Tuesday, March 06, 2012

In Honor Of The 93rd Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Communist International-From The International Communist League's Marxist Bulletin Series- The Fourth Congress Of The Communist International (1922):The "Workers Government" and the Road to the German Revolution

Fourth Congress (1922):The "Workers Government" and the Road to the German Revolution

by T. Marlow New York, 23 January 1999


The Fourth Congress of the Communist International opened on 5 November 1922, 16 months after the Third Congress. In broad strokes, not much had changed: the precarious equilibrium of post-war capitalist rule still obtained, given the absence of Communist parties with sufficient authority in their native working classes to present a real threat to the bourgeois order. The Fourth Congress was also the last that Lenin was able to attend—from the Collected Works, it is clear he gave but one speech to the Congress on 13 November.

The real backdrop was the disintegration of the Versailles "peace” and resumption of inter-imperialist rivalries, and the increased role of U.S. imperialism in the world. As stated in the Fourth Congress resolution on the Versailles treaty: "The World War ended with the downfall of three imperialist powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia. Four exploiting Great Powers emerged from the war as victors: the United States, Britain, France and Japan.

"The peace treaties, the crux of which is the Versailles peace treaty, are nothing other than an attempt to stabilize the world domination of these four victorious powers; politically and economically, by reducing the rest of the world to the level of a single colony exploited by them, and socially, by creating an international union of the bourgeoisie designed to strengthen bourgeois rule both over the proletariat of their own countries and over the victorious revolutionary proletariat of Russia....

"At first glance it might appear that, of all the victorious powers, France has gained the most. Besides the seizure of Alsace-Lorraine, the occupation of the left bank of the Rhine and the claim to countless billions of German reparations, it has in military terms become the strongest power on the European continent. However, its economy, diminishing population, enormous domestic and foreign debts and consequent economic dependence on Britain and America do not provide a firm enough basis for its insatiable imperialist appetite. British control of all the important naval strongholds, and the British and American oil monopoly, greatly limit its political power.... All the financial experts are agreed that Germany cannot possibly pay the sums needed by France to revive its finances."

The resolution then goes on to Britain, noting its continuing possession of a vast colonial empire and its control of outlets to the oceans, and also its conflict with France over Germany:

"Here the interests of Britain and France violently clash: Britain wants to sell its goods to Germany, but this is prevented by the Versailles peace treaty; France wants to squeeze huge sums out of Germany as compensation for war losses, but this threatens to destroy German purchasing power. Hence Britain favours a reduction of reparations, while France is carrying on an undercover war against Britain in the Near East to compel greater flexibility on the question of reparations."
—Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Communist International [hereafter FFC], pp. 383-385 (Ink Links)
As an example of U.S. imperialism's new power, there was a conference held at the end of 1921 in Washington, D.C. nominally to discuss "disarmament." The various imperialist powers were forced to accept U.S. conditions limiting the displacement, gun caliber and number of each country's battleships, which at this time represented the highest expression of military power. In reality, this was directed primarily against Japan, whose navy was limited to a size comparable to that of Italy. As a documentary film on sea power put it, the Second World War began, in effect, with Japanese resentment of its being forced to accept second-class status. And the Fourth Congress resolution noted:
"By using its economic supremacy to build a strong navy, the United States has forced the other imperialist powers to sign the Washington agreement on disarmament. In doing this, it undermined one of the most important bases of the Versailles peace treaty—British world supremacy at sea—and so has removed any interest Britain had in preserving the alignment of powers envisaged by the Versailles treaty."
-FFC, p. 386

France and Britain were also at loggerheads concerning their policies toward Soviet Russia. This of course proved quite useful to the Soviets. The imperialists had set up their League of Nations, a body which Lenin dismissed as follows in a June 1920 speech:

"... their League of Nations is a league only in name; in fact it is a pack of wolves that are all the time at each other's throats and do not trust one another in the least."
—"Speech delivered at the Second All-Russia Conference of Organisers Responsible for Rural Work," 12 June 1920, Collected Works (CW), Vol. 31, p. 172

Lenin noted in a speech to the Moscow Gubernia party organization (21 November 1920) how the Soviets had used the dissension between the imperialists, particularly Britain and France, after the war:

"The bourgeois states were able to emerge from the imperialist war with their bourgeois regimes intact. They were able to stave off and delay the crisis hanging over them, but basically they so undermined their own position that, despite all their gigantic military forces, they had to acknowledge, after three years, that they were unable to crush the Soviet Republic with its almost non-existent military forces.... Without having gained an international victory, which we consider the only sure victory, we are in a position of having won conditions enabling us to exist side by side with capitalist powers, who are now compelled to enter into trade relations with us. In the course of this struggle we have won the right to an independent existence."
-CW, Vol. 31, p. 412

It's very important to remember how isolated the young Soviet Republic was in this period. The defeat of the German March Action in 1921 signaled that proletarian revolution in Germany was not to be immediately forthcoming and in fact one of the main features of the Third Congress was to deal with the problems of the German party. British imperialism continued to make trouble in the countries on Russia's southern flank, e.g., Afghanistan, Persia and Turkey, while France pursued an active military policy against the Soviets, both in East Europe and in the Crimea where they supported the White forces.

However, with the defeat of the Red Army at Warsaw and the Soviet-Polish armistice of 12 October 1920 and the smashing of Wrangel's forces in the Crimea in November 1920, British fears of the Red Army conquering Europe and hopes of immediate counterrevolution were both dashed. David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, could hardly be accused of being soft on the Bolsheviks, but he was astute enough to realize that the recovery of the English, and in general the European, economies required some resumption of trade with Russia. After a spate of negotiations in late 1920, an Anglo-Soviet trade agreement was finally signed on 16 March 1921. British concerns had less to do with trade than with political concerns in the East. This is clear from one of the stipulations in the agreement:

"That each party refrains from hostile action or undertakings against the other and from conducting outside of its own borders any official propaganda, direct or indirect, against the institutions of the British Empire or of the Russian Soviet Republic respectively, and more particularly that the Russian Soviet Government refrains from any attempt by military or diplomatic or any other form of action or propaganda to encourage any of the peoples of Asia in any form of hostile action against British interests or the British Empire, especially in India and in the independent state of Afghanistan. The British Government gives a similar particular undertaking to the Russian Soviet Government in respect of the countries which formed part of the former Russian Empire and which have now become independent."
—E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923, Vol. 3, p. 288

The abstinence on the British side is laughable, since France had undertaken the anti-Soviet campaign in East Europe, particularly Poland. Carr notes an interesting exchange of diplomatic correspondence between Britain and Russia in the fall of 1921 where the Russians were accused of having violated the above terms of the trade agreement: "The Soviet authorities, who had been willing almost from the moment of the revolution to undertake to abstain from hostile propaganda against other states, interpreted that undertaking in a purely formal sense. It applied, so far as they were concerned, only to direct and avowed government policy and did not cover the action of agents in receipt of confidential instructions. Thus, they felt entitled to deny, in the face of well-known facts, that there was a propaganda school in Tashkent for Indian revolutionaries...; and the whole rejection of responsibility for the activities of Comintern and its agents rested on no more than a formal distinction.... In fact, both sides, undeterred by the agreement, continued to regard the activities of their own agents as legitimate retaliation or legitimate self-defence and those of the other party as unprovoked aggression."
—ibid., p. 345

Whereas the British were willing to explore the possibilities of economically sabotaging the Bolsheviks, the French were implacable. The holders of tsarist bonds would never forget or forgive the renunciation of tsarist debts. In the spring of 1921,-Poland and Rumania signed a treaty of alliance, with scarcely disguised encouragement from France. And as Carr states:

"In December 1921 the foreign ministers of Finland, Poland, Latvia and Estonia met in conference in Helsingfors and decided to negotiate a mutual assistance pact. Poland was the driving force in the alliance; and behind Polish initiative the hand of France, then at the height of her post-war military power and prestige, was plainly seen. Little attempt was made to deny that Soviet Russia was the potential enemy against whom protection was to be sought through common action. Far from having succeeded in opening a window towards the west, the Soviet Government began to have visions of a revival of the cordon sanitaire" -ibid., pp. 348-349

In what Carr calls a rare excursion into international affairs, Stalin wrote in the pages of Pravda in December 1921:

"Gone on the wing is the 'terror' or 'horror' of the proletarian revolution which seized the bourgeoisie of the world, for example, in the days of the advance of the Red Army on Warsaw. And with it has passed the boundless enthusiasm with which the workers of Europe used to receive almost every piece of news about Soviet Russia,...

