Posts Tagged ‘Independent Social Democratic Party’

The Demands of the Independent Social Democrats during the 1919 German Council Revolution

August 20, 2016

I found this statement of the political demands of the Independent Social Democratic Party in J.W. Hiden’s The Weimar Republic (Harlow: Longman 1974), pp. 78-9. The Independent Social Democratic Party – USPD – were the left-wing of the main German Socialist party, the SPD, which split in 1919 over the issue of the workers’ councils. These had sprung up across Germany following the defeat in the First World War, and were modelled on the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils that had been set up in 1917 during the first phase of the Revolution, which eventually ended in the Bolshevik coup. Hiden in his comments notes that at the time the USPD issued their demands, there was actually no chance of it being implemented. The elections to the National Assembly had already been held, and the Spartacist Uprising, which was intended to establish Germany as a Communist state, had been quelled. Nevertheless, he considers it important as the kind of state that the Revolution could have created.

The immediate demands of the USPD are:

1. Inclusion of the Councils system in the constitutions. Decisive participation of the Councils in legislation, state and municipal government and in industry.

2. Complete dissolution of the old army. Immediate dissolution of the mercenary army made up of volunteer corps (Freikorps). Disarming of the bourgeoisie. The setting up of a people’s army from the ranks of the class conscious working sector. Self-government for the people’s army and election of officers by the ranks. The lifting of military jurisdiction.

3. The nationalist of capitalist undertakings is to begin at once. It is to be executed immediately in the sphere of mining, and of energy production (coal, water-power, electricity), of concentrated iron and steel production as well as insurance. Landed property and great forests are to be transferred to the community at once. Society has the task of bringing the whole economy to its highest degree of efficiency by making available all technical and economic aids as well as promoting co-operative organisations. In the towns all private property is to pass to the municipality and sufficient dwellings are to be made available by the municipality on its own account.

4. Election of authorities and judges by the people. Immediate setting up of a Supreme Court of Judicature which is to bring to account those responsible for the world war and the prevention of a more timely peace.

5. Any growth of wealth achieved during the war is to be removed by taxation. A portion of all larger fort8unes is to be given to the state. In addition, public expenditure is to be covered by a sliding scale of income, wealth and inheritance taxes.

6. Extension of social welfare. Protection for mother and child. War widows, orphans and wounded are to be assured a trouble-free existence. Homeless are to be given the use of the spare rooms of owners. Fundamental reorganisation of public health system.

7. Separation of state and church and of church and school. Public, standardised schools with secular character, to be developed according to socialist educational principles. The right of every child to an education corresponding to his ability and availability of the means necessary for this end…

The programme’s clearly a production of the revolutionary ferment at the end of the First World War. But much of it remains acutely relevant for today. For example, we do need the nationalisation of public utilities – electricity, gas and water – as millions are being overcharged and exploited by these companies. The railways are notoriously expensive and inefficient. Under private management they consume three times more money from subsidies than they did when it was a nationalised industry as British rail. At the same time, Britain’s forests are being privatised, to the public’s disadvantage, by the Tories.

Similarly, there does need to be increased taxation of the super-rich. Under Blair and the Tories the rich have benefited from massive tax cuts, and the tax burden has been unfairly passed to the poor. Inequality has massively increased, so that a vanishingly small minority of people own far more than the rest of us combined. This was shown very clearly last week when the Duke of Westminster died, leaving £9 billion to his son.

Social welfare certainly needs to be extended. Blair and the Conservatives have consistently cut benefits for and demonised the poor, disabled and unemployed as ‘scroungers’. The result is that some 4.7 million are living in ‘food poverty’, and hundreds of thousands are only kept from starving by food banks. As for the war wounded, and the widows and orphans produced by Blair’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I wonder how much help they are receiving, despite charities like Help For Heroes. Many of the squaddies that fought for their country during Gulf War I were left homeless. I have a strong feeling that many of their comrades in these wars have also been left, discarded by the state, in similar poverty and destitution. We also need a profound reorganisation of the public health services, as these are being privatised by Blair and the Tories.

There’s an irony here in that USPD wanted homeowners to have to take in the homeless. This is the precise opposite of what the Tories have been trying to do to those in council houses with the ‘Bedroom tax’. Millions are being left without homes, not just because they aren’t being built, but because many properties were bought as part of the buy-to-let market. Rents have risen, so that many people can no longer afford them, let alone think of owning their own home. But the Tories are the party of business and property, and something like this measure would fill them with panic. After all, it’s why they have a fit of the vapours every time someone talks about the ‘Bedroom tax’. They definitely don’t want to give the rest of the population the terrible impression that they are going to tax everyone’s bedroom. But doing it to the very poorest is perfectly acceptable.

I went to a church school, and don’t agree with the complete separation of church and state or absolutely secular schools, although I understand the reasons why many do. But I do support their statement that every child has right to the education that corresponds to his ability, and the means necessary for that end. It should be an automatic right. Unfortunately, this is also being undermined by the academies, that were brought in by Blair and which the Tories want to expand. They’d also like to bring back grammar schools, which were abandoned in favour of comprehensives because they did discriminate against working class children achieving a high education. And the introduction of tuition fees by New Labour and then increased by the Tories is leaving students with crippling debts, which are actively leading a quarter of graduates to stick to low paid jobs in order to avoid the extra burden of paying them off.

As for the most radical proposal, the inclusion of workers’ council in the political system – there’s a very, very strong argument for that too. The massive corporate corruption of parliament has shown that it increasingly does not represent the working class or their interests. It represents the power of big business, and their campaign to have a poor, desperate, poverty-stricken working class willing to be exploited through workfare, zero-hours and short-term contracts and the like.

