Raya Dunayevskya 1953

German workers change face of Europe

Source: Correspondence, Saturday, October 3, 1953;
This piece originally appeared without a byline. It is included in the Raya Dunayevskya Collection, Microfilm numbers 2203 and 2204;
Transcribed: by Kevin Michaels.

In one week, in the streets and plants of East Germany, the German workers smashed the myth that the totalitarian state is invincible.

The revolt began in production. On May 18, the Communists announced a new increase in work hours. Immediately, in nationalized plants open strikes, not just absenteeism and slowdowns, began against the speed-up. On May 27, 1,000 workers walked out of the Fimag works at Finsterwalde. On May 28, miners at the Pieck mines at Mansfield staged a one-day sit-down. At Zeitzin, Saxony, workers organized an anti-speed-up rally.

In response to the strikes the Communist government on Wednesday, June 10, issued concessions-on every point except the speed-up. Tuesday, June 16, construction workers organized a protest march against speed-up from the Stalin Allee housing project. The government sent in its supporters to join the marchers, apparently hoping thus to appear as sponsor. But as the marchers go closer to the government buildings, joined by demonstrators along the route, the cry had become, “Down with the zones and the sector boundaries,” “Down with the government.” The government then issued an order revoking the speed-up and admitting it had been wrong.

But by the evening of June 16, the workers had turned the street corners of East Berlin, into political centers at each of which hundreds of people discussed and debated what to do next. The next day, June 17, early in the morning, they acted.

In East Berlin they in fact overthrew the East German government. They destroyed the police power of the government, burning police barracks, throwing policemen out of the windows, and forcing them either to desert to the West or to come over the side of the workers.

Strikers in columns charged the chief government buildings, where the government officials, and bureaucrats cowered helplessly. Through the city their voices rose in unison and a mile away sounded like the cry of one man. Communist halls, pavilions, schools, stores, were fired and the officials of these were beaten up. While West Berliners and Russian troops looked on, the workers tore up both American and Russian boundary markers. Youth and workers tore down the symbols of Communist power, flags, posters, pictures of Communist leaders. For four hours the only power in East Berlin belonged to the workers.

At 1 p.m. the Russian command marched into Berlin with 10,000 men to take over the power. It decreed martial law and forbade gatherings of more than three people on the streets. But the crowds only laughed at the order. No unions, no parties had led the strike. It was “too disorganized” to be stopped.

All Over Germany

The workers acted in every city, large and small, and in every major industry, throughout East Germany. Three thousand steel workers from the big steel works at Henningsdorf marched 15 miles across the western sector to join the East Berlin workers. Along the route they were joined by workers and other demonstrators from other plants and cities, especially women. Fifteen thousand workers came from Oranienburg.

13,000 workers from the nationalized Thaelman machine tool plant in Magdeburg fought the police in a battle in which seven to twenty-two people were killed.

Strikers from the Zeiss optical factory in Jena stormed the offices of the Communist Party, hurled books and papers into the streets and burned them. They wrecked the headquarters of the Communist Youth and threw typewriters out of the windows.

At the Kodak supplies plant, the workers took over and put strikers in charge.

In the village of Mienszk, near Berlin, three thousand strikers seized a work train, drove it to the county seat in the neighboring town of Belzig and stormed the government headquarters there.

State railway workers walked out, crippling zonal intercommunications and halting shipment of reparations into Russia.

Construction workers cut power cables of both elevated and subway lines and blocked the tracks.

Sabotaged the Russians

The workers destroyed by the dozens those plants which produced arms or heavy goods for the Russians. That is the way they expressed their attitude to Five Year Plans and war economics. About all the bureaucrats can plan on now is more trouble from the workers.

25,000 workers at the Leuna chemical plant (formerly I.G. Farben) at Halle set the plant afire. The workers at the Buna synthetic rubber plant burned it down. These plants were the chief suppliers of gas and tires to the occupation army.

