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Symposium: The New Europe

New International, July 1949



German Labor Trends

A Letter from a German Socialist


From New International, Vol. XV No. 5, July 1949, pp. 144–145.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The present situation within the German labor movement is characterized by the spontaneous appearance of communist oppositional tendencies. I believe that the crisis of Stalinism is nowhere (except in the countries of Eastern Europe) as obvious as it is in Germany, Two parties have already been created: One, the “Independent Communist” Party in Dortmund (Ruhr district) and a “Free Communist” Party in Berlin.

We have been able to get hold of the programmatic statement and a “manifesto” as well as details concerning the person of the founder of the ICP. I am informing you of this so that you do not form an incorrect opinion on the basis of the brief reports in the press. The initiation of the ICP is best described as the adventure of an idiot. The founder of this “party,” Klemens Bender, is a former Liberal who, after 1945, contributed to the formation and building up of the “Free Democratic Party” in the Soviet Zone. It seems that he encountered difficulties with the Russian occupying power and that he went to Western Germany, where he devised his curious plan. He has no roots whatever in the labor movement; comrades have inquired in Dortmund about this “party” only to find out that Bender is not even known in the opposition circles of the local CP.

The manifesto justified these opinions about the man. It begins: “The ICP considers the freedom of man as inviolable.” It continues:

“The ICP is a German party and serves German interests only ... In this the ICP adheres in principle in its political structure to the theory of Karl Marx while at the same time it rejects Leninism and Stalinism as unworthy of discussion and harmful to the people. It views the Soviet structure as a rule of despotism of unprecedented scale.

“In the economic sphere the ICP demands the expropriation of large-scale industries and large estates which contain the seeds of aggressive imperialism.” The bad German of this programmatic statement is made even more unbearable by its pathetic style. The last sentence reads: “Only when the working people step from the shadows of their life into the sun, only then will our labors be crowned by success.”

One cannot help but be tempted to let the working people “step from the shadows of their life into the sun ... of death”! I just want to indicate to you not to take the ICP seriously.

I still lack reliable information regarding the “Free Communist Party” in Berlin. I read one report on it in a periodical of doubtful character. It does give some glimpses of the party’s program, which seem to indicate that there is at least as much confusion. This party rejects the dictatorship of the proletariat, all class privileges, including those of the working class; it is opposed to civil war and armed insurrection. However, it seems that it is composed of old party members of the CP and therefore may find a fair-sized audience. The founders appear to be one-time members of the RFB (Red Fighters); that’s their type, anyway. They demand of the Russians, for example, that they account for the whereabouts of Heinz Neumann, the advocate of individual terror before 1933, and of Willi Loem, the second chairman of the RFB.

* * * *

I agree with you entirely on the question that no organization that defends the official viewpoint of the Fourth International on the Russian question has any perspective of growth – not only in Germany but everywhere.

I do not know if you are informed about the internal situation of the German organization. I shall answer all your questions about that matter. We are one of the few sections (if not the only one) that is not divided into majority and minority (on the Russian question particularly!).

No Defense of Russia

There is no comrade who holds the views of the Fourth International. The theory of “state capitalism” is undefended too. A real discussion on the Russian question has not yet taken place, but the leading comrades share, in general, the theory of the ISL, i.e., the theory of “bureaucratic collectivism.” We have defended this theory in two documents, the one being a criticism of the theses of the second world congress, the other a criticism of the publications on the Yugoslav question. Both will be published, we are promised, in the Internal Bulletin of the IS. The disagreement between us and you lies in the evaluation of the anti-Stalinist resistance movements in the Russian sphere of influence.

You wrote in your letter: “We believe that the place for all socialists is as members of the German SP, working for their own purposes ...” There is something to be said about your views on this point. We have, of course, fully understood that we have not the task to be some kind of “left opposition” at the edge of the Stalinist party. The fact that the majority of the Western German workers is now following the Social Democratic Party must determine fundamentally our strategy. Yet I cannot conclude that a total entrist tactic is to be applied. (Of course, most of my comrades are organized in various organizations, SP or CP. The conditions for work are locally different ones. Sometimes the work in the CP is more favorable.) The condition of our organization doesn’t allow this.

State of Consciousness

The most essential prerequisite for entering into a mass organization is that our organization itself is politically and organizationally firm. As a matter of fact, the German section doesn’t meet this condition up to now. Properly, it is not an organization at all. That is, it is still on the way of becoming something that can be called an organization.

You must furthermore consider the condition of consciousness that prevails within the German labor movement. The first task consists in winning over the most advanced part, i.e., the most critical, of the membership and the functionary body of the existing parties. Thereby also the chiefly theoretical character of the paper is determined.

