Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
Siegfried Kissin and the Danzig Trotskyists
The following is an account by Siegfried (Fred) Kissin (1908-1988), one of the leaders of the Danzig Trotskyists, of his political evolution and experiences up to his break with Trotskyism. He was born in Danzig and studied largely at Königsberg University although, in the German manner, he also attended the universities of Breslau, Berlin and Freiburg. In the inter-war years he became a citizen of the Free City of Danzig, which was under the protection of the League of Nations. After the period dealt with in this article he volunteered for the British Army during the war and was posted to Intelligence near London in 1943, where his German language abilities were useful. During the war and after his break with the Trotskyist movement, he remained in touch with the other leader of the Danzig Trotskyists, Jakubowski (Frank Fisher), who was in the United States. Perhaps Kissin still considered himself a revolutionary Marxist until 1945-46 when, after a visit to Germany when he was still in the army, and on the evidence of a long letter about this to Fisher, he was deeply depressed by the situation there and the lack of any revolutionary movement within the German proletariat.
After the war until his retirement he worked in the monitoring section of the BBC External Service at Caversham. In the early ’sixties he played a very active role behind the scenes in getting Heinz Brandt, a left wing German ex-Communist trade unionist, released from an East Berlin jail after the latter had been kidnapped from West Berlin. He left the Labour Party in 1968 in disgust at what he considered the racist nature of the Immigration Act of that time, although he later rejoined. He remained an active member of the Fabian Society until his death. Nigel West mentions Fred and his brother Harry (Lord Kissin) in Molehunt (Coronet, 1987, p.95) stating inaccurately that Fred Kissin had been Trotsky’s private secretary. His brother Harry, who never had anything to do with Trotskyism, but who had been at Basel University with Jakubowski and was personally close to him, remained friends and in touch with the latter until Jakubowski died in 1971.
As a guest reviewer Fred Kissin wrote a piece on a history of the Nazis in Danzig for Workers Press, 8 February 1972, and he provided a long interview for Tom Kemp, parts of which appeared in an article on the Danzig Trotskyists in that same paper on 19 April 1972. In the ’seventies and ’eighties he had a considerable correspondence with, and provided help to, a number of German and French researchers into the history of German Trotskyism. Kissin’s other publications include Communism: All Revisionists Now?, Fabian Society pamphlet, 1972, as well as War and the Marxists, Volumes 1 and 2, Andre Deutsch, 1988 and 1989, reviewed below by Ted Crawford. He left an unpublished manuscript Does Labour Believe in World Socialism?, written in 1949, which he submitted to the Fabian Society in 1982. Some further information about his life may be found in the April 1972 article in Workers Press and in the introduction to Volume I of War and the Marxists (though the date given there for his departure from Germany is inaccurate).
Well worth consulting is the article by Leon Trotsky, The Trial of the Danzig Trotskyists, in Writings of Leon Trotsky 1936-37, New York 1978, pp.284-9.
1. My Political Experiences in the Trotskyist Movement
My interest in everyday politics died down shortly after I left school in 1927 and started studying law and economics at German universities. For reasons which are too difficult to explain in this context I diverted my main attention to abstract philosophical and ethical problems, and in the end retired into an attitude of purely contemplative scepticism, trying to grow indifferent to the play enacted on the political stage. It was the parliamentary elections of September 1930 in Germany that brought me back to earth, the first danger signal of the approaching crisis. In the summer of 1930 1 had finished my studies at the university and had taken up my practical training for a lawyer’s career in my home town; a few years previously I had become a naturalised citizen of the Free City of Danzig. The spectacular success of the German Nazi Party in those Reichstag elections, and the terrorist methods by which this success was achieved, brought it home to me that the Nazi bid for power threatened all the human and spiritual values that I cherished. I realised how impossible it was in these circumstances to remain aloof from political passions and struggles in the abstract world of pure thought.
