Marinus van der Lubbe (1934) Proletarian or Provocateur?

by Paul Mattick

Alongside many truths about Nazi terror, the ‘Brown Book’ on the Reichstag fire (published by the Third International) also contains the claim that Marinus van der Lubbe is a tool of the Hitler movement. The only evidence adduced is van der Lubbe’s alleged homosexuality, as if the Nazi leaders would have been in need of a prole who had been unemployed for years to act as a homosexual partner for them. The Nazis ought surely to have had enough ‘decent’ people in their own ranks for such purposes. Yet the CP [Communist Party] hacks have even fabricated van der Lubbe’s homosexuality. The entire body of evidence they present is made up of lies from A to Z, and yet this forms the central focus of their entire line of argument.

Marinus van der Lubbe was a member of the Group of International Communists in Holland until November 1932. He was aware of the parliamentary treason of the SPD [Social-Democratic Party of Germany] and the parliamentary cretinism of the KPD [Communist Party of Germany]. He observed how fascism developed in Germany, and how the workers’ parties did nothing to resist it. Shortly before the seizure of power, the SPD and the KPD attempted to deter workers from the actual struggle by recommending that workers settle accounts with the fascists at the polls. Ballots were supposed to prevent revolution. When Hitler’s troops demonstrated in front of the Karl-Liebknecht-Haus, the KPD wrote leaflets: “Workers, respond to them on 5 March, vote for the Communists!” The atmosphere was one of civil war; it drew van der Lubbe, the revolutionary, to Germany. Yet the workers’ parties did everything possible to dodge this civil war and thus prepared the way for defeat. On the eve of the establishment of fascism’s political power, the workers’ leaders had nothing to recommend other than parliamentary fraud. As a protest against this fraud, van der Lubbe set fire to the Reichstag. He did so to signal that the way forward is not the ballot box, but revolution. To signal that an end must be put to parliamentary fraud.

The Nazis lie: “van der Lubbe works for the KPD.” Nobody believes them. The CP bigwigs and apparatchiks lie: “van der Lubbe is a Nazi provocateur.” And many workers believe this fraud. The CP bigwigs and apparatchiks don’t have any actual evidence for this slanderous accusation, but what does that matter? They have a paper to print. First off, van der Lubbe is a Nazi agent for them, then he is bribed by Deterding1 in order to force the Nazis to break off trade relations with the Russian Petroleum Trust: each new claim contradicts an earlier one. Yet what kind of a peculiar provocateur is van der Lubbe? He omitted to ensure that papers demonstrating the guilt of the leaders of the KPD or the SDP were found on him. Nor did he make any statements giving the Nazi police the opportunity to make further arrests.

It is beyond doubt that the Nazis had – and still have – hundreds of agents and informers within the ranks of the KPD and the SPD. Why, then, did they choose a simple Dutch worker, a council communist – and thus an avowed opponent of the parliamentary workers’ movement – to commit this act? What a strange provocateur, who declares again and again “I acted alone”, even though if he were an agent he would surely have been instructed to inculpate others! Despite the fact that he was allegedly hired to place the blame on the KPD for the Reichstag fire, he emphasised repeatedly that he did not know the CP defendants and denied any connection with the KPD. The allegations made by the CP against van der Lubbe do not concur with the facts. They cannot, because they are shameless lies.

Why do “red journalists” of the Second and Third Internationals embroil themselves in such contradictions? They want to show the world that a communist would not do such a thing as setting the Reichstag on fire. Only a Nazi would be capable of such a thing. They want to show the bourgeoisie that the KPD in reality aims to do nothing other than to act as a stooge for the bourgeoisie. For the Third International, van der Lubbe must be a Nazi; for the Nazis, he must be a communist. The Nazis demonstrate to the world–in the person of van der Lubbe–the peril of Bolshevism in order to solicit understanding for their imperialist rearmament. The Third International demonstrates to the world–in the person of van der Lubbe–that the Nazis are murderous firebrands, in order to weaken the German position. The entire process around the Reichstag fire reflects nothing other than preparations for war, where one bloc of states is lined up against other blocs of states. Germany does not yet belong to the Russian bloc of states–therefore van der Lubbe is an agent of the murderer, Göring. Within a narrower framework, the parliamentarians regard van der Lubbe’s action as an attack on themselves, on the negotiators, on the leaders. With unerring instinct, the bigwigs and apparatchiks recognize in van der Lubbe the man of a world inimical to them. From among the millions of passive voters, a single worker has struck a blow at the parliamentary scoundrels.

