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Labor Action, 15 November 1948


Eugene Keller

The Case of Ilsa Koch, and

The Meaning of the Stuttgart Riots


From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 46, 15 November 1948, p. 2..
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The case of Ilse Koch and the intervention by U.S. troops in the recent Stuttgart riots can now be understood as being two facets of one policy.

The ostensible purpose for the occupation of Germany – namely, to fulfill the “democratic mission” of the victorious Allies – has long ago been abandoned. As is well known and widely accepted and inevitable, Germany has become an advanced military base, the effective maintenance of which involves “stable” relations between the military and the civilian population.

The policy of the American government toward the Germans has been confused, even contradictory at times, but given the impossibility for a foreign army to rule a hostile population, it had to find a “stable base” through which its interests would be served, and this need was bound to shape its policy.

“Denazification” Pattern

The pattern of “denazification,” its abandonment and reversal, casts a most illuminating light upon this evolving policy. Denazification was part of the aim of the last war, feeding, as it did, upon the common illusion that fascism was a peculiarly German phenomenon and that it would be eradicated with the elimination of its bearers from responsible positions.

It was designed and executed with the purpose of contributing to the humiliation of the conquered, with complete disregard of any but the most formal concepts of democracy, and in a spirit of ignorance and bureaucratism. That is, according to the conceptions held by the British and American military democracy. But it was in the long run impossible to create a stable base with a negative policy which only served to eliminate what was left of a state apparatus.

The abandonment of “denazification” coincided more or less with the change of policy adopted by the U.S. toward Russia. It was not formally abandoned; rather it was transferred to the newly constituted German authorities, resurrected by the learned advisers to the military government – those German judges, ministerial bureaucrats and police officials who had not been Nazis or had even professed anti-Nazi views mainly because their conservatism had made them incapable of participating in any dynamic social movement, totalitarian or democratic. Their sympathies, as a group, naturally are with those persons who shared their own cultural and general social outlook, who arc to be “denazified.”

The apparent change in U.S. policy – "apparent” because a positive democratic policy never existed and the present policy mainly evolved under the stress of experience – was bound to come, regardless of the growing tension with Russia, for the reason indicated above. In other words, the U.S. is not anxiously and fearfully clinging to whatever “stable” forces exist because of the Russian threat. Rather, and the case of Germany is almost classic, the American government cannot see its interests served by an alignment with any other but the most reactionary sections of European society, in order to preserve "our way of life” – a way of life which, at best, exists in the minds of its military and capitalist rulers as a fossilized concept of formal democracy in a world of want and insecurity.

The case of Germany is classic because here, at least in the Western sectors, exists a broad and strong democratic anti-Stalinist movement among the population – unlike in Greece or France or China, where this is only a potentiality. It is a fact too well known to require elaboration that the Stalinists have a small and diminishing base among the German masses that the workers support the Social Democratic Party.

The U.S. obviously is powerful enough to help this movement achieve its aspirations – the socialization of Germany’s basic industries for the benefit of all of Europe, the equalization of sacrifice necessitated by the currency reform, the punishment of all Nazi criminals, the restoration of all foreign trade to German hands, and the withdrawal of its troops, together with the arming of the workers against Stalinist aggression. Does the American government in any way support the genuine democratic forces of Germany? No. It shoots at them.

Koch One of Many

The case of Ilse Koch, who had been mercifully sentenced to life in prison (thanks to pregnancy at the time) for her beastly deeds at Buchenwald concentration camp, and whose sentence was commuted last August to four years, created much popular revulsion everywhere but failed to center attention sufficiently to expose the basic policies involved. Far from being an isolated case, Koch was but one of 317 convicted Nazi criminals whose sentence was abridged. The testimony of the victims of these creatures apparently was not regarded as "sufficient evidence.” Rather, as Gen. Clay stated, the commutation was “based on evidence" and the task of the U.S. was, after all, to “maintain a government of law and not of men.”

The Koch case must be taken in connection not only with the other 317 cases, but also with what amounted practically to the acquittal of 23 leading officers of the I.G. Farben concern. They had been accused of selling the poison gas for the extermination of millions of human beings and of using them as slave labor. It may also be recalled that the “America Houses,” at which the U.S. maintained libraries and an information and educational staff to promote democratic ideas in Germany, were closed last summer due to lack of funds, or their financing was charged to the German administrations, which barely had funds to meet more essential needs.

(An ironic footnote to this is provided by an announcement of ECA that $87,000 had been approved as guaranteed payment to Fawcett and McFadden publishing houses dealing in comic books and detective and love story magazines for distributing their wares in Germany.)

Such instances of “renazification” can, of course, be multiplied. It is difficult not to see a pattern, not to observe that the German big business men and the former SS mercenaries respectively will not derive encouragement from these judgments and this is the design of the responsible American authorities.

The intervention of U.S. troops in the Stuttgart riots is no less revealing.

The currency reform introduced last summer, together with the slow arrival of Marshall Plan goods, gave impetus to production as well as the legal sale of hoarded merchandise. Prices for these goods have risen constantly, due in part to persistent shortage and partly, of course, to monopolistic practices. Wages, however, were not allowed to rise correspondingly. Whereas price ceilings had been removed from most items prior to currency reform, only a 15 per cent increase in the wage ceiling was allowed. The bizonal Economic Council, dominated by the reactionary Christian Union, foresaw an early "balancing” of prices and wages, not unlike their fatter but not wiser American cousins.

This gap between wages and prices and the absence of any perspective for a change in their misery caused hundreds of thousands of workers to strike and demonstrate in protest. The sight of expensive luxuries in display windows, unavailable except at high prices, after years of bitter deprivation and near starvation, must indeed be maddening to the average German. The riots in Stuttgart, in which 30,000 persons participated, following upon a “peaceful” demonstration against high prices, were an outburst of popular indignation, which vented itself by smashing shop windows, damaging and looting the goods displayed.

Did the U.S. troops which were called to the scene intervene against those and the practices of those who caused these riots? Did the military government order restoration of price ceilings, wage rises, a capital levy to equalize the burdens of currency reforms from which only the rich had benefitted, adequate provisions for the eight million rootless and unemployed refugees from the East, who had been driven to Western Germany by the provisions of the Potsdam agreement?

No! The military government intervened FOR the German capitalists upon whom it relies, and AGAINST the rioting workers whose militant spirit it seeks to crush. It could not therefore undertake what would appear reasonable to any reasonable person.

The intervention of U.S. troops in the Stuttgart riots should sound an ominous note in the minds of American labor. At least the leaders of the CIO and AFL are well aware of the democratic spirit which permeates the German workers, and they know that there exists no other organized democratic section in German society. The German working class necessarily depends upon the support of at least parts of the international working class; without it, it can easily be crushed again.

It cannot possibly be overemphasized that the continued growth in fighting strength of the German working class is in the vital interests of peace and works toward the decimation of the base upon which the Stalinists operate. It is necessary to protest vigorously against all intervention by U.S. troops in the struggle of the German workers and to assure the latter of full moral and material support.

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