I returned to the Socialist convictions of my early youth. It had become clear to me that the capitalist system was doomed, and that it had outlived its original function to promote the development of the productive capacity of society; capitalism had obviously degenerated into an obstacle hampering the progress of civilisation, and a new Socialist order was both the only guarantee of a return to economic prosperity and also of the preservation of the European cultural heritage. But I soon lost any illusions about the Social Democratic Party. In those years (1930-32) the German Socialists, and the trade unions that they controlled, were addicted to the disastrous policy of the ‘lesser evil’. Instead of mobilising the working class against the growing threat of Fascist dictatorship, they tried to keep Hitler out of office by supporting the reactionary Brüning administration, and by conniving at the anti-democratic measures of that government. In the presidential elections of March 1932 they helped to bring about the re-election of Hindenburg, who less than a year later sold out to Hitler. I now investigated the historical aspects and the background of Socialist Party policy and came to the conclusion that the Social Democrats had altogether ceased to be the protagonists of the Socialist aspirations of the masses; they had already betrayed the Socialist revolution of 1918-19, and were now clearly afraid of the revolutionary potentialities that lay in an all-out struggle for the preservation of democratic liberties and working class rights. So they shirked the decisive clash with the Nazi Party, apparently hoping that Hindenburg and the military would hold the Nazis down and save what little could be saved of parliamentary institutions, and of the positions which the party and trade union bureaucracies then held.
So I began to see in the Communists, the second strongest working class party, the real vanguard of the Socialist revolution. Differing from the Social Democrats, the Communist Party of Germany took its Socialist programme seriously. The Communists stood for uncompromising class struggle. They knew that a showdown with the Nazis was unavoidable, and they openly declared that, in this struggle, the workers would have to rely on their own strength, and not on certain factions of the ruling bourgeois class. Indeed, Communist workers were the only ones who dared to meet the Nazi challenge and to oppose Nazi violence by violence wherever it proved necessary, in the streets and in the factories, in meetings and in demonstrations.
But although the German Communist Party was the strongest section of the Comintern outside Russia, it possessed the confidence of only a minority of the German workers. The bulk of the six million votes which the CP polled at its peak in November 1932 came from the unemployed. (There were between eight and nine million unemployed in Germany in those days). Most of the factory workers adhered to the Socialist-controlled trade unions, and recognised the leadership of the Social Democratic Party. So the Communists were obviously not able to stem the Nazi tide on their own. Socialists and Communists together were about as strong numerically as the Nazis; their actual combined fighting strength would have been superior, as their followers were not uprooted middle class people like the Nazi crowd, but mainly industrial workers on whose cooperation the normal functioning of the productive apparatus and of the public services depended.
The obvious thing to do was to create a Socialist-Communist alliance, a United Front of the left wing parties, based on a concrete programme of action against the Nazi terrorists and against the dictatorial measures of the successive pre-Nazi governments. But the Communist leaders rejected the idea of an alliance with the Social Democrats (the ‘Social Fascists’ as they chose to call them, for no apparent reason). Instead, the Communists put forward the preposterous slogan of “A United Front with the Social Democratic workers against the Social Democratic leaders”. This, of course, was to make Socialist workers even more suspicious of Communist propaganda. However, this anti-unitarian attitude of the German Communist leaders was not of their own making. They only acted on the instructions they had received from the Executive Committee of the Comintern, which was just passing through its extreme left phase. It was Stalin himself who had stated that Nazis and “Social Fascists” were not opponents, but “twin brothers” and that the Socialist Parties were only the left wing of the Fascist movement. Like all the other sections of the Third International, the German Communists always accepted Stalin's views and orders uncritically and unreservedly.
Nor was this the only major blunder of the German Communists. In foreign politics they tried to outdo the chauvinist slogans of the Nazis by fulminating against the Versailles Treaty, and by demanding the “National and social liberation of Germany”. On certain issues they even made common cause with the Nazis. The ‘Red Referendum’ of August 1931 is an outstanding example: here the CP backed an attempt by the Nazi Party and satellite groups to overthrow the Social Democratic coalition in Prussia by a referendum; had they been successful a government of Nazis and right wing parties would have become inevitable.
