Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 9 No. 4

Work in Progress


Admirers of the late Al Richardson and Sam Bornstein will be overjoyed to hear that Merlin have reprinted the now very rare and difficult to get hold of Against the Stream (£18.95) and Two Steps Back (£12.95). In addition they have reprinted the special double issue of Revolutionary History, Vol. 4 Nos. 1/2 on the Spanish Civil War: The View from the Left. (£18.95). They will be available via Merlin or certainly at bookshops such as Bookmarks and Housmans.


Comrades and friends of Al Richardson and Jim Higgins will also be delighted to hear that the University of London Union have started to produce a much more detailed catalogue of the contents of the boxes, still only the published contents, the correspondence will have to wait, but this is an enormous step forward. Those wishing to consult the collection should ask me for a copy of the catalogue so far which I will send them as an email attachment. tcrawford@revhist.datanet.co.uk.

Internet Wars

The Marxist Internet Archive, www.Marxists.org, has been in the wars and has suffered a massive denial of service attack from a whole number of servers under government control in the People’s Republic of China. This burnt out our server and we have had to buy a new one with corresponding difficulties all of February and March it should be running more than adequately by the time this issue of Revolutionary History appears. Of course this may come from a couple of teenage boys who have not yet discovered girls and who have managed to take over the computers belonging to a whole number of government entities but despite bringing it to their attention via the Beijing Academy of Sciences the DOS have continued. We have as yet no evidence that it has been co-ordinated by a section of the PRC government machine but comrades may wish to come to their own conclusions. Farsi Language material on the MIA has also apparently been blocked in Iran.

New Material

New material has continued to appear on the MIA site and a further piece of indexing, in this case of the journal Social Democrat 1897–1911, then British Socialist 1912–1913 has appeared (it changed its name in 1912), the monthly theoretical paper of the SDF and later the BSP. There are a considerable number of articles which can be clicked on to. There are also complete indexes of New International, Fourth International and the British Labour Review.

Interesting Websites

A website which may be of interest to many comrades is that of The International Newsletter of Communist Studies Online XIII (2007), now at no. 20, and found at http://www.mzes.uni-mannheim.de/projekte/incs.

Two French websites may be of interest to comrades: firstly, that devoted to Barta, the founder to the present LO tendency at http://unioncommuniste.free.fr, and secondly, one devoted to the history of the LCR at http://asmsfqi.org.

Ted Crawford

THE PCF & 1956

A colloquium on The French Communist Party [PCF] and 1956 was held on 29 and 30 November at Bobigny in North-West Paris. It was a suitable location; to a visitor from outside, Bobigny seems like the last of the People’s Democracies. One emerged from the métro into the avenue Maurice Thorez, and followed the route to the conference hall along the boulevard Lénine.

The colloquium was organised by the Seine-Saint-Denis departmental archives, and aimed to bring together veterans from 1956 and researchers from a new generation who are working on the copious archival material now available.

Yet the archives can only modify the picture so much. The fundamental facts are that in March 1956 the PCF voted for special powers to the French government to deal with the developing war in Algeria, and that in November it enthusiastically backed the Russian intervention in Hungary. There were doubtless hesitations, reservations, disagreements and moments of anguish. The pack distributed to those attending contained a summary of sound recordings of Central Committee meetings in 1956, which will make it possible to study some of the nuances of the Party’s evolution. But given the PCF’s traditions, strategy and organisational structure, it is hard to see how it could conceivably have acted otherwise.

There were some 28 speakers in the course of the two days, providing a substantial amount of information. With so many items a slippage of time-keeping could easily have led to chaos, but the organisers kept rigorously to the timetable. A wide range of viewpoints were presented in the papers and in the debate from the floor. Among the speakers was Michel Dreyfus, who has made many contributions to the history of Trotskyism; he argued that oppositional statements and publications by intellectuals in 1956 opened up a new period of the party’s history. Yet as we moved from Algiers to Budapest, from lawyers to posters, it was often difficult to see the wood for the trees. Titles such as 1956: a boundary of operational periodisation for research did not help to focus on the main political questions.

The central themes were Algeria and Hungary. To a British observer it was striking that Suez got only a few passing mentions; in the French context it was clear that Suez was very much a sideshow compared to the Algerian war. If Britain’s traditional imperial role took a death blow in 1956, France fought on until 1962.

A recurring theme was the question of Popular Frontism. The PCF’s main strategic aim, in the 1956 elections and the period thereafter, was to establish an alliance with the Socialist Party in order to reconstruct a Popular Front on the 1936 model. This was the justification for the line on Algeria. As PCF leader Thorez had put it in Spring 1956, the whole would not be sacrificed to the part. Opposition to Guy Mollet’s murderous policy in Algeria must not be allowed to jeopardise the creation of a new Popular Front. It was claimed that if the PCF had not voted for the special powers, it would have been open to accusations of sabotaging Mollet’s professed attempt to make peace in Algeria. Fifty years on, at the time of the colloquium, the PCF was still refusing to rule out the possibility of participation in a “left” government under Ségolène Royal – a striking instance of the continuity of Popular Frontism.

Yet loyalty to Moscow came before everything. The PCF’s line on Hungary was a setback for its relations with the Socialist Party, but no concessions were made. A powerful reminder of the party’s Stalinist past came in the vigorous contribution from Henri Martin, famously imprisoned in 1950 for activity against the Indochina war. Looking twenty years younger than his 80 years, he insisted that in 1956 American imperialism was preparing for world war against the Communist bloc, and that any criticisms of Stalin were a diversion. Other speakers justified the Thorez leadership’s strategy by pointing out that there had not been mass defections from the PCF in 1956.

Another reminder of the mood in 1956 was a short film showing the assault by fascists and right-wingers on the headquarters of the PCF, which was defended by workers loyal to the party. The attacking mob seemed determined to burn, loot and destroy. The commentary, which drew parallels with Budapest, must have seemed all too plausible, making the case that the Hungarian insurgency was also a fascist rising against Communism. Far from weakening the PCF, the rightist attack aroused a powerful reflex of loyalty.

