Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 17, 2013

Heinrich Blücher: street-fighting man

Filed under: Germany,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 9:07 pm

Heinrich Blücher

It was an eerie experience sitting through the press screening for Margarethe von Trotta’s “Hannah Arendt” at the Film Forum yesterday, a biopic that focuses on her reporting from the Eichmann trial with some flashbacks to her early affair with Heidegger.

Two of the major characters in the film were Heinrich Blücher and Hans Jonas, two professors I knew from Bard College and the New School Graduate Philosophy department respectively. I can’t say that I knew them all that well on a personal level but their teaching had a profound effect on my thinking.

This was especially true of Blücher whose insistence that principle and truth always trumped patriotism and the state, frequently citing the trial of Socrates in his Common Course, a humanities type required class. After discovering from von Trotta’s film notes that Blücher had been in the German CP in the 20s, I decided to stop by the Columbia University library and take out a few books that will help me prepare an in-depth article on the film. As is always the case with me, ideas take priority over tracking shots.

One of the books was Elizabeth Young-Bruehl’s biography of Hannah Arendt that was written in 1982. I had mixed feelings about her value since I knew her only from her hatchet job on Hugo Chavez.

To my utter amazement, I discovered that Blücher was a major player in the revolutionary struggles that were hobbled by Comintern “advice”. I only wish that I could get my hands on a time machine and travel back to 1963 and talk to him about what he saw and did. Back then I was too apolitical to know where to begin but now understand a lot better why he was so insistent on my writing an analysis of the Communist Manifesto. Fifty years ago my heart was in Camus and cannabis. It took an imperialist war to put me on the same path that Blücher had followed when he was my age.

From Elizabeth Young-Bruehl’s “Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World”:

Hannah Arendt had been eleven years old when her mother took her to the Konigsberg demonstrations in support of the Spartacists. She was thirty years old when she walked through the streets of Paris to watch the 1936 demonstrations in support of the Front Populaire government under the leadership of the Jewish Socialist, Leon Blum. Most of the political awareness she had developed in the intervening years had come in the context of her relationship with Kurt Blumenfeld and his concern with the Jewish Question. With Heinrich Blücher as her teacher, she added to her preliminary reading of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky a feeling for “revolutionary praxis.” Blücher—not a university man but a proletarian, not a theorist but a man of action, not a Jew but a man for whom thinking was a kind of religion—was Hannah Arendt’s New World. Ten years after they met, she summarized what Blücher had meant to her intellectually, in response to words of praise Jaspers had bestowed on her own cosmopolitan and impartial political vision: “That I learned from my husband’s political thinking and historical observation, and I would not have come to it otherwise, for I was historically and politically oriented toward the Jewish Question.”

During those ten years, from 1936 to 1946, Hannah Arendt continued to concern herself with the Jewish Question, but what she learned from Blücher became, after the Second World War, central to the political philosophizing that animated The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, Between Past and Future, On Revolution, On Violence, and Crises of the Republic. The learning relationship was not, however, completely one-way. Blücher, an avid reader of Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky, and Bukharin, and a convinced Communist, slowly gave up his Communism and became an incisive critic of doctrinaire Marxism. While Hannah Arendt was being introduced to revolutionary politics in Konigsberg, Heinrich Blücher was twenty years old and fighting as a Spartacist in the streets of Berlin. The stories he told her of his political past shaped her vision, both critical and constructive, her understanding of resistance and revolution, and her theory of republicanism. Blücher’s stories are not easy to reconstruct: he was hesitant to tell them, particularly after he had entered America without admitting on his immigration documents that he had been a Communist, and he was given to exaggerating and embroidering what he did tell. In Heinrich Blücher, the combination of cautiousness and hyperbole was always an astonishment. Those members of the Arendt-Blücher tribe who had known him since his youth understood his storytelling for what it was—a way of finding meaning in a chaotic world. His devotees were unskeptical, and his detractors charged him with mythomania. In truth, had he had a gift for writing equal to his gift for talking, he would have made a fine novelist.

Heinrich Friedrich Ernest Blücher was born on 29 January 1899 in southwest Berlin. His father, who had an equally long and historically weighty name, August Charles Heinrich Blücher, died in a factory accident several months before his only child’s birth. Klara Emilie Wilke Blücher raised her son alone. He attended a Volkeschule and helped his mother, who made her living as a laundress, by acting as delivery boy until he was able to continue his study at a preparatory school for teachers. In 1917, the First World War interrupted his studies, and a period in an army hospital with gas poisoning interrupted his scheduled sojourn in an officer’s training program.

When the October 1918 armistice was signed, Blücher, who was nineteen, returned to Berlin and joined one of the Soldatenräte, the Soldiers’ Councils, which, with the Workers’ Councils, participated in the day of rioting on 9 November 1918 that ended with the proclamation of the German Republic. The German army had surrendered in the Forest of Compiegne and the troops returned to Germany at the beginning of December. Shortly afterward, on December 16, a National Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils met in Berlin and passed a number of startling resolutions designed to create a People’s army from the defeated German troops. In the hectic days that followed, these demands were largely ignored. On Christmas Eve, a battle between the Imperial army and a rebellious naval unit, helped by several thousand Berliners brought to the scene by the Spartacists, ended with the Imperial army in retreat. On Christmas Day, the Spartacists and another huge crowd took over the offices of the Socialists’ paper Vorwarts and used its presses to issue the call “All power to the workers and soldiers!” The Spartacist leaders, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, agreed to a merger of their group with various small groups who had repudiated the new Socialist government, and a labor unit called the Revolutionary Shop Stewards. The merger gave birth to a new party in the last week of 1918: the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Blücher, who had joined the Spartacists, joined the party.

The Communist party came into existence in the middle of a bitterly cold winter.  The Allies continued to blockade German ports, and food became scarcer and scarcer. Nonetheless the Communists called daily demonstrations in Berlin and tried to create the unity on the Left that Rosa Luxemburg thought should precede any mass action. Despite her strategy, on 5 January the situation took a new turn: a group of leftist leaders, calling themselves the Revolutionary Committee, proclaimed a general strike. Most of Berlin’s factories and facilities were closed; some 200,000 demonstrators filled the streets and seized the railroad stations and newspapers. Red flags flew, and the rifles the Spartacists had been collecting since November appeared. “Spartacus Week” had begun. But by its end the government’s miscellany of troops and volunteer units, the Freikorps, under the direction of the Socialist government’s minister of war, had gained the upper hand in Berlin, after brutally blasting the Spartacists out of their various strongholds with heavy artillery. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were captured on 15 January and murdered. As Hannah Arendt noted in an essay on Rosa Luxemburg, her death “became the watershed between two eras in Germany; and it became the point of no return for the German Left.” When the election called for 19 January was over, the Social Democrats held a majority of the Reichstag seats, and the revolutionaries were forced to retreat and regroup; but they were unable, without their brilliant leaders, to prevent what Arendt called “the swift moral decline and political disintegration” of the party.

Heinrich Blücher participated, with the Spartacists and then the Communist party, in the unsuccessful battles and strikes of the spring of 1919. He briefly returned to his teacher’s training at a Lehrerseminar during the lull in the party’s activities in the summer of 1919, though he never finished the program. From 1918 through the worst inflation years, 1922 and 1923, he worked occasionally as a reporter for non-Communist and Communist papers, spending what time he could on his own education.

As an adolescent, Blücher had developed a hunger for learning—not for schooling, but for learning. Whenever he had money, he bought books; whenever he could avoid work, he did—and read. His political activity had begun when he was still an adolescent, and it took a very unusual form: he, a Gentile, joined a Zionist youth group, a section of the Blau Weiss. At fifteen, he began to discover German poetry and read Shakespeare’s plays in German translation. During the war he took up what Brecht referred to as the “Classics,” Marx and Engels, and then found in the work of Trotsky the ideas which were later at the center of his own political theories. When the turbulence of the brief revolution had passed, he sporadically attended lectures at various Berlin institutions in an enormous range of subjects. At the University of Berlin he heard the lectures on military history given by Hans Delbrfick, editor of the famous Preussische Jahrbücher and one of the Weimar Republic’s most outspokenly critical supporters. This experience he shared with Kurt Blumenfeld; when they met in 1941 in New York, they both waited impatiently for Delbruck’s famous axiom, “Germany cannot win a war on two fronts,” to be proven a second time.

When the Hochschule fur Politik was founded in 1920, Blücher attended lectures on political theory at that remarkable institution, which was alone among Germany’s institutions of higher learning in accepting students without Gymnasium degrees. At the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, he occasionally heard lectures on art history, one of the great passions of his later, calmer life. Blücher’s haphazard, piecemeal formal education, complemented by extensive reading, was of no help to him in the Communist party. He had remarkable skill as an orator but he was not trusted by the leadership that eventually emerged after the deaths of Liebknecht and Luxemburg. Rosa Luxemburg’s consort, Leo Jogiches, became the party chairman, but was killed in the spring of 1919. Paul Levi, a lawyer and also a disciple of Luxemburg’s, assumed the KPD leadership, but was forced out early in 1921. Levi’s successors, Heinrich Brandler and Walter Stocker, were also committed to Rosa Luxemburg’s strategies, but they were even less able than Levi to control the increasingly powerful and militant Moscow-backed Left Opposition within the party or to halt the domination of the KPD by the Russians. The party suffered a crucial defeat during the “March Action” of 1921 and then another, while Brandler was at the head of the party, in the “German October” of 1923.

Heinrich Brandler, who was Blücher’s closest friend, had spent some months in prison after the March Action, and then spent a year in Moscow. After he returned to Germany and assumed the party leadership in 1923, Brandler was reluctantly prepared for what his Russian backers hoped would be a “second October” in the fall of 1923. Germany was tom by mounting inflation, by the French occupation of the Ruhr, by increasing hostility between industry and labor, by a series of strikes, and by the resignation of one government, under Cuno, and the accession of another, under Stresemann; it was hoped in Moscow and among the Berlin-based German Left Opposition members that a revolutionary situation could be made out of this chaos. Russian organizers and advisors came to Germany early in the fall of 1923, and some German party members went to Russia for military training. Some of Blücher’s friends, who did not meet him until after this period, were under the impression that he had been sent to Moscow for training; others thought not. But all agreed that his role in the KPD in 1923 was to write and distribute in Germany a series of small pamphlets on armaments and guerrilla-warfare tactics.

The “German October” failed to become a “second October.” A violent uprising in Hamburg was crushed, and the KPD was banned—along with a group called the National Socialists, or Nazis, which had tried to stage an opposition Aktion in Munich. Brandler was severely criticized in Moscow (his star set along with Trotsky’s) and he and his followers were eventually excluded from KPD leadership positions as the Left Opposition, headed by Ruth Fischer, took over; the KPD was bolshevized. It was during this shift that, as Hannah Arendt noted in one of marks, “the gutter opened, and out of it emerged what would have called ‘another zoological species.’”

The decline and fall of the German Communist party, as Blücher recounted it, provided Hannah Arendt with a clear image—one she never failed to refer to—of what any revolution cannot be without: spontaneously organized, locally based councils, or Räte, which are controlled neither by existing party councils—in this case, those of the Social Democratic party—nor by external, foreign organizations, in this case, the Moscow party. The Räte which had been crucial to the early stages of the German revolution were, as the revolution developed, left behind. By the fall of 1923, the central tenet of Rosa Luxemburg’s theory of revolutionary change that “the organization of revolutionary action can and must be learnt in revolution itself, as one can only learn swimming in the water” had been completely forgotten. In 1923 the German and Russian leaders of the Communist party tried to “make” a revolution. And, as they did so, they grew more and more removed from their followers. Their power was not rooted, it did not come from below. Throughout her life as a political theorist, Hannah Arendt was harshly critical of any leadership that abandoned its local base, the true source of its power. In Parii afidaUring her early years in America, she focused her criticism of leadership on the Jewish leadership, which she thought lacked awareness of the need for Jewish solidarity; later, she extended her criticism to the leaders of postwar Europe, of Israel, and finally of her adopted country, America.

Heinrich Brandler provided Blücher and Arendt with a paradigmatic case of a revolutionary leader gone astray. A proletarian, born in Austria-Hungary in 1881, the son of a bricklayer, Brandler was an honest, simple man, an experienced local labor-union organizer, but quite unprepared for the national leadership role into which he was thrust after Jogiches’s death and Levi’s expulsion. He lost his connections with his people, the workers, and became a puppet of the Comintern. Returning to Germany after nearly four years of exile in Moscow, he tried to reverse the bolshevizing trend in which he had been caught; but his Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands-(Opposition), founded in 1928, had no influence.

Heinrich Blücher joined Brandler’s opposition group, the KPO, in Germany and then in Paris, where many of “the Brandler Group” went after 1933, but his friendship with Brandler deteriorated. Brandler was surprised, when he returned from Moscow in 1928, to find that his old friend was no longer the same. Blücher tried to tell Brandler about his educational pursuits and the friends he had made during the five intervening years and was greeted with an incredulous “Du spinnst! [You’re crazy!].”

February 8, 2013

Lore

Filed under: Fascism,Film,Germany — louisproyect @ 8:22 pm

Opening today at the Lincoln Plaza in New York today is a most unusual film titled “Lore”. The lore in question is not a reference to folk tales but the nickname of Hannelore, a sixteen-year-old German girl who is charged with the responsibility of leading her younger sister, even younger twin brothers, and baby brother from the Black Forest to Hamburg in the months before the end of World War Two where they will be housed by their grandmother until being reunited with their parents.

What makes the film unusual is the openly pro-Nazi sympathies of the parents and of Lore herself. When the film begins, Mutti (German for “mom”) and Vati (“dad” is an SS officer) are gathering up the family’s belongings in their spacious Berlin apartment for a trip in an army truck he has commandeered. Their destination: a farm in the Black Forest where they will try to survive the certain collapse of the Third Reich. The camera pans in to a bookshelf in the apartment where a book with a title like “The Diagnosis of Abnormal Human Specimens” sticks out like a sore thumb. You cannot help but suspect that Mutti was an aide to Josef Mengele. Even more of a fanatic than Vati, she accuses him of cowardice and shrieks that the Nazi army will beat back the barbarians at the gate as if a member of the cast in “Downfall”.

Not long after the family reaches its destination, the war comes to an end and Vati turns himself in to the victorious American army. (He is shrewd enough to stay away from the Russians.) And not long after that Mutti turns herself in as well, assuring her children that she will only be in a camp rather than a prison.

Lore is forced to take over for her parents and lead the children through the hills, back roads, and small farming towns that lie between them and the railway station where they can catch a train to Hamburg. With very little money and only a few family heirlooms to trade for food, they are obviously skating on thin ice. After a week on the road, they look like what they are: poor and hungry people forced to migrate under wartime conditions. No longer the children of the Master Race, they have much more in common with the hundreds of thousands forced to leave Syria. Except that they remain sympathetic to the Third Reich and regard the allies as dangerous scum.

The film is a “road” movie having something in common with “The Road”, a film based on the Cormac McCarthy novel with Viggo Mortenson trying to find a safe haven for himself and his son. You sit on the edge of your seat wondering what’s the next calamity awaiting our plucky heroes and heroines.

But even more it is very much in the tradition of “Gone With the Wind”, another tale of a reactionary class trying to get back on its feet after a war leaves them homeless and poverty-stricken. When Lore picks potatoes from the soil for their infrequent meals, you cannot help but be reminded of Scarlett O’Hara doing the same thing with turnips, vowing: “As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again”.

Unlike O’Hara who remained a reactionary until the bitter end, Lore goes through a transformation in the film, largely through her exposure to a character named Tomas who is in his mid-20s and really quite a hunk. Unfortunately he is a Jew and forced to put up with Lore’s tirades. When she first meets up with him in a barn, she demands that he sleep on the other side of the hayloft.

However, Tomas is street wise and mature beyond his years. What’s more he takes an interest in the children and helps them navigate their way out of one rough spot after another. He is also attracted to Lore and takes every opportunity he can get to put his hand up her skirt. With her hormones raging, Lore is torn between letting him have his way and biting his hand off as a way of showing allegiance to the defunct Nazi project. She finally relents when it is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that their survival rests on his leadership. The untermensch becomes obermensch.

Cate Shortland, who is absolutely brilliant, directs the film. Don’t believe the hype about “Zero Dark Thirty”. If you want to see a female director working her magic on morally questionable material, Shortland has her beat to hell. This is a film that has striking images throughout, tremendous performances, and a powerful screenplay co-written by the director and Robin Mukherjee, who has mostly worked in British television.

At the press screening, the publicist was handing out copies of “The Dark Room”, a novel written by Rachel Seiffert in 2001 upon which the film is based. While I read very little fiction nowadays, I was curious to see how the two compared. The novel has three parts involving Germans who were touched by World War Two in one way or another. The first part, titled “Helmut”, recounts the misery of a congenitally disabled photographer’s assistant who becomes homeless during the bombing raids on Berlin at the end of the war. The last part is titled “Micha”, which is short for Michael, a schoolteacher whose grandfather was in the Waffen SS and who travels to Byelorussia in 1998 to inquire about the man’s deeds there. Was he a killer?

It was most interesting to see how Shortland transformed Seiffert’s prose. In the middle section, titled “Lore”, Tomas is an older and rather unattractive man who never tries to put the make on Lore. Furthermore, his Jewishness never comes up as an issue with her. Since there is no conflict, the story lacks the drama of the film. More to the point, the film would risk being unpalatable to today’s audiences if Lore did not become “enlightened” about Nazi evil. While this satisfies Aristotelian dictums about the need for catharsis, it is not really faithful to Seiffert’s intentions.

