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John G. Wright

A Lesson in Democracy

(17 January 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 3, 17 January 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Everybody knows that the German people have been undergoing an intensive course of "re-education” in the democratic way of life under the benign tutelage of American occupation authorities. Educator-in-chief has been Gen. Lucius D. Clay. What sort of lessons has this “democrat” been teaching the German people? Here is the latest one, the direct recipients of which have been the inhabitants of the state of Hesse.

Back in 1947 the population of Hesse voted to adopt a state constitution. It contained a special provision – Article 41 – empowering the nationalization of basic industries, principally coal and steel. Gen. Clay ordered at the time that voting on this Article had to take place separately. Despite the general’s obvious disapproval, the nationalization proposal was carried by an overwhelming majority. The U.S. military government gave its approval to the state constitution. The German leaders, first and foremost the Social Democrats, boasted at the time of this “genuinely democratic” procedure.

Under the Hesse law, the basic industries were supposed to be taken from their former owners – who were Nazis – and placed under the control of public bodies. Strangely enough, however, this was not done. Some steel and coal companies were placed in the hands of trustees while the measure as a whole was left in abeyance.

Such was the state of affairs in Hesse until Dec. 14, 1948 when the local authorities were suddenly ordered by a military government decree to return the coal and steel enterprises to former owners.

This decree was based on Gen. Clay’s “Law No. 75” which he issued on Nov. 10, 1948 and whose avowed purpose was to assure the “decartelization” of German industry. The Hesse coal and steel industries, according to Francis E. Sheehan, acting director of the Hesse military government, “were parts of cartels (to) be restored to former owners so that decartelization under Law 75 could be carried out.” (N.Y. Times, Jan. 5.)

This order is in obvious violation of the Hesse constitution, overwhelmingly adopted and “democratically” ok’d by Gen. Clay himself. The last time nationalized branches of German industry were returned to their “former owners” was under Hitler. The pretext, to be sure, was different, but the procedure was the same – an arbitrary decree.

As for cynicism, Clay’s henchmen vie here too with the Nazi propaganda machine. The Nazi liars spouted anti-capitalist demagogy while working cheek by jowl with the German monopolists. The American brass hats pretend they are “de-Nazifying” German industry – how? By returning its key sectors to the self-same German monopolists!

This “lesson in democracy” was too much to swallow even for the case-hardened German Social Democrats and Christian Democrats. The Hesse Minister-President has refused to comply with the order and the State Cabinet has threatened to resign. Meanwhile Clay’s Law No. 75 is the law of the land.

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