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Michael Steffen: Geschichten vom Trüffelschwein

Politik und Organisation des Kommunistischen Bundes 1971-1991
Assoziation A, 2002

This is a monograph of one of the most important left wing groups that constituted itself in the wake of the 1968 student revolt in Germany.
After `68, the september strikes in `69 in Germany and the unrest in Italy in the same year, at the same time in the face of a certain decline in the revolutionary wave, there was a substantial reorganisation in the milieu of the New Left in Germany that expressed itself at least partly in the founding of various ‚proletarian’ groups and parties, later called the K-groups. They had in common that they set out to re-found the Communist Party on the basis of a new reading of Marxism-Leninism through a certain lense of Maoism. Thus they supposedly adopted a ‚proletarian’ position in contrast to those of the student movement who either joined the mainstream SPD (supposedly to subvert it from the inside), or tended towards more anarchist or spontaneist positions, and in competition to the pro-Moskow DKP (German Communist Party), which had been founded in 1968 as a follow up to the ‚original’ KPD (Communist Paty of Germany) which had been made illegal in the Federal Republic in 1956.
It was exaclty this heritage of the KPD that the K-Groups tried to pick up and represent as well. At least four different groups/parties were founded between 1968-73. These included the KPD/ML (the ML standing for, you guessed it, Marxists-Leninists), who were strictly Stalinist-Maoist and after Mao’s death and the end of the cultural revolution changed their affiliation to Albania. Then there was the KPD, mainly based in Westberlin, who after the disappearance of the Chinese ‚model’ dissolved in 1980, and the KBW (Communist League of Western Germany), which defined itself rather as a ‚league’ and (not yet) as a party, but followed a very similar program. The two ‘parties’ especially, but also the other organisatins to varying degrees managed to orient themselves towards some of the worst the communist tradition and history has to offer, in a – for the time – typical misunderstanding of the nature of Maoism, which seemed to offer a overcoming of beaurocracy and the ‚revisionism’ of the Soviet Union. The history that was drawn upon was the stalinist KPD of the Weimar Republic, the SU under Stalin and then China and the Cultural Revolution. This lead in some cases even to a nationalist position in favour of a ‚unified and socialist’ Germany, and generally in the opinion that the SU was the even worse imperialist power than the US and NATO. Typical for Stalinists, the worst u-turns and decision by the Chinese Central Committee were duly followed, such as the support for the fascist coup d’etat of General Pinochet in Chile in 1973.
The fourth of these K-organisations was the Kommunistische Bund (KB, Communist League) which has now become the subject of a very detailed academic book. Although the KB came out of very similar motivations, milieu and theory as the other groups, there are some remarkable differences. Organisationally Leninist lines seemed to have been followed more loosely, creating more a network of groupuscules and circles than a centralised party, but not without a central governing organ. Around this a number of ‚action groups’ were placed to work on different issues, many of them un-typical for the other ML-groups, such as women’s or gay rights, or environmental issues.
The central organ ‚Arbeiterkampf’ (Worker’s Struggle) was a paper of left radical counter-information, general and internal discussions and propaganda, but much less of a ‚party organ’ than the papers of the other groups. Fractions were (more or less) tolerated and the relevant issues publicly discussed. Like this the AK found many readers outside of the milieu of the K-groups sympathisers and at one point reached a print run of 27’000 copies.
The KB was quite active in factories but, although apparently more successful than the other ‚proletarian’ organisations, never really expanded beyond the middle class background of most of its activists. It was also more flexible in the stated attempts at ‚revolutionary realpolitik’, and distanced itself from the Chinese model early on (calling itself an organisation without fatherland), however it remained essentially true to the ML-ideology and as late as 1977 published a volume of Mao, apparently trying to defent the ‚authentic’ cultural revolutionary Maoism against various revisionisms.
This shows a theoretical weakness which is a clear and logical result of the canonisation of the ‚classics’ and the formation of an ideology, rather than a movement.
To its credit the KB seemed to have retained some of the living elements of Marxism and shed some of the dead ones of Leninism (and particularly Stalin, who was actively revered by the other K-groups), but this didn’t exactly show in a development of theory, but more of practical matters, although these soon became tangled in the web of ‚entrism’ into the anti-nuclear and environmental movements. Especially the latter eventually led to a split over the question of joining the new Green Party, which after the crisis of the left in the wake of the ‚German Autumn’ (peak of the confrontation between the RAF and the state, and severe repression), seemed to become a new gathering of the remnants of the extreme left and the ‚new social movements’.
The story of the Green Party is well known, they followed the path of parliamentarism, became a real party and eventually joined government (by around 1990 the remaining left-radical factions had left the party), and ironically the minister of the environment in the Schröder cabinet was a former KB cadre. And of course it shouldn’t be forgotten that it was with the Greens in government that Germany for the first time went to war again in Yugoslavia.
But back to the weakened KB which by the beginning of the `80s had lost the majority of its members as well as readers of the AK. The somewhat defensive period of the 80’s the KB managed to retain roughly ist size and readership. The big split and eventual self-dissolution happened in 1989/91 as a consequence of German re-unification. A majority in the KB then decided to support the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor-organisation to the governing party of the DDR, the SED) as a new force left of the social democrats. A minority saw the struggle against a unified Germany as a potential new world power as the central task.
The two factions have developed into different directions, the ‚majority’ still publishes AK, now renamed ‚analyse & kritik’ as a monthly paper without direct organisational affiliation, while the anti-german ‚minority’ publishes ‚Bahamas’, the most controversial communist quarterly magazine for its radical pro-Israel stance, stemming from a thorough re-reading of Frankfurt School critical theory. But that’s the present, and a different story.

