We Lived Better Then

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We Lived Better Then

Post by chlamor » Mon Dec 25, 2017 3:44 pm

We Lived Better Then
with 20 comments

Over two decades ago Vaclav Havel, the pampered scion of a wealthy Prague family, helped usher in a period of reaction, in which the holdings and estates of former landowners and captains of industry were restored to their previous owners, while unemployment, homelessness, and insecurity—abolished by the Reds– were put back on the agenda. Havel is eulogized by the usual suspects, but not by his numberless victims, who were pushed back into an abyss of exploitation by the Velvet revolution and other retrograde eruptions. With the fall of Communism allowing Havel and his brother to recover their family’s vast holdings, Havel’s life—he worked in a brewery under Communism—became much richer. The same can’t be said for countless others, whose better lives under Communism were swept away by a swindle that will, in the coming days, be lionized in the mass media on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s demolition. The anniversary is no time for celebration, except for the minority that has profited from it. For the bulk of us it ought to be an occasion to reflect on what the bottom 99 percent of humanity was able to achieve for ourselves outside the strictures, instabilities and unnecessary cruelties of capitalism.

Over the seven decades of its existence, and despite having to spend so much time preparing, fighting, and recovering from wars, Soviet socialism managed to create one of the great achievements of human history: a mass industrial society that eliminated most of the inequalities of wealth, income, education and opportunity that plagued what preceded it, what came after it, and what competed with it; a society in which health care and education through university were free (and university students received living stipends); where rent, utilities and public transportation were subsidized, along with books, periodicals and cultural events; where inflation was eliminated, pensions were generous, and child care was subsidized. By 1933, with the capitalist world deeply mired in a devastating economic crisis, unemployment was declared abolished, and remained so for the next five and a half decades, until socialism, itself was abolished. Excluding the war years, from 1928, when socialism was introduced, until Mikhail Gorbachev began to take it apart in the late 1980s, the Soviet system of central planning and public ownership produced unfailing economic growth, without the recessions and downturns that plagued the capitalist economies of North America, Japan and Western Europe. And in most of those years, the Soviet and Eastern European economies grew faster.

The Communists produced economic security as robust (and often more so) than that of the richest countries, but with fewer resources and a lower level of development and in spite of the unflagging efforts of the capitalist world to sabotage socialism. Soviet socialism was, and remains, a model for humanity — of what can be achieved outside the confines and contradictions of capitalism. But by the end of the 1980s, counterrevolution was sweeping Eastern Europe and Mikhail Gorbachev was dismantling the pillars of Soviet socialism. Naively, blindly, stupidly, some expected Gorbachev’s demolition project to lead the way to a prosperous consumer society, in which Soviet citizens, their bank accounts bulging with incomes earned from new jobs landed in a robust market economy, would file into colorful, luxurious shopping malls, to pick clean store shelves bursting with consumer goods. Others imagined a new era of a flowering multiparty democracy and expanded civil liberties, coexisting with public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, a model that seemed to owe more to utopian blueprints than hard-headed reality.

Of course, none of the great promises of the counterrevolution were kept. While at the time the demise of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was proclaimed as a great victory for humanity, not least by leftist intellectuals in the United States, two decades later there’s little to celebrate. The dismantling of socialism has, in a word, been a catastrophe, a great swindle that has not only delivered none of what it promised, but has wreaked irreparable harm, not only in the former socialist countries, but throughout the Western world, as well. Countless millions have been plunged deep into poverty, imperialism has been given a free hand, and wages and benefits in the West have bowed under the pressure of intensified competition for jobs and industry unleashed by a flood of jobless from the former socialist countries, where joblessness once, rightly, was considered an obscenity. Numberless voices in Russia, Romania, East Germany and elsewhere lament what has been stolen from them — and from humanity as a whole: “We lived better under communism. We had jobs. We had security.” And with the threat of jobs migrating to low-wage, high unemployment countries of Eastern Europe, workers in Western Europe have been forced to accept a longer working day, lower pay, and degraded benefits. Today, they fight a desperate rearguard action, where the victories are few, the defeats many. They too lived better — once.

But that’s only part of the story. For others, for investors and corporations, who’ve found new markets and opportunities for profitable investment, and can reap the benefits of the lower labor costs that attend intensified competition for jobs, the overthrow of socialism has, indeed, been something to celebrate. Equally, it has been welcomed by the landowning and industrial elite of the pre-socialist regimes whose estates and industrial concerns have been recovered and privatized. But they’re a minority. Why should the rest of us celebrate our own mugging?

Prior to the dismantling of socialism, most people in the world were protected from the vicissitudes of the global capitalist market by central planning and high tariff barriers. But once socialism fell in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and with China having marched resolutely down the capitalist road, the pool of unprotected labor available to transnational corporations expanded many times over. Today, a world labor force many times larger than the domestic pool of US workers — and willing to work dirt cheap — awaits the world’s corporations. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the implications are for North American workers and their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan: an intense competition of all against all for jobs and industry. Inevitably, incomes fall, benefits are eroded, and working hours extended. Predictably, with labor costs tumbling, profits grow fat, capital surpluses accumulate and create bubbles, financial crises erupt and predatory wars to secure investment opportunities break out.

Growing competition for jobs and industry has forced workers in Western Europe to accept less. They work longer hours, and in some cases, for less pay and without increases in benefits, to keep jobs from moving to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and other former socialist countries — which, under the rule of the Reds, once provided jobs for all. More work for less money is a pleasing outcome for the corporate class, and turns out to be exactly the outcome fascists engineered for their countries’ capitalists in the 1930s. The methods, to be sure, were different, but the anti-Communism of Mussolini and Hitler, in other hands, has proved just as useful in securing the same retrograde ends. Nobody who is subject to the vagaries of the labor market – almost all of us — should be glad Communism was abolished.

