Weapons in hand, the prisoners storm the gate house. It is April 11, 1945, shortly before 3pm at the Buchenwald concentration camp. The U.S. Army is nearby. 5,000 Soviet, Polish, and Czech prisoners have already escaped with revolvers and hand grenades, joining the American troops. More than 21,000 prisoners, including almost 1,000 children, are still in the camp. The Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS), the fascist organization running the camp, had intended to exterminate all of them. The prisoners’ armed resistance groups occupy the guard towers and barracks. By the time American officers enter the camp at 5:30pm, it is firmly in the hands of the prisoners’ organization, led by Stalinist communists.
In the following days, numerous declarations were published. Many are very similar in content, demanding the unity of all non-fascist forces in the spirit of a “People’s Front.” Both the social democratic Buchenwald Manifesto and the Buchenwald Communist Party Resolution declare that after the war, Germany should remain a capitalist country — even though it was capitalism that had brought the Nazi regime to power.
The Oath of Buchenwald is legendary, and its closing words — “The eradication of Nazism as well as its roots is our guiding principle” — are often quoted. Less well-known is the section of the document that refers to the “Freedom Armies of the Allies” and honors the late U.S. president Roosevelt as a great antifascist. This is very much in the spirit of the alliance that Stalin formed with the “democratic” imperialist powers. These “democratic” powers committed massacres against colonial peoples. The British “Freedom Army,” in agreement with Stalin, allied with Greek fascists and monarchists in order to defeat the Greek Communists.
This makes the declaration by Buchenwald’s international communists, which appears one day after the Oath of Buchenwald, all the more remarkable. These communists, members of the Fourth International, are not calling for an alliance with “democratic” imperialism. Instead, they call for the independent organization of the working class throughout Europe, with the perspective of a Germany based on workers’ councils, in the framework of a Europe based on workers’ councils.
Among the Buchenwald Trotskyists are Marcel Baufrère, who participated in the publication of the newspaper Arbeiter und Soldat for German soldiers in Brest in France and organized revolutionary cells in the Wehrmacht; or Florent Galloyy, who had organized miners’ strikes against the Nazi occupation in Charleroi in Belgium. The document was worked out alongside activists from Austria including Karl Fischer and Ernst Federn.
The famous sentence from the Oath of Buchenwald lacks clarity regarding the roots of fascism. This Trotskyist declaration, however, puts it succinctly: “Only the successful, independent action of the working class against capitalism is capable of eradicating the evil of fascism, along with its root causes.”
This text is based on an article published in German for the 70th anniversary at Klasse Gegen Klasse. Translated by the author.
Declaration of the International Communists of Buchenwald
I. The International Conjuncture of Capitalism
In the wake of the second imperialist war Italy, Germany and Japan have lost their stature as great imperialist powers, while that of France has been severely undermined.
The imperialist antagonisms and conflicts between the USA and Great Britain dominate the conjuncture of world imperialist politics.
At the beginning of this world war Russia emerged from its isolation and today confronts the task of politically and economically consolidating its military successes in opposition to the appetites of the victorious imperialist powers.
Despite its enormous efforts China remains a pawn of the great imperialist powers, an inevitable consequence of the victory of the Chinese bourgeoisie over the Chinese proletariat.
The unanimity so ostentatiously displayed at the international imperialist peace conferences is intended to dupe the masses by concealing the antagonisms inherent among the capitalist powers. However, coinciding military interests vis-a-vis Germany cannot prevent the explosion of the antagonisms in the Allied camp. To these antagonisms must be added the inevitable crises and the social tumult of the decaying capitalist mode of production.
A precise analysis of the international situation using the methods of Marxism-Leninism is the indispensable precondition for a successful revolutionary line.
