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The New International, February 1944

Harry Young

Toward a New Versailles Treaty

The Unification of Europe or Its Ruin


From The New International, Vol. X No. 2, February 1944, pp. 40–44.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The inner principle of the Moscow Agreement is exceedingly simple. It is that Britain, Russia, China and the United States can maintain the peace because they will be, when our enemies are defeated and disarmed, the only powers capable of waging great war. – Walter Lippmann in the New York Herald Tribune, November 4, 1943.

The war camp of Nazi imperialism has given the world, through the system it has imposed upon enslaved Europe, ample evidence of the type of “peace” and post-war world its victory would engender. It is unnecessary to add details to this picture, particularly since ultimate Nazi defeat in Europe, regardless of the length of time it may take, is clear. But what we must consider, and intend to discuss in detail, is the meaning of an Allied military victory as it would affect the German nation and Europe as a whole. For, assuming that the European proletariat and its revolutionary vanguard prove to be too weak and badly-battered in the next period to wrest the entire course of the war out of the hands of its imperialist masters, this is the kind of “peace,” dictated by Allied military supremacy, that Europe will have. Every indication we have – and there are many – points bluntly to the fact that such an end to the war will leave a Europe with its basic problems still unresolved and, particularly, with the masses of Germany facing the blackest imaginable future.

The Failure of Versailles

For victorious Allied imperialism, the aftermath of the last war was a distinct failure and the peace they drew up at the Versailles Conference unworkable. The people of Europe agree with this estimation, but their agreement has a different meaning. The bourgeoisie understands that Versailles failed either to destroy the Russian Revolution or halt its tumultuous spread to other parts of the world; the proletariat understands that the revolution was finally crushed in all but one country. The bourgeoisie understands that Versailles failed to crush for all time its rival, German imperialism; that the Versailles system, from the League of Nations to reparations payment, proved to be a dismal flop. The revolutionary movement understands that Versailles was merely the start of an illusory interlude of peace during which the imperialists prepared for the most destructive war yet to be fought.

Versailles and its system did not work, say the Allied imperialists. This time we shall work out a method, in conjunction with the new ruling class of expansionist Russia, to prevent new proletarian seizures of power and the spread of revolutionary sentiment throughout Europe. We intend also to put an end to German imperialism, once and for all. As to the future peace, agreement among the three great powers of Russia, England and America will see to that problem. The best elements in the workers’ movement have profited by their experiences since the last war; it would be foolish not to recognize that the bourgeoisie has learned a good deal and can realistically appraise the situation and attempt to rectify the previous errors of strategy and judgment.

Here, for reasons we hope to make clear, our main concern is with the attempt of the Allies to answer the question: “What to do with Germany?” when that country has been overthrown and military victory has come. This, needless to say, is the basic question that the Allies will have to answer (not with phrases, but with figures, facts and actions) before long. Nor will the European proletariat and its accompanying democratic movements be able to avoid a clear stand on this issue. This, together with the high productive and cultural development of the German nation as a whole and the power of its enormous industrial proletariat, is undoubtedly what is meant when we speak once again of Germany being the key to the international situation. If the victorious Allies cannot unitedly answer this problem to the satisfaction of their imperialist designs and needs, they will have won only a hollow military victory at great cost. If the European people, in conjunction with the German workers, should give their independent answer to this key problem they will have toppled imperialism and brought a socialist peace to Europe. That is its importance.

For various reasons it is worth summarizing the terms of the Versailles Treaty as they directly affected the future of Germany in 1919. This will make it possible for us to contrast various proposals put forward now; to see in precise terms what an imperialist peace means and, incidentally, to see what truth there is in the declarations of the English imperialist, Vansittart, that the trouble with the treaty was its “softness.”

German imperialism had lost the war against its rivals; therefore, it had to pay the price. The fact that the German masses, who had been forced into the war by their imperialist masters, and betrayed into it by the German Social-Democracy, would bear the overwhelming burden was, of course, not considered. The terms imposed were of a territorial, reparations and productive nature. Territorially, in addition to losing militarily-conquered foreign territories, Germany lost Alsace-Lorraine, the Saar Basin, Upper Silesia, Eupen-Malmedy (near Belgium), Sudetenland, Memel and the territory that came to be known as the Polish Corridor. Austria was forbidden to join the Republican Second Reich.

German war economy was demobilized and a fifteen per cent reduction in net productive capacity resulted from the disruption of the relationship that had been created between those essentials of modern heavy industry – iron ore, coal and metallurgical plants. Basic coal fields (Saar) went to France, the coal production of the Ruhr-Essen area was to go to France for ten years. In addition, various amounts of chemical production, timber, livestock, railroad rolling stock, etc., were distributed among the victors. Many a German factory was stripped of its machinery and, wherever possible, more than had been looted by the German imperialists was taken back. All ships and freighters over 1,600 tons were confiscated. In addition to destroying the German merchant marine, the African and Asiatic colonies were taken over and redistributed (not to the people who lived in them, to be sure), a general disarmament was ordered and a small, limited army was to be permitted. There was to be no navy.

