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Workers Vanguard No. 1059

9 January 2015

After the Fall of the Berlin Wall

The ICL’s Fight for a Red Soviet Germany

On the night of 3 January 1990, a quarter-million East Germans, mainly factory workers, heard two Trotskyists from the International Communist League speak at a rally in Treptow Park in East Berlin. Many more listened on the radio across the German Democratic Republic (DDR), as our speakers laid out a program for the rule of workers and soldiers councils across all of Germany. Initiated by the ICL and joined by the ruling Stalinist party, the united-front mobilization against the fascist desecration of the Soviet war memorial at Treptow demonstrated that proletarian resistance could be organized to stop the mounting imperialist drive for capitalist annexation of the East German bureaucratically deformed workers state by West Germany. This resistance had the potential to spark social revolution in the West as well.

Coming after months of social upheaval marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall, struggles that signaled an incipient workers political revolution against the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy in the DDR, Treptow terrified the German imperialists in Bonn. They responded by intensifying and accelerating their campaign to swallow the East German deformed workers state whole. Shaken by the events of January 3, the abdicating Stalinist regimes in Berlin and Moscow rushed in turn to pull the plug on the DDR.

Overwhelmed by the capitalist onslaught and betrayed by their Stalinist leadership, the working class acceded, and by summer the DDR ceased to exist. This cruel defeat opened the door to counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, where the working class was atomized and demoralized by decades of Stalinist misrule. Within two years, the homeland of the 1917 October Revolution had also fallen.

The social fabric of the former Soviet Union and of the deformed workers states that had been in its orbit was torn asunder and capitalism restored, bringing unprecedented agony: unemployment and poverty, the collapse of health care and other basic infrastructure, fratricidal nationalist war. With the removal of its Soviet nemesis, triumphant U.S. imperialism achieved unchallenged military supremacy, freeing its hands to pursue one predatory war after another. Capitalists around the world have successfully turned the screws on the working class in their respective countries, with reunited Germany taking the lead in extracting its pound of flesh from workers East and West and dictating austerity to the rest of Europe.

But the world of today was not a foregone conclusion in January 1990. Then, as now, it was desperately necessary to fight. Alone among all tendencies calling themselves Marxist, the ICL did fight, with all our might, against capitalist counterrevolution in the DDR, the rest of East Europe and the Soviet Union. The ruling Stalinist bureaucracies themselves, from Gorbachev on down, accepted the supposed superiority and inevitability of the capitalist system. Most of the left in West Germany and elsewhere threw their lot in with the forces of “democratic” counterrevolution in abetting the imperialist campaign for capitalist restoration.

The following article, translated and adapted from Spartakist No. 205 (October 2014), newspaper of our German comrades, illustrates how in 1989-90 three such groups sowed deadly illusions and paralyzing confusion in the working class. Examining this history is important. In China and the other remaining deformed workers states, the question will again be starkly posed: either the working class will take control of its own fate, opening the road to socialism, or it will fall prey to capitalist enslavement and imperialist subjugation. Crucial to victory for the combative workers will be the timely forging of a Leninist-Trotskyist party, that is, one animated by the Bolshevik program of revolutionary proletarian internationalism.

*   *   *

Almost a quarter century after capitalist restoration, the German bourgeoisie is still demonizing the DDR in the media whenever the opportunity arises. Incorporating the DDR into the West was for decades the goal of the capitalist ruling class and central to West German doctrine. The DDR, albeit bureaucratically deformed, was a workers state in which the capitalists had been expropriated as a class. The proletarian class basis of the DDR was an enormous advance, which explains why in 1989-90 so many people initially mobilized in its defense, rejecting capitalism and seeking a socialist society.

With the catastrophic effects of counterrevolution on the working class now obvious, ostensibly leftist organizations today falsely claim that they defended the gains of the DDR when its fate was at stake. This article will debunk such myths and lies, showing what some groups actually did in 1989-90, namely the League of Socialist Workers (BSA—today the Party for Social Equality, or PSG); the Communist Platform within the ruling East German SED-PDS (KPF—today part of the Left Party); and the now-extinct United Left.

In the summer of 1989, the DDR found itself in deep crisis. International events intensified the problem. In China, the student protests in Tiananmen Square had brought about the first stirrings of a proletarian political revolution that were then brutally suppressed by the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy in early June. In Warsaw, counterrevolutionary Solidarność—the only “trade union” ever embraced by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan—had seized government power from the Polish Stalinist bureaucracy. Fake leftists like the BSA cheered this company union for the CIA, the banks and the Vatican.

