Workers Vanguard No. 885

2 February 2007


"Collective Guilt" and German Imperialism

Hypocritical Outcry Against Günter Grass

The following article is translated from Spartakist No. 164 (Autumn 2006), newspaper of the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).

The belated admission by writer Günter Grass in the 12 August 2006 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) that he had been a member of the Waffen SS 62 years ago, and not “a Wehrmacht [army] flak unit auxiliary” as stated previously in his biographies, provoked a storm of indignation. The “most profound moral depravity” was imputed to the 79-year-old Grass. Above all, his “political-moral authority” supposedly took a major hit due to “his having recalled this so belatedly.”

More than virtually any other writer, Günter Grass politically polarized the country with the positions he took opposing church and state in postwar Germany over the suppression of the Nazi past. He repeatedly pointed to the seamless integration of top Nazis into [Konrad] Adenauer’s West German government of the 1950s. In the outcry over his confession, what is mentioned above all is Grass’ protest in May 1985, when he criticized Chancellor [Helmut] Kohl for his visit to Bitburg cemetery [with its graves of Nazi SS members]. A similar outcry of indignation was set off in 1990 over his criticism of the capitalist reunification of Germany as “Anschluss” [annexation], analogous to [that of Austria in] the Nazi period, and his call for “equalization of burdens” for the DDR [German Democratic Republic (East Germany)]. In a 1997 speech honoring the famous writer Yasar Kemal from Turkey, who was being awarded the German book trade’s peace prize, he attacked Germany’s CDU [Christian Democratic Union] government for its brutal deportation practices: “Isn’t Germany’s latent hatred of foreigners expressed through the bureaucratic jargon of the current Interior Minister’s deportation practices, whose severity is echoed by gangs of right-radical thugs?” Now he is the target of grandiose accusations of being “two-faced” and “hypocritical.” There has even been talk of stripping him of the Nobel Prize for Literature awarded him in 1999 and of his honorary citizenship in [the Polish city] Gdansk.

The Lessons of World War II

For us Marxists World War II was, as far as the warring capitalist countries were concerned, an imperialist war on all sides. For the workers of all countries, there was only one warring country to defend—the Soviet Union. Thus, Trotskyists fought on the side of the Soviet Union and called for its unconditional defense. In the war between Nazi Germany and the “democratic” allies Britain and the U.S., we called for the defeat of all the imperialist powers.

Nazism, which arose from a mass movement of the unleashed petty bourgeoisie, was propelled to power by strong capitalist interests. The capitalists summoned the fascists to help fend off the “threat” of proletarian revolution by Europe’s most powerful working class. The German working class was powerful enough, and in its majority had the will, to prevent Hitler from seizing power. What made the triumph of Nazism possible was the criminal capitulation of the workers’ leadership, both the Stalinists [German Communist Party (KPD)] and the Social Democrats [SPD]. And only after destroying the German workers movement was Hitler able to proceed to the terrible “final solution.” The Nazi Holocaust is a unique crime in which the annihilation of whole peoples, Jews, Roma and Sinti [Gypsies], was organized on an industrial basis. Ultimately, it was the Red Army and Soviet partisans who, despite Stalin, smashed the Nazi regime and liberated Europe from fascism.

The social-democratic and Stalinist popular-frontist fairy tale of an “anti-fascist war of the democracies” served only to chain the American and West European working class to their own bourgeoisies. In the case of Germany, the betrayal of the KPD and SPD leaders, who had capitulated to fascism without a fight, was concealed behind the thesis of “collective guilt of the entire German people.” Also, the spectre of workers revolution haunted the “democratic” imperialists and was behind their policy of mass bombings at the end of World War II, aimed at demoralizing the German populace. During the war the Trotskyists were the only ones to raise international condemnation of these indiscriminate terror attacks, understanding that the “war for democracy” was a lie.

