This pamphlet was first published by Marken Press in 1993.
Translation is copyright Mike Jones 1993. No part may be reproduced, other
than short passages for purposes of review or criticism, without permission.
The text is taken from 1923: Eine verpasste Revolution? Die deutsche
Oktober-legende und die wirkliche Geschichte von 1923, by August Thalheimer,
published by Juniusverlag, Berlin 1931. Reprinted by Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik (http://www.arbeiterpolitik.de/). The
German original is also available in the Marxists Internet Archive at www.marxists.org/deutsch/archiv/thalheimer/1931/1923/index.htmPlease
note that we have retained all of the emphases in the original text. Although
there may appear to be an overuse of such emphasis to the contemporary reader,
it was not unusual in the era in which the text was written. Our desire was to
remain as true to the original text as possible.
Introduction by Mike Jones
THE 1923 LEGEND
1. Why Must the Issues of 1923 Be Explained?
2. Of What Does the Left October Legend Consist?
3. The Rise of the Left October Legend
4. The High Point of the October Legend
5. The Start of the Revision of the October Legend
6. The Class Forces in Russia in 1917 Compared with Germany in 1923
THE REAL STORY OF 1923
1. The Effect of the Occupation of the Ruhr
2. The Behaviour of the Party Until the Strike Against Cuno
3. The Speculative Plan of Action of the Comintern
4. The Intervention of the Bourgeoisie Changes the Situation
5. The Decisive Mistakes of the Party After the Cuno Strike
5. The Retreat and the Chemnitz Conference
7. Some of the Most Important Lessons
As far we know, the pamphlet by August Thalheimer on the events in Germany
during 1923, and their subsequent elevation into a legend which, as he points
out, was revised by its creators as the occasion demanded, does not exist in an
English language edition. Its relevance today owes itself to a number of
factors. Not only are we obliged to set the historical record straight, but to
examine whether this acknowledged turning-point in the history of Communism was
the cause of a degeneration or whether the degeneration was the source of the
myth-creation around the events.
However, much more important is an examination of the methodology of the
protagonists. In essence it can be summed up as a choice between the argument
presented by the ultra-left, whereby a minority around the KPD should have
launched themselves into an uprising, in the belief that decisive leadership
would resolve things regardless of the objective conditions, and the view that
the objective conditions for an uprising were not present and thus its launching
in that situations would be an irresponsible adventure leading to disaster.
Many questions are discussed by Thalheimer in this pamphlet, which can be
summarised as follows: Whether and when Communists should join a coalition
government with Social Democrats. Could factory committees replace Soviet-type
organs. Can uprisings be planned months in advance, based upon speculation? And
in the meantime should political activity be downgraded and substituted by
military technical-organisational preparation? Is it permissible to take power
with a minority of the working class, so to speak behind the back of the class
as a whole? Is consciousness wholly different once a hated government is removed
during a mass movement to be replaced by another, in which the biggest working
class party has a stake? This when steps are taken to stabilise the political
and economic situation, and concessions are granted to the workers. And, at the
same time, repression is meted out to the Communists. All these and other
questions are treated in this pamphlet.
The translator encountered the arguments presented here over twenty years
ago, at a time he considered himself a Trotskyist, and having accepted the 1923
October legend along with the rest of the Trotskyist canon. From then on it
became difficult to defend the Trotskyist view. Having had his faith undermined
he sought out everything he could find in Trotsky’s writings to bolster it
again. Alas, it proved impossible. Trotsky never provides any serious evidence
for his view but merely asserts it, based mainly on theoretical generalisations.
Over the years since then the translator read every book he found, from
biographies of participants, to general historical treatments, to those dealing
with the economic issues, Soviet foreign policy, German-Soviet relations,
diplomacy, etc., bearing on the 1923 events, and became confirmed in the
arguments presented by Thalheimer.
A number of historians, including those having Marxist views, such as Julius
Braunthal1 and Fernando Claudín,2 see Soviet foreign
policy as the decisive factor for the apparent failure of the Comintern to make
any revolutionary preparations in Germany until after the fall of the Cuno
government. Cuno represented the anti-Versailles, anti-West orientation of
certain bourgeois sectors not unfriendly to the Soviet Union, whilst Stresemann
represented sectors with an opposing orientation. In the belief of the
translator, whilst that certainly affected Soviet government circles, it was not
a factor affecting the Comintern. In this regard, it is worthwhile looking at
the books of the two Trotskyists engaged in high level Comintern work at the
time: Alfred Rosmer’s Lenin’s Moscow,3 and Victor Serge’s
Memoirs of a Revolutionary,4 who both focus on power struggles
among the Russian leadership, resulting in no attention being given to events in
Germany, and see Brandler, Thalheimer and Radek as scapegoats.
It was during October 1923 that Trotsky opened up his attacks on the
triumvirs over the situation in Russia and the bureaucratisation inside the
Party, and as newly published material in the USSR shows, Trotsky’s "démontage"
(demolition) began in the same month. In his contribution towards Aufstieg
und ZerfalI der Komintern,5 a series of essays on the rise and
fall of the Comintern, Wladislaw Hedeler refers to recently published documents
from the literary remains of Stalin’s secretary Bashanov verifying
this.6 As Thalheimer points out, the October 1923 events became mixed
up in the growing Trotsky debate. He mentions the speech by Radek making threats
against the Russian CC majority if they should turn against Trotsky. Thalheimer
saw that speech as the signal for Zinoviev initiating a change in the line of
ECCI over its evaluation of Brandler’s CC and its decision to make a
In K.H. Tjaden’s study of the KPD-O,7 he says that Thalheimer is
mistaken, and that Zinoviev’s letter came before Radek’s speech. However, that
small detail is not of significance, and Tjaden sees Zinoviev, the figure really
responsible for the outcome of events in Germany, as seeking to shift the blame,
to hit at Trotsky through Radek, who in turn was allied with
Brandler-Thalheimer, and thus avoid the KPD lining up with Trotsky, while at the
same time winning allies among the ultra-left critics of Brandler’s CC majority
in the KPD.
Thalheimer’s talk of panic in the Russian leadership caused by Zinoviev is
likely to be the case. He had his own agents within the CP leaderships reporting
to him. Any danger of a finger pointing in his direction would be cause for
white-washing and scapegoating as is common in all institutions. The
acknowledged Russian expert on the Comintern archives Friedrich Firsov, in his
contribution to Aufstieg und Zerfall …, quotes from the letter to the
ECCI presidium and the RCP(B) CC of 23 December 1923, from the Polish CP
CC, in which it places responsibility for the German defeat on the ECCI, voices
its concern over the methods of the struggle inside the RCP(B), expresses its
support for Trotsky without taking any position on the disputed issues, and
proposed to put "the crisis in the RCP(B)" on the agenda of the next ECCI plenum
(pp.39-40). Apparently Amadeo Bordiga also blamed the ECCI for the defeat in
An article in Sozialismus No.2, 1993, on the internal struggles in the
KPD during the 1920s, and the Comintern role therein, based on the documents
newly studied from its archives, by Theodor Bergmann and Alexander Watlin (the
latter is a pupil of Firsov and also contributes to Aufstieg und Zerfall
…), deals with the October events and describes them as being "above all an
idea of the CPSU summit which, after the illness and political absence of V.l.
Lenin, wanted to strengthen its position through world-revolutionary
activities". "Victory has many fathers, defeats none", they remind us, and "the
intention of being father to the victory in Germany played a not unimportant
role with Lenin’s successors", but "immediately after the defeat, both in the
CPSU and in the Comintern, the search to establish its paternity began". Those
who would be designated as responsible could then be labelled "rightists", while
the Comintern lurched into a frenzy of ultra-leftism.
Trotsky set out his analysis of the German defeat in Lessons of
October and kept to the fundamentals of it in every published text, although
his original opposition to scapegoating the KPD CC majority, and his pointing
the finger at Zinoviev, gradually degenerated into describing Brandler and his
associates as Social Democrats. Unwittingly, as Thalheimer points out, he
provided a theoretical basis for the ultra-leftism which, until then, had been
unable to develop anything beyond assertions. In the belief of the translator,
Trotsky’s arguments illustrate his tendency towards subjectivism, which emerged
again and again later. Practically this reflects itself in voluntarism, a
characteristic common to the Fourth Internationalist movement. The contributions
of other Communist figures quoted by Thalheimer in regard to Trotsky’s methods
are, it seems to me, pertinent in a study of Trotskyism.
If Trotsky’s published position on the German October never changed
fundamentally, his private one seems to have done so (worth noting is the fact
that although he promised his German adherents a counter-balance sheet to the
KPO one it never emerged), according to the minutes of the meeting between him
and SAP leader Jakob Walcher in August 1933. These minutes, as well as
containing a report of Walcher’s talks with dissident Communist and left
socialist parties and groupings in many European countries over establishing a
new international centre to rival the degenerate ones, discusses differences
with Trotsky’s ILO, among them its evaluation of the 1923 events. In them
Trotsky declares his complete agreement with Walcher, asserting that he had not
seen the retreat in October as the decisive fault, but the bad policy of the KPD
CC and the ECCI earlier in that year. Readers must judge for themselves, but it
appears that he is making an adjustment in his opinions. At present however,
they must consult the French text published in Oeuvres, Vol.2, as
although these very important minutes were known at the time, they were not
included in the two supplementary volumes of Trotsky’s Writings published
by Pathfinder Press, New York 1979. ["Notes on the Conversations Between Trotsky
and Walcher, 17-20 August 1933", has since been published in
Revolutionary History, Vol.5 No.2, 1994 – ed.] A possible explanation for
both the non-appearance of Trotsky’s balance sheet of 1923, and the minutes of
the discussion with Walcher, is that his adherents in Germany originated from
the ultra-left factions, as did those in some other countries, who did uphold
the view that an uprising should have been launched in October 1923, just as the
Trotskyist organisations do today.
August Thalheimer, author of the pamphlet
presented here, is one of the major theoreticians of the Communist movement, yet
today in Britain his name is obscure, largely linked to bygone polemics as a
villain. As far as is known, the only writings of his in print here today are
three texts on fascism in Marxists In Face of Fascism, by David
Beetham,8 and his "Notes on a Stay in Catalonia", in Revolutionary
History, Vol.4 Nos.1/2. His writings were available in oppositional
Communist publications in the 1930s, and in the early 1920s could be found in
official CPGB and Comintern publications. Among them are analyses and in
particular programmatic contributions.
