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Labor Action, 9 May 1949


Eugene Keller

On Russian and Social-Democratic Policy at German Assembly –

Bonn Causes Cleavage in SD Ranks


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 20, 16 May 1949, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The conclusion of the deliberations of the Bonn (Western German) Parliamentary Council coincided almost to the day with the beginning of U.S.-Russian negotiations on the lifting of the Berlin blockade. These negotiations had been in progress since February; the U.S., however, obviously delayed their becoming “officially” and publicly known until it would be able, as it now is, to confront its rival with the finished Atlantic Pact and the creation of a Western German state.

Possibly, the Russians could have temporarily prevented the consummation of the Western German state, had they lifted the blockade on their own accord and proposed renewed negotiations on Germany. The purpose of the blockade had been, after all, to compel the Anglo-Americans to renege on their London agreement under which the German Constitutional Assembly was created in their zones; and to allow the Russians to participate in a general German settlement.

Whatever immediate reasons motivated the Russians in trying no serious maneuver to delay or prevent adoption of a constitution at Bonn, their passivity and the passivity of the Stalinist “People’s Congress for Unity and a Just Peace” (intended nucleus for an all-German government) is a sign of the depth of their political defeat in Germany. The terms of the coming German settlement cannot but be powerfully affected by the existence in fact of a Western German state, securely controlled by the Anglo-Americans.

Russians Against Real Unity

This passivity has another meaning, however. Contrary to general assumption and contrary to the innumerable proclamations and demonstrations of the above-named Stalinist front organization in support of German unity (which means a centralized German government), official Russian policy has favored a “decentralized” German government, based on a two-chamber system and dependent upon the provincial diets. (A statement of policy to this effect is contained in the declaration issued at the Warsaw conference of the foreign ministers of Russia and the satellite states, June 1948.)

The Russians, like all the other reactionary forces, native or foreign, who have a stake in Germany, favor a “federal,” i.e., emasculated central government. Such an arrangement, moreover, would allow the Russians to hold on to their extensive investments in the Eastern zone. Twenty per cent of all key industries there are in the hands of Russian corporations; and an unknown number of establishments are “partially” controlled by them through the device of joint-stock companies.)

At the same time it would afford the German capitalists of the Western zones the “protection” they desire against the social structure that has prevailed in Eastern Germany since 1945.

Thus, it is not the techniques of control which are at issue but rather who will exercise them and to what extent.

We must view in the light of these circumstances also touched on in last week’s Labor Action) what the role of the German Social-Democratic Party (SDP) has been at Bonn.

SDs Inconsistent

The Social-Democrats adopted (though they failed to pursue consistently) a correct policy in opposing “federalism” and supporting the centralization of government to the largest possible degree obtainable in a divided Germany. Such a policy is obviously in consonance with the legitimate interests of the German people in preserving themselves as a national entity. Were they to lose the latter status permanently, their fate as a semi-colony, dependent upon American alms, and their cultural decline might be irrevocable.

Furthermore, “federalism” will weaken and eventually emasculate the German labor movement. Finally the only effective way by which the reactionary policies of the occupants can be opposed and by which a progressive democratic economic policy can be realized – thus counteracting all the prevailing disintegrative tendencies – is by means of a centralized government.

The actual stand taken by the Social-Democratic representatives at Bonn consisted in public breast-beatings about principles on which they would never give in and weak-kneed compromises whenever their political jobs appeared threatened by the possible unilateral action the Christian- Democrats might take with the support of the military governments.

On the issue of the extent of financial control to be exercised by a future central government, they appeared at first adamant in support of a large degree of centralization in the power of taxation – so much so that they threatened to walk out of the assembly (and that would have meant the latter’s end) unless their stand was adopted.

Rift in the Party

They were correct in this, of course, since such power constitutes the backbone of any government. But a “compromise” was reached, the extent of which was not specified in the dispatches; another “compromise” was reached on the extent of the legislative authority of the central government, however; on the contrary, they are in reality temporary concessions made by the Christian-Democrats and the military governments which back them and who have consistently worked for the concentration of governmental authority in the provinces.

The behavior of the Social-Democratic representatives at Bonn clearly expresses their interest in maintaining their bureaucracy in their jobs and sinecures. They constitute a faction which is essentially opposed to Kurt Schumacher, leader of the SDP and the younger elements around him.

In his statements, Schumacher has never deviated from his principled stands and it was he who wanted his party’s delegation to quit the assembly. He remains the formal head of the SDP; in actuality, however, there exists a deepening rift in the party, with Schumacher apparently heading the more radical elements.

Bureaucracy vs. the Ranks

So far as can be judged by his statements and writings, Schumacher is a clever opportunist, constantly attempting to reconcile the various opposing elements in his party. He leads, after all, a party whose base and source of strength is the German labor movement, which has been traditionally and still is today the major democratic force in Germany to which rally or will rally the great masses who have been politically, economically and culturally disfranchised.

These masses cannot possibly become reconciled either to military governments lording if over Germany or to the shortsighted and narrow-minded provincialism of the Christian-Democrats, neither of whom offer them any sort of future. They are a potent base of power to which the Social-Democratic machine caters for the election returns but which it essentially fears, except in words.

We have repeatedly stated our belief that the SDP is effectually today the resistance movement in Germany. As such it faces tremendous difficulties which neither its present policy of accommodation to the rightist parties and the military governments nor its superannuated leadership can overcome.

Thus it is chiefly the task of the German youth to make the SDP a fighting instrument, and of the independent German socialists to contribute to this struggle within the SDP.

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