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Albert Gates

Analyzing an Imperialist Device

Reparations: New Blow
at the European People

(12 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 32, 12 August 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

A peace conference is now being held in Paris. Gathered in the Luxemburg Palace are the diplomatic representatives of the victorious nations. Presumably all the nations are to help “win” the peace of the world. However, the small nations, that is, the militarily weak nations, have only a consultative role to play. The Big Four has already determined, in all important respects, the decisions of the “peace conference.”

To call the meeting in Paris a “peace conference” is in keeping with the universal hypocrisies of capitalist society. It is more than a year since hostilities have ended in Europe and Asia. Since the war resulted in a crushing defeat of the Axis powers, the danger of a new war from that quarter is obviously completely eliminated. On the other hand, from a realistic point pf view, the prospect of an immediate war resulting from the sharp antagonisms among the victor nations is also rather far-fetched.

The nations of Europe and Asia will be several years seeking to attain some degree of normal economic, political and social life. The devastation of the greatest war in the history of mankind has been far too vast to render possible such a new war among the new imperialist rivals.

Why, then, the meeting in Paris? The big powers have gathered together the members of the UN to ratify a conquerors’ peace, to establish a formal legality, by agreement, to an imperialist redivision of the spoils of war. The problems are many, the conflicting interests fundamentally unbridgeable.

The Paris Conference is merely the stage where the open diplomatic struggle between the two first-rate powers in the world today, the United States and Russia, takes place. As a natural result of this rivalry, the UN is divided into two camps, the Western and Russian blocs. While this struggle is fundamentally irreconcilable, the two blocs are in agreement on one thing: making the defeated nations pay for the war through occupation, seizure and removal of industrial equipment and raw materials, indemnities, reparation payments and territorial redivisions and annexations.

The only disputes involved here are over the kind of penalties; and here the differences have a political significance since they relate to the impending conflicts among the powers and their respective desires to improve their political-military positions against each other. Since the Big Four is in principle agreement on their right to impose a conquerors’ peace on the defeated countries, their quarrels assume a totally hypocritical tone.

Chaos and Peace

The conferences at Yalta and Potsdam established this “right” for the Big Four to settle the fate of Europe. Thus, all the defeated Axis powers

and the smaller nations which Germany occupied and forced into the war on its side are treated as vanquished nations in common. These countries are occupied or divided territorially. Their economies, like the rest of Europe, are completely disrupted. Hunger stalks the Continent. But the only contribution the victor nations can make is to increase the devastation and disintegration of Europe.

The worst malefactor among the bandit nations is Russia. On the heels of the advancing Russian army came the specialists and technicians who dismantled whole industries and together with raw materials, livestock, farm products and forced laborers transported them to Russia. The forced migrations of peoples assumes an even more desperate and cruel form than they did under Hitler. At least Hitler never said that he was carrying out his barbarous crimes in the name of “democracy and peace,” in the name of the Four Freedoms. Russia has forcibly incorporated nonRussian territories into its borders. Mutilating the economies of the countries which she occupies, the Stalinist bureaucracy has made a revival of those countries impossible.

On their part the Western powers have contributed their share to the chaos on the Continent. The United States, Great Britain and France join Russia in the occupation and division of Germany, the central problem of Europe. The Big Four, while drafting treaties for most of the Axis powers, has, for lack pf agreement, left unsettled the German and Austrian problems. But they transferred territory from Italy and gave it to France. Italy’s colonial empire has been taken and its disposition left for a later date. Draft treaties for Italy, Bulgaria, Finland, Roumania and Hungaria were completed. And in each case, the Big Four agreed to indemnities and reparations.

Revolutionary socialists oppose annexations, indemnities and reparations because, in the final analysis, they are paid for by the sweat and toil of the working people. Those who have no responsibility for war, are forced to pay its penalties. The Bolsheviks under Lenin always opposed annexations, indemnities and reparations as an extension of imperialist policy from war to peace, as measures leading to a more intense exploitation of the masses.