Maybe some us don’t know we’ve been mugged. And maybe some of us haven’t been. Take the radical US historian Howard Zinn, for example, who, along with most other prominent Left intellectuals, greeted the overthrow of Communism with glee [1]. I, no less than others, admired Zinn’s books, articles and activism, though I came to expect his ardent anti-Communism as typical of left US intellectuals. To be sure, in a milieu hostile to Communism, it should come as no surprise that conspicuous displays of anti-Communism become a survival strategy for those seeking to establish a rapport, and safeguard their reputations, with a larger (and vehemently anti-Communist) audience.

But there may be another reason for the anti-Communism of those whose political views leave them open to charges of being soft on Communism, and therefore of having horns. As dissidents in their own society, there was always a natural tendency for them to identify with dissidents elsewhere – and the pro-capitalist, anti-socialist propaganda of the West quite naturally elevated dissidents in socialist countries to the status of heroes, especially those who were jailed, muzzled and otherwise repressed by the state. For these people, the abridgement of civil liberties anywhere looms large, for the abridgement of their own civil liberties would be an event of great personal significance. By comparison, the Reds’ achievements in providing a comfortable frugality and economic security to all, while recognized intellectually as an achievement of some note, is less apt to stir the imagination of one who has a comfortable income, the respect of his peers, and plenty of people to read his books and attend his lectures. He doesn’t have to scavenge discarded coal in garbage dumps to eke out a bare, bleak, and unrewarding existence. Some do.

Karol, 14, and his sister Alina, 12, everyday trudge to a dump, where mixed industrial waste is deposited, just outside Swietochlowice, in formerly socialist Poland. There, along with their father, they look for scrap metal and second grade coal, anything to fetch a few dollars to buy a meager supply of groceries. “There was better life in Communism,” says Karol’s father, 49, repeating a refrain heard over and over again, not only in Poland, but also throughout the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. “I was working 25 years for the same company and now I cannot find a job – any job. They only want young and skilled workers.” [2] According to Gustav Molnar, a political analyst with the Laszlo Teleki Institute, “the reality is that when foreign firms come here, they’re only interested in hiring people under 30. It means half the population is out of the game.” [3] That may suit the bottom lines of foreign corporations – and the overthrow of socialism may have been a pleasing intellectual outcome for well-fed, comfortable intellectuals from Boston – but it hardly suits that part of the Polish population that must scramble over mountains of industrial waste – or perish. Maciej Gdula, 34, a founding member of the group, Krytyka Polityczna, or Political Critique, complains that many Poles “are disillusioned with the unfulfilled promises of capitalism. They promised us a world of consumption, stability and freedom. Instead, we got an entire generation of Poles who emigrated to go wash dishes.” [4] Under socialism “there was always work for everybody” [5] – at home. And always a place to live, free schools to go to, and doctors to see, without charge. So why was Howard Zinn glad that Communism was overthrown?

That the overthrow of socialism has failed to deliver anything of benefit to the majority is plain to see. One decade after counterrevolution skittered across Eastern Europe, 17 former socialist countries were immeasurably poorer. In Russia, poverty had tripled. One child in 10 – three million Russian children – lived like animals, ill-fed, dressed in rags, and living, if they were lucky, in dirty, squalid flats. In Moscow alone, 30,000 to 50,000 children slept in the streets. Life expectancy, education, adult-literacy and income declined. A report by the European Children’s Trust, written in 2000, revealed that 40 percent of the population of the former socialist countries – a number equal to one of every two US citizens – lived in poverty. Infant mortality and tuberculosis were on the rise, approaching Third World levels. The situation, according to the UN, was catastrophic. And everywhere the story was the same. [6, 7, 8, 9]

Paul Cockshot points out that:

The restoration of the market mechanism in Russia was a vast controlled experiment. Nation, national character and culture, natural resources and productive potential remained the same, only the economic mechanism changed. If Western economists were right, then we should have expected economic growth and living standards to have leapt forward after the Yeltsin shock therapy. Instead the country became an economic basket-case. Industrial production collapsed, technically advanced industries atrophied, and living standards fell so much that the death rate shot up by over a third leading to some 7.7 million extra deaths.

For many Russians, life became immeasurably worse.

If you were old, if you were a farmer, if you were a manual worker, the market was a great deal worse than even the relatively stagnant Soviet economy of Brezhnev. The recovery under Putin, such as it was, came almost entirely as a side effect of rising world oil prices, the very process that had operated under Brezhnev. [10]

While the return of capitalism made life harsher for some, it proved lethal for others. From 1991 to 1994, life expectancy in Russia tumbled by five years. By 2008, it had slipped to less than 60 years for Russian men, a full seven years lower than in 1985 when Gorbachev came to power and began to dismantle Soviet socialism. Today “only a little over half of the ex-Communist countries have regained their pretransition life-expectancy levels,” according to a study published in the medical journal, The Lancet. [11]

“Life was better under the Communists,” concludes Aleksandr. “The stores are full of things, but they’re very expensive.” Victor pines for the “stability of an earlier era of affordable health care, free higher education and housing, and the promise of a comfortable retirement – things now beyond his reach.” [12] A 2008 report in the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, noted that “many Russians interviewed said they still grieve for their long, lost country.” Among the grievers is Zhanna Sribnaya, 37, a Moscow writer. Sribnaya remembers “Pioneer camps when everyone could go to the Black Sea for summer vacations. Now, only people with money can take those vacations.” [13]

Ion Vancea, a Romanian who struggles to get by on a picayune $40 per month pension says, “It’s true there was not much to buy back then, but now prices are so high we can’t afford to buy food as well as pay for electricity.” Echoing the words of many Romanians, Vancea adds, “Life was 10 times better under (Romanian Communist Party leader Nicolae) Ceausescu.” [14] An opinion poll carried out last year found that Vancea isn’t in the minority. Conducted by the Romanian polling organisation CSOP, the survey found that almost one-half of Romanians thought life was better under Ceauşescu, compared to less than one-quarter who thought life is better today. And while Ceauşescu is remembered in the West as a Red devil, only seven percent said they suffered under Communism. Why do half of Romanians think life was better under the Reds? They point to full employment, decent living conditions for all, and guaranteed housing – advantages that disappeared with the fall of Communism. [15]

