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The Permanence of Capitalism?

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The Permanence of



Capitalism?

. . . AND  LIMITS

Of  course,  social  democracy  seldom  established  an  exclusive  ascendancy over  the  Left  and  still  shared  space  with  other  movements.  At  the  conti- nent’s   two   extremities,   for   example,   British   socialists   remained   over- shadowed by radicals in the Liberal Party until shortly before 1914, while lack of constitutional freedoms in Russia forced the Left there into illegal


revolutionary action.1  Further, the rivalry with anarchists gave socialists in southern  Europe  a  more  “maximalist”  or  confrontational  style,  making them  more  receptive  to  direct  action  than  their  solidly  parliamentarian counterparts to the north. And after 1900, syndicalism also challenged the parliamentary  model,  migrating  from  its  southern  European  baselands to Britain, parts of the Low Countries, Germany, and Scandinavia.

But even inside the social democratic tradition older influences remained active. Democratic nationalism offered one such continuity with the earlier nineteenth  century.  The  networks  of  migrant  artisans  and  political  exiles linking Paris, London, Brussels, and the Rhineland had been fertile ground for  the  young  Marx  and  Engels  in  the  1840s  and  1850s,  joining  Polish, Italian,  and  Hungarian  patriotisms  to  the  causes  of  Chartists  and  French republicans.   Here,   nationalist   forms   of   radical   democracy   resonated through the international popularity of Lajos Kossuth and Giuseppe Maz- zini,  lasting  in  southern  and  eastern  Europe  well  into  the  1880s  and  be- yond.  The  ideas  of  Jean-Jacques  Rousseau,  with  their  celebration  of  par- ticipatory   democracy   and   local  self-government,  also  permeated  these midcentury national intelligentsias, subtly displacing the ideal of the citizen- democrat  onto  the  collective image of the  oppressed patriot-people strug- gling for national freedom.2

Social  democracy’s  dominance  of  the  Left  was  clearest  in  central  and northern  Europe,  forming  a  German-speaking  and  Scandinavian  social democratic  “core”;  it  was  weaker  in  the  south  and  east,  with  French- speaking Europe in between. A key variable was liberal constitutionalism. Social  democracy  made  least  progress  where  that  national  institutional framework was least developed—parliamentary government, civil liberties and the rule of law, trade union recognition, a legally guaranteed national public sphere. Where constitutionalism hadn’t yet been established, as un- der  the  full-scale  repression  of  tsarist  Russia,  or  remained  weak,  as  with the narrowly oligarchic polities of Italy and Spain, socialist parties had less chance to flourish. Agrarian backwardness, with its glaring rural inequal- ities, a land-hungry peasantry, and flagrantly exploited agricultural work- ers, also required a different left-wing politics than in the industrial north- west. These nonindustrial settings described a further space of democratic politics beyond socialism’s new frame, namely, the populist agrarian radi- calisms of Russia and eastern Europe, reminiscent in some respects of the anarchisms and cooperative radicalisms earlier in the west.

But alternative visions weren’t confined entirely to Europe’s geographi- cal  margins  or  its  economically  backward periphery. For one thing, dem- ocratic traditions in the more developed societies needed reshaping over a longer period before the social democratic model became fully established. Socialist  activity  was  invariably  pioneered  among  artisanal  workers  as  a

“federalist  trades  socialism,”  which  stressed  local  cooperation  based  on workers’ control rather than a national economy run by a collectivist state, and  such  ideals  didn’t  entirely  die  away.3   In  France,  they  rivaled  social


democracy throughout the later nineteenth century. They inspired the ear- liest  socialists  in  Germany  and  the  Habsburg  Empire  in  the  1860s  and

1870s, while further to the east notions of consumer and producer coop- eration invariably gave people their first encounters with socialism.4  They persisted  most  impressively among  anarcho-syndicalists in Spain as far as the Civil War. And they also persisted in the Low Countries and Switzer- land up to 1914.5

