Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

Nothing represents the superiority of capitalism over socialism better than the sight of tens of thousands of East Germans clamouring to get into the West, fleeing their drab, oppressive police state; the end of a forty year mistake, a totalitarian nightmare, that only survived due to the tanks of the Soviet Red Army. In contrast West Germany was a triumph of democracy, consumer capitalism and liberalism, where America proved its moral superiority by committing itself via NATO to the defence of democracy in Europe.

What a reassuring fairy story. But in reality the interpenetrating history of the two Germanys was always much more complex; the role of the West German Federal Republic rather less blameless; and the Eastern German Democratic Republic much more successful society than the simplistic Cold-War narrative allows.

Firstly, we need to understand how the divided Germany came about. The conventional interpretation is that the Soviet Union simply seized the territory as imperialist expansion, and rolled an Iron Curtain over Europe, trapping the populations behind.

There are a number of problems with this analysis, because it simply doesn’t fit the known facts. Initially the strategically important capital city was entirely in Soviet hands, but the USSR voluntarily agreed to allow Berlin to be divided between the three victorious allies (later including France as well). This made no sense if they had already been planning to set up a satellite state.

None of the allied powers had a plan for what should happen to Germany after the war, and its formal division into two states in 1949 was an ad hoc adaptation to developing Cold War rivalries. Even after the formation of the two states, reunification was anticipated. Stalin offered Soviet withdrawal in March 1952, and Beria made the same offer during his brief period in control of the USSR during the summer of 1953. However, the West was unwilling to concede to the demilitarisation of West Germany.

Indeed, the preferred objective of the USSR was that Germany should follow the Austrian path. Austria was also originally under shared occupation, but the USSR favoured unification on condition that it was militarily and diplomatically neutral. This was achieved by 1955.

As Mary Fullbrook explains in her bibliographic essay Interpretations of the Two Germany’s 1945-1990 : “analysis of the actual steps through which the division of Germany proceeded reveals that the Western Powers repeatedly took initiatives to which Soviet measures came largely in response”. The pace was forced by the Western powers; the formation of Bizonia merging the British and American zones into a proto-state, the formation of West German military forces, and crucially the creation of a new currency that excluded the Soviet occupation zone.

It is very important to understand that the unilateral introduction of the Deutschmark by the Western powers in June 1948 was the trigger for dividing Germany. Two currencies means two states – but the Soviet occupation zone could not accept the Deutschmark without surrendering all control of its own economy.

Britain and the USA rapidly adjusted due to their own domestic economic interests. Britain couldn’t even feed its own population, let alone Germany’s, and therefore needed Germany’s economy to be rebuilt. The USA now saw the USSR as a direct military threat and wanted to rebuild Germany as an ally. De-nazification was suspended, and the USA overrode British objections to prevent state ownership of the German economy. Marshall Aid rebuilt the German economy in circumstances of remarkable continuity of personnel, social and economic structure and attitudes from the Nazi era.

The controversial figure of Konrad Adenaeur played a crucial role. Elected as the first Kanzler in 1949 by a majority of only one vote, he was a conservative Rhineland Catholic more than willing to jettison the protestant East, and who was closely aligned to the USA’s anti-communism and militarism. Adenaeur ensured that the new Federal republic represented considerable continuity with the Nazi past. Senior Nazis were included in his government, and it was only a few years before Nazis were allowed to join the CDU (Christian Democrats). The economy stayed in the same hands who had controlled it during the Nazi era. West Germany retained the Nazi anti-homosexuality law that imposed a long prison sentence on gays who even looked at another man in a lewd manner, they retained the ban on abortion, and state and church promoted and enforced highly conservative roles for women and girls.

So how did this look from over in the East? We need to remember that they did not have the benefit of hindsight that we have now. It was entirely reasonable in the 1940s and early 1950s to anticipate that West Germany’s Nazi continuity, the militarisation, the conservative social agenda and the anti-Communist rhetoric were a prelude to war and fascist revival. Britain had promoted an anti-Communist civil war in Greece, and was fighting Communists in Malaya. The Cold war became a real war in Korea that left millions dead. Nor were their expectations of the benefits of a state owned economy unreasonable. Free market capitalism had seen world wide depression in the 1930s and had led to fascism and war. Meanwhile the USSR’s economy had achieved staggering success in the same period, including a significant improvement in working class living standards, despite the Stalin’s terror.

It is also necessary to understand the degree that the German communists had been traumatised and brutalised. Some like Horst Sindermann had survived the Nazi death camps, others had endured long exile and war. The myth that Hitler’s Germany was liberated by the Red Army was literally true for the tiny minority of German communists and socialists. They genuinely feared and hated any sign of fascist revival.

The social experiment they sought to engage in to construct a socialist society was in the worst possible circumstances. Cities had been destroyed, almost the entire population was homeless; three and a half million ethnic Germans had been driven West from land now lost to Poland and the USSR. Millions of German men were in prisoner of war camps some returning as late as 1955, people were living crowded into cellars and among ruins; women were raped, there was no food, people were dressed in rags and had no shoes. Famine and disease threatened catastrophe. A generation of children were orphaned and had witnessed Apocalypse: leading SED member Manfred Ushner described how as a seven year old boy along with his four year old sister he had seen his Grandmother hit by an incendiary bomb and burnt before his eyes, and the next day they had to crawl over mountains of burned corpses after RAF raids on Magdburg. 

Popular social attitudes in both Germanys remained anti-democratic, racist and anti-socialist for many years. Large numbers of middle class professionals: school teachers, doctors, lawyers and engineers were members of the Nazi party. Nearly 50% of GPs were Nazi party members by 1945, school teachers were even more likely to be Nazis.

The East German experience of de-Nazification was rather more complex than the state sponsored amnesia in the West; because the Communists promoted an acceptance of German guilt for the war suffering, but externalised that blame to the fascists. A number of former Nazis were rehabilitated as individuals, but the social structures and institutions that had sustained fascism were torn up by the roots.

Despite the lack of any long term objectives for their zone of occupation, the USSR, and their few German allies, carried out a dramatic and rapid social revolution. Farms over a certain size were collectivised along with all land owned by former Nazis. The Junker class was dispossessed; industry and finance were nationalised; and the education system systematically favoured the children of manual workers and peasants. By 1949 the economy was almost entirely socialised. This social revolution had taken place not only without the support of the population, but largely without any reference to it. However, in this regard there was little difference between East and West – the occupying powers disposed of the areas under their control largely regardless of German wishes, although both the USSR and the Western powers found local allies. In particular the local populations became bound to the occupying governments through simple dependency; and this dependency transferred onto both the German states – without direct state assistance the peoples would have had no shelter, and would have starved.

But the polarisation between the economic and political blocks centred around the USA and the USSR pulled in different directions. The Anglo-American interest was in technology transfer and economic aid inwards towards Germany. (I ignore the experience of the French zone for simplicity here) But from the point of view of Eastern Europe, despite the war devastation, Germany still had higher levels of capital investment and concentrations of modern technology. Germany and Austria were plundered to transfer high technology eastwards, where it contributed to a net increase of productive capacity. The resulting history of the two Germany’s reflected these differing starting points.

East Germany was already less industrially developed, and was part of an economic block with less access to capital to invest, and less access to new technology. The most important social gain was the guarantee of full employment. This removed the “reserve army of labour” and the fear that makes worker buckle down – the immediate effect was the loss of work discipline and productivity. SED reports from shop-floor factory members in the 1950s complain that their fellow workers work much less hard than they did before the war, and still (noch) hadn’t been inspired enough by socialism to work hard. A highly progressive tax system also taxed white collar workers, managers and supervisors more than manual workers, to the degree that shop floor workers often took home more than their bosses.

Remember that for the first 16 years after the war, the border was open. There was a stream of managers, dispossessed Junkers and capitalists, professionals of all sorts, particularly teachers, and ex-Nazis going West, along with many of the 3.5 million refugees who had only entered East Germany in transit. The discrimination for university places in favour of the children of manual workers and peasants meant that many middle class youths went to the West instead. The passage was not all one way, gay people, single women wanting to be sexually active without stigma, pensioners, Jews and socialists went from West to East, and around a quarter of those who fled from the East to the West changed their minds and returned.

Starting from a very low base line the DDR’s economy improved, but in particular, the East German state quickly built a layer of beneficiaries who were loyal to it. Paradoxically, the professionals and managers moving West opened up social mobility and advancement; and a layer of working class university students could never have enjoyed such an education or prospects in the West.

