Saturday, August 29, 2015

Marxism in a Lost Century: A Biography of Paul Mattick by Gary Roth (Brill Publishing 2015)

The Charlottenburg branch (Mattick’s) organised the production of the group’s monthly paper, Rote Jugend [Red Youth]. Mattick contributed short pieces and progressively turned his attention to writing. When he withdrew from view, friends assumed it was because he was composing something new. Radicalism meant that politics and creativity were pursued simultaneously, that protest and expression prefigured one another. The youth group publicised open forums through posters pasted on the sides of buildings. If a wall was wide enough, they displayed their entire newspaper. Small teams set out at night, careful not to get caught. Two people would watch for the police at the respective corners while someone else carried the glue pot and another the poster. Wheat paste (flour dissolved in water) was inexpensive, easy to mix, and nearly permanent as an adhesive. Mattick especially liked the easy-going camaraderie where everyone got along.

Financing their paper was a huge challenge. KAPD members like Max Hoelz and Karl Plättner, whose exploits received considerable attention from the bourgeois press during the Kapp Putsch, served as models. Hoelz mobilised a small army of 2500 to help with heists at banks, factory pay windows, and post offices, even commandeering a tank at one point. Plättner, a KAPD member from the beginning, attracted as many as 100 armed adherents, although the core group included fifteen-odd people who weaved in and out of participation. Members received regular wages in order to support their families and also to prevent personal gain and plundering as motivations. Inordinately scrupulous as to the use of force, they often threatened physical harm but never actually committed it. Couriers transferred expropriated funds between the field operations and KAPD colleagues in Berlin, with official receipts and proper paperwork to conduct the transactions. These radical leftists adhered to standard business practices whenever they handled money. Other KAPDists attempted to bomb Berlin’s Siegessäule, the tall victory column erected to celebrate Prussia’s crushing of the Paris Commune (and defeat of the French), albeit without success.

Class-conscious crimes aimed at the business world, the government, and the possessions of the upper and middle classes were considered proper and legitimate activities. The radicals determined from whom and how they would steal by means of a politicised ethics which guided the choice of targets and the possible uses for the proceeds. Mattick teamed up with friends to sneak into the common areas of apartment buildings where they absconded with things like the brass rods used to hold the staircase carpeting in place. Mattick’s expertise in metal recycling, learned during the war, was put to good use. They discovered, though, that much of the brass wasn’t real brass, only brass-plated. With the platinum lightning rods they took off rooftops, they uncovered something similar. Many of them were counterfeit, affording the buildings no protection whatsoever. For all the hoopla about expropriations, all they had done was to mimic everyday occurrences within the business arena. In the real world, theft and commerce were complimentary phenomena. At Siemens, Mattick carted lead, brass, and copper through the factory gates to sell to the salvage dealers, his contribution to the rampant employee theft during this period.

No comments: