WeeklyWorker

06.05.2021
Arrested communists

SUPPLEMENT: Letting the facts speak for themselves

Otto Kilian, preface to ‘White terror in central Germany: the truth about the March battles - stenographic report of the proceedings of the Prussian state parliament’s investigative committee over October 27-28 1921’ (translator: Ben Lewis)

When, in March, the battles between the green police [nickname for paramilitary police formations known as the ‘security police’] and the revolutionary workers broke out in central Germany, the bourgeois world was quick to denounce them as a ‘communist putsch’, as a ‘Communist Party crime’. An enormous flood of lies and slander rolled through the German press in accordance with the orders and wishes of the capitalists and their government.

The communists had been put down by force of arms - some of their leaders had been murdered, thousands had been thrown into prison. The communist press in the combat zone had been suppressed in order to deprive the persecuted party of the possibility of defending itself against the great lie of the “communist blood guilt”. The gagging of the revolutionary proletariat and its publications during the state of siege was at the same time intended to give the social democratic parties an opportunity to make political deals. Those who unleashed the struggles did so in the most calculated fashion. In the most ingenious manner, they prepared the police siege of the central German industrial area in advance, and then set it in motion.

The claim that the Mansfeld workers would accept being placed under police supervision without further ado, that the green police’s invasion would have no consequences, was a daring swindle. From the outset, the responsible authorities, especially the Prussian government, expected resistance from the workers. For it was precisely this resistance that they were interested in. They had Hörsing [SPD president of Saxony] occupy the Mansfeld region in order to provoke a struggle from the revolutionary workers. They wanted to create an opportunity to crush the communist movement. In thinking up and organising the ‘coal affair’ (against Mansfeld) and the ‘spring expedition’ (against the Leuna factory), they proceeded solely from the shameful idea of deploying masses of armed men to challenge the fighting vanguard of the German revolution and to subject it to a bloodletting. This view, which has been expressed by the Communist Party and its publications ever since March 17 - the day of the publication of Hörsing’s first proclamation to the people - has been unequivocally confirmed by the political evidence gathered by the Prussian state parliament’s committee of inquiry.

The fairy tale first used by Hörsing to deceive the entire working class - namely that the police action was directed against thieves and property seizures - had already been destroyed by [SPD Prussian minister of the interior Carl] Severing’s confession in the article he wrote for Ekkerhard. The proceedings of the committee, in particular the questioning of the two Social Democratic government men and the political and police officials of Berlin, Magdeburg and Merseburg, put the matter to rest. The picture that presents itself to the objective observer at the close of the political evidence that has in the meantime been collected makes it clear that there can no longer be any doubt about the plans, intentions, resolutions and preparations of the organisers of the police offensive during Easter week. The big lie of the ‘communist putsch’ has been destroyed just as thoroughly as the fairy tale of the ‘action against criminality’ has been.

Let the facts speak for themselves. Severing wrote a polemic in Ekkhard against the rightwing parties which accused him of negligence and indulgence towards the ‘communist plans for a putsch’. He wrote that the purpose of the police operation against central Germany had been to “unleash a premature communist uprising that was already in preparation in order to put it down by force of arms and thus to be able to banish the communist danger”. The ministerial director, Abegg - one of Severing’s officials - testified that “the preparation and execution of the police operation against central Germany was exclusively the responsibility of the political advisors of the ministry of the interior”. The commissioner for public order, Weismann, reproduced a conversation with Severing, in which the latter admitted that he had “unleashed the uprising with political intentions in order to get the opportunity to put it down”. The same witness took part in a conference in which Hörsing concluded by saying that “the police action would now begin with the occupation of the endangered districts and factories”. Police major Folte, generalissimo of Severing and Hörsing’s forces, complained bitterly to the committee of inquiry that he had not been given any knowledge of the economic and political conditions of the district when the order was given, and that he had also not been sufficiently informed about the mood of the population. “The only thing” he had been given as a document, he said, was a list with the “names of the communist leaders”. From this, it follows unequivocally that the police attack on the central German proletariat was not about dealing with criminality, but a politically provocative attack aimed at destroying the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat and thus the proletarian revolution.

