‘Germany’s Red Front Fighters, ‘Storm Troopers of the Proletariat’ in Impressive Parade’ by Agnes Smedley from the Daily Worker. Vol. 5 No. 180. July 31, 1928.

‘Germany’s Red Front Fighters, ‘Storm Troopers of the Proletariat’ in Impressive Parade’ by Agnes Smedley from the Daily Worker. Vol. 5 No. 180. July 31, 1928.

Red Front Fighters come to Berlin once a year to celebrate the future. They are an organization of over 200,000 men, 30,000 women, and some 50,000 youth. Although the leadership is Communist only one-third of the members belong to the party. The president is Ernst Thalmann, transport worker and Communist Reichstag member from Hamburg, and one of the executives of the party. This is the organization that the minister of the interior, von Keudell, tried in vain to declare illegal about two months ago, while leaving the Fascist “Steel Helmets” untouched.

These Red Front Fighters are known as the “storm-troops of the proletariat,” organized in 1924 to counteract the growth of Fascism, to defend the class, and, in case of another war, “to turn upon the capitalist class and change the war into a civil war for the destruction of capitalism and the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government.” They are organized on a military basis and wear a gray uniform that looks much like the Russian Red Army uniform or the uniform of the Chinese Nationalist soldiers. The coat is half shirt, open at the throat and caught in at the waist and over the shoulder by leather straps. The cap, of the same material, has a solitary red star in front. Practically all men over twenty five had military training in the last war, and even the Red Youth—young men from the ages of 16 to 21—look as if they had had it when they swing down the street.

The Masses Come.

Their fourth national gathering has just ended. They meet each year during the Whitsuntide holidays, and on Whitsunday is the great demonstration. This year 100,000 uniformed men and a few thousand women* marched, followed by as many more non-uniformed Communist Party members. Seventy-five thousand came from outside Berlin—walking, riding bicycles, traveling in trucks of fourth-class railway carriages. Berlin contributed the other 25,000. For days in advance the working-class sections were busy preparing for their coming. Beds for 68,000 were arranged in the private homes of the workers, and it did not matter if some of these beds were bales of hay. The other men were housed in barracks or tents. The various divisions brought their bands with them, and when they began to arrive the railway stations were a mass of uniformed man waiting to start the music and escort their comrades through the streets. The workers’ sections were a blaze of red; red flags and banners, red flowers, red streamers; red flowers or ribbons in ’the buttonholes or hats.

1927 parade.

Impressive Demonstration.

On Whitsunday the buglers awoke the Red Front Fighters at six. From eight to ten there were concerts and gatherings in the many halls and on the many squares. At ten the marching began, and in the “respectable” parts of the city the comfortable ladies and gentlemen turned uneasily in their beds when they heard the steady marching of thousands of feet and the blare of bands playing the “International” and “Out to the Sun and the Light.” If you were in the workers’ sections, it seemed that the whole city was marching. Eisenstein could have made a marvelous picture of whole streets marching, seemingly crossing and recrossing, their red flags caught in the wind and blazing in the brilliant morning sun. The streets were seething with workers in their Sunday best—not only Communists, but all workers turned out for this occasion. Thousands of working women and girls stood along the lines with baskets of sandwiches and fruit, distributing food free to the marching men. Glasses of water and beer appeared by the thousands along the routes—-workers’ restaurant keepers giving free—and girls ran along beside the marchers waiting to take back the glasses.

THE Lustgarten was the goal of the marchers. On one side of the square is the former imperial palace; on another the cathedral; on the third the Museum of Ancient Arts, with a long flight of broad steps leading up to it; on the fourth the canal. Roads and bridges lead to it from six or seven different directions. Rows of police helmets gleamed on the top steps of the cathedral and the museum, and back of the museum hundreds of them were camped, with rifles ready, while across the canal were big police lorries, filled with men. Clear across the front of the cathedral, almost hiding the policemen, was a long, broad slash of red bunting with the white words “Red Front Fighters, join the Communist Party” Across the face of the imperial palace was another: “Each factory a fortress of the Red Front!” Shades of imperial ancestors!

Look Out! They’re On Time!

Deployment at the First Reich Meeting of the Red Front Fighters Association, 1925.

The Red Front is frightfully punctual. At 2:30, on the scheduled moment, the first columns began to pour into the Lustgarten. Their red banners fluttered beyond she green trees and the bands blared their approach. Within a few minutes the garden was a gray sea of rhythmically marching men, a of music, a mass of great red flags and banners, while above the noise came the repeated triple shouts of “Red Front” as each new division received and gave their greeting. Divisions arrived from feudal East Prussia, from the Catholic South, from the great industrial centers of the Rhineland, the Ruhr, and Saxony. Hamburg and Stettin contributed not only industrial sections, hut contingents of the “Red Marine” in seamen’s uniform, raising their clenched fists and shouting “Red Front.” Divisions from the brother Red Front organizations in Czechoslovakia, Austria, Switzerland! And France marched also; there was a small Chinese group, and now and then the lines threw up the faces of Negroes, Indians, Javanese. There were individual delegates from the Scandinavian countries, England, Australia, Russia, and India. The “Young Pioneers”—boys and girls under sixteen—marched and the “Young Spartacans”—little chaps under twelve-screamed “Red Front! Hoch!” from their big motor lorries. The Red sport organizations, with their many members training for the Workers’ Olympiad in Moscow, marched both men and women in white shorts’ with bare arms, heads, and legs. The whiteclad Workers’ First Aid, which numbers some 80,000 men and women throughout the country, moved through the crowd, carrying stretchers or first-aid kits on their backs, ready to take any person who fainted to one of the many stations where physicians were in charge. On the broad steps of the museum stood a chorus of 300 Communist workingmen who shouted “Red Front” in unison as the columns marched past. With each call of “Red Front” the right fist, clenched, is raised. This is the greeting of all Red Front men and women and their sympathizers and supporters.