Early in September, Hungary opened its Austrian border to citizens of the DDR, leading to a wave of emigration. Many people pinned their hopes on Mikhail Gorbachev, the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and the policy of perestroika market reforms and political liberalization (glasnost) he had proclaimed in 1985. DDR head of state Erich Honecker’s rejection of Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost contributed to the rise of an opposition to the DDR government. The Soviet Union had ceased subsidizing the sale of oil and other raw materials sold to the East European bureaucratically deformed workers states and now demanded world market prices payable in convertible currencies. The economic situation in the DDR grew considerably worse.

Early October witnessed the first demonstrations in the south of the DDR, which steadily increased in size. On October 18, Honecker was overthrown after he had supported using the armed forces against the demonstrators, a course rejected by Gorbachev and the Soviet Red Army command in the DDR. Furthermore, the Betriebskampfgruppen—factory militias that saw themselves as defenders of the workers state on the plant level—were unwilling to be deployed against their class brothers. The great mass of the East German workers, students and soldiers wanted to save the DDR from collapse. On 4 November 1989, five days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a demonstration of over one million in East Berlin. Alongside purely democratic slogans and those for the right to travel abroad and opposing the SED (Socialist Unity Party), one could see explicitly pro-socialist banners and calls like “For Communist Ideals—No Privileges” and “Form Soviets.”

Spartacists Intervene

The Trotskyist League of Germany (TLD), a predecessor of the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany (SpAD), German section of the ICL, intervened in this nascent political revolution, seeking to provide the East German working class with revolutionary leadership. We mobilized all available forces for this intervention, the largest ever carried out by the ICL. In this period, over a third of our international membership was on the ground in the DDR. In two weeks, we distributed 200,000 copies of our November 15 leaflet “Workers Soviets to Power!” (reprinted in WV No. 490, 24 November 1989). We increased the frequency of our bimonthly newspaper Spartakist to biweekly and then to weekly.

On December 7, we brought out the first issue of Arprekorr (Workers Press Correspondence), which appeared virtually every day. Arprekorr served as the collective organizer of the vanguard of the working class. It was the instrument for constructing the party necessary to lead a proletarian political revolution. In various cities, youth and workers formed groups to distribute Arprekorr, and we organized them into Spartacist Groups. Our propaganda was literally grabbed up. We appealed to workers in the East and West to unconditionally defend the DDR militarily against capitalist counterrevolution and to fight for revolutionary reunification of Germany. This meant sweeping away the Stalinist bureaucracy in the East through a political revolution and carrying out a social revolution in the West, i.e., one that would overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie.

The establishment of workers and soldiers councils in the DDR and the ouster of the bureaucracy could have inspired the proletariat of the Soviet Union and East European workers states to follow their lead and the working class in West Germany to fight for a socialist revolution. The deepening capitalist barbarism we have today could have been averted.

We based ourselves on Leon Trotsky’s analysis of the ruling Soviet bureaucracy as constituting not a class, but a fragile caste possessing no independent economic function that had politically expropriated the working class. Trotsky arrived at this understanding through his struggle, as principal leader of the Left Opposition, against the bureaucracy headed by Stalin, which consolidated as a caste after usurping political power in 1923-24. In 1935, Trotsky wrote: “The year 1924—that was the beginning of the Soviet Thermidor.” This development was by no means inevitable. Recall that after World War I the conquest of state power by the working class was within grasp in many countries.

The Soviet Union itself emerged out of the successful 1917 proletarian revolution led by the Bolsheviks. To the revolutionary workers in the fledgling Soviet Union, one thing was clear: Workers in other countries, above all in Germany, had to follow their example. In Germany, there were revolutionary situations in 1918-19 and in 1923, but the German Communist Party’s break with the social-democratic program was incomplete. The lessons of the first successful workers revolution, in Russia, were only partially assimilated, and the German revolution failed.

The ascendant bureaucracy in the Soviet Union rested on the resulting widespread demoralization of the Soviet masses, who were exhausted and hollowed out by the 1918-20 civil war. The extreme scarcity of goods in these initial years led to the establishment of a layer of administrators determining who was to give and who was to receive—and in the process ensuring that they did not lose out themselves. They welcomed and supported Stalin’s seizing control of the Communist Party and replacing the Leninist program of world revolution with the nationalist lie of “socialism in one country.”