"But we should not forget that commercial and all other sorts of missions and associations, now flooding Russia to trade with her and to aid her, are at the same time the best spies of the world bourgeoisie, and that now it, the world bourgeoisie, in virtue of these conditions knows Soviet Russia with its weak and strong sides better than ever before—circumstances fraught with serious dangers in the event of new interventionist actions."
-ibid., p. 349

It's pretty cheeky for Stalin to comment on the advance of the Red Army on Warsaw, since it was due to his efforts that the Red forces were fatally split, allowing the Poles (with the aid of French officers) to defeat the Red Army. Carr notes the deeper significance of Stalin's piece:

"The article, which bears marks of Stalin's longstanding antipathy to Chicherin, was significant, not because Stalin was at this time concerned in the framing of Soviet foreign policy, but because it appealed to prejudices and discouragements common in party circles about the policy of rapprochement with the western capitalist world which had been inaugurated in March 1921, and of which Chicherin and Krasin, with Lenin's support, were the most active exponents."
—ibid., p. 350

But in the absence of proletarian revolution in Europe, Russia's only hope was to play the imperialists off against each other and to expand whatever opportunities for trade relations there were. Lenin was willing to offer significant concessions to foreign investors. Carr cites Lenin's report to the Tenth Party Congress in March 1921:

"In order to obtain the necessary assistance, he was ready to give extensive concessions 'to the most powerful imperialist syndicates'—for example, 'a quarter of Baku, a quarter of Grozny, a quarter of our best forests'; later he named timber and iron ore as typical products for concessions."
-ibid., pp. 352-353; c.f. Lenin, CW, Vol. 32, pp. 182-183

Contrary to Stalin's distrust of everything foreign—expressing the limited worldview of the Russian muzhik (peasant)—Lenin understood that, without revolutionary help from the West, it was only through such concessions that Soviet industry could be built. Thus despite the dangers inherent in the concessions policy, the Anglo-Soviet trade agreement gave the Bolsheviks a respite and recognition which they desperately needed. Carr notes that the de facto recognition of the Soviet government by Great Britain meant that the Soviets no longer had to fear that goods exported by them or gold issued for payment for imports would be subject to impoundment by creditors of the former tsarist regime.

One problem in terms of trade was the deplorable state of Russian industry—what she could export was mostly agricultural products and natural resources, and not too much of either because of the devastation of the economy after the war.

But the major problem in terms of concessions was that the Soviet government represented state power in the hands of the proletariat. The state monopoly over foreign trade meant that the flow of foreign capital was subject to strict regulation. Trotsky referred to the significance of the monopoly of foreign trade in his report to the Fourth Congress: "It is one of our safeguards against capitalism which, of course, would not at all be averse under certain conditions to buy up our incipient socialism, after failing to snuff it out by military measures.

"So far as concessions are concerned today, Comrade Lenin has here remarked: 'Discussions are plentiful, concessions are scarce'." —Trotsky, The First Five Years of the Communist International [hereafter FFYCI\, Vol. 2, p. 242

The Genoa Conference and the Rapallo Treaty

The subject of normalizing relations with Soviet Russia had been one of intense interest, particularly to Britain. As Trotsky noted in his speech to the Fourth Congress, it was not possible that collaboration and trade with Soviet Russia would bring immediate solutions to Europe's (and England's) economic woes. But Britain certainly had reasons to worry over the increasing French dominance of the European continent. On Lloyd George's initiative, the allied Supreme Council decided on 6 January 1922 to convene an economic and financial conference to which all the European countries, including Soviet Russia, would be invited. '"A united effort by the stronger Powers,' declared the resolution, 'is necessary to remedy the paralysis of the European system'" (E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923, p. 358). The question of German reparations was to be discussed and Rathenau, the German Minister of Reconstruction, participated in the talks.

The bright prospects Lloyd George had were cut short by the elections in France: Briand's government was replaced by that of Poincare, who was a bitter opponent of any rapprochement with Russia and also any relaxation of the reparations against Germany.
Behind the scenes, secret negotiations had been undertaken between German and Russian representatives—as Carr put it the two outcast nations of the Europe of Versailles. Despite the visceral anti-Sovietism of the German right, more far-seeing elements of the German bourgeoisie understood the advantages of an agreement with Soviet Russia. Ostensibly, these were about trade, and the technical details of how to deal with the Soviet trade bureaucracy. In fact, the real questions revolved around production of weapons, training of officers, which were forbidden to Germany by the terms of the Versailles treaty. To Soviet Russia, this offered the possibility of obtaining the latest in military arms and training for the Red Army; for the Germans, it meant a means to obtain the same outside of the eyes—and control—of the Entente. So German officers were dispatched along with technical experts.

Thus when the Allies opened the Genoa conference on 10 April 1922, the Russians were in a relatively strong position. Given French intransigence, Lloyd George wasn't able to get the agreement he needed, and the Germans were frightened at rumors that they were being cut out of a deal with Soviet Russia under article 116 of the Versailles treaty which had canceled the Brest-Litovsk accords. After some last minute waffling by the German delegation, the treaty of Rapallo was signed at 5 o'clock on 17 April. As Carr states:
"This major diplomatic event shattered the already creaking structure of the Genoa conference. The allied Powers had attempted to come to terms with Soviet Russia behind the back of Germany: Soviet Russia had come to terms with Germany behind their back." —ibid., p. 376

Carr's interpretation of the accommodation to Western capitalism (after noting the emergency of the civil war, necessary concessions to the peasantry, i.e., NEP, and so on) is that the interests of the Soviet state came to predominate over that of the Comintern and world revolution; in fact, Carr predates the switch to the autumn of 1920, when the Soviets pursued a strong diplomatic policy in the East; these culminated in various treaties which were signed in the Spring of 1921:

"In the east, as in the west, the autumn of 1920 had been a high-water mark of world revolution as the driving force of Soviet foreign policy, and of Comintern as its chief instrument, and was succeeded by a certain reaction. The idea of Moscow as the deliverer, through the processes of national and socialist revolution, of the oppressed masses of the east was not abandoned. But it began to take second place to the idea of Moscow as the centre of a government which, while remaining the champion and the repository of the revolutionary aspirations of mankind, was compelled in the meanwhile to take its place among the great Powers of the capitalist world."
-ibid., pp. 289-290

In other words, having defeated the forces of counterrevolution, the Bolsheviks regarded the Soviet workers state as the sine qua non, and that the affiliated parties of the Comintern were henceforth required to kowtow to the interests of Soviet Russia, even if at the expense of their own revolutions. Carr is wrong—while the delegates to the Fourth Congress certainly understood the necessity of defending Soviet Russia and admired the Bolsheviks who had made the revolution, they were not afraid to express differences with the leadership of the CI. The subsuming of the Comintern to the wishes of the emerging Stalinist bureaucracy would come later, at the Fifth Congress which initiated the program of "Bolshevization."

