On the Founding of the KAPD

A poster from the KAPD against parliamentarism
A poster from the KAPD against parliamentarism

Detailed information, including first hand reports on the founding in 1920 of the KAPD (Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands - Communist Workers Party of Germany), written by the Communist Workers Organisation in 1998-2000, with notes.

Submitted by libcom on January 4, 2006

On the Founding of the KAPD

The Kapp Putsch(1)

In March 1920 the German right attempted to seize power and install a military dictatorship.

The preparations for this putsch had been financed by leading banks and credit institutions, including the Ostpreussische Generallandschaft, whose boss was Gustav Kapp of the Deutschnationale Volkspartei (German National People's Party), who was also a landowner and on the board of the Deutsche Bank. Kapp was the leader of the Nationale Vereinigung (the National Union), the body behind the putsch, which also included the generals Ludendorff and Lüttwitz. Lüttwitz, who had been appointed one of the highest officers by the republic, had already issued in September 1919 the "preparatory order for the suppression of large-scale unrest" which demanded the "most unreserved use of force".

On 13th March the putsch was unleashed on Berlin. Kapp named himself Reichkanzler, and the government fled to Stuttgart. The SPD issued a call to "citizens, workers, party comrades" for a general strike. Although the signatories to this appeal, Ebert, Bauer, Noske, Schlicke, Schmidt, David, Müller and Wels all had workers' blood on their hands, the correct response to it was without doubt to answer it and then go beyond it. The reaction of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (Spartakusbund) (Communist Party of Germany (Spartacus League) "” KPD(S)) was, to say the least, ambiguous. Its Central Committee issued a leaflet against the general strike and calling on workers to lay down arms. The German working class ignored this, especially in the Ruhr. Here they formed a Red Army of 10,000 armed men. The KPD(S), under pressure from the Comintern reversed its position.

The existence of the Ruhr and other Red Armies, and an effective general strike, led to the collapse of the putsch. The SPD then demanded the disbanding of the Ruhr Red Army, which refused to hand over its arms, demanded that a council republic be declared and that the counterrevolutionaries be smashed. However, in the "Bielefeld Agreement", in return for a promise not to use the Freikorps against revolutionaries, the workers eventually handed over their arms. Two delegates from the KPD(S) were involved in the discussions for the "Bielefeld Agreement", and approved it. The KPD (Opposition) (KPD(O)) opposed the disarming of the class, issuing warnings which were soon to be shown to be well-founded. The SPD held to its promise: first it absorbed the Freikorps into the regular army and then used that against the revolutionaries. The army marched into the Ruhr and unleashed white terror against the mostly unarmed workers. In the words of an ex-member of the Freikorps, a new member of the army:

Yesterday morning... I joined my company, and at 1 p.m. we made our first attack. If I described everything that happened, you would say I was lying. There was no quarter given. We even shot the wounded. The excitement is magnificent, almost unbelievable. Our battalion lost two. The Reds lost 200 or 300. Everyone we captured was smashed by our rifle butts and then shot. ... we shot two Red Cross nurses because they were carrying pistols. We shot these scandalous creatures with joy, and how they cried and pleaded to be spared. To no avail! Who was caught with a weapon was our enemy and must believe it. We were much more humane when we fought the French.(2)

The working class are the class enemies of the SPD. Compare this treatment with the fact that, of the 705 putschists accused of crimes, 1(!) served his full sentence.


The Founding Congress of the KAPD(3)

The role of the KPD(S) in the Kapp putsch provided a great impetus towards the Berlin KPD(O)'s call for the founding Congress of a new party. This Congress was held in Berlin on 4th and 5th April 1920. The delegates present, from Hamburg, Perleberg, Wittenberge, Zwickau, Laubegast, Dresden, Tangermünde, Wilhelmshaven, Hanover, Gotha, Essen, Elberfeld-Barmen, Stendal, Spandau and Berlin represented 38,000 (4) former members of the KPD(S). The strongest areas of the KPD(O) were Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden, and these areas had members on the presidium.

This Congress dealt with four main areas: the contemporary political situation, the Third International, parliamentarism and the trades' unions. The delegates unanimously declared themselves to be on the terrain of the International and demanded the expulsion of the KPD(S) on the grounds that its reformism put it outside of the International's political area. They also chose Jan Appel from Hamburg and Franz Jung from Berlin to report to the International in Moscow, in response to the invitation of the Executive Committee of the International.

The Congress unanimously called for the trades' unions to be abandoned and called for the construction of the Party to be carried out in the closest possible contact with the Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union (5) (AAU), whose founding Congress was being held at the same time as the founding Congress of the KAPD. However, as we shall see, the KAPD found unanimity difficult to come by with regard to the nature of this contact.

The Congress also unanimously came out against participation in parliamentary elections.

The name of the central organ of the KAPD was chosen to be the Kommunistische Arbeiterzeitung (Communist Workers' Paper), which was to appear at least twice a week.

Despite the clear guidelines the founding Congress laid down for the activity and principles of the KAPD, its validity was questioned over the coming months. Major local party organisations, such as that of the Rhineland-Westphalia, had not been represented in the April Congress, and it was described as being formed by a "completely accidental collection of delegates". As a result of this diminution of the importance of the first Congress of the KAPD, the second Congress came to be described as the real founding Congress, the first regular Congress.