The East German leader Walter Ulbricht is a real paradox. While the label “Stalinist” is bandied around as a meaningless insult on the left, he was the real deal, personally committed to Stalin as a person, and who regarded Stalin’s model of political rule as an example to follow. Famously he provoked the 1953 uprising by demanding an extraordinary rise in productivity to support the drive to heavy industry announced in 1952. Ironically he survived the fall out of the uprising, but it provoked a coup in Moscow, removing Beria who had been committed to removing Ulbricht in order to allow political liberalisation in Germany.

But Ulbricht was also a man of extraordinary vision and ability, who was unafraid to pursue a very modernising liberal agenda over issues of women’s equality, sexual freedom, decriminalisation of gay sex, and promoted industrial and scientific progress. Like most Germans of his generation, including those communists who had been in the USSR during the 1930s, he had a low opinion of Russians, and would not have felt compelled to use the USSR as a social exemplar.

The other paradox of the East German state is what has been described as “the benign and malign honeycomb of decentralised power”. The mass organisations of the state enjoyed genuine voluntary participation and identification, especially in the rural areas, and a great deal of responsibility and decision making was devolved to state owned companies and mayors (elected under the cadre system, around 70% were SED members). Complaining and petitioning were state encouraged and led to the development of extensive social networking that both allowed consumers to work around the shortages but also almost comically reduced the presumptions of the state to be in control of production and distribution – particularly given the culture that developed of good humoured sarcasm in letters of complaint.

But there was also a devolved repressive participation in the Stasi, that had mass popular support in enforcing social conformity. It is important to understand that social non-conformity was regarded to be the danger, not open political disagreement. Preconceptions of “totalitarianism” derived from Cold War political theories, and cultural images from Orwell’s novel 1984 are very wide of the mark; the DDR enjoyed mass popular support for much of its lifetime.

Arguably the DDR very much took on the same character as Ulbricht. A surprisingly socially liberal, modern and pragmatic society in many ways, and exhibiting occasional brilliant achievement, but also deeply repressive, and conformist.

 Into this mix we need to add the deliberate destabilisation and sabotage from the West Germans. Remember, the initiation of a divided Germany came from the West, but once the Eastern state was established, the Federal Republic engaged in diplomatic sabotage, refusing trade and diplomatic recognition to other countries if they had friendly relations with the DDR, the East Germans were blocked from membership of international sporting, cultural and scientific organisations. The East German state was blocked from accessing Western finance capital. West Berlin was massively subsidised to destabilise the economy and social stability of the East, and automatic citizenship and a welcome payment were made to any East German defecting.

The tragic building of the wall and closing the border in 1961 was the result. This was the result of a number of factors. the big social changes restructuring the economy were coming to an end, and had just seen the final wave of collectivisation in agriculture. As with any big change in agricultural policy this impacted on food supplies, and although East Germany was almost unique among advanced industrial societies in achieving food self sufficiency, there were bread shortages in 1961. As the economy stabilised, there was also a reduction in prospects for rapid personal advancement. Generally there was a disappointing perceived failure of the youth who had now grown up in the socialist education system to enthusiastically support the government.

Paradoxically, if we set to one side the issue of personal liberty, the wall was a great success. it stabilised relations between the two Germanys, and led to a period of reform within the DDR. The interesting contrast of course is Yugoslavia, whose citizens could travel freely to the West. But the difference is that there was no equivalent of the West german state seeking to poach all Yugoslavia’s citizens, and to destabilize its economy.

This account has been partial, I have not addressed some of the obvious shortcomings, nor some of the less obvious but significant achievements of the DDR. Instead I have sought only to show how the divided Germany and the Berlin Wall were the result of policies by both of the Cold War power blocks, and the actions of both of the German states.

When the DDR was dismantled, good things were lost, as well as bad things.

118 comments on “Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

  1. I’d like to use the occasion to congratulate Mikhail Gorbachev for having the humanity to understand that the only way to prevent a blood bath was to refuse to use the Russian troops occupying East Germany to enforce the Apartheid wall that divided the country, thus freeing half of Germany from military occupation and the total violation of basic human rights by an unaccountable secret police using surveillance, deportation and terror to subjugate the population.
    The tragedy is that the collapse of the military dictatorship brought free market capitalism and not human emancipation.

  2. Armchair on said:

    Before certain people respond to this post with the inevitable, can I refer them to what some of us should have learned from the discussion about Peter Tatchell.

    Andy- respect to you for this even if I don’t necessarally agree with all of it.

  3. christian h. on said:

    Well as often when he writes on this issue, Andy makes some good points, especially regarding the historical context of the foundation and development of the DDR. Unfortunately, he also makes some really bad ones, and glosses over crucial issues (as in “if we set to one side the issue of personal liberty, the wall was a success” – oh dear) .

    To take but one example, what exactly does it mean to say that “the DDR enjoyed mass popular support over much of its lifetime”? Supposing it means “majority support”, does Andy have any evidence at all for this contention? (I believe that there was very significant support for a socialist state among workers in the early years; but I sincerely doubt this survived the sixties. It had most certainly evaporated outside politically favoured circles by the late eighties.)

    I’d similarly like to see some evidence for the contention that “open political disagreement” wasn’t “considered the danger”, and thus, one gathers from the context, wasn’t suppressed. During which period of the DDR’s existence is this supposed to have been the case?

    As regards the “successes” of the DDR, the main one is, Andy asserts, “full employment”, it bears mentioning that said “full employment” was so by declaration. That is, everyone had “a job”, but this often didn’t mean there was any actual work connected to it. Relatedly, Andy unfortunately also fails to mention that the jobs one could attain were connected to political conformity. For many of the better ones, party membership was required; refusal of military service in a fighting formation resulted in exclusion from a whole raft of careers, barring the person concerned from attending university. Similar were the effects of refusal to take part in the “Jugendweihe”, the FDJ replacement for confirmation/first communion. And so forth. (How again does this suggest that open political disagreement was not suppressed?)

    Generally reading Andy’s praise for Ulbricht’s “extraordinary vision”, and his “very modernising liberal agenda” and “promot[ion] industrial and scientific progress” I get the feeling he ever only visited the DDR while it still existed as part of some kind of official delegation (if that).

    I myself only visited when the state was already close to collapse, but the incredibly petty bourgeois and socially reactionary nature of the society was what then stood out more to me than material issues (glaring as those, in fact, were). Andy himself seems to acknowledge this when he writes that social non-conformity was suppressed. I fail to understand how suppression of “social non-conformity” goes along with “social liberal[ism]”.

    There’s more to say, but I’ve already gone on for too long. I hope I managed to keep a comradely tone ;).

  4. One point to be remembered is that the demarcation line between the GFR and the GDR [and the boundaries of ‘West’ Berlin, cut off inside the GDR] followed the old internal political boundaries.

    There was no crude line drawn, as when Stalin’s cartographers defined the frontier with Finland or drew a line from West to East across Korea.

    This sounds trifling, but the oddities of these boundaries made escape easy for many until the – very expensive – physical obstacles were erected some years after the war ended.

    A recurrent rumour in Bulgaria is that numerous citizens of the GDR perished while trying to cross from Bulgaria into Greece or Turkey.

    Can any reader here add more about this odd footnote to the history of the division of Europe?

  5. One thing that gets on my nerves something awful is the fact that most of these “20 YEARS SINCE THE GLORIOUS TRIUMPH OF MCDONALDS LEVIS JEANS AND FREE MINDS!!!” articles are written by Western journalists, fapping themselves off to propaganda myths because that’s what they’re paid to do. These are the people who can’t conceal their hatred and contempt of east Germans who dare to mutter that the GDR was not actually the nightmarish prison-state of their imaginings.

    Here’s an actual former GDR citizen telling it like it was, good and bad: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10607760

  6. prianikoff on said:

    I happened to be reading Bill Hunter’s “Lifelong Apprenticeship” at the moment.
    Bill is a lifelong working class militant with an impeccable record in the unions and Socialist movement
    Last night I came across a description of an interesting incident I’d never heard of before.
    It illustrates quite a lot about the politics of the era and the modus operandi of the Stalinists.

    Bill was visiting Germany in 1958 to discuss with the local section of the International Committe of the F.I.
    While there he spent a few days at the house of a member called Otto Freitag.
    This guy had defected from the Soviet zone in 1949 and was then a prosperous businessman in Munich.
    He’d also been a Wermacht officer and showed Hunter around Dachau.

