Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 2


Karl Volk

Dear Editor

There are a couple of points I’d like to make about the last Revolutionary History (Volume 8, no. 1). On page 80, it mentions an Austrian group condemned as ‘Trotskyists’, but which turned out to support the Berliner Opposition led by Karl Volk. Note 96 deals with the group, but says nothing on Volk, merely giving a book reference. Volk was a significant person.

Karl Volk (1896–1961) was born in Zolkiev, Galicia. In his youth, he lived in Possnitz, in Moravia, and he studied political economy and philosophy in Prague. After the First World War, he was a member of Poale Zion, and then a founder member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. In 1921, he was in Russia for a while, and was then the secretary of the Russian Embassy in Peking. He was later the leader of the Russian Press Office in Vienna. At the end of 1922, he moved to Germany to become a full-time official of the German Communist Party. In 1923–24, he was the Political Secretary of the KPD’s Lower Saxony district, and for a while Editor-in-Chief of the Sächsische Arbeiterzeitung in Leipzig. After a year working in the Comintern apparatus in Moscow, he was Editor-in-Chief of Der Kämpfer from 1925 in Chemnitz. He was a supporter of the so-called Chemnitz Left faction. From 1926, he was the leader of the KPD Press Service in Berlin. After 1928, he moved away from the left, and from then on was one of the spokesmen of the Conciliator faction. He was ousted from the Press Service, and went to Hamburg as the Editor-in-Chief of the Hamburger Volkszeitung, but was dismissed following the Wittorf Affair. He continued secret factional activity, particularly among the Berlin cadre, after the capitulation of the Conciliator group to the Central Committee in 1929–30. In 1933, he participated in the Zürich gathering of the Conciliator group. He left Germany for France at some stage, and during the Second World War he illegally entered the USA. Taking the name Robert Rintel and working as a journalist, he worked on assorted US magazines as an expert on Soviet Russia. In 1938, he broke with the KPD. Later he had contacts with social democratic circles. Under the pseudonym of Ypsilon, together with Julian Gumperz, he wrote Pattern for World Revolution, Chicago/New York 1947.

As far as I know, the continuing Conciliator faction which Volk, among others, led, operated both within and outside the KPD, as some had long been expelled. The Berliner Opposition was outside with the organ Funke published in exile. Some were not prepared to work within a KPD led by Ulbricht & Co, it is said, but I haven’t read the book to which Keller refers and do not know much about the group – there is a mention in correspondence with Trotsky from Copenhagen about the KPD(O), SAPD, Leninbund and Conciliator Group all operating there but no Trotskyist grouping.

Keller uses the term that the Nazis used for Austria – Ost Mark (East Mark). I think that it would be better in English to use the term Eastern March (or Marches). Mark is the origin of the world March (Marches) long ago, but it’s surely not in use now. On page 95, Keller translated the Arbeiter Samariter Bund in an unhelpful way (‘Samaritan’). It is like a St John’s Ambulance Brigade – workers who do first aid, etc. – a labour movement organisation, not one counselling suicide candidates.

Mike Jones

Updated by ETOL: 17.10.2011