Stefan Engel: Speech on the Occasion of the Handover of the Party Chairmanship on 8 April 2017

On 8 April 2017, the handover of the MLPD's party chair from Stefan Engel, who held this function for 37 years, to Gabi Fechtner (née Gärtner) took place. At this handover celebration, representatives of international parties as well as colleagues and comrades from all sectors of the party work in Germany expressed their appreciation for the work of both with many greetings and contributions. There was a cultural program and Stefan Engel held a keynote speech. We herewith provide its translation for the international Marxist-Leninist movement.

Dear friends, dear comrades, dear companions and also dear relatives!

 

I was asked many times whether this step is hard for me, or if maybe I am also sad.

 

No, not at all!

 

I am proud to have handed over my function as party chairman on 31 March 2017, after 37 years and 3 months, to Gabi Gärtner.

 

In a certain way it marks the climax of my political work and leadership work to date. It fills me with great satisfaction that my path of life will now continue to be pursued and completed with great seriousness, and even a certain enthusiasm, by a generation change which had been prepared for a long time and carried out on a good basis.

 

The reason for this handover is not that I am completely incapable of work! In spite of all health-related impairments I will continue to carry out my tasks in the party. Thus, the Central Committee has decided that I will remain in charge of the editorial staff of the theoretical organ Revolutionärer Weg (Revolutionary Way) in future.

 

I will also accompany the new leadership and provide it with advice and support.

For a certain time and to a limited extent I will help organize the transition and play an active role in the secretariat of the CC. But I definitely am not going to be a gray eminence in the background who in reality pulls the strings.

 

Gabi Gärtner is the new party chairwoman, elected unanimously, without any restrictions and with full rights, by the Central Committee. It is the first time in Germany that a woman, and woman worker, is at the head of the revolutionary workers' party. That is something we are particularly proud of!

 

The time for a generation change at the head of the MLPD had come for a number of reasons.

 

Politically, with Trump having taken office as new president of the mightiest imperialist country – an expression of the general crisis-proneness of this capitalist system – and with the worldwide progressive change of mood, we can expect to see far-reaching changes in the world.

In this emerging complicated situation the new party leadership must and can learn the ropes. I would like to take this opportunity to give some perhaps useful hints derived from the overall results of my own leadership work.

 

 

First: In 1979, at the age of 25, as then youngest member of the Central Leadership I became its chief political officer.

 

The so-called “Marxist-Leninist movement” in Germany was finished. The big ML organizations dissolved, underwent splits or joined the Trotskyites, the Greens, etc. On the world political scene, China had changed colors after the death of Mao Zedong.

 

Shortly after, Enver Hoxha from Albania started attacking Mao Zedong Thought and essential socialist achievements. An international liquidationism marginalized many promising attempts to build new revolutionary workers' parties in the whole world, or destroyed them entirely.

There were many unsolved problems in our organization, too, but it had ideological-political clarity and at its core was healthy.

 

It was a difficult situation. In the beginning, I felt a bit anxious. I did not know the party so well yet, since I came from the Youth League and was not necessarily experienced in leadership work. But I told myself: “It just has to be this way in this situation.” I also found it right to elect a worker as leader.

 

I was able to help the party, playing a leading role in preparing its founding as MLPD in 1982, because during my whole time as party chairman I had the firm and unwaivering conviction that the way of revolutionary party building and of the struggle for socialism is the only right way.

 

My iron will never let me waver.

 

When I was 14 years old, my brother Reinhard and my cousin Ulrich, along with Comrade Hartmut Langbein, who is still active, convinced me to join a revolutionary youth group in Neustadt, near Coburg. To my communist 88 year-old great-grandmother my rebellious spirit had always been a great pleasure, and she supported this decision. But at the same time, she admonished me to change my life. Until then I had not read a single book – save one or two children's books – did not pay much attention at school and spent most of my time with friends in the woods or on the sports ground.

 

My great-grandmother was an indomitable revolutionary who was a member of the revolutionary SPD since 1895, broke away from the SPD in 1916, joined the Spartacus League led by Karl Liebknecht in Berlin, and later joined the Communist Party of Germany, KPD. She was active underground for 11 years during Hitler's fascism before being resettled in Neustadt. Despite her high age, ideologically-politically she was clearly aligned with Mao Zedong Thought without being organized anywhere.

 

What was important: She gave me a book back then and said: “Now you start reading this book.” And the book was called How the Steel Was Tempered by Nikolai Ostrovsky. I really swallowed that book, and in particular Pavel Korchagin's guideline in his young life filled me with enthusiasm:

 

Man's dearest possession is life,

and it is given to him to live but once.

