Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 30, 2017

Another Stasi film? No thanks

Filed under: Cold War,Germany,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 12:32 am

Goodbye, Lenin is available on Amazon.com

When it comes to films, there are two subject matters that have zero interest for me. One is the Holocaust and the other is the Stasi—the East German secret police. Both lend themselves to predictability both in plot and message. We know that the Jews will be killed and families scattered. We also can be sure that the Stasi will come off as fiendish enemies of freedom and human rights. So, when it comes to stick figures, nothing works better than making films about fending off Nazi Commandants or Stalinist secret police—both with lines like “Ve haf ways of making you talk.”

This afternoon I was listening to an NPR interview on the Leonard Lopate show with the husband-and-wife team that made the documentary “Karl Marx City” that is described in the heading of A.O. Scott’s NY Times review as revisiting the “Everyday Terror of Dictatorship”. The wife is the daughter of a man who after being accused of being a Stasi agent after the fall of the Wall killed himself.

Just for the heck of it I Googled “Stasi” and “film” and discovered that this is a well-trodden theme going back to 2006’s “The Lives of Others”. It is all about people living in fear of informants in a society with an abnormally high suicide rate. Although I never saw the film, it sounded like a fictional version of “Karl Marx City”.

2012 was a banner year for East German Stasi films with “The Tower” and “Barbara” getting rave reviews. Stephen Holden’s review of “The Tower” mentions that an overweight East German soldier is forced to eat feces in boot camp as a punishment. Thank goodness, East Germany is now liberated but who will now liberate the USA where a Marine drill sergeant forced a Muslim enlistee into a laundry dryer, where he suffered second degree burns?

In a NY Times profile of Christian Petzold, the director of “Barbara”, he states that he did not want Stasi operatives to be “depicted as mustache-twirling villains”. The eponymous lead character is a doctor who has been banished to the countryside for some unspecified offense, where she is snooped on by Stasi operatives. We learn from a review of the film that Petzold was influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, evidence of which is “the prickles of unease that creep into his work, creating a cold climate of paranoia and an oft-justified fear of an imminent threat.” I haven’t seen this film but when it comes to prickles of unease, you can’t help but think of Hitchcock’s “Torn Curtain”, where mustache-twirling villains abound.

In the Lopate interview, the subject of “Ostalgie” came up. Since East Germany has become pretty well integrated into the smoothly running German capitalist machine, there’s not much concern about “Ostalgie”, which is a neologism based on East (Ost) and Nostalgia. The couple briefly referred to its feeling among some East Germans that there were some good things about Communism, like workers not having to worry about unemployment.

I wonder if that meant much to NPR listeners, who strike me as a mixture of Upper West Side psychotherapists, liberal college students and cabinet makers. Funny how that can matter to people—the right to a job. I was only on unemployment once in my life, back in 1990 before going to work for Columbia and it was really hell on wheels. I say that as someone without a family and debts at the time. What is it like for a coal miner in West Virginia who hadn’t worked in five years, had no health insurance before Obamacare and was suffering from some debilitating illness? Would he trade his situation for that of a coal miner in East Germany who was guaranteed a job for life even if the Stasi was snooping on him?

The Wikipedia article on “The Lives of Others” mentions a film that made quite an impression on me when it first came out in 2003. It describes “Goodbye, Lenin” as a comedy, which doesn’t do it justice. Suffice it to say that is a film that honors “Ostalgie” and puts East German Communists in a light that struck me as sensitive to why many Germans became Communists, even if the project involved compromises with the revolutionary impulses that made them to join the party.

Good Bye, Lenin

posted to http://www.marxmail.org on January 14, 2004

It is 1989 and Communism is crumbling everywhere except in the heart and mind of Christiane Kerner (Katrin Sass), a middle-aged Berlin resident who has a picture of Che Guevara on her bedroom wall and is fiercely loyal to party leader Erich Honecker.

Her son Alex (Daniel Brühl, who played the schizophrenic youth in the powerful “White Sound”) and daughter Ariane (Maria Simon) are typical young Berliners. They have little use for ideology and yearn for the material goods and personal liberty of the West. Despite their differences with their mother, they love her deeply and would do anything to make her happy.

