The following interview has been twice “betrayed.” It originally appear in Vienna’s zur Zeit, no. 46 (2009). It was then translated into French by Robert Steuckers and is here translated from his French into my English. When such a piece passes through three languages, something, of course, is lost. The extraordinary quality of the interview, I believe, nevertheless justifies these “betrayals.”
Bernd Rabehl is an academic sociologist and a veteran of the German student movement of the 1960s led by Rudy Dutschke. Pace our conservatives, the oppositional movements of the period were not monolithic in their subversion. Not a few of its participants were like myself (I was a 68er at Berkeley) in seeking not the further actualization of the nihilism inherent in the post-1945 System, but rather an active resistance to the toll it had already taken on American life in the decade leading up to the Sixties.
Here, in this slightly abridged translation, an ex-oppositionist reflects on the complete loss of German values since the break-up of the Soviet Empire and the East German Democratic Republic (the Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR).–Michael O’Meara
Question (Bernhard Tomaschitz): Professor Rabehl, twenty years ago the Berlin Wall fell. In what ways has Germany changed since then?
Rabehl: It has been completely transformed. First, the DDR was totally dismantled. Its industry was deliberately destroyed, creating vast swaths of de-industrialization in the East. Then, a third of the DDR’s population, above all those with college degrees and skills, were resettled in West Germany, and in some cases in the US and Australia. The little industry remaining in the East was in no way comparable to that of West Germany, so it’s impossible to speak of any parity now between the new Länder (provinces) of the East and those of the West.
Question: Was any aspect of the DDR heritage carried over into the newly reunified Federal Republic?
Rabehl: This is an interesting question because the politics of the SED [the ruling East German Communist party] always took its references from the German, especially the Prussian, political tradition. In this optic, the DDR’s politics remained German, while West Germany [under the heal of the Judeo-American powers] was founded on a rejection of that tradition.
Question: Given that West Germany had severed its links with the German past, ought German Reunification [after 1989] be considered “a historical accident”?
Rabehl: The West German political Establishment had no interest in reunification. Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democrats [then the ruling party] was committed to the postwar division of Germany. No one in the West imagined that East Germany might possibly collapse (it was simply accepted that there should be two states) and no one wanted anything to do with a state still rooted in the German political tradition. It was the Soviet Union that initiated the reunification process because it feared the complete collapse of Eastern Europe. The KGB elites around Gorbachev knew that such a collapse would bring war and revolution, threatening thus the very existence of the Red Army and the Russian state. This is why two or three years before 1989, the Russians began developing plans to ensure a peaceful reunification. The American president at the time, Bush Senior, and Gorbachev then negotiated the reunification and presented it to Kohl. Following the massive demonstrations in Leipzig, East Berlin, and Rostock [which undermined the DDR’s legitimacy in 1989], it was clear that the German Communist state could no longer be preserved, since the Russians were no longer prepared or able to support such a state.
Question: To what degree did “the Basic Antifascist Consensus (Antifaschistische Grundkonsensens), which was the founding ideology of the West German Federal Republic, become the prevailing dogma of reunified Germany?
Rabehl: Antifascism in the former DDR was use to designate “the enemy,” all enemies. A “fascist,” accordingly, was anyone who didn’t support the [East German Communist] system. Included in this category were Social Democrats, liberals, leftists, and, of course, conservatives and reactionaries. “Fascism,” as such, was a concept of struggle, extendable to virtually anyone or anything.
Once the Federal Republic lost its enemy in the East, there was a certain [ideological] shift. Previously, it wasn’t fascism that was the enemy, but rather Communism, whose subversions were resisted. Then, as the German Communist state disappeared in the East, the reunified German state embrace the antifascist cause for its own uses, this time against the German state tradition — and against all who sought to change the new Germany, especially its relationship to the European Union. In this context, it’s pertinent to note that well before 1989 West German parties had privileged the American ideology of “human rights” and “individual liberties” and assigned no value to maintaining the German heritage, the German language, German values — having abandoned every specifically German political and social tradition.
Question: If German values are no longer of any importance, what was it that was celebrated during the anniversary of German Reunification?
Rabehl: Essentially, what was celebrated was the fact that there had been no revolution in either the East or the West. In the East, in 1989, those who had descended into the street, chanting “We are one people,” were bought off with a monetary reform and a gift of several hundred marks to welcome them to the West. They were then shorn of their political identity. This was easily accomplished, given the weak organization and lack of continuity of the East German protest movement.
That which is celebrated now, twenty years later, is the fact that the constitution, “the Basic Law,” and the former political structures of the West have been imposed on the Länder of the East — that there is nothing left of the DDR. In effect, what is celebrated is the total Americanization of all Germans.
Question: Isn’t it remarkable that twenty years after the Wall’s collapse the [recently passed] Treaty of Lisbon calls for the “de-state-ification” of Germany and other EU member states?
Rabehl: All of Europe’s states have been effectively “de-state-ified.” In the process, the EU has acquired a supra-state sovereignty and become a super-state. But for all that Europe in no sense is a great power. It can’t be because it remains tied to the United States — by treaties regulating NATO and by other accords related to matters of security. There were certain timid measures taken to give Europe the stature of a great power, but since 2003, the US has intervened to prevent it, informing Europeans that only the United States can decide matters of war and peace for them. So much for the European super-state — for the question of war and peace is what makes a state sovereign.
Question: What forces have profited from the “de-state-ification” of the European states?
Rabehl: Obviously, it’s the United States, which, since 1945, has systematically endeavored to impose its own political model on Europe . . . This political system, which I call “liberal materialism,” has completely taken over Germany.
In the past, the state was always primary: This was the case with the monarchical state and the administrative state and the independent political forces which once opposed the “party-cratic” state perverted by machine politicians and partisan interests.
It’s often said today that the state has degenerated into a sort of country inn, without any real structure, where partisan interests maneuver for maximum advantage and for state hand-outs. Isn’t this typically American?
Question: What do you think Germany will look like twenty years from now, when we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Wall’s fall?
Rabehl: That depends on how the political life of the nation is affected by our pseudoelites, who favor the existing parties and recruit an increasingly ever more mediocre personnel.
If corruption becomes everywhere prevalent, if private interests and lobbies end up dominating the parties themselves and the state machinery, then we are likely to sink deeper into political paralysis. States and governments will then no longer be able to act — which was already evident under Kohl is even more so under Angela Merkel.
Every government affected by such paralysis, in avoiding problems and reacting only on the spur of the moment, will find itself incapable of resolving the crises besetting it.
They will consequentially fail to resolve social conflicts or navigate the turbulent storms affecting the larger social order.
In such a case, it’s possible to imagine that Europe’s peoples and nations will begin at last to resist, even to rise in insurrection, as they confront the state’s inaction, feeling that “it can no longer go on like this.”
If Merkel, for example, doesn’t find a solution for [the financially-troubled car manufacturer] Opel, its workers are likely to take to the streets, banging the table and demanding that a solution be found.
When other European nations discover that they too have been swindled, they, in turn, will also begin to resist.