Michael Kidron

Atomic Warfare and Disarmament

(September 1954)

From Socialist Review, Labour Party Conference Supplement, September 1954.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The article below by Michael Kidron was preceded by one by Stan Newens entitled Why Not to Rearm Germany. They are complementary and should be read together to get a feel of the SR position as a whole. The Newens article is appended below this one. [RK]

Coventry’s courageous stand against the Home Office on the question of Civil Defence placed the question of Atomic warfare firmly in the limelight. Again the resolutions tabled show that Conference will be unanimous in its opposition to atomic war and in its desire for disarmament; Conference will demand “that L.P. fight for a reduction in the size of this burden, and thereby give added pertinence and realism to its arguments for an increase in pensions to the old and indigent, and improved social services” (Dagenham C.L.P.). But again, of the 34 resolutions on this subject not one offers a Socialist alternative to the Right wing capitulation of the Party leadership; 28 out of the 34 resolutions call for international conferences, UNO conventions, Great Power meetings and a variety of other “blue print” solutions which have been tried time and again and which can not succeed because they place the initiative in the hands of those governments which serve their ruling classes by driving towards war. Can anyone really believe that the U.S. capitalists who keep their books hidden, their monopolistic agreements secret, their production processes under lock and key, would reveal to the world the costs and workings of their atom plants, the super-government-sanctioned monopoly? And the U.S.S.R., with its ten million hidden slaves, its punishment of ten years in a Siberian prison camp for the family of anyone who leaves the country without permission, its fear of letting wives join foreign husbands lest they talk about something they shouldn’t – is this the country to open its atom plants to international inspection? To believe in the possibility of the “reduction and control of armaments” by the very classes which see their only hope in the uncontrolled increase in armaments is the height of naiveté and dangerous lack of realism.

The present ruling classes in East and West see in war the only solution to their ever-pressing problems. The U.S. arms budget is the sole insurance against a slump and the threat of social revolution; the U.S.S.R. arms budget is a weapon in the global robbery she practices in her drive to industrialise. But the ruling classes do not fight the war – the workers do; it is the workers who have to be persuaded that killing one another is in their own interests. And that the ruling classes cannot do.

France and Italy have been without a stable government for years. The working class in the two countries are in total opposition to their regime. Isolated as they are from the Russian sphere they consider her the lesser evil and from the standpoint of Washington an unreliable and demoralised army. The U.S. top brass knows this and prefers a German force, as the proximity of the West German people to the Iron Curtain and their knowledge of what goes on behind it is sufficient insurance against any pro Stalinist illusions. But their opposition to Moscow does not drive the German workers into the hands of Washington. For them “neither Moscow nor Washington” is a fact of life, not an empty slogan, as could be seen last month at the Berlin Congress of the Socialist Democratic Party.

U.S. pressure for German rearmament, without destroying the deep-rooted anti-militarism of the German workers, only strengthens that popular opposition to war in France and Italy which originally made the German army so important. The Belgian workers have already pointed the way of active opposition: when Belgian government under NATO pressure decided to extend the period of national service, the Belgian workers took to the streets and national service was not extended. Even in Britain when the social services were cut (payments imposed for dental services, glasses, etc.) popular pressure, expressed in Bevanism, began for a cut in the military budget.

Anti-war sentiment is high in Europe, and that in spite of U.S. aid, U.S. pressure, and U.S. propaganda.

On the other side of the Iron Curtain there is just as little support for the war. June, 1953 – East Berlin workers struck in protest against their low living standards, kept low by Russian exploitation. The Russian Government and its East German satellite, had to made concessions (a ten per cent. rise in wages, tax concessions to the peasants, etc.) which, slight though they are, cut into that part of the national income that otherwise would have been spent on heavy industry and the Russian war effort. Similar concessions were forced in Czechoslovakia and the other satellites. In Russia itself the government had to modify its plans in response to pressure for increased living standards: Khrushchev, first secretary of the Russian Communist Party, presented a plan at the end of 1953 for the increase of food production and consumers’ goods.

For war to be waged there must be peace on the home front, industrial and political peace. On both sides of the iron curtain internal conflict and pressures, present today, threaten to grow to such tremendous proportions that the security of the ruling classes will be directly threatened. Nevertheless, the ruling classes are interested in prosecuting the war. Its postponement for them – from Azerbaijan in 1947 to the Berlin blockade in 1948, from then till the Korean war in 1950, from then till the Geneva Conference this year – is only a postponement until the social conflicts in the various countries wear a less threatening aspect. As long as the present ruling classes continue to wield power, in both East and West, the threat of war will hang over our heads like the Sword of Damocles, threatening the wholesale mutilation of civilization and a period of terrible barbarism.

