Against capitalism and the betrayal of Versailles: Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim’s National Bolshevist “address to the German proletariat” of November 1919
During the first years of its existence, the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) was more a disorganized coalition of diverse, conflicting tendencies than it was a coherently-organized, revolutionary vanguard party. The KPD’s initial political development had been hampered early on by a number of major obstacles (the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht; the party’s ban following the failed January 1919 Spartacist uprising), and these difficulties only compounded the latent ideological conflicts within the party over issues like democratic participation, revolution, and the ‘correct’ attitude towards the Treaty of Versailles. One popular faction within the KPD during this period was its so-called ‘syndicalist’ camp: a collection of far-left, council-communist activists who were adamantly opposed to reformist labor activism and to electoral participation, favoring instead a continuation of armed putschism directed against the ‘bourgeois’ November Republic. These “wild elements” were considered destabilizing enough by the KPD leadership that they were forced out of the party at its second congress in Heidelberg in October 1919, an action which led to the founding of a rival council-communist organization in response: the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, KAPD). Two of the leading lights of the new KAPD’s prominent Hamburg branch were a pair of radical former Social-Democrats who had played a central role in Hamburg’s revolutionary council government in 1918: Dr. Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim. Laufenberg and Wolffheim had developed something of a following within the KPD as a result of their unique political vision, in which they argued not just for a proletarian council-state and for the end of capitalism, but for a working-class alliance with ‘productive’ members of the patriotic bourgeoisie and a comprehensive revolutionary war directed against the Western Powers and the Versailles Peace Treaty. This perspective (dubbed ‘National Bolshevism’ by their enemies within the communist movement) was most explicitly spelled out within a notorious essay which appeared on 3 November, 1919, in the wake of the Heidelberg Conference, titled: “Revolutionary People’s War or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?” Laufenberg and Wolffheim hoped that this “address to the German proletariat” would help put their ideological stamp on the emerging council-communist movement, guiding it in a direction that was simultaneously revolutionary, national, and anti-capitalist; to that end their essay was republished in June 1920 and distributed on a wider scale in pamphlet form, from which copy the below translation has been made. Although the Hamburg branch of the KAPD was significantly shaped by their views, the Laufenberg-Wolffheim ideological line would ultimately prove too controversial for their comrades, and both men and their followers were forced to leave the KAPD following its second party conference in August 1920.
Revolutionary People’s War
or Counter-Revolutionary Civil War?
First Communist Address to the German Proletariat
A 1920 pamphlet by Hamburg communists
Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim
The present publication originally appeared as a supplement to the K.A.Z.1 The debates over this address have led to a lively demand for the publication, which is completely out of print, and the publisher is meeting this need through the release of this new edition.
This address is undersigned: On behalf of the Hamburg branch of the Communist Party of Germany. In the wake of its publication, a lively discussion began in the Hamburg local group about the points of view expressed within the text, at the conclusion of which those persons who were determined to adhere to the specifically Spartacist policy, and who therefore rejected the content of the address, left the local group. Following this process of purification, the local group finally severed all relations with the Communist Party of Germany (Spartacus League).
Hamburg, 1st June 1920.
The November uprising was an expression of popular outrage against the lost war. It was supported not only by the revolutionary sections of the working-class, but also by the army and by parts of the bourgeoisie. A proletarian policy would have immediately established ties and treaties with Soviet Russia; through the firm expansion of council rule, and through a wide-ranging socialization of the economy, it would have consolidated the forces of the country into a brazen hammer, ready to strike; it would have unleashed the full power of the revolution against the bourgeois democracies of the West by organizing a revolutionary resistance, by launching a Red Army, and by driving the social revolution across the occupied countries straight through to the borders of France and England. A proletarian policy would have made the Treaty of Versailles an impossibility from the outset. Although it is true that the proletariat aided the victory of the November Revolution, their policy was ultimately unsuccessful. Those tendencies triumphed which in essence pursued only one goal: peace at any cost via the accommodation of the German system of government to the wishes of Anglo-American high finance, in order to attain from the Entente, as far as was possible, an alleviation of the harsh peace terms which were in the offing.
In this way the defeat of Germany – which had not been accomplished upon the battlefield – was completed, and completed by those politicians into whose hands the fate of the November uprising had fallen. Craven and pathetic, in trembling fear of the arming of the proletariat, they even surpassed the traitorous policies which the bourgeoisie of the 1871 French Republic had pursued against their own country; without any attempt at organizing the revolutionary power of the people [Volkskraft], they surrendered the occupied territories and disarmed the country in order to leave the future fate of the German nation completely in the hands of the capricious enemy generals and their countries’ clients of high finance. What was this policy, in which it was clear from the outset that it would lead from the signing of a dishonorable armistice to the exterminatory Peace of Versailles; what was this policy, other than naked treason? Treasonous was the propaganda for the League of Nations and the Wilsonian peace; treasonous was the surrender of Germany’s means of transport and its industrial machinery; treasonous was the handing over of the agricultural means of production (something which hundreds of thousands paid for with their lives) at a moment when the Volk, exhausted by four years of hunger blockade, ravaged by epidemics and famine, were collapsing. The same parties which set themselves against the revolution while the Volk still possessed the strength to organize resistance against enemy imperialism after the revolution’s consummation – the Social-Democrats and their Independent satellites, the Democrats, and the Centre – these parties, after the uprising’s completion, placed themselves at the head of the newly-formed German Republic in order to throttle it, since they had not been able to prevent it.
