G. Zinoviev

The Problems of the German Revolution

The Working Class, the Communists
and the Social Democrats

(8 November 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 70 [46], 8 November 1923, pp. 796–798.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, May 2023.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In Germany the working class forms the numerically decisive power. The German proletariat holds the fate of its country in its own hands. Why then has power remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie up to now?

In the year 1918/19, only a minority of the German workers followed Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. And at the opposite pole, it was only a minority of the German workers who followed the bloodhound Noske. The main mass, the kernel of the German proletariat, stood irresolute. This kernel – the real mass of the workers sought peaceful paths. This “middle” mass, which in reality determined the course of the struggle, did not want civil war at that time, it feared the Revolution, it calculated upon being able, gradually but surely, to improve its position by legal methods – through the trade unions, through universal suffrage, through the Social Democratic Party – and to secure itself its piece of bread and its work on peaceful lines.

German Social Democracy, supported by this frame of mind oi the average worker, contrived by means of trickery and artifice to kill the first German Revolution, and to secure the victory of the bourgeoisie. We must not forget that in the year 1919 the German Social Democrats convened the National Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, and that at this Congress they succeeded in having a resolution passed dissolving the Councils and transferring all power into the hands of the National Assembly.

The Spartacists, the vanguard of the workers, were numerically stiff very weak in the year 1919. The prestige of the Spartacists was extremely great among the working people in the years 1918/19. Many of even the average workers tacitly recognized the courage of the Spartacist minority, and their splendid loyalty to the cause of the working class, for it was the Spartacists who received the cruellest blows of the counter-revolution, and who steadfastly pursued their object of defending the interests of the whole working class. But although the Spartacists were accorded the respect due to them, still they were not followed. The body of the working data regarded the bold spartacists with a certain degree of sympathy, but when it came to action, they supported Social Democracy.

This trend of feeling in the main mass of German workers, seeking feverishly for a peaceful way out, and shrinking above all from civil war, was skilfully utilized by the Social Democrats, who managed to secure a four years’ pause for breath for the German bourgeoisie, from 1919 till 1923.

In March of the year 1921 the Spartacist advance guard of the working class again joined battle. The Communist advance guard attempted to substitute the main body of the working class by itself alone, since at that time the main body was almost exclusively under the influence of Social Democracy, and permitted itself to be kept quiet by the counter-revolutionary dope and foolish hopes of the Social Democracy. And once again there were many German workers who looked on with increasing sympathy whilst the daring revolutionists received once more the blows of counter-revolution. But once again these courageous few received no support from the main body of the workers. The avantgarde had advanced too early and was beaten back.

At the present juncture, everything depends upon whether Social Democracy will again succeed in saving the German bourgeoisie, if only for a short time. There is every reason to believe that this time it will not succeed.

The lesson has not been in vain.

The German Communist Party, aided by the III World Congress of the Comintern, has been able to correctly estimate the errors of the past. The question of insurrection, of immediate fighting for the seizure of power, was set aside in the year 1921, and the accomplishment of another task was immediately resolved upon: the conquest of the majority of the workers.

To what extent has this task already been fulfilled? Are the majority of the workers already followers of Communism? On which side are the sympathies of the main body of the German proletariat? What influence does counter-revolutionary Social Democracy still possess among the German working class? What should be our relations at the present time to Social Democracy in general, and to its so-tailed “Left” Wing in particular?

There is no doubt whatever but that the united front tactic have been particularly successful in Germany, that the German Communist Party has applied these tactics properly, and that the doubts felt now as before by some “left” Communists are entirely unjustified. For the essence of the united front tactic consists in aiming at drawing even the backward categories into the struggle, at drawing thee middle and the rear-guard towards the front line. And when the exponents of the united front are reproached with adapting themselves in many things to just these strata of workers, this is simply the result of a complete lack of comprehension of the essential nature of these tactics.

The German Communist Party has solved the problem set it by the III World Congress. Or it is at least not far distant from its solution. The German Communists have conquered the Factory Council movement, and this as we shall subsequently see, plays to a great extent in present-day Germany the role which was played in Russia by the pre-revolutionary Workers’ Councils (Soviets). In more than 2,000 towns in Germany, in the most important industrial centres, the Factory Councils movement is exclusively under the influence of the German C.P.

The German C.P. can also record great advances in the trade unions. It has not yet gained control of the trade union apparatus, and it is probable that it will not do so until after the victory of the Proletarian Revolution. The task of taking the leadership of the trade unions out of the hands of their present bureaucratic leaders is no less difficult than that other task of depriving the bourgeoisie of political power. But on the day after the Proletarian Revolution it will frequently be necessary to seize trade union power by the identical means which have been employed for seizing the State institutions, or the factories and other undertakings, the German Communists have already gained an extensive sphere of influence in the lower strata of the trade union organizations.

