Kommunistische Arbeiter-Partei Deutschlands

Programme of the
Communist Workers Party of Germany

May 1920

Marked-up by Jonas Holmgren for the Marxists Internet Archive.


It was in the whirlwind of revolution and counter-revolution that the foundations of the German Communist Workers Party were laid. But the birth of the new party doesn't date from Easter 1920, when the "opposition", which up to then had only been united through vague contacts, came together in an organisational sense. The birth of the KAPD coincides with a phase of the development of the KPD (Spartacus League), during the course of which a clique of irresponsible leaders, placing their personal interests above those of the proletarian revolution, attempted to impose a personal conception of the "death" of the German revolution on the majority of the party. The latter energetically stood up against this manifestation of personal interest. The KAPD was born when this clique, basing itself on the personal conception that it had elaborated, tried to transform the tactic of the party, which, up to then had been revolutionary, into a reformist tactic. This treacherous attitude of Levi, Posner and Company led to the recognition of the fact that the radical elimination of any policy of leaders must constitute the first condition for the progress of the proletarian revolution in Germany. It is in reality the root of the opposition which appeared between us and the Spartacus League, an opposition of such depth that the gulf which separates us from the KPD is greater than the opposition which exists between the likes of Levi, Pieck, Thalheimer, etc., on one side, and the the Hilferdings, Crispiens, Stampfers, Legiens on the other. The idea that in a really proletarian organisation the revolutionary will of the masses is the preponderant factor in the taking of tactical positions is the leitmotif in the organisational construction of our party. To express the autonomy of the members in all circumstances is the basic principle of a proletarian party, which is not a party in the traditional sense.

It is thus evident to us that the programme of the party that we are conveying here, and which has been drawn up by the programme commission mandated by the congress, must remain a draft programme up until the next ordinary congress declares itself in agreement with the present version. Of the remainder of the proposed amendments, which could concern the fundamental positions and tactics of the party, they are hardly likely to be adopted given that the programme has faithfully formulated, in a broader framework, the content of the programmatic declaration adopted unanimously by the party congress. But eventual formal amendments will change nothing of the revolutionary spirit which animates each line of the programme. The marxist recognition of the historic necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat rests for us an immutable and steadfast guide for the international class struggle. Under this flag, the victory of the proletariat is assured.

Berlin. Mid-May 1920.
Executive committee:

Erdmann         Friedrich         Stahl


Programme of the Communist Workers Party of Germany

The world economic crisis, born from the world war, with its monstrous social and economic effects which produce the thunderstruck impression of a field of ruins of colossal dimensions, can only signify one thing: the Twilight of the Gods of the bourgeois-capitalist world order is nigh. Today, it is not a question of the periodic economic crises which were once a part of the capitalist mode of production; it is the crisis of capitalism itself; we are witnessing convulsive spasms of the whole of the social organism, formidable outbursts of class antagonisms of an unprecedented pitch, general misery for wide layers of populations: all this is a fateful warning to bourgeois society. It appears more and more clearly that the ever-growing antagonism between exploiters and exploited, that the contradiction between capital and labour, the consciousness of which is becoming more widespread even among those previously apathetic layers of the proletariat, cannot be resolved. Capitalism is experiencing its definitive failure, it has plunged itself into the abyss in a war of imperialist robbery; it has created a chaos whose unbearable prolongation places the proletariat in front of the historic alternative: relapse into barbarism or construction of a socialist world.