Under the cry that only the National Assembly and a spineless accommodation to all of the Entente’s vile, bloodsucking, exploitative lusts could provide the Volk with bread, work, and peace, the beginnings of the armed rule of the working-class were smashed, the capitalist state erected, the Volk and the country delivered over to the imperialist enemies of the nation. But of all the mendacious promises with which they knew how to emasculate the revolution, not a single one arrived. No peace, no bread, no work – instead, the consummation of domestic bankruptcy! The disruption of the economy, which began with the delivering over of vital territories to the imperialist enemies of the nation, is increasing rapidly with every passing day. Our currency has depreciated into waste paper, its value is approaching absolute zero. Products which need to be imported cannot be paid for; coal – which was swindled out of the Volk’s mines by the government of the Republic, who delivered some of it over to foreigners while refusing to socialize the rest – is sent abroad while the Volk are in danger of freezing to death; the country’s foodstuffs, which given the mediocre harvest were not all that abundant to begin, are peddled abroad by speculators and profiteers while the Volk, with their devalued money, cannot even obtain the below-subsistence-level rations to which they are due through their ration cards. Alongside all of this, the stoppage of transportation caused by thousands of locomotives and hundreds of thousands of carriages being delivered over to foreign countries threatens to isolate the country’s individual economic areas from one another. Separatist aspirations are already manifesting within every part of the Reich, calling into question the unity of the country. No peace, not even an armistice – instead, armed-to-the-teeth opponents trampling upon the body of a vanquished enemy, one whose weapons have previously been broken. These are the results of the bourgeois National Assembly, the Social-Democratic government of the glorious German Republic. What is going to happen? Shall a Volk be forced to starve and to perish with its hands bound, when only a yank is sufficient to break its chains?
The Peace of Versailles, acclaimed by Germany’s most servile creatures yet still not ratified by the powers of the Entente, has already been torn to shreds. The foxhounds of the great powers are tussling over Fiume; before Riga, the cannons of the German mercenaries thunder beneath the banners of the national-Russian counter-revolution, in which Russian and Borussian2 Junkers seek to secure their class interests and the privileged position of their Baltic cousins under Russian-national flags. The blockade, scarcely lifted, is imposed anew. Far from bringing the World War to an end, the Peace of Versailles has immediately rekindled the war upon a new basis. Germany, excluded from the ranks of the autonomous states, has become the object of this war, and while its so-called government believes itself timidly bound to the paper scraps of Versailles, a renewed blockade threatens the country with an intolerable increase in starvation and epidemics, with permanent political destruction and economic decay. New decisions of global consequence are making their mark upon the torn body of Germany.
While Japan has never directly interfered in European affairs, and the United States has hastily sought to extricate itself from them, both are busy strengthening their positions and preparing for the decisive battle for the Pacific Ocean, meaning that the irreconcilable differences between them appear less acute at a time when the affairs of Eastern Europe are stepping into the forefront of world politics. France and England, united only so long as the destruction of Germany was on the historical agenda, are struggling for supremacy in Eastern Europe and the Near East. The Peace of Versailles, which through the cowardice and the incompetence of the eunuchs in the German government has fostered the conditions for keeping Germany on her knees, is at the same time intended to constitute a settlement of the questions of the East, thus permanently redressing the English-French conflict there. The hasty withdrawal of American politics from the tangle of conflicting interests in the East proves that this goal was utterly impossible to achieve. Two large branches of conflicting interests stretch before us. In Europe the French-Polish-Czech-Romanian idea of a federation of states collides with the English sphere of interest in the lower Danube, in Hungary and the Yugoslavian countries, as well as in the Baltic. In Asia, France – supported by its North African empire and by its close ties to Italy and to Italy’s North African territories – is directly threatening England’s key positions in the Persian Gulf and in Egypt.
Through the integration of Persia and Afghanistan into its global empire, England has united the chain of countries which wind around the Indian Ocean. From the Cape region in southern Africa up to Egypt, from Egypt via Arabia to India, there is an uninterrupted stretch of English colonies and zones of influence. The Indian Ocean has become an English continental lake in the fullest sense of the term. But England was unable to prevent France from taking up its old political traditions once more and from establishing itself in Syria and Palestine, the most dangerous neighborhood for England. And the danger of this proximity became all the greater when French high finance, with great skill and with undeniable success, took up the policy of German imperialism again.
