Hans Schafranek

Kurt Landau

This outline of the life and work of Kurt Landau is intended to serve as an introduction to his major theoretical work on the Spanish Revolution, a comparison of Germany 1918 and Spain 1936, which follows it in this book. It is a summary by the author of his full length biography Das Kurze Leben des Kurt Landau: Ein Österreichischer Kommunist als Opfer der stalinistischen Geheimpolizei, published by Verlag fur Gesellschaftskritik of Vienna in 1988.

The original German text was translated into French by Jean-Pierre Le Nir, notes were added by Jacqueline Bois, and the whole was published in Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no.5, January/March 1980, pp.71-95. As is our custom, in the English version edited and translated from the French by Ted Crawford, all footnotes referring to foreign language sources have been deleted, since those who would want to use them would be able to read this article in the French, or better still the original German. English language references have been retained, along with notes which amplify the text. This has involved renumbering the notes, of which there were 164 in the French version.

Our thanks are due surely to the writer, and to Professor Broué, the editor of the Cahiers Léon Trotsky, for allowing us to introduce this remarkable militant to an English readership.

Kurt Landau, born on 29 January 1903, the son of a prosperous wine merchant, joined the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ) in 1921, a not uncommon event for a member of the Jewish intelligentsia of the time. A year later he took up the post of the leader of the Vienna-Wahring section.

In Austria the revolutionary wave slowly subsided. The Communists were forced to adapt their tactics to the new objective conditions of ‘relative stabilisation’ which provoked violent internal quarrels.

At a time when most of the participants in these factional struggles located their arguments purely on a national level, and merely saw the Communist International as an umpire, Landau immediately saw the consequences which would ensue because of the discussions in the Russian Communist Party (RKP) and the Comintern. At the beginning of 1923 he violently criticised the decisions of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International on the concept of the workers’ government, and supported the positions of Bordiga [1] and Acevedo. [2] He harshly rejected coalition governments with Social Democrats as a revision of the Marxist theory of the state. But the aim of his attacks was not merely the leadership of the German Communist Party (KPD) in the person of Brandler [3],   but equally the ‘opportunism’ of Zinoviev. [4]

Whilst the leadership of the Austrian section of the Comintern blindly applied the anti-Trotskyist campaigns ordered under the pretext of ‘Bolshevisation’, Landau, at a delegate conference in Vienna, took the side of the founder of the Red Army, who had now fallen from favour. In between he became the head of the agitprop section of the Central Committee and the cultural editor of Rote Fahne, the main organ of the KPÖ. In a resolution Landau vehemently defended the theses formulated by Trotsky in 1923 in Literature and Revolution on the impossibility of a culture of the working class alone – a question also debated in the Russian Proletkult committees – and he then attacked the cultural superstructure of Stalin’s dogma of ‘Socialism in One Country’. [5]

From 1923 to 1925 an evolution took place in the debates between the groups led by Frey and Tomann. [6] Under the powerful influence of the Comintern’s emissaries, a rubber-stamp faction was formed around Koplenig, Fiola [7] and others, which was characterised by a credulous devotion to the leadership of the Soviet party, and which gradually took control of the section by undemocratic methods. Faced with this development the groups of Frey and Tomann united just before the Eighth Congress in September 1925. In March 1926 Landau joined this united opposition while maintaining his own international positions. Insofar as they did not deny their principles and openly capitulate to the Central Committee, the “ultra-leftists, the Trotskyists, those without principles on principle” [8] were expelled from the KPÖ at the end of 1926 and beginning of 1927.

They formed the Kommunistische Partei Österreichs-Opposition, or KPÖ-O. [9] Inside this new organisation, with some success to begin with, Landau argued for the idea of a second Communist party which would not regard itself as an expelled fraction of the official section. However, he quickly suppressed this opinion, as the KPÖ-O was itself heterogeneous and under pressure from the KPÖ leadership, and was only partially welded together under pressure from the KPÖ, the new questions which were posed, as well as the unresolved problems of the previous faction fights, were pregnant with potential conflicts, and were accompanied by constantly changing alliances. In April 1928 the KPÖ-O expelled Landau and the militants close to him, Mayer, Kuba, Daniel, Heinrich and Thoma. [10] These created a second oppositional organisation around the review Der neue Mahnruf. In Graz this group had more supporters than the official KPÖ.

In the interwar period Austria was unexceptional as far as the fragmentation of oppositional Communist organisations was concerned. In Germany at that time there were also several groups which supported the aims of the Russian Left Opposition. Expelled to Turkey by Stalin, Trotsky attempted to unify his scattered supporters. At his personal suggestion there was a possibility that Landau would take part in this activity as his personal secretary in Prinkipo, but the latter refused. Trotsky then asked Landau to organise the unification of the left oppositions in Germany, the centre of the fight against Fascism, the rise of which the Comintern had neglected in a criminal fashion. In September 1929 Landau went to set himself up in the heart of the workers’ revolutionary movement in Berlin in ‘Red Wedding’.

It was above all due to his great efforts that there was a fusion of the little Trotskyist groups in Germany [11] in March 1930, in the Unified Left Opposition of the KPD (Bolshevik-Leninist). Landau was elected onto the provisional national leadership, and worked intensively on their main organ, Der Kommunist. Several days later a conference of the International Left Opposition placed him on the International Bureau, which gave a new impetus to the ideological and organisational fusion.

The Unified Left Opposition of the KPD won some influence around the base of the Communist Party, which the growth of the National-Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP or Nazi Party) had alarmed, but which the fruits of the theory of ‘Social Fascism’ and its orientation to ‘red unions’, the Revolutionare Gewerkschaft Opposition (RGO), increasingly disarmed. In May 1930 10 delegates of the North Berlin (Wedding) sub-section of the KPD signed a resolution of the Bolshevik-Leninists; 30 others openly protested against the reaction of the KPD leadership to this declaration, that is to say the violent expulsion of the opposition delegates by the organisers of the conference. Furthermore, Trotskyist influence grew in the League of Freethinkers, in Red Aid and in the Building workers’ Federation.

