There are books – and, alas, they make up the vast majority – that one skims over because they offer nothing more than facts that we barely take note of. There are others where each sentence acquires importance because it expresses an attitude, a person’s relationship to the world, and therefore urges the reader to take a stand. I was recently allowed to read one such book, its author is Daniela Dahn. She writes about the injustice that Germany’s Western half has done to the citizens of the East, calling on the West to reflect on its failures. What so much pleases me about this book – even though its theses are anything but pleasant – is its honesty. In times of generalized dishonesty, where arguments mostly serve as weapons in the struggle of parties, this is a refreshing book. Let us listen to the author’s own words.
About the former GDR and the present new federal states
The possibilities of becoming wealthy or making large inheritances were just as limited in the GDR as those of buying great luxury. This was not only a disadvantage. It facilitated social cohesion.
The pedagogy of the GDR was impressive. The Finns made no secret of the fact that it had been the German Democratic Republic from where they had adopted their education system, which had been generally praised after the first Pisa study. I wasn’t surprised by the fact, I had already heard, that developing countries had adopted complete GDR mathematics and physics textbooks because of the good didactics.
Nor was there any lack of female emancipation. How refreshing when Daniela Dahn laughs at the new political correctness of the Me-too movement. We women of the East were much too self-confident to see harassment as a serious problem. Of course, it existed, and even with us most of the bosses were men. But in this case too, West Germans insisted on knowing everything better. The emancipation of women was immediately declared a mere sham. The superior modern family law, which some developing countries had largely adopted, was, like all laws, disposed of without hesitation.
Dahn does not whitewash, but she insists that facts should not be artificially inflated, even if they concern the Stasi. At no time /were/ more than 0.5 percent of the 17 million GDR citizens victims of targeted, operative reporting… On the other hand, I would argue, it is not so much the actual extent of observations that matters, but rather the consequences they had for determined opposition members. In today’s Russia and China, they are mysteriously perishing or simply disappearing. What was it like in the GDR?
Again and again, she rejects the often deliberate distortion of facts. Until the 1980s the genocide of the Jews in the GDR was /as western sources claimed/… a “completely suppressed topic”. So much disinformation leaves one speechless. I perceived it exactly the other way round: The GDR culture had taken up this topic earlier and more often than the Federal Republic, had continuously pursued it over the years, and this to an extent that caused many people to be fed up with it… /a lecture by Marion Neiss/ showed that from 1945 to 1989, the same period in which shameful 85 desecrations took place in the GDR, 1400 attacks on Jewish cemeteries occurred in West Germany… In 1992, a representative Spiegel survey showed that only 4 percent of the inhabitants of the new federal states were anti-Semitic, whereas 16 percent of the inhabitants of the old states were. “East Germans consistently express themselves less anti-Semitic, right-wing extremist and xenophobic than West Germans,” it was said.
Mrs Dahn is speaking plainly, even when she talks about the economic development of the East, which on the whole must be considered a blatant failure. At the beginning of the short Rohwedder era /from August 1990 to April 1991/, the total value of GDR national property was still estimated at between 600 billion and 1 trillion DM. At the end of the Treuhand’s activities, the value of an entire national economy, with its huge, export-strong combines, often equipped with Western technology, with the debt-free land and all state-owned real estate, had been falsified to a value of minus 330 billion DM… Within a very short period of time, 95 percent of the people’s property fell into the hands of Western entrepreneurs in a colonial manner… /and/ in East Germany itself, 80 percent of the leading positions are still occupied by Westerners. Egon Bahr commented bitterly at the time: “Feudal, early medieval ownership structures have been created in East Germany that were overcome even in Africa and the Orient two generations ago… The south of Italy has a current account deficit of almost 13 percent with the north, but the east of Germany has a deficit of at least 45 percent with the west… A full-time employee still earns on average 1000 euros less per month than in the West. And: the population in East Germany today is the same as in 1905. pre-industrial. This is a warning sign… One of the main reasons for this collapse: The Eastern European markets had not broken away, as is always claimed, but had been taken away… Instead of improving the competitiveness of GDR companies…, 80% of East German industry collapsed.