From the Baltic states through Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania, and in alliance with the counter-revolutionary forces in the Ukraine, France is seeking to politically subjugate the entire stretch of the former Tsarist empire’s border states, from the Baltic Sea on down to the Black Sea, and to consolidate them into a large complex of states under French hegemony. If this plan is successful then, by virtue of its position in Syria, it will bend encircled Turkey to its will, whatever form of government that country might end up choosing. This would not only threaten the English protectorates of the Balkans from the rear, but, supported by the state barrier imposed across Europe, would directly threaten England’s global position in the Persian Gulf and in Egypt. With that the plan of German imperialism would be realized, and realized by a far more dangerous rival than German imperialism ever was for England. For in addition to its European vassal states, France commands a colonial empire covering the northern half of the African continent from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean to the English zone in Darfur and the Libyan hinterland, extending from the shores of the Mediterranean over the equator, and so making the former German colony of Cameroon into an eternal bone of contention between England and France. Furthermore, France’s close relationship with Italy makes it possible for it to rely upon Italy’s vested rights in Tripoli, in Eritrea, and in the area surrounding the Straits of Suez and Aden which lead into the Red Sea, in order to threaten the two entrances to the Red Sea, the passageways to India. The English position in the world is faced with a gigantic French advance, and this threat is consummated by the large flanking positions which France possesses in the Indian Ocean, in Madagascar to the west, and in its Indochinese empire of Tonkin, Annam, Cambodia, and Cochinchina in the east.
This competition for the Mediterranean and its peripheries finds its reflection in the north. The struggle over Egypt and the Suez Canal as the axis of the English global empire will ultimately be decided in the struggle for the strategic and maritime basis of the English empire in its native waters. France, by virtue of its superiority over Belgium, dominates the Flemish coast and the postern at the mouth of the Thames. If France now also advances to the Baltic Sea, if a Junker Baltic emerges here under French influence as the northern extension of France’s belt of border-states, then England’s exclusive hold over the Baltic Sea – which it owes to the squabbling of the German government puppets – will be over, since after the collapse in the West it needlessly and boundlessly opened the way to that sea. But as soon as France gains a foothold upon the Baltic itself, its influence in Denmark, Finland, and the Scandinavian north will increase, and the possibility will arise of turning the weight of those countries against England and of prying open England’s political position on the North Sea from the rear, as it is already threatened by, and has been considerably weakened by, France’s status as the continent’s greatest military power and by its dominance in Belgium at the front. While the skirmishes between the Allies in Budapest were by comparison only of minor significance, the conflicts over Fiume and Riga, which are in full swing at all times, are the focal point for global political developments. In the struggle for Riga, all the intersecting interests of the Russian and German counter-revolutions, all the special interests of the individual member-states and protectorates of the so-called League of Nations, are jumbled together and simmering as though in a witch’s cauldron. The steady advance of French influence, at whose vanguard there appeared (publicly denied by the French at first, for transparent reasons) the privateer Bermondt-Avalov along with his German mercenaries (who has therefore been accused of treason by General Yudenich),3 caused England to give up its original plan of withdrawing all English troops from Russian territory and to support instead General Yudenich’s drive towards St. Petersburg, in order not only to forestall the French ‘ally’ in the event of the city’s surrender, but also to shore up a place in the rear of the French position in the event that France should actually succeed in gaining, through the fall of Riga, a foothold upon the Baltic Sea and the establishment of a Junker Baltic. The obliging support of the mercenaries, which is now spreading (unbidden and without any expectation of thanks) the German spirit of the Landsknecht4 into French military policy by way of Bermondt-Avalov, threatens England with the destruction of its dominion over the Baltic Sea and, along with it, the destruction of its position in all of northern Europe. Just as Fiume is a focal point for the entire cross-section of different interests in the Mediterranean, so is Riga the key to the position of dominance in northern Europe. Both together, however, have merely the significance of outposts when measured against the vast dimensions of that antagonism between French and English world politics in their struggle over Asia.
Even if the League of Nations was broken up the moment that its constitution was put to paper; even if, after the destruction of Germany, the global antagonisms between France and England, between Japan and America, were to immediately erupt; even so, the full unleashing of these antagonisms would still be paralyzed for the time being by the struggle against Soviet Russia, whose defeat is a common, collective goal for every power in the League of Nations. Those armies which are marching together against Soviet Russia are still determined to strike against one other after the Soviet government’s defeat, and while the downfall of the proletarian republic is just as much a vital necessity for the imperialism of the League of Nations as is the permanent suppression of Germany, the so-called Reich government of Germany, unbidden and without any expectation of gratitude, is searching for ways and means of facilitating the imperialism of Germany’s executioners in their work of trampling upon the Russian council-state.
Yudenich is fighting outside St. Petersburg with English naval artillery; Denikin is advancing towards Moscow; in the east the vanquished Kolchak is reorganizing his troops5 – and in order to amplify Russia’s economic woes even further, the most severe forms of blockade have been resorted to, blockades which the wretched government of Germany is not fundamentally averse to participating in out of the pitiable hope that by these means, perhaps, it might alleviate the blockade upon its own country. With armies concentrically deployed to attack, Russia’s fateful hour approaches. If Soviet Russia were to fall and the country were to become a colony of the Entente states, divided by them into spheres of influence, then this would seal the fate of the only power capable of reaching out to Germany for a joint rebuilding. The so-called German government, which as a wretched stooge of the Entente has participated both overtly and covertly in Russia’s strangulation, in this way thereby crowns the work of treason which it first began by orienting its politics towards the West and by signing the armistice agreement.