These  ideas  remained  an  alternative  source  of  inspiration  to  the  cen- tralist social democratic model. They resurfaced in a new form under the impact of the war economy after 1914, reaching dramatic definition in the movements of soviets and workers’ councils flourishing across Europe dur- ing  the  revolutionary  years  of  1917–21.  By  emphasizing  the  local  sover- eignty of democratic action, therefore, these later movements reconnected with the localist traditions of mutualism described earlier, which social de- mocracy only imperfectly supplanted. In this respect, the dominance of the new socialist parties over the Left remained incomplete.

Finally, over the longer term two further limitations had big effects. The first concerned colonialism. Europe’s socialists noticed the question of de- mocracy  in  the  colonial  world  only  very  exceptionally  before  1914:  not only were non-Western voices and peoples of color entirely absent from the counsels of the Second International, but its parties also failed to condemn colonial  policy  and  even  positively  endorsed  it.6   Socialists  commonly  af- firmed  the  progressive  value  of  the  “civilizing  mission”  for  the  underde- veloped world, while accepting the material benefits of jobs, cheaper goods, and guaranteed markets colonialism brought at home. Critical insight into imperialist culture and its legitimizing of exploitation was rare indeed, from racialized forms of understanding and ideologies of racial inequality to gen- ocidal  practices  and  acceptance  of  colonial  violence.  Here,  the  early- twentieth-century  stirrings  of  colonial  revolt  leveled  a  powerful  rebuke against Europe’s Left. When Lenin began insisting in 1916–17 that national self-determination  also  applied  to  the  colonial  world,  therefore,  he  fore- grounded the critique of colonialism for the first time. The presence of non- Western delegates at the Communist International’s founding Congress in

1919  was  something  quite  new,  as  was  its  backing  for  nationalist  move- ments campaigning for anticolonial independence.7

Second, feminism also raised democratic demands beyond the socialist framework  altogether.  While  socialist  parties  certainly  formed  their  own women’s  organizations,  gender  politics  remained  their  greatest  weakness. They  failed  to  develop  a  consistent  approach  to  the  emancipation  of women, constantly sidelining it for the male-defined priorities of the class struggle. This inability came from deeply ingrained working-class attitudes, from family values to the cultures of workplace discrimination, bordering frequently on misogyny. Socialist politicians and trade unionists often ex- pressed these views. Relegating women’s issues to low priority and refusing


cooperation with “bourgeois” women’s rights groups was a strategic choice by  most  socialist  leaderships.  When  in  some countries large and ebullient women’s  movements  developed  before  1914,  accordingly, they  did so en- tirely  independently  of  the  socialist  parties,  defining  a  separate  space  of women’s  democratic  politics  usually  focused  on  the  suffrage.  From  self- interest  alone,  failing  to  take  these  movements  seriously  was  extremely shortsighted, because, once enfranchised, women had no reason to turn to socialists, given this poor pre-1914 record. Much more seriously, socialist parties’  claims  to  be  the  vanguard  of  democracy,  rallying  all  progressive causes to their banner, foundered on this gender neglect.

THE  CULTURE  OF  SOCIALISM: EXPECTING  THE  FUTURE

Socialism’s  claims  to  the  mantle  of  democracy  were  founded  on  its  orga- nized  popular  support—on  its  relationship  to  the  massed  ranks  of  male industrial  wage-earners,  on  its  assumptions  about  the  necessary  direction of social change, and on its belief in the inevitability of the future working- class  majority.  In  other  words,  socialism’s  strengths  came  not  only  from the  rising  curve  of  electoral  success  but  also  from  connecting  this  parlia- mentary  strength  to  a  wider  coalescence  in  society.  Socialist  labor  move- ments  forged  a  special  relationship  to  the  results  of  capitalist  industriali- zation.  They  rationalized  these  into  a  compelling  narrative  of  capitalist crisis and the resulting socialist future, organized around the new collective identity of the working class. Socialism’s appeal before 1914 rested on its ability  to  weave  the  myriad  working-class  experiences  of  societies under- going  rapid  transformation  into  a  single  story.  It  promised  to  shape  the disorderly  aggregations  of  dispersed  and  heterogeneous circumstances de- fining working-class lives into a unified political agency. Around this pow- erful  working-class  core,  which  socialists  expected  to  expand  inexorably into  the  overwhelming  majority  of society,  other social interests and pro- gressive causes could then be gathered.



