Workers Vanguard No. 977
1 April 2011
For Womens Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
Women and the East German Deformed Workers State
(Women and Revolution pages)
We print below the conclusion of this article, which was translated from Spartakist No. 185 (October 2010), published by our comrades of the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany. Part One appeared in WV No. 976 (18 March).
The Soviet Military Administration in Germany existed until November 1949, a month after the DDR [East German deformed workers state] was founded. Already in August 1946, the goal of drawing women into production—the so-called “Order 253”—had been promulgated, banning wage discrimination based on sex or age. A comparison: in West Germany such a law only came into existence ten years later. And of course under capitalism such a law—no wage discrimination—exists only on paper. Wage differentials are part and parcel of capitalism, a means of dividing the working class, particularly male and female workers. This is a fundamental component of the economic system.
Just a few days ago, there was a report in Der Spiegel with 2008 statistics showing wage differentials of over 23 percent between men and women. And simultaneously there has been a great increase in part-time work for women, who of course cannot survive on their wages but can’t work full-time, since they can’t get their children taken care of, etc. This law “against wage discrimination” has been in force in West Germany since 1956, but that signifies absolutely nothing.
Certainly, wage differences between men and women did exist in the DDR as well, but first of all they were not as shameless, since the wage range was not as wide and even the lowest wage groups had a secure living standard. It stemmed from bureaucratic misrule and was not inherent to the system. A government of workers soviets would have immediately annulled any wage differences, even if this would have meant opposing more backward elements in the working class.
Taking a look at the Democratic Women’s Federation of Germany (DFD) is instructive here. It was founded in the DDR in 1947, having originally emerged out of the anti-fascist women’s committees, i.e., out of committees that clearly in their own view—and by their very name—embraced a broader horizon. But the East German Stalinist party, the Socialist Unity Party (SED), increasingly tasked the DFD with dealing with “women’s matters.”
The DFD was affiliated with the so-called “National Front,” an attempt by the DDR bureaucracy to mimic West Germany’s “democratic” multiplicity of parties. This DDR formation contained all possible parties, from the Peasant Party to the Christian Democrats, but with the Stalinist bureaucracy setting the tone via the SED. In contrast to the situation under capitalism, this simply parodied a capitalist popular front, which always consists of a class alliance of bourgeois parties and workers parties. In the DDR, however, the bourgeoisie as a class had been overthrown and the National Front had only the appearance of a popular front.
Popular-frontist politics are a deception of the working class, politically disarming the workers by creating the illusion that they have no independent class interests and talking only about an undifferentiated “people.” Internationally this meant that the Stalinist bureaucracies cozied up to bourgeois forces. For workers following Stalinist leadership, all too often this meant deadly defeats—as in the Chinese Revolution in 1927 and the Spanish Revolution in the 1930s, to cite only a couple of examples. For Marxists, the DDR was a dictatorship of the proletariat—albeit bureaucratically deformed —that rested on socialized relations of production, since the bourgeoisie had been expropriated. Within this framework, the National Front was one part of the programmatic propaganda of the DDR bureaucracy, which did not want its working class to come up with the idea that it had its own class interests, namely running the workers state itself via workers councils.
Nonetheless, the following is interesting as a fact: In the DDR, the DFD was a mass organization. These anti-fascist committees and DFD groups had originally existed in all of Germany. In the West, an association arose out of individual state associations in 1952; it was unceremoniously banned by the German bourgeoisie in 1957.
A couple more facts comparing the situation of women in these two countries, East and West Germany. In 1965, a compendium of family law appeared in the DDR stating: “Both spouses must do their part in the education and care of their children and running the household. The relations of the spouses to each other should take such a form that the woman can reconcile her professional activity and her activity in society with motherhood.” While this meant exalting the “holy family,” it still emphasized the equal status of women. In a 1966 report, the government of West Germany set forth that: “A care-giver and comforter is what women should be; an image of modest harmony, a factor for order in the uniquely dependable private sphere; women should enter into gainful employment and social engagement only when the demands placed on them by the family permit them to do so.” In accord with this is the fact that up till 1977 a West German law stated that a wife could not get a job without her husband’s consent.
