1998 The ‘Marx-Lenin-Luxembourg Front’ [Bourrinet]

Extract from Dutch and German Communist Left, by Philippe Bourrinet

From the RSAP to the ‘Marx-Lenin-Luxembourg Front’: The Sneevliet Tendency

The current which gave rise to the council communist organisation ‘Spartacus’ emerged from Sneevliet’s RSAP. This political transformation during the war is one of the most astonishing ever.

The RSAP (Workers’ Socialist Revolutionary Party)39 represents the sole case of an electoralist party to the right of the Trotskyist movement, evolving during a world war towards revolutionary positions. Coming out of the Dutch Communist Party in 1927, the Sneevliet fraction was at the head of a small union, the NAS (Nationaal Arbeids Secretariaat) which refused to dissolve itself into the social democratic NVV union. Constituted in part in 1929 (RSP, Revolutionary Socialist Party), this tendency was closer to the Brandlerian right-wing tendencies in the CI than the lefts (Korsch, Schwartz, Bordiga), which quit in 1926. The policy of Maring-Sneevliet on China in the 1920s had been vigorously criticised by Trotsky for having contributed to the defeat of the revolution in 1926-27. The fusion in 1935 with a left socialist organisation, the OSP (Independent Socialist Party), itself coming out of Dutch social democracy in 1932, gave birth to the RSAP, the constant target of the council communists.40

This small party of 3,600 members at the beginning, which still had 2,500 adherents in 193941 was based on the NAS union led by Sneevliet. The NAS was the union base of the RSAP, with 22,500 members in 1933; by 1939, after state employees had been forbidden to join the NAS, the figure had fallen to 10,500. Born in 1893, the NAS maintained a revolutionary-syndicalist orientation; it joined the Red Union International in 1925, but left in 1927 when the CI gave the order to dissolve itself into the official social democratic union, NVV, in 1927. All those members of the Dutch CP who had joined the NAS followed Sneevliet in the split.

Politically, the RSAP oscillated between left socialism and Trotskyism. Before 1935, the two organisations RSP and OSP pronounced themselves – with Willy Brandt’s SAP and the Trotskyist LCI – for the formation of new parties and the creation of a new International (Declaration of the Four, August 1933). In 1935 the RSAP, together with other organisations,42 declared itself for the rapid construction of the fourth International. This position, with others such as the union question, led some militants to leave the RSAP and form the BRS (Socialist Revolutionary League) linked to the SAP. The break with the SAP was complete, but not the break with left socialism. In fact, in 1936, Sneevliet gave his support to the POUM in Spain which had just entered the Catalan government. The same year, he took position against Trotsky’s policy of ‘entrism’ into the socialist parties.

In 1937, progressively, the split between the RSAP and Trotsky was completed. As much as for his attitude towards the POUM, Trotsky reproached Sneevliet for keeping the NAS alive. Trotsky insisted that the NAS be dissolved into the socialist union, the NVV. Accusing the NAS of receiving financial support from the Dutch government43 and Sneevliet of being irresponsible,44 Trotsky concluded:

… if you continue to adopt the same totally ambiguous position – with the 4th International in words, against it in fact – then an open and honest split would be better. In this case you will remain with the NAS and we with the 4th International. We are creating a section in Holland and will try to build through open struggle what we have been unable to create through patient collaboration and discussion between comrades.45

This ultimatum led to a total break in 1938. Soon a Dutch Trotskyist group was created – the BLG or Bolshevik-Leninist Group composed in part of ex-members of the RSAP.

Until the war, the RSAP barely differentiated itself from the left socialist parties. The party took part in parliamentary elections. In 1935, Sneevliet and Schmidt – the latter being the leader of the old OSP and the vice-president of the RSAP – were elected deputies at the same time as two other leaders of their organisation. In the same year, the RSAP won 23 seats in the municipal elections. Although it lost its parliamentary seats in the general election of 1937, the RSAP had more success in 1939; in the municipal and general elections, where Sneevliet was elected council member for Amsterdam and for the provincial states in the north of Holland.46

This electoral activity attracted the sarcasm of Trotsky – even though Trotskyist organisations adopted an identical policy. It was combined with a political united front with left socialism. In September 1938, the RSAP took the initiative of forming with the PSOP (Socialist Workers’ and Peasants’ Party) of Marceau Pivert an International Workers’ Front against the war – Internationaal Arbeiders Front or IAF – that soon brought 15 organisations together, including that of Brandler and of Vereeken.47 The Front’s Manifesto called on workers to struggle against the war; and if the war broke out to finish with capitalism by revolution.

