International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International 1991: Oppose imperialist war and colonialism!

The Death of Oskar Hippe (1900-1990)

This article originally appeared in “Neue Arbeiterpresse” on March 23, 1990.

Comrade Oskar Hippe died on Tuesday, March 13, 1990 in a Berlin hospital, just three weeks before his ninetieth birthday and five weeks after the death of his wife, Gertrud.

With Oskar Hippe, the Trotskyist world movement has lost not only its eldest representative, but also a revolutionary fighter who participated in all the great class battles of the German proletariat since World War I and who, furthermore, fought unremittingly for the construction of a Marxist leadership and the program of world socialist revolution in the working class.

For the present generation of Trotskyists, he represented a living link, not merely to the revolutionary battles of the first half of this century, but likewise to their greatest Marxist leaders such as Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and Leon Trotsky, all of whom he personally met with and knew.

Oskar Hippe lived and died as a revolutionary. Under the political influence of his older brother, he participated as a 12 year old in a demonstration against the impending imperialist war. On May 1, 1916, having in the meantime become politically conscious and independent, he joined the first major demonstration against the war in Berlin, at which Karl Liebknecht spoke to 10,000 workers. A short time later, he became a member of the Spartakusbund, the revolutionary organization of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, out of which the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) emerged in the midst of the 1918-19 revolution.

In March 1920—in the central German industrial belt around Halle and Leuna—he was among those in the forefront of the revolutionary uprising with which the working class in all of Germany greeted the Kapp putsch. During the struggles in the fall of 1923, he was already so well known as a communist leader in the entire industrial center of Saxony and Anhalt that, following the victory of the ruling class over the workers, no employer would hire him.

The defeat of the German working class in 1923 was above all the responsibility of Stalin and Zinoviev, who as leaders of the Comintern (Communist International) had advised the KPD and its chairman, Brandler, to call off all revolutionary struggles and to make no preparations for the conquest of power, since it lacked any prospect of success.

The further development of the KPD was first and foremost determined by the rise of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union under Stalin and its growing disruptive influence in the Communist International. Oskar Hippe and his wife, Gertrud, whom he had come to know in his plant as a militant sympathetic to the KPD during the middle twenties and then had recruited to the party, early on joined the International Left Opposition led by Trotsky. The Left Opposition fought against the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union and the Comintern and defended Marxism and its program of world socialist revolution against Stalinism.

Oskar soon assumed a leading position in the Left Opposition. Along with Trotsky, he untiringly championed the united front of the KPD and the SPD against the danger of Hitler fascism, while the KPD leadership under Thaelmann rejected such a united front in accordance with instructions from Stalin and declared “social fascism,” i.e., the SPD, to be the “main enemy” of the working class.

The Stalinist leadership concealed its opportunist line, which had already led to defeat in 1923, behind this ultraleft policy: that it was hopeless to mobilize the working class in Germany on a revolutionary program and in this way break the majority of the workers from their traditional social democratic leadership.

As a Trotskyist, Oskar Hippe never abandoned the scientifically based conviction of Marxists as to the revolutionary capacities and tasks of the working class. In 1932 he participated in the conference of the International Left Opposition held in Copenhagen, where he held several personal discussions with Leon Trotsky. When, as a result of the paralysis and split of the working class organized by the leadership of the KPD as well as the SPD, the Nazis came to power in 1933, Oskar remained in Germany so as to maintain the revolutionary work of the Trotskyist movement in the underground, including the resistance against the Nazis. He saw his task as assembling a Marxist cadre under arduous conditions and training this cadre as members of the Fourth International founded in 1938.

He was arrested by the Nazis, thrown into prison and tortured. His wife, Gertrud, who was the principal courier of the Trotskyist resistance movement, was tortured and turned into a cripple. Yet at no time did either of them ever reveal so much as a single name.

Immediately after the collapse of fascism, Oskar began to rebuild the Trotskyist party in Germany, both in the Western zone as well as in the Eastern, the present day GDR. That is why he was taken into custody in 1948 by the Soviet secret police in Halle and imprisoned in Bautzen for eight years by the Stalinist bureaucracy of the GDR.

Finally, following the Khrushchev revelations of Stalin’s crimes in 1956, Hippe was released. In the intervening period, however, the leadership of the Trotskyist party had fallen into the hands of an opportunist tendency, led in Germany by a certain Georg Jungclas and internationally by M. Pablo and E. Mandel. This tendency, named Pabloism after its leader, had broken with Trotskyism at the beginning of the fifties and declared the Stalinist bureaucracy a progressive force. That is why it refused to lift a finger on behalf of Oskar Hippe and the other Trotskyists jailed in the GDR by the Stalinist bureaucracy.

In 1953 the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), of which the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter in Germany is today a member, was founded to defend Trotskyism and the Fourth International against Pabloism. After studying the documents of the Pabloites and the ICFI, Oskar Hippe in 1956 joined the International Committee, in which he participated actively for several years.

He welcomed the start of revolutionary uprisings against the Stalinist bureaucracies in Eastern Europe, but from the beginning warned of the danger that the bourgeoisie could well utilize the crisis of Stalinism for its own advantage. Literally, up to the very last day of his life, even when he was gravely ill and severely stricken by the death of his lifelong companion and comrade-in-arms, Gertrud, he followed attentively the political developments in the entire world, particularly the tasks and problems confronting the working class of the GDR.

He enthusiastically supported the activities of the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter in the GDR and offered advice based on the long life of a revolutionary that was immensely rich in experiences. He looked upon the work of the BSA to mobilize the working class in the GDR for the struggle against capitalist restoration and to arm it with the program of the Fourth International as a continuation of the work which he himself had carried on up to 1948 and which had been interrupted by his imprisonment in Bautzen.

“The most important task,” he continuously emphasized in his discussions, “is to construct a revolutionary party and train a cadre in Marxism capable of creating socialist consciousness in the working class and laying the basis for victory in the approaching class battles.”

“These revolutionary class battles,” stated Oskar, “inevitably accompany the crisis of capitalism! But the working class can triumph only with a Marxist, Trotskyist party, with the Fourth International!”