Dossier: Archival Materials on the Military Policy of the KPD during and after the German October

Research Group 626


The bourgeoisie of all countries has taken an exact account of the military lessons of the Russian civil war and drawn practical conclusions from it; it has started to prepare for future struggles with great haste and to organise a dependable and compliant armed power. S.I.Gusev: Lessons of the Civil War, 1921.1

A strike, a general proletarian action, even if it does not lead to revolution, even if it is called with a perspective much more modest than revolution, does not cease to be a stage of civil war, and to involve the deployment of armed violence. It is best for this to be understood by our comrades from the start: the preparation of guerrilla actions does not mean the beginning of the struggle for the final revolution, rather it is a permanent necessity of the current period and of the current character of the class struggle. Il Comunista, August 25, 1922.2

The KPD Central still considers military work as a “seasonal” activity which one occasionally engages in. This led to the mistakes which have been made in this work up to now and are still being made. The contemporary experiences of the struggles in Germany are not taken advantage of at all. It is to be concluded from the expressions of various members of the Central, that this work whose necessity is obvious, is still not understood in the total significance it demands. Karl Retzlaw, editor of the journal Vom Burgerkrieg in Feb 1924 report to the Comintern.3

The dossier below assembles a selection of internal documents concerning the military policy of the KPD between the end of 1923 and the beginning of 1924.4 These texts illustrate an essential problem of the post 1917 revolutionary period: the absence of ideologico-political preparation for military conflict within the West European workers movement. The Bolsheviks adapted a realistic perspective on the inevitability of armed struggle from early on.5 Their activity was tempered not only by illegality but five years of partisan operations6 in one of the major asymmetric conflicts of the early 20th century.7 During the same period West European socialists mostly evaded engagement with military policy.

Kautsky (recognised internationally as the “pope of Marxism”) promulgated that, even though the revolution might take the form of “civil war” there was no reason to assume this would involve bloodshed.8 A position whose utopian escapism was prophetically criticised by PPS leader Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz. It is indicative that when Kautsky published this critique in Die Neue Zeit he prefaced it by noting he was aware of no German Social Democrats with similar views and that publication was necessarily delayed because it was not appropriate to discuss revolution during election time!9

Thanks to this heritage of criminal light mindedness over a life or death political question the KPD emerged ill prepared to articulate a consistent military policy for a period of civil war. Avoidance of military affairs alternated with the amateur putschism systematised as the “theory of the offensive”.

The question of how to develop a politico-military line adequate to protracted civil war in a fully capitalist country with an urban centre of gravity was never satisfactorily answered. With the increasing bureaucratisation of the Communist movement the complexities of the Russian experience were reduced to a mechanical and schematic policy summed up in the Neuberg textbook on armed insurrection.10

Later attempts to reconstitute proletarian politics in the West combined a superficial reading of the strategic thought produced by national democratic struggles based in the peasantry with outrageous militarist deviations closer to SR Maximalism than the Marxist heritage. Or they sidestepped the question completely. It is noteworthy the extent to which Trotskyists have ignored the question of ideologico-political and technical preparation of the workers movement and the proletarian vanguard despite the perennial centrality of the question in Trotsky’s own thought.11

In the absence of sound strategic doctrine the communist approach to military affairs will vacillate between an evasion which leaves the movement disarmed in the face of the reactionary drive to civil war and adventurist militarism. Taken in that context, the documents extracted below provide an interesting snapshot of the incomplete resolution of this crucial question at a world historic turning point for the communist movement.


  1. Memorandum on the Status of Preparations for Civil War
  2. Report of the Politico-Military Section on the Status of Politico-military Preparations in Germany
  3. The Plan for Insurrection in Berlin
  4. Letter of Radek and Piatikov on the Situation in Berlin and the Incapacity of the KPD for Insurrection
  5. Report of the Soviet Consul in Hamburg on the Insurrection in Hamburg
  6. Critical Report of the Military Leader of the German October to the Comintern on the Work of the Illegal Apparatus of the KPD
  7. Letter of the Military Leader of the CC on the Rebuff of the German Revolution and the Further Tasks of the Military Apparatus
  8. Cover Letter of Karl Friedbergs on the Military Program of the KPD
  9. Report of the Soviet Military Expert to the Comintern on Future Revolutionary Possibilities for Germany
  10. Report of the Previous Leader of the Operational Division of KPD on the Military Structures and General Situation of the KPD

Wehrmacht Freiburg 1923

Doc. 85

Memorandum on the Status of Preparations for Civil War by KPD Functionary Responsible for Military Policy “Robert” [Karl Volk]

Berlin, 8/8/1923

Typewritten manuscript in German language. RGSAPI, Moscow, 495/25/1365, 12–15. First German publication. Published in Russian in: Drabkin, Babičenko, Šrinja: Komintern i ideja, pp. 423–428.

Appendix 1.
Presented to the Politburo of the Central Committee.
Berlin, 8/8/1923

Re. Proposals regarding the immediate reinforcement of the ideological preparation of the Party, specifically of the O.D.12 and the Hundertschaftsbewegung13 for civil war.

There are no rules for the impending armed struggles. Every attempt which seeks to schematically apply the old rules and fundamentals of imperialist warfare formed to completion through tradition and experience to civil war is bound to fail. The essence of civil war is fundamentally different in leadership, use of weapons, the psychological and organizational composition of the groupings in struggle and the situation of the battlefield from the essence of imperialist war.

The only convergences between the two types are the objective of dealing a fatally destructive blow to the enemy and training in the handling and effective usage of the available weapons.

The tactics and rules of the civil wars in Western Europe can be determined by the revolutionary proletariat of every individual country only through the experiences of armed operations against the counter revolution in that country itself and through the lessons, summarized for its own country, of the struggles of revolutionary parties in other countries. Hence, if we now want to teach how to operate militarily in the coming conflicts, we must first learn how to extract the lessons of the past.

If we communists want to get a grip on the coming conflicts, to actually lead them militarily, then it is a matter of the greatest urgency that we seriously begin this theoretical work. We will be bogged down again and again in our attempts to draw in the future leading cadre of the class army of the German proletariat, to school them and make it really possible for them to lead, if we don’t figure out how to carry out this preparatory work beforehand, at a minimum at the same time as our organizational measures. The Party leadership has once again failed to recognize this in time, as daily practice demonstrates.

Before I make a positive proposal, about what must be done without delay, I will attempt to give an example:

Already in October 1922, the Central was presented with proposals for the implementation of a large scale propaganda campaign around military preparation work which we defined in theses which still have full validity today. They required before any organizational politico-military measures, the collection, analysis and print ready editing of the previous experiences of all Comintern parties in the struggle against the armed counter revolution with a special emphasis on the stages shortly before the seizure of power and during the first months of the dictatorship. Though carrying out such theoretical work required highly qualified collaborators, who combine basic military knowledge with a political perspective and significant personal experience in the area of armed insurrection, it would be left to the independent initiative of two comrades in Moscow. Because the repeatedly requested support from the German Party was lacking, the initial results which were produced in the first half of this year and only with the greatest difficulty, found publication in the German party press upon our recommendation. The systematic implementation we planned of the work was rendered impossible due to a lack of understanding of the importance of this work on the part of the Central. Now on account of the occupation in the Ruhr, the military-political questions have entered more into the foreground and the pressure of the masses has already compelled the Party to take comprehensive organizational measures whose initial expression is the Hundertschaftsbewegung, and later the establishment of the Party O.D [Ordnerdiestes]. Due to the rapid economic and political collapse, this organizational work has grown much faster than could be foreseen. In contrast the conceptual-theoretical work was not adequately supported, nor was it recognized for its absolute necessity in supplementing the organizational measures. The current situation is such that there is a yawning disparity between them. It is typical, that until now always with all political actions of the Party, propaganda has significantly preceded organization, while with the few military-political actions however, which always have been and will be subject to the greatest commotion, the exact opposite has been the case. Now that the OD of the Party in the nation’s metropoles is organizationally ready for basic training, leadership courses, for the theoretical and practical training of its membership – however the content, the ideological, elaborated substance from which all the work must begin and the teaching staff who would have been schooled in this beginning are lacking – and, already for a while now, one must make do with compromises and surrogates.

