2. The KAPD and the AAUD : Differences

Submitted by libcom on August 6, 2005

The KAPD and the AAUD : Differences

Let us leave the parties for a moment and go back to the factory organisations. This young movement had shown that important changes had been made in the working class world. There was general agreement on the following points :

- the new organisation had to be built up and continue to grow

- its structure must be such that no clique of leaders could establish itself;

- once it had established itself with millions of members it would establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.

There were two major points of controversy within the AAUD. The first was : should there be a political party of the workers outside the AAUD and the second was on the question of administration of social and economic life.

At first the AAUD had only rather vague relations with the KPD. Its differences were of no importance. But it was different once the KAPD was formed. The KAPD immediately became involved in the affairs of the AAUD. Many of its members did not agree with this. In Saxony, Frankfurt and Hamburg etc., there was strong opposition to working with the KAPD. Germany was still extremely decentralised, and its decentralisation was reflected in the workers organisations; hence the possibility of the KAPD working with the AAUD in some districts and not in others. As a consequence, the militants who opposed the formation within the AAUD of a 'leadership clique' (namely the KAPD), left, and formed their own organisation the AAUD-E, which rejected the idea of a party of the proletariat and held that the factory organisation was all sufficient.

The Common Platform

These three currents agreed in their analysis of the modern world. They accepted that because of the change in society, the proletariat no longer formed a restricted minority in society that could not struggle alone and had to seek alliances with other classes, as had been the case in the days of Marx. At least in the developed countries of the West, that period was over. In those countries the proletariat was now the majority of the population while all the layers of the bourgeoisie were united behind big capital. Henceforth revolution was the affair of the proletariat ALONE. Capitalism had entered its death crisis. (This was the current analysis accepted in the 20s and 30s)

But if society had changed in the West at least, then so had the conception of communism to change. The old ideas, in the old organisations, represented quite the opposite of social emancipation. Otto Ruhle, one of the chief theoreticians of the AAUD-E, said this (in 1924) :

'The nationalisation of the means of production, which continues to be the programme of social-democracy at the same time as it is that of the communists, is not socialisation. Through nationalisation of the means of production, it is possible to attain a strongly centralised State capitalism, which will have perhaps some superiority to private capitalism, but which will nonetheless be capitalism.'

Communism could only arrive from the action of the workers themselves, struggling actively on their own. For that, new forms of organisation were necessary. But what would such organisations be ? Here opinions divided, and conflicting views could cause endless splits. Although by this time, the workers had turned away from revolutionary action, and any decisions the movement might take were of little consequence, it may be of interest to note what their interpretations of the future society were.

The Double Organisation

The KAPD rejected the idea of the Leninist party, such as prevailed after the Russian Revolution (a mass party) and held that a revolutionary party was essentially the party of an elite, based on quality not quantity. Such a party, uniting the most advanced elements of the proletariat, must act as a 'leaven within the masses', that is it must spread propaganda, keep up political discussion etc. Its strategy must be 'class versus class,' based on the struggle in the factories and armed uprising; sometimes, even, as a preliminary, terrorist action (such as bombings, bank robberies, raids on jewellers shops etc.) which were frequent in the early 20s. The struggle in the factories, led by action committees, would have the task of creating the atmosphere and the class consciousness necessary to mass struggles and to bringing ever greater masses of workers to mobilise themselves for decisive struggles.

Herman Gorter, one of the principal theoreticians of this party, justified thus the necessity of a small communist party ;

'Most proletarians are ignoramuses. They have little notion of economics and politics, do not know much of national and international events, of the relations which exist between these latter and of the influence which they exert on the revolution. By reason of their position in society they cannot get to know all this. This is why they can never act at the right moment. They act when they should not, do not act when they should. They repeatedly make mistakes.'

(Answer to Lenin; H Gorter, Paris 1930)

So according to this theory, the small select Party would have an educational mission, it would be a catalyst of ideas. But the task of regrouping the masses and organising them, in a network of factory organisations, would be that of the AAUD. Its essential objective would be to counter and overthrow the influence of the Trade Unions, through propaganda, but more particularly through determined action, that of a 'group which shows in the struggle what the masses must become' - Gorter. Finally, in the course of revolutionary struggle, these factory organisations would become workers councils, uniting all the workers and controlled by them. The 'dictatorship of the proletariat' would be nothing more than an AAUD extended to the whole of German industry.

