WWI & the German Revolution

WWI & the German Revolution

For the soldiers, the First World War was a seemly unending nightmare; for the civilians on the home front, especially the women, hardly less so. In the end large tracts of Europe lay wasted, millions were dead or wounded. The great majority of casualties were from the working class. Survivors lived on with severe mental trauma. The streets of every European city were full of limbless veterans. Nations were bankrupt — not just the losers, but also the victors.

This bloody conflict was brought to an end by revolution — a fact that has been buried under a mountain of myths, pacifist sentimentality, and lying patriotic propaganda. By 1917, in all the belligerent states, the discontent of the masses was growing. In particular the people of Germany were beginning to suffer food shortages that sparked off riots and mass strikes across the country. There were mutinies in the armies and navies of Italy, Austria, France, and Britain.

... The First World War was thus ended by the German Revolution.

— From WWI – Part Fifteen: How revolution ended the First World War

On 28 June 1914, two pistol shots shattered the peace of a sunny afternoon in Sarajevo. Those shots reverberated around Europe and shattered the peace of the whole world. This was the beginning of the Great Slaughter. Could it have been avoided? Alan Woods uses the method of Marxism to answer this question. He explains that, actually, whilst individuals play an important role in history, to explain events such as wars, one must look at deeper causes.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Rosa Luxemburg, we share this article by Marie Frederiksen, author of The Revolutionary Heritage of Rosa Luxemburg (available for pre-order in Danish from Forlaget Marx). Marie explains how the Spartacist Uprising of 1919 was defeated due to the weakness and mistakes of the young German Communist Party, ultimately resulting in Luxemburg’s execution. These events are also explored in Germany 1918-1933: Socialism or Barbarism, available now from WellRed Books.

The German Revolution of 1918 ended the First World War. During a little-known episode of the Revolution, German soldiers liberated Belgium from a brutal military occupation before the armistice of the 11 November was signed. This revolutionary movement was also crucial in pushing through a swift introduction of universal general suffrage in Belgium.

Coming just one year after the mighty events of Red October in Russia, power was taken into the hands of the masses. Yet the socialist revolution ultimately failed. 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.

Speaking at the opening rally of the 2018 Revolution Festival, Marie Frederiksen and Rob Sewell discuss their new books about Rosa Luxemburg and the German Revolution.

To commemorate the anniversary of Rosa Luxemburg's murder in 1919, we republish the following introduction to a 2014 Mexican edition of her important work, Reform or Revolution. The legacy of this martyr for proletarian revolution endures through her ideas.

This in depth article deals with the horrors that capitalism has inflicted on humanity. In the first part of this article we see the real face of the capitalist class, both its predatory nature on a global scale and its capacity for violent suppression of any mass popular revolt that challenges its right to rule. Some will say, yes but this was in the past; now the system has become more civilised and humane. Recent history shows that this is utterly false.

On Armistice Day - 11th November - Alan Woods analyses the factors behind the First World War - "The Great Slaughter" - and discusses the revolutionary alternative to imperialism and war today.

100 years ago, on 5th September 1915, a small group of international socialists gathered in the tiny Swiss village of Zimmerwald. This was the first attempt to unite those socialists who were opposed to the War.

In this video from the International Marxist Winter School 2014, Marie Frederiksen, editor of the Danish Marxist newspaper "Revolution", discusses the real revolutionary history, ideas, and traditions of Rosa Luxemburg, and draws out the valuable lessons we can learn for today.

Alan Woods, editor of In Defence of Marxism (marxist.com), speaking on the clash between the imperialist powers that led to the outbreak of the First World War.

Two women munitions workers stand beside examples of the shells produced at National Shell Filling Factory No.6, Chillwell, Nottinghamshire during the First World War. Nicholls Horace © IWM (Q 30017)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the media is dedicating much time and attention to it. However, one aspect which so far has not received sufficient consideration is the role played by women during those dramatic and bloody years.

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.

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.

After 4 years of intense warfare, the German workers and soldiers ended World War I in November 1918. The workers and soldiers had taken power into their hands but also handed it over to the very same people who so shamefully supported the war in 1914. These Social Democratic leaders organized the first defeat of the German revolution.

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.

After the Russian revolution, the German workers could have taken power on several occasions, only to be thwarted by their leaders, the Social Democrats who openly betrayed and the Communists who unfortunately made a number of tragic mistakes. The defeat of the German revolution led to the barbaric regime of Hitler. Pierre Broué provides an account of those events that all fighting workers and youth should read.

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.

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.

The international situation is becoming increasingly clear and increasingly menacing. Both belligerent coalitions have latterly revealed the imperialist nature of the war in a very striking way. The more assiduously the capitalist governments and the bourgeois and socialist pacifists spread their empty, lying pacifist phrases—the talk of a democratic peace, a peace without annexations, etc.—the sooner are they exposed. Germany is crushing several small nations under her iron heel with the very evident determination not to give up her booty except by exchanging part of it for enormous colonial possessions, and she is using hypocritical pacifist phrases as a cover for her readiness to

...

"Proletarians of all countries, follow the heroic example of your Italian brothers! Ally yourselves to the international class struggle against the conspiracies of secret diplomacy, against imperialism, against war, for peace with in the socialist spirit."

The “Berner Tagewacht” publishes the full text of Karl Liebknecht’s protest in the Reichstag against the voting of the war credits. The protest was suppressed in the Reichstag, and no German paper has published it. It appears that seventeen Social-Democratic members expressed their opposition to the credits on December 2, but Karl Liebknecht’s was the only vote recorded against them.