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New International, May–June 1954


Abe Stein

Notes of the Month

After the London Agreement

(December 1954)


From The New International, Vol. XX No. 4, July–August 1954, pp. 163–170.
Marked up up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Everyone is breathing easier now. And by everyone we mean the statesmen, the diplomats and military men who manage the affairs of the Atlantic Alliance. Calm and confidence prevail in London and Washington where not so long ago panic and confusion were the order of the day. The French rejection of EDC is politely forgotten and a substitute formula that seemingly satisfies all parties concerned has been found in the so-called Western European Union. The American-led coalition is solid again until the next crisis.

France has the Saar, the long-sought commitment of British troops to the continent, guarantees against uncontrolled German rearmament, and the preservation of her army’s national character. Bonn has won her “sovereignty” and admission into the councils of NATO as an equal. Adenauer’s dream of tying the Federal Republic firmly to the West seems one step nearer accomplishment. The British have saved the Atlantic Alliance from disruption and staved off a direct Washington-Bonn pact that would have freed Western Germany from all controls by her Western European neighbors. And Washington has the greatest prize: twelve precious German divisions – on paper.

Happiest of all is the Supreme Commander of NATO forces in Europe, the American general, Gruenther. Now that the dream of a united “Little Europe” is dead, the map of the continent falls back into its old, familiar contours. On it the tangible realities of national armies joined in coalition take their place.

In brief, realism has conquered the Atlantic Alliance and an old division of labor asserts itself. While the generals who staff NATO move the different national groupings about as easily as so many colored pins on a map, the politicians return to the job of composing stale, national quarrels. What the simple generals forget, and the politicians cannot, is that these armies are the products of states forever caught up in the clash of competing national interests.

Are the statesmen and their military advisers justified in their official optimism about the future of the Western European Union? No more, we think, then they were about EDC. Even if the French National Assembly ratifies the Paris Treaty, and this is a big if, the new coalition remains a make-shift affair without popular support. Public opinion in all the countries involved is hostile to America’s policy of rearming Adenauer’s Germany. Some sudden turn in events could as quickly undo the coalition as it was put together.

Just as important is the fact that the new treaty has not resolved but incorporated Franco-German antagonism into the very heart of the alliance. Without a genuine rapprochement between these two countries (and this reconciliation can only take place within the framework of a united and democratic Western Europe) the present alliance remains a common yoke imposed by Washington. Does anyone think, for example, that the present French annexation of the Saar will forever go unchallenged by a rearmed Western Germany? Having forced the present settlement on Adenauer as the price of signing the Paris Treaty, Mendes-France traveled to Washington in search of an American guarantee. Washington has refused, and this shows which way the wind will blow later on. And what will the French do if at some future date the British take advantage of the escape clause provided by the Paris Treaty and withdraw their troops from the continent? How will the French control and restrain the rearmament of the new German Wehrmacht, now called the “Streitkraefte,” when the Brussels Treaty Organization does not even have the power to regulate the flow of American equipment to West Germany?

Washington desires to “negotiate from equal strength.” And this is why it has insisted on German rearmament. Together with its English and French “allies” it has rejected the latest Russian notes calling for another meeting on Germany and European security. It has expressed a willingness to meet with the Russians after the Paris Treaty has been ratified all around. But will German rearmament create the new equilibrium that will force the Russians to come to terms, i.e., withdraw from Eastern Germany and Austria, or will it spur a new armaments race?

Already Moscow has given a partial answer. The satellite countries have sent their representatives to Moscow to form an Eastern counterpart to NATO. Naturally, no one is deceived by formalities, and just as before, the Russian General Staff will continue to control and direct the military forces of Russia’s Europe. But what if Moscow decides to meet the challenge of West German rearmament by increasing the size of her satellite armies as well as her own? What would be Washington’s answer? Obviously, to call for still further expansion of the West German “Streitkraefte.” The twelve German divisions will give way to twenty, thirty or fifty. What will the French do then, who are hard-pressed as it is to fill out the columns of their five NATO divisions? The resurrection of German military power is the cornerstone of American policy in Europe. But that cornerstone contains a time-bomb that will sooner or later go off. When it does, the Western European Union will be its first casualty.

Just as the United States has, it would seem, finally succeeded in imposing its policies on the governments of West Europe, so these governments in turn are now being forced to execute them in the face of popular distaste and resistance. It is at just such times as these that the mechanism of parliamentary democracy shows its virtues for the bourgeoisie. The rabbit of non-existent mass support can be pulled out of the parliamentary hat.

