Across the Berlin Wall

Bruce Allen, Germany East: Dissent and Opposition. Montréal: Black Rose Books, 1989. Paperback, 171 pp

By John Bacher (reviewer)

Germany East is a refreshing glimpse into life beyond the rusting iron curtain. The author is Bruce Allen, former chair of Act for Disarmament, who has tirelessly sought to overcome the suspicions of the western peace movement held by East European dissidents. Germany East should help break down the stereotypes of either a grey totalitarianism or a worker's paradise, which have been promoted by cold war theorists on both sides of the Berlin Wall.

Allen notes that the "German Question," caused by the partitioning of the nation created after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, is still at the heart of debates concerning East Germany's future. Even East German dissidents themselves ignored this fact - until they were forced to use West German television to have their views exposed to the East German public.

Allen traces the evolution of the highly militarized German "peace state" through the career of its founder, that durable Stalinist, Walter Ulbricht. In rich detail, he shows how Ulbricht survived the efforts of both reformers in Berlin and Moscow to remove him before the building of the wall consolidated a separate East German state. Such reformers nearly succeeded after Stalin's death, but were defeated when a 1953 uprising of East German workers made Ulbricht's repressive rule seem justifiable to shaken Communist leaders.

Allen overly disparages as naive another democratization attempt, which involved negotiations with Soviet leaders, the West German Social Democratic Party, and East German and Hungarian Communist reformers. This became an early victim of the conservative Soviet reaction to the Hungarian revolt.

Allen shows that the cross-pollination of dissident Marxist and Christian opposition has flowered with the emergence of an independent peace movement, vividly symbolized by the banned "Swords into Ploughshares" symbol. He also highlights the aid given to this movement by such West German Greens as Petra Kelly, who uses her diplomatic rights as a member of parliament to bring forbidden peace literature into the country, and the West German Working Group of END (European Nuclear Disarmament). Most exciting is his account of the blossoming of imaginative independent ecological initiatives- bicycle demonstrations, unauthorized tree plantings, stream cleaning efforts, and campaigns against nuclear power.

John Bacher, a historian, is with Act for Disarmament.

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1989

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1989, page 22. Some rights reserved.

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