Not all the members of the left tendencies immediately accepted the definitive split in the KPD. Before forming the KAPD, the opposition successively crystallized around three centers: Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin.
Hamburg, the rallying point for the opposition after Heidelberg, advocated the immediate creation of a second Communist Party. But it was during this period that Wolffheim and Laufenberg began to elaborate their “national bolshevism”. The adversaries of the Left reproached it for having incubated such a current (cf. L’Internationale Communiste, No. 11). The Hamburg communists, as Gorter recalled in his Open Letter to Comrade Lenin, were rapidly sidelined. Bremen then assumed Hamburg’s role as the information clearing house of the opposition. The Bremen office then represented the majority of the Left: it was opposed to the split and devoted itself to various attempts to engage the central committee in negotiations, in order to assert the rights of the opposition, which the central committee routinely rebuffed. The Bremen office did not understand that Levi and the central committee had conducted their intrigues for the sole purpose of excluding the Left and that they were scarcely worried about the fact that the excluded members comprised the majority of the Party. The Left also deluded itself by believing that the Communist International would support its position (cf. Chapter 16). It was in this spirit that the Bremen office sent representatives to the Third Congress of the KPD, and even proposed amending the Heidelberg Theses. The Congress reiterated that all party districts which did not accept the Theses as they stood must be excluded: that is, the North, Northwest, Lower Saxony, Greater Berlin, and East Saxony districts. One month later, having in the meantime had the opportunity to assess the central committee’s stance during the Kapp Putsch, the KPD (Opposition) abandoned any hope of rejoining the party. The Berlin district, led by Gorter, Schröder, etc., who would constitute the whole future leadership of the KAPD, took the initiative to call a conference of the opposition.
The Founding of the KAPD
The delegates to the KAPD’s founding Congress (April 4-5) represented 38,000 militants; other regions would join the party after the Congress. At that time the KAPD embraced almost the entire membership of the former KPD, and its social background was similar to that of its predecessor (derived from every layer of the working class, with a heavy representation of youth and the unemployed). Despite the presence of three tendencies (Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden), the atmosphere was particularly “warm” and the participants had the impression of being part of something radically new.1 The break with Spartacism was the definitive break with social democracy. The tendencies, however, were recognized and the Congress presidium included a representative from each one.
In effect, this was not a split from an already-existing organization (despite the fact that the parties’ acronyms would give the opposite impression, as if the KAPD were a split from the KPD), but the self-organization, at the apex of a revolutionary period, of the new current which rejected the weight of the past as it was represented by the Spartacist leadership, which had been reduced to a mere skeleton financed by Moscow until it could be grafted onto the left wing of the USPD. The enthusiasm of the KAPD’s militants resembled that of the first founders of the workers brotherhoods, unions and leagues of the 19th century. This newness and this lifestyle which led Rühle to say that “the KAPD is not a party in the traditional sense” would be eloquently expressed in the organization’s internal life.
The KAPD asserted that it was the “party of the masses”, as opposed to the KPD, which was the “party of leaders” and used the masses for its own political ends. During this period, the KAPD represented the bulk of the communist party and the revolutionary masses. Less than one year later, the polemic would seem to have been reversed, when the KPD became the VKPD and was transformed into a “mass party” (Massenpartei, while the KAPD saw itself as the Partei der Massen), and the KAPD would attack it for this reason at the Third Congress of the Communist International. But one cannot really speak of a reversal in this case unless the KAPD were to abandon the position of the “masses” in the masses-leaders opposition, and pass over to the “leader” position. A “party of the masses” is the opposite of a “party of leaders”.
The favorite terrain of the German Left from its birth to its demise, the masses-leaders debate, born from the trauma of the “leaders’ betrayal” of 1914, was particularly pointless. A crucial aspect of such oppositions is the fact that the positive term contains its truth in the negative term and vice-versa. This is also the case for a neighboring controversy, the centralism-federalism opposition. The betrayals of the leaders are contrasted with the free activity of the masses. But as long as the masses are still “masses”, that is, as long as the proletariat does not constitute itself as a “class”, the masses will produce leaders, and to speak of masses is to speak in the language of leaders.
Gorter was more precise when he elaborated his position on the party as a grouping of the “pure”, who would not succumb to opportunism. The conceptions shared by Gorter and the KAPD also involved the same confusions, since the party of the revolutionary “masses” must necessarily become a small group when these masses are no longer revolutionary. It is also true that the Left succumbed to “educationalism”: this was an enduring trait of the Third International, propagated by Lenin, who tried to replace the “bourgeois ideology” of the workers with “socialist ideology”, a trait which the German Left would never lose.2
The majority (Berlin) rejected national bolshevism, but arrived at a provisional compromise with Rühle’s tendency, which supported the immediate abolition of the party form. This is why the Program states: “The KAPD is not a party in the traditional sense.” This thesis was the basis for Rühle’s The Revolution is Not a Party Matter, written while he was still a member of the KAPD.