Next door, in Bulgaria, 80 percent say they are worse off now that the country has transitioned to a market economy. Only five percent say their standard of living has improved. [16] Mimi Vitkova, briefly Bulgaria’s health minister for two years in the mid-90s, sums up life after the overthrow of socialism: “We were never a rich country, but when we had socialism our children were healthy and well-fed. They all got immunized. Retired people and the disabled were provided for and got free medicine. Our hospitals were free.” But things have changed, she says. “Today, if a person has no money, they have no right to be cured. And most people have no money. Our economy was ruined.” [17] A 2009 poll conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that a paltry one in nine Bulgarians believe ordinary people are better off as a result of the transition to capitalism. And few regard the state as representing their interests. Only 16 percent say it is run for the benefit of all people. [18]

In the former East Germany a new phenomenon has arisen: Ostalgie, a nostalgia for the GDR. During the Cold War era, East Germany’s relative poverty was attributed to public ownership and central planning – sawdust in the gears of the economic engine, according to anti-socialist mythology. But the propaganda conveniently ignored the fact that the eastern part of Germany had always been less developed than the west, that it had been plundered of its key human assets at the end of World War II by US occupation forces, that the Soviet Union had carted off everything of value to indemnify itself for its war losses, and that East Germany bore the brunt of Germany’s war reparations to Moscow. [19] On top of that, those who fled East Germany were said to be escaping the repression of a brutal regime, and while some may indeed have been ardent anti-Communists fleeing repression by the state, most were economic refugees, seeking the embrace of a more prosperous West, whose riches depended in large measure on a history of slavery, colonialism, and ongoing imperialism—processes of capital accumulation the Communist countries eschewed and spent precious resources fighting against.

Today, nobody of an unprejudiced mind would say that the riches promised East Germans have been realized. Unemployment, once unheard of, runs in the double digits and rents have skyrocketed. The region’s industrial infrastructure – weaker than West Germany’s during the Cold War, but expanding — has now all but disappeared. And the population is dwindling, as economic refugees, following in the footsteps of Cold War refugees before them, make their way westward in search of jobs and opportunity. [20] “We were taught that capitalism was cruel,” recalls Ralf Caemmerer, who works for Otis Elevator. “You know, it didn’t turn out to be nonsense.” [21] As to the claim that East Germans have “freedom” Heinz Kessler, a former East German defense minister replies tartly, “Millions of people in Eastern Europe are now free from employment, free from safe streets, free from health care, free from social security.” [22] Still, Howard Zinn was glad communism collapsed. But then, he didn’t live in East Germany.

So, who’s doing better? Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright turned president, came from a prominent, vehemently anti-socialist Prague family, which had extensive holdings, “including construction companies, real estate and the Praque Barrandov film studios”. [23] The jewel in the crown of the Havel family holdings was the Lucerna Palace, “a pleasure palace…of arcades, theatres, cinemas, night-clubs, restaurants, and ballrooms,” according to Frommer’s. It became “a popular spot for the city’s nouveau riches to congregate,” including a young Havel, who, raised in the lap of luxury by a governess, doted on by servants, and chauffeured around town in expensive automobiles, “spent his earliest years on the Lucerna’s polished marble floors.” Then, tragedy struck – at least, from Havel’s point of view. The Reds expropriated Lucerna and the family’s other holdings, and put them to use for the common good, rather than for the purpose of providing the young Havel with more servants. Havel was sent to work in a brewery.

“I was different from my schoolmates whose families did not have domestics, nurses or chauffeurs,” Havel once wrote. “But I experienced these differences as disadvantage. I felt excluded from the company of my peers.” [24] Yet the company of his peers must not have been to Havel’s tastes, for as president, he was quick to reclaim the silver spoon the Reds had taken from his mouth. Celebrated throughout the West as a hero of intellectual freedom, he was instead a hero of capitalist restoration, presiding over a mass return of nationalized property, including Lucerna and his family’s other holdings.

The Roman Catholic Church is another winner. The pro-capitalist Hungarian government has returned to the Roman Catholic Church much of the property nationalized by the Reds, who placed the property under common ownership for the public good. With recovery of many of the Eastern and Central European properties it once owned, the Church is able to reclaim its pre-socialist role of parasite — raking in vast amounts of unearned wealth in rent, a privilege bestowed for no other reason than it owns title to the land. Hungary also pays the Vatican a US$9.2 million annuity for property it has been unable to return. [25] (Note that a 2008 survey of 1,000 Hungarians by the Hungarian polling firm Gif Piackutato found that 60 percent described the era of Communist rule under Red leader Janos Kadar as Hungary’s happiest while only 14 percent said the same about the post-Communist era. [26])

The Church, former landowners, and CEOs aside, most people of the former socialist bloc aren’t pleased that the gains of the socialist revolutions have been reversed. Three-quarters of Russians, according to a 1999 poll [27] regret the demise of the Soviet Union. And their assessment of the status quo is refreshingly clear-sighted. Almost 80 percent recognize liberal democracy as a front for a government controlled by the rich. A majority (correctly) identifies the cause of its impoverishment as an unjust economic system (capitalism), which, according to 80 percent, produces “excessive and illegitimate inequalities.” [28] The solution, in the view of the majority, is to return to socialism, even if it means one-party rule. Russians, laments the anti-Communist historian Richard Pipes, haven’t Americans’ taste for multiparty democracy, and seem incapable of being cured of their fondness for Soviet leaders. In one poll, Russians were asked to list the 10 greatest people of all time, of all nations. Lenin came in second, Stalin fourth and Peter the Great came first. Pipes seems genuinely distressed they didn’t pick his old boss, Ronald Reagan, and is fed up that after years of anti-socialist, pro-capitalist propaganda, Russians remain committed to the idea that private economic activity should be restricted, and “the government [needs] to be more involved in the country’s economic life.” [29] An opinion poll which asked Russians which socio-economic system they favor, produced these results.

