The Communist Party of Germany (German: Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) was a major political party in Germany between 1918 and 1933, and a minor party in West Germany in the postwar period until it was banned in 1956.
Founded in the aftermath of the First World War by socialists opposed to the war, led by Rosa Luxemburg, after her death the party became gradually ever more committed to Leninism and later Stalinism. During the Weimar Republic period, the KPD usually polled between 10 and 15 percent of the vote and was represented in the Reichstag and in state parliaments. The party directed most of its attacks on the Social Democratic Party of Germany, which it considered its main opponent. Banned in Nazi Germany one day after Adolf Hitler emerged triumphant in the German elections in 1933, the KPD maintained an underground organization but suffered heavy losses. The party was revived in divided postwar West and East Germany and won seats in the first Bundestag (West German Parliament) elections in 1949, but its support collapsed following the establishment of a communist state in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany.
In East Germany, the party was merged, by Soviet decree, with the Social Democratic Party to form the Socialist Unity Party (SED) which ruled East Germany until 1989–1990. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, reformists took over the SED and renamed it the Party of Democratic Socialism; in 2007 the PDS subsequently merged with the SPD splinter faction WASG to form Die Linke. The KPD was banned in West Germany in 1956 by the Constitutional Court. Some of its former members founded an even smaller fringe party, the German Communist Party (DKP), in 1969, which remains legal, and multiple tiny splinter groups claiming to be the successor to the KPD have also subsequently been formed.
Communist Party of Germany
German: Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands
|Founded||30 December 1918 – |
1 January 1919
|Dissolved||1946 (replaced in East Germany)|
1956 (banned in West Germany)
|Preceded by||Spartacus League|
|Succeeded by||Socialist Unity Party of Germany (East Germany),|
German Communist Party (West Germany),
Socialist Unity Party of West Berlin (West Berlin)
|Newspaper||Die Rote Fahne|
|Youth wing||Young Communist League|
|Paramilitary wing||Rotfrontkämpferbund (RFB)|
Before the First World War the Social Democratic Party (SPD) was the largest party in Germany and the world's most successful socialist party. Although still officially claiming to be a Marxist party, by 1914 it had become in practice a reformist party. In 1914 the SPD members of the Reichstag voted in favour of the war. Left-wing members of the party, led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, strongly opposed the war, and the SPD soon suffered a split, with the leftists forming the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) and the more radical Spartacist League. In November 1918, revolution broke out across Germany. The leftists, led by Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacist League, formed the KPD at a founding congress held in Berlin in 30 December 1918 – 1 January 1919 in the reception hall of the City Council Apart from the Spartacists, another dissent group of Socialists called the International Communists of Germany, also dissenting members of the Social Democratic party, but mainly located in Hamburg, Bremen and Northern Germany, joined the young party. The Revolutionary Shop Stewards, a network of dissenting socialist trade unionists centered in Berlin were also invited to the Congress, but eventually did not join the party because they deemed the founding congress leaning into a syndicalist direction.
There were seven main reports given at the founding congress:
These reports were given by leading figures of the Spartakus League, however members of the Internationale Kommunisten Deutschlands also took part in the discussions
Under the leadership of Liebknecht and Luxemburg, the KPD was committed to a revolution in Germany, and during 1919 and 1920 attempts to seize control of the government continued. Germany's Social Democratic government, which had come to power after the fall of the Monarchy, was vehemently opposed to the KPD's idea of socialism. With the new regime terrified of a Bolshevik Revolution in Germany, Defense Minister Gustav Noske formed a series of anti-communist paramilitary groups, dubbed "Freikorps", out of demobilized World War I veterans. During the failed Spartacist uprising in Berlin of January 1919, Liebknecht and Luxemburg, who had not initiated the uprising but joined once it had begun, were captured by the Freikorps and murdered. The Party split a few months later into two factions, the KPD and the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD).
Following the assassination of Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi became the KPD leader. Other prominent members included Clara Zetkin, Paul Frölich, Hugo Eberlein, Franz Mehring, August Thalheimer, and Ernst Meyer. Levi led the party away from the policy of immediate revolution, in an effort to win over SPD and USPD voters and trade union officials. These efforts were rewarded when a substantial section of the USPD joined the KPD, making it a mass party for the first time.