In 1922, the KPD submitted a draft programme for the Comintern, written by
Thalheimer, during the Fourth Congress. Owing to sharp differences over the type
of programme, it was decided to delay adoption. Thalheimer insisted on the
inclusion of transitional demands, which some saw as opportunism.. That view was
rejected in a resolution adopted.9 Whether an English translation was
published by the Comintern is not known at this time, but the "Contributions to
a Programme of Action for Germany", by Heinrich Brandler, can be found in the
The Communist International, Vol.5 Nos.3 and 4. This begins with a
theoretical explanation and puts the struggle for workers’ control of production
at the centre. It was jointly written by Brandler, Thalheimer and Leo
Borochowicz, according to K.H. Tjaden. It became the rallying point for those
desiring a strategy founded on transitional politics and a break from the
inconsistency and leftist inclination of the Thälmann faction. Although drafted
in 1927, it was suppressed until 1928. After 65 years hidden in the archives,
Thalheimer’s critique of the draft programme for the Sixth Congress of the
Comintern has just resurfaced.10
Taking up ten points, Thalheimer develops his fascism analysis, which is the
longest section. He began this analysis in late 1922 and during 1923, seeing the
Italian experience and the incipient Nazi movement in Germany. He introduced
correction vis-à-vis the bourgeoisie and its use of the fascists after 1923.
This analysis would be further elaborated in the KPD-O journal Gegen den
Strom, following the expulsion of the "right" in late 1928 and early 1929.
The text "On Fascism", whose torso is found in Marxists in Face of
Fascism, is basically the section on fascism from Programmatische
Fragen. The weakest section of the draft programme, in Thalheimer’s eyes, is
on strategy and tactics, where he argues for, and explains, the concept of
transitional demands. In the next section he does the same regarding partial
demands. These ideas are set out in detail in the Plattform der KPD-O
(1930), adopted after extensive discussions among the KPD-O membership, but it
is necessary anyway to translate Programmatische Fragen into English, in
order to set the historical record straight. [A section of Thalheimer’s critique
has been published, in an English translation by Mike Jones, as "Strategy and Tactics of the Communist International: What Are Transitional Slogans?"
in What Next? No.13, 1999 – ed.]
As well as delivering one of the major analyses of fascism and his
programmatic contributions, Thalheimer can probably be considered as the
theoretical exponent of the United Front par excellence. Brandler is rightly
seen as the "father of the United Front",11 usually through his
action in Chemnitz during the Kapp Putsch, but K.H. Tjaden, in his research,
established that "the ‘Stuttgart Demands’ were formulated, after an exchange of
opinions with Brandler and Walcher, by the Württemberg District Committee, whose
secretary was Hans Tittel".12 After the struggle for these demands
took off, Levi, recommended by Radek, drafted them into the famous "Open Letter"
of January 1921, the first United Front campaign by the Communist movement.
Thalheimer was Editor in Chief of Rote Fahne and the theoretical
journal Die InternationaIe at that time, until the downfall of the
"right" after 1923. The United Front as wielded by the KPD at that time was a
product of that group of old Spartacists moulded politically by Rosa Luxemburg,
and she was the source of their understanding of the United Front, based on
Luxemburg’s interpretation of Marxism. But if these concepts were common to
them, and arose from a similar methodology, the duo Brandler-Thalheimer – the
man of action and the thinker – were the major exponents.
The adopted positions on the Workers’ Government at the Comintern’s Fourth
Congress emerged out of the arguments inside the KPD, between ultra-lefts and
the "right". From the Kapp Putsch to the events in 1923, all these tactics were
being put into practice. (Thalheimer lost his head for a while around the "March
Action", theorising a "revolutionary offensive".) In his pamphlet Wie schafft
die Arbeiterklasse die Einheitsfront gegen den Faschismus? (1932),
Thalheimer gives a ten-page compressed historical account of the struggle for a
United Front from the "Open Letter" to the 1923 events, to remind or tell KPD
members what the Party was capable of earlier, in an attempt to convince them of
the necessity of a United Front against the Nazi threat. We hope to publish our
translation of it, which should enlighten everyone who reads it. [Published as
"The Struggle for the United Front in Germany", in Revolutionary History,
Vol.5 No.2, 1994 – ed.]
August Thalheimer was born on 18 March 1884 in Affaltrach, Württemberg, of
Jewish origins. He studied at a number of universities, became adept at various
languages and became a Doctor of Philosophy in 1907. He had already established
links with the SPD left around Fritz Westmeyer, including Clara Zetkin. In 1910
he joined the SPD. Talent-spotted by Rosa Luxemburg, he edited a number of SPD
newspapers. At the outbreak of war in 1914 he joined the group around Liebknecht
and Luxemburg. He wrote in the first issue of Die Internationale and
participated in the first national conference of the Spartacists on
1 January 1916. His sister Bertha and Ernst Meyer represented the group at
Zimmerwald in 1915. Thalheimer was conscripted in 1916 and after being wounded
at the front was employed as a translator. He returned to Stuttgart in the
autumn of 1918. On 6 November 1918 he published the first edition of
Rote Fahne in Stuttgart. The day after, he was arrested and gaoled.
Without his knowledge he was named as Finance Minister by the USPD in the
Württemberg provisional government, a post he declined, refusing to join the
"government socialists". He was active in the Stuttgart Workers’ and Soldiers’
Council, and was a member of the Spartakusbund leadership, then of the KPD whose
founding conference he attended. From then on he operated in Berlin at his
During the life of the KPD-O, Thalheimer continued that activity with
Gegen den Strom, the Arbeiterpolitik, which went daily in 1930
until 1932, and international publications. From 1933 he first went to
Strasbourg then to Paris, where the KPD-O and IVKO [the international tendency
of which the KPD-O was a part – ed.] established their centre. With the start of
the Second World War he was interned, but in 1941 succeeded in reaching Cuba.
Gradually he and Brandler renewed links with a few comrades in exile, and
planned the re-establishing of their grouping in the post-war. Political
analyses were sent, with great difficulty, into Germany, once links were
established with survivors.
In 1945 Thalheimer wrote his analysis of the Potsdam Agreement and its
consequences for the working class (Die Potsdamer Beschlüsse), in which
an independent class position is set out.13 In 1946 followed
Grundlinien und Grundbegriffe der Weltpolitik nach dem 2 Weltkrieg, where
he again analysed the situation from the independent class viewpoint. Both texts
are available today from Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik.
Though trying to return to Germany, both Brandler and Thalheimer were
prevented from so doing by the Allied authorities, although the former succeeded
in reaching London in 1947, where he stayed until 1949, developing a close
relationship with Isaac and Tamara Deutscher. Thalheimer died in Cuba on
19 September 1948.
Mike Jones, 15 April 1993
1. Julius Braunthal, History of the International,
Vol.2, Thomas Nelson, 1967.
2. Fernando Claudín, The Communist Movement: From Comintern to
Cominform, Penguin, 1975.
3. Alfred Rosmer, Lenin’s Moscow, Pluto, 1971.
4. Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary 1901-1941, OUP, 1963.
5. Theodor Bergman and Mario Kessler, eds., Aufstieg und Zerfall der
Komintern, Podium Progressiv, Mainz, 1992.
6. Ibid. See p.105, note 22.
7. K.H. Tjaden, Struktur und Funktion der KPD-Opposition, Vol.2,
Meisenheim/GIan, 1964, pp.113-4, note 1.2.11.
8. David Beetham, Marxists in Face of Fascism, Manchester University
9. Jane Degras, ed., The Communist International 1919-1943, Documents,
Vol.1, Cass, 1971, pp.445-6.
10. August Thalheimer, Programmatische Fragen, Decaton, Mainz,
11. Zinoviev during the postmortem on 1923, in H. Gruber, ed.,
International Communism in the Era of Lenin, Anchor Books, New York,
12. Struktur und Funktion ..., Vol.2, pp.90-91, note 1.1.80.
13. Oskar Hippe quotes approvingly from it in ...And Red Is the Colour of
Our Flag, Index, 1991, p.278.
Those wishing to learn more can turn to my key sources: K.H. Tjaden,
Struktur und Funktion der KPD-Opposition (KPO), Meisenheim/GIan, 1964,
which emerges in reprint from time to time, and Theodor Bergmann, Gegen den
Strom – Die Geschichte der Kommunistischen-Partei-Opposition, VSA,
Hamburg 1987, as well as the numerous pamphlets and other more substantial
items, including the analyses of fascism, kept in print by the Arbeiterpolitik
1923: A MISSED OPPORTUNITY? THE GERMAN OCTOBER LEGEND AND THE
REAL HISTORY OF 1923
IN 1923 THE conditions were absolutely ripe for a victorious proletarian
revolution, but the then leadership of the KPD, with Brandler at its head,
prevented this revolutionary victory. At first sight this view appears so
fantastical and frivolous that it seems odd to be bothered about it today. But
this view, known as the October legend, is still today the official view of the
Communist Party of Germany. It is hammered into the young Party members as
dogma, which they accept out of faith and trust, without suspecting that it is a
historical legend, invented for the purpose of explaining away and supporting a
erroneous KPD tactic. It is a historical legend, which has prevented the Party,
and thus the working class, from abandoning a disastrous course and which has
prevented any criticism of the KPD from being as effective in degree and tempo,
as it otherwise would surely have been.
For that reason, the questions of the tactics and strategy of the KPD in 1923
are, alas, still highly relevant today. Or to be precise, today, when the
leadership of the KPD is making, in a more intensified form, the errors for
which the October legend of 1923 provides an ideological refuge, they are more
relevant than ever.
The official October legend is by now eight years old. In the meantime it has
almost become canonical. It is one of the most important mainstays of the
ultra-left policy. The ultra-left legend helps the real ultra-left orientation.
And now, entangled together, they both mutually support one another. Whenever
the October legend is encountered, ultra-left policies are met, and whenever the
ultra-left action strikes, the legend strikes. As both originated jointly
together and have sustained each other, so they will jointly collapse. But the
longer the legend and the ultra-left policy flowing from it last, so much the
greater will be the danger that the collapse of the revolutionary working class
in Germany, which in 1923 was only a legend, will become bitter reality.
