[Marxism] Another side of the Berlin Wall
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Tue Nov 24 05:49:00 MST 2009
Another side of the Berlin Wall
By Greg Butterfield
Published Nov 20, 2009 11:10 PM
Twenty years ago, a labor organization was on strike under very difficult
This workers’ organization and its leadership were castigated by the
corporate media. The bosses threatened, cajoled and bribed people to cross
the picket line. Scabs were brought in.
The heads of the international union colluded with the capitalists to
undermine the strike.
Eventually, the strike was lost. But that wasn’t enough for the bosses.
Not satisfied with lowering the workers’ wages and benefits and breaking the
union, they sent their state apparatus after the strike leaders with
accusations of heinous crimes. The former president was driven into exile to
The labor organization in question was Amalgamated Transit Workers Union
Local 1202, which went on strike against behemoth Greyhound Bus Lines in
But everything written above also applies to the German Democratic Republic
–socialist East Germany–and the fall of the Berlin Wall a few months
earlier, in November 1989. Both the capitalist class and some misinformed
progressives have been crowing over the 20th anniversary of that event.
*Picket line means ‘Do Not Cross!’*
Ask anyone who’s been on strike if it is ever okay to cross a picket line,
and you will likely hear a resounding “No!”
The Berlin Wall–so maligned and condemned by war-making imperialists and
hand-wringing liberals alike–was nothing but a picket line on a much larger
The wall was erected in 1961 in response to provocations from U.S.
imperialism and its West German junior partner meant to destroy the attempt
to build socialism in eastern Germany. These provocations included
infiltrating East Berlin with anti-communist agents, military threats, and
bribing specialists whose labor was need by the workers’ state—the so-called
The disgusting myth that the Berlin Wall was erected to destroy the freedom
of Berliners, immortalized in President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech, is
just the opposite of the truth. The capitalist powers wanted to crush the
working class’ freedom to build a society unchained from the profit motive.
The Berlin Wall was a world away from the apartheid wall built by Israel
around Palestinian population centers, the U.S./South Korean military wall
that separates family members from North Korea, or the expanded U.S. wall
against immigrants on the border with Mexico.
What is the difference? Those walls are aimed at repressing the workers and
The Berlin Wall, by contrast, was built in defense of the workers and
*Socialist Germany’s accomplishments*
The GDR wasn’t the product of a classical revolutionary uprising. It was
formed by an alliance of German communist, socialist, and workers’ movements
that had resisted Nazism and survived World War II, and the Soviet Red Army
that liberated the eastern part of the country, all under the military and
economic pressure of the U.S.-initiated Cold War. It was only established
after U.S. imperialism and their new allies in the vanquished German ruling
class had begun to build up West Germany as a bulwark of aggression against
the USSR and its allies.
In some ways, it was a halfway house of socialism.
But whatever its faults, the GDR was a workers’ state that provided jobs,
housing and health care for all its residents. It provided aid and support,
including military and medical aid, to national liberation movements
throughout the world, including the struggle against apartheid in southern
The GDR provided a safe haven for refugees from fascist terror in countries
like Chile and Argentina. Socialist Germany also provided jobs and education
for guest workers and students from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East–many
of whom were terrorized or driven out by fascist attackers in the early
1990s after reunification with imperialist West Germany.
East Germany was far ahead of any country in the world in
lesbian/gay/bi/trans rights and freedoms. The gay liberation movement as we
know it grew up within the German socialist and communist movements of the
19th and early 20th centuries.
Regarding women’s rights to education, jobs and housing, and especially in
establishing extensive child care, the GDR made enormous strides. Much of
this progress was wiped away when the GDR fell.
The German Democratic Republic had a right to defend its sovereignty from
imperialism, all the more so since the border between East and West Germany
was also the border between the imperialist and the pro-socialist world
Those who cannot or will not defend the right of a workers’ organization to
defend itself—whether it is a union, a resistance movement or a workers’
state—will never be able to carry out a successful revolutionary struggle.
Sincere revolutionaries have to learn this lesson, and it is incumbent on
those of us who lived through those terrible setbacks to help educate new
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Author of The Adam Smith Problem:
Reconciling Human Nature and Society in
The Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations, I. B. Tauris,
London&New York 2007
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