The membership of the German C.P. increases steadily. It is not only the advance guard of the working class which is turning more and more to the Communists, but the great mass as well those working masses who helped the German Social Democrats to victory in 1919. The working class itself, not merely its organized section, but its million-headed mass, is showing more and more inclination to follow the political leadership of the German C.P. During the great strike in August 1923, which overthrew the Cuno Government, the political leadership was entirely in the hands of the Communists. The leaders of the strike movement in Berlin (where about 800,000 workers went on strike), belonged for the most part to the CP. of Germany. The Chairman was a communist, 17 of the 24 members of the Strike Committee were Communists, and the remainder Left Social Democrats and “Independent”, but elected on the mottos of the Communists and unreservedly with us. ln another important German centre, Hamburg, the Strike Committee was composed of 5 Communists, 2 Left Social Democrats, and a Revolutionary Syndicalist. The proportional forces were similar to this almost everywhere. Even in towns where the Communist organization had been numerically weak until the August strike, the working masses urged the small Communist groups to undertake the leadership of the August strike. “The Communists are the only Party giving the movement a unified lead throughout the country, therefore you must take over the leadership in our town too”; thus declared hundreds and thousands of non-partisan workers.

Is live majority thus gained permanent and secure? Perhaps it is not yet safe to assert this. But there is no doubt whatever but that it will become permanent and secure, and that within a very short time, there is still much vacillation and instability. Millions of workers do not come once and for all simultaneously to such decisions. One section of the workers is still considering, with one foot already in the Communist camp, but with the other still in the Social Democratic camp. This is inevitable during a period of transition. It would be ridiculous to demand, as the prerequisite of success, that the whole of the workers, down to the last man, should first swear allegiance to the Communist Party. The majority now in course of formation will be established during the struggle itself, and will line up firmly in the Communist ranks.

And German Social Democracy? It seems to have lost more than half its members already. Close observers inform us that the workers still in its ranks are chiefly those of a “staid” character. They represent a less active element; they are people who have maintained their connection with Social Democracy in accordance with a tradition of many years standing, and they find it difficult to break away. But the flower of the working class is leaving the ranks of German Social Democracy. And of the 600,000 to 700,000 party members still remaining to the Social Democratic Party, no small number is recruited from tie petty bourgeoisie, and consists of followers who run with the crowd, without conviction. And very many workers who still belong to the Social Democratic Party are in reality in sympathy with the Communists. This we had ascertained more than six months ago, and now it is clearer than ever. At the illegal Factory Council Congresses field in Stuttgart, Berlin, and dozens of other towns, hundreds of workers, still formally members of the Social Democratic Party, conspired with the Communists against their own leaders, and surely this is sufficient proof that though these workers still call themselves Social Democrats in obedience to tradition, in reality they are already our comrades. And when many thousands of Social Democratic workers join forces with Communist workers – against the will of their own leaders – for the formation of proletarian “Hundreds” (the germ of the Red Guard); when hundreds and thousands of workers “belonging” to the SPD join forces with us, and, under the leadership of the Communist Party, declare a political strike in contradiction to the resolutions of tne S.P.D., then all this proves that the time is not far distant when a considerable section of the Social Democratic workers will finally break with their counter-revolutionary leaders, and follow the Communists unreservedly.

The present period of transition is familiar to us Russian Communists from the time when considerable numbers of Menshevist and Social Revolutionary workers continued to “belong” to these Parties, but in reality received guns from us, and joined forces with us to overthrow the Coalition Government. The S.P.D. is on the eve of passing through that period which the once “mightiest” Party in Russia, the “Social Revolutionary Party”, passed through before our eyes. And before the eyes of the workers of the whole world that once so stately edifice, the German Social Democracy with its millions of adherents, the party which has determined Germany’s political destinies for a whole epoch, is now crumbling into a neap of ruins. The simple-minded Ex-Minister Hilferding has every cause to sit down by the waters of Babylon and weep.

And the differences of opinion and beginnings of a split between the Right and “Left” Social Democrats – how are these to be estimated?

It is possible that the “Left” Social Democrats may at times play the same role in the history of the German Revolution as the Left Social Revolutionaries played in our Russian Revolution. That is, they may go a few steps along the road with us, but presently branch off into the camp of counter-revolution again. In the year 1917/18 it appeared at one time as if there were a tremendous political difference between the Right and “Left” Social Revolutionaries. By the year 1923 every impartial observer can see that the “Left” and the Right Social Revolutionaries – at least in so for as their leaders were concerned – were merely two different layers of the same unsteady and counter-revolutionary petty bourgeoisie.