After the Reichstag elections on 14 September 1930, Pravda wrote that
the KPD had never been so close to power as now. A greater self-deception cannot
be imagined. Objectively, during the last two years, the conditions for
the victory of communism in Germany have been unusually favourable.
Subjectively, however, the KPD has never been so remotely
dlstant from the possibility of a victory. Just as it has never been so far
from, and for so long a period, genuine Communist politics, so it has never
possessed such a leadership – wholly inept in every respect.
In 1923, a Communist victory was prevented primarily by the timely
concessions of the bourgeoisie and only secondarily by errors of the Party and
its leadership. But, even if the KPD was not capable of achieving victory
itself, it was capable of preventing the victory of fascism.
It was able to do this by virtue of the generally correct policies which it
pursued up to August 1923, and, with the retreat in October, the timely and
determined corrections of its own mistakes which it undertook.
If the ultra-left policy of the Party is carried on further – and, when the
Party and the Executive of the Communist International perceive a triumph for
this line in the election success of 14 September, the prospect of this not
happening is extremely poor – then the way is open for the victory of fascism.
And that means a real, severe and long-lasting defeat of
the workers’ movement and the Party. Then a new legend will have to be created
which will prove that the Executive has always been correct and new "guilty"
people will have to be found.
But we believe that the first precondition for a Communist Party and
leadership, which understands how to conquer, is that it rejects all
legend-making and really starts to learn. As long as this learning from
its own history has not begun, the Party, and with it the working class, instead
of progressing will only permanently go in circles, and the result will always
be new and successively greater defeats. The working class will forgive the
Party any infantile sickness at its birth. It will not forgive it if it remains
stuck in babyhood and childhood feebleness. And if the Party does not want to
learn, then the class enemy will learn in its stead.
Today the KPD leadership wrongly quotes 1923 to confirm its crude and
dangerous deviations on the national question. In 1923, in spite of individual
mistakes and exaggerations, the Party had, on the whole, understood very well
how to reject and thwart nationalist ideology. Today we see the opposite
phenomenon, the distorting and thwarting of Communist ideology by the
nationalist one. Finally, we see how, after ten years the infantile disorder on
the trade union question, which was understandable and which was overcome ten
years ago, has been raised to the official doctrine of the Party, the Communist
International and the Red International of Labour Unions.
In a essay on Jena, Mehring quotes the words of Engels: "A great army,
as any other great social organisation, is never better than after a great
defeat, when it repents and does penance for its past sins." Whereas the
opposite, constant repetition and eulogising of past sins, in spite of more and
more partial failures and partial defeats, the delusion which insists very
precisely that black is white, that leads directly to – Jena.
Anyone today who impartially examines the state of the Party which has the
task of leading the working class to the proletarian revolution, will have no
doubt that it does not exhibit the image of the Prussian army
The following account is the text of one of the lectures on October 1923
which I have frequently made during the last two years.
Of course, within the framework of a lecture only a outline can be developed.
I hope soon to have the opportunity of submitting a more detailed
Berlin, 15 February 1931
THE 1923 LEGEND
1. WHY MUST THE ISSUES OF 1923 BE EXPLAINED?
Why is it still necessary to explain the 1923 events and the tactics and
strategy of the Party at this time? Not primarily to defend or to justify the
then leadership of the Party. That is not a very noble aim. It is not worth
engaging in a long discussion about it. What Brandler, Thalheimer and so on, who
were then among those participating in the Party leadership, had shown of
leadership qualities, is not a question of great significance. The main purpose
of such a discussion can only be to draw out the real lessons for the
proletarian revolution by examining the mistakes made by the Party in 1923. It
is often repeated that we, the then leadership of the Party, are not willing to
admit that serious mistakes were made. That is absolutely not the case. Such an
opinion could only arise because a series of, in part, detailed declarations,
which we made to the CC of the Party in the years 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926 and
still later, were not brought to the attention of Party members and, as
the latter were not told, they must think that we admit to no mistakes at all.
That is not so. But it does concern finding out which type of mistakes
were made and which lessons for the future can be drawn from them. This
is the nub of the question. The events of 1923 have a general significance in so
far as the questions of strategy and tactics involved are not unique questions
but general issues of strategy and tactics of the proletarian revolution
which are contained within them.
Hence it follows that we will not get clarity on questions about the
Communist movement in Germany until these questions, which do not just concern
the past, have been fully explained. That, through the hitherto existing
discussions, it has been neither formally or factually explained, is best
illustrated by the fact that, later on in Germany, the lessons which were drawn
from the events of that year, were in fact the conclusions of Ruth Fischer and
Maslow – and this, the ultra-left line, almost led to the break-up of the Party.
The first Open Letter addressed to the German Party in 1925 by the
Executive of the Communist International is spot-on in examining the failure of
Ruth Fischer’s and Maslow’s ultra-left line and in liquidating and clearing it
up, but it protected the legend fabricated over 1923. It was stated then that it
was not the left that was bankrupt but some left leaders. And thus it was
possible to break some of the worst leaders from the line, to liquidate some of
the crudest practices, but then a new exaggerated relapse into the ultra-left
This second relapse, which we are still seeing today, is the empirical
evidence that shows that without a genuine clarification of the 1923 events,
that is the direction of the proletarian revolution in Germany, then a
secure, clear and solid deployment of the Party cannot be attained. One cannot
fool history. It is not possible to arrive at a clear and definite balance
through little tricks and legends. The account must be settled in full.
2. OF WHAT DOES THE LEFT OCTOBER LEGEND CONSIST?
We now ask what comprises the October legend, on which from 1924 onwards the
ultra-left line was built, and which, today, still underpins this ultra-left
line and frightens off Party members from listening to our arguments, since the
question of 1923 is brought up repeatedly. The content of this ultra-left legend
can be summed up in a few words. The core of the case is the claim that 1923
was comparable with 1917 in Russia, that is that objective conditions in
Germany were just as ripe as in 1917 Russia. If the revolution conquered in
Russia then it was thanks to the leadership of the Party through its Central
Committee headed by Lenin. If the victory did not occur in 1923 it was because
no such party and no such leadership existed at the time, that the leadership
both made clumsy mistakes, was not sufficiently alert or "missed" the
revolutionary moment – or even betrayed it. Such was the left legend.
Moreover, in addition, the then Party leadership was accused of betrayal,
neglect and idiocies which prevented the otherwise objectively ripe revolution –
all arising from its opportunist attitude. The tactics of the leadership in 1923
were the natural and necessary result of its opportunist attitude which
it had demonstrated in previous years. What was stressed as the essence of this
"opportunist attitude" was first, the United Front tactic, as carried out
by the then Party leadership and Party. It was declared erroneous and
opportunist. In part this was direct, since the United Front was absolutely
rejected, but in part it was stated that the United Front "from below" –
whatever that might mean – was permissible, but that the United Front "from
above" was wrong because it was opportunist. It was also stated that the
leadership of the Party then had imagined that power could be conquered in a
government coalition with Social Democracy. The evidence for this was the
coalitions with Social Democracy in Saxony and Thuringia that we had
According to the left legend the third opportunist crime was that we thought
that the trade unions could be won to Communist ideas from within. In the spring
of 1924 the left comrades went around the country declaring far and wide that
the slogan of winning over the trade unions was erroneous. This went so
far that Maslow declared at a conference in Moscow in January 1924 that the
slogan of winning over the trade unions should be rejected and
replaced with the call for "the destruction of the trade unions". The
practical conclusions drawn by Maslow and the other ultra-lefts from their
evaluation of the opportunism of the previous leadership are the following:
First, that the United Front tactic had to be abandoned. This was done, and
entitled the "United Front from below". Under the mask of "United Front from
below" the United Front was totally abandoned because, by this, it was
understood that proletarian organisations, trade unions as well as the lower
level organisations of Social Democracy, did not have to be approached. In this
conception of "United Front from below", attempts were to be made to win Social
Democratic, Christian and other workers directly to joint action with the
Communist Party, without regard to their organisational affiliations.
If that is a United Front, how simple it would be. But the particular
problem of the Communist Party in Germany, and in a number of other countries,
consists precisely in resolving the question of how, when there exist two
tendencies in the workers’ movements, joint working class action can, in spite
of their fundamental differences, be achieved. How can the workers, involved in
their partial struggles, be brought together? Where only one party dominates the
workers’ movement, as was the case before the war, this situation does not arise
at all. It is a specific problem of the post-war period that cannot be disposed
of by ignoring it.
Furthermore the conclusion was drawn that only total solutions must be
advanced: the "organisation of the revolution" – something totally misunderstood
too. These ultra-left conclusions reacted quite disastrously on trade union
work. I have already mentioned Maslow’s proposals for the "destruction of the
trade unions" at a conference in Moscow during January 1924. It is very
characteristic that a man like Tomsky, for many years the leader of the Russian
trade unions, at first accepted this slogan. That showed that he had no
real idea of the conditions for struggle of the trade unions in the West. This
crude formulation was later corrected, but, even then, such loopholes remained
that it was possible for quite some time to follow an ultra-left trade union
line and to move to the creation of new separate trade unions. The formula,
"organisation of the unorganised", provided an opportunity for this. The result
was that the influence of the Party in the trade unions, which had reached a
high point in 1923, declined continuously and was almost destroyed.
Yet another conclusion drawn from 1923 was that, only in 1924, with the
appearance of Maslow and Ruth Fischer was "Bolshevisation" started. Everything
done by the Party until then, even during the stormy revolutionary years of
1918-1923 and the war as well, had been, according to the left legend, more or
less opportunism. The real Bolshevisation only began in 1924.
