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G. Gerbel

Forty Years Ago

(On the Nature of the 1918 German Revolution)

(Autumn 1958)

From Fourth International [Amsterdam], No. 4, Autumn 1958, pp. 39–45.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


While the petty-bourgeois democrats want to wind up the revolution as quickly as possible, our interest and task are to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less owning classes are removed from power ... – Karl Marx-Friedrich Engels: Address to the Bund, 1850.

In the evaluation of historic developments and events, a distinction must constantly be made between more or less accidental phenomena and occurrences, and the motive forces, the deeper causes and relationships, inherent in these events.

The revolution of November 1918 was the result of the first imperialist World War and the defeat of German imperialism. It was not systematically prepared by a revolutionary party, but developed spontaneously out of the military collapse, the exhaustion of the army, and the refusal of the working masses on the home front to carry the burden of the war any longer.

This spontaneous character of the revolution nowise means that, in the process of the preparation of the revolution, no revolutionary socialist force was operating. On the contrary, socialists who had their training before the war in workers’ organizations were to be found in the leadership of a series of pre-revolutionary movements and struggles. The heads of this movement, moreover, were in more or less solid contact with the leftist revolutionary organizations and groups.

The mass general strike against the sentence of Karl Liebknecht in June 1916 was followed in April 1917 by other strikes to obtain additional food and the promise of electoral reform in Prussia. In the navy, in July 1917, there occurred the first sailors’ mutinies, centred in Wilhelmshaven, which were repressed by the most brutal measures of military terror. The sailors Reichpietsch and Köbes were condemned to death and executed as the ringleaders. In the movements of 1917 the influence of the Russian Revolution made itself strongly felt. This was clearly reflected both in the demands and in the forms of organization.

On January 14th 1918 a general strike broke out in Vienna. It was the result of the working class’s indignation about the scandalous plans of conquest of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey) at Brest-Litovsk, and was triggered by the sudden and grave worsening of famine among the masses. In this strike there were seen for the first time workers’ councils, at the head of which were factory workers who had hitherto come forward little or not at all. A little over a week later, on January 28th, there broke out a general strike in the Berlin arms plants. It spread rapidly to other factories and over the whole Reich. In all, there were involved a million workers, 500,000 of them in Berlin. Here also workers’ councils were formed. It was the Leipzig workers who, in April 1917, had formulated in the most characteristic way the economic and political demands of these movements:

  1. increased provision of cheap foodstuffs and coal for the population;
  2. declaration by the government that it was ready to make peace immediately, without open or secret annexations;
  3. abolition of the state of war and of the censorship;
  4. immediate abolition of all limitations on rights of coalition, association, and assembly;
  5. immediate abolition of the shameful forced-labor law;
  6. immediate liberation of all political arrestees and prisoners, suppression of penal procedures against political activity;
  7. full civil liberties; universal, equal, secret, and direct suffrage for the election of all public institutions in the Reich, its component states, and municipalities.

These points were adopted by the strike of the Berlin munitions workers, who added to them: “participation of workers’ representatives in the peace negotiations.”

The real leadership of this struggle was in the hands of oppositional representatives of the Berlin metallurgical plants, who later formed themselves into “Revolutionäre Obleute.” They were almost all members of the USP, but they had an independent position toward the party leadership and hence formed the nucleus of the left wing of this centrist party. The special importance of these Obleute lay in the fact that they always reflected the mood of the workers in the factories. They constituted a sort of council-like bodies. But, on the one hand, they did not have the mass character of the councils, and on the other, the tasks they set themselves went beyond the councils. They “replaced” the communist revolutionary mass party that was lacking. They tried to hold to this task until the January Days in 1918. The leaderships of the trade unions and the Socialist Party (Majority Socialists), declared themselves “neutral” toward these movements. They did everything possible to prevent them from breaking out, and when this was no longer possible, they put themselves at the head of the strikes in order to strangle them. The president of the Majority Socialists, Ebert, explained the leadership’s tactic in an article in the Hamburger Echo of February 17th 1918:

The entry of the party leadership in the movement was necessary in order to ensure their orderly development and reasonable conclusion. [...] That we did not unconditionally follow the pressure of our members has already been made clear in the daily press. We rejected in any form the responsibility for the movement, which was quite inopportune and had broken out without any contact having been made with us. We furthermore posed the condition that we would not accept the movement unless we were given an adequate influence in the leadership.

