The International Situation and the Red Army

IV. The Events in Germany in the Autumn of 1923

Report to the Eighth All-Russia Congress of the Transport Workers’ Union

October 20, 1923

Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive by David Walters

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Comrades! A report on the international situation covers nowadays a great variety of subjects, and does this, so to speak, at a variety of levels. Our international relations with the capitalist countries of Europe and America are developing, with vacillations this way or that, very slowly, on the whole, in the direction of recognition of the Soviet Union and development of economic relations with us. But, today, events of a quite different order are forcing their way into this slow process. First and foremost there is the German revolution. You will not ask me to give you, today, a detailed account of our international relations in the narrowly diplomatic sense of the word, because all those questions are now sinking into the background under the influence of facts of colossal importance which have their centre in Germany.

To complete my prelude, I will merely note that both America and Europe are now once more entering a phase of commercial and industrial crisis. Europe barely emerged from such a crisis two years ago. America, however, has in the last two years experienced a tremendous boom in trade and industry, so that it had no need of external markets and could calmly leave Europe, including us, to our own fate. In that period American capital turned its back on us. But now, a few months ago, symptoms of commercial and industrial crisis have appeared in America. The domestic market is insufficient: America needs an external market: Europe as a whole cannot provide this market, since its purchasing-power is falling. Our purchasing-power has recently increased, even if only slowly. Hence the great upsurge of attention to and interest in the Soviet Union on the part of American capital. This fact may prove to be of very great importance for our economic development, but, even so, it has become of secondary or even tertiary importance because the behaviour of America, like that of all Europe, and of ourselves, will depend, first and foremost, immediately and directly upon the way in which events in Germany develop, how they turn out, and how they end.

A few months ago we voiced some suggestions as to the tempo at which the German events would proceed. Some of us could depict this tempo as slower, some as faster. But today, comrades, there is no longer any need to guess. Events are unfolding in Germany, linked one with another, like a system of cog-wheels. And when we now look at Germany even through the lenses of Rosta telegrams, the German press and our own press – that is, when we look at Germany from afar – we see with complete clarity and distinctness a precise mechanism of developing revolutionary events. Germany has already entered a period of direct and immediate revolution, that is, of struggle for state power between the basic classes of society. I do not have, of course, to expound to you in detail the conditions which make revolution possible and guarantee its success. I will recall them only in broad outline. For a proletarian revolution to be possible there must be, first, a certain level of development of the productive forces; second, the proletariat must be of a certain size and play a certain role in production; and, finally, there is the so-called subjective premise, that is, the proletariat must want to conquer power, and know how to do this. Germany has been ripe for the proletarian revolution for years and years already. German industrial technique is the highest and most concentrated of any in the world, and can stand comparison even with American. The German industrial proletariat, which accounts for 15 millions in a population of 60 millions (including children and old people), forms the over-whelming majority of the country’s inhabitants. To them must be added the three million agricultural workers. I repeat, we see here a country in which the proletariat constitutes the overwhelming majority of the population. But where the matter of the subjective conditions for the revolution was concerned the need for the proletariat to want to take power and to know how to do this – these conditions were lacking. They were lacking before the imperialist war, which was why that war occurred. They were lacking in November 1918, when, after the defeat of the German army, power passed into the hands of the Social-Democrats. At that time, too, the working class moved spontaneously towards power, but in the preceding decades it had created out of its own ranks a party superstructure, the German Social-Democratic Party, which absorbed the elite of the working class; and this superstructure, in its turn, became a hostage to the ruling classes, suffered transformation, became an apparatus for taming and restraining the working class. And we had in Germany the fact that the proletariat was in power through the mediation of the Social-Democrats, but the Social-Democrats, having come to power, saw themselves not as the revolutionary representatives of the proletariat but as a political agency of the bourgeoisie. That was the meaning of the revolution of November 9, 1918. In accordance with its whole nature and spirit, German Social-Democracy gradually handed power over to the bourgeoisie.

And only when the internal situation, in its economic and financial aspects, had become absolutely hopeless did the bourgeoisie again beckon the Social-Democrats back to power and again form a coalition with them.

That is the story of the last few months, when a coalition between the bourgeoisie and the Social-Democrats has been formally in power in Germany. Only after the defeat in the war was the Communist Party of Germany formed out of underground groups. Unlike our Party, with its quarter-century of revolutionary traditions and the tempering in underground struggle that went with this, in Germany the Communist Party, that is, the genuine revolutionary party of the proletariat, is a creation of recent years. The German working class was duped in November 1918. It is natural that it should observe a waiting attitude towards the policy of the German Communist Party, letting this party reveal itself, prove itself in action, and win the confidence of the workers. With the revolutionary impatience of a young party, the German Communist Party made an attempt to seize power without preparation. That happened in March 1921. It was cruelly in error. The Third Congress of the Communist International, in July 1921, read the German Communist Party a lesson that was both severe and salutary. It told the German comrades: your task still consists not in directly fighting for power but in fighting to win the trust of the working class. To some of the German comrades, as also to some of the Russian comrades, that lesson from the Third Congress seemed opportunist, temporising and insufficiently revolutionary, but in Germany today there us not a single Communist who would not admit that the lesson was a salutary one. Since then – through 1921, 1922 and 1923 – the German Communist Party has fully mastered Bolshevik tactics, that is, the combination of true revolutionariness with realism with firm taking into account of the state of relations and the prospects. Under the slogan of the united front of the working class, and then of the workers’ and peasants’ government, the German Communist Party is, step by step, winning the confidence of ever larger sections of the working class. And since the occupation of the Ruhr by France, in the course of this year, when the German economy, deprived of iron ore and coal, has finally been driven into a cul-de-sac, when the hopelessness of the situation has become completely obvious, when the bourgeois parties are competing with each other only in helplessness, when the Social-Democrats have no programme other than support for a bourgeoisie which is helpless and has lost all its resources – in this period the Communist Party is increasingly rising before the working class as the only leader, the only possible saviour not only of the proletariat but of the entire German people.