Hence the further conclusion was drawn that the older Party cadre had to be
expelled and the Party had to be based on the younger cadre which had not had
the unhappy experience of going through the Spartakusbund. This "Bolshevisation"
led to the establishment of an authoritarian regime in the Party, to the
suffocation of any free discussion and to the lack of any control over the
leadership by the members. This was considered "Bolshevist" until the 1925 Open
Letter of the Executive of the Communist International demanded the
"normalisation of Party life" and characterised the Party regime introduced by
Fischer and Maslow (though with the aid and toleration of that same Executive)
as a caricature of the essence and requirements of a Communist Party. These are
the practical effects of the left legend concerning the 1923 events, the
politics of the then Party leadership and the opportunist sins that led to such
politics. When such practical consequences are displayed, it can be implicitly
deduced that the theoretical basis from which these consequences flowed is not a
3. THE RISE OF THE LEFT OCTOBER LEGEND
How did this legend arise? For this I must quote from some documents, some
facts which will throw light on the methods of the leadership of the Communist
International. The facts were either unknown to most comrades until now or have
been in part forgotten. Therefore they must be quoted again. First, then, I must
mention the fact that until December 1923, that is well after the October
retreat, the then leader of the Communist International, Zinoviev, had
repeatedly declared both in speech and writing that the tactics agreed by the
KPD in 1923 were essentially correct. Implicitly this was the view put
forward in a series of articles in Pravda, which was then published in
Germany under the title, Probleme der deutschen Revolution, which, after
October, was distributed throughout Germany. I want to quote one passage from
it. Here, Zinoviev says the following about the tactics chosen by the German
Party leadership in 1923:
"There is not the smallest doubt that the German Party has, on the whole,
used the United Front tactic with great success. By correctly using these
tactics the German Party has won over the majority of the working class – a
success that it could only dream about with difficulty two or three years ago"
During 1923 it did not succeed in winning over the majority of the working
class to struggle for power by means of the United Front. But this is a partial
truth, for without the previous success gained through the United Front tactic,
the question of taking power in 1923 could not even have been
raised. If the Party only had the influence in the Metal Workers or other
unions that it had under Ruth Fischer or has today, no-one would have dared to
do so. Only because of the colossal progress that we made using this tactic was
it at all possible to raise the question.
Now I want to quote yet another witness, who – after October too – intervened
to agree that the tactics and strategy of the then Party leadership had been
basically correct. This witness is Hermann Remmele. The quotation is taken from
the statement made by Remmele at a meeting of the German comrades with the
Executive Committee (of the CI) on 11 January 1924. What Hermann Remmele
said on that occasion is as follows:
"I want to refer to the time of the fascist movement when not only in
Stuttgart but also in central Germany and the north, east and west, in fact
everywhere in the country, demonstrations took place in spite of the ban. Then,
during July and the August days in central Germany, in Thuringia, we had the
situation where the workers had entirely taken over the food supply and had
confiscated lorries to drive them into the countryside to fetch food directly
from the farmers, so nobody could then be in any doubt that we stood on the
threshold of great events. Undoubtedly the strike against Cuno was the
highpoint of the movement but it is my heartfelt opinion that it was the turning
point in the movement as well. As the Social Democratic Party joined the great
coalition the Soial Democratic workers were once morefilled with
"With the entry of the Social Democrats into the government in mid-August,
there began, as it were, the ebb of the revolutionary high tide. When we had
discussions with the Social Democrats we found that they placed high hopes on
the entry to the government of Hilferding. Social Democrats who, quite
spontaneously, had stood shoulder to shoulder with us in every struggle, who had
joined in the strike against Cuno, the whole mass of them were filled with
"Of course the decision that our Saxon comrades should enter the government
occurred because of misleading reports and information. The decision was taken
on the basis of the conviction that the arming and mobilisation of the masses
existed already to such a degree that such a thing could be risked. We thought
the decomposition of the enemy to be much further advanced than it actually
was…. Was it correct to prepare for a decisive struggle at the stage at which we
found ourselves? Could we arm, could we fix the date and prepare for the
decisive battle? We thought not. We said that because of the particular
structure of Germany, its class relations and class forces, we do not yet
stand at the stage at which we could set the exact date for a decisive
struggle. We said that before we reach the decisive struggle we will have to
go through a whole period with a series of violent armed clashes …."
This passage can be found in the pamphlet Die Lehren der deutschen
Ereignisse, pp.40-44. It was Hermann Remmele who said that in January 1924
with the immediate experience of 1923 behind him.
A change first occurred – as can be established in the documents – in the
Executive’s evaluation of the tactics of the German Party, in December
1923. Only subsequently have we been able to find out the precise date and
the reasons for this change. How did the change come about? How was it that
Zinoviev and the Executive, who until then had approved of the tactics in
substance, made a 180-degree change of course? The context was the following: on
the 13 December – if I do not err – comrade Radek gave a speech in a large
Party gathering in Moscow where he intervened in the then growing Trotsky
debate when he declared that, if the majority of the Russian CC turned against
Trotsky, then not only he but the leaderships of the German and French, that
is, the main parties in the West, would turn against the Russian CC
majority. That was on 13 December.
A few days later Zinoviev sent a letter to the leadership of the German Party
in which he completely changed course and opened up a violent attack against it.
In this way there began the general witch-hunt against the leadership. The real
reason for the turn was a panic in the leadership of the Russian Party caused by
Zinoviev because he took seriously Radek’s assertion that the German Party
leadership would back Trotsky against the Russian majority. That was the cause
of the turn. The story had nothing at all to do with any event in Germany,
France or the Comintern as such. It was simply the result of a manoeuvre in the
internal Russian factional struggle. We only heard of Radek’s speech very much
later. As we, at the Fifth Congress, first heard about the real reason for the
turn in Moscow, the campaign, the bombardment was in full swing and Maslow and
Co. had been unleashed.
The peculiar thing about it was that Radek’s assertion was a total invention.
Nobody had authorised him to say that we would back Trotsky if he was attacked.
When we first heard about the dispute with Trotsky we said that we would have to
have more facts about the basis of the dispute before we made up our minds. As
soon as something was known about it I wrote an article in Die Internationale
which was opposed to Trotsky’s ideas. Therefore it was not even our
genuine view about the internal Russian factional struggle but an imaginary
4. THE HIGH POINT OF THE OCTOBER LEGEND
It was the perfidious letter from Zinoviev mentioned above, which followed
Radek’s speech, that introduced the turn. The fact that Clara Zetkin and Wilhelm
Pieck were both asked where they stood on the October 1923 retreat, and
whether or not it was correct, was even more typical. Previously the Executive
had always claimed that it was correct. Now Zinoviev started to oil out of it.
Despite repeated requests he refused to put down anything in writing about it.
As a result the ultra-left legend was given the green light. Since there was no
official decision to the contrary, Maslow could claim that this retreat was
wrong, had been a betrayal and had ruined the revolution. This conclusion was
drawn by Maslow and Ruth Fischer in the crudest and most insane way. At the
Rhineland-Westphalia district Congress on 6 March 1924, in the presence of
Ruth Fischer, a resolution was submitted which said on this point:
"This conference declares that a decisive revolutionary battle was
historically necessary in October of last year. Neither the avoidance of the
battle, nor the substitution of the final struggle by so-called rearguard
actions, partial actions or similar activities was admissible."
Reading these things in cold blood one can only wonder how a Party majority,
how an Executive, could accept such total nonsense. In effect it is saying that
we were totally unprepared for the struggle, the decisive battle, but, in spite
of that, the showdown had to be attempted in October – such an assertion is
completely contradictory, but it is swallowed whole. In Germany that was the
high point of the legend.
It attained its highest point in Russia in a series of speeches by Trotsky.
One of them was made in Tiflis. In this his intention was not to take aim at the
majority of the leadership of the German Party but he wanted to demonstrate the
following – that the revolution was not victorious in Germany in 1923 because we
had at the head of the International not Lenin but the opportunist Zinoviev. He
wanted in other words to strike at Zinoviev, who was at that time his bitterest
enemy and, with Kamenev and Stalin, was waging the fight against him. As part of
this dispute Trotsky published a text, Lessons of October, in which he
set down his detailed view, first of the Russian October of 1917, and then of
the German October of 1923. And here can be found the October legend in its
bluntest and, if one can use the term, classical form. The passage to be
considered is as follows:
"Point 2. Germany. The question of the defeat of the German proletariat in
October is even more interesting. In the second half of last year we saw there a
classical demonstration of the fact that a quite extraordinarily
favourable revolutionary situation of world historical significance can be
That was in fact the lesson. An "extraordinarily favourable revolutionary
situation" had been missed because of the leadership and, by this, Trotsky meant
primarily the leadership of the Comintern.
5. THE START OF THE REVISION OF THE OCTOBER LEGEND
But now, at this point, both ideas and public statements in official circles
in both Germany and Russia underwent a change. This involved, in opposition to
Trotsky, an attempt to show that both his conception of the Russian October 1917
as well as the German October 1923 was quite wrong and there was a concern as to
whether it was correct that, the objective conditions for a revolution in
Germany in 1923 as asserted by Maslow, tolerated by Zinoviev and sharpened
by Trotsky, had been present, as they had in Russia during October 1917. From
now on this idea started to be revised in official circles – the left legend had
to be changed. I want to quote here some particularly suggestive passages but by
no means the only ones. Let me mention first some statements by comrade Bukharin
from an article on the Lessons of October in a Pravda
"According to comrade Trotsky’s conception, here the mistakes consist in a
‘classical’ moment being missed. At whatever cost the decisive struggle had to
be taken up and tne victory would have been ours. Here comrade Trotsky makes
an analysis resembling October 1917 in Russia in every respect. The same
medicine had to be taken there as here. Here, under the pressure of a Lenin,
action was decided upon and we conquered. Without Lenin’s pressure – no such
decision was taken and thus the suitable moment was missed. But now, influenced
by the October Revolution in Russia, the forces for the decisive struggle were
insufficient. That, according to Trotsky, is the schema of the German
"But also here, in the evaluation of 1924, we had a schematised and sad realm
of grey abstraction before us. Comrade Trotsky describes how history would have
been written if the majority of the members of the Russian CC had been opponents
of the uprising; then it could be said that our forces had been too meagre, that
the enemy was frightfully strong, etc.
"All that is only superficially convincing; yes, one probably should write
history in this way, but that in no way shows that the forces of the German
Revolution in October were wrongly estimated. It is above all erroneous that it
was a ‘classic’ moment. Social Democracy proved itself much stronger than we
had thought. Here an analogy with the Russian October is hardly relevant at all.
In Germany there were no armed soldiers on the side of the revolution. We could
not put forward the demand for ‘peace’. There was no peasant agrarian movement.
There was no other Party like ours. Although everyone disregarded it, Social
Democracy had not outlived its time, so these concrete facts had to be refuted.
At the time of the decisive events the ECCI declared for the October line
[emphasised by Bukharin – A.T.]. Now as objective conditions and also the right
leadership failed as a force, the failure was greater than necessary. Comrade
Trotsky, who supported precisely this wing of right opportunists who tended to
capitulate, and had repeatedly fought the left, delivers a ‘profound’
theoretical analysis for their conceptions and so strikes a blow at the leading
circles of the CI.
