The revolution that could have changed world history

The revolution that could  have changed world history


BOOK The Lost Revolution: Germany 1918–1923, By Chris Harman


Chris Harman’s The Lost Revolution remains the single best introductory book in English on the German Revolution of 1918–1923. First published in 1982, it has lost nothing of its clarity, focus, and poignancy, presenting readers with a user-friendly narrative that unpacks the bewilderingly complex array of organizations, groups, and individual characters whose interaction amounted to the German Revolution. Given that thirty-six years have passed since the original publication, it is only natural that historical scholarship has advanced, further fleshing out details and shifting nuances. Yet, it is remarkable indeed how well Harman’s work has stood the test of time.


The Lost Revolution stands in the tradition of critical Marxist scholarship, neither idealizing nor demonizing the German Revolution. Writings on the subject from the former Soviet bloc have been formulaic and propagandistic, rather than probing and analytical, while Western mainstream liberal and conservative scholarship has dismissed the revolution as an unwelcome and destructive disruption of “normal” political developments.(1) However, especially during the heyday of leftist historical scholarship in the 1960s and 1970s, there were more sympathetic accounts. (2)


Harman’s work fits well into an analytical Marxist tradition as shaped by Arthur Rosenberg and Pierre Broué, among others. (3) Broué’s massive study is especially recommended to appetites already whetted by Harman’s book. In addition, Duncan Hallas’s study The Comintern complements The Lost Revolution. (4)


Among the most interesting recent works on the German Revolution are Ralf Hoffrogge’s excellent studies, Working-Class Politics in the German Revolution: Richard Müller, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards and the Origins of the Council Movement, (5) and Germany 1916–1923: A Revolution in Context. (6) Hoffrogge’s work focuses on the impact of rank-and-file shop stewards within the German Metalworker’s Union during the revolutionary events. His pioneering study follows in the footsteps of Harman, clarifying developments on a more detailed archival basis.


While being an excellent introduction for general readers, Harman’s book is particularly useful for political activists seeking to learn from the past in order to fight more effectively in the here and now. However, he does not impart any prepackaged and formulaic lessons, as the situation of 1918–1923 in Germany differs immensely from that of today, whether in Germany, Europe, or the United States. Yet, despite the radically different context, there are some key insights that a thorough study of the opportunities and the failures of the German Revolution can provide, which Harman carves out skillfully. Among the most important of these insights is just how necessary revolutions are to replace capitalism with socialism. Any exclusively electoral strategies are as unlikely to dislodge the rule of the wealthy today as they were a hundred years ago. There are no shortcuts to either socialism or revolution, and neither can be imposed from above by elites or “great leaders” (no matter how well-intentioned) but must be the result of the self-activities of working people.


As Harman illustrates through the trajectory of the German Revolution, socialism from below does not preclude the development of a well-organized revolutionary party, but requires it. Such a party must be given enough time to outgrow the dangers of sectarian dogmatism and ultra-leftism, as much as strategic and tactical inertia. Between 1918 and 1923, the conditions as well as the consciousness of the people in Germany changed drastically several times over. Therefore, a useful approach for one period might be harmful in another. Harman reminds us that revolutionary Marxism cannot be a set of unchanging blueprints but must rather lead to analyzing specific situations and developing approaches that reflect the actual conditions, challenges, and opportunities of each particular historical moment.


Harman is rightly skeptical of single-cause explanations. The fate of the German Revolution was not only shaped by the action and inaction of various leaders and the shifting constellation of socio-economic dynamics, but also by complex contingencies and interactions, involving multiple forces, groups, and individuals: “[t]here is a mechanical interpretation of history according to which the outcome of events is determined in advance by the interplay of ‘objective forces.’” But Harman continues:


This forgets, as Marx put it, that a “revolutionary idea that takes hold of the masses itself becomes a material force.” Economic development, the growth of large scale industry, spells of prosperity giving way to spells of poverty, great crises – all serve to propel large numbers of men and women into new social movements. But the success or failure of these movements depends, beyond a certain point, on their success or failure in battles with their opponents. No battle is ever won simply by a commander deciding that his troops are bigger or smaller in number than those on the other side. The psychology of his troops, their deployment in the right place at the right time, the correct allocation of armaments, all play a part. As tens of thousands of soldiers move in a confused mass from one side of the battlefield to the other and back again, even the raising of a simple standard at the right moment can make a vital difference: either tired, hard-pressed men are re-assembled and led to victory, or they are left to run, routed from the conflict. And what applies in a simple battle applies even more in great social conflicts, in strikes, demonstrations, revolutions.