    But after the I.C. Conference he disappeared.
    He reappeared in the East to announce that the F.I was working for the head of West German Intelligence, the former Nazi Reinhard Gehlen.
    This was obviously nonsense.
    From another source, I discovered that he’d in fact, been preparing Gehlen’s kidnapping.
    He’d also previously been responsible for the kidnapping and murder of the TrotskyistWolfgang Salus in 1953.
    The Soviet government seems to have put a stopper on the Gehlen kidnapping and he was pulled out.
    But the whole incident shows that the Stasi also cracked down on the democratic Socialist opposition to the East German Stalinist state.

  7. Karl Stewart on said:

    Another excellent article on this subject Andy,
    With the political right and the majority of the political left in broad agreement opposing the former socialist nations, it’s good to be able to read the pro-socialist side of the argument for a change.
    It’s interesting to read that it was the US and not the USSR who divided Germany and prevented attempts at re-unification.
    And it’s also important to remember that the Soviet Union already controlled the whole of Berlin and allowed the US to administer a “zone” in the expectation of re-unification.
    And what’s Eddie praising Gorbachev for? Gorbachev’s stupidity and extreme naiivety handed over the Soviet Union and the socialist community to the capitalists.
    I’m sure they couldn’t believe their luck.

  8. John Wight on said:

    A very good and important piece, Andy. It is vital that the left reclaims the history of a state that has been distorted, slandered, and demonised so vigorously by Western commenatators.

    Well done.

  9. I can’t put up with the apologies for totalitarianism anymore, so will now be unsubscribing from this blog.

  10. Armchair on said:

    Karl S “Gorbachev’s stupidity and extreme naiivety handed over the Soviet Union and the socialist community to the capitalists.”

    Just like that. So the 2nd most powerful country on earth had such a great system that the individual failing of its leader caused it to collapse politically, and economically, irrespective of the wishes of its millions of citizens, including those in the Communist Party, the nomenklatura, the security services and the military?

    I often find I have a lot of time for what you say Karl, but this is over-simplistic.

    Anyway, specificallly Eddie Truman was specifically praising Gorbachev for not intervening militarally.

    I note that you didn’t challenge this specifically and would hope that you do not believe that the USSR should have sent in the Red Army.

  11. Armchair on said:

    As for Colm- how do you unsubscribe from SU?

    Reminds me of when people at work would threaten to “get that form” to “come out of the union”, a form which needless to say didn’t exist.

  12. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    The Rossellini film “Germany Year Zero” is a good guide to Germany (all zones) in the immediate post-war period. Not exactly a pick-me-up.

  13. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    You can unsubscribe from UK Left Network and so forth, but the only way you unsubscribe from a blog is to avoid viewing it.

  14. #3

    Christian

    thanks for the constructive tone of your criticism.

    I was very precise in what i said, the DDR has mass support, it probably never acheived majority support. There is actually a lot of available evidence about this, from Stasi records (that for self-justifying reasons probably over-represent dissent), to opinion polling, voluntary participation in state organisations, etc.etc. as well as academics who have interviewed people after the events. The most likely to support it were women workers with children living in smal towns and in rural areas; it was also supported by the professional middle classes the least likely group to support it were young, working class men in cities.

    Your point about the rewards for social (and therefore political) conformity are correct and well made. there was huge difference between how “deserving” and “undeserving” people were treated in the East german state. This was exacerbated by the endemic shortages, so that having connections made a massive difference to living standards, this was particularly true in housing allocation. Inequality persisted in the DDR, and as social mobility decreased ststus was becoming hereditary, and a class system was reasserting itself.

    However, whether or not the jobs were “meaningful” is less imortant than the very real commitment to everyone haveing a job, a wage, and the status of being a workers (which was a prestige position in the DDR).

    Certainly social attitudes differentiating between skilled and unskilled and unemployed within the Federal republic are a nasty form of snobbery that was much less pronounced in the East.

    Reagarding the vision of Ulbricht. Context is everything. the rapid pace of sexual and gender liberation occured in the 1950s – and at that stage the DDR was the most liberal society in the world. the very permissive and unstigmatised attitude to divorce, compared to the BRD was important as so many couples never managed to resolve the traumas that had seperated them during the war. Relaxed and even encouraging attitudes to recreational sex, and a genuine concern about personal happiness were strongly driven from the health service, and through them into government.

    And the state did make real efforts to adapt to what people wanted culturally, and to provide it. mary Fullbrook in the “People’s State” (also published in german under the title “ein ganz normales Leben”) quotes in detail the expereince of youth organisation in Dresden and Potsdam during the 1960s , where there was a very rich and varied cultural life with grassroots cultural diversity, encouraged by the SED but certainly not controlled by the party.

    Under Honneker the liberal attitudes moved more into the private sphere, but for example, single mothers had extraordinary financial independence and practical support in child rearing, which means that they were not trapped with men they didn’t want to be with any more; and in terms of unalienated atitudes to sex and nudity, the DDR was a much happier society. As they say, Ost-frauen haben mehr Spass, das weiss jeder!

    One of the characteristics of the DDR was the absence of an independent public sphere of expression for civil society, which means that a lot of the social interaction and development of liberal and tolerant attitudes were confined to private life.

    With regard to social conformity and open political disagreement, the point I am trying to get at here is that the tragedy of the DDR was that social non-conformity was treated as political rebellion, and people who were just being a bit rebellious or individual were treated like enemies of the state, with massive over-reaction.

    In particularly they distrusted young people, and saw them as a latent iinternal enemy. This accounts for the moral panic that followed the writing of anti-army slogans on a class room blackboard in a school in Anklam in 1961, which became an event of national significance; or the banning of a demonstartion in Leipzig in favour of guitar music in 1965, or the total inablity to understand why young people had ambivelent attitudes to the Prague spring, and the misreading of the mood of young soldiers (including officers) in 1968, where their anxiety about possibel war was regarded as disloyalty to the state.

    The SED saw political opposition everywhere, even when it didn’t exist; and saw every non-conformity as a political threat. Which is why the repressive apparatuc was so big, and so intimidating.

    Exlicit political opposition to the DDR was rare, and unorganised, and individual political opposition was seen as an idiosyncrasy. I read a report of a talk to an FDJ group by a former Wehrmacht general (!!!) on the sibject of the antifa resistance during the 1960s being heckled and interrupted by former Nazis, and the Stasi dutifully recorded all this, bt decided there was no need to take any action. they were more worried about teenagers having long hair and listening to the Rolling Stones.

  15. Incidently, the symbolism of the Brandenburg gate could not be more perfect.

    Once it stood in no-mans land with the wall running behind it.

    Now it is oppressively hemmed in by the offices of banks, built either side of it. the controlling rule of finance capital doesn’t need a wall

  16. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    I remember a Moscow street in the 1980s that at that time had large hoardings portraying Lenin, and vows to fulfil the demands of the most recent Party congress.
    I went back to the same street in the 1990s. No Lenin, no Party, but there were large hoardings advertising the latest Claude Van Damme picture.
    I was also in Prague Central station in 1991, once at three in the morning. There was a large picture advertising Proctor and Gamble products. There were vaguely sinister men hanging around, gazing fixedly at Western backpackers’ bags. They were potential thieves, but not very good at it as their covetousness was too obvious and put everyone on their guard. One of them, with a particularly nasty expression, said something to me in Czech. I replied in Polish (my closest approximation to Czech). He muttered sarcastically, “Oh! An intellectual!” and walked off. There was also a rather woebegone Romanian Gypsy who seemed scared of them.
    Freedom.

  17. “As for Colm- how do you unsubscribe from SU?

    Reminds me of when people at work would threaten to “get that form” to “come out of the union”, a form which needless to say didn’t exist.”

    Oh, stupid me, I was under the impression I had subscribed to the RSS feed for this blog, and then unsubscribed, but this clearly isn’t possible. Please don’t report me to the secret police.

  18. Oh yeah in the good old days you could stare at pictures of Lenin and be swiftly dealt with if you intefered with western backpackers. I mean you knew where you stood, like.

  19. johng – the sarcastic, snivelling tone of your post illustrates why the left is in such a parlous state in the West. Instead of attempting to understand you instead, echoing the demonisation of your own ruling class, prefer to stick the boot into anything which fails to tally with your conception of socialism as a panglossian utopia.

    Try reading Andy’s original post. You might learn something.

  20. “Try reading Andy’s original post. You might learn something.”

    Andy’s post it pretty much a far-left version of “You can say what you like about Mussolini, but he made the trains run on time.”