Through the 1920s the KPD was racked by internal conflict between more and less radical factions, partly reflecting the power struggles between Zinoviev and Stalin in Moscow. Germany was seen as being of central importance to the struggle for socialism, and the failure of the German revolution was a major setback. Eventually Levi was expelled in 1921 by the Comintern for "indiscipline." Further leadership changes took place in the 1920s. Supporters of the Left or Right Opposition to the Stalin-controlled Comintern leadership were expelled; of these, Heinrich Brandler, August Thalheimer and Paul Frölich set up a splinter Communist Party Opposition.
A new KPD leadership more favorable to the Soviet Union was elected in 1923. This leadership, headed by Ernst Thälmann, abandoned the goal of immediate revolution, and from 1924 onwards contested Reichstag elections, with some success.
During the years of the Weimar Republic the KPD was the largest communist party in Europe and was seen as the "leading party" of the communist movement outside the Soviet Union. It maintained a solid electoral performance, usually polling more than 10% of the vote and gaining 100 deputies in the November 1932 elections. In the presidential election of the same year, Thälmann took 13.2% of the vote, compared to Hitler's 30.1%.
Critics of the KPD accused it of having pursued a sectarian policy, e.g. the Social Democratic Party criticized the KPD's thesis of "social fascism" (which addressed the SPD as the Communist's main enemy). This scuttled any possibility of a united front with the SPD against the rising power of the National Socialists. These allegations were repudiated by supporters of the KPD as it was said the right-wing leadership of the SPD rejected the proposals of the KPD to unite for the defeat of fascism. The SPD leaders were accused of having countered KPD efforts to form a united front of the working class. For instance, after Papen's government carried out a coup d'état in Prussia the KPD called for a general strike and turned to the SPD leadership for joint struggle, but the SPD leaders again refused to cooperate with the KPD.
Soon after the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor, the Reichstag was set on fire and Dutch council communist Marinus van der Lubbe was found near the building. The Nazis publicly blamed the fire on communist agitators in general, although in a German court in 1933, it was decided that Van Der Lubbe had acted alone, as he claimed to have done. After the fire, the Reichstag Fire Decree was passed.
Repression beginning within hours after the fire, when police arrested dozens of Communists. Although Hitler could have formally banned the KPD, he did not do so right away. Not only was he reluctant to chance a violent uprising, but he believed the KPD could siphon off SPD votes and split the left. However, most judges held the KPD responsible for the fire, and took the line that KPD membership was in and of itself a treasonous act. At the March 1933 election, the KPD elected 81 deputies. However, it was an open secret that they would never be allowed to take office; they were all arrested in short order. For all intents and purposes, the KPD was banned as of 6 March, the day after the election.
The KPD was efficiently suppressed by the Nazis. The most senior KPD leaders were Wilhelm Pieck and Walter Ulbricht, who went into exile in the Soviet Union. The KPD maintained an underground organisation in Germany throughout the Nazi period, but the loss of many core members severely weakened the Party's infrastructure.
A number of senior KPD leaders in exile were caught up in Joseph Stalin's Great Purge of 1937–38 and executed, among them Eberlein, Heinz Neumann, Hermann Remmele, Fritz Schulte and Hermann Schubert, or sent to the gulag, like Margarete Buber-Neumann. Still others, like Gustav von Wangenheim and Erich Mielke, denounced their fellow exiles to the NKVD. Willi Münzenberg, the KPD's propaganda chief, was murdered in mysterious circumstances in France in 1940. The NKVD is believed to have been responsible.
In East Germany, the Soviet occupation authorities forced the eastern branch of the SPD to merge with the KPD (led by Pieck and Ulbricht) to form the Socialist Unity Party (SED) in April 1946. Although nominally a union of equals, the SED quickly fell under Communist domination, and most of the more recalcitrant members from the SPD side of the merger were pushed out in short order. By the time of the formal formation of the East German state in 1949, the SED was a full-fledged Communist party, and developed along lines similar to other Soviet-bloc Communist parties. It was the ruling party in East Germany from its formation in 1949 until 1989. The SPD managed to preserve its independence in Berlin, forcing the SED to form a small branch in West Berlin, the Socialist Unity Party of West Berlin.
