Socialist and Peoples' History

The German Reunification and the Left

Introduction: 25 years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. This marked a terminal stage in the crisis and collapse of East European Stalinism, and then of the USSR. We are publishing a few articles taking up the events and their long term consequences. While all are written from a revolutionary Marxisat standpoint they represent the views of the authors.

The German Reunification and the Left[1]


Kunal Chattopadhyay




            The most important European events of the 1990s will certainly include, quite close to the top rank, the German reunification of 1990. Any discussion on the identify of post-Cold War Europe has to start with two key facts ¾ the collapse of the USSR and the crisis of the Russian successor-state for one, and the reunification and subsequent rise of Germany for the second. The Federal Republic had of course been a very powerful state. But the re-emergence of a single German identity seemed likely to enhance the role of German state ¾ for example, in its greater willingness/assertiveness in military policies beyond NATO’s traditional limits.

            The German re-unification at the same time seemed to spell the collapse of every kind of left. The key transformation was perhaps the early one, when the chant, Wir sind das volk, changed to Wir sind ein volk. It has been suggested, repeatedly, the shift was engineered by the FRG. It is possible. It may even be probable. But it is not explicable by this simplistic reasoning why the people took up the chant. The former slogan was a counterposing of the ‘people’ to the ruling elite, the nomenklatura. The latter was a straightforward nationalist slogan ¾ the ‘people’ of the two Germanys being considered as one. The phrase ein volk may also have sent shivers down the spines of older generations of leftists.

            Every major date in 19th and 20th century German history has had great significance, not only for the German, but the European left. The revolutions of 1848 and their collapse, the unification of Germany is 1871, the revolution of 1918 and its defeat, the Nazi seizure of power, the defeat of Germany in World War II ¾ each event marked a turn for the German left.[2] At the level of ideology, the revolutions of 1848 saw the first development of Scientific Socialism, from the Manifesto of the Communist Party of 1848 to the Address of the Central Authority to the Communist League, outlining the perspective of permanent revolution.[3] The unification of 1871 saw the Marxist left taking a bold stance against national chauvinism and annexationism, when Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel opposed the Franco - Prussian War and the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine . “Anti-national” was thereafter a regular charge against the Marxist left. The Lassallean wing of German leftism, by contrast, took a statist and nationalist stance. In 1918, the revolution brought the split between reformists and revolutionaries into the open, with the reformists serving as the last defence of the old order. It was a Social Democratic leader Scheidemann, who proclaimed the (bourgeois) republic only to avert a socialist republic. It was the Social Democratic Party which argued that Socialism could be brought through the National Assembly, so that a Rate (Soviet) republic was not needed. It was a Social Democrat, Gustav Noske, who organised the Freikorps, the brutal military gangs that went around smashing the bases of revolutionary workers and soldiers. And the first victims were the workers of Berlin, including a sizeable section of the fledgling Komministiche Partei Deutschlands (Spartakusbund).

            The defeats of the German revolution between 1918 and 1923 also set, to a great extent, the seal on the future of the USSR, though this was not immediately understood. The defeat of the last upsurge in 1923 was immediately followed by an offensive by the newly hatched Soviet bureaucracy against the Left Opposition, led by Leon Trotsky. There were ups and downs, but by 1927, the left in USSR was defeated. Stalinism also sought to extend its sway over the whole of the Communist International.

            By 1929, a new crisis was coming up in Germany. The Great Depression and the attendant government crisis led to new election. In the 1930 polls, the National Socialist Party of Adolf Hitler received a huge number of votes. The Nazi menace had arrived. To stave it off, and to turn the working class into a militant force, what was needed was a united front of the working class. Instead, the Social Democrats decided to “tolerate” as a “lesser evil” the government of Chancellor Bruening, while the Communists, under Moscow control, went ahead with the line of “Social fascism”, according to which Social Democrats and Fascists were twins, and the former were indeed the main form via which fascism was coming. These lines fed each other. Eventually, the German working class, paralysed by these two sets of treacherous leaderships, found itself delivered up to the chopping block as Hitler seized power and restructured labour - capital relations massively in favour of capital.[4]

            This outline of a pre-history had to be traced, albeit briefly, so that many of the reactions of the various left trends to the reunification can be placed in better perspective. For it is an incontrovertible fact that the immediate aftermath of the reunification saw a shrinking of all left projects. In addition, the decade that has passed has thrown up a puzzle. Everywhere else in Europe, there have grown up Marxist parties (using the term very loosely, to cover all parties whose programmatic reference points still stress the living heritage of the October revolution) that are critical of the Stalinist experience, or at least of the Soviet-bloc countries’ history (i.e., Trotskyists, Maoists, etc.). The growth of the SWP in Britain, the Lutte Ouvrier and the LCR in France, Maoists in Belgium and Netherlands, the PRC in Italy (with a strong Trotskyist minority, and with the majority professing a radicalism, through the reality is more complex), all, in different ways, reflect the fact that workers and militant activists in these countries are looking for alternatives to Social Democracy and the formerly pro-Moscow Stalinism. The significant votes scored by the LO-LCR bloc in the European Parliament elections, the votes of the Red-Green alliance in Denmark, of the Left Bloc in Portugal, or the range of activists willing to come together for the work of the Socialist Alliances in England or the SSP in Scotland, also testify to the fact that a significant, even if still very small, section of the working class finds it meaningful to vote for these radical alternative, despite the virulent attacks (as, recently, in Italy against the PRC).  The growth of small or medium left parties in many ex-Stalinist countries, parties standing to the left of Social Democracy, also shows the potentialities there. In Germany, however, the Maoists have collapsed. The Trotskyists are also extremely small forces. It would be possible to point to tactical errors of these forces. But we should not overlook the context within which these tactics had to be applied. In other words, we have to ask, why did any alternative left fail to emerge in Germany?


The GDR and the German Left:


            The existence of two German states, one ostensibly socialist, had left its mark on every left-wing current in Germany. To understand how, we have to look a little more closely at some phases of GDR history, and its impact on the Federal Republic.

            In 1945, the defeat of the Nazis created a power vacuum in Germany. But none of the allied powers wanted to replace the Nazis by a democratically elected German regime. There were many reasons. The experience of 1919 indicated that any government signing a humiliating treaty could later be targeted by ultra-nationalists. The two most powerful allies drew additional, separate conclusions. The United States had fought the war for world power. They wanted to establish an American style liberal capitalism with a liberal bourgeois democracy, because they concluded that a “totalitarian” domestic policy would lead to totalitarian foreign policy and war. The Soviet Union, devastated by the war, with 20 million dead, wanted security from Germany. For this, they needed a drastic weakening of Germany. In addition, as it was chiefly by Soviet arms that the bulk of East and Central Europe was liberated, the Stalinist bureaucracy came to aspire for a domination over those areas, including over Germany. This was a form of hegemonism, but neither systematic expansionism nor capitalist colonialism. However, this expansionism, of whatever sort, was also problematic for the left.Stalinist leftists justified it as a form of “socialist revolution”. Trotskyists and Trotskyism-influenced leftists were divided. Max Schactman and his supporters saw in this a confirmation of their view that bureaucratic collectivism was indeed a new exploiting class. Orthodox Trotskyists correctly pointed out some of the problems of the new class theory, but they insisted on treating the bureaucracy as a conservative force, which meant they were late in understanding the expansionary dynamics of the Stalinist bureaucracy, and could, at times, take a campist position, whereby “defence of the historic gains of October”, or “defence of the workers’ state” could turn out to mean defence of any of the crimes of the bureaucracy. [5]

            The Weimer Republic had seen a powerful working class. Though tied and gagged by its misleaders, it had displayed its class attitude in a number of ways. In the last free elections, held in November 6, 1932, the Social Democratic Party had polled 7,248,000 votes (20.4%), and the Communists 5,980,000 (16.9%). Even in the March 5 1933 elections, despite mass terror, the gagging of press, curtailment of assembly and other civil liberties, and the arrest of thousands of KPD and SPD officials, the SPD had polled 18.3% and the KPD 12.3% votes. In Berlin, the left polled two-thirds of all votes. The magnificent courage of the German proletariat was tragically not met by a bold leadership. But despite Nazi terror, despite sustained attempts at ideological remoulding into the “national community”, a powerful sense of class, an urge to construct a better, socialist order survival. Anti-Nazi Committees, Peoples’ Committees, or groups of the National Committee for a Free Germany sprang up in many places as the Nazi state collapsed. But none of the allies were willing to allow political parties to be organised on an all-German basis. Had that been allowed there is little doubt that the SPD and KPD, outlawed, but with illegal and immigrant structures, would have been to the forefront.

            What happened was different. The dismemberment of Germany had been agreed at Yalta. On 5 June 1945, the four Commanders in Chief, Eisenhower, Lattre de Tassigny, Montgomery and Zhukov issued a declaration, that there was no longer a central German government. Germany was divided into four zones, and Berlin split into four sectors, each zone/sector being under one of the occupying powers.

