The following passage was translated by Mike Jones from Neues Deutschland, 10-11 May 1997. Readers will find more material on Walcher’s discussions with Trotsky in Revolutionary History Vol.5 No.2, Spring 1994
Why Jacob Walcher was a non-person for much of the time
The consequences of a flirtation with Trotsky
by Ernst Stock
The paths of Leon Trotsky and Jacob Walcher crossed in two fateful German years: 1923 and 1933. The conversations of both the revolutionaries were intensive and of consequence. Jacob Walcher, born on 7th May 1887, 110 years ago, in the upper Schwabian village of Wain, was living in Moscow in the summer of 1923. Trotsky, away on leave, heard alarming news from Germany about unrest because of the inflation and a General Strike against the Cuno government. He called Walcher to him in south Russia. The big question: Is an uprising possible? Walcher, a Politbureau member of the KPD Zentrale, related the facts of a victory he had just achieved and which seemed very promising to him. In the election of delegates to the metalworkers union congress, twice as many voted for the list which he headed in Berlin as for the SPD orientated candidates. Trotsky and Walcher began to think that the communists could reach out for power. Trotsky, the shining hero of the October Revolution, assured Walcher that he would station divisions on the border, ready to lend a fraternal hand. He, who had received a positive judgement about Walcher from Lenin (in 1920, they had both discussed the Kapp Putsch), wanted Walcher at the head of the KPD. But Walcher opposed that.
As the plans for the uprising were completed, the situation in Germany became stabilised, the revolutionary atmosphere disappeared. The KPD leadership cancelled the rising. Most members of the Zentrale, Walcher among them, had the label ‘right-opportunist’ stuck on their coats, and would never get rid of it again. In Moscow Stalin plotted against Trotsky.
Exactly ten years later, in August 1933, Walcher and Trotsky met together in wholly different circumstances. Walcher had passionately resisted the Stalinisation of the KPD (particularly the anti-trade union tactic of the Revolutionary Trade Union Opposition), and had been expelled. Following an interlude in the KPD-Opposition, he represented the left-wing of the Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei (SAP). The illegal congress, held in Dresden in March 1933, elected him the leader of the SAP external leadership in Paris.
From Turkey, Trotsky, outlawed by Stalin, came to France seeking allies for his plan to set up a new, Fourth, International. Walcher’s SAP, for its part, sought contacts with the other left-socialist forces in Europe. From the 17th to the 20th April, they vainly strove to reach a common position, as is clear from the record of proceedings kept by Walcher and accepted by Trotsky. First of all they both still wanted a unification of the SAP and the Trotskyist Left Opposition (LO), but the following exchange of letters led to a break. Trotsky wanted to lead ‘the vanguard of the vanguard‘. Walcher: “Trotsky proceeds with an ‘ideological out-throat razor’”. Trotsky called Walcher’s efforts to create a broad alliance unprincipled. Walcher stated that they disagreed over strategic questions, and there could no longer be any talk of unification between the SAP and the LO. “It seems to me that we are writing past each other”, he stated in the letter of the 12th August 1933. Shortly after that, the SAP external leadership set out the differences in a pamphlet entitled Trotskyism or Revolutionary Realpolitik – a Necessary Explanation. Thereafter, for Walcher, the subject of Trotskyism appeared to be exhausted.
In spite of this the opponents of the SAP were soon ready with the accusation of representing Trotskyist ideas. First, the Nazis in their trials of resistance fighters of the SAP, spoke of ‘Trotskyists’. During the Peoples Front talks in Paris, the KPD representatives, icluding Walter Ulbricht, accused the SAP of following Trotsky’s line. Walcher countered on 7th September 1937: “From experience, pretty well everything that isn’t 100% in agreement with Stalinism inside the labour movement is described and evaluated by you as Trotskyism ”.
Following the meeting with Trotsky, Walcher energetically strove for a united workers party. The SED seemed to him to be this party, so logically he joined it upon his return from the USA in early 1947. On 29th May 1951, the Berlin provincial commission wrote, about him “Walcher has worked together with the criminal Trotsky and other paid agents”. The implication was of betrayal and political degeneracy. Expulsion from the SED and summary dismissal followed. In 1956, the decision was reversed but Ulbricht would not allow Walcher’s original ideas about the lessons of history to become public. He was only allowed to remember the 1918 revolution and the 2nd Comintern Congress in 1920. And just prior to the death in March 1970 of “this vigorous representative of the old German Labour movement” (Willy Brandt), Mielke’s people wrote about Bertolt Brecht’s close friend, “the politically negative life history of W.“
Note by Mike Jones : (Erich) “Mielke’s people” were of course the DDR State Security – the Stasi.
Updated by ETOL: 28 November 2009