The 18th of June marked the 140th birth anniversary of the great Bulgarian communist, leader of the Communist International from 1935 to 1943, Georgi Dimitrov. As a tribute to his memory we publish his famous defense speech during the Reichstag fire trial in Leipzig, when he refused counsel and proudly defended himself against his Nazi accusers.
“I am defending my Communist ideology, my ideals”
In Defense of Communism | June 19, 2022
Dimitrov: By virtue of Article 258 of the Criminal Procedure Code I am entitled to speak both as defender and as accused.
President: You have the right to the last word and you can make use of that right now.
Dimitrov: By virtue of the Criminal Procedure Code I have the right to argue with the prosecution and then to deliver my final speech.
My Lords Judges, Gentlemen for the Prosecution and the Defence. At the very beginning of this trial three months ago as an accused man I addressed a letter to the President of the Court. I wrote that I regretted that my attitude in Court should lead to collisions with the judges, but I categorically refuted the suggestion which was made against me that I had misused my right to put questions and my right to make statements in order to serve propagandist ends. Because I was wrongly accused before this Court I naturally used all the means at my disposal to defend myself against false charges.
‘I acknowledge, I wrote, that several of my questions had not been as apposite from the point of view of time and formulation as I could have wished. May I explain this by referring to the fact that I am not acquainted with German law and further that this is the first time in my life in which I have played a part in judicial proceedings of this character. If I had enjoyed the services of a lawyer of my own choice I should doubtless have known how to avoid these misunderstandings so harmful to my own defence.
Permit me to recall that all my, requests for the admission as my defending counsel of M.M. Dechev, Moro-Giafferi, Campinchi, Torres, Grigorov, Leo Gallagher from the United States and Dr. Lehman from Saarbrücken were one after another rejected by the Supreme Court for various rcasons. Mr. Dechev, as is now apparent, was even refused an entrance ticket.
I have no personal distrust of Dr. Paul Teichert either as a man or as a lawyer, but in the present conditions in Germany I cannot have the necessary confidence in his official defence. For this reason I am attempting to defend myself, a course in which I have been sometimes guilty of taking steps legally inapposite.
In the interests of my defence before the Supreme Court and also, as I am convinced, in the interests of the normal course of the trial, I now apply to the Court for the last time to perinit the lawyer, Marcel Willard, engaged by my sister, to take part in my defence.
If the Court also rejects this application, then the only course remaining open for me is to defend myself as best I can alone.’
Now that the Court has rejected my last application, I have decided to defend myself, I want neither the honey nor the poison of a defence which is forced upon me. During the whole course of these proceedings I have defended myself.
Naturally I do not feel myself in any way bound by the speech made by Dr. Teichert in my defence. Decisive for my case is only that which I say and have said myself to the Court. I do not wish to offend Torgler, particularly as, in my opinion, his defending counsel has already offended him enough, but as far as I am concerned I would sooner be sentenced to death by this Court though innocent, than be acquitted by the sort of defence put forward by Dr. Sack in favour of Torgler.
President (interrupting Dimitrov): It is none of your business to criticize us here.
Dimitrov: I admit that my tone is hard and grim. The struggle of my life has always been hard and grim. My tone is frank and open. I am used to calling a spade a spade. I am no lawyer appearing before this Court in the mere way of his profession.
I am defending myself, an accused Communist.
I am defending my political honour, my honour as a revolutionary.
I am defending my Communist ideology, my ideals.
I am defending the content and significance of my whole life.
For these reasons every ward which I say in this Court is a part of me, each phrase is the expression of my deep indignation against the unjust accusation, against the putting of this anti-Communist crime, the burning of the Reichstag, to the account of the Communists.
I have often been reproached for not taking the highest Court in Germany seriously. That is absolutely unjustified.
It is true that the supreme law for me as a Communist is the programme of the Communist International, the supreme court – the Control Commission of the Communist International.
But to me as an accused man the Supreme Court of the Reich is something to be considered in all seriousness – riot only in that its members possess high legal qualifications, but also because it is a highly important organism of state power, of the ruling order of society: a body Which can dispose of the highest penalties. I can say with an easy conscience that everything which I have stated to this Court and everything which I have spoken to the public is the truth and nothing but the truth. As regards my Party, which has been forced underground, I have refused to make any statements. I have always spoken with seriousness and from my inner convictions.
President: I shall not permit you to indulge in Communist propaganda in this Court. You have persisted in it. If you do not refrain I shall have to prevent you from speaking.
Dimitrov: I must demy absolutely the suggestion that I have pursued propagandist aims. It may be that my defence before this Court has had a certain propagandist effect. It is also possible that my conduct before this Court may serve as an example for other accused Communists. But those were not the aims of my defence. My aims were these: to refute the indictment and to refute the accusation that Dimitrov, Torgler, Popov, and Tanev, that the German Communist Party and the Communist International had anything to do with the fire.
I know that no one in Bulgaria believes in our alleged complicity in the Reichstag fire. I know that everywhere else abroad hardly anyone believes that we have anything to do with it. But in Germany other conditions prevail and in Germany it is not impossible that people might believe such extraordinary assertions. For this reason I desired to prove that the. Communist Party had and has nothing whatever to do with the crime.
