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(en) Britain, *Organise! #63* - Revolutionary portraits: Marinus van der Lubbe

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 21 Apr 2005 08:05:34 +0200 (CEST)

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We continue our series, Revolutionary Portraits, on the
lives of those women and men who have done so much over
the last 120 years to build the anarchist movement.
>>> Marinus van der Lubbe was born on 13th January 1911 in Leyden,
Holland, the son of a travelling salesman, Franciscus Cornelis
and of Petronella van Handel, a divorced woman who already had
6 children. His father left home for good shortly after his
birth. His mother, a chronic asthmatic moved to Den Bosch to
set up a little shop. Marinus, it seems, was briefly put in a
home for the education of orphans and poor children.

One of his teachers described him
at the age of 11 as being a gifted pupil .
After the death of his mother in 1921 he
lived with his half-sister, at Oegstgeest, near
Leyden. Enrolled in a Protestant school, he
also was charged with looking after his
three younger nieces. He began to work at
the age of 14, to take the pressure off of his
half-sister. He worked as an apprentice
mason and took evening courses. As the
result of discussions with his workmates he
began to interest himself in revolutionary
ideas and joined the youth organisation of
the Dutch Communist Party, De Zaaier (The
Sower). Of an independent nature and
resentful towards authority, as a young
autodidact he frequented the public library
of Leyden where he read Philosophy and
Work of Henry Ford, Marx's Capital and
several books about travels through Tibet
and China, among other books.
In 1924 he had a work accident on a
building site. Two of his workmates as a
practical joke upturned a bucket over his
head. Quicklime at the bottom of the bucket
got in his eyes and he had to be treated in
hospital. In October 1927, following the fall
of rubble on another site, he was injured in
the right eye. This second more serious
accident, meant that he spent several
months in hospital. He was operated on
without recovering the full use of his eye.
As a result of this, he received a weekly
handicap benefit. To supplement this
allowance, he worked in one temporary job
after the other. He worked in a grocer's,
then as a waiter at the station café in
Leyden, sailor on a boat between
Noordwijk and Sassenheim, before selling
potatoes in the street. Of an athletique
constitution, Marinus kept fit through
swimming. His friends nicknamed him
"Dempsey" after the famous American
An intransigent activist of the Young
Communist League, he was targeted by the
police as a result of his interventions at
public meetings. His brother in law, who
disapproved of his politics, advised him to
leave Leyden.
Marinus set up in a furnished room whose
rent he shared with Piet van Albada, an
oppositionist within the Communist Party,
who was close to the Internationalists of the
GIC ( Groups of Internationalist
Communists). This group adhered to ideas
of council communism.
Marinus made a short voyage on foot and
by hitch-hiking across Belgium and
Germany. He went to Calais, where he had
the idea of swimming the Channel. In
October, In Leyden, he rented a space
which he turned into a meeting room for the
Young Communist League, which he called
Lenin House. He wrote leaflets and
bulletins, intervening in strikes,
demonstrations of the unemployed and
public meetings. By 1929, his
disagreements with the Communist Party
led him to resign four times! He criticised
the leadership for its timorous and
bureaucratic outlook, and began to have
doubts about the use of parliament which
diverted the energy of militants. Influenced
by van Albada and his friends, he drew
closer to council communist positions.
Turning point
!931 marked a turning point for him. His
enthusiasm for travel widened his outlook.
He had a strong desire to visit the Soviet
Union which he still regarded as the
"country of socialism".He was concerned
by the rise of fascism in Germany, and felt
that unrelenting struggle against its rise was
diverted by electoral tactics that he regarded
as superficial. In April, with his friend Henk
Holwerda, he planned a journey across
Europe to Russia, to be financed by the sale
of propaganda postcards en route. The
Leyden branch of the Communist Party
refused to help him with this, Holwerda
backed out and Marinus broke with the
Party forever.
He undertook the journey regardless,
arriving in Berlin and presenting himself to
the Soviet consulate. But the sum asked for
his visa was too much for his budget, and he
started back to Holland. At Gronau on the
border he was arrested for illegal sale of
postcards and "communist propaganda".
Freed after 10 days in jail, he finally got
back to Leyden.
During the summer he returned to Calais ,
where he worked as a navvy. His plan to
swim the Channel, for which a Dutch paper
had offered a prize of 5,000 florins was
thwarted by the very bad weather. In
September he went on the road again
through Germany. He slept in peasants'
houses and in the public refuges for the
unemployed. At Budapest he fell in love
with a young prostitute and asked her to
give up her profession to share her life with
him. He was turned down. He got as far as
Belgrade, working on the land at each stage
and writing a travel log. Returning to
Holland, he went to Enschede, where
wildcat strikes had broken out in the textile
industry. He wrote an account of these
strikes for the GIC. With no seasonal work
available, he applied for funds from the
Bureau of Aid to the Unemployed at
Leyden. He applied for assistance to set up
a library for workers and unemployed . The
Bureau refused to finance such "social
projects". In January 1932 after a second
attempt to obtain funds was turned down, he
broke the windows of the Bureau and was
sentenced to three months in prison. To
escape this, he travelled to Budapest and in
April the Polish police caught him
attempting to cross the border to Russia.
Returning to Holland he was arrested and
imprisoned at the Hague. On his release, he
again asked for funds from the Bureau, was
rejected, and went on hunger strike. He won
his case after 11 days of this. A little later,
he published a paper for the unemployed,
Werkloozenkrant, which advocated self-
organisation and direct action and
ferociously criticising the union
He became friends with Eduard Sirach, who
had led a revolt on the cruiser Zeven
Provincien in 1917 and who was active in a
council communist group in Leyden.the
LAO.-Workers Left Opposition, which
published Spartacus. Involving himself in
their activities, he was often in the thick of
agitation. During the drivers strike at the
Hague , he intervened in the mass meetings,
criticising the Communist Party and the
unions, and advocating workers autonomy.
By now, 1933 Marinus had contracted
tuberculosis of the eyes and spent several
weeks in hospital. This young man of 24
realised that he had a strong risk of losing
his eyesight.

