The founding congress of the Kommunistischen Partei Deutschlands (Spartakusbund) / Communist Party of Germany (Spartacist league) took place in Berlin from 30. December 1918 to 1. January 1919.
Only few days later came the 'Spartacist' uprising; Luxemburg, Liebknecht and later Jogiches were murdered and the party was made illegal.
Later in the year 1919 the party published a pamphlet called "Bericht über den Gründungsparteitag der Kommunistischen Partei Deutschlands" (Spartakusbund) – Report on the founding congress of the Communist Party of Germany (Spartacist league) – which is mainly the same reports that were printed in "Die Rote Fahne" during the congress.
The verbatim report of the congress was unknown until it was published by Hermann Weber in 1969 (Der Gründungsparteitag der KPD – Europäische Verlagsanstalt Frankfurt). The basis of Weber's text is a typed manuscript, which was found in the papers of Paul Levi, which is deposited in the 'Library of Political Studies' in New York. Weber's book is a more or less complete report of the discussions at the congress.
The main reports at the congress were:
• The crisis of the USPD – by Karl Liebknecht
• Greeting speech – by Karl Radek
• The National Assembly – by Paul Levi
• Economical Struggles – by Paul Lange
• Our Program – by Rosa Luxemburg
• Our Organization – by Hugo Eberlein
• International Conference – by Hermann Duncker
Fragments from the congress are published in English in: "The German Revolution and the debate on Soviet Power" published by Pathfinder Press 1986. The speeches of Luxemburg are published in English in several books.
All the main reports were made by members of the Central of the Spartacist league, but in the discussions also former members of the IKD (Internationale Kommunisten Deutschlands/International Communists of Germany) took part.
We have translated the report of Hugo Eberlein because we think it gives a contribution to the positions of the German communists on the organizational question. The basis of these positions was not something completely new; they can be traced back to the discussions within the Second International. Especially in the writings of Luxemburg which should be known to English speaking people, E.g. "Organizational Question of Social Democracy" (1904), "Mass strike, Party and Trade Unions" (1906), "What does the Spartacist league want" (1918), "Our Program and the political situation" (1918).
The differences between the 'Russian' and the 'German' positions on organization continued into the Third International and it is still a question of difference between the 'Leninist' position and the 'German' position.
The split between the KAPD (Kommunistische Arbeiter-Partei Deutschlands/Communist Workers Party of Germany) and the 3. International was mainly over three fundamental positions; the question on taking part in elections to capitalist assemblies, the question of the trade unions, and the question of organization. The question on organization had a common basis among most German communists in 1918-19 but later the KAPD continued to defend the 'German' position whereas the KPD left this path and at least from 1924-25 after the so-called Bolshevisation of the KPD defended the 'Leninist' position.
Neither German nor English is the mother tongue of the translator. Thus errors are bound to appear. The reader just has to live with that.
To this comrade Eberlein has the word.
Comrade Eberlein: After the interesting reports and the lively discussions of today it is most difficult now at this moment, to begin to speak about membership books and contribution stamps. But anyway, it is necessary that we occupy ourselves with these matters for a short while and I ask for your attention.
The matter as such would be very easy, if we could just take over the membership books of the old organizations, just like the independents took them over from the dependents. But conditions are different today, and the tasks of our organization are completely different from the tasks of the old organizations that we have come from. The old organizations were already in their names and in all their activity election societies. The new organization shall not become an election society but a political struggle organization, and the question is easily posed: will we be an election society as until now, or will we in the future really become what we have stated as our goal – a revolutionary struggle organization? If we agree to the latter, we must leave out from the beginning what have been the organizational foundations until now, we must begin to build up from the bottom and create a basis for the organization which will make it possible to shape the new building so that the different locals as well as the whole organization will be able to come to grips with the tasks set up for them. How did it use to be? The social democratic organizations were election societies. Their whole organization is founded on opening up and carrying through preparations for and agitation to the elections; and it was in reality so that there existed a little life in the organizations only just before and in the middle of the election campaigns. The rest of the time it was deserted and dead in the organizations. All means were searched for in order to fill up the time in-between the elections. Through the years the organizations of the social democratic party were transformed more and more into education societies, in order to have something to fill up these empty times between the different election campaigns. But we have seen, that also the educational work in the organizations have been defective, that it has in no way filled the task to educate the workers to conscious class fighters. We have experienced that what was transmitted to the workers as education in the organizations, was nothing but a sort of varnish which was washed away by the first rainstorm; and as the first rainstorm came in August 1914, we had to experience that from all the teachings of socialism to the members of the organizations damn little have remained, cheerfully they followed the banners of imperialism, the banners of the ruling classes, they had forgotten everything that had been teached and preached about socialism in the organizations.