The Famine of 1921

If the troubles of the Civil War were not enough, Soviet Russia was afflicted with a severe drought which hit the Volga basin in the summer of 1921. By the end of the year, it was estimated that some 22 million people were seriously affected by the crop failures. In August, agreements were signed with the American Relief Administration (ARA), under no less than Herbert Hoover, and with the Red Cross. The terms were humiliating since they meant the admission into Russia of foreign agents, ostensibly to oversee the distribution of food aid. The ARA was especially suspect: its staff was widely seen to be spies or agents to secure their own or U.S. commercial interests. In an 11 August 1921 letter to Molotov and the Politbureau, Lenin wrote: ' "There is rank duplicity on the part of America, Hoover and the League of Nations Council. "Hoover must be punished, he must be slapped in the face publicly, for all the world to see, and the League of Nations Council as well."

Lenin added the following postscript:
"The conditions must be of the strictest: arrest and deportation for the slightest interference in our internal affairs."
-CW, Vol. 45, pp. 250-251

(Fortunately, the harvest of 1922 was excellent, the famine was outlived and the economy began to revive under the NEP.)

This calamity was no small political factor: Zinoviev in his report to the Fourth Congress noted how the Social Democrats of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals used it against Russia:

"For the non-party workers, lacking in political training to be faced with the fact that famine reigned in the first Soviet Republic and that the life of the Russian workers and peasants was one of suffering and hardships, it amounted to a great disappointment in the revolution in -general."
—Fourth Congress of the Communist International, Abridged Report of Meetings, p. 15 (Communist Party of Great Britain, London)

But in a report to the Moscow party organization on 22 October 1922, Trotsky noted that a temporary fall in the living standards was one of the overhead costs of every social revolution, including the French. He cited the conservative historian, Taine, who affirmed that even eight years after the Great Revolution, the French people were poorer than before its eve. At the same time, the French Revolution laid the basis for the further expansion of the French economy and culture on the basis of the overturn of feudalism. All the more wrenching would be the process in the course of a proletarian revolution which unfolded in a backward country:

"In other words, what I wish to say is that the five-year period (and we must say this to all our critics, malicious and well-meaning alike who employ this argument) does not provide a historic scale by means of which it is possible to weigh the economic results of the proletarian revolution. All that we see up to now in our country are the overhead expenditures in the production of the revolution."
-FFYCI, Vol. 2, pp. 191-192

Trotsky then posed the question which he intended to present at the Fourth Congress of the CI: "How do matters really stand with regard to the chances for the development of the European revolution? Because it is perfectly self-evident that the tempo of our future construction will in the highest measure depend upon the development of the revolution in Europe and America."
-ibid., p. 192

The Fourth Congress

As said above, the Fourth Congress was really an affirmation of the Third in terms of its basic policies. Trotsky gave the major report at the session of 14 November 1922, "Report on the New Soviet Economic Policy and the Perspectives of the World Revolution," (FFYCI, Vol. 2, pp. 220-263). He began with a capsule description of the Russian Civil War:

"We made mistakes in various fields, including, of course, politics as well. But by and large we did not set the European working class a poor example of resoluteness, of firmness and, when need arose, of ruthlessness in revolutionary struggle.... The Civil War was not only a military process, but something more. It was also—and even above all—a political process. Through the methods of war, the struggle unfolded for the political reserves, that is, in the main, for the peasantry. After vacillating for a long time between the bourgeois-landlord bloc, the 'democracy' serving this bloc, and the revolutionary proletariat, the peasantry invariably—at the decisive moment when the final choice had to be made—cast in their lot with the proletariat, supporting it—not with democratic ballots but with food supplies, horses, and force of arms. Just this decided the victory in our favor."
-ibid., p. 222

Trotsky also does a nice job demolishing the criticisms of those such as Otto Bauer, an Austrian Social Democrat, who from the right saw the NEP as a stage toward capitalist restoration. Trotsky first traced the existence of "War Communism" from the requirements of civil war:

"The military victory which would have been excluded if not for War Communism, permitted us, in turn, to pass over from measures dictated by military necessity to measures dictated by economic expediency. Such is the origin of the so-called New Economic Policy"
-ibid., p. 231

Trotsky then goes on to explain the real significance of the NEP:

"In March 1917 Czarism was overthrown. In October 1917 the working class seized power. Virtually all of the land, nationalized by the state, was handed over to the peasants. The peasants cultivating this land are now obliged to pay the state a fixed tax in kind, which forms the main fund for socialist construction....

"The contention that Soviet economic development is traveling from Communism to capitalism is false to the core. We never had Communism. We never had socialism, nor could we have had it. We nationalized the disorganized bourgeois economy, and during the most critical period of life-and-death struggle we established a regime of 'Communism' in the distribution of articles of consumption. By vanquishing the bourgeoisie in the field of politics and war, we gained the possibility of coming to grips with economic life and we found ourselves constrained to reintroduce the market forms of relations between the city and the village, between the different branches of industry, and between the individual enterprises themselves." -ibid., p. 232 Most to the point:

"Our most important weapon in the economic struggle occurring on the basis of the market is—state power. Reformist simpletons are the only ones who are incapable of grasping the significance of this weapon. The bourgeoisie understands it excellently. The whole history of the bourgeoisie proves it."
-ibid., p. 239

As to the encroachments of private capital under the NEP, Trotsky provided some interesting statistics: the private enterprises, about 4,000, employed only about 80,000 workers; the 4,000 state enterprises employed about a million workers. He adds:
"In reestablishing the market, the workers' state naturally introduced a number of juridical changes indispensable for obtaining a market turnover. Insofar as these legal and administrative reforms open up the possibility of capitalist accumulation they constitute indirect but very important concessions to the bourgeoisie. But our neo-bourgeoisie will be able to exploit these concessions only in proportion to its economic and political resources. We know what its economic resources are. They are less than modest. Politically its resources are equal to zero. And we shall do everything in our power to see to it that the bourgeoisie does not 'accumulate capital' in the political field. You ought not to forget that the credit system and the tax apparatus remain in the hands of the workers' state and that this is a very important weapon in the struggle between state industry and private industry."
-ibid., pp. 240-241

As to the political and economic conjuncture obtaining at the end of 1922, Trotsky basically reaffirmed the lessons and decisions of the Third Congress:
"As against a number of comrades [and here he is referring to the 'Lefts'] we defended the viewpoint that in the historical development of capitalism we must differentiate sharply between two types of curves: the basic curve which graphs the development of capitalist productive forces, growth of the productivity of labor, accumulation of wealth, and so on; and the cyclical curve which depicts a periodic wave of boom and crisis, repeated on the average every nine years—

"In 1920 there ensued—on the basis of universal capitalist decay—an acute cyclical crisis. Some comrades among the so-called 'Lefts' held that this crisis must uninterruptedly deepen and sharpen up till the proletarian revolution. We, on the other hand, predicted that a break in the economic conjuncture was unavoidable in the more or less near future, bringing a partial recovery. We insisted, further, that such a break in the conjuncture would tend not to weaken the revolutionary movement but, on the contrary, to impart new vitality to it....

"Today however, we have no reason to revise or modify our position. We did not judge our epoch to be revolutionary because the sharp conjunctural crisis of 1920 swept away the fictitious boom of 1919. We adjudged it to be revolutionary because of our general appraisal of world capitalism and its conflicting basic forces. Lest this lesson be wasted, we ought to reaffirm the theses of the Third Congress, as fully applicable at this very hour." -ibid., pp. 258-259

This in fact was done: the very first section of the Fourth Congress resolution on tactics, adopted 5 December 1922, reaffirmed the Third Congress resolutions on the world economic situation and the tasks and tactics of the CI.

Trotsky then summed up the tasks of the Communist parties:

"Today revolutionary parties exist in all countries, but they rest directly only upon a fraction of the working class, to be more precise, a minority of the working class.... Upon becoming convinced through experience of the correctness, firmness and reliability of Communist leadership, the working class will shake off disillusionment, passivity and dilatoriness—and then the hour for launching the final assault will sound. How near is this hour? We make no predictions on this score. But the Third Congress did fix the task of the hour as the struggle for influence over the majority of the working class. A year and a half has elapsed. We have unquestionably scored major successes, but our task still remains the same: We must conquer the confidence of the overwhelming majority of the toilers. This can and must be achieved in the course of struggle for the transitional demands under the general slogan of the proletarian united front."
-ibid., p. 260

Exactly what that meant was the subject of no small amount of confusion in the discussions at the Fourth Congress when it dealt with the slogan of the workers government.