Michael Steffen’s book follows the politics of the KB in meticulous detail, and little is left out.
What I would have wished to be clarified a bit more, is that while Steffen makes many comparisons with the KBW and the two KPD’s the remainder of the radical left remains a bit static. There’s of course the DKP (the Moscow-oriented Deutsche Kommunistische Partei), and then there’s the ‚Spontis’, the spontaneist groups and circles. It’s of course a part of the nature of that milieu that is harder to pinpoint than the Stalinist parties, which are of a very defined organisational nature, while it was in the sponti-circles that more anarchist and also left-communist ideas floated around, and since the KB had a certain openness (of course to a limited degree only) towards these circles it would have been fitting to try to describe them a little more.
I am also suprised that a fifth K-group, the PL/PI (Proletarian Left/Party Initiative) is not mentioned at all (there were even more organisations like that such as the KABD – the Communist Worker’s League out of which originated the MLPD – Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany which has the dubious merit of beign the only surviving Stalinist party – which ran candidates in every district in the last general elections), nor is the Proletarian Front of Karl Heinz Roth, a more operaist group and journal, which is also strange as it was based in Hamburg (the KB homebase) and Roth was also an occasional contributor to AK (so some operaist ideas may have influenced some in the KB).
More substantially the whole story begs the question why the organisations formed aligned themselves to this degree to the Leninist heritage, despite the fact that in Germany many of the council communist and anti-leninist ultra-left literature of the revolutionary movement had been reprinted after 1968 and were readily available.
This shows strong deficiencies in the KB’s area of theory, something that is mirrored also in one of its core-theories, the assessment of the ‚fascisation’ of the Federal Republic in the 70’s and of fascism in general. The foundation of this theory was the already schematic view of Dimitroff that fascism was a „terrorist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie“ in order to save the system. Through this lens the increased repression, beginning with the killing by a policeman of peaceful student demonstrator Benno Ohnesorg in 1967, was seen as a step by step ‚fascisation’ of society, and more and more examples for this seemed to be happening in the 10 years to come until the de facto state of emergency in the ‚German Autumn’ 1977.
The KB argued that this was an ‚active’ movement by the bourgeoisie (the competition from the KBW argued that it was ‚forced retreat’), that fascism could exist without a mass movement (the KBW claimed the opposite, for once being theoretically a bit more sussed), and that the bourgeoisie and its state followed a strategy of ‚preventive counterrevolution’. The obvious mistake was to identify such a strategy with fascism, and to postulate the possibility that „fascist terror in the context of the bourgeois-democratic republic“ would mutate into „all-encompassing fascist dictatorship“ without opposition. This mainstay of their ideology was more or less quietly abandoned when in the mid-80’s it was clear that it was simply not accurate, and the fascism discussions since the re-unification had a different quality.

Overall the book is an interesting, sometimes inspiring, more often depressing account out of which many lessons can be drawn.

PS. To understand the ‘fascisation’ complex a bit better, I decided to read a text by André Glucksmann from 1972 when he was active in a context similar to the KB, but in France, titled ‚Old and New Fascism’. Maoists there had a comparable organisation in the Gauche Proletarienne, the text is out of a special issue of ‚Les Temps Modernes’, in german reprinted as: Michel Foucault, Alain Geismar, André Glucksmann: Neuer Fascismus, Neue Demokratie. Über den Faschismus im Rechtsstaat. Politik 43, Wagenbach.
This is a text that is pretty much consistent with the fascism theories of the German Maoists and equally lacking, making depressing reading when this bozo who is now following a career as a ‚anti-totalitarian’ philosopher is rambling about war, the people, the idea of the state being the agent of fascism, the police the enemy of ‚the masses’. The slogan of the GP was ‚fascism today doesn’t mean the fascists conquering the interior ministry, but the interior ministry conquering the country’. These may have been a nice mobilising slogan, but not an accurate analysis of the totalitarian tendencies in parliamentary democracy, the state of emergency, and indeed of fascism. Anti-semitism is hardly an issue in these texts. Glucksmann is hallucinating a ‚national liberation movement’ in France as a result of the war by the state against ‚the people’.
Only few years later he became an outspoken anti-communist.

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