Every sensible Party official understands that we the officials and members of the Ordnerdienstbewegung cannot hold lectures a la the 1913 War Academy or the Potsdam Lehr-Infanterie-Bataillon – because, even for that,we don’t have the teaching staff. A very brief orientation within the circles of the thinking proletarians in the O.D shows that for some time now they have been doing for themselves, what they need to do – experiencing – in any case they are neither learning the active service regulations [Felddienstordnung] by heart, nor are they studying Clausewitz.

What, however – mainly from Russia – where the proletariat won its decisive battles for power with a high percentage of the old army, under much more favorable political and military conditions and most of all against a weak and organizationally fragmented bourgeois – where it organized and centralized the core and framework of its current Red Army not as we are before, but first during and after the conquest of political power – what the German proletariat could learn from Russia in brochures, articles and reports, available till now, is so unsystematic and its appearance in our press and literature has been distributed over such a long period of time, that its use for the above mentioned purpose is very far from sufficient.

Moreover, there is the circumstance that the Russian army is and was from its beginning in the Red Guards and partisans not the army specific to civil war as we must envision it – with absolutely new laws and forms of struggle. It must from the start, with the exception of both capital cities, operate within a vast military theater in its struggles against the counter-revolution, which forced upon it the old laws of the war of movement in attack and defense. The civil war very quickly transitioned into regular field warfare against the White armies of intervention, and this field warfare – though it also includes many revolutionary characteristics, mostly founded in psychological and technical factors – certainly did not require that thorough training, transition and new preparation of the worker and peasant soldiers for totally transformed laws and forms of struggle as typically will be the case in West Europe – where the majority of the decisive battles will be fought and decided in major cities and economic centers. This is also the reason why in Russia till now so little has been written and reported on the problem: analysis and principles [Kampfgesetze] of urban combat – which for us in Western Europe is the central element of civil war. Regardless, the German proletariat has become acquainted so far with only a fraction of what has already been learned there.

However, the experiences and lessons of a military nature from the vanguard clashes of the German working class are almost exclusively known orally, as what we have printed and written for teaching purposes is hardly worthy of mention. And it is precisely from the November battles, the Kapp Putsch, the March Action, and the Bavarian Council Republic that we must draw the chief lessons. They alone will provide the basis for our conception of civil war, for the simple reason that they alone are experiences belonging to us, consistent with practice.

As we in our political tactics, are able to feel out the most correct course mainly from our own experiences in the country, likewise in our military guidelines and principles, which are intended to be and should be no more and no less than the framework for the most consequential and active implementation of policy by means of the armed fist.

Therefore, I propose as concrete measures for the ideological preparation specifically of the O.D, the Party and its leadership structure which must be immediately implemented:

The troika [Dreierkommission] of the Politburo be prompted to grant full power for immediate implementation of the following:

  1. Publication of a brochure (better a series of small booklets), which collects the best essays and articles by revolutionary leaders on the lessons, experiences and events of civil war, the theory of revolutionary war etc, which have appeared in Germany over the past few years (a cheaper special printing, the mode of distribution to be determined by the troika).
  2. The Rote Fahne makes its biweekly discussion supplements and feature columns completely open to politico-military themes and for the present gives this question preferential treatment before all others. The provincial press will be obliged to immediately issue all articles appearing in the Rote Fahne on this topic and in the same order. Discussion articles and original articles from the provinces dealing with the same topic will always be submitted to the troika prior to printing. The treatment of the topic “civil war” in the press must be submitted to the central leadership for prior review.
  3. The Party demands active participation in this propaganda campaign from the Executive, of prominent leaders from all parties with prior experience of armed struggle. The Party is aware that it is thereby providing an essential piece of international work to the whole movement. It strongly supports with all available means, the work of the comrades who have already been engaged on this issue for two years in Moscow, so that on the shortest time scale a significantly increased quantity of reports and accounts from foreign fraternal parties – which are available but which till now could not be compiled – are brought over here and constant contact with the Comintern on this issue assured. In connection with this, the technical and economic means must be provided to the comrades who thankfully have begun theoretical work on their own initiative on military topics.
  4. The Party has not weakened in its efforts to form a special study commission of the Comintern responsible for this question within the framework of the Draft II submitted to it in May 1923.
  5. The compilation of the main lessons learned from the armed struggles in Germany up to this point, selected by a restricted number of Party functionaries who have participated in these struggles, and tasked with the immediate commissioning of a draft presentation, ie reports on their experiences, eventually to be used at certain periods as a presentation at district meetings of the O.D, which are organizationally ready for such seminars. Following which, a critique, i.e. an evaluation of the presentation is to be carried out via the local head leader of the O.D.

Robt [Karl Volk]

“Document 85.” Deutschland, Russland, Komintern, pp. 294–301.

Doc. 93

Report of the Politico-Military Section (“Library Section”) of the KPD (“Robert”) on the Status of Politico-military Preparations in Germany

Berlin, 10/18/1923

Typewritten in German language. RGASPI, Moscow, 495/25/1365, 35–39. First German publication. Published in Russian language without cover letter in: Drabkin, Babičenko, Širinja: Komintern i Ideja pp. 416–422.

Berlin, 10/18/23

Dear Comrade Piatnitsky!

I am sending you enclosed as material for the commission,14 the report which I gave to the troika of the German Central on 10/18/23 regarding my two month activity as a staff member of the Central. In a few days issue three of “Vom Burgerkrieg15 will also be sent to you. Please confirm to me your receipt of this report as well as three copies each of issues 1 and 2 of “Vom Burgerkrieg” which I sent around fourteen days ago.

With Communist Greetings!

Gerhard Schott

Berlin, 10/18/23


On the activity of the “library” section of the KPD Central16 up to 12/15/192317

I: Section: Ideological Preparation (Polmil [politico-military] Preparation)

I took over the section following my return from Moscow, after a two week orientation in Berlin, Hamburg and Leipzig at the same time that I submitted my 8/8/23 memo to the central committee. (See Appendix 1).18

I started with strong support from comrade Karl [Radek] to work systematically for the immediate implementation of the five points presented at the conclusion of my memo.

On Point 1. (of this memo).

The collection of articles and experiences from the civil war in the form of a series of brochures was approved by the Central.

The release of the brochures was however delayed, despite the manuscripts for Issue 1 of “Vom Burgerkrieg” being print ready on 8/10/23 and those for Issue 2 on 8/20/23. It was possible only after a number of difficulties, which were not only of a technical nature but rooted in the late recognition of the necessity and importance of ideological preparation by the central political body, to release issue 1 on October 1, 1923 and issue 2 on October 13, 1923 to the organization with 50,000 copies each (enhanced recently by reprint editions of 20,000 copies each). Issue 3 is at the printer and will begin distribution on 10/19/23. Issue 4 is in preparation and will be print ready by 10/20/23.

Importance was attached to producing the journals as simply as possible, in order to keep the price as low as possible. In issue 1 the Party proclamation of July 11th 192319 was included by order of the Central, despite our objection – because we were of the opinion that the educational character of the journals was blurred by this.

On Point 2

At the instigation of comrades O St [Otto Steinfest] and Robert [Gerhard Schott] and with the close support of comrade Karl [Radek] from March 1923 to September a number of articles in part taken from the brochures issued by ISTPART20 were featured in the Party press. We intended to thereby initiate a systematic Party campaign of ideological preparation for civil war and in so doing we continued in the vein of the working paper (Appendix 2)21 already submitted by comrades Otto and Robert on November 15th 1922.

Regarding the work to give it a foundation corresponding to its importance, which due to lack of time and support in Moscow could only be carried out by us piecemeal, we already completely attempted at the 4th Congress, to pass Proposal II (Appendix 3)22 submitted by comrades O St [Otto Steinfest] and Robert [Gerhard Schott] to the Politburo of the KPD in May 1923 and to a representative of the Comintern on November 15th 1922, which contains a work program for the formation of an illegal commission within the Comintern. As far as we know, this attempt has been a failure till now and all that has been accomplished is the publication of 11 articles in the party press in the period between March and September 1923. At our suggestion, a column has also been reserved in the first discussion supplements of Rote Fahne on the subject of “civil war”, which was intended for theoretical discussions on the politico-military problems of revolutionary war and would direct the attention and involvement of party members to this question. It was thereby possible to issue 5 discussion articles, then the idea went dormant again due to a lack of participation and support by the Party. The implementation of Point 2 was also at the initiative of comrade Robert who since 3/8/23 repeatedly requested the immediate reproduction from the “press service” of all articles and discussions with this theme appearing in the Rote Fahne. However the material concerned was only used by about 50% of the provincial newspapers. Even a circular letter on this question to the Party editors throughout the country had no greater effect. Articles were not submitted from the provinces. Beginning on September 15th a packet containing the necessary materials on the ideological preparation of the Party for civil war was sent for the convenience of the military leaders of 5 superior districts and 10 districts. (see Appendix 4)23

On Point 3

This point was not as far as I know significantly promoted by the central political leadership. Without our work, currently we wouldn’t have the slightest usable material for the preparation stage at hand.

