IT is an accepted political principle in Germany that any political party which wishes to survive must make every possible effort to further the reunification of West and East Germany. Since positive contributions in this direction are impossible, Germans have concentrated more and more on the negative policy of opposing all measures which might prove an obstacle to unity in the future. It is the one aim on which all Germans seem to agree, and against which no one has dared, or wanted, to speak openly. Public opinion in the United States and Western Europe has come to take for granted that this urge for unity is a major factor to be considered in shaping any policy for Germany.

In 1948 the Russians decided to exploit the German desire for unity and make it the main vehicle for carrying to success their own particular policy for Germany. In the first years after the war they had exploited anti-Fascism both in Germany and elsewhere. Having reaped as much success on that line as possible, they decided, first, that as an active force anti-Fascism was dead, second, that they needed a particular policy for Germany different from that followed in other countries. Overnight, therefore, they began sponsoring unity as the main object in Germany, and have tried to persuade the Germans to accept the idea that they are the one Power wholeheartedly committed to achieving that goal. They made the most of every possibility of interfering with the policy of the West German Government by bringing pressure to bear on it through the exploitation of genuine national feeling.

The strength of latent national feeling is always difficult to measure, and those who act on estimates are apt to get an unpleasant shock. It therefore would be a waste of time trying to guess whether the desire for German unity is as strong a political force as it seems to be, or even to answer the derivative question as to how much popularity the Russians will gain from their ostensible support of it. The fact remains that all political parties in Western Germany insist that unity is their objective. To the parties on the Right it is the first and most necessary step toward establishing German economic and political predominance in Central Europe. To the Social Democrats it offers the means of obtaining office, through the votes of the traditionally Socialist eastern areas, as well as a means of escape from the octopus arms of NATO and the European Defense Community. Dimly it seems to promise them an era in which Socialist policy would rule Germany and in which Germany would be the arbiter of conflicting and alien world forces; and it promises also the chance of bloodless victory in the war which may lie ahead by keeping Germany neutral--the nobilissima visione behind 30 years of Socialist vacillation. All this in spite of the fact that if the S.P.D. has learnt anything it should be that the Communists are their bitter, relentless and everlasting enemies.

Even among the Christian Democrats, the West German Chancellor's own party, there is pressure sufficient to produce frequent Ministerial warnings to the Western Allies that the hopes of German unity cannot be ignored or obstructed. As recently as April 24, 1952, Chancellor Adenauer was forced to put the cat among the pigeons by stating in a broadcast that West German participation in the European Defense Community and the Schuman Plan was subject to revision once German unity became feasible. It was a reservation of tremendous potential importance.

The vehemence of tone used in expressing these feelings is a sign of danger. Should the ever-present lunatic fringe in German politics feel that its wishes are reflected among the population at the same time that they are spurned by the Western Powers, it may succeed in establishing a government in Western Germany which would be willing to extend a hand across the zonal boundaries even at the risk of being swallowed up in the process. Some of the speeches made by proponents of this policy may be mere verbal vote-catching; but neither the Western Powers nor Dr. Adenauer and his ministers dismiss them so lightly.

In these circumstances it is impossible for the West either to oppose unity or to outdo the Russians in shouting for it. On the other hand, the demand cannot simply be ignored. The Western Powers have had to follow the ungrateful course of pretending to examine each Soviet proposal as though it were sincere, and to rebuff it by pointing out its flaws, omissions and speciousness. This has hardly been satisfying to those Germans who want unity so much that they persuade themselves each Soviet proposal is in fact a concrete offer. At the same time, everything has been offered to Western Germany which could be granted in the circumstances. This has not abated the threats of the opposition; and now it seems that it may not even enable the Federal Government to keep the mandate of the legislature. When the German Communists report to Moscow on the current progress of Soviet designs in Germany, the Politburo experts responsible for German affairs will probably say that, even though the time has not yet come to bring the campaign to a climax and to support words with actions, the disintegration of the enemy camp is steadily proceeding and support for the Soviet unity campaign is steadily growing. Above all, they can say truthfully, the enemy has found no political answer to their campaign: time is on the Soviet side.

But such a report would ignore the fact that while even Marxists wait for a situation to develop, things change, often including basic premises. And the further the timetable reaches into the future, the less inevitable it becomes. The Russian Communist political mind works along geometrical lines; overconfidence frequently minimizes the importance of unplanned developments. There seems reason to believe that when the Soviets made their major change in policy toward Germany, from the "anti-Fascist" to the "unity" line, they expected to move irresistibly to victory. The failure of the Berlin blockade was an unforeseen obstacle; Dr. Adenauer's personal strength and steadfastness were another. And still another is the growth, during the last four years, of solid political and economic forces working against reunification. The longer the proposed Four Power discussions of all-German elections are put off, the stronger these economic forces will grow.


