15 February 1948

Brandler has returned from Cuba and has a temporary United Kingdom visa. He is working on his memoirs. ‘The more I think about my reminiscences’, he says, ‘the more difficult it is for me to find a satisfying way of writing them. I feel that the language—that my language—can no longer be comprehended by my reader, by the German worker of today. My friends are pressing me to write because I can do nothing sensible and worthwhile in practical politics now. And this is true. I would like to get into contact with a living and lively German worker. Even for my memoirs, such a contact is very much needed.’ Brandler goes back in his story to the 1890s, to the Congresses of [German] Social Democracy. ‘Only now do I realize how tremendous was the treasure of ideas which the German workers’ movement acquired by its own exertions and quite independently. We were so impressed by the achievements of the Bolsheviks that we forgot our own. Take Lenin’s Imperialism, which is quite correctly regarded as a standard work. Already at the 1907 International Congress in Stuttgart, and at other conferences at the end of the previous century, most of the ideas which Lenin developed in his Imperialism were already being debated, mainly by Kautsky.’

Before the First World War, Brandler belonged to the radical wing of German Social Democracy. Leader of the Chemnitz branch of the building workers’ union, he was close to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. About Rosa he speaks with emotion, but not uncritically. He says that the tragedy of the revolution in Germany consisted in the fact that none of the leaders had any concrete programme, or any concrete idea how to proceed, not even Rosa. Rosa was easily carried away by the mood around her; she created enthusiasm among the masses, then was carried away by that enthusiasm and overrated Its power. For example, she would come to Chemnitz, inflame thousands of her listeners and then say to Brandler: ‘Well, now you will be able to move forward in your organizational work.’ ‘I used to answer’, continued Brandler, ‘that we should be very glad to retain just a tiny part of that fever and transform it into a more permanent, more durable and more constant effort; Rosa used to reply with a wave of her hand, and turn away from me, saying: “There is no use talking to you.”’ Brandler relates this in a simple and honest manner, without putting himself forward as a teacher’s favourite, though he does say: ‘I was the kind of cheeky good disciple who could afford to do things others could not. I used to answer her back much more sharply than others.’ Brandler makes the impression on me of a mixed product of two schools: that of Bebel and that of Rosa.

I asked Brandler whether he knew about Rosa’s work on the history of Poland. He had asked her about this in 1911 or 1912. She said that she had already done quite a lot of preparatory work, but that she would probably never have time to write a connected history of Poland. Brandler does not think there are any of Rosa’s manuscripts still unpublished: Fröhlich had published nearly all of them. But there are some unpublished letters. There is, for example, one still in Brandler’s possession, in which Rosa speaks lightly about her letters from prison to Liebknecht’s wife: ‘I do not have to tell you—these are more or less Rosa’s words—that I wrote to Karl’s wife to keep up her morale; but for the movement and for Marxists there is nothing in these letters.’ She was definitely against the idea of publishing them and gave the impression she was embarrassed by them.

On Spartacus, Brandler says that there were 3,000 members at most by the end of the war. ‘And a good half of them were moral pacifists not Marxists.’ Brandler was not present at the founding Congress of the kpd in December, but says the Congress was possessed by an ultra-leftist mania which Rosa Luxemburg and Jogiches tried in vain to counteract. ‘Our tragedy was that we were unable to restrain the elemental forces of the revolution till the time when action was possible, unlike the Bolsheviks during the July Days. That’s the source of the January tragedy.footnote1 When I talked with Rosa right after the Congress, she was more depressed than ever. She felt that the current was carrying her to catastrophe and she did not even try to divert it.’

How did Rosa view the project of setting up the Third International? Brandler says it was precisely Rosa who turned the whole Central Committee against the Comintern and that he, Brandler, was the only one to vote for joining it. ‘Rosa said: It will be a Russian Krämerei [shop] with which we shall be unable to cope. We shall perish with it.’ He says he was too naïve to understand Rosa’s fears. He did not fully realize the psychological and cultural differences. He knew Lenin and other Russian leaders from before the war, and from Zimmerwald and Kienthal; but he could not then understand the nature of the Russian quarrels. He was struck by one characteristic of the Russian emigration: by the fanatical hatred of Mensheviks and Liquidators towards Lenin, and by the equally fanatical admiration of Lenin among the Bolsheviks. ‘For us this hatred and this adoration, this tremendous importance of a single individual, was quite incomprehensible. I understood this many many years later, too late in fact.’ Was it true that Rosa retracted the criticisms of the Russian revolution contained in her pamphlet? Brandler says he could not answer that question. He had had no opportunity to discuss this with Rosa, and there were all sorts of contradictory rumours.

About Liebknecht, Brandler talks with pious sentiment but without respect. He maintains that as a personality, as an orator and agitator, Zinoviev was incomparably greater. This seems strange to me, because Brandler detested Zinoviev as he detested few people in his life. Liebknecht—says Brandler—had not a shred of demagogy in him, and without some demagogy one cannot really be a great agitator. Yes, he could arouse his audience, but he did not possess Zinoviev’s power of fascination. In political questions he was erratic, indecisive and lacking in experience. As he was aware of this, he was quite satisfied with playing second fiddle. In the central organs of the party he occupied a secondary place, though he was extremely popular and liked by the masses.