Friday, 5 June 2020

Review: Anti-Nazi Germans. (Marilyn Moos, Enemies of the Nazi State from within the Working Class Movement. Steve Cushion, German Volunteers in the French Resistance) 2020).

"We examine at the actual activities of the rank and file anti-Nazi militants, and in the process, we shall be rescuing the memory of some heroic fighters who otherwise risk being lost from history".

Marilyn Moos & Steve Cushion

"Worker-Communists, you are hundreds of thousands, millions, you cannot leave for anywhere; there are not enough passports for you. Should Fascism achieve power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a frightful tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle. And only unity in struggle with the social-democratic workers can bring victory. Make haste, worker-Communists, you have very little time left".

Leon Trotsky

There is a common theme in most of the historiography of the Nazi era, in that there was little or no resistance in Germany to the Nazis. A politically led amnesia made it comfortable for the British historian A. J. P. Taylor to agree with this lie safe in the knowledge that his extraordinarily inaccurate statement made in the 1960s would go unchallenged.

There are some exceptions to this rule. The bourgeois media now and again find politically acceptable examples of bravery and resistance. Hans Fallada's novel Every Man Dies Alone, which was published posthumously in 1947 is one such example. The novel was republished again as recently as 2009 and reviews were generally favourable.

The novel is about a working-class Berlin couple who in a series of handwritten postcards call for resistance to the Nazis during the Second World War. The book has been adapted several times for film and television (in both East and West Germany during the 1960s and 1970s).

Another example is that of Sophie Scholl. Scholl and her friends opposed the Nazis, and when they thought that Hitler could not survive much longer in office, they acted in the only manner open to them, they carried out secret but directed action. Their goal was the mass movement of workers against the regime.

Despite the limitations of their first protest, only 100 leaflets were distributed they reached thousands with their views. The state reacted with a show trial, death sentences, and abrupt and immediate executions as a public deterrent. Both Scholl and Fallada are not mentioned in the above book.

Both these examples reflect a strong interest in the era of Fascism and a craving for the truth about history. However, any general reader interested in this subject will have to search very hard for material that counters the lie that there was no working-class opposition to Hitler after 1933.

Moos and Cushion's book should be placed high on the reader's list of publications on the subject of opposition to the Nazis. The book systematically records the extraordinary skill, bravery and selflessness of millions of men and women who opposed Fascism in Germany and elsewhere. Close to one million Communists and Social Democrats were jailed in Germany between 1933 and 1945, of whom 200,000 were killed.

This book examines that resistance in two parts, one of the clearly stated aims of the book is to counter the current historiography that holds that not only was there no opposition to the fascists but according to the right-wing historian Daniel Goldhagen the working class were "Hitlers Willing Executioners".[1]

As David North explains in his critique of Goldhagen's book:" The principal theme of Goldhagen's book is easily summarised. The cause of the Holocaust is to be found in the mind-set and beliefs of the Germans. A vast national collective, the German people, motivated by a uniquely German anti-Semitic ideology, carried out a Germanic enterprise, the Holocaust. The systematic killing of Jews became a national pastime, in which all Germans who were given the opportunity gladly and enthusiastically participated".[2]

Given that Goldhagen in a clear and calculated way went out of his way not to mention to socialist opposition to the Fascists, you would have thought Moos and Cushion would have said something about this in the book, or other examples of right-wing historiography such as Hitler's Beneficiaries by Gotz Aly.

It would be not very difficult to expose the lies and the right-wing nature of this historiography as As North does in his critique of Goldhagen he writes:" In Goldhagen's book, the socialist movement is all but invisible. Not a single reference is to be found, in the course of this 622-page book, to Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Ferdinand Lassalle, August Bebel or Wilhelm Liebknecht. Not a word is to be found about the anti-socialist laws of 1878-90 implemented by the regime of Bismarck.

The Social Democratic Party, the first mass party in history, which by 1912 held the largest number of seats in the German Reichstag, is mentioned only in passing. There is no reference to the 1918 revolution or the uprising of the Spartacus League. These omissions cannot be explained as an oversight. Goldhagen simply cannot deal with the German socialist movement because its historical existence represents a refutation of his entire theory. Yet without an examination of the emergence of the German socialist workers movement, it is impossible to understand the nature and significance of modern antisemitism".

Another strange absentee from the book is the leader of the Red Orchestra Leopold Trepper. Despite mentioning the RedOrchestra very briefly next to nothing is said of Trepper. Trepper despite the attacks of the Nazi's and the Stalinist's remained sympathetic to the Trotskyists. Trepper expressed his viewpoint very eloquently in his book he writes:" The glow of October was being extinguished in the shadows of underground chambers. The revolution had degenerated into a system of terror and horror; the ideals of socialism were ridiculed in the name of a fossilised dogma which the executioners still had the effrontery to call Marxism.

