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A Communist Idealist Criticizes the "Real Existing Socialism" of the GDR (1977)

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In the second part, I deal with the systematic structure of actually existing socialism, as opposed to its historical treatment in the first part: its bureaucratic-centralist organization of labour, its character as a stratified society, the marked impotence of the immediate producers, its relatively weak impulse towards raising productivity, its political-ideological organization as a quasi-theocratic state. The essence of actually existing socialism is conceived as one of socialization in the alienated form of stratification, this being based on a traditional division of labour which has not yet been driven to the critical point at which it topples over.

The final part is devoted to the alternative that is maturing in the womb of actually existing socialism, and in the industrially developed countries as a whole. This bears the character of that comprehensive cultural revolution, that transformation of the entire former division of labour, way of life and mentality that Marx and Engles predicted. Universal human emancipation is becoming ever more pressing, but the conditions for this must be studied afresh, and its contents defined appropriately to the time. The social dialectic of its first steps is characterized by the struggle to demolish the structures of domination in labour and hence also in the state, but this can only proceed at the pace that circumstances permit, as there will still be a social stratification by intellectual competence. The cultural revolution thus presupposes a truly communist party, a new League of Communists. Communists must take their distance from the state machine, and start by putting an end to the dominance of the apparatus in their own organization. They must inscribe anew on their banner the old slogan of the Communist Manifesto, according to which ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’, and be more aware than ever before that this programme cannot be confined to any merely national or continental framework. The real equality of all who bear the human countenance is becoming a question of life and death in practical politics. The world is changing at a pace that is both encouraging and disturbing – disturbing because the total process is still leading spontaneously to situations that no one intended. Peace can only be secured, and the further rise of the human species and of man as an individual can only be assured, if we can put an end to all differences in development opportunities, both within each country and in the world as a whole.

Source: Rudolf Bahro, The Alternative in Eastern Europe. Translated by David Fernbach. © NLB, 1978, pp. 7-14. Originally published in German as Die Alternative. Zur Kritik des real existierenden Sozialismus (1977).

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