After the Soviets solidified control over Russia, Germany was the first foreign target for revolution:
It is interesting to recall that, as early as December 1917, a Communist newspaper Die Fackel, was being published in Petrograd with a circulation of 500,000 copies. In January 1918 a Communist group called ‘Spartak’ emerged in the same place. In April 1918 another newspaper Die Weltrevolution, began to appear. And finally, in August 1919, the famous paper of the German Communists, Die Rote Fahne, was founded in Moscow.
At the same time as the first Communist groups appeared, steps were taken to train terrorist fighting units of German Communists. These units were used for suppressing the anti-Communist resistance put up by Russian and Ukrainian peasants. Then, in 1920, all the units of German Communists were gathered together in the rear of the Red Army on the Western front. That was when the Red Army was preparing for a breakthrough across Poland and into Germany. The Red Army’s official marching song, ‘Budenny’s March’, included these words: ‘We’re taking Warsaw — Take Berlin too!’
In that year the Bolsheviks did not succeed in organising revolution in Germany or even in ‘liberating’ Poland. At the time Soviet Russia was devastated by the First World War and by the far more terrible Civil War. Famine, typhus and destruction raged across the country. But in 1923 another attempt was made to provoke a revolution in Germany. Trotsky himself demanded in September 1923 to be relieved of all his Party and Government posts and to be sent as an ordinary soldier to the barricades of the German Revolution. The party did not send Trotsky there, but sent other Soviet Communist leaders, among them, Iosef Unshlikht. At the time he was deputy chairman of the Cheka secret police. Now he was appointed deputy head of the ‘registration administration’, now known as the GRU or military intelligence, and it was in this position that he was sent illegally to Germany. ‘Unshlikht was given the task of organising the detachments which were to carry out the armed uprising and coup d’etat, recruiting them and providing them with weapons. He also had the job of organising a German Cheka for the extermination of the bourgeoisie and opponents of the Revolution after the transfer of power…. This was how the planned Revolution was planned to take place. On the occasion of the anniversary of the Russian October Revolution the working masses were to come out on the streets for mass demonstrations. Unshlikht’s “Red hundreds” were to provoke clashes with the police so as to cause bloodshed and more serious conflicts, to inflame the workers’ indignation and carry out a general working-class uprising.’ (B. Bazhanov: ‘Memoirs of a Secretary to Stalin’, pub. Tretya volna 1980, pp 67-69.)
In view of the instability of German Society at that time, the absence of a powerful army, the widespread discontent and the frequent outbursts of violence, especially in 1923, the plan might have been realised. Many experts are inclined to the view that Germany really was close to revolution. Soviet military intelligence and its terrorist units led by Unshlikht were expected to do no more than put the spark to the powder keg.
There were many reasons why the plans came to nothing. But there were two especially important ones: the absence of a common frontier between the USSR and Germany, and the split in the German Communist Party. The lack of a common frontier was at the time a serious obstacle to the penetration into Germany of substantial forces of Soviet subversives. Stalin understood this very well, and he was always fighting to have Poland crushed so that common frontiers could be established with Germany. When he succeeded in doing this in 1939, it was a risky step, since a common frontier with Germany meant that Germany could attack the USSR without warning, as indeed happened two years later. But without a common frontier Stalin could not get into Europe.
The split in the German Communist Party was an equally serious hindrance to the carrying out of Soviet plans. One group pursued policy, subservient to the Comintern and consequently to the Soviet Politburo, while the other pursued an antagonistic one. Zinoviev was ‘extremely displeased by this and he raised the question in the Politburo of presenting Maslov [one of the dissenting German Communist leaders] with an ultimatum: either he would take a large sum of money, leave the party and get out of Germany, or Unshlikht would be given orders to liquidate him.’ (Ibid. p. 68)