Berlin 1948: The Berlin Airlift hides the crimes of allied imperialism

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On numerous occasions in our press, we have denounced the massacres and crimes of the "great democracies" and shown that the "allies" shared responsibility for the holocaust with the Nazis (International Reviews 66 and 89). Contrary to the lying propaganda of the bourgeoisie, which repeats endlessly that the Second World War was a struggle between the democratic and humanist "forces of good" and the "absolute evil" of Nazi totalitarianism, this conflict was really a bloody conflict between rival imperialist interests, both as barbaric and as murderous as each other.

Once the war was finished and Germany defeated, the natural tendencies of decadent capitalism took their course and the new rivalries between former allies came to the surface. A regime of famine and terror was imposed on the European populations, especially in Germany. Here again, contrary to the propaganda of the Western bourgeoisies, this policy was by no means exclusive to Stalinism.

The episode of the Berlin airlift in 1948 marked a brutal acceleration of imperialist antagonisms between the blocs formed around Stalinist Russia and the USA. It was a turning point in the latter's policy towards Germany. Far from being an expression of their humanism, the Berlin airlift was an expression of their counter-offensive against Russia's imperialist ambitions. At the same time, it allowed them to hide their policy of terror, of organised famine, of mass deportation and imprisonment in labour camps which they had imposed on the German population right after the war.

It is not surprising that the democratic victor, of World War II - the French, British and American bourgeoisies - have taken the opportunity this year to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Berlin airlift that began on June 26 1948. According to their propaganda, this event proved, on the one hand, the humanitarianism of the Western democratic powers and their mercy towards a defeated nation; and on the other provided a beacon of resistance against the threats of Russian totalitarianism. For more than a year over 2.3 million tons of relief goods were flown on 277,728 flights by American and British planes to a West Berlin that had been blockaded by Russian imperialism. The passion for peace, freedom and human dignity revealed by this historical episode continues to live on today in the hearts of the western imperialists, according to their own media and politicians.

Nothing could be further from the truth, either of the history of the last 50 years in general or of the real meaning of the Berlin airlift in itself. In reality the airlift essentially marked a change of American imperialist policy. Germany was no longer to be de-industrialised and turned into farmland as put forward at the Potsdam Conference of 1945 but was now to be reconstructed as the bulwark of the newly created Western imperialist bloc against the Eastern bloc. This change on the part of Western imperialism was not motivated by compassion. Instead the reason for the reorientation was the threat of Russian hegemony spreading to Western Europe as a result of the latter's economic and political dislocation after the mass slaughter and destruction of World War II. Thus the Berlin airlift, while feeding pan of a starving population, was a well-devised propaganda stunt to hide the misery of the past few years, and to sell the new orientation to the West German and Western European populations who were, henceforth, to be held hostage to the emerging Cold War. Thanks to these "humanitarian" supply flights, three US bomber groups were sent to Europe, placing Soviet targets well within the range of their B-29s ...

Nevertheles the celebration of the airlift today, despite a special visit by US President Clinton to Berlin, has been relatively quiet. One probable explanation for the low intensity of this particular anniversary campaign is that a sustained celebration would raise uncomfortable questions about the real policy of the Allies towards the German proletariat during and immediately after World War II. It might reveal too much of the hypocrisy of the democracies, and their own crimes against humanity. It would also help vindicate the communist left which has consistently denounced all the barbaric manifestations of decadent capitalism, whether in the form of democracy, fascism, or Stalinism.

The ICC has often shown1, along with other political tendencies of the communist left, how the crimes of Allied imperialism during the Second World War were no less heinous than those of the fascist imperialisms. They were the product of capitalism at a particular stage of its historic decline. The fire bombings or nuclear erasure of major German and Japanese cities at the end of the war showed the spurious philanthropy of the Allies. The bombing of all the densely populated centres in Germany did not have the object of destroying military or even economic targets. The dislocation of the German economy at the end of the war was not achieved by these 'area bombings' but by the destruction of the transport system2. Instead the bombardment was designed specifically to decimate and terrorise the working class and prevent a revolutionary movement developing out of the chaos of defeat as it had after 1918.

But 1945, year zero, did not bring an end to the nightmare.

"The 1945 Potsdam Conference and the inter-Allied agreement of March 1946 formulated concrete decisions to ... reduce German industrial capacity to a low level and instead give agriculture a greater priority, In order to eliminate the German economy's capacity to wage war, it was decided to implement a total ban on the German output of strategic products such as aluminium, synthetic rubber and synthetic benzene. Furthermore Germany would be obliged to reduce its steel capacity to 50% of its 1929 level, and the superfluous equipment would be dismantled and transported to the victorious countries of both East and West"3.

It is not difficult to imagine the 'concrete decisions' that had been made in respect of the welfare of the population:

"At the surrender in May 1945, schools and universities were closed, as well as radio stations, newspapers, the national Red Cross and mail service. Germany was also stripped of much coal, her eastern territories, [accounting for 25 % of Germany's arable land] industrial patents, lumber, gold reserves, and most of her labour force. Allied teams also looted and destroyed Germany's factories, offices, laboratories and workshops ... Starting on May 8th, the date of the surrender in the West, German and Italian prisoners in Canada, Italy, the USA and the UK, who had been fed according to the Geneva convention, were suddenly put on greatly reduced rations ... ( .... )

"Foreign relief agencies were prevented from sending food from abroad; Red Cross food trains were sent back to Switzerland; all foreign governments were denied permission to send food to German civilians; fertiliser production was sharply reduced; and food was confiscated during the first year, especially in the French zone. The fishing fleet was kept in port while people starved".