The resulting movement cultures had several key aspects. One was the all-embracing  mass  party.  Between  the  First  International’s  founding  de- bates  and  the  self-confident  growth  accompanying  the  launching  of  the Second  International  after  1889,  socialists  invented  the  modern  political party.8   By  this  I  mean  the  new  model  of  a  permanent  campaigning orga- nization geared to fighting elections, which established a continuous pres- ence  in  its  supporters’  lives,  bound  them  together  through  elaborate  ma- chineries of identification, and built lasting cultures of solidarity from the social  architecture  of  everyday  life.  By  the  turn  of  the  century,  this  was establishing  a  new  norm  of  political  action,  which  other  political  parties ignored  at  their  peril.  Before  1914,  Catholic  and  Christian-social  parties


were  the  most  successful  emulators,  but  after  the  First  World  War,  the model became universal.9

Second, among the Second International’s leading activists, socialist cul- ture was nothing if not internationalist. Karl Kautsky himself was born in Prague,  joined  the  Austrian  party,  and  settled  in  Germany  after  sojourns in  Zurich  and  London;  the  Russian  exile  Anna  Kuliscioff became Filippo Turati’s lifelong companion at the head of the Italian party; Rosa Luxem- burg, Leo Jogiches, and other leaders of the Polish Social Democrats found their  way  to  the SPD  from  Russian  Poland via  Switzerland before retrav- ersing  the  borders  back  and  forth  after  1905;  the  Romanian-born  future Bolshevik  Christian  Rakovsky  became  a  roving  emissary  for  the  Balkan revolution, the crucial connection between the Serbian and Bulgarian par- ties and the SPD; Anton Pannekoek was as much at home in the German as  in  his  native  Dutch  party.  These  and  many  other complex biographies required   “a   genuine   international   community . . . a  body  of  men  and women conscious of being engaged on the same historical task, across na- tional and political differences.”10  Such a transnational network, cemented by  its  confidence  in  the  common  socialist  future,  reemphasized socialists’ apartness  from  their  respective national scenes, pointing them away from potential intranational coalitions.

Third, socialism’s rising electoral and organizational strength, combined with  the  expanding  ranks  of  the  working  class  and  the  impression  of  an unstoppable  forward  march,  kept  the  movement’s  utopianism  alive.  For many pragmatists the revolutionary end-goal became increasingly abstract, yet even the more prosaic reformists held onto the image of a shining so- cialist future. Socialists sought to organize working-class solidarities into a movement  capable  of  making  the  world  over.  In  the  stronger  parties  of central Europe and Scandinavia, an imposing array of organizations fash- ioned a distinctive social democratic way of life—“reading and library as- sociations, proletarian theater and concert clubs, organizations specializing in the preparation and equipping of festivals and celebrations, choirs,” plus the Freethinkers, Workers’ Abstinence Leagues, the Worker Cremators, the Friends of Nature, workers’ sports clubs, and recreational clubs for every aspect of life.11  Certain values were iterated over and over again, like self- improvement  and  sobriety,  commitment  to  education,  respect  for  one’s body, egalitarian relations between men and women, the progressive heri- tage of humanistic culture, the dignity of labor, and a well-ordered family life. Through this restless cultural striving and the ambition to remake so- ciety  entirely  anew,  the  working  class  became  conceived  as  the inevitable guardian  of  the  future,  both  the  inheritor  of  existing  civilization  and  the triumphal bearer of a new and progressive collectivist ethic.

