Pierre Broué

Kurt Landau

Also known as Agricola, Wolf Bertram, and Spectator


From Revolutionary History, Vol. 9 No. 4, 2008, pp. 229–236.
From Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier français, partie 4, 1914–1939, t. 33, Paris 1988, pp. 203–205.
Transcribed by Alun Morgan for the Revolutionary History Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Born on 29 January 1903 in Vienna (Austria); disappeared in Barcelona (Spain), September 1937. Member of the Austrian Communist Party, then of various Left Opposition groups in Vienna, Berlin and Paris. Member of the POUM in 1936.

The son of a prosperous Viennese wine merchant, Kurt Landau had a Bohemian student youth similar to that of many young people from the Jewish intelligentsia in the imperial capitals: but it is also said that he attempted various circus jobs and for a time was a lion tamer at the Hagenbeck Circus. In 1921 this educated and cultured adolescent joined the new-born Austrian Communist Party, already shaken by fierce factional struggles and in 1922 became leader (Leiter) of the Warring district (Bezirk) in Vienna. Early in 1923 he supported the left-wing criticisms made by the Italian Bordiga [1] of the new line of the International, which was described as “opportunist”. In 1924, still in Vienna, he made the acquaintance of Victor Serge, who was part of a group of Comintern emissaries and who worked on its press bulletin Inprekorr. [2] It seems that Serge gave him the first solid items of information about the factional struggle in the USSR. The same year Landau took charge of the CP agitprop department and became an editor of its main publication, Die Rote Fahne (Red Flag), with responsibility for cultural matters. In the discussion on culture he adopted the arguments developed by Trotsky against “proletarian culture”.

Originally he kept aloof from the struggle between the two rival oppositions of Josef Frey and Karl Tomann, but he moved closer to them after their unification in September 1925. In March 1926 he joined this “united opposition” which he seems to have considered as the Austrian equivalent of the Russian United Opposition. [3] Expelled along with most of his comrades in late 1926, he was, in early 1927, one of the founders of the Kommunistische Partei Oesterreichs-Opposition (KPÖ-O – Austrian Communist Party Opposition), led by Frey, which published Arbeiterstimme (Workers’ Voice). Originally he supported the view that the KPÖ-O should not work for the reform of the Austrian CP, but should itself aim to become the real Austrian Communist Party. However, the KPÖ-O continued to reproduce the fierce internal factional struggles of the Austrian Communist Party with its regroupments, its shifts of alliance and its bitter personal conflicts. Following a heated theoretical debate with Frey, Landau and some of those close to him were expelled from the KPÖ-O in April 1928 for an “ultraleft deviation” (according to the historian W Wagner [4], this involved sympathy for the ideas of Karl Korsch [5]). He then founded a rival organisation, the Kommunistische Opposition-Marxistisch-Leninistische Linke (Communist Opposition, Marxist-Leninist Left), whose support was based in the city of Graz, and he began to issue his own publication, Klassenkampf (Class Struggle), then Der Neue Mahnruf (The New Warning Cry).The conflict between Landau and Frey then reached new heights of invective and personal accusations. He met Rosmer at the station when he visited Vienna in July 1929, and made the best impression on him. [6] Trotsky and Rosmer considered transferring him to Paris to support Rosmer in international work. Landau, in an article which was reproduced notably in the publication of the Leninbund [7], Die Fahne des Kommunismus [The Flag of Communism], and then in Contre le Courant [Against the Stream] [8], supported Trotsky’s position against Urbahns [9] and Maurice Paz. [10] This marked the beginning of a correspondence with the exiled Russian. Impressed by the talent and clarity of expression of this young militant – Landau was only twenty-six – and anxious to get him away from the overheated factional culture in Vienna and make full use of him in work appropriate to his abilities and of enormous importance, Trotsky had no difficulty in persuading him to go and settle in Berlin with his partner (Katia Lipshutz had been living with him since 1923). Trotsky took responsibility for meeting his material needs out of the money he received for copyright in Germany.