Comrade O St [Otto Steinfest] was sent here in the middle of September, since then, the delivery of materials has been discontinued.

On Point 4

Here also I have not become aware of positive steps by the central political leadership.

On Point 5

On the initiative of comrade Robert at the end of August 1923 and on October 15, 1923 a circular letter was sent to the districts, and contact was made with a number of comrades concerned with this question. Till now we have gathered 11 reports from 4 districts, of which only 3 are suitable for publication. [...]

Proposals on the Organization of Work

Intensive ongoing development of the tasks proposed in Points 3, 4 & 5 of the memo.

II: Section: Library, Training, Mapping (military-theoretical preparation)

Until the beginning of August, work was not systematically carried out in these areas. The main reason was an absence of resources. With the strong support of comrade Karl [Radek] and one comrade who was employed as a collaborator mainly in technical matters, I immediately established a military library. I took around 50 somewhat useful military-theoretical books and manuals which were sitting forgotten in the Party Library of the Central.

Standing orders were immediately placed for the most important new releases from the best Berlin military publishers, that are relevant for the current stage. Mainly education on weapons, tactics and leadership and organization of small units, as well as a wide range of topical specialist literature (armored cars and trains, wireless telegraphy, etc).

The main point was to first prioritize educational material over weapon purchases.

I did not acquire maps and planning materials.

Here I am enclosing an inventory of the work and acquisitions of the section from the beginning of August till October 15th 1923.

7: The above noted districts and regions received the following “sample materials”,

a: Manuals
–1 08 pistol [Luger]
–1 Mauser pistol
–1 machine pistol
–1 Karabiner 98
–1 stick grenade
–1 satchel charge
–1 M.G 08 (or M.G 08/15)

b: Maps
–1 Federal Army exercise map (1:1,000,000)
–1 overview map of Germany (1:1,000,000)
–1 railway map of Germany (1:1,000,000)

c: Publications
–Bergmann, Smilga, Trotsky: The Red Army
–Antonov Ovseenko: The Construction of the Red Army in the Revolution
–Gusev: The Lessons of the Civil War
–Werner: The Bavarian Council Republic
–Brandler: The Kapp Putsch
–Colm: Contribution to the History and Sociology of the Ruhr Insurrection, 1921.
...: Revelations on the March Battles.
–Kuusinen: The Revolution in Finland.
–Nikitin, et al : Russian Tales. (4 novels on the partisan war).

d: Military Texts:
–Schmitt: Instructional Manual of Weapon Mechanics.
–Rühle v. Lilienstern: The Group.
–Rühle v. Lilienstern & v. Kochenhausen [Cochenhausen]: The Sharpshooter.
–Fendel-Sartorius: Ground Rules of Combat for Uniformed Police.

e: Documents Produced By The Organization:
–2 x “From Civil Wars”: Volume 1
–2 x “From Civil Wars”: Volume 2
–1 x Anulof: “The October Strategy in Petersburg and Moscow” (Manuscript)
–1 x “Karl”: “Lecture 1 & 2” (Manuscripts from July 23)
–2 x Material Documentation (see attachment 4 of the report.)

8: Map Collection (from October 15, 1923): [...]

Proposals on the Organization of Work

Up to October 20th [19]23 all materials for the above indicated sample packages (there are still materials for twelve more) were delivered via courier to the federal districts found to have backlogged orders. From that point on the districts were only informed of new publications through periodic communications. (the formation of small military libraries in every district was recommended).

The Library activity of the Section is further developed through the ongoing purchase of new publications – in correspondence with the requirements of the politico – military situation.

The Map Section is made independent and subordinated to the central operational leadership if the situation demands it.

The work of the Training Section is restricted to ongoing theoretical preparations until it is practically urgent.

Organization Section.
signed R.

“Document 93.” Deutschland, Russland, Komintern, pp. 321–326.

Doc. 94

The Plan for Insurrection in Berlin Submitted by Otto Steinfest (“Fuchs”)

Berlin, 20/10/1923

Typewritten in German language. RGASPI, Moscow 495/19/70, 18–19. First publication.


In the latest report which we have given, we also report the following on our arrangement for tripartate division of Party-O.D. [Ordnerdiestes] and the respective political factory Hundreds.

The Party-O.D., has till now increased by approximately 100%, i.e. there currently exist 86 Hundreds in total, with a total of 8,000 comrades. In the report period we have given these comrades a good workout and completely focused them on the struggle. The restructuring into groups of eight has been accomplished. Every platoon has been assigned specific tasks in its district which we have defined in personal briefings with the operational leaders of the districts. We are in the process of estimating the balance of forces of our O.D., with the inclusion of the factory Hundreds located in the district and the simultaneous identification of the enemy forces and their bases. The morale and spirit of our comrades is extremely high and battle ready, to such an extent that in some cases we have already had to put on the brakes. Arms procurement is likewise beginning to make great strides, the actual result of work of this kind amounts to the purchase of 85 rifles and 30 Lugers. Additionally, our comrades in one district have already stepped forward to produce primitive hand grenades themselves. They use tin cans. As the explosive they use sodium nitrate and phosphorus mixed with water. The effect of grenades manufactured in this way has been tested and their effect is greater than that of real stick grenades. Around 120 of these have been manufactured so far. We are now transferring the comrades involved in this matter to other districts to provide instruction, although the necessary chemicals are difficult to procure. It is additionally to be noted with regards to arms procurement that the work done up till now is not clearly shown in the figures above, because the main negotiations over large quantities for example 1,000 rifles and 30 M.G [machine guns] and much else will be completed in the next few days.

The work of the Disruption Section [Zersetzungsabteilung],24 has also made solid progress. E.g. the negotiations with the executive committee of the Schrader Verband, i.e. the Association of German Police Officers has produced the result that the police officers will for the most part not engage us aggressively in the coming clashes. It further recommends that we avoid storming police barracks with armed force but for the officers to retreat from their positions following a handover of weapons through negotiations. We are assured that this will be successful in all cases.

Similarly, the transport division has heartening results to report. The railway workers have already started forming their own Hundreds for rail security in order to paralyze or open traffic when needed, and have, according to reports formed an organization which could be considered a model.

The autoparks and miscellaneous means of transport, as well as the necessary gas tanks and other storage have been assembled. The drivers have also been procured. With regards to nutritional needs, everything necessary for the stockpiling of foodstuffs such as extensive warehouses etc has been prepared. The individual divisional representatives of the districts have been assembled and also with them everything has been set up allowing for the particularities of each individual district so as to ensure the food supply. The courier service is working out as well and has formed the connection of the Central to the districts and of the districts among themselves. The intelligence service is well established and spreads its feelers to the province and Lusatia. This is the Party apparatus. It remains to be added that the preparations of the leaders in relation to work spaces and opportunities as well as all necessary organizational preparations need to be carried out.

The factory Hundreds up to this point have unfortunately not provided reports concrete enough to be able to precisely gauge their numerical progress. Still, it can be said that this movement is now also making significant progress. The morale and spirit of this group can also be considered extremely good and all await the quickest possible start to the fighting. One even in some cases encounters skepticism to the effect of a doubt among many, that we are now acting for real. We have put the most intense effort into transforming this sentiment into intense organizational and propagandistic work for the mentality of the Hundreds movement. Here one can also note individual examples, which have pursued all this with great success. For example, the number of Hundreds in the Tegel Borsig factories increased from 2 to 5, and from 3 to 4 at the Oberschöneweide Kabelwerk. Furthermore, as already stated above, it has still not been comprehensively reported.

Lusatia has also announced good progress in work. It only seems to be very inhibited, because some functionaries of the O.D. and the Hundreds were arrested, i.e. in Kottbus, and others had to flee because of arrest warrants issued for them. Despite this, the number of factory Hundreds has grown, even if also here, for the reason explained above, exact numerical data is currently lacking.

