G. Zinoviev

The Problems of the German Revolution

No Illusions

(15 November 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 71 [47], 15 November 1923, pp. 812–813.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, May 2023.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The German Revolution is entering on its acutest stage. The hopes of a peaceful solution of the crisis vanished with the strike movement in August last. But one illusion has always remained among the German workers: the hope that at least the Left of the German Social Democratic Party would be on the same side of the barricades as the fighting proletariat: against the bourgeoisie. The import of the stage passed through luring the last few weeks is that this illusion has now been swept away like chaff before the wind.

The latest events have been such as to open the eyes of the most blind.

The White Guardist Fascist dictator Kahr occupies Bavaria. What reply is made by official German Social Democracy to this? With its own hands it delivers over government and dictatorship to the White generals throughout the rest of Germany.

The tactics employed against Saxony are quite different. Here the workers succeeded, despite the greatest resistance on the part of the leaders, in forming a rather feeble, “workers’” government. How did official Social Democracy respond to this? The Social Democrat Ebert granted all the required authority to the bourgeois Chancellor Stresemann and the White General Müller. General Seeckt, who sits in the coalition government in company with the Social Democrats, assembled 60,000 men of the White Guard militia troops and drafted them to Saxony. The Berlin chairman of the Railwaymen’s Union, Scheffel, “explained” to the railwaymen that the troops were not marching against Saxony, but against Bavaria, and took all the required steps for removing even the slightest obstacle out of the way of the transport of counter-revolutionary troops to Saxony.

And after the troops were already in Saxony, after counter-revolution had already got its grip on the throat of the Saxon proletariat, then the Social Democrats Dittmann and Hilferding made a journey to Saxony to open “negotiations” with Zeigner, who is also a Social Democrat.

At the Factory Councils’ Conference held on October 21 in Chemnitz the Communists, seeing the trap that was laid, proposed that a general strike be immediately proclaimed, but this proposition was sabotaged by the “left” Social Democrats with Zeigner himself at the head, and the way was finally smoothed for General Seeckt.

And after the whole matter had been finally settled, and the Saxon Workers’ Government disbanded, the Social Democrat Zeigner’s place as head of the government was, in the “new“ Saxon Government, filled bv another member of the Social Democratic Party, Fellisch, and the old German Social Democratic bureaucrat Lipinsky was added as well.

When the indignant workers sent delegations to the General German Trade Union Federation, they were received with the utmost politeness by the head of this honorable institution, Leipart, another Social Democrat, and were given an elaborate “explanation” of the reasons why the trades unions cannot interfere in politics. (But when they support the Fascisti, and Stresemann as well, is this no interference in politics?) When the Berlin organization of the German S.P. demanded that the central organ of the party, the Vorwärts be changed from a yellow newspaper into a red one, the Right and “Left” leaders of the German S.P. came together and passed a wise resolution to the effect that the morning edition of the Vorwärts be edited as before by the Right, but the evening edition by the Left. In other words: in the morning the central party of organ will openly defend the bourgeoisie and the White generals, in the evening it will do the same with a certain amount of circumlocution.

In Hamburg the workers have fought like lions. A considerable number of the German S.P. workers participated in the struggle against the bourgeoisie with a heroism equal to that of our Communist workers. The leaders of the Gernun S.P. lent their aid to the counter-revolution for the bloody suppression of the movement in Hamburg, and the Social Democratic president Ebert was demonstrative in his praise of the Hamburg police for taming the workers. This same “gesture” was then immediately repeated by the Social Democratic members of the Hamburg Senate. Is it possible to throw a clearer light on the situation?

Ebert, Noske, Wels, Severing, Zeigner, Paul Levi, Crispien, Rosenfeld, Fellisch, Leipart, Lipinsky – what more can one want! A magnificent gallery of magnificent types!

A splendid division of labor!

The international proletariat has never before witnessed such a shameful betrayal.

One of the most important problems, about which there is still a good, deal of vagueness, is the problem of the relations towards Social Democracy, especially to the so-called “Left” Social Democracy. Although we have learnt much from the unceasing treachery practised by the Social Democrats (and nothing could be more instructive in this respect than the recent example of Bulgaria and the present one of Germany), still a kind of mental inertia causes us to continue to regard the Social Democratic party as a labor party, and we still greatly underestimate its counter-revolutionary character. But the present lessons being taught in Germany should really suffice to dispel all delusions in this respect still cherished by the German Communists and by us all.