The arrangements of the organizations were further of such an order that throughout the years a bureaucracy developed within them which let a growing intellectual life and an interest in the activity of the organization completely suffocate. The election societies were more and more transformed into control institutions, which actually had the right to criticize what the leadership and the managing committees had done – and often a very lively critique was made against what the managing committees of the old organizations had done – but the end result was always that they said: But it is all of the past, you can criticize it now, you can excite yourselves over what has happened; but now it has happened, it has been decided and executed by the managing committees and by the Central. In order to calm the comrades they have said to them: In the future we will do it better, and as a consequence it was always again the same, the decisions of the Central, the leadership had actually been accomplished when the members had the possibility to take a stand on the questions.
The apparatus of the organizations were so clumsy that it was impossible to accomplish quickly and immediately any operations, any actions of the proletariat. We all know how things happened in the old organizations: When once a new idea was brought in, when once a question was on the agenda which had to be acted fast upon, it necessarily took weeks in order to reach a result and actually do something, and usually then it was too late. Thus everything that we have experienced in the old organization we should not take over into the new organization. Neither the form nor the activity nor the contents of this organization can we just schematically transfer to the new organization, we must adapt the new organization to the actual needs, must make it elastic, must make it able for struggle, must prepare it for the actions of the future. Therefore it is necessary that we create an organizational foundation, which correspond to these pretensions.
Party comrades, the new organization of the communist party was constituted yesterday morning. You cannot demand from me, that I present to you an elaborate organizational statute today. You will not suppose that I have even only one hour to spare to present in detail the different paragraphs of the new organizational statute. Now we stand into the actions, we stand in the middle of the political struggle and there is no time for messing around with paragraphs, and nobody from the Central have had the possibility to perform and accomplish such preparatory work. You have just elected a commission, which shall discuss the program, and you have at the same time given this commission the order to discuss the organizational statute. It will have to be done, unfortunately it will have to be done. We will have to spend some time on this in order to accomplish this work, even if it will be extremely difficult to do this in these stirred times. But, party comrades, the important thing is first of all that we not only in the Central, but also in the different locals, in the different towns, are clear on how the new organization should and must be shaped in general. Thus it will be my task to give you some brief suggestions, which you shall take with you and discuss with your members; and we demand that you on the basis of these discussions, on the basis of your own considerations, make your proposals as soon as possible to this elected commission. Then the commission has the task to examine these proposals and crystallize from them what is necessary in order to find the new form of organization.
Thus I will present to you no decisive proposals. I will say you no more than what I imagine to be so to speak the foundations for the building of the new organization. I have tried briefly to describe to you that the forms of the old organizations have become impossible for us, that we not at all need to have at hand the old organizational statute in order to take out what we could transfer to us. Thus we must build up the organization in a new way, must adapt it to the present economical conditions, must adapt it to the events which in our opinion will have to happen in the nearest future.
A further question now is how we shall build our organization, and then the first thought would naturally be that we look at the earlier organizational relations of the Spartacist league and ask ourselves if we perhaps can continue to build on that foundation. But that will also soon show itself to be almost impossible. How was the organization of the Spartacist league up until now? You know that for years we had to have an illegal activity and that on the basis of this illegal activity a firm form of organization was impossible. Comrade Meyer described for you yesterday how the Spartacist league came into being at the beginning of the war. We had in these four years no time to discuss how we wanted to organize ourselves. We were in these four years simply put before facts from day to day and had to decide on the basis of these stated facts, without asking the question if an organizational statute could thereby be made.
