Roche, Karl (1862-1931) aka KR aka Isegrim aka Diogenes

Karl Roche

A short biography of Karl Roche, leading light within the revolutionary German workers movement.

Karl Roche was born in on 31st October 1862 in Koenigsberg (now the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad) in Prussia as Johann Friedrich Carl Roche. An unskilled building worker, he was imprisoned many times for his activities as agitator for the building workers union.Some years before the war, (1910?) he left the social-Deutschen Bauarbeiterverban ( German building workers association) controlled by the Social Democrats where he had been active in Bochum and Hamburg to join the Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG). He became a prominent member of the organization. In 1913, Carl Windhoff, Fritz Kater, and he were the FVdG delegates at the First International Syndicalist Congress in London. He joined the Syndikalistischen Industrieverband ( see entry for Ernst Schneider) before 1914. In that year he was active in Hamburg in support of the strike on the ocean liner Vaterland, like other Hamburg revolutionaries, including fellow Koenigsberger Ernst Schneider. In 1919, he wrote the FVdG's first post-World War I platform Was wollen die Syndikalisten? Programm, Ziele und Wege der Freien Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften (What do the Syndicalists want? Programme, Goals, and Means of the Free Association of German Trade Unions). This advocated the primacy of the strike weapon, called for independence from the Social-Democrat controlled unions and opposed itself to electoral politics. Roche also argued there for the dictatorship of the proletariat. This was a concession to the KPD(S) and the unionists in the hope that there could be fruitful collaboration inside the workers and soldiers councils. It also revealed a lack of knowledge of the real situation in Russia. Roche argued strongly for collaboration with communists. The united front of the anarcho-syndicalists and the communists which lasted from November 1918 until May 1919 corresponded with Karl’s influence within the FVdG. He refused to reject the use of violence in a revolutionary situation, unlike other elements within the FVdG and defended the workers councils as revolutionary vehicles. He described the councils as “parliaments of the working class”.
Karl worked on and off for the paper Der Syndikalist as well as contributing his skills as a speaker to the movement. In late 1918, Rudolf Rocker returned to Germany and in March 1919 he joined the FVdG and started gaining influence. Rocker rejected such close collaboration with Marxists. His growing influence led Roche to leave the Free Workers' Union of Germany (FAUD), as the FVdG was known from September 1919 onwards, in 1920 and join the General Workers' Union of Germany (AAUD). He became a leading member of the AAUD in the Hamburg Federation of the AAUD. With Otto Ruehle in Dresden he was one of the principal defenders of the anti-party tendency within the AAUD, opposing those like Schroeder who wanted to transform it into a party. He left the AAUD (now become the AAUD-E) for the Federation of Communist Anarchists of Germany (FKAD) and then re-joined the FAUD. He was active alongside Otto Reimers and others in setting up the Anti-Authoritarian Bloc in Hamburg in 1926 (see libcom entry for Reimers).
He died on the 1st January 1931. His last letter just before he died, promised that he would start contributing articles again to the FAUD press.

Posted By

Jul 16 2008 13:00


Attached files


May 11 2009 19:12

Some corrections and additions regarding the biography of Karl Roche

I guess that R. did his 3-year military service between 1887 and 1889, because young men were drafted in their early twenties; it was not easy to join the socialdemocratic party while in the army, especially not with the anti-socialist laws still in bloom,

In 1887 R. joined the German Socialdemocratic Party (which then was named "Sozialdemokratische Arbeiter-Partei Deutschlands" - SAPD - Socialdemocratic Workers' Party of Germany) - the party was then still illegal under Bismarck's "Sozialistengesetz".

Since 1891 member of the "Arbeiterverband" (Union of unskilled Workers), associated to the "Freien Gewerkschaften" (free trade unions, centralized by the "Generalcommission", headed by Carl Legien, in league with the German SPD)

By the way: since May 1st 1890, the first official celebration of May Day, R. never did work that day.

In 1897 R. went over to the "Verband der baugewerblichen Hilfsarbeiter" (Association of unskilled building and construction workers). - The "Bauarbeiterverband" (building workers association, union for the skilled & unskilled building workers) was founded in 1910 by the "Maurerverband" (association of the skilled bricklayers & masons) & the "Verband der baugewerblichen Hilfsarbeiter".