The Workers and XYZ Government

Debate on the "Theses on Comintern Tactics" took place from 9 to 12 November 1922, in conjunction with Zinoviev's report on the activities of the ECCI [Executive Committee of the Communist International] since the Third Congress. Before going into the discussion itself, it's worth examining what the "Theses on Comintern Tactics" actually said.
Its second thesis, on "The Period of Capitalist Decline," ends with the following two paragraphs:

"Capitalism to its very end will be at the mercy of cyclical fluctuations. Only the seizure of power by the proletariat and a world socialist revolution can save humanity from permanent catastrophe, caused by the existence of the modern capitalist system.
" What capitalism is passing through today is nothing other than its death throes. The collapse of capitalism is inevitable."
-FFC, p. 389

The first paragraph is incontestable; the second is not, and perhaps contributed to the confusion. As I recall, Lenin said that there was no impossible situation for the bourgeoisie; they would not simply fall from power but would have to be thrown out. This implies the necessary existence of the subjective factor—the revolutionary party.
The tenth thesis, "The United Front Tactic," actually presents a correct description of the proletarian united front, contrasting the efforts of the reformists to split the working class to the necessity of working-class unity in the face of a capitalist offensive against wages and working conditions:

"The united front tactic is simply an initiative whereby the Communists propose to join with all workers belonging to other parties and groups and all unaligned workers in a common struggle to defend the immediate, basic interests of the working class against the bourgeoisie....

"It is particularly important when using the united front tactic to achieve not just agitation but also organizational results. Every opportunity must be used to establish organizational footholds among the working masses themselves...."
—ibid., p. 396

Any read of that is what we understand as the united front: a common bloc in a particular action, but not an overall political bloc. [This section of the Theses explicitly refers to "Every action, for even the most trivial everyday demand...."] Unfortunately the Theses were far from clear; the eleventh thesis outlined five possible "workers' governments":

"1. A liberal workers' government, such as existed in Australia and is possible in Britain in the near future.

"2. A social-democratic 'workers' government' (Germany).
"3. A workers' and peasants' government. Such a possibility exists in the Balkans, Czechoslovakia, etc.

"4. A social-democratic/Communist coalition government.

"5. A genuine proletarian workers' government, which can be created in its pure form only by a Communist Party."
-ibid., pp. 398-399

The eleventh thesis noted that Communists must be ready to "form a workers' government with non-Communist workers' parties and workers' organizations." But only on the conditions that the Communists were under the strictest control of the party, that they be in close contact with the revolutionary masses and that they have the unconditional right to maintain their identity and independence of agitation.

This is all very well and good, but it applies to how Communists engage in a united front action, "march separately, strike together," as Lenin put it. This is an entirely separate question from forming or entering a governmental coalition, which by definition is a political bloc. The thesis went on to offer every opportunist an open door:
"Communists are also prepared to work alongside those workers who have not yet recognized the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Accordingly Communists are also ready, in certain conditions and with certain guarantees, to support a non-Communist workers' government. However, the Communists will still openly declare to the masses that the workers' government can be neither won nor maintained without a revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie." -ibid. p. 399

Unfortunately we are not told what the conditions are nor who will give the guarantees.
It's no accident that the SWP [U.S. Socialist Workers Party] in the person of Joseph Hansen himself devoted an entire "Educational for Socialists" bulletin (April 1974) to the "Workers and Farmers Government," one which quoted from the Fourth Congress resolution and the discussion. Hansen was no fool, and was able to use the ambiguous formulations of the Fourth Congress to justify the SWP's capitulation to Pabloite revisionism over Castro's Cuba and the Algerian revolution. While the Castroites did in fact expropriate the Cuban bourgeoisie, the Algerian FLN did not.

I took the quotes from the CI theses from the Ink Links edition, which according to its translator's foreword was based on the 1933 Russian edition of the Comintern documents edited by none other than Bela Kun. It is interesting that Hansen's 1974 bulletin uses a translation from a French source which contains passages not included in the Ink Links version. If anything Hansen's version is more explicit in its confusion. In it, Communists are told not to participate in the first two types of "workers' governments" (the Australian and German varieties) since they "are not revolutionary workers governments but rather governments that camouflage a coalition between the bourgeoisie and the counterrevolutionary leaders of the working class." It adds: "To the contrary, they [the Communists] must relentlessly expose to the masses the real character of these phony 'workers governments.' In the period of the decline of capitalism, a period in which the principal task consists in winning a majority of the proletariat over to the revolution, these governments can objectively contribute to accelerating the process of the decomposition of the bourgeois regime."
—Hansen, p. 40

So, what it condemns in the first sentence, it gives back in the second. Hansen's version is even worse when describing the third and fourth possibilities (the "workers and peasants government" and a coalition government with Communists and Social Democrats):

"The other two types of workers governments are types that the Communists can participate in, although they still do not represent the dictatorship of the proletariat; they do not represent a necessary form of transition toward the dictatorship, but they can serve as a point of departure for attaining this dictatorship."
-ibid., p. 40

Think about the above citation: Communists can participate in these governments even though they are not the dictatorship of the proletariat, nor are they a necessary form of transition to the dictatorship of the proletariat, but they can serve as a point of departure to...the dictatorship of the proletariat!

The Fourth Congress Discussion

Remember that this resolution was the result of the consensus of the November 1922 discussion on Comintern tactics and the activities of the ECCI since the Third Congress. It certainly bears the stamp of Zinoviev and Radek; neither Trotsky nor Lenin participated in that discussion, according to the English-language proceedings. Zinoviev was the main reporter and spoke at length, as was his wont.

Zinoviev gave a brief precis of the problems of the major Comintern sections. These featured the French, which was a major focus of Trotsky's attention as well. Needless to say, having a section which tolerated leading members who were Freemasons, and allowed various holdovers from the old French SP to publish newspapers in the name of the new French CP which were opposed to the line of the CI—all this indicated the need for some severe internal housekeeping. The problems of the German section were interwoven with the "workers government" question, which has been addressed earlier and will be further.

Among the problems Zinoviev outlined there was that of the (now emigre) Hungarian party. This is one time I can really feel for Zinoviev and his exasperation:

"In Hungary, on the contrary, the situation is pitiful. I see many comrades here who have taken part energetically in factional strife and have contributed not a little to make the situation worse.... We have sometimes thought that political emigration was a necessity. But there are emigrations and emigrations." —Fourth Congress of the Communist International, Abridged Report of Meetings, p. 26 (Communist Party of Great Britain, London)
Unfortunately for the American party, some of those emigres were cast out of Europe and sent to America with unspecified roles. One of these, Jozsef Pogany (a.k.a. John Pepper) was to play a very malevolent, albeit energetic, role in the early American CP.
Zinoviev then turned to the international situation; he urged that the Congress reaffirm the Third Congress theses on the economic situation which had been presented by Trotsky and Varga. He then added his own flourish:

"What we are now living through is something more than one of the periodical crises of capitalism; it is THE crisis of capitalism; it is the twilight, the collapse of capitalism." -ibid., p. 29

Perhaps one of the more bizarre portions of Zinoviev's speech was when he addressed the question of fascism. On 28 October 1922 Mussolini's forces marched on Rome and shortly later he was empowered by the Italian king to form a cabinet and was granted unrestricted power by the Parliament. Zinoviev stated:

"If the Fascist maintain power in Italy (and it seems probable that they will do so during the immediate future), there can be little doubt that similar occurrences will take place in Germany, and perhaps throughout Central Europe. A Stinnes Government in Germany would be somewhat different in form from the Fascist Government in Italy. In substance, the two would be identical. Again, what is now happening in Austria is closely akin to the Italian situation. It, too, is a blow directed against bourgeois democracy, which in Austria has hitherto been defended, not only by the capitalist parties and the Second International, but also by the Two-and-a-Half International."
-ibid., p. 30

So, fascism here is seen primarily as a blow against bourgeois democracy, which served to undermine the position of the reformist Social Democrats! To be fair, Zinoviev did note that this would be "a time of trial for our Communist Parties" and preparations would have to be made for work underground. He then added:

"It is part of the process of revolution, for the revolutionary movement does not proceed along a straight line.... What we are witnessing in Italy is a counter-revolutionary movement. But when we take a broad view, we see that it is only an episodic intensification, a stage in the maturing of the proletarian revolution in Italy."
-ibid., p. 31

The whole thrust of this line—with the inevitable collapse of capitalism, fascism as a stage in the maturing of the revolution—reduces to a mechanical inevitability of the revolution. This of course leaves out the necessity of organizing the revolution, the formation of organs of dual power, be they Soviets as such or other similar proletarian organizations, and lastly the organization of the insurrection itself, i.e., the question of the revolutionary party. This was to prove fatal in Germany in 1923.