And yet we went along, sick at heart, but passive, caught up in machinery we had set in motion with our own hands. Mere cogs in the apparatus terrorised to the point of madness, we became the instruments of our subjugation. All those who did not rise against the Stalinist machine are responsible, collectively responsible. I am no exception to this verdict. But who did protest at that time? Who rose to voice his outrage?. The Trotskyites can lay claim to this honour. Following the example of their leader, who was rewarded for his obstinacy with the end of an ice-axe, they fought Stalinism to the death, and they were the only ones who did. 

By the time of the great purges, they could only shout their rebellion in the freezing wastelands where they had been dragged in order to be exterminated. In the camps, their conduct was admirable. But their voices were lost in the tundra. Today, the Trotskyites have a right to accuse those who once howled along with the wolves. Let them not forget, however, that they had the enormous advantage over us of having a coherent political system capable of replacing Stalinism. They had something to cling to in the midst of their profound distress at seeing the revolution betrayed. They did not "confess," for they knew that their confession would serve neither the party nor socialism.[3]

During the period covered in Treppers book Germany was closer to revolution than it was to Fascism. It was only through the betrayal of both the KPD and SPD that enabled Hitler to come to power without a shot being fired. The criminal slogan put out by the Comintern was "After Hitler, Our Turn!". The logic of this perspective was to lead the Stalinist to secure the Nazi-soviet pact leading one the main architects of this pact Walter Ulbricht to defend it saying "the main enemy in Germany is not Hitler but the anti-Fascist opponents of this Pact".[4]

The Hitler-Stalin pact was the high point of Stalinist's treachery. During the early part of the 1930s, the Stalinists defended their treachery and criticised Trotsky's call for a United Front. In May 1932, the British Daily Worker "condemn" the Trotskyists for their policy in Germany thus: "Significantly, Trotsky has come out in defence of a united front between the Communist and Social Democratic Parties against Fascism. No more disruptive and counter-revolutionary class lead could have been given at a time like the present."

Trotsky countered this treachery and cowardice warning the working class "Worker-Communists, you are hundreds of thousands, millions, you cannot leave for anywhere; there are not enough passports for you. Should Fascism achieve power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a frightful tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle. And only unity in the struggle with the social-democratic workers can bring victory. Make haste, worker-Communists, you have very little time left.[5]

Leon Trotsky was one of only a handful of writers who sought to mobilise a still significant section of the German population who remained deeply opposed to Hitler and all his policies. Another notable writer is Daniel Guérin. Guerin published detailed work based on his visit to Nazi Germany.[6]

The book does not spend an inordinate amount of space discussing the political issues arising from the rise of Fascism. However, it is very good at what happened to the communists and Socialist who were in opposition to the Nazi's.

The book catalogues numerous examples of the result of the betrayal of The German Communist Party and the SPD. Thousands of German Communist and Social democratic workers who opposed Hitlerite Fascism ended up in the concentration camps or were murdered upon capture.

According to Gestapo records close to  800,000 Germans out of a population of more than 66 million were imprisoned for active resistance during the Nazi's 12-year rule. In 1936, on one day alone 11,687 Germans were arrested for illegal socialist activity.[7]

While the state murder of six million Jews was a crime against humanity, the Jews were not the first to be put in the concentration camps. In order to carry out the destruction of European Jewry, the Fascists had to destroy the worker's movement. While antisemitism was there from the start, it only became the Nazi's central priority after the invasion of the USSR.

As Moos shows, the resistance would take on a different form from jokes, a satire to outright sabotage.  The most important and politically guided opposition came from the Trotskyists. One example is the Dresden Trotskyists who passed themselves off as an organisation of mountaineers in order to smuggle political literature into Germany.

The Trotskyists played an important role in the distribution of the paper Arbeiter und Soldat which agitated for the fraternisation between French citizens and German soldiers. Martin Monath was a founding member of the paper. In the 1930s he was an important member of the socialist Zionist youth organisation Hashomer Hatzair in Germany. When things became too dangerous for him to stay in Berlin, he moved to Brussels in 1939. It was in Brussels that he joined the underground Trotskyist party led by Abraham Leon. He went on to be a leading member of the Fourth International in Europe. He was murdered by the Nazi's in 1944.[8]

One more important Trotskyist mentioned in the book is that of the Oscar Hippe. Hippe participated in the German revolution of 1919 and the mass struggles in the years which followed. The events of the 1920s made Hippe grow up very quickly from a political standpoint.

