Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 9 No. 3


From Zionism to Revolutionary Marxism:
Rudolf Segall (1911–2006)

WITH the death of our friend and comrade Rudolf Segall on 19 March 2006, an extraordinary life has come to an end after nearly 95 years. The Fourth International and the RSB (Revolutionary Socialist League) have lost a comrade in struggle who was active until a very advanced age.

As the son of wealthy Jewish parents, Rudolf first saw the light of day on 6 April 1911 in the Schöneberg district of Berlin. His father was an economically very successful commercial representative. His mother had returned from the USA to the German Empire shortly before her marriage in 1910.

After attending elementary school from 1917 onwards, Rudolf transferred in 1920 to a non-classical secondary school, the Treitschke [1] School. The very name of this educational establishment was a programme. Among the staff reactionary opinions were seen as a sign of good breeding.

As the only Jewish boy Rudolf was very isolated among his Christian fellow-pupils, although he himself had a distant attitude to the Jewish faith.

In the German Jewish Youth Movement

At the age of 14 he joined a German-Jewish branch of the Wandervogel (youth movement) – the ‘Comrades’. Membership of this group meant an important turning-point in his life, for not only did it introduce him to the progressive culture of the time, it also brought him into contact for the first time with political discussions and socialist songs.

Having passed his school-leaving examination in 1929, the 18-year-old decided to study to be a teacher in Berlin, specialising in German, History and French. After a relatively short time he transferred to the college in Königsberg in East Prussia. As well as family reasons, the commitment to the ‘comrades’ was decisive in this decision. Rudolf felt himself under an obligation to strengthen the organisation, which was weak in that area.

Reading Trotsky’s autobiography My Life, which appeared in Germany in 1930, made, according to his own testimony, an ‘extraordinary’ impression on the young student. However, to begin with this influence affected only his thought, not his activity.

In 1931, Rudolf returned to the capital and gave up his studies to be a teacher, since he believed that continuing them ‘in this Germany’ was meaningless. He moved into his father’s business, and in the next two years he acquired professional knowledge in various enterprises in different places.

In the politically very intense final phase of the Weimar Republic, he came into contact, through friends, with the Berlin oppositional group around Harro Schulze-Boysen, and for a time took part in their meetings. Schulze-Boysen was executed by the Nazis in 1942 as one of the leaders of the resistance organisation known as the ‘Red Orchestra’.

From Nazi Germany to Palestine

Already at the time when power was handed over to the Nazis on 30 January 1933, it was clear to Rudolf that there could be no chance of survival for him under a fascist regime. He was looking for prospects abroad, and as a result he joined in Berlin the socialist Zionist group Hashomer Hatzair (the Young Guard). This decision saved him from destruction by the Nazi dictatorship.

As a member of Hashomer Hatzair he got his first introduction to Marxism from Martin Monat (Monte), who was three years younger and who was to become his great friend and his model. The Gestapo murdered Martin Monat in 1944 in France because of his underground work for the Fourth International.

Beginning in 1934, Rudolf took part in a hachshara (preparation) lasting several months in Denmark. Under the direction of Martin Monat, he and other young people from the group prepared politically and professionally for agricultural labour on a kibbutz. In 1935, he and his wife Bella succeeded in emigrating to Palestine.

At the Turning-Point

From 1935 to 1939 Rudolf lived and worked on the Bamifne (at the turning-point) kibbutz. In this community, which saw itself as egalitarian, he got to know among others Jakob Moneta.

For Rudolf the contrast between the social ideal of the kibbutzim and the violent Zionist colonisation had soon become unbearable. By leaving Hashomer Hatzair and joining the Fourth International which had been founded in 1938, he resolved this contradiction. This was the time which in retrospect he saw as the decisive phase in his political and personal life.

While still in the kibbutz, Rudolf joined from 1936–37 onwards a discussion circle around Martin Monat’s old friend and comrade Paul Ehrlich. This circle concerned itself not only with the conflict in Palestine, but with the content of Trotsky’s writings and of Unser Wort, the paper of the IKD (International Communists of Germany). At this time they established contact with the revolutionary communist group round the electrician Ali Frölich in Haifa. After leaving the kibbutz in 1939, Rudolf could officially join this organisation, and thereby the Fourth International. The overriding aim of the Frölich group was to return to Europe and in particular Germany, the presumed centre of the revolution which they hoped would come at the end of the war.

