Der Weg pamphlet

K.A.P.D. c. 1921

The Path of Dr. Levi : The Path of the V.K.P.D.

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Source: Der Weg des Dr. Levi : Der Weg der V.K.P.D. – Berlin : K.A.P.D. Verlag, 1921;
Translated: and annotated by Ed Walker, 13 December 2018.

This pamphlet was the response of the Communist Workers Party of Germany (K.A.P.D.) to Paul Levi’s “Our Path against Putschism” (original title: Unser Weg. Wider den Putschismus von Paul Levi mit einem Artikel von Karl Radek als Anhang). Levi was at the time leader of the United Communist Party of Germany (V.K.P.D.)

The text deals with the lessons of the March Action of 1921, the first and last purely proletarian uprising of the German revolution. It makes a clear distinction between the artificial call for armed insurrection issued by the V.K.P.D., in contradiction of the party’s previous policy, and the workers’ insurrection in response to the provocation by the social-democratic President of Prussian Saxony, Otto Hörsing.

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Chapter 1 Offensive and defensive tactics

The pre-history of the clash of classes in Germany in March 1921 has yet to be fully clarified. After the struggle, the Berlin newspaper Rote Fahne published a set of articles declaring that this struggle was the result of the V.K.P.D.’s tactic of the offensive. This would mean, therefore, that the V.K.P.D. consciously and deliberately brought about this struggle and at this time. Rote Fahne held that this tactic was correct and defended it. By contrast Avanti, the central organ of the Italian Socialist Party, while also declaring that this struggle was an offensive struggle, drew the conclusion that because the action failed, the tactic was wrong. Both newspapers therefore are agreed insofar as they regard the March Action to be the result of the tactic of the offensive of the German section of the Third International; but in their judgement as to whether the tactic was correct, they disagree.

In reality things are quite different. It is not the intention here to argue about rigid concepts that contradict the living dialectic of history. We have learned well enough from the argument about “war of aggression or war of defence” prompted by the occasion of the imperialist world war that what results is an entertaining but pointless game. We do not want to argue with the bourgeoisie as to whether it, or the proletariat, was the attacker or the attacked; these are literary subtleties which we can leave to the bourgeois dilettantes of historiography. The concrete task for us is to ascertain whether the direct initiation of the March struggle took place in 1921 by acts of the bourgeoisie or by actions of the proletariat or its parties. We then need to ascertain what we can learn from this in concrete terms for the class struggle regarding the question of offensive or defensive tactics.

We want the facts to speak for themselves: The struggle started, in practice, in the so-called central German industrial belt: Mansfeld, Hettstedt, Eisleben, Leunawerk. The government attacked the workers of this area, in which ore, coal, potash and nitrogen are produced. The area has a strong revolutionary tradition. It still possessed weapons. There were significant quantities of explosives, as in any mining area; there were Communist municipal authorities; the security police created by the democratic government was as good as unrepresented there. The working class in the area had successfully beaten off, in united struggle under the leadership of revolutionary committees, attacks by the capitalist class against the eight-hour day and attempts to set up a special police force. In summary, therefore, this is a core area of revolutionary power, as well as being at the heart of the German economy, crucial for the production of basic raw materials and auxiliary materials. It should be added that in this vicinity, near Halle, Leipzig, Magdeburg and Erfurt, there are further proletarian hubs and the main junctions of the most important German railways.

All of this together was reason enough for the democratically veiled counter-revolutionary government of the Prussian Republic to keep an eye on Central Germany and, in due course, to undertake a campaign against the working class there. For this, it needed a pretext. Consequently there was a great hue and cry about thefts in the Central German industry, about starving workers who, as elsewhere, gathered potatoes and turnips from the fields (in the spring!); dynamite attacks were staged by police spies and explosives were found in Berlin and elsewhere that supposedly came from Central Germany; the government roared indignantly about “communist criminals” and thereby prepared the atmosphere for the police to march against the Central German proletariat.

If this was all that happened then it would be abundantly clear that the general strike that followed, which both the V.K.P.D. and the K.A.P.D. called for, was exclusively an act of defence in solidarity against the counter-revolutionary attack. (Obviously with the intention of going beyond simple defensive measures and onto the counter-attack against the government and the bourgeoisie in the ensuing struggle.) If this had been all that happened, neither Rote Fahne nor Avanti would have had any reason to write about a successful or unsuccessful offensive action. But apart from this reason for unleashing the mass action there was a second. In its edition of 18 March, before the so-called police action against Central Germany was announced, Rote Fahne had issued an appeal in which it declared that the Bavarian Minister President, von Kahr, was flouting the Disarmament Act and that the working class must respond: every worker must get hold of a weapon, wherever he could find it. This was followed by the seizure of the newspaper, repeated expression of the crucial part of the appeal, another confiscation and finally this part of the struggle led by the press led to the Central German action.