And instead of “creating a high level of employment”, the hasty monetary union led to the loss of four million jobs, while at the same time two million new jobs were created in West Germany… The number of German millionaires doubled to over one million, while in the East the number of unemployed rose from zero to four million with the long-awaited D-Mark…
The author’s conclusion: instead of taking what was good and worth preserving from the GDR’s heritage, the latter was wholesale discarded as worthless and GDR citizens were robbed of all self-respect by West German arrogance – also in intellectual terms: Even when putting all newly founded publishing houses together, only 2.2 per cent of total German book production is now produced in the East German states. Leipzig, for centuries the number one German book city, now ranks 16th behind Göttingen, Saarbrücken and Heidelberg. The memory of GDR culture was thus erased thought for thought. And even harmless witnesses of the past such as street names were systematically erased: In Dresden, almost 100 streets and squares have been renamed, often in favor of the former Saxon nobility, who were obsessed with pomp. The fates of communists tortured to death and executed by the Nazis were rendered nameless.
Daniela Dahn is far from speaking with resentment about united Germany, but she takes the liberty of challenging prejudices spread by the state and the Western press. In East Germany not flourishing landscapes emerged, as promised by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, but dying ones and a population of declassified people. That is, why we should not be surprised about the consequences: The quittance for social coldness and political failure is the AfD… The rebellion predicted by Negt has finally erupted in xenophobia, Pegida and AfD. A “new nationalism of the declassed” – that is exactly what has happened… Before right-wing extremism reached the center of society, it came from the center of the state… And: the main responsibility for the rise of right-wing extremism in the East lies with the political class in the West.
Let me add to this lucid analysis that Le Monde Diplomatique takes a very similar view of Trump’s election. In the “Swing States” of the Rust Belt, it was the whites, driven into unemployment by outsourcing (“White Trash”, as they have been derided), who made Trump, the Terrible, president of the United States.
In this context Daniela Dahn also accuses West Germans of a good measure of hypocrisy and false self-righteousness: Without the preliminary work of the lawyer Globke, /so diligently protected and promoted by Konrad Adenauer after the war/, the Holocaust would not have been possible… The first law passed in the Bundestag was the Amnesty Law for NS-perpetrators in 1950!… Two thirds of the 9000 West German judges and prosecutors had already served under Hitler. And the author takes a look at the impact of this state of mind on contemporary politics.
Daniela Dahn on Ukraine and Russia
There is no doubt that Russia’s tricky incorporation of the Crimea into its own territory was a blatant violation of the Budapest Memorandum agreed with Ukraine. This breach of law has dangerously increased the doubts as to how much reliance can be placed on the promises of major powers.
But the Western approach to Ukraine was no less short-sighted – to put it mildly. Instead of allowing the weakened countries /to maintain/ this basis /for further trade with the East/ and making attractive offers from Europe, the West insisted that Kiev had to decide with whom it wanted to cooperate: either progress from the West or despotism from Russia. This fatal compulsion cannot be seen as mere mistake. What prevailed was rather the intention described by US security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to tolerate no alliances in Eurasia that call into question the US claim to leadership… The consequences are obvious: The EU is about to make the former Soviet breadbasket its own. This is linked to progressive deindustrialization. Today Ukraine is the poorest country in Europe… There are only seven countries in the world, most of them in Africa, where more of the native soil is controlled by foreigners than in Ukraine.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West has been at odds with Russia too. Western countries pursued an economic policy, propagated and supported by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, under which Russia.. suffered greater economic losses than during the Second World War. During that period, industrial production in the Soviet Union fell by 24 percent, but it fell by almost 60 percent in the ten years after its dissolution.
A stance against political correctness, and for honesty
Before talking about the general conclusions that Daniela Dahn draws from these findings, conclusions which I do not share, I would like to say something about the courage of this woman, who has no qualms about sovereignly disregarding the mainstream of political correctness, for example all that terrible “gendering” degenerating into an orgy of small-mindedness. She sums up small-mindedness and hypocrisy in a single sentence when stating: There is no evidence of a connection between decades of language-degrading lip service and a genuine change in awareness. And: If I have the choice between politically correct and linguistically beautiful, I admit that I choose the beautiful. That is also a female attitude. A redeeming truth, indeed!
On other occasions too, Daniela Dahn votes also for the beautiful and the humane, for example when it comes to Muslim dress codes for women. Since then /after she herself had to dress so in Yemen/ I consider burqa or nikab a specific form of violence against women. This custom, which is neither required by the Koran nor by the Sunna, is for me a criminal offence of bodily injury, if not torture…
She also comments on one of the greatest crimes in recent history, the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Contradictions and flaws – for example, the collapse of the third high-rise building, WTC 7, into which no aircraft flew, is not mentioned at all in the official document. The report illustrates that there was never a comprehensive investigation of all circumstances and open questions. Eight times more money has been invested in uncovering the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal than in analyzing the day that changed the world… With interest I have taken note of some of the research on the objections against the official final report on September 11 (9/11 Commission Report of 2004) without participating myself. I didn’t have the time, the strength, maybe even the courage.