Of all the peoples of the Earth only the Russian proletariat has up to now succeeded in its titanic struggle to overthrow the domination of its capitalist class and seize political power. In a heroic resistance it has pushed back the concentrated attack of the army of mercenaries organised by international capital, and it now confronts a task of unsurpassed difficulty: that of reconstructing, on a socialist basis, an economy totally destroyed by world war and the civil war which followed it for more than two years. The fate of the Russian republic of councils depends on the development of the proletarian revolution in Germany. After the victory of the German revolution we will see the emergence of a socialist economic bloc which, through the reciprocal exchange of the products of industry and agriculture, will be capable of establishing a real socialist mode of production, no longer obliged to make economic, and thus also political, concessions to world capital. If the German proletariat doesn't fulfil its historic task very soon, the development of the world revolution will be called into question for years, if not for decades. In fact it is Germany which is today the key to the world revolution. The revolution in the "victor" countries of the Entente can only get underway when the great barrier of central Europe has been raised. The economic conditions of the proletarian revolution are incomparably more favourable in Germany than in the "victor" countries of western Europe. The German economy, ruthlessly plundered after the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty, has brought to a head a degree of pauperisation which demands a rapid and radical solution. Furthermore, the peace of the brigands of Versailles does not only weigh on the capitalist mode of production in Germany, but makes life increasingly unendurable for the proletariat as well. Its most dangerous aspect is that it undermines the economic foundations of the future socialist economy in Germany, and thus, in this sense, also calls into question the development of the world revolution. Only one headlong push forward by the German proletarian revolution can bring us out of this dilemma. The economic and political situation in Germany is more than ripe for the outbreak of proletarian revolution. At this stage of historic evolution, where the process of the decomposition of capitalism can no longer be artificially obscured, the proletariat has to become aware that it needs an energetic intervention in order to effectively use the power that it already possesses. In an epoch of revolutionary class struggle like this, where the last phase of the struggle between capital and labour has begun and where the decisive combat itself is already underway, there can be no question of compromise with the enemy, but only a fight to the death. In particular, it is necessary to attack the institutions which seek to make a bridge across the gulf of class antagonisms and which orient themselves towards class collaboration between exploiters and exploited. At a time when the objective conditions for the outbreak of the proletarian revolution have already arrived, and when the permanent crisis can only get worse and worse, there must be reasons of a subjective nature that are holding back the accelerated progress of the revolution. In other words: the consciousness of the proletariat is still partly trapped by bourgeois or petty-bourgeois ideology. The psychology of the German proletariat, in its present aspect, shows very distinct traces of a long-standing enslavement to militarism, and is characterised by a real lack of self-awareness. This is the natural product of the parliamentary cretinism of the old Social Democracy and of the USPD on one side, and of the absolutism of the union bureaucracy on the other. These subjective elements play a decisive role in the German revolution. The problem of the German revolution is the problem of the development of the German proletariat's consciousness of itself.

Recognising this situation and the necessity to accelerate the rhythm of the development of the revolution in the world, as well as being faithful to the spirit of the 3rd International, the KAPD is fighting for the maximum demand of the immediate abolition of bourgeois democracy and the establishment of the dictatorship of the working class. It rejects in the democratic constitution the principle, doubly absurd and untenable in the present period, of conceding to the exploiting capitalist class political rights and the power to exclusively dispose of the means of production.

In conformity with its maximalist views the KAPD equally declares itself for the rejection of all reformist and opportunist methods of struggle, which is only a way of avoiding serious and decisive struggles with the bourgeois class. The party doesn't seek to avoid these struggles, but on the contrary actively encourages them. In a State which carries all the symptoms of the period of the decadence of capitalism, the participation in parliamentarism is also part of these reformist and opportunist methods. In such a period, to exhort the proletariat to participate in parliamentary elections can only nourish the dangerous illusion that the crisis can be overcome through parliamentary means. It means resorting to a means used in the past by the bourgeoisie in its class struggle, whereas we are now in a situation where only the methods of proletarian class struggle, applied in a resolute and forthright manner, can have a decisive effect. Participation in bourgeois parliamentarism in the thick of the proletarian revolution can only signify the sabotage of the idea of the councils.

