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James M. Fenwick

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German Arms and Socialist Policy

(16 January 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 3, 16 January 1950, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by
Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Comrade Eugene Keller’s discussion article, Socialist Policy and the Rearmament of the New Germany, resembles nothing so much as a ride on a roller-coaster. There is the same slow initial ascent, the same hair-raising turns and drops, the same confusion of impressions at the end of the ride.

The article is very unclear and incomplete, especially in motivating the main thesis. But the thesis itself is clear.

“The German Social-Democrats,” says Keller, “have not as yet, to our knowledge, taken any position on the military plans for Germany. It would seem to be their task not to oppose the rearming of the German people; to oppose it would be utterly unrealistic. But they must oppose the re-creation of a type of army that existed up to 1945; they must fight the vesting of control over a future German army in the government of Adenauer and his associates.”

“It would be plausible and practical to propose and build a militia based on the existing mass organizations, such as the trade unions, peasant organizations, etc., with election and rotation of officers and a certain number of hours per week devoted to training in the many special skills needed in a modern army.”

Militia Won’t Work

Let us be very generous and grant that it should be the position of socialists to advocate such an army, for all of Keller’s reasons, stated and unstated. His solution, however, is an impossible one. A militia such as he proposes was possible in the 19th century when the rifle was still a key weapon. World War I spelled the doom of this concept. The Red Guard of the Russian Revolution quickly proved inadequate and was, soon transformed from just such a militia into an army more closely approximating one of the regular type. Modern conditions of warfare imposed it. In an age of mechanized warfare involving complex military machinery of all sorts (tanks, communications, aircraft, guided missiles, radar, landing craft, aircraft carriers, submarines, etc.) such a militia is useless for the purpose Keller intends.

Modern warfare is not a sparetime activity. At best such a militia could engage in guerrilla actions, hardly more. Needless to say, any half-alert reactionary could slash the proposal to ribbons. Keller is, therefore, left with his problem still unsolved.

How did Keller work himself into this fix?

He seems to rule out the defeat of Stalinism by other than military means: “How,” he asks, “can the onslaught of the Russian armies be stopped?” As far as Germany is concerned. he states, it is by the creation of a “qualitative army.” “The new German army, however, no matter how ‘qualitative’ it be, must have an ideology. It must at the least be able to feel that it is fighting for a country of its own, if nothing more sublime.”

But have all political possibilities been exhausted? Obviously not. We hardly need the direct evidence of socialist friends who have recently returned from Europe to be aware of the great yearning for peace which possesses the European masses caught between two giant imperialisms. It is this desire for peace which the CP has in part capitalized upon in building up its forces in Western Europe. It lies, in part, behind Schumacher’s denunciation of the “Adenauer government in the Bonn parliament as an agent of the Western powers.” It makes possible our proposal for a Western Union opposed to both Washington and Moscow.

Trotsky’s Slogan?

If our program for an Independent Western Union is not realized, then will be the time for us to take up the program with which Keller begins. A program for the democratization of the army such as we advocated in World War II will then be in order. Keller's position is a very inept variation of Trotsky’s slogan of conscription under trade union control which was, among other things, prompted by the political and military demoralization of the French bourgeois cadres before Hitlerism, by what Trotsky felt was a lack of opposition to the war on the part of the working class, and by an anticipated rapidly maturing revolutionary situation during the war – none of which conditions currently obtain in the case of Germany.

Further, there are many issues of a high order of priority to be taken up (occupation, partition, low production levels, dismantling, the DPs, etc.) before international tensions reach the acuteness which led Trotsky to advance what we in any event considered a confused slogan.

Insofar as Keller seeks to ground his position it seems to be based upon an extension of the right of nations to self-determination. (“But the first necessity is the unconditional recognition of the right of the Germans as a nation to have their own armed forces.”) Of course, the socialist movement advocates the right of all nations to govern themselves. We advocate it, among other reasons, because self-determination removes one more impediment to the confronting of the national bourgeoisie by its own working class.

Rearm Now?

While we can recognize the right of a bourgeois nation like Germany to have its own army, it is hardly something we agitate for, any more than we agitate for its right to have prisons or cops. Concerning these institutions, we can advance numerous proposals, including their abolition. The governing condition is the advancement of the interests of the working class. Keller’s task here is to give reasons for rearming Germany other than the statement that to oppose rearming “would be utterly unrealistic.”

Keller, it should be noted, is even for rearming Germany now, i.e., before Germany can exercise the right of self-determination, and while it is in all that is essential an instrument of United States imperialism, a fact which does not square with his theoretical premise.

Keller concludes by asking us all to “pluck up what little courage it takes to defy the State Department on an exceedingly vital issue.”

We are perfectly willing to issue a modest defi [sic!] to the State Department, an institution whose unconditional right to existence we can only grudgingly admit in any case, but before we do we would like further clarification of the position Keller is advocating.

All we ask is that he take it slower the next time around.

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