In the time before leaving Palestine, Rudolf worked, among other jobs, as a docker and an agricultural labourer. He was also a nurse at the Jewish hospital in Haifa, but was dismissed for taking part in a strike.

In 1945, Rudolf succeeded in travelling to Greece through Egypt. There he spent two years working for a Jewish relief organisation, and was active on behalf of the section of the Fourth International there.

In 1947, he was finally able to return to Germany via France. In Paris he had already met the leading trio of the Fourth International in Europe – Michel Pablo (Raptis), Ernest Mandel and Livio Maitan – and had been provided with contact addresses.

Only a tiny group of IKD comrades around Georg Jungclas (Schorsch) had survived the fascist dictatorship, exile, Stalinist terror and war. With them he built the German section anew, although the dream of revolution in Germany was by now already over for many years to come.

A Revolutionary in Non-Revolutionary Times

In Southern Germany with Georg Jungclas, he met his great love Ingeborg Escher (Inge). She married Rudolf in 1950 and lived with him in Frankfurt-am-Main until her death in 1996.

After various other jobs Rudolf was appointed in 1952 as the chief district secretary for the then left-wing chemical workers’ union in Hessen. He was active in this position for 22 years, until 1974, although he was denounced by Stalinist circles to the union executive committee as a ‘Trotskyist’.

Until the 1970s, Rudolf was always re-elected to the leadership of the section, the central committee, under the characteristic pseudonym Monte. In 1953, the organisation embarked on the policy of ‘entrism’ in the Social Democratic Party. Rudi joined the local Social Democratic organisation in the Ginnheim district of Frankfurt. Under the pseudonym Anton Hessler, he also belonged to the editorial board of the de facto entrist journal Sozialistische Politik (SOPO), which appeared from 1954 to 1966.

With the rise of the Extraparliamentary Opposition (APO), the years 1966 to 1969 meant an important turn in the history of postwar West Germany. That also had an impact on the section. The founding of the GIM (International Marxist Group) in 1969 did not merely symbolise the end of ‘entrism’ and an orientation to the radical youth movement. As a result of this development many members of the ‘old generation’ – with a few exceptions – soon found themselves marginalised. Rudi was among this group, as was his contemporary Willy Boepple.

In the 1970s, Rudolf began his intensive collaboration with the newly-founded ISP press (Internationale sozialistische Publikationen) of the GIM. For around three decades he was active, not only in the editorial sphere, in pursuing the translation and publication of revolutionary Marxist literature. As well as the publication of Pierre Frank’s book The History of the Communist International, we should mention here above all his part in the edition of the writings of Leon Trotsky by Helmut Dahmer. Rudolf also devoted himself to research into the history of the revolutionary Marxist movement, and it is not the least of his achievements that he contributed to the discovery of the murder of comrade Wolfgang Salus by the Stasi.

In 1986, Rudolf supported the unification of the GIM and the KPD [2] into the VSP (United Socialist Party). The collapse of Stalinism in the GDR in 1989 marked the final end of the VSP. Without hesitation, Rudolf joined the RSB (Revolutionär-Sozialistische Bund) [3], which was founded in 1994. His entry into the RSB did not prevent him from making a brief excursion into the domain of the Frankfurt PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism).

Until shortly before his death, Rudi, as we called him, was unshakeably committed to the strengthening of the international workers’ movement and for the overthrow of inhumane capitalism. For, as he once put it, ‘it cannot remain as it is’.

Wolfgang Alles


1. Heinrich von Treitschke (1834–1896) was a nationalist and anti-Semitic historian (Translator’s note).

2. This was not the German Communist Party (DKP) but a formerly Maoist group (Translator’s note).

3. One of the two German USFI sections; the RSB opposes working inside the new left party movement (Translator’s note).

Updated by ETOL: 30.10.2011