August Thalheimer

Some Tactical Problems of the War in the Ruhr

Source: The Communist International, No. 25, 1923, pp. 99-103 (2,685 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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The war in the Ruhr has now been in progress for over a month, and is being conducted by both sides with ever-increasing obstinacy. The problems of Communist tactics arising therefrom are by no means simple. They cannot be simple because of the very nature of war, which once begun is for ever changing its aspect. During its progress new means of warfare are adopted, and new forces are continually drawn into the struggle. As new military, political and economic forces become involved, the early war aims change. Consequently revolutionary tactics must also change, readapting methods and objectives. The guiding principle of independent proletarian class policy must be clearly defined for every tactical step and for every temporary aim. But Communists are thereby not relieved of the necessity of re-examining every new turn in the situation, and of adapting every subsequent move to the change. Because of the highly developed state of world politics, the unstable balance of world power, and the no less fluctuating balance of class power, a daily re-examination of the situation must be made and revolutionary tactics appropriately modified. The longer the crisis produced by the war in the Ruhr is prolonged, the more profoundly does it react upon the relations between the classes, the more profoundly does society become disorganised, and the mare extensive become the possibilities both of revolution and of counter-revolution.

The factor primarily determining revolutionary tactics is of an historical character. It concerns the historical roles of the classes engaged on either side. Here it is important to bear clearly in mind that the roles assumed by the French and the German bourgeoisie are not the same, although their class character is similar. The French bourgeoisie, headed by the iron magnates—Le Comité des Forges—are fighting for the dominating control of the giant trust which is to unite the ore of Lorraine with the coal of the Ruhr. The fight for the quota, i.e., whether they should hold 60 per cent. or 40 per cent. of the shares, is the fight for the controlling interest in the trust. This fight was for a long time conducted in secret by negotiations, but now the sword has become the instrument of negotiation. The straggle for industrial supremacy in the trust, which is the key to the whole economic structure of the Continent, already contained within itself the germ of conflict for military and political supremacy in Europe. Military and political aims are coming more and more to the fore, and are taking precedence over the economic aims, which predominated in the beginning. This process is becoming more apparent at every step. Firstly there was the attempt to seize the industrial machine of the Ruhr under the pressure of a great military demonstration—40 engineers escorted by 40,000 men. When this attempt failed owing to the passive resistance of the industrial magnates, the. administrative staffs and the workers, the customs line was established around the Ruhr Basin—already a move for political isolation. Then came the attempt of the French to organise the transport of coal by their own efforts, which was countered by the systematic sabotage of the German administration—a situation which can only lead to a French attempt to set up their own political machine. Finally, the occupation of Offenburg, and the beginning of the attempt to sever Northern from Southern Germany. This move is supported by the prohibition of the export of manufactured articles from the occupied area to the unoccupied, which increases the general economic pressure, but hits particularly the South German industries—the object being to give a stimulus to separatist tendencies. The political isolation of Rhenish Westphalia, the disintegration of the rest of Germany, with the complete economic, political and military decline which must result therefrom—these, as the struggle progresses, become more and more the predominating objectives.

One thing is clear: the greater the economic devastation which the struggle is occasioning in France itself, and the more elusive the immediate gains are, the more dominating will the political aims become. Political achievements must be made to compensate for economic failure.

We have heard our members speak much of the “colonisation” of Germany, meaning thereby industrial colonisation. In a strict economic sense the term is unsatisfactory and even misleading. The essential purpose of colonisation under modern capitalist conditions is to win non-capitalist markets, labour power and raw materials. But in this particular case—as in the case of Germany in Belgium—it is a question, economically, of broadening the capitalist basis; militarily and politically, of extending the Imperialist basis of power; financially, an attempt to reconstruct capitalism at the cost of the defeated Imperialist enemy, and socially an attempt to insure the domination of capitalism in the home country by blurring the class antagonisms in order to ward off the social revolution.

If the historical dialectic takes advantage of this tremendous effort on the part of the ruling classes in France to check the revolution, in order to make it the starting point of a still more powerful revolutionary movement, this is only one of its favourite ironies; it has just as little respect for the “fine” intentions of the French bourgeoisie as it had for the German bourgeoisie when it occupied the Ukraine in order to consolidate its military victory in the West.

