ON THE EVENTS IN GERMANY
IN OCTOBER 1923
"Die Lehren der deutschen Ereignisse", p. 95
19 January 1924
The events in Germany, Poland, and Bulgaria between May and November 1923 represent the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the international movement.
In Germany, in connexion with the development of the Ruhr crisis, the proletarian class struggle entered on a new phase, passing from that of the gradual mobilization of revolutionary forces into one concerned with the struggle for power. In view of the far-reaching importance of the German revolutionary movement, the historical change which occurred in August-September and the events of the autumn are of the greatest significance for the Communist International. The lessons and consequences of those events must therefore be thoroughly evaluated by the entire International. . .
I. UNITED FRONT TACTICS
... It is necessary for communists in all countries to get clearly into their minds what the united front tactics are, and what they are not; they are tactics of revolution, not evolution. Just as the workers' (and peasants') government cannot, for us, be a fixed democratic transitional stage, so united front tactics are not a democratic coalition, an alliance with social-democracy. They are only a method of revolutionary agitation and mobilization. We reject all other interpretations as opportunist.
We must keep firmly in mind that united front tactics have a meaning for the CI only if they promote the object of winning the bulk of the proletariat for the revolutionary struggle for power. . . .
The time will come when entire social-democratic parties, now still strong, will collapse or, if they continue their treachery, burst as soap-bubbles do, when entire strata of social-democratic workers will complete the turn to our side. United front tactics promote and accelerate this process.
THE REVOLUTIONARY CRISIS IN GERMANY
Shortly after the occupation of the Ruhr by French troops, the Executive of the International directed the attention of all sections to the approaching revolutionary crisis. The international conferences at Essen and Frankfurt were also devoted to these questions. . . .
In the months up to the winter of 1923 class forces in Germany moved steadily in favour of the proletarian revolution. From the beginning of the Ruhr movement the 18 to 20 million proletarians were free of any nationalist sentiment. A profound ferment was at work among the 6 to 7 million petty bourgeois of the towns and the 4 to 5 million smallholders and tenant farmers.
The democratic coalition policy was obviously bankrupt. The social-democrats, who had shared the government with the bourgeois parties, had to decide whether they would make a firm alliance with the representatives of heavy industry and the reactionary army groups; and that is in fact what they did.
It was and still is the task of the KPD to exploit the period of international complications following on the Ruhr crisis, the period of intense crisis within German capitalism, and the liquidation of the Ruhr crisis to overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish the proletarian dictatorship. For this purpose it should have mobilized the industrial proletariat for the fight against German heavy industry and against French imperialism, and at least neutralized the urban and rural middle classes, bringing them wherever possible under its leadership.
The first task could have been accomplished only if the majority of the proletarian masses were liberated from any kind of social-democratic influence, and so organized that they were ready for the fight against the capitalist positions. This task was only in part accomplished; the reasons will be discussed below. . . .
In the camp of the bourgeoisie disintegration increased from week to week; confidence in the KPD grew steadily greater. This confidence should have been given an organized form, and all forces prepared for the decisive blow.
The KPD and the Executive of the Comintern, in discussions held in September with representatives of the five largest parties, came to the conclusion that the revolutionary situation in Germany had reached such a pitch that the decisive struggle was a question of the next few weeks.
From that moment the party mobilized all the forces at its disposal and armed for the decisive struggle. The party worked feverishly to stir up every member and equip him to meet the demands of the struggle. In order to enrol the entire proletariat in the revolutionary fighting front, the party initiated and supported the formation of local action committees everywhere. Intensive work was done among railwaymen, electrical workers, and public employees.
The Executive of the CI focused the attention of the entire International, particularly the sections in the countries bordering on Germany and in Soviet Russia, on the approaching German revolution, and settled with each section its tasks.
THE OCTOBER RETREAT AND ITS CAUSES
Despite all weaknesses, the KPD was in October consciously aiming at the revolutionary struggle for power. If, in spite of the revolutionary situation and the efforts of the KPD and the CI, there was neither a decisive revolutionary struggle nor a political mass struggle, that was due to a series of errors and defects which were partly of opportunist origin.
Defective Evaluation of Revolutionary Development
The party was too late in recognizing the stage of maturity reached by the revolutionary situation in Germany. Nor did the Executive of the CI direct attention energetically enough to the approaching decision, so that the most important measures were taken in hand too late. At the close of the preceding period (Cuno Government, entry into Ruhr), the question of power should have been brought up and technical preparatory work begun. The party was slow in recognizing the significance of the mass struggles in the Ruhr and in Upper Silesia as signs of growing consciousness of strength and of increasing political activity of the working masses; it began to make the necessary changes only after the Cuno strike.
