Spartacist Canada No. 163
East Germany 1989
The Trotskyist Struggle Against Capitalist Counterrevolution
This November the imperialist rulers celebrated the 20th anniversary of the opening up of the Berlin Wall in the former East Germany (DDR). The bourgeois rulers falsely portray this event and its aftermath as an expression of the longings of the East German masses for the supposed joys of capitalism and an unqualified rejection of socialism and communism. The reality was very different, as shown powerfully in the statement by our comrades of the Trotzkistische Liga Deutschlands (TLD—now the Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands) that we print below. Republished from SC No. 77 (Winter 1989/90), this statement was issued days after the Berlin Wall came down on 9 November 1989 and over 200,000 copies were distributed.
The DDR was a bureaucratically deformed workers state which we Trotskyists defended against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution. Capitalism had been overthrown in the DDR, as in much of East Europe, in the wake of the Soviet Red Army’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. But the DDR was ruled by a parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy. On the basis of their dogma of “socialism in one country,” the Stalinists opposed the extension of proletarian revolutions internationally while suppressing any independent political expression of the working class at home.
The late 1980s saw the unraveling of Stalinist rule in the Soviet Union and East Europe. In the DDR, significant protest rallies began in October 1989, growing larger week by week. By the end of that month the ruling bureaucracy had collapsed and Erich Honecker, head of the Socialist Unity Party (SED), had fallen from power. November 4 saw a million-strong demonstration in East Berlin. Contrary to today’s capitalist mythology, it included many pro-socialist banners and slogans such as “For Communist Ideals! No Privileges!” The choices posed for the workers of the DDR were proletarian political revolution—i.e., the working class ousts the bureaucracy and takes political power into its own hands—or capitalist counterrevolution, i.e., the West German bourgeoisie takes over the DDR.
In struggling to effect a workers political revolution, part of the fight for the revolutionary reunification of Germany under the rule of the working class, the ICL undertook the largest and most sustained intervention in our history. In early December we began publishing the daily Arprekorr, Workers Press Correspondence. Groups of youth and workers in the DDR began to distribute Arprekorr, many of whom we organized into the Spartakist-Gruppen, or Spartacist groups.
The high point of struggle was the 3 January 1990 united-front demonstration against the fascist desecration of a Soviet war memorial and in defense of the DDR workers state that brought out some 250,000 people to East Berlin’s Treptow Park. Our call for this protest was taken up by the ruling Stalinist party, which feared the growing impact of our political views. At Treptow, for the first time in 60 years, Trotskyists addressed a mass audience in a deformed workers state. Participants and those listening on radio and TV heard two counterposed programs: that of the Stalinist SED, and that of the Trotskyist ICL. Over hostile Stalinist interjections, the TLD’s Renate Dahlhaus declared, “Our economy is suffering from waste and obsolescence. The SED party dictatorship has shown that it is incompetent to fight this.” We called for the forging of an egalitarian communist party and for the rule of workers and soldiers councils.
The Treptow mobilization posed the possibility of organized workers resistance to the imperialists’ drive for capitalist annexation of the DDR. For that reason it became a key turning point, as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev pulled the plug on the DDR, vastly speeding up the timetable for capitalist reunification, and the East German Stalinists began to organize a stampede into counterrevolution. In their counterrevolutionary blitzkrieg, the German bourgeoisie threw billions of deutschmarks into East Germany. Under the impact of the bourgeois offensive, the March 1990 Volkskammer (East German parliament) elections became a referendum on capitalist reunification. Demoralized and disorientated by the abject betrayals of the Stalinist bureaucracy, 85 percent of the population voted for either the Christian Democratic or Social Democratic coalitions. Counterrevolution had won, a bitter defeat not only for the East German working class but internationally.
The ICL alone fought to the end against capitalist counterrevolution in the DDR, the rest of East Europe and the Soviet Union. In contrast, the bulk of the left cheered it on, serving as junior partners in the imperialists’ drive for capitalist restoration and standing openly with the forces of “democratic” counterrevolution. Many of the same groups today bemoan the poverty of East Europe while burying their own roles in helping to bring about this catastrophe.
We were very conscious that our intervention in the DDR was integral to the struggle for proletarian political revolution in the USSR as well. So, too, the defeat in the DDR paved the way for the ascendancy in 1991-92 of counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, homeland of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. An unparalleled defeat for working people all over the world, counterrevolution devastated the working classes of the former Soviet Union and the rest of East Europe, bringing grinding poverty, mass unemployment and fratricidal wars. Nor were the catastrophic results confined to the former Soviet bloc. On the ideological level, the consciousness of workers around the world has been thrown back, albeit unevenly, to the point where politically advanced workers no longer identify their struggles with the goals of socialism.
