Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Is Africa rising? A critical perspective (1)



Monday 29 December 2014, by Firoze Manji

The popular idea of “Africa Rising” is based on claims of GDP growth rates of 5-6 per cent. But much of this is due to soaring primary commodity prices, especially in the extractive industries. Oil, for example, rose from $20 a barrel in 1999 to $145 in 2008. Although the price has fallen since, it remains way above the levels prevailing in the 1990s.

There have been significant increases in prices of other minerals and grain. Africa is one of the richest continents: it has 10 per cent of the world’s reserves of oil, 40 per cent of gold, and 80-90 per cent of chromium and platinum.

Natural resource extraction and associated state expenditure account for more than 30 per cent of Africa’s GDP growth since 2000. The primary contributors to the growth in GDP have been a small number of the oil and gas exporters (Algeria, Angola, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Libya, and Nigeria), which have the highest GDP on the continent but are also the least diversified economies.

International capital sees the possibilities of major profits to be gained from oil, natural gas, minerals, land grabbing and the like. Transnational corporations court African governments to implement policies that include the massive privatisation of state-owned enterprises, low or no taxation of corporate profits and opening markets to a flood of manufactured commodities.

All of these measures have had a devastating impact on the ability of local manufacturing to survive. It is hardly surprising that, according to a McKinsey report, the “annual flow of foreign direct investment into Africa increased from $9 billion in 2000 to $62 billion in 2008 – relative to GDP, almost as large as the flow into China”. Most of this investment has been into the extractive industries.

So how has Africa benefitted from this? According to Carlos Lopes, the executive secretary of UNECA, “Average net profits for the top 40 mining companies grew by 156 per cent in 2010 whereas the take for governments grew by only 60 per cent, most of which was accounted for by Australia and Canada.”

He points out that the profit made by the same set of mining companies in 2010 was $110 billion, which was equivalent to the merchandise exports of all African LDCs in the same year. To make matters worse, as I have pointed out elsewhere, mining of non-renewable resources is equivalent to amputation: far from contributing to anything that could be called “development”, it constitutes the depletion of the riches of the continent with little or no gain for its people, except for a tiny minority that enriches itself at the expense of the majority.

The GDP growth rates that proponents of the idea of “Africa Rising” rely on disguises the fact that across the continent there has been a decline in the manufacturing sectors, caused primarily by the neoliberal policies that opened up the economies to manufactured goods from the industrialised countries.

As pointed out by Rick Rowden in his analysis of the 2011 UNCTAD report, the share of manufacturing value added (MVA) in Africa’s GDP “fell from 12.8 per cent in 2000 to 10.5 per cent in 2008”, while in developing Asia it rose from 22 per cent to 35 per cent over the same period: “There has also been a decline in the importance of manufacturing in Africa’s exports, with the share of manufactures in Africa’s total exports having fallen from 43 per cent in 2000 to 39 per cent in 2008. In terms of manufacturing growth, while most have stagnated, 23 African countries had negative MVA per capita growth during the period 1990 - 2010, and only five countries achieved an MVA per capita growth above 4 per cent”. The trend of the declining contribution of manufacturing is confirmed once again by the 2014 UNCTAD report on LDCs.

So while their “Africa Rising” means salivating over rising GDP and the profits to be made by transnational corporations, the reality is that in Africa we have rising unemployment, rising amputation of natural and non-renewable resources, rising dispossessions of land, rising profits of the transnational corporations, rising landlessness, rising inequality, rising food prices, and rising pauperisation of the majority.

As a recent report highlights, the rest of the world is draining Africa of resources. “While $134 billion flows into the continent each year, predominantly in the form of loans, foreign investment and aid; $192 billion is taken out, mainly in profits made by foreign companies, tax dodging and the costs of adapting to climate change. The result is that Africa suffers a net loss of $58 billion a year.”

Rising discontent

But another aspect of the idea of “Africa Rising” that gives us hope in the future and potential for self-determination of the people of the continent needs to be given greater attention: that is, risings of people across the continent, which I have highlighted elsewhere.

In addition to the outbreak of revolutionary situations in Tunisia and Egypt that resulted in the ousting of Ben Ali and Mubarak (respectively), there have been popular uprisings in Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Somalia, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Uganda, Western Sahara, Zimbabwe.

More recently, we have witnessed uprisings in a number of other countries including Nigeria and Chad. Most recently, uprisings in Burkina Faso have led to the deposing of Blaise Campaore, the murderer of the Burkinabé revolutionary, Thomas Sankara.

Each of these uprisings has been fuelled by decades of dispossessions and pauperisation that accompanied the latest phase of capitalism, popularly referred to as “neoliberalism”. They were fuelled also by reversals of the gains of independence that established universal education, access to health care, social welfare, water, power and a wide range of social infrastructure.

But in the period before neoliberalism, the South chalked up significant achievements that are frequently forgotten by media, academia and the “development” industry alike. According to a UN/WIDER report produced by Surendra Patel, over the 40 years from 1950-1990, countries of the South, whose population is ten times larger than that of the developed world, sustained an average annual growth rate of over 5 per cent.

The period saw significant levels of industrialisation and an increasing share of manufacturing in exports; an increase in the rates of savings and investment; and an unprecedented expansion of social development, including health and education, dramatic improvements in life-expectancy (from 35 to over 60 years), literacy and an unprecedented expansion of education.

However, all across the continent Africa has experienced not merely material dispossessions, but also a rising political dispossession. Our governments have become more accountable to the transnational corporations, international financial institutions, banks and the imperialist states than they are to the citizens who elected them (or at least the citizens over whom they exercise political control).

The uprisings we have witnessed have begun to challenge the authority of these governments to some extent, but have as yet to bring about transformations in existing power relations.

Transforming the existing power relations will require us to go beyond the fetishisation of the ballot box. Citizens are allowed to vote (if they are lucky) every four to five years, but capital votes every day, every hour, every second on the stock exchanges. Capital’s “vote” has a direct impact on people’s lives, even on the price of food. African countries need to regain control over their destinies and dignity. The question is: how can we democratise our societies?

What kind of processes do we need to allow us to democratise every aspect of our lives? Who determines what is produced, how it is produced, how much, by whom, and for whom? Who decides how the surplus is used, and how do they make those decisions? These questions also apply to other sectors: health, education, social welfare, telecommunications, agriculture, the use of natural resources, and so on.

Africa is rising. But not in the way the popular media would have it.

Amandla No 37/38 December 2014

Reproduced from International Viewpoint

NUMSA Responds to Slanders

South Africa: NUMSA rejects dirty tricks campaign, bogus document

[For more on NUMSA, click HERE. For more on South Africa, click HERE.]

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) responds to the "Exposed: Secret Regime Change Plot to Distabilize South Africa" document

December 3, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Over the last 10-days, a document that alleges that NUMSA leaders are involved in an underground plot to destabilise South Africa has been doing its rounds. The document which is entitled "Exposed: Secret Regime Change Plot to Distabilize [sic] South Africa" names two elected national officer bearers of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), Irvin Jim and Karl Cloete as the kingpins of the plot (see here in PDF).

In their plan to effect "regime change" in the country the two office bearers are joined by two union officials Dinga Sikwebu and Azwell Banda. Assisting what the document characterises as "rogue elements within the NUMSA leadership" are four professors: Chris Malikane, Noor Nieftagodien, Patrick Bond, Peter Jordi; former South Africa's Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils; political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki; and Brian Ashley, who is the director of the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC).

What does the document claim?

Claiming to be authored by "concerned members within NUMSA" the "secret regime change plot" document outlines what it describes as a plan of the "plotters" to destabilise South Africa. Among the strategies of the plotters are the following:

  • instigation of widespread violence, land grabs and instability;
  • establishment of "their own" intelligence structures in collaboration with foreign governments and international companies;
  • destabilisation of the mining sector;
  • the formation of a political party, the United Front (UF);
  • the recruitment of other political parties to support the regime change agenda.

To achieve their objectives, it is alleged that the "plotters" use socialism and socialist rhetoric as a "quick fix" solution to the country's challenges. Up the sleeve of the "plotters" is an insidious plan to exploit institutions of higher learning to confuse communities and to indoctrinate the ‘fallible' through use of "socialist philosophy".

In all their strategies, "the rogue elements within NUMSA's leadership" and their South African collaborators; have a team of 12 foreigners from Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Egypt, Germany, Greece, India Uruguay, Philippines, Venezuela that endorse the regime change efforts in our country. These "foreign-players", it is claimed attended NUMSA's symposium of left parties and movements held on 07-10 August 2014 in South Africa.

Objectives of the so-called exposé

We have no doubt that the circulation of this document and its nefarious accusations is part of a well-orchestrated plan to destroy NUMSA and deter from its chosen path. We also have no doubt that prompting all these dastardly and desperate acts are our December 2013 Special National Congress (SNC) resolution:

  • To call on COSATU to break from its alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP).


  • To lead in the formation of a United Front that brings workers and communities together.
  • To explore the establishment of a socialist political organisation or Movement for Socialism.
Now that our resolutions are finding traction, there is panic all over. Even the president of the ANC Jacob Zuma had to admit at the aborted ANC Youth League conference that not only the youth is in crisis but the parent body was in dire straits.


The plan to deal with NUMSA has many prongs. Amongst these are:

  • To expel NUMSA from COSATU.


  • To delay the registration of the amendments that the Special National Congress effected to our union's constitution.
  • To openly support for a rival union in the sectors that NUMSA organises in.
The "dirty tricks" document is part of this well-orchestrated plan. This intervention aims to criminalise and demonise NUMSA. The strategy is to cast aspersion on what our agenda is and separate the union's leadership from its base.

Let us upfront say what we are unapologetic about.

First, NUMSA is a socialist union and believes the crisis facing our people can only be finally resolved under socialism. There is nothing criminal or subversive about this. Socialism is one of NUMSA's founding principles. By the way COSATU has socialism as its founding principle. We propagate it and we discuss it with our members.

Second, our Special National Congress mandated us to call for the union federation's break from the ANC-SACP-COSATU Alliance. We are continuing with that mandate.

Third, the Special National Congress resolved wtoe build a United Front and to explore the establishment of a Movement for Socialism. We are busy with that.

Like many in the country, we think that the ANC has taken the nearest off-ramp from its mandated position. We are not apologetic about that.

Before anyone else made the call, our Special National Congress said that President Jacob Zuma must step down. Many people are being convinced of this position.

Rebutting the ludicrous accusations

The first thing that we need to point out is that no NUMSA member could have written the document. In NUMSA we do not have a Secretary-General (SG) or Deputy Secretary-General (DSG). These are titles and a vocabulary of the African National Congress (ANC). In NUMSA, we have a General Secretary (GS) and Deputy General-Secretary (DGS).

