Source: The Communist International, No. 3 (New Series), pp. 75-94, (7,382 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.
I had greatly wished to come to our Party Congress and to take part in its work. Unfortunately the state of my health prevents me from satisfying my wish. I am greatly pained at this, for I realise the enormous national and international significance of the present Congress. Will you permit me, therefore, to express to you my views in writing.
We are all agreed that our Congress will be of service for the immediate future only if it investigates and throws light on the “October events.” If it is to fulfil this task then it must destroy the legend which has become as rigid as a dogma, and in which many believe, namely, that the “October retreat” was not in the least inevitable, and was not caused by concrete circumstances. According to this theory the fight for the capture of power can be taken up at any time under all circumstances, and in this instance it was hindered by bad leadership, embodied in Comrade Brandler’s fostering of the policy of the United Front. This not only led to great mistakes, but is in itself a great mistake which, if not forestalled, will lead to the liquidation, not only of the German Communist Party, but of the Communist International itself. The German “October events” have made this perfectly clear.
Comrades, without the least fear of contradiction, I declare that this theory is more than false; it is dangerous. It beclouds the view of the great and absorbing problems that confront us, and also the weaknesses and the defects of the Party which were revealed in the “October retreat.”
The critical investigation of the “October events” implies something more than the estimation of the tactics of the united front. It is the question of the organisation, the preparation and the carrying out of the armed revolt. In this, the tactics of the united front are important details, but it is not the most important and decisive point. By its attitude the Communist Party of Germany failed to carry out the task that confronted it. The October retreat was not a result of the united front tactics, but more decidedly the result of the political incapacity, the organisational weaknesses, the course of the history, the state of development, and the inexperience of the Party in leading the revolutionary struggle. Above and below, right and left, all in the Party share in the mistakes and weaknesses that were revealed.
Since May, as a consequence of the occupation of the Ruhr, the revolutionary situation became increasingly acute, and we witnessed the growing consciousness of increasing numbers of exploited proletarians and expropriated petty and middle bourgeois. Wage movements, strikes, unemployment, hunger demonstrations, the plundering of shops and fields, all indicated the revolutionary temper of the masses, in the same way as the small and large geysers in volcanic regions indicate the raging fires burning beneath the surface. The revolutionary mass mood as yet had no political content, no political aim. It remained elementary, instinctive and was not clear revolutionary consciousness, convinced will or bold readiness to fight. The task of the Communist Party was to give it what it lacked.
The Party lacked ability to take advantage of the situation. It was incapable of conducting a policy which would place it in the position of leader in a planned campaign in close contact with the rebel masses, its consciousness and its will, for the capture of power. It did not understand how to convert every cry of pain wrung from the exploited masses into the cry “Carthago delenda est”—the class domination of the bourgeoisie must be overthrown by the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was dominated by the conviction that the “final struggle” must set in with an immediate violent and decisive battle. For it the beginning was, what is really the culminating point in a chain of partial struggles; and for this brilliant beginning it desired to reserve all its revolutionary mass force. It did not behave as a bold, political leader, sure of its aim and direction. It delayed in forming and bringing under its leadership powerful, organised centres outside of its own ranks for revolutionary mass action. Instead of extending and concentrating the factory committee movement, and giving it a definite political aim in the struggle, it allowed the movement to fizzle out. In other words, the situation demanded that the factory councils be given the functions of political workers’ councils, i.e., to set up revolutionary Workers’ and Peasants’ Councils. In a phrase, the attitude of the Party during this period of rising revolutionary temper of the masses, was anything but politics.
For the Party the lesson of Clausewitz that- “War is the continuation of politics conducted by other means,” was completely lost. This lesson applies with even greater force in civil war than in ordinary war. In civil war mass action, mass struggle, revolutionary will and determination, inspiration and self-sacrifice must frequently take the place of military technique. The Party, however, as a result of its policy, failed to prepare the masses for an armed uprising. The hundreds were no substitute for this. This organ of the united front in the main remained but a military parade of the revolutionary temper of the masses. The Party did nothing to link up the hundreds with the mass struggle of the proletariat. It remained up to its ears in the superstition that eager and strenuous military preparation at the last moment of the revolution will guarantee to the proletariat victory in the struggle and the possibility of attaining power.