My own views on the political situation were at that time identical to those of the oppositional Communist groups which criticised the party line from the point of view of the principles and strategy evolved by Marx and Lenin. I was particularly attracted by the outlook and propaganda of the so-called Trotskyists, or ‘Left Opposition of the Communist Party’ as they styled themselves. The leading members of this group had been expelled from the CP, which by this time no longer tolerated public criticism of its official policy. The Trotskyists, nevertheless, did not consider themselves as an independent competing group, but as a faction inside the party; they endeavoured to conquer the party machinery and reform the party in accordance with their own ideas. Trotsky himself had written a number of brilliant articles, and also a number of pamphlets, on the German situation, giving a masterly analysis of the Nazi movement, its prospects for success and its weaknesses. He showed with great clarity the terrible consequences that a Nazi victory in Germany was bound to have, not only for the German workers, but for the cause of Socialism and humanity in Europe and the whole world. Among other things he predicted that, if Hitler came to power, he would sooner or later try to invade and destroy the Soviet Union. Trotsky urged the German Communists to approach the Social Democratic Party openly with an offer for an alliance on a programme of anti-Fascist action. His point was that the Social Democratic leaders, unwilling though they were to fight, would be compelled by mass pressure to accept the Communists’ offer, and that, in the struggle against the common enemy, the Communists would have the opportunity to prove their superior strategy and leadership to the Social Democratic workers. Far from taking Trotsky’s advice, the Communist Party and its press declared that Trotsky himself was a “Social Fascist” because he urged cooperation with the Social Democratic leaders. They boastfully asserted their ability to defeat the Nazi danger by themselves.
Then came the catastrophe of 1933. The policy of the ‘lesser evil’ bore its fruits. The semi-dictatorial methods of Brüning and his successors – elimination of parliament, restrictions on free speech, the gagging of the oppositional press, etc. – turned out to be the thin edge of the totalitarian wedge, which was now driven home. The Socialists and trade unions capitulated without a fight. The Communists were clamouring for a political general strike, but nobody listened to them. Step by step Hitler erected his absolute dictatorship without encountering serious resistance. The battle for freedom was lost.
The victory of Fascism in Germany was a terrible blow, but I hoped that it would have at least one wholesome effect: I thought the Communists might have learned their lesson, that they might admit their fatal mistakes and revise their policy in the light of this latest experience. But nothing of the sort happened. The German working class had suffered a crushing and unprecedented defeat. The Communist Party machine had been smashed, the Communist press was banned, and the best militants of the party were killed or imprisoned. But the Central Committee, now consisting of a few leading members who had made good their escape to Moscow, passed a resolution saying that the party had not been defeated at all, but that it had only carried out an “orderly withdrawal”; it was stated that the party line had been correct from beginning to end, and that the party would continue to direct its fire against Fascists and ‘Social Fascists’ alike. This line was taken up by the Communist underground groups which sprang up here and there. And in the summer of 1933 the Executive Committee of the Comintern formally approved of the policy of the German CP and rejected all criticism.
Trotsky’s predictions regarding Germany had thus come true in a most tragic way. The absence of a United Front had resulted in the collapse of the German labour movement and in a historical catastrophe which was soon to engulf all Europe. Trotsky’s vigorous style and his convincing way of arguing had always fascinated me. I read his autobiography and his History of the Russian Revolution. I studied his theory of the Permanent Revolution and acquainted myself with the background of his conflict with Stalin. Up to 1933 my connections with the Trotskyist organisation had been rather loose. I kept in touch with some members of the groups and had discussions with them, but I did not work for the organisation. Now, after the debacle, I decided to become an active member. I felt it to be my duty to help reinforce somehow the thin ranks of the anti-Nazi underground. The Trotskyists had meanwhile adjusted their political line to the new situation. After the failure of the Communists to acknowledge the reality of their defeat, the Trotskyists considered that the Comintern was now beyond redemption, and that it had become imperative to create new Communist Parties and a new Communist International. The Trotskyist sections in the various countries were regarded as the nuclei of the new parties which they hoped to build up in conjunction with other revolutionary groups. It was the German section of the Trotskyist international organisation, the International Communists, which I joined at the beginning of 1934. I became a member of the small underground group in Danzig.
