The Councils Commit Suicide
On November 10, the delegates of the councils in the Berlin region met and proclaimed the “Socialist Republic”, and elected a provisional executive committee (Vollzugsrat), composed of six SPD members, six USPD members, and twelve soldiers, all of the latter being SPD supporters. Although it considered itself to be the repository of all power, it delegated all of its power to the council of peoples’ commissars, in whom it declared that it placed all its confidence. This explains why, on the 13th, it opposed the creation of a proletarian red guard.
In some regions the councils would go further. In Bavaria they proclaimed the “Council Republic” (cf. above). In Saxony, Brunswick, Braunschweig, etc., the councils deposed the local authorities and took power. The left radical Metzger was elected president of the socialist republic of Braunschweig. Power was also exercised by soviets/councils in the industrial regions of central (Mansfeld, Halle) and northern Germany. On a national scale, however, the German Congress of Workers and Soldiers Councils (December 16-20, 1918) ceded its power to the council of peoples commissars: of the Congress’s 485 delegates, 375 were “governmental” (SPD and right wing USPD). Since Liebknecht and Luxemburg were not accepted as delegates because they were Spartacists, and since numerous members of the IKD had decided not to attend the Congress, the only opposition was led by revolutionary shop stewards like Müller, Ledebour and Däumig, that is, by political representatives of the non-Spartacist USPD left. Their opposition consisted in demanding that the councils should be conceded major importance in the pending constitution. The principle decision of the Congress was, effectively, to accept the SPD’s proposal to quickly convoke a constituent assembly, in which all power would be vested. But the councils wanted to continue to exist as institutions and demanded that they be conceded a role in the constitution.
It is clear that, throughout this entire period, the example of the soviet-Russian revolution led to a fetishism of the soviet form. For the German movement, not having reached the point of its most extreme radicalization, “making” soviets became a substitute for revolutionary action. During the Congress, the Spartacists, who had been excluded from its deliberations, led a demonstration calling for another round of elections for the councils.
The Conflict in Berlin: December 1918 to January 1919
With this SPD victory and the SPD’s success in the local elections for the Brunswick assembly, Ebert thought that the moment had arrived to make his first move by attacking the Volksmarinedivision which, composed of 3,000 sailors from Kiel, had installed itself in Berlin “to defend the conquests of the revolution” against the attacks of the reaction. For the government, it was the principle military manifestation of the revolution: it was best neutralized as soon as possible.
Immediately after the Council Congress, an attempt was made to provoke the sailors by withholding their pay. On December 24, the sailors responded by occupying the Chancellery. Ebert, who could not yet act openly, contacted General Lequis, who assembled the security forces and surrounded the sailors. The latter took refuge in the royal palace, which they used as a base camp. The battle began with a volley of artillery fire, killing and wounding 60 sailors, who resisted until the moment when a radical demonstration began. Lequis’ troops, having themselves been surrounded, were forced to withdraw: their officers only escaped being lynched thanks to a speech by Ebert. At that time, demonstrators also occupied the Vorwärts offices for the first time: the Berlin workers judged that they had repossessed their newspaper and published a “Red Vorwärts” for a few days. The sailors stated in this “Red Vorwärts” that, contrary to what was being said in the press, they were not Spartacists. The Rote Fahne admitted this but added that “the spirit of this detachment is our own spirit, the spirit of the world socialist revolution”.
After the failure of this State offensive, the USPD peoples’ commissars resigned from the government, just as the RO had been urging them to do since the 21st. It was against this background that the founding Congress of the KPD was held. In assessing the strength of the revolutionary camp, one must keep in mind the fact that the radicals convened a congress instead of immediately taking advantage of the revolutionary victory, which had just struck an important blow against the government. On the 25th, this episode having come to an end, Ebert could do no more and would go to bed saying that he did not know who would be in power when he awoke.
“When Ebert awoke”, with the resignation of the USPD members, three members of the SPD were co-opted onto the council of peoples commissars. Among them, Noske was put in charge of military affairs and reasserted his authority over the vacillating remnants of the Army in Berlin. He demonstrated great efficiency in this task. On January 4 he dismissed Eichhorn, chief of police and a member of the USPD.