The task of stepping up and expanding the numerous separate actions from July to September and giving them a political direction was not carried out. . . .
One of the most serious mistakes was the failure to transform the instinctive rebellion of the masses into conscious revolutionary militancy by directing it to political goals.
The party failed to conduct energetic and lively agitation on behalf of the political workers' councils, and to connect transitional demands and partial struggles with the final goal of the proletarian dictatorship. The neglect of the factory-council movement also made it impossible for the factory councils to take over for a time the functions of workers' councils, so that in the decisive days there was no authoritative centre around which the vacillating working masses who had shaken off the influence of the SPD could rally.
Since other united front organs (action committees, control committees, fighting committees) were not systematically used either to make political preparations for the struggle, that struggle became almost exclusively a party affair, and not a united proletarian struggle.
Political-Organizational Weaknesses and Defects
The party developed in only a minor degree the capacity to consolidate organizationally its growing influence in proletarian mass organizations.
Even less was it able to concentrate its forces over a long period on a particular fighting task. Technical preparations, the re-focusing of the apparatus for the struggle for power, the arming and internal consolidation of the red hundreds were carried out to a minimal degree. . . .
Mistaken Estimate of the Relation of Forces
The over-hasty technical preparations in the decisive weeks, the emphasis on the action as a party struggle and on the 'decisive blow' alone, without previous partial actions and mass movements, made it impossible to test the real relation of forces or to set the right date. Consequently there was no reality or certainty in the calculation whether the majority of the working class at the decisive points was following the leadership of the KPD. What could be ascertained was only that the party was on the road to winning over the majority, without actually having its leadership. . . .
The party also mistook the character and role of the left SPD leaders; even within the party the illusion grew that we could by mass pressure force those leaders to take up the fight together with us.
The Incorrect Political-Strategic Attitude in Saxony
The stubborn insistence on using the defence of the central German positions as the starting-point of the decisive struggle was wrong. It led to the neglect of other important industrial and fighting areas, and, after the passive surrender of the Saxon positions, to a marked disorientation. It was a fatal mistake for the party to stake everything exclusively on the Saxon card, without providing a line of retreat should it fail, or having other plans for attack.
As a result of all these mistakes and deficiencies in the party, and of the weakness of the working class, the decisive struggle for power was at the last moment avoided. In Bulgaria, where the party had never undertaken armed struggle, defeat may still become the basis of future victories; but in Germany, after the defeats of 1919 and March 1921, we were in a situation in which the communists should have been able to lead the masses to victory. . . .
THE SAXON EXPERIMENT AND THE HAMBURG STRUGGLES
As class contradictions in Germany came to a head, with the economic crisis becoming more acute, and the party turning towards decisive struggles, the Executive of the CI and the KPD initiated the experiment of the entry of communists into the Government of Saxony. The purpose of this step, in the mind of the Executive, was specifically military and political, and was defined in the following instructions:
Since, in our view, the decisive moment will come not later than in four, five, or six weeks, we think it essential to occupy immediately every position that can be of direct use. On the basis of the situation we believe we must take a practical attitude towards the question of our entry into the Saxon Government. Provided that the Zeigner people are really ready to defend Saxony against Bavaria and the fascists, we must enter, immediately arm 50,000 to 60,000 men, ignoring General Muller.
The same in Thuringia.
On the assumptions originally made, this step was in accordance with the decisions of the fourth congress. The unleashing of revolutionary struggles, the fusing together of the working masses should have been the pre-conditions of entry into the Saxon Government. The entry should have been supported by mass movements. Even if the direct military task had to be postponed because of the slowing down of the revolutionary process, communists should and could still have engaged in really revolutionary activity. . . .
Above all, they should have boldly raised the question of arming the workers; in the very first hours of their participation in the workers' government the communists should have insisted, as their primary task, on the arming of the proletariat. . . .
They should likewise from the outset have exposed and condemned before the broadest masses Zeigner's two-faced attitude, his concealed negotiations with the military dictators, and the entire counter-revolutionary role of the left SPD leaders....
Only if the entire party had worked in correct revolutionary fashion could the Chemnitz conference have turned out successfully for the party. The party let itself be taken by surprise by the enemy's blow, although intervention by the Reich had been expected. It was a still greater error that, although a general strike should have been proposed, nothing was done to get the conference from its opening to concentrate exclusively on defence against the Reich Executive. That mistake was undoubtedly facilitated by the treacherous game of the left SPD leaders.
The Hamburg rising was the complete antithesis of Saxony.