            Three groups of German communists had been flown in, led by Walter Ulbricht, Anton Ackermann and Gustav Sobottka, even before hostilities ended. They were placed in Berlin, Saxony, and Mecklenberg - Pomerania. The guiding principle of their action was set out by Ulbricht, who argued that everything must appear democratic, but power must be concentrated in their hands.

            It is difficult to make any firm pronouncement now, but the balance of evidence suggests that an election in 1945 would have resulted in a moderate socialist orientation in the whole of Germany, with the SPD as the main partner, and with left of centre Christian Democrats like those who signed the 26 June 1945 manifesto calling for a united trade union movement and the nationalisation of raw materials and mining coming close to the SPD. To their left, there would have existed those local communist groups who wanted a unity of the left based on a commitment to the socialist revolution from below. This perspective was cordially disliked by all the occupying powers.

            In this essay, we can only present a few vital developments. A so-called anti-fascist bloc was created, with increasingly firm KPD control. This was followed by a shotgun marriage of the SPD in the Soviet zone with the KPD. Some left wing SPD leaders, like Grotewohl, Fechner and Dahrendorf did desire unity. But the way it was ultimately rammed through meant an extension of bureaucratic control.

            Then the Soviet rulers began to set up would be central administrative bodies. Though ostensibly set up as regional or zonal bodies, these had the capacity to act as national organs.

            Fourth, there was the process of de-Nazification and the utilisation of this process to put in trusted KPDers in key positions. Overtly, the Soviet military administration in Germany issued orders regulating political, economic, cultural and social life. Covertly, it also supervised the key decision makers. Its Order No. 2 permitted the creation of anti-fascist political parties dedicated to the eradication of fascism and strengthening of democracy and civil liberties. This took the KPD, as also the allies, by surprise. Though the allies opposed all-German party formations, they were compelled to legalise political activities in their zones. There was a quick refounding of the KPD and the SPD, and of parties similar to the old DDP and the Zentrum.

            The KPD manifesto spoke of completing the revolution of 1848. The local activists wanted a unity of the left, and they thought of a soviet republic. This was the context of a letter of Ulbricht to the nominal party head, Wilhelm Pieck, on 17 May 1945. Ulbricht wrote that the “majority of our comrades have sectarian views and so the composition of the party must be altered.”[6]

            By July, there were four central parties. The CDU was formed over the signatures of 20 Protestants, 20 Catholics (old Zentrum people) and 10 ex-DDP members. They called for the nationalisation of raw materials and mining. The Liberal Democratic Party, the most open defenders of capitalism, called for the defence of private property and the rule of law. These parties were brought into a bloc. But as the coercive apparatus began to be set up, the KPD began to get a monopoly of power. In 1945-46, the K5, or the political section of the police, was set up. The KPD was in command from the first.[7] The new political police was strictly supervised by the NKVD-MVD. Today, it is well known that contrary to the myth of the Buchenwald struggle (a once compulsory text for left activists being Bruno Apitz’s Naked Among Wolves) camps like Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen continued in operation till 1950. Between 1945 and 1950, there were 200,000 political prisoners, and 30,000 were deported to the USSR.[8] A section of these were ex-Nazis. But recalcitrant leftists or others were also targeted.

            In autumn 1945 came land reforms. A few years later, Grotewohl was to observe, quite legitimately, that large landowners had been the backbone of reaction for hundreds of years.[9] All large estates were confiscated and a central land fund set up. Of its 3.3 million hectares, 2.2 were distributed to 560,000 applicants. The percentage of farms having less than 10 hectares land rose steeply from 19.6 to 42. It was hoped that any resultant fall in agricultural output would teach the peasants the utility of collective farms.

            The Soviet - KPD/SED policy at this stage was therefore marked by a bid to shift the politics to the left, and to use the Soviet Zone to win domination across Germany if possible. The elections of 1946-7 marked a turn in the perspective. In the Kreis and Landtag elections of 20 October 1946, the SED failed to poll over 50% votes anywhere. The CDU and the Liberal Democrats together had greater seats than the Socialist Unity Party (SED) in Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt, and even in Mecklenburg, Saxony and Thuringia the SED had thin majorities.[10] But the greatest blow came in Berlin. The Berlin elections were held in all four sectors. The SPD had retained its independence there. It polled 48.7%, the SED 19.8%, the CDU 22.2% and the LDP 9.3%. Even in the Soviet Sector the SPD polled 43.6% and the SED 24.8%. This confirms the previous West Berlin SPD referendum, where 23755 members took part in a party poll, and only 2937 (17%) said yes to the question, ‘Are you in favour of an immediate merger?’[11]

            These electoral blows led to a drastic suppression of rights. Henceforth voters could not choose between parties, but were presented with a single list of candidates, which they could either accept or reject.

            Between 1947 and 1949 came German Peoples’ Congresses, which led in the end to the formation of the GDR. It would be wrong to see in this process only Soviet manipulation. The SED was a willing partner. So, for that matter, were the CDU - East and the LDP - East, a matter of some importance.

            The first major conflict in the East was the 1953 strike wave. This began in Stalinallee, and at its height it involved 300,000 workers. The gulf between the party and the class was clearly revealed.[12] SED propaganda blamed chiefly imperialist, including West German capitalist machination. But it also specifically alleged that the Eastern Bureau of the SPD, and the Gruppe Arbeiter Politik, led by Heinrich Brandler, were leading the strikes. The strike wave was in fact a powerful reaffirmation of the perspective of anti-bureaucratic political revolution, urged and predicted by Trotskyists. But it was an early manifestation, and it lacked an adequate leadership. Left of SED forces were absent. The International Secretariat of the Fourth International welcomed the development, but there were no organised Trotskyist forces in the GDR.

            From this point on, the GDR evolved one of the most massive repressive networks in the entire Soviet bloc. Increasingly, every avenue of leftist dissent was foreclosed. The radical political left was avidly prosecuted. Even literary radicalism was constantly put under surveillance. The subsequent trajectories of Wolf Biermann and Rudolf Bahro out of Marxism do not prove that their persecutors were good Marxists. Rather, Biermann and Bahro lost their convictions. But it is difficult to accept the view, presented by Prof. Alok Ranjan Dasgupta at the seminar where this paper was first presented, to the effect that Biermann had got himself exiled, because, presumably, he hankered after the flesh-pots of the west. It is well known that conforming litterateurs in the Soviet bloc enjoyed considerable privileges not meant for the ordinary worker. The price they had to pay was either silence, or an Aesopian language. In any case, such work often compromised them, as the cases of Christa Wolf and Stefan Heym were to show in different ways.

            Meanwhile, the capitalist state was being rebuilt in West Germany. The left had its problems there. The SPD, no less than the KPD, had suffered from the nationalism of the right. The SPD had already, in the early days of World War I, adopted a nationalist rhetoric. But its government had signed the Versailles treaty. This had given the nationalist right a powerful weapon. In 1933, the SPD and the ADGB bureaucracy had paid the price of the betrayals of 1914 and 1918-19. Despite their services of those years, their organisations had been banned. In exile, there had been both an SPD left and a right. In the post-war period, a section of the SPD left joined the KPD to form the Socialist Unity Party. This resulted in a growth of hostility to the KPD on the part of the major part of the SPD. But this did not immediately result in the total abandonment of all the older leftist views. Under the leadership of Kurt Schumacher, instead, the SPD tried to negotiate between a moderate socialism and nationalism. In the early 1950s, in the name of German reunification, the SPD had bitterly fought West German rearmament and membership in NATO. Whether Stalin was serious in his offer or not continues to be a matter of controversy.[13] It is not unlikely, for if Germany accepted a Soviet sponsored unification with neutrality, a degree of Finland or Austria style relationship could have developed. This would certainly have had a great overall impact on the Cold War. Also, given Stalin’s known habit of throwing satellite parties to the wolves when necessary for the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy, there is no reason to believe that the reunification was just a ploy to gain the entire Germany for the SED. In any free election that would have been impossible. In any case, regardless of Stalin’s calculations, the SPD opted for this in order to set up a left nationalist alternative framework. But despite two defeats in two World Wars, the German bourgeoisie was unlikely to ever contemplate this perspective, notably after seeing what had happened to much of Central Europe. The defeat of this perspective was followed by the Bad Godesberg programme of 1959, where, decades after Marxism had been actually abandoned, it was formally exercised from the party programme. Symbolically, the state socialist, would be dictator of the early workers’ movement, Ferdinand Lassalle was hailed at this congress as the party’s real founder.[14]

            Two souls coexisted within the SPD. It could not altogether give up its claim to be a socialist party without the fear of losing its base constituency the German working class. But it could and did get involved in red-baiting, even though on occasion even SPD members were put under attack.

            Under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, de-Nazification was halted in the Federal Republic. Ex-Nazis and their supporters were incorporated into the new system. The Neo-Nazis, like the National Democratic party, usually failed to get past the 5% mark in elections, which they needed to enter Bundestag, but this was because the CDU-CSU itself was a strongly rightwing party. Adenauer’s massive electoral victory of 1957 on the motto of “no experiments”, following the ban on the KPD in the Federal Republic, set the seal for conservative domination, including within the SPD.

