Questions to the narrator
- 00:14The GDR stands out among socialist countries in Europe for its consistent peaceful development since 1945. What do you think distinguishes the GDR from other socialist countries within the socialist community?
- 02:11The DDR lays great stress on collective life. Now, what room does this leave for the individual voice to be heard?
- 07:30How is the leading role…?
- 10:05Why is it the SED doesn't believe in markets in its core economic system?
- 12:27Why go, even if it's so dangerous (people in the west), two citizens tried this weekend. Why is that?
TranscriptPlease note that this transcript is based on audio tracks and doesn't have to match exactly the video
The GDR stands out among socialist countries in Europe for its consistent peaceful development since 1945. What do you think distinguishes the GDR from other socialist countries within the socialist community? (German translation) Of all socialist countries the GDR is where the country (undecipherable) see at most a continuing peaceful development. In which way does the GDR distinguish itself from the other socialist countries?
If we compare the GDR with for example the Federal Republic of Germany, then this area of the former Soviet-occupied Zone had many differences in the negative (sense). There they had for example 120 blast furnaces for the extraction of iron and we only had 3. But if you compare the GDR with other socialist countries we have quite a number of merits. We started off in an already highly developed capitalist country. That means we had a working class matured over many generations; they were primarily skilled workers; we in Germany already had an intelligentsia developed over centuries which produced great achievements in science and culture; we had a peasant tradition over 1000 years old, and equally old craftsmen and tradesmen; that was a great advantage; we have made use of this advantage. As a further factor I would like to mention that we had an old revolutionary working class in our, on our territory which, you may know, was founded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and in these then already 100 years of class struggle our party had formed, it had gained enormous experiences; it had gained experiences in victory and defeat and had developed a matured theoretical work; that has helped us considerably; and in our reflux (translator's note: have never come across the German word ‘Refluktion’ - must be something like ‘reflux’ or ‘refluxion’- definitely an expression from GDR special vocabulary) which we carried out not only to consider general regularities, but always the real historical conditions in our country as well. It appears to me that is one of the main causes for there having been such a stable development of which you spoke.
We already had much experience in the struggle for bourgeois democracy. In 100 years, our working class has fought for many rights and freedoms within the framework of bourgeois democracy, and now in 1945 we were given a great opportunity. We had carried out the Potsdam Agreement here; we have dispossessed the Nazi- and war criminals here. They (literally: it - so not the criminals) became workshops owned by the people, and in agriculture we have carried out a land reform. And on this basis, on the basis of ownership by the people, there could of course develop a new form of democracy. We have broken the monopoly on education of the former ruling classes; everybody could become everything, even though he did not need the money of his fathers or his mothers. Well, we certainly have created totally new conditions because ‘the people were given what its hands create’ as we say. And now the working class is not only the producer of the riches but also the owner. That means we have a new, if you like a new employers’ organisation: the union which does not only take care of wages and holidays and social insurance but also takes care that the property is increased, which organises socialist competition, which leads the plan discussion in the workshops, which feels responsible at the same time for production and for the increase in property. That is the important thing about this new thing. In addition, we, our party works with 4 other parties in the Bloc, in the Democratic Bloc, in the National Front; also, we have found several forms of socialist democracy which prove extremely successful in the development of our country.
The DDR lays great stress on collective life. Now, what room does this leave for the individual voice to be heard?
