Fascism in Germany. Robin Blick 1975

Chapter VII: The First Betrayals: Social Democracy in War and Revolution

Unless the Kaiser abdicates, the social revolution is inevitable. But I will have none of it. I hate it like sin. (Friedrich Ebert, SPD Chairman, 7 November 1918.)

The milestones marking Hitler’s victorious march to power are each marked with an historic date in the life of the German proletariat: August 1914, when on the fourth of that month, the entire Social Democratic Party Reichstag fraction voted its unconditional support to the Kaiser’s imperialist war; November 1918, when the SPD leaders, headed by Ebert, entered into a secret pact with the rulers of old Germany to strangle a rising socialist revolution; October 1923, when a vacillating KPD leadership aborted the revolutionary situation which prevailed throughout the summer and early autumn of that year; August 1928, when the Stalinised Communist International embarked at its Sixth World Congress on the suicidal course of branding Social Democrats as ‘social fascists’ and consequently ruling out any possibility of forming a united front with reformist parties to fight fascism; October 1930, the month when the SPD Reichstag fraction made its fatal decision to ‘tolerate’ the anti-working-class semi-Bonapartist Brüning government; August 1931, when on Stalin’s orders the KPD aligned itself with the Nazis in their referendum to depose the Prussian SPD government; July 1932, which found both the SPD and KPD powerless to resist Chancellor von Papen’s military-backed coup in Prussia; January 1933, when the reformist party and trade union apparatus was employed to prevent the German workers from fighting back against the newly-installed and still uncertain Nazi – Nationalist coalition; and finally May 1933, when the trade union leaders unashamedly marched with the Nazi ‘Labour Front’ to Hitler’s ‘May Day’ rally in Berlin, setting the seal on the ignominious capitulation of the leaders of the German working class to fascist counter-revolution.

It could of course be argued – and in fact has been – that each of these retreats necessarily led to the next, that Hitler’s destruction of the German workers’ movement was but a logical outcome of all that went before. Neat and seemingly historical though this line of reasoning is, it ignores one of the main factors in German political life throughout this period – the working class. Had there been on each occasion a leadership with deep roots in the masses capable of making a stand against these blunders and betrayals, and of devising revolutionary strategy and tactics appropriate to the prevailing situation in Germany and Europe, there is no room for doubt that Hitler’s movement would never have achieved the proportions that it did, let alone conquer power. For unlike the defeat of the 1525 Peasants’ Revolt and the bourgeois revolution of 1848, we are now dealing with reverses inflicted on the masses as a direct consequence of the inadequacies of their own leadership, be it Social Democratic, centrist or Stalinist. The entire course of the class struggle in Germany between 1914 and 1933 is the most tragic verification of Trotsky’s assertion, written into the founding programme of the Fourth International, that ‘the world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterised by an historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat’. [1] The dimensions of this crisis only became fully visible after the bankruptcy of the Stalinist-dominated Communist International was confirmed by the monumental defeat of the German proletariat in 1933, but its contours were already discernable in August 1914, when the leading party of the Second International not only failed to mount any serious opposition to the war, but actually threw its massive political and organisational weight behind the Kaiser’s imperialist war machine. From being avowed enemies of militarism and capitalist exploitation, the SPD leaders almost without exception were transformed literally overnight into recruiting sergeants for the Prussian Officer Corps and strike-breakers for the Thyssens, Krupps, Stumms, Stinnes and Kirdorfs, the most implacable foes of the German working class. The magnitude and suddenness of this unprecedented volte face was a traumatic experience even for those in the international movement who had been the SPD’s sharpest critics. Lenin for one simply refused to believe it had happened, telling his fellow exile and close comrade Grigory Zinoviev that the issue of Vorwärts which carried news of the war credits vote was a government forgery. [2] Trotsky, who had spent several of his exile years working in close collaboration with the leaders of German and Austrian Social Democracy, held out less hopes for any anti-war stand on their part, even doubting whether had Bebel lived another year, he would have stood firm against a rising torrent of chauvinism which engulfed not only the German petit-bourgeoisie, but the overwhelming majority of the working class. Nevertheless:

... the telegram telling of the capitulation of the German Social Democracy shocked me even more than the declaration of war, in spite of the fact that I was far from a naive idealising of German socialism... I did not expect the official leaders of the International, in case of war, to prove themselves capable of serious revolutionary initiative. At the same time, I would not even admit the idea that the Social Democracy would simply cower on its belly before a nationalist militarism... the vote of 4 August has remained one of the tragic experiences of my life. [3]

This sense of shock and betrayal was understandable. At the Stuttgart (1907) Congress of the Socialist International, the SPD delegation – though not without considerable prodding from Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Martov – voted unanimously for a resolution which, after analysing the causes of militarism and national rivalries, ended with the following call:

If a war threatens to break out, it is the duty of the working class and of its parliamentary representatives in the countries involved, supported by the consolidating activity of the International Bureau, to exert every effort to prevent the outbreak of war by means they consider most effective... Should war break out none the less, it is their duty to intervene in favour of its speedy termination and to do all in their power to utilise the economic and political crisis caused by the war to rouse the peoples and thereby to hasten the abolition of capitalist class rule. [4]

This anti-war position was endorsed by subsequent Congresses at Copenhagen (1910) and Basle (1912), the latter adopting a manifesto On the International Situation which, in the light of imperialist rivalries in the Balkans, declared:

The most important task in the International’s activities devolves upon the working class of Germany, France and England, and that proletarians consider it a crime to fire at each other for the benefit of the capitalist profits, the ambition of dynasties, or the greater glory of secret diplomatic treaties. [5]

So strongly-worded was it that Lenin, on reading the manifesto, remarked prophetically to Zinoviev: ‘They have given us a large promissory note; let us see how they will meet it.’ We recall these resolutions not out of antiquarian interest but to illustrate one of the most salient features of Social Democracy and centrism – their ability to adopt militant-sounding and even correct policies on the eve of a crisis while at the same time adapting to social forces which made capitulation inevitable. This Lenin understood even before 4 August, but not as clearly as Rosa Luxemburg, who had been engaged in a protracted battle with not only the SPD right wing, but the Kautsky – Bebel ‘centre’ from as early as 1905. It took Kautsky’s refusal to denounce the war to convince Lenin that ‘Rosa Luxemburg was right when she wrote, long ago, that Kautsky has the “subservience of a theoretician” – servility, in plainer language, servility to the majority of the party, to opportunism’. Lenin now saw his former teacher as ‘the main representative of bourgeois corruption in the working-class movement’. [6] Yet right up to the last days of peace, the SPD maintained what appeared to be a firm anti-war stand. The Austrian ultimatum to Russia was denounced in fire-eating language on 25 July, the SPD manifesto directly calling upon all party members and supporters ‘to express immediately in mass meetings the unshakable will to peace of the class-conscious proletariat’. It denounced the German bourgeoisie and Junkers ‘who in peace-time oppress you, despise you, want to see you as cannon-fodder’, and concluded with the rallying cry: ‘We don’t want war! Down with war! Long live international brotherhood!’ As one by one the imperialist powers of Europe began to mobilise, the SPD line began to waver. Now, when it was no longer a question of protest demonstrations against a threat of war initiated by a foreign power’s government, but of an actual struggle against one’s own imperialist bourgeoisie, all the vacillations which had in the past manifested themselves in the party leadership on the questions of internationalism and the state were qualitatively transformed into factors determining the overall line of the party. On 31 July, Vorwärts reverted to the old patriotic formulation of Bebel when it declared:

