Spreading Bolshevik Propaganda in Germany 1918

Discussions on all aspects of the First World War not covered in the other sections. Hosted by Terry Duncan.
User avatar
Posts: 982
Joined: 03 Aug 2002 01:58
Location: United Kingdom

Spreading Bolshevik Propaganda in Germany 1918

Post by Steve » 19 Jan 2022 02:02

Adolf Joffe was until February 1918 the leader of the Bolshvik delegation that signed the Brest – Litovsk treaty. With the establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and Russia he became the first Soviet ambassador to Germany. Joffe arrived in Berlin at the end of April 1918 with a staff of 300 and hoisted the hammer and sickle flag above the embassy. He refused to personally present his credentials to the Kaiser and did not start a round of official visits in the usual manner of an incoming ambassador. Instead he got in touch with the Independent Socialists and the Spartacus group. At his first dinner party the printed guest list had the names of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg who at the time were serving sentences for sedition and treason.

Max Hoffman the military commander in the east had recommended and Ludendorff had agreed that no Soviet Embassy should be allowed in Berlin until after the conclusion of a general peace. Both the German ambassador and the Soviet ambassador should have residence with the Commander in Chief on the Eastern Front where a check could be kept on the activities of the Bolshevik representatives. The Imperial Chancellor Hertling and the Foreign Office refused this advice; in July the German ambassador was assassinated in Moscow. Hertling had assured the Reichstag that the Government believed sincerely in the intention of the Soviet Government to carry out the provisions of the treaty prohibiting the dissemination of Bolshevik propaganda in Germany. He emphasised his confidence in the personal integrity and trustworthiness of the Soviet Ambassador. In January 1919 Joffe admitted that the Russian Embassy had worked all the time in the preparation of a German revolution. The Supreme command had drawn the attention of the Government to the danger of Joffe’s work. Its reply had been that it was better that he should be in Berlin than anywhere else as they were able to keep their eyes on him. Ludendorff wrote “unfortunately those eyes were blind”.

Diplomatic privilege was used to the full and the immunity of the diplomatic bag was fully exploited. A large number of people travelled between Moscow and Berlin under the protection of diplomatic immunity with huge amounts of luggage. The Germans had reason to believe that they contained both arms and revolutionary literature. Russian agitators who were nominally attaches at the Embassy appeared at Socialist meetings and addressed audiences. Joffe had considerable funds at his disposal for propaganda purposes a sum of 12,000,000 marks had been banked with Mendelssohn & Co. Emile Barth the leader of the revolutionary shop stewards was either given 105,000 marks as was first alleged or several hundred thousand marks as later claimed in the Izvestia newspaper for the purpose of acquiring arms in preparation for the coming revolution. More than ten Independent Socialist newspapers were directed and supported from the Embassy. Information was bought from government officials and passed on to Radical leaders for use in their Reichstag speeches. Leaders of the Independent Socialists and the Spartacists discussed matters of revolutionary tactics with Joffe and worked in conjunction with him. Anti government literature found its way to all parts of the country.

Sailors from the High Seas Fleet on their own initiative mutinied at Kiel on October 29 1918. Karl Liebknecht was released from prison on October 31st and Rosa Luxemburg shortly afterwards. Joffe was assured that the mutiny indicated the imminence of a general outbreak. A dinner was held at the embassy attended by Liebknecht and other leaders. Toasts were drunk in champagne and Joffe drank to the day when the German Soviet Government would receive him in the Kaisers palace. Liebknecht responded warmly but thought the event likely to be some time distant. ”On the contrary” replied Joffe “within a week the Red Flag will be flying over the Berliner Schloss.” Joffe’s prophecy became true to the day when on November 9 Liebknecht proclaimed the Soviet Republic from the steps of the Imperial Palace but Joffe did not see it.

On October 28 a broadsheet had appeared that exceeded its predecessors in venom and the German Cabinet decided to take action. Scheidermann a member of the cabinet put forward two possibilities the first was that an official burglary of the Embassy should be “arranged” and official documents stolen. The second was that one of the Embassy mail cases should be accidently “made to go to pieces “on the station platform. Revolutionary tracts would then fall out proving that the diplomatic privileges of the Embassy were being abused and appropriate action could then be taken. When the cabinet met again on November 5 it was reported that a Soviet courier’s packing case had “come to pieces” on the Schlesischer Bahnhof the previous evening and that insurrectionary documents of the most compromising nature discovered. Years later it emerged that the packing case had not contained any compromising documents and the documents found had been placed there by the police. Joffe was summoned to the Foreign Office and informed that he and his entire staff would be deported from Berlin the following morning. On the morning of his departure Joffe handed over to his German agent Dr Oscar Cohn the sum of a million marks and authority to draw upon the account at Mendelssohn’s bank for the purposes of revolutionary propaganda.

Dr Cohn later came up with ingenious reasons to explain how the money was spent. In November 1919 before a Reichstag Commission of Inquiry he claimed that he had devoted the majority of the money for the relief of Russian prisoners of war in Germany and Russian “civilians”. A small sum had been expended on "political aims", but a certain amount had been given to two party newspapers "for new machinery" and for "literary work".

Taken from the book Brest – Litovsk The Forgotten Peace March 1918 by John W Wheeler-Bennet.

Joffe was a Trotsky supporter and shortly after Trotsky was expelled from the party in November 1927 Joffe who was seriously ill shot himself. This did not save his wife and daughter who were sent to labour camps but both survived and wrote about their experiences.

Return to “First World War”