Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

The March Revolutionary
Movement in Germany

(Personal Notes)

1. As distinct from the other capitalist countries, in Germany there has not occurred either a sharp or even fairly considerable deterioration of the economic situation over the last few months.

2. Nor in internal politics have major changes occurred; the bloc of bourgeois parties in the central government are in practice supported by the social-democrats who are entering the governments of the individual German states.

3. On the international scene the major events are the breakdown of the London negotiations and the Upper Silesian plebiscite. Taken by itself however, the occupation of several new points by Foch’s forces could not in the present situation of Germany provide a decisive impetus to the working class. The question of Upper Silesia remains as before in mid-air.

4. As at this stage there is no question of a direct offensive by the imperialist forces against the Soviet Republic news from Russia must have a braking rather than a stimulating effect on the working masses in Germany.

5. In the country a certain relative equilibrium seems to have been established. The apparatus of the bourgeois state has acquired a certain self-confidence.

6. Since the bloody battles of 1919 the working class has gone through a molecular process of internal re-grouping whereby its whole accumulated experience has found its most finished external expression in the creation of the Communist Party with a membership of almost half a million.

7. Side by side with the bourgeois state apparatus the apparatus of Social-Democracy and the trade unions have regained a relative stability and have once again become the principal factor of passivity and conservatism in the working masses.

8. The Communist Party approached the existing situation on the basis that the period in progress must be used as much for strengthening its organizations as for systematically agitating the working masses with the object of upsetting the existing unstable equilibrium. Such, evidently, is the point of the open “Letter” calling the working masses to united revolutionary actions around partial demands.

9. Moreover the tactical task consisted in establishing the masses’ capability and power of resistance to the enemy by means of separate mass actions of a local, trade or political nature. Then by gradually broadening the base of the action and by sharpening the methods finding, perhaps in the very near future, a favourable moment for the transition to the decisive offensive along the whole front.

10. Such a tactical reckoning could (and in one sense must) collide with the contrary tactical reckoning by the enemy: not to give the Communist Party the opportunity to systematically develop mass actions but to provoke it into premature moves, isolate it from the masses and suppress it.

11. However such an act on the part of counter-revolution could have directly opposite results: the closing of ranks by the working class as a whole under the banner of the Communist Party. This result would be the more unavoidable the more open and provocative the action of the counter-revolution.

12. Hörsing’s police offensive in Prussian Saxony was by all accounts not understood by the masses as the beginning of a campaign by the counter-revolution against the proletariat as a whole quite irrespective of what concrete objective significance Horsing’s actions possessed. And the analysis of Hörsing’s action made by the Central Committee of the Communist Party (irrespective of whether this analysis was at the given moment correct) was not able to be assimilated by the masses as the decisive motivation for action as a consequence of the absence of solid facts as also as a consequence of the extreme brevity of preparatory agitation.

13. In view of the conditions indicated above the call for decisive actions, a General Strike and armed actions psychologically and politically lacked motivation in the broad masses of the working class.

14. The greatest readiness for positive and revolutionary action was displayed by two groups of the proletariat: firstly the Westphalian miners who. for long in the rearguard of the working class, having been awakened by the revolution then became one of its most militant detachments and secondly the unemployed who by the very essence of their position had not been found a place in the unstable equilibrium of the republic of Ebert and Co. In these conditions the fairly numerous acts of terrorism only increased in the eyes of the broad masses of the working class the purposelessness of the revolutionary actions and assisted the social-democrats and the Independents in their counter-revolutionary work.

15. If tactically the Central Committee of the Communist Party committed a series of errors: an unfavourable moment for action, insufficient clarity in formulating the aims of the movement, insufficient quantitative and qualitative agitational preparation of the movement and so on, then the political conclusion that the working masses of Germany must draw from the March events lies in the latest and most blatant treachery of the social-democrats and the Independents.

16. Under these circumstances the public statements of Levi and others repeating essentially the arguments of the social-democrats and Independents and branding the tactical omissions by their own party as Bakuninite putschism distort its whole political perspective and introduce elements of demoralization into the Communist Party just at the moment when it needs more than ever unity and the strengthening of confidence in itself and its forces.

If after some unsuccessful economic strike in which the state with its police, press and yellow trade unions assisted the capitalists against the workers – if after such an unsuccessful strike one of the trade union leaders launched a campaign against that trade union accusing it of every deadly sin instead of condemning the yellow leaders, the police, the bourgeoisie and so on, the behaviour of such a trade union leader would be equivalent to the behaviour of comrade Levi.

17. The January and March battles of 1919 were defensive battles against the counter-revolution moving in to regain its positions. These defensive battles ended in defeat after which there was gradually established that unstable equilibrium which formed the point of departure for the March events of this year. The present action immediately acquired the character of an offensive. It too ended in defeat. The degree to which the counter-revolution will succeed in broadening and strengthening its position will depend on many factors and in the first place on the revolutionary resilience of that proletarian majority which did not happen to be involved in the March battles.

18. Without doubt the March action signifies a turning-point in the communist struggle in Germany. Up till the congress of the Independents in Halle and until the unifying congress of the Communist Party the energy of communists which was too weak for the direct leadership of revolutionary mass actions, was directed mainly towards propaganda – aimed above all at influencing workers in the independent party. The left wing of the Independents was absorbed in the inner-party struggle. After the unification of the Communist Party attention was for the initial period directed towards an organizational self-determination. Thus the building of the Communist Party coincides with the period of relative political equilibrium in Germany and the relative passivity of the working masses. The March action was the first independent step and revolutionary political action by the Communist Party. The significance of this step will figure larger the more decisively the internal life of Germany is dislodged from its state of equilibrium.

19. It is of course self-evident that the defeat of the Communist Party can in no way prove final. Like any heroic act in the working class struggle, the March events will enter the consciousness of the toiling masses including those who during March stood aside from and even adopted a semi-hostile attitude to these events. With the very first revolutionary situation that involves broader masses in struggle they will all recall that only the Communist Party has in the past led an open revolutionary struggle. Its failures and sacrifices will be repaid a hundredfold in the coming upsurge of the revolution.

No date

First 5 Years of the Comintern (Vol.1) Index

History of the Communist International Section

return return return return return

Last updated on: 15.1.2007