In his foreword to the book, The Guardian's Seumas Milne says:
History is famously written by the victors. In
the case of the former German Democratic Republic, the drive to
brand it an illegitimate ‘state of injustice’ and deny the existence of
any redeeming features has become a test of loyalty in today’s Federal
Republic. The great merit of Bruni de la Motte and John Green’s book is
that, far from whitewashing the east German experience, it offers a
sober and balanced assessment - neither exaggerating its successes nor
downplaying its failings.
Much has been written about how awful the German Democratic Republic supposedly was: a people imprisoned by a wall and subjugated by an omnipresent Stasi security apparatus. Such descriptions are based largely on prejudice, ignorance and wilful animosity. This book is an attempt to provide a more balanced evaluation and to examine GDR-style socialism in terms of what we can learn from it. The authors, while not ignoring the real deficiencies of GDR society, emphasise the many aspects that were positive, and demonstrate that alternative ways of organising society are possible.This volume is an updated and much expanded edition of the authors' booklet first published in 2009. They have added more detail on how the GDR came into being as a separate state, about how society functioned and what values determined the every-day life of its citizens. There is also a whole new section on what happened in the aftermath of unification, particularly to the economy. While unification brought East Germans access to a more affluent society, freedom to travel throughout the world and the end to an over-centralised political system, it also brought with it unemployment, social breakdown and loss of hope, particularly in the once thriving rural areas.
This book offers a unique insight into the processes that brought about perestroika and the demise of Eastern Europe’s experiment with socialism. It is a fascinating and essential read for all those wishing to understand those processes from the viewpoint of an intelligent insider and perceptive observer.
Hans Modrow, the author of this book, was drafted as a 17-year-old into Hitler’s army and became a Soviet prisoner of war. After his release he, like many others traumatised by the Nazi experience, decided to help build a better, democratic post-war Germany. He became active in the FDJ socialist youth movement, and soon thereafter rose through the party ranks of the Socialist Unity Party in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) to become its regional secretary in Dresden. By the eighties, he had already become disillusioned with the undemocratic practices of the SED and its leadership and began advocating the need for transformation to a proper democratic form of socialism.
After the Wall was opened in 1989, he became the GDR’s last prime minister, before elections were held and the country and the new government chose to unite with the Federal Republic by a process of annexation.
Unlike many others who once called themselves 'communist' or 'socialist', Modrow refused to cross to the other side and join the victors, nor has he succumbed to cynicism as many also did. He became an MP for the PDS (the party that emerged out of the SED, later to become Die Linke) in the Bundestag, and then an MEP. Today, he is honorary Chair of Die Linke (The Left party), and is still an active participant in the political life of Germany and maintains his international contacts.
Hans Modrow believes that the centralised ‘command economies’ of Eastern Europe were doomed virtually from the outset because democratic principles were ignored. That’s why, today, he is an adamant supporter and campaigner for a genuinely democratic socialism.
its founding in 1920 the Communist Party has been an integral part of
the British political scene and, despite its small size, has had an
impact on the political and social life of the country far
than would have been expected and certainly more far-reaching than has
been credited by most historians.
Much has been written about communism, but little about the impact of ordinary communists on life here in Britain. This book is an attempt to write a history in terms of what E.P. Thompson called, "an act of reparation, rescuing the defeated from the enormous condescension of posterity". It is history seen through the lives of those who were, for a shorter or lengthier time, part of the communist movement at some time during the whole trajectory of its existence. Few will be aware of how communists have impacted in significant ways on their own lives and those around them. This book redresses that omission.
It is also a counter-narrative to the traditional mainstream one of communists and the communist party as alien, if not subversive, forces in Britain and marginal to real political and social life. It focuses more on the contributions communists have made in the various areas of society, rather than on the ideology of communism or on the complex relationship with the Soviet Union.
A Manifesto for Modern Times is not a party programme nor a blueprint for change. It is a discussion document in response to the turbulent era we are living through.
It is intended as a humble echo of the world-shaking Manifesto written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848.
Its sole aim is to stimulate ideas and action, as well as to offer theoretical support to all those who refuse to submit to the tyranny of global capital and who dare to dream of a more just, greener and better society.
A different world is possible!
This book takes the German Democratic Republic as an example and examines what socialism in that country actually achieved in terms of social progress.
With the demise of the East European communist-led countries in the wake of the Gorbachov reforms, the "end of history" was proclaimed – there was no alternative to capitalism. However, with the present ongoing capitalist economic crisis, many people are asking if there is a workable alternative to the present system. Could socialism perhaps be the answer after all, despite the fact that the Eastern European versions failed?
book is an attempt neither to justify nor denigrate everything that
happened in the German Democratic Republic. It is, rather, an attempt
to assess what aspects of GDR-style socialism were genuine achievements
in terms of human progress and are perhaps worth salvaging, emulating
or learning from. Enough has been said and written about how awful the
system supposedly was: a people imprisoned by a wall and oppressed by
an omnipresent Stasi security apparatus, ruled by a communist
dictatorship. The authors have avoided going over the same ground
because they felt such one-sided characterisations of the GDR are based
largely on prejudice, ignorance and wilful animosity. They are more
concerned with looking at what other (mainly western) writers have
almost entirely ignored – those aspects of GDR society which were
positive and which can provide us with insights about our own society
and its failings as well as demonstrate that other alternatives are
They're fantastic! I knew Ken Gill drew cartoons, but I never realised his caricatures were so good.
