National Sections of the L5I:

GDR - Prisoners of Stalinism

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Some 120,000 East Germans have voted with their feet this year and gone West. But many more again have stayed and taken to the streets of Leipzig and Dresden, demanding reforms from the ruling Stalinist party. Peter Main analyses the background to the refugee crisis and the prospects for the revolutionary re-unification of Germany.

The very existence of East Germany (GDR) symbolises the post-1945 European order. Created in 1949 in the midst of the Cold War, it is in many ways the lynchpin of that order. Threaten East German stability and the whole system of alliances West and East is put in doubt. The mass exodus this summer across the Hungarian border, the appearance of popular protest inside the GDR and the enforced retirement of the Socialist Unity party (SED) chief Eric Honecker, have at last destabilised this hitherto most stable of the degenerate workers' states.

In the summer of 1985, just after Gorbachev assumed office in the USSR, all 2.6 million SED members were personally interviewed by the state to be given a vaccination against glasnost. Now they leave the party at over 1000 a week. Things will not be the same again.

Contrary to popular perception, the refugee question in the GDR did not originate this summer. Approximately 30,000 East Germans emigrate to West Germany (FRG) every year. They go with their government's blessing as part of a money-for-people deal which gives the GDR a 4 billion Deutschmark hidden subsidy. The deal itself underlines the hypocrisy of both regimes. The Bonn government has a steady supply of skilled labour and the propaganda advantage of pointing to the prison-like nature of "communist Germany". Meanwhile, the Stalinists in East Berlin can maintain a relatively prosperous economy in the short-sighted belief that this will be enough to buy the loyalty of "their" population.


However, even its "success" reveals the deeply contradictory nature of such a Stalinist state. Police surveillance and repression of any possible dissent naturally led to working class hostility and, to put it mildly, lack of enthusiasm. To offset this, the government created a generous system of social security and state subsidies. Consequently, unlike many other degenerate workers' states, dissent is not fuelled primarily by economic hardship but by opposition to the all-pervasive interference of the state in the lives of its citizens.

This autumn the streets have reverberated with 100,000 voices chanting "we are staying!", "Gorbi, Gorbi!" and the "Internationale". This trio illuminates precisely the consciousness of the East German masses at this stage. First of all, suspicion of those who have left. Having taken advantage of the best education in East Europe, the refugees have abandoned the struggle for change and opted for naked self-advancement.

Secondly, the enormous delusions that the process of glasnost, under the pressure of the USSR, can force the SED onto the road of reform. This is also expressed in the main opposition group, New Forum, which originated with members of the SED and espouses non-violence and dialogue with the Party. Thirdly, in the affirmation of the sentiments of the "Internationale" we find a conviction, largely absent as a mass force in Poland and Hungary, for example, that change must involve a deepening of "socialism" and not a return to capitalism. For all their daily doses of FRG television, the East German workers sense instinctively that integration into the FRG would mean an end to the current levels of welfare and subsidies.

This combination of resistance to Stalinist rule plus defence of key elements of the planned economy demonstrates that East Germany provides the most fertile ground at the moment for the programme of political revolution. Such a revolution would overthrow the stifling bureaucracy but preserve and democratise the planned economy.

This summer's "refugee crisis" did not have a single cause. A year ago, Hungary opened its frontier with Austria for its own citizens. While Hungary is an extremely popular destination for holidaymakers from the GDR, they were not allowed to cross the border with Austria. At the same time, the Soviet Union allowed "ethnic Germans" wanting to emigrate to western Germany, to go.

Several hundred thousand took advantage of this immediately and the total is now well over one million. In June of this year, Bonn, under pressure from the extreme rightwing Republicans, announced moves to limit the amount of financial and social support to these "refugees".

