Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
Danish Trotskyism in World War Two
The account that follows was first published in Danish in Anarki og arbejderhistorie (Anarchy and Workers’ History), a festschrift for Carl Heinrich Petersen edited by Karen Petersen and Therkel Straede, and published by Tiderne Skifter of Copenhagen in 1985. To it are appended a number of statements issued by the Danish Trotskyists during the German occupation. They appear here by kind permission of Børge Trolle, his publisher, and the translator, Mike Jones, to whose immense industry we are deeply indebted.
The militant in whose honour this piece was written, Carl Heinrich Petersen, who has since died, was an old cigar maker from Viborg in Jutland, whose career developed from Social Democracy towards the currents of the Communist opposition. During the period covered by this article he supported Arbejderpolitik and was on the board of Arbejderopposition, as recounted below. During the 1950s he rejoined the Social Democracy, but later evolved in the direction of Anarchism.
Børge Trolle was born in the year of the Russian Revolution and remains active to this day. His description of the struggle of the Danish Trotskyists during the war is almost unique among accounts of this genre, since it is written by a leading participant who yet maintains a remarkable sense of balance and detachment. Moreover, he continues to be loyal to his opinions, being a member of the PSP and a sympathiser of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. He is well known as a creative artist in the Danish film industry, has had some of his work screened in the Soviet Union, and continues to write on film topics for the journal of the Danish United Secretariat grouping.
Georg Jungclas (1902-1975), whose courageous activity on behalf of German Jews at the time of the deportation order led to his arrest, also continued to defend his principles, and died a supporter of the GIM, the German section of the USFI. His subsequent fate in Germany is described in Gisela Mandel in On the Seventieth Birthday of Georg Jungclas in Intercontinental Press 13 March 1972, pp 261-63, and his obituary by the GIM, Georg Jungclas: 22 February 1902 11 September 1975appears in the same journal, vol.xiii, no.34, 29 September 1975, p.1277. Knud Ellegaard later rose to an important position in the Danish trade union movement.
Readers who are able to deal with Danish can consult two other accounts of the revolutionaries during this period referred to in Børge Trolle's description. One remains an academic dissertation, Trotskismen i Danmark 1938-1947 Et Bidrag, presented in 1983 by Anton Schou Madsen, the leader of the Danish Lambertists; the other is Mod Strommen: De Kommunistiske oppositionsgrupper i tredivernes Danmark (Against the Stream: The Communist Opposition Groups in 1930s Denmark) by Steen Bille Larsen, the leader of the Danish CND during the 1950s. Revolutionary History hopes to be able to secure permission to reproduce parts of these in a future issue.
An account of events and of a political group, in which you have taken an active part, inevitably places you in a dilemma. To avoid referring to yourself and your own part isn’t possible, as it would distort the picture. On the other hand, you strive to reach objectivity and must therefore seek to ‘place yourself outside’. You wish to avoid self-glorification and contemplation of your own navel.
Placed in this situation I have chosen a way out, which others have also used in similar situations, namely to appear in the third person. Thereby I have attempted to arrive as near as possible at an objective picture, in the knowledge that such a thing is not fully possible.
This account deals with a current within the Danish workers movement that, until now, has only been touched on in the most minimal manner. The two established wings within the movement, Social Democracy and the Danish Communist Party have both crept around this subject like a cat around warm milk. They would rather ‘delete it from history’, because now as earlier, it is preferred that history is written by ‘the victors’. This, therefore, is an attempt to allow ‘the conquered’ to express themselves.
The introductory chapter, which in a highly cramped manner, seeks to sketch out the background for the subsequent account, cannot avoid being affected by the fact that it is seen in the light of an almost 50 year distance from the central events. That my assessment would have developed nuances during this half century is natural and requires no apology. But I maintain the general view of these events.
Throughout history it has been shown that yesterday's conquered have become the victors of tomorrow.
And it can repeat itself, although the outer forms will change their character.
(The next section in the original details the period between the wars and its consequences for the workers’ movement and its revolutionary sector. It explains the rise of the ‘Trotskyist’ current and the degeneration of Communism. I omitted this chapter as it is accepted as common knowledge among those accepting a ‘Trotskyis’ viewpoint of history – translator.)
The political storms which swept over Europe in the aftermath of the First World War did not fail to affect Denmark, but the Comintern was only involved in this in a minor way. The events are covered adequately elsewhere in a variety of publications, so it would be superfluous to repeat them here. In the eyes of Moscow Denmark was only a little backwater. Aksel Larsen avoided being deported as a Trotskyist during his stay in the USSR, owing to the lack of a translator at the time, and he was thus sent back to Denmark, though with the instruction that he was not to take any leading post within the Danish Communist Party. However, he succeeded in getting his hands onto the apparatus of the party – something his stay at the Lenin School had taught him – from where he carried out the Stalinisation of the party. Thanks to the DKP’s efforts in the unemployed workers movement, in 1932, Larsen, together with Arne Munch-Petersen, was elected to the Folketing, and in his speech on the steps of the parliament he had declared: “We fight for a Soviet Denmark.” On the shift to Popular Frontism after the Seventh Congress of the Comintern, the Communist Party passionately courted the Social Democracy. But the government of Stauning-Munch was stable and secure, so the Social Democrats hardly required to reply to the Communist Party.
The struggle for power in 1930s Germany had led to the emergence of a number of oppositional currents, especially within the DsU (Social Democratic Youth). The capitulation without struggle of the German Communist Party had also created a certain unease within the Danish Communist Party. But there was never any attempt to cohere these, more or less, spontaneous reflections of dissatisfaction. Trotsky’s short visit to Denmark in November 1932 never resulted in much more than a media event, and left little trace. The arrival in Denmark of various German political emigrés, as a result of Hitler’s coming to power, also resulted in certain political discussions; but in the beginning most of these thought that the Hitler regime would collapse within the space of a few years, so they did not concern themselves greatly with Danish political affairs.