Comrades, the greatest mistake committed by the Party was that it did not make use of the valuable revolutionary mood of the masses. The anti-Cuno strike clearly shows this, and also that the Party had not yet become the leading class party of the proletariat. Cuno fell without the pressure from the masses, without the establishment of a Workers’ Government; of course, the dictatorship of the proletariat was not to be thought of. The masses swallowed the Stressemann-Hilferding-Sollman Cabinet. The Hilferding finance tricks even brought about an easing of the situation. Unhindered by any powerful protests, the Social-Democratic Reichstag poodle brought the two Emergency Laws to the business managers of the bourgeoisie. The Social-Democrat Ebert sends his General Mueller with his Reichswehr to Saxony, and his transport facilities were not in the least interfered with. This is evidence of another act of omission of our Party in not having conducted any work among the railwaymen for mobilising a political force for the armed uprising and in not having organised an auxiliary post among them.
In spite of all, the Party imagined that under its leadership the majority of the proletariat would rise up to the revolutionary struggle. The Party majority imagined that by a clever utilisation of the antagonisms and tendencies towards a split among the social-democracy, at least to win over the “left-wing” Social-Democratic workers and non-party workers who sympathised with them, for the “final battle.” Our Communist “left,” looking at the thing with eyes of hatred for the united front, saw the position much more clearly and correctly. As against this, however, they were deceived by the illusions of the March action, namely, the Party can, without the masses, successfully enter into defensive and offensive conflicts. They believed that their bold uprising for the proletarian dictatorship must, like Merlin’s magic horn, serve as the irresistible signal for the revolutionary revolt of the masses. In the sacred belief that the great historical hour had come, the Party put forward feverish organising and military efforts. It is natural that in this it should commit a number of serious errors, but far more serious than all this, was the fact that the Party had forgotten the fundamentals of the revolutionary fight for power, namely, an extensive political activity to imbue the widest possible masses of the workers with the urgency of such a struggle and to rally them round the banner of Communism. As the battle became imminent, the Party found itself alone, isolated from the masses.
In view of the fascist plan to surround Berlin from the North and South, it would appear that the geographical position and social structure of Saxony and Thuringia would make it possible for the revolutionary proletariat in those places successfully to break up the resistance of the counter revolution. But a “red Middle Germany” as the cornerstone of a “Revolutionary Germany,”—the political significance of Berlin as the centre of the bourgeois machinery of government, and the economic significance of the large towns along the water routes, in the industrial centres in Silesia and South Germany, including North Bavaria and particularly the Rhine-Ruhr district, was very much overlooked. It was a mistake on the part of the Party to stake so much on Saxony and Thuringia. The cause of this was undoubtedly the exaggerated estimation of the extent and firmness of the proletarian united front, and connected with this was the other mistake—the so-called “Saxon Experiment,” for which the Executive Committee of the Communist International is, partly to blame.
Under the circumstances then prevailing, this experiment should not have been made. It was the result of an arrangement between the Party leaders of two tendencies, and not the culminating point of a unified revolutionary mass movement. It regarded as accomplished what had yet to be accomplished—to bring about unification of the revolutionary mass will and readiness for battle under the leadership of the Communist Party. As the situation was in Saxony, this “road to power” clearly must have been the wrong one. It was clear beforehand that the whole of the bourgeoisie would regard the entry of the Communists into the government of Saxony as an act of provocation. It would not be merely the question of constitution for Saxony, but a real question of power for the whole of Germany, as a question affecting its own class domination. Its obedient Stattholter Ebert knew only one reply to this provocation, viz.: the Reichswehr. The German proletariat was very far from regarding the “Saxon Experiment” as its own class affair. Even the class consciousness of the masses of the workers in Saxony was not sufficiently developed for this.
Our Party did far too little, almost nothing, to link up in the minds of the proletarian masses of Germany the political significance of the “Saxon Experiment” with the armed rising. Its best forces were passionately absorbed in technical preparations. The Party had ceased to stand openly before the masses as its political leader, and to conduct a Communistic Reichs policy. It saw nothing else but the Saxon experiment, and that only locally, and did not regard it as a policy for mobilising the masses. Thus, the Saxon experiment remained nothing but a parliamentary entr’acte, and ended with the Communist minister being thrown out of the government by the Reichswehr over the torn-up constitution, to the accompaniment of fascist parade music. It was not a victorious stage in the capture of power by the advancing proletariat.