This call to arms by Rote Fahne was, however, now an offensive action. It came as a surprise for two reasons. First, because this appeal appeared in Rote Fahne; for what impression must it make if a newspaper, which for months was pursuing an exclusively parliamentary-trade union, let us say, a constitutional policy, suddenly proclaims, quite unrelated to the overall situation, the open attack on the state’s authority and legality! The contrast between the policy of the “Open Letter” [1] and the call for armed insurrection had to produce the same surprising effect as if Vorwärts, at once and without any visible reason, set out its commitment to the proletarian dictatorship with all its consequences. [2] But the appeal from Rote Fahne also appeared surprising, because, as already indicated, it made no connection to the overall political and economic situation. That the objective conditions for the proletarian revolution are present and sharpen further every day, is true and needs no further proof. But it was equally certain that large sections of the working masses were weakened politically and morally by growing misery, the numerous defeats in the revolution, the betrayals of the party and trade union bureaucracy, and showed no signs of determination to react decisively to the unprecedented pressure from company bosses (wage reductions, short-time working, plant closures) let alone to specific political events.

However, we do not want to investigate the reasons that lay behind the sudden change of front in the columns of Rote Fahne, nor do we want to talk about what could bring the leaders of the V.K.P.D. to justify the belief that large masses of workers would swing behind such an unexpected change of command, as, for example, a company of the old Wilhelmine army understood how to do an about-turn at the speed of lightning.

Let’s summarize: The struggle of March 1921 was triggered by two things: the sudden transition of V.K.P.D. from the parliamentary and trade union tactics to the open attack on state authority; and the open attack of the counter-revolution on the revolutionary proletariat of Central Germany. It is not possible to determine with complete certainty whether the attack of the V.K.P.D. alone was enough to unleash the open struggle. But if one has seen how even the counter-revolutionary attack of the Prussian government was not enough to attract large masses of workers, and not even the members of the V.K.P.D. to get completely up on their feet, one is entitled to suppose that the war cry of the V.K.P.D.alone would not have sufficed.

Throughout the discussion on the issues of offensive or defensive tactics, a perennial confusion must break down in the long run unless there is finally a clear distinction made between party and masses. At a conference of functionaries of the Berlin V.K.P.D., Paul Levi vigorously attacked the March Action because it had put aside the old principle of the Communist Manifesto; namely, that Communists had no special interests detached from the interests of the proletarian class. In truth, however, this was not forgotten during the March Action. Neither by the part of the V.K.P.D. that was active in the offensive, nor by the K.A.P.D.. On the other hand, the fact that the Communist Party may be obliged to act differently from the proletariat as a whole has been forgotten by the entire V.K.P.D. headed by Paul Levi for far too long. Of course, this must be in accordance with the interests of the proletariat as a whole. Unfortunately, it is hardly to be supposed that the proletarian class as a whole, as long as it is an oppressed class, will launch a struggle by means of an open attack. If the task of the Communists is to eliminate all illusions still living in the proletariat about the possibility of an understanding with the ruling class, to overcome the natural fear of the risks involved in an open struggle with the class enemy, to lead the proletariat into the open struggle which is necessary for its rescue from complete destruction, in short: if it is the task of communists to bring the proletariat onto the path that is the only possible path to proletarian liberation, then it must ensure that the proletariat feels and recognizes itself as the class on the offensive.

The working class decides to struggle only under the most extreme pressure, in the most extreme misery. It fights as a whole at first only to defend itself and only goes onto the attack gradually, in the course of the struggle. This is always the case. Communists must keep this in view, but they may not, as Paul Levi and the entire pacifist direction of the V.K.P.D. want to do, use this as a pretext for justifying a policy of doing nothing and getting bogged down in the parliamentary quagmire. If they cite the phrase about the identity of the interests of the Communists and of the proletariat as a whole, this is the usual counterfeiting of Marxism. A policy that is unwilling to show the proletariat that only the Communists are fighting for the true class interests of the workers, a policy that rejects any real activity, as long as it has not yet succeeded, a policy of unifying the great masses of the working class purely propagandistically around programmes and doctrines, is in truth neither an offensive nor a defensive policy, and has nothing to do with the simplest foundations of Marxism. Because this forgets the fundamental assertion of historical materialism, which is that people learn only from their material experience; it forgets that all propaganda can only have the meaning of preparing and explaining the individual facts of the class struggle, not replacing them. To replace the revolutionary act with the revolutionary word means ultimately to be guilty of democratic fraud.

Chapter 2 The putschism of the V.K.P.D.

