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Spartacist English edition No. 63

Winter 2012-2013

Fred Zierenberg, 1949–2012

The following is reprinted from the press of the Spartacist League/U.S., Workers Vanguard (No. 995, 3 February 2012).

Our beloved comrade Fred Zierenberg died in Berlin of brain cancer on January 19, two weeks before his 63rd birthday. Fred fought for 35 years as a communist cadre and leader of our party. At the time of his death, he was a member of the International Executive Committee of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) and of the Central Committee of the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany (SpAD). All the sections of our international feel pain and sorrow at Fred’s death. Our thoughts are with his wife and comrade, Birgit, and their best friend, Wolf.

Fred was born 3 February 1949 in West Berlin, NATO’s front-line city in the Cold War. His parents were metal workers. Like thousands of students and working-class youth, he was politicized in the 1960s during a wave of radicalization spurred in large part by the May 1968 general strike in France and revulsion against the U.S. war in Vietnam. In Germany, this layer of youth began to reject the anti-communism of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). But those in search of a path to genuine Marxism in Germany were hindered by the complete break in revolutionary continuity that was precipitated by the Nazi destruction of the German workers movement. Trotskyist cadre in Europe were killed, imprisoned or driven underground by the Nazis, as well as being targets of the Stalinists. As a result, developments in the Trotskyist movement internationally from 1933 to 1945 were not accessible to those emerging from the wreckage of Nazi Germany. Nor were Trotsky’s writings widely available.

Toward the end of 1968, Fred and other youth coalesced into a group that became the International Communists of Germany (IKD) and its affiliated Communist Youth Organization (KJO). In his early twenties, Fred became a leader of the KJO, which at times mobilized thousands of students and working-class youth. The IKD/KJO were formed in opposition to the policy of deep entrism into the SPD that had been championed by the Pabloist United Secretariat of Ernest Mandel. In the course of making a complete break from liquidationist Pabloism, which rejects the necessity of building independent Trotskyist parties worldwide, Fred was won over to the Spartacist tendency’s fight for the rebirth of the Fourth International. Fred also had to break from the idea, shared by much of the left, that the SPD was a capitalist party, becoming convinced of Lenin’s analysis that it is a bourgeois workers party. He came to understand that the strategic task of revolutionaries in Germany is to split the proletarian base of the SPD, a historic mass party of the working class, from its pro-capitalist leadership.

In 1975 Fred became a sympathizer of the Trotskyist League of Germany (TLD), a predecessor of the SpAD. After joining in 1977, he made decisive contributions to building the German section and forging our international tendency, helping to restore revolutionary continuity in Germany by bridging the gap in knowledge about the Marxists of the 19th century and those of the early 20th. In 1979, he became a full member of the TLD’s Central Committee. Later, as an International Executive Committee member, he also intervened into key political fights in other sections, especially in France, where he lived and worked in the mid 1980s. Fred also worked closely with the Spartacist Group of Poland, playing a central role in advancing the Marxist education of our comrades in Warsaw.

At a January 1980 student government teach-in on Afghanistan at Frankfurt University, Fred suffered a near-fatal knife wound to his back when Maoists and reactionary Islamists staged a deadly attack on TLD comrades and sympathizers. The prior month, the Soviet Army had intervened into Afghanistan at the invitation of the left-nationalist Afghan government to prevent a CIA-backed Islamic fundamentalist takeover of the country. Uniquely on the left, our party forthrightly declared, “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! Extend the social gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan peoples!” During Fred’s months-long recovery, there was a huge outpouring of protest internationally against the cowardly attack, including from dozens of trade unionists.

A key to becoming a Marxist revolutionary in Germany is breaking free of the pervasive view that the entire German people—regardless of class—were responsible for the Nazis, World War II and the Holocaust. Fred, along with other comrades in the SpAD and ICL, fought for years to arm our German section against this lie of “collective guilt.” In a 2005 educational, he explained that “collective guilt” is a central ideological means used by the German bourgeoisie, the SPD and the Greens to “let those who are really guilty off the hook: the German bourgeoisie, the ruling class at that time and today.”

At the ICL’s Second International Conference in 1992, Fred gave a presentation on the fight for the continuity of the Fourth International, in which he emphasized the destructive role of Pabloism in Germany. He dedicated his last two years to deepening his study of the history of German Trotskyism, especially that of our tendency. Fred sought to make comprehensible, particularly to younger comrades, the debates within post-war German Trotskyism and how and why he came to Spartacist politics.

In November 2009, shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer, Fred was the main reporter at an SpAD day school in Berlin focusing on our fight in 1989-90 against capitalist counterrevolution in the East German deformed workers state. This struggle for the revolutionary reunification of Germany represented the largest-ever deployment of our forces internationally, and Fred was part of its leadership. Printed in Spartakist No. 181 (January 2010), his talk concludes, “Our banner is unsullied. We say that we are the party of the Russian Revolution, which means: We have maintained the continuity of the Bolshevik program of Lenin and we strive to apply it in class struggles. Our task is to reforge the Fourth International, the world party of socialist revolution.”

Fred was loved and respected for his breadth of knowledge as well as his humor, warm humanity and integrity. There can be no better tribute to Fred than to continue the struggle to which he devoted his life: the building of an internationalist revolutionary workers party.


English Spartacist No. 63

ESp 63

Winter 2012-2013


Fake-Trotskyist Poseurs Promote Anti-Bolshevik Tract

Bourgeois Liberalism vs. the October Revolution

A Review of The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd, by Alexander Rabinowitch


Marxism and Bourgeois Parliamentarism

Why We Reject the “Constituent Assembly” Demand


Letter by Fyodor Dingelstedt


Recycling the Second International

The Neo-Kautskyites


Larissa Reissner on Trotsky’s Red Army

The Battle of Svyazhsk, a Revolutionary Legend

(Women and Revolution pages)


Fred Zierenberg, 1949–2012