One night as Christiane is heading toward a party celebration, she happens upon a police crackdown on anti-Communist protestors, including her son who is being thrown into the back of a truck in handcuffs. This sight causes her to collapse on the street with a heart attack. She is brought to a hospital in a coma.

When Alex visits the hospital, the doctor tells him that there is no guarantee that she will ever awake from the coma. If she does, the important thing is to prevent any shocks to her psyche since another heart attack would prove fatal. For the next eight months, as Christiane lays motionless in her hospital bed, everything changes around her. The Berlin Wall collapses, the two Germanys are reunited and the East is flooded by Western companies.

Finally Christiane regains consciousness but in a weakened state. In a ploy that constitutes the dramatic tension of the film and its underlying political and social theme, Alex resolves to create an artificial environment in her bedroom back at home that is faithful to the Communist past. After elaborately preparing the bedroom with the clunky furniture and Stalinoid photos they had discarded, they spirit her from the hospital making sure that the ambulance attendants stay mum about the political sea change.

Alex, who has befriended a co-worker and aspiring video artist at a Western satellite-dish company (his former employer has gone bankrupt, like almost all “Ostie” firms), relies on him to assemble archival news programs from the Communist past that they play for Christiane on a concealed VCR. The joke is that it really doesn’t matter, since the “news” consists mainly of reports about dissatisfaction in the West with unemployment, drug addiction and other social problems.

This joke is part of an ensemble of comic situations as Alex goes to greater and greater lengths to sustain the illusion that Communism is still in power. He searches desperately for consumer goods from the past that apparently not only appeal to his mother, but to other elderly East Berliners who feel swamped by Western products that are alien to their culture. Although the word “globalization” is not mentioned once in the film, an astute member of the audience might think of the French farmer José Bové who vandalized a Macdonalds for its encroachments on native cuisine and values.

As Alex ventures out into the brave new world of capitalism, he begins to question the changes. For example, when he brings his mother’s East Germany currency to a bank to be converted into Deutschemarks, he is told that the deadline was two days earlier and that they are worthless. When he raises his voice in protest, bank guards throw him out. He calls them assholes.

In the final scene of the film, as his mother is approaching death, he stages one last ruse that summarizes the sensibility of Wolfgang Becker, the film’s director and co-author (written with Bernd Lichtenberg). After she has discovered traces of the West during an unsupervised stroll in her neighborhood (Coca-Cola signs, BMW’s, etc.), they convince her that immigrants from West Germany have recently begin flooding into the East, seeking refuge from unemployment and crime. The film’s coda consists of a televised speech by East Germany’s “new” head of state, a renowned former cosmonaut (a cab-driver recruited by Alex), who addresses the profound changes in Germany as it is reunited under socialism.

However, the speech does not consist of Stalinist jargon. Instead it is a heartfelt plea for an egalitarian society that is based on human need rather than private profit. Obviously written by Alex, it is a sign of his final reconciliation with his mother on both familial and philosophical grounds.

On January 13, 2004, the New York Times reported on the phenomenon of “Ostalgie”, a neologism that indicates nostalgia for the “East” or the Communist past, which is epitomized in a small museum in the town of Eisenhüttenstadt near the Polish border and that has gotten a boost from the popularity of “Good Bye, Lenin”. It evokes Christiane’s bedroom:

“The museum is just a few rooms, mostly on the second floor of a former day-care center, but it holds 70,000 to 80,000 objects from the former East Germany. About 10,000 people a year come to look at Mikki transistor radios, jars of Bulgarian plums, schoolbooks, plastic water glasses that never seemed to come in the right colors. Seeing these familiar objects clearly stirs warm feelings about the vanished and unrecapturable past.”