Much has changed since 1956, as was shown by Sandra Fayolle’s paper on the debate on birth control. At a time when a commercial promotion meant that every newsstand in Paris was bristling with condoms, it must have been hard for the “young researchers” and those of their generation to imagine that until 1967 the sale of any contraceptive device was illegal in France – and that the PCF, ardent in its defence of “family values”, did not challenge this. A speaker from the floor recalled that Khrushchev had compared birth control to cannibalism.

The papers from the colloquium are to be published. They will be a welcome contribution to out understanding of the period, but a sharper critical perspective will be required to appreciate just how so many militantly class-conscious workers fell prey to the monstrous lies and distortions propagated by the PCF in 1956.

Ian Birchall

Founding Conference

Ukrainian Labour History: From Everyday Life to Social Struggle

Chris Ford writes to us about the first conference of the Labour History Society held at Kyiv on March 24, 2007. This was an historic conference being the first Labour History Society founded in the former USSR and Eastern Europe. See below for the details. We hope to have a report on this in a future issue.

* * * * *

The conference will cover the study of history and contemporary state of working-class communities, culture, nationality, family life, gender, sexuality, migration, theory, politics and organization – that is labour history of Ukraine.

For six decades two historical orthodoxies have dominated the history of Ukraine: the official Soviet history which crystallized in the late 1920’s, on the one hand; and diaspora’s orthodoxy which made a significant impact on the orientation of contemporary Ukrainian history.

Both orthodoxies have their advantages as well as they share many commonalities which create obstacles for the development of Ukrainian history. Leading figures and movements in Ukrainian past were adopted by the Soviet orthodoxy and misrepresented to the meet the interests of the regime, which was afraid of any independent grassroots protest; whilst the National orthodoxy would adopted the same figures and movements diminishing their socialist ideas and emphasising only their advocacy of national ones.

These problems cannot be seen separately from the context of the historical climate in which they existed. Symmetrical ideological systems existed in the East and West, mutually antagonistic, elitist and conservative in their attitude towards grassroots movements for social transformation. Both ruled out the possibility of an alternative to the established facts of “actually existing socialism” or western capitalism, their assumptions were pervasive in intellectual life including history and social science. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union many historians in Ukraine freely rejected the straitjacket of the old regime only to adopt orthodoxy of the neo-conservative historians in the West.

The conference «Ukrainian Labour History: From Everyday Life to Social Struggle» aims to attract attention and to give an impetus to deeper studies of issues that have been given no place of importance on the historical agenda of Ukraine. This debate is not simply of academic importance, it is also related to the current malaise in which Ukraine finds itself. To rediscover the past of Ukrainian labour is also to make use of that understanding to shape their future.

The conference includes but is not restricted to the following issues:

  • The everyday life and culture of peasant and working-class communities in Ukraine;
  • Working conditions and struggle for labour rights. Ukrainian trade-union and cooperatives movements;
  • Peasant movements and rebellions: from Koliivshchyna to Makhnovshchyna;
  • Transformation of social and class structure of Ukrainian society, from the end of the XIX to the beginning of the XX century;
  • Radical intelligentsia and labour. Ukrainian contribution to revolutionary theories;
  • History and activity of Ukrainian socialist movements and parties as well as of the branches of Russian and international socialist organisations in Ukraine;
  • Waves of labour migration from Ukraine. Social struggle of Ukrainians in diespora.

The Historiography of German Trotskyism

The year 1933, or to be more exact, its political consequences, marked a break in the continuity of the left in Germany. A small current like Trotskyism was particularly affected by it. In practice 1945 meant starting again from scratch. And in addition there were the consequences of the division of Germany between Stalinism in the East and anti-Communism – which was in fact directed against the whole left – in the West. In the West 1968 did bring a certain upturn. But the dominant tendencies in the newly emerging far left were Maoist – and by the end of the seventies the great majority of them had become supporters of the Green Party. Moreover in this prosperous country the charms of social democracy and Stalinism also did not remain powerless to integrate many other 1968 activists or to direct them towards some social niche. In general terms all this distinguished Germany from the other highly developed industrial countries of Europe. They had not experienced a comparable break, and over the decades despite the ups and downs a Trotskyist “milieu” with a certain tradition and continuity could be built up.

In addition the following specific feature of development in Germany should be taken into account. On the one hand the Communist Party in Germany after 1920, after the fusion with the Independent Socialist Party (USPD), was the strongest in Western Europe and as a result the Bolsheviks put their hopes in it. But for a variety of reasons it also split very quickly into a number of factions, especially after the defeat of the “German October” in 1923. German Trotskyism, the German section of the International Left Opposition, developed out of the left and ultra-left currents which, in 1923–24, had initially supported Zinoviev against Trotsky. For the most part these were activists who in 1919–20 had still belonged to the USPD. On the other hand by far the greater part of the old nucleus of the Party, which during the First World War had belonged to the Spartakusbund of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, formed the basis of the so-called “Right Opposition” round Heinrich Brandler and August Thalheimer. As long-standing opponents of Zinoviev they put themselves in opposition to Trotsky in 1926–27, and preferred to support Bukharin. They maintained their attitude after their expulsion in 1928.

In this situation a Trotskyist organisation came to be formed in 1928–29. Despite the domination of the Communist Party (KPD) it grew continuously, whereas the various other Communist opposition groups in the period before 1933 went through internal crises and tended to lose members. Certainly one of the main reasons for this was the great prestige enjoyed by Trotsky in the German labour movement. His writings had an enormous circulation far beyond the organisation. It was also helped by the violent opposition which he received from the Stalinists and the Social Democrats (SPD).

At the centre of the activity of the Left Opposition was the struggle for the united front. As a result after the defeat of 30 January 1933 it initially gained support. Many members of the KPD and the SPD or of smaller groups joined it. Its newspaper in exile Unser Wort (Our Word) had a broad circulation. But of course the Nazi regime did not fall apart. By its use of terror (and helped by the policy of appeasement) it was able to advance towards world war. This, in the context of preparation for war, made the working class passive. By around 1936 the organisation of the International Communists of Germany (IKD), as the German Trotskyists now called themselves, was practically destroyed within Germany, something which was largely true of the entire left.