Steve Bell, Cartoonist at The Guardian
Ken Gill was one of the leading lights of the trade union
in the 1970s and 1980s, becoming the first communist elected to the TUC
General Council (in 1974, with 7 million votes), and becoming General
Secretary of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union (MSF, now
part of Unite) in 1988. Ken was voted the ‘Trade unionists’ trade
unionist’ by his peers in a survey by The Observer
in 1993. What better accolade could one ask for?
However Ken was renowned in trade union circles not just for his politics and commitment to working people, but for his perceptive caricatures of fellow union leadersand politicians with whom he negotiated. During the hours he had to sit through tedious meetings, he utilised the time to sketch those around him on anything that came to hand – the back of old agenda papers, serviettes or reports. Over the years this grew into a prodigious collection of portraits.
Ken's caricatures were so good that those portrayed were often keen to have them. He has a knack for capturing good likenesses and poked fun in a gentle fashion; they are rarely harsh or cruel. In that sense they reflect the man himself, who respects his fellow trade unionists and principled politicians, but deplores sell-outs, back-sliders and opportunists. Everyone knew Ken was a Communist but he was never dogmatic in his views and he recognised that true comrades do exist outside the Communist Party too. He felt perfectly at home with those on the left of the Labour Party who believed in socialism as he does, even if they may have differed on how to get there. This book offers a small segment of history as seen from the perspective of a leading trade unionist through the medium of caricature. The texts and anecdotes accompanying them are only intended as laconic complements.
I think this is a brilliant collection. Weirdly, I reckon the best is Bill Sirs.
Paul Routledge, Labour Editor, The Times
‘Television correspondents often write books as recycled products of their foreign reports. They tend to be self-indulgent; self-criticism is not on their agenda. In contrast to such self-portrayals John Green stays reassuringly humble. He is plagued by doubts about his profession and is, in the end, determined to hang up his tools. That’s an honest move, more honourable and creditable than a number of other accounts that have been written by former comrades from the GDR.’
Peter Schütt, Die Tageszeitung
Red Reporter is the reminiscences of someone who worked for 20 years as a covert correspondent in the West on behalf of the German Democratic Republic’s (East Germany) state television. It reveals how the GDR – in its early years ostracised as an illegitimate state by the western world – obtained its Western news coverage and was able to report from countries viscerally opposed to socialism in any form. It also explains how this coverage was based on a tradition of solidarity with the struggling peoples of the world and as a means of promoting the idea of socialism.
John Green grew up in Coventry. After abandoning a zoology degree course after his second year at Bristol University, he switched to Drama. In 1964 he made the adventurous move to the German Democratic Republic to study film at the National Film School in Babelsberg, near Potsdam. He was the sole British student in the country. Returning to his native Britain in 1968, he became television correspondent for the GDR and spent 22 years reporting from around the world. Because the GDR, particularly at the height of the Cold War, was not officially recognised as an independent state, he and his colleagues were obliged to work anonymously and quasi-clandestinely in order to obtain the footage they needed.
‘Green’s reports from fascist Greece, Ireland, Grenada, Chile, El Salvador and the so-called Third World countries of Africa convey a fascinating insight into the life of a reporter from “the other side”.’
Dirk Ruder, Unsere Zeit
During the closing decades of the 20th century, the author travelled to many parts of the world in his work as a television correspondent, covering liberation struggles in Africa and Latin America, social and political campaigns in the USA and labour struggles in Britain and Western Europe. As a reporter on the front line he had a unique insight into the causes of conflict, the pertaining historical parameters and the political forces at work. In its scope this book offers a special view of history through the eyes, as the author puts it, of a foot soldier rather than through the lenses of the leaders and generals who invariably write history. The book is also a welcome antidote to the plethora of simplistic ‘Stasiland’ caricatures of the GDR as merely a tyranny, peopled only by spies and victims. It is an honest and revealing account, which will be of interest to anyone concerned with the communications media and politics.
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Tony Benn says of this book:Friedrich Engels was the Che Guevara of his day. Like Che, he also came from a privileged background, but rejected middle class privilege to devote himself to the struggle for the liberation of working people, for justice and socialism. As a young man he fought in the hills of southern Germany with a small band of like-minded guerrillas. After defeat, he fled Prussian persecution to settle in Britain, where he spent the rest of his life.
‘A new and popular biography of Marx’s friend and collaborator, Friedrich Engels, is long overdue and to be welcomed. He fought his life long for socialism, and most of those years were spent in Manchester and London. His life and his ideas on democracy, socialism and economics still have relevance for us today and can be an inspiration in a struggle that is never ending’.
Instead of continuing his adventurous life as a full-time activist, he took on a double life in order to support his friend, Karl Marx. In the middle class citadels of Manchester, he was known as a staid, honest and respectable businessman, but clandestinely he devoted himself to the struggle for socialism. His and Marx’s ideas and his vision helped transform the 20th century world and still resonate today. In this fascinating new biography, the icon Engels is given flesh and blood, bringing his life and times vibrantly alive.