Regarding the O.D. of the Party, the restructuring has been completed and a doubling in personnel numbers has been registered up till now. An operational plan for Lusatia has been discussed with the leadership. The spirit and morale of both categories, is as in Berlin, to be described as very good. Some, albeit small progress has been made on the issue of arms procurement here as well. Also all departments of the Siebenerkopfes [clandestine parallel leadership] have begun their work.

Brandenberg. Here also the prosecution campaign of the police has torn major gaps in the ranks of O.D. functionaries. There have been arrests in Landsburg, Küstrin, Schwiebus25 etc, outstanding warrants are also numerous and as a result 12 of the best functionaries have had to flee. However the same ones have continued to lead the work in the province. The restructuring of the O.D. has been carried out here as well. There are around 1,800 comrades involved at the moment, in small units structured according to district groups, as in Lusatia. In some districts like Rheinsberg, Alt-Ruppin, Neu-Ruppin where the SPD has an especially good attitude we have formed a common O.D. with them. Action committees as well. Siebenerkopfe in which the SPD holds half the representation also function there. Our comrades explain that in these cases they can vouch for the equal quality of the SPD people. Here also, as with the leaders in Lusatia, we have determined a precise plan of operations, so that our comrades are precisely informed on how to wage the struggle in accordance with this line. Arms procurement activity has also made good forward strides here, though it has occurred here more in the form of the purchase of individual items. Despite this, in some districts large quantities have been acquired, for example 25 rifles in Nowawes. Also here, it can be reported that fighting spirit and will is similarly very good, to the point, that in individual district groups, we must apply threats to restrain them from premature moves,25 e.g. Fürstenwalde, Brandenburg an der Havel. Summing up, it can be said that we consider the Berlin, Brandenburg, Lusatia region to be equipped to fulfill its assigned tasks. However, we would gladly improve our poor situation in terms of armament.

I would add to these reports:

In Berlin there exist 86 Hundreds, which consist of up to 80% Party members. The supply of cadres for three times as many Hundreds from these 86 has been ordered. Also every Hundred has the task of tripling itself. How bad the weapons situation appears follows from the report. In weapons, the city of Berlin has 11 heavy machine guns, 120 machine pistols, 450 rifles, and minimal ammunition. How operationally ready the seizure of Berlin is, appears from the following operational plan, which will be prepared and implemented by the operational O.B. [of the] Berlin Gen.St.

Plan of the Struggle for Berlin

Phase 1: General strike (prior to its general announcement): O.D., Party Hundreds, alarm. Weapons distribution. Negotiations with police in the worker districts. Brief assaults on weak police forces. Dissemination of the general strike slogan. Workers go into the shops. O.D. and Party Hundreds remain in residential districts. Only important O.D. and Hundreds functionaries in the workplaces in which they are known.

Phase 2: Announcement of major worker meetings and demonstrations towards the West. Unemployed to the West. In the Western residential districts where we are weak, partisan warfare: goal: to tie down and misdirect enemy forces.

Around 1/3–1/2 of the armed O.D. and Party Hundreds (or common Hundreds), concentrate in the workplaces (early morning), where it is planned to deploy Party agitators, Trade Union and factory [council] functionaries and influential comrades. Implementation of the general strike slogan.

The factories march according to a planned march order for the whole of Berlin under cover of armed Hundreds, Trucks etc., concentrically towards the government district.

The goal: the government district is first announced after the halfway point. For strict implementation, the O.D. ensures order, taking the streets, everything forward, nobody backwards.

The initiation of this significant concentric push towards the government district is carried out by clustered fighting groups which “lock up” the surrounding districts before the arrival of the advance guard of the columns provokes fighting (securing roofs etc).

Elite troops, the main armed force and meanwhile still assembling – the Hundreds that are forming into united groupings and following from one residential district to another around the government district merge with the Northern (proletarian base area) main force and form the main combat reserve for the final struggle.

Phase 3: Following the seizure of the government district and the occupation of the same only with the forces absolutely necessary, a part of the armed forces redeploy to intervene in the fighting in the Western District. The remaining forces assemble themselves in the residential areas [there follows], organization, replenishment, armament, assemblage into regular military units, barracking and uniforming.

Phase 4. Defense of Berlin. It is to be assumed that the enemy will surround Berlin with his main force. Already in the first phase, the fixed defensive lines of the suburbs will be busy with the initial task of blocking access roads with small forces. Strengthening of intelligence and patrol services in the city perimeter. After the end of fighting within the city, the most important defensive positions will be occupied with small forces. Every suburban district within the defensive lines forms a defensive sector which holds at its disposal one part of the forces positioned in the district as a sectoral reserve (all branches). The remaining armed groupings assembled into regular military formations will form the main reserve and will be positioned at different central and tactically advantageous points. Weak districts will receive forces from the main reserve.

Small teams will lead mobilization and recruitment through political and military instructional work (uniforming, barracking). The defensive sectors will carry out forced reconnaissance missions with their weak forces in order to make contact with the enemy located outside.

After the detection of the enemy main forces by launching feint attacks, the enemy will be forced into combat and his deployment dictated. Then along with the main force, the main reserve of Berlin will decisively smash the enemy through flank and rear operations.

II: The Role of Brandenburg Province and Lusatia

Leadership of a ruthless and brutal partisan war in the rear of the encirclement. The eastern half pins down Frankfurt and Küstrin. The North defends the Finowkanal alongside its main task.26 Lusatia, and south and west Brandenburg pin down the forces around Spandau in West Berlin.

III: Summary

The most important thing in the determination of the armed insurrection is: to keep the initiative in our hands and overrun the enemy through a rapid sequence of offensive phases. The precondition is a rapid arming of Berlin.27

20.X.23. Fuchs [Otto Steinfest]

“Document 94.” Deutschland, Russland, Komintern, pp. 326–331.

Doc. 96

Letter of Radek and Piatikov on the Situation in Berlin and the Incapacity of the KPD for Insurrection

Berlin, 10/29/1923

Manuscript in Russian language. RGASPI, Moscow, 495/19/218, 22–38. First German language publication. Published in Russian language in: Drabkin/Babičenko/Širinja: Komintern i ideja, pp. 428–435

Letter No.2 to Comrade Zinoviev for the Politburo. Copy sent to Pyatnitsky, ECCI.

I think that I am already in a position to give a general assessment of the situation and will attempt to do so in the most concrete possible way. [...]

The Party is now undergoing an extremely sharp internal crisis. The causes, as Arvid [i.e Piatikov] and I have noted in the meetings of the CC and the Berlin organization are the following:

The representative of the Central presented a totally unreal picture of the preparation of the Party in Moscow. Everything Brandler has said regarding armament is pure nonsense.28 If we had known that in the Party there was no preparation for insurrection, we would have spoken a hundred times more about the preparations than about the date. We all understood the date as a means to force preparation. However, news of our decisions was transmitted to Eberlein the most frivolous member of the CC, who declared at the Berlin Party conference, that the Party would go on the offensive in the coming days, it would enter into the Saxon government, in order to arrest General Miller [Müller], and if the central government were to answer this with a campaign against Saxony, we would immediately respond with insurrection. Klein [Abram Gural’skij] who held the apparatus for activation of the Hundreds in his hands worked in the same spirit. There were however no serious preparations and there also could not be. Not because no time had been given, but because both the above named comrades and the left did not understand the purpose of technical preparations.

They led a “hit or miss” policy, and embellished this with the declaration that weapons are not to be bought but seized in combat. In hysterical anticipation of this struggle the Party cast aside any political preparation for a week: there is no railway department nor one for agitation of the army and the police. The illegal press organ edited by little boys and making a blubbering agitation is issued only in a minuscule print run. The Party spent two weeks in hysterical anticipation of a conflict over Saxony. In Saxony we played the fool. The government puts no force there, they could not mobilize anyone. They did not take the fight there.

On the Sunday of 10/21, the decisive Chemnitz Conference took place. On its eve our people were certain that the conference would declare a general strike and dispatched couriers with the instruction: on Monday Saxony marches Saxony, on Tuesday Kiel and Mecklenburg, on Wednesday Hamburg. Orders were given to begin with the general strike and transition into armed struggle.

On Sunday, the Saxon factory committees refused to go into action, Hamburg, however without weapons in its possession decided to seize them, and not knowing that Saxony had not gone into action, went on the assault in order to take the police arsenal, from Monday night to Tuesday.29 The district leaders woke in the morning to the sound of rifle fire. Not a single leaflet explained the situation to the workers. In the suburbs, 400 workers fought in a heroic manner, in the city center nothing was known of them.

