Oskar Hippe

Selected Chapters From

...And Red Is The Colour Of Our Flag

Proletarian Battalions

Chapter 5

In the early afternoon of 13 March 1920, the news came that the government had been toppled and that Freikorps and army detachments had marched into Berlin, amongst them the infamous Ehrhardt Brigade which had made a name for itself in earlier battles against workers. On the very same evening, shop stewards belonging to the USPD and the KPD met under the chair of comrade Scheibner to discuss what should be done. Many of those present considered that the majority Social Democrats had received fitting payment for their treachery. But most were of the opinion that the question now was one of preventing a putsch by the generals which would be directed against the working class.

Even while we were meeting, news arrived that the General Commission of the Trade Unions had called a general strike. The leaflets reached us the next morning, signed by the chair, Carl Legien, who had previously opposed Rosa Luxemburg with his phrase: ‘General strike is general nonsense.’

That evening, we decided to support the strike, and the same night comrades and trade unionists and shop stewards went into the factories to get things moving. The factories were immediately shut down. The trade union representatives and the party officials were instructed to turn up at the trade union centre the next morning to discuss the next moves.

Early the next day, we heard the call which the Ebert-Noske govern-ment had sent back to Berlin as it fled towards Dresden. All of a sudden the national government in flight addressed the populace as ‘workers and comrades’. They demanded the immobilisation of the entire economy, and a general strike to the bitter end. This call was only signed by the SPD members, since the bourgeois ministers had refused.

The workers in the factories had not waited for the call from the government, but had acted quite independently. The general strike was supported throughout the country. It was, incidentally, the first and last time that civil servants participated almost to a man.

In the meantime, the government was not safe even in Dresden; it moved on to Stuttgart. In the early hours of 14 March came a report that the army battalion at the Merseburg garrison had joined the putschists. In Halle, apart from an artillery regiment, there was also a battalion of infantry. The working class of Halle, having already started the previous day to fight the troops who had declared themselves for Kapp and Liittwitz, had succeeded in disarming one section of the putschists.

The other section had retreated to the land around the goods station and the artillery barracks which lay opposite it, and had dug themselves in. The workers from the Geisel valley had grouped into Hundreds and elected a military command, and, together with workers from Merseburg and the Leuna works, they surrounded the barracks.

The command was composed mostly of USPD members, together with Communists and Social Democrats. I found myself in a troop with my brother-in-law. Some 15,000 workers had encircled the barracks. We only had a few weapons—a couple of carbines and some hunting-rifles which we had confiscated from the peasants, nothing else. The command called on the soldiers inside to lay down their arms, but this was rejected by the officers.

Only after we had dug up their water supply did they give in, with the assurance from our command that they could retreat without their weapons. They piled up their weapons in the yard. When more than half of them had retreated in the direction of Leipzig, we noticed that the breech mechanisms were missing from the surrendered rifles, machine-guns and a few of the mortars. The departure of the remaining troops was immediately stopped.

When we had found out where the missing breeches had been hidden—they had been thrown into the latrine pits in the yard we forced the putschists to climb into the pits and get them out again. As it later turned out, it had still been a mistake to let the soldiers retreat to Leipzig: the Leipzig workers had not succeeded in disarming the garrison there and the Merseburg putschists were supplied with new weapons.

With the weapons seized in Merseburg, we managed to equip four Hundreds of workers. These were mostly young workers who had gained some expertise with weapons during the war. Our Hundred comprised mostly miners from the Cecilie, Elisabeth and Leonhard pits, who all knew each other. We were based at the Rosengarten, a large market garden beside the road between Halle and Kassel to the north-west of Ammendorf.

While the putschists defending the land around the goods station were driven closer together, it was impossible for us to get closer to the barracks. From there, we were shot at with 75-millimetre guns, and our losses were considerable. Next to me, a comrade from the Communist Youth League, who worked as a shot-firer in the Cecilie pit, was badly injured: a fragment from a grenade tore away part of his chin. He was later ‘cobbled together’ to some extent in the Merseburg hospital.

On the third day of fighting, the putschists were forced out of the goods yard back into the artillery barracks, and some of them were captured before that. In spite of considerable losses, we had advanced to the barracks, and then our command dared launch an attack.

In the meantime, we received a report that an agreement had been reached in Bielefeld by which the national government promised to hand the putschists over to the courts, and the workers, through their trade unions, would retain decisive influence on economic and social policy making.