It was, of course, the socialized relations of production in the DDR that were responsible for these differences. Furthermore, an important aspect was that inheritance played no role in the DDR, since private ownership of the means of production no longer existed. After all, Engels had explained that what had originally been central to the entire institution and ideology of the family was that the husband wanted to know unambiguously: Are these my children or has my wife been playing the field? I want to bequeath solely to my children. That is the root of it.
All this simply played no role anymore in the DDR: There was nothing to bequeath, and thereby this function of the family under capitalism essentially dissolved. But the Stalinist leadership, these backward types, nonetheless kept trying to maintain the ideology of the family, attempting again and again to glue its ideological fragments together. One further aspect of the family is the regimentation of children, and this eroded as well in the DDR due to the socialized relations of production. In the DDR, since 1950 the age of majority had been set at 18; in West Germany this has been the case only since 1975!
Women’s Day was always celebrated with flowers, accompanied with calls for the husband to make his wife a super-duper breakfast on this day and generally to be very supportive, etc. Such calls only made more obvious what was generally the rule: that women had to work a second shift to keep the household going and look after the children. The DDR leadership was truly seeking to drain International Women’s Day of any trace of its being a day of struggle for the entire working class.
When protests from proletarian women over their overly heavy burden of work and the “second shift” got too loud, there were divergent reactions. On the one hand, the bureaucracy sought to make more consumer goods available to lighten the burden of housework, particularly from the early 1970s on. For example, production of family washing machines was promoted. Perhaps it would have been more rational to massively increase the number of public laundromats and equip them better. There were also widespread campaigns for the husband to do more around the house. In fact, for the husband to help in the household was far more widespread in the DDR than in the West. Since 1952, a “Household Day” had existed in the DDR—one free day per month for household chores, but typically granted only to women. Only from 1977 on was it partially accorded to men as well.
“Socialism in (Half of) One Country”
Housing was a scarce commodity in the DDR. The essential reason was that the resources to build adequate housing simply didn’t exist in this half a country, under siege by vengeance-seeking German imperialism, which was continually brooding over how to regain this territory in which it no longer had the say. It is also important to recall that after 1945 West Germany had been beefed up by U.S. imperialism. Moreover, heavy industry plus the entire Ruhr region—i.e., the center of industry—were in the West. That is an important factor.
But the Stalinist bureaucracy in the DDR was unwilling to utter this home truth, instead making a virtue of necessity. “Socialism in one country” meant that the bureaucracy wanted to produce as “autarkically” as possible. Thus 70 percent of the products available on the world market were produced in the DDR, often of poor quality and at inflated cost, while the imperialists could base themselves on a division of labor in the world market, which they dominated. Married couples had first dibs on apartments, again putting pressure on people to get married. The bureaucracy did not proceed linearly here and kept changing its procedures; officially, single mothers and unmarried couples could also lay claim to an apartment. But the feeling among young people was generally that they had greater chances if they got married, strengthening the functions of the family within society.
An important and particularly unattractive aspect of the Stalinist bureaucracies’ program of “socialism in one country”—in their own individual countries and apart from all others—is that it meant nationalism. While the DDR bureaucracy campaigned strongly for marriage and having children, this generally did not apply to contract workers from Mozambique, Cuba or Vietnam: these had no citizenship rights and were often segregated in specific residential areas. If a Vietnamese woman became pregnant, she usually had to get an abortion or return home, leave the country. This was a genuine, major, true piece of piggishness on the part of the bureaucracy. For us communists, it goes without saying, the central slogan is always “full citizenship rights for all immigrants,” as was true for the early Soviet Union: anyone who lived and worked there had citizenship rights.
Down With Paragraph 218!
The notorious [anti-abortion] Paragraph 218 constitutes an extremely important aspect of the woman and family question. This paragraph has existed since the time of Bismarck, since 1871. In the Weimar Republic, the Communist Party [KPD] was well known for its fight against Paragraph 218. There are some expressive posters, for example by Käthe Kollwitz, who for a couple of years was a member of the International Workers’ Aid, the defense organization linked to the KPD. In the Weimar Republic, the KPD repeatedly introduced motions in the Reichstag [parliament] demanding: Down with this paragraph! All were quashed.
