David Fernbach (Ed.), in the Steps of Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Writings of Paul Levi

By Bollard, Robert | Labour History - A Journal of Labour and Social History, November 2012 | Go to article overview

David Fernbach (Ed.), in the Steps of Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Writings of Paul Levi


Bollard, Robert, Labour History - A Journal of Labour and Social History


David Fernbach (ed.), In the Steps of Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Writings of Paul Levi, Brill, Leiden & Boston, 2011, pp. 349. $37.80 cloth

David Fernbach and the Brill Historical Materialism series should be congratulated for publishing this volume. Whatever one's view of Paul Levi or of the quality of the writings presented in this book, they are a welcome addition to our knowledge of Germany and this period of its history. And what a period of history! Weimar Germany is arguably the key to the twentieth century. Over the one and a half decades between the abdication of the Kaiser and burning of the Reichstag, the hopes, fears, millenarian dreams and dystopian nightmares of modern civilisation appear to have been concentrated within its peculiar, decadent, Teutonic crucible.

Yet, despite a widespread recognition of the significance of this cockpit of the twentieth century, there is also an astonishing historical amnesia. Scan almost any history textbook and you will find the standard script: a brief description of the Spartacus uprising of 1919, followed by the Beer Hall Putsch and hyperinflation in 1923, before the demonic and yet irresistible figure of Adolf Hitler appears with the German people swaying as one to his hypnotic oratory.

History suffers here from being written not by one but by three winners with an interest in burying inconvenient details. First there were the Nazis and then a West German regime in grateful thrall to the distributors of Marshall Plan largesse. And, on the other side of Checkpoint Charlie, the East German authorities were determined to shape a version of this history that fitted within a Stalinist template.

In all of this, the real history of the KPD, the biggest Communist Party outside Russia in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution, has been almost lost. 'Without Germany we are doomed!', Lenin famously warned in July 1921. In the same year that he uttered those words, Paul Levi, the leader of the KPD, was expelled from the party at the instigation of Zinoviev. His crime was denouncing the March Action undertaken by the party against his wishes--an exercise in voluntaristic putschism that lost the new mass party around a quarter of its members. The official Comintern line was that Levi was right to oppose the action but had committed a variety of sins against Bolshevik discipline by the way in which he opposed it.

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