Rob Sewell’s GERMANY: From Revolution to Counter-Revolution

In the Throes of Revolution

THE OLD REGIME felt the ground moving from under its feet. The growing revolutionary ferment at the front combined with the strike waves in the cities engendered a panic stricken mood in the ruling class. In the words of the Secretary of State, Hintze, ‘It is necessary to prevent an upheaval from below by a revolution from above.’ As a result ‘parliamentary’ government was quickly established with the Kaiser’s cousin, Prince Max von Baden, at its head. Included in its ranks, as a measure to appease the masses, was the Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann. In October an amnesty was announced for political prisoners, resulting in the release of Karl Liebknecht, who was greeted by 20,000 Berlin workers. But the amnesty did not apply to Rosa Luxemburg who continued to be held in ‘protective custody.’

But the reforms were too late. The military fronts began to collapse and there were more than 4000 desertions in 1918. Generals Ludendorff and Hindenburg of the General Staff had written to the new government proposing an armistice to the Allies but was refused. On 28 October 1918, the German High Command, in a desperate gamble, decided on a decisive naval battle on the North Sea in order to save the honour of the German Navy, risking the lives of 80,000 men. This proved the final straw.

Jan Valtin, a member of the Spartacist League of Youth, relates what happened in his autobiography Out Of The Night:

“Toward the end of October, 1918, my father wrote that the High Seas Fleet had received orders for a final attack against England. No secret was made of it. The officers, he reported in his blunt fashion, revelled all night. They spoke of the death ride of the fleet. Rumour had it that the fleet was under orders to go down in battle to save the honour of the generation that built it. Their honour is not our honour, my father wrote.

“Two days later the fleet was under way. People in Bremen were more surly than ever.

“Then came stirring news. Mutiny in the Kaiser’s fleet! Young sons of the bourgeoisie who had been sporting sailors caps now left them at home. I saw women who laughed and wept because they had their men in the fleet. From windows and doors in the front of the food stores sounded the anxious voices: ‘Will the fleet sail out!...No, the fleet must not sail! It’s murder! Finish the war!’ youngsters in the street yelled, ‘Hurrah!’”

The mutineers at Kiel had seized the ship Thueringen, dropped the anchors and disarmed the officers. The battleship Helgoland then followed suit. The fleet began to return to port. As a result of the mutiny 580 men from both ships were arrested and jailed. Valtin continues:

“That night I saw the mutinous sailors roll in to Bremen in caravans of commandeered trucks—red flags and machine guns mounted on the trucks. Thousands milled in the streets. Often the trucks stopped and the sailors sang and roared for free passage...

“I circled toward the Brill, a square in the western centre of the town. From there on I had to push my bicycle through the throngs. The population was in the streets. From all sides masses of humanity, a sea of swinging, pushing bodies and distorted faces was moving toward the centre of the town. Many of the workers were armed with guns, with bayonets, with hammers. I felt then, and later, that the sight of armed workers sets off a roar in the blood of those who sympathise with the marchers. Singing hoarsely was a sprawling band of demonstrating convicts freed by a truckload of sailors from Oslebshausen prison most of them wore soldiers grey coats over their prison garb. But the true symbol of this revolution, which is really nought but a revolt, were neither the armed workers nor the singing convicts—but the mutineers from the fleet with their reversed headbands and carbines slung over their shoulders, butts up and barrels down...

“At the foot of the Roland statue a frightened old woman crouched. ‘Ach du liebe Gott’, she wailed piercingly ‘what is all this? What is the world coming to?’A huge-framed young worker who gave intermittent bellows of triumph and whom I had followed from the Brill, grasped the old woman’s shoulders. He laughed resoundingly. ‘Revolution’, he rumbled. ‘Revolution, Madam.’”

On 3 November the revolution had begun with the naval mutiny at Kiel. Forty thousand sailors and dockers surged through the streets and a workers’ and sailors’ council took control of the town. On 4 November the revolution spread: red flags flew over every ship. On 6 November, sailors’, soldiers’ and workers’ councils were now in power in Hamburg, Bremen and Luebeck. On 7 and 8 November Dresden, Leipzig, Chemnitz, Magdeburg, Brunswick, Frankfurt, Cologne, Stuttgart, Nuremberg and Munich all followed suit. It was not until 9 November that workers’ and soldiers’ councils were established in the capital, Berlin, the previous centre of revolution—at the supreme army headquarters!