The August Congress (6)

This Congress was held in the Berlin Weissensee restaurant, Zum Prälaten, from 1st to 4th August 1920. Seventy people participated, of whom 43 were full, voting, delegates, 13 delegates with speaking rights and the remainder guests. The full delegates represented about 40,000 members (7).

The first topic to be debated was nation and class struggle, which dealt with the national bolshevism of the leading members of the Hamburg organisation, Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim. Arthur Goldstein made the introductory speech and Laufenberg replied.

Goldstein's presentation revealed quite clearly that the national bolshevist tendency was a bourgeois tendency, a refuse product of the bourgeois world, as he put it.

He began by saying that the Berliners had defended the Laufenberg/Wolffheim group in the struggle with the KPD(S) when Laufenberg and Wolffstein had been slandered (although the KPD(S) must have had to put a lot of effort into finding unpleasant untruths), and had even gone too far in this defence.

But the Hamburg tendency's position with regard to the Treaty of Versailles had made their politics obvious. Goldstein praised them for immediately rejecting this Treaty, but pointed out that the most important thing to say about it was how it was to be overthrown. The national bolshevists' solution was contained in the title of one of their texts: Revolutionary people's war or counter-revolutionary civil war? and not surprisingly they opted for the former. They posited a "revolutionary" people's war, with the German proletariat and bourgeoisie fighting against the Entente bourgeoisie. In doing this, they often quoted the example of Russia. But Goldstein stressed:

But one should not forget that Russia, while it was carrying out its war against theEntente, was also carrying out an internal civil war, and there was no thought of engaging Brussiloff [an old Tsarist general] before the bourgeoisie was finished as a class by that civil war.

Goldstein returned to this point later, refuting the thinking behind it:

Just imagine the situation clearly. The proletariat has arrived in power in Germany, and the German proletariat is faced by the necessity to defend its achievements against Entente capital. In this situation the German bourgeoisie is supposed to be ready to struggle for the proletarian dictatorship against Entente capital. What would be the political significance of such a war by the German proletariat against Entente capital? What would be the political goal of such a war, which the Hamburg comrades do, after all, describe as class struggle? It could not, if it was interpreted as class struggle, be satisfied with defending communism in Germany. Rather, it would have to pursue the great aim of overthrowing capitalism in the Entente countries. Otherwise, it would indeed be a war with only purely negative aims. If this revolutionary war is given this meaning, it must also have a positive goal, and this goal must be to carry communism into the Entente countries as well. If the Hamburg section proceeded from this framework, one would have to expect the German bourgeoisie to allow itself to be recruited for the complete annihilation of world capital after it itself had been overthrown and German capitalism extinguished. To expect that it would allow itself to be used to complete the establishment of world communism? Wishing for something like that from the German bourgeoisie is not on. One should not consider one's enemy to be so stupid that it works for its own suicide.

But the Hamburg tendency went further:

I said that this so-called revolutionary people's war has emerged as the central point of the Hamburg section's politics, this people's war which might be considered after the seizure of proletarian power. Anyone who is inclined to make any concessions to the Hamburg section on this point might well be taught a lesson by their last article, in which they are no longer satisfied with propagandising the so-called revolutionary people's war after the seizure of power, but go onto propaganda for a national uprising even in the present situation, openly making the party of the counterrevolution their own.

A question that arises is: was the Hamburg tendency an originally healthy proletarian current in the process of degeneration? Although Goldstein does not put the question in these terms, his presentation answers it nevertheless:

...I'd like to examine the basis from which the Hamburg position vis-à-vis revolutionary people's war and revolutionary civil war follows. Actually, here I must return to what was written in Hamburg during the war. It is unpleasant for me to do this, and I wouldn't do it, if it were not for the Hamburg tendency itself referring to its wartime position. The Hamburg tendency call theSpartakusbund's policy of inviting soldiers to leave the front "stabbing the front in the back". Here they criticise the Spartakusbund's main virtue, that it at least attempted to break the neck of that counter-revolutionary instrument, the German army.... One should not give a Paul Levi (8) the hero's role. Levi was just Rosa's apprentice. Although the attacks always mention Levi, he is not, I believe, the real target, but Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who made precisely this policy of the Spartakusbund, the necessary destruction of the imperialist army, their own.

And Goldstein's conclusion with regard to the basis for the Hamburg position?

In the text "Communism against Spartacism", it is openly admitted that in Hamburg the nation is elevated to the starting point of politics, that therefore the concept of the nation is considered the most important, that it should be the measure for the politics of the German and international proletariat.

Goldstein finished by presenting Theses on Nation and Class Struggle, which we reproduce here as an appendix by way of underlining the contradiction between his strand of communist politics and the bourgeois Hamburg direction.

Much of Laufenberg's reply was taken up by attempts to justify the Hamburg position by reference to the Russians. As well as confusing an alliance with the bourgeoisie with the use of specialists of bourgeois origin, he also pointed out that the Bolsheviks (especially Radek) were moving towards national bolshevism. He spoke as if this was a result of the principles of Bolshevism, rather than of the pressure of the desperate situation in Russia. Nevertheless, it is worth quoting part of what he said, as this will give a fuller picture of their politics.

