II. THE THIRD INTERNATIONAL UNDER LENIN
XL. THE POST-WAR REVOLUTIONARY WAVE
The victory of the Bolsheviks in Soviet Russia made it inevitable and imperative that they build a new Communist International. From the first days of the World War in 1914, Lenin had declared that the Socialist International was dead and that it was the duty of the genuine revolutionists to split from that body and to create a new one. The road in this direction was not easy. For the five years following, the communist Left Wing remained but a small minority. By 1919, however, a different situation presented itself. In the first place, the War and its aftermath had ground all reformist hopes to pieces, had disillusioned the masses, discredited the socialists, and driven the people to take action themselves. A great revolutionary wave spread throughout all Europe. In the countries formerly controlled by the Czar, such as Finland, Latvia, Poland, Georgia, and similar regions, upheavals were rife. In the defeated countries of Germany, Austria, and Hungary, the monarchist cliques were fleeing in terror. In Munich and Budapest the Red Flag of the Soviets flew boldly.
In the victorious countries also, immense struggles were breaking forth. In France, the number of recorded strikers in 1919 reached a total of over a million, one hundred thousand; in 1920 it climbed close to one million five hundred thousand. (*1) The chaos of events caused the French working class to react so violently that both the trade union and socialist movements were split from top to bottom. The majority at the Socialist Party conference in Tours, December, 1920, formed the Communist Party and joined the Third International. This Left Wing took with it practically the entire Socialist Party machinery, two-thirds of the membership, and the daily newspaper l’Humanit’e. The communists were able also to win the majority of the trade unions and to organize their own “Unitarian” center.
In England, the workers increasingly demonstrated their solidarity in stormy strike struggles cutting across all craft and industrial union lines. In these strikes, the workers began to raise not merely economic but political demands, such as the withdrawal of troops from Russia, sympathy for the soviets, the nationalization of the coal, iron, railways, electrical, and other key industries. The sharp resolution of the Trade Union Congress in 1920 denouncing the British intervention in Russia helped considerably in the decision of the government to withdraw the British troops from the Murmansk region of Russia, just as the revolutionary demonstrations of the French workers led to the withdrawal of the French troops from Odessa and the French fleet from the Black Sea.
As far away as America, general strikes occurred in Seattle, Washington, and in Winnipeg, Canada. In Argentina, the repression of the 1919 general strike resulted in five hundred killed and fifteen hundred wounded. In the United States, large-scale strikes occurred in, steel, railroad, coal, textile, and other industries, the number of strikers mounting to several millions, an unprecedented total.
The position of the Leninists had followed the Marxist dictum “Workers of the World Unite” and, from the beginning, Lenin had been astute enough to see that the revolution begun in Russia would have to be carried on internationally to a finish. In the opinion of the Bolsheviks, the War had created a situation whereby revolution was ripe throughout the world. To accomplish this revolution, it was necessary to organize the communists in other countries and to wipe out the fateful influence of the socialists in the labor movement. The revolutionary movement was spreading so violently that the bourgeoisie in several countries had yielded full power to socialist opportunists. Elsewhere the socialists were considered to be the decisive factor preventing the working class from taking power. The attitude of the Socialist Parties towards Soviet Russia already had been negative and critical and, in some places, distinctly hostile. If the Leninists were to take advantage of the revolutionary wave spreading throughout Europe, they had to destroy completely the influence of the Second International. Furthermore, the events of the day had already caused splits in the ranks of the socialists. Various ultra Left groups were putting forth their programs which, while apparently criticizing the Leninist point of view supposedly from the Left, could result, in the long run, only in strengthening organizations inimical to the communists.
The creation of a Third International was also necessary if the communists in other countries were to learn the lessons of Bolshevism and make it an international reality. Revolutions were convulsing the peoples of Europe, yet, nowhere, save in Russia, were the workers able to hold the fort. This could be attributed either to objective difficulties, to subjective defects, or to both. A Communist International could, at least, minimize the blunders of its adherents.
Even from the Russian nationalist point of view, it was imperative to reconstruct the Communist International with its center in Moscow. The victorious powers, by 1919, had concentrated on the task of destroying the soviets by means of interventionary armies. It was highly important to paralyze these at their source. The internationalism of the Bolsheviks, therefore, had a real identity with the national interests of Russia, not only from the point of view of Lenin, that only the World Revolution could save the proletarian victory in Russia, but also from the nationalist penchant of using the World Revolution as a subservient agency for Russian ends.
The task of forming a new International was immensely lightened for the communists by the fact that they had at their disposal the incalculable resources of a huge country of over one hundred sixty million people. Coupled with the misery and poverty of the masses driving them to communism, there existed also the powerful attractive force of a strong well-knit Communist Party under Lenin, that had actually seized and held power, and taken over the factories. In the light of this conjuncture of forces, it is no wonder that the Socialist International, which had from the start embraced a considerable number of revolutionists, should have broken up into large fragments moving towards communism.
The testing and proving of the Bolshevik Party had been a long drawn out process in Russia, lasting almost twenty years. It had taken five years to call even the first International Communist Conference. It might be presumed that the creation of an International of Bolshevik caliber would have required as long a time as Lenin needed to form his own section. If, therefore, we see the Communist International flourish with extraordinary success from the very start, it is not only because of the ripe objective conditions, but also because most of those who styled themselves communists were sailing under false colors. To a considerable degree, the Third International exaggerated its strength so as to gloss over the extreme difficulty of the tasks which the Bolsheviks had placed before themselves.
Later, when world capitalism had become temporarily stabilized, it was seen that the gains of the communists were partly pseudo-victories, that the new recruits who called themselves communists were really new types of Left Wing socialists. In 1919, large sections of Centrist elements, who really had little in common with the vigorous and ruthless training of the Bolsheviks, were swept off their feet by the current of revolution and flowed on towards the communist movement. So great was the influx of new members that the powerful Bolshevik party was not able to digest its international material and to remake it into communist tissue.
Several results accrued from the situation. In the first place, the Communist International was made responsible for actions by its newly acquired adherents; this discredited it, since these new disciples, although recognized as such, were not really communists. In the second place, the moment reaction began to stiffen, these chameleons broke away from the movement to which they adhered. Thus, the process of transforming socialist Centrists into effective cadres for the Communist International was to prove exceedingly fitful and up-hill. Scarcely had the Leninists begun to build the International than it began to appear to be but a specious illusion. The Communist International could not maintain its Leninist level.
It was quite natural for the labor movement of the countries formerly ruled by Czarism to go towards extremism and to follow the path laid down by the Russians. Czarism had laid a heavy hand upon its subject nationalities, and now its policy of russification was to find its antithesis in the influence of Russian Bolshevism. This was true for Finland, as it was to be for Latvia, Lithuania, Ukrainia, and elsewhere.
As far back as 1905 the Finnish movement had synchronized itself with the Russian. A Red Guard had been organized and soviets established. Revolution was the order of the day. Even after 1905, the Russian rulers were forced to make concessions to Finland. So hostile was the general population in Finland to the military that, all during the War, the General Staff did not dare to enlist soldiers in that country. (*2)
In the summer of 1916, the Finnish Labor Party actually gained the majority of the antiquated Landtag which the Czar had permitted to function in Finland. The agitation for independence was now intensified, and around the Labor Party various nationalist-liberal constellations were formed to push the question of political freedom. A Finnish militia was organized.
Simultaneously with the overthrow of the Czar, revolution broke out in Finland. The nationalists now withdrew from their connections with the Labor Party and, frightened by the growing revolutionism of the masses, mobilized their peasant forces in the elections of October 1, 1917, for a new Landtag. As a result, the Labor Party lost its majority, acquiring but ninety-two seats out of two hundred.
On its part the Finnish Labor Party was caught surprised by the rapid turn of events. As Russia went Bolshevik, the advanced Finnish workers who had been in the forefront, demanding the independence of Finland, were forced to change their propaganda to favor solidarity with the soviets. Naturally, the transition period was bound to be one of confusion, resulting in the workers’ loss of support by the peasants who were still captivated by nationalist-democratic slogans.