Observed from the outside, it seems as though the V.K.P.D. had abandoned the line of its previous politics through the March Action. Up until then its politics had, as demonstrated many times, nothing to do with either offensive or defensive tactics. One thinks of its attitude to the Berlin electricity workers strike, one thinks of its attitude to the great lock-outs at Loewe in Berlin and at the Thyssen colliery, one thinks of its attitude during the railroad movement; it was nothing but pure passivity, a policy of avoidance of any clear decision, of any revolutionary struggle. And now all at once it seems to have a completely changed attitude. Rote Fahne, whose politics until that point differed fundamentally from that of Freiheit only in terms of a stronger verbal radicalism, calls the masses of the German proletariat to an armed struggle against the bourgeois state power. [3] What had happened? Had the V.K.P.D. suddenly and fundamentally renounced its previous politics of parliamentary-trade union opportunism? Was it seriously thinking of adopting an active revolutionary policy? If so, was it aware that such a policy required a ruthless struggle against trade unions and statutory works councils? Was it aware that today it is only possible to adopt a revolutionary tactic successfully when all the inhibitions of legality have been set aside? Was it aware that today, the question for the revolutionary workers of Germany can only be: Parliamentarism or class struggle? These questions must all be answered with “no.” And that is why the V.K.P.D. did not leave the framework of its previous policy for one moment; it means that the March Action did not signify for it the break with its past, but on the contrary, the March Action precisely showed that, as it was conceived and initiated by the V.K.P.D., was fully in accordance with the spirit of its previous policy. When Levi raises the accusation of putschism against the party’s centre, he is, in a certain sense, correct. For the V.K.P.D. there are today only two policy options: parliamentary politics or putschism. These two methods do not contradict one another but grow with compelling necessity out of the soil of opportunism. A communist party, which at the stage of the proletarian revolution, stoops to taking part in the sham contests of parliamentary campaigns and participating in the formation of “socialist” governments alongside both dependent and independent social democrats, must fail in any revolutionary situation. The putschism of the the punishment for the sins of omission that it has committed so far in the course of the German revolution. The parliamentarism of the V.K.P.D. almost forces it, under certain circumstances, under the pressure of a so-called “left wing” and under the pressure of some authoritarian influence, out of despair at its past passivity, to engage in militantactivity on several occasions, to undertake actions at any price, in a word, to throw itself into the arms of putschism. Putschism is thus the necessary foil to parliamentary-trade union opportunism.

If the V.K.P.D. continues to adhere to its parliamentary-trade union tactics in future, we will in all likelihood see that it will virtually become the party of putschism. In order to prevent any misunderstanding, let us emphasize here once and for all that we do not consider the uprising of the Workers of Central Germany to be a putsch, which we will discuss in more detail in a later chapter. What we are describing as putschism is essentially the attitude that the V.K.P.D. centre took towards the March Action.

Chapter 3 What are the preconditions for a conquest of state power by the proletariat?

And: how can state power be conquered?

Levi answers these questions on pages 18-42. They are the key questions for the revolution, the central issue of the revolution. They most clearly reveal the stupidity of the author, the stupidity of the V.K.P.D., the stupidity of the Moscow Executive Committee, the stupidity of the Third International. Because Levi’s stupidity is at the same time the stupidity of the V.K.P.D., Levi’s tactic is Moscow’s tactic and his language is the language of the Third International. This will be demonstrated here as harshly and as clearly as possible. Levi’s pamphlet is not only counter-revolutionary, it is entirely old fashioned. He does not understand our time and as a result is entirely wrong.

As we can see, (in Chapter 2) Levi wants to win over the middle classes for communism. But Levi forgets, or does not know, that finance capital has bound the middle classes to itself, to big capital, and that the proletariat stands alone in the communist revolution. Only when the proletariat is very close to victory will some of these middle layers of society come over to its side. The proletariat will have to make the entire revolution alone, right to the end.

To be sure, Levi mentions Marx, who says that the revolution is the cause of all the people, but this is precisely where he shows his stupidity, his old-fashioned spirit, the spirit that entirely lives in the Second International. Because in Marx’s time it the proletariat was not yet the people, it was a minority and often a small minority, there was still democracy, a true petty bourgeois democracy. The proletariat in those days could not make the revolution alone. It could only do so with the help of democracy, of the middle classes. The revolution at the time was a people’s revolution, and when the proletariat acted as a leader it had to carry along these social layers with it.

But now the proletariat is the people, it is the majority; in Germany it is between three-quarters and five-sevenths of the population, and now bank capital, cartels, imperialism, have united the middle classes with big capital, have united all the bourgeois social layers; they hold them together and will hold them together until the end of the revolution.

In Marx’s time this was not the case. Marx tknew little of cartels and nothing at all of the omnipotence of financial and commercial capital and modern imperialism. But we must break with much of what Marx taught about the revolution. We must go beyond Marx. And we must do so precisely because we are Marxists, his students. And he who sticks to Marx on this matter, who still believes in the support of the middle classes, is old-fashioned, stupid, he is simply not a Marxist. But this is not true for all countries; there are countries where the middle classes can combine with the proletariat, and there are still truly democratic, bourgeois or peasant democratic parties. Countries, where things are still as they were in Marx’s time. These are precisely the countries where finance capital and the cartels are not yet all-powerful, that is to say Russia, the Balkan countries, Hungary, etc. Therefore, the tactics that Marx taught us are right for those countries; in those countries the revolution is not proletarian but popular. In those countries the proletariat must unite with the middle classes, if it is to emerge victorious. Not, however, in Germany, in West Europe; there it stands alone. Herein lies the cause of the entire stupidity and muddle-headedness of the V.K.P.D., of the Third International, of the EC. [4] This belief in the old state in Western Europe, this opinion that we live here in the old days of democracy, in Marx’s time, is the root cause of all the erroneous tactics for Western Europe. That is the root cause of why the Third International has adopted a completely wrong tactic for Western Europe, that is the root cause of parliamentarism, the cell tactics, the “Open Letter” and also the flip side of all this, the tactic of the putsch. The poor devils of the Third International and the EC believe that in Western Europe, we are still living in the old days, the days of the First and the Second International! That is the first basic stupidity of Levi, who thereby only expresses the stupidity of the V.K.P.D. and the Third International.

