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Notes of the Month

Germany and Soviet Property

(December 1941)

From The New International, Vol. VII No. 11, December 1941, pp. 293–4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan.

A RECENT BERLIN DISPATCH reports a highly significant discussion now taking place in the German financial press with relation to the disposition of Soviet property in those areas of the Soviet Union occupied by the German armies. It is recorded that “negotiations with German business groups concerning the sale of Soviet mines and factories were already in progress.”

The dispatch bears directly upon the numerous discussions held in The New International regarding the social character of the respective orders in Germany and Russia. There should have been no doubt as to Hitler’s intentions regarding Russia when he announced that it was his aim to “destroy every vestige of Bolshevism” in the areas conquered. Those who believed that the German conquest of the Soviet Union would leave untouched the fundamental gain of the October Revolution, expropriation of the bourgeoisie and nationalization of property must acknowledge their essential mistake which emanates from their identification of the two systems, the one monopoly capitalist, the other bureaucratic collectivism.

The fact that Hitler seeks to sell the Soviet industrial plant for the purpose of acquiring liquid funds and to reduce the Reich’s expenditures for war, is only incidental to the basic issue: nationalization and collectivization of property, through the expropriation of the capitalists, are incompatible with monopoly capitalism. The German rulers recognize the impossibility of reconciling Germany’s private property economy with Soviet economy, and they proceed in the characteristic manner of bourgeois conquerors. In the present case, instead of seeking some form of indemnity in the occupied territory (the war is not yet over!) they have seized all property as war booty because of the fact that “all Soviet industry is state owned and may be regarded technically and legally as booty,” and “greatly simplifies the matter of disposing of these assets in the interests of war financing ...”

The dispatch says further: “The German government is not interested in operating the plants, chiefly because after the systematic destruction by the retreating Soviet armies most of the plants require substantial investments of fresh funds.” There is a more fundamental reason than this, however, to explain why the German government does not take over the Russian industrial organization and operate it as a government institution. The German regime is not in the business of operating economy. It is a capitalist regime and performs the same general function of all bourgeois states. It discharges the functions of the national government in the interests of the dominant economic class in German society, albeit, under the existing world conditions and the specific place that German imperialism occupies in declining world capitalism, in the sharper and more aggravated manner expressed by its totalitarian character. It retains bourgeois property relations. Where such property relations are non-existent, it plans the restoration of the only property form it understands and recognizes. Its main goal is to adhere the conquered economies to the German and to establish a balance between the Reich and those areas.

As an aside, the report states that Germany has no intention to compensate Belgian, French and other capitalists who owned property in pre-revolutionary Russia. C’est la guerre!

But what stands out in this report is the principal difference in the way Hitler approaches the question of property in the Soviet Union and bourgeois France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Austria, Czechoslovakia, etc. While the New York Times declares that the procedure in Russia and France is paralleled (the infiltration of capital in the respective industries), the real fact is that a fundamental divergence exists respecting policy in the two countries. It is true, in France, the method employed is penetration of French industries by employment of German capital in previously completely French owned property. This holds for occupied and unoccupied France. The Germans buy large numbers of stocks on the French Bourse with the occupation payments- made by Vichy. In this way a number of French industrial enterprises have come under German control. In the French textile industry, for example, German capital enabled a revival of economic activity, but the profits were divided between the French textile magnates and the German.

While Germany regards France, Belgium, Holland and the other occupied territories as vanquished enemies and forces enormous reparations payments, penetrates their industries, subjects their agriculture to the German war needs and in general pursues a policy of de-industrializing those countries, they do not violate the principle of capitalist private property. Contrariwise, in the Soviet Union, this problem of the maintenance of bourgeois property relations does not exist. But for that very reason, the Germans seek to re-establish bourgeois property relations.

It may be objected that the German bourgeoisie does not exhibit any great interest in Russian properties. The reason for this, however, is made explicit. The German capitalists are not certain what the outcome of the war will be. The lurking fear that Germany may not win the war makes them extremely hesitant to advance any capital to the regime. But whether or not they do buy these properties, they will be compelled, if the demands of the war require it, to comply with the needs of the regime and furnish the necessary capital and liquid funds to help defray the costs of the war.

In this instance we have another confirmation of the basic dissimilarity of the German and Soviet systems.

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