On November 17, the House of Commons ratified the Paris Treaty by a vote of 264 to 4. Voting in favor was the Conservative Party bloc; voting against were four Labor Party members. Acting under party discipline, the Labor Party parliamentary group abstained. The majority vote, therefore, was not a majority, representing only 41 per cent of the total membership of 625 in the House. Without the indirect help of the Attlee-Morrison Labor Party leadership, the Churchill government could not have achieved even this dubious “majority.” Had the Labor Party parliamentary bloc of 293 voted as a whole against ratification of the Paris Treaty, passage would have been impossible or meaningless. Had the Attlee-Morrison leadership permitted the members of the Labor Party parliamentary group to vote according to their real beliefs, the division in the party ranks would have been reflected in the final vote, and revealed that fierce discord continues to rage on the question of German rearmament. And this is true, not only of the English workers, but of the middle-class as well. Had this latter and only honest procedure been adopted by the Labor leadership, Mendes-France and Adenauer would now be facing their respective parliaments with the odds against them.

It is worth pausing for a moment to examine more closely the methods used by the Labor Party leadership to stifle a democratic expression of opinion. Some political commentators have explained the resort to abstentionism as due to the leadership’s desire not to aggravate party differences in a pre-election period. This is indeed part of the explanation. What is even more to the point, it showed how questionable were the formal victories of the Labor leadership and its trade union allies over the Bevanite opposition on this issue at the Labor Party Conference Trade Union Congress, both held in September. As questionable, one might add, as the “majority” won by the Conservative government in the House of Commons.

At Brighton, the TUC resolution to rearm Western Germany won by a slim and unimposing margin of 455,000, with almost eight million card votes being cast. The meaning of the vote was not lost on either an anxious and watchful Labor leadership or the British bourgeois press, who dismally registered their judgment that the vote was a “hollow victory.”

Of the Big Six unions, who form the main body of the British trade union federation, three supported the resolution, thus assuring the narrow margin of victory. They were Deakin’s Transport and General Workers Union, the National Union of General and Municipal Workers and the National Union of Mine-Workers. In the case of the NUM, a particularly glaring light is cast on the relation of the leadership to the rank and file – the workings of trade union democracy. Though its annual conference did support a resolution in favor of rearming West Germany, the NUM leadership refused to take a referendum of the membership on the issue.

Naturally enough, the vote at Brighton was interpreted as foreshadowing a defeat for the Labor leadership at the Scarborough Conference. And yet, despite expectations, the conference supported the Attlee-Morrison wing of the leadership by a majority of 248,000. Out of slightly more than six million votes, 3,270,000 were for, and 3,022,000 against.

How this particular “majority” was achieved is a classic study in bureaucratic intrigue, maneuver and the unscrupulous use of pressure from the top. To make sure of its victory, the Labor Party Executive had to turn to some of the smaller trade unions which were already committed against the resolution to rearm Adenauer’s Germany. The delegates of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, with their 129,000 votes, were persuaded to switch despite the fact that they had been authorized to vote against. The United Textile Workers, evenly divided at Brighton, shifted to a twelve to ten majority at Scarborough; and the Amalgamated Building Workers, which had voted against at Brighton, abstained.

Without the bureaucratically devised victories at Brighton and Scarborough, the Labor Party leadership could not have gagged the Labor Party parliamentary group in the House of Commons. Without the support of the Labor Party leadership, the Churchill government could not have so easily pushed through the ratification of the Paris Treaty. Nevertheless the victory is brittle and precarious. Though the Paris Treaty has been ratified, the political struggle over German rearmament may not yet be finished in Great Britain. Should an occasion arise, the opposition can use the escape clause in the Paris Treaty to force the withdrawal of British troops from the continent.

Adenauer in Trouble

The day is now over when one could say, as one caustic critic not so long ago did, that the West German Government was “one man surrounded by mediocrities.” The authoritarian Adenauer can no longer unconditionally impose his will on the members of his own governing four-party coalition and his supporting majority in the West German parliament. At every turn, and on every question, he meets with increasing resistance. No one remembers now the brilliant successes of the September 1953 general elections when Adenauer’s position seemed impregnable for a long time to come.

When a political leader must exert the most strenuous efforts to maintain his authority on trivial and routine parliamentary questions, his position is in serious danger. Inevitably, serious political differences lurk behind quarrels over ordinary, day-to-day issues. And this is Adenauer’s situation today.

A typical example of Adenauer’s difficulties occurred in the middle of November when it was necessary to elect a new speaker of the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament. Since Adenauer’s Christian Democratic Party holds a simple majority of the seats, and a two-thirds majority in the four-party coalition over which he presides, it would seem a question of this kind could be disposed of in swift order.