Our preliminary investigation shows that the document was lodged in John Myburg's dropbox which contains only one document; the ludicrous exposé. The document's properties indicate that it was written by John Carelse who claims to be an official of NUMSA. Our membership system reflects no member by the name of John Myburg nor do we have a staff member called John Carelse.

Second, those who penned the so-called exposé could not have been at the NUMSA symposium. Orange Lopez from the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), the general secretary of Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina (CTA) Pablo Micheli and international relations secretariat of Bolivia's Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) Leonilda Zurita were not at the symposium.

Although the three had been invited and had accepted our invitation, due to unforeseen circumstances they pulled out. Their absence was explained at the symposium. Clearly, those who wrote "the regime change" document sat with an old draft programme. The fact that there were changes to the programme did not matter to the writers of the irresponsible document.

Third, what is interesting is the similarity in the jargon in the so-called exposé and in the statement that came out of the South African Communist Party's (SACP) augmented Central Committee held on 28-30 November 2014.

The clarion call of the SACP and the first line in its statement is: expose the regime-change agenda! According to the communist party in the aftermath of the African National Congress (ANC) victory in the May 2014 elections, there has been an intensification of an "anti-majoritarian regime-change agenda emanating from disparate quarters". Like the "secret regime change plot" document, the SACP accuses those who are behind plans to overthrow the government -"neoliberals and pseudo-left populists alike" - of exploiting the persistence of the crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality to further their aims.

Similar to the so- called exposé, the SACP warns metalworkers against what is their union's resolution to explore the formation of an alternative political party. The communist party pleads with union members "not follow a leadership clique within NUMSA that is diverting union resources into its personal agenda of launching a political party".

Fourth, the document has all the hallmarks of documents that recently emanated from apparatuses and individuals linked to the State Security Agency (SSA). A feature of these documents is to accuse all and sundry of being involved in attempts to overthrow the South African government.

Those accused are alleged to be working with foreign agencies or on the payroll of foreign donors. The recent example of this rogue activity is the intelligence report that surfaced last year and accused the general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Zwelinzima Vavi of being part of an advisory committee that Mamphela Ramphele led to set up a political party.

The US agencies National Endowment for Democracy (NED), World Movement for Democracy (WMD) and wealthy Belgian business people were purported as funders of the project. The bogus intelligence report also reported on the Associated Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa reporting on talks he was having with Irvin Jim to destabilise the mining sector.

A pattern is emerging

The emergence of the "secret regime change plot" document is not an isolated event. Since the Special National Congress of NUMSA in December 2013, what we suspect as Sate Security Agency (SSA) agents have been trying to recruit our shopstewards and activists in Ekurhuleni and Eastern Cape to spy on the union's activities on the proposed United Front. We have evidence of this and affidavits from these shopstewards.

We also experienced what looked like intelligence work when we convened the international symposium of left parties and movements in August 2014. Our national spokesperson received a phone call from the French Embassy asking for names of French citizens that were to attend the symposium. The embassy explicitly said that they had been reliably informed that the symposium was subversive. Three international delegates to the symposium were for various reasons turned back as they made their way to South Africa. The delegate from the French's Left Front Christophe Aguiton was held overnight in holding cell when he arrived at O.R. Tambo International and put back on the next Air France flight back to Paris.

In recent weeks, cars of our officials have been followed, broken into and laptops stolen. On Friday 28 November 2014, suspicious-looking convoy followed the car of NUMSA's General Secretary; jumping red traffic lights as he tried to shake the tail behind him.

But as we all know, this has not been directed only at NUMSA. It happens to activists in social movements involved in ‘service delivery protests'. It happens to investigative journalists digging up all the rot on corruption. It happens to all those who are critical of the status quo. There is a pattern where intelligence forces are used to deal with legitimate and lawful struggles and campaigns. It is a sign of creeping authoritarianism.

What are going to do?

The first thing that we want to assert is that what we are involved in is lawful political activity which is consistent with the rights of citizens to engage in lawful political activity and to freely associate with political parties/movements of their choice. Our decisions to lead in the formation of a United Front and to explore the establishment of a Movement for Socialism are above board and lawful. We will not be deterred from pursuing what our members mandated us to do. We will also pursue these noble goals with whoever we feel as NUMSA are likeminded people, here and abroad.

Second, it is our belief that the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa requires that intelligence and counter-intelligence activities of the country's agencies are in compliance with the Constitution and legislative frameworks of South Africa. It is for this reason that one of the first pieces of legislation in the new democratic dispensation was the Intelligence Services Oversight Act of 1994; that created the office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence to play a civilian oversight role over our intelligence services.

As NUMSA and all of those accused of being involved in the "regime change plot", we intend to file a formal grievance and complaint with the Inspector- General of Intelligence, Advocate Faith Doreen Radebe. We will ask her:

  • To investigate the source of the document that is maligning us and our union.


  • To ascertain whether there is any surveillance of NUMSA office bearers, leading officials and a range of "friends of NUMSA".
  • To establish whether there is any interception of voice or electronic messages from NUMSA office bearers, leading officials and a range of "friends of NUMSA".
In this regard, we will provide the Inspector- General of Intelligence with a dossier with affidavits detailing what we have outlined above as well as a list of people who she must establish whether they any form of surveillance or not. As a union we will also seek an urgent meeting with the Minister of State Security David Mahlobo to demand that no legal union and political work is criminalised.

Third, as a union we plan to mobilise human rights organisations, organisations campaigning for press freedom, human rights lawyers and other social movements to call on the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to investigate through public hearings any possible abuses or infringements of the rights to privacy, freedom and security by intelligence operatives and other securocrats.

The mandate of the Human Rights Commission is clearly outlined in the constitution. The Commission has the duty to promote and protect human rights. The Constitution enjoins the Commission to investigate, monitor and assess the observance of human rights. According to the Constitution, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has the power "to take steps to secure appropriate redress where human rights have been violated".

As indicated above the incidents directed at NUMSA currently are not isolated. It is not the first time that intelligence operatives are interfering in the exercise of hum rights in our Constitution. We need a public investigation on the abuses of power by securocrats. South African Human Rights Commission must do its work!

Fourth, as NUMSA we believe that in the final analysis our members and communities are our forest and the best form of defence for the organisation and rights of our people. We commit ourselves to inform our members and their communities about what is happening as well as explain to them what the real agenda behind the recent shenanigans.

While we are serious about approaching the Inspector- General of Intelligence, the Minister of State Security and the South African Human Rights Commission; we will not fold our arms while our rights are being violated and our activities. We will therefore have a discussion at NUMSA's Central Committee that meets on 08 to 12 December 2014 about the forms of campaigns that we need to take in defence of our organisation. Such discussion will include marching to the Department of State Security or the Department of Labour that is delaying the registration of the amendments of NUMSA's constitution.


It is our firm belief that after many states seized on the events of 09/11 to call for greater ‘national security' and to blur lawful and unlawful activities of their citizenry, peddling documents such as "Exposed: Secret Regime Change Plot to Distabilize [sic] South Africa" not only puts in danger the lives of many activists fighting for social justice in South Africa, but threatens our international allies in their work in their own countries and in their travels.

As NUMSA, we have informed those listed as being part of the manufactured plot about the sinister document and are working with them to determine an appropriate response. We have assured them that no one will choose who NUMSA's friends are. Those in the so-called exposé remain our allies and comrades and we will share whatever we do politically in the country to expose the real source of the document with them.

As a union, we are determined to continue on the path that we have chosen politically and organisationally. There will be no going back on our December 2013 Special National Congress. As the workers who established NUMSA's predecessors in 1973 and on whose footsteps we march, our slogan is loud and clear: Asijiki! Enough is enough! There is no turning back!


From Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

Sri Lanka : Formation of a Public Faction in the Sri Lankan Section of the Fourth International

Sri Lanka: Why we formed a public faction in the Sri Lankan section

29 June 2014

This text elaborates the communication to the Fourth International dated 12 May 2014 notifying the declaration of a public faction in the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) by a group of its leading members. It also develops on the report of the political degeneration and organisational collapse of the NSSP submitted for the information of the meeting of the International Committee, dated 3 March 2013, by a group of Political Bureau members.

These three documents speak to the dual crisis of the Sri Lankan section – the inter-related problems of the crisis in the NSSP, and the crisis of the NSSP. Clashing political conclusions have been drawn by comrade Bahu’s group and by the faction in response; but in truth neither has overcome the underlying problem: that is, the failure of the project that the NSSP represented and our collective incapacity to develop an alternative revolutionary socialist political programme and appropriate organisational form and culture relevant to our times.

The immediate trigger to the opposition to the General Secretary includes the question of the electoral alliances unilaterally negotiated by him with petit-bourgeois parties; the connexions between those parties and the traditional party of the capitalist class (United National Party); and the consequences for the identity and character of the Party.

In recent years comrade Bahu has promoted an electoral bloc between the NSSP and the Democratic Peoples’ Front of Mano Ganeshan, and the National Unity Alliance of Azath Salley. These parties are both led by Colombo-based businessmen who happen to originate in communities of Hill Country Tamils and Muslims respectively. This fact of their ethnic minority identity, and their opposition to the Mahinda Rajapakse regime, is thought to be sufficient for the NSSP to contest elections on the lists fielded in the names of these petty-bourgeois formations; despite the fact that their election platforms have no anti-capitalist content and have no orientation towards the mass of the working class, most of whom are of Sinhala nationality.

In a period of neoliberal reaction and the weakness of the workers movement, these petty-bourgeois forces cleave to the ideology of the capitalist Right and are satellites of the United National Party (UNP). Thus, Azath Salley having formed an alliance with the NSSP for the 2013 provincial council elections in which comrade Bahu campaigned for Salley’s candidates; contested himself on the list of the United National Party to secure his own election. Meanwhile Mano Ganeshan, on whose party list comrade Bahu was elected to the Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia Municipal Council in 2011, will himself form an alliance with the UNP in the forthcoming general election (in late 2014 or early 2015) to ensure his own election to parliament. Whereas comrade Bahu has attempted to use these electoral alliances to balance the so-called agitational alliance with the UNP, in reality the balance-sheet is one of failure, including manipulation of the NSSP by these parties, and loss of the NSSP’s political identity.

To the embarrassment of many, comrade Bahu’s infatuation with the leader of the United National Party leads him to use his public journalism as a platform to defend Ranil Wickremesinghe from his critics within and without the UNP and to rehabilitate and whitewash the UNP leader as an embodiment of secular liberal democratic values in a state that according to the general secretary is on the fast-track to fascism. Bahu even uses his regular column in a bourgeois daily owned by the kinsman of the UNP leader to respond in writing to the criticisms that we have repeatedly raised within the leading bodies of the NSSP http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/172-opinion/45902-false-assumptions-and-erroneous-theorisation-.html.

