A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism.” These words from the “Communist Manifesto” are almost 170 years old – written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. “ All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre …”, the text continues. But this “spectre” has stayed alive and will never die – and can neither be killed by silence nor shooting. Many have already tried: Prussian Junker and chancellor Otto von Bismarck tried to fight the time’s still revolutionary Social Democrats by banning the party and expelling members from Germany. The “greatest Führer of all times” and chancellor of the Reich, A. Hitler, wanted to eradicate the Marxist “spectre” completely, root and branch. After 1945, the next chancellor Konrad Adenauer, in capitalist West Germany, tried other, but not really new methods: another ban of the KPD (1956) and – already in 1951 – of the Free German Youth (FDJ). And as if all that hadn’t been enough, his successor, social democrat Willy Brandt, stepped up his efforts against the newly formed German Communist Party – DKP: again, there were thousands of politically motivated trials, plus thousands of “Berufsverbot” cases against professionals and apprentices. But most of all, the postwar rage of German capitalists was directed at the smaller and poorer part of Germany that had become an antifascist and socialist state: the German Democratic Republic, founded in 1949.
Their rage was directed against a state that let itself be guided by the ideas of Marx and Engels, by the experiences from the struggles of the international communist and labor movement, and by the aim of building up an anti-capitalist and anti-fascist alternative to the rule of monopolies and banks, arms industry bosses and wartime profiteers, which had financed the Hitler party even before 1933. The agents of the old capitalist and imperialist order tried to sabotage this state, trying to erase it from the map of Europe. “All powers” of old capitalist Europe plotted against this escape. They tried boycotting the economically weaker anti-fascist and socialist Germany, isolate it politically, and finally tried to strangle it. Over forty years, they hadn’t succeeded.
The GDR’s partners were neither the millionaires and multimillionaires from Wall Street nor the huge American companies nor the banking industry. The Soviet Union had won the war, but was actually depleted and on the brink of its existence, and was thus forced to have the GDR compensate at least a part of the war damages caused by Nazi Germany. The richer West of Germany did not pay a penny. The FRG (West Germany) thus was made the “shop window of the West”. From the so-called Marshall Plan, it received enormous reconstruction aid worth 1,412.8 billion US dollars. That meant that West Germany received the third largest economic aid among Europe’s postwar countries, only France and the UK getting more.
The aim of German and Soviet socialists and communists was initially to maintain Germany as a whole, to promote a new democratic beginning, as well as a change in all of Germany without fascists, wartime profiteers, and capitalists, to build a truly democratic and peaceful Germany. That is also what the Potsdam Agreement between three of the Allies of World War II stipulated. But things turned out differently: “I’d rather have half of Germany all the way, than all of Germany only half-way” – this was Adenauer’s motto that led to splitting up Germany.
The Soviet offer of a peace treaty with a democratic and anti-fascist Germany was dismissed in favor of the “integration” into the capitalist West and its aggressive military alliance NATO. West Germany was thus – first and foremost guided by the USA – to become a “bulwark” of anti-sovietism and anti-communism.
While fascists, Nazi generals, Nazi judges, and war economy leaders of all levels swiftly took over leading positions in the new West German state again, building up an anti-fascist and socialist alternative in the East started with lots of struggle: the generation building up the GDR – they were mostly politically inexperienced sons and daughters of workers and peasants who never belonged to the bourgeois elites. But in the end, they managed creating an anti-fascist alternative to the capitalist West. They turned the smaller part of Germany into one of the top ten industrial countries of the world. They set sail for a longstanding socialist alternative to capitalism, creating an internationally recognized state – and its foreign policy was characterized by internationalism and the struggle for peace. In many countries around the globe, the GDR was respected for its solidarity with peoples fighting for their national and political freedom. And the GDR had become a new home for many who had been pursued by fascism and imperialism.
The GDR was not the land of milk and honey – but it proved that the working people are able to achieve great results, even without capitalists. They built up a country where more than only the most substantial and essential conditions of living were ensured for the masses. They created an internationally recognized system of education, culture, and public health that has rarely been matched. The GDR became a country where working women and mothers could feel what gender equality means, still exemplary today. They created a state where nobody had to live in fear about his or her heated and affordable apartment, without fear about his or her professional future or family. The GDR became a country where not the interest of the millionaires, but the millions of people had been the center of interest for the governing politicians. A country that didn’t participate in wars against its neighbors or in far-away neo-colonialist wars – which the “new” Germany has done since 1990.
