The Rule of the Socialists: A Lost World
He hoped that by giving right-wing forces carte blanche to both run their own affairs as before and eradicate the revolutionary left, they could be domesticated and integrated into the fledgling liberal republic. On January 15, , Liebknecht and Luxemburg were brutalized and killed by right-wing military units, the infamous Freikorps , with the green light of several key SPD leaders.
Eichhorn was not a Spartacist and ideologically occupied the middle-ground between the revolutionary left and the centrist SPD leadership. Yet, on January 5, , the Ebert government fired him for being too radical. This step was quite consciously designed as a provocation to manipulate the Spartacists around Liebknecht and Luxemburg into a premature uprising. Shortly after, several hundred thousand people responded to the call for a protest emanating from the leaders of the USPD, the newly created Communist Party KPD , as well as the revolutionary shop stewards.
Liebknecht, a very gifted and charismatic speaker, roused his listeners with calls for the immediate seizure of power, as the centrist Social Democrats had exposed themselves as traitors to the revolution. She knew of the necessity of first securing mass support for the seizure of power on the part of the working class, prior to attempting it. Yet, when Liebknecht and many of his often young and politically inexperienced followers rushed to action, Luxemburg publicly supported them while privately voicing her misgivings. Liebknecht and his core supporters conflated the broad dissatisfaction of working-class people with the old Imperial regime with support for a socialist revolution.
While a small but growing minority did indeed support such a revolution, the vast majority of workers did not do so yet. Thus, when Liebknecht called for the seizure of power, he and his supporters remained isolated, without mass support. Luxemburg knew the uprising was ill-prepared and premature, but she believed that she had no choice but to stand with them. All of this speaks to a larger problem: the revolutionaries attempted a grab for power at a time when their revolutionary party was only a few days old. Even the older Spartacus League, which was the kernel of this party, was more of a loose network of semi-autonomous groups that were neither well organized nor centered on a coherent political program.
Before , Luxemburg consciously rejected the trajectory of the Russian Bolsheviks for the German situation, arguing that splitting from the SPD would only further isolate the revolutionary socialists already a very small group into a sect. While Luxemburg openly and courageously advocated for her positions and critiqued the centrist and revisionist elements in the party, she did so as an individual.
In hindsight, her desire to avoid being cut off from the SPD and its membership is more than understandable, but it would have been useful to have worked on an organizational structure for revolutionaries within the party, perhaps organized as a faction, with a newspaper for developing and communicating a program and platform.
Such a faction would have enabled her and her followers to remain within the SPD and thus have access to its millions of members and vast resources, while also developing an infrastructure should a split become necessary. The centrist Social Democrats catastrophically underestimated the intractable unwillingness of the old Imperial elites to be integrated into any kind of democratic state. While Ebert and his centrist colleagues assumed that the old elites in the military, the judiciary, the state apparatus, and the economic centers of power would by-and-large be loyal to the newly created liberal republic, they were sadly mistaken.
A sizeable minority of military leaders, industrialists, and right-wing politicians openly plotted to overthrow the republic several times, most infamously in March , during the so-called Kapp Putsch, as well as the Beer Hall Putsch of November 9, The Kapp Putsch illustrates not only the inability of the centrist Social Democrats to defend their own regime from attacks by the far right, it also underscores the refusal of the traditional elites, and especially the military establishment, to accept the bourgeois republic.
In addition, as Harman points out:. And the basic reason was the failure of revolutionary organization and leadership to measure up to the sudden leap forward in working class consciousness. This would have required an organizational infrastructure of effective, experienced, and disciplined revolutionaries willing to learn from mistakes, genuinely rooted in the working class, and able to adjust and evolve their approaches as circumstances changed.
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The fledgling KPD could and should have been such an organization, but it failed in practice. Its leadership was too divided, vacillating between rhetorical radicalism and practical passivity. When, some twelve months later, the right-wing Kapp Putsch produced a wave of working-class radicalization, the KPD leadership was still too traumatized by the defeat of the Spartacus uprising to take advantage of new and unique opportunities. In March , the KPD, under a new but equally unprepared leadership, responded to massive police violence and provocations by calling for an armed uprising in the industrial regions around Halle, in central Germany, with catastrophic results.
It became a classic case of insurrectionist putschism and illustrated again how the KPD misjudged the balance of forces and the dynamics of the situation. This abortive uprising also signified the close of the revolutionary era that opened up during World War I. However, it would be too simplistic to locate the main reasons for the failures of the KPD exclusively in terms of the personal shortcomings of its leadership. While the revolutionary left made its last sustained bid for state power in central Germany in October , the far right attempted to overthrow the bourgeois republic again in November, starting in Bavaria.
The Beer Hall Putsch marks not only an attempt by a coalition of far-rightists to overthrow the elected government in Berlin but signaled the coming together of old-fashioned conservatives from the Imperial days with the burgeoning Nazi movement. In each instance the attempts were driven by a sizeable minority of leading generals, while the bulk of the German army remained passive and neutral, biding their time to see which side would emerge victorious, the right-wing insurrectionists or the government.
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What ultimately thwarted their attempts was not the army or any of the older elites protecting the republic as they were bound by law to do but rather the escalating infighting among the coup leaders, putting them at cross-purposes from each other. Last but not least is the fact that when Hitler finally came to power in January , former World War I general and conservative president Paul von Hindenburg appointed him.
Other leading politicians, such as the conservative Franz von Papen and media tycoon Alfred Hugenberg, played a key role in convincing Hindenburg to make Hitler chancellor. Thus, the conservative elites that the centrist social democrats were so anxious to make a deal with in could not be domesticated and integrated into even a limited democratic republic. Instead, these elites forged an alliance with the Nazis as capitalism entered into the crisis of the Great Depression and overthrew the republic. US sports.
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