Harman examines the German Revolution in fourteen chapters, including several useful maps and an index. Particularly helpful is a glossary of people, political organizations, geographic locations, and key events, despite some minor stylistic inconsistencies. His introduction, while brief, focuses attention on what was at stake, not only in Germany but in Russia as well, citing Lenin’s memorable observation from January 1918, that “without the revolution in Germany, we are doomed.”(7) Victor Serge’s assessment of the beleaguered Bolshevik revolutionaries and their allies during that time period was even more desperate: “in short, when we drew up a balance-sheet it seemed most probable that the Revolution was approaching its death agony, that a White military dictatorship would soon prevail and that we should be all hanged or shot.” (8)


The Bolsheviks fought for the revolution’s survival and were desperate for aid and relief from a victorious German revolution. (9) The odds were not on their side during the Russian civil war, with fourteen invading foreign armies, five opposing White armies, a disintegrating economy, and mass starvation, putting them into a seemingly impossible position. Ravished by years of external and civil war, Russia and its adjacent territories were in ruins.


Yet contrary to their own expectation, the Bolsheviks survived the civil war and defeated their enemies. Unfortunately, the relief from Germany never came, as the German Revolution (despite several promising moments) failed. The lasting legacy of defeat, as Harman points out, was the opening for two deeply counter-revolutionary dictatorships: Nazism in Germany and Stalinism in the Soviet Union.


Harman does not pretend to be a detached observer, instead, he states openly that “I write from a standpoint of sympathy with those who fought desperately to make the German revolution a success—for the very reason that I believe that the world would be an immensely better place had they not been defeated.” Sympathy for the revolutionaries, however, does not make Harman uncritical. Especially given how much was at stake, he excavates the deeper reasons of how and why the revolution was ultimately lost.


Harman begins with a succinct structural analysis of Imperial Germany, pointing to its unique features as a federal empire composed of four kingdoms (Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, and Württemberg) as well as the intricate network of duchies, grand-duchies, principalities, and city-states. While Prussia dominated imperial Germany, both in population and territory by large margins, it can nevertheless not be equated with Imperial Germany as a whole. Harman is somewhat attentive to regional dynamics and traditions, especially in the case of Bavaria, but more recent scholarship has deepened our understanding of the importance of regional stratification and its impact on the working class and the labor movement. (10)


He nevertheless excels in sketching the notoriously complicated peculiarities of the German state and society, prior to the revolution, as being dominated by a traditional land-owning aristocratic elite and an increasingly assertive new class of industrial capitalists. Avoiding any direct engagement with the at-times bitter historiographic skirmishes of the 1960s to 1980s, he offers an informed and insightful assessment of the balance of power and class forces. (11)


As traditional agrarian and capitalist elites dominated German society, the working class, the labor movement, and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) grew in size and influence. By 1912, the SPD was the single largest political party in the Reichstag federal parliament. Yet the political culture of Imperial Germany was designed to keep power away from working people and their representatives, and thus the SPD was excluded from any governing authority.


While the SPD was the world’s largest socialist party, as its party apparatus became more and more bureaucratized, it moved further and further from its revolutionary Marxist origins. In addition, the party leadership entered into an agreement with the General Commission of Free Trade Unions, which gave the union leadership not only disproportional influence in party affairs but also pushed the party in an increasingly conservative direction. In essence, while maintaining some measure of revolutionary rhetoric, the party came to reorient itself as a reformist force, postponing revolutionary objectives indefinitely, focusing most of its energies instead on electoral politics.


A current of genuine revolutionary Marxists existed in the SPD, coalescing around Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin, among others. However, this current lacked organizational and strategic coherence, as Luxemburg and her close comrades carefully avoided building autonomous infrastructures within the SPD, for fear of being cutoff from the vast majority of the party rank-and-file.


Harman explores how World War I transformed German society and its politics in profound and lasting ways. Contrary to their professed socialist principles, most official SPD leaders supported the war effort in the summer and fall of 1914, with Karl Liebknecht as a rare exception. At first, the revolutionaries around Liebknecht and Luxemburg were in the minority, as much of the country was in the clutches of nationalist propaganda. Yet as the war waged bloodier and longer than expected, pro-war mania began to wane. Food shortages, a massive decline in living standards, an ever-growing death toll from the front lines, as well as an all-pervasive military dictatorship, turned more Germans against the war.