"But it is wholly inadmissible to persist in mistakes, such as the ones that
comrade Trotsky still clings onto today. One of the lessons (the real lessons)
of the German October is that before any rising there must a huge participation
of the masses. But such work was very backward. For example during the uprising
in Hamburg there were no workers’ councils and our Party organisation was unable
to draw into struggle the tens of thousands of strikers. Soviets were absent
from the whole of Germany. In comrade Trotsky’s conception it would have been
correct if there had been the ‘substitution’ of the Soviets by factory councils.
In reality, though, the factory councils could not replace them as they could
not unite the whole class, including the most backward and the most indifferent,
as the Soviets do at the critical moments of the class struggle."
So Bukharin wrote against Trotsky in 1925, and note well that it was the same
Bukharin who, together with the majority of the Politburo and the majority of
the Russian CC, had led the struggle against Trotsky at the time. Then Kuusinen,
the present Comintern secretary, followed by Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife, and
finally Stalin intervened in the debate on the revision of the October
In an article attacking Trotsky, Kuusinen said: "It must here be added that
whether such moments did or did not exist, not only Trotsky, but also Maslow and
other comrades, ignored a possible army of millions on the side of the
Attacking Trotsky, Krupskaya said: "Comrade Trotsky wants October to be
studied. But he wants the role of individuals and opinions in the Central
Committee to be studied. But what should be examined is not these but the
international situation during the October days as well as the relationship of
class forces at the time. Trotsky overlooks this question. So he
underestimates the role of the peasantry. Besides the Party at the time of
October must be studied. Trotsky writes a lot about the Party, however he
confuses the Party with its general staff. Detached from the Party, the
Party leadership would not have been able to win.
"Comrade Trotsky does not understand at all either the role of the Party or
the function of unanimity within the Party also. For him the Party is the same
as its general staff. Today too comrade Trotsky thinks that Bolshevisation
consists of the selection of the appropriate general staff. Such a purely
administrative view is incorrect. More correct is the assessment of the role
and significance of the masses as the Bolsheviks did in October. Trotsky
forgets this aspect of the question. When assessing the German events comrade
Trotsky underestimates the passivity of the masses."
Here comrade Krupskaya also stresses that it is essential to examine and
establish the objective circumstances and the relative class forces in October
1923 and not the subjective factors stressed by Trotsky.
Lastly I want to quote some remarks by Stalin which, if not directly, are at
any rate closely linked to this and which he made to comrade Wilhelm Hertzog,
who asked him about the conditions for a proletarian revolution in a country
like Germany. What Stalin said then throws a very clear light on the process of
how the question should be correctly posed and on the question of what the
conditions for a revolution in Germany are. Stalin said:
"This circumstance is not the only favourable condition of the German
revolution. For the victory of the revolution to occur the Communist Party must
represent the absolute majority of the working class and it must be the decisive
force within the working class. Social Democracy must be unconditionally smashed
and exposed, reduced that is to an insignificant minority of the working
class. Without this the dictatorship of the proletariat is unthinkable. In
order to win, the workers must be inspired with determination and the working
class masses must be led by a Party which possesses their undisputed
confidence. When two competing Parties of equal strength exist within the
working class, then, even with unusually favourable conditions, a permanent
solid victory is impossible. Lenin, especially in the period before the
October revolution, insisted on this priority as the most essential precondition
for the victory of the proletariat."
What Stalin says here is that a lasting solid victory of the Communist Party
and the proIetarian revolution is only possible when the Social Democratic Party
has been reduced to an insignificant minority, and when the great mass of
workers uniformly follow the Communist leadership already. If this
question, of whether the Social Democratic Party had been reduced to an
insignificant minority, is asked in respect of 1923, then it must be totally
rejected. This was absolutely not the case.
With the revision of the left October legend, a process was begun but
not finished, and therefore we must deal directly with the questions posed by
comrade Krupskaya: the question of the objective class forces,
that of the relative strengths and influence of the KPD and SDP and that of the
real factors influencing events.
6. THE CLASS FORCES IN RUSSIA IN 1917 COMPARED WITH GERMANY IN
Fundamentally we must examine in outline the question as to whether the
objective situation in Germany in 1923 could be compared with that of Russia in
1917 as far the conditions for a revolution were concerned. If the main elements
of Russia in 1917 are contrasted with those in Germany in 1923 then
fundamental differences are observed. What were the main factors which
favoured the October Revolution of 1917?
First, the war question. The great mass of workers and peasants wanted
peace and the end of imperialist war. There was no other party except the
Bolsheviks ready to enforce peace, to break off the imperialist war and to give
up the alliance with the Entente. It soon became clear that the Bolsheviks were
the only ones for peace. This was a great boost for them. Millions had to back
peace and to do so that had to back the Bolsheviks as it turned out that there
was no other political force than them which wanted to struggle for this
Second, the land reform question. The peasants wanted the landlords’
land. For years the Social Revolutionaries had promised the peasants the land.
But as the peasants did not wait for the Constituent Assembly but chased away
the landlords, seized the land and cultivated it, everyone turned against them.
Kerensky sent out military expeditions to recover the land. The Bolsheviks alone
represented the standpoint of the peasants and said that it was right to
immediately occupy the land and supported the peasants in so doing. The
peasants, that is the overwhelming majority of the Russian people, saw their
interests here represented by the Bolsheviks. Then this affected the
workers. In Russia during 1917 the stage was reached when the supply of
food to the towns failed. Factories were shut down in order to try to break the
power of the workers’ councils. From this situation, not out of any theoretical
reflections but out of necessity, the idea spread among the Russian workers of
wanting to restart the factories and supply them with raw materials. The idea of
"workers’ control of production" developed. The struggle over this logically
evolved into the idea that the factories had to be confiscated from the
employers. But this demand too, for the confiscation of the capitalist
employers, was only put forward by the Bolsheviks.
The national question was a further driving force of the revolution.
Here also the Bolsheviks were alone in representing the idea of complete
national self-determination which embraced secession from the Great Russians.
All the other parties that had previously represented the idea of national
liberation turned against it when the time came for its realization, as when,
for example, the Finns wanted to be independent. Only the Bolsheviks were
consistent on this issue. A not unimportant circumstance is that, in Russia at
the time, the army consisted of conscripts, the overwhelming majority peasants
and workers, who wanted the land, the landlords’ land, and peace, and a decisive
majority of whom rallied to the Bolsheviks. So the question of power, of the
proletarian revolution in Russia, was simple to resolve inasmuch as the decisive
military forces in Petrograd, Moscow and other centres went over to the
The problem that we faced in 1923, and which faces us again today, that of
arming the workers, did not really exist at all in 1917. The key regiments in
Petrograd went over to the Bolsheviks. The armed struggle there was very slight.
In Moscow it was harder. In the last analysis the fact that the key military
forces, the great majority of those in possession of arms, stood behind the
Bolsheviks meant that the victory of the October Revolution was very easy. Lenin
never tired of stressing how easy that victory had been. He repeatedly stressed
how the revolution spread through the country in triumph, how it swept away
everything before it in a few weeks and months while the great majority of the
people stood behind it. This was particularly obvious when the foreign powers
appeared to organise and support the counter-revolutionary forces.
If we examine it in detail, the picture of the motor forces of the German
Revolution of 1923 is quite different. The first question, that of the war, was
that in 1917 the Bolsheviks could appear as the peace party – the party the
masses hoped would give them peace. But what about 1923? There was no bloody war
as in 1917. The Ruhr War was only a pretend war. Britain and France were armed
but Germany limited itself to passive resistance. But this Ruhr war oppressed
the population and they were weary of it, so it played a significant role in
developing the forces which were brought about by the end of this struggle. But
it was not us but the bourgeoisie who foresaw growing danger in the continuation
of this struggle and, after getting an understanding with the French
capitalists, broke it off.
Then there is the question of the international situation in 1917 as compared
with 1923. In Russia in 1917 the revolutionary forces could develop without
being checked by external forces – that is by German imperialism. The Central
Powers saw the Bolshevik revolution assisting their aims. The Entente was unable
to intervene. In Germany in 1923 the situation was totally different. At that
time it was above all both Britain and the USA which had a direct
and indirect interest in supporting the German bourgeoisie against an
approaching revolution. Britain wanted to counter France with a strong bourgeois
Germany. The USA was interested in supporting then and thus getting back the
money that it had invested there. Above all the USA must have feared that a
victorious revolution in Germany in the autumn of 1923 meant grave danger to the
whole of European bourgeois society. So the USA and Britain intervened against
the proletarian revolution to help the German bourgeoisie.
I will later set out in more detail the facts that are important here. The
most important economic motor of the revolution was the inflation, or the
depreciation of money. This caused conditions which increasingly upset the
population. But in Germany this economic crisis was solved by the bourgeoisie
itself and resulted in the stabilisation of the currency. Here it gave
concessions which weakened the revolutionary forces by splitting the forces
within the working class between those who wanted to take up the fight for power
and those who wanted a few small adjustments to alleviate the immediate
situation and who were inclined to renounce the fight for power. As a result of
these concessions on inflation and the Ruhr war, the working class was split and
the Communist Party did not succeed in getting the majority of the working class
behind it as the Bolsheviks had done in Russia during 1917.
Then there is the question of the armed forces. This too was wholly different
in the Russia of 1917 from the Germany of 1923. We had no general conscription
in Germany and the Reichswehr, not only by its size, but above all by its class
composition, was constituted quite differently. In Russia the great bulk of the
army was made up of peasants, whereas the Reichswehr was made up of socially
backward elements in its ranks and trustworthy reactionaries and
counter-revolutionaries in its leadership. In no way could it be said that the
Reichswehr reflected the true class composition in the country. The Reichswehr
is a class army in the reactionary sense. What did the Reichswehr do in 1923? It
stood firm and stayed totally controlled by its leadership. We did get a series
of reports that some symptoms of disaffection existed in the Reichswehr, and
even today many comrades still base their expectations of what would have
happened on these reports. But we learnt later that these reports had been
intentionally leaked to us by the Reichswehr leadership to mislead us.
