This biography of Otto Schüssler was translated by Ted Crawford in preparation for an early issue of Revolutionary History but was not used for publication. It is an extract from Quelques proches collaborateurs de Trotsky by Pierre Broué in Cahiers Léon Trotsky No.1, January 1979. Broué’s article dealt with numerous of Trotsky’s collaborators and gave particular attention to Jan Frankel, Irwin Wolf, Rudolf Klement and Walter Held. The original footnotes have been renumbered.
A biographical sketch
Otto Schüssler was born in 1905 in Leipzig. He was a genuine worker, and at the end of the twenties, a packer of art books at a specialised printing works in Leipzig. He probably belonged to the KAPD left, and at the end of 1928, with Roman Hell and the medical student Edwin Ackerknecht, took part in the creation of an opposition group called “Bolshevik Unity” which sought to regroup the different sectors struggling to “straighten out” the line of the KPD in Saxony. Then he was one of the foremost leaders at the head of the Unified Left Opposition (VLO) in Saxony, formed by the fusion of this Saxon organisation with the other oppositions of Wedding (Schwalbach), Palatinate (Frenzel) and the old Leninbund minority (Grylewicz).
In the crisis which occurred in 1930 this opposition had hardly been born but it put itself alongside the International Secretariat and fought Landau. Furthermore, this self-taught worker showed himself to be one of the most gifted writers of the group. In 1932, when Leon Sedov, who had left Prinkipo for Berlin, looked for a German speaking secretary for his father, Ackerknecht suggested Schüssler which was finally agreed. Arriving at Prinkipo in May 1932, Otto Schüssler proved to be an excellent secretary and found himself given confidential political tasks, such as drafting the pamphlet, Leninism Against Stalinism, in 1933, which he signed with the pseudonym of Oskar Fischer.
In 1933 the repression struck hard in Germany and the cadres in the emigration felt the absence of the organisation of political work. Schüssler was chosen to go to Prague to direct the new opposition journal, Unser Wort, a task which until then had been temporarily undertaken by the young Walter Held (Heinz Epe). From the correspondence of LDT it seems that he was able to achieve little in Germany, even with a clandestine stay there remaking contacts in conditions that were more than difficult. However, in September 1933 restrictions on press liberty imposed in Czechoslovakia forced the transfer of Unser Wort to Paris. It was there, with the exception of brief stays in Belgium and Holland, that Schüssler lived until 1939.
Still the editor of Unser Wort, where he signed the editorials “O…r”, he was simultaneously a member of the leadership abroad (Auslandkomitee) of the German group which became the IKD. In 1934, with the minority, he supported Trotsky’s proposals on entrism into the SFIO against his old comrade Ackerknecht (Bauer), the secretary of the International Secretariat. After the split in December 1934, when Bauer had left the international organisation, the German section approved the policy on entrism at the Dietikon conference where the leadership was entrusted to the “Johre-Fischer” group, Johre being the pseudonym of Josef Weber, a veteran activist from Gelsenkirchen.
It was the start of a long period of sombre quarrels among the emigres. At the beginning of 1934, the Johre-Fischer group was resolutely opposed to entry into the IKD by the old Zinovievites of the KPD and its “left”, Ruth Fischer and Maslow , though this was proposed with insistence and consistency by Trotsky himself. It did not stop fighting them even when Ruth Fischer, at the personal suggestion of Trotsky, was co-opted to the International Secretariat under the name of Dubois. In their own ranks Johre and Fischer found themselves faced with several successive oppositions: that of the Saxon Wenzel Kozlecki (Julik) and above all that of Jan Bur , the leader of the group in Germany for two years, who supported a deal with Fischer-Maslow and was heterodox on the question of the social characterisation of the USSR. The quarrel grew into a struggle for influence with Rudolf Klement, another member of the AK of the IKD, and adminstrative secretary of the IS, who attempted a number of replies in support of Jan Bur. The result was that there appeared alongside Unser Wort, edited by Johre and Fischer, another paper Der Einzege Weg edited by Klement. The tragic death of Klement in 1938, the break between Bur and his friends, the mass emigration to America and the discouragement of many others, left Schüssler, with Johre, undoubtedly master of the field, but at the head of an almost phantom organisation.
Still using the name Fischer, Otto Shussler was one of the delegates at the so-called “Lausanne” conference – held in fact at Rosmer’s home in Perigny – where he supported Trotsky’s proposal to found a Fourth International. It was probably at this time that it was decided that he should go to Mexico, where he arrived by sea in February 1939. He went to live with Trotsky for more than eighteen months and was the only one of his veteran helpers who was present at the time of the assassination. Several days after the attempt of 24th May 1940, he was arrested by the Mexican Police, who accused him of “passivity” during the attack and thought his nervousness “suspicious”. He was quickly freed at the personal intervention of Trotsky, who was indignant at these proceedings. Like all the companions at Coyacan, but perhaps even more than them, he was deeply depressed by the success of the GPU’s murderous enterprise. But, contrary to what has been said or written, he did not then abandon political activity.
He continued to be active in the Mexican section during the whole war and together with the Mexican Octavio Fernandez was one of the principal instigators of the 1945 split and the forming of the Grupo Socialista Obrero, of which he was one of the main leaders, under the pseudonym of Julian Suarez. He was at this period convinced – like Van Heijenoort and like Frankel – of the necessity of the Trotskyist movement revising its analysis of the nature of the Soviet Union, which he, for his part, characterised as “bureaucratic imperialism”. The expulsion of the GSO from the 4th International in 1948, after proceedings which he regarded as more than summary, totally estranged him. In the next few years he worked episodically with the review Dinge der Zeit, edited in Great Britain and then in Germany, by his old comrade Johre with whom he broke in 1946, and, in the middle of the coldest part of the Cold War, went on to support the idea of a “war against the USSR”.
Otto Schüssler still lives in retirement in Mexico. He refuses to have any contact with those who could remind him of his Trotskyist past.
1. On these two militants see Révolution en Allemagne (1918-1923), by Pierre Broué , Minuit, Paris 1971. Willy Buschak, in his still unpublished thesis at the University of Mannheim, has devoted an excursus to their political itinerary.
2. Walter Nettelback, called Jan Bur (1901-1976), had led the clandestine organisation in Germany until 1935, when he emigrated on the orders of the International Secretariat.
Updated by ETOL: 28 November 2009