The Lost Revolution chronicles how workers’ strikes and military mutinies eventually led to full-fledged revolution and the collapse of Imperial Germany in November 1918. The SPD had already split in 1917, when the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) came into existence. Within this USPD, Luxemburg and Liebknecht’s Spartacus Group asserted itself as a vocal force for revolutionary transformation. The Spartacists laid the groundwork for creating the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in early 1919.


Harman devotes chapters to important episodes of the German Revolution, such as the Bavarian Soviet Republic, the right-wing Kapp Putsch, and the so-called German October of 1923. In his last chapter, “Legacy of Defeat,” Harman fast forwards his narrative to the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the Great Depression unleashed its destructive forces: “The demons that had seemingly been banished in 1923 returned as, by the millions, ordinary people turned bitterly on the social democrats and the liberals who promised so much and delivered so little.”


Summarizing what transpired between 1918 and 1923 is no easy task, given the immense complexity and inter-connectivity of events, movements, and parties, the many social, economic, and cultural forces at play, and the myriad individual participants. There are, however, some main stages of the German Revolution, some turning points and decisions that altered the revolution’s trajectory. Some of the paths not taken and lost opportunities need to be briefly sketched, in order to provide a basic understanding of this revolution as a whole.


One such turning point came in fall 1918, when the Imperial leadership decided to mobilize the German Navy for what could only have amounted to a suicide mission. Confined to their bases in German ports by a British naval blockade for most of the war, the Battle Fleet was ordered to break through the well-defended British positions. Germany’s admiralty fully understood the almost certain outcome would be the total destruction of the fleet and the drowning of many of the sailors. This operation was not about any possible military victory; in fact, the destruction of the fleet was key to creating a militaristic cult of martyrdom to be tapped into after the war.


However, the sailors, already prepared by several smaller-scale mutinies, refused to be sacrificed and rose up, arresting their own officers, captains, and even admirals. What started as a mutiny within the Imperial High Sea Battle Fleet rapidly spread to significant segments of the population at large from the coastal towns of Kiel, Hamburg, Bremen, and eventually to Berlin and Munich. Soldiers’ councils were created, power slipped away from the old Imperial elites, and the emperor was forced to abdicate.


Within this context, two distinct visions of a future Germany crystallized. Karl Liebknecht stepped out onto the balcony of the old Imperial Palace and proclaimed a Free and Socialist Republic on November 9, 1918, approximately two hours after the centrist SPD leader Philipp Scheidemann announced the establishment of a liberal parliamentary republic. The differences between these two rival proclamations were not semantic but illustrate fundamentally different propositions for the times ahead.


Liebknecht advocated a radical break, not only with the institutions and traditions of authoritarian power in the state apparatus, the military, and the judiciary, but also with the capitalist system that had fueled World War I. Scheidemann, on the other hand, promoted a power-sharing compromise with those reactionary forces, which went hand in hand with plans to suppress revolutionary uprisings with the utmost force, including the torture and murder of revolutionaries.


SPD leader Friedrich Ebert phoned General Wilhelm Groener, the new leader of the German military, and proposed an alliance based on mutual support. He hoped that by giving right-wing forces carte blanche to both run their own affairs as before and eradicate the revolutionary left, they could be domesticated and integrated into the fledgling liberal republic. On January 15, 1919, Liebknecht and Luxemburg were brutalized and killed by right-wing military units, the infamous Freikorps, with the green light of several key SPD leaders.


The immediate context of the Liebknecht/Luxemburg murders was the ill-fated Spartacus uprising, originally ignited by the firing of a former glass worker, now turned USPD politician, Emil Eichhorn, who had been appointed Berlin police commissioner by revolutionaries on November 9, 1918. Eichhorn was not a Spartacist and ideologically occupied the middle-ground between the revolutionary left and the centrist SPD leadership. Yet, on January 5, 1919, the Ebert government fired him for being too radical. This step was quite consciously designed as a provocation to manipulate the Spartacists around Liebknecht and Luxemburg into a premature uprising.


Shortly after, several hundred thousand people responded to the call for a protest emanating from the leaders of the USPD, the newly created Communist Party (KPD), as well as the revolutionary shop stewards. Liebknecht, a very gifted and charismatic speaker, roused his listeners with calls for the immediate seizure of power, as the centrist Social Democrats had exposed themselves as traitors to the revolution. Luxemburg understood that while large numbers of listeners responded enthusiastically to Liebknecht’s rhetoric, their response was largely emotional and did not translate into understanding and agreeing with his revolutionary objectives. She knew of the necessity of first securing mass support for the seizure of power on the part of the working class, prior to attempting it.