The first quote reveals a connection with councilist ideas:

With the start of the proletarian revolution the party ceases to be a useful tool in proletarian class struggle. The party is a form of the bourgeois epoch. It is the basis of bourgeois democracy and bourgeois parliament. Parliament works by means of parties. The party is fitted to exercise power, to participate in the domination of the state. From the moment when the bourgeois period is surpassed, when the proletarian revolution is placed on the agenda, the party is no longer a useful tool for the working class. For as long as the bourgeois state stands unshaken, for as long as it is inconceivable to overrun it, then the working class has no choice but to use parties to exercise its political influence. When it is a question of the overthrow of this capitalist order, when the proletariat proceeds to set up the proletarian state, when the political situation is such that the proletariat nears its goals, then the party ceases to be a usable instrument for the proletariat in the class struggle. As soon as the proletariat enters a revolutionary situation, the party is finished.

As if the primary role of the class party, the organisation of class consciousness, finishes as soon as class consciousness becomes the most vital necessity!

But, alongside this councilism, there existed, in the same individuals, a desire to support the bourgeois state in times of war. Laufenberg, far from denying his tendency's attack on the Spartakusbund from a bourgeois perspective, confirmed it:

We wrote in a text which appeared in 1915, in the pamphlet Democracy and Organisation: "Not in so far as the social economy serves for the exploitation by a minority, but, on the contrary, in so far as it serves to keep the whole of society alive, there grows up for the proletariat a natural interest in its preservation. The proletariat must therefore prevent unitary economic areas from being torn apart, and prevent more highly developed economies from being dominated by less developed ones. It must prevent the right of nations to self-determination, which it grants to all nations, from being injured in its own nation. A result of this is the military submission of the proletariat to the existing leadership of the Army, in case of wars which threaten the economy in its function of keeping society alive."

Not surprisingly, this propaganda for the capitulation of the proletariat to the interests of the bourgeoisie was interrupted by angry shouts of "Listen!". Laufenberg then went on to argue that this military submission did not involve a political submission, and, indeed, made the political independence of the proletariat more vital. This is like arguing that, if you cut off your right leg, your left leg becomes all the more important in running.

Delegate J. from Hamburg first denied that the whole of the Hamburg section agreed with Laufenberg and Wolffheim, and then shed light on the Hamburg leadership's conduct during the Kapp putsch:

... While our comrades in the Ruhr were waiting for help, the slogan "lay down your guns" was issued. The whole of the Hamburg proletariat waited for instructions, and they were told: "lay down your guns" [Wolffheim interrupts here with the allegation that Berlin did the same, which is denied by Karl Schröder]. If, at that time, we had pointed to the necessity of having guns to throw down that would have been better.

So, the Laufenberg/Wolffheim group was even on the wrong side of the divide which separated the Spartakusbund and Opposition wings of the KPD over their response to the Kapp putsch!

For Marxists, the most significant feature of the Laufenberg/Wolffheim tendency is the way it brought bourgeois politics into the heart of the proletariat. But, contributions from the floor also made it clear that this tendency espoused the most barbaric degeneration of bourgeois ideology.

Delegate D. from Kiel finished his intervention thus:

Laufenberg has said that, even in a classless society, the interest of the German proletariat lies in maintaining Germany as the industrial heart of Europe. He continued, we represent the interests of the German proletariat against the representatives of the Jewish proletariat. Once again, differences between proletarians. The working class applauds these two comrades because they are still making communist propaganda too, and that is the most dangerous thing about their work.

How did the KAPD go about separating this "dangerous" tendency from its party? It passed the following resolution, by 36 votes to 6:

The Congress of the KAPD declares that it cannot agree with the nationalist teaching of Laufenberg and Wolffheim. The workers organised in the KAPD recognise themselves without reservation as international socialists and, as such, reject all propaganda for the revival of nationalist thought in the ranks of the working class.If comrades Laufenberg and Wolffheim continue to propagate their nationalist tendency, they place themselves outside the ranks of the international socialists.

And it is here that the real absurdity begins. Laufenberg and Wolffheim demanded that the Congress explicitly expel them. But this demand was answered by delegate M. from Leipzig:

I am the author of the resolution. If today the Congress has expressed its desire to have nothing to do with nationalist tendencies, then it is the moral[!] duty of comrades Laufenberg and Wolffheim to cut loose from us. In this way we are distinguished from other parties[!!], where comrades are excluded: we say that we leave it to the comrades' feelings of honour to cause them to depart. Then they say we haven't the courage to declare them excluded. Now the comrades should declare that they have no more business with us.

It seems from elsewhere in the debate over the expulsion of the Laufenberg/Wolffheim tendency that the Congress did not have the formal right to expel the tendency, and that there would have been distaste over abrogating the Party constitution in a way similar to the KPD(S)'s expulsion of the Opposition in Heidelberg. These facts reinforced the moral arguments for not expelling the national bolshevists, but, if constitutional and moral arguments overrode the need to be free of bourgeois tendencies, this points to a fundamental misunderstanding of what a proletarian party is for. The primary reason for its existence is not to provide a forum for debate for dissidents of various political hues, but to act as an organising centre for proletarian class consciousness. Its internal debate must be seen as a valuable tool for fulfilling that rôle and bourgeois tendencies have no part in that debate.

The KAPD initially allowed the Heidelberg expulsion to define its political area, and to conceal the class differences within the former KPD(O). The tragedy is that, although the majority of the best elements of the KPD were expelled, so were some of the worst.


