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.
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 Third International is a Russian creation, a creation of the Russian Communist Party. It was created as a support for the Russian revolution, that is, for a revolution which was partly proletarian, partly bourgeois.
Due to the dual nature of the Russian revolution, insofar as the Third International had to come to the aid of both the Russian proletarian revolution as well as the Russian bourgeois revolution, and thus as a result of the dual nature of its purpose as well, the Third International was transformed into an organization which was partly proletarian and partly capitalist.
Insofar as it called for revolution and the expropriation of the capitalists, it was a proletarian organization oriented towards the suppression of capitalism; insofar as it preserved parliamentarism, the trade unions, and the dictatorship of the party and of its leaders, it was a bourgeois organization, created to conserve and to reconstruct capitalism: parliamentarism, the trade unions, and the dictatorship of the party or its leaders do not lead to communism, but to the preservation of capitalism.
The Third International was thus, from its very inception, a partially counterrevolutionary organization.
In the European countries, this organization led not to victory, but to the defeat of the proletariat.
Now that, after the spring of 1921, the Bolshevik Party which exercises its dictatorship in Russia has gone over to capitalism, it has rapidly compelled the Third International to return to capitalism, and the Third International has effectively become completely capitalist and bourgeois since the summer of 1921. The revolution was abandoned, the Third International no longer sought anything but reforms, and its goal has become the reconstruction of capitalism.
Since Russian capitalism must be reconstructed, and since this capitalism cannot be reconstructed without the repair and reconstruction of European capitalism, the Third International was forced to abandon the revolution and to turn to reformism, that is, to propose the reconstruction of capitalism as its goal.
And in order to reconstruct capitalism, the Third International—just as the Russian Bolshevik Party, now capitalist, forges links with European capitalist governments and with European capitalism in order to reconstruct Russian capitalism—now forges links with the Second International, and with the Two-and-a-Half International,
for the reconstruction of European capitalism.
The purpose of the Second International, of the Two-and-a-Half International, and of the Third International, is the same as that of the capitalist States and their governments. The united front of these three Internationals is a united front with capitalism.
When capitalism is in the midst of a death crisis and no longer sees any way out, the Soviet government and the Third International offer to save it.
This is why the Third International, like the Russian Bolshevik Party, has become a completely counterrevolutionary organization, an organization which is betraying the proletariat. It must be put into the same bag with the Second International and the Two-and-a-Half International.
Just as the proletariat in all countries is a tool in the hands of the social democratic, bourgeois and reactionary parties for preserving capitalism, for rebuilding it and spreading it throughout the world, delivering government power to these parties and their leaders, so the proletariat is now, in turn, becoming an instrument in the hands of the Third International, and for the same objective. The goal of the Third International is not revolution and the liberation of the proletariat, but personal power in the bourgeois State and the enslavement of the proletariat.
The Communist Workers International
To the degree that the situation of the whole international proletariat, within a world capitalism which is undergoing its death crisis, requires the proletarian revolution as the realization of its current practical task, to that same degree the intellectual groundwork and organizational relations of the world working class fail to measure up to the occasion of this historical challenge. The overwhelming majority of the world proletariat is a prisoner of the ways of thought of bourgeois private property and the forms of international class collaboration between capitalism and the proletariat, forms which, each playing its part within a unified process, are supported with every available means by all the existing organizations of the proletariat; this places before the revolutionary proletarians of every country the historically inevitable consequence of founding a new proletarian International.
This new proletarian International, the Communist Workers International (KAI), represents the pure proletarian class struggle, and has the practical task of abolishing bourgeois-capitalist private property and transforming it into proletarian-socialist property in common. Beyond this goal, it carries out a basic struggle for the realization of the communist society.
Recognizing that the objective preconditions for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the rule of the proletariat currently exist, it places at the forefront of its activity the principle of the development of the class consciousness of the proletariat, that is, it wants to help the proletariat recognize that it is historically necessary to immediately do away with capitalism; for that same reason it wants to awaken within the proletariat the effective will to carry out the proletarian revolution.
The achievement of these goals requires as a precondition the openly anti-capitalist character (from the perspective of content as well as form) of its organization and the leadership of all its struggles. Its highest point of reference is not the particular interest of national associations of workers considered in isolation from one another, but the common interest of the entire world proletariat: the world proletarian revolution.
As a first step on the road to its goal, it strives to make the proclamation of the class dictatorship of the proletariat understood as the destruction of capitalist State powers and the installation of proletarian State administrative bodies (Council States). It rejects all methods of reformist struggle and it fights with the anti-parliamentary and anti-trade union weapons of the revolutionary proletarian class for the creation of revolutionary workers councils and revolutionary Factory Organizations (Workers Unions).
It especially directs its battle against the existing international organizations of the proletariat (the London, Vienna and Moscow Internationals) which, as accomplices of the bourgeoisie in their mutual efforts to reconstruct world capitalism, are trying to forge a united front of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat against the world proletarian revolution and consequently represent the most dangerous obstacles standing in the way of the liberation of the proletariat.
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.