Most of the other members of this group were workers. There were very few intellectuals besides me. As I was better than the others at drafting resolutions, writing reports, etc, I soon rose to a leading position, in spite of my lack of practical experience. I also possessed more theoretical knowledge than most of the others, and was able to lecture on Socialist theory, economic problems, etc. The Secretariat of the German organisation was in France. In December 1934 I attended a conference of the German section somewhere in western Europe as a delegate of the Danzig group.  Several members of the German underground were present, and a highly interesting picture of conditions emerged from their reports. But I could not help feeling some disappointment personally: the leading refugee delegates displayed an attitude of self-admiration and intolerance for unorthodox views that killed much of my enthusiasm.
I still found full satisfaction in my work for the local underground group. Early in 1935 we decided to publish an underground newspaper in Danzig. Here I have to say a few words about the political situation in Danzig. In the ‘Free City’ the Nazis had come to power a little later than in Germany, and by way of a parliamentary election. They polled just under 50 per cent of the votes and won just over 50 per cent of the seats. They first set up a coalition with the Catholic Centre Party, and then chucked out the Catholics and ruled by themselves. But their rule was not as absolute as in Germany. They had no power to alter or abolish the democratic constitution without the assent of the League of Nations, which they could not hope to obtain. But through all sorts of legislative and administrative tricks and subterfuges the Nazis managed to reduce the democratic element in public life to a minimum without openly infringing the constitution. Freedom of organisation, of speech, of the press, habeas corpus, etc were harshly restricted, but not completely abolished.
The Communist Party had been dissolved, but until 1936 the Social Democratic Party continued to exist legally, and was even able to publish a legal daily paper, which, however, was frequently confiscated, although it expressed its criticism in exceedingly cautious terms. Some minor oppositional parties and papers received roughly the same treatment. Outspoken anti-Fascist propaganda, and Socialist propaganda in particular, was only possible by the clandestine publication of papers and leaflets. The Social Democrats, who were very anxious not to endanger the legal existence of their party, were strictly opposed to any kind of illegal activity by any of their members. But different opinions were held by a radical left wing group inside the Social Democratic Party. These comrades shared our view that one should not allow the enemy to dictate the conditions of the struggle, and that it was essential to keep on spreading the ideas of Socialism by all legal and illegal means. We soon found a common platform with these left wing Socialists, and together we published a paper, Der Funke (The Spark) of which, as far as I can remember, about six issues appeared between February and the end of May 1935. It apparently enjoyed a fair amount of popularity, especially with the dockers. We also published a number of leaflets for special occasions. But towards the end of May some of our Socialist friends were arrested by the Nazi police. I and two other members of my own group received word that the police were after us too, but we managed to cross the frontier into Poland for a time. No further arrests were made after our departure, but the publication of Der Funke had to be discontinued.
I spent the following seven months in Prague, where I had contacts with the German refugee comrades from my own organisation, as well as with other representatives of the German political emigration. There is nothing of special interest to report in connection with my stay in Prague. I did not like the atmosphere of petty intrigue and continuous nervous tension which prevailed in most refugee circles, and I felt relieved when the announcement of a general political amnesty in Danzig in December 1935 gave me the chance to return. I did not feel perfectly easy about going back home. Could one trust an amnesty proclaimed by the Nazis? But I took the risk and it worked, as the police left me alone. I let a few weeks pass before I contacted my old friends again, and some more weeks had to elapse before we got the work started afresh. At the end of February, or maybe the beginning of March 1936, a new clandestine paper appeared. We called it Spartakus (reminiscent of the Spartakus Letters which Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg published towards the end of the First World War). Spartakus was an exclusively Trotskyist affair. Our work proceeded without a major hitch for several months The paper found a good response, and there was a slight but steady increase in our membership. But during the summer the political situation underwent a fundamental change because, after its failure in the Abyssinian affair, the League of Nations relaxed its control to a considerable extent. The repeal of the sanctions against Italy gave the Nazis the certainty that they could go ahead with their programme of complete Fascisation without having to fear any interference from the League. And the Nazis wasted no time. They started breaking up and prohibiting oppositional meetings, banning newspapers and arresting leading members of the legal non-Nazi parties. A few months later the Socialist Party was dissolved, and gradually all legal oppositional activities were brought to a standstill. The ‘Gleichschaltung’ with the German Reich was complete.