On the 5th, a huge demonstration (700,000 people) took place demanding Eichhorn’s reinstatement. This was the initial purpose of the demonstration, but the ensuing series of events proved that there were other, more radical currents within it. Great strikes and revolutions often begin with such absurd slogans. For the second time, demonstrators occupied the Vorwärts offices: members of the Berlin IKD group took control of the building.
Directly implicated, since Eichhorn was one of its members, the USPD, after having abandoned what they thought was a sinking ship on the 29th of December, saw that, an insurrection having taken place, it should control it through the RO, a good instrument for taking power: it practiced “leftism”. On the 5th of January, it formed an “insurrection committee” which was joined by the Spartacists Liebknecht and Pieck, who were opposed by a minority (Luxemburg) of KPD leaders. It is false to speak of a “Spartacist insurrection” as if it was inspired by the KPD, when the insurrection was the result of the conjunction of two forces: the USPD, which aspired to power, and the KPD left, which only sought the social revolution. In general terms, the insurrection was in reality above all directed against the State. The KPD, the RO and the USPD published a leaflet calling for a demonstration and the abolition of the despotism exercised by the government. Of course, only the dictatorship of the proletariat can overthrow the government: but the leaflet did not mention this. It invited the workers to mobilize and to struggle but did not provide a clear objective. Although a member of the USPD, Eichhorn was part of the State apparatus: most of the Sicherheitswehr, created on his initiative with socialist workers and soldiers, would furthermore take the government’s side. The extreme left mobilized not to destroy the State in leftist guise (which was as dangerous as its rightist guise), but to purge this Statist left of its reactionary elements (the SPD); it intended, therefore, to purify the State. The technically premature aspect of the insurrection has often been emphasized without, however, emphasizing its meaning. The adversaries of this undertaking (Luxemburg, Jogisches, the central committee, along with Radek) were only worried about squandering the small revolutionary forces. It was not understood that this insurrection was the logical outcome of an attitude informed by opposition to the State but which did not seek its destruction. The leaders of the KPD followed the RO. For its part, the communist left, which had not even wanted to take the party’s leadership into its hands, was even less capable of putting itself at the head of the street actions. What was tragic about this was not the fact that some revolutionaries tried to carry out an action which would be judged a posteriori to be hopeless, but that once they went into action they would only go halfway.
On the night of the 5th, the insurrection committee elaborated a plan for the next day’s insurrection. Noske, meanwhile, marshaled the city’s security forces, positioned them on the outskirts of Berlin, and elaborated his plan of reconquest. On the 6th, the insurrection occupied strategic points in the capital. A revolutionary committee (Liebknecht, Ledebour and Scholze, RO) declared that the government had been dismissed. However, now that it was master of the city, this committee, while not breaking apart, was divided over the following point: Should it negotiate? The sea was calm, and was not overflowing the reformist dikes. In its own good centralist fashion, the USPD had never stopped trying to negotiate with Noske. It even began unilateral negotiations while its members who supported the insurrection and had gone so far as to overthrow the government still trusted the democracy of their committee, without breaking with it in order to install it in power on their own initiative. Noske thus gained precious time and used it to put the finishing touches on his plan. Each detachment of his troops would be assigned a Berlin neighborhood to pacify. The reconquest began on the 7th and showed no mercy. The besieged occupiers of Vorwärts were murdered when they left the building under the terms of a cease-fire. The bourgeoisie denied the reality of the class struggle in theory, but recognized it better than the workers in practice. Luxemburg insisted on remaining with the rebels until the end: the idea of “merging” with the masses is as false as that of “leading them”. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested, and then murdered on the 15th.
Central and Northern Germany
On the 19th, the elections for the Constituent Assembly, from which the KPD abstained, delivered an overwhelming victory to the SPD: 37.5% of the votes against the USPD’s 7.8%. The new socialist government presided over by Scheidemann, with Noske as its Minister of War, included ministers from the Zentrum. Established in its trademark image, radicalized since the month of November, the USPD, upon being consulted, refused to participate in the government.