It was the Moscow Trials and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, both in 1936, which provoked serious political discussion on the left, and the Right Opposition – the so-called Brandlerists – were sovereign in this field at the start, represented by the Clarté group, with Mogens and Ester Boserup as the leading force, and the Metz group, which had broken with the Danish Communist Party. The Boserups sought, among other things, contact with the two existing international information centres, the ‘Paris Bureau’ and the ‘London Bureau’, which were associated with the Right Opposition groups – described as ‘centrist’ by the Trotskyists (a description which probably summed them up adequately) – and Ester Boserup went on various journeys abroad as a ‘courier’. The Clarté group concentrated mainly on work among students, although when they began to publish Information, they had gained the collaboration of Carl Heinrich Petersen, as an industrial correspondent, and they had also links with the old syndicalist union leader Lauritz Hansen.
The left oppositional groups’ situation was quite chaotic until the founding of the Revolutionary Socialists (RS). And it wasn’t until the Moth group walked out of the RS on 9 April 1940, that one can speak of a coherent organisation, which described itself as Trotskyist and with the addition ‘linked to the Fourth International’ (that is, not a ‘section of’). At that time any connection had become practically impossible because of Denmark’s occupation. Thus the Danish group was also left to make its own assessments and decisions.
This development is described in full by Steen Bille Larsen in his account Mod Strommen: De kommunistiske oppositionsgrupper i tredivernes Danmark (published in 1988), so it can safely be omitted from this account and remarks limited to those above. Supplementary material can be found in Anton Schou Madsen’s university thesis Trotskismen i Danmark 1938-1947 ’ A Contribution, AUC 1983, which, however, cannot be borrowed.
At the outbreak of the war in 1939, the RS had already taken a position on the Stalin-Hitler pact, and in a statement denounced it as a “pact for war”, and the war as imperialistic. The RS had begun to publish the little organ Klassekamp, which had contained Trotsky’s article The Soviet Union in War, but it came out irregularly. (at the most four copies, maybe three, and only one has survived).
It was, however, the Soviet attack upon Finland which produced the first dispute with the leadership of the Fourth International in the USA. The Finnish war, naturally enough, had a bigger impact in Scandinavia than in the USA. At the time we had very good links with the Trotskyists in Norway and Sweden, while the contacts with the USA (and some weak ones with England), in fact, only meant that we received their publications. Churchill's plans for a “peaceful occupation of Norway and Sweden”, in order to aid Finland, the RS got wind of from Norway. It was these plans which made the German High Command change their own plans for Scandinavia, which at the start of the war had been foreseen as ‘neutral’ countries which could provide food and iron ore. That it was Churchill’s plans which involved Norway in the war has been documented for some time, and Denmark thus became a necessary stage, as the airport at Aalborg was required.
The RS did not fall into the hysteria which the Finnish war provoked in Denmark. In a declaration it opposed quite sharply the Finland financial appeal and the sending of volunteers to Finland, The RS clearly opposed the policy of Mannerheim, but at the same time characterised the Soviet attack upon Finland as a great-power bonapartist assault upon a small nation, and advanced the slogan “Peace without annexations and compensation.”
On the evening of 8 April, the few remaining syndicalists and some trade unionists held a meeting in the Kommunekaelder, among them Carl Heinrich Petersen and Thorvald Jensen. At the same time, the RS held a meeting in a cellar in Griffenfeldtsgade. Both meetings were aware of the German shipping traffic through the Oresund and the Great Belt on course for Norway, so that it was known that anything could happen at any, moment. In the Griffenfeldtsgade meeting a showdown had taken place between, on the one hand, Paul Moth and some of his supporters, and on the other, the German exile Georg Jungclas. The kernel of the dispute was the national question, which in the developing situation could become quite crucial. Paul Moth rejected internationalism and proposed that one should proclaim oneself as nationalists, and in the case of an occupation one should go into the streets and “wave the flag”. Jungclas, whose pseudonym was Shorsh, opposed these dangerous views firmly, and was supported by the two other German exiles, Rudi Singer (Rolf) and Kurt Meyer (Peter), along with Bruno Nielsen, Hjalmar and Else Püschl, Niels Jacobsen, John Andersson, Grete Hoppe, Børge Trolle and Carl Hansen (Karl the Moulder). (Whether Knud Ellegard was present at the meeting is unclear, but anyway, the next day he totally backed the line of Georg Jungclas.)
At the meeting it was agreed that in the case of anything occurring we should meet at the Püschl’s in Stengade, and in the course of the morning of 9 April, they showed up one by one. Moth insisted on maintaining his dangerous view, and eventually he left the meeting with a few others. The rest reviewed the situation, and on the basis of the conclusions arrived at, Børge Trolle set out a Declaration on the Situation, which was later that day duplicated, and the next day given out at the workplaces and dole offices. The statement, which was the first illegal publication in Denmark, postulated the total bankruptcy of the previously adhered to policy and set out as a perspective that it was now a matter of gathering together all the conscious Socialist forces and then analysing the situation and developments together, in order to advance an orientation.
Thus, the RS sought contact with all those circles who were thought as likely participants in the future activity. The perspective was the publication of an organ. It succeeded in November 1940, when the first edition of Arbejderpolitik came out. In between, Alfred Püschl and Grete Geisler had joined the group, whereas Carl Heinrich Petersen associated himself as a ‘sympathiser’. Furthermore, contact had been taken up with some people from the Clarté movement, of which Torbert Kirstein, Tage Barfod and Jacob Vedel-Petersen later joined the group, while Lars Andersen and Heinrich (Klaus) Arp got involved in the work of the editorial board. Contact was also made with the Norrebro, Osterbro and Sundby branches of DsU, and from the latter came Laurits Jensen and another member onto the editorial board. The regular editorial work was carried out by Jungclas and Trølle, but Lars Andersen, Heinrich Arp, Rolf and Peter also participated. The practical side – that of duplication – was mainly done by Niels Jacobsen and Thorvald Jensen.The latter also obtained a printed cover for the paper.
