The Western Left Misses the Old Communist East Germany

Part I: The Left Looks at Germany’s Socialist Path, and Finds it Worthy

Most Germans—polls show, despite current economic difficulties, do not regret the fall of the Wall, the collapse of the Communist regime in the East, and the eventual reunification of their country. What doubts there are, however,  come from the ranks of the Western Left, who seem to have the ability to regularly air their arguments in the op-ed pages of  The New York Times. I read one such report in the paper’s pages while visiting Berlin, written by Katrin Bennhold and titled “Lessons From the Former East Germany.”

Bennhold beings by noting that “Like most people, I had slept through the fall of the Berlin Wall.”  At the time, her parents, 60’s activists, sided with the millions of protesters gathered 20 years ago in East Berlin, who were demanding  what she knows was “freedom and democratic rights.”  But as activists of the Left, they feared that the collapse of the DDR (German Democratic Republic) would lead to the leaders of the West cutting apart the welfare state, and adopting a free-market capitalism influenced by what she calls the Reagan-Thatcher model. Their fear, she writes, was achieved. The West “simply swallowed East and in the process discarded 40 years of mostly bad but some good policies.”

She proceeds to identify those “good” policies that existed in the Communist East. They include child care policies that included a “network of day care centers,” paid maternity leave, and women who worked in various jobs. It was a society of both female crane operators and scientists, she writes. She gives as an example the career of the current German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Merkel was a physicist by training, but Bennhold simply ignores that even though Merkel obtained a higher education in the Communist state, she was hardly happy about her life there.

Bennhold  should look at the message that Merkel gave Germans on the anniversary of the fall; the first female chancellor told her fellow Berliners: “The great theme [of the current celebration] is happiness and satisfaction that everything developed the way that it did.”  Acknowledging that Germany has problems as a result, Merkel explained that “It was the fate of one generation that essentially had to pay for the inefficiency of the G.D.R.’s economy, and whose expectations could no longer be fulfilled.” The fall of the wall,  Merkel said, “ the end of the Socialist Unity Party dictatorship and German reunification transformed my life. In short, I would not be chancellor, nor even politically active, if the wall were still standing. After Nov. 9, 1989, thoughts became thinkable that before had been completely unthinkable. For the first time, a person like me had the opportunity to engage in community life, to take on responsibility.”  There was no alternative, she said. “Reunification in peace and freedom was a great blessing for our country. The integration process went well for the most part. I think we put things more or less on the right track at the time — otherwise the rebuilding of the Eastern states would not have gone so successfully.”