We see, therefore, comrades, that the collapse of the “Saxon Experiment” was not the logical outcome of the tactics of the united front, but was caused by the circumstances indicated. Who among us will deny that mistakes, and very serious mistakes, have been committed? I have dealt separately with the attitude of the Communist minister towards the Socialist arrangement with the House of Wettin. And yet our comrades in the Saxon government were neither idiots full up with illusions nor cowardly traitors to the class struggle, as they have been described by the growing Communist “left.” To my mind, they did right in taking advantage of the bargaining for an important post to secure a weapon by staging melodramatic discussions with the Zeigner people about the arming of the proletariat. It is true they emphasised the “constitutional” character of the government. By this they helped the masses to see the true value of democracy and to understand the paper character of the constitution, helped them to free themselves from democratic superstitions, and to find the way out of the Social-Democratic sheepfold into the camp of the revolutionary Communist fighter. The error committed by our comrades, in my opinion, is that in their activity in the government they did not lay sufficient emphasis upon the socio-economic aspect. It was, precisely from this aspect, that the Communist proletarian character of the “experiment” was not a fanfare heralding the opening of the battle for the conquest of power necessarily converted into a Chamade. Comrades, there is certainly not one among you who did not regard the “October retreat” with the most profound inward bitterness. Too grey and cold did this event fall upon us in the spring-time of our hopes for a victorious revolutionary struggle for the proletarian vanguard of Germany. But instead of the hope for decisive advance we had a retreat without fighting, a retreat without rearguard action. So greatly had the Party erred in its estimation of its influence on the non-Communist masses, and consequently in the relation of the forces between the revolution and the counterrevolution, that it did not forsee the retreat, and made no preparations for any covering action. Let us, however, investigate the event with sober judgment and not in the heat of passion. We must then admit that this retreat was an absolute necessity, and its carrying out was the deliberate policy of the Party. In its attempt to capture political power, the Communist Party stood in “splendid isolation,” not understood, not supported, and abandoned by the broad masses of the workers. Its entry into the fight for power was not the signal for the armed mass uprising, but merely for a few isolated local military conflicts between the Communist units and the Reichswehr. How did it end? By the break-up of the Party, squad after squad, and the suppression of the revolutionary proletariat in Saxony and Thuringia.
In the face of the unrealised dream of the Party of the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship, there is really more courage shown in the “October retreat” than in the all or nothing theory of the Party itself taking up the struggle. Comrade Brandler revealed this greater courage, and has rendered a service to our Party and to the German proletariat. It was a piece of pardonable frivolity and stupidity to believe that the Communist Party isolated from masses, could, by mere example in plunging into the battle, rouse the revolutionary will to struggle among the greater part of the proletariat.
While the Party was preparing for the armed revolt, and while the Reichswehr in Saxony, and later on in Thuringia, were, with Hunnish rage, destroying with proletarian bodies, the clay idol of democracy, there was not a single spontaneous proletarian uprising, not even a weak demonstration of solidarity. The toleration of the military dictatorship of Seekt and the triumphant advance of fascism showed that workers were no longer willing to fight for bourgeois democracy, but it also showed that they were not prepared to rise in arms to establish the proletarian dictatorship. The three hundred Spartans could not have been more or self-sacrificing than the handful of Communists sympathisers in Hamburg. Ten thousand workers were on strike there. Many thousands during the days of fighting were imbued with the spirit of fighting and sympathy, so we are assured, but they kept their hands in their trousers pockets. In Berlin “the factories were ablaze with enthusiasm” for the Hamburg fight, but not a single factory came out into the streets to demonstrate its sympathy. Neither is there any justification for the whinings that the “October retreat” is responsible for the “right moment” for the armed rising—and this indefinitely postponed the revolution. The victory of revolution does not depend on some favourable “right” moment, and certainly not on one single moment. In July, 1917, the Bolsheviks and Petersburg workers suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of “pure democracy.” In November, the proletarian revolution triumphed.