Naturally the peasant masses did not play the same numerical role here as
they did in Russia in 1917 and still do today. That was very closely linked to
the inflation and its effect on the peasantry or a large part of it. The
inflation had affected the peasantry in such a way that the majority were better
off because of it. They had used the inflation to get rid of their mortgage debt
which had been reduced to ridiculously low sums by it. A second factor that
favoured the peasants during the inflation was the much greater fall in the
prices of industrial products than in those of agricultural ones. That
price-scissors benefited the peasants. In no way can it be said that the mass of
the peasantry in Germany in 1923 became radicalised. They became worried in July
and August when the inflation was on such a scale that the food supplies to the
town stopped but became quite happy again when the currency stabilisation was
Thus, if the decisive events which promoted the revolution in Russia in 1917
and Germany in 1923 are examined, then the essence of these two situations is
seen to be entirely different and all the decisive factors, which led in Russia
to the support for us of the majority of the population, were not present in
THE REAL STORY OF 1923
1. THE EFFECT OF THE OCCUPATION OF THE RUHR
After this general overview of the motor forces of the revolution in Russia
in 1917 and the events in Germany in 1923, I come to a short description to the
main events of 1923. This is all the more necessary as in any case during the
whole discussion nobody in the Party took the trouble to explain the objective
march of events and the economic conditions in 1923, and since then no-one has
returned to these topics either.
First the question must be asked as to what were the effects of the Ruhr
occupation and the inflation up to August. The effects were very different on
the occupied and unoccupied areas. Germany had been split into two with
contrasting political and economic conditions. In the occupied area the
whole of heavy industry lay inert because of passive resistance. But that was
quite an extraordinary state of affairs. Workers went on strike but with the
consent of their German employers. They were praised as patriots for closing
down the mines and steel works and so on. But not only that – they were paid for
their time on strike. This was hardly a situation conducive to revolutionary
consciousness – to strike and simultaneously to be paid by the bourgeoisie and
even hailed as patriots for doing so!
The situation in the rest of Germany was such that the rising inflation led
to growing pressure on wages. Real wages fell but, as can be seen from
contemporary data, unemployment up to August 1923 was below the normal pre-war
average. Unoccupied Germany experienced a sharp rise in production which was
impelled by the export premium provided by inflation. This rise in production
was made possible by the wholesale import of British coal which replaced the
Ruhr production. Germany exported at dumping prices. I do not want to go into
details but as far as a great many goods were concerned, exports in 1923 were
higher than in 1922. A huge accumulation of capital occurred then. Wages had
fallen below their value. The reduction of real wages to a fraction of "normal"
wages daily increased the poverty and want of the working class.
As far as the peasantry was concerned, until July-August it did brilliant
business because of the inflation and it got rid of its debt and acquired
equipment and durable goods. Taxes more or less disappeared in the inflation. So
in this period it was, apart from the working class, only the urban petty
bourgeoisie which came under great pressure and endured colossal privations.
These were the most important objective effects.
2. THE BEHAVIOUR OF THE PARTY UNTIL THE STRIKE AGAINST
What did the Party do? In this situation it issued a series of partial
slogans and partial demands. I mention the slogan of shifting the burden of the
Ruhr struggle on to the bourgeoisie, the confiscation of tangible assets,
control of production, the creation of control committees for commodity prices,
which also occurred, the slogan of Workers’ Hundreds [defence squads – M.J.]
and, as the unifying slogan, the workers government, which based on its own
class organs, would carry out the workers’ demands.
For the unoccupied area the Party issued aten-point programme including the
distribution of the Ruhr coal, 6-hour shifts, cost-of-living wage rises and a
forced loan from the bourgeoisie. Of these slogans, only the one for Defence
Hundreds really took off in the Ruhr. This was so successful that the Hundreds
sprang up with great rapidity. The Party aimed for the struggle for power. And
it prepared it correctly through partial slogans, transitional slogans
and partial struggles appropriate to the situation. It avoided adventures such
as the left proposal to occupy the enterprises in the Ruhr in face of French
Thus things developed until the Cuno strike. This was the hiqhpoint of the
mass movement in 1923. At the time the Party had the illusion that it had
initiated and led the Cuno strike. If the matter is examined, then it can be
seen that the main cause was the breakdown in food supply, brought about by the
acceleration of inflation.
How unready the working class was to take up the immediate fight for power
during the Cuno strike is indicated by the fact that some relatively small
measures were sufficient to bring the strike to an end and to check the
movement. The result of the Cuno strike was the creation of a grand coalition
with the entrance of the SPD into the government. And, as Remmele correctly said
in January 1924, the entrance of the SPD into the government awakened new
illusions amongst the workers. These were strengthened by a series of measures
which alleviated the immediate want of the workers. First, food supplies were
secured. There was a supply of fats. One key measure undertaken was the
introduction of "gold-wages".
3. THE SPECULATIVE PLAN OF ACTION OF THE COMINTERN
I now turn to the Comintern and to an evaluation of its intervention. The
then leadership of the German Party has been accused of not realising at all the
revolutionary effects the occupation of the Ruhr could produce. From the outset
it had not considered the seizure power, not "unrolled the question of power",
as Ruth Fischer said. Of course in January we had already quite clearly seen the
possibility of a revolutionary development arising from the Ruhr occupation, but
also another possibility, namely that it could result in a compromise between
German and French capitalists, which was in fact the case. That was expressed in
Rote Fahne, especially by Radek.
It is very interesting if one looks back on the position of the Executive,
since in no way does it accord with what the upholders of the legend claim was
the correct one. Not at all in January, not even in June, had it considered the
revolutionary struggle for power. In June, there was a plenum session
of the Executive. There was no talk of an impending revolutionary struggle
in Germany. At the heart of the session was the question of Anglo-Russian
tension, where Radek reported on the issue of the growing danger of war
between Soviet Russia and Britain. Zinoviev, the president of the Communist
International, made a report on the question of the United Front tactic.
Not even he considered the struggle for power as immediately on the agenda. In
June 1923, then, the Comintern still saw the situation thus.
The leadership of the Russian Party and the Comintern first became aware of
the problem through the appeal of the CC of 11 July, for an
Anti-Fascist Day, and the campaign of the KPD for the Anti-Fascist Day on
29 July, which saw the call for a dictatorship unfold through the German
bourgeois press, and where the leadership of the German Party raised the
question of arming the workers. The Executive first became aware of the question
of the armed struggle by the Party and then by the working class in that way.
That first set it in motion. What did it do about it? It summoned a conference
in which the leading comrades from here participated, together with the
Executive. Most of the Russian comrades were away when the conference was
called. Brandler and others had already arrived in Moscow by the end of August.
Plenty of time was allowed before opening the talks and in carrying them out.
Seven weeks were spent in Moscow, drafting a plan of action for the revolution,
while the events in Germany developed. In weeks of long negotiations a plan of
action for the revolution was drafted, which was worked out in advance.
What was characteristic of the plan of action was that it was not drafted on
the basis of the already existing facts, but was drafted weeks and
months in advance on the basis of a hypothesis about the events which ought
or should occur in Germany in four to eight weeks time. In Russia, once the
Bolsheviks had attained a majority in Leningrad, once they were already sure
about the armed forces there, once Kerensky had been ruined, once the situation
was ripe, then a date was set for the uprising in 1917. The plan of action for
October 1923 was not based on such facts, but on the hypothesis that the
events in Germany from August on would take the same course as had occurred in
Russia from August to October, that is, that in the meantime the Party would
have attracted the majority of the population behind it, that in the meantime
the workers would have armed themselves sufficiently and the enemy, in the
meantime, would have become impotent and undermined. In Russia a plan for the
uprising was fixed on the basis of real assumptions, but not weeks, as Trotsky
says, but days beforehand. But in Germany it was fixed months beforehand.
That is the decisive thing. The schema of October 1917 was transferred to
Germany, without the facts being present – it was hypothetical!
A few more things relating to this must be mentioned. The entry into the
Saxon government was not Brandler’s error, but resulted from a decision taken
against Brandler’s opposition. Brandler opposed it, arguing that the
preconditions for this were not yet present amongst the workers. The first
concerned the creation of the preconditions for entering the government. He
asked for a certain delay in order to create these preconditions in the
factories. So it was put to him: if you believe in the revolution, then you must
carry this out. They appealed to his discipline. Moreover, the question was
raised as to whether the factory councils could provide a base for the organs of
power of the proletarian revolution. In Moscow it was decided that they could be
substituted for the political workers’ councils. A wrong decision was made. The
plan of action, after many weeks of deliberations, was now finished.
4. THE INTERVENTION OF THE BOURGEOISIE CHANGES THE SITUATION
Unfortunately, not only we, the revolutionary Party, drafted plans of action,
but so did the enemy. Not only that, it acted. Furthermore, the situation was
such that, after the plan of action was finished and the comrades had returned
here to carry it out, the hypothetical situation upon which the plan of
action was constructed had totally changed, and in fact had turned
into its opposite. The bourgeoisie had seized the initiative. The basis upon
which the plan of action was built proved to be castles in the air. The
bourgeoisie knew that if it did not actively intervene through concessions to
the workers and compromises with French capitalism, then a real danger of
revolution threatened it. It did not let it passively approach but in the
shortest time made the necessary concessions. It hastened to break off passive
resistance and called off the Ruhr struggle. Stresemann stepped forward to take
the path of diplomatic negotiation. Social Democracy, especially its left wing,
urged the end of passive resistance. After the Cuno strike, the bourgeoisie,
headed by Stresemann, soon brought the Ruhr struggle to a close. The most
important dates are below:
23 August – Stresemann made a speech in which he offered a compromise to
2 September – Speech in Stuttgart.
6 September – Speech for representatives of the foreign press.
11 September – Negotiations started with France.
24 September – The German government issued official instructions to end
25 September – These instructions were published.
26 September – An appeal of the Reich President and the government, in which
a public request to end passive resistance was made.
In a few weeks the bourgeoisie was capable, in its turn, of ending the Ruhr
struggle, thus leading to peace, and making a compromise with the French
capitalists. Linked to that was the reining in of the fascists. After using them
for sabotage attacks in the Rhineland, for the Black Reichswehr, as it was then
called, they were now kicked out. Breaking off the Ruhr struggle was the first
policy change. The second, enacted by the bourgeoisie after the Cuno strike, was
the end of inflation and the start of stabilisation. This turn started with the
introduction of accounting in gold, first in wholesale trade; it had already
been accomplished in a large part of industry.