The collapse of bureaucratic rule and triumph of counterrevolution confirmed Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky’s warning that the political bankruptcy of Stalinism was a mortal danger to the historic gains of the working class. Following Marx, Trotsky emphasized that an isolated workers state could not survive in the long run since its level of economic productivity could not rise above that of the powerful advanced capitalist-imperialist states committed to its destruction. The preservation of proletarian power in the Soviet Union and East Europe required its international extension through worldwide socialist revolution.
As we wrote in the main document adopted at the ICL’s Second International Conference in 1992, “For the Communism of Lenin and Trotsky!”:
“…from the beginning we were in a political struggle with the abdicating Stalinist regime over the future of the DDR. While we were calling for a government of workers councils, the Stalinists were consciously acting to prevent a workers insurrection by demobilizing all army units that had formed soldiers councils as a result of our early propaganda. Although shaped by the disproportion of forces, there was in fact a contest between the ICL program of political revolution and the Stalinist program of capitulation and counterrevolution....
“The workers of the world, and we among them, suffered a grave defeat with the victory of the Fourth Reich. But we fought.”
—Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 47-48 (Winter 1992-93)
For a Leninist-Trotskyist Workers Party!
Workers Soviets Must Rule in All Germany!
Workers throughout the world seeking the rebirth of genuine communism are watching the dramatic events in East Germany. “Russia was the spark—Germany will be the flame,” proclaimed a banner, a slogan from the KPD of the ’20s, in the massive November 4 East Berlin demonstration. The developments in the DDR [German Democratic Republic] pose pointblank proletarian political revolution. This means ousting the Stalinist bureaucracy and erecting in its place real workers soviets, like those established in the October Revolution, based on collectivized property. This in turn can be the spark for socialist revolution in the capitalist West.
East Berliners flooded across the border into West Berlin on the night of November 9. Except for a handful all went back. Kohl tried to address a “victory rally” in West Berlin but was drowned out with boos and whistles. When he tried to strike up a chorus of “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,” Brandt, Momper & Co. sang along, but the boos and whistles drowned them out. And an attempted Nazi march on the Brandenburg Gate led by Republikaner Führer Schönhuber was turned back by crowds shouting “Nazis out!” East German workers are jubilant that the Wall is coming down, but they don’t want a revanchist capitalist reunification.
One placard on November 4 read: “Hungary ’56, China ’89,” and the spectre haunting the bureaucracy was the 17 June 1953 East German workers uprising, the first in East Europe against Stalinist bureaucratic rule. West German revanchists have tried to usurp June 17, and the East German bureaucracy spread the same lies about the uprising. But it belongs to the German working class. On that day East German workers appealed to their class brothers and sisters in the West to rise up against their capitalist masters. At the train station in Halle, workers greeted a train from the West with a banner proclaiming, “We’re cleaning house in Pankow [East Berlin], now you sweep out the crap in Bonn.” Ulbricht was saved only by Soviet tanks. In any case, what was required then as well as today is fraternization with the Red Army. As Siberian and Silesian miners strike against the ravages of “market reforms,” the East German workers can make common cause with their class comrades and be the springboard for proletarian political revolution throughout East Europe and the Soviet Union.
The Red Army crushed the Nazi regime and established a bureaucratically deformed workers state east of the Elbe. But the resurgence of German nationalism and fascist terror has not been restricted to the West German successor state of the Third Reich. There, the first victims of fascist terror are immigrant workers. And now similar attacks, for example on Vietnamese workers, are taking place in East Germany. Hostility to immigrant workers such as the Poles has been expressed even in the mass protest demonstrations, as in Dresden. Instead, as a banner on November 4 declared, “For Communist Ideals! No Privileges!” This means: Full citizenship rights for immigrant workers East and West!
Today a wing of the East German security forces shows its support for revanchist capitalist restoration under the watchword of German nationalism by cloning a new generation of fascist terrorist skinheads and scum, the existence of which the bureaucracy has done its best to deny. A banner of an anti-fascist contingent at the November 4 demonstration read, “Weimar: 160 Nazi Skinheads Organized a Manhunt.” Even the perimeter of this massive demonstration was infested with fascists from West and East. Just as Russian workers must smash Pamyat, workers/minorities in East and West Germany had better organize to crush these vermin now!
A demonstration of 50,000 SED [Socialist Unity Party] members in East Berlin on November 10 demanded “No sellout of the DDR,” for “real plans,” and “return to Lenin.” Stalin gave central planning a bad name. The East German economy is the most successful in Eastern Europe. Workers may chant “Gorby, Gorby, help us.” But by and large they reject Gorbachev’s “perestroika” and “market socialism,” which have bred increasing misery and national conflict from the Balkans to the Baltic and Caucasus. East German workers are not about to surrender the social gains they have won. Attempts to form a Solidarność-style anti-Communist “free union” have fizzled.
Workers in the DDR have followed attentively the strikes against perestroika of Soviet miners. The factory committees the miners have organized are the core of real workers soviets, which are the key if economic planning is to be controlled by the working class. Although tremendous ferment exists in the plants, the working class remains politically atomized, e.g., there have as yet been no strikes, which would immediately be political. Workers councils must be established at the point of production with control over quantity and quality. Computerized input-output analysis (developed by Russian-born economist Leontief) can permit investments in line with the democratically controlled growth of investment and consumption.