Later, when Ebert, as Reichskanzler in 1924, was attacked by the nationalists for having instigated the January strike, he sued his accusers for slander, and showed in court that he and Braun had entered the leadership of the strike only in order to strangle it. This episode of Social-Democratic policy belongs to one of the lowest points of its moral and political collapse. It also reveals the betrayals of these “socialists” which can no longer be considered accidents or deviations but as going over to the camp of the class enemy. The whole policy of the Majority Socialists in the November revolution was basically nothing other than the practice of strangling this strike transposed to the plane of a political overturn.

The German government immediately repressed the strike with the most brutal measures. On February 2nd an intensified state of siege was decreed. Special tribunals were created, arrests were made, thousands of Obleute were imprisoned. By these measures the strike was defeated. On February 3rd the revolutionary Obleute called it off in Berlin. In the rest of the country work had been renewed even earlier.

Thus ended the pre-revolutionary cycle of the class struggle, only to reach a new cycle ten months later, with the powerful uprising of the worker and soldier masses, the cycle of the proletarian revolution.

The repression of the January movement was the last great effort of collapsing militarism. After a few limited successes on the western front, there occurred an abrupt turn that showed very clearly that there was no longer hope of a victorious peace and that the war must be ended at any cost.

In order to create the premises for an armistice and peace, the military leadership used political pressure on the government, by means of an internal political transformation, a “revolution from above,” to create a government that would be in a position to take on itself the consequences of the military defeat. Prince Max von Baden was the chancellor of this “popular” government, and for the first time two leaders of the Social-Democracy (MSP) entered the cabinet as secretaries of state. For the first time a parliamentary government was “ruling” in Germany. This concession to “democracy” was supposed to save Germany from military catastrophe and the resultant revolution. It was, however, though not by the wish of those who had arranged it, a bridge toward the revolution. Even the last-minute partial concessions (extension of the franchise, political amnesty, etc.) and other “measures of democratization” could no longer change anything. The pressure of the discontented, starving, war-sick masses grew steadily and was complemented by the collapse of discipline in the army, especially among the troops who, inside Germany itself, were not subjected to the steady pressure of combat and were in close contact with the ever more strongly radicalized worker masses.

In this atmosphere of political and military decomposition the High Sea Fleet at Kiel received on October 30th the order to sail out to a “big naval action.” The order for this “Death-Cruise” of the fleet was the signal for a open mass-mutiny among the sailors. The port workers immediately joined the uprising. Workers’ and soldiers’ councils were elected, and revolutionary sailors spread out all over Germany as banner-bearers of the revolution.

It is symptomatic that in all revolutions the sailors play an outstanding role. The technical needs of the fleet require that the majority of the sailors be recruited from the ranks of skilled workers. The politically conscious and organized workers’ elements thus play a greater role than in other troop formations. At the beginning of the movement the sailors’ demands had no socialist content. They were still concerned with an internal reform of disciplinary dispositions: the liberation of arrestees, commissions for domestic matters and complaints, limitation of saluting, etc. The primitive nature of these demands does not reflect, as the historian of The Weimar Republic, Arthur Rosenberg, explains, the naivete of the German people, but characterizes the first steps in every revolution, which, in the first place, still keep within the framework of reform of what exists, and struggle against immediate obstacles. But despite their primitive nature, these demands contained a dynamic force that quickly went beyond the limits of the existing order.

In a period of eight days political power in Germany was broken. The power lay in the hands of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils. But the political and class composition of the revolution was here also of great importance. While the workers’ councils in the factories were in their great majority composed of politically educated and organized workers, the soldiers’ councils were dominated by accidental and petty-bourgeois elements. While the workers’ councils, consciously or unconsciously, were the carriers of socialist demands, the soldiers’ councils let themselves be used to drive back the councils as political expressions of the will to revolution.

In the territorial army the working class was not represented in proportion to its numerical strength. While large parts of the working class were occupied in the arms industry and in the navy, the petty-bourgeois element of the towns and especially of the countryside predominated in the territorial army. The goal of these petty-bourgeois masses, lacking any political experience, was just the end of the war and the resultant demobilization. From the time that the ruling classes, as a consequence of the military collapse, themselves began to push for peace negotiations, the political development of the soldiers’ councils grew limited. For them the goal of the revolution had been reached with the unseating of the military leaders and their visible desire for war. They identified themselves with the Social-Democratic leaders who had been pushed up to power. In these they saw, not traitors to the International, not voters of the war-credits on August 4th, not the politicians of social peace, not the strike-breakers of the January movement, but the antipodes of militarism and Prussianism, the guarantors of their victory and of their wish to return to civilian life.