If the question of propaganda is to be raised, then I may fairly say that many utterances made within this Court were of a propagandist character. The speeches here of Goebbels and Goering had an indirect propagandist effect favourable to Communism, but no one can reproach them for their speeches having produced such results (commotion and laughter in court).
I have not only been roundly abused by the press – something to which I am completely indifferent – but my Bulgarian people have also, through me, been characterized as savage and barbarous. I have been called a suspicious character from the Balkans, and a wild Bulgarian, I cannot allow such things to pass in silence.
It is true that Bulgarian fascism is savage and barbarous. But the Bulgarian workers and peasants, the Bulgarian people’s intelligentsia are by no means savage or barbarous.
It is true that the standard of life is not so high in the Balkans as elsewhere in Europe, but it is false to say that the people of Bulgaria are politically or mentally on a lower scale than the peoples of other countries. Our political struggle, our political aspirations are no less lofty than those of other peoples. A people which lived for five hundred years under a foreign yoke without losing its language and its national character, our working class and peasantry who have fought and are fighting against Bulgarian fascism and for Communism – such a people is not savage and barbarous. Only fascism in Bulgaria is savage and barbarous. But I ask you, in whal counIry does not fascistn bear these qualities?
President (interrupting Dimitrov): Are you attempting to hint at the political situation in Germany?
Dimitrov (with an ironical smile): Of course not, Mr. President…. At a period of history when the German Emperor Karl V vowed that he would talk German only to his horses, at a time when the nobility and intellectual circles of Germany wrote only Latin and were ashamed of their mother tongue, in ‘barbarous’ Bulgaria the apostles Cyril and Methodius invented and spread the use of the old’ Bulgarian script.
The Bulgarian people have fought obstinately and with all their strength against foreign oppression. Therefore I protest here and now against these attacks on my people. I have no cause to be ashamed of being Bulgariain, in fact I am proud to say that I am the son of the Bulgarian working class.
I must preface my discussion of the main issues with this statement. Dr. Teichert has seen fit to accuse us of being responsible for our own plight and position here. In reply I must say that much time has elapsed since March 9, 1933, when we were arrested, to the beginning of this trial. Any suspicious circumstance could have been thoroughly investigated during that period. During the preliminary inquiries I spoke with officials, members of the investigating committee concerning the Reichstag fire. Those officials assured me that we Bulgarians were not responsible for the burning of the Reichstag. We were accused solely of living with false passports, under adopted names, without registration forms and so on.
President: This is new matter. It has not been Mentioned in the proceedings hitherto and therefore you have no right to raise it at this stage.
Dimitrov: Mr. President, during that time every circumstance could have been investigated in order promptly to clear us of that charge. The indictment declares that ‘Dimitrov, Popov and Taney have alleged that they were mere political fugitives from Bulgaria but that it must be considered as proved that they were in Germany for the purpose of illegal political activities.’ They are, as the indictment further declares: ’emissaries of the Communist Party in Moscow, sent to Germany to prepare an armed insurrection.’
Page 83 of the indictment points out that although Dimitrov declares that he was not in Berlin from February 25 to 28 this does not materially affect the position and could not free him from the charge of being implicated in the burning of the Reichstag. Complicity, continues the indictment, is proved not only by the evidence of Hellmer, but by other facts…
President (interrupting): You must not read the whole of the indictment here. The Court is quite familiar with it.
Dimitrov: As far as that goes, I must state that three- quarters of what the counsel for the prosecution and defence have said here was generally notorious long ago. But that fact did not prevent them from bringing it forward again (commotion and laughter in Court). Hellmer stated that Dimitrov and van der Lubbe were together in the Bayernhof restaurant. Now permit me to refer again to the indictment which says:
‘Although Dimitrov was not caught red-handed at the scene of the crime, he nevertheless tock part in the preparations for the burning of the Reichstag. He went to Munich in order to supply himself with an alibi. The Communist pamphlets found in Dimitrov’s possession prove that he took part in the Communist movement in Germany.’
That is the basis of this precipitate, this abortive indictment.
President (interrupting Dimitrov): You must not use this expression with respect to the indictment.
Dimitrov: I shall choose another expression.
President: In any case you must not use such disrespectful terms.
Dimitrov: I shall return in another context to the methods of the prosecution and the indictment.
The character of this trial has been determined by the theory that the burning of the Reichstag was an act of the German Communist Party, even of world Communism. This anti-Communist deed, the Reichstag fire, was actually blamed upon the Communists and declared to be the signal for an armed Communist insurrection, a beacon fire for the overthrow of the present German Constitution. An anti-communist character has been given to the whole proceedings by the use of this theory. The indictment runs:
‘…The charge rests on the basis that this criminal outrage was to be a signal, a beacon for the enemies of the State who were then to launch their attack on the German Reich, to destroy it and to set up in its place a dictatorship of the proletariat, a Soviet State, at the orders of the Third International…’
My Lords, this is not the first time that such an outrage has been falsely attributed to Communists. I cannot here enumerate all the instances, but I would remind you of a railway outrage committed at Jüterbog in Germany some time ago by a certain mentally-deranged adventurer and agent provocateur. For weeks the newspapers declared both in Germany and abroad that the outrage had been committed by ‘the German Communist Party, that it was a terroristic act of Communists. Then it transpired that a mentally afflicted adventurer, Matushka, was the author oil the crime. He was arrested and convicted.