• State planning and distribution, 58%;

• Based on private property and distribution, 28%;

• Hard to say, 14%. [30]

So, if the impoverished peoples of the formerly socialist countries pine for the former attractions of socialism, why don’t they vote the Reds back in? Socialism can’t be turned on with the flick of a switch. The former socialist economies have been privatized and placed under the control of the market. Those who accept the goals and values of capitalism have been recruited to occupy pivotal offices of the state. And economic, legal and political structures have been altered to accommodate private production for profit. True, there are openings for Communist parties to operate within the new multiparty liberal democracies, but Communists now compete with far more generously funded parties in societies in which their enemies have restored their wealth and privileges and use them to tilt the playing field strongly in their favor. They own the media, and therefore are in a position to shape public opinion and give parties of private property critical backing during elections. They spend a king’s ransom on lobbying the state and politicians and running think-tanks which churn out policy recommendations and furnish the media with capitalist-friendly “expert” commentary. They set the agenda in universities through endowments, grants and the funding of special chairs to study questions of interest to their profits. They bring politicians under their sway by doling out generous campaign contributions and promises of lucrative post-political career employment opportunities. Is it any wonder the Reds aren’t simply voted back into power? Capitalist democracy means democracy for the few—the capitalists—not a level-playing field where wealth, private-property and privilege don’t matter.

And anyone who thinks Reds can be elected to office should reacquaint themselves with US foreign policy vis-a-vis Chile circa 1973. The United States engineered a coup to overthrow the socialist Salvador Allende, on the grounds that Chileans couldn’t be allowed to make the ”irresponsible” choice of electing a man Cold Warriors regarded as a Communist. More recently, the United States, European Union and Israel, refused to accept the election of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, all the while hypocritically presenting themselves as champions and guardians of democracy.

Of course, no forward step will be taken, can be taken, until a decisive part of the population becomes disgusted with and rejects what exists today, and is convinced something better is possible and is willing to tolerate the upheavals of transition. Something better than unceasing economic insecurity, private (and for many, unaffordable) health care and education, and vast inequality, is achievable. The Reds proved that. It was the reality in the Soviet Union, in China (for a time), in Eastern Europe, and today, hangs on in Cuba and North Korea, despite the incessant and far-ranging efforts of the United States to crush it.

It should be no surprise that Vaclav Havel, as others whose economic and political supremacy was, for a time, ended by the Reds, was a tireless fighter against socialism, and that he, and others, who sought to reverse the gains of the revolution, were cracked down on, and sometimes muzzled and jailed by the new regimes. To expect otherwise is to turn a blind eye to the determined struggle that is carried on by the enemies of socialism, even after socialist forces have seized power. The forces of reaction retain their money, their movable property, the advantages of education, and above all, their international connections. To grant them complete freedom is to grant them a free hand to organize the downfall of socialism, to receive material assistance from abroad to reverse the revolution, and to elevate the market and private ownership once again to the regulating principles of the economy. Few champions of civil liberties argue that in the interests of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press, that Germans ought to be allowed to hold pro-Nazi rallies, establish a pro-Nazi press, and organize fascist political parties, to return to the days of the Third Reich. To survive, any socialist government, must, of necessity, be repressive toward its enemies, who, like Havel, will seek their overthrow and the return of their privileged positions. This is demonized as totalitarianism by those who have an interest in seeing anti-socialist forces prevail, regard civil and political liberties (as against a world of plenty for all) as the pinnacle of human achievement, or have an unrealistically sanguine view of the possibilities for the survival of socialist islands in a sea of predatory capitalist states.

Where Reds have prevailed, the outcome has been far-reaching material gain for the bulk of the population: full employment, free health care, free education through university, free and subsidized child care, cheap living accommodations and inexpensive public transportation. Life expectancy has soared, illiteracy has been wiped out, and homelessness, unemployment and economic insecurity have been abolished. Racial strife and ethnic tensions have been reduced to almost the vanishing point. And inequalities in wealth, income, opportunity, and education have been greatly reduced. Where Reds have been overthrown, mass unemployment, underdevelopment, hunger, disease, illiteracy, homelessness, and racial conflict have recrudesced, as the estates, holdings and privileges of former fat cats have been restored. Communists produced gains in the interest of all humanity, achieved in the face of very trying conditions, including the unceasing hostility of the West and the unremitting efforts of the former exploiters to restore the status quo ante.

1. Howard Zinn, “Beyond the Soviet Union,” Znet Commentary, September 2, 1999.

2. “Left behind by the luxury train,” The Globe and Mail, March 29, 2000.

3. “Support dwindling in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland,” The Chicago Tribune, May 27, 2001.

4. Dan Bilefsky, “Polish left gets transfusion of young blood,” The New York Times, March 12, 2010.

5. “Support dwindling in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland,” The Chicago Tribune, May 27, 2001.

6. “An epidemic of street kids overwhelms Russian cities,” The Globe and Mail, April 16, 2002.

7. “UN report says one billion suffer extreme poverty,” World Socialist Web Site, July 28, 2003.

8. Associated Press, October 11, 2000.

9. “UN report….

10. Paul Cockshott, “Book review: Red Plenty by Francis Spufford”, Marxism-Leninism Today, http://mltoday.com/en/subject-areas/boo ... 986-2.html

11. David Stuckler, Lawrence King and Martin McKee, “Mass Privatization and the Post-Communist Mortality Crisis: A Cross-National Analysis,” Judy Dempsey, “Study looks at mortality in post-Soviet era,” The New York Times, January 16, 2009.

12. “In Post-U.S.S.R. Russia, Any Job Is a Good Job,” New York Times, January 11, 2004.

13. Globe and Mail (Canada), June 9, 2008.

14. “Disdain for Ceausescu passing as economy worsens,” The Globe and Mail, December 23, 1999.

15. James Cross, “Romanians say communism was better than capitalism”, 21st Century Socialism, October 18, 2010. http://21stcenturysocialism.com/article ... 02030.html “Opinion poll: 61% of Romanians consider communism a good idea”, ActMedia Romanian News Agency, September 27, 2010. http://www.actmedia.eu/top+story/opinio ... idea/29726

16. “Bulgarians feel swindled after 13 years of capitalism,” AFP, December 19, 2002.

17. “Bulgaria tribunal examines NATO war crimes,” Workers World, November 9, 2000.

