Australasian Spartacist No. 240
ICL in East Germany 1989-90:
No to Capitalist Reunification!: For a Red Germany of Workers Councils!
The following reprint from Workers Vanguard No. 1168 (17 January), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S., is a translation of an article from Spartakist No. 223 (Autumn 2019), newspaper of our comrades of the Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, German section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).
The bourgeoisie and its social-democratic lackeys in the SPD [Social Democratic Party] and the Left Party are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the alleged “peaceful revolution” that brought East Germans “freedom and democracy.” They present capitalist counterrevolution as positive and the sole possible outcome. In fact, the capitalist counterrevolutions in the DDR [East Germany] in 1990 and in the Soviet Union in 1991-92 constituted an enormous defeat for the working class internationally.
The German bourgeoisie and its media are waging a constant campaign declaring that the end of the Soviet Union and the DDR proves that communism was doomed to fail—one mustn’t even dream of an alternative to capitalism. The truth is that the very existence of the Soviet Union and East Germany as workers states—despite being under the political rule of a parasitic bureaucratic caste—proved that capitalism can be overthrown and society reorganized on the basis of a collectivized economy.
Capitalist counterrevolution did not mean the “death of communism,” but rather exposed the bankruptcy of the treacherous anti-revolutionary policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Thirty years later, as the German bourgeoisie’s vendetta against the DDR continues, it is important to draw the correct lessons from the events of that time. What Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels explained and the Bolsheviks of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky implemented remains valid today. Socialist revolution, through which the working class overthrows the capitalist class and sets up a workers state, is the only escape from exploitation and oppression under capitalism—and must take place on an international scale.
A few years after the heroic victory of the Soviet Red Army over Nazi Germany in 1945, the capitalists in East Germany and in East Europe were expropriated and workers states were established. In contrast to production for profit under capitalism, these workers states were based on collectivized property forms and planned economies, which marked an enormous achievement for the working class and particularly for women. We Trotskyists called for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state and of the deformed workers states against imperialist aggression and internal counterrevolution. Today, we defend the remaining deformed workers states of China, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea and Laos.
However, the East German workers state was, like the other East European workers states, bureaucratically deformed from the outset. The anti-revolutionary program of the Stalinists meant opposing the international extension of the revolution, and they pushed the nationalist illusion of building “socialism in one country” (in half a country in the case of the DDR). The bureaucracy spread the lie that “peaceful coexistence” with the imperialists was possible, and sought to repress any and all independent action by the working class.
The 1917 October Revolution was the first victorious socialist revolution, and it established the dictatorship of the proletariat in what became the Soviet Union. This point is fundamental to our understanding of Stalinism. In the wake of the failure of the proletarian revolution in Germany in 1923, the working class in the Soviet Union was politically expropriated by a bureaucratic caste led by J.V. Stalin, and the Bolshevik Party was eventually destroyed as a revolutionary organization. A political counterrevolution had occurred, but the proletarian property forms were not destroyed. The Soviet Union became a degenerated workers state.
Capitalist counterrevolution strengthened the imperialists, particularly in Germany, and laid the basis for the increased dominance of German imperialism via the European Union. Subsequently, the living and working conditions of the working class in Germany as a whole were heavily attacked and have drastically worsened. All of East Europe was opened up to capitalist exploitation, becoming a cheap labor pool for the imperialists.
The bourgeoisie falsely claims that the working class in East Germany wanted a return to capitalism. The truth is that in the fall of 1989, there was an incipient proletarian political revolution in the DDR. While the Stalinists did their utmost to prevent any mobilization by the working class, the pro-socialist workers at the base of the SED [East German Socialist Unity Party, the ruling Stalinist party] were looking for alternatives to the rotten politics of the SED’s Stalinist leadership; one of their demands was for a return to the road of Lenin. On 4 November 1989, as many as a million people demonstrated in Berlin with socialist banners, such as “For Communist Ideals!” and “For a German Republic of Soviets! Build Workers Councils!” (while some took up the social-democratic call for “Free Elections”). On November 7, the government of the DDR resigned, followed on the next day by the Political Bureau of the SED.
During this political opening in the fall of 1989, we Trotskyists of the ICL mobilized all our international forces in defense of the DDR deformed workers state, fighting for a red Germany of workers councils, for revolutionary reunification through political revolution in the East and social revolution in the West. We said: “Form workers and soldiers councils!”