It will be recalled that Russian soviets had sprung up spontaneously in the demand for bread and peace. But, as we have noted, Finland was not directly dragged into the War. Her forces were not conscripted; on the contrary, war prosperity manifested itself in numerous quarters. The pressure of the War on Finland showed itself in the large numbers of soldiers billeted there, in the heavy taxation, and in dislocation of trade. All these matters the middle classes believed could be solved by independence. Furthermore, for the bourgeoisie, the independence of Finland would be the first step in destroying Bolshevism.
The moment the Bolshevik revolution succeeded, the Finnish Landtag declared its complete independence. This declaration was met by a general strike of the Finnish proletariat on November thirteenth. As Finland had always been kept disarmed by Russia, and as numerous soviet troops still remained on Finnish territory, the bourgeoisie was not able to suppress the strike or to disarm the Red Guard.
However, the Finnish communists did not take this occasion to overthrow the Landtag. The Labor Party permitted the Landtag to resume sessions and mobilize its forces under Svinhufvud. Only on January 27, 1918, did the Finnish proletariat go into action to establish their dictatorship. They easily took control of all the important centers of South Finland, driving the Whites into the tundras of the north.
By this time, Russia was being forced into the Brest Litovsk Peace, the result of which was the freeing of the hands of the German imperialists to destroy Bolshevism outside of Russia proper. The Finnish bourgeoisie hastened to invite the German army into the country, and by May, 1918, the communist forces were routed and the White Terror began, not to end until thirty thousand workers had perished for their support of sovietism.
In the course of the Finnish revolt, the need of an international center must have become impressed indelibly upon the Russian communists, if only to prevent the many serious amateur mistakes being made in the name of communism. This lesson was to be emphasized in the events of Hungary and Germany.
In Finland, the communists did not know how to win the peasantry to their side. They did not take advantage of their early opportunities to take over the factories and to smash the capitalists entrenched in the Landtag. They were still cherishing too many legalistic and parliamentary fetishes. They paid for their amateurishness with their lives.
Even before the final debacle at the front, a revolutionary explosion had been maturing in Hungary. A strong pacifist policy was being pursued by the group led by the Radical philanthropist, Karolyi. Count Michael Karolyi had belonged to the extreme Left Wing of the “Party of 1848” which had advocated Kossuth’s dream of a free democratic federation of Serbs, Hungarians, Rumanians, and other nationalities of Central-Eastern Europe. The Karolyists had found the Party of 1848, however, too mild for their views, and had split to form their own organization. Since, under the reactionary election laws of Hungary, social-democratic workers found it extremely difficult to elect delegates to Parliament, the Karolyi Party was really the only opposition in that body and, as such, it gathered the hopes of the people around it.
Already, in 1918, anti-militarist agitation had become pronounced throughout the country. A military mutiny had to be suppressed in Pecs. In June, a strike was called in the machine works of the State railway system and developed into a general strike in Budapest. From this time on, the workers began to form Workmen’s Councils, no doubt inspired by the example of the Russian Revolution.
With the collapse of the Bulgarian front, in October, and the realization by the Hungarians that the War was lost, matters rapidly came to a head. On October twenty-fifth the old parliament was superseded by a National Council headed by Karolyi. A portion of the Budapest police joined the movement, troops refused obedience to their superiors and formed Soldiers’ Councils. The revolutionists seized the General Post Office, the telegraph and telephone centers, the railways, and the military buildings, All without any resistance from the aristocratic regime, which was in a state of collapse. The King fled the country.
This unique situation calls for some explanation. The fact is the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy never had been anything but a warden in an immense prison of the peoples of Central Europe. The reactionary regime had held on by brute terror, by its policy of divide and conquer, and by its support from Germany. Now history was taking its revenge; the blows of the War had shattered this bastile. The Czechs, the Serbs, the Rumanians, were all in active battle against it. Coming on top of this, the revolt of the Hungarians was too much. There was a complete collapse of the power of the ruling class; the old State crashed into pieces.
“On the signing of the Armistice, the Minister of War had stated that it would take three years to demobilize the army, and to return the troops to their ordinary civil occupations. As a matter of fact, the army demobilized itself, without waiting for the order of the Minister of War, in exactly three days !” (3)
At this critical moment, Count Karolyi undertook to hold the fort for capitalism. That he was not feared by the rulers was evidenced by the fact that the King of Hungary himself entrusted Karolyi with the task of forming a new cabinet, and Karolyi’s “revolutionary” National Council actually took the old oath to the King before assuming office. But the Karolyi Radicals were astute enough to realize that unusual measures, including the full support of the working class led by the social-democrats, were necessary. On November sixteenth, 1818, a Republic was proclaimed and the Social-Democratic Party was invited to join the government.
This radical procedure was not unwelcome to the former rulers. The War was now over. The question was to secure the best peace terms possible. The die-hard military clique felt that the pacifist, naive Karolyi was a far better face behind which to hide than the old, worn out masks. Many in Hungary had followed Kossuth’s ideals for an independent Hungary and a free Danubian Federation. Now that the program of Karolyi actually was being advocated by such as Woodrow Wilson there was none better to meet the Versailles victors than the Count.
Hungary was to be partitioned. Perhaps the Hungarian socialists could stop this process or could keep the Serbs, Czechs, and other former subject nations closer to Hungary than would otherwise be the case. Now that coercion had failed, perhaps cajolery covered with socialist phrases of “brotherhood” might be of influence. Undoubtedly these considerations played an important part in the events, and Karolyi, instead of being a traitor to Hungarian nationalism, was in reality an aristocratic patriot trying to save his class by unaccustomed methods. If he opened the way for communism, it was because nothing could have prevented the course of events from flowing in that direction. Where Karolyi failed was in underestimating the ability of Paris to judge the servility of the socialists and their pretensions.
The far-sighted policy of Karolyi tremendously appealed to the social-democrats, who were highly flattered by the invitation to form a Cabinet. A debate now arose among them whether they should take the entire government or should limit themselves to a coalition with the bourgeoisie. The vacillating and amateurish character of the Hungarian socialist representatives of the workers was seen in the progress of this debate.
A Workers’ Council meeting was called for January 14, 1919, wherein one of the leaders, Garbai, proposed that there be formed a purely socialist government. To his own surprise, the proposition was carried, whereupon he at once begged leave to withdraw it as premature; another proposal, by Kunfi, was put forth for a coalition with the capitalists, but with the proviso that the socialists be in the majority. This motion also was passed, but there was such a considerable minority opposed to this outright class collaboration, especially among the metal workers, that proceedings were temporarily suspended until the resistance of the metal workers was overcome, when another vote was taken on Kunfi’s policy. Only five voted against; these alone represented the communist tendency. (*4)
The disappointment of the masses in the decision of the socialists began to manifest itself in a strong Left Wing that urged another revolution. This Movement was greatly accelerated by the arrival of Bela Kun from Russia on January 19, 1919. Now an active fight began between the socialist and communist groups which rapidly led to a decision.
The fact is that the radical rule of Karolyi, despite the unconditional support given him by the socialists, was totally unable to solve the elemental problems facing the country. It was incapable of resurrecting any discipline among the returned soldiers, many of whom still retained their arms and who could find no work anywhere. The vast latifundia on the countryside were still controlled by the former owners. The borders were being steadily invaded on all sides by Serb, Czech, and Rumanian military forces, despite the Armistice. The hungry people were demanding the lowering of prices. The workers were seizing the factories. Production was rapidly falling.
