International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International Vol. 20 (1994): Capital, Labor and the Nation-State

The role of Stalinism in Germany

This essay was first published as the introduction to the book Das Ende der DDR—Eine politische Autopsie (The End of the GDR—A Political Autopsy) (Essen: Arbeiterpresse Verlag, 1992), published by the BSA.

It is barely possible to count the number of articles and editorials written over the past three years devoted to the theme “the end of socialism.” The majority of these articles draw the conclusion from the collapse of the GDR, and later the Soviet Union, that the doctrine of Karl Marx has failed and there exists no alternative to capitalism. In fact, all such suppositions are entirely superficial and incapable of revealing the profound historical processes which lie beneath the surface of events. In reality, the “end of socialism” debate has less to do with serious scientific research than with the wishful thinking of those who, one and a half centuries after the publication of the Communist Manifesto, finally hope to lay to rest the “specter of communism.”

The truth is that all those journalists and politicians who blithely proclaim “the end of socialism” were themselves completely taken unawares by the turn of events in the GDR. In 1987 Chancellor Kohl, convinced of the stability of the GDR, laid out the red carpet in Bonn for head of state Erich Honecker. At the same time the SPD, Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (German Social Democratic Party), reinforced its collaboration with the SED, Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (United Socialist Party of Germany, the Stalinist state party in the GDR), through the formation of a joint program commission. Even the GDR specialist among the West German historians, Hermann Weber, wrote in the introduction to his History of the GDR published in 1985: “It should be noted that the GDR is one of the most stable states in recent German history” (Hermann Weber, Geschichte der DDR [Munich: 1985], p. 7). Their failure to foresee the collapse of the GDR and the Soviet Union is only matched by their lack of foresight in relation to the economic and political catastrophe now unraveling in all the former Stalinist states and rapidly spreading to the West as well.

The present book on the collapse of the GDR approaches the events from an entirely different standpoint. Instead of regurgitating prejudices and cliches, it seeks to uncover the underlying factors which led to the dramatic events of 1989 and 1990. The aim is to probe the social, economic and historical driving forces which lie behind the headlines, slogans and ideological conflicts accompanying the rise and fall of the GDR. The distinction between objective social changes and the ideological forms in which these changes are cloaked—the difference between the claims and the reality—assumes even more importance in the case of the GDR because from the beginning the ruling bureaucracy masked its real role under a mountain of pseudo-Marxist phrases and then proceeded to drown the collapse of the GDR in a flood of illusions, false promises and deception.

The documents brought together in this book were produced in the heat of events. They comprise lead articles, editorials, program statements and reportage from the Neue Arbeiterpresse, the newspaper of the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter, German section of the Fourth International. The paper appeared every two weeks until the end of 1989 and every week after that. Approximately one-third of all the published articles dealing with the events in the GDR have been selected for this volume; from the period of the mass exodus in the summer of 1989 up to the Bundestag (parliamentary) elections on December 2, 1990. The articles have been divided into ten chapters, each with a short introduction to place them in their historical context. Taken together, this collection amounts to a detailed autopsy of the collapse of the GDR—its historical roots, the international background, the role played by the different political parties and tendencies, and the conflicting interests expressed through various social classes, layers and individuals.

These articles were written not from the standpoint of a passive observer but that of an active participant. This does not, however, detract from their objectivity. Objectivity does not exclude partisanship but, on the contrary, presupposes it. The mask of apparent neutrality in the face of events which change the lives of millions does not characterize an objective approach but merely hides the position of the author from the reader. Who would take seriously the historian who took a “neutral” position on the struggle between the Inquisition and rising bourgeoisie? It would immediately be clear that the writer was a reactionary. The same applies to recent history.

We leave it to the reader to form a judgment on the analyses and conclusions made by the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter in the storm of events. All the articles are reproduced unchanged apart from the slight editing needed in order to avoid the repetition which is inevitable in a periodic newspaper. The reader will quickly ascertain that the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter, in contrast to bourgeois pundits and politicians, was surprised neither by the events nor their consequences.

In their enthusiasm, bourgeois commentators on events in the GDR fail to notice that, with the slogan “the end of socialism,” they are merely perpetuating the web of lies spun by the Stalinist bureaucracy over decades to justify their rule; namely, that the dictatorship established by them represented a form of socialism. The equating of Stalinism and socialism, once the lie lived by the SED regime, has today become the principal theme of the German bourgeoisie.

In reality it is impossible to understand the causes of the collapse of the GDR without investigating the corrosive role played by Stalinism for more than seventy years in the international socialist movement. It is not socialism that has failed in the GDR. It is nearer the truth to say that the GDR failed precisely because of the suppression of socialism by the Stalinist bureaucracy. In order to understand the fate of the GDR it is necessary to go back to the origins of Stalinism.

Opponents of socialism often try to portray the Russian October Revolution of 1917 as the product of a conspiracy or putsch by a small minority and then argue that the Stalinist dictatorship is the inevitable consequence of Bolshevik methods. Such theories are still being cooked up by the Stalinist epigones in Moscow today. Historically, such a viewpoint is untenable.

Without the conscious support of broad masses, expressing profound political convictions, the Bolsheviks would never have been able to seize power, let alone defend it, under conditions of unspeakable sacrifice in a three-year civil war. The October Revolution was the high point of a long period which had seen an unparalleled development in the international socialist movement. Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks based themselves on the work of the First and Second Internationals which had familiarized two generations of workers with the origins and foundations of Marxism—the most advanced economic, philosophical and socialist ideas of the time. In particular, at the turn of the century, the German SPD was regarded as the classic example of a Marxist mass party, relying on the conscious collaboration and active support of hundreds of thousands of workers. The party of this period could not differ more from the SPD of today with its well-paid functionaries, careerists and office-seekers. It is common knowledge that in 1914 the leadership of the SPD betrayed their program and capitulated to the wave of nationalism accompanying the First World War. However, they were unable to destroy overnight the Marxist culture they themselves had established in the working class.

This Marxist culture had also put down firm roots in the Russian working class. How else can one explain the wave of enthusiasm which accompanied the October Revolution—the blooming of intellectual life which was not merely restricted to the sphere of politics and economics? Despite conditions of material want, the young Soviet Union brought forth a flowering of art, placing it at the peak of international developments in fields as diverse as film, theater and architecture.

The historic role of Stalinism consists of wiping out these fruits of Marxism. In the mid-1920s the faction led by Stalin began to attack the theoretical foundations of Marxism and to falsify the history of the revolution. They soon proceeded to throw their Marxist opponents out of the party. They then sent them into banishment and exile. Even this was not enough. In the 1930s they proceeded to physically liquidate all those who exhibited any sort of affinity to the October Revolution. The infamous Moscow Trials, in which the entire leadership of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party were the victims, were only the tip of the iceberg. Millions were killed in the purges. Stalinism did not restrict itself merely to its political opponents. Anyone with a progressive or independent idea in his head was seen as a danger. On the eve of the world war the leading cadres of the Red Army were liquidated alongside a whole generation of capable engineers, economists, scientists and artists who had made an exemplary contribution to the construction of the Soviet economy and society. Mere figures alone cannot possibly express the damage done to Soviet society through this substitution of the very bloom of human creativeness by a veritable army of mediocre and thoroughly subservient bureaucrats.

The main target of the purges were the Trotskyists, the only opponents of Stalin to defend Marxism and the foundations of the October Revolution in their entirety. Whoever was arrested as a “spy” or on the charge of “sabotage” could still hope to get off with a prison sentence in one of the camps. If they were of robust constitution they might even survive. Whoever was accused of being a “Trotskyist” was guaranteed a bullet in the back of the head. If a “Trotskyist” was uncovered in a factory, then not just the worker himself but the whole department would be put in front of the firing squad. The hunt for Trotskyists did not stop at the Soviet border.

The murder squads of the Stalinist secret police hunted the world over for left critics of the Kremlin. No single regime, not even that of Hitler, carried out such a systematic, single-minded and relentless persecution of convinced Marxists as did the regime of Stalin.

Lacking its own ideology, Stalinism sought to justify its crimes with references to Marx and Lenin. The writings of the latter were falsified and turned into a form of catechism. Lenin was embalmed and immured in Red Square so that every year, on the anniversary of the revolution, the heads of the bureaucracy could trample all over him in their boots. To regard this gang of murderers and criminals as the representatives of the ideals which once inspired millions of workers; to associate this putrescent cancer on the body of socialism with socialism itself—that is the summit of historical duplicity. Such a standpoint is comparable only with the falsification of history carried out by the Stalinists themselves. However, the thesis of “the end of socialism” rests on nothing less.

The ideological and material roots of Stalinism are not to be found in the traditions of the workers movement and Marxism; it is not even a withered branch on the tree of socialism. Ideologically, it was nourished by the rubbish scraps of bourgeois ideology which penetrated the workers movement at the turn of the century and found there a new lease of life. Thus the theory of building “socialism in a single country,” which became the central ideological axis of Stalinism, derived from the right-wing German Social Democrat, Vollmar; in 1927 a resurrected form of the Menshevik two-stage theory was responsible for the ruination of the Chinese revolution; and during and after the Second World War Stalinism plumbed new depths of degeneration with the adoption of the most backward nationalist views.

Materially Stalinism nourished itself on the decomposition and deep contradictions within imperialism. The October Revolution had been the most important first step to resolve these contradictions which, however, could not possibly be overcome within the framework of a single country. In seizing state power in October 1917, the Russian proletariat created the fundamental precondition for the construction of a socialist society which could only be completed on the world arena. The rise and triumph of Stalinism was the penalty for the delay of the world socialist revolution and the isolation of the first workers state in history.

There are and have been numerous attempts made to trace the degeneration of the Soviet Union to the “mistake” of the Russian proletariat in seizing power “too soon.” According to these theories, Russia should first have undergone a long period of parliamentary democracy before it could be ripe for socialism. This view, corresponding to that of Menshevism, completely ignores the international causes of the October Revolution. The triumphal march of imperialism at the turn of the century and the penetration of finance capital into every comer of the globe closed the door once and for all on a “normal” bourgeois development in such economically backward countries as Russia. It also made impossible any further peaceful expansion in the developed capitalist countries. The genocide of the First World War was nothing other than the confirmation of this fact.

The working class in Russia was the first to take the step to seize power because in this relatively economically backward country, the international economic, social and political opposites within imperialism found their most concentrated expression; a far-reaching development of modem capitalism with the attendant class differentiation of society collided with the legacy of tsarist backwardness. The months of February to October 1917 demonstrated in practice what Trotsky had already predicted theoretically in 1906: In countries with a delayed bourgeois development, the democratic tasks can only be resolved by means of the dictatorship of the proletariat.1 The provisional government, which had inscribed bourgeois parliamentarianism on its banner, proved incapable of tackling a single task of the democratic revolution, let alone resolving it. The alternative to the October Revolution was not bourgeois parliamentary democracy and a blossoming capitalism but Kornilov dictatorship, tyranny and economic backwardness, as is typical today for the developing countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa. The same holds true for those states currently arising out of the collapse of the Soviet Union where the working class is making precisely this bitter experience. These so-called democratic regimes have revealed themselves to be nothing other than avaricious comprador bourgeoisies comprising mafia gangsters and adventurers, intent on reducing the newly formed states to the status of underdeveloped semicolonies in the shortest possible time.

At the time of the October Revolution it was taken as self-evident by all Marxists that the fate of the revolution in Russia depended on the international revolution. While imprisoned in 1918, Rosa Luxemburg succinctly formulated this position in her article “On the Russian Revolution.”[1][2]Here, she defends the October Revolution from the violent attack of the SPD leaders, who had made common cause with the German government against the Bolsheviks and whose suppression of the revolution in Germany was the central cause of the difficulties experienced in Russia. With prophetic foresight Luxemburg wrote:

“It is not Russia’s unripeness which has been proved by the events of the war and the Russian Revolution, but the unripeness of the German proletariat for the fulfillment of its historic tasks. And to make this fully clear is the first task of a critical examination of the Russian Revolution. The fate of the revolution in Russia depended fully upon international events. That the Bolsheviks have based their policy entirely upon the world proletarian revolution is the clearest proof of their political farsightedness and firmness of principle and of the bold scope of their policies....