He must live so (...) that, dying,

he can say:

 

all my life, all my strength were given to

the finest cause in all the world -

the fight for the Liberation of Mankind.”

 

The quintessence I drew from this book was that now I wanted to become a professional revolutionary, and I never left this path of life again.

 

 

Second: I made a sober analysis of my strengths and weaknesses. I was well aware: I did not have the competencies already to carry out all the tasks involved in party leadership. To solve this problem, I relied on the collective wisdom of my comrades. This is the decisive way to overcome weaknesses. I always sought to work together with comrades who knew more about this or that task. I never said: “I can do everything”, but “I must learn everything.” I have always been a team worker and always assimilated the knowledge and experience of my comrades in the most different areas.

 

During the first years I learned a lot from Willi Dickhut, with whom I had monthly consultations, from Dieter Klauth, who was responsible for youth work at the time, from Martin Kasprik, from Klaus Arnecke, and not least from my personal assistant Dr. Klaus Vowe, who unfortunately passed away way to early. Klaus Vowe relinquished his chair as professor at the University of Tübingen at the time to take this badly paid job with us. He did it for more than 25 years until his death.

 

The most important thing over the last 20 years was the trustful and always creative collaboration with Monika Gärtner-Engel. From this collaboration, important ideas resulted for new initiatives in the Marxist-Leninist work among women, in Marxist-Leninist municipal politics and for party work in and towards non-party-affiliated self-run organizations.

 

Monika would certainly have been qualified to step in for me immediately and take over the function as party chairman. But we deliberately took a different decision.

 

 

Third: I have worked hard and systematically to overcome my weaknesses and have drawn constructive conclusions from this for the whole party. For instance, when I moved to the Ruhr area my written German was quite poor. I then undertook to deliver articles regularly and do the editing of the workers' newssheet “Der Schmelzer” (The Smelter) in order to practice and learn these literary skills systematically.

 

Later I was able to write books as well. But that was not done overnight, it was hard work!

First of all I had to deal with and study the dialectics of German grammar to avoid punctuation errors and spelling mistakes. Today I've mastered all of that. You can work at this as a worker.

 

Furthermore, I always listened closely when comrades or colleagues, friends or enemies had criticism. That was important to me because it also affected our public image, which always also is a part of the objective truth.

 

The biggest mistake in the history of my leadership work was my initially negative assessment of German reunification. I remember that day well, as it was the day we celebrated my mother's 60th birthday. On that day they opened the borders, and all came and cheered. I thought, wait and see what's in store for you, and blinded by my whole criticism of the usurpation of the GDR by Western monopolies – which was indeed taking place – I undervalued the democratic people's movement in the GDR. However, this movement was the decisive progressive force in fighting against bureaucratic capitalism in the GDR and for reunification.

 

My initial analysis was metaphysical! We then corrected this mistake with the whole organization. I gave a public statement about this and drew conclusions. I made no bones about the matter. I figured out that this mistake was based on weaknesses in mastering the dialectic method: one-sidedness; looking for metaphysical historical analogies, things that were there before and might return; drawing immediate conclusions.

 

Since then I have worked resolutely in theory and practice to overcome the general tendency in the old communist movement to attach little value to the dialectical method, which was one of the reasons for its downfall, and to master it better and better myself.

 

To date, 10,000 comrades have participated in the 12 semesters on the conscious application of the dialectical method which I developed, and thereby have effectively improved our party work. So it is not by chance that the members of the MLPD impress with a very great ability for independent orientation in the most complicated questions.

 

 

Fourth: From the very beginning I detested putting on airs as a functionary. On my father's side I come from a family with a communist tradition. They all were in the KPD – my father, his brothers, etc. After the ban of the KPD, many family members turned away from its ideals out of disappointment over the development of bureaucratic functionary cliques in the GDR and in the KPD. As justified as their criticisms of bureaucratic manifestations in the leadership of the SED and the KPD were, their conclusions were one-sided.

 

As dialectical negation the MLPD shaped a style of leadership without any functionary conceit – despite all self-confidence. We have to be role models without getting out of touch or even being arrogant. If you don't put yourself on a pedestal you can't fall down.

 

This is why a close connection to workers, to ordinary people was always very important to me. I always participated in rank-and-file work. When I moved to the Ruhr area I had to become familiar with and understand the totally different breed of people. Very important at that time was my friendship with Helga Janzcik, a cleaning woman in Gelsenkirchen, and Friedel and Hans Metzlaff, a steelworker family, who intensively introduced me to the Ruhr area mentality; the Ueckendorf workers' club, the football club Red/Yellow Ueckendorf, the street festival on Bergmannstrasse and the football club Red-White.