At the cost of immeasurable sacrifice, the Soviet Union defeated the German Nazi regime in World War II. But the Soviet bureaucracy, with the support of the East German Stalinists, then did everything it could to prevent the unfolding of workers revolution in Germany, out of fear of unleashing a political revolution against its own rule. In East Germany, the expropriation of the capitalists by the occupying Soviet Red Army was a defensive measure against the imperialists, imposed from above. The subsequent collectivization of the means of production and introduction of a planned economy in the DDR were tremendous gains. However, the bureaucracy installed in the DDR, just like that in the Soviet Union, tacked back and forth between fear of the workers—in whose interests they defended, in a distorted way, the conquests of the workers state—and world imperialism, which their appeals to “peaceful coexistence” were designed to conciliate.

We rightly proceeded from the assumption that the Stalinist bureaucracy from top to bottom would split apart if the workers were to rise up in a political revolution. Such occurred in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, when large parts of the bureaucracy passed over to the side of the working class. Pál Maléter, a colonel in the Hungarian army, went over to the revolution, leading armed forces that were initially able to ward off an assault directed by Moscow against that political revolution.

Our perspective was that even leading members of the SED and the state apparatus, e.g., officers in the National People’s Army (NVA), could be won to Trotskyism and the side of the workers in defense of the DDR, which did happen in small measure in 1989-90. Unlike a capitalist ruling class that, in the event of a revolution, necessarily unites around a program of counterrevolution, a Stalinist bureaucracy simply is not “counterrevolutionary through and through” as claimed by the BSA/PSG. Instead, in the event of a workers political revolution it will fragment, with pieces of it to be found on the opposing sides.

Trotsky’s 1936 book The Revolution Betrayed—many copies of which we sold in 1989-90, particularly on 8-9 and 16-17 December 1989, the two weekends of the SED’s Extraordinary Party Congress—lays out a vision of political revolution:

“Let us assume first that the Soviet bureaucracy is overthrown by a revolutionary party having all the attributes of the old Bolshevism, enriched moreover by the world experience of the recent period. Such a party would begin with the restoration of democracy in the trade unions and the Soviets. It would be able to, and would have to, restore freedom of Soviet parties. Together with the masses, and at their head, it would carry out a ruthless purgation of the state apparatus. It would abolish ranks and decorations, all kinds of privileges, and would limit inequality in the payment of labor to the life necessities of the economy and the state apparatus. It would give the youth free opportunity to think independently, learn, criticize and grow. It would introduce profound changes in the distribution of the national income in correspondence with the interests and will of the worker and peasant masses. But so far as concerns property relations, the new power would not have to resort to revolutionary measures. It would retain and further develop the experiment of planned economy. After the political revolution—that is, the deposing of the bureaucracy—the proletariat would have to introduce in the economy a series of very important reforms, but not another social revolution.”

Fake Trotskyists: The League of Socialist Workers

In the winter of 1989-90, we published Spartacist (German edition) No. 14, with the title “Trotskyism: What It Isn’t—and What It Is!” It explained the aims of various groups that falsely invoked Trotsky in order to assist workers and leftists in the DDR in separating the wheat from the chaff. We characterized the BSA and the “International Committee of the Fourth International”—run by Gerry Healy until 1985 and today by David North—as “political bandits,” a term coined by Lenin to describe those who embrace wildly incongruent political positions that happen to fit in with their self-serving opportunist appetites of the moment. Today, this outfit is known for its “World Socialist Web Site.”

In 1979, they praised the Ba’athist dictator Saddam Hussein in Iraq as a leader in the struggle against “counterrevolutionary Stalinism,” hailing him for having put to death 21 members of the Iraqi Communist Party. In this period, the Healyites pocketed tens of thousands of dollars from the Ba’athist regime. Starting in the mid 1970s and extending to the early ’80s, they also received lavish bribes from other Arab regimes, amounting to some £1 million (roughly $2 million). At that time, North was leading the American section of Healy’s corrupt and violent International Committee.

The BSA intervened propagandistically in the events of 1989-90 and was sometimes confused with us, since it claimed to stand in continuity with Trotsky and the Fourth International, supported workers councils on paper and called for the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy. However, its intervention was aimed entirely at fighting Stalinism and the Stalinist bureaucracy as supposedly “counterrevolutionary through and through.” Likewise, in its propaganda it regularly equated Stalinism with capitalism, which is fundamentally false.

The economic basis of the rule of capital is the exploitation of the working class by the bourgeoisie, which holds the means of production as its own. The bourgeoisie is a class that has to be overthrown through socialist revolution. In the course of this social revolution, the bourgeois state is destroyed. That state (above all the police, army, courts and prisons) serves and protects capitalist private property, including by repressing the working class and allowing the imperialists to invade foreign countries to conquer new markets. This apparatus also makes it possible for the capitalists to bequeath their property.