In exile the surviving nucleus turned in on itself, and suffered a series of splits. Since, unlike comrades in France or Great Britain, they were cut off from class struggles in their own country, they began to orient themselves to “hibernation” for a whole historical period. Many fled to the USA, where there was now an actual break with the Fourth International which had been founded in the meantime. So the section was built afresh after 1945 by a few returning émigrés, who only succeeded over the years in very laboriously recruiting new forces.

In this situation, with no real continuities across several periods in the class struggles or in the political generations, the formation of a far left after 1968 did create a certain interest in the theoretical and historical heritage of the traditions linked in the broadest sense to the name of Trotsky. This however remained more limited than in other countries, with this being not so much an expression of the historical weakness of its object as a reflection of the marginal intellectual and political presence of “Trotskyism” in Germany in comparison with other Western European countries. Correspondingly, the number of publications was very limited, however interesting they might be. In particular here should be mentioned a presentation of German Trotskyism after 1930 by Wolfgang Alles: On the Politics and History of the German Trotskyists from 1930 [1] (Frankfurt 1987 – originally written in 1978). The prehistory, the transition from the “ultra left” opposition in the KPD in the mid-twenties to the formation of the Left Opposition in 1929–30 was described by Rüdiger Zimmermann in The Leninbund: Left Communists in the Weimar Republic [2] (Düsseldorf 1978). Here we should also refer to the link between the two phases of the movement, which actually came from an Austrian historian: Hans Schafranek: The Short Life of Kurt Landau. An Austrian Communist as Victim of the Stalinist Secret Police [3] (Vienna, 1988). These were all academic works, which were complemented by two autobiographies of activists from the Left Opposition in the Weimar Republic and in exile: Karl Retzlaw: The Rise and Fall of Spartakus: Memoirs of a Party Activist [4] (Frankfurt 1971), and Oskar Hippe, Und unsere Fahn’ ist rot (Hamburg 1979). This book is also available in English: ... And Red is the Colour of our Flag: Memories of Sixty Years in the Workers’ Movement (London 1991). In addition reference should also be made to two important volumes containing collections of material about the two most important leaders of the Trotskyist group after 1945: Georg Jungclas, 1902–1975, From the Young Proletarian Freethinkers in the First World War to the Left of the 1970s [5] (Hamburg 1980), and Wolfgang Alles (editor), Against the Stream: Texts by Willy Boepple (1911–1992) [6] (Cologne 1997).

The extensive organisational fragmentation, corresponding to the numerous existing “Fourth Internationals”, in the context of the decline of the political movement from the mid-seventies onwards, had the consequence that in the following years a succession of organisations disappeared and consequently the “periphery” which in some sense was politically or ideologically influenced by “Trotskyism” became even weaker. And as a result the interest in its history declined even further. Only in the course of the nineties was there a new upturn, connected to the formation of new organisations. This also awakened a new interest in the traditions of Trotskyism. A succession of works and initiatives, inspired by a variety of motives, were produced; these will be presented here.

One of the strong points was in regional and local studies, which extend from the last years of the Weimar Republic through the Nazi dictatorship to the post-war period. This reflects the development of the Trotskyist movement before 1933, whose organisational strength rested on a number of local groups, which were firmly rooted in their local “proletarian milieu” and exercised a certain influence there. Of course such groups only existed in a few places, or even in particular areas of the larger cities. Hence the Left Opposition, with all its potential for local initiatives, did not go beyond the level of propaganda as a national force. In the last resort these groups frequently depended on a few local workers’ leaders, who in the internal struggles of the KPD had followed the path of one of the various factions towards Trotskyism and had carried their local influence along with them. Thus already some years ago there appeared a local study by Stefan Goch in a journal of labour history about Gelsenkirchen, a town in the Ruhr region. [7] An interesting point is that the leading figure of the German Trotskyists in exile after 1933, Josef Weber, known in the movement under his pseudonym Johre, came from this group. Now there is also a noteworthy study of a Trotskyist group in Dresden: Barbara Weinhold, A Group of Trotskyist Mountaineers from Dresden in the Resistance to Fascism [8] (Cologne 2004).

Interestingly the group was formed at the end of the 1920s in a working-class suburb of the capital of Saxony in the framework of a labour movement leisure organisation, the “Friends of Nature”, and specifically in the mountaineers’ section. For to the south of Dresden lies the mountainous region on the Czech border known as the “Saxon Switzerland” with the neighbouring Sudeten. Disillusioned with the reformism of the SPD, they joined the KPD, but immediately came into conflict with its “ultra left” idea of “social fascism”. They came into contact with the Trotskyist movement, which they joined in 1932. After 1933 they naturally found themselves in the sights of the new masters. While the members who had gone into illegality in good time developed a resistance activity, the “well-known faces” (Wenzel and Käthe Kozlecki) had to escape to neighbouring Czechoslovakia. There in Reichenberg (now Liberec) they cooperated closely with the Sudeten German Trotskyists. Under the pseudonym Julik, Wenzel became an important cadre of the organisation in exile and of the international movement. From Reichenberg the smuggling of material into the Third Reich was organised. As experienced mountaineers the Dresden comrades knew the frontier territory like the back of their hands and were able to evade the stringent border controls of the Nazi police. But in 1937 the Dresden group was broken up and its members sent to convict prisons or concentration camps. In the following year the Kozleckis had to flee from the Nazis who were incorporating the Sudetenland into the Third Reich.