The first alteration after 1871 occurred in 1926, through a Social Democratic Party (SPD) motion that did pass. Abortion continued to be punishable under law, both for the woman and for the person performing it, but now it was “only” punished by a jail term and not by sending the perpetrators to a high-security prison. The fact that under the Nazis the death penalty was imposed for abortion—unless it served to prevent the “reproduction of inferior racial groups”—demonstrates the power exercised by the bourgeoisie via Paragraph 218 and just how deeply it cut into people’s lives.
In 1945, the Nazi regime was smashed by the Red Army, through incredible sacrifice by the Soviet soldiers and people. After 1945, in both the East and the West, the Nazi law—i.e., the death penalty—was rescinded, but otherwise the old paragraph in the penal code was left standing. In the East, that is, in what became the DDR, this occurred with a direct reference to the legal code in the Soviet Union, where abortion had been forbidden by the 1936 Soviet constitution. In the areas under the Soviet Military Administration, the 1926 version of the paragraph was in force. Additionally, in some East German states, there was an “indication system,” requiring that certain social or medical conditions be met, e.g., citing rape. There were a couple of minor different possibilities for how a woman might get an abortion, but they still fell under criminal law.
At this time, West Germany often had even stricter penalties for abortion. But before the erection of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, women from the DDR went to West Berlin for abortions! The West Berlin Senate, usually in the hands of the SPD, obviously kept its eyes closed in the hope of damaging the DDR. This is such an utterly damning judgment on the Stalinists, for women to have to go to the capitalist part of Berlin for an abortion! And later women from the DDR went to Poland and Hungary for abortions: In Poland, a first-trimester law existed, while today, following capitalist counterrevolution, Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, with ongoing attempts to ban abortion entirely. This is a result of counterrevolution. But before first-trimester abortions were permitted in the DDR, women really did go to Poland and Hungary, where abortions were more readily available, as well as better and safer.
The question of the pill is also important and interesting. In the West, Schering introduced the pill to the German market in June 1961. In the DDR, there was a lengthy research period, with the pill appearing only in 1965. But it was then distributed free of charge, which made a huge difference. In West Germany in 1965, years after the pill had already been on the market, doctors were still denouncing this “state-promoted lack of restraint.” In the DDR, Professor Mehlan was one of the pioneers of birth control. In 1965, the West German magazine Stern asked him the provocative question: Now tell us honestly—is it true that where you come from, abortion really is not murder? This is the way West Germany was in the 1960s, and even today this is far from being the unfortunate distant past. The Catholic church and other bigots continue to call abortion “murder.” In the U.S., doctors who carry out abortions have been murdered. This rests on the notion purveyed by all churches that the will of God has already endowed the fertilized egg with the “soul” of the future human being.
In general, the Stalinist leadership in the DDR wobbled on the question of abortion and the pill. On the one hand, it cited the KPD in the Weimar Republic, which had fought Paragraph 218. On the other, it pushed the institution of the family; it needed population growth and additional labor and had to attract women into production, which in turn generated problems if women had no access to rational family planning. With their conservative program, the Stalinists were reacting on the one hand to pressure from the proletariat, including proletarian women, on the other to imperialism—they were, so to speak, attempting a wall-balancing act before the Berlin Wall even existed. Here again it is important to state that we Trotskyists defended the Wall, a bureaucratic measure (after all, that’s how the bureaucracy works!) but also, however, a defensive measure to stop the DDR from being bled white of acutely needed skilled workers. Thus we defended the Wall against imperialism.
The DDR bureaucracy’s program of “peaceful coexistence” entails the rejection of workers revolution and the illusory search for “progressive” bourgeois forces in the imperialist countries. The Stalinists always thought and hoped that the SPD—the SPD in West Germany of all things!—might perhaps be an expression of such “progressive forces.” The Stalinists tended to fix their gaze on the SPD in the West the way a rabbit looks at a snake.
When first-trimester abortion was finally introduced in the DDR in 1972, it was also an attempt to trump the imperialist West and the SPD in the minds of women. For in the West in the summer of 1971, a well-known campaign had commenced with major involvement of SPD supporters: “We’ve had an abortion.” Women accused themselves of this “criminal act.” In all probability hastened by this, termination of a pregnancy in the first three months was finally allowed in the DDR. Incidentally, first-trimester abortions were introduced in West Germany in June 1974, only to be nullified the very same month by the Federal Constitutional Court on the grounds that abortion was in principle violating the constitution. Since May 1976, an “indication system” with all its contempt for humanity and with compulsory consultation, often carried out by church officials, has been the rule in West Germany. We communists fight for the unlimited right of women to free abortion on demand, with the best possible medical care!