Against the onslaught of the combined hosts of the counterrevolution of the imperialist world, the Bolsheviks operate by military and even moreso by political means. The proletarian ideal, consolidated into the political system of Soviet Russia, transmits its spark throughout the hostile armies. At Denikin’s rear, the uprising of the Ukrainian Voronezh peasants broke out and the critical city of Kiev was lost; in the Baltic states, Estonians and Latvians and a significant segment of Finns seek an understanding with the proletarian republic; in Poland, where the bourgeoisie has been thoroughly ruined far moreso even than in the more highly-developed Germany, insurrection threatens to flare up every single day. The valor of the Red Army has, so far, triumphantly defied every assault from the counter-revolution. But no matter how the offensive of Denikin and Yudenich might end – even if St. Petersburg and Moscow were to fall – Russia would not be lost. The federative cell system of local and territorial Soviets which covers the country cannot be broken with just a few blows. Until the entirety of Soviet Russia is progressively occupied and infiltrated by the White Guardist hordes, the proletarian republic will remain entrenched within Russia.
The German Revolution, driven by bourgeois cowardice and by an absence of ideological principles, led to the Treaty of Versailles. The vitality of the proletarian revolution in Russia feeds into the energy and the will to live of the German proletarian masses and impels them to join with Soviet Russia in pursuit of a collective rebuilding. Russia’s fate hangs upon Germany’s fate, just as Germany’s fate hangs upon Russia’s. For Germany can only be rebuilt from the East, since French militarism, English imperialism, and the barking lapdogs of the League of Nations bar its way in the West. The reality of the Versailles Peace Treaty, which can only be eliminated in Germany via proletarian revolution, is proof that Germany’s reconstruction is possible only through the struggle against Western imperialism.
To the extent that German politics in the Kaiserreich were directed towards strengthening Germany’s age-old economic relations with the peoples of the East, particularly with those living on Russia’s borders, these politics were in the interest of the Volk as a whole. Their capitalist, imperialist special objectives, which boiled down to extorting these peoples in the interest of German finance capital, and which were essentially unattainable without the enslavement of multiple nations to the private interests of the narrow, capital-possessing stratum of the nation, made these politics hostile to the people as well as hostile to all peoples. The need in a communist country for the closest possible economic ties with the culturally and industrially more advanced Germany is especially relevant with regards to the peoples of the East. Russia can neither organize the communist economy itself, nor can it undertake the communist organization of the border states, for it lacks the requisite economic, technical, and organizational preconditions. Just as the vast Russian plains assure Germany the necessary agricultural supplement and the necessary increment of raw materials, so is Germany equipped with the creative energies in business and technology to produce the industrial foundations without which a communist economy is impossible in the prevailing global climate.
The Treaty of Versailles condemns Germany to an even greater degree of impotence than was the case at the conclusion of the Thirty Years’ War and during the Napoleonic period. At the end of the 17th century, the Reich still possessed the strength to be able to hold its own in the fight against the Turks and to appear as a formidable adversary to the still-consolidating Russia, while Brandenburg’s policy put up a dam against the expansionist desires of Sweden and began to drive back Poland – which was later divided up – from the coast of the Baltic Sea. In the Napoleonic era, the simple fact that Germany’s suppression could primarily only come from one front, that it could only be maintained from the West, ensured Prussia and Austria the possibility of an independent policy and gave them back their freedom of movement the moment that French war policy in the East collapsed.
Today, on the other hand, now that national unification with Austria has finally been abandoned, Germany – to say nothing of the territorial splinterings in the West and the East, which in themselves considerably worsen its strategic position – has been boxed in and blockaded from all sides. The occupation of Alsace, in conjunction with French predominance in Czechoslovakia, places the entirety of southern Germany in a pincer in order that everything up to the Main-line can be turned over to the full military, political, and economic influence of the French. France’s position in Belgium and Poland and its encroachment into the Baltic puts all of northern Germany into the same situation.
French continental policy, following the conclusion of the Treaty of Versailles, consists of a gigantic deployment focused on breaking England’s position in the world while at the same time ending its basis in the Nordic Seas. When these antagonisms finally erupt and are ready to be settled to their fullest extent – be it in the second or the third phase of the World War – the struggle can only be resolved, like the Anglo-German conflict, upon European battlefields. And just as in the first World War (irrespective of the stammering over guilt and atonement coming from the incompetent German diplomacy of the Ebertine Republic)6 where it was of necessity Belgium, by virtue of its historical position and geographic location, in which the deployment of armies and the deciding of the war in the battle for the Flemish coast took place, so in this phase of the World War would the role of the Low German plains fall to serving the Anglo-French mass armies as their battlefield – with or without neutrality, in accordance with the Belgian model. For if England’s full global power is dependent upon its position in its territorial waters; if France’s push towards Riga brings Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark into the French-English conflict as objects of struggle; if Danish claims upon Schleswig territory find the warmest support and encouragement not from England but from France; then it goes without saying why the decisive battle between France and England would take place directly upon the Low German plains, plains open to all opposing forces from all sides.