Instead, three ballots were required before Adenauer’s candidate, Dr. Eugen Gerstenmaier, was finally elected by a narrow margin of 204 to 190. An important group of members of the second largest party in the coalition, the Free Democrats, along with others, defected and joined the Social-Democrats in opposing Adenauer’s candidates. Only by rallying his own Christian-Democratic faction could Adenauer assure his candidate’s election. On a seemingly minor issue, the ruling coalition in effect broke down.

What was really involved in the rebellion of the Free Democrats and members of other coalition parties was the fact that Adenauer’s candidate was too closely identified with the Chancellor’s pro-American policy. The candidate supported by the Social-Democrats, himself also a member of the Christian-Democratic party, was known to favor reunification as against the rearmament of Western Germany and the permanent division of the country.

Adenauer’s Failure

The failure of EDC marked the failure of Adenauer’s foreign policy so far as an important and growing part of the German bourgeoisie is concerned. It no longer believes Western Germany can peacefully conquer the West European market, regain the Saar, and at the same time, with the backing of the American-led military alliance force Russia to withdraw from East Germany and restore the lands beyond the Oder and Neisse rivers. On the one side it sees a resurgent, aggressive French nationalism under Mendes-France demanding and receiving the Saar as the price for Bonn’s admission to the Atlantic Alliance. On the other side, it sees the hardening of the Russian attitude and its continued support to the Grotewohl-Ulbricht puppet regime in East Germany which it now threatens to arm as seriously and in the same degree as the United States will arm Bonn. Adenauer’s promised land is turning out to be a valley of despair bearing a remarkable likeness to the landscape of Korea.

The German bourgeoisie has never reconciled itself to the division of the country, the loss of the Saar and the Eastern territories handed over by the Russians to their Polish and Czech satellites. When Adenauer signed away the Saar to Mendes-France on October 23, to prevent French obstruction of the Paris Treaty, a collective cry of anguish went up from the German bourgeoisie. Mendes-France spoke in glowing terms about future French-German exploitation of French North Africa, but the music of future cooperation did not sound so agreeable in the present.

The German bourgeoisie, to be sure, was not lamenting the violation of the Saarlanders’ democratic rights. It had not objected in 1935 to the plebiscite which had brought a Hitler victory. Its collective spirit was violated by more material considerations. The French retained control over the iron and coal mines; French capitalist combines were in the process of acquiring complete ownership of the Saar steel industry from which German capital was excluded; the French-Saar customs and currency union was to continue, and only limited amounts of German goods could enter the Saar market. How much would depend on the balance of payments between France and Western Germany.

In the eyes of the German capitalists, the Saar agreement contained a dangerous precedent. By yielding to French annexation of this territory, Adenauer was in effect yielding the lands beyond the Oder and Neisse to Russia’s satellites. No wonder the German bourgeoisie is asking itself what Adenauer’s next “success” in the field of foreign policy will look like.

It is this agitation in the German bourgeoisie which is reflected in the dissensions now threatening to destroy the four-party ruling coalition. In the pre-election campaigning in the states of Hesse and Bavaria, Adenauer had to contend not only against the Social-Democrats, but against the parties as well which are represented in his government. The leader of the Free Democratic Party, Dr. Thomas Dehler, accused Adenauer of double-dealing and announced his party would never vote for the Saar Agreement. Should the Free Democrats break from the coalition, the Adenauer government would lack the two-thirds majority needed in the Bundestag to ratify the Paris Treaty and the Saar Agreement.

The New German Army

If it comes into being, never will an army be born under a more inauspicious star than the one attending the new German Wehrmacht. Never will an army be looked upon with more distrust than this one in its own country! This “defender” of the national honor will not be honored inside its own country. Not only the German working class, but the leading circles of the West German bourgeoisie, in the person of the Bonn government, are beset with anxieties and fears about the future character and rôle of the West German army.

From a series of cautiously worded dispatches by the New York Times’ correspondent in West Germany, M.S. Handler, we learn that the American time table calls for setting the new 500,000 armed force on foot within three years. The Washington schedule, he writes, has created a sense of alarm among Bonn officials. They feel that within this time period it will be impossible to properly screen out applicants for officer commissions in the all-important junior ranks. They fear these posts will be infiltrated by the Nazi elements which, as Handler writes in a dispatch dated November 11, are “hostile to the new democratic state and would secretly wish to use West Germany’s armed strength for political adventures.”

Adenauer’s own personal disquiet about the prospect of a national German army has already entered the realm of political apocrypha. According to the German magazine, Spiegel, in a conversation with Spaak of Belgium and Bech of Luxemburg at the London Conference, Adenauer said:

“I am 100 per cent convinced that the German national army will be a greater danger to Germany and to Europe when I’m not here any more ... Use the time while I’m still living! God knows what my successors will do when I’m no longer around, when they no longer have to follow clearly prescribed paths, when they are no longer bound to Europe.”