In a familiar manœuvre, a lesson from the past (“...for the sake of definite objectives, to come to an agreement with the devil and his grandmother”), is recalled, at the point at which the greatest violence is about to be done to revolutionary marxism. (Significantly the same extract similarly out-of-context has been cited by a former regime apparatchik to canvass support for a “united front” with Mahinda Rajapakse in the face of the “clerical fascism” of the extreme racist Sinhala nationalist Bodhu Bala Sena and its backers within the regime including sections of the military!)

All the quotes from Trotsky cannot mask the obscenity of conflating (neo-)liberal democracy with early 20th century European social democracy (i.e. reformism), nor the emotive invocation of “fascism” without any argument of (i) its application to a dependent capitalist state; (ii) the approximation of the current authoritarian populist Sinhala Buddhist regime to even a “fascist-type” or “fascist-style”, as Bahu variously describes it, one; and (iii) precisely how the “secularism”; “liberalism” and “democratic” credentials of the opposition leader are manifested, nor the assimilation of those values and principles by his political party and its supporters.

As for the “common action programme of the Left with the UNP”, this is an empty-shell. It is only comrade Bahu who strives to will it into existence. It has no independent dynamic, no sections of the masses behind it, no strategy to overthrow the regime beyond substituting the leader of the opposition (Ranil Wickremesinghe) for the incumbent president. For those non-UNP forces that also believe longstanding antagonisms with the UNP to be secondary to the immediate task of removing the Mahinda Rajapakse cabal, there is no hesitation in extending support to the UNP and its leaders without the half-way house of “agitational front campaigns” such as the Samagi Balawegaya and its cardboard predecessor the Vypakshaya Virodaya.

Another serious error of the NSSP, but over a longer period, has been the question of its tactics in relation to Tamil nationalism. The NSSP has the correct position of supporting the right to self-determination of the Tamil nation. However, it wrongly applied this line by uncritically ‘tail-ending’ the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – incidentally an organisation frequently denounced as “fascist” or “semi-fascist” by its left-wing critics within the Tamil nation, underscoring the elasticity of this term. Since the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the NSSP has simply re-positioned itself behind the pro-capitalist parliamentary Tamil National Alliance within Sri Lanka and behind the pro-LTTE diaspora organisations abroad.

The mistake was in equating the LTTE with the Tamil liberation struggle: in forming alliances with the reactionary Tamil leadership and not with the popular classes of the Tamil nation. The clear evidence of the dead-end into which we led ourselves is the elimination of our organised presence in the North and East (initially by the diktat and terror of the LTTE) and the inability to rebuild ourselves even five years after the end of the war because the NSSP did not differentiate itself sufficiently from the LTTE. So, in the North and East as well as in the South, the NSSP is simply viewed as cheerleaders for the LTTE: a single-issue (‘national question’) political organisation.

These issues and more have been raised within the leading bodies of the Party for several years now. Only rarely has the debate been seriously joined by comrade Bahu and his supporters who have chosen to carry on their disastrous course regardless. There is no point in expending our energies in further internal debate because the Party exists now only in name and in the personality of its general secretary (hence, the constant reference in this text to comrade Bahu). Its cadre are barely a few dozen. Its branches are inactive. Its members without training in Marxism. Its press is irregular. Its last conference in 2008. A future conference would likely be ‘packed’ by ex-members pressed into action out of unquestioning loyalty to the general secretary; and therefore no credible arbiter of the differences within the Party.

Therefore, we have now decided to turn outwards and to do ourselves what we have been calling on the NSSP as a whole to do. We have not left the Party. We have not split the Party. We continue to participate in its framework, discharging our responsibilities within the Political Bureau, the Central Committee, and as leaders of trade unions historically linked to the Party. However, we have begun to organise ourselves as a public faction of the Party. We are making open what has been a poorly kept secret, which is that there are two incompatible lines within the Party. We know that these divergences are not unique to us as they find their expression (but not identically) in other Left parties inside and outside the government.

In recent weeks we have explained our perspectives at regional discussions attended by the broad Left. We have reconnected with many former cadre and sympathisers of the NSSP who peeled away in disgust or disappointment with the orientation of the Party in recent years. We are continuing our dialogue with the left-split from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, the Frontline Socialist Party which has itself been embroiled in internal crisis and fractured. We are also extending our solidarity to the struggles of university students who are an isolated front of courage and defiance of the repressive government and its agenda of privatisation of higher education and militarisation of its campuses.

On 1 July 2014 we launch a new paper, Vame Handa (‘Left Voice’), as an instrument for our public interventions centred around ‘Regrouping the Left’. We do not pretend to have answers to all our questions. Our appeal is that those of us on the Left opposed to the Rajapakse regime but not ready to embrace the neoliberal opposition in the name of ‘lesser evilism’; should collaborate notwithstanding ideological differences on historical debates, nor past political identities. Our common objective is to construct an extra-parliamentary Left that takes up the struggles of the working class and popular masses; of the specially oppressed; of minority nationalities including the Tamil nation; and against capitalism and imperialism.

Linus Jayatilaka, Niel Wijethilaka, Jerard Gamage, Dharmasiri Lankapeli, Champika Ratnayake, Pushpamala, Terrance Gamini, A. G. Wimalarathna, Upali Lewliyadda, Mahinda Ratnayake, B. Skanthakumar, Suranjaya Amarasinghe

Online at ESSF 1 December 2014

The Significance of FSP Candidacy in the Eighth Presidential Election

A Left Candidate for the Sri lankan elections

The temptation to campaign for a "realisitc" oppositionis again in the air. In India, even some people on the radical left wanted "meaningful" anti-Modi votes, and so some called for a vote for the Congress, others for the AAP. In the same way, wherever there are extreme rightist candidates, hesitations are developing within the left. Bourgeois politicians and parties are being backed, with arguments about how Bolshevik experience, or other 20th century experiences, are dated. Only, the call is based on an even older tradition of lesser evilism. This flatly betrays the working class, pushes it to its own defeat. Yet, to merely snarl "traitor" at those making the arguments is not useful. it is a sign of the sectarian, who prefers to remain on the sidelines. The article below, written by a Sri Lankan comrade, addresses the issue from a Sri lankan perspective, but one that will be useful for Indians and others too.  -- Administrator, Radical Socialist

Sumanasiri Liyanage

Mahinda Rajapaksa has to face his erstwhile colleague in the cabinet and the General Secretary of the SLFP, former Minister of Health, Maithripala Sirisena at the forthcoming presidential election. Since many parties including the main opposition party, UNP, and civil society organizations have already decided to back Maithreepala's candidacy, he has now emerged as the main contender to the incumbent president.

Janata Vimukthi Peramuna, one of the leading left parties has announced that it will boycott the presidential election although rumors are in the air that its central committee wanted Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, de facto leader of the parliamentary opposition to contest. It is in this context marked by the absence of JVP in the presidential race in spite of a 200% increase in its vote at the Uva Provincial Council election held some time ago, that the breakaway group of the JVP, Frontline Socialist Party decided to field a candidate representing the social left in Sri Lanka that at the moment is not numerically very strong.

Having been encouraged by the Syriza(Coalition of the Radical Left)experience in Greece, FSP tried hard to unite all left parties, groups and individuals to field a common candidate of the social left with a minimum but transitional left democratic program at the next presidential election.Well FSP does not claim that the left front it had initiated is Syriza in Sri Lanka; but it seems to me it is Syriza in the making.  Whether it will mark a significant moment in Sri Lankan political history is yet to be seen. Nonetheless, this moment is and will become significant and relevant as FSP led social left in its manifesto have raised so many important questions that two principal contenders have refused so far to raise.Most importantly, when both fronts are ideologically dominated Sinhala-Buddhist (UPFA by Bodu Bala Sena and Maithree front by Jathika Hela Urumaya) elements, FSP left front appears to be the most effective secular political formation in the next election. Hence, my submission in this article is that the FSP led social left front poses the real opposition to the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime both in its program and in its practice. 

Sri Lanka needs a strong social movement to counter three main trends in its recent history, namely, towards authoritarianism, towards economic policy framework that is biased towards the interests of the upper classes and layers of the society, and towards majoritarianism. Although these three trends emerged prior to MR coming to power, they have consolidated and strengthened under his regime due to multiple reasons.

What is relevant to my present submission is to look at the question of what social movements were actively engaged against the MR regime and its policies and actions. I recognize two counteracting forces in Sri Lankan society that questioned policies and actions of the MR regime. The first group, primarily urban, posed the issue of democracy, rule of law and good governance in their orthodox meanings. The most important group in this category was the Sri Lanka Lawyers’ Association that came forward strongly against the removal of the Chief justice, Dr Shirani Bandaranayaka. It organized many fora to discuss the matters that fell within its purview. Later, Citizen Forum also raised similar issues with strong political orientation. These views had been finally crystalized in the movement for Just Society led by Rev Maduluwave Sobhitha raising two main demands, (1) abolition of the executive presidential system and (2) reactivation of the 17th Amendment by repealing 18th Amendment to the Constitution. These protests by these groupings received so much attention by the media partly because of their elitist character.

The second opposition against the MR regime came from subaltern movements. There are four groups, (1) student movement; (2) trade unions and workers’ movements; (3) protests by peasants and rural masses; and (4) movements by numerically small nations and ethnic groups. Second and third movements were scattered and sporadic. The same can be applied to the fourth movement after militarily defeating the LTTE in 2009. Hence the consistent opposition to the government, especially against its policies on education, has been guided by the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF). IUSF launched many a struggle in the recent past against cuts of student subsidies, educational reforms, commodification of education and so on. It is interesting and encouraging to note that IUSF was able to defeat government plans to reform education by encouraging private investments to enter into the field of education with the motive of profit. In the last year or so, it won almost all its struggles. The IUSF while struggling for free education also widened the democratic space that the elitist groupings failed to achieve. I remember very well when the march in Colombo city by the IUSF was banned by a court order at the request of the Police, Najith Indika, IUSF President decided to defy the order and continue the march. It proved to be a great victory. The following week, a district judge warned the police not to come forward with such requests. This, in my view, was a most significant victory for the democratic movement in Sri Lanka and all credit should go to IUSF.

The other subaltern movements that were capable of forcing the MR government to retreat include the anti-pension scheme by private sector employees in Free Trade Zone, peoples’ movement against water problem at Rathupaswala, protests by slum people against forcible eviction from their houses, peasants’ opposition to seed and water bills and micro opposition by villagers on their problems. 

Maithripala Sirisena announcing his candidacy as a common opposition candidate informed us his program is limited to the abolition of the executive presidency and the reactivation of the 17th Amendment. In this sense his electoral program is based on the demands put forward by the elitist movement. There is no doubt that these are demands are important; but the program built on these demands are necessary but not sufficient to face or counter three major trends in Sri Lankans polity, society and economy. In contrast, FSP’s program is based on the struggles by various social elements in the past ten years taking issues raised by them in its entirety, in other words, confronting the MR candidacy by challenging it with a comprehensive program. Most significantly, the program includes swayan paalana by numerically small nations and protection of whatever the rights they have won, like 13th Amendment although they informed that they are not happy about it.

