Gabriel Kuhn (ed.): All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution

WORKERSCONTROL.NET

Review by Ralf Hoffrogge
Every schoolchild on the globe knows something about the Russian Revolution from 1917. It was the origin of a state called Soviet Union and a political confrontation later known as the cold war which shaped the 20th century longer than any other political conflict.

Unlike the crucial events of 1917, the German Revolution of 1918 is not part of the global memory. It did not erect a socialist state as hoped by many of its protagonists and instead ended with a fragile republic that lasted only twelve years and was destroyed by the Nazi Party in 1933.

Therefore most readers might connect the German Revolution with the tragical death of Rosa Luxemburg, murdered by counter-revolutionary militias in January 1919. But Luxemburg became a legend not for being a martyr of the German Revolution. She is famous because of her brilliant writings that inspired not only historians and marxist economics but also leftist feminism and anticolonial struggles.

But, and this is demonstrated by Gabriel Kuhn and his outstanding edition – the German Revolution was more than Rosa Luxemburg. She and her writings were part of a social struggle that dated way back into the class conflics of pre-war Europe and found an eruption in the Revolutionary Wave of 1917-1919.

Kuhn features many documents by Luxemburg that show her as a revolutionary activist, trying to push forward the revolution with her Spartacus League, a political formation that broke away from the German socialists when they started supporting the German Government in WWI.

But Kuhn does not reduce the antiwar-opposition and the revolutionary effort to Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and the Spartacists as it was done by marxist and non-marxist scholars alike during the cold war. His documentary history also presents documents from Gustav Landauer and Erich Mühsam, the famous Munich anarchists that took part in the struggle for a councils´ republic in Bavaria. He also presents documents from Bremen, Brunswick, Wilhelmshaven and Kiel – German cities that were taken over by workers´ uprisings or sailors and soldiers in mutiny. These original sources make clear that the German Revolution was not orchestrated by a political vanguard of some sort but a spontaneous eruption of the whole population. Very different groups from centrist social democrats to radical anarchists participated in the events, many others only got radicalized during the events.

One such group that formed during WWI were the “Revolutionary Stewards”, a group of rank and file unionists. They started with strikes for better wages in the war industry and ended up being one of the most radical advocates of a councils´ republic in Germany. When the Revolution unfolded in November 1918 this group was far more influential then Liebknecht and the Spartacists, because unlike them it had a wide network of supporters in the factories and workshops. By organizing three political mass strikes from 1916 to 1918 the group was decisive to bring along the political change that Germany saw in 1918.

Kuhn presents several texts by Richard Müller and Ernst Däumig, who were both spokesmen for the Revolutionary Stewards. None of their writings has ever been translated into English before, which makes Kuhn´s edition an achievement. Readers familiar with the historiography of the German Revolution will notice that some more systematic writings of Müller and Däumig on the council-system are missing because Kuhn focusses on the historical events. But nevertheless – by bringing in this group and others, framing the well-known names of Luxemburg and Liebknecht with the wider array of political groups active in Germany around 1918, Kuhn presents a well-balanced account of the German Revolution.

The edition comes with extensive annotations, an introduction and an index, which makes this book useful for scholars and students of the field, while others might just let themselves taken away by the original texts presented, most of them written during or shortly after the revolutionary events and still transporting the enthusiasm of that time.

Title Information:

Gabriel Kuhn (Editor): All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918–1919, PM-Press, Oakland/CA 2012, paperback, 320 pages, 26,95 $.

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Introducing Working Class Literature

Working Class History

Following on from the success of the Working Class History podcast and social media pages, we recently decided to start a new sister project: Working Class Literature.

Like our history, working class literature is often neglected (or completely forgotten) within literary institutions – like publishing or the academy – that actively discourage or exclude working class people from participation. Beyond this exclusion, there also exist the various obstacles of poverty, work, time (or lack thereof) and formal education (likewise) which might stop working class writers from ever writing in the first place.