“Dealing as we are with the very first experiment of proletarian dictatorship in world history (and one taking place at that under the hardest conceivable conditions, in the midst of the worldwide conflagration and chaos of imperialist mass slaughter, caught in the coils of the most reactionary military power in Europe, and accompanied by the most complete failure on the part of the international working class), it would be a crazy idea to think that every last thing done or left undone in an experiment with the dictatorship of the proletariat under such abnormal conditions represented the very pinnacle of perfection. On the contrary, elementary conceptions of socialist politics and an insight into their historically necessary prerequisites force us to understand that under such fatal conditions even the most gigantic idealism and the most storm-tested revolutionary energy are incapable of realizing democracy and socialism but only distorted attempts at either.

“To make this stand out clearly in all its fundamental aspects and consequences is the elementary duty of the socialists of all countries; for only on the background of this bitter knowledge can we measure the enormous magnitude of the responsibility of the international proletariat itself for the fate of the Russian Revolution. Furthermore, it is only on this basis that the decisive importance of the resolute international action of the proletarian revolution can become effective, without which action as its necessary support, even the greatest energy and the greatest sacrifices of the proletariat in a single country must inevitably become tangled in a maze of contradiction and blunders” (Rosa Luxemburg Speaks [New York: Pathfinder Press: 1970], pp. 368-69).

The “maze of contradiction and blunders” which Luxemburg feared found its embodiment in Stalinism. The isolation of the first workers state enabled the traditional backwardness and barbarism of Russia to reassert itself once more. “The poverty and cultural backwardness of the masses has again become incarnate in the malignant form of the ruler with the great club in his hand. The deposed and abused bureaucracy, from being a servant of society, has again become its lord,” as Trotsky later wrote (The Revolution Betrayed [Detroit: Labor Publications, 1991], p. 113).[3]

The defeats suffered by the international working class, above all in Germany, were the cause of this isolation. Social democracy, which drowned the German November Revolution in blood and organized the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, was the real midwife of Stalinism. Later, despite a show of hostility between the social democratic and Stalinist bureaucracies, they mutually complemented one another’s role. Both, in their own way, helped to secure capitalist rule against the danger of a proletarian rebellion. Whenever the situation became really critical they were prepared to directly collaborate. This extended from single issues such as the refusal to grant Trotsky a visa—up to the popular front governments in the 1930s, where social democracy and Stalinism jointly ensured the survival of the French and Spanish bourgeoisie. After the Second World War, many workers who had long since broken with reformism were thrust back into the arms of social democracy by the betrayals and crimes of Stalinism. The SPD leaders who today trumpet over the disintegration of Stalinism would prefer to forget this correlation. In reality, the collapse of Stalinism also sounds the death knell for social democracy.

The rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy was facilitated by a number of circumstances. On the one hand, shortage and want meant that the state did not wither away as Lenin had predicted it would in a socialist society—but rather gained in significance. As the “policeman of inequality,” the bureaucracy supervised the distribution of goods in short supply ensuring, of course, that they themselves were never left lacking. On the other hand, the revolutionary vanguard of the working class was exhausted by the revolution and civil war. Conservative layers, which had either been hostile or merely passive in the revolution, now streamed into the state and party. Stalin, whose predilection had always been for such layers, opened the doors wide for them. The flood of these new untrained forces into the party left the Marxists in a minority. The Left Opposition, organized by Trotsky, put up bitter resistance to the ascent of the bureaucracy. Nevertheless, the bureaucracy won; not with its ideas and arguments but due to its own social weight. The leaden rump of the bureaucracy outweighed the revolutionary head.[4]

The theory of building “socialism in a single country,” announced by Stalin in 1924 following Lenin’s death, became the theoretical axis of the bureaucracy. According to Stalin, the precondition for the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union was no longer the victory of the socialist revolution in a series of advanced capitalist countries. The new teaching proclaimed that socialism could now be completed within the borders of the Soviet Union itself.

This theory represents a fundamental break with Marxism, notwithstanding the strivings of a veritable army of academics corrupted by Stalinism, who sought, with the help of selected quotations, to trace it to Lenin. By socialism, Marxism understands a higher historical stage of human development, resting on advanced forces of production correspondingly superior to those established by capitalism. The gigantic progress of industry and technique already achieved in capitalist society was only possible due to an international division of labor; it is unthinkable, therefore, to contemplate a socialist society within the framework of isolated economic units. The necessity for the socialist revolution arises precisely because within capitalism the forces of production outgrow and inevitably come into conflict with national borders. Proletarian internationalism stems from the untenable nature of the national state, which has long been superseded and become an obstacle to the development of the productive forces.

The theory of “socialism in a single country” expressed the needs of a conservative bureaucracy in the process of consolidating its position as a privileged caste and hating the very thought of further revolutions which could jeopardize its position. The consequences were devastating. On a domestic level, the utopian attempt to harmonize development of all sectors of industry, cut off from the resources of the world economy, led to continual disruptions and economic catastrophe. The bureaucracy reacted with panic measures, changing course first to the left, then to the right, only to make matters worse. On an international level the new doctrine led to a redefinition of the tasks of the Communist International and eventually to its dissolution. What had been founded as the world party of socialist revolution degenerated into a mere tool of Soviet foreign policy until, in 1943, Stalin dissolved the International altogether as a demonstration of his unconditional loyalty to his imperialist allies.

One of the principal victims of the destructive work of Stalinism in the international workers movement was the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (German Communist Party). The SED always claimed to represent the traditions of the KPD; in fact, the state party of the GDR was the exact opposite of the revolutionary organization which had been founded between December 30, 1918, and January 1, 1919, in the midst of rebellious Berlin. Between the founding of the KPD and its unification with the SPD to form the SED lay nearly thirty years of political and theoretical decline, repeated systematic purges of the leadership and the terrible defeat of 1933.

The KPD arose out of the twenty-year struggle of the revolutionary wing of German Social Democracy against the growing opportunism of the SPD. Here, Rosa Luxemburg who stood politically very close to Lenin and Trotsky, despite intensely fought out differences on a number of secondary questions, played an outstanding role. In contrast to Lenin, who had broken organizationally very early with opportunism, Rosa Luxemburg first split with the majority of the SPD only when they voted for war credits in 1914. The Gruppe Internationale (International Group) was formed and later the Spartakusbund (Spartacist League), out of which the KPD emerged.

The new party, which fought for a Soviet Germany as a step towards the socialist world revolution, quickly won influence. In March 1919, they were the first to become a section of the newly founded Communist International. At the end of 1920, the left wing of the USPD, Unabhaengige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Independent German Social Democratic Party) merged with the KPD, bringing 300,000 members with it, increasing the total membership more than fivefold.

It was inevitable that this quickly growing young party, forced constantly to prove itself in the fire of revolution, went through a process of clarification involving fierce fractional struggles and a series of splits. This maturing process was made more difficult by the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, robbing the KPD of its two most experienced cadres just two weeks following its foundation. Above all, it was the growing influence of Stalinism which completely sabotaged the maturation of a firm Marxist leadership.

In 1923 the party underwent a decisive test. A profound revolutionary crisis developed in Germany. In January France occupied the Ruhr area in order to recover outstanding reparations and thus delivered the tottering economy a death blow. The mark-dollar exchange rate rose from 8,400 marks at the beginning of the year to the astronomical level of 4 billion marks at the end of November. The middle classes lost their entire savings; for the working class life became unbearable. On September 26 German President Ebert (SPD) declared a state of emergency. In Bavaria right-wing troops of the German army rebelled; in November Hitler and General Ludendorff attempted a putsch. In Thuringia and Saxony left SPD governments were in power, including for a time members of the KPD. They began to form proletarian defense organizations.

Under these conditions, after long hesitation, the KPD in close collaboration with the Comintern leadership began to prepare for an uprising throughout Germany. The date was fixed for the first half of November. Yet the tempo of events accelerated. The government of Berlin—a grand coalition of Stresemann’s Deutsche Volkspartei (German Peoples Party) and the SPD—sent the army against the government of Saxony. In this critical situation the KPD let the initiative slip out of their hands. They left the decision for a general strike in Saxony, which was to be the signal for the uprising, to a workers conference meeting in Chemnitz on October 21. The delegates, who were overwhelmingly conveners and shop stewards, rejected the call. On the same evening the KPD decided to call off the revolt. But the news failed to reach Hamburg. There, the uprising began on October 23, remained isolated and was defeated within three days.

The right wingers took advantage of the paralysis of the KPD and struck back. Stresemann’s cabinet resigned and Ebert gave over the full executive powers to army chief of staff General von Seeckt. The KPD was immediately banned. The economic and political situation slowly stabilized itself. The “German October” had failed. An extraordinary revolutionary opportunity was allowed to pass because the leadership of the KPD had hesitated too long and proved indecisive.

The defeat of 1923 threw the KPD into a serious crisis. They lost nearly a third of their membership and were able to regain their feet only slowly during the following five-year phase of economic stabilization. At the same time the German defeat strengthened the Stalinist faction in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in which Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev had united in an alliance against Trotsky. Shortly afterwards, Stalin for the first time openly proclaimed the thesis of “socialism in a single country.” If the KPD had made a sober assessment and learned from its mistakes, it could have recovered from the defeat and in 1929, when the short-lived economic recovery ended with a crash, could have exploited the new revolutionary situation and defied the fascists. But it was precisely this that the rise of Stalinism prevented.

Zinoviev and Stalin tried to make the KPD leader Brandler the sole scapegoat, although as chairman of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, it was Zinoviev who had encouraged Brandler’s hesitant course for months and therefore bore equal responsibility. A malicious witchhunt was launched against Trotsky who, rejecting an overhasty organizational solution, endeavored to draw out the political lessons. The campaign rose to a frenzy when Trotsky, in his article “The Lessons of October,” pointed to the parallels between Brandler’s behavior in 1923 and that of Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1917. At that time both had opposed the October uprising.

In 1924 Brandler was removed from office and replaced by representatives of the left wing of the party. Ruth Fischer and Arkady Maslov now played the leading role in the party; Ernst Thaelmann became deputy party chairman. As the class struggle cooled markedly, the new leadership set out on an ultra-left course, which served only to further isolate the party from the working class.

There followed further changes in the leadership, brought about not by any clarification of political questions but due to fractional struggles and the needs of the Stalin clique in Moscow. In 1925, following the breakdown of the alliance between Stalin on the one side and Zinoviev and Kamenev on the other, Fischer and Maslov were also removed from office and a year later thrown out of the party. Corresponding to the development in the Soviet Union, where Stalin had entered an alliance with the right wing under Bukharin, a right-wing turn was made in the KPD. The positions of Fischer and Maslov were taken over by Philip Dengel, Ernst Meyer and Arthur Ewert, who were themselves replaced by Hermann Remmele and Heinz Neumann in 1928 when Stalin came into conflict with Bukharin and undertook a new left turn.

The only one to survive all these twists and turns unscathed was Ernst Thaelmann. Following the removal of Fischer and Maslov he became party chairman in 1925 and held this post until his arrest in March 1933. Thaelmann came with the Hamburg USPD to the KPD in 1920 and was soon regarded as a representative of the left wing. However, his left-wing standpoint was determined more by an instinctive radicalism than theoretical insight and was accompanied by a spinelessness which qualified him as Stalin’s unquestioning representative in Germany. From 1928 on, a corruption scandal bound him personally to Stalin. He had attempted to cover up the embezzlement of party money by a close friend and confidant, the Hamburg KPD functionary Wittorf. As a result, the central committee relieved him of all duties. It was only through Stalin’s personal intervention that he was able to regain his post as party chairman.

