20 years ago…

A wall fell and misery went on!

The following article has been written in the autumn of 1989, during the events around the fall of the Berlin wall. Twenty years later this text is no longer topical, but its content has retained its full meaning however. We have decided to present this text without updating. Since 1989, admittedly many things have changed, but the essentials didn’t however: i.e. the class struggle. The lessons we drew at the time from this movement are still valid.

Nothing new in the Eastern bloc!

In 1989 Eastern European bourgeoisie carried out spectacular changes (1) in the management of capital and in the containment of the proletariat. In Poland, Hungary, Eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, reforms were going round as well as restructuring, political parties were “legalised” and multiplied, and the media were “liberalized,” with a “great breath of freedom” all over the world as the democratic propaganda pretended.

But did these upheavals, and these changes in the functioning of the bourgeoisie mean something? Which necessity did these reforms originate from? They above all fitted to the necessity for the bourgeoisie to manage the crisis, while defending its rate of profit, and while anticipating and preventing the unavoidable rebellions, as resulting of the economic pressure that the proletariat was (and is still) suffering.

The crisis of capital has no borders but it expresses in different ways, according to the possibilities for the local bourgeois to contain it. Eastern European countries’ economy was bankrupted and collapsing. Information collected here and there showed the lack of work and the weakness of productivity: e.g. in Czechoslovakia, such a worker said that in his printing house “one actually works only two days per week,” another one reported that “the workers sometimes lose half of their working time because of the bad organization.” Often the proletarians called their wage a “financial support for employment” since they all considered being half unemployed. A worker from the GDR spoke about absenteeism of around 50% in her factory. A Russian worker summarized the situation with this joke: “we pretend to work, and the state pretends to pays us!”

The democratic hypocrisy appeared once again especially through the media’s heartfelt cry: “One must help Poland to go through the winter.” As if capital could develop any help, solidarity and brotherhood! The only reason why the bourgeoisie was ready to share some bread, it’s their fear that hunger could turn into a huge attack on their terrorist order. The hunger riots in Argentina in 1989 showed us how fast the bourgeois order can appear generous when the proletariat is getting restless: only a few hours after the beginning of the riots, trucks full of food were sent in the workers’ districts.

The relative protectionism and the rigid statist structures in the Eastern countries resulted in the fact that in the relentless war bourgeois factions wage on against each other, the capitalist constellations and actually and nowadays ruling factions, e.g. represented by the EC or the USA, got the upper hand and dictated their laws stressing much more on open free-market.

It was therefore an absolute necessity for these central Europe nations to restructure “their” economy, in order to offset the decreasing of capitalist profits through a decline of the workers’ social wage, as well as to prevent the proletarians rising up and rejecting any reformism, any bourgeois alternative. Once again, the bourgeoisie succeeded with an unbelievable speed and flexibility in adapting itself.

The old Stalinist oligarchies were ousted with such an ease that clearly showed how vital it was for the whole system that a reformist team take over. This plan was almost alike in all these countries where the opposition and the left wing of the national “communist parties” managed the reforms and the transition towards a multiparty system, free elections, etc. And thus the “Polish Unity Workers’ Party” and the trade union “Solidarity,” the Eastern German “Socialist Unity Party” and the “New Forum,” the Hungarian CP –which became SP- and the “Democratic Forum,” etc. ad nauseam, all of them yesterday false “rivals,” were then waving together the flag of their national economy and discussing about the end of Stalinism, about the realization of the common democratic ideal, and the necessity to save the country, etc. Together they called proletarians for calm and to avoid using violence. In Prague, Vaclav Havel and Dubcek (from the “Civic Forum”) shook the hands of their former Stalinist jailers. In Moscow, the yesterday murderers called then officially the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 a “mistake”. The bourgeoisie’s alternatives played their role, while of course always agreeing with the essential, i.e. the maintenance of the capitalist order: they tried to fool us while describing this “opposition” as being opposed to the real problems that cause misery, repression and terror.

