During its first four congresses, held annually under Lenin (1919–22), the Communist International went through two distinct phases: while the first two congresses focused on programmatic and organisational aspects of the break with Social-Democratic parties (such as the ‘Theses on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, adopted by the first congress, and the 21 ‘Conditions of Admission to the Communist International’, adopted by the second), the third congress, meeting after the putsch known as the ‘March Action’ of 1921 in Germany, adopted the slogan ‘To the masses!’, while the fourth codified this new line in the ‘Theses on the Unity of the Proletarian Front’. The arguments put forward by the first two congresses were originally drafted by leaders of the Russian Communist Party, but the initiative for the adoption of the united-front policy came from the German Communist Party under the leadership of Paul Levi. This article explores the historical circumstances that turned the German Communists into the pioneers of the united-front tactic. In the documentary appendix we add English versions of two documents drafted by Levi: the ‘Letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany’ on the Kapp Putsch, dated 16 March 1920, and the kpd’s ‘Open Letter’ of 8 January 1921, which gave rise to the united-front tactic.
This work is a companion piece to ‘The American Worker’, Karl Kautsky's reply to Werner Sombart's Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? (1906), first published in English in the November 2003 edition of this journal. In August 1909 Kautsky wrote an article on Samuel Gompers, the president of the American Federation of Labor, on the occasion of the latter's first European tour. The article was not only a criticism of Gompers's anti-socialist ‘pure-and-simple’ unionism but also part of an ongoing battle between the revolutionary wing of German Social Democracy and the German trade-union officials. In this critical English edition we provide the historical background to the document as well as an overview of the issues raised by Gompers' visit to Germany, such as the bureaucratisation and increasing conservatism of the union leadership in both Germany and the United States, the role of the General Commission of Free Trade Unions in the abandonment of Marxism by the German Social-Democratic Party and the socialists' attitude toward institutions promoting class collaboration like the National Civic Federation.
The origins of the Transitional Programme in Trotsky’s writings have been traced in the secondary literature. Much less attention has been paid to the earlier origins of the Transitional Programme in the debates of the Communist International between its Third and Fourth Congress, and in particular to the contribution of its largest national section outside Russia, the German Communist Party, which had been the origin of the turn to the united-front tactic in 1921. This article attempts to uncover the roots of the Transitional Programme in the debates of the Communist International. This task is important because it shows that the Transitional Programme’s slogans are not sectarian shibboleths, but the result of the collective revolutionary experience of the working class during the period under consideration, from the Bolshevik Revolution to the founding conference of the Fourth International (1917–38).
In Marxist circles it is common to refer to Karl Marx’s The Civil War in France for a theoretical analysis of the historical significance of the Paris Commune, and to Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray’s History of the Commune of 1871 for a description of the facts surrounding the insurrection of the Paris workers and its repression by the National Assembly led by Adolphe Thiers. What is less well-known is that Marx himself oversaw the German translation of Lissagaray’s book and made numerous additions to it. In this article we describe Marx’s addenda to Lissagaray’s work, showing how they contribute to concretising his analysis of the Paris Commune and how they relate to the split in the International Working Men’s Association between Marxists and anarchists that took place after the Commune’s defeat. We also show how Marx’s additions to the German version of Lissagaray’s book were linked to his involvement with the recently created Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany and to his criticism of the programme it had adopted at the congress celebrated in the city of Gotha.