The proletariat stands alone in Germany and in Western Europe. That is the first tenet for the revolution in Western Europe, for this part of the world revolution. And the second tenet is that finance capital, the cartels and imperialism are nationally, but also internationally very powerful, even now after the war, and unite all bourgeois and peasant layers. That is the situation, that is the reality. These must be the underlying principles of our tactics. The international proletariat, alone against a vast international power. The greatest social force that has ever existed. And for the most part, the proletariat is unarmed. So, what must we do? What takes on the greatest importance for us? The spirit and the self-confidence of the international proletariat.

And now look at Levi. And with him the V.K.P.D., the Third International, the EC, all the national parties (with one exception) that belong to the Third International. For them, spirit and self-confidence mean nothing. Quality means nothing to them. Only one thing matters to them: Numbers. One may read pages 14-18 of the pamphlet about the conditions for the seizure of power. Just figures. Nothing, quite literally nothing else. One may read pages 18-20, “What are the preconditions for the seizure of power?” Just numbers, not a single word about substance. About the conditions for the seizure of power. About the path to power, in other words, the central issue. Nothing but numbers. For Levi, the revolution is a business. The masses have no substance, no quality, only quantity. They are only the means. But Levi’s spirit is, until now, also the spirit of the V.K.P.D., the spirit of the EC, the spirit of the Third International. For, how did they act in Halle, in Tours, in Florence? They do not see the substance of the masses that entered the communist parties, they were only interested in the number. So long as they were just masses, that was enough.

And what about trade union tactics? A further distillation of Levi’s spirit. They do not want to leave, they do not want to make a break because they want the masses of the unions. And equally old-fashioned are the tactics of the V.K.P.D., the Third International on the question of parliamentarism. The old state and therefore parliamentarism are bankrupt. But within it is growing a new production state of the cartels, of the Stinnes & co., who are attempting to rescue capitalism. [5] The old state, and parliamentarism in particular, are only the theatre, the pantomime, which disguises the reality of the new state, and which attempts to distract the attention of the working class from the reality.

He who takes part in the parliamentary struggle only assists in this delusion, in this deceit. He is old fashioned, meaning Levi, the V.K.P.D. and the Third International are old fashioned. Their tactics are those of the Second International.

And the new state growing in the old, the state of Stinnes and co., the vertically and horizontally growing state: where does its power lie? In companies and the Orgesch. [6] Companies cannot be fought against by trade unions alone. They must be fought against with factory organizations and the Unionen. [7] And the Orgesch cannot be fought with parliamentarism. It must be fought against with the anti-parliamentary party. He who like Levi, the V.K.P.D. and the Third International fights against this structure of the new state with trade unions and parliamentarism, is old fashioned and belongs, according to his thinking, to the world of the Third International.

And what are the tactics of the “Open Letter"? What are the tactics behind the political promises in the Open Letter that can never be fulfilled? The Open Letter, drafted by Radek, and supported or inspired by Lenin? They are all methods for gathering together the masses in large numbers without asking about their substance. It is all a mass-trap. The mass is, for the V.K.P.D. and the Third International, an object, just as it was for the Second. The leaders, the members of parliament and the new communist trade union leaders will do it!! That is all the distilled spirit of Levi’s spirit. The spirit that does not understand that the proletariat faces the world’s greatest power alone.

