Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 2

Mike Jones

Germany 1923

The article below was drafted in response to the publication by Fortress Books of Jan Valtin’s Out of the Night, and Peter Taaffe’s review of it in Militant (7 October 1988), which repeated some of what the author considers are well-worn myths about Germany in 1923, and the failure of Lynn Walsh to deal with these events in his response to a letter about some historical aspects of the book (Militant, 28 October 1988). These myths, which still inhabit the Trotskyist milieu, concentrate upon the supposedly ripe revolutionary situation in October 1923, which was missed because of the lack of decisiveness of the leadership of the German Communist Party (KPD), and the caution, or worse, of Stalin. Indeed, Stalin’s advice to the KPD to avoid a showdown during the ‘Anti-Fascist Day’ on 29 July is held by purveyors of the myth as proof of his centrism, or even deliberate sabotage of the supposedly revolutionary opportunity in October. Mike Jones’ arguments around the events of 1923 were published in the Spring 1989 edition of Militant International Review, together with a lengthy reply from Rob Sewell. Some of the arguments were taken up in his article The German Communist Party: The Decline, Disorientation and Decomposition of a Leadership (Revolutionary History, Volume 2, no. 3, Autumn 1989) and in his introduction to the recently published translation of August Thalheimer’s 1923: A Missed Opportunity?: The German October Legend and the Real History of 1923 (Marken Press, Worthing 1993), a series of lectures delivered in 1931 in which Thalheimer gives an analysis of the events of 1923 and the development of the legend.

There have always been sufficient studies available to permit the serious scholar to establish a rough understanding of what occurred in 1923, but to do so requires a detachment from factional interests. The KPD’s leadership became prey to a factional struggle already underway within the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party between the triumvirate of Kamenev, Stalin and Zinoviev and Trotsky, whom they had already begun to undermine in their efforts to establish themselves as the successors to the ailing Lenin. Each new historical study based upon previously unpublished Soviet sources illustrates this clearly. Apart from studies covering the struggles revolving around the dying Lenin which attempt to clear up the roles of the key protagonists, there are a number of new studies which throw light upon these same figures during the events in Germany in 1923.

In his contribution to Aufstieg und Zerfall der Komintern (edited by Theodor Bergmann and Mario Kessler, Podium Progressiv, Mainz 1992), Friedrich Firsov, an expert in and the keeper of the archives of the Communist International, deals with Stalin and the Communist International. A very important essay in grasping Stalin’s role within that organisation, it examines, amongst other things, his attitude towards the united front. Firsov says that Stalin understood it purely as a manoeuvre designed to expose the Social Democrats, and thereby place the Communists at the head of the working class, a view he shared with Zinoviev. Firsov claims that Stalin proposed at the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) held in late September 1923 to discuss Germany, that the Communists should call upon the left-wing Social Democrats to strive towards creating a joint government with the Communists. This proposal was adopted at the session on 26 September. Firsov describes it as a ‘left sectarian’ orientation designed to split the Social Democrats and to discredit their left wing, as a preparation towards going over to an armed struggle for power. Moreover, he tells us that two of the KPD’s delegation, Ernst Thälmann and Hugo Eberlein, protested that the conditions for a successful uprising were not yet present, and that Brandler’s evaluation of the situation was far too optimistic, but they were ignored. These snippets from the archives explode the myth of the ‘hesitant’ Stalin, and the ‘opportunist’ Brandler, as well as the ‘consistently revolutionary’ Thälmann, or wherever one wants to place them in the crude left-right schema of things.

In his paper to the Wuppartal Trotsky Symposium in 1990, Leo Trotzki und der Politik der Komintern zu Beginn der zwanziger Jahre, Firsov deals with Trotsky’s attitude in 1923. The ECCI meeting lasted from 21 September to 5 October, and Trotsky turned up twice, on 25 September and 4 October. He considered that the conditions in Germany were already ripe for revolution, and demanded that the KPD should involve itself with the organisational and technical preparations for an uprising. He demanded the setting of a date. Firsov insists that there were no significant differences of opinion regarding the evaluation of the situation in Germany during the autumn of 1923 between Trotsky and the other Soviet leaders, in particular Zinoviev and Stalin. They all desired a German revolution, he says, but they all made grave errors in evaluating the situation in Germany, including the influence of the KPD within the proletariat, and its readiness to rise up in a struggle for power (cf. T. Bergmann and G. Schäfer, Leo Trotzki: Kritiker und Verteidiger der Sowjetgesellschaft, Decaton, Mainz 1993).

Alexander Vatlin, another Russian historian who has had access to the newly opened archives in Moscow and Berlin, also deals with Trotsky in 1923 in Trotzki und die Komintern (1923–1927) in his collection Die Komintern 1919–1929 (Decaton, Mainz 1993). He mentions only one issue on which Trotsky differed from the other Soviet leaders, and that was whether to call for the building of soviets, or, as the KPD officials proposed, to rely on the already existing factory councils, as organs in which to concentrate the power of the proletariat in the struggle for power. Stalin, Bukharin and Zinoviev favoured the immediate building of soviets. Vatlin confirms that Brandler asked for Trotsky to go to Germany to take control of the military side of things, which the Soviet Politbureau rejected, not wishing to enhance Trotsky’s prestige should the uprising prove successful. The failure of the affair led to both sides seeking to pin the blame on each other. The whole episode then became mystified, and a legend was created which took on a life of its own, changing to suit the times and needs, as Thalheimer points out in The German October Legend … Today, a serious study has been made easier by the amount of material now available, and economic studies tend to reject the catastrophist analyses of the Communist International, which saw every crisis as a sign of the approach of the final one, which ought then to bring about the proletarian revolution, with the corresponding application of the tactics and organisational features sanctified by October 1917.

THE year 1923, because it represented the end of the revolutionary wave which had swept across Europe in the aftermath of the First World War, and its crucial role in impelling the degeneration of the Communist movement, is surrounded by various interpretations, often of a highly subjective and self-justifying character, or even a mythological one. The instance of the Hamburg street fighting, between a few hundred members of the German Communist Party (KPD) and the police of the affected districts, is illustrative. It has been elevated to the level of a ‘revolution’. I will attempt here to sketch out some of the key events of the period, and to cut back on some of the mythology. To understand this, a knowledge of the international framework within which these events took place is needed, and, in particular, the role of France and the inter-relationships between France, Britain and Soviet Russia. However, they will only be touched upon, and need to be taken up elsewhere.

The French occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923 was due to a series of problems such as the precarious financial situation of France, its balance of payments deficit, and a growing foreign debt to its allies. Furthermore, the Poincaré [1] government wished to use the rich Ruhr coal deposits, both in order to smelt the French iron ore in the newly acquired province of Lorraine, and to rebuild the shattered economy of Northern France.

Three days prior to the French invasion, on 6 and 7 January, the key European Communist parties held a conference in Essen on the threatening war danger. They adopted a clear internationalist position of hostility to the Poincaré and Cuno [2] governments, against both capitalist classes.

Since the Third Congress of the Communist International, the KPD had proposed a united front to the rest of the labour movement, and it used the demand for a workers’ government with the VSPD [3] and the Socialist trade union centre, the ADGB. It now renewed the call, but the VSPD adhered to the ‘passive resistance’ policy of the Cuno government, whereas the ADGB signed a joint appeal with the employers for the exploited to unite with the exploiters in a fund to finance passive resistance in the Ruhr.