Collective Guilt à la Grass

The division of Germany along a class line was a result of the Second World War. In the East, the German bourgeoisie was expropriated and in 1949 the DDR, a deformed workers state, was created. In the West, the bourgeoisie of Auschwitz was “rehabilitated” and retained its power. The imperialists helped reinstate former Nazis in key political and economic positions. Only a strong German capitalism could be of use to them against the Soviet Union. While they were carrying out their Cold War against the Soviet Union, the American victors, together with their German allies, had every reason to bury the crimes of the Third Reich. That is why the imperialist lie of collective guilt was as practical as it was simple: the entirety of the populace was supposedly responsible for the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. The heart of the collective guilt argument is the counterposition of the despotic, anti-Semitic Germany of the Second World War to the democratic, socially minded German Federal Republic [BRD] of today. And this promotes the efforts of German imperialism to transform Germany into a “normal” country, with troops deployed from the Balkans to Afghanistan and now, for the first time, to the Near East.

Günter Grass is, in his own words, driven by the “horrific experience of Auschwitz.” But unlike the best elements of his generation, who drew from the horrors of the Third Reich and the defeat of Nazi Germany in the war the conclusion that they should settle the score with the bourgeoisie which brought Hitler to power and fight for a socialist Germany, Grass places responsibility for Auschwitz and all the other atrocities of the Nazi regime on the entire German people. In an interview with Fritz Pleitgen, Grass unashamedly asserted that his generation had “no glimmering of anti-fascism” and shifted what he sees as his personal failure and that of his whole generation onto the youth of today: “They are absolutely not responsible for it, without guilt, and nevertheless it is their responsibility that such a thing, even the first germs of it, not be repeated in Germany” (Spiegel online, 10 October 2002).

Grass, whose works powerfully reflect an image of the claustrophobic Nazi stench in postwar West Germany, where you could still sense the predatory bourgeoisie of Auschwitz, nevertheless holds the position “that the constitution of the Federal Republic is the best we’ve ever had in Germany.” This makes him an apologist for a “better” capitalist Germany. We Spartakists also turn to the young generation, not with Grass’ loyalty to the constitution but with the understanding that fascism and imperialist war are endemic to the capitalist system. That is why only a workers revolution can avenge the victims of the Holocaust.

Günter Grass and the Waffen SS

In his autobiography, Beim Häuten der Zwiebel [Peeling the Onion], Grass explains that he had tried in vain to join the U-boat arm of the military in 1943 as a 15-year-old volunteer, and in 1944 at the age of 17 he was drafted from labor service into the “Jörg von Frundsberg” division of the Waffen SS.

“The question is: Did the double S, which you couldn’t overlook in the recruitment office, shock me then, as it does now, after over 60 years, while I’m writing this down?

“There is nothing etched in the onion skin which could be read as a sign of shock or even horror. I would more likely have seen the Waffen SS as an elite unit, which was deployed when it was necessary to seal a breach in the front line, to break out of an encirclement, as in Demyansk, or to recapture Kharkov. The double rune on the uniform collar wasn’t offensive to me.”

The whole world identifies SS runes with the “final solution” and the murder of Jews. The SS is rightly regarded with deep abhorrence. At the start of World War II, the Waffen SS was founded as the military elite troops of the “Reichsführer” Heinrich Himmler, made up of heterogeneous elements such as the SS roving squads, the concentration camp guards and the SS Death’s Head Division. Its most infamous member was Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz concentration camp “doctor.” The Waffen SS was responsible for the mass murder of civilians and prisoners of war, and Waffen SS thugs were well suited for the job of torturers in the concentration camps. We will not forget the massacres of Oradour-sur-Glane or Sant’Anna-di-Stazzema, where whole towns were slaughtered, including the aged and infants. These massacres were carried out by tank divisions of the Waffen SS, “Hitler’s political soldiers,” in the summer of 1944, shortly before Grass received his induction orders.