During the first phase of this development it was decided that I should leave Danzig again. As my political leanings were well known to the police, my continued presence and collaboration under the new conditions were bound to endanger both the group and myself. So I left Danzig in the last days of July 1936 – this time for good. I went first to Norway, and settled down in Copenhagen a few weeks later. At the beginning of August I visited Trotsky in Norway, and on this occasion I received some unsolicited publicity. The Norwegian Fascists, Vidkun Quisling’s party (called the Nasionale Samling) had decided to make the question of Trotsky’s stay in Norway one of the issues in their campaign for the forthcoming general election. They tried to prove that Trotsky had failed to honour his pledge to abstain from political activities while he was in Norway. For this purpose they had Trotsky and all his movements closely watched, and they also tried to break into his rooms to collect documentary evidence. That is how my visit came to their knowledge. I do not know why they attached major importance to this, but I suppose that anything was good enough to bolster up their case for Trotsky’s expulsion from Norway. Anyway, one fine day Quisling’s daily paper Fritt Folk published my photo - stolen from my hotel room - together with a somewhat distorted version of my political career.  They had obviously heard of my connection with the left wing Social Democrats, for I was described as a ‘Liaison Officer’ between the Second and Third Internationals, probably on a secret mission to Trotsky from the Comintern. In consequence my visit was mentioned by other Oslo newspapers as well. As a matter of history I should like to add that Quisling’s electoral campaign proved a complete flop – not a single Fascist was returned to Parliament – but his arguments against Trotsky somehow carried weight with the Socialist government then in office. The Norwegian Minister of Justice, Mr Trygve Lie, ordered Trotsky’s internment and subsequently his expulsion from Norway after Trotsky had objected to conditions which were aimed at placing him under strict police supervision.
In Denmark I resumed my contacts with the political emigration. In Copenhagen a special task was assigned to the members of the Trotskyist group. At the first Moscow Trial against Zinoviev, Kamenev, etc. in August 1936, Trotsky had been accused of organising sabotage against the Soviet Union, of plotting the assassination of Stalin and other leaders and of having bought Nazi support through his projects of ceding Soviet territory to Hitler, etc. Some of these charges were connected with the visit Trotsky had paid to Copenhagen in 1932 as a guest of the Socialist Students’ Federation. ‘Evidence’ was produced in Moscow to show that, during his stay in Copenhagen, Trotsky had issued instructions to his agents for the murder of Stalin, and other ‘iversionary activities’. We had to check all the details of this ‘evidence’ on the spot, i.e. to find out whether the description given at the trial tallied with the actual conditions of Trotsky’s stay in Copenhagen. We made a very thorough job of it, and thereby got the irrefutable proof of the absolute baselessness and frivolity of the charges made against Trotsky by the Soviet prosecutor, Mr Vyshinsky. To be quite frank there had never been any doubt in my mind, or in the minds of my comrades, that these illogical and contradictory accusations levelled at Trotsky were just a big fake, but it was gratifying to see the logic of our political reasoning confirmed by the factual results of criminal investigation. It is known that such investigations were carried out later after the Second and Third Moscow Trials, and that they led to the same results, especially with regard to Trotsky’s alleged conspiracy with Nazi leaders. The verdict of Trotsky’s complete innocence was reached, not by his followers, but by neutral politicians and outsiders who in no way sympathised with Trotsky or his ideas.
