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International Socialism, March 1977


John Cunningham

Five Days in June


From International Socialism (1st series), No.96, March 1977, p.28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Five Days in June, A Novel
by Stefan Heym
Hodder and Stoughton, London £4.95.

THE thoroughly admirable old-fashioned straight-forward hero of this book is a Stalinist functionary. That probably sounds strange enough already, and more so when you realize that the ‘5 days in June’ were in East Berlin in 1953, when hundreds of thousands of workers came out onto the streets against the government and were beaten back by Russian tanks.

But you have to remember that all over Eastern Europe there were thousands of people like Witte, honest communists, who had suffered and fought against Hitler, whose lives were rooted in the class and its struggles, and who were suddenly faced in 1945, as Stefan Heym was, with ‘administered revolution’ by courtesy of the Red Army.

‘What they made of it, and what all the others – former capitalists, western agents, Russian officers, plain ordinary workers and party leaders made of it is what this fine book is all about ...’

Quelle, agent provocateur, thinks ...

‘Those CIA characters, and the guys that General Gehlen has lined up, and the Bund for Struggle against Inhumanity, and similar groups, whatever their names, with their cloak and dagger games and their petty sabotage actions ... they didn’t amount to a hill of beans. A working class party and a workers state could be toppled only by workers, by organized workers.’ ...

‘Comrade Dr. Rottluff, formerly Herr Dr. Rottluff, formerly capitalist business man under Weimar and under Hitler, now manager of the state owned VEB Merkur, surveys the three men in work clothes who stand before his desk – thinks: "What do I do now, I’ve taken two extension courses, one on Marxism-Leninism, one on Socialist Management, but in neither did the insturctors say anything about a socialist manager’s response to his own workers sending a protest delegation to him. I’ve been familiarized with the procedure on visits by foreign delegations, be they from socialist or capitalist countries, but this sort of naive delegation was nowhere dealt with ..."’

Martin Witte, trade union secretary, thinks, bitterly, about his own organization,

‘... treating your only mass organization of workers as a fifth wheel, converting it to a travel bureau for the handing out of health cures and vacation places, or at best, a society for mutual back-slapping and the creation of enthusiasm.’

At a different time, thinks ...

‘There’s only one point that counts; prevent the estrangement of party and working class from leading to an open break, that is to strike, and to worse than that ...’

By examining his own country when what everyone thought was a workers state was under attack from the workers themselves, Stefan Heym has produced a book with some real guts in it, stuffed full of politics, which raises what are still all the issues of class, state and power in Eastern Europe. Read it and see which side you would have been on.

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