German Communist Party (KPD)

Triumph, disarray, defeat – German workers 1918-1933

Berlin November 1918: Workers and sailors join in revolutionary uprising.

Berlin November 1918: Workers and sailors join in revolutionary uprising.

The German Left and the Weimar Republic
By Ben Fowkes
Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015
399 pages, US$28.

Click for more on the Communist Party of Germany; click for more by or about John Riddell

Review by John Riddell

Ian Birchall on John Riddell's 'To the masses': Essential resource on communism's early years

To The Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921
edited and translated by John Riddell
Brill, Leiden & Boston, 2015
1299 pages, €399.00

April 12, 2015 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The following review by British socialist historian Ian Birchall introduces a major addition to our knowledge of the revolutionary movement of Lenin's time: John Riddell's To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921. Birchall's review is scheduled for publication in Revolutionary History, a journal with 43 published volumes.

The review is published here with kind permission of Revolutionary History and Ian Birchall. Riddell's latest volume, available only in Brill's library format at the moment, will be published in a popular, more inexpensive edition by Haymarket Books in February 2016.

For more on the Communist International, click HERE. Click for more by or about John Riddell.

* * *

Review by Ian Birchall

Germany, 1918-1923: the fire and the spirit of revolution

The German Revolution of 1918-1923 not only saw the collapse of the monarchy, but the real possibility of communism spreading into the heart of Europe. Communist historian Doug Enaa Greene lectures on the course of the revolution and the reasons why it didn't succeed. Presented at the Center of Marxist Education.

Click for more on the Communist Party of Germany; and more by Doug Enaa Greene

By Doug Enaa Greene

When Karl Liebknecht said ‘no’ to World War I

Karl Liebknecht.

By John Riddell

December 2, 2014 -- Johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- During the first four months of the First World War, no statement from German socialists appeared denouncing the war. Government repression and the bonds of Social Democratic Party discipline prevented anti-war voices, such as those of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, from gaining a hearing.

This changed 100 years ago on December 2, 1914. Liebknecht took a bold stand against the slaughter as the first deputy to vote in the German parliament (Reichstag) against allocating funds for war spending. His protest resounded across Europe and gave new hope and energy to socialist antiwar currents.

Communist resistance in Nazi Germany

Historian Doug Enaa Greene, as part of the Center for Marxist Education's Red History Lecture Series, speaks on "Communist Resistance in Nazi Germany".

For more by Doug Enaa Greene, click HERE.

By Doug Enaa Greene

October 29, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- In 1943, a member of the Communist Party, sentenced to die for resistance activities as a member of the Red Orchestra, wrote these final words to his father:

Weighing the legacy of Lenin’s Comintern: John Riddell replies to Paul Kellogg

Lenin A
For more discussion on the Communist International, click HERE. Click for more by or about John Riddell and Paul Kellogg.

By John Riddell

May 15, 2014 -- Johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Paul Kellogg’s review in Socialist Studies of my edition of the Communist International’s 1922 world congress raises two probing questions regarding the legacy of the Communist International (Comintern) in Lenin’s time.[1]

First, he questions a long-held conception that the Bolshevik leaders initiated all the Comintern’s major steps in policy development. Second, he challenges the belief that the Lenin-era International represents a model or template for program and strategy in our time.

Clara Zetkin en la boca del lobo: frente único y feminismo en el III congreso de la Comintern

Clara Zetkin

[In English at http://links.org.au/node/3663. Haga clic aquí para más artículos en español.]

Por John Riddell

2/2/2014 -- http://www.sinpermiso.info -- En 1921, cuando la Internacional Comunista (Comintern) celebró su III Congreso Mundial, Clara Zetkin era la comunista más respetada fuera de Rusia. Sin embargo, fue víctima en vísperas del congreso de grandes esfuerzos para vilipendiarla y apartarla de la dirección de la Comintern, e incluso del movimiento comunista. No obstante, fue, junto con Lenin y Trotsky, una de las figuras intelectuales más destacadas del congreso.

Examinaremos el papel de Zetkin en la gran lucha ideológica del III Congreso y su conexión con su participación en el movimiento por la emancipación de la mujer. Zetkin había ganado una gran reputación como la principal dirigente del movimiento internacional de mujeres socialistas antes de 1914. Se convirtió en uno de los defensores más eficaces del internacionalismo socialista durante la guerra. Ayudó a formar el Partido Comunista Alemán y fue uno de sus líderes más prominentes.

Clara Zetkin in the lion’s den: Workers’ unity and feminism at a Comintern congress

Clara Zetkin

Clara Zetkin.

Click on the following links for more articles on feminism, the Communist International, Clara Zetkin and John Riddell.

