Paul Frölich

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Paul Frölich, the second child of eleven, was born in Leipzig on 7th August 1884. He developed strong political opinions while studying history and social science at the Leipzig Workers' School. It was during this period he became a socialist.

Frölich joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1902. At the time the SDP was in conflict over the views of Eduard Bernstein. He had published a series of articles where he argued that the predictions made by Karl Marx about the development of capitalism had not come true. He pointed out that the real wages of workers had risen and the polarization of classes between an oppressed proletariat and capitalist, had not materialized. Nor had capital become concentrated in fewer hands. His analysis of modern capitalism undermined the claims that Marxism was a science and upset leading revolutionaries such as Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.

Paul Frölich has argued: "The SPD divided into three clear tendencies: the reformists, who tended increasingly to espouse the ruling-class imperialist policy; the so-called Marxist Centre, which claimed to maintain the traditional policy, but in reality moved closer and closer to Bernstein's position; and the revolutionary wing, generally called the Left Radicals (Linksradikale)." Frölich became a member of the Left Radicals. Headed by Rosa Luxemburg it included Clara Zetkin, Franz Mehring, Karl Liebknecht, Karl Radek and Anton Pannekoek.

Frölich joined the anti-militarist section of the SDP. In 1907 Karl Liebknecht published Militarism and Anti-Militarism. In the book he argued: "Militarism is not specific to capitalism. It is moreover normal and necessary in every class-divided social order, of which the capitalist system is the last. Capitalism, of course, like every other class-divided social order, develops its own special variety of militarism; for militarism is by its very essence a means to an end, or to several ends, which differ according to the kind of social order in question and which can be attained according to this difference in different ways. This comes out not only in military organization, but also in the other features of militarism which manifest themselves when it carries out its tasks. The capitalist stage of development is best met with an army based on universal military service, an army which, though it is based on the people, is not a people’s army but an army hostile to the people, or at least one which is being built up in that direction."

The authorities became very concerned about the possible impact of Militarism and Anti-Militarism. In 1907 Karl Liebknecht was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months in Lower Silesia. Frölich has argued: "He (Liebknecht) never seemed to get tired... besides speaking at meetings, doing office work, and acting as defence counsel in court, he could still spend whole nights debating and drinking merrily with the comrades. And even if the street dust did cover his soul at times, it could not stifle the genuine enthusiasm which imbued all his activities. It was this devotion to the cause, the passionate temperament and this capacity for enthusiasm that Rosa valued. She recognised the true revolutionary in him, even if they sometimes disagreed on details of party tactics. They worked together and complemented each other very well, especially in the struggle against militarism and the danger of war."

Frölich worked as a journalist for the Hamburger Echo from 1910 to 1914. He was devastated by the outbreak of the First World War. His friend, Karl Liebknecht, was the only member of the Reichstag who voted against Germany's participation in the First World War. Liebknecht argued: "This war, which none of the peoples involved desired, was not started for the benefit of the German or of any other people. It is an Imperialist war, a war for capitalist domination of the world markets and for the political domination of the important countries in the interest of industrial and financial capitalism. Arising out of the armament race, it is a preventative war provoked by the German and Austrian war parties in the obscurity of semi-absolutism and of secret diplomacy."

Paul Frölich has pointed out: "On the day of the vote only one man was left: Karl Liebknecht. Perhaps that was a good thing. That only one man, one single person, let it be known on a rostrum being watched by the whole world that he was opposed to the general war madness and the omnipotence of the state - this was a luminous demonstration of what really mattered at the moment: the engagement of one's whole personality in the struggle. Liebknecht's name became a symbol, a battle-cry heard above the trenches, its echoes growing louder and louder above the world-wide clash of arms and arousing many thousands of fighters against the world slaughter."

Clara Zetkin later recalled: "The struggle was supposed to begin with a protest against the voting of war credits by the social-democratic Reichstag deputies, but it had to be conducted in such a way that it would be throttled by the cunning tricks of the military authorities and the censorship. Moreover, and above all, the significance of such a protest would doubtless be enhanced, if it was supported from the outset by a goodly number of well-known social-democratic militants.... Out of all those out-spoken critics of the social-democratic majority, only Karl Liebknecht joined with Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, and myself in defying the soul-destroying and demoralising idol into which party discipline had developed."

Paul Frölich continued to work in journalism and wrote for Bremer Bürgerzeitung from 1914 to 1916. Frölich also jointly edited a political weekly called Arbeitrpolitik (Worker's Politics) which supported the Left Radicals.

Karl Radek, a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee, argued that the the Soviet government should help the spread of world revolution. In 1918 he was sent to Germany and with a group of radicals who had been members of the Spartacus League, including Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi, Ernest Meyer, Franz Mehring and Clara Zetkin, helped to establish the German Communist Party (KPD).

Paul Frölich was elected to the KPD governing Central Committee. He was re-elected to this position by the 1920 Congress of the KPD, but as a result of a merger of that organization with the Independent Social Democratic Party, he lost his place on the committee. He rejoined the following year. He was also a delegate of the KPD to the 3rd World Congress of the Comintern, held in Moscow in the summer of 1921 and a Communist Party deputy to the Reichstag.

In December 1928 Frölich was expelled from the KPD as a result of a purge ordered by Joseph Stalin. He now joined the Communist Party Opposition and in 1932 helped to establish the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (SAP).

After Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933, Frölich was arrested and sent to a concentration camp in Lichtenberg. He was released in December and Frölich decided to emigrate to France. He settled in Paris in February 1934. He worked on his memoirs and a biography of Rosa Luxemburg. According to Iring Fetscher: "Paul Frölich was besieged by many friends requesting that he write a book... Despite the total inaccessibility of his extensive archive materials and under unfavourable research conditions, he managed to complete his book on Rosa Luxemburg's thought and activities in 1938-39." Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work was published in 1940. An English edition was published by Victor Gollancz that sold over 20,000 copies.

When the German Army entered France, Frölich moved to the United States, where he remained throughout the Second World War. In 1950 he settled in West Germany where he became a member of the Social Democratic Party.

Paul Frölich died in Frankfurt am Main on 16th March 1953.

Primary Sources

(1) Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work(1940)

The SPD divided into three clear tendencies: the reformists, who tended increasingly to espouse the ruling-class imperialist policy; the so-called Marxist Centre, which claimed to maintain the traditional policy, but in reality moved closer and closer to Bernstein's position; and the revolutionary wing, generally called the Left Radicals (Linksradikale).