In Bremen, however, on the 10th, the KPD (its left wing and the USPD) proclaimed the council republic. In Hamburg, the left was still strong, but the SPD focused its propaganda there on the radicals’ failure to guarantee normal living conditions (lack of food and fuel).1 In effect, the left’s continuous agitation brought few effective changes, which increasingly isolated the minority of radical workers. In the midst of the confusion even Laufenberg himself was arrested and then freed after a few hours. Forced to resign on the 19th in favor of a member of the SPD, he explained that the police were still under the control of the SPD. This fact proves that there were not two parallel power structures, but just one, the capitalist State which a few revolutionaries thought they could conquer from within with the help of a few street actions: once again we discover, in a sense, Luxemburg’s attitude (see the preceding chapter). It was always the same practice, only with radical “extra-parliamentary” methods. The elections to the Constituent Assembly delivered a resounding victory to those who had proven themselves most coherent: in Hamburg, the SPD obtained 51% of the vote, the USPD 7%. Among the delegates to the “Workers Council of Greater Hamburg”, 239 were from the SPD, 14 represented the ADGB, 37 were members of the USPD, and 25 were left radicals. The collapse of the Hamburg revolutionary movement was a result of local developments and was not due to intervention from Berlin: it would be defeated from without, after having collapsed from within.
The Ruhr was the scene of insurrectionary strikes, but the Essen miners council, upon proclaiming the socialization of the mines, merely decreed what would today be understood as “nationalization”. The most important revolutionary undertaking in this region was carried out by the anarchists of the FVDG (cf. Chapter 9): joint action between the FVDG and the KPD lasted until May 1919. After having momentarily crushed Berlin, the counterrevolutionary troops hurried to the Ruhr. The SPD had already prepared the terrain: present in the councils and committees alongside the USPD, the KPD and the FVDG, it helped disorganize the strike. The troops then intervened and pacified the region. The workers of the Ruhr, who had a certain degree of faith in the SPD in the past, abandoned the party and the trade unions in droves in order to create unionen (the “unions” of the future AAU).
At the end of January, Berlin decided to dispatch troops to Bremen, where the SPD had been excluded from the local government. In Hamburg, Laufenberg issued a call on February 1 for a general mobilization to “assist Bremen by all possible military means”. In order to dissociate itself from this announcement, the Hamburg SPD called attention to “the danger of Prussian militarism”. After fierce fighting, Bremen was occupied, and Hamburg had not so much as lifted a finger to help it. The left decided to arm itself and formed some Volkswehr units: the Council executive decided to take up arms.2 The radicals had in any event exerted pressure upon the structures of capitalist power (whether old or new, representative or executive), but they did not create new institutions which corresponded to the necessity of carrying out an effective struggle against capital. The disturbances of the second half of 1919 would be vain reactions against the capitalist “normalization” which eliminated the radicals from the power structures they had infiltrated. The police were purged and reorganized: at times, the former Freikorps (which had officially been dissolved) formed their core personnel.
With the occupation of Bremen and the surrounding region, the government had again opened up the road to the sea, shattering the strategies of the Hamburg leftists who intended to form an uninterrupted chain of rebel regions from the Baltic and the Dutch frontier to central Germany and eastern and western Saxony (Leipzig and Dresden). At the end of January, armed gangs devoted themselves to the destruction of the council powers around Mansfeld (central Germany). On March 3, martial law was declared in that region. The victory of the Freikorps was everywhere followed by the most ferocious repression. After January 1919, the number of people killed in the German revolution exceeded the number of those killed in both the February and October Russian revolutions combined.
The second blow struck by the reaction extended from Berlin (March) to the second defeat of the Ruhr and the fall of Bavaria (March-May). Faced with the rampages of the Freikorps, the Rote Fahne published a call for a general strike in protest, but advised against street-fighting. The Berlin workers councils elected a new, more leftist strike committee, which demanded the recognition of the councils, the liberation of all political prisoners, the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Russia, and the creation of a workers guard. This program and its practical aspects were an obvious return to the ideas of the KPD’s rightist central committee. Noske responded in conformance with the actual situation: any individual captured with arms in hand would be shot on the spot. 1,200 workers were killed and thousands wounded. Jogisches, the last of the three historic leaders of Spartacism, was executed. At the same time, the Constituent Assembly granted the means for inflicting the final defeat, voting for the reconstitution of the Reichswehr.