Provocation

It was prepared long in advance - not by the communists, but by their opponents. As early as February 12 and 23, at the request of the big industrialists, the government organs addressed the action. On March 13 it was discussed in detail and agreed upon in Magdeburg, with the agreement even of representatives of the USPD [Independent Social Democratic Party].

On March 11, in line with the decision of the conference held the day before, the supreme president of Saxony, Hörsing, demanded that the Prussian government “occupy the industrial area of the administrative district of Merseburg with Schutzpolizei [state-level ‘protection police’]”, as was admitted in the official green book The March unrest of 1921 and the Prussian protection police (Kameradschaft Verlagsgesellschaft, Berlin). Not only was the operation against Mansfeld planned from the outset, but the one against the Leuna works too. Moreover, according to the green book, police troops were also made available to “nip insurrectionary movements in the bud”. Hörsing’s claim that he had expected the police action to be conducted peacefully has thus been officially characterised as a lie and, however one looks at the matter, there is only one way of interpreting the motives behind the police operation: political provocation.

This automatically shows talk of the ‘Moscow diktat’, of the ‘German communists’ decision on March 17’, to be a brazen swindle. The fact that Hörsing’s police action of March 18 was already fixed on March 13 also shows perfectly clearly and unequivocally the real character of the struggles that broke out between the revolutionary workers of Mansfeld and the police: this was a defensive struggle of the workers, who felt that their freedom, their existence and the gains that they still enjoyed in the Ebert Republic were under threat. Accordingly, as a truly revolutionary party, the KPD (at the time the VKPD), of course had to support this defensive struggle of revolutionary proletarians - despite the unfavourable situation - and make it its own.

On March 19, the Halle-Merseburg district leadership of the party drew the workers’ attention to the imminent dangers and on March 24 called for a general strike in central Germany in support of the Mansfeld workers’ struggle. Because of their significance, in the appendix to this pamphlet we reproduce these calls, as well as Hörsing’s appeals. A glance at the content of the communist appeals shows the groundlessness of the accusation that the communists invoked armed struggle. This did not even happen in Eisleben, where bloody battles nevertheless spontaneously broke out among the mass of the workers, who were outraged by the provocation [Eisleben was the centre of Max Hoelz’s political operations].

By showing the talk of the ‘communist Easter putsch’ to be a brazen hoax, much of the mountain of lies and slander piled up against the communist movement has simultaneously been cleared out of the way. The counterrevolutionary newspapers’ lies about an organised and armed ‘Red Army’ in central Germany has been characterised by the testimony of imperial disarmament commissar, Peters, as what it really was: the machinations of informers. And the question of which side committed crimes in the March battles has been dealt with equally unequivocally by the cross-examination of eye-witnesses to the countless atrocities committed by members of the protection police against captured workers.

Human language is unable to characterise the vulgarities, brutalities and atrocities carried out by members of Prussia’s armed forces on defenceless captured workers. The brutal atrocities perpetrated by officers and temporary volunteers of the protection police who had been sent to central Germany by the Social Democrats in order to restore order (which in reality had not been disturbed at all) and to enforce law and order could not have been conducted any more viciously even by the executioners of the ‘Okhrana’ in the prisons of tsarist Russia. And, in more recent times, such atrocities can only be found in the White Terror of [general Miklós] Horthy’s Christian Hungary. Countless ‘murders’ can be proved to have been committed, some of them following the terrible maltreatment of the victims. Summary executions have been conducted. The shootings of those people ‘while escaping arrest’ have been shown to be vicious, premeditated murders by assassins. One worker had a revolver “pressed into his hand”, with which he was forced to shoot himself. A second, who refused to go along with this, had his skull sliced in two. The ‘Düsseldorf Watch’ made martyrs of the prisoners in the Leuna silo day and night. The officers took great pleasure in doing so. And the bestiality did not even stop at the dead. Although it seems almost unbelievable, it is a fact, as testified by a bourgeois doctor before the investigating committee, that after being shot a member of the protective police cut open the torso of the worker, Poblenz, in Schraplau and tore out his intestines. Hörsing expressed his gratitude for this barbarity.