On Tuesday evening, the CC which had brought the Party to the brink of the abyss, decides to cancel everything, however the circular drafted by Brandler between Tuesday night and Monday morning and which rather crudely interpreted the line of the Party, was still not in the hands of the district organizations of the Party on Saturday, in which what happened was seen as treason. A powerful opinion against the CC emerged and not only in Berlin. Moreover, a total lack of conjunction between the CC and the regions, a lack of conspiratorial accommodation for the work of the CC as well as a totally disorganized leadership team.

First of all Arvid [i.e. Jurij Pjatakov] and I had to orientate ourselves to the formation of connections. We had the feeling of being stuck in a swamp. There was no point which we could rely on. The Saturday of 10/27 and the Sunday of 10/28 were, at least within leadership, days of upheaval.

On Saturday night, we held a meeting with five representatives of the Berlin organization. We explained to them that the political and organizational situation of the Party demanded refraining from an insurrection which would end with the total destruction of the Party. [We also explained], that we took complete responsibility for this decision, and that anyone who was going to agitate against the CC, instead of working daily to prepare the Party for the unavoidable struggles of the coming days, would be expelled from the Party, irregardless of who they might be. They demanded the resignation of Brandler from the CC and the clarification of the Maslow affair within two weeks30 because he was the real leader of the Party. We gave them a fitting rebuff and explained that we could not guarantee the resolution of the Maslow case in two weeks and threatened them with the release of a facsimile of the Maslow documents. As our decisive stance induced confusion in their ranks, we appealed to their sense of duty.

Yesterday’s meeting was chaotic [but] without a split. Yesterday’ we assembled the leading group of seven of the CC and offered them a draft of a basic resolution as well as a work plan. We called together a Party conference for the clarification of their orientation. Our resolution was accepted with the votes of: Brandler, Thallheimer. Walcher, Kleine, [i.e. Abram Gural’skij] (who had completed all the movements like a pendulum), and Ruth Fischer who I had not expected. The latter demonstrated that all her clamor on the necessity of insurrection was an expression of her incapacity to resist the organizational mood. Logically she understood that we were in the right.

Pieck and Eberlein voted against the resolution, conducted themselves as gossips in front of the organization and wanted to take the role of intransigents. The aforementioned resolution, which I have attached, constitutes a rush draft authored by myself during the meeting and previously discussed with Arvid. It was passed through as the basis for a commission of Thalheimer, Ruth [Fischer] and myself, which must prepare a resolution for the Party conference.31 The most important change which must be introduced in Party work is the following: the Party has ranted about insurrection without preparing for it. This preparation must begin at full speed. We have released a group of five from the CC, in which aside from the five myself and Arvid will be integrated. All the other CC personnel, who wander around aimlessly like sheep and fall prey to decomposition, will be placed at the head of district administrations or work sectors namely: railways, trade unions, factory committees, agriculture, work among employees, weapons procurement, military leadership, disruption of the enemy army, contacts and intelligence, agitation and propaganda.

In anticipation of insurrection, the Party did not act. We will now attempt to take the struggle against lockouts as well as the leadership of strikes into our hands, we will transition to the organization of demonstrations and short protest strikes in order to grasp the mood of the workers and the balance of forces. The Hundreds will not be left on the backburner, but out of necessity will be kept in the struggle, even in partial struggles. The Party cannot passively await the insurrection. There is no preparation for insurrection outside of an active policy. A simple waiting game strengthens the enemy and decomposes the Party through incredulity. To lead the Party into the frontal clash with its current condition and the condition of the working class, means smashing it for years. [...]

We need a rigorous military organizer who evaluates what happens day and night. [...] I ask you to consider that we could have been exposed any day, considering the situation of the Party, with so many people who are childishly indifferent to conspiracy. Hence, the task of getting the business up and running. Act quickly to send the people we request. Act quickly in taking a stance on our line, which we have adapted and are in the process of implementing.


With Communist Greetings,
Andrej, [Karl Radek]

I am in agreement with the contents of the letter. I find the situation inside the Party even more serious than the portrayal by Andrej. The crisis is intensifying. In Berlin the situation is scandalously bad.

Arvid [Piatikov]

“Document 96.” Deutschland, Russland, Komintern, pp. 332–336.

Doc. 96a

Report of the Soviet Consul in Hamburg Grigorij Šklovskij (“Babuškin”) on the Insurrection in Hamburg

Berlin, 10/30/1923

Typewritten in Russian. RGASPI, Moscow, 495/19/196, p. 190. Published in Russian language in Adibekov/Anderson/Širinja u.a.: Politbjuro i Komintern, pp. 213–214. Published in German language in Bayerlein/Babičenko/Firsov: Deutscher Oktober 1923, pp. 288–289.

Copies. To the chair of the Comintern, Comrade Zinoviev. Copies to the Secretary of the CC of the RCP(B), Comrade Stalin [and] the acting People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Comrade Litvinov.

Respected Comrade.

Supplemental to my report from the 27th, I must add the following:

In Berlin I found an entirely different sentiment than I did before in Hamburg. While the bitter and enraged Hambergers, at least had the satisfaction of having fought, the Berliners experienced a feeling of extreme frustration. Everyone spewed venom against the CC, the dissatisfaction also extended to the Berlin district leadership, who “covers” for the CC. There was also a certain degree of coldness towards the relationship with Moscow.

Here I met not only with the top leadership but also with many rank and file functionaries. There was violent fuming and serious talk of a split. The only way out of this situation I can see is a Party Congress. I believe this solution must be issued from above in order to avoid new complications in the CP of Germany.

On Maslow: None of the functionaries believe in the doubts raised about his reliability. The retention of Maslow in Moscow was seen exclusively as a disciplinary measure against the leftist Berlin organization. I repeat, in case there is even the slightest possibility, he should be sent back to Berlin.

As far as the prospect of immediately decisive events in Berlin goes, it should be shelved for the moment. The opportunity has passed, the train has departed and there is no chance of catching it. Even if loudmouths like Gur[al’skij]still deny it, there is no mood for this in Berlin anymore. In the previous weeks there still was, today not anymore, a rift has emerged between us and the masses.

On the armed insurrection, which is supposed to precede a general strike: in the previous letter I wrote about this as one would about a basic truth. To my astonishment I have now learned that on Saturday, as the Central in Saxony had made their decision on insurrection, they sent their messengers out in all directions (not only to Hamburg.[sic] While the other locations soon received orders to retreat, for whatever reason this did not occur in Hamburg). This question was extensively discussed, and then decided in the same manner as it was carried out in Hamburg. But that is the caricature of Bolshevism painted by the Mensheviks in 1905 ... As far as I know this question was debated in Moscow as well; it is not true that Moscow condones such methods of “making a revolution”, even if it probably could be made like that somewhere. Yes, and what then? How would you hold power if you did not involve the broadest proletarian circles from the is purest putschism!

In my previous report I forgot to point out to you a characteristic particularity: The sympathy from the intelligentsia is very great. We have a number of offers of assistance from doctors and supporters in the intellectual professions. There are proposals to collect donations for the victims. The sympathy of the intelligentsia reminds me of 1905.

Babuškin [Grigorij Šklovskij].

“Document 96a.” Deutschland, Russland, Komintern, pp. 336–337.

Doc. 100

Critical Report of the Military Leader of the German October to the Comintern on the Work of the Illegal Apparatus of the KPD

Berlin, 11/15/1923

Typewritten in German language. RGASPI, Moscow, 495/19/67, pp. 101–102. First German publication. Published in Russian language in:Drabkin/Babičenko/Širinja: Komintern i ideja, pp. 435–437.

On the Situation in the Party32

The preparations of the Party for armed insurrection have been strongly inhibited in recent days. Due to the faulty work of the illegal apparatus in many districts the leading functionaries have been arrested. The illegal apparatus of the Central has almost completely collapsed. Now, even the head of the Berlin combat leadership has been arrested, and work in Berlin-Brandenburg and Lusatia has been crippled. The comrades drove to Lusatia, to rebuild the organization which had been blown up there. On this occasion they were arrested. Essentially the Lusatia organization was destroyed primarily thanks to a mistake of the Central. The Central sent a courier there with directives, plans and money. The courier did not meet the contact person to whom he was supposed to give the materials. Instead he gave the material to the landlord. The landlord knew that the comrade is a functionary of the KPD and brought the package to the police who then arrested the leading functionary.

