Max Shachtman

Nine Years of the Struggle of the Left Opposition

The German Revolution of 1923
and the Lessons of October

(May 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 20 (Whole No. 116), 14 May 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Continued from last issue)

In 1917, the main leaders of the Bolsheviks, before and after Lenin’s arrival from Switzerland, had adopted anything but a revolutionary position. Kamenev and Stalin had been for supporting the bourgeois republic “from the Left”, and for the continuation of a “revolutionary war” in defense ... of the Provisional government. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Nogin, Lunatcharsky, Losovsky, Yaroslavsky, Molotov, Tomskyall of them were either opposed to the October insurrection or in favor of a Menshevik-Bolshevik coalition government. Some of them – like Zinoviev and Kamenev – adopted such a position, even after the Bolshevik seizure of power, that Lenin, who had worked together with them for decades, did not hesitate to denounce them as “strike-breakers and deserters”. Trotsky’s recollection of these facts and his explanation of them, their causes and effects, opened up a new campaign against “Trotskyism”, in which, as had already become customary, the real issues objectively raised by Trotsky were deliberately concealed or smothered under by the bureaucracy. What might have been a brightly illuminated campaign of instruction and enlightenment for the international Communist movements on the art and problems of insurrection was treacherously converted by Zinoviev-Stalin-and-Co. into a lynching campaign against the Opposition and its leader.

It is interesting to note, in passing, the characteristic manner in which the campaign was conducted on an international scale. Letters and telegraphic commands were dispatched by Zinoviev through the Comintern aapparatus to the Central Committees of all the national Communist parties with the demand that Trotsky’s Lessons of October be repudiated and the “Old Guard” of the Russian Central Committee endorsed. Everywhere the wheels were set into motion for the routine of adopting resolutions without discussion or understanding. Petty bureaucrats were found in every party who were ready to condemn or endorse whatever they were told to; those that refused, were systematically undermined, attacked and harassed until their places were taken by obedient apparatus servants.

In the United States, more characteristically, the party membership was browbeaten and blackjacked into a condemnation of The Lessons of October without ever having read it! The obscure Inprecorr containing the document was never sent here. The work was published only long afterwards in England, by a non-Communist, and although perhaps one or two people out of a million in this country have ever read it, the American party was nevertheless one of the first to rush to the assistance of the Comintern bureaucracy with a sharp condemnation of the “Trotskyist attack upon the Old Guard”. Since then such a procedure has been raised to the level of a routine system ...

The attempt was subsequently made, as we mentioned, to make Brandler the scapegoat for the whole defeat. This attempt was resisted by Trotsky, who knew the real source of the catastrophic policy pursued. Because he opposed the policy of finding scapegoats, the legend was thereupon circulated that Trotsky was a defender of the German party leaders. (There is not and never was the faintest sign of truth in the legend.) Not only did Brandler and Thalheimer promptly join Zinoviev and Co. with a condemnation of The Lessons of October they were among the first, as a matter of fact, but it was later proved by documentary evidence that it was Stalin and Zinoviev who not merely defended Brandler but have been the ones mainly responsible for the German policy in 1923.

In 1926, after Zinoviev had broken with Stalin, he made public a letter which Stalin had written to him and Bucharin on the eve of the German defeat. The letter gives us the measure of the man, his limited, myopic outlook, his disastrous political course, his ineradicable co-responsibility for the calamity in Germany and its subsequent consequences:

The confidential archives of most of the other leaders would undoubtedly reveal similar documents to indicate that in 1923 they played the same role in the German revolution, with fatal results, as they sought to play in the Russian revolution of 1917 but were prevented from playing by the sharp intervention of Lenin and Trotsky.

The defeat of the German revolution, plus the crushing of the September 1923 insurrection in Bulgaria and the Esthonian putsch of 1924, marked a sharp turn in the history of the Communist International. It not only opened up the epoch of “bourgeois stabilization” in Europe and the ebbing of the revolutionary high-tide, but inaugurated a period of reaction in the Soviet republic and the International. Above all, it was the objective cause for the introduction and the triumph of the reactionary theory of “socialism in one country”. It is with this question, and with the Fifth Congress – the first non-Leninist gathering of the International – that we shall deal in the next article.

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