Yet, when Liebknecht and many of his often young and politically inexperienced followers rushed to action, Luxemburg publicly supported them while privately voicing her misgivings. Liebknecht and his core supporters conflated the broad dissatisfaction of working-class people with the old Imperial regime with support for a socialist revolution. While a small but growing minority did indeed support such a revolution, the vast majority of workers did not do so yet. Thus, when Liebknecht called for the seizure of power, he and his supporters remained isolated, without mass support. Luxemburg knew the uprising was ill-prepared and premature, but she believed that she had no choice but to stand with them.


All of this speaks to a larger problem: the revolutionaries attempted a grab for power at a time when their revolutionary party was only a few days old. Even the older Spartacus League, which was the kernel of this party, was more of a loose network of semi-autonomous groups that were neither well organized nor centered on a coherent political program. Before 1917, Luxemburg consciously rejected the trajectory of the Russian Bolsheviks for the German situation, arguing that splitting from the SPD would only further isolate the revolutionary socialists (already a very small group) into a sect.


While Luxemburg openly and courageously advocated for her positions and critiqued the centrist and revisionist elements in the party, she did so as an individual. In hindsight, her desire to avoid being cut off from the SPD and its membership is more than understandable, but it would have been useful to have worked on an organizational structure for revolutionaries within the party, perhaps organized as a faction, with a newspaper for developing and communicating a program and platform. Such a faction would have enabled her and her followers to remain within the SPD and thus have access to its millions of members and vast resources, while also developing an infrastructure should a split become necessary.


The centrist Social Democrats catastrophically underestimated the intractable unwillingness of the old Imperial elites to be integrated into any kind of democratic state. While Ebert and his centrist colleagues assumed that the old elites in the military, the judiciary, the state apparatus, and the economic centers of power would by-and-large be loyal to the newly created liberal republic, they were sadly mistaken. A sizeable minority of military leaders, industrialists, and right-wing politicians openly plotted to overthrow the republic several times, most infamously in March 1920, during the so-called Kapp Putsch, as well as the Beer Hall Putsch of November 9, 1923. In the case of the former, General Walther von Lüttwitz, a deeply anti-democratic leader and convinced monarchist, was appointed military commander in Berlin by the Social Democratic government in January 1919, where he was given a free hand to suppress the revolutionary left. To the surprise of the Ebert government, von Lüttwitz was not merely fanatically opposed to leftists but also to even a moderate liberal republic, which he wanted replaced with some sort of right-wing military dictatorship and even a restoration of the old Empire.


The Kapp Putsch illustrates not only the inability of the centrist Social Democrats to defend their own regime from attacks by the far right, it also underscores the refusal of the traditional elites, and especially the military establishment, to accept the bourgeois republic. In addition, as Harman points out:


The struggle against the Kapp putsch joined the long list of ‘might have beens’ in the history of the German Revolution—a list, which ends in 1933 with the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. And the basic reason was the failure of revolutionary organization and leadership to measure up to the sudden leap forward in working class consciousness.


This “leap in working-class consciousness” manifested itself in armed uprisings of workers in parts of western, central, and northern Germany in 1921. In effect, the industrial centers of the Ruhr Valley, Thuringia, Saxony, and parts of central Prussia came under direct workers’ control. Much the same happened along the Baltic Sea coastline between Lübeck and Wismar. Radicalized by the belligerent actions of the right-wing military, growing numbers of workers were not only ready to repel the putschists on the far right via a general strike, but, in the words of Harman, “turned the strike into an armed assault on the power behind the putsch—the structure of armed power built up so laboriously by [the centrist Social Democrats] and the [Army] High Command.”


In the Ruhr area, a “Red Army of the Ruhr,” numbering more than fifty thousand militant and armed workers, engaged and defeated regular army units. Yet, despite this dynamic and the immediate momentum being on the side of the workers’ grass roots uprising, what was needed were coordination and unified revolutionary efforts across the country to develop a set of strategies and agreed-upon objectives. This would have required an organizational infrastructure of effective, experienced, and disciplined revolutionaries willing to learn from mistakes, genuinely rooted in the working class, and able to adjust and evolve their approaches as circumstances changed.