From that moment, and especially since July of this year, it has become clear that the German revolution is drawing close to the gates of history. And now the question arises – what will happen at the decisive moment? Will the German Communist Party, having won the confidence of the majority of the working class, prove capable, will it find in itself sufficient tempering, will-power, resolution, to carry through an armed uprising and by battle take state power? This period has been characterised by disputes and arguments about what a revolution is, what is meant by an armed uprising. For a certain time the German Communist Party has been looking forward to the revolution as something objective and weighty which will come. The more conscious elements in its ranks and in the Comintern itself put the question like this: the revolution has already arrived, it is already all around us, but precisely in order that the revolution may not pass us by, or jump over our heads, we, as a Party, must set ourselves the immediate task of smashing the enemy in open revolutionary battle. In order to smash the enemy it is necessary to counterpose to him an organised force, it is necessary to have a plan of struggle, and, finally, it is necessary to have behind one certain stages of struggle: later, it is necessary to go over, from the plane of agitation, propaganda and events foreseen, on to the plane of military-revolutionary clashes, armed uprising and the seizure of power.

Going over from agitation and propaganda to direct and immediate struggle for power is always a very painful process for any revolutionary party. It is one thing to fight for influence over the masses, the millions, and quite another, having put oneself at the head of these millions, to undertake the immediate task, in the given conditions and circumstances, against the given enemy, of carrying through an uprising, of seizing power. Here the vanguard of the working class has to take a tremendous political and psychological leap forward, to disentangle itself from the purely propagandist sphere of work in order to lead the class in making a very great social overturn.

You know, comrades, that in our country this turn was not effected easily or simply, that there were vacillations, despite the fact that our Party had incomparably greater tempering and more revolutionary experience than the party in Germany. It is to be feared that in Germany the internal vacillations in the Communist Party will be more substantial, more important, and therefore more dangerous, than they were with us on the eve of October 25, 1917. But the German party has something that we did not then have: it has first, our experience, and, second, the ideological help of the Communist International. Thanks to this, undoubtedly it has already dealt with its internal difficulties more easily (even if you consider that it has already dealt with them thoroughly) than we were able to do six years ago. So far as we can judge, from afar, and to the extent that we can form a clear picture of what has happened, the Communist Party has now acquired the resolution necessary if it is to carry out the supreme task of the Party and the proletariat, that is, to seize power.

Are the objective conditions for the impending struggle favourable or not? What are the forecasts, the auguries? Before such decisive battles, comrades, it is, of course, never possible to calculate the forces precisely, and, still less, to draw a precise conclusion. If that were possible where social battles are concerned, such battles would never take place. I have often had occasion to refer to the simple consideration that, even when a group of workers go on strike against a capitalist, it is impossible to know precisely, in advance, how the strike will end. If this were known beforehand, then either the workers would not begin their strike or the capitalist would give in to them without a strike. Every struggle develops its inner forces: these inner forces have an influence on the market, they evoke either sympathy or the absence thereof among other workers, sympathy by one capitalist for another, and so on. If that is what happens in a strike, how must it be in a revolution of the proletariat, in which colossal, numerous, immeasurable forces are engaged – in which what is involved is a country of 60 million people? In such a case, comrades, it is impossible to say beforehand that, here, victory will be absolutely guaranteed.

It is just for this reason that revolution, struggle, becomes inevitable, that only through revolution, through armed uprising, can victory be won, and it is impossible to predict precisely what the outcome will be. But, at the same time, in both military and revolutionary conflicts, one can and must estimate the relationship of forces, the real resources, and consequently, the real possibilities. As regards the numbers of the enemy, of the two hostile camps, there is colossal superiority on our side. About that I have spoken already. An industrial proletariat 15 millions strong, highly cultured and centralised by virtue of the very character of German industry, constitutes a force such as never before entered the revolutionary arena in such diinensions. What have we on the other side? We have trustified, centralised capital and landlordism, and the Fascist fighting squads maintained at their expense, squads which are dependent not just in the theoretical sense, but quite directly dependent, upon Stinnes. Fascism is the fighting organisation of commercial and industrial, large-scale financial, banking capital in German, which, in turn, finds its embodiment in Stinnes. He is in the exact sense of the word the boss, the dictator of Germany. We have talked about the concentration of industry according to Marx, as set out in textbooks: we have talked about how it tends to become reduced to a small number of magnates of capital, and so on and so forth: and now we have in Germany a situation in which the boss, the economic boss of the country, is, essentially, one man – Stinnes. The French Government is unwilling to negotiate with the Stresemann Government – it negotiates with Stinnes. In Germany there is an illegal army, a Fascist army, which various sources of information tell us numbers between 200,000 and 400,000 fighting men, and this army is financed by Stinnes. The German press is in his hands, and so on. That is the basic force of concentrated capital, which has created its own army, just as in our country, in the Tsarist period, after 1905, the landlords formed units recruited among the Ingushes or the Circassians [1], the most ignorant elements in Caucasia. Fascism is the organisation of Stinnes’s Ingushes, for the defence of private property, the stock exchange, capital and so on and so forth. What is there in between? Between the revolutionary proletariat and the Fascists we have the petty and middle strata of the bourgeoisie, ruined and semi-ruined; the intelligentsia, ruined or becoming ruined; and also relatively considerable elements, though even so constituting only a tiny minority, of the working class. At the top of the state, in its organisation and its press, Social-Democracy is still a big power, but it already reflects the power of yesterday; its support, the mass of the working class, is slipping away from under its feet with every passing day and hour. The latest telegrams, the latest despatches from Germany give a very clear picture precisely of this process. I will say something about that when I come to the question of Saxony. The central democratic nucleus is German Kerenskyism: to the Right of it is Fascism, to the Left of it is Communism. This central nucleus is dwindling and dwindling, because the workers, and not only the workers, but also broad strata of the bourgeoisie and even the intelligentsia and the peasants (not to speak of the rural proletariat) are increasingly gravitating leftward. Elements of the central democratic bloc are breaking away rightward, moving towards Fascism, in which they see salvation, and we observe a growth of the extreme wings, with an intensification of contradictions and weakness at the centre. This is why the central government in Germany is now a miserable fiction. The German Parliament, the Reichstag, has abdicated its own powers in favour of the ministry it elected. If we Communists were still in need of one more demonstration, one more proof, of the utter rottenness of democratism, of bourgeois parliamentarism, here would be our example – the German Parliament, a democratic body elected on a basis of universal suffrage and so on. When maximum effort is required of it, this parliament liquidates itself and grants extraordinary plenary powers to the ministry it has itself created – and this ministry, in its turn, hands over its plenary powers to Seeckt: Seeckt appoints his plenipotentiary generals: in particular, in Saxony, Müller. In our country Kolchak grew out of the Constituent Assembly at Ufa: in Germany there emerges from the democratic Reichstag, as though by a conjuring trick, General Seeckt, and from General Seeckt proceed other offshoots in the form of generals – Müller and others. Parliament is dwindling before our eyes, and along with its annihilation goes the annihilation of German Kerenskyism, German democratism. Furthermore, comrades, we see how Germany is disintegrating geographically, in accordance with whichever social forces are predominant in each particular region. There is no united Germany today. I do not even mention that about 12 million of Germany’s inhabitants are under enemy rule, enemy occupation, mostly by France. But the remaining 48 to 50 millions do not form a united social and state entity, either. We have Bavaria, with a population of about 9 millions, which is now essentially an independent state. Beside it, to the north, we have little Thuringia, and to the east-north-east is Saxony. Thuringia and Saxony together have a population of 7½ to 8 millions, if my memory does not let me down, that is, a little more [sic] than in Bavaria. In power in Bavaria is the Fascist Kahr, who is the link between those Fascists (the party of Prince Rupprecht) who want to break clean away from Germany and those Fascists who want to create a united Germany (the party of Seeckt, Ludendorff, etc.). But since both the German Separatists, that is, those who want to break away, and the German Fascists, those who want to restore German unity, desire, above all, to defend private property, there is a bridge between them, and on that bridge stands the Bavarian dictator, Kahr. In this connection some comrades at our meetings in Moscow sent up to me a written question asking whether our comrades over there have not committed an act of opportunism – those Communists who, after several years of ruthless struggle against the Menshevik organisation, against the Social-Democrats, have now joined with them in the same government.