Of course, the prerequisite for this was an end to the general strike. Discussions took place, both in the strike leadership and in the political committee of the KPD and USPD, in which the shop stewards were also represented, as to whether we should submit to the Bielefeld Agreement or continue the fight until victory.

The political committee, in which the USPD held the great majority, decided to accept the Agreement. The strike leadership was divided. Ninety per cent of the workers on the streets had stated that they were not prepared to lay down their arms and retreat weaponless back to their districts. But still the USPD stood by its decision: after all, the government could not possibly break its word.

The KPD representatives left the meeting in protest and explained to the workers on the streets and in the strike meetings in the districts that they had failed to persuade the political committee with their arguments. Since the workers fighting on the streets could not get the support which they needed, they withdrew to their districts with their weapons.

The soldiers of the national government—these were the same ones who had supported the putsch only a few days before—did not dare to march into the miners’ districts. Scarcely had it been signed than the Bielefeld Agreement was broken again. General Seekt, commander-in-chief of the German army, who had refused to support the government against Kapp and Lüttwitz with the words ‘Soldier does not fire upon soldier’, was allowed to remain at his post. Even then, the Ehrhardt Brigade wore the swastika on its steel helmets. It sang these words in its anthem:

‘Swastika on our steel helmets, Our colours black, white and red, The Ehrhardt Brigade -

Our name is spoken with dread.

Workers, oh you workers,
How badly you will fare
When the Ehrhardt Brigade

Its arms once more will bear.

The Ehrhardt Brigade

Smashes all to kingdom come;

Woe, oh woe to you,

You working class scum.’

This threat by the Ebrhardt Brigade became a reality when it withdrew from Berlin, and shot twelve people dead at the Brandenburg Gate.

The putsch was masterminded by Kapp and Lüttwitz. However, it had mobilised millions of workers who were firmly resolved to put it down. What was not possible for the working class in November 1918—to set up a socialist republic in place of the monarchy—could now have been achieved after the putschists had been defeated. In the central German industrial area, armed troops of workers abounded. In the Ruhr district the workers had locked the putschist General Watter in the Wesel fortress.

After the Bielefeld Agreement, the Wesel fortress was indeed relieved by the Army, but General Watter, who had conspired with Kapp and LUttwitz, was commissioned by the government to take steps against the Red Army of the Ruhr. The workers’ battalions were not strong enough to storm the fortress and had to retreat before the occupying soldiers. The Red Army of the Ruhr had refused to lay down arms as the Bielefeld Agreement demanded. In central Germany the USPD had succeeded in persuading armed workers to cease any activities involving force. Many, it must be said, hung on to their weapons and some hid them in disused tunnels at the mines. This was done in the understanding that the weapons would be needed again in the fight against reaction.

The reason that the Red Army of the Ruhr was finally beaten lay in the fact that it fought in isolation from the other workers, and that army units and police battalions were concentrated in the Ruhr district. After the defeat of the workers, the troops under the command of General Watter butchered many more than the number who had actually fallen in the fight.

The national government and the forces of the right were mortally afraid that the workers could follow the example of the Russian Revolution, and drive out the monopoly capitalists and their errand boys and so make a breakthrough for the system of soviets.

All those who thought that the conditions for a victorious revolution were nonexistent in March 1920 because, safe in their offices, they were in no position to evaluate the movement of the masses correctly were utterly wrong. The millions who had been set in motion by 13 March did not need the bureaucrats to provide the means for the fight against the reactionary putsch. What they lacked was the political experience to advance positively from this fight. The small Communist Party did not have enough influence over the masses to lead them to the socialist republic. The USPD, which had learned nothing from the struggles in 1918-1919, swore by the Bielefeld Agreement and on decisions made in parliament.

There were long discussions in our party, and especially in the youth movement, about the causes of a defeat suffered despite successful intervention in the fight to defend the republic. In the course of these discussions, there was almost unanimous agreement that Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht had not split from social-democratic policies early enough, as the left wing of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party had done in 1903. In the last years before the war at the latest, when reformism was showing itself more clearly, that was when the left wing in the SPD should have decided to split. Even if it had not been possible to prevent the war, at least the outcome of the November Revolution would have been different.

