Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History


We remember this year two key dates in the evolution of the workers’ movement: the centenary of the formation of the Second International, and the 70 years that have passed since the suppression of the Spartacist revolt and the murder of Liebknecht and Luxemburg. Both of these events emphasise the crucial position occupied by Germany within the history of Marxism, and the aim of this issue is to collect together materials to illustrate this with reference to the Third and Fourth Internationals.

The study of the ideas and experiences of the German workers’ movement is of the keenest importance to revolutionaries. Its crises revealed the bankruptcy of Social Democracy and Stalinism with the sensitivity of a barometer. And the social and political structures of the country were far closer to the models with which we are accustomed in Western Europe than were those of Tsarist Russia. But most valuable of all are the lessons it provides of all the phases in the construction and elaboration of the organisations of the left, from small groups up to mass parties, through splits, fusions, and the application of the United Front. In the clearest possible fashion it reveals the need to relate revolutionary tactics to the consciousness of the masses in a rapidly changing situation – the necessity of being cautious in defeat and audacious when the class is on the move, as well as the dreadful results of a failure to fight at all.

This issue of our journal aims not so much to set the record straight, though that is an important aim in itself, but to disentangle some of these lessons, which Marxists would be foolish to ignore. The German working class, after all, had to learn them the hard way.

Revolutionary History

Updated by ETOL: 6.7.2003