In the bloody struggle for world domination Russia entered as a second-rate partner of the Entente. The apparent strength of the Russian Empire concealed its internal contradictions and fundamental weaknesses. Russian tsarism combined elements of a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country heavily dependent upon foreign capital with the aggressive characteristics of imperialism. Indeed, despite the economic backwardness of Russia, which never exported a single kopek of capital, Lenin included it as one of the five main imperialist countries.

How do you commemorate a war that swept away four empires, killed 18 million people and left tens of millions of others with their lives shattered? A very good question, and now we have the answer. As the world marks the centenary of the Great Slaughter, our television screens are full of programmes dedicated to the systematic trivialization of that catastrophe.

The tensions between the major European Powers, which were ultimately rooted in the struggle for markets, colonies and spheres of interest, were increasing steadily in the decades before 1914. They found their expression in a series of “incidents”, each of which contained the potential for the outbreak of war. If they did not reach this logical conclusion that was because the objective conditions were not yet sufficiently mature. These incidents are similar to the small landslides that precede a major avalanche in the above example.

The Austrian attack on Serbia did not lead immediately to war with Russia. In St. Petersburg the generals were impatient to take action. However, Russian foreign minister Sazonov seems not to have shared the blind confidence of his generals. He feared the effects of war on the unstable political situation in Russia and was not convinced that the Russian army could win in a conflict with the formidable German military machine.

Self-styled philosophers of the post-modernist kind deny the possibility of finding any rational explanations for human history. It is alleged that there are no general laws, no objective factors that lie behind the conduct of individuals and determine their psychology and behaviour. From this standpoint – the standpoint of extreme subjectivity – all history is determined by individuals acting according to their own free will. To attempt to find some inner logic in this turbulent and lawless sea would be as futile an exercise as to try to predict the precise momentum and position of an individual subatomic particle.

Ninety years ago, on the morning of 13th March 1920, a brigade of soldiers marched into Berlin and declared the German government of the Social Democrats to be overthrown. Not a shot was fired by any side and the response of the leaders of the government was simply to flee. The very forces which the Social Democrats had place so much trust in had turned against them. The Kapp Putsch, as it has become known as, was challenged instead by the workers.

The Versailles Treaty of 1919 was one of the most outrageous and predatory treaties in history. It was a blatant act of plunder perpetrated by a gang of robbers against a helpless, prostrate and bleeding Germany. The proceedings at Versailles are highly enlightening because they reveal the inner workings of imperialist diplomacy, the crude reality of power politics and the material interests that lurk behind the flowery phrases about Liberty, Humanitarianism, Pacifism and Democracy.

In 1918-19 the German workers could have taken power. Had they done so world history would have been very different, as it would have a huge impact on the workers of Europe, thereby breaking the isolation of Soviet Russia and thus stopping the Stalinist degeneration. A genuine international federation of socialist republics could have been built. Unfortunately the German Communists committed a series of errors, errors which we must learn from and prepare for the future.

Rosa Luxemburg wrote this programme in December 1918, a few days before the German Communist Party (the successor of the Spartacus League) was founded. The reader will realise at once that this is a call for a socialist Germany.

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