Cuno used the French invasion to unite the nation. Strikers were paid for lost wages. Likewise, the French military attempted to use the hate of the German workers for their masters to win their support. In this enterprise, too, no expense was spared. In this situation it was very difficult for the KPD, with its class viewpoint, to break through. When a manager was arrested or a functionary expelled, strikes were organised, protests were set up, and the Communists were pressed to join in.

The KPD’s Eighth Congress

At the end of January the KPD held its Eighth Congress, where it recognised that its propaganda had so far failed. Its manifesto declared the Ruhr events to be:

… a war … with violent military occupation on the one side, and the weapons of strikes, sabotage and boycott on the other. If the international working class does not take decisive action, then the bourgeoisie will, and this war will be the forerunner of a war in the real sense of the word. [4]

Cuno’s policy led to an upsurge in far right-wing activity. The most extreme German nationalists found an ideal situation in which to operate. Their sabotage and assassinations were carried out with the full agreement of the government and army.

The KPD publicised this, pointing out that those responsible for the war were now using the workers in their imperialist rivalry. The Cuno government was denounced as a tool of the masters of large-scale industry: ‘Stinnes is paying the bill.’ [5]

The above-mentioned manifesto called for the building of a workers’ united front, the arming of the working class, and the control of production by the factory councils. If the working class responded to these slogans, the KPD declared its readiness to enter a government with all workers’ parties and trade unions. Such a government would offer negotiations to France:

It would openly and honestly say that it would be able to pay part of the debt the bourgeoisie has foisted upon the working people. The workers’ government will confiscate from the capitalists whatever sum is needed to pay the debt. To show that it means business, some of the assets of the capitalists would be confiscated. Thus the workers’ government would help the German proletariat pay for the burdens, which the bankrupt imperialist bourgeoisie, the Cuno government, has placed upon it, until the French proletariat helps by throwing off the chains of the Versailles Treaty. Furthermore, the workers’ government will enter a defence and friendship treaty with Soviet Russia … [6]

The theses entitled ‘United Front Tactics and the Workers’ Government’ were adopted at the Eighth Congress. They stressed the dialectical aspects of the united front, and described it as a means of ‘conquering the old proletarian mass organisations’, and turning them into ‘proletarian class struggle organs’. But they also stressed the need to create new organs ‘which encompass the whole class (factory councils, price and control committees, political workers’ councils)’. And:

A workers’ government is neither the proletarian dictatorship nor the peaceful transition to such a thing. It is an attempt by the working class – within the framework of bourgeois democracy and at the start with its own resources, supporting itself upon proletarian organs and mass movements – to pursue a working-class policy …

A parliamentary victory for the workers’ parties can be the occasion for the creation of a workers’ government, when strong mass movements exist, resulting from the sharpened contradiction between the working class and the bourgeoisie. A parliamentary working-class majority is not the decisive force for the security of a workers’ government; a precondition for this is at least a proletarian united front prepared to struggle. The existence of the workers’ government demands that the counter-revolution, sabotage of production and the whole resistance of the bourgeoisie to the government and its programme is put down. Therefore a workers’ government is not a ‘simplified revolution’, a ‘short cut’ or a ‘substitute dictatorship’ (instead of the proletarian dictatorship) … but a period with huge struggles against the bourgeoisie, which will not give way an inch voluntarily.

In these struggles to subdue the resistance of the bourgeoisie, the workers’ government will be forced to exceed the framework of democracy, to take dictatorial steps, and all the historical experiences of the class struggle teach us that the resistance of the bourgeoisie can only be broken with force (violence) …

The KPD must lay down conditions to those wishing to join a workers’ government. The most important are the participation of the proletarian united front organs in the framing of laws (their elaboration and implementation) and the arming of the working class. However, the promises of the reformist leaders are not decisive for the participation of the KPD in a workers’ government; what is required are an evaluation of the general political situation, the balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the readiness to struggle of the proletarian masses, the existence of their own class organs, the strength of the reformist bureaucracy, and not least, the ability of the KPD to lead the masses in the fight for their demands …

he workers’ government is not an unconditional necessity, but a possible stage in the struggle for political power. [7]

The theses were adopted by 118 votes against 59 cast for the left. Ruth Fischer, for the left, condemned the workers’ government tactic, and described the KPD majority as ‘opportunist’ and ‘revisionist’. Brandler replaced Ernst Meyer as the party Chairman. [8]

The Struggle for a Workers’ Government

Whilst the Leipzig congress took place, events in Saxony made the united front tactic of the KPD a reality. The right-wing SPD government in Saxony resigned. The SPD right wing wanted to enter into a coalition with the bourgeois parties, but the rank and file wanted a workers’ government with the KPD. The left wing demanded an extraordinary congress. The KPD used this conflict to strengthen its propaganda in the workplaces for a workers’ government. The KPD considered that this call should emerge as a demand from the masses, and so it called for a congress of factory councils which would formulate the programme of such a government.

On 27 February the KPD published its proposal for a programme for a Saxon workers’ government, in the form of an open letter to the delegates of the SPD’s congress, where, among other things, the following were proposed: the building of an armed workers’ defence guard under the control of the factory councils; the removal of reactionaries from the police and the state apparatus; the banning of monarchist propaganda; an amnesty for political prisoners; a national congress of factory councils to elect an executive committee, to which all the legislative proposals of the workers’ government should be presented, and whose executive would have the power of veto; no sackings resulting from the contraction of enterprises, but instead a reduction of hours with full compensation in wages; full unemployment pay; and the nationalisation of closed-down enterprises. [9]

Even before the SPD congress began on 4 March, the SPD approached the KPD to enquire about support for a Social Democratic government. The congress decided to negotiate with the KPD, but the right wing mobilised its forces within the unions to prevent a congress of factory councils taking place. This left the KPD with the choice of refusing to support a SPD government, thus allowing an SPD-bourgeois coalition, or of supporting an SPD minority government. The KPD chose the latter, and it was based upon the following agreement: the building of workers’ defence organs against the Fascist threat; the formation of price control committees to fight against profiteering, and of labour chambers (to which the factory councils should be linked) with a veto over the higher state organs; and an amnesty for political prisoners.

The leaderships of both parties accepted the agreement locally, and only the KPD left opposed it, and so on 21 March Erich Zeigner [10] of the VSPD’s left wing formed a government with KPD support.

Fischer attended the North Rhine-Westphalia KPD Congress on 23 March, and she attacked Brandler and the majority as ‘opportunists’. She talked of the need to expel the ‘friends of democracy’ in due course. She advanced a resolution calling for the seizing of power in the Rhineland and the Ruhr, in order that the resulting workers’ republic would then send a Red Army to Central Germany in order to seize power.

For the leadership, Clara Zetkin [11] rejected the proposal as totally unrealistic, as it did not explain how, as long as the French still occupied the Ruhr, the objective could be achieved. She warned against hopeless uprisings which would only isolate the KPD. Fischer’s motion was lost by 68 to 55 votes.

Before the Essen congress, Fischer had written an article criticising the leadership for wanting to link up with ‘the democratic illusions of the Social Democratic masses’. She claimed:

The reason the masses are not to be found with us is not their belief in democracy, but because they fear a showdown with the bourgeoisie. The masses will come to us if, in the daily struggles, we tirelessly place ourselves in the front line, and simultaneously advance Communist propaganda and policies.

