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Submitted by Bruce on Mon, 01/11/2010 - 14:13

Hi Guenther,

Reading a number of your posts, it seems to me that your political method is to put a minus where the (West) German state puts a plus and vice versa. That’s not bad as a first instinct but it is not the method of Third Camp Marxism which is to assess things from the viewpoint of the independent interests of the working class. Here I think, it leads you into, no doubt unintended, apologetics for the GDR regime and Stalinism more generally. Your approach is particularly unfortunate in Germany where the two Cold War regimes each used an ideological critique of the other to bolster themselves: by anti-communism in the West and ‘anti-imperialism’ in the East.

Firstly, on totalitarianism you seem to be saying that because bourgeois ideologues use a term in a particular way we shouldn’t use it at all – even where it fits. Of course, we don’t adopt the theory of totalitarianism whereby far left and far right are equated as similarly authoritarian. However in what I take to be its normal meaning – the intervention of a repressive state into all aspects of its citizens’ lives to ensure their conformity to the regime’s ideology – it does seem to me to apply to both Stalinism and Naziism. Clearly that is not all that is to be said and there are differences – though I don’t accept that Naziism was ‘singular’ though I think that is what you get taught in school in Germany today (not a totally bad thing, for sure). You mention the ‘Historikerstreit’ and suggest that equating Stalinism and Naziism in this respect leads to accepting the argument of some of the participants that Stalinism justified Hitler because Hitler’s aggression was a response to diabolic Bolshevism. Again it seems to me that we maintain an independent view but do not become scared to tell the truth because others use it for their own purposes.

It is clear that by the definition I give the GDR was a totalitarian state. Why no Tienanmen Square in the GDR? Well, there was one – on the 17th June 1953 when Russian tanks shot down Berlin workers who had risen against their work conditions and the Stalinist regime. Then there were the hundreds of people shot trying to cross into the West and the tight control exercised over the population by the Stasi. Sure, people weren’t shot on the scale of 1937 Russia or the Nazi regime but we don’t assess the nature of regimes on a quantitative measure of the degree of repression. Why no Tienanmen in 89? Well, firstly there nearly was. It is a matter of record that troops were ready to fire on the demonstrators in Leipzig in October 89 but were stopped at the last minute by the intervention of local leaders. The regime was in crisis and paralysed after Gorbachov had made it clear that, unlike in 53, the Russians would not intervene to support their puppet regime, which explains both why no orders to fire came from the top and also the largely unplanned decision to open the borders.

To a lot of what you say, my answer would be ‘So what?, Anti-fascists did no doubt look to Stalin to overthrow Hitler. But equally many would have been demoralised by the Hitler-Stalin pact and the handing over of anti-fascists such as Margerete Buber-Neumann to the Gestapo. That tells us nothing about Stalinism. Nor does the fact that many East Germans now want the GDR back. Nor that the Stalinists will slander us for what we say – should we then change our views?

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