Already in the first issue, apart from a presentation of itself, the paper asked: “Is it all just the fault of the Germans?” It thus illustrated that the German occupation, regardless of the German promises of non-interference in internal Danish relations, had shifted the social balance of forces in the country, whereby the capitalists, in the shadow of the German bayonets, had begun a regular exploitative attack upon the living conditions of the working class and people. The main line of the five issues in which the paper succeeded in appearing was a clear attempt to connect with the discussion which the occupation had given birth to, namely the necessity of a new Socialist party, after both the Social Democracy and the Communist Party had proved bankrupt.
Apart from the five issues, the editorial board produced two leaflets, which were described as “special issues of Arbejderpolitik”, in order to make the link clear. One was a protest against the Germans forcing Hedtoft and HC Hansen out of the leadership of the Social Democracy. The other was a protest against censorship of the Aarhus Social Demooratic paper Demokraten.  In this way we wanted to indicate that we solidarised with all those suffering repression by the occupation forces. The Danish Nazis, of course, were not thought of as needing our efforts, for obvious reasons.
Until June 1941, the illegal conditions were of a rather lenient character (the paper’s cover even had a price-tag of 25 ore printed upon it). But the editors, staff and printer were naturally not mentioned. Arbejderpolitik can with justice be described as “the first regularly appearing illegal paper in Denmark” during the war.
The Nazi attack upon the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the Danish police action against the Communist Party and Spanish Civil War volunteers, together with the adoption by the parliament of the unconstitutional ‘Communist Law’, all meant a violent sharpening of the situation in the country. Work had to be carried out under the much more difficult conditions of illegality. We knew that the police would look upon the RS in the same way as they regarded the Communist Party. Shorsh had immediately to go underground, while Rolf and Peter, who possessed stay and work permits, had to show the greatest care. After a while Arp dropped out of activity, Tage Barford died in a boating accident in the Great Belt, and Karl the Moulder committed suicide when he was faced with being forced to work in Germany.
The other members of the group could, in the meantime, continue a legal existence, and contact between them continued, as did that with the DsU groups and some Clarté people. In the Osterbro branch of DsU, where John Andersson was active and a part of the branch leadership, they assisted by starting a membership organ Stormfanen (Stormflag), which put forward a radical line and quickly gained support in other DsU branches. Formally, the paper was legal, and DsU Osterbro admitted its publication, but all the articles were anonymous. Børge Trolle wrote articles for the first two issues, then the Osterbro people continued the activity. John Andersson was the editor and wrote in almost every issue. Of course, one had to work within the framework of legality, but that framework was stretched to the extremes. And as it was a ‘membership organ’, the authorities did not take notice of it. The RS did not try to take over the paper, but saw it as a means of using the legal opportunities that existed.
Until April 1942, the illegal possibilities were only used for publishing information about, and taking a position on, different events, always as only one item. Through different contacts they were spread out on the workplaces and dole offices. Considering the conditions they were produced in a quite large amount (between 3,000 and 5,000) and were all signed Arbejderen (The Worker). They were the germ of what later became Arbejderopposition (Workers Opposition).
But, naturally, the developing situation required a regularly appearing paper, and in April 1942 this was achieved, when Frihed (Freedom) began to come out. The editorial board was made up largely of the same people who were involved with Arbejderpolitik, with the above mentioned lapsed members – Shorsh and Trølle took care of the direct editorial work. Formally it was published by the RS and ‘the Sundby group’, a group of the DsU, but they only contributed to the practical work in a modest degree. After a while accusations that the RS was carrying out ‘fractional activity’ and wished to dominate the paper, came from the Sundby group people. The bulk of the material did come from the RS, but that was due to the Sundby people not delivering more than a few modest contributions. None of their contributions had been refused space. Also, the RS did all the practical work on the production side. A faction within the Sundby DsU had begun a campaign to end the collaboration; one of the key protagonists in that effort was Egon Weidekamp (later SD mayor of Copenhagen, elected by Conservatives as well as Social Democrats [1976-89]).
After Frihed had appeared with four issues, the RS, in late September, decided to produce a paper it alone was responsible for, and as a direct continuation the group gave out Klassekamp, from October 1942, which then appeared first as a monthly, later as a fortnightly paper, until the Gestapo got hold of the editorial board in May 1944. The paper achieved a production of 23 issues, the last one, however, never reaching the streets, as the whole print run was seized by the Gestapo as a result of their raid.
The print-run of Klassekamp increased as the situation developed; it was an organ which aimed itself at the most conscious sector of the Danish population; it didn’t attempt to be a ‘mass organ’, although it increasingly took up the concrete and immediate events and tasks, though it always tried to analyse them and place them in a wider framework. In 1942, the RS had also begun to produce a theoretical journal Marxisme, as a supplement to Klassekamp. However, it only succeeded in being produced three times. The work with the immediate concrete tasks demanded more and more of us, and besides the paper we continued to produce the leaflets under the Arbejderen label.
In 1942, the previous restriction whereby the paper and other materials only succeeded in reaching mainly the Copenhagen area, and only a modest quantity managing to reach further afield, was breached. In 1942, the warehouse worker Kaj Andersen (an HK union member) joined the group, and through him it was able to get into contact with the delicatessen-dealer Peter Pedersen in Kongsted, near Ronnede. He had earlier been an agitator for the Communist Party, and travelled the length and breadth of Sjaelland and Lollland Falster in his car. By now he was restricted to the use of a horse and cart, which limited his ‘action-radius’ somewhat, but he continued, however, to visit his customers, commercial as well as political, and possessed a series of addresses of potentially interested people in the provinces.