In contrast, Stalinism means the political rule of a parasitic bureaucracy (a fragile, contradictory caste) that cannot assert any claim to own the means of production, which belong not to it but to society. No bureaucrat in the DDR was able to pass on to his descendants the factory he administered. In the DDR, production was organized for society and not in the interest of individual profit. To be sure, the bureaucracy did, in its corrupt and irrational fashion, control this production. There were no workers councils that might have planned the economy in a way that would help extend the socialist revolution. What was necessary in the DDR was a political revolution to democratize society and establish the political rule of the working class.

To return to Trotsky: “But so far as concerns property relations, the new power would not have to resort to revolutionary measures,” i.e., there would exist no capitalist class that had to be expropriated, which in the case of the DDR had already occurred after 1945. The armed forces of the DDR, as part of the state apparatus, on the one hand protected socialized property but on the other reported to the Stalinist bureaucracy, which as a parasitic caste sitting atop the workers state was in fundamental contradiction to its economic foundations. It was necessary to “purge the state apparatus ruthlessly” and “introduce in the economy a series of very important reforms, but not another social revolution.”

The BSA’s position transmitted into the working class the false consciousness that the bureaucrats comprised a ruling class with a state of its own that must be destroyed alongside the bureaucracy itself. In contrast, we emphasized that the DDR workers state belonged to the international proletariat. We warned of the threat of capitalist counterrevolution and explained how it had to be combatted. Responding to a letter from an apprentice passionately opposing the slogan “Germany, United Fatherland” (that is, capitalist reunification), the BSA wrote: “This is why the BSA does not defend a ‘two-state system,’ i.e., neither the West German state nor the DDR state but rather calls for the workers of East and West Germany to unite in overthrowing these apparatuses of oppression.” Here it’s out in the open: The BSA was not simply against defending the DDR but for its overthrow as an “apparatus of oppression.”

Whereas pro-socialist workers in the DDR wished to ward off the capitalist threat, the BSA totally downplayed that threat, thereby aiding and abetting counterrevolution. Doing so was an expression of its loyalty to the counterrevolutionary West German Social Democratic Party (SPD), which it had supported in elections for years. In the 1970s and ’80s, the BSA preached to the West German working class that the SPD, if only it ruled by itself, could be forced to pursue “socialist policies.” So much for the overthrow of capitalism! Immediately after capitalist reunification—in which the SPD functioned as the spearhead of German imperialism—the BSA again in 1990 called for the election of the SPD.

The Treptow Turning Point and the BSA Witchhunt

On 28 December 1989, fascists vandalized the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin-Treptow. The monument honors the Red Army soldiers who gave their lives fighting to liberate Berlin from the fascists in WWII. From mid December on, the Nazis were raising their heads in Monday demonstrations in the south of the DDR, where West German chancellor Helmut Kohl was celebrated with the waving of West German flags. We reacted at once, calling for a united-front demonstration in Treptow on January 3 to stop the Nazis.

The joint call of the TLD and the Spartacist Groups made clear:

“Resurgent fascism is still an extremist fringe phenomenon. It would again threaten all mankind as soon as the first crises in a reunified Grossdeutschland [Greater Germany] appear. Today, however, the SPD/SDP [the Social Democracy in West and East Germany] is the chief instrument to bring about such a Greater Germany. Throttling the hydra-headed fascist monster now is to blunt this Social Democratic penetration.”

— “Revolution vs. Counterrevolution in Germany, 1989-90,” WV No. 730 (25 February 2000)

We advanced vital demands that pointed the way to political revolution and opposed the sellout of the DDR.

On January 3, the pro-Soviet, anti-fascist and pro-socialist demonstration brought out 250,000 people, confirming that we had forced the SED into a united front. The mobilization was an expression of the power of our program, which embodied the socialist strivings of the working masses. Just before the demo, Lothar Bisky, a leader of the SED-PDS (the SED rebranded as the Party of Democratic Socialism), expressed it in this way: “You have the workers.” But we had yet to cohere them around our program. Nonetheless, the potential for the explosive growth of a Trotskyist party was genuine. In many cases, the SED-PDS leaders knew this better than we did.

