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KPD

The Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was founded at the end of 1918. It emerged from the merger of the Spartacists and other radically leftist groups and advocated a democratic system made up of councils, as in Russia. Accordingly, it boycotted the national constituent assembly elections, leaving it without any representation in Weimar. Following this, its relations with the Weimar Republic were split. On the one hand, it rejected “bourgeois” democracy and sporadically attempted to topple the state. On the other hand, it participated in the 1920 elections. Again and again, there were major clashes within the party on the direction it should go in. From the mid-1920s on, the KPD came under the permanent influence of Stalin and the Communist International, declaring the SPD its main enemy. At a very late stage, it started focusing on fighting the increasingly powerful NSDAP.

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Karl Liebknecht

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1989-0323-315 )

1871-1919

  • Leader of the SPD’s left wing
  • Pacifist and opponent of the war
  • Co-founder of the KPD

Karl Liebknecht was already a leader of the SPD’s left wing before World War I. True to his consistently pacifist convictions, he rejected his party’s leadership’s Burgfrieden policy and voted against war credits. In 1916, he was excluded from the SPD’s parliamentary group. He founded the “International” group and left the SPD for the USPD in 1917. He was imprisoned for several years because of his opposition to the war and was not released until the November Revolution. Thereafter, as a leader of the Spartacists, he pushed for a councils-based dictatorship in Germany modelled after the Russian system. He helped found the KPD. Liebknecht played a major role in the so-called Spartacist Uprising in Berlin in January 1919. He was murdered by Freikorps troops shortly thereafter.

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Rosa Luxemburg

(© Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung)

1871-1919

  • Leader of left-wing social democrats
  • Co-founder of the KPD
  • Murdered by the Freikorps in January 1919

Rosa Luxemburg is doubtlessly the most famous socialist among German speakers. The brilliant theoretician and rhetorical genius was a leader of the left wing of the workers’ movement. During the November Revolution, she pushed for a councils-based republic and was a leading figure of the Spartacists and the KPD. In January 1919, she was murdered by the Freikorps.

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Leo Jogiches

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-h29974)

1867-1919

  • Social revolutionary under the czars
  • Co-founder of the KPD
  • Murdered while in police custody in March 1919

Leo Jogiches was from Lithuania and championed a social revolution early on. He fled to Switzerland when the czar’s secret police started chasing him down. During World War I, he lived underground and during the November Revolution, he helped found the KPD. After Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were murdered, the reins of the young party were put in his hands. True to Luxembourg’s policy, he too took a stance against the primacy of the Russian Bolshevists within the Communist International. During the Märzkämpfe, the bloody clashes in Berlin in March 1919, Leo Jogiches was arrested and murdered from behind while in police custody.

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Ernst Thälmann

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H25375)

1886-1944

  • Leader of the Hamburg Uprising of 1923
  • KPD Chairman from 1925 to 1933
  • Murdered in 1944 after eleven years’ imprisonment

Ernst Thälmann joined the SPD in 1903. However, after the November Revolution, he turned to the USPD, only to leave it later on to join the KPD. He became famous during the “German October” of 1923 when leading the Hamburg Uprising, which was supposed to serve as a torch lighting a revolution in Germany. The attempt failed miserably. From 1925, he served as the KPD’s chairman and transformed it, step by step, into an organization dependent on Moscow. He stood for Reichspräsident in 1925 and his adversaries accused him of having made Hindenburg’s electoral win possible by participating in the second round. Ernst Thälmann fervently advocated the “social fascism” thesis, thereby deepening the division within the workers’ movement. He did not recognize the danger of the NSDAP until a late stage. In March 1933, he was arrested and in 1944 he was shot in the Buchenwald concentration camp per Hitler’s orders, after eleven years of imprisonment.

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Clara Zetkin

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-P0822-300)

1857-1933

  • Vociferous women’s rights activist
  • Prominent KPD politician
  • Mother of the Reichstag - 1932

Together with Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin was a female leader of the SPD’s left wing before World War I. She became famous for her work promoting the emancipation of women. After the KPD was founded, she joined it; however, she was mostly active within the party’s right wing because she refused to follow - without any criticism - the instructions of the Communist International and the Bolshevists. From 1920 to 1933, she served in the Reichstag, where she held a courage speech warning against national socialism in 1932 as the Mother of the House. In 1933, Zetkin went into exile in the Soviet Union and died there a short time later.

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Glossar

Abkürzungs- und Siglenverzeichnis der verwendeten Literatur:

ADGBFederation of German General Trade Unions
AEGGeneral Electricity Company
AfA-BundGeneral Free Federation of Employees
AGCorporation
AVUSAutomobile Traffic and Training Road
BMWBavarian Motor Works
BRTgross register tons
BVPBavarian People’s Party
CenterCenter Party
DAPGerman Workers’ Party
DDPGerman Democratic Party
DNTGerman National Theater
DNVPGerman National People’s Party
DVPGerman People’s Party
GmbHLimited (form of company)
KominternCommunist International
KPDCommunist Party of Germany
KVPConservative People’s Party
LKWtrucks
MSPDMajority Social Democratic Party of Germany; the Majority Socialists
NSnational socialism (Nazi)
NSDAPNational Socialist German Workers’ Party; Nazi party
NVNational Assembly
O.C.Organization Consul
OHLArmy High Command
RMReichsmark
SASturmabteilung; Brownshirts
SPDSocial Democratic Party of Germany
SSSchutzstaffel
StGBPenal Code
UfAUniversum Film Aktiengesellschaft
USPDIndependent Social Democratic Party of Germany
VKPDUnited Communist Party of Germany
ZentrumCenter Party
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(zusammengestellt von Dr. Jens Riederer und Christine Rost, bearbeitet von Stephan Zänker)