Monetary reparations, of course, figured largely in the treaty. Their original scope (payment for “all damage done to the civilian population” of Europe, compensation for dependents of all dead Allied soldiers, pensions for Allied wounded and their dependents, repayment of all Allied allotments to the families of soldiers, etc.) called forth the famous remark of Lloyd George that “you cannot have both milk and beefsteak!” Yet even with modifications, an American commission estimated that Germany had paid six billion dollars in reparation by 1922 and later two billion dollars under the Dawes Plan. The Allies also demanded all Allied imports into Germany receive most-favored nation tariff treatment.

Germany was definitely conquered, reduced, partly occupied and bled by the victorious powers. Speaking in 1920 at the Second World Congress of the Communist International, Lenin characterized the Versailles Treaty as follows: “The war, which led to the complete defeat of these countries through the Versailles Treaty, imposed on them such conditions that these civilized peoples have become dependent, like the colonials, and like the latter are ruined, starving and without rights ... You know that the Versailles Treaty forced Germany and a whole series of conquered states into conditions of absolute impossibility of economic existence, into conditions of complete absence of rights, of utter humiliation.”

Such was Lenin’s internationalist estimation of the Versailles pact. He looked upon it as the consistent conclusion to a reactionary imperialist war. It is worth remembering that this unilateral condemnation came from the leader of the very same newly-founded workers’ state which itself had been subjected to and humiliated by the notorious German-imposed Brest-Litovsk Treaty! But the stand of the Bolsheviks was an internationalist one. Soviet Russia opposed the Versailles system; the German Spartacists and, later, the German Communists fought it; the Comintern of Lenin and Trotsky tirelessly exposed it to Europe and the rest of the world.

The Meaning of a New Versailles

It is apparent that the Allied imperialists today are drawing up plans of a similar nature to apply to a defeated Ger- many. Whatever may be the variations in detail and degree, imperialist oppression of one people by other nations must necessarily follow the same broad outlines. If the Allies should succeed in fastening a new Versailles upon Germany, it will be of substantially the same nature as the old treaty, with this important exception: Not only because the Allies understand the weaknesses and shortcomings of the former treaty, but also because imperialism in general has reached such a stage of utter corruption (as witness the behavior of the Nazi imperialists in their sacking of Europe) that it must attempt to destroy mercilessly the very basis of its rival’s national and economic existence, we must expect a much harsher and more brutal arrangement this time.

It is true that the Allies have said little on the subject-virtually nothing of an official nature, beyond some general remarks. What does this indicate? In our opinion, it means that the problem of what to do with Germany has not been entirely settled, in all its concrete details. The Big Three are still divided on this question by mutual distrust and are jockeying with one another in independent efforts to build up post-war European influence spheres. But it means just this and no more! On the basic issues they are agreed – above all, on the basic issue of crushing the German nation. Six months ago the Moscow-sponsored “Free Germany Committee” and its program were pointed to as proof of a sharp division in method between Russia and the other Allies. Like so many other Stalinist creations it proved to be a hypocritical farce, a fraudulent creation useful in Stalin’s diplomatic maneuvers to win Allied territorial concessions by threatening a separate peace with Hitler. There are substantial indications that Stalin has drawn much closer to the Allies in his “German” program. The pact with Czechoslovakia (a typical cordon sanitaire step and specifically directed against a post-war German revival); the Kharkov trial of Nazi soldiers, during the course of which Pravda deliberately pointed out that the age of the defendants ranged from twenty to fifty-five years (a crude inference that the vast majority of Germans are Nazis at heart); the remarks of Russia’s leading journalist, Ilya Ehrenbourg (New York Times, December 27), who expressed the hope that “... the millions of soldiers who have reduced Europe to a ‘desert zone’ will be made to work ten years crushing stones and hewing wood” – all these are indications of basic agreement on methods between Russia and its allies.

New, assuming that we are correct and the Allies actually have reached such an accord, what form and shape would it take? How would it differ from the first Versailles? Enough facts, information and opinions are available even now for us to venture a general outline of such a “peace.” We have had much, too much, experience with imperialism and its methods not to be able to deduce, in general, such schemes. A war, conducted on a global scale and starkly imperialistic in nature, can only end on similar terms if it comes to a halt solely through superior military power. Such a peace, as it affects Germany, will be organized along the following lines: (1) occupation, (2) territory, (3) reparations, (4) “education.” Let us examine each category separately.

