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Henry Judd

World Politics

The Issue of German Unity:
U.S. and Russia versus the German People

(30 May 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 22, 30 May 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Paris Conference of the Big Four Powers has already begun, but it is not there that Germany’s real future will be decided.

This latest of a series of conferences between the foreign ministers of Russia, America, France and England will probably arrive at many decisions concerning Germany and its people, but between these decisions and their applications stand the 65 million Germans themselves who are experiencing a great revival of nationalist sentiment and a desire for unification of their country which has erupted as an independent and perhaps decisive force in the whole situation.

The question of Germany’s unification will certainly occupy a leading spot on the Paris conference agenda, but they will not be talking about the same thing that the people of Germany mean by unification. In discussing unification at Paris, the foreign ministers are guided by two principles: (1) Their desire for a unification which will still subject the Germans to overall control by Allied governmental and military forces; (2) the tug-of-war over the kind of unification which will best serve one or another bloc in the continuing “bold war” between Russia and America.

Thus, the Americans and their supporters will press for unification under the new Bonn Constitution which creates a loosely federated Germany, without a strongly organized central government and with its authority severely curbed by the Allies and subject to constant supervision. It seems likely that the Americans will oppose any effort to end the occupation immediately.

For their part, the Russians may propose a more centralized German government, also subject to overall supervision, but with the hope on their part that the German Stalinist movement could more easily infiltrate and seize eventual control over such a centralized government.

Imperialist Unity

Whatever differences may develop at Paris, it is clear that all the powers involved in this conference will stand united solidly against the idea of German unification which is now sweeping over the country itself. This, of course, is the real question today: what kind of unification shall there be, and by whom shall it be done?

There is no question but that the reactionary splitup of the country imposed at the end of the war is about to be ended. Unification is coming because such powerful political and economic forces have been created as to make it impossible for the present division to last any longer.

But shall this be a formal unification imposed upon Germany from without by the imperialists in session at Paris, shall it be a unification which denies the essence of national freedom by its refusal to permit the German people themselves to decide its exact form and nature – or shall it be a genuine and progressive unification brought about by the actions and struggles of the Germans themselves? This is the real issue of Germany’s future.

The Americans are, of course, opposed to a unified Germany either under Russian influence or dominated by the German Communist Party – a “Stalinist” Germany. The Russians, in turn, are bitterly opposed to a unified Germany under American influence in any form or shape. Yet it is clear that today, since the Russians are in retreat for the time being, they may well have to accept the American style of “unification” (represented by the loose federation of the Bonn Constitution) if they wish to get in exchange for this such vitally necessary things as a resumption of East-West trade, a look-see in management of the Ruhr industries, etc. This may well be the essential bargain made at Paris – an all-German Bonn Constitution in exchange for renewal of trade arid commerce.

But there is one issue on which both Acheson and Vyshinsky will stand firmly united. We have already mentioned this: opposition to a genuine free and unified Germany, to be achieved in the only possible way – by the masses of German people themselves who, acting without restraint, create a new German Republic expressing their own democratic hopes and ambitions. For us, therefore, the only possible answer to the fake German “unification’’ conference at Paris should be the demand of the German people themselves for a freely- elected, all-German Constituent Assembly – a sovereign body of the German people – empowered to draft and put into effect the constitution for a new German Republic.

Such a demand, of course, will be bitterly opposed by the occupying powers – Russians and Americans alike – who already indicate their disdain and contempt for the German people by failing to allow them representatives at Paris. If the Russians succeed in having some of their Stalinist supporters in Germany come to Paris, it will only be a propaganda game to back up Russian proposals.

Two events of the past week have clearly indicated precisely how the German masses themselves feel. The violent strike of the Berlin railway workers is a militant demonstration against the hated Russian occupants and their Stalinist quisling supporters. It caps the whole successful struggle for the saving of Berlin from Stalinism. More significant is the result of the elections to the Stalinist “People’s Congress” in Eastern Germany. On each ballot appeared the statement: “I am for the unity of Germany and a just peace treaty. Therefore [!] I vote for the following [Stalinist] list of candidates.”

By their own admission (this, in itself, is an astounding fact), the Russians admitted that over 4 million voted No – meaning that they did not accept this Stalinist “therefore.” At least 4 million said, that precisely because they wish unity and peace, they could not vote for the Stalinists. Just how many more than 4 million actually voted No is unknown, but it certainly approximated 50 per cent of the total vote of 12 million. This was a stunning defeat for the Stalinists, and indicated just What is the status of Russia and its Stalinist forces in the Eastern Zone.

People vs. the Parties

Within Germany itself, the key political party in the situation is undoubtedly the German Social-Democratic Party, headed by Kurt Schumacher. Almost in spite of itself, and against the will of many of its weak, timid leaders, this party is being forced to assume leadership in the struggle for a genuine German unification. Its leader, Schumacher, recognizing the true sentiments of the German workers, speaks out for unity even against the top circles of his own party.

It is important to recognize that the various conservative and reactionary parties, such as the Christian-Democrats, Liberal-Democrats, etc., are extremely cautious and even hostile to unification. Why? Because they fear the Stalinists would get the upper hand? Not at all; they know that Stalinism has reached an incredibly low ebb in Germany.

It is rather because they know that a democratic unification would probably sweep the Social-Democratic Party into power throughout Germany, and that the Social-Democrats would be forced to embark on a social program contrary to the interests of these pro-capitalist parties. Reconstruction, nationalization of heavy industries – housing and re-building programs; modification of the educational system, etc. A popular unification, in other words, would be accompanied by a radical outburst on the part of the German people, who would demand a program of sharp reforms and changes within the country itself.

Thus, we see that Russia and America (as well as all the occupying powers), plus the German Stalinist party and the conservative pro-American parties, are all united as one against such a unification program. Yet the overwhelming mass of the people are for it – unification and an end to the occupation. This marks a turning point in the post-war history of Germany. The lowest depths of the defeat, Nazi terror and military occupation, have been successfully passed. The German people are standing on their feet once more, and participating in political and social action again.

This is perhaps the best news to come from Europe since 1939, when the war began. Will the Social-Democratic Party take advantage of its historic and unprecedented opportunity? Will it openly assume leadership and press for its program? That depends upon circumstances we cannot yet foretell: it depends upon what happens at Paris, to some extent, and primarily upon the ability of the German people themselves to increase and redouble their pressure and drive forward to taking the whole situation out of the hands of the Paris negotiators and placing it where it properly belongs – in the hands of Germany’s 65 million people.

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