“The immediate cause of the October revolution was the gradually returning tide from the disintegrating fronts and the accumulation of great masses of people in Budapest. The soldiers and students and munition workers were the true leaven of the revolution. It was in the first instance a military and national revolution, not until much later did it become a social revolution, then socialist, finally communist.” (*5)
The Karolyi government already had learned to its sorrow that flirting with the socialists would not mitigate the harsh terms of the victors in Paris. Steadily the pressure was increased to dismember Hungary. The climax came with the arrogant note from Colonel Vyx to the effect that new political frontiers would be established around Hungary. This was the last straw for the pacifist Karolyi regime. Understanding now that Hungary would have to fight for its borders, and realizing that his regime could rally no one, Karolyi resigned on March 21, 1919, with the remarkable statement: “Ordered production cannot be guaranteed unless the proletariat takes the power into its own hands…. I lay down my office one hand over the power to the proletariat of Hungary.” (*6) Thus Karolyi gracefully withdrew from all difficulties and retained his reputation for unsullied delicacy in slumming among the poor.
In all his tactics, Count Karolyi lent a close ear to the events in Europe, whereby the socialists were becoming a great force to be propitiated and utilized. In his proposal for a socialist cabinet, Karolyi was not following Kerensky so much as events in Germany. The Versailles victors had proved willing to deal with a socialist regime in Germany and in Austria and to back up socialistic groups in Czecho-Slovakia and Poland. Karolyi hoped perhaps they also would befriend the radical-socialist coalition in Hungary. When this policy failed, Karolyi had to resign. War against Hungary’s old enemies could be carried on by only one force, the proletariat, and by new slogans and new leaders. Let the proletariat take power, such action could lead only to a head-on collision with the Entente. Further dismemberment of Hungary would become the communists’ fault. If the new government won important victories, it would end the destruction of Hungary. Thus Hungarian nationalism egged on the communists.
With the resignation of the government, Bela Kun, who had been arrested after an abortive attempt to seize control in February, was now released. He marched from jail to become overnight the factual head of the new regime. The Socialist Party which had expelled the communists now fused with them and, on the twenty-third of March, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat was announced. Hungarian nationalism immediately was appeased with a statement by Kun that now a mighty proletarian army would be created to fight the Vyx vote and to crush both the Rumanian Boyars and the Czech bourgeoisie.
It is now necessary to pause to compare the Hungarian Revolution with the Russian. It is true that fundamentally the same pattern appears. The anachronistic monarchy gave rise to a Liberal provisional government which became a radical socialist republic that turned towards communism. In both countries, the masses, as returned soldiers, were armed; in both they had to face intervention and, although the peasantry predominated, the proletariat took the lead. Nevertheless there were enormous differences between the two revolutions.
The first great difference was the fact that the Russian Revolution had started from the desire of the masses for peace. Theirs was an immense country, vast and inaccessible to invasion for the most part. To secure peace, the people had to overthrow not only the Czar, but Kerensky and the socialists. In Hungary, peace had been obtained, but a disastrous peace. Now the ruling classes wanted to dodge the consequence of their crimes. That is to say, in Russia the masses had to fight every inch of the way before the old regime was discredited and overthrown. In Hungary, on the other hand, military disaster from without forced the breakdown of the old State and the abdication of the rulers. The new administration was handed office on a silver Platter. Very few remembered the old adage: “Beware of the Greeks even when they bear gifts.”
Thus in Hungary everyone appeared more radical than he really was. No one had to hew out a given place for himself, but rather fell into it by default. No group was tested or proved its worth in bitter large-scale fighting. In Russia, the bourgeois Kadets had hung on like leeches before resigning and letting Kerensky and the socialists have undisputed power. In Hungary, on the contrary, the Revolution started from this very point. In Russia, Kerensky was exposed as a traitor before he was driven from the scene; Karolyi bowed himself out with the plaudits of the socialists.
In Russia, for many years the Bolshevik Party had prepared itself for its seizure of power. In Hungary, there had been no communists during the War. Bela Kun was converted to the faith as a Hungarian prisoner of war in Russia; his chief supporters at first were soldiers who similarly had witnessed the revolution in the land of the soviets. Thus the Hungarian Communist Party was born hastily and in the midst of the very events which were to carry it to power. It was not rooted in the country. Ninety-five per cent of the leadership were Jews. (*7) This alone was to prove fatal, for these Jews knew nothing about dealing with the peasantry, and alienated the middle classes which might have been won over.
Added to the lack of experience of the communists was the great dilution of their ranks by all sorts of careerist and social-democratic elements. We have noted that the social-democrats literally found it possible one day to work with the bourgeois radicals and the next day to fuse with the communists. Hasty fusion with socialists in all cases is a highly dangerous symptom, since it means that the ranks of the communists are corroded with alien elements that will prove untrustworthy in battle. In Russia, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks were speaking to each other at opposite ends of their rifles; in Hungary in the People’s Commissariats, on the other hand, communists and socialists were equally represented.
The March Revolution introduced entirely new principles from the October one. “The state independence of Hungary, universal suffrage for legislature and administration, a democratic peoples’ alliance with the neighboring states, the partition of the latifundia and a social policy following the example of the most highly developed independent states—in a word, the sovereignty of the industrious masses of peasants and town workers in the state, under the guidance of the genuinely creative intelligentsia—these were the fundamental principles of the October Revolution." (*8)
In March the Hungarians copied almost everything from their illustrious Russian predecessors. With the initiation of the Dictatorship, Church and State were separated. All power was taken by the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils. Food cards were introduced without which no food could be obtained. These cards were given only to producers and to members of the trade unions. All private shops were closed, and the State assumed the monopoly over trade.
The first task of the communists was to insure the hegemony of the proletarians and city poor. Private houses were abolished, and the wealthy quarters of the city were turned over to the proletariat, all producers being treated equally in the number of rooms and the kind of house they received. An extremely rapid nationalization of factories took place, so that, on April 18, it was declared that over one thousand concerns had been socialized, whereas in a whole year in Russia only 513 firms had been so occupied. This mechanical socialization affected not merely the big. plants, whatever few there were in Hungary, but also the small factories employing only a few workers. Together with the drastic closing down of the small shops, the mechanical socialization tended to alienate the petty bourgeoisie of the city from the workers.
Hungary had not had the same industrial development as Russia. Here there were not the immense modern works that had been constructed under Czarism. Had the Hungarian communists not socialized the smaller shops, it would have meant that a large number of the factory workers of Hungary would not be controlling directly the means of production. On the other hand, socialization could take place only with a great amount of friction with the lower middle classes, resulting in great difficulty on the part of the State to control the productive processes. When factories are large and the unions solidly built, a discipline among the workers is effected both by the process of production itself and by the class struggle. In small shops, however, the tendency to looseness, to individualist and anarchistic habits, is far more prevalent. In the case of Hungary, the proletariat could not go beyond its training and environment in these petty shops. With the establishment of the Dictatorship, at once discipline and control were loosened, never to be regained. At a time when production of goods was sorely needed, not only for the Red Army but in order to supply the peasantry so as to win their friendship, the workers allowed production to fall heavily everywhere.
The difficulties here encountered are only extra proof of the fact that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat can be sustained in a backward agrarian country only against the greatest obstacles and with the greatest heroism on the part of the proletariat. The loose control by the communist leaders, even over their own members in Hungary, bore witness to the fact that time and long experience are needed before a revolutionary party can be built up properly to handle the tremendous task of running a revolution.
The possibility of resuming production even at capitalist levels was sadly diminished by the fact that Hungary was not living under normal conditions. There were large armies at all her frontiers. A complete blockade was to be established around Red Hungary; the proletariat naturally could not continue production when raw materials were lacking. Hungary was not Russia. She was more intimately dependent upon intercourse with the other countries of Europe around her and, lacking that, her factories were bound to deteriorate, production to drop. All this meant that Soviet Hungary had to rise or fall, not on the economic but on the military battle front.
The establishment of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in a backward agrarian country depends above all on the relationship set up between the workers and the peasants. It was here that the Jewish Commissars of the Communist Party of Hungary fell down. Unlike the situation in Russia, agricultural production in Hungary had been carried on not so much on small peasant holdings as on large latifundia worked by armies of agricultural laborers and owned by powerful aristocrats. In Russia, the question had been relatively simple, a matter of partitioning the estates among the poor peasants; in Hungary, this problem was to be one of sharp dispute. The Karolyists were in favor of partitioning these estates among the peasants and the agricultural laborers. But this was not the policy that Bela Kun adopted. The communist leadership decided not to divide the modern estates among the peasantry and not to insist on the formation of cooperatives for the collective use of the machinery; instead, they decided to socialize the property, paying greatly increased wages to the agricultural proletarians. Nor did the communists make any distinction between the type of large estates, between those cultivated extensively or intensively.