If the fateful hour strikes the workers will redeem the promise made by their representatives on their behalf. The ‘unpatriotic crew’ will do their duty and will not be surpassed by any of the patriots.

The very next day, the German government declared war on Russia. The imperialist slaughter had begun.

All the evidence suggests that right up to 4 August, the German government took the SPD’s anti-war propaganda seriously, so much so that the general staff prepared a long list of party and trade union leaders who would be arrested in the event of war. [7] The irony was that these same party and union leaders were, within a matter of days, to be granted immunity from military service by their would-be captors, on the grounds that their services were more urgently needed at home to boost war production and maintain ‘social peace’. Naturally, those among the party leadership and its 110-strong Reichstag fraction who favoured the policy of national defence used the argument that any other course would mean suicide for the German socialist movement. In the words of the centrist Wilhelm Dittmann, who had witnessed patriotic demonstrations by Social Democratic workers on his way to the fateful fraction meeting on 3 August which committed the party to its pro-war line:

The party could not act otherwise. It would rouse a storm of indignation among the men at the front and people at home against the SPD if it did [vote against the credits]. The socialist organisation would be swept clean away by popular resentment.

However true this last statement was, it neither explained nor justified the conduct of the SPD majority who voted for imperialist war. Their motives may indeed have been mixed – a desire to preserve the legality and resources of the German labour movement obviously played no small part in swinging wavering sections of the middle leadership and lower cadres behind the official line, as did an inbred and on most occasions thoroughly correct reluctance publicly to flout majority decisions of party bodies. This weighed heavily in the thinking of even the anti-militarist activist Karl Liebknecht, who, though voting in the Reichstag fraction with 13 other deputies against the proposal to support the war credits, nevertheless, when it came to the actual Reichstag division, submitted to discipline. But what predominated in the minds of those who supported the war was a ‘national’ conception of socialism, that not only the establishment of a socialist government but even the building of a fully-developed socialist society could be carried out within the confines of a single nation state. [8] This had been implicit in much of the party’s propaganda from 1890 onwards, and even explicit in the speeches and articles of the extreme right wing of the party headed by Georg von Vollmar, who 46 years before Stalin came to the utopian conclusion that socialism could be built in one country (only the country was not holy mother Russia but ‘culture-bearing’ Germany). The transition from what Trotsky called the SPD’s ‘legitimate patriotism to their own party’ to a conception of ‘national’ socialism and finally, after 4 August 1914, to a position of national defence, was a complex process which had its roots not only in the treachery of leaders, but the evolution of an entire stratum of the German working class:

If we leave aside the hardened bureaucrats, careerists, parliamentary sharpers, and political crooks in general, the social patriotism of the rank-and-file Social Democrat was derived precisely from the belief in building German socialism. It is impossible to think that hundreds of thousands of rank and file Social Democrats... wanted to defend the Hohenzollerns or the bourgeoisie. No. They wanted to protect German industry, the German railways and highways, German technology and culture, and especially the organisations of the German working class, as the necessary and sufficient national prerequisite for socialism. [9]

The great tragedy was that their devotion to the goal of a future socialist Germany was cruelly and cynically exploited by both their class enemies and their own leaders to serve the ends of an all too real imperialist present.

Thus workers read in the German trade union journal Correspondenzblatt that:

... the policy of 4 August accords with the most vital interests of the trade unions; it keeps all foreign invasion at bay, it protects us against the dismemberment of the German lands, against the destruction of flourishing branches of the German economy, and against an adverse outcome of the war, which would saddle us with reparations for decades to come.

The political responsibility for such a line, which undoubtedly found an echo amongst wide layers of trade unionists in the early period of the war at least, lay largely with the Kautsky ‘centre’ which had mis-educated entire generations of workers to believe that patriotism and an evasive attitude towards the struggle for power could coexist with the SPD’s formal adherence to socialist internationalism and the Marxist theory of the state. For as the preceding chapter attempts to show, the seeds which ripened into the fruit of 4 August were sown in the period of party expansion which followed the lapsing of the anti-socialist laws in 1890. When confronted by the magnitude of their betrayal, the more sophisticated party leaders attempted to evade their own responsibility before the German and international movement – one they had solemnly accepted at a succession of Socialist International congresses – by blaming the working class for a situation which they themselves had helped to create. And we must also look at the capitulation of 4 August from another angle, one which concerns our search for the root causes of German fascism. Firstly, the SPD’s quite unabashed endorsement of the Kaiser’s rapacious imperialist war policy, together with its acceptance of the utterly reactionary idea of ‘social peace’ at home, had the effect of legitimising both nationalism and the notion of ‘national solidarity’ among wide strata of the working class, especially those whose class consciousness was at a low level. For years the SPD had proclaimed, both in its press and at public rallies, the international solidarity of the proletariat and the existence of an unbridgeable chasm between the worker and his exploiter. And workers grew to respect and assimilate these ideas, not only because of their inherent validity, but because they were learnt from a movement which enjoyed an enormous moral as well as political reputation amongst millions of German workers. It was a movement which had fought the redoubtable Iron Chancellor and won. Its voice deserved a hearing, and its opinions careful and sympathetic consideration. What, therefore, was the German worker to think and do when he saw these self-same leaders tearing up the resolutions of their own party and the International, eating their own revolutionary words and calling upon him, not only in the name of the fatherland, but socialism, to shoulder arms with the bourgeoisie against the invader? Only the most class-conscious, dedicated and courageous of proletarians could have hoped to withstand this double pressure of government-induced hysteria and duplicity on the part of his own trusted leaders. The fourth of August was therefore not only a victory for the Kaiser, who on that day declared that he recognised not parties, but Germans. It was the first step along the road to the even more humiliating capitulation 19 years later, when on 17 May 1933, the SPD Reichstag fraction again voted unanimously in support of the foreign policy of German imperialism. The only difference being that on this august occasion, Hitler, and not the Kaiser, was laying down the line. [10] The SPD was not to break from the foreign policy of the German bourgeoisie until the party’s suppression by the Third Reich on 22 June 1933. Neither was it ever again to advocate the revolutionary overthrow of German capitalism. The fourth of August was a political rubicon for German Social Democracy, and despite all the party’s twists and turns between November 1918 and the victory of the Nazis, it never retraced its steps. The new political situation created in Germany by the vote of 4 August also had a profound impact on the consciousness of those layers of the workers most closely bound up with the everyday life of the party, not to speak of the many thousands of petty and middle-ranking officials for whom it provided not only a political programme but a means of livelihood. [11] Their sudden acceptance into the bosom of the German Empire without doubt convinced the vast majority that the old class hatreds would be quietly laid to rest, that the industrial barons and Junkers had seen the error of their ways in waging war on Social Democracy as a subversive, anti-national force, and finally the conduct of the party’s leaders in the hour of the Kaiser’s greatest need would be rewarded with a permanent stake in the new Germany, which, they fondly hoped, would emerge after a victorious conclusion to the war. ‘We are defending the fatherland’, the right-wing SPD leader Philipp Scheidemann told the Reichstag, ‘in order to conquer it’, while a former party leftist, the journalist Konrad Haenisch, displayed more sophistication when he wrote:

What the Junkers are defending is at most the Germany of the past, what the bourgeoisie are defending is the Germany of the present, what we are defending is the Germany of the future. [12]

Even before the official declaration of war, the trade union leaders, on 2 August, pronounced an end to the class struggle, suspending all strikes in progress and withholding strike pay for the duration of hostilities which they now regarded as not only inevitable but desirable. This step had been precipitated by a meeting with Interior Ministry officials the previous day, one of whom assured them:

We do not think of going after you, provided that you make no difficulties for us, for we are glad to have the great labour organisations which can help the administration in necessary social work.

Just as in the early months of 1933, the trade union bureaucrats were ahead of the political wing of the movement in seeking an accommodation with the bourgeoisie and its state. The contrast between August 1914, when they were welcomed with open arms by a regime which sought their cooperation, and 2 May 1933, when after marching with the Labour Front in Hitler’s Nazi ‘May Day’ rally, their offices were occupied and themselves arrested by picked units of the SA, provides us with a deep insight into the unique role of fascism, a role which demarcates it from all other forms of political reaction. Bismarck repressed Social Democracy, while preserving the forms of parliamentary democracy and permitting only official state organs to apply his anti-socialist laws. There was no room in Bismarck’s anti-Marxist strategy for a plebeian-based terror directed against the workers’ movement. Neither can the ‘class truce’ concluded by the leaders of the SPD and the trade unions be compared in any sense to fascism, for it presupposed the continued existence of proletarian-based organisations, even though these were temporarily tied by the class-collaborationist policies of their leaders to a line of supporting the domestic and foreign policy of German imperialism. Repressions were carried out – as in the case of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who were both jailed for their anti-war activities – only against those who attempted to win workers for an alternative policy. And while German arms continued to meet with success, there was but little need for such a harsh regime. However unpalatable it might be to genuine internationalists, the fact remains that in the opening months of the war, the majority of the German working class was, like its counterparts in the other belligerent nations, enthusiastically behind its chauvinist leaders. The depths to which the Social Democratic and trade union bureaucracy had sunk is made clear in the following extracts from the trade union press of the period:

We were accustomed to regard war purely from the standpoint of its socially destructive forces... However, the facts have taught us differently. War creates situations which are not socially destructive but to the highest degree socially progressive, situations which awaken social forces in all classes of the population to an undreamt of degree, and eliminate anti-social tendencies. At this stage the war is an affair of the whole people and it is calculated to advance the cause of socialism to a degree attained by hardly any other event. People at war must feel socialist and above all act socialist... [13]

A new age has opened up. In a short space of time the war has made new men of us all. This is equally true of high and low or rich and poor. Solidarity and mutual assistance in bitter and undeserved distress, the principle of action which we have always hammered into the working masses and so often demanded without success from the rich, has become the common principle of a great and capable people, overnight. Socialism wherever we look. [14]

The villainous plans of the dishonourable, bloody and faithless Tsar and his allies, the cunning Japs, the perfidious Britons, the boastful French, the lying Belgians, the thankless Boers, the swaggering Canadians, and the enslaved kidnapped Indians, Zouaves, Niggers and the remaining scum of the earth, have broken against the strong wall set up by the implacable heroism of the German and Austrian troops... [15]

It is almost impossible to credit that these lines, all written in the first months of the war, came from the pens of men who had dedicated their lives to defending, even if in a reformist fashion, the interests of the German proletariat. Now this same reformism became a vehicle for inciting chauvinist contempt for the workers of the allied powers, and what is just as significant, an ideology which differed little from that of the so-called ‘war socialism’ of the Prussian general staff. These leaders of German trade unionism presented government regimentation of the economy and labour as giant strides towards socialism simply because these measures had been undertaken by the state and since they involved a certain degree of central planning and control, had encountered initial resistance by certain sections of industry.

The real nature and purpose of government control over industry was made clear in a report, dated 20 December 1915, by Walter Rathenau, [16] head of the war Raw Materials Department of the German War Office:

Coercive measures had to be adopted regarding the use of all raw materials in the country. No material must be used arbitrarily, or for luxury... The needs of the army are of paramount importance... ‘sequestration’ does not mean that merchandise is seized by the state but only that it is restricted, that it can no longer be disposed of by the owner at will... The system of war boards is based upon self-administration (in private industry) yet that does not signify unrestricted freedom... The boards serve the interests of the public at large; they neither distribute dividends nor apportion profits...

And, despite initial reluctance on the part of certain sectors of industry to work under this new regime (notably the chemical industry), an harmonious partnership was soon established between the state and the major, war-oriented monopolies. They understood that sectional interests and policies had to be subordinated to the overall, longer-term requirements of the big bourgeoisie as a whole. It was their war, and they would have to take the steps necessary to win it. The ghost of Lassalle’s and Bismarck’s ‘state socialism’ had returned to haunt not the bourgeoisie but the German proletariat! Neither did the services of the bureaucracy go unacknowledged by a grateful government. In a communiqué issued in November 1915, it declared in terms that would have been unthinkable before August 1914 that:

... the free trade unions have proved... almost indispensable to the economic and communal life of the nation. They have made numerous valuable suggestions in the military, economic and social fields, part of which were carried out. Their cooperation and advice were placed at the disposal of the military and civil authorities, and were gladly accepted. The gratitude of the nation for the patriotic efforts of organised labour has been frequently expressed by the responsible authorities...

