a) Sources of information

I. Primary material

Social-democracy (SPD)

1) F. Scheidemann (one of the two key figures of the "Ebert-Scheidemann" government), "The Crash of the German Empire"

 written in 1943, by "Ikarus" (Ernst Schneider, a leader of Revolutionary Committee in Wilhemshaven).

2) R. Muller (former chairman of the Executive Committee of the Councils of Workers and Soldiers' deputies of Germany), "The World War and the German Revolution"

Bolshevik tendency

1) Rosa Luxembourg, "Organizational questions of the Russian Social Democracy (Leninism or Marxism)", 1904; "The Junius Pamphlet", 1915; "What does the Spartacus League want", 1918; "Order prevails in Berlin", 1919.

A Letter to the German Communists", 14 August 1921.

3) Anton Pannekoek (a Dutch revolutionary), "The German revolution - First Stage", 1918

4) Oscar Hippe (a member of the "Spartacus", later a member of the KPD, and still later of the Fourth International), "And Red is the Color of Our Flag"

Perhaps among the Bolshevik authors we should also mention K. Radek.

II. Secondary material

1) G. Bienstock, "Essays in the German Revolution. Meetings and Impressions", Moscow, 1921

2) K. Shelavin, "The Vanguard Battles of the European Proletariat. Sketches of the German Revolution 1918-19", Leningrad, 1930.

3) The Decline, Disorientation and Decomposition of a Leadership: The German Communist Party: From Revolutionary Marxism to Centrism", by Mike Jones, 1989.

4) Igor Shibanov, "A Murdered Revolution (85 Years of the German Revolution 1918-19)", in Russian, at rar [30k] 2004

5) Wikipedia, "The German revolution", 2007

b) The SPD and the war

Before the war, the German Social Democratic Party, the SPD, was characterized by a constant fight between the reformists and revolutionists, or, as Lenin would say, between the Girondists and the Jacobins of Social Democracy. F. Scheideman, a right German social democrat, writes: "The topic of intra-party arguments was a desire by a certain group to seize political power before obtaining majority [in the parliament], through 'constant street demonstrations', massive strikes, etc." The leaders of this left wing were two women, Rosa Luxembourg and Clara Zetkin. They were called "putschists" by the right wing.

On August 4, 1914, the German Social Democratic faction in the Reichstag votes for war credits. The attitude to war splits the SPD into several parts. "Ikarus" describes it like this:

  1. Majority Social Democrats - Controllers of the old Party apparatus, supported the imperialist war in every way, and captured the bulk of the Party members.
  2. Social Democratic Labour Partnership-(Sozialdemocratische-Arbeiter Gemeinschaft), later called Independent Social Democratic Party -in opposition to No. 1, but undetermined. Supported, for instance, financially, the Left Radicals in Hamburg, but declined to share further activity with them.
  3. Revolutionary Confidential men* (Revolutionaire Obleute), in factories and workshops in Berlin. Their policy was class struggle, not imperialist war. [*NB. - since the old terms 'Leader', 'Official', 'President', etc. have become in the minds of class conscious workers synonymous with another class, the German term Obmann (confidential man) is the concept for trustworthy fellow workers - respected class comrades.]
  4. International Socialists Berlin-Published a journal 'Lichtstrahlen' (Light-rays) anti-war, criticised Nos.1 and 2 on Marxian lines.
  5. Rhineland and Westphalia Group-around the propaganda periodical 'Kampf' [Combat], advocated mass action, and fought Nos. 1 and 2 on revolutionary socialist lines.
  6. International Group, Berlin - published excellent revolutionary socialist pamphlets and the well-known Spartakus letters distributed by groups 3, 4, 5, and 7. The first Spartakus Brief (Letter) addressed to the working class commenced with the words 'You are asleep Spartakus, instead of acting in a revolutionary manner' .
  7. Left Radicals - later they changed their name to International Communists of Germany - had groups in Bremen, Hamburg, Wilhelmshaven, Braunschweig, Hannover, Saxony, East Prussia, and Stettin. Published from 1916 to the end of 1918, the weekly paper Arbeiter Politik ['Workers Politics - Organ for scientific socialism']. Advocated the programme of the revolutionary working class on dynamic Marxian lines. Developed the Workers Councils movement. Their call to action in the war industries was promptly followed by the workers. The Left Radicals saw in the blind belief in the efficacy of Parties one of the main reasons for the impotence of the working class.
  8. There were also small groups of Anarchist Syndicalists - revolutionary pacifists, bold comrades-in-arms who almost joined the Left Radicals.