Had the agrarian question been handled with discrimination and due preparation, had some concessions been made to the peasants by partitioning some estates so as to give the toilers on the land a stake in the revolution and induce them to defend the new order with their lives, the policy of Bela Kun might not have been so disastrous. Not only was the whole question handled in a most slipshod manner, but the debates around the question showed so much contempt for the average peasant that the agrarians on the countryside could not but feel that the communists would deal with them as enemies as soon as they got the chance. “Bela Kun himself, in the session of the Soviet on June 21, let loose a flood of demagogic denunciation of the small farmers and called on the agricultural labourers to make an end of them!” (*9)
It is true that the Hungarian communists decreed that the land tax should be dispensed with in favor of peasants’ cultivating pieces of land under one hundred acres. But coupled with this decision was another one to curtail commodity markets on the countryside by setting up a central control of farm prices which would limit the income the farmer received for his products. Despite all measures, the peasantry became increasingly hostile to the city communists. Anti-Semitism became virulent and widespread, and the stage was set for the return of the aristocracy, supported by the peasantry of the country.
However, none of these defects necessarily would have had fatal consequences had the communists been able to show results on the military field. From the first they had rallied much of the entire population around themselves by promises that they would fight for the independence of Hungary against the rapacious demands of the powers at Paris. Here was really the sole way out for the communists, and it seemed at first that they appreciated the fact that a war against foreign capitalist powers could do for them what it did for the Russian Sovietists, and for the French Jacobins of 1793. The country would be consolidated. The unemployed soldiers would be harnessed to the dictatorship. In the name of war-needs, the State could proceed far more drastically than otherwise to take control of all production and distribution. The nationalism of the peasantry would have supported the struggle without question.
But far more than all this, unless the Hungarian working class broke through the capitalist wall around it and reached the German proletariat, fusing both movements, unless the Hungarian proletariat showed itself to be the liberator of all the oppressed peoples of Central Europe and, with their aid, blasted its way to connect itself with the Russians, it was bound to be cut down and defeated. Not a moment should have been lost. The whole country should have been mobilized for a proletarian crusade, especially when all were outraged by the fact that their country was being invaded on three fronts and the Armistice violated by the enemy.
As we have said, it seemed at first that the communists understood this. When in the last days of May, 1919, the Czech army began its campaign, the Hungarian Red Army marched against it and scored decisive victories. Soon the Red Army was close to Pressburg and was about to take the city. Slovakia was overrun and a Soviet Slovakia proclaimed. Now the allied powers in Paris became thoroughly alarmed. Should Pressburg fall, the whole capitalist structure of Bohemia might collapse. It was necessary to press for time; this the Parisian masters did by wiring Kun that, if he called off his attack, they would consent to deal with his government.
Here a fatal mistake was made. Had Bela Kun been really a Leninist, or had the leadership of the Communist Party been in the hands of native Hungarians rather than of elements who, even in their own minds, believed themselves alien to the people and lacking the nation’s confidence, the march on Pressburg never would have been stopped. But at heart Bela Kun and his associates were opportunists. Instinctively they shrank from enlarging the struggle, from making communism an issue throughout Central Europe. Believing that the allied victors actually would treat with his Red Government, Kun moved his troops away. From now on the case of the Hungarian Soviets was doomed. The army lost its crusading morale and disintegrated. The French diplomats soon exchanged their promises for generals who were instructed to go the limit in destroying the Hungarian regime.
“The fatal mistake of a proletarian republic which had turned its face eastward to Moscow was to come to terms with Paris. No government could endure that tried to serve two masters; Paris quickly discovered this and set about to crush the Soviets.” (*10)
This monumental blunder on the part of Bela Kun could have accrued only from the fact that there was as yet no real Communist Party in Hungary. Bela Kun here exposed himself not as an internationalist revolutionist but as a national socialist who believed it possible to attain socialism in one country alone; one who put faith in the mercy of the bourgeoisie and believed their promises to refrain from destroying the communists. The Hungarian soviets had been erected before the humanitarian “democrats” who had won the World War had demonstrated what havoc their interventionary armies could do in Russia.
The abandonment of the campaign to form soviets outside of Hungary and to connect his movement with that of the workers elsewhere went hand in hand with Bela Kun’s opportunist alliance with the reformist socialists. To Kun, evidently, a long period was not necessary before socialists could be turned into communists. Any phrase of adherence could accomplish the transformation. We have already commented on his failure to break sufficiently with the socialist opportunists within Hungary. Now we are to observe the results of his international policy of friendliness to the socialist Vienna government.
With the end of the War and the flight of the Austrian Emperor, the opportunist and Centrist socialists of Vienna had taken over the country, as similar groups had done in Germany. In Austria, however, the socialists ever had been more to the Left, more Marxian, than the German variety. This was due to their relative poverty, for one thing, and to the instability and ruthless methods of their ruling class. Now that the Red Flag was waving both to the Right of them in Bavaria and to the Left in Hungary, the Austrian socialists couched their speeches in still more revolutionary phraseology; at the same time they made deals with foreign capitalism to save Austria as much as possible for the bourgeoisie. In these diluted socialists, Bela Kun evidently had the utmost faith. Nowhere was an attempt made to overthrow this pseudo-socialist Austrian regime from the Hungarian side, and to call on the Austrian workers to aid the Hungarians to do this, job. Instead of solidarizing himself with the German Spartacists who were actually moving against these socialists, Bela Kun objectively joined up with the Viennese bureaucrats.
So great was his trust in them that he used Vienna as his financial base of operations and transferred there much of the gold of Hungary. This trust was to be betrayed. When a shipment of 135 million crowns was made from Hungary to Vienna by the Party functionary in charge, the money was seized by the White Guards in Vienna who had learned of the proposed shipment; thus a severe blow was given to the proletarian regime. That Bela Kun could have shipped such sums out of the country into hostile territory where White Guards could be protected speaks volumes for the type of “Lenin” leading Hungary.
If Hungary had its mock Lenin, it was to have its mock Trotsky in the person of Jacob Pogany (Schwartz) who became Commissar over the Army overnight and headed the military until a battalion of soldiers marched to the soviets and demanded an end to his intolerable regime and his removal from the Army. The communists hastened to comply, and Schwartz was given the post of Commissar of Foreign Affairs instead, his chief worry being how to flee the country in time when communism collapsed (something he managed to do very nicely). (*11)
The retreat from Pressburg brought about the collapse of the Slovakian Soviet Republic and the determined advance of the French and Rumanian armies from the South. Knowing now the caliber of their communist leaders and thoroughly demoralized, the Hungarian army lost heart and broke before the enemy. As Bela Kun and others hastily took flight, the Rumanians invested Budapest and began a systematic looting of the Country. (*12)
Before the invaders had left, there had been established a ferocious White Guard regime under Admiral Horthy, in August, 1919, that proceeded to mop up the Reds. This patriot was willing to sign treaties that would strip Hungary bare of vast territories peopled with Hungarians; he was ready to enter into the most friendly relations with the enemies of his people. His undying enmity was reserved for the Jews and communists who, he declared, had despoiled the country. For a long time a White Terror raged, impelling even the anti-communist Oskar Jaszi to declare: “This raging of the White Terror makes one of the darkest pages of Hungarian history… .” (*13) It has been estimated about thirty thousand Soviet sympathizers perished. This speaks eloquently, not only for Horthy, but also for the soft and opportunist character of the Kun regime.
But the Hungarian scene also permitted some farce. As the communist leaders departed, the social-democrats reappeared and, under the leadership of Peidle, took control of the city of Budapest, hoping to appease the Rumanians and the French so that they would not invade Budapest and thus would permit it to become another Vienna. This naive plan rudely came to an end amidst the raucous laughter of the soldiery.