The paths of the pair now diverged. While Wenzel was able to get to Mexico through Trotsky’s intervention, Käthe found exile in Great Britain, where she came into contact with the RCP and took part in forming a small German-speaking Trotskyist circle of émigrés, which after 1945 tried to exercise influence in Germany through a paper Solidarität. The other Dresden comrades, who had survived the concentration camp, participated from 1945 on in the reconstruction of Dresden and joined the KPD/SED (Socialist Unity Party). They abandoned any other political activities in a Trotskyist sense. Nonetheless they suffered in the late Stalinist purges. Even though it was not possible to attribute any activities to them, they were subject to reprisals which were only revoked after 1956. Wenzel Kozlecki had distanced himself from all political activity while he was still in exile in Mexico, and took no part in the exile circle of the former IKD, which had turned away from Trotskyism and had founded its own paper (Dinge der Zeit). [9] He later returned to West Germany, since he rightly supposed that he would not be welcome in the GDR. Käthe on the other hand concerned herself with the survival of the Trotskyist organisation in the Federal Republic, but then in the fifties, after giving up political activity, she returned to Dresden. The old group had completely disintegrated and survived only in the form of private contacts. They had had to pay a high price for their political activities – loss of freedom or of health, or “merely” of happiness in life. The political circumstances in the GDR did not permit them to draw up a broader balance-sheet. In all their personal contacts they had to avoid reference to their political convictions which had led them into anti-Nazi activities, and of course they had no other opportunity of explaining this in any way. On the contrary, in the Stalinist atmosphere of the GDR this had to remain a secret which could only be revealed after 1989. This was disclosed to the author, who was in fact the niece of Käthe Kozlecki and of another member of the group, only after the fall of the GDR, where she had worked as a scientist, when she went to examine the papers they had left after their deaths. With the assistance of interviews with the family and acquaintances she was finally able to reconstruct the fate of the group. In addition to this her work is based above all on documents of the Nazi state about the persecution and arrests after 1933 as well as material from the SED and the Stasi about various expulsions from the party and disciplinary proceedings; in addition this is complemented with material from the Trotsky archive and other collections from the Trotskyist movement. It is thus an exceptionally rich and detailed description which, despite its comparatively marginal subject-matter, made quite an impact. Not only was it discussed in both the left-wing daily papers in Germany, but it was also publicly presented several times, partly with the support of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism) in Saxony.

In the destinies presented here, in which the personal goes hand in hand with the political, the whole tragedy of the German workers’ movement and its diverse defeats becomes clear. At the same time in the portraits drawn with empathy of all these male and female activists there is also a strong element of proletarian capacity for resistance, and hence the author has simply done justice to them, “to create a worthy memorial to the courageous men and women of a Dresden resistance group and to rescue their struggle from oblivion.” (p. 10)

Other such studies, for example about Leipzig and the Rhine and Ruhr region, have been announced. Precisely in these places the KPD in the 1920s was strongly “ultra left” and in particular influenced by Karl Korsch. This Marxist theoretician had already come into conflict with the Comintern leadership around Zinoviev and was gradually isolated in the party. With his guiding participation there arose the oppositional grouping “Resolute Left”, which for some time had a great influence in certain “proletarian strongholds” of the party, especially in the Rhineland. Until now this connection between the movement around Korsch, who himself had already withdrawn from organised politics after 1928, and the Trotskyist movement which evolved from 1929 onwards, has scarcely been noted. These works and those that will follow them will certainly make possible a more precise understanding of the various currents and tendencies in German communism.

Another at least equally important impulse for the reappropriation of history came from a quite different direction. It was produced by the opening of the archives in the former GDR. In particular this meant the archive of the former secret police, the State Security, better known by the abbreviation Stasi, with its extensive data about the persecution of the real or supposed opponents of “really existing socialism”. Here the struggle against “Trotskyism” acquired a value for the apparatus of repression which, as in the Soviet Union, was out of all proportion to the actual influence of the Trotskyists. This was especially true in the time after the Second World War, when the organisational strength of the movement was greatly weakened by the various persecutions. And naturally it is this period of the years after 1945 which is central to these studies based on the Stasi archives.

Of course the Stalinist secret police was here connecting with a tradition which did not only go back to the struggle of the KPD party machine in the Weimar Republic. In particular the Spanish Civil War represents an important link to the Stasi in the GDR, not least in terms of personnel. Many of its central cadre had received their training in the various security organisations in Spain under the direct leadership of the NKVD. [10]

One of the first extensive studies was only marginally concerned with “real” Trotskyism. It was a biography: Michael Kubina, Utopia, Resistance and Cold War. The Untimely Life of the Berlin Council Communist Alfred Weiland (1906–1978) [11] (Hamburg 2001). He of course came from the tradition of the KAPD and of “Council Communism” (as developed by such Dutch thinkers as Anton Pannekoek or Herman Gorter). After 1945 Weiland played the leading role from Berlin in gathering together the surviving members of this grouping and also sought close cooperation with all other tendencies of the anti-Stalinist opposition. The post-war situation demanded this, going beyond the old factional struggles of the time before 1933. If one tried to appear in public, even with strict precautionary measures, one came immediately into the sights of the NKVD, but Berlin did offer a certain room for manoeuvre as a result of the division of the city into four zones of occupation. Of course the region around the city, which contained many traditional industrial areas and hence strongholds of the working-class movement as far as Saxony and Thüringen, was under Soviet occupation and all activity to the left of Stalinist politics had to be carried on in a conspiratorial fashion.

Naturally the “council communist” tendency stands at the centre of this work. But for the history of Trotskyism it is interesting for the information it contains about cooperation with the Berlin Trotskyists, whose group was reconstructed after 1945 under the control of Oskar Hippe. This he has described himself briefly in his memoirs referred to above.

Here are to be found detailed indications from archival records. Mainly it is a question of SED reports about the activities of the Trotskyist groups. These also include numerous reports from informers. Hippe was arrested by the NKVD in 1948 when visiting political contacts in the Soviet zone and was released only in 1956. And Weiland was also arrested two years later. In fact he was kidnapped from West Berlin, which created quite a sensation. But after his release in 1958 participation in the political activities in West Berlin on the left fringe of the SPD was to be no longer possible. The erstwhile “ultra-left” Weiland had now turned to the American camp in the Cold War, and the differences in approach towards Stalinism had become irreconcilable.