This is not just about nostalgia for chintzy objects that might be regarded as a German version of “camp”. It is also about a growing disenchantment with the new capitalist world that they had assumed would be a kind of utopia:

“Ostalgie is complicated, made up of various ingredients. One is clearly the disillusionment felt by many former Easterners over German reunification, which took place 13 years ago. Unemployment these days is commonly 25 percent in regions like Eisenhüttenstadt. Rents are no longer subsidized. Doctor visits cost money. People can be fired. In addition, as Andreas Ludwig, the West German scholar of urban history who started the museum a few years ago, noted, even capitalist products break down or are shabby and schlocky.”

It would be too much to expect the New York Times to acknowledge what is truly driving “Ostalgie”. It is the memory of Easterners that the old system guaranteed cheap rents, a job, medical care and low crime. With “globalization” turning most of the planet into an ever more ruthless competition for disappearing jobs, such a past might retain some appeal. Indeed, a Lexis-Nexis search on “East Germany” and “nostalgia” returned 529 articles, many with headlines like “Wealth and freedom? No thanks, we’d rather have a Trabant” (referring to a defunct automobile).

The true story of East Germany’s birth and death could never be conveyed in a film such as this, but there are realities that never surfaced in conventional cold-war narratives. In Carolyn Eisenberg’s “Drawing the Line: The American Decision to Divide Germany, 1944-1949”, we learn that FDR intended that Germany be deindustrialized, demilitarized and–most importantly–denazified after the war, a goal shared by his partner Joseph Stalin. Then along came Harry Truman, who saw Communism as just another impediment to American hegemony. In violation of the Potsdam and Yalta agreements, Truman pushed for reindustrialization of West Germany under the Marshall Plan and the creation of a formal West German state.

Washington then abruptly ended denazification, leaving 640,000 war criminals unprosecuted, and canceled steps to break up the cartels that had provided much of Hitler’s economic and social base. Defying conventional notions of Stalin’s intractability, Ambassador Walter Bedell Smith confessed that “we really do not want nor intend to accept German unification in any terms that the Russians might agree to, even though they seemed to meet most of our requirements.”

And what did the Soviets seek? Nothing but what had already been hammered out at Yalta and Potsdam, namely $10 billion in reparations, four-power control of the Ruhr Valley and vigorous denazification and permanent demilitarization. In exchange, they would accept free elections throughout Germany modeled along the lines of the old Weimar Republic–hardly the stuff of Communist subversion.

When the West reneged on all this, the Soviets began to crack down in the East. The rest is history.

(Good Bye, Lenin is scheduled to open in NY theaters at the end of February. It was the winner of the Best European Film at the Berlin Film Festival.)

 

February 21, 2011

Gene Sharp’s goal: liberty in a world of market imperatives

Filed under: Cold War,Egypt,ussr,Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 8:05 pm

Gene Sharp

For obvious reasons, the New York Times has hyped the role of Gene Sharp and his co-thinkers in the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. By placing much more emphasis on the struggle against “dictatorship”, all sorts of delicate questions about class relations get deemphasized. By making the struggle one against a Ben Ali or a Mubarak rather than the capitalist system, the newspaper of record hopes to steer things in the direction of Corey Aquino “People’s Power” rather than the kind of social transformation that would leave American corporations on the outside looking in, like a bunch of hungry buzzards.

Michael Barker has written eloquently about the dangers of a Philippines type outcome that people like Gene Sharp, a life-long anti-Communist, would hail. Since events are moving rapidly in Egypt toward a class-versus-class showdown, it seems likely in any event that the Sharpies will have anything much to say. The working class understands that market imperatives can constitute just as much of a dictatorship as Mubarak or Ben Ali. As Ellen Meiksins Wood once put it:

To understand the market as imperative, we have to understand not just how people have been able to respond to the capitalist market but how they have been forced to do so. Capitalism doesn’t just allow people to avail themselves of the market in the pursuit of profit. It forces them to enter the market for the most basic conditions of survival and self-reproduction—and that applies to both workers and capitalists.

That force can be excruciating in countries like Egypt.

In any case, it is worth saying a thing or two about their role of Gene Sharp and company in “color revolutions”, understanding of course that red is the only color in the spectrum that is strictly off-limits.