The Party Programme

Karl Schräder was the main speaker on this topic. Initially, he refused to speak before the Congress agreed to Berlin's motion that

The name of the KAPD indicates that the Party stands on the terrain of the conquest of political power and that the Party comprises the best elements.

However, this attempt to ensure that the context of his speech was not one in which talking at all was pointless ran into the opposition of some of the remaining Hamburg National Bolshevists (who insisted the revolution is no Party affair), and began to seem rather pointless itself. This was the first fruit of the refusal to formally expel the National Bolshevist tendency.

In the end, Schräder continued with his presentation.

His initial point was that the draft programme of the first KAPD Congress had been prematurely presented as the final programme, but for a good reason: the need to demonstrate to the Third International that the KAPD existed on a political basis, not just because they had been thrown out of the KPD(S).

The presentation continued by giving Schräder's view of the Party as a creation of the bourgeois epoch. Formally, this position is identical with the Hamburg view, but Schräder showed that he grasped this undoubted truth in a dialectical fashion. It is true that parties will disappear with capitalism, but the disappearance of capitalism is a process, in which the revolution itself is just the most important stage. Even after the revolution, it will still be necessary for the vanguard of the proletariat to lead the way towards a new form of social organisation. To do this, the vanguard must organise itself to take care of "the tasks of the moment" (as Schräder puts it), it must be a Party. From this, however, it seems clear that Schräder, at least, had the same position on this question as does the IBRP, provided that "the tasks of the moment" was intended to include military and organisational tasks, and not just educational/propaganda tasks.

Schräder then says that the "council idea" is at the heart of the programme. However, his conception appears to be very idealist, in that he says that the "council idea is the absolute and complete negation of capitalist society and of capitalist ideology". The problem is that an idea cannot, by itself, negate a society. It is necessary for the idea to result in a practice which can deliver what the old society cannot, at least in the long term. The communist practice is production for need - instead of things being produced to satisfy the bourgeoisie's thirst for profit, the producers themselves will evaluate social needs and direct production to satisfy those needs.

To carry out the transition from a post-revolutionary society to a communist society, workers' councils, or something like them, are indispensable, so that workers gain the confidence and experience necessary to act as the subject of history and not just as one factor acted on by the economy. This is not to say for one moment that councils cannot be counter-revolutionary, but only that without revolutionary councils a revolution cannot reach its goal. Many reactionary workers' councils have appeared in the course of history, including in Germany. These councils saw their role as introducing bourgeois democracy, prior to their own dissolution, rather than destroying the bourgeois state and constituting themselves a proletarian one.

Although the possibility that steps (such as tactical retreats), necessary for the final goal, could be made without councils cannot be ruled out, the existence of revolutionary councils is a pre-condition for the final success of the revolution.

The problem with attributing magical properties to the council idea is that it leaves open the door to councilism, which dispenses with the Party.

Schräder then rejects the nationalist (and racist) approach of the Laufenberg and Wolffheim tendency; the key to the situation of the German proletariat is not an alliance with the bourgeoisie, but a German revolution against the German bourgeoisie, which would free the Russians from the need to obey the necessities imposed on them by their situation.

It is true, Schräder maintained, that the Russians are interfering in an unjustified manner in the affairs of the German Parties, but the International should not be rejected for this reason. This would be an overreaction to things which can be refused individually. Those that complain that the "old" leadership methods should be abandoned are formally correct, but they often only camouflage their own desire to be small princes in their own domains by an absolute rejection of the concept of leadership. What is needed is the replacement of the conception of the masses as an unthinking cadaver by the idea of the masses as the class-conscious proletariat united by socialism. This has as a consequence a new conception of leadership: a leadership which brings fire to the masses, enlivening their consciousness, rather than dancing on their backs; a leadership whose actions will be transparent to the masses.

However, by its nature, this agenda item covers too many points to be further treated here, and some of these points are anyway dealt with elsewhere. We wish to move onto the next point, and will only observe that the Congress passed the task of amending the draft to a subcommittee composed of members of the Berlin KAPD.


The KAPD Position vis-à-vis the Third International

The main speaker on this point was Franz Jung of Berlin.

He first stated that the International was founded primarily because of the pressing need of the Russian comrades for such a body, and this, even the Russians themselves now admitted. And the present Congress of the Third International was a result of the Russians requiring the adhesion of the proletariat for the same reasons behind the original foundation of the International. Many of the parties present in Moscow had been founded by travelling representatives of the International, and many of them had very limited memberships.

Moreover, amongst the various German Parties, the movement towards the Third International had more to do with the degeneration of the Second International than with the perceived merits of the Third.

Nevertheless, according to Jung, there were actually two Third Internationals: the International shaped by Karl Radek (the Russian CP's leading representative in the Third International, a pioneer of the "theft" of National Bolshevism from the Hamburg tendency), which was a dependency of the Soviet Republic, and the International which was ripening within Radek's one, which was the real proletarian International which has the task of determining the tactical guidelines conforming with the overall goal, the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship. The contradiction between the two would be resolved by the conflict between the Parties coming from the same countries (e.g., that between the KAPD and KPD(S)).

Jung continued by describing the difficulties caused by the "Radek" International for the "real" International. Nevertheless, he concluded that there really was no alternative to remaining in the Third International: forming a block of organisations opposed to the International would mean working with people who had no idea what proletarian organisation was, and this was especially so as even the IWW was working with the International. Jung then put forward the bizarre idea that the KAPD should have merely declared that it stood on the same ground as the Third International when this was founded, rather than actually asking to join it (thus sacrificing any possibility of influencing Communists in other countries, for the sake of not having to defend KAPD "autonomy").

