Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Spartacists

“What was seen on Monday in Berlin was probably the greatest proletarian demonstration in history... From the statue of Roland (in front of the city hall) to the statue of Victory (in the Konigsplatz) proletarians were standing shoulder to shoulder... They had brought along their weapons and their red flags. They were ready to do anything, to give everything, even their lives. There was an army of 200,000 such as Ludendorff had never seen” - Paul Levi in Rote Fahne, 5th September 1920

At the beginning of January, 1919, Friedrich Ebert, Germany's new chancellor, ordered the removal of Emil Eichhorn, the head of the Police Department for not using force against strikers during the Christmas discontent. As Rosa Levine pointed out: "A member of the Independent Socialist Party and a close friend of the late August Bebel, he enjoyed great popularity among revolutionary workers of all shades for his personal integrity and genuine devotion to the working class. His position was regarded as a bulwark against counter-revolutionary conspiracy and was a thorn in the flesh of the reactionary forces."
A “Revolution Committee” on January 5, 1919, called for a general strike to show support. More than 500,000 workers in Berlin flooded the streets, and the city shut down. A prominent participant Paul Levi, explained: "The members of the leadership were unanimous: a government of the proletariat would not last more than a fortnight... It was necessary to avoid all slogans that might lead to the overthrow of the government at this point. Our slogan had to be precise in the following sense: lifting of the dismissal of Eichhorn, disarming of the counter-revolutionary troops, arming of the proletariat. None of these slogans implied an overthrow of the government." However, an armed struggle ensued. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) government (akin to the Labour Party) on 11 January 1919 brought in the notorious Freikorps, which very effectively crushed  the revolutionary uprising, and socialists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were brutally murdered. By 17 January both Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg had been murdered by Freikorps troops, and Berlin was under government control once more. This was a pattern that was to be repeated in many parts of the country, as any struggles and gains by the workers were brutally crushed by military might. The workers discovered too late the danger of following leaders, and, much as the Bolsheviks crushed all independent working class activity in Russia to establish their dominance, so too did the SPD in Germany to preserve the German capitalist state. The workers discovered to their cost the impossibility of fighting against a co-ordinated and well-armed state, and if little blood was spilt in the initial revolt much was spilt when it was put down. A year later, when threatened by the right-wing Kapp putsch, the SPD felt no shame in calling on workers to strike to save them.

The true colours of the SPD were shown during the war, when nearly all of its members in the Reichstag openly backed the war, and the party spread propaganda to the effect that the war was necessary to stop the threat of tyranny from Russia. This slowly led to a split in the SPD, three ways, with the eventual formation of the Independent Social-Democratic Party (USPD) within the parliamentary party and then more slowly within the membership itself. The "far-left" contingent formed themselves into the Spartakusbund (Spartacist League) with Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg as prominent members. However, they remained within the official ranks of the USPD.

Rosa Luxemburg, actually opposed an uprising, realising that mass support for socialism just wasn't there. Luxemburg wrote in the party newspaper: "The Spartacus League will never take over governmental power in any other way than through the clear, unambiguous will of the great majority of the proletarian masses in all Germany, never except by virtue of their conscious assent to the views, aims, and fighting methods of the Spartacus League."  Reluctantly, she gave her support to the actions of her comrades once the uprising begun and unlike Lenin in the July Days of 1917 who donned a disguise and fled, Luxemburg remained in Berlin and did her best to make the best of a bad situation. 

The workers of Germany persistently followed their old leaders, believing these would solve their problems for them, to the point of electing the future butcher Gustav Noske to head the Kiel soldiers, sailors and workers' council in 1918 , and for a while they believed the lip-service the SPD government gave to "socialisation" of industry. In the end, however, they had to learn the hard way the folly of following leaders. The German revolution does not show as many Leftist believes, that if the KPD had had more discipline (in other words, enacted the Leninist principle of "democratic-centralism" and obedience to the leadership) it might have controlled events more and thus been able to lead the workers to successful revolution (on Russian lines). The true lesson is that where the working class does not have the resolve to establish socialism, it will not, and trying to make socialists in the heat of an ongoing civil war is almost impossible. No amount of leadership but only a majority of socialist-minded workers could have made the revolution in Germany.

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