“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Dec 8, 2014
The following is translated from Das Rote Tuch (Red Flag), a publication of the German organization Revolutionary Workers Union.
Those who experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago still remember the awe, the enthusiasm, and the wave of hope unleashed by that event. A wall, which had looked so solid and invincible as the regime that had erected it, was suddenly reduced to a harmless pile of stones!
To many, the fall of the Wall seemed to be the beginning of a new era: freedom instead of barbed wires and border posts; peace instead of Cold War; democracy instead of fear and oppression – and in the whole world. But 25 years later, no one can even imagine these things any longer – that’s how little these hopes have been fulfilled.
The fall of the Berlin Wall was the beginning of the end of the regime of the DDR (German Democratic Republic) – the end of the dictatorship of the ruling party in East Germany. But what followed it was another dictatorship.
Instead of party chiefs, it’s now corporate bosses who make decisions over people’s lives – corporate bosses whom no one has elected nor can control. Corporate bosses who, at a desk 300 miles away, simply decide to destroy companies in the old DDR, close down factories and lay off all their workers.
In this fashion, more than one million workers in the old DDR were thrown into unemployment within a few years. To this day, it is this unemployment that determines life in East Germany, and it has rendered many democratic rights meaningless. Can you call it “freedom of speech” when, under extremely high unemployment, workers have to think twice before they talk about work – for fear of risking their jobs?
Can you call it “freedom to travel” when workers are forced to leave East Germany to look for work somewhere else? Or, when people simply can’t afford a vacation abroad? Just like they can’t afford many of the goods that are now available in abundance – if you have the money to buy them.
In the past 25 years, this situation has not changed. How could it? Workers have found themselves in a capitalist economy stuck in deep crisis. Nowhere do corporations and their governments build or develop anything significant anymore – they are only concerned about short-term profits. And for those profits, they squeeze everything they can out of existing companies and workers, as well as public treasuries, so that there is “no money” for anything else.
Western politicians thumbed their noses over the decrepit, morbid buildings in the old DDR. How telling it is that today some streets and school buildings in the Ruhr region of West Germany are in worse shape than those in the old DDR!
How telling it is also that, in the past 25 years, capitalist society has found no answer to its crisis but to build new walls!
For one border wall that was torn down in 1989, dozens of new ones – more insurmountable and more deadly – have been erected. Just think of the outer borders of the European Union. More refugees die trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea every week than the number of people who died trying to flee the DDR in 40 years!
And how many new borders have been created, dividing populations in Europe and pitting them against each other, from Yugoslavia to Ukraine? How many reactionary political forces have been strengthened, calling for higher walls and more borders, demanding even the separation of small regions such as Flanders in Belgium or Catalonia in Spain, or the dismantling of the European Union?
Not to mention that capitalism, in its crisis, creates one war after another, from Ukraine to Afghanistan, and lets entire continents sink into an endless state of war.
This is the balance sheet of 25 years of capitalism – a balance sheet that they can no longer hide behind nice, nostalgic pictures of the fall of the Berlin Wall and grandiose speeches about “Western freedom and democracy.”
If capitalism has shown us its true face more openly in the last quarter century, it’s because it is a fossil that has no future to offer to humanity.
Like every regime that is morbid and without perspectives, capitalism will have to be overthrown – even if it may still seem so invincible. And that’s perhaps the most significant lesson of 1989.