18. Matthew Brunwasser, “Bulgaria still stuck in trauma of transition,” The New York Times, November 11, 2009.

19. Jacques R. Pauwels, “The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War,” James Lorimer & Company, Toronto, 2002. p. 232-235.

20. “Warm, Fuzzy Feeling for East Germany’s Grey Old Days,” New York Times, January 13, 2004.

21. “Hard lessons in capitalism for Europe’s unions,” The Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2003.

22. New York Times, July 20, 1996, cited in Michael Parenti, “Blackshirts & Reds: Rational Fascism & the Overthrow of Communism,” City Light Books, San Francisco, 1997, p. 118.

23. Leos Rousek, “Czech playwright, dissident rose to become president”, The Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2011.

24. Dan Bilefsky and Jane Perlez, “Czechs’ dissident conscience, turned president”, The New York Times, December 18, 2011.

25. U.S. Department of State, “Summary of Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe,” September 10, 2003. http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/or/2003/31415.htm

26. “Poll shows majority of Hungarians feel life was better under communism,” May 21, 2008, www.politics.hu

27. Cited in Richard Pipes, “Flight from Freedom: What Russians Think and Want,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2004.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

30. “Russia Nw”, in The Washington Post, March 25, 2009.

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Re: We Lived Better Then

Post by chlamor » Mon Dec 25, 2017 3:45 pm

An experiment in living socialism: Bulgaria then and now

by: F.S.
october 2 2013

"The Communist Manifesto now reads as if it was written just a few weeks ago. ... the experience of Eastern Europe and of the Third World shows the vital need for a universalist left as the only real alternative to diverse forms of barbarism."[1]

Building blocks for a 'people's history' of socialism 1.0

At this critical juncture, given the fierce urgency of now, it is time for the left to give renewed attention to the socialist experience in Eastern Europe. We need to re-explore in depth across the radical left in North America, Europe and elsewhere what was progressive and successful, in the former 'real-socialist' economies in Eastern Europe-especially the smaller socialist states like Bulgaria-along with their weaknesses, mistakes, contradictions and myriad problems engendered by the enduring impact of the Cold War. The socialist countries have been turned with a vengeance into a "testing ground of an extremely aggressive form of neo-liberal social engineering, an attempt to violently impose a change in social paradigm".[2] We are seeing a metamorphosis in political and economic paradigms at the hands of the IMF, EU-and a nouveau riche comprador bourgeoisie and coterie of oligarchs-that has transmuted much of the post-socialist world into a vast societal poorhouse.

Researchers have argued that the neo-colonial tsunami in the wake of the Cold War has brought extreme neo-capitalist versions of neo-liberalism into Eastern Europe, with devastating results for education and social welfare.[3] Bourgeois history's irony--or perhaps its Cunning of Reason in Hegel's classic sense--is that major achievements under 'real existing' socialisms in the 20th century were what people everywhere under austerity capitalism are fighting for here and now.

My core thesis is this: The narratives of ordinary people who grew up in socialism and now work and live in post-socialist societies in the throes of anomie [a widespread breakdown in social order] and severe poverty, their basic dignity trampled, need to be collected, discussed and disseminated widely. This will provide a record of authentic experience and memory as radical as reality itself. Such narratives can only sharpen our visions of 21st-century 'democratic socialism.' Such a project should be oriented toward oral history and biographical inquiry, exploring what life in these socialist states actually was like, as seen by ordinary citizens now living in the chaos of restored capitalism.

It has been argued that the restoration of market economies and bourgeois democracy across Eastern Europe, along with a massive de-collectivization of agriculture and privatization of industry have trashed human dignity and slashed the gains of 'real-socialist' welfare over many decades. Economic and ideological colonization from the West intensified for the vast majority of working families on a massive scale. One author recently observed that

"The dismantling of socialism has, in a word, been a catastrophe, a great swindle that has not only delivered none of what it promised, but has wreaked irreparable harm .... Numberless voices in Russia, Romania, East Germany and elsewhere lament what has been stolen from them - and from humanity as a whole: 'We lived better under communism. We had jobs. We had security.'"[4]

Speaking about 'socialism 2.0' for the 21st century, Peter Mertens, chair of the Workers Party of Belgium, noted in a 2012 interview: "It's also not the case that we don't know anything at all or that we have to start from a blank sheet of paper. There exist experiences, there was a socialism 1.0, with its strong points and its weak points, with its fantastic achievements, but also with its grievous mistakes. And we're living in different times."

The Cold War is over, yet it continues in some socialist ranks in a kind of ideological time warp. In forging left unity, debates about how to build a broad Marxist party need an empirical 'counter-grounding' in what the socialist workers' experiments in Eastern Europe actually meant for ordinary families, as perceived by real people today, now caught up in the chaos of contradictions under restored capitalism in these same societies. Their authentic stories-the subject-anchored nexus of history and memory-are relevant to the present struggle and reflect the once functioning realities, which have now been gutted, about which many North American socialists seem to be remarkably oblivious. But it is precisely this contrast between then and now in post-socialist societies in Eastern Europe that is highly instructive. We can learn much from past achievements as they were experienced and lived. This can serve to counteract the "danger of a single story" in our lingering conceptions of what socialism was (and was not) in Eastern Europe.