And now Levi complains that things went as they did in March! He complains (pages 22-29) that the action was just a putsch. That the communists took a hostile stand against the masses, that the action had to be stepped up with Bakuninist methods by provoking the Sipo [8] and the working class itself (pages 30-34) and that the lumpenproletariat was brought in to help (pages 34-40) and, finally, that all of this was dictated by Moscow (pages 40-44). But we ask: Where did all this come from? We direct this question not to Comrade Levi, but rather to the V.K.P.D. and the Third International: If, in Germany, putsches are now necessary, [*] Bakuninist methods, provocation of the working class the help of the lumpenproletariat, if orders from Moscow are necessary, where does that come from if not as a consequence of your tactics? And we reply: Yes. You yourselves have made the V.K.P.D. what it is. You yourselves have brought in non-communist masses. You yourselves have done the same in France and Italy. You yourselves have devised tactics in such a way that non-communists enter the Communist Parties in their droves. You yourselves have used parliament, which is just a facade for the banks, the cartels, the Stinnes and Ludendorff, to draw the non-communist masses into your net. You have allowed the official trade unions, the greatest enemies of the workers, to haggle in order to trap the masses. You have regarded the masses as an object, and the parliamentary and trade union leaders as the focus of attention. For you, the masses are everything, the number; you want only numbers, not quality. Is it any wonder what results? If you only chase after numbers, if the masses are the object, then If you want only numbers, if the masses are an object, then the putsch comes automatically, because you have no actual, no real substance. You yourselves, you, the V.K.P.D. and EC and Third International, are, with your false, stupid, perverse, old-fashioned tactics guilty of the very thing for which Levi, one of you, one who has devised these tactics with you, spirit of your spirit, reproaches you. You wanted the masses without qualitative substance, and this is what results. But we appeal to you: How long shall it remain so? How long will you continue to pursue a fantasy with parliamentary pseudo-struggles, trawling for the non-communist masses; how long will you chase after non-class-conscious masses with the official trade unions, the statutory workers’ councils and communist cell tactics? How long will you pursue a policy focused on leadership instead of masses? Are Russia, Bavaria, Germany, or even Russia alone, not examples enough, must proletarians fall time and again, without us learning the necessary lessons from defeat and the victims? What Levi says (page 48) is wrong, that the fate of the revolution is sealed, and that the days of the victorious reaction have come; the reverse is the case. The global crisis, held back for two years through the winding up of the war, is only just starting; it will be terrible and can and will bring us victory. Whilst it is true (page 20) that the revolutionary waves are not getting larger, that the complete political and moral bankruptcy of the ruling classes has not yet arrived, that the insecurity of wavering elements is not yet absolute, even this is in large part due to the erroneous tactics of the Third International. We must, however, take into account that the proletariat faces the most terrible adversary, all opposing classes, alone and unarmed, and that it must therefore only win the revolution through its quality, its spirit, its self-consciousness, its communist convictions. It is only through the tactics of the K.A.P.D. and the AAU, which provide the masses with this communist self-confidence, that brings them to struggle rather than attempting coups, and therefore makes possible the final victory. How long will the struggle of Communists in Parliament preserve the appearance of a struggle and weaken the real fight against the state, against Stinnes and Orgesch?

How long will they support the pseudo-struggle of the official trade unions, those sham formations, and boycott the struggle of the factory organizations?

How long will they sabotage the new tactics of scientific Marxism? So long as they do this, putsch will be followed by defeat.

Chapter 4 What does the March Action signify for us?

For Paul Levi and his clique, the March Action was nothing but “the greatest Bakuninist putsch in history to date.” This judgement honours the author of the pamphlet “Our Path against Putschism” insofar as he remained true to his previous views. He remained the consistent defender of “anti-putschism,” which he tirelessly preached since the death of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, and made this the leitmotif of his politics. The literary giants of the V.K.P.D. quibble over whether Levi’s anti-putschism is sincere, or if perhaps it hides the fear of revolutionary struggle of any kind. For us, it suffices to say that Levi’s characterization of the March Action discredits not the March Action itself, but rather its author. The verdict that this was the “greatest Bakuninist putsch in history to date” says nothing more than that we are dealing here with the greatest anti-putschist stupidity of history to date. One hundred thousand workers rose up in struggle; they went into a struggle that was unavoidable. The revolutionary stronghold of Central Germany had managed to fight back the most insolent attacks of capitalist enterprise. And this is precisely because the central German industrial centre had to become a source of increased exploitation. It became of the utmost importance for German capitalism, first, because the Ruhr industrial region is under threat of occupation by the French, and second, because Upper Silesia is threatened with separation from the German economic body altogether, bringing German capital into a seriously dangerous situation. The German entrepreneurial class had no other choice but to force the workers of Central Germany under its yoke with the most ruthless violence. Workers in Central Germany grasped this situation better than Paul Levi and his hangers on. Their attack against the Green Police and the Reichswehr rabble was the defence of their most elementary living conditions. But this struggle by workers of Central Germany was more than a defence of wages and working conditions; it was the first deliberate attack by the revolutionary proletarians of Germany against bourgeois state power. The workers of Central Germany, who so heroically embraced the struggle from day one, have the historical merit of showing their class comrades the only path that can lead them out of capitalist chaos. The fact that they had to go down to defeat in this struggle through the open treason of the social traitors of both directions and the official trade unions, together with the more or less open sabotage of large sections of the V.K.P.D., proves nothing against the correctness and necessity of this action. The very fact of this defeat is proof of the necessity of the March struggles. Precisely because millions of German proletarians succumb to the treacherous slogans of the social-democratic parties and the official trade unions, such a purposeful offensive struggle of the proletarian vanguard is a double necessity.

Above all, the great importance of the March Action lies in the fact that the spell of passivity cast over the German working class, which for so long meant the downfall of the German revolution, was finally broken. The lack of activity of the German workers has hitherto been the greatest obstacle to the further development of the proletarian revolution in Germany. The nervous timidity and avoidance any decisive struggle have finally been overcome. The March Action of the workers of Central Germany also serves as a warning sign for the rest of their class comrades; that they have gone down to hopeless disaster if they cannot decide, like their heroic brothers in Central Germany, to take up the open fight with bourgeois state power.

