National Sections of the L5I:

GDR: how to unite the left

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

The weekend of 25-26 November saw the first opened, unofficial socialist conference in the history of the German Democratic Republic. Peter Main participated and here reports on the United Left and its project for a socialist transformation of the GDR

As the "refugee flood" reached its height in September, a number of left-wing opponents of the Stalinist regime met in the town of Boehlen. The "Boehlen Appeal" outlined the basis for a new oppositionist movement, the United Left.

The essential planks of the platform were: recognition that the bureaucracy had brought the economy to a dead-end; that the post-capitalist property relations should be maintained; that only a democratic socialism based on rule by workers' councils could realise the potential of a planned economy.

The November event was a working conference whose task was, in the words of the introductory speech, "not only to work out the concept of the revolutionary remodelling of the political system and economy of the GDR that can achieve the best consensus among the left, but also to use it to present a realistic and credible perspective to all members of society".

The strength of their perspective was immediately obvious. Some 500 comrades from all over the GDR conducted themselves in a democratic and open manner. Workgroups discussed and debated a range of political and economic ideas. There was room to discuss both the history of the communist movement and the role of the ecological struggle.

Plenary sessions heard reports from the work groups. In all the sessions there was a tension between attempts to develop a general perspective on, for example, the future role of workers' councils and the demand for "practicable" proposals for immediate action.

There were detailed proposals, for example, on the ways in which workers' councils might relate to each other in the context of decentralised planning. Much thought was given to how trade with the "Third World" might help to offset pressure from the imperialist west. However, as one speaker put it, "None of this tells us how to get through the winter"!

This gulf between, as it were, maximum and minimum positions was perhaps inevitable at this stage in the formation of an independent socialist movement. The weakness of the conference lay in the fact it was never successfully bridged. Missing entirely was any consideration of the immediate problems facing the working class and how these problems could be addressed in such a way as to lead towards the "maximum" positions summed up in the call for workers' councils. How, for example, should workers deal with the problems caused by the massive loss of skilled labour to the FRG, which will inevitably lead to production losses and intensify pressure on those who have stayed to make good the plan targets?

The Trotskyist programme of political revolution focuses on the need to form factory committees, embracing both union and non-union workers, since many have left the official unions. Moreover, demands to "open the books" and reveal the true state of economic affairs provide a basis upon which the workers themselves can impose their decisions on the managers. Once established in individual factories there is an obvious need to link the supplier and customer enterprises. Workers' control of the planning mechanisms at local regional and national levels would be imperative.

Opposed

A diametrically opposite method was much in evidence at the conference. To get over the immediate economic problems a "short-term" programme to achieve "economic stabilisation" was called for by several speakers. Among them were some who believed that Western assistance could play a role in this.

Once stability had been achieved it would then be necessary to undertake more far-reaching structural transformations. Such an approach would be extremely dangerous at the present time. It would play straight into the hands of Kohl and company and would also lend credence to the plans of the Stalinist bureaucracy which also rely on Western aid. The organisers of the conference hope to build the United Left through consensus decision-making and the holding of a "workers' congress". It has to be said that there are great dangers in this.

"Consensus" can only mean that all concerned compromise on their own positions in favour of the minimum that all can agree upon. As the bulletin published by the Gruppe Arbeitermacht (the LRCI section in West Germany) put it, "programmatic compromises always operate to the advantage of those who wish to depart the least from the status quo". If the United Left is built in that manner it will be built upon sand and will not last out the current crisis, never mind play a role in overthrowing Stalinism.

The legacy of the past in the GDR is an all pervasive lack of political organisation and, therefore, of programmatic differentiation. The sinking of differences between comrades, in the interests of consensus, will serve only to maintain this lack of clarity. Far better that those with differing ideas and programmes organise themselves separately even if this means the formation of a number of different groups. Only joint practical activity alongside discussion will prove which is right and, thereby, recreate a united organisation at a higher political level.

Danger

There is also a danger that the "congress" will turn into the opposite of what is intended. Instead of an authoritative leadership of the working class it will turn out to be a self-selected and non-representative minority. Instead of a workers' congress, it would become another meeting of the United Left.

A workers' congress, like a workers' council, will only be built in struggle. Workers will not build either just because they look logical on paper. Such organisations will be built in struggle against the bureaucracy or not at all.

Within all genuine fighting organisations of the working class, revolutionaries should, of course, proposed the convening of a national conference of elected delegates to take forward the task of building a working class leadership. At first they may well be a minority and will recognise themselves as such. But that will be worth any number of conferences of those who only represent themselves. The United Left is symptomatic of the current situation in the GDR. Of all the opponents of Stalinism in Eastern Europe it is probably the most theoretically advanced and most conscious of its objective, just as the GDR itself is the most developed of the degenerate workers' states.

The whole tenor of November's conference confirms both the potential of, and the need for, the development of a political revolutionary leadership in the coming struggle. The LRCI and its sections will continue to ensure that the voice of unfalsified Trotskyism is heard within the opposition.

Navigation