Although Bonn guaranteed that this would not affect East German refugees, a rumour gripped many that it might not be long before restrictions were placed on them. Add to this the depression that set in when hopes in the reform of the SED were dashed by the party's praise for the Tiananmen Square massacre and all the conditions for a mass flight were in place. Many East Germans in Hungary demanded to be allowed to cross into Austria, although they had no visas to do this. This plea was taken up by Bonn which saw in the situation a way of testing how far Hungary could be pushed to side with the West against an ally in the Warsaw Pact.

The Stalinists' first reaction was typically brutal; to threaten to interpose themselves physically to stop the exodus. The next reaction was to allow its own population to be "expelled" from their country if they left foreign embassies! Revolutionary socialists understand the frustration felt by skilled workers and youth living under the oppressive weight of Stalinism. Precisely because of the high levels of education and skilled training, many workers feel that there are few outlets for their talents inside the bureaucratic command economy.

At the present time, the key focus for struggle should be agitation for basic freedoms that will allow the working class to awaken politically and its consciousness to develop. The right to strike, to assemble and to organise outside of the party; access to the media and freedom to travel.


Revolutionaries must link these demands to the methods of working class organisation and mobilisation and, above all, workers' control, to enforce them. Democratic demands can also be utilised to accelerate the breakup of the Stalinist party, whose "Socialist Unity" can only be maintained by its ban on factions and free speech among its members.

We must help strengthen initiatives such as the launch of the new independent trade union, Reform, which has called for the right to strike and the removal of SED cells and militia in the workplace. While the SED cells may well operate as spying nests on militants, it would be better to fight for the freedom of political trends to organise at the workplace with no privileges for the SED and no recognition of its "leading role".

Over the next few years, the GDR's economy cannot continue to escape the fate that has beset the other degenerate workers' states. The cost of benefits and subsidies in the GDR was partly offset by western credit and preferential access to the EC. Now, with many Comecon enterprises allowed to deal direct with imperialist suppliers, much of this advantage is disappearing and the GDR has to find ways of reducing costs and increasing productivity. The writing, so to speak, is on The Wall.

For all that it is one of the 10 most developed economies in the world, the GDR is going to face economic difficulties. As these arise, revolutionaries must campaign for working class action not only to defend subsidies and jobs but to assert control, inspection and veto over every level of the economy, from the factory to the national plan itself.

The East German Stalinists have always made the mistake of believing that they could buy the loyalty of their people to "really existing socialism". Surrounded by major imperialist powers capable of sustaining material wealth for two thirds of its workforce and a bourgeois democratic system, this is impossible.

The corrosive effect of being surrounded by such states can only be combated effectively by ideological conviction that the working class is building a society in which inequalities are diminishing; that material shortages are offset by the existence of genuine workers' democracy and the revolution is being spread internationally. This Stalinism is incapable of. It stands in fundamental contradiction to it. It needs to be overthrown to make it possible.

For revolutionary re-unification

East Germany (the GDR) has its historic origins in the defeat and breakup of German imperialism after 1945. Political questions of any importance in the GDR eventually all lead back to the question of the existence and legitimacy of the state itself. The German "national question" is now posed point-blank.

For decades, the question of the reunification of Germany has been largely a concern of the extreme right in German politics. To the extent that the German left wrongly equated the question itself with the Nazis' solution to it, they allowed the right to present themselves as the sole defenders of the integrity of the German nation.

The division of Germany is best summed up by its most emotive symbol, the Berlin Wall. Until it was built, in 1961, there was an annual drain of up to 200,000 people from the GDR to the Federal Republic. This entailed a serious loss of skilled labour and was accompanied by illegal currency dealings which undermined the stability of the East German Mark. The construction of the Berlin Wall was a classically Stalinist answer to the problem of disaffection amongst the workers; lock them up. We support the right of the GDR to take the necessary military defence measures against imperialism. However, the building of the Wall was neither designed for this nor can it be an effective security measure.

