A short biography of Karl Roche, leading light within the revolutionary German workers movement.
Karl Roche was born in on 31st October 1862 in Koenigsberg (now the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad) in Prussia as Johann Friedrich Carl Roche. An unskilled building worker, he was imprisoned many times for his activities as agitator for the building workers union.Some years before the war, (1910?) he left the social-Deutschen Bauarbeiterverban ( German building workers association) controlled by the Social Democrats where he had been active in Bochum and Hamburg to join the Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG). He became a prominent member of the organization. In 1913, Carl Windhoff, Fritz Kater, and he were the FVdG delegates at the First International Syndicalist Congress in London. He joined the Syndikalistischen Industrieverband ( see entry for Ernst Schneider) before 1914. In that year he was active in Hamburg in support of the strike on the ocean liner Vaterland, like other Hamburg revolutionaries, including fellow Koenigsberger Ernst Schneider. In 1919, he wrote the FVdG's first post-World War I platform Was wollen die Syndikalisten? Programm, Ziele und Wege der Freien Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften (What do the Syndicalists want? Programme, Goals, and Means of the Free Association of German Trade Unions). This advocated the primacy of the strike weapon, called for independence from the Social-Democrat controlled unions and opposed itself to electoral politics. Roche also argued there for the dictatorship of the proletariat. This was a concession to the KPD(S) and the unionists in the hope that there could be fruitful collaboration inside the workers and soldiers councils. It also revealed a lack of knowledge of the real situation in Russia. Roche argued strongly for collaboration with communists. The united front of the anarcho-syndicalists and the communists which lasted from November 1918 until May 1919 corresponded with Karl’s influence within the FVdG. He refused to reject the use of violence in a revolutionary situation, unlike other elements within the FVdG and defended the workers councils as revolutionary vehicles. He described the councils as “parliaments of the working class”.
Karl worked on and off for the paper Der Syndikalist as well as contributing his skills as a speaker to the movement. In late 1918, Rudolf Rocker returned to Germany and in March 1919 he joined the FVdG and started gaining influence. Rocker rejected such close collaboration with Marxists. His growing influence led Roche to leave the Free Workers' Union of Germany (FAUD), as the FVdG was known from September 1919 onwards, in 1920 and join the General Workers' Union of Germany (AAUD). He became a leading member of the AAUD in the Hamburg Federation of the AAUD. With Otto Ruehle in Dresden he was one of the principal defenders of the anti-party tendency within the AAUD, opposing those like Schroeder who wanted to transform it into a party. He left the AAUD (now become the AAUD-E) for the Federation of Communist Anarchists of Germany (FKAD) and then re-joined the FAUD. He was active alongside Otto Reimers and others in setting up the Anti-Authoritarian Bloc in Hamburg in 1926 (see libcom entry for Reimers).
He died on the 1st January 1931. His last letter just before he died, promised that he would start contributing articles again to the FAUD press.