These discussions never came to a head, but they did affect the membership of the USPD. The Communist Party had been able to increase its influence within the working class tremendously, despite the split at the Heidelberg Congress. Here, a faction of the party was excluded, having refused to work within the Social-Democratic trade unions and demanded instead a walk-out from the unions and the construction of our own Communist ones. From the exclusion of this faction emerged the Communist Workers’ Party (KAP).

In both the Ruhr district and central Germany, the KAP won significant support, including the Leonhard mine. In the works council there, the KAP members dominated, apart from only two members of the KPD. Among the workers in the Geisel valley, particularly amongst the miners, there was a tendency to leave the trade unions because of their betrayal of the interests of the working man. Even inside the KPD there was a faction albeit weak which was prepared to found its own trade union organisation. Indeed, the Union of Hand and Head Workers was actually formed, but the majority of KPD members remained inside the ADGB. The KAP had already formed its own trade union organisation, the General Workers’ Union (AAU).

The discussions between Communist workers and members of the USPD (Independents) resulted in a rapprochement of ideas. On the Russian question especially, in which there had been almost insuperable differences at first, there were now large areas of agreement. In the late summer, official discussions between the central committee of the KPD and the party executive of the USPD were begun, with the aim of unifying the two parties. These discussions bore fruit, and the unification took place in November.

The great majority of the delegates at the unification congress in Halle were members of the USPD. I took part in the unification as a delegate of the KJV. Neither the right wing of the Independents nor comrade Ledebour agreed to the unification. The right wing soon returned to the SPD. Ledebour founded an intermediate organisation which remained without any notable support.

The official membership of the Unified Communist Party (VKPD) was given as 500,000, but not all those whose delegates had voted for the unification even joined the new party. Later, there was talk of 375,000 members. After the unification congress, both organisations took the unification process down to local level.

The first meeting of the membership in Mücheln had to elect new officials. After reports by Comrade Haubenreisser of the KPD and Comrade Scheibner of the USPD, which were followed by a lengthy discussion, the election took place. The first secretary of the Mücheln branch of the party was Haubenreisser; Scheibner was elected as his deputy. While the majority of party members came from the USPD, the ratio was inverted in the Communist Youth League—90 per cent of its members had already been in the KJV.

The Unified Communist Party had more votes in the industrial belt than all the other parties put together, including the SPD. In the Mansfeld district, as well as in the Harz foothills, the party had won considerable support among the small farmers and peasants. In many communities, the VKPD dominated. Any communal policies made there were always in the interest of the working population. But in the factories as well, working conditions and wages were improved with the aid of strikes.

The great political influence of the party was a thorn in the flesh of the employers and the Prussian government. In the early part of 1921, the Prussian government, with the blessing of the national government, sent several battalions of police into the copper mining district of Mansfeld under the pretence of preventing the theft of crops from the fields.

It was quite clear to the workers and trade unions of that district, and to the regional leadership of the KPD, what the real intention was. At that time of year (March) there was nothing in the fields that could be stolen. The whole undertaking was intended, on the one hand, to provoke the workers, and on the other to intimidate the populace.

When nothing happened after the local and regional organisations had protested and demanded the withdrawal of the police units, the workers at the slate mines stopped work. The police responded with the arrest of party and trade union officials and launched such vicious attacks against the people that there was a general outcry. Then we found out that those arrested had been beaten by the police. The tension among the workers, and indeed in the entire population, increased rapidly.

The KAP called for resistance. The workers, who had already defended themselves against the attacks of the police, went for the weapons which had been concealed in disused tunnels after the Kapp putsch, and gave the police a hard fight. Max Hoelz, who had already fought against the armed forces in 1919 in the Vogtland district, came to the fore again. Together with Klempin, alias Utzelmann, who was also a member of the KAP, he organised the armed uprising.

The workers of the central German industrial area, some of whom had already downed tools and closed their factories, followed a call by the trade unions and declared their solidarity with the men in the Mansfeld district. Many members of the KPD and the youth movement had already gone to the aid of the workers fighting in Mansfeld, in the military sense as well. The workers at the Elisabeth and Elise II pits had taken up position in the south-west of the Geisel valley, on the spoil heaps, in order to prevent the police from entering the valley from that direction.

Only when the Prussian government had sent even more police battalions to central Germany, and students had organised themselves as temporary ‘volunteers’, did the Communist Party declare itself to be in solidarity with those in struggle.