Directly concerned with the actions of the Stasi against the German Trotskyists is an article by the East German historian Günter Wernicke with the eloquent title Operative Procedure Scum. [12] For this was the official title which the Stasi gave to their attempt to infiltrate the West German Trotskyists in the 1950s.

According to his account the Stasi succeeded in placing at least two agents in the Trotskyist movement, which enabled it to get an accurate picture during the 1950s. This was moreover of particular importance, since it also succeeded in exerting influence after the international split of 1953.

Thus a certain Helmut Schneeweiss was won over, who before 1933 had led the local KPD in Oranienburg, a suburb of Berlin, over to the Left Opposition, and had built a local united front. Trotsky himself drew attention to this several times in his writings on Germany. Schneeweiss had fled from the Nazis to the Netherlands, where he had come into contact with the Trotskyists there. In the 1950s he lived in Osnabrück and was active in the German section of the FI. There he worked closely with Pablo, and among other things was involved in the attempt to support the Algerian struggle by printing forged French francs, which was broken up by the West German police in 1960. [13] Through these and other actions the Stalinist apparatuses in the East had a far-reaching insight into important aspects of solidarity work with the FLN. And after his arrest Pablo himself came to suspect that Schneeweiss was a GDR agent. [14] The question which in any case follows from this, but which the author in his brief survey does not pursue, is how far was Stalinism able to manipulate the solidarity work, or what use it was able to make of this knowledge. This is also the case for the other informer who was attached to the German Trotskyists, and who from Berlin exerted himself to intervene in the discussions of the two international factions after 1953. The majority of the German section had declared itself in favour of the International Secretariat round Michel Pablo, Pierre Frank and Ernest Mandel, and had begun entry work in the SPD. At the same time the Swiss section, which belonged to the International Committee, was trying to build its own group from individual contacts in West Germany and West Berlin, which would also have an influence in the “socialist camp”. All this took place very precisely under the eyes of the Stasi, as Wernicke makes clear. One marginal curiosity: Wernicke reveals a whole set of pseudonyms used by the Stasi for its informers which Kubina, apparently out of concern for the strict data protection laws in the federal republic, did not want to disclose.

His contribution is only a preliminary outline. Numerous questions remain. First of all certainly the question of the motives that led formerly oppositional communists to let themselves be recruited by the Stalinist apparatus as informers. And not least the question of the consequences for the development of the German Trotskyists. Additionally this short contribution makes clear what valuable information about the Trotskyist movement, also on an international level, can be gained in the former East German archives by a critical examination.

This is very much true of the book which definitively uncovers the background to the murder of Wolf Salus. Salus was a leading member of the Czech Trotskyists from the 1920s on, who had had to flee in 1948, and who died in Munich in March 1953 in unexplained circumstances. Already in 1993 Revolutionary History reported that discoveries after the collapse of the Soviet Union confirmed the suspicion which had already emerged that he had been killed. [15] This is now corroborated by the researches of the author Hermann Bubke in the Stasi archive. (The Action of the Stasi and KGB spy Otto Freitag in Post-war Munich [16], Hamburg 2004).

The “chief actor” in this book, Otto Freitag, was an officer in the German army from 1926 and also from 1938 a member of the Nazi party. He was wounded on the Eastern front in the Second World War, and a superior officer had him brought before a military court for alleged refusal to obey orders. This enabled him, immediately after the end of the war, to attribute to himself a sort of political persecution in connection with the 20 July plot to kill Hitler. Additionally he could assume that the Nazi party membership records were no longer accessible. Originally a native of Munich, he went to the Soviet zone of occupation, where his family had been evacuated. He knew who was in charge now, and already by 1 July 1945 he was a member of the KPD and began a rapid career on the regional level. He aroused the interest of the Soviet occupation authorities and was hired initially by the Soviet secret service for work in the West. After a simulated flight his first job consisted in joining the Independent Workers’ Party (UAP), founded mainly by former KPD cadres after Tito’s break with Stalin. Also numerous independent lefts joined, among others the small Trotskyist group. Freitag’s task was not simply to deliver detailed information, but to inflame inner-party differences. The activities of the Trotskyists were of special interest. But the UAP was to break up in the course of 1951, because the Yugoslavs discontinued their financial support.

So he concentrated entirely on the Trotskyists, whose confidence he rapidly won. For example, Bubke quotes from the reports of his achievements which he sent to East Berlin, where he tells how he succeeded in searching through the briefcase of the unsuspecting Ernest Mandel and so managed to piece together important information about the condition of the Fourth International. But a particular target for him was Wolfgang Salus who had emigrated from Prague. From Munich, where he was also a member of the local Trotskyist group, Salus was apparently seeking contacts in Czechoslovakia, or at least arousing suspicions in the eyes of the Soviet secret service that he was doing so. At first Freitag made plans for his abduction, but in the winter of 1952–53 there was apparently a decision at the highest Soviet level that he should be killed with one of the undetectable “special poisons” developed by the Soviet secret service in the thirties. About the reasons for this we can only put forward suppositions. This decision came at the same time as the Slánsk‎‎y show trial in Czechoslovakia. Perhaps they had even intended to let him appear there, suitably prepared. Bubke himself suggests, without being able to find any proof in the documents, a connection with Stalin’s last planned “purge” action in March 1953 in the Soviet Union, which, proceeding from a wave of anti-Semitism, also aimed at the elimination of prominent Stalinists like Beria and Molotov.

In any case he has documented thoroughly Freitag’s observations and his detailed abduction plans. About the murder it is claimed on the basis of Stasi reports only that Freitag succeeded in “eliminating Salus”. In fact there was no indication of a murder in 1953, although suspicion had arisen immediately. The secret was revealed for the first time in Moscow News (2 August 1992) – this is not mentioned here. But for the Trotskyist movement the murder of this important intellectual and activist was a bitter loss.