Last but by no means least I wish to point out something which is, in my view, of great importance. To signify the importance of the IUSF led protests against MR regime, FSP led left front have chosen to field as its candidate a former IUSF leader (there is a minimum age limit to contest in the presidential election - both the present leader of the IUSF and his immediate predecessor are under age), Comrade Duminda Nagamuwa who has led many a struggle on many a front. He is young and can lead many struggles in future.  

The writer is the co-coordinator of the Marx School.

Draft Theses on the Jewish Question Today

The following document of the Fourth International was written by Ernest Mandel. It is a model of clarity on why there can be no support for Israel under any guise, while also supporting a class line. We reproduce this from the Marxists’ Internet Archive  today, since pro-Israel propaganda is so rife in India.


Ernest Germain

Draft Theses on the Jewish Question Today

From Fourth International, Vol.9, No. 1, January-February 1948, pp. 18-24.
Adopted by the International Secretariat of the Fourth International.
Transcribed & marked up by Daniel Gaido for the Marxists’ Internet Archive in 2006. Proofread by Scott Wilson

[Note by the transcriber: This document appeared anonymously but was actually drafted by Ernest Mandel [Ernest Germain]. The original French version is available online as Projet de thèses sur la question juive après la seconde guerre impérialiste.]

In presenting its draft theses on the Jewish question prepared one year ago, the International Secretariat of the Fourth International has issued the following statement:

“In view of the fact that this question is being raised in our ranks for the first time and that the discussion is likely to bring forth numerous contributions, the International Secretariat presents these theses as a general line of orientation, but is ready in the course of the discussion to offer clarifications, amendments or corrections if necessary.” – Ed.

* * *

A. The Jewish Question in the Capitalist world

1. Throughout the ages the lot of the Jews, a mercantile people whose survival among other peoples has its root causes in a special social function, has been determined by the general evolution of society, an evolution which brought about changes in their relationships with the various classes. The bourgeois revolution in Western Europe opened the doors of the ghettos and merged the Jewish masses within the environing society. The assimilation of the Jews seemed to be an accomplished fact. But the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, those vast reservoirs of Jews confined for centuries to the functions of middlemen, entered upon the road of capitalist development at a time when world capitalism had already embarked on its imperialist phase. Although the age-old relations of exchange and production experienced an abrupt upheaval which robbed the Jews of the material base for their existence, there was no widespread industrialization to allow these millions of now useless middlemen to become integrated in the proletariat. Social differentiation of the Jewish masses was thus blocked. A small part of the Jews became capitalist or proletarian; a larger part emigrated, thus contravening the tendency toward complete assimilation which was going on in the Western countries. The largest part of all remained in the wretched condition of small merchants, “crushed between feudalism and capitalism, each feeding the rottenness of the other” (A. Leon).

2. The anti-Semitic movements of the past always had a direct or indirect social base. They were movements of various social classes whose interests came into conflict at a certain time with the social function of the Jews. The anti-Semitism of the beginning of the Twentieth Century was nowise different.

  1. In the backward countries of Eastern Europe, reactionary political forces were able to turn the discontent and despair of the masses into periodic pogroms – for the hatred of the little people toward the Jewish petty usurer and pawn-broker, the Jewish small merchant and shop-keeper, was an undeniable social reality.
  2. In the countries of Central Europe, the anti-Semitic movements, such as that of the burgermaster Lueger in Vienna, had their social roots in the sharpening of competition within the professional and mercantile middle-classes who were being inundated by a tide of Jewish immigrants.
  3. In France, the anti-Semitic movement which broke out at the time of the Dreyfus affair had its social origin in the hatred of the aristocracy for the Jewish bankers who had bought up their castles, and of the sons of aristocrats who saw the careers that formerly had been “reserved” exclusively for them now occupied by these dangerous competitors. These social layers were successful for a certain time in turning against the Jews the inflamed nationalist sentiments of a large part of the petty bourgeoisie.

Rooted in specific social conflicts, these various anti-Semitic movements took on most diverse manifestations, all the way from phenomena of utter barbarism (the Russian pogroms) to the formulation of the “subtle” nationalist theories which were characteristic of the imperialist epoch (Charles Maurras).

3. In Western Europe the social opportunities for assimilation of the Jews had created a powerful ideological movement toward complete assimilation. In Eastern Europe the impossibility of widespread assimilation of the Jews resulted in a strong current in the direction of a national renaissance and preservation of national characteristics. It was within the large concentrations of Jewish masses in Poland, Lithuania, Western Russia, Hungary, Rumania and Slovakia that there developed a new literature in Yiddish, a new folklore, an intense autonomous cultural and even political life (the “Bund” in the workers’ movement). Wherever the Jewish masses who had emigrated to the United States were again socially restricted to certain economic fields, and where they were geographically concentrated, this movement continued even in these countries. Lenin, who alone in the Second International understood how to apply Marxist strategy to the national question, rejected all pedantic formalism in his appraisal of this current. He started from the standpoint that the task of the revolutionary party was to integrate into the movement of proletarian emancipation every current of cultural and national autonomy which corresponded to a genuine aspiration of the working masses. That is why he recognized the legitimacy, from a socialist point of view, of the Jewish movement as much as of the Polish or Czech movements. The task of the Jewish workers consisted in struggling, at the side of the workers of the country where they lived, for the overthrow of capitalism, and after this they would be left completely free to carry out the organization of their national and cultural economy as they chose.

4. The epoch of decaying capitalism is also the epoch of the sharpened crisis of the Jewish problem. Inflation, the increased pressure of finance capital, and finally the profound economic crisis, ruined millions of small tradesmen and merchants and inflamed to the highest pitch their hatred of their Jewish competitors. In Central and Eastern Europe the appalling unemployment among the intellectual workers and the increasingly wretched situation of the professionals created a climate especially favorable for the appearance of vast petty-bourgeois mass movements, which found in anti-Semitism one of their ideological weapons. In the countries of Eastern Europe, these movements revealed a very deep popular current which manifested itself in many bloody outbursts. In Germany, it was the state power, fallen into the hands of the Nazi rulers, which organized from on top the persecution and later the extermination of the Jews. In this sense it is decaying capitalism, which deliberately placed power in the hands of a band of bloody criminals, that bears full responsibility for the horrible fate of the Jewish European masses during the war. The extermination of the European Jews by German imperialism is a warning to all other peoples and shows them the fate that awaits them so long as present-day society continues to decay.

5. Zionism arose among the Jewish petty bourgeoisie of Central Europe as a reaction against the rebirth of anti-Semitism at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. A typically petty-bourgeois movement, it remained for a long time without the support of the Jewish bourgeoisie and isolated from the popular masses. During the First World War, British imperialism, which wanted to use Zionism as an instrument for establishing itself in Palestine, seemed to offer Zionism the possibility of becoming a reality through the Balfour declaration. At this time there began a small flow of capital imports, and a slight movement of immigration. It was only after the coming of Hitler to power and the sudden fall of European Jewry into the abyss, that these two movements “speeded up,” though obstructed both by the nationalist outbursts of the Arabs and by the policy of British imperialism which threw up more and more barriers against Jewish penetration into Palestine.

For the revolutionary proletariat, Zionism must be looked upon as a movement which is both utopian and reactionary:

Utopian and Reactionary Character of Zionism


(a) Because Zionism believes that a “harmonious” development of the productive forces is possible within a “closed economy” in Palestine, in the midst of a capitalist world undergoing ever greater economic convulsions. The immense development of Palestine economy that would be necessary if several million immigrants were to be absorbed, is not realizable within the framework of present-day world capitalist economy.

(b) Because Zionism considers the creation of a Jewish (or bi-national) state possible amid the open hostility of 50 million Arabs – in the face of the fact that the Arab population grows in the same proportion as the Jewish immigration and the gradual industrialization of the country.

(c) Because Zionism hopes to reach this goal by relying on the maneuverings among the great powers, all of which, in reality, want to utilize the Zionist movement simply as a pawn in their play for power in the Arab world.

(d) Because Zionism thinks it possible to neutralize anti-Semitism throughout the world by the simple grant of a nationality to the Jews – in the face of the fact that anti-Semitism has deep social, historical and ideological roots which will be all the more difficult to tear out as the death agony of capitalism is prolonged.


(a) Because Zionism serves as a support for British imperialist domination, by giving to imperialism the pretext of acting as “arbiter” between the Jews and Arabs, by demanding the maintenance of the British mandate, and by developing a “closed” miniature Jewish economy within which the working masses have a much higher standard of living and different immediate interests than those of the Arab working masses.

(b) Because it produces a nationalist reaction on the part of the Arab masses, causes a racial division of the working-class movement, strengthens the “sacred union” both of the Jews and of the Arabs, and thus makes it possible for imperialism to perpetuate the conflict by continuing to keep its troops in Palestine.

(c) Because it retards the movement for the agrarian revolution, by buying lands from the large Arab landholders and working them, thanks to foreign subsidies, as a “closed” Jewish agriculture within Arab Palestinian agriculture. In this way the position of the large landholders is to some extent reestablished, lands are taken from the Arab peasants, and most important of all, the Jewish masses in Palestine have no interest in fighting for partition of the lands of the effendis among the Arab masses, since this would mean the end of their land purchases.

(d) Because it acts as a brake on the participation of the Jewish working masses in the class struggle in the rest of the world, separates them from the world proletariat, gives them autonomous goals to strive for, and creates illusions as to the possibility of improving their lot within the framework of decaying world capitalism.

For all these reasons the revolutionary workers’ movement has always conducted a violent struggle against Zionist ideology and practice. The arguments advanced by the “socialist” representatives of Zionism in favor of their cause are either the classic reformist arguments (“the possibility of gradually improving the situation of the Jewish masses”); or the social-patriotic arguments (“it is first necessary to resolve the national question for all the Jews before approaching the solution of the social problems of the Jewish workers”); or the classic arguments of the defenders of imperialism (“the penetration of Jews into Palestine has developed not only industry but also the workers’ movement, the general culture of the masses, their standard of living, etc.”) – the arguments advanced by the defenders of colonialism in every country.

B. The Present Aspect of the Jewish Question throughout the World

6. After the Second World War, the especially tragic situation of the Jews appears as a symbol of the entire tragedy of humanity slipping back toward barbarism. After the fearful tragedy of European Judaism, the Jews in every part of the world are facing a revival of the hostility of large layers of the population against them.