The idea of the councils in the period of proletarian struggle for political power is at the centre of the revolutionary process. The more or less strong echo that the idea of the councils arouses in the consciousness of the masses is the thermometer which makes it possible to measure the development of the social revolution. The struggle for the recognition of the revolutionary factory councils and political workers' councils in the framework of a given revolutionary situation logically gives rise to the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat against the dictatorship of capitalism. This revolutionary struggle, whose specific political axis is constituted by the idea of the councils, is compelled, under the pressure of historic necessity, to come up against the totality of bourgeois social order and thus also against its political form, bourgeois parliamentarism. The system of councils or parliamentarism? It is a question of historic importance. To build a proletarian-communist world or to be shipwrecked in the storms of bourgeois-capitalist anarchy? In a situation as totally revolutionary as the present situation in Germany, participation in parliamentarism thus signifies not only the sabotage of the idea of councils, but also helps to give the putrefying bourgeois order a new lease of life, and thus to obstruct the progress of the proletarian revolution.

Aside from bourgeois parliamentarism, the unions form the principal rampart against the further development of the proletarian revolution in Germany. Their attitude during the world war is well-known. Their decisive influence on the principal orientation and tactics of the old Social Democratic Party led to the proclamation of the "Union Sacrée" with the German bourgeoisie, which was equivalent to a declaration of war on the international proletariat. Their efficacy as social-traitors found its logical continuation at the time of the outbreak of the November 1918 revolution in Germany. Here they showed their counter-revolutionary intentions by co-operating with crisis-ridden German industrialists to set up a "community of labour" (Arbeitsgemeinschaft) for social peace. They have maintained their counter-revolutionary attitude up to today, throughout the whole period of the German revolution. It is the bureaucracy of the unions which have most violently opposed the idea of the councils which was taking more and more profound root in the German working class; it is the unions who found the means to successfully paralyse all strivings for proletarian political power, which logically resulted from mass actions on the economic terrain. The counter-revolutionary character of the union organisations is so notorious that numerous bosses in Germany will only take on workers belonging to a union group. This reveals to the whole world that the union bureaucracy will take an active part in the maintenance of a capitalist system which is coming apart at the seams. The unions are thus, alongside the bourgeois substructure, one of the principal pillars of the capitalist state. Union history over these last 18 months has amply demonstrated that this counter-revolutionary formation cannot be transformed from the inside. The revolutionising of the unions is not a question of individuals: the counter-revolutionary character of these organisation is located in their structure and in their specific way of operating. From this it flows logically that only the destruction of the unions can clear the road for social revolution in Germany. The building of socialism needs something other than these fossilised organisations.

It is in the mass struggles that the factory organisation appears. It surfaces as something which hasn't had and couldn't have any equivalent, but that is not its novelty. What is new is that it penetrates everywhere during the revolution, as a necessary arm of the class struggle against the old spirit and the old foundations which were its base. It corresponds to the idea of the councils; that is why it is absolutely not a pure form or a new organisational trick, or even a "dark mystery"; organically born in the future, constituting the future, it is the form of expression of a social revolution which tends towards a society without classes. It is an organisation of pure proletarian struggle. The proletariat cannot be organised for the merciless overthrow of the old society if it is torn into strips by job category, away from its terrain of struggle; it must carry out its struggle in the factory. It is here that workers stand side by side as comrades; it is here that all are forced to be equal. It is here that the masses are the motor of production and are ceaselessly pushed to take control of production, to unveil its secrets. It is here that the ideological struggle, the revolutionising of consciousness, undergoes a permanent tumult, from man to man, from mass to mass. Everything is oriented towards the supreme class interest, not towards the craze for founding organisations, and the particular job interests are reduced to the measure which is due to them. Such an organisation, the dorsal fin of the factory councils, becomes an infinitely more supple instrument of the class struggle, always an organism receiving fresh blood, owing to the permanent possibility of re-elections, revocation, etc. Going forward in the mass actions and along with them, the factory organisations will naturally have to create for themselves the centralised organs which correspond to their revolutionary development. Their principal business will be the development of the revolution and not programmes, statutes and plans in detail. It is not a credit bank or life assurance, even if - this goes without saying - it makes collections when it's necessary to support strikes. Uninterrupted propaganda for socialism, factory assemblies, political discussions etc., all that is part of its tasks; in brief, it is the revolution in the factory.

