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Generals Without Troops

Dutch Trotskyism during the Occupation


From Revolutionary History, Vol.1 No.4, Winter 1988-89. Used by permission.

The following is the complete English translation of the text of Wim Bot’s booklet, Generale zonder troepen. Het Comite van Revolutionaire Marxisten, zomer 1942-mei 1945, published in 1987 in Amsterdam and here printed with the author’s kind permission. The original contains a fully annotated apparatus of it’s source material, which we have been obligated to omit for reasons of space, and because, since all the materials are in Dutch, those conversant with that language will doubtless consult them in the author’s own version at first hand.

This is the second of two such accounts devoted to the struggle of the revolutionaries in the underground against the German occupation, his first being Tegan fascisme, kapitalisme en oorlog. Het Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front, juli 1940 – april 1942, a detailed study of the oppositional current led by Henk Sneevliet, which was published by Syndikaat of Amsterdam in 1983. French readers should also consult the author’s chapter upon Sneevliet during the War contributed to Fritjof Tichelman’s biography, Henk Sneevliet, which appeared in Paris last year, edited by Rodolphe Prager.

Wim Bot was born in 1956, and came into revolutionary politics through the student movement. From 1977 to 1983 he was a member of the Internationale Kommunistenbond (now the SAP), the Dutch Section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. and served upon the editorial board of its paper. He parted company with them at the time of a ‘turn to industry’ that involved in his opinion dogmatism a sectarian climate and party pretensions. He is a member of the editorial board of Links (Left), an independent journal of socialist analysis and discussion, and works at the left wing publishing house OJSIA in Amsterdam.

Material upon the Committee of Revolutionary Marxists is almost non-existent in English, though a little more is available about its antecedents. An article by Michael Williams entitled Sneevliet and the Birth of Asian Communism appeared in New Left Review No.123 (September/October 1980), and a further contribution On Sneevliet, the Dutch Communist Party and the February Strike of 1941 above the name of Graham Lock in No.127 of the same journal (May/June, 1981). For those with a command of Dutch there exists a full length memoir, Sneevliet, Rebel, written by his son-in-law, Sal Santen (1915- ) published in Amsterdam in 1971. Along with Herman Drenth, the former PvdA MP, Santen was a member of the Revolutionair Kommunistische Partij (Revolutionary Communist Party) which succeeded the Committee of Revolutionary Marxists as a section of the International Secretariat ofthe Fourth International during the post-war period. In 1960 Santen was arrested along with Michael Raptis (Pablo) and jailed for attempting to forge French banknotes to assist the struggle of the FLN against French rule in Algeria. When Pablo split with the United Secretariat of the Fourth International in 1964, Santen and most of his group went with him. He has since largely devoted himself to writing. An interesting film about his career, Sal Santen, Rebel, made in 1982 and directed by Rudolph Vanberg, was screened at the National Film Theatre on 24 March 1986.

Introduction and acknowledgements

During the German occupation of the Netherlands only a small minority of the Dutch population was involved in illegal political activities. De Jong, who has tried to give a clear definition of the two concepts of active and passive resistance in his work, counts as activists those who were involved in clandestine resistance within a distinct organisational body. Thus the onderduikers (people in hiding), and the families which helped them, were involved in illegal activity, but, according to De Jong, they cannot be included in the resistance. According to his cautious and provisional estimation there were, until September 1944, about 25,000 resistance activists in the occupied Netherlands; afterwards their number grew to about 45,000.

Inside that minority of the Dutch population the revolutionary Socialists were only a small fraction. From July 1940 until April 1942 the latter were organised in the clandestine continuation of the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (RSAP) and the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front (MLL-Front). [1] At the beginning of 1942 the leadership of the MLL-Front was arrested and, after a trial, was shot on 13 April. The remainder of the organisation then split into two group, the Committee of Revolutionary Marxists (CRM) and the Communist League Spartacus. De Jong estimates the number of persons active inside these three organisations at 400, though probably that is on the low side and it amounted to between 500 and 600. But that does not alter the fact that the revolutionary Socialists were a small numerical minority within the resistance.

That minority of a minority made itself politically distinct from the rest of the resistance. To them the struggle against Fascism and Nazism was a continuation of what they had been doing already during the ‘thirties. In the struggle against Nazism they refused to take the side of the Allies. The revolutionary Socialists did not consider the Second World War a conflict between democracy and dictatorship, but an imperialist war between ‘hungry and well-fed robbers’. As long as capitalism existed there would be world wars and only the international Socialist revolution could end the permanent threat of war. The revolutionary Socialists hoped and expected that, because of the Second World War, a revolutionary wave would sweep over the world, such as had been the case, to some extent, at the end of the First World War. They tried to promote the independent resistance of the workers, and to that end their main activity was to make propaganda in illegal publications. The revolutionary Socialists in the Netherlands did not carry out any armed or violent activities during the occupation.

This account deals with the Committee of Revolutionary Marxists. It is an amplification of my earlier publication regarding the MLL-Front. So it must be pointed out beforehand that the above remarks regarding the minority position of the revolutionary Socialists inside the resistance apply to a much greater extent to the CRM than to the MLL-Front, though as far as the MLL-Front is concerned there are some important reservations. Of the pre-war political parties only the RSAP and the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN) went into clandestinity, of which the RSAP was the first. Its illegal publications appeared from July 1940. In January 1941 the first issue appeared of the most important paper of the MLL-Front, Spartacus; it was the first illegal paper printed in the occupied Netherlands. Spartacus had a circulation of 5,000. The importance of this becomes clear when one considers that the illegal press at that time only had a total circulation of about 57,000 copies. During the first phase of the occupation, when great confusion reigned, there was probably no other current in the occupied Netherlands which so sharply explained the politics and aims of the Nazis. The MLL-Front also contributed to the propaganda and agitation for the February Strike.