  1. In Europe, two years after the “liberation,” more than 100,000 Jews are still living under the infamous regime of the concentration camps. The imperialist masters who in the course of their military operations were able to shift millions of men in the period of a few days have been unable, after searching for twenty months, to find any refuge whatsoever for these miserable survivors of the Nazi camps. Throughout the continent there are hardly a million Jews remaining.
  2. In Palestine, 700,000 Jews face an Arab world in full eruption. The development of Egyptian and Syrian capitalism adds the factor of economic competition to the many causes for the militant anti-Zionism. British imperialism and the Arab feudal lords and bourgeoisie will for their part do all they can to turn the hatred of the oppressed Arab masses against the Jew as a scapegoat. Thus the Jews in Palestine are in danger of being wiped out in the widespread explosion which is preparing in the Middle East.
  3. In the Soviet Union, the bureaucracy in its struggle against the opposition has made use of the anti-Semitism latent within the peasant masses and the backward working-class layers. During the period of the First and Second Five-Year Plans, millions of Jewish merchants and artisans were brought into the lower and middle ranks of the bureaucracy as engineers, technicians, directors of cooperatives, and into the upper layers on the collective farms. In Western Russia they constitute that part of the bureaucracy most directly in contact with the oppressed masses, and thus it is in large part against them that the hatred of the masses for the parasites and profiteers of the regime is concentrated. The bloody pogroms launched by the native population at the time of the German invasion furnished very clear evidence of the intensification of this hatred (70,000 Jews killed in Kiev in twenty-four hours). A sharpening of the social crisis in Russia and the purges of a civil war would certainly see the extermination of the Jewish masses if the counter-revolution were victorious.
  4. Finally, in the United States, the confining of Jews to certain sectors of small manufacture and trade and to commercial and professional occupations will cause, in the acute economic crisis ahead, a heightening of the competition which will give a strong material base to the anti-Semitism existing now in latent form. Exploitation of reactionary prejudices against “racial minorities” has been a long-time favorite weapon of the American fascist gangsters. Insofar as the sharpening of the social crisis, the politicization of the workers’ movement and the rapid decay of American “democracy” give birth to the development of a fascist mass party, anti-Semitism as well as anti-Negro agitation will assume gigantic proportions. The fate of the Jews in the United States is tied in the very closest way to the outcome of the tremendous struggle of the American working class against the Yankee bourgeoisie. A victory of the latter through the establishment of a dictatorship would signify within a short period a catastrophe for the Jews comparable only to the catastrophe which Hitler’s coming to power meant for the Jews in Europe.

7. The endless series of ordeals undergone by the Jewish masses in Europe has without question accelerated the growth of a national consciousness, both among the survivors and among the Jewish masses in America and Palestine who feel themselves closely tied to the fate of their brothers in Europe. This national consciousness is manifested in the following ways:

  1. The Jewish masses in general now want to affirm their own nationality as against other peoples. Violent Jewish nationalism corresponds to the violence of the persecutions and anti-Semitism.
  2. The eyes of the Jewish masses in Europe are turned toward emigration. With all frontiers hermetically sealed, and as a result of the general conditions of the postwar world and in harmony with the engulfing wave of nationalism, the desire of the Jews to leave a continent which for them is nothing but a vast graveyard finds its expression primarily in a Zionist desire to go to Palestine.
  3. Within the Zionist movement, the struggle for the “Jewish state,” hitherto conducted exclusively by the extreme right (the “revisionists”), has now been taken up by all parties (the “Biltmore program”) except the centrist Hashomer Hatzair.

The rebirth of the national consciousness of the masses is the result of capitalism’s decay which raises once more all the problems that had been solved in its period of expansion. The Fourth International, basing itself firmly on its program and on a scientific analysis of the situation in Palestine but at the same time taking into account the actual state of mind of the Jewish masses, must recognize that their desire to lead their own national existence is a legitimate one. The Fourth International must show concretely that the winning of their nationality cannot be realized within decaying capitalist society, and is especially unrealizable and reactionary in Palestine. The Fourth International must show that for the Jews as for all other peoples of the earth, the defense or the final winning of their own nationality cannot be achieved by building “closed” states and economies, but that a planned world socialist economy is the only realistic framework within which the free and normal development of a people is possible today. The Fourth International must make the Jewish masses aware of the terrible catastrophes which await them if the decay of capitalism continues its course. Integration of the Jewish emancipation movement within the movement of the world working-class is the only thing that will make possible a harmonious solution of the Jewish problem. Socialist planned economy, “completely altering the topography of the globe” (Trotsky), will assure to all who desire it their own national existence within the framework of the United States of the World.

A Program of Action

8. But the Fourth International will never win decisive influence over the Jewish masses by simply proclaiming that only the socialist revolution will bring their emancipation. Only by taking leadership of a vast world movement of solidarity on the part of the proletariat toward the victims of imperialist and fascist persecution, only by showing the Jews in practice that the solutions proposed by the revolutionary movement offer more hope and are more realistic than the Zionist “solution" – only in this way will the Fourth International succeed at the next turn in drawing the Jewish masses into the world struggle against imperialism. To march against the Zionist current today, and to oppose to it another immediate and concrete solution – these are the two indispensable factors in making preparations for the next stage. When the Jewish masses have gone through their disillusioning experience with Zionism and have learned the futility of their efforts and sacrifices, they will turn toward us – provided we understand how to move toward them today with our solutions as well as with an intransigent criticism of Zionism.

  1. All sections of the Fourth International must advance the slogan: “Open the doors of every country to the Jewish refugees! Abolish all restrictions on immigration!” This slogan must be supported especially in the United States, on the one hand, and by the English, Canadian, French and all the Latin American sections on the other. The latter, particularly the Argentine and Brazil sections, and also our Australian section, must add to this the slogan: “Abolish all discriminatory racial and religious clauses in immigration legislation!” Every concrete occasion (complaints about the insufficiency of manpower and the population decline, partial opening of the country to certain categories of immigrants, actions in commemoration of the victims of fascism, etc.) must be utilized to arouse the working-class public opinion of the country and to demand the launching of concrete actions as the way to get immediate results. Resolutions like those of the CIO must be used as a point of departure for demanding actions from the World Federation of Trade Unions, for organizing joint movements in those sections of the economy and society which are most ready to express their solidarity in action (seamen, government employees, etc.) through slow-down strikes, organized sabotage of discriminatory measures, protest actions, joint meetings and manifestations, etc. Only insofar as our sections can prove to the Jews that they are carrying on a real and effective struggle for the opening of their own country to immigration – only thus will they succeed in getting the Jews to choose immigration into these countries rather than into Palestine, since immigration into Palestine would then be more difficult while at the same time constituting an act contrary to the interests of the anti-imperialist masses of the Middle East.
  2. All sections of the Fourth International must devote themselves seriously to the task of combating the foul vapors of anti-Semitic ideology existing or steadily growing in large layers of the population of every country. This work of disinfection is all the more urgent because the “official” working-class movement, whether through conservatism, cowardliness or narrow partisan calculation (the anti-Trotskyism of the French CP is expressed not infrequently in anti-Semitic arguments), does nothing to eliminate from the consciousness of the masses the anti-Jewish poison introduced by the Hitler propaganda.

    On every concrete occasion our sections must demolish the fascist lies about “Jewish capitalism” or the “Jewish monopolists.” They must constantly warn the proletarian mass organizations against every attempt to rebuild anti-Semitic organizations. Using the tragic examples of the last years, they must impregnate the consciousness of the masses with the fundamental truth that their own fate is at stake in the struggle against anti-Semitic gangsterism. Only insofar as our sections can bring the masses to understand this truth and to translate it into action – only thus will they succeed in convincing the Jews that the integration of their emancipation movement into the world working-class movement is the only thing which will put them in a position to defend themselves effectively against new waves of anti-Semitism.
  3. All sections of the Fourth International which are faced with an organized fascist movement making full use of anti-Semitic demagogy and proceeding to terrorist acts against the Jews, must strive to mobilize the working class in armed formations (militias, etc.) to defend the Jewish people. Wherever the Jewish population, is geographically concentrated in Jewish quarters, they must propose and help to set up armed defense guards, while endeavoring to fuse them with the workers’ militias. They must explain to the Jewish masses that only such fusion in the armed struggle can guarantee an effective defense; but at the same time they must warn the workers that only armed defense of the Jews can prevent the crushing of the entire working-class movement later on by the same fascist weapons.

C. The Present Aspect of the Palestine Problem

9. The Palestine problem has received a new and special importance since the end of the Second World War because of a number of “new factors” profoundly changing its physiognomy:

  1. The industrialization of the Near and Middle East has to some extent strengthened the native Arab bourgeoisie in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and to a lesser degree in the other Arab countries. The social differentiation of the old feudal or patriarchal Arab society has been speeded up. An Arab proletariat much more powerful numerically and already politically conscious has appeared on the political scene in numerous countries of the Middle East (strikes in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Iran). Arab nationalism shows the same differentiations. Alongside feudal and reactionary pan-Islamism there now appears a progressive pan-Arab current which sees in the realization of a union of the Arab countries of the Middle East the only real framework for the development of the productive forces and for the constitution of an Arab state. The bourgeoisie can support this idea only in a hesitant way on an ideological plane, insofar as it desires expansion of the market for its industry which has been plunged in a profound crisis since the end of the war. The only force capable of accomplishing the program of the national-democratic revolution in the Arab world is the proletariat, which alone can carry out to the end, through the mechanism of the permanent revolution, the struggle against feudalism, for the agrarian revolution, for the emancipation of the Arab world from imperialist intervention, and for the constitution of the unity of the Arab world.
  2. Growth of anti-imperialist movements within the framework of the colonial revolutions, the most significant upheavals of the immediate postwar period. The weakening of the old imperialist powers (Great Britain, France, Italy) had the result that the bourgeoisie and even certain feudal layers seized the opportunity of obtaining by pressure – and without having to unloose genuine mass struggles, from which they always recoil – important concessions from the occupying powers, such as withdrawal of French troops from Syria and Lebanon and preparatory steps for withdrawal of British troops from Egypt. These various retreats on the part of imperialism are an incentive for the anti-imperialist struggle in the other colonial or semi-colonial countries of the Middle East. They strike a powerful blow at the prestige of imperialism and they increase the confidence of the native masses in their own strength.
  3. Transformation of Palestine into the key position in the system of imperialist defense in the Eastern Mediterranean. After the withdrawal of British troops from Egypt, Palestine will be the main base for the British fleet, air force, land army and secret services in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the key position for defense of the Suez Canal and the imperialist route to India. The terrorist actions are used simply as a pretext for the large concentrations of British troops in Palestine. In reality, what is involved for British imperialism is constructing a strong base with a view to the coming conflicts and for defense of the Empire.
  4. Transformation of the Middle East into one of the main stakes in the rivalry between the “Big Three.” Before the war the Middle East was the part of the world where the predominant influence of British imperialism was least menaced. Since then, the drive of Rommel all the way to El Alamein, the installing of American “observers” in the kingdom of Ibn Saud, the outbreak of the Anglo-American dispute over Arabian oil and the Russo-Anglo-American dispute over Iranian oil, the Russian penetration into Iranian Azerbaijan, the Russian attempts to threaten the integrity of Turkish territory, the organizing of the Orthodox Church throughout the Middle East as a powerful agency of the Kremlin diplomacy – all these have brought into question the exclusive domination of Great Britain in this part of the world and have transformed it into an arena of constant conflicts between the great powers. And since the Middle East is, moreover, the least tapped and most important source of oil in the entire world, it is now becoming the principal contested area in the world struggle for this strategic raw material, the reserves of which in the United States and the Soviet Union are greatly reduced. The various “tactical” movements of American and Soviet diplomacy toward the Zionist movement must be seen as elements in their intrigues to supplant British domination in the Arab world.
  5. The demand for immigration into Palestine – advanced by the mass of Jewish refugees in Europe and supported by a powerful protest movement on the part of American Zionism, and culminating in the “peaceful” actions of the Hagana in Palestine as well as the terrorism of the Irgun Zvai Leumi and the Stern group.