In the meantime, the uprising had spread out over the entire industrial belt. In Grobers and other villages in the Bitterfeld coalfield, there were battles with the police. At Ammendorf near Halle, the workers fought a police battalion to prevent them from entering the Geisel valley lignite coalfield. They had blown up the railway bridges. According to our information, only the regional leadership of the KPD in Halle had declared its solidarity with the fighting workers, while the party centre in Berlin was still ‘standing to attention’.

Our members were of the opinion that the Halle regional leadership had only declared solidarity in order to avoid isolation. While the pressure from the police increased steadily and more and more units were deployed, the workers remained alone in their fight.

There were no actions to support the uprising in any districts or towns except for the Moers district on the left bank of the Rhine. In Mansfeld the workers were forced to abandon their positions. They had partly removed themselves to Halle in the belief that there was fighting there and that the police had been beaten there—at least, that is what they were told by the central leadership of the struggle. Others, under the leadership of Max Hoelz, wanted to withdraw to Czechoslovakia via Sangershausen and the Harz.

In a village near the Unstrut valley, the police forced them to stand and fight. Some of them were captured, the others tried to avoid arrest. Just outside a neighbouring village, some of the workers being pursued had hidden in a hayloft belonging to a peasant. This hiding place was betrayed by peasants who had been stirred up by stories that the workers had tortured police officers and even killed them. Peasants armed with dung forks searched the barn, stabbing the hay and fetching out the men hidden there; none escaped with his life. Max Hoelz had succeeded in escaping from the area with a small troop, but he too was arrested later by the police.

There were scarcely any fights in the Geisel valley. The police, together with the Freikorps of student volunteers, came in from the west, north and east. Klempin, who had stationed himself with some of his men in the Geisel valley, gave the order to occupy the Leuna works. The leadership thought that the Leuna works could be defended for a long time since the police would not dare attack the defenders of this enormous chemical works with heavy artillery. More than 3,000 fighters had gathered inside the works, not all of them armed, and their weapons fairly poor anyway. Apart from rifles and machine-guns, and two mortars, there was nothing. Ammunition was also scarce.

Reinforcements came once more from the workers of Halle and Ammendorf, but, again, only some of them carried weapons. They told us that the police were following them on foot. That same night, the works was surrounded on all sides. When the police demanded that the weapons be surrendered, the leadership of the insurgents said that they would only agree under two conditions: the withdrawal of the police from the central German industrial area, and safe passage for the workers involved. Otherwise, resistance would continue to the very end.

At first, nothing happened. We did not know that no one apart from ourselves in the Leuna works was putting up any more resistance. The police attack began the following evening, at first without any support from the artillery battery which had been positioned in the mill in the village of Leuna. The attack, which came mainly from the north-west, was successfully repulsed.

On the morning after that, there was another attack, this time with artillery support. There were areas in the Leuna works containing high explosives. Our leaders, who had counted on our opponents not using heavy guns, had to provide a suitable answer to this attack. They had improvised an armoured train. On the very first day, mechanics had started building a train, using the sheets of iron which were in plentiful supply, goods wagons and a locomotive. Three times, this was driven out with a crew to attack the gun battery, and each time we succeeded in driving off our attackers, but not in destroying the battery.

The fight had lasted almost a week. The north-western sector of the works was partially destroyed, although greater damage from explosions had been avoided. The works management, as we later learned, had taken such explosions into their calculations. Gradually our ammunition ran out, although food was still abundant since we had the run of the canteens which were stocked to feed large numbers of employees. Our leadership then spread the word that any fighters not allocated to specific positions should try to escape from the works. The works were about six kilometres long; west of this land ran the railway between Berlin and Frankfurt, while the river Saale flowed on the other side. To the south lay the Merseburg gasworks, to the north the Korbetha Station with an extensive network of railway tracks.

Some of us were able to get ourselves to safety in this direction, since the police were in no position to seal the whole place off hermetically. And at night people could escape to the south and reach home via Kayna and Rossbach.

This freedom, to which I had escaped like many others, did not last long. The remaining fighters surrendered the next morning. They were interned within the works, in one half of which nitrate was stored. The police, who had not been allowed into the district since the Kapp putsch, now went in. Systematically, they searched all the workers’ districts. I was denounced to the police by my uncle, a master baker. He accused me of having taken part in the fighting. I was escorted to Leuna together with the miners’ official Karl Bairich, who had still belonged to the SPD before the ‘March days’ but was now in the leadership of the strike, and many others.

