies on the home front and to begin the construction of the Red Army; and during this same interval the troubles that were undermining German imperialism had reached an extreme intensity.

Two closely connected problems were on the agenda for the leaders of the Russian revolution:

  1. To ensure the victory of the proletariat in Germany.
  2. To hold fast against the Allies, now the victors in the world war.

For the Allied powers would be attacking Bolshevism with all the more energy now that the menace of the German proletariat had appeared. The triumph of the working class in Germany would achieve the united front of the workers of Europe against the capitalists of the world. The destiny of humanity was now at stake.


As far back as 1908, one of the most famous theoreticians of German Social-Democracy had been at pains to demonstrate that Germany was ripe for the Socialist revolution. [9] No other country at this time formed a better embodiment of all the pre-conditions for social transformation: a high degree of industrial concentration, an extraordinary development of technology, the social predominance of the proletariat, the rapid growth (still under way) of working-class organization. The total population of Germany was 61,700,000, of whom 27,420,000 were working adults. This active population was composed as follows: 6,049,135 property-owners (22.9 per cent), 1,588,168 employees (5.8 per cent) and 19,782,595 proletarians (72.3 per cent). These statistics, from the official census of 1907, are still debatable: in particular, the category of ‘property-owners’ comprises, in addition to members of the middle and upper classes, a large number of small farmers whose social situation was very akin to that of the proletariat. At all events, the predominance of the industrial proletariat in Germany is not in dispute. One analysis of the class distribution of the working population (dating from 1925) gives the following picture:

Proletarians 16,000,000
Semi-proletarian elements (lower-grade employees and poor peasants) 5,700,000
Petty-bourgeois (artisans, rich peasants, middle and higher-grade employees and officials) 10,100,000
Capitalists and managerial staff for capitalist society 2,000,000

This makes a total of 33,800,000: of these, 20,600,000 are calculated to be wage-earners. [10]

On the basic background of the German revolution, social statistics are fraught with controversy, though the general trends are clear. To the 27.4 million fit adults of the 1907 census must be added a further 4.6 million in extra-occupational categories: the army, naval crews, rentiers, pensioners and so on. The 1923 Yearbook of the Communist International (Russian edition) gave the following figures for the period pre-dating the revolutionary mobilization of that year: independents, 4.43 million; semi-proletarians, 3.47 million; employees, 3.22 million; workers, 22.7 million. The noticeably smaller figures that we have reproduced for 1925 are from the same source, but were published in 1925, i.e. after the reverse suffered by the German Communist party [11], in The Social-Democratic Parties (preface by E. Varga). We will accept them with due reservations, trusting that our statisticians will show more care in the handling of their figures and perhaps less concern for their opportune presentation.

In the general election of 1912, the Social-Democratic party had won 4,250,000 votes: it enjoyed the backing of wealthy cooperatives and the most powerful trade unions in the world, and by 1914 had 1,086,000 members. True enough, during the war (by 1917) this figure had fallen to 243,000, but this was overwhelmingly due to the suspension of public political activity. However, on 2 August 1914, no more than two heroic figures, Karl Liebknecht and Otto Rühle, could be found among 100 party deputies, to vote against the war [12]: all the others, the whole leadership and general staff of the Socialist proletariat, had voted for. This was no more than the sudden climax of a long evolution. The great workers’ party had been sapped by petty-bourgeois opportunism, whose dominance had been facilitated by the economic expansion of capitalism, a national prosperity based in part on the profits of colonial exploitation and exports, and the existence of a working-class aristocracy that was satisfied, well-paid and linked, in aspirations and way of life, with the pushing middle classes. More and more, the leading circles of the party had become accustomed to identify their destiny with that of the Empire.

Upon this shifting terrain, complex struggles unfolded between the different tendencies of Socialism: in these it was opportunism that always finally carried the day, backed as it was by all the forces of capitalist society. In these battles of ideas that were constantly renewed between small revolutionary minorities and the great realists of the party leadership, the invariable outcome was a further deception of the workers’ consciousness, a new vocabulary with which to trick the masses, while continuing to employ a revolutionary language that had lost its basic meanings. Little by little, class collaboration was substituted for the class struggle; the theory of the peaceful conquest of Socialism through parliamentary democracy consigned to oblivion the necessity for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as proclaimed by Marx; a phrase-mongering and lying patriotism draped the party congresses with the national flag, side by side with the red banner of the workers’ International. Erudite theorists even proposed to revise the basic principles of Socialism in the light of the progress made by German capitalism. And these men, even as the Empire poured its metal into cannons, devoted their energies to demonstrating that the journey to the city of Socialism was now afoot, along the path of peaceful reforms.

For over a quarter of a century the labour aristocracy, from among whom were recruited Social-Democracy’s leading sections, had gradually come to identify its own interests with those of the social system whose prosperity guaranteed their comfort. The vote of 2 August 1914 only revealed, brutally and openly, the crossing which the officer-corps of Socialism had long ago made to the side of the bourgeoisie.

An Independent Social-Democratic party, dissatisfied with the unconditional support given to imperialism by leaders like Scheidemann and Ebert, had split off and constituted itself in 1917: it reflected both the protest of the worker masses against the Sacred Union and the old centrism that loved to use revolutionary phraseology to mask a politics of moderation, compromise, temporizing and the Golden Mean. Its ideologues proved to be the very people who had worked hardest over the last ten years to corrupt Socialist thought: Eduard Bernstein, inventor of revision-ism, and the pacifist Kautsky, now ready to become the prophet of Wilsonism. [13] In the absence of a revolutionary organization of the masses, it was with the influential Left of this party (Haase, Däumig, Crispien) that Yoffe had to collaborate on the eve of the German revolution.

The only authentically revolutionary proletarian group that could be compared in class-consciousness with the Russian Bolshevik party was the Spartakusbund (Spartacus League), founded in January 1916 by the outstanding veterans of the struggle against opportunism. It included a tiny band of leaders who were capable of great things: the old Polish conspirator Leo Tyshko, a past-master of clandestine work; the historian Franz Mehring, responsible for some of the most brilliant applications of the historical-materialist method; Rosa Luxemburg, the only brain of Western Socialism in the same class as Lenin and Trotsky; and the intrepid Liebknecht. But these leaders, habituated to a struggle ‘against the stream’, had no great army of masses behind them, for all their popularity. The Spartakusbund was ‘more of an ideological tendency than a party’, as Karl Radek put it. And it had had no alternative but to affiliate, in April 1917, to the Independent Social-Democratic party:

Ranged against the German proletariat, so singularly lacking in that essential weapon for the class war – the revolutionary party conscious of its tasks – stood the most educated, the most organized, the most conscious bourgeoisie of all, the bourgeoisie that had known how to train war leaders like Hindenburg, Ludendorff, Mackensen, von der Goltz, von Klück, the bourgeoisie that had produced its Krupps, its Albert Ballins, its Hugo Stinnes, its Walter Rathenaus, its Hugenbergs, its Klöckners, its Thyssens and so many others. [14]


It was a bourgeoisie too wise to try and reverse the situation when the troops, exhausted, demoralized, without hope of winning the war, fled from the front. We have already seen how Ludendorff understood at once that the war was over and that not an hour must be wasted before making peace. Once the dream of a Greater Germany had exploded, nothing was left for the hard-headed men who had dreamt it but to save the imperialist order. And this could only be saved by coming to suitable terms with the masses. What had never been comprehended by the Savinkovs, Kornilovs, Kerenskys and Chernovs of Russia (or by Buchanan, Paléologue and Albert Thomas) [15] when the tide of Bolshevism ran high was grasped immediately by Imperial Germany’s rulers in September to November 1918. Their guiding idea was to be swept along by the revolution in order to avoid being swept away by it. The German expression is here strikingly appropriate: Sich an der Spitze stellen, um die Spitze abzubrechen – put yourself at the spearhead of the movement in order to smash it.

Nowhere in Germany did the military leaders resist the troops. When the Soldiers’ Councils (Soviets) were formed, the staff chiefs were skilful enough to get their own creatures elected on to them in many places. The Kaiser’s field-marshals and the big bankers took it upon themselves to call into the government Ebert and Scheidemann, Socialist leaders of the utmost decorum, but with influence among the masses. Prince Max of Baden’s Cabinet smoothed the way for the Council of People’s Commissaries [16] of the Socialist Republic which was formed on 12 November. All Germany lay in the power of the Soviets. The very names, Council of Commissaries, Workers’ Councils (Arbeiterräte), were an echo of the Russian revolution. But these Soviets were paralysed by the dominant Social-Democratic majorities. The Council of People’s Commissaries was in reality only the demagogic camouflage for a normal coalition Cabinet. In it three Majority Social-Democrats, Fritz Ebert, Landsberg and Scheidemann, notorious for their loyalty to the bourgeoisie, cohabited with three indecisive Independents, Hugo Haase, Dittmann and Barth. It was this government that undertook the foundation of a democratic Socialist republic for Germany. It prescribed order and calm for the citizens until the elections should take place. It was reluctant to accept the harsh Armistice terms dictated by the Allies, and signed them only under the urgent pressure of the General Staff. From its inception, the government had two paths to choose from: social peace and peace with the Allies – in other words, defence of capitalism, repression of the revolutionary movement, united front with the Allies against the Soviet Republic; or civil war, alliance with the Russian Soviets, revolutionary war for the defence of Germany. In such a civil war, the victory of the proletariat was assured; but Wilson and Foch would never have agreed (at least, so it was believed) to sit down and negotiate with Bolshevism. [17] The interest of the nation would therefore have required the development of the struggle on a new plane, that of the proletarian revolution itself; but for this it would have been necessary to dare, and, in order to dare, to desire the victory of the proletariat, to wish it and believe in it. The whole of Social-Democracy’s past ran counter to such a prospect. And the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie preferred a capitalist Germany crushed underfoot by the Allies to a proud and strong proletarian Germany, born out of the ruins of imperialism.