From Norway and Denmark I kept on communicating with my old comrades in Danzig. This time my departure had not forced them to suspend their propaganda activities. The publication of Spartakus continued on an increasing scale until the 11 leading members of the group were arrested in December 1936 and sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. That was the end of Spartakus. It so happened that about the same time some members of the Communist underground group were arrested in Danzig. The Moscow paper Pravda reported these latter arrests and thought it in good taste to add that they were due to “denunciations by local Trotskyists”. Several months later I read a lengthy report on the anti-Nazi movement in Danzig in the official Communist magazine Die Internationale. This report stated that the Trotskyists in Danzig had been agents of the Gestapo all along. This kind of ‘argument’ had completely replaced serious discussion in the CP press and literature; the case is typical for the way in which the Communists habitually poisoned the atmosphere in the German underground movement.
I stayed in Denmark until the spring of 1937, and then went to Paris to join the ‘Secretariat’, the central committee of the German section. But by now many of our groups inside Germany had fallen victims to the Gestapo, and communication with those remaining had become impossible. Unable to take a hand in directing the illegal fight against Hitler, the refugee groups largely ‘stewed in their own juice’, which led to a series of unpleasant quarrels and bickerings. (This is quite a common phenomenon in political emigration circles; the Russian Socialist emigration prior to 1917 was by no means free of it.) Signs of disintegration became apparent. For me personally this resulted in increasing estrangement from the organisation and its activities. Political divergences eventually compelled me to withdraw altogether from the Trotskyist movement. There were two main issues on which I disagreed with the official policy of the organisation. The first was the Russian question. In spite of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian state apparatus, of the totalitarian character of the regime, and the reappearance of a privileged caste, Trotsky and the majority of his followers persisted in defining the Soviet Union as a ‘workers’ state’, and declared that the unconditional defence of that country in a conflict with an imperialist opponent was the duty of every revolutionary Socialist. I considered the theory of the ‘workers’ state’ to be incorrect, and I refused to regard the Soviet Union as preferable to any of the capitalist democracies. The second, equally important, issue was that of the Fourth International. By adopting an attitude of sectarian sterility towards other revolutionary organisations the Trotskyists had failed to win any allies for the proposed construction of the new Communist International, In fact they even had to part company with those who had joined forces with them when the idea of the Fourth International was first conceived in 1933. Now, in 1938, the Trotskyists reached the astonishing conclusion that evidently they were the only creative and revolutionary force in the working class movement, the only vanguard of international Socialism; so they proclaimed that their own international organisation was no longer merely the nucleus of a future International but the Fourth International itself – in spite of its numerical weakness and the comparative insignificance of its sections. This was rather more than I could stand. In my opinion this policy was altogether unserious.
After leaving Copenhagen in April 1937 I went to Paris until May 1939. My arrival in Paris coincided with the climax of the crisis in the IKD. After Johre and Fischer had resigned from the Secretariat, I was one of the four members of the new ‘Provisional Secretariat’, formed under the auspices of the International Secretary (the other members were Jan Bur, Eduard and the Polish comrade Alexander). After this Secretariat had disintegrated, the Johre-Fischer group resumed command. I continued to work with Jan Bur’s group, but resigned from it after the conference in the Boulevard St Michel when Jan Bur proposed to merge with Maslow-Fischer. I neither joined that group nor did I return to Johre-Fischer, but stayed within the movement and kept personal contact, especially with Camille (Klement), whom I assisted in editing the German language periodical of the International Secretariat. After the assassination of Klement in August 1938 I ceased to be politically active, but continued to maintain personal contacts, correspondence and writing.