In the spring of 1917, the left wing of the SPD forms an Independent Social Democratic Party, the USPD. The party included such famous names as Bernstein and Kautsky. On the left wing of the USPD a "Spartacus" group was formed around Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht (the "International Group" mentioned above).

c) A military defeat and a rebellion

By the year 1918 Germany was losing the war. The immediate causes of military defeat, according to G. Bienstock, were "the numerical superiority of the enemy, which, by July 1918, was in the ration of five to three [due to the United States entry into the war in 1917], a great superiority of his armaments, mainly [the number of] the artillery shells, and finally poor nutrition of the German soldier". The situation inside the country was one of widespread famine (see poster above). However, this famine was not shared by all, as there was "a growing gap in the situation of the upper and lower classes of the population" (G. Bienstock). The same was true in the army. For example, in the Navy, there was bacon and eggs for the officers of the fleet, but only bread and jam for the sailors. This difference was well noticed by Hitler, a soldier in the war, and ascribed to Jews. 

In the fall of 1918, the High Command, in order to obtain better terms of peace, or in order not to surrender the German navy ships to the Allies, decides to send the German fleet on a suicidal mission against the British fleet. One German captain said: I will shoot out my 2000 shells, after which, with the flag raised high, we will go to the bottom. The sailors were told that they were going out for a military exercise, but rumors of the true nature of the mission spread out.

According to "Ikarus", there was a secret underground organization of the sailors which monitored the moves of the High Command. Noske cofirms this:

"Already in 1917 an anti-militarist agitation was noticed in the fleet, on the large military vessels. Two people already paid with their lives for it, and others were sentenced to hard labor"

Mutiny fleet nov-1918

Revolt of the sailors, November 1918

In general, a protest turns into a rebellion when the government uses inadequate force to repress the protest. So, it was this time. A number of sailors were arrested for refusing to put out to sea. In November 1918, the secret organization of the sailors calls on the sailors to free their comrades from jail and seize the ships. The sailors formed Sailors' Councils and their immediate demand was abdication of the Kaiser, as the main perpetrator of the war. Noske describes the situation like this:

"one patrol opened the fire on demonstration, as a result of which there was a significant number of dead and wounded. There was a great excitement in the city. Not far from Kiel, on the outskirts, I encountered a train with soldiers in the open cars, from which one could judge that the situation is very serious, but just this circumstance was an evidence of complete confusion of the government, as the soldiers were met by sailors with loud shouts of 'Hurah' and immediately disarmed"

We see that when a government starts loosing its grip on the situation, it gathers military force around the place. Similar this, for example, we've seen during the "Orange revolution" in Ukraine in 2004: military convoys gathered around Kiev.


Revolt of the sailors, Wilhemshaven, Germany, 6 November, 1918

The government sends Noske, an SPD member, to stem the tide of the revolt in Kiel. Noske takes charge of the movement by forming a Council of the Sailors. The government tries to make sure that the news of the revolt do not spread. However, the sailors on leave spread the news of what's happening in Kiel to other parts of Germany, and soon Councils are formed all around the country. The Russian revolution gave the German revolution a slogan: "Form the Councils!"

Here, we can make two more generalizations:

1) a military defeat and a revolt both condition each other. As the sailors observe that the High Command is leading them to a certain and unnecessary death, they rebel. In its turn, the rebellion of the sailors spreads to other parts of the military organization and leads to a general defeat.

2) G. Biestock writes: "The second German revolution starts with achievement of the goal which the first one just dared to pose, i.e. the overthrow of the monarchy". This leads us to thinking that the "third" German revolution will start with the achievement of the goal which the second just dared to pose, i.e. overthrow of the capitalist order, the socialization of the main spheres of production.

d) The SPD-USPD coalition


Berlin, 9 November, 1918

On 9th November, 1918, the SPD newspaper "Vorwarts" published a declaration, which said: "The majority of the [Berlin] garrison, with their machine guns and artillery, put themselves under the command of the Workers-Soldiers Council. The movement is guided by the German Social Democratic Party and the Independent Social Democrats". This is an essential condition for a revolution, when a part of the army puts itself at the service of the revolutionary party. A similar situation exists these days (end of September 2007) in Myanmar, former Burma:

Two army divisions clashed in the second in population city of Myanmar, Mandalay, said ITAR-TASS on September 28 (2007), quoting a British TV company Sky

According to the news, there is a split among the military on the problem of how to resolve the current political crisis, which is accompanied by wide anti-government protests

300px-Karl Liebknecht 9 nov 1918 Berlin in Tiergarten

Karl Liebkhecht, 9 November, 1918

The councils that were formed in November 1918 in Germany are characterized by Anton Pannekoek: "These councils are not by any means pure proletarian institutions; in the Soldiers’ Councils are the officers; in the Workers’ Councils are the Trade Union and [SPD] party leaders. These men will not allow the revolution to go any further if they can prevent it."

The USPD, the Independent Social Democrats, were split in their attitude towards the SPD. The left wing, led by Ledebour, was against cooperation with SPD. However, the majority in the party, led by Haase, were for cooperation with SPD. This results in USPD forming a government together with SPD on November 9th, 1918.

SPD-USPD coalition government

Coalition government, SPD-USPD

A new government in Germany, calling itself "A Council of People's Deputies" (see photo below), consists of 3 representative of SPD and 3 representatives of USPD. However, the leading positions in the government are occupied by SPD members. For example, Ebert of the SPD is in charge of the interior and the military. However, there is an interesting quirk to the German government. Bernstein writes: "Their responsibility was only keeping in touch with corresponding ministries, as the immediate technical work was done by special state secretaries who were appointed according to business criteria, even from bourgeois parties". And Scheideman writes about the Council of People's Deputies: "Each one of them was more of a controller, appointed to a corresponding minister... [for example] Ebert had a good relationship with the military minister Sheikh, just as Landsberg with the financier in the ministry [of Finance] and in the State Bank". Essentially, this was like two people driving a car. The bourgeoisie let the representatives of socialist parties hold the steering wheel, while it was really doing the driving. The essential mistake of the revolution is that it preserved the old imperial state machine, with its masses of ministers, bureaucrats, the army, etc. Premier of France Clemenceau said of Scheidemann Germany: "The Hohenzollern Prussia put on a new mask, only the decorations have changed. People and principles remained the same as under Wilhelm".

Accidentally, this poses a problem for modernity. As we know, the state machine of the former Soviet Union was not smashed in 1991, but split into several parts, along the lines of several republics. However, the so-called "Marxists" proclaim that a bourgeois counter-revolution has taken place, and that the republics of the ex-USSR are "bourgeois states". According to their logic, if they dare to examine the German revolution, these pseudo Marxists would proclaim Germany after November 9, 1918 "a socialist republic", as the rule was nominally in the hands of the socialist parties, and several socialist measures were introduced, such as an 8-hour workday.

As we know now, Germany in 1918 has not become "a socialist republic". By the same logic, the basic nature of the former USSR has remained what it was before the events of 1989-91 because the state apparatus was not smashed (same "people and principles", to use the phrase of Clemenceau). A Marxist must judge a nature of a state according to the revolution and civil war in which this state originated. This evaluation should not change, in spite of all the political revolutions and counter-revolutionary coups.

On December 6, 1918 there is an attempt at a counter-revolutionary putsch. Scheidemann writes that reactionary forces from the ministry of the Foreign Affairs, together with several Junkers, "thought that it is a high moment to get rid of all the revolutionary decorations, to get even with all that is socialist and proletarian". Notice: "revolutionary decorations". The leader of the putsch attempted to proclaim Ebert president and smash power of the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils. The result is a street fighting, with more then 40 dead.

The First General Convention of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils was dominated by SPD  and not even Karl Liebknecht managed to get a seat. Wikipedia writes:

"On 19 December (1918) the Councils voted 344 to 98 against the creation of a Council System as a basis for a new constitution. They much rather supported the governments decision to call for elections for a constituent national assembly as soon as possible".

Here, it is important to note the attitude of the three major socialist parties to elections into the new National Assembly. The SPD was for conducting the elections as soon as possible. The USPD was for conducting the elections at a later date, allowing the people to understand the situation better. The left wing of the USPD, and first of all "Spartacus", was against elections into the National Assembly, for a Council System of representation. 