The fledgling KPD could and should have been such an organization, but it failed in practice. Its leadership was too divided, vacillating between rhetorical radicalism and practical passivity. It was tone-deaf to the changing moods and attitudes of an increasingly radicalizing working class because, as Harman argues, it “lacked immediate access to the class through a network of experienced militants,” and thus it “could not sense that this time millions of previously passive workers” would support the Party’s call for revolution “and not leave the Communists to act – and die – alone.”


Harman notes rather astutely that the KPD leadership, between 1918 and 1923, displayed a peculiar tendency of learning the wrong lessons from their mistakes as “overcompensation for past errors.” During the Spartacus uprising of 1919, the Party rushed into revolutionary action without the support of the majority of the working class, with disastrous results. When, some twelve months later, the right-wing Kapp Putsch produced a wave of working-class radicalization, the KPD leadership was still too traumatized by the defeat of the Spartacus uprising to take advantage of new and unique opportunities.


In March 1921, the KPD, under a new but equally unprepared leadership, responded to massive police violence and provocations by calling for an armed uprising in the industrial regions around Halle, in central Germany, with catastrophic results. The uprising was ill-prepared and not only lacked mass support but severely damaged the KPD’s reputation among workers, diminishing its influence. It became a classic case of insurrectionist putschism and illustrated again how the KPD misjudged the balance of forces and the dynamics of the situation.


The final turning point of the revolution is known as the “German October,” or more aptly as the “Abortive German October,” when the KPD leadership, after preparing for an armed uprising, at the very last moment called it off. This abortive uprising also signified the close of the revolutionary era that opened up during World War I. However, it would be too simplistic to locate the main reasons for the failures of the KPD exclusively in terms of the personal shortcomings of its leadership.


Instead, the key problem of the failures of October 1923 were an underdeveloped political foundation, not emphasizing the necessity to systematically and steadily build rank-and-file worker’s power and confidence within the context of a united front strategy. While the revolutionary left made its last sustained bid for state power in central Germany in October 1923, the far right attempted to overthrow the bourgeois republic again in November, starting in Bavaria.


The Beer Hall Putsch marks not only an attempt by a coalition of far-rightists to overthrow the elected government in Berlin but signaled the coming together of old-fashioned conservatives from the Imperial days with the burgeoning Nazi movement. Among the Putsch’s leaders was none other than General Erich Ludendorff, who together with Hindenburg ran the German war effort since 1916. Another of the coup’s leaders was Adolf Hitler.


In each instance the attempts were driven by a sizeable minority of leading generals, while the bulk of the German army remained passive and neutral, biding their time to see which side would emerge victorious, the right-wing insurrectionists or the government. What ultimately thwarted their attempts was not the army or any of the older elites protecting the republic (as they were bound by law to do) but rather the escalating infighting among the coup leaders, putting them at cross-purposes from each other.


Last but not least is the fact that when Hitler finally came to power in January 1933, former World War I general and conservative president Paul von Hindenburg appointed him. Other leading politicians, such as the conservative Franz von Papen and media tycoon Alfred Hugenberg, played a key role in convincing Hindenburg to make Hitler chancellor. Thus, the conservative elites that the centrist social democrats were so anxious to make a deal with in 1918 could not be domesticated and integrated into even a limited democratic republic. Instead, these elites forged an alliance with the Nazis as capitalism entered into the crisis of the Great Depression and overthrew the republic. Social Democratic leaders who had looked the other way when right-wing militias murdered revolutionary socialists during the German Revolution (and at times even directly authorized them to do so) would find themselves confined to the same concentration camps with Communists after the Nazi seizure of power.


Harman elaborates on the changing composition of the KPD as it grew in membership and experimented with a variety of different tactics and strategies. Tragically, the murder of Luxemburg robbed the newly created party of what might arguably have been its most brilliant mind. Harman sketches the strengths and weaknesses of her successors, such as Paul Levi, Ernst Friesland, and Heinrich Brandler, without reducing the policies of the KPD (or the fate of the revolution as a whole) to the choices and priorities of a few individuals.


Other groups, such as the revolutionary shop stewards, as well as the newly created Comintern in Moscow and their representatives (especially Karl Radek and Grigory Zinoviev) and, of course, common people, left their imprint on events. The key weaknesses of the early KPD were the prevalence of ultra leftism, putschism, and rashness on the part of the party’s largely young and inexperienced cadres. In fact, one of the main reasons the revolutionary shop stewards (who had generally much deeper roots within the working class than the Spartacists and the early KPD) approached possible collaboration with the KPD with great skepticism was their uneasiness about those very traits within the KPD. Most of the one thousand shop stewards (who could mobilize hundreds of thousands of workers) resented the KPD’s penchant for what they saw as political adventurism and insurrectionism.