            The evolution of the KPD and its fate has to be considered now. As we saw earlier, “socialism” was in the air in 1945. All the academic, often arcane debates about how important had been the role of big capital in Hitler’s rise to power[15] was a later and partly invented debated. In the popular perception, there was a clear connection between capitalism, capitalist crisis and Nazism. The only party that, in 1945, called for anything other than socialism (though the bougeois parties’ socialism was patently spurious) was the KPD. It demanded an anti-fascist democracy. In the Soviet zone, this was propaganda to retain semi-autonomous semi-controlled non-KPD forces in a bloc, even as the power of the Red Army tanks and bayonets were used to carry out a transformation. But in the Western zones, power lay with the western allies, and the KPD was an opposition party. Here the slogan of anti-fascist democracy meant giving up any perspective of anti-capitalists proletarian struggles.

            This correct political evaluation of the KPD should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the party had put up a courageous opposition. Most of the political questions around which it fought were directly tied to the interests of the state and party leaderships in the GDR and the USSR.          But at the same time, many of these were of a clearly progressive nature. Here we should not forget the KPD’s campaigns against rearmament, against the militarization of the new West German imperialism, against the formation of the Bundeswehr (the West German army), and the very important role of the KPD in the movement against the atomic bomb.

            This resulted in the KPD re-emerging, in the late 1940s and early 1950, as the main focus of class struggle with a programme claiming to be Marxist. The West German imperialists, who calmly reintegrated ex-Nazis into the state structures, banned the KPD in 1956, and declared Marxism and communism to be “unconstitutional”. This ban has never been rescinded. Nor should it be forgotten that many members of the illegal KPD were willing to go to prison for their beliefs. This needs to be stressed to correct a belief that the KPD in the west can be viewed as nothing more than the agent of the GDR. Moreover, when the party was relaunched in the open as the DKP, the majority of the victims of the Berufsverbot (laws preventing “enemies of the constitution” from holding allegedly sensitive jobs like teaching) were DKP members.

            The DKP, founded in 1968, was in organisational and political continuity with the old illegal KPD but with a new format to avoid illegalisation. It capitalised or the rudicalisation of the late ‘60s to gain a radical student-youth base, but pressed them into a reformist mould.

            But a basic characteristic of the DKP was its strong connections (both ideological and material) with the party-state apparatus of the GDR. This identification was to provide regular ammunition for West German anti-communism. Given the economic boom in the West, the reference to social gains in the East did not count for much, while the lack of freedom in the East, with such visible evidences as the periodic dead bodies by the Berlin Wall were given reminder of the politics of “actually - existing socialism”. Of course, this was not the sole reason for the DKP’s weakness. Another important factor was the DKP’s lack of a credible strategic alternative to that of the social democrats.

            In early 1989, the DKP held its Ninth Congress. It then had a membership of 47,000[16]. The DKP had an opposition, which called for a radical break with the Stalinist past. But the leadership, even in early 1989, could not see the coming crisis.

            The SPD’s evolution had been naturally different. But unlike Adenauer, or his successors, for whom the very existence of the GDR was anathema, and who developed the foreign policy line of cutting off relations with states that recognized the GDR, the SPD, under the moderate Willy Brandt took up the policy of Ostpolitik. This implied that the SPD was prepared to accept a prolonged existence of the GDR. Eventually, the SPD also decided to enter into party - to - party relationship with the SED. In the 1970s and early 1980s, this seemed a bold gesture. In 1989-90, though, this would turn out to be an embarrassment for the SPD and the newly established SPD-East.

            It was in this situation that the events of 1989 unfolded. No attempt will be made here to provide a full account of those days. But a number of points need to be clarified through some amount of detailing. The first was that in the early stages, a leftwing current had developed, and it led the struggles. But subsequently, it collapsed. This has to be explained. Secondly, we need to ask why, despite their long existence as bloc partners of the SED, the CDU - East and the liberals did well in the free elections of 1990, while the SPD - East suffered badly. Third, we need to look closely at the attitudes within the SPD to the reunification. Fourth, there is a need to look at German politics since reunification, the rise of racism, the intensification of a capitalist offensive, and the revival of the SPD. Finally, we have to look at the various parties and groups calling themselves Marxists.


The Anti-Bureaucratic Revolution Begins[17]


            The working classes had everywhere received the establishment of so-called actually existing socialism in a dual manner. There had been concrete gains in social welfare, though less so than propaganda claimed. At the same time, bureaucratic rule had been resisted. The high points of resistance were the East German uprising, the 1956 revolution in Hungary and the Polish struggle, the resistance to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 including the Vysocanny Congress of the Communist Party and the factory committees that combined to operate for a time, and the mass workers’ struggle in Poland that resulted in the foundation of the independent, self-governing union Solidarnosc. But the Perestroika years changed the situation further. The ability of the Soviet bureaucracy to prop up the East European bureaucracies was going down. By the middle of the Perestroika years, in addition, the leading forces within the bureaucracies were reaching the conclusion that given the nature of the crises they faced, capitalist transformation was the only way out. For Gorbachev, in need of Western capital, it was no longer useful to protect hardliner Stalinists. Instead, he clearly advised them to turn into budding capitalists. In a speech that he gave at Hamburg, at the invitation of Stern magazine, Gorbachev commented about the East German leadership, “Life punishes who ever comes too late.”[18]

            There was, behind this cryptic comment, half foretelling, and half threat. The GDR leadership, along with the Romanian, continued to resist most forcibly all ideas of change. In the early 1980s, an independent grassroots peace movement had developed, partly under government approval. From this had emerged people who called for reforms. By 1987-88, relations with them had soured. Some academics who wanted a gradual convergence with the capitalist west had written a joint paper with the West German SPD affiliated academics, arguing that capitalism is as capable of peace as socialism. The academics were sharply rebuffed.[19] But at the same time, radical protesters were even more sharply dealt with. Barbel Bohley, Stefan Krawczyk and Vera Wollenberger were among those arrested and charged with treason for joining a parade in honour of Rosa Luxemburg while carrying placards with a quotation from Luxemburg. “Freedom always means freedom for one’s opponents.”[20]

            A new left, however, began to emerge nonetheless. On 15 January 1989, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht Day, a silent candlelight march was organised in Leipzig, calling for democratisation of the socialist state. Several hundred participated and the police arrested fifty-three.[21]

            By early 1989, liberalization was rapidly under way in Poland and Hungary. The Polish United Workers’ Party and the martial law regime of Jaruzelski entered into negotiations with the by now moderate, pro-capitalist structures of the Solidarnosc under firm control of Walesa and his advisers. By April, the Walesa-led Solidarnosc was legalized under a settlement that would give the bureaucrats a four-year grace. By mid 1989, the attempt to reform the bureaucratic rule without an open turn to capitalism was beginning to unravel definitively in the USSR. The miners’ strikes showed this. The miners were challenging the market and productivity “reform”. In his June 18 report to the Central Committee, Gorbachev tried to hijack the strikes to his new goal, claiming the miners were demanding a speeding up of perestroika.[22]

            Throughout these events, Erich Honecker and his supporters in the SED remained firm. They had reasons. Unlike in other countries in Germany the bureaucracy ruled because of the division of the country. The establishment of capitalism in East Germany would inevitably lead to a rapid reunification and consequent absorption of East Germany into imperialist West Germany. Unlike the nomenklatura elsewhere, Honecker & Co. could not hope for more than minor crumbs. Hence their resistance to any turn.

            In mid-1989, protests were being led by the church. But others were coming up. Workers in East Berlin’s Bergmann Borsig factory called on the trade union leaders of the GDR to end propaganda harangues. And on September 9, Barbel Bohley, back after a term of exile, joined other left activists to found the Neues Forum, the first countrywide political network of the left, to call for socialist reforms. They applied for official registration as a political organisation. They wee termed subversive and antistate, and denied registration. But with their appearance came a turn in the GDR situation.

            In the previous months, exodus from the GDR had intensified. With Hungary relaxing transit rules, GDR citizens had began to flee to the west via Hungary. Others were demanding relaxation of laws so that they could go directly to West Germany. Reunification was at this stage not a subject under consideration. The rise of the Neues Forum crystallized a campaign for socialist reforms. But on 21st September the Neues Forum was formally ruled illegal. By then, over 3000 people had signed its appeal. Two other left groups appeared ¾ the SPD East, and the United Left.

            The month of October saw the demands for reform turn into a revolution. On October 3, Honecker reimposed the requirement of exit visas for travel to every country. People in Dresden began campaigning to leave the GDR.

            But the real turn came in Leipzig. On October 8, rumours were circulating that the Stasi could turn the next day into another Tienanmen Square. On October 9, Erich Honecker welcomed Chinese Deputy Premier Yao Yilin to East Berlin. They agreed that both could learn basic lessons from the “counter-revolutionary insurrection” in Beijing.