29 August 1943 came, and the situation changed dramatically. The RS recognised that the time had come when it became possible to go over to mass work, that is, a broadly directed activity, which, in the main, should rest on the workplaces, and furthermore, should possess a broad political-socialist aim. The solid preparatory basis had been laid by the Arbejderen leaflets, and during the timber-unloading strike of June 1943, the RS had collected a considerable sum to support the strikers and reached many new contacts in the unions and workplaces. The main protagonist in this work was Knud Ellegaard. In October 1943, on the Burmeister and Wain canteen-ship Skibet, in Christianshavn’s canal, he held a meeting with two B and W shop stewards, Janus Jensen and Charles Nielsen, with Børge Trolle joining later. It was decided then to build the organisation ‘Arbejderopposition’.
The tangible result of this was, that the paper Arbejderopposition (AO) started appearing in November 1943. The first two issues, however, had the title Arbejderoppositionen. The subtitle said: ‘produced by oppositional shop stewards’. The link with the workplaces was thus clearly stressed.
Unfortunately, the first issue has not survived. Whether it contained a programmatic declaration nobody remembers. But, in a ‘brief report’, which Børge Trolle wrote and sent to Ernest Mandel in 1947, he described AO’s platform in the following manner:
Apart from the fact that the hopes of the workers’ councils were dashed by developments, the above is surely a very precise description of the perspective in AO.
This is confirmed by an interview which Anton Schou Madsen made with Carl Heinrich Petersen in connection with the production of his university text. Carl Heinrich says the following about the basis of AO (p.109):
It was quite natural that Petersen, who had delivered trade union material to both Frihed and Klassekamp, also became an important force on the AO editorial board. But, we also gained new and fresh forces: Alvar Westerberg from the painters, van den Bosch from the cigarmakers, Alf Mortensen (the Count) from the printworkers, plus people from the dockers, the engineering workers, from HK and from Jord og Beton (Earth and Concrete Workers) Bruno Nielsen. Furthermore, as mentioned above, Knud Ellegaard came from the drivers, at that time a central group, as the drivers union monopolised most transport. Børge Trolle was also on the editorial board, the only one formally representing the RS as an organisation, although his rô1e was more of a technical-editorial nature. He put his main efforts into Klassekamp, for which he developed an alternative programme to that of the Freedom Council (the clandestine resistance centre uniting bourgeois and working class groupings), Naar Danmark atter er frit (When Denmark is once again free). It appeared as a special issue of Klassekamp entitled Dagen derpaa (The next day). After his arrest by the Gestapo Trolle was accused of being sent into AO in order to “ensure” that a “Trotskyist line” was advanced, but the above-mentioned quotes indicate quite clearly that this was not the case.
The technical work of the production of the paper was carried out by Alf Mortensen in the main, and the typographer Thorvald Jensen. It was the latter who, after the Gestapo had got hold of AO’s second editorial board after the People’s Strike, took care of the printing of the subsequent issues of AO at an illegal print-works. On the same ‘F1yswatter’ he also printed leaflets with the title Die Wahrheit (The Truth) which were spread among the German soldiers here.
There is a basis for slightly correcting CHP’s statement. After the Allied invasion of June 1944, AO published a 10 paged Invasion issue (No.9) which, although it focussed on the position of the workers in the coming peace time, must be described as clearly political (though not party political). In that issue a polemic was taken up against the Soviet, the resistance movements’ and the Allies’ attitude towards peace demands upon Germany, which could only drive the German population even further into the arms of Hitler, as they would end up fearing the peace more than the war, not least because of the huge compensation demands and the demand for German forced labour in the USSR. Knud Ellegaard wrote the special issue.
The AO started with a print-run of 5,000, but it quickly increased. The paper also reached – though to a limited degree – the provinces. Certain local resistance groups are supposed to have reprinted articles from it, or parts of them. Concrete examples cannot be given, however, as such an investigation has so far not been carried out.
Already by 1942, the RS had established an escape route to Sweden outside the control of the Swedish authorities – changing over into a Swedish boat out in the Sound. Under the German action against the Jews in October 1943, the organisation became involved in the work of transporting the Jews to safety. Among other things, it took responsibility for the emptying of the Adelgade-Borgergade area of Jews. They hadn’t been given much thought by the other groups. Thereby one came into contact with a much greater and more heterogeneous circle of people. A certain Svend Bjornestad, who fetched the money for the financing of the transportation, was later shown to be one of the most infamous Gestapo informers. He was later liquidated by the resistance. The RS had got word that he was suspicious and naturally broke all links with him. But he had succeeded in placing one of his contacts in the circle around the RS, and he was able to inform on the group, which was taken by the Gestapo in the beginning of May. Shorsh and Trølle were among the first to be arrested (the latter had gone into illegality after the Jewish transports). By an unfortunate coincidence four other group members were arrested and two of the transport people, Jacob Vedel-Petersen and Grete Hoppe (Bjergvig) succeeded in escaping to Sweden; Knud Ellegaard, Thorvald Jensen, Carl Heinrich Petersen, Vesterberg and Alf Mortensen went underground.
Previously, the RS had taken Rolf and Peter to Sweden; Peter was even got out of Vestre prison by trickery. The Germans had begun to call up their citizens legally living in Denmark for military service.
Thus, the RS had been robbed of some of its best forces. Those remaining therefore decided to concentrate their efforts around AO. The organisation continued to function and the paper appeared regularly. Knud Ellegaard was the leading force in that work.
On 25 June 1944, Best (the German plenipotentiary in Denmark) decreed a curfew from 8.00 pm, and the workers responded by the so-called ‘go-home-early’ strikes. Street-fighting developed during the curfew period, and barricades were built in the working class areas. On 27 June, the dockers, Jord and Beton and other sectors went over to 24 hour strikes, and on 28 June, AO published its call: “Down with the martial-law. Organise resistance. Strike everywhere!” At that time the Freedom Council was very passive. It still went in for half-day strikes and was more concerned with issuing protests against the execution of the Hvidsten resistance group. But the population wanted a General Strike, and it came on 29 June, when the tramway and suburban train workers went home and thereby paralysed Copenhagen. On 1 July, Best declared the city under siege as a result, stopped gas, water and electricity supplies, and isolated the capital from the rest of the country. The Germans simultaneously began a process of ruthless terror on the streets. Finally, the Freedom Council issued a call for the continuation of the strike, but on 2 July, AO came out with a leaflet calling for the General Strike to be extended nationally. Roskilde and Elsinore had already come out in a sympathy strike. The call was spread out over all of Copenhagen. In the Istedgade area Knud Ellegaard himself was among those giving out leaflets. But Best had now begun to retreat, the Schalburg Corps (a Danish auxiliary ‘terror gang’) had been withdrawn from the streets, and on the evening of 3 July, the Freedom Council called for the strike to be ended. The President of the Danish TUC Eiler Jensen, and the Head-Mayor of Copenhagen Viggo Christensen,, appealed over the radio for the strike to be ended. The Freedom Council issued its call illegally, giving the excuse that victory had been achieved! On 4 July, work resumed in most places.