It was in fact the question of war, and consequently the attitude of the RSAP towards Russia, which profoundly transformed the RSAP, at the price of a radical change of programme, then of orientation on all its programmatic positions. Sneevliet’s change of position on the Russian question was to be decisive, through the fact that he dominated the RSAP and the NAS with his powerful personality and all his authority.48

In 1935 the Party programme took position for the defence of the USSR in the case of war. The crushing of the Barcelona workers by the Communist Party in May 1937, followed by the Moscow Trials, increased Sneevliet’s doubts on the validity of this point in the programme.

In December 1939, the RSAP held its last conference. Due to the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the point on the defence of the USSR was scratched from the Party’s programme: “…the alliance between Germany and Russia has practically rendered useless the paragraph concerning the duty to defend the Soviet Union”. “No-one now claims that if Russia finds itself engaged in war, the duty of the international working class is to unconditionally support the USSR”.49

The resolution which removed this point from the programme was adopted by 806 mandates against 18. In fact, it was more by anti-fascism than by internationalism that the non-defence of the USSR was proclaimed. This was an ambiguity that had to be settled.

Among the leaders of the organisation, only Willem Doleman disagreed.50 With others he went on to represent the Trotskyist vision after 22nd June 1941 in the MLL Front.

The Russo-Finnish War again posed the question of the defence of the USSR and that of the ‘right of peoples to self-determination’. Some militants, such as van Driesten, proposed forming a front of the world proletariat against Russian intervention without allying with the Finnish bourgeoisie. Others criticised this position which could appear as supporting the Finnish bourgeoisie and denounced as opportunist Lenin’s slogan of ‘self-determination’”. Implicitly these latter denounced any slogan of struggle for ‘national determination’”.51

Without engaging in a theoretical debate on the nature of the USSR, which would have led to the formation of antagonistic tendencies, the RSAP prepared for illegality in 1938 convinced that the war would not spare the neutrality of Holland and that it was necessary to “strengthening the struggle against imperialist war”.52

On 10th May 1940, the German army invaded Holland, which capitulated after 6 days of fighting. Sneevliet, who was in Belgium, returned in order to continue the struggle underground. The RSAP ceased to exist. In its place an illegal organisation was constructed: the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front. At first, it comprised 4-600 members, as against 2,500 in the RSAP. Clandestinity demanded a rigorous selection of reliable militants. In order to confront repression the MLL Front was built on a system of cells of 5 members, partitioned up and led by men of confidence who linked up vertically and horizontally with the illegal leadership and other cells. The double organisation disappeared: the NAS was liquidated in September. The RSAP became the second largest illegal political organisation in Holland, and even the first if one took into account the fact that the Dutch CP kept a semi-legal status for several months due to the Germano-Soviet Pact.53

A Central Committee of 9 members was set up. It included Sneevliet, Menist, Doleman, Gerritsen, de Haan-Zwagerman, Jan Koeslag, Piet van t’Hart – known as Max Perthus – Jan Schriefer, and Stan Poppe (pseudonym: T. Woudstra); the latter went on to play a decisive role in the creation of the Spartacusbond. Sneevliet was the uncontested leader, writing almost all the political positions of the Front. At his side, Ab Menist – of Jewish origin – was a born organiser; Doleman was the treasurer and responsible for publications.

Under the management of this Central Committee an external bulletin was regularly published (Het MLL Bulletin) as well as an internal organ (Richtlijnen, ie, Directives). For a while, the MLL Front propagandised militants of the socialist SDAP and published ‘Letters to the social-democrats’ (Brieven ann Sociaal-Democraten). The latter were denounced as the “Judas of the workers’ movement”54 after they took part in a Dutch union that brought together liberals, religious parties and social-democrats in July 1940. This union proclaimed its allegiance to the bourgeois monarchy of the House of Orange and hoped that German domination in Europe would allow Holland to keep Indonesia as a colony. The SDAP was not banned by the new Nazi regime for several months. Many of the SDAP opposition who criticised their party chose another camp: the British.