Toward the end of the war, the character of the Waffen SS as special [Nazi] Party troops changed, with many Wehrmacht units being incorporated as a whole into the Waffen SS and young conscripts involuntarily drafted in. While the total number of soldiers in the “Greater German Reich” fell between 1943 and 1945 from 9.4 to 7.8 million, the number of members of the Waffen SS rose in the same period from 450,000 to 830,000 at the end. So, in the spring of 1945 more than 10 percent of German soldiers were members of the Waffen SS. In his 20 August 2006 letter to the Berlin Tagesspiegel, Werner T. Angress, author of Die Kampfzeit der KPD 1921-23 [originally published in English in 1963 under the title Stillborn Revolution: The Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-23], wrote:

“It is totally inappropriate to condemn Grass because of his short period of service in the Waffen SS. When I was an interrogator of prisoners in the American 82nd Airborne Division, where I was serving at that time as a Jewish émigré from Germany, I met many young Germans who had been drafted into the Waffen SS at the end of 1944 or the start of 1945 at the age of 17 to 18 years. They were still ‘teenagers.’ In May 1945 I was given, along with three comrades, the task of separating the ‘sheep from the goats’ in a camp for SS prisoners near Ludwigslust, Mecklenburg—the task of separating those who volunteered for the SS from those who were drafted. In doing this I took great care to get these youth transferred to a Wehrmacht prisoner-of-war camp because the majority of them hadn’t served in the Waffen SS out of political conviction. Grass also belonged to this kind of group, which was to be found in many SS units at the end of the war. It’s a real pity that he waited until now to make public his brief membership in the Waffen SS.”

Grass is no leftist, but a liberal intellectual who found his political home in the Social Democracy in postwar Germany. In his famous Danzig trilogy (The Tin Drum, Dog Years, Cat and Mouse), the Hitler years are narrated from the perspective of children and youth who were part of them and who regained their footing in West Germany during the Adenauer years. The Tin Drum, his novel about the everyday life of the petty bourgeoisie under fascism in Danzig [Gdansk], was seen as counterposed to the official suppression of the Nazi period in the Adenauer epoch. Grass writes:

“In the ’50s, the time of political restoration, people spoke of the Nazi period, the period of National Socialism, as a dark phase of German history, as if the poor German people had been seduced by earth spirits that come overnight. But I know from my own youth, basically everyone knew, that it didn’t all occur at night and it didn’t derive from earth spirits either. It happened by the light of day, it was announced by Mein Kampf and many other things; and that brought me closer and closer to my background, to what I had lost; a war started and lost by the Germans had led to the loss of my native country, affecting millions of people and me as well. And so I dared to approach this complex in that way. There is another thread, also in order to further refute this legend, this demonization of the Nazi period: one needs to portray the layer of the petty bourgeoisie, which I know and am familiar with and which is particularly susceptible to National Socialism in its wishes and presumptions and longings.”

—Quoted in Heinz Ludwig Arnold, “Ausgehend vom Labesweg 13” [Starting at Labesweg 13], 23 June 2003

Grass, born in 1927 in Danzig of German-Kashubian extraction, always held anti-Communist and anti-Soviet views. He was caught in the framework of bourgeois anti-fascism, which on the one hand dismisses the working class and on the other considers every individual German responsible for the Holocaust. Bourgeois class rule and capitalism as the cause of fascism are removed from the picture.

Why was Grass silent for so long? Obviously he was in the Waffen SS for only a short time. Furthermore he was drafted into it and is not known to have committed any criminal acts. He never made a secret of the fact that as a youth he believed in the final victory of the Nazis. But the reactions that now assail him indicate the extent to which, with the lie of collective guilt used as a weapon, it has been made impossible to deal with the Nazi period in all its complexities in Germany. In his 12 August interview with FAZ, Grass stressed regarding the postwar period in West Germany: “We had Adenauer—frightful—with all those lies and all that Catholic stench. The society that was being promoted at that time was characterized by a sort of petty-bourgeois stuffiness that didn’t exist even under the Nazis.” Angress confirms this. Asked by the Berlin Tagesspiegel whether “he could imagine why Grass was silent for so long,” he answered, “Germany was frightful in the ’50s. And afterwards it was too late.”

