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Labor Action, 2 August 1948


Eugene Keller

World Politics

The Struggle for Berlin


From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 31, 2 August 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The struggle for control over Berlin is only in the last analysis one for the spoils of Germany of which Russia is in such urgent need. It has already taken a form by which it can become a major lever in the political alignment of the European masses in the next period, if not the next war.

The London six-power agreement by which establishment of a tri-zonal German government with relatively broad powers was authorized, together with the recent currency reform in the Western zones, definitively marked the beginning of Western Germany as part of the Western bloc. The division of Germany, while not formally consummated, became a fact designed to enhance the power position of the U.S. versus the Russians. As such it cannot become a subject of negotiations.

The Russians replied to the Anglo-American action by cutting off those sectors of Berlin under its control from the Western zones. While the official Soviet Military Administration gave “technical” reasons for thus shutting off the supply lines, the German Stalinists denounced the Western powers for splitting Germany and demanded that they evacuate Berlin. In other words, the Anglo-Americans were to be forced out of Berlin by “popular” demand. (The reasons for the Stalinists’ failure to rally substantial masses to this demand will be gone into in a future article. It suffices to note here that the Berlin Social Democratic Party was able to gather tens of thousands in protest rallies against the Russians and their German stooges.)

Unity Is Central Issue

For the Anglo-Americans to give in to Russian pressure would seriously impair their prestige everywhere. The military’s sensitivity to this fact, as well as its usual eagerness for “action,” were expressed succinctly by General Donovan, who recently visited General Clay in Berlin, when he lamented the “failure” of the American people to grasp the “seriousness” of the situation in Berlin – a failure impeding the smooth functioning of military plans which are, of course, secret in the “public interest.” More important, Frankfurt, one time seat of the National Assembly of 1948, cannot become a serious competitor of Berlin. The latter remains the political heart of Germany, the living symbol of its unity.

Unity remains the central issue In Germany, especially since there is but the haziest perspective that Western Germany’s ’’integration” with the Marshall Plan countries can be successful. The withdrawal of the Anglo- Americans from Berlin would formalize, notwithstanding all their probable protestations to the contrary, the division of Germany. Under the conditions that would follow the Germans might well consider unity under Russian domination preferable to the black insecurity and hopelessness of a semi-colonial rump Germany in the West.

On the other hand, to the tired masses of Europe, Berlin is a German city located geographically in the Russian zone. A war over its control is unthinkable to them. Hence, the erstwhile reluctance of the French to back up General Clay’s adamant insistence that the Western powers stay in Berlin. Hence, the general apprehension in Europe when the West European foreign ministers conferred in The Hague last week over the implementation of the Vandenberg Resolution, the military supplement to the Marshall Plan; or when the U.S. landed 60 B-29 airplanes in England. Despite this show of strength, or because it must not allow itself to be suspected of aggressive intentions, the U.S. gave in to the Russian demand that a conference on the entire German situation take place, provided the Berlin blockade is ended. It will be remembered that the U.S. in its note to Moscow two weeks ago, wanted the subject of any conference confined to the Berlin situation.

Foreshadows Aggressive Russian Policy

There is no reason to believe that such a conference will be any more successful than past conferences of the Council of Foreign Ministers, especially since the American position in Germany has become more crystallized. This may well be a reason for the hesitancy of the State Department in agreeing to such a conference. The Russians care still rally a certain degree of sympathy for the vast devastation of their country and, while the continued spoliation of Germany cannot contribute to any permanent rehabilitation, the Stalinist parties can stir up enough nationalism to veil that fact. At the same time, the onus of a deadlocked conference may fall on the U.S., no matter how sharp-wittedly it insists, as the Kremlin in the past, on the legalisms of previous agreements.

At this writing, it cannot be said whether the Russians will or will not accede to the American condition that the Berlin blockade be lifted before a conference on Germany takes place. What appears to be the demise of Marshal Sokolovsky – who frequently evidenced a conciliatory attitude towards the Western powers and did not seem to favor the native German Stalinists – and his substitution by Russian military men who more closely reflect the current stand of the Moscow Politbureau, foreshadows the evolution of a more aggressive Russian policy in Germany.

This policy would not merely envision industrial deliveries and reparations payments from the Western zones as the problematic fruits of a conference. Rather, it would aim relentlessly at the expulsion of the Western powers from Berlin with the intention of achieving the consequences outlined above, plus the passive or active acceptance of the Stalinists by the German masses as leaders towards a reunited Germany.

To all of which there needs to be added President Truman’s observation of last week: “The chances for peace are excellent.” Excellent, indeed!

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