A. Thalheimer

In the International

Draft of a Communist Program

(22 September 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 81, pp. 607–609.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Program Committee of the Communist Party of Germany has unanimously accepted the following theses as a basis for the Party program.

The Form of the Program

The Communist Manifesto gives a general presentation of historical development: development of the bourgeois state; its differentiation from former systems of society; the revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie from the technical, economic, social and political points of view; positive results: the creation of tremendous forces of production; then the rebellion of the productive forces created by capitalism, against the capitalist system of property and production; proof of this conflict: the periodically recurrent economic crises.

Objective results of the economic evolution:

  1. Tremendous development and concentration of the means of production. Resulting political centralization (National Government, etc.). These economic conditions as a prerequisite to any Socialist transformation.
  2. Rebellion of the productive forces against the capitalist system of production. The capitalist anarchy productive of recurring and ever greater crises.
  3. The working class as the active force working consciously towards the Social Revolution.

I. Historical Development of the Proletariat

  1. At first divided by competition. United at first, not for its own political purposes, but for those of the bourgeoisie,— as an army against the enemies of the bourgeoisie (against absolute monarchy, nobility, petty bourgeoisie, etc.). Hence no class-consciousness at this stage.
  2. Formation of proletarian coalitions and organizations against the bourgeoisie to defend wages, shorten working hours, improve labor conditions, etc. Positive result: growing organization of the working class; united wage fight; quantitative growth brings qualitatively higher demands Class War spreads on political field. Reforms gained.

The bourgeoisie is forced by conflicts (national and international) to admit the workers into the political life. The ruling class then begins to deteriorate. Certain isolated sections pass into the proletariat; introduction of educating elements.

Proletarization of the petty bourgeoisie.

Formation of the lower proletariat.

The Aims of the Proletariat, Determined by Its Class Position

The living conditions of the old society are destroyed by the proletariat. Bourgeois property, bourgeois family, bourgeois morals and religion, and national prejudice no longer exist for it. In order to acquire the means of production, the proletariat must abolish its own method of appropriation (wage labor), as well as the methods of appropriation of capitalist society (capitalist production, distribution, circulation)

This class struggle is national in form but not in nature and essence.

The proletarian movement, an independent movement of the overwhelming majority in the interests of the majority. The class war breaks out in open revolution when the bourgeoisie is “no longer capable of securing the existence of its slaves within their slavery”.

II. Proletariat and Communism
The Principles and Aims of Communism

1. Relation of Communists to the Proletariat:— They are the conscious section of the proletariat, fighting for and realizing the interests of the whole working class.

2. The immediate aims of the Communists.

  1. To organize the proletariat into a class, i.e., to create organizations imbued with the spirit of class consciousness. What is class consciousness? Living, active realization of the common interests of the proletarians, and of the irreconcilable conflict between proletarian and bourgeois interests.
  2. Overthrow of bourgeois rule
  3. Seizure of political power by the proletariat. Differentiating them from bourgeois liberalism, the proletarian aims are more exactly defined:
  1. Abolition of private property.
  2. With the abolition of commerce, free trade disappears.
  3. Abolition of classes.
  4. Abolition of the bourgeois family; social instead of family education; freeing of education from influence of ruling class.
  5. Seizure of power by proletariat which becomes thereby a national class, and represents the nation.
  6. Elimination of national differences and conflicts.

The Means of the Proletarian Revolution are:

State and Revolution

First step: The proletariat becomes the ruling class through revolution, and organizes the State for the suppression of the bourgeoisie.

Second step: With the disappearance of classes, i.e., with the development of the Socialist Society, the State loses its political character.

Transitory Measures

Prime requirement: Political supremacy of the proletariat.

General aims: Gradual expropriation of the bourgeoisie; centralization of means of production under the State; increase of productive power; transitory economic measures which will gradually prove insufficient, but which in the course of development, will expand by themselves. These measures vary with each country.