The People’s Commissaries refused any appeal to Yoffe. They turned down the Russian grain that had been offered to them by Vee-Tsik. They steered clear of any interference with the old bureaucracies, and kept the reactionary generals in their posts of command. [18]

The Socialists of counter-revolution were in power. The struggle was now to open between them and that revolutionary minority of the proletariat, grouped around the Spartacus League and the Left of the Independent Social-Democrats, which was demanding a dictatorship of the proletariat.


In Russia, the momentum of events quickens. The Red Army becomes organized, wins battles, captures cities. The Extra-ordinary Commissions are having enemies shot. The factories, the transport systems, the towns are locked in a desperate struggle against the famine. Daily life is completely dominated by the expectation of revolution in Europe. The eyes of the whole nation are turned towards the West. Famine, typhus, deaths, one town captured, one town lost – what do these matter? In Berlin, Paris, Rome, London, the world’s future is being decided. The inter-nationalism of Russia’s Soviets runs deep and true: nothing breaks its attention.

The newspapers of the period are astonishing. Each day, in large type with headlines across the page, they carry last-minute dispatches, vague rumours picked up in Stockholm by anxious ears: riots in Paris, riots in Lyon, revolution in Belgium, revolution in Constantinople, victory of the Soviets in Bulgaria, rioting in Copenhagen. In fact, the whole of Europe is in movement; clandestine or open Soviets are appearing everywhere, even in the Allied armies; everything is possible, everything. On 15 October, Vorovsky telegraphs Zinoviev from Stockholm: Revolution builds up in France (so runs the headline of his dispatch in the newspapers); ‘a workers’ popular movement began two days ago, and is spreading energetically in Paris ... The workers are demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners ... A Soviet of Allied soldiers has made contact at the front with the Soviet of German soldiers ...’

On 5 November, with the red flags already floating over Kiel, Chancellor Max of Baden decided to take a step which had been long demanded by the General Staff. He broke off diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia. Yoffe was asked to leave Berlin within twenty-four hours. Some Russian diplomatic luggage had got opened ’by accident’ and was found to contain revolutionary leaflets in German. [19] In addition to these grounds, which might well set Russia in a bad light before the German masses, it was also alleged that there had been a reluctance to punish the assassins of Count Mirbach.

An interesting exchange of telegrams shortly afterwards (on 10 December) sheds some light on Yoffe’s activities in Berlin. The Soviet ambassador had in fact freely admitted helping the German revolutionaries with money, arms and ammunition, via Haase and Barth, the Independent Social-Democrats, who acted as intermediaries. Haase and Barth, who were both members of the Reich’s Socialist government, felt obliged to deny the truth of this declaration; whereupon Yoffe replied to them with a crushing letter whose principal passages we reproduce:

It goes without saying that I was not so unwise as to deliver personally and directly to Comrade Barth – a newcomer to the working-class movement who inspired in me only a limited confidence – the sums which were destined for the purchase of armaments ... People’s Commissary Barth, however, was perfectly aware that the hundreds of thousands of marks which he had admitted receiving from German comrades derived from my establishment as their ultimate source. He said as much in the conversation we had a fortnight before the revolution, when he reproached me for not having provided the two million marks he had asked for ... If only I had provided this sum, he said, the German workers would have been armed long ago and ready for a victorious uprising ... Herr Haase and his friends have on many occasions been supplied by me with material – by no means always of Russian origin – for the speeches they made in the Reichstag ... The Independent Social-Democratic Party received material assistance from us for the publishing projects on which our writers collaborated with them ... Does not Herr Haase believe that we were acting together in the common interest of the German and international revolution? I would never have brought up these reminiscences of our work together if Herr Haase had not adopted the viewpoint of the von Kühlmanns ... who actually consider our cooperation with the German USPD a crime and have expelled us from Germany for that reason. If the new German government, which calls itself Socialist and revolutionary, goes to the extent of openly denouncing us for the actions we undertook jointly with its members when they were still revolutionaries, then the political obligations which would constrain me in the case of party comrades or honest opponents lose all their force. I will now take the opportunity of informing the legal adviser to the Russian Consulate in Berlin, Reichstag Deputy Oskar Cohn, that the sum of 500,000 marks and 150,000 roubles which he received from me the night before I left Berlin, in his capacity as a member of the USPD, is not now to be paid into the account of his party. The same applies to the fund of ten million roubles which Dr Cohn was previously authorized to draw upon for the service of the German revolution. [20]


During these months the new perils that Lenin had warned against are manifested in all the regions where the civil war still rages. The Germans and the Allies take it in turn to join the war.

After the victories of the Red Army on the Volga, the Revolutionary Military Council concentrated its attention on the Don. The Don country had been conquered easily enough by the Reds at the beginning of the year (the suicide of Ataman Kaledin may be recalled here) but rose in the spring with the approach of the German forces. Ataman Krasnov (the same general who had marched upon Petrograd on the eve of October 1917, was taken prisoner and then released on parole) set forth during April and May at the head of this Cossack counter-revolution. By July he had at his disposal 27,000 infantrymen, 30,000 horsemen, 175 cannon, 610 machine-guns, twenty aeroplanes, four armoured trains and eight gunboats. The territory ruled by the ‘Grand Army of the Don’ is a state enjoying the recognition of the Central Powers and a rather extraordinary constitution: it is bounded on the west by the Ukraine of Hetman Skoropadsky, to the north by Soviet Russia, to the east and the south by the Kuban Cossack territory, where Denikin’s National Army is being formed. This new state is no more than the personal fief of a military adventurer, under the Kaiser’s suzerainty. The Don constitution voted by the Krug (the Cossack Assembly) decrees the Ataman to be an autocrat. He exercises supreme command of the armed forces, is sole director of foreign policy, appoints all ministers and military leaders, can declare a state of siege, authorizes all laws and exercises both the right of veto against all legislative measures and. the right of pardon. Private property is declared inviolable. In the religious sphere the Orthodox rite has official precedence. All the same, the Ataman moves with the times: he even speaks of the ‘war of the capitalists’. An agrarian reform is decreed for the benefit of the Cossack poor. The landlords are to be expropriated with compensation, and cultivated lands are declared to be common property. These concessions to the peasant revolution go along with some sham attentions given to the counter-revolutionary Socialists, one of whom is given the Ministry of Public Education in the Novocherkassk [21] administration. An organ of the S-Rs, the Pryazovski Krai (The Land of Azov), appears in the capital there, side by side with a monarchist organ. As to the treatment of the workers: one military commander sends to the commandant of Yuzovka, a working-class city, two telegrams on the same day: ‘It is forbidden to arrest workers. The orders are to hang them or shoot them. 10 November. No.2428’; ‘The orders are to hang all arrested workers in the street. The bodies are to be exhibited for three days. 10 November. No.2431. Signed Zhirov.’ The same methods are used at Rostov. At Taganrog, General Denisov warns the population that he will use asphyxiating gas if there are any disturbances. Meanwhile, according to Articles 15 to 23 of its Fundamental Laws, the Don country was endowed with all the democratic freedoms imaginable. With disarming frankness Krasnov declared that ‘All the so-called conquests of the revolution were swept away.’

On 5 May the Ataman requested the Kaiser’s partnership and protection against Bolshevism. He asked for arms, and for Wilhelm II’s arbitration in the dispute that had arisen between the Ukraine and the Don over the possession of Taganrog. General von Arnim arrived in the Don country, which was being supplied with weaponry and ammunition in great abundance by Germany. On 28 June the Ataman sent a fresh letter to the Kaiser, expounding his plan for the creation of a great Cossack State, in vassaldom to Germany, extending from the Sea of Azov to the Caspian. This enemy of ‘anti-national Bolshevism’, this patriot, calculates the best possible amputations of his own country; he asks the German invader to cede to him Voronezh and Tsaritsyn, Astrakhan, the Kuban, the Terek. [22] He proposes a treaty favourable to German business interests and offers the products of his land: grain, leather, wines, oils, tobacco and livestock. He even stabs his brother-in-arms Denikin in the back: the Kuban is Denikin’s base of operations. ‘ German domination,’ he tells the Cossack Assembly, ‘will be easier to put up with than domination by the Russian muzhik-bandit.

However, during November, at the very time when the rupture of diplomatic relations between Berlin and the Soviets sets off speculation about a full-scale German intervention in Russia, German imperialism collapses. Its armies of occupation in the Ukraine are in total disorder: its soldiers now have only one desire, to get back home at all costs. Without losing a moment, the patriot Krasnov appeals to the Allies. In his memoirs he records the promises lavished on him by his new friends. At the conference at Jassy in Rumania, M. Hainaut [23], a French consul, ‘insists on a definite undertaking from the German command that order should be kept in the Ukraine, through their auspices, until the arrival of the Allies’. General Berthelot promises to send several French divisions before the middle of December. It is no longer to the Kaiser that Ataman Krasnov sends his petitions, but to General Franchet d’Esperey.