The CRM and the Communistenbond Spartacus (Communist League Spartacus), the other organisation originating from the MLL-Front, had much less significance. Spartacus was not capable of producing a real printed paper during the remainder of the occupation. On the other hand the other big underground newspapers only had a circulation of about 450 000 copies in December 1943. Whereas De Jong in his survey regularly mentions the illegal press of the MLL-Front, he limits himself as regards the CRM and the Communist League Spartacus to: ‘they were no more than political sects where the smaller the following, the more fiercely the fire of conviction burned: Indeed one of the CRM members wrote to me:’ What we did was no more than throwing a stone into a pond:

The purpose of this article is to give a summary of the development of a small group, which based its illegal activities upon a revolutionary Socialist judgement of the war. What were the possibilities during the occupation for groups which started from such a perspective? How did they analyse the course of the war and the occupation? What forms of resistance did they advocate? What was their relationship with other leftist groups? How did they come to their highly optimistic forecast of the future?

Up to now there has been no separate investigation of the CRM. In his unpublished article, De Trotzkistiese beweging in Nederland 1938-46 (The Trotskyist movement in the Netherlands 1938-46) Pieter-Jan Mol devoted a chapter to the CRM, which, however, was almost wholly based on the study of De Rode October (Red October), the main publication of the CRM. Moreover, Mol did not have available a great number of the issues during the period of the summer of 1942 to the autumn of 1943, since these are missing in the collections of the Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie and the Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis. Through Herman Drenth, a member of the CRM leadership, I obtained photocopies of the issues from that first phase. In the end I only failed to trace four issues out of the 44 published during the occupation. I also consulted the issues of the internal discussion bulletin of the CRM, Het Kompas (The Compass). In the Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie I further found a discussion paper for CRM Youth which had not been previously mentioned. I also found in the collection of the publications of the CRM and in the archives of Piet van ’t Hart and Georges Vereeken a (limited) number of pamphlets, circular letters and documents of the CRM.

Since I could fall back on no previous work the information that I got from former members of the CRM was indispensable in obtaining a picture of the organisational functioning of the CRM. I had contact with the following people: Thea Bloemsma, Andries Dolleman, Antoine Dolleman, Willy Dolleman, Herman Drenth, Peter Drenth, Cor van ’t Hart, Rein van der Horst, Sal Santen, Wout Tieleman and Frits Zeggelink. Of them Herman Drenth, Santen and Tielman are the members of the CRM leadership still alive. Seven people (Bloesma, Andries Dolleman, Antoine Dolleman, Willy Dolleman, van der Horst, Tielman and Zeggelink) were part of the CRM in The Hague. Of the doings of the CRM in the other places where it was active I have been able to obtain much less detail. My contacts varied from obtaining a few specific items of information (Peter Drenth) up to and including an extensive combination of correspondence, telephone conversations and interviews (Tieleman). Tieleman sent me a detailed comment regarding my publication on the MLL-Front, where in particular he went into the history of the CRM. A number of other people involved refreshed their memories on the basis of Tieleman’s contribution. The reader will observe that on a number of not unimportant points it proved to be impossible to reach a unanimous opinion. The importance of the reliability of the memory of those involved as an historical source is much greater for such a period of clandestinity than for ‘normal’ times, not only because it touches on a deeply felt period, but also because there are, on account of this clandestinity, scarcely any written sources which can elucidate certain organisational questions.

In the Dutch version I did not change anything in the spelling of the quotations incorporated in the text and in their accentuation. I thank for their co-operation, the Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie, the Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis and above all the members of the CRM mentioned, for whom my enquiry brought many emotions to the surface.

Of those members, the two sons of the murdered MLL-Front leader Willem Dolleman, Andries and Willy Dolleman both died, one after the other, in the first half of 1984. Until their death they remained principled Socialists.

Part 1 The birth of the CRM

Heavy is the blow which has been inflicted on the ranks of the proletarian vanguard. Heavy certainly, but not annihilating. For barely had the sentence been executed but the opposition was organised anew and here, not two months later, we are out again with our first publication which, imperfect as it is, gives proof that Fascism too, as so many of its predecessors in this regard, miscalculates when it thinks that by terror and mass murders it can suppress the resistance which will be instrumental in its doom ...
Certainly, in many cases we stood, in the Party, against the comrades now fallen, especially as regards the attitude that is to be taken to the Soviet Union, a struggle in which we shall continue to proclaim our own opinion; but always it was a joint and common conviction that only the working class through struggle with its own strength can reach victory, the Socialist society. That is why we did not, and will not, take an anti-German, but an anti-Fascist stand. Not as fighters for the National Liberation of the Netherlands, but as fighters for the International Liberation of the World Proletariat through Socialist Revolution did our comrades fall. From that they take their great significance. It is in this spirit that our new paper De Rode October will write and the proletariat will gain the victory (De Rode October no 1, June 1942).

With this article, written by Wout Tieleman. the revolutionary Socialists, who came to form the Comite van Revolutionnaire Marxisten, spoke out for the first time after the execution of Henk Sneevliet and the other leaders of the MLL-Front on 13 April 1942. Besides the CRM there came out of the MLL-Front the Communistenbond Spartacus. In order to understand why two new organisations emerged from the MLL-Front it is necessary to give some attention to the differences of opinion which had come up inside the MLL-Front.

The first difference was about the question how to evaluate the role of the Soviet Union. Sneevliet was of the opinion that no essential achievements of the 1917 revolution existed any longer in the Soviet Union. Influenced by the pact between Stalin and Hitler, he also found a convergence between the totalitarian system in the Soviet Union and that in Germany, and for that reason he denied the possibility of an invasion by Germany of the Soviet Union. When, on 22 June 1941, that invasion nevertheless took place, Sneevliet simply regarded the Soviet Union as on the same political level as its capitalist western allies. A part of the MLL-Front protested and advocated a revolutionary defence of the Soviet Union, notwithstanding its Stalinist degeneration, though they distinguished between this and the war aims of England and the United States.