Perhaps the most amazing somersault of all was that performed by Erwin Belger, former General Secretary of the ‘Imperialist Alliance Against Social Democracy’. In his pamphlet, Social Democracy after the War, published in 1915, he heaps the most fulsome praise on the party he and his colleagues had previously scourged for its lack of patriotism and revolutionary aspirations. Now he found the SPD leaders’ conduct ‘irreproachable’ and ‘honourable’, their vote for the war credits giving him ‘great joy’. Ludwig Frank, the right-wing leader of the Mannheim party organisation, he lauded as a ‘hero’, while Rosa Luxemburg was branded for her anti-war writings in what Belger described as the ‘bandit party press’. Shrewdly sensing that the wartime policy of the party leaders was not simply a tactical adjustment, but a new stage in the party’s evolution, he hoped the SPD would openly convert itself into ‘a purely labour party... a national party’, and that ‘when they reach the point – and it will be reached eventually – of reshaping the entire obsolete Erfurt Programme, let them draw the necessary conclusions, and above all delete the international principles’.

Similar views were being expressed by some (though by no means all) sections of the bourgeoisie. A commentator on the wartime policies and attitudes of German employers’ organisations noted:

The employers regard the effects of the war, insofar as they extend to the internal political situation, as predominantly favourable. This applies especially to its effect on the Socialist Party... For the war has led to unity of the nation and had cut the ground from under the most attractive socialist theories... The socialists of the opportunist trend see the war as an economic war. They take the view that the war is imperialist and even defend the right of every nation to imperialism. From that they deduce a community of interests between employers and workers within the nation; and that line followed consistently leads to their becoming a radical bourgeois reform party... [17]

As we have already suggested, this viewpoint, for all its prescience on the future evolution of German Social Democracy, was not shared by the bourgeoisie in its entirety. Emil Kirdorf for one fulminated against the prevailing policy of government and industrial collaboration with the Social Democrats, whom he still regarded as traitors and subversives, despite all their claims to the contrary. Scepticism about the conversion of the SPD to ‘national’ values was also expressed succinctly in the business journal Deutsche Arbeitgeberzeitung for 15 August 1915. There, in an article warning against any serious democratic reforms in the German political system after the war, it was asserted that the SPD had still much to achieve in the way of casting off the old traditions of class struggle and internationalism. It would:

... above all have to show, after the war as well, whether the process of transformation to which it refers has really become part of its flesh and blood. Only if this has been decisively demonstrated for a fairly lengthy period will one be able to say, with due caution, whether some of these changes in Germany’s home policy are feasible... the harsh school of war provides us with the strongest possible arguments against further democratisation of our state system.

So we have here two diametrically opposed tactical lines. One – the line that prevailed throughout the war, and for the period of revolutionary upheaval which followed – favoured intimate collaboration with the leaders of the SPD right wing as a means of splitting the working class and establishing a new basis in the masses for capitalist rule. (Endorsement of this tactic in no way implied or involved any conversion on the part of the German bourgeoisie to democracy, even less the slightest sympathy for the social and political aspirations of the working class.) Ranged against the liberals were the ‘hard-liners’. They feared that this policy of concessions would be interpreted by the workers as an admission of ruling-class weakness, serving not as a diversion from revolution, but rather as the gateway to it. Naturally, both these trends had their echoes in the petit-bourgeoisie, with, on the one hand, the beginnings of a regroupment in the old liberal camp for a policy of alliance with the SPD right wing against the radical elements of the workers’ movement, [18] and on the extreme right the crystallisation of fanatically anti-Marxist, chauvinist groupings which called for a war unto death against the enemies of the Reich, internal as well as external. [19] So if the leaders of Social Democracy believed their post-August course had disarmed their former enemies – and their entire conduct up to Hitler’s victory suggests that they did – they were very much mistaken. What Hitler has to say on the conduct of the SPD in the war period is highly revealing in this respect. (We should bear in mind that throughout these extracts, Hitler means by ‘Marxism’ the ideology of the official SPD, and not that of the party left wing which opposed the war!)

What]... angered me was the attitude which they [the authorities] thought fit to take to Marxism. In my eyes, this only proved that they hadn’t so much as the faintest idea concerning this pestilence. In all seriousness they seemed to believe that by the assurance that parties were no longer recognised, [20] they had brought Marxism to understanding and restraint. They failed to understand that here no party was involved, but a doctrine that must lead to the destruction of all humanity... It was an unequalled absurdity to identify the German worker with Marxism in the days of August 1914, in those hours the German worker had made himself free from the embrace of this venomous plague, for otherwise he would never have been able to enter the struggle. The authorities, however, were stupid enough to believe that Marxism had now become ‘national'... which only shows that in these long years none of these official guides of the state had even taken the trouble to study the essence of this doctrine, for if they had, such an absurdity could scarcely have crept in. Marxism, whose goal is and remains the destruction of all non-Jewish national states, was forced to look on in horror as... the German working class it had ensnared, awakened and from hour to hour began to enter the service of the fatherland with ever-increasing rapidity... suddenly the gang of Jewish leaders stood there lonely and forsaken... it was a bad moment for the betrayers of the German working class, but as soon as the leaders recognised the danger which menaced them they... insolently mimicked the national awakening. [21]

On the surface, viewed from the standpoint of formal logic, we have two mutually exclusive positions. Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg and all those who followed them in their opposition to the war rightly regarded the SPD leaders as ‘betrayers of the German working class’ – but for their capitulation to chauvinism, and their failure, in the prewar period, to prepare the party and the entire working class for this crisis. Yet we find Hitler (in company with the chauvinists of the Fatherland Front, to name but one organisation) still depicting the SPD leadership as dyed-in-the-wool internationalists and revolutionaries, pawns in the hands of a mythical ‘world Jewish conspiracy’ to subjugate and exterminate the ‘Aryan race’. But if we move from the plane of formal logic to that of the real movement of classes in history, the contradiction can be resolved.