The Don [he informs the latter] is a democratic republic, at whose head I stand ... The Don’s only war is with Bolshevism ... Without the aid of the Allies, the liberation of Russia is impossible ... Three or four army corps, 90,000 to 120,000 men, would liberate Russia within three to four months ... The occupation of the Ukraine by foreign troops is becoming imperative ...

Equally imperative, it would appear, will be the presence of Allied garrisons at Tula, Samara, Saratov, Tsaritsyn, Penza and Moscow ... At Jassy General Berthelot gives formal assurances to the emissary sent by Krasnov: ‘The Ukraine will certainly be occupied, either by an Anglo-French army, or by troops which Germany will be compelled to leave behind there.’ Further, if need be, ‘the whole army from Salonika’ will be sent into Russia.

A British Military Mission, headed by General Poole, pays a visit to Denikin’s headquarters at Ekaterinodar. British and French officers (Dupré, Faure, Hochain [24], Ehrlich) visit the Don country; they are welcomed with Te Deums, feted by ancient Cossacks, decorated, cheered by rows of girls dressed in white. Poole is no less categorical than Berthelot: ‘I will call in a brigade from Batum immediately!’ he declares. However, London recalls him. [25] At the end of January 1919, Captain Fouquet, the representative of General Franchet d’Esperey, finally presents the Ataman with the draconic conditions laid down by the Allies. The Ataman is to subordinate himself to General Denikin, the supreme head of the Russian armed forces; he will ‘submit, in matters military, political and administrative, to the authority of General Franchet d’Esperey’. All his orders will be countersigned by Captain Fouquet. The Don government will reimburse all French citizens who have suffered any damages through the revolution: ‘the average revenue of all businesses that were lost during the disturbances will be restored to them, plus a five per cent indemnity over all the output of the said enterprises since 1914’.

Krasnov was undertaking a war of extermination against the Reds, using both surprise attacks and large-scale strategic operations. Twice, in October 1918 and January 1919, he managed to encircle Tsaritsyn, [26] the gateway to the Lower Volga, but it was heroically defended by the Tenth Army (Tulyakov, Voroshilov and Stalin). His attempt to mobilize the peasantry for his cause proved a failure. In the first days of November Trotsky arrived on the southern front, visiting Voronezh, Tsaritsyn and Astrakhan: he galvanized morale and lent his decisive impulse to the organization of a regular army. In these parts this was a particularly difficult task. The civil war set village against village and, often, rich against poor in the same village. Everywhere bands of guerrillas were being formed around leaders who became folk-heroes. In order to replace these brave but bizarre squadrons by a proper army, it was necessary to break their resistance, their group cohesion, their personal traditions. Sometimes the villages were in a state of fortification for their own static defence, without regard for the rest of the front. When a particular band had to leave its district, it melted away. The leader-heroes wanted to be independent of everybody else, and the first attempts at centralization provoked some dangerous reactions from them. In the Kuban, Sorokin took prisoner the Revolutionary Council which was being placed over his command, and sent it to the firing-squad. Mironov, Avtonomov, Sakharov, Potapenko and many other local commanders mutined against the central power, in the name of the revolution. Their rebellion was put down. Vigorous centralization was brought to the southern front by regiments recruited in Moscow, by the worker-commissars and by a Revolutionary Council of the Army headed by the metal-worker Shlyapnikov (the army itself was commanded by a former Tsarist officer who had rallied to Bolshevism, P.P. Sytin). From now on, Krasnov’s attacks broke against Red lines that were becoming harder and stronger. At the beginning of 1919 the establishment of an efficient Red cavalry, commanded by a dauntless NCO named Budyonny, [27] testified to the rallying to the Red cause of the middle and even the wealthy Cossacks: the cavalry being a relatively wealthy branch of the armed forces.

The task of the Red Armies in the south was well defined by Trotsky:

We have to move up into the space between the departing German imperialism and the approaching Anglo-French militarism. We must take over the Don, the northern Caucasus, the Caspian region, render assistance to the workers and peasants of the Ukraine, and get back to our own Soviet home where there is no room either for the auxiliaries of Britain nor for those of Germany ... The pulse of our revolution beats on the southern front: there the lot of the Soviet power is being cast.


The liberation of the Volga region, achieved in early October with the capture of Samara and Stavropol, amounted to all that Trotsky said. The Red Army followed up its successes by penetrating the Ural province (capture of Bugulma, 16 October).

Ever since the fall’of Kazan and Simbirsk the S-R Constituents’ capital had been living in a state of terror. Sudden panics arose in the city, stopping the traffic. The population was hiding in cellars, the shops were closed, the local bourgeoisie crowded itself into trains and went off. The Constituent Assembly Committee, increasingly aware of its powerlessness, decided to dissolve and hand over its power to the Ufa Directorate, in which it had little confidence. The Czechs, worn out by long months of battle, did not want to see any more fighting. The White volunteers were too few to be of any use. The mobilized peasants deserted en masse or went over to the Reds. To cap it all, Ataman Dutov would not let the S-Rs have any help from the Cossacks at Orenburg. The Directorate was wasting its days hopelessly in a succession of intrigues.

It was not even possible at Samara to find a military leader who was capable of organizing the evacuation of the city. The various liberal societies passed resolutions declaring resistance to the death, the S-Rs formed combat groups or decreed the conscription of the whole masculine population: but nothing serious was done, and the Reds approached inexorably: The order for evacuation, issued on 4 October, was the signal only for a general rout.

It was a nightmare ... General Tregubov, the military governor, took flight on the first train out. The Commission for Evacuation disappeared ... There was nobody to issue documents and passes. Every man made straight for the station without thinking of anybody else, to secure a place in one of the trains. The chaos was unbelievable. There were no carriages or locomotives. The luggage from State institutions or private persons was piled three floors high on the yard in front of the building. Thousands of State functionaries, members of the various parties, influential personalities and terrified small gentry crushed their way into the station, amid the sobs of women and children. On every face, panic and ruthless egoism. Each one thought: Me first!, and brutally beat his way towards the coveted berth in a goods-wagon. [28]

A few details may be noted. The government’s special train, packed with passengers, found itself abandoned at the last minute on a perilous stretch of line. The Czechs cornered all available rolling-stock in order to evacuate their own troops. The delegates from the Constituents’ Committee, who visited the Czech Chief of Staff to ask him for a locomotive, found only insults to meet them.

The scene is recorded for us by Maisky, a Menshevik member of the Samara Cabinet. The delegates had just left Volsky, the S-R head of the government, drunk and despairing in the remains of an alcoholic orgy, breaking glasses and shouting: ‘I drink to dead Samara! Can’t you smell the corpse?’ The city was gripped by terror and depression. When they arrived at the Czech HQ an officer there greeted them with an outburst of laughter: ‘Where’s your army? He, he, he, he. Go on, tell me now, where’s your army?’ The word ‘government’ sent him into fits of mirth. ’Government?’ he spluttered, ‘You the government?’ He rolled a paper pellet and threw it contemptuously.

We have dwelt on these details of the collapse at Samara because they are typical. The contrast between this degradation and the heroic tenacity of the Reds at Sviazhsk, the Ural, Tuapse, springs from the difference in human quality manifested by the contending social forces. The Reds’ superiority in spiritual resources – confidence, energy, intelligence and endurance – is strikingly evident. The same will be observed during the whole course of the revolution. Later on, other bankruptcies, more serious and more bloody, will cause the collapse of Samara to be forgotten; and Sviazhsk will be eclipsed by other exploits. The world will see the proletarians of Orenburg withstand a lengthy siege till their victory; Petrograd holding against all odds under Trotsky’s defence; Tsaritsyn twice invested by the Whites and twice victorious; the Red Army taking by assault two impregnable fortresses, Kronstadt and Perekop. On the other hand, the Rumanian and French occupiers will undergo the debacle of Odessa; the British occupiers, the debacle of Archangel; Denikin will end his career by the hideous evacuation of Novorossisk; Kolchak by his flight down the Trans-Siberian Railway; Wrangel in the disaster of the Crimea. We have already noted the character of the primacy in social forces to which this moral superiority corresponds. We will add, from the events of the Don and Samara, one further characteristic which will be reproduced again and again in all the episodes of the counter-revolution: the brutally self-interested attitude of the foreigners, British, French and Czechoslovaks. The Allied officers arrogantly dictate their commands to the counter-revolutionary chiefs, desert them as soon as the situation worsens, lash them with their contempt when the moment of reckoning arrives, and clear off to save their own skins on the first trains in any evacuation. Without foreign bayonets the counter-revolution is impotent; yet ‘national’ Russia is treated by its allies as a conquered territory. Here is one of the most curious apparent paradoxes of the civil war: in it, bourgeois patriotism will be seen constantly enslaving itself to the foreigner, while proletarian internationalism fulfils its mission by excelling in the defence of the nation.