Let me recall yet another instance, the assassination of the French President by Gorgulov. In this case too the press of many lands proclaimed for weeks that the hand of Communism had shown itself. Gorgulov was pronounced to be a Communist and a Soviet agent. And what was the truth? The outrage was the work of Russian White-guards, Gorgulov was an agent provocateur who aimed at sapping the friendly relations between France and the Soviet Union.
I would also remind you of the outrage in the Sofia Cathedral. This attempt was riot organized by the Bulgarian Communist Party, but the Bulgarian Communist Party was persecuted on account of it. Under this false accusation two thousand workmen, peasants and intellectuals were brutally murdered by the fascists under the pretext that the Cathedral had been blown up by the Communists. That act of provocation, the blowing up of the Sofia Cathedral, was actually organized by the Bulgarian police. As early as 1920 the Chief of the Sofia police, Proutkin, during the railway strike organized himself a bomb attempt as a means of provoking the Bulgarian workers.
President (interrupting): This has nothing to do with this trial.
Dimitrov: The police official Heller spoke here in his evidence of Communist propaganda by arson, etc. I asked him whether he had ever heard of arson having been committed by capitalists in order to get insurance moneys and of Communists having been blamed for them. On October 5, 1933, the VöIkischer Beobachter wrote that the Stettin police….
President: The article in question was not referred to at any time during these proceedings.
Dimitrov (attempts to continue).
President: Do not dare to refer here to matters which have not been previously referred to in the course of the, trial.
Dimitrov: A whole series of fires….
President: (again interrupts).
Dimitrov: It was dealt with during the preliminary proceedings, because the Communists were accused of having been responsible for a whole series of fires which turned out to have been committed by the owners of the buildings themselves ‘in order to make employment.’ I should like also for a moment to refer to the question of forged documents. Numbers of such forgeries have been made use of against the working class. Their name is legion. There was, for example, the notorious Zinoviev letter, a letter which never emanated from Zinoviev, and which was a deliberate forgery. The British Conservative Party made effective use of the forgery against the working class. I would like to remind you also of a series of forgeries which have played a part in German politics….
President: That lies outside the scope of these proceedings.
Dimitrov: It was alleged here that the burning of the Reichstag was to be the signal for the breaking out of an armed insurrection. Attempts were made to justify this theory after the following fashion:
‘Goering declared before the Court that the German Communist Party was compelled to incite the masses and to undertake something when Hitler came to power. He proclaimed that the Communists were forced to act then or never. He stated that the Communist Party had for years been appealing to the masses against the National Socialist Party and that, when the latter attained power, the Communists had no alternative but to do something immediately or not at all. The Public Prosecutor attempted more clearly and ingenuously to formulate this hypothesis.’
President: I will not permit you to insult the Public Prosecutor.
Dimitrov: The statement which Goering as chief accuser made was developed by the Public Prosecutor in this Court, Dr. Werner declared:
‘That the Communist Party had been forced into a situation in which it must either capitulate or give battle although preparations for a fight had not been fully completed. In the circumstances that was its only alternative: either to surrender its aims without a struggle or take a risk, dare a hazard which might alter the circumstances in its favour. It might fail, but its situation even then would be no worse than having surrendered without firing a shot.’
This thesis, presented by the prosecution and laid at the door of the Communists, is certainly no Communist thesis. It shows that the enemies of the German Communist Party do not know it much. He who desires to fight his enemy well, must learn to know him. Prohibition of the Party, dissolution of the mass organizations, loss of legality are serious blows indeed for the revolutionary movement. But this by no means signifies that all is lost.
In February 1933 the Communist Party was faced with the threat of suppression, the Communist press had been prohibited and the destruction of the Party as a legal organization was momentarily expected. These things the German Communist Party knew well. They were pointed out in pamphlets and newspapers. The German Communist Party was well aware of the fact that although the Communist Parties of many other lands were illegal they nevertheless continued to exist and to carry on their activities. Such is the position in Poland, Bulgaria, Italy and many other lands.
From my own experience I am able to speak of the position in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Communist Party there was prohibited after the uprising of 1923, but has nevertheless continued to exist and to work. Despite great sacrifices it has in time become more powerful than in 1923, prior to its suppression. Anyone with a critical faculty can appreciate the importance of this phenomenon.
Given the necessary situation, the German Communist Party, although illegal, can still carry out a successful revolution. The experience of the Russian Communist Party proves this. Despite its illegality and the violence of the persecution to which it was subjected, that Party won over the working class in the end and came to power at its head. The leaders of the German Communist Party could not possibly think that with the suppression of their Party all would be lost; that at any given moment the question was new or never; that the alternative was insurrection or doom. The leaders of the German Communist Party could not have entertained such foolish thoughts. Naturally they knew perfectly well that illegality would entail tremendous losses, that it would mean selfsacrifice and heroism, but they also knew that the revolutionary forces of the Party would increase again and that one day it would be able to accomplish its final tasks successfully. For these reasons the possibility of the German Communist Party seeking to indulge in any hazards at any moment must be rigorously excluded. The Communists fortunately are not so near-sighted as their opponents; neither do they lose their heads in difficult situations.