Thus, after a small group of comrades in Berlin in 1914 had pleaded to the views of the Spartacist league, it was immediately tried to get in contact with all parts of the empire and get in touch with the comrades who shared our political views. It was possible, by and by to take up and remain in contact with comrades in approximately 140 towns and communities who had united like us in Berlin. The task of the Central, which emerged for us in those days, was to take over the political and spiritual leadership, to be at hand with agitational material for the comrades, to deliver them leaflets, pamphlets and every kind of agitational material, which is necessary in the times of illegality. But, of course, this work could not be made according to plans, because the comrades of the Central were without exceptions relieved. They came into prisons, penitentiaries, or the trenches. But as soon as anyone had liberated themselves from this involuntary holiday, they took up again their activity at once.
Then, allow me to say some words about the Central. It has not got away lightly today and yesterday, you had so much to criticize about it. How does the matter really stand? We would of course be more happy with the situation if we had become support from the comrades in the provinces, not only financial but also spiritual in the form of material etc. But during the four years only remarkably few comrades from the provinces have come to us and said: Here you have spiritual support, I now place myself at disposal, we will wage the struggle against reaction together with you. Yes, the comrades came, but they wanted to have something from us, they wanted leaflets and agitational material, they wanted to have everything but they brought us nothing. And now when the time has come when we can appear in public, when we can take up a position on every question in public, then I ask you to consider the extremely difficult work which the Central has performed in these years and the difficulties it has had to struggle with in these four years when at occasions only one or two members of the Central were at disposal and meeting with other comrades. And when these few comrades have done the work, it is easy to criticize their activity. We do not fear this critique and we are convinced that we have served the cause of the proletariat, but I would like to reject unjust attacks on the Central. When it has been demanded today that the Central must be changed, and when a young comrade said that these men of the Central must be removed, that immediately new men must be elected, then I ask these young comrades: What have you done in these four years when you demand the removal of the comrades who have fought for the cause in these four years? When we take into account what we have done it must offend us when a young comrade comes here and says: These people are incapable, they must be thrown out and others must be put at their places.
Party comrades, we are of course subject to your choice, you are in the position to remove the Central if it does not have your confidence, but do not forget the circumstances! Therefore I ask you, before the new elections, to take a close look at the comrades whom you want to elect into the Central and whom you will call your leaders in public. This is especially important in a time when we approach a lot of continuous developments and when the situation can change every day. You have heard that yesterday in the executive council it has been spoken of once more to place Berlin under martial law. What will be the consequences of this? That the comrades who have taken over the activity and the leadership here, will one day fill up the penitentiaries and prisons once more. Therefore you must look twice and three times at the comrades who you will entrust the leadership in these difficult times.
The organization of the Spartacist league could in these four years only be a particularly loose one. Everywhere we have tried to establish connections with the comrades and supported them as much as possible. The comrades had the task to establish the organization in other towns. Then it was not sufficient to insist that in the different parts of the country you attract as many members as possible, then we could not say: First see to it that you have your membership books and stamps, but that leaflets and pamphlets were brought among the comrades as fast as possible, that there were comrades who were courageous enough to distribute the material. We often experienced the comrades returning the material because they did not possess this courage. Then a membership book was of no use to us. Today it can be different. Today it is no longer that dangerous, today many will have the courage who did not have this courage half a year ago. Today we can begin to establish a firm organization and gain members for our organization, and to continue the activity among the members.
Party comrades, I will not frighten you with the martial law. We are not afraid of it; we were not afraid as it was the order of the day to fight against the capitalist class, against the bourgeoisie, and we will not be frightened away when the fight is against Scheideman & Co. who today have the power in their hands. I only mention this in order to show that also the form of organization of the Spartacist league in the way it has been until now, cannot form the basis of the new organization, which shall be made.
As we on one hand can not take the old election societies as our basis and on the other hand can not take the other forms of organization of the Spartacist league, then we must ask ourselves which form of organization is then suitable. I may then refer to one thing. It is today correctly referred to by comrade Luxemburg that since the revolution completely new creations have arisen that have taken over the power. By that I think on the workers and soldiers councils. Then it will be necessary that we consider carefully; when we support the workers councils, when we demand that they shall take in their hands all economical and political power, would it then not be useful, in connection to these workers and soldiers councils to find the form of organization which for us will be the best and most desired. We demand from the workers that they shall establish shop councils, factory councils and industrial councils, which shall occupy themselves with the total administration of the factories, which in the coming transformation of the whole state organism shall be able to take over all industry and not only that: They shall also have the political task to take the power in their hands, in order to represent the interests of the working class and carry through the demands of the working class; would it then perhaps not be useful that we direct our attention to see if it is possible to build our party organization in such a way that we no longer organize our members solely according to where they live, but also in the factories, in the workshops, perhaps introduce our party organization in the whole industry, that we elect our representatives in the factories and try to unify the representatives of the members in the factories into communities, to associations inside the factories.