She condemned the workers’ government tactic advanced by the majority as, for her, a workers’ government could only arise from an armed seizure of power. She attacked Brandler’s view on defending democracy, when ‘the proper democrats do not do it’. [12] Brandler drew attention to the Kapp Putsch and the campaign around the murder of Rathenau, where the KPD had defended democracy from monarchist forces:

We have not become republicans or democrats, but, in line with the old Marxist truth, that democracy of all varieties of state forms, is that most beneficial to the proletariat in order to gather the revolutionary forces of the workers’ movement. [13]

On 10 April Ewert and Pfeiffer, two of the three ‘lefts’, elected to the leadership (although disowned by Fischer and the others), Gerhart Eisler, and Heinz Neumann [14], the editor of Rote Fahne, distanced themselves from the left, and adopted an intermediate position. Later that month the two wings met to attempt to resolve their differences.

In May the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) invited representatives of the factions to Moscow to deal with the differences. It resulted in a declaration signed by Brandler and Böttcher for the majority, Fischer, Maslow and Thälmann for the left, and Eisler for the centre. The declaration condemned the phrase about ‘linking up with the illusions and prejudices of the Social Democratic workers’. Such a phrase, they said, ‘contributes to making difficult the fight against the undoubtedly existing right-wing tendencies in the party, and has given sustenance to the suspicion in those circles of the party, which have tendencies to leftist divergencies’. [15]

By backing Fischer’s criticism, this ECCI-inspired declaration helped the lefts. If Marxists do not have the duty of ‘linking up’ with the illusions of reformist workers, in order to destroy them, then they can only issue propaganda, moralise, denounce, and ‘stand in the front line’ with Fischer.

The Ruhr Crisis

The conflicts between the occupation forces and the workers of the Ruhr sharpened in late March, and it became obvious that the French were not on the toilers’ side. Moreover, the collaboration between the German authorities and the French military became obvious. The KPD got hold of a document proving this collaboration, where permission was asked to use German police to remove the proletarian hundreds, which had taken over Gelsenkirchen, and there was a warning of the unrest spreading to surrounding towns. [16]

Conditions begin to change for the KPD as the Cuno government’s ‘passive resistance’ started to collapse, and the unity of the two ruling classes against the German workers became clear. Simultaneously, the international situation changed dramatically. The British gave an ultimatum to the Russians demanding the end to their propaganda activities in India, Afghanistan and the Middle East region. General Foch travelled to Poland – a key ally of France – and a war against Soviet Russia seemed to be on the cards. [17]

At the beginning of June, the workers of the Ruhr went on strike. Their situation was now desperate. The German economy, already weak, worsened dramatically. The mark, 96, 000 to a dollar on 17 May (already down from 2,100 on 4 October 1922), fell to 200,000 to a dollar on 10 July, and to 400,000 on 23 July. Prices followed. For example, an egg, worth 300 marks on 3 February 1923, went to 3,400 marks by 11 July, and so on. The Ruhr miners’ strike was the start of the movement which, beginning on 16 May, spread until it closed most of the pits and factories in the area of Dortmund and Essen. It did not cover all North Rhine-Westphalia, but it affected half the miners and metalworkers of the Ruhr. The central strike committee negotiated an agreement with the Ministry of Labour, and on 29 May the strike was called off, with the KPD’s agreement (including that of its left). Approximately 310,000 workers had participated in the strike.

These events led to an increase of the KPD’s membership from 224,689 members in September 1922 to 294,230 in September 1923. At the extended ECCI plenum of June 1923, Jacob Walcher reported on the KPD’s strength in the unions. He estimated that through its union posts the party influenced some 2,433,000 union members, and that the KPD was well on the way to conquering the unions. [18]

But the occupation of the Ruhr and the policies of Cuno’s government also led to the rise of the extreme right. Wearing the clothing of ‘workers’’ and ‘Socialist’ parties, the rightists began to attract certain backward elements among the lumpen-proletariat and the petit-bourgeoisie. Already in February 1923, voices within the KPD talked of the need to attract to Communism those petit-bourgeois who were moving towards Fascism. In addition, the theory began to emerge that Germany was becoming a colony of either France or the USA. A resolution carried by the KPD’s Central Committee on 16–17 May analysed the motivations and perspectives of the different strands of rightist nationalism, and it tried to set out a way to reach a sector of it:

… as long as the proletariat has not constituted itself as the nation, as long as it has not taken the future of the German people in its hands, the confused nationalist petit-bourgeoisie, in its rage over the national disgrace, will rise up because they do not understand that the German people are unable to attain their independence, and their national future, as long as bourgeois mastery has not been overcome. We must reach out to the proletarianised petit-bourgeoisie’s misled and rebellious masses and tell them the whole truth, and say to them that they can only defend themselves and the future of Germany if they have allied themselves with the proletariat in struggle with the bourgeoisie. [19]

The KPD began to sharpen its criticism of the SPD’s leaders: ‘Come on then, a return to the Noske course will open the eyes of the Social Democratic workers, and lead them under the banners of the KPD all the faster.’ [20] Another reason was the decision of the Prussian Minister of the Interior, Severing, to ban the proletarian hundreds on 12 May. [21]

Herman Remmele, then on the left wing of the party (although he would later move to the centre), contributed an article on the Fascist offensive to Inprekorr. He stated that ‘the Fascist ideology and the Fascist influence does not just restrict itself to the narrow circles of the Fascist parties, and all the bourgeois parties, together with their appendage in the SPD, also are affected by its influence’. What we see here is the germ of the later tendency to see Fascism in every right-wing party, and also the concept of ‘Social Fascism’. [22]

The Ruhr crisis and the fight against the Versailles Treaty meant that the KPD had to struggle on a number of fronts. The Fourth Congress of the Communist International, held in November and December 1922, had described Central Europe, and especially Germany, as a new colonial region for the imperialists. [23] The KPD was obliged to construct a theory around this, and then to implement it in practice. August Thalheimer, for the majority, attempted to make an analogy between the relationship between Germany and France and that between Britain and Ireland, and he tried to develop an independent Communist policy in order to fight this new situation. [24] He was opposed by Paul Frölich, then on the left, who maintained that as Cuno had provoked the Ruhr occupation, as the expression of the heavy industry sector of the bourgeoisie (Stinnes, Krupp, et al.), the main fire should be directed at him. [25]

Opposition to the view of the KPD majority was also expressed by Neurath and Sommer, two prominent Czech communists. The key points of criticism revolved around a dubious comparison of German capitalism in its phase of growth, with the same phenomenon in another epoch, in its phase of decay, and the dubious analogy of Germany and Ireland as a colonies, where the German bourgeoisie was striving ‘to re-establish its imperialist position of power’, and not to establish its democratic independence from a foreign conqueror. Thus, ‘the German proletariat cannot go one step together with “its” bourgeoisie’. [26]

Thalheimer’s opponents disagreed with the idea that the KPD should fight Cuno and Poincaré simultaneously, as in practice it put the French as the main enemy and Cuno as a sort of ally. Instead, they placed Cuno as the main enemy. They denied that Germany was now a colony.