  21. Karl Stewart on said:

    Armchair (10), I don’t think Gorbachev’s stupidity and naiivety were the only factors in the defeat of socialism in the Soviet Union and elsewhere in Europe – although he was certainly a factor.
    The reason I responded to Eddie was that I was gobsmacked that anyone on the left could possibly have a good word for this clown.
    And no, Gorbachev was no humanitarian, he happily lined up with the US imperialists time and again.
    And Gorbachev did intervene in the GDR in 1989. Intervened to remove Erich Honeker from power – Honeker was determined to resist the counter-revolutionary mobs – and organised to replace him with the more accomodating Krenz.
    It would have been absolutely right to resist in 1989, sadly, the resistance was fatally compromised by Gorbachev and his allies.

  22. Karl Stewart, one assumes, is not writing in jest.

    Are there any regimes of which he approves these days?

    The PDRK and Cuba, perhaps?

  23. It’s interesting to look at the propaganda poster in the text of Andy’s article.

    See how the talented artist* has depicted Ulbricht as a slighty fatter-faced and much friendlier and more human Lenin?

    *For which s/he was rewarded by being put on a sixth-month queue for a Trabant or Wartburg and allowed to take a Black Sea holiday.

  24. jock mctrousers on said:

    Great stuff Andy, thanks. Predictable flak from the ‘ socialism’s great unless it exists’ crowd.

  25. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    Good term for them. “Socialism’s great unless it exists.” Possibly, pre-1989, it would have been the police/security services keeping a gimlety eye on Westerners in case they were couriers for Charter 77 or something. Post-89, it was what looked like an organised crime gang scenting profit, and the police were noticeably absent from the station at three in the morning (bribed by said gang to make themselves scarce, perhaps?) A massive increase in organised crime was of course a feature of the former USSR and Warsaw Pact, in these years.

  26. Loved the stuff about “counter-revolutionary mobs” (its when I read stuff like this that I realise there are limits in the relationship between rationality and political argument). Here is an interview with one of those counter-revolutionary traitors to the foward march of world socialism in this weeks socialist worker:

    http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=19440

  27. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    I also visited Armenia later in the decade, which was war-torn (fighting Azerbaijan) and suffering from the after-effects of the Spitak earthquake, as well as all the usual post-Soviet traumas. When the plane arrived in Yerevan (from Paris), all passengers were kept waiting for over an hour before being allowed to reclaim luggage. A rumour started among the passengers that this was so crooks/airport staff would have an opportunity to go through our luggage and steal anything that appealed to them. (See “Three Colours White” for a similar scenario in Poland.) Finally we were allowed to pick up our luggage. So far as I know, nothing was nicked, but there was no explanation given for the delay.

  28. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    The SW has invested a lot of ideological capital in its “everywhere is capitalist so what’s the difference?” viewpoint. I didn’t find it convincing in 1989-91, and I certainly don’t find it convincing now. They used to think it was helpful to their morale to think that way, compared to orthodox Trotskyists or “Stalinists”. I suppose in the same way, African tribesmen about to fight well-armed colonial soldiers would have a witch doctor cast a spell over them and then go away convinced that they were now bullet-proof. Absolute bollocks of course, but hey, it kept their morale up as they waited to face the Gatling guns.

  29. #22 “counter-revolutionary mobs”

    When I hear appalling nonsense like that from people who clearly are on the right side, in general, in situation in which they actually find themselves, I tend to find myself pretty much lost for words.

    What planet do you live on, Karl?

  30. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    I understand Andy Newman is a one-time SWP member, who has clearly travelled a considerable way from its ideology, to the point of actually recognising the GDR had many positive features. Was this a gradual change of viewpoint or did it happen fairly suddenly? I am inclined to be pro-GDR myself but I am just curious how the change of outlook came about.

  31. Karl Stewart on said:

    KrisS,
    The point I was making was in response to Eddie’s frankly rather wierd praise of Gorbachev. Eddie claimed that Gorbachev did not intervene in the situation in the former GDR and praised him for avoiding “a bloodbath.”
    My point was that Gorbachev did intervene, but in a way which objectively aided the developing counter-revolution.
    Erich Honeker had given every indication of being determined to resist the counter-revolution and he was removed from power, largely as a result of the intervention of Gorbachev and his allies.
    Gorbachev was no great humanitarian, he was imperialism’s ally and imperialism’s fool.
    Had Honeker remained in power, it is likely that the counter-revolution would have met organised and determined resistance.
    Which part of that analysis seems to come from another planet?
    Is it wrong to resist counter-revolution?
    What should revolutionaries do when faced with such a situation?
    What would an SWP government do in such circumstances?

  32. All of it does. It’s pointless to argue with you about it. It’s just frightening, for me, to find people actually believing that kind of rubbish. People who think you should side with the ruling class in this situation. People who think the wall was built to stop westerners coming to enjoy the benefits of the East. To find oneself mostly on the same side as those people is pretty…weird, really. That’s all.

  33. Karl Stewart on said:

    So expressions of support for the former GDR – along with reasoned criticisms of its errors – is “frightening,” but lining up with the forces of international capitalism – as Eddie Truman does at (1) – is not worthy of comment?
    Nothing about whether it’s right or wrong to resist counter-revolution?
    No thoughts on how an SWP government would or should respond in such circumstances?

  34. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    I don’t fully share Karl Stewart’s view, but neither do I regard it as weird or of another planet.
    The British left operates in an ex-imperial, ultra-loyal NATO state, and it is more influenced by this environment than it fully realises. Like German SPD members in 1914 suddenly realising they were more loyal to Kaiser and Fatherland than to the International.

  35. Like I said, and like you know, it’s pointless. I don’t accept any of the assumptions underlying your position, as we both know. It was a waste of time my intervening, but there are times when you read crap like “counter revolutionary mobs” and just can’t stay quiet. And that was one of them.

  36. Karl Stewart on said:

    KrisS,
    OK then, purely hypothetically, on this planet and with no underlying assumptions at all.
    If the SWP was in government and facing growing protests by counter-revolutionary mobs, egged on and supported by powerful capitalist governments in other countries, how do you think the SWP government should respond?

  37. I think it is wrong and historically incorrect to portray Gorbachev as an anti-humanist or stooge of the imperialists. Without Gorbachev 1989 could have ended in violence.

    I also think Perestroika was a genuine attempt to democractise the Soviet Union and achieve socialism with a human face. It was a tragedy for the left that Gorbachev lost and Yeltsin won(who was without doubt an imperialist stooge)

    Overall a very balanced article from Andy-for further reading I recomend Mary Fullbrook’s excellent book The People’s State, which I consider to be the definitive work on the GDR

  38. Karl Stewart on said:

    KrisS, you object to the use of the term “counter-revolutionaries” and you object to the notion that counter-revolution should be resisted.
    But you won’t put forward an alternative suggestion as to how one should respond to counter-revolution.
    Of course it’s relevant to the discussion. It was this point at which you intervened, so how can you now say that the question of counter-revolution is not relevant?

    Owen, Gorbachev’s policy was one of abject surrender to western capitalism and perestroika was about introducing “the market” into the Soviet economy. Who knows what would have happened with a different leadership, but do you really think 1989-91 ended well and without violence?

  39. The only question for socialists about 1989 is what activists like you and me in that country ought to have done, what banner they should have fought under, and how they could have turned the movement to the left. What the government should have done was commit suicide. Their place was up against a wall next to Ceaucescu. In that sense I have a rather more radical position then Eddie Truman, who was though, I suspect, partly trying to get a rise from the dead from the neck up stalinists who infest discussions like this. And apparently succeded admirably! Well done Eddie!

  40. Perestroika was more than just introducing the ‘market’ into the Soviet Union. Importantly it was also about introducing political freedom and democracy.

    1989 ended without violence in East Germany-that is a good thing and we have Gorbachev to thank for that-just look at the way the Chinese responded to Tianenem Square only a few months before the Wall came down. With the backing of Russia who is to say that the GDR would not have sent the tanks in on its own people

    Sure some things got worse in 1989-increased unemployment, or the dismantling of childcare. But political freedom comes at a price. Under Communism things were crap and there was nothing people could do about it. However under German reunification things may well be crap but at least they get a vote to try and influence change.

  41. Karl Stewart on said:

    KrisS,
    I know you oppose the idea that the former Soviet Union and former GDR were socialist nations and that therefore, according to you, their overthrow did not constitute counter-revolution.

    But what I asked you, and what you keep refusing to answer, is, if the SWP was in power, how would the SWP government respond to a counter-revolutionary mob, disrupting the nation, threatening the government’s overthrow and being egged on by hostile foreign capitalist governments.
    How would the SWP government respond?
    Give up? Or resist?

