28 November 2009

Dealing with the past, looking to the future ...

Twenty years ago today in Brussels I bought a copy of the Frankfurter Rundschau, and turning to the back of the first section found the whole page taken up with a paper by Heino Falcke. It was an address given by Falcke at the opening of the Friedensdekade in Erfurt in November 1989. It's difficult to explain now just how exciting it was to read the paper in which Falcke was already looking at how to deal with the past in order to reach the future. In the turbulent times since the previous month, Falcke's voice had not been heard outside the GDR. Here he returned to the themes of his 1972 address to the synod of the Protestant church federation - "Christ liberates - therefore the church for others" - but reinterprets and applies them to the new situation facing the GDR.

By the middle of November 1989 it was clear that the landscape in East Germany and indeed in eastern Europe as a whole was facing fundamental change. The first non-communist government had taken power in Poland, in Hungary the ruling Hungarian Social Workers Party was reinventing itself as being in the vanguard of change which had seen new political parties being founded, in Czechoslovakia the Communist Party had imploded, and in East Germany the opening of the borders was beginning to change the parameters of political debate. The new prime minister Hans Modrow spoke of forming a "contractual community" with the Federal Republic while the SED was still elaborating plans on how to regain the political initiative.

What is striking about Falcke's text from November 1989 - reprinted in his recent book "Wo bleibt die Freiheit?" (see picture) is how the starting point for his address is the insight of Latin American liberation theology:
In Latin American and South American Christianity the Bible has been re-discovered as the book of the liberation of the people through God. There, there is a theology of liberation. We need a theology of liberation for our situation, to tell is who Christ is actually is for us in today's struggle of our country for freedom.
Against this background, Falcke uses the central perspective of his 1972 address to elaborate the need for a new "socialism from below" and for "an alternative to capitalism that advocates more just structures in the world".

Falcke sketches out the alternative facing the GDR. On the one hand there is the SED's attempt to "preserve the status quo through reforms". On the one hand, the need for "reforms linked to a forward strategy" to deal with a fundamental conflict in society, the "birth defect" of socialism in the GDR, that it was implemented from above without support from society:
This birth defect led to the chronic distrust of the government towards the people, the spying by the Stasi, total control through the apparatus, political and ideological domination, the paralysis of free initiative and the suffocation of all spontaneity [...]. The forward strategy draws from this analysis support the conclusion that the birth defect of socialism can be resolved only through a democratic rebirth that comes from the people. Only if this rebirth comes from the people, can "socialism from above and from outside" become a "socialism from below and our own socialism": only then can socialism become socialism, for socialism from above is a contradiction in terms.
Only through democratic renewal from below "can socialism start to really exist in the GDR". The SED could have a leading role, asserted Falcke, only by receiving democratic legitimation through multi party elections. "When GDR citizens can say, 'You in the Federal Republic recieved democracy as a gift, we have had to struggle for ours', then there would be a genuine political basis for the GDR to remain as a state which can tolerate open borders."

The choices that face the GDR also face the world as a whole. The freedom provided by Christ - an echo of Falcke's 1972 address - sets out four tasks for the future: dealing openly and freely with the guilt and responsibility of the past; dealing with power freely, critically and in a way that sets limits; non-voiolent changes; and sustainable lifestyles.

In this last section, Falcke picks up the issue of the need for socialism to offer an alternative to the "capitalist affluence", criticising the new action programme of the SED which calls for consumer goods of high value and processed foods:
We really need an alternative to capitalism that will defend more just structures in the world. That's a difficult thing to do because we need ecinomic help from the West. But we have to make an attempt, at least to maintain a certain independence and self-reliance vis-a-vis the western economic powers.
If socialism means anything, Falcke asserted, then it is ‘certainly a society in which people seek to act not without each other and against each other, for with another and for one another:

Will this received majority support in the GDR? Since we want a democratic socialism we have to ask what has majority support. Can we generate a majority for genuine solidarity with the Third World in the GDR's foreign trade? For higher investments in technologies that protect the environment? I'm not sure. Are we not still in the grip of idols called economic effectiveness and and the increase of consumption? Then the self-liberation of the people will not be a genuine liberation, but only a move from an uncomfortable cell into a rather more comfortable cell in the same prison.

The word "socialism" has fallen into such discredit that it may be better not to use it, Falcke said. Nevertheless, "We need to keep the word 'Socialism' - to which I know no alternative - open and mutable for new forms and content. Socialism is not a description of a system, it is a description ot a path to follow."


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