The mainstream Communists reacted to this, not only by numerous expulsions and mindless violence, but also – as we now know – by sending in numerous agents to splinter the International Left Opposition from the inside. One of the most famous of these – Roman Well, alias Robert Soblen [12] – became the most important rival of Landau. [13] At a meeting of the national leadership in June 1930, Well denounced, for obvious reasons, the atmosphere of panic supposedly spread by Landau (“Hitler at the gates”), foreseeing a “cold revolution” by the Nazis through a “Fascisisation of the state apparatus”, and pictured the evidence for a fundamental change in the policy of the KPD. Moreover, Well wanted Frank-Graf, whose activity in the service of the GPU is proved from many clues [14], coopted onto the national leadership.

A national conference in October 1930 confirmed Landau in his post as the representative of the International Bureau, but it was not, however, able to get any political clarification. From January 1931, supported by the majority of the Berlin leadership, Landau imposed a series of dismissals and expulsions, but this did not resolve the crisis.

Trotsky, who in the meantime had experienced some disappointments with the supporters of Landau in Austria, for reasons which we cannot go into here, took the side of Well [15], and, with majority support internationally, demanded a referendum, whereas Landau discounted any clarification from an international conference which included the Bordigists. After the failure of several attempts at conciliation, as well as Pierre Frank’s [16] mission to Berlin, the German section of the International Left Opposition split on 31 May 1931.

The part of the German Left Opposition led by Landau, which then published the main paper Der Kommunist, looked for new international links: in April 1932 the Group for International Work of the Left Opposition in the Comintern was established in Berlin, with sections or friendly organisations in Germany, Austria, France, Hungary, Greece, the USA, Belgium and Italy. [17] What linked this organisation, a rival to the International Left Opposition, at the beginning at least, was political differences with Trotsky and his methods of organisation, which were considered bureaucratic.

Although the Left Opposition of the KPD(B-L), of which the most important theoreticians and organisers with Kurt Landau were Hans Schwalback and Alexander (Sascha) Müller, did not become any bigger than the official section of the ILO in the decisive phase of the Weimar Republic – it could not have had more than 300 members – it was not content merely to produce theoretical analyses and to agitate in a purely propagandist way, but it actively intervened – as far as its modest forces allowed – in the class struggles of the German proletariat. As a defensive tactic against the rising Fascist flood, numerous attempts were made to forge practical United Front agreements with the Communist and Social Democratic organisations, as its participation in the Berlin transport strike at the beginning of November 1932 alone proves. [18]

When the long Fascist night started in Germany in 1933 the organisation survived the first destructive blows better than the weighty bureaucratic apparatuses of the mass German working class parties, which were paralysed by their own strength. At an illegal conference held in March 1933 they decided to start an oppositional faction in the KPD, and to publish a bi-monthly journal, Der Funke (The Star).

This organ circulated not only in Trotskyist circles and among the SAP, but took the risky path to members of the KPD. [19] The appearance of a youth paper, in collaboration with oppositional activists in the Young Communist League in the spring of 1933, could already be counted as a success in this work. [20] The first fell victim to the fury of the SA in the summer of 1933. In spite of incredibly difficult conditions, the successful consolidation of the organisational structure and the discussions with other left groupings, particularly with the SAP, were brutally interrupted when, in the spring of 1934, the Gestapo succeeded in infiltrating the organisation and almost entirely destroying it. In the course of a few weeks over 100 militants were arrested [21], and the most important activists were sentenced at the end of July 1934.

The rupture in international relations, the need for a legal publication and, if possible, a permanent communication network between the isolated cadres, all proved the necessity for some kind of centre abroad. So Landau, with his wife Katia (actually Julia), left Germany from March 1933 and found a new area of activity among the refugees in Paris. In June 1933 the former Secretary of the organisation, Hans Schwalbach, followed him.

As well as keeping contact with German militants since the political split, Landau, as the leading Internationalist Marxist (as their group had been called since March 1933) was confronted with two important problems. Firstly there was the balance sheet to draw up of the historic failure of the Communist International, and flowing from that the questions relating to the political and organisational reorientation of the international working class movement leading to clarification. Secondly, Landau had the important task of helping with the unification of the oppositional groups on the French left, and to collect around the representatives abroad (or Auslandsvertretung, AV) a group of sympathetic French comrades who could act as points for the programmatic sharpening of the tendencies in the organisation. The last aspect cannot be examined here – even if it were possible to describe it with any precision from the documents – because we should have to deal with the history of the Trotskyist, Bordigist and Syndicalist tendencies in France as well as the internal currents of opposition in the PCF, which would overwhelm the limited space given to this succinct sketch.

As a result of the ‘Fourth of August’ of the KPD, [22] Trotsky wished to move towards the building of a new illegal class party of the German proletariat – a conception he put forward for the first time on 12 March 1933 [23], not without colliding with the violent resistance of his followers in Germany. For Trotsky the KPD’s collapse testified “incontestably that the fate of not only the German Communist Party but also the entire Comintern was decided in Germany”. [24] This was the final event which caused him to abandon en bloc the policy that he had hitherto followed of the reform of the Comintern. [25]

Since Landau up until this time – in spite of his organisational break and growing political differences – had thought of himself as close to Trotskyism inasmuch as it was “a living intellectual current within Communism”, this estimation of Trotsky, according to whom the KPD had utterly betrayed its revolutionary rôle because of its capitulation to German Fascism without a fight, had, consequently, the effect of the irrevocable breaking of the umbilical cord.

In opposition to this Landau developed the conception of a “new Zimmerwald”, to which he tried to win Rosmer, the “French Liebknecht”, and to whom he explained his political positions on 26 March 1933:

The process of the decomposition of the Comintern, which has commenced its last decisive stage with the German catastrophe, requires that all Communists who accept the principles of the first four Congresses of the Communist International [26] should form a solid group inside the Comintern and, in every country, a Communist leadership capable of winning a decisive fraction of the working class in order to reconstruct the Communist parties in the struggle for the rebirth of the Comintern. We ourselves, left wing activists, should form the left wing in such an organisation, which, by its work, will win the whole organisation to our principles. Where such an organisation destroys the centrist bureaucracy and reorganises the Communist parties it will then become the basis for a new and genuine Communist Party.