Firing at People Naval Division in Castle

Firing at the Residence, home of the People's Naval Division

The second bloody incident of the German revolution is connected with the People's Naval Division. As Noske writes, the government of Ebert-Scheidemann "did not have in Berlin a single reliable force". So, they decided to invite 600 sailors from Cuxhaven and appointed count Matternich as a commander. The sailors got rid of him because he participated in the attempted coup of December 6th and the control over the division has passed into the hands of USPD. Hence, the Ebert government attempted to reduce the division in size and disarm it. Wikipedia writes:

"The dispute escalated on 23 December. After having been put off for days the sailors occupied the Imperial Chancellery, cut the phone lines, put the Council of People's Representatives under house arrest and captured Otto Wels (a military commander of Berlin, in line with Ebert). The sailors did not exploit the situation to eliminate the Ebert government, as could have been expected from Spartakist revolutionaries. Instead, they still only insisted on their pay. Nevertheless, Ebert, who via secret phone line was in touch with the Supreme Command in Kassel, gave orders to attack the Residence with troops loyal to the government on the morning of 24 December. The sailors repelled the attack under their commander Heinrich Dorrenbach, losing about 30 men and civilians in the fight. The government troops had to withdraw from the centre of Berlin. They themselves were now disbanded and integrated into the newly formed Freikorps. To make up for the loss of face they temporarily occupied the editor's offices of the "Red Flag" [belonging to "Spartacus"]. But military power in Berlin once more was in the hands of the People's Navy Division. Again, the sailors did not take advantage of the situation".

On 25th December "Spartacus" calls for a massive demonstration of protest. The "Vorwarts" building, the property of SPD, was seized by the demonstration.

On this day, the Police President, Emile Eichhorn, a member of the USPD,  plays contradictory roles. On the one hand, he returns the "Vorwarts" building to the SPD. On the other hand, he proposed to Spartacus organizations of several enterprises to stop work and take up weapons in the Police Presidium in defense of the sailors. The behavior of Eichhorn shows the contradictory nature of USPD.

The USPD members of the "government" were not consulted about the assault on the People's Naval Division, which leads to the three members of the USPD leaving government on 28 December.

On 29th December there was a funeral for the victims of the assault on the People's Naval Division. R. Muller writes: "A mighty demonstration of revolutionary minded working masses could not hide the weakness of the movement. Neither in organization nor in ideology there were pre-conditions for the immediate seizure of power".

e) Forming a Communist Party: Luxembourg vs. Lenin

In the end of December 1918 "Spartacus" creates a Communist Party of Germany (KPD). The theoretical leader of

Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxembourg

the party was Rosa Luxembourg.

1) It is important to note that until December 1918 R. Luxembourg was against creation of a separate Communist party. Mike Jones writes:

"Luxemburg opposed splitting from the SPD, even though she had proclaimed the need for a new International (see the Junius Pamphlet), because she understood that the consciousness of the workers hadn’t yet reached that level of understanding. She rightly saw such an act as ‘flight’, as ‘betrayal’ of the masses, who were being choked in the deadly grip of Scheidemann and Legien, delivered up to the bourgeoisie. She ridiculed those who would rip up their party card in empty gestures, in order to build a sect, describing it is an ‘illusion of freedom’. She saw such a belief as ‘organisational cretinism’, the idea that ‘power lies in a membership card’."

So, according to M. Jones, the reasons for not forming a separate party were: 1. the masses have not yet reached the conclusion that a party separate from SPD was necessary, 2. if a party were formed, it would become a sect.

M. Jones is a member of Labor Party and a supporter of the newspaper "Militant",, a socialist newspaper representing the left wing of the Labor Party. This helps to explain his stand.

1. A political party is a vanguard of any class. Hence, a party must lead the class. When class already knows something, it is too late to educate it. Hence, a party must be formed before the class "reached that level of understanding".  To put it another way: reaching a higher level of understanding is impossible without a teacher who can lead. And such a guide in politics, for a class, is a party.

2. The fact that KPD (a Communist Party of Germany) did not form into a sect is manifested by its history, since 1919. For example, in 1920's, according to M. Jones, the party polled millions of votes in German elections.

As opposed to Rosa Luxembourg, Lenin started creating his own party in 1903, as soon as organizational differences with the Menshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party started to come out.

2) In 1904 R. Luxembourg wrote "Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy", also known as "Leninism or Marxism?". In this work, speaking in a somewhat haughty manner of the most influential Social-Democratic Party of Europe to a young and not experienced "younger brother", she criticizes "pitiless centralism" proposed by Lenin as a guiding principle of organization for the Russian Social Democracy. She says:

1. "The Central Committee would be the only thinking element in the party. All other groupings would be its executive limbs... The two principles on which Lenin’s centralism rests are precisely these: (1) The blind subordination, in the smallest detail, of all party organs to the party center which alone thinks, guides, and decides for all. (2) The rigorous separation of the organized nucleus of revolutionaries from its social-revolutionary surroundings".

