By Jan Valtin. Alliance. $3.50.
THIS long autobiography of a German Communist who fell into the hands of the Gestapo, suffered frightful tortures, obtained release by pretending to be a turncoat, broke with his Communist bosses, and is now apparently a fugitive from both brands of the brutalitarian state, offers strong raw meat to its readers. It is heavily charged with sex and brutality. The author looks back on a life of con stant and often sickening violence, and as a ‘red’ sailor he is not inclined to mince words.
At the same time, it is a work of very considerable public interest and topical importance. No one has told in such circumstantial detail the story of a Communist agitator in foreign lands; and it is a story that is immensely worth telling. Mr. Valtin pulls no punches. He does not load up his book with citations from the works of Lenin or from resolutions of the Communist International. On the contrary, he tells specifically — with names, dates, and places — what he did and what his associates did to create the maximum amount of disorder and dislocation in the shipping industries of the United States and other ‘capitalist’ countries. Here is his own summary: —
‘Stalin’s power on the seven seas had developed by 1932 into a vast maze of imposing façades and underground passages. This far-flung dominion waged propaganda campaigns, maintained numerous smuggling rings, ran schools tor agitators and wreckers, initiated mass strikes, organized mass sabotage, instigated naval mutinies, engaged in various forms of espionage, carried out assassinations, employed crews of expert kidnapers, and operated prison ships disguised as merchantmen.’
And this is not mere declamation unsupported by facts. The author describes the mutiny on the Dutch liner Rotterdam, outlines his own technique as a distributor of Communist literature in the Western ports of America, tells how the international Moscow-controlled seamen’s union for which he worked tied up the port of Hamburg and instigated a Dutch shipping strike and a mutiny on a Dutch warship in the East Indies. He men tions Americans who worked with him in Hamburg, the centre of the Communist seamen’s union until Hitler came into power, the Negro James ford and a waterfront gangster, George Mink.
The kind of Communist activity in which he has been engaged, according to his own story, has nothing whatever to do with intellectual criticism of the capitalist system or arguments about the pros and cons of Marx’s theory of surplus value. It is far outside the bounds of the most liberal conception of freedom of speech and opinion. It is plain downright criminality, especially intolerable in a time of national emergency, and it should be stamped out — by legal means, of course, but promptly and effectively.
Any such book raises the difficult question of the personal reliability of the author, but there are two points about this book which indicate that it deserves serious consideration. The political comment clicks; the author obviously is familiar with the history of the German Communist movement and with the various twists of the policy of the Communist International. And in the book there is a minimum of moralizing, and a maximum of factual detail.
Mr. Valtin offers some interesting comparisons of the Soviet Gay-Pay-Oo and the German Gestapo. He recognizes two advantages for the Communist organization. It is older and more experienced; and it has a greater variety of foreign agents to draw on, whereas the Gestapo is largely limited to the use of Germans. The latter, however, according to the author, possesses the traditional German trait of meticulous, painstaking attention to detail. It is a beast with the brains of an engineer.
One of the strongest impressions which one obtains from the book is that of the appalling prevalence of state-subsidized gangsterism in the world today. Imagine Scarface Al Capone endowed with unlimited state power and one has a fair picture of the secret police organizations which are omnipotent in the Soviet Union, in Germany, and in many other European countries today.
Here is a formidable challenge to the normally easygoing and slow judicial procedure of a democratic country. Mr. Valtin’s description of the underworld jungle of international gangsterism that has grown up in the wake of the totalitarian state is the most valuable work of its kind since the publication of the reminiscences of the fugitive Soviet intelligence officer Krivitzky.
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