Pilarski, Alfons, 1902-1977 aka Janson, aka Jan Rylski, aka Alfons Kompardt

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A biography of Alfons Thomasz Pilarski, a German anarcho-syndicalist who took part in the German and Polish anarchist and anti-nazi movements.

Alfons Thomasz Pilarski (alias Kompardt) was born in Upper Silesia, a part of Germany with a 30% minority of Poles, on 6th July 1902, the son of a working class family in Leschnitz near Stehlitz.

From 1917-1921 Alfons worked as a draughtsman in building administration of the municipal authorities in Ratibor. In 1921 he completed his Abitur final exams (roughly equivalent to an educational diploma) as an external course at the Mathias High School in Breslau. He had joined the Communist Party (Spartakusbund) in Upper Silesia during the revolutionary ferment of 1918. He left the KPD after the Heidelberg Congress of October 1919, when the left communists and syndicalists broke away.

He joined the anarcho-syndicalist Freie Arbeiter Union Deutschland (FAUD) and he became a very active propagandist with it. He worked from 1921 to 1927 as a draughtsman and trainee for the anarcho-syndicalist publishing house of Fritz Kater. Pilarski and the Upper Silesian FAUD put a great emphasis on propaganda. In 1925 they had produced the Workers Voice, an agitational paper, which had to close for lack of funds. In 1928 he was one of the editors of the anarchist paper Befreiung (Liberation) in Breslau and Ratibor. This was a weekly for Silesia and Upper Silesia. It called itself “the only revolutionary paper in the dark east”. It had an aggressive tone and spoke in the language of the street, particularly interesting itself in exposing scandals in the establishment. Two of the seven first issues were seized by the authorities, who also banned it for a month. It had a circulation figure of 7,000, very high for a radical provincial paper.

Alongside Franz Nowak (Gypsy) and Theodor Bennek, Pilarski stood out as one of the most capable militants of the Upper Silesian FAUD. He was regarded by the police as its “intellectual leader”. He was a stirring orator, a talented journalist and a capable commercial artist. Between 1919-1932 he was arrested several times and served 19 months imprisonment altogether.

Besides Befreiung, Pilarski was involved in organizing the Schwarzen Scharen (The Black Crowds). In October 1929 members of the FAUD in Ratibor created anti-fascist combat organizations under this name, with the purpose of protecting workers meetings from the Nazis who they intended to fight by all means. In November 1929 a Schwarzen Scharen was set up in Beuthen followed by Rosenberg, Katscher, Gleiwitz and Bobrek Karf. Sometimes as many as 1,500 were mobilized and usually between 300-400. The Schwarzen Scharen wore black shirts and black berets, with the anti-militarist symbol of the broken rifle on their berets. The photograph above is of members of the FAUD Ratibor at the funeral of a comrade. Some members of the Schwarzen Scharen are visible on the right in berets and Pilarski is one of the men wearing a hat in the centre of the picture.

Basing his views on the previous experience of the German working class with the reactionary Freikorps, Pilarski believed that if fascism triumphed, the workers movement would be set back by 30 years. Accordingly the Upper Silesian FAUD prepared itself for combat. The Schwarzen Scharen in Ratibor had a machine gun and several pistols. In May 1932 the police discovered a secret training camp of the Schwarzen Scharen in Beuthen. 4 militants were arrested and sentenced to 10 years each in March 1933. Three others, Paul Czakon, Alfons Molina and Bernhard Pacha managed to escape to Spain (where later they fought in the fighting against the Francoist insurgents and then in anarchist militia columns).

Because of his involvement Pilarski fled across the border to Poland in September 1932, after an arrest warrant was put out for him. His forced emigration was not as difficult for Pilarski as for others fleeing Nazism. He spoke fluent Polish and had a legal right to live in Poland. He studied in Warsaw between 1933/1934 as a scholarship holder of the Polish Institute For the Study of National Problems (Instytut Badan Nardowych). From 1934 to 1936 he was a district secretary of the Polish syndicalist union the ZZZ in the Dabrowa basin and then up to June 1937 he worked in the head office of the metalworkers unions. From June 1937 until February 1939 he was on the editorial board of the Workers Front and in June 1939 he was co-opted on to the leadership of the ZZZ. He organised a secret anarcho-syndicalist opposition within the ZZZ. The Swedish anarchist Helmut Berner, who maintained links with the German anarchist underground, also visited Pilarski in Warsaw. The secret anarcho-syndicalist opposition had collected funds for Spanish children and Berner offered to smuggle these to Barcelona.

The German anarchist Augustin Souchy had asked Pilarski to come to Spain as one of a team of international coworkers. The ZZZ was reluctant to let such a capable organiser as Pilarski go, although his younger brother Richard did go, as did two other Upper Silesian anarcho-syndicalists, Heinrich Freidetzky and Max von Piechulla. In 1937 he married his wife Halina who came from a Polish working class family and had studied philosophy at Warsaw University. Their child Joanna was born in 1944.

In this period he broke with the internationalist outlook of the anarchist movement, believing, as he wrote in a letter to Souchy in 1937 that the “patriotic-revolutionary” mentality should not be opposed and that it was as much a waste of resources as the fight against religion. At the congress of the International Workers Association in 1938, he argued as the Polish delegate against the internationalist positions of the Dutch delegate Bart de Ligt. He argued for the “armed defense” of Czechoslovakia to the applause of the Spanish delegates, who had themselves fallen under the spurious thrall of anti-fascism.

After the German occupation, Pilarski fled to the part of Poland occupied by the Russians. He got a job in Wilna. In 1942 he secretly returned to Warsaw and was active in the secret syndicalist organisation Wolnosc (Liberty). He took part in the Warsaw uprising as a member of the socialist military group the Polska Armia Ludowa (PAL). After 8 days of fighting, he was seriously wounded. After the crushing of the uprising he was evacuated with his family to Krakow, only escaping Auschwitz by luck.

After the war, as far as it was possible, Pilarski maintained contact with the surviving comrades, corresponding with Rudolf Rocker in the USA and Helmut Ruediger in Stockholm. In 1947 he joined the Polish Labour Party (Polska Partia Robotnicza) and the PZPR (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotncza). He was fiercely criticized by German comrades abroad for these actions. Helmut Ruediger believed he had gone too far in adjusting himself to Polish nationalism and in particular its expulsion of 8 million ethnic Germans from their homes.

In January 1945 he worked as a secretary for propaganda for the Krakow district committee of the unions, and from June 1945 to June 1947 he worked as an employee in various enterprises in Silesia. From January 1948 to June 1950 he worked as a civil servant in the Ministry for the Western Areas, later in the Ministry for Public Administration. After that he worked up to his retirement in 1969 in the National Centre for the Book Trade as a publicity manager.

He was expelled from the PPR in 1950 and in April 1954 he was arrested by the Polish secret police for political reasons and again on 30th November 1954.

It appears he began corresponding with old Upper Silesian comrades living in Poland and East Germany at the beginning of the 70s, as well as with another FAUD veteran, Max Von Piechulla who was living in Canada. He also had contacts with Souchy in Munich and was able to make visits to Western Europe, although very often the bureaucracy thwarted any requests for such visits.

He refused any medals or decorations from the Polish state and after his retirement lived in a shabby two room apartment. In his correspondence with von Piechulla, he affirmed that he remained committed to libertarian socialism, and that it alone was the only worthwhile form of society for humanity.

He died on 3rd February 1977 in Warsaw.