Eventually the French were to pay heavily for the reinstitution of the White Guard regime under Horthy. Hungary became the only defeated imperialist power wherein the old aristocracy was allowed to rule. The Horthy regime soon became a center of intrigue for the return of all the old privileged classes. Hungary was to prove an excellent springboard for Italian ambitions on the Danube, for the restoration of the Hapsburgs, and for alliance with German fascism. But it was by now nothing new for the French “democrats” to prefer the return of their old enemies to the rule of the Reds.
Beyond question, the most important country of all Europe was Germany. It had been expected that, should Germany be defeated, revolution would surely follow, and the Kaiser would be forced to abdicate. It was not generally believed that the revolution would go any farther than the formation of a democratic republic that would curb the war desires of the German upper classes, and temporarily render German imperialism harmless. While in the main this is what actually occurred, the German events gave the capitalists anxiety for a long period of time.
When the War first began, the German masses were by no means as unanimously in favor of the conflict as has been generally pictured. At the start, in 1914, when the social-democrats held their parliamentary caucus on the question of voting for war credits, fourteen deputies voted against although they finally decided to bow to the majority opinion in the Reichstag. Only one abstained from voting in Parliament. By December, 1914, the number opposed to the War Budget had reached seventeen, and Liebknecht openly cast his ballot against his Party. In the vote on war finances in March, 1915, thirty deputies left the hall and two voted against. The Left Wing was now becoming a force with which to reckon. Karl Liebknecht was imprisoned.
As the War continued, the fight became sharper between the Right Wing that favored the support of the War, the Center, led by Kautsky, Haase, Bernstein, and others, who refused to support the War but who did not believe in revolution, and the Left. By 1916, the Left Wing was ready to form its own group, called the Spartacus Union, headed by Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, and Franz Mehring. With them was Richard Mueller, the leader of the powerful metal workers union.
All through 1916, wild strikes occurred, culminating in a mass strike, political in its inception and purpose. Rosa Luxemburg was arrested, but the movement steadily gained momentum. In 1917, discontent was so rife in Berlin, Saxony, and Thuringia that the government made every effort to clean out the revolutionary elements from the factories and to send them to the trenches. Large numbers of troops on the Russian front were becoming strongly infected with the virus of Bolshevism and could no longer be trusted. Moreover, the young men conscripted from the factories were proving extremely unwilling to fight.
With the severe defeats suffered by the German Imperial Army in 1918, the forces hostile to the ruling class intensified their activity. A great munition strike prevailed in Germany in 1918, in spite of the efforts of the socialist leaders to put it down. In July, a mutiny broke out among the sailors which the Imperial government found itself powerless to suppress. Later, when, in fact, all was over on the Western Front, the German Admiralty decided to send out all its ships in one last fight. At this point the sailors openly revolted, and some officers were shot. Of the four infantry companies sent against the sailors on November 4, 1918, to put down the revolt, three joined the rebels and one was disarmed. The revolt now rapidly spread to Hamburg and affected the entire civil population. At this juncture, the socialist Scheidemann took control of the revolt in order to stifle it and prevent it from going farther. (*14)
The German military staff had believed that, at the very worst, the Entente could never enter Germany proper, that the mass of people would fight to the end in a defensive war. Now, however, the Junkers found that their real enemy was within the gates, and that the revolutionary movement was growing by leaps and bounds. For the militarists to continue to fight to the end would mean proletarian revolution. In panic, they decided to end the War while the forces of control were still capable of dealing with the revolutionary workers. Quickly the Majority Socialists were given the power to form a government, and royalty fled the realm.
In dealing with this flight of the Kaiser and his family from Germany, it has been stated openly that "There was no internal reason why either should have fled." (*15) The Spartacists were absolutely unprepared for civil war; the Independents had conceived of the revolution as a completely bloodless and political affair; the Majority Socialists were still in control of large sections of the people. Probably the most decisive argument that weighed with the General Staff when they gave permission to their chief to depart was the fact that the masses of the victorious countries had raised the slogan “Hang the Kaiser” and the hatred for the war abroad had been concentrated upon the person of the chief Junker representative. The army chieftains must have felt that far easier terms could be secured from the conquerors should the Kaiser be relegated from the picture and the people be put forward. This was quite in line with Wilson’s propaganda, and the German military machine hoped much from Wilson and America.
In the meantime, events were proceeding more rapidly in Bavaria. On November 7, in Munich, Auer and Kurt Eisner addressed vast crowds, calling for the end of the War and the abdication of the Kaiser. While the other demands raised were mild, the whole tone of the demonstration constituted a serious threat to the authorities. Arsenals were raided and political prisoners were set free. The barracks were stormed and the people obtained arms. As the Bavarian Royalty fled, Kurt Eisner signed the decree as First President of the Bavarian Soviet, in which Bavaria was declared a Free State.
These were brave words, but the good socialists of Munich were by no means prepared to go Bolshevik. There had been no formation of Soviets spontaneously among the people; the title Soviet Bavaria was really but a name. To Kurt Eisner, no doubt, sovietism meant merely a system that would lead to a federation of parliamentary republics of Germany and Austria in a socialized world of peace and plenty. Naively, Eisner allowed elections for a Constituent Assembly to be called, and believed it unnecessary to form a Red Guard for action.
Kurt Eisner’s politik was doomed to quick disaster. When the returns of the Constituent Assembly were made it was found that of the 280 seats, the socialists won only 65, and the out-and-out bourgeois parties 115. On February 20, 1919, Kurt Eisner was murdered, and the “Left” Socialist Auer was shot down while making a speech eulogizing him, and seriously wounded. Now, of course, the masses began to realize their “honeymoon” foolishness; by this time, however, they were forced to face the power of the new Majority Socialist regime in Germany, and were overcome.
The events in Bavaria were concurrent with stirring action throughout Germany. On November 9, 1918, a huge general strike had been called for the overthrow of the regime. The masses, however, discovered that they were entirely leaderless so far as effective plans were concerned. Everywhere the majority socialists obtained control of the movement to direct it into safe channels. Millions were returning from the front, sporadic seizures of the factories were occurring, everywhere Workmens’ Councils were being formed on the style of the Russian Soviets, but nowhere was there sufficient direction or national planning of the movement.
The Majority Socialists, to whom the government had been entrusted, did their utmost to take advantage of the breathing spell offered to them. The Russian Revolution had not occurred in vain for them, and they were able to understand the value of time far better than the revolutionary elements. Hoping to cover up their real activity with phrases borrowed from the Russians, the Majority Socialists, from the first days of the revolution named their provisional government, a “Council of People’s Commissars,” thus giving the impression that the German revolution would follow the same path as the Russian. In Russia, the Council of People’s Commissars had been erected only as the result of the Bolshevik revolution, and was an expression of soviets which had overturned parliamentarism. In Germany, on the other hand, the Council of Peoples Commissars was an opportunist socialist mechanism for stalling for time until the forces of reaction could be gathered to compel the convocation of a bourgeois parliament and the dissolution of the real soviets which had been organized.
While this attempted deception of the Majority Socialists did not fool the mass of workers, it was well received by the Independent Socialists who played directly into the hands of the Scheidemanns and Noskes and who protected these worthies with a revolutionary alliance. Without waiting for any vote, the two parties, the Majority Socialist and the Independent Socialist met together and decided to form a joint Provisional Government Committee, made up of three from each Party. The Spartacists were to be excluded entirely. Thus these “democrats,” in the name of democracy, proved entirely willing to foist a governing body of six men upon sixty-five million people. It must be said that if the Independent Socialists worked hand in glove with the social-patriots in fact, they did try to distinguish themselves from the Scheidemanns in words. And, in this, Scheidemann was very willing to accommodate them so long as he and his group could gain the precious time needed to reorganize the forces of repression.
