DURING the first six months of 1962 the German Federal Republic has gone through one of the most difficult and embarrassing periods of its existence since it was proclaimed in 1949. Over the past thirteen years West Germans have become accustomed to one obvious and easily acceptable thought — that their future, as well as their country’s, depends on close, friendly, and fruitful relations with Western allies who confront an aggressive and expansionist Communist bloc.
This reality was underlined by the Communist suppression of the East German uprising in 1953 and of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, by the Khrushchev ultimatum over Berlin in 1958, and by persistent and insidious Communist efforts to cement the division of Germany. It was also underlined by frequent Western guarantees of German interests and liberties.
Since the beginning of the Rusk-Gromyko talks on Berlin, and during the ensuing Rusk-Dobrynin talks, West Germans have found themselves in the unenviable position of junior partners who have become the object of discussions between the senior member of the Western alliance, the United States, and the senior member of the Communist bloc, the Soviet Union.
It is easy to say that the West Germans should understand the need for these discussions, because of the physical vulnerability of West Berlin and the desire of a farsighted Kennedy Administration to reduce the risk of war. So much is true. But it does not alter the fact that the West Germans and their leaders have been subjected to a considerable psychological strain.
This has not been appreciated outside the borders of the Federal Republic. The general trend of comment in Western countries lately has been that it is high time the Germans understand that they may have to make further sacrifices in order to settle the bills left by Hitler’s war. This is a defensible viewpoint, in the light of the chaos which Hitler’s war caused in Europe. But there is a tendency to forget that the West Germans rearmed only with reluctance and took up their position in the vanguard of the Western alliance at the express wish of their allies. And they have been excellent partners so far.
The Rusk-Gromyko and Rusk-Dobrynin talks impinged in three different ways on the West German community. In the first place, they cut across firmly established, long-standing party lines. The talks, aiming at a temporary arrangement over Berlin but implying more lasting recognition of the division of Germany, produced two opposed factions in Adenauer’s Christian Democratic Party.
On the one side there has been Federal Foreign Minister Gerhard Schroeder and the official party leadership. Their view has been that a temporary arrangement over Berlin may have to be accepted, but that it must not prejudice the chances of eventual German reunification and a satisfactory German peace treaty.
On the other side, a number of influential Christian Democrats, led by former Foreign Minister Heinrich von Brentano, have bitterly opposed any arrangement which carries the risk of any recognition of the Communist East German regime. Their view is that the West has been preparing to make concessions without asking for anything concrete in return. “Better the status quo than that.” Von Brentano said. They deny that an international authority supervising Berlin’s communications would represent an improvement; they would prefer the Western powers merely to continue to insist on their right of free access to Berlin.
The divisions within the Christian Democratic Party were suddenly and startlingly illuminated by Adenauer’s statements during his two-day visit to West Berlin early in May. The Chancellor indicated in crystal-clear terms his belief that the American-Soviet talks had led nowhere and were unlikely to lead anywhere. He did this only two days after Schroeder, at the NATO conference in Athens, had confirmed the general agreement of his government that the talks should continue.
In Berlin. Adenauer also criticized the Rusk proposals in detail and suggested that talks which had no prospect of success were in themselves dangerous. He rejected the idea of a nonaggression pact between NATO and the Communist bloc, and any plan for a zone of limited armaments in central Europe. All this represented a return to the Chancellor’s former policy of strict and static diplomatic defensive.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of Adenauer’s spontaneous remarks, the new American approach to the Soviet Union has shaken the unity of the Christian Democratic Party, which has ruled since 1949. It has also increased the feeling of insecurity which has arisen out of Adenauer’s impending retirement and the absence of a named successor.
The man in the street
The Rusk-Gromyko talks upset the man in the street in West Germany. This is easily explained. West Germany stands in the front line of the cold war. The policy of the Eisenhower Administration, and of Secretary Dulles in particular, was to remind the West Germans of this and assure them of unlimited American backing. Since the Nazi debacle, the West Germans have felt desperately in need of real friends; that necessity helped them to accept the Eisenhower-Dulles line without too much demur. The West German press supported it solidly. The Bundestag upheld it.
What has happened now is that the West Germans are being invited to reappraise their situation and decide whether something dangerously like the Khrushchev interpretation of coexistence is not preferable to continuing, full-scale cold war. The West Germans are bewildered. It is much easier to oppose a recognizable enemy than to make concessions to that enemy in order to frustrate his designs later on.
The fact that they are the object of AmericanRussian negotiations is, anyway, in itself unpalatable to most West Germans. Lacking firm direction, they may begin to lose confidence in themselves. This could in time make them less reliable members of the Western alliance.
The impact on Berlin
The third important aspect of the Rusk-Gromyko talks has been their impact on Berlin. The Berliners are very skeptical about the chances of success of an international authority controlling Berlin’s communications, especially if it includes representatives of the East German regime. For who will those representatives be?
The Berliners have seen their sort already — manning the Communist wall in Berlin and the fortified interzonal frontier, shooting down escaping refugees, organizing the political jails of East Germany, which hold at least 15,000 prisoners. Are these people, the representatives of a police state, to become arbiters of an internationalized highway between Berlin and Helmstedt? To Berliners this would seem incredible.