Undoubtedly, this step they have taken is surprising, at first sight. Yet this is a quite correct step, and it testifies to the colossal political success that this coalition represents for us. I will speak about this presently, but first I will remind you that we ourselves were not without sin in this respect. During the period of Kornilov’s movement, Comrade Lenin wrote, in our central organ of that time, that the Bolsheviks were proposing a compromise, that is, that under certain conditions, Messrs Mensheviks and SRs, we will form a bloc with you. Neither the Mensheviks nor the SRs joined that bloc: too little time remained before their death, and they did not want to bring nearer the hour of its coming. But the proposal was made. And after October, quite soon after, we formed a coalition government with the Left SRs. That is still fresh in everyone’s memory. The bloc with the Left SRs ended tragically, though. There came a moment when one section of the Council of People’s Commissars, a section of the Left SR Commissars, sat in one of the buildings belonging to the Cheka of that time, and fired shells at the Kremlin. [1b] I saw one of those shells with my own eyes. That end to the coalition was not, of course, actually included in the programme when the coalition was formed; but if a balance be struck, then it turns out that we were the gainers, because the break-up of the coalition meant at the same time the liquidation of the Left SR party. Our party proved to be the master of the situation. Therefore, under certain conditions (I am quoting this case so as to clarify the situation) even the entry of Communists into coalition with an essentially petty-bourgeois party which still commands the allegiance of a certain section of the workers or the poor peasants, is a step which, though apparently opportunist, is in essence revolutionary. It is an action taken in order to accelerate development, to bring nearer the ruin of the party with which we have formed the coalition. What we are seeing in Saxony is the same phenomenon, though under different conditions. Saxony is a country inhabited by members of the textile proletariat, a highly compact, densely populated part of Germany. The Saxon proletariat is very revolutionary in outlook. The Social-Democratic Party in Saxony, under the pressure of this proletariat, is the most Left-wing section of the German Social-Democratic Party as a whole. We put forward the slogan of the united front, and the Social-Democratic workers, especially in Saxony, demanded that it be realised. Under their pressure, their leaders, those Left-wing Social-Democrats most of whom are articles of very dubious quality, found themselves obliged, nevertheless, to enter into a united front, a bloc, for the purpose of forming coalition governments in Saxony and Thuringia. We joined these governments as a minority: our people have two ministries (one of them is in charge of the affairs of the Council of Ministers), and the others are the majority. [2] But the very fact of the formation of the coalition government in Saxony meant a mortal blow for the German Social-Democracy. This can now be said with full confidence, and the most striking facts provided by today’s post leave no room for doubt of it. Indeed, you all know very well the profound attachment felt by the worker for the organisation which first awakened him, raised him up and organised him, making him a conscious being. This sense of an intimate bond is felt by the German workers in relation to the Social-Democratic Party. That party has certainly betrayed him, but, all the same, once upon a time, under Hohenzollern, it awakened him and through decades it educated and enlightened him, and it is very hard for workers, even those who know that their party is following the wrong path, to break with it. This is why, in spite of all the betrayals and baseness of German Social-Democracy the mass of the workers, discontented, grumbling, pushing their party forward and sideways, have nevertheless not broken with it, have not taken the step that would carry them over its threshold and into the Communist Party. That is a very painful step for a worker to take when he has been connected through long years with a certain organisation, and it now turns out that there is no need for him to take that step in such an abrupt form. Let the workers see that the Communists, whom the Social-Democrats have denounced as a party which is the undoing of Germany and the German working class, a party with which one can have nothing in common and whose members are vassals of Russia, and so on – that the Communists have turned out to be, in a certain part of Germany, in the same government and in the same fighting Hundreds with Social-Democratic workers. The wall which German Social-Democracy has diligently raised and strengthened between its own and the Communist workers, has now been broken through, and, since the mass of the Social-Democratic workers are psychologically disposed towards a revolutionary policy, when the breach in the wall became apparent, they rushed towards the Communists. This is happening in various ways. While they do not join the Communist Party, they are ideologically linked with it, and when they do join it they will support it absolutely. Here are the latest facts from today’s news. In the Saxon city of Chemnitz (this is the birthplace of the great hangman Noske [3]: Noske was a proletarian, a tobacco worker, one of those traitor-proletarians of whom there have been not a few in the history of various countries), in Chemnitz, where Noske was the absolute boss, where he enjoyed unlimited trust, in this Chemnitz, during the first week of the current month, sixty factory committees consisting of Social-Democrats went over to the Communist Party. In Berlin, in Brandenburg, all over the country, the influence of the Communist Party has increased to a colossal extend in recent weeks. As regards Saxon Social-Democracy, today’s information says that the Social Democratic organisation in Saxony geht in die Bruche, that is, it is falling to pieces. The Social-Democrats, that is, the very ones who entered into a coalition with us, in which they were in the majority, should, it might have seemed, have been the masters of the situation; and if some Left Communists, who cannot think very straight, are saying in Germany that they are supporting the Saxon Social-Democrats, then it must be said that they are supporting them in the same way that the rope supports the hanged man. Politically, therefore, the result of the coalition is truly brilliant so far as we are concerned.