In the following year Freitag’s main preoccupation remained the Trotskyists and the other leftists connected with them in one way or another. Above all he intervened in the 1953 split in the Fourth International, which he was to exacerbate. He put himself forward as the contact person for one of the two factions (the International Committee), whereas the great majority of the German group, as already mentioned, remained with the International Secretariat. The methods which he used to get himself to be trusted were the usual ones employed by police informers. He made himself indispensable by his permanent “unselfish” helpfulness in organisational tasks, while he was hardly noticed in political work. He even aroused thereby a certain distrust on the part of the leadership of the German Trotskyists, who however suspected careerism in the ordinary sense, as is shown by an internal circular documented in the appendix.

In the late fifties he worked closely in Munich with Theo Pirker, a well-known sociologist, who for a time played an important role in the independent left in West Germany. In a book of autobiographical interviews (Martin Jander (ed.), Theo Pirker on Pirker [17], Marburg 1988, pp. 99–102) Pirker himself unfortunately only refers to Freitag very vaguely and even without naming him in connection with solidarity work for the Algerian liberation struggle. On this Freitag as a former officer could give good military advice. [18] But political projects directed at Germany also arose, for example a newspaper to be formed under the direction of Pirker. This was discussed at a session of the “International Committee of the Fourth International” in Munich in early 1959 with the two German representatives Freitag and Pirker, likewise documented in the appendix with a report by Freitag. Other participants included a representative of the Swiss section and Gerry Healy [19], who reported to the meeting that his organisation did not want to leave the Labour Party under any circumstances. We are forced to consider the suspicion that Freitag (and hence the Stasi) imposed fraudulent projects for political work in Germany, in order to bury them all the quicker. Thus the project of a newspaper for Germany took as a model the Newsletter, with which Healy was preparing the foundation of the SLL (without of course being able to count on a comparable circle of supporters). For undoubtedly the thing that was of the least interest to his employers in the SED was giving encouragement to the formation and promotion of an independent left in Adenauer’s republic. And that is equally valid for the International. A note by Freitag, in which he sets down his task, states: “The split in the Fourth International must be pushed forward and we must strive to maintain it. Without unmasking ourselves in the process, we must always strive to reach an alliance with the forces that speak out against a reunification of the two main parts of Trotskyism.” (p. 84) The irony (or rather the tragicomedy) of the story is that for factional reasons Gerry Healy hurled at leading figures in the world Trotskyist movement the accusation that they were agents of the Soviet secret service, but did not notice that for years he had been sitting down together with a real agent and had developed great political plans together with him.

In autumn 1961, in the context of various espionage affairs between East and West, Freitag was removed, possibly also as a delayed consequence of the discovery of the printing of forged money by Pablo with the assistance of Schneeweiss. He attempted to exert influence on the solidarity movement with Algeria from East Berlin (which was harmful to this solidarity work [20]) with a public declaration as “a refugee from the Federal Republic”. Subsequently he was active as a senior official for the Stasi, among other things acting as an informer in GDR travel groups visiting other “socialist countries” until his excessive self-esteem got him entangled in the Stasi’s net when he already was a pensioner. Out of revenge for restrictions imposed on his family and also from awareness of growing discontent among the population, he thought he could get his own back by passing information to the West German secret service. This did not go unnoticed, but he got off relatively lightly with two years in jail; he also lost all his material privileges, including his special pension obtained surreptitiously through his connections in the Central Committee as a “fighter against fascism”. He died in the 1980s.

His action against the Trotskyists and what was at that time in the Federal Republic referred to as the “homeless left”, is dealt with here in a relatively detailed fashion, because it was the core of his activity and therefore also forms the core of the book. But of course his activities were not limited to this. A list, prepared for the Stasi, of people he had got to know and on whom he had reported (pp. 124–125) shows, how widely stretched his activity as an informer was. Those from Britain listed were:

  • Healy, London, leader of the English Trotskyists.
  • Hunter, Liverpool, organising secretary of the English Trotskyists.
  • Slauther Leeds, Professor, Cannonite theoretician.
  • Fox, Professor, Sheffield, Trotskyist.
  • Murdoch, Iris, writer, Trotskyist.
  • Daniels, Professor, Nothingham, Trotskyist.
  • Castle, Barbara & Paul Ignatus – anti-nuclear movement.
  • Moffat, Abe, Trotskyist, miners’ union.
  • Hamilton, Betty, Trotskyist.
  • Panter, Will, Trotskyist, miners union.
  • Arronsmith, P.A. Member of the committe against nuclear war.
  • Pearce, Brian, Trotskyist functionary, editor of Labour Review.
  • Zilliacus, London, member of the House of Commions.
  • Dr. Horpen, Oxfort, Trotskyist.
  • Cliff, Glaskow, Trotskyist.
  • Fryer, Peter, Scotland, former CP of England, editor-in-chief Daily Worker.
  • Jordan, Pat, leader of the English Pabloites.
  • Svan, J., Manchester, Trotskyist, miners’ union official. [21]

In addition he was put on to targets outside the left. A planned abduction of the head of the BND [the German MI6] Reinhard Gehlen, or actions against East European émigrés (such as the Ukrainian Borys Lewytzkyj, the author of numerous books on the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s) show that he was permanently active. Thus the Stasi remunerated him “appropriately”, although he was strictly camouflaged in Munich. Pirker said in his book of interviews (p. 102) that he lived “very frugally”, so that although his many journeys were noticeable, in the end did not arouse suspicion. All these things are described by Bubke here in just as much detail.

Undoubtedly it is a gripping story, even if it could have been told in a more fluent manner. But in the last resort the book remains unsatisfactory because it only concentrates on cases reconstructed from the Stasi documents and simply enumerates them rather than placing them in a broader political context. So the author scarcely goes into the question of what Freitag’s actions ultimately achieved or how much harm they caused. For that further research would be necessary which would bring in the context.

Moreover Freitag himself remains pretty colourless. What drove this will o’ the wisp figure on, what his personal environment was, we do not learn. Perhaps this cannot be reconstructed from the documents. But one thing is clear. In many ways it is very much a German career of someone who understood, uninterruptedly for at least most of the time, how to swim from right to left, how to attribute to himself the biography of an anti-Nazi resistance fighter, and then also betrayed without compunction the many people who trusted him politically. Exactly how people in Germany imagine an informer.