  42. Well “up against the wall motherfuckers” has its limitations as a slogan, but it has its moments.

  43. In the logic of the East German ruling class, does it make sense for them to adopt this tactic or the other? That seems to be the question. I’m not sure why that’s a question for us. And if it is, johng’s answer is the right one.

  44. On Gorby the best comment was from De Klerk. He stated that he had learnt the lesson from him that it was best to jump soon rather then too late. Shame in both cases that it was’nt from a higher window.

  45. Interesting JOhn which company you choose to keep.

    The only people arguiing the same as you are now back in 1989 were the neo-Nazis.

    Remember that perhaps a majority of East germans had unrealistic illusions in the West, and that a minority of reformers, like Christa Wolf and Gregor Gysi were arguing caution and warning what opening up to the free market woud really mean.

    Arguing for the old SED leadership to be destoyed was to discredit and delegitimse the ideas of there reformists, who wanted to the DDR to negotiate a settlement that could resist the full ravages of unrestrained capitalism.

    Days after Helmut Kohl’s truiuphant visit to Leipzig there was a demonstartyion of tens of thousands of young socialists in berlin, in support of the DDR. It seems you would rather have been cheering Kohl, than standing shoulder to shoulder with the socialists.

  46. #25

    “See how the talented artist* has depicted Ulbricht as a slighty fatter-faced and much friendlier and more human Lenin?”

    errr. that is what Ulbricht actually looked like.

  47. Karl Stewart on said:

    KrisS and JohnG, so if the SWP – your party – was in power and faced with counter-revolution you’d advocate “suicide”???
    And you’re asking me what planet I’m on??

    If you’re not able even to imagine ever being in any kind of position of power or seriously address such issues, then how can you expect the working class to follow your party?

  48. Oh Karl, stop being daft, eh? You know what we think, and no matter how many small questions you ask that you think we will have to answer, you know that we aren’t going to agree with you. You can try to cut the argument up into tiny slices, and try to get us to answer tiny questions which don’t really reveal the nonsense behind them – it isn’t going to work.

    You supported the ruling class in East Germany and we didn’t. You haven’t changed your mind, and neither have we.

  49. Karl Stewart on said:

    And you refuse to answer how a hypothetical SWP government would respond to the threat of counter-revolution, apart from some semi-anarchic/nihilistic shite about “suicide.”

  50. Yeah, I’m sure the Stasi were a lovely bunch of guys!

    The more I read about your lot’s nostalgia for Cold War era Stalinist states the less surprised I am by your support of modern day clerical fascists.

  51. Karl Stewart on said:

    Actually Bert, it was socialist Vietnam, supported by the socialist Soviet Union who intervened to put the madman Pol Pot out of power.
    After this, Pol Pot was supported by your heroine Thatcher and her sidekick your hero Ronald Reagan.

  52. Karl Stewart on said:

    KrisS, so you cannot imagine, under any circumstances, the SWP ever being in a position of power.
    Nor can you imagine, under any circumstances, any socialist government ever having to deal with any kind of counter-revolutionary activity.
    You feel that each of these notions is “nonsensical.”
    So what exactly is the SWP setting out to achieve? What’s it’s purpose?

  53. Karl mate

    If the SED had tried to hang on to power through violence it would have been a f*cking disater, and possibly the end of the socialist project for good.

  54. Karl Stewart on said:

    Or perhaps a vigorous campaign to win support for the gains of socialism might have succeeded.
    Perhaps firm police action against the ultra-right elements could have isolated and defeated them quickly. And then a real dialogue could have taken place with those wanting political change within a socialist context and the GDR might have been able to emerge from the crisis strengthened and renewed.

  55. The GDR was a complex society. Despite it’s obvious shortfalls there were some progressive aspects: housing (although far from perfect), employment, childcare, a health system equal to that of the West up until the 1970s, and other things as well.

    Some people actually look back on the GDR with nostaliga, not left wing theorists but people who actually lived through it. These testimonies often contradict the ‘totalitarian’ discourse which has dominated the popular consciousness post 1990.

  56. Bert #55: “I can imagine an unrepentant old nazi writing the same kind of rubbish about the good aspects of Hitler’s Germany.”

    A pathetic jibe that only works if you believe that the GDR was the equivalent of Nazi Germany.

    And by the way ‘Bert’, here’s a question for you. After WW2, in which of the ‘two Germanies’ did old, and also still young, unrepentant Nazis (former leading NSDAP members and officials) comprise half the ministers in the government, two thirds of the judges and prosecutors in the legal system, and headed 54 of the country’s foreign embassies?

    Was it the GDR or the FRG? Go on, have a guess.

    Oh, and as for Pol Pot. I doubt that you’ll find much similarity between the policies of the GDR and those of the Khmer Rouge.

    And the country which led the diplomatic and financial support to Pol Pot & his forces in their military campaign to return to power in Cambodia was… the United States of America.

  57. Karl Stewart on said:

    Yes KrisS, but I’m asking you about what an SWP government would do in response to the threat of counter-revolution. Why won’t you answer?
    The socialist government in Chile was smashed by counter-revolution precisely because of numbskulls refusing to take this question seriously.
    I really don’t give a flying fuck if you think the question’s “inappropriate,” you’re in what claims to be a serious revolutionary party and the question needs to be answered.

  58. Classic bit of “the trains ran on time” here:

    “I also visited Armenia later in the decade, which was war-torn (fighting Azerbaijan) and suffering from the after-effects of the Spitak earthquake, as well as all the usual post-Soviet traumas. When the plane arrived in Yerevan (from Paris), all passengers were kept waiting for over an hour before being allowed to reclaim luggage. A rumour started among the passengers that this was so crooks/airport staff would have an opportunity to go through our luggage and steal anything that appealed to them. (See “Three Colours White” for a similar scenario in Poland.) Finally we were allowed to pick up our luggage. So far as I know, nothing was nicked, but there was no explanation given for the delay.”

    Yeah, the KGB sure knew how to keep those pesky baggage handlers in line!

    BTW folks, did you know that apparently Thatcher was appaled by the end of the Cold War and wanted the Soviet bloc to continue indefinitely, as she feared the “instability” that would inevitably follow.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6829735.ece

  59. Karl, you want me to say something so that you can then twist that in support of the East German ruling class at the time. That’s the only reason you’re asking the question. We both know that. Why pretend otherwise?

  60. Oh god it gets better and better! Remember that “actual former GDR citizen telling it like it was, good and bad”?

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10607760

    If you follow the link the article ends with the guy saying:

    Better executed, communism might be a worthy alternative. But until such a day comes, I am happy to make myself comfortable in capitalism.

    I’d rather be exploited by capitalists than ruled by a dictatorship of the proletariat.

    So much for people who actually lived there!

  61. #67 – Of course the fact that the East German government was not in fact a ruling class but a ruling bureaucracy is lost on those who as others have stated have no analysis or conception of how socialism can and would work in practice. Scour the reams of SWP journals and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything on how socialism would actually work in this country, never mind as it emerges within states and societies existing under less than favourable material conditions.

  62. The SWP don’t believe in being in Government so it’s a stupid question to ask them. My undestanding of the SWP position is that any ‘government’ would be a ‘ruling class’-well that’s certainly the position they seem to take on any left development in the real world-certainly in terms of the GDR, Cuba and more recently Chavez

  63. Havelock on said:

    I think it does the CPB no good that the only time its members pop up is to boast of their willingness to inflict violent repercussions on whoever they label ‘Counter-revolutionaries.’

    Often including such incendiary groups as dentists.

    Regardless I doubt the DDR army would have supported Honecker in violently suppressing the protests, had he still been in power, and he would have been removed one way or another.

    If you equate hoping for the continuation of the DDR system with voting for the SED’s successor the PDS let’s not forget that the PDS got just 16 per cent of the vote in the 1990 East German election. It has achieved a pitiful vote ever since.

  64. johng #49: “On Gorby the best comment was from De Klerk. He stated that he had learnt the lesson from him that it was best to jump soon rather then too late. Shame in both cases that it was’nt from a higher window.”

    Implicit in your post is that you view the socialist system in the Soviet Union as equivalent to Apartheid in South Africa.

    I’ve heard a lot of ultra-‘left’ nonsense in my time, but I have to admit that I find this quite shocking.

    BTW, the record of the GDR, and also the USSR pre-Gorbachev, on practical, military & other forms of solidarity with the peoples of Southern Africa was exemplary.

