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About this book

This book is a political biography of Arkadij Maksimovich Maslow (1891-1941), a German Communist politician and later a dissident and opponent to Stalin. Together with his political and common-law marriage partner, Ruth Fischer, Maslow briefly led the Communist Party of Germany, the KPD, and brought about its submission to Moscow. Afterwards Fischer and Maslow were removed from the KPD leadership in the fall of 1925 and expelled from the party a year later. Henceforth they both lived as communist outsiders—persecuted by both Hitler and Stalin. Maslow escaped to Cuba via France and Portugal and was murdered under dubious circumstances in Havana in November 1941. He died as a communist dissident committed to the cause of a radical-socialist labor movement that lay in ruins. Kessler considers Maslow's role in pivotal events such as the Bolshevik Revolution, in Soviet revolutionary parties and organizations, through to the rise of Stalinism and Cold War anti-communism. What results is a deep dive into the life of a key yet understudied figure in dissident communism.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

A Young Revolutionary Between Russia and Germany

Abstract
Arkadij Maksimovich Maslow was born as Isaac Yefimovich Chemerinsky in 1891 in Yelisavetgrad (today Kropyvnytskyi) in the central part of Ukraine. In 1899, he moved with his mother and sister to Dresden and then to Berlin, where he attended high school and completed studies in piano at a conservatory, starting a successful career as a pianist. In 1912 in Berlin, he began studies in mathematics, but never completed them. World War I intervened and, at its outbreak in 1914, he was interned as a Russian citizen but then voluntarily enlisted in the German army and served in prisoner of war camps as an interpreter. In 1917 he established contact with the radical Spartakus Group and, soon after, became an early member of the Communist Party of Germany, the KPD. In September 1919 he met Ruth Fischer, who became his lifelong partner. It was at this time that he took the name Maslow.
Mario Kessler

The Decisive Moment: The German November Revolution

Abstract
This chapter provides the background for Maslow’s political orientation. In November of 1918, a revolution brought an end to the First World War and the German monarchy. It also gave birth to the “Weimar Republic” and deepened the new divisions inside the workers’ movement. The resulting tensions lasted for decades. As against the more mainstream social democrats, Maslow was a member of the radical left which, after the assassination of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in 1919, inevitably—if relatively briefly—determined communist policy.
Mario Kessler

On the Ultra-Left in the Early KPD

Abstract
This chapter deals with tensions within the KPD. Its policy under Paul Levi, who led the party from 1919 to 1921, steered it away from concern with revolution in order to connect with the broader working class. These efforts were rewarded when a substantial section of the USPD, a somewhat less radical outgrowth of social democracy, joined the KPD. For the first time, the Communist Party could view itself as a mass party. Ruth Fischer and Arkadij Maslow, however, became the most outspoken critics of Levi’s so-called conciliatory course.
Mario Kessler

The March Action and Its Aftermath

Abstract
The March Action of 1921 is mostly forgotten, but it was an important event that marked the rise of the ultra-left—and its leaders Fischer and Maslow. The March Action was a workers revolt that took place in the industrial regions around Halle in Central Germany. Arguably precipitous, overestimating the revolutionary character of the working class, the revolt ended in defeat and the weakening of contemporary communist influence in Germany. Paul Levi, who was a stern critic of the March Action, broke with the KPD while Maslow and Fischer, who had supported the action, gained influence, notably in the strong Berlin-Brandenburg party district organization.
Mario Kessler

Controversies Over Workers’ Government

Abstract
Toward the end of 1921, controversies over a workers’ government intensified within the Communist Party. Part of its leadership supported the idea on the state and local level. But that view came under attack from the group around Fischer and Maslow. They saw Germany as mature enough for revolution and sharply criticized what they called the “reformist passivity” in what was supposed to be a revolutionary party.
Mario Kessler

1923 (I): The Ruhr Crisis

Abstract
Most Communists saw Germany as ready for a socialist revolution. While KPD chair Heinrich Brandler favored a united front policy with Social Democrats, however, Fischer and Maslow rejected this idea. They believed that the Social Democrats had harbored parliamentary illusions and that creating a workers’ government required civil war.
Mario Kessler

1923 (II): A Missed Revolution?

Abstract
In Saxony and Thuringia the KPD joined the left-wing governments led by the SPD while Gregory Zinoviev, chair of the Communist International (Comintern), helped Ruth Fischer to become a member of the KPD Party Executive. They harbored similar views and the Russian party sent emissaries to Germany and set the date of the uprising for November 7. The end of German inflation and French-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr region, however, undermined the revolutionary mood. Workers’ governments in Saxony and Thuringia were dissolved by German president Friedrich Ebert and the KPD chair, Brandler, called off all plans for an uprising. Unfortunately, however, his decision did not reach Hamburg in time. A communist insurrection had been organized but, in the confusion, it remained isolated and it was quickly put down. The KPD was then outlawed, a ban that lasted until March 1924.
Mario Kessler

Maslow and Fischer: Toward the Party Leadership

Abstract
Fischer’s and Maslow’s path to party leadership was finalized at the party conference in April 1924 at Frankfurt-Main. Fischer, Maslow, and Werner Scholem (brother of the great Jewish scholar Gershom Scholem) constituted the new Political Bureau with Maslow being appointed political secretary of the party, i.e., the party’s de facto leader. On May 24, 1924 Maslow was arrested and brought to court. Accused of high treason, sentenced to four years in prison, he was only released in May 1926. Ruth Fischer then became Political Secretary of the KPD as, successively, she and her supporters took over its regional and local branches, dismissing those functionaries who had expressed sympathy for a more moderate line and joint actions with Social Democrats.
Mario Kessler

