Clara Zetkin

The Situation in Germany


Source: The Communist International, Vol.2, No.13, 1920.
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for in August, 2002.

THE military-monarchist mutiny of Kapp-Luttwitz was an inevitable stage of development in the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie under the disguise of democracy and social-democracy; its object was to revive the capitalist regime and to prevent the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat and the realisation of the Soviet order. The National Assembly, the coalition government, as well as the deceptive laws of socialisation and the factory committees had prepared the ground for this mutiny, and the government of Noske collected and armed the requisite fighting detachments. The regime introduced by this government was really the bloody class terror of the bourgeoisie under the mask of democracy. The mutiny cast this mask aside and laid bare the class dictatorship of militarism. Kapp’s partisans are striving for the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, under which the junkers and the representatives of the larger industry might play the leading role, and which would be realised in the form of a monarchist power by means of the military apparatus. The partisans of Ebert desire a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie under which the leading and ruling role would be played by the representatives of other branches of industry, of commercial and financial capital, and which would take the form of a bourgeois democracy. The only reliable guarantee of victory over monarchist militarism would be the destruction of the very ground in which it is rooted and which feeds it, and for this purpose a further development of the proletarian revolution is absolutely necessary – the arming of the workers, the disarmament of the well-to-do classes, and consequently, a radical extermination of the newly reviving militarism, which has been so fondly cultivated by Noske. The government of the bourgeois and the Socialists of the majority were afraid to take this course. It was aware that by this means it would break the sword which defends and supports the class power of the capitalists, and at the same time it would help to arm the mortal enemy of this class power for a deadly blow ...

Occupying the standpoint of political collaboration between the exploited and the exploiters, and considering it its duty to protect the bourgeois order and bourgeois property, this government would be fated to merely a senseless and pusillanimous marking of time; It is understood, however, that only the proletariat alone is in a position to overthrow the military-monarchist clique and to defend successfully the so-called “achievements of the revolution” and the revolution itself. But for this government the “achievements of the revolution” consisted of ministers’ portfolios, government positions for its Party adherents and for its political clients. By means of a martial law, arrests, censorship, courtmartials, general conscription, corps of volunteers, etc:, it reduced these achievements to a lower level than that of the ordinary bourgeois-democratic liberty and, by closing series of railway-workshops, and introducing compulsory voluntary piece-work, and by organising of a ‘Technical Emergency Aid’ (Technische Nothilfe) and by the laws on Labour councils, and the shooting of strikers, it again enforced the almost tottering capitalistic front.

Not for the sake of the revolution, but exclusively for the prolongation of their own ministerial well-being did Ebert and Noske call the proletariat to a general strike which they but the day before had condemned as the basest of crimes against the German nation. The idea of arming the proletariat awoke a feeling of mortal terror in their hearts. They knew perfectly well that the armed proletariat, once roused to the defense of the revolution and the republic, would not stop at the attainment of its nearest object – rendering harmless of the Kapps and Luttwitzes; that its movement would inevitably pass into a struggle against capitalism and against the coalition government, existing only, thanks to the bourgeoisie, and defending the latter’s interests. And thus, on the first day of the crisis it became evident that the Government having nothing against being saved by the workers on strike, was totally averse to allowing the armed workers to become carried away by the struggle for Socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Its flight from Berlin under cover of the motto, “In a civil war not a single drop of blood should be shed”, had a symptomatic meaning. But its motto was sharply contradicted by the relentlessly harsh measures with which the Ebertists, in no wise stopped by the bloody civil war, mercilessly, put down by means of guns and machine guns all revolutionary attempts of the proletariat. This flight only served to prove the fact that the Government was willing to enter into an agreement with the mutinous imperialists and that all the bourgeois democrats, with the exception of a small group of no influence at all, were in their secret hearts passionately desirous of uniting with the restored militarist power for the oppression of the proletariat. It became evident also that the protection of the bourgeois property was much, more important for these gentlemen than the much lauded welfare of the bourgeois democracy, to the defense of which the coalition Party called them.