            A major source of information for those days is the collection Jetzt oder nie-Demokraite: Leipziger Herbst ‘89. For anyone interested in eyewitness accounts, chronologies, newspaper coverage, and a variety of direct, individual sources, this is an extremely reliable volume. Policemen interviewed for this volume reported that they had been briefed, “The situation corresponds to June 17, 1953”.[23] The rulers were thus clearly aware that the political revolution was about to begin in full force. In addition, while specific orders to shoot were not issued, Erich Mielke’s orders of 5th and 8th October implied the authorisation of violence. But it seems that the scale of protests paralysed Mielke and the Stasi. 70,000 Leipzigers gathered on October 9 in GDR’s most impressive demonstration since 1953, demanding democracy and the legalisation of Neues Forum. The situation began to resemble a revolutionary situation in Lenin’s classic description, when the oppressed would no longer go on being ruled the old way and the oppressors could no longer rule in the old way. Ewald Diehm, one participant, joined the demonstration with his wife and small daughter. As he put it, they knew only one thing, that no matter what happened to them, they did not wish to live on as before.[24]  The chant, Wir sind das Volk, (we are the people) could now be regularly heard. This was a sharply political statement, telling the bureaucrats that if this was a peoples’ democracy, the people were out on the streets, and that the SED/the nomenklatura did not constitute the people.

            Under the hammer blows of the popular movement, the rulers began to retreat. Egon Krenz, heir apparent of Honecker, Gunter Schabowski, Siegfried Lorenz, and, surprisingly, Stasi boss Erich Mielke, began to form a faction with the aim of getting the politbureau to agree to some reforms and of deposing Honecker.[25] Events now rushed forward. By 11th October, Neues Forum was claiming a membership of over 10,000. On 17 October, Honecker was compelled to resign by the political bureau, as were Gunter Mittag and Herrmann.[26] The replacement of Honecker by the equally Stalinist Krenz marked no dramatic change. For the bureaucracy, it was a bid to remove an inflexible boss by a new one. But it sent out a different signal to the mass movement. On 27th October, Schabowski met Neues Forum representatives. On 2nd November, Harry Tisch, long time trade union boss, resigned. On the 4th, a mass demonstration was called at Berlin’s Alexanderplatz.


The Storm Bursts

            Various groups of people had been operating to stir up passions. But what was missing was a political force capable of uniting the anger and coordinating the revolutionary dynamic. The Neues Forum in Leipzig came closest to it. Even before November 4, it had begun acting like an alternative power. But taking GDR as a whole, no party, no programme existed that could fuse the mass movement with the consciousness of a vanguard. This was to have a major significance, as the next weeks showed.

            There were, of course, various small nuclei. And it is wrong to think that only the Christian churches led protests. This is in fact a kind of myth which rightwing authors like Pond have tried their best to foster. One group of leftists who have taken an especial beating are the leftist authors. It is true that Stefan Heym, Christa Wolf and others had not called the Alexanderplatz meeting. They spoke there. But they had been active for quite some time before this. Their involvement goes back at least to February 1989, when Christa Wolf asked the PEN centre of the GDR to express solidarity with Vaclav Havel, just sentenced to nine months jail in Czechoslovakia. On 1st March, the PEN centre called for Havel’s release, and urged freedom of discussion as a precondition for socialism. By September, eight women authors had met and expressed public opposition to official GDR policy. They included Wolf, Helga Konigsdorf, Daniela Dahn, etc. Wolf and Konigsdorf were among those who publicly protested against the violence towards protestors in Berlin and Leipzig in late-September and beginning of October.

            Nor were these individual performances. The authors were in touch with their readers and listeners. At the beginning of October, Wolf gave a reading from her works to an audience of about 200 in a town in Mecklenberg. The discussion that followed was about the current political situation. Wolf wrote an article about the discussions on 21st October. It provoked a huge response, and many of these were published as a book in January 1990 as a contribution to further debates especially on education, critical awareness and socialist construction. The incident reveals the role of critical authors. As long as censorship and police brutality had silenced open political dissent, they had been a major focus of surrogate politics.

            But on November 4 - 6, the situation changed. On 4th November, in East Berlin, between 750,000 and a million people came out in the biggest demonstration in the history of the German working class. The sizes of the demonstrations make the proletarian character of the protests evident. Thus, in Leipzig, with its population of 500,000, there were 350,000 demonstrators. The 750,000 to a million in East Berlin came out in a city of 1.5 million people.

            After decades of regimentation, the demonstrations showed an unprecedented spontaneous explosion of demands. This would later be hailed as proof that the revolution was anti-communist. In fact, every revolution bears the inevitable stamp of this spontaneity. One thinks of the soldiers in 1917 who dictated, almost word for word, the famous Order No. 1 to the Menshevik Skobelev (this order created the military committees), or the spontaneous take over of factories by workers in Barcelona in 1936.

            The demonstration was organised by the trade unions of four big theatres in East Berlin. 27 speakers represented most of the opposition currents. But the far left was absent. The rally had an internationalist and a class thrust. It began with a song for Nicaragua, and solidarity was expressed with the opposition in Czechslovakia, the anti-apartheid fighters in South Africa, and the Chinese students. One speaker listed the demands drawn up by an initiative group for independent unions ¾ higher wages, reduction of the differentials in pensions, popular control over supplies, and no increase in norms without higher wages. One banner read Krenz zu tisch, a play on words, as tisch means table, but as it could also be interpreted as a call to Krenz to do a Tisch, i.e., to resign as Tisch had done. Journalists carried placards reading. ‘No more lies’. Other banners and slogans included calls for workers’ councils and self-management, a condemnation of Stalinism, for environment protection, and for socialism through popular power.

            Without this kind of mass, spontaneous, popular struggle, no revolution has succeeded. But no revolution has succeeded, either, without a conscious political force. The Neues Forum was too heterogeneous to play that role. Barbel  Bohley and her  fellow  originators of the movement  had a socialist commitment.  In the   eyes of an anticommunist, rightwing commentator, “their ideals still reflected Russian communist rhetoric more than West European social democratic precepts”[27].  It was not Stalinist rhetoric, but a different kind of socialism that they hoped for.  To anticommunists, of course, the distinction between proletarian revolutionary socialism and the Stalinist bureaucratic counterrevolution had to be blurred. But the very experience of Stalinism, which constantly misused the communist terms and concepts, meant that all too often, as with Neues Forum, there was a tendency to move away from Leninism under the belief that one was opposing the bureaucracy. There was also a rightwing of the Neues Forum, which was evolving in the direction of private ownership and reunification. But the impetus to reunification came from two sources.  One was the Federal Republic.  Daniela Dahn remarked at the seminar where this paper was presented, that the slogan, if the DM does not come to us we will go to the DM, could be traced back to West German officials and propaganda emanating from them.  Without accepting the conspiracy theories that Stalinists even now console themselves with  (as did one participant at the seminar) it is necessary to underscore this. Genschner and Kohl were astute enough, and opportunist enough to step in rapidly.  And they had good reason.  On November 6, the GDR rulers proclaimed a very marginal relaxation of travel privileges to the West. Massive protests greeted this. On November 7 even the Volkskammer, a cypher all these years, rejected these as inadequate.  As yet Kohl had  not  pushed for  unification.  Indeed, on 8th November, his address to the Bundestag called for through going  reforms In the GDR.  That is, he was at that stage  envisaging a reform along Hungarian or  Polish  lines, promising economic aid if such  reforms  were carried  out.[28]  On the 9th, Schabowski announced that crossing over to West Germany for travel would no longer be tightly regulated.  Over the weekend, huge crowds crossed over -- and they returned.

            As one perceptive leftist commentator wrote at that time, “To judge from the consternation of Bush and Thatcher and the perturbed look of Mitterand,  you  would almost have thought  that  these  rakish Berliners, proud of their revolution, had  become more dangerous than the Warsaw Pact  armies”[29].

            This was when Helmut Kohl, chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, moved in.  But even before that, it was the SED that began making a turn.  On November 19, Krenz ruled out unification  as an option.[30]  As late as the beginning of December, a survey commissioned by ZDF television  and Der Spiegel  found that 71 percent  of East Germans thought the GDR should remain a sovereign state[31].  But by 24th November, the SED was changing options.  While ruling out “reunification”, Krenz told Financial Time that   a confederation was possible[32].  Two days later Max Schmidt, an SED foreign policy personality, went further to propose a future reunification.[33]

            On the 28th of November, Kohl moved in. He made a speech in the Bundestag, where he presented a ten-point programme for a “confederal structure” leading eventually to state unity[34].  The ten points included “irreversible” economic reforms so that “market conditions” were created, as well as East Germany’s association with the Single European Act. In opposition to this perspective, leftwing intellectuals issued an appeal   defending the historic opportunity to build a credible socialist alternative.  The final wording of the appeal was by Christa Wolf, and presented at an international press conference in Berlin by Stefan Heym.[35]

            It must therefore be understood that the turn to capitalism and reunification was initiated and expedited by the two governments.   For the nomenklatura, when faced with the stark alternatives of attempts to build authentic socialism via political revolution and capitalism, the choice was clear.  In the Federal Republic, the picture was more complex.


The Crisis of the GDR left

            Several organisations were beginning to take shape in the GDR.  The most leftwing one was the United Left.  On October 2, a number of left groups and socialists met and decided to convene an all-GDR meeting in November.  Their co-ordinating group issued some statements.  One   emphasized the need to work out concrete socialist alternatives[36].  A second statement presented an initial programmatic outline.  These called   for reconsidering the role of the state and the tasks of people’s self - managed bodies in the context of self-determination, political democracy, the rule of law and consistent implementation of human rights, and called for a workshop to develop these ideas[37].