Politics from Prison: The Bolshevization of the KPD

Abstract
This chapter analyzes the “Bolshevization” of the KPD during 1924–1925, i.e., its submission to Moscow. While in prison Maslow was in constant contact with Fischer. Maslow and Fischer called for a monolithic KPD along the lines of the Russian party model from which all dissent had already been banished. Bolshevization had an immense impact on how the KPD presented itself in the public sphere. Guided by Maslow from his prison cell, Fischer emulated the Soviet Union’s ritualized commemorative culture that was previously foreign to the German workers’ movement. For Stalin, who won the inner-party struggle in the Soviet Union against his rival Zinoviev, Fischer and Maslow could only be temporary allies. Making the transformation of the party, an authoritarian inner-party culture irreversible, would require a reliable placeholder who was fundamentally different from them in temperament and revolutionary purpose.
Mario Kessler

Disagreements: The Divided Left

Abstract
Fischer and Maslow lost ground within the party. In April 1925, the KPD leadership rejected the Comintern’s recommendation to support Wilhelm Marx, a liberal candidate, for German presidency and instead, showing its sectarian inclinations, nominated Ernst Thälmann as its candidate. As a result, the ultra-conservative Field Marshal Hindenburg was elected president. The communist votes cast for Thälmann would have helped Marx win the presidency. This particular incident dramatically weakened Fischer’s and Maslow’s position within the party.
Mario Kessler

Disempowerment and Fall

Abstract
Ruth Fischer gradually realized that she had to abandon her more extremist policies, but it was already too late. In July 1925, at the KPD conference in Berlin, the party ratified the shift away from ultra-leftist orientation, and Moscow viewed Fischer’s leadership with growing skepticism. After a direct confrontation with Dmitri Manuilsky, the Comintern emissary in Germany, Fischer and Maslow were told that the party needed trustworthy proletarian elements, such as Ernst Thälmann, Stalin’s supporter. The KPD leaders were called to Moscow where the Comintern decided to replace Fischer by Thälmann. She was detained in Moscow until spring 1926. After Maslow’s release from prison both were expelled from the KPD in August of that year.
Mario Kessler

The Leninbund: A New Beginning?

Abstract
This chapter covers Fischer’s and Maslow’s ill-fated attempt to constitute a new opposition to Stalin, the Leninbund, as well as their retreat from active politics. While Fischer found employment as a social worker in Berlin, Maslow mainly worked as a translator. Both witnessed the rise of Nazism in Germany without any illusions. Maslow also helped Ruth Fischer with the transcript of her impressive social report Deutsche Kinderfibel (German Children’s Primer) that described the misery of Berlin’s working-class children during the Great Depression. The book showed the devastating effects of steadily rising unemployment on young people. The difficulties of finding work in an overcrowded labor market embittered many young people who subsequently became disillusioned with the political system of the Weimar Republic. Juvenile delinquency increased dramatically, as did political militancy among the youth.
Mario Kessler

Flight and Exile: Paris-Marseille-Lisbon-Havana

Abstract
After the Nazi seizure of power, Fischer and Maslow escaped. Fischer also managed to extricate her 15-year-old son. He found refuge in England where he stayed permanently, while Fischer and Maslow went to Paris. Once again, Fischer worked as a municipal social worker in the city of St. Denis near Paris while Maslow started a one-man press release agency. Both came into (temporary) close contact with Leon Trotsky. This chapter also discusses Maslow’s literary works and how he and his companion’s roles as defendants in absentia at the Moscow show trial of 1936. After the German army invaded France, Fischer and Maslow left Paris for Marseille and Lisbon. Both tried to immigrate to the United States. But it was only Fischer who got a US visa; Maslow’s application was repeatedly denied. They had to separate. In April 1941 Fischer went to New York while Maslow went to Cuba, the only place where he could go.
Mario Kessler

Maslow’s Death

Abstract
On November 21, 1941 Fischer succeeded in getting Maslow an entrance permit to the United States. But on the same day he was found dead in Havana. According to an official investigation, Maslow had suffered a heart attack. However, Ruth Fischer was and remained of the opinion that Stalin’s secret police agents had murdered him. The chapter demonstrates that her assumption was correct and gives details of how Maslow was run over by a truck.
Mario Kessler

Avenging Maslow? Ruth Fischer’s Crusade and Final Change of Mind

Abstract
In 1944 Ruth Fischer came to the wrong conclusion that her brother, Gerhart Eisler, was part of the Stalinist campaign against Maslow and herself. A new career began for Ruth Fischer—as an anti-communist. She published in leading magazines and newspapers and testified against her brother, Bertolt Brecht and others before the House Committee on Un-American Affairs. She thus became a central figure in the anti-left crusade of the late 1940s. In the 1950s, however, Fischer distanced herself from anti-communism. After Krushchev’s revelations of Stalin’s crimes at the 20th congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1953, she assumed that Stalinism had come to an end. In her last years Ruth Fischer returned to communism, though of an independent sort.
Mario Kessler

Backmatter

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