On February 13th, the Times reported that Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old Egyptian civil engineer and a leading organizer of the April 6 Youth Movement, and his fellow activists began reading about nonviolent struggles and “were especially drawn to a Serbian youth movement called Otpor, which had helped topple the dictator Slobodan Milosevic by drawing on the ideas of an American political thinker, Gene Sharp.” The article makes clear that flirtation with leftist themes is not unheard of in these circles, despite Sharp’s hatred of anything connected with communism:

The April 6 Youth Movement modeled its logo — a vaguely Soviet looking red and white clenched fist—after Otpor’s, and some of its members traveled to Serbia to meet with Otpor activists.

“The Academy of Change [an émigré group in Qatar] is sort of like Karl Marx, and we are like Lenin,” said Basem Fathy, another organizer who sometimes works with the April 6 Youth Movement and is also the project director at the Egyptian Democratic Academy, which receives grants from the United States and focuses on human rights and election-monitoring. During the protesters’ occupation of Tahrir Square, he said, he used his connections to raise about $5,100 from Egyptian businessmen to buy blankets and tents.

The Times followed up with another article three days later that included references to the three figures who have been at the center of controversy around such interventions. There is obviously Gene Sharp himself, the guru of the movement. The article also quotes Stephen Zunes who shares many of Sharp’s views and who has joined forces with Peter Ackerman, another Sharp disciple, who founded the International Institute of Nonviolent Conflict, upon whose advisory board he sits. Ackerman took classes with Sharp as a graduate student in the 1970s. Since Sharp, now in his 80s, is not really in any position to influence events on the ground, he has ceded leadership to his disciple who runs Rockfort Capital Partners, a private equity firm. Ackerman is almost certainly a billionaire. One has to wonder how much currency Sharp’s ideas would have abroad without the venture capitalist’s fiscal support.

In keeping with the flirtation with the left in the earlier NYT article, we read that:

Some people suspect Mr. Sharp of being a closet peacenik and a lefty — in the 1950s, he wrote for a publication called “Peace News” and he once worked as personal secretary to A. J. Muste, a noted labor union activist and pacifist — but he insists that he outgrew his own early pacifism and describes himself as “trans-partisan.”

The Muste connection is interesting. In the 1930s, Muste was the leader of a group called the Workers Party that spearheaded major labor struggles. In James P. Cannon’s “History of American Trotskyism” there is a useful discussion of Muste’s importance. When Cannon found his own Trotskyist group growing closer to Muste’s, he broached the subject of a fusion that Muste was agreeable to. The Trotskyists were at that time doing what is called “entryism” in Norman Thomas’s Socialist Party. When they were expelled, they united with Muste as the Socialist Workers Party, reflecting each group’s antecedents.

Eventually Muste abandoned Marxism and became a Christian pacifist. As a leader of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Muste became critical in the formation of the Vietnam antiwar coalitions that would challenge the imperialist war-makers. One crucial difference between Muste and Sharp was their chosen arena of struggle. Muste targeted his own government while Sharp saw his role as providing leadership to struggles elsewhere, particularly in the Soviet bloc countries. During the Korean War Sharp spent nine months in a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., as a conscientious objector. He also took part in some civil rights protests but from the 1960s onwards his emphasis has been on providing consultation to people in other countries.

Zunes mocks the idea of the elderly Gene Sharp fomenting uprisings in other countries:

“He is generally considered the father of the whole field of the study of strategic nonviolent action,” said Stephen Zunes, an expert in that field at the University of San Francisco. “Some of these exaggerated stories of him going around the world and starting revolutions and leading mobs, what a joke. He’s much more into doing the research and the theoretical work than he is in disseminating it.”

That might be true, but if you look at Peter Ackerman’s International Center on Nonviolent Conflict as an extension of Sharp’s empire of peaceful resistance, there is no question about a division of labor. Sharp provided the ideas, Ackerman the money and bodies.

The article takes up Peter Ackerman’s role:

When the nonpartisan International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which trains democracy activists, slipped into Cairo several years ago to conduct a workshop, among the papers it distributed was Mr. Sharp’s “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action,” a list of tactics that range from hunger strikes to “protest disrobing” to “disclosing identities of secret agents.”

Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian blogger and activist who attended the workshop and later organized similar sessions on her own, said trainees were active in both the Tunisia and Egypt revolts. She said that some activists translated excerpts of Mr. Sharp’s work into Arabic, and that his message of “attacking weaknesses of dictators” stuck with them.

Peter Ackerman, a onetime student of Mr. Sharp who founded the nonviolence center and ran the Cairo workshop, cites his former mentor as proof that “ideas have power.”

If you read the study guide for “Bringing Down a Dictator”, a documentary that Ackerman executive produced, you will find a most interesting discussion point:

The United States government gave over $25 million dollars in aid to Otpor and other opposition groups during the movement against Milosevic. Some of these groups declared themselves to be anti-American. What is the purpose of the US funding of anti-American groups overseas?

While I doubt that Otpor could be considered anti-American, whoever was shrewd enough to write the study guide surely understands the role of people like Stephen Zunes and the importance of funding groups like the April Sixth Movement in Egypt that was trying to overthrow America’s greatest ally in the Middle East, next to the Israelis. People like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are simply too stupid to understand America’s long-term interests in the Middle East. A Mubarak, like a Ferdinand Marcos, presents serious problems to social stability. He had to be replaced even as he was being supported. It is this kind of contradiction that far-sighted people in the ruling class have come to understand, perhaps a function of having read Karl Marx as undergraduates.

Like George Soros, Peter Ackerman is very far-sighted. While Soros sees the wisdom of putting Christian Parenti on the payroll of Open Society, Ackerman chooses Zunes. If you want some credibility on the left, these types of cooptation are essential.

Not content to include Zunes’s dismissal of charges that Sharp is running some kind of private spook network, the article makes the point a second time:

In 2008, Iran featured Mr. Sharp, along with Senator John McCain of Arizona and the Democratic financier George Soros, in an animated propaganda video that accused Mr. Sharp of being the C.I.A. agent “in charge of America’s infiltration into other countries,” an assertion his fellow scholars find ludicrous.

But if you see Ackerman as the instrument of Sharp’s ideas, the idea is not so ludicrous. As I mentioned in an earlier article on the venture capitalist, Ackerman was the former director of Freedom House, a group that was also run at one time by James Woolsey, former director of the CIA.

The New York Times articles on Gene Sharp prompted me to take a fresh look at Peter Ackerman, to see what the rat has been up to. Apparently, his main interest in life, besides making money, is running or serving on the boards of outfits like Freedom House. Sourcewatch  has a very good dossier on Ackerman.

There we learn that Ackerman now sits on the board of Spirit of America, a group that is “dedicated to spreading US influence worldwide, with a particular emphasis on covert cyber-intelligence measures”. In 2005 Trish Schuh wrote an article for Counterpunch that explored its role in the Middle East:

Another Spirit of America governor is Lt General Mike DeLong, Deputy Commander, US Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. DeLong manages a budget of $8.2 billion and “conceived and implemented the Global War on Terrorism, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.” As top Deputy to former General Tommy Franks, DeLong’s listed expertise at places such as the Army War College, the Department of Defense and the Amphibious Warfare School included Artillery, military intelligence, coup détats, supporting democracy.

Ackerman is also on the advisory board of the Cato Institute’s Project on Social Security Choice. Not surprisingly, they claim that “allowing younger workers to privately invest their Social Security taxes through individual accounts will improve Social Security’s rate of return.”

But what difference does it make if their individual accounts at Goldman-Sachs or Merrill-Lynch go up in flames during the next stock market crash? There will always be jobs for the elderly as greeters at Walmart. And if they are unhappy with their fate, they can always vote for the candidate of their choice at the next election even if both candidates favor keeping Social Security as a shell game run by the rich. After all, it could be worse. You might be in a country like Egypt with fraudulent elections. It is much better, isn’t it, to give people a choice? That’s what Gene Sharp and Peter Ackerman have always been about, endeavoring to allow people full liberty in a world of market imperatives.

