Jan Appel's speech to the 1921 Congress of the Third International under the pseudonym Max Hempel.
COMINTERN:01 July 1921:11th Session 1240 pm
Discussion on the Report by Comrade Radek. Speakers Comrades Hempel, Terrachini, Lenin, Micalek, Vaughan
Comrade Hempel [for the KAPD]
Comrades ! After hearing the Report by Comrade Radek concerning the tactical line to be adopted by the Communist International, it is possible for us to declare our agreement with the first formulation put forward by Comrade Radek, to the extent that these correspond with the conviction that we ourselves hold as a result of our observations upon the world economic situation, namely - that we consider the approaching collapse of the capitalist mode of production to be confirmed, and that the proletarian revolution will be its unconditional and necessary outcome. However, when we come to consider the question of how this proletarian revolution should be carried through, how the line of battle of the revolutionary proletariat should be disposed in the course of the struggle - the differences do indeed exist. Since only a short time for speaking has been allotted to me, I will attempt to clarify these differences as concisely as possible.
Let us consider the period from 1917, the revolution in Russia. Similarly let us consider the revolutions in Germany and Austria; when we consider all the revolutions which have occurred in this epoch, we observe one salient fact: that the form of organisation adopted by the fighting proletariat has been that of Soviets. In Germany we call them Räte [Councils]. This was the line of battle adopted by the proletariat, this was the organisational form of the working masses. We can establish this point further through the example of other revolutionary struggles on a smaller scale, such as the factory occupation which occurred in Italy. The proletariat has its Councils, or at least their organisational form; it has made use in the past of factory committees, and is now forming these in England within the arena of the widespread miners’ strike there [this is the truly revolutionary leadership given by the shop stewards]. The German proletariat after 1918 has adopted in all its revolutionary struggles, from the smallest to the largest, the organisational form based upon councils of workers in factories and other places of work. This is what we should perceive in the revolution. It is this that we should be turning over in our minds and trying to evaluate. Having done this, we should openly declare: if this is the line of formation adopted by the proletariat in the revolution, then it behoves us, as Communists who wish to win a position of leadership in the revolution, and who indeed must win it, to approach the question of the organisation of revolutionary organisation of the proletariat in accordance with the same method.
This is what we of the Communist Workers’ Party declares - and this is not as Comrade Radek believes, the brainchild of Comrade Gorter in Holland or a figment of his imagination. On the contrary, it is the product of our experience in all the struggles through which we have fought since 1918. We workers are not great theoreticians, but we have above all the experience we have gained from our struggles to guide us. We have reached a point at which we must give the revolutionary workers; those who really wish to play a part in the struggle, a foothold, helping them to break free from the old organisational forms of the working class movement and offering them a helping hand towards those new organisational forms of the working class movement and offering them a helping hand towards these new organisational forms through which the revolution may be brought to a victorious conclusion.
This is thrown into clearest relief when it is brought to mind just what the tasks of the old workers’ movement were - or, expressed in clearer terms, what were the aims of the workers’ movement in the epoch prior to the actual outbreak of the revolution. Its tasks were: on the one hand, through the agency of the political organisations of the working class, the political parties, to dispatch delegates to the parliaments and other representative institutions of capitalism which were publicly accepted by the bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy as being a respectable form of representation for the working class. This was the one task, and it was exploited to the full. In the then prevailing conditions, this was correct. The economic organisations of the working class then had the task of winning improvements in the situation of the workers under capitalism, of inspiring the workers to struggle, and, when struggle was no longer possible, of negotiating. I must express myself as briefly as possible. That was the character of the tasks confronting the workers’ organisations before the War.
When, however, the revolution broke out, other tasks made their appearance. Now the workers’ organisations could no longer confine themselves to demands for higher wages nor restrict their main aims to those of mere representation in parliament, in order to squeeze out a few more concessions for the workers. That is reformism. Now our critics confront us with the statement: but we don’t want that either ! - and we reply: yes ! - we believe you when you say this is not what you want; but if you adopt the same course as that of the old workers’ movement, then you will be drawn willy-nilly onto that road, you will be powerless to do otherwise, and any number of theses will be of no avail in preventing it.