We must return to the proposition of Engels that individuals and classes do not perceive their interests in a clear-cut way, nor do they necessarily derive their political ideas and programmes purely from problems immediately confronting them. The process of the formation of consciousness is far more subtle, protracted and many-sided. The false notion of a homogeneous bourgeois class-consciousness is belied by the controversy which raged inside the German capitalist class over the nature of Social Democracy, a debate which began some years before the war and which continued right up to its destruction by Hitler in 1933. Writing on this very problem some four years before the outbreak of the war, Lenin noted:

If the tactics of the bourgeoisie were always uniform, or at least of the same kind, the working class would rapidly learn to reply to them by tactics just as uniform or of the same kind. But, as a matter of fact, in every country the bourgeoisie inevitably devises two systems of rule, two methods of fighting for its interests and of maintaining its domination, and these methods at times succeed each other and at times are interwoven in various combinations. The first of these is the method of force, the method which rejects all concessions to the labour movement, the method of supporting all the old and obsolete institutions, the method of irreconcilably rejecting reforms... The second is the method of ‘liberalism’, of steps towards the development of political rights, towards reforms, concessions, and so forth. [22]

We could add, with the example of wartime Germany very much in mind, that these two trends are by no means confined to the upper reaches of the propertied classes, but penetrate down through the middle bourgeoisie and the professional and intellectual strata to the lowest layers of the petit-bourgeoisie. In doing so, these tactical conceptions undergo all manner of mutations, which derive not only from the particular political and cultural medium through which this process is taking place, but which are even affected by the personalities and prejudices of individuals. Thus the ‘accidental’ is at bottom no more than the unique but nevertheless law-governed interpenetration and working out of a more broad historical process. Hitler’s alleged ‘lunacy’ has long been the subject of debate amongst politically-oriented psychologists. Though their findings are useful for filling in some of the details of Hitler’s character and in providing possible motives for his raging prejudices against Jews and other minorities, they bring us no nearer the solution of the major theoretical problem which has bedevilled so much of the writing on German fascism: how could someone who for the major part of his early years existed on the ‘margin’ of Austrian and German society, who embraced such an outrageously mystical and distorted ideology, possibly be said to represent the political interests of the German bourgeoisie? The answer lies partly in his comments on the wartime conduct of the SPD, which, though couched in the language of a totally unhinged Jew-baiter and demented anti-Marxist, so blinded by his hatreds that he could not see the Social Democrats were instrumental in aiding the war effort of German imperialism, contained more than a grain of political sense when viewed from the long-term strategic interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie. If Lenin was right when he said that reaction was the political expression of monopoly capitalism, then Hitler’s refusal to admit that the opportunist SPD deserved a favoured role in German politics must be viewed as part of his wider political strategy of destroying every vestige of bourgeois democracy. He quite correctly saw the SPD as an essential prop of such a parliamentary system; a system which, since it permitted workers to organise in parties and unions, yielding to them the same formal political rights as the bourgeoisie, left the door ajar for the propagation and implementation of revolutionary ideas. With this in mind, let us return to Hitler’s account of the early war days:

... now the time had come to take steps against the whole treacherous brotherhood of these Jewish poisoners of the people. Now was the time to deal with them summarily without the slightest consideration for any screams and complaints that might arise... It would have been the duty of a serious government, now that the German worker had found his way back to his nation, to exterminate mercilessly the agitators who were misleading the nation. If the best men were dying at the front, the least we could do was to wipe out the vermin. Instead of this, His Majesty the Kaiser himself stretched out his hand to the old criminals, thus sparing the treacherous murderers of the nation and giving them a chance to retrieve themselves... While the honest ones were dreaming of peace within their borders, [23] the perjuring criminals were organising the revolution. [24]

Hitler only saw subterfuge in the pro-war line of the Social Democrats, it is true. But he also understood that while the SPD was permitted to function legally, the danger of revolution was that much greater. True, he was completely wrong in believing that the 1914-18 war could have been prosecuted more effectively by arresting the SPD leaders and banning all socialist and trade union organisations – the very organisations which were, through the nationalist orientation of their leaders, harnessing the entire German proletariat to the war effort. Such a policy would have been suicide for the government, as it would certainly have alienated millions of socialist and trade union workers from the regime and taught them a bitter lesson in the class basis of the imperialist war. But looked at from a longer perspective, Hitler’s desire to exploit the nationalism aroused by the war to destroy the workers’ movement contained the germ of the tactics the Nazis were later to employ in isolating, weakening and then smashing the organisations of the German proletariat. While the First World War could not have been fought in Germany without the active collaboration of Social Democracy, the Second World War could only be waged after its total extirpation. Like Bismarck’s bid to strangle the still-youthful party, Hitler’s initial notions of how to wage the class war were not immediately applicable, though now the degree of error was to be measured, not in quarter centuries, but a mere decade:

What then, should have been done? The leaders of the whole movement should have at once been put behind bars, brought to trial, and thus taken off the nation’s neck. All the implements of military power should have been ruthlessly used for the extermination of this pestilence. The parties should have been dissolved, the Reichstag brought to its senses, with bayonets if necessary, but, best of all dissolved at once... [25]

These lines were written, it should never be forgotten, around 1924-25, a full eight years before the Nazi regime acted out this scenario almost to the letter! Let no one say that Hitler was a political madman, that fascism is a species of social pathology, or that National Socialism was a product of the ‘German psyche'!

Precisely the same observations apply to Hitler’s seemingly half-demented ravings against the SPD leaders for their conduct in the revolutionary upheaval of November 1918. For once again we are confronted by the problem of reconciling Hitler’s passionate diatribes against the reformists with the irrefutable historical fact that these same Social Democratic leaders were instrumental in rescuing the German bourgeoisie from revolution when even the bourgeoisie itself had begun to give up all hope of survival. By relying on formal logic alone, one can come to the conclusion – as do so many liberal historians – that since both Hitler and the Bolsheviks employed the epithet ‘traitor’ to describe the SPD leadership, and since both fascism and Communism seek to destroy Social Democracy as a tendency in the workers’ movement, then they are, subjective intentions notwithstanding, essentially similar political ideologies. [26] This type of formalist thinking, which seizes hold of superficial and transitory similarities between opposed phenomena, and then takes this fleeting identity as proof of an overall convergence, is utterly unable to grasp the real class nature and role of either Social Democracy, Stalinism, Communism or fascism.

Let us examine the sequence and inter-relationship of the main events leading up to the establishment of the Ebert government on 9 November, and attempt to see how Hitler and his co-thinkers came to the conclusions that far from being mainstays of German capitalism, the SPD leaders were ‘November criminals’.

