Clara Zetkin

A May-Day Message from Germany

Source: The Call, April 29, 1920, p. 7 (1,661 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

For a second time the German working class has behind them on the eve of the 1st the May a revolutionary battle that seems lost, yet has led them some good steps forward, a revolutionary battle; from which they return beaten but not vanquished, not subdued.

Just as on the 1st of May last year, Noske’s White Guards entered Munich and smothered the Soviet Republic in the blood of thousands of workers: The bourgeoisie was under the delusion that, together with the Munich workers, the whole German proletariat had been crushed; that in massacring the Soviet Republic, prematurely erected in Munich, the future Soviet Republic of Germany, the proletarian revolution itself had been strangled. For the Munich battles between revolution and counter-revolution had been the climax of that struggle which had been waged from January, 1919, in a valiant and self-denying spirit by the revolutionary vanguard of the German working class. In strikes and armed revolts they had stood bravely against the restoration of capitalism and the bourgeois class dictatorship that was tried. under the cloak of democracy, with the assistance of the treacherous social patriots. Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Leo Jogiches, Eugen Levine, had been assassinated and murdered in these fights. About 15,000 workers, men, and women, have paid with their lives, having fought for freedom. Thousands and thousands of revolutionary fighters filled the prisons, workhouses, fortresses, and internment camps. Certainly, the revolution was dead and buried.

Yet, wonder of wonders! Barely a year has passed and that immortal being rises again, her weapons rattling; she returns more formidable than before. The Kapp affair was her signal to the working class, not her moving cause or power. The militarist coup d’etat that is to prepare the restoration of monarchy has this effect. It transforms into will and action the feeling and the understanding of the proletariat that their duty is to chase to the devil not only the one Lüttwitz, but all the Lüttwitzes, the militarists, even though they call themselves Noske. In other terms: that the workers’ historical duty is to exterminate the whole system of militarism, to smash with it the very sword of the bourgeois class domination, of exploiting capitalism, that is the main aim of the struggle. Disarmament of the bourgeoisie, armament of the working class, is the chief battle-cry, joined to it smaller political claims, such as immediate release of imprisoned revolutionists, etc. And that is a very important token to show how much revolution has advanced. The battle-cry is not only followed by the revolutionary vanguard, but also by very large proletarian masses who hitherto had been captivated by Scheidemann and Ebert, by bourgeois democrats and clericals.

The possessing classes and their servants soon forget their little domestic quarrel, whether militarism was to have the supreme command only to the benefit of the bourgeois order, or even over the bourgeois order itself. Democracy and militarism embraced each other and united for the common struggle against the Left, against Bolshevism, that means against the workers who long for liberty. Democracy gave to these poor devils futile and hollow negotiations and conceptions, whilst militarism lured into them the bullets and balls of its machine guns and minenwerfers. The revolutionary part of the workers had enough clearness of aim as to the way of historical revolution, to understand well the necessity and the object of the struggle, but they had not yet grown enough in number and unity to be able to win victory. Thanks to militarism, democracy remained triumphant over revolution. In those places where the workers had had been able to vanquish militarism by seizing arms, there rages now the white terror. After Thuringia, Leipzig„ Halle, etc the Rhine provinces and Westphalia are the victims of Noske’s guards. The “modest police action” to restore “order and peace,” to which the Government of Ebert and Muller were bound by oath, has proved to be the most ferocious, unscrupulous dictatorship of sabres, guns, shells, and martial law. The thousands of wounded, torn, slaughtered bodies of workers tell another tale; the heroic courage and self-denying devotion with which the exploited have fought, because they ventured to dream of freedom and the highest human development for their class.