Our whole experience proves this. It was not for nothing that the old workers’ movement had its own characteristic organisations. For what does one need in order to be represented in parliament ? For this one has no need of revolutionary fighters, one needs only to be enlightened concerning the real conditions of the existing state, one needs personalities, skilled in debate, as experienced parliamentarians are, and from them one receives reports, etc. No more than that. What does one need in the arena of the economic struggle ? One needs no more than combinations of workers, trade unions, headed by diligent officials capable of negotiating with employers and their firms. Leaders remain faithful to such organisations, they stand by them. Money is collected in order to carry through a possible future strike. Solidarity organisations are set up, which is in essence what the trade unions are, instruments serving the working class for quite definite purposes, to serve a quite definite aim: namely, to enable the workers to find as comfortable a way of life as possible within the capitalist order.
And if it then happens that Communists come to believe that these instruments - which are incapable of encompassing revolutionary struggle, which are unviable weapons in the heat of revolutionary battles - if they seek to make this use this form of leadership, of these organisations, and come to believe that they will be able by this means to lead the revolution through to victory, then they commit a serious error, and in this way they will eventually find themselves being tramples underfoot. Are we not undergoing this experience over and over again, the experience which teaches that all workers’ organisations of this kind, which have chosen this path, when it comes to the decisive struggle, end in collapse ?
This is the great lesson we must draw from these experiences. In this connection we say: it is the end aim which they must keep firmly in mind, and that aim is: to shatter and destroy capitalist power, to destroy the power of the state. Specifically to serve and achieve this objective, the proletariat must create its own organisations. It is the proletariat itself which brings these organisations into being. We see an example of this when, in a particular industrial establishment, for instance in Germany, the workers submit their demands - and these demands, given present-day conditions, turn out to be such that the employers are unable grant them.
So what do the workers do then ? They elect their own representatives, whom they know and trust from their own factories, from their own places of work. They find that the struggle which they wage, already at this early stage, has to be one conducted against the wishes of the trades union leaderships. This has been our experience throughout the long history of these small struggles, these small strikes, right through up to the large scale struggles of the present.
We see then: the proletariat is already being compelled, even today, to organise itself for revolutionary struggle, for control of the economy, and we say: we Communists must recognise this, must acknowledge that the path taken by the old workers’ movement was a false one. We have found a new path, the path of revolutionary struggle, and for that reason we declare that the workers must organise themselves in accordance with the selfsame example which the revolution itself, in the course of its development has shown us, and in which, when struggle is placed on the agenda, we Communists should play the leading role. For all these reasons we say: the Communists must encourage and lead the proletariat to organise itself on the basis of the factories and places of work, to organise with quite a definite aim in view, for quite a definite purpose, namely: to conquer power over production, the productive forces, the factories, and to take control over them into its own hands. It arises out of the very conditions under which which these struggles are waged that the proletariat must organise itself in this way, for it is in pursuit of these very aims that the proletariat wages its struggles in the first place.
Comrades, it is not possible for me to dwell at any greater length on these matters. It is the task of Communists to recognise them and to make such problems as these their closest concern.
And so we come now to the next point. The line of formation to be adopted by the proletariat, its organisation in struggle and the tasks facing it in that struggle - these also show us the methods which should be adopted in that struggle. The methods must be revolutionary in character, and in the contemporary age they arise out of our analysis of the economic situation, as also out of our evaluation of the situation within the camp of the class enemy.
The class enemy is today in course of adopting counter-measures. He has, of course, done this before, but today his preparations are being pursued to an intensified degree. Above all, they are such as are designed specifically to maintain the class enemy’s grip upon social power. On the one hand upon state power, on the other hand to bring about a situation in which industry and the economy can once again bring them some returns. What is not possible for them is to set the whole economy once again into motion. This they cannot do. It is, however, possible for them to consolidate a part of it, its decisive inner kernel, and this they seek to achieve the expense of other parts. This is what is taking place now in all countries of the world. We Communists must observe this, and we must see what further consequences might arise out of this new start adopted by the capitalists who, as always, are acting with methodical resolution.