Over the last decade or so, a new breed of careerists floated to the top of the SPD, people like Friedrich Ebert, Gustav Noske and Philipp Scheidemann. It is ironic that individuals like Eduard Bernstein had moved to the left during the war and ended up in the centrist USPD. The new Social Democratic leaders looked with contempt at the ordinary workers. Scheidemann for instance, exclaimed with absolute horror that he ‘was carried shoulder high by soldiers decorated with the Iron Cross!’ He urgently warned the Emperor’s Palace: ‘We have done all within our power to keep the masses in check,’ and urged the Kaiser to abdicate in order to quell the anger of the workers.

‘I Hate Revolution Like Sin’

Noske’s counter-revolutionary actions were clearly revealed when he was sent to Kiel to put down the naval revolt. Ebert made no secret of his undying support for the monarchy. These new leaders of the SPD clearly saw their role as doing everything in their power to hold back the revolution. Their scandalous actions were not the product of naivity but conscious treachery.

The head of the government, Prince Max von Baden approached Ebert and asked: ‘If I should succeed in persuading the Kaiser, do I have you on my side in the battle against the social revolution?’ Ebert replied: ‘If the Kaiser does not abdicate the social revolution is inevitable. I do not want it—in fact I hate it like sin.’

But the Kaiser was determined to hang on. He had completely lost touch with the situation and talked of the impertinence of his subjects towards their King and the need, if necessary, to repress them with ‘smoke-bombs, gas, bombing squadrons and flamethrowers!’ General Groener told him bluntly: ‘Sire, you no longer have an army’.

Armed soldiers were roaming the streets of Berlin but still the Kaiser dithered, and refused to abdicate. The ruling class had to act fast as the SPD, under pressure, resigned from the newly appointed government. Without delay Prince Max, anticipating the Kaiser’s reply, announced the King’s abdication. Wilhelm II was astonished to hear the news secondhand!

The revolutionary wave sweeping Germany was similar to the events of that of February 1917 in Russia. Workers, soldiers and sailors took power into their own hands and spontaneously formed councils which took charge of the situation. As yet the masses did not differentiate between the different shades of rival socialists. ‘Out of sheer loyalty, hundreds of thousands of workers stuck to their old party which they had helped to build, no matter how violently they disagreed with its policy...loyalty to his organisation has become a matter of instinct to the worker.’ (Evelyn Anderson in Hammer or Anvil). In February 1917 in Russia the masses made no distinction between the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (SRs). Trotsky explained how the Mensheviks and SRs had more resources at their disposal, more agitators, more propagandists, more links with the intelligentsia, and were able to use these points of support to influence the masses who had moved into struggle. In Germany as in Russia, only direct experience would put the workers’ loyalties to the test. In the short term, despite the treacherous role of the SPD leaders, who opposed the revolution, the masses saw their traditional organisation as the embodiment of the party that had awakened them to political life. In this context, the USPD played an important but secondary role.

Long Live the Revolution!

The armed mass demonstrations that convulsed Berlin now forced the terrified Max von Baden to act over Ebert’s appointment as Chancellor (Prime Minister):

“The revolution is on the verge of winning. We cannot crush it but perhaps we can strangle it...if Ebert is presented to me from the streets as the people’s leader, then we will have a republic; if it is Liebknecht, then Bolshevism. But if the abdicating Kaiser appoints Ebert as Reich Chancellor, then there is still a little hope for the monarchy. Perhaps it will be possible to divert the revolutionary energies into the legal channels of an election campaign.“

A short time later Scheidemann was busy eating soup in the Reichstag restaurant when he heard loud cries from the crowd outside. He ran to the balcony and spontaneously announced that Ebert was now Chancellor. Then, as if in an afterthought, he shouted ‘long live the Great German Republic!’.

As soon as Ebert had heard this news he was absolutely enraged. According to Richard Watt’s history, The Kings Depart, ‘His face turned livid...he banged on the table with his fist. He was furious at Scheidemann’s presumption. "You have no right to proclaim a republic!".’ But it was too late...

The SPD leader’s first act as Chancellor was to ask von Baden to accept the Regent’s office, hoping to restore a constitutional monarchy. Ebert’s first appeal to the masses was: ‘Fellow Citizens! I call on you all for support in the difficult work that awaits us...Fellow Citizens! I urgently appeal to you: leave the streets! Maintain law and order!’

