A short biography of the German revolutionary seaman Ernst Schneider
Born in Königsberg in Prussia (now the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad) on 23rd July 1883 Ernst Schneider was a harbour worker and seaman (steersman). He had been a member of the Social Democratic Party on its Left as one of the Jungen (young socialists), then an editor, with Paul Schreyer (Luigi), Fricke, Noll, Krauss and others of the weekly Der Kampf, in Hamburg, “independent organ for Anarchism and Syndicalism’ (1912-1914) produced by the Hamburg Anarchist Federation. A Hamburg police report of 11th June 1914 describes him as an anarchist. As a member of the Syndikalistischen Industrieverbandes - Gruppe Transportarbeiter (Syndicalist Industrial Association- Transport workers Group) in Hamburg (1913-1914) he was involved in agitation around the strike on board the US-Hamburg ocean liner Vaterland, which lasted from April 1914 to the beginning of the war in August of that year. This was then one of the biggest ships in the world and the strike involved 650 seamen and 500 stewards. The strike was attacked not only by the bourgeois press but by the Social-Democrat controlled union The Transport Workers Federation (DTAV) and by the Social-Democrat paper the Hamburger Echo. The social democrats were concerned that they were losing their grip over the German working class.
When war broke out he was associated with the left around Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. He was a member of the Wilhelmshaven IKD (International Communists of Germany), previously the International Socialists who had strongholds in Hamburg and Bremen.Conscripted into the Navy, he was subsequently involved in the naval mutinies of 1918 and took a key role in the Wilhelmshaven revolt of January 1919 serving on the sailors revolutionary committee. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment in a fortress for his involvement. His spectacular escape from prison on 29th January 1920 gave him the nickname of Ikarus. He participated in the formation of the KAPD in Bremen in September 1920. He was imprisoned in Golnow prison and released on probation on 31st December 1922. In 1923, he was active in the KPD October insurrection of Hamburg, as a leading light in the KAPD/AAU . He was secretary of the German Seamen’s Association (Deutscher Seemansbund – DSB) in Bremerhaven, 1926-29. From 1926 to 1929, he was the organiser of the Seamen's AAU in Cuxhaven, and the editor of the seamen’s unionist review: Wellenbrecher (Wavebreaker), Bordzeitung der Seeleute. He was at sea from 1930. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1935 and sentenced to 18 months in prison in Fuhlsbuettel. He escaped to Britain via Antwerp in 1939. Albert Meltzer in his biography mentions that Schneider used the safe house of the German anarchist exile group Schwarzrot (BlackRed) in Birmingham in 1938. He was active against the war in the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, and one of the main contributors to Solidarity between 1938 and 1945. This group, with the review, Solidarity, defended internationalist positions during the Second World War. He wrote the classic text The Wilhelmshaven Revolt first published in 1943. There he modestly downplays his role in the revolt, referring to "Spartakist Ernst" which was in fact himself! The British goverment refused to give him naturalisation for many years.
Ernst was in 1946 a close friend of Harry Constable, member of the London Port Workers' Rank and File Committee with Bert Aylward, Bert Saunders and others. who produced the Port Workers Clarion. Constable was one of seven dockers charged and acquitted at the Old Bailey for organising strikes. Ernst, whilst not a docker, lived at that time in East London, working as a ship's painter on the docks. The print worker Joe Thomas met him through support for the port workers.
Ernst Schneider died in Southend in 1963 at the age of 79.