Bulgaria-An Icon of the Post-Socialist Freefall

Today, in 2013, the Bulgarian economy is in massive contraction under capitalism's neo-liberal 'shock therapy'. Bulgaria is now the lowest-income post-socialist state, with the highest levels of economic emigration in Europe, reflective of capitalism's 'race to the bottom' in the EU. As one author noted in 2009: "Capitalism's failure to lift living standards, impose the rule of law and tame flourishing corruption and nepotism has given way to fond memories of the times when the jobless rate was zero, food was cheap and social safety was high".[5] Many Bulgarians who were born in the 1970's and before view the socialist period as "a golden era" compared to today. There is a popular current Bulgarian joke about a woman who wakes up and runs about her house at night in panic, looking into the medicine cabinet, the refrigerator and then out the window into the street. Relieved, she returns to the bedroom. Her husband asks her, "What's wrong with you?" "I had a terrible nightmare," she says. "I dreamt that we could still afford to buy medicine, that the refrigerator was absolutely full, and that the streets were safe and clean." "How is that a nightmare?" the husband asks. The woman shakes her head, "I thought the communists were back in power."[6]

A substantial segment of the Bulgarian population over the age of 40 remains convinced that, 25-35 years ago, the socialist welfare system in Bulgaria delivered the necessary goods and services for most families-production for basic human and societal needs-within a largely egalitarian system that was firmly grounded on the development, availability and access to universal social programs. More empirical research is imperative, including qualitative inquiry probing 'working people's post-socialist subjectivity and memory,' explorations in the 'oral history of real Socialism,' biography as a 'flare' to illuminate past societal and communal realities. Nothing is black and white, and every point touched on here can be explored further. A tiny minority of privileged or much younger Bulgarians will of course disagree.[7] Bulgarian narratives can be supplemented by stories from Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia and elsewhere.

'Democracy' is a knee-jerk expletive many Bulgarians born 1970 and before use with open contempt, identifying it with the restoration of capitalism, return to a class society, poverty, despair, insecurity, and gross inequality--the wholesale trashing of the human dignity of ordinary people. Bulgaria, which has basically been colonized by neo-liberalism, now has the lowest wages in Europe and is faced with the NATOization of the country, massive joblessness, and the near collapse of Bulgarian agriculture. The country is now confronted with corrosive social chaos, widespread social breakdown, a new ruling class in power, and "predatory globalization", all at the expense of ordinary workers. Bulgarians are now bombarded with endless rhetoric exalting the cult of the commodity and "becoming Europeans." Wracked by the havoc of 23 years of unending social and economic crisis, substantial numbers of Bulgarians-including Roma, many now working as economic migrants in Western Europe-feel that they and their families were significantly better off materially under the old 'universal welfare' regime, whatever its defects, with its southern and southeastern border in front-line confrontation with Greece and Turkey, key capitalist client states in the eastern Mediterranean.

A vast, ever-expanding economic gap has emerged between Bulgaria's haves and its have-nots. The latest Eurostat statistics show that Bulgaria had the highest share of persons at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU in 2011, at just under 50 percent. The Bulgarian 'rule of law' ranking is among the world's lowest. Today the Pentagon operates four military bases in Bulgaria, its compliant new ally. Some 20 percent of the country's population has emigrated since 1990. We have seen a gigantic exodus, the direct result of an unplanned, corporate-run 'free market' economy and a society in constant crisis since the 'obscure disaster' of 1989. A recent opinion survey concludes that a majority of people in Bulgaria think the "situation is unbearable". In 2013, there have been a number of public suicides by the desperate. A "demographic collapse" is looming due to massive emigration, and the birthrate has dropped to its lowest level since 1945.

As Gowans (2011) underscores: "A 2009 poll conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that a mere one-in-nine Bulgarians believe ordinary people are better off as a result of the transition to capitalism. And few regard the state as representing their interests. Only 16 percent say it is run for the benefit of all people." A new oligarchy and its supporters, largely based in Sofia and closely linked with the colonizing EU, enjoy remarkable privilege, at the majority's expense. Part of this wealth is centered in the Bulgarian and foreign-owned Black Sea tourist industry. As Alexander Andreev recently observed

"Since the breakdown of the communist system in 1989 and 1990, Bulgaria has been ruled by networks of oligarchies and clientilism. Practically all parties and coalitions in power serve the interests of large economic actors - or worse, those of shadow organizations which began as organized crime running protection rackets, who later established themselves as powerful market agents."[8]

Like many of the social democratic parties across Europe, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the transformed Bulgarian CP of old, is largely pro-NATO, espousing a 'milder' makeover of neo-liberal market capitalism. It is headed by Sergei Stanishev. A somewhat puzzling political paradox here is the absence of any anti-capitalist movement in the streets or in the electoral arena. Disillusioned with politicians, mass alienation from the political elite is rife, as reflected in popular protest in February 2013 and again against the newly installed, BSP-led government from June 2013. Andreev (2013) bemoans the "lack of coherency" in the protests, given that the demonstrators have "formed no political party ... Aside from a couple of generally formulated goals, they also have no understandable list of implementation measures - which would be required for the crisis-bound fields of education, healthcare, energy or the stagnating economy." "People before profits" is not a key demand, while the popular slogan "Red Trash!" points up the center-right political sentiment driving many of the demonstrators. Dawson (2013), a British political scientist, critiques the openly anti-Turkish and racist innuendo among the disgruntled on the streets of Sofia and some other towns in the June-August mass protests. Living in this post-socialist labyrinth of contradictions, alienation between the Bulgarian masses and the State is perhaps at its highest level since liberation in 1878 from nearly five centuries of Turkish rule.

Looking back with more than nostalgia

The southernmost of the former socialist countries, Bulgaria was arguably the most successful East European socialist economy and polity. The percentage of ordinary Bulgarian working people aged 40 and over who think they were far better off under socialism in the 1970s and 1980s is markedly higher than their counterparts who have been polled in the former Soviet Union, Romania, and Poland. They traveled freely throughout the socialist bloc, at very low cost, and could see life elsewhere, and talk with citizens there. Bulgaria was also packed with summer and wintertime vacationers from the socialist bloc, on the Black Sea and at its skiing facilities. There were rich opportunities to interact and exchange perceptions. So why do we continue to engage in stereotypical generalizations about a monolithic 'Soviet' system? Why should we assume that the USSR was necessarily representative of the distinctive local realities in far smaller states such as Bulgaria? The memories of many older Bulgarians belie the notion that socialism was 'dictatorial,' a totalitarian society of unending hardship, oppression and lack of freedom, with its drab economy producing only shoddy goods.

