*Our Flag Is Still Red -Markin comment:
This is a repost of 2008's (and the two previous years)commentary in honor of our international working class holiday. I would add that the comments made then still apply today. I would further add that these damn bourgeois presidential campaigns have taken most of the air out of the political atmosphere thus retarding our efforts. Notice the virtually total fade away of pro-immigration street demonstrations. To speak nothing of Iraq. What happens to these parliamentary reformists if they wake up on January 20th 2009 and one John McCain is getting ready to take the oath of office? Enough said-for now.
THIS YEAR(2010) MARKS THE 124TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MAY DAY HAYMARKET FRAMEUPS. HONOR THE MEMORY OF AUGUST SPIES, ALBERT PARSONS, ADOLPH FISCHER, GEORGE ENGEL, LOUIS LINGG, MICHAEL SCHWAB, SAMUEL FIELDEN, OSCAR NEEBE- CLASS WAR VICTIMS OF AN EARLIER TIME. ALSO REMEMBER LUCY PARSONS WHO CARRIED ON THE STRUGGLE FOR VINDICATION AFTER HER HUSBAND’S EXECUTION. LET US REDOUBLE OUR EFFORTS TO FREE TODAY’S CLASS WAR PRISONERS.
Politically, the writer of these lines is far distance from those of the Haymarket Martyrs. Their flag was the black flag of anarchism, the writer’s is the red flag of communism. Notwithstanding those political differences, militants must stand under the old labor slogan that should underscore all labor defense work now as then- ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’. Unfortunately that principle has been honored far more in the breech than in the observance by working class organizations.
Additionally, in the case of the Haymarket Martyrs today’s militants must stand in solidarity and learn about the way those militants bravely conducted themselves before bourgeois society in the face of the witch hunt against them and their frame-up in the courts of so-called bourgeois ‘justice’. Not for the first time, and most probably not for the last, militants were railroaded by the capitalist state for holding unpopular and or/dangerous (to the capitalists) views. Moreover, it is no accident that most of the Haymarket Martyrs were foreigners (mainly Germans) not fully appreciative of the niceties of 19th century American ‘justice’. This same ‘justice’ system framed the heroic anarchist immigrant militants Sacco and Vanzetti in the early 20th century and countless other militants since then. As we struggle in the fight for full citizenship rights for immigrants today we should keep this in mind. Although, as we know, this American system of ‘justice’ will not forget the occasional uppity ‘native’ political dissenter either.
Most importantly, we must not forget that the Haymarket Martyrs at the time of their arrest were fighting for the establishment of a standardized eight hour work day. It is ironic that 120 years later this simple, rational, reasonable demand should, in effect, still be necessary to fight for by working people. All proportions taken into account since the 1880’s, a very high percentage of the working class still does not have this luxury- given the necessity of two wage-earner families, two job wage-earners, dramatic increases in commute time in order to gain employment, unpaid but mandatory work time (note especially the Walmartization of labor time) and a high rate of partially or fully unemployed able-bodied workers. To do justice to the memory of the Haymarket Martyrs this generation of militants should dust off another old labor slogan that used to be part of the transitional demands of the socialist movement- 30 hours work for 40 hours pay. TODAY THIS IS A REASONABLE DEMAND.
Obviously such a demand cannot be implemented in isolation. To even propose such a demand means we need to build a workers party to fight for it. Moreover, and let us not have illusions about this; this capitalist state does not want to and will not grant such a demand. Therefore, we must fight for a workers government. That would be a true monument to the memory of the Haymarket Martyrs.
Click below to link to the Revolutionary History Journal index.
Peter Paul Markin comment on this series:
This is an excellent documentary source for today’s leftist militants to “discover” the work of our forebears, particularly the bewildering myriad of tendencies which have historically flown under the flag of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his Fourth International, whether one agrees with their programs or not. But also other laborite, semi-anarchist, ant-Stalinist and just plain garden-variety old school social democrat groupings and individual pro-socialist proponents.
Some, maybe most of the material presented here, cast as weak-kneed programs for struggle in many cases tend to be anti-Leninist as screened through the Stalinist monstrosities and/or support groups and individuals who have no intention of making a revolution. Or in the case of examining past revolutionary efforts either declare that no revolutionary possibilities existed (most notably Germany in 1923) or alibi, there is no other word for it, those who failed to make a revolution when it was possible.
The Spanish Civil War can serve as something of litmus test for this latter proposition, most infamously around attitudes toward the Party Of Marxist Unification's (POUM) role in not keeping step with revolutionary developments there, especially the Barcelona days in 1937 and by acting as political lawyers for every non-revolutionary impulse of those forebears. While we all honor the memory of the POUM militants, according to even Trotsky the most honest band of militants in Spain then, and decry the murder of their leader, Andreas Nin, by the bloody Stalinists they were rudderless in the storm of revolution. But those present political disagreements do not negate the value of researching the POUM’s (and others) work, work moreover done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.
Finally, I place some material in this space which may be of interest to the radical public that I do not necessarily agree with or support. Off hand, as I have mentioned before, I think it would be easier, infinitely easier, to fight for the socialist revolution straight up than some of the “remedies” provided by the commentators in these entries from the Revolutionary History journal in which they have post hoc attempted to rehabilitate some pretty hoary politics and politicians, most notably August Thalheimer and Paul Levy of the early post Liebknecht-Luxemburg German Communist Party. But part of that struggle for the socialist revolution is to sort out the “real” stuff from the fluff as we struggle for that more just world that animates our efforts. So read, learn, and try to figure out the
wheat from the chaff.