            The United Left reacted sharply to Barbel Bohley, when she said that the opening of the wall had come too early.  Herbert Misslitz, a member of the Group of Democratic Socialists, which had helped organise a demonstration in East Berlin against the World Bank in 1988, was one of the spokespersous of the United Left.  In an interview with the West Genman paper Sozialistische Zeitung, he remarked, “The wall was opened too late, not too early .… We are, however, also of the opinion that not only the opening up and the gaining of freedom to travel, but also the way in which this came about are an expression of the fact that we get our rights from above, from a leadership that uses them as safety valves.  This leadership, furthermore, is without perspectives, as is clear to everyone.  To get ones fights form a leadership  in these  conditions is quite different from  perceiving them as an  expression of the popular will.  Rights such as the right to travel could be sorted out by people for themselves”[38].

            Barbel Bohley did not represent the entire NF when she made her comment.  But it was felt by many workers that the NF was taking a patronising stance, as well as a mechanically anti-unification one.  The stand of the United Left clearly shows not only their rejection of any such stance, but also their attempts to explain that control of the streets by itself was inadequate to establish peoples power, or real democracy, as  long as it was  the  same  bureaucracy that  took  the final decisions.  In addition, the United Left also tried to argue that democracy required institutions at various levels. Misslitz told his interviewer Angela Klein,  “We are trying to develop some kind of direct democracy in this country, which involves forming people’s committees out of representatives of the people, chosen by those that live in this country.”[39]   Similarly, in addition to a Round Table that was coming   up between the SED, its bloc-parties, and the opposition, the UL called for a countrywide conference   of workers’ delegates.  Alone among the various new political forces coming up, the UL attempted to go beyond the identity of citizen, and to take up the task of building factory-based councils. 

            The NF member Andre Sachadae, giving an interview to International Viewpoint, had a programme that was leftist, but without the clear proletarian thrust of the UL, notwithstanding the fact that the working class constituted the NF’s main base.  The programme involved freedom of the press, free elections, the re-introduction of referenda, the separation of the legal and political systems and  the  immediate release and rehabilitation of  all  political prisoners.[40]  Yet, it was precisely this fuzziness that enabled the NF to establish itself as the leading organisation.  It was asserted by pollsters that free elections just then would have made the NF the leading party in parliament in the GDR.  In Leipzig, it had set up a dual power regime.  But its less than clear programme meant that in the critical days and weeks, it had no viable socialist alternative.

            Meanwhile, forces were stirring within the SED. The Humboldt University invited Ernest Mandel, the Belgian Trotskyist whose father had been a German Jew and a member of the SPD before he migrated from Germany during the period of the Nazi ascendancy, to the GDR. He was there asked by oppositionists to take part in public discussions on social democracy, where he exchanged views with various currents, including several SED representatives. He was also an eyewitness to the upsurge in Berlin. Writing in International Viewpoint, Mandel suggested that there were several currents in the SED, including a small one which wanted democracy, decentralized planning, workers self-management, the Stalinists, and the “reform” current which wanted to move towards the free market.[41] Once again, people found it easier to say what they opposed, rather than what they wanted. On December 2, a secret cache of arms were discovered near Rostock. These were being sold by the IMES firm to many countries. Investigations revealed that the firm beyond to a vast business empire run by Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski. He was using these weapons and other shady means to prop up the GDR economy. The deals included plundering museums to sell art treasures abroad.[42]

            Schalck - Golodkowski was actually a very important figure, and therefore, his violation of East German laws notwithstanding, the state prosecutor delayed issuing an order to arrest him, so that he could escape to West Germany. In exchange for an 800 transcript pages of information to the West German intelligence agency, he was given state protection.

            As the news of his flight became known, several thousand SED members gathered in Front of the Central Committee to demand a radical renewal of the party. The next day the political bureau resigned. So did the Central Committee. A working committee was named to run the party fill a Congress scheduled for 8th December. At the party congress, the SED renamed itself Socialist Unity Party - Party of Democratic Socialism (SED-PDS) and selected Gregor Gysi, a lawyer who had defended Barbel Bohley as its chairman. Stalinism in the abstract was condemned, but a studied silence was maintained on issues like the forcible SPD-KPD unification, or the uprising of 1953. Despite (or precisely because of) this, the parties of the right hastened to some form of cooperation. The compulsory “Democratic Bloc” to which the Christian Democrats and Liberals had belonged all these years was collapsing. But the former bloc parties and other moderate oppositionists rallied to shore up Modrow, as indeed, did West German President Richard von Weizsaecker.

            There could be no better evidence, that the chief bureaucrats were turning to capitalist restoration, and the capitalist faces were realising this. What they did not want was, in their words, “anarchy”, “chaos”, “instability” ¾ i.e., independent working-class movements.

            The UL had met on November 25 - 26. About 300 people participated, of whom about half were from East Germany. The UL could not, however, go over to the offensive. A majority wanted closer collaboration, but not wanting to provoke a split, they decided to retain the UL as only an initiative, with a separate coordination being planned.[43] The NF, and others, together with the SED and its former bloc parties, plus representatives of trade union, farmers, and Social Democrats, Democratic Awakening, etc., found a round table. Politically, practically all the new force delegates opposed merger with West Germany. But instead of using the round table as a starting point for a political alternative, they decided to constitute an element of “public oversight”. As a result of this, they failed to combat the rightwing forces, who mobilised clearly behind the demands of unification and capitalist restoration. To feel cheated later, when Lothar de Maiziere won the elections, was pointless. In turning points of history, acting according to rules of games does not constitute good political sense. Rather, this reveals the failure of these groups to grasp the relationship between mass movements, organisation, and the leadership in a revolutionary situation. In such a situation, the balance of forces can change dramatically if decisive action is taken. If, on the contrary, a leadership in a revolution fails to react, if it fails to propose the quick development of institutions of popular democracy and to carry through their formation; if it does not link up popular struggles with a clear overall vision, the revolutionary moment can pass quickly, and counter-revolution can gain. The collapse of the bureaucratic dictatorship had poised GDR politics on a knife’s edge. The left had led the initial battles, but it was flunking the test now. Key to this had been two related political failures. The first was the lack of a vanguard working class party. The identification of Leninism with Stalinism had resulted in the abandonment of the whole concept of the vanguard party by most left groups. The second failure was the failure to realise that the vanguard party could only exist only within a broader class vanguard. Except the UL, the dissident left groups did not go very far beyond the ideas of civil society, citizenship etc. developed by liberal - left oppositionists in various Central and East European bureaucratised workers’ states. As for the SED, once it had decided that the road to capitalism was the best road, the question for most of the time-servers and opportunists was, how to transform the party into a leftish social democratic party.

            In addition, and in fairness to the left, we should recognise that the degree of economic chaos had not been understood. Winfred Wolf, then a Trotskyist in the Federal Republic, and subsequently a United Socialist Party (VSP) member of Bundestag on the PDS ticket, was one of the first in the left to understand this. In a short article in International Viewpoint, Wolf argued that the East German economy was in as bad a shape as the Polish one, and worse than most other Comecon country economies. At the same time, Wolf’s analysis was a damning indictment of the whole strategy of “Socialism in One country”, or “Socialism in One Bloc”. Trade with the capitalist world could not be halted. And this inevitably imported the capitalist crisis into the bureaucratised workers’ states. In addition, the last five years of the GDR’s existence had seen an “accelerated plundering of nature and of decisive funds for means of production in heavy industry.”[44] With this level of crisis, it was difficult to talk about socialism in the short run.

            But if this indicates a mitigating factor, the failure of the dissident left, and even some of those who had been calling for a revolution, to recognise the actual aims of the SED, was an alarming failure that contributed to their inability to put forward an alternative leftism. Trotskyists like Angela Klein seemed to believe that accounts had been settled with the Stalinist past. Writing as late as March 1990, Klein was saying that the December Congress saw a settling of accounts with Stalinism.[45] Yet, in the same article, she was noting that the party had tried to retain the fortune it had accumulated during the period when it held monolithic power. Only the pressure of the masses had compelled Modrow to take action against the Stasi.

            Klein in her article correctly pointed out that opposition groups had failed to find any viable alternative. But while Klein emphasized the fact that the left had previously failed to build up a proletarian alternative, her article indicated a surprising degree of detachment.

            The West German far left, together with its international contacts, indeed, was far from taking up a useful position quickly. And Klein’s stand was among the better. For Maoists, there were two options. The biggest Maoist group, the MLPD, welcomed uncritically the demise of the GDR as a so-called state capitalist country. Most other Maoist groups, by contrast, took up a position on the other extreme, condemning as a nationalist and semi-fascist, all those elements in the mass movement who called for reunification. Not surprisingly, Maoism had little appeal in the East at this stage.