Effective power was in the hands of the workers’, soldiers and sailors’ councils which had sprung up throughout the length and breadth of Germany. Delegates had been elected in mass meetings in every factory, barracks, and ship in order to see their interests represented. These councils were the same as the soviets (Russian word for a workers’ council) that had spontaneously sprung up in Russia in 1905 and again in 1917. But the workers and soldiers, as with their Russian counterparts after February, were not conscious of their power. If they had been they could have formed a basis of a new German workers’ state. Instead they gave this power to the SPD/USPD coalition.

Events moved quickly. On 10 November a joint meeting of the Berlin Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils elected a provisional executive committee, which in the absence of an elected government took effective power into its hands by appointing a government of people’s commissars. The new government was composed exclusively of members of the SPD and USPD: three majority socialists (SPD), Ebert, Scheidemann and Landsberg; and three Independent Socialists (USPD), Haase, Dittmann and Barth. Although they rested on the workers’ councils, these leaders soon came to an accommodation with the old state bureaucracy and the German High Command.

What kind of Democracy?

The aim of Ebert, Scheidemann, and the other social democratic leaders, was to re-establish law and order as quickly as possible, so that effective control and power could be handed back to the ruling class. Whereas the Spartacists looked to the calling of a national congress of workers’ and soldiers’ councils as the basis for a genuine socialist workers’ republic, the SPD leaders looked to the establishment of a Constituent Assembly.

As the immediate threat of revolution began to subside, the German bourgeois, who yesterday had supported the autocracy, now came forward as ardent democrats. The bourgeois parties were reorganised and renamed, and in turn put their full weight behind the call for a constituent assembly as a means of undermining the position of the workers’ councils.

The question of calling a constituent assembly gave rise to a great deal of controversy. In its struggle with the autocracy, the demand for such an assembly had long been part of the democratic demands of the SPD. Amongst the broad masses, as a reaction to the anti-democratic governments of the Kaiser, there was widespread support for this democratic demand. But the November Revolution had thrown up another power in the form of workers’ and soldiers’ councils, which in Russia had become the basis of workers’ rule. The Spartacists, who were a tiny minority of the German working class at this stage, took an ultra-left attitude towards the convening of a national assembly.

In Russia, in the struggle with Tsarism, the Bolsheviks had put foward the slogan of a revolutionary constituent assembly as part of their program. They took account of the profound democratic aspirations of the workers, peasants and other exploited layers after years of autocratic rule. Depending on the relationship of class forces in a revolutionary situation, a constituent assembly can provide a forum for the representatives of the working class to win the widest mass support for a programme of revolutionary change.

Even with the establishment of soviets in February 1917, the Bolsheviks still put forward the demand for a constituent assembly, which at this stage had been resisted by the provisional government. This did not prevent the Bolsheviks from April onwards putting forward the central demand of ‘All power to the Soviets’. It did not in any way inhibit them from explaining the advantages of soviet democracy over a constituent assembly.

On the contrary, Lenin took up very forcefully the criticisms of Karl Kautsky against soviet power in his book The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky. Lenin argued against Kautsky’s distortions of Marx in relation to the state. Kautsky failed to recognise the importance of soviets as the organs for workers’ democracy. In relation to Germany he argued for the need to combine workers’ councils with the bourgeois state. He ignored the opposing irreconcilable class interests represented by the workers’councils on the one hand, and the Ebert government on the other. He was unable to grasp the significance of the ‘dual power’ situation that had arisen after the November revolution. Either the workers’ and soldiers’ councils would consolidate their position in society and lay the basis for workers’ democracy, or the German bourgeois would re-establish its position and rebuild its state apparatus. There could be no middle way, as Kautsky argued.

Recognising the vital importance of the workers’ councils in the revolution, the Spartacists baldly denounced all those who attempted to promote the idea of a constituent assembly. They failed to understand that while layers of workers still had illusions in parliamentary forms and in their reformist leaders, the most advanced, revolutionary wing of the proletariat would have to campaign to destroy those illusions and undermine the influence of reformism. While wide sections of the workers still looked to the constituent assembly as a way forward, and as the Spartacists had not yet gained overwhelming support, it was incorrect for the revolutionaries to reject on principle any idea of a struggle around the calling of a constituent assembly.