Naturally, it would be wrong to claim that AO had organised the People’s Strike. It was a spontaneous strike, emerging owing to the provocations of the Germans. But AO had had ‘the finger on the pulse’ and were in touch with the feeling among the population much more clearer and quicker than the Freedom Council. And in the Dagmarhus (the Gestapo HQ) they were not blind to this fact. The Gestapo began a wild chase after the AO people. It led to Knud Ellegaard, Vesterberg, Alf Mortensen and Boss being arrested, while Thorvald Jensen escaped through a window as they arrived to arrest him. Carl Heinrich Petersen was taken while ‘on holiday’ at his parents in Viborg, and arrested. Thus was all the kernel of the RS put out of the game. John Andersson did continue. He had been released (he was an invalid), and so together with Thorvald Jensen produced AO, but they had no organisational skill, so the Stalinists took it over.
Had AO been allowed to carry on its hitherto developed activity, it could have been a serious threat against the occupation, because it could hit them in their weak spot: production! That the Germans recognised this is illustrated by the following example. After the second wave of arrests the Gestapo threatened that Knud Ellegaard, Carl Heinrich Petersen and Børge Trolle would be put before a German court-martial as those responsible for starting the People’s Strike. To be put before such an organ at that time was as good as being condemned to death. Whether they meant it, or used the threat as a means of applying pressure cannot be determined today. After the People’s Strike the executions were stopped for a while, and the fear of the reaction could explain why the court-martial never took place. Even if it was bluff, the threat alone illustrates how the Germans looked upon AO.
The account must stop here. The question about why Arbejderopposition, which re-emerged at the end of the war, and looked like achieving success at first, did not succeed in utilising this, but at the end of 1947 was almost squeezed out, and would vanish totally the year after, is another problem altogether, which still awaits its historical analysis. Anton Schou Madsen, attempts such a thing in his Trotskismen i Danmark, but without much luck, as he also admits himself.
The author of this article was, owing to the after-effects of imprisonment, hard interrogation and the resulting stay in internment, only present during the closing phase of this post-war development, which explains the lack of and diffuse nature of his source materials.
This is only an attempt to sketch out the earlier stages. But this should also be seen as an encouragement and plea that the later developments are taken up in an historical analysis and treatment.
If my account can play a part in this then it has served its aim.
1. Hans Hedtoft and H.C. Hansen were both members of the Social Democratic leadership. The daily Demokraten of Aarhus was a Social Democratic paper with an outspoken left wing position.
Help Finland (?) Democracy in Finland is in Danger (?), Support the Finland Financial Appeal' (?)
A Danish Trotskyist statement on the Finnish Winter War of 1939-40 (undated).
Translated by Mike Jones.
This is the sound of the slogans of Social Democracy and the trade unions today. Should we follow them?
Stalin has attacked Finland. Even though Mannerheim, like the Finnish capitalists and their class brothers the world over, were and are the deadly enemies of the USSR, he and the Finnish bourgeoisie were far too weak to attack and beat the USSR alone. What the Stalinists tell us about the threats to the sea approaches to Kronstadt is pure demagogy. Only the present Stalin government has an interest in this war, in order to ensure its own bureaucratic position in power. Stalin’s war provocations are a crime against Socialism and the working class.
At the start of the Russo-Finnish conflict the Finnish capitalists had only thought of protecting their national independence militarily and by diplomacy. But today they manifest a new flowering of anti-Bolshevism. Supported by capitalists from the whole world, the Finnish capitalists are becoming the military vanguard in the imperialist war against the Soviet Union.
“Let us turn Leningrad back into St Petersburg!” This is the war-cry of the capitalists which the French capitalist press has already mouthed. “Crusade against Bolshevism!” is the slogan of the Holy See to the world.
The capitalists in England, France and America are not thinking of helping the Finnish workers to attain liberty and democracy. They want to destroy the USSR in order to force through its division and capitalisation, because thereby they will overcome their own crisis. Even the few gains of the October Revolution yet remaining are in danger from the world’s capitalists. Furthermore, the capitalists know quite well that one fine day Stalin will be swept away by the Russian workers. The Soviet Union will then become once more the champion of the world revolution and Socialism. These considerations are the reasons for the world’s sympathy for the threatened Finnish ‘democracy’.
How is democracy faring in Finland?
Already today there is no longer a democratic government in control in Finland but a military dictatorship, which in the course of the war will expose itself as being still more brutal. Mannerheim dictates in Finland. The Finnish worker has been disappointed in, and misled by, Social Democracy, worked up into nationalism and chauvinism by his own leaders and the crimes of Stalin. That is why the Finnish workers today still put up meekly with this dictatorship, and it is only because of that, therefore, that one can loudly whine all over the world about Finnish democracy.
We know who Mannerheim is. Mannerheim – the dictator of Finland – an old Tsarist general – was the executioner of the Finnish working class and the revolution of 1918.
The ‘democrat’ Mannerheim in 1918 let 16,000 workers be slaughtered by courts martial. The ‘democrat’ Mannerheim let 15,000 workers freeze and starve to death in concentration camps. The ‘democrat’ Mannerheim let 72,500 workers be condemned to lengthy sentences of hard labour by special courts.