It must be added that, like every other Communist Party, the German Communist Party is a section of the Communist International. What is the Communist International? Permit me to quote from its programme.
Its first paragraph runs as follows:
The Communist International, an international association of workers, is the association of the Communist Parties in individual lands; it is a united world Communist Party, the leader and organizer of the universal revolutionary movement of the proletariat, the bearer of the principles and aims of Communism. Therefore, the Communist International fights to win the majority of the working class and the broad sections of the peasantry for the establishment of the world dictatorship of the proletariat, for the creation of a world union of Socialist Soviet Republics, for the complete abolition of classes and for the selling up of Socialism as the first stage towards a Communist society.
In this Party of the Communist International, which numbers million s of members all over the world, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is the strongest single unit. It is the governing Party of the Soviet Union, the largest State in the world. The Communist International, the world Communist Party, assesses the political situation together with the Communist Parties of all countries.
The Communist International to which all its sections are directly responsible is a world Party, not a mere organization of conspirators. Such a world Party does not play with insurrection and revolution. Such a Party cannot officially, say one thing to its millions of adherents and at the same time in secret do exactly the opposite. Such a Party , my dear Dr. Sack, does not go in for double book-keeping.
Dr. Sack: All right. Carry on with your Communist propaganda.
Dimitrov: Such a Party proceeds with all seriousness and with a full awareness of its responsibility – when it approaches the millions of the proletariat and when it adopts its decisions concerning tactics and immediate tasks. Permit me to quote from the decisions of the Twelfth Plenary Session of the Executive Committee of the Cominunist International, for these decisions were quoted in Court and I therefore have a right to read them out.
According to these decisions the chief tasks of the German Communist Party were:
‘To mobilize the masses of the toilers in defence of their day-to-day demands, against the robber offensive of monopoly capital, against fascism, against the emergency decrees, against nationalism and chauvinism and, by developing political and economic strikes and the struggle for proletarian internationalism, as well as by demonstrations, to bring the masses to the point of a political general strike; to win over the main sections of the Social Democratic workers by overcoming the weakness in the trade union activity of the party. The main slogan which the German Communist Party must put in the forefront, against the slogan of the fascist dictatorship, the Third Reich and the slogan of the Social Democratic Party, the Weimar Republic, must be the slogan of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic, Soviet Socialist Germany, which in itself contains the possibility of tile voluntary adherence of Austria and other German lands.’
Mass work, mass activity, mass opposition and the united front – no adventurism – these are the alpha and omega of Communist tactics.
A copy, of the appeal of the Executive Committee of the Communist International was found in my, possession. I take it that I may, read from it. Two points in it are of particular importance. The appeal speaks of demonstrations in various countries in connexion with the events in Germany. It further speaks of the tasks of the Communist Party in Germany in its fight against the National Socialist terror and for the defence of the organizations and the press of the working class.
This appeal reads in part as follows:
‘The main obstacle on the road to the establishment of a united front of the and Social Democratic workers was and is the policy of cooperation with the bourgeoisie carried out by the Social Democratic parties, which have now exposed the international proletariat to the blows of the class enemy. This policy of co-operation with the bourgeoisie known as the so-called policy of the ‘lesser evil’ has in fact led to the triumph of fascist reaction in Germany.
The Communist International and the Communist parties in all countries have repeatedly expressed their readiness for a joint struggle with the Social Democratic workers against the onslaught of capital and political reaction and against the war peril. It was the Communist parties that organized the common struggle in spite of the opposition of the leaders of the Social Democratic parties which systematically foiled the united front of the working masses.
As early as July 20 last year, after von Papen forced out the Prussian Social Democratic Government, the German Communist Party proposed to the German Social Democratic Party and the All-German Trade Union Association to organize a joint strike against fascism. However, with the approval of the whole Second International, the German Social Democratic Party and the All-German Trade Union Association described the joint strike proposal as a provocation. The German Communist Party reiterated its proposal for united action at the time of Hitler’s advent to power, calling upon the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Party and the leadership of the All-German Trade Union Association to organize united resistance against fascism; this proposal was again rejected. Moreover, when in November last the Berlin transport workers unanimously ‘went on strike against the wage cuts, the Social Democrats foiled the united front of struggle. The history of the international working class movement abounds in similar examples.
The appeal of the Bureau of the Socialist Workers’ International of February 19 this year contains a declaration by the Social Democratic Parties, members of the International, expressing their readiness to establish a united front with the Communists to combat fascist reaction in Germany. This declaration stands in sharp contrast with all former activities of the Socialist International and of the Social Democratic Parties. The entire policy and activity of the Socialist International so far give the Communist International and the Communist Parties grounds to distrust the sincerity of the declaration of the Bureau of the Socialist ‘Workers’ International which makes its proposal at a time when in a number of countries and, above all, in Germany the working class itself is taking the organization of a united front into its own hands.