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The German Workers Who Struck For Peace

March 29, 2014

German War Corpse

Corpse of German trooper outside his dugout: a vivid image of the horrific carnage experienced by all the combatants in the ‘War to End All Wars’.

This year is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. The BBC has already commemorating this by putting on numerous documentaries about the Great War, setting up on-line resources for schools so you can see what your particular bit of the country was like and did at the time. they’re also running trailers for forthcoming dramas where idealistic young nurses meet handsome soldiers in a saga of love amid the mass slaughter of the War. Documentaries about the World Wars are a staple of British television anyway. Dan Snow on the One Show has appeared several times striding across a World War I battlefield, while a few years ago Tony Robinson presented a Time Team special on the excavation of a system of WWI trenches in Flanders. Some of the coverage has already proven somewhat controversial. There was some comment a few weeks ago on television that something the BBC broadcast had provoked a complaint from the German embassy. There’s a difference of opinion here between German historians and the rest of the world. Most other nations see the War as being caused by Germany. German historians, on the other hand, believe that no single nation is to blame and that the growth of international tension and the web of alliances with which each nation surrounded itself led inexorably to the War. I really don’t know anything beyond the most general outline of events surrounding the First World War, and so leave it to people much better informed than I do to explain it.

One immediate result of the War was the break-up of international socialism. Previously the European Socialist parties had opposed working class involvement in any conflict between the European nations. For them, it would be a fratricidal conflict, as the working classes in each country had more in common with each other than with their rulers. The war would be a bourgeois war, started by the European ruling classes for their own further profit and enrichment, with the working class troops solely the exploited means by which they sought to do so. When the War finally broke out, however, the Socialist parties all over Europe joined the other parties in backing their governments.

Karl Kautsky, the head of the German Social Democrats, modified his party’s view of the conflict. He considered that Socialists in each country should now see the war only as defending their homelands. They should also campaign for a just peace, which would maintain the integrity of the defeated nations and avoid any cause for resentment on their part. This would prevent any further War from breaking out. He wrote

Further, the Social Democracy in every nation is obliged to consider the war only as a war of defence, and to set as its goal only defending itself against the enemy, not of ‘punishing’ or belittling the enemy. As this conception seeks the causes of the war not in the personal depravity or inferiority of the opponent, but in objective conditions, it will strive for the security which they conclusion of peace brings not by humiliating or mutilating its opponent, which would only cause new wars in the future, but by replacing those condition which led to the war – that is, imperialist conflicts and the armaments race.

Patrick Goode, ed. and trans., Karl Kautsky: Selected Political Writings (London: Macmillan Press 1983) 95.

It’s a pity that the Allies did not follow this advice when imposing the reparations and conditions on Germany afterwards. This could have removed some of the feelings of humiliation and resentment felt in Germany, feelings on which the Nazi preyed and used in their campaign to seize power.

Some Socialist parties continued to campaign against the War, such as the Bolsheviks in Russia, and the USPD – the Independent Social Democratic Party in Germany. One of those who campaigned against the War was the radical deputy, Karl Liebknecht, who went on to found the Spartacist League and the German Communist Party. There were also a number of strikes in Germany against the War. When Liebknecht was tried by a court martial for treason on the 28th June 1916, 55,000 workers went on strike in solidarity.

In April 1917 there was a much larger strike due to the government cutting the bread ration by a quarter. In Leipzig, the striking workers demanded in addition to the removal of their economic grievances the introduction of a direct, general and equal franchise, the removal of the state of siege, lifting of censorship, the release of all political prisoners, the re-instatement of the right to strike and hold political meetings. the government was also to make a declaration in favour of immediate peace without annexations.

On the 28th January 1918 a further mass strike broke out. In Berlin alone 200,000 workers downed tools and elected an action committee consisting of eleven Revolutionary Shop Stewards from The Turners’ union, and three delegates each from the pro-War Social Democratic and anti-War Independent Social Democratic Parties. Their demands included the

speedy conclusion of a peace without annexations and indemnities, on the basis of the nations’ right to self-determination, according to the provisions formulated by the Russian People’s Commissars at Brest-Litovsk.

They also wanted the removal of the state of siege and military control of the factories, the release of all political prisoners, the introduction of a general and equal franchise and a thorough democratisation of all institutions of the state. The strike spread rapidly to towns throughout Germany, including Munich, Mannheim, Brunswick, Bremen, Cologne, Hamburg, Kiel, Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland) Leipzig and Nuremberg. In all of these towns with the exception of Munich and Berlin the strike collapsed after a week. In Berlin Military Command suppressed it by placing the leading armaments factories under martial law. In Munich Kurt Eisner, one of the leading USPD politicians and opponent of the War, Kurt Eisner, was arrested before he could call for a general strike to bring down the government. The moderate Social Democrats were thus able to retake control and the Strike ended a few days later.

See F.L. Carsten, Revolution in Central Europe 1918-1919 (Aldershot: Wildwood House 1972) 14-15.

I’ve blogged about the bitterness caused by the First World War across Europe, and the anti-War poems of some of the soldiers, who fought in it, like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Germany also has its great anti-War work from the time of the First World War, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The original German title is Nichts Neues Im Westen – ‘There is Nothing New in the West’. It’s also a bitter comment on the belligerent nature of Western civilisation. I think it’s also important At this time to recognise that Germany also had its campaigners for an end to the War and for a just peace that would establish friendship between nations afterwards. It’s a point that could easily get forgotten in the programmes, documentaries and debates about the War during this centenary.