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Henry Judd

World Politics

A New German Crisis

(11 April 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 15, 11 April 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

For eight months 65 men representing political parties of Western Germany, with a majority of conservative Christian-Democrats in charge, have been writing a constitution for their half of this split nation. This body is peculiar and unique in the history of constitution-making bodies. Its like has never before been seen.

It is not even called a Constitutional Assembly, but merely “Parliamentary Council.” No one knows what parliament it is a council of, since such a parliament does not exist. This arbitrarily selected group has attempted to fashion a constitution at the bidding of the three occupation powers of Western Germany.

Last week, their efforts broke down in a deadly stalemate which well represents the general political and social stalemate now gripping all of Western Germany. The truth of the matter is, the occupational authorities simply do not know what to do, which path to take, where next to turn. This conflict exists on many levels, some of which intertwine with each other, and therefore render the stalemate extremely complex.

For example, there is a sharp struggle within the “Parliamentary Council” of 65 between the Social-Democratic delegates and the reactionary Christian-Democrats.

There is a general struggle between the council as a whole which, at times, presents a united face, and the military government of Western Germany as a whole (which also on occasion presents a united front against the Germans).

There is a bitter struggle among the occupation authorities themselves, particularly between the Americans and the French.

Finally, there is the broad background of the whole German situation, which consists of two principal factors: (1) The substantial economic revival of Western German economy over the past year, which has brought German industry back as a factor in both European and world affairs. (2) The split-up of the nation between East and West with its accompanying vicious struggle so familiar to all of us.

S-Ds Weak-Kneed

A word on the “Parliamentary Council” still holding its sessions in the ancient Rhineland town of Bonn. The history of Germany is strewn with the bones of “Constituent Assemblies” which met at various moments, usually to thwart more radical reorganizations and solutions to Germany’s historic problems of national unification and independence. Marx wrote some of his most fascinating political studies around, for example, the famous Frankfurt Assembly of 1848.

But even those gatherings were models of revolutionary will and forthrightness compared to the miserable clique of 65 politicians, hand-picked, who meet today with the permission of the military government and wrestle impotently with their problems.

The Bonn assembly may still draft an actual interim constitution and impose it upon Western Germany but, again, it will quickly be proved that such constitutions in which the democratically inspired masses of people have no say will not endure for very long. The swiftly changing situation within Germany will rapidly liquidate whatever comes out of Bonn, particularly since it is written and stamped by the occupation authorities whose power, obviously, is waning throughout Germany as a whole.

In this assembly, Social-Democrats and Christian-Democrats (linked with the so-called small businessmen’s party, the Liberal-Democrats) have fought many a battle. But the Social- Democrats always end by surrendering in principle, since their very willingness to participate in the council, to begin with, makes no other action possible for them. Their leader at Bonn, Professor Carlo Schmid, has made clear some of the essential differences:

(1) The occupation powers demand a “federalistic, decentralized” constitution and’ will permit a referendum on it to be held only if and when they find it “sufficiently federalistic.” The Christian-Democrats, representing by. and large the most conservative and reactionary elements in the country (landowners, professors, Catholic Church and all elements of traditional German provincialism), naturally lean to this system since they wish free reign to be given to all of Germany’s centrifugal tendencies.

The Social-Democrats, however, oppose such strong federalistic conceptions and tend, for reasons we shall mention below, in exactly the opposite direction. This was bound to cause serious conflicts, a partial reflection of similar disputes among the Allies themselves.

(2) The occupation powers have prepared a common occupation statute for the whole area of the three Western zones. Although not in complete agreement as yet, they have decided to withhold a whole series “of most important powers from the future German government.” This statute will delimit the constitution now being drafted, and “will reserve the right in certain cases to take the bulk of power back in their hands again.” In other words, the new constitution – when and if it comes into being – will have a permanent sword over its head.

Now, it is clear the contending parties in Germany have widely divergent opinions about this fact. The real left wing of the Social-Democracy desires not to accept such conditions and to withdraw from the Bonn Council, whereas the most conservative elements of the Christian Democrats, who lean entirely upon a perspective of a permanent occupation of their country, are prepared to go along with anything, provided a certain provincial autonomy is guaranteed to them.