This policy of forcing the SDAP rank-and-file to confront the consequences of their party’s positions brought a certain number of them into the MLL Front. The Front did not adopt the same policy towards the CP. “Stalinism is fascism under its worst form”, it wrote.55

It should to be noted that in its Bulletins, the MLL Front did not pronounce on the class nature of the socialist or communist parties. Its propaganda towards these parties, towards the SDAP in particular, showed that it still considered them as a part of the ‘workers’ movement’. In this sense the Front remained the continuation of the pre-war RSAP. But it was already differentiating itself both from the Trotskyist parties and from the left socialists by its refusal to support either the ‘democratic’ camp or that of the USSR. Its action was oriented as much against the Dutch bourgeoisie as the German.

To the two imperialist fronts, the MLL Front opposed the Third Front (Derde Front), that of the proletariat: “The MLL Front want the insurrection of the proletariat in the warring countries and the fraternisation of soldiers and workers through the struggle against the imperialist powers which has led them into this war. Such is the ‘Third Front’ which is propagated in the writings of the MLL-Front”.56

This policy of the Front led the MLL to link up – at the end of 1940 – with the Vonkgroep (Spark group) formed by left socialists, including many artists and intellectuals. It was led by Eddy Wijnkop, a member of the MLL Front, with the agreement of Sneevliet and the Central Committee. Publishing the illegal monthly De Vonk it defended the same point of view as the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front.

This ‘broad’ policy towards other organisations underlined the ambiguity of the organisation’s orientation, and its difficulty in appearing as an autonomous internationalist current. The fact that, during the same period, the left socialists of the BRS and the Trotskyists of the BLG asked to merge with it – a request which was rejected in both cases – only confirmed this.57

Two events precipitated the political evolution of the MLL-Front: the strike of February 1941 and the German attack on Russia on 22nd June 1941.

The strike of February 1941 and its political consequences

The strike in February (‘Februaristaking’) was provoked as much by the German authorities’ persecution of the Jews as by the growing discontent of the Dutch workers who were subjected both to great material misery and to deportation to the factories of the Reich.58

Reich Commissioner Seyss-Inquart, had already adopted anti-Semitic measures by the end of 1940, with the support of Mussert’s NSB (National Socialist Union), a small Dutch Nazi party. All officials of Jewish origin were forbidden any promotion; jobs in the public sector were forbidden to Jews. These measures led to student strikes in Delft and Leiden. Despite these the occupying authorities and the Dutch Nazis continued their persecution of the numerous Jewish population of Amsterdam. Cafes and cinemas were closed to them and from 1941 they were forced to register on a special list.

The movement of protest against anti-Semitism – which shocked the whole Dutch population – was at first largely the work of the students. They showed their hostility to anti-Semitism from a nationalist viewpoint, demonstrating on January 31st in schools and in the streets to celebrate the birthday of Princess Beatrix, exiled in London. The bombardment of Rotterdam in June 1940 which caused the death of 30,000 people, along with food shortages, developed a strong anti-German feeling in the population.

For the MLL Front, it was particularly important that the – legitimate – hostility to anti-Semitism should not lead to the exacerbation of Dutch nationalist and pro-British feeling. The struggle against anti-Semitism could only take place in the general struggle against the whole of the capitalist system.

In its intervention the MLL Front called for a boycott of establishments which showed hostility to Jews, although it was conscious that a general boycott was hardly likely. It took care that the struggle was not against anti-Semitism alone and called on Jews to struggle for socialism; it recalled that the liberation of Jews was only possible under socialism and denounced Zionism as a dangerous aspiration to a national state inside the capitalist world.59

At the same time as a profound hostility was developing towards the anti-Semitic measures the discontent of the workers was growing. Unemployment hit them particularly hard: in Amsterdam there were 40,000 unemployed in August 1939; 60,000 in July 1940, as many as in the worst years of crisis. Unemployment affected 300,000 workers Holland as a whole. In one year the price of basic foodstuffs rose more than 36%, deepening the general poverty still further.

Unemployed workers were increasingly subjected to a system of ‘workfare’ (Werkverschaffing). For a miserable wage, they had to participate in land clearance or strengthening dikes. In October 1940, there were 11,000 workers making the return journey by train from Amsterdam to the province of Utrecht. Some workers’ demonstrations and clashes with the authorities broke out from the month of November. Throughout January small demonstrations of ‘assisted workers’ and unemployed broke out against the Labour Exchange and the municipal administration of Amsterdam. Each time they were dispersed by the Dutch police.