Hence, when the Independent Socialist Party insisted that Germany be turned into a Socialist Republic with the entire executive, legislative, and judicial powers of governing in the hands of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, the Kaiser socialists were quite willing to concur … provided that the National Assembly to be called later would agree to its own dissolution. On the question of giving all power to the Councils, the Majority Socialists declared they were not against … provided it did not mean the Dictatorship of the Proletariat so as to exclude the bourgeoisie. The main points of the final agreement read “… that only Social-Democrats should be members of the Cabinet, and that they were to function as People’s Commissaries upon a footing of complete equality…. Political power was to rest in the hands of the Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Councils, of which a congress representing the whole Reich was to be summoned without delay. The question of a Constituent Assembly they agreed to regard as not urgent …” (*16)
In the meantime, Karl Liebknecht, released from jail, had organized a Council Congress for December 16. Soldiers called on by the government to disperse the people refused to fire on the crowds and, instead, organized their soldier soviets. But, when the socialist “Commissars” came to them with their arguments, the soldiers’ soviets were won over, and carried out the orders to break up the demonstrations of the people. In Prussia, however, the soviets decreed the dissolution of the Lower House of the Prussian Diet and the abolition of the House of Lords, a decree which was obeyed. It was in the generally vague declaration of these soviets calling for rapid socialization of the means of production, but taking no measures to realize this, that the full impotency of the soviets was felt. The urgent need for a revolutionary party became evident.
An attempt was made to fill this need by a Convention called by the Spartacists for December 30, in Berlin. At this convention the Spartacists came out for various extreme measures to pave the way for a proletarian revolution. These measures included: disarming of the police, officers, bourgeois soldiers, and all members of the ruling class; seizure of all arms depots; arming of the proletariat, and the formation of a standing Red Guard against the counter-revolution; abolition of military discipline, and the adoption of the principle of the election and the recall of officers and the removal of all officers and cadets from the Councils; formation of revolutionary tribunals; confiscation of all food, and the introduction of a card rationing system; the establishment of a unified German Socialist Republic with all power to the Councils. With these demands went others calling for the institution of the six-hour day, the confiscation of all dynastic property and incomes, the annulment of all State debts, the confiscation of property over a certain amount, and the expropriation of large estates and industries. It was plain that the Spartacus Union was moving towards insurrection. (*17)
The struggle in Germany now condensed itself on the question: “Should the National Assembly be convened in special elections or should power be taken over by the workmen through Soviets?” The Provisional Government had filled in a temporary Cabinet made up almost entirely of former Kaiser officers. The Independent Socialists, although advocating in words that power should go to the Councils or Soviets, yet allowed the Right Wing to proceed in calling a National Assembly. The big question was: “What will the Congress of Council delegates itself decide? Will it take the power or, will it surrender to the general parliament?” The matter was fatefully decided when the Council Congress decided to vote against the Spartacus policy (even though at the last moment the Independent Socialist Party delegates added their voice to the Spartacists), and to allow the convocation of the National Assembly. This was precisely the opportunity for which the bourgeoisie had been praying during the revolutionary events.
What were the considerations that swayed the workers’ representatives so that they should deliberately decide to abnegate the power they held in their grasp? In the first place, there was the fact that the Majority Socialists controlled the vast trade union apparatus which by no means had broken down after the armistice. On the contrary, millions of new workers now flocked into the ranks of the unions, while, at the same time, events had proceeded so rapidly that there had been no opportunity to remove the old officials and to install new, trained men, more in harmony with the will of the workers. Thus it can be said that there was a great divergence between the desires of the rank and file of the unions and the apparatus men.
Now, when the elections were held for delegates from the Workers’ Councils, everywhere the trade union opportunist leaders put themselves forward; in few localities were the new members and awakened workers able to put forward other and better lists. Thus, as in Russia, in the beginning of the 1917 Revolution, so, in Germany, the delegates elected to the Soviet Congress were in the main not those closest to the masses. Furthermore, events were moving at such a tempo, carrying the masses to the Left, that very often delegates who were truly typical at the period of the elections, by the time the Congress met were so no longer. Generally speaking, not the poorest layers of the working population were elected, but the better elements, those long connected with the trade union apparatus and bound to it.
It must be recalled that the German Social-Democratic Party was the most powerful organization in the Second International, with great prestige and understanding of its role. For many decades it had propagandized the proletariat with the theory of gradual development of social-democracy and the need for Ordnung und Diziplin. And what was more important, the so-called revolutionists, who were now appealing to the workers to break from the Majority Socialists, only recently had accomplished the break themselves. Far different from Lenin, who had organized his Bolshevik faction seventeen years before the revolutionary events that were to give him power, the Spartacist socialists had always been ardent believers in unity. Only under the long pressure of the War had a small section of them broken away from their former comrades to organize a Left group, and even they were a considerable distance away from true Bolshevik hardness. As for the Independent Socialists, at the very moment of the Congress they were co-operating with the Majority Socialists, having organized a joint provisional government with them which excluded the Spartacists. Thus, if even the so-called “Left” that called for all power to the soviets was so weak and conciliatory, the workers felt that they could not risk their lives under such leadership.
Nothing speaks more eloquently for the unpreparedness and amateurishness of the Spartacists than the fact that the Council Congress was held, not after, but before the Convention of their Party. Their failure to act promptly resulted in the situation whereby, when the Congress convened, the Spartacists had achieved neither national mobilization nor an adequately firm policy. To the workers it testified to the fact that the Spartacists were dragging belatedly behind the events, neither anticipating nor controlling them.
There was no doubt that, had the Council Congress decided to take over power, the soviet delegates would have been faced immediately with civil war and with all the horrors of the Russian experience, an experience which many of them felt the Germans were too civilized to repeat. This impression that Germany could not follow the footsteps of Russia gained weight by the close connection of the Majority Socialists with the employers, and, by the case with which concessions were gained in every strike called. Then too, there was the pressure of the victorious Entente to consider. “Meanwhile a plain hint had been received from the American government that unless law and order were preserved, American troops would march into the country.” (*18)
However, the basic reason for the decision of the delegates of the Council Congress to renounce State power lay in the fact that the German working class was over-balanced by too thick an upper stratum that had been bribed by imperialism. This layer was war-weary and wanted peace; it opposed profiteers and yearned for the return of the "good old days" before the War. Pre-war German imperialism had known well how to share with the mass of skilled workers in the factories the super-profits that came from its winning of markets and its seizure of colonies. These German workers considered the War merely as a temporary interruption in the enjoyment of their reforms which they believed permanent. They had no conception that the world was entering a new era in which the German State would be in a position not to grant reforms but only to take them away. It was this basic economic condition that also accounted for the failure of the Germans sooner to build a truly Bolshevik Party, for the weakness of their Left Wing, and for the apathy of sections of the workers. The German masses did not yet realize what the defeat in the War would really mean for them.
None the less, the decision of the Council Congress to permit the convocation of the National Assembly on February 16, 1919, caused an immediate split in the ranks of the delegates. The Left Wing broke away, on the ground that the Congress had committed suicide, and repeated its determination to take power. Now, however, backed by the decision of the Congress, the Majority Socialists felt that they had a free hand to act drastically against the Left, and began to issue orders to shoot down the revolutionary elements. Such unheard-of action in turn called forth protests from the well-meaning Independent Socialists, who resigned from the Provisional Government. Thereupon the Majority Socialists, seeing that the time really had come for a decision, seized the empty posts and filled them with their own men, reducing the number, however to five. The Majority Socialists evidently knew their duty to God and Country, and determinedly prepared to perform it.
Now the bewildered Centrist Independents, deserted and driven by events towards the Spartacists, convened their own Congress. Here another split occurred; the Right Wing kept the name Independent Socialist, and planned to continue to work in every critical moment with the Majority Socialists; the center of the Independents formed the Revolutionary Vanguard, while the Left Wing broke away to join the Spartacists outright, and form the Communist Labor Party-Spartacus Union, later to become the United Communist Party, after further fusions. From now on, the battle raged bitterly between the Majority Socialists for capitalism and the Spartacists for the proletarian revolution.