This programmatic definition of the tasks to be undertaken was also the leitmotiv of the legal edition of the paper Der Funke, the organ of the International Marxists, which appeared in Paris from May 1933 onwards (it was printed in Vienna), and which was mostly edited by Landau himself. [27] These technical possibilities for publication came to nothing simply because the Fascists also seized Austria. The outlawing of Landau’s supporters there (Neuer Mahnruf) in February 1934, combined with the simultaneous collapse of the German group, caused a drastic contraction in the range of activity of the Auslandsvertretung led by him in Paris. [28] During the next two years, although it was not in any way inactive, its material and political possibilities were in reality reduced to those of a circle. It is true that Landau intensified his contacts with the oppositional group Que Faire?, formed at the end of 1934 around André Ferrat, Georges Kagan, Pierre Rimbert and others. He became editor of the journal of that name and tried – without eventual success – to win them to his own strategic views. [29]

A series of political events became the external catalyst of the partial break-up of this little group. In 1936 Stalin, using a gigantic apparatus of repression, started down the road of the systematic and massive physical destruction of his now politically powerless opponents and of all his future potential enemies. The entire Bolshevik old guard became the target, not just of political attacks, but of the revolvers of the GPU. From the cellars of the Lubianka to the most distant frozen wastes of Siberia, the police firing squads knew no rest.

When on 24 August 1936 the first great public Moscow Trial reached an inglorious end with death sentences passed on all the accused, Landau was enormously worried, because the defence of the Bolshevik leaders, now called “scum”, “jackals”, “hyenas” and “mad dogs” [30], was for him not only the clear duty of proletarian internationalism – above all and in spite of the euphoric mood of the Popular Front in which his travelling companions happily closed their eyes to the massive number of murders – but also a ‘personal’ matter of great importance. One of those executed, Valentin Olberg, was a member of Landau’s group in Berlin in 1930-31. [31]

In the Parisian emigration it was Landau who immediately took the initiative with a big political campaign of solidarity with Stalin’s victims, and on 30 August 1936 sent a proposal for joint activity to Heinrich Brandler, who bluntly rebuffed such a request. [32] The KPO defended the Zinoviev trial as “a justified defensive act against a counter-revolutionary plot”, and thus cynically confirmed the essential elements of the criticism that Trotsky had made of it. [33] The SAP, which had gone into a rampant right wing direction since 1933, meanwhile prepared itself for the German Popular Front in the ‘Lutetia Circle’, and showed itself equally uninterested in Landau’s efforts.

However, he had to defend himself from a left opposition within his own ranks which grew in influence, and which became organisationally separate at the beginning of 1937. Only the Trotskyists and the ultra-left group Internationale around Maslow [34] finally took part. Several joint discussions devoted to perspectives on the Russian Revolution were organised, and some later proposals were made by Landau, such as for the creation of a joint body for workers’ education as a centre of activity opposed to the ‘liberal’ education of the Popular Front, and for a joint pamphlet on the Moscow Trials.

With this in view Landau made contact with the Czech group around Kalandra [35], though this came to nothing because of ideological incompatibility or the sectarian interests of the organisations. While the Trotskyists wished above all to recruit members to their own organisations, Maslow’s followers linked their criticism of Stalinism to ‘sectarian’ needs which resulted from their refusal to defend the Soviet Union, inasmuch as it was considered to be a system of state capitalism. When it is considered overall, this campaign did not lead to any positive concrete result.

The second event which rocked the international workers’ movement to its foundations, and submitted all the problems of revolutionary theory and practice to pitiless examination, was the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936, which at its beginning was indistinguishable from a social revolution of tremendous depth and scale. It threw into the shadows all the previous revolutionary uprisings since the ebb of the first wave from 1921 to 1923, and in some respects even went further than in 1917. This fact is attested by political authors as different as Leon Trotsky [36], Andrés Nin [37], and Augustin Souchy [38], without naming others who closely examined the question.

From the summer of 1936 revolutionaries, weary of illegal political activity in their own country or the bitter experiences of exhausting small group existence in the centres of emigration, poured into Spain from all corners of the world. Landau although physically marked by the difficulties of emigré life, together with his wife Katia, knew peace and quiet no more. Every day they followed the news from the front. The headlines announced the coming siege of Madrid by the Fascist troops. This enforced inactivity was torture to them. They succeeded in making contact with Andrés Nin and Juan Andrade [39] of the Executive Committee of the POUM through the efforts of Fosco (an Italian Trotskyist who was close to the POUM) [40] and Mika Etchebehere (the wife of Hippolyte Etchebehere – the Argentinian member of the POUM, who had worked politically with Landau since 1931). [41]

At the beginning of November 1936 Landau and his wife Katia arrived in Barcelona, which, despite the slow ebb of the revolution, was the focus of the radicalisation of the Catalan and even the Spanish workers. [42] With this emigration the leadership of the Marxist-Internationalists also moved its abode. The POUM gave Landau the job of working with foreign journalists, writers and ordinary militiamen. He had his own office and several staff, and worked both as a political instructor and in organising things as ‘ordinary’ as sleeping and eating arrangements. The most important meeting place for the numerous foreign supporters of the POUM was the Hotel Falcón, which had been requisitioned by the POUM:

It buzzed with a swarm of journalists, politicians and exiles from the whole world, while several oppositional groups of Socialists and Communists met there. The SAP, represented by Max Diamant and Willi Brandt [43], the activists of the KPO-Brandler tendency, Council Communists from Holland, Trotskyists from America, France, Britain and South America, Italian Maximalists, German Anarcho-Syndicalists and the Jewish Bund were all there. This was so much the case that some, such as the SAP and the Italian Maximalists, had their own distinct military units which were a part of the POUM militia. Many of the revolutionaries had been soldiers during the First World War, and having military experience, they were determined to support the Spanish Revolution both politically and militarily. The leaders of the POUM had neither the time nor the wish to take part in the discussions and factional intrigues of these groups. So they appointed the Austrian Kurt Landau, the leader of the Der Funke group, as the coordinator and adviser to collect together and organise what was useful among these volunteers as well as organising international relations. [44]

Landau expected that the impetus of the Spanish Revolution would be a beacon for the necessary reorientation of the European working class which he had desired since 1933, and which he now thought a practical possibility through the medium of the POUM. This function of the POUM as the axis of a ‘new Zimmerwald’ would have to be fleshed out during an international conference at Barcelona which he had competently prepared in collaboration with International Secretariat of the POUM. To avoid any dilution of the revolutionary objectives of the proposed “Fighting International Bloc”, he drew up a programmatic basis whose acceptance seemed to him to be the minimum for starting practical activity in this centre of action:

1. Principled rejection of the Popular Front. A fight against Fascism insofar as it was a working class struggle for Socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, active support of our Socialist revolution against both its open external enemies (the Fascists) and hidden ones (the non-interventionists) and against the democratic counter-revolution of Stalinism and reformism.