At the same time the first deportations of workers to Germany began, through the intermediary of the Dutch authorities, in particular the Amsterdam Labour Exchange: 7,000 in October 1940. In January 1941 – on the orders of the German Kriegsmarine – 3,000 had to leave for Germany under the threat of the concentration camp. These were skilled engineering and shipbuilding workers. A great agitation followed among the workers in the shipyards in mid-February.

In this increasingly tense social atmosphere, the German authorities began to take more rigorous anti-Semitic measures. The attacks of Dutch and German Nazis against the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, in the centre of the town, were turned into pogroms from December. Faced with these attacks, on 11th February 1941, a group of Nazis was attacked by Jewish and non-Jewish workers who came from other workers’ districts. These scuffles led to the death of a Dutch National Socialist.

On February 12th, the German authorities surrounded the whole Jewish district. They demanded that Jewish personalities form a Joodenraad (Jewish Council) responsible for the ‘maintenance of order’ and charged it with ‘giving up’ its weapons. Since the weapons were non-existent there was no result. It was only a pretext to transform the district into a ghetto and carry out searches.

On February 17th, 2,000 shipyard workers took the initiative by going on strike in solidarity with 128 comrades forced to work in Germany. The German authorities gave way and the workers obtained a moral victory which later played a big role in the generalisation of the strike.60

Following one incident, where a Jewish cafe owner resisted the assaults of the German police (Grüne Polizei), the authorities arrested more than 400 young Jews on the weekend of 22nd and 23rd February. They were deported to Buchenwald some time later. The deployment of a force of SS machine-gunners provoked the emotion and anger of the workers of Amsterdam.

On February 25th, the strike broke out spontaneously in the firms of Amsterdam. Some demonstrations took place to the cry of: ‘Down with pogroms against the Jews!’. On the 26th, the mass strike spread to the Hague, Rotterdam, Groningen, Utrecht, Hilversum, Haarlem, and many other towns. The strike even spread to Belgium.61

The repressive measures taken by the German authorities were terrible: SS battalions were stationed in the strike-hit towns and ordered to fire on demonstrations; martial law; massive arrests; employers ordered not to pay workers for the two day strike. The strike movement was broken. Executions of strikers began. The arrests of Jews continued and intensified during the summer of 1942. At the end of the war, out of a community of 120,000 persons only 20,000 survived, having judiciously chosen to go underground with forged papers.

It is certain that the Dutch CP – outlawed on July 20, 1940, two months after the beginning of the occupation – played a big role in starting the strike. But it was surprised by the rapidity of its extension. Extension outside of Amsterdam occurred spontaneously. When the CP called for a general strike in the whole country for 6th March, its appeal was ignored by the workers. The strike had taken on a mass character, comparable in breadth with the great mass strike of 1903. The aspect of the mass, spontaneous strike – as opposed to a general strike – was not lost on the MLL Front, whose positions were more and more Luxemburgist.

The MLL Front played a considerable role in the strike, despite being reduced to a small organisation of some 300 militants.62 Like the old organisations, it had formed a youth group, the MJC (Young Marxists Committee) which edited a monthly publication: Het Kompas (The Compass). Since January 1941, it had produced a regular propaganda newspaper, Spartacus, which ran to 5,000 copies in February. It had the largest circulation of any illegal paper.63 The chosen title expressed an explicit political reference to Rosa Luxemburg. The fact that Sneevliet himself translated the Junius Pamphlet, The crisis of Social Democracy, showed an evident distancing from Lenin on the national question.

Before the strike, the MLL Front distributed much literature (leaflets, manifestos) calling for struggle. Propagandistically, it called workers to form defence groups in their districts against anti-Semitic actions. At the time of the anti-Jewish raids it launched the following appeal:

If men and women of the workers’ districts rouse themselves in the Jewish district of Amsterdam… if they undertake a struggle against the bandits hired by the Dutch National Socialist movement, then we will see a magnificent demonstration of spontaneous solidarity which will appear in the factories under a superior and more effective form.

Respond to all acts of National Socialist violence through agitation and strikes of protest in the factories.

Come out en masse from the factories, leave work and massively join up with class comrades in struggle in the threatened districts.64

The impact of the MLL Front in the strike in Amsterdam is hard to judge, although the NAS had 400 members there before the occupation. It is certain that, although the CP took the initiative in calling the strike – in a situation of social agitation which was unfolding independently of it – the MLL Front played an important role in spreading the strike to other towns. But, above all, the strike was wanted and led by the workers, independent of all the slogans of the parties.