 

The revival of the revolutionary tradition of the Whitsun Youth Meeting also has its roots in that time and in the awareness that it is necessary to grasp the thinking, acting and feeling of the masses and to do much more to win the youth.

 

When writing an article or a speech I was very much concerned about how to make a subject understandable without improperly simplifying or getting trite. My greatest pleasure until today is when workers say to me after a speech on a complicated topic: “I understood everything – or at least most of it.”

 

 

Fifth: I set great store by a style of rank-and-file work that includes the masses, instead of patronizing them or downgrading them to listeners, lets them be the main actor, develops their self-confidence, promotes their strengths, mutually compensates weaknesses and helps overcome them: voter action groups, celebrations, editorial teams for newspapers, jointly prepared events, excursions… – all of this were the beginnings of the developed system of rank-and-file work of the MLPD today, which has become one of the party's unique features.

 

 

Sixth: I organize my life as unity of political and private life. The unity of thinking, feeling and acting is a basic issue in the life of every revolutionary. Talk revolution here and behave like a petty-bourgeois at home – that doesn't work. That won't convince anybody! You convince people not with words alone, but with your whole personality.

 

That also means to subordinate personal interests and needs to the cause if necessary. As a down-to-earth person, the many necessary relocations really were not my thing.

 

I also have a heart for children. But with a flock of children, my work as party chairman would not have been possible. Some friends or also partners were not ready to accept or share the revolutionary priority in my life. This required making some sacrifices in my life.

 

The crucial question can never be what do I get from the party, what advantages do I have? For me the guideline always was: What can I contribute to our goal, to our ideals, to the development of the party, to the promotion of the abilities and talents of all of its members and supporters?

 

This was not an ordeal for me, as it is always made out to be in the anticommunist press. I always liked my work and still do.

 

 

Seventh: I drew critical conclusions from the often practiced, often harsh handling of cadres in the old communist movement. Basically it is incompatible with the communist ideal of freedom to remove comrades from office, to depreciate them, to demote them, to destroy their function, their dignity or even their life in case of mistakes or supposed mistakes! Everybody has, together with the best qualities, always shortcomings, too, sometimes even bad habits, and makes mistakes.

 

In party building, too, sometimes very far-reaching mistakes and wrong decisions were made by single comrades or leading bodies. After all, we Marxist-Leninists are also exposed to destructive influences from bourgeois society and are influenced by them spontaneously. Not the mistake, but the attitude to mistakes became the deciding factor for the MLPD as party of a new type.

 

We must never develop reservations only because somebody has made mistakes. When we criticize, we always must consider the whole person and his or her whole life history.

 

Sometimes criticism is very difficult because one gets upset about certain mistakes and misconduct. Then one has to call on one's self-control, otherwise we get exactly the style we don't want to have: to give short shrift to people or to condemn them. One must strictly exercise objectivity of consideration, and especially put people first and offer help in case they have made mistakes.

 

In a differentiated cadre work we always have to convey proletarian self-confidence and not one-sidedly play up petty-bourgeois manifestations. Of course, this is something totally different from boasting, arrogance or even megalomania.

 

Also part of a successful handling of cadres is a proletarian culture of debate, through which alone positive, proletarian characteristics can prevail. You cannot achieve anything with a petty-bourgeois culture of debate – for example, with opinionatedness, or not talking to each other as equals. That will get you nowhere.

 

 

Eighth: I have always attached importance to skill and solid effort in party work. At home I learned that everything has to be accurate and tidy. During my apprenticeship as millwright I learned to work systematically. To this day the words of my foreman at the Anna works here in Rödental sound in my ear: “Before you disassemble a unit, think carefully how to reassemble it again.

 

In the course of my political work I realized that the strengths of the individual really can be brought to bear only with solid, skilled work, and that it is possible to learn even the most complicated function.

With skill and solid work, all these things can be learned.

Eighty percent of performing a function is solid, skilled work and can be learned by anyone who is halfway intelligent.

 

 

Ninth: I was always militant, fearless and had the necessary willingness to take risks.

 

If you make too much of yourself, you will become fearful, hesitant, indecisive, and finally lose your revolutionary attitude.

 

Such a willingness to take risks played a central role in leading working-class struggles: the Reichsbahn railway strike in Berlin in 1980, the steelworkers' struggle in Rheinhausen in 1988, the big miners' strike in 1997 and the Opel strike in 2004.

