Don't let your sight be dimmed!
A previously unpublished letter by Erich Honecker to the comrades of the German Communist Party (DKP) Erich Honecker was a life-long communist and leader of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) and General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). He died in exile in Chile in May 1994 at the age of 81. He lived through the rise and defeat of fascism, and the building and destruction of socialism on German soil. During 1935, Honecker worked underground in Berlin, and in December of that year was arrested. After a year and a half in prison on remand he was convicted of "conspiracy for high treason" and spent the next 10 years in jail, until he escaped during the final days of the Second World War. He played a major role in the construction of the socialist state of GDR, for many years as head of the Government and as General Secretary of the Party. He became a prime target of the anti-communist onslaught in the late 1980s. He was replaced as Party leader by "reformers" in the Party who cleared the way for the counter-revolutionary destruction of the GDR and its incorporation into the Federal Republic of Germany and the reimposition of capitalism. In the period that followed Erich Honecker was expelled from the Party, spent time in Moscow (including sheltering in the Chilean Embassy), before being forcibly returned to the Federal Republic of Germany by Yeltsin in 1992 where he was put on trial together with other leading GDR comrades as part of the concerted attacks to discredit the GDR. He was imprisoned in West Berlin's Moabit prison, the same prison where he had been held for 10 years by the Nazis. An international campaign followed and the Federal German authorities were forced to release Honecker, who by that time was very sick and weak with cancer. He joined his wife Margot and daughter in Chile where he died. On July 17, 1991, during his stay in Moscow, Honecker wrote to two comrades in the German Communist Party (DKP) who had been particularly active in solidarity work. The letter was authorised by Honecker to be released "as required", from December 1991. At the time comrades passed on the historically significant document without, as far as is known, it having been published. Margot Honecker recently authorised Red Fox, the monthly journal of the North East Berlin branch of the German Communist Party, to publish the letter. The following is the letter which Red Fox passed on to The Guardian and which Vera Butler has kindly translated. ... essentially we are, after all, a big "Party", a Party with a perspective. We must not lose sight of that, even if the present situation is difficult. Other parties started with less members. What do I mean by that? In the present situation we cannot expect the "masses" to join us. The SED was a mass party. More than two million had read something by Marx, Engels and Lenin. Today one is inclined to doubt that, but that's how it was. Today, after we were pushed down the precipice, there are but few who openly acknowledge allegiance to Marx. Some have doubts, and probably there were many who did not really believe us when we spoke about the dark side of capitalism and its hellish offspring, fascism. Yet now, after Western values have been superimposed on everything, at least part of humanity realises to its shock, to its horror and disillusionment, that its dreams — or better, its illusions — have not materialised; instead, money rules, plain and simple ... Our dreams, mine and yours, of a Germany that would have realised the legacy of the survivors of fascism and war, were not fulfilled. We know why. You and we supported the extension of the Allies' Potsdam Agreement(1) to all of Germany. I well remember. Max Reimann raised his voice in the Parliamentary Council. In his capacity as the representative of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD)(2), against the formation of a separate state. Unfortunately we could not avoid Germany being split into two states, because it had all been determined beforehand: the formation of two zones of occupation, the tripartite zone, and the separate currency reform. Many of us know all of this well, regardless of whether they worked hither or thither, and much better than those who write about it now, often in their ignorance, and usually with the intent to distort the truth. It will not be possible to eliminate the fact that on German soil, in the much maligned and misrepresented GDR, the unique and great attempt had been made to create a home for socialism in Germany. Regardless of all the filth which is thrown at the GDR and its "forty years of mismanagement", the day will come when people will again be proud to have been citizens of the GDR, the first German workers' and peasants' state. At present citizens are being frightened and scared with [the slogan of] "Stasi-Madness". Anger, disappointment, hatred — everything is supposed to be due to the Stasi, which is depicted as being synonymous with the socialist "regime". You know best that Bonn's security organisations(3), the originators of all the horror stories about "victims and perpetrators", must have a good laugh. If one were to publish the dossiers of seven million citizens of the Federal Republic which are held by [their] security services, there would surely be a great awakening. But to do that is taboo now, that is the prerogative of the "victors". You can imagine that I read with interest the report given at the Party Conference of the DKP. Especially revealing was the assessment of current world events and the situation in Germany. In particular, [I noted] the point made that "the depressing effects of the GDR's absorption primarily derive from the capitalist nature of the `adjustment' of the GDR's established economy to the interests of capital, to the imperialist style of incorporating the new Eastern provinces by Federal [West] Germany's capital." That is, indeed, an appropriate assessment. It is quite clear to me that it will be very laborious to make people aware of just that, because it means swimming against the current, because all political forces with the exception of the DKP feel obliged to demonise the GDR and the Socialist Unity Party, to lumber them with the primary responsibility for the situation that has arisen. People are daily hammered with the proposition: it's the fault of the system. Already after the October Revolution it was the rule to demonise the Reds. Today I read in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) the report entitled "The small triumph", about the conference of the Socialist International (SI) in Frankfurt. It was dedicated to the rebirth of the SI which had disappeared during the war. When, in 1951, the world found itself immersed in the Cold War, the concept of democratic socialism was born, to use as a weapon in the struggle with the socialist regimes and parties. Till today there is no country led by social democracy which has built any socialism. Surely it cannot, really, be overlooked that at present in the Soviet Union there are forces at work which want to turn back the wheel of history to