Treptow, January 1990: Turning Point
The impact of our revolutionary program was shown on 3 January 1990, when 250,000 Berlin workers and other anti-fascists streamed to a pro-Soviet rally against the Nazis and counterrevolution. The protest was against the Nazi desecration of a monument in Berlin’s Treptow Park honoring the Soviet soldiers killed in World War II. We Trotskyists initiated this united-front demonstration, and it found such support among workers in Berlin that the SED-PDS [the SED added Party of Democratic Socialism to their name] was forced to call for the demo. Although shaped by the disproportion of forces, there was a contest between the Stalinist program of capitulation/counterrevolution and our Trotskyist program for political revolution.
It is with pride that we publish at the end of this article the speech given by our comrade Renate Dahlhaus at Treptow. This was the first time Trotskyists were able to speak publicly before a mass audience in a deformed workers state since the late 1920s, when Trotsky was banned from the Soviet Union and his Left Opposition smashed.
Treptow posed the possibility of organized working-class resistance to capitalist reunification by the base of the SED-PDS. German imperialism and its SPD agents reacted with a rabid anti-Communist campaign intended to break the authority of the SED-PDS. Ten years later, on 8 November 1999, former Soviet head of state Mikhail Gorbachev stated in a TV discussion with [West German chancellor] Helmut Kohl and George H.W. Bush:
“An especially critical situation came about in January . In essence, a breakdown of structures took place. A threat arose—a threat of disorganization, of a big destabilization. This began on January 3 [the day of the Treptow demonstration] and [went] further almost every day . That was when I said to him [Kohl] that we in the Soviet leadership took as our point of departure that whatever form and whatever time period by which the unification of Germany took place—this was the right of Germans themselves.”
At the beginning of 1990, Gorbachev gave the green light for capitalist annexation. The treacherous Stalinist bureaucracy of the Soviet Union accepted dissolution of the DDR into a united capitalist Germany, in part out of fear that a political revolution might spread to the Soviet Union. When the Kremlin sold out the DDR to the West German capitalists, the leaders of the SED-PDS acquiesced to the betrayal, and their party became the PDS, another social-democratic party [alongside the SPD]. On his return from Moscow on February 1, Hans Modrow, the head of the DDR government, proclaimed: “Germany, united fatherland.”
The SED-PDS demoralized the workers and intellectuals whose hopes were for a reinvigorated socialist society. During the 18 March 1990 elections (the date of which had been hastily moved forward), we Trotskyists ran under the central slogans: “No to capitalist reunification! For a Germany of workers councils!” In places where we did not run candidates, we offered to vote for parties and groups that stood against capitalist reunification. Not a single organization was prepared to take this stand, including the KPD [Communist Party of Germany] and the Communist Platform, underlining the pro-capitalist politics of the reformist left. These groups took counterrevolution as a foregone conclusion, helping to pave the path to it. The Fourth Reich of German imperialism won the election with a massive victory for the alliance led by the CDU [Christian Democratic Union] chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Just as we had warned, the attempt by the Soviet Stalinists to appease the Western imperialists by handing over the DDR did not pay off. On the contrary, the imperialists were encouraged to pursue counterrevolution even more aggressively in the Soviet Union. The ICL intervened to bring the program of the October Revolution back to its homeland, with the aim of proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy. Though we lost in the DDR and the Soviet Union against the forces of the imperialists and their social-democratic and Stalinist stooges, we fought. In the 1938 Transitional Program, Trotsky presented the alternatives for the Soviet Union, ultimately resolved in the negative: “Either the bureaucracy, becoming ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the workers’ state, will overthrow the new forms of property and plunge the country back into capitalism; or the working class will crush the bureaucracy and open the way to socialism.”
SPD: Trojan Horse of Counterrevolution
The bourgeoisie’s primary and historic instrument in the destruction of the DDR was the Social Democracy. The SPD is a bourgeois workers party—its leadership has a bourgeois program, but it has a working-class base. Its fundamental role is to defend the interests of German imperialism while attempting to give it a “social” coloration. For example, the SPD’s then-candidate for chancellor, Oskar Lafontaine, argued merely for slowing down the economic aspects of Anschluss [annexation], doing everything he could to ensure that West German workers would not resist. The Treuhand [privatizing agency] went on to dismantle DDR industry in the interest of German conglomerates.
East Germany’s pro-socialist working class was atomized as its workers lost their jobs. Before, in the DDR, full employment had been the standard. More than 90 percent of women were employed (as compared to only around half in West Germany), made possible by the planned economy’s comprehensive system of childcare, with nurseries and kindergartens. Counterrevolution destroyed all this. Even the DDR’s Fristenlösung law [permitting abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy] was replaced and brought in line with the much more anti-woman West German abortion laws, under which abortion is legally punishable to this day.
