Back in the DDR

by Elias Blum

I’ve been watching some documentaries about the DDR – the old ‘East Germany’, which passed from existence 25 years ago. The country actually had some remarkable achievements. Perhaps it would have been a very noble experiment, and the DDR would have been quite a nice society to live in, if only:

1. They had built socialism within a pluralistic, constitutional, democratic state – without the STASI, the show-trials, systemic torture, repression of dissidents, the Berlin wall, the one-party state, the soviet occupation, and the lack of civil liberties – and with more localism, more participatory government, and more room for independent civil society; and

2. They had managed the finances better, allowed a private productive sector alongside the state sector, especially in consumer goods, and opened up the economy a bit more to small businesses, private farms, and foreign trade.

Actually, if the DDR had done all of that, it would have been a completely different country: less in the evil image of Joseph Stalin, more in the benign mould of early Swedish Social Democrats like Hjalmar Branting.

Basically, moderate democratic socialism is good, totalitarian communism bad. Not a very profound point, perhaps, but one that’s worth making when people use the word ‘socialism’ as if it’s a bad thing, or try to shut down debate about serious attempts to address economic injustice by invoking ‘The Red Terror’.

In opposing the assumptions, the doctrines, the policies and the consequences of neo-liberal capitalism, I’m not advocating communism; I’m advocating genuine form of social democracy – ‘commonwealism’ – that offers the fullness of a free and flourishing life to all.