Chapter One - Organising under Nazi rule
AT THE BEGINNING OF 1933, the year that Hitler came to power, the Communist Party of Germany had about 300,000 members. Of these, more than 150,000 were incarcerated in prisons and concentration camps or forced into exile within a few months of the beginning of the nazi dictatorship. Nevertheless, the party remained in existence and adapted itself to the new conditions, working illegally in Germany but more openly abroad. At its conference in Brussels in 1935, the Communist Party of Germany was already beginning to work out the guide- lines for an anti-fascist Germany; and by the time of its Berne conference in 1939, the conditions had beel. created for a broad union of all the democratic forces, both inside the country and out of it. Communists, social democrats and other anti-fascists had begun to collaborate in underground organisations and groups in factories, in concentration camps and in exile.
On the outbreak of war with Britain, in September 1939, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany took an uncompromising stand and declared that it built its hopes "neither on Chamberlain's and Daladier's bayonets nor on a 'liberal wing' of the German bourgeoisie," but on the united power of the people, on the international solidarity of the working class and "on the help of the strong and great Soviet Union."
Fascism in Germany, with its dual policy of repression at home and aggression abroad, created an economic situation in which the contradictions between the class interests of the industrialists and financiers, on the one hand, and the interests of all other classes and sections of the German people, on the other hand, were considerable sharpened. The constant demand for sacrifices to meet the insatiable appetite of the nazi war machine, particularly after the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, brought additional hardships to the common people. On the 24th June 1941, the Communist Party of Germany, through its clandestine press, called upon the German people and the German armed forces to overthrow Hitler.
Soviet victories in the winter of 1942-43, especially that at Stalingrad, which involved the loss of 147,000 German soldiers killed and another 91,000 taken prisoner, led to a crisis in Germany and the proclamation of "total mobilisation." An important feature of the internal crisis was the increase in anti-fascist activity by patriotic groups led by the Communist Party of Germany.
In mid -1943, German prisoners-of-war and anti-fascist exiles in the Soviet Union met near Moscow to form the Free Germany National Committee. The Communist Party of Germany, which continued to operate in Leipzig, Berlin and ThUringia despite arrests, attempted to unite all the anti-fascist forces working inside the country on the programme of this committee. After the subsequent defeat of the German army at Kursk, another "total mobilisation" was proclaimed and the morale of the Wehrmacht declined still further.
The establishment of the Free Germany National Committee was the logical consequence of the struggle waged by the Communist Party of Germany for a broad united front against fascism, after the tide of war had turned in favour of the Allies. In the September 1943 issue of Labour Monthly, Palme Dutt, its editor, explained: "The conditions were not ripe for it in 1941. They were not ripe in 1942. They are ripe in 1943. The changed psychology among the prisoners-of-war illustrates this." On the importance of the Free Germany National Committee, he had this to say:
"Critics in the West, who fail to understand the significance of this development as a powerful additional weapon for the defeat of Hitler, would do better to turn their attention to the urgent necessity of a corresponding policy on the side of Britain and the United states. If the question is asked, what is the official policy of the British and American governments in relation to German anti-fascism, the answer still remains at present a vacuum. There are plenty of private unofficial policies, often mischievous in the extreme, from Vansittartism to appeasement. But it is vitally important that there should be a co-ordinated and unified policy of the United Nations in relation to the encouragement and stimulation of a mass opposition movement in Germany against Hitler for peace and freedom."