2. Revolutionary struggle against war. Against all support for imperialist states at war, and an intransigent struggle against future attempts at a wartime class truce by the reformists and Stalinists in the camp of the victors in the First World War.

3. Recognition of the working class character of the Soviet Union and thus the duty of the international working class to defend the Soviet Union in war by every method of class struggle. The fight against reaction inside the proletarian dictatorship in the Soviet Union, and a fight against Stalinism and for equal political rights for all political supporters of soviet power.

This hope of seeing a revolutionary development in Spain giving a powerful impulse to the reorientation of the workers’ movement in the international arena was strongly expressed in numerous articles, letters, discussions, and in a talk broadcast by Radio POUM on the third anniversary of the Austrian insurrection that is worth mentioning here:

Today we are talking to you from working class and revolutionary Barcelona, on the radio station which were seized by the workers during the July days, during which the Spanish working class continued the struggle which we Austrian comrades started in February 1934. It is a straight line which runs from the Austrian February in 1934 to the revolutionary Spanish July. The way we showed in Austria is one the miners of the Asturias borrowed several months later. But the Asturian October Revolution was the great prologue of the revolutionary victory of July 1936. In a few weeks we, all the revolutionary groups and parties, are holding an international conference in Barcelona, and we hope that delegates will come from the ranks of Austrian proletarian revolutionaries. Truth will show itself to be stronger than the power of machines. Stronger than the troubled waves of slander the invincible force of our Socialist revolution will be affirmed ...

As a member of the London Bureau, an international tendency wavering between Social Democracy, ‘official’ Communism and Trotskyism, the POUM had a close relationship with the SAP, which sent Max Diamant and Willi Brandt as both their representatives and as leaders of the German section of the POUM in Barcelona. They supported that wing of the POUM which did not reject the Popular Front line even after the experiences of Nin in entering the government of the Catalan Generalitat and sought to disregard the violent anti-Trotskyist attacks of the Catalan Stalinists and Spanish (PSUC and PCE) stirred up by Soviet ‘advisers’. The Spanish representatives of the SAP came into conflict both with the POUM majority and their own oppositional members of which the most important – after their expulsion from the SAP – contacted Landau and found themselves just as much in vehement opposition to Brandt and Diamant. [45]

Landau was involved in violent polemics on the subject of the militarisation and the de facto dissolution of the militias and their replacement by a ‘Peoples’ Army’. Unlike Brandt he unreservedly rejected the idea of the ‘Peoples’ Army’ which was favoured by the Stalinists. Nor did Landau share Brandt’s optimism concerning his perspective for the Spanish Revolution deriving from his positive evaluation of the Popular Front. Did it not result in the bloody destruction of the proletarian insurrection in Barcelona in May 1937 – a last desperate attempt to reverse the rapid progress of the destruction of the revolutionary gains since the turning point of 1936-37, and to revive the tradition of July 1936 – a suppression carried out by the joint efforts of the Communist Youth, the Catalonian Esquerra (the bourgeois governmental party in Catalonia) and regular units of the Civil Guard and shock troops? [46] This was understood by Landau as a decisive step on the road to social and political defeat as well as militarily. [47]

The policy of weakening all the anti-Stalinist forces (already proclaimed in Pravda on 17 December 1936 with a cynical precision: “In Catalonia, the elimination of the Trotskyites and Anarcho-Syndicalists has already begun; it will be carried out with the same energy as in the Soviet Union.”) [48] took place in May 1937 and had the appearance of a witch-hunt against all who were on the left of the PCE. Among the innumerable foreign and Spanish supporters of the POUM, left Socialists, Anarchists and Trotskyists were victims of pogroms. In the summer of 1937 about 15,000 anti-Fascist political prisoners [49] languished in the official dungeons or in the numerous prisons of the GPU. [50]

After the battles upon the barricades of Barcelona in which he was involved as a witness, Landau did not feel sufficiently safe in the suburb of Saria. He asked the advice of Alexander Souchy, who gave him accommodation in the Laetana, the headquarters of the Regional Committee of the Anarcho-Syndicalist CNT, and since Souchy shortly afterwards went abroad as a CNT representative, to inform other Socialist parties of the worsening situation, he advised Landau not to leave the building in the meantime. This advice was the result of a realistic appreciation of the situation, since another lodging, in which Landau had stayed for a short time, was being openly watched by the police. When Peter Blachstein, the representative in Spain of Neuer Weg, a split from the SAP, sought refuge there he was immediately arrested.

For reasons which have not been completely explained, [51] Landau left his relatively safe refuge in the CNT headquarters and surfaced, this time in worse circumstances. After the arrest of the whole Central and Executive Committee of the POUM and the outlawing of the party, he knew he would be in mortal peril. On the same day his companion in struggle, Katia, was arrested in a secret POUM ‘safe’ house, and was overwhelmed with a collection of absurd accusations which went as far as open anti-Semitism, and was held as a hostage, to attract Landau and deliver him to the hangman. This habit of holding relatives was not exceptional.

In spite of these difficult circumstances, in clandestinity and with untiring devotion to the revolutionary cause, Landau wrote numerous articles which found their way abroad. [52] In these articles he developed in a fragmentary manner a fundamental critique of Bolshevism, and following on from that a polemic which was equally sharp against both Trotsky and his supporters.

