Rethinking the GDR

Victor Grossman, nee Stephen Wechsler, has penned a nuanced memoir of note, “A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Alee” (Monthly Review Press, 2019). It is an historical, personal and political work of his adult life in the German Democratic Republic [East Germany], which had a socialist economy. His is a rare perspective, indeed.

For those who did not live through the Cold War, it is tough to describe the ideological outlook it created and perpetuated. In the West, of which Uncle Sam is and was the global bully on the block, armed to the teeth and willing to wage war by any means necessary, anti-communism against the USSR and the GDR took on a life of its own.

Capitalism versus socialism became the battle between good and evil. Then the Berlin Wall fell and Germany reunification arrived in 1989. Grossman delivers a critical viewpoint of what preceded that and came next.

I place the author’s memoir in the left political context of books such as “Blues for America” by Doug Dowd and Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz’ “Red Dirt.” In brief, Grossman links the historical to the personal and political of living and working in East Germany as an adult during the Cold War years. This is no mean feat.

As an American service member, Grossman defected to the GDR in the early 1950s to escape possible imprisonment over prior political activity while growing up in America. The whys and wherefores of this adventure make for stirring reading. What follows is his bird’s eye view of the strengths and weaknesses of the GDR.

The author shares the experiences of receiving unheard of universal social services such as health care and higher education available to all in the GDR. Everybody was in and nobody was out. The contrast to what we have in both areas stateside can make a reader envious.

Another theme that courses through Grossman’s memoir is the GDR’s cleansing of ex-Nazis from governance after WW II. The opposite treatment of Nazis and their corporate allies such as Deutsche Bank AG was the case in West Germany and the US. Is this news?

If so, I suggest that you also read “Blowback: The First Full Account of America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Disastrous Effect on The Cold War, Our Domestic and Foreign Policy” by Christopher Simpson. Capitalism birthed fascism, as current political trends show.

Grossman’s tone conveys an open mind as to the strengths and weaknesses of the GDR experiment. He refers to it as a “noble” one, despite the flaws in governance, e.g., the Stasi, the GDR’s political police presence in citizens’ lives. In brief, there was more to praise than to damn.

Grossman writes in a conversational manner. Reading his memoir is as if you are having a discussion with him over a cup of coffee or tea.

If you are looking for interesting summer reading, I recommend “A Socialist Defector.” If you are searching for a book for millennials to read, given the popularity of socialism among them, this is the one.


More articles by:

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
Negin Owliaei
Time for a Billionaire Ban
Binoy Kampmark
Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition
Bernard Marszalek
Toward a Counterculture of Rebellion
Brian Horejsi
The Benefits of Environmental Citizenship
Brian Cloughley
All That Gunsmoke
Graham Peebles
Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society?
Jonah Raskin
Black, Blue, Jazzy and Beat Down to His Bones: Being Bob Kaufman
John Kendall Hawkins
Treason as a Lifestyle: I’ll Drink to That
Ben Terrall
The Rise of Silicon Valley
November 14, 2019
Laura Carlsen
Mexico’s LeBaron Massacre and the War That Will Not Cease
Joe Emersberger
Oppose the Military Coup in Bolivia. Spare Us Your “Critiques”
Ron Jacobs
Trump’s Drug Deal Goes to Congress: Impeachment, Day One
Paul Edwards
Peak Hubris
Tamara Pearson
US and Corporations Key Factors Behind Most Violent Year Yet in Mexico
Jonah Raskin
Love and Death in the Age of Revolution
Robert Hunziker
Climate Confusion, Angst, and Sleeplessness
W. T. Whitney
To Confront Climate Change Humanity Needs Socialism
John Feffer
Examining Trump World’s Fantastic Claims About Ukraine
Nicky Reid
“What About the Children?” Youth Rights Before Parental Police States
Binoy Kampmark
Incinerating Logic: Bush Fires and Climate Change
John Horning
The Joshua Tree is Us
Andrew Stewart
Noel Ignatiev and the Great Divide
Cesar Chelala
Soap Operas as Teaching Tools
Chelli Stanley
In O’odham Land
November 13, 2019
Vijay Prashad
After Evo, the Lithium Question Looms Large in Bolivia
Charles Pierson
How Not to End a Forever War
Kenneth Surin
“We’ll See You on the Barricades”: Bojo Johnson’s Poundshop Churchill Imitation
Nick Alexandrov
Murder Like It’s 1495: U.S.-Backed Counterinsurgency in the Philippines
George Ochenski
Montana’s Radioactive Waste Legacy
Brian Terrell
A Doubtful Proposition: a Reflection on the Trial of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7
Nick Pemberton
Assange, Zuckerberg and Free Speech
James Bovard
The “Officer Friendly” Police Fantasy