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Henry Judd

World Politics

Struggle for Germany

(11 October 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 41, 11 October 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Perhaps no people are more surprised than the Germans themselves over the fact that the ruins and divided segments of their nation have become the scene of the greatest pre-war political and social struggle ever known. In general, the effect of this struggle has been – for the first time – to lift them out of the depths of apathy and disinterest that so characterized the mass German population in previous years. In this respect, it is correct to say that an amazing transformation has occurred within Western Germany since the beginning of this year. To those acquainted with the country immediately after the war, and even so recently as last year, this transformation in the social, moral and psychological atmosphere has been a revelation, testifying again to the ability of any people to pull itself together and tenaciously resume historic life despite all obstacles.

Naturally, a decided bettering of conditions of living has been the principal factor behind this change. The influx of food and raw materials into Western Germany under the terms of the Marshall Plan, together with the currency reform measures, provided the elementary stimulus which, together with the revival of small German industries and the leap forward in Ruhr coal and steel production, set off a distinctly noticeable economic revival. The economic face of Western Germany is entirely different from that of last year. People are working and, in general, look better fed and better clothed. They possess far more physical and mental activity than last year. The currency measures, brutal and discriminatory against those whose living depended upon savings rather than earnings and income, and carried through in a manner calculated to arouse fear and panic among the population, did – despite all this – achieve certain results. It struck a heavy blow at the mass black market, liquidated a worthless paper currency and replaced it with money having real value, and stimulated the production, marketing and sale of commodities. One can actually buy things now in German stores – an unprecedented happening! The familiar “Zigarette-Shokolade” economy of post-war Germany is definitely over.

This must not be taken to mean that there has been a wholesale revival of Germany’s former economic life or even that there has been a recovery comparable to that of, for example, France. We simply mean that whereas Germany was flat on its back and out cold one year ago, it is now up on its knees and conscious of its surroundings. Everything indicates that this economic revival will continue, within definite limits set by the trend of American aid and the political situation in the “cold war.”

The economic and social problems of Western Germany are entirely different from that of a year ago. Today, the problems approach those of the “normal” European countries – that is, high prices, the wage-price spiral, the shortage of money, foreign commerce, etc. The Neue Volkszeitung, in a report from a typical German industrial city, estimates the real problem of the German working class in cost of living terms. A worker, head of a family of three, receives a weekly income of about 45 marks (approximately $13 a week). Deduction of five marks for taxes and social insurance leave him with 40 marks per week. But a cost of living budget – on a very modest scale indeed, including food, light and other necessities – runs to 45 marks a week! This is the heart of the new economic and social problem of the German working class.

Organized Political Life

Simultaneously with this economic revival there has come an increase in organized political life and trade union activity. There is no question but that the German labor movement, if we speak of it in the broadest sense of the word, exists once more. Just as the most dire prophesies about mass starvation, epidemics and disease catastrophes failed – fortunately – to materialize (the problem of tuberculosis is, however, a very serious one), so in the realm of political and social life the tendency toward the pauperization, atomization and “lumpenization” of the German proletariat has likewise been halted. Those political circumstances which forced American imperialism to pour aid and dollars into Western Germany, while reversing its notorious Morgenthau program for the complete destruction of German economy, have proved a godsend to the German proletariat which has known how to take advantage of this situation.

Able to work once more, receiving a wage with which, in any case, he can buy something that has value, seeing about him growing signs of rebuilding and renewed economic activity, the German worker can take a renewed interest in the events of life and feels himself once more a member of a social class within society. This does not mean that a high level of political and socialist thought and action exist; again, it simply means that the most necessary and elementary progress has been made.

It is impossible to overestimate the effect that the struggle over Berlin has had upon the German consciousness. Masses of people in the western zones, ill-fed and undernourished as they are, willingly have contributed portions of their rations to the Berlin airlift. The political blundering of the Russians in their handling of this situation has so antagonized the population not merely of Berlin (this is well known from the demonstrations and other actions conducted by the people of that city), but of all of Germany so that it can be stated that German Stalinism has lost heavily and would show up very badly in elections. The association between the German Stalinist movement and their Moscow masters is clearly fixed in the minds of all. Stalinism has declined considerably, even among the Ruhr workers. Berlin has become a focus of German nationalism, hope In the future and desire to resist the progress of Stalinist totalitarianism.

Does this signify a burst of enthusiasm for the Allies in general, or the American occupation in particular? Nothing could be further from the truth. We have no space here to discuss the long story of disillusionment with American “democracy,” even among those liberal layers of the population who were most prepared to pin their faith on the Americans. We can merely report that there is widespread understanding of why the Americans hold tight to Berlin, together with the belief that since they – along with the other conquerors of Germany – are equally responsible for this fantastic situation, their supplying of the Berlin population is a necessary action, and not a “favor” or act of generosity. In the same sense, American material aid is accepted for what it is. To those Americans who boast about it, the curt reply is given that what the Americans have removed from Germany (in the form of patents and machinery), together with money extracted as occupation costs, plus the volume of German trade and commerce taken over by American firms – all this more than accounts for the value of Marshall Plan aid.

Orientation of German People

There are no illusions about the nature or aims of the Allied occupation and American activities. At the same time, there is absolutely no popular movement or demand for the ousting of the Allied or American troops of occupation since it is felt that only the Russians, together with their totalitarian SED Party, could fill in the vacuum that would be produced. There is no belief at the moment that a German state, arising out of an independent development of the people as a whole, could step into the situation and successfully halt the march of Stalinism. In this sense, the continued occupation is tolerated as a necessary, if unwanted and hated, condition.

But this attitude does not mean that a political and ideological orientation toward creation of an independent Germany does not exist. It does, in different ways, within different layers of the population and above all, within the different political parties. The conception, held by some revolutionary socialists in America and elsewhere, that a mighty national resistance and revolutionary movement can arise which will cast out the occupants (Russians and Allies alike) and set up a fully independent German state – this conception is unknown in Germany, even among the most left of the left. It is the naive transformation of French conditions under the German occupation, with its Resistance, to an entirely different situation.

The general orientation it more along the following lines: It is believed that the Berlin situation, and the general split between East and West, will remain, deepening into a total impasse. Within the context of this impasse, the hope exists within German bourgeois circles as well as the Social Democratic Party, that the Russians and Allies will be obliged to withdraw, not only from Berlin, but from all of Germany. Part of the withdrawal will consist in leaving behind, in their respective zones, comparatively stable GERMAN regimes; one oriented toward the East and under an SED police dictatorship; the other oriented toward the West, aided by America and supplied by American arms.

The Social Democratic leadership hopes to play a leading role within this formally independent (in reality, satellite) Western German state. The German bourgeoisie, naturally, hopes that this development, together with a continuation of the economic revival, will make it possible for Germany to push itself a little bit into the world market. Both believe that the very existence of such a state would be a powerful force in attracting support from Stalinist-terrorized Eastern Germany.

While nobody can foretell how these orientations will work out in practice, it is surely the most likely variant and, in the sense that such a state would furnish the best possible opportunities for the development of a revolutionary trend within the German Social-Democracy (non-existent now), the more desirable one. In any case, German political activity and discussion in the future will revolve around precisely such problems.

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