Of what crimes was Landau accused? The course of brutal interrogations to which Katia Landau and her fellow prisoners were subjected, carried out for the most part by non-Spaniards, revealed attitudes which showed the long arm of the Russian secret police. [53] In addition to an (incorrect) statement that Landau was a member of the Executive Committee of the POUM, he was accused of the alleged creation of a ‘terrorist’ group, which not only was responsible for the events in Barcelona but also had as its objective the assassination of Stalin and the leaders of the Comintern! A special number of Die Internationale (September 1937), devoted to a single theme Why Trotskyism must be eliminated from the working class movement, written by Phillipe Dengel, described Landau as the “official theoretician” of the POUM and showed remarkable frankness about the direction in which the “political” confrontation would develop:

After all the German and international experience every Trotskyist must be treated as a direct agent of Fascism. Every contact with these elements is a crime against the working class, against those who carry on a heroic resistance against Fascism in Germany. The struggle against these Fascist agents in the ranks of the working class is as much the duty of Social Democrats as of Communists.

Whereas after May 1937 resignation and demoralisation grew amongst the numerous supporters of the POUM because of the feeble resistance to its destruction, Landau’s optimism remained intact. A letter that he sent in July 1937 to one of his companions from the struggle in Austria, Karl Daniel, bears witness to that:

In spite of this bloody hard situation I feel at home like a fish in water ... A fight to the death has been declared between us and the Stalinists. They are 10 times stronger than us, but until now they have had to deal with broken men [in the Soviet Union], a single intellectual [Trotsky] and some little groups. But here we have the possibility of developing, not just a little faction fight or a literary joust against them, but a class struggle of workers against Stalinism. Even if we must go under, which I do not believe, even if we are annihilated, we, who carry on the fight, will leave such a deep impression that in a new situation the struggle between the revolution and Stalinism will flare up anew as the class struggle of the revolutionary working class against the Stalinist counter-revolution. It is on our tough bones that Stalin will break at least a few teeth. The POUM represents the only considerable political force on which Marxism can lean. Even if the party has shown a thousand weaknesses, the best foreign comrades, above all our militiamen, are enthusiastic for the party in a way that has rarely been seen. Whoever goes abroad after leaving here, whether they are from the SAP, the KPÖ or God knows what, they leave as “POUM ambassadors” entrusted not only with the jobs of [illegible in original] but filled with the greatest enthusiasm for our party in its struggle, and a mortal hatred of Stalinism.

Several weeks later on 23 September 1937 Kurt Landau was discovered in his hiding place and taken away. Let us allow Katia Landau to speak:

Kurt was staying in a house of some POUM comrades in a Barcelona suburb. The woman who looked after him was called Carlotta Duran. She had just come to her house when she saw a large very elegant black limousine parked in front of her house. My husband was seated on the terrace, writing as usual. Two men in plain clothes and an Assault Guard got out, and asked him to get his things and then to come away with them immediately. She openly admitted that she had not the courage to intervene. Why was my husband tracked down? Perhaps because the POUM comrades still at liberty had made this house a headquarters which had been noticed in this quiet suburb.

All the enquiries at the Commissariat General for Public Order as well as those at the prisons drew a blank. The General Delegate for Public Order, Paulino Gomez, explained to those who were interested in the disappearance of Landau that he could not get any information in reply to his enquiries from Valencia.

In spite of a flood of slanders by the Comintern’s propaganda apparatus in every country, it was not completely successful in stifling a critical attitude and solidarity with the victims of Stalinist repression, above all in the case of the disappearance of Andrés Nin. It appeared he was known internationally as an old revolutionary in several oppositional currents. As well as several attempts to start solidarity campaigns in Britain and France, three international commissions of enquiry – with the participation of well-known representatives of the London Bureau – gained a certain credibility. The last of these, composed of John McGovern (General Secretary of the Independent Labour Party) and Felicien Challaye (Professor at the Sorbonne and a member of the commission of enquiry on the Moscow trials) [54] went to Catalonia in November 1937 to examine, among other things, both the situation in the state prisons, the circumstances in which several foreign representatives of worker’s organisations, Erwin Wolf, Marc Rhein [55] and Kurt Landau, had disappeared, and to throw light on the case of Nin as well.

In the meantime Katia Landau, who was threatening a hunger strike, and was held in the Carcel de Mujeres (Women’s Prison) at Barcelona, had asked the Catalan President Companys, the Minister of the Interior and all the relevant police and justice authorities for information on the place of detention and the fate of Kurt Landau, a reply to the question as to whether she was being held as a hostage, or what was the reason for her arrest, and if there was nothing against her, her immediate release. On 8 November she had recourse to an extreme form of struggle – 500 women, mostly German, undertook a hunger strike in complete solidarity with her. The above mentioned commission of enquiry which had access to some prisons could not get over being greeted by the singing of the Internationale by hundreds of women prisoners – “Fascist agents” according to the Stalinists.

If the Negrín government, in spite of this pressure, was none too willing to shed any light on the predominance of the Stalinist apparatus in decisive sectors of the state machine, for tactical reasons it was in part constrained to take its distance from the open slanders of the Stalinists. In addition to this a real clash of interests had emerged since the autumn of 1937. It was doubtless due to this that we can explain the personal intervention of the Minister of Justice, Manuel Irujo, after which Katia Landau gave up her hunger strike on 22 November 1937 and was set free. A week later she was again arrested by the Grupo de Informacion, without a warrant it is true, and taken with Elsa Hensche (KPO) to the Paseo San Juan (used by the GPU in Barcelona.) One of their ‘specialists in interrogation’, Leopold Kulcsar, [56] was an ‘old acquaintance’ of Kurt and Katia Landau from the time of the faction fights in the KPÖ in 1924-25. Kulcsar – one of the most suspect figures in the Austrian workers’ movement – talked about Kurt Landau with an almost pathological hatred. He promised a “bloody vengeance”, and stated that he had come to Spain on a “special mission”, though his true function in the apparatus remains controversial. [57]

That brings us back to the question of knowing who had foreseen, organised and carried out the kidnapping and execution of Landau. All the clues point to the GPU, but it is almost impossible to know exactly who were the people involved. The murderers knew how to cover their tracks – as they did in numerous similar cases.