Our Point of Departure

10. The starting point for the position of the Fourth International on the Palestine problem must be an understanding of the necessity for the anti-imperialist struggle waged by the Arabs, setting as the goal of this struggle the establishment of a union of the Arab countries of the Middle East. The Arab masses, the workers and poor peasants, constitute the revolutionary force of the Middle East and also of Palestine, because of their numbers, their social conditions and the material conditions of their existence which set them in direct conflict with imperialism. The revolutionary party must base itself first of all on the dynamics of the class struggle waged in defense of their interests. The Middle East section of the Fourth International, growing as the Arab proletariat develops and grows in strength, and built on the base of the existing nuclei in Palestine and Egypt, must lead the actions of the masses in defense of their daily interests, must raise the workers’ consciousness to an understanding of the necessity of political action, and must strive to weld a bloc of all the exploited around the revolutionary proletariat through a struggle for the four following essential demands:

  1. Immediate withdrawal of British troops. Complete independence for Palestine.
  2. Immediate calling of a single and sovereign Constituent Assembly.
  3. Expropriation of the lands of the effendis, with management of the expropriated land by committees of poor peasants.
  4. Expropriation of all enterprises which are the property of foreign capital, with workers’ management of the nationalized enterprises.

Through the struggle for these four central objectives the revolutionary party will educate the masses on the need for setting themselves increasingly in opposition to the Arab bourgeoisie which is so closely tied to the effendis. When the struggle of the masses reaches its peak, when committees of workers and peasants cover all the Middle East and the question of seizure of power by the Arab proletariat is placed on the order of the day, the revolutionary party will have sufficiently educated the masses to be able to lead them on to expropriation of the “national” bourgeoisie.

11. Can these four objectives be realized at the present stage in a common struggle of the Arab masses and the Jewish working-class masses? To answer this question we must start not from abstract formulas but from the social and ideological realities of Jewish life in Palestine. With the exception of several thousand Jewish workers employed on the railroads, in the IPC, the refineries and the port facilities, the entire Jewish industrial and agricultural proletariat of Palestine is employed in “closed” Jewish industry, which operates on the basis of the steady imports of foreign capital and guarantees the Jewish workers a standard of living far above that of the Arab workers. Moreover, the Jewish community in Palestine lives in constant fear of an Arab uprising, and in the face of this danger places all its hopes in continuous immigration and maintenance of the British occupation. We can therefore assert the following:

(a) Far from desiring the immediate withdrawal of the British occupation forces, the Jewish masses on the contrary wish to have them maintained in the country. The only thing demanded by the Zionist leaders, bourgeois as well as workers, is concessions on immigration and on the setting up of a Jewish state. But the overwhelming majority of Jews in Palestine (primarily the Hagana ) are not ready to “act” against imperialism except insofar as such “action” does not endanger the fundamental “security” of the Jewish community as against the Arab world. That is why armed struggle or even large-scale sabotage undertaken by the Jewish masses is at the present stage virtually excluded. The aim of Zionist action today is simply to exert pressure on British imperialism in order to win concessions, and not to strive to expel British imperialism from Palestine.

The terrorist movement and the so-called “Hebrew Committee of National Liberation” do set forth the objective of expelling British imperialism from Palestine. But they cannot conceive of such expulsion except in the form of a general arming of the Jews in Palestine who would hold the Arab world in check until such time as large-scale immigration of Jews would give them the military strength to oppose the “Arab menace.” These ideas, an abstraction formed out of complete utopianism, are ultra-reactionary and can only deepen still further the gulf separating the Jewish and the Arab workers in Palestine.

(b) All the Jews in Palestine are opposed to the immediate calling of a Constituent Assembly, which would place power in the hands of the Arab majority of the population.

The terrorists claim that they are struggling for a free, independent and democratic Palestine. But since they are the most ardent partisans of a “Jewish state,” they also have to find an excuse for depriving the majority of the population of sovereignty. They say they are not ready to organize general elections until the Jews in exile have been given “the opportunity within a certain period of time” to return to their country. In other words, they do not support general elections until such moment as the Jews constitute an absolute majority of the population.

(c) The Jews have no interest in expropriation of the effendis, for this would actually deprive them of any possibility of buying new lands and enlarging their “closed Jewish economy” in Palestine.

(d) They are even more violently opposed to expropriation of the enterprises built with foreign capital and to the closing of the country to capital imports, since this would be a deathblow to their Jewish economy.

Thus the conclusion is inevitable that at the present stage the Jewish masses in Palestine do not as a whole constitute an anti-imperialist force, and that the establishing of a Jewish-Arab anti-imperialist bloc cannot become a slogan for immediate agitation.

12. The question of Jewish immigration into Palestine must be viewed in the light of the foregoing considerations. As long as the Jewish and Arab economies exist as two separate economies in Palestine, the Arab working population will consider every new influx of Jewish immigrants as an act of open hostility. With the entire population of Palestine living under the perspective of the outbreak of a bloody conflict in the Middle East, the Arab masses must necessarily look upon the arrival of new immigrants as the arrival of enemy soldiers; and this point of view is confirmed, moreover, by the way in which the Jewish masses look upon this, immigration. That is why we must recognize the fact that continuance of Jewish immigration into Palestine widens the breach between the Jewish and the Arab workers, strengthens the positions of and prolongs the presence of British imperialism, and cannot but prepare the ground for the complete extermination of the Jewish minority when the Arab uprising comes in the next stage.

The Fourth International must therefore do its utmost to dissuade the Jewish refugees from immigration to Palestine; it must endeavor, within the framework of a movement of world solidarity, to get the doors of other countries opened to them, and must warn that Palestine is for them a terrible trap; and in its concrete propaganda on the question of Jewish immigration, it must start from the sovereignty of the Arab population. Only the Arab population has the right to determine whether or not immigration into Palestine should be open or closed to the Jews. The immigration question must be decided by the Constituent Assembly elected by all the population from the age of 18. That is the only democratic position on this question – and at the same time it is a position which fits into the framework of general revolutionary strategy in the Middle East.

Furthermore, the Fourth International must condemn and combat the British repression of Jewish immigration, denounce all their police measures and constantly oppose to these the concrete demand for withdrawal of the British troops. It will not be hard to explain to the Arab masses that this imperialist repression, now limited to the Jews, is only the preparation for much more savage repression of future Arab movements. It is in the interest of the Arab masses that every protest movement against British police terror should be utilized to bring forward concretely the question of withdrawal of British troops. Moreover, it would then become clear that the very “victims” of the repression would not at all accept a consistent struggle against their “oppressors."

Similarly, the Fourth International must oppose all the “solutions” proposed and perhaps carried out by imperialism, with or without the help of its agents in the Jewish Agency. All these solutions, such as division of Palestine, limited immigration of 100,000 Jews, surrender of the British mandate to the UN, have the aim of prolonging the presence of British troops in the country, and they all deprive the majority of the population of its right to self-determination.

13. At the present stage, large-scale unity between the Jews and the Arabs in Palestine is unrealizable; only on a very limited scale and to the extent that a section of the Jewish workers is employed outside the “closed” Jewish economy, has it been possible for Jewish-Arab strikes such as those of the past year to occur. But this does not mean that such unity is excluded for all time. Up to now the Jewish population in Palestine has bent all its efforts toward strengthening its autonomous economic and political positions. But already the radical section of the Jewish nationalist youth has recognized the futility of the Jewish Agency’s efforts at “conciliation” and “maneuvering” in order to win from imperialism or from the great powers unlimited immigration and establishment of a Jewish state. The present waves of terrorism on the part of the Irgun Zvai Leumi and the Stern group are acts of despair on the part of this minority which is first utilized and then abandoned by the bourgeois leaders of the Zionist movement and which arose because of the blind alley into which the entire movement has wandered. Obviously this terrorism of despair is not in itself the road to a solution of the Palestine problem. Quite the contrary. Against this terrorism, the Arab feudal lords and bourgeoisie are able to create an atmosphere of artificial “solidarity” between the masses and imperialism, and to aggravate the hostility between the Arab and the Jewish workers. From a military standpoint, the terrorist acts can only hasten the establishment of a British police force in Palestine, the goal of the entire postwar imperialist policy. But as the ultimate phase of Zionism, terrorism, achieving no concrete results, may make the most conscious and most active elements among the Jewish masses more disposed to reconsider the whole question of Zionism and the solution of the Jewish problem. This reconsideration of the entire question is what the Fourth International must work for today.

Any possible unity between the Jews and the Arabs must first of all move along the road of the abolishing of all racial ideology and practice on the part of the Jews.

  • Down with exclusively Jewish enterprises! For the employment of Arab workers in every industry in the country!
  • Down with separate Jewish and Arab trade unions! For the establishment of Jewish and Arab trade unions!
  • Down with the hidden boycott of Arab or Jewish products! Down with the “closed Jewish economy!” For the mutual integration of the Jewish and Arab economies!
  • Down with the idea of a “Jewish state” imposed on the majority of the population! For the elimination of Zionist concepts from the workers’ movement! For the integration of the Jewish workers into the national-democratic revolutionary movement of the Arab masses!
  • For the breaking-away of the Jewish trade unions and working-class organizations from the Jewish Agency, and the publication in full of all the secret proceedings of the Agency.
  • For the breaking-away of the Arab trade unions and working-class organizations from the Arab League and the Arab High Committee for Palestine, and the publication in full of all the secret proceedings of these organizations.