This socialist culture was defined by its extraordinary optimism and by the unabashed certainty of its political desire, surrounding the movement’s organizational muscle with a halo of utopian fervor. This shone from the


working-class  autodidact’s  chosen  reading,  from  the  rhetoric  of  socialist stump orators, from the imagery of the movement’s banners and emblems, and from the iconography of socialist parades and festivals, which offered solemn but exuberant displays of loyalty to the movement, to the image of the class, and to the certainty of the socialist future.12  “Oh, when will [the socialist  world]  come?”  asked  a  British  socialist  election  flyer  in  1895.

“God is ready, nature is ready,” it replied; “When will you, the producers of wealth . . . stretch out your hands . . . and will this thing? Then—then— that  very  minute,  it  shall  come.”13   The  best-loved  writings  were  not  the austere summaries of Marxist economics but wide-ranging disquisitions like August Bebel’s Woman and Socialism, or the writings of utopians like Wil- liam  Morris  and  Edward  Bellamy,  or  the  massively  translated  works  or Edward  Carpenter,  which  originated  beyond  organized  social  democracy altogether.14

In  this  world,  to  take  the  British  example,  the  labor  churches and  so- cialist  Sunday  schools  were just as important  as local  branches of the In- dependent  Labour  Party  or  the  Social  Democratic  Federation.15   In  larger parties like the German party, Proletarian Freethinkers, temperance enthu- siasts, and partisans of Esperanto took their place with the mass formations of  Worker  Singers  and  Worker  Gymnasts.16   Socialists  expected  the world to  be  comprehensively  remade,  from  the  reign  of  universal  peace  to  the adoption  of  a  universal  language.  Progress  was  indivisible,  because  the emancipation of the workers would be the emancipation of all humanity, bringing  the  freedom  of  women,  sexual  liberation  and  the  new  life,  the conquest  of  science over nature, a new world of plenty, and a  just distri- bution of its riches, “from each according to their abilities, to each accord- ing to their needs.”17

TOWARD  A  CRISIS?

These heady aspirations were not put to the test before 1914; for even the strongest socialist parties commanded little more than a third of their na- tional electorates and by themselves had no prospects of forming a govern- ment. In any case, most states retained constitutional mechanisms for keep- ing the Left at bay. In most countries, the other parties continued to close ranks  against  the  socialists,  amply  backed  by  the  state’s  coercive powers, and  the  Left  reciprocated  in  kind,  proudly  defending  its  isolation.  This permanent  standoff  showed  few  signs  of  relaxing.  On  the  other  hand,  a barricades  revolution  on  the  style  of  1848  was  obsolete,  it  was  generally agreed, and power could only come via the ballot box, whatever confron- tations might be needed along the way to deal with ruling-class violence or efforts at suppressing the suffrage. Thus the socialists’ dilemma was acute: on  the  one  hand,  despite  their  impressive  growth,  they  were  fixed  in  op-


position, permanently on the outside; on the other hand, access to govern- ment  could  only  come  from  coalition,  for  an  avowedly  limited  program, by modifying or postponing the revolutionary goal.

The  dilemma  sharpened  after  1905,  when  the  political  settlements  of the 1860s finally  came apart. In response to the revolution in Russia and to the strike waves and suffrage agitations elsewhere, the political temper- ature went dramatically up, radicalizing the extremes of Left and Right and sending  reformers  in  search  of  possible  realignments.  The  years  1905–13 became  an  important  moment  of  fission.  Often  this  strengthened  the  so- cialist Left’s independence. At the continent’s two extremes, renewed social polarization  in  Russia  during  1912–13  confirmed  the  irrelevance  of  the parliamentary  arena,  while  in  Britain  the  fracturing  of  Liberal  unity  over Irish Home Rule, women’s suffrage, and syndicalism created clearer space for  the  Labour  Party’s  parliamentary  separation.  In  some  cases—Scandi- navia,  the  Habsburg  lands,  the  Netherlands—labor  movements  emerged with added oppositional weight, rallying broad coalitions for the extension of  democracy.  In  Italy  and  Germany,  on  the  other  hand,  socialists began pulling themselves apart: the parliamentary PSI became overwhelmed by a new  maximalist  militancy  in  the  country;  while  at  the  SPD’s  1913  Jena Congress for the first time it proved impossible to hold the conflicting view- points over revolution versus reform together.




