Two days before the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the Morning Star (the paper nominally tied to the newly established Communist Party of Britain) had a two page spread celebrating the 72nd anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917. Interviewing Yuri Kasin of the Soviet Union’s Social Sciences Institute, the article praised the reforms in the USSR under the banner of perestroika and quoted Kasin about the growth of socialism:
What we are seeing now is not the crisis of Socialism, but the crisis of the outdated model of Socialism. Perestroika is outlining the contours of the new model to which the future belongs.
Those who are ready to bury Socialism, because of the difficulties we are going through will be disappointed. The cause of the Great October Revolution is immortal.
On the night of 9 November, the Berlin Wall began to collapse. The Morning Star first reported it on 11 November under the headline ‘GDR UNVEILS REFORMS PACKAGE’. Roger Trask quoted the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) who were putting their spin on the rapidly unfolding events (announcing 18 new crossing points):
The German Democratic Republic is awakening… A revolutionary people’s movement has set in motion a process of serious upheaval… The aim is dynamically to give Socialism more democracy.
Trask further reported:
The party announced plans for the total reform of the electoral process onto a multi-party basis and for the establishment of the rights of assembly and press freedom. New underground and railway border crossings are also to be investigated, said the GDR Interior Minister Friedrich Dickel.
Amid scenes of wild jubilation thousands of GDR citizens visited West Berlin for the first time in their lives – with most of them enjoying the stay but returning back later.
The newspaper attempted to portray what was happening as part of a wider reform package by the SED and the Soviet Union:
In Moscow leaders gave the changes a warm welcome but warned that they could not lead to a re-drawing of the boundaries of Europe. Soviet government spokesman General Gerasimov called Berlin’s action ‘a wise decision because it destroys all the stereotypes about the Iron Curtain.’
But he added, ‘East Germany has introduced a new regime on its border but the border remains.’
On page 2 of the same edition of the newspaper, the Morning Star ran an editorial titled ‘For peace and stability’. The editorial read:
THE EVENTS taking place in the German Democratic Republic and the decisions being taken by the Socialist Unity Party are part of the process to bring about changes in Socialism in line with the demands and needs of the people in the modern age. Despite the propaganda being pumped out daily in the West, Socialism is not the issue in question. Any interference in the internal affairs of the Socialist countries by the Western powers in an attempt to turn in any difficulties to their advantage can only threaten peace and stability…
There should be no illusions. Strong forces in the West still harbour the hope that they can exploit the current situation in the Socialist countries to the advantage of capitalism. The labour and progressive movement in Britain needs to be aware of this and not allow the more extreme forms of anti-Communist propaganda in the Western media confuse the issue. It is vital that the demand is made that the countries of Eastern Europe be allowed to resolve their problems in their own way without interference.
The principal [sic] of respect for national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of another nation has got to become the bedrock of all states in the whole of Europe if Europe is to play a role in advancing the cause of peace and make a positive contribution to global problems… Elements within the West who continue to attempt to push arguments about the reunification of Germany are only complicating the situation. The question of the relationship between West Germany and the German Democratic Republic is for those two countries to decide on the basis of the principle of peaceful co-existence.
As the Eastern Bloc started to unravel over the next year, the Morning Star (on paper at least) welcomed some of the reforms within Eastern Europe (such as the overthrow of the Ceausescus in Romania), but followed the SED and Soviet line until the end in December 1991. I have written more about the reaction of the British left to 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc here and about the line taken by the Morning Star at the time, I said:
As would be expected, the language used in the Morning Star in its reporting of the events from 1989 to 1991 was much more moderate than what was expressed in Marxism Today or the Socialist Worker, but there were many positive stories about the people’s uprisings in Eastern Europe and the moral and political bankruptcy of the collapsing regimes [p. 160].
25 years on, I wonder how the paper will report on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in the current climate.
3 responses to “How the Morning Star reported the fall of the Berlin Wall”
Really interesting piece. You might to look at how the SED-supported newspaper Neues Deutschland reported the fall of the Berlin Wall – or failed to report fully on that momentous evening. Two days later, they carried a wonderful piece entitled “Die Heimat mal von der anderen Seite sehen”.
It’s worth remembering that a movement that really started as an attempt to address the crisis in an outdated model of socialism was appropriated by the capitalist classes to suit their interests. Some might argue that the potential of East Germany’s quiet revolution was never fulfilled.
co-editor, hidden europe magazine, Berlin
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