The first result of these new policies is that a section of the proletariat is maintained in a reasonable condition of life in those industrial establishments in which capitalist production is still viable, in the still viable sectors of the economy. And we can see that this strongest kernel of capitalism, these trusts and super-trusts, combine in joint relations with one another in all countries and so maintain a dominant position. But if only a part of the proletariat is able to find employment and the means of life in these most concentrated establishments, it follows that another section must be deprived of those blessings. And that deprived section constitutes by far the preponderant mass of the unemployed, who can find no support in the present-day system and who are condemned gradually to perish. This is the dichotomisation of the working class, the economic division within it. The worker who still has his place in the factory, who still possesses the means for continuing his struggle through life - he hangs on desperately to his employment, he does everything he can not to lose it. And the workers who have already been thrown out of the factory appear as the enemy of those who are still afforded the means of life. This is the division which capital is purposefully promoting and which is being stirred up by the bourgeois press on every occasion. This is the way in which capitalism is being restored to good health. We do not say that this is a permanent restoration of the rule of capital, but a restoration for a certain period of time, a restoration which rests upon the emaciated corpses of the proletariat. We must recognise this, and it is from this situation that we are also able to derive our battle tactics, as also the method which we must employ in order to advance to a new situation.
It is the task of us Communists to alert the proletariat so as to ensure that this tactic of consolidating only the one section of the economy and its workers cannot be brought to completion. For that would represent nothing less than the defeat of the entire proletarian movement. It is our task to take up the struggle at every stage, to take advantage of even the smallest opportunity. It is our task to prevent by all possible means - and here I am at one with Comrade Radek - that this favoured section of the economy, as it is being planned and promoted by the capitalists, should be successfully reconstructed.
To achieve this, we have on our side the enormous and continually growing masses of the unemployed, the starving proletarians, and it is our task to unite them. Our aim in uniting them is not that they should elect us to parliament, so that they can vote for our resolutions; on the contrary, our aim must be to grip them at the level of their basic life-conditions; we must encourage them to organise themselves in Councils, and we must bring them into touch with other Councils, with the shop stewards from the factories and works. It is by this means that we shall bring into being the organisation of the proletariat; it is by this means that we will achieve the unity of the proletariat in action. Above all, it will be necessary for us to engage continuously in struggle. The speeches, the resolutions and the Open Letter, such as Comrade Radek has proposed here - they cannot in any way constitute the platform upon which the unification of the revolutionary proletariat will be achieved. That platform can be forged only out of unremitting struggle.
Comrade Radek spoke of an offensive and defensive phase. Even at the beginning of this year, we in Germany recognised the turn events were taking with us. We have seen how bourgeois democracy has been kept alive by resort to measures of every conceivable kind - implemented through the Social Democrats, the Independents, all the parliamentary parties and organisations, and finally by measures adopted by the entire bourgeoisie. It was an insidious situation, which was just what capital needed; it was absolutely necessary to break it. We issued the following slogans: make the maximum use of each and every dispute in all factories: push those disputes relentlessly forward, extend them, make use of every opportunity to offer the clenched fist to each and every capitalist; cultivate communication from factory to factory, and everywhere work to sharpen the struggle. Comrades we have seen that as a result of these aims the situation in central Germany intensified, and it became the March Action. Then there came the offensives led by Hörsing and the storm in Germany had broken out. We say that this was an offensive, at least as we understand that word, and that this must be promoted to the maximum.
However all of a sudden, to command the launching of an offensive, quite unannounced - that is sheer nonsense !
And now I would like to refer once again to the attitude which we adopted on 20th August of that year, when Red troops stood on the East Prussian border, before Warsaw. It is necessary that our judgement of what constitutes an offensive or a defensive situation be brought to bear on these events also. We of the KAPD sought to prepare the ground by all possible means throughout the country, through weeks of preliminary actions, in public meetings, by means of leaflets, through propaganda in the factories, through making the maximum possible use of the mood brought into being through the fact that the Red troops were at the border, and so on.
