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Irving Howe

World Politics

(20 May 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 20, 20 May 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A number of odds and ends have accumulated in this corner over a period of weeks and this week’s column will be devoted to clearing up a few of them. (As soon as we expand to eight pages there will be room for fuller coverage of international news.)


More on Stalinist Concentration Camps in Eastern Germany

Some weeks ago this column reported that the Stalinist military occupation in Eastern Germany had reopened Nazi concentration camps and placed in them various anti-Stalinist radicals and Social-Democrats who opposed the “fusion” of their party with the Stalinists. This latest indication of the fact that wherever Stalinism becomes dominant it does its best to destroy independent organizations of the working class can now be further corroborated by reports from Europe. The Manchester Guardian, from which we quoted the report that Hermann Brill, a Socialist leader, had been sent to a concentration camp, now reports in its March 28 issue that Dr. Brill has been released. He was released, however, ONLY after resigning as chairman of the Thuringian section of the Social-Democratic Party, that is, only after giving up the political struggle against the fusion with the Stalinists.

The London Tribune, a left laborite weekly, reports in its April 5 issue of “increasing arrests of opponents of fusion” on charges of “insulting the Red Army.” Writes the Tribune:

“By mid-February, eighty-three Social-Democrats, including thirty party officials, were held on such charges in the well known concentration camp, Sachsenhausen, near Oranienburg. One of the latest arrests is Werner Ruediger, one of the two chairmen of the Greater Berlin area organization of the party ... There are now detailed reports available from all the provinces in the Russian zone showing how unwilling district and local leaders were induced to agree to immediate local fusion by similar methods. Against those opponents of fusion who are beyond the reach of the Russians a campaign of personal slander has started: Dahrendorf, the Berlin leader who was celebrated for his underground activities before the present conflict arose, is now attacked in his former paper as an employee of the Flick armament combine, while Soviet-controlled papers in the provinces – not in Berlin, where they could be answered – have published an anonymous letter accusing Dr. Schumacker, the Social-Democrat leader in the Western zones, of having belonged, while in the Nazi concentration camp, to a committee helping the Nazis to decide which prisoners should be gassed as politically incurable.”

Perhaps the most revealing statement on the whole matter is quoted by Leon Dennen, who reports from Germany for the New York New Leader. Dennen quotes Otto Grotewohl, one of the Social-Democrats who favors fusion with the Stalinists: “Twelve years of concentration camps or underground existence is enough in one lifetime.”

This is the “liberation” which Stalinism has brought to Eastern Germany.


The Apparent “Disagreements” Among the European Stalinist Parties

Rigid and inflexible though the allegiance of the various Stalinist parties is to the dictates of their Kremlin masters, they are apparently allowed a certain flexibility on some important boundary problems which are now agitating Europe. For instance, the French Stalinists support the demand raised by their government that the Ruhr be separated from Germany; the German Stalinists, in the name of national unification, urge that the Ruhr be retained within the boundary of Germany. On the future of the Ruhr depends the future organization of European economy, for the Ruhr, despite its partial destruction by bombing, remains the industrial heart of the continent. So long as Germany retains it, she is in a position to rebuild its power and become once again a threat to France. Hence, the obvious desire of French nationalism to deprive Germany of the Ruhr – not to mention its hope to get its own fingers into that juicy industrial pie. Both Stalinist parties in Germany and France are aping the super-nationalistic jingoes in their own countries; they are completely foreign to the simplest conception of socialist internationalism.

A similar situation exists with regard to Trieste. The Stalinist-dominated Tito government of Yugoslavia insists that Trieste be ceded to it and the Russian government supports the demand. But that puts the Italian Stalinists in an impossible position, for they know that they would become the most unpopular party in Italy if they ran counter to Italian nationalist feeling by urging that Trieste be abandoned to Yugoslavia. So the Italian Stalinists equivocated, stammered and hesitated. Their embarrassment was heightened when the French Stalinist party through a speech by its leader, Jacques Duclos, on April 20, said that Trieste should go to Yugoslavia for “geographical and economic reasons.” He also said that “we (notice Duclos’ identification with French imperialism – I.H.) have the unimpeachable right to ask for adequate reparations.”

The Italian Stalinists thereupon issued an official statement two days later in which they said that they were “unanimous in hoping that a solution of the Trieste question will be found which will be different from that urged by the French Communists.” They further opposed the idea of Italy paying reparations to France.

The question arises: Do these differences of position represent a serious internal divergence within European Stalinism – a divergence provoked perhaps by the development of tendencies within the Stalinist parties which become more closely identified with “their” national capitalist class than with their Russian masters? Probably not. The theory that the Stalinist parties or significant sections of them would try to break loose from Russian domination and gravitate towards “their” native capitalist class was advanced by Trotsky before the war, and was shown to be incorrect by the experiences of the war. No matter how unpopular their position was during the Hitler-Stalin pact, the Stalinist parties remained loyal to the Russian bureaucracy first and foremost, even though that meant persecution by the governments of the countries in which they functioned. There seems no reason to assume that this is not just as true today; witness, if proof be needed, the recent “turn” in Stalinist policy.

How then explain the different lines taken by the European Stalinist parties? For one thing, at present it doesn’t make any decisive difference. The future of Trieste will, for the moment – one may imagine the Stalin bureaucracy calculating – be decided by what the Big Powers want and not by what the Italian Stalinists say. Therefore, in order that they may retain their mass support, let the Italian Stalinists “oppose,” however weakly, the ceding of Trieste to Yugoslavia. Much the same reasoning probably permits the Stalinists to continue with different lines in Germany and France on the Ruhr problem. It is more important for Stalin to be able to manipulate mass parties in Europe, which are his strongest means of applying pressure on his erstwhile allies, than to consider the formal consistency of their programs. And so the Stalinist parties in Germany, France and Italy are permitted by their master to indulge in seemingly contradictory ultra-nationalist propaganda, but all with the common purpose of helping that master.

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