The fall of Samara reveals the decay of the democratic counter-revolution. The reactionary forces are now concentrated in Siberia, around the government at Omsk. The conflict between the S-R Constituents and the Siberian counter-revolution (headed by the Kadets, who support a Right-wing dictatorship) sharpens from day to day. The Siberian government keeps the Ufa Directorate under severe constraint. At Omsk, the officer-corps is playing an unusually powerful role: no administration can stay in power without its support. Its very influence demoralizes it, for public life becomes a sequence of military plots and intrigues. Any politicians with a liberal reputation risk arrest, kidnapping or murder at any moment: thus the S-R minister Novoseltsov disappears at the end of September. The Siberian capital at this time offers a complex spectacle of military anarchy: the Directorate, allegedly the supreme authority, is respected by nobody; a Council of ministers, purged by assassinations, is at loggerheads with the liberal Duma whose majority consists of Socialist-Revolutionaries; the Czechoslovaks, ‘democrats’ but dedicated to order as their first priority, reserve their allegiance; juntas of officers legislate in the shadows. Industrialists and generals, who are agreed on the principle of a personal dictatorship, meanwhile come up with the formation of a ‘national united front’. The Directorate and the Omsk government reach agreement – as an exception rather than a rule – On the appointment of Admiral Kolchak as Minister of War (4 November).

These internal dissensions are compounded by the schemes of foreign powers. The Japanese, supported by Ataman Semyonov, pursue their operations in the Far East; the Czechs rule the Trans-Siberian line as conquerors; their leader General Gajda humiliates the Russian officers, conducts requisitionings, shoots Bolsheviks and suspects (five people were shot without trial on 25 October at Krasnoyarsk); the Allies send Generals Knox and Janin [29], who are officially invested by Lloyd George and Clemenceau to take the command of all Allied forces in Siberia.

Point for point, the experience of the Ukraine, where the democratic parties of the middle classes could do nothing except open the path for black reaction, is repeated in Siberia. Such, indeed, is the inevitable function of these parties in civil wars, since the peculiarity of the petty-bourgeoisie is to have no politics of its own. It is always situated between two dictatorships – that of the proletariat, or that of reaction; its destiny is to prepare the latter, up to a certain point, and then to submit to it. The S-R Directorate has nothing to offer except the empty eloquence of its leaders. At Omsk, these gentlemen feel just as distressed, just as powerless, under the threat of the military, as they did in Petrograd not so long ago, in the days of the Constituent Assembly under the threat of the proletariat. The very same illusions fortify their spirits. The vocation of the parliamentary martyr rises in their breasts. The Menshevik Maisky, who has fled from Samara, has a conversation with Avksentiev, the great man of the Directorate and the S-R party: impressive beard, idealist’s forehead, an austere rhetoric.

Avksentiev told me bluntly, ‘We are living on top of a volcano, we expect every night to be arrested.’

I asked him, ‘Do you think your policy is right?’ He replied, ‘Yes, it was impossible for us to act otherwise. We are the martyrs of compromise. Do you laugh at that? There are such martyrs, and perhaps Russia needs them more than anything else.’

A few minutes later Maisky asked another member of the Directorate, ‘But aren’t you going to try to resist?’ ‘And what could we do?’ was the answer, with a gesture of despair.

On the night of 18-19 November, the members of the Directorate and their political associates were at last arrested by the Cossacks. The strategic points of the city were dominated by the machine-guns of the British Colonel Ward. On the same day a decision of the Siberian government bestowed upon Admiral Kolchak the title of Supreme Ruler. The admiral, ‘accepting the cross of office’, declared that he intended to follow neither the path of reaction nor that of the factions; his sole object would be the formation of a strong army to fight•Bolshevism. The Russian people would ‘thenceforth organize its own liberty’. The coup had been prepared with the agreement of the Allied representatives: Colonel Ward, the French Consul Regnault, the American Harris and the Czech Stefanik. [30] The members of the Directorate left for exile a few days later, escorted by Russian and British soldiers. General Janin arrived at Omsk on 14 December: the Allied orderpaper actually made the ‘Supreme Ruler’ of Omsk a subordinate of this general!

The S-R Constituents tried in vain to oppose this turn of events. Their resistance committee, headed by Chernov, allowed itself to be arrested. The S-R party decided to abandon the struggle against Bolshevism and to return to its insurrectionary and terrorist methods, this time against the Siberian reaction. It was too late. A few of its militants got shot, and that was all.

A study of the Siberian counter-revolution, which reached its maximum success in 1919, is beyond the scope of this book. The military dictatorship and the Allied intervention achieved these results. By the spring of 1919 Kolchak found himself at the head of an armed force strong enough to appear temporarily superior to the Red Army. But, as with all the White armies, this was a class army, formed principally from officers and youngsters from the well-off classes. The régime instituted by the Supreme Ruler was one of White terror. The peasants deserted, refused to supply food, and resisted the requisitionings, the return of the landlords, and the arbitrary rule of the old authorities who had come back more arrogant than ever. Soon the whole of Siberia was streaked with columns of fire. Repression was everywhere the rule: in the rebellious villages, muzhiks were shot in dozens, the women were flogged, the girls raped, the cattle stolen. The townships that were bombarded or incinerated can be numbered in hundreds. Soon, droves of Red guerrillas began to swarm in the Siberian bushland. At the end of December, a workers’ insurrection organized by the clandestine section of the Communist party broke out in Omsk; its repression cost 900 victims. In the general massacre, several S-R and Menshevik members of the Constituent Assembly were executed. In cases of railway sabotage, the villages suspected of complicity were burned down; for each ‘act of banditry’ from the Reds, between three and twenty hostages were shot.

Kolchak’s coup d’état answered the wish of the Allies for a united command over the counter-revolutionary forces. At the very moment when events at Omsk were unfolding their course, there was a conference at Jassy (Rumania) whose host was the British ambassador, Barclay: it included the French ambassador, M. de Saint-Aulaire, an American diplomat, an Italian diplomat, the leaders of the liberal (Milyukov) and monarchist wings of the bourgeoisie, and the S-R leaders (Fundaminsky). [31] The principal matter was the question of a military dictatorship in Russia. It may be said that it was the Allies who imposed on the Russian counter-revolution its principal leaders, Denikin and Kolchak, whose every least action was supposed to be invigilated by the generals Franchet d’Esperey [32] and Janin.


The first anniversary of the October Revolution was commemorated by the Sixth (Extraordinary) Congress of Soviets, held from 6-9 November, at the very hour of the German revolution. It was a singularly lifeless Congress: virtually an enlarged session of Vee-Tsik. There was not, and could not have been, any controversy owing to the extremely homogeneous make-up of the assembly, which out of the 950 voting delegates was composed of 933 Communists, eight Revolutionary-Communists, four Left S-Rs, two Narodnik Communists [33], one Maximalist, one anarchist and one non-party delegate. The only speakers were Lenin, Trotsky, Sverdlov, Radek, Steklov, Kamenev, Kursky and Avanesov. [34] The only reactions from the hall consisted of prolonged applause and unanimous votes.

The Congress decided once again to propose peace to the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Japan, countries that were at war with Russia even though they had never declared it. A resolution on amnesty was adopted, instructing the Extraordinary Commissions to keep under arrest only avowed and active enemies of the régime: there was a further resolution on revolutionary legality.

During the proceedings the news came of the Red Army’s capture of the factories at Izhevsk (Ural region). This was a great advance, since the munitions works at Izhevsk and Votkinsk had gone over to the counter-revolution under Menshevik influence. Trotsky announced that in the Kotlas district a party of fifty-eight British soldiers had gone over to the Reds.

The Congress showed extreme caution in its evaluation of events in Germany. The motion adopted after Lenin’s report spoke of the need to instil into the masses a clear awareness of the new dangers that were present and ‘the conviction that we shall be able to defend and preserve the Socialist fatherland and the victory of the world proletarian revolution’. Yoffe had just been expelled from Germany, and a two-pronged attack was now expected against Communist Russia from the Central Powers and the Allies.

Lenin took the platform twice, to commemorate the first anniversary of the revolution and to explain the international situation.

We have always realized [he said] that it was not because of any merit of the Russian proletariat that we happened to begin the revolution, which was impelled by the worldwide struggle: it was because of Russia’s weakness, its backwardness and the special influence of military strategic circumstances that obliged us to place ourselves at the head of the movement until the other detachments should come up.

He drew the balance-sheet of a year of struggles: from workers’ control we had passed to workers’ organization of industry; from the general democratic struggle of the peasants for land to the differentiation of classes in the countryside; from military impotence to the creation of the Red Army; from isolation to joint action with the proletariat of western Europe. ’We began with workers’ control, we did not decree Socialism at once, because Socialism can only take shape when the working class has learnt how to administer.’ He spoke of the peasant question, referring to the July crisis of kulak revolts. ’We confined ourselves to leaving the way open for Socialist transformation in the countryside, though we knew full well that the peasantry was still, at the time, unable to enter on this path.’ No democratic republic had done as much for the peasants. It had not been until the famine struck that war broke out between the workers and the kulaks; of which the principal result had been the mass mobilization of the working people of the towns and the countryside. And now ‘the alliance of the rural poor with the workers in the cities is laying the foundation for real Socialist construction’. ‘No matter what happens to us,’ Lenin declared, ‘imperialism will perish.’

In his second speech he said that:

international relations have been confronting us as a central question, not merely because the essence of imperialism is now the firm, stable linking of all the states in the world into one single system – or rather into one mass of blood and filth – but also because Socialist victory is inconceivable in one country but demands the most active collaboration of at least several advanced countries, among which we cannot number Russia.