He quickly understood the treacherous role of the Social Democracy and the increasingly Stalinist Communist Party of Germany. Hippe was always on the lookout for continuity of political thought and found his way to Trotsky and the Left Opposition.[9]

While the Trotskyists had a clear and correct perspective with which to fight the Nazi's, the same cannot be said of the rank and file workers of the KPD and SPD who were in many instances, going against the leadership of their party.

Moos correctly condemns the KPD's and SPD's disastrous policies during the rise of Hitler. Examining the actions of the Social Democrat Party (SPD) and the  German Communist Party (KPD) In What Next Leon Trotsky said of the SPD: The present crisis that is convulsing capitalism obliged the Social Democracy to sacrifice the fruits achieved after protracted economic and political struggles and thus to reduce the German workers to the level of existence of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers. There is no historical spectacle more tragic and at the same time more repulsive than the fetid disintegration of reformism amid the wreckage of all its conquests and hopes. The theatre is rabid in its straining for modernism. Let it stage more often Hauptmann's The Weavers: this most modern of modern dramas. And let the director of the theatre also remember to reserve the front rows for the leaders of the Social Democracy.[10]

From the same book, he had this to say on the KPD: "The errors of the leadership of the Comintern and consequently the errors of the German Communist Party pertain, in the familiar terminology of Lenin, to the category of "ultraleft stupidities." Even wise men are capable of stupidities, especially when young. But, as Heine counselled, this privilege should not be abused. When, however, political stupidities of a given type are repeated systematically in the course of a lengthy period, and in the sphere of the most important questions, then they cease being simply stupidities and become tendencies. What sort of a tendency is this? What historical necessities does it meet? What are its social roots? Ultraleftism has a different social foundation in different countries and at different periods. The most thoroughgoing expressions of ultra-leftism were to be found in anarchism and Blanquism, and in their different combinations, among them the latest one, anarcho-syndicalism".

There is no denying the importance of this book. It will however not win any major literary prizes, not because it is not well written or extremely well researched but because it does not fit in with the current right-wing historiography that dominates current historiography on the subject of the Nazi era.

Praise for the book should not blind us to some significant weaknesses. You would have thought that given Cushion's political history, he would have presented his account of events from a Trotskyist perspective he does not.

While not openly glorifying acts of individual of assignation and other acts of individual terrorism Cushion is not critical of them either. He does not take on board the position of the French Trotskyists during the war which concluded that "the terrorist act creates a barrier between French workers and German soldiers, but no victory is possible without unity between them.[11]

Another area that could have been better is the Some Concluding Thoughts on page 305, instead of concentrating on Britain which at the moment while not downplaying the threat of fascistic elements does not have the same level of Germany. The threat of Fascism rising again in Germany is real and should not be underestimated.

In the recent publication by Mehring-Verlag entitled Why Are They Back? Historical Falsification, Political Conspiracy And The Return Of Fascism In Germany Christoph Vandreier explained "Among the masses, the neo-Nazis are hated," Vandreier stated, pointing to the mass anti-fascist demonstration taking place in Berlin that same day. "The fact the extreme right can act so provocatively can only be explained by the support it receives from the political establishment."

To conclude, this book deserves to be widely read. The research is excellent, and scholarship is groundbreaking. The book rescues from obscurity the thousands of workers who opposed Fascism. The book should be read by anyone interested in opposing Fascism today.

Published by (London: Community Languages in association with the Socialist History Society. Copies of the book cane purchased post-free from the authors. £10 – more details from

[1] Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust – 3 Mar. 1997-by Daniel Goldhagen
[2] A critical review of Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners
By David North-17 April
[3] Leopold Trepper, The Great Game (1977)
[4] Weimar in Exile: The Antifascist Emigration in Europe and America
By Jean-Michel Palmier
[5] The Impending Danger-of Fascism in Germany-A Letter to a German Communist Worker-on the United Front Against Hitler-(December 1931)
[6] The Brown Plague: Travels in Late Weimar and Early Nazi Germany-Daniel Guerin
[7] See-Peter Hoffmann's standard 1977 study, ''The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945.''
[8] See- Martin Monath: A Jewish Resistance Fighter Among Nazi Soldiers (Revolutionary Lives) – 20 Oct. 2019
[9] See - Oskar Hippe - ...And Red is the Colour of Our Flag-Mehring Books
[10] What Next?
[11] La Verité, 15 March 1942, cited in: Yvan Craipeau, Contre vents et marées: 19381945  (Paris: Savelli, 1977), p. 120.