After the slaughter of the Finnish workers who had risen up for democracy and Socialism, so many workers were murdered and imprisoned that the Finnish capitalists had to beg Mannerheim for an amnesty, as they lacked labour. The ‘democrat’ Mannerheim wanted to put a German prince at the head of a kingdom of Finland, and was only prevented by the outbreak of the German revolution and the diplomacy of the Entente. Such was the birth of Finnish democracy.
After 1918, the Socialist workers of Finland were persecuted and their organisations, trade unions included, were banned insofar as they put forward class politics. Under Finnish ‘democracy’ the Fascist Lappo movement emerged and flourished and was let loose upon the revolutionary workers. In later years the Social Democrats were tolerated in the government, because they were no longer a workers’ party but a tool in the hands of the capitalists for betraying the working class.
The Finnish government is not democratic, although Tanner and some of his cronies are to be found in it. These Social Democrats do not represent the interests of the working class, but are the bourgeoisie's administrators. Even though the worst excesses of the anti-revolutionary laws have been removed, the Finnish workers are tied and their rights are very limited. The prisons are still filled with revolutionary workers. The banner of the working class – the red flag – is prohibited. The song of the working class – the Internationale – is banned.
The Finnish Social Democratic leaders have agreed to the limitations on personal liberty. The Finnish government admits that is has allowed 70 spies to be shot in the Petsamo district alone. Naturally Mannerheim would describe every revolutionary worker as a spy, and allow him to be shot. Such is the shape of democracy in Finland.
If Mannerheim wins in the fight against Stalin, the last traces of democracy will vanish.
If Mannerheim wins capitalism and counter-revolution will also win for a long time in Finland.
If Mannerheim wins in the vanguard of an intervention, supported by the world’s capitalists, it will not be only Stalin who falls but the Soviet Union, a victim of imperialism.
If Stalin wins the Finnish workers will lose their political and trade union rights.
If Stalin wins the revolutionary Finnish workers will be deported and shot by the GPU in the style of the Moscow Trials.
If Stalin wins the counter-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy will, against the interests of the world revolution and the world working class, be reinforced and be able to continue to exercise its power to demoralise.
A third way is available. This is the way shown to the working class by Marx and Engels – Lenin and Trotsky.
The Finnish workers must carry out, to the utmost of their ability, a daily and decisive struggle against Mannerheim, with the aim of overthrowing him and his clique and establishing a workers’ government. Once the revolution has been won in Finland, Stalin, weakened by his earlier defeats, will be unable to continue to incite the Russian workers and peasants against their Finnish brothers. The Russian workers will overthrow Stalin and again join the ranks that fight for world revolution.
This is the only way, which every honest and revolutionary worker must desire. It is the duty of every worker to help our Finnish and Russian brothers to find this way.
Not through the Finland Financial Appeal and supporting Scandinavian chauvinism.
Fight everywhere and everyday against nationalism and chauvinism!
Down with the volunteers for Mannerheim!
Down with the Finland appeal!
Recognise that in the chaos that the capitalist catastrophe creates, and in which Finland is only a tiny part, there is only one revolutionary solution:
The revolutionary class struggle – the creation of a workers’ government.
Fight with the Fourth International against war and chauvinism!
Prepare together with us the Scandinavian Association of Revolutionary Workers’ States!
A Statement on the Situation
This was drafted by Børge Trolle on 9 April 1940 on the basis of a collective discussion, and was given out to contacts in workplaces, etc, on the next day.
Translated by Mike Jones.
As revolutionary Socialists we long ago examined and judged the possibilities for the development of the war and the position and rôle of Denmark within it thus:
The war is an imperialist war of plunder concerning a new partition of the world by both sides. It will be a totalitarian war and will not spare the smallest part of capitalist society.
The neutrality of Denmark will not be dependent upon the will of the Danish bourgeoisie to hold itself outside of the war, but will be decided solely by the military and economic interests of the warring powers.
When the government and the Danish bourgeoisie speak of defence of the independence of the nation, they mean thereby the defence of their right to exploit the working class.
If their interests demand it they will be willing to capitulate, and in this way give up the national independence of the country.
Equally, the attempts to create a Scandinavian defence union will be wrecked by the contradictory interests which exist within the bourgeoisies of the Scandinavian countries.
The only possibility of saving Scandinavia from the horrors of the war and giving its people the possibility of defending their national independence consists in the taking of political and economic power by the working class and in concentrating its political, economic and military forces in a union of Scandinavian Socialist workers’ republics.
The Danish bourgeoisie and the Stauning government will be unable to protect the Danish working class and the Danish people from the horrors, the suffering and the double burdens which the war and the occupation will result in.
Today these theses have become a bitter reality.
The conflict between the imperialist great powers has resulted in the occupation of Denmark by German troops. Through this occupation the country has become involved as a link in the great-power war and represents a part of the imperialist front.
Further development regarding Denmark depends on whether the country becomes a direct battle zone or whether it gradually becomes Nazified and incorporated into the German war economy.
The government and the political parties have known all about the threatening danger to Denmark, but they kept the people in total ignorance of it and plunged it into the catastrophe unprepared.
By unconditionally capitulating, the Danish government has shown its lack of will or ability to defend the independence of the country, but has shown its readiness to give this up in the hope that it could thereby gain for itself certain freedoms for the bourgeoisie.
The recently built coalition government only means that the reactionary part of the Danish bourgeoisie has gained increased possibilities to exercise control and influence, so that in the present conditions they will also be able to pass the increased burdens onto the working people.
The millions which in the previous years have been spent on Danish ‘neutrality-protection’, can be now seen to be totally wasted, and the claim that the task of the army has been just as much to maintain order on the internal front, as to defend the country, has been totally vindicated by the events of the last few days.
The Social Democratic Party and the trade union bureaucracy knew all about these conditions, but have supported the government in its policies in every respect regardless, and thus abandoned the working class to its fate. Not even the Stalinist party has prepared the working class, and it judges the situation not from a class viewpoint, but has put itself at the service of one side of the imperialist front. By accepting the German excuse for the occupation they become, in fact, spokesmen for this intervention.