            The Trotskyists reacted differently. For them, who had been calling for a political revolution against the bureaucracies for so long, the events of 1989 amounted to the fulfilment of long-held expectations. Yet, they did not all behave in a mature way. The Spartacists, a sectarian current, were chiefly interested in getting hold of as many people as possible who would agree with the specific arguments of their sect. They brought in several hundred of their co-thinkers from various countries, with the aim of looting the left currents growing up in the GDR, rather than building a broad proletarian left current and a class struggle orientation to the entire movement.[46]

            The main Trotskyist formation, the Fourth International (often called the USFI - i.e., united secretariat) had been better placed to respond. With sections in over 40 countries, and with a reasonably good-sized German section, they could have intervened effectively. However, the German section had taken a turn a few years earlier. This organisation, the GIM, had merged with a group of Maoist origin to form the United Socialist Party. This had its pros and its cons. The VSP was more realistic than most groups. Most smaller Trotskyist groups called for ‘socialist reunification’, a utopian slogan, because the GDR events did not have the power to move FRG workers in the direction of a socialist revolution at once. So the VSP supported the antibureaucratic movement while intensifying its propaganda against reunification. But the VSP also suffered from the fear of nationalism. For them, any intervention from the West was a kind of colonialism. Only a minority, the Avanti group, who later, under the leadership of Hans Jurgen Schulz formed the RSB, got in touch with some East Germans and sold the German Inprekorr and the Avanti in demonstrations.

            On the other hand, the Avanti group tended to see the fall of the wall, the reunification and the destruction of the GDR state simply or mainly as a positive step, while it was the majority that made a distinction between the political revolution and capitalist restoration. So the VSP Trotskyists were split between those willing to act, but with a faulty analysis, and those who had, on paper, a good analysis, but refused to act. Klein was a figure within the then majority. This may explain her stance, more of a commentator, less of an active participant.


Reunification and Absorption:

            When Modrow turned to the reunification option, he was opening the door to a rightwing victory, whether he knew it or not. All the ruling parties of the FRG had been opposed to the GDR. But the right (CDU-CSU) had taken this to the extreme. They had given special treatment to GDR migrants. This daily flight of thousands, then the organisation of the opposition and finally the mass movement, had toppled the regime. The SPD had gone along with all pin-pricks. But it had also come to accept a more or less long future for the GDR. The mood changes in the GDR caught it on the wrong foot. On 27 November, at the regular Monday demonstration in Leipzig, 200,000 people started chanting, “Germany, one fatherland”. Gradually, nationalist, xenophobic, and even anti-semitic slongans came up. NF speakers began to be heckled. The Republikaner party, an extreme right-wing, neo-Nazi party of West Germany were tolerated in the East from this stage.

            At the January Congress of the SED, the party membership had dropped to 800,000 from 2.3 million in October. At this congress, Modrow openly offered a plan to effect a stage-by-stage unification. Bonn could now afford to increase the heat. Kohl’s ten-point plan gave way to a far swifter plan of action: monetary union by July 1 1990, followed by political union.

            The CDU-CSU and the FDP also intervened quickly in GDR politics to cobble together the Alliance for Germany.

            In this situation, the SPD faced a difficult task. An SPD-East had been formed in October 1989, and this organisation quickly got in touch with the SPD. But within the SPD, there were divergent voices. A sizeable chunk opposed direct state unification, or at least rapid unification in the way proposed by Kohl. Former Chancellor Willy Brandt did call quickly for reunification.[47] But Gunter Grass, long time friend of Brandt, differed. In a series of interventions, Grass called for cultural unification and a slow growing together to ensure better unity. In a short essay, he proposed five points in opposition to Kohl’s ten points.[48]  These included: confederation to end foreigner status for inhabitants of the two Germanies, a slow growth together to ensure that no violence was done to postwar evolutions, a better process of integration of Europe, a new self-definition, and setting a model for parallel cases like Korea, Ireland, Cyprus, etc.

            On 18th December 1989, speaking at the SPD’s Congress, Grass opposed what he called “patronizing short term loans or a shrewd buy-out of the bankrupt GDR’s assets.”[49]  In an interview with Der Spiegel, he put forward the claim that people in the West also had things to learn from the East - e.g., non-violent, revolutionary idealism. He also harked back to earlier ideas of his, like a 1970 speech, in which he had warned that German unity had so often proved a threat to her neighbours, that Germans should not expect them to put up with it any more.

            As elections drew close, the debates in the SPD assumed greater public significance. Moreover, given the SPD’s earlier privileged relationship with the SED, the SPD-East suffered, while the Alliance for Germany, despite containing former bloc parties who had also taken parts of the nomenklatura loot in earlier times, did better. Elections to GDR’s first and only freely elected Volkskammer gave Lothar de Maiziere the premier’s post. The CDU-East, the Democratic Awakening and the German Social Union got 48% votes, and the LDP another 5%. The SPD-East got 22%, and the PDS (SED-PDS had by now become just PDS) 16%. The new left collapsed with just 5% votes.


The Election to the Volkskammer 18 March 1990[50]


Party/ Alliance

% of votes received

Alliance for Germany




League of Free Democrats




Alliance 90





            It is wrong to argue that opposition to national unity was the only factor that caused this defeat of the left. First, the left was split. The PDS could not be trusted, and it had yet to make a full and honest self-criticism. The SPD and the NF, or the UL-feminist bloc, could not agree either. In other words, the left vote was fractured, while the right was consolidated. A second factor was the fact that the CDP-East had 400 paid activists. The SPD-East, by contrast, was being built-up.

            At the same time, the force of the nationalist euphoria cannot be ignored. There can be no doubt that the Western media and Western finance played a role in whipping it up. But only obdurate Stalinists who can see only elites in action (the Stalinist party vs. the capitalist bosses) can dream up a picture of a capitalist conspiracy creating a nationalist euphoria without any internal basis.

            There was a latent feeling in favour of unity. As we have seen, even Stalin was prepared to concede it in exchange for foreign policy gains. From Adenaeur onwards, the German rightwing had been determined to have unification on its own terms. And now, they were certainly going all out to ensure that. This drive was further stopped up after Kohl suffered reverses in regional elections on May 13. On May 18, a transitional agreement was signed by the East and West German governments, concentrating power over the financial affairs of both parts of Germany in the hands of the West German federal bank. The Marxist concept, that in the final analysis the base (the economy) determines the superstructure (polity, legal system), was strikingly underscored. The handing over of finances was the base. The text of the agreement was received by the GDR government 18 hours before it was to be signed. The GDR delegation was flown over by a West German air force jet plane. The agreement also restricted the powers of trade unions. By §24 wage agreements  in public employment  were limited  to “the general  economic and financial  conditions  of the  GDR,” that is,  it ruled  out struggles to equalise wage levels in  West and East.  Indirectly, the extension of FRG laws to the East banned political strikes, like those which had been  part  of  the  forms of struggle that toppled  several east European ruling  bureaucracies.  Reunification thus came to look like absorption of the east by the Federal Republic.

            Not only did the far left oppose this, but the SPD left had qualms. Oscar Lafontaine, the SPD challenger to Kohl, came out in opposition to immediate unification.  The result was a sharply contrasting style of campaign. Kohl called for unification, promising a blossoming landscape in two years, and also promising that no taxes would be imposed to put the former GDR economy back on its feet. Lafontaine and his colleagues did not and could not oppose to this a vision of socialist renewal.  So all they could do was act like ‘sober’ politicians, questioning Kohl’s extravagant claims and insisting that reunification would carry a price.  But as they put forward no alternative worth the name, the elections of late 1990 saw a huge CDU-CSU and FDP victory. 

            When, in July, the Unification Treaty was being negotiated, the  SPD - East   left  the national coalition, claiming that  the terms of the treaty ignored  the  interests of the GDR.  Right-wingers in the SPD, like Brigitte Seebacher-Brandt  (Willy Brandt’s wife), and Peter Schnesdes, a former Maoist who had moved to the right, had been opposing all leftist criticisms of reunification.  But Lafontaine as party leader, made bankrolling rise in GDR’s standard of living a major issue.  December 1990 brought the public reaction.  The social cost of unification was certainly going to be high.  Even in 1990, Der Spiegel   published an article which estimated that it would be 130 - 160 billion DM per year for ten years, along with a vast wave of unemployment.[51]  But if this was the best argument against reunification, it was not enough.  And so the SPD received a heavy blow. Kohl ensured two more terms.


The Bundestag Elections of 2 December 1990 and 16 October 1994[52]



West (%)

East (%)

Germany overall (%)

















Greens (West)




Alliance 90/ Greens (East)
















Germany (%)

± (%)

West (%)

± (%)

East (%)

± (%)

























Alliance 90/Greens









































Beyond Unification:

            There developed a widespread belief, especially within the right, that the left in Germany was finished. Elizabeth Pond was arguing in 1993 that a consensus was emerging in Germany, with the Left conceding most elements.[53]  But a decade after unification, that has turned out to be wishful thinking.  Not only have various strands of leftists survived, but Marxists, and the class struggle, show no sign of disappearing for good. A full-scale discussion of the post - Wende left would require a separate essay.  Here, only a few basic points will be sketched in.