At the end of the strike, the MLL Front, while denouncing the CP call for a general strike on 6th March, advocated the formation of strike committees and illegal action in the factories.65

But the strike’s weaknesses meant that – contrary to the great mass strikes of the past – it did not produce strike committees leading the struggle. The February strike was spontaneous, without the spontaneous creation of specific workers’ organisms.

If there was a tendency in the MLL Front to overestimate the revolutionary character of a strike which at no time was based on the workers’ own demands, its rejection of nationalism showed that it did not underestimate the necessity of a struggle against the ideology of national resistance. If it were not to appear as a component of the national front of anti-German resistance, it had to underline the necessity for internationalism. That is what it did. The appeal we have quoted above is unambiguous:

“How to struggle?

Germany? No.

England? No.

The Third Front, the socialist proletariat.

Against National Socialism

and National Bolshevism -

The international class struggle!”

The tone of this Manifesto broke with that of the CP which in its call to strike mixed anti-Nazi and nationalist slogans, such as: “Struggle proudly for the liberation of our country!!!”.66

The MLL Front never put forward anti-fascist slogans. Contrary to the Dutch Social Democratic groups who made anti-fascism the ‘first stage’ in the struggle for socialism, it insisted on one unique stage: the struggle against capitalism everywhere in the world.67

It is in this spirit that the ‘Derde Front’ developed a whole propaganda among German soldiers; very dangerous since in Rotterdam some leaflets were distributed inside the barracks. The propaganda neither developed a call for the defence of democracy, nor an appeal for pacifism. In the Manifesto of May 1, in German, one could read:

The popular masses have no interest in a victory for Britain. Similarly they have no interest in a victory for Germany. They must take their own destiny in their hands. They are the Third Front, which can and must conquer!

Down with the war, but also down with capitalist peace!

World peace can only be obtained through the victory of international socialism.68

The rejection of the defence of the USSR: the break with Trotskyism

The outbreak of war between Germany and the USSR plunged Sneevliet’s movement into a profound disarray. This disarray was further accentuated by the preventative arrest by the German police of militants or ex-members of the RSAP and of the NAS, on the night of 24th and 25th June. Their underground work remained undiscovered, and the clandestine network was hardly touched.

Greater still was the disorientation provoked by the attack of the German army on June 22nd, something which Sneevliet had not expected, since the title of his article in the previous issue of Spartacus was ‘Stalin, toady of the Germans’. The origin of this disarray was more profound. Despite the slogan against ‘National Bolshevism’, the MLL Front had no theoretical position on the USSR. In its press it implicitly took up Trotskyist concepts of ‘bureaucracy’ and ‘parasitic caste’ which it used to define the Russian state. It had the choice between taking up Trotsky’s analysis of the Russian state and calling for the defence of the ‘Workers’ State’, or of rejecting it and calling for the struggle against both imperialisms.

Little by little the MLL Front took position against the defence of the USSR. Its Manifesto of 23rd June was still half defending the USSR in the war: “… the Russian proletariat must not only preserve what is left of the revolution; it must also, at the international level, transform the “war of devastating peoples” into civil war”.69

Behind this position lay the influence of Dolleman and Perthus.

In a second position Sneevliet made his own views felt, taking up the arguments of Rosa Luxemburg on the possibility of a revolutionary defensive war: “Hitlerism and Stalinism dig their own graves in this war. The Russian workers must resist the fascist invasion, but they can only turn the war into a war for revolutionary defence if they destroy the Stalinist regime”.70

Finally, at the end of July, the leap was made. The MLL Front rejected all defence of the USSR. The war in Russia had shifted the imperialist front. The thesis of the Central Committee published in Spartacus took a clear position on the nature of the USSR. Russian society had taken a state capitalist character; the power of the workers had been liquidated. A totalitarian state had been born with a bureaucratic caste at its head; the USSR was a plaything of the big imperialist powers. The conclusion was an unambiguous appeal to internationalism:

The Third Front sees no reason to change its position with the new phase of imperialist war. It does not take sides with either of the two fronts in the imperialist war. It remains independent in the definition of its conduct: to conform to its own class aim and undertake its own struggle.