The debate on the KAPD statutes revolved around “finding the form which would allow the expression of the will of the masses”. On a different level, this can be compared to Lenin’s efforts in 1903 to seek statutes which could thwart the spread of opportunism in the party. These formal debates were characteristic of this world revolutionary period, along with those concerning the theme of democracy and the idea of the intellectuals bringing consciousness to the workers. The currents, or rather the individuals, whose writings escape this mold are very rare. The trend was so dominant that even individuals who had criticized organizational fetishism, for example, later succumbed to it: Trotsky, for one, adopting Leninism after 1917. Democracy, organizational fetishism and educationalism are typical aspects of bourgeois ideology.3
These political ideas and practices are reflections of the development of the relation between the classes of bourgeois society which sank into the revolutionary crisis at the end of the war. The petty bourgeoisie, often as threatened by the modernization of capital as the workers, enter the battle in their own way, considering themselves the salt of the earth, lacking a communist perspective. In Russia, the most radical fraction of this class, combined with the proletariat, seized power. The West also had its own problems concerning the development and organization of social groups. The most radical movements themselves bear the stigmata of their epoch.
The very short history of the KAPD shows particularly well how precisely the same statutes were capable of serving two completely opposed orientations: first, the practical life of a revolutionary organization, and second, the subsequent decay of that same organization. It could be said that these statutes were extremely democratic; but it would be more important to point out that, during the entire period from the party’s foundation in March 1920 until the summer of 1921, the statutes were the faithful expression of an organization in which a “base” in the traditional sense did not exist: each member knew what had to be done, and he did not join the KAPD to follow orders and to be told what to do. Congresses and various kinds of general assemblies were quite frequent. There was no central committee invested with full powers for an indeterminate period of time: there was, on the one hand, a current affairs committee (Geschäftsführung) and also a “Central Committee” (Hauptausschuss) which met whenever important decisions had to be made, and, unlike the same structure in other organizations, was on each occasion subject for the most part to re-election by the party districts, and consisted of the standing administrative committee and the district delegates. One could say that the party line was constantly decided by the whole party, which manifested an enormous force in the KAPD; it was only in order to recuperate this force that the Communist International tolerated the presence of this party, which never ceased to openly and violently attack the Communist International’s opportunism. In the KAPD, throughout its best period, that which Bordiga denominated as “organic centralism” was actually realized.
When the period of the KAPD’s decomposition began, the same, quite elaborate, statutes, from the moment when they were no longer the simple formalization of a real practice, were used in the service of all kinds of maneuvers in the struggle among the party’s factions (cf. Appendix I).
Everyone attempted, in their own way, to escape from organizational fetishism. For Gorter: “The organization, the union, because it is tied to the workplace, must consequently always be the object of vigilance lest it sabotage the revolution, by aiming for small improvements or conquering a position of apparent power.”4 But everyone denounced everyone else’s fetishism. Mattick wrote that the KAPD “seemed to be more Bolshevik than the Bolsheviks”,5 due to its preoccupation with purity. The KAPD and the PCI (formed by radical elements who managed to subsist within the capitalist world thanks to the power of their principles) both combined an all-too-sanguinary evaluation of the role of the party with an overestimation of the workers organizations (unitary organizations for the former, trade unions for the latter). Their manner of thinking and their practice were basically very similar, but they differed in the way they applied identical principles, due to differences between the German and Italian contexts. What distinguished them was the way each represented their own and the other’s activity: at this level the complex interaction of traditions and ideas prevented each one from understanding the other and the other’s activities. In any event, both shared the same conception of the party as “nucleus”6 : “A cadre which can merge with the proletariat when, thanks to the general development, the latter will be led into combat.” The Italian Left shared with the German Left the rejection of the idea of conquering the majority before the revolutionary period, as well as the idea of the program-party: “Each communist must be capable of being a leader on his own terrain . . . he must be able to resist and, whatever keeps him going, whatever captivates him, is his program.”7 It would be idle to try to exonerate the German Left, at any cost, of the charge of “anarchism” by quoting the texts where it proclaims its desire for a pure, diamantine party, a “super-elaborated party-nucleus”.8 Far from providing evidence of the Marxist character of the KAPD, we understand this, on the contrary, as the contradiction of a party situated in the midst of a combative proletariat, but few in number, and obliged to discover a means to reinforce its cohesion as an organization, deluding itself concerning its role as a factor driving the struggles forward (cf. the next Chapter). One cannot locate the most profound aspect of the Left in the most exaggerated assertion of what distinguishes it from the rest of the proletarians.9
During the first days of August, a Second Congress was held and adopted the KAPD’s Program. The whole party was at that time convinced that all the conditions for the revolution were ripe (one can compare this view with that of the Second Congress of the Communist International, which was taking place at the same time: cf. Chapter 11). Hunger riots had broken out in May and June. A bill was pending in the German parliament, prepared several months before, which would mandate the disarming of all civilians who had weapons. It was thought that this would unleash defensive reactions which would have to be “pushed forward”. The Congress decided that the party should focus on this issue: but it would fail because it would stand utterly alone in its battle.