On 3 October 1918, moves were initiated by the newly-installed Chancellor Prince Max of Baden to sue the allies for peace. With the war in the west clearly lost, the main concern of the High Command and the bourgeoisie was to free their hands to fight the growing menace of revolution at home. But this could not be done without broadening the base of the Imperial government, which, though eagerly accepting the support of the Social Democrats, had steadfastly refused to include their representatives in the cabinet. The SPD press had already prepared the ground for such a step by muting its strident nationalism, which would have been out of place in a party seeking to enter a peace-making cabinet. Even here, the SPD leaders proved to be little more than the obedient echo of the General Staff and the bourgeoisie. On 20 October, Vorwärts conceded defeat, and on 28 October, with the anti-war mood of both workers and front-line servicemen running high, began to adopt a pacifist line. Gone were the chauvinist intoxications of August 1914. Now the paper which for four years had summoned its proletarian readers to the trenches declaimed: ‘Enough of death, not one more man must fall.’ The very next day, negotiations commenced which ended with two Social Democrats, Scheidemann as Minister without Portfolio and trade union leader Otto Bauer as the inevitable Minister of Labour, being coopted into Prince Max’s cabinet. The alliance between old Germany and the Social Democracy against the revolution had been forged. But the bourgeoisie and Junkers had to pay a price for the services of the SPD and now, unlike August 1914, when the bulk of the masses were behind the war, their bargaining position was desperately weak. If the opportunists were to deliver the goods, then the masses had to be split and the revolutionary elements, the still-small ‘Spartacists’ led by Luxemburg and Liebknecht, isolated from the less politically advanced workers and servicemen. All this both parties to the deal understood perfectly. But the German proletariat, steeped in a 50-year tradition of socialism and now utterly alienated from a regime for which they had given their blood and sweat, could be induced to follow a non-revolutionary path only if it appeared to be leading to socialism. The example of revolutionary Russia was a constant reminder – if any were needed – that unless the old ruling classes were for the first time prepared to make a series of wide-ranging political and social concessions to the beleaguered Social Democrats (and therefore, in the final analysis, to the workers who followed them) they would forfeit not only their Prussian class franchise and beloved monarchy, but their infinitely more precious private property. The issue was nearly as stark for the SPD and trade union bureaucracy. Having raised itself on the backs of the labour aristocracy far above the material level of the mass of German workers, it constituted an intensely conservative social caste which having solved its own ‘social question’ now became bitterly hostile to revolution, which it quite correctly feared as a threat to its own social and political privileges. What emerged from this purely tactical alliance was a clear-cut division of labour. The Social Democrats’ task was to erect a ‘socialist’ façade on the foundations of the old regime, defending the property of the bourgeoisie and Junkers while simultaneously indulging in endless rhetoric about the merits of ‘socialisation’. To facilitate this role, the SPD leaders deemed it essential to secure the abdication of the Kaiser – but not, incredibly, the creation of a republic! – since millions of workers would never accept a government, however radical its pledges, which permitted the Kaiser to remain on his throne. As an SPD deputation expressed it in their crisis talks with Prince Max on 7 November, ‘the Kaiser must abdicate at once or we shall have the revolution’. [27] Ebert made it quite clear that unless the SPD ultimatum on the Kaiser was made known to the workers of Berlin that very evening ‘the whole lot will desert to the Independents’. [28]

The other partner in this counter-revolutionary pact – the leaders of the now threatened bourgeois state – hoped that behind Ebert’s ‘socialist’ screen, they could begin to rebuild their temporarily shattered forces. They planned to assemble sufficient politically reliable troops to crush those sections of the working class that had not been deceived by the SPD’s false pledges of radical social and political change, or confused by the continual vacillations of the USPD. Thus there was employed a combination of the two trends in bourgeois state policy of which Lenin wrote in 1910 – the ‘stick’ and the ‘carrot’. Events were unfolding just as Engels had anticipated 34 years previously in his letter to Bebel, when he warned him that ‘our sole adversary on the day of the crisis and on the day after the crisis will be the whole of the reaction which will group around pure democracy’. And with the revolution spreading hourly towards the capital from the North Sea ports via the industrial west and Saxony, the counter-revolutionary plotters had to move with even greater speed and determination. On 9 November, Prince Max came to the conclusion that ‘we can no longer suppress the revolution by force, we can only stifle it’. Workers’ and soldiers’ councils were being elected all over Germany, and would soon be preparing to convene a national congress in Berlin to decide the country’s future political and social structure. ‘Council rule’ spelt Bolshevism for Junkers, bourgeois and Social Democrats alike, so it was necessary, while permitting the councils to function (there was in any case no means of disbanding them violently), to use political methods to prevent a majority emerging within the councils which would opt for a soviet-style system in Germany. So on 9 November, the Kaiser’s abdication was announced, and Ebert proclaimed as the new Imperial Chancellor. But these two moves, essential though they were for alleviating the crisis, only had the effect of heightening it. Thousands of Berlin workers took to the streets, believing that, at last, the socialist republic was at hand. They milled around the steps to the Reichstag building where the SPD leaders were lunching. Learning from a workers’ deputation that Karl Liebknecht was about to proclaim the republic at a mass meeting outside the royal palace, Scheidemann rushed to the window and much to Ebert’s consternation, launched himself into a demagogic speech which ended with the cry: ‘The people have won all along the line. Long live the German Republic!’ [29] Despite Ebert’s fury – he shouted to Scheidemann that he had ‘no right to proclaim the republic’ – their differences were purely tactical. Scheidemann had turned republican not out of conviction but because he ‘saw the Russian folly staring him in the face – supreme authority for the workers’ and soldiers’ councils’. [30] And the SPD leaders were to adopt an even more radical stance over the next few crucial days, a manoeuvre epitomised by their proclamation of 12 November, which flatly stated ‘the government created by the revolution, the policy of which is purely socialist, is setting itself the task of implementing the socialistic programme’. Yet such pledges, no less revolutionary in their phraseology than undertakings given in the summer of 1914 to combat the menace of imperialist war, were made against a well-concealed background of collusion with the forces of reaction. It was perhaps the crowning irony of German history that its first parliamentary system of government could only be established under the direct protection of the bayonets of those died-in-the-wool anti-parliamentarians the Prussian general staff. On the night of 9 November, with countless thousands of workers celebrating the creation of the republic in the streets of Berlin, Chancellor Ebert rang the headquarters of the High Command at Spa on a secret line. At the other end was Lieutenant-General Wilhelm Gröner, First Quartermaster-General of the Imperial High Command – hardly a man who could be expected in normal times to sympathise with a Social Democrat in distress. But these were no ordinary days. The hourly-increasing threat of proletarian revolution made them comrades in arms, just as had the war. Their conversation was terse and to the point, with Chancellor Ebert very much assuming the role of supplicant. Gröner first demanded that Ebert pledge his party to ‘fighting anarchy’ and ‘restoring order’, which Ebert did with great conviction. ‘Then’, Gröner replied, ‘the High Command will maintain discipline in the Army and bring it peacefully home.’ In return, Gröner expected the new government ‘to cooperate with the Officer Corps in the suppression of Bolshevism, and in the maintenance of discipline in the Army’. [31] And so, on the very day which witnessed unprecedented revolutionary scenes and the formation of Germany’s first SPD government, there was forged by its head a secret and traitorous pact to prepare the counter-revolution.