The factional dispute was intense, especially when Sneevliet wanted to prohibit any discussion of this problem. Only after an ultimatum, principally from Willem Dolleman who, with Sneevliet and Ab Menist, constituted the leading trio of the MLL-Front, did Sneevliet climb down. In a letter, Mijn Afscheid (My Departure), Dolleman announced that he would build a new organisation in which there would be democratic freedom of discussion. The restriction of that freedom in an organisation which claimed to be anti-Stalinist was absolutely unacceptable to Dolleman. After Dolleman’s intervention there was an internal discussion bulletin – Tijdsproblemen (Problems of the Time) in which the various currents of opinion were developed. Because of the arrest and execution of the MLL-Front leadership the discussion on the Soviet Union came to an end.

A second area of dispute was the trade union policy. Before the war the RSAP had focused mainly on the Nationaal Arbeids Secretariaat (NAS), the small revolutionary trade union. Trotskyist opponents inside the RSAP were of the opinion that by this tactic the Party had cut itself off from the mass of organised workers. At the beginning of the occupation the NAS disappeared; on the orders of the Nazis it had to dissolve and to join the Nederlands Verbond van Vakverenigingen (NVV). A part of the NAS leadership had, by the way, in order to make its continued existence possible, immediately capitulated politically at the beginning of the occupation by advocating ‘self restraint’. They stated that it was useless to oppose the suppression of strikes and meetings.

With this development the MLL-Front leadership was faced with the disappearance of an important part of its social-political base. It was decided to orient to the workers who, before the occupation, had supported Social Democracy and part of that orientation was to work in the NVV, which was being ‘synchronised’ (gleichgeschalted) by the Nazis. The MLL-Front stuck to that option until August 1941 and combined its work in the NVV with calls to form illegal committees in the workplaces. In August 1941 the MLL-Front called on its members to leave the NVV, a part of the organisation, however, had earlier reached the conclusion that meaningful work was no longer possible inside the NVV.

Stan Poppe, a member of the MLL-Front leadership, developed Council Communist ideas. According to him the mass trade union movement had lost its clear purpose, and revolutionaries had henceforth to focus only on the formation of workers’ committees and workers’ councils.

In view of the political importance of both these differences it is very doubtful whether the unity of the MLL-Front would have been preserved if the wave of arrests of the beginning of 1942 had not ended the existence of the organisation. In any case these disputes constituted the background from which these two organisations emerged from the MLL-Front. At the time the question of the Soviet Union played the most important role, and this appears from the quotation from the first issue of De Rode October. The second point would come to the fore in the subsequent political development of the CRM and the Communistenbond Spartacus, for the CRM became a specifically Trotskyist organisation while Spartacus developed into a Council Communist one.

To reconstruct the origins of the split in the summer of 1942 is not a simple matter. Piet van ’t Hart, a member of the CRM leadership and, after the war, historian of the revolutionary Socialist movement, stated in the post-war period that the foundation of the CRM was a reaction to that of Spartacus. Spartacus was founded without asking the advocates in the MLL-Front of the defence of the Soviet Union to join. Moreover, the founders of the CRM had little confidence in the clandestine character of the Spartacus organisation. Such was the explanation given by the CRM in August 1943. In February 1944 the Spartacus leader Stan Poppe produced a totally different version; according to him ‘les officiels’, or the adherents of the Trotskyist Fourth International, had ‘entered’ the MLL-Front, and after the executions they had tried to take over the organisation. According to Poppe that attempt failed because of the distrust of the members. What actually occurred? Part of the answer is to be found in The Hague where Andries, one of the sons of Willem Dolleman says ‘When bidding farewell to my father (in Weteringschans prison) I whispered into his ear: “We carry on”: I did so (at that moment, five weeks after his arrest!) knowing that “we” had discussed that.’ Of course going on was not simple. So Andries’ younger brother Willy wrote to me:

I don’t think that I immediately reacted with enthusiasm. The arrests and the executions naturally left a deep impression, especially the time in the evening when my father was arrested. And saying farewell in the prison under SS supervision, I did not doubt the necessity of carrying on, but yet ...

Willy Dolleman here refers to a visit of his friend Wout Tieleman in May or June 1942, who took the initiative and came to see him. Willy had been involved in the production of the illegal publications of the MLL-Front. His mother Meta tried to make him and Tieleman change their ideas, but finally sent them to Dolf Langkemper who, at the time of the German invasion, had been the organisational secretary of the RSAP. Langkemper disagreed with them, which is not surprising, since already before the war he had spoken against clandestine underground work, and so he had not taken part in the MLL-Front. Tieleman and Willy Dolleman also drew a blank with the Hague MLL-Front man Aaldert Ymkers. The Hague youth had no contacts with other places, and they therefore decided to carry on themselves, on the basis of their standpoint of the necessity of the defence of the Soviet Union. At the end of May Antoine Dolleman, Theo Jansen and Wout Tieleman met; they decided to publish a new paper. So in June 1942 the first issue of De Rode October appeared.

During that same period there were complications in Rotterdam. On 15 May 1942 Piet van ’t Hart was released from detention in Bochum. Van ’t Hart had taken part in the MLL-Front leadership and in the conflict regarding the Soviet Union he had sided with Dolleman. On 15 August l941 he had been arrested when, during a house search, a discussion bulletin on this question had been found. When he was released his wife, Cor, told him about the executions. To Piet van ’t Hart this was, of course, a heavy blow. He was convinced that there must have been a leak, and he was determined to find it.

In Rotterdam, in the summer of 1942 (a more exact date is not known), the leadership of the Communistenbond Spartacus was formed. Poppe, with another comrade, was the initiator and had made the contacts. Poppe was the only member of the MLL-Front leadership who had not been arrested. He lived in Roosendaal, and Sneevliet had been with Poppe in his flat before he was arrested in Bergen op Zoom. For this reason van ’t Hart did not think that Poppe should play a leading role in an illegal organisation for a moment longer. Many unpleasant and inconclusive discussions followed. [2] Thereupon contact was made between van ’t Hart, who had not been involved in the first issue of De Rode October, The Hague youth and Harry Combrink. The latter had, after the arrest of the MLL-Front leadership, gone to Amsterdam; there, in order to speak about the necessity of building a new organisation, he had approached Sal Santen, a Trotskyist ‘officiel’, who in 1941 had been refused membership of the MLL-Front.