Nevertheless, in the face of the fascist onslaught on the German working class – an onslaught which is unleashing all the forces of world reaction, the Executive Committee of the Communist International calls upon all the Communist Parties to make yet another attempt to establish a united front with the Social Democratic Nvor trig masses through the Social Democratic Parties. The Executive Committee of the Communist International is making this attempt in the firm conviction that the united front of the working class against the bourgeoisie would repel the onslaught of capital and fascism and would precipitate the inevitable doom of every type of capitalist exploitation.
Due to the peculiar conditions prevailing in the different Countries and to the different specific tasks which the working class in each of these countries is facing, the agreements between the Communist Parties and the Social Democratic Parties for concrete action against the bourgeoisie can best be carried out within the framework of each individual country. That is why the Executive Committee of the Communist International recommends to the Communist Parties to propose joint action against fascism and the onslaught of capital to the respective Central Committees of the Social Democratic Parties, members of the Socialist International. The essential conditions of the Joint struggle against the onslaught of capital and fascism should form the basis of all negotiations to this effect. Without a specific programme of action against the bourgeoisie, any agreement between the parties be directed against the interests of the working class.
The Executive Committee of the Communist International make these proposals before the entire world working class and calls upon all Communist Parties and; above all, upon the German Communist Party to proceed with the immediate establishment of joint action committees both with the Social Democratic workers and the workers of all other trends, without waiting for the results of the negotiations and agreements for joint action with Social Democracy.
By their long struggle the Communists have demonstrated not in words but in practice that they have always stood and will always stand in the front ranks of the struggle for a united front in the class action against the bourgeoisie.
The Executive Committee of the Communist International is confident that the Social Democratic and non-party workers will overcome all obstacles, irrespective of the attitude the leaders of Social Democracy may take with regard to the establishment of a united front, and that together with the Communists they will achieve a united front not in words, but in practice.
Now that German fascism, in order to crush the working class movement in Germany, has organized a monstrous provocation – the setting of the Reichstag on fire, a forged document about an insurrection, etc. – precisely now every worker should realize this class duty in the struggle against the onslaught of capital and of fascist reaction.’
This appeal contains no mention of any immediate struggle for power. Such a task was put forward neither by the German Communist Party, nor by the Communist International. It is of course true that the appeal of the Communist International does not preclude the possibility of armed insurrection.
From this the Court has falsely concluded that, having an armed insurrection as one of its aims, the German Communist Party must necessarily have prepared for an insurrection and worked for its immediate outbreak. But that is illogical, it is untrue, to use no stronger expression. Naturally the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat is the task of all Communist Parties the world over. That is our principle; that is our aim. But that is a definite programme, the realization of which requires the forces not merely of the working class but of the other sections of the working people as well.
Everyone knows that the German Communist Party was in favour of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but that is by no means a point decisive for these proccedings, The point is simply this: was an armed insurrection aimed at the seizure of power actually planned to take place en February 27, 1933, in connexion with the Reichstag fire?
What, my Lords, have been the results of the legal; investigations? The legend that the Reichstag fire was a Communist act has been completely shattered. Unlike some counsels here, I shall not quote much of the evidence. To any person of normal intelligence at least this point is now made completely clear, that the Reichstag fire had nothing whatever to do with any activity of the Communist Party, not only nothing to do with an insurrection, but even nothing to do with a strike, a demonstration or anything of that nature. The legal investigations have proved this up to the hill. The Reichstag fire was not regarded by anyone – I exclude criminals and the mentally deranged – as a signal for insurrection. No one observed any deed, act or attempt at insurrection in connexion with the Reichstag fire. No one had heard then anything of the kind. The very stories of such things expressly appertain to a much later date. At that moment the working class was in a position of defence against the attack of fascism. The German Communist Party was seeking to organize the opposition of the masses in their own defence. But it was proved that the Reichstag fire furnished the occasion and the signal for unleashing the most terrific campaign of suppression against the German working class and its vangguard, the German Communist Party.
It has been proved beyond refutation that the responsible members of the Government did not even consider the possibility of a Communist insurrection on February 27 or 28. Upon this point I put many questions to the witnesses who appeared here. In particular I asked Heller, the notorious Karwahne (laughter in the Court), Frey, Count Helldorf and the police officers such questions. Despite other contradiction, in their evidence, they were all agreed on one thing, that they neither knew ‘nor had heard anything about an imminent Communist insurrection. That indicates that the ruling circles had taken no measures of any kind against the possibility of such an insurrection.
President: A report from the head of the Western Department of the police was submitted, however, to the Court on this Matter.
Dimitrov: The head of the Western Department of the police, in his report, stated that lie was summoned to Goering who gave him verbal instructions concerning the fight against Communism, that is to say, for the suppression of Communist meetings, strikes, demonstrations, election propaganda, etc. But his evidence mentioned no measures, to be taken against the threat of an imminent Communist insurrection.
Yesterday Dr. Seuffert dealt in his speech with the very same point and arrived at the conclusion that no governmental authority was anticipating the outbreak of any insurrection. He referred also to the evidence of Goebbels who stated, whether truly or not is another question, that when he first heard the news of the Reichstag fire he did not believe it.
