Some information on the present Brandlerite tendency in Germany derived from their press and an obituary of one of their militants. It was contributed by Mike Jones.

The most recent issue of Arbeiterstimme (April 1993) has an obituary of a member of theirs, Walter Seeland, which tells of his tragic life of which the material below is a summary.

Walter Seeland

Born in Erfurt 30.8.14, his father Paul was a class conscious worker who went from the USPD to the KPD and then to the KPO. The family had close personal links with Alfred Schmidt who became the chief KPOer in Erfurt. Walter became a brickie and was active in the TU Youth section and active in the Friends of Nature Youth. He joined the KJO, the KPO youth, in 1930 and attended the Second National Conference of the KPO in Weimar as a youth representative. He became close to Paul Elflein, the Erfurt KPO chairman at the time and kept in contact until Elflein’s death in 1983.

He was denounced to the Gestapo in November 1933 and jailed, free after six weeks, but kept under observation and employed building barracks in Erfurt. When the war began he was called up and stationed in France but in 1941-1944 was sent to Russia where he was wounded four times and sent home on leave to recuperate. After Christmas 1944 he was sent to the western front and ended up as a POW in a US camp. In 1947 he returned to Erfurt, went to a Trade School to finish his education as a Trade Teacher and in 1948 married a nursery nurse, Ursel Seitz.

In December 1948 Walter and his comrades were sentenced to death for anti-Soviet activities and propaganda by the Soviet Military Tribunal in Weimar. The charges were in Russian and thus incomprehensible. It was, he said, a Punch and Judy show at which they just grinned. He was charged with anti-Soviet attitudes from 1938 – when he was thirteen! Later the death sentences were commuted for twenty-five years in the labour camp. They were sent to the notorious prison at Bautzen near Dresden and five of the nine, including Walter, contracted TB because of the inhuman conditions. After Stalin’s death he was released on 18.1.54 and Alfred Schmidt on 27.7.56. But “Ulbricht’s people” kept him under observation. Walter and Ursel decided to leave the DDR and go to Berlin and from thence to the BRD when she was well enough as she had been hospitalised when he had been jailed and so had been unable to help him when he was in Bautzen.

After the Stalin-Tito split a witch-hunt got under way in the SBZ against declared or potential opponents of Soviet policy. Walter was arrested together with Alfred Schmidt and seven other comrades. After 14 days isolation in the cellar of the Erfurt GPU building the first interrogation took place. Walter was asked about his father on a number of occasions who was known as a KPOer in Erfurt though apparently Walter’s own membership of the KPO was unknown them. They also asked about Alfred Schmidt who had been the leader of the local Food and Restaurant workers Union and both a KPD and SPD member in the past. Without explicitly saying so they were both charged with ‘Titoism’.

Though they got to the BRD, because of his TB, Walter could not get a job as a Trade Teacher and he was unemployed for a while and then did a variety of different jobs. They did not succeed in having a long life together as Ursel died in 1959 after a long stay in a clinic caused by the psychological effects of her sufferings. Walter settled and worked in Heidelberg and was active in IG Metall and, for tactical reasons, the SPD. He was in contact with the Arbeiterpolitik tendency but after the founding of the Arbeiterstimme group he joined that along with most of the older comrades. He belonged to that group for over two decades and always attended its national conferences.

Walter had been affected by his imprisonment in Bautzen and afterwards always had a feeling of being threatened and persecuted. When he spoke about it he did so with anger and incomprehension at its injustice. He used to describe the political leaders of the DDR as “Stalinist lumpens” who had profoundly discredited socialism. His angst was so deep that for a long time after the Wall had fallen he avoided visiting his beloved home town of Erfurt. A visit to Erfurt in the New Year resulted in a lung problem which led to pneumonia though this was apparently cleared up with antibiotics.

Mike Jones 1993

Brandlerism today

There are two Brandlerite groups. What divides them is, first of all Russia together with generational and social distinctions. In the broadest terms the Arbeiterstimme is composed of the generation of ’48, Arbeiterpolitik of the generation of ’68. The older members have a more Brandler position on the ex-USSR, that is they are more pro-Soviet while the younger are almost semi-Shachtmanite. The Brandlerite base was skilled metal workers, often “Meisters”, in Berlin and Baden in small and medium size shops. Baden and Nuremburg are still the Arbeiterstimme centres while the others are in Bremen and Hamburg. The guru of Arbeiterpolitik is Theo Bergmann’s brother.

There are stories of their role in the Berlin uprising of 1953 but it is all hearsay. The GDR oppositionists were of course denounced as Trotskyite wreckers and Brandlerites but that means nothing. After the banning of the CP in the FDR the Brandlerites played a local role, particularly in the Baden area, of the left lower level bureaucrat oppositionists in the Metal Workers Union. In a sense they protected the Stalinists and may have had some division of labour, they were the TU officials, the Stalinists the stewards. As they died off and retired they were, by and large, replaced by Stalinists if by anyone – they failed to recruit anybody.

I am told that the paper in Hamburg consists of lots of reports of struggles and so on but it is difficult to discover where they stand on particular issues.

Updated by ETOL: 25.10.2003