On 22 August 1942 the founding of the CRM took place in the church of the Swedenborg Society in The Hague; the father of one of The Hague MLL-Front youth, Frits Zeggelink, was the Minister there. Present at the founding were probably Harry Combrink, Andries Dolleman, Antoine Dolleman, Piet van ’t Hart, Wout Tieleman and Frits Zeggelink. What was decided at the founding conference?

In an internal publication of the CRM of autumn 1942 there was mention both of a decision to break definitively from Spartacus and of the founding of an independent group. After the war Piet van ’t Hart gave the same version; yet, according to him, it was also decided to strive for the restoration of unity in the future.

Thus far this is the account of the birth of both groups. The main uncertainty is whether, at the founding of Spartacus, it was decided not to involve the advocates of the defence of the Soviet Union. Piet van ’t Hart was, besides Poppe, the only survivor of the MLL-Front leadership. If van ’t Hart was not approached to form a new leadership one could put the responsibility for the split on Spartacus. It is, however, also possible that the foundation of Spartacus took place at the same time as the discussions between Poppe and van ’t Hart. In that case it is hardly possible to indicate who took the initiative in the split.

In any case Poppe’s 1944 version of the events does not convince. Some members of the Fourth International group in the Netherlands, the Group of Bolshevik-Leninists (GBL), had indeed entered the MLL-Front. At the beginning, the opposition to Sneevliet’s policy had not been their doing. The people who supported Dolleman’s and Piet van ’t Hart’s standpoint on the Soviet Union in the MLL-Front, sympathised with Trotsky, but they had not left the RSAP. The initiators of the CRM had not been members of the GBL.

The CRM and Spartacus started, in the summer of 1942, with about the same number of members who had been active in the MLL-Front. Both groups continued to exist during the remaining occupation years. Neither, however, reached the size and importance of the old MLL-Front. Indeed, while the resistance and clandestine activity grew the longer the occupation continued, for the revolutionary Socialist fraction of the resistance it seems that the pinnacle of their influence was during the first two occupation years.

Part 2 Organisational development

It was mentioned above that the formal founding of the CRM was a matter of a very small group from The Hague, Delft and Rotterdam. The term ‘committee’ was also chosen consciously; they considered themselves as a group which had yet to build an organisation.

It is not clear whether the contacts with Herman Drenth, who after the arrest wave that struck the MLL-Front, had left The Hague and gone into hiding in Groningen, already existed during the founding or were restored shortly afterwards. Already in 1942, contacts with Flip Grave in Eindhoven were made. Towards the end of 1942 or in the beginning of 1943 Sal Santen also joined the CRM, after which the building of the organisation in Amsterdam could start. [3] Santen and Tieleman estimate that towards the end of the occupation the CRM had about 50 members. On the basis of the material that 1 collected 1 estimate a membership of about 75, mainly concentrated in the three big cities: Rotterdam (25), Amsterdam (20) and The Hague(10). Other groups of members were in the northern towns of Delfzijl, Groningen and Leeuwarden (in total about 10 people) and in Eindhoven. Separate members, or people who distributed De Rode October, were in Arnhem, Dordrecht, Leiden, Lutjewinkel and Nieuwewinkel. In Aalsmeer, Deventer, Sliedrecht and Zutphen the paper was distributed by members from other towns. [4]

Probably the number of 75 members is a bit on the high side, and the demarcation between members and sympathisers was not always drawn too precisely. Half a year after the liberation, on 1 December 1945 the CRM had 84 members; later the number of members rose to 150 by 25 January 1946.

As compared with the MLL-Front their small size appears clearly from these figures. The CRM itself spoke about a ‘wave of desertion’, the responsibility for which was ascribed, in harsh terms, both to the political confusion inside both the RSAP and the MLL-Front, as well as to the underestimation of the dangers of underground work. In my opinion, other important factors were the disappearance of the NAS field of activity, together with the death of Sneevliet and the other leaders who had played an extremely important role. In combination with that there was yet a further element which should not be underestimated. For the underground as a whole 1942 was a difficult year. However big the setbacks were, the overwhelming majority of the underground succeeded in recruiting large forces. A group like the CRM was thrown back on its own resources, and the army for which they hoped, that of the revolutionary workers, did not stir in Europe in 1942.

Moreover, the CRM itself applied far too rigid criteria for recruitment, which had a political as well as a practical cause. Time and again the necessity was underlined of building an homogeneous revolutionary party, which would be necessary for the direct and massive workers’ struggles that were expected; so therefore the formation of cadres was the most important task for the CRM. It is clear, too, that the shock of the executions had an effect in that everyone was very conscious of the difficulties and dangers of more open political work.

Wout Tieleman, looking back at the initial period of the occupation says:

Finally we were (and every illegal group initially was) a bunch of amateurs who dared to compete with a specially trained professional police and tracing apparatus who, during eight years and more, had gathered experience in Germany. We had only that experience in theory, and to obtain it in practice a price had to be paid. That price was, alas, paid, and it was higher than necessary.

The rigidity of the organisation may appear from the orders which were given in the internal organ, Het Kompas. Without the permission of the leading bodies no material should be delivered in person; membership should be kept secret, and no enquiries should be made about it, particularly as to members outside one’s own cell or unit. Discussion evenings with others could only be held with the permission of the leadership; permission was also necessary for making contacts – even where former party comrades were concerned. There were continual appeals for prudence, with special warnings against nationalist organisations. Van ’t Hart was of the opinion that during his detention in Scheveningen the latter had been too curious. In a conversation he states that he would have warned against the notorious traitor Van der Waals. The CRM leadership possessed potassium cyanide, dispensed by the eldest son of the Amsterdam revolutionary, Barend Luteraan. In case of arrest they intended to avoid a repetition of the MLL-Front drama.


