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R. Fahan

What Is the Real Purpose of
Stalin’s “Free Germany” Committee?

(September 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 37, 13 September 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Viewed in retrospect, the creation of a so-called National Committee of Free Germany under the aegis of Stalin is a far more important event than it appeared to be at its inception.

The immediate reaction of most commentators was to view it as a move in the struggle being waged under the political table between Stalin on the one hand and America and England on the other. And when one takes into account the most recent events in this struggle, all of which point to a cumulative deterioration in relations between Russia and the Allies, it becomes clear that an important motive behind Stalin’s setting up of this committee was undoubtedly to use it as a means of political blackmail against his partners when the questions of a second front and the post-war world come up for discussion.

Nonetheless, it is the opinion of this writer that the creation of the Free German Committee by Stalin is indicative of another, and perhaps as important, development – the entering of a new and intensified stage of imperialist perspectives on the part of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Before elaborating this idea, however, let us briefly examine the nature of this Free Germany Committee to see what clues we can discover about its real purpose.

The Purpose of the Committee

Writing in the New York Times, Arthur Krock quite correctly says:

“The Manifesto [is] carefully blank of any of the Marxian-Communist ideology which had many adherents among the anti-Nazis of Germany ... no reference to classes or class conflict, no attack on class enemies, no incitement to social revolution but instead mention of change as ‘a liberation struggle of all sections of the German people.’ All groups were addressed on the same level. Restoration of something resembling the free enterprise system of the Western nations [i.e., capitalism – R.F.] was pledged.”

The above paragraph is a summary of the ideological contents of the committee’s program. There is no point in belaboring the fact that Stalin no longer stands for socialist revolution; that has even penetrated the skull of Captain Rickenbacker (to the surprise of those who doubted that any idea could penetrate it).

What is remarkable is this: the manifesto of the committee does not even call for the old kind of Popular Front government. It quite openly appeals to a host of reactionary nationalists, including a section of the army leadership, when it says: “There are forces in the army that are loyal to the country ...” and when it urges the German soldiers NOT to turn their rifles against their own officers, but to “hold on to them under the leadership of those commanders who recognize their responsibility.”

And most revealing of all, Freies Deutschland, organ of the committee, carries on its masthead the red, white and black flag of the Reichswehr!

It is possible, of course, to become very indignant about this latest betrayal of the Stalinist regime. But for workers who understand the reactionary role of Stalinism in world affairs more is required. Just what is Stalin up to this time?

The first and most obvious explanation is that, dissatisfied by the lack of a second front, he is setting up the committee as a means of threatening Roosevelt and Churchill.

“If,” he tells them, “you don’t open up a second front in France, then I am quite ready to make a separate peace with some non-Hitlerite government, and I am not at all squeamish about how reactionary it may be. For I, Stalin, don’t have your perspective of attempting to dismember and destroy the German nation and its industrial machine, if only because it can be of great use to me as a counterweight against any ‘cordon sanitaire’ idea which may be flitting around the back or front of your minds. As far as I, Stalin, am concerned, a united but fairly subservient Germany might not be a bad thing at all ...”

The prospect of such a statement by Stalin does not please the Allied powers. Their slogan of unconditional surrender for Germany is based upon the idea of so destroying and dismembering a defeated Germany that she will disappear from the international scene as an industrial power.

Stalin, then, offers the POSSIBILITY of a separate peace with a non-Hitlerite German regime. Does this mean that he is ready for a separate peace right now? We doubt it. For though Stalin wants a united Germany with a sizable army, he doesn’t want a peace with a Nazi government which, if it defeated the Allies, could then jump on Russia once more.

Many things are possible, but at the moment it appears as if the whispers of separate peace are (1) partly induced by the Stalinists as a means of threatening the Allies, as witness the statement in Earl Browder’s recent speech that failure to open a second front would hurt the Allies more than Russia and (2) is used by isolationist elements in this country as a means of discrediting the Roosevelt concept of concentrating on the European war first and then attacking Japan.

What Is Stalinist Expansion?

The Free German Committee, then, is Stalin’s way of prodding the Allies to create a second front and also to demand a large share of the post-war booty. But, we believe, it is something more.

At the time of Stalin’s invasion of the Baltic countries, Poland and Finland, and Bessarabia, we analyzed those moves as part of an imperialist policy on the part of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Trotsky, though disagreeing with the theoretical framework of this analysis, supplied it with its real meat when he spoke of the invasions as being motivated by “power, prestige and plunder.”