The lie that all Germans are to blame for the crimes of the Nazis is also very prevalent in the social climate of today’s “Berlin Republic,” which is cynically extolled as “normal.” The ideological foundation of the much-praised Wehrmacht exhibition [which graphically revealed the crimes of the German army] equates soldiers drafted into the Wehrmacht with the Nazi criminals. As we wrote in Spartakist No. 163, Summer 2006 (“Wehrmacht, Holocaust and ‘Collective Guilt’”): “The statement that, because the drafted soldiers were forced to carry out massacres they became counterrevolutionary scum and Nazis, blurs the class line which runs through every imperialist draft army between the bourgeois officer corps and the ranks, who come mainly from the working class. And it blurs over the difference between the Wehrmacht as a compulsory organization and the volunteer elite units of Hitler’s regime, like the SS, SD and Gestapo.”

Anti-Soviet Alliance in Bitburg

Today some of Grass’ opponents play the trump card that, already in 1985 on the occasion of Bitburg, he should have stated that he had been a member of the Waffen SS. On 5 May 1985, Kohl and Reagan paid an obscene visit to the SS graves in the military cemetery of Bitburg. Ronald Reagan, then the U.S. president, wanted to embrace the “enemy” of the Second World War. For Germany’s then chancellor Helmut Kohl, Reagan’s visit was his return favor for Kohl’s having promoted the stationing [in Germany] of American Pershing missiles aimed at the Soviet Union. As we wrote in a July 1985 Spartakist supplement, “Bitburg: Kohl/
Reagan Stand at Attention Before SS Mass Murderers—Defeat the Anti-Soviet War Drive!” (reprinted in Spartacist [German edition] No. 12, Winter 1986-87): “And they intentionally sought out a military cemetery with SS graves. For Reagan, Hitler’s killers who fought against Russia are simply magnificent—the sole problem was that they did this in the interest of Berlin and not of Washington.”

This aspect eludes Grass with his anti-Soviet outlook. Bitburg is inseparably linked to the resurgence of German nationalism. Indeed, it was Kohl who suggested the Bitburg visit to Reagan; the point was the rehabilitation of the SS and Waffen SS. At the same time that the government festivities took place, the “Death’s Head Division” of the Waffen SS was holding a convention and the cops were protecting meetings of both the “Hitler Youth” 12th SS Tank Division and the “Adolf Hitler Bodyguard” First SS Tank Corps.

Bitburg was a dividing line for West German society, which is why Grass’ bourgeois criticism of Chancellor Kohl over Bitburg has not been forgotten right down to this day:

“I know that even in editorials, certificates of innocence are currently being handed out. At present, we can afford a Chancellor whose innocence, if not ingrained, is nonetheless innate. Once again, the de-Nazification certificates of the ’50s are readily at hand.”

—“Freedom as a Gift—Failure, Guilt, Missed Chances,” Die Zeit, 10 May 1985

Bitburg constituted an honorable recognition of the successor state of the Third Reich, of the main driving force of NATO in Europe. As Trotsky stated in 1933, Hitler’s takeover of power was the greatest defeat for the working class in history. It remains the task of the working class to end the threat of fascism and the horrors of imperialist war by smashing the capitalist system through worldwide proletarian revolution.

Grass’ opponents are a pretty rotten bunch, even if their motives vary. For example, Bundeswehr [German army] professor Michael Wolffsohn, who holds torture by the state to be an appropriate measure, considers Grass’ lifework “completely damaged.” Or take the recently deceased admirer of [high-ranking Nazi Albert] Speer and biographer of Hitler, Joachim Fest. In the mid ’80s he opened the pages of his FAZ to Ernst Nolte, who denounced Auschwitz as a “Bolshevik act,” triggering a “red equals brown campaign” in the notorious “Historians’ Dispute.”

But there are also some nasty characters among Grass’ supporters. The notoriously right-wing Arnulf Baring conjectures that “the Grass case will lead to a calm and fairer judgment on the involvement of many Germans in National Socialism.” In the Wiesbaden State Parliament in September, the 74-year-old promptly seized the opportunity, calling the National Socialist dictatorship an “unfortunate error” and pleading to replace the term “integration” [of immigrants] with “Germanization.” In fact, in the spirit of a new “patriotism,” quite a few people, while taking out their anger on Grass, are trying to sell membership in the Waffen SS as “normal.” They obscure the difference between the murderous Nazi thugs who served enthusiastically and voluntarily in the SS and those who were recruited into the Waffen SS through universal conscription.