All these slogans, which today can be advanced only as general propaganda slogans, will necessarily meet with furious opposition from the Zionists, not only for ideological reasons but also and especially because the privileged material situation of the Jews in relation to the Arab masses is thus threatened. But as the bankruptcy of Zionism becomes more and more strikingly revealed to the masses; as immigration slows down and the terrible danger of the Arab explosion comes nearer; as our propaganda helps in getting the masses to realize that it is a life-or-death question for them to find a common ground with the Arab masses, even at the price of temporarily giving up certain privileges – under these conditions our slogans will be able to pass from the propaganda stage to the stage of agitation, and will help in bringing about a split between the workers’ movement and Zionism. This is the condition sine qua non for the realization of Jewish-Arab unity of action against imperialism. This alone can prevent the Arab revolution in the Middle East from passing over the corpse of Palestinian Judaism. In Palestine as well as among the Jewish masses in the rest of the world, a firm position today against the current is the only thing which will make it possible to work toward a reversal of the current in the next stage.

This means also that it is necessary for the sections of the Fourth International to carry on preliminary propaganda work within the Zionist organizations of the extreme left. While showing that the slogan of a “bi-national state” is a nationalist and anti-democratic slogan, running counter to both the right of self-determination and the immediate needs of the anti-imperialist struggle in Palestine, our members must at the same time constantly put on the order of the day the question of concrete realization of the slogan of Jewish-Arab unity. They must confront the centrist leaders with their responsibilities, they must put on the order of the day the adoption of the anti-racial program outlined above, and thus speed the development of the consciousness of the Jewish working-class vanguard beyond the stage of Zionism.

January 1, 1947

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.


Review of Perry Anderson -- The Indian Ideology

The myths of Indian nationalism

The Indian Ideology


First published as a series of essays in the London Review of Books, this is a provocative book that deftly cuts through the mythologies of Indian nationalism. The essays and the book have elicited several critical responses from Indian readers; this review concludes with a defense of Anderson’s core project and pace a few of his detractors. Taken together, these essays offer a challenge to Indian intellectuals, particularly of the Left, to break decisively with a set of ideas that make up what Anderson calls the Indian Ideology. The Indian Ideology relies on and reinforces a series of myths that project India as having miraculously achieved what other post-colonial nations have not: a functioning democracy, a secular state, and a united body politic. Anderson’s critique takes in a wide range of scholarship to systematically demolish each one of this triune of cherished myths.

Anderson offers his book as “a short study . . . a synthesis [with] no pretension to exhaustive totalization.” His aim is to take a critical look at an “overlapping consensus” between Indian liberalism—exemplified in the work of Amartya Sen, Ramachandra Guha, Sunil Khilnani, and others—and the rhetoric of the Indian state. This consensus mystifies the past and glosses over the contradictions of the present. Not only liberalism, but also “wide reaches of the area self-defined as to the left of this mainstream” have accommodated to the Indian Ideology, “a nationalist discourse in a time when there is no longer a national liberation struggle against an external power, and oppression where it exists has become internal.”

India is often spoken of as a nation with an ancient past, bound by common traditions several millennia old. A dream of unity and continuity through the ages is the cornerstone of nationalist conceptions of India. However, “the sub-continent as we know it today never formed a single political or cultural unit in pre-modern times,” writes Anderson. “Of the three larger empires it witnessed, none covered the territory of Nehru’s Discovery of India.” Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders of the Indian National Congress (later the Congress Party) held firmly to this dream of unity, insisting on seeing the subcontinent as “one undivided land made by nature,” as Gandhi put it. The “idea of India” was of European origin, writes Anderson, but soon became the sine qua non of anti-colonial thought.

The Father of the Nation, however, was a late convert to anti-imperialism and the demand for full independence from the British. Gandhi said he embraced swaraj (which Anderson likens to Home Rule within and under an overarching imperial sovereignty) over independence; he considered the latter “a foreign importation of doubtful value.” Moreover, if Gandhi was opposed to communal (Hindu-Muslim) conflict in the name of national unity, he was opposed to class conflict as well, and infamously stood against strikes and other forms of class struggle against landlords and employers. Gandhi also fought to maintain elite leadership and control of anticolonial agitation. “He did not want to evict the British in India if to do so was to risk a social upheaval. Revolution was a greater danger than the Raj.”

While there was something “distinctive and spectacular” about Gandhi’s ability to mobilize masses of people, charismatic leaders, writes Anderson, are “largely a given in any nationalist movement.” Gandhi was “a first-class” organizer and fund-raiser who transformed the Congress from a cohort of lawyers and professionals into a mass organization. But Gandhi introduced “a massive dose of religion” into the national movement, and his deeply held religiosity had fatal consequences for the movement and the subcontinent as a whole. His religion “was to a peculiar extent home-made,” a “strange pot-pourri . . . [of] Jain-inflected Hindu orthodoxy and late Victorian psychomancy.” While he might have been sincere in his personal belief that all religions are equal, politically, Anderson writes, “one religion was, inevitably, more equal than the other.” Gandhi did little to prevent the marginalization of Muslims within and by his own party.

Gandhi’s reputation as a champion of oppressed castes is likewise overrated, for while he rejected the jati system of sub-divisions among the major varnas (castes), he never repudiated caste as such. As Anderson writes, “In due course, he would try to dilute varna with successive adjustments to make it more palatable to egalitarian opinion, [saving] the irreducible core of its identification with Hinduism itself, as religious belief in the moral duty of hereditary avocation and its bearing on the transmigration of the soul.” Gandhi’s fast unto death against the “communal award” was directed against Ambedkar’s demand for separate electorates for Untouchables (Dalits, in today’s language).

Nehru, although not a believer himself, tacitly accepted the expediency of yoking religion and politics together. He saw Hinduism as (in Nehru’s words) “a national religion, with all those deep instincts, racial and cultural, which form the basis everywhere of nationalism today.” Muslims had steadily lost ground politically and economically under the British Raj, but the Hindu-dominated Congress did little to accommodate their particular demands.

The “legitimating ideology of the Congress had always been a secular nationalism” but it was a “monolithically Hindu” organization by the mid-1930s, when Muslims constituted a mere three percent of its membership. Congress had the support of the overwhelming majority of the Hindu electorate, but it could point to only a few Muslims among its leadership. “Common sense indicated that from a position of such strength, it would be necessary to make every feasible concession to ensure that the quarter of the population that was Muslim would not feel itself a permanently impotent—and potentially vulnerable—minority. Ignoring every dictate of prudence and realism, Congress did the opposite. At each critical juncture, it refused any arrangement that might dilute the power to which it could look forward.”

When Congress triumphed in regional polls (with a limited franchise) in 1937, Nehru took this as a sign that Congress now represented all Indians, when in fact the party had been unable to even field candidates in “close to 90 per cent of Muslim constituencies.” Congress’s ultimate failure lay in its refusal to drop “the fiction that it represented the entire nation.” Accommodating itself to Hindu majoritarianism while standing for an undivided India, Congress “accepted Partition as the price of a strong centralized state in which it could be sure of a monopoly of power.” In other words, although Congress saw itself as the sole representative of a singular nation—thus rejecting the “two-nations theory” of Jinnah and the Muslim League—this “monopoly of national legitimacy” was easily traded in for a “monopoly of power” in a divided nation, once Partition was on the table.

To those schooled in Indian nationalist history, Anderson’s most unsettling claim is that the Raj cannot be seen as an “efficient cause” of Partition. Colonial divide-and-rule policies were not the reason for the schism between Hindus and Muslims, he insists; rather, “[t]he ultimate drivers of the split were indigenous, not imperial.” He writes that while the British acceded to demands for separate electorates for Muslims and Hindus with alacrity, they thereafter did nothing to deliberately stoke communal strife. Their ideal, Anderson suggests, was the Punjab, characterized by “inter-confessional unity . . . a strong regional identity [and] loyalty to the Raj.” Here, Anderson underplays the lasting significance of instituting separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims, as it facilitated the subsequent spectacular growth of Hindu-dominated Congress political machinery.

Some reviewers have bristled at what they identify as Anderson’s Orientalism when he asks whether division along religious lines was inevitable among a people “so steeped in the supernatural.” Indeed, Anderson doesn’t quite renounce the essentialist argument but his analysis is somewhat more probing than such a reading would suggest. Indian intellectuals, he writes, are “caught in a fork” when it comes to understanding Partition. On the one hand, if Partition was inevitable, then “the culture whose dynamics made confessional conflict politically insuperable becomes [an] occasion for collective shame.” On the other hand, if Partition was avoidable, then “the party that led the national movement to such a disastrous upshot stands condemned.” While one could argue that the divisions between Hindus and Muslims ran so deep that no political force could overcome it, and that therefore Partition was inevitable, Anderson insists, Congress must ultimately be held accountable for not taking “any intelligent steps to avert it, and many crass ones likely to hasten it; and when it came [for acting] in a way that ensured it would take the cruelest form, with the worst human consequences. For even were a scission of the subcontinent foreordained by its deep culture, its manner was not.”

With Partition, Congress inherited (wrested control of) the lion’s share of the colonial spoils. It also inherited the British system of representation, and adopted a Westminster parliamentary model that eschewed any notion of proportional representation—evidence, Anderson writes, of the “Anglophone provincialism of the Congress elite.” The Constituent Assembly was itself a British-created body, and was thus “not an expression of [Indian democracy], but of the colonial restrictions that preceded it.” While the Constitution was a progressive document for its time, it nevertheless reflected the interests of this elite, so that “some 250 of its 395 articles were taken word for word from the Government of India Act passed by the Baldwin cabinet in 1935.” Moreover, the Constitution

did not . . . describe India as a secular state, a term that it avoided. Nor did it institute equality before the law, a principle also eschewed. There would be no uniform civil code: Hindus and Muslims would continue to be subject to the respective customs of their faith governing family life. Nor would there be interference in religious hierarchies in daily life: untouchability was banned, but caste itself left untouched. Protection of cows and prohibition of alcohol were enjoined, and seats reserved in Parliament for two minorities, Scheduled Castes and Tribes—Dalits and Adivasis in today’s terminology—but not for Muslims.

In subsequent decades, Muslim fears of marginalization within a Hindu-dominated political system would prove to be warranted; the government-sponsored Sachar Commission report of 2006 establishes beyond doubt the second-class status of Muslims in India.

Anderson compares India with Ireland and Israel as examples of a sub-group of twentieth-century nationalisms in which religion played a central role from the outset. Although India did not institute a confessional state, “no Congress leader had been capable of openly and vigorously combating Gandhian pietism. . . . After Independence, Gandhi’s own doctrines were consigned to the museum, but his saturation of politics with Hindu pathos lived on.” While Nehru’s daughter and political heir Indira Gandhi made “a show of secularism by writing a belated commitment to it into the constitution,” in practice she too made appeals on the basis of religion when the occasion demanded. In this Hinduized political milieu, the turn to neoliberalism in the late eighties and early nineties provided fertile ground for “the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] to enter, Likud-style, into its inheritance.” The problem, Anderson suggests, is that “Indian secularism never sharply separated state and religion, let alone developed any systematic critique of Hinduism.” Instead, Hinduism has been embellished as a faith of tolerance and pluralism, “its teeming multiplicity of different deities, beliefs and rituals a veritable template for a modern multi-culturalism.” Such an enfeebled secularism could scarcely withstand the rise of the BJP-RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) variety of Hindu nationalism.