2. "Such centralism is a mechanical transposition of the organizational principles of Blanquism into the mass movement of the socialist working class."

3. The organization is that of the military ultra-centralism”.

The alternative that R. Luxembourg (RL) proposes:

"If the tactics of the socialist party are not to be the creation of a Central Committee but of the whole party, or, still better, of the whole labor movement, then it is clear that the party sections and federations need the liberty of action which alone will permit them to develop their revolutionary initiative and to utilize all the resources of the situation. The ultra-centralism asked by Lenin is full of the sterile spirit of the overseer. It is not a positive and creative spirit. Lenin’s concern is not so much to make the activity of the party more fruitful as to control the party -- to narrow the movement rather than to develop it, to bind rather than to unify it."

So, RL praises "the independent revolutionary action of the proletariat".

Lenin's principles on the problem of organization are in "Where to begin?", 1901 (a short version of a book "What is to be done?"), "A letter to a comrade on our organizational tasks", 1902, "A story of the Second Congress of the RSDRP", 1903, and "One step forward, two steps backward", 1904. 

Lenin thinks that it is a good idea to start an organization by publishing an All-Russian revolutionary newspaper. This newspaper should play both propaganda and organizational roles.

On the Second Congress of the RSDRP, in 1903, the principle struggle was around the first paragraph of the party rules. It defined who is the member of the party. Lenin writes that his definition of a member of a party differentiates between those who work and those who blab, while Martov's definition allowed for a more vague type of organization, not separating it from a wide opposition movement of the working class.

Lenin's idea of management of revolutionary party started with a party congress which appointed various committees and created various party institutions. Lenin supported the procedure of "democratic centralism". It consists of (1) presenting an idea, (2) a democratic discussion within the party around the thesis (for example, at party meetings), and (3) a vote. After voting takes place, the decision of the majority is mandatory for all party.

A revolutionary (or, for that matter, a counter-revolutionary) party must a centralist, military structure. This flows from the problem which it faces, i.e. destroying the army of the old regime. As an illustration, we can point to the organization of the mujahideen guerillas which were fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan in 1980's. According to a Soviet officer:

"Opposition organizations had a clearly defined structure, which was similar for them all. The directing body was an executive council which consisted of a chairman of a party, his representatives in ideology, politics, military and administrative problems, and also chairmen of committees.

The headquarters usually consisted of committees: political, military, finance, administrative, organizational problems and propaganda, information, the refugees, justice and counter-intelligence.

The headquarters controlled the armed bands on the territory of Afghanistan and situation in the zone of their responsibility, planned military action, preparation and conduct of caravans with weapons, ammunition, etc. on the territory of the republic, financing the bands; it provided for creation of bases, building fortifications, stores, trespassing the borders, organized interaction between bands belonging to different parties, and other tasks.

The intermediate chain of administration consisted of local Islamic committees, which usually consisted of a chairman, one or two deputies, judges, mullahs, a tax collector, and elder man of a village and a leader of an armed band, one of which usually was a chairman of the committee

In the course of their work, the Islamic committees controlled the situation in the zone of their responsibility, directed military action, resolved arguments between leaders of armed bands, collected taxes and money from population. They also supplied conscripts for the rebels and bands from among local population and people who went through military training on the territory of Iran and Pakistan, organized and led ideological work among the population and among the soldiers of the opposition".

Only such a centralist organization can win a civil war. Reliance on "independent revolutionary action of proletariat" is praising spontaneity over a plan, disorganization over a military discipline.

3) In "The Junius pamphlet", published in 1915, RL makes a step back in comparison with the 1907 Stuttgart resolution of the International, which RL worded together with Lenin. In 1907 they said: “Should war nevertheless break out, it shall be the duty of the social democracy to work for a speedy peace, and to strive with every means in its power to utilise the industrial and political crisis to accomplish the awakening of the people, thus hastening the overthrow of the capitalist class rule.” In other words, use an imperialist war to overthrow capitalism. However, in 1915 RL writes: "It was their [social democrats] duty to speak loudly and clearly, to proclaim to the people of Germany that in this war victory and defeat would be equally fatal, to oppose the gagging of the fatherland by a state of siege, to demand that the people alone decide on war and peace, to demand a permanent session of parliament for the period of the war, to assume a watchful control over the government by parliament, and over parliament by the people, to demand the immediate removal of all political inequalities, since only a free people can adequately govern its country, and finally, to oppose to the imperialist war, based as it was upon the most reactionary forces in Europe, the program of Marx, of Engels, and Lassalle." This is a program of democracy, but not revolution.