In 1928-1929, the Communist International undertook a new left turn and set out on that fateful course which was to lead to the disastrous defeat of the KPD and the German working class. They proclaimed the beginning of the so-called Third Period, according to which an abrupt and undeviating revolutionary upturn had developed worldwide. In fact, this new tactical orientation in no way corresponded to a realistic estimation of the objective situation but rather reflected the requirements of the Stalin bureaucracy. In the Soviet Union they were confronted with a rebellion by the kulaks, the very bourgeois elements they themselves had nurtured for years. With unparalleled brutality they now proceeded with the “liquidation of the kulaks,” at the same time proceeding even more vigorously against the Trotskyist Left Opposition, which had long before warned of such a development. Trotsky himself was banished to Turkey.

The new ultra-left course found its crowning expression in Germany in the theory of “social fascism.” According to this theory, the SPD was declared to be a “social fascist party,” the twin brother of the NSDAP, Nationalsozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands (the Nazi party of Hitler). The SPD was declared to be the “main enemy” of the KPD. A united front with the SPD against the Nazis was ruled out of the question. Right up to Hitler coming to power in January 1933 and then even for some months thereafter, the “social fascism” theory was the central political axis of the KPD.

This theory was based on an outrageous and vulgar trivialization of Marxism. Without a doubt the SPD pursued a policy directed against the interests of the working class, a policy which defended the bourgeois state and thereby facilitated the rise of fascism. However, then to draw the conclusion that there was no difference between the SPD and NSDAP was completely erroneous. Trotsky, who opposed this senseless course with dozens of brochures and articles, remarked: “The social democracy, which is today the chief representative of the parliamentary-bourgeois regime, derives its support from the workers. Fascism is supported by the petty bourgeoisie. The social democracy without the mass organizations of the workers can have no influence. Fascism cannot entrench itself in power without annihilating the workers organizations. Parliament is the main arena of the social democracy. The system of fascism is based on the destruction of parliamentarianism” (Leon Trotsky, “What Next?” in The Struggle against Fascism in Germany [Penguin Books, 1975], p. 124). In order to weld the working class together against fascism the KPD would have had to exploit the differences between fascism and social democracy. Instead they did everything to repel the social democratic workers—to the extent of supporting such base measures as the Prussian referendum. In the summer of 1931, together with the fascists, they supported a referendum against the Prussian SPD government.

In the final analysis, the policy of social fascism, despite its ultra-left wrappings, was the form in which the KPD leadership capitulated to fascism. In place of a real struggle, requiring the systematic mobilization of the working class, came loud cries which did not impress anyone except the KPD leaders themselves. In spite of radical posturing against the “social fascists,” this policy accommodated the SPD leadership itself which feared nothing more than the mobilization of the working class. Such a mobilization would inevitably have been directed not just against fascism but its breeding ground, the capitalist state.

The division and paralysis of the working class opened the way to power for Hitler. That the key to the situation lay in the hands of the KPD is shown by the fact that, just two months before Hitler was proclaimed chancellor, the KPD and SPD together won more votes in the Reichstag elections (old German parliament) than the Nazis. The SPD received 7.2 million and the KPD 5.9 million to the Nazis’ 11.7 million votes. Such elections give only a passive view of society and do not really reflect the dynamic of the class struggle. If the KPD had fought against fascism with deeds instead of just phrases, then sections of the impoverished petty bourgeoisie, who had become victims of the Nazi demagogy, could instead have been won to the KPD.

Stalin bears the main responsibility for the German defeat. The KPD leadership under Thaelmann, however, were not simply “victims” of Stalin. Stalin could rely on a “national socialist” tradition which had its roots far back in German Social Democracy and which had never been completely overcome in the KPD. In 1914 the SPD justified its historic betrayal with the formulation: “In order to build socialism, we must defend the fatherland.” The Spartakusbund took up a struggle against this standpoint in the name of internationalism. However, already by 1923, during the French occupation of the Ruhr, openly nationalist tones were to be heard in the KPD once more. On May 13, the Rote Fahne (Red Flag) published an appeal which stated: “The task of the KPD is to open the eyes of the broad nationalist masses of petty bourgeois and intellectuals to the fact that only the victorious working class will be able to defend German soil, the treasures of German culture and the future of the German nation” (quoted in Werner T. Angress, Stillborn Revolution [Vienna: 1973], p. 365). This embrace of nationalist slogans under the guise of turning to the petty-bourgeois masses found its high point in the “Schlageter course,” with the glorification by the KPD of a fascist executed by the French.

While this remained a short, if characteristic episode, under Thaelmann’s leadership such nationalist slogans appeared ever more frequently in the propaganda of the KPD. Thaelmann tended to replace Marxism with demagogic phrases. He was well known for his theatrical appearances posing as the “prole,” leading belligerent marches in the uniform of the Rotfrontkaempferbund (Red Front League of Fighters), which to this day have made him the idol of Stalinist and petty-bourgeois groups such as the DKP, Deutsche Kommunistische Partei (German Communist Party, the West German satellite of the SED) and the MLPD, Marxistische-Lenninstische Partei Deutschlands (Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany, Maoists). While the KPD was abusing the social democrats as “social fascists,” in fact it was adapting its own agitation to the demagogy of the Nazis. At the beginning of 1932 they made their main slogan “people’s revolution,” a term out of the theoretical arsenal of fascism which completely blurs the class character of the revolution.

The most bitter and remorseless attacks by Thaelmann and his supporters were reserved for Trotsky and his German cofighters, who tirelessly struggled for a United Front between the SPD and KPD against fascism and rapidly won support among communist workers. At the end of 1932, Thaelmann still denounced Trotsky as a “bankrupt fascist and counterrevolutionary.’’

The Comintern reacted to the German defeat as if nothing had happened and looked upon Hitler’s seizure of power as merely an interlude on the way to revolution. A resolution of the Executive Committee of the Comintern of April 1, 1933, declared: “The political line and organizational policies followed by the Central Committee of the KPD, with Comrade Thaelmann at its head until Hitler’s coup, was completely correct.... The creation of an open fascist dictatorship accelerates the tempo of the German developments towards proletarian revolution.” In the meantime Thaelmann had been arrested, the KPD banned and trade union offices stormed.

Trotsky and the Left Opposition concluded from the German defeat and the inability of the Comintern to learn from this that the Third International could not be won back to a Marxist policy and took up the struggle for a new, Fourth, International which was subsequently founded in 1938.

In the summer of 1935, the Seventh Congress of the Comintern completed a change of course and elevated the “popular front” to the official and generally applicable tactic. Viewed superficially the popular front seems to be in stark contrast to the policy of social fascism, if the latter declares an alliance with the SPD to be impermissible, the popular front expressly condones alliances with even bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties. This contradiction evaporates, however, when one examines the political content of the new line. It equally serves to paralyze the working class. While the policy of social fascism achieved this by politically splitting the working class, so the popular front accomplishes the same, to the extent that it chains the working class to the most impotent representatives of the democratic petty bourgeoisie. In order not to repel their new allies, the Communist parties were ordered to drop all revolutionary demands. The popular front thus marks the wholesale transition of Stalinism into the bourgeois camp—and this only months after the Comintern had denounced the social democrats as social fascists for committing the same offense. The new policy became the basis for further bloody defeats for the international working class.

Supported by the Communist Party, the popular front government of Leon Blum in France strangled the powerful strike movement of 1936-1937, which could have turned the tables in Europe and shaken the Hitler regime. Finally, in the Spanish Civil War, the Comintern became the open gravedigger of the revolution. The Spanish Communist Party became the most important support for the bourgeois, republican government and defended it against all attacks from the left. Trotskyist or anarchist revolutionaries and members of the centrist POUM were captured by the Stalinist-dominated police or the Soviet secret service, tortured and murdered. Not a few of the later leading lights in the GDR bloodied their hands in this way; including Wilhelm Zaisser (“General Gomez”), the first Stasi (secret police) chief, and Erich Mielke. The Communist Party nipped in the bud every demand and initiative directed against capitalist property relations and so drove the most oppressed social layers, who did not care if they starved under a fascist or democratic regime, either into passivity or into Franco’s camp. To the extent that they feared the working class far more than the Spanish bourgeoisie, the Stalinists were prepared to leave the military leadership in the hands of the bourgeoisie and so opened the way for Franco’s final victory.[5]

Stalin’s standpoint in the Spanish Civil War was determined, above all, by the desire not to jeopardize his relationship with France and Britain, which he viewed as his most important allies against Hitler, and which he feared could be repelled by a successful proletarian revolution in Spain. The Stalinist bureaucracy had finally ceased to view the international working class as the guarantor of the security of the Soviet Union and instead sought alliances with various imperialist powers, prepared to sacrifice every revolutionary movement to their foreign political maneuvers. The sheer cynicism of this was demonstrated shortly following the defeat of the Spanish working class, in the Stalin-Hitler pact. If at one point the defense of the “democratic” imperialist governments against fascism had served as the reason to throttle the Spanish proletariat, now Stalin openly allied himself with the fascists.

Up to today, the popular front forms a cornerstone of Stalinist policy. While many Stalinist parties will admit that the social fascist policy was a “mistake,” the popular front is portrayed as the acceptable face of Stalinism. The fact that the Moscow Trials were the concomitant side of this policy is deliberately forgotten. The renunciation of the revolution in the name of “democratic” and pacifist alliances with bourgeois layers demands the suppression and extermination of all revolutionary elements, as the Stalinists carried out with bloody consistency at the high point of the popular front.

Even the KPD had lost its usefulness for the Moscow Stalinist bureaucracy. Scarcely one of its leaders survived World War II. Countless KPD members who had fled fascism to the Soviet Union fell victim to the Stalinist purges, including Thaelmann’s closest comrades-in-arms, Neumann and Remmele.[6] Hundreds were handed over to the Gestapo during the period of the Stalin-Hitler pact. Thaelmann himself spent twelve years in fascist jails until he was murdered, although it would have been easy for Stalin to obtain his release. He served his purpose better as a martyr than as a living memory of Stalin’s crimes.

What remained were the most vile prodigies and bloody hangmen of Stalinism—people such as Ulbricht and Mielke, who survived the Stalinist terror by denouncing their own comrades and thereby proved their boundless servility. It was this human scum that was to form the leading elite of the future GDR.

How then did it come to the founding of the GDR if the Stalinists had already given up every idea of extending the socialist revolution in the 1930s? This question, which provides the key to understanding the class character of the GDR and the social origins of its collapse, is invariably carefully bypassed.

It is a fact that nothing was further from Stalin’s mind in 1945 than a socialist Germany. In common with his imperialist allies, Roosevelt and Churchill, he feared that World War II could culminate in a wave of revolutionary uprisings threatening to shake the foundations of his own regime. Therefore, from early on, he undertook a series of measures to forestall such a development and prevent the collapse of the Hitler regime from leading simultaneously to the end of the German bourgeoisie.

In the summer of 1943, following the Soviet victory at Stalingrad, as the German defeat became apparent, the Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland (National Committee of Free Germany) was formed under Ulbricht’s leadership. Under the supervision of KPD functionaries including Pieck, Becher and Ulbricht, officers of the German Wehrmacht were recruited out of the war-prisoner camps to support the project. As recompense they were assured that the German Reich would be preserved in its old form and that a socialist revolution would be prevented; they themselves were to take on leading roles in the new Germany. The Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland took on responsibility for Soviet propaganda in Germany. Their attempts to curry favor among the most right-wing forces went so far that they adopted not the black-red-gold flag of the Weimar Republic but the black-white-red colors of the Kaiserreich. The “national socialist” tendencies in the KPD which had already surfaced in the Schlageter course and Thaelmann’s adaptation to fascist demagogy now flourished. This was to remain the central axis of the policies of the KPD and SED until the 1950s.

At the end of the war, groups of KPD functionaries, including the Gruppe Ulbricht (Ulbricht Group), were sent into the Soviet-occupied zone with the task of dissolving all the spontaneously formed antifascist committees and Betriebsraete (works committees) and establishing an administration including bourgeois forces. Ulbricht himself wrote to Moscow on May 9, 1945: “The spontaneously created KPD offices, popular committees, the committees of the Freies Deutschland movement and those of the movement of July 20 (the date of an assassination attempt on Hitler), which all previously worked illegally, now appear openly. We have closed these offices and made the comrades clear that all energy must be concentrated on the work of the municipal authorities. The members of these committees must be transferred to the municipal authorities and the committees liquidated” (Quoted in Hermann Weber, Geschichte der GDR, p. 58).