According to Erich Wollenberg’s version, recorded by Carola Stern, Kurt Landau was kidnapped by members of the German apparatus and tortured to death. In any case physical ill-treatment – which without any doubt can be assumed to have happened – would have brought mortal danger to Landau, as he was a haemophiliac. There is a story that Walter Ulbricht ordered the French Communist André Marty to ‘liquidate’ Landau and that Marty went along with this. At any rate even if this cannot be verified, the activity of these two professionals remains one of the darkest chapters in the history of the Spanish Civil war. Landau’s track can perhaps be followed to Calle Corcega 299 (the Foreign Police) but is afterwards lost in the gloom.

Julian Gorkin, once chief editor of the main POUM paper La Batalla and Secretary of their International Secretariat, who knew Landau well, tells in a letter to Elsa Poretski of his stay in the state prison at Barcelona. Here there was a meeting with a friend, also imprisoned, who assured him that Landau had been taken to the Hotel Colon – the headquarters of the PSUC, the Comintern section in Catalonia – that he had been killed in a cellar of the hotel, and his body then burnt. On the other hand Katia Landau does not exclude the possibility that her husband was deported to the Soviet Union and there experienced the fate of countless of his political companions.

After his new imprisonment at the beginning of December, there was a veritable odyssey through the secret state prisons where he was threatened with a trial for military espionage. In the meantime the Landau case had a certain publicity – Otto Bauer and Friedrich Adler wrote to the Comintern trying to obtain Katia’s freedom. The Revolutionary Left Group around Marcel Pivert attempted to intervene as well, and to this intervention Katia probably owed her release and expulsion from Spain – in exchange for a few aeroplanes. The Stalinists were happy to have murdered a fighting revolutionary. In October 1938, when they put on trial the most eminent leaders of the POUM, they accused Landau and some of his comrades involved in the trial of having acted as agents of the Gestapo!

Several organisations and many prominent individuals protested with telegrams to President Negrín at this vile slander. Among them were Alfred Rosmer, F. Brupbacher, Victor Serge, Ignazio Silone, Brandler, Frölich, Thalheimer, Marceau Pivert, Magdeleine and Maurice Paz, Rappaport, M. Fourrier, Martinet and several others. However, by this time the Spanish Stalinists were already reaping the fruits of their Popular Front policy. They were being eliminated by their bourgeois allies, whose foot they had put in the stirrup. Less than a year later the whole of Spain was under the Fascist yoke.


1. Amadeo Bordiga (1889-1970). Editor of the review Il Soviet, a leader of the PCI in 1923, rejected the United Front policy in the unions. He was marginalised by Gramsci and Togliatti at the Lyons conference of the PCI in 1926. A severe critic of Stalinism, he was expelled from the party in 1930 and published many articles and books.

2. Isidora Acevedo, member of the Socialist Federation in the Asturias, joined the left wing of the PSOE which created the Spanish workers’ Communist Party (PCOE) on 13 April 1921. The PCOE fused with the Spanish Communist Party created by the Federation of Young Socialists on 15 April 1920. The newly unified Spanish CP was created on 14 November 1921, and Acevedo became editor of the Aurora Rose in Oviedo. After the fusion and the Third Congress of the Comintern, Acevedo joined the opposition, and was threatened with expulsion. He was a member of the Spanish delegation at the Fourth Congress of the Comintern.

3. Heinrich Brandler (1886-1967), a building worker, he was one of the rare working class leaders of the Spartakist nucleus, and, after election to the KPD Central Committee in April 1920, he became chairman of the party in February 1921, and took over the party leadership during the March action. Imprisoned from July to November, he stayed for several months in Moscow as a member of the Praesidium of the Communist International. As General Secretary of the KPD in the autumn of 1923, Stalin blamed him for the October defeat.

4. It was above all the following passage from Zinoviev’s talk that Landau submitted to a vigorous critique: “If all goes well we will get out of such a government [a coalition of Social Democrats, Syndicalists, non-party and Socialists] one Social Democrat after another, until power rests in the hands of the Communists.”

5. In May 1924 Stalin wrote: “But to overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and establish the power of the proletariat in one country does not yet mean the complete victory of Socialism. The principal task of Socialism – the organisation of Socialist production – has still to be fulfilled. Can this task be fulfilled, can the final victory of Socialism be achieved, in one country, without the joint efforts of the proletarians in several advanced countries? No, it cannot. To overthrow the bourgeoisie, the efforts of one country are sufficient; this is proved by the history of our revolution. For the final victory of Socialism, for the organisation of Socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of a peasant country like Russia, are insufficient; for that, the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are required.” (Foundations of Leninism, cited in EH Carr, The Interregnum 1923-24, London, 1954, pp.358-9) However, in December 1924 we find the contrary: “There can be no doubt that ... the theory that the victory of Socialism in one country is impossible, has proved to be an artificial and untenable theory.” (The October Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists, Works, Volume 6, London 1975, p.414)

6. Karl Tomann (1877-1945) became a Communist during his captivity in Russia, and became part of the directorate which decided on the cancellation on 13 June 1919 of the insurrection set for the 15th. With Koritschoner he was on the right of the party leadership, and violently attacked the ‘left’ led by Frey. Tomann was in charge of trade union activities until, pushed by Ruth Fischer, Zinoviev sent an emissary, Karl Frank, who had him expelled in August 1924. But in December he was readmitted and restored to his position as secretary of the party trade union sector.

7. Johann Koplenig (1891-1968), who was an activist before the First World War and then a prisoner in Russia, only returned to Austria in 1920. He joined the KPÖ, became its Secretary in 1924 and General Secretary in 1925. Gottlieb Fiala (1891-1970) also joined the KPÖ when he returned from captivity in Russia, and was a member of its Central Committee until 1923. He sat on the Executive Committee of the Comintern from 1924 until 1928. He was responsible for work in the Austrian army, and was the director of Red Aid. In 1927 he became Koplenig’s second in command.

8. The agreement made on 30 August by these two tendencies, which was lampooned by the party and called an “unprincipled bloc”, only won 40 per cent of the votes.

9. The main paper of this tendency was the journal Arbeiterstimme (Workers’ Voice), of which 134 issues were published between January 1927 and August 1934.

10. Karl Mayer, Kuba, Karl Daniel, Ludwig Heinrich and Hans Thoma were all expelled with Landau by the KPÖ(O) leadership in April 1928 for “leftist deviation”. According to Wagner in Trotskismus in Österreich, the expulsion of these activists – who all came from Graz, then the second biggest town in Austria – was for Korschist tendencies. The expelled group, together with the branch in Graz, then formed an independent organisation which published Klassenkampf, and then, from May 1929, Der Neue Mahnruf.