Oskar Hippe (1900–1990)Oskar Hippe, the veteran German Trotskyist, died on 13 March, a few days short of his ninetieth birthday.
Born on 1 April 1900, Hippe had joined the workers’ struggle by the time he was 16 years old.
In the years between the November Revolution in 1918 and the end of the revolutionary post-war crisis of 1923; between the outbreak of the world economic crisis of 1929 and the Prussian coup d’etat in July 1932, Oskar was involved in the militant upsurges in the German labour movement.
From the Free Trade Union Youth Movement and the Spartakus League through to the KPD; the Left Opposition in the KPD and the Lenin League under the leadership of Hugo Urbahns, and then in the leadership of the legal and illegal work of the Trotskyists, his life is a story of active participation.
He was imprisoned for two years by the National Socialists, from 1934 to 1936, and, in 1948, was sentenced to 25 years by the East German Stalinist regime (a term from which he was eventually released in 1956).
This brief extract, which covers some events of 1923, is taken from his autobiography ...and Red is the Colour of Our Flag: Memoirs of 60 years in the workers’ movement, English translation by Andrew Drummon, which will be published by Index Books in September 1990, price £8.95. (Index Books, 28 Charlotte Street, London W1P 1HJ. Tel: 071-636 3532.)
In Central Germany and in the Ruhr district, the Proletarian Battalions had been built up on a cross-party basis and in great numbers, while there was scarcely anything else in the country apart from that. Now the construction of these groups was supposed to proceed with increased energy. In places where it was possible, these were to be built as organs of a United Front; where it was not possible, then as Communist Party organs attracting non-party people. Where the party now began to construct Workers’ Self-Defence Organs in other parts of the country, it was done quite hectically.
In Saxony and Thuringia, the Social Democratic organisations found themselves under strong pressure from their rank-and-file. The chairman of the KPD, Heinrich Brandler, who had travelled to Moscow in the decisive August days of 1923, returned at the beginning of September. None of the middle-ranking officials in our district knew what had been decided there, but everyone was clear that things were now on a razor’s edge. Everywhere in Germany, as in the central area, strikes took place. The workers demanded actions which went far beyond wage strikes. So the weeks passed. In the meantime, Heinrich Brandler travelled to Moscow again. When he returned on 8 October, not only the members of the party, but also the other workers were prepared to defend themselves against possible attacks by the Fascists, the army and the ‘Black National Army’. In Saxony and Thuringia, in quick succession, workers’ governments were formed by the SPD and KPD. On 12 October, Brandler, together with Paul Böttcher and Fritz Heckert, entered the Saxony government of the left Social Democrat, Zeigner.
At that time, a workers conference was convened in Chemnitz, to discuss the critical food supply situation. The KPD used one intervention at this conference to call for a general strike. Everyone knew that an act like what at that time would mean a general uprising. The conference rejected the call. So the KPD sent couriers from Chemnitz into the districts, advising them to stand down from their preparations for uprising. All the couriers reached their destinations, except the one for Hamburg. And so the Hamburg uprising took place. For three days, several hundred workers fought against a superior number of police.
For the members of the KPD, and even more for the workers who were sympathisers, the defeat was a great disappointment. Generally, people were of the opinion that we should investigate the reasons why the preparations for the general strike had been called off. Later, in the internal arguments in the party, through so-called Discussion Documents which had been made available to the membership, we learnt of a letter written by Stalin in the late summer of 1923 to the members of the Politbureau of the Russian Party, in which he warned against calling a general strike in Germany, because it might lead to an uprising. He claimed that the revolutionary situation had finished in Central Europe, and said that the German comrades had to be restrained. Amongst the party membership there was a general feeling that Heinrich Brandler, when he was in Moscow at the beginning of October, had agreed with Stalin’s evaluation.
The governments which had been formed in Saxony and Thuringia were completely legal. The Social Democrats and Communists had a parliamentary majority in those states. They demanded from the new Stresemann government some action against the reactionary forces in the south. In Saxony, Heinrich Brandler had managed to get the Proletarian Battalions legalised as a sort of auxiliary police force. The national government took this and the inclusion of some Communists in the state governments as an excuse to act with force against the governments of Saxony and Thuringia. The Social Democratic President, Ebert, gave the commander-in-chief of the German Army full powers for this ‘Imperial execution’. The army occupation claimed many victims again. The hunt for Communist Party officials now began in the whole of Central Germany. The party talked of eight to nine thousand arrests. While the large towns and industrial areas throughout Saxony and Thuringia were occupied, there was no occupation of the Geisel valley or of the Bitterfeld coalfield. The feeling in our group and the neighbouring party groups was that the October events could have led to a victorious revolution if only Heinrich Brandler had abandoned his opportunist policies. He had lost all credit in the party at that time.
The KPD was banned on 23 November. The Communist Youth League had planned a regional conference for the beginning of December. It took place despite the ban. The public house in which the conference was held lay at the edge of town, on the Dolau Heath. It went ahead as planned at the weekend, without interruption. The main points on the agenda were “The October Defeat” and “Our Future Tasks”. In the industrial area, despite the ban, our work continued almost legally.
After the October defeat, the factories were closed to me. And there was no prospect of receiving any unemployment benefit in the foreseeable future. My father informed me that he was no longer prepared to feed me. All the attempts of the party to find work for me were unsuccessful. For political reasons, I should have remained in the Geisel valley: I had important functions in the party and the Youth League, and was also a delegate at regional level. However, after a discussion with the regional leadership in Halle/Merseburg, we agreed that I should leave the district and find work elsewhere. I then got in touch with my sister in Berlin. At the beginning of January, I left the Geisel valley to set up home in Berlin.