On the PDS: A Reply

Against the Current, No. 53, November/December 1994

Ken Todd

I WOULD LIKE to thank Eric Canepa for the care and detail with which he has responded to the comments I made about the Party of Democratic Socialism in my article on social and political crisis in Germany. I submitted that article to ATC well aware of the limits on my knowledge of German politics, but thoroughly persuaded that the development of the PDS as a potent socialist resistance to the crisis and the attendant ruling-class offensive should be better known here.

While Eric quite rightfully and usefully describes the anti-nationalist and anti-populist bias of much of the German radical left, he errs in imputing this bias to me.(1) I drew on some such sources, but also on the press of the PDS itself, of socialist organizations in western Germany that support the PDS, and most heavily on the mainstream, conservative and social-democratic press.(2)

Their arguments interest me because I believe, as I hope to have conveyed, that the PDS forms a noteworthy development in socialist politics and that successful resistance to the ruling class offensive in Germany will depend in large measure on the ability of PDS to develop itself as an organizing pole for mass resistance.

I would still maintain that the PDS has not come to terms with its Stalinist past. Eric cites the laudable ongoing, painstaking discussion about authoritarian norms and conduct in the party. But the very need for this discussion and its extensive conduct confirm my assessment that the party has not fully realized its goal of putting the past behind it.

As long as a Stalinist faction like Communist Platform can exist in the party and enjoy the patronage of a party leader as prominent and popular as Hans Modrow, the PDS will have difficulty in persuading a larger public of its democratic character, and the process of self-criticism will continue to impede its ability to act.

Divisions of opinion in the party over such questions as its authoritarian past will also continue to hamper this development. I did not intend to imply that the Young Comrades criticized the party’s leadership for authoritarian conduct in the case of the Communist Platform leader Sahra Wagenknecht. That criticism is solely mine. I wanted to make the point, confirmed by Eric’s conversation with Angela Marquardt, that they wanted more definitive measures, tantamount to a rejection of the Stalinist faction, but could not win a majority for this position.

The fundamental problem concerns the views of the party’s base as much as the administrative measures of its leadership. Along these lines, in a recent interview Angela also expressed her regret that a majority of the party could still endorse Andre Brie(3) as their campaign manager for the October parliamentary elections despite the exposure of his work for the Stasi. The question of the party’s authoritarian past rises in many forms, and the legacy of a police-state socialism does trouble people, even in the party.

With regard to the party’s material inheritance from its past in state power, I did not claim, as Eric says, that the PDS enjoys a fortune and employs a large staff. I did say that the party retained substantial material resources from its past and employs a “relatively” large staff.

The PDS does not currently enjoy its inheritance in full measure, because the state has frozen its assets. In August a government commission began proceedings to dispose of over $1 billion in property belonging to the PDS.

Prior to the freezing of these assets the PDS, at the express instruction of then-leader Gregor Gysi, transferred $240 million in loans at little or no interest to corporations established to maintain party cadre. Another $24 million was transferred directly to party members. We do not know how the party has used these funds during the last four years.

Just as importantly, before its assets were frozen the party spun off their official daily paper New Germany, still the most widely read paper in eastern Germany, and the party publishing house the Dietz Verlag. Both publishers have opened to previously anathematized currents of political thought, but both remain obvious vehicles for the PDS despite their formal independence.

These properties comprise substantial material resources, and from the perspective of a country where socialist organizations with comparable politics have memberships in the hundreds I consider 150 staff members a relatively large staff.

Finally, Eric cites the impressive recent vote for the PDS in a number of states as evidence that I have exaggerated its weakness. But he cites only returns from the states in eastern Germany. Let us keep in mind that these states represent only 20% of the German population.

In the west, where 80% of the population lives, the PDS got 0.6% of the vote in North Rhine-Westfalia. 0.4% in Bavaria, 0.7% in Lower Saxony and 0.6% in Hesse. Of the party’s 131,000 members, only 1180 have joined in the west.

It does now seem that the PDS will win the direct mandates needed to secure full proportional representation in the next parliament, and we should greet this achievement as a victory. But the PDS has not won adherents in western Germany, and its past remains its largest obstacle.

I hope that in the future we will have the opportunity to share in Eric’s greater expertise on the PDS.


  1. Eric’s sketch is intended to explain the trenchant, anti-populist and anti-nationalist polemic directed against the PDS by much of the western German left and to reveal this polemic as a biased source for my analysis. This bias certainly appears in many sources, from Konkret, the most widely read left magazine in western Germany, to the minuscule publications of the autonomous left. For the most part, however, I did not draw on such sources, because what disturbs me is not the PDS, but its failure to win greater success.
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  2. These include newspapers like the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Sddeutsche Zeitung, respectively the leading conservative and social-democratic dailies. Like the left, these sources address the PDS venomously. They exaggerate, distort and lie in their reporting and editorials. Yet as part of the institutions of power they accord the PDS considerable respect, their representations contain a kernel of truth and they importantly shape public perception.
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  3. For the confusion between the two Brie brothers, which Eric pointed out, I apologize to him and to all readers of ATC.
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ATC 53, November-December 1994