  65. Look, I come from a state-cap tradition myself, and I find this debate weird which goes “either the GDR was a totalitarian hell-hole or it was socialism”. There seems to be a weird idea that saying “the GDR was a state capitalist system” is incompatible with recognizing its big achievements in social security and egalitarianism. That only works if you think “state capitalism” is a kind of swear-word like “totalitarianism” which just means “bad”.

    If we can recognize that unequal, imperialist free-market capitalist regimes have some good points which means the mass of workers are not motivated to overthrow them (cheap consumer goods, engaging TV programmes), I don’t see why it’s weird to argue the same thing for state capitalist regimes. It’s quite obvious, for example, that no matter how much Cubans are frustrated with the shortages and the sclerotic, suspicious rule of Raúl and his mates, they also genuinely appreciate the social benefits of the regime and don’t want the Miama mafia to take over.

  66. As to “what would an SWP government do in the face of counterrevolution?” I know the SWP don’t have as favourable an opinion of the Chávez government in Venezuela as I do, but they’re doing pretty well keeping the contras marginalised. Sadly, the corruption and incompetence of sections of the state bureaucracy are – as in the old Warsaw Pact states – the counter-revolutionaries’ best recruiting tools.

  67. badnewswade #68: “So much for people who actually lived there!”

    Many of the people who actually lived there have some quite good things to say about life in the socialist system. According to Der Spiegel, (& in an article which seeks to denigrate the GDR):

    “Today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 57 percent, or an absolute majority, of eastern Germans defend the former East Germany. “The GDR had more good sides than bad sides. There were some problems, but life was good there,” say 49 percent of those polled.”

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,k-7540,00.html

    The view that most people were more prosperous under socialism than capitalism is widespread in the former socialist countries, ranging from a large minority to an overwhelming majority.

    These are the findings of a poll conducted in several Central / East European countries, published on 2nd November 2009 by the Pew Research Center:-

    Question: Compared With Communism, the Current Economic Situation Is…

    Poland: Better 47%, Worse 35%

    Czech Rep: Better 45%, Worse 39%

    Russia: Better 33%, Worse 45%

    Slovakia: Better 29%, Worse 48%

    Lithuania: Better 23%, Worse 48%

    Bulgaria: Better 13%, Worse 62%

    Ukraine: Better 12%, Worse 62%

    Hungary: Better 8%, Worse 72%

    Source: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1396/european-opinion-two-decades-after-berlin-wall-fall-communism

  68. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    I read a Russian newspaper c.1994 which noted that, especially away from Moscow and Petersburg, Russians were actually eating less meat than in Soviet times, despite the USSR’s infamous food queues and inadequate distribution networks. For many people, it was now simply too expensive.

  69. Daphne #73: “…I find this debate weird which goes “either the GDR was a totalitarian hell-hole or it was socialism”. There seems to be a weird idea that saying “the GDR was a state capitalist system” is incompatible with recognizing its big achievements in social security and egalitarianism.”

    Interesting point. It’s arguable that any society that seeks to move towards communism, but has to exist within a capitalist-dominated world, can to some extent be described as ‘state capitalist’.

    You continue: “If we can recognize that unequal, imperialist free-market capitalist regimes have some good points which means the mass of workers are not motivated to overthrow them (cheap consumer goods, engaging TV programmes), I don’t see why it’s weird to argue the same thing for state capitalist regimes.”

    It needs to be added that the ‘cheap consumer goods’ are cheap in the imperialist countries because of imperialism; eg, the much lower wages in the countries which produce those goods.

    And then you say:

    “no matter how much Cubans are frustrated with the shortages and the sclerotic, suspicious rule of Raúl and his mates, they also genuinely appreciate the social benefits of the regime and don’t want the Miama mafia to take over.”

    You seem to be suggesting that Raul’s suspicions are unjustified. I’d remind you that the USA, which is only 90 miles from Cuba, imposes an economic blockade against that socialist island and finances the oposition against its government.

    As for ‘sclerotic’- it sound like you don’t know very much about Cuba, either its life and culture, or its political leadership.

  70. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    Re #73, it seems to polarise because if someone actually praises some aspect of the GDR (for example) or draws attention to the negativity of the post-1989/91 environment there or elsewhere, a Cliffite will piss over it.

    Re the baggage handlers etc., which again attracted a snide comment, the trains didn’t “run on time” in the early Soviet period either. For example, Lenin was actually held up by bandits at gunpoint while being taken for a drive near Moscow, and the car was stolen (recovered later).

    Armenia was by some way the poorest country I have ever visited, and the most war-torn. (I went for a walk and happened by accident on a military funeral for an American-born Armenian officer killed fighting the Azerbaijanis.) There were also very frequent power cuts, in part because much of the electrical power in Soviet times had come from Azerbaijan, which which they were now at war.

  71. paddy garcia on said:

    What a dreadful twee and fluffy anthem, not mention of socialism in it at all! This is much better:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtU3vUOa2sw

    I do tend to agree with Andy’s analysis on this though, the SWP are so wrong despite in my opinion being generally being correct on a lot of things.

  72. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    A survey of Russians in 2004 came up with a figure of 74% regretting the demise of the USSR, believing that “life was better under communism”. This was according to the Harvard academic Richard Pipes, who can hardly be accused of USSR nostalgia.

  73. #77 I know perfectly well that world imperialism wants to destroy the Cuban revolutionary state. However, I really do fear that the Communist leadership in Cuba might be falling into the same trap that Andy identifies in the GDR – by seeing threats where they are not, thus driving people who might have quite minor disgruntlements or dissident ideas into the hands of the CIA/Miami mafia. I am reminded of what happened in the 2007 constitutional referendum in Venezuela – Hugo came out hard-core saying “anyone who’s not lining up with the PSUV on this is a counter-revolutionary”, which understandably pissed off many pro-revolution but questioning forces, provoking a high abstention rate and losing the referendum.

    But these are matters on which reasonable people may disagree.

  74. I remember discussing the DDR with Tony Cliff.

    He made the very good point that the conclusion that free market capitalism was superior to the command economies of the Soviet bloc relied upon a falacy.

    If you compared West Germany with East germany then clearly livinig standards were higher in the West.

    But if you took the free market bloc in totalality, then there was a great variation of wealth between West Germany and, for example, bangladesh, and the wealth of the North is not unconnected with the super-exploitation of the global south.

    In contrast, within the Eastern bloc, there was much less variation in living standards between East germany and Romania, or the former Turkic areas of the USSR.

    Working class people in Tajikistan when it was part of the USSR didn’t look over the border into Pakistan in envy.

    Central to Tony Cliff’s argument about state capitalism is that the system in the Soviet bloc was not better than the free market West, but neither was it worse .

    Now I think that Cliff was wrong on the technical and theoretical issue of whether these centralled controlled economies were capitalist, and also i think that the economic bases of these soiceties needed to be defended.

    However, he wouldn’t have agreed with the effectively cold war rhetoric from KrisS and JOhnG here.

  75. However, he wouldn’t have agreed with the effectively cold war rhetoric from KrisS and JOhnG here.

    What are you on about now?

  76. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    What’s interesting is that the pre-89/91 societies tend to look better after exposure to the “free market”. As was noted higher up, the PDS got quite a low score in the 1990 elections, but the sheer wonder of capitalist relations probably hadn’t had time to work its way through into people’s consciousness.
    In much of the former Soviet Union, it was routine for workers to go unpaid for months on end during the 1990s. I asked a Russian how people could survive like that. She replied that a lot of barter was going on, and people were doing a lot of what in Britain would be “borrowing a cup of sugar from next door”, but on a gigantic scale.
    Even when wages were paid, many places stopped accepting money, which had lost much of its value. For example, a cinema in a Siberian city wouldn’t accept money for tickets c.1995. Instead, the price of admission was one egg.
    Old people in particular died off in this environment, while gangsterism and prostitution flourished. Some people of course became fabulously wealthy. And at the top was the alcoholic and corrupt Boris Yeltsin. All in all, it made the USSR look good and made Russians more accepting of authoritarian government, which accounts for Vladimir Putin’s popularity.

  77. #71

    “If you equate hoping for the continuation of the DDR system with voting for the SED’s successor the PDS let’s not forget that the PDS got just 16 per cent of the vote in the 1990 East German election. It has achieved a pitiful vote ever since.”