At Leuna we were kept in a nitrate silo. The silo was of concrete, some 500 metres long and 36 metres high. At a height of 30 metres there ran a mobile gantry with a bucket, which was used to shovel the nitrate up and out to tank wagons via pipes. Because of the danger of explosion, there was only one entrance to the silo, an iron door measuring 1.80 metres by 70 centimetres. We were herded inside through this narrow opening, where hundreds of comrades were already crowded, many of them lying on straw. Up on the gantry, which was reached by a narrow ladder on either side, were heavily-armed police, with hand-grenades on their belts.

There was still a state of emergency, which had been declared when the fighting first broke out. Each day, civilians came into the silo, accompanied by policemen. They were looking for prisoners who were supposed to have been involved in terrorist actions. If they met anyone who was known to them as a communist, then the individual concerned was led out and, as we later learned from workers who were on emergency cover, was put up against the wall and shot.

All this lasted for three days. Later, when the state of emergency in the area of fighting was lifted and the works started full production again, no more executions took place, but the police harassment continued. Each day, when the food as distributed—this work was performed by policemen—there was some outrage or other. After all the prisoners, some 3,000 in all, had received their food, the overseer asked who wanted more. Naturally, many people went up again, especially in the first few days. But it was very unusual for there to be any more. Usually the police simply flung the remnants among those waiting and then waded in with rubber truncheons.

Amongst the prisoners there was an older comrade, aged 65, the mayor of a village near Leuna. He was mistreated several times. On one occasion, two guardians of the peace grabbed his long beard from both sides and started punching him. Beatings took place for any reason you care to mention. In order to prevent any prisoner from ill-considered reaction to the police provocations—for the police were just waiting for an excuse to be able to throw hand-grenades or use machine-guns from the gantry—each group of a hundred in the silo set up its own security squad. This stopped the prisoners from putting up a fight. The harassment continued until the day we were transferred to Wittenberg.

The responsibility for all these bullyings and beatings lay with the provincial president of Saxony, Otto Horsing. Horsing was a leading member of the Social Democratic Party. To the honour of one police battalion stationed in Erfurt, it must be said that it never over-reached itself whilst in service. Most of its members were Social Democrats. We learned from them that the workers who had fought or participated in strikes in Halle and the Bitterfeld district were now locked up in the Moritzburg, an ancient fortress in Halle. They said that, when the prisoners were allowed out for an hour, their hands were tied together above their heads with barbed wire.

Most of the policemen in service were members of the Freikorps – students among them—and it was these who started most of the trouble. I do not know how long the state of emergency lasted. It could have been eight or even ten days after my arrest. During the fighting and the strike, only emergency working took place in the pits and at the Leuna works.

After the end of the emergency, full-time working began again. Despite this, the harassment of the prisoners did not stop. A great deal of unrest began to spread among the workforce at the Leuna works, who saw what was going on. The chair of the shop stewards, Bernhard Koenen, a brother of Wilhelm Koenen (both of them later occupied leading positions in the Communist Party), informed the management and Horsing that the workforce would begin an unlimited strike if the prisoners were not accommodated outside the works and if they continued to be treated so inhumanly. This warning obviously made an impression.

Two days later we were loaded into waiting goods wagons early in the morning. Prior to that, we had received food for a full day. No one knew where we were going. A passenger coach was coupled in between every two goods wagons, occupied by policemen, with a machine-gun on the roof. That same morning, the first train left the works amidst the friendly waves of the men. We travelled through Merseburg, Halle and Bitterfeld, to Wittenberg on the river Elbe. Wittenberg had been an important garrison town during the time of Kaiser Wilhelm, but now only a few battalions of police were stationed there.

Our train stopped outside the town. The first prisoners who were disembarked were put up in the fortress outside the town. The rest of us, including myself, flanked by police, were marched through the town to the artillery barracks. There, 300 of us were accommodated in the riding hail, which was furnished with straw around the walls and in the middle. By evening, all the barracks were fully occupied by prisoners, brought from Leuna in three trains. Another hundred men came with the last transport and were herded into our riding hall.

Overnight, peat dust, which lay in the hall along with the straw, was thrown up in the air by the movement of 400 men. Luckily we were able to clean ourselves outside at the pump. The police battalion which had been so reasonable with us at the Leuna works had come with us to Wittenberg. Often, policemen came into the horse stalls to ask why we had gone on strike and taken up arms. We told them that we who were now kept here as prisoners had defended the republic against Kapp and Lüttwitz one year ago in Halle and Merseburg. But this year we had reached for our weapons because those we had defended last year were now arresting our officials and wanted to smash our organisation.