The AAUD-E Argument

The AAUD-E was, as has been said, opposed to a political party separate from the factory organisations. It wanted a united organisation which would lead the day to day struggle, and later on take over the administration of society, on the system of workers councils. It would have both economic and political aims. It differed from revolutionary syndicalism in that it disagreed with the hostility to working class political power and the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the other hand, it did not see the usefulness of a political party (KAPD style). Though granting the same arguments about the backwardness of the working class, for them the factory organisation itself would suffice for the educational role so long as freedom of speech and discussion were assured within them.

The AAUD-E criticised the KAPD for being a centralised party, with professional leaders and paid editors, only distinguished form the KPD by its rejection of Parliamentarism. They derided the 'double organisation' as a 'double pie card' for the benefit of the leaders. The AAUD-E rejected the notion of paid leaders; 'neither cards nor rules nor anything of that kind', they said. Some of them went so far as to found anti-organisation organisations.

Roughly, the AAUD-E held that if the proletariat is too weak or divided to take decisions, no party decision could remedy this. Nobody could take the place of the proletariat. It must, by itself, overcome its own defects, otherwise it will be beaten and will pay a heavy price for its defeat. For them the double organisation was a hangover from the political party and trade union partnership.

As a result of the differences between these three trends, KAPD, AAUD and AAUD-E, the latter refused to participate with the other two in the Central German insurrection of 1921. This was launched and led in a great part by the armed elements of the KAPD (still at that time regarded as sympathetic to the Third International), since the AAUD-E claimed it was merely to camouflage the events in Russia and in particular the repression of the Kronstadt sailors and workers by the Red Army under Trotsky.

Despite continued internal dissension, always very high and often obscured by personalities; in spite of excesses provoked by disappointment, the 'communist spirit', that is to say, the insistence on violent direct action, the passionate denunciation of all political and trade union colours (including the 'palace mayors' of Moscow) continued to permeate the masses. All financed by illegal means; their members, though often thrown out of employment because of their subversive activities, were extremely active in the street and at public meetings etc.


But it had been believed that the growth of the factory organisations of 1919/20 would continue at the same rate, that they would become a mass movement of 'millions of conscious communists' which would override the power of the allegedly working class trade unions. This was not however to prove the case. They started from the hypothesis that the proletariat would struggle and win as an organised class, and would work out the way of building the new organisation. In the growth of the AAUD or the AAUD-E, the development of the fighting spirit and class consciousness of the workers could be measured. But these organisations drew in on themselves after the American financed economic expansion of 1923/29. In the years of Depression they were reduced to a mere few hundred members, a few cells here and there in the factories which employed some 20 million. By the time the Hitlerites came on the scene, the factory organisations had shrunk from being 'general' organisations of the workers to being cells of conscious council communists. Notwithstanding what their aims might be or their press might say, the AAUD and the AAUD-E had become no more than minor political parties.

The Function of the Organisations

Was it however, merely the withering away of their membership that transformed the factory organisations into minor political parties ?

No !

It was a change of function. Though the factory organisations never had for their proclaimed task the leading of strikes, negotiations with employers, formulation of demands (all of which they left to the strikers themselves) - they were the organs of struggle. They restricted their functions to those of propaganda and support. Every time a strike was launched the factory organisations helped to run it; their press was the strike press; they put on speakers, AAUD or AAUD-E and ran meetings. But so far as conducting negotiations was concerned, it was the task of the strike committee and the members of the factory organisations did not represent their group as such but the strikers who had elected them and to whom they were responsible.

The KAPD, as a political party, had a different function. Its task was seen as being above all propaganda, economic and political analysis. At election times it undertook anti-parliamentary activity; it called for action committees in the factories, streets, among the unemployed, etc.