A factor militating against unity is Germany's present dual structure--in the West an improved Weimar Constitution incorporating some American suggestions, in the East the bogus Soviet system in which central and state governments are jerked by one and the same political puppet-master. Western Germany itself may not be, by American or Swiss standards, an entirely genuine federal state, but it has proved sufficiently so for state governments to be able to obstruct the wishes of the central government effectively. For states like Bavaria this is a prized possession. A reunification of Germany would be almost certain to bring in its train a strong attempt to give the resultant all-German government greater powers at the expense of the provinces, especially if the new government were Social Democrat or Communist. Moreover, the problems of unity imperatively demand powers for the central government which, by the present West German Constitution as well as the Occupation Statute, are expressly denied the Federal Government. Admittedly, the federal idea was imposed on Germany as a means of keeping her impotent, and was, moreover, imposed willy-nilly on institutions evolved from a highly centralized system. If this federalism has nonetheless achieved any permanence, it is only due to the fact that the Bonn administration never had the moral authority of a central German government, and that the state governments have profited from the resulting vacuum. The majority party in the Bundestag is strongest in the Catholic southwest and the Rhineland, and corresponds, as far as its views on states' rights are concerned, to the position of the "Dixiecrats" in America. The Government has consistently followed a policy of economic laissez-faire. But no all-German government could possibly do so. It is not too much to say that any practical degree of unity in Germany would bring the end of the federal experiment. Certainly it would cause the defeat of the party whose term of office has made possible the progress of federal government to date.

The economic policy of the Bonn Government has destroyed many of the links with that part of Germany now under Soviet control. Briefly, the scramble for quick-return investments after the currency reform in 1948 gave a tremendous spurt to many consumer goods industries, depriving heavy industry of capital for much-needed repair and development. A chronic fear of inflation has caused credit to be made as expensive as possible; much of the capital recreated since 1948 has had to be provided by the industries themselves out of profits, and by the resources of the private banks, traditionally a dependent unit of industry and commerce. In this Keynesian age, governments often (and quite correctly) console themselves and their supporters that nothing is easier or quicker than the increase of effective purchasing power by official action; but in Western Germany today the bare bones of the necessary credit machinery are missing, even if such relief were considered desirable. In short, there is a free economy in which a relatively high rate of consumption has been achieved by continually putting off the evil day when longterm policy will imperatively demand a replanning of the structure of current investment. This high rate of consumption, achieved with American help, may be one of the reasons why the rearmament program is viewed with suspicion in a Western Germany bitterly opposed to government planning; and the bogey of inflation reinforces this attitude, in spite of the ever-present fact of unemployment there.

But the demands of limited rearmament under the European defense scheme are a mere molehill compared to the replanning of investment that would become necessary after reunification. Opposition to rearmament in Western Germany is allegedly based on the view that it might retard the chances of unity. But in fact it may be to a considerable extent a product of economic fear-- fear both of reduced consumption and of increased government planning. Amalgamation of the present economic freedom in the West and the poverty in the East would aggravate Germany's economic difficulties. The new stimuli to consumption goods industries would drain more capital away from the basic industries, whose need of investment would be all the greater in view of the enormous Russian depredations in the East. The Socialist alternative is large-scale investment in Eastern Germany; according to Professor Baade, of the Kiel Institut für Weltwirtschaft; the minimum required investment would be 3 billion Deutschemarks, or $714,000,000 at current rates. Professor Baade proposes that this be saved by reducing Western occupation costs. The estimate of the amount needed is reasonable, but the method proposed for making it available is absurd.

Moreover, it is in the East that the greatest obstacles to unity exist; and, ironically, it was the Russians who created them, in the flush of Communist power and anti-Fascist propaganda. The most far-reaching measure was the land reform. As it stands in the legislative record of the five provinces in the Eastern Zone it is an expropriatory measure on a large scale; as it has been implemented by Marxist authorities for six years it is a social revolution. The agricultural areas became in turn a small peasant economy, and then an agriculture state-controlled in all respects but ownership of the land itself. Both the former large landowners and many of the medium and small farmers have disappeared, and their equipment has been collectivized into tractor stations. The records of previous ownership have been burned. Neither politically nor economically is it possible to speak of an independent agricultural class today.