The Freikorps departed in order to destroy the new proletarian powers reconstructed during the street fighting and those which had survived their first assaults: Magdeburg (April 10), Brunswick (April 14), and then Saxony: Leipzig (May 11), and then the other cities or regions where local power “was not proportionate” to the distribution of seats in the National Assembly.3 In Saxony, for example, the USPD was still in power: it was deposed. A new and important factor was the new resurgence of the petite bourgeoisie, which formed Einwohnerwehren (local self-defense groups) under the protection of the Freikorps. At this time, as well, “voluntary strikes” by shopkeepers and white collar employees took place. This phenomenon helps us to appreciate Gorter’s thesis concerning the “isolation” of the proletariat which had to fight alone in Western Europe (cf. his Open Letter to Comrade Lenin).
Between the crushing of Magdeburg-Brunswick and the reduction of Leipzig, the defeat of the Ruhr took place. At the end of March, the movement there provided the first instance of an autonomous organization on the scale of an entire industrial region. On the 30th, delegations of revolutionary workers from throughout the Ruhr, breaking with all trade union ideologies, formed the Allgemeine-Bergarbeiter-Union (General Miners Union) in Essen; unable to prevent its creation, the other groups were forced to strangle this “union” in its cradle. Its existence would be brief, but it was the first union and prefigured the AAU. The KPD’s leftist faction saluted it as the ne plus ultra of revolutionary proletarian organization, since it was oriented towards the suppression of the party-trade union dichotomy, and was the creation of the masses themselves. Its birth was the subject of commentary in the Kommunistische Arbeiter-Zeitung (Communist Workers Newspaper) of Hamburg and was mentioned in Wolffheim’s pamphlet, Factory Organizations or Trade Unions?
The union launched a strike whose defeat allowed the government to dismantle the new organization in a massive police raid. The Ruhr region would not go into action again until the Kapp Putsch of March 1920 (cf. Chapter XII). Once the union was destroyed, the revolutionary trade unions decided to create their own organization in the region, the FAU of Rhineland-Westphalia, and to break with the policy of joint action with the KPD. The KPD Zentrale followed suit. The movement had provisionally come to an end, each group recuperating its resources: it was the beginning of the period of the constitution of numerous faction-based organizations.
The Reich of 1918 was too large for one State to control all of its territory at the same time during a revolutionary crisis. This was an important reason for Bavaria’s unique trajectory until the movement was crushed throughout the rest of the country.
1. November 1918-February 1919
On the 7th of November, 1918, the democratic revolution immediately handed over power to the USPD, with Eisner as the government’s president, with considerable anarchist influence (Mühsam and Landauer). Despite its declarations in favor of the councils, the government organized democratic elections in which all classes participated, without granting members of the working class, for example, more votes than the other classes (as was the case in Russia). On January 12, the USPD only obtained 2.5% of the vote in these elections. On the 10th, Eisner had no doubts that he would be able to prevent the supporters of an electoral boycott, members of the KPD and the Revolutionary Workers Council under the influence of Mühsam, from abstaining.
The Bavarian USPD (and this was also true, to a lesser degree, of the USPD in general) was a party of enlightened democrats. Either there is a proletarian dictatorship, in which case, instead of organizing a referendum, the proletariat proceeds to the destruction of capital (abolition of the commodity: that is, immediate free access to all abundant products, a vast reduction in the compulsory working day due to the suppression of all jobs dedicated to the metamorphoses of the commodity, to buying and selling, and the dedication of these employees to other more useful functions, etc.) if the country is a highly-developed one. (This was not the case with Russia: the problem of the Russian proletariat, so small in number, was that of resisting, of holding on to political power and military supremacy by means of a policy of alliances with the petty-bourgeois and peasant layers, until the world revolution: hence the organization of non-democratic elections with a plurality of votes for the workers). Or, a party having just arrived in power, in the wake of an insurrectionary, but hardly radical movement, as happened in Bavaria, does not want to go beyond the limits of the bourgeois exercise of power and wants to hold elections, in which it only gets 2.5% of the vote after two months in power. This enlightened and criminal attitude on the part of the Bavarian USPD would culminate in the proclamation “by decree” of the council republic.
