In 1923, the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) failed to stage a socialist revolution, despite unusually favorable political conditions. Their right-wing opportunism led to the defeat of the world revolutionary wave, the isolation of the Soviet Union and the victory of Stalinism. This proves that only the leadership of the Fourth International can save humanity, etc etc etc.
Such is the usual “analysis” of the 1923 German events by the Trotskyist movement. Indeed, it´s virtually an article of faith among Trotskyists. The pamphlet under review, “1923: A Missed Opportunity? The German October Legend and the Real History of 1923” is an attempt to set the record straight. And yes, it´s fiercely partisan – the author is none other than the sell-out extraordinaire himself, August Thalheimer, who together with Heinrich Brandler formed the “right-wing” leadership of the KPD during the events of 1923. Ironically, the pamphlet isn´t a polemic against Trotskyism but rather aims at the Stalinists, who (in typical fashion) blamed the failure of the German revolution on the Brandler-Thalheimer faction, while absolving themselves (or rather the proto-Stalinist faction of 1923) of all responsibility in the matter. The original German edition of Thalheimer´s pamphlet was published in 1931. The English translation was published in 1993 by Mike Jones and Marken Press in the UK. I think it was promoted by Revolutionary History, an ecumenical Trotskyist journal with a slightly “heretical” tendency.
Thalheimer´s pamphlet speaks for itself, but only if you´re an expert on the factional fights of the early Communist movement, both Russian and German, and the events in Germany 1918-23. If you are, you will find it extremely interesting. Thalheimer patiently explains why the situation in Germany in 1923 wasn´t as ripe for revolution as it had been in Russia in 1917. Some examples: Social Democracy was still strong, no soviets existed, the army consisted of reliable right-wing and mercenary elements and hence didn´t look like the Russian conscript army, the peasants didn´t support the socialist movement, and the “bourgeoisie” was still strong or smart enough to make some concessions to the workers. The plans for a 1923 socialist revolution were drawn up six months in advance in Moscow by the Communist International. By contrast, the armed uprising in Petrograd in 1917 was decided on only days in advance by leaders actually present on the spot. Thalheimer emphasizes the political preparations necessary for any successful uprising, which include the winning over of the majority of the workers by united front tactics and partial demands. Instead, Moscow decided on a purely technical and organizational approach, playing down the political struggle against Social Democracy and other hostile elements.
I was surprised to learn that the Communists entered the state governments of Saxony and Thuringia (dominated by the Social Democrats) not as an expression of united front tactics, but for purely “technical” reasons. The Communists hoped to use their official positions to obtain arms and distribute them to the workers! In front of the very nose of the prying “class traitors” and “bourgeois”? This weird combination of opportunism and adventurism has “Zinoviev” written all over it, and indeed, Zinoviev was the president of the Communist International… The Brandler-Thalheimer group eventually decided to call off the revolution made in Moscow, realizing that the KPD simply wasn´t strong enough to carry it out. After all the usual peregrinations, the Comintern (and Zinoviev) decided to replace them with a more loyal “leftist” leadership around Ruth Fischer and Arkadi Maslow. Eventually, all of these people were expelled by new top dog Stalin, with Brandler and Thalheimer forming the KPO, the “Bukharinite” or “Right Opposition” group in Germany. It was as head of the KPO that Thailheimer penned this pamphlet on the German October legend in 1931.
I think August Thailheimer is very convincing, as far as it goes. Sensationally, Mike Jones claims that Trotsky later changed his opinion on the matter, essentially agreeing with the “right wing”, this according to a report by Jakob Walcher, the leader of the “centrist” SAP, with whom Trotsky was conducting political discussions in 1933. The report has apparently never been included in any edition of Trotsky´s writings, perhaps because Trotskyists still believe in the October Legend and can´t suffer their prophet to have fallen from grace… In general, Jones (who I think is/was a former Lambertiste) believes that both Trotsky and Trotskyism are marked by a strong voluntarism and subjectivism. Personally, I think objectivism and fatalism are just as strong, but then, the two errors can be combined in various ingenious ways.
With that, I end this somewhat esoteric review.