The participants in the demo—in large part factory workers—heard two counterposed political programs: that of the Stalinists, represented by Gregor Gysi, and that of the revolutionary Trotskyists, represented by a TLD speaker and a speaker from the Spartacist Groups. It was the first time since Trotsky’s expulsion from the USSR and the smashing of the Left Opposition in the late 1920s that Trotskyists were able to speak to a mass audience in a deformed workers state.

We summed up this experience in 1992 in the main document of our Second International Conference:

“But as Treptow later showed, 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.”

— “For the Communism of Lenin and Trotsky!” Spartacist ​(English-language edition) No. 47/48, Winter 1992-1993

The Treptow mobilization was the turning point. Up until then, the imperialists had most likely felt they had the DDR in their pockets. But now they went wild because that was obviously not the case. Out of thin air, they conjured up a campaign of lies that Goebbels would have envied. The West German media grotesquely sought to pin the blame for the fascist provocation on the SED. The tabloid Bild set the tone when it called Treptow “the SED’s Nazi trick.”

There was a powwow of the so-called Round Table—a counterrevolutionary assemblage of all DDR opposition groups, including the United Left, along with the SED-PDS and the SPD/SDP. The SPD fulminated against the Stalinist SED-PDS for having been on the same platform with Trotskyists who were calling the SPD/SDP “the Trojan horse of counterrevolution.” A few days later, Gysi declared that calling the Treptow demonstration had been a mistake. Soon afterwards, Gorbachev and the East German Stalinists organized the sellout of the DDR to the capitalists. Following a meeting with Gorbachev in Moscow in late January, Hans Modrow of the SED-PDS, now the head of the DDR government, openly came out for “Germany, United Fatherland.”

In an inflammatory article titled “The Trotskyist League of Germany (TLD)—Provocateurs in the Service of Stalinism!” (19 January 1990), the BSA ranted against us over the Treptow united-front mobilization: “Today their campaign ‘against the fascist danger in the DDR’ serves to save and restabilize the Stalinist state apparatus, army, secret service, justice, etc., because capitalist restoration can be brought about only with the assistance of a bloody anti-working-class dictatorship.” Their counterrevolutionary hatred of the DDR workers state could not be more obvious. There were but two alternatives: defending the DDR deformed workers state while going forward to revolutionary reunification or…being thrown back to capitalism, which the SPD was promoting in the name of “freedom and democracy.”

While we were exposing the SPD as the main instrument for a capitalist Greater Germany, the BSA was obscuring the class character of capitalist counterrevolution. In stating that it could only take place with “the assistance of a bloody anti-working-class dictatorship,” they meant not the dictatorship of the West German capitalists but the “Stalinist state apparatus”! So what course remains? The social-democratic program for a democratic capitalist Germany—the reunified Fourth Reich.

The DDR was an instance of the dictatorship of the proletariat—that is, a state belonging to the workers—but with an anti-working-class government in power. Treptow provided the chance to motivate the Trotskyist program to the workers and the SED left, soldiers of the NVA, members of the People’s Police and of the Soviet Army. In this open situation, when the working class was just beginning to fight for political power in its state, the BSA so distorted things that the workers state was turned into an instrument for capitalist restoration. This utterly exposes the BSA’s anti-communism.

As for the Stalinist bureaucracy, it acceded to the German bourgeoisie’s war of revenge on the DDR and sold out the workers state. We fought against this sellout! In contrast, the BSA, due to its Stalinophobia, went so far as to make light of the fascist danger. Right down to the elections for the Volkskammer (the DDR national assembly) in March 1990, the BSA barely mentioned the rise of German nationalism and the threat posed by the fascists. Instead, it denounced the anti-fascist mobilization in Treptow as a ploy by the fragmenting Stalinists and joined in the chorus of bourgeois forces that were portraying Treptow as a “Nazi trick of the SED.”

When the Northite PSG today characterizes “the destruction of social gains and the reintroduction of capitalist exploitation in the DDR, East Europe and the Soviet Union” as the “most reactionary development of recent decades,” everyone should be aware that the Northites themselves bear some responsibility. Their BSA forebears stood with the SPD on the front lines, paving the way for the destruction of the DDR.

Similarly, the PSG opposes workers struggles led by trade unions on the grounds that trade unions “defend capitalism and sabotage any genuine struggle,” which is merely a justification for strikebreaking. Trade unions must be defended as organizations of the working class, even when they have a reformist, chauvinist leadership, just as the workers states must be defended against capitalism and imperialism, including when a Stalinist bureaucracy has politically expropriated the workers. Writing off the trade unions is part of the PSG’s anti-communist tradition of not taking the side of the working class and the workers states—all its empty phrases notwithstanding.

