‘What the Revolution Cost Us’ by Paul Frölich from International Press Correspondence. Vol. 3 No. 27. March 20, 1923.
“It was not by its immediate tragi-comic conquests that revolutionary progress made its advance, but the reverse: by the creation of a determined and mighty counter-revolution, by the creation of an opponent, in combatting whom, the insurrectory party matured into a really revolutionary party.”
Marx wrote this in his Class struggles, with reference to the February revolution in France. It can also be applied as the final verdict on the epoch of German revolution which we have passed through since November 1918. Our conquests were but small, and they have melted like snow in summer. The German proletariat has fought battles worthy of comparison with those of Paris in 1848 and 1871, and has forced the bourgeoisie to mobilize all its powers, to lay bare all its baseness, treachery, revengefulness, and cruelty, in order to retain its mastery. And because the bourgeoisie has been forced to gather the whole of its class forces against the proletariat, the question of power is at present the main subject of debate in every single combat in Germany. It is for this reason that both sides hesitate to strike the blow which must be decisive. But the very fact that our bourgeoisie to-day is obliged to pursue a catastrophic policy, which lobs it of all inner homogeneity and consciousness of power, imparts to us the confidence that we in Germany are now coming to the conflicts in which we shall overcome the powers opposed to us, in which the forces and consciousness of power of ttie proletariat grow with its victorious progress.
It is only when, like Marx, we conceive the revolutionary struggle as one of life and death between the two Classes, as a struggle in which the dying class is putting forth its last forces, that we can grasp the revolutionary advances made in Germany during the last five years.
And what have we paid for this historical progress? The German proletariat has offered unheard of human sacrifices on the altar of revolution, has shed its blood unsparingly. The first to lead the procession of victims was the brave sailor Reichpietsch, with his comrades, who began the revolutionizing of the fleet in 1917, and were shot in accordance with martial law. These were followed by those who fell in the November risings. The enemy capitulated without fighting, and there were but few victims more. It was as if the working class was given a warning, by means of these losses and sacrifices, not to abandon themselves to too great illusions as to what had really been accomplished, and what the future would bring. For one month later, on December 6, 1918, counter-revolution raised its head under the leadership of Ebert, Scheidemann, Haase, etc. The republic showed its bourgeois teeth, cast the dead bodies of the proletariat into the streets. And now blow followed blow. The bloody Christmas brought one more victory for the Red sailors. This victory was submerged in the horrors of the days of January, when the German proletariat lost hundreds of its best, and among them: Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
The provocations leading to the January struggles had been a va banque game for Ebert, Scheidemann, Noske, and their like. They utilized their victory for the systematic creation of a counter-revolutionary power. The volunteer corps and the self-defence unions were formed, who tore the body of the proletariat to pieces, The Spartacists were hunted down like wild animals. Prices were set upon their heads, the events of March 1919 carried devastation into the proletariat, and among the remaining Red soldiers in Berlin. These were the days of Noske’s murderous commands – the command costing the lives of the 32 sailors, and uncounted others. Leo Yogisches, the organizer of lhe revolution, was murdered. “Law and order” raged in Brunswick and Bremen, in Central Germany and in lhe Ruhr, in Baden and on the Baltic. In Bavaria, on the first of May, the day of fraternization among the peoples, the red flags were saturated with workers’ blood at the orders of the social democrats. Murder raged far into the summer.
The “republic with the freest democracy in the world” had no other guarantee for its constitution than martial law. Machine guns were brought into use wherever there was a strike. Noske was the trump card played by the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. Noske, the man with the low and brutal forehead, the clumsy fists. A series of separate acts of murder followed the great campaign against the working class, and these again formed the preliminary to the bloody inauguration of the shop stewards’ law in January 1920.
During this period fifteen thousand proletarians were left dead on the field. Noske himself boasted of this success of his bloody work Then came the mass carnage of the Kapp putsch, in which the soldiery, the blood-thirsty Baltic forces, and the monarchist students, were let loose upon the workers who had just saved the republic. In the Ruhr area, Pommerania, Thuringia, Halle, and Saxony, the soil was soaked with the blood of the workers. A period now followed in which the economic struggles of the workers were suppressed by force, a period culminating in the massacre of March 1921 in Central Germany, provoked with cunning calculation by the social democrat Severing. “The first day must be bloody!” This was the command issued by him to the leaders of the White Guards, and this command they executed like faithful vassals.
Who can count the victims who fell in all these battles? The German proletariat has left an army of revolutionary champions on the battle ground. Almost every town has its sacred graves, adorned with red ribbons.
The wounds were followed by fetters, the White Terror by white justice. Courts martial, courts of military law, peoples’ courts, special courts – they rained down their verdicts like machine guns their bullets. Sentence of death against the heroic Levine and many of his comrades. Condemnations to penal servitude for many thousands. The cruelties practised in the prisons, systematically sapping the vitality of the revolutionists, have been beyond description. Who counts the years which have been spent, and which are still being spent, by the proletarians behind the prison walls? Who appreciates the sufferings here borne in silence? Who estimates the numbers of broken lives, the wasted energies? And who thinks of the starving hundreds and thousands of women and children whom bullet or prison has robbed of husband and father – of the starvation which even the grateful gifts of the workers have not been able to banish?
The voice of the victims of the revolution cries out from the graves and the prisons: Proletarian, how are you rewarding our courage? Will you help our loved ones, and thereby show us that you have not forgotten us and our great cause, that you are ready to help yourself?
International Press Correspondence, widely known as”Inprecor” was published by the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) regularly in German and English, occasionally in many other languages, beginning in 1921 and lasting in English until 1938. Inprecor’s role was to supply translated articles to the English-speaking press of the International from the Comintern’s different sections, as well as news and statements from the ECCI. Many ‘Daily Worker’ and ‘Communist’ articles originated in Inprecorr, and it also published articles by American comrades for use in other countries. It was published at least weekly, and often thrice weekly. The ECCI also published the glossy magazine ‘Communist International’ edited by Zinoviev and Karl Radek from 1919 until 1926 monthly in German, French, Russian, and English. Unlike, Inprecor, CI contained long-form articles by the leading figures of the International as well as proceedings, statements, and notices of the Comintern. No complete run of Communist International is available in English. Both were largely published outside of Soviet territory, with Communist International printed in London, to facilitate distribution and both were major contributors to the Communist press in the U.S. Communist International and Inprecor are an invaluable English-language source on the history of the Communist International and its sections.
PDF of issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/inprecor/1923/v03n27-mar-20-1923-Inprecor-loc.pdf