Today they want to push through a new edition of the cold amnesty of Nazi cadre like that following World War II. From the outset, Nazi brass and war criminals seized the opportunity of a safe haven in the West. Only in the DDR in the ’80s were two members of the Waffen SS division that carried out the massacre in Oradour-sur-Glane convicted, whereas not a single one was jailed in West Germany. In trials after the founding of the DDR in 1949, 12,881 Nazis were convicted; in the West, with a population almost three times as large, it was only half as many. While the state apparatus of the Federal Republic was filled to the brim with small-time and big-time Nazis, that of the DDR was composed of many former Nazi concentration camp prisoners, and many of its most prominent citizens were from Jewish families.

Now the intent is to use Grass’ admission that he served in the Waffen SS to retroactively whitewash Nazis: [Hans] Globke (author of the statutes implementing the 1935 Nuremberg Laws on Citizenship and Race, subsequently head of Adenauer’s chancellery); [Kurt Georg] Kiesinger (in the Foreign Ministry of the Third Reich from 1940 to 1945, then West German chancellor from 1966 to 1969); and [Hans] Filbinger (Nazi navy judge, who imposed death penalties up to the end of the war, from 1966 to 1978, premier of the state of Baden-Württemberg). German imperialism had never resigned itself to the formation of the DDR, which removed its access to a third of the country. That is why, right up to today, it has been pursuing a vicious and vindictive witchhunt against anything that reminds people of the DDR and the victory of the Red Army. One of the murderers at Oradour-sur-Glane, Heinz Barth, a member of the Waffen SS “The Reich” Division that was responsible for the massacre and who had been sentenced to life imprisonment in the DDR, was set free immediately after capitalist reunification; he then sued for his pension in reunified Germany as a former Waffen SS member.

Grass Against Reunification

With the collapse of the [Erich] Honecker regime and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the DDR was caught in the whirlwind of a developing political revolution. The International Communist League undertook the biggest mobilization in our tendency’s history for a Trotskyist intervention in this exceptionally open situation. Our political influence was shown when 250,000 people participated in a united-front demonstration in Treptow Park in East Berlin on 3 January 1990, which we Spartakists had initiated to protest the fascist desecration of the monument to Red Army soldiers who fell liberating Berlin from the Nazis. We called for “workers and soldiers soviets to power” through socialist revolution in West Germany and proletarian political revolution in the DDR. We warned that the SPD was the “Trojan horse” of capitalist counterrevolution.

The spectre of organized proletarian resistance against capitalist reunification revealed at Treptow alarmed the West German imperialists and their Social Democratic minions, who threw their campaign to drive the DDR into reunification into high gear. The Stalinists in the Kremlin and the DDR capitulated to the imperialists, actively participating in the forced march to capitalist reunification. And it was at this point that then-DDR Prime Minister, Hans Modrow of the SED-PDS [Socialist Unity Party/
Party of Democratic Socialism], swallowed the thesis of German collective guilt. The imperialist press rejoiced, understanding that this meant Modrow denied the essential difference between the denazified DDR and the Federal Republic, which had been established with Nazis and the U.S. imperialists playing a decisive role. On 20 February 1990, we explained in our paper Arbeiterpressekorrespondenz, which we had brought out almost daily:

“The German Democratic Republic didn’t come out of nowhere, it was constructed out of the destruction of Hitler’s Reich by the Red Army at a cost of 20 million Soviet lives. Its cadres came in large part out of the concentration camps….

“The Federal Republic of Germany formally declares itself the successor state of Hitler’s Third Reich, underlining the continuity of German imperialism. The West German secret police were set up by simply taking over the Nazis’ anti-Soviet spy operation (the Gehlen organization) wholesale….

“The DDR is a workers state, albeit bureaucratically deformed from birth, founded by the victims of the Nazi terror regime.”