Above all, the radicalizations of 1905–13 destabilized the existing con- stitutionalist  frameworks.  As  the  socialist  labor  movements  built  greater popular  momentum  during  the  1890s,  they  kept  steadfastly  to  the  given parliamentarist rules—defending the progressive gains of the 1860s, cam- paigning for suffrage reform and other measures of democracy, fighting for civil  freedoms,  and  strengthening  trade  unions  under  the  law.  But  during the pre-1914 decade, a new radical temper complicated the continuance of this  tradition.  Larger-scale  suffrage  agitations,  direct  action,  burgeoning industrial  militancy,  extraparliamentary  radicalisms,  new  forms  of  mass action—all these transgressed the limits socialists had previously observed. Not  only  the  constitutional  settlements  of  the  1860s,  therefore,  but  also socialist parliamentarianism started to break down.

Strong drives for democracy now arose independently of parliamentary socialist  parties  altogether—most  notably  in  the  campaigns  for  women’s suffrage. In Europe’s multinational empires, moreover, nationalists also dis- puted  socialist  leadership  in  the  struggle  for  democracy.  In  that  setting, some  socialist  movements,  like  the  Finnish  or  Czech,  or  the  Jewish  Bund in  the  Russian  Empire,  made  the  advocacy  of  national  self-determination their  own,  but  more  often  nationalists  closed  ranks  against the socialists, denouncing them as “enemies of the Fatherland.” Moreover, once socialist parties began debating political strategy in national terms, this divisiveness opened  inside  their  own  ranks,  ranging  “social  patriots”  and  reformists against internationalists and revolutionaries.18  Of course, socialists had al- ways faced this dilemma in the older national states of Europe, where own-


ership of the nation was already exercised by dominant classes, sometimes brutally.  Socialists countered with their own ideas of the nation, drawing on democratic patriotisms of 1789 and 1848, but in the Europe of nation- states  they  could  only  do  this  from  the  outside,  banging  to  be  let  in.  In those nations still seeking their own states, socialists often found it easier to claim a place, joining the democracy of citizens’ rights to the nationalist panacea of self-determination.19

Equally dramatic, matching the suffrage movements of women and the nationalist  undermining  of  multinational  empires,  a  new  industrial  rebel- liousness swept across Europe. Often identified by their most self-conscious syndicalist elements, new movements of industrial militancy stressing direct action and the futility of parliamentary politics aggressively outstepped the available social democratic frameworks of election campaigns and respon- sible trade unionism. Rather than seeking to strengthen socialist influence in  parliaments  to  reform  the  system  from  within,  these  radicals  opposed the state per se, disputing its openness for capture. In Germany, early SPD parliamentarians had seen the Reichstag instrumentally as the best available platform, “speaking through the window” to the masses outside, and the new militants now revived this idea, dismissing the parliamentary talking- shop  and  celebrating  the  revolutionary  potential  of the mass strike. After

1905, and especially during 1910–13, Europe’s socialist parties faced a re- vival of extraparliamentary revolutionary politics in this way.