I believe that a lot of the confusion over the workers government came from the slogan (and its implementation) being seen as a natural extension of the united front tactic, albeit with conditions. Zinoviev said as much near the end of his speech:

"The tactics of the united front are almost universally applicable. It would be hard to find a country where the working class has attained notable proportion but where the tactics of the united front have not yet been inaugurated.... By no means can the same thing be said of the watchword of the Labour Government [by which he means the Workers Government]. The latter is far less universally applicable, and its significance is comparatively restricted. It can only be adopted in those countries where the relationships of power render its adoption opportune, where the problem of power, the problem of government, both on the parliamentary and on the extra-parliamentary field, has come to the front."
-ibid., pp. 36-37

In other words, the workers government "tactic" can only be used where the question of power is being raised both in the parliament and on the streets. But by definition if the question of power is being raised in the streets, that is a pre-revolutionary situation where the most fatal mistake is to confuse the workers as to the class nature of the state. Any coalition with the Social Democrats (the fourth "possibility" in the Theses) would of necessity still be a bourgeois government. The point is not to build illusions in such a government but to overthrow it!

During the discussion, one of the German delegates, Ernst Meyer, noted the troubles that the German Party had had with the question of the "workers' government":

"The most difficult question which we had to solve in connection with the United Front tactics—(and which we have probably not yet solved)—is the question of the Workers' Government. We must differentiate between social democratic governments and Workers' Governments. We have social democratic governments in Germany—in Saxony, Thuringia and formerly also in Gotha—governments which we had to support but which have nothing in common with what we understand by Workers'
Government. The chief difference between a Workers' and a social democratic government is—that the former, without bearing the label of a socialist policy, is really putting socialist-communist policy into practice. Thus, the Workers' government will not be based on parliamentary action alone, it will have to be based on the support of the wide masses, and its policy will be fundamentally different from that of the social democratic governments such as those existing in some of the countries of Germany."

He then noted that at an enlarged ECCI meeting Zinoviev had earlier described the workers government as follows: "The workers' government' is the same as the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is a pseudonym for Soviet Government." This is not the position Zinoviev was arguing at the Fourth Congress. Meyer then continued:
"According to our conception this is wrong. The workers' government is not the dictatorship of the proletariat (quite so, from the German Delegation), it is only a watchword which we bring forward, in order to win over the workers and to convince them that the proletarian class must form a United Front in its struggle against the bourgeoisie."
—ibid., p. 41

One wonders why the KPD "had to support" those social-democratic governments in Saxony, Thuringia and Gotha, given that even in Meyer's terms they were not "workers' governments." Then he exposes Zinoviev's earlier comment that the "workers' government" is the same as the dictatorship of the proletariat, which Zinoviev "clarified" in the discussion. What is most telling is Meyer's idea that this mythical "workers' government" would implement "socialist-communist policies," whatever that means.

Radek tried to clarify the muddle Zinoviev had created. He noted the dangers of the united front policy as applied to the workers government: "We are living in a period of transition to a new wave of revolution. In the meantime, however, there is no present opportunity for revolutionary action, and a sort of twilight mood may easily creep in among the ranks of the party: a sort of lonely feeling may urge some
Communists to walk arm-in-arm with Scheide-mann along Unter den Linden....

"With regard to the demand for a Workers' Government. A Workers' Government is not the Proletarian Dictatorship, that is clear; it is one of the possible transitory stages to the Proletarian Dictatorship....

"I believe one of the comrades has said, 'The Workers' Government is not a historic necessity but a historical possibility.' This is, to my mind, a correct formula. It would be absolutely wrong to assert that the development of man from the ape to a People's Commissar must necessarily pass through the phase of a Workers' Government."
—ibid., pp. 51-52

For his part, Zinoviev added to the confusion in his statement during the discussion itself:

"A third type is the so-called Coalition government; that is, a government in which Social-Democrats, Trade Union leaders, and even perhaps Communists, take part. One can imagine such a possibility. Such a government is not yet the dictatorship of the proletariat, but it is perhaps a starting point for the dictatorship. When all goes right, we can kick one social-democrat after another out of the government until the power is in the hands of the Communists. This is a historical possibility." -ibid., p. 88

No! In all cases where a Communist party with some mass base has tried such an experiment, such a government—a popular front to be accurate—has proved to be the prelude to the crushing of the proletariat. As comrade Robertson noted, this whole conception expressed a rather stupid assumption that the other side—the Social Democrats and the bourgeoisie-were incapable of thinking.

It was left to the Polish delegates to cut through at least some of the confusion. The first, listed in the discussion as Marklevsky [Julian Marchlewski, one of the members elected to the Fourth Congress Presidium] noted the electoral successes of the Polish Communists, despite their repression by the Polish bourgeois state, as an example of the combination of legal and illegal work. He then added:

"I would like to speak a few words on the slogan of the Workers' Government. I believe there has been too much philosophical speculation on the matter. ("Very true," from the German benches.) The criticism of this slogan is directed on three lines—the Workers' Government is either a Scheidemann Government or a coalition government of the Communists with the social traitors. It finds support either in Parliament or in the Factory Councils. It is either the expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat, or it is not. I believe that philosophical speculation is out of place—for we have practical historical experience. What did the Bolsheviks do in 1917 before they conquered power? They demanded 'All Power to the Soviets.' What did this mean at the time? It meant giving power to the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries [SR] who were in the majority in the Soviets. It meant at that time a Workers' Government in which social traitors participated, and which was directed against the dictatorship of the proletariat. But this slogan was a good weapon of agitation in the hands of the Bolsheviks." -ibid., p. 60

This is a bit off, but its thrust is toward the dictatorship of the proletariat. The essence of Bolshevik policy was to push the organs of dual power toward the insurrection. In fact, after the July days in 1917, Lenin was looking to factory committees as an alternative to the formal Soviets, then under a Menshevik-SR majority, which were repressing the Bolsheviks. The whole point of Lenin's policy was to break the proletariat from the bourgeoisie; this meant the organs of dual power. And by October 1917, when the Petrograd garrison said it would only accept orders from the Workers and Soldiers' Soviets, one had armed bodies of men whose allegiance was to a different social formation than the crumbling provisional government.

The second Polish delegate, Dombsky, really pointed to the problems raised in the formulations of Zinoviev and the ECCI:

"We have already accumulated a good deal of experience, and I believe that this experience is not encouraging to the adherents of the tactics of the United Front, as it has been applied of late. Of course, every time one says something against the United Front one gets the reply: But you do not understand that we must have the majority behind us!... Of course, we ought to win a majority of the proletariat, but it has to be a majority for a Communist Party, not for a hotch-potch of hazy and nebulous ideas....