But now the KAPD was in the International, it was necessary to use the forthcoming Congress of the International to report on the German situation as it really was, and so prove to the Russian comrades that the politics of the KPD(S) were false.

Jung remarked that the other parties were making progress in the development of their consciousness, and gave the example of the Norwegian party. The main point, however, was that Germany was the site of the next stage of the world revolution. Russia had some weaknesses, the major one being that the proletariat there was insufficient to support the revolutionary apparatus. For this reason, Jung remarked, the Russian revolution had been "a typical putsch[!]", and the Red Army was held together by propaganda alone.

Here Jung was approaching the councilist position that the Russian October had not been a proletarian revolution at all, but merely a bourgeois coup d'état.

In his conclusion, Jung reiterated that the most important task of the International was now to give the German revolution, as the next stage in the World revolution, its full support.

At this point, Jan Appel forcefully demanded to speak, provoked by Jung's proto-councilist views on Russia. Jung of Berlin had, Appel said, departed from the truth in his exposition of how things stood in Russia. Appel's demand was acceded to, and Appel rejected the idea that the Russian revolution was a putsch. Rather, it was the culmination of a process which had already been underway in 1905. The Bolsheviks had given expression to the will of the working class, and the result of the revolution was that the working class had seized power and still maintained that power.

However, in Russia, there was, out of necessity, an energetic domination of the movement by its leadership. As a consequence of this, Appel maintained, the Russians wished to spread similar organisational forms to the whole of the world communist movement. But the tactical confrontation between the KAPD and the KPD(S) was about the contradiction between leadership and a mass movement. The proletariat, according to Appel, had no need of leaders, and political clarity demanded that the KAPD remained with the worldwide movement against leaders.

When the debate was thrown open to the floor, delegate D of Kiel put forward the idea that a proletarian International with an Executive Committee with powers over national tactics was premature, as even the bourgeois had not centralised itself internationally. The International had been in existence from the first moment that workers from different countries had acted together, but its General Staff emerges from below, not from above. The Russian conception of leading the masses might be correct for Russia, but it was not right internationally. If the KAPD's entrance into the International was denied, this did not matter, as the KAPD was part of the International and this would approach the KAPD eventually. What the KAPD should have done was to propose the expulsion of the KPD(S), on the basis of its loyalty to the German bourgeoisie.

Schräder spoke next. Firstly, he paid his respect to the achievements of the Russian proletariat, and then pointed out that the delegation to the Third International had been instructed to call for the expulsion of the KPD(S). Schräder then put his position on the International. For him, the International consists of the co-operation of all proletarian organisations, whether parties or not, with the aim of completely destroying the capitalist system and establishing a classless society. Such an International must be imbued with the idea of increasing proletarian activity and this can only be done if the International satisfies certain preconditions. The first is that the International stands on the terrain of unconditional class struggle. This means that the interests of the proletariat are put before everything else, both on an international and national level.

The second condition was that the International is for the dictatorship of the proletariat. This means that the proletariat desires a total domination over economics and politics in order to annihilate the class enemy.

Thirdly, the International must recognise the council idea, that the councils are the process which leads the proletariat to the classless society by developing proletarian consciousness.

Schräder then turned to the question of how things were with the present International, and how the International of the future should be. The present International was dominated by the Russians as they had made the revolution and were at the point of the international class struggle. In the future, the International would be based on the councils. The phase that the KAPD found itself in was a transitional one between the present International and the future one. In this transitional phase, the organisations in each country had to decide their own tactics on the basis of the tenets of socialism, and, if the Russians attacked this, the KAPD would nevertheless have to keep its eye on the tasks of the day. Schräder finished by emphasising that the aim of the International was not a free federation of nations, but of a humanity united in a classless society.

At the end of the debate, there were several motions to be put to the vote. The motions that were neither successful nor were contained in the successful ones, were: one put forward by Frankfurt am Main, which demanded that the International judge the KAPD by its revolutionary activity alone, that the International itself should be defined by its activity and not its resolutions and stated that the International was not just in Moscow and Petersburg, but everywhere where the class struggle presented itself in a sharpened form, with the goal of defeating world capital; and one presented by Hamburg, which sought to reduce the International to a post-box and to reduce its aims to a free federation of nations. This resolution also accused the International of trying to make Germany a border state of Russia.

The motion on this question which was finally adopted was:

The regular Congress of the KAPD recognises the Communist International as the union of the revolutionary workers of all countries who are fighting for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The KAPD will struggle according to the basic principles of the Communist International, in so far as these rest on the recognition of class struggle, the proletarian dictatorship and the council idea.

Its tactical position will be determined by the evaluation of the revolutionary situation in Germany.

For this reason, it fundamentally rejects the interference of the executive bodies of the Communist International in the internal affairs of the Party.

The KAPD strives for the union of all the revolutionary proletarians of Germany in common action. It is eager to create, on the basis of its principles, and by going over the heads of leadership cliques, a community of action with the fighting proletariat which will grow in the struggle itself.

The KAPD will turn to its brother Parties adhering to the Communist International with an address. At the same time, it will report on the revolutionary situation in Germany and lay down guidelines for the organisational basis of the Communist International, which correspond to the present significance of the revolutionary struggles for the extension of the World revolution.