Thus, on the eve of 1914, the European Left presented a split picture. In  many  ways,  socialist  predictions  were  bearing  fruit.  The  parties  and unions were stronger than ever before; socialist electoral strength was ris- ing; unions slowly acquired legitimacy; socialist culture became ever more elaborately organized; municipal socialism offered concrete utopias of local reform. As unions built themselves into the institutional machinery of cap- italist industry, socialist parliamentarians also asserted themselves, joining legislative committees and trading their votes, amassing expertise, consult- ing  with  government  spokesmen,  and  constructively  participating  in  the status quo. To this extent, socialists were no longer on the outside. Large parts of the party leaderships, from national executives down to local func- tionaries, saw themselves as practical reformers by 1914, patiently awaiting their  rightful  inheritance  and  tacitly  shedding  the revolutionary skin. The logic  here,  coming  to  a  head  in  various  crises  between  1900  and  1914, country by country, was certainly toward integration.20

Yet  this  picture  of  gowing  acceptance  was  hard  to  reconcile  with  the pre-1914  explosions  of  radicalism.  Europe’s  parliamentary  polities  were sliding into chaos—with, for example, 10 separate governing coalitions in France between 1909 and 1914 and five Italian governments in only four years. Amid such instability, labor unrest became all the more threatening. Its scale was certainly immense. After the initial transition to mass unionism around the turn of the century, the continental strike wave of 1904–7 began a  broadening  of  industrial  militancy,  which  in  1910–13  was  then aggres-


sively continued. If we add the working-class mobilizations accompanying the Russian Revolution and the end of the First World War, the years 1910–

20 become the great age of European unionization, not to be matched until after  1945.  But  this  unruly  expansion  also  outgrew  the  movement’s  pa- tiently cultivated framework of behavior. The pre-1914 cultures of social- ism had coalesced around desires for respectability that forthrightly rejected the  aspects  of  the  working  class  now  bursting  to  the  fore,  especially  the rough  and  disorderly  cultures  of  the  poor,  which  the  incorrigibly  self- improving social democrats always passionately disavowed. The turbulent pre-1914 militancy left these cultures of respectability looking surprisingly exposed.

By  1914  socialists  may  have  been  stronger  than  ever  before  in  their parliamentary  and  trade  union  arenas,  but  those  arenas  had  themselves grown increasingly insufficient. Whether among women, Irish and eastern European  nationalists,  or  industrial  militants,  huge  mobilizations  were passing the Left’s existing politics by. Socialist parties had passionately pi- oneered  the  cause  of  full-scale  parliamentary  democracy  after  the  1860s, pushing patiently against liberalism’s confining limits. Without that advo- cacy,  democracy  was  a  slender  growth  indeed.  Yet,  those  parties  neither exhausted the full range of nineteenth-century socialist practice and belief, as I have shown, nor encompassed the broader reservoir of popular dem- ocratic  experience.  During  1910–13,  this  was  becoming  more  painfully clear.  How Europe’s socialist parties would rise to this challenge the dra- matic events of 1914–23 would soon reveal.

WAR AND REVOLUTION,

1914–1923 in   mar ch  1921,  a  violent  social  crisis ex- ploded in the Mansfeld-Halle region of central Germany,  when  employers  and  government moved to assert control over an exceptionally militant  working  class,  who  had  been armed since the defeat of the right-wing Kapp Putsch against the Republic a year before. Seeing this as  the  opening  of  a  revolutionary  situation, the  Communist  Party  (KPD)  called  a  general strike, though without the national resources to  carry  this  off.  As  the  action  began,  Max Ho¨ lz  arrived  by  train  from  Berlin  and  pro- ceeded to organize mineworkers into fighting units, making  an  army  two thousand strong. While  the  strike  movement  rolled  unevenly along,   this   guerrilla   band   dominated   the Mansfeld  mining  district  for  the  next  week, robbing banks, sacking government buildings, ransacking   stores,   and   dynamiting   railway lines, while fighting with security forces. The general strike failed to take off with sufficient force  beyond  Mansfeld,  and  by  the  end  of March the authorities had suppressed the in- surgency, with some 35,000 arrests, including that of Ho¨ lz himself.1

Ho¨ lz  was  a  remarkable  figure,  a  mixture of Robin Hood, working-class hero, and rev- olutionary  brigand.  Born  in  1889  amid  the impoverished cottage industry of the Vogtland region  of  Saxony,  he  was  politicized  by  the




First  World  War  and  the  1918  German  Revolution.  During  the  latter  he organized  the  unemployed  in  his  home  town  of  Falkenstein,  quickly  ac- quiring  a  reputation  for  revolutionary  intransigence  and  joining  the KPD in  1919.  In  March  1920,  he  shot  to  prominence  during  the  Kapp  Putsch by organizing workers into a red army, whose regional exploits translated the defense of the Republic into a revolutionary uprising—fighting the army and  liberating  the  prisons,  attacking  and  burning  public  offices,  robbing and looting in order to feed the poor. As order was reimposed, Ho¨ lz fled across  the  Czech  border  and  after  a  spell  of  internment  returned secretly to Germany via Vienna, attending political education classes in Berlin while organizing  his  own  “expropriations.”  He  was  imprisoned  for  his  role  in the 1921 March Action but was amnestied in 1928 and went to the Soviet Union, where he died in 1934.2

This story says a great deal about the character of the revolutionary cir- cumstances dominating much of Europe in the wake of the First World War. Ho¨ lz was a revolutionary freebooter and insurrectionary entrepreneur, with little educated relationship to the Communists or any other Left organiza- tion. Indeed, he was expelled by the KPD for his role in 1920 and while un- derground moved closer to the ultraleft Communist Workers’ Party (KAPD), which for a year after its foundation in April 1920 rivaled the KPD in popu- lar support. Yet the real gap was neither between moderate socialists and Communists nor between KPD and KAPD but between the Left’s national party apparatuses in general and the turbulence of the grass roots, where the main energy for revolutionary militancy was being produced. During 1919–

21, the passions and hopes of rank-and-file insurgents constantly outstripped the capacity of existing Left organizations to represent them.

Ho¨ lz  was  not  a  wholly  exceptional  figure.  During  1920  Karl  Pla¨ttner

(born 1893) also organized robberies of banks, post offices, and mines in Thuringia, Saxony, and Brandenburg in the name of the revolution, rivaling Ho¨ lz  in  1921  as  the  March  Action’s  leading  insurgent  commander.  He proposed converting the KAPD into an armed underground and when re- buffed organized his own outfit. By mid-1921 he was in prison, where he died in 1933. Herbert Kobitsch-Meyer (born 1900) was radicalized by the Russian Revolution while interned as a sailor in Siberia, made his way back to Germany, and joined the Communists. He made contact with the Pla¨tt- ner  organization  during  the  March  Action  and  after  a  spell  in  Essen  or- ganized his own gang in Hamburg in 1924. By 1925 he was also in prison, where  he  died  five  years  later.  Young  men  radicalized  by  the  war,  whose training was the revolution itself, figures like these made insurgency into a way of life, substitutiong summary acts of social justice, “expropriations,” bombings, and armed struggle for public democratic process. They rejected

parties  as  such.  So  away  with  professional  leaders,  with  all  organiza- tions that can only work with leaders at the helm,” another of these mav- ericks  declaimed.  Away  with  centralism,  the  organizational  principle  of the ruling class. Away with all central bodies.”3


This German pattern dramatized the problem facing the Left in the new postwar conjuncture. Traumatized by the First World War and inspired by the  Russian  Revolution,  Europe’s  working  classes  produced  the  only  in- stance  under  capitalism  of  a  pan-European  revolutionary  crisis  in  which popular uprisings for socialism seemed to have a chance. As such, the years

1917–21  massively  stand  out  in  modern  European  history.  The  ambition to challenge capitalism’s permanence by seizing power behind a revolution- ary socialist program was at its strongest in Italy and Germany but certainly moved the most radical sections of the national labor movements in other parts of Europe too. By the early 1920s, these challenges had clearly failed. Yet  in  the  meantime,  country  by  country,  their  presence  and  effects  had decisively shaped the future political force field.

