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Henry Judd

World Politics

End of Berlin Blockade Launches
New Stage in Battle for Germany

(16 May 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 20, 16 May 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“The ending of the Berlin blockade,” said Dr. Kurt Schumacher, head of the German Social-Democratic Party, “means the start of a new and great struggle for the whole of Germany.”

It is this now obvious fact which has greatly tempered the enthusiasm of the German people and the Berlin population at the welcome news that the 10-month-old airlift is about to end. While the immediate danger and tension of war has greatly relaxed, new and even larger questions are at stake.

The rapid events of the last week have brought profound changes in the European and world situation as a whole, as well as in Germany itself. The disclosure that secret negotiations have been going on for two months to lift the blockade was followed by the actual event itself had arrangements for a new Four Power conference to be held this month in Paris. Finally, the Bonn Assembly concluded its work and announced the formation of a federal republic for Western Germany.

All these happenings have, understandably, been greeted by people everywhere with a genuine, if somewhat skeptical, enthusiasm and eagerness. To many, it seems that perhaps the cold war is coming to an end, that a peace treaty with Germany may actually be signed and a new era of good will and East-West cordial relations is about to begin. Let us see how much truth there is in such expectations.

Shift in Strategy

That Stalin and the Kremlin rulers have decided upon a significant shift in strategy and tactics is beyond any question. It is, of course, far too soon to measure the extent and depth of this change, but we shall soon know how far Stalin is prepared to go by observing the behavior of his spokesmen at the coming conference, as well as by keeping a sharp eye on Stalinist tactics and strategy elsewhere. Nevertheless, there is no question that by this sudden shift, Stalin has reopened once more the whole question of Germany and its future.

But despite the remarks of President Truman, the lifting of the blockade does not simply put matters back as they were a year ago when the blockade was imposed. Not only has much changed in the meantime, but the issue is no longer that of the city of Berlin. It Is rather the issue of Germany’s fate as a whole. The whole new tactic of Stalin was deliberately calculated to do exactly this.

There are many factors motivating this unexpected development, from the Russian viewpoint. As with every major change in strategy, the motive has both “positive” and “negative” sides. All are not yet clear, nor will they be until the Paris conference itself has begun. But certain factors are already known. In the first place, there is no question but that Russian imperialism lost its struggle to terrorize and take over Berlin, thanks not exclusively or even primarily to the astounding airlift, but above all to the determined anti-Stalinist stand of the millions of Berlin people. Stalin suffered a first-rate and catastrophic political defeat at the hands of the Germans who fought the Russian terror to a standstill.

In addition, from a narrow economic point of view, the Russian zone of Germany has been far more drastically effected by the Allied counter-blockade than vice versa. The choking off of Ruhr steel and coal supplies has hit the Russian zone, and hit it hard. Productivity has suffered and, recognizing his political defeat, Stalin is further encouraged to make this strategic withdrawal by these economic difficulties.

Simultaneously with these defeats in Berlin and greater Germany, Stalin has become cognizant of the fact that Western Germany has steadily grown in economic and political strength, particularly by contrast with his zone. Its attraction represents a particular danger to him, and here we can see another aspect of the new grand maneuver. The steady mounting of productivity in the Western zones has been accompanied by a steady revival of independent German political life, both in the capitalist and working-class ranks. The success of American imperialism in rebuilding Western Germany is clear enough, to this point.

Therefore, a new approach must be made in an effort to halt and then destroy this success. Thus, writing in Izvestia, a gentleman named Mikhailov (Stalin) tells us that the main purpose of the new Bonn “constitution” is to pave the way for the inclusion of Western Germany into the military bloc of the Atlantic Pact nations.

To Neutralize Germany

We may summarize the political motivation thus: to broaden the issue from a struggle over Berlin to a struggle over Germany as a whole; to prevent the development of Western Germany and its absorption into the Marshall Plan-North Atlantic bloc. Expressed otherwise, since Stalinism has failed to conquer Germany, a gigantic maneuver has opened up for the neutralization of the whole of Germany. Let us set up a neutral buffer state between us, Stalin is telling American imperialism.

In abandoning his last year’s perspective of a conquest of Germany, via Berlin, Stalin of course has not abandoned his long-range aim: the political and social conquest of the country. But he must profoundly change the way in which this task is to be fulfilled. His immediate goals are different henceforth: resumption of trade between the eastern and western halves of the country; a seat on the board of control over the Ruhr industries; a renewal of reparations from the Western zones, etc.