Your criticism regarding Die Internationale, that it is “abstract propaganda,” is only partially justified ... We ourselves know too well our weakness. It lies firstly in the lack of educated cadres. The losses were too high, especially, those caused by demoralization among the pre-1933 forces. The first issue of the paper was made exclusively abroad. Nobody had any influence on the selection of the themes, etc.

For the second issue we at least contributed with the leading article. The other stuff was taken in, more or less, for embarrassment. The third was made in Germany, after a little clash between us and the IS because of the resolution on Yugoslavia. We demanded to print an article in No. 4 which differentiates itself from that resolution, but we retreated after having got the promise that a discussion article should be published in the Internal Bulletin of the IS. I am ready to admit that the paper is of little interest and that it deals too little with specifically German problems. The latter is our main trouble. But despite this lack the paper is very much asked for. It is still highly superior to the other publications that are licensed by the military authorities. This – and only this! – circumstance may excuse its many weaknesses.

Our political platform will shortly be finished. It is rather long and mainly theoretical. The historical and international parts take very much space, but this corresponds to the specific weight of these questions in German politics today. The first question you’ll be asked by a man who doesn’t know of your organization is: What is your position vis-à-vis Russia and the USA. Only in the second line come the questions of Western German constitution, etc. There must always be considered that we address our publications not to the masses, but to the critical elements in the existing socialist organization, which have already got some Marxist education (and tradition) and which understand our “theoretical” language.

* * * *

It seemed very doubtful to me that the Russians would accept the Bonn Constitution for their zone and the course of the Paris negotiations showed that they are not ready to subject themselves unconditionally. It should not be forgotten that they are not in retreat along the whole line (China), and that the Western powers are rather handicapped by their economic difficulties. I am therefore inclined to evaluate the present state as one of equilibrium, with the Russians having made only a partial retreat because they advanced too far with their blockade of Berlin.

The real issue, in my opinion, is the resumption of trade between East and West, which is a necessity for both sides. Perhaps the vehemence of the Cold War will diminish, but there will be little change in the division of political forces. I suppose that in Germany, too, the political situation will remain as before; the borders between Eastern and Western zones will also remain and only trade will pass over them. Of course, there will be some minor relaxations – the prohibition of exchange of news, for example, has been lifted with the Berlin blockade. We now have Russian newspapers. The Tägliche Rundschau, official organ of the Russian military administration, is now published in a Western edition. This will be the state of affairs in the period to come, but no major changes can be expected.

What I particularly want to discuss is the position of the Stalinists toward such actions as the Berlin railway workers’ strike and the action of the Ruhr workers against the dismantling of several chemical factories in the Ruhr. From the Eastern zone they sent many messages in which they expressed their “complete solidarity” with the strikers. But nobody takes their talk seriously because every child knows their attitude toward the dismantling, reparations and annexations in the East, which amounted to many times those in the West. Nevertheless, it is interesting to analyze their latest propaganda turn.

German Stalinists

They proclaimed a “state of national emergency” and called for a united “national front” from the workers to the bosses. I quote from the German top Stalinist leader, Walter Ilbricht:

“The objective requirements for a broad national front from the labor movement to the entrepreneur class are given today. In all circles of the people of Western Germany, indignation against the national enslavement policy of the Western powers is increasing. In this situation it is completely false to first pose the question to any German whether he is a convinced democrat. It is just as false to ask this or that person whether he formerly held a membership book in the Nazi Party. Today, the only possible standard is the answer to the question: are you for Germany’s unity; are you for a just treaty; are you for the withdrawal of occupation troops?”

Another example will show you how feeble the Stalinist position on the question of dismantlings really is. Western German journalists were given an interview by the deputy president of the Eastern zone Economic Commission, the Stalinist, Fritz Selbmann. One of their questions was: In Western Germany, the problem of dismantlings plays an important role at the present time. What is the situation in the Soviet zone in this respect? At first Selbmann declared that dismantlings came to an. end long ago. Then he surprised his guests with the news that the Soviet Union has returned several rolling-mill works, which were taken away four years ago. Evidently, the Russians had neither the skilled manpower nor the required factory plants for utilizing these machines. Selbmann also had something to say about the differences between Eastern and Western dismantlings. “An essential difference” – and it was the only one he could enumerate “between the dismantIings in the East and West is that the former took place immediately after the breakdown of Nazism and not, as in the West, four years after.”

What moral indignation! His only accusation against this new robbery is that it should have been done four years earlier!


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