In his book From Weimar to Hitler, Otto Braun, later Prussian premier, explains how the future president of the Social-Democratic Party, Otto Wels, succeeded in pulling the councils of politically uneducated soldiers away from the influence of the revolutionary sections of the working class and in making use of them against the latter:

He had the soldiers’ councils elect spokesmen and then marched with them in closed ranks to the Zirkus Busch [to the first conference of the Berlin Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils]. It will soon be seen how much these disciplined men were necessary and decisive for the later development of the revolution. The Independents (USPD) were somewhat hesitant, their left wing in particular leaning strongly toward the Spartakists [the Liebknecht-Luxemburg-Mehring group]. Wels’s disciplined soldiers’ councils struck the decisive blow.

The meeting in question here, to which we shall several times return, took place on November 10th. It elected the government of people’s deputies, a government which set itself the goal of “ending the revolution as quickly as possible.” On November 12th this government issued a decree which was symptomatic of its attitude and fatal for the revolution:

The prescribed relationships with officers are maintained. The first duty of the soldiers’ councils is to prevent disorder and mutiny. The easy-going acceptance of this decree by the soldiers’ councils condemned them to complete impotence, and in a few weeks demobilization rendered them completely insignificant. They had fulfilled their task in the counter-revolutionary sense.

When the 1918 debacle occurred, the Social-Democracy was the last pillar of bourgeois society. The army was in a state of dissolution, the bourgeois state apparatus was no longer functioning. But the leaders of the Social-Democracy did everything to prevent the military collapse and the revolution. Even when it was clear that the departure of Kaiser Wilhelm was inevitable, the Social-Democratic leadership did everything to save the monarchy. General Gröner, during a trial in 1925, testified concerning a conference that he had had with the leadership of the SPD. He stated that he found in his interlocutors a complete understanding of his efforts to save the monarchy:

Nowhere was there a word that might indicate that these gentlemen wanted the revolution. On the contrary, from beginning to end the talk was only about how the monarchy could be saved, and it is revealing that at the end Ebert specified: “The abdication of the Kaiser is inevitable if it is desired to prevent the masses from going over to the revolutionary camp and thus to prevent the revolution.”

Ebert proposed that one of the Kaiser’s sons be installed as regent. It was only on November 7th that the Social-Democrats publicly demanded the Kaiser’s abdication. But the situation was untenable. The revolution, despite the efforts of Noske, whom the SPD leadership had sent to Kiel to dam up the movement, spread from city to city. On November 9th there were powerful mass demonstrations in Berlin. The Max von Baden government resigned, and Ebert took the post of Reichskanzler. He took over from Max von Baden the post of regent of the Reich. It was during this conversation that he made his famous declaration: “I hate the revolution like sin.”

An hour later, Scheidemann was forced, under pressure of the mass demonstration, to proclaim the republic from the balcony of the Reichstag. He took this step hastily and without consultation with his party friends, but to the great jubilation of the demonstrating workers, because he had been informed that Karl Liebknecht had proclaimed the “socialist republic” from the Berliner Schloss.

The Social-Democracy had done everything it could to prevent the revolution. Now it was a matter of its putting itself at the head of the revolution in order to prevent it from developing into a socialist revolution. While in October and the first days of November the Social-Democratic leaders were trying to avoid the collapse of the regime, the revolutionary leadership (Revolutionäre Obleute and the Spartakus-Bund), was preparing the revolutionary uprising of the Berlin proletariat. Discussions about the form and the date of the uprising continued from 25 October to 9 November. The decisions ran up against the irresolution of the centrist leadership of the USP, who had a paralyzing influence on the revolutionary Obleute, on the one hand, and, on the other, a certain ultimatism and adventurism on the part of the Liebknecht group. Liebknecht demanded a call for a mass demonstration as an immediate prelude to the uprising. The representatives of the Bolshevik Party in Germany, during a consultation on November 2nd, recommended the preparation of a general strike on revolutionary slogans and the continuation of the action up to the armed insurrection.

The uprising was set for November 11th. But precipitate events and the first arrests forced the revolutionary leadership already on November 9th to call the Berlin workers to a mass demonstration. How ripe the situation was in the working class was shown by the fact that participation in the demonstration began in the morning just as soon as the appeals for it were distributed in the factories. One factory after another was set in motion. The big plants formed the nucleus of the demonstration and hence the nucleus of the revolution. The barracks at first associated themselves only timidly with the movement.