Under the Versailles Treaty, American, British and French troops occupied only the Rhineland area of Germany. This was in the nature of a “token” occupation. Today the intention of the Allies is clearly to occupy the greater part, if not all, of Germany. The major cities that remain, the key industrial centers, etc., will be stringently taken over to guarantee enforcement of the additional terms imposed on the nation. We do not know if actual details have been worked out (army of occupation set-up, division of areas between Russia, England and America, etc.), but we do know that technical and administrative occupation forces are now being trained in all Allied countries. Nobody can foresee how extensive and harsh the actual physical occupation will be (obviously, the resistance of the German masses will be the determining factor in this), nor can anyone predict its duration. Perhaps the scheme of Walter Lippmann, the gentleman political philosopher, will prevail, namely, that after a brief but “dynamic” occupation, the Allied forces withdraw to Germany’s new borders and permit those who remain within the scorched ring to “stew in their own juice.” Occupation there will be, no doubt, but we must understand it only as a necessary stage for the fulfillment of the more fundamental territorial and economic measures to be taken against Germany. These will determine the extent, depth and duration of the actual operation.

Territorially, many plans and proposals have already been put forward. Naturally, loss of all conquered and/or annexed territory is assumed. We shall not take up the matter of what happens to such illegally-seized territories. It is likewise safe to assume that, as in the First World War, the great powers and their small imperialistically-minded satellites will fight over the spoils like maddened dogs. What concerns us here is territory of Germany proper; lands long occupied and built up by the German peoples.

The overall picture we have before us now seems to have two ideas in mind: (1) to strip away natural boundaries and strong border or transitional areas; (2) to weaken and reduce the German heartland or central core. Thus, the Allies have already indicated publicly that Austria shall not be a part of post-war Germany (a simple reiteration of the policy used after World War I); the German Sudetenland will go back to Czechoslovakia, and the Saar Basin will be removed from German control (but by no means will it necessarily go back to France!). In addition, Poland has already laid claim to all of rich, industrial Silesia (this time, Upper Silesia will not suffice) and has hinted that all of East Prussia (a somewhat exaggerated expansion of the old Polish Corridor!) will do nicely as partial compensation for the anticipated loss of a third of former Poland to Ally Stalin. Loss of other smaller sections of Germany to Holland, Belgium and Denmark has likewise been hinted at. All in all, such losses would strike heavily at Germany’s raw material sources (coal, iron ore and potash), her heavy industrial development and her sources of foodstuffs (East Prussia).

It has been suggested that what remains after these operations should then be reestablished along the lines of the old Imperial German Empire. That is, the old provinces, states and backward units (Saxony, Hesse, Bavaria, Friesland, etc.) should be resurrected. The idea behind this is apparent. It is to reduce Germany (politically and administratively) to a status similar to that prevailing after the defeat of Napoleon (1815). This task, accomplished by the reactionary Congress of Vienna, left a backward Germany, divided into numerous petty states and principalities mutually antagonistic to one another. If fundamental German national unity were to be destroyed today by a neo-Congress of Vienna, it would thrust the entire nation back to a similar catastrophic period in its history, and the long, bitter struggle for national unification would resume all over again. Yet these are the terms in which the Allies consider the problem.

Finally we come to economic reparations. Here, of course, the punishment of the defeated by the victors will be simplest, clearest and harshest. The dreary failure of reparations after World War I has taught the Allies a lesson. This time they do not intend to exact such reparations primarily in the form of money. First, undoubtedly, Germany will be forced to give up whatever remains of movable wealth, machinery and equipment that has been looted from the occupied lands. A certain portion of German machinery (amount not yet determined) will be transferred directly to the governments of newly established countries. But the two major methods talked of, and which constitute an “advancement” over the methods of the First Versailles, are: (1) products of German industry (such as remains of it) to be distributed in set proportions among the Allied and liberated nations. A beginning of such reparations technique was made in the First World War, as we have pointed out in our summary of Versailles. But that was insignificant as contrasted with what is proposed today. Estimates ranging as high as fifty years of production for the Allies have been made. (2) The transportation and use of German labor power to be used directly in foreign reconstruction work. Russia, to be sure, has been most concrete in this sinister enslavement idea. Russian spokesmen have mentioned three million workers to work for ten years in the Ukraine as an example of what they mean by this new method. Naturally, one hears less talk about this particular point. It is not exactly an Allied talking point for victory! Yet the conception is there and under serious consideration.

As for “educational” and “cultural” reconstruction of Germany, the liberals and bourgeois professors are still too strongly divided among themselves (are Germans “schizophrenic” and therefore incurable, or will proper instruction by “democratic” professors work a cure?) to have advanced any specific ideas. The Allied generals, administrators and imperialists are not overly concerned with this matter.