(proposed by M.-Leipzig, Th.-Occupied Zone and Schröder)

This was supplemented by a resolution on the Rühle affair.

The Congress rejects with indignation the demand by the Executive Committee [of the Communist International] that the KAPD should expel comrade Rühle from the organisation. It declares its solidarity with Otto Rühle and denies the EC any right of interference in the internal organisation of the KAPD. The Congress sees in this interference the outrageous propaganda activity of the Spartakusbund.

(proposed by Pf.-Gotha)

When this resolution was adopted, the North and North-West areas abstained, saying that comrades Laufenberg and Wolffheim were not mentioned in it, although they had been named by the International's EC alongside Rühle. M.-Leipzig clarified the position of the majority: the EC's concerns about Laufenberg and Wolffheim were justified, but those over Rühle were not.

During the debate, it was felt that an appeal to the proletariat was needed. A group of comrades produced this by the end of the Congress. Its text is produced as an appendix to this article.


Unions and Unionen

In German, "trades' union" has the translation Gewerkschaft (plural: Gewerkschaften). Confusingly (at least for English speakers!), the German Left (anarcho-syndicalists as well as communists) chose to baptise an alternative movement to the Gewerkschaften as Unionen (singular: Union). Here, we will use the German words to denote the two concepts: Gewerkschaft, and the alternative, Union. The Unionen attempted to unite the factory organisations, the BO's.

The BO movement had its roots in the collaboration of the Gewerkschaften with the war effort. When the revolution broke out, the proletariat perceived the need for an alternative to the Gewerkschaften.

The Congress started by listening to a presentation by Kuschewski of Berlin, who represented the Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union (General Workers' Union).

In this presentation Kuschewski described how the Union movement consisted of two strands: the AAU, which united the most advanced proletarians on the terrain of the proletarian dictatorship; and the syndicalist Freie Unionen (FU), whose dominant fraction rejected political action, often rejected the use of violence, and wanted each BO to be fully autonomous. Kuschewski wanted the KAPD to reject the FU and to instruct its members to join the AAU, in order to fully win the AAU workers to communism and to give the KAPD a weapon in the struggle. The question of the dissolution of the KAPD into the AAU to form a unitary organisation was, for Kuschewski, something which would eventually happen, but not now, and not under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

After this presentation, a discussion was held. H.-Leipzig complained that Kuschewski's presentation may have correctly described the AAU, but it greatly exaggerated the differences between the AAU and the FU. He said that many FU members were not syndicalists and that his district worked closely with the FU.

Sp.-Rhineland, on the contrary, complained that the FU was hampering the work of his district. It was necessary, in his opinion, to draw a line of separation between the KAPD and the syndicalists. On the other hand, the idea of communist work in the Union was an impossibility, as the leadership often lay in the hands of the USPD.

Pf.-Gotha complained that Sp.-Rhineland had misunderstood. It was not a question of the members of the BO's joining the Party, but vice-versa. The KAPD did not want to take over the BO's as an end in itself, but to use them as a means to organise propaganda for the forward march of the revolution. The aim was to united proletarians in the revolutionary BO's and so it was the task of the KAPD to propagate revolutionary communist ideas inside the BO's.

Pf.-Gotha also pointed out that many syndicalist workers were in advance of those of the SPD and USPD and that it was important to point out to them that they stood on false ground.

H.-Dresden acknowledged that the BO's were now the backbone of the Party. In Dresden, the experience of the Rhinelanders had not materialised and the Dresdeners were evolving the correct tactics in the struggle of the Union with the Gewerkschaften. There could be no compromise with the FU, but, at the same time, it should be made possible for the FU to be absorbed by the AAU. It was also important to refute the allegations that the KAPD and Rühle were anarchists and syndicalists.

Th.-Occupied Zone said that the KAPD ex-members who had caught the syndicalist sickness were lost to the movement as they rejected violence. On the other hand, those syndicalists who had been drawn into action with the KAPD had left the basis of their own platform, without realising it. They should be told this, but a blurring of the dividing lines between the KAPD and syndicalism should be decisively rejected.

H.-Hamburg showed the councilist side of the Hamburg tendency. He rejected any special propaganda work in the BO's, as they were already on the ground of the council idea (which is not enough!).

During this discussion, the following resolution had been proposed by Ihlau (Berlin):

The Congress expects the Party members to leave the Gewerkschaften. The Congress places itself without reservation on the ground of the Betriebsorganisation, united in the Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union.

This resolution was adopted with the proviso that it be further discussed by the districts. Spandau-Osthavelland and Pomerania declared that they could not support the resolution as many of their members were syndicalists(!) or members of the FU.

Clearly, the KAPD was very far from being homogeneous on the question of the Unionen, both with regard to the facts of the case and, more importantly, the theoretical framework for those facts. A theoretical framework allows revolutionaries to come to conclusions even where the local situations are, in fact, varied. For us, organisations linked to particular struggles can be in the interests of the proletariat, but permanent mass organisations must always be recuperated by capitalism, even if they have roots in struggle organisations. All proletarian experience subsequent to the post World War I revolutionary wave has shown this. The only way a struggle organisation can survive as a proletarian organisation is if it loses its character as an organisation grouping workers of all political tendencies to become an organisation based on proletarian politics. In that case, it must develop a positive relationship to the Party.