The Stalinist bureaucracy, its collective ego inflated by an atmosphere of unlimited nationalistic self-praise, snatched up these slips of land as a means of increasing its European sway of power and interest, of finding new areas for its extensive economic difficulties by annexing some potentially rich territories. Of course, it was clear to us as the time that when we spoke of its imperialist policy we did not speak of it in the sense of a capitalist imperialism. That is, Russia’s main motive was not to find a source to invest profitably its surplus capital. But there are varieties, of imperialism, as history has amply demonstrated, and Russia’s was a more primitive, ACCUMULATIVE type.

This new imperialist appetite of the Stalinist bureaucracy – coming after the destruction of all internal proletarian opposition and the emergence of the bureaucracy as a definite exploitive ruling class – was not the only cause of the invasions, but it was an important one.

Stalin has begun to play with the idea of having, a post-war world in which Germany, with its rich industrial machine, its trained technicians, its skilled labor, its great resources, will play second fiddle to Stalinist Russia. That is truly a grandiose perspective for the bureaucracy. But it is a perspective which demands that Germany remain as an integral economic unit, that it be not divided into bits, as the Allies desire. That is why the committee’s manifesto demands the retention of a strong German army.

Why, then, doesn’t Stalin propose to set up a kind of Stalinist government in Germany, a fake “socialist” government which he would dominate lock stock and barrel? The answer is provided in incipient form in an interesting article by Joachim Joesten in The Nation for September 4, when he writes that:

“Stalin is much too smart to plan for a Soviet Germany because he is fully aware that such a Germany would eventually dominate Russia. The Germans, with their extraordinary talent for organization, their resources, and their central position in Europe, would soon get the upper hand ... by ... a Germany that was different. His purpose would be better served from, but friendly toward, the Soviet Union.”

Socialist or Capitalist Germany?

What the writer is driving toward is this: The creation of some kind of artificial “Soviet” regime in Germany, dominated completely by Stalin, is far too dangerous a game to play with. Revolutions are events which have a habit of leaving behind those who start them; and for Stalin to play even with the matches of social revolution in Germany might start a fire that would burn down even his own structure. He is far safer attempting to pull the strings from behind capitalist Germany, but a greatly weakened and dependent capitalist Germany, one which would be led by a coalition of Stalinist-controlled politicians and army officers and from which Stalin could suck the industrial technique which he so desperately needs.

To some minds, the thought of an imperialism which reverses the tendency of capitalist imperialism seems strange, but then, let it be remembered, Stalinist Russia is also a strange phenomenon.

We wish to emphasize that when we raise such possibilities it is by no means in the spirit of believing them to represent a definite chart of future events. Quite the contrary. For Stalin to be able to realize such a grandiose perspective as that of creating an imperialist overlordship over most of Europe with Germany as the key agent within that organization is a task which faces at least three tremendous barriers: the Axis, the Allies and the European proletariat.

Nonetheless, we believe that such a perspective does exist if only because the peculiar and unique situation of Russia as a society which is neither in complete harmony with capitalist society nor an ally of those attempting to abolish capitalist society, forces her to attempt the artificial solution of nationalist expansionism, which means the creation of as large a chain of buffer and subservient states as possible in Eastern and Central Europe.

At the same time let it be emphasized that Stalin still acts as much from fear as from aggressiveness; in fact, they form an indissoluble compound. He fears the possibility of Allied aggression in a post-war world via the “cordon sanitaire”; that, plus the internal contradictions of his regime, contributes to the development of the imperialist policy now taking shape in the Kremlin.

Allies at an Impasse

(It should be noted, in passing, that the creation of a powerful Russian military bureaucracy, flushed with some success, is another contributing factor toward the development of such a policy.)

One factor, however, stands out conclusively: whatever agreement may be patched up between the Allies and Stalin, they cannot agree as to what to do about Germany. There they reach an impasse. Each sees in the successful domination of Germany the key to its own predatory security. On that issue no agreement is possible between Stalin and Roosevelt-Churchill.

In all this maze of intrigue and diplomacy, it is clear, however, that the Free German Committee is merely a pawn in an inter-imperialist struggle. If it were to Stalin’s advantage, he would immediately choke it (like the Kuusinen “government” of Finland). At present it serves as a political blackjack against his allies and as an entering wedge to satisfy his ambitions with regard to the post-war world.

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