"As regards the workers' government, I was in the same boat as my friend Comrade Duret, I could not understand the meaning of workers' government in our tactics. At last I have heard a clear definition of this government. Comrade Radek has solaced me in private conversation that such a government is not contemplated for Poland (Comrade Radek: I never said that). Oh, then Poland will also have to bear the punishment of this sort of government. It is thus an international problem. Comrade Radek says that the workers' government is not a necessity but a possibility, and it were folly to reject such possibilities. The question is whether if we inscribe all the possibilities on our banner we try to accelerate the realization of these possibilities. I believe that it is quite possible that at the eleventh hour a so-called workers' government should come which would not be a proletarian dictatorship. But I believe when such a government comes, it will be the resultant of various forces such as our struggle for the proletarian dictatorship, the struggle of the social-democrats against it and so forth. Is it proper to build our plans on such an assumption? I think not, because I believe that we should insist on our struggle for the proletarian dictatorship."
—ibid., pp. 76-77

A Brief Tour of the 1923 German Revolution

By late 1922, the Weimar government had failed to make reparation payments, or to be more precise, requisitions of coal and other basic commodities as dictated by the Versailles treaty. This prompted the French government to militarily occupy the Ruhr in January 1923. The German government, then under Chancellor Cuno, adopted a policy of "passive resistance"—i.e., civil disobedience toward the French and Belgian occupation authorities. Rightist paramilitary groups (who had been maintained by conservative industrialists both with private and government funds siphoned from the army budget) quickly infiltrated the Ruhr. There, they carried out provocative, albeit largely ineffectual, guerrilla warfare against the French troops. The occupation of the Ruhr triggered a massive burst of German nationalism—even the Ruhr workers responded with work stoppages.

The occupation also triggered massive financial chaos in Germany. Under armed guard, the French bourgeoisie got some of the raw materials for its blood-sucking reparations, but it crippled the rest of German industry. The result was inflation on a scale which is hard to believe. Werner Angress, in his book Stillborn Revolution, notes that the value of the German mark depreciated from 4,800 to the U.S. dollar in May to an astronomical 4.6 billion in August! That's a factor of a million in three months! Angress described the devastation wrought upon the German middle class and on the workers: "Savings accounts melted into nothing; pensions became worthless; heirlooms had to be sold for worthless paper marks, with denominations in billions stamped upon them, in order to buy food for the family. Respectable old civil servants living on retirement pay found themselves paupers overnight. Salaried employees and wage earners were paid several times a day during the height of this cataclysm, collecting the money in burlap bags. With these, their waiting spouses rushed to the grocer to buy bread before the store owner scribbled the new, always more astronomical exchange rate, on the blackboard which had become a necessary fixture in every retail business."
-pp. 285-286

The situation in Germany in the summer of 1923 presented a revolutionary opportunity unparalleled in history. The economic crisis had shaken even the faith of the civil servants in the bourgeois order, workers were flocking to the KPD, the influence (or rather control) of the SPD over the workers was waning, and the ruling class was paralyzed. Contrary to Revolutionary History, if ever there was a revolutionary situation, this was it. The climax came on 10 August, when the Berlin printers union struck against the wishes of the executive of the ADGB [Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschafts-bund—the German Trade-Union Federation—the majority of its seven million members were not members of any political party, but tended to vote SPD. The ADGB executive had sanctioned the strike vote but wanted government printing exempted]. The printers were soon joined by power workers, construction workers and those of the municipal transport system. To their credit, KPD activists were involved in some of the spread of the printers strike. But the possibility of a general strike was successfully spiked by the SPD.
On the same day that the printers went out, there was a meeting of the Berlin Trade-Union Commission, which invited representatives of the SPD, the USPD and the KPD.

As Angress relates, the KPD delegation put forward a motion for a three-day general strike "to obtain the following main objectives: a minimum hourly wage of 0.60 gold marks; the overthrow of the Cuno government; and the establishment of a workers' and peasants' government. Considering the tense circumstances under which the meeting was held, it is at least conceivable that a majority of delegates might have declared in favor of such a strike" (Angress, p. 371). However, the SPD moved in quickly with the promise of parliamentary reforms to end the inflationary spiral and the Communist motion was defeated.

While, as Angress notes, the KPD didn't simply accept the defeat of their motion as reason to pull up stakes (as they would in October), the party clearly carried with it the hoary ghost of the failed March Action of 1921. On 2 August, Die Rote Fahne carried an article which stated:

"We must fight the battles to which we are destined by history, but we must always keep in mind that we are at the moment still the weaker. We cannot as yet offer a general battle, and we must avoid everything which would enable the enemy to beat us piecemeal." —quoted in Angress, p. 367

What is so excruciating is that a sizable portion of the working class clearly was willing to fight. Even Angress states that the Communists got "a surprisingly strong response" and that wildcat strikes erupted in various parts of the country. He adds:

"There was a distinct possibility that these intermittent strikes might have turned into a general one, as had happened in March 1920 during the Kapp putsch. But before the Communists were able to fan these brush-fires into a major conflagration, their designs were thwarted by the announcement, on August 12, that Chancellor Cuno and his cabinet had resigned." -ibid., pp. 371-372

In a distorted way, this probably reflects the thinking of the KPD leadership, more particularly Brandler. Why, one might ask, didn't the strikes spread as they had in March 1920? Well, Germany in 1923 wasn't Germany of 1920. The German workers, especially the advanced elements, had learned something from the bloody Kapp Putsch of 1920 and the bloody suppression of the March Action of 1921. They were certainly ready to fight but this time they wanted a leadership with the ability to not only recognize that it was time for the decisive struggle, but also to organize it. This the KPD manifestly failed to provide, and the recession of the August strikes had more to do with that than the parliamentary follies in the Reichstag.

What is strikingly lacking is the absence of any conception of dual power on the part of the KPD during this period. In fact, Reuben has been reading some German sources and he says the thrust of their stuff was fighting against fascism, which was growing, but they said nothing about getting rid of the bourgeoisie. No idea that the existing state power would have to be replaced, that organs of proletarian power would have to be created and that the process would entail a military conflict. This was one point Jim really stressed.

The KPD was facing a small army, 100,000 men, but these were hard core volunteers and many were drawn from the ranks of the Freikorps units which had systematically smashed the workers' uprisings which had occurred in the aftermath of the November 1918 revolution. The idea that one would need very disciplined units of men armed not only with rifles but with machine guns and heavy weapons seems to have been totally beyond the ken of the KPD leadership.

Rather, the KPD leadership operated on the false view that the crisis would continue, and that the party's influence would increase in linear fashion and eventually the revolution would come, more or less on its own. Essentially, their tactic was to pressure the "left" SPD in a revolutionary direction. This was a fatal misreading of the situation.

The replacement of Cuno by Stresemann on 13 August hardly solved the problems of the German bourgeoisie. Stresemann, leader of the German People's Party, formed the so-called "Great Coalition" government, whose cabinet included four SPD members. Despite its name, Stresemann's party was really that of the large industrialists; his (and probably their) faith in bourgeois democracy is captured in a statement by Stresemann quoted by Trotsky: "We are the last bourgeois parliamentary government. After us come either the communists or the fascists" ("On the Road to the European Revolution," 11 April 1924, The Challenge of the Left Opposition, 1923-1925, p. 165).

The fact that the head of the German government would state such a thing is evidence alone that the possibilities for a German proletarian revolution were far from lost. However, the KPD had missed its best opportunity in the late summer; by the fall the Stresemann government had brought the inflation under control and the bourgeoisie began to regain its confidence.

