More than a thousand
people attended a debate between Gregor Gysi, the president of
the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism), and Ernest Mandel on
May 25 in East Berlin. Many
people had to be turned away because the room and the adjacent
halls were too small to accommodate them.
It was the first time
that a leader of the Fourth International could freely debate
with the president of a mass party coming out of the so-called
“international communist movement.” The PDS has several hundred thousand members.
It received 16 per cent of the votes in the free
legislative elections that took place in the GDR, and more than
30 per cent in working class strongholds such as East Berlin,
Eisenhüttenstadt (the steel industry town), Rostock, Schwerin,
and Neubrandenburg in the municipal elections that followed.
The meeting was organized
jointly by the PDS and the Trotskyist comrades of the GDR.
The latter put up numerous posters that they had
themselves printed and distributed numerous flyers announcing
the meeting. While
pasting up posters, they were assaulted by a group of fascists.
One comrade was slightly injured.
Our comrades had a literature table at the entrance to
the meeting hall. They
sold a hundred copies of works by Leon Trotsky, as well as
numerous books of Mandel and other comrades of the Fourth
The theme of the debate
was: “Does socialism still have a future?”
By mutual agreement, the debate was divided into three
sections; the causes of the collapse of 1989, the prospects for
socialism, and the political space for socialists/communists in
capitalist Europe (including in a Germany unified on a
Ernest Mandel stressed
the historical causes of the collapse of Stalinism in the GDR
and in several countries of Eastern Europe.
It is necessary, said our comrade, to offer a
comprehensive and coherent explanation of the Stalinist
phenomenon; despotic dictatorship of a bureaucracy, a privileged
social layer that usurped the power of the working class and
established a monopoly of political power to defend and extend
its material privileges. The
Stalinist bureaucracy then exported these forms of power to the
GDR by military occupation and police power, against the will of
the majority of the working population of the country.
These practices were tied
to an ideology that broke with Marxism and substituted for the
imperative that the emancipation of the workers can only be
accomplished by the workers themselves the construction of
pseudo-socialism by state decree, a hybrid semi planning, and a
tutelage over the masses in all areas of social life.
These practices and
theories went bankrupt. It
is the bankruptcy of Stalinism, not of socialism.
It is necessary to create political, economic, social,
cultural, and moral conditions so that they are never
future of socialism depends on it.
Only the self-activity
and the free and democratic self-organization of the laboring
masses, only workers self-management of the factories and the
struggle of parties who consider themselves the vanguard in the
framework of these organs of self-organization can assure the
gradual construction of socialism, which can only be completed
on a world scale.
Mandel stressed the fact
that if the present conjuncture is unfavorable, if imperialism
is on the offensive, if the workers are on the defensive, if the
communists/socialists have to wage a long battle against the
current, there is no reason to doubt the future and the historic
chances of socialism.
These chances flow from
the internal contradictions of capitalism that are leading and
will inevitably lead to a series of explosive crises.
They flow from the possibility that the Soviet
proletariat, the largest in the world, will end up, after an
inevitable interval, by triumphing both over the nomenklatura
and the procapitalist restorationist forces, thanks to a
victorious political revolution.
They flow from the powerful militant energies that the
fall of Stalinism and the crisis of social democracy are freeing
and will free in numerous countries and in numerous mass
emphasized that there is no place in capitalist Europe and in a
Germany reunified on a capitalist basis for two social
democratic parties and two variants of the same reformist
strategy. He warned
the comrades of the PDS that they will only have a political
space in a reunified Germany if they position themselves clearly
to the left of the SPD [Social Democratic Party] and the Greens,
if they support, without reservations and without searching for
some kind of consensus with the bourgeoisie, all the mass
movements: those of the workers, including the trade union
militants, those of the ecologists, the feminists, the
antimilitarists, the partisans of radical, direct, grass-roots
democracy , and the movements of solidarity with the liberation
struggles of people of the third world.
