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Irving Howe

World Politics

(18 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 11, 18 March 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Recent reports from Germany indicate that, at least in the zone controlled by Russian troops, there may soon be a fusion between the Stalinist and the Social-Democratic Parties. This fusion should be understood primarily as part of the tendency towards totalitarian dictatorship wherever Stalin’s armies take control.

What is the nature of these two parties in eastern Germany? The role of the Stalinists is well known: they are the unquestioning and unscrupulous servants of the Russian regime; they twist their “lines” and politics, regardless of effect on the workers, to serve the interests of the Russian ruling group.

“Liberation” by Pauperization

Their task in eastern Germany was therefore especially difficult. For here was a situation in which the advancing Russian armies were behaving, according to the most favorable reports, in a manner little short of barbaric. Looting, raping, political terrorism – these characteristics expected of conquering imperialist armies were also the characteristics of Stalin’s troops.

But it wasn’t only a question of the behavior of the troops. The political and economic policy of the Russians was one which could bring only total misery to the German workers; it was a policy which could be summed up in one word: looting. Whole factories were dismantled and shipped to Russia. The workers in Eastern Germany were in many cases deprived of the social basis of their existence: the factories in which they had worked were simply no longer there. In other words, the policy which the British-American bombings had begun – that is, the destruction of Germany’s industrial plant – was deliberately continued by the Russians; and the result could only be misery and pauperization for the German workers.

Yet here were the German Stalinists trying to hail this as the work of the “liberating Red Army.” The German workers soon learned exactly what ironic significance that word “liberation” had (a significance which others, in America, have still to learn). The Stalinist party in eastern Germany has resultantly had some difficulty in “selling” the Russians to the local workers.

And this is where the idea of a fusion with the Social-Democrats comes in. Traditionally social-democracy is a working class party whose leaders serve as the agents of its “own” capitalist class; that is the role which it plays today in France and England, for instance. It is committed to the maintenance of the status quo, that is, capitalism, regardless of what reforms it may simultaneously suggest. But to serve in this role, social democracy requires a certain minimum of political freedom; it flourishes during those periods of capitalist democracy when capitalism is attempting to placate the workers with dribs and drabs rather than suppress them completely by fascist terrorism. So soon as capitalism turns to the perspective of the “closed fist,” the perspective of fascism, it has no more use for social-democracy.

When capitalist democracy – that distinctly limited kind of democracy – began to rise again in France and Belgium after the rout of Hitler, the Social-Democrats were its main agents. One of their main purposes was to “calm down” the workers, to deflect them from the idea that the workers, must seize power themselves. But suppose there isn’t the traditional capitalist democracy; suppose, instead, there is a Stalinist domination. How little democracy that brings everybody knows. Here, too, the social-democrats are willing to bend; their backs have infinite flexibility.

Yet, bend as they will, lick boots as they will, try to . make their peace with the Stalinist armies in eastern Germany as, they will – the Social Democrats still cannot serve as quite the unquestioning servants of the Stalin regime that the Stalinist parties do. Social Democratic organizations, though bureaucratized enough, still do not have the incredible totalitarian, ja-voting character of Stalinist parties, Reformist rascals though they may be, the social-democratic leaders are comparatively more responsive to the pressure of dissatisfied workers than are the Stalinists. For the Stalinists have as their sole and exclusive function the furthering of the interests of the Kremlin; no amount of workers’ pressure can make any Stalinist party take a fundamental or important course which the Kremlin bureaucracy does not wish it to take.

Is it therefore far-fetched to surmise that in eastern Germany some of the workers fretting under the Stalinist dictatorship may have turned to the local organizations of the Social Democratic Party in order to find there some expression for their grievances? We think that is what may very likely have happened, and that it is to remove this “nuisance,” that the Russian military rulers are forcing the Social Democrats to agree to fusion.

To Anglo-American imperialism in western Germany, the fusion is a distressing prospect. It means that their main agent and native political, counterweight to the Russians has been lost to them in eastern Germany. And they are determined not to let it happen in western Germany. Their attitude is: You, Stalin, keep YOUR agents; but for goodness sakes, let us hang on to OURS too!

Thus, a New York Times dispatch of February 6 reports:

“There is a tendency in London to take the line that the best way to counter this Communist maneuver is to shape Allied policy in the west so that it supports the Social Democrats and does not play into the hands of the Communists.”

Stalinism versus Revolutionary Socialism

An extremely important conclusion must be drawn from these events. Wherever Stalin’s army entrenches itself, there sooner or later develops a totalitarian regime. No independent working class activity is tolerated by the Russian overlords; not even the hesitant, partial, atomized activity which might result from a Social Democratic party.

Between revolutionary socialism and Stalinism there can be no peace. The one represents freedom; the other brutal dictatorship. The one means independent initiative and expression on the part of the workers; the other total suppression and militarization. The advance of Stalin’s army brings not liberation, but suppression.

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