In the late 1980s many East Germans began to put forward an alternative to the view that “there is no alternative” to the way their economy and society was structured. The first country wide independent political movement, New Forum, announced themselves with a few words – called “Aufbruch 89”.

Rather tragically, New Forum now represents a lost moment, a glimmer of a chink of light to illuminate a genuine alternative to (rather than a synthetic and compromised ‘third way’ between) socialism and capitalism as we know it. The lid quickly slammed shut as the West swallowed up and assimilated the eastern Länder and New Forum were consigned to the dustbin of history.

Aufbruch 89 doesn’t appear to have been translated into English before, even as poorly as below. Yet it’s uncannily (or perhaps predictably and tediously?) relevant to many of the issues facing our society today. The important bits go something like this:

"The troubled relationship between state and society is paralyzing the creative potential of our society and preventing solutions to the global and local challenges we face. We waste away our time in miserable apathy while we should have more important things to do for our lives, our country and humanity.

Balancing the interests of groups and classes in the public and private sectors works poorly at best, and communication of these respective interests is limited. In private, everyone freely offers their diagnosis of the situation and identifies the most important steps to be taken. But our wishes and aspirations are very diverse and cannot be weighed up against each other rationally or tested for feasibility.

  • On one hand, we wish for an increasing supply of goods and better service provision, on the other hand we see the social and ecological costs and argue for a retreat from uninhibited growth.
  • We want space for economic entrepreneurship but no degeneration into a ‘sharp elbowed’ society.
  • We want to preserve the tried and tested, and yet create room for innovation so we can live less wastefully and less at odds with nature.
  • We want orderly relationships but not to be treated like children.
  • We want free and self-confident people, but who also behave with a sense of community.
  • We want to be protected from violence and at the same time not have to put up with a police and surveillance state.
  • Slackers and bullies in cushy jobs should be thrown out while the weak and defenceless should not be disadvantaged.
  • We want effective health care for everyone but no-one should cry off sick to the cost of others.
  • We want to participate in exports and international trade, but we do not want to become the debtor and servant of leading industrial countries nor the exploiters and creditors of the economically weak.

To recognize all these contradictions, to hear and weigh up opinions and arguments, and to distinguish between general and special interests, we need a democratic dialogue on the responsibilities of the state, the economy and culture. We need to reflect on and talk to each other about these questions openly in public, together and throughout the country.

Our readiness and willingness to do so will determine whether we can find ways out of this critical situation in the foreseeable future. This depends upon, in the current development of society: that the majority of people co-operate in the process of social reform; and that the variety of individual and group activities are part of a wholesale exchange.

For such an overarching initiative, we choose the name New Forum. The time is ripe."