In my opinion this has an enormous advantage over the earlier forms of organization because, as all workers in the factories are together it can easily be seen how everybody are organized and through the organized comrades we will have a big influence on each worker in the factory and it is easy to meet for discussions. The representatives of the factories, especially from the smaller and medium towns shall have to organize into conferences of the representatives, to which the factories of one town shall send their representatives, they constitute a committee, which shall be the executive committee of the town. It is of course evident that this form of organization shall not be made only in the big factories, but that also the party comrades of smaller workshops, of small companies, shall unite in organized groups, which shall then send their representatives to the executive committee.
We must take into consideration that also those who do not work in these factories shall have the possibility to organize themselves and join the organization of the town. It could be possible to organize special meetings of the unemployed in the bigger towns and organize them in the same manner, and the places where there are no factories, where there are pure living areas, bind the form of organization to the living areas. It is not essential if this or that comrade has the possibility to take part in the arrangements of the organization in the factories or to be active in the living areas. But in this manner it should be possible to organize the workers in the towns better and to have a survey over what can be raffled together of the organization of the towns and, what is most important, to have a form of organization which can also be able to actions. The possibility will exist at any time to reach the comrades when they are active in the factories and to get them fast out in action. Of course, this is better when it is a question of carrying out any action of the organization, than as in the old organizations to have to rely on the living areas, which must have several days' notice.
However this form of organization cannot be transferred automatically to all districts. We have in the big towns where there are both industrial areas and living areas quite different possibilities of organization. In Berlin we have districts where there are nothing but factories to which the workers travel in the morning and which they leave in the evening in order to go to their homes in other districts; and other places we have districts where enormous masses of workers live but where there are no factories. At those places, where the factories are, we can build up the factory organization; however in the districts where the workers live and don't work we can organize according to living areas.
Party comrades, that would be the basis on which we could build our organization.
It would be necessary with this form of organization to give the different districts as much freedom from the whole of the organization as possible, that from top and down it is not schematically decided: You must do so and so; and that the different factories and districts are given the possibility to find the form of organization which will be necessary under their particular conditions, and that as a basis only one thing is important: That the total apparatus of the organization is elastic, that all the workers can be called together, that the ability of action is guaranteed by the form of organization.
Further we are of the opinion that the old system of subordination of the different districts under the Central must end and that the different district organizations and factory organizations must have complete autonomy. They must be independent in their activities, they must not always wait for the directions from the top, they must have the possibility to go into action on their own, without always for the Central to have the right to say: You should do this or you shouldn't do that. However, of this form of organization damn little has materialized. The locals that have until now initiated an independent activity are very few and I can count them on the fingers of one hand. We would have been very happy when we had heard from the different locals and districts what they have done, instead of always being met with the question: What shall we do; or send us leaflets or this or that. Thus we are in no way so violent as you have today described us and that we as the Central Council want to execute autocratic power; and you must therefore not take this amiss when I have been excited because of the unfair reproaches that have been made against us. No other possibilities existed than to execute dictatorial power because the comrades in the provinces have done damn little.
We expect that our new form of organization will guarantee the autonomy of the different districts, and that the Central mainly will have the task to take over the intellectual and political leadership and to condense what is going on around in the country, to educate and support the organization around in the country insofar as it is possible with the strength which exists in the Central. We have always tried to endavour to draw the best heads to Berlin, to let the best heads of our party, the best theoreticians co-operate in our work in order to really be in the position to take over the political and intellectual leadership of the movement. And if your wishes are not satisfied in this respect, if you are of the opinion that the best heads are out there in the provinces, then send them to Berlin and elect them into the Central.
