Paul Singer

Leon Trotsky

Political Profiles

German Social Democracy

Paul Singer

(January 1911)

SINGER is dead. Paul Singer is no longer with us and a mighty figure in the workers’ International has left the scene. The ranks of those glorious veterans who had stood at the cradle of international Social-Democracy are growing thinner.

A wealthy Jewish merchant by descent and a democrat in his views, the young Singer soon turned his back on the degenerate bourgeois democracy of Germany and devoted his energies as well as his material means, his time and his talents – his whole life to proletarian democracy. His sympathies lay with Social-Democracy as early as the late sixties. But for a long time he kept back in the shadows. Only in the early eighties during the period of the police persecution of socialists, when many timid “fellow-travellers” broke from the workers’ party and crawled off back to their ilk – just as they did in Russia in the period of the counter-revolution – only then did Singer burst his links with bourgeois society and actively enter the ranks of its mortal enemies. Hand in hand with Bebel and Liebknecht he directed the work of those who stone by stone erected that magnificent fortress of the proletariat, the most powerful political party in the world – German Social-Democracy. He was a tireless organizer of the party and its press, a member of the Central Committee, a member of the Berlin city council, a deputy in the Reichstag, chairman of the Social-Democratic parliamentary faction and finally permanent president of the congresses of German Social-Democracy and of the international socialist congresses – the “Red President”.

He knew and taught others likewise that any job must be done well. For him undue trifles did not exist where it was a question of the interests of the proletariat: the trifle was but a part of the great whole. He brought into any job that moral gravity which flows from a consciousness of the importance of the matter in hand. Singer understood like few others that for the class raising itself up from the bottom rungs of life to the summits of the creating of history every position where it can dig in, unfurl its banner and reinforce itself for further progress both forwards and upwards is important. As a deputy, Singer was the best expert on the mechanics of parliamentarism; as a city councillor the best expert on municipal administration. Lastly he was the best president in the whole International, calm, attentive, impartial and not overlooking any point. And with all this profound and diligent attention of his to details, to all the wheels and screws of the bourgeois social mechanism, Singer never lost sight of the general tasks of the movement. On the contrary these details he used precisely in the interests of the whole and for him the whole was what it is for every genuine Marxist in politics, the conquest of state power by the proletariat in the name of the social revolution. Singer remained throughout a determined opponent of opportunist reformism, he was a proletarian revolutionary to the marrow ...

Admirable thoroughness in all branches of party work; tirelessness in carrying out party obligations; mastery of all the opportunities open to us under the bourgeois regime; all these qualities we Russian Social-Democrats must learn assiduously from the deceased giant for a long time yet.

But this is still not the whole Singer. Singer, the revolutionary and the party member knew not only how to fight for his opinion but also how to subordinate it to the supreme behest of party unity. Everyone knew that in any organizational controversy Singer in his capacity as chairman of the Central Committee. Singer as president of the congress or Singer as chairman of the parliamentary faction never under the influence of personal sympathy tilted the scales of the party’s decision on the side of unfairness. Singer unflinchingly observed the party code common for everyone of honesty and justice in party relationships. Upon this was built his indestructible moral authority: honesty is a political force, it can subdue. And without moral authority there can be no proletarian leader: for the union of the proletariat is not bound by a mechanical discipline but by a free moral bond. With the passage of time the “Red President” became the embodiment of the rule of proletarian democracy and the living symbol of the unity of the proletarian army. And in this sphere Singer will remain for us Russians who have yet to work out our party ethic, a splendid moral example.

Paul Singer died at the age of 67 and hundreds of thousands of Berlin proletarians accompanied his ashes to the interment but the cause of his spirit will live on in the hearts of millions.

Pravda (Vienna), No.18/19, January 29, 1911

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Last updated on: 23.4.2007