October 31, 2010

Engineers of the Soul

Filed under: art,China,Cold War,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 4:10 pm

Last Saturday a week ago I went to the opening night reception of an art show titled “Engineers of the Soul” in order to do some videoblogging. Thomas Campbell, a member of the Chto Delat (What is to be done) collective and Marxmailer, suggested that it might be worth my time since his group’s video “The Tower: a Songspiel” was on display there. He wasn’t sure what I would make of the other works there. After seeing them, I am still undecided.

If I had read the gallery notes on the exhibit before going down, I probably would have sounded more like Robert Hughes than Robbie the Robot. As will be obvious from my commentary, the works on display—excepting Chto Delat’s intelligent and artistically fully realized video, mystified me. Now that I have had a chance to read the notes at http://chtodelat.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/engineers-of-the-soul-new-york-city/, I have somewhat a better handle on things.

To start off, my reference to what the artists were trying to say with the Mao and Stalin photos was obviously meant to be a question about the gallery’s intentions rather than the photographers who were government-sanctioned “official” recorders of the Communist power structure. Magdalena Sawon and Tamas Banovich, the owners of Postmasters Gallery, describe themselves this way:

For better or worse Tamas Banovich and I are children of Communism, having grown up in Hungary and Poland respectively. We have always wanted to organize an exhibition that brings together Communism’s past, present, and future and shows artists’ ongoing relationships to power and ideology as they negotiate the treacherous zones of propaganda and dissent.

The moment seems right. With growing political extremism at both ends of the spectrum, Communism is on our collective radar. Since the fall of the Soviet block in the early nineties, we have thought of Communism as the past, yet there are millions of people who are still living under communist regimes and many more who live with its consequences and legacies.

Unlike the Hard Times show I reported on last August, this show was not quite so partisan. Although the curators were not making an anti-Communist statement (how could they by including Chto Delat’s hard-hitting anti-oligarch politics?), they clearly were not indulging themselves in nostalgia for the past.

The show continues until December 4th and is well worth a trip to the westernmost regions of Chelsea for New Yorkers.

And for out-of-towners, I invite you to watch “I Hate You, Karl Marx” below. See if you can make sense of it. I still can’t.

And here, especially recommended, is a performance of “The Tower: a songspiel”. Brilliant stuff.

June 6, 2010

How Germany became divided after WWII: Stalin didn’t do it

Filed under: Cold War,Germany,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 1:29 am

(A discussion about the Berlin Wall broke out in the comments section of my blog posting on John Weeks. That inspired me to post an excellent review of Carolyn Eisenberg’s “Drawing the Line” from the Nation Magazine in 1996, when it was still readable. Nothing can substitute for reading Eisenberg’s book, but Kai Bird’s review comes close.)

Nation Magazine
December 16, 1996

Stalin Didn’t Do It
by KAI BIRD

DRAWING THE LINE
The American Decision to Divide Germany, 1944-1949.
By Carolyn Eisenberg
Cambridge. 522 pp. $59.95.

Nothing is inevitable in the course of human events. Yet every historian finds it difficult to persuade readers that what happened all those many years ago was not preordained, that indeed, choices were made which at the time were not necessarily obvious or at all inevitable. This challenge becomes particularly formidable when the historian’s topic is invested with powerful myths cultivated by the state.

Carolyn Eisenberg shatters the central myth at the heart of the origins of the cold war: that the postwar division of Germany was Stalin’s fault. She demonstrates unequivocally that the partition of Germany was “fundamentally an American decision,” strongly opposed by the Soviets. The implications are enormous. Germany’s division led to the rapid division of Europe, condemning not only East Germans but millions throughout Eastern Europe to a forty-year siege. If the responsibility for this cruel separation of a continent into two armed military camps lies with Washington and not Moscow, then the entire canon of the orthodox history of the cold war is called into question.

Eisenberg, a professor of history at Hofstra, took more than a dozen years to produce this exhaustively researched text. Drawing the Line opens with a moving description of the idealistic hopes evoked by the meeting of U.S. and Soviet troops at the Elbe River on April 25, 1945. In the face of a common peril, a Grand Alliance had triumphed over German fascism.

