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Shock for Imperialists

(August 1958)

From Labour Review, Vol. 3 No. 4, August–September 1958, p. 110.
Transcribed & marked up by Ted Crawford & D. Walters for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL) in 2009.

Germany and the Revolution in Russia, 1915–1918
Documents from the Archives of the German Foreign Ministry
Edited by Z.A.B. Zeman
Oxford University Press, 25s.)

‘THE Bolshevik movement could never have attained the scale or the influence which it has today without our continual support.’ Thus wrote State Secretary Kuhlmann in a memorandum to the High Command of the Kaiser’s Army on September 29, 1917.

The German imperialists had, indeed, rendered considerable services to the Bolsheviks. Not only had they arranged the return of Lenin and Zinoviev to Russia from Switzerland across German territory; they had bought up large quantities of Bolshevik publications, through their agents in Stockholm, in order to use them for propaganda at the front, they had reproduced a pamphlet of Bukharin’s on rice-paper and smuggled it into Russia, and in many other ways had given a helping hand to a movement which interested them because it was fighting against Russia’s participation in the imperialist war.

Reading these documents (extracted from the German Foreign Ministry archives captured in 1945) one recalls how the Stalinists have taken the use sometimes made by fascist and similar sources of Trotsky’s criticisms of the Soviet State and its policies as proof that Trotskyists are agents of fascism and reaction’. Thus, for example, Klugmann wrote in his From Trotsky to Tito (1951):

‘Trotsky’s writings and those of his followers were freely published in the middle and late thirties by the Hearst Press in America ... Despite their ultra-revolutionary phrases the Trotskyites always found a welcome in the papers of the capitalist Press lords.’

The Kaiser’s officials seem to have convinced themselves that the Bolsheviks really were their ‘agents’, and their documents show comical indignation when they started to appreciate the true character of the young Soviet Government. Their awakening began in December 1917, when the Bolsheviks tried to get peace negotiations transferred from German-occupied to neutral territory. Then the revolutionary appeals addressed to the German soldiers gave a shock to those who had fancied themselves as pulling the strings in Petrograd. By June 1918 a worried Ludendorff was calling for ‘strong and ruthless treatment’!

At the end of the road embarked upon by the self-confident sorcerer’s apprentices of German imperialism who in 1915 began assigning funds for the encouragement of revolution in Russia lay the German revolution of November 1918.

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