Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

East Germany & the Fall of Communism – reply to the responders

In C.Spiby, Readers on October 7, 2011 at 10:03 am

by C. Spiby

My article on East Germany and the failure of communism drew some interesting responses. Here I intend to reply to some of the points raised, including Diana Gash’s communication which can be found on our letters page.

Of course, in an essay of such wide-reaching scope as the nature of modern socialism, it is difficult, if not impossible to give much depth. Some points had to be made fleetingly as not to offend the dreaded word-count.

The thrust of the article was to ask the question of whether this was the time to rehabilitate the legacy of the great socialist tradition from the legacy or tyranny perpetrated by the likes of Pol Pot, Mao and Stalin. This being a vehicle to reflect on the past as a means to inform the present.

I argued that yes it was and moreover that – for British communists and socialists alike – the place to realise the socialist agenda was in the Labour Party.

And to do so now, possibly more than ever in at least my lifetime.  I was criticised, rightly, for not making this absolutely clear. So let me re-state it.

The Labour Party is now at a crossroads; if we do not make it our own now, then I for one feel the cause of modern British socialism is lost for at least a generation. A new leader, following a huge electoral defeat which has favoured vile right-wing agenda in the ConDem Government. These are all the ingredients necessary to urge a new generation of left-wing resurgence.

I am not for one moment suggesting that the Labour Party is to be hi-jacked as a communist party. But I have personally resigned from the Communist Party of Britain precisely to help re-boot Labour from within, rather than build the movement outside it (as the CPB’s own programme advises). Both positions are valid. But less so, I feel, is that of the separatists.

We can argue over the right path to socialism until we are red in the face. But only a mass movement will truly take the first steps in government. Although I was accused of ‘timid conclusions’ – I think this denies the struggle of the journey ahead of us.

I showed that the narrative offered by the works I cited (books and movies) is that Marxism will always bring about a totalitarian state. But this is not true – the whole of socialism is built on Marx, and I argued that while Marx can only foresee a socialist revolution through violent change, other paths show that this need not be the case.

I was criticised on drawing on the example of faith leaders. True, as an atheist, this is a trite thing to do, but here I hoped to show the innate nature of socialism. Perhaps I would have better used Robert Axelrod’s 1984 scientific work ‘The Evolution of Co-operation’.

My survey of the GDR was limited to about 3 books and 3 films. Most came out negatively, but the interesting point in the responses is that no-one rushed to defend even the defensible elements of East German life. Rather, the criticisms were aimed at my intended target – the nature of the debate for today’s society in Western Europe. Diana seemed at once enthused and concerned, also recognising the new zeitgeist for socialism – this is the dialectic in action.

But she remains concerned about Labour’s recent past. Rightly so. I have not voted Labour since the war on Iraq. I would have struggled anyway on issues like foundation hospitals, PFI, PPP and forcing mothers back to work rather than supporting their decision to stay at home, were that their choice. These policies, however, were New Labour. With Ed rather than David, we have the opportunity to bring the Party back to the left
both by contrast to this hugely unjust Tory government and the fact of the Unions’ backing of Ed as the new leader. With no programme yet, this is OUR chance. And also, I have been impressed with Bruce Hogan. On the Wye side Hamish Sanderson considers himself a socialist. And councillors like Armand Watts for Bulwark talk my language. Then there are good local citizens like Di Martin who have stood and won as councillors for Labour driven by the causes socialists would recognise as theirs. This is the chance to re-seed the foundations, while the right attacks our most precious wins such as the NHS; this is the home for our best defence.

My brief reference to the likes of the SP and SWP was a crude ruse to dismiss their input into the laying of those foundations in this new breed of Labour. That is not to devalue the role these groups have in local campaigns and in the debate on socialism, but their influence is – clearly – on
the outside of where the real challenge lies for the mass movement.

If, like me, you really believe in socialism, then join us.

This could be our last chance to claim the Party back for ourselves. You could stay in the SP, SWP or – as I was – in the CPB. But these parties will not ever win a seat in Parliament and therefore cannot truly hope to reflect the wishes of the mass of working people. Yes, we might feel uncomfortable in taking a place alongside people who supported New Labour, but look beyond them and we see others who feel the way we do like, say, John McDonald, and we only have to remind ourselves that the LP was the home of Tony Benn to see that the Labour Party is still the rightful place for socialists.

The answer may not appeal to the radicals. But for those of us who have trod the line of radical politics for so long, coming to real party of the mass movement IS in itself radical.

The debate about communism’s rehabilitation is due. But it is for nought if the people are not with us. The GDR offers examples of warnings and evidence of where things went right like social cohesion. But that debate is only a debate. The point is to change the world.

The Lib Dems will be nowhere in the next General Election. Their members need to join the Labour Party (re-join in some cases) to realise their dream of a social democracy. Their rightful place is in a democracy that puts social values first. And anyone who cannot see that modern British socialism doesn’t seek to achieve a similar goal is out on their own. Only a united front of socialist-driven Parliamentary power will be able to  hold the Tories and big business to account. Forget New Labour – it is up to us to ensure that social welfare drives the party not the end of boom and bust, the slaves of a shallow affluence which has left our Party dwindling and our country morally bereft. I mean, could you ever previously imagine a discussion, policies even on competition in the NHS?

That’s why you can either join the fight. Or talk about it while being defeated – at best –in the odd skirmish on the periphery.

{please feel free to Comment here or write or e-mail us}

  1. […] like me, you choose to work within a minority party you are “sectarian”. Carl Spiby rightly ridicules my show of indignation at being packaged together with the Socialist Workers […]

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