The KPD reorganised in the western part of Germany, and received 5.7% of the vote in the first Bundestag election in 1949. But the onset of the Cold War and imposition of an undisguised Communist dictatorship in East Germany soon caused a collapse in the party's support. At the 1953 election the KPD only won 2.2 percent of the total votes and lost all of its seats, never to return. The party was banned in August 1956 by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. The ban was due to the aggressive and combative methods that the party used as a "Marxist-Leninist party struggle" to achieve their goals. After the party was declared illegal, many of its members continued to function clandestinely despite increased government surveillance. Part of its membership refounded the party in 1968 as the German Communist Party (DKP). Following German reunification many DKP members joined the new Party of Democratic Socialism, formed out of the remains of the SED.
In 1968, a self-named "true successor" to the (banned) West German KPD was formed, the KPD/ML (Marxist–Leninist), which followed Maoist ideas. It went through multiple splits and united with a Trotskyist group in 1986 to form the Unified Socialist Party (VSP), which failed to gain any influence and dissolved in the early 1990s. However, multiple tiny splinter groups originating in the KPD/ML still exist, several of which claim the name of KPD. Another party with this name was formed in 1990 in East Berlin by several hardline Communists who had been expelled from the PDS, including Erich Honecker. The "KPD (Bolshevik)" split off from the East German KPD in 2005, bringing the total number of (more or less) active KPDs to at least 5. The Left, formed out of a merger between the PDS and Labour and Social Justice – The Electoral Alternative in 2007, claims to be the historical successor of the KPD (by way of the PDS).
In the early 1920s, the party operated under the principle of democratic centralism, whereby the leading body of the party was the Congress, meeting at least once a year. Between Congresses, leadership of the party resided in the Central Committee, which was elected at Congress, of one group of people who had to live where the leadership was resident and formed the Zentrale and others nominated from the districts they represented (but also elected at the Congress) who represented the wider party. Elected figures were subject to recall by the bodies that elected them.
The KPD employed around about 200 full-timers during its early years of existence, and as Broue notes "They received the pay of an average skilled worker, and had no privileges, apart from being the first to be arrested, prosecuted and sentenced, and when shooting started, to be the first to fall".
|1920||589.454||2.1 (No. 8)||
4 / 459
|May 1924||3.693.280||12.6 (No. 4)||10.5||
62 / 472
|December 1924||2.709.086||8,9 (No. 5)||3.7||
45 / 493
|1928||3.264.793||10.6 (No. 4)||1.7||
54 / 491
|1930||4.590.160||13.1 (No. 3)||2.5||
77 / 577
|23||After the financial crisis|
|July 1932||5.282.636||14.3 (No. 3)||1.2||
89 / 608
|November 1932||5.980.239||16.9 (No. 3)||2.6||
100 / 584
|March 1933||4.848.058||12.3 (No. 3)||4.6||
81 / 647
|19||During Hitler's term as Chancellor of Germany|
|1925||1,931,151||6.4 (No. 3)||Ernst Thälmann|
|1932||3,706,759||10.2 (No. 3)||3.8||Ernst Thälmann|
Anna Seghers (19 November 1900 – 1 June 1983) was a German writer famous for depicting the moral experience of the Second World War. The pseudonym Anna Seghers was apparently based on the surname of the Dutch painter and printmaker Hercules Pieterszoon Seghers or Segers (c. 1589 – c. 1638).August Thalheimer
August Thalheimer (18 March 1884 – 19 September 1948) was a German Marxist activist and theoretician.Clara Zetkin
Clara Zetkin (; German: [ˈtsɛtkiːn]; née Eißner [ˈaɪsnɐ]; born on 5 July 1857 in Wiederau, Kingdom of Saxony; died on 20 June 1933 in Archangelskoje, Oblast Moscow, Soviet Union) was a German Marxist theorist, activist, and advocate for women's rights.Until 1917, she was active in the Social Democratic Party of Germany, then she joined the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) and its far-left wing, the Spartacist League; this later became the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), which she represented in the Reichstag during the Weimar Republic from 1920 to 1933.Communist Party of Germany/Marxists–Leninists
The Communist Party of Germany/Marxist–Leninist (German: Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands/Marxisten-Leninisten, KPD/ML), established on December 31, 1968, was an anti-revisionist pro-China party in West Germany that was later supportive of communist leader of Albania Enver Hoxha after the Sino-Albanian Split. The KPD/ML was formed by former Communist Party of Germany (KPD) official Ernst Aust, who subsequently became the party's chairman, on New Year's Eve 1968 as a split from the KPD. Its periodical was Roter Morgen.