Clearly the directives were not always followed to the letter, but the CRM did become an organisation that worked prudently. As far as is known, nobody in the CRM was arrested because of their activities in the organisation. Leen Reedijk from The Hague, who was arrested in October 1944 after getting involved in a matter of false papers which had nothing to do with the CRM, was the only victim among the members of whom I am aware. Reedijk died when the train that transported him from Vught to Buchenwald was bombed.

The logical consequence of the severe demands of membership was that a very great commitment was required of the members. In Het Kompas one of the members wrote that the devotion of two or three evenings a week could be asked for. Another correspondent reacted; members who only distributed newspapers were not enough, a revolutionist had to give himself fully, ‘if necessary seven evenings a week’. The examples held up were those of the Russian illegal professional revolutionaries under Czarism. In De Rode October of February 1943 the rigid selection of the members was written about in a positive way: ‘The storms of the Imperialist War have blown away the chaff and the golden pure grains have remained’.

In the bigger towns the CRM was organised in groups of five members who, through a cell leader, were in contact with the local and national leaderships. The publications of the CRM were, as a rule, delivered clandestinely; only with trusted contacts could they, after consultation with the cell leader, be handed over in person. The CRM did not have financial problems, as one of the leading members found a way to get money illegally through his job.

The leadership of the CRM consisted of Harry Combrink, Herman Drenth, Piet van ’t Hart, Sal Santen and Wout Tieleman; the leadership also constituted the editorial board of De Rode October. It is not clear whether this leadership was elected during the founding conference on 22 August, or brought about by co-option. There is no agreed opinion among the former members as to the frequency or the location of the meetings of the leadership. The greater part of the articles for De Rode October were written by van ’t Hart and Santen; Tieleman was responsible for the production of the paper. Cor van ’t Hart maintained a large part of the communication network. She went to Drenth in Groningen and on her way there she delivered papers in Arnhem, Deventer and Zutphen and fetched things in The Hague before returning to Rotterdam.


She also took care of the contact with Santen in Amsterdam. During the winter of famine (1944-45) her role became still more important. Cor van ’t Hart was not a member of the leadership but she did the ‘greatest portion of the dangerous work’, to use the words of Tieleman.

In comparison with the MLL-Front, the youthful age and the relative lack of experience of the CRM leadership is remarkable. Only Piet van ’t Hart was more than thirty years old. Both because of this difference in age, and his participation as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War together with his past membership of the MLL-Front leadership, van ’t Hart possessed by far the greatest political authority within the leadership. The youthful age of the leadership was, for the rest, a reflection of the age structure of the group as a whole. In The Hague it was the younger ones who continued after the executions, and in Amsterdam the construction of CRM work was generally the work of members of the pre-war youth organisations of the RSAP. Thus it was pointed out in De Rode October that now the younger generation had taken over the work of the older ones.

The first issue of De Rode October had been typed by Tieleman on carbon copies in a sales office for lead and zinc where he worked at Zieken in The Hague. This illustrates how the CRM had to start from scratch, without even the beginnings of an apparatus. The second issue of the paper appeared after the founding conference of 22 August. The first issues were manufactured in the same primitive way. One of the carbon copies went to Rotterdam, where the copy was re-typed. It is not certain how long this mode of manufacture went on, but in any case the issues were mimeographed from August 1943. Indeed, one could hardly call the first machine of the CRM a proper duplicator:

Mimeograph box is a better term. It was indeed a kind of box, and inside it was a grid, on which a stencil could be attached. Under that there was a pack of paper and by moving a roller to and fro – something like modern paint rollers – you obtained a print. The disadvantage –very copy had to be taken out separately.

After the mimeograph box came some other simple gadgets, until the CRM got hold of an Edison Dick hand mimeograph, with which the greater part of the De Rode October issues were made. By these improvements the circulation grew from some tens of copies to 2,000 or 2,500 copies in 1943. From the thirteenth issue the paper appeared with a red heading:

To make a heading, we would buy a box of letters with enormously big rubber letters with which we composed the words De Rode October. Furthermore, we had the biggest possible stamp pad with red ink, but the stamp was too big for the box, so that for each heading the stamp had to be wetted twice.

The paper was supplied by Van ’t Hof in The Hague, an adherent of the Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP) [5] – a Protestant Christian party – who worked for the illegal paper Trouw. Before the war he supplied the RSAP, and during the whole occupation he supplied the MLL-Front and the CRM with paper.

During the occupation 44 issues of De Rode October appeared. Until September 1944 it was a monthly paper and after then, when the end of the occupation seemed to be near, the paper appeared every fortnight. During the whole famine winter they succeeded in issuing it twice a month; and even during the chaotic period of the razzias [6] in autumn 1944 editions were improvised. Because of the liberation of the south of the country the contact with the Eindhoven members was severed. Although just before that time a mimeograph had been brought to Eindhoven, as far as is known, no edition of De Rode October for the liberated zone was produced there. Because of the railway strike contact with Herman Drenth in Groningen was no longer possible; there too, no separate publication was undertaken. In autumn 1944 at Rotterdam, the local comrades mimeographed De Rode October at least three times. In Amsterdam too, material was independently produced.

The responsibility for production was in the hands of Tieleman who, together with Antoine Dolleman, produced the greater number of issues. The mimeographing was done from August 1943 until November 1944 in the attic of Antoine Dolleman at the Herderinnestraat; afterwards the production took place in the parental house of Tieleman in the Oltmansstraat. If necessary the duo Tieleman-Dolleman was assisted by others; Rein van der Horst and Thea Bloemsma were regularly involved in the production of material, and Lena Dolleman-Schenk, together with Antoine Dolleman, produced an issue of De Rode October during the great razzias in November 1944.

Those involved in production invested, often in freezing conditions, an enormous amount of energy in the creation of their paper, using ink, stencils and paper of war quality, and lacking spare parts for the maintenance and repair of the machine. It was therefore quite understandable that the editorial board and Antoine Dolleman reacted indignantly when one of the members, in an internal contribution, complained about the appearance of the publications.


