Friedrich Geyer

While Geyer started of deeply involved in grass-roots struggle, his ‘career’ represents the ambiguities of left reformism.

A member of the SPD from 1911, he worked for various social democratic daily newspapers, then in 1917, joined and became a leader of the newly founded USPD in Leipsig, a highly industrialised and radical area, where he became a popular public speaker, including against the early ultra-right, and ended up as a USPD delegate to the Reichstag. In 1919 he became the Chair of the Leipzig Workers Council where, representing USPD ‘left’ politics (and much attacked by the SPD), he played a crucial role, though the strikes were ultimately defeated.1

He was elected onto the National Assembly, then as a delegate to the Reichstag and was the editor of the Hamburger Volkszeitung in 1920. He rejoined the rump of the USPD and participated in USPD-KPD fusion in 1920, becoming a committee member of the KPD but was in the Paul Levy faction over the March action and was therefore expelled from the party in August 1921.2 By 1922, Geyer had wandered back to the SPD where he rose up its ranks, becoming a leading – and strongly anti-KPD- member.

Geyer fled in 1933 to Prague where he served on the SPD executive in exile (SOPADE), joined the editorial board of SOPADE: New Forward where he argued against cooperation with the KPD.In 1937 he moved to France, in 1941, helping to organise the escape of German refugees from Marseille. He then had toflee and came to the UK via Portugal.

Here he sympathised with the position of the Vansittarts and assumed there was virtually no resistance – or any possibility of resistance – in Germany. He was consequently excluded –or did he leave – the Union of German Socialist Organisations in 1941 and became a member of the group ‘Fight for Freedom’ under the leadership of Walter Loeb. (Also see Groel biography)

Geyer also became an advisor to the Foreign Office, and a British citizen. From 1945, he worked as a correspondent for various West German newspapers in London. He died in 1967.

1 This episode is worthy of its own section. After the end of the war in 1918, in and around Leipsig, first the miners struck (against the advice of their leaders) for better wages, then the potash miners, then the copper miners, then in January 1919 , the rail workers, then the tram workers, then the utility workers, then the textile workers (mostly female) came out on strike. This led both to the setting up of Works Councils (outside the formal trade-union movement) and then led, in March 1919, to their participation in a general strike.. In April, the Government used the Freikorps (once again) to place Saxony under siege, as they did with the ‘Soviets’ in Munich and Berlin. Geyer had not prepared for any sort of military defence, later arguing that would have provoked a bloodbath. The Freikorps laid siege to the city, shooting into the crowd and killing and injuring many hundreds of people. ( Dobson, Sean, Authority and Upheaval in Leipzig, 1910-1920: The Story of a Relationship)

2 The March campaign in 1921 refers to an armed workers’ revolt to bring down the SPD/Ebert government, led by the KPD in the industrial region around the Ruhr and Hamburg. It was defeated and split the KPD, leading to the expulsion of the former leader, Paul Levi. It was also the last throw of the revolutionary dice in Germany, leaving the USSR isolated. The event and its aftermath is still argued over.