The first private letter from a German worker and soldier active in the underground socialist movement in Germany, sent to a friend in the United States and published in The Militant in 1942. It describes the political situation in Nazi Germany at the time, and how the socialists tried to counter Nazi propaganda and make links with socialists of other nationalities.
The following excerpts are from the private letter of an anti-fascist, socialist worker1 active in the underground movement in Germany, to a friend in the United States. The letter was written in the last month of 1941. For obvious reasons, neither the route of the letter, nor the identity of the writer and the recipient can be revealed.
THE MILITANT2 publishes this interesting letter without taking responsibility for the political ideas expressed, or the accuracy of the information given. THE MILITANT is satisfied, however, that it is an authentic letter from a German underground worker.
We disagree in particular with the last paragraph of the letter in which the writer states that before striking a blow the German people should wait until all the armies collapse; that otherwise the effect would be to aid British imperialism.
We hold that the German workers should strike a blow against their ruling class as soon as possible. The struggle for socialism in Germany today is not a struggle on behalf of British imperialism; the British imperialists don't want such a revolutionary struggle in Germany any more than do the Nazis. A socialist struggle in Germany today no more helps British imperialism than a socialist struggle in Britain would help German imperialism.
Likewise, we believe that the workers in the “United Nations” should not wait until the collapse of German imperialism before going ahead with their struggle for socialism. Indeed, the best way to bring about the defeat of fascism is for the workers in the “democratic” countries to continue that struggle, to declare that they are not going to permit another Versailles Treaty. This would do more than anything else to inspire the German masses with confidence and arouse them to take action to overthrow their oppressors now.
THE MILITANT, JULY 18, 1942
Dear Friend and Comrade:
Of myself, I shall not write you very much. There are, however, moments when I suffer, Mainly, they are moments when I am compelled to appear at Nazi meetings in opposition to the so-called Jewish plutocracy. After such speeches, I feel like an innocent girl who sells her body for the first time. One is helpless, however. Our underground activity demands many mean acts.
At the same time, I do not spare the German plutocrats and world capitalism. In the Third Reich, it is permissible to come out in opposition to capitalism – especially the capitalism of England and the United States. The leaders of the Third Reich would not have permitted such opposition; in order to maintain the morale of the rank and file of the populace, however, it is permitted. Thanks to the attacks on capitalism, and the warning that, in the event the war is lost, a second Versailles would emerge, the “morale” is maintained.
If the Nazis think the people believe their demagogy, they are mistaken. Hitler may cry a hundred times that he cannot rest as long as he is unable to realize his “Socialist program”; the people, however, don't believe him. The young Nazis alone have faith in his lies – but not the workers, who keep asking: “Is Russia, too, a pluto-democratic country?” The only reply which the Nazis offer is – that Stalin has betrayed Lenin's ideas, and has become associated with the capitalism of England and the United States . . . In Germany, folks have ceased to laugh; but when they hear such a phrase, they do laugh. And when one laughs, folks often joke and say: “Quiet, the Gestapo might hear.”
And it is no wonder folks don't laugh in the Third Reich. Almost in every family, a son, a father, or a brother – sometimes two – are missing, and many families can point to their beloved ones who are still in the prisons and concentration camps and have become old, gray and ailing there. So lives the “Herrenvolk” with which the Nazis have “blessed” us.
The world does not know how the “Herrenvolk” lives under the Nazi regime. But when we tell of our sufferings, we are asked: “Why don't you revolt?” According to the opinions of the politicians in the democratic countries, it follows that if we do not revolt, it indicates we are satisfied with the Nazi regime. Thus, an untruth is turned into a truth, and vice versa. And that is called freedom of speech and press.
The Weimar Constitution
So reason also our political emigrants in the democratic countries, who urge us, by radio, to revolt and renew the Weimar Constitution. Maybe they would like to see the Weimar Constitution reestablished – not we! They, who were the grave-diggers of the German Republic, call upon us to resurrect the corpse. Luckily, they have few adherents. The adherents they do have are as old as they, and, like their adherents, are in their declining years. But those who are still “very much alive,” are not eager to see the Weimar Constitution revived. And we are not alone. Our Polish and Jewish comrades in Poland do not wish to see their republic resurrected, either.
I have myself been in Poland and have talked with responsible Polish Socialists3 , members of the Jewish Bund, and Trotskyists. How I obtained these connections, I shall omit telling in this letter. I assure you, however, that they have no association with the Polish Government-in-Exile, in London.
