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M. Morrison

The Reparations Issue
and a Socialist Europe

(3 March 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 9, 3 March 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

For the workers of Europe, including England and the Soviet Union, the problem of reparations, discussed by Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill at the Crimea conference becomes one of the most important problems that Will confront them in the post-war period. Because that problem is intimately connected with the all-important questions: how should the working masses go about repairing the vast damage wrought by the various armies; for whose benefit shall they repair it; how should they guarantee that once repaired, another and more destructive war will not once again bring ruin and chaos to Europe?

The representative of the Kremlin bureaucracy and the exponents of British and American imperialism were exceedingly vague on this question of reparations in their release issued after the conference at Yalta. They “recognized it, as just that Germany be obliged to make compensation for this damage in kind to the greatest extent possible” and provided for a commission “to consider the question of the extent and methods for compensating damage caused by Germany to the Allied countries.”

There were undoubtedly differences of opinion between Stalin on the one hand and Churchill and Roosevelt on the other, on the question of compelling German workers to work under the whip of Stalin and the Allied imperialists for the restoration of the devastated areas. The capitalist countries are faced with the problem of what to do with their own workers and also with serious opposition on the part of the organized workers to the use of slave labor, a system which would inevitably reduce the standard of living of the native workers. Stalin is not confronted with these difficulties and is anxious to enslave the skilled German workers for the purpose of restoring the devastated areas of the Soviet Union.

How to Rebuild

Leaving aside the differences with reference to the method of reparations, it is clear that Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed on the principle of reparations. Here a warning to some advanced workers is necessary. So terrible is the ruin caused by Hitler’s armies that it is fairly easy for Stalin and the imperialist representatives to convince the millions of people who suffered at the hands of Hitler that justice demands reparations by the Germans. Some radical workers, understanding correctly that the Soviet bureaucrats and the imperialists will utilize the apparent justice of the claim to reparations in order to fool the masses, may insist on presenting the obvious argument that the armies of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt caused as much, if not more damage, at least in Western Europe, as Hitler’s armies.

The question must not be argued on that plane. Not only is it impossible to say which army did the most damage but an argument of that type indirectly involves us in the futile argument as to which side was responsible for the war. Taking the fundamental position that the imperialist rivalries are responsible, we can and must shift the argument to the question as to what is the best method for the workers to use to rebuild the devastated areas and how to prevent their destruction by another war.

* * *

On the theory that Germany alone is responsible for the war, Stalin, the imperialists and their representatives and followers argue: make Germany pay for the damage in services, in goods and in money; take control over the entire German economy for many years and generations if necessary; close down and destroy all her war industries (which means in practice her basic industries). These in essence are the proposals made by Sir Walter Citrine, general secretary of the British Trades Union Congress, at the World Trade Union Conference recently held in London. His views are of course the views of the British Government, and in general they represent the views of all the governments on the side of the Allies.

Against these views the advanced workers of Europe, especially those of England and France, must conduct the most bitter and incessant struggle. They must stress that for the welfare of all the workers of Europe German economy must not be weakened; on the contrary it must be strengthened if that is possible. The fate of civilized Europe depends largely on German productive forces. Any plan which starts from the proposition that German economy must be weakened is, in reality, directed against the welfare of the European masses.

Socialist Germany

It is obvious however that to leave the German productive machine in the hands of the German capitalists is to lay the basis for a war twenty or so years from now. The conclusion is inescapable. To permit German productive capacity to remain at its high level and even to increase it so that the masses of all of Europe can benefit, and at the same time avoid another war, it is necessary to establish a Socialist Germany. It is necessary for the German workers to take power and nationalize German industry.

* * *

The German workers can and must utilize the enormous power of German industry to rebuild the factories that have been destroyed, the homes that have been bombed out of existence—not only in Germany but in all of Europe. The German workers will be more than glad to help in the rebuilding of Europe provided they know that they are doing so not for foreign or native exploiters but for themselves and their fellow-workers of Europe.

Once the European workers realize that the problem of rebuilding devastated Europe and guaranteeing it against further devastation can be solved only with the help of a Socialist Germany, their task becomes dear. No one in his right senses will contend that the Soviet bureaucracy and the imperialists of Great Britain and the United States will put the German workers in power for the purpose of building socialism. The German workers are certain to take power if the workers of Europe will give them the lead and assure them of their support.

Aid German Workers

Under the condition of complete occupation of Germany by the Allied armies the burden of removing those armies from Germany and permitting the German workers to take power will rest upon the European masses outside of Germany and also upon the American masses.

Essentially the problem of enlisting the aid of German industry in the rebuilding of devastated Europe can be solved only if the workers of Europe, especially France and England, take power into their own hands and call upon the German workers to do the same thing.

To leave Europe in the hands of the capitalists and of Stalin means destroying German industrial power and with that the possibility of reconstructing Europe for the benefit of the European masses. Europe can be rebuilt with the help of German industry but that industry must be in the hands of the German workers. To enable the German workers to take and hold that industry it is necessary for the European masses to take power into their own hands. The question of reparations, when properly analyzed, means that its solution lies in a Socialist United States of Europe.

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