 

Or when we defied the anticommunist bank boycott, and with our financial reserves or our ecological investments exploited all potentials and created widely acknowledged, equally solid and attractive working conditions with the “Horster Mitte” in Gelsenkirchen and buildings like here in Truckenthal.

 

 

Tenth: The desire and ability for scientific work has grown over the years and today has become the norm in the MLPD.

 

I began as young party leader with an unyielding fighting spirit, great organizational aptitude and revolutionary drive, but at first I worked very much in an intuitive way, by emotion. Over time, with a lot of practice, together with positive and negative experiences, I also learned to work theoretically. Under the guidance of Willi Dickhut I learned to get to the bottom of things, to detect and qualify new manifestations and essential changes in nature, society or in the party, and in good time and with an eye to the future also to draw the necessary practical and theoretical conclusions. This is what theoretical work is about.

 

So step by step I got in a position to understand our ideological-political line better and better and further develop it in one or another issue when necessary. This ability for theoretical work is in the end the decisive process of maturing that goes to make a chairperson of a Marxist-Leninist party.

 

 

Eleven: During the whole period of my work I never lost a most intensive rapport with young people. I not only visited the yearly summer camps regularly, I attended 44 of 46 summer camps in the last 46 years, either as participant or as visitor. I also like to take part in youth activities. I made suggestions, provided personal guidance, and of course enjoyed the liveliness and freshness of our young comrades.

 

Dear friends, dear comrades!

 

So with pleasure and pride today I hand over the party chair to Gabi Gärtner, whom I have known since her earliest childhood.

 

It is already a tradition in the MLPD to build cadre reserves in time, to train prospectively future leadership personalities. However, in the last 20 years we, especially Monika and me, have systematically prepared the generation change at all levels of the party. The Tenth Party Congress last year could elect many young, already well-trained workers, women and youth functionaries into the Central Committee. The secretariat – the leading group between the plenums of the Central Committee – now also consists mostly of new, young comrades.

 

The whole party has taken over the full responsibility for this forward-looking process. The generation change at the head of the party was not born out of necessity, but is the mature fruit of a forward-looking cadre work.

 

Dear friends, dear comrades,

 

The Tenth Party Congress strongly welcomed this, and the Central Committee unanimously elected Gabi Gärtner as party chairwoman by secret ballot. The whole party stands behind this decision, as did the Tenth Party Congress, at which this proposal was made, and as do the youth league Rebell and the children's organization Red Foxes.

 

And for good reason: Gabi Gärtner has many good qualities. She has an exceptionally positive effect on people, reaches out to them and is able to win them quickly. She is militant, determined and disciplined, has a high cultural standard and power of persuasion. She has a pronounced organizational talent with much attention to detail, which for sure was also sharpened by her profession as toolmaker. Toolmakers always have to work with micrometer precision – this is not possible on a rule of the thumb basis, everything must fit.

 

As revolutionary worker she was significantly involved directly or indirectly in the leading of important workers' struggles.

 

I don't want to continue this list of her merits; in the years to come you will experience yourself how well qualified she is. In any case I am convinced that she is the best choice of our junior cadres.

 

Of course, she also has to learn a few things. I know what I'm talking about when I say: learning this task involves a process of self-change that takes years and decades. Errors and problems may occur in the process. The crucial thing is never to stop learning, modestly and confidently – learn from everybody from whom it is possible to learn. In doing so, Gabi will acquire the necessary trust on which I also could rely for many years.

 

Dear comrades,

 

Bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties like to adorn themselves with their rising young stars. Often a totally unrealistic image is drawn of them as mega cool climbers. Revolutionaries handle this a bit differently.

 

We give our new party chairwoman whatever support she needs, and at the same time always display revolutionary vigilance, accompany her with an open and critical mind and so show our basic respect. Let us always bear in mind: one-sided glorification is not only unreal, but can also apply dreadful pressure. With respect, let us allow Gabi to find her own way on the strong foundation of our program, resolutions and principles. I strongly believe that she will do a good job!

 

Now I want to thank all comrades and companions for the great trust, loyalty, solidarity and collaboration during the past 37 years. This solid basis of trust and cohesion was always an essential foundation for me to be able to work well.

 

And now I would like to present Gabi Gärtner with the keys, so to speak, to our well-ordered house. This is not a key for a safety lock, but a symbol that she is now in authority in the Horster Mitte in Gelsenkirchen.

 

All the best!

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