But this still does not solve the problem. In Saxony our party’s influence is especially complete. But we are not alone in Saxony. Also in Saxony is General Müller, sent by Seeckt, and General Müller has the Reichswehr, that is, the German army. In addition, he has, by a special order, brought the Saxon police under his command. Besides this there are the clandestine Fascist organisations which are also moving towards Saxony and which to some extent, exist in Saxony as well. At their head stands General Müller. He calls on the Saxon Government to dissolve the Workers’ Hundreds. The Saxon Government, which is based on a most democratic Landtag, refuses to do this. General Müller arrests some leaders of the Hundreds. Along with this we have also other facts which point to the existence in Germany of a situation such as is provided for in no constitution. The Fascist Rossbach, who had organised rebellions and so on, was in a Saxon prison, and then he was released. The Saxon Government ordered his arrest. The central government of Stresemann could not avoid confirming this order: he had to be arrested for attempted revolt against the Government. Rossbach has moved to Bavaria, another part of the same country. There he takes part in public meetings and enjoys the full protection of the Bavarian Government. The Bavarian Government is organising on its territory, alongside the Reichwehr, that is, the official army, a Fascist army, on which it is spending money from the state treasury. The Stresemann Government, which sits in Berlin and is already almost powerless, declares that it will not permit any coups from either Right or Left. Where Bavaria is concerned, though, it dares not raise its voice, whereas to Saxony it speaks in the language of Fascist generals. The Government itself has no control over the army, as I said when I spoke about Seeckt and Müller. There are Social-Democrats in Stresemenan’s government. The Social-Democrats are losing ground more and more, because the masses are moving towards the Communists. So as not to lose their last shred of influence the Social-Democrats have to pretend that they are not in favour of the campaign against Saxony – but the campaign against Saxony goes on. Vorwärts writes: ‘We demand the lifting of the state of siege. We protest against General Müller’s campaign against Saxony.’ But General Müller is Seeckt’s agent, Seeckt was appointed by the Stresemann Government, and the Stresemann Government contains Social-Democrats. You see, comrades, there is no making head or tail of it in these state and governmental relations between the Stresemann Government and the governments of the different parts of Germany. This chaos is a little reminiscent, or even not a little but quite considerably reminiscent, of the way things were here on the eve of the revolution in 1917. We had, on the one hand, Kronstadt, which recognised the Bolshevik government that did not yet exist at that time (it recognised this government in advance): there was Petrograd, where the Soviet was already ours, but had over it a Central Executive Committee containing Chkheidze and Tsereteli: there was the Ukraine, with the Rada, Kerensky’s commissars, Bolshevik armed forces, and so on. They all issued orders to each other, nobody listened to anybody else, and all were preparing for the ultimate showdown. That is the situation we have today in Germany. It is, in the fullest sense of the word, so to speak, five minutes to curtainup. This is the moment we are now living through in Germany. But the raising of that curtain will be no easy operation. The Social-Democrats have no power in Berlin, of course. In the government is Stresemann, with whom Poincaré does not want to talk (he prefers to talk with Stinnes), and who now constitutes an imaginary quantity. But General Seeckt is a real quantity, and so is General Müller. Why so? Above all because they have 100,000 soldiers and 3,000 officers. That is all that the German state is allowed to have, under the Treaty of Versailles. As you know, the French restricted the German army to a very small size. In addition, Germany has 150,000 policemen: they are called ‘Schupo’ and ‘Sipo’. [‘Schutzpolizei’ and ‘Sicherheitspolizei’.] Previously, they were subordinate to the towns and the municipal administrations, but now, through Seeckt’s order, they come under the command the Reichswehr, that is, the army command. In addition there are the 200,000 or 300,000 men of the Fascist battalions, which are headed by officers of the General Staff who are familiar with the art of exterminating masses of people, and who know very well the German railway network, know very well how to move battalions from one end of the country to the other, in order to smash the workers, deprive them of their leaders, and so on. [4] This is a dangerous foe, a foe possessing in Berlin an organisation based on forces which are inconsiderable from the social standpoint. On the other side stands the proletariat, 15 million strong, which has created and armed its Hundreds in Saxony and throughout the country. How many of these armed Hundreds there are I do not know, and, of course, if by chance I did know (but I don’t), I should have no right to talk about it at an open meeting. This is today a military secret of the German proletariat – how many Hundreds it has, how many weapons, and where these are. And between these two forces there must begin in a very short time, apparently (if our whole picture of the German scene is not deceptive), a decisive struggle for power. Today’s telegrams inform us that diplomatic relations have been broken off between Bavaria and Saxony: you have probably read this. These are two parts of Germany. But Germany has its old constitution, it is a federation made up of different parts, each part has its own diplomatic representatives, and yesterday Saxony and Bavaria broke off diplomatic relations with each other. Bavaria is bringing up to the frontier, and has to a considerable extent already brought up, part of the Reichswehr, together with Fascist detachments. On the Saxon side of the frontier stand the Saxon Hundreds. Meanwhile, General Müller, that agent of the central government, or, more correctly, of the dictator Seeckt, is moving artillery into Saxony. The Saxon Government is not obeying the order to dissolve the Hundreds: on the contrary, it is calling on the workers throughout the country to organise these Hundreds. The trade-union organisations in Berlin are saying that they will answer any attempt at a campaign against Saxony by calling a general strike. In reply to the danger from the Fascist bands, who plan to make use of the railway network, the railway workers threaten to strike. This situation cannot continue for months: it probably cannot continue even for weeks.

