Nothing has changed. Nothing will ever be the same again. GDR, 1990

In an article from 2014, Renate Hürtgen[1] describes a meeting between East German workers’ representatives and their West German colleagues in July 1990. The East Germans, many of the whom had been involved in the revolutionary activities and the democratic reorganising of their places of work in the past year, were taking stock: The old government was gone, the security apparatus had been taken down; elections had taken place, a completely different political system been installed. The GDR was preparing, or being prepared for its accession to the West German federal state. In July, the East German currency had been replaced by the D-Mark, the formerly state-owned companies were beginning to be privatised. It’s hard to imagine a country and its work force undergoing a more drastic change.

And yet, many of the workers felt that, even this complete overhaul had returned them to the exact same place. At the conference many state with frustration, that “really, nothing had changed”. One worker says: “In many small enterprises in the GDR, the word ‘new beginning’ simply covers up the restoration of the same old normality”. “The nation’s [same] backscratchers, those perpetual opportunists, who flourish on the dung of whichever system, are the ones that have made sure they are safe again, that nod along with everything, and come out on top no matter what.” The same hierarchical principles, the same opportunistic patterns of sucking up to those above had made short shrift of these workers’ brief hopes for greater workplace democracy, of their attempts to set up forms of direct involvement in the management and the decision-making at their companies. Where bureaucratic, centralist, authoritarian structures had made such involvement impossible in the past, deference to the all-powerful “forces of the market”, its seemingly both specific and non-negotiable needs, now amounted to much the same.

Still, one of the interviewed workers states:  “I would do it again, in exactly the same way. I would wear myself out again, fighting in the exact same wrong way, that is, of course, in the exact same right way, with the exact same non-effect. I would not do anything differently at all. And in the end, I would be a little wiser for it all the same.”

Renate Hürtgen: “Die Erfahrung Laß Ick Mir Nicht Nehmen!” Demokratieversuche Der Belegschaften in Den DDR-Betrieben’, accessed 24 February 2014,