Marcel Bois, Kommunisten gegen Hitler und Stalin--Die Linke Opposition der KPD in der Weimarer Republik. Eine Gesamtdarstellung (Essen: Klartext-Verlag, 2014), ISBN 9783837512823, 614 pp., 39.95[euro]
While the so called 'right wing' of the German Communist Party (KPD) has been studied extensively, the left or 'ultra-left' opposition was mostly overlooked. Pre-dating German Trotskyism and mostly opposing the united front policy, the 'ultra-left' had no successors claiming its tradition or excavating its history. Nevertheless, this party tendency played a crucial role in German Communism. The Left around Arkadij Maslow, Ruth Fischer and Werner Scholem lead the KPD from spring 1924 until summer 1925 and were the last KPD leadership acting independently of the Communist International (Comintern). After 1925, the Left opposed Stalin's policy of 'Socialism in one Country' in favour of a political course towards world revolution. But internal differences and their inability to outline a political programme suitable for a period of economic stability between 1924 and 1929--including the denial on any attempts towards radical reformism or a united front with the Social Democrats--brought down the Left leadership within a matter of months. Its members and followers after 1926 formed a fragmented opposition against Ernst Thalmann and spoke up against Stalin, acting first within and, after a wave of purges, outside the party. But the sectarian nature of many of those groups, their unwillingness to cooperate with other grouping and inability to form a common political platform led them to splits into ever smaller factions. This not only made it impossible to gain momentum, it also produced an extremely messy organisational history that made research difficult and led to questions of whether the subject mattered at all.
Therefore, only a study on the Leninbund (Lenin League) by Rudiger Zimmermann and Otto Langels' dissertation on the 'ultra-left' covered the topic in some depth, and nothing followed for almost two decades. (*) It was not until the new Millenium that a series of biographical studies on figures of the KPD's Left shed light on the matter. (**) Marcel Bois' dissertation builds on this research and is the first approach presenting an overall view of the Left Opposition within Weimar Communism since the relevant archives in East Germany were opened up to researchers in 1989. Bois work not only fills a long standing gap in the research, but substantially enlarges our knowledge of larger historical questions, such as the Stalinization of the Comintern and the tragic failure of the German labour movement to form a united front against the rise of the Nazi to power in 1933.
The first difficulty for Bois was to define his field of research as, within a communist movement it is anything but clear which political currents should be identified as 'left', 'ultra-left' or on the other hand 'right wing'. Bois points out that these denominations are often misleading, that especially the term 'ultra-left' was a phrase designed by a Stalinist leadership to outlaw opposition. But he nevertheless decides against introducing new terminology, favouring the term's historical use while...
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