Wolfgang Leonhard, who was a member of the Ulbricht Group at the time, reports in his book, Child of the Revolution, how ruthlessly all the committees which had arisen spontaneously were disbanded and reaches the conclusion: “It was not until my break with Stalinism that I really understood the significance of the directives at that time against the spontaneous creation of antifascist committees. It was not an error in a limited context but an essential feature of Stalinist policy. It was impossible for Stalinism to permit the creation by independent initiative from below of antifascist, Socialist or Communist organizations, because there was the constant danger that such organizations would escape its control and try to resist directives issued from above. The dissolution of the Antifascist Committees was therefore nothing more than a disruption of the first emergence of what might prove to be a powerful independent antifascist and socialist movement. It was the first victory of the apparatus over the independent stirrings of the antifascist, left-inclined strata of Germany” (Wolfgang Leonhard, Child of the Revolution [Ink Links Ltd., 1979], pp. 325-26).

In the face of the defeat and complete discrediting of the German bourgeoisie, even the CDU, Christlich-Demokratische Union (Christian Democrats), and SPD were forced to swathe themselves in pseudosocialist phrases. It was left to the KPD, who had great authority in the working class because of the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany, to openly proclaim the program of resurrecting the bourgeois state. In a central committee statement of June 11, 1945, a socialist perspective was categorically ruled out. It stated: “We believe that to impose the Soviet system on Germany would be wrong, because this way does not correspond to the present conditions of development in Germany. We are much more of the opinion that the decisive interests of the German people in the present situation in Germany prescribes another course: that is the establishment of an antifascist, democratic regime, a democratic parliamentary Republic with all democratic rights and freedoms for the people.” One of the “most immediate and urgent tasks” to be implemented was the “completely unrestricted development of private business initiative on the basis of private property” (Revolutionaere deutsche Parteiprogramme [Revolutionary German Party Program] [Berlin: 1967], pp. 196-97).

This line met with rejection especially from those KPD members who had been active in the underground resistance during the Hitler dictatorship. In a letter to Pieck in Moscow in May 1945, Ulbricht complained: “We must reckon with the fact that the majority of our comrades are sectarian and that the composition of the party must be quickly changed by bringing in active antifascists who prove themselves in the present work. Many comrades carry out our policies with a nod and a wink, many show good will but then resort to the slogan ‘Red Front;’ some, above all in the difficult districts of Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf (large centers of the working class in Berlin—trans.), talk about soviet power and the like. We have energetically carried out a struggle against the erroneous views in the ranks of our comrades but time and again new comrades appear who repeat the old mistakes once more” (quoted in Dietrich Staritz, Die Gruendung der GDR [The Founding of the GDR] [Munich: 1984], p. 78).

While the antifascist committees, in the main led by communist and social democratic workers, were dissolved, the Soviet Military Administration legalized, alongside the KPD and SPD, the bourgeois parties CDU and LDP, Liberal Demokratische Partei (Liberal Democratic Party) more than two months before similar recognition of parties in the Western Zone. The leading personnel of the Eastern CDU were almost exclusively all old “Zentrum” (prewar right-wing party) politicians, who were without exception kindly disposed towards the Stalinist aims. In July, the KPD, SPD, CDU and LDP joined together in the “united front of antifascist, democratic parties”—the “Antifa-Bloc.” The rank-and-file endeavors towards unity were thus answered with a bloc from above. Its formation was not precipitated by “force,” as these parties today try to claim retrospectively. The strangling of the spontaneously formed working class antifascist movement was in their common interest. Among the CDU leaders participating in the Stalinist-inspired bloc were Jakob Kaiser and Ernst Lemmer, who both later took on minister posts in Bonn, West Germany.

The unification of the SPD and KPD, which became the SED in April 1946, was equally no shotgun marriage. In the illegal resistance movement following the bitter experience of 1933, there had already developed a close collaboration between members of the SPD and KPD. The SPD Central Committee was reformed in Berlin in May 1945 under the leadership of Otto Grotewohl, Max Fechner and other high-ranking SPD functionaries from the Weimar Republic. The leadership in Berlin, which was competing with the Schumacher group in Hanover and the SPD executive-committee-in-exile in London, turned to the KPD with an offer of unity shortly after the end of the war. This was rejected initially by the KPD which needed more time to establish its own apparatus. In the autumn the KPD changed its position and by April 1946 the unification was complete. In this way the strivings for a united workers party were answered by the fusing of two bureaucracies. This was possible because the SPD and KPD agreed on the fundamental political questions: the suppression of the spontaneous anticapitalist movement and the establishment of a bourgeois state. The vehement anticommunism with which Kurt Schumacher opposed this merger was merely the reverse side of the same anti-working class policy.

Insofar as bourgeois historians admit to the procapitalist course of the KPD in the postwar years, this is dismissed as a cunning trick with which Stalinism attempted to conceal its real expansionist aims. Such conspiracy theories provide rewarding material for spy films but do not contribute anything to the elucidation of history. Stalin’s policies were not determined by irrational desires for world domination but by entirely predictable motives: the self-preservation of the bureaucracy, whose fear of the working class far outweighed its fear of imperialism. The more brutally they proceeded against their left-wing opponents in the workers movement, the more cautious, even cowardly, they were in relation to imperialism.

The actions of the Stalinists in Germany corresponded to the strategy they pursued worldwide. They aimed at strengthening bourgeois regimes by oppressing proletarian uprisings, at the same time seeking certain guarantees against a renewed imperialist attack on the Soviet Union.

In Italy and France, where the Stalinist parties stood at the head of the armed antifascist resistance, they enforced the disarming of the working class and their subordination to the bourgeois state. In France the PCF (French Communist Party) even entered temporarily the fragile government of the Fourth Republic and supported French imperialism against the colonial uprisings in Vietnam and Algeria. In Greece Stalin agreed to the bloody suppression of the communist uprising with British support. Up to its defeat in 1949, Stalin supported the bourgeois Kuomintang of Chiang Kaishek in China, in opposition to the Red Army of Mao Zedong.

This strategy was contractually secured in the agreements of Yalta and Potsdam. Stalin assured his imperialist allies undisputed control over the Western world and pledged to join the United Nations. In return the imperialist states agreed to recognize Soviet rule over a “buffer zone,” comprising the states bordering on the Soviet Union occupied by the Red Army. To make such a concession was not hard for the imperialists, as the bourgeoisie in these countries, due to their collaboration with the Nazis, were completely discredited and hardly in a position to take on the working class. Deputizing for the bourgeoisie, the Stalinist bureaucracy took over responsibility for suppressing the working class.

Utilizing its prestige in the working class following the victory of the Red Army over the Nazis, Stalinism repelled the struggles of the working class and established the essential preconditions for the political and economic restabilization of imperialism. Imperialism’s survival following World War II was, above all, due to the counterrevolutionary role of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

This aim was also served by the division of Germany which, to all intents and purposes, was fixed by the establishment of the Zones of Occupation laid down at Yalta and Potsdam. In this way, a unified offensive by the German working class was to be prevented. At that time, Stalin sought neither an independent east German state nor the transposition of the Soviet social system to Germany. He had in mind an economically and militarily weakened, politically neutral but capitalist Germany.

Only the outbreak of the Cold War forced him to change course. The hope of a lasting peaceful relationship with imperialism quickly proved to be an illusion. To the extent that the Western regimes began to recover from the consequences of the war and politically stabilize themselves—thanks to Stalinist support—they began to put the Soviet Union under economic and political pressure. Already by March 1946, in a speech in Fulton, America, Churchill had coined the phrase “the Iron Curtain,” which had come down over the European continent. In May 1946, the US halted deliveries of reparations, agreed at Yalta, from the American Zone to the Soviet Union. In 1947 the systematic reconstruction of the Western European economies, on the basis of the Marshall Plan, was begun. In 1948 the foundations of NATO were laid and with the outbreak of the war in Korea, the Cold War reached a high point.

The growing pressure from the side of the imperialists created myriad problems for the Stalinist bureaucracy. It intensified the bureaucracy’s conflict with the working class, who bore the main brunt of the economic dislocation arising from the dismantling of industry, reparation payments and growing isolation, and who were driven to ever higher output and performance. This conflict reached a climax with the uprising of June 17, 1953, and its violent suppression. At the same time, the bourgeois elements, cultivated by the Stalinists in the occupied zone as a counterweight to the working class, looked more and more to the West—thereby threatening to endanger the position of the bureaucracy.

The SED and Soviet Military Administration reacted by drawing the reins more tightly. In 1948-1949 the SED was declared to be a “party of the new type,” on the lines of the CPSU. The party leadership decided to “purge the party of hostile and degenerate elements” and the recognition of the “leading role of the Soviet Union” was declared obligatory. The Stalin cult reached new heights. Any resistance to the new line was deemed as “anti-Soviet propaganda” and led to immediate expulsion from the party. Social democrats, who had till now enjoyed equal representation in the leading bodies of the party, were driven out and replaced with Stalinists loyal to Moscow. Correspondingly, the leaderships of the CDU and LDP were also purged.

Similar developments occurred in the other Eastern bloc countries at this time. So, for example, in 1949, Hungarian Interior Minister Rajk was executed following a show trial. Rudolf Slansky, the general secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party, met the same fate three years later. In Germany a similar show trial was prepared against the Politburo members Rudolf Hermstadt and Wilhelm Zaisser. In 1953 the preparations for the trials were broken off in line with the changed political situation and the two were merely expelled from the party. Generally, the victims of such trials were 100 percent loyal Stalinists, who had merely tried to gain more room for maneuver for their own national bureaucracy against Moscow and who sought their own closer links with imperialism. This was also the background to the conflict with Tito which broke out in 1948 and then led to a break between Moscow and Belgrade. In Germany the conflict with Tito played an important role with many of those expelled being accused of Titoism.

The main object of the purges were the workers and old communists in the party. In two waves—1948-1949 and 1950-1951—tens of thousands of members were expelled and replaced by careerists, apparatchiks and state officials, so that finally not just the top of the party but the entire membership was dominated by the bureaucracy. Already following the first wave of purges, more than 40 percent of all teachers, over a third of all white collar workers, but only 20 percent of industrial workers, were organized in the SED. At the beginning of the 1950s, the party, state and economic apparatus formed the bulk of the party membership and was already around half a million strong. So the SED became that which it remained until its collapse in the autumn of 1989, the state party of a privileged bureaucracy.

“Marxism-Leninism,” which became the official party ideology at this time, had nothing in common with the revolutionary doctrine of Marx and Lenin. This Stalinist caricature of Marxism merely served as a ritual through which the party membership could be kept absolutely subservient to the leadership.

At this time, the joint organs of Allied control and administration fell apart. At the end of 1946, the US and Britain agreed to merge their Zones of Occupation to form the Bi-zone, the basis of the future Federal Republic. France which, like the Soviet Union, was more interested in high reparation payments, only joined later. The creation of a separate West German state, closely allied to the US, was promoted above all by the chairmen of the CDU and SPD, Konrad Adenauer and Kurt Schumacher. Political opponents of this course, such as the trade union theoretician Victor Agartz, were brutally persecuted and reduced to silence. In June 1948 in the Western Zone, a unilateral currency reform was carried out, threatening to lead to the economic hemorrhage of the Soviet Zone. The Stalinist bureaucracy replied with the Berlin blockade. Finally, in May 1949, with the proclamation of the Grundgesetz (constitution), the Federal Republic was constituted as an independent state. The East responded with the founding of the German Democratic Republic on October 7.