Adapting to German Nationalism

The policy of the KPD majority ran parallel with Soviet foreign policy. The struggle against the occupation of the Ruhr and the Versailles Treaty were the main axes of policy at that time. Bukharin, Zinoviev and Radek were in complete agreement. At the Twelfth Congress of the Russian Communist Party in April and May 1923, the same arguments and analogies used by Thalheimer were defended by Zinoviev. They talked of the alliance between workers’ states and the awakening semi-colonial and colonial lands. In that international situation, a workers’ state could not ‘refuse support to any land, which finds itself today in such a slave-like dependency upon international imperialism’. [27] Radek saw the Ruhr occupation as meaning that Germany had become an exploited colony of imperialism. [28] Radek put the same view – ‘Germany is a great colony of France’ – during a speech at the extended ECCI plenum in June 1923, where he was contradicted by Neurath, who criticised the KPD, and maintained that one must fight the German bourgeoisie first, in order to succeed in fighting the French. Böttcher and Hörnle, the KPD delegates, joined Radek in rejecting Neurath’s criticism. Böttcher stated that one had to:

… place oneself in the van of the national interests in the fight for the nation’s independence. Thereby, the KPD could, on the one hand, expose the bourgeoisie’s betrayal, and on the other, reach out to attain further support from the petit-bourgeois and proletarian layers … If one gave up that which Neurath called competition with the German nationalists, it would signify a strengthening of Fascism. [29]

As the Communist International had backed the KPD policy vis-à-vis the Ruhr, a new tactic was adopted in the face of the radical German nationalists and Fascists. Radek made his famous Schlageter Speech at the ECCI plenum, in which he posed a ‘National Bolshevik’ policy. [30] By placing itself in the van of the national struggle, the KPD should not build a front with the rightist militants, but on the contrary, they should be fought, but not just militarily and physically, but also politically and ideologically. Radek’s speech saw the KPD’s task as one of splitting the rightist camp by attempting to show them that the Fascists merely aimed at creating a bourgeois dictatorship, and that the KPD was the only force capable of liberating the nation.

Radek’s speech was greeted with ‘general enthusiasm’ by the ECCI, and it had been agreed with Zinoviev beforehand. Indeed, Fischer, Maslow and Thälmann, the leaders of the left, signed a similar article in Rote Fahne. However, it created a stir within the workers’ movement, the SPD attacking it as ‘glorifying the nationalist hero Schlageter’. Clara Zetkin declared herself ‘deeply shaken’ by the speech in her closing speech at the plenum. [31]

In practice, the policy meant that the KPD was debating with nationalists and Fascists. The latter were given space in Rote Fahne. Speakers from both sides shared the same platforms. A pamphlet containing the speeches of the key speakers was issued. [32]

The policy was an attempt to split the rightist camp, and win over the radicalised petit-bourgeois masses from the smallish right-wing groupings. It lasted for a few months. In August the Nazis forbade their members from having any links with the KPD. However, the tactic led to deepening the divide between the KPD and the Social Democratic masses. The latter looked on with horror at the Communists dealing with anti-democratic and anti-republican forces. It quite possibly led to a strengthening of the putschist left inside the KPD at the expense of the ‘workers’ united front’ sector.

The Struggle for the United Front

What was in essence a defensive tactic, a recognition that the KPD was too weak to make a revolution at that time, a line recognised by all the actors in the drama in the first half of 1923, meant that nobody was prepared for the rapid change in the situation with the outbreak of the strike movement which began in May, took off again in June, and would bring down the Cuno government in August. There is no mention of a coming revolution in the ECCI plenum of May and June. On the contrary, it speaks of defensive tactics and united front work. The theme at the centre of debate at the plenum was the Russian conflict with Britain and the consequent danger of war.

The main speech at the plenum on the international situation was by Radek. He noted a strengthening of the trade unions, again especially in Germany and England after a drop of membership in 1921 and 1922, and, similarly, a rise in strike struggle in Germany, England and Hungary, among other places. He observed a revival in the strength of the workers’ movement from its low point in 1921. The conclusion in this regard was the united front. For the KPD this meant an attempt to reach the petit-bourgeois and middle layers in town and country – thus the ‘Schlageter-politik’. [33] Radek spoke for the Communist International. His speech is entitled Die Internationale Lage, das Ablaufen der kapitalistischen Offensive und die Aufgaben der Kommunistischen Internationale (The International Situation, the Waning of the Capitalist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International). Thus, one can safely say that the Communist International saw a decline of the capitalist offensive and a renewed strengthening of the working class, but this did not mean that a working-class offensive was going to take place immediately, or in the near future. It meant that the united front was still the central feature of Communist work.

The next strike wave started at the beginning of June. The North German seafarers, the Silesian farm labourers and 100,000 Silesian miners struck. The miners of Upper Silesia struck in defence of trade union rights and against the huge cost of living increases. Among other things, they demanded wage increases and the linking of wages to the price of coal. The strike ended on 16 May by a deal which brought the wages of Upper Silesian miners up to those of the Ruhr.

On 30 May the KPD issued a revised edition of an action programme. It originated in a congress of factory councils organised by the party in November 1922, and it attempted to reach out to farm labourers and the poor of the countryside. [34]

The Berlin metal workers’ strike was a trial of strength between the KPD and the SPD bureaucracy of the union, the DMV. The bureaucracy used an assortment of tricks to prevent a strike, although a ballot favoured one. A new ballot took place in which the non-unionised workers participated, but the trick misfired and an almost unanimous strike vote resulted. Communists and oppositional elements were persecuted by the bureaucracy, and at the time at least 500 expulsion cases were pending. Almost immediately upon the strike getting underway, the Ministry of Labour offered a deal. Apart from a wage rise, a parity commission was established to check the cost of living by the week, which was to be the basis for weekly wage rises linked to it. The strike was called off, though the KPD opposed this. [35]

In the midst of these strikes, on 11 July, Brandler presented his appeal to the KPD’s Central Committee. He analysed the situation in the country: the Cuno government’s bankruptcy, the Rhenish separatists seeking to set up a buffer state between France and Germany, the Fascists in South Germany planning to secede and march against Saxony and Thuringia, the Fascists in North Germany planning to put down Hamburg and Berlin, the collaboration of army officers and Fascists, etc. In the face of this, he accused the SPD of keeping quiet about the danger, and of preparing a grand coalition with the bourgeois parties. He warned:

Party comrades! We face difficult battles. We must prepare thoroughly for action. We cannot rely on the SPD and the union bureaucracy. As in all the other defensive struggles of the revolutionary proletariat against the counter-revolution, the SPD and the union bureaucracy will once again abandon the workers and betray them. [36]

Brandler saw the Fascist threat as ‘not necessarily taking the form of a Kapp Putsch. It could begin as a national decision to send troops and police into Saxony and Thuringia … [or] by the proclamation of Rhineland-Westphalia state’:

We Communists can only win in the fight against the counter-revolution, without and against the treacherous Social Democratic Party and union bureaucracy, if we succeed in leading the Social Democratic and non-party working masses in battle together with us … The plans of the Fascists are militarily elaborated down to the finest detail … The Fascist uprising can only be put down if white terror is met with red terror. If the Fascists, who are armed to the teeth, kill the proletarian fighters, then the latter must ruthlessly destroy all Fascists. If the Fascists put every tenth striker up against the wall, so must the revolutionary workers put every fifth member of the Fascist organisations up against the wall.