A clear evolution can be discerned in the contents of De Rode October. The first issues contained only some general articles about the course of the war and the strategy and tactics of the revolutionary Socialists. During the April-May 1943 strike some shorter, real news items were printed and more articles per issue appeared. According to the CRM itself De Rode October had become more of an actual political newspaper, an ‘agitational organ’. That conception does not seem quite correct to me, because the bulk of the paper continued to be analytical articles in which the general political line of the group was expounded.

The editorial board itself also regularly pointed out that because they did not have contacts in the state apparatus, like so many other illegal newspapers, they disposed of insufficient information. The members were urged to send in fewer polemics and more articles with a news value together with a theoretical introduction. The editorial board itself was greatly dependent on the Nazi press and the foreign radio and an article against the handing over of private radios to the Nazi officials referred to them as a ‘priceless possession: The art of interpreting such sources was excellently mastered, for it is clear that a serious analysis of the situation was given in the articles on the course of the war.

The contents of the paper were chosen entirely by the editorial board; articles which did not completely harmonise with the line of the organisation were not published. Articles refused were, with an argument against printing them, published in the internal discussion organ of the CRM, Het Kompas. The latter appeared from November 1942 until the end of 1944, when the publication had to cease because of communication problems; in all thirty issues appeared. In the MLL-Front such a bulletin had only appeared after a fierce discussion, but the CRM leadership wrote that such a paper was always a necessity for a revolutionary organisation. So, notwithstanding the conditions of illegality, the CRM provided a paper in which all members could discuss the politics of the organisation. Besides the articles refused for De Rode October (someone who had had an article turned down wrote that De Rode October had become the private domain of the editorial board) Het Kompas published articles on certain questions and on the work of the organisation. The editorial board repeatedly called for more discussion articles.

Around the beginning of 1944 in The Hague there emerged a discussion group of about five young people around the CRM. From the CRM itself were Leen Reedijk (the centre of the group), Rein van der Horst (the contact with the leadership) and Thea Bloemsma. This group published the discussion paper De Pionier four times. It is remarkable that much was written on topics like art and sexuality in this paper, which was unusual in the revolutionary Socialist movement of that time. Perhaps an explanation can be found in the fact that the CRM members in question came from the Arbeiders Jeugd Centrale (AJC), the pre-war youth organisation of the Social Democracy which was strongly oriented to cultural matters. Moreover, unlike the CRM members, the people in the group did not come from the working class. Indeed, these youth needed a discussion on these topics as they had become separated from mainstream cultural life; they did not go to the cinema, etc., because Jews were no longer allowed there. [7]

Because of its interests this group was a strange animal, and the CRM leadership had an ambivalent attitude towards it. They twice reacted rather untactfully to discussion articles from the group, the first one on the membership norms of a revolutionary party and the second one on the conceptions of Wilhelm Reich regarding sexuality. The reactions of the leadership were, probably for reasons of security, published in De Pionier under Rein van der Horst’s pseudonym, Barbarossa. He therefore wrote an angry letter to the leadership in which he, inter alia, criticised them because they had mentioned ‘the revolutionary Marxist party’. In van der Horst’s opinion this should not have been brought up because people had only got together to build a Socialist youth movement. [8]

On 21 November 1944, two days after writing this letter, van der Horst was arrested during a big round-up in The Hague. Leen Reedijk had been arrested one month earlier. The group evolved a little further at about that time. In January 1945 the fourth and last issue of De Pionier appeared under the chief-editorship of a new editor, who used the pseudonym H. Blommers. He pointed out that the character of the group was unclear. The clarity that he desired came with the appearance of the paper Revolutionnaire Jeugd (Revolutionary Youth), of which three issues appeared, from February till April 1945, with a circulation of between 500 and 1,000. The paper had two pages and appeared under the control of Piet van ’t Hart. Antoine Dolleman wrote the first issue, van ’t Hart wrote the next two. Revolutionnaire Jeugd differed from De Pionier, in that it appeared as the youth organ of the CRM and the cultural aspect of the struggle for Socialism disappeared.

Finally in April 1944 the CRM published a booklet with six articles by Trotsky, dealing with Stalinism. In the introduction they announced their intention of publishing Trotsky’s Transitional Programme and some of his texts on the rise of Nazism in Germany; these publications did not appear during the occupation.

Naturally the CRM needed ‘safe’ houses, forged coupons and ration cards and other papers on behalf of their own organisation. They could provide for their own needs in part. Andries Dolleman co-operated with Leen Molenaar, a member of the Spartacus leadership; as ‘Zwarte Kees’ Molenaar was very active in the field of security and welfare and through him the CRM got coupon cards. Thea Bloemsma and Rein van der Horst regularly had fugitives of their own circle in their home. The leadership co-operated with some resistance groups which specialised in providing those on the run and in the underground with coupon cards, identity papers and ‘safe’ addresses. Among others Combrink, Cor van ’t Hart and Santen were involved in this.


One of the groups with which they collaborated was that of Rinus Pelgrom, a Council Communist who was also active in the left-Socialist resistance group De Vonk. His group was part of the Free Groups Amsterdam, a circle that did not want to join the Landelijke Organisatie voor Hulp aan Onderduikers (LO) (National Organisation for Aid to Fugitives) because they wanted to preserve their organisational autonomy. The collaboration with his group became so close that a part of it, including Pelgrom, joined the CRM. Another important contact was Bertus ten Dam, who was, before the war, a member of the Bond van Revolutionnaire Socialisten (BRS) (League of Revolutionary Socialists), a split from the RSAP. Ten Dam had, together with Piet van ’t Hart, fought in Spain. He worked in the group of Daan Baruch and Eli van Tijn; Ab Oeldrich was the highly gifted forger of this group, which devoted itself to the falsification of identity cards and the obtaining of ration books. This group collaborated with the Persoons Bewijzen Centrale (PBC) (Identity Card Centre) of Gerrit van der Veen. Furthermore the CRM had, through Sal Santen, contact with the psychoanalyst Coen van Emde Boas. Herman Drenth, in Groningen, collaborated in the field of welfare with people from other groups. From the Pelgrom and Ten Dam groups, the CRM got coupon cards and false papers. Various CRM members were sheltered by Pelgrom. In its turn, the CRM in The Hague sometimes provided Pelgrom with ration books and coupons and assisted him in finding safe addresses.