Proposals for the more advanced countries:

  1. Expropriation of land, and use of ground rent for state expenses.
  2. High progressive taxes.
  3. Abolition of inheritance right.
  4. Confiscation of the property of all rebels and emigrés.
  5. Centralization of credits in the hands of the State through a National Bank, capitalized by the State and enjoying exclusive monopoly.
  6. Centralization of the means of transportation in the hands of the State.
  7. Increase of national factories and means of production; cultivation and improvement of all land on a communal basis.
  8. Equal compulsory work for all; creation of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
  9. Union of industry and agriculture; to erase gradually the difference between city and country.
  10. Free public education for all children. Abolition of factory work for children in its present form. Coordination of education with material production, etc.


Critical discussion of feudal Socialism, petty bourgeois Socialism (Sismondi), “true Socialism ”, conservative or bourgeois Socialism, utopian Socialism, and Communism.

IV. Attitude of Communists towards
the various Opposition Parties

In France, union with Social Democratic Party against conservative and radical bourgeoisie.

In Ge

rmany, common action with bourgeoisie against absolute monarchy, feudal land ownership and petty bourgeoisie, but maintenance of class-consciousness of the workers.

General line of action: Support of all revolutionary movements against the existing social and political conditions, but always keeping the property question in the foreground.

The Erfurt Program (1891)

1. Contents: Tendencies in the economic development of capitalism: disappearance of small industry; proletarization of the masses; monopolization of the means of production in a few hands; tremendous growth of productive power, and pauperization of the masses.

Development of the class struggle. Crises prove that the productive power of society grew inordinately.

General Aim: Transformation of the capitalist system of production into a Socialist system of production.

This struggle is a political one for political power.

Task of the Social Democratic Party: Unification of this struggle, rendering it conscious.

International scope of this struggle.

2. Minimum program: Democracy, social reforms, labor protective laws.

Spartacus Program

1. The November Revolution as a starting point Socialism and World Revolution as the only ways out of ruin.

2. The political form of the proletarian rule: Soviets, class organs of the workers, as against bureaucracy. The economic revolution must be brought about and carried on by the organs of the masses.

3. Revolution as civil war in its acutest form. Attitude towards terror. Definition of Dictatorship of Proletariat.

4. Measures for the Defense of the Revolution; for the realization of the Soviet System and of Socialism. International tasks.

5. Relation of Spartacus League to the bourgeoisie, to the working class, to the other workers' parties.

* * *

The Communist Manifesto develops historically the aims and principles of Communism, and contains in summary form, transitory measures (not minimum demands) as well as some demands for labor protection (regulation of child factory work).

The Erfurt Program insists primarily upon democratic and social reforms. The main text describes the aims only in an abstract, general way. No indication as to the concrete form of the Proletarian Dictatorship (its State form), nor as to the transitory measures to Socialism.

The Spartacus Program restricts itself of a statement of the concrete form and means of the Proletarian Dictatorship and the Social Revolution. These are the chief points. The democratic demands of the Erfurt Program naturally disappear. All that remains is a summary demand for “decisive social legislation”, etc. The Spartacus Program contains no minimum demands and no transitory measures.

A new Communist Program to be formulated now, should return in form, but not in content, to the Communist Manifesto, inasfar as it should contain, besides a statement of Communist aims and basic principles, transitory demands, and economic and political measures of transition, which, based upon the existing bourgeois democracy and capitalist production, would lead to Communism. These transitory demands agree in general character with those of the Communist Manifesto, but naturally, not in content, since the starting point is different, and because the goal can be grasped more concretely thanks to the previous experience of the proletarian revolutions. These transitory demands differ essentially from the democratic minimum demands of the Erfurt Program. The minimum demands of the Erfurt Program aim at the enlargement of bourgeois democracy, at the elimination of the military, bureaucratic and feudal remains of the German absolutism, and at the reduction of the pressure of capitalist exploitation. The transitory demands of the Communist Program aim at the overthrow of Bourgeois democracy, and of the capitalist order whose oppression can be overcome only through revolutionary action. The Spartacus Program did not bring forth any such transitory demands because its starting point was not the bourgeois republic, but the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviets, the final destruction of the capitalist system, and because its immediate purpose was the creation and defense of the Soviet System, and the Social Revolution.