Comrades, I do not think that I need waste many words about the blame which attaches to the Social-Democrats of the right, as well as of the left, for our “October retreat,” which was a defeat of the German proletariat. We are all agreed on this point, just as we are agreed that this is only a part of the enormous historic blame which attaches to this Party. We are also agreed on the political and practical deductions which we can draw from this fact. To-day many Social-democratic leaders do not even belong to the left wing of bourgeois democracy. Their stand is much more to the right than the stand of many honest and steadfast bourgeois Democrats. The “left” rebels of the Social-Democratic would-be leaders perpetuate the role of the former U.S.P. (Independent Socialist Party) leaders. Their accompaniment of the bourgeois policy of the right wing is the old Social-Democratic music of empty phrases. For the time being they are again the obedient servants of the Party Managing Committee, and of the Reichstag’s majority, because the disagreeable pressure of the workers’ hob-nailed boots on the portion of their anatomy which is not mentioned in polite society has somewhat relaxed. As a result of the “October events” a section of the left Social-Democratic workers certainly finds itself in our ranks. Another section has once more allowed itself to be lulled into inaction by the dulcet tones of the leaders. The “October retreat” has certainly convinced even the most optimistic Communists that the necessary pre-requisite for the overthrow of bourgeois class domination and for the establishment of proletarian dictatorship is: the overthrow of social democracy, of the crafty, political defence force of the bourgeoisie within the working class itself.
Comrades, the German Communist Party would not be worthy of its name if it were to rest content with this one obvious lesson of the “October retreat,” which by-the-by is not by any means a new wisdom, but only the confirmation of an old truth. The depression, nay the despair, which took possession of the Party gave rise to the belief that there was only one way out of the defeat: an ordered retreat with a minimum of casualties, energetic preparations for renewed struggle. The inevitable pre-requisite for this was calm and collected objective examination of the situation and open, ruthless and relentless criticism of the shortcomings and weaknesses of the Party, which made the retreat inevitable.
This aim could not be achieved merely by the conferences of the Central Committee held in the beginning of November, and by the theses which it adopted. They had to serve the need of the moment; an ordered and not too protracted retreat and the keeping together and preparation of the Party for a new advance. With the enemy at its heels, the Session could not indulge in a searching criticism of the Party, especially as the latter itself, neither the leaders nor the rank and file, could not explain the causes and consequences. It was only just beginning to see the situation clearly. The “left opposition” alone was fortunate enough have a clear view of these events. With rigid dogmatism it was ready with its explanation for the shortcomings of the Party: united front tactics. Thus the theses had to be limited only to what was most necessary. They marked the field of the coming struggles, indicated the ferment and clash of interests in the camp of the bourgeoisie, which we must put to the best possible use, and declared themselves for the united front from below, in strong opposition to the left, as well as to the right Social-Democrats. Not too much significance must be attached to the very contentious phrase about “the victory of fascism over the November Republic.” Neither should an “opportunist tendency” be ascribed to it. It is certainly not quite to the point, for there are various forms of fascism. But in the situation then prevailing it had a political meaning. It could be used in our agitation to dispel the petty-bourgeois illusions about fascism.
The theses of the Central Committee helped the Party, to realise the meaning of the “October retreat.” The various theses in the special issue of the International and the numerous heated discussions in the Party organisations brought it home to the Party still more forcibly. The endeavour to realise that the lessons of the past should serve as an indication of what should be in the future was diverted by the “left” into the domain of fractional strife. Fraction strife has obscured the issue. The Party has not yet go over the process of coming to a clear and definite conclusion about the “October events.” I am of the opinion that even the theses of the Executive of our International are not sufficiently definite on this question. Comrades, one of the main tasks of the Party Conference and, therefore, one of your main tasks will be—to give, regardless of any tendencies, a clear and well defined exposition of the most important features the situation which led to the October retreat, and of the lessons to be drawn from it. The conclusion of the Party discussion on this matter should release all the forces of the Party for the great historic tasks which are before it. In connection with this, you must not forget for a single moment that the question of the “October events” is not only the concern of German Communists, but also of all Communists adhering to the Communist International. The present situation in Germany shows clearly what kind of work and activities will make the Party strong and active. At present the bourgeois economic system and the bourgeois State are disintegrating, in spite of sporadic attempts to steady the finances of the Reich and to consolidate the capitalist social order. I believe that even foreign credits on a large scale will be unable to bring about a thorough and permanent improvement of conditions in Germany. It seems to me that things will be just kept going by means of a still great exploitation and enslavement of the proletariat and by the complete expropriation of ever-growing sections of the small and middle bourgeoisie, as well of the small and middle peasantry. Objectively, the situation in Germany is as revolutionary as before.