They denounced the leaders of the SPD and the USPD as ‘disguised agents of the bourgeoisie’ for their support of an assembly. Rosa Luxemburg called the national assembly a ‘cowardly detour’ and ‘an empty shell’. For the Spartacists the question was posed starkly and simplistically in terms of bourgeois democracy versus socialist democracy. The Spartacists had a completely ultra-left attitude, as did the Bremen Left—who even walked out of the Dresden Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council as they could not mix with SPD ‘counter-revolutionary elements’! Although they were courageous revolutionary fighters, they lacked an understanding of strategy and tactics. They were swept along by the workers’ struggles and intoxicated by the revolution.

One of their demands read: ‘Abolish all parliaments and transfer all power to the workers’ and soldiers’ councils!’ This simply played into the hands of the reformist leaders who rested on the democratic sympathies of the masses, and they were able to denounce the Spartacists as ‘terrorists’, ‘anti-democratic’ etc.

On 16 December, the National Congress of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils strongly supported the National Assembly and brought forward its opening to 19 January. A month earlier, the executive committee of the Berlin Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council had taken the same position. Karl Radek recalled when he first arrived in Germany in mid-December:

“I looked the paper (Rote Fahne) over. I was seized with alarm. The tone of the paper sounded as if the final conflict were upon us. It could not be more shrill. If only they can avoid overdoing it!...

“It was the question of how to relate to the Constituent Assembly that sparked controversy...It was a very tempting idea to counterpose the slogan of the councils to that of a constituent assembly. But the congress of councils itself was in favour of the constituent assembly. You could hardly skip over that stage. Rosa and Liebknecht recognised that...But the Party youth were decidedly against it, ‘we will break it up with machine guns’.”

The Bolsheviks and the Constituent Assembly

Lenin, on 26 December 1918, had clearly put forward the Bolshevik position:

“This demand for the convocation of the constituent assembly was a perfectly legitimate part of the programme of revolutionary social democracy...While demanding the convocation of a constituent assembly, revolutionary social democracy has ever since the begining of the revolution of 1917 repeatedly emphasised that a republic of Soviets is a higher form of democracy than the usual bourgeois republic with a constituent assembly”

Lenin constantly explained that it was one thing to have a fully worked out theoretical position and another to apply it to concrete conditions. In November 1918 in Germany power was in effect in the hands of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils, but the proletariat was not conscious of its dominant position. As in February 1917 in Russia, the workers and peasants handed over power to the ‘compromisers’, who in turn handed it back to the bourgeoisie.

While the Bolsheviks, between February and October 1917, called for ‘All Power to the Soviets’, they also put forward the call for a Constituent Assembly, which had long been part of their programme. Even after October, when the workers’ soviets took power into their own hands, the Soviets went ahead in November with elections for a constituent assembly. It was seen as a means of consolidating support for the revolution among the more politically backward sections of the middle class and the peasantry, of legitimising the achievements of the soviets among all strata and in every corner of the country. The elections, however, reflected the weight of many sections who were lagging far behind the radicalised workers and peasants of the cities and surrounding areas. When the Constituent Assembly was convened in January 1918 it included a majority of delegates (predominantly right-wing Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks) opposed to the soviet government.

In Germany the call for a constituent assembly was still linked, in the eyes of advanced workers, with revolutionary aspirations; in Russia in 1918, when the soviets, the real democratic organs of the masses, had already carried through a social transformation, the constituent assembly was seized on by the landlords, capitalists, and supporters of the ‘White’ generals as a vehicle for counter-revolution. With a completely changed relationship of forces, the formal ‘democratic’ rights of a reactionary constituent assembly could not be allowed to threaten the socialist revolution, and the Assembly was therefore dispersed by the soviets. Under the conditions prevailing in Germany in 1918, where the working class had not taken power, the question of the constituent assembly was posed in a completely different way.