Our arguments clarified things for most of them. Over the weeks, they came to us as often as they could, under any pretext, in order to discuss things. They always warned us against trusting their officers.

The food was much better in comparison to Leuna. Every day there was plenty of hot food. They gave us enough bread and margarine for two days, so that we had to think of ways of ‘making it last’, since there was no way of storing it.

In the meantime, examining magistrates had been sent from the High County Court at Naumburg, who began to question the prisoners. Nothing could be proved against most of them, except that they had taken part in the strike. If they were not leading officials, they were set free.

Anyone who was said to have taken part in the fighting was imprisoned on remand. For this purpose, once most had been released, the castle barracks were furnished as a prison. One day I was brought before the examining magistrate. He accused me of having participated in the fighting in the Geisel valley. I told him that there had been no fighting at all in the Geisel valley, and so I could not have participated in it. But he was quite happy with the statement made by my uncle, Böhme the master baker, who claimed to have seen me with a rifle in my hand. Thus I changed from ‘prisoner in protective custody’ to ‘prisoner on remand’ and ended up in the castle barracks. I lay there on the upper floor with my brother-in-law, Werner Eser, and eight others.

The castle barracks were located quite close to the banks of the Elbe. When we discovered a boat on the bank one day, we decided to risk escape. Three of us secretly set to work. We made a rope out of bedclothes. Of the ten in the room, two others apart from us three were told of the plan. They also helped us make the rope long enough. Earlier, we had noticed how the guards made their rounds. One misty night we dared to let ourselves down. We managed to get clear of the castle without being noticed. Water still lay on the meadows in places, but we managed to reach the boat. To our horror we found that it was chained up. Using a stone we succeeded in breaking the lock, and we rowed to the other side of the Elbe without being spotted. From there we walked to a small station outside Bitterfeld, and caught a workers’ train into the town.

We risked telling the workers that we had escaped from the castle barracks in Wittenberg, where we had been held accused of riot and breach of the peace. They gave us money so that we could continue our journey to Halle. In Halle I had relatives who helped us further. They warned us to take care, since the police were still on the lookout for suspicious characters. All the same, we risked the journey home.

Scarcely had we arrived than my sister told us that the police had arrested Karl Bairich, the old comrade who had been active in the SPD and the trade union even before the war. He was released from prison a sick man, and a few years later he died. He had been active both in the Zeitz district and later in Ammendorf, where lignite coal was mined in deep pits. In Ammendorf he was sacked for his trade union activity. He found work in the Geisel valley, because he was one of the few builders of drainage channels who could dig such channels underneath the coal. There he laid the foundations for the mineworkers’ union. He did not take part in the uprising, but because he was the chair of the central strike leadership, he was arrested and condemned to several years of imprisonment.

We had only been a few hours at home when the ‘Sipo’ (that was the Security Police) arrived.

Fortunately, our house stood right next to the Emma pit. The colliers hid me in a gallery. Together with my brother-in-law, who had sought shelter in the pit with me, I went in a circuitous route via Klobikau to Frankleben, to catch the first tram into Halle. In the evening a comrade from the solidarity committee had come to the pit. He told us that we should report to the office of the Hand and Head Workers’ Union in the Lerchenfeld Strasse in Halle. In addition he gave us papers that certified us as refugees from the uprising. In Halle we received a ticket to get us to Gelsenkirchen, some money for food and a membership card of the organisation, with a letter for the members there urging them to help us further.

Things almost went wrong at the Halle railway station, for the police were making a raid. But railway workers helped us and hid us in the luggage room underneath the station. The train finally got us to Gelsen-kirchen, and we reported there at the office of the Hand and Head Workers’ Union. We were given some pocket money and taken to a comrade in the workers’ district. He was also a member of the union and an official. We could stay with him for the meantime, until our papers had been put in order. Then they would try to find work for us at a colliery.

We had already been ten days in Gelsenkirchen, but we still had no work. One day a comrade came and informed us that we should go to Krefeld for a short time to work. There too we stayed with friends in the party. We could see everywhere that the spirit of solidarity was highly treasured. Unfortunately, there was no work here either, but we did get employment papers. I received papers in my own name, in which it was claimed that I had worked for eighteen months at a fitter’s in Krefeld. Werner, my brother-in-law, who was an unskilled worker, received papers as a building labourer.