From an economic standpoint, how can a defeated state pay tribute? If, after a war, it loses its colonies, its share of the world market, much of its industry, raw materials, and territories containing coal and iron as well as industries, then there remains only one way in which the monopoly capitalists of defeated nations can partially pay their debts to their fellow capitalists. This is by increased exploitation of their people through longer hours of work, lower wages, worsened conditions of life and a general destruction of the living conditions of the masses.

Then and Now

After the last war, Europe suffered greatly because the war was fought on its soil. Material destruction and loss of life were immense. Industry and agriculture were at a standstill and economic decline manifested itself in all countries, including those of the Allies. The great progress that capitalist society had made theretofore was halted. The world market, the world division of labor and the world exchange of goods was destroyed for a time. Yet on top of all this, the Allies demanded from defeated Germany, Austria and Turkey, the payment of astronomical sums in goods and money.

The imperialist Versailles Treaty not only meant a long period of great poverty for the masses (the capitalist rulers of the defeated countries never did pay fully for their defeat) but held up whatever chance there was for an economic improvement on the Continent. It provided the impulse for the rise of reactionary nationalism and chauvinism which helped pave the way for fascism. Students of history will remember that the only way Germany was able to meet even a part of its debt was by dumping goods cheaply on the world market. This not only increased its rivalry with the United States and Great Britain, but was done at the cost of the German people who suffered low wages and mass unemployment. Even then Germany could not fully revive its economy since the dumping of goods was at the expense of future production.

The same thing is being repeated now, even though the post-war conditions of 1945–46 are far worse than they were in 1918. Modern instruments of warfare have wrought a greater destruction of natural and man-made wealth. The loss of life has been many times larger than in. the first war. The destruction of the economy of Europe is more severe – Europe is, as a matter of fact, an economic wasteland particularly in those areas which were once the centers of capitalist economy and culture. A divided and occupied Germany, an occupied Austria, an Italy still treated as an ally of Hitler, Balkan countries, once overrun by the Wehrmacht, now overrun by Stalin’s troops, and in Eastern Europe, on a line from Stettin in Germany to Trieste, on the Adriatic, the heel of Stalinism starks astride the necks of the people – this is Europe in 1946.

Leaving aside all other aspects of the treaties now before the Paris Conference, let us consider just one contained in common in all of them.

As we indicated above, in all the treaties there is a provision for the payment of tribute to the United Nations in one form or another. The only power, however, which has demanded money reparations of the impoverished countries is Russia. The money payments total almost a billion dollars and are divided as follows: $100,000,000; Romania, $300,000,000; Hungary, $200,000,000, and $50,000,000 each to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia; and Finland, $300,000,000. German and Austrian reparations will be considered when the Big Four can reach a prior agreement. In the meantime, Stalin is stripping the zones over which he has control.

In making these demands, Russia has given added evidence that she has nothing in common with socialism, but practices an imperialism of her own. Stalin’s theoreticians, who were once Marxists, do not have to be told that by their demands they have accepted imperialist policy which identifies the people with the crimes of. their rulers; that they have saddled defeated nations whose economies are destroyed, with war debts and such conditions as make it impossible for them to establish normal economic conditions. Those who will have to pay these debts are the toiling masses of these countries. If the countries do not meet these payments, Russia, like all imperialists, thereby has an ace in the hole: She has a legal right to intervene in these countries or to tie their economies to the Russian.

To say that Russia pursues an imperialist policy of its own does not wholly describe Stalinist policy in Europe. Precisely because she is poorer than the other imperialists, Russian imperialism is less subtle, more ruthless.

The peace conference in Paris is, like the Versailles conference and the League of Nations, the meeting ground of imperialist robbers. To oppose their robbers’ peace is to defend the people of Europe. To fight against this latest imperialist attack on the peoples of Europe is to carry on the struggle for a free and Socialist Europe.

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