Publication: The Times

Full Citation

  • Title Soviet Policy In Germany
  • Author From Our Berlin Correspondent
  • Publication Title The Times
  • Collection The Times Digital Archive, 1785-2008
  • Date Wednesday,  May 1, 1946
  • Issue Number 50440
  • Page Number 5
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library Times Newspapers Limited
  • Copyright Statement © Times Newspapers Limited.
SOVIET POLICY IN GERMANY ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE SOCIALIST UNITY PARTY GROWING CLEAVAGE BETWEEN EAST AND WEST From Our Berlin Correspondent With the recent fusion of the Communist and Social-Democratic Parties in the Russian zone of Germany into the " Socialist Unity Party," the first chapter in German politics since the war comes to an end. It has been an unedifying chapter for anyone whose standards of democracy are those of the west and who hoped ultimately to see democracy and political decency established in Germany. In theory, something admir4ble has happened. The two workers' parties have united. The strife that was their fatal weakness in the Weimar era will not recur. Instead, peace, democracy, and recovery are buttressed by a proletarian unity. But the manner in which the merger has been consummated contradicts this)ingenuous theory. The Social-Democratic Party (S.P.D.) has passed under the control of the Communists by a Gleichschaltung as drastic as any devised by the Nazis and comes under a party discipline that leaves no play to individual opinion. Totalitarian " democracy " is firmly established in the Russian zone, for, though the two middle-class parties-the Christian-Democratic Union and the Liberal Democratic Party-'survive, their expectation of life is uncertain and their influence limited. No common ground has been found between the political conceptions of east and west as applied to Germany. With fusion a fact in one zone, and with the zonal frontiers hardening, the antithesis, if not antagonism, between east and west takes on an aspect of permanence. RUSSIAN PRESSURE The first move for the fusion of the two parties came from the S.P.D. last June. But at that time the K.P.D., basking in the reflected glory of Russian victories, replied that fusion was not to be thought of till after an unspecified period of collaboration, during which ideologies could be clarified. This postponement suited both parties. While the Communists continued to enjoy extensive Russian favoursofficial employment, motor-cars, newsprintthe Social-Democrats increased their numbers and often had the satisfaction of superseding those inefficient Communists who. had been the Russians' first choice for administrative posts. In the late autumn the election results in Hungary and Austria, with their anti-Communist and anti-Russian bias, caused a sharp change in Communist policy in Germany. The first overtures for fusion were conducted in December in the presence of Russian officers. The S.P.D. leaders, conscious of the motives for the changed policy and of their stronger popular position, refused to be hustled into a merger which they regarded as inopportune. The agreement of December 21 suggested that they had gained their points. There would be common electoral programmes, but no common electoral lists. There would be fusion, bu, not locally or immediately. ' Probably the Social-Democrats estimated their tadtical success too high. Members of the central committee maintained that the Russians would not enforce fusion. In January the central committee instructed party organizations in the Russian zonethe only region of Germany, Berlin cxcepted, under its jurisdiction-that there should be no local mergers. The effectiveness of this instruction was offset by Russian pressurearrests, prohibitions of meetings, and intimidatory interviews at headquarters. It became obvious that fusion was to be pushed through in that zone. At the same time Russian pressure on S.P.D. leaders in Berlin increased. Weaknesses, vanities, and ambitions were exploited. The S.P.D. was asked to prefer the east to the west, and half-promises were made of a reduction in Russian occupying forces, of more food, and of a lessening of reparations exactions which would give eastern Germany an industrial prosperity denied in the " reactionary-capitalist " western zones. This last argument was given great play in the later stages of the fusion campaign, though how it fitted in with Russian removals of industrial plants or with the allied plan for a future German economy was as little known as precise details of the agreeable proposal itself. The double Russian approach-direct pressure in Berlin and indirect pressure from the zone-was quickly successful. Fechner, deputy chairman of thve party, early decided in favour of fusion. On the other hand, Russian methods and a realization that the new party would be communist-controlled changed Gustav Dahrendorf from the most pro-fusionist member of the central committee to a convinced anti-fusionist. The chairman, Grotewohl, might have held to his course but for two facts-the disintegration of the party as an independent-body in the Russian zone, and the refusal of Dr. Kurt Schumacher, the western S.P.D. leader, to send delegates to a conference in Berlin. The central committee capitulated on February 11, by calLing for fusion in the Russian zone and Berlin. Immediately afterwards Russian Military Government delivered six motor-cars and 20 food parcels at S.P.D. headquarters in Behrenstrasse. THE ANTI-FUSIONISTS The reaction in the capital, which the committee proposed to regard as part of the Russian zone for the purpose of fusion, was prompt and unfavourable. A spontaneous and ior some weeks poorly organized opposition emerged. In spite of inexperience and lack of resources, and against a party machine that now had Russian support, the opposition leaders have demonstrated that there is a majority of Berlin S.P.D. members against fusion, and have built up an organization which with the backing of the western Powers should become the continuing independent S.P.D. in Berlin. The opposition has had to face a campaign of trickery, misrepresentation, and slander. In recent montbs political Germans, Communists excepted, have shown all the same apprehehsions as in 1933, when Hitler assumed power. Having once decided for fusion, the Behrenstrasse leaders turned against the anti-fusionists with unbelievable bitterness. - Grotewohl and his colleagues have hounded the anti-fusionists from the S.P.D.-in so far as the anti-fusionists have not resigned in disgust. They have used the Russian-controlled press,for slanders against men who were until lately trusted colleagues. They asked for and obtained Russian newsprint, motor-cars and petrol for a propaganda campaigo in March to stifle the plebiscite. Having failed in this, they retired behind a party constitution never designed for such a crisis and advised party members to boycott the plebiscite. Havitig failed again-only in the Russian sector was it possible to trump up " technical difficulties " and stop voting-they misrepresented the result of the plebiscite. It is fortunate that the western Powers have interested themselves in the fusion issue to the extent of seeking the continuance of an independent S.P.D. in Bcrlin. Even if the practical results are small, the principle of freedom of opinion will have been vindicated and a check put upon the German tendency to regard politics with rcsigned cynicism. ZONAL BARRIERS It is, however, impossible to confine the effects of fusion to the Russian zone and Berlin. The British and American authorities will recognise the new Unity Party in their zones (and in the capital) if it has sufficient popular backing. In doing so they face an intensification of the propaganda used by the supporters of fusion-that in the west, and especially in the British zone, there is encouragement for reaction, militarism, and capitalism, evils which have been eradicated from the Russian zone. To meet this propaganda a more positive social and cconomic policy may be required in the west, where so far the tendenty has been to avoid radical change in the hope that the zonal barriers might soon disappear. But it is now questionable whether the zonal walls have not already stood too long for their mere removal to change the character which the zones have assumed. This is particularly true of the Russian zone, where fusion is only one of many radical changes introduced. There is reason to think that these changes are intended to be permanent. In that case a policy of inaction in the west would be a sure invitation to unrest, which is already cncouraged by short rations and a difficult industrial outlook.