It would not be at all surprising if we were to receive tomorrow, or the next day, the first telegrams about the beginning of the decisive battles. How will these battles end? I have given you the general picture – the social forces, the state of organisation, and have listed, so to speak the enemy’s effectives. But what is to happen next? What happens next depends on the energy of the proletariat, on the resolution shown by its party, on its selflessness. That is what the outcome of the struggle will depend on. Does the proletariat have a good chance of winning? Certainly it does. The internal relation of forces is extremely favourable to the proletariat, to its victory. I did not mention (I will mention it now for the sake of elucidation) the point that 100,000 soldiers is a tiny number in a country of SO million people. They are scattered in various parts of the country, and when the revolutionary movement embraces the whole country, when the whole country is seething, these 100,000 soldiers of the Reichswehr, scattered about in companies and battalions, will feel like hunted animals. Among them (even if they are to be regarded as being mostly hostile to the workers) the majority are peasants’ sons: rumours will circulate among them, panic will inevitably spread, and, just because of their fewness and isolation, this may break the backbone of the army. As regards the police, they consist, in many parts of Germany, of workers who belong to trade unions and are Social-Democrats. They have not openly announced themselves as Social-Democrats, for policemen are forbidden to belong to political parties, but they are allowed to belong to trade unions. In Berlin the policeman are all Social-Democrats. At a guess, about one-third of the police will fight against us – in Bavaria, say: about one-third will be neutral, and about one-third will fight on our side. Thus, by and large, the police, as a real force opposed to us, will disappear. There remain, consequently, the Fascist organisations. The leaders of the Fascist battalions are thoroughly hardened counter-revolutionary fighters. They are members of the old German officer corps who hate the working class and the revolution with the age-old hatred of enslavers, oppressors, Junkers, landlords, capitalists, and so on. They will fight ruthlessly. But their battalions are made up of sons of bourgeois, students, ruined petty-bourgeois, even, in part, of the more ignorant, desperate, patriotically-minded workers of the lumpen-proletarian type. This is a rather motley crowd, and one cannot be sure that, when the decisive moment arrives, they will all follow their Fascist leaders. Today men are joining the Fascist battalions, some from despair, others in order to get a meal, but at the decisive moment a very substantial section of this army will scatter to the sidelines, especially if the revolutionary onslaught evokes wavering in the regular army, the Reichswehr, because the Fascist battalions form, by agreement with the government, part of an official organisation of the legal army, and it is through this that they possess a centralised apparatus. If this centralised apparatus goes to pieces under the pressure of the revolutionary storm, the Fascists will become so many scattered battalions, guerrilla bands. They will, of course, shed a lot of workers’ blood, but in this case their hope of success, let alone of ultimate victory, will amount to very little.

That, comrades, is the internal situation. It indicates that the odds are in favour, and very much in favour, of the German proletariat. The latter can and will take power – everything points to that. Will it be able to hold power, in view of the international situation? Alas, I have already used up a whole hour of your time with the first part of my report, and I will try to keep the second part as brief as possible. Will the German proletariat hold power, I ask, given the international situation? Germany is not alone on the map of Europe. Her neighbours are France and Belgium, neighbours who are her conquerors, enslavers and oppressors, along with to the south-east and north-east, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The other neighbours, such as, say, Holland, or, across the strait, Sweden, the Scandinavian countries, or Switzerland and Austria, are not of great importance. These states can play no independent role and, generally speaking, will not themselves intervene in the German revolution. Who may intervene? Britain, and, after her, France, together with Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia. That is the direction from which danger threatens. And here the question concerns us directly, concerns the Soviet Union, for, of course, if the German revolution were to lead to a European war, an imperialist war, that would affect us in most direct fashion. And we need here to evaluate the situation, so as to have a clear appreciation of what the morrow may hold.

I said that Britain may intervene. But on this score we must today clearly appreciate Britain’s impotence on the continent of Europe. It is important to appreciate this not only for the German revolution but also for ourselves. Britain is powerless on the continent of Europe. The more clearly we realise this and the more firmly and distinctly we repeat it, the more useful that will be for our international policy, in the sense that Britain will do less brandishing of her threats and ultimatums. In point of fact, Britain is a purely maritime state. She has played a tremendous role in Europe. But how and when? Whenever there were two countries in Europe fighting each other for mastery. When France was fighting Germany, with approximately equal forces, Britain stood behind them, supporting, over a long period, first one and then the other. This has been so even earlier, when Spain was strong: in the same way, Britain would now support her, then weaken her. Britain has been playing this role for many centuries now. She utilises the struggle between the two strongest states in Europe, and supports the slightly weaker one, with money, technical assistance and goods, against the stronger one. And the balance of power in Europe depends on Britain. She gets, as it were, a lot of satisfaction at little cost. This is her age-old policy. Why did Britain intervene in the war of 1914? Because Germany had grown too strong. Germany had grown so strong that Britain could not achieve a balance of power merely. by giving support to France. In this case Britain had to depart from her traditional policy. Now she had to roll up her sleeves and get involved in the war, in the struggle. She managed this by conscripting quite a large number of British workers and hurling them on to the European continent. And the result was that she supported France so strongly that the latter ultimately crushed Germany. So now the hegemony of bourgeois Europe belongs exclusively to France. Germatly is prostrate at France’s feet, and France does not even want to talk to Germany about the terms of Germany’s surrender. But from the very moment when France obtained complete hegemony, complete mastery, Britain was rendered completely helpless. France announced: ‘I shall take the Ruhr.’ Britain replied: ‘That is not in my interest.’ They had a big row, which went on for a long time. Why was it not in Britain’s interest? Because she needed to raise Germany up a little against France, so as to restore the balance of power. And what did France do? Curzon’s protests notwithstanding, France went into the Ruhr and took it. And what did terrible Britain do? She resigned herself to what had happened. Terrible Britain threatened Turkey, but the Turks, who enjoyed good-neighbourly relations with us, organised an army, not without support from us.