In this way the proletariat found itself compelled to enter into the fight against the militarist counter revolution without deceiving itself by any illusions in regard to the general situation or the intentions of its to enter into the fight against the militarist counter revolution without deceiving itself by any illusions in regard to the general situation of the intentions of its enemies, but inspired only by the clear consciousness of its historical mission and class interests, which demanded the further development of the revolution. The proletarian masses felt and understood that they ought to put down militarism in order to wrench this weapon out of the hands of the capitalist exploiters who were defending the class rule of the bourgeoisie that by means of the disarmament of the state militia, the provisional army of volunteers, the civil and citizen militia, in a word by means of a complete disarmament of the well-to-do classes and the arming of the workers, they would acquire a position strong enough to make it a base for the seizure of the political power. Without the arming of the workers no realisation of the Soviet order, no dictatorship of the proletariat could be possible. Such was the general conviction of all the representatives of the advance guard of the proletariat, and now the masses became convinced of this as well. And another fact became clear to the masses: neither the Government nor the bourgeois democracy could realise these demands for the disarmament of the bourgeoisie and the arming of the workers. This must be accomplished by the proletariat itself. Political Workers’ Councils and Fighting Committees arose which became the organisers and leaders of the new struggle.

In a grand impulse, and with heroic courage, the workers everywhere rushed to the fight. A general strike passed over the whole country. Even the technical personnel, the shop employees and the government officials were caught by the general wave. The railwaymen, the employees of the street-car traffic, the post and telegraph workers stopped work. Enormous agricultural strikes took place. It is true also that for some categories of the proletariat – and first of all for the employees and officials – the inducements to participate in the strike were mottoes of the majority Social Democrats and the Democrats, namely: for the Republic, for democracy, for the Constitution, against the restoration of the Monarchy. But it is also without doubt that the wider circles of the masses did not enter the strike in favour of the bourgeois order. Their motto was: “Down with Kapp and Hindenburg, and with Bauer and Ebert; down with both Luttwitz and Noske”. The masses understood clearly that it was not the bourgeois democracy, nor the harmonious political “collaboration” of the exploited and the exploiters; that should be the object of their struggle, but that this object, both in the present and in the future, must be the establishment of a proletariat class-dictatorship. They in nowise deceived themselves as to the fact that this aim cannot yet be the concrete object of the struggle at the given historical moment. At the present moment they had only to see about the enforcement and strengthening of the proletarian position for the conquest of the government.

The strike was carried on everywhere under the motto of the disarmament of the bourgeoisie and the arming of the workers. To this were added the demands for the immediate liberation of all condemned or detained revolutionists, for the immediate cessation of all pending lawsuits against the fighters for the revolution, for the cessation of martial law, the suppression of censorship; etc. Notwithstanding the diversity of the fighting mottoes, proclaimed by the various socialist parties and labour organisations, the proletarian masses formed one common battle-front; they were united not by resolutions written on paper, or formulas invented by the leaders, they were closely welded by the process of the revolutionary action brought about by the experience of the consciousness of their class position. This remarkable fact was slightly shadowed and concealed by the participation in the strike of followers of the Social Democratic Majority Party and the mottoes of the labour bureaucracy. The social patriot leaders consciously tried to mask and conceal the importance of the single front. But, notwithstanding all their efforts or in spite of them, the above fact exercised a great influence on the consciousness of the proletarian masses, who partly mentally, partly by intuition, comprehended all its significance.

During this crisis the importance of the line of the Main, as a social-political frontier, became evident. It was not accidental that the Ebert government fled to Stuttgart. The government found here a defense against the counterrevolution from the right and against the still threatening danger of a revolution from the left, not in a few thousands of militaristically inclined state militia, but in the public safety militia and a militia of citizens, consisting of students, sons of bourgeois, petty bourgeois, peasants fighting on their own account, defending democracy against the attempts of “Bolshevism”. It was perfectly clear that, as the Marxists had always affirmed, at the given stage of social development, the political democracy of South Germany is a result of economical backwardness, not political progress.

Notwithstanding the class consciousness and courage evinced by the Communist Party in Wurtemberg, which boldly raised the banner of proletarian revolt in South Germany the influence of the badly developed industry and class distinctions, and the absence of proletarian masses welded together by the consciousness of their numbers and their force, made itself felt in the course of the revolution, owing to the existence of wide stratifications, of petty-bourgeoisie and peasantry. It is even possible that during the coming revolutionary fights the province lying south of the line of the Main will play the role of a “Democratic Vendee”, in which will be revived, mutatis mutandis, the idea of “the Rhine League”, the whole force of the movement being directed against the revolutionary proletariat of the industrial north.