The ration books obtained by the CRM were especially reserved for people who really needed them. Besides fugitives, there were the imprisoned comrades and the members working in Germany. For them Cor van ’t Hart prepared food parcels. On the suggestion of Piet van ’t Hart it was decided in order to prevent bureaucratisation and favouritism that CRM members were not allowed to use extra ration coupons, an example of van ’t Hart’s rigid proletarian morals. During the famine winter this rule was consciously ‘sinned’ against; Thea Bloemsma received extra coupons from Wout Tieleman so that she could continue to function as a courier.

The contacts described above were the responsibility of the leadership. For reasons of safety the making of local contacts was disapproved of. Reality was, however, more complicated. Rein van der Horst worked at the Burgerlijke Stand (Registrar’s Office) in The Hague and there he was involved in the sabotage of the German administration. In autumn 1944 Thea Bloemsma got involved by chance in the sheltering of Jewish children. Frits Zeggelink sometimes ‘took a little detour’. Such activities took place without the knowledge of the organisation.

Three phases can be discerned in the development of the organisation. The first was from the start in summer 1942 until the April-May strikes of 1943, during which time a national structure was developed. The second phase went from May 1943 until September 1944, during which De Rode October started to appear in a mimeographed form, and its character became more defined. At this time too Het Kompas appeared more regularly. De Jong characterises this period, as he does for the ‘illegality’ in general, as the purest unfolding of the resistance.

The third phase, from September 1944 until the liberation is the most difficult to judge. The partition of the Netherlands between that controlled by the Allies and that still occupied by the Nazis, the failure of the trains to function because of the railway strike, the dismantling of industry, the razzias of the male population and the famine winter led to the disintegration of society. Under these circumstances it was not so simple for the ‘illegality’ to continue to work, and certainly not for a tiny group like the CRM.

After the war Piet van ’t Hart wrote that in this period a small group of CRM members achieved an inhuman amount. In this phase Wout Tieleman and Antoine Dolleman succeeded in producing De Rode October twice a month, in the non-soundproof attic of the home of Tieleman’s parents. In Wout Tieleman’s words:

As soon as I had typed all the stencils I started, with stamp and stamp cushion, to stamp the headings on the first page. Quite a job! Meanwhile Antoine rolled on. Being ready with the stamp box I already started collating, and made small stacks of sheets...Antoine did the most fatiguing job, the rolling. I did not often relieve him because he had the machine so much at his fingertips that he felt when two sheets at a time went through the machine. The drying of the ink was a separate problem, for in that attic the ink remained too sticky and Antoine often had to warm the ink tubes on his naked body so that we could work.

After the beginning of the big razzias in the autumn of 1944 it was nearly impossible for any men to go onto the streets; the CRM leadership called on the older members and women to take over jobs. Thea Bloemsma began dealing with the supply of paper and ink in The Hague. In her words:

To me that was a day’s work in itself. I put the paper in my pram and my child upon it, which was a heavy load through the snow. It worked excellently, and in that way one passed the heaviest control posts. Once I had some very important letters which had to be delivered to Wout Tieleman. Those I rolled into a dirty diaper of my daughter and with child and pram I got under way. At the control post the question was put: “Was ist das?” (“What is that”) I said: “Das is Stront”(“That is shit”). I knew instinctively that if you said such a thing to a man you would pass the control post.

In worn-out clothes, on a bicycle with the ends of a garden hose as tyres, Cor van ’t Hart went through the freezing cold to The Hague, Amsterdam and the northern part of North Holland: ‘I had little time to read the paper. Sometimes I was away for ten days, and came home for a short while and then went away again on the bicycle.’ Harry Combrink also played a role in maintaining communications and, notwithstanding the razzias, made ‘walking trips’ between Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam.

Part 3 Main lines of the political position

Like the MLL-Front the CRM considered the Second World War not as a struggle between democracy and Fascism, but primarily as a conflict between various capitalist countries for the control of the world market. The Western Allies would try to stifle every important independent activity of the workers. The Allies’ victory could not break the impasse of world capitalism, and so new economic crises and a new world war were inevitable. That the Soviet Union also chose the political side of its western military allies was, for the CRM, an extra proof of the reactionary, nationalistic policy of the governing Stalinist bureaucracy. According to the CRM the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers’ state which had to be defended against the aggression of capitalist Germany. They considered that revolutionary developments in Europe would spread to the Soviet Union, whereas the defeat of the USSR would mean that reaction, both inside and outside that country, would seize the chance to strangle all the gains of the Russian revolution for ever. For that reason the CRM was of the opinion that their advocacy of the defence of the Soviet Union was in direct opposition to Stalin’s policy.

In the first issue of De Rode October it was admitted that the situation was not encouraging. Because of the deep crisis of the workers’ movement there had, ‘against every expectation’ been no revolutionary resistance to the war. In December 1942 it was stated that the weakest link of the system lay in the German satellites in Italy and the Balkans. A revolutionary breakthrough might originate there but it would bleed to death if the German working class did not join the struggle. The national resistance in Europe was judged negatively; such ‘pro-English feeling’ would not produce revolutionary resistance. According to De Rode October, such a development was only possible if there were revolutionary uprisings in other countries.

In February 1943 there was a negative reaction to the possibility of an invasion of Western Europe; such a second front could only be established when Germany had been considerably weakened, which meant that this would be the most probable time for some revolutionary development. They stuck to this perspective until the invasion of June 1944: that there was a race as to which would be first, the German revolution or the invasion. The outcome would be either a general revolutionary wave or the victory of the counter-revolution.

The Allied invasion of Italy in July 1843 confirmed the CRM in their opinion; if the Allied advance succeeded, and Germany was occupied, the revolutionary possibilities would vanish for a number of years. In the discarding of Mussolini by governing circles in Italy, the CRM saw an attempt to keep the revolution at bay. They paid a lot of attention to the development of the workers’ resistance in Italy and to the counter-revolutionary role of the Allied military administration and of the Italian Communist Party. They warmly welcomed the important strike movements in England and the USA, and denounced the anti-democratic anti-strike measures of the governments in those countries.