What did Britain do? She set the Greeks against them. She had absolutely no forces of her own. What did the Turks do? They defeated the Greeks and marched on Constantinople, against terrible Britain, who hurried away from that city.

Comrades, from the standpoint of international relations, this is a most important fact in the epoch through which we are living. Britain is impotent on the continent of Europe. We are not, of course, going to complain about this.

What can Britain do to the German revolution? Deliver an ultimatum? But that would not suffice. Consequently, the question comes down to what France, not Britain, will do. If France decides to intervene, then Britain could make herself useful to France by assisting her with the money she badly needs, by blockading German ports and shipping, and so on. Britain’s role would be that of a quartermaster and a pirate. But the decisive role, in the sense of occupying Germany, would have to be played by France and her land-based vassals – Belgium, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Is this possible? Will France decide to do this? That is the fundamental question.

In this matter too, comrades, it is, of course, impossible to make absolutely precise prophecies, and say: no, certainly not. But it is necessary to analyse the situation, and our analysis shows that there are very many reasons for thinking that it would be too much for France. To occupy a country, a revolutionary country, with a population of 60 millions, a country in which 59 per cent of the population, if not more, live in towns and only a minority in villages, a country which is crisscrossed by a chain of railway lines, would not be a very easy task. We had here the experience of the Ukraine. Altogether, something like 250,000 German and Austro-Hungarian soldiers were committed. The Ukraine is not Germany: in the Ukraine there are few towns, the railway network was poorly developed, and the Germans did not venture far from the towns and the railway lines. And what was the result? Elemental peasant revolts raged all around them, the German soldiers grew more demoralised month by month, and, later on, these were the most revolutionary regiments during the German revolution, when they returned home. If we make the appropriate calculation – and there have been not a few occupations, in history generally and in recent times – if we make this calculation, ascertain the average figure, and ask how many soldiers would be needed to occupy a revolutionary Germany, this calculation will tell us that a reliable occupation would require 1,700,000 men ... One million and three-quarters. That is a large number. The whole French army contains only 700,000 men. That is the peacetime army. If we add to this the armies of all France’s European vassals, we are still far short of one-and-a-half millions. But, comrades, the army is needed for other purposes besides the occupation of Germany. If France wants to occupy Germany, and decides to go ahead and do it, she will need to keep part of her army at home, to force her own working class to reconcile itself to this occupation. After all, it is not for nothing that France maintains this army in peacetime. She needs to keep at least half a million soldiers in the home country and in the colonies. That is the minimum. The same applies to her vassals. In other words, for France to be able to decide to occupy Germany she would need to proclaim forthwith the mobilisation of at least five or six age-groups, or, as the French say, classes. Would that be feasible? Everything points to its not being feasible without creating very great tension, without very serious domestic conflict. Let us not forget that in France there are no more than 39 million Frenchmen. In the imperialist war France lost one-and-a-half million men. Germany’s population is increasing fast, but France’s population is declining – slowly, but declining. In France there is not a single family that has not lost a son, or a brother, or a husband, or a father, and so on. For France the mobilisation of an age-group does not mean what it does here. With us, one age-group gives us almost a million men. Our country is immensely spacious, its population is multiplying splendidly, and here a million men is a very small number, whereas in France, with her diminished population of thirty-eight and a half millions, a population from which one-and-a-half million men were torn away only recently, where there are not enough workers (owing to the shortage of young manpower there are now in France a very large number of Spanish, Italian, Polish and Czechoslovak workers, who cannot, of course, be conscripted), it would be necessary to mobilise Frenchmen French peasants, and the French peasant is burdened with taxes, because the national debt amounts to 300 milliards. The French peasant has only just returned from the trenches, since over there they mobilised, in the true sense of the word, elderly men, old men of 45. They returned not long ago to theiR holdings, which are burdened with taxes, and now they are being told that, after their final, complete and glorious victory which cost them a great deal and for which they are to have to go on paying, they must contribute approximately another 500,000 men, in order to consolidate this victory conclusively, with the prospect of a European war.

The French Communists, the French comrades, consider that such a measure would not be practicable without some very substantial coercion, that is, bloodletting and so on. That is one difficulty. And, on the other hand, it will not be possible to mobilise another few hundred thousand Frenchmen and throw up to a million soldiers into Germany, so as to force Poland and Czechoslovakia to throw in some three quarters of a million men, and maintain them there at the expense of a ruined, impoverished Germany which the occupation will impoverish and ruin still further. That would mean maintaining, at the expense of that same working class, soldiers who, in the cauldron of revolution, would become demoralised just as the German soldiers became demoralised here. In short, one cannot but appreciate Poincaré’s difficulties. It would not, of course, be very flattering to him if, next door to his place, a victorious proletarian revolution should develop, and so his job is no easy one.

But that does not mean, comrades, that the French bourgeoisie will in no circumstances undertake this job. When a class which has been accustomed to ruling is threatened with ruin, there is no madness to which this class may not resort. And when I analyse the conditions for an occupation, I do this to show that the job is not so easy, and that in this case everything is not 100 per cent on our enemies’ side but, on the contrary, perhaps only 25 per cent, with history awarding 75 per cent to us.

