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Henry Judd

World Politics

The Ruhr

(29 November 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 48, 29 November 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In northwestern Germany, stretched along the banks of a muddy river, lies one of the world’s great natural resources and industrial centers – the famous Ruhr district. This area of great coal supplies, combined with massive iron and steel works, has long been Europe’s industrial heart. Thanks to the intense bombing of the last war, its cities are masses of rubble and its great factories are largely twisted wrecks of buildings. But underground lies the coal, still easily attainable, and in the cities of Düsseldorf, Essen, Wuppertal, Remscheid, Duisburg, Dortmund etc. great source of manpower – hundreds of thousands of skilled miners, iron and steel workers – are available. The war halted Ruhr productivity, but did not destroy it. The Ruhr is back at work again, and the chronic struggle for its riches and a share of its products has broken out all over again.

That the Ruhr produces again is easy to prove. Coal volume is soaring and will reach 80 million tons this year. Next year’s production will be almost that of the prewar period. Already, the Ruhr produces its one-fifth proportion of Europe’s total coal; the same as before the war. Steel production is now at 5 million tons a year, still far below the 13 million record of 1937, but climbing steadily If permitted to do so.

The present struggle over the Ruhr is primarily one between United States and French imperialism, although other factors are involved. Russia, for example, would clearly settle the Berlin question in five minutes time flat if it could receive a share of Ruhr production, a word in its management, and veto power over the distribution of its products. In the new Ruhr battle, one of the major concentration points of Stalinist propaganda in France will be the fight against the new, proposed American-British plan for the Ruhr. Here again French Stalinism will find de Gaulle as its tacit ally.

The New United States Plan

The Ruhr issue has drifted on for three years and now America proposes to settle it clearly and once for all. Since the United States leans more heavily on a revival of western Germany as part of its whole Marshall Plan strategy, it is natural that it should be most anxious to set the Ruhr going again at full capacity and speed, within limits set by America. Western Germany is conceived of, more and more, as being a powerful economic buffer between America and Russia, particularly under the impress of the sensational economic recovery now going on in that country. Coal and steel are the heart of this recovery, and America wants mounting production. Therefore, the new plan which the French so bitterly oppose.

What is this plan? Until now, the military governments of the occupying powers (with Russia excluded) have held possession of the Ruhr and its resources and operated them with German-appointed officials. An international body was created last year in London, with the United States, England and their German appointees having a voting majority, to apportion the coal, coke and steel produced to the various Marshall Plan nations. This body was the formal management, but the question of ownership was not settled at that time.

The new proposal, in essence, is that the power of this international body is to be liquidated, except insofar as general supervision and overseeing is concerned, and the ownership and management of the Ruhr Is to be placed in the hands of German “trustees” until a formal German government – now in process of creation at Bonn – shall decide what to do. In other words, what appears to be proposed is a return of the Ruhr mines and factories to German control.

This announcement of the British and Americans provoked a violent French reaction, particularly on the part of France’s would-be dictator, General de Gaulle. The spectre of a revived militarist-Hitler Germany is flaunted, and de Gaulle’s interview with the press emphasized his deep conflict with American imperialism so far as French foreign policy is concerned. The French claim their “interests” are being double-crossed; that western Germany is favored in the Marshall Plan as against France; that the Germans are not the ones to settle the ultimate ownership of the Ruhr etc. They demand that the London board control management at least, and not alone distribution in the future. “The International Authority for the Ruhr,” said M. Alphand, French delegate to the new London conference, “should exercise detailed control over the policy of the Ruhr coal, coke and steel industries for an indefinite period after the end of the occupation of Germany.” It is quite clear that French economic and imperialist policies have been badly trampled upon by the United States, and that a source of serious conflict (long foreseen by Moscow) has begun.

What It Will Mean

We are not much interested in the French protests and complaints. They fit into the general pattern of imperialist rivalries and conflicts within the so-called Western bloc, and will be solved by various makeshift concessions and the like. France is hardly in a position to back up its complaints with action, and will be forced – after the formalities are over – to accept what has been decided by the others. He who has the economic whip-hand (the United States) cannot be deterred by the pipsqueak complaints of a Vincent Auriol, or the squawks of a de Gaulle. The strategy of the U.S. is to set western Germany on its feet, and that means the Ruhr.

Of real importance Is this: precisely what does the U.S. intend to do with the Ruhr, under their new proposition? Is this great productive area to be used for the reconstruction of Germany, the rebuilding of its cities and industries? Or shall it fit into the plans of American imperialism? The key to that question, of course, is who shall own, manage, control and regulate the products of the Ruhr. Under the American plan, the answer is clear. German trustees will be appointed by the Military Government which shall remain in supervision until an ultimate decision has been made. Who will these “trustees” be? No indication has yet been given, but it will certainly be from among the old, “denazified” group of former magnates, managers and capitalists. Union representatives are not to be includes among the “trustees.” Properties held by Western allies (such as the ex-Stinnes works) are exempted from trusteeship.

The British-begun process of “decentralization” is to be halted. A vague statement against “concentration” has been made, but the steel mills will be reorganized so that they can regain control over coal and iron ore holdings – that is, the familiar American “vertical integration” technique is planned. An American official has stated that, “Under the British operation the former giant combines have been broken up too much ...” The new tendency will be towards restoration of the old monopolist structure within limits set by America.

The meaning of this, of course, is that America is lending a powerful hand toward resurrecting, in a form suitable to it, the old German capitalist class. A new western Germany is now being shaped, by the United States and England, and the image is almost entirely to American liking so far. In this new Germany, America must hove its representatives and supporters who have fundamental social and economic ties with this country. Part of them, so Truman intends, shall be a newly-revived group of Ruhr magnates, managers and capitalists. Certainly not the former gang of mighty monopolists (Stinnes, Krupp et al.). but a new version – a post-war model – of this crew of warmakers and imperialists.

In next week’s Labor Action we shall continue and conclude this discussion of the Ruhr problem, taking up the attitude of European socialists and their proposals.

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