A Political Declaration of August 1943 gives the fullest view of the Second World War by the CRM. The leadership attached much importance to this text which was put before the membership; they wrote that in a legal situation a conference would have been held. After consultation with the membership the final text was published in the fourteenth issue of De Rode October. Probably the Political Declaration is the most fundamental document of the revolutionary Socialist movement in the Netherlands during the occupation. Inter alia, a summary was given of the evolution of the resistance in Italy, Greece, the Balkans, the occupied West European countries and the Western Allied countries. For the CRM a rebirth of the German workers’ movement stood in the forefront:

The right slogans for the reinforcement of the resistance in the Netherlands against German imperialism will contribute towards that end. A sound spirit of resistance is alive in the Dutch proletariat. The coming events will decide whether the German revolution or the Allied counter-revolution will utilise this spirit.

From this quotation it appears that, under the influence of events, their appraisal of the resistance in the occupied European countries had undergone some change; it was judged less negatively now as compared with the first months after the founding of the CRM.

After the invasion of June 1944 the CRM corrected the perspective in a more pessimistic way:

In the sixth year of war, no wave of revolutionary resistance rolls over Europe, but discontented proletarians and peasants ally with their bourgeoisies in the uprising, in the partisan struggle, in the war against German imperialism and put all their hopes in the victory of Allied imperialism.

To the CRM the invasion meant that the German revolution would take longer to mature, and that the revolutionary initiative would move to Italy and the occupied European countries.

In December 1944 it seemed a turning point was established by the development and growth of the workers’ resistance in liberated France and Belgium, and by the flaring up of the civil war in Greece. The judgement of the national resistance in a number of European countries underwent a further nuanced change:

‘Especially in France, Belgium and the Balkans, the resistance movement has assumed a radical character because of its predominantly proletarian supporters and the collaborationist activity of great parts of the possessing classes ...

The struggle of the proletarians supporting the resistance movement has taken on such a sharp character because it is coupled with certain illusions about social and national liberation assumed to be inherent in the victory of the “democratic” powers and the Soviet Union:

In February 1945 a second wave of resistance was observed, through which Europe was becoming a ‘revolutionary volcano’. The CRM continued to stick to this perspective; even in the very last issue of De Rode October that appeared during the occupation, it expected a further development of the resistance in Germany. This hope of a rebirth of the revolutionary sentiments of the German workers did not mean that the CRM had no eye for the enormous problems attached to it. In February 1943 the great importance of the defeat of the German workers’ movement in 1933, when Hitler came to power without striking a blow, and the subsequent years of terror and destruction of the workers’ movement were pointed out thus:

Therefore, young comrades, if the German proletariat has, notwithstanding this enormous and bloody war, not yet arisen, and if it takes such a long time before it takes up opposition, it is not because the German proletariat has changed, or because it prefers to play at soldiers so much, but because of this terrible defeat and nothing else.

Time and again this point was underlined by the CRM. In addition the policy of the Allies was mentioned as an inhibiting factor on German revolutionary consciousness. The CRM turned vehemently against any theory of collective responsibility for Nazism by the German people and against the Yalta treaty through which the German workers were driven once more into the hands of Hitler. In the publications of the CRM a distinction was consistently drawn between Fascist and anti-Fascist Germans, a term like ‘moffen’ (‘Krauts’) was not used: ‘Not in the London of Churchill, Gerbrandy and Albarda are our allies, but in the prisons and concentration camps of Germany.’ It is no exaggeration to say that the CRM tried to drum this into the heads of their readers against the stream.

Above all, the Soviet Union was reproached for its nationalistic policy, and for its support for the partition of Europe into spheres of influence, thus acting in opposition to a revival of the German workers movement. To the CRM the dissolution of the Comintern in May 1943 was a symbol of this policy; they devoted a long article and a special manifesto to the dissolution, which thus met the wishes of the Western Allies. Nevertheless, they considered that revolutionary possibilities would be improved if the Red Army liberated Germany from the Nazis; the military successes of the Red Army were called a ‘glowing item’. In that respect the CRM thought that the soldiers of the Red Army would not turn against the revolutionary forces. For the same reason Hitler would prefer an advance by the Western Allies.



1. The MLL-Front had between 400 and 600 members. Added to these should be those who were members of the CRM or Communistenbund Spartacus but who did not participate in the MLL-Front. These were probably some few tens at most.

2. After the war several revolutionary organisations investigated Poppe’s role in Sneevliet’s arrest, because in the trial file was mentioned that Sneevliet had been arrested with help from Poppe. The investigating committee came unanimously to the conclusion that there had been no question of treason, and that no blame was attached to Poppe.

3. It is unclear at what exact date Santen joined. He thinks 1942. Piet van ’t Hart thinks 1943. Whichever it was, Santen played an important role within the leadership. It should not be forgotten that as a Jew, Santen was permanently exposed to danger, and that the occupation years were extraordinarily tragic for him. His father-in law Sneevliet had been murdered, his mother-in-law was imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, and his own family was taken and did not return from the camps.

4. On 1 December 1945 the membership was as follows: Amsterdam 16: Rotterdam 20: The Hague 15; Delft 11: Eindhoven 4: Gronigen 13; Maastricht 1: Emmen 1.

5. The Dutch Anti-Revolutionary Party is opposed to the principles of the French Revolution! It is therefore somewhat conservative. [Note by Editor]

6. Razzia, a word of Italian origin meaning the sweep of an area for slaves in the manner of the pirate galleys in the Mediterranean. In this case the police and soldiers arrested able-bodied men to send them as forced labour to Germany. [Note by Editor]

7. Interest in the ideas of people like Reich was not limited to those from an AJC background. It was shared by Herman Drenth and Harry Combrink.

8. The conflict around De Pionier seems to have had a resemblance with one in a number of Zaan youth papers in which CPN members and other youth co-operated.

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Last updated on 27.6.2003