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The New International, March 1943

Alfred Freeman

Books in Review

Germany from Underground


From The New International, Vol. IX No. 3, March 1943, pp. 92–93.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Silent War: The Underground Movement in Germany
by Stefan Weyl and Jon Jansen
Lippincott & Co., Publisher; $3.00; 357 pages

It is a little difficult to pass judgment on this book because one is never sure as to exactly what the authors are trying to do. Certainly the performance does not live up to the rather pretentious subtitle; the book is not a history of the underground movement, nor is it an adequate presentation of even a cross-section of that movement. It is rather a confused jumble of a number of things: a little bit of social reportage of life under the Nazis, which is neither very original or profound; a description of what purports to be the organizational practices of the underground, much of which is platitudinous and other parts doubtful and unsubstantiated; an attempt to trace the changing fortunes of the underground with relation to the development of world politics in the past ten years, which is flimsy and threadbare, substituting anecdotes for serious analysis; and finally the pleading of the special case of the group to which the authors belong, the New Beginning group, a left Social-Democratic tendency.

Those who remember the manifesto this group published some five or six years ago are aware of the pedestrian quality of the unique mixture of Social-Democratic and Stalinist politics which it adopted. This political line is developed in the present book, as well; a kind of People’s Frontism, a constant blurring of political thought and theoretical perspectives. The war is accepted without question or reservation, not even the Laskian kind of support being put forward. What serious difference this group has from the official Social-Democracy, other than a vague emphasis on the need for activism and militancy, is difficult to see.

One additional point needs to be made. The authors say that the Stalinist underground organization has been virtually smashed because it was ridden with Nazi agents in its important branches. There is no proof of the truth of this assertion, and if it were true, it would not necessarily constitute any condemnation of the Stalinist position. The reason the Stalinists were slaughtered in such large numbers after Hitler’s seizure of power was because of their false and criminal estimate of the political situation in Germany: their line that Hitler would last six months and that the path for them would then be clear. This phantasmagorical position led them to the most reckless adventurism, with the result that their best militants were sacrificed. But such a political understanding is a far cry from the gossipy approach of the authors.

Finally one must mention the constant exaggeration and boasting which the authors indulge in. We for one do not believe their “reports” of the size or organizational perfection of their group; we should certainly like to believe it, but the bitter realities of analysis lead us to the conviction that with the barest possible exception of the Stalinists, there has probably not been any nation-wide underground movement, organized and centralized, such as Weyl and Jansen speak of.

All that we can grant the authors is their patent sincerity and continued socialist adherence. This is no unimportant thing these days. But it’s not enough with which to write a book.

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Last updated on 14 March 2015