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Reminiscences of an Old Member pt.2

Reminiscences of an old member pt. 2

Part 1 can be read here

When the 1914-1918 war broke out I was put in an internment camp. The long confinement at least offered opportunities for further enlightenment and discussion on politics. Lectures and meetings were held and prisoners were also free to debate subjects in all kinds of private circles, language classes, etc. Soon groups particularly interested in Socialism were regularly gathering around our platform. The discussion became particularly lively when Comrade Neuman, also an active member of the S.P.G.B. (translator of Kautzky's Erfurter programme) later joined the army of internees. Apart from lectures, a very successful May Day meeting was held with Neuman as the principal speaker. Among the many adherents to the Socialist case were Mundl, Guilke, Bankofsky, who all joined the S.P.G.B. after their release. With others, after I had been deported, I kept in correspondence from the Continent for many years. Most of them have long since died.

If there was comparative freedom to propagate revolutionary socialism on the Continent for a few years after the first war, it became rapidly more risky with the advent of Hitler. Even here, in Austria, the struggle for power between the two big electoral machines, had become so intense and bitter that it led to that terrible butchery on the Vienna Ringstrasse in July 1927, when nearly a hundred demonstrators were shot dead by Austrian police and army—and to other innumerable victims. Then in February 1934 Dollfuss and the Heimwehr smashed the Social Democratic Party in another, far greater, bloodbath. In 1935 Dollfuss was murdered and in 1938 Austria was incorporated in the German Reich. Then came the Second World War and the four power military occupation, lasting till 1956.

Even what little the few of us did, or rather could do, was not without peril, especially as personally I had, of course, not always kept my socialist light under a bushel before the years that were so fatal for Austrian, German, Italian and Spanish democracy. In Vienna alone more than 1,500 persons were executed by the Nazis for political reasons.

I may be allowed to repeat here what I wrote in a letter to the S.P.G.B.'s International Secretary:

    "While the very democratic British government takes the credit for my one and only victimisation for political reasons (they repatriated me to the Continent against my will in 1919 after four years internment as alien-enemy and undesirable subject) the family (wife, mother-in-law and two boys) survived unmolested the fascist onslaught on democracy in the civil war in Austria in 1934, the Anschluss of Hitler in 1938, and the second world war. As a socialist I never lifted a finger in support of those criminal capitalist operations. Though I could not, of course, after the 1934 upheaval continue socialist propaganda (as I had done in England, especially in the Internment camp) and had, until the departure of the occupation troops in 1956, to keep underground, I am proud to share with other comrades the merit of never having allowed the socialist light to be extinguished. My radical politics were known (if not shared) by the colleagues at the office where I worked and in wider circles, so that a really anxious time began for us in Vienna in 1934; especially for my wife, who had never forgotten our fate at the end of the first war. But I was lucky—nobody ever betrayed me or played me a dirty trick, although practically everybody who knew me and mostly appeared to agree with my criticism of things, turned out to have actually been or had become Nazi."

Considering the very troublous times we lived through, we did relatively well and had many good opportunities with jobs here, travelling extensively in Europe. My son Lawrence returned to London before Hitler came; he was greatly helped by the comrades and soon joined the Party, in which he is heart and soul.

My family and I had to leave my job in London at the outbreak of the 1914 war. After my internment in 1915 and repatriation at the end of the war, my London employers offered me a job at one of their enterprises in the Rheinland, with accommodation for my family near the works. If we left the firm and the Rheinland three years later for Austria, it was only to fill a contract I had previously made with the Austrian Krupp Metalworks Berndorf, where we stayed for four years. Our late comrade Fitzgerald visited us there in 1926 and again in 1928. By that time we had moved to Vienna, where Fitzgerald saw me at my final job, with the Austrian Official Tourist Office. Both his visits were fruitful for Socialist propaganda, as arrangements were made for distributing the Socialist Standard in quite a number of bookshops in Vienna. A large number of the pamphlet Socialism and Religion was also distributed at "language courses" I held at the Krupp works. I am sorry that not a single copy of that pamphlet is left in my hands now. Sorry also that interest in Socialism could not easily be revived after the dark years that followed, and that a good number of comrades I had gathered around me dropped out. But new contacts have now been made with a group of dissenters from the big S.P.A. the Bund Demokratischer Sozialisten, which issues a monthly typed paper called the Wiener Freies Wort. Direct contact with the S.P.G.B.'s Overseas Contact Secretary has long been established and it is  our ambition to make the S.P.A. dissenters adopt the Declaration of Principles and eventually to make it a true revolutionary companion party. There is real hope for the future, but we must not lose patience with those  undoubtedly earnest workers. A challenging sixteen page pamphlet and Election Manifesto is being distributed. It contains, of course, the Declaration of Principles.

Has the world changed since I set out? In some respects it certainly has. As I have mentioned before, in 1902 there was no thought or fear of war that was to come; you could travel across Europe without passports, you could work in any country without labour permits. In all my wanderings in Germany, Switzerland, France and England, the first time I ever had to report my presence to a police office was in London at the outbreak of the first war. What a change indeed has come over all this! Today people are hedged in everywhere by frontiers, barriers and police guards, exacting and scrutinizing your personal documents. Some frontiers, made more impassable by barbed wire, often electrically charged, and hidden bombs, run across big cities like Jerusalem, Berlin, and others. There is one thing that has not changed in well over a hundred years, one thing that has so far survived all crises and upheavals, and dozens of major capitalist wars. This one unchanged feature is the fundamental status of the working class of the world, as the disinherited wage slaves of the capitalist class.

R. Frank