Berlin: behind the Wall

Behind the facade of grinning reunions like those of Gorbachev and Walesa we should look to see what they were celebrating on 9 November 2009 on the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The cost of German reunification is up to £1.45 trillion, equivalent to £4,341 per person per year in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) – East Germany. The objective is convergence of West and East German societies. Unemployment in the East is officially 14.7%, twice that in the West. There are two million fewer people in the East than there were in 1989. Half of all former GDR workers work for below the German low wage threshold of 9.20 euros an hour. Unit labour costs are 20% lower in the East than in the West. The number of workers employed in productive industries is a quarter of what it was in 1989. The failure of capitalism to develop Eastern Europe is of profound significance, demonstrating its inability as a system to meet people’s needs.

An iron curtain

In February 1945, with the Red Army closing in, Nazi propaganda chief Goebbels wrote an article warning of what would happen if Germany was disarmed. He said that ‘an iron curtain’ would divide Europe behind which the Soviet Union would rule. The Nazis still hoped for a coalition with the US and Britain against the Soviet Union. On 5 March 1946 Churchill made his own ‘iron curtain’ speech at Fulton, Missouri, US, launching the Cold War and signalling that West Germany and West Berlin would be the front line in the battle against socialism. Korea would be the front-line in the east.

At the July-August 1945 Potsdam conference the Allies (including the Soviet Union) agreed that Germany and Berlin would be placed under the authority of four zones (Soviet, US, British and French). In defiance of the Soviet Union and without the agreement of the German people, Britain, (under a Labour government), the US, France and the Benelux countries announced in June 1948 that they were establishing a separate West German government. They issued and secretly printed a new currency  for circulation in the western zones of Berlin. This currency manoeuvre was intended to destabilise the Soviet zones and allow the imperialists to swallow up all of Berlin and Germany. The Soviet response was to control traffic flows from West Germany to West Berlin. The US and Britain responded with the ‘Berlin Airlift’, ferrying in supplies, although the Soviet Union said it would ensure the supplies itself. This lasted from June 1948 until May 1949. The US and Britain tried and tested the use of air transport for strategic purposes.

With the US possessing a nuclear arms monopoly, the British Labour government allowed the US to station a military airbase in East Anglia, from which the Soviet Union could be threatened with nuclear attack. NATO was established as a military pact against the socialist countries in April 1949.

Britain’s Labour government colluded in incorporating Nazis into the new West German state. Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin explained to the 1947 Labour Party Conference, ‘It is true that the Germans are a very efficient people, but I would impress upon you that many of the most efficient were Nazis, whereas the people we have to bring back from the concentration camps and to put into certain positions, are very good men, but a man does not feel quite as good after he has been in a concentration camp for three or four years. That does interfere to a very large extent with the efficiency of Germany, and therefore it is necessary to exercise some patience in that field.’

Just how much patience can be gauged by noting that as late as 1959 there were approximately 800 of Hitler’s Special Court Judges and Military Judges in positions of authority within the West German judiciary. These were judges proven to have passed death sentences on German and non-German anti-fascist activists during Nazi rule.

In March 1950 Churchill called for the re-arming of West Germany to confront the Soviet Union, much as he had in 1918 when he directed the invading armies against the Russian revolution.

The Berlin Wall

It is a myth that the Communists built the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stop people escaping from Communism to freedom. Before the Wall was built some 60,000 East Germans commuted to the West to work each day – and they returned home to the East each evening.

West Germany had a policy of recruiting skilled workers and professionals, educated at the expense of the East, and this caused labour and production problems in the East. Additionally, from the 1950s onwards, the US CIA mounted a campaign of sabotage and subversion against the GDR. It financed groups and individuals to commit sabotage, terrorism and delinquency. Power stations were blown up, factories and other buildings burned down, port facilities, bridges and transport attacked. Farm animals were poisoned and children’s school milk adulterated. The World Youth Festival in East Berlin was attacked with firebombs and explosives. The CIA issued forged documents, including ration cards. These are all practices familiar to Cuba. The GDR and Soviet Union complained to the British and US governments, but to no effect.

Ten years after the Berlin Wall fell, the newspaper USA Today reported, ‘When the Berlin Wall crumbled, East Germans identified a life of freedom where consumer goods were abundant and hardships would fade. Ten years later, a remarkable 51% say they were happier under communism.’ (Thanks to William Blum and Counterpunch).

The Socialist Workers Party held meetings to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the socialist states. Like many others on the British left they supported Lech Walesa’s Solidarnosc in Poland, which the US now acknowledges it advised and directed. Abusing the name of socialism the left aligned with imperialism. Within a year of the fall of the Berlin Wall the US and British armies were waging the First Gulf War and have been in a permanent state of war ever since. Such is the adverse effect of the collapse of the socialist countries on the global balance of class forces and it is nothing for workers to celebrate.

Trevor Rayne

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010


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