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The Outcome of the Struggle / Karl Horner [Anton Pannekoek], 2018


Source translation:  A Free Retriever’s Digest , Vol. 2 (2018), Issue 6 (12 December 2018); German source: Der Ausgang des Kampfes; original source: Der Ausgang des Kampfes / K[arl]. Horner [Anton Pannekoek]. – In: Arbeiterpolitik, Vol. 4 (1919), No 5 (1 February), p. 342-343.


The defeat of the communists in Berlin will, for the time being, be of decisive importance for the whole of Germany, perhaps for a long time decisive for socialism in the whole of Europe. Because it means the restoration of the reign of capital, secured by veiled military dictatorship. This may keep Ebert and Scheidemann as puppets for some time to come, as long as it seems necessary to win workers by fraud: but then they will fall. And with it the whole chimera of the “socialist” state, with which millions of proletarians were fooled for two months.

Where do the roots of the defeat of the proletariat lie? The word immaturity says nothing yet. One must know what this immaturity consisted of: for only in this way can the strength for later more successful struggles be won. If we want to summarize everything in a single formula, we can say that the legacy of the old Social Democracy brought about defeat. And the future victory will come only by shaking off this legacy.

Of course: the Social Democratic past is not solely negative. The German workers have brought a deep class consciousness from 50 years of propaganda and training. The fact that everyone knew immediately, as it were, that capital and labor face each other, and that only the overthrow of the reign of capital could bring freedom – something the masses in Russia, for example, had to laboriously learn in the revolution – has given the German Revolution a rapid pace and has caused the workers to immediately and stormily advance everywhere to the farthest positions of power. They immediately knew the goal and the front of the struggle. The fact however, that they allowed themselves to be deceived with regards to the road toward the goal, about the demarcation line, that they partly regarded the agents of capital as leaders and helpers and did not take the right action in the decisive moments, is to be attributed to the forms of struggle and thought which the old social democracy had imprinted on the masses in its time of ossification.

Not much needs to be said about the old majority party. Only limited, petty-bourgeois thinking workers – but there were and still are many – could believe that Ebert and Scheidemann would bring socialism, and that they could have done so if they only wanted to. The truth that socialism and freedom can only be fought for by the workers themselves, where they face capital itself, in the workplaces, in the streets – this truth need not even be emphasized. For the praxis of the action of the “people’s deputies” must open everyone’s eyes to the fact that all their action was directed only against the workers and aimed at the restoration of the old “order” and the old powers. For the proletariat they had fine words, such as socialism, freedom, etc.; but their deeds – and the same applies to the main part of all their followers, the party and trade-union officialdom – characterize them as henchmen of reaction, as devoted servants of capital. Is that strange? Restoration of the old order for them means restoration of the conditions under which they were well and good and played an important role, with the hope of reaching even higher positions. But they could not expect much improvement from a proletarian revolution.

However, it would not be fair to judge the significance of the old social democratic principles for today’s struggles by the deeds of the traitors to these principles. The guardians of the genuine radical social-democratic party tradition are the independents. The independent party still has large masses of workers behind it who sincerely want socialism and reject any compromise with the bourgeoisie. Some, even among the leaders, are revolutionary, speak a revolutionary language, and thus keep the masses under their spell. What was their role? The same as before the war and during the war: they gave radical words as a substitute for radical actions. The old social democracy in its good times always used great radical words: that was its right when it had the sincere intention: we are still weak, but to the extent that we become stronger, our deeds will correspond more to it. But when action had to be taken, the worst legacy remained the words that one did not intend to follow with deeds. The extent to which the habit of the verbal protests had run into the blood of these guys was shown by chance: when during the Ebert-Haase government the Ukrainian revolutionaries complained that the German government let the German soldiers fight against them, the independents replied: we strongly disapprove of this; we vigorously protested against it. So, what more do you want? We have done our duty! And that was also their role during the Berlin struggles, which were decisive for the continuation of the revolution. By their verbal radicalism, they kept large masses of Berlin workers chained to themselves first, and then kept them from fighting.

If the Spartacus League had freed itself much earlier from fellowship with the Independents, the course of events might have been different. Then the smaller but reliable troop would not have been so quickly pushed into a decisive struggle. Now, of course, it exerted its influence on the whole radical Berlin working class; but it did not have the latter entirely for itself. This was already evident in the swaying of the revolutionary Obleute of the enterprises as to whether they should go along with the communists in the separation; the old devotion to the Independents held them tight. Now as the reaction advanced and wanted to eliminate Eichhorn, the masses acted in his defense, the Independents called for struggle, and the Communists entered the front ranks. But then the Independents immediately entered into negotiations with the government; they believed they were weakening Ebert, but the only effect was that they made their own masses dull, while Ebert let the reactionary units come with guns [artillery]. They raised the call for an “end to fratricide,” as if the class struggle between reactionary soldiers and revolutionary workers was a fratricidal quarrel, paralyzing the workers’ action; fearing the struggle, they pulled their masses out of the struggle and let the Communists bleed to death. And when Ebert had won, a “storm of protest” appeared in the “Freiheit”, a ridiculous series of resolutions by workers’ groups demanding Ebert’s resignation – as if he, as if the victorious reaction would give way to the powerless words of those who had let the fighters down and thus caused the defeat! As if the world is moved by words and not by deeds, by the devotion of the whole person!

Where does this fickleness come from, this wanting-and-not-able, this conflict between word radicalism and fear of action? Because the Independents, as the guardians of a theory that is no longer up to date, often want to be revolutionary, but with their insight and their knowledge they are essentially the same as the social patriots, therefore they always take these hard-boiled reactionaries as lost brothers and want to go together with them. Therefore also they shy away from those deeds that are now necessary, because they do not fit to their old theory. The pre-war social-democratic lessons have now become the worst obstacle to proletarian revolution. Only those who overcome them can be a firm fighter for the new world. Nothing is therefore more necessary than to persistently bring enlightenment about the essence of communism and its difference against the social democratic point of view. Then the workers will understand the lessons that are poured upon them from the praxis of these decisive times.


Compiled by Vico, 27 December 2018