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How reversal of German Communist rebellion 100 yrs ago paved the way for Hitler victory

By Harsh Thakor* 
This month on October 23rd we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the decision by the Communist International to launch an armed rebellion in Germany. The uprising, which took place in October that year, was a landmark event. Looking back at the “German October” one hundred years later, it must be seen as a valiant bid by the Bolsheviks to escalate the spirit of revolution. The tragic reversal of this rebellion paved the road for the victory of Hitler and the horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War.
Today the International Communist Movement is still plagued by Trotskyite tendencies, which blame Stalinists and Comintern for it’s reversal, label the rebellion as premature , counter-productive and negating dictatorship of the proletariat, or blame the insurrection as mechanically copying Russian Revolution model, and eclectically profess that the debacle was caused by not complying with path of Leon Trotsky.
This anniversary of the Hamburg Insurrection highlighted once again the necessity of the struggle for the reconstitution of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Thus, for this purpose, the Red League undertook a broad campaign as early as August, which contributed to placing the issue on the agenda in the revolutionary movement of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). The culmination of the campaign was a demonstration by the Red League in Hamburg, which on the historic date of the beginning of the insurrection marched through one of the neighbourhoods where the fighting raged most fiercely during the days of the uprising.
With full vigour, around 100 participants marched from the Barmbek station via Denhaide and Von-Essen-Straße to Friedrichsberg. The demonstration was also supported by comrades from Young Struggle, the Free German Youth (FDJ), other comrades from the revolutionary movement and internationalist comrades. Reverberating the slogan “100 years of Hamburg Insurrection – Red Hamburg lives and struggles!” the historical flag of the KPD was carried side by side with the flag of the proletarian vanguard in formation in Germany today. Some flags of the International Communist League were also carried. To pay tribute to the fallen heroes of the Hamburg Insurrection, their names were recited to which the demonstrators roared “Here in the struggle!” Ernst Thälmann’s role in shaping the struggle of the working class in Germany was also illustratively projected highlighted, as it was throughout the course of the campaign.
With the hypocritical charge that participants had “masked” themselves the police blocked the demonstration after the intermediate rally at Denhaide with the use of riot police in full combat gear. The police infringement was vehemently denounced by the demonstration which enabled the demonstration to surge on. The police detachment nevertheless remained until the end of the demonstration as an attempt of intimidation. Thus, all slogans and speeches were meticulously monitored and legally controlled at a higher level. Despite the broad campaign of the Red League and the early call for the demonstration, some forces that had not previously called for a demonstration had mobilized at short notice , a few days before October 23rd for an “anti-fascist, feminist and class-combative” demonstration at the same time. This sectarian practice of some forces adversely influenced the mobilization for the demonstration and unfortunately broke the unity of the revolutionary movement on that day.
At the Red League demonstration, the flag of the Palestinian national liberation movement also fluttered. Without the slightest of inhibitions, the struggle of the Palestinian people for their liberation was projected. The slogans that are currently being tried to be suppressed by the German imperialist state were shouted. This tempted some people from Arab countries – mainly women to join plant their own Palestine flag. They condemned how their protest had already been suppressed several times by the police and joyfully stood by the side of the demonstration. The demonstration thus ressurected the torch of the death defying spirit of the fallen fighters of the working class from those October days 100 years ago. The Red Hamburg lives and struggles. Significant event in light of the ascendancy of neo-fascism or far Right in Germany and decline of left movements.