Adenauer may or may not have made these remarks. But when he returned from the Paris Conference, the Chancellor did issue a statement warning the country against the future army. How strange that an army being called into being to defend world “democracy” is warned against in its own country by the head of the State! In his statement, the Chancellor declared, “The new German Streitkraefte must realize they will not be on an equal footing with the civil government but will be subordinated to it.” In his dispatch carrying the statement, M.S. Handler wrote:

“The military force, by sheer weight of numbers and armament would suddenly emerge as a new organic institution that could be the rival of the fledgling democratic state for the minds and loyalty of the West German people unless it were properly controlled.”

In calling attention to the pressure Washington is exerting to speed the formation of this army, Handler is performing a signal public service. But is he entirely accurate in speaking of the “new, democratic state”? Surely, some qualification must be entered. This new German state has been overseered from its inception by the aged Adenauer as if it were his personal property.

Moreover, this new, so-called democratic state is infiltrated from top to bottom by neo-Nazi elements. They are waiting in the wings for a favorable situation to develop so that they can march to the center of the stage and compete for political power. And from recent events, it is evident they believe the atmosphere being generated by the formation of a new army is favorable for their return.

The pre-election rally of the German Party in Berlin on November 23 was a sign of the times. The display of anti-Semitism, reactionary nationalistic feelings and violence in public gatherings by the neo-Nazi elements is nothing new in the Federal Republic. What was different was the boldness of the demonstration. And need it be added, the party that sponsored this rally is a member of the ruling government coalition.

No wonder then, that the German trade union movement is passionately opposed to the rebirth of the German army in Adenauer’s Germany. Its reappearance can only strengthen the reactionary elements which are woven into the very fabric of the West German republic and its state. It was the twin dangers of a renewed militarism and a revived neo-Nazi political movement which caused the German Trade Union Federation to adopt a resolution against German rearmament at its recent Congress.

However, the bitter feelings the German workers have on this question have not been confined to resolutions. How deeply they feel was shown in the hostile receptions which met Theodore Blank, the West German Defense Commissioner, when he attempted to deliver some pre-election speeches in Bavaria. Young trade unionists broke up his meetings and staged demonstrations against German rearmament. In Munich they carried signs which declared that “their grandfathers had served in Kaiser Wilhelm’s army in World War I and had been killed, their fathers had served in Hitler’s army in World War II and had been killed and they themselves did not intend to repeat the experience.”

If West Germany’s European neighbors and “allies” fear the return of a German army, if her own masses have begun to act in opposition to this policy, if this army is even feared by the government officials who will nominally control it, who wants it? The prime responsibility for giving this tremendous impulse to everything reactionary in German life rests with the American ruling class and its government.

It should be said, however, that in hastening to restore German militarism and strengthening the neo-Nazi elements, Washington is consistent with its own past record on Germany. At every stage in the post-war period, Washington has done everything in its power to favor the restoration of the reactionary elements in German society and politics. First came the policy of punitive dismemberment of the country, the dismantling of industry, and the blanket condemnation of all Germans, Nazis and victims alike. It was in this period that Kurt Schumacher, the militant Social-Democratic leader, asked how it was possible to build a new, democratic Germany on a foundation of misery and a pillaged economy.

The second phase, which marked the beginning of the conflict with Russia over reparations, saw the United States embark on a policy of restoring the German bourgeoisie to power. This period has been described accurately and bitterly by the Research Director of the German Trade Union Federation, Dr. Victor Agartz. Speaking at the recent DGB Congress, Dr. Agartz said:

Germany did not have free power to make decisions. Though the British had agreed to the socialization of the coal and iron industries, the American military government was against such a new order. In Hesse, it demanded a separate referendum on that article in the constitution which called for socialization though more than 70 per cent of the voters had approved it. The parliament of the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen had already approved the socialization of iron and coal by an overwhelming majority, but once again the American influence was exerted to prevent the realization of this measure.

The denial of this democratic vote was the decisive basis for the strengthening of reaction in West Germany. One should not always look to the East with the declaration that the regime in the German Democratic Republic is supported by Russian bayonets. The structure of the West German economy was established in the same manner on the bayonets of the Western powers.

Step by step, the United States has underwritten the economic, political and social restoration of the German bourgeoisie. Now, finally, it is intent on placing in their hands the most dangerous and anti-democratic of all social powers – an army. Not any army, but the old German Wehrmacht reshaped by Hitler – under a new name. And yet, the United States has not completely succeeded in subjugating the peoples of Western Europe to its will. Against this latest crime, this historic folly, the German workers and their middle-class allies have raised their banner. The actions of the young trade unionists in Munich are a promise of struggles to come. The future of Western Europe and Germany has not yet been decided.

December 1, 1954

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