The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Germany:
Fifteen years after the fall of the Wall

Nov 22, 2004

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. In less than a year, Germany was united. East Germany, formerly under the control of the USSR, was joined to West Germany. The fall of the Stalinist dictatorship in East Germany, which had "walled in" its people, physically cutting them off from the population of the west, was accompanied by scenes of jubilation. And Chancellor Kohl, at the head of West Germany, promised the East Germans a "flourishing" economy in a reunified Germany.

In fact it's been "flourishing" – but only for the German bourgeoisie. Almost all the state enterprises in the old East Germany were digested by big West German companies. Factories were carved up, with only the profitable sectors conserved and sold cheaply, sometimes for a symbolic German mark. All the rest were closed, throwing hundreds of thousands of workers out of work.

Today almost one in five East German workers is unemployed, twice the rate as in the rest of the country. The old East Germany had 9.8 million workers in 1989; by 2000, there were only 5.9 million. In the region of Leipzig, one of the biggest cities in the country, there were 500,000 industrial employees in 1989. There are no more than 12,000 today. More than a million inhabitants have left the east, where wages are legally lower than in the west while prices are just as high.

There are twice as many women as men among the unemployed. Women have been especially affected by measures like the closing of nurseries and child care centers. In the former East Germany, the factories often maintained child care centers and other social and cultural services. Child care centers, which were almost free in East Germany, now charge a lot and take in only half as many children. Women in the east are also affected by restrictions on the right to abortion, which was accessible and free in the east, while in the united Germany it remains illegal, although it usually isn't prosecuted.

While the population of East Germany pays a high price for unification, the bill is also high for the West Germans, who have paid over one and a half trillion dollars over fifteen years in a so-called "solidarity tax." West German workers can see where this tax has gone: not into the pockets of the workers of the east who are unemployed or underpaid, but into those of the bosses, in subsidies for the creation of non-existent jobs, but also into facilities such as expressways, telephone networks, etc. As an East German put it, "Though Germany is a rich country, they find billions to build government buildings in Berlin (which has become an immense work site to the great profit of the concrete kings), they tell us there is no money for the children, for our future."

In a poll published in September 2004, 24% of Germans wanted to return to the situation before the fall of the Wall. This is the balance sheet of a reunification carried out by private enterprise.