Over the last 40 years, the West German bourgeoisie has never relinquished its claim to see Germany united again under its rule. All GDR citizens have an automatic right to West German citizenship. The bourgeoisie sense that in the era of perestroika and glasnost they may be witnessing a terminal crisis of the Stalinist states and economies. All the imperialist nations recognise that a reunified Germany is once again not a pious declaration but is firmly on the political agenda.


However, it is not yet top of that agenda. The reasons are not hard to see. Even the suggestion of a future re-united Germany caused a few hearts to flutter amongst West Germany's allies. Delors, head of the EC Commission, has been vigorously insisting that the question should only be considered after the consolidation of a really united EC. In this he expresses the fear of a unilateral German expansion into the whole of Eastern Europe. Hitting at the same idea, Andreotti of Italy has made the famous remark, "I love Germany so much that I prefer two of them".

Indeed, the West German bourgeoisie itself is wary of the implications of re-unification in the short-term. On the one hand, it would threaten to destabilise the existing balance of power within NATO. On the other, the rewards of unification even on the basis of capitalism are by no means clear to the West Germans. Certainly the GDR has some expertise in printing and textile machinery, and even certain areas of electronics, but they are not proven world beaters. Over a decade, it is calculated that a unified capitalist Germany would only enlarge greater German GNP by one seventh.

In many ways the present situation suits the West German government. They do not have to take responsibility for preserving high levels of state welfare provision in East Germany, which at the moment runs at over 60 billion East German marks a year out of an annual GNP of 269 billion East German marks. Yet they can cream off, for a small down payment, some of the best of the GDR's skilled labour. In the future they can expect even more privileged access to East Germany's markets and the choice of its industries if perestroika ever leads to privatisation.

Revolutionaries do not accept the right of the Stalinists or the imperialists to enforce the division of Germany. However, the consequences of that division have included the creation of a degenerate workers' state in the GDR. The destruction of capitalism in East Germany was achieved by the counter-revolutionary intervention of the USSR. It was done against the prevailing consciousness and desires of the working class. It was followed by a period of intensive oppression of the East German workers as the Soviet government extracted massive reparations in the wake of the world war. This led to the rebellion of East German workers in 1953.

The sense of national identity, the opposition to what is regarded as external intervention in their destiny, is an important element of workers' consciousness in East Germany. But Communists cannot undo history. The overthrow of capitalism, however it was achieved, is an advance which must be defended. Therefore, for us, German reunification has to be posed in class terms. Is it to be achieved to the advantage of the working class, or the capitalists?

A re-unification under capitalist control would mean the destruction of the gains the working class of East Germany presently enjoys. It would also establish a formidable German imperialism whose needs could only be satisfied by the reduction of whole sections of Eastern Europe to the status of semi-colonies. Communists oppose that.

However, a re-unification against capitalism, the combined overthrow of the Stalinists of the GDR and the imperialists of the FRG, would be a massive blow to those enemies of the world working class who dwell in the Kremlin and the White House. It would be inconceivable without a revolutionary restructuring of the whole of Europe and, for that reason, would be opposed by all the established states and would have to call on the support of the whole European working class.

The revolutionary resolution of the national question, therefore, lies at the heart of the revolutionary programme in both parts of Germany. Far from being downplayed or dismissed as a Nazi fantasy, it should be championed as a central element of the European revolution!

The most important aspect of the national question is the re-unification of the German working class. Revolutionaries must agitate and propagandise for the right of working class organisations to build across the border at every level, from factory to national party and trade unions.

* For the right of free access to all parts of both states for the workers of both states.

* For the right to take solidarity action with workers across the border. The opening of the books of the companies in both states to reveal the true extent of cross-border collaboration between Stalinists and imperialists.

* For the opening of the archives of both states to reveal the secrets of their security police and the involvement of the Nazis in the consolidation of power in the 1940s.

* For the expulsion of foreign troops from both states.

* For workers' councils and a workers' militia throughout Germany and the convocation of an all-German Congress of Workers' Councils as the organ of state power of the Workers' Republic of Germany

* For a socialist United States of Europe!