As part of their continuous attempt to denounce socialism, U.S. and German imperialism have been demonizing the wall that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. The imperialists hope that their attack — accompanied by a pro-capitalist orgy in Berlin — will obscure the crisis of world capitalism and the disaster that the profit system has brought to the workers of the eastern European countries.
The Berlin Wall has been used to symbolize the division of the world into two hostile and contradictory social systems — in the West, U.S.-dominated imperialist capitalism; in the East, capitalism dismantled and the beginnings of socialism. In class terms, the bosses versus the workers.
Between these two camps stood imperialist Germany. Destroyed by the war that its Nazi leaders had launched, it was split in 1945 by an imperialist occupation of its western half and the Soviet Red Army’s victory in its east. Its capital, Berlin, located in the eastern part, was likewise split, with its four sectors occupied by either imperialist or Soviet troops.
At the 1945 negotiations in Yalta, the U.S., British and Soviet leaders agreed that a defeated Germany should remain disarmed and neutral. The West flouted this pact. Washington founded the anti-Soviet NATO military alliance in 1949, rearmed western Germany and then joined it to NATO on May 9, 1955. Faced with this aggression, the Soviets and the German communists in the East founded the socialist-oriented German Democratic Republic in 1949 and the Warsaw Pact on May 14, 1955.
Unlike Europe and Asia, the U.S. was barely touched by the destruction of World War II and emerged as the most powerful economy in the world. It poured billions into the reconstruction of Western Europe through the Marshall Plan. The Soviet Union, which had lost 20 to 30 million people and much of its industry to Hitler’s invasion, could provide little material support to Eastern Europe.
Nevertheless, the GDR’s laws protected workers’ jobs, provided universal health care and defended women’s rights. The GDR purged Nazis from the state apparatus and political life. But lured by better living standards in highly subsidized West Berlin, hundreds of thousands of skilled workers, trained at state expense in the GDR, simply took the Berlin subways to a job and more prosperous life on the other side. Western spies and saboteurs took the same U-Bahn subway trip into the East.
In August 1961, to slow the infiltration eastward and also stop the hemorrhage westward, the GDR set up the Berlin Wall.
The wall was a defensive weapon in the global class war between two social systems, two classes. Until 1989, it was a factor that helped the GDR supply technical aid to the successful Vietnamese liberation struggle, medical aid to wounded liberation fighters in southern Africa and — something not as obvious — protection of workers’ rights in both parts of Germany, as well as all of Western Europe.
The wall’s fall symbolized the decision of the Gorbachev leadership in the USSR not to defend socialism — the first step in a counterrevolution that has already lasted 25 years too long.
Even Bloomberg’s Businessweek on Nov. 7 had to run an article that admitted that “post-Communist countries have performed badly” in terms of their economies. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the enormous growth in inequality across Europe and the reappearance of abject poverty, rampant criminality and sexual exploitation of women in the East.
Germany itself was once known for having Europe’s highest workers’ wages. Now, not only are eastern Germans poorer, but wages have sunk in all of Germany while social programs have eroded.
Before 1989, the West German imperialist military stayed home. Since then, imperialist Germany has bombed the peoples of Yugoslavia and Afghanistan and threatened Ukraine.
Today’s flood of imperialist propaganda may cloud these truths, but it can’t erase them.