The events which have occurred have tied the fate of the Danish working class close to that of the German working class and to the further development of the war. Just as the German working class, the Danish working class must now support the defeat of Germany in this imperialist showdown and use it in order to advance the proletarian revolution. This aim cannot be attained through unity with the English or French imperialists – nor by tailending any atavistic sector of the Danish bourgeoisie, but only through a close union of struggle with the German working class and the oppressed classes in Poland and Czechoslovakia.
Thus, in the next period, our tasks must be, everywhere in enterprises and organisations, to regroup that core of the best and most conscious elements within the Danish working class, which can carry out the fight against the imperialist war of plunder and thereby overcome the demoralisation and disorientation which the previous policy has resulted in for the working class.
For this kernel to be able to live up to its task, it is necessary that it regroups itself on the basis of a clear and principled programme. Such a programme must base itself upon all the experiences the working class has gained until now, and today the Fourth International exists as the international organisation which has begun this task. Only under its slogans will it be possible to break with the previous route from defeat to defeat and to lead the working class forward to victory.
Revolutionary Socialists adhering to the Fourth International
Persecution of the Jews in Denmark
From Klassekamp (Class Struggle), 4 October 1943, an illegal Trotskyist paper.
Persecution of the Jews in Denmark.
Total lawlessness rules over the country.
Conditions of open terror.
As a consequence of the 29 August, in the days around 30 September and thereafter, the persecution of the Jews began. Without previous legislation, which at least occurred in Germany, it was set in motion as the inevitable consequence of the sharpened conditions. Fascism, because of its own inner dynamic, its own inner laws of motion, flowing from its traditional methods of operation, will always be forced to adopt certain measures, when it takes total power. Such a component of the Fascistic philosophy of life and method of operation, inseparable from the Fascist form of rule, in spite of the lack of any real political value, is the persecution of the Jews. This, the greatest cultural barbarism of the twentieth century, is now being acted out here and has given the Danish population a practical philosophy lesson in what Fascism contains of reaction. It has brought events home to us, and even though we already rejected the persecutions in Germany, it was in a feeble and passive way. Faced directly with the problem, the persecutions have released a wave of anger and indignation, and at the same time that the full comprehension that the Danish idyll, the model example of an occupied country, has vanished, is now a fact.
The idyll in Denmark is really over: from the Fascist side, they attempt to sweeten the pill by making the persecutions popular through releasing the Danish soldiers, and by promising an easing of the heavy conditions of the state of emergency: “now that the real reason for the arrival of the state of emergency has been dealt with”.
The barbaric and totally ruthless persecution of the elderly, babies, cancer and tuberculosis patients, with many months of careful nursing ahead of them as a condition for a recovery of good health, who are crammed like cattle into the holds of cargo ships and transported away to specially constructed camps in Poland, Czechoslovakia or Germany, which in spite of their different geographical situation have the same planned starvation and misery in common, this is too clumsy a form of bribery. Only the lowest form of bourgeois and arch-reactionary would buy himself advantages with such costs. No, resistance and more resistance will be the result faced with such methods.
This attempt to divert attention from the real enemy, which is the real function of the progroms, wherever they have occurred (whether in Tsarist Russia, Poland, Germany, Italy or in the highly-praised democracy of the USA, with its numerous persecutions of negroes, not to speak of Denmark, which in the beginning of the 1880s and around the turn of the century had small manifestations of the same), will not succeed. And it will not succeed because the Fascists cannot support themselves on any national enthusiasm, which they could, for example, in Germany, but on the contrary stand opposed by a united opposition; because the Jewish persecutions do not arise from inside, from the Danish bourgeoisie, but from without, and cannot support themselves upon chauvinism, which always accompanies the pogroms. Thus, the pogroms are not any special Fascist phenomenon, though the Fascists take the prize for the greatest expression of bestiality in their oppressions and persecutions. Pogroms have occurred throughout history, wherever the oppressors have found themselves in a difficult situation and lacked a scapegoat.
The events around 1 October: already on Sunday it was hinted by official circles that the persecution of the Jews will be starting. During the course of Monday and Tuesday, nearly all Jew; were warned, and the most of the country found itself in a feverish tension, well aware of the consequences involved. On Thursday the first arrests took place and on Friday it went into full swing. The arrests were carried out by the Gestapo and our local Nazis, on Thursday assisted by the Danish police, who hoped that the compromise proposal whereby internment would take place in Denmark would be accepted; in that case they were prepared to assist in the internment of the Jews. The compromise was rejected by the Germans and then the police stopped their active participation. It is the irony of fate that the police, who on Thursday found themselves among the hunters, maybe in the near future will find themselves among the hunted.
In the course of the first three days around 1,500 were caught, some of whom were immediately sent to internment camps outside Denmark. A large number have escaped to Sweden, and a greater number remain in the country in conditions of illegality.
The first protest demonstration is the closure of the University for eight days. Only one vote was against it in the Student Council. Many protests will surely follow on from there.
The working class and the persecutions: events of great significance have also occurred for the working class. One must not be diverted by ‘anti-capitalistic’ radio commentator’s speeches about Jewish capitalism, which attempt to fool us that the persecution of the Jews is an anti-capitalist action. Poor Jews are being arrested, and so are innocent children and defenceless geriatrics, and in Germany it is precisely Big Business that is at the helm; limitations on the commercial freedom of the capitalists owing to the war do not change the fact, because it is a development which all the capitalists of the warring sides ‘suffer’ under. The Fascists are persecuting the Jews only in order to create scapegoats, as already stated.
Our position in the face of this must be, that we defend the Jews from such persecutions, which only serve the imperialist alms of Germany. We defend them as human beings, who have the right to expect the same democratic rights as any ‘good’ Dane. The Jewish capitalist we fight with the same methods as we fight any Danish capitalist. But we must defend even a Jewish capitalist, when he is being sought and hunted by the Fascists, because they do not hunt him as a capitalist, but as a human being.
