A German post-communist

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at SPAMgmx.net
Thu Aug 24 11:45:15 MDT 2000

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A Marxist-Leninist's Capitalistic Views
By Dieter Wentz

SCHWERIN. Helmut Holter, leader of the post-communist Party of Democratic
Socialism (PDS) in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and labor minister in eastern
Germany's Baltic coastal state, recently made an interesting observation.

Entrepreneurs, he said, are especially deserving of recognition, "for they
are people with the guts to run risks." They, he said, are the people who
create jobs in eastern Germany. "Often they are people who work from early
in the morning until late at night, exploiting themselves." He went even
further, saying that "we must trash the East German cliche of the employer
as a man with a fat cigar."

These are the words of the deputy premier of what, so far, is Germany's only
state with a coalition government of Social Democrats and the PDS, and this
is what Mr. Holter, a man trained in Moscow for many years, now says to
members of his post-communist party.

But how credible is he?

A symposium held recently highlighted the fact that the region has other
snapshots to offer than those of young thugs and right-wing extremists. The
event, with its motto "Idea Seeks Capital, Capital Seeks Idea" was to be an
opportunity for would-be startup founders to meet with potential investors.
There was, after all, no lack of good business ideas in northeastern
Germany, it had repeatedly been argued. But they often came to nothing
because the startups lacked contacts and did not know enough about

At first, a few dozen interested people were expected; in the end 400 turned
up. A tent had to be erected. "'Why shouldn't we get together?' I asked
myself," were Mr. Holter's opening words in Frankenhorst by the lake named
after the state capital, Schwerin. What he had in mind was a large-scale
exchange of contacts. "All of us together here could create new jobs," he

It was like a beehive. The mood of the evening was as if this were another
turning point similar in character to the one when the Berlin Wall and the
Iron Curtain fell in 1989. People with ideas sought support for their plans,
entrepreneurs described who they were and what they did. An inventor from
the Baltic island of Rügen said that he knew a thing or two about fuel cells
and had a business plan at the ready but lacked the funds to market it.
"There are plenty of people hanging around," said someone else. "What I want
to do is set up an Internet cafe and provide young people with access to the
system, but I don't have the capital to do it."

One manager after another stood up to say his piece. "If anyone has any
ideas about IT (information technology) we want to know about them," said
the head of one company. Company executives from Rostock and Wismar offered
their help. "I'm the manager of the Commerzbank in Schwerin and I am ready,
in principle, to provide funding," a woman said. "Come and see me
afterward," a company owner yelled over hundreds of heads to a 20-year-old
who had outlined his invention. Contacts were made, meetings were arranged,
executives forgot any fears of the communists they may have had, and Mr.
Holter looked increasingly relaxed.

He had a similar experience at a recent meeting with former property and
estate owners, he said. The return to their old homes did not signify the
success of a counterrevolution, he said early in July at a gathering held in
deepest rural Mecklenburg. Between 1946 and 1949, the "junkers," or
near-feudal landowners, were branded as "warmongers" and "Nazi bootlickers."
They were stripped of their property and thrown out of the Soviet Zone,
which then became communist East Germany. "One of our tasks is to rectify
stupid ideological ideas in dealing with the history of the bourgeoisie and
the aristocracy in East German days," he told his audience.

His party needs to come out of its fundamentalist corner and it should cast
aside ideas of the state as a redistribution machine, he said. "We must stop
drafting electoral programs as if they were mail-order catalogs full of
goods that no one needs to pay for," Mr. Holter, a reformer, said recently.
"It is no longer enough to claim that the poor will grow richer once the
rich are poorer," he said in a jibe aimed at the PDS's national executive in
Berlin. "We must throw the windows wide open," he told the party's last
national congress, held in April in Münster, in western Germany.

The 47-year-old showpiece socialist has lately addressed chambers of
commerce and corporate executives, telling them that he will be championing
small and medium-sized companies and that he rejects any form of
spoon-feeding or economic planning by the state. "A planned economy cannot
work," he told members of Mecklenburg-Western Pomeranian business
organizations in reference to his own experience of 40 years of it in
communist East Germany.

More and more CEOs have since consulted him, he claimed. He has long been
almost unable to meet the demands on his time, he said at his ministry in
Schwerin. "I am a pragmatist," he said, adding that "the horse must of
course be allowed to drink." That was a reference to a phrase used by Social
Democrat Karl Schiller, minister of economics and finance under West German
Chancellor Willy Brandt. And, as a rule, if you want to create jobs you must
keep the economists happy (Professor Schiller was just such an economist).
Government involvement in the economy must be kept to an absolute minimum,
he said, knowing that this, too, was a popular slogan used at past SPD party

So, is he still a communist? "Not in the least," said the son of a worker
and a doctor's secretary from Malliss, a pint-sized Mecklenburg village. Not
much of Marx is left, he said, given that Marx wrote in 19th century, and
Lenin's revolutionary theory has shown itself to be just waste paper.
"Dictatorship of the proletariat will always lead to dictatorship by a
clique that has to safeguard its power by means of force," said Mr. Holter.
"These are ideas with which I have parted company and no longer have
anything to do with," he said. "Parliamentary democracy thrives on plurality
and competition," he added, "and East Germany foundered on the lack of

How profoundly can a man change, and how fast? "Dear comrades," Mr. Holter
said at a PDS congress in Parchim, Mecklenburg, in 1998, "the opportunity we
have is that of changing society from within." The party must put to use
opportunities provided by the new post-1989 system. "We must first work our
way through this society," he told a PDS congress in Wismar. Of course, the
PDS would remain true to its roots of being "anti-capitalist, socialist and
in opposition to the system." Its aim is unchanged, he said, reading his
notes just as he must have done in his East German and Soviet days, of
enabling society to gain "real power of disposal over money."

Mr. Holter first studied at the civil engineering college in Moscow. Ten
years later, in 1985, he was granted communist East Germany's highest
privilege: He was sent back to the Soviet capital to study "social science,"
as higher studies of Marxism-Leninism were then known, at the party
university. His official biography listed him as a "party secretary and
member of staff of the regional executive of the SED (East Germany's ruling
communist party)." He was a concrete and construction materials engineer by
profession, but destined for a leading position in the clique that ruled
East Germany.

Until, that is, East Germany and communism collapsed. "He is simply good,"
they say at the state chancellery in Schwerin, where Social Democrats
predominate. Mr. Holter recently shook hands with Germany's SPD chancellor,
Gerhard Schröder, in connection with the tax reform, and he, Mr. Holter, saw
that as a sign of "normalization" between the SPD and the successor party to
East Germany's erstwhile communist party. "Normalization" was also mentioned
in connection with former Federal Labor Minister Norbert Blüm, a Christian
Democrat. The post-communist persuaded the Christian Democrat to join him in
political appearances. In the PDS, some called it a "coup," while others
cracked jokes about "useful idiots."

The SPD-PDS coalition in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania will be celebrating
its half-way point in late autumn, and unless all the signs are deceptive,
the "strategic experiment" in the Baltic state will continue beyond the next
state assembly elections in 2002. "To make sure the clocks soon change in
Magdeburg, Berlin, Potsdam and elsewhere," said the hard-skinned Mr. Holter,
who is running for election to the PDS's national executive in October. Only
on the odd occasion does the sorcerer's apprentice Helmut Holter still come
across as a car salesman who is just a little bit too slick.

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