Sunday, March 21, 2021

March Action

 You cannot make a revolution.

What was called the ‘March Action’ of 1921 was a failed attempt to re-ignite the revolutionary fervour of Germans by the KPD, the German Communist Party, which drew in the German Workers Party, the KAPD. Another even more futile  rising by the KPD took place in Hamburg in 1923.

 Karl Radek of the KPD, said that it was necessary to break with the passive wait-and-see attitude of Germany’s workers after the abortive Revolution of 1918-19. It led to Rosa Luxemburg’s ally, Paul Levi, to break with Comintern which is said to have instigated what can only be described as an stillborn putsch. 

The March Action was centred around the industrial region of Leuna in Mansfeld, Saxony where left-wing militancy was strong. On the 21st a general strike was called and that seemed as far as the workers were prepared to go. They were not prepared to engage in an actual insurrection. This point of view was shared by the KAPD members in the Leuna factory who were unaware of their Berlin central committee supported the KPD’s armed struggle strategy. 

The radical Max Holz led a couple of hundred “urban guerrillas” of who the two communist organisations had little control. 

The rest of Germany remained relatively calm.

This  ‘March Action’ resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands being imprisoned for their involvement. It caused a widening of the split between the Communist Party cadres and the rank and file with mass resignations from both communist groups and their affiliated unions.


Keefs said...

Your remarks here give the impression that the March Action was instigated by the Communists in an attempt to "force a revolution". This is not at all true. The area around the city of Halle, then known as Prussian Saxony, now the southern part of Saxony-Anhalt state, had been missed on previous "pacifications". The Social-Democrats selected it as a proving ground for the new armed police units (the Sipo). Having moved in to disarm the workers, the local left began a general strike. The Communists sent down Bela Kun to stir things up but to no avail. It was only when Max Hoelz came on the scene that everything sparked off. Hoelz, as AJ rightly says, was a free agent (far too free for Stalin who later had him accidented). I believe one can rightly see the March Action as a localised response to provocation. For sure, it was going nowhere but when kicked, one should certainly kick back. Not present ones backside and request a harder kick.

ajohnstone said...

Yours is a valid interpretation but others could disagree with your conclusion. Paul Levi, for one, who saw the KPD role as the guiding hand and a self-destructive one. Some say it was for a distraction from the Kronsdadt Commune.

If i could have the liberty to re-edit your comment, i would omit one very small word.
"Your remarks here give the impression that the March Action was instigated by the Communists in an attempt to "force a revolution". This is not all true..."

As the article said, the workers were militant enough to strike but as you say the attempts to "stir things up", ie to make it a revolutionary moment, to transform the situation into an insurrectionary one, fell on stony soil.

"...when kicked, one should certainly kick back..."

Revolutionaries shouldn't be so easily provoked into premature actions. That is for the agent provocateurs.

Luxemburg saw 1918 as ill-timed (Liebknecht had a different view) which also was sparked off by reacting to a State crack-down but even understanding the futility of resisting she felt obliged out of solidarity to participate in a lost cause. But was her sacrifice worth it in the far wider picture? We can only speculate on the future course of socialism if she had survived even for a handful of more years.

"The Communists sent down Bela Kun to stir things up but to no avail."

I'm not sure Bela Kun was ever actually on the ground as you infer, because as the article implied, decisions were being made top-down in Berlin. Not too top, it appears, because both Lenin and Trotsky seem to be out of the loop and disapproved of his decisions but "party loyalty" demanded that it was Levi who should fall upon his sword. The Party itself cannot be seen to be wrong.

As you also point out, Hoelz was defeated by a paramilitary police force. The actual army was not required to be called upon to intervene. I think that reflects upon his actual significance.

ajohnstone said...

"Luxemburg saw 1918 as ill-timed"


Keefs said...

levi had a vested interest in negating violence as a kpd tactic. his was the "voice of common sense". The lenin line in the west. i can't imagine there was much need to shield kronstadt. but a tactical dispute on the kpd for sure. give the militants their lead and see them disgrace themselves.

you're probably right about bela kun. Just remembered hearing it some place. i'd have sent him down. hoping the idiot would get himself shot.

i've heard tell the sipo was created as a place to dispose of the freikorps and evade allied limitations on army size. the sort of vermin not fit for military service but fit enough to massacre.

ajohnstone said...

"...his was the "voice of common sense". The lenin line in the west..."

I was reminded of Lenin's attitude to the July Days. He too felt he was faced with a premature uprising and declined to commit the Bolshevik Party fully to it, risking losing the sympathy of militants, unlike Shliapnikov who had the grassroots connections and sought support for it.

The outcome though of the March Action was a nail in the coffin for the worker councilist KAPD.

I'm not totally convinced by Gorter's defence of the Action and we have the advantage of hindsight to see he was overly optimistic but it is an interesting read

Keefs said...

oh yes, wildly optimistic. but they were hoping to pull off something similar to what had happened the previous year. a giant campaign of mass civil disobedience that brought down the putschist government. considering that the restored socdems then did exactly the same thing that had led to the coup, cozying up to the ur-fascists, faithfully obeying the capitalist class, they deserved it.