When in the 18th century the great struggle for the American colonies was being waged between England and France, when the United States of today broke free from the French stranglehold with English help, things fell in favor of England during the period of the Seven Years’ War, because France was so strongly involved in continental European affairs that it did not have enough strength remaining to be able to assert its colonial interests in North America. If, as a result, England’s rise to global power at the time was decided upon German soil, it might seem an obvious idea to wish to smash English world power upon German soil today by reversing this policy and by aiding France. But the position of Germany today is no longer that of the 18th century, and the peddling of German mercenaries to one of the two competing world powers in their battle against the Russian Council Republic does not afford the country the opportunity to pursue its own policy by exploiting rival interests, but only presses it all the more relentlessly and helplessly into the hands of tomorrow’s victor. And that is not all. If that struggle does end up running riot upon German battlefields, then every prospect and every possibility that Germany will ever rise again through its own power will disappear. German military policy in the East may have nothing in common with the caprices of the Reich government and may be guided by whichever ideals: so long as it stands in service to a Western Power and is directed against Soviet Russia, then it does not differ significantly from the overall policy of the German Reich government and is treason to the exact same extent.
The German Volk are standing on the edge of an abyss, into which they will irretrievably sink if they do not succeed in establishing an organization which condenses all of their energies into a coherent whole, one which builds things up domestically while breaking fetters externally. Only proletarian dictatorship – council government, the workers’ state – can still guarantee this organization. It alone is capable of fulfilling these tasks. Who of clear and sound mind doubts that German capitalism is mired in a mortal ruin from which there is no escape? Public debt, the unbearable burdens of war, the present state of value, the depreciation of currency, these tell in plain language a story which is devastating for German capitalism. The collapse of society always leaves only two possibilities open: a reversion into lower forms of state and economy, or a progression into higher forms. But the reversion into lower modes of life exacerbates evils instead of relieving them. Whether we desire a communist organization of the economy, and which part of the Volk is most interested in it, is not the priority; rather the priority is that the Volk, the whole, must have it in order not to perish as a people, as a whole. Even if the communist organization of economy and Volk does not cease to be a class demand, it at the same time has become an unavoidable necessity for the totality, for the whole of the Volk, without which there is no salvation, no more possibility for life.
But what is the purpose of all politics? Should they benefit only a tiny segment of the Volk, even at the cost of the entire Volk being brought to ruin over them? Or is it instead the objective of politics to seek within the Volk as a whole for those paths which guarantee the entirety of the population the best conceivable opportunities for existence? German capital, which even today – even after its blatant acts of treason against people and country, as represented by its sycophancy towards Anglo-American finance capital and French militarism – still presents itself as the representative of the nationalist idea, is only viable as a bailiff and debt-collector for foreign powers. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles are impossible to meet, and every attempt to fulfill the obligations assumed deprives the Volk as a whole of their opportunities for existence, one after another. The capitalist state, which calls itself a socialist republic, is nothing but the organization and consolidation of treason against people and country to the benefit of the imperialism of the League of Nations. Capitalist policy in Germany is only possible under the proviso that the capitalists of Germany make themselves agents of League of Nations finance capital, that they hand over the blood money collected through their state organs to the League of Nations member states in order to receive from them in return the kickbacks which those states deem fit to bequeath upon their German lackeys. The struggle against foreign rule is today a struggle against German capital and its state organs, a struggle which the Entente pushes back against with every possible means because it is in the Entente’s best interest not to let its faithful bloodhounds and guard dogs die. The destruction of the capitalist class and of its state is the prerequisite for the unification of all popular forces [Volkskräfte] against the imperialism of hostile foreign nations.
The fact that the existence of German capital denies opportunities of existence to the entire Volk compels the bourgeoisie to organize civil war in perpetuity through a stringently-enforced military dictatorship against the working class. German military authority becomes a bloodhound in the hands of German capitalists and in the interests of foreign capital, a bloodhound directed against the German Volk. The military may believe that their actions serve order, and that they thereby serve the Volk as a whole, but they overlook the fact that even the most basic means of subsistence simply do not exist for the broad masses of the working classes, that millions of them can find neither work nor bread, and that this state of affairs cannot be altered without tearing up the Treaty of Versailles, whose preservation the German capitalists, and the German military in league with them, avow. That so long as these conditions exist, notwithstanding all the ‘blood and iron’ politics at home, local and territorial revolts must follow in succession until the excess millions are exterminated by means of civil war, is an absolute inevitability if one assumes the preservation of power by the capitalist class. Only the destruction of the capitalist class deprives civil war of its foundations; only the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship fosters the possibility of tearing up the Versailles Peace Treaty, of uniting the working-class in a single proletarian class organization, and of creating a unified people’s organization.
The unity of the working-class in the struggle against capitalist exploitation – which works in the interest of foreign nations – is in strongest contrast to the interests of the German capitalists themselves, who are disposed to safeguard their treasonous special advantages even at the cost of the ruin of the entire Volk. Just as, on the one hand, they are seeking to break through the unified phalanx of the working masses – which is independent of the split between the parties – by attempting to reintroduce the piecework system, so is it far more in the interests of capitalism that parts of the working-class should take up arms and fight against one another. Every attempt by a section of the working-class to seize power for a narrowly-defined circle of leaders with special armed organizations, and to organize itself as the protective guard of this dictatorial leadership, is a declaration of war against the broad masses of the proletariat and will always, under every circumstance, find the majority of the entire working-class as its opponent.7 It is imperative to establish a proletarian front across the dividing line of the parties, and to anchor the political power of the working-class in a class organization of all proletarians, whose framework the General Workers’ Union8 is already building today.