England and the United States must be regarded as antagonists, and possibly as eventual confederates, who for the moment are confining themselves to the role of onlookers. The German workers should not be deceived as to the true part these countries are playing by the German bourgeoisie and their Social-Democratic hangers-on. Both these powers are following their own Imperialist aims in this game. They are the rivals of France for the economic and political domination of Germany, but in no sense are they the defenders of the latter’s independence. When they come into the fight—as they certainly will—when both France and Germany are exhausted by the struggle—to prevent France retaining sole control of Germany, they will not make the yoke any lighter for the German working class.

The German bourgeoisie regards the matter in another light. Its calculation clearly is that if it must scrap for the Ruhr treasure with other partners besides France, it will play these partners off against each other in order to improve its own situation.

But what is the rôle of the German bourgeoisie in the Ruhr war? Is it the same as that of the French bourgeoisie, only that the one is the attacker and the other the defender? Is it the same as during the years 1914-18?

If this were the case, then we have been mistaken in the whole policy we have been pursuing hitherto, the policy which was summed-up in the formula: Strike at Poincaré on the Ruhr, and at Cuno on the Spree.

The German bourgeoisie, however counter-revolutionary it may be internally, has, owing to the cowardice of the petty-bourgeois Democrats (above all the Social-Democrats) taken up a position which makes it appear externally revolutionary. Like Bismarck in 1864-70, And for similar historical reasons, it has assumed this external revolutionary character against its own will. The failure of the German bourgeois-democratic revolution in 1848 led to the Hohenzollern dynasty assuming a role which furthered the bourgeois revolution. The failure of the Socialist revolution of 1918-19 led Cuno, Stinnes and Co. to assume a role which must become that of the German Socialist revolution. Although Bismarck, in rôle character of the Junker-dynastic “revolutionary from above,” only satisfied the national interests in a less troublesome and less objectionable manner (so far as these national interests coincided with the Junker-reactionary interests), the estimate of the objective revolutionary part he played up to 1870 is by no means altered thereby. But it was nevertheless important, as far as the attitude that the working class and the bourgeois democrats were to assume towards him was concerned. The position that Marx and Engels took up in this respect is well known. They recognised the temporary similarity of interest in the war conducted by Bismarck which arose out of the historical situation, but they laid emphasis upon the independent part the working class had to play in this war, and they exerted every effort to set the working class in motion against the Prussian Germany of Bismarck as soon as the objectively revolutionary role of Bismarck became transformed (after Sedan) into reaction.

The war on the Ruhr, for the time being led by Cuno, Stinnes, etc., i.e., the upper bourgeoisie, viewed externally from the German point of view, appears to be of a contradictory nature. On the one hand it is a defensive action of an oppressed, disarmed and exploited people, and to that extent objectively revolutionary. On the other hand it is the fight of the bourgeoisie for a share in the exploitation of the proletariat, and to that extent reactionary.

It speaks for the broad vision of Lenin that he foresaw this possibility even during the period of the Imperialist war.

In a long article entitled “The Outcome of the Discussion, on the Right of Self-Determination,” he says in criticism of the theses of the Polish and Lithunian Social-Democrats on the right of self-determination, which stated that the Social-Democrats must take advantage of the struggle of the bourgeoisie of the young colonies against European Imperialism in order to aggravate the revolutionary crisis in Europe:—

“Is it not clear that there is no advantage to be derived in this direction by creating antagonism between the colonies and Europe? A struggle of the oppressed nationalities of Europe which is carried to the extent of open street warfare and defiance of the iron discipline of the Army and the war emergency legislation will do considerably more to aggravate the revolutionary crisis in Europe than a much greater uprising in some distant colony. Such a blow as would be delivered at English European Imperialism by an uprising in Ireland would be of a hundred times greater significance than a similar uprising in Asia or Africa.” (Written in October, 1916, N. Lenin and G. Zinoviev: “Gegen den Strom,” Articles written in 1914-16, Hoym Nachfolger, 1921, page 413.)

It might he objected that Germany is not Ireland. The former is a defeated Imperialist State, and the other a small country with a predominating peasant population that has never played au independent Imperialist part. But Germany is conquered and disarmed and menaced by complete political and economic enslavement. It is true that, regarded purely theoretically there is a possibility of her once again becoming an Imperialist power. But she is no such power to-day; she is not a subject, but an object of Imperialist policy.