As recently as 1988-89, a witchhunting trial took place in Memmingen, West Germany, where Dr. Theissen was hauled into court for having performed abortions—safe abortions, fine medical work. He felt that women had the right to decide for themselves. He was hauled into court and put in prison, and we intervened in his defense.
We also intervened for our position for the unconditional right to abortion in major demonstrations that took place in the former DDR following counterrevolution. These demonstrations were protesting introduction of West Germany’s “indication model,” where some guy poses inhumane questions and can judge you. These protests were for maintaining the DDR’s first-trimester laws. And they were so strong that even two years after the counterrevolution two different laws continued to exist in East and West. The bourgeoisie feared this question could spark stronger protests against the Anschluss [annexation] of the DDR. Two whole years, and then the indication system was pushed through in the former DDR as well.
DDR Bureaucracy Capitulates to SPD, Church
Twenty years after counterrevolution in the DDR, both state churches [Catholic and Protestant], whose church taxes are automatically collected by the bourgeois state, were complaining that too few people were attending church in the former DDR.
In the first years of the DDR, there was still quite a lot of support for the church, above all among women in the countryside. One of the first campaigns the church waged was for preservation of the old system of midwives, who attended families at home, and against the new state health centers. Women naturally realized the real advantages of obtaining better, more comprehensive medical treatment in a health center than a midwife could provide at home, and bit by bit the midwives were integrated into the health system. Between 1952 and 1959, in-hospital births rose from 50 to 86 percent. So the churches really lost out with this probing action. And then the churches intervened again massively over the DDR’s family legislation, namely against women in production—women had to remain with the family. This naturally did nothing for the church’s popularity, since women increasingly grasped how their participation in the production process led to more independence.
It really is a case of “being determines consciousness.” Any need for the church simply disappeared over time for women in the DDR. And then the church sought to rise up with a campaign against the first-trimester abortion law of 1971. For the first time, a considerable number of no votes and abstentions were cast in the Volkskammer [People’s Chamber, the DDR parliament] from the Christian Democratic Union, which had seats as a member of the National Front. But the forces of the church could not set the world on fire over this. Under capitalism, private ownership of the means of production, linked, as noted before, to inheritance laws and the bourgeois family, needs ideological sanctification by the church. Capitalism needs the church.
And in all class societies, this goes together with a more or less vigorous persecution of homosexuality. If private ownership of the means of production no longer exists, the church gradually loses its basis. Nobody has any use for it any longer, even though it may take years for its influence to diminish. In the DDR, this was such a long, drawn-out affair because the bureaucrats were hailing the family, thereby implicitly providing ammunition to the church! This glorification of the family in the DDR also brought with it ongoing, greater and lesser harassment of homosexuals, but there was a clear difference with the West and also with the East European states after counterrevolution: In the DDR there were no right-wing or Nazi bands roaming the streets terrorizing, for example, gay bars. There was some harassment, but it was really different from capitalism.
Then, in truly grotesque fashion, from the mid to late 1980s the DDR bureaucracy proceeded to provide ammunition to the church, which had basically been on its last legs with meager support—64 percent of the population did not belong to any denomination—through stupefying bureaucratic repression of all the dissatisfaction that was bubbling to the surface of society. In particular, the Protestant church, which was supported by the West German SPD right down to its last hymnal, made its “free zones” available for discussion and so was able to gain ground. While the Stalinist bureaucrats were rather hard on opponents from the left, they were oh-so-accommodating when it came to the rights and the “free zones” of the church. That’s just grotesque: they assisted the church in becoming a factor in people’s consciousness.
Drawing the Lessons: We Communists Are the Memory of the Working Class
From the outset, there were countless men and women of every age in the DDR who consciously devoted themselves to “constructing socialism,” to the extent that they understood it, even if their consciousness was often distorted. Literature, particularly from the first years of the DDR, shows people who were euphoric over the real possibilities for women and men that had suddenly become available to them, possibilities that their parents, especially their mothers, never had! In the 1960s, for example, many artists and writers sought to bring “art to the working class” and the working class to art—the “Bitterfeld Way”—with slogans like “Reach for the Pen, Mate!” or, conversely, “Writers into Production!” Even if these were in part official slogans of the DDR bureaucracy, they were often seized upon enthusiastically. There were loads of women—Brigitte Reimann, Christa Wolf, Maxi Wander, many others—who wrote very interesting stuff about the situation of women, both in the early years, in the midst of this setting off for new horizons, and afterward. It’s fascinating to read about this.