It is only through the
progress of such mass struggles that socialist education and
propaganda, more necessary now than ever, will permit the
overcoming of the crisis of credibility of the socialist
Gregor Gysi began his
intervention by apologizing to comrade Mandel for the repression
of which he had been the victim in the GDR; forbidden entry
(Mandel is the only personality of the European workers’
movement, he recalled, who was forbidden entry both to the GDR
and the FRG), slanderous and lying attacks in publications, etc. He extended these apologies to all the victims of Stalinist
repression in the heart of the German and international
workers’ movement. This
opening intervention received prolonged applause.
Then, following upon the
analysis and proposals of Mandel, Gysi noted his agreements and
disagreements. He declared himself, like Mandel, against the restoration of
capitalism in the GDR, but considered that this was practically
inevitable given the relation of forces.
It is necessary then to wage defensive struggles so that
the workers in the GDR and the FRG do not pay the costs of the
Gysi gave, like Mandel,
priority to the struggle for the demilitarization of Germany and
for the dismantling of all the police apparatuses.
He also approved most of the slogans advanced by Mandel,
but was much more hesitant on the question of solidarity with
the third world liberation movements, without opposing it as
Two important differences
Contrary to Mandel, Gysi
is if the opinion that the socialists, in order to determine
their strategy, must base themselves above all on global
phenomena and the threats that bear down on the human species,
rather than on the internal contradictions of the capitalist
Next, Gysi assessed that
the possibilities of revolution were practically excluded for a
long period, at least in the principal countries of the world,
and above all in Europe. In
these conditions, according to him, priority goes to the
struggle for reforms. He
outlined several examples, including aid to localities and
And in this regard, he
said, it is necessary to reevaluate the role of social
democracy. It has
realized a series of important reforms benefiting the workers
and the masses in general.
It is necessary to recognize the capital importance of
this and the necessity of being inspired by it under the present
reproached Mandel for an excessively negative attitude in regard
to the social democracy. He
put in doubt the responsibility of the failure of the German
revolution of 1918-1919 for the ascension of Stalinism.
In his reply, Mandel
denounced a series of historic crimes committed by the social
democracy, crimes which are not less grave than the crimes
committed by the Stalinists: responsibility in the massacre of
more than 10,000 German workers in 1919, including co
responsibility for the murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa
Luxemburg, responsibility for bloody colonial wars and for an
antiworker policy of austerity in numerous European countries.
But he stressed the fact
that these severe criticisms, and the equally severe criticisms
in regard to the Stalinist and post-Stalinist Cps of capitalist
Europe, do not prevent in any way a policy of united workers’
front, which implies a permanent debate and dialogue, at the
summit and at the base, in a climate of tolerance, that is to
say, an opposition to all attempts to exclude any current of the
workers’ movement. He recalled on this occasion the exemplary struggle led by
Trotsky and the International Left Opposition for the united
front in Germany between 1929 and 1933, a united front that
would have saved the German working class from the historic
disaster of the Nazi seizure of power and the creation of the
launched an appeal to the German social democracy to break with
the practice of Berufsverbote (the law forbidding dissidents
from entering certain professions) in regard to the CP (tomorrow
without a doubt also in regard to the PDS), to abandon all
attempts to criminalize the PDS which would inevitably turn
against the entire workers’ movement, and to remember in this
regard what a terrible price the entire American left paid for
He recalled that one of
the high points of the Communist International before its
Stalinization was the international campaign of solidarity with
two anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti, adversaries of communism.
This campaign, the organization of which our American
comrade James P. Cannon played an eminent role, should inspire
all organizations like the PDS which are breaking with Stalinism
to return to the class principles: against the common enemy, one
for all, all for one.
Gregor Gysi fully
supported this appeal.
After the president had
adjourned the meeting, comrade Mandel asked those present to
sing the International and immediately began singing.
The audience, surprised, hesitated a moment, then in
unison, standing, sang our anthem, the anthem of the world
The next day, the
newspaper of the PDS, Neues Deutschland (New Germany),
published on the front page an account of the debate and printed
a long interview with Mandel on the origins, the current
implantation, and the politics of the Fourth International.