The organization of the ruling classes disintegrates when political power causes them to lose control of the economic apparatus, and when political power is likewise used to smash that apparatus. With the implementation of the proletarian people’s organization, class rule collapses forever and poses no inherent difficulties. For today every layer of the German Volk is proletarianized, with the sole exception being that narrow class of people who managed to salvage their private wealth from general bankruptcy. But should the German Volk perish in order that this class of speculators, profiteers, and shirkers is assured a comfortable life, or does the working-class not have the right, as the executive organ of the Volk as a whole, to smash the foundations of the parasitic existence of the few, especially when the existence of the entire population depends upon this happening soon? Thus, when the establishment of the proletarian class organization shatters the rule of the bourgeoisie, it will eliminate no one who submits themselves to the new order and its law, in order to incorporate their strengths within its framework.
The disintegration of the old German Reich and the inability of the parties to find a new form of organization for the Volk as a whole have intensified the disorganization of the Volk which began with the destruction of the military dictatorship, a dictatorship which until then had held the Volk together like an iron frame. Coordination via parties, which had previously been bearable so long as military and bureaucratic centralization gave the collective Volk a solid structure above the party-system, became absolutely inadequate following the military and bureaucratic dissolution which began with the revolution. A new form for amalgamating all forces, a new centralization which welds together different parts of the country into a unified state, is only possible upon the broadest democratic foundation. In other words, proletarian democracy, that is, the amalgamation and emancipation of all workers, the basis upon which – through the the formations of the councils – a new centralization can and will arise. Without proletarian democracy there is no council constitution – without a council constitution there is no centralized state. This is a lesson which even the ruling Social-Democrats may have learned from the organizational chaos which they daily endeavour to increase.
On the basis of which criteria will the proletarian dictatorship in Germany proceed with the overthrow of the bourgeoisie? In light of Germany’s high industrial level, the central emphasis lies with the masses of workers in the giant factories, masses who are united in a federalist manner by the capitalist production process itself and who will in the main provide the human basis for the future economy as well as for public reconstruction. For the communist state, which represents nothing other than the organization of the entire Volk by the working-class, these huge concerns are therefore the first cells of its existence, from which the organization of economy and state emanate. They have the preliminary task of bringing the proletarian class organization to life within their enterprises, across the dividing lines of the parties, and of developing out of it the initial stages of the council system via the Works Councils and the Local Councils. Insofar as those working masses who are not united in the large enterprises are concerned, organization will be carried out on the basis of residential districts in order to achieve the establishment of the Local Councils, whereby membership in the proletarian class organization constitutes the prerequisite for the right to vote, with this membership being conditional entirely upon the performance of productive or socially-beneficial labor. The forcible exclusion of all parties and other associations from the electoral process, which constitutes the basis of the council constitution, is the first organizational task of the proletarian dictatorship.
Once the proletarian class organization has been established and political power has been constituted in the Local Councils, the Local Councils are to be centralized into District and Territorial Councils, which in turn form the Supreme Provincial Council, while the functions of the councils are subdivided into Commissariats. At the same time, specialists within the proletarian class organization will begin to be integrated on the basis of occupation and function. Teachers’ Councils, Technicians’ Councils, Doctors’ Councils, as well as councils for every other group of specialized worker, shall be placed at the disposal of the individual Commissariats in order to take collective control of the economy and administration. The Commissariats for transportation, education, healthcare, for the rearrangement of overall production, for the building of the Red Army, and so on, which for their part are controlled by the Local, Territorial, and Provincial Councils, will always have – via the mediation of the specialized councils – the most capable skilled workers on hand to help place them in a position where they are able to make the most beneficial use of their labor for the community, while the anchoring of the political councils among the working masses themselves will establish in turn a cast-iron guarantee that no entity of the council constitution can turn against the interests of the working-class.
In order to secure a reciprocal relationship between town and country, the organizational inclusion of the peasantry is of paramount importance. Insofar as the peasant is actively involved in the agricultural production process himself, he can be distinguished from the rural laborer by virtue of his ownership of land and by his acquisition of ground-rent, but not by the nature of his working activity. The present development of the German national economy is beginning to make land ownership an illusion for the great mass of the peasantry, since for the majority of them it is no longer possible to make a profit while the productivity of the land is in constant decline. Irrespective of any future regulation of agricultural property relations, the peasant will already be entitled to participate, through his work activity, in the establishment of all political and economic organs in the countryside, and the rural community’s Local and Economic Councils will certainly have no greater difficulty in regulating relations with their existing markets than is the case under the failed controlled economy [Zwangswirtschaft] of the bankrupt socialist republic.