The day before yesterday, Central’s entire courier apparatus was arrested. The couriers gathered in a bar, where they were given the materials, directives, circulars, money etc for the districts. During the distribution the bar was surrounded and all the comrades including the leader were arrested.

In Munich over two weeks ago almost the entire leadership of the organization was arrested. There was a meeting of the leaders of the individual districts in Munich. Some comrades had brought with them plans for bombings, maps, money and also blasting caps. The comrades met in a bar that had already been used for Party meetings over the years. Work in Bavaria has been totally crippled by the arrest of these comrades. The newly instated leadership is located outside Bavaria.

The Munich organization had already been infiltrated by spies for some time, so that the police were notified of almost everything going on in the Party. Even the Munich liaison was a spy, who had been sent from Bund Oberland33 into the Party. They gave this spy the position without scrupulously checking where he came from. They were satisfied that somebody had taken on the position.

In Württemberg, Schlesien, Mecklenburg, Thuringia, Saxony and in Hamburg, many of the best functionaries have been arrested or have fled, so that in these districts, work has almost totally ceased. Even in Berlin a newspaper or a pamphlet is only rarely available from us. The very good work done in Berlin is only with regards to weapons procurement. The leading comrade A.34 who worked for a long time together with Karl [Radek] is very capable. The apparatus of this comrade is the only one which functions well, but also in this work there are too many engaged. As a result the comrades experience many problems and the work is endangered. In the other districts the procurement of weapons is very poorly organized.

“Document 100.” Deutschland, Russland, Komintern, pp. 348–349.

Doc. 101a

Letter of the Military Leader of the CC of the KPD Petr Skoblevskij (i.e. Vol’demar Roze) on the Rebuff of the German Revolution and the Further Tasks of the Military Apparatus

Berlin, 12/23/1923

Typewritten with handwritten additions, German. RGASPI, Moscow, 495/19/504, p. 3. Published in German language in: Bayerlein/Babičenko/Firsov: Deutscher Oktober 1923, p. 399. Published in Russian language in:Drabkin/Babičenko/Širinja: Komintern i ideja, pp. 445–446.

Berlin, December 23rd, 1923

Dear Comrades,

I believe you have received my memo from the 19th of this month on the next tasks of the military apparatus.35

I consider the education of leading cadres from among the best German comrades to be the most important task. This cannot be carried out in Germany – but only in Russia. – It would be very desirable if a decision was made on the principle of whether the course should be put together or not. All the other questions, which come into consideration for the course, regarding management, teaching staff, curriculum, etc. are only a secondary consideration.

Concerning the questions about finances, over those I have no clarity.

The budget proposed in the memo of the 6th of this month will probably not be certified, because the long term perspectives for the revolution will be adjusted.

The size of the budget depends on the tasks placed before us.

Enclosed I have submitted a minimal budget of 24,000 dollars monthly.36

Please first of all approve this budget for three months and promptly and reliably send us the money. The enclosed budget entails a major reduction of the apparatus in comparison to that of December 6th.

I ask that you inform me of your opinion – even if brief – of the memos, reports and letters I have sent you; it would be of enormous importance for the work.

With Communist Greetings

signed W.R. [Vol’demar Roze, Ps. Petr Skoblevskij] m.p.

“Document 101a.” Deutschland, Russland, Komintern, pp. 354–355.

Doc. 104

Cover Letter of Karl Friedbergs i.e. Karl Gröhl, later Retzlaw on the Military Program of the KPD

O.O., 2/4/1924

Typewritten in German. SAPMO-Barch, Berlin, 12/705/1, p. 48. First publication.

February 4th 1924

Dear Comrades,

A draft of a military program of the KPD is enclosed.37 Despite military work being recognized by the Party these days, in my opinion it must be defined programmatically. The KPD Central still considers military work as a “seasonal” activity which one occasionally engages in. This led to the mistakes which have been made in this work up to now and are still being made. The previous experiences of combat in Germany almost goes unutilized. It is to be concluded from the expressions of various members of the Central, that this work whose necessity is obvious, is still not understood in the total significance it demands.

The Russian comrades, who are brought in by the Central as “professionals” (allegedly because there are no forces for this work available in the German Party), have proven that they cannot cope with work in Germany. In part because they are clueless regarding German affairs. I included the chapter on foreign relations, because comrade Brandler, without encountering any opposition noted in a session of the Central: “It is understandable that in the case of a proletarian revolution, the neighboring states, especially Poland and Czechoslovakia would invade.”38

I request that this draft be submitted for discussion.

With Communist Greetings
Karl Friedberg


“Document 104.” Deutschland, Russland, Komintern, pp. 364–365.

Doc. 105

Report of the Soviet Military Expert with the CC of the KPD, Aleksej Štrodach to the Comintern on Future Revolutionary Possibilities for Germany

Moskow, 2/11/1924

Typewritten in Russian language. RGASPI, Moscow, 495/25/1365, pp. 83–84. First publication in German. Published in Russian language in:Drabkin/Babičenko/Širinja: Komintern i ideja, pp. 448–450.

After a four month visit to Germany, I will share my impressions in a short form.39

The mood of the masses is not combative, and not of the kind which is necessary for a seizure of power. And this is no coincidental or passing phenomenon. The population of modern Germany is politically highly passive. There is no strong belief in the revolution (as there was with us). There nobody believes in the socialist or communist paradise on the day after the overthrow. There, the socialist phrases are long threadbare and blunted from frequent use and produce no great impact – not as earlier with us. That on the next day after the overthrow there will be no paradise, this awareness is very deep rooted – the experience of the Russian Revolution appears to prove that one must spend many years destitute and in bitter struggle before one finds a more or less tolerable path. And everyone asks themselves: is it worth entering into a struggle full of risks for the sake of a dubious future? Is it worth it to go to war in a peacetime situation? There is no strong and unqualified belief even in the broad masses of the Party, let alone the worker masses.

There is no solid body of literature which could arouse this belief. Actually, there are many books, but it is a matter of old junk or translations of our literature from the period before NEP, a good half of which has been debunked by the progress of our revolution. Neither the Party – nor the worker masses have a clear schema for the construction of their future state and the same goes for the top leaders. There are no fixed formulas and therefore no certainty. With us these questions were worked out, even if many times in the wrong way. In an emergency false schema can also provide security. There is no fundamental literary foundation and that is the greatest deficit. German minds call for an extremely thorough review – this must be viewed as a task of the highest priority. The minds of the Party and the workers must be implanted with a rock solid belief in their own cause and a clear awareness of the ways to get there – which does not exist at the moment. Lacking this, a victory is impossible.

Considering the current situation, one should not expect a revolution in Germany. The mood of the masses was not up for this in October–November itself, even though the former situation was favorable for the emergence of a combative mood. (Of course there will also be isolated explosions of discontent in the future, because unemployment is immense, but the distance from there to an uprising is still too far. The unemployed should be specially organized, because as a combat element they are best suited to all imaginable offensives).

The German Revolution cannot happen without the aid of the Red Army. The White organizations are too strong and the mood of the masses is not combative enough. The White organizations implement an energetic reinforcement of their ranks without much fanfare – with us there is more fanfare than rhyme or reason. The balance of forces is not favorable enough for them to be able to win without us. We need a direct frontier with Germany so as to distract the attention of the Whites at a critical moment and attach it to us. Therefore Poland must be Soviet. The coming first steps in the world revolution must begin with Poland and then proceed with Germany. All forces must from now on be concentrated on Poland. Poland must become Soviet on time. There is much material for a revolution in Germany. It has given many occasions for a revolution in the past, and will continue to do so in the future, however the experience of recent years has shown that a revolution there cannot succeed without our direct aid (and a direct frontier).

At the current moment, our military organizations in Germany are developed and rich in experience. It would be desirable to summarize the experience of military work in different countries. For the moment, the written materials are sufficient, and later it should become a small consulting service which can take place in different countries that are involved. (or maybe one could even establish a small military department in the Comintern).

11/II 24
Arbat 35, Apt 80.

“Document 105.” Deutschland, Russland, Komintern, pp. 365–367.

Doc. 106

Report of the Previous Leader of the Operational Division of KPD, the Western Group, V.Karpov, on the Military Structures and General Situation of the KPD

Moscow, 3/2/1924

Typewritten in Russian. RGASPI, Moscow, 495/25/1365, pp. 85–88. First publication in German. Published in Russian in Drabkin/Babičenko/Širinja: Komintern i ideja, pp. 451–457.