Eastern proletarians were thus fed with the promises of the blissful-making “multiparty system” in Western countries. The happy future and the hopeful answer sold then to them, it’s the freedom of speech and association, freedom of worship and of the press, free elections and unions, human rights, free market and economy, i.e. rights and rights and always rights, but still no bread! As if the fact to legally associate in the same parliament different ideological but however interconnected factions of the bourgeoisie would alter something to the fact that in the West as in the East the democratic order, exploitation was (and still is) going on to rule further. And de facto, those who were too credulous with the promises of the state in the East and though that their situation would improve, those quickly became disillusioned by the reality of capitalist continuity. We didn’t have to wait long for the democratic forces of the different “Forum” providing weapons to the defence of their reforms and shooting at the proletarians, to realize that they defend the same interests than the Stalinists. Alike that Russian housewife, who cynically declared not finding the “Perestroika” when opening her refrigerator, the Eastern proletarians quickly became disillusioned, when being confronted with the fact that, no matter which faction is the manager, capital has no other possibility but deepening its catastrophic crisis and worsening proletariat’s living conditions.

That’s where the struggling proletarians were suppressed with tanks in 1953, one hoped then calming down the explosive situation through law and rights, i.e. the right to be exploited as well as the freedom to vote for our exploiters. That was the bourgeois alternative towards decades of rough and strict Stalinism against which proletarians rose up.

In Berlin, a wall fell, but misery went on!

In Eastern Germany the bourgeoisie ran after the general dissatisfaction in order to take it over. The extremely explosive character of the situation gradually forced the state to legalize the huge demonstrations of the summer of 1989, to approve the numerous departure-propositions towards the West, to oust the old mummy Honecker, to propose a multiparty system and free elections, to oust Egon Krenz after a short attempt to make the new state-leader of this Honecker’s right-hand man, and finally to remove the Berlin wall, to imprison especially the most odious members of the former government, etc. However such spectacular measures didn’t seem to calm down quickly enough the long restrained anger and fury of the proletarians. Those who then took to the streets, asked for an explanation. In Dresden, Rostock, Cottbus and Suhl, they entered the buildings of the state security police (the “Stasi” murderers), and destroyed documents and files. In Erfurt, demonstrators set up “vigilance committees” in order to control the buildings of the secret police. Actions were led against the Eastern German army (the NVA), but also against the Soviet armed forces. The government issued several calls for maintaining “security and order,” while stressing on the necessity “to guarantee the security of the military installations and to prevent the illegal access on weapons and fuel oils.”

Because they were scared that the proletariat should be too close to the weapons, which could be used for overthrowing this society, the Eastern German bourgeoisie disarmed the militia troops in the factories, because the weapons these troops were equipped with (recoilless canons, anti-aircraft defence, grenade launchers, tanks, etc.), represented a big temptation for all those who, beyond the democratic circus organized by the opposition, were dreaming to further do battle with military methods against the class enemy. All the bourgeois factions without distinction were afraid of the explosion and preventively gathered the weapons as a precaution. The “New Forum” felt the danger for democracy coming from the proletariat and increased calling for calm and disarming. The Protestant church pointed out: “if the anger of the population is understandable (...), no violence can be excused (...) and nobody can yield to hate.”

The bourgeoisie was running until it was out of breath in order to prevent an explosion of the situation. And never mind the ideologies, which yesterday represented the different bourgeois factions, they had no role to play. The same yesterday “right-winger” Stalinists, who were behind and executed the mass murders of 1953 (e.g. Egon Krenz, the Honecker’s successor), acted then as vanguard for reforming and restructuring at all costs, while the opposition (“New Forum” among others) took concerted action, while approving and transforming each increase in discontent from the grass roots into a responsible demand for more democracy, for a “real socialism.” Giving a “human face” to inhumanity, showing an acceptable picture of their exploitation and misery to proletarians, that was the project of the bourgeois politics and the “political changes” in the GDR (but also e.g. in Czechoslovakia). The bourgeoisie responded too late in other socialist countries, e.g. in Algeria and China, and couldn’t avoid the bloodbath.