(3) Various other issues, such as the creation of state schools of a denominational character with an extensive clerical influence (proposed by the Christian-Democratic Barty, of course), as well as what concrete shape and form the various legislative bodies of the new Bundestag and Bundesrat shall take, have provoked further disputes.

(4) Perhaps the most vital (and surely the most violent) dispute of all has been over the issue of taxes and finances. In brief, the conservatives want such matters to be controlled by the local states (Laender) and to make the federal government dependent upon their good will, whereas the Social-Democrats “want to equip the Bund with independent taxes and its own finance administration so that it would not feel itself to be at the mercy of the Laender.” This is a basic issue, and reminds one of the early struggles of “States-Righters” vs. “Federalists” in the American government.

The Social-Democrats have refused to alter their stand for the centralization of financial powers in the new government, and have thus provoked the immediate crisis. The military government authorities have entered the struggle and, headed primarily by the French, demand a Social-Democratic capitulation. On this issue, the S-D Party stands alone against a combination of the Allied occupation authorities, and all other Western German political movements, including the extremist-separatist (pro-monarchist) Bavarian Party.

Actually, this struggle represents a more deep-going split. The German capitalist class is no longer able to function, politically and socially, as an organized class, with a clear-cut political party of its own and a. definite policy. It is too weak and shattered for that. If the German bourgeoisie proved fit subject for all of Marx’s irony and venom in 1848, today he would waste little time dealing with it. It is wrong to believe that the Christian-Democratic Party is simply the party of the German bourgeoisie. It is not a homogeneous movement, but rather a catch-all for all types of elements: ex-Nazis, politicians, reactionary professors, separatists, monarchists, landowners, etc.

In a certain sense, the Social-Democrats have taken over the role of the German bourgeoisie. It is they who struggle – in their own way – for a state with central powers and authority. “One should not demand our agreement to do something which does not even create the precondition for a state,” declared Professor Schmid, their Bonn spokesman. Their program is for creation of a national state (in Western Germany), and a central government with power to nationalize industry, and attract Eastern Germany to itself by its superior economic power. This theme of the German Social-Democracy acting as a kind of neo-capitalist force requires, of course, greater study than a brief article permits.

Now they are openly threatened by the Western military governors, who hint at a liquidation of the Bonn Council and use of an alternative method. It remains to be seen whether the Social-Democrats will stick to their principle this time. If they do, they stand little chance of losing, since the Western Powers can offer no possible alternative at this stage.

Other Issues

We can but briefly mention some of the other broad issues at dispute. Among themselves, the Western Powers disagree over the contents of their proposed occupation statute, as well as just how to organize their proposed “Trizonia.” French imperialism, which in effect has made its zone simply a colonial area attached to France, is the chief obstacle to agreement in this sphere. The French want to de-emphasize any centralist trends, retain taxing and financial powers over their zone and maintain a veto power over “any changes in the basic laws governing a future Germany.”

As for the issue of East versus West, a new development in this struggle has been the propagandistic approach of certain pro-Russian “neutrals” in the direction of various German politicians and businessmen, not to mention some Ruhr industrialists, with a nebulous scheme for “uniting” Germany as a neutral nation lying in the heart of Europe. A tempting proposal, which, may interest many individuals and groups at a later stage, provided no Western German government can be established.

Now, what has all this meant to the masses of German people? On the one hand, the value of the Social- Democratic Party as the proper center today for revolutionary socialists in the fight for a real German state, independent of all occupational forces, is reinforced. The Social-Democracy, no matter how hard its conservative and old leaders resist, simply has become the rallying center for all such progressive forces.

On the other hand, there has undoubtedly been a great revival of all reactionary circles among the Germans. Each of the tendencies we have described above naturally tries to organize its own forces. The Separatists (as in Bavaria, for example, welcome ex-Nazis, monarchists and anyone willing to play their game. As Marx would say, “all the old crap” is stirred up again! The occupation authorities, particularly the French, lend their support to such tendencies, but the all-important thing is that today, for the first time, these movements are really free of Allied control and have a momentum and will of their own.

Germany, as perhaps no other nation ever has, repeats over and over again many of its outworn struggles, even if under new conditions. There is an intermingling of all historic German struggles in the new one going on today, side by side with the multitude of new issues created by the war, the occupation and the split of the country. All this adds to the complexity of the picture.

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