One cannot help but notice certain parallels between the constellation described by Harman and our current moment in the early twenty-first century. Center-right and center-left parties, as well as the project of neoliberal capitalism that they support, are being challenged by a growing political polarization on the right and left. Today’s capitalism, at least at its American, European, Chinese, and Japanese core, is still far more stable than in the early 1920s, when hyperinflation, mass unemployment, and mass starvation were widespread, not only in Germany. And we are still far away from the point where revolutionary organizations have turned into mass parties with several hundred thousand active members. The election of Trump in the US and other far right-wing demagogues elsewhere illustrate the disintegration of the traditional centrist consensus in the midst of a capitalist system that is chronically and increasingly unable to manage its own contradictions. But a new wave of radicalization is developing. Within this context, Harman’s study of the German Revolution deserves a wide readership, as today’s left rebuilds its forces, learns from the past, and moves into an open future.


Review by Axel Fair-Schulz




(1)       A prominent example of the latter approach is to be found in Heinrich-August Winkler’s, Germany, The Long Road West, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).


(2)       See, for example, Werner T. Angress, Stillborn Revolution: The Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921–1923 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963). See also: Sebastian Haffner’s Die verratene Revolution, Deutschland 1918/19 (Scherz: Bern, Munich, Vienna, 1969); Eberhard Kolb’s Die Arbeiterräte in der deutschen Innenpolitik, 1918–1919 (Droste: Düsseldorf, 1962); and Betriebsräte in der Novemberrevolution; eine politikwissenschaftliche Untersuchung über Ideengehalt und Struktur der betrieblichen und wirtschaftlichen Arbeiterräte in der deutschen Revolution 1918/19, (Droste: Düsseldorf, 1963).


(3)       See Arthur Rosenberg, A History of the German Republic 1918–1930, (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1936) and Pierre Broué, The German Revolution, 1917–1923 (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2006).


(4)       Duncan Hallas, The Comintern (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2008).


(5)       Ralf Hoffrogge, Working-Class Politics in the German Revolution: Richard Müller, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards and the Origins of the Council Movement (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015).


(6)       Germany 1916–1923: A Revolution in Context, eds. Klaus Weinhauer, Anthony McElligott, and Kirsten Heinsohn (Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript, 2015). See also Mark Jones, Founding Weimar: Violence and the German Revolution 1918–1919 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).


(7)       Germany 1916–1923, 3.



(8)       Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, 1901–1941 (London, Oxford University Press, 1963), 88.



(9)       A victorious German revolution would have shifted the center of gravity in favor of socialist democracy, given Germany’s more advanced industrial base. Russia’s economic backwardness and isolation, on the other hand, made the construction of sustainable socialist structures all but impossible.


(10)     See especially David Blackbourn and James Retallack, eds., Localism, Landscape, and the Ambiguities of Place: German-Speaking Central Europe 1860–1930 (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press. 2007); as well as James Retallack, Red Saxony: Election Battles and the Spectre of Democracy in Germany, 1860–1918 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).


(11)    Readers who seek a more comprehensive understanding of the nature of Imperial Germany and the scholarly and intellectual debates about it will benefit from Hans-Ulrich Wehler’s The German Empire: 1871–1918 (Oxford: Berg Publishers, 1985); David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley’s The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth century Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984); as well as Arno J. Mayer’s The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (London, Brooklyn: Verso Books, 2010).


Source: International Socialist Review Issue #111, Winter 2018–19


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Street fights between government troops and revolutionary guards in Berlin, in September 1919.

By: Not stated, stamped as Internal News Photos Copyright, not among Corbis website pictures. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



Chris Harman works


International Socialist Review

The ISR is dedicated to advancing socialist theory and practice in the U.S. and internationally. We stand in the International Socialist tradition, affirming our commitment to “socialism from below,” the self-emancipation of workers and the oppressed, the struggle against imperialism and for national liberation, and the building of a socialist current rooted in all of those struggles. We hope that the ISR will provide a forum for the development of an open and critical Marxist analysis of the challenges and opportunities that confront the left and social movements in the 21st century. We welcome contributions from all who are committed to that project and vision. The ISR is published quarterly by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change.”

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