In any event, there can be no doubt that the French bourgeoisie will go on hesitating for a long time yet. Various groups and parties will contend with each other before the decision is taken regarding such a diabolical adventure. Consequently, the German revolution will be given a breathing-spell of two, three or four months, and you and I know well what a breathing-spell means. To obtain a breathing-spell means to obtain everything. Then there is Poland. France cannot cope with the task on her own: she certainly needs the help of Poland. May Poland intervene? Will she intervene? Here, comrades, one cannot be a prophet (this is, in general, a thankless role, as was already pointed out in Biblical times), but for a Marxist, who analyses concrete conditions, it is not only permissible but obligatory to analyse the conditions and predict what is more and what is less probable. Here, in connection with Poland, I must first and foremost speak out against the philistine attitudes or opinions which sometimes overflow on to us, penetrating even the ranks of our Party, to the effect that war with Poland is inevitable, that it is something decided, almost sealed. Comrades, if we were to surrender to this fatalism, nothing but the greatest disasters would result there from. It is said absolutely nowhere, in no book, in no Party programme, that we are to go to war with Poland. Is such a war out of the question? Not at all. Unfortunately, no. What are the chances that we shall get through this epoch in peace? That is impossible to say; but I think that there are more chances for than against a peaceful outcome, precisely for the same reason which would make it so hard for France to occupy a revolutionary Germany. I have already talked about that. Poland would not, of course, even think of presuming to fight on her own, in isolation: she could only be drawn in by France if a gigantic coalition is formed for the purpose of crushing Germany, and, after that, probably, trying to run that roller over our spine, too, if the affair reaches the stage of a gigantic plan embracing all Europe. By herself, of course, Poland can have no such plan, though she may cherish the notion of exploiting intervention in Germany’s domestic affairs in order finally to seize Danzig and East Prussia, that is, to grab a tuft of the bear’s ear by means of this intervention. This is a policy of petty thieving. But there is another aspect to this question, which is of no small importance for the German revolution, for Poland and for us, and, above all, in a direct way, for our peasants. We have become a grain-exporting country: our entire future, in the economic sense, during the next few years, depends on whether we shall be able to export grain. Our accursed ‘scissors’ [5], which in recent months not only have not closed but have opened out, we can close from both sides – improving the state of our industry, in which a great deal is still unsatisfactory, and increasing the export of the peasants’ grain, thereby raising the price of grain inside our country. In order to export our grain we need to have channels, either overland or maritime. Germany is for us the most important market for our peasants’ grain. Without our grain the German worker will not survive, and his revolution, his Soviet revolution, will not maintain itself. America will not feed him: or, if she does, it will be as she fed us a little, in the third, fourth or fifth year of the Soviet Republic. If such a calamity were to befall as to cause Germany to be fed with the grain of the ARA, American philanthropic grain, that could happen not earlier than after a certain interval; but in the first year of the revolution the American merchant will certainly not give any grain to the German republic. Britain, most probably, will blockade Germany’s ports, just as she blockaded ours. Consequently, only one possibility remains, namely, to supply Germany with Russian grain, with the grain of our Soviet Union. There are two channels by which this could be done: by sea (this would not be free from danger, since Britain rules the waves) and by land, across Poland. Thus, for the German revolution our grain is a matter of life and death, just as the German market is a matter of life and death for our own economic development. We need the German market for our grain, and we need German goods, the products of German industry, for our peasants and workers. Speaking generally, there are in the world no two countries whose economic structures and interests so fully complement each other to the extent that the Soviet Union and Germny do; Germany, a super-industrial country with a very high level of technique and culture, and ourselves, with our boundless spaces, our boundless potentialities in agriculture and our technical backwardness and low level of culture. A practical union between these two countries, economically and in every other way, would constitute the greatest power that has ever existed in the world. But between these two countries lies Poland. You can easily convince yourself of that fact if you look at the map; and Polish diplomats do, from time to time, look at that map and convince themselves of it. This also makes the present international situation rather serious. It all comes down to a simple commercial request for freedomof transit. The Poles ought to allow us free transit to Germany, to the West: we will give the industry of Lodz transit for its manufactures to Persia and anywhere else they like. Freedom of transit. When these questions were raised in the Polish press, many Polish politicians replied that this could not be done, that Poland must not be forced to take up a position in the pincers between Germany and Russia. That is not at all convincing, for these pincers exist as a geographical fact. They exist: a state cannot move from where it is located. Poland lives where she lives, between us and Germany. When we were negotiating with Poland at Riga we proposed that on a certain piece of our territory we be given a common frontier with Germany, that we be provided with direct access to Germany. We should then, of course, have disturbed Poland a great deal less. But Poland, taking advantage of the circumstance that we had Wrangel in our rear, not yet put down, presented us with unheard-of conditions which were were obliged to accept, and by force of these conditions we found ourselves cut off from Germany: Poland now divides us.