Contact with the militants of the Leninbund sympathetic to Trotsky proved very difficult. Landau presented himself as a “representative of the Russian Opposition” – that is, of Trotsky – and seemed unwilling to allow any discussion. Seeing that the Leninbund did not offer him favourable ground, he turned to the small Berlin group known as the “Wedding Opposition”, which had been in contact with the Russian Opposition for a long time, and which was at this time led by the young Hans Schwalbach [11]; he was thus able to have his own political force at his disposal. It seems that Trotsky was not able to keep him to a path which no longer meant winning over the Leninbund, but rather splitting it; nor could he improve his relations with the German nucleus of veterans who made up the “Leninbund minority”. After the expulsion of the latter group, he came under renewed pressure from Trotsky and from the insistence of visitors to Constantinople, Pierre Naville [12] and Max Shachtman [13], to commit himself to progress towards unification; this was concluded on 30 March 1930 by the formation of the Vereinigte Linke Opposition (United Left Opposition – VLO) in the KPD (German Communist Party) Bolshevik Leninists, the German section of the International Opposition which was being built. As a member of the Executive of the VLO from its creation, and editor-in-chief of its publication Der Kommunist (The Communist), and elected a member of the International Bureau a few days later, Landau seemed destined to become one of the main international leaders of the Left Opposition – in fact he was only passing through. To begin with there was his unconditional support for his Austrian comrades in Der neue Mahnruf in their factional struggles and the excessive accusations made in support of their cause, and the political conflict with the Leipzig organisation of the VLO, being manipulated at this time by Stalin’s agent Ruvin Sobolevicius, who was using the pseudonym of Sobolev or Roman Well. Moreover his pursuit of international alliances was dubious in Trotsky’s eyes, and finally his own policy of removals from office, expulsions and forcible takeovers within his own organisation made a split inevitable. Landau’s opponents described him as a “psychopath” and insisted that no cooperation with him was possible because of his “methods”. The split was finalised on 31 May 1931, following the visit of Pierre Frank. [14] Kurt Landau then kept control of Der Kommunist, and transformed the faction of the organisation which he had kept under his control into the Linke Opposition der KPD/Bolshewiki-Leninisten (Left Opposition of the German CP/Bolshevik-Leninists). Its sole basis seems to have been a shared hostility to Trotsky’s “methods”. Landau, who still had good relations with Rosmer, was also in contact with the Gauche communiste (Communist Left) of Claude Naville [15] and Michel Collinet [16], and, it appears, with the Izquierda comunista (Communist Left) of Andrés Nin. [17]

The organisation led by Landau – at most three hundred members – continued clandestine activity in German until spring 1934 when it was destroyed by Gestapo infiltration and the arrest of militants. Kurt Landau had emigrated to Paris in March 1933 with Katia. He pioneered the denunciation of Trotsky’s “betrayals” and “capitulations”: this was how he described the latter’s orientation in 1933 towards “a new communist party” in Germany, then towards “a new international”, and subsequently his policy from 1934 onwards of “entrism” in the Socialist Parties and the “French turn”. From May 1933, he had printed in Vienna and published in Paris Der Funke [The Spark], organ of the Marxist-Internationalists, of which he was the main and often the sole member of the editorial team. But this paper was to be killed off in Austria in 1934. Henceforth Landau was reduced, in the words of Hans Schafranek [18], to “circle work”, and duplicated publications. Shortly after his arrival he had grouped around him a certain number of oppositional members of the Communist Party [PCF] who were in process of breaking with Trotsky, and he began to orient himself towards work inside the PCF. He considered that the Left Opposition had been destroyed by “Trotsky’s liquidationist current”, but insisted that it had “laid the ideological foundation for the oppositional tendencies of the future”; for him now the only perspective was “the struggle to win over politically the Stalinised vanguard of the proletariat” through the building of a clandestine “internal faction” capable of giving life to “spontaneous oppositional tendencies” within the PCF. On the basis of this line he made contact and merged with the small internal opposition group in the PCF led at this time by André Ferrat [19], a member of the Political Bureau, and the Pole Georges Kagan/Lucien Constant [20] who was in charge of agitprop. From 1935 Landau became one of the members of the nucleus and of the editorial team of the journal Que Faire? (What is to be Done?) published by the group in question, in which also participated the former oppositionists Pierre Rimbert [21] and Hipólito Etchebéhère and his wife Mika Etchebéhère. [22]

Landau began his collaboration with this review with a startling article entitled: From the Fourth International to the Second International. The Path which led Leon Trotsky to Social Democracy. In this he stated in particular: “Revolutionary Marxists must follow their own road both within the Party and in the Communist International. They must group together within the Party to help the Party and the International find the right road, Lenin’s road.” In September–October he published another article in Que faire?, a polemic against “comrade Bréval” (André Ferrat), who had cautiously envisaged the use of “defeatist” slogans in the event of a war in which the USSR was France’s ally. Landau, for his part, declared that everything should be done for the defence of the USSR, writing: “The defeatist slogan does not take account of this double and complicated problem: it is correct in the case of a war between two armed imperialist groups, but not for the Soviet-imperialist bloc, which is a bloc full of contradictions.”