The Polish Socialists, Bund members, and Trotskyists work under very difficult conditions. Their work is connected with grave danger, but death does not frighten them. And remember that our Polish comrades are being pursued – not only by the Gestapo, but also by the Polish agents who are in the service of the Gestapo . . .
The war did not come unexpectedly for Russia. In April 1941, we had already informed the Soviet Embassy in Berlin that the German War Council had mapped plans to attack Russia. In May 1941, we informed the Soviet Embassy as to which military units have been hurled on the Eastern front. On the day Russia was attacked, we issued a proclamation to the German people, in which we condemned the war.
How The Underground Functions
We rarely employ written agitation and propaganda, since we want to avoid arrests of our comrades. For that reason, we are conducting verbal agitation and propaganda in the factories, at meetings of Hitler's Labor Front, and on excursions. To describe the group work and the manner in which the complicated work is conducted would necessitate a complete volume, and I shall therefore omit it. Despite our lack of written propaganda, we still succeed in reaching the masses. We even reach the very discontented middle class. Naturally, this demands caution, and we have learned that thoroughly.
The Nazis understand our work and they employ every means to hinder us. Thus, for example, they compel the workers to listen to the Nazi radio propagandists. The teachers very often ask the children in their classes whether the parents have listened to this or that Nazi radio speaker, The agents of the Nazi Labor Front in the factories ask the workers whether they have heard this or that speaker. This is being done so that the workers should remain at home and not meet their comrades over a glass of beer. Our comrades, however, find a way out, for when a worker goes to have a drink of beer and meet his comrades, his wife remains at home and listens to the radio. When the comrade returns home, his wife conveys to him the gist of the Nazi speech, so that he can know what to reply to the Labor Front agent in the plant.
Were it possible for the Third Reich to do without skilled labor, the Nazis would have to build new prisons and concentration camps. But in view of the fact that such workers are often indispensable, many strict regulations are overlooked. Because of this, a large number of political prisoners have been released from the jails and concentration camps, because there is urgent need for them.
This is the real Germany – contrary to the opinion of professors and scholars that Hitler expresses the sentiments, thoughts and aspirations of the German nation. We read all these “scientific” treatises of the professors and scholars of the democratic countries who base their views on Fichte, Nietzsche, Hegel. We can, however, assure the “scientists” of Britain and the United States that they do not know Fichte, Hegel and Nietzsche. Don't these scholars realize that, advancing such contentions, they are under the influence of the Nazis? Don't they realize, indirectly, they preach Nazi theories of higher race and chosen peoples? Their contention that Nazism is the expression of the German spirit is just as true as the Nazi argument that Roosevelt expresses the spirit of North American gangsterism. Hitler expresses the spirit of the German finance and industrial bandits who want to change the world for their own political purposes; the Fuehrer does not express the spirit of the German people.
Who Is Responsible For Hitler?
If, however, these scholars would have been acquainted with Marxist methodology, they would have had to conclude that it was not the German people – but, rather, German and world capitalism – that brought Nazism into being . . .
I have sidetracked a little from my theme, but I trust, my old comrade, that you will not accuse me of German nationalism. I am as much a German nationalist as you – and other internationalists. It hurts, however, when one hurls false accusations against a nation which has, without trial, been condemned to hard labor. These scholars should have accused the capitalists of their own countries who invested billions of dollars in German war industries – but not the German nation which has been betrayed by everyone: Social-Democrats, liberals, democrats, Catholics, Communists (Stalinists).
Should the war today lose its imperialist character, the German people will answer that it regards itself – not as a “Herrenvolk” (master people). To act now, means giving support to British imperialism. This we shall never do. As long as the war leaders of the democratic countries will employ fine phrases, rather than fine deeds, we will wait until all armies will collapse – and they will collapse! However, as soon as the war will be turned into a war for real freedom, we will act. True, we will not make a revolution, because we cannot; but we will paralyze the Nazi war industry much more effectively than tens of thousands of bombers. For that purpose we are organized, prepared – and waiting.
The second letter is availablle here.
- 1The author of this letter was a German soldier and worker, a member of the League of Revolutionary Socialists of Germany, who also spent three weeks in Warsaw at the end of 1941.
- 2The Militant was at the time the organ of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a US Trotskyist group founded in 1938. The roots of the SWP and The Militant can be traced back to the Communist League of America, founded by James P. Cannon, Max Shachtman and Martin Abern in 1928 following their expulsion from the Communist Party of the USA for Trotskyism.
- 3Might refer to members of the group Polscy Socjaliści, a left wing split from the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) which existed in years 1941-1943. In 1943 the group split, with the right rejoining the PPS, and the left forming a new party – the Robotnicza Partia Polskich Socjalistów (RPPS).