In the main, the aim of the factory organisation is twofold. The first aim is the destruction of the unions, the totality of their bases and all the non-proletarian ideas which are concentrated around them. No doubt of course in this struggle the factory organisation will meet as desperate enemies all the bourgeois formations; but the same applies to the partisans of the USPD and the KPD, in so far as the latter are trapped unawares in the old schemas of Social Democracy. (even if they adopt a politically different programme, they essentially remain a politico-moral critique of the "errors" of Social Democracy). These tendencies can even act as open enemies, inasmuch as in their eyes political trafficking and the diplomatic arts are still "above" the gigantic social struggle in general. Faced with these petty drudges one can have no scruples. There can be no agreement with the USPD as they do not recognise the justification of factory organisations, on the basis of the struggle for workers' councils. A great number of the masses already recognise them, rather than the USPD, as their political leadership. This is a good sign. The factory organisation, by unleashing mass strikes and by transforming their political orientation, basing themselves every time on the political situation of the moment, will contribute much more rapidly and much more thoroughly to unmasking and destroying the counter-revolutionary trade unions.

The second great aim of the factory organisation is to prepare for the building of communist society. Any worker who declares for the dictatorship of the proletariat can become a member. Moreover it is necessary to resolutely reject the trade unions, and to be resolutely free from their ideological orientation. This last condition will be the cornerstone for being admitted into the factory organisation. It is through this that one shows one's adhesion to the proletarian class struggle and to its own methods; we do not demand adhesion to a more precise party programme. Through its nature and its inherent tendencies the factory organisation serves communism and leads to the communist society. Its kernel will always be expressly communist, its struggle pushes everyone in the same direction. On the other hand, the programme of the party has to deal with social reality in its widest sense; and the most serious intellectual qualities are demanded from party members. A political party like the KAPD, which goes forward and rapidly modifies itself in liaison with the world revolutionary process, can never have a great quantitative importance (if it is not to regress and become corrupt). But the revolutionary masses are, on the contrary, united in the factory organisations through their class solidarity, through the consciousness of belonging to the proletariat. It is this which organically prepares the unity of the proletariat; whereas on the basis of a party programme alone this unity is never possible. The factory organisation is the beginning of the communist form and becomes the foundation of the communist society to come.

The factory organisation carries out its tasks in close union with the KAPD.

The political organisation has the task of bringing together the most advanced elements of the working class on the basis of the party programme.

The relationship of the party to the factory organisation comes from the nature of the factory organisation. The work of the KAPD inside these organisations will be that of an unflagging propaganda, as well as putting forward the slogans of the struggle. The revolutionary cadres in the factory become the mobile arm of the party. Further, it is naturally necessary that the party always takes on for itself a more proletarian character, that it complies with the dictatorship from below. Through this the circle of its tasks grows wider, but at the same time it acquires the most powerful support. What has to be achieved is that the victory (the taking of power by the proletariat) ends up in the dictatorship of the class and not the dictatorship of a few party leaders and their clique. The factory organisation is the guarantee of this.

The phase of taking political power by the proletariat demands the firmest repression of capitalist-bourgeois movements. That will be achieved by putting in place an organisation of councils exercising the totality of political and economic power. In this phase the factory organisation itself becomes an element of the proletarian dictatorship, carried through into the factory. This latter moreover has the task of transforming itself into the base unit of the councils' economic system.

The factory organisation is an economic condition for the construction of the communist community (Gemeinwesen). The political form of the organisation of the communist community is the system of the councils. The factory organisation intervenes so that political power is only exercised by the executive of the councils.

The KAPD thus struggles for the realisation of the maximum revolutionary programme, the concrete demands of which are contained in the following points:

Political domain:

1. Immediate political and economic fusion with all victorious proletarian countries (Soviet Russia, etc.), in the spirit of the international class struggle, with the aim of a common self-defence against the aggressive actions of world capital.

2. Arming of the politically organised revolutionary working class, setting up local military defence groups (Ortswehren), the formation of a Red Army; disarmament of the bourgeoisie, of all police, all officers, of 'citizens' defence groups" (Einwohnerwehren), etc.