At the time of the founding of the GDR, there was a distinct political and ideological turn to the right. To the extent that the bureaucracy found itself in sharp conflict with the working class, it could not appeal to them against the growing pressure of imperialism. Instead they attempted to win the support of right-wing layers with nationalist slogans. To this end they founded, in 1948, two new right-wing parties, the National Demokratische Partei Deutschlands, NDPD (National Democratic Party of Germany) and the Demokratische Bauempartei, DBD (Democratic Peasants Party), both led by experienced Stalinist cadres. In 1949 they called the National Front into life, which was to unite members of all parties and mass organizations under the control of the SED. Hermann Weber writes as follows about the significance and tasks of the National Front: “Already at its foundation in 1949, the National Front declared its support for the ‘Two-Camp Theory’ and stated that there is only one enemy: This enemy is American imperialism, which has assumed the mantle of Hitler fascism in the struggle for world domination. The ruling circles in America are preparing a new and terrible world war.” For the SED it became a secondary question whether someone had been a Nazi or not: “The standpoint of every German on the issue of the great liberation struggle of the German peoples is the decisive question and not their previous party membership.” Accordingly, “exofficials, soldiers, officers and generals of the German army, as well as former Nazis” should work together in the National Front. The SED demanded “complete equality before the law for former members of the Nazi party” and an “amnesty” for the members of the NSDAP, “with the exception of those serving a term of imprisonment.” Before the foundation of the GDR, Ulbricht even went so far as to critically compare CDU and LDP members with Nazis, saying: “Today, in the Soviet Occupied Zone we have not a few previously active Nazis who are undertaking responsible work. In any case they can point to certain achievements, which is more than can be said for some members of the CDU and LDP, who cast longing glances towards Washington and London” (Hermann Weber, Geschichte der GDR, pp. 207-208).

A similar function was played by the NDPD. It consisted of former army officers, NSDAP members (who could not be accepted by the CDU and LDPD) and elements from openly bourgeois circles. One of the posters for the founding of this party, permitted by the Soviet Military Administration, carried the text: “Against Marxism—for Democracy.” In the first edition of their “National-Newspaper,” they declared that it is not “an insult” to have been a “good soldier,” and they inveighed against “traitors to the German cause.”

In such an atmosphere the founding of the GDR was accomplished on October 7, 1949. Its birth took place amidst a plethora of nationalist slogans. The founding manifesto of the Volkskammer (East German parliament) bore the title “The National Front of Democratic Germany” and made no mention of socialism as an aim of the new state. In common with the federal government in Bonn, the GDR regime laid claim to represent all of Germany. In the East German national anthem, composed by Johannes R. Becher, the words “Germany, One Fatherland” can be found. When GDR government chief Modrow set the course for capitalist reunification with this slogan, he invented nothing new, but merely dug out a past relic of Stalinist ideology. Three more years were to pass until the SED was to countenance the “planned establishment of the foundations of socialism in the GDR” and a further twenty years until the term “German nation” was to be struck out of the constitution of the GDR.

The GDR state was not the product of a revolutionary uprising of the working class but arose as a self-defense reflex of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which feared being crushed between the working class and imperialism. The working class played little part in its establishment. This explains, to a certain degree, why the working class forty years later did not raise the slightest resistance to its downfall and even greeted the collapse with some degree of relief.

In order to evaluate the historical significance of the GDR it is not enough to simply investigate the motives of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Was the bureaucracy not, under the pressure of the working class, an instrument of historical progress, despite its unquestionable reactionary characteristics? Is this not confirmed by the extensive nationalizations which were carried out? Is it not the form of property relations which, according to Marx, determines the nature of a social system?

These and similar arguments, which are entirely compatible with criticism of certain aspects of the regime, are continuously introduced to legitimize the GDR. They are summed up by the term “real existing socialism,” a phrase used above all by the West German lefts to characterize the GDR. This term sought to imply that, although the GDR was not the accomplished socialist ideal, it was, nevertheless, the nearest thing to it to be found on this imperfect earth.

This view was most systematically developed by Pabloism, the proStalinist tendency which arose inside the Fourth International at the beginning of the 1950s. Pablo, then secretary of the Fourth International, and Ernest Mandel, the present leader of the Pabloites, took the extensive nationalization carried out in Eastern Europe as the basis for revising Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism as counterrevolutionary through and through. They claimed that under the pressure of the working class on the one side, and the Cold War on the other, the Stalinist bureaucracy was forced to play a progressive role. Pablo went so far as to claim that the transition to socialism would pass through “centuries” of Stalinist dictatorships such as those established in Eastern Europe.

Thus Pablo developed not only a new estimation of Stalinism but also of the traditional Marxist view of the transition from capitalism to socialism. For Marxism, the establishment of socialist society was never simply a question of nationalization; much more important is to answer the question, which class carried out the nationalization? The construction of socialism presupposes the active and conscious intervention of the working class. This is precisely the significance of the October Revolution in Russia. There, for the first time in history, the working class had taken state power in its own hands and begun to systematically transform the property relations in its own interests. To the extent that the Stalinist bureaucracy ousted the working class from power, it also tore away the political initiative from the workers. The Soviet Union, from being a progressive factor in world history, became more and more a conservative, stabilizing factor, which finally imperialism could thank for its survival.

The coming to power of the bureaucracy did not at first change the class character of the Soviet state. Because their privileges rested on the socialized property, initially they defended this property against imperialism and against the more impatient and greedy layers in the bureaucracy itself. They carried this out, however, with methods which paved the way for the future collapse of the entire Soviet society.

The fundamental difference between the GDR and the Soviet Union lies in the fact that nationalization in the GDR was, from the beginning, carried out by the bureaucracy and was not the result of a victorious proletarian revolution.

The first nationalizations in the East German economy following the end of the war were carried out to facilitate the reconstruction of the wardamaged Soviet economy. The extensive dismantling of industry and reparations carried out by the Soviet Military Administration affected the bourgeoisie far less than the working class, which had rebuilt many industrial plants on its own initiative. The result of these measures was a marked cooling-off of the sympathy that had initially existed towards the Soviet Union. Only later, when under the pressure of the Marshall Plan and Cold War, the attempt to create a neutral bourgeois regime in the whole of Germany failed, did the bureaucracy begin to transfer the property relations of the Soviet Union to East Germany.

In the beginning, the working class welcomed the expropriation measures. In the summer of 1946, 78 percent in Saxony voted for the expropriation of the large factories left in the hands of war criminals and Nazi activists. However, the bureaucracy acted exclusively to secure its own position and was anxious to prevent a mobilization of the working class. Along with the nationalization came speedup in the factories and intensification of labor through wage differentials and piece work payment. The existing joint works councils were disbanded and replaced with organs of the bureaucracy, the so-called Betriebsgewerk-schaftsleitung, BGL (works union leadership). The continual raising of work norms (time per unit of production) triggered the workers uprising of June 17, 1953.

This same pattern—the announcement by the bureaucracy of further steps to “build socialism” combined with the intensified exploitation and oppression of the working class—characterizes the entire forty-year history of the GDR. Thus, in 1957, a passport law was introduced which not only strictly controlled every journey abroad but also every trip within the GDR. This was extolled as a “step towards securing and generally extending socialism.” In 1958 the Fifth Congress of the SED proclaimed the “completion of socialism by 1965”—and commenced the greatest wave of purges in the history of the FDGB (the East German Stalinist trade union body): more than two-thirds of all trade union functionaries were replaced by true blue Stalinist bureaucrats. Many, above all younger workers, sought to escape the growing pressure by fleeing to the West until, in 1961, the bureaucracy constructed the Berlin Wall. Needless to say, this monstrous symbol of Stalinist suppression was glorified as the “wall for protection against fascism” and an achievement of socialism.

Without doubt the nationalizations, the centralization of industry in the hands of the state and the introduction of elements of planning into the economy brought big advantages. Such massive industrialization in such a short time would never have been possible on the basis of private property.[7]

Regardless of all the claims of the bureaucracy to the contrary, the GDR did not become a socialist society through these nationalizations. For this a much higher productivity of labor would have been necessary, such as can only be achieved through an international division of labor. Despite considerable progress, in most fields the GDR remained technologically far behind the developed capitalist countries.

Although capitalist property was abolished, the means of distribution remained purely bourgeois during the entire lifespan of the GDR. In the course of time, social inequality became even more pronounced through numerous legal and semilegal sources of corruption, such as the Intershops (where only purchases with “hard” currency could be made).

Like the Soviet Union, the GDR was a society of contradictions, neither capitalist nor socialist. Insofar as the state suppressed the bourgeoisie, abolished private property and introduced property relations similar to those created by the October Revolution, it had lost its bourgeois character. However, it was a workers state only in the most distorted sense of the word. The working class neither took part in its creation nor participated in the decisions reached by the state.

The bureaucracy was repeatedly forced to grant social concessions to the working class. In the areas of education, health care, social security, free-time activities and culture, these went much further than in the capitalist countries and, following reunification, became the first victims of capitalist restoration. But they were in no way “socialist achievements.” In a similar fashion to the social reforms conceded by the social democrats in the West in order to damp down class antagonisms, they served to appease the working class and secure the rule of the bureaucracy.

The property relations in the GDR could only have been the starting point for a socialist society if the working class had rebelled against the bureaucracy, taken state power into its own hands and united with the international working class. It was precisely this which the bureaucracy set out to prevent with every means at its disposal. To this end they not only maintained the enormous Stasi apparatus, with 200,000 full-time and “unofficial” workers, they also systematically cut off the workers from any contact with their class brothers and sisters in the West. Above all, the damage to the consciousness of the international proletariat caused through the crimes committed in the name of socialism weighed much more heavily than the advantages and social achievements due to the nationalized property of the GDR.

The West German bourgeoisie, and especially the SPD, was entirely conscious of the usefulness of the Stalinist bureaucracy in securing its own rule. While they systematically used the Stalinists’ crimes—such as the suppression of the June 17 uprising and the building of the Berlin Wall—for their own propaganda, they were careful to ensure that the division of the working class was maintained. This is best demonstrated in the example of June 17. The uprising in the East coincided with a massive strike wave in the West. When several tens of thousands of workers marched through West Berlin calling for solidarity, Chancellor Adenauer warned in a government statement against “rash actions.” The SPD and DGB (West German Union Federation) moved heaven and earth to prevent the spreading of the strike. Three years later, Willy Brandt personally, megaphone in hand, intervened to stop tens of thousands of West Berlin workers from marching through the Brandenburg Gate to unite in protest with their colleagues in the East against the bloody suppression of the Hungarian uprising.

As we have already seen, the SED themselves did not define the GDR at the time of its foundation as a socialist state. Instead, as the name itself indicates, they attempted to present the new order as the completion of the bourgeois revolution in Germany. In 1947 they had called a “people’s congress” under the slogan: “We must complete now what was left unfinished in 1848.” Later they would describe the development of the GDR as the peaceful growing-over of democracy to socialism.

The only purpose of these theories was to justify the rule of the bureaucracy. They are in marked contrast to the traditional Marxist positions on the development of Germany. The unresolved tasks of the bourgeois revolution of 1848 had already been completed by Bismarck, albeit from above; and not with democratic methods but rather through the old feudal Prussian state apparatus. This does not alter the fact that Germany entered the twentieth century as a fully formed capitalist society. As Trotsky astutely noted, the revolution of 1918 was “no democratic completion of the bourgeois revolution” but “a proletarian revolution, decapitated by the Social Democrats; more correctly, it was a bourgeois counterrevolution, which was compelled to preserve pseudodemocratic forms after its victory over the proletariat” (The Permanent Revolution, p. 7).

The rottenness of German capitalist society and its incapacity to engender a viable bourgeois democracy was demonstrated by the rise of fascism. The collapse of fascism did not place on the agenda a renewed attempt to establish bourgeois democracy but, rather, the socialist revolution. The suppression of this was, above all, the work of Stalinism. In the West the bourgeoisie was able to take over the state apparatus of the Third Reich almost intact—its officials, judges, policemen and teachers—and lend it a pseudodemocratic facade which is today rapidly crumbling away. In the East the GDR arose—analogous to Trotsky’s remarks about 1918—as the fruit of a proletarian revolution strangled by Stalinism, which for forty years has masked itself with pseudosocialist phrases.