The Fascists are militarily fully armed. Workers who still today have no weapons, must know where and how they can get them in the case of an attack. At the start, the workers, unarmed in the main, will only be able to hold the Fascists down by their numbers, but then in open battle with the Fascists they will, by seizing their weapons, equip themselves in order to force a victory. [37]

The appeal was adopted by the KPD’s Central Committee, and it appeared in Rote Fahne on 12 July. Brandler later said that when the party functionaries read the appeal they thought he had gone off his head and was intending to stage a coup, whereas Trotsky claims that it was by his reading An die Partei! that he first became aware of the seriousness of the situation unfolding in Germany.

The same issue of Rote Fahne announced the holding of an ‘Anti-Fascist Day’ on 29 July. Workers, functionaries, civil servants and peasants were called upon to participate in street demonstrations on that day. Brandler’s call of 11 July and the ‘Anti-Fascist Day’ arrangement, clearly show a sharp shift of line, from ‘defensive’ to ‘offensive’, under the guise of ‘defence’.

The bourgeoisie reacted with horror, calling for a ban on demonstrations. But Social Democratic workers and those not in a party responded to it. A ban came into effect after a joint KPD-SPD demonstration in Frankfurt led to street fighting. Except for in Saxony and Thuringia, the SPD leaders led the way in banning demonstrations in the states they governed. The ban resulted in a renewed outbreak of factional disunity in the KPD. Brandler proposed that they should demonstrate in Saxony, Thuringia and the places where the party had enough strength to do so, such as Upper Silesia and the Ruhr, but with armed protection from the ‘proletarian hundreds’. However, he could not get support, either from the majority, or from the lefts.

Fischer wanted to defy the ban in Berlin. Brandler opposed this as a tactic which could only lead them into a trap. He proposed instead:

To hold only a demonstration in Berlin under armed protection. Then Comrade Fischer called me an adventurer and a Fascist … I then declared that if the district leadership were opposed, we could not take a decision in the leadership about the Berlin organisation undertaking armed demonstrations. [38]

Brandler, being isolated, did not wish to call the demonstrations off on his own responsibility, so he telegrammed the ECCI. At that moment, only Radek and Kuusinen [39] were in Moscow (Zinoviev, Bukharin and Trotsky were away on holiday). Radek contacted them for their views. Zinoviev and Bukharin were in favour of ‘following the way which is set out in the appeal of 12 July’. Trotsky refused to take sides, saying that his knowledge was insufficient. Stalin advised caution. He saw demonstrations being turned into a bloodbath by the bourgeoisie and the rightist SPD leaders. Thus, it was better to wait until the working class was united around the KPD, when a Fascist attack would be more advantageous. Radek sent a telegram to the KPD on 26 July advising giving up the demonstrations, saying: ‘We fear a trap.’ The shift in line initiated by Brandler on 11 July was dropped in favour of a return to a more pessimistic, defensive posture. Meyer explained why the KPD decided to act as it did:

If the Communists really – as the government and Social Democracy claim – had had the intention to initiate an armed civil war on 29 July, nothing could have hindered us in it. But the Communists, who only wished to measure and strengthen their forces, have no intention of being forced into a battle at a time chosen by their opponent … The KPD is a mass party, whose tactics differ fundamentally from conspiratory and putschist tactics of small counter-revolutionary secret associations. It does not need military tricks and manoeuvres. [40]

Instead of street demonstrations, public meetings were held. Although it was something of an anti-climax, large numbers of workers attended, and it was seen as a success.

Inflation, meanwhile, which had ravaged Germany since the autumn of 1922, continued its work. Sectors of the bourgeoisie were worried that Cuno’s policies could end in revolution, and they looked around for other possible governments, in which the SPD was considered as a junior partner.

The KPD analysed the situation and foresaw the possibility. The right-wing SPD leaders sought to enter a coalition, but the lefts were seen as vacillating ‘between fear of Fascism and fear of the proletarian revolution’, rejecting a grand coalition, but recoiling ‘in fear before a workers’ and peasants’ government’:

The pending entrance of the VSPD into the grand coalition will increase the dissolution process within the VSPD to an unusual extent. In this situation, we must be concerned to draw the Social Democratic masses over to us, to the greatest extent possible. [41]

The meeting referred to above quite obviously saw the revolutionary situation as still developing, and, equally so, saw the dissolution of the SPD as a result of its leaders’ desires to prop up the bourgeoisie. No disunity was shown at the Central Commission meeting, as the lefts did not vote against the resolution. They merely criticised the ‘workers’ and farmers’ government’ slogan. Brandler, in an article on the Central Commission session, claimed: ‘Ruth Fischer had said, that since the Leipzig congress in January–February 1923, the party had developed in the direction desired by the opposition.’ [42] But the following few days would show that the KPD was totally unprepared for the rapid change in the political situation. The ECCI was similarly unprepared.

Cuno, sensing that his grip on events was slipping, called on 8 August for a vote of confidence in the Reichstag on his financial measures. The SPD in embarrassment requested that the vote be delayed. The KPD demanded the departure of the Cuno government and its replacement by a ‘revolutionary workers’ government’. On the following day, delegations of workers lobbied the Reichstag for the dismissal of Cuno’s government. The SPD decided to abstain on the vote, but it called for a ‘stronger government’, which would carry out the necessary economic measures and resolve the outstanding problems. [43]

Meanwhile, in the midst of the parliamentary crisis, a strike wave began. On 9 August the Berlin underground workers stopped work. They were followed by the printers of the national mint, which, at a time of galloping inflation, represented a lethal threat to Cuno. The workers at all the big Berlin enterprises followed. The KPD demand, ‘Down with the Cuno government! For a workers’ government!’, was taken up by 11 Berlin factories. The transport system was paralysed by the tramworkers, and the gas and electricity were closed down.

The first to react was the leadership of the revolutionary factory council movement, which, on 10 August, issued a leaflet demanding ‘peacetime wages’ and compensation for cost of living increases. On the evening of 10 August, the Berlin trade union commissions called a meeting with the workers’ parties. The situation was similar to that following the Kapp Putsch, and the SPD’s leaders feared that matters could slip out of their control, and into those of the KPD. Otto Wels [44], for the SPD, feared that the KPD would persuade the gathering of leading trade unionists to support a workers’ government, and so he announced that the SPD’s Reichstag fraction had discussed with the government and that the latter had agreed to go along with some of the demands of the factory councils. The KPD called for a three day general strike to attain the prewar minimum wage per hour, the dismissal of the Cuno government, and its replacement by a workers’ and peasants’ government. The KPD’s proposals were not accepted by the gathering, which preferred the government’s promises. Whether the KPD’s representatives were serious about negotiations with the trade union bureaucrats is a question posed by some commentators. One of the them, Fischer (the others being Ottomar Geschke and Fritz Heckert) [45], threw insults in their faces.