Further, we are of the opinion that the question of the press can not be settled centrally, that the local organizations everywhere must have the possibility to establish their own papers and to publish their own leaflets and pamphlets. In practice it has however shown itself that for this unfortunately not even a little understanding among the comrades is present. Some comrades have attacked us and said: You publish a paper but what use shall we have of that, we can not use it, we will publish our own paper, and as they have published a paper it has shown itself to be not a paper, but at most a leaflet; but the people wants a daily paper and not a piece of paper where a theoretical article is printed. Or when they have established a paper on their own, they then come to us: Here is the bill, now pay. Yes comrades, when we all had received the means that we should have received, then it would have been possible to put the desired amounts at disposal.
The different towns, which now will have to establish their memberships as soon as possible must unite to form districts, and these districts will in turn elect their representatives to the Central, who together with the comrades in the Central will establish the enlarged executive, which will have to meet frequently in order to be in the position to decide on the questions which concerns the general situation.
Regarding the division of the districts I neither can nor will make any definite proposals today. You have earlier, by the elections to the program commission already stated that you attach no importance to the division of the districts. That is perhaps correct in regard to the program commission. As however the program commission at the same time is an organizational commission I would have wished that my proposal, which I made earlier, had been approved. Because in the question of organization it is really important that the representatives of the districts are represented in the commission, firstly in order to find a sensible division of the districts, but then also to take into account the particular conditions of the different districts in the making of the organizational statutes in the commission. Indeed I do not conceive the organizational statutes as the former organizational statutes with perhaps 300 or 350 paragraphs, but I wish that the different locals and districts are given the greatest possible freedom, and that we are not presented with long conditions from the organizational commission which the local and district organizations will see only as an obligation and not as a liberation from fetters.
Perhaps it is correct to divide the districts by the different countries, and that perhaps Eastern and Western Prussia constitute one district, then perhaps the Costal areas with Bremen and the former Duchy of Brunswick, then Brandenburg and the province of Saxony, the former Kingdom of Saxony, then Mid-Germany, Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden all form their own districts. That is only suggestions in order to show you how the division of districts is possible. The decision is the task of the commission, but as you are assembled here today you should most likely wish to get in touch with the comrades from the districts and then my proposals might be of use.
This should be by and large what I have to present to you. Thus I imagine our organization in this way: The different districts elect their representatives, the Central has its seat in Berlin and the representatives of the different districts are elected to this Central and then together with the members of the Central they form an extended executive which meet perhaps every four weeks, and which of course must meet more frequent when necessary. The enlarged executive, the members of the Central would thus form a body which has the possibilities, at least temporarily, until we can look further ahead, until we can take a view of the political situation better that we can do now, and find other forms of organization.
I don't know if I shall undertake to give you more detailed descriptions, to describe to you the district conferences, the party congresses, the agenda for the party congresses and everything belonging to such matters. You all know that in our optimism we are of the opinion that the coming weeks and months will bring changes, which could render these discussions unnecessary. Therefore I will not take away from you more of the measured time which still is at our disposal today. I only ask you to take with you home what has been said, think through the matters and send us your proposals as soon as possible, so that the commission can start to function as soon as possible.
I have been given the task to report to you one more thing. It regards the agreements with the former International Communists; and as the comrades think it is important, I shall present the wording to you. It reads: "In regard to their publications the local groups of the Spartacist league are autonomous. The Central... to protest."
That would thus be what the comrades have wanted. You have heard that in my presentation I have gone further than the comrades themselves wanted, and in the commission ways must be found as soon as possible to create an organizational form which we need. But we must take into consideration that we in these days cannot and must not lay particular stress on these small organizational matters. We will, as far as possible, in the coming weeks and months leave these matters to your own decision in the locals. Thus you must not expect to receive decrees from the Central: You shall design the membership books in this or that manner; but go back to your home towns, gather the members together and give them membership cards and contribution lists or whatever you imagine. Comrades, at this moment that is not the main question. The important thing now – and I repeat that at the end of my presentation – is not a pretty printed membership book, the important thing is not for us to have a membership book where the stamps are nicely pasted as was the case earlier – the important thing is that we create an organization, into which we will have members who are convinced of the teachings of socialism, who are convinced supporters of our party, but who are also able and willing to stand on our side and who are prepared for the coming days of action, who direct their whole thinking to the coming actions. Then we will easily overcome the petty difficulties of organization and forms of organization.