Program of the General Workers' Union of Germany, adopted at their third national conference in Leipzig, December 12-14, 1920.
Its welter of initials and its confused relations with revolutionary syndicalism should not mislead us into thinking that the AAUD was just another group. The AAUD was part of a tendency that shot into prominence at the turn of the century with mass strikes which combined “politics” and “economics”, as well as the huge, at times anti-trade union strikes in northern Germany in 1913 which gave rise to autonomous committees. In conjunction with this trend the idea of the unitary organization was born, the first formulation of which appeared in the Bremen Arbeiterpolitik. The left communist newspapers, especially the one published by Wolffheim and Laufenberg, never ceased to expound its necessity.
In April-May 1919, the first important union, the General Miners Union, was formed by previously unorganized workers together with almost all the trade union members in that economic sector, before being dismantled by the police. The former members of this union would join the revolutionary syndicalists (who were then backpedaling in respect to the rest of the movement) or the AAUD; others would return to their old trade unions. The Port and Shipyard Workers Union of Hamburg, founded in August 1919, combined a defense of immediate interests with the advocacy of certain political perspectives: arming the workers, a critique of the Spartacist leadership of the KPD, and active solidarity with the Russian Revolution. The AAU of the Ruhr was formed at the same time on a similar basis.
The founding congress of the AAUD took place in February 1920. The first spokesmen of unionism, who were at that time already deeply involved in their national-bolshevism (which attracted a small minority within the AAUD), were sidelined. One debate dominated the congress: must the party-form be abandoned as soon as possible (the position defended by Roche, of Hamburg), or should it be at least provisionally maintained (the position defended by Schröder and the leadership of the future KAPD)?
The KAPD would be tempted to treat the unionen as its working class base. Pannekoek criticized the practice which transformed them into “factory groups” instead of “workers groups”. Since the future, he said, lies in the neighborhood and city soviets, in the councils which embrace and transcend the workplace, what good is a union which is nothing but an extended version of the party?1 His criticism was justified, but in its essentials, from the time of its founding, the AAUD was not a branch of the KAPD. In the winter of 1920-1921 the AAUD alone had some 150,000 members (while the KAPD had about 40,000). It was the most active union. It regularly published a dozen weeklies and its numerous pamphlets occasionally had print runs of up to 120,000 copies. It would lose almost all of its members after 1923.
Program of the AAUD
Extract from “The General Workers Union—Revolutionary Factory Organization”, published by the Economic District of Greater Berlin, 1921, p. 48. Introduction by either Denis Authier or Gilles Dauvé. Published in English in a collection of texts as appendix to Dauvé and Authier’s The Communist Left in Germany 1918-1921. Online version taken from the Collective Action Notes website.