When Conference demands control over armaments it must know that the only control over armaments that can guarantee society from the prospect of complete elimination, is the social control over their production by the producers themselves. Only the workers have the power to control, only we, the workers, can implement international inspection of atom plants, because only we have no vested interest in secrecy, competition and hidden bookkeeping under any conditions. To advocate international control and reduction of armaments without appealing to the vast majority of mankind to put in into effect, is a farce, a delusion.

The only guarantee of peace is the control of the atomic industry by those who have most fear from that industry – the workers of Europe, Russia and America. Here in Britain we must show the way by bringing the atom industry under the direct control of its workers, not through the remote control of the administrative organs, or through parliament, but through directly-elected factory committees in the atom plants themselves.

Conference must resolve that workers’ control is the only effective international control!

It must declare itself for the election of workers’ factory committees to control the atom plants in Britain and the world!

Stan Newens

Why Not to Rearm Germany

(September 1954)

The main feature of political ferment in Britain this year has been the great debate on German rearmament within the Labour Party. The widespread opposition to the National Executive’s decision to support the idea of a German army in any form at all has produced fifty-seven resolutions on the Conference agenda, and behind them an immense amount of discussion.

This opposition is one of the most heartening features of the trend towards a genuine socialist policy within the Labour Party. It represents the refusal of the rank and file workers in the movement to accept any policy that the N.E.C. cares to recommend. As such all left wingers are bound to herald its development.

THE BEVANITE LEAD: The reasons why the proposals for the inclusion of a German contingent in a European army has [sic.] met such stubborn resistance in the ranks are several. First and foremost, the scattered opposition has at last been given a lead by the Bevanite M.P.s. The powerful upsurge of feeling throughout the ranks of the Labour Party has demonstrated that the desire for a real socialist policy and the dissatisfaction with many aspects of official Party policy are not non-existent, but only completely scattered and disorganized.

THE OFFICIAL VOLTE FACE: Of course this is not the only reason for the strength of the opposition to German re-armament. The notion of re-arming Germany is so much out of harmony with the ideas which have been popularised on nearly every side in Britain for fifteen years and more that it produces a shock even in conservative quarters. When the official Labour Party line takes a turn contrary to all previous statements of Labour Party leaders, inevitably the turn is questioned.

When the idea of West German participation in a West European Army was first raised Mr. Attlee called the proposals “a very queer way to try to build up the unity of Western Europe” (Hansard, 16th March, 1950). Yet the official Labour Party pamphlet In Defence of Europe, states:–

“From a Socialist viewpoint there is much to be said for it. It transcends national frontiers and represents a considerable surrender of sovereignty to a wider grouping of nations.” (p. 2)

Ernest Bevin said:–

“All of us are against it. I repeat all of us are against it. It is a frightful decision to take.” (Hansard, 18th March, 1950)

Yet in In Defence of Europe welcomes it as “a great act of reconciliation” (p. 2)

Inevitable anyone politically conscious enough to work in the Labour Party is bound to wonder about the reasons for the change. It is clear even to a simpleton that either the statements before or after the change were wrong – perhaps both.

Why does Socialist foreign policy today look so different to what it was yesterday?

In whatever way reasons for the opposition before the change of policy may have been incorrect from a socialist point of view that opposition was undoubtedly correct. Even though the statements made before September, 1950, by Labour Party leaders failed to point out that the restoration of the German capitalist set-up, no any militaristic tendency within the German people as a whole, made German rearmament another step to a third world war. Any socialist would be bound to support their opposition.

THE RESTORATION OF CAPITALIST GERMANY: The present proposals for the rearmament of Western Germany are merely another step in an attempted reconstruction of pre-war Germany as a bastion of western capitalism against the Russian “bloc”. This attempt is being made despite the fact that pre-war Germany was the breeding ground of Nazism and that it involves the rehabilitation in important positions of many Nazis.

Take for example the industrial magnates who, faced with the rising clamour of the working class movement for social changes to relieve their miseries during the slump of 1929–33 were ready to finance Hitler as their saviour. Of them, Major General Telford Taylor, chief American counsel for war crimes said:

“In a very real sense these defendants and others like them – not the half-mad Nazi fanatics and street fighting thugs – are the principal criminals. And what is more important, these defendants will, if their guilt is unexposed and unpunished, be an immeasurably greater threat to the future world peace than Hitler, were he alive today.”

These very men have been allowed to regain their leadership of German industry. Alfred Krupps, who was sentenced in 1948 to twelve years imprisonment and confiscation of all property for using slave labour, was released and his property restored in 1953. Heinrich Dinkelbach, a Nazi from 1938 and right hand man to Friedrich Flick, head of the pre-war United Steel Company is now Chairman of the re-organized United Steel. Wilhelm Zangen, Chairman of the Mannesmann steel combine before the war, is back at his old post. Herman Abs, a former director of Deutsche Bank who “devoted his entire attention to extending German domination throughout Europe” (U.S. Office of Military Government, November 1946) is now head of the advisory committee which controls most of the assets of the pre-war chemicals monopoly, I.G. Farben.