But there was another ghost that the bourgeoisie brought out again during the restructuring in Eastern Germany: reunified Germany. It’s clear that there is no “German question” from our class point of view. The reason to put forward the question of the reunification of both countries was to hijack the proletarians’ struggle about the improvement of their living conditions and to turn it into the defence of a state concentrating and centralising more important productive forces than the ones of the competing nations. Nothing in common with the wish of the Eastern German proletarians to meet up with parents or friends again on the other side of the wall, or with the fact that workers were going to Western Germany for higher wages or looking after commodities, which were unobtainable in the East. But the state used these phenomenons in order to encourage the nationalism and to drown the proletarian interests in it.

And de facto, as from September 1989 Eastern Germans left one nation for another in order to find work. Hardly arrived, they experienced the joys of “Western free market” under the shape of dozens of bosses of small and big companies, who were searching for some cheap labour force. Since however there was not enough of work for everyone at all, the Eastern German workers directly became in competition with their class brothers.

If the monopolies and the tendency to big economic concentrations (tendency which becomes more pronounced in times of crisis because it’s about being stronger faced with the competition), probably drove to reunification of Germany, it was anyway and finally realised against the present and future interests of the workers.

As valorisation area of capital, the GDR was dependent upon the FRG already for a long time: e.g. tax exemption for exports, privileged trade agreements, 3.3 billion Deutsche Marks per year interest-free loan aid in kind, etc. So to speak the GDR was actually the thirteenth member of the EC! Moreover this aid became even more intensive after the removing of the “iron curtain” in November 1989. But this support was of course not philanthropic at all. Proletarians in the GDR couldn’t improve their material situation through these “aids”. The lent funds concerned only the managers of capital.

The unified Germany issue, the multiparty system and free elections, the abolition of the constitution article over the leading role of the “Socialist Unity Party,” the opening of the wall, etc., all this misery and wretched toys about rights and liberties coming back were summarized in the consideration of an Eastern German football supporter: “Now, we can also support our team outside!” Apart from it they especially gained the right to go window-shopping while visiting the West, as many proletarians stressed on. But however, in order to buy commodities, the Eastern German proletarians didn’t really need windows but rather money. A wall fell but misery went on!

The reunification of Germany and the first step into this direction that the opening up of the wall represented didn’t have only supporters. With demagogic electioneering slogans, the bourgeois faction interested in a unified Germany met with a “rampart” against the “migration movements from the East.” Or better said, the European governments were scared with the potential influx of migrant unemployed. They reminded in this context of the “population increase from the Mediterranean countries.” The reality seems to be harmless while using all these safe and comfortable euphemisms of the “political analysts.”

It is clear that the bourgeoisie in the East didn’t produce these reformist ideas willingly; it was forced by the proletariat to do like this. The experience of Tiananmen forced the Eastern European bourgeoisie to draw some lessons. Either they had to quell the movements initiated a little bit everywhere in the East with much bloodshed, like they did in the GDR 1953, in Hungary 1956, in Poland 1980 or even in China 1989, what in the end could prompt the development of proletarian direct action and class consciousness; either the local bourgeoisies developed methods and ways to defuse the movement, while proposing something sufficiently “new,” something as “showy” as the “Perestroika” in Russia, but of course in accordance with the local circumstances.

The problem for the bourgeoisie in Eastern Germany, confronted with a so explosive situation, was that a massive armed repression, like the mass-murder of Tiananmen, for several reasons, was very risky, if not even impossible. Firstly, because the use of the local gendarme (i.e. the 380,000 Soviet soldiers who were stationed in the GDR) was almost impossible, because the whole reforms campaign of the Eastern European bourgeoisie, to keep the control on the proletariat in this zone, would then be completely jeopardised. Secondly, because a mass-murder, as it happened in China, would be high-risk for the bourgeoisie, especially about the generalisation of the unrest: even the proletarians in Western Germany would be roused, because there were many bonds uniting them beyond the “Wall,” and especially, violent struggles and solidarity actions of the Eastern European populations would then be provoked, populations suffering from the economic crisis and austerity they were exasperated with.