The United Left

The United Left (VL) was the left wing of the “Initiative for Peace and Human Rights,” an organization in the petty-bourgeois anti-Communist citizens’ rights movement, which in 1989 was operating under the protection of the Lutheran church in East Germany. That movement had its roots in the DDR peace movement of the early ’80s, a counterpart of the nationalist peace movement in West Germany. Many so-called leftists, including the Communist Platform, shared the peace movement’s objective of disarmament within a nationalist framework, expressed in the slogan “Germany Must Not Become a Battlefield.” At bottom, this call was directed at the disarmament of the DDR and the Soviet Union, which would leave the workers states defenseless against imperialism.

VL raised the demand for “disarmament and demilitarization of both German states” and was for the withdrawal of the DDR from the Warsaw Pact and of West Germany from NATO. This position amounted to a call for two neutral German states, ignoring the fact that a class line ran between East and West. The wish for neutral states reflects deep-seated illusions in “pure democracy” and a peaceful capitalism, neither of which is possible.

VL was formally founded on 2 October 1989 in Berlin as a “grassroots democratic movement.” Although it was officially dissolved in 2013, former leading members like Bernd Gehrke tour the country every so often to spread the fairy tale that VL had opposed the introduction of capitalism into East Germany. Its leadership stemmed centrally from the “Group of Democratic Socialists” centered around Herbert Misslitz, and arose out of the oppositional group Voices of Dissent in 1988. In the ’80s, Voices of Dissent was part of the DDR peace movement and had ties to Ernest Mandel, then the leading light of the Pabloite United Secretariat (USec).

Pabloism is a post-WWII revisionist current in the Trotskyist movement. This revisionism destroyed Trotsky’s Fourth International (then under the leadership of the impressionistic Michel Pablo) as the nucleus of a disciplined world party of socialist revolution. With a number of bureaucratically deformed workers states having just come into being under Stalinist leadership, the Pabloites projected a “new world reality” of “centuries of deformed workers states,” totally dismissing the role of a revolutionary Trotskyist party. In Trotskyism: What It Isn’t and What It Is!, we warned:

“Now Mandel, who in the 1953 uprising of workers in East Germany [the DDR’s first incipient workers political revolution] saw a wing of the bureaucracy as a solution, trumpets the ‘upsurge of the mass movement rocking the GDR.’ He talks of the need for a ‘politically capable vanguard’ to ‘open the way for the victory and consolidation of the political revolution.’ Don’t buy it. Mandel and his followers have heralded everything from university students in the West to the mullahs in Iran to [Solidarność leader] Lech Walesa as the ‘vanguard’.”

VL strove for a “political merging of left organizations and individuals of diverse views and currents that are jointly…working for the socialist renewal of the DDR.” This “unity of the left” conception struck a political chord with many workers and leftists who wanted to counter the capitalist offensive. But what was actually needed were united actions against capitalism and rising nationalism/​fascism, actions like our united-front demonstration of 3 January 1990, in which various organizations march under their own banners (i.e., put forward their programs) while jointly combatting a common enemy. “Unity of the left,” that is, an ongoing alliance, is nothing but a rotten political bloc that sweeps differences under the rug in the search for a common denominator, reducing politics to the lowest level. Any revolutionaries in such a bloc would find themselves subordinated to the opportunists.

VL had a contradictory program that could only confuse workers and leftists seeking an answer to the question of how to defend the DDR. In its appeal “For a United Left in the DDR,” VL on the one hand advocated social ownership “of the means of production as the dominant foundation with the best prospects for the future,” and on the other hand backed “free development of cooperatives and private property deriving from one’s own labor.” When push came to shove, VL resolved its own contradictions by hailing bourgeois democracy, poorly concealing its betrayal with the pious wish that “political suppression by a bureaucracy not be replaced by capitalist exploitation.”

On 3 November 1989, VL, other groups in the citizens’ rights movement and the counterrevolutionary SDP put out a joint statement “For a Democratic Restructuring of State and Society.” It called for reform of the constitution and free elections with secret ballots as well as freedom of assembly, association and the press. Here the Social Democracy was aiming to win the masses to its program for a “social market economy,” i.e., capitalism, and VL assisted it in doing so.

In this context, the “free elections” demand was a call to support bourgeois democracy against the workers state, that is, a call for counterrevolution, which is why we opposed it. We are for workers democracy linked to defense of the workers state. Today, counterrevolutionary forces are uniting behind the call for “free elections” in deformed workers states such as Cuba and China. Only this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked up “free elections” in Beijing to smooth a path for German imperialism, which wants to call the shots in a Chinese market reconquered for capitalism.