An important point remained unresolved, however: the clarification of the KAPD’s relations with the East Saxony tendency (Rühle). This led to a clash with the Communist International (cf. Chapter 16). Rühle was not excluded, but his position was condemned in Moscow. The Congress vociferously rejected an ultimatum from the Executive Committee of the Communist International which demanded that the KAPD rejoin the KPD. Rühle and his supporters were excluded only at the end of October during a session of the central committee.
In mid-August 1920, the Red Army was at the gates of Warsaw, and the Alliance sent important aid shipments to the Poles, which passed through Germany. The KAPD, AAUD and FAUD carried out sabotage operations against these shipments which as a whole were quite successful, and tried to use these actions as a springboard for an insurrection, which was a total failure. The KAPD blamed the public denunciations of these actions by the KPD and the USPD.10 Where logistical reasons prevented their cadres from receiving the orders to refrain from participating in this action, seizures of power at a local level took place: such was the case of the Köthen “council republic” in Central Germany, ridiculed by those who contributed to its defeat. Many radicals were taken prisoner. “The KAPD was the only party which took a chance on fulfilling its antidemocratic content in everyday work.”11
Even one year later (at the Third Congress of the Communist International), the KAPD would insistently invoke the “action” of August 1920, accusing the KPD and the USPD of having abandoned them. According to Jung, 12 August 1920 was by no means just another incident. At that time, there was a totally unexpected change in the Russians’ program. When Jung was in Moscow (prior to the Second Congress of the Communist International) he expected, as had been agreed by the KAPD, the KPD and the USPD, that the Red Army’s counteroffensive against the Poles would not have the primary objective of taking Warsaw, but Upper Silesia (a German-speaking industrial region with a strong revolutionary movement, which had just been incorporated into Poland). A red army of German workers was then supposed to be formed there, and only then was the attack on Warsaw and the main force of the Polish army supposed to begin. The Russians did not feel that their army was in any condition to confront Warsaw and the whole Polish army, which was much better equipped than the Red Army and was also regularly re-supplied by the Alliance, and therefore counted upon the essential support of a revolutionary movement in Germany.
The German communist parties and the USPD were supposed to be prepared to assist this maneuver and to undertake an armed offensive. The decision to proceed directly to Warsaw, made in August, was suddenly taken by the high command of the Russian army; the KAPD, whose members had meanwhile organized militarily, did not understand the reason for this change of course. In fact, the Russians had been deluded by their initial military successes. Yet this proved that they paid no heed to any revolutionary movement outside their own (as is well-known, Pilsudski’s counteroffensive was successful).
Jung, placing the event within its proper context and considering its importance, did not fail to emphasize the general apathy of the German workers, which the communists’ military groups had struggled to dispel.
In a general strike of electrical workers, in October 1920, the KAPD, faithful to its role as “trigger” of the movement, denounced the betrayal of the KPD, SPD, etc. The government itself had to repress the strike. After March 1921, the KAPD worked to set up action committees in the factories and promoted “Italian-style” occupations. The Fourth Congress (September 1921) would assign itself the task of “keeping the revolutionary will of the German proletariat alive”. The KAPD had turned towards activism, becoming a “party in the traditional sense”. With the definitive ebb of the revolution, new internal divisions arose and the KAPD began to turn into a sect. The last revolutionary enclaves were reduced by external intervention (many were killed in various actions) and internal causes (activism and the clashes between tendencies). The creation of the AAUD-E was a vain attempt to react to these developments.
The Debate Concerning the “Unitary” Organization
Due to their mutual opposition to the Bolsheviks and the social democrats, all the factions of the German Left agreed on one point: it was not the “Party” which would secure power during and after the revolution, but the councils, institutions which would allow the proletarians to simultaneously exercise both political and economic power. But the KAPD Program distinguished between “political” and “economic” councils: a sign of disagreement over the timing of the party’s dissolution. The AAUD-E represented the current which supported the party’s immediate dissolution.