It was sufficient for the giant proletariat to declare a strike and the phantom of the mutinous Kapp-Luttwitz government dispersed like smoke. The decisive role was played not only by the universality of the strike, but the unexampled staunchness and solidarity with which the strike was carried out at Berlin. But, although Kapp and Luttwitz were soon driven away, there are Kapps and Luttwitzes still in Germany. It has not been possible to annihilate militarism completely, because the bourgeoisie, desirous of retaining its own power, cannot dispense with its services. It was not possible either to obtain the disarmament of the bourgeois counter revolution, or the arming of the workers, with the exception of such places where the proletariat had seized the arms, dispersed all the state militia, and disarmed the public guards, the civil and citizen militia and the provisional volunteers. It was thus in Central Germany, namely in Thuringen, some parts of Saxony, the Rhine-Westphalian Region, where numerous closely-welded masses of industrial workers are concentrated. They are numerous here, and conscious of their own power; and here the industrial proletariat taught by experience, is free of all illusions regarding bourgeois democracy end coalition-government. “The revolution” passed quietly here without bloodshed and even without “violence” in such places where (as in Chemnitz and the mining region) the proletariat was led by, the well-organised Communist Party, clearly cognisant of its aims and the paths leading towards them. In Thuringen, in Leipzig and in the Central Germany, in the brown coal region, the revolution after a stubborn defense on the part of the proletariat, ended in a regime of white terror. This was due to the open or scarcely concealed treachery of the Social-Democratic majority and the labour union bureaucracy, and not without fault were the leaders of the Independent Socialist Party, who with religious fanaticism remained faithful to the old mistakes of the Party: not having any clear tactics, they fluctuated all the time between refusal to fight and breaking out into attempts, they entered into negotiations at the very moment when it was necessary to act, and thus weakened the effect of the onslaught and paralyzed the energy of the fighters.

Nevertheless the crisis in general ended in the victory of the revolutionary workers. After the collapse of the government of Kapp-Luttwitz, that of Bauer-Noske fell, too. Undoubtedly this was not much of a success. The men who stood at the helm of the government, playing the part of puppets in the hands of the ruling bourgeoisie, were replaced by others, while the programme of the government and the whole system of the bourgeois class order remained the same. The state chancellor Muller is continuing the work of Bauer. For the protection and further glorification of the bourgeois and exploiters’ regime based on capitalistic property, he is continuing to oppress, deceive and shoot down the workers. Noske is not there but “Noskeism” still continues to exist, and triumphant white terror is flourishing. The fault of all this lies first of all in the criminal mode of action of the labour union bureaucracy, which with the social traitor Legien at its head, has managed by its speeches to deceive the workers to such an extent that they were satisfied with the verbal promises of the government to carry out the nine most modest demands put forward by the labour unions and even still more reduced in the course of the negotiation. These gentlemen beat the retreat demanding the ending of the strike, which had not had time to attain its fullest development.

This result was also the fault of the leaders of the Right Wing of the Independent Socialist Party, who had bound indissolubly the fate of the activity of the Party with the activity of the labour union bureaucracy and the Social-Democratic majority; and, moreover, the fault lay in the weakness of the revolutionary consciousness and lack of energy of the “Left” leaders of the Independent Socialists, who had not been able to withstand the Hilferdings and Crispiens. But, nevertheless, in the same way as falsehood is a covert acknowledgement of the superiority of virtue over vice, the change of government bears witness to the recognition of growing might of the proletariat, a concession to its force. In the depths of the capitalistic society a certain heave has taken place in the mutual relations between the class forces struggling against each other for the power, a heave which is showing its cracks and splits in the external political covering. The social order has not fallen to pieces yet, but the threatening premonitory cracks are to be heard.

The enforcement of the power of the bourgeois democracy and the formation of a new coalition government are but fleeting successes purchased at the price of a submission to militarism. The outbreak of the revolutionary proletariat has joined in a political union the bourgeois democracy and the militarist-monarchist conspirators. They have extended a brotherly hand to each other, frightened by the common danger of a proletarian dictatorship. The merging of all the counter revolutionary elements into one mass inimically inclined towards the working class is an open fact. This mass does not include only a certain insignificant minority of bourgeois democrats preaching the necessity of a struggle against the danger from the “Right” and insisting on the necessity of concessions and compromises in respect to the “Left” the organ of this group is the Frankfurter Zeitung; the same must be said of several circles of small peasants, employees and soon, who are manifesting an inclination to flirt with “nationalistic Bolshevism”. The motto of the democrats in general now is not the struggle against militarism but rather a joint struggle with militarists against “Bolshevism”. This course of development which led to a counter revolutionary, denouement must sooner or later end in the fall of the bourgeois democracy. It is undermining the latter’s bases, destroying the last illusions, annihilating the blind confidence on the part of the workers, rendering the class struggle more acute and directing it towards its historically inevitable end.