On the morning of November 9th the leaders of the SPD and the parliamentary fraction were still trying tp keep the workers in the factories and off the streets. But the masses answered the call of their revolutionary leadership. In this reply lay the possibility for the movement to take further steps and to block the attempt of the Eberts and Scheidemanns to get hold of the movement. But it is necessary to take as a starting point the fact that the majority of the German working class lacked political understanding and revolutionary experience. Both had to be acquired in the course of the revolutionary struggle.

The desires of the masses for peace and socialism were mingled with illusions about “unity for its own sake.” This should have served as the basis for a correct tactic by the revolutionary leadership. What was confusedly moving the masses in their hearts – the elimination of capitalism and militarism, the end of the carnage – had to be formulated in clear conditions for the struggle of the workers’ movement. They were the best touchstone for socialist unity. Under such conditions the SPD leadership would have to show its colors. As it would not and could not follow the path of the socialist revolution, it would be forced to isolate itself from the masses. To force it into such a situation was the task of the Spartakus-Bund, as the most advanced part of the revolutionary leadership of the Berlin workers.

The masses who marched in the streets on the morning of November 9th were masters of the situation. There was no government. But a government was demanded, especially by the mass of soldiers in order to carry out the armistice negotiations. The call for a government uniting all political tendencies of the workers’ movement became more and more pressing. Liebknecht refused to form a government with the Majority Socialists. The masses did not at all understand this attitude. Under the pressure of innumerable delegations from the factories and barracks, Liebknecht made the following declaration:

I will formulate in six points the conditions on whose acceptance or refusal it depends whether I enter the government. With whosoever accepts the conditions indispensable for a socialist revolution, I will enter unconditionally into a government, whether or not he belongs to the Kaiser-Socialists.

  1. Germany shall be a socialist republic.
  2. In this republic, the whole legislative, executive, and judicial power shall be exclusively in the hands of the elected representatives of the whole toiling population and the soldiers.
  3. Exclusion of bourgeois members from the government.
  4. Participation of the Independents for only three days in order to create a provisional government able to conclude an armistice.
  5. The departmental ministers shall be considered as only technical aides to the cabinet proper.
  6. Equality of the two leaders of the cabinet.

Without going into detail about whether these conditions were in principle defensible and corresponded to the revolutionary situation, here was taken the step that was tactically necessary in view of the fact that the political situation was unripe.

Both Liebknecht’s declaration and the sharp rejection of this individually formulated declaration by the leadership of the Spartakus-Bund showed that the vanguard of the German revolutionary movement was lacking in political and organizational cohesion and clarity.

The SPD leadership rejected the six conditions. Instead of exploiting this refusal as the starting-point for broad propaganda in the masses about the counter-revolutionary role of the SPD leadership, this episode was treated just as a bad gaff, that should be covered with a veil of forgetfulness. Disregarding the mood existing especially among the soldiers, the Spartakus-Bund’s leadership continued its previous line, which was very clearly shown in a appeal of November 10th:

For four years the Scheidemanns, the government Socialists, have dragged you through the horrors of the war, have told you that the “Fatherland” must be defended, where what was in question was only the predatory interests of imperialism; now, when German imperialism is collapsing, they are trying to save for the bourgeoisie anything that can still be. saved, and to stifle the revolutionary energy of the masses.

There ought to be no “Scheidemann” in the government; no socialist should enter the government so long as a Government Socialist has a seat in it. There is nothing in common with those who have betrayed for four years.

When Spartakus saw in the Scheidemanns the grave-diggers of the socialist revolution and thus pitilessly characterized them, it was 100% right. Past and future have proved it and confirmed it as a genuine historical fact. But it was a mistake to pose the question as Spartakus did in the last paragraph.

That same day in the Busch Zirkus, as has already been mentioned, the Berlin workers’ and soldiers’ councils met in their first session. Liebknecht was received with an ovation such as had never been heard before. But during his speech the mood changed sharply. The more Liebknecht stressed the well-founded accusations against the SPD leadership and sought thereby to justify that it was not possible to work with them, the more protestations arose in the hall. A large part of the workers, and especially the soldiers, could not understand why Liebknecht took this position: never and under no conditions to act together with the Majority Socialists. In this situation, Ebert had it easy. Adapting himself skilfully to the mood of the assembly, he said in effect: Enough war, enough blood-letting. Now we must, after the defeat, all together, united, build a free (and of course socialist) Germany. Thus Ebert, who feared and fought against the socialist revolution, was the winner of the day.

