From Socialist Voice, December 2009

November—a month for spoofs and chancers

Well, the clocks have gone back and winter time is fixed, and the cold nights gather apace. The children have lit their bonfires to see the spirits off to wherever they came from, or are going to. Young children have been suitably terrified by tales of witches, banshees, underworld spirits, enough to frighten them to death for another year and to make them snuggle up tight in bed with blankets pulled over their heads.
     Just when you thought it was safe to come out and the gravediggers of history have been brought safely back under control, the storytellers of imperialism and its heavily controlled mass media, from the Irish Times and Independent to RTE and News Talk, once again attempt to exorcise the spirit that they claimed died two decades ago: communism.
     The twentieth anniversary of the breaching of the Berlin Peace Wall has provided yet another opportunity for them to proclaim that “communism is dead,” as they have done every day since the destruction of socialism in eastern Europe. They seem to believe that if you keep repeating a lie it will somehow become the truth.
     No, the Berlin Wall was not a pretty sight. Nor is the peace wall snaking its way across west and north Belfast; nor is the barbed-wire fence stretching across the Mexican-American border to keep the poor of Latin America in their cages of poverty and preventing them from getting to the promised land and the home of the brave. Nor is the wall dividing the people of Korea (built, incidentally, by the United States), nor the wall stretching across occupied Palestine.
     It is not often that we would quote John F. Kennedy; but in 1961 he said: “It is not a very nice solution, but it is a hell of a lot better than war.” It was a barrier designed to protect and separate two Germanys. It kept two military alliances apart, NATO and the Warsaw Treaty. It was a barrier between infant socialism and mature, decaying capitalism.
     We need to recount some historical facts in order to understand the origins of the wall and the world as it was then.
     At the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945 the four main wartime allies, the Soviet Union, United States, Britain, and France, agreed to divide Germany into four occupation zones. The Federal Republic of Germany was established in the four western zones in May 1949—that is, six months before the German Democratic Republic in the eastern zone.
     This was a little over three years after Europe had suffered the massive loss of tens of millions of lives, the destruction of hundreds of cities, of thousands of towns and villages. The Red Army had fought its way from Stalingrad to Berlin, suffering the heaviest casualties, fighting for every town, village and river crossing for 1,500 miles, liberating tens of millions of people from fascism. The Soviet Union suffered the loss of more than 20 million people and massive economic and social destruction.
     It was on the eastern front that German fascism had concentrated the overwhelming majority of its forces. The Red Army fought and defeated not only German fascism but also its Ukrainian, Belarussian, Polish, Hungarian, Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Czech and Romanian fascist allies. Today, in those same countries, with the re-establishment of capitalism, the bitch that gave birth to fascism is again in heat, and those forces now openly walk the streets of eastern Europe and of Russia itself.
     The defeat of German fascism by the Soviet Union was a frightening scenario for European and American imperialism and the worst nightmare of Cold War warriors such as Winston Churchill, who in 1918 had called for the European powers to “strangle the Bolshevik baby in its cradle” when fourteen foreign armies encircled Russia in their efforts to stop the birth of a new workers’ state.
     On the establishment of the West German state in May 1949 and subsequently of the East German state in October 1949, Berlin was divided in two, with East Berlin under the control of Soviet forces and West Berlin—while not legally part of West Germany—controlled by the United States, Britain, and France.
     West Germany regarded the GDR as an illegitimate state right up to the early 1970s; then, in 1973, the West German social democrats adopted a “Neue Ostpolitik” (New Eastern Policy) in a move away from Cold War hostility.
     We need to remember that it was the west that partitioned Germany, not the Soviet Union. In fact Stalin proposed in 1952 that all occupation powers should disengage from Germany and that a unified, neutral and disarmed Germany should be established, an offer that was rejected by the Western occupation powers. We need also to remember that NATO, established by the United States in April 1949, was a nuclear-armed alliance and that only four years earlier one of its main forces had used nuclear weapons against civilians in Japan and later threatened to use them in Korea. The Warsaw Treaty was not established until 1955.
     From the very beginning the GDR was subject to attacks by fascist elements, including saboteurs crossing over from the West. Many factories and other buildings were destroyed by saboteurs as imperialism attempted to disrupt the rebuilding of the East.
     The Berlin Wall was was not built until 1961, nearly thirteen years after the GDR was established and at the very height of the Cold War. The world in which the wall was built had been shaped by the Second World War and by post-war aggression, including such experiences as the suppression of the Greek revolutionary forces by the British army of occupation, the Korean War, savage British anti-communist repression in Malaya, the suppression of national liberation forces in Congo, and the brutal suppression of national liberation struggles around the world.
     The following decades saw India winning its independence in 1947, ensuring the terminal decline of the British Empire, the overthrow of pro-western regimes in Iran and Iraq, the victory of the Chinese and Cuban revolutions, and the defeat of French imperialist forces in colonised and occupied Viet Nam. Latin America witnessed a growing popular resistance against brutal repression and the establishment of fascist governments under the tutelage of the United States. Imperialism was also faced with the growing influence of communist and other left forces throughout western Europe. The imperialist world was under increasing strains and pressures.
     No, walls and barriers are not nice, and the separation of peoples is not a good thing. But history is complex and at times contradictory, and social transformation is not without its ups and downs. Change is built upon the past; change is unpredictable and uncertain.
     A hundred or two hundred people may have died attempting to cross the Berlin Wall. Regrettable though that loss of life, and of any lives, is, in the real world of intense class and anti-imperialist struggles we do not always get to choose the ground to fight on. We have to deal with a given situation as it is and not as we wish it to be.
     What might have happened when two nuclear-armed military alliances faced each other if a physical barrier had not been erected? It is quite possible that the Berlin Wall saved tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives and saved the world from a nuclear war.
     People should reflect upon the present aggressive nature of imperialism when it itself has claimed to have “won.” Today it is fighting two major wars of aggression, costing tens of thousands of lives.
     As capitalism slumps deeper into recession, workers’ rights are under daily attack, and the very existence of life on our planet is threatened by environmental destruction from the very nature of capitalism itself.
     Anti-communism, whether from the right or the “left,” is a weapon of the boss class. They are still haunted by the spectre of communism. As Marx and Engels wrote, “All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre.”

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