3. Dissolution of all parliaments and all municipal councils.

4. Formation of workers' councils as legislative and executive organs of power. Election of a central council of delegates of the workers' councils of Germany.

5. Meeting of a congress of German councils as a supreme political authority of the Councils of Germany.

6. Taking over control of the press by the working class under the leadership of the local political councils.

7. Destruction of the bourgeois judicial apparatus and the immediate installation of revolutionary tribunals. Taking charge of the bourgeois prison system and the security services by appropriate proletarian organs.

Economic, social and structural domain

1. Cancellation of state and other public debts, cancellation of war reparations.

2. Expropriation by the republic of councils of all banks, mines, foundries as well as the large firms of industry and commerce.

3. Confiscation of all wealth over a certain threshold, the latter fixed by the central council of the workers' councils of Germany.

4. Transformation of private landed property into collective property under the leadership of the competent local and rural councils (Gutsräte).

5. The republic of councils to take charge of all public transports.

6. Regulation and central management of the totality of production by the higher economic councils, which must be mandated by the congress of economic councils.

7. Adaption of the whole of production to need, based on the most detailed statistical economic calculations.

8. Ruthless enforcement of the obligation to work.

9. Guarantee of individual existence relative to food, clothing, housing, old age, sickness, invalidity, etc.

10. Abolition of all caste, decorative and titled differences. Complete juridical and social equality of the sexes.

11. Immediate radical transformation of provisions, housing and health in the interests of the proletarian population.

12. At the same time as the KAPD declares the most resolute war on the capitalist mode of production and the bourgeois state, it directs its attack against the totality of bourgeois ideology and makes itself the pioneer of a world proletarian-revolutionary conception. An essential factor in the acceleration of the social revolution resides in the revolutionising of the whole intellectual world of the proletariat. Conscious of this fact, the KAPD supports all revolutionary tendencies in science and the arts, all those elements which correspond to the spirit of the proletarian revolution.

In particular, the KAPD encourages all serious revolutionary efforts which allow the youth of both sexes to express themselves. The KAPD rejects all domination over youth. The political struggle compels the youth to attain a superior development of its forces; this gives us the certitude that it will accomplish its greatest tasks with a total clarity and resolution. In the interests of the revolution, it is the duty of the KAPD that youth gets all the support possible in its struggle.

The KAPD is conscious also that after the conquest of political power by the proletariat, a great domain of activity falls upon youth in the construction of communist society: the defence of the republic of councils by the Red Army, the transformation of the process of production, the creation of communist labour schools which will carry out their creative tasks in close connection with the factory.

This then is the programme of the Communist Workers' Party of Germany. Faithful to the spirit of the Third International, the KAPD remains attached to the idea of the founders of scientific socialism, according to which the conquest of political power by the proletariat signifies the destruction of the political power of the bourgeoisie. To destroy the totality of the bourgeois state apparatus with its capitalist army under the leadership of bourgeois and landed officers, with its police, its gaolers and its judges, with its priests and bureaucrats - here is the first task of the proletarian revolution. The victorious proletariat must be steeled against the blows of the bourgeois counter-revolution. When this is imposed on it by the bourgeoisie, the proletariat must strive to crush the exploiters' civil war with a ruthless violence. The KAPD is conscious that the final struggle between capital and labour cannot be settled inside national frontiers. As little as capitalism stops in front of national frontiers and holds back due to some national scruple or other in its incursion through the world, as little can the proletariat afford to be hypnotised by nationalist ideology and lose sight of the fundamental idea of international class solidarity. The more the idea of the international class struggle is clearly grasped by the proletariat, the more it will become the leitmotif of world proletarian policy, and the more impulsive and massive will be the blows of the world revolution which will break into pieces the decomposing capitalist world. Beyond all national particularities, beyond all frontiers and all fatherlands, the eternal beacon shines for the proletariat: proletarians of all countries, unite!

Berlin. 1920.