All the subsequent crimes committed against the German working class, culminating in the victory of Hitler, flowed from this initial act of perfidy – the formation of Noske’s counter-revolutionary cut-throats, the ‘Free Corps’, the liquidation of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils in favour of a bourgeois parliamentary republic, the murder of Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and countless less celebrated revolutionary fighters, the abandonment of the SPD’s solemn pledge to ‘socialise’ heavy industry – thereby giving a fresh and, for many, largely unexpected lease of life to the tycoons who later showed their gratitude by aiding Hitler to outlaw Ebert’s own party! – the protection and continued employment given to the bitterly anti-socialist officials of the old imperial regime, and last, but by no means least, the steadfast refusal of the SPD leaders to ally Germany with the embattled Soviet Union in a proletarian alliance directed against the imperialist West. These were and remain monumental crimes, and no worker should ever forget them. Yet Hitler was still not satisfied. Ebert and company he brands as ‘miserable and degenerate criminals’, while even the Kaiser is depicted as a political dupe, ‘the first German Emperor to hold out a conciliatory hand to the leaders of Marxism, without suspecting that scoundrels have no honour’. He should have realised that ‘while they still held the imperial hand in theirs, their other hand was reaching for the dagger’ and that ‘there is no making pacts with Jews; there can only be the hard: either – or’. [32] In fact it was precisely the formation of the Ebert government which decided Hitler that he had to ‘go into politics’. [33] And why? Because, like countless other reactionary German or Austrian petit-bourgeois, Hitler saw only those sides of Social Democracy which were, of necessity, sensitive to the pressure and demands of the workers. In August 1914, they justified their pro-war line by depicting it as a war by ‘revolutionary’ Germany against ‘reactionary’ England, by claiming that it was not being fought on behalf of the bourgeoisie and Junkers, but to defend the achievements of the German labour movement. Thus there was more than a grain of sense in Hitler’s contention that the SPD leaders were posing as loyal patriots. For all their undoubted chauvinism, they remained tied to organisations built and maintained by millions of workers, a relationship which established certain limits to the distance they could travel in company with the bourgeoisie. The bureaucracy, in order to preserve its position in the working class, was obliged to maintain a certain political distance between itself and the bourgeoisie even when committing the most revolting betrayals, as on the occasion of the January 1918 anti-war strike of Berlin engineering workers. Ebert later stated quite frankly that he and his fellow SPD leaders ‘supported’ the strike precisely in order to take the movement over and wind it up as quickly as possible. This tactical nuance escaped many reactionaries, who never tired of upbraiding Ebert for what they sincerely considered to be an act of unspeakable treachery. Similarly with Hitler’s endless ravings against the ‘November criminals’. Ebert did place himself, however reluctantly, at the head of a mass revolutionary movement; Scheidemann did attempt to outbid the Spartacist Liebknecht by proclaiming the republic to thronging Berlin workers; the SPD government was instrumental in bringing about the abdication of the Kaiser; it did pledge itself to socialise Germany industry and introduce a thoroughgoing reform of Germany’s semi-feudal political system. And because the Social Democrats did and said these things, Hitler saw in them the refracted power of the masses. Obsession with the danger of revolution led Hitler to depict not only the SPD and the USPD, but even the KPD, as sharing the same socialist goal:

In the course of the war a small but ruthlessly dedicated corps had been formed. These later enabled the revolution to take place... when the Independents were formed, the bourgeoisie thought the Social Democrats were becoming weaker... They forgot that both sections had the same objectives, that the Social Democrats, the Independents and the Spartacists, the trade unionists and the Russian Bolsheviks all shared the same Marxist world outlook... It was quite wrong for certain circles to be pleased in 1917 that the Marxist movement had split into two sections... both had the same final objective and one of them was only the advanced guard... when the Independent section of the Marxists attacked the citadel, the hitherto majority socialists would not fail to follow. [34]

Perhaps we are now closer to an understanding of why fascism differs qualitatively from all other methods of bourgeois rule, and above all, why the Social Democrats found it impossible, despite their craven capitulation to Hitler in 1933, to coexist peacefully with the Third Reich. Precisely because fascism makes a clean sweep of bourgeois democratic rights and institutions, it must of necessity root out every last vestige, both ideological and organisational, of an independent workers’ movement. Neither the SPD’s chauvinist conduct in the war nor its collaboration with the forces of reaction afterwards redeemed the party in the eyes of Hitler and his accomplices. [35] For all their revisionist theories and opportunist practice, the leaders of Social Democracy stood at the head of massive, proletarian-rooted organisations, and while the SPD and the trade unions were permitted to exist, there always remained the danger for Hitler that a bold lead from the Communists would pull the helm over to the left. The leaders of German Social Democracy without doubt genuinely believed that by ditching the party’s Marxist ‘ballast’ and undertaking an unlimited period of collaboration and coalition with the bourgeoisie, they had laid forever the ghost of Bismarck’s anti-socialist laws. In truth they were digging – in some cases quite literally – their own graves.


1. LD Trotsky, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International (1938) (London, 1972), p 11.

2. Zinoviev recalled four years later that he and Lenin had bet on the outcome of the Reichstag vote. Lenin believed the SPD fraction would not lead an opposition to the war, but would, to salve their consciences, vote against the war credits. Although Zinoviev was nearer the mark in predicting an abstention, he frankly conceded that ‘neither of us had taken the full measure of the flunkeyism of the Social Democrats’ (G Zinoviev, Lenin: A Speech to the Petrograd Soviet, 6 September 1918 (London, 1966), p 33).

3. LD Trotsky, My Life (1930) (New York, 1960), pp 236-37.

4. Internationaler Sozialisten-Kongress zu Stuttgart, 1907, p 102.

5. Ausserordentlicher Internationaler Sozialisten-Kongress zu Basle, 1912, pp 23-27.

6. VI Lenin, Letter to AG Shlyapnikov, Berne, 27 October 1914, Collected Works, Volume 35, pp 167-68.

7. Their opposite numbers in France had also taken identical precautions with what proved to be as little justification – the so-called ‘carnet B’.

8. In setting their sights on the creation of a socialist economy independent of the world division of labour, the SPD leaders were overlooking the principle contradiction, which provided the impulse towards imperialist war, complemented and intensified the already-existing contradiction between the productive forces developed by capitalism and the social nature of the productive process, and the basis of this process in the private ownership of the means of production. Fascism is an attempt by capitalism to overcome both these contradictions without challenging the domination of capital, while Stalinism, basing itself on the property relations, seeks to maintain the nation state.

9. LD Trotsky, ‘The Draft Programme of the Communist International – A Criticism of Fundamentals’ (1928), The Third International After Lenin (New York, 1957), p 70.