The Germano-Russian war is a subdivision of the second imperialist war.71

Of the nine members of the Central Committee, two voted against: Dolleman and Van’t Hart (Max Perthus), supporters of the Trotskyist position of ‘unconditional defence’ of the USSR. The arrest of Perthus on 15th August reduced the number of partisans of this position in the leadership. Dolleman based himself on the youth review72 Het Kompass which published the minority position; the issue was not distributed. In order to avoid a split that now appeared inevitable, on 15th October 1941 Sneevliet – supported by Stan Poppe and Menist – prohibited discussion73 on the defence of the USSR. This ban was lifted at the end of the year. The majority around Sneevliet was strengthened by the support of Vereeken’s ‘Against the current’ (Contre le Courant) group in Belgium, with whom a common manifesto against the war had been drawn up in December74.

Against the Trotskyist current of Dolleman, a partisan of the defence of the USSR ‘arms in hand’,75 the council communist current, around Stan Poppe, asserted itself more and more. Supported by Sneevliet, the latter undertook to settle accounts with Trotskyist ideology. In an article he denounced Trotsky’s positions as “dubious and unreal”. Socialism was not the violence of the Stalinist state, “state socialism”, but the power of the workers’ councils. The USSR was imperialist.76

In another article, Poppe identified with the communist positions of Gorter, citing his book Open letter to comrade Lenin. He took up the book’s principal theses:

- in Western Europe the role of the masses would be greater than the role of the leaders;

- the union organisations had to be replaced by the factory organisations;

- parliamentarism would have to be rejected and fought against.77

This evolution was shown in practice through an appeal by the MLL Front to desert the unions and form factory committees. The break with the old union policy was a break with the old policies of the RSAP. After the ‘normalisation’ of the NVV socialist union by the German authorities in July 1940, the MLL Front had incited its members to work inside it. The NVV had become a cover for Mussert’s NSB. The propaganda in July 1941 in favour of leaving the union movement concluded a whole process of evolution. Instead of a union, the non-permanent form of ‘struggle committees’ in the factories was propagandised.

The sole position of the IIIrd International since the Second Congress which remained intact was that of support for national liberation struggles. The influence of Sneevliet on this point – he had been a militant in Indonesia and China – remained preponderant. However, while an appeal was launched in the Front’s press for the separation of Indonesia and Holland, it had nothing to do with the anti-imperialism which led to support for the local nationalist leadership. The MLL Front defended the positions of the 2nd Congress of the Communist International and not those of the Baku Congress. It proclaimed that the struggle of national liberation was only possible inasmuch as it combined with the socialist revolution in the developed capitalist world.

The decapitation of the MLL Front leadership (1942)

At the beginning of 1942, the MLL Front had travelled a long road. Theoretically, it had broken with the old RSAP. Politically, it had made the choice of isolation in order to defend revolutionary principles. This isolation inevitably led to splits both within the MLL Front, and outside in the milieu which it influenced. It broke with its sympathisers of ‘De Vonk’, which after 22nd June 1941 advocated support for the allied camp as the ‘lesser evil’.78

But it was precisely in Spring 1942, that repression decapitated the MLL Front. The whole leadership of the Front – with the exception of Stan Poppe – was arrested: Sneevliet, Dolleman, Menist, Gerritsen, de Haan-Zwagerman, Koeslag and Schriefer were all condemned to death for sabotage. Before being executed at Amersfort, they sang the hymn of the cause for which they had sacrificed their lives: The International.79

Despite the blow to the Front, the struggle against the war, the struggle for internationalism, continued. The ‘Communistenbond Spartacus’ (Spartacist Communist Union) took up the reins from the MLL Front. A new page in the council communist movement opened up.

Monument for the executed members of the MLL-Front (Westerveld, 1946)

Monument for the executed members of the MLL-Front (Westerveld, 1946)


Notes

39. For the history of the RSAP: besides the book by Perthus, already quoted, see G. H. Pieterson; Het revolutionaire socialisme in de jaren dertig (‘Revolutionary Socialism in the 1930s’: unpublished doctoral thesis presented to the Economisch-historisch Seminarium, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1977).

40. See the pamphlet by the GIC: Klassenstrijd in oorlogstijd (‘Class struggle in time of war’), Amsterdam, 1935. The Unification Congress took place in Rotterdam, and not Amsterdam, as F. Tichelmen says incorrectly in Henk Sneevliet, een politede biografie, Amsterdam, 1974. This is shown by Poppe’s interesting testimony in Spartacus no.2, 1975.