—reprinted in WV No. 496, 23 February 1990

When the Wall fell, Günter Grass came out against reunification, favoring a confederation between the BRD and an independent DDR. In his “Reden eines vaterlandslosen Gesellen” of February 1990 [quoted from the English, published in Two States—One Nation? (1990) under the title “Short Speech by a Rootless Cosmopolitan”], he wrote: “Anyone thinking about Germany these days and looking for an answer to the German question must include Auschwitz in his thoughts. That place of terror, that permanent wound, makes a future unified German state impossible. And if such a state is nevertheless insisted upon, it will be doomed to failure.” In another essay, “Letzte Rede vorm Glockengeläut” [Last Speech Before the Bell Tolls], he continues:

“Companies long known to us are occupying the book and newspaper market. The land surveyors of the former big landowners are already busy in [the East German regions of] Western Pomerania and Mecklenburg. The new colonial rulers are moving in and find zealous assistants in the form of plant directors previously tied to the SED. To counter this, there is merely a list of promised favors. But what is the use of salaries paid out at a [currency exchange] rate of 1:1 when a large number of still-viable DDR firms will soon be bankrupt? Increased employment in the West will be followed, as with a dented ball, by unemployment in the East. The only place where growth may be recorded is where our fears and those of our neighbors originate: in German right-radicalism, not least because it is not impossible that even the Golden Calf, the hard D-mark [West German deutschmark], will suffer damage.”

—“Einige Ausblicke vom Platz der Angeschmierten” [Some Views from the Plaza of People Who Got Taken for a Ride], May 1990

However, Grass’ opposition to German reunification does not turn him into an opponent of capitalism or even a friend of the DDR. He welcomed clerical, anti-Semitic Polish Solidarność, whose counterrevolution destroyed the Polish workers state in the late ’80s-early ’90s. His relationship to the DDR was characterized by anti-Communism, which he adopted in the ’50s during the first Cold War. Equating Nazi rule with the regime in the DDR was not a hobbyhorse solely of right-wing conservatives like Nolte; it wasn’t foreign to liberals like Grass either. When the DDR sealed off the open border to West Berlin—a bureaucratic measure by the Stalinists that we defended because it served to protect the workers state from imperialist penetration and economic hemorrhaging—Grass wrote an urgent message to Anna Seghers, a Jewish Communist who narrowly escaped Nazi persecution and became chair of the DDR authors association:

“The anxieties felt by your protagonist [in her book The Seventh Cross], Georg Heisler, communicated itself to me once and for all; except that the commandant of the concentration camp is no longer called Fahrenberg but Walter Ulbricht, and he presides over your state.... Up to now you have been the epitome of resistance to violence; it is impossible that you should fall prey to the irrationalism of a [fascist like] Gottfried Benn and fail to recognize the violent nature of a dictatorship that has scantily, yet cleverly, wrapped itself in your dream of socialism and communism—a dream I do not dream, but which I respect, as I do any dream.”

—“Open Letter to Anna Seghers,” in Two States—One Nation?

However, his appeal to the DDR writers (“He Who Is Silent Becomes Guilty,” 14 August 1961 [the day after the building of the Berlin Wall began]) was a miserable failure. [DDR writer] Stefan Hermlin replied to Günter Grass: “I didn’t send my government a telegram of thanks on August 13, nor would I define my inner state as one of ‘joyful agreement,’ as many people like to express it.... But I do agree seriously and without the measures that the government of the German Democratic Republic has taken to put a brake on the aggressive course of the most dangerous state in the world, the Federal Republic” (from Hans Werner Richter’s 1961 Die Mauer oder der 13. August [The Wall or August 13]).

Very shortly, capitalist reunification was whipping up Nazi terror, which was then fanned even more by the abolition of the right to asylum, initiated by the SPD with the [1992] Petersberg Resolutions. Consequently, in protest against the SPD’s policy of destroying the right to asylum, Günter Grass quit the SPD in 1993. He did do some decent things, such as marching in the front line of a demonstration against an arson attack [against immigrant hostels] in Mölln and establishing a foundation to support Roma and Sinti. At the same time that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the “dreadful and unique experience of Auschwitz” led him to enthusiastically support the then-SPD/Green government’s military intervention in the Balkans. As we wrote in “Holocaust, ‘Collective Guilt’ and German Imperialism” [WV No. 697, 25 September 1998]: “Far from expressing opposition to resurgent German chauvinism, the embrace of ‘collective guilt’ by German liberals serves as a cover for aggressively promoting imperialist military intervention to ‘stop genocide’ in the Balkans and elsewhere.”