German proletarians will have to learn from this apparent defeat that there will be no possibility to shrink from the struggle in the future. The illusion that the proletariat can lead a tolerably carefree life, even under the dictatorship of capital, will very soon be driven out by the further decomposition of German capitalism. The closer comes the death knell of German capitalism, the more desperate, sophisticated and violent will be the methods it applies against the exploited class. German proletarians will soon be confronted with the necessity of taking up the direct struggle against capital to defend their most basic needs. And this unavoidable struggle will have to be led once again with the same methods as were initiated by the workers of Central Germany but in a form that is unprecedented in its intensity.

For this reason, the defeat of the workers of Central Germany has the same meaning for us as any defeat; it is a necessary part of the revolutionary process, from which the struggling proletariat draws its lessons and which, in their end effect, conjure into being the final victory of the working class. It will not be the last defeat, but we realize that defeats such as those recently suffered, as well as the greatest victories, must be reflected upon by revolutionary proletarians. Those who do not understand this have understood as much about the laws of historical dialectics as has Paul Levi, he of the “greatest Bakuninist putsch in history to date.”

Chapter 5 Lessons of the struggle

Measured by the extent of the March struggle in 1920, which involved the entire German working class, the uprising of the workers of Central Germany appears to be of far less significance. But it seems to us to be wrong from the very outset to draw a parallel between the defensive struggle of German workers in the days of Kapp-Lüttwitz and the insurrection in Central Germany. Although at the time the struggles that took place in the Ruhr area may have been more extensive than those in Central Germany, although they may have been conducted according to plan, and even though they also pursued the immediate goal of establishing the proletarian dictatorship, the fact remains that those struggles first developed from a defensive action, and that just at the moment that the general strike had been carried out throughout the entire country, so too at that same moment, armed struggles took place in other parts of the Reich; in a word, that the battles in the Ruhr area were carried forward by the will of the entire German working class.

The struggle in Central Germany was the struggle of the revolutionary vanguard of the German working class, in a single industrial hub. This revolutionary vanguard stood alone. Not only did workers in the other parts of the Reich behave more or less passively, even the broad masses in Central Germany were neutral, if not actually hostile in their attitude, towards the fighting vanguard. The influence of the social-democratic parties and trade unions exerted itself more strongly than the appeal to proletarian solidarity. From this it follows for us that for one thing, the struggle against these organizations, which are in the service of the bourgeois state, must be conducted to an even greater extent and with much stronger methods than before now. This counter-revolutionary bloc of the social-democratic parties and trade unions cannot be eliminated by leading the struggle on the same ground, that is to say, the pseudo-battles that are stage managed by parliamentary and trade union leaders; this can only be done by trying to tackle the root of the evil by attacking the basis for those counter-revolutionary entities, i.e., the struggle must be waged in the factories against the statutory works councils and it must be carried out systematically and ruthlessly.

Another lesson from the March struggles is that, with all the need for propaganda, the illusions of German proletarians about democracy and related issues are most effectively eliminated only in the revolutionary struggle itself. Only the direct conflict between exploiters and exploited makes it clear to the consciousness that there can never, ever be a harmony of interests between the two classes. Open conflict with the bourgeois-capitalist state exposes the true face of democracy before everyone’s eyes. The vengeful justice of the bourgeois state and the executioner’s work of the exceptional courts reveal to the very last proletarian that the essence of democracy is the reign of terror of the capitalist class.

And a further illusion is destroyed. This is the illusion of the existence of a mass communist party. The March days have demonstrated that such a mass party does not exist, or to be more precise, that it cannot exist as a communist mass party. The grave error of the Third International was that it split the mass party of the Independent Social Democratic Party without the existence of the necessary internal prerequisites for such a split. They admitted the “left” independents into the Third International, without demanding of them any more than the theoretical recognition of the 21 Conditions. [9] Effected by means of a simply mechanical split, behind the slogan: for or against Moscow, we will have won over the great masses. But for the most part they were still under the spell of the Second International. These masses, still essentially social democratic, formed the backbone of the new communist mass party. It is no better even by a hair’s breadth, when it comes to the leaders, who for the most part were reluctantly pushed to the left under the pressure of the masses. The lack of clarity of the Party’s leaders on tactical questions was particularly evident in the fact that half a dozen tendencies were fighting each other, not one of which knew what made it fundamentally different from the others. It comes as no surprise if a party that was entirely calibrated to the methods of parliamentary and trade union pseudo-struggles, and was used to fighting on the legal ground of the constitution, showed itself to be not up to the task of addressing the unprecedented demands of a situation such as existed in Central Germany. The objection that on this occasion the V.K.P.D. had to fail, because it was not yet internally strong enough, does not hold water. Because so long as it is a mass party it will never be internally strong. In the moment of a revolutionary situation, the sharp contrast between the active revolutionary part and the great mass, which is unclear about the necessity of the revolutionary struggle, will always become acute. In other words: such a mass party must, when open struggle is unleashed, tear itself apart into at least two parties. The failure of the V.K.P.D., if it were to survive this last action as a party, will emerge to an even greater extent in future actions, as the resistance of the foundering capitalist class grows stronger and stronger and the demands on the revolutionary proletariat must get greater and greater. If this is not taken into account by a break with the party tradition and tactics followed until now, and new methods of fighting adapted to the proletarian revolution are not deployed, then a mass party such as the V.K.P.D., whose methods of struggle belong to the age of the Second International, must as a matter of historical necessity disintegrate as the revolution develops further. We must accelerate this process. The sooner this party, which obfuscates all true antagonisms, this party of compromise between the Second and Third International, is eliminated, the better for the progress of the revolution. The process of the proletarian revolution demands the development of a clear and unified front for the class struggle; the choice today is between parliamentary-trade union-legal politics, or proletarian-revolutionary class struggle politics. The K.A.P.D. and its supporters are branded as criminals by the entire bourgeois press, including Vorwärts and Freiheit. All right! Our comrades will be criminals, criminals against bourgeois order. For this reason, in the interest of the proletarian revolution, there can be no political alliance with parties that cannot and will not free themselves from the spell of legality.