II. The International Situation of the Working Class
This development renders it possible for the German proletariat to rapidly recover from its profound defeat and to again place itself at the head of the European working class in the battle for the overthrow of capitalism. Isolated by the failure of the revolution in Europe, the Russian revolution has taken a course which has led it further and further away from the interests of the European and international proletariat. The policy of “socialism in one country,” at first just a defense of the interests of the ruling bureaucratic clique, today leads the Russian state to carry out a nationalistic policy shoulder to shoulder with the imperialist powers. Whatever the course of events in Russia may be, the international proletariat must cast off all illusions regarding this state and with the aid of a clear Marxist analysis realize that the presently ruling bureaucratic and military caste defends exclusively its own interests and that the international revolution cannot count on any support from this government.
The total military, political and economic collapse of the German bourgeoisie opens the road to liberation for the German proletariat. To prevent the restabilization of the German bourgeoisie, facilitated by imperialist antagonisms, and to establish workers power, the revolutionary struggle of the working class of each country against its own bourgeoisie is necessary. The working class was deprived of its revolutionary leadership by the politics of the two international workers organizations, which actively fought and sabotaged the proletarian revolution that alone could have prevented this war. The Second International is a tool of the bourgeoisie. Since the death of Lenin the Third International has been transformed into an agency of the foreign policy of the Russian bureaucracy. Both Internationals actively participated in the preparation and prosecution of this imperialist war and therefore share responsibility for it. To attribute responsibility, or partial responsibility, for this war to the German and international working class is only another way of continuing to serve the bourgeoisie.
The proletariat can fulfill its historic task only under the leadership of a new world revolutionary party. The creation of this party is the most pressing task of the most advanced sections of the working class. International revolutionary cadres have already come together to construct this world party in the struggle against capitalism and its reformist and Stalinist agents. In order to carry out this difficult task there must be no avoiding the issue through the more conciliatory slogan of a new 2-1/2 International. Such an intermediary formation would prevent the necessary ideological clarification and would sap revolutionary will.
III. Never Again a 9 November 1918!
In the imminent pre-revolutionary period what is necessary is to mobilize the working masses in the struggle against the bourgeoisie and to prepare the construction of a new revolutionary International that will forge the unity of the working class in revolutionary action.
All theories and illusions about a “peoples state” or a “peoples democracy” have led the working class to the bloodiest defeats in the course of class struggle in capitalist society. Only irreconcilable struggle against the capitalist state—up to and including its destruction and the construction of the state of workers and peasants councils—can prevent similar new defeats. The bourgeoisie and the uprooted petty bourgeoisie brought fascism to power. Fascism is the creation of capitalism. Only the successful, independent action of the working class against capitalism is capable of eradicating the evil of fascism, along with its root causes. In this struggle the hesitant petty bourgeoisie will join forces with the revolutionary proletariat on the offensive, as the history of the great revolutions demonstrates.
In order to emerge victorious from the class battles to come the German working class must struggle for the implementation of the following demands:
—Freedom of organization, assembly and the press!
—Freedom of collective action and the immediate restoration of all the pre-1933 social gains!
—Total elimination of all the fascist organizations!
—Confiscation of their property for the benefit of the victims of fascism!
—Conviction of all representatives of the fascist state by freely elected peoples courts!
—Dissolution of the Wehrmacht and its replacement by workers militias!
—Immediate free election of workers and peasants councils throughout all of Germany and a convocation of a general congress of these councils!
—Preservation and extension of these councils, while utilizing all the parliamentary institutions of the bourgeoisie for revolutionary propaganda!
—Expropriation of the banks, heavy industry and the large estates!
—Control of production by the unions and the workers councils!
—Not one man, not one penny for the war debts and the war reparations of the bourgeoisie!
—The bourgeoisie must pay!
—For pan-German socialist revolution! Against a dismemberment of Germany!
—Revolutionary fraternization with the proletarians of the occupying armies!
—For a Germany of workers councils in a Europe of workers councils!
—For world proletarian revolution!
The Internationalist Communists of Buchenwald (IV International) — 20 April 1945
Translation: Spartacist (New York), Winter 1979 (Vol. VII, No. 1). Source: Marxists Internet Archive.