All the bourgeois factions in the West had pretty well understood what was at stake behind the demonstrations of discontent in the East. Whereas they didn’t have stopped to bore us in the West with the necessity to put an end to “socialism,” whereas they had never missed an opportunity to propose us to go over there “if it was not convenient for us here,” in the moment all these assholes played for us the show of “solidarity” with the problems the Eastern European nations had to face. The Belgian prime minister summarized the opinion of the European bourgeoisie, while calling for doing everything, which is possible to do, “in order the USSR keeps the control over its satellite countries.” Was there a clearer invitation for the USSR to assume its practice of local gendarmerie further? In the same way in a common accord, both big military blocks, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, decided to get their alliances unchanged. The bourgeois in the West, and more widely everywhere in the world, didn’t stop to recommend the status quo, the equilibrium, smooth reforms… They had only the word “stability” in their mouth, because behind the “instability” they saw the first stirrings of the old mole’s nose. The ghost of communism still haunted Europe!

The old mole is digging and digging...

Although the proletariat existed as a ghost, nevertheless the weaknesses while asserting itself were very important. It’s really hard to see how it was easy for the different bourgeois factions to contain the proletariat and to make them waving their own flags: in GDR and in Czechoslovakia, it wasn’t the black and red flags that waved over the heads of the demonstrators, but that of nation, liberty, democracy and multiparty-system. The bourgeoisie thus succeeded in erecting a tunnel, whose exit can only lead to a war, at least if the proletariat continues to behave quietly with the left wing of democracy.

Faced with this dark perspective and proletariat’s weaknesses, we can be guardedly optimistic however. Not of course while considering the tragic lack in the preparation for the struggles to come, but in relation to the more and more obvious standardization of the living standards of the proletariat, and also the speeches used by the bourgeoisie in order to justify the crisis. The word “democracy” is on each bourgeois’ lips in order to force their program upon the proletariat. But even if the speech about democracy is still today deluding the masses of too credulous proletarians, the objective impossibility for the “democrats” to offer another perspective than misery can only push the proletariat to shatter the democratic myth and to bring democracy to light on a worldwide scale: everywhere, independently of the local “regime” at the time and beyond any ideological disguise, democracy is nothing but the terrorist way of life of capital! Will it last long until the proletariat will have to face the guns of the police of Walesa, Havel and Co? And when the “New,” “Democratic,” “Civic” or “Socialist” Forums will send armed forces to protect democracy, and to shoot at those who won’t accept no longer the speeches over the necessity to make “sacrifices”? Will it then need long argumentations to show the democratic substance shared by the “dictatorship of a one-party system” and that of a “multiparty system?”

After the collapse of the trap of pseudo-socialism, what’s the Eastern bourgeoisie had left in order to falsify, channel and contain the struggles? The new credo of “Gorbatshow,” the “economic solidarity” about restoring the economy of the country, didn’t work. More and more and everywhere, the proletariat will have to confront the police and military repression in the struggles to come.

The standardization of the exploitation conditions and the ideological traps can only strengthen the standardization of the proletariat, and therefore also its response while struggling.

What appeared as a victory of the bourgeoisie (which was strong enough in order to foresee a rebellion-movement, and to break it), will actually backfire on our enemy and become the strengthening of the working class. Go on old mole dig further…


(1) These changes are admittedly “spectacular,” and even “showy” in the superficial sense of the bourgeois media, however this adjective is not synonymous with “essential,” because precisely the bourgeois reforms were (and always are!) nothing but necessary corrections of the exploitation conditions. While talking of “spectacular changes,” we refer to the “spectacularization” and the bourgeois performance made from superficial changes, which were (and always are!) neither essential nor factual changes of the immediate situation for the proletariat. Moreover these “changes” didn’t afford any real perspective for the bourgeoisie to get out of the crisis. The only “showy” feature of the reforms in Eastern Europe was the show organized by the bourgeois media.



Dictatorship of the Proletariat for the Abolition of Wage Labour

Central review in English of the Internationalist Communist Group (ICG)