The criticism of the nature of the communist mass party should not, however, mislead us into the error of falling into the opposite extreme, that of putting forward the principle that a revolutionary party should be as small as possible. What we must do is find the right path between the dual dangers of sect and mass party. If we continue to put the main focus of our efforts on the quality of members, the numbers must nevertheless remain large enough to enable us, at any time, to reach the ears of the masses. We will not turn away the revolutionary workers of the V.K.P.D. if they are seriously willing to struggle with us for the victory of the revolution, if they want to collaborate with us in one organisation. Such comrades may not be won over, however, by making any concessions whatsoever to the politics and tactics of the V.K.P.D.. We can only be interested in those class comrades who come to us because they have convinced themselves of the correctness and necessity of our doctrines. It is more necessary than ever to formulate the doctrines of the clearly and sharply as possible.

Our principles and methods of struggle have stood the test brilliantly in this action. The K.A.P.D. emerged from this struggle united and cohesive. It mourns many of its fallen. Whole districts have been torn apart by the furious beast of white reaction. But as a whole, the Communist Workers Party of Germany has won a great victory.

Chapter 6 Tasks ahead

In an earlier chapter we said:

“The working class decides to struggle only under the most extreme pressure, in the most extreme misery. It fights as a whole at first only to defend itself and only goes onto the attack gradually, in the course of the struggle.” What does this mean for our next task? Does it mean we must wait until this most extreme pressure, this most extreme misery comes? Shall we wait until capital provokes the counter-attack of the entire working class against a general attack on the proletariat’s most vital conditions of existence? Or shall we perhaps wait for the miracle of a second Kapp putsch? Such a wait would be simultaneously stupid and treacherous. The stupidity would consist in waiting for the stupidity of our opponent. And that is always the greatest stupidity of all. We do not need to wait for another Kapp putsch. It will not happen. One cannot credit Herr Stinnes with so much stupidity that he feels even the slightest interest in working towards the united front of the German working class. Even a general attack by capital on the living conditions of the proletariat – carried out simultaneously all along the line – would be the act of a fool, too risky for us to count upon. The entrepreneurial class will, unfortunately, proceed in a significantly cleverer and more systematic fashion. In short, to wait and hope for such miracles would really be the epitome of stupidity.

On the other hand, of course, even the Hilferdings and the Levis are not stupid enough not to understand this themselves; their policy has – to repeat it once again – nothing to do with defensive tactics. It is a policy of pure passivity, a policy that is fearful of the proletarian revolution. It is the conscious betrayal of the revolutionary proletariat.

The proletarian revolution in Germany cannot and must not wait longer, however. It must not wait until capitalism in Germany – which is, admittedly, very unlikely – gets back on its feet. But there is another perspective, in the face of which we cannot remain passive: that the capitalist class continues to ruin the economy to such an extent that the victorious proletarian revolution is faced with a heap of ruins, which calls into question a reconstruction in the communist sense – or even makes this impossible. In addition, the impending surrender of Rhenish industry to Entente capitalism and the anticipated separation of Upper Silesia from the German economic area would cut off the breath of the revolution in Germany. This terrible risk is staring us in the face.

This implies, as a matter of course, that we must take up the task of continuing the line of an actively revolutionary policy, and with the most effective means available. The March struggles collapsed because they were carried forward only by the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat. It follows from this that the basis for the offensive in future actions must be broadened. It will be possible to win over large and ever larger masses of the German working class for an offensive policy, so long as at first the economic interests of the entire working class are placed in the foreground of the struggles. Struggles which have their starting point in factories will be most suitable, in all likelihood, for involving the proletariat in them as a class.