11. This is a reference to the Wedding Opposition which existed from 1925, and the Palatinate Opposition, whose best-known people were, for the most part, expelled from the KPD in 1927. Subsequently there was the Trotskyist Opposition in the Leninbund around Grylewicz, as well as the Saxon group, Bolschewistische Einheit, which had rejoined the Leninbund in 1928-29.

12. Rubin Sobolevicus (or Sobolevitch) (1901-1962) was of Lithuanian origin, studied agriculture in Germany, and then after a stay of a year in the USSR, during which he joined the Soviet Secret Service, he studied economics at Leipzig, where he joined the KPD. In October 1928 he joined the oppositional Communists in the Bolschewistische Einheit group, which fused with the Left Opposition in 1929. In 1930, under the name of Roman Well, he became one of the main leaders of the German Unified Left Opposition and made every effort to split the group in Berlin led by Landau (cf. G. Vereeken, The GPU in the Trotskyist Movement, London 1976, pp.18-31).

13. Cf. Arthur Spencer, A Strange Interlude. A Footnote to the Soblen Case, Survey, October 1963, p.114ff.

14. Ibid.

15. Leon Trotsky, The Crisis in the German Left Opposition, 17 February 1931, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1930-31, New York 1973, pp.147-150.

16. Pierre Frank (1905-1984) who was a member of the French Communist Party in 1924 as one of the leaders of the CGTU chemical workers, joined the Left Opposition in 1927, and signed the La Verité manifesto in 1929. In 1930 he was one of the leaders of the ‘Marxist wing’ who moved towards the French Section of the Left Opposition, and which in May fused with the International Secretariat.

17. It was composed of the following groups: Germany – Linke Opposition der KPD (Bolschewiki-Leninisten); Austria – Kommunistische Linksopposition (Neue Mahnreuf group); France – Gauche Opposition; Greece – Spartakos Group; Hungary – Emigrants from the Communist Party of Hungary in Austria and the United States; USA – Communist League of Struggle (Weisbord group); Belgium – Ligue des communistes internationalistes; Italy – Bordigists (not formally joined)

18. These strikes occurred under the influence of the RGO, controlled by the KPD, and the NSBO, the National Socialistische Betriebs-Organisation, which was the Nazi union.

19. Erich Wollenberg reported that the Stalinist methods of denunciation to the Gestapo were part of the political repertory of the KPD from 1933-34 onwards: “In Berlin, Breslau and elsewhere they composed ‘circulars’ in which they warned against the infiltration work of Trotskyists, ex-Communists or anti-Stalinist Socialists, of whom they gave precise details of where they were living, their hiding places and their political activity. These ‘circulars’ fell into the hands of the Gestapo, as they were supposed to do. In this way the political machine inspired by Ulbricht helped the Gestapo to liquidate a series of anti-Fascist groups which were in opposition to the KPD leadership.” (E. Wollenberg, Der Apparat – Stalins Fünfte Kolonne, Ost-Probleme, no.19, 12 May 1951, p.578)

20. Above all on the question of trade union work.

21. See the prosecution case against H. Jacobi and others for illegal political activity by the Procurer General of the Berlin Court on 28 July 1934.

22. Here Trotsky compared the KPD’s surrender to Fascism without a fight with the abandonment of internationalism by the SPD in 1914 on the issue of war credits.

23. L.D. Trotsky, The Tragedy of the German Proletariat, 14 March 1933, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, New York 1972, p.384.

24. L.D. Trotsky, It is Necessary to Build the Communist Parties and an International Anew, 15 July 1933, ibid., p.420.

25. Ibid.

26. The reference by Landau to the first four Congresses of the Communist International is an astonishing contrast with his previous positions inasmuch as he had renounced this part of the Trotskyist ‘tradition’ when he broke with Trotskyism.

27. Landau wrote numerous articles under the pen-names of ‘Wolf Bertram’ and ‘Spectator’.

28. One result was that Der Funke ceased to appear. The last (duplicated) issue was published in July 1934.

29. André Morel (born 1902), called Ferrat, had been a member of the Political Bureau of the PCF after 1927, and was the editor of L”Humanité until February 1934. Georges Kagan, of the agitprop section, who called himself Pierre Lenoir, was a member of the PCF’s machine. Others came from the Left Opposition, such as Pietro Torielli, known as Pierre Rimbert (born 1910), who was expelled from the PCF in 1932, and was active in the Ligue Communiste until 1933.

30. These and other similar verbal monstrosities were not lacking in any of the Russian or Comintern publications of the time. See for example The Case against the Trotskyite-Zinovievist Terrorist Centre published by the Peoples’ Commissariat for Justice in Moscow in 1936.

31. Not Guilty, New York 1972, pp.97-115.

32. Brandler’s negative reply has not been preserved. According to Katia Landau he wrote that he wished to have nothing to do with the “Trotskyist traitors”.

33. Indeed the KPO criticised the ultra-left course of the Communist International during the Third Period of 1929-34.

34. Isaac Tschereminski, alias Arkady Maslow (1893-1941), had been one of the organisers along with Ruth Fischer in the KPD against Brandler and the leaders of the party. Close to Zinoviev, he was expelled from the KPD in 1928 together with Fischer, and in January 1933 had emigrated to Paris, again with her. In January 1934 he met Trotsky in Paris and worked with the International Secretariat of the ICL until mid-1934. In September 1935 he and Ruth Fischer created the group Die Internationale.

35. Zavis Kalandra (1902-1950) was an activist in the Czech Communist party from 1923 and a member of its leadership, and publicly opposed the August 1936 Moscow Trial, and from that date broke with the party.

36. L.D. Trotsky, The Lesson of Spain: The Last Warning, 17 December 1937, The Spanish Revolution 1931-39, New York 1973, pp.306-26.

37. Andrés Nin Perez (1892-1937) was an old leader of the CNT and then of the PCE, and for a long time was Assistant Secretary to the ISR, and was a member of the Russian Left Opposition in the International Commission from 1923. After his expulsion from Russia he returned to Spain and became General Secretary of the Izquierda Comunista de España, and was then one of the creators of the POUM in 1935.