“Maybe even the courage” – from how many others do we hear such an honest confession?
Why I will not join the party “Die Linke” (The Left) despite Daniela Dahn
I understand the following objections as a contribution to a larger discussion, because honest and upright authors should not be criticized as we may count on their intellectual openness. I read in her book: I have not encountered anything recognizable in view of the blood toll of millions and millions of dead, which the Soviet soldiers paid for the liberation from our fascism.
That would, indeed, be unforgivable if liberation there really was – as maintained by President Putin and by now by Mrs Dahn as well. Recently, Stalin is more and more rehabilitated as a liberator and opponent of fascism, which I think is a crude falsification of history; as a matter of fact Stalin admired Adolf Hitler and until the end did not want to believe that the latter would attack his country. To be sure, the Soviet Union defended itself against the treacherous invasion of the Hitler regime and in the process made much greater sacrifices than Western countries – that is an undeniable historical fact. But it did not liberate its own and others countries from fascism (totalitarianism) but from a brutal aggressor. After all, Stalin’s regime was just as totalitarian, just as murderous as Hitler’s so-called National Socialism – I think that after Hannah Arendt these facts need no further confirmation. How can a totalitarian regime liberate other states from totalitarianism, i.e. bring them freedom? In fact, Soviet dictatorship was merely extended over the Eastern Bloc. The uprisings in the GDR, in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland and finally the collapse of the communist regime prove that these countries understood liberation and freedom in a completely different way.
This truth seems so evident to me – and the revision of history pursued by the Russian president so obvious – that I do not quite understand when the book continues to say: How much brainwashing did you /Westerners/ actually undergo in order to believe, even today, the fairy tale that the Americans brought you freedom and democracy after the war? It was always all about capitalism first. Democracy found its limits where it did not subordinate itself to the freedom of capital.
No, that’s definitely not true. During the first decades after the war, Americans brought just that to Western Europe: freedom, democracy – yes, and capitalism. Until the 1990s the latter was not perceived as a dirty economic device, but as a synonym for the prosperity that people in the East Bloc longed for just as much as those in the West. For that very reason, there were uprisings in the East, but I am not aware that Western Europe was until quite recently as outraged against America’s hegemony as Eastern people loathed the Russian yoke (since Trump, things could substantially change).
The word “capitalism”, as used by Daniela Dahn and by an ever wider circle of people, represents the evil par excellence. When she says that Americans always thought of capital and its freedom first, she means that they were always driven by greed. But this view disregards historical truth. Since their independence in the 18th century, Americans have been steeped in the conviction that free men perform best when liberated from the paternalism of the state. The vigorous optimism of Americans, so characteristic of them until quite recently, had its origin here – in the trust they placed in the power of responsible individuals (Max Weber had described the religious roots of this attitude).
As we see today, this trust was based on great naivety, because it has led to the fact that in our time half of all global wealth is concentrated in the hands of the world’s richest eight people.*1* But thirty years ago, when it seemed that eternal growth would make the whole world richer and richer, little thought was given to the concentration of wealth. We should therefore ask ourselves why it is only in the last twenty years or so that we have become so sensitive to criticism of the Americans in particular and of capitalism in general? I miss this historical analysis in Daniela Dahn’s book; instead, she turns to a purely ideological assessment. However, in this case too, I must pay Mrs Dahn the compliment of getting straight to the heart of the matter, that is, the question of private property and competition.
Private property and competition are the two pillars of capitalism – what makes it, I would say, at some times the most vigorous force of development and at others a force of destruction. For one must be blind to historical reality when overlooking its wealth-creating dynamism. Under Mao, egalitarianism became an ideological principle and competition was forbidden, as it inevitably leads to inequality. Apparently, people tolerated the straitjacket of imposed egalitarianism quite badly – Mao’s rule turned out to be even bloodier than that of Josef Stalin. When Deng Xiao Ping suddenly gave free reign to competition and private property, it became obvious what people really wanted. All previously oppressed energies were suddenly unleashed. Within just three decades, China became a superpower – almost the superpower. Since then, the Chinese are so much in love with capitalism that they sell it to the world as Chinese-style socialism!