VL panicked and dropped its initial support to the Treptow demonstration, explaining the reversal: “The trigger was the fear that ‘former SED cadres’ would again attain positions of power” (“Statement of the Opposition to Wahlbündnis 90 [Electoral Alliance ’90],” 3 January 1990). On the very same day as Treptow, they cobbled together a counterrevolutionary electoral alliance, with the citizens’ rights movement and the SDP, from which they resigned on January 7. VL’s leader, Thomas Klein, told us on January 21 that for his organization the main enemy was not the SPD but DDR State Security (the Stasi) and the SED apparatus—one could always resist the politics of the SPD after the elections if it became the government and attacked the workers. This was an unambiguous statement in favor of the West German capitalist system, in which workers voted every four years to decide which bourgeois government would oppress and exploit them.

In the wake of the Treptow mobilization, the rattled bourgeoisie launched an anti-Communist campaign against the Stasi. Beating the same drum, VL instantly called for the dissolution of the Stasi. On January 15, an anti-Communist mob stormed the central Stasi headquarters in Berlin. On March 29, VL participated in a witchhunt demonstration staged by New Forum (part of the citizens’ rights movement). Held at Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, this rally called for investigating all members of the Volkskammer to establish whether they had collaborated with the Ministry for State Security. We vehemently condemned this rightist campaign against the Stasi as a battering ram directed against the very existence of the DDR.

We warned against holding show trials à la Stalin that could only promote bloodthirstiness and encourage counterrevolutionary massacres. Before the anti-Communist witchhunt was in full swing, we had proposed how the working class might deal with the bloated Stasi apparatus in ways favorable to the defense of the DDR. After all, the Stasi did not just go after the class enemy but also spied on the DDR populace, with the aim of intimidating and atomizing the working class. For example, we suggested taking agents out of the Stasi and putting them to work in the DDR’s collectivized factories and farms. Workers tribunals linked to authoritative workers councils should deal with individual secret police who had grossly abused their office. Many actions taken against the Stasi leadership prior to Treptow had a pro-socialist character. Thus, the Felix Dzerzhinsky Guard Regiment (military arm of the Ministry for State Security) prevented the Stasi from shredding its files and also set up a soldiers council.

We called for workers militias under the leadership of workers and soldiers councils, first of all to stop the fascist danger in its tracks. Former Stasi members who wished to defend the workers state would have found a place in them. The attacks incited by the bourgeoisie and its lackeys, such as the storming of Stasi headquarters, served exclusively to whip up an atmosphere for bloody reprisal and to intimidate pro-DDR workers and leftists, opening the road to counterrevolution. The bourgeoisie hated the Stasi because it, in fact, sometimes acted in defense of the workers state. From the standpoint of the working class, defending the DDR was no misdeed—but undermining and selling it out as the SED-PDS Stalinists did was truly a crime!

The Founding of the Communist Platform

Many of the Communist Platform (KPF) leaders stemmed from the so-called socialist intelligentsia and, like Eberhard Czichon, were supporters of Gorbachev and Bukharin, the latter the leader of the Right Opposition in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s. The founders of the KPF reflected the appetite of broad layers within the SED to build a genuinely communist party. SED members who saw themselves as communists were repelled by the social-democratization of their party as expressed in some of the calls for an Extraordinary Party Congress. For example, eleven SED local organizations in Berlin came out for a “socialist people’s party.”

In response, a 1 December 1989 “Call by the Group for Initiating a ‘Communist Party of the DDR’ (KP-DDR)” stated:

“It is with concern that we note that it is not just the Stalinist apparatuses that are secretly positioning themselves for a counterattack but also other forces that are increasingly gaining influence within the SED. This is manifested in demands for a ‘socialist people’s party,’ in the formulation ‘take into greater consideration the character of the SED as unity party’ and similar formulations.”

Additionally, the KP-DDR initiative argued for a “revolutionary vanguard.” One part of that group, however, envisioned a new party solely as an “ongoing counterbalance” to the SED, i.e., doing nothing save pressuring it from the left.

