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Labor Action, 9 May 1949


Eugene Keller

Centralized Germany?

Why Capitalists Want a Loose Constitution –
Christian-Democrats Fight for Federalization


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 19, 9 May 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The conflict which up to a week ago prevented the establishment of a government in Western Germany is the result of the opposition, led by the Social-Democrats, to the loosely federated state structure which is demanded by the occupying Western powers and supported by the Christian-Democrats and their bloc. The latter represent a conglomeration of contradictory interests, such as the bureaucratic officialdom, the Catholic hierarchy, the better-off peasants, and the commercial and industrial interests.

It is not surprising that the Catholic hierarchy, in alliance with the Catholic peasants of Southern Germany, especially Bavaria, as well as with the French occupant (the French military has traditionally strong ties with the Catholic Church) should favor strong provincial governments. For example, a major tug-of-war was fought at the sessions of the Bonn assembly between the Social-Democrats and the spokesman of “denominational” education, with the latter demanding separate parochial schools, state-supported, of course; the Social-Democrats stood for the “mixed” student body, which is the one way by which the influence of contending hierarchies can at least be mitigated.

The Catholic priests are opposed to a centrally financed school system as likely to put serious obstacles in their way of realising the Catholic-dominated educational system envisioned by them.

Nor is it without a sort of grotesque significance that the assembly has been presided over by Kurt Adenauer, one time mayor of the Catholic city of Cologne. Adenauer, who was, to be sure, an anti-Fascist, is said to be a proponent of a modern Burgundy, i.e., a state combining the Greater Rhineland with France, and closely associated with the Vatican. That this is a reactionary and unrealizable pipe dream goes without saying, but it is indicative of the forces on which America expects to rely in Germany.

Bourgeoisie Wants Federation

No less glittering appear to be the dreams of the wel-to-do peasants of Southern Germany in supporting a “federated” Germany. A weak federal government, greatly restricted in its taxing powers and dependent in its foreign undertakings upon a Federal Council appointed by the provincial parliaments, would put (the peasants hope) the cities at their mercy. They, not the cities, would determine.

Far more shrewd in their reasoning are the capitalist interests who favor a “federal”, i.e., weak central government. Aware of their bankruptcy as a social force, they prefer the readily controllable particularism of provincial governments to a central power which, in the hands of the Social-Democrats, could be of grave detriment to them.

In addition to this consideration, there remains the possibility of a compromise between the U.S. and Russia on the whole German question which would confront the German bourgeoisie (as well as the German workers, of course) with the difficult problem of finding a modus vivendi for the eastern zone within the framework of the German socio-economic structure.

It is impossible to unify – that is, centralize – Germany along traditional lines given the profoundly changed economic structure of the eastern zone. A restoration of the pre-1945 status may not be excluded; but until such a restoration can take place – and there are formidable obstacles making this very difficult – it is but natural that the German bourgeoisie prefers relatively stable provincial governments with as many autonomous powers as possible to what would otherwise be an extremely unstable central government, probably lacking even the minimum strength necessary in international bargaining.

Changes in Eastern Zone

In the eastern zone all major industries have been expropriated and are in the hands of the state; that is, they are controlled by a central planning agency, the German Economic Commission. Twenty per cent of the eastern zone’s key industries are owned by Russian corporations, financed by Russian capital and managed by Russian personnel; these industries are not necessarily integrated with other zonal industries. In addition, the Russian military “partially” controls other industrial establishments through the device of joint-stock companies; the extent of this “partial” ownership is unknown.

The breaking up of large and medium holdings in agriculture is well-known. The parcelized land has been settled by land laborers, refugees, veterans, etc. The inefficiency of extreme parcelization seems to have been designed to make early collectivization more acceptable. Already several thousands of machine and breeding stations are operated by the “Peasants Mutual Aid,” a state agency.

All this should make it quite obvious that Germany cannot be united along traditional bourgeois-nationalist lines and partly explains the German capitalists’ support of a “federal” government.

Of course, there has not been a bourgeoisie in history which has not in general preferred a centralized government and that includes the German bourgeoisie which a hundred years ago hoped to achieve unification – i.e., centralization – of Germany by compromising with the feudal aristocracy. If the German bourgeoisie today retrogresses politically to its pre-1848 position, this for one thing bespeaks its own decline. It also reveals in full the reactionary character of American policy: Washington bases itself on those very elements and forces which had to be defeated in the late 18th and 19th century by the liberal bourgeoisie and the indignant masses of Western Europe before a progressive step forward could be taken.

(Next week: The role of the Social-Democrats and the recent agreement announced at Bonn)

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