Convinced of this conception from the very first moment, the Russian proletariat has bent its efforts towards enlightening the masses of other countries, without hoping for any immediate results. ‘Even if we were to be suddenly wiped out, we would have the right to say, without concealing our mistakes, that we have made full use, for the world-wide Socialist revolution, of the interval that destiny offered to us.’ Once again he repeated, as a rider to these general observations, that ‘never have we been so near the world revolution, and yet never have we been in such a dangerous situation’. Lenin’s last remarks were:

We have no cause whatsoever for despair or pessimism. We know that the danger is great. It may be that fate has even sterner tests in store for us. It is not excluded that they can crush one country: but they will never be able to crush the world proletarian revolution ... [35]

Trotsky reported on the situation at the fronts, which gave grounds for considerable hope. The liberation of the south, he said, was now on the order of the day.

The Armistice of 11 November, drawn up between the Allies and Germany, insisted as one of its conditions upon the cancellation of the treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest. Two days later, Vee-Tsik proclaimed that the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was null and void. The Republic of Soviets offered its fraternal alliance to all the peoples liberated from imperialism.


During the German occupation and under the rule of Heiman Skoropadsky, the Ukraine had never for a moment been free of trouble. The class struggle continued in all its fury. The effect of compulsory requisitionings was to force the peasantry to take up arms. The nationalist-Socialist parties of the petty-bourgeoisie were offended by the condition of national humiliation and transmitted the discontent of the rural masses. In the working-class centres, the illegal organizations of the Bolshevik party kept up the good fight. The Left S-Rs undertook their terrorist acts. The countryside was full of irregular bands called haidamaks (part of the tradition of the Ukraine), of partisan forces under the red (Bolshevik) or black (anarchist) flag. In the middle of September the nationalist groups that had officially declared war on the Hetman began to gather an army of volunteers around Belaya-Tserkov. This insurrectionary movement was directed by two old nationalist-Socialist leaders, the writer Vinnichenko and the schoolteacher Simon Petlyura, who had both been prominent figures in the Rada, of piteous memory.

As soon as the members of the occupying forces heard the news of events in Vienna and Berlin, they only had one thought: to get back home. The only form of organization the Austro-Germans could now boast was that required to evacuate the country in good order, and this was provided by the Soldiers’ Councils.

The Germanized Ukraine disintegrated instantly. All over it Red forces sprang into being, while regular units of the Red Army marched upon Gomel, Kharkov and Kiev. The troops of Vinnichenko and Petlyura, who at the first moment of the collapse were stronger than the Reds, launched simultaneous attacks everywhere against the panic-stricken authorities of the Hetman.

The Germans retreated without offering battle. Around 15 November, Petlyura felt strong enough to declare the Hetman an outlaw. In this bloody chaos, two rival powers arose at once: the nationalists’ Directorate and the Soviet government. Thus power became contested between the petty-bourgeoisie, urban middle classes and wealthy peasants on the one hand and the workers and poor peasants on the other.

The Directorate offered a programme which at first sight was very close to that of Bolshevism: expropriation of the large estates in favour of the peasants (the land was declared to belong to the tillers); an eight-hour working day; labour legislation; the rights of combination and strike; recognition of factory committees; ‘exclusive authority of the labouring classes’, i.e. workers, peasants and intellectuals; the speedy summoning of a Congress of Toilers. [36] Soviets were to be tolerated on condition that they limited their activity to the defence of local and corporate interests. This plausible revolutionism did not stand up for long to the shocks imparted by reality. The force of the revolution lay, in the cities, with the proletariat; in the country, after the hasty departure of the land-lord, the gendarme, the Hetman and the German Kommandatur, it lay with the poor peasant, and the latter was immediately locked in struggle with the rich and middle peasantry who proclaimed that the revolution was over now and that the only remaining task was to consolidate private property against the threat of Bolshevism. Scarcely did Petlyura’s soldiers plant the yellow-and-blue national flag in a town or village when the struggle flared out once again between them and the Soviet, the Communist party, the workers and the peasants. On the morrow of its ephemeral victory the democratic counter-revolution once more found itself placed between two dictatorships. And, as usual, it opted at the decisive hour in favour of military reaction. The political suicide of the Ukraine’s Directorate is pitiful to behold. Here is the text of the declaration it addressed in January to the French commanders:

The Directorate places itself under the protection of France and requests the French authorities to guide it on all diplomatic, military, political, economic, financial and judicial questions until the conclusion of the struggle against Bolshevism. The Directorate looks to the generosity of France and the Allied powers in the event of any fresh settlement of the frontier and nationality questions.

According to the terms of the treaty signed at the end of January 1919 with France (represented by General d’Anselme), the Directorate declares the Ukraine to be an integral part of a single and indivisible Russia (so much for ‘national independence’); it transfers its powers to a coalition cabinet (so much for ‘the exclusive authority of the toilers’); it abandons the project of summoning a Labour Congress, promises to tolerate no Soviets on its territory, and entrusts the command of its troops to a General Staff composed of General d’Anselme, the officer in charge of Allied troops, one representative from General Denikin’s volunteer army, one representative of the Polish Legionaries and one representative of the Ukrainian republicans. In return, the Allies pledge themselves to keep the Ukrainians supplied with munitions.

The essence of this curious treaty was contained in two economic clauses, drafted in even harsher terms, which were divulged later in a note from Rakoysky to M. Stephen Pichon. France would acquire over the Ukraine, for five years, extended rights amounting to those over a protectorate; she would receive fifty-year concessions on the Ukrainian railways. The seriousness of these plans for controlling the Ukraine would shortly be revealed by the occupation of Odessa and Kherson by the French, Greeks and Rumanians (December–March), the activities of the French fleet in the Black Sea and the military engagements at Kherson and Sebastopol.

These efforts failed in view of the purely temporary character of the victories won by the nationalists who had sold out the Ukraine. Petlyura captured Kharkov on 23 November and Kiev on 14 December. But, meanwhile, a Congress of Soviets held at Ekaterinoslav had established the Bolsheviks’ Government of Workers and Peasants under the presidency of Yuri Pyatakov. [37] The Reds rallied the middle peasants behind them and slowly won back the country districts; the towns were already theirs. The units of partisans were absorbed into the Red Army. The anarchists and their sympathizers, who were going from strength to strength under the powerful leadership of Makhno, lent their sup-port to the Soviet power despite many hesitations; while the Allied forces in the Black Sea ports became subject to the influence of revolutionary contagion. It remains true that the Soviet government (with Rakovsky as the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars) would beome installed in the big Ukrainian centres only around January and February, and even then not definitively. Nowhere else in Russia would the civil war be so hot and fierce as in the Ukraine, where fourteen governments replaced one another within four years. But, in this country, whatever men try to build against the proletarian revolution will prove to be built on sand: whatever blood they shed will be in vain, for always the sand will shift from beneath their feet. [38]


‘The shortest path to linking up with the revolution in Austro-Hungary passes through Kiev: just as the roads through Pskov and Vilna lead us to the German revolution.’ These words of Trotsky define the character of the great offensives which the Red Army launches at this moment in the Baltic countries and in the Ukraine.

What are the forces in play at this moment? On 15 September the Red Army numbered 452,509 combat troops and 95,000 auxiliary or rearguard troops. By around the spring of 1919 it will reach and surpass the total of a million fighting men. Let us now try to reckon the enemy forces: between 30,000 and 40,000 Allied soldiers (British, American, Italian, Serbian and French) were in occupation of Archangel, Onega, Kem and Murmansk; 40,000 Finns were threatening Petrograd and Karelia; in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania the White Guard resistance was 30,000 to 40,000 strong, with assistance from the German volunteer corps (30,000 men) under von der Goltz. The Polish army was being mustered, and would be over 50,000 in the spring. 20,000 French and Greek troops occupied Odessa and Kherson. 40,000 Czechoslovaks were spread out along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Three Japanese divisions and 7,000 Americans were operating in the Far East. To these 300,000 foreign bayonets there must be added the forces of Russia’s counter-revolution: the Don Cossack army, 50,000 men; Kuban Cossacks, 80,000; Kolchak’s ‘national army’, 100,000 (by the spring); Denikin’s volunteer army in the Kuban, 10,000 to 15,000; the troops of the Ukrainian Directorate, 10,000 to 15,000; the counter-revolutionary bands of the Ukraine, over 20,000: all making a total of over 250,000 men.

The two sides were therefore scarcely equal. The forces of counter-revolution are far better armed and provisioned but are dispersed and divided, and often reluctant to fight (this is the case with the foreign troops). The Reds, passionately defending their single stretch of territory, have control over the vast railway net-work that converges towards Moscow. The Allies are disunited: the Reds enjoy the formidable unity of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Red offensives are pushed to a victorious conclusion on all fronts. Pskov, the gateway to.the Baltic countries, is taken on 20 November. Narva, the key to Estonia, falls on the 28th; Minsk, the capital of White Russia, on 9 December. The collapse of the Germans entails the bankruptcy of the nationalist semi-governments in the Baltic states. In Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, Soviet governments are constituted and are granted recognition in a decree from Vee-Tsik on 23 December. Ufa is captured on 31 December; Kharkov and Riga, 3 January; Vilna, 8 January; Mittau on the 9th; Shenkursk, on the River Dvina in the Arctic Circle, and Ekaterinoslav, in the heart of the southern Ukraine, on the 26th. Through Uralsk, Orenburg and Iletsk, the way was clear again to link up with Turkestan, itself in the throes of civil war.

The return of the Ukraine and the Baltic states to the Soviet fatherland appears as the first international consequence of the German revolution. But, at the very hour when the Russian proletariat is making ready, through the force of its victories, to join hands with the proletariat of Germany, the latter is going down in. defeat on the barricades of Berlin. The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg signals the crushing of the proletarian revolution in central Europe.


