An Adventurous Jew
An Adventurous Jew I t o o k no active part in the Revolution. I attempted to influence the editorial staff of the Vorwarts in favour of pro pagating a systematic land reform, with a view to winning the sympathy of the peasant small-holders-about five million persons out of the 14*5 millions employed in German agri culture. In addition to the Socialist value of such a reform, there could have been created a republican peasantry, ready to vote for and protect the democratic Constitution. It was at that time a comparatively easy task to nationalize a third part of the large estates; there would have been no opposition whatever on the part of the big landowners, since they were in fear of losing all in the general upheaval. The Russian example had frightened them out of their wits and out of their egoism, and they would have been glad to get off with the sacrifice of a third part of their land. The opportunities of the Socialists for seriously taking in hand the realization of their professed aims were in those months exceptionally favourable. The German nation was, as I said before, a plastic mass, and could have been moulded into a co-operative commonwealth, into an industrial democracy. However, my friends on the Vorwarts were as impervious to any ideas of positive economic reform as the leaders in the Ebert Govern ment. Nothing, nothing could be accomplished with these people. All chances were lost which fate had offered them. These people, as far as they have missed the Nazi Concen tration Camp, are sitting now in Czechoslovakia playing revolution or bridge. I started my general history of social thought, and wrote
the first part, dealing with the Ancient World-Palestine, Greece, and Rome. I wrote also the last chapters of Volume II of my History of British Socialism; Volume I having been pub-
lished in May 1919, in London, and having proved a great success. At the end of the year I was asked by the publisher of the weekly review, Die Glocke, to take over the editorship in place of Conrad Haenisch, who had been appointed State Secretary of Education in Prussia. The publisher was an adventurous Jew with a very remarkable life history, par ticularly on account of his doings in the years 1912-22; of his activities during the Great War it may perhaps be said that they influenced the course of history in general. He deserves a chapter in my reminiscences. His name was Israel Helfant, a brilliant Socialist writer
himself, known generally by his pseudonym “ Parvus.” He was born in 1867 in Beresin, Russia, attended a secondary school, joined early the Russian Social Revolutionary Move ment, escaped to Switzerland, studied economics and philo sophy at Basle University, under Professor Bucher, and graduated as a Ph.D. He specialized in finance, settled in the ’nineties in Saxony, and wrote for the Neue Zeit. His articles on German finance attracted the attention of Govern ment circles. In the controversy between Reformism and Marxism he took the part of the latter, and became one of the most effective and best paid Socialist writers. His acute criticism of the Reformists, as well as of the Government’s financial measures, led to his expulsion from Saxony and from Prussia. In 1900, he settled at Munich, and established a publishing house for the publication of the works of Russian authors, particularly Gorki, with whom he finally quarrelled. At the same time he employed his talents in writing leading articles for the Marxist dailies and weeklies. At the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1905 Parvus
hurried to Petersburg, and, together with Trotsky, was elected a member of the Petersburg Soviet. In December, 1905, he was arrested and sentenced to banishment to Siberia. In December, 1906, he succeeded in escaping, and returned to Germany, where he resumed Socialist journalism and
pamphleteering; but he, like many of us, came to the con clusion that the German Social Democracy was not playing the game, but was simply pacing up and down in an impasse. He gave up writing, and suffered poverty rather than waste his talents on the Germans. Though impecunious, he managed to travel to Constantinople, where he ultimately got in touch with the Young Turks. They were not slow in discovering and using his great financial knowledge, and made him their adviser. In 1912, during the Balkan War, they entrusted him with the Commissariat, and he supplied the Army with provisions, which he procured in Odessa. In 1914-15, the Turkish Government, in agreement with the German Embassy, entrusted him, not only with the Commissariat, but also with a secret political mission to win Bulgaria for the German-Turkish cause. In the spring of 1915, Parvus turned up in Berlin. The once impecunious journalist had come back as a rich man; the revolutionary, once banished from Prussia, was naturalized within twenty-four hours as a Prussian citizen, who deserved well of his adopted country. He chartered a steamer, carried Ruhr coal to Denmark and Sweden, and brought back fat and rubber for the German forces. He founded the weekly review, Die Glocke, for the purpose of supporting the Social Democratic majority. The paper did not pay its way; but Parvus was rich, and could afford the luxury of having a paper of his own, where his articles were given the premier place. At the same time, the German Government consulted him on Russian matters. It was Parvus who advised them in 1917 to permit Bolshevik leaders to return from Switzerland through German territory in sealed waggons to Petersburg.