German Revolution

kpdTaking place just one year after the victory of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in Russia, “The whole of Europe [was] filled with the spirit of revolution,” remarked Lloyd George to the French Premier Clemenceau in March 1919.

The First World War had been a seemingly unending nightmare for both the civilians on the home front and the soldiers in the trenches. Large tracts of Europe lay in waste, millions were dead or wounded and the great majority of casualties were from the working class. In particular, the people of Germany suffered from food shortages and military defeats.

Riots, mass strikes and mutinies against the imperialist war all across the country took on an insurrectionary character. Inspired by their Russian brothers and sisters, the German proletariat entered the scene of world history. The old rotten system of the Kaiser and German Empire was brought down in a matter of weeks and the situation was ripe for a proletarian takeover in Germany.

Yet the socialist revolution ultimately failed, the young Spartiskists and the KPD did not have the experience or the necessary leadership to consolidate the German workers into a mass Bolshevik party. This was to result in the capitulation of the reformist leaders, and tragic murder of the leading organisers Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg on 15 January 1919.

The workers of the world looked on in horror as mistake after mistake was made and the revolution was lost. The lessons to be learned from this period are of the utmost importance to any communist movement today. The consequences of that failure would be most brutally felt over a decade later with the rise of fascism in Germany and the consolidation of Stalinism in Russia.

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.

Marie Frederiksen talks at the IMT Winter School in Berlin about how the German workers could have taken power in 1918-19. Unfortunately the German Communists committed a series of errors, errors which we must learn from and prepare for the future.

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 was an outstanding Marxist and revolutionary. Her assassination on this day 90 years ago severely damaged the German Communist movement. Here Patrick Larsen looks at her strong side and also her weaknesses in the light of the 1918 German Revolution and draws out lessons for today, in particular for the revolutionary movement in Venezuela.

On the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the armistice took effect on the Western front. One year after the victory of the Russian Revolution, the German proletariat had entered the scene of world history and brought an end to "the Great War". Austria-Hungary soon followed suit and the "old regime" had collapsed.

In 1918-33 revolution and counter-revolution followed hot on each others' heels. The barbarity of the Nazis is well documented. Less well known are the events that preceeded Hitler's rise to power. Rob Sewell gives a picture of the tumultous events - the 1918 revolution, the collapse of the Kaiser's regime, the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic, the Kapp putsch in 1920, the French occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 and the ensuing revolutionary upheavals culminating in the abortive Hamburg uprising, finally Hitler's rise to power in 1929-33.

Fundación Federico Engels is publishing a new edition of Trotsky's book on Germany. Alan Woods runs through the events that finally led to the defeat of the German working class. The leaders of the German Communist Party - advised by Zinoviev, Stalin and co. - had a big responsibility in that historic defeat. It also deals with the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1920s and early 1930s. This tragic event could have been avoided had the leaders of the German labour movement had a clear understanding of genuine Marxism.

Earlier this year, Alan Woods wrote an article on the slogan of the constituent assembly being put forward by a number of revolutionary groups in Argentina. The article explained that this was a bourgeois-democratic slogan, applicable to a country without democratic rights or parliament, and that in the present circumstances it could sow dangerous illusions. Rob Sewell looks as the lessons of the German Revolution of 1918.

"The Bolsheviks thought that their revolution could only be the forerunner: the problems posed in Russia could only be resolved on a world scale and, in the meantime, the decisive battlefield was Germany, where the bourgeoisie, after November 1918, owed its survival to the alliance between the officer corps and the Social Democratic and trade union apparatus against the Workers’ Councils."

We have suffered two heavy losses at once which merge into one enormous bereavement. There have been struck down from our ranks two leaders whose names will be for ever entered in the great book of the proletarian revolution: Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. They have perished. They have been killed. They are no longer with us!

The following editorial is the last known piece of writing by Rosa Luxemburg. It was written just after the Spartacus uprising was crushed by the German government and in the hours prior to the arrest and murder of her and Karl Liebknecht by the Friekorps.

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.

Written in January 1917, Lenin analyses the cynical imperialist manoeuvres behind World War One and puts forward the proletarian revolutionary alternative as the only way out of the impasse for the working class.