Kurt Landau was profoundly shaken in August 1936 by the trial of the Sixteen in Moscow, following which Zinoviev, Kamenev and other old Bolsheviks were sentenced and executed. He tried to organise a joint protest in Paris by the émigré oppositional Communist groups, and he made vain efforts to convince Brandler, the leader of the KPO [23] and the leaders of the SAP. [24] He ended up merely with a joint action with the German section of the ICL [25], the IKD [26], and with the International Group of Ruth Fischer [27] and Maslow. [28] But he also polemicised against Trotsky and Sedov [29] and their opinion that the accused Olberg [30] was a GPU agent who had played the role of police spy in the trial. Olberg, a former member of the German Left Opposition, had followed Landau at the time of the 1931 split, and the latter preferred to see him as a victim of the GPU. On this occasion he entered into correspondence with the oppositional group in the Czech CP around Josef Guttmann [31] and Záviš Kalandra. [32]

After the relative failure of his attempts to mobilise action against the Moscow Trial, Kurt Landau turned to Spain where he saw an authentic proletarian revolution with the potential to regenerate the Communist movement. His friends Hipólito and Mika Etchebéhère had already gone there, and the former had died on the Madrid front. Landau arrived in Barcelona with Katia in November 1936. He rapidly won substantial influence with the leaders of the POUM which he joined – without abandoning his general strategy of “reforming” the Communist Parties. He contributed to La Batalla [33], and coordinated the POUM’s international relations, especially in connection with the preparation of the international conference in Barcelona being planned by the POUM leadership. He still envisaged “a new Zimmerwald” of which the POUM would be the axis, and in this perspective he drew up programmatic bases for the international regroupment which was to be created. This activity drew him into a sharp polemic against the Brandlerites and the SAP supporters, and particularly against the young Willy Brandt [34], who was at this time a defender of the Popular Front policy. But this battle of ideas against the supporters of the POUM “right” did not prevent him from presenting in his articles and pamphlets a defence and celebration of the POUM’s policy which formed a permanent and particularly sharp polemic against Trotsky and the Fourth International. Landau’s activity against the POUM could not fail to draw him to the attention of Stalin’s agents who knew that this militant did not enjoy any diplomatic protection. He had to go into clandestinity after the days of May 1937 and the outlawing of the POUM. [35] We do not know why he left the relatively safe shelter which the Catalan CNT [36] had obtained for him at the request of Augustin Souchy. [37] He lived for some weeks in the suburbs of Barcelona, at the home of a veteran woman activist of the Spanish opposition, the Izquierda comunista and the POUM, and it was there that he wrote in particular his article against Trotsky Bolshevism, Trotskyism and Sectarianism. The police or at least the Soviet intelligence services were actively looking for him: we know from the interrogations of other prisoners that he was accused of being a member of the Executive Committee of the POUM and the instigator of a “terrorist group” for which Stalin himself was a target. He was arrested on 23 September at the home of the POUM militant, Carlotta Durán, who was hiding him, by three policemen – two in plain clothes and one assault guard in uniform – who came at 7.30 p.m. Nothing more was heard of him. On 30 September, the General Delegate for Public Order in Catalonia, Paulino Gómez, officially denied that the police service had anything to do with his arrest. It is probable that he had been arrested by officers who were members of the intelligence services, or that he was immediately handed over to them and held captive in one of the “chekas[38] that they controlled. Kurt Landau was never seen again. Neither protest movements abroad, nor the heroic efforts of his partner could shed any light on the route that led to his death. One version that circulated in the jails claimed that he had actually been tortured and put to death in the cellars of the Colón Hotel in Barcelona. Others say he had been seen in the premises of the cheka at 299 Corcega Street in Barcelona. Katia Landau did not rule out the possibility that he was taken to the USSR with a view to a “Moscow Trial”, and that he was executed there.