1905 R. became a paid functionary as "Zweigstellenleiter" (head of the local branch) of the "Verband" in Bochum/Westphalia.
May 2nd 1907 R. started as a "besoldeter Büro-Hilfsarbeiter" (paid assistance desk clerk) at the "Hauptvorstand" (the union's main executive board) in Hamburg.

On April 19th 1909 R. was fired without notice because of criticism of the union's main executive board. Incidentally R.'s landlord was fellow worker & main executive board member & editor of the union's paper, comrade Albert Toepfer - thus R. & his family had to move out of his flat by May 1st, 1909.

So R. went over to the "Freie Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften" (FVdG - Free Association of German Trade Unions) the same year; in the FVdG's publishing house appeared his important pamphlet "Aus dem roten Sumpf oder Wie es in einem nicht ganz kleinen Zentralverband zugeht" (From the Red Swamp (Bog) or What's happening in a not so small central(istic) trade union) (Berlin 1909, Verlag Fritz Kater), where he tells his 'adventures' in the world of socialdemocratic trade unionism.

Since 1907 a ban existed in the SPD against membership in the FVdG, so R. also left the party - after 22 years.

R. left the FVdG in December 1919, before the founding of the FAUD, and joined the unionist movement, the AAUD. There he became a leading figure in 1920, when Hamburg became the "Vorort" (organisational centre) of the AAU. R. wrote and edited the first programme of the AAU in spring 1920. He also worked for some time as an agitator for the left opposition within the KPD (Communist Party of Germany), and, from it emerging, the KAPD (Communist Workers Party of Germany).

R. was chair of the editorial board ("Presse-Kommission") of "Der Unionist", paper of the unionist AAUD & later the AAUE "Wirtschaftsbezirk Wasserkante" (North Sea & Baltic Sea). Because of this he got a one year sentence in April 1921.

Roche joined the FKAD in 1924, and the FAUD(S) not later than July 1924.

Karl Bommer, an old militant of the Hamburg workers' movement (AAUE, Proletarischer Zeitgeist), told me in the mid-1980s, that R. "was a very sick man" during the last years of his life.

I include a list of brochures written by Roche and the newspaper-articles I have (not translated!). Some appeared in the www

1. Brochures

Aus dem roten Sumpf oder Wie es in einem nicht ganz kleinen Zentralverband zugeht. Berlin 1909 (Verlag Fritz Kater) – reprint Hamburg-Altona 1990 (Verlag Von unten auf!)

Diogenes, Die Ohnmacht der Sozialdemokratie im Deutschen Reichstag, eine Wanderung durch die Berichte der sozialdemokratischen Reichstagsfraktion, Berlin 1912 (Verlag Fritz Kater)

Was wollen die Syndikalisten? Programm, Ziel und Wege der Freien Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften, Berlin 1919 (Verlag »Der Syndikalist«)

Einheitslohn und Arbeitersolidarität [Vortrag, gehalten am 20. April 1919], Berlin 1919 (Verlag »Der Syndikalist«)

Zwei Sozialisierungsfragen. 1. Wer soll sozialisieren? [Vortrag, gehalten am 1. Mai 1919 in Hamburg] 2. Ist die zusammengebrochene Wirtschaft für die Sozialisierung reif? [Vortrag, gehalten im Mai 1919], Hamburg 1919 (Verlag der Syndikalistischen Föderation Hamburg)

Organisierte direkte Aktion, Berlin 1919 (Verlag »Der Syndikalist« Fritz Kater)

Demokratie oder Proletarische Diktatur! Ein Weckruf der Allgemeinen Arbeiter-Union, Ortsgruppe Hamburg, [Hamburg] 1920 [written before the Kapp-Putsch]

Die Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union, Hamburg [1921] (Herausgegeben von der Pressekommission der A.A.U. Groß-Hamburg)

Der Proletarische Ideenmensch, Berlin [1924] (Verlag »Der Syndikalist«, Fritz Kater)

Arbeiterjugend und natürliche Ordnung, Berlin 1925 (Verlag »Der Syndikalist« Fritz Kater)

