No political parties of present-day Germany are separated by a wider gulf than the two parties of labor, one democratic and reformist, the other totalitarian and socialist-revolutionary. Social Democrats and Communists today face each other as bitter political enemies across the front lines of the cold war; yet they share a common origin in the Social Democratic Party of INo political parties of present-day Germany are separated by a wider gulf than the two parties of labor, one democratic and reformist, the other totalitarian and socialist-revolutionary. Social Democrats and Communists today face each other as bitter political enemies across the front lines of the cold war; yet they share a common origin in the Social Democratic Party of Imperial Germany. How did they come to go separate ways? By what process did the old party break apart? How did the prewar party prepare the ground for the dissolution of the labor movement in World War I, and for the subsequent extension of Leninism into Germany? To answer these questions is the purpose of my study....
|Title||:||German Social Democracy, 1905-1917: The Development of the Great Schism|
|Number of Pages||:||374 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
|Last checked||:||21 Minutes ago!|
German Social Democracy, 1905-1917: The Development of the Great Schism Reviews
Ever wonder how the greatest mass socialist party in history ended up supporting world war in 1914 and imploding shortly thereafter? This is the book for you!As Schorske documents, divisions in the German Social Democratic Party grew throughout the first fourteen years of the new century. Although the party's radicals (which originally included Karl Kautsky as well as Rosa Luxemburg) were initially aligned with the party's executive (including August Bebel) in preserving the party's commitment to revolutionary politics, this changed as the allied trade unions outpaced the growth of the party. The union leadership — although not the membership — embraced the revisionist line of Eduard Bernstein. They slowly won the loyalty of the party's executive and fundamentally reshaped the SDP. At the same time, former revolutionaries around Kautsky gravitated rightward towards a centrist position in an attempt to maintain the party's unity.This new alignment proved to be unsustainable. Beginning in 1905, Friedrich Ebert, a revisionist who Schorske calls the "Stalin of social democracy" for his organizational guile, began to build up the party's apparatus by hiring hundreds of salaried party bureaucrats. Although the traditional explanation of the SDP's capitulation in 1914 holds that the mere existence of a salaried party machine introduced a conservatizing force that inevitably supported war, Schorske rejects this assessment. "The purposes for which — and the circumstances under which — the bureaucracy was constructed were far stronger forces for conservatism than the mere fact that the functionaries were salaried. Unlike Lenin's corps of professionals, Ebert's was built primarily to compete with other political parties, to get members and voters, not to shatter the political order." It was critically important that Ebert was given his assignment to build up the party's apparatus at exactly the same time that revisionists in the party were ascendant and the party had reoriented itself from revolutionary politics towards pure electoralism. So it's true that this machine finally tipped the scales and secured the party for the pro-war revisionists, eventually leading to the split. But this was a secondary effect of the superior position of right-leaning union officials and their party supporters who reoriented the party along revisionist lines, not an independent cause of the party's abandonment of revolutionary politics.There's a lot more to be gained from Schorske's history, but what's summarized above is I think the central points of interest to socialists. The only thing the book lacks is a deeper attention to the political debates in the party, particularly around the question of the mass strike and interpretations of imperialism. The book is more of an institutional history than a political one. It is also very readable, and only requires a modicum of familiarity with German politics.
Spoiler: in 1914, the German Social Democratic Party voted war credits to support Germany in World War One. How did a party committed on paper to socialism, revolution, and internationalism, come to support an imperialist war? That's what Schorscke explains in this surprisingly engaging, thoughtful, and sympathetic book, a must-read for all who want to organize for radical social change. On paper, the SPD was committed to the Erfurt program -- uncompromising class struggle against the existing order to create a socialist society thru revolution. But the practice of the party and the trade unions created a growing group of bureaucrats who were able to win concrete gains under capitalism -- and who stood to lose everything in struggle. Even though the party voted down the "revisionists" again and again, this reformist cadre gained complete control over the party by building up a bureaucratic apparatus committed to reformism and hostile to mass action. Schorske takes you step by step in how they did it. At the same time, the Russian Revolution of 1905 and growing tension between the imperialist powers pushed a group of radicals like Rosa Luxemburg to move beyond the Erfurt synthesis. They came to criticize the party's passive reliance on electoral growth, and instead pointed toward the Russian mass strikes as the way forward to overthrow capitalism. Schorske's description of the growth of the mass strike movement in Germany, off and on before the war, and then during the war itself, is excellent. I just read Lars Lih's book on Lenin and the Erfurt synthesis, and I think this book is a great complement to it, showing how revolutionaries trained in that synthesis in Germany developed a new practice of revolution inspired by the mass strike movement. In one of the book's highlights, Schorske shows how the right section of the party was actually committed to support a "defensive" war long before 1914: "To one who has followed the evolution of Social Democracy through the prewar decade, the vote for the war credits on 4 August 1914 is but the logical end of a clear line of development." Schorske challenges the idea that structure and organization alone lead to reformism: "The purposes for which -- and the circumstances under which -- the bureaucracy was constructed were far stronger forces for conservatism than the mere fact that the functionaries were salaried." Finally, Schorske looks at the final degeneration of the right after voting for the war. Trade unions and the party became caught between the demands of the rank and file and their support for the war effort: "Their responsibility was now dual: to the state as well as the workers. Once they accepted the primacy of foreign policy, the leaders of the labor movement assumed the function of disciplining the labor movement in the interest of the state." Burned by the bureaucratic centralism of the SPD reformists, the German left rejected organization and discipline -- and they were always a step behind the mass strikes and mutinies that erupted in 1918: "The [newly formed] Independents thus deprived themsleves of any organizational instrument by which the spontaneous mass actions of the revolution, once begun, could be unified and consolidated into a single political striking force."At a time when people are hitting the streets and we're seeing a growth in struggle, while the left itself is weak and painfully divided, this book offers some real lessons.
I found the interplay of forces within the German Social Democratic movement to be quite fascinating. Internal battles amongst reformists, centrists, radicals, unions, and genders weakened and divided a party externally facing well-organized employers and an imperial state, ultimately leading to schism and to Social Democratic ministers sending the army and police against their former fellow party members. A major contribution to the split was the inability of the party and broader movement to articulate a unified stance regarding its relationship to the forces and constructs aligned against it.Carl Schorske almost nostalgically recounts this dilemma. In striking against the revolutionary theory of the Erfurt program, Eduard Bernstein postulated that capitalism was not destroying itself and as such the success of socialism could only occur via the propagation of ethics and reason, not revolution. Revising Marx and giving theoretical backing to the reformist movement, Bernstein urged building to SPD to engage with the current system in order to win converts to socialism. On the opposing side was Rosa Luxemburg, advocating socialism through revolution. Only through actions, such as general strikes or mobilizing around suffrage, would a revolutionary moment develop allowing for the implementation of socialism. She was less interested in building the SPD than the reformists or centrists, believing instead a revolutionary organization would emerge through action. Caught in the middle were Karl Kautsky and August Bebel, trying to navigate a democratic party through the varying surges of reformism and radicalism and stay true to the theory and practice of the Erfurt program. World War One brought the tensions between the theories of engagement, non-cooperation, and opposition to a boil. The reformists’ fears of state repression and losing the support of the workers, as well as the SPD’s newly-found legitimacy in the Reichstag could not be reconciled with the militant anti-war and anti-imperialist stance of the radicals. That the schism united, however fragilely, Bernstein, Kautsky, and Luxemburg, in the creation of a new party, displays how far the war-time SPD had moved from its original aims of socialism, let alone revolution.