 While criticisms of the Indian state’s compromised secularism and shaky democracy abound, few intellectuals have broken with the idea of a unified India based on the borders inherited from the Raj. According to the Indian Ideology, the unity and integrity of this inheritance is nothing short of miraculous, a testament to the validity of the Idea of India and to the secular and democratic nature of the Indian state. As Anderson points out, however, post-Partition India was consolidated as a Republic through the most undemocratic means. If Congress failed to achieve the unified India of Nehru’s dreams, it did manage to wrest the lion’s share of the spoils of the Raj including its administrative and repressive apparatus, which it retained more or less intact. The first decades of the Republic saw the continuation of many colonial practices of repression and control, and colonial-era laws were retained or brought back into service as necessary to put down challenges to Delhi’s rule.

Repression was central to the process of national “unification.” Hyderabad, for instance, was brought to heel but only after nearly 40,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed by bands of Hindu pogromists aided by government forces in a two-week massacre that few Indians learn about today. Kashmir was annexed through a combination of diplomatic deceit and military intervention and continues to be held against the will of its inhabitants, yet most Indians hold firmly to the idea that Kashmir is an inseparable part of India. The northeastern states were similarly annexed but with an even greater degree of impunity. The king of Manipur was summarily deposed when he declared independence and the kingdom was incorporated into the Indian union. The notorious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), based on British colonial legislation, was put into effect by Nehru in 1958 in a bid to repress demands for an independent Nagaland, and remains to this day the legal fig leaf for brutal state repression wherever Indian rule is challenged. Indian democratic institutions “were thus from the start anchored in a system of electoral distortion, and armor-plated with an ample repertoire of legal repression.”

Anderson acknowledges that in this respect, India is not alone: “All liberal democracies are significantly less liberal, and considerably less democratic, than they fancy themselves to be.” What then is the secret of Indian democracy? With appalling levels of poverty and inequality, and with multiple regional challenges to the union, what has held Indian democracy together? Why has mass discontent “not exploded in demands for social reparation incompatible with the capitalist framework”? Anderson writes that the answer lies in “the historic peculiarities of [India’s] system of social stratification,” namely, the caste system, which with

the truly deep impediments to collective action, even within language communities, let alone across them, lay in the impassable trenches of the caste system. . . . Hindu social organization fissured the population into some five thousand jatis. . . . Caste is what preserved Hindu democracy from disintegration. Fixing in hierarchical position and dividing from each other every disadvantaged group . . . it struck away any possibility of broad collective action . . . that might otherwise have threatened the stability of the parliamentary order over which Congress serenely presided for two decades after independence, as it became the habitual framework of the nation. (111-12)

Anderson’s view of caste in this account is one-sided and top-down. While he correctly identifies the hierarchies of the caste system as an obstacle to social change, he does not pay enough attention to the history of struggles from below that challenge a rigid and static view of the hegemony of the system. Interested primarily in the form of the state that emerged with independence, Anderson focuses on the battles fought by Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the great Dalit leader and drafter of the Indian constitution, against a privileged, caste-ridden, Hindu-majoritarian, Congress-led state bureaucracy.

But while Ambedkar emerged as the pre-eminent Dalit leader, he was not alone. Indeed, his appeal rested on, and was amplified by, struggles from below. Largely missing from Anderson’s account is the rich history of movements of Dalits and oppressed castes, often involving alliances that crossed caste boundaries, often in coalition with Muslims, that continued into the decades leading up to independence, and have continued since. Castes and caste-boundaries have been shaped and reshaped by such struggles; this malleability reflects the system’s strength, its adaptability, but also its impermanence. An excellent account of such struggles from below that challenged not only Brahmin hegemony, but also that potentially posed a challenge to nationalism itself, can be found in G. Aloysius’ Nationalism without a Nation in India.

Nevertheless, Anderson’s broader claim about the centrality of caste to the stability of Hindu-majoritarian hegemony in Indian politics is valid. Ambedkar had argued that caste inequality was a contradiction that Indian democracy would have to overcome if it were to survive. Anderson pushes this argument further: Ambedkar, he writes, “underestimated the system of inequality against which he had fought for so long. It was not a contradiction of the democracy to come. It was the condition of it. India would be a caste-iron democracy.” Caste, for Anderson, is “the secret of Indian democracy,” its enabling condition and not just an obstacle to its realization.

• • •

When first published in the London Review of Books, Anderson’s essays caused quite a stir, and several critical responses proliferated online. The book has likewise attracted criticism from different quarters. Ananya Vajpeyi’s review carried by The Caravan, a progressive Indian magazine, takes Anderson to task for presuming to write critically of Indian nationalism’s revered icons like Gandhi and Nehru. Pankaj Mishra, writing in Foreign Affairs, decries Anderson’s “world-historical pessimism” about the “future of India.” Vijay Prashad, in his review for Naked Punch, complains that Anderson fails to recognize the “vitality” of Indian nationalism.

While the reviews differ in their specifics, they share a general disdain for Anderson’s claim to expertise on matters South Asian; as Ananya Vajpeyi uncharitably put it, Anderson’s essays exude a “sense of belated discovery.” Anderson’s arguments, writes Vajpeyi, “have been made much more thoroughly and consistently by Indians themselves, especially those who share his ideological orientation. We know quite well the clay feet of our heroes, the tarnish on their statues, the chinks in their armour.” Other reviewers adopted a similarly defensive stance, chastising Anderson for saying what others have said before, and asking him to keep his Westerner’s views to himself. This begs the question: if Anderson is merely repeating what others have said before, then why the kerfuffle? The subtitle of Vajpeyi’s review is telling: “Why the idea of India cannot be trivially [sic] dismissed.” Each element of his critique on its own seems palatable enough to Vajpeyi and others, but questioning the very idea of India raises their hackles.

Vajpeyi faults Anderson for his ‘flagrant—nay, malign—misreading of the nature, meaning, and role of “Hinduism” in India’s political life,’ absurdly suggesting that Anderson sees Indian secularism as a “fraud and an exercise in bad faith because Indians are Hindus.” Nowhere does Anderson suggest this. What he does argue is that the leadership of the nationalist movement and the state that it inherited “have rested, sociologically speaking, on Hindu caste society,” hence the marginalization and treatment of Muslims as second-class citizens. This is why he argues that “Indian secularism is Hindu confessionalism by another name.” Where Vajpeyi, following Wendy Doniger’s lead in her book The Hindus, wishes to defend Hinduism and to distinguish it from the politics of Hindutva, Anderson is interested in how Hindu rule has been consolidated over and against the multiplicity of India’s famed diversity and stated secularity. He has less to say about Hinduism as such than about the instrumental use of confessional appeals by those who contended for and inherited the political machinery of the Raj. Vajpeyi’s defense of India’s “historically deep . . . modalities of toleration that have been explored and theorized in this part of the world over the past two-and-a-half millennia” does nothing to dent Anderson’s critique of the way that Hindu dominance has been written into its post-colonial political system. Meanwhile, her celebration of the “achievement of a democratic order in one of the world’s most diverse and hierarchical cultures” simply reiterates elements of the Indian Ideology that Anderson holds responsible for India’s milquetoast liberalism.

Pankaj Mishra, well known for his opposition to the Indian state’s treatment of Kashmiris and to the Indian public’s indifference to it, is no uncritical Indian patriot. But Mishra’s explicit anti-Marxism puts him at odds with Anderson’s project. Mishra too, like Vajpeyi, acknowledges the validity of the different strands of Anderson’s critique. Despite these points of agreement, just as Vajpeyi takes umbrage at Anderson’s temerity to question India’s “very existence as a single nation” so too does Mishra “balk at following Anderson to his final destination, which is to bluntly deny India much of a future in the modern world.” Mishra laments what he calls Anderson’s “world-historical pessimism” but being pessimistic about the permanence of nation-states isn’t an intellectual (or even a Marxist) crime. For Mishra and others, Anderson goes too far in his criticism of the idea of a united India. Mishra consequently misreads and distorts elements of Anderson’s argument. For instance, Anderson suggests that parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have led anti-caste struggles into a cul de sac of identity politics, but Mishra tendentiously reads this as an instance of Anderson’s “secular rationalism” and Western-centrism.

Vijay Prashad rightly points out that Anderson’s book would have been strengthened by a close reading of one or more of the texts that Anderson holds up as representative of the Indian Ideology today. But Prashad wishes to reclaim the Nehruvian era as a progressive one, and therefore takes issue with Anderson’s claim that the rise of the BJP does not signal a major break in the trajectory of the Indian state. Anderson certainly overstates his case, but Prashad’s defense of the Nehruvian state rings hollow against Anderson’s account of the combination of repression and chicanery with which the Indian state was consolidated through those decades following independence. Prashad also highlights a glaring lacuna in Anderson’s book—it lacks any discussion of the Indian Left. Anderson acknowledges this gap in his Preface, and leaves open the question of the Left’s relationship to the Indian Ideology, except to suggest that the hegemony of the Indian Ideology is something the Left has had to contend with. Prashad argues that “[h]ad Anderson engaged with the writings of the Left he would have [had] to concede an important point, that Indian nationalism was far richer than Gandhi’s contribution and Gandhi was not as sacrosanct as Anderson makes him out to be.” He writes that vigorous critiques of Gandhi appeared from within the fabric of Indian nationalism, but Anderson “reduces nationalism to Gandhi . . . and fails to recognize its vitality that has only now seemed to run its course. Indian nationalism was not stillborn. It had a very good run, but now finds itself on life support.”

Prashad, in other words, urges us to pay closer attention to the writings of the Marxist left to reassure ourselves of the vitality of Indian nationalism. Where Prashad seeks to defend Indian nationalism in the name of the Left, presumably to safeguard it from appropriation by the Hindu Right, he fails to ask the questions that Anderson’s analysis leads to: How has the Indian Ideology hobbled the Left? Why have Communists (with the notable exception of Maoists) taken the idea of a unitary India for granted? Why do Indian Communists continue to speak of national unification as a heroic accomplishment, and national unity as a sacred ideal, and what are the consequences of such thinking?

Anderson’s critique of the Idea of India should not be seen as narrowly applicable to the liberal mainstream of Indian opinion. Anderson himself vaguely refers to “wide reaches of the area self-defined as to the left of this mainstream” that have accepted the Indian Ideology as their own. For the Left, Anderson’s critique raises a number of questions that it leaves tantalizingly unanswered. If democracy, secularism, and national unity as they are enshrined in liberal nationalist thinking are values that the Left must give up, where does that leave us? What could or should replace the “Idea of India”? What are the implications of this analysis for our understanding of the subcontinental state system and for the future of struggles for national self-determination and social emancipation? The Indian Ideology offers few answers to these questions, but is an excellent conversation starter.