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Henry Judd

Russians in Retreat at Paris;
4 Powers Stalled Over Trade

(13 June 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 24, 13 June 1949, p. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

For over two weeks representatives of the Big Four have been gathered in Paris discussing the problems of Germany and their relation with each other. The Paris Conference, which many believed would mark a sharp and definite Russian retreat in Europe, has dragged on so far without any serious accomplishment, although it is clear that a general-scale Russian retreat has begun. But just as clear is the fact that the Russians are determined to retreat only a half step at a time, fighting for each inch of ground as they give way before the superior pressure (for the moment) of the Allied imperialist bloc.

Any belief that may have existed that a general political settlement for all of Germany – including a peace treaty – might result from this conference is now largely abandoned. Both camps that now occupy Germany and exert their control over its 65 million people are unable to settle on any form that a unified Germany, under their guardianship, shall take.

The Russians, in view of the severe defeats they have lately suffered In their zone, cannot permit extension of the Bonn Constitution to the Eastern zone since they know a free election would sweep their quisling SEO (Stalinist party) out of any position of influence. This proposal was therefore countered by Vyshinsky’s fantastic proposition to resume full military control over all of Germany, just as if the country had suddenly been conquered, all over again!

At the moment, the Western Allies feel strong and capable of standing fast on their demand for a unified Bonn Constitution Germany. Thus there seems little likelihood of any agreement, in addition to the fact that the Russians will not yield to the demand that they give up their Russian-owned trusts in Germany and turn back these properties to the Germans.

Russians Fear Discontent

It is still possible that some progress toward political agreement may be made or even that a final treaty with Austria will be written at this conference. However, after two weeks, these have become secondary matters on the agenda, as the conference turns more toward narrow and practical matters where some hope of agreement still exists. This consists essentially, if not exclusively, of two points: Berlin, and resumption of trade and commerce between the East and West of Europe in general and within Germany in particular.

It is now apparent that economic factors forced the Russians into this conference and that any political concessions on their part will come with the utmost reluctance. So tenuous and shaky is their hold over Eastern Germany, so universally hated and despised are they and their quislings in this zone, that the slightest political concession which would permit, for example, the Social Democrats to function freely, or which would permit the holding of free elections, would unloose an avalanche among the population.

They cannot risk this, but they can provide for the resumption of economic life by working out an agreement which will lift the trade blockade imposed by the West. This, together with some practical agreement for a resumption of Four Power rule over Berlin, appears to be all that will come out of the present conference in Paris.

Yet even this will indicate a trend on the part of Stalinism. All the Eastern countries, including the Eastern zone of Germany, are suffering seriously in ah economic sense. The worse their economies become, the greater becomes the menace of national-resistance movements against Russia, and the threats of Titoism.

This is why Vyshinsky remains in Paris. This is what forces Stalin into his limited retreat, which he will try to keep as orderly and controlled as possible.

Outside the Hall

But the Paris Conference illustrates. a far more fundamental matter. This is the absolute inability of the Big Four to make a real and final settlement of the “German problem,” or that of Europe, for that matter. Guided exclusively by their immediate imperialist interests, each of the participants can measure proposals and counter-proposals only in national, imperialist terms.

But outside of and far away from Paris, a real settlement of the German problem is being worked out. More and more, the whole issue is being removed from the hands of Messrs. Bevin, Vyshinsky, Acheson and Schuman.

We refer, of course, to Germany itself, where a most remarkable and welcome revival of political and social life and activity is continuing. There are not only many evidences of this, but everything indicates that this independent action on the part of the German people will grow steadily.

The militant strike of the railway workers against the Russian authorities continues and they have rejected overwhelmingly the Stalinist offer to pay their wages 60 per cent in Western marks. All strikebreaking and scabbing efforts have been crushed by them. The so-called People’s Congress in the Russian zone was a farce attended by hand-picked Stalinist delegates and witnessed the amazing spectacle of several delegates actually voting “no” and uttering a few remarks of protest. Economic conditions within this zone deteriorate further, and many incidents of active sabotage and opposition are reported.

Election a Test

Of still greater importance are the coming elections within the Western zone (two-thirds of Germany), under the Bonn Constitution. These elections will be held in the middle of August, and will mark the first event approaching national elections, with national parties participating, that Germany has known since 1932 – that is, since Hitler. Despite the undemocratic features of the constitution, nothing can stop this election from having the greatest possible significance.

During July and August, Germany will witness an active and militant political campaign centering around the struggle of the Christian-Democrats against the Social-Democrats. The Stalinists and other political groupings such as the Liberal-Democrats will play little part in this election. It will take place in an atmosphere of a revived national consciousness and national economic life, the reawakening of all desires to regain Germany’s freedom from occupation and division, and a universal hatred of the Stalinist system.

If will likewise be a great test for the Social-Democrats and their willingness to act as leaders in a national struggle – a willingness which to this moment they are far from expressing. It is premature to tell exactly how the elections will run, and what will be the major issues.

But it is not too soon to predict that much less will come out of the Paris Conference than had originally been expected. Perhaps, however, this is not of too much consequence since the real and all-powerful trend of events today in Europe and Germany is for the 85 million Germans themselves to take command of their own destiny. This process has still a long way to go, but the gentlemen now meeting in Paris cannot retard it.

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