Thälmann, Ernst

(1886-1944)
   politician; led the KPD from 1925 until the Party's suppression in 1933. He was born to petty bourgeois circumstances in Hamburg; his father managed an import shop for which Thalmann worked upon quitting school at age fourteen. After two years he left home to become a dockworker. He joined the SPD in 1903 and soon became active in the German Transport-Workers' Union. He went to sea in 1907 after being declared unfit for military service. Upon returning to Hamburg, he redoubled his activity in Party and union affairs. Inducted in January 1915, he spent three years on the Western Front, deserting just before the Armistice.*
   Late in 1918 Thalmann joined the USPD in Hamburg, where he served for fourteen years with the city's representative assembly (Burgerschaft). Widely popular with dockworkers, he became the USPD s local chairman in May 1919. He failed to gain election to the Reichstag* in June 1920 and was among those who abandoned the USPD in October 1920 in favor of the KPD; a majority of his Hamburg colleagues did the same.
   Although Thalmann was rather inarticulate, his forceful personality made him effective. As a member from December 1920 of the KPD s Zentrale, he attached himself to Ruth Fischer* and Arkadi Maslow and thereby rose by 1923 to a key Party position. Throughout the 1920s he viewed United Front* tactics as no more than feigned cooperation—a means to discredit the SPD leadership. This position contrasted with that of Heinrich Brandler and Paul Levi,* who per-ceived the policy as a means to gain legitimacy for the KPD. Thalmann grad-ually tired of the effort. He supported the KPD s abortive uprisings of October 1923, but while the debacles subverted Fischer and Maslow, Thalmann only advanced in their aftermath, largely because of his devotion to Moscow. He was elected to the Reichstag in May 1924 (a mandate he retained until his arrest in March 1933) and became Party chairman, leader of the Roter Frontkampfer-bund* (RFB), and candidate for Reich President, all in 1925. Indeed, the ar-guments used to dislodge Fischer and Maslow were incongruously turned to Thalmann's advantage. Moreover, he was named to the Comintern's executive at the organization s Fifth World Congress, also held in 1925.
   Thalmann's 1.9 million votes (6.4 percent) in the 1925 elections ensured Hindenburg s* election and the defeat of Wilhelm Marx,* the candidate of the Weimar Coalition.* Convinced that all non-Marxists were motivated by bour-geois greed and an all-consuming desire to topple the Soviet Union,* he ex-pressed no regrets over his candidacy. In 1928 the emergence of a rightist opposition in the RFB coincided with the discovery that John Wittorf, Thäl-mann s relative, had embezzled Party funds. When opponents tried to use the resultant crisis to topple Thaälmann, Stalin s intervention salvaged his position. More or less sharing leadership from 1928 with Heinz Neumann* and Hermann Remmele,* he vetoed a renewed United Front and in the Republic's final years oled a fight against the SPD that became the central feature of KPD policy. As an exercise in futility, he ran again for the presidency in 1932.
   Thaälmann s faith in Stalin and his underestimation of the NSDAP were his undoing. Arrested on 3 March 1933, he remained in various camps and prisons until his execution at Buchenwald in August 1944.
   REFERENCES:Angress, Stillborn Revolution; Benz and Graml, Biographisches Lexikon; Comfort, Revolutionary Hamburg; Fowkes, Communism in Germany; Morgan, Socialist Left; Hermann Weber, Kommunismus.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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