    But as Victor Grossman points out over the recent elections:

    Four years ago 27 election districts out of 51 in eastern Germany gave the Left over 25 percent of the vote. This time it was 41. Back in 2005 in western Germany only eight districts gave 8 percent or more to the Left; this time it was 109, with many reporting double-digit results. In the capital of Berlin, even the snooty southwest borough gave the Left a surprising 7.2 percent, a borough with many foreign — and unemployed — voters nearly double that. And in former East Berlin the Left won all four boroughs hands down, getting up to 41 percent. Those seemingly dry statistics creased many a brow in once untroubled office and government buildings.

  78. Hi Daphne, and I’m happy to concede that you appreciate the extent to which the USA is working to undermine & destroy the socialist revolution in Cuba.

    But your suspicion that: “the Communist leadership in Cuba might be falling into the same trap that Andy identifies in the GDR – by seeing threats where they are not, thus driving people who might have quite minor disgruntlements or dissident ideas into the hands of the CIA/Miami mafia” is unfounded.

    The Cuban revolution is quite a broad church; and the Communist Party, the press, and the police & judicial system have not launched attacks on people who have “minor disgruntlements or dissident ideas”.

    If you have information / examples to show otherwise, please present it.

    As for the 2007 referendum in Venezuela. There were two main problems in that campaign; one was the multiplicity of issues on the ballot paper, which allowed the right wing to confuse some people about what was exactly at stake. Another was the failure of the government- at that time- to rectify a key practical problem: the milk shortage (caused by the refusal of capitalist firms to supply milk at state-regulated prices).

    After those issues had been addressed, by state intervention to ensure provision of sufficient milk for everybody, & by narrowing down the ballot question to the possibility of re-electing the president, the referendum was put again & won resoundingly.

  79. Bert #83: “For those readers who are aghast at Andy’s apologia for totalitarianism… etc etc”

    Hey Bert, so you here you are again. But I’m still waiting for you to answer the question I put to you. So here it is once more:

    After WW2, in which of the ‘two Germanies’ did old, and also still young, unrepentant Nazis (former leading NSDAP members and officials) comprise half the ministers in the government, two thirds of the judges and prosecutors in the legal system, and headed 54 of the country’s foreign embassies?

    Was it the GDR or the FRG? Go on, have a guess.

    Come on, Bert, please answer the question.

    As for “Communism’s dreadful reputation”. It’s remarkable that so many people who lived in the countries of the socialist bloc- including the Russians, the Ukrainians, the Slovaks, the Lithuanians, the Bulgarians, and Hungarians… seem to agree that their economic situation was better during the rule of the Communist Party.

    So, Bert, would you care to explain?

  80. Karl Stewart on said:

    In general, I admire the SWP a lot. I think its members work hard for the movement and this is extremely positive.
    But I find it really odd that they jump in feet first to a discussion such as this, shouting their mindless slogans and then refusing to respond to any points made to them.
    All we have gathered from them in this debate is:
    They are quite happy to be on the same side as Thatcher/Reagan and international capitalism, with regard to the former GDR.
    They cannot imagine ever being a part of a government themselves – all government is wrong perhaps?
    They refuse to consider that any future socialist government could face hostile attempts to overthrow it. Despite every single socialist government that’s ever existed having had to face such threats.

    It all rather begs the questions:
    Why participate in these debates?
    Why are you not prepared to listen to anyone else?
    Why are you not prepared to actually think?
    Do you really believe that questions of socialism in power and how to deal with crises can best be tackled simply by shouting a few slogans and then sticking your fingers in your ears?

  81. Nick Fredman on said:

    #58: “it was socialist Vietnam, supported by the socialist Soviet Union who intervened to put the madman Pol Pot out of power.”

    Quite so, but there’s two relevant additional points to make. Firstly, the Chinese bureaucracy were on the opposite side of this barricade through the 70s and 80s, (and cynically supporting numerous other horrible regimes, such as Pakistan military dictatorships) indicating that post-capitalist regimes can be ruled over by fundamentally pro-socialist or anti-socialist regimes, depending on the circumstances, particularly the extent of priviledged bureaucratism (the Soviet bureacracy showed its anti-socialist nature in 90-91, and things are in the balance in Vietnam now).

    Secondly, the Vietnamese liberation was supported by dissident members of the Khmer Rouge, later becoming the Cambodian Peoples Party. The CPP like the many leftist national liberation forces such as the ANC went rapidly to the right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, indicating that humanity would have been a lot better off with radical reform rather than counter-revolutionary overthrow of the Soviet Bloc regimes.

  82. Anonymous on said:

    If only britain had been invaded by russia – we might have lived under socialism as well! Next time utopia is rabidly extending its hegemony across europe, lets be sure to have its glorious tanks role into our cities too!

  83. christian h. on said:

    Karl, give it a rest. You are asking a hypothetical question, for fuck’s sake. Not answering it is the only possible reaction. It’s interesting to see though that your question is about a hypothetical government by the SWP. Not the working class is in control in you hypothetical question – the SWP is. It sheds some light on your fundamental misunderstandings.

    Let me repeat that in my view, Andy is making some good points here (particularly about the historical circumstances of the DDR’s founding and early years) and some less good ones. Andy will disagree, but it seems to me his post is absolutely compatible with saying “good riddance” to the DDR – as I do.

  84. In POST 33 Karl Stewart asks
    “What should revolutionaries in power do when faced with counter-revolution?”

    Well, the Chinese Communist Party leadership showed resolution in 1989 and so did the appalling and grotesque Mullahs-waiting-for-the-Twelfth-Imam leadership in Iran more recently.

    A whiff of grapeshot is the answer!
    [Attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte]

    It depends really on whether on accepts Hobbes and Machiavelli as political gurus rather than Locke and Bertrand Russell.

    Me, I’m surprised that the Russian power holders don’t track down and eliminated traitors and dissidents based abroad, including those based in the UK, and that the Saudi elite don’t track down and execute noisy and tiresome Saudi dissidents abroad, including those based in the UK.

    Not just the Saudis, come to think of it! Britain is host to tiresome MQM Pakistanis and Chechens and Uighurs and lots more besides.

  85. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    #90. I see those statements you are reacting to as a rather frank admission that the SWP is in the business of making abstract, moralistic propaganda. I understand the IS was inclined to be Luxemburgist rather than Leninist. When it was turned into the SWP, or a little before that, Tony Cliff turned it towards Leninism, but perhaps that was more organisational than political. Is the pendulum swinging back to Luxemburgism?
    Rosa Luxemburg had many fine qualities and significantly, the Freikorps and the SPD saw her as dangerous. But her practical effect on the German Revolution was nil, in the limited time before her murder. Had she survived, I have difficulty seeing her as a key and effective figure in a revolutionary socialist government. Much how I see the SWP in a revolutionary crisis.
    Of course, this high-minded incapacity opens the way for more competent and less scrupulous people.

  86. Karl Stewart on said:

    Christian (93), I’ve referred to a “hypothetical SWP government” because I’ve been responding to attacks by SWP members, not because I’m advocating such a government.
    Clearly, judging by their repeated refusal to answer, the SWP has no intention or desire to ever be in any position of power.
    Has the SWP moved to an anarchist position? “All government is wrong?”

  87. I’m just trying to help keep you on topic, Karl. What socialists should or shouldn’t do has nothing to do with the tactics of the East German ruling class.

    As a hypothetical, I’d agree with chritian h that it seems to start from the wrong place. But I wouldn’t want to encourage you any further off-topic than you already are.

  88. #97 – Of course the fact that the East German government was not in fact a ruling class but a ruling bureaucracy is lost on those who as others have stated have no analysis or conception of how socialism can and would work in practice. Scour the reams of SWP journals and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything on how socialism would actually work in this country, never mind as it emerges within states and societies existing under less than favourable material conditions.

  89. Karl Stewart on said:

    KrisS, A future UK socialist government is facing the threat of counter-revolution and workers come to the SWP for advice on how to resist.

    Do you persist with this meaningless smart-arse twaddle about them being “off-topic”?
    Do you continue playing oh-so-clever word games which impress no-one but clearly keep you amused?
    Do you think up more devastatingly witty one-line soundbites to put them down?

    Or do you actually take the time to engage your brain and actually try to deal with a serious question?
    Your constant evasions simply make the SWP look like its not serious.

  90. Get a grip, Karl, seriously.

    I mean, amid all that overblown bluster, the simple fact is that any such situation is a million miles away from today and would be a question of tactics at the time.

  91. I think the most succinct summary of an honest “state-cap” attitude is that contained in the brilliant song “Lurhstaap” by New Model Army, a song “for the funeral of the GDR” which you should all listen to and google the lyrics of:

    The rats they leave one stricken ship
    For another sailing past
    Your world was going nowhere slow
    While ours goes nowhere fast

  92. Armchair on said:

    Karl- the problem with what you have put to the SWP is that it is an abstraction.