On 10 August the KPD politbureau sent out a notice to all districts to inform them that a mass strike movement had broken out, and that it looked like spreading throughout the country. They were told:

It concerns methodically gathering all these movements and placing oneself in the van of them … Everywhere we ought to make sure that the local committees of the ADGB put themselves in the lead of this spontaneous movement. Where this does not occur … we ought not to waste time in long negotiations, but instead the factory councils must direct and organise the movement. [46]

On 11 August a factory council conference was called by the leadership of the revolutionary factory council movement. Two thousand delegates passed a resolution demanding the dismissal of Cuno’s government, the requisitioning of foodstuffs, the recognition of workers’ control committees, the lifting of the ban on the proletarian hundreds, a minimum hourly wage of 0.60 gold marks, the re-employment of the unemployed, and the lifting of the ban on demonstrations and the emergency regulations, together with the release of political prisoners. [47]

Whilst the strike movement spread, the politicians negotiated a new government coalition. On the evening of 12 August the President gave Stresemann of the DVP the task of forming a government. He in turn offered ministerial posts to four SPD figures, including Hilferding. [48] By 13 August the three day strike declared by the factory councils was over. Its immediate target, the Cuno government, had now disappeared. The leadership of the movement had to decide whether to continue. On behalf of the factory councils, H. Grothe (a KPD member) issued a leaflet calling for continued struggle against ‘the new capitalist-exploiter government under the leadership of Stresemann – the leader of the Stinnes party (DVP) in parliament’. [49]

On 14 August the morning edition of Rote Fahne proclaimed ‘Millions in Struggle!’ and ‘The Struggle Continues!’. But later that day an extra edition was published calling for ‘a united disciplined end to the strike’, which explained that owing to the resistance of the SPD and the union bureaucracy, any continuation risked ending with an internecine conflict amongst the workers. On 15 August the headline was ‘The Battle is Over’, with the subheading ‘A break in the struggle, not its ending’.

Although the KPD’s leaders were not in agreement with the termination of the strike, it seems that all were in favour of the eventual return to work. The 12 August edition of Rote Fahne, with the strike call by the factory councils, was confiscated by the authorities. The leadership had, in fact, left Berlin, and only Heckert, the contact with the factory councils, remained.

The great bulk of the strikers, satisfied with the addition of four SPD ministers to the Stresemann coalition, hoped that some of their demands would be realised. In the weeks thereafter, unemployment rose drastically, strikers were arrested, and, on 17 August, the national committee of the revolutionary factory councils was banned. Repression against the KPD was stepped up, and it seems to have been unable to develop any response. From then on the military-technical organisational preparations appear to have predominated. Necessarily conspiratorial, the preparations seem to have gone on divorced from the party’s day-to-day open work. In fact, a gap seems to have opened up between the objective situation and the planned uprising. It appears to have been conceived as another coup, and it was therefore a movement which did not correspond to the objective situation at all.

In the autumn of 1923 the most pressing problem for the German bourgeoisie was to end the occupation of the Ruhr and to sort out the currency and financial situation. Stresemann ended ‘passive resistance’, and began negotiations with the Entente powers. To deal with inflation it was proposed to return to the gold standard, so the printing of money ceased, the old paper mark was abolished, and a new, gold-based mark was introduced. On 22 September the mark reached a stable value of 100 million to the dollar. The economic crisis, however, was far from over, as unemployment rose drastically in September, and real wages fell.

The end of ‘passive resistance’ was the signal for a frontal attack on the advanced elements of the working class. A state of emergency was declared for the whole country. It was formally a response to the attempted right-wing nationalist coup in Bavaria, which was rife with Nazis, separatists and assorted reactionaries who wanted to take over the whole country.

The Call to Insurrection

It was in this alarming situation, when the KPD was being hit by arrests, bans on meetings, the seizure of its publications, and so on, that the Soviet Politbureau decided to discuss the situation in Germany. At a meeting on 23 August, Trotsky, who had previously held discussions with the two KPD leaders present in Moscow (Walcher and Enderle) [50], advanced the view that the German revolution was on the cards and that power should be seized in the next two weeks. Everyone seemed to agree, except Stalin, who thought that the situation was insufficiently mature. Nevertheless, the ECCI was instructed to prepare the conditions for an armed uprising.

Throughout September the KPD’s representatives in the ECCI presidium (Zetkin and Hörnle), Brandler (the party’s Chairman), and representatives of the left (Fischer, Maslow and Thälmann), discussed the preparations for the uprising with the Soviet leaders. Disagreements emerged as to whether the existing factory councils could be used as revolutionary organs, or whether an attempt should be made to build soviets, as well as differences as to whether the date for the uprising could be set beforehand. All KPD activity was directed towards illegal work.

The KPD thus shifted to an offensive stance in mid-August, at least in public, as the tone of Rote Fahne indicates, but day-to-day work in the class and its organisations was neglected whilst party functionaries and cadres concentrated on a conspiratorial plan. Remmele later summed up the situation thus: ‘All bridges leading to the working class were neglected.’ [51]

The final act centred on Saxony and Thuringia. These two states were KPD strongholds, where, because of the united front work of Brandler and his associates, which went back to the time of the Kapp Putsch, the Social Democratic and other workers were strongly influenced by the KPD. In these states, unlike in many other places, the proletarian hundreds were not purely Communist bodies, but were genuine united front workers’ armed detachments. The SPD in these states was strongly to the left, and the states’ left-wing SPD governments were a thorn in the side of the right wing and the upholders of bourgeois rule.

The right-wing military formations in Bavaria prepared to march on ‘Red Saxony’. The central government gave the local Reichswehr commander General Müller emergency powers in Saxony. Troops were prepared to march from Berlin.

In this situation, Brandler in Moscow was given orders to enter the Saxon government. He protested to Zinoviev and Trotsky that such a thing would only confuse the workers at this time. He later said that their ideas were wrong through and through, and were based on false presuppositions. [52] The KPD negotiated with Zeigner the basis for joining the government, and he accepted, amongst other things, the following: the arming of the working class, workers’ control of production, and a call to build a national workers’ government. Böttcher, Heckert and Brandler became ministers in Zeigner’s cabinet. Three Communists entered the Thuringian government as well. [53]

Zeigner introduced his government to the Saxon Diet on 12 October as ‘a government of “republican and proletarian defence”’. [54] The KPD called on the workers to be prepared to defend themselves against attacks from Berlin and Bavaria. On 13 October, Müller decreed the dissolution of the proletarian hundreds, and he instructed them to hand over their arms. Speaking in Leipzig, Böttcher called for the arming of the proletarian hundreds. Müller told Zeigner to disown Böttcher, but he refused and instead made a speech that angered the military. Müller gave himself full power over the Saxon police. The KPD’s leaders in Berlin called on the workers to arm themselves to prepare for battle to establish a government of the working people. [55] On 19 October Stresemann informed the Reichstag that troops had been ordered to march on Saxony and Thuringia. Zeigner was told by his party comrades in the government that the troop movements were directed against the Bavarian nationalists.

Faced by this threat from Müller, the KPD’s leaders decided to advance the date of the uprising. Brandler’s plan was to call for a nationwide general strike at a conference of factory councils and union delegates meeting in Chemnitz on 21 October, and this would turn into an armed insurrection. The troops entered Saxony that same morning. Brandler hoped to get the left-wing Social Democrats to go along with the general strike. Once the movement was in motion and the armed workers had taken control of key positions, the bureaucrats would have difficulty in stopping them from installing workers’ power.

Böttcher and Heckert spoke at the conference on economic and social problems, but it was left to Brandler to call for a general strike to defend Saxony. He spoke for hours, but failed to convince the delegates. The SPD minister Graupe [56] responded by saying that the task of defending Saxony was that of the government, and he threatened to lead a walkout if the Communist motion was accepted. To preserve unity and with the agreement of the lefts, the KPD decided not to propose it.