To them it is incredible, too. that the rulers of the East German state should be accorded, even by inference, a measure of official recognition by the West. To Berliners these East Germans are the builders of the wall, the creators of the death strip along the East-West German boundary, where anyone stepping one yard too far in a westerly direction is shot down without warning. These East German rulers may even be men wanted by the police, like Walter Ulbricht and his security services chief. Erich Mielke, who organized the murder of two Berlin police officers in 1932. There are still valid warrants out for their arrest.
Volkswagen raises prices
West German confidence has lately been shaken by another development. At the end of March the Federal Minister of Economics, Ludwig Erhard, appealed in urgent terms to the whole community to observe moderation over wage demands and price increases. He warned that a continuation of the wage-price spiral, with price increases chasing successful wage demands, could result in German goods pricing themselves out of export markets.
Within a few days, on April first, the Volkswagen motorcar firm, the biggest in West Germany, announced 5 to 8 percent increases in the prices of three of its models. The firm’s managing director, Heinz Nordhoff, argued that, thanks to nationalization, these models still cost less than they did twelve years ago, and that shareholders’ interests (the firm was transferred from state to private ownership last year) had to be protected.
On the face of it, the Volkswagen price increases were modest. But Erhard and his advisers believed that they would encourage the wageprice spiral. The other principal West German motorcar manufacturers promptly followed Volkswagen’s example, raising prices by up to 9 percent. The trade unions were disgusted and assumed that industry was now jumping ahead of expected wage demands. The political parties backed Erhard, and Adenauer expressed deep concern after returning from a protracted holiday in northern Italy. But Nordhoff refused to change his mind.
There were three interesting features about the Volkswagen controversy. In the first place, Erhard seemed to have no clear-cut plan for dealing with the wage-price spiral. He did not inaugurate a “pay pause” of the kind undertaken, on the whole successfully, by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Selwyn Lloyd. His own contribution to a policy of moderation was to announce modest cuts in government spending on roads and public buildings. Instead of forming a National Economic Council, as had been expected, he merely stated he would seek the advice of a small, arbitrarily chosen committee of experts.
In the second place, the Volkswagen controversy drew attention to the importance that the West Germans attach to their material prosperity. This had already been underlined by the Bundestag economics debate in February, which produced extraordinary animation and some rough language. By contrast. Bundestag debates on key questions affecting Germany’s future, reunification, Berlin, or the fate of the seventeen million East Germans are invariably tame affairs. This year’s record budget, of 53 billion marks, monopolized the headlines for weeks.
In the third place, the controversy was a reminder that West Germany is, at long last, suffering from inflationary tendencies. There is a wellworn cliché that a country where workers do not go on strike owes its prosperity primarily to the urge of the average German to get on with his job, earn more, and spend freely. This has been true in the past; it is in process of becoming less true today.
Shorter hours, higher pay
The West German now has 29 nonworking weekdays in the year, against the Frenchman’s 23 and the Englishman’s 16. Last year the average German put in a total of 2135 hours of work, against the Frenchman’s 2205 and the Englishman’s 2230. The West German now has longer holidays and works fewer hours than the inhabitant of any other major European country.
Meanwhile, social service expenditure has rocketed (1950, 12 billion marks; 1962, an estimated 45 billion marks), and it is widely believed that the German worker is becoming “welfare-state minded" and is losing his personal sense of initiative. In addition, the trade unions are pressing ever more strongly for a shorter work week.
To those who realize that there is only a marginal difference between economic prosperity and economic stagnation, the present situation is alarming. Industrial output rose by only 6 percent last year, against over 10 percent in 1960. The cost of living bounced up by 3.5 percent, and wages by 13 percent in a single year. But industrial productivity was up by only 3 percent. The labor shortage is becoming more acute, with four times as many vacant jobs as there are unemployed. Last year’s 4 percent upward revaluation of the deutsche mark has not helped exports, while production of crude steel dropped by nearly a million tons in the first quarter of 1962
Who will succeed Adenauer?
The stability of the Federal Republic has been largely founded on economic expansion and the personal success of Dr. Adenauer. The Chancellor’s days in office are now numbered, and he is expected to retire by the end of October, 1963. Only by sparing himself and taking longer holidays will he be able to carry on until then, and he has evidently begun to realize this. While remaining chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, he has installed a much younger man, Dr. Josef Dufhues, fifty-four, as the party’s general manager. But he has left the question of the succession to the chancellorship wide open. As for the two younger contenders for the post, Defense Minister Franz-Josef Strauss has suffered setbacks over NATO policies and as a result of alleged corruption in the granting of government building contracts; the star of Foreign Minister Gerhard Schroeder, on the other hand, is in the ascendant. But uncertainty over the succession will become more and more critical.
For this and other reasons, Bonn has lost much of its jaunty self - confidence. Adenauer’s third coalition government has, since its formation last November, been marking time. In its first eight months it has framed no important legislation.
It has been a lackluster period in German political history, and little has happened to jolt the West Germans out of their apathy. The news that 5649 East Germans managed to escape to West Berlin and West Germany during the first three months of 1962 roused hardly a ripple of interest. Yet this meant an average of sixty a day, or roughly ten times what is being reported in the West German press. A minor miracle of ingenuity, daring, and patriotism passed almost unnoticed.