capitalism... I share your view that we must not be discouraged by the events of 1989/90. One cannot ignore — and that is gaining increasing attention here, too — that for more than 20 years the American and other secret services have worked towards this goal, according to a plan, and have also, during the life-time of socialist countries, built up individuals to whom they allocated a special role which they were to play when the turnaround came. Seen in the context of one's own weaknesses, one has to note the goal- oriented approach of Western secret services which, manifestly, did not fail to eventually prove effective. Maybe, too, we were not sufficiently alert. It is comforting [to see] that your Party conference did not approach the analysis of the defeat of socialism in a superficial manner, probably also because of the knowledge that nobody, at present, is in a position to find an answer to all the open questions. It would be too easy to blame the defeat of socialism on its various models alone. In the end-result this would mean the banishment of our idea from the world altogether — and that is not an isolated historical instance. Already at a time when the communist workers' movement was still in the cradle, it was the intent to frighten citizens: look, "there is a spectre going around, the spectre of Bolshevisation", a slogan which reached its highest point under fascism. Today the logical sequence is to demonise socialism as undemocratic, as Stalinist. Stalinism is equated with fascism — an attempt to whitewash fascism. Nowadays the DKP is the only party which has put the tasks of the present so concretely into the forefront of the struggle, and which stands for the renewal of the Federal Republic with a clear anti-capitalist position. Surely it is difficult to free oneself from the "demonisation of socialism in the GDR and its representatives", and the disastrous consequences which this smear campaign has generated in people's minds. But would it be right, in the long term, to avoid facing the issue, to keep silent? This socialism, with all its mistakes and weaknesses, was an "anti- capitalist society" which really existed, whether one wants to admit it or not, which realised in daily life the basic, decisive, human rights which we communists uphold. For more than a century many parties had included socialism in their programmes, but it was first realised in the Soviet Union, China, the Central (and Eastern) European countries, and not to forget Cuba. And in some countries it is not proven yet that it cannot survive. As things have developed, and as they are bound to develop further, I hold the view that it's time to stop the undifferentiated assessments of, and the condemnation of, socialism as it was. However else will people in both the East and the West regain confidence in our ideals, in a Party which declares, as its goal: against capitalism there is only the socialist alternative. I say it openly, because the situation is so serious — here, world-wide, and at home: one has to stop the vilification of the past, that's what the opponent does, copiously. To continue along this line, whether from tactical considerations or whatever, (I cannot assess [people's motives]), I believe that ultimately this reverberates against the Party, as experience here shows, or will show even more clearly. And this is why the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS)(4) finds itself in a cul-de-sac. It is certainly difficult, a difficult task for the Party [the DKP] to gain a foothold in East [Germany] — in both East and West within the working class and among the younger generation. For sure, one should not write off the shipwrecked comrades who still consider the PDS their home, and also not those who used to be members of the SED, because they are being excluded by the adversary anyway. If one wants to gain a foothold in the East, one will not be able to bypass them and their problems: they need help [with their] orientation. That task should not be left to social democracy, which is eager to get involved. You certainly understand correctly — this I see clearly — that all of this does not do away with the need for an analysis of the problems or our mistakes and weaknesses, which enabled the adversary to [make] a frontal assault against socialism in Eastern Europe. But is it not the most important task at present to include all of those who are willing, before once again it will be too late? One must cross the threshold, that means that all those ugly features which surface in every upheaval such as renegging, cowardice, opportunism and treason, must not dim our view, because otherwise we shall continue to be on the defensive. Yes, we want to take many along, we want to take all along on our road, but that also includes times when we have to accept that some do not yet understand us, that many — even comrades and sympathisers — after [having been exposed to] this flood of poison do not immediately understand why we have to act as we do, and yes, they might not agree with us straight away. But this is also a lesson from recent history: we communists must never hesitate to speak the truth, even if it is not accepted in the beginning... Heartfelt communist greetings from Margot and myself, Erich Honecker
* * *(1) The Potsdam Agreement was signed by the heads of government of the Soviet Union, the US and Britain (Stalin, Truman and Churchill) at a meeting held in Potsdam (south-east of Berlin) from July 17 to August 2, 1945. The decisions provided for the demilitarisation, denazification and the democratisation of Germany and fixed the German-Polish border. Germany was to be treated as a united whole with a peace-oriented economy. France subscribed at a later date. Reparations were imposed on Germany for damage wrought by the fascists. Germany had already, in earlier agreements been divided by the Allies into four zones of occupation: Soviet, American, British and French but these were to be temporary pending the establishment of a united but democratic and denazified Germany. (2) KPD — the Communist Party of Germany merged with the Social Democratic Party of Germany in April 1946 to form the Socialist Unity Party in the Soviet zone of Germany. The recognition of the need for political and organisational unity of the working class grew out of past joint actions for anti-fascist and democratic change. (3)These are Bonn's Organisations for the Defence of the Constitution, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) Federal Information service, and the Military Protection Service MAD (Militaerischer Abschirmdienst). (4) Red Fox describes the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) as an anti-fascist, democratic, pluralist, left force. It is not a Marxist or revolutionary party, nor is it a party of the working class. It seeks reforms within capitalism. Its membership is broad, including communists, social democrats, Trotskyists, left liberals, left Christians and others. The name PDS was adopted by the former Socialist Unity Party at a special Congress in November 1989, part of the successful "reformist" putsch from within the Party.