On the other hand, it may well be the case that a significant segment of older Bulgarians would echo what Irina Malenko (b. 1967), author of the memoir/novel Sovietica, has written about growing up in the Soviet Union. Recently interviewed, Malenko (2013) noted

"Our life was very secure, safe, in a quiet, non-stressful environment, absolutely free of drugs, with virtually no crime. There was quite a lot of social control: if somebody was doing something wrong, his colleagues or neighbors would set him right. Every adult was in employment, except for disabled people, family care providers - if they wished to stay at home - and retired people. Retirement age was fifty-five for women and sixty for men. Soviet people were also the most literate people in the world. All art was very easy to access. Libraries were free of charge. Books, theater plays, concerts, museums, and exhibitions were extremely cheap.

We had a guaranteed right to housing, the right to have a job, and the right to have a paid holiday. Housing costs were extremely low. People paid only for water and electricity, just three or four percent of their wages in total. The state would give people apartments free of charge, for life, and their children could stay to live there, but you were not allowed to sell it. Public transport was extremely cheap too, as well as food. Children' clothes and shoes were subsidized by the state. Schoolbooks were supplied free of charge. ... We had whole publishing houses working specially on children's books; there was an enormous amount of cartoons and feature films produced especially for children ... All sports clubs were fully free of charge. Kids were encouraged to attend them."[9]

Bulgarian collectivized agriculture thrived, and industry expanded significantly. A major computer industry was built, centered in the town of Pravetz. Many agro-collectives, enterprises, factories, schools, and universities had vacation spots on the Black Sea providing nearly cost-free vacations for their workers. Now all that has vanished and Black Sea vacations are too costly for most. Importantly, there was a minutely planned economy that oversaw production to meet basic human needs, not the free-market chaos rife in the country today. Ostensible regime aims, basically implemented for most citizens, were a distinctive form of radical material equality, full guaranteed employment. There was a concerted effort to develop a strong sense of social solidarity, despite existing racism toward large ethnic minorities, Turkish and Roma. They were integrated as 'citizens' but not as collective ethnic minorities, with rights of their own. Socialist laws reduced structural discrimination. Yet endemic racism against Roma remained, a clear failing of socialist states across Eastern Europe (see below).

The Bulgarian socialist system was grounded on free education, free high-quality medical care, and excellent nearly cost-free public transport. In essence, most services for basic needs were 'de-commodified,' with the cost to consumers very low, and indeed almost 'demonetized' for water, electricity, transport, and central urban steam heating. Those costs are now skyrocketing, most especially for electricity and gas. The Bulgarian railroad system, once a model, is now in deep trouble as passenger numbers have plummeted by over 50 percent since 2001. Municipal bus fares are now 18 times the cost of a ticket under state socialism, where the old fare of 6 stotinki (= $0.04) was largely 'symbolic.' Cafes and restaurants used to be packed with working people, because they were low-cost and non-profit; now far fewer people can afford to go out. Maternity leave under socialism (three years partially paid) is now severely restricted, with many mothers distraught at the meager assistance they receive. Under socialism Bulgaria was reputed to have one of the best medical systems in Eastern Europe; today there is a huge emigration of medical personnel, given that salaries for health-care workers in Bulgaria are the lowest in Europe and the severe lack of medical equipment (once good, now antiquated). There was a good local pharmaceutical industry in Bulgaria in the 1970s and 1980s, which was run on a not-for-profit basis, producing low-cost, high-quality medications. Today nearly all medications are imported from the West and are costly, and many Bulgarians will tell you that their quality is questionable. Lots of older people are dismayed because they cannot afford essential drugs. Big bribes for doctors are now common and many patients are penniless. All this is destructive of basic human dignity.

As Mimi Vitkova, a Minister of Health in the 1990s, noted a decade ago

"We were never a rich country, but when we had socialism our children were healthy and well-fed. They all got immunized. Retired people and the disabled were provided for and got free medicine. Our hospitals were free. Today, if a person has no money, they have no right to be cured. And most people have no money. Our economy was ruined."[10]

Family incomes under socialism were often better in terms of actual buying power than after 23 years of 'democracy' and the free market. Many ordinary older working and retired Bulgarians will corroborate this fact. Then all had a job at a living wage. Now the gap between the few rich and the many poor in Bulgaria is huge and widening by the month. A large proportion of average working Bulgarians, and all pensioners, live on the edge, and 30-40 percent of the population is pauperized. The minimum salary is set at €160 per month, but many are struggling in precarious, part-time hourly jobs. Mean salaries are 25-30 percent lower than in neighboring Romania. Some eight percent of the Bulgarian population, a slim stratum of nouveau riche situated mainly in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and Burgas, is now better off. Some social workers make the equivalent of €140 a month and are struggling to survive. In interviews, many Bulgarians report that the work atmosphere was formerly more pleasant, collegial, and productive - and far less stressful than today. Strong bonds of neighborliness and simple human solidarity were common, but daily interactions are now encumbered by economic stress, and social breakdown.

Especially instructive are comparisons in the area of education. Socialist education in Bulgaria was in important ways similar to the educational system in today's Cuba. This was particularly true in the sense of building a 'moral economy of solidarity and community' and overcoming the divide between the curriculum and life beyond the classroom in the natural, social and 'communal' worlds, a process known as 'schooling the revolution.'[11] Education was demonstrably better under socialism in terms of funds allocated, teacher quality and, significantly, in student attitudes to learning. Schools were demanding and geared to high performance levels, energizing student engagement and anti-capitalist Marxist thinking. However, 'critical thinking' in the current bourgeois sense, was lacking. Little open dissent was tolerated, which in retrospect was a systemic error. Public universities (none private!) were hard to enter and high grades were needed. But tuition was free and there was a job guaranteed by the state after graduation. There were no student debts or unemployed graduates. Social class distinction was kept very marginal in schools and discipline was strict. Today a severe lack of student discipline is ravaging the entire educational system. Attendance even in university classes is desultory and overall standards are in decline in today's 'mis-education nation'. Every teacher I have interviewed agrees on this. One senior educator said: "Bulgarian education has been destroyed. The result is total chaos in a system once among Eastern Europe's best." Expensive private schools have proliferated, serving the small elite class. Many students just want to get a degree and emigrate. Polls indicate that two-thirds of Bulgarians would like their children to study abroad. A youth survey in May 2012 noted that 40 percent of young people want to leave Bulgaria the first chance they get. A 2013 Ministry of Education poll determined that 52 percent of the 2013 high school graduating class applied for university abroad. In 2012, one-in-six high school graduates went on to study at foreign universities. Another 2012 study suggests a genuine national crisis, indicating 41 percent of Bulgarians aged 16 are "alarmingly illiterate". Bulgaria once was the Silicon Valley of the socialist bloc. Today the National Astronomical Observatory in Rozhen, the largest in southeastern Europe, is facing severe cutbacks, as are many areas of scientific research, with a huge storm of protest erupting over the devious distribution of research funds in late 2012.