The USPD having received 2.5% of the vote, a conflict necessarily erupted between the recently-elected general assembly and the USPD central power which, paying close attention to the appearances of the electoral game, appeared to be an ultra-minority. This conflict seemed to be easy to resolve since Eisner, at the end of February, decided to faithfully submit his letter of resignation to the “peoples’ representatives”. As he was entering the assembly, however, he was assassinated.
The central committee of the Bavarian councils proclaimed a general strike. The assembly spontaneously dispersed. The real balance of forces, which could be summarized as at least a toss-up between the council power and the parliamentary democracy, was not reflected in the electoral results. Eisner’s funeral was the occasion for a massive demonstration. The councils implemented more dictatorial measures: they arrested 50 reactionary hostages, shut down the bourgeois press, and tried to arm the proletariat. Except for these measures, it did not take advantage of the situation and thereby deprived itself of the full value of the measures it did take: these measures appeared to be a substitute for revolutionary action, whose model was the Commune or Russia. The councils handed over power to the assembly, which elected an SPD-USPD government, presided over by Hoffmann (SPD). (As an illustration of Bavaria’s exceptionalism: during the same period, the central government at Weimar, under SPD leadership, had bourgeois ministers.)
In other regions, the Freikorps intervened to restore the powers seized by the councils from the local assemblies, but in Bavaria the councils themselves surrendered their power. Despite the proclamations of “council” (Bremen) or “socialist” (Braunschweig) republics, nowhere were irreversible measures taken for the destruction of capital: it was hoped that others would initiate these measures. The provinces hoped that Berlin would take the step; the local revolutionary powers (including those of the great industrial regions), in expectation of such an event, limited their activities to carrying out numerous reforms. In Berlin, the SPD government was firmly established in power with its tactic of successive attacks. This mutual passing the buck of initiative back and forth remains a democratic attitude.
3. First and Second Council Republics: April-May
It was G. Landauer who proposed, on April 6-7, the creation of a “Council Republic”. One part of the Bavarian government, composed of the enlightened members of the USPD, the anarchists, and even some SPD members, pompously decreed this Republic under the influence of Russia, Hungary—which was so near—and above all of the power of the Bavarian councils. The communists, led by Levine, who was trained in Russia, and Frölich, the only member of the Central Committee, exiled in Bavaria, 4 did not form part of the government of the new republic. Some (Frölich and the left) worked to drive matters further than the USPD desired. But they were criticized by the rightist faction (undoubtedly Levine) which, with the just argument that one does not create a council republic by decree, foresaw the fall of the new regime. But as in January in Berlin, they participated in its defense when it was under attack.
Hoffmann, president of the old government, formed a new one in Bamberg, the most tranquil Bavarian city, and began planning his next steps. He rallied various cities to his cause, and the peasants refused to supply the city of Munich. The initial reactionary assault was annihilated in Munich. On April 13, factory delegates created a committee led by the KPD. They proclaimed a ten day general strike, paid for by the factory owners (who, consequently, were not suppressed as such), in order to allow the workers to prepare for combat. The Red Army held massive parades. The revolutionaries took complete possession of the central rail station, but did not transform social and economic conditions. The problems of supply would continue to be felt: demobilization had led to unemployment and relative overpopulation which obliged 50,000 people (out of a total population of 650,000) to be housed in a hundred apartment buildings and common dormitories.5 The revolution failed to organize these refugees. With each rifle, the insurrectionary army gave up ten days of its future pay. An army was formed, based on the proletariat (an indispensable condition for victory), but without a fight against the prevailing social relations: it was a purely military force, which accentuated its isolation (compare to M. Hölz: cf. Chapter 15).
With the beginning of the civil war, the communists joined the government. The anarchists resigned, since Mühsam and Landauer were theoreticians of non-violence. As in many movements in which the masses had pushed ahead, they had remained, despite their opinions, for a while. At the hour of repression, however, Landauer would be assassinated, Mühsam would be taken prisoner, and another anarchist, Toller, would become one of the leaders of the Red Army. Their tragic fates were not in contradiction to their suicidal positions, for themselves as for the others. By conceiving of the revolution as a gigantic act of bringing pressure to bear on behalf of the oppressed, without securing the necessary organizational and military means, they participated in the movement only to separate themselves from it at the moment of confrontation and, despite everything, perished in it.
