August Thalheimer: A Missed Opportunity? The German October Legend and the Real History of 1923



How Stalin evaluated the 1923 events at the time can be judged from the letter he sent to Zinoviev and Bukharin at the beginning of August. Zinoviev made its contents public at a plenum of the Russian Central Committee in late 1927. This is what he wrote:

"Should the communists (at a given stage) strive to seize power without the Social Democrats, are they mature enough for that? That, in my opinion, is the question. When we seized power, we had in Russia such supports as (a) peace, (b) the land to the peasants, (c) the support of the great majority of the working class, (d) the sympathy of the peasantry. The German Communist at this moment have nothing of the sort. Of course they have the Soviet Union as their neighbour, which we did not have, but what can we offer them at the present rnoment? If in Germany today the state power, so to speak collapses and the Communists seize hold of it, they will fall with a crash. That is the 'best' case. At the worst they will be smashed to pieces and thrown back. It is not so much that Brandler wants to 'educate the masses' but that the bourgeoisie plus the right Social-Democrats have decided to turn this demonstration for educating the masses into a general battle (at present they have every chance of succeeding) and to destroy the Communists. Of course the fascists are not sleeping. But it is to our advantage that the fascists attack first and that we unify the whole working class around the Communists (Germany is not Bulgaria). According to all reports the fascists in Germany are weak everywhere. In my opinion the Germans must be held back and not driven forward."

From a speech by Zinoviev against Trotsky from the Leningrad Pravda, no.106, Sunday11th May 1924.

It is no secret that the opposition also considered the Comintern leadership to be wrong. In Germany things went badly wrong in October. Now today a new theory is constructed that we allowed the revolution in Italy to be sabotaged and slept through in Germany. That is how they try to talk. So because someone yawned the revolution is supposed to have failed. A wonderfully deep Marxist conception of the revolution. And we poor souls learnt from Marx and Engels that there are more important factors in the rise of a revolution than someone's yawn.

"As far as Germany is concerned it is now quite clear that it is not a case of our having slept through a revolution but the opposite as we were too quick to see the time as ripe when this was not the case. As Plekhanov said we mistook a pregnancy of two months for one of nine. Such an error is no disgrace and anyway it happened now and then to Marx and Engels too. Such an error is quite understandable because revolutionaries want to show their revolutionary temper as soon as possible. When one considers everything that has happened in Germany then we should be accused of the opposite, namely that we overestimated events excessively, were far too eager to throw ourselves into battle, and overestimated the maturity of the situation far too much but not to accuse us in any way of having slept through a revolution as some profound strategists say, while they tell of fairy tales about a crisis in the Comintern and the KPD."

The Brandlerist Zentrale was accused of failing to recognise the opportunist role of the SPD and of giving up the Leninist conception of the state by entering the governments of Saxony and Thuringia in 1923. So sections of the appeal written by Brandler to the party members on 11th July 1923 which concern the Anti-Fascist day are given below:

"Party Comrades! We face difficult battles. We must make the most massive preparations for action. We cannot rely on the SPD and the Trade Union bureaucracy. As in all other defensive struggles of the revolutionary proletariat against the counter revolution, the SPD and the trade union bureaucracy will once again abandon the workers and betray them ...

"We Communists can only win in the fight against the counter-revolution it we succeed, without and against, the treacherous Social-Democratic Party and Trade Union bureaucracy in leading Social-Democratic and non-party working masses to battle alongside with us.

"For this purpose all preparations for a battle-worthy defensive action must immediately be made ....

"The joint proletarian defence organisations based on the factories must be organised immediately in spite of any resistance.

"Party districts in which factory cell work is still not complete must begin establishing functioning party cells in the next few days in the shortest possible time.

"The links between the district leaderships and the town organisations of the district and the national centre as well, together with the courier service, must be organised in the most careful way.

"The Party must ensure that its organisation is so battle tempered that it can engage in open civil war without a failure in any district.

"In case the normal communication facilities, the railways and post office, are paralysed because of a general strike or military action, the links between our organisations and the printing and spreading of all propaganda material, must be safeguarded ...

"The fascist rising can only be put down it White Terror is met by Red Terror. If the fascists who are armed to the teeth kill the proletarian fighters the latter must ruthlessly destroy all the fascists. If the fascists put every tenth striker against the wall so the revolutionary workers must put every fifth member of the fascist organisation up against the wall."