And yet, in spite of the enormous bloody sacrifices, in spite of the apparent defeat, the German working class does not return from this battle in a humiliated and depressed spirit. They are embittered, exasperated, but not discouraged at all. They are quite aware that they are not yet powerful enough to subdue their mortal foe, but they are equally conscious that they have advanced on the way to its final defeat. The last struggles have shown how far the German proletariat has advanced in one year towards understanding the aim and the way of their endeavours for emancipation from the point of view of insight and unity. The most precious fruit of their struggles is a developed consciousness of the proletarian power, that means more confidence in their own forces and a consolidation of the still young tradition of revolutionary fighting. In the period, where the French proletariat as the revolutionary vanguard of the disinherited of all countries fought their glorious battles against the bourgeois order, there were years and decades between their proud uprisings. In 1830 took place the revolt of the Lyons weavers and the revolution of July; 1848 the revolution of February and the immortal battle of June; in 1871 the Paris Commune. In our days the German working class, after a most bloody defeat, within one year rose against their masters and tormentors a second time in revolutionary fight. In the school a hard experience and revolutionary struggle the processes of self-consciousness and the rallying a the German Proletariat goes on with gigantic steps.. This fact confirms once more the conception that we live in a revolutionary period of human history, and that now the tempo of development differs from that an era of peaceable evolution as the rapidity of a motor car differs from the snail’s pace of the old stage coach.

Thus in 1919 and 1920 revolutionary struggles in Germany underline strongly what in November 1917 the heroic, glorious revolution of the Russian proletariat has taught. The world-revolution is following the world-war as the last judgment on capitalism. World-revolution is marching. The revolution of workers and poor peasants in Russia has victoriously maintained its ground against a world of enemies. Allied to the counter-revolutionists within the country, the imperialists and capitalists of all states try at the frontiers to strangle Socialist Soviet Russia. Led by the Communist Party, the workers are not vanquished by military Power, they stand firmly, against hunger and the economic disorganisation, the terrible legacies of Tsarism and capitalism, and the fearful crime of the counter-revolution; they fight to protect and maintain revolution, they work to build up a new social world, a better, happier social world. An example of historical greatness such as mankind has never seen before. Germany is shaken by revolutionary convulsions. It would be futile to prophesy the date of the next great uprising of the German workers. For the moment it is sufficient to know that in the near future the Germany of capitalism must succumb inevitably to the storming of the labouring and exploited masses. For the other possibility is impossible, unthinkable, namely, that the masses themselves abandon the revolutionary struggle and become willing to succumb to the barbarism of increased capitalist exploitation and servitude.

Over Italy roar the thunders of the coming storm; in France there is sheet-lightning; storms rage through the proud empire of Great Britain. In England and Scotland growing masses of workers unite round the Socialist, the Communist, flag. Ireland, Egypt, and India are in revolt. The wage slaves in the United States muster for the class struggle; their strikes become greater and greater in extent, more important, and take on a revolutionary character. The international situation, in consequence of the diplomatic squabbling among the Allied powers for the booty of the world-war, becomes more and more complicated, rich in conflicts, pregnant with future wars. Here, too, the economic basis of capitalist order, class antagonisms and class struggles, grow in intensity and bitterness. From beneath the volcanic depths of society rises Socialism, Communism.

Amidst the storms and flames of this historical development the 1st of May has gained a new and higher significance and importance. It was a symbol which the Second International had left us. It must become an action of the Third International. A May demonstration, in the form of a one day’s strike, was the only attempt made by the Second International to unite the workers of all countries in common action. The aim of this demonstration was to obtain reforms in the capitalist order, reforms meant to increase the fighting force of the workers in their struggle against capitalism. The Second International abandoned the policy of common international action, thus solemnly resolved upon, and contented itself with propaganda alone. In consequence the Second International had to renounce the reforms themselves, Now the battle between workers and bourgeois is no longer one for reforms in the capitalist order, its aim is to overthrow, to subdue this order. Capitalism or Socialism and Communism is the battle-cry. No resolutions on paper must be the aim, but the living, powerful action of the working masses. The 1st of May must show that in all countries the proletariat, conscious of its international solidarity, is firmly decided to apply its entire power and energy to immediate aims, viz., conquest of political power, dictatorship of the working class and Soviet Republics in order to overcome capitalism and prepare the way for Communism. No humble bowing before capitalism on the 1st May! Hands free, hearts high and proud! Forward, rally to the red banner of the Third International!

From Germany in revolution Communists send on the 1st of May this brotherly message.


Last updated on 22.7.2007