Arthur Rosenberg

The Latest Developments of
the Ruhr and Reparations Crisis

(8 November 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 70 [46], 8 November 1923, pp. 799–800.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2023). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

In the Reparations quest on we must be more careful than ever today to differentiate between appearance and reality. On the one hand, we cannot fail to observe the apparent endeavor being made by the Entente Governments to obtain the reparation payments in cash. The place where this comedy is played is the Reparations Commission. On the other hand, we find the actual reality when we turn to the Ruhr, and see it annexed by French capitalism. The Reparations Commission here signifies General Degoutte and the Comité des Forges.

It is true enough that France, in view of her shaken financial situation, is desperately in need of German payments on account. And it is equally true that the confidence of the French middle class in the state papers and in the franc is chiefly maintained by means of the formula: “The German will pay.” And when it becomes perfectly clear that the German cannot pay, then there will be a rough awakening indeed. The fact that Poincaré’s Ruhr policy still meets with the support of broad strata of the French middle class is only explicable by their hope of obtaining payment from Germany. These circles hope that Poincaré’s policy of the mailed fist in the Ruhr will compel the German to pay. Then the deficit in the French budget would vanish, the franc would rise in value, and the annuitants need not fear that the French state loans will melt into nothing in their hands, like the war loans of the German Empire.

We can, however, certainly assume that of Poincaré himself, as also the mighty ones of the Comité des Forges, possess sufficient insight to see through the comedy of German solvency. Any bank clerk could teach the politicians of Europe that if one country is going to give another real payments, this can only be done in the form of goods. Should Germany really pay the reparation sums demanded, then woe to her creditors! Then the German reparation goods would flood the markets of the world, and many millions of families in the victorious countries would suffer from unemployment, which would show them very effectually what it means if Germany really – pays. It is very characteristic that up to now every Franco-German agreement relating to deliveries in kind has been shipwrecked on the sabotage of French industrialists! How great the sensation aroused at the time by the Wiesbaden agreement between Rathenau and Loucheur, and again by the contract between Stinnes and Lubersac! But both agreements have proved worthless scraps of paper. The French big industrialists, who want to monopolize all the profits to be got out of the restoration of the devastated areas, have prevented the Germans from making payments in kind, to any extent worthy of mention, to the devastated provinces of northern France. This is the best proof that France cannot obtain German reparation payments, and in point of fact does not want them. The supplies of Ruhr coke to France are another matter. The bond which France holds against Germany, in the form of the reparation clauses of the Versailles Treaty, is merely the pretext for the subjugation of the West German colliery and iron ore areas by French heavy industry.

Those to whom all this is clear will be able to look on without much emotion at the latest endeavors of the Reparations Commission. The Passive Resistance in the Ruhr area having been abandoned, the Entente Governments have to keep up the appearance of seeking seriously for a solution of the Reparations problem, for this purpose iney are harking back to the well-known Belgian plan worked out last June. The English, French, and Italian Governments have declared themselves agreed that the Reparations Commission should base its next efforts on the Belgian plan. This Belgian plan contains all manner of combinations in connection with payments by Germany. It provides for the formation of certain international monopolies in Germany for the sale of sugar, salt, tobacco, wine, spirits, matches, etc. The exercise of the rights of monopoly is to fall to international syndicates, in which not only foreign capitalists are to be represented, but German capitalist circles as well. The German Railways are to be dealt with in a similar manner. The proceeds of all these undertakings are to flow into the Reparations exchequer. It is obvious that such a combination would enormously increase the cost of living for the working masses of Germany, and would at the same time provide very agreeable payments, in the way of commission and expenses of various descriptions, to the international capitalists participating in the administration of the monopolies. But of what assistance would all this be in the matter of reparation payments? The proceeds of all these monopolist administrations would naturally consist of paper marks, or of other German currency valid at the moment. But what are the Entente States to do with such quantities of German money? The possession of Gerrnan money signifies the possibility of buying goods from Germany. We are therefore confronted by the old difficulty, that Germany is only able to pay the Reparations in goods. Besides this, German currency would have to be stabilized before such amounts of German marks would be of any use at all to the reparation creditors. But in spite of the rentenmark, the stabilization of the German currency remains a castle in the air.

The Reparations Commission will weigh every possible consideration of this description, and perhaps the whole inquiry into German solvency will be renewed. Such considerations and inquiries require time, and time is what Poincaré is particularly anxious to gain. He is anxious to divert the current of British energies into the work of the Reparations Commission. Mr. Baldwin may rack his brains as to whether Germany’s total debt should be assessed at 40 or 50 milliard gold marks, as to what percentage of interest is to be paid on tne German Reparations debt, as to who is to have priority when Germany begins to pay, and similar speculations respecting the chickens which are not yet hatched. Meanwhile Poincaré takes action in the Ruhr.

The tendency of French Rhine and Ruhr policy in perfectly clear: The fate of the Rhine and Ruhr areas is not to be discussed any further with the Berlin Government. Poincaré finds ever fresh pretexts for avoiding any such discussions. At the present time he formally demands, very cleverly, that the conditions obtaining before the Ruhr occupation shall be restored with regard to the delivery of coal. But the German collieries only want to supply coal to France on the condition that the German Government pays them. And this is beyond the powers of German finance. The country is therefore incapable of fulfilling its obligations with regard to the delivery of coal and coke, and M. Poincaré need not negotiate with Stresemann.

An exceedingly simple series of conclusions. And what is the further logical conclusion? France will come to independent agreements with the separate concerns of Ruhr industry, after the manner of the Wolff agreement and the negotiations with Stinnes. Under some circumstances France may even advance cash to Ruhr industry in order to facilitate the sending of supplies. This will place Ruhr industry completely in the hands of France, the Comité des Forges will arrange all further details with Stinnes, Klöckner, and Wolff, and the economic affiliation of the Rhine and Ruhr country to France will become an actual fact. The French railway regime in the Rhine and Ruhr area will be made a permanency along the same lines, German industrialists participating in it, as suggested by Stinnes in his well known propositions to the German government. It need not be said that the French troops will meanwhile remain in the Ruhr valley, in order to cover all these manipulations. The exact political form which will be found for this actual separation of the Rhine and Ruhr area from Germany has not yet been settled, and is besides a matter of indifference. After the economic affiliation of the Ruhr and Rhineland to France has been accomplished, then Poincaré will condescend to negotiate with Stresemann again.

It will be seen at once that certain of the fundamental ideas of the Belgian Reparations plan coincide with Poincaré’s practical Ruhr policy. The running of the railways, and of the collieries of the Ruhr and Rhineland, by groups of mixed French and German capitalists, fits excellently into the Belgian plan. The sole difference is that this re-arrangement of the economy of the Ruhr area will be for the benefit of the private capitalists participating, and that the Reparations account will receive no benefit.

However, after Poincaré has got the Ruhr area to this point, he will doubtless find the international formula enabling him to show the perfect harmony between his robberies and the Reparations paragraphs of the Versailles Treaty. And then the German Government will be forced to set its signature to the whole thing – if the German proletariat has not already cancelled the account.

Last updated on 1 May 2023