In this tumultuous situation, with everything in flux, we argued consistently for the need for a Leninist egalitarian party and kept to our course of splitting the SED. Our call for an egalitarian party made clear that we were against bureaucratic privileges and that our aim was not one of reforming the old SED but of building a genuine communist party of the working class. Between the two weekends of the SED Extraordinary Party Congress held in East Berlin, at which we sold more literature than there were participants, we received the following 10 December 1989 letter from a worker:

“I was very happy to learn of you. I’m an SEDer. But this was probably never truly my party and even less so now, where this ‘position paper’ was adopted that abandons everything and lumps us together with the Social Democrats and I don’t know who else. Yes, this country needs a new, strong KP [Communist Party]—I’d like to get into contact with you regarding this.”

Countless subjective communists were frustrated by the results of the Congress, which set the SED firmly on a social-democratic course. Given this mood, as well as general sentiment for a new Communist Party and the fact that a group of SED leaders had already announced their intention to split, our intervention and activity in the DDR must have seemed quite threatening to the new SED-PDS leadership around Hans Modrow and Gregor Gysi. Gysi convinced the future founders of the KPF to set up their Communist Platform inside the SED-PDS (later renamed the PDS) and not to split that party.

Heinz Marohn, one of the founders of the KPF, described this decision forthrightly at a 1995 PDS conference:

“We saw in the SED/PDS a political movement that, in the form of a party, embraced various currents and we strongly opposed all efforts to dissolve the Party. This brought us respect in the Party. There never would have been a Communist Platform had it not been needed. Back then, in late 1989, a lot of stuff was gotten rid of and only what was necessary and desired was preserved. The Party was on the point of dissolution. This would have brought the DDR to the verge of anarchy. Neither friend nor foe desired this. Thus, all the Party comrades had to close ranks, and many who saw themselves as Communists (without being able to say precisely what constituted Communist policies in this situation) tied themselves to Communist Platform—not organizationally but in terms of their ideals.”

Like all Stalinists, the KPF was first and foremost bent on avoiding “anarchy and chaos,” i.e., mobilizations by the workers. The January 3 Treptow demonstration was the one and only exception, as the SED-PDS, under the pressure of our program, was unable to avoid calling it. The KPF was founded precisely to avert splits from the SED-PDS to the left, that is, in the TLD’s direction, thereby preventing the construction of a revolutionary party that might have been in a position to lead a political revolution. It was not accidental that the KPF was formed on December 30, only four days before we spoke to the mass base of the SED-PDS, centrally about the forging of a new workers party in the spirit of Lenin, Liebknecht and Luxemburg.

When Modrow returned from the Soviet Union at the end of January, the KPF failed to utter one word of criticism against his program for capitalist reunification, let alone oppose the slogan “Germany, United Fatherland.” Instead, it reinforced the widespread illusion among pro-socialist workers and PDS members that the Modrow government constituted the last barrier against the sellout of the DDR. In addition to agreeing to capitalist reunification, the PDS made clear that it was for a “market economy…with pronounced social and ecological goals,” one that “stimulates and rewards performance.”

Nonetheless, the KPF depicted the PDS as if it had been “a determined leftist force…against the restoration of capitalist relationships in the DDR.” Thus, the KPF obscured the true significance of the capitulation by PDS leaders to the German bourgeoisie and their acceptance of the Kremlin’s betrayal. In no small part, it was thanks to the KPF that capitalism was able to catch the workers unaware in their hour of greatest danger.

Defend Past Gains, Fight for the Future

The elections to the Volkskammer, which had been moved forward to March, were a referendum on capitalist reunification, that is, yes or no to capitalist counterrevolution. We insisted that every organization had to take an unambiguous position before the working class on this life-or-death question. We emphatically said “No!” and ran in the elections, stating: “Where the SpAD is unable to run a candidate, we call on our supporters to vote for those parties and groups that stand clearly against capitalist reunification.”

But we were the only ones to fight capitalist counterrevolution! On 18 March 1990, approximately 80 percent of voters cast ballots for counterrevolutionary parties, i.e., for open, speedy capitalist reunification. We told the bitter truth: “Fourth Reich Wins DDR Elections.” Counterrevolution had won—a bitter defeat not just for the German but also the international working class.

Everyone who wants to fight capitalism alongside the workers and feels that communism is worth striving for should study the history of our intervention into the events of the incipient political revolution. Drawing these lessons is vital to victorious class struggle and revolutions, for which leadership by a proletarian vanguard party is essential. For the same reason, workers and leftists must acquaint themselves with the history of betrayal of those who today put on a left face but in reality supported counterrevolution. Given their program and history of not defending past gains, groups like David North’s Party for Social Equality, the KPF in the Left Party and proponents of the former United Left can only pave the way to new defeats.


Workers Vanguard No. 1059

WV 1059

9 January 2015


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