By John Riddell

January 14, 2014 -- Johnriddell.wordpress.com/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- In 1921, when the Communist International (Comintern) held its Third World Congress, Clara Zetkin was the most widely respected Communist outside Russia. Yet she was the victim of vigorous efforts on the eve of the congress to vilify her and drive her out of the Comintern leadership, if not from the movement. Nonetheless, she ranks, together with Lenin and Leon Trotsky, among the dominant intellectual figures at the congress.

Let us survey Zetkin’s role in the great ideological struggle at the Third Congress and then link it to her involvement in the movement for women’s emancipation.

Luxemburg, Lenin, Levi: Rethinking revolutionary history

Part 1. John Riddell. Parts 2 and 3 below.

December 14, 2013 -- Left Streamed, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission

Moderated by Jackie Esmonde. Presentations by:

  • John Riddell, editor of Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International.
  • Paul Kellogg, author of “The Only Hope of the Revolution is the Crowd: The Limits of Žižek's Leninism”, International Journal of Žižek Studies.

More by John Riddell. More by Paul Kellogg.

Sponsored by Education Committee of the Greater Toronto Workers' Assembly.

The talented and reviled Mr Pepper (Comintern agent)

A Communist Odyssey: The Life of József Pogány/John Pepper
By Thomas Sakmyster
Budapest-New York: Central European University Press, 2012
Photos, bibliography, index; 249 pp.

Reviewed by Dan La Botz

October 2013 -- New Politics, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- During normal times in a capitalist society, skill and drive are harnessed by the corporations, the labour union bureaucracy and the political parties, but when the crisis comes a revolutionary party must harness the most talented and most ambitious for its purposes. The idealistic and the opportunistic, the selfless and the self-aggrandising, the ruthless and the kind, the brave and the cowardly among those most determined and striving souls must somehow be made use of for the higher purposes of the revolution and ultimately for of all of humanity. The revolutionary movement must bring out the best in them, for we are the only material we have.

John Riddell: Five precedents for understanding Egypt’s July coup

General L.G. Kornilov, Moscow, August 1917.

By John Riddell

September 15, 2013 -- Johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Two months after Egypt’s generals ousted its elected Muslim Brotherhood government, there is still a wide spectrum of views among socialists regarding the meaning of this event (see “Socialists need to rethink the military takeover”).

This discussion can be deepened by considering a few precedents from socialist history – some well known, others obscure.

1. 1917: The Kornilov coup

History: Why did Paul Levi lose out in the German Communist leadership? (Now with audio)

Paul Levi, 1920

Paul Levi, 1920.

[Click HERE for more by John Riddell.]

By John Riddell

This talk was part of a panel on “Paul Levi and the German socialist movement” at the Socialism 2013 conference in Chicago, June 28, 2013. The other speakers at this session were Jen Roesch and Paul Kellogg. You can listen to the full panel below, thanks to Wearemany.com.

Communist International's Fourth Congress: revolutionary fulcrum of the modern world

Toward the United Front, Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922
Edited and translated by John Riddell
Brill, 2011 (hard back), 1310 pages, 200 euros
Haymarket Books, 2012 (paper back), US$55

Haymarket Books is now taking pre-publication orders of Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, at US$50, a 10% reduction. It is due to be released in November 2012.

To take advantage of Haymarket’s offer, go to Toward the United Front, order the book, go to “check-out” and enter RIDDELL2012 in the “coupon code” field.

To recommend the Brill hardcover edition to your favourite library, go to Brill Academic Publishers and click on “recommend”.

Toward the United Front will also be available from Resistance Books in November.

Review by Barry Healy

John Riddell: Lars Lih and Ben Lewis reveal Zinoviev at his best

Zinoviev and Martov: Head to Head in Halle
Edited by Ben Lewis and Lars T. Lih,
London: November Publications, 2011, pp. 229 [1]

Review by John Riddell

June 22, 2012 -- Johnriddell.wordpress.com/Weekly Worker, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- The Thrilla in Halle! A ringside seat, just for you, as Gregory Zinoviev (in the red trunks) and Julius Martov (his are pale pink) duke it out before delegates of the 700,000-member Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany (USPD). The stakes: should the USPD join the Communist International (Comintern)? Here at last, after 92 years, the full text of their historic speeches to the October 1920 USPD congress in Halle, Germany, translated and edited by Ben Lewis and Lars Lih.

New voices and new views on revolutionary history

By John Riddell

May 28, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/johnriddell.wordpress.com -- Some familiar issues were addressed with originality and new vigour at the Historical Materialism conference in Toronto on May 11–13. Attendance at the three sessions on revolutionary history, organised by Abigail Bakan (Queen’s University), ranged between 30 and 75 of the 400 conference participants.

Given that eight of 11 presentations had a European focus, the discussions were opened fittingly by Montreal scholar Daria Dyakonova with a paper on a little-studied aspect of revolutionary history here in Canada: the birth of communism in Quebec.