During  these  years,  insurrection  wasn’t  the  sole  option  for  socialists. Pragmatists  in  the  pre-1914  social  democratic  parties  had  clearsightedly collaborated  in  their  countries’  war  efforts  and  hoped  for  big  reformist concessions  in  return.  Indeed,  this  moderate  socialist  option  chalked  up major democratic gains in 1918–19, from the franchise to extensive social reforms and trade union recognition. At the same time, these gains neces- sarily placed moderates at odds with the revolutionaries, who from 1919–

20 were being powerfully courted by newly established Communist parties, enjoying  all  the  prestige  of  their  links  with  the  successful  Bolsheviks  in Russia. The ensuing confrontations—between moderate socialists, who in- sisted  on  sticking  to  the  parliamentary  rules  of  electoral  majorities  and coalition  building,  and  revolutionaries  who  wanted  to  ignore  them— proved disastrous for the Left.

This  embittering  split  between  socialists  and  Communists  displaced some vital democratic priorities from the future agendas. A genuine politics of women’s equality was one such casualty. Developing a constructive ap- proach toward popular entertainment cultures was another. The split cer- tainly  undermined  the Left’s abilities to shape the new forms of capitalist stability  that  materialized  during  the  mid-1920s.  Equally  serious,  it  pre- empted any effective strategizing in response to the world economic crisis after 1929. Most disastrously of all, it prevented a united response to the rise of fascism.

The most complex questions facing the Left’s politics during this period lay somewhere inside the polarity of insurrectionaries versus parliamentar- ians. On the one hand, moderate socialists proved so cautious in their con- ciliating  of  the  old  orders  that  the  lasting  import  of  their  democratic achievements became undone; on the other hand, the insurrectionaries cre- ated so much anxiety in governing circles that the resulting repression pre- empted  any  longer-term  concessions  through  reform.  But  if  moderate so- cialism undermined itself and revolutionary socialism was unrealistic, what intermediate  supports  for  democracy  might  the  Left  have  pursued?  And following from this: if socialist revolution was not on the agenda, then what kind of Left politics would emerge when the postwar crisis was over?

the  first         world  war   dramatically changed  socialism’s place in the polity. From being   the   enemy   within,   social   democrats throughout  Europe  joined  the  patriotic  con- sensus,  upholding  national  security  against foreign  aggression  and  keeping  the  domestic truce while the war was on. As states pushed their subject populations to unparalleled sac- rifices, the resulting transformations of public culture   were   extraordinary.   This   extended wartime  emergency  stoked  nationalist  loyal- ties to unprecedented intensity, easing the in- tegration  of  labor  movements  into  the  patri- otic   consensus   and   making   the   “national interest” into moderate socialism’s new hege- monic frame. Remarkably, given the pre-1914 histories  of  intransigent  exclusion,  socialists also entered governments for the first time. During  the  same  period  the  major  revo- lutionary  upheaval  centered  on  Russia  pro- foundly   changed   Europe’s  political  geogra- phy.       Initially,             the   Left’s         enthusiasm    for events  in  Russia  was  entirely  ecumenical, in- spiring  moderate  socialists  no  less  than  an- archists,  syndicalists,  and  other  radicals.  But sympathy  for  overthrowing  tsarism, the epit- ome  of  reactionary  backwardness,  was  one thing;  supporting  the  Bolsheviks  was  quite another.  Welcoming  Russia  into  the  demo- cratic   camp   in   February   1917   became   by October  something  far  more  sinister:  for  the first  time,  a  revolutionary  socialist party had come   violently   to   power.   Renouncing   the Left’s   traditional   parliamentarism,   Bolshe- vism  claimed  the  new  class-based  legitimacy of the soviets instead. The ominous-sounding

dictatorship  of       the    proletariat”    entered public  circulation.



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