Since the annexation of the GDR by the Federal Republic, the slogan of “socialist mismanagement” has served to justify the widespread destruction of East German industry and the annihilation of millions of jobs. The assertion that nationalized property was the reason for the decline of the GDR is just as untenable as the opposed proposition, that nationalized property made the GDR a socialist society.

Based on the nationalized means of production the GDR was able, for decades, to make astonishing economic progress. Production of raw steel increased from 150,000 tons in 1946 to 2.1 million tons by 1953. A similar development was witnessed in energy production and the chemical industry. In 1959 the GDR ranked ninth amongst industrialized nations. In 1969, with a population of 17 million, the GDR produced more industrial goods than the German Reich in 1936 with 60 million inhabitants. Between 1950 and 1974, industrial production increased sevenfold.

The price for this development was a massive exhaustion of people and natural resources. However in this the GDR did not differ markedly from similar capitalist countries. The limited access to international credit and resources was compensated for by even higher output, extorted from the working class though ingenious forms of piece rate working. Production of consumer goods was deferred for a long period to the benefit of heavy industry; the living standard of workers only first began to improve towards the end of the 1950s. Additional difficulties were caused by the self-satisfied approach of the bureaucracy, which repulsed every attempt from the rank and file to influence the economy and through their highhanded and arbitrary decisions repeatedly precipitated serious crises.

However, the fundamental problem of the economy of the GDR only began to surface when every other problem appeared to have been overcome. The more the GDR progressed, the more its dependence on the world economy grew. If it was possible within the framework of one country to lay the foundations of a productive heavy industry—by corresponding exploitation of the existing trade relations—then the creation of a highly developed industrial society demands access to every aspect of the world economy: to its technology, credit, markets and international division of labor. The bankruptcy of the conception of “building socialism in a single country,” the guideline of the SED and CPSU bureaucracies, became ever clearer the more extensively the economy developed.

The SED bureaucracy tried to overcome this problem, at the beginning of the 1970s, by seeking closer connections to the West German bourgeoisie. As they themselves were interested in new markets in the East in order to avoid the consequences of the worldwide recession, the climate on both sides rapidly warmed. Regardless of the participation of East German troops in the defeat of the Prague Spring in the summer of 1968, Federal Chancellor Brandt introduced the new Ostpolitik. In 1972 the Contract on Fundamentals (Grundlagenvertrag) was signed, which normalized relations between the GDR and the Federal Republic and was thus de facto equivalent to mutual recognition under international law.

Foreign trade with capitalist countries now developed much faster than with the Comecon states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. By the end of the seventies the GDR was carrying out 30 percent of its trade with the West. Above all, trade with the Federal Republic increased and, by 1972, comprised one tenth of the total foreign trade of the GDR. Technological collaboration increased and in addition the SED regime received extensive credits, as well as high payments for “transit” journeys (from West Germany to West Berlin), the purchasing of the freedom of those imprisoned in the GDR, and so on. The personal relations between the SED bureaucracy and the West German bourgeoisie improved markedly. Federal Chancellor Schmidt met GDR head-of-state Honecker for private discussions, something unthinkable at the time of Adenauer and Ulbricht. Even genuine personal friendships developed—as that between the right-wing CSU chief Franz-Josef Strauss and Schalck-Golodkowski, the man charged by Honecker with procuring “hard” foreign currency. The high point of this process was the state reception of Honecker in Bonn in September 1987.

Between 1971 and 1976 the strengthened economic ties with the West, coupled with further measures to increase production, led to a marked improvement in the living standards of the population. The shortage of consumer goods noticeably diminished. Most households now had a washing machine and a television and over a third possessed their own car. However the bureaucracy saw to it that they themselves had access to a stream of Western consumer goods which were not available to the mass of the population.

The more the GDR used the resources of the world economy, the more it became dependent on its business cycles and crises. While tensions between the bureaucracy and the working class seemed to lessen and the GDR gave the impression of stability—certainly fooling Western politicians and historians—the GDR was being completely undermined by the fundamental changes occurring in the world economy in the eighties. The impetus for its collapse came not from internal but external factors. It was an irony of history that the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe were the first victims of a universal crisis of world capitalism.

In the 1980s the world economy underwent changes of enormous consequence. Japan and Germany emerged as powerful rivals to America, which since World War II had enjoyed unchallenged world hegemony and constituted the pillar of stability for the world economy. The struggle for the world market intensified, resembling the trade wars which had preceded 1939. All over the world unemployment rose dramatically. The imperialists no longer shrank from utilizing military force to pursue their interests as demonstrated by the Malvinas conflict and the 1991 Gulf War. Additionally, this crisis was intensified by revolutionary technological developments, which had led to a never-before-witnessed integration of the world economy. The microchip revolutionized every aspect of production, transport, communication and planning. Globally operating industrial concerns, which either took over their rivals or forced them under, became the hallmark of the eighties.

For the GDR, the consequences of these changes were disastrous. As ever, cut off from the most developed technologies and unable to keep pace with developments in the productivity of labor, the GDR fell even more behind international competition. Its market share of engineering exports fell from 3.9 percent in 1973 to 0.9 percent in 1986. The hope of being able to finance credits and imported goods through increased exports was shattered. The Honecker regime tried to counteract this process by channeling a great part of the available investment into the development of a GDR “megabyte chip.” This was equivalent, however, to attempting to reinvent the wheel. Long before the GDR chip was ready for production it was already technically obsolete: similar products could be purchased on the world market for considerably less money. Rather than proving the productivity of “socialism in a single country,” this last great economic project of the Honecker era confirmed the impossibility of keeping pace, within the framework of one country, with expensive and short-lived technological developments requiring the concentration of the resources of the global economy.

These changes had similar consequences for the other Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union. The price of raw materials, their most important source of exports, fell. As suppliers of cheap industrial products they were being challenged by the upcoming industrialized states of Eastern Asia, who combined the most modem technology with the cheapest labor. The credits taken out in the hope of extending world trade contacts had to be repaid by increased exploitation of the working class. So commenced the phase of stagnation personified in the Soviet Union by Brezhnev and Chernenko.

The first domestic results of this development were to be seen in Poland, which had become heavily indebted in the 1970s. In 1980-1981 the working class reacted to the Gierekregime’s attempts to tighten the screws with a powerful resistance movement and the founding of the trade union Solidamosc. Only with difficulty was the bureaucracy able to prevent a political revolution. They declared martial law under the threat of a Soviet intervention and politically relied upon the support of the intellectuals and church “advisers” of Solidamosc.[8]

The Polish events unleashed a shockwave throughout the Stalinist bureaucracies of Eastern Europe. Above all in Moscow, the ruling strata began to realize that a similar movement could develop in the Soviet Union and sweep them away. Haunted by the specter of a revolutionary uprising of the working class and after much hesitation, they finally decided to surrender the property relations of the workers state, which they themselves had exploited for six decades, and seek a new base for their privileges in bourgeois private property. In 1985 they selected Gorbachev as the new leader to effect this transformation.

There is hardly another figure in recent history who has generated so many illusions and false conceptions as Gorbachev. He was not merely the favorite of the entire bourgeois media; also numerous revisionists, including Ernest Mandel, glorified him as the great reformer. Some even claimed, in all seriousness, that he was realizing the program of the Fourth International. In fact Gorbachev’s program was the logical end point of Stalinism. He attempted to find new social supports for the rule of the bureaucracy, in whose lap he had spent his whole life.

This was the aim of the economic “reorganization”—”Perestroika.” Commencing from the naive conception that all that was necessary to reinvigorate the economy was the replacement of nationalized property and state control by private property and private initiative, all the mechanisms of the highly complex interrelated Soviet industry were systematically destroyed. The result is today clearly visible: the greatest economic catastrophe ever caused by deliberate human action.

Also the policy of “openness”—”Glasnost”—was not a turn to the left. Rather it served to mobilize support for the policy of perestroika amongst the intelligentsia and other petty-bourgeois layers. In the factories there was no trace of the new democracy; quite the opposite. Political meetings, until then allowed under the control of the bureaucracy, were banned altogether. Naturally such a change of course also brings the danger that the working class might seize the initiative and overthrow the festering regime. Gorbachev counteracted such a threat by rousing the most reactionary dregs of Russian society, from the Orthodox Church to the anti-Semitic Pamjat. At the same time, Trotsky was denied rehabilitation and only a few of his books have been published in small quantities.

Perestroika was accompanied by a fundamental change in Soviet foreign policy. To the extent that the Stalinist bureaucracy ditched nationalized property, every conflict of interest between it and imperialism evaporated. Under Shevardnadze, the Soviet Foreign Ministry became an extension of the American State Department. In 1991 the Gorbachev regime went so far as to support the murderous war against their longtime ally, Iraq.

The change of course in Moscow sealed the fate of Honecker and all the other Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe. They came into existence and could remain in power only thanks to the Kremlin bureaucracy. Not a single one of them had sufficient social support to be viable on its own. As the weakness of these regimes became visible, the hatred against Stalinism came to head in a wave of mass demonstrations and, one by one, they fell like dominoes. Nineteen eighty-nine witnessed the collapse of one Stalinist regime after another. It began with the legalization of Solidamosc in Poland and ended with the shooting of Ceausescu in Bucharest.

The Honecker regime had tried for a long time to resist this development. Their aversion to Gorbachev went so far that they banned the Soviet magazine Sputnik in the GDR. However, it would be false to read into all of this a fundamental rejection of Gorbachev’s pro-capitalist course. In many economic questions, such as extending relations to the West and introducing aspects of the market economy into planning, the SED played the role of pathfinders. Parallel to this development they had established a new ideological axis and had revived the “national-socialist” theories from the time of the founding of the GDR, not in the name of the whole of Germany this time, but based on the GDR as a distinct nation. Instead of appealing to the revolutionary traditions of German history, they now referred to conservative state-preserving tendencies. Thomas Muentzer was replaced by Martin Luther, whose 500th anniversary the SED celebrated in 1983 with all pomp and ceremony. In place of Bebel, Mehring and the other social democratic opponents of Prussia, they revived Bismarck and the Old Fritz; the old Prussian traditions were declared to be a cultural heritage of the GDR. The differences between Gorbachev and Honecker consisted of the fact that the latter wanted to carry out the process of economic change strictly under the control of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Honecker tended towards the Beijing example, i.e., the brutal suppression of any and every opposition whilst simultaneously introducing capitalist economic measures on a grand scale.

How little the orientation of the SED differed from that of the CPSU was seen in October 1989. Directly following the resignation of Honecker and his closest allies, the entire party swung over to the course of capitalist restoration. The Modrow government, which took over running state affairs in mid-November, single-mindedly prepared the ground for the annexation of the GDR by the Federal Republic. In his inaugural speech, Modrow proposed a “contractual community” between both German states as the first step towards reunification. In close consultation with Bonn he initiated the privatization of the economy and to this end founded the “Treuhand” (a form of nongovernmental organization charged with overseeing the privatization of the economy).

In an interview in the West German news magazine Der Spiegel two years following his downfall, Guenther Mittag, in charge of running the GDR economy for almost three decades and Honecker’s right-hand man, declared : “As we now know, the entire socialist system was wrong. It is an illusion to look for a way forward through the planned economy. The economy must work with profit, as in the free enterprise system. From what we know now it is clear there was no justification for our economic system and it will not be repeated...” He concludes that “without the reunification, the GDR would have gone through an economic catastrophe with unpredictable social consequences because it was not capable of surviving on its own” {Der Spiegel, September 9, 1991). Such a realization does not mature overnight, not even in two years. Mittag articulates the real thoughts and feelings of a parasitic caste, which is a thousand times nearer to the bourgeoisie and capitalism than to the working class and socialism. According to his own admission he “came to this conclusion at the end of 1987: the game was up.” Is it then any surprise that the SED regime collapsed without resistance, when even the uppermost rulers of the economy were convinced of their bankruptcy two years earlier?