2. Articles

K. R., Evolution rückwärts; in: Kampf (Hamburg). (Unabhängiges) Organ für Anarchismus und Syndikalismus, Jg. I, Nr. 2, August 1912, Beiblatt, [S. 7-8]

R., Aus der journalistischen Düngergrube am Speersort; in: Kampf (Hamburg). (Unabhängiges) Organ für Anarchismus und Syndikalismus, Jg. I, Nr. 2, August 1912, Beiblatt, [S. 8] [this article signed with »R.« cannot safely be assigned to Roche, but the style indicates his authorship]

Kr., Ein Gewerkschaftsführer als Gehilfe des Staatsanwalts; in: Die Einigkeit, 27. 6. 1914, Beilage

Karl Roche, Der achtzehnte März; in: Der Syndikalist (Berlin), Jg. 1, Nr. 13, 1919

Diogenes, Syndikalismus und Revolution. Die zweite Revolution; in: Der Syndikalist (Berlin), Jg. 1, Nr. 13, 1919

Karl Roche, Betriebsräte und Syndikalismus in: Der Syndikalist (Berlin), Jg. I, Nr. 36, 16. August 1919

Karl Roche, Demokratie und Parlamentarismus; in: Kommunistische Arbeiter-Zeitung (Hamburg), Jg. II, Nr. 52, 3. April 1920, S. 3

Karl Roche, Eine große Union!; in: Kommunistische Arbeiter-Zeitung (Hamburg), Jg. II, Nr. 72, 21. August 1920, S. 3

Karl Roche, Das Problem der Arbeiterbewegung; in: Der Kommunist (Dresden), Nr. 56, Januar 1921, S. 1

Karl Roche, Robert Owen und die Sozialdemokratie. Schluß; in: Der Unionist (Hamburg), Jg. II, Nr. 25, 23. Juni 1921, S. 3 [there must be at least a first article - copies of "Der Unionist" are very rare, a complete volume seems to be nonexistent in the archives]

K. R., Gewerkschaftliche Organisation oder Sekte?; in: Der Syndikalist (Berlin), Jg. VIII, Nr. 4, 24. Januar 1925, Beilage S. 3

Karl von der Alster, Kommunistische Gewerkschaftsspielerei und Blutvergießen; in: Der Sprecher (Bremen). Bulletin für die Provinzial-Arbeiter-Börse »Nordwest« der Freien Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands (Anarcho-Syndikalisten), Nr. 2, Dezember 1928, S. 1-2

3. Obituaries
Karl Roche; in: Der Syndikalist (Berlin), Jg. XI, Nr. 2, 10. Januar 1931

R. [Rudolf Rocker?], Karl Roche, in: Fanal (Berlin), Jg. V, Nr. 5, Februar 1931, S. 119 [None of Fanal's authors except Rudolf Rocker had a surname starting with "R". The style also indicates his authorship]

May 10 2009 00:05

New Informations on Karl Roche

There is a new "political-biographical sketch" (in German!) available, which is the latest news concerning Karl Roche. Although a rough sketch, it is correcting many errors accumulated from older publications:

If You are able to read German,
is the ideal place to get more informations

Jul 29 2009 21:56

(Quite) fresh from the press (in German):

Karl Roche, Sozialismus und Syndikalismus. Agitationsschriften aus dem Jahre 1919 (Archiv Karl Roche #2) Moers 2009 (May) (Syndikat-A Medienvertrieb)
ISBN 978-3-9810846-5-8 (68 pp)
EUR 3,50

The publication contains four central programmatical documents of the German syndicalist »Free Association of German Trade Unions« (FVdG - Freie Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften) plus two articles from very early issues of »Der Syndikalist«.