            The most important thing is the survival and the transformation of the SED-PDS.  The process set in motion by Modrow and his friends continued.  Formally, the PDS came into existence of 8 December 1989.  Till December 1991, the main preoccupation of the PDS was to find a way out of the shadow of the SED.  Eventually, Party Congresses in 1991 and 1992 chalked out a preliminary route.  The PDS was to defend the interests of East Germans as an  opposition party, and from that vantage  point, it was to establish  itself as the party of the  left opposition all  over Germany.

            Electorally, the PDS began to make headway.  In 1993, municipal elections in the Brandenburg region saw PDS votes going up. In the East, by 1994, the PDS was becoming a significant force. East Germans began to discover that reunification had short-changed them.  Standards of living or wages had not risen to West German levels.  Meanwhile, the PDS was changing  its character.  Led by people like Wolfgang Berghofer, party leaders and the bulk of the nomenklatura departed it.  As a result, the PDS  positive in the GDR,  while disclaiming responsibility  for the  crimes of the nomenklatura.  By the middle of 1990, the PDS had lost 2 million of the 2.3 million members the SED  had in mid 1989.  But even in 1995, 90% of  the members of the PDS were SED  members.  10% of its members were then above 50 years, 10% less than 30%,  45% were employees, 40% were  women.  The majority (60%) were out of work[54].

            This was quite clearly not a simple continuity of all the old bosses. But ideologically, the PDS contained within itself the heritage of having been a state parity. Three options were (theoretically) open to the PDS, if it did not want to go into sure liquidation. Trying to remain hard-line Stalinist would have had that effect. The realistic options were, first, to become a regionalist populist party of some sort. With barely 2000 members in the west as late ash early 1995, this was a very likely option. In the elections of 1994, the SPD government of Sachsen-Anhalt could be formed only with PDS support. In the 1994 elections to the Bundestag, Kohl used (but with diminishing returns), the scenario of a communist supported SPD government to win yet another term. Despite the term like ‘red painted fascists’, the votes of the CDU and the FDP declined, as Tables 2 and 3 show. The PDS pushed up its electoral score considerably. It was increasingly seen in the East as a legitimate political force pushing for otherwise unrepresented eastern concerns.

            But the PDS had a second option. This was to effect a kind of social democratisation, but well to the left of the SPD. Previously, the Greens had presented a left alternative. But the increasing domination of the ‘realos’ within the Green party had left that space vacant in German politics. (Indian readers will best understand the scenario by thinking of the option increasingly opening up before the CPI-ML, Liberation, and its policy of becoming a left of CPIM parliamentary party with some extra-parliamentary activities). To reach out to West Germans, some such strategy was required. In 1994, Andre Brie, director of the PDS electoral bureau, explained that as a socialist party the PDS could not remain in the long term a regional party.[55] This was made easier by the collapse of the left in the West. To this we shall return further below. But before that, the structural changes in the PDS are worth noting. Among ex-Stalinist parties, it is one of the more democratic. Its statutes recognise the right to form movements outside the party. These movements, once recognised, have the right to claim representation in the party congress and the right to special budgetary allocation. In early 1995, the party had 130,000 members, of whom only 150 were permanent officials, while the several thousand base units, work groups, interest groups, relied on several tens of thousands of activists. Along with this, the PDS makes a point of maintaining revolutionary continuity, at least in name, by such activities as the annual parade to commemorate the assassination of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht on 15 January.

            However, the anti-Stalinist tendency that had developed in 1990 - 1992 has declined. It was able to push the PDS into accepting a democratic statute, and to resolve not to protect former Stasi collaborators. But it could not turn the PDS into a party of the genuine radical left. There exists a ‘Marxist faction’, but it is actually a Stalinist current with outlandish views, e.g., the “Socialist camp” was going along fine till the 20th Congress of the CPSU.

            The third option before the PDS has already been mentioned in the previous passage. This was the hope of party “renewers” that the PDS might become a revolutionary party. This was thwarted in 1992, when the anti-Stalinist current collapsed. This has however been taken up in West Germany. The events of 1989-90 left the West German left in disarray. The DKP declined sharply. The majority of its members left the party. The far left did little better. The VSP, which was the most ambitious project of building an anti-Stalinist party through regroupments within the left, tacked and veered in the direction of the PDS. Winfried Wolf contested elections on the PDS list and was elected to the Bundestag in 1994. The VSP tended to argue that a policy of co-operation and critique, and a policy of building a socialist party on the basis of class independence, could attract a leftwing faction in the PDS. By 1996, the VSP, itself by then renamed Association for Socialist Politics (the German acronym remains unchanged) had entered into the PDS. Angela Klein, by now a delegate from Krenzberg (West Berlin), noted that the openly stated aim of the PDS leadership (i.e., Gregor Gysi, Hans Modrow, and others) was to make the PDS into a respectable part of the political system.[56]

            The only serious attempt to build a revolutionary alternative was by a minority of Fourth Internationalist who left the VSP, launched the Avanti, and eventually formed the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSB). Its key leader was Hans-Jirgen Schulz (who died in 1998). By 1997-8, there were more Trotskyists in the RSB than in the VSP. But due to its privileged relationship with the PDS, the VSP had a higher public profile. Winfred Wolf, as Bundestag deputy, was to play a role in German-Haitian relations. Germany dictated to Haiti an intensification of its privatisation programme, threatening to cut off development aid otherwise. The German Ambassador, Gunter Dahlhoff, also made racist and sexist remarks about Haitians. Wolf’s activities resulted in the recall and removal of Dahlhoff. But Klaus Kinkel, then Foreign Minister, and former head of Germany’s intelligence service, threatened Wolf : “Something could happen in your life.” The major issue, i.e., the threat to cut off aid, was hidden under the fog over Dahlhoff’s remarks.[57] This shows the limits of left activism in the parliamentary framework in Germany.

            In the East, building a Trotskyist current is even more tough, thanks partly to the legacy of the Spartacists, as the absolutely hands off policy of the VSP in 1989-90 had meant that among anti-Stalinist activists, the Spartacists had been identified as the “real” Trotskyist force. As a result, leftists either became “realistic”, joining the Alliance 90/Green bloc, on the PDS; or they “privatised” themselves (as one German militant says) and dropped out of politics.

            As for the SPD, facing successive electoral defeats, it moved further right. The Schroeder election campaign of 1998 was clearly a move in the Blairite direction. The assumption was that the working class is a constituency that dares not vote any other party, so a shift to the right might pre-empt the CDU. This was the continuation of a policy of tinkering with piecemeal criticisms of the CDU/FAP government for several years. Under the leadership of Rudolf Scharping, the SPD had a rather unfocussed politics in the Mediation Committee of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat (the second chamber, where the land governments are represented). Scharping sought to use the SPD’s Bundesrat majority to tinker at the margins with legislation passed by the government majority. Two crucial issues showed how the SPD was fumbling.

            The reunification had not solved problems. Instead, the crisis of both economy and politics had intensified. By mid-1992, the German state debt crossed 2,000 billion DMs, implying interest payments of the order of DM 200 bn. A harsh austerity policy, including higher taxes, pressure to keep down wage rises, cuts on social spending, all were pursued. And in order to distract attention from this, the government launched a campaign against Scheinasylanten (fake asylum seekers) in order to whip up racism within the working class. Fascist terrorists pitched in quickly. Open assaults took place on immigrants, especially in the ex-GDR territories. These fascist attacks were used by the CDU to step up its own racist agenda of facing the SPD to agree to a change in the constitution to amend article 16. Eventually the SPD capitutated, agreeing to curtailing the time during which an asylum application is examined, and the setting up of Sammellayer (literally, concentration camps ?) for refugees. The college of the left led to racist ideas gaining ground within the working class. The climax came in August 25, 1992, when some 2500 fascists succeeded in forcing refugees to leave their hostel in Rostock in East Germany. The SPD reaction involved calling for a special police force, rather than for mobilisations against the right. It was the local DGB union, and the radical left the organised a 20,000 strong counter-demonstration, which was faced by 3000 policemen, unlike exactly 6 policemen who confronted the Nazis four days earlier. Meanwhile the SPD now agreed to constitution amendments to restrict asylum rights.[58]

            The other issue was the confrontation between labour and capital and the ultimate victory of capital. A strike wave shooh Germany in 1992. The strikes were, however, restricted within the boundaries of the pre-unification FRG, and the union leaders did not plan to extend them to the East. The demand for wage parity between East and West was missing. The SPD’s role in this period showed how the ex-left was shifting. The so-called ‘Tuscan faction’, including Lafontaine, Gerhard Schroder, etc., accepted the need for a common (to CDU and SPD) policy over budget deficit handling; accepted privatisation for the railways, and agreed to changes in the constitution that would allow the sounding of German soldiers throughout the world.[59]

            So it was an SPD that had moved for to the right, which approached the 1998 polls. That Schroeder then leaned a little to the left, with actions like the granting of voting rights to Turks in Germany, was the result of tactical calculations. It was also a move to show that rather than the FDP, the SPD-Green bloc would take support from the PDS. In the Lander of Mecklenberg - Vorpommern, this alliance actually came through. For any genuine radical left, therefore, only a long perspective is useful. The growing “normalisation” of the PDS makes if increasingly unacceptable to believe that it, or major parts of it, will become revolutionary. Policies of regroupment of centre and left so long as they criticise imperialism and Stalinism in the abstract are useful for launching left journals, but not for political parties.