After the bloody repression of 1921, and during the period of economic prosperity, the above named functions became purely theoretical. The activity of the factory organisations became solely that of propaganda and analysis, that is to say political activity. Many members were discouraged and left the movement. As a result of that, too it meant that the factory was no longer the basis of the organisation. Meetings began to be held outside the factory; on the basis of the district, perhaps in a bar where, German fashion, they sang the old workers songs of hope and anger . . . .

No longer was there a practical difference between KAPD, AAUD and AAUD-E. In practice they put forward the same line, and were all political groupings whatever they called themselves. Anton Pannekoek, the Dutch Marxist who was one of the great theoreticians of council communism, said in this respect:

'The AAUD, like the KAPD, is essentially an organisation whose immediate goal is the revolution. In other times, in a period of decline of the revolution, one could not have thought of founding such an organisation. But it has survived the revolutionary years; the workers who founded it before and fought under its flag do not want to let themselves lose the experience of those struggles and conserve it like a cutting from a plant fo r the developments to come.'

Three political parties of the same colour was two too many !

With the dangers threatening the working class as the Nazis started on the road we know so well today, and with inertia and cowardice of the old and powerful 'working class' organisations, there were moves to unity. In December 1931, the AAUD (having already separated from the KAPD) fused with the AAUD-E. Only a few elements remained in the KAPD, and some from the AAUD-E went into the anarchist ranks (the FAUD). But most of the survivors of the factory organisations were in a new organisation, the KAUD (Kommunistische Arbeiter Union Deutschlands) or the Communist Workers Union of Germany. This expressed in its title the idea that the organisation was no longer a 'general organisation' of the workers, as the AAUD had been at one time. It united all those workers who were declared revolutionaries, consciously communist, but did not claim it united all the workers any longer.


With the change of name, there was a change of conception. Up till then, council communism had only taken note of the 'organised class'. Both the AAUD and the AAUD-E had believed from the beginning that it would be they who would organise the working class, that millions would rally to them. It was an idea close to that of revolutionary syndicalism, which looked forward to seeing all the workers join their unions, then the working class would be an 'organised class'.

Now however, the KAUD urged workers to organise for themselves their own action committees. No longer was the 'organised' class struggle to depend on an organisation formed previously to the struggle. In this new conception, the 'organised class' became the working class struggling under its own leadership.

This change of conception had other consequences. It affected the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat, for instance. If the 'organised class' was no longer the exclusive affair of organisations formed before the struggle, those organisations were no longer able to be considered as the organs of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Thus disappeared one of the causes of dissension: whether the KAPD or the AAUD would have to exercise power. It had to be agreed that the dictatorship of the proletariat could not be in the hands of specialised organisations; it would exist in the hands of the class which was in struggle. The task of the new KAUD would amount to communist propaganda, clarifying the objectives of the struggle, urging the working class to struggle, principally by means of the unofficial strike, and showing it where its strengths and weaknesses lay.

Communist Society and the Factory Organisations

This evolution in ideas had to be accompanied by a revision of recognised notions concerning the future communist society. The general ideology in political circles accepted by the masses was State Capitalism. There were many shades of state capitalism, but state capitalist ideology could be brought down to some very simple principles : the state, through nationalisation, through planned economy, through social reforms etc. represented the lever for socialism, while parliamentary and trade union action represented the means of struggle. According to this theory, the working class had hardly and need to struggle as an independent class; instead they should entrust the 'management and leadership of the class struggle' to Parliamentary and Trade Union commanders. Needless to say, in this ideology, Party and Trade Unions became a component part of the State, and the management and leadership of the socialist or communist society of the future would be theirs.

Indeed during the first phase (following the defeat of the revolution in Germany) this tradition still strongly impregnated the conceptions of the AAUD, the KAPD and the AAUD-E. All three were in favour of an organisation 'grouping millions and millions' of workers in order to carry out the political and economic dictatorship of the proletariat. In 1922, for instance the AAUD declared that it was in a position to take over, on its reckoning, based on its active membership, '6% of the factories' of Germany.

But these conceptions altered. When there were hundreds of factory organisations, united and co-ordinated by the AAUD and AAUD-E, they could demand the maximum of independence as to the decisions they took and avoid 'a new clique of leaders'.

