Extracts from the 1922 'Leading Principles' of the Communist Workers' International.
When Rühle envisaged a Fourth International in Moscow and Us (September 1920), the political current of “council communism” had several hundred thousand adherents in Germany, a figure which would decline to 20,000 in 1923, and then would be reduced to a few hundred when Hitler took power.
The construction of a Communist Workers International (KAI, its German acronym) is explicitly referred to in the declaration of the KAPD central committee (July 1921) which officially acknowledged the party’s break with Moscow, or (in the eyes of those who disapproved of this decision) which made the break irremediable. Gorter was one of its most fervent advocates. But the KAPD Congress of September 1921 proved to be much less enthusiastic. This issue would be one of the causes of the schism of the KAPD, and the parallel split within the AAUD, into two factions.1
Basically, the so-called “Berlin” tendency prioritized the reconsolidation of a party which had been in free-fall since the spring of 1921. In the disturbances of 1923, its calls for an insurrection fell on deaf ears despite the increasing impoverishment of the working class as a result of an astronomical rate of inflation, within a context of social (and national) violence of every description. The AAUD-Berlin did, however, lead an important strike among the North Sea fishermen, but did so upon the basis of “industrial unionism” (that is, on the basis of a whole economic sector), and no longer on the basis of the unitary association of the workers of an entire region regardless of trade. The time of “unionism” had passed, and the time of struggles carried out according to job categories had returned, even if the combativity and solidarity evinced in the new struggles were still powerful.
The so-called Essen Tendency immediately made the formation of the KAI its principal activity. Its supporters thought it was vain and even dangerous to try to radicalize reformist struggles against a capitalism in its “death crisis”, which would lead to imprisoning the workers on an exclusively reform-oriented terrain. For this reason it no longer assigned the AAUD, or at least that part of the AAUD which remained under its influence, any other role than spreading revolutionary propaganda, the effects of which were to prove to be insignificant. Opposed to purely wage-oriented struggles, the Essen Tendency would provoke the appearance of various anti-leadership, anti-organization, anti-intellectualist and sometimes even anti-intellectual theories.
The KAI would hold several conferences, and one of their few consistent attendees would be the Bulgarian left communists. After 1924 it would exist only as an idea episodically propagandized by a small office staff.
What sense was there in creating an International when it had already been pointed out, by Gorter in 1923, for example, and not without some basis in reality, that “the world proletariat as a whole has until now proved to be hostile to communism”?
This absurdity has a logic of its own, based upon the expectation that, as capitalist attacks against the proletarians increased (and this view would persist after 1919, during the 1920s, after 1933, etc.), the proletarians would be increasingly driven to rise against capitalism. It was therefore thought necessary to construct the organization which, though minuscule today, would not fail to grow tomorrow. . . .
The historical conditions did not permit the KAPD to be anything but a detachment of “shock troops”, in Franz Jung’s formulation. And its attempts to compensate for this weakness by intervening in the international arena were to be in vain.
The Leading Principles of the KAI
The Third International
The Communist Workers International
Published in the Kommunistische Arbeiter Zeitung (Essener Richtung) (Essen Tendency), 1922, No. 1.
Published in English in a collection of texts as appendix to Dauvé and Authier’s The Communist Left in Germany 1918-1921. Introduction by either Dauvé or Authier. Online version taken from the Collective Action Notes website.
- 1 We shall not pursue the further history of the communist left after 1921. See The Dutch Left, chapter V, and our The Communist Left in Germany, 1918-1921, Appendix I.
- 2 The name humorously given to the Vienna Bureau, led by Otto Bauer, Bernstein, Kautsky, the Russian Mensheviks . . . , which, from 1921 to 1923, was a group bringing together what remained of the centrist parties after the core of their rank and file had joined (for the most part, temporarily) the Third International. Almost all of these individuals and groups would later return to the social democracy.