Historical background

The uprising was just what the doctor ordered for the German working class needed or desired. The uprising was imperative, not only for the Soviet regime, not by the Germans. The goal was to create a Soviet Germany — which would do more than anything else to ensure the survival of the Soviet regime in Moscow. When the Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917 there was great hope that several central and Eastern European countries would follow the Russian model. Soviet regimes were established in Hungary and Bavaria. They did not last long. By the late summer of 1923, Germany was in the midst of a crisis — encircled by several existential threats. French troops had occupied the Ruhr. Hyperinflation precipitated an unprecedented economic crisis. Adolf Hitler was preparing an attempt to seize power in Munich, which ultimately took place a month after the abortive Communist uprising.
In Moscow, the leader of the Comintern, Zinoviev, called for the German Communist Party (KPD) to seize power. He was supported by, among others, Trotsky. Key Soviet leaders, including Karl Radek, were secretly sent to help the KPD. The “German October” was largely within the boundaries of Hamburg and lasted a couple of days before being crushed.. The “proletarian dictatorship” established by the Bolsheviks was now completely isolated.
In Germany, it gave a mortal blow to the Communist Party from which they never recovered. The relationship between the KPD and the Social Democrats worsened, after being already strained. The two parties were unable to unite to fight the fascists. A decade later, the KPD was outlawed and crushed by the Nazi dictatorship. The outcome of the 1923 events in Germany was to consolidate Stalin’s hand and contribute to his ideas about “socialism in one country” and the abandonment of the goal of world revolution.