Shall the program contain detailed commentary, shall it be also a propaganda pamphlet, a polemic? The Communist Manifesto was both a presentation of the materialistic conception of history and a polemic against "true Socialism”, petty bourgeois Socialism, etc. This was necessary because no complete presentation of the Communist conception of history and its methods had preceded the Communist Manifesto. (The writings of Marx and Engels before the Manifesto were only preparatory work). On the other hand we have sufficient propagandist and critico-polemicai presentation of the basic principles and aims of Communism in the theses of the Congress of the Comintern to make their repetition unnecessary in a Communist Program. The Program should therefore be limited to a short, striking statement of the final decisions, as is done in all the classical Social Democratic Party programs (Erfurt Program, Program of French Social Democracy).

See F. Engels’ criticism of the draft of the 1891 Erfurt Program:

“In general the draft suffers from the attempt to unite two incompatible things: to be at one program and commentary to the program. One is afraid not to be clear enough when one is concise and to the point. Therefore one adds explanations which encumber the program and make it too broad and dragging. It is my opinion that the program should be as short and precise as possible. It is not dangerous if some foreign term or some too general or too far-reaching sentence is not understood at first glance. The debate on the program, the discussions in the press, will furnish the necessary explanation, and the short, pregnant sentence once understood is remembered and becomes a motto.” (F. Engels on the Social Democratic Program Draft 1891 — Neue Zeit, XX. 1., pp. 5, 6 (1902)

The commentaries to a Communist Program may be found in the Theses. The program itself should carry and be remembered, and therefore be short and precise.

* * *

The question is: Should a Communist Program formulate transitory demands? We were against the Levi Group adherents who wished to formulate the Workers’ Government programmatically. But there is here a basic difference. They had in mind minimum demands in the sense of the Erfurt Program, that is demands which would come into consideration at a definite time, while the aims and basic principles of Communism had only theoretical, ideal, future, but no practical significance. We wish to formulate transitory demands purely as transitory demands; that is, as possible intermediary steps, and not as definite goals for a definite period; in the same sense, then, that the transitory demands of the Communist Manifesto are. There is here an essential difference.

The Levi Group, by its adhesion to the Independents, by its willingness to enter a bourgeois-socialist coalition government, by approving the anonymous coalition policy of the Independents, by its union with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (together with the Independents), has proven that it has given up the principles and aims of Communism, (a thing we have claimed from the very beginning).

Does not a similar danger menace the Communist Party if it formulates transitory demands on its program? Not in the least, if it remains fully conscious of their temporary character.

* * *

Another question: May general, transitory demands (i.e., acceptable for all countries) be formulated at all, and to what degree can a Communist Program be made universal?

The same applies as for the Communist Manifesto: the measures must, of course, vary for each country. Nevertheless, the Communist Manifesto did formulate such general transitory demands for the “more advanced countries” of that time.

Today we have io consider a much larger and much more varied group of countries in which the revolutionary movement plays a role. Besides the most developed capitalist countries, with various forms of government, where the class struggle is more or less advanced and where the present economic crisis is more or less felt, we have also the countries where capitalism has reached differently developed stages of early capitalism, countries with simplified production, colonies and half-colonies with more or less absolute governments.

For these reasons, we deem the most practical to be:

1. For the General Program: a general section and a section of transitory demands’, divided into groups corresponding to the development of the countries:

Main Groups:

  1. Countries where the proletariat has already seized power.
  2. Capitalistically developed countries, with a more or less advanced bourgeois democracy, and in the process of economic and financial disintegration, such as Germany, Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, Switzerland, Italy, France and the Balkans.
  3. More stable capitalist countries, such as England and the United States.
  4. Capitalistically developed countries, but with an absolute government, such as Japan.
  5. Colonial and semi-colonial countries: India, Egypt, Persia China, etc.

The general transitory demands for the separate groups would naturally be elastic, as in the Communist Manifesto.

For the Program of the individual countries: a general statement of principles besides transition demands, adopted for the country in question.

The transitory demands of the general program might serve as a basis for those of the individual countries.

Last updated on 31 August 2020