For decades the German bourgeoisie longed to be freed from the chains of the European postwar order. Capitalist reunification made this possible. The Schröder-Fischer [SPD/Green] government contributed significantly to a way of looking at imperialist Germany known as “normalization.” Finally the German bourgeoisie could attempt to play a role as a world power, not just economically but also by beginning to join in militarily once more. The strengthening of German imperialism has also been reflected in debates in the society about the Nazi past and the Second World War. Topics that were taboo yesterday, such as the American and British war crimes in Germany or the mass expulsions of Germans from the former eastern areas of Germany [lost as a result of the war], are suddenly being discussed. Only a few years ago, just outrage over the terror bombing of the German civilian population was being suppressed by presenting it as a “just punishment for German guilt.” Today bourgeois feature-writers are discovering the “German victims.” But if the reasons for the imperialist terror bombings are not given their true name—specifically, intimidating the German civilian population out of fear of a workers revolution in Germany coming out of the defeat in the Second World War—then emphasizing “German victims” as opposed to “German perpetrators” leads to a growth in German nationalism.

Crab Walk and the Question of the German Expellees

Günter Grass’ book Crab Walk was an intervention into this debate. The book correctly asserts that as a result of the decades-long silence of the left in West Germany on the expulsions, the subject was left to the arch-revanchist expellees associations and the Nazis, who call for re-establishing the 1937 borders. But Grass’ inability to understand society as divided into classes leads him to compress in one short novel the total impotence of German postwar liberalism. Crab Walk makes use of the popular anti-Communist prejudice that the growth of the Nazis in East Germany resulted from a “Communist dictatorship” in the East, and wavers between collective-guilt moralism—whether it might not be wrong to talk about injustices committed against Germans—and the nationalist urge to finally draw a line under history and be a “normal” nation again.

We stand in the tradition of the Fourth International, whose European sections, in their powerful 1945 appeal for “International Solidarity With the German Proletariat,” defended a socialist program for the European workers movement. Among other things, their appeal voiced their opposition to the evacuation of millions of working people from their home areas, warning: “The treatment of the German people on the principle of collective guilt provides the fascists precisely with new possibilities to fish in the murky waters of nationalism. The danger is all the greater since if the German people are collectively guilty then the Nazis who are the real guilty ones can logically hope to escape punishment.” Directed at the German workers, the appeal [which appeared in English in Fourth International, January 1946] states: “Understand that only as a united and solid proletariat can you stamp out fascism. Recognize that in itself ‘anti-fascism’ means nothing. Fascism and imperialism can only be ended with the downfall of capitalism and the victory of international socialism. Long live the German proletarian revolution! Long live the Socialist United States of the World!

Grass’ sometimes ambivalent stance has led to contradictory reactions within and without the Social Democratic camp. The mere fact that he voiced widely known truths about the brutal slash-and-burn policy adopted by the Treuhand and Co. brought him many supporters in East Germany. [The Treuhand was the agency set up to privatize DDR industry after the 1990 counterrevolution.] His novel about reunification, Ein Weites Feld [A Wide Field] (1995), generated protests from prominent figures in the SPD in the West that the head of the Treuhand was depicted as too aggressive. Soon Günter Grass was back stumping for the SPD in elections. And if yesterday he was excoriating the devastation carried out by a CDU government, he fervently supported the social devastation promoted by the government of his intimate friend Schröder through the Hartz Laws [undoing many aspects of the German welfare state]. For all his harsh and just criticism of the wrongdoings and crimes of various postwar German governments, Grass was incapable of naming and condemning what is fundamentally wrong with the society—capitalism. As Trotsky once remarked, the invocation of “democracy” is the social-democratic alibi for support to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, as opposed to fighting for workers democracy, which will be realized in the revolutionary state power of the proletariat.