Was West Germany really a beacon of freedom?

The DDR was an ‘inhumane regime’, one that built a wall in 1961 to stop the whole population fleeing to the ‘freedom’ of the West, a land flowing with milk and honey and useless consumer goods. Or so the sustained propaganda would have us believe, propagated by those who invaded and occupied East Germany and then called it ‘reunification’.

So it’s useful to gain some perspective on this and see precisely who was preventing whom from crossing over. Let us go back to the early days of the two Germanies. The Western powers were squashed into western rump of Germany and the suburban ring of the western part of Berlin, which they had seized after the Red Army had taken Berlin. Suspicious of those atheistic, barbarian communists, these powers fostered a number of measures in the new German Federal Republic.

By 1950, the Korean War was underway and rabid McCarthyism was dominating not only US politics but all those parts of the world now under its imperial sway. So Konrad Adenauer, chancellor of West Germany, proposed a combined European force with a German contingent, which would be sent to attack the communists in the east. In barely a few years after the Second World War, West Germany was on the path to rearmament. Back home, the West German government announced a new decree concerning ‘Anti-Democratic Activities by Public Employees’ – a McCarthyist code for anyone who was vaguely left. Actually, anyone who was not openly and vocally anti-communist was subjected to defamation and discrimination. For example, the Roman Catholic writer, Reinhold Schneider, wrote couple of articles urging public debate on rearmament and the need to come to an understanding with East Germany. Given the repression of public debate in the West, he published them in East Germany. After that ‘mistake’, most West German avenues for Schneider to express his views were closed to him. Newspapers, magazines and radio refused to deal with him.

In this context, former Nazis – convinced anti-communists all – were given favourable treatment for positions in the civil service. This was the result of removing the restrictions on ‘incriminated’ persons (the so-called ‘article 131’), that is, people who had actively worked in the Third Reich. In fact, since they had suffered so, they were to be given preferential treatment for jobs. The universities were therefore instructed, whenever a vacancy occurred, to check with a list provided by the Ministry of the Interior to see whether someone with this past was available so that he or she could be given preferential treatment for the post ahead of better qualified candidates. Once in positions of influence, these ‘ex-’Nazis worked hard to ensure their buddies gained posts elsewhere.

Further, the police were deployed to prevent West Germans from making contact with the East. In 1950, the police arrested more than 10,000 young West Germans at the border. They were returning from a meeting in East Berlin and were held at the border for over 24 hours until they agreed to register their names and undergo a ‘health’ examination. The following year, in May, the police arrested another large group, again over 10,000, which was returning from a ‘Meeting on Germany’ in East Berlin. This group refused to register their names, so they were held under arrest for more than 48 hours. Another event was on the calendar later in the year, the ‘Third Youth and Student World Peace Festival’ (5-9 August). This time, the West German government ordered the police to close the border, which was at this time open and through which free passage was possible. And in May of 1952, a member of the Free German Youth was shot dead by police during a banned protest in Essen.

(source: Rolf Wiggershaus, The Frankfurt School, 1986, pp. 443-4)

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Lenin: a revolution is a miracle

As I begin my central treatment of miracle in Lenin, Religion and Theology, I have a wealth of texts from which to draw, such as these:

After the 1905 revolution:

Revolutions are the locomotives of history, said Marx. Revolutions are the festivals of the oppressed and the exploited. At no other time are the masses of the people in a position to come forward so actively as creators of a new social order as at a time of revolution. At such times the people are capable of performing miracles, if judged by the narrow, philistine scale of gradual progress (1905, Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 113).

And then in the famous ‘Letters from Afar’ after the February Revolution of 1917, in which the tsar was overthrown:

The slogan, the “task of the day”, at this moment must be: Workers, you have performed miracles of proletarian heroism, the heroism of the people, in thecivil war against tsarism. You must perform miracles of organisation, organisation of the proletariat and of the whole people, to prepare the way for your victory in the second stage of the revolution (1917, Collected Works, vol. 23, pp. 306-7).

Comrade workers! You performed miracles of proletarian heroism yesterday in overthrowing the tsarist monarchy. In the more or less near future (perhaps even now, as these lines are being written) you will again have to perform the same miracles of heroism to overthrow the rule of the land lords and capitalists, who are waging the imperialist war. You will not achieve durable victory in this next “real” revolution if you do not perform miracles of proletarian organisation! (1917, Collected Works, vol. 23, p. 323).

After the October Revolution and in the face of almost insuperable difficulties:

It is indeed a miracle. Workers, who have suffered unprecedented torments of hunger, cold, economic ruin and devastation, are not only maintaining their cheerful spirit, their entire devotion to Soviet power, all the energy of self-sacrifice and heroism, but also, despite their lack of training and experience, are undertaking the burden of steering the ship of state! And this at a moment when the storm has reached the peak of its fury … The history of our proletarian revolution is full of such miracles (1919, Collected Works, vol. 13, pp. 72-3).

After two years of furious and vicious ‘civil’ war:

The question that primarily comes to mind is: how was it possible for such a miracle to have occurred, for Soviet power to have held out for two years in a backward, mined and war-weary country, in the face of the stubborn struggle waged against it first by German imperialism, which at that time was considered omnipotent, and then by Entente imperialism, which a year ago settled accounts with Germany, had no rivals and lorded it over all the countries on earth? From the point of view of a simple calculation of the forces involved, from the point of view of a military assessment of these forces, it really is a miracle (1919, Collected Works, vol. 19, p. 208).

When the Red Army was victorious after four years of foreign intervention, blockade and civil war:

Four years have enabled us to work a miracle without parallel, in that a starving, weak and half-ruined country has defeated its enemies – the mighty capitalist countries (1921, Collected Works, vol. 33, p. 117).

To make sure that no-one is excluded from the miraculous, even the water transport workers are capable of miracles in the subsequent task of economic reconstruction:

That is why, comrades, I will conclude my speech by expressing the hope and certainty that you will devote the greatest attention to the tasks of the forthcoming navigation season, and will make it your aim, and will stop at no sacrifice, to create real, iron, military discipline and to perform in the sphere of water transport miracles as great as those performed during the past two years by our Red Army (1920, Collected Works, vol. 30, p. 432).

Finally, the most comprehensive statement:

In certain respects, a revolution is a miracle. If we had been told in 1917 that we would hold out in three years of war against the whole world, that, as a result of the war, two million Russian landowners, capitalists and their children would find themselves abroad, and that we would turn out to be the victors, no one of us would have believed it. A miracle took place because the workers and peasants rose against the attack of the landowners and capitalists in such force that even powerful capitalism was in danger …  The defence of the workers’ and peasants’ power was achieved by a miracle, not a divine miracle – it was not something that fell from the skies – but a miracle in the sense that, no matter how oppressed, humiliated, ruined and exhausted the workers and peasants were, precisely because the revolution went along with the workers, it mustered very much more strength than any rich, enlightened and advanced state could have mustered (Collected Works, vol. 32, pp. 153-4, 1921).