The idea of unitary organization, as we have mentioned above, first appeared in Bremen13 : this point was the only novel feature of the text in which it appeared, however, which otherwise still advocated a trade-based structure as well as parliamentarism. The notion remained confused for a long time, and further evolved only with the wildcat strikes during and after the war. The revolutionary workers then organized themselves by factories and by regions, and sabotaged the trade unions and elections.
The confusion, and the source of later disagreements and splits, derived from the fact that the idea of unitary organization was also shared by individuals and groups belonging to a party: the KPD. The Left defended the idea at the KPD’s founding Congress against Luxemburg and the right, for whom the tasks of the trade unions were to be carried out after the revolution by the councils.14 Since they had agitated in favor of an organization which rejected the party, while they belonged to a party, they arrived at the idea that this party (the KPD(O) and later the KAPD) must dissolve itself into the unitary organization. Schematically, two positions took shape: immediate dissolution or dissolution at the end of a “certain period of time”. This “certain period of time”, of course, generated new tendencies, from the moment when more refined distinctions began to be made. In the meantime, as Schröder said in his On the Future of the New Society, 15 the party would be preserved as a “necessary evil”. The supporters of unitary organization, not being numerous enough among the proletariat, had no choice but to join the party.
While the whole radical left (uniting all tendencies) was organized in the KAPD, the split first began, as so often happens, over another issue: the position to adopt regarding Russia and the Communist International. Rühle, who was a convinced anti-bolshevik and opposed the KAPD’s joining the Communist International, was excluded from the KAPD, which wanted to collaborate with the Communist International. Rühle had often been reproached for his “semi-anarchism”. Yet the KAPD had attempted to overcome the thesis opposing Marxism to anarchism, as black to white. One of its delegates to the Third World Congress thought that the anarchists underestimated “the organized class struggle . . . that they lived history too quickly, that their tactic is premature by several decades”. This is insufficient, of course, but the renascent revolutionary movement synthesized what was good in Marxism and anarchism, implicitly criticizing16 the opinions of Marx and Engels.17
Rühle’s position on Russia was quickly supported by the tendency which was in favor of immediate unitary organization, and the effective break within the KAPD and the AAUD rapidly unfolded. In December, the Saxony district of the KAPD dissolved itself into the AAUD. Later, the Hamburg AAUD excluded from its ranks all those who wanted to remain in the KAPD. Throughout Germany, a fraction of the leftists immediately entered the unitary organization. The latter would criticize the KAPD during the March Action.
In October 1921 this movement held its first autonomous conference and gave itself the name AAUD-E, the “E” standing for “Unitary Organization”. This conference adopted “The Guiding Principles of the AAUD-E”. The AAUD-E then had 13 economic districts which counted several tens of thousands of members, but would decompose even faster than the other left organizations.
The AAUD-E’s theory was essentially expressed in Die Aktion after 1920 and in Rühle’s pamphlets, each being a development of the previous one.18 Pannekoek, although not a member of any group after 1920, showed, in a letter dated July 15, 1920, that he was closer to the AAUD-E than to the other left tendencies: “The idea that two organizations of ‘enlightened’ workers should exist is false.”19 It was upon the principle of the unitary organization that the KAUD (Communist Workers Union of Germany) was founded in 1931, regrouping the remnants of the various groups of the German Left.
- 1 Bock.
- 2 PC, No. 56, passim. The same criticism could be applied to M. Rubel, who considered Marx to be primarily an “educator”: cf. his introduction to Pages Choisies de K. Marx, Payot, 1970, and Marx critique du Marxisme, Payot, 1974.
- 3 The Veritable Split….
- 4 Quoted by B. Kun in La IC, No. 18, October 1921. “Du sectarisme à la contre-révolution.”
- 5 Conseils ouvriers en Allemagne, p. 102.
- 6 Hempel, debate on the report on tactics at the Third World Congress, La gauche allemande…. In English, see the website, Wage Slave X’s Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Homepage, “Discussion of Radek’s Report on the Tactics of the International”.
- 7 Ibid.
- 8 Révolution Internationale, n.d., No. 6, summarizing the work cited above.
- 9 Letter from Marx to Schweitzer, October 13, 1868: “The sect does not seek its reason for existence and its sense of pride in what it has in common with the class movement, but in a particular aspect which distinguishes it from that movement.”
- 10 La gauche allemande….
- 11 La question syndicale…., p. 38.
- 12 Der Weg nach unten, p. 186, et seq.
- 13 Bock: p. 84.
- 14 Ibid., p. 98.
- 15 Kool: p. 353.
- 16 Cf. Hempel.
- 17 Letter from Engels to Lafargue, June 11, 1889.
- 18 Extracts provided in Bock, Document XIV.
- 19 Kool: p. 128.