A half-century later, we forget that many Americans had been confident that U.S.-Soviet cooperation could continue in the postwar period despite ideological differences. Even an establishment figure like Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy noted in his diary on April 30, 1945, “It is little wonder that as [the US. and the U.S.S.R.] emerge in their own and in the eyes of everyone else as the two greatest powers that they should walk stiff-legged around the ring a bit.” But McCloy and Secretary of War Henry Stimson believed that with time and hard work a “practical relationship” was possible and desirable. As for Germany, the New Dealers who then prevailed in foreign policy deliberations-Henry Morgenthau Jr., Harry Hopkins, Harry Dexter White, Henry Wallace, Harold Ickes-fully intended to cooperate with the Soviets in administering a “hard peace” in a unified German state. Roosevelt had agreed to a firm program of denazification, deindustrialization and demilitarization. The Soviets would share in the supervision of a jointly occupied German state and be assured a share of reparations.

Then came Harry Truman, who was pretty much an empty vessel when it came to foreign policy. His instincts were erratic, McCloy wrote in his diary after observing him at Potsdam, “He always gives me the impression of too quick judgment.” Roosevelt’s Soviet policies were soon shoved aside. In the judgment of Truman’s influential advisers-Dean Acheson, Averell Harriman, John Foster Dulles, George Marshall and James Forrestal- partition was preferable to the uncertainties of cooperating with a difficult wartime ally in a joint occupation of the defeated enemy.

Acheson and his colleagues did not fear the Soviets-they understood that the Soviet system was economically and militarily weak. And that was precisely why Washington could act unilaterally with little risk of provoking a war. “This judgment,” says Eisenberg, “allowed them to make careless calculations, to disregard the Soviet interests with a sense of impunity, and to sacrifice potentially favorable bargains with the expectation of a complete collapse down the road.” And act they did. In violation of Potsdam and Yalta, the Truman Administration fused the British and U.S. occupation zones economically in December 1946, incorporated western Germany into the Marshall Plan in July 1947, implemented a currency reform in June 1948 and convened a parliamentary body in September 1948 for the purpose of creating a formal West German state. Washington also abruptly ended denazification (leaving approximately 640,000 “highly incriminated persons” un- prosecuted), halted deindustrialization and canceled steps already taken to break up the German economic cartels.

Truman’s men feared not an invasion from the east but that the Soviets in their weakened position would offer a deal that could not be easily rejected in a public forum. As Ambassador Walter Bedell Smith wrote in December 1947 to his old friend Dwight Eisenhower, “The difficulty under which we labor is that in spite of our announced position, we really do not want nor intend to accept German unification in any terms that the Russians might agree to; even though they seemed to meet most of our requirements.”

Soviet demands were remarkably consistent. They wanted what they understood the Allies to have promised at Potsdam and Yalta: the $10 billion in reparations; four-power control of the Ruhr Valley; vigorous denazification and permanent demilitarization. In return they’d permit a freely elected German government, modeled along Weimar constitutional lines-a program, Eisenberg observes, that “did not differ appreciably from that previously advanced by liberals in the Roosevelt administration.”

The Soviets began to clamp down on Eastern Europe only in response to the U.S. decision to partition Germany. When they did so, Truman’s men were not at all surprised. When, for instance, Stalin imposed a ground blockade around Berlin after a unilateral American announcement of currency reform in western Germany, veteran diplomat Robert Murphy cabled Washington, “The Berlin blockade, with all its consequences, has had widespread repercussions, most of them favorable.”

Not everyone agreed. The military governor of occupied Germany, Gen. Lucius Clay, opposed partition. So did the author of the containment theory, George Kennan. In 1948-49, Kennan vigorously contested both the division and militarization of Europe. In an attempt to preserve access to Eastern Europe he crafted what became known inside the bureaucracy as “Plan A” or “A Program for Germany” to create a unified German state. Both U.S. and Soviet troops would have been required to withdraw to the borders of Germany. U.N.-supervised elections would have created a new all-German government. This reunified Germany would still have participated in the Marshall Plan, which implied, of course, that the German economy would be revived. Plan A was extraordinarily one-sided. The only thing the Soviets would get would be guaranteed access to German exports-and the right to continued participation in the supervision of the German state through a diminished Allied Control Commission. Presumably, Germany would remain demilitarized.

