kapd documents in ‘ideas’

Introduction by Chris Ford

The following two texts are from the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD).  The KAPD is mostly known through the critique written by Lenin, ‘Left-Wing’ Communism – An Infantile Disorder, aimed at the KAPD amongst others.   As result the KAPD are often simply dismissed amongst the traditional left as “anarchists” and “ultra-left”.  In fact the KAPD were none of these things:  they were a mass communist party and played a key role in the German Revolution.

The KAPD arose from the split in the German Communist Party (KPD), sparked by the leadership, headed by Paul Levi, a long-time associate of Rosa Luxemburg, who pushed through a decision in October 1919 that all members had to take part in parliamentary elections.  This was a time when there was real battle between bourgeois state forms and the workers’ councils for power.  It was to a large degree a tragic split for German communism.   The result was that the KPD lost about half of its hundred thousand members.  At first, the expelled opposition did not want to found a new party,  however  when the KPD leadership acted inadequately to the the right-wing Kapp Putsch in March 1920 and seemed isolated from the militant sections of the working class, the KAPD was founded on April 1920 .  It  had 38,000 members. As early as February 1920, the General Workers’ Union (AAUD) was founded, an organisation modelled to some extent on the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) of the US, which many saw as a trade-union federation linked to the KAPD.  The KAPD membership rose in August 1920 to 40,000 members. 

The KAPD believed that the revolutionary party should not be something separate from the working class, but should dialectically fuse with it. This position was defended by Herman Gorter.  The KAPD operated initially on the assumption that the international Communist movement could still be reformed from within.   As the revolutionary wave declined and the revolution in Germany was defeated the KAPD went into decline and suffered from a series of splits.  From the ranks for the KAPD the council communist current of international communism emerged, whose notable figures were Otto Rühle, Anton Pannekoek and former KAPD member Paul Mattick. Organised council communism disappeared from the scene in Germany after Hitler seized power in 1933, although groups remained active in the resistance.  In the Netherlands, several small groups developed, one of which, the Groups of International Communists (GIC), continued to serve as a co-ordinating centre for international discussions until the late 1930s

An important legacy of the KAPD can be found in the work of the German metalworker Jan Appel, who had represented the KAPD at the Second and Third Comintern Congresses and emigrated to the Netherlands in 1926.  Appel who was a member of the Groups of International Communists sought to develop with the GIC a conception of a communist society – the result was published in 1930 as the Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution.  Below are links to the two articles added to the site today:

Max Hempel’s speech to the Third Congress of the Comintern

Programme of the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany