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New Left Review I/99, September-October 1976


Günter Minnerup

West Germany since the War

Thirty years after the collapse of Hitler’s Third Reich and only ten years after Willy Brandt described the Bundesrepublik as ‘an economic giant, but a political dwarf’, Helmut Schmidt—in reply to the domestic and international criticism provoked by his remarks at the Puerto Rico summit conference in May, spelling out the sanctions which might be utilized against an eventual Communist-dominated government in Italy—can now confidently assert the new role which German capitalism is claiming for itself: ‘We cannot pretend to be a state that does not face up to its responsibilities’. His ‘indiscretion’ had in fact been only the latest in a long list of interventions by the Federal Republic into the domestic politics of its European ‘partners’: lecturing the conference of the British Labour Party before the eec referendum; publicly discussing the implications of an electoral victory of Mitterand’s Union de la Gauche for Franco-German relations; sending Brandt to Portugal to campaign for a Socialist Party already heavily subsidized by Deutschmarks. The ‘paymaster of the eec’ is certainly making its weight felt today in a manner unthinkable ten years ago. Only just behind the United States on the world export markets, the second industrial power in the capitalist world with the largest monetary reserves and trade surplus, [1] See Statistisches Jahrbuch für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Wiesbaden 1975, p. 582. the increasing political self-confidence of the West German bourgeoisie is hardly surprising. But it is not just based on economics. The growing weight of the Federal Republic within the Western alliance owes much to the fact that, in a time when most other major capitalist countries are shaken by deep social and political crises, West Germany seems to remain an island of stability. Despite a deep recession with well over a million unemployed, there has been no upsurge of left-wing opposition; the Communist Party has remained insignificant and the governing Social Democrats united behind Schmidt’s right-wing policies. In fact, the pendulum is swinging to the right; leftists are being purged from public employment and from the trade unions, and the October 1976 federal elections are likely to see heavy spd (Social-Democrat) losses and possibly even the return of a cdu (Christian-Democrat) government. How is it that a country with such a rich mass socialist tradition, with one of the best-organized and most experienced working-class movements, and with a high degree of student radicalization in the late sixties, today appears to be the last stable fortress of reaction in Europe?

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