Leon Trotsky

On the German Revolution

A Speech to the Moscow Metal Workers

First Published: Pravda, October 21, 1923
Source: Workers’ Weekly, November 9, 1923
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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.

To speak on the international situation at the present moment is a very great responsibility, for we are passing through weeks and months such as only occur in the history of humanity once in a thousand years.

Five Years Ago and Now

The victorious German revolution of five years ago has not justified the hopes placed in it by the German working class. The social democrats then leading the workers first shared power with the bourgeoisie and then completely handed over power to it. Germany is now faced with the choice—complete collapse or a social revolution.

What are the conditions for carrying through a revolution? It is essential that the economic, technical, and class development of the country should have sufficiently ripened. The first two conditions have been obviously fulfilled. Even with regard to the third Germany is favourably placed. We see there a large working class numbering fifteen millions out of sixty millions total population, a working class more and more emancipating itself from the social-pacifist leaders and adhering to the Communist Party. One naturally asks: This party is still very young, will it have the necessary force and resoluteness to will to carry through a revolution, and to know how to do it?

Circumstances Favourable

Actually the circumstances are in the highest degree favourable. The German working class is ready for struggle, and at its head stands a party ready to fight and conquer. At the present time the working class is waiting expectantly. It understands that it is not a question of partial struggles but of a decisive life-and-death battle.

Recently we have seen the German Communist Party growing in strength from month to month, and attracting to its ranks the mass of non-party workers, and even groups still under the influence of social democracy.

What is the present position in Germany? We see two forces at the present time in Germany. On the one hand, the revolutionary masses, on the other—the Fascists; find between them, the shapeless mass of small owners, and partly also the vacillating mass of the social democracy—but this intermediate mass is little by little being washed away by the revolutionary wave.

What are the chances in the coming struggle?

The Opposing Forces

The forces of the German bourgeoisie are—the Reichswehr, 100,000 men in all; the police, 135,000 men; and the Fascist battalions, well organised and with excellent leaders, But the latter consist largely of working-class elements, which at the decisive moment will not afford particularly firm support to the bourgeoisie.

On the revolutionary side are the numerous Red Centuries. We do not know their number, but we do know that the German workers command sufficient forces to smash their enemies.

On every side the pace of events grows swifter day by day and hour by hour. Events are developing as foreseen and the masses have every possibility of understanding what is happening. We have approached the period of open struggle.

Everything being thus favourable, one ought to expect that in the near future power must pass into the hands of the working class in Germany. But the question is not so easily decided.

Allied Intervention

The neighbours of Germany are France, Belgium, Poland, Czecho-Slovakia, and (from the sea) England.

With regard to England, if she had forces at her command she would certainly throw them into the struggle against revolution. But England is strong only in her feet. On the Continent she has always acted unsuccessfully. We remember the recent ultimatum of Curzon. We have called our new air squadron “Ultimatum” (loud applause). If the revolution were to take place on the high seas then England would threaten us with great danger (laughter) but the revolution will take place on dry land.

Turning now to France. If she were sufficiently mad to try and occupy the whole territory of revolutionary Germany at least 1,500,000 to 1,700,000 soldiers would be required—an impossible number. The French army numbers 700,000 men. If a million more workers and peasants were mobilised it would halve the most lamentable consequences for bourgeois France. However, I don’t believe that even this is entirely impossible, for there is no madness of which a bourgeoisie is not capable in its death hour.

Warning to Poland

Poland, also, hardly dare advance against Germany. There was a time when Poland was at the gates of Moscow, and Germany may even experience a similar position. But, as with us, the workers will know how to free themselves.

The question of Poland interests not only the German workers but also you and me, and it is necessary to approach it frankly. Already some impatient comrades are saying that war with Poland is inevitable. I do not believe that. On the contrary, many facts point to the conclusion that there will not be war with Poland. And why should we make war? We do not want war, and we say so without any care for the effect abroad. We must and shall do everything to avoid war.

War is an equation with many unknowns. As far as a victory inside Germany is concerned, it is unnecessary to offer any assistance to Germany. A revolution which is not able to deal with its own bourgeoisie is a poor revolution. The German revolution is not in need of physical assistance.

Poland can be either a bridge or a barrier between us and Germany. We need direct transit facilities with Germany. If Poland acts as a bridge we will pay for it in cash. If Poland wishes to be a barrier she will find she is in a cleft stick.


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Last updated on: 10.1.2009