At the start of September, accounting in gold had already become general in
industry and trade and had even penetrated the retail trade. If the bourgeoisie
reduced inflation after August, it was not only because of the danger of the
revolution that it brought, but also because, after a certain point, the effects
of inflation change into its opposite. After a certain point inflation no longer
acts as an export stimulus, but the reverse. The bourgeoisie had quite coolly
exploited the inflation conjuncture to the very end. It had gone as far as it
could possibly go, and had only stopped as the inflation conjuncture began to
turn into an inflation crisis.
The second act after the introduction of accounting in gold was the
introduction of gold wages, the fixed value wages. Since June agreements had
already been reached over fixed value wages and wage payments 2-3 times a week.
Of course it was not a real fixed value wage but it meant an alleviation of the
depreciation of real wages.
On 14 August Stresemann appeared in the Reichstag and officially announced
the introduction of fixed value wages. Then stabilisation was tackled.
According to Reichsbank statistics on fixed-value emergency funds, between
August and the issue of the Rentenmark on 15 November, no fewer than 989
million gold marks had been issued. Thus a change of direction through a whole
series of emergency measures had occurred well before the introduction of the
The decisive turn that occurred in mid-August after the Cuno strike is given
convincing testimony by E. Pawlowski (Varga) in his pamphlet Vor dem Endkampf
in Deutschland, the foreword of which is dated 10 October 1923. Varga
was semi-official then as he is today.
We can read on p.42: "The fourth stage is that from 15 August. Through their
mass movement the workers achieved a large wage rise and compensation for cost
of living increases. The entry of the Social Democrats into the government and
the intervention of the top trade union organisation acted to damp down the
broad masses’ will to struggle. They still had the illusion that Social
Democracy would come to their aid."
And on p.47: "Following the General Strike in mid-August, the German ruling
class suddenly changed tactics; it now demanded currency reform.... Then
simultaneously, also under the influence of the general strike, fixed value
wages were introduced as the maintenance of the paper mark had become
superfluous for the German big bourgeoisie and big farming interests. Hence
towards the end of August we see emerge a whole series of plans for the creation
of a new stable currency. These plans were energetically supported by big
capitalist circles. The aim was represented as being so urgent that the
government ought not to be left even a few weeks’ time for consideration."
And on p.64: "Although the German workers had already deceived themselves
countless times about Social Democracy, broad layers of workers were again taken
in. Letting themselves be deceived by the phrases of Hilferding, parliamentary
democratic cretinism and the delusion that parliamentary horse trading decides
the fate of the proletariat, many proletarians were moved to adopt a wait and
see attitude after the wage rise achieved through the huge strike movement."
5. THE DECISIVE MISTAKES OF THE PARTY AFTER THE CUNO STRIKE
Both these series of events show how the preconditions on which the plan
rested were totally changed by the intervention of the bourgeoisie. So what did
the Party do then? The main error of the Party consisted of this – that it
believed the already drafted plan, it went on with it and thus omitted to take
measures towards the political preparations for the struggle for power, just
limiting itself to technical-organisational aspects. Trotsky had declared:
"Politics is made by the enemy." He considered that the chief defect of
revolutionaries in the West hitherto was they had insufficiently valued the
question of the technical and organisational preparations of uprisings. The
enemy certainly used politics, very appropriate for themselves, while it was
precisely the main error of the Party after the Cuno strike, for it put forward
no policies, that is it omitted the political preparations through partial
struggles and partial actions, and limited itself to
technical-organisational preparations. What kind of error is this? Is a "right"
or "left" mistake? I believe that it is a pronounced left error to want
to engage in an uprising on the basis of purely technical-organisational
preparations without sufficient political preparations and preconditions. It
must be understood that after the Cuno strike the enemy dealt the workers’
movement a whole series of blows to which the Party did not reply because it
did not want to waste its energies in partial struggles. By doing this the
Party neglected to link up with the power of the rest of the masses and to
establish which forces among he masses it could control.
Among the government actions after the Cuno strike must be mentioned:
17 August – Severing dissolved the National Committee of the Factory Councils
without any protest activity from the Party.
13 October – The government gave itself emergency powers, again without any
The Party limited itself to continuing its technical-organisational
preparations. Then on 12 October it joined the Saxon government and, shortly
after, the Thuringian one too. As already mentioned, joining the Saxon
government was not the result of our free will but was a decision of the
Executive with which the whole leadership of the German Party, including the
left of Ruth Fischer and so on, had agreed.
Had any of us imagined that we could gain and hold power while linked with
Social Democracy? None of us thought that. But the belief underlying the
Executive’s decision to join the Saxon and Thuringian governments was that the
Party could use the government apparatus to arm the workers. The
Executive had the notion that we could sit in the government, arm the workers,
do nothing meanwhile and that we could "ignore" General Müller, the head of the
Reichswehr. But General Müller by no means ignored us, but intervened at once.
He immediately took over the State Police. When Böttcher made a speech calling
for the arming of the Proletarian Hundreds, Müller issued, with Ebert’s
agreement, an ultimatum and the Reichswehr immediately marched in. From these
events it can be seen that the situation in which we had gone into the Saxon and
Thuringian governments hardly accorded with the preconditions which we thought
would justify Communist participation in the government. The opposition which
Brandler had put up in Moscow was fully justified. A government could only have
been built when we could have acted as Communists and revolutionaries and
crushed the resistance of the bourgeoisie. But that could only have been done on
the basis of the support from the majority of the working class for the
dictatorship of the armed proletariat and an uprising which had already been
So the entry into the Saxon government occurred under erroneous assumptions.
What actually happened? There were only two possible courses of action. The
first was to act immediately as a revolutionary dictatorship which would
naturally stir up the bourgeoisie to resist and so the coalition would
inevitably break up. The second, the one actually decided on, was to use the
state to arm the workers but in every other respect to stay within
constitutional limits hoping that the enemy would not react. Both courses of
action would have stopped our plan being carried out. But in the first case the
plan would have been prevented by a series of measures which would have
functioned in a revolutionary-propagandist way. A government which included
Communists would have had to impose dictatorial measures immediately. There was
huge unemployment in the country. To help the unemployed money had to be
confiscated from the employers at once. To create work the closed factories had
to be reopened immediately. Food supply also needed dictatorial measures. No
real action could be taken by the government without such measures. We had
drafted a whole programme of such measures to be carried out at once. But allied
in government with the Social Democrats it was neither possible to do these
things using the existing bourgeois state machine nor to remain long enough in
power to push them into it. The Reichswehr arrived with a rush.
6. THE RETREAT AND THE CHEMNITZ CONFERENCE
The retreat is closely linked to the Chemnitz conference of 21 October
where the decision was taken. Some facts. It has frequently been claimed that
this conference was not really fully representative of the Saxon working class
and that it was not a conference of workers representatives but only of
officials. This was not the case. The composition of the conference was as
140 factory workers, 15 representatives of action committees, 26 delegates
from the cooperative societies, 102 representatives from Trade Unions, 16
unemployed, 7 official SPD delegates, 60 official KPD representatives, 1
official USFD delegate, 102 trades union delegates representing Trades
The majority of delegates present were from factories. If the
composition of this conference is examined it cannot be denied that it was, in
its essentials, an accurate reflection on the mood in the Saxon-Thuringian
What happened at this conference? On the previous evening the Zentrale had
unanirnously taken the decision that, in view of the news on the advance
of the Reichswehr, the demand for a general strike which would include an armed
rising should be put forward. But it was then decided that we would have to
await the outcome of the conference to find out the real mood. There, with the
agreement of the Zentrale, comrade Brandler put forward the demand that the
conference issue the slogan of a general strike as a battle cry against the
Reichswehr invasion. If there had been a real revolutionary mood at the
conference which was already in favour of a struggle for power, then, obviously,
the gathering would have taken up the slogan with enthusiasm and, from the
general strike, the armed rising would have developed.
However the effect was totally different. Brandler’s proposal to the meeting
fell flat on the floor and the gathering acted icily towards the suggestion.
What took place then was that the left SPD minister, Graupe, declared that if
the Communists did not give up the call for a general strike here and now then
he would leave the meeting with his seven people. Had there been a really
battle-ready revolutionary gathering, a storm of indignation would have swept
the defeatist away. But the contrary occurred. At once the gathering decided to
reject the call for a general strike and instead appoint a small committee to
look into the matter. It was a pauper’s burial of the proposal.
What did this mean? It meant that all the measures taken by the bourgeoisie
had had their effect on the Saxon workers, that the working class was split and
that it was quite out of the question that at that moment the majority of Saxon
workers were prepared to fight for power. There were some towns where
that was the case, but for Saxony and Germany as whole it was on no
account so. The real situation was totally different from that envisaged in the
plan of action. On the basis of an appreciation of the real situation the
Zentrale took the unanimous decision that there had to be a retreat. Not
only Brandler but all the "left" comrades of the Zentrale too, and also all the
foreign comrades at that time in Germany, agreed with the decision without
exception. Some of the latter had hurried to Saxony just to prevent the
decision for a rising.
If this decision had not been taken the Party would have let itself become
involved with a superior enemy which would only have left a real mess behind. In
similar situations, in Bulgaria for instance, others acted differently and there
are other examples of the same kind. But they do not invite imitation. The
leadership of a party cannot justify the call for a decisive struggle if it
foresees certain defeat. It can be objected that there are other situations
where the Party had fought alongside the working class with only the prospect of
defeat. Indeed, we had fought thus in January 1919 when there was no hope of
conquering power and in Munich too when everyone knew that there was no prospect
of winning. But the difference in the situation was that in one case it was the
great mass of the working class that rose and the Party did not dare to forsake
them in their struggle. It is quite different if the battle is confined to the
Party and the masses do not stand behind it and if the defeat, when it comes, is
because of the mistaken tactics of the Party which arise from its faulty
assessment of the situation. That does not improve the standing of the Party in
the eyes of the masses but discredits it. In such a situation it takes more
courage to sound the retreat than to lead an adventure which takes the Party
into battle in isolation and destroys it for years.
This impression of the situation which was made at the Chemnitz conference
was confirmed by some later events. Here I only want to mention two.
