Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Labor Action, 20 December 1948


Eugene Keller

The Social-Democrats Have a Mandate

What Berlin Vote Meant: We Want Self-Rule!


From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 51, 20 December 1948, p. 4..
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The political implications of the Social-Democratic victory in the Berlin elections early this month are undoubtedly qualified by the fact that the very freedom of the elections depended upon the presence of the Anglo-American troops. One of the immediate consequences of the election results is a considerable enhancement of the prestige of the Western powers; the appreciation of the U.S. State Department found expression in words of highest praise for the people of Berlin in an unofficial release.

Did the election constitute an endorsement of the continued occupation of Western Germany or of Berlin? The answer to this question is vital to an evaluation of the future of the German working-class movement; for its dependence upon the Western powers will in the long run be as fatal to it as would be its subordination to the Stalinists.

The immediate issue in the Berlin election was not either the withdrawal of the Russian troops or the continued occupation of the city by the Anglo-Americans. It was that of electing a city assembly, the tenure of the previous one having expired. The latter had been elected in October 1946, with the Social-Democrats seating 49 per cent and the Stalinists 19 per cent of the delegates.

When the Stalinists began seizing various key administrative posts last summer after the blockade of the city by the Russians had begun, the Social-Democrats demanded early elections. It was a completely justified demand in view of the Stalinists’ usurpations. The latter hedged and then opposed elections on the ground that the presence of the Anglo-Americans would make “free” elections impossible. (It is astonishing that they postponed their coup in the Eastern sector of the city until five days before the elections. They must have had reasons to expect a deal between the U.S. and Russia at the United Nations sessions in Paris – how else explain this incredible political blunder on their part?)

What Workers Voted For

The defeat sustained by the Stalinists was administered not by “fascists” and “separatists,” as the Stalinists would have it, but by the politically most advanced working class of Europe together with large non- working-class sections who are very strongly drawn to it. That the latter voted Social-Democratic and not for the conservative Christian Democrats proves that the Berlin working class carried the major brunt, politically as well as organizationally, of the struggle against the Stalinists during the past five months.

Eighty-five per cent of the Berlin electorate – an enormous percentage – turned out and gave the Social-Democrats two-thirds of their votes. If they voted for anything, they voted for democracy; and if they meant anything by that, they asserted their will to struggle, to forge their own destinies. This is the essential meaning of the election results; the huge turnout cannot be explained otherwise.

Undoubtedly the Berlin workers have been enabled in the course of the struggle to build their organizations into a real force and to wage a militant struggle against the Stalinists. The full effects of this fact are not as yet visible but they are bound to be of profound importance in reconstituting the international socialist movement.

It is, however, false to ascribe a progressive role to the Western powers on the grounds that their presence in Germany makes the existence and growth of the socialist movement possible. We have on many occasions shown the destructive and reactionary role of the U.S. and Great Britain in Germany. The numberless protest strikes and demonstrations which have taken place over the past three years, ranging from food riots to strikes over the installment in responsible positions of former Nazis, are ample evidence of the German workers’ attitude toward the Western powers, and have shown not only the absence of illusions concerning their “democratic” intentions but also the never abating necessity to struggle against their occupation.

Social-Democrats Evade

Yet it would be misleading to overestimate the degree of opposition which the German workers are able to express. Their political aspirations can be realized only through their organizations; but their organizations are, by and large, bureaucratically controlled by the Social-Democratic Party apparatus. The latter’s reaction to the election results was typical of people who above all fear to upset a more or less comfortable status quo; they gave immediate assurances to the Christian Democrats, who had suffered a signal defeat in the elections, that the coalition in the Berlin administration would not be affected by the results.

One of the Christian-Democratic leaders aptly characterized this piece of cowardice as an evasion of the obvious mandate the people had given the Social-Democrats.

The German Social-Democrats, as a result of the Berlin elections and of the fight they are waging in the Western zones against increasing prices, continued dismantling, etc., have been carried to unprecedented heights of prestige and could probably win in any national election. If a year or two ago a sweeping victory on their part might have brought the threat of economic sanctions by the Anglo-Americans, the latter’s military and political aims have more and more committed them to at least tolerate, if not to give some measure of support, to the non-Stalinist workers movements.

This makes it quite unlikely that they could successfully prevent the realization of a demand that national elections be held in which the Social-Democrats would run their own candidates – if the latter would indeed put forward such a demand.

It seems indicated that this would be a definite step forward in the political situation of Germany. A Social-Democratic victory would, in all probability, be more pregnant of political consequences than was the victory of the British Labor Party in England in 1945. No other party in Germany is more firmly committed to socialism; no other party has fought Stalinism more uncompromisingly; no other party is a more fervent advocate of Germany’s unity and independence. And no following of any other party has, or even could have, resisted the economic devastations inflicted by the Western powers with greater stubbornness. The historical and honorable task of regrouping the international workers movement may well fall to the German proletariat.

Top of page

Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 8 October 2018