Yet, nonetheless, the working class has a rich literary history and it is the aim of Working Class Literature to help promote it.

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Book Review: Anarchist Perspectives in Peace & War 1900-1918

Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement

[Book Review] “Anarchist Perspectives in Peace and War 1900-1918” by A.W. Zurbrugg (London: Anarres Editions – Merlin Press, 2018)

This is, above all, a history of the anarchist movement from the perspective of those who were at the centre of its development, their voices recovered through a careful and extensive research of conference proceedings, journal articles, memoirs, etc. Altogether, this is a prime example of historical work which is not backward-looking, but forward-looking, bringing history back to life in order to feed contemporary agitated conversations, encounters and debates.

by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.

A.W. Zurbrugg has edited and worked on some very interesting contributions on historical anarchism: his selection of Bakunin’s texts and his book on anarchists’ impressions on the Russian Revolution, had both been reviewed in anarkismo.net before and I absolutely recommend them to anyone interested in anarchism. Now Zurbrugg comes back with a more ambitious project: an international historical recount of anarchism in the 20th century in four volumes, of which the first one was published under the title “Anarchist Perspectives in Peace and War 1900-1918”.

So what’s different in this attempt at an international history of anarchism from others?

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The Electoral Road to Power?

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Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation

As the left revisits questions of strategy and the role of elections in the path towards socialist transformation, author and veteran activist Tom Wetzel outlines both a critique of the electoral centered path and a strategy for working class power from below.

By Tom Wetzel

Could a shift from capitalism to socialism be brought about through electoral politics? Ever since the origins of the modern socialist left in the late 1800s, many socialists have viewed the politics of parties and elections as a way they can insert themselves into history — forming a core component of their strategy.

In the World War I era the American Socialist Party (SPA) had gained a hundred thousand members and elected more than a thousand government officials — mayors, members of city councils and state legislators. By the mid-20th century “democratic socialism” had been coined as a kind of political brand to refer to the tradition of the socialists oriented to electoral politics as a strategy for social change.

The “democratic socialist” label was partly meant to show their defense of the systems of “representative democracy” and liberal values in western Europe, North America and elsewhere. This was combined with critiques of the repressive and undemocratic nature of the “communist camp” countries of the mid-20th century — the Soviet Union, Castro’s Cuba, Communist China. This defense of “representative democracy” is tied in with their basic strategy of working to gain political power through elections.

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Emancipation of the Working Class: The Legacy of the IWW.

Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation

Winter 2019 cover of the IWW’s Industrial Worker magazine.

Founded over 110 years ago on June 27, 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, created an iconic legacy and rich history of militant unionism in the U.S.  The union was founded by radical unionists and currents within the labor movement with the purpose of building an alternative to the conservative trade unionism of the American Labor Federation (AFL) which promoted harmony between workers and capital and practiced exclusion in their organizing along the lines of race, gender and skill. Today the IWW continues to organize as an alternative to mainstream unions and we celebrate its vision of a labor movement committed to the emancipation of the working class. 

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Orwell Among the Anarchists

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Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement

Vernon, Richards George Orwell at Home (and Among the Anarchists): Essays and Photographs, (1998) London: Freedom Press. Photographs by Vernon Richards. Essays by Vernon Richards, Colin Ward, and Nicholas Walter.
Review by Raymond S. Solomon

There are few people who had the knowledge and understanding of George Orwell as did the three contributors to George Orwell at Home (and Among the Anarchists) Photographs and Essays; Vernon Richards, Colin Ward, and Nicholas Walter. Their understanding was both personal and academic, and their writings show it. Also, Vernon Richards’ and his wife Marie Louise Berneri’s photographs of Orwell, and his adopted son Richard, are of great historical interest. These photographs show Orwell in the role of a very loving father. The book is filled with very good and extensive quotations from Orwell. The quotes come from, among other sources, The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia, “Such Such Were the Joys,” Tribune articles, and Nineteen Eighty-Four. In George Orwell at Home, Orwell’s voice is heard very clearly.

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