And when the news finally broke that troops and supplies from France were rolling through Germany - what was to be done ? We for our part, quite consciously took the decision to push matters to the point of insurrection. We carried out these preparations in a planned way in all areas. And then on the 20th of August and on the previous evening - it is only today that we are able for the first time to speak our mind on these matters, because up till now many of our Comrades found themselves in prison because of these things - there appeared in the Rote Fahne, and in Freiheit and in all the provincial papers in Germany, the summons: ‘To the Proletarians of Germany: take heed of this Warning ! Spies and provocateurs, unsavoury elements, are seeking to lure you into a bloodbath ! ‘ and so forth. We now confess openly, if ever we have committed a serious error, then it was on this day, and namely that we strove with all the means at our disposal to put the brakes upon the Action - the Action which it had been intended should break out in the strategically most important parts of Germany. In many places we had even succeeded, and now it is even the subject of scornful remarks uttered at our expense that our Comrades in Velbert and Köthen had gone so far as to proclaim the Soviet Republic !
We say: one may pour scorn on us for this - that does not trouble us. But the duty of a Communist in this situation was to seize the offensive at this precise moment. In Germany we consider such an action to be an offensive, but considered on an international scale it was not so much an offensive as simply an act of solidarity with the struggles of our Russian brothers, who were being threatened by the supply of war materials. These things also must be taken into account before any judgement concerning what constitutes offensive and defensive action is reached.
So now we come to the question of partial demands. I have already broached this subject, that of the Open Letter - over there, there is control of production, couldn’t that be called a ‘partial demand’ ? But then Comrade Radek has spelled out for us so very clearly what partial demands may or may not look like. In Germany this Open Letter, supported by the trades unions, supported by the parliamentary parties - it must have an opportunist outcome ! An Open Letter which has as its foundation the support of revolutionary organisations engaged in economic struggle - such an Open Letter surely possesses the very qualities which Comrade Radek has found lacking in the Vereinigte kommunistische Partei Deutschlands [United communist Party of Germany - VKPD]. Where are the meetings of the Action Committees which should have laid down the basis for the struggle, the meetings which should have taken place as a result of the Open Letter ?
Yes of course we rejected it, because we know our Pappenheimers only too well, because we knew that that course could bring us nothing more than negotiations with the government, because it consisted of nothing but empty phrases. It was for this reason that we rejected it. We are in agreement with every measure to intensify the struggle. But one should also consider carefully what is being done. One cannot simply produce solutions in the way a conjuror produces cards out of his shirt sleeves, they constitute preparations for revolution which must be put in hand. The solutions would have been to hand if we had possessed revolutionary organisations, they would have been taken if, for the past two years the Central Committee of the Spartacist League,, indeed the Third International itself, had not been insisting: ‘no factory organisations, no general workers unions’; and instead,’do what you can with the old trade unions’. One should pay attention to how things really are; and, above all, one should ask the class fighters themselves, those who wage continuous struggle; they will tell you how matters stand. They will show you how, and how alone, struggle should be waged. As you know, I do not have the time to analyse everything in detail.
So this is how we have to deal with the question of partial actions. We declare openly: we do not reject any partial actions. What we do say is that each and every action, each and every struggle, must be thoroughly worked out, must be pursued through to the end. One cannot say that we reject this particular action or that particular struggle. Any struggle which arises out of the economic life-needs of the workers must be pursued by all possible means. And precisely in such a land as Germany, or indeed in England, or any of the ‘democratic’ countries which have experienced 40 or 50 years of bourgeois democracy and its effects, this is absolutely imperative. In all those countries the workers must first become accustomed to struggle. The slogans issued must correspond to such partial actions. Let us take an example: in a factory or in a number of factories, a so-called general strike breaks out, which spreads over a small area. In such a situation the slogan ‘Struggle for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, can have no relevance. That would be nonsense. Slogans must correspond to the conditions prevailing, they must correspond to the concrete possibilities in that area. Also, the slogans must be suited to the character of the struggle which the particular movement is pursuing. Let us assume that a general uprising is taking place in the country; it is tactically obvious that the slogans issued should not simply declare: ‘Now it’s a matter of life or death !’