In this respect, the Allgemeinen Arbeiter-Union takes on the greatest importance. In the near future it will have to concentrate its activity in the factories on creating the atmosphere necessary to unleash such mass struggles, and then, most importantly, to parry with immediate effect every attempt by the capitalists to attack wages and working conditions. But that is not enough; it will have to work to make sure that such mass struggles develop into struggles to seize the factories. Mass strikes, combined with the occupation of workplaces, will in future be applied as the standard method of struggle. The struggle for control of workplaces, under the leadership of action committees, most effectively enhances the class consciousness of the proletariat and will gradually restore the partially broken relationship between workers who are in work, and those who are unemployed, when the latter are brought together with their working-class comrades in a community of struggle.

Clearly, the struggle for control of the factories leads directly to armed insurrection. In fact, the occupation of workplaces is nothing more than part of the armed insurrection. Whether the struggles will always adhere to this pattern is questionable. But it is clear that without the direct struggle for control of workplaces, the revolution cannot succeed in Germany. These two methods of struggle, the occupation of workplaces and armed insurrection, which one could describe as the Italian and Russian forms of the class struggle, will – combined with each other – be necessary to lead through the enormous difficulties of a revolutionary offensive in Germany to a happy end. The struggle for the workplaces will necessarily mobilize the proletariat in ever greater numbers, until class struggles against class in the decisive struggles for the conquest of political power.

Finally, it should be noted that the solidarity of interests of international capital necessitates the broadening of the front of the class struggle on an international scale. The struggle of the English miners would have been settled very quickly in their favour if the international proletariat had shown them active solidarity. Lost ground has to be made up for here immediately. We will have to see to it that on its way through the Red International of Labour Unions the class struggle does is not stopped at the borders of the capitalist state. This means taking up the fight against the yellow Amsterdam International, the whore of world capital, to a far greater degree and with very different methods than before. [10] The struggle against Amsterdam[11] is not restricted to struggle against the official trade union bureaucracy, but against the trade union system itself. The key task of the Allgemeine Arbeiter-Unionis to make the breakthrough with this idea within the Red International of Labour Unions. Each new struggle will convince the Red International of the correctness of our programme. They will have to acknowledge that the victory of the proletarian revolution in Germany is only possible in line with our tactics and our methods of struggle.

The Third International will have to draw the correct lessons from the defeat of the March struggles, which is also its defeat, as quickly as possible. Revision of the 21 Conditions, in view of the character of class struggles, is the urgent order of the hour. The work of the K.A.P.D. within the Third International is more indispensable than ever. It has the duty to bring the Third International onto the correct path. This effort must be pursued with energy and clarity of objectives. We want to turn the Third International into a weapon for the proletarian revolution. Should we succeed, we need not fear for the future course of the world revolution.


1. By putsch we do not mean the workers’ insurrection after Hörsing’s challenge, but the synthetic attempt of the V.K.P.D. party leadership to stage an action before the immediate trigger, whatever the cost.

Editorial notes

1. On 8 January 1921 the V.K.P.D. initiated a large-scale campaign in the purest style of the “workers united front.” The central committee sent an “open letter” to all “workers organizations,” from the most reactionary trade unions to the K.A.P.D. and the a.a.u.d., proposing a joint struggle against capitalism. Written by Karl Radek and Levi, the letter called for a campaign to increase wages, dissolve the “bourgeois defence organizations,” create workers’ self-defence organizations, and to compel Germany to re-establish diplomatic relations with Russia.

2. Vorwärts was the newspaper of the majority social democrats, the s.p.d.

3. Freiheit was the newspaper of the Independent Social Democrats, the u.s.p.d.

4. The Executive Committee of the Communist International.

5. Hugo Dieter Stinnes (1870-1924) was a German industrialist and politician. He led efforts to integrate German trade unions into capitalism, starting with the Stinnes-Legien Agreement immediately after the First World War.

6. The Orgesch (Organisation Escherich) was a private army established by the forester, timber merchant and colonial trader and politician Georg Escherich in the wake of the November Revolution and the Munich Soviet Republic. It was disbanded by the Entente powers in 1921, later returning under other names.

7. The German for trade union is “Gewerkschaft.” By 1920 the trade unions were integrated into capitalism through the Stinnes-Legien and other agreements. The Unionen, notably the Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union.

8. The Sicherheitspolitzei (Sipo) was the paramilitary German police force set up in late 1919 in most of the Länder (states) of the Weimar Republic and largely funded by the Reich. They were referred to as the “Green Police” because of the colour of their uniform.

9. This refers to the conditions proposed by Lenin for the adhesion of socialist parties to the Third International (Comintern). The conditions were formally adopted by the Second Congress of the Comintern in 1920.

10. “The Italian form of class struggle” refers here to the factory occupations favoured by the L’Ordine Nuovo fraction of the Italian Socialist Party. The position put forward here by the K.A.P.D. is closer to that of the abstentionist fraction around Amadeo Bordiga, who argued that the occupations could not succeed unless combined with a seizure of power on the Russian model.

11. The International Federation of Trade Unions (also known as the Amsterdam International) was an international organization of trade unions with a social-democratic orientation.