41. Cf. Perthus, op.cit., pp370-71. Perthus gives the figure of 3,000 militants for the left socialists of the OSP in 1935, and 1,000 for Sneevliet’s RSP. The RSP was thus a minority in the RSAP; it is true that a pro-SAP split in November 35 led to the departure of 1,000 militants, mostly ex-OSP. Sneevliet was secretary of the RSAP and P. J. Schmidt – ex-leader of the OSP – president. The latter abandoned his position and left the party in August 1936, during the Moscow Trials. A year later, he returned to the SDAP. Henceforth, the weight of the OSP was felt less.

42. Cf. Works of Leon Trotsky; Volume 5, EDI, 1979. The ‘Open letter to organisations and groups of the revolutionary proletariat’ (June 1935) appealed to “all the parties, organisations, fractions in the old parties and in the unions, all the associations and revolutionary workers’ groups in agreement with the principle of preparation and of the construction of a 4th International to put their signature to this letter”. Apart from the RSAP, it was signed by the Workers’ Party of the USA, the International Secretariat of Trotsky’s LCI, the Bolshevik-Leninist group of the SFIO and the Workers’ Party of Canada.

43. Trotsky claimed, without any proof, that “The NAS only exists because it is tolerated and financially supported by the bourgeois government”. In this letter addressed to Sneevliet, he added: “This financial support depends on your political attitude” (Letter of Trotsky, 2.12.37, in Works, Volume 16, ILT, 1983). Sneevliet was one of the rare militants with whom Trotsky was friendly. Vereeken thought that the lies against Sneevliet were the work of Klement and the Belgian Trotskyists. For his point of view, see Le Guépéou dans le mouvement Trotskyste (‘The GPU in the Trotskyist Movement’), La Pensée Universelle, 1975.

44. Trotsky accused Sneevliet of sabotaging the ‘Amsterdam Bureau’ of the 4th International, and of contributing, through lack of caution, to the death of Ignace Reiss, an official high up in the GPU who had gone over to Trotskyist positions, and was in consequence assassinated in September 1937 by the Stalinists. Suspicious of the people around Trotsky’s son Sedov, Victor Serge and Sneevliet had sought a meeting with Reiss. Unbeknownst to him, Sedov’s entourage did indeed include GPU agents who caused his death, and who were only unmasked after the war.

45. Letter of 2.12.1937, Trotsky to Sneevliet, in Works of Leon Trotsky, Volume 15, p. 343.

46. Note that Sneevliet’s candidature was supported by a Revoutionair-Anti-Oorlogs Commite (anti-war revolutionary committee). Among them was Abraham Korper, who had been one of the founders of the KAPN and a leader of the councilist group ‘De Arbeidersraad’ in the 30s.

47. Vereeken led the group ‘Contre le Courant’ in Belgium, which refused to link up with the official Trotskyist current. He was the personal friend of Sneevliet and had ties with the Frank-Molinier group.

48. Sneevliet had the reputation of being very authoritarian in the RSAP. His written contributions, and in particular his theses on organisation were innumerable.

49. Quoted by Wim Bot, Tegen facisme, Kapitalisme, en oorlog – Het Marx Lenin Luxemburg Front, July 1940 – April 1942, Uitgeverij Syndikaat, Amsterdam, 1983. The paragraph mentioned and the result of the vote can be found in De Nieuwe Fakkel, 22.12.1939.

50. Most of Trotsky’s supporters left the RSAP in 1938. The remainder left the following year.

51. The Belgian Trotskyists who published Correspondance internationale asserted, without any proof, in their issue 14 of 15.12.39: “the RSAP has pushed equivocation to the limit, in organising collections for the Finnish people whereas these collections are sent to Finnish class organisations!”.

52. Wim Bot, op. cit, p.11.

53. Outlawed by the Dutch government, the CP published its periodicals, Volksdagblad and Politik en Cultuur, legally up to the end of June 1940 under German occupation.

54. Wim Bot, op. cit., p. 25. A part of the SDAP supported the German camp and collaborated with it, for example the ‘Troelstrabeweging’ (Troelstra Movement – named after an old leader of the SDAP).

55. Wim Bot, op. cit., p. 31.

56. Cf. Perthus, op. cit., p. 430-431.

57. Cf. Wim Bot, Op. cit., p.28.

58. The only real history of the February 1941 strike is that of Benjamin Aaron Sijes: De Februaristaking – 25-26 feb., Becht, Amsterdam, 1954. Sijes, an ex-member of the GIC, played a big role in the strike when he was a docker in Amsterdam. At the time of the debacle of the German army, he and some comrades took hold of the archives of the police and German authorities before they were destroyed. Sent to the Royal Institute of Documentation on the War (Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie), they allowed him to work at the Institute and write his book, which came out in 1954. The conclusion of the English resume, written in the 60s, shows that Sijes was very far from his revolutionary positions of the 30s and 40s: “… the February Strike not only gave the strikers a new found feeling of self-confidence; it was a brilliant example for the whole population of Holland” (p. 228).