This was no “supposed workers’ paradise”, as the anti-communist propaganda machine keeps mocking about it in pejorative terms. It was not a land of plenty. That was due to the economic preconditions as well as to the political framework. Some things remained scarce and imperfect. And some democratic and future-oriented impulses not only failed due to “objective conditions”. But the GDR could nevertheless boast a lot in this respect as well, which is why – according to the German capitalists and imperialists – it had to “disappear”. No longer was there capitalist private ownership of means of production, and East Elbia’s dominating Junkers with their large estates had become a thing of a distant past. The companies had been transferred into the hands of the people: they had become “people’s enterprises”. The land belonged to those who farmed it: the members of agricultural cooperatives. The power of the state – as exercised by the People’s Chamber and the “National Front” – was no longer in the hands of millionaires and billionaires. The fat cats had lost their powers: the Siemens, Henkel, Porsche, Quandt, and Piech families. Now reigned the normal people, often referred to as Müller and Krause, Schulze and Schmidt.
The GDR was created as a country where the working people should have the power in their own hands, and exercise it, not the rich people. As the capitalists had been expropriated and thus disempowered, the new anti-fascist democratic order with a new form of power could be created, the “Workers’ and Peasants’ Power”. It developed different standards in fields such as economic and social policy, education, justice, culture, the relations between the sexes and the generations, foreign and defense policy, compared to what had been possible under capitalism. And some things didn’t exist: millions of chronically unemployed people, low-paid part-time jobbers without a future, people on welfare (“Hartz IV”), and a precariate marginalized forever. The GDR was thus a thorn in the flesh of German capitalism and imperialism.
The end of the GDR cannot be attributed to a single factor. There were causes from within and from outside, some its own fault, some avoidable, which were related to the increasing estrangement between the leading party and its people, contradictions between propagandized aims and actual real life, and speechlessness when confronted with questions and airings of displeasure from among the population. The working class and its party had ceased being a living unity, especially the connection between the socialist state and the youth was torn apart. The working class party had been losing – also by its own mistakes and deficits – the political and ideological hegemony and capacity to act. Thus, illusions about a future with the social safety of the GDR, as well as the standard of living of the FRG became widespread.
Due to the loss of authority and the collapse of power during the months of crisis in 1989, which preceded the counterrevolution of the month of November, the SED leadership acted headlessly. The party was no longer capable of defending the achievements of forty years of revolutionary build-up by applying adequate policies or using the means of power at hand. On top of that, there were existential, but also inevitable factors, related especially to the particular role the GDR played as an outpost of the alliance of socialist countries dominated by the Soviet Union.
Finally, the GDR was last, but not least the victim of “horse trading” between the two superpowers of the imperialist “West” and the socialist “East”, with active participation of the German capital and its political leaders. The historic figures to blame for the time’s betrayal was the Soviet leadership under M. Gorbachev: the GDR – just as all other socialist countries in Europe, as well as its alliances – became, in this time of crisis, a pawn sacrifice in the geopolitical chess game, part of an arrangement between the Soviet Union and the USA, both in a deep crisis at the time.
And now? If today’s benchmark is the renewed media campaign to mark the jubilee of the “fall of the Berlin Wall”, the GDR is as vivid as 25 years ago. In spite of all attempts to “delegitimize the GDR“, as proposed by former German minister of Justice Klaus Kinkel, these attempts have failed to eliminate forty years of socialism in Germany. On the other hand, you might ask: “Who’s still talking about the liberal party? No one! But they all keep talking about the GDR”.
After 1990, the DKP often fixed its basic understanding concerning the basics of the first socialist state on German soil in documents and resolutions. We stand by our opinion, now and in future, that the GDR was the greatest achievement of the revolutionary workers’ movement in Germany. Under the impression of the deepest economic crisis of capitalism in the years since 2007, we find our assessment confirmed that German imperialism has played a fatal role in igniting and aggravating political crises and military conflicts.
Remembering the forty years of the GDR and its 65th anniversary are – facing the menacing situation in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East – an additional reason for us to keep the memory of the anti-militarist and antifascist role model of the GDR alive. From German soil may never again emanate a threat against other peoples. All the current plans for extending the military component of German foreign policy have to end now and for all. All German soldiers have to return immediately from their assignments abroad. The Federal Republic of Germany has to leave NATO, the imperialist military pact. All citizens of the GDR who have suffered professional, judicial, and political harassment, imprisonment, and other material detriment (e.g. pension-wise) due to their “special proximity to party and state”, must be rehabilitated, as to regain the same pension claims as all other citizens.
The GDR’s 65th anniversary of its foundation reminds us of our commitment: “Never again fascism, never again wars!”
And: “Our future is socialism!”