So now I will make some comments on the March Action, in order thereby to illustrate what effect the lessons deriving from it have had; lessons which have not yet been demonstrated here. In and for itself, the March Action - everyone now holds this view - was not in any way an action which could have led to the overthrow of the power of capital. We also saw this. But in spite of this it was necessary to declare the slogan: ‘Overthrow the government !’ It was necessary to issue this slogan, because otherwise there would have been no further prospect of any real struggle being waged on the part of the proletarians in Germany. But, over and above this, it was also necessary to issue this slogan because, seen as whole, there remained in Germany no other course for proletarians to take. The present social order means death by starvation for so-and-so many millions of proletarians, means a slow death for ever larger sections of the population. As a consequence, there remained for those workers who are living in conditions of dire distress but one aim: the forcible overthrow of the present order of society ! This, had to be the slogan in Central Germany. It had to be formulated in that way because for the first time it was necessary to show the German proletariat how it could lift itself out of its condition of distress.
I would like to choose an example. It was January 1918 in Germany. The war with all its consequences weighed heavily upon the proletariat. In January 1918 the munitions workers and the dock workers managed to find the way, using every resolve, to rise up in revolt against the tyranny of the war, against hunger, poverty and distress. They did this using the weapon of a series of general strikes. And what happened ?
The other workers, the proletarians in soldiers uniform, did not yet understand their brother workers were on strike. A few perhaps. The ice had not yet been broken. But what progress did this struggle make throughout the country ? How was the persecution of the workers instigated ?
Even as they were being pursued into every corner and hiding place, the news of the strike, of this movement of the workers was reaching into every corner of Germany ! Everyone, every single person, knew of the events which marked the struggle. And so, as conditions reached the point at which nothing more could be saved of the military economy and of the so-called German Reich, then at last the workers and soldiers found the means enabling them to carry through the actions which their predecessors in struggle, those of January 1918, had taught them.
And now matters find themselves at a similar pass in Germany. Thanks to the March struggle of 1921, the proletariat of Germany has had an example held before it of the sole means by which it alone can find a way out of the collapse, and everyone now knows this in Germany. We possess insufficient means, inadequate instruments of propaganda, to take that lesson into every street and every household. That we must leave in large part to the bourgeoisie, the bourgeois citizenry, and they do this in a manner different from ours. They persecute us, they denounce us as criminals, wretched curs, they hunt us down. And still, even today, the proletariat joins hands in denouncing us, still adds its voice to the denunciations. But when general social conditions deteriorate still further, the proletariat will prepare to make its way along the same road of struggle we have take, and it will recognise that road. In this way the revolution battles its way through. For all these reasons the slogan had to be declared and the struggle had to be unleashed for the overthrow of capitalist power, the existing order. That is the great lesson for the International which this March Action has given us. This is greater than all the trivialities to we are still clinging here.
Comrades, it still remains for me to outline in brief words the precise form the organisation of the fighting proletariat should assume. Up till now I have merely hinted vaguely at such matters. The proletariat should no longer organise itself in such a way as merely to permit itself to be represented in the capitalist state in the spheres of politics and economics, in order thereby to make use of bourgeois democracy. On the contrary, the proletariat should organise itself for revolution. Such experience of revolution as the Russian Revolution, the German and Austrian Revolutions have given us, including the experience of separate struggles, this is what the proletariat should adopt as its guideline, this is how it should organise itself. For this reason we say: the Communists must now form themselves into a hard core, must now form a framework which the proletariat can adopt as its own, when the very development itself impels it into struggle. And this framework, of what does it consist ?
It is formed out of the factory organisations, which join together on the basis of industries, industrial sectors and provinces. Today there are only a few. [A shout from the floor: ‘They are becoming even fewer !’] Today it is they who are holding the standard high, who are maintaining the organisational framework. But when the struggles flare up once again, it they who will play an ever larger and more significant part. For the proletariat will then be compelled to hold fast to this framework, because the trades unions will no longer provide a structure adequate to the promote those struggles. That is what we must now recognise. That is how the tactics of the Third International should be formulated, then we will begin to advance.