Aust was received by Albanian leader Enver Hoxha in a private audience in 1974, while, on June 1, 1975, Yao Wenyuan, a member of the central committee of the Communist Party of China received the KPD/ML chairman.
The KPD/ML had its final break with Maoism in 1977. In 1978, with the adoption of a new programme adopted at the party's fourth congress, the KPD/ML disassociated itself from the Three Worlds Theory of the Communist Party of China. Relations between the KPD/ML and the Party of Labour of Albania had significantly cooled by 1984.
In 1986, the KPD/ML merged with the International Marxist Group (GIM) to form the Unified Socialist Party (VSP).
A handful of members opposed to the VSP split off and formed many parties in the tradition of Aust's KPD/ML after 1986, the most prominent being the Communist International (Stalinists-Hoxhaists), Arbeit Zukunft and the Communist Party of Germany (Roter Morgen). These groups maintain or maintained a strong anti-revisionist ideology.Communist Party of Germany (1990)
The Communist Party of Germany (German: Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, abbreviated KPD) is a minor political party in Germany. It is one of several parties which claim the KPD name and/or legacy. It was founded in Berlin in 1990.Communist Party of Germany (Opposition)
The Communist Party of Germany (Opposition) (German: Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (Opposition) or KPD (Opposition), generally abbreviated as KPO or KPD(O) was a communist opposition organisation established at the end of 1928 and maintaining its existence until 1939 or 1940. After the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party to power in January 1933, the KPO existed only as an illegal and underground organization. The group initially sought to modify, later to replace, the mainstream Communist Party of Germany (KPD) headed by Ernst Thälmann. The KPO was the first national section affiliated to the International Communist Opposition (ICO).Communist Party of Germany (Roter Morgen)
The Communist Party of Germany (Red Dawn) (German: Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands - Roter Morgen) is a minor German political party.
It was founded in December 1985 in Hamburg by members of the Communist Party of Germany/Marxists-Leninists who disapproved of that group's fusion with the Trotskyist Gruppe Internationale Marxisten, seeing it as betrayal of their Hoxhaist ideology.
The party publishes the monthly newspaper Roter Morgen. KPD is an active participant in the International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations.Erich Weinert
Erich Bernhard Gustav Weinert (4 August 1890 in Magdeburg – 20 April 1953 in Berlin) was a German Communist writer and a member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).Ernst Thälmann
Ernst Thälmann (16 April 1886 – 18 August 1944) was the leader of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) during much of the Weimar Republic. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1933 and held in solitary confinement for eleven years, before being shot in Buchenwald on Adolf Hitler's personal orders in 1944.German Communist Party
The German Communist Party (German: Deutsche Kommunistische Partei, DKP) is a minor communist party in Germany. The DKP supports far-left positions and was an observer member of the European Left. At the end of February 2016 it left the European party.Heinrich Blücher
Heinrich Friedrich Ernst Blücher (29 January 1899 – 30 October 1970) was a German poet and philosopher. He was the second husband of Hannah Arendt.
Blücher was born in Berlin. He was a member of the Communist Party of Germany until 1928, but soon rejected Stalinism and left the party in protest of its Stalinist policies. He then became a member of a small anti-Stalinist group called the Communist Party Opposition.
As a Communist (albeit anti-Stalinist), Blücher, had to flee Germany following the rise of National Socialism. He married Hannah Arendt in France, and they emigrated to New York City in 1941.