The proportion of women in the lower- and middle-functionary level in the SED and the state was quite high, among the people who actually kept things going and organized things. But the higher you went in the DDR hierarchy, in the Central Committee or the like, the fewer women there were. The essential reason was that most women in the DDR had a family and children and hence a “second shift” that rested on them like a heavy yoke, so that they simply lacked the energy to fight their way upward. The ossified DDR bureaucrats at the top also emphasized, consciously, the important role of the “mommy.” In the program of the Stalinists, the special oppression of women, which would have had to be fought through socializing housework, simply did not exist.
But the answer did not lie in making feminism palatable to the DDR bureaucracy, as suggested by West and East German feminists alike. The answer lay in counterposing a revolutionary Trotskyist program to the politically reactionary program of “socialism in one country.” This is what Trotsky did and what we did in 1989-90. In January 1990, there was a giant pro-socialist, pro-Soviet demonstration in Berlin against a Nazi desecration of the Treptow memorial to the Red Army. At this giant demonstration of 250,000, which we had initiated, our comrades stood on the speakers platform, and for the first time in all those decades it was possible for Trotskyists to deliver a speech before a mass public in a deformed workers state. We called for the defense of the DDR and Soviet Union, for a new, revolutionary party, for political revolution and for the extension of the revolution to the West.
On the other hand, look at the programmatic spirit that permeated the Stalinist bureaucracy. It was not during the counterrevolution that this manifested itself for the first time in the DDR, though at that point it became crystal-clear. The SED renamed itself the SED-PDS [Party of Democratic Socialism], later just the PDS. And once Mikhail Gorbachev had given the green light to capitalist reunification in the name of the Soviet bureaucracy, Hans Modrow, speaking for the SED-PDS, promulgated the slogan “Germany, united fatherland.” These Stalinist bureaucrats, who called themselves the leadership of the working class and who were seen by many DDR workers as such, suddenly told the workers that the sole possibility was capitalist Anschluss to West Germany.
This was not a sudden, panicked transformation; there was a whole history of this. For example, already in 1987 a joint declaration of the SPD and SED was published under the charming title “The Contest of Ideologies and Joint Security,” in which the Stalinists simply crawled on their bellies before the SPD, pledging not to doubt imperialism’s will for peace and foreswearing the “process of world revolution.” Of course, they had already done this decades before, but now they put it down in writing again, emphatically. All of this was a prelude to Gorbachev’s withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the spring of 1989, leaving women in particular defenseless before the mujahedin, who had been financed by the CIA and imperialism. When the Soviet Army marched in, we said: “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan—Extend the gains of October to the Afghan peoples!” The woman question was an especially important aspect of our position. Gorbachev’s withdrawal was a criminal betrayal.
Today, the remnants of the PDS are in the Left Party, which constitutes the second reformist mass party in this country—in Lenin’s words, a bourgeois workers party. They are laboring alongside the SPD to chain the German working class to its imperialist exploiters by telling them that there is no alternative to capitalism.
Counterrevolution in the DDR, in the Soviet Union, in the East European deformed workers states hit women especially hard. This is something we have always emphasized. In the DDR, it particularly hit women with jobs in industry, which has been destroyed by an imperialist campaign of vengeance. The number of people who cannot find work and are today forced to survive on inhumanly low Hartz IV unemployment payments is particularly high in the former DDR, and it is single mothers who are especially hard-hit.
Now as before, we Trotskyists call for unconditional military defense of the states where capitalism no longer exists: today China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba. These deformed workers states represent a conquest for the entire working class worldwide. Our program is for the working class—men and women—to sweep out the bureaucrats through political revolution and return to the road and program of the October Revolution. In capitalist countries, the bourgeoisie must be expropriated by socialist revolution. It is with this aim in mind that we are building our international party. We are the memory of the working class. We must carry this forward. We want to draw the lessons and learn from them, to prepare ourselves for victories. Women’s liberation through socialist revolution!