It may be the case that the BO's, or some of them, constituted such organisations, but it is also necessary that the Party's attitude to them be based on these principles. At best, only certain currents of the KAPD conformed to this concept of relations with extra-Party organisations, while other currents were semi-syndicalist or syndicalist, or semi-councilist.


Business Report

Before listening to the final presentation, on the political situation, the Congress dealt with organisational and other matters. The business report contains some interesting material with regard to the strength of the Party. The speaker (R.-Berlin) claimed that, despite the KPD(S) have access to many more practised speakers and much more money, the KAPD had taken about 75% of the membership of the old Party, leaving the KPD(S) strong in only Chemnitz and Stuttgart. A regional breakdown of the situation of the KAPD revealed that the strongest area of the Party was Berlin. In the Rhineland and in Central Germany, despite the repression, the Party organisation had been rebuilt and was again vigorous. In Saxony-Anhalt the Party organisation was in the process of healing after some individuals had been excluded, but in Silesia the Party had no members at all. In Southern Germany, some sections of the old KPD had joined the new Party, and Feuerbach, in particular, had been growing, but these had left as a result of the Laufenberg-Wolffheim tendency.

In the North-Western region only Wilhelmshaven was healthy. Bremen was close to collapse, partially as a result of trying to hold meetings addressed by Laufenberg and Wolffheim. These meetings had dissolved in uproar, and the Party had lost roughly 1500 Marks.

Hamburg had always claimed to have 5000 to 8000 members, but only 2000 really existed. Of these 2000, only 400 or 500 actually attended meetings. The workers had deserted the Party because of the theories of Laufenberg and Wolffheim and precisely the same thing would happen elsewhere if these theories were adopted.


The Political Situation

The following is a translation of the whole report made by Alexander Schwab, Berlin, on this issue:

The appeal which you have just approved already describes the political situation. The political situation is presently best characterised by clearly realising that the bourgeoisie is split into two contesting fractions. And this is so not only in Germany, but also in the camp of the Entente. The first is the fraction to which the militarists and heavy industrialist belong, which arms the reaction and stands for the maintenance of the residents' militia, taking its mood from the Hungarian events. In England, this is the weaker fraction which wants to give Poland military aid. The leading power among the bourgeoisie which is battle-ready is the French bourgeoisie, and precisely because it sees itself threatened by an economic and financial collapse, because it has no more time to wait upon the peaceful methods of the English fraction. The other fraction is that which in England is represented by Lloyd George and in Germany by the Democratic Party. It is the direction which believes it can once again deal with the problem of the day, the World Revolution, through negotiations. This fraction, which still has time for such negotiations and ways of behaving, is therefore led by the English bourgeoisie, which is much less threatened by the collapse of the Western European economy. You could almost believe that our German Centre Parties are serious in the neutral application of the disarmament law, that they really would like to disarm both sides and participate in the English affair in Russia. But it must be clear that this fraction cannot win in the long run, and precisely because they have nothing to fight with. The material means of fighting are in the hands of the extreme right, whereas the mass action tool of struggle lies in the hands of the working class. This fraction of negotiators must be worn away in the struggle between the real powers. Support for the reactionary fraction is, in the main, localised in Hungary, Bavaria and East Prussia. Starting from Bavaria and Hungary they will try to create a reactionary block to crush Austria. The situation there is exactly the opposite to ours, where in the course of time a revolutionary block will be created which will crush the third reactionary outpost, the Polish nobility and the Polish bourgeoisie. One of the key areas is necessarily Upper Silesia; for only on its basis will the economic power be found which is necessary for the conduct of every war. On the other hand, as far as the Western coal fields are concerned, it must be assumed that they will fall into the hands of the reaction. The midday edition of today's paper carries a credible report according to which the Polish preparations for "aid for Poland" have been undertaken and a mass of railworkers has been assembled at the border, as they are naturally assuming that in Germany the railworkers will resist the transport of French troops through Germany. They want to break this resistance by using their own workers. For this reason, we must assume that the French bourgeoisie will soon push forward, because their situation forces them to look for a rapid solution, and that we will have the reactionary struggle brought into the country from the West.

Our internal situation is, on the contrary, focussed on the question of the disarmament law. I would be happy if we still had time to stage a great manoeuvre against the law, but we do not have time for this. It would be better if we did. For I don't believe that our organisation is sufficiently prepared for the economic and military struggle for us to take up the struggle with a good conscience and a clear belief in success. It would be better, I believe, if we could focus interest on the disarmament action and could then see where the hidden weaknesses of our organisation were, where things could be improved, so that we could be in the position to bring the USPD masses to us. We must keep our eye open, so that we do not miss any phase pass by in which we could, through direct connections with the proletariat, make clear the inhibitions and betrayals of the USPD leaders. We already know that this will happen and we are tying the masses ever more tightly to our slogans. If we think of the possibility of a reactionary action from the West being carried into the country, we must also think for a moment of a second danger: the danger of a nationalist intoxication, which could, under certain circumstances, pass through the country. We can be sure that the militarists will try all sorts of things. The politics of the reactionary papers are clearly those of preparation for an alliance with Russia against the West. The interests of the militarists are completely clear in following a line, and this line can only be carried out, if they succeed in confusing our thoughts, so that the masses are drawn into a common fight with Russia against the West, but under the leadership of reactionary militarists. This is a real danger which we must not underestimate. Germany does not consist of industrial cities alone. In the open countryside nationalist ideology is still deeply rooted. There would be a swarm of volunteers from the countryside. We must be prepared for this danger and stop this situation from being used by the old ruling caste to put itself in the saddle again. The Hamburg tendency is a most dangerous contribution to these reactionary politics.