The entire group of the present leaders of the “Left” Social Democrats in Germany, or at least almost the entire group, has long been well known to us; these are old acquaintances who have betrayed the German proletariat more than once in decisive moments, and they will betray the German proletariat often enough again in tlie future. The appearance of a “Left” undercurrent in the S.P.D. is naturally of immense importance as a symptom. The “Left” S.P.D. reflects in a distorted form the revolutionary sentiment spreading among the broadest masses of the German proletariat. But this is only a symptom. Should the so-called “Left” leaders of the S.P.D, really seriously entertain the idea of leaving an independent political part, this might prove a tremendous source of danger for the German Revolution, it might even spell disaster for it. As soon as these gentlemen enter into a Revolutionary Government, they are perfectly certain to try and convert it into a debating society at some decisive moment. When the moment comes for iron dictatorship and determined action, they will be found vigorously applying the brake to the Revolutionary Government. Too much “support” on the part of the “Left” German Social Democrats might prove fatal for the Proletarian Revolution.

This does not imply that the Communists are to reject any understanding with the Left Social Democrats at the present stage of development. There are still certain categories of workers who adhere to Social Democracy. Left Social Democracy is one of the last delusions of a considerable section of German workers. One of the most important prerequisites for the success of further decisive action on the part of the Communists consists in the ability to help this section to rid itself of its illusions. May the German workers speedily convince themselves, by means of a last example, that the so-called “Left” Social Democracy is neither willing nor able to lead a decisive struggle against the bourgeoisie. The leaders of the “Left” Social Democrats, all these Crispiens and Rosenfelds, will themselves do all that is necessary to compromise themselves with the utmost rapidity and thoroughness in the eyes of the workers. And we can aid them in this. The attitude taken by this so-called “Left” Wing of the Social Democratic Reichstag Fraction has recently shown with sufficient distinctness (the vote on the extension of the powers of the semi-Fascist Stresemann Government) the entire de of principle and the counter-revolutionary treachery of the “Left” leaders of German Social Democracy. The hour is approaching in which the overwhelming majority of those German workers will still put some trust in the “Left” S.P.D. wilt finally become convinced that the decisive battle will have to be fought without and against the left S.P.D.

The entry of Communists into the Saxon Government has a double object. In the first place the revolutionary advance guard of Saxony is to be aided in obtaining a firm foothold, in occupying a certain area, and in making Saxony a starting point for further combats. In the second place the Left S.P.D. is to be given the opportunity of showing what stuff it is really made of by means of actual deeds, so that the dispelling of the last illusions of the Social Democratic workers may be facilitated. The experiment thus made by the C.P. in Saxony, naturally with the agreement of the Comintern, is attended by grave danger. We need have no illusions on this point. But it would be a piece of sorry political cowardice to avoid the risk run by the entry of Communists into the Saxon Government. Nonetheless it would be childish to fail to recognize the enormous political dangers involved in this experiment. [1]

Even before the Workers’ Government was finally formed, the “Left” Saxon Social Democrats began to sabotage it. The German Communists, who have sent a group of their best workers into tlie Saxon Government, will be on their guard. Under no circumstances will they permit the German “‘Left” Social Democrats to continue their policy of vacillation, and to sabotage the Proletarian Revolution at the expense of the prestige of the German C.P. The entry of the German Communists into the Saxon Government only possesses real significance if it offers a certain guarantee that the apparatus of state power is really going to begin to serve the working class, that hundreds and thousands of workers are going to be armed for the fight against Bavarian and Pan-German Fascism, that the great mass of bourgeois officials is going to be swept out of the state apparatus in fact and not merely in words, instead of being permitted to remain as an inheritance from the days of the Kaiser, and that, further, immediate economic measures of a revolutionary character, directed decisively against the bourgeoisie, are going to be executed.

Should the present Saxon Government really succeed in converting Saxony into a Red land, one which can become a concentration centre for the whole ol the revolutionary forces of the nation, if only in a certain degree, then the revolutionary German proletariat will understand and support the Saxon experiment. Should this not prove to be the case, then the German Communists must utilize the whole Saxon episode for the purpose of repeatedly impressing upon the working masses the entire lack of principle ol the “Left” Social Democracy of Germany, and the counter-revolutionary treachery of the Left Social Democratic leaders. We refuse to have anything to do with a ‘‘united front” which obliterates the real tasks of Revolution.

To sum up: German Social Democracy no longer forms the centre of political life – the centre of gravity has shifted to the German C.P. The German Communists are already on the way to winning the majority of the many millions composing the German proletariat. The main task of the C.P. of Germany consists in convincing the majority of the German workers, by means of actual deeds, that the Communist Party of Germany is no longer a mere vanguard of the working class – as in the years 1919/21 – but is beginning to carry the mass of the workers along with It. And, above all, the conviction must be imparted to the working masses that victory will be actually assured to the working class by the leadership of the Communist Party.

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1. The events which have occurred in Saxony since the writing of this article, involving tlie dispersal of the Communist-Socialist Government and the formation of a Right wing Social Democratic Government, serve to justify the warning given by Comrade Zinoviev as to the vacillating nature of the so-called Left-wing Social Democratic leaders, ana will certainly facilitate that desirable process of disillusioning the minds of the Social Democrat workers. – Ed.

Last updated on 3 May 2023