Do we still have to talk about the ban on property in collective farms, decreed in the times of Lenin and Stalin, a ban that led to general sabotage and mismanagement, because nobody bears or wants to bear responsibility for something that does not belong to him? Can anybody still overlook the invigorating results of distributive land reforms, which made the masses responsible owners and beneficiaries of their own achievements?*2* Mrs. Dahn does not want to admit this fact but explains that the profiteering /of western capitalist/ was under the proviso that not only a small clique, but as many people as possible had to be offered more benefits than the communists. In her eyes, this was no more than a tactic to avoid looking worse than the Communists, but this explanation, dear Mrs Dahn, seems to be rather tortuous.
Nevertheless, it is absolutely right that capitalism regularly becomes a force of destruction. For the time being, this is not yet the case in China, because thanks to private property and competition, the masses are doing somewhat better every year – in some parts of the country even much better. In the industrially highly developed countries of the West, however, the opposite has been true for some time now: the masses are doing worse.
The reason seems obvious. If property and competition are left to themselves, then the most intelligent and the most ruthless and of course the owners of capital will become increasingly rich and powerful, i.e. inequality will increase. While in an initial phase privatization and competition can mobilize entire populations, raising wealth and wellfare, as it were, overnight, this process is now turning in the opposite direction as inequality increases and growth declines or even stagnates. Thereafter the already privileged few continue to get even richer, but they now do so at the expense of the majority, who, on the contrary, are getting poorer.*3*
It is not private property and competition per se that are responsible for this transition, but the fact that no state has so far succeeded in controlling both in the public interest so that they exclusively develop their beneficial effects. The big question is how the fundamentally wrong capitalist functional logic of profit maximization through growth compulsion, of privileging the privileged and weakening the weak can be broken. This is, indeed, the crucial question, and it is more difficult than ever before to answer in our new globalized world, where we are all
Caught in the Race of Nations for greater economic (and military) power:
Ms Dahn is realist enough to be aware of the constraints imposed by globalization. She recognizes that locally limited alternative models cannot prevail over the merciless logic of the market. Whether we have a wine-growing cooperative or a /capitalist corporation/.. , the problem is that they all are subject to the brutal logic of competition and the market, which demands that they stand up to others or go under... And: that private shareholders, just because they are smaller and have joined forces with other small ones, can therefore afford to think day and night about the common good, is a leftist illusion.
Yes, that’s perfectly true. But what applies on a small scale to Christian Felber’s Common Welfare Economics and many other initiatives that could make our world more beautiful, also applies to the state as a whole, for example the Federal Republic of Germany. The global race for greater economic (and military) power, which is intensifying from year to year because resources are dwindling, not only concerns the three superpowers but extends to even the smallest states, which all demand their share of the common cake. Under such conditions protecting the weak, just redistribution or giving priority to a meaningful life recede into the background. States are not so much dominated by capitalism, which is a mere method of attaining economic strength, but by the objective which this method is intended to serve, namely the preservation or at least the maintenance of their strength and power. But since capitalism produces different results in emerging states like China and in hardly growing ones like the United States, it is the majority who benefit in the first case and only a minority of the super-rich in the second.
Let us assume that Mrs Dahn is right in saying that common property, as she believes existed in the former GDR, makes for a better society. A more convincing option than real common property has not been revealed to me. In other words, property that does not belong to separate groups, which always pursue their separate interests, but in fact to everyone. If this is really the hoped-for panacea, it should be possible to show that this strengthens the sense of responsibility and improves performance – because in the race of nations, unfortunately, this is precisely what matters. The example of the GDR does not seem to suggest this conclusion. So, I am quite sure that under prevailing conditions no state will adopt the theory let alone the practice of common property lest it be pushed back in the race of nations.
I agree with Mrs. Dahn that we are living in a time of severe crisis, but we will only escape this when this fateful race comes to an end, because as long as it persists we are not masters of our destiny but the victims of external forces.*4*
1) According to a 2016 Oxfam study, only eight privileged people – Bill Gates, Amancio Ortega, Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim Helú, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison and Michael Bloomberg – currently have the same wealth as 3.6 billion of the poorest people, half of the current human population!
2) Probably the best book on this subject is by Acemoglu and Robinson (2012): Why Nations Fail.New York: Crown Publishers.
3. It is a fact, illuminated by many among them Thomas Piketti, that the majority must pay for a rich minority as soon as the growth rate is below the rate for interest and dividends.
4 Since this article is meant to appreciate Daniela Dahn’s thoughts not to develop my own propositions, my rather superficial reference to what I call the “Race of Nations” may seem quite unsatisfactory to the reader. But I dealt with this topic in detail in my last books (Reflections on Meaning and Purpose in History; Peace and War; and, satirically, Homo In-sapiens).