This second government gave itself the title of the “Second Council Republic”. Despite its initial successes, it was militarily crushed during the first days of May. Future Nazis played their parts in the White Army: Himmler, R. Hess, and Von Epp.6
The Positions and Evolution of the Various Organizations
“It is now impossible to accurately depict the activity of the various organized forces and their relations with unorganized forces within the strike movements and insurrections from November 1918 to May 1919.”7 The relative radicalization of the USPD was due above all to the real radicalization of the movement itself and of the communist organizations: the social current which corresponded to the positions of the ex-IKD, with the practical aim of completely transforming the State, became a political factor. In order not to lose its autonomous existence in relation to the SPD, the USPD had to force itself to play the role of a parliamentary extreme left and had to play the game on two boards. Although numerous leaders of the SPD had joined the USPD, many were in favor of reunification, since the principle cause of the schism—the war—had disappeared after 1918. The only reproach they had for their old party was that it went too far in its support for the bourgeoisie. Thus, the USPD, after the start of the social democratic repression in Berlin, abandoned the central government, but the party’s national leadership did not cease to continue advocating alliances with the SPD on the local level—in Hamburg, for example—even though the USPD’s local leadership rejected this policy. The USPD grew from 100,000 members in November 1918 to 300,000 in March 1919. The electoralist right of the KPD, which was barely distinguishable from the USPD, then wanted to rejoin it.
The united front of the anarchosyndicalists and the communists (November 1918 to May 1919) corresponded, within the FVDG, to the ideological hegemony of Roche: non-rejection of violence, dictatorship of the proletariat, defense of the council-form. These were positions close to the form assumed by the revolutionary movement, not advice about what had to be done to prevent a “return to capitalism”. This observation could be applied to the left as a whole. Its merit was its boycott of elections of all kinds, de facto destruction of the trade unions, and theorizing these attitudes as affirmations of an authentically proletarian movement. But if it is true that antiparliamentarism and anti-trade unionism constitute the movement’s best points, they are not enough. These points would be assumed by the only capitalist party which would rise to the occasion of the German revolution and would also be capable of repressing it, Nazism. Roche provided a definition of the councils which indicated their limitations: “the councils are the parliaments of the working class.” After all the struggles of the month of May, the syndicalist camp returned to a more classical anarchosyndicalism: remaining in the minority, Roche would become a theoretician of the AAU.
Along with the trade union and parliamentary questions, another important disagreement divided the KPD and to some extent was the foundation of the first two, since it determined the assessment of the historical situation. Those who based their perspective on What Does Spartacus Want? felt that Spartacus, and subsequently the KPD, must not “take power unless it is the clear, unequivocal will of the great majority of the proletarian masses of the entire country”. Luxemburg would again declare at the KPD’s founding congress that the revolution would be a long, drawn-out affair and that the situation was not mature: the masses “do not consciously accept the views, the goals and the methods of the Spartacus League”.8 The Luxemburgist minority, and after her death the Central Committee, considered any attempt to take power in the advanced centers as “putschist” or at least “adventurous”. However, once the struggle had begun, Luxemburg participated in it until she was killed: one cannot say as much about her Levist epigones.
The majority fraction of the KPD, supported by many Spartacists (cf. Liebknecht, at the time of the Berlin insurrection), thought that the situation was fully mature. It found itself between the bourgeois and the proletarian revolutions. Its task was neither to discourage action nor to make excuses, but to push the whole proletarian movement forward: however revolutionary the party was, it would never have the power to start such movements. Rühle spoke to this effect at the founding congress of the party, and it was within this framework that the members of the party’s left would act in 1919. The left tendency of the party was all the more dominant due to the fact that the Central Committee’s influence barely extended beyond Berlin.