European Unity or Ruin

Now, in summary, what precisely would such a peace (or one based on similar principles) mean for the future of the German people and Europe? First of all, let us note that even in bourgeois liberal terms, such a conclusion to the war would write finis forever to bourgeois-liberal proposals aiming at creating a European economic and political federation. To be sure, campaigns for such a federated Europe have already been quietly squelched, and little or nothing is heard of such ideas. The categoric attitude of the Stalin regime against any type of federation – all-European or confined to limited areas – put an end to the utopian dream of the middle class liberals. The subjugation of Germany would definitely extinguish this possibility. Everyone understands that it is impossible to take a step toward such goals without the support of eighty million people lying in the heart of the continent.

Not only would such a peace testify to the unwillingness and inability of the bourgeoisie to create a Federated Europe, even in a bourgeois-capitalist image, but it would also impugn (to put it mildly) the liberal and idealistic motives which, according to the liberals, give this war its idealistic and worthwhile character. Have they not told us that only economic collaboration and an end to destructive political and nationalistic rivalries can set Europe back upon its feet and save its civilization from self-destruction? Is that not the basic reason advanced in justification for the years of sacrifice – that this time the war will end in a just peace and a new European political and social order? What explanation can they offer to justify the “peace” we have described; the peace we have good reason to believe will be forced upon a conquered Germany?

We reiterate certain basic characteristics of imperialism which we have stated many times before and which will be proved many times again in the near future. Imperialism cannot create a harmonious, people’s European federation – it can only add to the already fatal nationalistic passions that are destroying the peoples of Europe; it cannot bring democracy to the nations of Europe – not even the limited democracy of liberalism. Sicily and Italy already indicate this; Germany will be a blunter proof. Imperialism cannot solve the economic problems of Europe because it cannot take first steps in that direction – namely, destruction of tariff and customs boundaries permitting the free flow of vitally needed raw materials and producers’ and consumers’ goods between the nations. As for the problem of political and national liberation, Allied imperialism commences its “reconstruction” of Europe by a military occupation and domination over Italy and intends to proceed as shortly as possible to the denial of Germany’s right to exist. In 1918, at any rate, Wilson made what proved to be a hypocritical assertion that the “fourteen points” would apply equally to a democratic Germany. Today there is not even an effort to make such a promise.

The recent conferences of the great powers that have taken place, and particularly the behavior of Russia toward Poland and its pact with Czechoslovakia, indicate that the Allied powers will base then: reconstructed Europe purely on power politics, power line-ups and power alliances. Essentially, such a Europe will not differ much from the Europe that emerged from Versailles. If these leaders have their way, all the same disintegrating rivalries and forces that led with such irresistibility to the present global catastrophe will again begin their tragic work. Energetic and freedom-demanding nationalities will again be compressed within artificial boundaries (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavakia, etc.); national boundaries and tariff barriers that throw nation against nation in destructive economic warfare will be set up once more and, above all, the imperialist crime of a second “oppression and humiliation” of the German masses will ensue.

But “Shall not the German people be punished for this war?” We hear this question put to us on all sides, even from those who understand what the subjugation of Germany would mean.

Such a question puts the problem within the same sphere as it is placed by the imperialists. It links the German masses (workers and peasants) together with the German ruling class and its Nazi Party. It ignores the fact that Hitler marched to power over the broken bones of the German labor movement; that he retained and continues to retain power only by an endless Gestapo terror against his own people. The class struggle (that is, concretely, the hatred between the German workers and their capitalist-Nazi rulers) is a powerful factor in Germany today. These workers know who has brought this disaster and nightmare upon their heads. But it is only a greater fear – the fear of loss of national independence – that keeps this class feeling suppressed. Fear of Allied occupation, fear of dismemberment, fear of reparations – it is upon these fears that Hitler feeds and continues to live. (See his New Year’s message to the German people.) The German nation, above all, is highly conscious of the problems of national unification. It struggled slowly and painfully for a long period to achieve this necessary goal. It fought kings and kaisers, prices and democratic capitulators, foreign reactionaries and invaders, to accomplish this progressive task.

The misfortune was that in the end the unified nation fell into the hands of imperialists and would-be world beaters, rather than into the hands of the German workers.

And here again we see another reactionary aspect to any contemplated German dismemberment. Its net effect would be to throw together the German proletariat and its bourgeoisie (seeking to recreate national unification), rather than lay the groundwork for the revolutionary seizure of a unified Germany by a socialist proletariat.

The American labor movement, before long, will be faced by this problem concretely. Shall it go along with capitalism and imperialism by giving its support to a peace of oppression? Or shall it stand with the revolutionists of Germany’s working population, aid them in their struggle against their Nazi rulers by reaffirming Germany’s unequivocal right to national self-determination under a democratic, working class regime, in collaboration with the liberated peoples of Europe?

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