But the political perspective is to be pushed into the background now, even if the alleged “people’s democracy” of the East must be abandoned. The German Stalinist party (SED) must reorient itself, both in the East and West. In the West, it must first find a basis for its very existence, even if this means working within the framework of the new Bonn constitution. A re-adaptation is demanded of it.

Other and more concrete points will undoubtedly be proposed by Vishinsky (Stalin) at the Paris conference. It has been suggested these will include: (1) demand for German unification under the old Weimar Constitution form; (2) withdrawal of all occupation forces within one year; (3) conclusion of a final peace treaty with Germany. The struggle at the Paris conference will take place around these points, but it is clear that the Russians are prepared to make the greater concessions necessary for arriving at an agreement.

Will this include free and open supervision of any future elections to be held throughout Germany, including the Russian zone? Will they permit other political parties, such as the Social-Democrats, to function freely in their zone? We cannot be sure yet, but in all likelihood, yes. Stalin understands the meaning of a retreat and withdrawal; a price must be paid.

The real obstacle standing in the way will be the economic assimilation of the Russian zone, where property has been nationalized and statified in various forms, with the economy of Western Germany, where capitalism and private ownership not only prevail, but receive the utmost support from America. But faced with the dominant political task of the moment, there is no reason why America and Russia cannot shelve this problem of economic forms for the moment by retaining the status quo in all zones. Since, as we shall see, even the most elaborate kind of agreement cannot be permanent, this matter too can be temporarily solved.

The Stalinists Look Ahead

And what of the Allied position at the conference? They will most certainly oppose an ending of the occupation, thus giving the Russians an excellent propaganda point. They will insist upon the Eastern zone entering a unified Germany via the new Bonn Constitution which has just been formulated under their influence. In other words, the Americans will continue to press forward with their plans for the limited revival of the German state, in a capitalist form of course, and will seek its integration within the general framework of a Europe largely influenced by American imperialism. It appears that the Russians will (because they must) go along with this approach.

But the Russians, with their long-range view, are banking on the development of other factors. A revived capitalist Germany will eventually be struck by the same failures and weaknesses which Western Europe is already experiencing after its revival of the past two years. This involves the whole problem of the Marshall Plan, which cannot, be discussed at length here. Suffice to point out that the latest United Nations report on this plan lays emphasis above all on the fact that the Marshall Plan, far from tending to economically unify Europe, is driving nation after nation along the road to a new economic autarchy.

Germany, estimates Stalin, will take the same path, thus providing the German Stalinist movement with a new basis for political life after a few years. In the interim, it is quite likely that the present SED and its Stalinist leadership of Pieck, Grotewohl, etc., will be discarded. They have failed – and Stalin never forgives a failure!

Can this shift in strategy and tactics over Germany mark a still wider shift that may possibly be worldwide in scope? Is it true, as Drew Middleton wrote, “Larger questions than the settlement of the German problem are at stake”? It has been suggested that Stalinism is about to enter a new phase of collaboration with the West in Europe, while pursuing its aggressive tactics in Asia. It is, of course, too early to predict just how far this shift will be carried; yet there are surely signs that indicate some truth in all this.

The Greek Stalinist government has signified its desire to end the “civil war”; the Italian Stalinist-led unions are preparing nationwide strike settlements; the tone and tenor of the recent Stalinist Paris “Peace” Conference had all the bluster and bragging that rearguard cover-up actions always have. But one must wait and see just how much is involved.

Opportunity for Social-Democrats

Finally, it must be pointed out: a new factor of vast political importance figures in this forthcoming conference – a revived German nation, and a revived politically-conscious German working class. This is not a conference of victors, gathered about the prostrate body of bombed-out Germany. A third factor has entered into the situation, mobilized in the form of the German Social-Democratic Party.

What a magnificent opportunity lies before this party! Yet, because of its timorous and reformist leadership – both top and secondary – we know that this opportunity for pressing home the viewpoint of a genuinely independent Germany will be either lost or, at best, only partly expressed. There is no question that the German Social-Democracy is the party in Germany today.

If it took a firm stand for unification, withdrawal of all armed forces, convening of an All-German Constituent Assembly to draw up a genuine new constitution, etc., it would receive a support and acclaim that would stand the Four Power negotiators on their ears and end their importance in the situation. This is too much to expect, of course. Yet the German masses will make their viewpoint known at Paris and we shall watch to see how hard this is fought by a common American-Russian front.

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