New legions of the East German unemployed were used by German bosses to mount a massive attack on living standards in the West as well. Following Anschluss, a campaign was launched to break the power of the unions and destroy the system of collective bargaining agreements. The SPD and PDS, which later became the Left Party, played the main role in forcing workers to swallow such attacks, especially by averting class struggle. The social-democratic leadership of the unions has allowed a situation where, 30 years after “unification,” lower wages and longer work hours still prevail in the East.
With the Social Democracy staunchly supporting the European Union, German imperialism has expanded its role as the dominant power in Europe, using the EU and the euro to intensify the exploitation and oppression of the working masses in eastern and southern Europe, as well as within Germany. Down with the EU and the euro! We stand for a Socialist United States of Europe, united on a voluntary basis, which can only be attained through a series of socialist revolutions.
Millions of workers in Germany, many of them immigrants or ethnic minorities, slave away and sacrifice their health for starvation wages. The bourgeoisie uses this gigantic low-wage sector, comprised of contract laborers and temporary workers, to further depress wages for everyone. The SPD/Green government of former chancellor Gerhard Schröder bears direct responsibility for programs like Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV [that attacked social benefits].
To achieve the unity of the working class, it is necessary to fight against every form of discrimination and for full citizenship rights for all who live here. No deportations! A revolutionary workers party that acts as a tribune of all the oppressed would be heavily composed of minorities. For a multiethnic revolutionary workers party!
Left Party Administers Capitalist State
Since counterrevolution in East Germany, the SPD and PDS/Left Party have played a central role in carrying out attacks on the working class while serving in capitalist governments on both the federal and state level. The Left Party, also known as Die Linke, is another bourgeois workers party that, far from offering an alternative to the SPD, is a mere rehash. For nearly 20 years, Die Linke and its precursor, the PDS, have co-administered capitalist governments throughout the former DDR. The bourgeois state is an apparatus of repression, comprised of the police, army, prisons and courts, which exists to defend capitalism through force. The capitalist state and government cannot be reformed or be used to act in the interest of the exploited. Wherever Die Linke is in government, it deports immigrants, enforces Hartz IV and carries out brutal capitalist austerity policies. In dutifully carrying out capitalism’s dirty business, Die Linke demoralizes the working class.
Pseudo-Trotskyist organizations like Marx21 [supporters of Tony Cliff] or SAV [Socialist Alternative] that work within Die Linke cover for these pro-capitalist politics, contributing in their own small way to the crimes of the Social Democracy against the workers.
The bourgeois press spreads the anti-communist lie that the electoral successes of the AfD [Alternative for Germany] in the former DDR are due to its citizens having lived under “two dictatorships”: the fascist Third Reich and the DDR. In fact, support for the AfD has to do with its populist demagogy on issues like the Treuhand, where it capitalizes on justified rage over the catastrophic effects of counterrevolution to promote its racist program. Though the AfD overlaps with fascist groups, it is not itself fascist, but is primarily a parliamentary phenomenon. To claim the AfD is fascist prettifies German bourgeois democracy, the capitalist government and its parties in parliament, while at the same time trivializing the genuine fascists.
Fascism is not a matter of reactionary ideas but of murderous terror on the streets. Since the counterrevolution, fascists have murdered at least 196 immigrants, leftists and others. The Nazis are paramilitary bands that carry out terror against minorities and the most vulnerable, and whose goal is the destruction of the workers movement. Their existence is inextricably tied to capitalism (see our warning below in the Treptow speech). The struggle against fascism must therefore be linked to the fight against capitalism. For the mobilization of workers/ minorities based on the power of the trade unions to stop the Nazis!
While the governing coalition of the CDU-SPD led by Angela Merkel incessantly attacks workers and the oppressed, the reformist left has pushed a “fight the right” campaign that presents the AfD as a “fascist” danger. This campaign serves to back up and give political support to the Merkel government. By “the right,” they mean the AfD, not the CDU with its grand coalitions and its various versions (including the coalitions of the SPD, Left Party and the Greens) in the states and municipalities. This is nothing but a whitewash of the bourgeois parties and the Social Democrats who administer capitalism.
For instance, the entire reformist left hailed Merkel’s immigrant policy in 2015 [when hundreds of thousands of refugees, mostly from Syria, entered Germany], selling the fiction that it reflected “empathy” for these refugees. Actually, the imperialists simply regulate immigration and the entry of refugees according to the interests of their system of exploitation and oppression. As minorities know all too well, imperialist Germany—under Merkel as under every imperialist führer—is a racist hell.