The demonstrations which swept the entire GDR in the autumn of 1989 have often been called, in retrospect, a revolution. If one takes the large numbers of participants, the fact that the masses here directly intervened in politics and overthrew a despised regime, then this term has a certain justification. However, if one attempts to pinpoint those conscious, single-minded elements—the courageous leaders, the talented speakers and visionaries—which have characterized every great revolution in history, one must look in vain. It was a revolution without revolutionaries.

What was expressed with elemental force in the autumn of 1989 was the profound social contradiction between the working class and the ruling bureaucracy. All the disappointments and humiliations endured by the mass of the population, the pent up anger and discontent, came to a head. But as ripe as the situation was for a social explosion, the working class itself proved to be totally unprepared. How little they were politically prepared was shown by the individualistic form the movement first took: a mass flight to the West.

There were not even the buds of political tendencies in the working class which could have given the movement a direction. Instead what was revealed were the consequences of the decades-long suppression of every independent political activity. The main activity of the Stasi had been directed against the threat posed to the regime from the working class. The systematic falsification of Marxism and its transformation into a state credo served to rob the working class of its own political traditions. It is only on this basis that one can account for the fact that accidental figures, totally unable to chart the course of events or even gauge the consequences of their own actions, became the spokesmen and women for the movement in the autumn of 1989.

The main actors of the autumn of 1989 came without exception from petty-bourgeois strata. They were artists, academics, lawyers and, above all, Protestant priests. Some of them—like the spokeswoman for Neues Forum (New Forum), Baerbel Bohley—had previously been in conflict with the regime and spent some time in prison. However, they had no coherent program; their opposition limited itself to demands for more individual freedoms, unilateral disarmament and environmental issues. In contrast, most of the lawyers and priests had for years collaborated and supported the old GDR state. They were active as mediators between the state and oppositional forces—for example, the lawyers Wolfgang Schnur, Lothar de Maiziere and Gregor Gysi—or like Manfred Stolpe, they acted in their capacity as priests and Church representatives to ensure that the opposition did not go beyond the legal boundaries. Many of these lawyers and pastors were actively working as informers for the Stasi, as was later established.

Before the autumn of 1989, the petty-bourgeois opposition only occasionally appeared in an organized form as “Initiatives for Peace,” meeting under the umbrella of the Church for discussion and prayer. Only after the mass movement had begun to rock the SED regime did new parties and popular movements spring up like mushrooms. In September the Boehlen Platform appeared calling “for a United Left.” Neues Forum published their founding call and the “people’s movement” Demokratie Jetzt (Democracy Now) announced its presence. In October they were followed by Demokratischer Aufbruch (Democratic Awakening) and the Sozialdemokratische Partei der DDR (Social Democratic Party of the GDR).

The founding documents of all these organizations do not go beyond the vaguest democratic demands and calls for “democratic dialogue.” There is not the slightest indication of a will for revolutionary change. On the contrary, every line of these documents expresses horror at the sudden break-up of the narrow-minded, musty atmosphere of the GDR and fear of the social forces unleashed. So the founding call of Neues Forum begins with the words: “It is apparent that in our country communication between state and society has been disrupted.” Demokratie Jetzt open their “Theses for the democratic transformation of the GDR” with the sentence: “The aim of our proposals is to secure the inner peace of our land and in so doing serve the cause of peace abroad.” These statements are not revolutionary, but conservative in the most literal sense of the word, i.e., above all, directed at preserving the existing state of affairs. The demands for reforms do not arise from a desire for revolution, but express rather a fear of it. They correspond to the social interests of their petty-bourgeois authors, who are prepared to reconcile themselves to the Stalinist dictatorship over the working class, provided they are allowed more room for maneuver.

The authority of the petty-bourgeois opposition was less a product of their own words and deeds but rather more a consequence of the furious repression meted out against them in the past by the state. Made martyrs by the Stasi and Vopo (Volkspolizei—police), they suddenly stood at the head of a movement which encompassed millions. They knew nothing better than to hand back the initiative to the government as quickly as possible. Hardly had Honecker resigned on October 18 than Neues Forum and the various “peoples movements” sought an accommodation with his successors. With true Christian compassion, they absolved their torturers from yesterday’s crimes and sat down with them at the same table, in order to jointly block the revolutionary movement. Through their participation in the “Round Table” and then with the Modrow government, they brought all their authority to bear—and then promptly gambled it away. By the time of the Volkskammer election March 18, 1990, their support had evaporated. Once again they disappeared from the political scene and went off and sulked, deeply disappointed that their efforts had been so poorly rewarded.

The democrats of 1989 proved in every respect the worthy heirs of the democrats of 1848, the elected representatives of the Paulskirche, of whom Engels so aptly wrote: “This assembly of old women was, from the first day of its existence, more frightened of the least popular movement than of all the reactionary plots of all the German governments put together.” Engels’s verdict on the democrats of 1848 could be equally applied to those of 1989: they can “be fairly taken as the measure of what the German petty bourgeoisie is capable of—capable of nothing more but ruining any movement that entrusts itself to its hands” (Germany: Revolution and Counterrevolution [Lawrence & Wishart, 1969], pp. 50 and 104).

The movement which had begun so hopefully ended in a bitter defeat for the working class. The fruits of the radical changes in the GDR were reaped by the German bourgeoisie, who set in train a social counterrevolution the consequences of which are being felt today, above all, by those who went on the streets in the autumn of 1989. The process of capitalist restoration met with bitter resistance from the working class once more. This resistance was broken and the decisive roles played in this by the SPD and DGB bureaucracies, the PDS (Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus, Party of Democratic Socialism—the successor organization to the SED) and countless revisionist groups.

For the first time, the crisis of the SED regime in the autumn of 1989 created the conditions to acquaint the working class in the GDR with the program of the Fourth International. On November 4, at the biggest demonstrations in the history of the GDR, the BSA distributed a call to the working class (“Overthrow the SED Bureaucracy—Build Workers Councils!”), which explained, in a concise form, the program of the Fourth International. Despite the fact that only a few thousand copies were distributed, this call reached the furthest comers of the GDR and unleashed a flood of letters to the BSA.

Trotskyism was as fanatically persecuted and suppressed in the GDR as in the Soviet Union. The distribution of Trotskyist writings was met with severe punishment. Trotsky’s name was all but completely erased from the history books and replaced with the most absurd slanders and falsifications.

The Stalinist bureaucracy regarded the Trotskyist movement as the greatest danger to their rule. This is demonstrated by the fact that they indiscriminately labelled every opposition as “Trotskyist,” even when such opposition was politically far removed from the Fourth International. In Trotskyism they correctly identified the voice of the working class. In order to safeguard their rule, the bureaucracy had, at all costs, to prevent contact between the spontaneous strivings of the working class to free themselves from the Stalinist yoke and the program of the Fourth International. This is the only explanation for the hysterical character of their campaign against “Trotskyism,” which was continued long after most Trotskyists—including Trotsky himself—had fallen victim to their murder squads. The bureaucracy’s fear of Trotskyism reflected their fear of the working class.

The Trotskyist movement distinguishes itself in two ways from all other tendencies which at one time or another have also come into conflict with Stalinism. First, it is the oldest and most steadfast opponent of Stalinism. Since the founding of the Soviet Left Opposition in 1923, it has fought Stalinism relentlessly and without deviation, establishing its theoretical and political views in thousands of articles and books. Second, it has always attacked Stalinism on the basis of Marxism and has never made concessions to the right-wing, anticommunist opponents of Stalinism. Its main charge is that Stalinism has betrayed the aim of world socialist revolution and thus also the historic interests of the working class.

In Germany Stalinism had additional reasons for fearing the Trotskyist movement. The responsibility of the Stalinist policy of “social fascism” for the defeat of 1933, had embedded itself deeply in the consciousness of the workers. The Trotskyists, who had insistently fought for a United Front against fascism, won great respect, including amongst rank-and-file KPD members. Thus the Stalinist leadership, whose vicious persecution of the Trotskyists continued even inside the fascist concentration camps, were not able to completely isolate them. Immediately following the war, the Trotskyist group in Berlin alone had fifty-two members and its influence grew rapidly. The older KPD members had not forgotten the shock of the Stalin-Hitler pact and the Stalinist repression and were less willing to let themselves be incited against the Trotskyists. In addition came the disappointment with the Soviet troops, who did not behave as liberators but as conquerors.

The Trotskyists formulated precisely that program which the Gruppe Ulbricht was energetically opposing amongst older KPD members; as we have seen above. The Trotskyists strongly opposed the “collective guilt” theories being put forward by the Soviet leadership and KPD. According to this thesis, it was not the German bourgeoisie who were responsible for fascism but the German “people” as a whole including the working class. The class character of fascism, a dictatorship of finance capital over the working class, was absolutely denied. In practice, the collective guilt theory served to justify the utterly bourgeois program of the KPD; the Stalinists argued that if the working class itself was fascist, then it must first be educated in democracy before being able to proceed to socialism.

Oskar Hippe, one of the leading Trotskyists of that time, relates in his autobiography how he spoke on this question at a trade union meeting in Berlin: “In September 1948, I spoke at a big conference of officials of the OeTV (Offentliche Dienst, Transport und Verkehr, Public Service and Transport Workers Trade Union), in the East Berlin district of Friedrichshain. At this meeting I argued against the slogan: ‘How our children live tomorrow depends on how we work today,’ and also against the thesis that the German people bore a collective guilt for the war. At this time neither the SPD nor the SED were campaigning for socialism. By contrast, I said: ‘The anemic democracy of the Weimar period, which brought fascism to power, should not be allowed to reappear. The fight for socialism should be on the agenda, since a democracy without socialism is incapable of leading the fight against capitalism successfully.’ At the request of the audience, and despite the opposition of the SED, my speaking time was doubled. The Russian control officer told a comrade in the SED, who was one of our sympathizers: ‘Listen to what this man is saying—that is just how our Trotskyists speak! ‘”(... And Red Is the Color of Our Flag [Index Books, 1991], pp. 213-14).

Three days later in Halle, Hippe was arrested by the NKVD, the Soviet secret service, and, following one year interrogation and mistreatment, was sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment for “anti-Soviet propaganda” and “forming illegal groups.” Hippe, who had already spent two years in jail under the Nazis, was then to spend a further eight years in a Stalinist prison.

Hippe’s arrest was a heavy blow against the Trotskyist movement. However, the repression of the Stalinist bureaucracy alone was not enough to destroy the movement; to this end they needed the assistance of the Pabloite revisionists.

In March 1951 Pablo, Mandel and their representative in Germany, Georg Jungclas, disbanded the German section of the Fourth International, the Internationale Kommunisten Deutschlands (International Communists of Germany). In doing so they merely drew the practical conclusions of their own revisionist conceptions; i.e., that the development to socialism would proceed via self-reform of the Stalinist bureaucracy and therefore the existence of independent sections of the Fourth International was superfluous. Thus the Pabloites behaved simply as an appendage of the Stalinist bureaucracy. When, two years later, Soviet tanks put down the workers uprising of July 17, they even refused to call for the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. They did not lift a finger to secure the release of Oskar Hippe from his Stalinist cell.

This betrayal by the Pabloites made it possible for the SED bureaucracy to completely isolate the working class in the GDR from the program of the Fourth International and thus from their own Marxist heritage. This is why the working class was so politically unprepared for the events of the autumn of 1989.

The International Committee of the Fourth International was founded in 1953, at the initiative of the American Socialist Workers Party, to defend the Fourth International against Pabloite revisionism. But only in 1971, when a new generation of workers and students turned to Marxism, was it possible to found the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter, as the German section of the ICFI.

The BSA was politically well prepared for the events of the autumn of 1989. The BSA based itself not only on the rich heritage of Trotsky’s works but also on the lessons of the long struggle of the ICFI against Pabloite revisionism, which had reached a new high point in the split with the British Workers Revolutionary Party in 1985. The decisiveness of the delineation from Pabloism was revealed by the Pabloites’ own reactions to the events in the GDR. Without exception they rallied behind the Modrow government and its policy of capitalist restoration. The collapse of the Stalinist bureaucracy also forced them to declare their own political bankruptcy!