38. Augustin Souchy (born in Germany in 1900), a militant Anarchist at the end of the First World War, had represented the revolutionary syndicalist wing at the Second Comintern Congress. Editor of the Anarchist journal Der Syndikalist from 1923 to 1927, he left Germany for France in 1933.

39. Juan Andrade Rodríguez (born 1897), co-founder of the Spanish Communist Party, was expelled from it in 1927. Co-founder and leader of the Left Opposition, then of the Izquierda Comunista and finally of the POUM, he was arrested in 1937 but managed to escape in 1939.

40. Fosco was the pseudonym of Nicola di Bartolomeo (1901-1946). Expelled from the PCI over the question of China, he became a Bordigist in 1928, he joined the ‘New Opposition’ of the ‘Three’ and then led the group Nostra Parola. In July 1936 he had just emerged from prison. Cf. his account below.

41. Mika Etchebehere was the wife of Hippolyte Etchebehere, a militant expelled from the Argentine Communist Party in 1925. He lived in Spain in 1930-31, in France in 1932, in Germany in 1933, and, under the name of Juan Rustico helped produce the paper Masses. Close to Landau, he participated in the group Que Faire? In July 1936 he got to Madrid, was military commander of a motorised unit of the POUM in Madrid, and was killed on 18 August 1936.

42. George Orwell gives a very lively description of this in Homage to Catalonia.

4343. Max Diamant (born 1908), one of the leaders of the SAP and Herbert Frahm, called Willi Brandt (born 1913), one of the SAJ youth, were the SAP delegation to Spain.

4. Paul Thalmann, Wo die Freiheit stirbt, 1974, p.137.

45. Peter Blachstein must be mentioned, particularly inasmuch as he represented the Neuer Weg group in Spain.

46. Cf. Fenner Brockway, The Truth About Barcelona, London 1937, and Felix Morrow, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, New York 1974.

47. According to a letter dated 20 June 1976 to the author from Paul Thalmann and indirectly in an uncompleted draft (mid-August 1937 and without a title) by Landau. The first position he adopted, it is true, gave a different appreciation, but it is possible that this was due to his responsibilities for defending the POUM’s positions.

48. Cited by Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, London 1961, p.363. But cf. Reiner Torstorff’s letter in Revolutionary History, Volume 2 no.1, Spring 1989, p.47.

49. Cf. W.G. Krivitsky, I Was Stalin’s Agent, London/New York 1939, p.105.

50. For example in Barcelona there were Puerto del Angel 24, Paseo de San Juan 104, Calle de Montaner 321, Calle Corcega 299, and the Calle de Vallmajor 5. In Valencia was the old nunnery of St Ursula, and in Madrid, the Calle de Atocha and the Paseo de Castellana, and there was also one at Alcala de Henares, to mention only the most important.

51. While Souchy thought that Landau had underestimated the danger, Katia Landau was of the opinion that, as a Marxist, Kurt was not made welcome in this Anarchist milieu, and that he thus preferred to look for another refuge.

52. Several articles were published in Juin 36, the paper of the PSOP, in May 1939, written by Landau during his period of clandestinity, for example Bolchevisme, trotskysme, sectarisme, and Le trotskysme et la revolution espagnole.

53. For the leading cadres of the POUM these interrogations took a purely grotesque form. They were always asked stereotyped questions, as in Gorkin’s case: “What is your opinion of Stalin? What is your opinion of Trotsky? Do you believe that Trotsky is more or less revolutionary than Stalin? What did you do in the ‘May Days’? What do you think of the present government? Did you have more sympathy for the previous government [of Largo Caballero] than for the present one?”

54. John McGovern (1887-1968) was one of the most popular ILP speakers, known above all for his interruptions in the Commons and his striking gestures, such as his participation in hunger marches. Felicien Challaye (1875-1967) was a writer and teacher of philosophy, a ‘total pacifist’ after 1932, a member of the Ligue Internationale des combattants de la paix, whose paper, Le Barrage, took up a position against the Moscow Trials.

55. Erwin Wolf (1902-1937), known as Nicole Braun, a Sudeten German, had joined the Left Opposition in Berlin where he was a student in 1932. Coopted onto the leadership of the IKD abroad, he became secretary to Trotsky in Norway in November 1935. At the meeting of the International Secretariat in July 1936 he was sent to Spain, arriving in April 1937, where he was arrested on 28 July and disappeared after 13 September. Marc Rhein, son of the leading Menshevik Raphael Abramovitch, a member of the Young Socialists, was the editor of Social-demokratic Kraten in Stockholm. Arrested in Barcelona in April, he was never seen again. See the piece on Wolf in Quelques Collaborateurs de Trotsky, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no.1. It is intended to publish this in English in some future issue of Revolutionary History.

56. Leopold Kulcsar (1900-1938) had joined the Young Socialist Workers when very young. Arrested in 1918, he later joined the KPO, which he left in 1925-26. He was member of the Socialist Party until February 1934 and a member in clandestinity until December 1934, at which time, according to Otto Bauer, he took refuge in Brno, which he left in 1937 to be a secretary at the Spanish Embassy. He died shortly afterwards in January 1938.

57. On the subject of Kulcsar, Katia Landau wrote: “I always had the impression that he did not belong to the apparatus, but that he wanted to make his career out of the Landau case. I rather think that someone in the GPU had something on him, but that he had been allowed through because he had come from high up.” Professor Alfred Magaziner, who knew Katia Landau and Kulcsar equally well from the 1920s onwards does not rule out Kulcsar’s activities on behalf of the GPU, but adds that his contacts with the Russians were also on the normal diplomatic level (according to Katia Landau he was a military attaché). In particular Magaziner said: “After the second arrest of Katia Landau, I had a conversation with Leopold K – three days before he died – and we quarrelled all afternoon. He claimed that at her place the police had found maps of Madrid and Barcelona giving targets for air attacks. When I asked him when these maps had been found, he replied it had been after the arrest, I told him straight that this was a common little police trick and that nothing could be concluded from that, and we parted at loggerheads.” (Conversation with Professor Magaziner, 8 March 1978)

Updated by ETOL: 29.7.2003