Here we can mark out only the principal stages of the German revolution. Following on the Armistice, the Socialist government of People’s Commissaries showed two main concerns: to appease the demands of the Allies (for fear of a foreign occupation) and to contain Bolshevism, which heralded new crises for them. Social-Democracy consolidated itself in power as the party of social conservatism, of the defence of the capitalist order. In the country at large, the only real authority lay with the Workers’ Councils (Arbeiterräte); but in these the Social-Democrats held overwhelming majorities. The Congress of Councils of Germany, meeting in Berlin from 16–25 December, rejected by 344 votes against ninety-eight a motion proposed by the Independent Social-Democrat Ernst Däumig, which affirmed the principle of ‘power to the Soviets’; instead it transferred all authority to the People’s Commissaries who were then instructed to convoke the Constituent Assembly. After this explicit abdication by the leading organizations of the working class, the sole opportunity for the revolutionary proletariat lay in an insurrectional initiative. If it had been organized and led by a Communist party, it would without doubt have been strong enough to win this crucial battle. Future possibilities seemed to offer the chance of a striking recovery. The Spartacus group, pursuing its propaganda for the dictatorship of the proletariat, was gaining in influence. The sailors from Kiel and the proletarians in the workers’ quarters of Berlin dreamed only of following the example set by their Russian. brothers. So long as these forces did not meet with a sanguinary repression, the social order was not safe. On this point, the Social-Democratic leaders found themselves in accord with the military chiefs. We will turn to the memoirs of Gustav Noske, the former editor of the Chemnitz Social-Democrats’ Volksstimme, who, in the crisis of January 1919, at the head of the reactionary officer-corps, took on the task of butchering the working class that he represented in the Reichstag. We find the section, devoted to the joint session of the government and the Central Executive of Workers’ Councils, on 6 January 1919, and read:

Nobody made any objection when I expressed the view that order would have to be restored by force of arms. The Minister of War, Colonel Reinhardt, drafted an order appointing as commander-in-chief General Hoffmann, who happened to be a short distance from Berlin at the head of several units of troops. It was objected that this general would be too unpopular among the workers.

There we were, standing around in Ebert’s office, all very nervous. Time was getting short: our people were gathering in the streets, demanding arms. I insisted that a decision must be taken. Somebody said: ‘Perhaps you’ll do the job yourself?’ To this I replied, briefly and resolutely: ‘I don’t mind, somebody’s got to be the bloodhound! I’m not afraid of the responsibility!’ It was decided forthwith that the government would grant me extraordinary powers for the purpose of re-establishing order in Berlin. In his draft, Reinhardt struck out the name of Hoffmann and replaced it by mine. That is how I was appointed to the post of commander-in-chief. [39]

On the same day, a bloody provocation lit the tinder for the explosion. Emil Eichhorn, a courageous revolutionary of the USPD, had filled the post of Chief of the Berlin Police since the beginning of the revolution. [40] He had turned the Polizeipräsidium into a proletarian stronghold. Permanent conflict existed between this revolutionary headquarter, the government and the Social-Democratic commandant of Berlin, Otto Wels. A workers’ demonstration which Eichhorn had authorized was met in the centre of Berlin, on Wels’s orders, by volleys of firing from the troops. Noske’s appointment was thus countersigned in the streets by the blood of sixteen dead workers. The government announced the dismissal of Eichhorn, who refused to resign a post he held not by grace of the ministers, but from the revolution. [41] These provocations precipitated the entry of the proletariat into the streets at a time when, as Karl Radek wrote to the Central Committee of the recently formed Communist Party of Germany, the Soviets had no more than a nominal existence, and had still not experienced any political struggle which could release the power of the masses: these, in consequence, remained in bondage to the influence of the Social-Democrats. In these conditions it was out of the question to think of the seizure of power by the proletariat. [42] Radek’s advice was to avoid the clash and to undertake an agitational campaign unmasking the treason of the People’s Commissaries and the Executive of the Workers’ Councils; the aim of this campaign would be to seek fresh elections for the Councils, thus enabling the revolutionary proletariat, as it prepared the offensive, to conquer the organs of power by legal means. The Central Committee hesitated. Liebknecht was drawn along by the mass current: without consulting the Central Committee he signed a manifesto, along with the Independents Schultze and Lebedour, deposing Ebert and Scheidemann from the government. Not only was this a grave lapse of discipline; it committed the very error that the Bolsheviks had been stern enough to avoid during the troubles of July 1917, when they held back the Petrograd masses who yearned to engage in a premature battle against Kerensky. The inexperience of the proletariat’s best leaders here became one of the prime causes of its defeat. Liebknecht, without his party, initiated an untimely insurrection which he was unable to guide. The Central Committee, surprised by the turn of events, issued neither insurrectionary slogans nor strategic directives. 200,000 determined proletarians, a magnificent army ready for any sacrifice, who would have been formidable if only they had been backed by a well-led party, marked time for several long hours along the damp avenues of the Tiergarten. [43] Nobody gave them any orders. No Revolutionary Committee knew how to make use of their energy. ‘The leaders were in conference, in conference, in conference,’ wrote Rosa Luxemburg on the following day. ‘No, these masses were not ready for the seizure of power, or their initiative would have discovered others to stand at their head, and their first revolutionary action would have been to compel the leaders to stop their interminable conferences in the Polizeipräsidium.’ [44] The testimony of Noske confirms this judgement: ‘If these crowds, instead of being led by prattlers, had possessed resolute leaders, conscious of where they were going, they would have been masters of Berlin before midday ... [45]

No revolutionary leaders worthy of the name. A Communist party that was too young, too inexperienced, without cadres, without a Central Committee capable of daring initiative. Masses of workers marching to do battle, but themselves too subservient to the traditions of Social-Democratic discipline to make up with their own action for the deficiencies of leadership and party. The understandable impatience and great personal courage of Liebknecht, who is afraid to let the hour of action pass. Rosa, clearsighted but powerless. Thus did the immediate causes of defeat congeal together. The insurrection was quelled by Noske’s monarchist bands, composed in the main of officers.

Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, denounced by Vorwärts as the instigators of civil war, were arrested on 15 January after the street-fighting, and perished the same day. Liebknecht was taken in the evening to the Tiergarten and shot from behind ‘while attempting to escape’. Rosa Luxemburg was taken from the hotel where she was being detained, and put into a saloon car; there, her skull was shattered with a revolver-shot by Lieutenant Vogel. Her corpse was thrown into a nearby canal. The murderers of Liebknecht and Luxemburg went scot-free.


The defeat of Germany’s proletarian revolution was reassuring to the Allies; indeed, they had made their own special contribution to it. The Spartacists of Berlin were actually taking on the whole capitalist world. Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Orlando [46] and Foch (whose remark ‘Better Hindenburg than Liebknecht’ became well-known) gave discreet support to the ‘Socialist’ Noske, the Stinnes, the Krupps, the Groeners and Hoffmanns. The frontier of Bolshevism had now retreated from the Rhine to beyond the Vistula, where under Daszynski’s Socialist government the Polish Republic was being established as another bulwark of the old Europe. However, the bloodbaths of Berlin brought no remedy for the social crisis that gripped the continent. The situation continued to be revolutionary in the defeated countries and tended in that direction in the victor countries. France, Britain and Italy lived in anxiety over a demobilization which would throw into unemployment millions of embittered and weary workers; these, moreover, were used to handling grenades and were not inclined to take promises for an answer. The year 1919 was to be marked by events of immense importance: the Soviet Republic in Bavaria, the proletarian dictatorship in Hungary, the worsening of the crisis in Italy, demoralization of the French troops in Odessa, mutinies in the French Black Sea fleet. In addition, the difficulties of mounting an effective intervention were fully evident at the meeting of the Allies (Paris Conference) that was called to re-draw the map of the world after the ruin of the Central Empires. Intervention could not bring all the fruits expected of it – i.e. the restoration of capitalism in Russia – except at the cost of a fresh war which would probably be both long and harsh. But the state of morale in the victor-armies and the attitude of the working class in the belligerent countries on both sides made it clear that hostilities could not be re-opened on a large scale against the revolution of the toilers. Hence the hesitations of the Paris Conference before the Russian problem, which was only an isolated aspect – scarcely isolated, at that – of the international problem. Two tendencies came out clearly in the discussion. Clemenceau advocated a forceful policy, doubtless in the belief that a quick military victory was possible over Bolshevism. Lloyd George and President Wilson were more cautious: they envisaged long-term actions such as diplomatic sabotage, undeclared war, indirect war through bribed satellite states and blockades: it may be that they counted on the effects of famine, physical exhaustion and the degeneration of Bolshevism itself. These differences of opinion were complicated by conflicts of interest: of these last, the most serious was keeping the Americans and the Japanese neutralized, from fear of each other, in the Siberian Far East. [47]

Such is the explanation of the contradictory tendencies among the Allies, at the point when the defeat of the German revolution coincided with the victories of the Red Army. A radio message from the Paris Conference on 23 January 1919 invited all governments enjoying a de facto existence on the territory of the former Russian Empire to send representatives to a peace conference which was to be summoned on the Island of Prinkipo, near Constantinople, in the presence of the Allies. On 4 February, the Soviet government notified the Great Powers of its agreement to the opening of negotiations, and showed itself as willing to offer a heavy price to gain peace: This amounted (or so it was assumed) to a continuation of the politics of Brest-Litovsk in transactions with the Allies, for the same reasons that had led to Brest-Litovsk. Chicherin’s note stated, as some of its principal points:

The government of the Soviets declares that ... it is ready to make concessions to the powers of the Entente on the question of debts. It does not refuse to recognize its financial obligations to those of its creditors who are citizens of the Entente powers ... It proposes to guarantee the payment of interest on the loans by a fixed quantity of raw materials ... It is ready to grant, to citizens of the Entente powers, mining, forestry and other concessions, on condition that the internal running of these concessions does not interfere with the social and economic order of Soviet Russia ... The fourth point, on which the Soviet government believes that the proposed negotiations might have a bearing, concerns territorial concessions: for the Soviet government does not wish to exclude in principle from the negotiations the question of the annexation by the Entente powers of certain Russian territories ...