10. The SPD fraction took this decision to support Hitler’s foreign policy by a vote of 48 to 17. Most of the party’s remaining 55 deputies were either in hiding from Hitler’s thugs or in jail, though this did not seem to have had any bearing on the outcome of the vote!

11. On the eve of war, the SPD owned 90 daily papers and 62 printing offices. The party employed 267 editors, 89 office managers, 273 business officials, 140 administrators, 85 propagandists, 2640 technicians and 7589 news agents. Its assets were valued at 21 514 546 marks. The unions employed an even larger full-time staff; and owned assets worth 80 million marks.

12. Haenisch headed the extreme right wing of the SPD which was openly demanding the fusion of nationalism and socialism. He argued that Germany embodied the revolutionary forces in Europe, and England those of reaction. Hence the need to prosecute not a ‘defensive war’, as most SPD apologists of imperialism advocated, but a ruthlessly offensive one. The chauvinist ideas of the Haenisch group were propagated in Die Glocke, the journal of that other renegade from the SPD left, Alexander Helphand, better known by his pseudonym Parvus. Another contributor to Die Glocke, Ernst Heilmann, quite frankly declared that ‘the idea of a catastrophe of revolution as a means of building a socialist society should be discarded once and for all, and not from a particular day, but as a matter of principle. To be socialist means being in principle an anti-revolutionary. The opposite conception is merely a carry-over from the emancipatory struggle of the bourgeoisie, from which we have not yet completely freed our minds.’ So in the extreme right wing of the SPD flourished tendencies which even repudiated the feeble democratic traditions of the liberal bourgeoisie of 1848! Socialism was conceived of more in terms of ‘socialising’ the worker than the property of the ruling classes: ‘Socialism is increasingly realised from day to day because of the growing number of people who do not make their living from private economic activity, or receive wages or salaries from private hands. The worker in a state, municipal or cooperative enterprise is socialised just as is the health insurance doctor or trade union official.’ (Die Glocke, no 20, 12 August 1916) The similarity of these ideas with English Fabianism is obvious. Finally there was Paul Lensch, another right-wing Social Democrat who sought to lend his party’s pro-war policy a radical and even revolutionary tinge. Employing the argument that Germany, as a nation deprived of its imperialist ‘rights’, represented the forces of change and revolution as against the established and conservative Anglo-Saxon imperialist powers, he claimed Germany’s workers should back the war to break England’s ‘class domination’ over world economy. Germany’s was a revolutionary war in which ‘the rise of this class [that is, the proletariat] is taking place... amid the thunder of a revolutionary world war, but without the lightning of a revolutionary civil war’ (P Lensch, Social Democracy: Its End and its Successes, Leipzig, 1916).

13. Correspondence of the General Commission of the ADGB, no 35, 5 September 1914.

14. Metallarbeiter-Zeitung (organ of the German Metal Workers Union), 7 November 1914.

15. Courier (organ of the German Transport Workers Union), 25 October 1914.

16. Rathenau was undoubtedly one of the most astute leaders of the German bourgeoisie. A director of the electrical giant AEG, he was constantly faced with the problem of how to deal with the huge concentrations of workers brought together by the growth of monopoly capitalism. In 1911, he revealed his well-grounded fear that the prewar capitalist boom was in its turn preparing a new crisis pregnant with revolution: ‘I see shadows wherever I turn. I see them in the evening when I walk through the noisy streets of Berlin, when I perceive the insolence of our wealth gone mad, when I listen to and discern the emptiness of big-sounding words.’ An architect of Weimar’s social and economic policy, Rathenau also served the Republic as Foreign Minister, meeting his death at the hand of a band of pro-fascist assassins weeks after concluding in April 1922 the Rapallo Treaty establishing more harmonious relations between Germany and the Soviet Union.

17. Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, Volume 41, no 1, September 1915.

18. Max Weber, who personified this trend in the immediate prewar period, was partly instrumental in founding, at the end of 1918, the Democratic Party (DDP), which stood for a liberal capitalist Germany ruled by a coalition of moderate bourgeois parties and a thoroughly ‘reformed’ and ‘nationalised’ SPD.

19. The ‘Fatherland Front’ brought many such individuals and groupings together under the leadership of rabidly chauvinist military leaders and industrialists.

20. An allusion to the already-quoted statement by the Kaiser which he made after the unanimous Reichstag vote granting him his war credits.

21. A Hitler, Mein Kampf (London, 1943), pp 167-68.

22. VI Lenin, ‘Differences in the European Labour Movement’ (December 1910), Collected Works, Volume 16, p 350.

23. The ‘social peace’ (Burgfrieden) concluded on the outbreak of war between the SPD and ADGB leaders on the one side and the government and employers on the other.

24. Hitler, Mein Kampf, p 169.

25. Hitler, Mein Kampf, p 169.

26. Distortions of this type were greatly assisted by the Stalinist theory of ‘social fascism’, which, because it placed the SPD firmly in the camp of fascist counter-revolution, and even depicted it as the main enemy of the working class, led to tactical alliances being formed with the Nazis, who were of course determined to smash the SPD as the largest single organisation of the German proletariat. Hence the Nazi – KPD block against the Prussian SPD government in the so-called ‘Red Referendum’ of August 1931.

27. Max, Prince of Baden, Memoirs, Volume 2 (London, 1928), p 318.

28. The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), which had split from the SPD early in 1917 over the pro-war policy of the official party. Its right wing included Kautsky and Bernstein, their old battles over revisionism long since forgotten. The USPD centre was dominated by Hugo Haase, Wilhelm Dittmann and Emil Barth, who committed the fatal blunder of joining the Ebert cabinet, thereby lending it their prestige among the radical workers. The USPD left was led by Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin and Karl Liebknecht who waited until the end of December before separating themselves from the centrists to form the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).

29. P Scheidemann, The Making of New Germany, Volume 2 (New York, 1929), p 261.

30. Scheidemann, The Making of New Germany, Volume 2, p 261.

31. Regular nightly conversations were conducted over the secret line between Ebert and Gröner reviewing, in the words of the latter, ‘the situation from day to day according to developments’.

32. Hitler, Mein Kampf, p 206.

33. Hitler, Mein Kampf, p 206.

34. A Hitler, Im Kampf um die Macht (Frankfurt, 1960).

35. Though in unguarded moments even Hitler was prepared to paint certain of the ‘November criminals’ in colours other than black: ‘Amongst the men who became conspicuous during the events of 1918 I draw certain distinctions. Some of them, without having wished it, found themselves dragged into the revolution. Amongst these men was first of all Noske, then Ebert, Scheidemann, Severing, and in Bavaria, Auer.’ (Hitler’s Secret Conversations (New York, 1953), p 220) Praise indeed!