She has little interest in saying mea culpa over Nazi crimes. When Micha finally lands an interview with an elderly man who was in town under Nazi rule, he fully expects the old man to have painful memories of being tortured, losing family members, etc. It turns out that the man was a Nazi collaborator only too happy to shoot Jews whenever asked. His take on killing Jews? An Eichmannesque: “Someone else was responsible”.

Despite being homeless and impoverished, Helmut manages to have salvaged the cameras and film from his workplace and spends his days photographing Berlin during its Götterdämmerung. One day he spots something happening on the street that cries out for preservation, the Nazis are rounding up a bunch of Roma to send to the death camps. What is his interest in filming this scene? Dramatic evidence of Nazi barbarism? Not really.

The gypsies are divided and loaded into the trucks. They shout back at the men in uniform, gold teeth bared. Children cry on their mothers’ hips and hide beneath their wide, bright skirts. Girls bite the soldiers’ hands as they pull the jewels from their ears and hair. Men kick those who kick them and are kicked again. Women push away the hands which push them, and one runs but doesn’t get far and is soon unconscious and in the truck with the rest of her family.

Helmut is afraid, exhilarated. His hands sweat and shake. He clicks and winds and clicks again, photographing as quickly as the camera will allow: not quick enough. He reloads, curses his fingers, feeble and damp, fumbles and struggles with the focus.

In other words, Helmut is looking for a great photograph, not to document genocide. Indeed, one can only wonder if Rachel Seiffert has the same motivation in writing about wartime Germany, to tell a good story.

Of German descent but educated in Britain, Seiffert tried to explain her motivations to the Toronto Globe and Mail in 2001. When asked if she was a fan of Daniel Goldhagen’s “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust”, a book that condemned all Germans for being responsible for the Judeocide, she replied that she was much more influenced by Christopher Browning’s “Ordinary Men: Reserve Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland”, a book that argued—correctly, in my view—that ordinary Germans, in this case a bunch of cops, did everything they could to thwart orders from higher-up’s. The Globe and Mail reports:

What impressed her about Browning was that he allowed Nazis to speak through interviews and in the letters they had sent home during the war. “He emphasized that they were very ordinary people who weren’t driven by a particular hatred,” she explains. “He was much more interested in exploring group behaviour and what becomes clear is that killing was part of everyday life, but that doesn’t mean that people didn’t find it hard.”

In my view Seiffert is a very good novelist and Shortland is a very good director. What bothers me, however, is how such talented people can devote so much time and energy making art out of the lives of essentially worthless people.

(Lore also opens today in Los Angeles. Check local papers for details.)

October 29, 2012

German composer Hans Werner Henze dies age 86

Filed under: Germany,music,obituary — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

guardian.co.uk, Saturday 27 October 2012 14.58 BST

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Elegy For Young Lovers

Steven Page in Elegy For Young Lovers, staged by English National Opera at London’s Young Vic theatre in April 2010. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

The death of German composer Hans Werner Henze has been announced today.

Schott Music said that Henze, 86, died on Saturday in Dresden; the cause of death has not been disclosed, but Henze’s health has been frail since suffering from a serious illness in his late 70s that left him incapacitated for two months in 2005.

Henze’s work over the decades straddled musical genres.
He composed stage works, symphonies, concertos, chamber works and a requiem. He once said that “many things wander from the concert hall to the stage and vice versa.”

Henze was born July 1, 1926 in Gütersloh in western Germany. After studying and begun his career in Germany, he moved to Italy in 1953. Having lived through fascism, he became a committed communist, and many of his works of the 60s and 70s have an explicitly political inspiration (his Sixth Symphony was composed for Cuba). But the expressive freedom of Henze’s music put him at odds with the post-war avant-garde. In Italy – in Ischia and latterly in a house in the hills outside Rome, he developed a language of searing, abundant poetry that drew on the Austro-German tradition from Beethoven to Berg yet was also infused with Mediterranean lightness and modernist astringency. His many operas, from Boulevard Solitude in 1951 to his final works in the genre, Phaedra, written in 2007 and Gisela, 2010, belong to the most important canon of theatrical works of our time (including We Come To The River, composed for Covent Garden in 1976); his series of 10 symphonies and other large-scale works are among the most significant reinvigorations of the orchestral tradition in the post-war period.

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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