Kurt Landau’s partner, Julia Lipshutz, known as Katia (born in 1905), who shared his life and struggles from 1923 onwards, was arrested in Barcelona while he was in hiding; in prison she went on hunger strike from 8 to 22 November 1937 to demand information on her husband’s fate and to know whether she herself had been imprisoned with a specific charge or as a hostage. She was released following numerous representations made by French socialists, especially Marceau Pivert. [39] Remarried to Benjamin Balboa (1901–1976), the man who had enabled the crews of the Spanish fleet to forestall the officers’ rising in 1936, she emigrated with him to Mexico in 1940 and settled in Cuernavaca where she was still living in 1984. [40] She continued trying to cast light on the murder of Kurt Landau.


1. Amadeo Bordiga (1889–1970): Italian left Socialist, opposed World War I, supported Third International, but within Italian Communist Party was totally opposed to parliamentary participation; expelled 1930, but remained active with his own current until his death.

2. International Press Correspondence was the weekly organ of the Communist International, published in Germany in several languages, including English.

3. The alliance formed in 1926 between Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev.

4. The reference is to Winfried Wagner’s thesis on Trotskyism in Austria, Salzburg 1976.

5. Karl Korsch (1886–1961): Joined German Independent Socialist Party 1917, German Communist Party 1920; Minister of Justice in Thuringia in 1923; expelled from Communist Party 1926 as ultra-left; emigrated and settled in USA; now best known for philosophical writings.

6. Alfred Rosmer (1877–1964): Revolutionary syndicalist, opposed World War I, active in Comintern and Red International of Labour Unions; expelled from French CP 1924; 1929–31 organiser of Left Opposition, but broke with Trotsky. For Rosmer’s account of the meeting see Revolutionary History, Vol. 7, No. 4, pp. 119–122.

7. Leninbund (Lenin League): Formed 1928 by expelled left-wing members of the German CP; sympathetic to Trotsky’s positions; included prominent former CP members such as Maslow, Fischer and Urbahns.

8. Journal in support of Russian Opposition launched by Maurice Paz in 1927, but ceased publication in 1929 when Trotsky ended his collaboration with it.

9. Hugo Urbahns (1890–1947): Joined Spartacus League 1918, became leading figure in German CP; expelled as leftist in 1926, became a leader of Leninbund; developed view that Russia was state capitalist; emigrated to Sweden in 1933.

10. Maurice Paz (1896–1985): Lawyer, member of Communist Party from 1920; in 1927 launched Contre le courant in support of Russian Opposition; expelled from CP; Trotsky ended cooperation with him in 1929; joined Socialist Party 1931; withdrew from political activity for health reasons after 1940.

11. Hans (Johann) Schwalbach (1905–1994): German Trotskyist.

12. Pierre Naville (1904–1993): Surrealist; joined French Communist Party 1926; met Trotsky in Russia in 1927; expelled from CP 1928; pioneer French Trotskyist; organised founding conference of Fourth International in 1938; withdrew from Trotskyist movement in 1939, but wrote copiously on Marxist theory; leading member of PSU in 1960s.

13. Max Shachtman (1904–1972): Leading US Trotskyist from 1928; in 1940 split with Trotsky, rejecting defence of Soviet Union; founded Workers’ Party; later moved to right.

14. Pierre Frank (1905–1984): Joined Communist Party 1925, Trotskyist from 1929; founder member of Ligue Communiste; secretary to Trotsky 1932–33; in 1935 he and Molinier launched La Commune, leading to dispute with Trotsky; after World War II leading figure in Fourth International and French section.

15. Claude Naville (1908–1935): Brother of Pierre Naville, Communist from 1926, Trotskyist from 1929; broke with Ligue communiste in 1931 and formed Gauche communiste.

16. Michel Collinet (1904–1977): Developed towards Trotskyism in late 1920s; founder-member of Ligue communiste in 1930; opposed to Frank-Molinier leadership; split in 1931 to form Gauche communiste; in 1935 joined Revolutionary Left of Socialist Party; became member of POUM and published POUM’s French journal; after World War II wrote a number of books on socialist theory.

17. Andrés Nin (1892–1937): Supporter of Left Opposition; returned to Spain 1931, formed the Communist Left, which in 1935 merged with the Workers and Peasants Bloc to establish the POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification); kidnapped, and murdered on Russian orders.