On January 5, 1919, the masses were called out on the streets of Berlin by the Spartacists and two hundred thousand armed men responded in a truly magnificent demonstration. Never had Germany felt the power of its workingmen stronger than at this moment. The sole factor missing was the revolutionary party. “The Masses stood from early morning till nine o’clock in the cold and fog. Somewhere or other the leaders sat and deliberated…. They deliberated and deliberated and deliberated.” (*19) “Had the Spartacans possessed able military leaders and abandoned their speech-making for fighting, they could have easily overthrown the Socialist government in the Wilhelmstrasse and established the Soviet system in Berlin.” (*20)
The Spartacists talked; the Right Wing knew well how to act. The socialist Noske volunteered for the job of organizing a new guard to put down the workers. Everywhere the government troops, under the direction of their old Junker officers acting under socialist orders, threw themselves furiously against the strikers who had taken to the streets. Fierce fighting occurred. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were taken prisoner and murdered on the way to jail. A thousand times over the Majority Socialists demonstrated that they deserved the great trust that the bourgeoisie had put in them. The January insurrection was put down with much loss of life.
A deep wave of discontent with the Socialist Party’s actions now manifested itself throughout the country. In the ensuing elections for the National Assembly, many of the workers refused to vote, believing such parliamentary action futile. On the other hand, the property owners were anxious to put down the rule of labor generally. Thus, at the elections, the Majority Socialists obtained only 163 deputies and the Independents 22 out of a total of 393. This result was not entirely displeasing to the Majority Socialists, since they could now always declare that the majority of the people of Germany did not want socialism and, until a change of heart be shown by the nation, it would be impossible to take over the factories.
The murders of Liebknecht in Germany and of Kurt Eisner in Bavaria inflamed the masses to new outbursts. In Bavaria, as in Germany generally, the Majority Socialists tried to gain time by trying to form with the Independents a government giving the impression that socialism soon would be inaugurated. However, the communists quickly rallied to the attack and took over the control of Munich. The Majority Socialists were driven into the countryside where they rallied the peasantry to attack the workers of the city. In this they were reinforced by military aid from Prussia and Wurtemberg, sent by Scheidemann and Noske.
For nearly a month the Reds ruled Munich. A Dictatorship of the Proletariat was established with Levine, Axelrod, and Levien at the head, supported by such intellectuals as Ernst Toiler and Erich Muhsam. A Red Army was formed to defend the Bavarian Soviet Republic, and a general strike was declared to paralyze the bourgeois forces. But the communists eventually were not able to hold the fort and, with the full force of Noske’s troops against them, the soviets succumbed.
The Bavarian beacon seemed to operate as a signal for the remainder of Germany. During the interim from January to March, the Spartacists steadily had increased their strength in the Councils so that, by the end of that time, they had secured control over the Workmens’ Councils in Berlin and the support of the soldiers groups. On March 3, 1919, a new proletarian uprising was attempted in Berlin. Strikes and outbursts occurred everywhere. The installation of a Dictatorship of the Proletariat also was attempted in Saxony.
But by now the Majority Socialists were ready to go to any extreme to defeat the movement. “To inflame the people against the communists, Noske falsely accused them of a general massacre of prisoners at the Lichtenberg Police Station and therefore ordered them to be exterminated.” (*21)
Noske issued his notorious illegal order to shoot at sight all workmen found armed. The Prussian Junkers in charge of the loyal troops responded with zeal, and nearly twelve hundred were killed during the fighting.
Uprisings broke out all over Germany, in Koenigsberg, Breslau, Upper Silesia, Hamburg, Emden, Rhineland, Westphalia, and Thuringia, but, by a mixed policy of stern force and prompt concessions in secondary matters, the uprisings were all put down, as were the general strikes in Magdeburg, in the Ruhr, and elsewhere.
The defeat of the German Communists accrued not because the proletarians were inadequately armed or did not know how to fight. Indeed, as a result of the demobilization of the German Army and the break-up of discipline, the Berlin proletariat was better armed than it ever had been. Rather, “The failure of the March rebellion was due to a lack of leaders, discipline, and co-ordination of plans.” (*22)
One of the most important errors of the German Communists was their failure to understand how to utilize the soldiers. Unlike the situations in Russia or in Hungary, there had been no complete breakdown of order among the soldiers. The returning soldiers were kept in barracks at State expense, since there was no opportunity for them to secure work, and disorder reigned throughout the country. This gave the Socialist Government the opportunity to separate these soldiers from the regular workers, and to use them as a force to suppress strikes and demonstrations.
Of course, a large number of the soldiers had been proletarians; these went over to the side of their brethren. But there were enough left who were hungry and miserable enough to do anything, who were part of the upper classes, or who were bewildered and did not understand their own interests. Such elements could be used to put down the insurrections.
In Russia, the officers had been dechevroned, and even in Italy it had been dangerous for officers to appear with decorations, epaulets, or other officer insignia. This was not the case in Germany. In many cases, the officers actually were part of the Soldiers’ Soviets, paralyzing all activity.
One of the main tasks of the revolutionary workers should have been to drive a deep wedge between the officers and the soldiers, to make it impossible for the officers to appear openly on the streets, to create a reign of terror against them. This, however, should have been only part of the general task of complete disorganization of the former Kaiser’s army. The soldiers who had returned from the front should have been sent at once to the factories and work shops whence they had come before their conscription. In this way, they would have been returned to the fold of the working class and not kept separated from the proletariat under the influence of their old officers. At the same time, the workers in the factories would have rallied around these returned soldiers who would have formed the basis for a genuine Red Army or Red Guard.
As it was, the soldiers were paid by the State and felt indebted to the Socialist Government. The workers should have seen to it that the factories which had formerly employed these soldiers laid aside funds for their upkeep; thus the soldiers would have been attached to their former brothers and would have become their foremost defense fighters. Had such a policy been pursued from the earliest days, there would have been built up a force that would have given a far better account of itself in the field than was actually done when large masses were put down by the skeleton army under the control of the government.
The fact is, that just as the German workers paid little consideration to the needs of the German peasantry, so never did they fight adequately for the interests of the soldiers; the Communists never carried out a policy that would lead to the speedy incorporation of the veterans into the ranks of the toilers and would give them a place in the new social order.
As in Russia, where Kerensky had called in the Cossacks and the Czarist officers to put down the proletarian movement in the “July Days,” so, in Germany, the Junker officers, having saved temporarily the socialist regime, now believed it time to show who was master of the social order. Now that peace was a definite reality, it was possible for the old Kaiserthum to raise its head again. On March 10, 1920, army officers presented to President Ebert a four-point program, demanding new elections, presidential selection by a plebiscite, a cabinet of “experts,” and no further disbanding of the troops. When the Ebert-Bauer government answered this ultimatum with a warrant for the arrest of Kapp, the leader of the officers, the forces of reaction moved on Berlin and took the city on March 13. With the flight of the Socialist Government, the workers undertook to conduct a general strike that paralyzed all the activity of the monarchists, so that Kapp was forced to withdraw from the city, and acknowledge his helplessness. By March 20, the strike was called off, having demonstrated that the return of the old order now absolutely was impossible.
The treatment accorded the Kapp counter-revolutionists was in marked contrast to the brutal terror against the Spartacists. “No serious steps were taken against the majority of the Kappists, as it was feared that this would merely lead to further bitterness. Only a few sub-prefects were dismissed and their posts filled by Socialists. Nor was any attempt made to get rid of the reactionary officers of the Reichswchr, and the talk about democratizing the army was seen to be futile when it was realized that the officers’ corps felt strong enough to oppose interference. Later on, in the following August, an amnesty law was passed for the benefit of all but the actual instigators. On the other hand, a great deal of summary justice was meted out to those who had opposed the Kappists … For them there was no amnesty.” (*23)
The efficacy of the general strike against reaction and the utter discrediting of the Majority Socialists, with their close collaboration with the bourgeoisie,now induced the workers to make another effort to seize the power of the government. The Kapp putsch was followed by the Communist venture. The Reds tried to seize the Ruhr. Here again was illustrated the power and readiness of the workers to struggle, and the utter incompetency of the revolutionists to prepare adequately or to control their forces. “Not even the Communists were under the control of their leaders. The whole Ruhr coal district was in the hands of the workers. But the movement was wild, had run beyond its leaders. Plans were ill calculated and pre-doomed to failure.” (*24)
It was not only that the workers not yet had achieved a trained Communist Party, or that they had to face the combined forces of their bourgeoisie and Socialist lackeys, but the revolt in the Ruhr was bound to bring the army of French imperialism on the side of their enemies to crush the revolt. On April 4, 1921, the French troops occupied Frankfort, Darmstadt, Homburg, Hanau, and Duisburg, and materially aided the German government to put down the workers’ revolt.
