From Unity, 25 June 2005

Who knows Arthur Ladwig?

There are probably no more than a few thousand people in the whole of Europe today who are familiar with the name Arthur Ladwig, yet he and the group of anti-fascists he belonged to were among the bravest and most highly organised resistance fighters against the Nazi regime of terror.
    From the day fascism had been handed power, its main aim was crystal-clear: war.
    The Nazis never made a secret of their drive for expansion, and the “total war” that would lead to the complete destruction of their main enemy, the Soviet Union, was the centrepiece of their propaganda.
    The ones who installed them were the real winners; at no time in capitalist history was as much profit made by as small a group of people as during the 19333–39 period. The arms industry was thriving; Hitler kept his promises—to the capitalists. The Krupp, Thyssen, Daimler-Benz and all the other war factories were the jewels in the crown of Nazi Germany’s industry. They were supplied with the best raw materials, the highest security, low or no taxes; they got railways built for transport, and they were offered the best workers. “UK” was short for unabkömmlich, which meant a highly qualified worker who was made unavailable for army service—a must for all other persons in this time of preparation for war.
    Resistance inside these factories seemed completely impossible, but a handful of comrades—most of them communists—founded the Kampfbund (association of fighters) in 1939. This organisation had the sole purpose of organising resistance and sabotage at the heart of Hitler’s war machine—the arms factories. Arthur Ladwig became one of the key figures of this group.
    Born in Berlin in 1902, he went to school in the working-class district of Friedrichshain. He joined the Communist Youth Movement shortly after it was founded in 1925 and was soon elected to leading positions. Arthur Ladwig qualified as a metalworker and joined the Communist Party (KPD) in 1928. This got him blacklisted by the firm he worked for, and he soon lost his job. He had to feed his family by doing unqualified short-term jobs. Both the SS and SA had him arrested several times for questioning, but his high discipline and conspiratorial care left them finding nothing and getting no information; they seemed to be satisfied that he had left his communist ideas behind.
    In 1941 Ladwig was offered work in the Daimler-Benz works in Genshagen-Ludwigsfelde. This Nazi showpiece factory worked for the army. “War-important products” was the term for their deadly output. They employed more than 15,000 people at the time, many of them prisoners of war from several European countries. Arthur Ladwig moved to Ludwigsfelde and immediately got a branch of the Kampfbund together. They tried to slow down production wherever they could and made every possible effort to do damage. They also published and distributed large quantities of anti-fascist leaflets and literature inside the factory.
    This alarmed the Nazis. Having just suffered the first blow in the war outside Moscow, the last thing the leaders wanted was anti-Nazi propaganda from inside the main works. Both the Daimler-Benz management and Gestapo used every tool at their disposal to get to the source; agents were planted in every part of the factory. But it took until 1943 for one of these spies to be able to infiltrate the resistance group. On 21 March 1943 Arthur Ladwig and several of his comrades were arrested at work; Gestapo agents took them from hall 2 of the factory.
    For almost a year they were cruelly tortured. The fascists wanted all the names of members of the Kampfbund. Arthur Ladwig and his comrades remained silent; the Gestapo found out nothing.
    In 1944 the Volksgerichtshof (high court of Nazi Germany) sentenced twenty-one suspected members of the Kampfbund to death, Arthur Ladwig among them. Two others had already been murdered in prison. Arthur Ladwig was beheaded by guillotine on 10 July 1944 in the prison of Brandenburg-Görden.

As always when we research and write about anti-fascist resistance, the question arises about the present value of the knowledge. Are there lessons to be learnt from Arthur’s political struggle?
    There are, and I think the main one is that political activity is possible under even the worst circumstances. Consider the permanent life danger these comrades worked under, the complete absence of finances for producing literature, the deep conspiracy they had to organise meetings in, and you will appreciate the dimensions of their contribution.
    When the Kampfbund was formed, the Communist Party had already lost tens of thousands of activists, either by physical extinction or emigration. Its complete leadership was in exile, dead, or imprisoned.
    The driving force of all resistance fighters’ activities, and particularly of those who dared to operate at the very heart of the system, was their knowledge of Marxist-Leninist theory. Only from it they could draw the conclusion that their struggle—no matter how difficult—would have to be successful in the long run. It is a fact that communist resistance, though its numbers were smaller than, for example, those of the Social Democrats, was the unbreakable heart of all anti-fascist activities in Germany. Bourgeois historians have not and will never come to terms with that.
    While we must not leave any lack of clarity—Europe today is not fascist—there are some striking similarities. During and after the counter-revolution in the Soviet Union and the subsequent collapse of socialism in Europe, when the final end of all communist politics seemed to have come, when tens of thousands turned away from our movement—some in frustration, many for opportunist reasons—a hard core stayed together. Left with nothing but the knowledge that the science of Marxism and Lenin’s additions for the historical period of imperialism were correct and the only way forward, they started to put the shambles together. They were almost like the resistance fighters: operating in a hostile world, a world that was bubbling with promises of a new world order, prosperity for all, and the “end of history.” They were the flies in the ointment of the capitalist celebrations of their “final victory.”
    The fact that the Communist Party in Germany has survived and is growing (I don’t use Germany as an example because I was born there but because it had been at the borderline between the two systems and is now Europe’s leading capitalist power) is due to the knowledge of Marxism-Leninism. Some people call it a miracle that, with no more financing from the east, they were able to keep their central party school, their paper, and, perhaps most important, their theoretical journal. No miracle it is at all but the conclusion from their knowledge and the need to educate under even the worst circumstances. To put this need into practice people sold houses, they made wills to the party, they went into debt, and some of them still are—heroism driven by political consciousness. Last year the volume of donations to the DKP (they always publish their finances, to the last penny—one of the conclusions from mistakes of the past) was well over €700,000.
    Hans Heinz Holz is one of the leading Marxist philosophers in Europe. At present he is one of a group of comrades who are writing the draft for the new Communist Party programme. In his book Kommunisten Heute (“Communists Today”) he concludes at the end: “If this will is to become political power, it must have an organisation. I don’t mean an organisation with all the bureaucratic deformations in the apparatus of office-bearers as we have experienced it. I mean a real Communist Party of class struggle, the leaders controlled by the members. A democratic party which is not running off into pluralistic debating clubs; a party which is enabled by the democratic basis to act in an organised way.
    “We are a small minority now but will be the centre point for the further development of society and thereby attract more and more people. We cannot do without a well-thought-out and well-structured form of organisation for our political action. We need a Marxist-Leninist party.”
    History is about to prove Hans Heinz Holz as right as it did Arthur Ladwig.

I wish to thank Günther Freyer; his article in the Berlin communist monthly Rotfuchs (“Red Fox”) about resistance in the arms industry was inspirational for this piece. Thanks also to Hans Heinz Holz, who is a constant inspiration for thousands of communists.

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