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The New International, October 1945


Roger Judson

In the Land of the Political Vacuum

An Observer’s Notes on Germany


From The New International, Vol. XI No. 7, October 1945, pp. 216–217.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


GI soldiers, greatly attracted by the beauty of the German landscape, and its constant variations, often say, half out loud: “My God, with such a nice country why did they do what they did?” Aside from the political naivete thus expressed (it is impossible to find anyone who understands less about politics or the war than GI Joe, the man who fought it), there is no doubt about Germany being Europe’s most attractive country. A succession of geographic areas, each with its own interests and peculiarities, and each with its own special type of “Germans.”

The Fränkische Schweiz mountain region, lying between Nürnberg and Beyreuth (Ober-Franken) is typical. Rounded, green hills (remnants of worn-down mountains), deep valleys and numerous stony cliffs and crags (Felsen) are everywhere. Pine, linden and small oak forests are scattered about. The peasants, tilling small fields of wheat, corn and grain, live in small villages. A new element in the villages is the evacuee from one of Germany’s destroyed cities (Ruhr cities, Berlin. etc.). Some villages have as much as a 50 per cent increase in population, made up of bombed-out families. They are squeezed into the farmers’ houses, where they form a restless and unhappy element, a part of Germany’s huge housing and living problem. In such areas Goethe, the folk songs about valleys and forests, et cetera, the whole German “Naturkultur” becomes easily understood. With the compulsory, forced, back-to-the-land and village migration, a revival of such cultural tendencies, accompanying glorification of “the simple life,” is inevitable.

The New German Hierarchy

The new German governmental bureaucracy, now developing under AMG supervision in the occupied areas, is as follows (proceeding from bottom to top):

  1. Germans employed in menial capacities (KP and cleaning work in military compounds, maids in officers’ quarters). They benefit by having regular work, American food, and scrounging off left-overs, cigarettes, cast-off clothing, etc.
  2. Germans employed by American army in factories producing for army, or on American road, bridge, and repair projects. Only benefit is that of being employed.
  3. Germans employed directly in Military Government capacity, as clerks, stenographers, typists, interpreters – all varieties of petty officials. They benefit by employment, prestige in eyes of their fellow-Germans, bureaucratic power and authority that comes with such positions and the feeling of protection at being close to those in power.
  4. Germans appointed to political functions (mayors, judges, administrators, etc.) by AMG authority. Overwhelming bulk from the Center Party, or traditional civil service. They benefit by the power, authority and prestige that comes with such positions.
  5. Germans employed directly by AMG as “informers and listeners.”

The German Petty-Bourgeois

He (or she) might well be called the “know-nothing” of Germany, or “the believer.” “We knew nothing; we just believed.” Having discovered originally, in Hitler, the embodiment of their frustrations, hopes, and illusions of grandeur, they obeyed the age-old, petty-bourgeois characteristic of self-deception to the end. Now, they claim, everything has come to them as a blinding revelation. Their “sad story,” which they repeat endlessly and without variation, never changes – its tones of remorse, self-pity and self-flagellation only mellow with age and repetition. “What scoundrels they were; if we had only known.” Now they thrash about for something new in which to believe (Nature and the simple life; God or the convent; or AMG and its earthly bureaucracy). In general, their behavior and reactions are along well-known to-be-expected lines. Whoever is in power has their grovelling support, even if it means self-abasement and spitting upon whatever national pride they may have had. They are the classic middle-class of modern times – bewildered and lost. Their immediate hope is to ingratiate themselves with the new military government (or any German regime that may come into existence later on): with the more distant perspective of finding a better function (perhaps a re-integration into productive economic life) in a new war against Russia, under American auspices.

The German Youth

The German Youth (we mean the young girls of all ages up to marriage; plus the young boys who did not serve in the army) was brought up under the systematic Hitler indoctrination which consisted of hammering in a few slogans and fixed “ideas.” The tenacity and durability of these shallow prejudices (with the probable exception of anti-Semitism) is highly doubtful, unless the vacuum in which this youth now lives continues. In that case, the Nazi indoctrination will undoubtedly continue to fester within their minds. Concretely, if schools fail to re-open, if the young boys fail to receive an opportunity to learn professions and build careers, to express themselves in the ways common to youth (clubs, sports, associations, etc.), they will turn to some form of neo-nazi or neo-chauvinistic organization, and will begin to actively resist the occupation. At present, wandering through the countryside or the ruined cities, they are restlessly “maturing” within a vacuum. Obviously, their present quiescence will not endure forever.

The situation with respect to the young German girls (those unmarried, or whose husbands have vanished in the war) is still worse. Already pushed far along the path of bourgeois immorality by Nazi doctrine and methods (promiscuity, huge illegitimacy rate, etc.), and generally deprived of any professional learning or skill by the Nazi educational doctrine with respect to women (Kinder, Kirche, und Küche), they are now fast striding along the road of semi- and professional prostitution, as a means of earning a living. Without work, without means of education, etc., their economic function in Germany economy is, apparently, to be limited to that of Spring sowing and Fall harvesting. Of all the layers of highly dis reputed German society, these hundreds of thousands of young girls have probably sunk the lowest morally, and with the greatest rapidity. Their sole energy, now, is directed toward associating themselves (in the only manner they know) with the conquering soldiers in all areas. This effort goes to the extreme, even, of exhibiting an open contempt and disdain for their own returning soldiers and men! As for the occupational soldiery, its attitude was well expressed by an American GI who said, “This is a wonderful country! Where did we get so much of it, and practically for nothing, too!”