The local studies covering the last years of the Weimar Republic and the revelations from the Stasi archives – these are the two main themes which define the recent work on the history of German Trotskyism. Their appearance has also led to the circle of those working on the subject trying to form a network. Already there have been two meetings in Gelsenkirchen, in some sense inspired by the activities in this town before 1933, and in which family members from the activists’ circle took part. The first meeting in February 2004 was reported only in a Trotskyist newspaper [22], but the second conference in February 2006 was described in a left-wing daily paper. [23]

Here the provisional results of research still in progress were presented, for example about Bruchsal, also a place where a united front initiative was described as exemplary by Trotsky. A biography of Ruth Fischer will also portray her temporary connections with the Trotskyist movement during her exile in the 1930s. Even more important was the question of locating in broader context, in the history of all the opposition groups in the KPD in the 1920s and then of the left between the SPD and the Stalinist KPD as well as the relation of the IKD to the Spanish civil war, which because of the crisis of the German section in 1936/37 very soon became a de-facto non-relation.

Further meetings are being considered and also publishing projects such as a collected volume which would permit a broader comparative view. Thereby a forgotten tradition of the German working-class movement can be given its appropriate place. It is perhaps not by chance that this is happening just at the present time, and it is certainly not to be attributed to an academic conjuncture, even though most of the works originate in such a context. The real impulse comes from the political and ideological change produced by the search for a new left and hence also for the fresh evaluation of the traditions, which the hitherto influential currents of the German labour movement have extinguished. They are therefore above all part of the renovations following the collapse of Stalinism fifteen years ago, but also of the great breakdown which social democracy is now going through.

Reiner Tosstorff

Karim Landais

Karim Landais joined the Parti des travailleurs (the French organisation often referred to as lambertiste after its leading militant Pierre Lambert) in 1999 and was active for two years. He then became an anarchist, but devoted much of his time to investigating the party which had raised his hopes and then disappointed him. In 2005, just before his twenty-fifth birthday, he committed suicide.

His copious writings have now been edited by Yves Coleman and published in two large volumes under the title Passions militantes et rigueur historienne (2006, no place or publisher given). [enquiries and orders to Guy Landais, La Bastide des capucins, 84 240 Cabrières d’Aigues, France.] The first volume (823 pages – 20 €) deals with his researches on the PT and its antecedents, and contains some remarkable interviews with some of the veterans of French Trotskyism, notably Pierre Broué, Michel Lequenne, Boris Fraenkel, Alexandre Hébert, and Charles Berg.

Several of these interviews (in French) are also available at http://www.meltl.com/.

Ian Birchall


Hugh’s father was of Norwegian or Swedish origin. Hugh was born in Aberdeen. Of his mother, we know only that she ran a café in Glasgow. According to Ernie Rogers, Hugh had a “Cockney half-brother”.

Hugh joined the Communist Party at its very beginning in 1920 – whether he was an actual “foundation” member, as Rogers claimed, we cannot say. By the mid-1920s, he was living in London, a member of the Tottenham and Wood Green branch of the CPGB, where he became a friend of Henry Sara, who developed later as a notable Trotskyist. [25] During the 1926 General Strike, Hugh functioned as an officer of the Tottenham Trades Council. A building worker, he belonged to the Transport & General Workers’ Union. Rogers recalled that Hugh worked on the Bank of England and also the Grosvenor House Hotel (or Grosvenor House Estate). But in what years? We have no idea.

Hugh was becoming progressively disillusioned with the Communist Party. Critical of the Comintern’s disastrous policy in China, which led to the wiping out of most of its membership by the Kuomintang, Hugh was deeply involved with Henry Sara in the “Hands Off China” committee.

Living in Glasgow at the start of the 1930s, Hugh began to buy the American Trotskyist paper, the Militant, from the anarchist publisher, Guy Aldred. When the supply in Scotland ceased (it was assumed that Aldred wasn’t paying the London distributor), Hugh began taking bulk orders direct from London: Scottish sales rose gradually from 30 to 200. Later, Hugh distributed the Fourth International. He distributed also the Red Flag, the British Trotskyist paper, but sales were poor in this case, it being perceived as a rather inadequate publication.

About 1932 the Glasgow Leninist League was formed, consisting of seven members, including Hugh and Ernie Rogers – a figure which remained static right to the end of the 1930s. It was a self-consciously elitist organisation, keen to take on only members of the requisite revolutionary calibre. And it affiliated with the American revolutionary organisation led by Hugo Oehler. Rogers always considered Hugh as politically the ablest member of the group, but not an efficient secretary. Finally, he gave up the League’s secretaryship to Jimmy Allen. It should be noted that for a number of years Hugh operated under the alias of “Hugh Morrison” due – said Rogers – to “marital reasons”.

In Glasgow, Hugh became secretary of a branch of the Transport & General Workers’ Union, and through this connection the GLL were able to hold meetings on occasion at the T. & G. premises. Hugh remained an effective organizer within his trade union for many years. Ernest Bevin was keen to see the leading Communist Bert Papworth expelled at one stage. But an intervention by Hugh thwarted this move. Hugh broke at one point with the industrial line peddled by the Trotskyists. Ernest Bevin wrote a letter congratulating him on his independence in this respect. When the Trotskyist Jock Haston ran for an official post within the union, Hugh supported him, however.

Later, Hugh was involved with a shadowy organization known as “The Altogether Boys,” of which we know nothing further apart from believing that Harry Constable, the docker, was a member. Rogers described them as “gin fixers”. Hugh played some background role in getting the “Blue Union” of dockers to return to the T. & G., from which they had originally split. Hugh influenced a “Docherty” in Glasgow in this respect, we believe.

The policy of the Leninist League triggered a small disaster for Denis Levin and Rogers, who were on the run from the police, following agitational activity in London and Coventry. On 9 March 1941 the police raided Hugh’s home at 6 Milton Avenue, Cambuslang. Denis Levin entered the premises bearing the identity card of Charlie Menzies whilst the police were actually there. Hugh vouched that he was Menzies. The police eventually charged Hugh with misleading them with false information. He was sentenced to 30 days in gaol plus a fine. This event probably influenced his decision to move to London.