Lenin has dealt with this question at length in his criticism of the Junius brochure; and the following extract in particular is of interest to us in this connection.

Lenin is here dealing with the assertion of Junius that in the epoch of Imperialism national wars are impossible. Lenin in reply argues that a national war may transform itself into an Imperialist war, and vice versa. As an example of the first instance he quotes the French revolutionary wars; as an example of the second he develops the following purely theoretical possibility:

That the Imperialist war of 1914-16 will transform itself into a nationalist war is in the highest degree improbable, for the class representing the forward development is the proletariat, which is objectively striving to transform it into a civil war against the bourgeoisie, and also because there is very, little difference in the strength of the opposed coalitions of States. Moreover, international capitalism has created a reactionary bourgeoisie everywhere. But one can by no means assert that such a transformation is impossible. If the European proletariat is rendered powerless for twenty years; if this war should end with such victories as the Napoleonic wars, and a number of vigorous nationalist States be reduced to complete enslavement; if the extra-European Imperialist States (particularly Japan and America) can maintain themselves for twenty years without going over to Socialism (as, for example, as the result of an American-Japanese war); then a great nationalist war in Europe would become highly probable. It would mean that Europe would be set back for several decades. This is not probable, but it is also not impossible. For it is incorrect, dialectically, economically and theoretically, to regard world history as being bound to progress steadily and smoothly, without occasional giant strides backwards. (Written in October, 1916; “Gegen den Strom,” pp.419-20.)

The possibility conceived by Lenin in 1916 has, in the case of Germany, under somewhat different circumstances, become a fact. But it is already clear that the German bourgeoisie who externally appear to have taken up the cause of national defence, have in reality no intention of playing this part through, and are preparing for the act of treachery in the midst of the fight and, so to speak, in open daylight. This treachery began at the outset with the plundering of the working population by the industrial magnates, “the fighters for freedom in the Ruhr,” the stock-brokers, the bankers and the junkers. This plundering took the form of the support of the mark by the Imperial Bank, which developed into a gigantic swindle, against which nobody from Helfferich to Hilferding raised a voice except the Communists. With the milliards plundered from the proletariat, the German bourgeoisie sought to corrupt and purchase both the workers and the official class. We know of nothing in history to compare with quite this degree of corruptness and class selfishness—unless it be that of the Social-Democratic leaders, who followed the bourgeoisie into the mire, even up to these depths.

At the same time the bourgeoisie is sending out feelers secretly towards French, English and American capitalism. For this purpose it is again making use of, amongst others, the Social-Democrats, in the person of Herr Breitscheid, whom it is secretly prompting for the task.

This examination of the situation shows clearly what is demanded of revolutionary tactics. The revolutionary proletariat must resist with all its strength, but with its own independent weapons, the Imperialist penetration of the Ruhr. At the same time it must fight against its own bourgeoisie, with the purpose of laying upon it the burden of the struggle, and of finally overthrowing it, and of itself bringing the struggle to a close.

The greatest obstacle is the conduct of the Social-Democrats and the trade unions, international and national. The Communists and the revolutionary trade unions alone have withstood the test of the war in the Ruhr. This is a great advance in comparison with 1914. In Germany, as in France, we no longer have only a few individuals standing alone on the revolutionary front, but firmly consolidated parties, who in the crisis are gaining in strength and authority over the masses.

How important the crisis is to the wide masses of the proletariat is attested by the fact that the Social-Democrats, while they are in practice doing the work of Cuno, Stinnes and Co., are compelled in words to declare the independence of the action of the proletariat, and in words to place the responsibility upon Cuno, Stinnes and Co. The fact that they have left the external conduct of the fight to the bourgeoisie and have refused to fight in opposition to the bourgeoisie means that the Social-Democrats are to be held entirely responsible for Cuno and Co.

To the extent that the Communist Party can succeed in inducing the proletarian masses to conduct an independent class policy, in spite of the Social-Democrats and the trade union leaders, to that extent will it succeed in mastering the oncoming wave of Fascism. The more acute the situation becomes the more imperatively will the alternatives present themselves; Communism or Fascism; revolutionary class action internally and externally, or the submergence of the class war under petty-bourgeois nationalism; the government of the workers, or a Bonaparte dictatorship.