The intent behind the preparation of the council constitution is the thoroughgoing organization of the entire Volk on the basis of, and within the framework of, proletarian organization, in order to subordinate all economic resources and the overall economic process to the control of the working-class, which is tantamount to tearing up the Treaty of Versailles. Once the proletariat comes to power and institutes its socialist republic, then the need of the hour will compel it to swift action. An iron grip is therefore an absolute prerequisite in order that the consolidation of the Volk under the constitution of the councils takes place so rapidly that the imperialist enemy of the country cannot keep pace with the preparations relevant to the new circumstances. Erecting the proletarian dictatorship means building up the Red Army. Building up the Red Army means war against Entente imperialism: nothing would be more disastrous than if the leaders of the League of Nations recognized this sooner than the German proletariat. And the war against Entente imperialism – which, in contrast to that of 1914 to 1918, is a war for our very existence – requires, in order for it to be carried out successfully, that the dictatorship be managed even more strictly than was the case with the military dictatorship during the first years of the war. The working-class, of whom only a minority should be expected to participate in the conquest of power of their own accord, is in a position to implement this dictatorship with the greatest of energy because, as the representatives of the dictatorship, they will immediately set about building up a class organization via dictatorial methods, one which integrates not only those parts of the Volk who hitherto have been accustomed to being called workers, but all working people, regardless of whichever social sphere they previously belonged to.
But a dictatorship which rests upon the broad base of the entire Volk can nip any attempt at resistance in the bud by use of brazen force. If conscription to the Red Army is effected via the factories or through the subdivisions of the Local Councils, then it should be extremely difficult for anyone to evade those services for which he is deemed suitable by the relevant organs. And if the entire process of production is placed under the control of the organs of the working-class, then any attempt at sabotage will be suppressed with ruthless violence. It goes without saying that this dictatorship will, with the same iron ruthlessness, eliminate any resistance which might be arrayed against it. With respect to the bourgeoisie, divested of its privileges and whose individual members will be free to align with the proletarian class organization, the proletarian dictatorship will take every measure necessary for it to achieve its aims. The mass billeting of proletarians in the residential districts of the bourgeoisie is, therefore, the first requirement necessary for certain urban areas to relinquish their special status as non-proletarian oases which might be turned into staging points for counter-revolution and national treason. But nothing more would occur with this billeting of unwanted houseguests with the German bourgeoisie than that which the bourgeoisie of the occupied territories had to endure for years from foreign soldiers during the first phase of the World War. Aside from those measures necessary for the safeguarding of the proletarian dictatorship, all gratuitous harassment would naturally be barred, for every individual citizen would be absolutely guaranteed the unconditional protection of his freedom, life, and property from individual encroachments. The moment that the question arises of waging war against other countries, it is precisely the ruling class, the working-class, which has a vital interest in domestic peace. And, under the proviso that the bourgeoisie unreservedly recognizes the proletariat’s seizure of power, the proletarian dictatorship would be no less interested in establishing a revolutionary political truce9 for the duration of the war than it was with the erstwhile Wilhelm II, when relations were reversed.
Even a German national economy built upon the foundation of proletarian dictatorship would be unable to exist without unconstrained economic ties to the East. Even under the proletarian dictatorship, millions of people would still perish through hunger, epidemics, and despair if we should prove incapable of rapidly establishing unfettered economic relations with the East, enabling us to receive foodstuffs from there, and to send men and machines there, in order to build up the communist economies of Russia and its border states upon a vast scale. Thus the very first step in proletarian foreign policy, born from and dictated by the deadly misery of the Volk, would be tantamount to tearing up the Treaty of Versailles. An offensive against the East, with the aim of breaking through Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic States and of bringing about the union of the Russian Red Army with the Red Army of Germany, would be nothing less than an act of self-defense by a Volk who are struggling for their very lives. For the proletarian revolution, the words ‘offensive’ and ‘defensive’ lose their former meanings. Its policy is defensive to the highest degree, and yet must be offensive against the world of imperialism which has condemned it to death. For the half-starved hermit who has already been plundered by bandits, an offensive against those who would rob him is the only defense left open to him if he does not wish to perish, and for the man being led to the gallows the only possible form of defense is to strike down his executioner.
If the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship in Germany proves successful, it is essential that the implementation of the Eastern program be carried out in the shortest possible time. It is paramount to take full advantage of the brief period of bewilderment which will thereupon take hold of the Entente states. Of course, the powers of the League of Nations will make every effort to get their recently-demobilized armies back on their feet and directed against the German Council Republic. But this endeavour will directly and most severely destabilize their economies, and will raise the unrest among their working masses to boiling point, particularly since the German Council Republic, fighting for its very existence, would naturally acknowledge its obligation to actively participate in the reconstruction of the ravaged territories of France and Belgium, a reconstruction carried out with German labor power and which can only come about under the control of German and Belgian-French workers’ councils and in support of the communist economy of Europe, not an imperialist federation of states.
The attempt to overthrow the German Council Republic will thus compel the League of Nations states to set up formations of White Guards in place of their previous mass armies; the combat effectiveness of a Red Army against these entities has already been demonstrated by Russia’s valiant resistance. Germany’s national strength, severely shaken by a four-year war and by the shamelessly treasonous policies of the socialist republic, is still strong enough to be able to make a stand against the attacks of the White Guardist gangs. For where there is a struggle for our very survival, a struggle which truly serves the interests of the Volk as a whole and not those of a narrow ruling class, Bismarck’s words will become reality, and Germany will be bristling with arms from the Belt to the Alpine Lakes.10
On behalf of the Hamburg branch of the Communist Party of Germany.
