August Thalheimer

Introduction - from Revolutionary History

August Thalheimer (1884-1948) was a member of the German Social Democratic Party before the First World War, and editor of one of its papers, the Volksfreund. From 1916 he assisted in the production of the Spartakusbriefe, was a member of the USPD (Independent Socialists) from 1917, and a founder member of the German Communist Party (KPD). He quickly rose to prominence as the party’s main theoretician, being editor of Rote Fahne as well as of Franz Mehring’s manuscripts left unpublished at his death.

During the 1923 crisis he was Minister of Finance in the Württemburg local government, was subsequently blamed along with Brandler for the debâcle, and was called to Moscow in 1924, where he worked in the Communist International apparat, as well as for the Marx-Engels Institute. His lectures delivered at the Sun Yat-Sen University in 1927 were published as a textbook in philosophy (which appeared in English as Introduction to Dialectical Materialism, New York, 1936), and he also worked on the draft programme of the Comintern along with Bukharin. Pressure from the KPD, still uneasy with the leadership of Thälmann, secured his return to Germany in 1928, but a year later he was expelled from the KPD along with Brandler, and they went on to form the KPO, or Brandlerites.

The Brandlerite organisation restricted most of its criticisms to the foreign policy of the Soviet Union, whilst maintaining that its domestic operations were basically healthy. Thalheimer insisted that: ‘We do not want to draw the conclusion that as the politics of the Comintern are wrong, it must follow that the politics of Russia are also wrong.’ (GdST, 4/1931) Thalheimer himself supported forced collectivisation and Stakhanovism, and whilst in Barcelona became involved in a heated argument with Nin over the POUM’s condemnation of the first Moscow Trial.

In exile in Paris from 1932 onwards, Thalheimer went to Spain in 1936, and then back to France again where the KPO’s exile organisation worked. When six members of the KPO were arrested in Barcelona by the Stalinists and charged with the usual crimes in July 1937, he issued a statement co-signed by Brandler saying that:

‘We take upon ourselves any political and personal guarantee for our arrested comrades. They are anti-Fascists and revolutionaries, incapable of any action that could be construed as high treason to the Spanish Revolution.’

They were not to stay long in Paris. In 1940 France fell to Hitler, and Thalheimer fled to Cuba, where he died in 1948.