Capitalist society, on behalf of which these murderers ‘moved’ into central Germany with the other police officers; the rightwing socialists, whose confidants in the government offices ordered this provocation; the social democratic parties that supported or approved of this criminal enterprise against the ‘revolutionary heart of Germany’, that opposed from the outset the economic defensive measures proposed by the communists in order to bring about the withdrawal of the mass deployment of the police; the SPD and the USPD that organised strike-breaking in favour of Hörsing and of capital - all of them have incurred an immense guilt. The Prussian state parliament’s investigative commission, which was supposed to produce a great indictment of the communists and their crime, has become a tribunal at which the opponents and saboteurs of the proletarian struggle have been found guilty.

The hearings caused a tremendous stir. Eye and ear witnesses, men and women, spoke and recalled their experiences. As far as possible, the communist representatives on the committee had deliberately overlooked all witnesses with communist views and only suggested bourgeois or social democratic witnesses to present evidence. The more powerful and forceful their testimonies, the less likely they were to be objected to as untrustworthy or partisan. Even the government representative was convinced of this at the meeting on October 28, when he declared that the testimonies of the witnesses would absolutely and without further ado oblige the judicial authorities to initiate investigative and criminal proceedings against the guilty parties.

The effect that these testimonies had before the committee, the shock and horror that they caused, will certainly also be felt among the public. But they will arouse the deepest disgust and the wildest indignation among the proletarians of all parties. The disgraceful picture of the deeds of the bourgeois state’s police force that has emerged from the proceedings of the committee of enquiry will not only arouse in them the will for revolutionary revenge, not only the highest zeal for the support and liberation of the victims, but also the political realisation and the will to fight for the overthrow of the bourgeois world and the ‘capitalist’ mode of production, which must make use of such cruel methods for the oppression of the proletariat in order to preserve it.

Friedrich Engels, when he still called himself a ‘communist’,1 once wrote along these lines:

The more the class struggles advance in a country and the more bourgeois society approaches its collapse, the more severely it will use the state’s means of power against the proletariat in order to preserve itself.

The Germany of the bourgeoisie, in the administration of which former social democrats participate - at this time with particular zeal as leaders of the Stinnes coalition - proves the correctness of this characterisation of the brutal class state. Ever since the foundations of capitalist rule have been shaken by war, collapse and revolution, it has ruthlessly used the most brutal means against the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat in order to suppress it: lies and slander, informants, provocations, warfare, common crime up to and including murder, and the incarceration of innocent people through a political justice based on vengeance. If we look back at the history of the German revolution from [Gustav] Noske to Hörsing, we see bankrupt German capitalism’s use of these means appearing clearly and systematically. But the truth does break through. In spite of all the suppression and persecution, it has also prevailed against the lies about the March Action. May this publication reveal the truth to the German proletariat as a whole.

The testimonies are reproduced according to shorthand notes taken during the negotiations. Unfortunately, some gaps in the transcript were caused by the fact that the witnesses sometimes spoke most unclearly and their voices were drowned out by the noise of the parliamentary hustle and bustle. As a result, it was sometimes only possible to summarise what was said. But this does not apply to the most important statements that were made. The reader will certainly be able to find these important passages without any difficulty. In order to save space, deletions have only been made in passages that were of secondary importance or that contained superfluous repetitions.


  1. I can only assume that this is a response to some polemical attacks from social democracy along the lines of ‘Engels was a social democrat’ and/or the claim that ‘In the 1890s Engels wrote that the time for street battles was over’, etc. If it is such a response, then unfortunately it is not a very good one: I am unable to find the quote Kilian cites in German or English, and he seems to take as good coin the notion that at some point Engels stopped referring to himself as a communist.↩︎