Trotsky had been following the German events closely since the spring and was convinced—rightly— that Germany had entered a revolutionary situation and that the KPD had to re-orient. But it wasn't until late August that the Russian PB finally met to discuss the possibility of an insurrection; Trotsky estimated that this could happen in a matter of weeks. Somewhat surprisingly, Zinoviev, heretofore a champion of the "Lefts," was equivocal, although one does recall Zinoviev's flinch on the eve of the October Revolution. Trotsky's Lessons of October cites the letter issued by Zinoviev and Kamenev on 11 Octo¬ber, two weeks before the October Revolution, which states: "We are deeply convinced that to call at present for an armed uprising means to stake on one card not only the fate of our party but also the fate of the Russian and international revolution" (The Challenge of the Left Opposition, 1923-1925, p. 227). For his part, Stalin made a cautious venture into the realm of international politics in a secret letter to Zinoviev and Bukharin [in 1923] in which he stated that "the Germans must be curbed and not spurred on" (quoted in Maurice Specter's introduction to the New Park edition of Trotsky's Lessons of October).

Representatives of the various factions in the KPD were summoned to Moscow for consultations. Brandler was pessimistic regarding an insurrection-he felt the party was insufficiently prepared both politically and technically. Brandler eventually agreed to the decision to launch a bid for power, but he stood fast against Trotsky's proposal to fix a date. A compromise was reached whereby the German party was to initiate the preparations for insurrection but the exact date was left to them to decide. It should be clear that Trotsky's motivation was not to mechanically require that the German revolution take place on a particular day, but rather that without some kind of a timetable, the KPD would never get around to organizing it.

One wonders about what alarm bells were going off in Trotsky's head. Brandler was quite honest about his doubts regarding the insurrection and his abilities—he specifically said that he was no "German Lenin" and asked the Russians to send Trotsky to Germany. Jim told me that Brandler was hoping that Trotsky could conjure up Soviets and the revolution out of the ground, i.e., Brandler understood the inadequacies of the KPD.

Unfortunately for Brandler, and the rest of the world, German considerations were increasingly becoming subordinate to the vicissitudes of the factional struggle within the Russian party. There was no way that the triumvirate of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin would let Trotsky leave Russia. They made polite excuses as to why the Russian PB could not possibly spare Trotsky, but behind it, I believe, was a real fear on the part of the emerging bureaucracy—if Trotsky was to lead a German revolution, it would re-energize the Soviet workers and in any case would explode the whole raison d'etre for the bureaucratic caste.

Brandler returned to Germany in early October, not exactly enthused, but willing to go through the motions. The most favorable opportunities were in Saxony and Thuringia where the KPD had a base of support and nominally "left" SPD governments were in power. There had been a long festering fight over the KPD's attitude toward these provincial governments, in particular to the one in Saxony led by the SPDer Zeigner.
The question was whether or not the KPD should actually join a coalition government, together with the SPD. In fact, around the time of the Fourth Congress, a decision had been made that the KPD not enter the Saxon government, since they would only do so as an appendage to the Social Democrats. But on 1 October, the ECCI, in the person of Zinoviev, sent a telegram ordering the KPD to enter the Saxon government, ostensibly because an insurrection was estimated in four to six weeks:

"The situation compels us to raise in a practical form the question of our entry into the Saxon Government. On the condition that the Zeigner people [i.e., the Social Democrats] are really prepared to defend Saxony against Bavaria and the Fascists, we must enter. Carry out at once the arming of 50,000 to 60,000 men, ignore General Miiller. The same in Thuringia."
-E. H. Carr, The Interregnum, pp. 207-208

The motivation was supposedly to be able to use ministerial posts in these provincial governments to obtain weapons for the proletarian "Red Hundreds," which were to be the spearhead of the revolution.

The end result proved less than spectacular. Brandler and two other KPDers got minor ministerial posts in the Saxon government. But while Zeigner may have been a sincere left Social Democrat, he was still a Social Democrat! The KPD did attempt to organize some "military-technical" groups, but despite assistance from Moscow, these remained disorganized or simply on paper. Most to the point, the arming and organizing of the "Red Hundreds" was woefully inadequate.

While the Berlin government was weak, it wasn't totally impotent. As usual it had the service of the SPD tops (e.g., Ebert) who could recognize that the mere participation of the KPD in the Saxon government was enough of a red flag: it wasn't necessary for the KPD to call for Soviets. And while the Weimar government faced a stronger challenge from the rightist/Nazi forces in Bavaria, it was against "Red Saxony" that the government proceeded. As Angress notes, Stresemann attacked his weaker foe first.

The sad denouement came in a conference of labor leaders, held in Chemnitz on 21 October 1923. This was a fairly representative gathering in terms of the [Saxon workers] organizations; it probably did not reflect the mood of the German proletariat as a whole. Of some 300-400 delegates, 66 were from the KPD, about 240 from the factory councils and unions and only seven from the SPD. After reports on the political and economic crisis, Brandler presented a motion for an immediate call for a general strike, which was to be the spark for insurrection. Then the Saxon labor minister, an SPDer named Graupe, rose and said that if the KPD insisted on pressing Brandler's suggestion, he and the other SPDers (all seven of them!!) would walk out. There was no protest, and Brandler basically threw in the towel. It was, in Thalheimer's words, a "third-class" funeral.

As Trotsky later noted:

"It [the German party] continued even after the onset of the Ruhr crisis to carry on its agitation and propagandist work on the basis of the united front formula—at the same tempo and in the same forms as before the crisis. Meanwhile, this tactic had already become radically insufficient. A growth in the party's political influence was taking place automatically. A sharp tactical turn was needed. It was necessary to show the masses, and above all the party itself, that this time it was a matter of immediate preparation for the seizure of power. It was necessary to consolidate the party's growing influence organizationally and to establish bases of support for a direct assault on the state. It was necessary to shift the whole party organization onto the basis of factory cells. It was necessary to form cells on the railways. It was necessary to raise sharply the question of work in the army. It was necessary, especially necessary, to adapt the united front tactic fully and completely to these tasks, to give it a firmer and more decided tempo and a more revolutionary character. On the basis of this, work of a military-technical nature should have been carried on.

"The question of setting a date for the uprising can have significance only in this connection and with this perspective. Insurrection is an art. An art presupposes a clear aim, a precise plan, and consequently, a schedule. "The most important thing, however, was this: to ensure in good time the decisive tactical turn toward the seizure of power. And this was not done. This was the chief and fatal omission. From this followed the basic contradiction. On the one hand, the party expected a revolution, while on the other hand, because it had burned its fingers in the March events, it avoided, until the last months of 1923, the very idea of organizing a revolution, i.e., preparing an insurrection."
—Trotsky, "Through What Stage Are We Passing?", 21 June 1924, The Challenge of the Left Opposition, 1923-1925, pp. 170-171

Trotsky's Position vis a vis the Workers Government

Trotsky's position in favor of the KPD entry into the "left" SPD governments in Saxony and Thuringia was not some sort of aberration in some speeches in the military writings in the fall of 1923. He clearly was in agreement with the Fourth Congress notions on the slogan of the workers government. In a report given after the Fourth Congress, Trotsky states:

"From the united front flows the slogan of a workers' government. The Fourth Congress submitted it to a thorough discussion and once again confirmed it as the central political slogan for the next period." -FFYCI, Vol. 2, p. 324

He clearly differentiated the "workers government" from a genuine workers government which will be established in Europe after the proletariat overthrows the bourgeoisie. But in order for that to happen, the proletariat in its majority must support the Communist Party. But since that wasn't true at the end of 1922, Trotsky states:

"And the slogan of a workers' government thus becomes a wedge driven by the Communists between the working class and all other classes:

and inasmuch as the top circles of the Social Democracy, the reformists, are tied up with the bourgeoisie, this wedge will act more and more to tear away, and it is already beginning to tear away the left wing of the Social Democratic workers from their leaders."
-ibid., Vol. 2, p. 324

He then goes on that under certain conditions, "...a moment may arise when the Communists together with the left elements of the Social Democracy will set up a workers' government in a way similar to ours in Russia when we created a workers' and peasants' government together with the Left Social Revolutionaries." And in his article on the slogan on the United States of Europe (30 June 1923), Trotsky repeats much of the same argumentation: "Is the realization of a 'Workers' Government' possible without the dictatorship of the proletariat? Only a conditional reply can be given to this question. In any case, we regard the 'Workers' Government' as a stage toward the dictatorship of the proletariat."
-ibid., Vol. 2, p. 345

There are several problems here, to say the least. First, the comparison with the Bolshevik-Left SR government is way off base: (1) that government was installed after the proletarian revolution and the seizure of state power; (2) prior to October (and of course after) the Bolsheviks had secured a majority in the Soviets, which formed the basic organ of the newly created state power. As applied to the entry of the KPD into the Saxon SPD government in 1923, neither of these conditions obtained, in particular there were no Soviets or their equivalent. In fact, Trotsky notes that after the Fourth Congress in 1922, the KPD was advised not to enter because at best they would be an appendage to the SPD government.