When the Wall started coming down on Friday [November 9], the West German stock market went up, because Frankfurt bankers and their SPD [social-democratic] front men are dreaming of bleeding East Germany dry the way they have Poland and Hungary. To defend collectivized property and to attack the world market, East Germany needs a stable, readily convertible currency (e.g., based on the gold standard like the Soviet chervonets in 1923). However, an isolated revolutionary East German workers state would still be threatened by the power of cheap commodities, as Marx warned.
There can be no genuine socialism in half a country facing an economically far more powerful imperialist neighbor. From the podium of the massive November 4 demonstration writer Stefan Heym was enthusiastically received when he said, “Socialism, not Stalinist but the real thing, which we want to finally build, for our benefit and that of all Germany, is unthinkable without democracy.” The defense of collectivized property in East Germany requires its extension to the West. That means the expropriation of the Frankfurt bankers by proletarian revolution in the West—to which immigrant workers are key. We Trotskyists call for the revolutionary reunification of Germany through socialist revolution in the West and proletarian political revolution in the East. Because of the strategic weight of Germany in Europe, reunification, if it is not to recreate an imperialist behemoth, a Fourth Reich, can only be as part of a Socialist United States of Europe.
The huge protest demonstrations, impressive in their discipline, remain dominated by petty-bourgeois forces like Neues Forum and the Social Democrats (SDP). On November 4, Neues Forum called for “free elections” supervised by the UN, i.e., by imperialism, while the SDP, just like Helmut Kohl, called for a return to a “market economy.” When the [West German] SPD and their hangers-on talk about “democratic socialism” they mean “democratic” counterrevolution, of which the SPD intends to be the general staff. While Kohl was booed down, Brandt and Momper were cheered. The Social Democrats are the main danger for East German workers.
The International Communist League and its German section, the Trotzkistische Liga Deutschlands, uphold the Trotskyist position of unconditional defense of the social gains of the October Revolution and its extension from East Berlin to Havana against imperialism and internal counterrevolution. In contrast, the social democrats faking as Trotskyists such as Ernest Mandel and the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter [followers of the dubious David North] surrender these gains at every point they are challenged. They backed Solidarność’ counterrevolutionary bid in 1981 and opposed the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan against imperialist-backed clerical reaction in 1979.
To date no left opposition has surfaced within the SED. Yet there have been expressions of support for real communism in the DDR, such as the signs on November 4 calling “for a new communist party.” As in 1953, what is lacking today is a proletarian internationalist vanguard party fighting for power. Forging such a party requires returning to the Bolshevism of Lenin and Trotsky! Hail Rosa Luxemburg, the greatest founder of German Communism, murdered by the Freikorps at the behest of the SPD leadership! The German Revolution, East and West, needs a Leninist-Trotskyist workers party!
Our introduction to the reprint of a leaflet issued by our German comrades in November 1989 (“East Germany 1989: The Trotskyist Struggle Against Capitalist Counterrevolution,” SC No. 163, Winter 2009/2010) contains a flawed formulation concerning the unravelling of Stalinist bureaucratic rule in the German Democratic Republic (DDR). The introduction states: “By the end of that month [October] the ruling bureaucracy had collapsed and Erich Honecker, head of the Socialist Unity Party (SED), had fallen from power.” In fact, while hardline ruler Honecker was removed from power, the ruling bureaucracy as a whole did not collapse. The equation of Honecker’s ouster with the collapse of the bureaucracy obliterates the fact his successors in the DDR—Egon Krenz, Hans Modrow and Gregor Gysi—were also Stalinist bureaucrats.
This formulation could imply a number of wrong things, including the idea that the East German workers state had ceased to exist by October 1989. The disintegration of the DDR Stalinist bureaucracy did not occur at once but came in a series of stages over a number of months under the impact of widespread social turmoil. As we wrote in the same introduction: “The choices posed for the workers of the DDR were proletarian political revolution—i.e., the working class ousts the bureaucracy and takes political power into its own hands—or capitalist counterrevolution, i.e., the West German bourgeoisie takes over the DDR.”
A fuller analysis of these developments is contained in the main document adopted at the Second International Conference of the International Communist League in 1992 (see “For the Communism of Lenin and Trotsky!” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 47-48, Winter 1992-93). As it states:
“...from the beginning we were in a political struggle with the abdicating Stalinist regime over the future of the DDR. While we were calling for a government of workers councils, the Stalinists were consciously acting to prevent a workers insurrection by demobilizing all army units that had formed soldiers councils as a result of our early propaganda. Although shaped by the disproportion of forces, there was in fact a contest between the ICL program of political revolution and the Stalinist program of capitulation and counterrevolution.”
(From SC no. 164, Spring 2010.)