There it was shown that by sudden and bold attack by resolute forces the enemy could be militarily overwhelmed. At the same time it was shown that such an armed struggle, even if, as in Hamburg, it is regarded by the population not without sympathy and is supported by a mass movement, is doomed to failure if it remains isolated and cannot rely locally on a workers'-council movement, the absence of which in Hamburg was felt particularly keenly.
The struggle itself was hampered by contradictory instructions from the party centre, and even the strikes in progress in Hamburg were called off because of the absence of reports of any struggle in the rest of the Reich and the news of the outcome of the Chemnitz conference.
Nevertheless the Hamburg struggle was called off with exemplary discipline. Its lessons are valuable for the party and the Comintern. Particularly noteworthy was the scoundrelly behaviour of the Hamburg SPD leaders. . . .
V. THE ROLE OF SOCIAL-DEMOCRACY AND THE CHANGE IN UNITED FRONT TACTICS IN GERMANY
The leading strata of German social-democracy are at the present moment nothing but a fraction of German fascism wearing a socialist mask. They handed State power over to the representatives of the capitalist dictatorship in order to save capitalism from the proletarian revolution....
It is not just now that these leaders of German social-democracy have gone over to the side of capital. At bottom they have always been on the side of the class enemies of the proletariat, but it is only now that this has been revealed to the masses in a glaring light, by their completing the transition from capitalist democracy to capitalist dictatorship.
This circumstance induces us to modify the united front tactics in Germany.
There can be no dealings with the mercenaries of the white dictatorship. This must be clearly grasped by all German communists and solemnly and loudly announced to the entire German proletariat.
Even more dangerous than the right-wing SPD leaders are the left— the last illusion of the deceived workers, the last fig-leaves for the filthy counterrevolutionary policy of Severing, Noske, and Ebert. The KPD rejects not only any dealings with the SPD centre, but also with the 'left' leaders until they shall have shown at least enough manliness to break openly with the counter-revolutionary gang in the SPD presidium.
The slogan of the united front tactic in Germany is now: Unity from below! . . .
The KPD must learn how to put this slogan of the united front from below into operation. There is a greater ferment than ever before among the workers still belonging to the SPD. They see that their leaders are bankrupt and are seeking new roads. There is therefore no reason for us to reject local negotiations and agreements with SPD workers, when they are honest proletarians ready to prove their devotion to the revolution.
The united front bodies, factory councils, action committees, and control committees, must be interlocked and woven into a dense network, so that they can finally become the centrally-directed apparatus for the proletarian struggle for power.
IMMEDIATE TASKS OF THE PARTY
The basic appraisal of the German situation given by the Comintern Executive last September remains in essentials unchanged. The character of the phase in the struggle and the chief tasks of the party are the same. The KPD must not strike from the agenda the question of insurrection and seizure of power.. . .
However great the partial victories of the German counter-revolution, they do not solve any of the critical problems of capitalist Germany.
The KPD is therefore confronted with a number of immediate tasks, arising from the experience gained in the last few months.
The party must organize the proletarian struggle against the abolition of the eighthour day and of workers' rights. It must bring the unemployed movement into organizational and political association with the movement of employed workers, and so ward off the danger of the working class being split into hungry unemployed and workers who still have a crust of bread. The party will be able to do this work best if it prepares in advance for the forthcoming economic struggles in such a way that they are directed not only against wage reductions, but with a political purpose, under the slogan: Work for the unemployed.
The party's agitation must bring home to the broadest masses that only the proletarian dictatorship can bring them salvation. This task must be linked to the goal of the political annihilation of the Social-Democratic Party; it requires the organization of united front organs and a clear objective in all partial struggles. . .
The KPD must be good not only in agitation; it must also be a good fighting party. The arming of the workers and the technical preparations for the decisive struggle must be doggedly continued. Proletarian hundreds must be set up, not only on paper but in reality, relying on the sympathy of the broad working masses, won over by the active leadership of the KPD in all the day-to-day struggles and actions of the proletariat. . . .
The communist party is the only revolutionary party; it is strong enough to prepare for and achieve the victory of the proletarian masses against all other parties; this must become the firm conviction of every party member. . . .
The maintenance of party unity is imperatively demanded by the Communist International. The Executive calls on the entire KPD membership to do everything possible to see that at the party congress the entire party unanimously and resolutely liquidates all fractional struggles and achieves full capacity for action.
The Executive of the Comintern reminds all members of the KPD and all other Comintern sections of the gigantic tasks arising from the present revolutionary crisis. It is firmly convinced that the experiences of the last few months have not been in vain and will, if seriously examined and evaluated, bring the victory of the proletariat nearer.