Ernst Meyer


German Politics and the Railway Strike

(17 February 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. II No. 13, 17 February 1922, p. 90.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2019). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The Reichsgewerkschaft Deutscher Eisenbahnbeamten, which proclaimed and carried out the railwaymen’s strike in Germany declares in a pamphlet issued after the end of the strike that their principle of keeping free from politics has proved itself justified through the strike, and that it was this principle that would “rule the future of Germany”. It is therefore necessary to examine the correctness of this assertion.

It is well known from statements in the press that during the strike the Reichsgewerkschaft had been negotiating with the S.P.D. (Majority Social Democrats) and the U.S.P.D. (Independent Socialists) with the result that these two organizations undertook mediatory action between the strikers and the Government. Yet, even though these statements might not quite correspond with the facts, the connection between the trade-unionist campaign and the political one becomes clear enough through the whole history of the railway strike.

Strikes in huge traffic undertakings, which, as the German railways are in the hands of the capitalist state, a priori mean an attack of the employees and officials against the government of the capitalist state. Of course, the fight is fought for economic demands, and not against the state as such. But this government in order to suppress the strike has as its very first measure employed its political power -President Ebert published an exceptional decree, punishing every participation in or agitation for the strike. The first demand of the strikers, as of all proletarian organizations, thus became the cancelling of this exceptional decree. If the strikers and the workers’ political parties had succeeded in carrying this point, the immediate annulment of the exceptional decree, the strike could have been continued under much more favorable conditions.

This relation between political and trade-unionist aims, however, not only becomes evident in the conditions of the struggle. It can, also be proved through the causes and in the issue of the railway strike.

The immediate cause of the railway strike was the announcement that 20,000 railwaymen were going to be dismissed; the imminent danger of a prolongation of working hours by means of the “Arbeitszeitgesetz” (Working Hours’ Law) and the lowness of the salaries of the railway officials when compared with the rapid increase of the cost of living. All these difficulties of the railway employees are but the consequence of the “policy of fulfilment” on the part of the Wirth Cabinet, which tries to squeeze the costs of the reparations due to the Entente from the workers, employees and officials. The promises given by Rathenau at Cannes are to be fulfilled by the lowering of the conditions of life of all sections of the working class. Of course, the government could raise the reparations sums by the taxation of the possessing classes (confiscation or seizure of material values) and spare the non-possessing masses, a capitalist government, however, is bound to try and spare the capitalists, by putting the whole burden on the back of the working class.

This relation between the policy of fulfilment of the Wirth Cabinet and the measures taken by the government against the workers was also fully understood by the S.P.D. and the U.S.P.D. The S.P.D., which in Prussia has already allied itself to the Stinnes Party and aspires to collaboration with Stinnes throughout the whole country, was perfectly incapable of representing the interests of the workmen and officials. The U.S.P.D. likewise is captured by the Wirth policy of fulfilment, whose foreign policy it has constantly supported. While thus on the one hand the S.P.D. quite openly stood in opposition to the strikers, whom they designated as “criminals”, the U.S.P.D. found itself in a situation whereby it was forced into an ambiguous attitude towards the strikers. The U.S.P.D., it is true, opposes the internal or home policy of the Wirth Cabinet, but it is unable, however, to actually break with it, being among the adherents and supporters of its foreign policy.

It is the Communist Party alone that has decisively taken up the fight against the whole of Wirth’s policy, the only one that could effectively back the interests of the striking employees The railway strike has opened the eyes of many employees to the policy of the Communists, and gained for them many new adherents among the officials and employees.

While the railway strike continued to spread the state government had no other resource but to grant all the demands of the officials and thus go hack on its former policy which would involve its resignation, or to suppress the strike by all means, even by the use of the military power. In this extremely difficult situation the Wirth Cabinet was given prompt assistance by the S.P.D. and the U.S.P.D. The S.P.D. declared it would stand by the Cabinet and the U.S.P.D. shrank from the formation of a workers’ government. But since the striking railwaymen were afraid of continuing a strike whose object had already become the conquest of the government without the support of the S.P.D. and the U.S.P.D., and not willing to leave the government to the bourgeoisie alone, including the German nationalists, they abruptly broke off their strike.

The communists had to adapt their tactics to this line of action on the part of the striking railwaymen. They had to avoid the movement being stigmatized as a mere Communist one, as otherwise the strikers themselves would have accused the Communists of introducing pushing their special party aims into the struggle. The railwaymen had to recognize the character of their struggle as the strike progressed. Only by supporting the strike by means of absolute proletarian solidarity was the Communist Party able to accelerate the further development of the strike, thus helping the strikers to see the character of this strife. Only in a few districts of Germany, where workers governments already exist, or where, as for instance in the Rhineland, the whole movement lost the character of a mere railway strike by its stopping of production, the Communist organizations could openly demand the resignation of the Wirth Cabinet, and the formation of a government consisting of workers, employees and officials.

Anyhow the strike of the railwaymen failed, because the S.P.D. and the U.S.P.D. did not have the courage to renounce the Wirth policy and to undertake the government themselves And the railwaymen themselves at length felt this obstacle to their movement. The strike can only be described as broken off and must flame up again, as its causes have not been removed and as the conditions of life cannot but become worse for the employees. This proves the close relationship between the economic and the political demands of the working class. With the next move of the railwaymen the demand for a workers’ government will therefore not be placed at the end but at the forefront of its program, as only a workers’ government will really be in a position to fulfil the legitimate economical demands of the officials and employees.

Last updated on 3 May 2019