Germany was effectively turned into a vast death camp by the Russian, British, French and American occupying powers. The Western democracies captured 73 % of all German prisoners in their zones of occupation. Many more of the German population died after the war than had during battle, air raids, and concentration camps during the war. Between 9 and 13 million people perished as a result of the policy of Allied imperialism between 1945-50. There were three main foci of this monstrous genocide.

* Firstly amongst a total of 13.3 million ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern parts of Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary etc., as allowed by the Potsdam agreement. This ethnic cleansing was so inhumane that only 7.3 million arrived at their destination within the post-war borders of Germany; the rest 'disappeared' in the most gruesome circumstances.

* Secondly amongst the German prisoners of war who died as a result of the starvation and diseased conditions of the allied camps - between 1.5 and 2 million.

* Finally amongst the population in general who were put on rations of around 1000 calories per day, guaranteeing slow starvation and sickness - 5.7 million died as a result.

The full extent of this unimaginable barbarism still remains the best kept secret of the democratic imperialisms. Even the German bourgeoisie is to this day covering up the facts so that they can only be gleaned by independent research comparing inconsistencies in the official records. For example the estimate of the number of civilians who perished in this period is reckoned, among other ways, by the enormous shortfall in population recorded by the census of Germany in 1950. The role of the democratic imperialisms in this extermination campaign has become clearer after the fall of the Soviet Empire and the opening of the Soviet archives. Many of the losses that had previously been blamed on the USSR by the West have turned out to be the latter's responsibility: many more prisoners of war for example died in the camps run by the Western powers than did those in the Russian zone. Their deaths were simply not recorded or were hidden under other headings. The scale of the slaughter is not surprising considering the conditions: prisoners were left without food or shelter; the numbers were swelled by the sick turned out of the hospitals; at night they could be randomly machine-gunned for sport. Feeding the prisoners by the civilian population was decreed a capital offence4.

The extent of the starvation of the civilian population, 7.5 million of whom were homeless after the war, can be deduced also from the rations that were allocated to them by the Western occupiers. In the French zone where conditions were worst the official ration in 1947 was 450 calories per day, half the ration of the infamous Belsen concentration camp.

The Western bourgeoisie still presents this period as one of 'readjustment' for the German population after the inevitable horrors of World War II. The deprivations were a 'natural' consequence of post-war dislocation. In any case, the bourgeoisie argues, the German population deserved such treatment as retribution for starting the war and to pay for the war crimes of the Nazi regime. This repulsive 'argument' is particularly hypocritical for a number of reasons. Firstly because the complete destruction of German imperialism was already a war aim of the allies before they had decided to use the 'great alibi' of Auschwitz to justify it. Secondly, those immediately responsible for National Socialism and its imperialist ambitions - the German bourgeoisie - emerged relatively unscathed from the war and its aftermath. While many figureheads were executed at the Nuremburg Trials, the majority of the functionaries and bosses of the Nazi era were 'recycled' and took up posts in the new democratic state set up by the allies.5 The German proletariat that suffered the most from the post-war policy of the allies had no responsibility for the Nazi regime: they were the first of its victims. The allied bourgeoisies, which had supported Hitler's repression of the proletariat after 1933, targeted an entire generation of the German working class during and after the war not out of revenge for the Hitler era, but to exorcise the spectre of a German revolution that haunted them from the aftermath of World War I.

It was only when this murderous objective had been achieved and when US imperialism realised that the exhaustion of Europe after the war might lead to the domination of Russian imperialism over the whole continent that the policy of Potsdam had to be changed. The reconstruction of Western Europe demanded the resurrection of the German economy. Then the wealth of the United States, swollen in part by reparations already looted from Germany, could be funnelled into the Mar hall Plan to help rebuild the European bastion of what was to become the Western bloc. The Berlin airlift of 1948 was the symbol of this change of strategy.

The crimes of imperialism in their fascist and Stalinist form are well known. When those of the democratic imperialisms are clearer to the world's working class, then the scope of the proletariat's historic mission will be more sharply revealed. No wonder the bourgeoisie wants to try and fraudulently assimilate the ork of the communist left on this question [Q the lies of the extreme right and to ‘negationism'. The bourgeoisie wants to hide the fact that genocide, instead of an aberrant exception perpetrated by evil madmen, has been the general rule of the history of decadent capitalism.


1 International Review 83 "Hiroshima: The Lies of the bourgeoisie". IR 88 "Anti-fascism justifies Barbarism ", lR 89 "Allies and Nazis both responsible for the holocaust".

2 According to The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939-45, The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit, that has only just been published!

3 Hennan Van der Wee, Prosperity and Upheaval, Pelican 1987.

4 James Bacque, Crimes and Mercies, The fate of German civilians under Allied occupation 1945-50, Warner Books.

5 See Tom Bower, Blind eye to Murder


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