To this point the Government’s emergency decree of February 28, 1933, provides further proof. It was issued on the morning after the fire. Read the decree – what does it say? It announces the suspension of various articles of the constitution, particularly those guaranteeing the freedom of organization and the press, the inviolability of the person, the immunity of domicile and so forth. That is the essence of the emergency decree, its second paragraph it is an assault on the working class.
President: Not against the workers, but against the Communists.
Dimitrov: I should like to point out that under this emergency decree not only Communists, but also Social Democratic and Christian workmen were arrested and their organizations suppressed. I would like to stress the fact that although this decree was directed chiefly against the Communist Party, it was not directed solely against it. This law, which was necessary for the proclamation of the state of emergency, was directed against all the other political parties and groups as well. It stands in direct organic connexion with the Reichstag fire.
President: If you attack the German Government, I shall deprive you of the right to address the Court.
Dimitrov: In this trial one question has not been at all elucidated.
President: You should address the judges and not the audience, for otherwise your speech might be considered as propaganda.
Dimitrov: One question has not been elucidated, either by the prosecution or by the defending counsel. This omission does not surprise me. For it is a question which must have given them some anxiety. I refer to the question of the political situation in Germany in February 1933 – a matter which I must perforce deal with now. The political situation towards the end of February 1933 was this, that a bitter struggle was taking place within the camp of the National Front!
President: You are again raising matters which I have repeatedly forbidden you to mention.
Dimitrov: I should like to remind the Court of my application that Schleicher, Brüning, von Papen, Hugenberg, Duesterberg, the Vice-Chairman of the Stahlhelm organization, and others, should be summoned as witnesses.
President: The Court rejected the application and you have no right to refer to it again.
Dimitrov: I know that, and more, I know why.
President: It is unpleasant for me continually to have to interrupt you in your closing speech, but you must respect my directions.
Dimitrov: This struggle taking place in the camp of the National Front was connected with the behind-the-scenes struggle in Germany’s leading economic circles. On the one hand was the Krupp-Thyssen circle (the war industry), which for many years past has supported the National Socialists; on the other hand, being gradually pushed into the background, were their opponents.
Thyssen and Krupp wished to establish the principle of absolutism, a political dictatorship under their own personal direction and to substantially depress the living standards of the working class; it was to this end that the crushing of the revolutionary working class was necessary. At the same time the Communist Party was striving to establish a united working class front and to consolidate all forces in resistance to the National Socialist attempts to destroy the working class movement. Part of the Social Democratic workers felt the need of a united front of the working class. They understood it. Many thousands of Social Democratic workers joined the ranks of the German Communist Party. BLit in February and March, the establishment of a united front meant the mobilization of the working class against the predatory drive of the capitalists and the violence of the National Socialists; it certainly did not mean insurrection or preparations for insurrection.
President (interrupting): You have always stressed that your sole interest was the Bulgarian political situation. Your present remarks, however, show that you were also keenly interested in the political situation in Germany.
Dimitrov: Mr. President, you are making an accusation against me. I can only make this reply: as a Bulgarian revolutionary I am interested in the revoiutionary movement all over the world. I am, for instance, interested in the political situation in South America and, although I have never been there, I know perhaps as much about it as I do of German politics. That does not mean that when a government building in South America is burned down I am the culprit. During these legal proceedings I have learned much and, thanks to my political capacity for appreciating things, many details have become clear to me.
The political situation at that time was governed by two chief factors: the first was the effort of the National Socialists to attain power, the second, the counter-factor, was the efforts of the German Communist Party to build up a united working class front. In my view, the accuracy of this has been made abundantly clear during these proceedings.
The National Socialists needed something which would both divert the attention of the people from the difficulties within the National Front and, at the same time, break up the united front of the working class. The ‘National Government’ needed a plausible excuse for its emergency decree of February 28, which abolished the freedom of the press, and of the inviolability of the individual and introduced a system of police persecution, concentration camps and other measures against the Communists.
President (interrupting): Now you have reached the limit, you are dropping hints.
Dimitrov: My only desire is to explain the political situation in Germany on the eve of the fire, as I understand it to have been
President: This Court is no place for unwarranted suggestions against the government and for statements long since refuted.
Dimitrov: The attitude of the working class at this time was a defensive one; the Communist Party , was, therefore, doing its best to organize a united front in spite of the opposition of Wells and Breitscheid who are now raising a hysterical hue and cry abroad.
President: You must proceed to your own defence if you want to, otherwise you will not have sufficient time.
Dimitrov: Once before I stated that I was in accord with the indictment on one point, and now I am compelled to reaffirm my agreement. I allude to the question whether van der Lubbe acted alone in setting fire to the Reichstag or whether he had accomplices. The junior prosecuting counsel, Parrisius, declared here that the fate of the accused depended upon the answer to the question whether van der Lubbe had accomplices. To this I answer, no, a thousand noes. Such a conclusion is illogical and does not follow. My own deduction is that van der Lubbe did not set fire to the Reichstag alone. On the basis of the experts’ opinions and the evidence which has been submitted, I conclude that the fire in the Plenary Session Chamber of the Reichstag was of a nature different from that in the restaurant, the ground floor, etc. The Session Chamber was set oil fire by other persons, employing other means. Although coincident in time with the fires caused by van der Lubbe himself, the fire in the Session Chamber is fundamentally different. Most probably van der Lubbe is the unconscious tool of these people, a tool they have misuseded. Van der Lubbe has by no means told the truth in this Court and he remains persistently silent. The answer to this question does not decide the fate of the other accused. Van der Lubbe was not alone, true; but neither Dimitrov, nor Torgler, nor Popov, nor Tanev was in his cornpany.