It remains the fact that piecemeal actions are one of the greatest dangers for the proletariat. It is an ancient basic tenet of the militarists to strike down the first unit that marches, before it can form an army. This theory is inbred in the bone of our reaction and it is clear that they will act according to it. The slogans of the day must also be clear, so that the enemy only comes up against an undivided front and never find the opportunity of knocking out groups one by one. This question of centralism must not be considered as before, but only from this purely practical standpoint. I believe that, if we do not march forwards too quickly or too slowly in the coming struggles, we can arrive at our first goal. May our next Congress fall in a much more difficult situation: one where we must defend what we have won. [Applause]

D.-East Prussia: complemented the presentation by describing the situation in East Prussia: As elsewhere in Germany, the workers in East Prussia are also expecting action in the immediate future. Even in circles of the Gewerkschaften, the opinion is often found that the proletariat faces the final showdown. The workers are determined to resist disarmament to the utmost.


1. General historical material gleaned from the website http://www.nadir.org, which, however, glosses over the conduct of the KPD(S) during the episode. A corrective is supplied by Bernhard Reichenbach, Towards a history of the German Communist Workers' Party (KAPD), Grundberg Archiv für Geschichte des Sozialismus XIII (1928).

2. Written 2nd April 1920 and quoted in Wolfgang Ruge, Weimar. Republik auf Zeit.

3. Source: "Protokoll des 1. ordentlichen Parteitages der kommunistischen Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands vom 1. bis 4. August 1920 in Berlin" ("Protocols of the First Regular Congress of the KAPD, 1st-4th August 1920, Berlin"), published and supplied with a foreword by Clemens Klockner, Verlag für wissenschaftliche Publikationen, 1981.

4. But police estimates put this number at 30,000.

5. The Unionen were founded against the trades' unions (in German, Gewerkschaften) as political and economic workers' organisations, in reaction to the obviously counter-revolutionary rôle played by the trades' unions.

6. Source: Protokoll des 1. ordentlichen Parteitages der Kommunistischen Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands vom 1. bis 4. August 1920 in Berlin. Unfortunately, many of the participants are referred to only by their initials and district.

7. The police estimate gives a total slightly less than this, but also gives an insight into the geographical distribution of the Party:

area membership

Berlin 12,000
Rheinland-Westphalia 5500
North (including Hamburg) 3000
Altona 952
Central Germany 3000
East Saxony 2000
Occupied zone 2000
Zwickau (Saxony) 2000
East Prussia 1500
Saxony-Anhalt 1400
Lower Saxony 1200
Pommerania 1100
Frankfurt-am-Main 1000
Thuringia 1000
Spandau-Osthavelland 1000

Total 38,652

The more detailed figure for Altona is probably given by the source because their mandate was questioned both on numerical grounds and because the Hamburg majority argued that this section opposed to them properly belonged to the North section and should have no independent delegation.

As the Hamburg tendency constituted the majority of North, they constituted at least 5% of the KAPD.

8. Levi was the right-wing leader of the KPD(S) at the time of the Congress.


This text is made out of two articles by EDL of the CWO with only few changes of purely editorial art:

"The Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands", Revolutionary Perspectives no. 10, Spring 1988, and
"The Second Congress of the KAPD", Revolutionary Perspectives no. 16, Winter 2000

The text is built upon the german 

Clemens Klockner (Hg):
Protokoll des 1. ordentlichen Parteitages der kommunistischen Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands
Verlag für wissenschaftliche Publikationen, 1981.
ISBN: 3-922981-02-3

Since there is no other known English reference dealing with the Minutes of this Congress,this text is important giving a rough sketch of the initial discussions of the newly formed KAPD. The text refers some of discussions fairly well  -  although abbreviated and not without some bias of the CWO/IBRP-positions of its author.

At the opening of this 1.st Regular Congress of the KAPD of 1st-4th August 1920 the following agenda was agreed:

1. Nation And Class Struggle
2. Stance on the Programme
3. Party- and Shop Organisation(*)
4. Our stance on the 3. International
5. Business Report
6. Elections

With changes decided during the Congress the actual agenda followed was:

1. Nation And Class Struggle
2. Stance on the Programme
4. Stance on the 3. International
3. Party- and Shop Organisation(*)
5. Business Report
6. Elections
x. Report on the Political Situation

Related to this Congress are:

Programme of the KAPD from Mai 1920. This was a draft version made by the central committee of the Party shortly after its founding Congress at   ... The 1.st Regular Congress was supposed to adopt this program, but did so only with some suggestions for further changes. 

Appeal to the Proletariat of Germany, which was adopted by the Congress on the 4.th of August 1920.

(*) The German term was 'Betriebsorganisation', often referred to as B.O. This was one of the central and constituent issues of the KAPD and the Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union, AAU. Translations alternative to 'Shop Organisation' could be 'Shop-floor Organisation' or "Workplace Organisation'

This text was made from the articles on the CWO Homepage.
Code and layout was made by Kurasje

Text and notes from kurasje.org