You are right, great importance is attached here to the development of the collective but at the same time great importance is attached to the development of the individual; because there is no good collective without the sum of good individual performances. You see it is indeed (literally ‘already’) like this in sports: if you have no capable individuals you cannot have a good team, either. It is like this in a working collective, in a workshop. That is like this in an orchestra, at in the cultural sector and in many other areas. In principle, we approach it such that we the values - for example, work for everyone, social security for everyone - that we organise leisure activities in such a way that everyone can also satisfy his individual preferences appropriately. We have formulated a, in our party, a main task which says that we aim everything at satisfying the material, intellectual and cultural needs of the people; and that does not only include, that does not only include collective satisfaction, but also individual (satisfaction). We have cultural policies which aim at, which are designed to take into account a broad basis and diversity; that means, diverse possibilities, from rock to classical music, from very modern painting to the classical painting we have a wide spectrum and something can be found for everyone. But he must, of course, be able to satisfy his basic needs, and his basic needs always start with his material conditions, that means he needs enough to eat, he needs enough to drink, he must be able to dress well, he must have decent accommodation. That really is the purpose of all our policies. (crew chatter)
The answer already, yes? The working class here is in a completely new situation. It is proprietor and producer; and to enable it to solve this task, the working class needs a leading party. This leading party is the the brain of the class, so to speak. This leading party enables the class, the working class, in business and culture, in the military and sports, to exercise this leading role in all spheres. It has been like this, you know the workers were excluded from education you know. We have them first, we have the gates schools and universities open to everyone, we have created a whole system of educational facilities also within the party to educate as many cadres (or functionaries) as we need for this entirely new level of development in society. And this part is here taken by the party. It does not lead by dictating but it leads by starting with the interests of the people, and starting with the interests of the people it creates its policies. And the basic interests of all people here, they basically coincide. That is the question of the preservation of peace, of social security, the satisfaction of needs, and that is the question of the development of individual gifts and talents. Our party organises that, in fact not on its own but in working together with 4 other parties and with mass organisations such as the Trade Union Congress which employs more than 9 mio. people. Most of them do not at all belong to any party; they are party-less (translator's note: sorry, another of endless ‘Germanisms’) but they decide in the workshops, they work in (the) areas of housing, almost every third (person) here exercises a function in different forms in our socialist democracy. That is the reason why the masses of our people have a close connection with the leading party and it is not at all the case that they consider this leadership of the party as an objection to their interests. It would be that, and we have witnessed that in some places, in some socialist countries, if the interests of the masses did not accordingly constitute the point of departure for all policies.
How is the leading role…? (crew chatter)
It is, of course, correct that the Soviet Union as the first country to successfully carry out this socialist revolution was for many other countries a model, a pioneer of the new, and the Soviet Union will remain that for all time; because for all time it will be the first country to have carried out the socialist revolution. But only 2 years after the revolution Lenin himself said: it will not be so that we will always be at the head (or ahead). It will be that new countries join and when new countries join - and he thought for example of Germany, of England, of France - then it could be that we even, Soviet Russia, become a backward country again. Now, it is not like this today that the Soviet Union is a backward country but new countries have joined and in these new countries new experiences have been gained. There is no law that for all time every country has to imitate, recreate all that is happening in the Soviet Union, exactly like it without using it creatively (in application) to its real (literally: ‘concrete’) conditions. By the way, we have not done that from the very beginning. When, in 1945 the proclamation of the German Communist Party was written - the proclamation to the German people, after fascism - there was a conference with Stalin, and there a thought was born which then, in the proclamation reads such: ‘It would be wrong to force the Soviet system upon Germany. Germany has to go its own way.’ And we went our own way, and we go it today. We think, we study what is being done in other socialist countries - in the Soviet Union, in China, in Hungary, to name just 3 - that is very interesting for us, and what we feel is worth pursuing and worth copying we do copy. But the main criteria in this is: it must be worthwhile, it must lead to higher efficiency. If we think this is not the case then we do something that corresponds to our concrete historical circumstances. As far as the reform of the economy is concerned we have really been doing this since the beginning of the 60s already. Comrade Gorbachov even quoted the GDR as an example, during discussions in the Soviet Union, who (the GDR) has been doing this since the 60s. So really, this is nothing new for us at all.
Why is it the SED doesn't believe in markets in its core economic system?
