Biography of German anarchist Otto Reimers, an engineering worker who tirelessly agitated for the anarchist movement throughout the reign of the Nazi regime and into the post-war years.
Born Grambek, Germany 1902. Died Laufenburg, Germany 1984
Otto Reimers was born in Grambek in Schleswig-Holstein in north Germany on 17th September 1902. One of six brothers and sisters, at the beginning of the War, with his father called up for the World War, he got jobs working with local farmers and forestry workers to augment the meagre war benefits given to his family. Later on he took jobs as a building worker, and continued with this trade throughout his life.
At the age of 18 in 1920 he became involved in the anti-authoritarian workers movement. He met a worker impressed by the experiences of the American Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) who argued that all manual and intellectual workers should be united in one organization, which organised both in the workplace and on a political level. He argued for joining the AAU (General Workers Union) and Otto began attending meetings of the local branch in Goelzow. Here discussions went on into the night. Every left-wing paper was read, analysed and discussed, and there were animated talks about the Chicago Martyrs, the Modern School movement of Francisco Ferrer, and the writings of the Austrian anarchist Pierre Ramus.
In 1921 came the split in the AAU over whether a revolutionary party was necessary, one which acted to the left of the Communist Party (KPD), and whether this party, the KAPD, should join the Comintern. Otto, along with the entire Hamburg branch of the AAU took the side of those like Otto Ruhle and Franz Pfemfert, against affiliation to the Comintern and for a unitary organisation. This new body, the AAU-E (United General Workers Union) approached the anarcho-syndicalist union the FAUD in 1923 and 1924 so that Franz Pfemfert could participate as a delegate of the AAU-E in the international congresses of the International Workers Association.
In Hamburg Otto, along with Karl Matzen, Karl Roche and Ernst Fiering argued in 1926 for the building of an anti-authoritarian bloc, an idea first advocated by Ruhle. Anarcho-syndicalists, anarchist communists and individualist anarchists, as well as unionists of the AAU-E met in the Planeth Restaurant. On Fridays they all came together at the restaurant under the mantle of the Block Antiautoritaerer Revolutionaere and organised meetings addressed by Rudolf Rocker, Karl Roche, Pierre Ramus, Ernst Friedrich, Bertold Cahn, Franz Pfemfert and Winkler. Sometimes as many as 300-400 attended. Rocker spoke for a series of six meetings on Nationalism and Culture. These became so popular that they had to move from the upper room to the larger room downstairs.
Otto, together with his friend Paul Schloess organised selling the anti-authoritarian paper Proletarischer Zeitgeist, put out by the Zwickau branch of the AAU-E. This became more and more openly anarchist in its outlook. At the same time Otto developed what he called the Ergaenzungkurs (Auxiliary Course) which sought to fight authoritarian consciousness in the working class by means of individual psychology and libertarian teaching.
By 1927 3 splits had occurred within the AAU-E - the Spartacusbund 2 around the Berlin branches with Franz Pfemfert, Johannes Broh and Oskar Kanehl around the old council-communist programme, the Proletarischer Zeitgeist (PZ) with a strong anarchist influence and group around the Frankfurt branches of the AAU-E with Otto Ruhle.
With these splits the AAAU-E ceased to function, but the Zeitgeist was able to continue and its loose structure meant it was able to adapt to the new period of illegality under the Nazis.
The PZ had already taken precautions for this in 1932. A duplicator unit was set up and was able to print out a 12 page small format publication, Mahnruf, which appeared nearly every month and was distributed to all PZ groups. By 1934 publication had ceased because of the generally apathetic attitude within the working class, cowed by the fear of the concentration camp.
Otto got war exemption because of his work in the engineering industry. With the increasing Allied bombardment of Hamburg, Otto worked on repairing the overhead railway and the underground shelters. Otto’s friends and comrades from the PZ, Fiering, Zinke and Kaminski were murdered by the Nazis at the end of the war, but he himself evaded arrest.
On the 5th May he distributed the first post-war leaflets in Hamburg discussed by thousands of people in Hamburg. He called on the surviving Communists to form a united movement with social-democrats and anarchists which would be anti-capitalist and anti-fascist, arguing that this was necessary with the disastrous state of the German workers movement (Willi Jelinek took a different point of view, arguing against any collaboration with Communists or Social Democrats). The Communist leaders were opposed to this and the effort was still-born, despite the efforts of Reimers. Before then, and before the announcement of Hitler’s death, he had put out leaflets denouncing the atrocities at the Buchenwald and Belsen camps and called for vengeance.
Survivors from the PZ (there were just four) tried to organise the Hamburg group again in 1945. The first Mahnruf appeared on the 20th May 1945 and from September 1945 political organisation in the British sector was legalized. There was limited growth, however. Nevertheless in 1946 the United Federation for Democratic Construction was set up with Otto as one of its activists where he tried to develop a specific libertarian socialism within the federation. In March 1947 the British finally authorized the constitution of a Cultural Federation set up by Reimers and Langer, another survivor of pre-war anarchism. This group took the name of Cultural Federation of Free Socialists and Anti-militarists. It had an office, and put out 11 circulars during the year, creating links with other militants in five towns and corresponding with comrades in 17 countries.
Reimers continued to work untiringly to get anarchist initiatives off the ground. He wrote for the paper Die Freie Gesellschaft (The Free Society) which was published by surviving anarcho-syndicalists in West Germany, which appeared from 1949 to 1953. From 1955 to 1959 he published the German language version of the international anarchist news-sheet CRIA at the same time as his own magazine Information (1955-1962). In 1959 he was one of the main initiators of an anarchist conference in Neviges which led to the foundation of a League of Free Socialists and Anarchists. In 1969 he founded, with Walter Stoehr, the paper Neu Beginnen, which because it had the same name as a trade union paper, changed its name to Zeitgeist in conscious remembrance of PZ. In 1978 Zeitgeist ceased publication with a special book format issue. He kept in close contact with the anarchist magazine Akratie, published in Basel, Switzerland, published by Heiner Koechlin and occasionally wrote for it.
From the 70s Otto came into contact with the young anarchists that were emerging and communicated his experiences to them.
In December 1983 Margret, his wife and comrade of many years died. She had been involved in all of the publishing ventures and had been a considerable militant herself.
Otto survived her by only a year. His last writings appeared in the magazine Schwarzer Faden (Black Thread) and to this magazine he left his collection of the writings of poet Oskar Kanehl, a close comrade of Franz Pfemfert in the AAU-E. These appeared shortly afterwards in a book on Kanehl and Georg Grosz.
He died 22nd October 1984 in Laufenburg in Baden Württemberg.