Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
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.
Updated by ETOL: 10.7.2003