This offer of annexations went a stage further even than Brest-Litovsk politics: its causes doubtless have to be sought in the Berlin defeats. The limits of the retreat were, however, clearly defined; indeed, with the exception of the territorial concessions they still form the policy of the USSR, i.e. recognition of debts on certain conditions, economic guarantees for financial agreements, industrial concessions provided that these do not affect the Soviet régime. The very opening of negotiations at Prinkipo signified the Soviets’ recognition of the counter-revolutionary states that were in the course of construction in Siberia, the Don country and the Caucasus. This was an extremely dangerous policy, which fortunately came to nothing owing to the response of the leaders of the counter-revolution, Kolchak and Denikin, doubtless taken on the advice of the Allied generals. Relying on the forthcoming spring offensives, they refused to reply to the offer of the Entente powers and to Chicherin’s Note. That was a grave miscalculation on their part.

The objectives of the rulers of the Soviet Republic at this point were very simple: to gain time, to consolidate Soviet power even in a restricted and amputated terrain, maintaining there the focus of the proletarian revolution, and to keep future options open: ‘gaining time by ceding some space if necessary’, and allowing the European revolution, now increasingly imminent, to mature. Events since then have shown how far the Western proletariat was from matching the demands of the hour. The efforts of the revolutionary proletarians in the West would certainly not have been assisted by the crystallization of a number of counter-revolutionary states around a Soviet Russia mutilated by the terms of an onerous and humiliating peace. Consider the prospect of a Red Russia, deprived of the corn of the Kuban and Siberia, of the Donetz coal, of iron from the Ural, of oil from Baku, thrown back on her own resources by the inactivity of the Western proletariat: would such a Russia have succeeded later in conquering – or even in holding out against – a Siberia, a Caucasus, a White south in which capitalist states, more or less colonies of the Entente, would have become consolidated with the aid of the victorious powers? Through the intransigence of the White side, the dangerous diplomatic manoeuvrings of Lloyd George and Wilson turned out for the benefit of the Soviets. Once again it was demonstrated that the proletarian republic would not shrink from any sacrifice in order to declare peace to the world, even while its enemies were compelling it into a war to the death.

The failure of the Prinkipo proposals cost the Russian revolution three further years of heroic struggle. But it was through these struggles that the historic grandeur of the Republic was durably forged: the territory of the USS-R became extended from the Gulf of Finland to the Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to Asia Minor, across one sixth of the globe. For the moment, the Allies continued to prepare their spring offensives, in Poland, Siberia, Archangel, the Baltic lands, the Don region and the Kuban, and planned the encirclement of the Russian Commune with a ring of counter-revolutionary states. All this while, not one country dared to declare war formally upon the Soviets. This unconfessed war found an official form in the perfidy of the blockades. Beginning with the first months of 1919, not one letter, not one food parcel, not one package of goods, not one foreign newspaper could enter Red Russia, except as contraband across the lines of barbed wire.


[1] E. Ludendorff, My War Memories, 1914-1918 (London, 1919), Vol.2.

[2] Extracts from telegrams sent by GHQ to the government: 1 October 1918, 1300 hours: ‘... Urgently requested to propose peace forthwith. The troops are still holding but impossible to foresee what may happen to-morrow. Signed: Lersner.’ 1 October, 1330 hours: ‘If Prince Max of Baden is charged with forming a government at 7 or 8 this evening, I am willing to wait until the morning. Otherwise, I shall feel it necessary to issue a statement to the governments of the world this very night. Signed: Hindenburg.’ 1 October (dispatched 2 October, at 0010 hours): ‘General Ludendorff has told me that our peace proposals must be transmitted immediately from Berne to Washington. The army cannot wait another 48 hours. Signed: Grunau.’ Such was the terror inspired by the army in the breasts of the General Staff! Paul Fröhlich, The German Revolution [a version of Fröhlich’s Zehn Jahre Krieg and Burgerkrieg, Berlin, 1924] (1926), Chapter 13.

[3] [Ebert actually became Reich Chancellor, but a legal fiction of continuity between him and his predecessor as Chancellor and Regent, Prince Max, was maintained so that the officials of the Imperial authorities could recognize the legitimacy of the new government without violating their oaths to the Emperor (E. Waldman, The Spartacist Uprising of 1919 (Milwaukee, 1958), p.89).]

[4] N. Lenin, Collected Works (London, 1969), Vol.28, pp.101-3.

[5] Long years afterwards, in 1924 [i.e when Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev were accumulating every scrap of fact hinting at a divergency between Lenin and Trotsky], these words have been interpreted as the sign of a disagreement between the two leaders. It is enough to refer to the text of Lenin’s remarks to see that both leaders were expressing the same idea. In any case, Trotsky, was speaking in the name of the party’s Central Committee. All we have here is a loose formulation let drop by the speaker, if not a stenographic error of the kind that is so abundant in the transcribed reports of the time. At this point there is only one line of thought, that of the party; on this common basis one can find only a slight nuance of difference, in that the emphasis in Lenin’s speech is upon the danger of war with the imperialist Entente, whereas Trotsky is concluding (in his speech of 30 October, at Vee-Tsik) that the Republic enjoys a new respite up to the coming spring, since it is too late for large-scale operations to be commenced this year (a view which would be soon confirmed by events); his whole thought turns now on the offensive to be waged by the revolution in the West. We may discern here, perhaps, either the natural effects of the division of labour between the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars and the Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council; or the display of two different temperaments, one inclined to prudence and the other more towards the offensive.

[6] From Strange and Monstrous, Lenin’s reply to the Left Communists, 28 February 1918 (Collected Works, Vol.27, p.72).

[7] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.28, pp.65-6. A year later the Soviet Republic was to show itself to be inspired by these same principles when Lenin and Trotsky, in a joint telegram of 18 April 1919, urged the Soviet government of the Ukraine to take the offensive in the direction of Czernovitz (Bukovina) in order to establish a link with Soviet Hungary.

[8] ibid., pp.116, 117, 123, 124. These observations were self-evidently addressed to those Communists who would have liked to force the pace of events in the Ukraine by means of an armed intervention.

[9] K. Kautsky, The Road to Power (Chicago, 1909).

[10] See Les Partis Social-Democrates (a set of monographs put out by the Bureau d’Edition et de Diffusion) (Paris, 1925); also G.Y. Yakovin, The Political Development of Contemporary Germany [no Russian title available] (Leningrad, 1927).

[11] [i.e. after its failure to mobilize a large working-class base in the events of 1923.]

[12] [Liebknecht actually voted with the rest of the SPD parliamentarians in August 1914; and when he did break discipline he was not joined by Rühle till March 1915.]

[13] [Wilsonism: i.e. the principles of post-war settlement propounded by the US President.]

[14] [Albert Bailin was a Hamburg shipping magnate, Klockner, Krupp, Thyssen and Hugenberg were Ruhr industrial houses, Hugo Stinnes was an empire-building entrepreneur controlling many newspapers, and Walter Rathenau was the brilliant Jewish capitalist and politician assassinated by Right-wing thugs in 1922.]

[15] [Sir George Buchanan and Maurice Paléologue were respectively British and French ambassadors to the Tsarist Imperial Court and Provisional Government; Albert Thomas was the French Socialist leader and Minister of Armaments in the Clemenceau cabinet who visited Russia in the days of Kerensky in an attempt to keep her in the war.]

[16] [The German designation of the government, Rat der Volksbeauftragten, is a virtual translation of Lenin’s ‘Council of People’s Commissars’; ‘Commissaries’ is given as the translation of Serge’s term Mandataires, which he uses here rather than Commissaires.]

[17] It is true that any consent to negotiate on their part would have been reluctant. But the experience of the Allied troops sent into Russia has shown that the Entente was in no position to wage a victorious war against revolutionary countries. On their first contact with the proletarian revolution, the troops became rapidly disaffected. The revolution would not have stopped at the Rhine. Foch and Wilson would have had to be much more accommodating before a combined Russian and German revolution than von Kühlmann and Hoffmann were at Brest-Litovsk before an isolated Russian revolution.

[18] General Groener, Ludendorff’s successor at the Supreme General Command, declared at the Munich trial of 1925: ‘We [i.e. the High Command and the Social-Democrats] concluded an alliance against Bolshevism.