But we must admit that on this disintegrating and shaky basis the German bourgeoisie has succeeded in consolidating its economic and political power. The proletariat has been compelled to retreat beyond the positions it had captured during the last decades. Of course, this is largely due to the treacherous attitude of the Social-Democrats and trade union bureaucrats. The further development, and especially the tempo, of the revolution greatly depends on our success or non-success in overcoming the discrepancy between the objective forces of the history of mankind, which drive towards revolution, and the weak will to revolution of the German proletariat. Will the proletariat submit to increased exploitation and oppression without putting up a fight which must culminate in an armed rising and in the establishment of proletarian dictatorship? This is the fateful question that confronts us more than ever before. We have learned by bitter experience that a proletariat of over twenty millions, whose self-confidence and revolutionary spirit and determination have been weakened by fifty years of reformist theory and practice and whose traditions are proverbially “peaceful,” cannot be easily moved to take up a revolutionary attitude.
It is true that the starvation policy of the great industrial magnates of the Junkers has awakened the proletarian masses and even the petty-bourgeoisie and small peasantry from their fatal apathy. In the long rum, distress and misery speak more eloquently than the batons and Brownings of the special police and the rifles of the Reichswehr. All over the country and throughout the entire economic system exploited workers by hand and brain are rebelling by a series of small and big strikes against capitalist domination, against longer working hours, reduction of wages, etc. The heroic struggles of the Rhenish metal workers for the 8-hour day, the mighty fight put up by the workers in the chemical industry, the dockers, etc., are promising signs of the times. But these partial struggles are pre-eminently of an economic nature and must not blind us to other facts. The overwhelming majority of, the German proletariat is either still under the spell of old and deep-rooted illusions and also of new ones (the Labour Government in Great Britain, stabilisation of the mark, etc.), or maintains an attitude of passive hatred of revolution. Moreover, disillusioned by the persistent and shameful treachery of the Social-Democrats, intimidated by the Communist defeat, many an active proletarian has gone over to fascism—the hope of the petty-bourgeoisie.
Comrades, to be able to bring large masses of workers into the decisive revolutionary struggles, the Communist Party must awaken and strengthen the confidence of the masses in their own power, for reformism has systematically lulled to sleep and paralysed the self-confidence of the proletariat. At the same time it must gain and strengthen their confidence in the Communist Party. The Party must win recognition and acknowledgment as the only rightful leader of the exploited and enslaved, as the only true and determined representative of working class interests. One cannot separate proletarian self-confidence from proletarian confidence in the Communist, Party. It goes without saying that both have been seriously impaired by the “October retreat.” The precious possession which was lost must not only be regained, but added to. Words will not do it, deeds are required.
With this object in view, our Party must identify itself most intimately with the partial struggles of the working class. It must extend and co-ordinate these struggles and must make them more profound. It must give them political meaning and leadership, and it must practice the art of manoeuvring so as to be able to break off any partial struggle before it is defeated. The every-day demands and struggle must at the same time serve as revolutionary training for the masses. The Party must instil our great revolutionary slogans in the masses, so as to spread them rapidly throughout the country and make them in the very near future the object of the proletarian struggle. The Communist Party must teach the wage slaves of the bourgeoisie, who are being shaken out of their apathy, that these partial struggles will lead them to something greater which will have tangible results. We must instil into the workers the knowledge that capitalism is their arch enemy, the need for class solidarity and the proud knowledge that they can fight—for this is an indispensable pre-requisite of future victories. We must not forget that defeats will teach the workers, that we would have been victorious to-day if the Social-Democratic and trade union leaders had not shamefully left us in the lurch and had not delivered us to our capitalist masters and tormentors. This is the great political advantage of partial struggles, which lead to the establishment of the united front “from below.” The object lesson, most likely to restore self- confidence in the ranks of the timorous German workers and to educate them in a revolutionary spirit—is the Russian revolution, which was the work of the masses under the leadership of a revolutionary proletarian class Party. The matchless revolutionary virtues of these masses and of the Party are a proof of the strength of a united proletariat, and are an incentive for the workers of Germany to go and do likewise.
