Friday, June 10, 2011

European Socialist Renewal Tour, May 2011


Discussion with Hans Modrow, Honorary Chairperson of Die Linke Germany and the last premier of the former German Democratic Republic

Why socialism of the last century could not be sustained?

This is also our question, which is linked to the left political project in Germany.

In Europe we faced a divided Europe and a divided Germany. In Germany the situation was the confrontation of two societies: The confrontation of two military blocs. The situation today, however, is that of one left party. The PDS was the renewed left party created by the former SED of East Germany. In 2005, the two main left movement in West Germany, the social justice movement and the electoral initiatives, merged with the PDS, to form Die Linke. The German Communist Party, the DPK, still exists in the West and did not join the merger.

The merger initiative was primarily to create an electoral alternative. This was successful with our first run in the elections in 2005 gaining us 8.5% of the vote and in the 2009 national elections we received 11.7% of the vote. The focus was not on our convictions, but on our electoral success. This has been a problem for the European left, where many questions have not been discussed, until ‘the end’. It was not only the disappearance of the Soviet Union, but also of the strong left parties in Europe. The CPs in France, Italy and Spain are all much weaker now.

Three electoral periods since unification: 1989 onwards there we two major electoral parties – the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats -- and one smaller party, the Liberal Party which participated in various coalition governments. The second period, in the 1990s, saw the creation of the Green Party, resulting in four parties in parliament, and coalition governments between the Christian Democrats and the Liberals on one hand, and the Social Democrats and the Greens on the other. We have had both these combinations govern the country. Since 2005, neither the Christian Democrats nor the Social Democrats were able to govern this way, so we had an alliance between these two parties. Meanwhile our vote has increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.7% in 2009.

There will be new national elections in 2013 and we could see the Social Democrats in Coalition with the Greens then. The Green Party is willing to be in coalition with all of the other parties, but this is not the position of Die Linke.

What is the role of Die Linke today? This is a big question for us. In the Eastern part of the country the party is still big, based on an understanding of socialism of the last century. These members grew up in the former GDR and were even formerly members of the SED. But we need younger people to join the party today. The average age of members in the Eastern part is 68-70. The ‘direction’ of new members, however, is between 35 to 50 years of age. This is also a problem for other West European parties, where the socialist movement is not supported by the youth. In Western Europe the average age of members is 50.

The Western part of the party is mainly created by unionists and left social democrats. In 2005 we had a membership of 75,000, with only 10% of them from the Western part. Today, we still have a membership of 75,000, but around 35% of them are those recruited from the West. Before unification the population of the GDR was 16.3 million. Today its 14 million, i.e. 2 million have left. Because of de-industrialisation of the former GDR the youth, who had no jobs, simply left.

There was reunification in 1990, but we are still divided in 2011. Workers earn 15% to 20% less in the East than in the West. The pensions are also lower. Also the long history of anti-communism is still strong and alive in the West. In the East the failure brought out people who lived and understood socialism, from their own experience and who now understand it better.

So how do we define common traditions? How do we define common political platforms? This is a debate for socialism of the 21st century. Here we are also looking at Latin America.

The developments in Latin America are different to what we see in the Middle East today. In Latin America we have leaders, personalities, such as Hugo Chvez and Evo Morales, who are promoting socialism. There is also a strong anti-imperialist character to these struggles, unlike the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. These uprisings have no socialist character. This is a marked difference.

On the failure of socialism of the last century: It’s related to how the system and structures were created. Marx did not have the idea of ‘socialism in one country’. Socialism was to start on the basis of developed capitalist countries. Russia, on the other hand, was one of the least developed countries and was surrounded by capitalism after WWII. It faced many contradictions. The low efficiency in the economy, the need to develop agriculture, a single party to manage this all – the system of Stalin – today known as Stalinism.

The Soviet Union was the main force to fight German militarism and fascism, but after WWII it had a reduced military capacity and faced the ‘cold war’. But we also need to look at the internal factors in analysing the failure: the contradictions between democracy and socialism.

Externally imperialism succeeded with the arms race ….

Gorbachev today declares openly that his aim was to destroy socialism and the Soviet Union. It’s unimportant whether he new this then. The result is that he succeeded in doing this.

Socialism of the 21st century is not a model for the whole world. We need to analyse processes and draw lessons.

The development of the GDR

There were two main periods of development. The first was related to the concept of the anti-fascist democratic order. The aim was to build a broadest possible alliance. The lessons for my generation was: ‘no more war’ and ‘no more fascism’. This was the basic idea, that would not be opposed in West Germany. When the GDR was formed the anti-fascist democratic order was the basis of the constitution, not a socialist order.

Only in 1962 did the SED decide to start the construction of socialism: a new economic system of planning and governance, greater efficiency in science and technology, modern economic planning. There was an opening up of the GDR in this period.

We studies modern management models, not linked to the development of the Soviet Union. The emphasis was on economic management, even at the expense of social welfare. The slogan was for the ‘unity of the economy and the social and politics’. This was the slogan under Eric Honecker.

We had a rate of accumulation of 21% to 22%. But the government wanted to distribute more than it was capable of doing… The economy declined and the rate of accumulation dropped to 10%. So we went into joint ventures with overseas capital and raised loans, but we raised loans not for the economy, but for consumption.

In the 1970s we also had a huge housing program to build new houses and solve the housing problem. We needed to make quality housing. The products were subsidised but the state had no money to do this. These inner contradictions led to the collapse in 1989-1990.

In West Germany there wasn’t a better social system, but they had more consumer products. Also, the west German currency was convertible.

There were two main motives for the 1989 uprising: the right to travel and movement and the currency. Initially the movement put forward the idea “we are the people”. Then in January 1990 this changed to “we are one people” and the call for reunification.

On March 18, 1990, the Christian Democrats won the elections. The people of East Germany had the illusion that they would keep their social standards and get new priviledges from the West. For example, in the GDR only 8% to 10% of the income went towards rent. Now its 30% and for pensioners its sometime 50%. Housing was the social responsibility of the state in the GDR. Now its given to the markets. Health was free.

There was no collapse of the government of the GDR. The economy then was stronger than the economy in east Germany today. The real collapse came with the unified currency. Overnight we were forced into a different set up. There was no period of transition.

Until the elections in March 1990, it was unclear which way things would go. Even the big powers – US, UK and France – were unclear which way it would go. When we prepared for the elections we had round table discussions with the new movements.

NATO also existed with nuclear weapons and there was a possibility of civil war. Also we had to negotiate with the countries of the ‘Warsaw treaty’.

The situation today has completely changed. The US is the only strong military force today, however, it does not have the same strength as it did in the 20th century. The US needs to look for alliances as it also feels that it’s not able to hold down a ten-year war without allies. The EU also wants to develop more and more as a military force. Japan’s power is decreasing and it has no decisive global role to play any more. What could be emerging as a new force is the Organisation of Shanghai with Russia, China and Central Asia. India is also approaching this group …. China is the US biggest creditor and could push the US to bankruptcy. China’s influence in Latin America and Africa is increasing, while that of the US is decreasing. But I believe that China’s role is a defensive one. It doesn’t declare itself a superpower. I truly believe that China does not want a war, so the most aggressive powers today are still the US, EU and NATO.

Berlin, May 20, 2011

Renewing Socialist Feminism European Tour

This presentation was made during a tour of Europe hosted by the Left International Forum, Sweden, in May 2011.