The argument that the imperialist policies pursued by Merkel and the grand coalition are a “lesser evil” to the AfD means political support to German imperialism. This was the case with the “#unteilbar” [indivisible] demonstrations [against xenophobia and discrimination] in Berlin in 2018 and Dresden in 2019, which preached unity with the exploiters who are, in reality, the masters of the fascists. These popular fronts sabotage the necessary independence of the workers from their exploiters and politically disarm the working class vis-à-vis their class enemies and the fascists.
The Social Democracy—the SPD, Die Linke and their small hangers-on—promotes and upholds German capitalism and forms the predominant obstacle on the road to a revolutionary transformation of society. Capitalism, exploitation and private ownership of the means of production will be abolished when the bourgeois state, the executive organ of the bourgeoisie, is smashed. On the basis of workers councils, working-class power can be achieved through socialist revolution, just as the October Revolution of 1917 demonstrated and showed the way forward. What’s needed is a revolutionary party on the model of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks. For new October Revolutions worldwide!
* * *
We will never forget that 20 million Soviet citizens gave their lives to smash Hitler’s fascism. They must not have died in vain.
When the fascists committed their outrage here, the Trotskyist League and Spartakist Gruppen immediately took the initiative for today’s demonstration. The fascists are raising their heads here in the DDR, in Erfurt, Dresden, Görlitz, Halle. What is urgently needed is the militant mobilization of the working people, including immigrant workers, comrades from Vietnam, Poland and Mozambique, to stop and to crush the fascist beast while it is still small.
The Leninist united front, the workers united front that Trotsky fought for in the early ’30s, was needed then and is needed today to stop the Nazis.
If the fascists are smashed they cannot make a bid for power. But that means that the working class must be organized and strong and a contender for power. The highest form of the united front in a revolutionary situation like we are going through today is the workers and soldiers soviet.
As long as capitalism exists there is a cycle of struggles which keep recurring. There is less of a material basis for fascists in the DDR because the natural base of fascism, capitalism, does not exist here today. A political revolution has broken out and is growing in our midst, and we must defend it.
Economic absorption and political incorporation by stages—which West German imperialism, aided by the SPD, seeks—can turn this political revolution into a social counterrevolution. This must not happen! It is necessary to fight against it!
That’s right, stop the Nazis through a workers united front! We have to think further. Our economy is suffering from waste and obsolescence. The SED party dictatorship has shown that it is incompetent to fight this. East Germany urgently needs selective.... [Interjections] Comrades, learn to listen, learn what a united front means.
What is urgently needed is a selective modernization of existing industry. With us in the DDR things are very different than in those countries, the other “socialist” countries which adhere to Stalin’s concept of building “socialism in one country,” and demonstrate that it is a transparent stupidity. We have hard choices—we must understand the danger of being at the mercy of the world market.
Comrades, fighting against the sellout of the DDR means getting clear in our minds that we are not going to wind up at the mercy of the world market controlled by the imperialists and the Deutsche Bank. The means for selling out the DDR is the Social Democracy—that had better be known to us all.
Do not be deceived: the military threat of imperialism, which continues to be organized above all by the American ruling class, still persists. Yesterday, today and tomorrow they use direct and indirect military violence to achieve their aim.
This is directed centrally against the Soviet Union and everywhere that the capitalists have been eliminated as a class, or where imperialism hopes that it has an opportunity. The Soviet Union practices its own economic autarky which is not particularly beneficial to us and has led the Soviet Union into grave economic difficulties.
Lenin said, “Politics is concentrated economics.” The fight for the power to make these decisions and to run this country must lie in the hands of workers councils so that rational decisions satisfactory to the majority can be arrived at. This can only be done through open and sometimes painful debates before the whole people. Perhaps our example will encourage the Soviet Union to take the same road. [Interjections]
Comrades, listen and learn that only through painful and open debates can the road to socialism be opened.
The Soviet Union will certainly take the same road, and that would also assist us in jointly solving economic and political problems and in the defense of our states, our workers states, which are presently transitional, broken from capitalism but certainly not yet socialist.
Comrades, as everybody knows, the power.... [Interjections] Comrades, as you know, the SED’s monopoly of power has been broken. The masses are free to speak their minds. Learn to listen to them. It is only through the benevolent pressure of the Soviet Army that this has been made possible. What is lacking here is real organized conflicting political parties in struggle, a precondition for real workers democracy.
These are some of the concerns and some of the aims we seek to address as we fight to forge a new workers party—of equal rights, equal duties—in the spirit of Lenin, Liebknecht and Luxemburg. Stop the Nazis through united-front action! Workers and soldiers soviets to power! Workers of the world unite!