August Thalheimer

The “Last Reserve” of the Bourgeoisie at Work

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. V, October 1923, No. 4
Published: 162 Buckingham Palace Road, London. — Communist Party Great Britain
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE “Great Coalition” in the form of the Stresemann-Hilferding Cabinet has now been on the job for some time. It styles itself the “last reserve” of the bourgeoise, the last constitutional government which Germany can have.

This expression must not be taken too literally. According to the historical experiences of other countries and also according to the present organisation of political forces in Germany, it is necessary to reckon with the possibility, indeed the probability, that while the bourgeois-socialist coalition is the last reserve of bourgeois rule, still other bourgeois-socialist or even “pure socialist” combinations can follow the Stresemann-Hilferding Cabinet.

A comparison with the Russian Kerensky period is very instructive in this respect. The signs of the period of the death-struggle of the Kerensky Republic were precisely these quick changes in the composition of the Cabinet, the hasty alteration of the personnel and the party composition. It would certainly be rash to assume that the German bourgeoisie cannot overcome some of the next revolutionary uprisings by setting up new cabinets or changing the personnel of the existing one. Stresemann and Hilferding may consider themselves the last cards in the hand of the German bourgeoisie, but it will still make half-a-dozen new governmental combinations, will throw overboard its “undesirables” as cumbersome cargo, and will also take on board its leaky vessel the present leaders of the social democratic opposition, Messrs. Paul Levi, Dissmann, Crispien, &c., if it believes that it can thereby keep afloat.

What is still possible in the way of bourgeois-socialist governmental combinations depends entirely upon the tempo in which the now moving popular masses go through the political development which will lead them to a radical break with the bourgeoisie and with bourgeois “democracy.”

The fact that the Cuno administration could be followed by that of Stresemann-Hilferding, the “Great Coalition,” proves, above all, that only a minority of the working class is ready as yet to fight for a Workers’ and Peasants’ Government, although, apparently, the majority of the working class has already had its fill of the “Great Coalition.”

The hour for a Workers’ and Peasants’ Government for the first step to the proletarian dictatorship comes when the overwhelming majority of the working class not only desires a break with the bourgeois coalition, but is also ready to fight for the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government by the most extreme means. Secondly, it is necessary that at least a strong section of the petty bourgeoisie be sympathetically neutral. Thirdly, that there be a deep cleft in the great bourgeoisie itself.

Organisationally, the class organs of the proletariat, the factory councils, control committees, and defence units, must already have been widely developed and must have acquired for themselves a commanding authority among the masses.

The organisational positions of reformism must be in an advanced stage of disintegration.

Therefore, politically and organisationally, there is still a good stretch of ground to be covered before the conditions are ripe enough to secure victory for the working class.

How much time is necessary for this only history can decide. That the conditions for the victory of the working class in Germany are rapidly ripening is shown by thousands of facts.

The Stresemann-Hilferding Cabinet embodies the attempt of the middle bourgeoisie, with the help of the reformist party and the trade union bureaucracy, to end the Ruhr struggle and reorganise the resources of the bourgeoisie within the country by imposing some sacrifices upon the great bourgeoisie.

It is self-evident that no government can transform the deep-rooted chaos of Germany into order in a few weeks.

But a few weeks suffice to judge whether the government has its eyes fixed on the right goal, and whether it has the strength to reach it.

In this respect a decisive judgment concerning the Stresemann-Hilferding government can already be delivered.

The first step to be taken is the attempt to extract from the industrialists and bankers a definite fund of foreign bills, in order to support the exchange of the mark and, further, to put the standard of currency on a new basis. It is clear that only complete national confiscation of foreign bills can accomplish this purpose. The government did not dare to take this step, it has limited itself to calling for voluntary donations of securities. The exchange already cold-bloodedly anticipates, not in words, but in dry hard figures, the absolute futility of this proceeding.

A confiscation of foreign bills would certainly run foul of the bureaucratic apparatus of finance and taxation administration, which for a long time since has been objecting to any such action.

The class organs of the workers, the factory councils, and control committees could create a new apparatus, but—to appeal to them would be tantamount to declaring the middle-class State ripe for abolition. This could not be considered by any bourgeois-socialist coalition government. The same hold good for foreign trade and price control. The tax reforms which the government announced with a great fan-fare of trumpets are already as good as dead. The employers replied to the new taxation laws, which are by no means drastic (they are only gold taxes), in two ways:—

First, by transferring the burden to prices, even before the taxes are paid (as a matter of fact, they never will be paid). In most industries the level of the world-market prices has already been exceeded; in the heavy industries, many times over.

Secondly, by the stoppage of production. The so-called factory tax, which is calculated according to the number of employees working in the factory, is the immediate occasion of this step. Further motives behind it are to lower wages and to pauperise the working class generally.

The bourgeoisie as a class thus distinguishes itself from the bourgeoisie as a government.

This signifies practically the preparation for a coup, for the dictatorship of the right wing bourgeoisie, under cover of the present government and with its timely co-operation. That is the significance of Gessler’s remaining in the government. Gessler is the official connecting link with the Right dictatorship towards which the great bourgeoisie is steering.

The liquidation of the Ruhr conflict is naturally dependent upon the success of the attempt, be it by the bourgeoisie or by the working class, to get the sums necessary to pay Poincaré. The government will never get these sums from the bourgeoisie, and in order to maintain them exclusively from the working class a victorious dictatorship of the right is necessary.

The prospects of the Stresemann-Hilferding government liquidating the Ruhr struggle are therefore not great, although its urgency to have done with the business is certainly very great, and the essence of its foreign policy is the desire to liquidate the Ruhr struggle.

But it is well known that good will or bad will alone accomplish nothing in this wicked world.

Meanwhile real wages have fallen further, inflation has increased, and the currency has further deteriorated. The next wave of the mass movement is already beginning to rise. The “last reserve” of the German bourgeoisie has in these few weeks already crumbled to a marked degree.