In order to maintain these organisations, to lead them, in order to be able continuously, to educate this entire class formation, the proletariat needs a Communist Party, but it does not need that kind of a Communist Party which is not able to play a leading role through all its separate organs, and which can only function by means of directives issued by a centre. What the proletariat needs is a highly trained party with a core of steel. This is how it should be. Each individual Communist should be a fully developed Communist, that is our aim, and he should be able to fulfil a leading role in whatever position he finds himself in. He should be able to stand up against all attacks in all conditions, in whatever struggles he is involved, and that which gives him backbone, that which holds him upright, is his Programme. On the other hand, that which compels him to commence negotiations, that can only be the decisions which his Comrades have reached. Here the strongest discipline must prevail. Here there will be no forgiving. On the contrary, here there will be expulsions or other punitive measures whenever or wherever necessary. This will be a Party, in short, which is the steel core, which knows what it has to do, which stands firm, which is tested in struggle, which no longer negotiates, but which carries on the struggle continuously. And such a Party can only come into being when it really throws itself into the struggle, when it breaks with all the old remnants of the trade union and party movement, with its reformist methods - the trades union movement is a part of this - and when it completely renounces parliamentarism. From all this the Communists must break away, by this means they burn behind them the very bridges which lead back to negotiations with the bourgeoisie; and not only by these means is a return to an accommodation with the bourgeoisie set in motion, but also through cooperation, through an active role in those positions which the bourgeoisie has left open and which are intended to serve the class enemy as a trap through which revolutionary energy can be absorbed and dissipated. All this the Communist must ban from their ranks, and when by this means they have been thoroughly purified, they will find themselves impelled all the more strongly towards their revolutionary work. This is how I would explain, in simple words and to the extent that the necessary time has been permitted me, just what the general line of the Communist International should be to enable it to fulfil a leading role.
And if we observe these matters from an international vantage point, we find that here also we will be able to summon forth the forces which will be able to carry this structure forward, the human class material from which this edifice will be built, these international workers’ organisations, this revolutionary international. In France, in Spain, in Italy, even in America we find syndicalists and anarchists. Perhaps someone will cry out: ‘Yes ! You are an anarchist, a syndicalist !’
Let us dwell for a moment on these matters. It will be necessary to recognise that the most revolutionary elements of the working class have for many years been found amongst such people. We know of course, that they do not recognise the class struggle in conscious terms, the organised class struggle. But is it not the case, Comrades, that they entered history prematurely, their tactics were predated by decades ?
The methods adopted by the old workers’ movement in Germany etc. were correct for that time but now, in the period of collapse, now the method of direct struggle is relevant. And these workers, these anarchists and syndicalists of the world, they do not have the experience of the collective strength and support that a workers’ movement can bring to bear. In such a situation it is necessary for the Communists to intervene and to teach them how to lead the struggle, how to concentrate their forces. It is they who should bring them the form of organisation which they need in order that they may combine their ranks and within which they can unite. These same elements, however, demand that such a thorough break is made with all bourgeois remnants, that it will no longer be possible to return to the bourgeois path.
All those workers who have joined the anarchist and syndicalist camp have been provoked by the betrayal of the parliamentary leaders. But at least they have recognised how serious have been the errors committed by the parliamentary workers’ movement. Our task therefore must be to draw them once again out of their present allegiance, and that means that it should be a matter of concern for Communists if they find themselves unable to devote themselves to this work. Indeed it is not even a matter just of this, since for Communists it is no longer merely a question of principle whether or not one rejects parliamentarism, whether or not one rejects the trades union movement: today these matters have become to a far greater degree than ever before, practical questions, and today history has placed them firmly on the agenda, has presented them for solution. If we observe matters in this way, we can see that it is precisely in America and the West European countries that large workers’ organisations are to be found which demand an anti-parliamentary policy and a break with the trades union movement.
And so we now have before us, today, the question as to what decision this Congress will reach. Should it adopt the line of the old workers’ movement, then it will also find its way to the same fatal end. But should it adopt, decisively and with a determined step, the path of unity with the left elements, who today are also to be found in Moscow; and should it recognise that there is much of value in them also, then the revolution will receive from the Third Congress of the Communist International a new forward driving force; on the other path, however, it will collapse into the sand and fall to pieces. It is the responsibility of the Congress to reach the correct decision. And it is from this standpoint also that we regard the question of our continued participation in the Third International.