Workers! Do not allow yourselves to be lied to constantly by a corrupt gang of hacks! Demand proof of the claim that van der Lubbe was a member of Mordsturm 33, and that Deterding promised him 25,000 Reichsmark as a reward!2 If they assert this, they must produce evidence, and if they cannot prove it, then ram their lies back down their throats! Whatever one thinks of the merits (or lack of them) of van der Lubbe’s action, it was an act of conviction, and one for which van der Lubbe takes responsibility. The signal that he wanted to send was too weak to illuminate with this lightning strike the entire deceit of the old, degenerate workers’ movement. But the signal was given by a revolutionary.

If the lie about van der Lubbe being a Nazi agent cannot be maintained, you will be told that he must be made responsible for the Hitler terror which began after the fire. But when they say this, they will be merely adding a new lie to the old ones. The Nazis were already engaged in terror before the fire. They had already stated publicly that they would crush any workers who opposed them. The number of murdered workers had already risen sharply before the fire. Fascist terror was not a consequence of van der Lubbe’s action; on the contrary, his act aimed to end the terror against the working class. To attribute the defeat of the German proletariat to van der Lubbe’s action is merely an attempt to conceal their own bankruptcy.

At the beginning of the Reichstag fire trial, the Neue Weltbühne wrote that the danger existed that the defendants Torgler, Dimitrov, and others might be poisoned, and that one should therefore not be surprised if these defendants were to state things which were unexpected3. That one could apply the same logic to the case of van der Lubbe–as in fact occurred–did not occur to these gentlemen. For this was a provocateur who would testify in the interest of the tribunal; he did not need to be poisoned at all, given that he had been paid off. The intelligentsia and the CP press merely made fun of van der Lubbe’s symptoms of poisoning: van der Lubbe was all of a sudden transformed by them into a halfwit. And yet, only van der Lubbe’s poisoning could be significant for the tribunal. His testimony exonerating the other defendants needed to be undermined. Van der Lubbe could not be permitted to speak: otherwise the evidence against Torgler and his comrades would have forfeited the last semblance of credibility.

The CP knows that van der Lubbe is not a Nazi agent, but it will not retract its lies even after he has been executed. Following months of hearings which demolished the entire edifice of lies which the CP had built up around van der Lubbe, the Rundschau–a CP organ–still had the temerity on 30 November to write that “Lubbe has received an order to abort his previous tactic of remaining silent.”4 Van der Lubbe’s demand to bring an end to this Leipzig farce was commented on by the ` as follows: “Lubbe demands that the Fascists honour the promises they made to him. He insists on the death penalty because he believes that the promises made to him–namely that he would be allowed to walk free after the trial–will be honoured.” If van der Lubbe was originally an agent whose task was to denounce the CP defendants, now he is an agent because he refuses to do so. When van der Lubbe declares before the tribunal that “no one should believe that Torgler and the Bulgarians are guilty”, the Rundschau writes: “At this stage of the proceedings, Lubbe seems to have played his role particularly ineptly.” This is then followed by a curious sentence: “It is also possible that Lubbe’s sudden liveliness is to be attributed to the fact that he had eaten less the previous day, and that consequently the amounts of poison mixed in his food did not take full effect this time.” Why should a man who acts on the Nazis’ orders, who always does precisely what they want him to, be poisoned by them as well?

What gullibility does the Rundschau assume on the part of its readers? What gullibility do the CP and the Third International assume on the part of their supporters? Such brazenness eclipses that of even the Nazis.

Workers, smash this filthy fraud! Force the Communist Party to provide you with evidence that van der Lubbe acted as a provocateur! Do not allow the bigwigs and apparatchiks to play with either the life or the honour of revolutionaries! Van der Lubbe is no agent of the Nazis; on the contrary, he is a class-conscious worker with whom the revolutionary proletariat ought to feel an affinity.


Originally published in: Der Freidenker, No. 5/6, 4 January 1934, p. 7, New Ulm, Minnesota, U.S.A. Mattick wrote this essay in 1934 on behalf of the “Comité International pour la Défense et la Réhabilitation de Marinus Van der Lubbe” [Paris]