Guy A. Aldred Archive

Communism : Story of the Communist Party
Chapter 3
The Lessons of October

Written: 1935.
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source:; 2021

The situation in Germany in the autumn of 1923 was favorable to the rise of a revolutionary proletariat. But the Communist Party conducted a relentless war against the Anti-Parliamentary K.A.P.D., which had been born in 1920, owing to the collapse, as an organization of struggle, of the K.P.D, favored by Moscow, and used the romance of the Russian Revolution as a shield for its own arrogant ineptitude. The German bourgeoise was able to extricate itself from an “ inextricable situation,” as Trotsky said, because the Communist Party did not realize that the position was “ inextricable,” and so failed to act. The revolutionary crisis was reached in October, and the Communist Party went on recruiting, and remained passive, admiring its accumulation of dead forces. It developed no initiative and watched the bourgeoise overthrow of the Socialist-Communist coalition of Governments in Saxony and Thuringia. At the critical moment, the Communist leaders retreated and threw both the party and the masses into despair. Responsibility for this debacle rested on the shoulders, primarily, of the Communist International bureaucracy and the leaders of the Russian Communist Party. Stalin, Zinoviev, and Bucharin were more responsible than Brandler and Thalheimer, who became the scapegoats.

Writing to Zinoviev, in August 1923, Stalin declared that if the Communists attempted to seize power, they would crash, and receive “ a teaching demonstration “ that would become “ a general slaughter.” He urged that the Fascists must be allowed “to attack first; this will rally the whole working-class around the Communists. Germany is not Bulgaria. Besides, the Fascists in Germany, according to the data I have, are weak. In my estimation, the Germans must be restrained, not spurred on.”

Germany was Bulgaria over again but much worse; and Fascism was not weak. Instead of encouraging Brandler and Thalheimer to pursue a policy of struggle, Stalin urged on them a studied program of inaction.

The official report of the September 1923 Plenum of the Russian Party Central Committee, issued weeks before the German retreat, recorded, in terms of condemnation, Trotsky’s view of the matter, as stated in a speech made “ before leaving the session of the Central Committee.” The report declared that this speech “ greatly excited all the Central Committee members.” Trotsky stated that “ the leadership of the German Communist Party is worthless, its Central Committee permeated with fatalism and sleepyheadedness,” and “ that under these conditions the German revolution is condemneed to failure.” The official report proceeded to describe this statement as a “phillipic called forth by an incident ... which had nothing to do with the German revolution “ and “was a contradiction to the objective state of affairs.” The report also said: ” This speech produced an astounding impression.”

Not Trotsky’s speech, terrible in its accuracy of forecast and depiction of reality, but the facts on which it was based should have produced the impression.

After the German October defeat had confirmed Trotsky’s clarity of understanding, Stalin and Zinoviev denounced Brandler and Thalheimer as being exclusively responsible for the course which the Comintern leadership had directed. For what happened, and for what did not happen, a simple bureaucratic declaration made Brandler culpable.

Trotsky examined the German October, in his brilliant work, “ Lessons of October,” in which he compared the Bolshevik upheaval of 1917 with the 1923 defeat in Germany. It is interesting to note that the month before the German defeat, the Bulgarian Communist Party had succumbed. This fact explains Stalin’s incautious observation to Zinoviev.

Summarizing his study of October victory and defeat, Trotsky declared that the typical, and not particular, feature of the German defeat, was the danger of “ crisis of revolutionary leadership on the eve of transition to armed uprising.” He showed how “ the depths of the proletarian party “ were “ far less susceptible to bourgeoise public opinion “ than “ elements of the party leadership “ and “ its middle layers “ who unfailingly succumb “to the material and ideological terror of the bourgeoise.” Whereas “ only a minority” of the Russian Party leadership “was seized‘ by this dangerous irresolution and vacillation in 1917,” and “ were overcome by the sharp energy of Lenin,” in Germany the entire leadership vacillated. And so the revolutionary situation was passed by. The business of the Communists was to learn the Lessons of October and so limit such fatal crises.

The Stalin faction wished to avoid facing this analysis. When Trotsky referred to the Russian wing of 1917, it was known that he was censuring Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Tomsky, Stalin and company who, in the months preceding the Bolshevik uprising, opposed the idea of insurrection towards which Lenin and Trotsky were steering the party. Stalin and his henchmen knew that an examination into the German retreat would prove that the right wing of 1917 had repeated its failure in 1923. Consequently the leadership of the Communist International demanded that the whole International outlaw Trotsky and his writings.

An interesting example of the excommunication at work was offered by the voting in the American party. The “ Lessons of October “ was not printed by the party in the English language and 99 per cent. of the membership and leadership of the American party knew nothing about its contents. But they cast the solemn vote in condemnation of Trotsky’s view. It was taken for granted that the Opposition was wrong.