Comrades, it is, of course, only natural, as well as advantageous for our Party to show in the occasional partial struggles its solidarity with those whom dire misery drives into revolt against the economic and political domination of the bourgeoisie. But this is not enough. Our Party must (to use bourgeois jargon) “incite” the masses to a class-conscious initiation and systematic conduct of partial struggles. It must qualify for its mission—representation of the interests of the oppressed and exploited—by a programme of action which must show an intimate knowledge of the needs and grievances of those it represents, and a capacity to find right ways and means for their mitigation. This programme must not be confined to specifically proletarian demands. It must concern itself with the grievances of all sections of society whose interests clash with the interests and class domination of big capital.
It must draw practical conclusions from a thorough and comprehensive investigation of the so-called middle class question (including the question of the civil servants and intellectuals, as well as the agrarian question). These conclusions are of twofold significance, for during the revolutionary struggle, we must convert these now hostile sections of society into allies or at least into benevolent neutrals, who after victory, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, will prove to be willing helpers in the work of reconstruction instead of disgruntled sabotagers. All economic and social demands of the much needed programme of action must be directed towards the economic and social expropriation of the bourgeoisie, and all political demands towards depriving it of its present political power. We must state clearly and emphatically that the innovations which we demand are not reforms intended to prop up the bourgeois social order, but rather means to maintain and increase the fitness of the workers for the overthrow of the present social order.
Our Conference has before it the great and important task of drawing up a programme which will lay down definite and uniform lines for the policy and action of the Party. This means that it must give a logical and firm lead to the masses in the struggle for their daily bread, against the enslavement of the proletariat, for adequate wages, the right to strike for government officials, for the right to work and to cultural development for the intellectuals, as well as in the historic struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Our programme of action must not remain a mere paper programme. Its demands must become objects to fight for. This simply means that the Party must acquire the strength and the ability to lead the masses. Comrades, in all sincerity, how does it stand with the Party in this respect? The reply to this is promising. The “October retreat” has strengthened the radical spirit among the Party masses: this partly due to the fact that the non-Communist masses have become more radical. But this by itself is not enough, this new radical temper must be imbued with the spirit of Communism. This decisive factor, however, has not yet gained prominence within the Party.
There is no doubt whatever that the Party masses desire greater Party activity, that more prominence be given to the Communist character and features of the Party. This spirit among the Party masses must be encouraged and supported. But it is precisely this task which must make us alive to the condition of the Party at the top, as well as at the bottom. The radicalised Party masses are to a great extent under the sway of revolutionary feelings and moods. They are deficient in training and they lack clarity of ideas and firmness. The “left” Party majority includes, in a truly brotherly fashion K.A.P.’ists (Communist Workers’ Party), syndicalists, anti-parliamentarians and -horrible dictum—even reformists, and latterly fascist anti-semites. Hitherto the spokesmen of the “left” were not in reality political leaders. It is true that they voiced the moods and ideas of their followers, but they were unable to rally them and to lead them forward under a well-defined, logical and comprehensive slogan. They allow themselves to be pushed along instead of leading themselves. There is nothing to show that they would act differently as Party leaders. There are, of course, splendid proletarian elements among the “left” upper strata who understand the situation and will learn to lead. But just as wearing a cowl does not make one a monk, taking office does not give one at once the necessary moral training, clarity, firmness and practical experience.
Of course; being a composite mixture, the managing body which is an outcome of the “radicalisation” of the Party, comprises also the “left centre” of the old Central Committee. It was to regulate and train the raw revolutionary eagerness in the upper and lower strata of the Party by Communist steadfastness. There is a fatal obstacle in the way of the, fulfilment of this task. This obstacle is the weakness of the most prominent men of the “left centre,” and their lack of firm principle. If the “left” leaders allow themselves to be pushed along by the “left” masses, these “left centrists” allow themselves to be driven by the “left” leaders and masses. Their political leadership amounts to nothing more than meek and contrite self-accusations of not having gone far enough to the “left” and “submission to any punishment” for having allowed the wicked fellow Brandler to convert their “leftism” into “rightism.” “Unwittingly, they deride themselves.”