Immediately afterwards, the KPD’s Central Committee met and decided to cancel the uprising. Radek arrived from Moscow, and, together with Pyatakov [57], he backed this decision. However, he posed the alternative of a general strike in protest, but nobody supported him, and it was argued that this would only lead to civil war. Only in Hamburg did any fighting take place, when, owing to an error, the local KPD branch assaulted the police stations in the working-class suburbs. It was an adventure, as only a few hundred Communists took part, whilst the workers carried on their everyday affairs. In any case, the SPD was the main workers’ party in Hamburg, and the KPD in that city was marginal and had taken an ultra-left stance from the beginning.

The central problem for the KPD was the qualitative change in objective circumstances once Cuno’s government had been replaced by the Stresemann coalition. With the participation of the SPD, it meant that the Social Democratic workers and the left-wing SPD leaders were not prepared for a showdown with Stresemann. [58]

Putting aside all self-serving arguments, mythology and romantic nonsense, it is difficult to see how the KPD could have united the working class around itself after the fall of Cuno. The strike movement against his government in May, June and July was largely economic, and, though the movement in Saxony was political, it began after the fall of Cuno, when the tide in Berlin was ebbing. The movement was nationally very uneven, and, owing to the left’s hostility to united front work, the KPD’s influence over the non-Communists was weak, even in their bastions such as Hamburg and Berlin.

Initially, neither Brandler nor the KPD were condemned for the failure of October – this came later, when Zinoviev sought to make Brandler a scapegoat, whilst Radek defended him. Originally, Trotsky opposed blaming him, but later took to calling Brandler a ‘Social Democrat’, and heaping abuse on him. Stalin, too, had sought to ‘hold the Germans back’, but later needed a scapegoat. The factionalism with the Soviet Communist Party and the later international rivalry between Trotsky and Brandler – the latter’s faction being initially far stronger – led to the events of 1923 being obscured by myths and childlike schemas.

By December 1923 the KPD had three factions: the Brandlerists, the Centre (composed of former Brandlerists) and the lefts. The Centre parted from Brandler after Zinoviev initiated the attack on him. All three factions drew up a balance sheet for 1923. Brandler’s is found in a series of articles and speeches [59], whilst Thalheimer’s is found in his Eine Verpasste Revolution? of 1923 [60], which focuses on objective conditions. The Centre criticised aspects of the KPD’s policy subsequent to the Ruhr occupation. With the benefit of hindsight, some of their points are undoubtedly correct, but there is no evidence that they differed from Brandler at the time. That of the left is worthless, windy phrases, and it writes off the united front as a ‘reformist tactic’. Trotsky made a series of evaluations from a theoretical methodological standpoint. He does not say what he thinks should have been done after January 1923, and his critique remains abstract. In my view his judgements tend to voluntarism: ‘The will of the party is decisive.’ Thus, like many other, he underestimated the hold of the SPD over millions of workers. He underestimated the material strength of reformism, of bourgeois democracy, and so on, amongst the German workers.

In Notes on the Conversations Between Trotsky and Walcher, the myths about 1923 are dealt with, as the Left Opposition took up the ‘missed October’ view ‘even when it was not instigated by it’. Walcher says that Brandler ‘spoke for three or four hours at the Chemnitz Conference … but he did not arouse the slightest echo’ from the conference of union delegates. Talking of the errors of the KPD’s Central Committee and the Communist International, Walcher says:

The principal mistake had been not to have taken account in time of the financial, political and revolutionary consequences which would flow from the conflict in the Ruhr, and only to have recognised the existence of a revolutionary situation in relation to the Cuno strike, and therefore at the moment when, following the entry of the Social Democrats into the government and the news of the creation of the Rentenmark, the situation had begun to relax, and the revolutionary wave recede. The leadership of the KPD, and perhaps that of the Communist International, which in July had very seriously underestimated the situation, from that time onwards overestimated it in the same way. From that time onwards the whole party began to be prepared for the insurrection, and no notice was taken at the time of what was actually happening at the same moment within the working class. Thus the scissors opened wide between the party policy and reality, and this fact left its mark on the Chemnitz Conference: the party leadership, for wanting the impossible in the second stage of this development, was incapable of bringing off what was still possible in it. [61]


1. For Raymond Poincaré, cf. n23, August Thalheimer’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History.

2. Wilhelm Cuno (1876–1933) was Chancellor from November 1922 to August 1923.

3. On 24 September 1922 the remnants of the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) which had not joined the KPD fused with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), to form the United Social Democratic Party (VSPD), although it was still largely referred to as the SPD.

4. Cf. Dokumente und Materialen zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung (hereafter Dok. u. Mat.), Series 7, Volume 2, Dietz, Berlin 1966, for the 1923 events.

5. For Hugo Stinnes, cf. n8, August Thalheimer’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History.

6. Cf. Dok. u. Mat.

7. Ibid.

8. For Ruth Fischer, cf. n5, Paul Levi’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History; for Heinrich Brandler, cf. n55, Jakob Reich’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History; Ernst Meyer (1887–1930) was in the SPD, then the Spartakusbund, and was a leading member of the KPD until 1929, when the Conciliators were removed from the party leadership.

9. Cf. Dok. u. Mat..

10. Erich Zeigner (1886–1943) was a left-wing member of the SPD who was in favour of working with the KPD, and was the President of Saxony in 1923.

11. For Clara Zetkin cf. n42, Jakob Reich’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History.

12. Inprekorr, 23 March 1923.

13. Inprekorr, 28 March 1923. For Walther Rathenau, cf. n13, August Thalheimer’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History.

14. Arthur Ewert (1890–1959) was a member of the SPD, joined the KPD on his return from Canada in 1919, and worked for the Communist International from 1923. He was so badly tortured in Brazil that he spent the rest of his days in an East German sanatorium. Hans Pfeiffer (1895–1968) was a KPD deputy in the Reichstag in 1924–30, was jailed under the Nazis, and lived in the DDR after the Second World War. Gerhart Eisler (1887–1968) was on the left wing of the KPD, and was then a Conciliator. An official of the Communist International during the 1930s, he fled to the USA, and after his arrest there in 1947, went to the DDR in 1949. For Heinz Neumann, cf. n27, August Thalheimer’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History.

15. Cf. Dok. u. Mat. Paul Böttcher (1891–?) joined the KPD from the SPD, entered the leadership after Levi’s expulsion, and was the Minister of Finance in the Saxony government in 1923. He was expelled in 1929, joined the SAP, and lived in the DDR after the Second World War. For Arkady Maslow, cf. n1, August Thalheimer’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History. For Ernst Thälmann, cf. n27, August Thalheimer’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History.

16. The proletarian hundreds were self-defence militias set up by workers to defend their organisations, demonstrations, pickets, etc., from right-wing and police attacks.

17. General Ferdinand Foch (1851–1937) was the Commander in Chief of the Allied forces in 1918, and a leading advocate of imperialist intervention against the Soviet Union.

18. In the Berlin Metal Workers Union election in July 1923, the KPD won 54,000 votes to the SPD’s 23,000. They had one third of the mandates in the Textile Workers Union Conference of 1923. Cf. Hermann Weber, Die Wandlung des deutschen Kommunismus, Frankfurt am Main, 1969. For Jacob Walcher, cf. introduction to Walcher’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History.

19. Cf. Dok. u. Mat..

20. Cf. Inprekorr, 9 May 1923 for an account of the punch-up between SPD and KPD deputies to the Prussian Landtag, over an enquiry into the ‘March Action’.

21. Wilhelm Carl Severing (1875–1952) was a Social Democrat and the Minister of the Interior for Prussia in 1919–26 and 1930–32.