Not only the men are the same, on the whole but so is the structure of industry. Speaking in the House of Commons on the 18th May, 1947, Ernest Bevin declared “We adhere to the principle of public ownership of German industries.” But when the North Westphalian Government – where the Ruhr is – decided to nationalise all heavy industries in 1947, the British High Commissioner vetoed. A similar veto was applied by the American authorities in Hesse.

Similarly, the Allied governments agreed to break down the industrial monopolies and cartels in order to destroy the concentration of economic power. Yet Krupps, United Steel, Mannesmann and other steel giants are still functioning. I.G. Farben, the gigantic pre-war chemical trust, was reported to have recovered its unity in all commercial operations by 1950 (Manchester Guardian Weekly, 30th March, 1950) and is now practically re-united in all respects as Badischen Anilin und Sodafabrik Ludwighaven. The same story applies in the case of banking.

Even the military staff for the proposed army includes a large number of leading military figures under the Nazis. Generals Speidel, Heusinger, Lieutenant General Kuitzen, Generals von Leuttwitz, von Gersdorf, Boeslager, von Manteuffel, Count Schwerin and Dettleffsen, are examples of the people connected with Herr Blank’s West German embryonic Defence Department. The Daily Herald (23rd May, 1953) stated that most of the volunteers for the proposed Germany army were veterans of Hitler’s campaigns from all ranks.

All these facts show how capitalist Germany which produced Hitler is being resurrected. And with resurrection the natural search for markets and for fields of investment, which drives all capitalist countries to seek to expand their influence, will tend to drive Germany in turn eastwards once again.

This is precisely the plan of the leading capitalist spokesmen in the American sphere. The re-arming of Germany is merely a new step in the policy which led to the North Atlantic Treaty organization, the giant increases in the British re-armament programme, and the inclusion of Fascist Spain in the plan.

RIGHT-WING OPPOSITION TO GERMAN RE-ARMAMENT: However, on the wisdom of German re-armament as a new move, not all European – particularly French – capitalists are in accord with their American allies. Much of the anti-German propaganda, the demands for restrictions on German industry and the annexations which followed the war were dictated by fear of Germany as an economic rival rather than a military threat.

For example, the Association of British Chemical Manufacturers urged the elimination of the German dyestuffs industry (The Times, 27th March, 1946). Lincoln Evans, as General Secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, wanted limitation of heavy industry “not indirect armament” (letter to The Times, 5th November, 1946). Sir Murray Stephens, a Glasgow shipbuilder, protested against raising the limits on German shipbuilding (New York Herald Tribune, December 1948). These fears and sentiments are current in France and it is not surprising that many right wing spokesmen are too afraid of Germany as an economic threat – eventually backed by military force – to their countries to support the idea of German rearmament. Marshal Juin in France and Lord Beaverbrook’s press in Britain are examples.

SOCIALIST VERSUS RIGHT WING OPPOSITION: Their ideas, however, have nothing in common with a socialist opposition. They manifest themselves in the form of sheer anti-German ideas. Like Ilya Ehrenburg, their motto is: The only good German is a dead German.

The truth is that the German people are no more militaristic than any other. The threat comes from the continued existence of the capitalist system and their incorporation in the American capitalist “bloc”. That is why we must oppose German rearmament. The same reasoning applies equally to the British, French and the Russians. It is not militarist tendencies within these people but the systems in which they live – monopoly capitalism in the Western Bloc and State Capitalism in Russia – and the rivalries between the two world camps which threaten them. Therefore we must oppose British, French and Russian rearmament as tenaciously as German.

The fault of the Bevanite leadership of the opposition is their failure to do this. In nearly every other respect they support British adherence to the American “bloc” and their opposition to German rearmament is often right wing and chauvinist.

A consistent policy involves a choice between this unconvinced, uncertain adherence to the American bloc and a socialist stand.

NEITHER WASHINGTON NOR MOSCOW: This is not to suggest a change from American tutelage to Russian. Everyone but the so-called “Communists” in the working class movement knows that the totalitarian dictatorship which prevails in the Soviet countries is just as much to be hated and opposed by genuine Socialists as the American capitalist system. The revolt which swept through the cities of East Germany on June 17th, 1953, demonstrated the hatred of East German workers for it.

The opposition to German rearmament which the Socialist Review appeals for is on the basis of equal opposition to all attempts by either world “bloc” to incorporate part or all of Germany into its own sphere. This means resistance aiming ultimately at an international socialist position equally independent of both Washington and Moscow. In other words a “third camp”.

It demands, therefore, not only the prevention of German rearmament as part of America’s anti-Soviet Crusade, but in addition opposition to every aspect of this crusade. This means the complete withdrawal of troops from Germany, British exit from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a programme for a Socialist – not Capitalist or Stalinist – unity of Europe.

Last updated on 16 February 2017