And what is the result? Comrades, the thought of it alone is maddening. Since the “October events” all the strength of the Party is being wasted in factional quarrelling, instead of being used and increased in the struggle with the arch enemies of the proletariat. Never before, not even after the crashing defeat of the March action, has such a chaos reigned in the Party, and never before has the Party been so passive. The demonstrations against the prohibition of our Party were miserable affairs. There was no determined struggle on a large scale against Seeckt’s dictatorship, and no big campaign for the defence of the eight Our day, for higher wages and salaries, for the preservation of the right to strike and for the right to have factory councils. The Lenin memorial meetings were a complete fiasco. The breakdown of the Party allowed the Social, Democratic leaders to parade as the sturdy defenders of the Proletariat against humiliating conditions, for which they are, in fact, responsible. The illegal position of the Communist Party is not an excuse for its passivity. On the contrary, it is one more reason for blaming it. Instead of action there was the artificially fomented campaign against “Brandler and Co.” an epidemic of expulsions against “suspects” and a hunt or “right tendencies”. No matter how hard it is to have to struggle against opportunist tendencies within the Party, we must admit that what is going on now under the pretence of such a struggle is unhealthy and demoralising.
Comrades, allow me to express my sincere personal opinion on this matter. My respect for you, my solidarity with you and my Party duty make it incumbent on me to be quite frank with you. It makes me only smile when, following the latest fashion, I am labelled “opportunist,” or what is still more fashionable, “Social-Democrat.” I know that my life’s work and not the verdict of fractional narrow-mindedness is the test of my political character. I do not know for what sins of commission or omission I am to be associated with Brandler. I confess that I have committed the offence of not considering every “left” leader a paragon of theoretical knowledge and clarity, and of not looking upon every member of the “left centre” as a model of heroic manhood. And I make this confession, if not before the throne of royalty, yet before the thunder and lightning of the Communist Olympians—Maslov, Scholem and Ruth Fischer. I deem it my duty to make this statement in spite of the fever against all tendencies, which is at present raging within the Party. I would not appreciate it at all if I were to be amnestied because of my long service in the workers’ movement by a party, in the leading organs of which there is no room for men like Brandler, Thalheimer, Walcher and Pieck, who founded the Party under very difficult circumstances under the fire of the enemy, who were always faithful and trustworthy fighters for Communism and for revolution, which is the path to Communism, and who, from the very beginning carried the hammer and sickle, the banner of the Communist International before the German proletariat. I, together with them, will remain in the ranks of our Party as a “soldier of the revolution” who honours national and international discipline and who struggles and works with the Party and with the Communist International for a speedy victory of the social revolution.
It behoves us more than ever before to be inseparably united with the Party and with the Communist International. Through an open and honest exchange of opinions, which eliminates all disintegrating fractional strife, we shall all of us do our utmost to help the Party to get over its “infantile sickness.” If these sicknesses were allowed to develop unhindered, the Party would be reduced to the status of a sect. I have already spoken of one of these “infantile sicknesses.” Unfortunately, it is not the only one of its kind. In the historical development which the “left” leaders anticipate for Germany we can clearly see their hereditary failing: that rigid and dogmatic attitude which made them see the imminence of revolution before the “October events,” and which makes them now assume that revolution is further away than ever. Comrade Maslov prophesies a period of stagnation of ten to fifteen years. But, does not the capitalist economic system and the bourgeois State contain strong revolutionary explosive forces, as well as stagnation, and are there not many opportunities for these explosive forces in the revolutionary will of the masses? I will admit that the situation is such that we shall have to wait some time before the revolution will be able to say: “I am! In spite of all!” The foundations of the capitalist world are so thoroughly shaken that revolution can come upon us unexpectedly “like a thief in the night.”
This situation demands the utmost elasticity of tactics. The German Communist Party must be prepared for steady advance, as well as for stubborn holding out and cautious manoeuvring. The main feature of its tactics must be a combination of daring and caution. But whether our tactics be adapted to an early or late advent of the revolution, the success of our caution and daring depends on the development of the Communist Party into a mass party, into a leading revolutionary class party of the proletariat. As the conquest of power by the proletariat and the establishment of its dictatorship are still our historic aims, the winning over of the majority of the working class for proletarian dictatorship and proletarian revolution must be our main concern.