Nazi take-over

Following Hitler's rise to power in
Germany, Marinus hoped that the millions
of German socialists and communists would
confront the Nazis and set off a revolution
which would spread through the world. He
often repeated that something had to be
done. A week after leaving hospital, he
travelled to Berlin, arriving there on the 17th
February. Attending a meeting of the
Social-Democrat Party, he was shocked to
see a brutal interruption by the police was
not resisted. He incited people to react,
started discussions in the street, and tried to
intervene at meetings. Everywhere he met
resignation and indifference. On the 23rd
February, he attended a Communist Party
meeting, which was again broken up by the
police with no resistance.
Disheartened by this, and seeing no reaction
to fascism among the workers, he decided to
On the night of 25th February he tried to
burn down an unemployment office and a
castle and the Imperial Palace in Berlin. On
the 27th he succeeded in burning down the
Reichstag, the German parliamentary
building, and was apprehended there. This
was the flimsy pretext for a closing down of
political organisations and papers and the
arrest of thousands of socialists,
communists and anarchists.
Indeed, the Nazis put him on trial with a
leader of the German Communist Party and
some Bulgarian Communists, who they
accused of working in league with Marinus!
He denied any link and stated that he had
acted on his own.
He undertook a hunger strike in prison to
protest his conditions of detention, and was
forcibly fed. He was chained up for 7
months in his cell. Eventually the
Bulgarians were acquitted, the Communist
leader imprisoned and Marinus sentenced to
death. On the 10th January 1934, he was
beheaded in the prison of Leipzig
The second death of Van der Lubbe
The Communists set up a committee for aid
to the victims of Hitlerism after the
Reichstag event. It was directed by
Munzenberg, acting for the Komintern, the
Communist International controlled by
Stalin. It described Marinus as a pseudo-
communist and a Nazi agent provocateur. In
August 1933, it published the Brown Book,
edited by Otto Katz, who accused Marinus
of being "petty bourgeois" "bragger" , a
religious maniac, and finally of being a toy
boy for the leaders of the SA, the Nazi
Brownshirt stormtroopers!! He was
described as a "a semi-blind young
pederast" and accused of acting with the
Nazis in the Reichstag burning. A "counter-
trial" in London organised by this
committee backed up these findings, with
only one person on the jury, Sylvia
Pankhurst the anti-parliamentary
communist, strongly objecting. In open
court the Bulgarian Communist Dimitrov
(after his acquittal a top dog in the
Comintern) demanded that his co-defendant
be sentenced to death for having "worked
against the proletariat".
Council communists and anarchists in
Holland and France sprang to his defence
(with the exception of the German anarchist
veteran Rudolf Rocker, who accepted the
Brown Book accusations) In France, the
anarchist theorist Andre Prudhommeaux set
up the Marinus van der Lubbe Committee.
On the day of the opening of the trial, the
Red Book, a refutation of all the slanders of
the Brown Book, was published in Holland
(and reprinted in extracts in France) it
defended Van der Lubbe's revolutionary
integrity, with many character references
from people in different political groups
attesting to his honesty and devotion to the
working class. But the slander continued.
The Communist playwright Bertold Brecht,
in his the Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, an
allegory on Hitler's rise, has a character
called Fish, a caricature of Marinus, whose
sole words are "areu, areu, areu". Despite
various attempts to clear his name, a bad
odour still surrounds the life of Van der
Lubbe. At best he is seen as a cretin, or a
half-mad idiot. He was as much a victim of
the Stalinists as he was of the Nazis.
Marinus acted for the best of motives. He
thought his deed might be the spark for a
general workers uprising against the Nazis.
Alas, he was to be very wrong. The Social
Democrats and their unions gave up without
a fight, as did the Communists. Only in
Vienna in June 1933 did the workers
attempt to rise up, to be bloodily crushed.
But the Nazis would have carried out their
wholesale repression, sooner or later, with
or without the Reichstag fire. On the day
that Marinus saw the Communist meeting
being broken up, the Communist Party HQ
had been raided, and the offices of their
paper closed.
And Munzenberg and Katz? Munzenberg
was murdered by the Stalinists, whose
bidding he had done, and his body dumped
on the Swiss border in 1940. Otto Katz
carried on his work for the Soviet secret
services, taking part in the hunting down of
socialists and anarchists during the Spanish
Civil War, before the death machine whose
loyal servant he was, turned on him too. He
was tried in Prague and hung as a "Zionist
agent" in 1952.
"...old formulas and old ideas are in the
process of dying, and with them fall into
decay the parties and corporative
organisations and all of that. The world
counts on new forces, which are the heads
and the hearts of the workers themselves."
From the unemployed paper edited by Van
der Lubbe.
* Organise! #63 - Winter 2004 FOR REVOLUTIONARY ANARCHISM -
the magazin of the anarchist federation

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