But it was asked whether it was possible to preserve this independence in the midst of communist social life ?

Economic life is highly specialised, and all enterprises are directly interdependent. How could economic life be administered if the production and distribution of social wealth are not sometimes in centralised forms ? Was the State dispensable or indispensable as a regulator of production and organisation ?

It is easy to see there was a contradiction between the old idea of communist society and the new form of society that was now proposed. While there was fear of economic centralisation, it was not clear how to guard against it. There was discussion about the greater or lesser degree of 'federalism' or 'centralism' : the AAUD-E leaned rather more towards federalism, the KAPD - AAUD leaned more towards centralism. In 1923, Karl Schrâder (1884 - 1950, Spartacist fighter with a price on his head, then a professional leader of the KAPD, was expelled from the KAPD in 1924; later he became an official of the Socialist Party. He was one of the few of his party to organise 'resistance' to Nazism. Imprisoned in 1936 with other KAPD veterans, he is today one of the German Socialist 'martyrs') the theoretician of the KAPD, proclaimed that 'the more centralised communist society is, the better it will be'.

In fact, as long as one remained on the basis of the old conceptions of the 'organised class', this contradiction was insoluble. One side rallied more or less to the revolutionary syndicalist conception of 'taking over' the factories through the unions; the other, like the Bolsheviks, thought that a centralised apparatus, the state, must regulate the process of distribution and production, and distribute the 'national income' among the workers.

But to discuss the communist society on the basis of 'federalism or centralism' is sterile. These are problems of organisation, technical problems, while communist society is basically an economic problem. Capitalism must give way to another economic system, where the means of production, the products of labour power, do not take the form of 'value' and where the exploitation of the working population to the profit of privileged layers has disappeared.

The problem of 'federalism or centralism' is devoid of sense if it has not been shown beforehand what the form of organisation and its economic basis will be. Forms of organisation are not arbitrary: they derive from the very principles of the economy. For example, the principle of profit and surplus value, of its private or collective appropriation, lies at the bottom of all forms of capitalist economy. That is why it is insufficient to present communist economy as a negative system: no money, no market, no private or State property. It is necessary to show up its positive character, to show what will be the economic laws which will succeed those of capitalism. This done, it may well be that the problem of 'federalism or centralism' is no problem at all.

The End of the Movement in Germany

The AAUD had separated from the KAPD at the end of 1929. Its press then advocated a 'flexible tactic'; support of workers struggles solely for wage demands, the improvement of conditions or hours of work. More rigidly, the KAPD saw in this tactic the bait for a slide towards class collaboration, 'horse-trading' (Kuhhandel) politics. After expelling its leader Adam Scharrer for 'making a pact with the enemy' (ie. having a novel published by the German Communist Party publishing house), (Adam Scharrer 1889 -1948 metalworker, Spartacist fighter, afterwards professional leader of the KAPD from which he was expelled in 1930. A novelist like Schrâder, he lived in Moscow after 1934. Later moved to what was East Germany where he was regarded as a 'pioneer of proletarian literature'. Needless to say, some features of his past life were not exactly advertised.) - the KAPD turned to the advocacy of individual terrorism. One of those who accepted this idea was Marinus VAN DER LUBBE. In setting fire to the premises housing the Nazi Parliament, and burning down the Reichstag, he wished by a symbolic gesture to urge the workers to abandon their political apathy and rise against the Nazis. (It should be noted in passing that effective Stalinist propaganda has all but obscured the heroic role of Van der Lubbe, who in English speaking countries at least, has been classified almost as a Nazi stool pigeon - a slander begun by Dimitrov and Thalmann, Communist leaders, in their defence.)

But neither tactic had any results in any case. Germany had gone through an economic crisis of major depth. There was huge army of the unemployed. Unofficial strikes became impossible. While it was true that nobody any longer thought of obeying their trade unions, the latter were collaborating directly with the employers and the state. The press of the council communists was frequently seized. The supreme irony was that the only great unofficial strike of that period - the transport workers of Berlin in 1932 - was organised by the Stalinist and Hitler high priests acting together against the high priests of the Socialist trade unions.