Kennan very much doubted the Soviets would accept a plan requiring them virtually to surrender exclusive powers in eastern Germany for a limited role in supervising a unified German state. But he thought it imperative that the proposal be put on the table; if the Soviets accepted, the impending division of Europe could be avoided.

Astonishingly, the Soviets were not even given a chance to reject Plan A. Instead, the Truman Administration went ahead with unilateral partition. An appalled Kennan wrote Secretary of State Acheson, condemning the “steady and progressive discarding of all possibilities which might really have led to something like the unification of Germany under allied blessing.” He warned that “some day we may pay bitterly for our present unconcern with the possibility of getting the Russians out of the Eastern zone.”

Thus began the cold war, a forty-year conflict for which we all paid, but none more so than the millions in Eastern Europe who were forced to live in police states.

Drawing the Line was largely researched prior to the opening of some relevant archives in Moscow and Berlin. But none of the documents released in the East to date contradict Eisenberg’s view that the Americans unilaterally opted for partition. Nor is she alone in her assessment of the origins and nature of the cold war. Significantly, her thesis has been endorsed by Melvyn Leffler, whose A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War (1992) established him as the preeminent chronicler of the period. Leffler flatly states that Eisenberg has “proven her case,” that her findings “will compel a rethinking of basic assumptions about the origins of the Cold War”—this from a historian who has written with great caution about politically charged questions of assigning responsibility.

Even more startling, however, is an essay Leffler wrote in this past summer’s Foreign Affairs, the house organ of the foreign policy establishment, titled “Inside Enemy Archives: The Cold War Reopened.” Leffler’s survey of the “enemy archives” depicts a paranoid adversary always on the defensive. The Soviets, says Leffler, “did not have pre-conceived plans to make Eastern Europe communist, to support the Chinese communists, or to wage war in Korea.” Stalin had no ‘‘master plan” for Germany, and wished to avoid military conflict with the United States. Indeed, he hoped a policy of Realpolitik would somehow lead to a grudging cooperation between the former wartime allies. Leffler quotes David Holloway-a Stanford professor and author of Stalin and the Bomb (1994)–who studied records of Stalin’s military thinking in the postwar period and concluded, “There is’ no evidence to show that Stalin intended to invade Western Europe, except in the event of a major war.” Certainly, Stalin ran a cruel police state, but Leffler argues that “U.S.words and deeds greatly heightened ambient anxieties and subsequently contributed to the arms race and the expansion of the Cold War into the Third World.” The new archival findings suggest that U.S. policy prolonged the cold war, making it “difficult for potential reformers inside the Kremlin to gain the high ground.” To compound matters, Leffler suggests there were many missed opportunities in the fifties, sixties and seventies when Stalin’s successors might have curtailed the conflict-but the “perceived threat emanating from the United States held them back.” Not surprisingly, Leffler’s article has disconcerted such conservative historians as Richard Pipes and John Lewis Gaddis.

Eisenberg’s book ends in 1949, when the cold war is about to open in earnest. But Leffler’s essay underscores the tragic costs of a conflict that began with the U.S. decision to divide Germany. The most painful consequences, as Eisenberg points out, were “mainly borne by others.” And yet, the tally sheet indirectly includes all those Americans who died in Korea and Vietnam. “In the wreckage of the Cold War,” she concludes, “America has yet to acknowledge responsibility for the structures it has built.”

Kai Bird, a Nation contributing editor, is the author of The Chairman: John J. McCloy-The Making of the American Establishment (Simon & Schuster) and co-editor, with Lawrence Lifschulk, of Hiroshima’s Shadow: Writings on the Denial of History & the Smithsonian Controversy, forthcoming from Pamphleteer’s Press.

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