Endless Columns.

Two hours passed, but still the columns kept marching in and long after the demonstration was at an end they continued coming. The Lustgarten was filled to overflowing. The crowds spilled over into the squares beyond the palace, down Unter den Linden before the opera and the university, and blocked all the streets leading toward the garden. The crowd that gathered to watch and take part in the demonstration was estimated at from five to seven hundred thousand.

Willy Leow, speaks at the rally in the Schillerpark, 1927.

AT four the bugles sounded a warning from the statue in the center of the Lustgarten—then sounded it again. The audience became silent. From the steps of the museum the chorus of 300 men singers began “Out to the Sun and the Light.” The museum served as a sounding board, the men’s voices were strong and well trained. There are some thousand such Communist singers under training in Berlin. You could hear them as they sang, far on the other side of the garden. I doubt if I have ever heard anything so gripping as those strong, deep voices singing the songs of the revolution to a great audience standing in silence, the bright sun streaming upon them and their gleaming banners, the wind catching their flags and moving the green background of trees.

Red Front Oath.

After the second song the bugles called again, and simultaneously from every part of the vast concourse speakers arose—standing on steps, boxes, statues. They had all been given their points to emphasize, and fifteen minutes in which to deliver them. Then the bugles called again and the oath of the Red Front was given. The speakers read each line, with clenched fist raised, and the vast crowds repeated it. The oath was:

I swear:

Never to forget that world imperialism is preparing a war against Soviet Russia.

Never to forget that the destiny of the working class of the whole world is bound up with Soviet Russia.

Never to forget the experience and the suffering of the working class in the imperialist World War.

Never to forget the 4th of August, 1914, and the betrayal of the reformists.

Always and forever to fulfill my revolutionary duty to the working class and socialism. Always and forever to remain a soldier of the revolution.

Always and forever, in all proletarian mass organizations, in industries and factories, to be a pioneer of the irreconcilable class war.

On the front, and in the army of imperialism, to work only for the revolution.

To lead the revolutionary fight for the destruction of class rule and of the German bourgeoisie.

To defend the Chinese revolution and the Soviet Union by any and every means.

I swear:

Always and forever to fight for Soviet Russia and for the World Revolution.

The bugles sounded again when the last rumble of voices had died away. The chorus sang the “International” and the program was at an end.


Farewell Demonstration.

On Monday there was a great farewell meet. Many of the Red Front men from outside the city remained for a few days to see the sights. Most of them had never seen Berlin before. Some had brought their girls or wives along, simply or very poorly dressed, and for the next few days you could meet them in groups of fifteen or twenty looking at public buildings or, in curious scorn or amazement, at the fashionably dressed men and women sitting in the cases on Unter den Linden or Kurfurstendamm. Not one could afford such luxury. For weeks their members had been taxed ten pfennigs a day for this Berlin trip. They carried their sandwiches wrapped in newspaper, every pfennig meant a sacrifice.

Only the Best.

THE strength of the Red Front Fighters’ Federation cannot be judged by its numbers alone. The duties and discipline imposed upon I members are so exacting that only the most determined men and women can remain in it. Every spare minute is claimed. There are mass meetings, study groups, organizational work. There are the many proletarian celebrations where propaganda is carried on. There was the work for Sacco and Vanzetti, for the Chinese revolution, for strikes in various parts of the world, for the Vienna uprising. Just now the organization is working against the Fascist sentences in Italy. The man or woman who can meet the rigid discipline imposed by either the Red Front or the Communist Party and often the workers belong to both— is exceptional. But this keeps the organization down to from two to three hundred thousand. Those who do remain are steeled by the conviction that theirs is an historic mission—that history is with them.


Red Berlin.

Berlin remains red. In some of the workers’ sections the Communist Party stands first. The next four years will be filled with intense and bitter struggle. The Red Front has plans, in the eventuality of war, that will not stop with parliamentary agitation. They do not hide the fact; they warn the German bourgeoisie, they proclaim their intentions before the entire working class and call for recruits. The Red Front Fighters may one day be suppressed. But to suppress three and a half million voters is not so easy, and if the federation is suppressed, all Communists may be called upon to join them.

The Daily Worker began in 1924 and was published in New York City by the Communist Party US and its predecessor organizations. Among the most long-lasting and important left publications in US history, it had a circulation of 35,000 at its peak. The Daily Worker came from The Ohio Socialist, published by the Left Wing-dominated Socialist Party of Ohio in Cleveland from 1917 to November 1919, when it became became The Toiler, paper of the Communist Labor Party. In December 1921 the above-ground Workers Party of America merged the Toiler with the paper Workers Council to found The Worker, which became The Daily Worker beginning January 13, 1924.

Access to PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/dailyworker/1928/1928-ny/v05-n180-NY-jul-31-1928-DW-LOC.pdf

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