First the Hamburg Uprising. Remmele has given the impression that, as
one of the messengers of the Zentrale, he had left Chemnitz too early to be
recalled. (Remmele was in charge of Kiel but not Hamburg.) The call for a
general strike was made in Hamburg and two hundred brave Communists rallied to
the call, but the great majority of Hamburg workers behaved in such a manner as
if to say "the Communists are brave fellows, courageous lads", and kept their
hands in their pockets. This is easily understood if it is remembered that there
was plenty of work in Hamburg. Just four items of economic data illustrate this
In 1923 Hamburg was a key port for the import of raw materials and coal from
Britain and the USA. Consequently the main mass of Hamburg workers had no
inclination for the general strike and armed uprising. Incidentally six hundred
workers fought with the republican defence force. When there was an attempt to
create a new legend about the May 1929 events in Berlin, suddenly the story
about the Hamburg uprising was dropped and in Theses for Agitators and
Propagandists one can read about "the significance and lessons of the May
fighting in Berlin" while on 1923 "The Hamburg rising was a rearguard battle, a
fighting retreat in the moment of a downswing of the revolutionary wave as the
mass movement in the country had already passed its highest point".
Secondly, what happened in Berlin, as the Berlin leadership at that
time was "left". The Zentrale repeatedly called on it to arrange mass
demonstrations under armed protection. But as soon as the demonstrations were
called only a few dozen people turned up who soon disappeared again.
These other examples show the real nature of affairs after Chemnitz, namely
that the vast majority of workers were not prepared to fight for power.
In spite of all attempts by Ruth Fischer and Maslow to fan the fire of
factional struggle, the Party was about to make an orderly retreat and to employ
its whole fighting energy against the SPD, but in December the then left, with
the open support of the Executive, unleashed its factional onslaught and so
removed the possibility of making any breakthrough into the SPD for which
otherwise there were the most favourable preconditions. The Party was undermined
through methodological panic-mongering. When Maslow and Ruth Fischer boast that
they had "saved" the Party after the October retreat, the truth is that they
first generated the panic which then allowed them to pose as Party saviours.
Besides, their task was eased by the fact that for weeks after the October
retreat the Party was still under extreme strain. In an army which had thought
victory was securely in its grasp and which is forced to withdraw under the
heaviest enemy attack, it is not too difficult to start a panic. It is the
easiest thing in the world if, instead of being called to order by the highest
army leadership, the panic-mongers are encouraged.
But the German Party and Communist International suffered grave damage
because of this, not only at the time but for years afterwards. Indeed, the
Party has not recovered from this even today.
7. SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS
With that I end my presentation of the main points about the events of 1923.
I only want to add briefly what my views are in regard to some of the most
important lessons of these events.
I believe that the first and most important lesson must be that revolutionary
plans of action cannot be drawn up some 2,000 kilometres away for eventualities
eight to ten weeks later, but can only be done by those actually on the
battlefield who can follow events with their own eyes. A further lesson for the
Communist Parties outside Russia is that they can only hope to carry out a
revolution in their own countries if they have learnt to assess
independently the relationship of class forces in their own countries, to
develop through their own judgement tactics and strategy of revolutionary
struggle, and if they are capable of critical and independent thought even if
opposed by the international leadership. The gravest and most fatal error in
1923 was that the Party and its leadership failed to insist on their independent
and critical judgement.
Why was this? Certainly not from a slavish attitude to the Russian comrades,
but for reasons which, on the face of it, appear quite plausible. Brandler often
recounted what had induced him, often against his better judgement, to follow
the advice of our Russian comrades in 1923. His train of thought ran thus: "So
far our Russian comrades are the only ones to have carried out a victorious
revolution. I like to think that I know something about German workers and
German conditions. But we have not carried out a revolution. Therefore, where
the case is doubtful we must submit to the judgement of those who have."
Today we must say that this is wrong, a most grave danger and one of the reasons
for the crisis in the Communist International. Unless that question is settled
by accepting that parties in other countries have to learn to lead the class
struggle by using their own judgement, then the revolution will not be
victorious in any other country. In order to defeat the bourgeoisie in reality,
it must first be beaten intellectually. All revolutionary battles are fought out
in the head before they are fought out in reality. In the Russian revolution too
it is not just a question of looking at October. Thirty years of fundamental
thinking about the ways and means of revolution was the political preparation
for the Russian revolution. That was decisive. And it will be exactly like that
in other countries too.
As the genuine leader of the proletarian revolution the Communist
International needs both a collective leadership and mature Communist
The next lesson that we can draw is that the revolution demands political
preparations and not just technical and organisational ones and that the
majority of workers, the majority of the working class, must be won over through
partial actions and partial demands before the conditions arise where it is
possible to lead a struggle for power.
Next I think we must learn from the events in Saxony about some aspects of
arming the working class. It is an illusion to think that it is possible to
distribute arms to the workers behind the backs of the ruling class. The arming
of the workers must go hand-in-hand with the political struggle and it is not
just a technical organisational matter.
Moreover we ought to learn that, even with a Communist-Social Democrat
coalition, parliament cannot lead the struggle for power. In order to win, the
Party must have a solid majority behind it, ready to give their lives to
establish their class in power.
Another lesson is that factory committees cannot replace the political
Of course, the above list is not exhaustive; I have only touched on the most
important lessons here. Also, I have given only a small selection of facts on
the economic and political developments in 1923. But I think that these are
enough to blow away the left October legend. And I furthermore believe that the
lessons that we can still draw today from 1923 are not just historical lessons
from the past but are also extremely relevant in a situation where the Communist
International suffers even more severely from the errors which were so prevalent
then. The ultra-left policy in the Communist International and Communist Party
of Germany still prevails. So this lesson on the erroneous nature of this policy
is always useful, as the bogey of October 1923 raises its head again.
The victory of the proletarian revolution in Germany poses the resolution of
its tactical and strategical issues beforehand. These questions cannot be
resolved on the basis of a legend but only on the basis of hard facts.
The left legend of 1923 has already attained great antiquity and has almost
entered the canon. But that is no help. It must be liquidated and it will be
liquidated as unquestionably as the revolution in Germany will be carried out by
a Communist Party that has mentally mastered the task beforehand.
An indispensable part of the task is to understand the issues of 1923.
How Stalin evaluated the 1923 events at the time can be judged from the
letter he sent to Zinoviev and Bukharin at the beginning of August. Zinoviev
made its contents public at a plenum of the Russian Central Committee in late
1927. This is what he wrote:
"Should the Communists (at a given stage) strive to seize power without the
Social Democrats, are they mature enough for that? That, in my opinion, is the
question. When we seized power, we had in Russia such supports as (a) peace, (b)
the land to the peasants, (c) the support of the great majority of the working
class, (d) the sympathy of the peasantry. The German Communists at this moment
have nothing of the sort. Of course they have the Soviet Union as their
neighbour, which we did not have, but what can we offer them at the present
moment? If in Germany today the state power, so to speak collapses and the
Communists seize hold of it, they will fall with a crash. That is the ‘best’
case. At the worst they will be smashed to pieces and thrown back. It is not so
much that Brandler wants to ‘educate the masses’ but that the bourgeoisie plus
the right Social Democrats have decided to turn this demonstration for educating
the masses into a general battle (at present they have every chance of
succeeding) and to destroy the Communists. Of course the fascists are not
sleeping. But it is to our advantage that the fascists attack first and that we
unify the whole working class around the Communists (Germany is not Bulgaria).
According to all reports the fascists in Germany are weak everywhere. In my
opinion the Germans must be held back and not driven forward."
From a speech by Zinoviev against Trotsky from the Leningrad Pravda,
No.106, Sunday 11 May 1924:
"It is no secret that the Opposition also considered the Comintern leadership
to be wrong. In Germany things went badly wrong in October. Now today a new
theory is constructed that we allowed the revolution in Italy to be sabotaged
and slept through in Germany. That is how they try to talk. So because someone
yawned the revolution is supposed to have failed. A wonderfully deep Marxist
conception of the revolution. And we poor souls learnt from Marx and Engels that
there are more important factors in the rise of a revolution than someone’s
"As far as Germany is concerned it is now quite clear that it is not a case
of our having slept through a revolution but the opposite as we were too quick
to see the time as ripe when this was not the case. As Plekhanov said we mistook
a pregnancy of two months for one of nine. Such an error is no disgrace and
anyway it happened now and then to Marx and Engels too. Such an error is quite
understandable because revolutionaries want to show their revolutionary temper
as soon as possible. When one considers everything that has happened in Germany
then we should be accused of the opposite, namely that we overestimated events
excessively, were far too eager to throw ourselves into battle, and
overestimated the maturity of the situation far too much but not to accuse us in
any way of having slept through a revolution as some profound strategists say,
while they tell of fairy tales about a crisis in the Comintern and the KPD."
The Brandlerist Zentrale was accused of failing to recognise the opportunist
role of the SPD and of giving up the Leninist conception of the state by
entering the governments of Saxony and Thuringia in 1923. So sections of the
appeal written by Brandler to the Party members on 11 July 1923 which concern
the Anti-Fascist day are given below:
"Party Comrades! We face difficult battles. We must make the most massive
preparations for action. We cannot rely on the SPD and the Trade Union
bureaucracy. As in all other defensive struggles of the revolutionary
proletariat against the counter-revolution, the SPD and the trade union
bureaucracy will once again abandon the workers and betray them.
"We Communists can only win in the fight against the counter-revolution if we
succeed, without and against, the treacherous Social-Democratic Party and Trade
Union bureaucracy in leading Social-Democratic and non-Party working masses to
battle alongside with us.
"For this purpose all preparations for a battle-worthy defensive action must
immediately be made....
"The joint proletarian defence organisations based on the factories must be
organised immediately in spite of any resistance.
"Party districts in which factory cell work is still not complete must begin
establishing functioning Party cells in the next few days in the shortest
"The links between the district leaderships and the town organisations of the
district and the national centre as well, together with the courier service,
must be organised in the most careful way.
"The Party must ensure that its organisation is so battle tempered that it
can engage in open civil war without a failure in any district.
"In case the normal communication facilities, the railways and post office,
are trike or military action, the links between our organisations and the
printing and spreading of all propaganda material, must be safeguarded.
"The fascist rising can only be put down if White Terror is met by Red
Terror. If the fascists who are armed to the teeth kill the proletarian fighters
the latter must ruthlessly destroy all the fascists. If the fascists put every
tenth striker against the wall so the revolutionary workers must put every fifth
member of the fascist organisation up against the wall."