Following its participation in the European Elections in the summer of 1989, the BSA received the first letters from the GDR in response to its election broadcasts shown on West German television, which could also be seen throughout most of the GDR. In these broadcasts, BSA National Secretary Ulrich Rippert stated: “The crisis in the Soviet Union does not mean the failure of socialism but rather of Stalinism, a corrupt bureaucracy which has bloodily oppressed the working class. Gorbachev is trying to save the bureaucracy by reintroducing capitalism. We fight for the overthrow of the bureaucracy, the reestablishment of workers democracy and the unification of workers in East and West Europe!”

Since November 1989 the BSA has worked regularly in the GDR: distributed its newspaper Neue Arbeiterpresse, held public meetings and won new members, participating in the Volkskammer and later in the Bundestag (West German federal parliament) elections with its own candidates. The BSA was not able to turn the tide of political events and prevent the restoration of capitalism. But this does not diminish the historical significance of the intervention of the BSA. A Marxist program is not a miracle cure, but the foundation on which the working class can reorient itself and build a new Marxist leadership—and this does not happen overnight.

Through its active intervention and continual analysis of political events, and its struggle against all other political tendencies, the BSA has created the preconditions for reorienting and rearming the working class for the coming revolutionary struggles.

The collapse of the GDR, followed in 1991 by the dissolution of the Soviet Union, has not ushered in a new “golden age” of capitalism, as the preachers of the “failure of socialism” would like to have us believe. Instead, all the economic, social and political contradictions which made the first half of this century the most violent period in human history have broken out once more on an international scale.

As we have already seen, the crisis in the GDR and the Soviet Union was unleashed by the conflict between the world economy and the nation-state system, which intensified drastically in the 1980s. However, the same fundamental changes affected the capitalist countries, just as dependent on the framework of the nation-state as the guardian of private property, and equally unable to overcome this contradiction as their Stalinist neighbors. The bourgeoisie has proved totally incapable of bringing the requirements of modem technology and the global forces of production into harmony with private property and the nation-state.

It may appear a strange historical anachronism that now, just as trade, capital and production appears to have blown apart every border, new ministates are springing up everywhere and vehemently insisting on their sovereignty. No location is too small; no ethnic, religious or linguistic feature too insignificant to serve as a basis to claim nationhood and the right to an independent state. In fact, this only expresses the intensified struggle for the world market. It is the archaic struggle of one against one, translated into the language of the race and the nation. The result is the bloody massacres which are already in full swing in Yugoslavia and parts of the former Soviet Union.

But it is not just the newly created small states. The principal imperialist powers are also incessantly driving towards new wars. The tensions between the different trade blocs grouped around the US, Japan and Germany, intensify month by month. In America, more voices are raised demanding a war against Japan to prevent the decline of American industry. In Germany, since the end of the Gulf War, the generals are again openly demanding worldwide military intervention by the Bundeswehr (German army). Every regional conflict exacerbates the conflicts between the Great Powers. Instead of the promised disarmament, militarism flourishes.

Capitalism has also lost the capacity to damp down class antagonisms through social concessions at home. The once much-praised “Swedish model” has disappeared without a murmur. In America, once the symbol of capitalist progress, the gulf between rich and poor is wider than ever before: Every fourth child lives below the poverty line; millions are without a roof over their heads; and in the ghettos of the big cities infant mortality is higher than in the poorest nations of Asia. If impoverished workers rebel against these conditions—as recently in Los Angeles—then the mask of democracy is dropped and the bourgeoisie answers with emergency rule, police terror and by sending in the troops.

In the less developed countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, capitalism is completely incapable of overcoming the heritage of colonialism and showing a way out of the chronic poverty. Credits to these countries have entirely dried up and increasingly over the last years the banks have taken far more out than they have put in. The price is paid by the masses who live lives of indescribable deprivation. Ten of thousands die of starvation daily.

The dead end of capitalist society is revealed most dramatically in the former Soviet Union and countries of Eastern Europe. The abolition of state planning and nationalized property has led to the destruction of millions of jobs; education, old age care and medical aid have been decimated alongside all cultural achievements. The poverty that was the hallmark of the most economically backward countries is now reappearing there. Yesterday’s heroes of “democracy” now show themselves to be nothing other than petty crooks in competition with the mafia to reap the pickings of the bankrupt stock.

In Germany reunification has brought about the end of economic and political stability. In the East industrial plant has been destroyed on a scale without parallel even in times of war. Five out of ten million employees have lost their jobs; youth are without a future. All the social achievements wrung out of the SED regime by the working class fall victim to the cuts. To begin with the German bourgeoisie descended like a horde of Barbarians on the East; now they make clear their intentions for the working class in the West. The “equalization of the standard of living in East and West,” according to the gospel of the bourgeoisie, means the driving down of living standards in the West to the level existing in the East.

The hopeless situation of capitalist society is also revealed in the field of ideology. Not a single intellectual representative of the bourgeoisie—whether politician, philosopher or writer—can today offer a serious perspective for the future. The frankest expression of this came from Czechoslovakian president, Vaclav Havel. Speaking to a gathering of businessmen and politicians in Davos, he announced that with the “end of communism,” the “modem age” as a whole had come to a close. According to Havel, the modem age began with the Renaissance and was dominated by the belief that “the world can be understood” and that mankind can “turn it to use in a reasonable way.” Now, the age of “arrogant, absolute reason” is ended. “The position of mankind to the world” must be “radically changed.” The “qualities which politicians of the future will need” are “soul, individual sensuality, self-contemplation, the courage to be oneself and to follow one’s conscience, humility in face of the mysterious order of being, faith in its natural development and above all, trust in one’s own subjectivity as the most important link to the subjectivity of the world” (New York Times, March 1, 1992). This is mysticism as in the darkest days of the Middle Ages. One wonders if in Prague, the pulling down of the statues of Marx and Lenin may not soon be followed by that of Jan Hus, who was burnt at the stake in 1415 as a representative of the Enlightenment.

What enables capitalism to survive is the paralysis of the working class due to the utter bankruptcy of its traditional organizations. The events in Eastern Europe are merely the sharpest expression of a general crisis in the entire international workers movement. The same processes which have been taking place in the Stalinist organizations in the last years—the complete abandonment of the most elementary achievements of the working class, the turn towards a purely capitalist program and finally the breaking apart of the most powerful party apparatus—are now manifested in the social democratic parties. The SPD in Germany, the Labour Party in Great Britain, the Socialist Party in France—to name but a few—all follow policies hostile to the working class and have become indistinguishable from the traditional bourgeois parties. The result is that voters and members are leaving them in droves. In the recent local elections in France, the Socialist Party was reduced to insignificance; in Great Britain the Labour Party lost their fourth general election in a row; even in Germany, where dissatisfaction with the Kohl government has reached boiling point, the SPD regularly loses votes. Social democracy celebrated the collapse of Stalinism too soon. If Stalinism could thank social democracy for its own rise in the 1920s, then today it drags social democracy down with it into the abyss.

The reason for this lies in the bankrupt nationalist program which they share. After World War II their role consisted in reconciling the working class with a series of concessions to the nation-state system, laid down in the agreements of Yalta and Potsdam. In the East, the Stalinist bureaucracy did this by erecting deformed workers states; in the West social democracy played its part by integrating the workers movement into the capitalist state as far as possible. In the Federal Republic this was done through the creation of a series of corporatist institutions, such as codetermination, workers councils committed to “factory peace,” and so on. A division of labor existed between the SED and SPD, which in their different ways contributed to the stabilization of the status quo. The outbreak of fierce trade wars has made it impossible to continue this policy on the basis of material concessions. It has completely undermined the influence of Stalinism and social democracy inside the working class.

If one examines the period following World War II, then despite the relatively high living standards which many workers temporarily achieved, it was a period of decline and fall. The dominance of powerful bureaucracies over the workers movement stunted every independent political activity and strangled the development of revolutionary consciousness. The collapse of these bureaucracies and the enormous intensification of social conflicts create the preconditions for a new revolutionary upturn. Such a development cannot occur spontaneously. This is the lesson of all the experiences of the last years, starting with the Solidarnosc uprising in Poland right up to the autumn of 1989 in the GDR. If the most conscious elements of the working class are not clear about their political aims, then the most reactionary and bankrupt forces in the petty bourgeoisie can fill the political vacuum.

The end of the GDR and its attendant catastrophic consequences poses the working class once more with resolving the task which social democracy and Stalinism have prevented for seventy years: the conquest of political power and the socialist transformation of society, within the framework of the world socialist revolution. Under capitalism the only alternative is a relapse into barbarism.

The most decisive obstacle on the road to socialism is the crisis in the leadership of the working class as a result of the crimes of social democracy and Stalinism. In order to politically rearm itself the working class must assimilate the lessons of the October Revolution and its Stalinist degeneration. Because of its entire history and traditions, only the Fourth International is in a position to fulfill this task.


In 1906 Trotsky wrote in “Results and Prospects:” “In our view, the Russian revolution will create conditions in which power can pass into the hands of the workers—and in the event of the victory of the revolution it must do so—before the politicians of bourgeois liberalism get the chance to display to the full their talent for governing” (Trotsky, “Results and Prospects” in The Permanent Revolution [New Park Publications, 1962], p. 195). The theory of permanent revolution, bitterly opposed by the Stalinists, was confirmed by the events of the Russian Revolution.


This article was suppressed by the Stalinist bureaucracy for decades. It was first published in the GDR in 1974, and in 1990, for the first time, in the Soviet Union. This act of censorship was always justified by declaring that because Rosa Luxemburg was imprisoned at the time she wrote the article she was cut off from important information and also that she sharply criticized the policies of the Bolsheviks on a number of questions. In fact, while she professed her admiration for Lenin and Trotsky’s courage she did not lose her critical spirit and resort to the type of blind flattery, completely alien to Marxism but which under Stalin became the declared duty of every member of the Communist Party. If one reads the article, the real grounds for the Stalinist censorship become clear. Nowhere else is the complete agreement between Luxemburg and Trotsky on the decisive question of the international character of the Russian Revolution so clear.


Trotsky’s book The Revolution Betrayed, written in 1936, still remains the most important and fundamental analysis of the rise, origins and character of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. We recommend that readers wishing to deal more closely with this question study this book.


With these words Trotsky summed up the causes for the victory of the bureaucracy (The Revolution Betrayed , P-94).


A detailed analysis of the Spanish Civil War is to be found in the book Revolution and Counterrevolution in Spain by Felix Morrow.


Also to be found among the victims of Stalin are Politburo members Hermann Schubert and Fritz Schulte; Central Committee members Hugo Eberlein, August Creutzburg and Paul Dietrich; the Organizational Secretary Leo Flieg; the leader of the military apparatus Hans Kippenberger; the leader of the Roten Hilfe (Red Aid) Willi Koska; the leader of the Rotfrontkaempferbundes Willi Leow; the editors of the Rote Fahne, Heinrich Suesskind and Werner Hirsch; other members of the editorial board Erich Birkenhauer, Alfred Rebe, Theodor Beutling and Heinrich Kurella; solicitor to the CC Felix Halle; party theoretician Kurt Sauerland; Johanna Ludwig, a member of State government; and many more.(Cited in Hermann Weber, Der Deutsch Kommunismus [German Communism].)


The Federal Republic of Germany cannot be used as a comparison in this case because it enjoyed a number of incomparable advantages in contrast to the GDR, Dismantling of industry in the West was halted after a very short time, while the previously less industrially developed East lost 60-80 percent of its heavy industry through such dismantling in 1946 alone. While the Federal Republic had almost unlimited access to international credit, technology and markets, the GDR was largely cut off from these.


For a detailed investigation of the rise and fall of Solidamosc and the role of the “advisers,” refer to the book Solidarity in Poland 1980-1981 by Wolfgang Weber (Detroit: Labor Publications, 1989).