We travelled from Krefeld back to Gelsenkirchen. Finally we were able to start in the coking plant at a pit in Castrop-Rauxel. We could stay at the single men’s hostel, but it was crawling with lice. I naturally did not want to stay there under those conditions.

Workers were also sought for the Emscher-Lippe pit. We struck lucky and were able to start there as haulers. The pit management allocated us rooms with miners’ families. I lived at the house of a hewer who worked at the rockface. My host was 36 years old, but from his appearance you would have thought he was 60. The work of a stone hewer is one of the toughest in the mining industry. The hewers do piece-work and drive the main and secondary sectional cuts—called ‘contracts’—through the rock. Holes two metres deep are bored with stone drills above, below and to the side, and these are filled with dynamite. In this way, fifteen cubic metres of stone is blown away each time and the whole section is filled with dust.

In theory, before any clearing up is done, the whole place should be sprayed with water, but since they are doing piece-work, the workers have no time for that if they want their wages. So they work in a cloud of dust which floats around for more than an hour. None of the workers who worked at the rockface ever reached 65; they all became invalids early on.

We worked as haulers. Our task was to collect the coal which the hewers had cut from the seam and shovelled into a pulsating chute, to wheel it through a connecting tunnel to the hoist; down below it was coupled to a train by another hauler and taken to the loading station by a compressed-air locomotive. We did our work at a depth of 800 metres. During the first days we got a strange feeling when we were carried all the way down in 75 seconds, but we got used to it with time. No one bothered about where we came from and what had brought us to the Ruhr district. Germans from every part of the country, Dutchmen, Italians, French and Belgians they were all there. There was a comprehensive comradeship, every one was there to help his colleagues. The continual danger which surrounded the men also kept thoughts of solidarity awake in them.

Every so often the pit foreman, who went round once a day -sometimes twice—and let us know when we could ‘butter’ (that is, have breakfast), would sit down with the men, and there would be conversation. On one such occasion he asked me—since I was supposed to be a pipe fitter—whether I might want to take over maintenance work in the pit with another colleague. Here the work papers which I had got in Krefeld came in useful. I agreed immediately, since I really had done some work like that when I had helped set up generators during the war at the fuel plant at Lützkendorf. That same day, he introduced me to my colleague.

That evening I had to go in on the night shift to do some necessary repairs. We had been told to ensure that the spraying equipment worked properly, and we were to connect up the ‘Lutten conveyors’—these were large pipes with a diameter of 400 millimetres—and the compressed-air motors which made the chutes pulsate.

On many days there was no work for us at all, so we just had to go around checking equipment; on other days there was hardly enough time to complete all the outstanding work. In those cases we had to come in at night in order to keep up with our repair work. One day—I was about to connect the compressed-air motor to the vibrating chute, which the men at the seam had moved some five feet—when there was a sudden thundering like in a storm. The men grabbed their belongings and fled from the seam. I did not understand what was happening, since I had never heard such a thing, and went on working at the connection of the motor. Then a colleague came back and shouted to me: ‘Get away quick! The seam is collapsing!’ Scarcely had I left the seam than it and the connecting section collapsed with a terrifying din. If my colleague had not come back, I would have been buried under the piles of rock.

For the moment, no more coal could be got from the seam, and the collapsed area had to be rebuilt by men on a repair team.

Around 3,000 men were employed at the pit, most of them on day shift. Three shifts were worked, the first and second were called ‘haulage shifts’ during which coal was got out, while the night shift was reserved for repairs so that the day shift could win coal again. The journey down the shaft was tremendously fast. Within 25 minutes, 650 men were brought to the foot of an 800 metre shaft. From the loading point, which was the central point of the mineshaft, we still had to walk for 40 minutes to reach the face where the coal was. At that time, the men could not be driven to the coalface for safety reasons. After they arrived at the face, they first of all ‘buttered’. Everyone sat on the tool chests, and ate and discussed: every day there were new problems. In addition, the men were organised into three different trade unions: in the Mineworkers’ Federation, in the General Workers’ Union, and in the Union of Hand and Head Workers.

In those twenty minutes there was some very lively discussion. Christian trade unionists—as at most other pits—were hardly represented. But I knew of one pit in the neighbouring village of Waltrop where the men were organised almost one hundred per cent in the Christian Trade Union.