22. For Herman Remmele, cf. n64, Jakob Reich’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History.

23. Cf. The Versailles Peace Treaty in A. Adler (ed.), Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, London 1980, pp. 385–6.

24. Die Kommunistische Internationale, no. 26, 13 February 1923.

25. Inprekorr, 14 February 1923. For Paul Frölich, cf. n68, Jakob Reich’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History.

26. Die Kommunistische Internationale, no 26. Alois Neurath (1886–?) was a founding member of the German section of the Czech Communist Party, was expelled as a Trotskyist in 1929, despite being closer to the Brandler current, and later joined the Trotskyist movement. ‘Sommer’ was Josip Cizinski (1904–?), a founder of the Yugoslav Communist Party, and an official of the Communist Youth International. He perished in the purges.

27. Inprekorr, 7 May 1923.

28. Die Kommunistische Internationale, nos. 24/25 and 26.

29. Inprekorr, 25 June 1923. Edwin Hörnle (1883–1952) was in the SPD, the Spartakusbund, and then the KPD. He was a deputy in the Reichstag from 1924 to 1933, took refuge in the Soviet Union after 1933, and held posts in the DDR after the Second World War.

30. An English translation of Radek’s speech appears in Labour Monthly, September 1923. Leo Schlageter (1894–1923) was a militant nationalist who was shot by the French for his sabotage activity in the Ruhr.

31. Cf. Inprekorr, 25 and 27 June 1923, for a discussion of the issues.

32. Cf. Inprekorr, 1 August 1923, for a review of this pamphlet.

33. Cf. his speech in Die Kommunistische Internationale, no. 27, August 1923.

34. Cf. Dok. u. Mat. for details of this work.

35. Details are in Inprekorr, 11 and 13 June 1923, where the final ballot is described as a ‘Schwindel’ – apparently non-voters were counted with those voting to call it off, and a 75 per cent majority was required for continuing.

36. Cf. Dok. u. Mat.

37. Ibid.

38. Cf. Die Lehren der deutschen Ereignisse.

39. Otto Kuusinen (1881–1964) was a founding member of the Finnish Communist Party, and was a leading official in the Communist International until its dissolution in 1943.

40. Inprekorr, 27 July 1923.

41. Cf. Dok. u. Mat., Tagung des Zentralausschuss der KPD vom 5.–6. August 1923, session of the Central Commission.

42. Inprekorr, 8 July 1923.

43. Cf. Dok. u. Mat., Beschluss der Reichstagfraktion der VSPD vom 23. August.

44. Otto Wels (1873–1939) was the leader of the SPD’s fraction in the Reichstag, and had played a part in the crushing of the Spartacist revolt in 1919 as military commander of Berlin.

45. Ottomar Geschke (1882–1957) was on the left wing of the KPD, and later a supporter of Stalin. He worked under the name of ‘Gebhardt’, survived incarceration in Buchenwald concentration camp, and subsequently lived in the DDR. Fritz Heckert (1884–1936) was in the SPD, then the Spartakusbund, and then the KPD. He was the Minister of Finance in the 1923 Saxon government, became a supporter of Stalin, and died in exile in the Soviet Union.

46. Cited in Pierre Broué, Révolution en Allemagne: 1917–1923, Edition de Minuit, Paris, 1971.

47. Cf. Dok. u. Mat.

48. Gustav Streseman (1878-1929) was a businessman and the leader of the German People’s Party (DVP), a right-wing organisation. His ‘grand coalition’ incorporated much of the German political spectrum. For Rudolf Hilferding, cf. n11, Arthur Rosenberg’s article in this issue of Revolutionary History, p. 41.

49. Cf. Dok. u. Mat., Bekanntmachung des Reichsausschuss der deutschen Betriebsräte vom 13. August 1923.

50. August Enderle (1887–1959) was in the SPD, then the USPD, and joined the KPD in 1919. He specialised in trade union affairs. He was a leading member of the KPO, moved to the SAP in 1932, and stood on the left wing of the SPD in West Germany after the Second World War.

51. Die Lehren der deutschen Ereignisse.

52. Cf. New Left Review, no. 105, September–October 1977.

53. These were Karl Korsch, Albin Tenner and Theodor Neubauer. Korsch (1886–1961) joined the USPD in 1919, moved to the KPD in 1920, was Minister of Education in the Thuringian government in 1923, and was expelled in 1926 as an ultra-leftist. Tenner (1885–1967) was the Minister of the Economy, and Neubauer (1890–1945) was Minister Without Portfolio.

54. Cf. C. Harman, The Lost Revolution, Bookmarks, London 1982.

55. Ibid.

56. Georg Graupe was an SPD trade union official and the Minister of Labour in the government of Saxony.

57. Georgi Pyatakov (1890–1937) was an Old Bolshevik, was involved in key economic work after 1917, sided with the Left Opposition, capitulated soon after his expulsion in 1927, and was a defendant in the 1937 Moscow Trial.

58. The relative strengths of the working-class parties can be estimated by the electoral results at the time. In July 1923 elections for the Mecklenburg-Strelitz Landtag the KPD received 10,633 votes to the SPD’s 11,707 (in 1920 the SPD had 23,000 to the USPD’s 2,000). This trend continued into 1924, when in January the KPD received 39,000 votes for the Saar Landesrat compared with 46,000 for the SPD (in June 1922 the KPD received 14,000, the SPD 29,000). In February 1924 in Thuringia the KPD received 149,000 votes to the SPD’s 183,000. In between 1921 to February 1924 in Mecklenburg-Schwerin the KPD’s vote grew from 15,000 to 44,000, whilst the SPD’s fell from 137,000 to 74,000. In November 1923 in Bremen the KPD received 23,000 to the SPD’s 45,000. In the May 1924 elections to the Reichstag the KPD was as strong as the SPD in East Prussia, Potsdam 1 and 2, Koblenz-Trier, Lower Bavaria and Württemburg, whilst in Merseburg, Westfalen-Nord, Oppeln, Koln-Aachen and Düsseldorf East and West it was stronger. For every 100 SPD voters in Westfalen-Süd there were 137 KPD, in Düsseldorf Est there were 195, whilst in Aachen and Düsseldorf itself the KPD vote was nearly three times as strong as the SPD vote, in Remscheid 4.5 times, in Halle 2.5 times, and in Bochum twice. In Wedding (Berlin), Stuttgart, Esslingen, Böblingen and Ravensburg the KPD was stronger than the SPD. In Halle-Merseberg it was already the largest party by 1921. In the February elections to the Prussian Landtag the votes were: SPD: 70,340, USPD: 74,754, KPD: 197,113, whilst the strongest bourgeois party, the DNVP, received 151,137 votes. The bulk of the USPD, offices, papers, members and supporters, went over to the KPD here, but this was an exception. Cf. Weber, Wandlung des deutschen …

59. Cf. Die Lehren …, especially the contributions of Brandler, Remmele and Radek, and Minutes of the Fifth World Congress of the Communist International, in particular the speeches by Brandler, Radek and Zetkin.

60. Eine Verpasste Revolution? has been reprinted by Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik, and can be ordered from GFSA Postfach 15-02-47, 2800 Bremen 15, Germany.

61. Cf. below, p. 97. Trotsky declared his ‘complete agreement’ with Walcher.

Updated by ETOL: 20.9.2011