The hard coal area at Zwickau was damaged beyond estimate. They set fire to huge coal piles between Halle and Magdeburg.

They destroyed uranium mining facilities.

They opened prisons and concentration camps to free political prisoners. At Gera, an industrial city about the size of Cincinnati, near the Russian operated uranium mines of Saxony, thousands of workers struck and marched on the city prison demanding release of its political prisoners.

Later in the day five thousand uranium miners from nearby Ronneburg joined the Gera workers. The workers threw German police from the window of their barracks. Russian reinforcements had to be called in, this time with tanks.

The workers did not win the battle but about 500 miners retreated into a forest near Ronneburg with trucks seized from their plants. From their hideout they then continued to make raids on Communist buildings.

At the Gustrow munitions plant, strikers freed slave laborers.

At Merseberg an army of strikers marched on the prison to free the prisoners, pouring boiling tar from nearby road construction on the Russian soldiers, and releasing 100 political prisoners.

The workers concentrated their anger and actions against the German communist officials who acted as agent of the government. At Rathenow they lynched a factory guard when he tried to prevent strikers from entering the plant. At Erfurt they hung two Red policeman on lamp posts.

The general strike continued for days. Exactly how many is impossible to say. By Saturday, June 20, the Russians had sent in 25,000 soldiers to Berlin from their 300,000-man occupation force at Postdam. In every other major city, Russian power supplanted East German police power. The Minister of Justice, Fechner, was purged. One half of the German police were demobilized as unreliable and sent into the plants to work.

Twenty to thirty thousand strikers were jailed, untold dozens executed, families of convicted strikers were driven out of their homes and sent to concentration camps. But on June 22 the city of Leipzig, show place of East German Communism, was still paralyzed by a general strike.

Government Powerless

The week of June 22 Grotewohl, Pieck, Ebert and Co. scurried from factory to factory, trying to explain why the “party of the working class is hated by the working class.” That was their job. They were no longer the government; they were more like actors in a play about to close. The new theory is that because East Germany is a workers state, the rulers are workers while those who work in the plant are capitalists.

The Communists promised all kinds of economic concessions. But a staged rally on June 26 brought out only 3,000 workers, as compared to the hundreds of thousands who had, willingly or unwillingly, two months before attended the May Day demonstrations, and the millions who had acted on their own in the week of June 17.

Since June 17 in factory after factory, the workers strike to obtain the release of their fellow strikers, for regular pay, for abolition of night shift. The Henningsdorf steel workers who had marched through the Western secure to get to East Berlin, forced the Russians to open the sector boundaries between East and West by threatening to strike.

This story gives an indication of how the German workers act since June 17.

Thursday morning, July 9, the plant’s trade union executive summoned an oxy-acetylene welder, Rudolph Lindner, to their office. He refused to leave the shop. Five minutes later he was told to go to the factory gate to see a man. Again, Lindner refused. The man finally summoned up enough courage to come into the shop and let Lindner know that he was a member of the criminal police come to take him away.

When Linder and the State Security officer arrived at the plant gate, several hundred workers were blocking the way. Two truckloads of police and two carloads of plainclothesmen were unable to disperse the workers and take Linder.

The workers demanded from management an explanation for the attempted arrest, a guarantee of protection from the State Security Service, the abolition of nigh shift and the transmission of a protest letter to the government. When these demands had not been met the next morning at nine, the workers went on strike, and demanded in addition an explanation for the disappearance of another worker 2 years earlier. They insisted also that this particular security officer be dismissed from the State Security Service and be made to serve his time in their plant. By this means they are seeking to abolish the distinction between the police and the workers.

Since June 17 the East German people by the millions have used the American food parcel offer chiefly as a means to defy the occupation government. Crowds wait at the elevated stations for those who go for the parcels and in July when the police tried to take away their food, they beat up the police and forced them to stop confiscation.

In this way they vote with their feet for the abolition of the division between East and West Germany.