The main forces of the German workers have not yet participated in the struggle; the many millions of the powerful troops of the German proletariat have not yet been led into battle. The action taken by the workers in various towns, often enough without the agreement of the German C.P., are striking proofs of the charged atmosphere. The urgent desre of the workers to obtain possession of weapons is now beginning to assume a mass character. The decisive struggles are postponed for a season. But they are approaching nonetheless inevitably. The more illusions the average worker loses during the present period, the better for the revolution. Our chief political task at the present time consists in finally liquidating the influence possessed by the German Social Democratic Party, Right and “ Left “ alike, and thereby clearing the path for the victory of the workers.

The German S.P. has smoothed the way for the Fascisti in the latter’s efforts towards a “peaceful” seizure of power. All that the Fascisti need do now is with the help of the German Socialist Party, to strike down and kill hundreds of workers in the great proletarian centres. But Germany is not Italy. German Fascism, even when supported by German Social Democracy, is incapable of solving the elementary and unavoidable tasks confronting Germany. The international situation of Germany has not been improved as a result of the “patriotic” bourgeoisie and Social Democracy having played the “independent” Rhineland republic into the hands of M. Poincaré. The international knot is being drawn tighter and tighter. The economic situation of Germany has not improved, but has become worse, and will continue to become worse from day to day. The basic factors of revolution continue to work their effects. The German proletariat will become stronger when it has stripped off its last illusions. The mass of the German proletariat, the millions of German workers, will presently comprehend that which up to now only the vanguard has comprehended: that the decisive struggle can only be carried on despite the counter-revolutionary leaders of the German S.P., and against these leaders; that the Right leaders of the German S.P. are the most dangerous agents of bourgeois counter-revolution, and the “Left” leaders of the German S.P. a mere appendage of the Right.

It is difficult to predict how long the masses will require to thoroughly take to heart the political experiences of the past weeks, but the crisis has become so acute that developments are proceeding with amazing rapidity.


And the slogan: “Workers’ Government ” (or Workers’ and Peasants’ Government)? What light has the Saxon experiment thrown on this slogan?

“With all its advantages, the watchword of the workers’ government has its perils just as that of the United Front. In order to avoid such perils the communist parties must bear in mind that every bourgeois government is at the same time a capitalist government, but that not every workers’ government is a really proletarian, i.e. a revolutionary instrument of the proletarian power.”

These words are contained in the resolution passed by the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International on the Workers’ Government. The Saxon experiment has fully confirmed these words. In this same resolution of the Fourth World Congress we read further:

“The Communist International must anticipate the following possibilities:

  1. A Liberal Workers’ Government, such as existed in Australia and likely to be formed In Great Britain in the near future.
  2. A Social Democratic “Workers’ Government” (Germany).
  3. A Workers’ and Peasants’ government – such possibilities exist in the Balkans, in Czecho-Slovakia etc.
  4. A Workers’ Government in which Communists participate.
  5. A real proletarian Workers’ Government which the Communist Party alone can embody in a pure form.”

Saxony has shown us the fourth type of the “workers’ government”, but only on a provincial scale, and under extraordinarily complicated circumstances.

“The most elementary tasks of a workers’ government must consist in arming the proletariat, in disarming the bourgeois counter-revolutionary organizations, in introducing control of production, in putting the chief burden of taxation on the shoulders of the rich and In breaking down the resistance of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.”’

All these temporary tasks laid down by this same resolution of the Fourth World Congress were impossible of execution by the Saxon “workers’” government. Social Democracy did its utmost to hinder their execution. And therefore the workers’ government could not maintain itself.

All the same, the German Communists have no reason to regret the Saxon experiment. In view of the situation which had arisen, the German Communists could not and should not have refused to take part in the Saxon government. They had to prove to all sincere German S.P. workers and this they have done – that they are ready, even when in a minority, to join forces with the Social Democrats if only the Social Democrats agree to fulfil their elementary duties towards the working class. The bankruptcy of the Saxon “workers’” government is above all the bankruptcy of the “left” Social Democrats.

The quicker the better!

The slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ government retains its value. The German S.P. remains as it was: undisguised counter-revolutionary hangmen (the Right), and a powerless appendage (the Left), similar to the Novaja Shisn people in Russia in the year 1917.

“The complete dictatorship of the proletariat is the sole real workers’ government (type 5), consisting of Communists.” This is the closing passage of the resolution passed by the IV. World Congress of the CI, on the question of the workers’ government. These words will now be repeated by many millions of the German working class. The German proletariat will triumph in spite of everything. The moment of the decisive battle is not far distant.

Last updated on 3 May 2023