Lenin in his book Left-Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder, in dealing with many of the ultra-left tendencies within the young communist parties, attempted to draw all the experiences and lessons from the development of Bolshevism. In order to educate these young layers, Lenin explained: ‘Tactics must be based on a sober and strictly objective appraisal of all the class forces...’ Lenin continued, ‘It is very easy to show one’s "revolutionary" temper merely by hurling abuse at parliamentary opportunism.’ At all times it was necessary to take into consideration in your propaganda and slogans, the present consciousness of the working class. ‘You must not sink to the level of the masses, to the level of the backward strata of the class. That is incontestable,’ states Lenin. ‘But at the same time you must soberly follow the actual state of the class consciousness and preparedness of the entire class (not only of its commonest vanguard), and of all the working people (not only of their advanced elements).’ In dealing with the German ‘left’ communist attitude towards parliament, he explained:

“We must not regard what is obsolete to us as something that is obsolete to the class, to the masses...How can one say that ‘parliamentarianism is politically obsolete’, when ‘millions’ and ‘legions’ of proletarians are not only in favour of parliamentarianism in general, but are downright [according to the German lefts—RS] ‘counter revolutionary’!? It is obvious that parliamentarianism is not yet politically obsolete. It is obvious that the ‘lefts’ in Germany have mistaken their desire, their political ideological attitude, for objective reality. That is the most dangerous mistake for revolutionaries to make.”

Lenin hammered home the need to constantly assess the consciousness of the working class, with all their illusions, in order to tailor material propaganda and slogans to find the greatest echo. The illusions of the masses will not be overcome by simply repeating abstractly the importance of soviets but by showing positively in action the correctness of revolutionary ideas and by going through the experience with them. The ultra-left or sectarian simply shouts from the sidelines whereas the genuine Marxist would participate in the struggle of the workers with all their illusions, constantly attempting to raise their level of consciousness at each stage in the development of the struggle.

The arguments for boycott of the National Assembly, when the masses were overwhelmingly in favour of participation, were completely wrong. In the end, despite the KPD boycott, 83 per cent of the population voted, a bigger percentage turnout than in any pre-war election.

Similarly, their demand after 8 December for ‘Down with the Government’ was ultra-left and entirely incorrect, given their tiny support in the population, and simply miseducated their 3000 members and fed the impatience of workers who were looking towards insurrection. Lenin had warned against the misuse of such a slogan on 22 April 1917:

“The slogan ‘Down with the Provisional Government’ is an incorrect one at the present moment because, in the absence of a solid (ie a class conscious and organised) majority of the people on the side of the revolutionary proletariat, such a slogan is either an empty phrase, or, objectively, amounts to attempts of an adventurist character.”

The tasks of the Bolsheviks were: (1) To explain the proletarian line; (2) To criticise the petty bourgeois policy; (3) To carry on propaganda and agitation; (4) To organise, organise, and once again organise.

Lenin fought against any traits of putschism or Blanquism in the Bolshevik Party. Their main task was to win a majority to their side by patient explanation, and not by ultra-left talk which could seriously miseducate the cadres and disorientate the party. Again in April, Lenin wrote:

“In the theses I definitely reduced the question to one of a struggle for influence within the Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. In order to leave no trace of doubt in this respect, I twice emphasised in the theses the necessity for patient and persistent ‘explanatory’ work ‘adapted to the practical needs of the masses’.”

It was the failure of Luxemburg and Liebknecht to train the Spartacist cadres sufficiently in strategy and tactics that allowed the ultra-lefts to hold sway over the Spartacist organisation.

By 11 November, the Spartacists had formally changed their name from Internationale Group to Spartacists League and opened up negotiations with the Revolutionary Shop Stewards and the USPD. Although they had a much wider influence than their membership the Spartacists had a very limited following in the councils, which was mainly confined to Brunswick and Stuttgart—they had no one on the executive of the councils in Berlin.

Towards the end of November, the German High Command in connivance with Ebert, made plans to occupy Berlin with loyal troops to establish a strong government. ‘Ten divisions were to march into Berlin’, General Groener later explained, ‘to take power from the workers’ and soldiers’ councils. Ebert was in agreement with this...we worked out a program for cleaning up Berlin and the disarming of the Spartacists.’ An attempted military coup took place on 6 December, when troops marched on the Chancellory declaring Ebert President. Ebert prevaricated and demanded time to consult his government colleagues. Meanwhile groups of government soldiers raided the Spartacist newspaper Rote Fahne, attacked a Spartacist-led demonstration, killing 14, while another arrested the executive committee of the Berlin councils. Spontaneously a crowd of workers marched on the Reichswehr soldiers, freed the executive members and foiled the coup attempt.