It is not probable that van der Lubbe met someone in Henningsdorf on February 26 and told him of his attempts to set fire to the Town Hall and the Palace? Whereat the person in question replied that things such as those were mere child’s play, that the burning down of the Reichstag during the elections would be something real. In this way the secret alliance between political insanity and political provocation resulted in the Reichstag fire. While the representative of political insanity sits today in the dock, the representatives of provocation are still free. This fool, van der Lubbe, could not know that, while he was carrying out his clumsy attempts at arson in the restaurant, corridor and lower floor, at the same time other unknown persons, making use of that secret inflammable liquid of which Dr. Schatz here spoke, set the Session Chamber on fire,
(At this point van der Lubbe began to laugh silently. His whole body was shaken with spasms of laughter. The attention of everyone, the Court and the accused included, was directed upon him).
Dimitrov (pointing at van der Lubbe): The unknown provocateur made all the preparations for the conflagration. This Mephistopheles succeeded in disappearing without a trace. Now this stupid tool, this miserable Faustus is here in the dock, while Mephistopheles has disappeared. It is most probable that the link between van der Lubbe and the representatives of political provocation, the agents of the enemies of the working class, was forged in Hennigsdorf.
The Public Prosecutor Werner declared that van der Lubbe was a Communist. He went further, he asserted that even if van der Lubbe was not a Communist he carried out his deed in the interests of and in association with the Communist Party. That argument is entirely false.
What is van der Lubbe? A Communist? Inconceivable. An Anarchist? No. He is a declassed worker, a rebellious member of the scum of society. He is a misused creature who has been played off against the working class. No, he is neither a Communist nor an Anarchist. No Communist, no Anarchist anywhere in the world would conduct himself in Court as van der Lubbe has done. Genuine Anarchists often do senseless things, but invariably when they are haled into Court they stand up like men and explain their aims. If a Communist had done anything of this sort, he would not remain silent knowing that four innocent men stood in the dock alongside him. No, van der Lubbe is no Communist. lie is no Anarchist; he is the misused tool of fascism.
The Chairman of the Communist Parliamentary Group and we Bulgarians accused alongside him have nothing in common, nor any connexion with this creature, this poor misused scapegoat, who has been misused to the detriment of Communism. Permit me to remind the Court that on the morning of February 28 Goering issued a statement on the fire, declaring that Torgler and Koenen had together fled from the Reichstag at 10 o’clock the previous evening
This statement was broadcast all over Germany. In the same statement. Goering declared that the Communists had set the Reichstag on fire. Yet no attempt has been made to investigate van der Lubbe’s movements in Hennigsdorf. No search is made for the man with whom van der Lubbe passed the night there.
President (interrupting): When do you intend to conclude your speech?
Dimitrov: I want to speak for another half-hour. I must express my views on this question….
President: You cannot go on for ever.
Dimitrov: Mr. President, during the three months this trial has lasted you have silenced me on many occasions with the promise that at the conclusion of the trial I should be able to speak fully in my defence. The trial is drawing to a close now, but contrary to your promise you are now limiting me my right to address the Court.
The question of what happened in Hennigsdorf is indeed of importance, The man with whom van der Lubbe spent the night there, Waschinski, has not been found, and my suggestion that the police should search for him was rejected as useless. The assertion that van der Lubbe was in Hennigsdorf together with Communists is a lie. concocted here by the National Socialist witness, the barber Grawe. Had van der Lubbe met Communists in Hennigsdorf, the question would have been gone into long ago, Mr. President. But no one is interested in finding Waschinski.
The civilian who brought the first news of the fire to the police at the Brandenburger Tor has not been searched for, his identity remains unestablished, he is still unknown. The preliminarv examination was conducted in a false direction. Dr. Albrecht, the National Socialist deputy who hurried out of the Reichstag after the fire had begun, was not interrogated. The incendiaries were sought where they were not to be found, in the ranks of the Communist Party rather than where they would have been found. Thus the, real culprits were permitted to disappear. It was decided that since the real incendiaries could and dared not be found other persons had to be taken in their stead, Ersatzincen-diaries of the Reichstag.
President: I forbid you to make such statements and I give you another ten minutes.
Dimitrov: I have the right to lay my own reasoned proposals for the verdict before the Court. The Public Prosecutor stated that all the evidence given by Communists was not worthy of credence. I shall not adopt the contrary view. Thus I shall not declare that all National Socialist witnesses are liars. I believe that among the millions of National Socialists there are also honest people.
President: I forbid you to make such ill-intentioned remarks.