This is impossible without the united front tactics of the Party and without the Party’s participation in the partial struggles of the majority of the working class for partial demands and transition slogans. While Comrade Maslov foresees a long period of stagnation, influential “left” leaders protest, not without justification, against mistakes made in the application of united front tactics, against a misleading estimation of partial demands and transition slogans. But they demand “on principle” that there shall be an end to united front tactics, partial demands and transition slogans. Do they in all earnest believe that the slogans of “civil war” and “dictatorship of the proletariat” are sufficient to rally the masses and to lead them into the revolutionary struggle? I am sufficiently “un-Marxian” and “un-Bolshevik” to think that this is impossible.
Comrades, not less contradictory and vague is the attitude of the “left” leaders towards the questions of trade unionism and organisation. Especially in connection with the trade union question, it is clear that these leaders allow themselves to be guided by the vague moods of the masses, instead of guiding these masses on to the right path. The trade union question can become a life and death question for our Party. It is a political and not an organisational question. It is in the interests of the Party that the trade unions remain accessible to it as a recruiting and rallying ground of non-Communist workers for revolutionary struggles under Communist leadership. But “left” leaders talk, write and act as if the time had come for the slogan “get out of the trade unions”! And this, in a period of utmost economic depression and organisational slackness, when material and financial obstacles are in the way of organisational work and when there are political reasons for making a systematic use of trade unions which have steered clear of splits. I have only to remind you of the necessity to develop the factory councils movement, and of the Party’s attitude towards the organisation of factory nuclei.
Comrades, I draw your attention to the fact that the “left” leaders go to the masses with the war cry “Down with united front tactics, with partial demands and with the transitional slogans—organise factory nuclei! Get out of the trade unions!”—all of which is contrary to the attitude of the Communist International and tends to a breach of the latter’s discipline. Is not this a recantation of the decisions of the Executive of our World Organisation, of decisions which they helped to make and with which they agreed? And this while they swear allegiance to the policy of Lenin which demands the development of the Communist Parties into mass parties and the winning over of the majority of the working class through united front tactics, which this policy considered to be one of the strongest weapons in the struggle for the conquest of power; this, while they cannot find enough praises for the Bolshevik party, one of the main features of which is strict and binding discipline. With such facts before us, who could deny the magnitude of the coming peril? To meet this peril, in all consciousness and with all our might, is a duty which we owe to the Party and to the Communist International.
Owing to the length of my letter, I must abstain from dealing, even imperfectly, with the discussions in the Russian Communist Party, although the hotspurs of left Communism, like the dulcet flautists of the “left centre,” endeavour to take shelter behind them. There is no doubt whatever that struggle against any form and any tendency of opportunism is the imperative national, as well as international, task of all Communists. Opportunism must not be allowed to gain a footing anywhere. It is an enemy between whom and us there can be no rapprochement. But in all this we must not forget a precept left to us by the wise revolutionary: “Realpolitiker”—Lenin. To overcome opportunism we must also overcome revolutionary romanticism, as well as avert attempt at putschism. Opportunism engenders putschism and vice versa. They are closely related and have their origin in the wish to get the exploited and oppressed as quickly as possible out of the misery of this transition period, and in confused notions about the nature and conditions of the revolution which is to save humanity. The ship of Communism must not be wrecked on the rocks of revolutionary romanticism and putschism, and it must not be allowed to founder on the shoals of opportunism. Our ship must steer a straight course, full steam ahead over the stormy waves of revolutionary mass actions and mass struggles. To the masses! Win over the masses! Let us therefore, while not neglecting the struggles for the every-day needs of the masses, reveal to them the ideal of Communism. “Man does not live by bread alone,” the world, as far as it is not poisoned by the capitalist system, longs for ideals of a noble existence. Let us show that this longing can only be stilled by Communism, which is the strongest and most extensive cultural movement that aims at the realisation of the highest ideal for all. In view of the dissolution and rottenness of bourgeois society and culture, the lofty ideals of Communism gain recruits for the revolution. These fighters of the revolution will be in the foremost ranks at the time of the final struggle. Mass struggle, as a material necessity, and pure and lofty idealism will ensure their victory.
Last updated on 26.8.2007