A combination of May ‘68 in
France and the Prague Spring, multiplied by two: That’s how
you can summarize what is occurring at present in the German
democratic revolution. It’s the beginning of a genuine
revolution, a struggle to build a democratic, popular
alternative to both communist oppression and free-market
All that has been achieved --
promises of free elections, independent inquiries into
repression, freedom to travel, the dismissal of the old
Politburo, etc. -- was exclusively the result of direct,
peaceful, mass action on a gigantic scale. During the three days
of November 4, 5, and 6, two million people descended on the
streets. At that level, quality transforms itself into quality.
If in the main industrial city, Leipzig, 350,000 out of 500,000
inhabitants take to the streets, it means that the entire
working class has gone into action. Petitions urging the removal
of the Politburo circulated, not in universities, but in
factories. These petitions were backed by the threat of a strike
-- and the Politburo, soon enough, was gone.
Even more important, perhaps,
than the size of the demonstrations was the political
sophistication of the demonstrators. In Berlin alone, on
November 4, we counted about 7,000 different posters; with few
exceptions, these were manufactured by small groups, not
organizations. They expressed an impressive variety of demands,
but all partaking of common themes. We didn’t see a single one
demanding German reunification. We saw only a few urging a
market economy. The overwhelming majority were socialist and
democratic in content; they were also sarcastic, insolent,
humorous, concrete, heavily antiauthoritarian and
The working people of the GDR
have been oppressed for 40 years by a bumbling state
bureaucracy. East German officials, despising their own people,
have behaved like satraps of the Soviet leadership. Long cowed
by fear, resigned, and lacking perspectives, the masses have now
risen to shed their chains. This is not reform; this is
revolution. “We have the power,” shouted thousands in
Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Halle, Magdeburg, Karl-Marx-Stadt
(formerly Chemnitz). “We are the people.
When the Berlin Wall fell on
November 10 and freedom of travel was granted, Western
commentators debated about who was really behind the victory.
But the mayor of West Berlin, who at least knows the score,
didn’t hesitate a minute to congratulate “the courageous
people of the GDR who have achieved a peaceful democratic
revolution.” You had to be deaf and blind to believe that
anybody but the working men and women of the GDR had broken the
At least two million East
Germans have poured into West Berlin and West Germany since,
enjoying their new freedom. Then, however, they return home. In
all the mass demos we saw, there was near unanimity behind the
slogan: “We don’t leave our country.
For many months now a rather
repetitive chorus has been heard in various world capitals:
“Communism is dead. Socialism is finished. Capitalism has
triumphed.” But hardly has the spittle dried and here you have
socialism and revolution proudly asserting themselves. Where is
the death of socialism? The East German opposition groupings,
which will probably win any democratic election, assembled in
September in the little town of Böhlen. Their existence was
still illegal, but they met anyway and issued a common platform.
Here are two significant quotes:
The example of the Hungarian
People’s Republic shows that in these conditions [the crisis
of “actually existing socialism”], uncritical borrowing from
the arsenal of market regulators in an attempt to carry out
economic reform itself produces crises and social
We firmly reject any
“replacement” of political-bureaucratic oppression with
capitalist exploitation. The left must unite on the following
- The predominance of social
ownership of the means of production as the basis for socialist
- The development of
self-determination of producers in achieving real socialization
of total activity.
- Consistent application of the
principle of social security and justice for members of
- Political democracy, the rule
of law, consistent application of all human rights and free
development of the individuality of every member of
- Restructuring of industrial
society to conform to the needs of protecting the
The organizations united behind
the Böhlen Platform -- the most important of which is the New
Forum, an extremely influential group in Leipzig -- have reached
out to opposition forces within the East German Communist party.
The party opposition is often more radically critical of the
bureaucracy than is the independent opposition: 25,000 of them
gathered on November 8 before the Central Committee building,
calling for an extraordinary party congress this year. Where is
the demise of socialism? Where is the triumph of capitalism?
When we say that genuine people’s power is being born in the
GDR we mean just that: We are at the beginning of a process, not
at its end.
For this revolution is far from
victory. Two main threats weigh heavily on its further progress:
The first is the disorganization of the groups and currents
involved, including the Communist party opposition. They must
find specific institutions through which to enforce the power
they have taken. Otherwise, the bureaucracy’s reform wing,
centered around Hans Modrow, will propose all manner of
compromises and coalitions to keep power in party-bureaucratic
hands. The repressive apparatus has withdrawn into the
background. It has not been dismantled, and could return if the
people weary of demonstrating and become discouraged by a lack
of permanent, radical change.
The second, more serious threat
is an increase in economic difficulties and tensions. Freedom to
travel will bring a powerful desire to consume Western goods.
That desire will translate into pressure to make East German
marks convertible into the West German variety. Such
convertability cannot be achieved without big assistance from
the West German state and private banks, with the IMF lurking
behind the boardroom curtain. All these players will be inclined
to demand their pound of flesh in exchange for credit: the right
to invest in the GDR, to buy land and goods, to “assist” the
private sector, or to impose “austerity.” Today the great
majority of East German workers reject such management from
abroad. But if the economic situation deteriorates, if their
real incomes decline far enough, demoralization may set in.
Joining the EEC, and even uniting with West Germany, may then
appear as lesser evils.
So the East German people’s
revolution can still be defeated. Indeed, defeat is more likely
than victory. But an initial victory is in hand, and the chance
of extending it is real. It is the greatest chance for
democratic socialism -- quite distinct from the social democracy
that has been integrated into capitalism -- since 1918.
On November 4, the platform in
front of the huge crowd in Berlin presented 26 speakers in an
astounding manifestation of socialist, pluralist democracy. The
dais even featured two members of the East German Communist
party, though these lonely figures were not well received by the
audience. The meeting opened with a tremendous surprise: a
moving song sung in honor of Nicaragua, sung by two young
singers in the Wolf Biermann style. Solidarity with the South
African freedom struggle, with the Czech dissidents, with the
Chinese students, and with the victims of Stalinism in the USSR
was as widespread among the demonstrators as on the platform.
That wonderful display of internationalism was not accidental.
The defiant masses of the GDR are the first German generation
largely liberated from nationalism and militarism, deeply
addicted to nonviolence, and hating the traditions of the Reich,
of fascism, of Prussia.
The superpowers are afraid of
the contamination that could spread from East Germany to the
rest of Europe and to their own homelands. But for the time
being they cannot impose “order” through violence. There is
nothing to fear from a democratic, socialist, antimilitarist and
antinationalist East Germany. Quite the contrary; it carries a
hope for all of us.
If the East German people
don’t want to exchange bureaucratic despotism for the
despotism of the market, if they don’t want reunification --
that is, absorption into a capitalist West Germany --it is their
perfect right to make that choice. They have suffered enough
from being bossed over. They don’t want anybody’s tutelage,
including that of the combined superpowers. They want to be
their own masters, to determine their own fate.