It is easy to break up large estates if one is prepared to accept, or overlook, the resultant loss in productive efficiency. Without an even greater upheaval it is impossible to recreate large estates; even the enforcement of collectivization, a process in which all equitable considerations are absent, is easier by virtue of the purely geometrical plan at which it aims. In England the process of enclosures, which performed a similar economic function of engulfing small-holdings into larger agricultural units, took more than 250 years to be completed, and even at that pace produced economic stresses and grave social difficulties. In addition to the economic aspect of unity in Germany there is the human problem of preventing any change of land ownership in the East from resembling the vengeance of rapacious émigrés after their victorious return to the country which expropriated and expelled them: a situation of great social danger. However harshly the peasants may have been treated by the quota system and its enforcement in Eastern Germany, it is not certain that they would welcome back the former owners. If the present distribution of land is to be left untouched, only vast government investments in agriculture--in fact a continuation of, and even improvement on, Communist policy--could counteract the agricultural decay in a country which, over-all, has not been self-sufficient since 1870.


Exactly the same situation arises in industry. Here the legal beneficiary has been the state; the gainers are the large army of administrators and technicians, and, once removed again, the numerous councils and committees which, in Communist countries, give the worker the illusion of having a direct say in production. If the former owners are to reacquire their industrial property these political functionaries will be out of jobs. So will the "People's Judges," the "democratic" teachers, trade union officials, and so on. Loss of jobs means loss of social position and influence, bourgeois qualities inherited with zest by the élite of the new Eastern Europe.

There is thus a considerable vested East German interest in favor of the present dual arrangement, since from 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 people there draw their means of livelihood directly from it. Their only chance of continued well-being would be the possibility of maintaining the status quo after a single German Government came into existence. This in turn would be possible only in one of two ways: either the economic and administrative system of Eastern Germany must be guaranteed by means of entrenched clauses in the new constitution, or the present areas of Eastern and Western Germany must continue to have legal existence as sovereign and separate entities for certain constitutional purposes--in other words, a third federal level would have to be created between central and provisional governments. The first alternative is unlikely to be acceptable to anyone save the Communists. The second is a lawyer's nightmare, though that does not preclude its becoming a constitutional reality. The Western Powers and the Germans may yet have to ask themselves seriously whether they would be prepared to have unity on these terms, and if not, what satisfactory reasons they can give for refusing a Soviet proposal incorporating them. There is, of course, a third alternative: Soviet, and therefore Communist, control of the new all-German Government. It is unlikely to be achieved by negotiation.

The choicest industrial units in Soviet Germany are Russian-owned and operated. There is already a Soviet Empire within the East German economy;[i] and although the ever-open jaws of the Soviet enterprises now swallow less raw material, a substantial part of the East German production is still destined either for reparations or to supply the Soviet-owned corporations. The choicest export materials of the Soviet Zone, such as the BMW Motor Cars, are exported on Russian account and bring no benefit to the East German economy. There are, in addition, the other Russian subsidiaries, the Soviet transport undertakings and the whole Soviet structure of banking--all outside German control. It has frequently been suggested that this Soviet Empire might be used as the ultimate bargaining counter in a Russian proposal for reunification, although such an offer has not been made or even hinted at. Clearly it would be very difficult to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement to combine East and West Germany into one state if a large part of industrial capital and credit were foreign-owned and had the right to draw on the German economy for its needs without any reciprocal service.

If the Russians were prepared to abandon their holdings there would then be the question of disposing of these units: would they be restored to the combines which previously owned them, or would a new group of state-owned enterprises be formed to hold this property? Here again there is grave doubt that an arrangement satisfactory to the Russians and the Germans could be reached, a doubt which in turn throws suspicion on the genuineness of the Russian offers. Moreover, there is no evidence that the Russians would abandon their reparation demands on the achievement of unity. Indeed, it is more likely that West Germany would find itself burdened with the incomplete reparation commitments of the Eastern Zone, and that the Russians would insist on writing such a provision into any unification proposal.


An economic and political frontier drawn down the middle of a single national unit is like a wound, against which nature instinctively produces remedies. The plan-conscious East German Marxists, for whom self-sufficiency is sacred dogma, have done their utmost to accept the break as permanent and to stimulate domestic production of previously imported goods and raw materials. The fact that the shortages were largely in heavy industry --"basic industry" in their jargon--enabled them to adopt an orthodox Communist program of expanding just those industries which have always been more or less undeveloped in countries where the Communists have seized power. One wonders what would happen if the irony of history one day brought Communists to power in a country where consumer goods industries were relatively the least developed sector of the economy--Pennsylvania, for instance, or South Wales in the United Kingdom!