There was a crowd of comrades living in Datteln who had fled from central Germany like us and had found work here. Together with comrades from the MUcheln and Neumark branches of the Communist Youth League, we founded a local branch of the KJV there in Datteln. After the events of March, any public intervention was virtually impossible. So we registered our group as a Workers’ Cultural and Rambling Organisation. Our daily discussions on the tool chests provided a good advertisement for our League. The young workers especially had an open mind to our positions. In a relatively short space of time, we were able to expand our local branch considerably. On Sunday we were always on the move, either on long or short rambles in the surrounding countryside or agitational marches in a specific direction.

On one occasion we reached Waltrop in the middle of a procession by Catholic youth. There was enormous excitement when, quite unwittingly, we stumbled right into the middle of this procession carrying our red pennants. It almost turned into a punch-up, but one of our comrades managed to convince the Catholics that we were not there for a struggle involving muscles but rather for a spiritual struggle. In the end there was a discussion about social and cultural problems.

On another occasion, when we returned one lunchtime to Datteln after a short excursion into the neighbourhood, we again stumbled on a procession by the Catholic Church. We were just turning out of a side street into the main street when the head of this procession bumped into us from the right. They had to wait until our group was out on the main road. We deliberately slowed down our march so that it appeared as if the procession was marching behind the red pennants. We had the laugh on our side, for Datteln was overwhelmingly protestant.

Our main area of work was among the trade unions, both within the Mineworkers’ Federation and in the Union of Hand and Head Workers. Our motto was: trade unions are preparatory schools for socialism; without the political awareness of the masses there can be no successful fight against capitalism.

One of the important political problems for us lay in understanding the causes of the defeat after the Kapp putsch and again in March 1921. The reasons for the defeat in 1920 had been discussed immediately after the end of the fight against the putschists, and we had come to the illuminating conclusion that the defeat stemmed mainly from the treacherous politics of the Social-Democratic ‘workers’ leaders’.

Despite these bad experiences, it was clear that many workers still had illusions in social-democratic policies. Paul Levi, the chair of the KPD, suggested at that time that the communists should form a ‘loyal opposition’ in the event that the SPD and USPD came together in government. But the USPD rejected such a coalition. So the Social Democrats had commissioned Hermann Miller with the affairs of government.

The new government was thus constituted partly from those forces which only shortly before had been involved in suppressing and disarming workers’ militias—those organs of the working class in which Commun-ists, USPD members and Social Democrats had struggled together against the counter-revolution. The Social-Democratic ministers in the new government were themselves hated by their own membership for their role in the Kapp putsch. Only yesterday, the generals with whom they formed a government today had beaten and murdered workers in their thousands, regardless of their political loyalties. We could never expect such a government to represent the interests of the working people.

The SPD paid the price for this in the parliamentary elections which followed in June 1920, when the number of votes they received fell from 11.5 million to 5.6 million.

Far more difficult than arriving at a correct evaluation of the politics of social democracy was the task of getting a clear perspective of the causes of the defeat of the struggle of March 1921. Both in the Communist Youth League and in the KPD, there were heated arguments about this. The chair of the party, Paul Levi, handed in his resignation after he had described as ‘putschism’ the decision of the party to call a general strike and to participate in the armed struggle. Levi was later expelled from the party because he made the controversy public.

Each one of us who had experienced the events in central Germany from the very first days and who had stood at the centre of the events had no doubt at all that the party had not wanted the fight and had not organised it. Nothing at all had happened during those days in the Berlin and Lower Rhine regions, where the left wing was strong. (At that time we knew nothing of the events in Hamburg, where there were shipyard occupa-tions.) The KPD was surprised by the events. The fact that it did not pay enough attention to the course of developments must be chalked up as an error. Within the framework of our discussion on the wrong position of the party, it became clear to us that Paul Levi’s critique of ‘putschism’ was not justified and that there were fundamental political differences behind his resignation. The actions carried out by the KAP together with Max Hoelz had been laid at the door of the KPD.

In these discussions, it became clear to us that the party should have faced up to the dangers threatening itself and the working class in good enough time, and not, as happened, let them roll over it. A revolutionary party had the duty to lead the working class in every situation; it should pursue neither vanguard nor rearguard policies—as Lenin once said. Its duty must be to keep its finger on the pulse of the working class and at the same time seek clarity on the the intentions of the government and the counter-revolution.