We had an open border until 1961, and that posed extremely strong difficulties for us. You see I said in the beginning that we had less favourable conditions than the Western Zone. And in the Western Zones (measures) were (organised) for example with the help of the Americans such measures as the Marshall plan were organised while we paid reparations for the whole of Germany to the Soviet Union. Of course, that had negative effects on the standard of living of the people here, and there was such suction emanating from West Berlin - in 1961, c. 100,000 citizens from Berlin and from its environs, from our capital, worked in West Berlin. So, a situation had developed where our enemies tried to bleed us to death. And they wanted - in those days the aid it like this to march through the Brandenburger Tor with a singing and band-playing Bundeswehr. [And in this situation, we thought the matter over, whether to surrender or whether to stand our ground. And we decided for standing our ground and we built this, I would perhaps like to use a different term, we have built this barricade, this enduring barricade.] In German history, there have been several barricades in Berlin (translator’s note: last 2 words muttered): in 1848 and 1918. The progressive forces always lost and this time we wanted to win. We have built this enduring barricade and it will still remain standing as long as (there are) similar conditions, that means as long as it is still possible to inflict considerable economic or other damage upon us. That we now establish relations as good neighbours with West Berlin, and with the Federal Republic, that aids the situation here and there. That also includes the increased tourism (literally: travel traffic - the German word does not really have a fairly neutral equivalent in English) but I think this barricade will remain standing for a while; not forever, but still for some time. By the way, there have been times when it was quite convenient for the Federal Government that it stood; for example, when the immigration control of foreigners from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other countries was at issue. (crew chatter)
Certainly, there are different causes for this, I do not know all the motives, but one motive could still be that they expect a better life there than they have with us. (crew chatter)
Well I don't know all the motives but I suppose for many who go the motive is that they expect a better life there than they … have had with us. And some of them find their way there in the Federal Republic, others - when they get to know real life there - have great difficulties. Some want to come back to us, and some have even taken their own lives there because they had er illusions, and the illusions burst on (hitting) the realities of life in the Federal Republic. (crew chatter)
First of all, I must say we attach great importance to the market. Of course, we are constantly confronted with the international market, on the world markets, and much energy is injected into our industry by the world market. Of course, we cannot sell for example modern machinery which does not meet all demands (for quality) and ask for high prices for it, but there we have to submit and conform to this competitive happening·(translator’s note: he avoids, just, the West German term ‘Konkurrenzkampf’ - competitive fight or struggle; no English equivalent, it seems to me). And, really that is perfectly clear, that we attach great importance to the international market, but it is the same with the home market. So, our 17 mio. citizens demand high quality consumer goods, they demand good food stuffs and we aim at making that into reality also by applying such categories as goods, value, price, profit, and essentially, we apply this since many years, and we perfect this system of taking into considerations such economic categories. And we observe with great interest that other socialist countries now do this, for example the Soviet Union. Some time ago, we had a discussion with Soviet economists who were really very sceptical regarding this question of application of such categories. Today we observe this realisation gains the upper hand. However, one thing we do not do: we do not practise free market economy with regard to the commodity of labour as it is in the capitalist countries, and of which there is a touch in some ideas contained in the economic reform in other socialist countries. You know the worker here does not sell the commodity of labour but we guarantee work to all workers; here that is set down by law and for that I bel we need central planning. Without central planning that is not possible, in our opinion, we have an organic combination of central planning which is constantly adjusted, and a greater responsibility of workshops for their own work, of the combines (combinates?); the workers’ collectives, in the workshops and that has led to a system that functions well, that can flexibly react to new demands. That is our experience.
Finally, no. 10. What has been the greatest single achievement of the SED, one which would not have been possible without Communism?
It is difficult to answer the question for the single one. Certainly, it would be easier to name the 10 most important (ones); but out of the 10 most important (ones) I would perhaps like to-highlight the following; it is the achievements of a people that the fascists, that was contaminated by the fascist ideology, to take out all that was bad. That means racism, chauvinism, anti-Semitism, anti-Communism …that we have achieved in these 4 decades and have put in their place peace, friendship among peoples, recognition of the achievements of all peoples on this planet; let’s put it this way: all our boys and girls have now been brought up over generations (in such a way) that none of them will ever board a plane to drop bombs on Coventry, on London, on Birmingham. But, of course, we strive for (a state of affairs) that what we have built with immense effort will not be destroyed again. That is perhaps the most important achievement of our party which without a socialist revolution would hardly thinkable. (crew chatter)
Heinz Hümmler (1929–?)
Heinz Hümmler was born in March 1929; Hümmler was Prorector for Education and Training at the Academy of Social Sciences at the Central Committee of the SED until 1984, then Prorector for Research.