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Henry Judd

Coal, Steel And National Independence –

France and Germany Vie over Saar

(30 January 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 5, 30 January 1950, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is clear that the new dispute between the French government and the Adenauer West German government over the Saar involves more than a revival of an ancient struggle for control over a valuable coal- and steel-producing region. The rulers of France, greatly reduced in strength and influence by a series of wars and defeats and a general decline of economic power, look with a frightened and skeptical eye upon the astounding industrial and economic revival of the West German government.

It has been the objective of France since the end of the last war to be the “steel master” of continental Europe. The coal and steel-producing factories of the famous Saarland provided a substantial margin for France, particularly in view of the former prostrate condition of the German Ruhr. The efforts of France to gain control over the Ruhr by a misrepresented “internationalization” scheme fell through, and that industrial powerhouse is running full blast once more, largely under the management and control of the German industrial bourgeoisie.

It is not so much that the French fear an imminent revival of German military aggression, and still another invasion of France. Rather they fear the economic rivalry again offered by this revived competitor, which is now in the advantageous position of being able to produce cheaper since the tax burden of an army, armaments industries, officer bureaucracy, etc., are forbidden to it. German coal and German steel are threatening to drive the French from their markets.

West German Revival The Attraction

The French seized possession of the Saarland – a small area with less than one million inhabitants, but rich in coal and steel plants – immediately after the war and imposed their rule over the population. They found enough supporters to set up an administration, weaned even the Social-Democrats away from the then prostrate and occupied Germany, and set out to win over a sympathetic acceptance by the population. All their activities won unilateral acceptance or approval from the Allies, with the exception of the Russians. Schumacher and his German Social-Democratic Party condemned their fellows in the Saarland, but everyone was familiar with a long and dishonorable opportunist tradition which pervades all Saarland political life.

The French pursued a clever policy of not antagonizing the population, withdrew their troops at an early moment, and poured food into the region shortly before the election of a Saarland legislative body which was composed of a majority who supported French policy. This policy consisted of “economic integration” (the French now call this an early example of the integration now proposed by ECA’s Hoffman!) and “political independence.” It was their obvious hope to completely integrate the Saar into French economy, while maintaining a phony political autonomy.

But the revival of Western Germany changed all this. The German industrialists, whose open spokesman is the reactionary Rhinelander, Adenauer, quickly became aware of the Saar, an obviously German territory. It should be pointed out that no one denies the German character of this area, whose people speak only German, whose language, customs, appearance, personality, etc., are distinctly German and whose leanings toward French policy were simply a frank recognition that in that direction one could eat, while in the other direction – toward Germany – there was hunger and unemployment.

The French became panicky and felt that their hard work and efforts for rattachement were, in danger of being upset. They proposed new agreements, giving them a 90-year lease (why not 900 years?) over the Saar mines, and the final and complete integration of the Saar railways with those of France. It should be noted that the Saar’s western frontier is completely open to France (there are no custom barriers, no passport requirements, etc.) whereas the Saar’s eastern frontier bordering on Germany is one of the most heavily guarded and protected frontiers in Europe, at least in its western parts.

Adenauer immediately responded that the Saar was an “integral part of the German nation,” that its resources were German, not French, etc. He proposed a plebiscite, knowing full well that the French would reject such a proposition. The dispute led to a breaking off of current French-German trade negotiations and the present crisis between the two regimes. It is clear that a new era of Franco-German tension – so familiar to Europe – has once again begun.

The French Dilemma

Here is another example – small in scope, to be sure – of how the war failed to accomplish a single one of its alleged purposes. Every old problem and cause of controversy exists today, even if the surrounding circumstances have altered slightly.

The great dilemma with regard to the German government, so far as the Allied governments is concerned, is the following. By the terms of the Bonn constitution and subsequent agreements, this government owes its life and existence to the Allied powers. But, at the same time, it is a government of the German national bourgeoisie, above all, of the Ruhr industrialists and bankers. Adenauer is thus playing an extremely able game of blackmail and has shown his ability to win concession after concession for his own capitalist class.

The French, most affected by this situation, have intervened in what will undoubtedly be a vain effort to call a halt to this drive for greater and greater independence of action. (This is known as a revival of German impudence!) The French are frightened by the perspective of a future German government, free to act independently and on an equal basis, in the competitive game of world trade and commerce.

At the same time, of course, they well know the value of a powerful West Germany against Russian expansionism. This is their weak point, at which Adenauer lunges again and again. He is now preparing the way for a revival of the German army – a reactionary, Prussianized, elite army of ex-Wehrmacht officers, blood brothers to the reactionary Reichswehr which was created after the First World War.

But we note that the French are not screaming and complaining about this possibility; in fact, is it not well known that Acheson, Montgomery et al. already favor the revival of a German army? At the present moment, its creation would appear almost inevitable. Only the protests and struggles of the German people and the German Social-Democratic movement could stop such an event as the rebirth of a small (at first) German military machine.

In 1950, five years after the end of the war, it may well be said that it is no longer true that a peace treaty with Germany is impossible because of the split between the Allies and Russia. It now seems impossible for two additional reasons: the differences between the Allies have grown so sharply as to make the problem of a treaty that’ much more difficult and, more important, Germany is no longer a conquered land upon whom the Allies can impose their will, come what may. A condition of permanent tension, instability and uncertainty will continue until that day when the masses of Europe settle matters in their own way.

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