Communist Party of Germany
- (Kommunistische Partei Deutsch-lands, KPD)The KPD emerged from a radical opposition within the SPD. Arguing that Marx s vision could be achieved only via revolution (orthodoxy), the radicals (known since 1915 as the Gruppe Internationale) differed with a party espousing an evolutionary form of parliamentary socialism (revisionism). Employing the name Spartakusgruppe in 1916, the radicals joined the new USPD in 1917, then adopted the name Spartacus League* on 11 November 1918. Rosa Luxemburg* began publishing Rote Fahne, the League s newspa-per,* the same month.Deeming the revolution inadequate, the Spartacists, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards,* and smaller radical leftist organizations from Bremen (the Bremer Linke), Hamburg, and Dresden assembled in Berlin* from 29 December 1918 through 1 January 1919 for what became the KPD s founding congress. Lux-emburg, unenthusiastic when the League chose to separate from the USPD, expounded her vision of a unified German Socialist Republic under the admin-istration of Workers and Soldiers Councils.* (The Shop Stewards, sharing Luxemburg s qualms, refused to join the KPD.) In contrast to the Soviet experiment, Luxemburg sought to avoid terror while retaining Germany s fed-eral structure. But a violent spirit animated the congress; Luxemburg was over-ruled, and her aim to enter the forthcoming National Assembly* elections was rejected. Using Karl Radek as his agent, Lenin pressed the KPD to seize power. The KPD was stirred to action by the Shop Stewards, but the attempt proved tragic. Although Berlin was chaotic in early 1919, working-class opinion favored a nonviolent approach to Germany s problems. The ultraradicals took the KPD into a four-month bloodbath, thereby severing the KPD s ties with the masses. Moreover, with the 15 January murder of Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht,* the Party s intellectual core was lost.During the painful first half of 1919, which witnessed the death of Leo Jog-iches in March and of Eugen Levine* in June, the KPD appointed Paul Levi* chairman and launched a campaign to establish itself as a mass party. In October 1919 Levi began expelling those who had repudiated cooperation with Ger-many s trade unions* or had vetoed participation in the National Assembly. But this did not avert the KPD, against Levi s wishes, from fomenting an insurrec-tion after the Kapp* Putsch of March 1920. The creation in April of the ultra-radical Communist Workers Party (KAPD) did little to bolster the KPD s precarious position. Hoping to split the USPD, Lenin publicly disowned the ultraradicals in June 1920. His communique came too late to help the KPD in the same month's Reichstag* elections: it gained 1.7 percent of the vote and two parliamentary seats. Yet the prosperous USPD (18.8 percent of the vote and eighty-one seats) did in fact split in October 1920, with its larger left wing joining the KPD.Prospects were again dashed when, at Moscow s urging, the KPD launched another putsch (the "March Action") in 1921. It was a grievous failure. Yet because Levi had denounced the planned revolt as madness, he was expelled from the Zentrale in the uprising's aftermath; half of the Zentrale retired with him. When Levi and his allies left the Party, it reversed its posture and began promoting the tenet that Germany s revolutionary situation was temporarily at an end.By 1921 a pattern of factional strife, sometimes founded on ideology and sometimes on personality, had become endemic to the KPD. Moscow s hand was always evident. During 1921-1923, under the unsteady leadership of Hein-rich Brandler, the KPD pursued a United Front* with the SPD and trade unions. Again, with Radek as agent, Moscow directed the change. Although the policy was rarely effectual, it found brief success in 1923, the year the KPD established its first paramilitary arm, the Proletarian Hundreds (Proletarische Hundertschaf-ten). In October 1923 the KPD, aroused again by Moscow, launched abortive uprisings in Saxony* and Thuringia* that induced Berlin to outlaw it for six months. The actions, moreover, spawned another reversal in policy. In this in-stance, Brandler was branded a traitor for insufficiently supporting the SPD-KPD uprisings and for discrediting the Party with his United Front policy. Notwithstanding such absurd inconsistency, he was stripped of the chairmanship in February 1924 (within days of Lenin s death) and replaced by Ruth Fischer* and Arkadi Maslow.The leadership of Fischer and Maslow, radicals who had pressed for the 1923 uprisings, was sanctioned by Grigori Zinoviev. Faced with sagging membership, the cochairmen abandoned the United Front and, despite growing economic stabilization, reactivated a posture of confrontation. In 1924 the Roter Front-kampferbund* (RFB) replaced the Proletarian Hundreds. Although the KPD polled 12.6 percent in the May 1924 Reichstag elections—placing sixty-two deputies in the chamber—the next year s presidential campaign brought a 50 percent loss in support. Due largely to Fischer s unbridled attacks on the unions, the KPD alienated most workers and erased hopes of playing a role in Ger-many s parliamentary process.By mid-1925 Fischer and Maslow were entangled by the infighting in Mos-cow; upon Zinoviev's eclipse both were dismissed from the KPD. Ernst Thäl-mann,* whose presidential candidacy had both secured the election of Hindenburg* and underscored the bankruptcy of radical sectarianism, was Sta-lin s personal choice as Party head. A Hamburg dockworker totally loyal to Moscow, this erstwhile friend of Fischer and Maslow became leader of a party (with Heinz Neumann* and Hermann Remmele* from 1928) that briefly reac-tivated a United Front, but ensured that the KPD would remain a Stalinist pawn (a fact that led in 1928 to a minor Party split and formation of the Kommunis-tische Partei-Opposition). While the KPD's electorate grew during Thalmann's regime—rising to six million votes in 1932—the Party was increasingly Stal-inized. At Moscow s order and amidst internal discord, Thaälmann abandoned the United Front in 1928; yet, despite growing street violence, the KPD launched no further insurrections. Stalin, blind to the threat embodied in Hitler,* focused the KPD s attacks on the Republic and the SPD—the "social fascists ; indeed, the Party randomly cooperated with the radical Right against the Republic.Germany s third largest party after the November 1932 Reichstag elections (it garnered 16.9 percent of the votes cast), the KPD was crushed by the end of April 1933. In March, after the Reichstag fire, Thalmann was imprisoned, KPD mandates were annulled, and the Party was dissolved. Within weeks, thousands of mid-level party functionaries were in prisons and concentration facilities.REFERENCES:Angress, Stillborn Revolution; Borkenau, European Communism; Conan Fischer, German Communists; Fowkes, Communism in Germany; Morgan, Socialist Left; Hermann Weber, Kommunismus.
A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. C. Paul Vincent.
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