ISR Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialist Review, Summer 1964


Jay Garnett

The Struggle for Power


From International Socialist Review, Vol.24 No.3, Summer 1964, pp.93-94.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Stillborn Revolution: The Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923
by Werner T. Angress
Princeton University Press, 1963. 513 pp. $10.00.

The vital importance of a determined Bolshevik party in carrying through a revolution is the key lesson of the period dealt with in this book. Germany, in the early part of this century the key to the world revolution, proved again what the Russian Revolution had proved, although in reverse.

During the World War German socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg refused to split with the conservatized Social Democracy, which had supported the capitalist state during the war. Lenin, on the other hand, had broken with the supporters of the war and educated the Bolsheviks in a resolute opposition to compromisers on this matter. Luxemburg, believing in the spontaneous ability of the masses to make a revolution, opposed the formation of a program-matically clear, centrally organized party.

The upshot was that Lenin’s party made a revolution in late 1917 and the German revolutionists missed the revolutionary up-surge in their country a year later. Early in 1919, they formed the German Communist Party. But it was too late: The workers did not know these Communists and would not follow them.

In 1921 the Communist Party mistook the increase of anarchist tendencies among a minority of the workers for a revolutionary situation and attempted to lead a seizure of power. Again, the lack of organization made itself felt. Attacks on the institutions of power were so uncoordinated that, by the time the date set for the seizure of power arrived, Germany was under the open rule of the police.

In this period, Lenin wrote his pamphlet “Left-wing” Communism – An Infantile Disorder, attacking the concept that power can be won without first winning over the masses. Through the Comintern, which with the end of the civil war in Russia, only in 1921 began to be an effective aid to the Communist Parties of the world, Lenin and Trotsky sought to educate the international movement in the strategy and tactics which their experience had proven correct.

After the 1921 Congress of the Comintern, the German party learned this lesson and began to grow.

In 1923 the tactics designed to win over the masses became no longer enough. The evidence mustered by An-gress’ book shows that it was time for the German Communists to prepare the struggle for power. A pre-revolutionary situation began.

With the occupation of the Ruhr industrial region by France and Belgium as a sanction against Germany for lagging reparations payments, the bankrupt Weimar government tried to meet the crisis by printing money. In seven months, the ratio of the mark to the dollar was inflated by 230 times; workers’ wage shriveled to nothing. Labor resorted to mass strikes.

Angress writes,

“It would appear that the Communist Party now stood an excellent chance of reaching its objective, i.e. to launch a revolution in Germany which would culminate in the seizure of power by the proletariant.”

The party, however, became involved in what Angress calls an “intensified united front,” including a campaign during the early summer to win over the nationalist middle-class by praising the heroic death of a fascist who had been murdered by the French occupation; confusion went so deep that they labeled the bourgeois government revolutionary “in spite of itself.”

The strike wave culminated August 10 in a mass political strike when the bourgeois Kuno government announced its utter incapacity to solve any problems. Three days later, the capitalists formed a coalition government with the Social Democrats.

Trotsky argued that

“by the middle of 1923 the question became posed ... After all the German proletariat had gone through in recent years, it could be led into the decisive battle only in the event that it became convinced that this time the issue was posed, as the Germans say aufs Ganze (all now!), and that the Communist Party was capable of securing victory.

“True, in the month of October a sharp break occurred in the party’s policy. But it was already too late. In the course of 1923 the working masses realized or sensed that the moment of decisive struggle was approaching. However, they did not see the necessary resolution and self-confidence on the side of the Communist Party. And when the latter began its feverish preparations for an uprising, it immediately lost its balance and also its ties with the masses.”

The tragedy of 1923 in Germany proved Trotsky’s point in Lessons of October that if, during a pre-revolutionary situation, resolute preparations for the seizure of power are not carried out and that if the insurrection is not launched within a definite period measured in days or weeks, then the revolution may be postponed not months but years and perhaps decades.

But it also points up the complete default of the leadership of the Communist International, a default which was the first major reflection of the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Communist Party. In early 1923, control of the Soviet CP had passed into the hands of a clique adapting to pressures from the apparatus of privileged functionaries who made up the Soviet state machine and were a source of conservatism. The clique – made up of Zinoview, Kamenev, and Stalin – gained a majority in the Politburo and isolated Trotsky, who with the now ill Lenin most clearly represented the interests of the revolution.

Angress’s book is a wealth of information and the facts he assembles are reported objectively. He also deserves credit for focusing on this period, the lessons of which still bear validity.

Top of page

ISR Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 3 June 2009