Overall, I think that the two Polish comrades really had it right during the CI discussions. The playing with ambiguous formulations about the types of "workers governments" is really playing with the central question of the class nature of the state. Communists are for the dictatorship of the proletariat and any attempt to bring it in through a back door is destined to fail. A proletarian revolution obviously cannot succeed unless the majority of the advanced workers are animated by clear class interests, a revolutionary program and above all the leadership of the Leninist party. Especially in the immediate period prior to the insurrection, it is, above all necessary to keep the party banner clear. By entering into a coalition with the Social Democrats—which in this case would necessarily be on their terms—it throws confusion in the minds of the workers: If our job is to overthrow this bourgeois state, run by the reformists for the bourgeoisie, then what are the Communists doing accepting ministerial posts in that government? To ask the question is to answer it.

So how could Trotsky have supported the "workers government" such as posed at the Fourth Congress? Al made a very important contribution in the discussion in the Bay Area. He looked at it less in terms of the problems of the German party leadership and more from the standpoint of what was going on in the Russian party and the CI. One must remember that the Bolshevik Party was Lenin's party, and it had been split at the top at the time of Lenin's return to Russia in February 1917. Stalin, Molotov and many of the "Old Bolsheviks" were ready to give support to the Provisional Government, and they were taken by surprise at Lenin's vehement opposition. Lenin won the fight over the April Theses, but differences over the course of the insurrection carried over to its very eve—recall Zinoviev's and Kamenev's flinch. So by 1922, with the postwar revolutionary wave clearly over and with a new period of reaction, you get a back-sliding and what Al characterized as half-assed responses by the likes of Zinoviev, Stalin and Radek.

Al also noted that Lenin's absence in the period of the Fourth Congress was really telling—in fact he was writing his Testament in December 1922. Earlier, he had asked Trotsky to take up senior positions in the Soviet government, which Trotsky refused. One factor was that Trotsky was Jewish and feared an anti-Semitic reaction if he put himself forward. But in late 1923 he did launch a fight in the Russian party, which is detailed in the review of the Vilkova book in English Spartacist No. 53.

Trotsky learned from the 1923 German experience and underwent a steeling as the struggle within the Russian party emerged. One of the KPDers visited Trotsky in 1924 and told him about how disorganized the KPD really was in 1923, something which was a real eye-opener for Trotsky. What is really clear is that Trotsky's assessment of the German situation in 1923 underwent a qualitative change in about mid-1924. I cited his critical assessment of the failures of the KPD—this was written in June. More important was the classic Lessons of October, written in September 1924, which certainly has applicability outside the narrow question of Germany.

It is important to keep in mind that in the early 1920s, the Bolsheviks were facing new situations. Further experiences such as the Chinese revolution were still to come, and these served to convince Trotsky that rather than an exception, the Russian Revolution really showed the fundamentals which would apply to all future proletarian revolutions.

I would like to emphasize again how closely linked were the fates of the German revolution and that of the Comintern. Lenin took the foundation of the KPD as an independent party as the basis upon which the Third International could be launched. The Second Congress carried forth the work of weeding out the reformists while seeking to bring left elements into the fold—particularly the USPD in Germany. The German March Action convinced Lenin and Trotsky that a change was necessary to curb the ultralefts and to turn the European parties toward the difficult task of winning over the working-class masses from their traditional social-democratic leaders. The Third Congress codified this work, both in the tactical theses and the organizational guidelines which serve as our model to this day.

Secondly, one has to appreciate that the lessons of the history of the Leninist Comintern do not come to us as revealed wisdom, as Moses received the Ten Commandments. Rather, they represent the distillation of revolutionary experience, often paid for by cruel defeats. Lenin, Trotsky and the early Comintern made mistakes—fewer than most to be sure—and they learned from their mistakes. Trotsky's Lessons of October is a work that you should read and re-read—no matter how many times, it will always provide fresh lessons. In it he hammered home the point that above all else, the necessity in every revolutionary situation is to have a vanguard party with a leadership capable of switching gears in time and actually organizing the insurrection.

1923 marked a real watershed. As Trotsky wrote in 1928:

"The fundamental cause of the crisis of the October Revolution is the retardation of the world revolution, caused by a whole series of cruel defeats of the proletariat. Up to 1923, these were the defeats of the post-war movements and insurrections confronted with the non-existence of the communist parties at the beginning, and their youth and weaknesses subsequently. From 1923 on, the situation changed sharply. We no longer have before us simply defeats of the proletariat, but routs of the policy of the Comintern."
—Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, p. 246

It had taken the fights in the Russian party in the late 1920s to really harden up Trotsky as' a Leninist, most particularly in the need for the struggle for leadership. In a fragment of his writings, which came from notes unfinished at the time of his murder, Trotsky noted the intimate connection needed between the party and the workers, and especially the party leadership:

"To cancel these elements from one's calculations is simply to ignore the living revolution, to substitute for it an abstraction, the 'relationship offerees'; because the development of the revolution precisely consists of the incessant and rapid change in the relationship of forces under the impact of the changes in the consciousness of the proletariat, the attraction of the backward layers to the advanced, the growing assurance of the class in its own strength. The vital mainspring in this process is the party, just as the vital mainspring in the mechanism of the party is its leadership. The role and the responsibility of the leadership in a revolutionary epoch is colossal."
—Trotsky, "The Class, the Party, and the Leadership," The Spanish Revolution (1931-39), p. 360

It was true in 1917. It was true in 1919, and in 1923, and it's true today. Our tendency is not here to comment on history—it is vitally necessary to change it.

Summary following discussion

Markin comment- I have not republished the summary here as there is no context for the statements made during the course of the discussion.
Reading Materials For Class Series

IV. The Fourth Congress: The "Workers Government" and the Road to the German Revolution

Trotsky, "Report on the Fifth Anniversary of the October Revolution and the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International," 20 October 1922,

FFYCI, Vol. 2, pp. 185-216

Lenin, "Five Years of the Russian Revolution and the Prospects of the World Revolution," 13 November 1922, CW, Vol. 33, pp. 418-432

Comintern, "Theses on Comintern Tactics," 5 December 1922 and appended "Theses on the United Front" (adopted by the ECCI, December 1921), FFC, pp. 388-409

Comintern, "Resolution of the Fourth World Congress on the French Question" (by Trotsky), adopted2 December 1922, ibid. pp. 346-354; also reprinted in
FFYCI, Vol. 2, pp. 275-284

Comintern, "A Militant Programme of Action for the French Communist Party" (by Trotsky), adopted 5 December 1922, ibid., pp. 422-427; also reprinted in FFYCI, Vol. 2, pp. 285-290

Comintern, "Theses on the Eastern Question," 5 December 1922, ibid., pp. 409-419

Comintern, "Theses on Communist Work in the Trade Unions," December 1922, ibid., pp. 429-436

Trotsky, "Report on the Fourth World Congress," 28 December 1922, FFYCI, Vol. 2, pp. 304-333

Trotsky, "Is it Possible to Fix a Definite Schedule for a Counter-Revolution or a Revolution?", 23 September 1923, FFYCI, Vol. 2, pp. 347-353

Additional Reading:

"Iran and Permanent Revolution," Spartacist [English Edition] No. 33, Spring 1982

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