To the Secretariat of the Comintern

Report on Germany40

1: the October failure – the disintegration of the revolution in Germany – was bound to elicit demoralization in the KPD, and this has happened. In the days after October, the bourgeoisie not only stabilized the currency relatively quickly, but also reinforced its state power, with the help of General Seeckt’s military dictatorship, through the cessation of passive resistance in the Ruhr territory as well as strengthening the negotiations and deals of the industrialists with the French. The military dictatorship of big capital directed its entire momentum and its terror against the Communist Party. The ranks of the Party were terrorized through arrests, random beatings of the detained, house searches, and a spy and provocateur apparatus which in recent times has been well positioned, well funded and integrated within the Party. [...] The avoidance of the struggle at the decisive moment in October discredited the Party to a certain degree and demoralized it decisively, no less than a defeat in open combat. [...]

On the other hand it must be said that the illegality41 of the Party provides a great service which outweighs the negative side of illegality. The KPD – a Party comprised almost 100% of workers – is despite everything not closed off and centralized enough – which however is absolutely necessary for their working conditions – it is undisciplined and also burdened with significant, extremely forceful and fully developed factional divisions. It has no generally recognized leader with comprehensive authority for the entire Party, and still lacks a Party core, firmly welded together, qualified for leadership and steeled over the long haul. Its ranks are often afflicted by democratic illusions – an inheritance from social democracy, sometimes combined with a mood of verbal radicalism, which is very combative prior to open actions and then capitulates. The inclination in the Party to purely formal relations which exist only on paper also negatively affects the situation. One sometimes hears from the Communist base, that you are dealing with “no Party just an apparatus of functionaries”. And, in fact, the connection of the functionaries with the masses, the work with them in the factory cells and residential districts is insufficient. The connection of the Party to both the non Party [masses] and most importantly the unemployed is also insufficient.

However, lessons will be drawn from the failures. The Party’s transition over to the principle of work with factory cells, has contributed significantly to its connection with the masses. [...]

The lively discussion currently ongoing throughout the entire party, clarifies the position, crystallizes Party opinion, exposes the opportunism permeating the Party, and emphasizes as a guiding principle that it is necessary to create a strong, disciplined, revolutionary, “Bolshevik” (as the German comrades like to say) Party. [...]

2: The military organization of the Party that is made up of hundreds of Groups of Hundreds and Groups of Five, has been downsized in the regions in which the military apparatus was established before October – for example in the Ruhr – by around 40%. The Groups of Five – these are the best, handpicked, armed comrades, designated for active combat at the current time, security at demonstrations, the attacks on the police and sometimes individual terror. The remainder are the Hundreds. [...] The idea of merging the Hundreds into battalions and regiments is essential and necessary, where the Hundreds can be found grouped closely together territorially, as for example in the Ruhr and Saxony. [...] Finally such organization lays the cornerstone for special units, without which an army which at least partially conforms to modern requirements as a future Red Army of Soviet Germany will have to, is unthinkable. [...]

3: the arsenal of O.B. West consists of 22 heavy machine guns, 11 light machine guns, 9 machine pistols, 2,400 rifles, 1,500 pistols of various models, 200,000 rounds of ammunition, 2,500 hand grenades, and some amount of explosives (I am quoting the numbers from memory). [...]

O.B. West’s opportunities for weapons purchases are considerable, mostly from the fascists at market prices as well as from the Netherlands without restriction at higher prices.

4: The military organization struggles with the problem of the lack of and absence of military leaders in the ranks of the KPD, who has at their command a well disciplined and drilled and come from the excellent school of the NCO quota of the old German army, but who lack the necessary broad view of military affairs and initiative, which is indispensable for independent organizational and operational work. [...]

To me, the practical way forward seems to be the following. There is a school of Red Communards in Moscow which is primarily sent by Poles. If one were to open a section in this school for 50 German comrades, the question would be partially solved.42 [...]

Additionally there are ideas in Germany of a Communist military school for around 10 to 20 men at a time. However, this could, of course, in no way substitute for the military school I have referred to.

It is also necessary that the entire military apparatus, most notably the commanding officers of the Hundreds, be in possession of military textbooks with the help of which they and the fighters under their command can gradually continue their education. The very useful volumes of Vom Burgerkrieg are not sufficient for this, the purchase in great quantity of the military textbooks of the old German army and the Reichswehr, as well as Russian compilation and translation of a small series on civil war is essential. [...]

2nd of March, 1924

Military Academy student,43
Former Operational Leader of O.B. West

“Document 106.” Deutschland, Russland, Komintern, pp. 369–371.

The 626 Research Group is a committee concerned with documentation and analysis on the military history of the communist movement.

  1. Gussew, S.I, Die Lehren Des Bürgerkrieges, Bibliothek der Kommunistischen Internationale XIV, Hamburg, Verlag der Kommunistischen Internationale, Carl Hoym 1921. p 3. 

  2. Cited in Storia della sinistra comunista V: Dal maggio 1922 al febbraio 1923, Milan,Edizioni il programma comunista 2017. p 127. 

  3. Hermann Weber, Jakov Drabkin, Bernhard H. Bayerlein, II Deutschland, Russland, Komintern – Dokumente (1918–1943) De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2015. p 364. Full translation below. 

  4. All documents included are translated from the collection cited above. 

  5. Much has been said recently about the impossibility and the hopelessness of street fighting against modern troops. Particularly insistent on this have been the wise “Critics” who have dragged out the old lumber of bourgeois science in the guise of new, impartial, scientific conclusions, and have distorted Engels’ words that refer, with reservations, only to a temporary tactic of the German Social-Democrats. But we see from the example of even this one clash how absurd these arguments are. (

  6. Despite repeated official condemnations partisan operations (specifically expropriations) continued to be carried out till 1910. Ralph Carter Ellwood, Resolutions and Decisions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Volume 1: The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party 1898–October 1917, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1974, p 93.  

  7. As Trotsky notes: “The course of the revolution was characterised with remarkable clarity by statistics of the terror. 233 persons were assassinated in 1905; 768 in 1906; 1,231 in 1907...while there were 1,231 assassinations in 1907, they dropped to 400 in 1908 and to about a hundred in 1909.”. Leon Trotsky, Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and his Influence, Wellred Books, 2016, p 124. 

  8. “I might almost say that it will be much less of a sudden uprising against the authorities than a long drawn out civil war, if one does not necessarily join to these last words the idea of actual slaughter and battles.” (

  9. Richard B Day; Daniel Gaido, Witnesses to Permanent Revolution: The Documentary Record, Leiden ; Boston,: Brill, 2009, pp 187–88. 

  10. A.Neuberg, Armed Insurrection, London, NLB 1970. 

  11. Typical examples include Leon Trotsky, “Problems of Civil War”, July 29, 1924 in Leon Trotsky, Naomi Allen, The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923–25), Pathfinder Press, New York, 1975, p 175–198. Leon Trotsky, John G.Wright, The Third International after Lenin, Pioneer Publishers, New York, 1957, p 142–47. Leon Trotsky, “On the Question of Workers’ Self-Defense”, October 25, 1939 in Leon Trotsky, Naomi Allen, George Breitman, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939–40, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1973 pp 99–105. 

  12. O.D – On 27.2.1923 the Politburo of the CC of the KPD decides to form a security service [Ordnerdienstes] which will initially carry out defensive tasks as well as regularly report on civil war in theory and practice. As a fundamental structure of (politico-military) “PM work” [MP Arbeit] for the preparation of insurrection alongside the Proletarian Hundreds (see below) as a secret army and worker militia, the O.D is intended to function as a kind of officer corps for the above mentioned Hundreds as well as training the partisan groups. In September/October 1923, the OD districts are merged into a total of five (later six) greater districts [Oberbezirken] and three special districts, each with a military leader (OB-Leiter) presiding.  

  13. The Proletarian Hundreds were part of the “M Apparatus” of the KPD within which operated “several thousand” unpaid volunteers (organized in around 1331 units at the end of October 1923), it was mainly formed from the “factory hundreds” (and especially in Berlin organized by residential district as well) and illegally armed, in the ideal scenario as the core of a future workers militia made up of associations of KPD, SPD and trade union affiliated workers organized by action committees. Formed in accordance with the structure of the old army (company=hundred, platoon=group), its structure and centralisation remains hybrid . In the context of the “defense movement” its statutory tasks in the “German October” (in Berlin) were defined as the “leadership of ruthless offensive struggles against the reaction” with the goal of “seizure of political power”. They were most strongly rooted in Saxony, as mixed Communist-Social Democratic formations. After the failure of the “German October” they were converted into the RFB (Roten Frontkämpfer-Bund).  

