Tag Archives: Siegfried Moos

Always start on Red



A review of Merilyn Moos, Beaten but not Defeated (Chronos Books, £17.99)

Siegi Moos (1904-1988) lived through extraordinary events, A teenage observer of the Bavarian Soviet, then at the end of the 1920s a Berlin Communist, he was a prominent figure in some of the least well-known organisations of the KPD milieu (the Red Front Alliance for Struggle or RFB, the Berlin Proletarian Freethinkers, the Red Sport movement,and agit-prop theatre). On exile to Britain from 1934, he was temporarily one of the leaders of the KPD exile organisation in London, before for 30 years after 1938 voluntarily exiling himself from the political left.

His daughter, Merilyn Moos, has written a generous and candid biography of Siegi, which does not hesitate to address episodes about which her parents never spoke. One of the most significant is her mother Lotte’s decision in 1934, a year after having married Siegi, to fall for a second activist Brian Goold Verschoyles, and then in 1936 to leave for the USSR to be with him. Brian was some kind of Soviet spy, while Lotte was critical of leaders of the Soviet Union, and Brian’s punishment for the treachery of a relationship with a “Trotskyist” was to be sent to the war in Spain (a sanction which may have appealed to him, opening up at least the possibility of escape over the Pyrennees). When she continued to correspond with Brian in Spain about the fate of the POUM, Brian was captured by his Soviet handlers and killed. Although Lotte and Siegi were reconciled, right up until her own death seventy years later, Lotte kept mementoes of Brian close to her.

For many readers, the most striking parts of the book will be those in which Merilyn Moos locates Siegi within the German revolution, which most of us know through only the books published by Broué and Harman. Siegi was in the Berlin leadership of the Freethinkers, a group campaigning for divorce and abortion rights, which had shifted towards the KPD after a long period as one of the SPD’s many workers’ clubs. By around 1930 he was the editor and chief theorist of a Berlin magazine, Arbeiterbühne und Film, which was the publication of an organisation of several hundred agit-prop theatre groups, including 30 in Berlin alone. He wrote lyrics for the Red Sport movement, several of which were set to music by the composer Stefan Wolpe, including a musical All out for the Red Start, performed to about 4,000 people in Berlin in February 1932.

Siegi is at times a slightly distant presence. Moos argues that because of his background in Bavarian circles he took anti-fascism more seriously than others of his comrades, and did not share the language of the Third Period or the KPD’s attacks on the SPD as “Social Fascists”. Beyond this, she struggle to get beyond the silence of her parents (neither of whom talked about their youth, and both of whom were dead before this book was finished) to the ups and downs that Siegi must have experienced within a Communist Party that a week before its dissolution in 1933 was the third largest party in Parliament with 17% of the vote. In particular, I would have liked to have seen more about the RFB – the KPD-allied but in large part-independent movement of anti-fascists within which Siegi and the freethinkers and agit group groups moved.

Siege’s journey is much better documented during exile. The domestic catastrophe of Lotte’s affair with Brian was interwoven with a series of political defeats, including emigration, having to learn a new language, marginalisation within the KPD London group, and a period of internment as a suspected enemy alien. These setbacks provide the book’s title, while Siege’s redemption is established in the series of steps he took from the late 1960s onwards to re-establish a practical relationship with the ideas of his youth: buying Labour Worker, reading pamphlets produced by the Solidarity group, writing about the betrayal of the German revolution of 1919, supporting his daughter against an attempted witch-hunt within her own union NATFHE, joining the Hackney Writers’ Workshop run by Ken Worpole, and publishing poems of the struggle.

The book ends with an account of Siege’s death in Homerton Hospital, wiggling his toes to the beat as his daughter sang him the Internationale, and with Lotte at Siege’s memorial service reading – aptly – from William Morris’ Dream of John Ball:

“I pondered all these things, and how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name…”

All out for the red start


All out for the red start

Marie Schmidt was 20 then
Every day she worked all day
She produced commodities
Yet she remained in poverty.
As she learns from watching films
Marie lives – she waits and waits
For the miracle to come.
Success comes with her start!

Walter Vogel was a small
Employee in a company,
Almost famished he lives by
His fantasy of being grand.
If promotion doesn’t come
Sport is used as substitute.

Always start on Red!

[This is the second song by Siegfried Moos that I’ve posted, after Red Sportsmen don’t believe / that sport alone can liberate. Moos was a songwriter, poet, and left-wing-activist. There were three characters in Moos’ ‘Alles am der Roten Start’: Vogel, a lowly white collar worker who is often hungry, and strives to be important, and ends up turning to sport; Marie Schmidt, a young factory worker, and Anton Schmidt, who is unemployed. The musical in which it appeared was first performed to an audience of 4000 people in Berlin in summer 1932, and ended with calls to vote for the Communist candidate in the pending presidential elections. Travelling to Britain after the Nazis seizure of power, Moos became an academic and then eventually an adviser to Harold Wilson’s first government. Those wishing to know more about him should read his daughter Merilyn Moos’ semi-autobiographical novel, The Language of Silence]

Red sportsmen don’t believe that / Sport alone can liberate


Many thanks to Merilyn Moos for sending me her unpublished biography of her father Siegfried Moos, an important figure in the Berlin Workers’ Sport movement of the early 1930s, captured in Brecht’s film ‘Kuhle Wampe’ (above). The following song by Moos is a nice antidote to our own Olympic year:

This is Sport by Siegfried Moos (trans by Irene Fick)

This is the sport of the ruling class
This is the essence of capitalism:
Each person breaks with the masses,
And pursues his search for profit.
And if it means forfeiting life,
That wont stop him; he must succeed

1. Capital is fearful of the thoughts
Of those that toil for famine wages.
To distract the oppressed from the struggle
Hear the radio, press: Look at the sporting aces!

2. But not enough: the profiteers
Of capital, not satisfied with this distraction, say
In order to forget your class, you must
Use sport to prepare for our war.

1. The sportsmen call: do not be silent!
Attention now: No need to wait!
Stop bending over backwards.
Now attention! Go! Wait no longer.
Hone your muscles! Focus your eyes!
Sharpen your brains! Work your lungs!
We must be fit for our struggle,
Right until we reach our goal.

2. Recruit today to strike tomorrow.
Today we struggle and discuss.
No one will stop us, we will not be hushed,
Red sportspeople on the march.
Hone your muscles!…

3. Red sportsmen fight for all,
For the causes of their class
Unforgiving against all those
Who oppose the broad masses.
Hone your muscles!…

4. Solidarity of sportsmen
of all countries, of all races.
Solidarity of sportsmen
For the final battle of the classes.
Hone your muscles!…

Red sportsmen don’t believe that
Sport alone can liberate.
Then join the red fighting front
To be soldiers of the class struggle.
Hone your body, recruit in word and deed;
Always prepared – march into struggle “Red Sport”!