[1] This paper was first presented at an International Seminar on ‘The German Reunification and its Consequences’, organised by the Goethe-Institute, in Max Mueller Bhavan, Calcutta, on 19 - 20 November, 1998. I wish to thank the organisers of that Seminar for inviting me to present a paper. I would also like to thank Sri Subho Ranjan Dasgupta and Sri Nilanjan Dutta, both Indian journalists who shared their experiences with me. Finally I would like to thank Sascha Mobius and Nick, German Trotskyists who sent valuable information.

[2] The summary presented in the rest of this section is not meant as a comprehensive survey. Only some points important for the present study are outlined.

[3] For this, see K. Chattopadhyay ‘Between Revolution and Reaction.’ Marx and the Origin of the Idea of Permanent Revolution’, Jadavpur University Journal of History, Vol.X, 1989-90. For a detailed refutation of the claim by Boris Nicolaievsky and by Richard N. Hunt to the effect that these two seminal texts of Marxism were compromise texts that did not reflected the “real” (read Social Democratic) views of Marx and Engels, see S. Marik, ‘The Theory of Workers’ Democracy and the Bolshevik Practice: 1847-1921’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Jadavpur University, Chapter 3. The strategy of permanent revolution proved its importance for Germany by a negation. The failure of permanent revolution in 1918-23 meant the survival of the junkers, the instability even of bourgeois democracy, and the rise of a reactionary modernism in society and culture, all of which contributed to the eventual Nazi victory.


[4] At the seminar where this paper was presented, a heated dispute took place between a participant and myself over the role of the Comintern and the KPD, as I had argued that not just sectarianism, but a wish to see a rightwing government (for Stalin’s diplomatic and political aims) dictated KPD policy. Assuming similar objections may be raised by some other readers, I refer them to my articles on the subject: “Samijik Fascibad”, Itihas Anusandhan - 12, Calcutta, 1997; and ‘The Communist Party of Germany, The Theory of Social Fascism, and Hitler’s Rise to Power,’ History, Burdwan University History Departmental Journal, 1997.

[5] This would congeal eventually into Pabloism, and resurface in such later developments, including among supposedly anti-Pabloist Trotskyists, as support to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (US SWP), support to the Stalnist faction around Ligachev, or the plotters of the August coup, against the openly restorationist wing of the bureaucracy in 1991 (rather than focussing on independent working-class action)

[6] Zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, bd. 2, Berlin, DDR, p.205.

[7] K.W. Fricke, Politik und Justiz in der DDR zur Geschichte der politischen verfolgung - 1945-1960, Cologne, 1979, p.41.

[8] Ibid., pp.73 – 9.

[9] Dreissig Jahre Spater, 4th Edition, Berlin DDR, 1952, p.20.

[10] For electoral details, see H. Weber, Kleine Geschichte der DDR, Cologne, 1980; S. Doernberg, Kurze Geschichte der DDR, 4th Edition, Berlin DDR 1969.

[11] A. Kadar, Einheit oder Freiheit. Hanover 1964, p.256.

[12] Using newly declassified information from the GDR archives, it has been suggested that almost half a million workers were on strike in 373 cities and towns. 33 demonstrators were shot dead in East Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Halle and Magdeburg. On this, see T. Diedrich,Der 17, June 1953 in der DDR: Bewaffnete Gewatt gegen das Volk,Berlin; 1991.

[13] See on this A. Baring, ‘Volksarmee schaffen - ohne Geschrei’, Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung, September 25, 1991, p.35 for a late contribution to this issue.

[14] For Lassalle’s career, see D. Footman, Ferdinand Lassalle:Romantic Revolutionary, Yale, 1947.For a brief comparison of the positions of Lassalle and Marx, see S. Marik, op. cit., Chapter 2.

[15] D. Guerin, Fascism and Big Business, N.Y. 1974; R. Black, Fascism in Germany,London 1975, both show the intimate connections. H.A. Turner (Jr),German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler, N.Y., 1985 argues that the role of big business was limited, and that they turned very late to the Nazis. It is true that big business took the Nazi option as a last resort. But this is the key issue ¾ without big business support, there would have been no Nazi assumption of power. And the Nazis kept their side of the bargain, contrary to all the theories of Nazi totalitarianism, which claim that the Nazi state was non-capitalist.

[16] M. Kellner, ‘Growing struggle in West German CP’, International Viewpoint, July 31, 1989, No.168, p.14. Kellner adds that according to the security services, the membership was 38,000.

[17] The first major study in India of the unfolding anti-bureaucratic revolutions in East Europe was S. Marik, ‘The Withering Away of Stalinism’, Society and Change,Vol. VI, No.s 3 & 4, October 1989 – March 1990, pp.231-262.

[18] Quoted in W. Biermann, ‘Shaking Hands with the Zeitgeist,’ Granta, No. 42, Winter 1992, p.154.

[19] For the statement, Strest der Ideologien und die gemeinsame Sicherheit, see Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 28, 1987. For the rebuff, see, E. Pond, Beyond the Wall, New York, 1993, pp.82-3 and foot note 27.

[20] R. Luxemburg, ‘Zur russischen Revolution’, in Gesammelte Werke, Bd.4, August 1914 bis Januar 1919,  p.359, f.n.3, Berlin, 1974 (1990 reprint).

[21] E. Pond, op. cit., p.85.

[22] For an assessment of working class struggles in the USSR in the Perestroika years, see D. Mandel, ‘Revolutionary reform in Soviet Factories’, Socialist Register 1989, London, 1989.

[23] Neues Forum Leipzig, Jetzt oder nie-Demokratie: Leipziger Herbst ‘89, Leipzig, 1989, pp. 69, 92-3.

[24] Ibid., p.86.

[25] E. Pond, op.cit., pp. 102-108. See also Gunter Schabowski, Das Politburo : Ende eines Mythos, Reinbek, 1990.

[26] Schabowski, pp.104-6.

[27] E. Pond, op.cit., p.134.

[28] Ibid., p.131.

[29] Claude Gabriel, ‘West European Ostpolitik in turmoil’, International Viewpoint, No.175, December 11, 1989, p.15.

[30] E. Pond, op.cit., p.135.

[31] Der Spiegel, December 18, 1989.

[32] E. Pond, op.cit., p.136.

[33] Ibid.

[34] V. Gransow and K.H. Jarausch eds., Die deutsche Vereinigung : Dokumente zu Buregerbewegung, Annaherung und Beitritt, Cologne, 1991, pp.101-4.

[35] M. Kellner, ‘Kohl’s plan for “re-unification”, International Viewpoint, No.176, December 25, 1984, p.14; J. Mellis, ‘Writers in Transition’, in D. Lewis and J. R.P. McKenzie eds, The New Germany, Exeter, 1995, p.227.

[36]International Viewpoint, No. 174, November 27, 1989, p.11.

[37] Ibid., pp. 11-12.

[38] Ibid., No.175, December 11, 1989, p.10.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid., pp.8-9.

[41] Ibid., No. 174, pp.7-8.

[42] See, for the details, G. Blutke, Obskure Geschafte mit Kunst und Antiquitaten : Ein Kriminalreport, Berlin, 1991.

[43] A. Klein, ‘Conference of the United Left’, International Viewpoint, No. 176, p.13.

[44] W. Wolf, ‘Full Extent of economic crisis begins to emerge’, International Viewpoint, No.176, p.12.

[45] A. Klein, ‘East Germany: The new Anschluss’ International Viewpoint, No.181, March 26, 1990, p.12.

[46] I owe much of the material on the Maoists and on the non-USFI Trotskyists (including the sectarians) to personal communications from Nick Braun and Sascha Mobius, German Trotkyists themselves. Mobius specifically says that the UL was looted by Trotskyist sects.

[47] See, W. Brandt, “... was zusammengehort”, Reden zu Deutschland, Bonn, 1990.

[48] See G. Grass, Two States - One Nation?, San Diego, 1990.

[49] Ibid.

[50] D. Lewis and J.R.P. McKenzie (eds), The New Germany, p.105.

[51] Der Spiegel, No. 42, 1990, p.244.

[52] D.Lewis and J.R.P.McKenzie, op.cit, pp. 105, 108.

[53] E. Pond, op.cit., pp.245-6.

[54] A. Klein, ‘Germany’s P.D.S, A new Socialist Party for East and West?’, International Viewpoint, March 1995, No.264, p.31.

[55] Quoted in ibid.

[56] International Viewpoint, No.225, March 1996, p.4.

[57] See ‘Haiti: German ambassador dismissed’, ibid., p.3.

[58] See D. Muller, ‘Government funds growth of far right’, International Viewpoint, No.228, May 11, 1992, pp.26-7; and D. Muller, ‘Racist attacks shake Germany’, International Viewpoint, No.234, September 14, 1992, p.28.

[59] W. Wolf, ‘Striking at the heart of the German miracle’, International Viewpoint, No.229, May 25, 1992, pp.4-78.