On arrival in England in May 1939 I made contacts with Trotskyists and other left wingers (mainly but not solely German and Czech refugees) and formed discussion groups. I kept up some of my contacts after joining the British Army in August 1940. My last active contact with Trotskyists was in Edinburgh, where I was then stationed as a soldier. The last article I ever wrote as a Trotskyist was a lengthy paper expounding the thesis that the position of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ (the official Trotskyist position) was un-Marxist in this particular war. I then broke with Trotskyism, and after the war I joined the Labour Party and the Fabian Society. I resigned from the Labour Party in 1968 in protest against the passing by Wilson’s government of the Commonwealth Immigrants’ Act, which I considered to be racialist. A Fabian pamphlet of mine published in 1972 led to contacts with left wing people engaged in research on pre-war Trotskyism.
This account, probably written in the ’seventies, breaks off rather suddenly and, at the suggestion of Siegfried Kissin’s literary executor, the last two paragraphs were added, taken from a letter to Pierre Broué of 6 September 1977.
1. This was the Dietikon conference. For an account of this see Revolutionary History, Volume 2, no.3, p.32, and note 37 on p.36, and Workers Press, 19 April 1972.
2. The photograph turned up in Nazi archives in Vienna after the war.
2. A Visit to Trotsky
This document is from an undated manuscript in Siegfried Kissin’s papers. It appears to have been written relatively recently.
My wife and I visited L.D. Trotsky on 1 August 1936, at Konrad Knudsen’s house near Hønefoss, where Trotsky was staying with his wife and temporary secretary (a solicitor from the Sudeten German provinces of Czechoslovakia). We spent most of the afternoon in Trotsky’s study and then walked together towards Honefoss, where my wife and I had booked in at a hotel. Present in the study with Trotsky were his secretary and the two of us, but not Natalia, who did not speak German, and probably could not have followed the conversation.
We talked about a wide range of topics: the international situation, Germany, the Trotskyist underground in Danzig (our home town), and the situation in the German section (the IKD) of the Trotskyist International. The Spanish Civil War was then about two weeks old, and I remember Trotsky being optimistic about the Republicans’ chance of speedily crushing the Franco rebellion.
During much of the conversation Trotsky held forth polemically against the ‘centrist’ Socialist Workers Party of German (SAP), the IKD’s rival organisation, which in 1933 had accepted the idea of founding a Fourth International but had then reneged on it. There was also much talk about ‘opposition’ trends within the IKD, which at that stage consisted of refugee groups in the various emigration centres (Paris, Prague, Copenhagen, etc). In 1935-36 the Copenhagen IKD had been particularly critical of the IKD executive in Paris, and indeed of the International Secretariat, and to some extent of Trotsky himself. On one occasion the group had decided not to distribute an issue of the official paper Unser Wort, because of an article in it with which the Copenhagen members strongly disagreed. In the course of our conversation Trotsky mentioned this as an example of outrageous behaviour on the part of an oppositional faction. I remarked that the Copenhagen comrades probably felt that the sale of that issue of Unser Wort would do our organisation and propaganda more harm than good, but Trotsky emphatically rejected this line of reasoning: “This is our official firm, our flag, we must stand by it.” It was every comrade’s duty, he added, to defend our official position vis-a-vis outsiders, i.e. members of other groups, whether they personally agreed with this position or not. It was obvious that by that time Trotsky had completely absorbed the Leninist party concept which he had so effectively criticised some 30 years previously.
There was not otherwise anything highly noteworthy about the time we spent with the ‘old man’: no feeling of being overwhelmed or overawed by the presence of the great. His talk was that of an intelligent, educated and knowledgeable man, able to argue cogently and to expound matters impressively – as we already knew before meeting him. His well-known gifts as an orator could, of course, find no proper outlet that afternoon, but I do remember instances of pithy repartees on his part. On the other hand he could also descend to banalities.
All in all it was a memorable experience but not, for all the affection and admiration one felt for him in those days, a world-shaking experience: we certainly did not feel that this encounter had changed our lives, and that things would never be the same again.
1. This was ‘Loeffler’, actually Neustedl, not Erwin Wolf, who was also from Reichenberg.
3. Nazis Send Arms to Spanish Fascists!
Leaflet distributed by the Trotskyists of Danzig
Updated by ETOL: 15.7.2003