The GLL was effectively defunct a year before the end of World War 2. We know next to nothing of Hugh’s later political activities apart from the fact that he joined the Labour Party and attended Labour Party conferences as a member of the T. & G. delegation.

Anne Esson, Hugh’s daughter-in-law, knew Hugh from 1957 onwards. He was then living in Walthamstow, running his own business fitting window frames. He was in bad health for many years, suffering from thrombosis. He died on 25 November 1985. Anne has commented on his extreme secretiveness about his past: she knew nothing about his political history.

There is one stray note by Rogers which mentions that Hugh was associated with someone called Jock Milligan, a painter. But there is no indication of what context this relates to.

Ron Heisler


1. Zur Politik und Geschichte der deutschen Trotzkisten ab 1930.

2. Der Leninbund. Linke Kommunisten in der Weimarer Republik.

3. Das kurze Leben des Kurt Landau. Ein österreichischer Kommunist als Opfer der stalinistischen Geheimpolizei.

4. Spartakus Aufstieg und Niedergang. Erinnerungen eines Parteiarbeiters.

5. Von der proletarischen Freidenkerjugend im Ersten Weltkrieg zur Linken der siebziger Jahre.

6. Gegen den Strom: Texte von Willy Boepple (1911–1992).

7. Stefan Goch, West German Trotskyists in the Resistance to National Socialism and in Exile [Westdeutsche Trotzkisten im Widerstand gegen den Nationalsozialismus und im Exil] in: Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, 1996, No. 2, pp. 143–171.
One activist in this group was the designer and cartoonist Franz Meyer, who fled in 1934, played an important role for the exiled organisation in Antwerp, and eventually, after being interned in France at the beginning of the World War was able to escape to the United States. He depicted life in the internment camp in a series of drawings which were later published. Franz Meyer: Escape from Germany: Pictures from Exile [Flucht aus Deutschland. Bilder aus dem Exil], (Frankfurt 1984).

8. Eine trotzkistische Bergsteigergruppe aus Dresden im Widerstand gegen den Faschismus.

9. Its development has also found its historian: Marcel van der Linden, The Prehistory of Post-Scarcity Anarchism: Josef Weber and the Movement for a Democracy of Content (1947–1964), in: Anarchist Studies, 2001, No. 2, pp. 127–145.

10. This has recently been investigated by Michael Uhl, The Myth of Spain. The Legacy of the International Brigades in the GDR [Mythos Spanien. Das Erbe der intentionalen Brigaden in der DDR], (Bonn 2004). Important indications about the KPD security apparatus in Spain were already to be found in Peter Huber, Stalin’s Shadow in Switzerland. Swiss Communists in Moscow: Defenders and Prisoners of the Comintern [Stalins Schatten in die Schweiz. Schweizer Kommunisten in Moskau: Verteidiger und Gefangene der Komintern], (Zurich 1994).

11. Von Utopie, Widerstand und kaltem Krieg. Das unzeitgemäße Leben des Berliner Rätekommunisten Alfred Weiland.

12. Günter Wernicke, Operative Procedure ‘Scum’. The Ministry of State Security (MfS) and the German Trotskyists in the 1950s [Operativer Vorgang ‘Abschaum’. Das Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (MfS) und die deutschen Trotzkisten in den 1950er Jahren] in Andreas G. Graf (ed.), Anarchists, Anarcho-Syndicalists and Council Communists in Resistance and Exile [Anarchisten gegen Hitler. Anarchisten, Anarcho-Syndikalisten, Rätekommunisten in Widerstand und Exil], Berlin 2001, pp. 281–299.

13. This is also described in detail in a history of solidarity work with the Algerian liberation struggle: Claus Leggewie, Carrying Suitcases: The Left’s Algerian Project in Adenauer’s Germany [Kofferträge. Das Algerien-Projekt der Linken im Adenauer-Deutschland], Berlin 1984, pp. 129–144.

14. Ibid., p. 140.

15. Revolutionary History, Vol. 4 No. 4, Spring 1993.

16. Der Einsatz des Stasi- und KGB-Spions Otto Freitag im München der Nachkriegszeit.

17. Theo Pirker über Pirker.

18. But these activities were not noticed by Claus Leggewie in his book mentioned above.

19. In the book of interviews mentioned above Theo Pirker gave the following picture of Healy: “In Britain also I came into contact with representatives of the Fourth International. They inspired me with pure horror. He is still the leader. A beefy little Irishman, who always filled me with terror. I thought with dread of what would happen if he were to take power.” (p. 100)

20. Unfortunately this episode also does not appear in Leggewie’s account.

21. Spelling has been preserved as in the original. Both spelling and attributions reveal a limited knowledge of the subject-matter. Paynter and Moffat were Communists, certainly not Trotskyists, though they may have had some hesitations in 1956. Iris Murdoch had loose connections with the circle round New Left Review, but was never a Trotskyist. Tony Cliff never lived in Glasgow, but in the early 60s there was a strong International Socialist group in Glasgow, based in the Labour Party Young Socialists and Cliff visited Glasgow frequently. For a time Labour Worker (forerunner of Socialist Worker) was published from Glasgow. [Translator’s note]

22. BB, First conference on the History of the Left Opposition in the KPD and the IKD, in Avanti, No. 108, April 2004.

23. Reiner Tosstorff, Not so Marginal. In Gelsenkirchen a Conference was Concerned with KPD Left Opposition groups [Nicht so randständig. In Gelsenkirchen beschäftigte sich eine Tagung mit linken Oppositionsgruppen der KPD] in: Junge Welt, 3.2.2006.

24. This little note was provoked by Hugh Esson’s daughter-in-law contacting us while researching her husband’s family history.

25. On Henry Sara see the article by John McIlroy in the Dictionary of Labour Biography, Vol. XI.

Updated by ETOL: 31.10.2011