I was in touch with Ebert every day. My aim was to take the power away from the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils. We were planning for ten divisions to enter Berlin. Ebert was in agreement with us ... The Independents and the Soviets demanded that the troops should go in unarmed; Ebert agreed with us that they should go in well-armed. We drew up a detailed plan of action for Berlin: the capital was to be disarmed and purged of the Spartacists. Everything was worked out jointly with Ebert ... After this, a strong government was to be established. The troops did arrive in December, but as they were set on getting back to their homes, the plan was never implemented ...

[19] [It appears that, although Yoffe was indeed conducting revolutionary propaganda in Germany, these particular leaflets were ‘planted’ in the diplomatic luggage by the Prussian police (Waldman, op. cit., pp.66-7).]

[20] From the Moscow Izvestia, 18 or 19 December 1918.

[21] [Novocherkassk was the capital of the Don territory.]

[22] [The Terek region in the Caucasus borders on the river of the same name, which runs into the Caspian Sea.]

[23] The name of the consul Hainaut has been transcribed from the Russian, and the spelling may be wrong.

[24] The same applies to the name Hochain.

[25] [Poole’s reports back to the War Office, extracted from the Cabinet papers, are summarized in R.H. Ullman, Britain and the Russian Civil War (Princeton, 1968), p.49: they recommended large-scale assistance to Denikin (including tanks, aircraft and British troops) to stop the Bolshevik terror from ‘depopulating large, tracts’ and ‘destroying civilization’.]

[26] Today Stalingrad. [Since 1961, Volgograd.]

[27] [Budyonny became a loyal military supporter of Stalin; he was made Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1935 and survived the army purge; he played no serious role in the Second World War.]

[28] I. Maisky, The Democratic Counter-Revolution (Demokraticheskaya Kontr-Revoliutsiya) (Moscow, 1923).

[29] [Brigadier-General Alfred Knox, during his Military Attache to the British Embassy in Petrograd, had in 1917 backed Kornilov’s coup against Kerensky; in the following year he tried to have Lockhart recalled (during the latter’s pro-Soviet phase) and campaigned ardently for the unleashing of Japan upon Siberia (R.H. Ullman, Intervention and the War (Princeton, 1961), pp.11-12, 131, 197-8). General Maurice Janin, the titular commander-in-chief of the Allied force in Siberia, was in practice Knox’s subordinate (Ullman, Britain and the Russian Civil War, p.35); his presence at Vladivostok was the expression both of the French stake in Allied intervention (he had long experience in pre-revolutionary Russia and had headed the French Military Mission to St Petersburg in 1916) and of the Czechoslovaks’ bargaining for political recognition. The Czech connection had been established when he commanded the Czechoslovak forces fighting in France prior to his arrival in Siberia.]

[30] [There is considerable controversy over the precise measure of the support given by the various Allied representatives to the Kolchak coup. General Janin claimed later that the British had ‘installed’ Kolchak to secure ‘a government of their own’ which would yield them economic concessions in Turkestan. Ambassador Noulens and two of Janin’s staff officers made similar charges; General Knox was alleged to have made the necessary arrangements for the coup at the end of October 1918. The Czechoslovak Legion publicly protested against the overthrow of the Directorate; even before it had taken place, they were on bad terms with Kolchak. The British government itself was highly embarrassed by the coup, since it had just given de facto recognition to the Directorate as the government of Russia. The activities of Colonel J.F. Nielson, a member of Knox’s Military Mission in Omsk, were investigated by Whitehall as tending to suggest British complicity in the Kolchak takeover; he was cleared, although he and his colleagues in the Mission admittedly had prior knowledge that the coup might take place at any moment. Captain Steveni, the other of Knox’s adjutants implicated in the charges, was a reactionary pro-Tsarist whose participation in the actual plot is, according to Ullman, ‘not inconceivable’. The assistance rendered to the plotters by the machine-guns of Colonel Ward’s 25th Middlesex Battalion is not in doubt. See Ullman, Intervention and the War, pp.279-84 and Britain and the Russian Civil War, pp.33-4, and P. Fleming, The Fate of Admiral Kolchak (London, 1963), pp.112-16.]

[31] On the Jassy conference, see M. Margulies, A Year of Intervention (God Interventsii) (Berlin, 1923). [Margulies was a participant in the conference.]

[32] Since General Franchet d’Esperey did not come to Russia, the intervention plan involving him was abandoned soon afterwards. [Serge is, of course, wrong in thinking of Janin as a possible effective ‘controller’ of Kolchak: see note 30 above.]

[33] [The Revolutionary Communists and Narodnik Communists were two small splinter parties which separated from the Left S-Rs after the attempted Left S-R rising in July 1918. The Narodnik Communists dissolved their party and entered the Russian Communist party in November that year, and the ‘Party of Revolutionary Communism’ (which published its own press with an interesting theoretical position supporting the Soviets but denying the need for a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’) dissolved itself into the Bolshevik ranks in late 1920.]

[34] [These were all Bolshevik speakers: Y.M. Steklov was the editor of Izvestia, D.I. Kursky was People’s Commissar of Justice and V. Avanesov was the secretary of Vee-Tsik.]

[35] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.28, pp.138, 139, 142, 143, 150, 151, 154, 160, 163-4.

[36] The Directorate’s first proclamation stated that the propertied classes (the capitalists and big landlords) had dishonoured themselves through their greed, their anti-national egoism and their subservience to the foreigner.

[37] [G.L. Pyatakov became one of the ablest of Soviet administrators (he was one of the tiny circle of top Bolsheviks singled out for cautious praise in Lenin’s Testament of December 1922). After being a leading member of the Trotskyist Left opposition, he capitulated in 1928 and worked as Commissar for Russian heavy industry, being re-instated into the party’s Central Committee in 1934. He was arrested in late 1936, confessed to a variety of conspiracies for assassination and sabotage in the ‘Trial of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre’ in January 1937, was sentenced to death and shot.]

[38] In 1919 the Ukraine, now entirely occupied by Denikin’s White army, was lost to the Soviet Republic. Denikin’s offensive against Tula and Moscow was broken by the Red Army and by peasant uprisings in his rear. The revolution finally managed to reconquer the country in 1920. Throughout this succession of struggles Rakovsky continued to head the Soviet government of the Ukraine.

[39] G. Noske, Von Kiel bis Kapp (Berlin, 1920).

[40] [Emil Eichhorn (1863-1925) had headed the German SPD’s press office from 1908 to 1917; he then ran the USPD’s press service. In his capacity as Polizeipräsident of the city during the revolution, he had reported regularly to the Berlin Executive of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, encouraged the armament of the workers and established a revolutionary militia, the Sicherheitswehr. He joined the KPD in 1920 (G. Badia, Le Spartakisme (Paris, 1967), pp.247, 251, 420).]

[41] [He had been appointed by the USPD and the Berlin Executive of the Councils; the latter body was swayed by the government after the ebb of the revolutionary wave in the city, and actually endorsed his dismissal (6 January); Waldman, op. cit., pp.165-6, 180.]

[42] These lines are taken from a letter by Karl Radek to the Central Committee of the KPD dated from Berlin on 9 January. Working clandestinely in the capital, Radek saw accurately and clearly. He warned the party against the danger of submitting to provocation. This letter is a model of political foresight and revolutionary firmness. If Radek’s advice had been heeded, the German proletariat would probably have escaped the irreparable defeat of January, preserved its leaders, Karl and Rosa, frustrated the designs of Ebert, Wels and Noske and kept the future open. See K. Radek, In the Service of the German Revolution (Na Sluzhbe Germanskoi Revoliutsii) (Moscow, 1921); German translation, 1921. It is to be regretted that this remarkable book, which condenses the experience of a year of decisive struggles in central Europe, has not been translated into French.

[43] The Tiergarten is a vast park situated at the centre of Berlin.

[44] From an article which appeared in Rote Fahne [actually by another hand, during January 1920, though it closely followed Rosa’s own thinking in her article, Was machen die Führer? in the issue of 7 January 1919: see Waldman, op. cit., pp.177-8, 188-9].

[45] Noske, op. cit.

[46] [V.E. Orlando was the Prime Minister of Italy.]

[47] [Serge’s analysis of the varying policies of the Allied ministers, and of their motivation, is broadly correct. Ullman’s account, drawn from the minutes of the British Empire Delegation and of the leading ‘Council of Ten’ at the Paris Peace Conference, relates the lengths to which Lloyd George went to ask each participating government how many troops it could provide to crush Bolshevism; the answer, in each case, was ‘none’ (as the British Prime Minister had doubtless guessed before he asked). Lloyd George was formally opposed to a cordon sanitaire against Bolshevism; but both he and President Wilson continued the policy of blockade against the Soviet Republic, jointly with the other Allies, until late 1919. Wilson was the first to disengage from the naval encirclement of Russia’s foreign trade, and then on the purely legalistic grounds that (though he was in sympathy with the aims of the blockade) he could not order the US Navy to take action unless Congress had declared war against the blockaded nation. The British Cabinet rose to the occasion by deciding, on 4 July, that ‘In fact, a state of war did exist between Great Britain and the Bolshevist government of Russia’, so that ‘our naval forces in Russian waters should be authorized to engage enemy forces by land and sea, when necessary’. But the formal conclusion of the Versailles treaty some days later, and the prospect of the opening of large-scale trading relations between Russia and Germany (and the neutrals), raised a further question-mark over the usefulness and legitimacy of the blockade. In practice, however, it was continued: Russia’s external trade was almost non-existent in 1919 as well as in 1918 (Ullman, Britain and the Russian Civil War, pp.104-8, 287-91.)]

Last updated on: 7.2.2009