At the other pole of the social order a colossal consolidation of forces has also taken place. Since the time of the revolutionary fights in 1919 the process of the deepening of the revolutionary self-consciousness and solidarity of the proletariat has progressed enormously. The revolutionary will, fighting capacity, and readiness for self-sacrifice are growing in the working masses together with the revolutionary consciousness. The tactics and strategy of the masses have become firmer and more definite; their estimation of the mutual relations between the conflicting forces more accurate; their vision has become clearer in regard to the distinction between the constant object of the fight and its temporary aims; they are recognising more thoroughly the necessity of solidarity, simultaneousness in all actions and demonstrations. The experiences of the revolutionary period have taught the proletariat as a whole very much. The force of revolutionary tradition acquired in the fights of last year is showing itself now in practice. The revolutionary advance guard of the working class has gained considerably as to numbers, consciousness, and the force of its decisive influence on the wider masses. This may be explained not only by the great and profitable lessons given by events, but to a considerable degree also by the agitation and the whole activity of the Communist Party, which was spread not only over the members of the Party but on such proletarian masses as well, that had up to then been standing apart from the proletarian class struggle, as, for instance, the numerous adherents of the Independent Social Democratic Party and especially its Left Wing. Owing to the last fights the proletariat has acquired a greater consciousness of its own forces; it has come out of them with a clearer understanding how to find support for its forces only in self-armament, of the necessity of having its own revolutionary fighting organisations, the Workers’ Councils, in order to realise such arming. To preserve the Workers’ Councils which have arisen during the struggle and for the struggle, to breathe life into them, to make them capable of fighting by means of revolutionary demonstrations and not by means of dead formulas, is one of the most important tasks of the revolutionary advance guard. In accomplishing this task the advance guard must direct the forward-rushing revolutionary life of the present historical moment and even accelerate its pace still more. The struggle of the present period will in all probability acquire other forms during the forthcoming elections, which will not then be the traditional parliamentary elections in the generally accepted sense of the word, but they will be revolutionary elections.

It is possible, even, that the Reichstag will be elected only to be dissolved, dispersed ...

How far the course of events will modify the political situation in the Rhine-Westphalian province we cannot as yet foresee, because of the indefiniteness and inaccuracy of the information arriving from there. Up to now, evidently, the struggle between the bourgeois and the proletariat has been not only of a more obdurate and wider nature, but it differed also as to its inner purport. In this struggle the new coalition government existing, thanks to Legien and with the blessing of the labour unions, has manifested all its dishonesty and falsehood. It entered into agreements in Bielefeld and Munster only for the purpose of violating them. The object of these agreements was to postpone the struggle to gain time to the end of the Easter holidays in the hope that it would be impossible to bring the workers who had gone home for the holidays again together for the renewal of the struggle. At the same time the new coalition government demonstrated a readiness to serve the interests of the capitalists with a blind fury and shortsighted zeal. It provoked the demonstrations of the French at Frankfurt and Darmstadt, by sending its white guard into the neutral zone for the pacification of the workers.

How will the struggle end? This depends not on the degree of wisdom of the government which consists of social-patriots, representatives of the centre and the Democrats, nor on the intensity of the friction going on inside it. The result of the struggle does not depend upon the fierce character of the military reprisals, which the government will apply for the defense of the magnates of capital and the bourgeois order. It will depend exclusively on the class consciousness, readiness for self-sacrifice and revolutionary will which will be manifested by the proletariat of the whole of Germany in defending the cause for which their brothers in the Rhine-Westphalian province are fighting with such heroism and the courage of despair. They may conquer, they may acquire a very strong position in the struggle for political power if they will wish this, if they will act. Have the revolutionary consciousness and revolutionary will of the German proletariat attained such a height that it will venture immediately after the great fights just ended to try its forces in this new grandiose warfare? ...

This is the fatal question, the answer to which can be given only by the proletariat itself.


Last updated on 28.2.2004