Hamburg, 1st November 1919.11
Heinrich Laufenberg, Fritz Wolffheim.
1. The “K.A.Z.” is the Kommunistische Arbeiterzeitung, or ‘Communist Workers’ Newspaper’. The council-communist KAZ was founded sometime in late 1919. It became the national organ of the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, KAPD) when that party was formally established at its founding congress of 4-5 April 1920. The essay translated here was first published in the 3 November, 1919 edition of the Hamburg KAZ.
2. ‘Borussia’ is the Latin word for Prussia, and came to be associated with a female personification of Prussia depicted in statues, friezes, etc. The word “Borussian” is sometimes employed in older texts as an imperial-sounding synonym for ‘German’, since it carries with it connotations of Prussia’s historical mission to unite large swathes of Europe under its rule, or at least to dominate global politics as a major military-political power.
4. The Landsknecht were bands of well-trained mercenary fighters employed during the period of the Holy Roman Empire; the word sometimes appears as a synonym for ‘mercenary’ in German writing. Bermondt-Avalov’s army was heavily supported by Freikorps and by Baltic German volunteers, hence the “mercenaries” Laufenberg and Wolffheim are referring to here.
5. Anton Denikin (b.1872 – d.1947) and Alexander Kolchak (b.1874 – d.1920) were also White Russian military commanders. The mention of Kolchak being “vanquished” is a reference to the major defeat his forces suffered against the Red Army at Samara in late 1919.
6. The “Ebertine Republic” is a reference to Social-Democratic politician Friedrich Ebert (b.1871 – d.1925), first President of the Weimar ‘November Republic’. His moderation, his measures to sideline the workers’ and soldiers’ councils of the November Revolution in favor of the ‘bourgeois’ National Assembly, and his appointment of Defense Minister Gustav Noske (b.1868 – d.1946), who put down the Spartacist uprising with the use of Freikorps volunteers, made Ebert an unpopular figure with communists and with other radicals on the Left.
7. A reference to those Spartacists who sought to emulate the example of Russia and to create a single-party dictatorship in Germany via an armed, vanguardist uprising. Laufenberg and Wolffheim, while strongly supportive of Soviet Russia and in favor of establishing a Soviet-German alliance as swiftly as possible, had no compunctions about emphasizing their tactical and ideological differences with the Bolsheviks and of asserting that Germany needed to take a somewhat more independent route to achieving socialism.
8. The General Workers’ Union of Germany (Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands, AAUD) was a council-communist ‘mass organization’ associated with the KAPD. The council-communists of the KAPD rejected traditional forms of organization, whether through political parties or trade-unions, seeing their own party mostly as a mechanism for producing and distributing propaganda (this extended to rejecting the concept of electoral participation altogether). They advocated instead mobilizing the working masses through a grass-roots communist workers’ organization (i.e., the AAUD), one which would radicalize the proletariat and redistribute power directly to the workers’ councils; these democratic councils would then form the core of the (somewhat paradoxical) dictatorship of the proletariat. The AAUD at its height in the early 1920s had over 170,000 members, but its influence faded over time as the KAPD declined and as the KPD grew to be the dominant communist party in Germany.
9. “A revolutionary political truce – in German, “eines revolutionären Burgfriedens.” The “political truce” referenced here is the ‘castle peace’ (Burgfried – the term has medieval origins) which the Social-Democrats established with the German monarchy and with the bourgeois parties upon the outbreak of war in 1914. The Social-Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) at that time was still relatively radical, and for decades had been targeted by the government with bans, raids, and with various pieces of anti-socialist legislation. The SPD putting aside its hostility towards the monarchy in pursuit of a collective war effort in 1914 was thus highly significant, and the decision became a major historical milestone for the party, precipitating the split between its reformist and revolutionary wings as well as the beginnings of the Social-Democrats’ ascension to bourgeois respectability.
10. A reference to part of a speech delivered by Bismarck to the German Reichstag in 1888: “[In] a war in which we are attacked… the whole of Germany from Memel to the Alpine Lakes will flare up like a powder mine; it will be bristling with guns, and no enemy will dare to engage this furor teutonicus [Teutonic fury] which develops when we are attacked.” The “Belt” the authors mention is the Little Belt, a Danish strait referenced in the first stanza of the German national anthem, the Deutschlandlied. The “Alpine Lakes” (Bodensee in German) are located at the northern foothills of the Alps, bordering Germany, Austria, and Switzerland; known as Lake Constance in English, they consist of two lakes (the Obersee and Untersee) connected by a stretch of the Rhine river (the Seerhein).
11. Laufenberg and Wolffheim’s article was not actually published until 3 November, 1919. The date given here presumably indicates the date the article was first written – not long after the KPD’s Heidelberg Conference of 20-23 October 1919, at which Laufenberg and Wolffheim were openly denounced by KPD leader Paul Levi, who made it very clear to those attending that the council-communists were no longer welcome within the Communist Party (Otto Rühle also subsequently left the KPD for the KAPD). The article was reprinted in pamphlet form in June 1920; this translation has been made from one of those pamphlets.