At excessive cost and in an uneconomic way, the East German administration has forced four brand new steel plants into precarious existence, and tried to compensate for the small amount of hard coal by pushing an ever greater quantity of labor into the mines. The spectacular reopening of the largely abandoned silver mines in Saxony to exploit their uranium content is an outstanding example. Metal refining and smelting, automobile construction and shipbuilding have had the benefit of intensive capital infusions, though much of the capital and most of the production is Russian-owned. Not that Eastern Germany has succeeded in making itself independent of the West! An investment program far beyond the resources of the Zone itself would be required just to return to a prewar level of production.

The vested economic interests created in the West are equally powerful. Consumer goods industries which, in the East, were either neglected or forced to work for reparations on what can only be described as a "cost minus" system, have emigrated to the West continuously from 1946. The printing industry, previously concentrated in Leipzig and Berlin, has in the main disappeared to Western Germany. Most of the skilled labor from the Zeiss works at Jena has drifted in the same direction, when it was not transplanted forcibly to Russia. Some of these migratory industries and skills have become viable in Western Germany and have not been replaced in the East; others have been duplicated, however, and exist by virtue of the economic barrier running through the center of Germany. For instance, the Sudeten textile industry, most of whose skilled laborers and technicians found a ready economic existence in Western Germany, free from the competition of Saxony, has become a successful vested interest in its new home; but if faced by the competition of the larger and more efficient units across the zonal border it would be hard hit. It is not surprising to hear one of the Sudeten spokesmen in Western Germany combining political absurdity with economic logic by calling for the reopening of the Sudetenland to the expelled Germans as a prerequisite of the unity campaign.

Finally there is the elusive but nonetheless important psychological fact that the longer the division of Germany lasts, the more separated East and West Germans become intellectually, psychologically and spiritually. Already, knowledge of what is going on on one side of the border is inexact on the other side, and, in spite of considerable newspaper coverage, information is more and more difficult to get. Hope of escaping from Communist control may continue to feed the demand for unity in the East. But in the West the personal urge to renew the links with the East may perhaps be on the way to being replaced by a more formal patriotism, based on political slogans and international considerations. The phrases used today by Ministers and journalists when dealing with unity seem more and more impersonal. Such stereotypes may be common coin for the expression of political feelings where the passions of constituents are involved. But if the unity campaign becomes less personal and more stereotyped it must lose much of its force, though one must always remember that such appraisals of the strength of national feeling can be no more than speculations.


These, then, are the arguments and factors operating against unity. The feeling for unity exists in Germany, and they will not destroy it; neither can they prevent Soviet exploitation of that emotion. The feeling in favor of unity will remain. The evidence does suggest, however, that if things continue for some years to go as they have been going, it will dwindle more and more into sentiment only, and the pressures against any attempt to make unity real will become stronger and will be recognized and taken into account. It may well be that this trend is appreciated by the Federal Chancellor himself, as shown by his patient but unwavering effort to build a solid foundation of association with the West rather than to follow the popular mirage of unity at all costs. In this he often has to compromise, and sometimes has had to disagree with certain of his own Ministers, particularly Jacob Kaiser, who is responsible for all-German affairs in the Federal Government. Yet amid these complexities Dr. Adenauer has pursued a remarkably steady course.

Nevertheless this assumption that the demand for unity may grow weaker as time passes is also subject to alteration by new events. A breakdown in the relations between the Western Powers and the Federal Government, an electoral overthrow of the present Government, the death or retirement of the 76-year-old Chancellor, or a significant Soviet gesture such as complete withdrawal from Eastern Germany might reverse the trend. Economic obstacles would not prevail against a political explosion, though after it occurred they could make havoc of the new arrangements.

For the West to endeavor to maintain the status quo for some years, and to avoid giving the Kremlin an opportunity to galvanize the movement for unity, seems sound policy. The Soviet leaders seem still to believe in the accuracy of their Marxist prediction that the "unity campaign" will deliver Germany into their hands through political channels. I believe that the foregoing considerations make that uncertain. If the rulers in the Kremlin come to doubt their success by present methods, we may see a return to the 1948 policy of violence and open provocation. A renewal of that more "active" Soviet policy is the danger against which the Western Powers must be on guard. Its beginning would be a sign that the Soviet unity campaign had failed.

[i]Cf. "German Reparations in the Soviet Empire," by Peter Nettl, Foreign Affairs, January 1951.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • PETER NETTL, of St. John's College, Oxford; author of "The Eastern Zone and Soviet Policy in Germany, 1945-1950"
  • More By Peter Nettl