4) When a socialist revolution started in Germany, RL persisted in the idea of strengthening the workers' democracy, instead of arguing for a dictatorship of a revolutionary party. In “The Beginning”, November 20, 1918, R.L. writes: 

"re-election and improvement of the local workers’ and soldiers’ councils so that the first chaotic and impulsive gestures of their formation are replaced by a conscious process of understanding the goals, tasks and methods of the revolution"

She should have known that a workers' democracy includes both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary workers' parties. An example of the later is the SPD. The example of the German revolution illustrates the fallacy of the slogan of "Workers' Democracy", championed presently, for example, by pseudo-Trotskyist groups in Russia.

5) Hugo Eberlain, one of the KPD leaders (Lenin's letter of October 28, 1919, was addressed "to Comrades Paul Levi, Clara Zetkin, Eberlein And The Other Members Of The Cc. Of The Communist Party Of Germany") proposed a Menshevik type of organization at the founding congress of KPD: "Different localities should have a complete freedom in setting up their own organizations", the Central Committee should have only "the political and spiritual leadership". He also says that "the [party] press can not be directed from the center". This is a puzzle: the Central committee is to exercise "a political and spiritual leadership", but is not to direct the party press. Conclusion: H. Eberlain did not understand the task in front of the party.

6) R. Luxembourg was against revolutionary violence. She writes: "The proletarian revolution does not need terror for the realization of its goals, it [the revolution] hates the murder of people and abhors such acts". In the application of terror she saw a manifestation of ... weakness, following the logic that strong people do not resort to violence against the weak people. However, the class of Junkers and capitalists are not weak. And this is what makes a civil war necessary. Lenin in 1918 in the Russian civil war criticized inadequate use of terror as weakness. The present generation of counter-revolutionary Russians sheds crocodile tears for the entire family of the tsar which was shot in the cellar in Ekaterinburg.

7) One the the problems discussed at the founding congress of the KPD was the National Assembly. Before the congress, "Spartacus" was speaking against elections to the National Assembly, for empowering Workers' and Soldiers' Councils. However, the Councils voted for a speedy convocation of the National Assembly. Non-participation in the elections for the National Assembly could be justified only if the party was preparing to take full power, i.e. preparing for an uprising, but that was not the case. However, majority of the KPD membership abhorred participation in the parliament, arguing that the situation in Germany was still revolutionary and the Councils still held power (both of these assertions were true). The memory of parliamentary tactics of the SPD has led the majority of KPD towards a semi-anarchism (in the same way that the lies of CPSU has led left-leaning political youth of the former Soviet Union towards anarchism). The vote at the founding congress of KPD was 62 against participation in the National Assembly, 23 for. Luxembourg and Leibknecht found themselves in minority. This revealed lack of control of leadership over the majority of the party.

8) Rosa Luxembourg does not mention the lessons of the Russian revolution in her program, although this was only 1 year old. Perhaps a reason for her silence was Radek, a representative of the Russian CP, who was supposed to give a presentation on the Russian revolution. However, Radek was misleading the German party, saying, among other things, that the Bolsheviks in April 1917 were weaker than the Spartacus in December 1918. It does not seem that Radek had a good analysis of the dynamics of the Russian revolution and could apply them to the German case. A knowledge of revolutionary dynamics in general, and being able to apply them to specific cases is necessary for leadership. Such knowledge can be obtained, on the one hand, from historical analysis of previous revolutions, and, on the other hand, from a careful observation of the current events.

9) RL in the international section of her program says: "Immediate establishment of ties with the fraternal parties in other countries, in order to put the socialist revolution on an international footing and to shape and secure the peace by means of international brotherhood and the revolutionary uprising of the world proletariat". However, Lenin, already in November of 1914, raised the slogan for a new International. There is a big difference between "ties with the fraternal parties" and a democratic centralist International.