59. Cf. Wim Bot, op. cit., p. 39.

60. See the book by Sijes, quoted above.

61. The extension of the strike to Belgium is attested to by Sijes; but he gives no details.

62. The figure of 150 militants is given by Sijes. It seems more probable – according to Wim Bot – that it was around 325. There were between 60 and 70 cells of 5 members.

63. Cf. Perthus, op. cit., p. 432.

64. The photograph of this appeal can be found in Sije’s book.

65. The MLL Front denounced the CP as unworthy of carrying the red flag of socialism by dint of its support for Stalin, murderer of revolutionaries, and for Hitler. Cf. Win Bot, op. cit., p. 47.

66. The leaflet of the CP is quoted in Sije’s book.

67. Cf. Wim Bot, op. cit., p. 52.

68. ‘Der Maitag in Driegszeit’ address ‘to the German comrades’. The Manifesto is on page 445 of Perthus’ book.

69. ‘Aan de nederlandse arebeiders, boeren en intellectuelen’ (‘To the workers, peasants and intellectuals of Holland’), supplement to Spartacus no.10.

70. ‘Brieven aan een Jeugdvriend’, no. 14, July 1941.

71. Spartacus, no.12, beginning of August, 1941.

72. Subsequently, the youth movement of the MLL Front was dissolved. The young militants were individually integrated into the Front.

73. Wim Bot, op. cit., p. 62-63. After the vote, Dolleman sent a letter of resignation to the Central Committee, protesting against the rejection of the “freedom of democratic discussion”.

74. The ‘Manifesto’ appeared in Tegen den stroom of Jan. 2, 1941, organ of the Vereeken group. Vereeken secretly moved to Amsterdam where he drew up, with Sneevliet, the appeal “to the workers of every country”. It called for the transformation of all the wars into a civil war. It concluded with a call for “the new international of the proletariat” and to “mass action under the leadership of the proletarian strike committees”. For a year, on the word of a young Belgian Trotskyist, Sneevliet thought that Vereeken defended British imperialism. Through contacts and an exchange of letters, he was convinced of the contrary. The international contacts of the MLL Front went through the Vereeken group, which was closely linked to the International Communist Committee (ICC) of Frank and Molinier.

75. Cf. Wim Bot, op. cit., p. 668-70.

76. ‘Verdediging van de Sovjet-Unie?’ (Defence of the Soviet Union?), in Tijdsproblemen, no.2, February 1942.

77. Cf. Wim Bot, Op. cit., p.70. Poppe showed that the struggle in the factories could only be political and transform itself into a struggle for power: “In this period we are no longer talking about committees, but directly of councils”.

78. Cf. Wim Bot, op. cit., p. 81-84.

79. Sneevliet and his comrades were arrested after an ex-member of the OSP turned Nazi denounced Gerritsen (a member of the Central Committee) to the Germans. Before a German tribunal Sneevliet made a political speech in which he attacked National Socialism and Stalinism, condemning nationalism and the Orange resistance. Placing himself in the line of Marx, Lenin and Luxemburg, he rejected the accusation of ‘sabotage’ brought against him by the German military tribunal.

3 Réponses to “1998 The ‘Marx-Lenin-Luxembourg Front’ [Bourrinet]”

  1. entdinglichung Says:

    on those MLL Front members who did not become council communists: http://www.revolutionary-history.co.uk/backiss/Vol1/No4/duttrot.html

  2. davidbroder Says:

    This is an excellent article and a fine tribute to a heroic chapter in the history of our movement. It is a shame that most people on the left know little about working-class struggle during WWII.

  3. Dick de Winter Says:

    Our Sneevliet memorialcommittee published in 2002 another memorialbook about Sneevliet in China, other persons f.i Darsono, Max Perthus, Ab Menist and Stan Poppe and about the family staying behind (interviews) etc etc. (200 pages, 15 euro, postal expenses included): Henk Smeets en Dick de Winter (eds.), Wij moesten door … [we had to go on]. Please contact us (dick@winpeek.demon.nl) and we’ll send you a copy as quick as possible.
    Greetings Dick de Winter, chairman

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