Germany: Rebuilding a socialist opposition


Now a member of the unified Bundestag (all-German parliament), THOMAS KLEIN was elected to the east German Volkskammer in March 1990 on the ticket of Vereinigte Linke (United Left), of which he was a founder. While working in the economics section of the East German Institute of the Academy of Sciences in the 1970s, he participated in the underground Marxist opposition outside the Communist Party (SED). He was jailed in 1979 and was banned from public employment for 10 years. In the 1980s, Klein was also active in the unofficial peace movement. In Berlin, he spoke with Green Left correspondents PETER ANNEAR and SALLY LOW. The interview was conducted in English.

"In 1989 people articulated their demands not only in the streets but also in the factories and started to build a resistance against the bureaucracy, but they had no ideological concept of realising socialism."

If the left had been strong enough to grasp the initiative, says Thomas Klein, the chance existed for a progressive, pro-socialist outcome of the popular upsurge that toppled the former Communist regime. Now the situation is different, and the left needs to construct a new view of social change.

Events swamped both the left and the ruling Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). Because it involved only "liberalising trade and restructuring industry and was dominated by the party's technocratic wing", the 1989 reform process initiated by the PDS was too limited.

"While there was a lot of discussion about having more market and less planning, in fact there had not been a lack of market but a lack of real planning. What existed was not planning, it was autocratic subjectivism.

"With genuine planning, contradictions would be solved by the activity and self-organisation of the people who are affected by the problems. But nothing of that was in the heads of the government."

Consequently, once the West German coalition parties launched their campaign to change the money system, to introduce the market and to open the border, "after two months people lost faith the Modrow government [appointed in December 1989] could solve their social problems ... The offensive of the right was so rapid that only a radical change in politics in December and January [1990] could have prevented its victory."

Situation worse

While people are now learning very quickly what this means, Klein believes the idea that intensified social problems will lead directly to a new revolutionary situation is "great nonsense because it leaves out the question of the social experience of the people.

"You cannot approach these things in a mechanical way. It took more than 15 years of opposition activity for people to see the chance to create a resistance to Stalinism. Now they face the new situation of sm, which requires a new kind of resistance. The resurgence of the extreme, fascist, right reflects the social turbulence in the country, and I would say the situation of the left is much worse now."

Like the southern regions of Italy, eastern Germany will remain for many years economically less developed than the west. Abstract notions like "the unity of Germany" will not bring new investment to the east, says Klein; that will be determined by hard business decisions, which are beyond popular control. People will begin to ask the question: What is the logic of the system itself? But this is the result of a process.

Klein believes it is still early days in that process. Because the costs of unification are being financed through increasing taxation, there is a growing sentiment that workers in both the east and the west can be worse off. But confusion and a lack of east-west solidarity prevail.

In the autumn and winter of 1989, none of the groups in the citizens' movements contemplated the possibility of a return to capitalism, but "when the situation rapidly changed, the citizens' movements were infected by the anti-socialist opportunism of the restoration period".

Despite this, the underlying connections remain: "We believe the real problems facing the country are bigger than the specific questions of organisation. The situation demands the formation of a big democratic opposition movement, which is as yet only embryonic, and just what circumstances will accelerate that process are not yet decided."

United Left

The United Left was formed during the political crisis in the summer of 1989, when political activity was still illegal but was tolerated, not as a party but to gather left individuals with different opinions and different visions of the future in an attempt to reach a consensus. Many of those who formed the United Left came from the popular peace and ecological movements which arose outside the SED in the 1970s. Some worked in conspiratorial circles inside the ruling party.

One reason for the very complicated situation facing the left is the role of the PDS. In the 1990 East German elections "when Hans Modrow was still prime minister and the PDS was reconstructed as a party of democratic socialism opposed to both capitalism and Stalinism", some United Left members joined the PDS's open left electoral list, while others were candidates for the Bündnis 90 electoral coalition based on the citizens' movements and green groups.

Now the party reform has stagnated. While a further attempt to hold a conference of the opposition will be made mid-year, the United Left thinks it unlikely people from the PDS will participate.

"Underlying conflicts exist within the PDS ... Now the problem is to find a way to raise new ideas inside the apparatus and especially to challenge the economic positions of the PDS. Working groups connected with the party executive are occupied with this sort of discussion, but how it will unfold depends to some extent ll an open question."

Die Grünen

But Klein believes the conflict inside the PDS is different to the left-right struggle in Die Grünen, where, despite the insistence of the right-wing Realos and Aufbruch factions, "there is no such thing as a new concept of 'ecological capitalism', just a crude mixture of liberal and ecological positions".

On the other hand, while it won the key speaker's position at the April party conference, the Left Forum faction will not achieve the political compromise it is seeking with the right, which will continue to control the party. (At the conference, Left Forum's successful candidate, Ludger Volmer, attempted to produce a joint policy document with the Realos.)

Klein also worries that the radical ecologists, the Fundis, who left the party, have not developed "a valid concept for a future society". The problem is to bring the non-socialist Fundis together "with those from the GDR who are now unemployed or who may have been working before in factories which destroyed the environment. The situation demands a new idea of radical social resistance, but there are elements of an abstract understanding of politics in the Fundis' thinking."

In this climate, "we want to see how we can carry out a discussion. People are pessimistic; they feel betrayed by the big parties and have a picture in their heads of the cynical treatment they got under Stalinism, and they see no real way out.

"It is not important for people to first see the left organisations in an ideological way. The left must go inside the trade union movement, for example, and must carry out the best work there."

Many in the PDS think in terms of "changing society from above. Of course, the Stalinists never had any other kind of politics, and nor did Social Democracy, so a lot of former Stalinists are now Social Democrats. The idea that people will choose a new party at the next election to change the situation from above is a typical concept of parliamentary democracy.

"While the radical ecologists know very well that the ecological problems have to be solved by a radical changing of the system, they have no idea of how to introduce these ideas into the real popular struggles because they are outside these areas of popular experience.

"The left must realise Stalinism has damaged the social fundamentals of radical change, and that these have to be rehabilitated practically in such a way that people will say the best offer for changing their situation came from the left.

"The left needs to present not only faith about changing society, it must also address the problem of social learning by helping to organise a step-by-step resistance from below to win popular demands that hurt the system. This is the only way to overcome the anti-socialist opportunism which now infects the whole of society."

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.