    I do not share the SWP’s politics, and specifically believe that they are unable to deal with questions of government because they have a tendency towards anarchism. I also disagree with them in that they see no element of socialism in the DDR. But that is beside the point here.

    I would put an sbstract question to you-

    If your Workers Party was in power in Britain, but it became clear that you had lost the support of the majority of the people, and mass demonstrations were on the streets demanding that you go, would you attempt to use the armed state apparatus to crush the opposition and cling on to power at all costs?

    Personally I endorse Andy’s point #59.

  93. Karl Stewart on said:

    Armchair, I posted up a response to the point KrisS made at (99) a couple of days ago, arguing that the question of the threat of counter-revolution is a very real and current question for today’s socialist governments in Venezuela and Cuba and is an issue that the UK left does need to consider and take seriously.

    (That was the thrust of my post, but it was lost in the system somehow during the time when this thread was closed.)

    As to my own view, I posted some brief comments on this earlier in this discussion at (61), with regard to the 1989 situation in the GDR.

    “…perhaps a vigorous campaign to win support for the gains of socialism might have succeeded. Perhaps firm police action against the ultra-right elements could have isolated and defeated them quickly. And then a real dialogue could have taken place with those wanting political change within a socialist context and the GDR might have been able to emerge from the crisis strengthened and renewed.”

    Of course, there is no absolute blueprint for dealing with any eventuality – as has been said, of course every concrete situation differs – but I think the threat to a socialist government of counter-revolution is very real and cannot be wished away.
    And it’s not only the example of the failures of the governments of the GDR or the Soviet Union to resist counter-revolution that we need to learn from, let’s not forget what happened to the socialist government of Chile in 1973.

  94. David Ellis on said:

    The league of hopeless empiricists versus the naked emperor’s most industrious taylor. Or the SWP state cap suck ups versus Andy `ultra-cautions’ Newman or open counter revolutionaries versus bureaucratic stranglers or two types of Gramscian Stalinism rationalise their behaviour in the same old futile debate.

    The point in 1989 was to attempt to give these uprisings in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union a programme for political revolution in the teeth of the moral and political collapse of Stalinism but reason is beyond these cults, sects and empiricists. Half of them were cheering on the tanks and the other half the emergent `democratic’ mafia class. An independent working class position was thoroughly beyond them and quickly abandoned as the opportunists picked `sides’.

    The irony is that both are lining up to repeat the mistake in almost identical fashion in relation to the deformed, stalinised Chinese workers state.

    Eddie: just to go back to your comment at #1 where you describe the wall as an `apartheid’ wall. Comments like that empty political concepts of all their content. And if you are going to congratulate Gorbachev for capitulation to the west and the home-grown forces in favour of restoration then is it any wonder that the collapse of Stalinism led to free market capitalism as opposed to the re-ignition of the international socialist revolution and the rebirth of a confident, arrogant, brutal and militarily adventurous Western imperialism.

  95. Armchair on said:

    Karl- I note that you have made as little attempt to answer my abstract question as the SWP have to yours.

    Your points about Chile, Venezuela and Cuba have relevancy, but the point is that in all 3 cases the progressive government had/ has the legitimacy of mass support. Like it or not, the events of 1989 in the DDR and the subsequent election results showed that this was not the case there.

    David Ellis- you remind me of the joke about Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky on a desert island.

    Trotsky- Let’s imagine we have a tin opener,

  96. Karl Stewart on said:

    Armchair (106) “Karl- I note that you have made as little attempt to answer my abstract question as the SWP have to yours.”

    I think that’s a bit unfair. I’ve tried to answer you at (104) by reference back to my post at (61).

    Ok, let me try again more specifically to your original question at (103), which was: “If your Workers Party was in power in Britain, but it became clear that you had lost the support of the majority of the people, and mass demonstrations were on the streets demanding that you go, would you attempt to use the armed state apparatus to crush the opposition and cling on to power at all costs?”

    Getting out there, being honest with people, mobilising working-class demonstrations in favour of socialism and fighting politically to win support should be the first response I’d say, not using the organs of the state.

  97. #107

    “Getting out there, being honest with people, mobilising working-class demonstrations in favour of socialism and fighting politically to win support should be the first response I’d say,”

    Belatedly, this is pretty much waht the SED did actually do, especially after the transfer of leadership to the previioulsy unknown Gregor Gysi.

    It failed for a number of reasons, partly lack of trust, secindly demoralisation of those parts of the popylatiopn supportive of the DDR, also due to direct physical intimidatiojn by neo-nazis from the West changing the previoulsy good natured mood of the Ossi demonstrations, also because of political naivity from the majority of the population, and of course the blackmail by helmut Kohl.

    the whole mix was rather similar to the colour revolutions we have seen subsequently.

  98. Karl Stewart on said:

    Armchair, I’d say at all stages, there must be a clear political justification for any action taken.
    Physical force and/for using the armed organisations of the state are options, but they can only be justified if the risk of not using them is greater.

  99. p spence on said:

    An excellent antidote to the presentation of East Germany in the mainstream media. I recommend people read the The Key Program Points of Die Linke which can be found at http://die-linke.de/politik/international/english_pages/ in English.

    DL declare: “We have learnt from history that respect for the views of dissidents is a precondition for liberation. We reject every form of dictatorship and condemn Stalinism as a criminal abuse of socialism. For us freedom and equality, socialism and democracy, human rights and justice are inseparable[ p3].”

    This sits alongside an unequivocal attack on neoliberalism and its property relations.

  100. Karl Stewart on said:

    Andy, well the issue of the hard-right/neo-nazi mobs that you refer to is clearly an example of where firm and resolute police action would have been entirely appropriate.
    Splitting these elements from those genuinely protesting for change within socialism and within a renewed GDR would have been key in my view.

    (P.S. My German’s poor to non-existent, so what does your article’s title mean?)

  101. I am reminded of what happened in the 2007 constitutional referendum in Venezuela – Hugo came out hard-core saying “anyone who’s not lining up with the PSUV on this is a counter-revolutionary”, which understandably pissed off many pro-revolution but questioning forces, provoking a high abstention rate and losing the referendum.

    This is exactly the reason why the hard left are so unpopular right now – this kind of your-either-with-us-or-against-us rhetoric you guys are so fond of really alienates people, however open they may be to some of your arguments (and certainly the economic case for socialism is very strong).

  102. #112

    “well the issue of the hard-right/neo-nazi mobs that you refer to is clearly an example of where firm and resolute police action would have been entirely appropriate.”

    It would have been politically impossible to do so, I beleive, but you are right in principle.

    “My German’s poor to non-existent, so what does your article’s title mean?)”

    It is the title of the East German national anthem

    Risen from the ruins
    and turned to the future
    Let us serve you better
    Germany our one fatherland

  103. Ironically, the SED government prohibited the national anthem from being sung in public in 1973, after they officially gave up the aspiration to German unification. It was only allowed to be played instrumentally from then on.

  104. The fact of the matter is that the GDR leadership was divided and demoralised. Despite the fact that it had substantial forces available (Volks Politzei, National Volks Armee, a big armed Workers Militia, the Felix Dzerzhinsky regiment etc) and a substantial body of political support the balance of forces was not favourable specially given the collapse at the political centre and the removal of the Soviet guarantee.

    Of course, France and Britain were not too happy at the prospect of an enlarged capitalist competitor with a big East European hinterland under its economic domination. In the days of the collapse, and before they went back to Germany, one GDR diplomat recounted to me how the Thatcher government was keen on stronger trade with the GDR and on its continued existence. But Kohl, with divided and uncertain US backing, took the initiative, sustained by the political innocence (or worse) of Gorbachov

    It is interesting that, by and large, the transition to capitalism was largely peaceful throughout the socialist bloc.
    Who is prepared, in today’s conditions. to put money on the proposition that a transition to socialism would proceed without armed resistence from the bourgeosie?

  105. Havelock on said:

    I would rather that than give any creedence to the self-appointed deluded worker’s vanguard who spend their evenings dreaming of AK-47’s, fetching military fatigues and the bloody purging of those they deem counter revolutionaries.

    Made slightly comical by the fact that this aging bunch would probably have trouble running up to a barricade nevermind the feat of mounting it.

    You can count me out.

  106. vildechaye on said:

    RE: if we set to one side the issue of personal liberty, the wall was a great success.

    Other than that, Mrs. Kennedy, how did you enjoy your tour of Dallas?