Events culminating into the revolt

One-and-a-half years after the Third Congress of the Comintern the conflicts within the German Communist Party (KPD) still prevailed. After the occupation of the Ruhr by the French army, the conflict between the leadership majority and the left opposition arose once again in absolute intensity. Differences emerged over the support given by the KPD to a left-wing Social Democratic Party (SPD) government in Saxony and the course to be adopted in the occupied Ruhr.
The party was now led by Heinrich Brandler, a founding member of the Spartakusbund. While many former lefts had drifted sharply to the right, a new left-wing faction had formed under Ruth Fischer, Arkadi Maslow and—to a lesser extent—Ernst Thälmann. Fischer and Maslow were both young intellectuals who had joined the movement after the war. They had the majority of the important Berlin organisation behind them. Thälmann was a worker who joined the KPD through the Independent SPD (USPD). He was the leader of the KPD in Hamburg.
On January 10, the SPD government in Saxony was toppled and the KPD conducted a campaign for a united front and a workers' government. While the majority of the SPD favoured a coalition with bourgeois parties, a left minority was for an alliance with the KPD. The KPD developed a vigorous agitation and published a “workers' program,” which included among its demands: confiscation of the property of the former royal family; arming the workers; a purge of the judiciary, the police and the administration; calling of a congress of factory councils and control of prices by elected committees.
This found support inside the SPD, where the left wing finally formed a majority. It accepted the “workers' program” with one exception: the dissolution of the parliament and the convening of a congress of factory councils. On this basis, an SPD government was formed with the support of the KPD. This step was supported by the majority of the KPD leadership and by Karl Radek, now a leading figure in the Comintern but fiercely condemned by the KPD left They anticipated the support for the government in Saxony not just as a temporal tactical step, to win over Social Democratic workers, but as a political compromise to the left-wing Social Democrats, whom they considered not less harmful than the right wing. On October 21, Brandler called off the planned insurrection because the left Social Democrats were not prepared to support it.
Leon Trotsky was as adamant as any in advocating that the KPD join the coalition governments in Saxony and Thuringia. In his view, the Social Democratic Party in Saxony, under the pressure of this proletariat, is the most left-wing section of the German Social Democratic Party as a whole. In June, Radek founded the so-called Schlageter line. The KPD had been concerned for some time about the growth of fascism in Germany. In October 1922, Mussolini seized power in Rome, after initiating a terror campaign of his armed detachments, the fasci, against workers' organisations and militant workers.
In Germany, the extreme right had previously been restricted to remnants of the imperial army and small anti-Semitic parties. But in 1923 it began to expand and win a social base, even though it was much smaller than Hitler's social base in the 1930s. Revolt against the “November criminals,” Jews and foreigners was rampant amongst declassed petty-bourgeois elements and some impoverished workers affected by the impact of inflation. In the Ruhr, members of the extreme right portrayed themselves as heroic fighters against the French occupation. Bavaria in particular, with its large rural areas, turned into a stronghold of the extreme right. After the merciless oppression of the Munich Soviet Republic in 1919 it had turned into a nest of nationalistic, fascistic and paramilitary organisations.
On April 7, Albert Schlageter, a member of the Freikorps, was arrested by the French army in Düsseldorf because he had participated in bomb attacks on railway lines. He was sentenced to death by a military court and executed on May 26. At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Comintern (ECCI) in June, Radek advocated that the KPD win over workers and petty-bourgeois elements seduced by the fascists by joining this campaign.
“The petty-bourgeois masses and the intellectuals and technicians who will play a big role in the revolution are in a position of national antagonism to capitalism, which is declassing them,” Radek announced. “If we want to be a workers' party that is able to undertake the struggle for power, we have to find a way that can bring us near to these masses, and we shall find it not in shirking our responsibilities, but in stating that the working class alone can save the nation Later on in the meeting he solemnly praised Schlageter, who, while “a valiant soldier of the counterrevolution,” still “deserves sincere homage on our part as soldiers of the revolution.” “The fate of this martyr of German nationalism must not be forgotten, or merely honoured in a passing word,” Radek said. “We shall do everything to ensure that men who, like Schlageter, were ready to give their lives for a common cause, will become not wanderers in the void, but wanderers into a better future for the whole of humanity.”
The Schlageter line was picked up by the Rote Fahne and dominated it for several weeks.
The leaders of the International in discussions with the German Communists concluded that Germany was fast approaching revolution, and that technical preparations for the insurrection should be undertaken. To crush the KPD’s plan, Leon Trotsky urged that the Party set a date for the insurrection but this was rejected by Radek and the German KPD leader Brandler. The German Party had already planted its secret military organisation, the M-Apparat, which had been strengthened by Red Army experts. In many towns and factories, armed defence groups had been formed throughout the year, which were organised into ‘Proletarian Hundreds’. They numbered 300 in May and by October escalated to 800, with more than 100,000 men in total. These had first come into being during the Rathenau Campaign of 1922.
Strikes and demonstrations flooded the streets in June in 2023.,with revolutionary zeal blazing at superlative height. Workers demonstrated at Bautzen on 2 June, at Dresden and at Leipzig on 7 June. On this date more than 100,000 miners and engineers were on strike in Upper Silesia under the leadership of an elected strike committee which included six communists out of a total of 26 members. On 11 June there broke out a historically unique strike of 100,000 agricultural workers in Silesia, soon followed by 10,000 Brandenburg day workers. On 11 June a merchant marine strike also began at Emden, Bremen and Lübeck, on the initiative of the Federation of Seamen, which belonged to the Communist-led Profintern, the red international of trade unions. In Berlin it was the engineering workers who took action. 153,000 of the total of 250,000 engineers were organised in trade unions. Finally, workers at 60 enterprises called for the strike. Immediately the employers began to negotiate. On 10 July 150,000 engineers struck and the trade union leadership was overthrown in many factories. On the same day the management agreed to a rise in wages, from 9,800 marks for the second week of June to 12,000 for the first week of July. Everywhere the communists were dominant.
For the first time the Communist Party of Germany influenced the majority of the proletariat.. Bread riots were frequent: in Berlin, Dresden, Frankfurt am Main, Mannheim, Cologne.’ The bourgeois state machine was shaken in it’s very backyard. A trade union conference at Chemnitz was hastily called on October 21st as a precursor of national general strike of defence. After Brandler had spoken against the general strike to oppose Mueller, he was fiercely opposed by the Social Democratic Minister Graupe. He threatened that if the resolution calling for a general strike was put to the meeting then the Social Democrats would walk out. Within a few days the government troops were able to remove the head of the Saxon government, Zeigner, without any resistance. A partially supported general strike simply petered out.
On 23 October, 1300 KPD members seized 17 Hamburg police stations, and a number of barricades were installed in workers’ districts. The next day they issued a call for a general strike, and for three days hundreds of brave Communists heroically confronted the police in the Barmbeck and Schiffbek districts of Hamburg. The German CP was banned on 3 November.Activists were arrested and the attempted revolution defeated. The German Communist Party finally received a crushing defeat .In March 1924, at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern, the leaders of the KPD were blamed for the defeat. The failure was caused by of vacillating leadership which was incapable of making the necessary turn when the situation demanded.
*Freelance journalist



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