Even then the workers put up a strong battle. Revolts broke out in the Dusseldorf district, East Prussia, Silesia, Saxony, and elsewhere. In Leipsig and Halle, the communists actually took control and established the rule of the workers. In the course of the recapture of these cities, hundreds of workers were killed by government forces. Only toward the end of May, 1921, did the Socialist President, Ebert, feel it safe enough to void the state of siege that he had declared as existing in these regions. Like 1919, 1921 showed a wild upheaval that was not strong enough to carry the workers to power. In almost all cases, the outburst had been due to the spontaneous hatred and misery of the people, and the United Communist Party found itself behind the actual events.
The fact is, the Communist forces were now divided into two principal divisions. One group was organized in the Communist Labor Party made up of revolutionary workers impatient for the struggle, of disbelievers in parliamentarism or in any co-operation with the old conservative unions. This group made mistakes of impulsiveness and lack of preparation, but contained excellent material. On the other side there were the Socialist centrist elements that had steadily gravitated to communism, who termed themselves Communists but who in reality never really had broken from their old opportunist and conciliationist habits. This group, called the United Communist Party, and recognized by the Communist International as its official section was guilty of concentrating too much on the parliamentary struggle and of being backward in the actual street battles. In almost all the forthcoming struggles we shall find that the German Communist Party suffered greatly from this Right Wing danger, from bureaucracy and parliamentarism.
In Hungary, the chief force that destroyed the Dictatorship of the Proletariat was the peasantry, allied to foreign intervention. So was it also in Finland. In Germany, the only force that could stop the workers’ taking the power was the working class itself. In this country the skilled workers separated themselves from the mass of unskilled and rallied to the Socialist Party, which destroyed the proletarian uprisings. But if the process of transforming peasants into workers or socialists is a slow one, the process of changing privileged workers into unprivileged is not so slow. Soon enough the German State became unable to support the social reforms demanded by the reformist socialists as the price of their saving the bourgeois republic. The socialists were brutally expelled by the fascists; millions of skilled workers and petty proprietors suffered the full weight of the defeat of the War with its spoliation of the country and its indemnities and reparations, they experienced the burden and chaos of inflation and even the concentration camps of fascism before they were prepared to break from their past to stand united for proletarian revolution. By this time, too, the unskilled masses no longer remained in their power.
One more revolutionary effort was yet to be made before the workers gave up their insurrectionary attempts for the time being. By 1923 the full effect of the war defeats had made itself felt in Germany. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles had stripped the country. Germany was on the verge of being dismembered. Pushing its ruthless plans in this direction, French imperialism, on the argument that the coal payments had not been made on January 11, 1923, invaded the Ruhr. There was no adequate German force capable of meeting the French Army of invasion except the armed might of the people themselves, but the socialists did not dare call upon the people to resist the foreign invader for fear that this would be precisely the move that would lead to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
It will be recalled that, in all other countries where the workers took power and had gone to the extreme of forming a proletarian dictatorship, the country had been invaded by foreign powers. The pressure of national war had added its weight to the stress of class struggle within. Germany, on the other hand, had had no foreign invasion; the Junkers, frightened at the temper of the people, had been astute enough to yield beforehand. Furthermore, a real defense of the Fatherland could have been undertaken only by the people themselves, led by the proletariat, and nothing could have stopped the victory of the workers then. Now, however, the Ruhr was invaded and lay in danger of being taken away from Germany. Had the struggle been pursued by military means it would have meant the end of the reformist socialists who constantly posed as being pacifists except in dealing with their own workers, when plenty of blood was spilled. It was necessary, therefore, that the socialist government take to other measures; hence began the policy of passive resistance. While this policy harassed the French, it was carried out only at great cost to German economy and by arousing the initiative of the people.
Unable to stand the combined strain of being looted, of indemnities, reparations, invasion, loss of territories, and civil war, German economy in 1923 broke down. All debts were canceled by the speedy mechanism of inflation when, in September of that year, a newspaper cost billions of marks, and when the workers were paid several times a day, their wives standing by to rush to the stores before their paper money wages should become utterly worthless.
The wild chaos and complete cessation of trade, the widespread suffering and misery of the people, simultaneous with the most riotous orgies of the speculators and trust capitalists who were benefitting enormously by the events, were bound to lead to violent outbursts. Here again the working class was to pay heavily for the amateurishness and opportunism of its parties. In Saxony, the communists and socialists united to take power, but, instead of using the opportunity offered by their parliamentary majority to arm the workers and really smash the old machinery in favor of Workers’ Councils, they dickered and dallied in the parliament until the favorable moment had gone by, and it was too late to revolt. Other cities of Germany had been awaiting the signal from Saxony; when that was not forthcoming, their movement became isolated and easily crushed.
The failure of the communists to take advantage of the revolutionary situation brewing in Germany in 1923 was their last chance to act before capitalism could recover its strength. The year 1923 can be said to mark in almost all the countries of Europe the last of the great revolutionary wave that began in 1918-1919. From then on, for about eight years, in Europe, there was a partial and temporary stabilization of capitalism. The year 1923 also coincides with the stabilization of the Soviet regime in Russia. The end of the acute revolutionary epoch was dramatized by the death of Lenin and the great struggle in the ranks of the communists between the internationalists headed by Trotsky and the Russian leadership headed by Stalin. This marks a new period in proletarian history.
1. See D. J. Saposs: The Labor movement in Post-war France, pp. 163-164.
2. See H. Soderhjelm: The Red Insurrection in Finland in 1918, p. 12.
3. E. Ashmead-Bartlett: The Tragedy of Central Europe, pp. 46-47.
4. See A. Kaas and F. de Lazarovics: Bolshevism in Hungary, p. 62.
5. O. Jaszi: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Hungary, p. 29.
6. A. Kaas and F. de Lazarovics: work cited, pp. 86-87.
7. The prominence of the Jews in the communist movement of Central and Eastern Europe helps to account for the bitter anti-Semitism prevalent there among the reactionaries. No wonder the Viennese Hitler would stress the menace of the Jew.
8. O. Jaszi: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Hungary, p. 36.
9. O. Jaszi: work cited, p. 127.
10. M. W. Graham: New Governments of Central Europe, p. 236.
11. Later in 1923, Schwartz was to command the American communists under the name of John Pepper.
12. For a statement of the outrageous conduct of the Rumanian troops under French direction see Maj. Gen. H. H. Brandholdz: An Undiplomatic Diary.
13. O. Jaszi; work cited, p. 160.
14. At a later date Scheidemann was to bring a court action alleging libel against one who had declared he had fomented strikes and encouraged rebellion. He was to prove overwhelmingly that he headed the strike movements only to behead them.
15. H. G. Daniels: The Rise of the German Republic, p. 42.
16. Daniels, work cited, p. 53.
17. See R. H. Lutz: The German Revolution, 1918-1919, pp. 92-93.
18. Daniels, work cited, p. 57.
19. H. G. Daniels: work cited, pp. 78-79.
20. R. H. Lutz: work cited, p. 95.
21. R. H. Lutz: work cited, p. 128.
22. R. H. Lutz: work cited, p. 129.
23. H. G. Daniels: work cited, p. 145.
24. E. Luehr: The New German Republic, p. 219.