The SPD leaders played down the event, blaming the Spartacists for provocation. Seizing the opportunity the Spartacist League organised mass demonstrations and even strikes against the attempted putsch. The anger of the Berlin workers was reflected in the 150,000 strong demonstration called on 8 December. The Spartacists issued an urgent appeal: ‘Workers, soldiers, comrades! The revolution is in danger! Preserve your handiwork of the 9 November!...The criminals are Wels and company, Scheidemann, Ebert, and company...throw the guilty men out of government! The revolution must be saved...forward to the task! To the fight!’

Groener’s troops began to arrive in the capital, greeted by Ebert. But within a short space of time they began to fraternise with the radicalised Berlin workers. The ruling class was forced to bide its time.

On 16 December a national congress of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils convened in Berlin. Rules for the election of delegates were left to regional bodies which resulted in a congress that was completely out of step with what was happening in the rest of Germany. Four-fifths of the 489 delegates were members or supporters of the SPD, 195 were party and trade union full-time officials—which out-numbered the 187 registered waged or salaried workers! Predictably, the vast bulk of the congress supported the calling of the constituent assembly, bringing it forward to January 1919.

Although the majority of the national congress supported the SPD, their politics were far from conservative. Resolutions were passed by big majorities demanding the abolition of the standing army and the establishment of a peoples’ militia. They also demanded that all badges of rank be removed and all soldiers be allowed to elect their officers with immediate right of recall. Furthermore, soldiers’ councils would be responsible for the maintenance of discipline throughout the armed forces. Later a key congress resolution on the economy demanding the immediate nationalisation of all key industries was passed by an overwhelming majority.

The SPD ministers, however—faced with an officers’ revolt—had no intention of carrying out these demands, but on the contrary they established closer links with the German High Command.

On 23 and 24 December there were clashes between the regular army and mutinous sailors in Berlin. The government had demanded that 80 per cent of the naval troops be discharged and its headquarters evacuated. Their refusal led to government troops being used against them, which resulted in 67 casualties. This was not the first time that the Reichswehr was used in this way, but it resulted in USPD ministers resigning from the government in protest and being replaced by majority socialists (SPD), including the ambitious Gustav Noske.

Throughout December an alliance of monarchists and counterrevolutionary elements of various descriptions (together with the SPD leaders), conducted a vicious witch-hunt against the Spartacist League. The Anti-Bolshevik League, financed with government money, plastered posters on walls in towns and villages slandering the Spartacist leaders. A murderous atmosphere was being created to instigate a pogrom against Liebknecht and Luxemburg. Giant posters appeared:

“Workers! Citizens!
The downfall of the Fatherland is imminent!
Save it!
It is not being threatened from without, but from within:
By the Spartacist Group.
Strike its leader dead!
Kill Liebknecht!
You will then have peace, work and bread!
Signed Soldiers from the Front.”

Founding of the Communist Party

The situation polarised extremely rapidly. In late December under the impact of the Bolshevik Revolution, pressure mounted within the Spartacist League to transform itself from a loose-knit federal organisation into a centralised communist party. To begin with it gave an ultimatum to the USPD, to which it was affiliated, to organise an emergency congress to discuss the new situation. With its inevitable rejection, the Spartacists went ahead on 29 December with their own conference, attended by 127 delegates, including the Free Socialist Youth, and founded the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). As with other newly formed communist parties, they were saturated with ultra-left tendencies, which was reflected in their decision, despite Rosa Luxemburg’s advice, by 62 votes to 23 to boycott the National Assembly elections due in January.

In moving the boycott resolution, Otto Ruehle bristled with hair-raising phrases: ‘We must continually stimulate the living politics of the will be our task to try and break it (the National Assembly) up by force. And if this does not succeed then let it go to Schilda. Then we will establish here in Berlin a new government. We still have two weeks!’ Two further motions were debated which aimed at declaring membership of the trade unions incompatible with that of the new party. Communists were to join the workers’ councils instead, and ‘were to continue in the most determined manner the work of fighting against the trade unions!’

Many in the young German Communist Party failed to recognise the turn of the masses towards their trade union organisations. Before the November revolution there had been 1.5 million trade union members; by the end of December 1918, there were 2.2 million; by the end of 1919, 7.3 million. It was with great difficulty that the party leadership managed to prevent these resolutions being put to the vote. But within one week the KPD were to experience a baptism of fire.