18. Hans Schafranek (born 1951): Austrian historian; biographer of Landau – see Revolutionary History, Vol. 4, Nos. 1/2, pp. 54–72.

19. André Ferrat, pseudonym of André Morel (1902–1988): Joined French Communist Party 1921; member of Political Bureau 1928–36, but expelled 1936; became open member of Que faire?; active in Resistance, leading member of Socialist Party after Liberation.

20. Georges Kagan, known as Lucien Constant (1905–1943): Polish Jew; expelled from France 1927 for CP membership; returned to France 1931, involved with Ferrat in Que faire?; left CP 1935; went to US 1940, became academic.

21. Pierre Rimbert, pseudonym of Charles Torielli (1909–1991): Joined French Communist Party 1925; expelled 1932 for supporting electoral agreement with Socialist Party; member of Ligue communiste and Gauche communiste before joining Socialist Party; active in Resistance; after war rejoined Socialist Party, later in PSU.

22. Hipólito Etchebéhère (1900–1936): Born Argentina; anarchist, then Communist and Trotskyist; came to Europe 1931; was in Germany when Hitler came to power; died fighting with POUM at Atienza. For a biographical sketch by his wife Mika see Revolutionary History, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 33–37.

23. Communist Party Opposition, formed in 1929 by Brandler and his followers after their expulsion from the German CP.

24. Socialist Workers Party of Germany, centrist split from German Social Democratic Party in 1931; dissolved in 1945.

25. International Communist League, name of the International Left Opposition from 1933 onwards.

26. International Communists of Germany, German section of the International Left Opposition from 1933.

27. Ruth Fischer, pseudonym of Elfriede Eisler (1895–1961): Founder-member of Austrian Communist Party 1918, then leading figure in German Communist Party; with support from Zinoviev reached leadership of German CP in 1924, but expelled in 1926; founder of the Leninbund and other oppositional groupings. Exiled in France in 1933, moved to USA in 1941 and naturalised as American.

28. Arkadi Maslow, pseudonym of Isaac Chereminsky (1893–1941): Active in German Communist Party from 1920, supported March Action; in 1924 leader of German CP with Ruth Fischer, but expelled 1926; co-founder and leader of Leninbund; emigrated to France in 1933 with Fischer; unable to enter USA, settled in Cuba where he died in road “accident”, which Fischer attributed to Stalin’s assassins.

29. Lev Sedov (1906–1937): Elder son of Trotsky, active in Left Opposition; exiled with father; Berlin 1931, Paris 1933; probably murdered.

30. V.P. Olberg (1907–1936): Active in German Opposition in 1930, follower of Landau; one of the accused in the first Moscow Trial.

31. Jozef Guttman (1902–1958): Joined Czech CP in 1921; became editor of Rude Pravo in 1929 with Klement Gottwald; critical of German Communist Party in 1932, formed faction which fused in 1938 with Trotskyist groups; later emigrated.

32. Záviš Kalandra (1902–1950): Surrealist poet and historian, joined Czech CP 1923; member of Guttmann’s faction in 1933, broke with CP over Spain and Moscow trials; deported to Mauthausen; returned to Czechoslovakia after war; arrested 1949, tried and hanged.

33. Newspaper of the POUM.

34. Willy Brandt, pseudonym of Herbert Frahm (1913–1992): Member of SAP in 1930; journalist in Spain during civil war; after World War II leading figure in German Social Democratic Party; Chancellor of West Germany 1969–74.

35. Fighting in Barcelona 3–8 May 1937 with Communist Party forces against POUM and anarchists; the POUM was outlawed the following month.

36. National Confederation of Labour, Spanish anarcho-syndicalist trade-union confederation, founded 1911; participated in Republican government 1936.

37. Augustin Souchy (1898–1984): born in Germany, went to Sweden in 1914 to evade conscription; active as syndicalist in Germany from 1919; moved to France 1933, then Spain, where he was an adviser to the CNT; interned in France 1940, but escaped to Cuba and Mexico, where he remained active in the anarchist movement.

38. By analogy with the “The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage” in post-revolutionary Russia.

39. Marceau Pivert (1895–1958); leader of the “Revolutionary Left” in the French Socialist Party from 1935; expelled 1938 and founded PSOP (Workers and Peasants Socialist Party); after World War II returned to Socialist Party.

40. We have been unable to get any information about Katia Landau after this date.

Last updated on 1.11.2011