Overall, the KPD program and the founding congress revealed "total immaturity of the party". To lead such a party towards armed struggle was like taking a newly constructed, un-tested yacht, with a totally immature crew, towards the eye of a storm.

f) The January 1919 uprising

1918spartikist troupe

Spartacus troops, 1918

On January 4th, 1919, the Ebert government fires Emile Eichhorn for his role in the events of December 24 and appoints a new Police President, an SPD Eugene Ernst. This leads to USPD and KPD calling for a demonstration for the next day. At a meeting of the party agitators, the KPD decides "that the time has not come yet for us to step forward as government". Their program is: 1) to protest against firing of Eichhorn; 2) creation of workers' press; 3) arming the workers.

On 5th January a crowd of around 150 thousand gathers. One of their slogans: "Down with Ebert and Sheideman, the bloody dogs and the gravediggers of the revolution".The crowd was all fired up, but the leaders of the demonstration do not give definite directions about what is to be done.

The leaders of the two parties, the USPD and KPD, together with revolutionary stewards, meet for a council and are not able to arrive at any decision. At around 6 p.m. the same day, armed crowds, on their own initiative, take over the "Vorwarts" building, some bourgeois newspapers, and Wolff's Telegraphic Bureau. Noske writes that "if the masses had strong leaders who were clearly conscious of their aims, instead of mere babblers, by the mid-afternoon of this day they would have seized Berlin".

A "Provisional Revolutionary Committee", consisting of the left wing of USPD, KPD and revolutionary stewards was formed. It should be noted that among the 70 revolutionary stewards, around 4/5 were left USPD, and 1/5 KPD.  The Provisional Revolutionary Committee decides, by a vote, "to start a struggle against the government and continue it until the government falls".

Among the Spartacus leadership there were disagreements on the tactics. Rosa Luxembourg was against the slogan of immediate overthrow of the government. Karl Leibknecht voted for the decision to take the party into the insurrection on his own responsibility, following the spontaneous movement of the masses. This was a grave mistake.

About the next day, January 6:

"the Revolutionary Committee again called for a mass demonstration. This time even more people headed the call. Again they carried placards and banners that said: "Brothers, don't shoot!" and remained waiting on an assembly square. A part of the Revolutionary Stewards armed themselves and called for the overthrow of the Ebert government. But the KPD-activists mostly failed in their endeavour to win over the troops. It turned out that even the units like the People's Navy Division were not willing to support the armed revolt. It declared itself neutral. The other regiments stationed in Berlin mostly remained loyal to the government" (Wikipedia)

The situation is not revolutionary when even the leftmost part of the army is not ready to support the rebels.

K. Shelavin writes: "the leaders of the uprising were not even able to arm the workers ... On 5 and 6 January E. Eichhorn gave persistent orders to the arsenal not to give out weapons". From this we conclude that before an uprising there should be a definite plan where to get weapons, and a plan for their distribution.

The members of the Revolutionary Committee enter into negotiations with the government which they wanted to overthrow. The role of mediators was played by the right wing of the USPD, such as Kautsky.

On January 7, 1919, Rosa Luxembourg wrote:

"Twenty-four hours have gone by since the Ebert government's attack on Eichhorn. The masses enthusiastically followed the appeal of their leaders; spontaneously and on their own strength they brought about the reappointment of Eichhorn. On their own spontaneous initiative they occupied Vorwärts and seized the bourgeois editors and the W.T.B. [Wolff's Telegraphic Bureau] and, so far as possible, they armed themselves. They are waiting for further instructions and moves from their leaders.

And meanwhile, what have these leaders done? What have they decided? Which measures have they taken to safeguard the victory of the revolution in this tense situation in which the fate of the revolution will be decided, at least for the next epoch? We have seen and heard nothing! Perhaps the delegates of the workers are conferring profoundly and productively. Now, however, the time has come to act...

Ebert, Scheidemann, et al., are surely not frittering away their time with conferences. Most certainly they are not asleep. They are quietly preparing their intrigues with the usual energy and circumspection of the counter-revolutionary; they are sharpening their swords to catch the revolution unawares, to assassinate it.

Other spineless elements are already industriously at work paving the way for 'negotiations', bringing about compromises, throwing a bridge across the abyss which has opened up between the masses of workers and soldiers and the Ebert government, inducing the revolution to make a 'compromise' with its mortal enemies"

The Ebert government could not rely upon the Berlin garrison. So, while pretending to negotiate with the revolutionaries, it sent Noske out of Berlin to collect troops. Noske turns Dalem, a Berlin suburb, into a military camp in which, with the help of bourgeoisie, he gets together counter-revolutionary officers and soldiers.

