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?
The socialist experience in the GDR offered a different narrative: individuals within society felt they had more control over their own destinies, and the socialist countries did not go through comparable economic crises, but demonstrated a continuing rise in living standards and individual wellbeing.
However, few would think seriously of attempting to return to socialist systems of the Soviet type. But even if those countries - demonised by the West as the ‘evil empire’ - did have serious political shortcomings and their economies were sluggish and often inefficient, that should not lead us to overlook their impressive economic, social, cultural and educational achievements. After all, their economies were structured to serve the interests of the people, not vice-versa as under capitalism.
This 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 possible.