  14. Presumably the Illegal Commission of the ECCI [Executive Committee of the Communist International].  

  15. From October 1923 onward the politico-military journal of the KPD, Vom Burgerkreig later Oktober was issued in Berlin under the direction of Karl Retzlaw (Karl Friedbergs). Alongside more or less precise tactical guidelines for a civil war situation, the journal contained historical and politico-military expositions mostly concerning applicable Russian experiences.  

  16. The section for ideological politico-military preparation here designated as the “Library” has till now not been mentioned in the specialist literature. Karl Retzlaw wrote that following the insistence of Brandler and Roze (Skoblevskij) that a new editor (from No.5) should issue Vom Burgerkrieg more rapidly, the M-P [politico-military section ] “was branched off, renamed the Disruption Section [Abteilung Zersetzung] and taken over by Heinz Neumann” (Retzlaw, Spartakus, p 274). The Zer-Abteilung is mentioned by Kaufmann, Reisner, Schwips: Der Nachrichtendienst p 82. 

  17. The cover letter includes handwritten remarks by Zinoviev “to Mickiewicz Kapsukas” [Lithuanian Communist leader] and “received”. A half page Russian summary was added and sent to the ECCI as a cover letter (RGASPI 425/25/1365, 11). 

  18. See document translated above. 

  19. The 7/11/1923 proclamation of the KPD written by Brandler had an extremely radical tone and was directed against an impending onslaught of the “fascists” as well as against French imperialism and called for a strengthening of the “common proletarian defense organizations”. However the text published in Issue 1 of Vom Burgerkrieg lacked a perspective “against German state power” (see on this: Retzlaw: Spartakus, p 261). 

  20. The “Commission for the Compilation and Investigation of Materials on the History of the October Revolution and the History of the Russian Communist Party” founded in 1920. 

  21. This appendix is missing. 

  22. The so-called “Project II” was drafted in Moscow on 8/4/1922. It summarizes the tasks of a standing committee of the Comintern for research into “international civil war” (RGASPI 175/25/1365, 5–6). 

  23. The appendix is missing. 

  24. Led by Heinz Neumann.  

  25. Handwritten remark in margins: “recklessness”. 

  26. The Finowkanal unites the Havel and the Oder as the first artificial waterway in Germany. 

  27. On the “rapid arming of Berlin” see the devastating critique by Radek of the military and organizational preparations. [translated below]. 

  28. It can be assumed that “pure nonsense”, referred to the report of Steinfest from Berlin on 10/20/1923 [translated above], which falsely informed Brandler. 

  29. For a contemporary critical view of the “Hamburg uprising” as a kind of military putsch, see the account by the Soviet Consul in Hamburg Grigorij Šklovskij [translation below]. 

  30. On 22.11.1923 there followed a decision of the Russian Politburo to quickly resolve the Maslow case. Maslow was suspected of having provided details on the insurrection preparations of the KPD during a 1921 police interview in the Berlin police HQ. Regarding the decision of the Politburo in Moscow – he was simultaneously a member of the KPD and the RCP(B) – his case was examined by the CC of the KPD and in Summer 1923 by an ECCI commission under the direction of Stalin (RGASPI 17/3/183, 3–4). In the beginning of January 1924 he was cleared of guilt by a majority of only one vote and with a decisive influence from Stalin and Zinoviev, who sought to “completely deliver leadership of the Party to the left” (W.Pieck), despite the well founded criticisms sent from Germany by Radek and Pieck. At the same time Brandler and his supporters were pushed out of the leadership of the German Party and Trotsky, Radek and Piatikov from the Russian Party and the Comintern.  

  31. On 11/4/23 the Central Committee of the KPD gathered in strict secrecy approved the theses formulated by Brandler and Radek and suggested by the Center with a vote of 40 to 13. Their basic thrust was that fascism was now in power in Germany in the form of Seeckt’s dictatorship. Therefore, not without the help of Social Democracy, the end of the “November Republic” had arrived. 

  32. The document is not signed. Earlier documents sent to the ECCI with the same format and presumably originating from the same author were signed “X”. This was probably the leader of the illegal politico-military apparatus Vol’demar Rudol’fovič Roze (Petr Aleksandrovič Skoblevskij). Until 1926 the leadership of the politico-military apparatus of the KPD was in Russian hands (RGASPI, Moscow, 495/19/67, 81–83).  

  33. The Bund Oberland was an ultra right South German Freikorps organization, which formed the core of the SA in Bavaria. Skoblevskij’s second in command Heller came from the Bund Oberland, who could have acted with a Josef (Beppo) Römer or Hans von Henting (See:Bayerlein/Babičenko/Firsov: Deutscher Oktober 1923, p 89).  

  34. “Leading comrade A.” could refer to “Alfred”, Finish military specialist Tuure Lehén [author of urban warfare manual Der Weg Zum Sieg] later EECI head of politico-military activities, or to “Alex”, ie Hans Kippenberger, later the leader of the KPD politico-military apparatus. 

  35. A memo from 12/19/1923 could not be found. All that could be located was an associated cover letter from 12/20 to Piatikov with the explanation that it is concerned with the proposals in the memo for the creation of KPD military courses in Moscow, and the formation of a political school in Oberschlesien to be decided by the CC. The author of the letter also recalls the dispatch of “nine Russian comrades” to Germany for agitational work and disruption in the army (RGASPI, Moscow, 495/19/504, 4).  

  36. The sentence is inserted by hand. 

  37. There followed de facto a fundamental reorientation of M-Arbeit [military work], including personnel. Thus Retzlaw and Brandler were ordered to Moscow and there opened a German politico-military school. 

  38. In the military strategic deliberations during the preparation of the German October, this possibility was by all means taken seriously. This and similar questions were also discussed at the secret Moscow conference of Russian members of the Executive of the Comintern with delegations of the KPD, the CP of France and the CP of Czechoslovakia at the end of September 1923.  

  39. No recipient is stated in the document. Drabkin/Babičenko/Širinja: Komintern i ideja assume that it was directed to the Comintern. Aleksej P. Štrodach (1894–1956), Bolshevik since 1912, sailor before the 1st World War. In the Red Army since 1918, completed General Staff Academy in 1922, carries out “Party and economic work in Moscow and other cities” 1924–34, instructor at the International Lenin School 1934–36, after the Second World War is acting leader of the State Economic Planning Committee of the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic, pensioner from 1949.  

  40. Handwritten note over the text of the first page in Russian “Military affairs”. Handwritten note on the right in German “Report of Comrade Karpoff on West Germany.2/III–24”. 

  41. From 11/23/1923 till March 1924, the KPD was banned on the federal level, and even longer on the state level, till February 1926 in Bavaria. According to its own figures between 1924 and April 1925 more than 7,000 members were arrested for subversive activities and subjected to judicial proceedings. In 5,768 cases sentences of a total of 969 years of jail, 2,255 years of prison and 233,260 Marks in fines were issued (details in: Kaufmann/Reisener/Schwips: Der Nachrichtendienst, p 112–113).  

  42. A month later a German military school with the General Staff of the Red Army (1. M-Schule) was established in Moscow at the suggestion of the KPD, and conducted between 4/1/1924 and 6/15/1924 (SAPMO-BArch, ZPA, I 2/3/81, 206f.). Among the 12 participants from Germany were the later leaders of the military apparatus, Hans Kippenberger and Erich Wollenberg, the future historian Albert Schreiner, Willhelm Zaisser and Karl Retzlaw. On this occasion Retzlaw wrote a memorandum against the thesis of an isolated “October failure” and the extensive reflection on isolated military events in general in which he demanded the examination of long term social processes through the lens of a military and political analysis. At Soviet instigation he was subsequently kept away from the school (Retzlaw: Spartakus, p 288.; Kaufmann/Reisener/Schwips: Der Nachrichtendienst, p 101).  

  43. Military Academy of the Red Workers and Peasants Army, founded in 1918 as the Academy of the Red Army General Staff. From 1925 the M.W.Frunze Military Academy. 

  44. Biographical information on the author could not be located.