As Socialists we do not just fight for five ore more per hour; we also have our ideals about human existence, and we fight against all forms of oppression, whether economic or racial.
It is the Duty of every worker to give aid to every Jew if it is possible: but furthermore, the working class must understand, soon attacks will come on the positions of the Danish working class. The legal organisations still remaining will be liquidated. Living standards will be further reduced, and our best people deported to Hitler’s Concentration Camps. Our organisations, though, have long ago played out their role and become useless in the face of the new tasks and the new situation under which they should operate. Total crushing will be the result if we don’t succeed in creating new organisations before new defeats destroy the morale of the working class completely. We were defeated on 29 August and we must recognise that. The General Strike did not materialise. The reason was precisely that we lacked viable organisations of struggle. The working class supposedly had large apparatuses at its disposal, but they failed and had to fall as a result of their composition, and owing to the leadership they had.
Organisation – Organisation – Organisation – Organisation: this is the order of the day. Comrade – look at the history of the working class. Everywhere it was organisation that was decisive for our strength.
Where we had organisation, there we achieved victory.
The old forms of organisation are outdated for the illegal struggle ahead. The unions can be destroyed with one blow. New ones must be built. They must be based on the workplace.
Build resistance groups in the workplace. The illegal struggle must be led from these centres, as well as the strikes and mass sabotage, and from these centres the fascist power can be undermined. Every factory must be a fortress in the fight against fascist oppression.
Workers of Copenhagen
The following text is from the Arbejderopposition (Workers Opposition) leaflet, Special Edition No.2, which was given out in 1944. Its context was the ‘Folkestreike’ in the last days of June and first days of July. The strikers demanded the removal of the Schalburg Corps – a pro-Nazi terror gang – from Copenhagen and an easing of the curfew limitations. The Germans tried to starve the strikers and the population into giving up, as the leaflet states. At the same time they moved reinforcements into the area and prepared to use force to crush the strike – firebombing of whole areas of the city was one idea mooted. The Germans gave concessions. However, it was the politicians who negotiated with them, and not the resistance movement. As Børge Trolle explains in his text on the Trotskyists and the occupation, the politicians feared that things would bypass them. The ‘Folkestreike’ resulted in the politicians establishing contact with the resistance for the first time. After that, among other things, the composition of a post-war government was planned.
The General Strike has now continued for four nights and days. The Fascist terror, which has so far resulted in 400 killed and wounded among the civilian population, has convinced us that the oppressors will attempt to smash the general strike with all means.
Gas, electricity and waterworks are occupied by German police troops, who have thus been able to stop the supplies from these places. Copenhagen is besieged. German troops have dug themselves in around the city with the aim of starving it. These measures show us the fear of the Germans that the general strike could take on national proportions. Hard pressed as they are on all fronts, at this moment the Germans cannot provide people to oppress us all with armed force, and the possibilities exist for forcing concessions from the Germans. The possibilities will increase in the measure that one succeeds in spreading the strike to the whole country. Such a development is in motion. A whole series of towns, with Roskilde and Elsinore in the lead, have engaged in sympathy strikes.
The working class is now the decisive political factor in the fight against the Fascist oppressors. The struggle is hard, and demands the greatest discipline within our ranks. We must not let ourselves be led astray into adventures of any sort. Our weapon is the strike, the only one able to bring us victory. The most important task now is to expand the illegal leadership of the strike, which can and must only be led by the independent organisations of the working class themselves.
Through the strike the self-confidence of the working class has been reawakened. When the Fascists are beaten, the struggle must be used to put a stop to the shameless exploitation of the working masses by the Danish employers. The basis for an alteration of our miserable contracts is now in existence.
Let the solidarity which has resulted in such a magnificent expression through the collective work stoppage help us overcome the difficulties which the strike has brought with it.
Demand locally that the shops sell their goods to the population via the backdoor.
Remember that the struggle is not hopeless. The power of the working class is based on its total mastery over the means of production.
Long live the solidarity of the working class. Down with the Fascist regime of violence. Hold onto the demands raised.
Long live the victorious general strike.
Thorvald Stauning (1873-1942), the Danish Prime Minister at the time of the occupation, was the dominant figure in Danish political life in the inter-war years. He headed the first Social Democratic government in 1924 – which included the first woman minister Nina Bang, as education minister – when Social Democracy became the largest Danish party, a position it has held ever since.
From 1926 to spring 1929 a bourgeois coalition ruled which, until its fall, gave Social Democracy another advance, Stauning took over the government, but he took the Radicals (Social-Liberals), a petty bourgeois party, into government giving their leader Peter Munch, the Foreign Ministry. This coalition was the first Danish parliamentary majority since 1909, and it ruled until the German invasion.
On 10 April 1940, Stauning took Conservative and Liberal ministers into his coalition.
After the German attack upon the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, Communists were ordered to be interned in Denmark. The government carried out a law forbidding Communist activity, in a clear break with the constitution. Later that year the government signed the ‘Anti-Comintern Pact’.
In May 1942, Stauning died. He was replaced by another Social Democrat, it Buhl. Late in 1942, on a request from Germany, a new government was erected under Eric Scavenius, a non-party figure.
In May 1943, following the constitution, Denmark voted. A large turn-out saw an increase for Social Democracy (the CP was illegal). The pro-German Nazi party received 2.2 per cent of the vote, and the peasant party 1.2 per cent of the vote. So pro-German or Nazi parties received less votes than in 1939.
On 29 August 1943, after growing resistance, the collaborationist line of the government fell out of sympathy with the populace and after a German demand for the introduction of the death sentence for sabotage was rejected, it fell and martial law was introduced. Shortly after, the Germans went for the interned Communists to send them to concentration camps, and a similar fate was in store for the Danish Jews (after warnings from German sources the majority of Jews escaped in time).
Updated by ETOL: 6.7.2003