The SPD leadership would doubtless have had the majority of the politically confused mass of soldiers in this fateful assembly even if Liebknecht had, as on the day before, acted with the right tactical insight and had not disregarded his own correct understanding of the masses, i.e., if he had included in his understanding a comprehension of the masses’ backwardness. If Liebknecht, with the full authorization of the leadership of the Spartakus-Bund, had clearly and factually posed the disputed questions before the Berlin workers’ and soldiers’ councils, had concretely developed the revolutionary tasks, and had in effect declared: If the cruelties of these last four and a half years are not to be in vain, then peace must immediately be made with the Soviet Union and a socialist Germany built. These were the two premises of the conditions posed by the Spartakus-Bund. Seeing that the socialist goal requires carrying out radical measures, we can and will enter only into a government that makes this its programme.

If the Spartakus-Bund had posed the question in this way, it would not have happened that in the course of the revolution the vanguard was so isolated from the decisive masses.

This mistaken practice in November 1918 is closely tied up with the fundamental error of the Spartakus-Bund: its neglect of the organizational question and overestimation of the spontaneous socialist consciousness of the masses.

When Scheidemann announced on November 9th that the German people “had won all along the line,” there was, to the right of the SPD, no political force capable of barring the road to the new bearers of state power, the workers and soldiers. The ruling layers, the big landowners, the military caste, and the bourgeoisie had disappeared from the political scene. They trembled before the expected consequences of the overturn. Two facts soon permitted the bourgeoisie to come back on stage, and, though at first timidly, then day by day more clearly, to lift up its voice: first, the lack of purpose and the hesitations of the revolutionary leadership of the masses, and second and above all, the announcement of bourgeois-democratic reforms that the right-wing leadership of the workers’ movement set as “what was politically possible within the country.”

The decisive vital question for the bourgeoisie was the achievement of its demand that the National Assembly be convoked very quickly so as thus to re-establish “law and order.” For the bourgeoisie was trembling at “law by revolutionary decision” which the working class had in its hands during the days of the revolution. The bourgeoisie correctly understood that the continuation of the revolution must grow dangerous and tried to bring developments under the control of the National Assembly so as to be able to strangle the revolution by parliamentary means.

The bourgeoisie had no need, immediately after the outbreak of the revolution, to parry the threatening danger by its own counter-revolutionary actions. For demands of the new November 10th government of the people’s delegates, with their bourgeois-democratic content, such as, for example, the protection of private property etc., and the November declarations of the people’s delegates guaranteeing the salaries, pensions, and rights of functionaries, reassured the bourgeoisie without its having to do anything whatever. It had only to take shelter behind this government, thanks to whom its class interests were broadly protected, and to strengthen this government against forces which, like the workers’ and soldiers’ councils or the Left, were fighting for a consistent continuance of the revolution. From November 15th on, the bosses succeeded in tying up the trade unions in the central labor commission, thereby obtaining protection against wage increases and breaking the trade unions away from further advances of the revolution. Instead of creating, during the revolutionary days, the basis for socialization, the treasonable policy of the SPD leadership enabled the besieged bosses to sit down at the table with the representatives of the working class and to discuss it. By these endless and fruitless debates, the bourgeoisie managed to get through the revolutionary situation until the National Assembly, and there, by the Socialization Law of March 1919 in this Assembly to provide “suitable indemnization” and thus finally to bury the whole question of socialization.

There had soon come to pass what Engels had prophesied in December 11th 1884 in a letter to Bebel: “In any case, our adversary on the day of the crisis and the day after is the whole reaction rallied round pure democracy.” In these days of the November revolution “pure democracy” was represented by those forces that rallied to demand the convocation of the National Assembly. These forces extended from the most extreme right to within the ranks of the Independent Social-Democrats. National Assembly or power to the councils were the two poles: revolution or counter-revolution. The question was settled by the December 16th–20th Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils. The composition of the congress did not correspond to the state of mind of the masses. While 250,000 workers were demonstrating in Berlin on, the slogans of the Spartakus-Bund, there were not a dozen delegates from the Spartakus-Bund. The Majority Socialists, however, had 288 out of 485 mandates. These facts are revealing about the German revolution and the great weakness of the Spartakus-Bund. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, doubtless the most popular leaders of the revolution, had no mandates, and were not even admitted to the congress with voice but without vote.

The second point on the agenda read: National Assembly or system of councils, with a report and a counter-report.