Spartacus fighting

Spartacus troops fighting

On January 11 Noske enters Berlin at the head of 2000-3000 troops, and using cannons and machine guns, captures first the "Vorwarts" building, then the Police Presidium. What follows reminds us of the fall of the Paris Commune. Rosa Luxembourg writes: “The government’s rampaging troops massacred the mediators who had tried to negotiate the surrender of the Vorwarts building, using their rifle butts to beat them beyond recognition. Prisoners who were lined up against the wall and butchered so violently that skull and brain tissue splattered everywhere.”

Wikipedia continues the story:

On the evening of 15 January 1919 Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were discovered in a Berlin-Wilmersdorf apartment, arrested and handed over to the largest Freikorps, the heavily armed Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen-Division. Their commander, Captain Waldemar Pabst, had them questioned and badly mistreated. That same night both prisoners were beaten unconscious with the rifle butts and shot in the head. 

In an interview given to "Der Spiegel" in 1962 and in his memoirs Papst maintained that he had talked on the phone with Noske in the Chancellery. [16] Noske and Ebert had approved of his actions.

Revolutionaries executed by Noske

Revolutionaries killed by Noske troops

The guilt for the murder of the German revolution is solidly on G. Noske and F. Ebert, the SPD leadership. Meanwhile, there are people in contemporary Russia, such as Boris Kagarlitsky, who claim to be "socialists" and who obtain their funding from "the F. Ebert Fund".

g) Reasons for the defeat

Before they were discovered in their hiding, K. Leibknecht and R. Luxembourg discussed the reasons for the failure of the January uprising.

Leibknecht points to the following: 1) the workers of Berlin were not supported by the People's Naval Division and soldiers, which took a "neutral" position; 2) the workers were guided by weak leadership; 3) on the side of counter-revolution there were all the specialists, the money of the bourgeoisie, and the backward masses.

Rosa Luxembourg thought of the capture of the state power "from bottom up", i.e. from the factory councils to the central government. In "Our Program and the Political Situation", a speech made on 31 December 1918, she said: “the conquest of power will not be effected with one blow. It will be a progression; we shall progressively occupy all the positions of the capitalist state and defend them tooth and nail. In my view and in that of my most intimate associates in the Party, the economic struggle, likewise, will be carried on by the workers' councils. The direction of the economic struggle and the continued expansion of the area of this struggle must be in the hands of the workers' councils. The councils must have all power in the state". Again, this is "workers' democracy" concept of revolution and it will not do for an armed uprising.

1919 barricade

Government troops, 1919

Luxembourg also discussed the reasons for the failure of the January uprising in her last article, dated January 14, 1919, titled "Order prevails in Berlin". She says: "the economic struggle, the actual volcanic font that feeds the revolution, is only in its initial stage. And that is the underlying reason why the revolutionary class struggle, is in its infancy". K. Shelavin writes: "According to the concept of Rosa Luxembourg the economic revolution should take place of the political revolution in order for the overthrow of the government to be a final act of revolutionary process". In other words, according to the conception of Luxembourg, the masses have not yet revealed their maturity at the factory level. Hence, they could not govern the country. This, however, is a uni-directional, not dialectical concept of revolution. It assumes that workers are capable of taking charge of the production under a capitalist order. A Leninist concept of revolution assumes that first the vanguard of workers take the political power, after which conditions are provided for general spread of education and self-management by the workers.

Lenin explained the defeat of the January by the following: 1) the international situation of Germany (negotiations of the Versailles treaty) have brought forward the internal political crisis; 2) this led to the vanguard workers immediately call for taking the power; 3) however, there was no real revolutionary party of the German workers during the crisis as a consequence of communists splitting only recently from reformists and opportunists.

This opinion is confirmed by Oscar Hippe:

"There were long discussions in our party, and especially in the youth movement, about the causes of a defeat suffered despite successful intervention in the fight to defend the republic. In the course of these discussions, there was almost unanimous agreement that Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht had not split from social-democratic policies early enough, as the left wing of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party had done in 1903. In the last years before the war at the latest, when reformism was showing itself more clearly, that was when the left wing in the SPD should have decided to split. Even if it had not been possible to prevent the war, at least the outcome of the November Revolution would have been different".

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