1. Wer war Karl Roche? Eine politisch-biographische Skizze/Who was Karl Roche? A political-biographical sketch by the editors [up-to-date info. A slightly longer version is published on the homepage of the "Archiv Karl Roche"(see above)]

2. Nach neunzig Jahren (Vorwort)/After ninety years (Preface) [explanatory notes on the texts by the editors]

3. [Karl Roche,] Was sind und was wollen die Syndikalisten?/What are the syndicalists, and what do they want? [Article from »Der Syndikalist«, No. 2/1918 - the article is not signed, but its style points strongly towards Roche]

4. Diogenes, Syndikalismus und Revolution. Die zweite Revolution/Syndicalism and revolution. The second revolution [Article from »Der Syndikalist«, No. 13/1919 - 'Diogenes' is one of Roche's nom-de-plum]

5. Was wollen die Syndikalisten? Programm, Ziele und Wege der »Freien Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften«/What do the Syndicalists want? Programme, Goals, and Means of the »Free Association of German Trade Unions« [Brochure, written in March 1919 - for the first time since 90 years this important and rare document is reprinted! Even in the Amsterdam IISG the original is not available]

6. Einheitslohn und Arbeitersolidarität/Uniform wage and workers solidarity [Brochure, written in April 1919]

7. Zwei Sozialisierungsfragen. 1. Wer soll sozialisieren? 2. Ist die zusammengebrochen Wirtschaft für die Sozialisierung reif?/Two questions of socialization. 1. Who shall socialize? 2. Is the broken down economy ready for socialization? [Brochure, written May 1919]

8. Organisierte direkte Aktion/Organized direct action [Brochure, written 1919]

Nos. 6 - 8 were published for the first time since 1919 this year in the web in German by the "Archive Karl Roche" - see above.

All texts by Roche were written 'in the heat of the revolution', in the ups and downs of the revolutionary process in Germany in the first half of 1919. They document important discussions within the syndicalist as well as in the revolutionary movement as such in Germany.

The brochure can be ordered from

Mar 18 2012 23:47

Some updates on Karl Roche's biography

1. Between 1881 and 1886 K.R. was sentenced eight times to prison and forced labor, mostly because of begging and vagabonding (a crime in Imperial Germany). This indicates, along with some remarks in his brochures mentioned above under No.s 6 & 7, that he earned his living as a rural Wanderarbeiter (hobo) in these times.

2. Files from the Prussian political police confirm, that K.R. did not do military service. He had lost an eye (no information when or why available until now), so this is the most likely explanation, why he did not had the 'honor' to serf the "Vaterland". (This completely obsoletes the first paragraph of my first entry.)

3. Between 1895 and 1906 K.R. was sentenced five times to prison or fines for doing his work as a trade-unionist and/or social-democratic agitator.

4. K. R. - with Fritz Kater and Karl Windhoff - was delegate for the "Freie Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften" (FVdG - Free Association of German Trade Unions) at the First International Syndicalist Congress in London, 1913 (cf. e.g. Wayne Thorpe,The Workers Themselves [], p. 69 pp)

5. The "Freie Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands" (FAUD - Free Workers' Union of Germany) was founded in December 1919 - not September. The FVdG merged with some smaller unionist organisations and changed its name to FAUD. The founding congress took place at the "Luisenstaedtischen Realgymnasium", Berlin, Dresdener Straße, December 27 - 30, 1919.

P.S.: Hey Nick, what about an update of Your article? I don't want to mess around with it (my English is too shabby). But I guess You could use my comments ... wink

Mar 19 2012 10:48

Yes, I'll do that asap

Apr 21 2012 21:15

Great that u could use the file for KR i organized at Landesarchiv Berlin 2 years ago. Go ahead and do good stuff with it.
Greetings from Amsterdam.
BTW. the KR article really needs an update. roll eyes

May 12 2012 19:48

Yes, you did a great job. Hanx.

Jun 20 2012 22:13

"5. The "Freie Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands" (FAUD - Free Workers' Union of Germany) was founded in December 1919 - not [in] September."
In Rhineland-Westphalia - Sept. 15 - 16, 1919 - there was indeed the founding conference of the "Freie Arbeiter-Union (Rhineland-Westphalia)". And this 'merger' of syndicalist and unionist organisations in this area was the prelude to the founding of the national FAUD in December 1919.
(cf. H. M. Bock, Syndikalismus und Linkskommunismus 1918 - 1923, Meisenheim a. Glan 1969, p. 132 - 138)

Nov 1 2012 10:01

yesterday was Roche's 150th birthday, some comrades have produced an updated biography (in German):

Feb 15 2021 16:49

The Archiv Karl Roche Hamburg has republished a rare pamphlet written by Karl Roche in 1919:
»Unorganisierte direkte Aktion«