The Rote Fahne, organ of the Spartakus-Bund, explained the meaning of this point on the agenda:

Significant in this agenda is [...] the formulation of the central problem of the revolution in the form of an alternative: National Assembly or the setting up of councils. Here at least it is openly admitted that the National Assembly is identical with the destruction of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils and their political role. The relationship of political forces was evaluated by the same Rote Fahne in the following way: The national conference now finds itself, in its process of self-clarification, under the pressure of two opposed factors. From above, the bourgeois counter-revolution, concentrated in the general headquarters of Ebert-Scheidemann, is bringing the strongest pressure on the national conference to demoralize it, rob it of confidence, to give up acting as an organ of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils by convoking the National Assembly. That was the meaning of the December 6th putsch (on that day, for the first time in the revolution, the government of the people’s delegates fired on a demonstration), the demonstration on the return of the guard troops, the disarmament of the proletariat and the formation of the “Volunteer People’s Army.” From below, simultaneously, the far-sighted and resolute masses of the proletariat were bringing pressure on the conference of the councils in order to strengthen its revolutionary will, to get it to take a socialist class point of view, and, out of the chaotic defeat of the November revolution, to forge the sharp weapon of the further development of the socialist revolution. Right from its first meeting, the Congress of Councils demonstrated that its majority and specifically the leaderships of both Social-Democratic parties had neither the capacity nor the will to make of the councils an instrument for proletarian power. The congress decided on its own castration in a resolution formulated as follows:

The National Congress of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils of Germany, which represents the collective political power, transmits, until a later settlement by the National Assembly, the legislative and executive power to the Council of the People’s Delegates.

By this decision the Congress of Councils brought to an end the first phase of the revolution. The counter-revolution began to raise its head.

The conditions, developments, and results of the November revolution have led to serious discussion in the workers’ movement concerning the class character of the 1918 revolution. There have been essentially two opposed conceptions. Some have been of the opinion that, by the nature of the motive forces and on the basis of its historic tasks, it was a proletarian revolution, but that it had been crushed by the counter-revolution with the help of the betrayal of the SPD. The others have held the point of view that the November revolution was a bourgeois revolution because the real bourgeois revolution of 1848 in Germany had ended in a compromise and the bourgeoisie had never held sole power in Germany. The results of the revolution would not have completely attained this goal, not to mention the tasks of the socialist revolution. This latter is the conception defended by Stalinist historians (Fred Ölsner, etc.). It is also shared by Arthur Rosenberg, who puts forward the immaturity of the German working class and the primitive nature of its demands as proof that it was not a question of a proletarian revolution.

The 1848 revolution was, roughly speaking, the bourgeois revolution, whose task was the overthrow of feudalism, i.e., the expropriation of the feudal landowners, national unity, abolition of absolutism, separation of church and state, and establishment of bourgeois democracy. The bourgeois revolution is characterized by the transfer of power from the feudal classes to the bourgeoisie. Since the German revolution of 1848 was not completed – the German bourgeoisie concluded a compromise with absolutism – the transfer of power into the hands of the bourgeoisie became a long and contradictory process that left remains of feudalism up into the time of the bourgeois republic. But that nowise alters the fact that capitalism became the dominant system. Even if a large part of the political power remained in the hands of holdovers from feudalism, it was nonetheless true that this power was employed in the interests of the German bourgeoisie. The task that lay before the German workers’ movement was the proletarian revolution, the taking of power from the bourgeoisie, a process in which it would have been necessary, “in passing,” as Lenin expressed it, to wind up the unfinished tasks of the bourgeois revolution.

Capitalism had long since created the material bases for the proletarian revolution in Germany: heavy industry and the proletariat. It was on these bases that the German workers’ organizations and the socialist movement had grown. In this period the German bourgeoisie had completely lost its progressive role and had become out-and-out reactionary. The 1914–1918 World War was precisely a symptom of this development.

The fact that the proletarian revolution was unable to develop itself fully changes nothing in the character of the revolution. It was just because the proletarian revolution was strangled that bourgeois democracy has continued to drag along feudal remnants, from the Weimar Republic up to the present day.

It is similarly false to take the level of consciousness of the masses as the measure of the nature of the revolution. It is only historical necessities which determine a revolution’s character. The unfolding of the November revolution showed precisely that the betrayal of the German Social-Democracy consisted, not in that it limited itself to the accomplishment and fulfillment of the bourgeois revolution, but in that it helped decapitate the proletarian revolution and thus had to become the tool of the bourgeois counter-revolution.

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