[Marxism] New Title in the HM Book Series: In the Steps of Rosa Luxemburg Selected Writings of Paul Levi Paul Levi. Edited and introduced by David Fernbach

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 25 09:35:15 MDT 2011

On 7/25/2011 11:19 AM, Angelus Novus wrote:
> Nice; good to see Levi get rehabilitated with the respect he deserves, a nice proper English-language anthology.
> It's more than one can say for Germany, where there is no in-print collection of Levi's writings (the last one available is from 1969).

I am deluged with books that I have a responsibility to read and 
in some cases write about, but I definitely have to request a 
review copy of this one. Levi is the cornerstone of my analysis of 
the dead-end of "Marxism-Leninism".


The German left in 1920 now confronted a declining mass movement. 
The three major parties of the left were also bitterly divided. 
The Social Democracy had 102 delegates in the Reichstag, while a 
left-wing split called the Independent Socialist Party had 82. The 
Communist Party could only send 2 delegates, Paul Levi--the 
party's leader--and Clara Zetkin, a legendary socialist leader.

The only way the Communist Party could have grown was by patiently 
persuading the German working class of its message. Many of the 
potential recruits would come from the Independent Socialist 
Party, which split from the Social Democracy in opposition to the 
pro-war policy of the leaders. The Spartacus League was actually a 
faction of this party.

The Communist Party and the Independent Socialist Party both 
attended the Second World Congress of the Comintern, the latter as 
a guest. Another smaller party, the ultraleft German Communist 
Workers Party, attended.

At this gathering, Lenin discussed the prospects for German 
Communism with Paul Levi, the party's leader. Lenin was anxious 
for German Communism to grow rapidly. He keenly felt the isolation 
of the young Soviet republic and hoped for a breakthrough in the 
West to relieve the pressure. He thought that the left-wing of the 
Independent Socialist Party could be split from the party and be 
convinced to join the much smaller Communist Party. Levi suggested 
a more cautious approach, one which involved patient collaborative 
work with the Independents as a preparation for fusion.

Lenin's desire for a rapid victory in Germany clouded his ability 
to judge objective conditions there in an impartial manner. The 
only judgment we can render on Lenin's expectations was that they 
were unrealistic and based on an inadequate understanding of the 
German class struggle.

A anecdote reported by the German revolutionary Balabanoff 
dramatizes the problem. At a meeting in Lenin's offices during the 
Second World Congress, Zinoviev stood before a strategic map of 
Germany, with Lenin and 3 German delegates, including Levi, in 
attendance. Zinoviev was speculating on possibilities for working 
class support for Red Army initiatives. The Red Army was fighting 
successfully in Poland against the counter-revolution and driving 
westward. Zinoviev stated that according to Trotsky's estimates, 
the Red Army would reach the German border within a few days.

Turning to the seated parties, Zinoviev asked, "In your opinion, 
Comrades, what forms will the uprising in East Prussia take?" 
(East Prussia bordered Poland.) The three Germans stared at him in 
amazement. The predominantly peasant East Prussia was one of the 
most conservative German regions, and an uprising in support of 
the Red Army sounded like a bad joke to the German delegates. One 
of them, Ernest Mayer, said that an uprising was unlikely. An 
irritated Lenin turned to Levi and asked his opinion. When Levi 
remained silent, Lenin terminated the discussion by remarking, "In 
any case, you ought to know that our Central Committee holds quite 
a different opinion."

The favorable news of Red Army advances emboldened triumphalist 
moods in the Kremlin. Even though the French Socialist Party and 
the German Independent Socialist Party attended the congress as 
friendly consultative delegates, the Russian Communists seemed in 
no mood to placate these "half-hearted" or centrist formations. To 
the contrary, this congress passed the famous 21 conditions for 
entry into the Comintern, which they envisioned as a single 
Communist Party with branches in different countries. These 21 
conditions were drafted by Zinoviev with Lenin's agreement. One 
provision urged by the Italian ultraleftist Bordiga was 
particularly stringent. It demanded that all party members be 
expelled if they rejected the 21 conditions. These 21 conditions 
could only be considered a slap in the face by the French and 
German socialists, who in every other way were sympathetic to the 

When the congress was over, Levi returned to Germany in a mood of 
despair. The Independents also faced a difficult situation. Even 
though they felt constrained by the 21 conditions, they still 
sought to ally themselves with the Soviet revolution and the 
organized revolutionary movement that identified with it. They 
convened a special congress to consider the 21 conditions. A 
debate was held between Zinoviev in favor of the 21 conditions and 
Rudolf Hilferding opposed. The hall was decked out with Soviet 
regalia, which helped to deepen the polarization of an already 
polarized situation. Hilferding argued, quite correctly, that the 
21 conditions were a schematic projection of Russian 
organizational norms on other countries with different traditions.


More information about the Marxism mailing list