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Although the Soviet government was still committed to the Potsdam principle of a single government for a united Germany they did not want to open their own sector to free movement and penetration by the Americans. Their interest therefore generally aligned with that of the French in wanting to keep Germany divided and prevent the restoration of German industry, which was increasingly the ambition of the Americans and, most especially, British. The French and the Americans complained of the inefficiency of the British in extracting coal from the Ruhr but with all the coal going to produce French steel and the Germans forbidden from producing steel of their own, Bevin argued back that German coal miners had little incentive to do any better: 'What brooks no delay,' he wrote in November 1946, 'is a strong set-up in German industry, more devolution on the Germans to make them work out their own salvation, and a drastic cut down of our overheads' (Bullock, p.342). In opposition to the French and the Russians, the British and Americans were fusing their zones into a 'bizone', with free movement across the area and German-led administrative structures scattered across different cities in order to avoid the appearance of an embryo German government.

Elections held in November 1946 established the Communists as the largest party in France and in the US gave both houses to the Republicans, traditionally opposed to US involvement in European affairs. Insofar as the US had a strategy for reducing its commitment to Europe it was reliant on France and, more so, Britain to act as a counterbalance to the rapidly forming Communist bloc but it was increasingly obvious that both countries, primarily concerned with rebuilding and restructuring their own Empires, were not up to the job. In particular:

'Between the 14th and 20th February [1947], Bevin gave notice that Britain would refer the Palestine problem to the United Nations; the Cabinet agreed that British aid to Greece and Turkey could not be renewed after 31 March, and the remaining British troops in Greece would have to be withdrawn, and Attlee announced in the House of Commons that Britain would hand over its responsibilities in India [not part of Bevin's responsibility though he submitted a memo complaining of the way it was handled - PB] by a date not later than June 1948 ... The British Empire appeared to be in process of dissolution and the British lacking either the resources or the will to prevent it. This represented the low point in the Labour Government's fortunes and of Bevin's own career.' (Bullock, pp.362-3)

The Winter of 1946-7 was famously hard. Short-term factory working was introduced in January owing to power cuts, owing in turn to a shortage of coal. 'When the Minister of Fuel and Power (Shinwell) told the Cabinet and later the House of Commons, on Friday 7th February, that a number of power stations would have to shut down completely and that from Monday electricity could no longer be supplied to industry over the greater part of the country, his statement was greeted with astonishment. For the first time in its history, British industrial production was effectively halted for three weeks ...' (p.361).

This was the context in which, in March 1947, Truman gave a speech that is generally regarded as the first statement of the 'Truman doctrine'. It was an appeal to Congress to replace Britain in providing financial, technical and military support to the Greek and Turkish governments, but he expanded the argument into a general obligation to help 'free peoples' resist 'totalitarian' government, indicating that he saw the policy of the Soviet Union as falling into that category:

'The peoples of a number of countries of the world have recently had totalitarian regimes forced upon them against their will. The Government of the United States has made frequent protests against coercion and intimidation, in violation of the Yalta Agreement, in Poland, Rumania, and Bulgaria. I must also state that in a number of other countries there have been similar developments.

'At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.

'One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.

'The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio; fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.

'I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

'I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

'I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.'

A 'doctrine' that was to have important implications for the future.

Bevin was in Moscow when Truman made his speech. He had only just taken on direct responsibility for Germany when the Control Commission for the British sector was placed under the Foreign office. His representative in Germany was Frank Pakenham - later Lord Longford. In Moscow Molotov severely criticised the bizone as a violation of the Potsdam principle of a united Germany. In agreement with the French he wanted the Ruhr taken away from the British and placed under four-power control. He demanded the fulfilment of reparation commitments he claimed had been made at Yalta. Importantly, he wanted, in addition to already existing plant and equipment, further reparations from 'current production in Germany, German assets abroad and the services of German labour' (Bullock, p.377). This would require an increase in German industrial production, albeit to supply the countries Germany had occupied during the war. The British, supported by the Americans, also wanted to increase German industrial production but in this case it was to enable Germany to pay for imports. German imports from January to April 1947 - including the period of the heavy winter - had cost the British and Americans $163 million (p.389). The French, on the other hand, wanted 'stricter limits on German consumption, and holding down, not increasing the level of German steel production ... The industrial recovery of France and other countries occupied by the Germans must be given priority over that of Germany.' (p.377)

Bullock says that 'by April 1947, his [Bevin's] worst period as Foreign Secretary was over', largely because, following Truman's speech in March 1947, he was now assured that the Americans were committed to remaining in Europe and to the restoration of Germany: 'the feeling of relief that he no longer has to stand up to Russian pressure on his own was immense.' On 28th April, George Marshall, who had replaced James Byrnes as Secretary of State in January, referred to Germany as 'the vital centre of Europe.' To quote Bullock: 'The studies which the State Department now began to produce were based on he assumption that a way could be found for fitting the rehabilitation of Germany, which Marshall had agreed with Bevin in Moscow, into the wider context of a European recovery ... It was out of the search for such a framework that Marshall's offer of aid to Europe emerged.' (13)

(13) Quotations from Bullock, pp.392-4.