Heinrich Blücher began teaching philosophy at Bard College in 1952, continuing for seventeen years, as well as at the New School for Social Research. Blücher died in New York. His wife Hannah Arendt was later buried alongside him at Bard College Cemetery.Blücher encouraged his wife to become involved with Marxism and political theory, though ultimately her use of Karl Marx was in no way orthodox, as shown in such works as The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and The Human Condition (1958). Blücher also coined the term "the anti-political principle" to describe totalitarianism's destruction of a space of resistance — a term taken up both by Arendt and Karl Jaspers.Heinrich Brandler
Heinrich Brandler (3 July 1881 – 26 September 1967) was a German communist trade unionist, politician, revolutionary activist, and writer. Brandler is best remembered as the head of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) during the party's ill-fated "March Action" of 1921 and aborted uprising of 1923, for which he was held responsible by the Communist International. Expelled from the Communist Party in December 1928, Brandler went on to become co-founder of the Communist Party of Germany Opposition, the first national section of the so-called International Right Opposition.Karl Liebknecht
Karl Paul August Friedrich Liebknecht (German: [ˈliːpknɛçt] (listen); 13 August 1871 – 15 January 1919) was a German socialist, originally in the Social Democrat (SPD) and later a co-founder with Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany which split way from the SPD. He is best known for his opposition to World War I in the Reichstag and his role in the Spartacist uprising of 1919. The uprising was crushed by the Social Democrat government and the Freikorps (paramilitary units formed of World War I veterans). Liebknecht and Luxemburg were executed.
After their deaths, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg became martyrs for Socialists. According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, commemoration of Liebknecht and Luxemburg continues to play an important role among the German left, including Die Linke.Karl Schröder (German politician)
Karl Schröder (November 13, 1884 in Polzin – April 6, 1950 in Berlin) was a communist politician and writer.March Action
The March Action (German "März Aktion" or "Märzkämpfe in Mitteldeutschland" ("The March battles in Central Germany") was a 1921 workers revolt, led by the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), the Communist Workers' Party of Germany (KAPD), and other radical left-wing organisations. It took place in the industrial regions located in Halle, Leuna, Merseburg, and Mansfeld. The revolt ended in defeat for the workers, and a weakening of contemporary communist influence in Germany.Spartacus League
The Spartacus League (German: Spartakusbund) was a Marxist revolutionary movement organized in Germany during World War I. The League was named after Spartacus, leader of the largest slave rebellion of the Roman Republic. It was founded by Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, and others. The League subsequently renamed itself the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD), joining the Comintern in 1919. Its period of greatest activity was during the German Revolution of 1918, when it sought to incite a revolution by circulating the newspaper Spartacus Letters.Wilhelm Pieck
Friedrich Wilhelm Reinhold Pieck (German pronunciation: [ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈpiːk]; 3 January 1876 – 7 September 1960) was a German politician and Communist. In 1949, he became the first President of the German Democratic Republic, an office abolished upon his death. His successor as head of state was Walter Ulbricht, who served as chairman of the Council of State.Wittorf affair
The Wittorf affair was an embezzlement scandal in Germany in 1928. John Wittorf, an official of the Communist Party (KPD), was a close friend and protégé of party chairman Ernst Thälmann. Thälmann tried to cover up the embezzlement, for which he was ousted from the central committee. Joseph Stalin intervened and had Thälmann reinstated, signaling the beginning of a purge and completing the Stalinization of the KPD.Young Communist League of Germany
The Young Communist League of Germany (German: Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands, abbreviated KJVD) was a political youth organization in Germany. It was formed in 1920 from the Free Socialist Youth (Freie Sozialistische Jugend) of the Communist Party of Germany, A prior youth wing had been formed in October 1918, with support from the Spartacus League (Spartakusbund). It was unable to attract new members and its membership peaked in the last years of the Weimar Republic at between 35,000 - 50,000. However, those who did join were commonly children of communist parents that were extremely devoted to the Communist Party.Their activities included selling party newspapers, painting slogans, gluing posters, collecting dues, taking part in agitation, and they made up the voice choruses for Communist songs at demonstrations and other events. The KJVD had its own publishing house, the "Young Guard". The KJVD followed the Communist Party propaganda of attacking the Social Democratic Party of Germany as a proponent of "social fascism" resulting in hostility to the Social Democrats becoming a feature of the KJVD.Political rifts between the KJVD and its parent organization, the Communist Party, appeared, including support by members of the KJVD for the young Communist intellectual Heinz Neumann who advocated increased use of physical violence against political enemies, including the Nazis.Future leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker was a member of the KJVD and became KJVD leader of Saarland in 1931.After the majority of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany joined the Communist Party of Germany at the end of 1920, the Independents' Socialist Workers Youth group followed suit and merged with the Communist Party's youth organization and then in 1925, became known as the Young Communists League.The central organ of KJVD was Die Arbeit, which was published illegally.