At this point we must mention the Wolffheim/Laufenberg tendency (later known as “National Bolshevism”), 9 as it played such an important role in Hamburg. According to Bock, it is the German left tendency most frequently studied in Germany.10 Wolffheim and Laufenberg, who, in the name of a theory they had yet to fully elaborate in early 1919, had fought for the autonomous organization of the working class, later strove to prevent actions which would lead to the outbreak of civil war in Germany, in other words, they sought to convince the German people to restart the war in alliance with Russia. The victory of revolutionary Russia and Germany would be the victory of the world revolution. In November of 1918, Germany was far from being militarily defeated. The representatives of German capital had sold themselves to western European capital so as to fight the proletariat, their common enemy, which had just re-arisen. The situation of Germany and that of the German revolution was comparable to that of France after the surrender of Sedan to Prussia in September of 1870: the war of national liberation became a revolutionary war supported by the IWA. The German bourgeoisie was denounced for its betrayal of the German people. This was the thesis propounded by Wolffheim and Laufenberg in November 1919 in their Counterrevolutionary Civil War or Peoples’ Revolutionary War? First Communist Memorial to the German Proletariat. They therefore condemned the January insurrection for different reasons than Luxemburg. They also embarked upon an original critique of the KPD leadership, accusing Levi in 1920 of being “an agent of international Jewish finance capital”. The NSDAP would not prove to be an innovator in this regard. The national bolshevik current would remain a small minority throughout its history and would be excluded from the KAPD shortly after the party’s foundation. In 1923, however, it would re-emerge within the KPD (the “Schlageter tendency”: cf. Chapter 15).
It is still one of the favorite arguments against the left, despite all evidence to the contrary, that it had incubated a current of this kind. The question, of course, was far from being so obvious at first. Lenin called Laufenberg’s text, Between the First and Second Revolutions, an “excellent pamphlet”.11 This pamphlet did, however, invoke a “national group identity”. The author concluded his text as follows: “According to this communist conception, all intellectual and manual workers belong to this active nation. . . . Lassalle’s national tactics are enjoying a resurgence and comprise a whole in conjunction with international tactics. . . .”12 One of the manifestations of the crisis of the movement was the fact that, for some, in the process of transcending the point of view of the individual enterprise (which had been amply theorized), they had fallen into a national and non-class-based viewpoint. The German revolutionary proletariat did not know how to provide itself with a “national form” without falling back into the bad habit of nationalism; it did not know how to be “national” (how to constitute itself as a class at the level of the nation, of its capital) without becoming “nationalist”. As Pannekoek said: “the revolutionary proletariat of all countries constitutes just one mass, one army, and if, while taking an active part in the struggle, it does not remember this, it can be annihilated ‘again and again’”.13
Unity is not a question of organization, but of communistic measures as well as efforts to unify the movement. It will not be unified if it is not a movement which acts to change the relations of production: the latter can only be changed if the movement is unified. Prudhommeaux would later write14 that the military struggle and social transformation are not possible unless they are carried out simultaneously.15
- 1 Comfort: Chapter II.
- 2 Ibid., Chapter 4.
- 3 Badia: Histoire de l’Allemagne contemporaine, Vol. I, p. 143.
- 4 According to Bock.
- 5 Mitchell: p. 320.
- 6 Badia: p. 149.
- 7 Bock: p. 110.
- 8 Ibid., pp. 112-113.
- 9 In this city, the USPD split at the beginning of 1919. Comfort doubts that the (Levist) KPD had any real existence in Hamburg prior to 1930 (p. 106, footnote), which amounts to saying that the left was overwhelmingly dominant among Hamburg communists in 1919.
- 10 Bock: p. 274. Cf. the thesis of L. Dupeux, Stratégie communiste et dynamique conservatrice. Essai sur les différents sens de l’expression “national-bolchevisme”, University of Strasbourg, 1974.
- 11 Oeuvres, Vol. 30, Moscow, 1964, p.48.
- 12 Zwischen der ersten und der zweiten Revolution, Hoym, n.d. For a bibliography of national bolshevism, cf. Angress, p. 327, note 34.
- 13 Bulletin communiste, November 18, 1920, “Un monde nouveau”.
- 14 La tragédie de Spartacus, in Spartacus et la Commune de Berlin.
- 15 See the testimonies of G. Regler, La glaive et le fourreau, Plon, 1960, Chapter III (Berlin) and Chapter IV (Bavaria), and E. von Salomon, Les réprouvés, Plon, 1962, Chapter I, which describes the dead end of the revolution, which both men fought against in their time.