The pioneers of this movement faced objective obstacles, including severe repression and formidable opposition by the Catholic Church. In addition, Dyakonova explained, “after Lenin and especially after 1929”, the Canadian Communist Party’s “policies were determined from Moscow”. The line dictated by the leadership of the Communist International (Comintern) was “often at odds with national or local needs”.

How revolutionaries of Lenin’s time resisted austerity

Towards the end of 1921, an attempt was made to shift the burden of debt to the working class through higher sales taxes. The German Communist Party opposed this, demanding instead an increase in the tax on wealth and the seizure of assets.

Introduction by John Riddell

April 26, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/johnriddell.wordpress.com -- Economic collapse drives workers into hunger and destitution. Foreign powers extort huge payments, forcing the national economy toward bankruptcy. The government forces workers to pay the costs of capitalist crisis.

This description of Greece in 2012 applies equally to Germany in 1921.

How should a workers’ party respond to such a breakdown? The proposals of the German Communist Party (KPD) included a simple approach to fiscal policy: tax those who own the country’s productive wealth.

The KPD was then a member of the Communist International, whose leadership included V.I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Gregory Zinoviev.

Un debate de actualidad: Gobierno de trabajadores y transición al socialismo

Por John Riddell

Fecha de publicación: 01/02/12  -- America XXI -- El concepto de gobierno de los trabajadores es el hijo torpe de la joven Internacional Comunista.  La idea que expresa es fundamental para el marxismo: los trabajadores deben luchar para tomar el poder político. Sin embargo, en los comienzos de la Comintern, se unió a una perspectiva entonces discutible para los marxistas: que los trabajadores pudieran formar un gobierno que funcione inicialmente en un Estado capitalista aún existente.

Como comenta el marxista francés Daniel Bensaid, “la fórmula algebraica del ‘gobierno de los trabajadores’ ha dado lugar a lo largo del tiempo a las interpretaciones más diversas, y a menudo contradictorias” [1].

Veamos qué luz puede arrojar sobre esta cuestión el registro del Congreso Mundial de la Comintern de 1922, publicado recientemente en inglés [2]. Esta fue la reunión que celebró la discusión más extensa de la Comintern acerca de la cuestión del gobierno de los trabajadores, y que adoptó su posición inicial.

Decisión desconocida sobre gobiernos de los trabajadores

Foto
Asamblea obrera en la fábrica rusa Putilov, 1905.

[In English at http://links.org.au/node/2451.]

Por John Riddell

Fecha de publicación: 01/02/12 -- America XXI -- La discusión en idioma inglés de la Internacional Comunista de 1922, sobre el llamado a crear gobiernos de los trabajadores, se ha basado en un anteproyecto que fue alterado de manera significativa antes de su aprobación. Aquí, tomado de la primera traducción al inglés, está el texto enmendado que el Congreso realmente adoptó.

El llamado a crear un gobierno de los trabajadores surgió a partir de las luchas de los trabajadores alemanes en 1920, como modo de plantear la necesidad de un poder de los trabajadores, en un contexto en el que no existían estructuras alternativas, como congresos revolucionarios o soviets.

A ‘workers’ government’ as a step toward socialism

Soviet poster dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution and Fourth Congress of the Communist International.

By John Riddell

January 1, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, for more articles by John Riddell, go to http://johnriddell.wordpress.com -- The concept of a workers’ government is the awkward child of the early Communist International. The thought it expresses is central to Marxism: that workers must strive to take political power. But in the early Comintern, it was attached to a perspective that was contentious for Marxists then and is so now: that workers can form a government that functions initially within a still-existing capitalist state.

As French Marxist Daniel Bensaid commented, “The algebraic formula of a ‘workers’ government’ has given rise over time to the most varied and often contradictory interpretations.”[1]

Let us see what light can be shed on this question by the record of the Comintern’s 1922 World Congress, recently published in English.[2] This was the gathering that held the Comintern’s most extensive discussion of the workers’ government question and adopted its initial position.

The Comintern in 1922: the periphery pushes back

Communist Party of Germany (KPD) member Paul Levi played a leading role in several debates.

By John Riddell

December 4, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, for more articles by John Riddell, go to http://johnriddell.wordpress.com -- Until recently, I shared a widely held opinion that the Bolshevik Party of Russia towered above other members of the early Communist International as a source of fruitful political initiatives. However, my work in preparing the English edition of the Comintern’s Fourth Congress, held at the end of 1922, led me to modify this view.(1) On a number of weighty strategic issues before the congress, front-line parties, especially the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), played a decisive role in revising executive committee proposals and shaping the Congress’s outcome.]

When I translated the first page of this congress, I was not far distant from the view of Tony Cliff, who, referring to the 1921–22 period, referred to the “extreme comparative backwardness of communist leaders outside Russia”. They had an “uncritical attitude towards the Russian party”, which stood as “a giant among dwarfs”, Cliff stated.(2)

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