The German Soldier

The German soldier, released from the prisoner of war camps, does not talk. It is not fear alone that dictates his silence; he is thinking and until the process is completed, he has little or nothing to say. With groups of others, he finds his way home, or to a farm area where he will find rough work. As he trudges through the deserted and broken cities (he does not look about him at the ruins) he appears, outwardly, to be bone-weary, dirty and exhausted, ragged and empty. The weight of his Musette pack keeps his eyes on the ground. But this outward appearance is probably an illusion. There is nobody who can say what is going on underneath, with which ideas and paths he will experiment at a later stage, what road he will ultimately follow when the inevitable regrouping and reorganization of German political life takes place. It is not accidental that I have never seen an American or British soldier sneer or laugh at the returning men of the Wehrmacht. They did not invite such an attitude: in this respect differing from the German petty-bourgeois, or the young “Fräuleins.” For the time being, most of those who work are on farms. The others have little or no work, and their future differs little from that of the German people as a whole.

The German Workers

The American left-wing and democratic press has published “information” regarding the German working class of a highly fanciful nature. This goes for that portion of the press that should know better too. It indicates a failure to fully grasp the results and processes of fascism as it effects the working class. The naive belief (or wish) seems to exist that the German workers simply continue on from where they halted 12 years ago. This conception, apparently, is based upon the emergence of some ancient Social-Democratic trade-union leaders. Their rebirth, however, bears the same resemblance to reality as does the rebirth of various Center Party and Social-Democratic Party leaders. That is, little or no resemblance. Such a conception ignores what has happened and. assumes that the effects of Nazism can be lightly brushed off. Actually, what has happened is that the atomizing machine of the Nazi state has ground to a halt, and that the German working class, along with every layer and segment of German society1 lies inert, disorganized and bewildered, in the center of the vacuum.

To begin with, what happened to the old, highly organized German working class? It was mobilized and fought in the war, and that goes for its most concentrated and skilled groups (miners, machinists, steel workers, etc.). It suffered enormous casualties among the millions of German dead; many others remain as prisoners and will work long years in Russia, France, etc. No one has any statistics on their numbers but they are not small. Then, in the physical destruction of German industry, large numbers of workers were scattered into the towns, away from their factories. They became farm hands with their families; or used their skills in primitive or craft professions. This scattering into the countryside, this de-proletarianizing of the German worker will, of course, increase with the application of the recent Potsdam Conference decisions. Only coal and iron ore miners and railroad workers will remain in any substantial numbers; plus scattered groups of workers engaged in “light, domestic” industries. Generally speaking, the German worker has been torn from his machine and thrust back into agricultural or handicraft production. Since no reconstruction is contemplated, even building trades workers and related industries, have no place.

The German worker today is a worker only in memory, with the vaguest of pre-war traditions. He is beaten, fearful, frightened, submissive, confused and groping. He has little hope of finding his old job, his former factory, his previous profession. He is an atom, moving from one day to the next, and rapidly losing his illusion that the war’s end would mean a revival of “normal” industrial life, along with his place in it. He is, in a word, just another German.

The “New Unions”

As for the “new unions” that have been started in various areas, and are now to be permitted everywhere, let us recognize them for what they are: namely, the first halting step in that lengthy process by which the German worker may be able to find his best form of organization for the future. It is the hesitant step of a baby – not, as some people think, the “revival of German trade unionism.” That idea is preposterous. These groupings, under strict AMG supervision, not only display no initiative or independence, but do not, as yet, understand the meaning of such terms. In many of them, because of this, the former Nazi elements (foremen, etc.) are still able to maintain their old terror against the workers. The German workers are not the Italian workers of north Italy. They are beginning all over again, from scratch, to crawl up the road of democracy and independent action. These “unions” are, therefore, in reality, elementary associations of workingmen, to discuss various matters. They are beginning and must be recognized as such. Naturally, they will develop, but at an extraordinarily slow speed.

As for “political” thought – there is no more indication that the German worker, or what remains of him, has any “political” ideas or conceptions that there is among the average German petty-bourgeois. To live – that is, to get my day’s feed; to earn a small sum of money; to put a roof on my half-bombed-out cellar apartment and to store up some wood-fuel for the long winter that approaches – that occupies exclusively the mind of the German worker and his family. The slow re-organization of political parties (Social-Democratic, Christian Democratic and Communist) will eventually come to his awareness, but not yet. Scrawled on a smashed wall of a Frankfurt-am-Main factory were those famous lines of Goethe:

“Ach, ich bin des Treiben müde.
Was soll’ all der Schmerz und Lust?
Süsse Friede, komm’, ach komm’ in meine Brust.”

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