Under these conditions, however, Poland can play two roles: the role of a bridge between us and Germany, or the role of a barrier, an impregnable wall, between us and Germany ... It depends on Poland’s politicians. We should prefer that Poland played the role of a bridge. On that bridge she could set up turnpikes and demand of everyone crossing the bridge a high payment for the right of transit. We are ready to pay such a charge. Poland would enjoy all the advantages of her geographical position between the pincers: but if Poland should prefer to become a barrier between us and Germany, that would mean that she wants to starve the German workers to death and to deprive us of our outlet into the European and therefore the world, market. The question can only be put like that. The question of free transit to the West is a question of life and death both for us and for the German working class. Will Poland allow us this transit? But why should she not? Why should the Polish bourgeoisie not take this step, which would bring them profit and would also spare Eastern Europe some fearful complications? We understand by transit, of course, real right of transit, that is, that we are to have the possibility to send our grain to Germany without interruption, and for this to happen Poland must not be at war either with us or with Germany. If Poland were to go to war with Germany, our link would disappear, and we should not be able to transport the grain. So there must be a reciprocal undertaking not to interfere in German affairs. A clear and simple programme. This must become our programme in relation to Poland. Is it a programme of peace or of war? A programme of peace, absolutely. I say, quite seriously, that, for us, war would be a very severe trial, and we need to be clearly aware of that. We have only begun to recover, we are still far from having made ends meet, the ‘scissors’ are still important ... War today, if it were to be forced upon us, would mean not a struggle of the small-scale sort, but what the text-books call a major war, that is, a war that would involve millions of fighting men and would last for months and months. It would mean a monstrous blow struck at our economic and cultural development, and, of course, no less a blow, but probably an even bigger one, struck at the economic and cultural development of Poland. In general, it is extremely hard now to predict what the consequences of such a war would be, of a war which would involve a number of other countries, but the danger exists that in that war the German revolution might go down in blood and ruins. We are above all interested in the German working class solving its own problems internally, with its own forces, while peace prevails around Germany, so that civil war in Germany does not become transformed into imperialist war around Germany and within Germany itself. That is why all our efforts, the efforts of our diplomats, must be and will be directed at defending peace, defending it to the end. Whether they will succeed is hard to say, because, probably, one of these days, sooner or later, the contradictions that exist in Europe will lead to a bloody international conflict: but defending peace and saving both ourselves and the German revolution from war for as long as possible is one of the most important of our state tasks. That is why it is absolutely wrong when people say, in a philistine manner, in philistine circles, that, anyway, we shall fight Poland. That is not how the question stands. It must be said that if we were to put the question like that the rank-and-file worker or peasant would not understand us. War would be no laughing matter, I repeat, and to commit millions of workers and peasants to war today, to mobilise hundreds of thousands of peasants’ horses and carts, to lay burdens on the backs of the peasantry and the working class, to do all that without absolute necessity would be the purest madness and a very grave crime. Talk of going to war to support the German working class is abstraction. What can be a better way to support the working class than to ensure its supply of grain – and this we shall do if we obtain the right of transit across Poland. The best support for the working class will be for Poland not to strike through Poznan at Berlin; and that support we shall provide if we get from Poland a mutual obligation to abstain from armed intervention in German affairs. This is our programme, and this programme we must take to the masses, to the workers and peasants of both sexes, so that they may realise that we are not betraying the German workers, that we are doing all we can to save them, but in the form which is helpful and necessary for them: that we shall fight with all our forces and resources to maintain peace, to the utmost limit of possibility. This is our programme. Is the success of this programme guaranteed? I have said already that it would be naive to offer any sort of guarantee. We do not know how the course of events in Germany will be reflected in France, in Poland and so on. We do not know what limit there will be to the adventurism, bloodthirstiness and predatoriness of the ruling classes of the various countries. Consequently, we cannot guarantee in advance to anyone, to the masses of our country, that current events will not lead to a bloody conflict, and we say that it is necessary to be prepared. If the danger of war were to be measured at no more than 33 per cent, it would still be necessary to be all of 100 per cent prepared, for, if our destiny should turn out, after all, to be a destiny of blood, we must not be beaten. But in this preparation a very important factor is ideological preparation both of ourselves and of the working classes who march behind us and with us. Every citizen in our country must clearly understand the policy we are now pursuing. And this is not a policy of light-minded playing with war, with the fire of a European conflict: on the contrary, it is a political, systematic, stubborn, sustained and consistent struggle to preserve peace around the German revolution, and we need, comrades, to see to it that the broad masses of our country, together with their Soviet Government and their diplomats, live through, step by step, all the stages of the German revolution in the international situation, so that they may think out every measure, every step, that is taken by the Soviet power, aimed at securing peace through transit and a mutual undertaking not to interfere in German affairs. If you go up to a peasant (I am putting the question in its nakedly pure form) somewhere in Penza province, where they are not sure what Germany is, or where, and say: ‘Comrade, or peasant, we are going to make war on Poland for the sake of the German workers – give us your cart, give us your horse, give us your grain’, that peasant will not understand you, he will recoil from you. But suppose we show him, in a practical way, that in fighting for the German workers we are fighting for his own interests, because he needs to export his grain and to receive industrial products from Germany, and that by this peaceful pressure, these negotiations and so on, not omitting to take any measure, any step, we shall manage to solve this problem peacefully. But suppose we do not manage this, suppose Poland becomes a barrier between us and Germany? If the ruling classes of Poland should dare to make a murderous and suicidal attempt to suffocate the two peoples that are separated by Poland, namely, the Germans and ourselves, then, of course, war may, and inevitably will, develop from such an attempt. But if it developed under those conditions, it would be a war imposed upon us against our will, contrary to all our efforts, it would prove to every peasant – I do not need even to mention the workers – that this was historical fate, that we, together with them and at their head, had done all we could to help the German workers by peaceful means. This, comrades, is the most important pledge of success in difficult historical trials, in war, when the people consciously pass through a whole epoch of preparation, when they understand that we are trying to get out of the bloody ring that encircles us, to do everything to secure for our peasant the possibility of that peaceful economic development which was shown to him, as a prospect, at the Agricultural Exhibition, and likewise in relation to the worker, who has to raise the level of our industry. If, I say, after we have made all these sincere and honest efforts, the masses think through them along with us, and if war nevertheless begins, there will be no division between the workers’ and peasants’ government and the working class, or between the working class and the peasantry.

Then the immense bloc formed by this revolutionary country will say to itself: there is no other way out – and then we shall fight, and fight well, and vanquish our foes.

Stenographic report of the Eighth Congress of the Transport Workers’ Union


1. The Ingushes and the Circassians (Cherkesses) are Moslem peoples of North Caucasia. The so-called ‘Savage Division’ of the Tsarist Army was recruited from among these and other Moslem peoples of the Caucasus region.

1b. On the revolt of the Left SRs, July 6-8, 1918, see Volume One, pages 353-408.

2. In the Saxon government Böttcher was Minister of Finance and Heckert Minister of the Economy, while Brandler was given charge of the state chancellery. In the Thuringian Government Korsch became Minister of Education and Tenner Minister of the Economy.

3. Noske was born at Brandenburg, near Potsdam. He did not move to Chemnitz until he was aged 34. Soon after his arrival there he became editor of the local Social-Democratic newspaper, and then was elected to represent Chemnitz in the Reichstag.

4. An allusion to the so-called ‘Black Reichswehr’. In January 1923, taking advantage of the French invasion of the Ruhr, Lithuania seized Memel and Poland raised the question of annexing East Prussia. In response, the Reich Government and the Reichswehr command took steps, in violation of the Versailles Treaty, to form a reserve army out of the various para-military nationalist organisations.

5. The image of the ‘scissors’ was derived from the graph showing the movement of prices of agricultural produce and manufactured goods: the two lines crossed and then increasingly diverged, like the blades of a pair of scissors, with agricultural prices falling and industrial prices rising.

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Last updated on: 30.12.2006