Dimitrov: But is it not remarkable that all the chief witnesses called in support of the prosecution are National Socialist deputies, journalists or hangers-on? The National Socialist deputy Karwahne declares that lie saw Torgler with van der Lubbe in the Reichstag. The National Socialist deputy Frey declares that lie saw Popov with Torgler in the Reichstag. The National Socialist Walter Hellmer declares that he saw Dimitrov with van der Lubbe. The National Socialist journalist Weberstedt asserts that he saw Tanev with van der Lubbe. Is this a mere accident? The witness, Dr. Droescher, known under the name of Zimmermann to contribute to the National Socialist Völkischer Beobactler…
President (interrupting): This has not been proved.
Dimitrov:…Stated in Court that Dimitrov was responsible for the Sofia Cathedral outrage, which was completely disproved, and alleges that he has seen me with Torgler in the Reichstag. I declare with absolute certainty that Droescher and Zimmermann are one and the same person….
President: I reject this assertion. It has not been proved.
Dimitrov: Heller, the police official, read in Court a Communist poem out of a book published in 1925 to prove that the Communists set the Reichstag on fire in 1933.
Permit me also the pleasure of quoting a poem, a poem by the greatest German poet, Goethe:
Lerne zeitig klüger sein.
Auf des Glückes großer Waage
Steht die Zunge selten ein;
Du mußt steigen oder sinken,
Du mußt herrschen und gewinnen
Oder dienen und verlieren,
Leiden oder triumpheren,
Amboß oder Hammer sein.
Yes, he who does not want to be an anvil, must be a hammer. The German working class did not realize the truth of this either in 1918, or in 1923, or on July 20, 1932, or in January 1933. . . The Social Democratic leaders bear the responsibility for this – the Wellses, the Severings, the Brauns, the Leiparts, the Grassmanns. The German workers can now understand this!
Much has been said here about German law and legality, and I should like to express my views on the matter. Undoubtedly, the political constellation ascendant at any particular moment and the prevailing political trends affect the decisions of a court of law.
The Court considers the Minister of Justice Kerl as a competent witness. I am quoting him:
‘The prejudice of formal-liberalistic law lies in the fact that objectivity should be the idol of justice. We have now arrived also at the source of the alienation of the people from justice, and all matters considered, justice is always responsible for this alienation. What does, after all, objectivity mean at a moment when a nation is fighting its very existence? Is objectivity known to the soldier at war, is it known to the victorious army? The soldiers and the army have but one consideration, they recognize only one question: how to save freedom and honour, how to save the nation.
Thus, it is self-understood that the justice of a nation waging a life-and-death struggle cannot stand in awe before dead objectivity. The actions of the Court, the prosecutor’s office and the bar should be dictated solely by one consideration: what is important for the life of the nation, what saves the nation.
Not unprincipled objectivity, which means stagnation and with it ossification, alienation from the people – no. All the actions, all the measures of the collective as a whole and of the individual should be subordinated to the vital needs of the people, of the nation.
Thus, justice is a relative concept….
President: This is irrelevant. You must now bring forward your proposals.
Dimitrov: The Public Prosecutor has proposed that the Bulgarians accused should be acquitted for lack of proof. I am far from being satisfied. The question is not quite that simple. This would not clear us from suspicion. The truth is that this trial has proved absolutely conclusively that we had nothing whatsoever to do with the Reichstag fire and that there is not the slightest ground to entertain further suspicions against us. We Bulgarians, and Torgler too, must all be acquitted, not for lack of proof, but because we, as Communists, neither have nor could have anything to do with an anti-Communist deed.
I therefore propose the following verdict:
1. That Torgler, Popov, Tanev and myself should be pronounced innocent by the Supreme Court and that the indictment be quashed as ill-founded;
2. That van der Lubbe should be declared to be the misused tool of the enemies of the working class;
3.That those responsible for the false charges against us should be made criminally liable for them;
4. That we should be compensated for the losses which we have sustained through this trial, for our wasted time, our impaired health and for the sufferings which we have undergone.
President: These so-called proposals of yours will be taken into consideration by the Court during the deliberations on the verdict.
Dimitrov: A time will come when such proposals will have to be settled, with interest. The elucidation of the Reichstag fire and the identification of the real incendiaries is a task which will fall to the People’s Court of the future proletarian dictatorship.
In the seventeenth century the founder of scientific physics, Galileo, was arraigned before the stern Court of the Inquisition which had to condemn him to death as a heretic. With profound conviction and determination lie exclaimed:
‘Eppur si muove!’
This scientific law later became known to all mankind.
President (curtly interrupts Dimitrov, rises, collects his papers and prepares to leave)
Dimitrov (continues): No less determined than old Galileo we, Communists, declare today:
‘Eppur si muove!’
The wheel of history moves on towards Soviet Europe, towards a World Union of Soviet Republics.
And neither any measures of extermination, nor prisons or death sentences will be able to stop this wheel, driven by the proletariat under the leadership of the Communist International. It moves and moves towards the final victory of Communism.
(The police seizes Dimitrov and forcefully compels him to sit down in the dock of the defendants
The President and the Court retire to deliberate on whether Dimitrov should be permitted to continue his speech. After deliberation, the Court returns and announces that Dimitrov is forbidden to speak further).
Source: Georgi Dimitrov Selected Works, Volume 1, pp. 313 – 399 via marxists.org