Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 7 No. 4


Brandler and Cuba

Dear Editor

If I may, I’d just like to make a couple of comments on points relevant to the essays by Gary Tennant in the Cuba issue of Revolutionary History.

In examining the development of the Partido Bolchevique Leninista and the revolution of the 1930s, Gary likens its attitude of not commenting on international issues to that of the Brandler current (n76, p. 101). He writes: ‘During the Third Period they maintained a position of “neutrality” on Russian questions, whilst continuing to hold a general attitude of “opposition” in the Comintern. Their refusal to criticise the Russian party was based on the hope that Stalin would remove the ultra-leftist leadership of the Comintern and install the “Rightists” at the head of the Communist parties.’

Yet in the essay dealing with Trotskyism in Cuba from 1935 to 1956, in his reference to Heinrich Brandler and August Thalheimer on Cuba, Gary infers that the KPD(O) ‘was broadly supporting Bukharin’s Right Opposition in the Soviet Union’ (n119, p. 161). Such a claim, it seems to me, would imply a negation of the ‘neutrality’ implied earlier, but neither was in fact the case.

Politicians, commentators and historians talk of the necessity of myths, and these are often more entertaining than the truth, like Alfred and the burnt cakes, Robert the Bruce and the spider, and more recent examples, but if history is able to teach us anything of use for future political deeds, comrades must stop trying to fit things into old outdated schemas and look afresh, with much more criticism and rigour, at the failure of the Communist movement, and use the newly available archive material also in a critical way.

The idea of the ‘three currents in Communism’, the left, centrist and right, the first presumably always being correct, will not stand up to testing. Most of the leading figures in the Russian party moved through the spectrum over time, and often held varying positions on this or that international issue. For example, Zinoviev could be a ‘rightist’ in Britain, but very ‘left’ in Germany, while Bukharin’s labelling as a ‘rightist’ is silly. He tended towards leftism internationally, and the label originates in his internal economic policies. But he actually began the shift leftwards in the Comintern. Not only did he not have an organised international current, but in the KPD he supported the Thälmann leadership, made up of Thälmann’s group of leftists allied to the so-called conciliator group led by Meyer and Ewert. Brandler’s group supported none of the Russian party groupings, and I extract a few quotes from its publications to illuminate this fact.

In the article The Decomposition of the Leninbund that deals with Walter Bartels, a Leninbund leader and the editor of its organ, Volkswille, going over to the Social Democracy, the point is made that:

To exist as an appendage of the Trotsky Opposition leads to a blind alley, too, like an uncritical adherence to Stalin (or Bukharin-Rykov). In the German question, as in the Russian and other international questions, one must find the way independently. Only in this way can one steer a firmer and more reliable revolutionary course, which is not thrown aside by every turn in the Russian factional struggle. (Gegen den Strom, no. 5, 2 February 1929)

In the KPD Opposition’s Platform, adopted at its third national conference in Berlin in 1930 and presented as 196 questions and answers, question 192 asks: ‘What is the fundamental cause of the stagnation and crisis of the Communist International?’ Point 6 of the reply says: ‘The misuse of the Communist International as an auxiliary tool for fighting out the factional struggles in the CPSU, and the subordination of all questions of the revolutionary movement in the individual countries to the requirements of the factional struggles of the CPSU.’

A much later article entitled Comments on an Agent’s Report, replying to accusations in Stalinist organs of the KPD(O)’s being ‘Trotskyist and Bukharinist Gestapo agents’, and setting out its position as regards the attempt to brand all oppositions as ‘spies and Gestapo agents’ linked to Trotsky, and also explaining the KPD(O)’s attitude to the show trials then underway, gives some historical background on the Brandler group’s experiences with agents going back to 1922. It states that the proof that ‘we had links of a factional sort neither with the Trotskyists nor with Bukharin-Rykov can be seen not only by our publications, but also by those of the Trotskyists and of the Bukharin group’. It cites examples when the views of the CPSU Politbureau were opposed by the KPD. Lenin encouraged such critical attitudes, it says, but now the Stalin regime regarded such independence as ‘high treason and criminal’. The KPD(O) continued in believing that Lenin’s method was correct, whereas that of Stalin was seen as dangerous:

For that reason we also opposed a proposal from Stalin in 1926, conveyed to us by Béla Kun, whereupon unconditional adherence to Stalin in respect of Russian questions was demanded of us, and in exchange we were offered a free hand in Germany. At the time we were in agreement with Stalin’s general line on Russian questions, and had rejected an offer from Trotsky, Zinoviev and Radek, who, in their turn, wanted to forgive us all our sins, which we had supposedly committed in 1923, if we would adhere to their unprincipled bloc and advocate it in the KPD. In relation to both Stalin and Trotsky, we have rejected orienting our politics to the factional struggles in the CPSU, because in such a method, regardless of whichever faction it is done by, we foresaw only the greatest harm for the world Communist movement. Because we did not want to become an appendage of those Russian factional struggles, in 1929 we were excluded… (Der Internationale Klassenkampf, Volume 2, no. 3, September 1937)

Luxemburg and Jogiches warned before the Comintern was set up that it would be a mistake if there were no other powerful parties besides the Bolsheviks in it, as inevitably it would be dominated by them. Paul Levi clashed with the Bolsheviks already in 1920, reminding them that the KPD was not a ‘branch office’ of their party. Reuter-Friesland did likewise in 1921. Both were ousted. Feliks Tych, in his essay The KPD-KPP Political “Axis” against Zinoviev-Stalin in the Communist International 1919–1924, deals with this subject. It is based on archive materials. He writes:

In 1921 the existence of an informal German-Polish opposition within the CI (Clara Zetkin, Paul Levi, Heinrich Brandler, Maria Koszutska, Adolf Warski, Julian Marchlewski, Henryk Lauer-Brand and others) against the authoritarian and sectarian methods used by the Soviet leaders in deciding CI policy became obvious to Moscow. In January 1922, Karl Radek wrote from Berlin to Zinoviev: ‘An anti-Muscovite attitude is very strong among the people closest to us.’ (Narinsky and Rojahn, Centre and Periphery: The History of the Comintern in the Light of New Documents, Amsterdam 1996, p. 83)

Tych quotes from a number of letters from KPD leaders complaining about the informers and spies working for the Russian ECCI bosses. He rightly points out that the German and Polish Communist Parties were, strategically speaking, more important than others. Another similarity was the Luxemburgist influence. Hence the attitude of the Brandler group was based not on an opportunist wait for Stalin’s call, but on an insistence that the KPD should be an independent party, rather than be an appendage of the Russian party or any of its factions.

Jens Becker and Herald Jentsch’s Heinrich Brandler – Biographical Outline, in the Jahrbuch fur Historische Kommunismusforschung 1998, used by Gary regarding Brandler and Thalheimer on Cuba, covers the years 1924–67, but the early years, particularly 1923, are covered in the 1996 edition of the Jahrbuch, in which new materials from the archives are used. Jens Becker’s Brandler biography (Hamburg 2000) presumably incorporates such materials. Incidentally, although Brandler corresponded with those KPD(O) comrades with whom it was possible to do so, and presumably discussed with Anton Grylewicz, Arkadi Maslow and the SAP people, their relations seem to have mainly been of a social type. He also corresponded with Dwight MacDonald and Victor Serge, who tried to place articles by him analysing the political-military situation in Europe. Written under a pseudonym, as far as I am aware they have not been traced.

Otherwise I was impressed by Gary’s discoveries.


Mike Jones

Updated by ETOL: 5.10.2011