Prior to the restoration of capitalism in Bulgaria, there existed a huge array of well-organized, state-run extra-curricular activities, with free summer camps and excursions for schoolkids. The Pioneers, for ages 9-13, and Komsomol (the Young Communist League), for ages 14-18, organized young people both in and after school. All of that is now dismantled, often wistfully recalled. Youth normally were mobilized to participate in compulsory agricultural harvest brigades under state socialism. This was mandated from above, yet many say there was enjoyable camaraderie, with campfires and singing and dancing in the evenings. There was heavy physical labor, small pay, and summers of required social service. Kids now live in a world of social atomization, with too little stress on physical fitness and love of nature, once central components of Bulgarian education.

The experience of this entire complex of organized youth movements and their key role in shaping the young, recollected from today's perspective, needs in-depth inquiry. Some teachers' colleges were built in part by their own first students, organized in construction teams. Lending a working hand was needed and expected.

Once upon a socialist time in Bulgaria, there were decent libraries, cultural activities, and sports of all kinds. Many school children attended monthly concerts of classical music, which were obligatory in the socialist curriculum. Now few go to such performances, which have become quite rare. Recent studies report that the average Bulgarian family spent the equivalent of €6 on books in the past year and €2 on the cinema/theatre/concerts. Under socialism, extremely low-cost books were far more common, but a whole 'reading culture' has now been trashed. Under socialism, all publishing was socialized, nothing was for profit, and cheap books were a priority. The arts were supported by the state, and there was a notable Bulgarian film industry (some of the best can be found on YouTube) that imploded in 1990 and has not recovered. The system of state-run theaters, where excellent dramatic productions could once be seen in many cities and towns, is today in shambles. Today, even going to see a movie is unaffordable for many, with tickets many times more costly than under socialism. Experienced librarians are now earning as little as €180 a month, and the extensive urban and rural library system-with traditional chitalishte reading rooms-is badly under-funded. In sports, the system of national teams is in a state of severe contraction. Bulgaria had its worst performance in 60 years at the 2012 London Olympics, in what was widely deemed an authentic national disgrace.

Socialist Bulgaria: a non-consumerist society?

In significant measure, socialist Bulgaria was an economy on the road to a virtually non-consumerist society, with an abundance of basic goods, which were not produced for profit and largely affordable. There were identical controlled prices for all items, nation-wide. There was no advertising industry and for 25 years there were no ads on TV. Much production was in a sense 'de-commodified.' There was one kind of yoghurt, of high quality and sold in returnable jars, not 25 brands as there are today. In fact, Bulgarians are now ranked as among "the most pessimistic consumers in the world" according to a recent report. People say 90 percent of the yoghurt now is a fake admixture, as is also the case with basics like yellow cheese (kashkaval), the traditional Bulgarian salami (lukanka), and all lower-cost table wine (once world-class). Under socialism, quality control of food was very strict, but this has now largely vanished. The capitalist market today is heavily colonized by foreign-owned grocery chains. Many items are imported and the quality is often questionable. Under socialism, municipal steam heating (covered by heavy state subsidies) was provided at very low cost, and the cold Bulgarian winters were cozy inside. Now most people in urban apartments cannot afford the privatized steam heat, and have resorted instead to dirty and dangerous wood-burning stoves or costly electric heating. Years ago, such stoves were mainly in villages, where the demand for fuel destroyed much needed woodlands. Today, messy and increasingly costly wood-burning stoves have become the reluctant norm in many urban apartments.

The Spirit of Community

Substantial social energy used to be directed into communal initiatives of all kinds such as neighborhood clean-up committees and snow-removal teams. The Communist Party was actively engaged in spurring communal consciousness at the neighborhood level. Importantly, in socialist Bulgaria there was virtually no violent crime in everyday life, with few break-ins and muggings. Today petty crime is rampant and 'security' is a major issue. The country was recently described by a government minister as an "oasis of organized crime". Older workers often say that years ago many never even locked their front door, and the key was left under the mat as there was no need to steal. There was no grinding poverty then as many Bulgarians and most Roma face today, with a burgeoning community of impoverished retirees, many with pensions the equivalent of €70-130 monthly. Unemployment benefits are set at around €65 a month, scarcely enough for minimal survival.

Widespread xenophobia is rampant today against the Roma throughout Bulgaria, even among university academics, and against the large minority of ethnic Muslim Turks. Racism and discrimination is worsening and rightwing nationalism is on the rise. Anti-Roma racism and historical dislike of ethnic Turks run very deep in Bulgaria. This animosity against Roma was dampened in part under state socialism and its 'assimilationist' policy, but it is now becoming increasingly virulent. Richie Parrish provides an insightful overview of the plight currently
facing Roma in Bulgaria. Many are trapped in extreme poverty. Almost a quarter of Roma children aged 5-15 do not regularly attend school. He cites a 2011 UN report indicating that "only 46.2 percent of the Roma population in Bulgaria completed primary education and only
7.8 percent of Roma completed secondary education."[12]

Toward a people-grounded, empirical approach

Raleigh's oral history work (2006; 2011) strongly challenges the one-dimensional view of Soviet 'totalitarianism' and standard narratives of Soviet history widespread in the West, especially in Great Britain and the United States. Based on several decades of fieldwork in the country and bolstered by numerous narratives of ordinary working people, Kideckel (2008) describes the fear and alienation besetting industrial workers in their everyday lives in post-socialist Romania. Looking back at socialist Hungary and its educational system, Millei (2013) analyzes the memories of five Hungarian kindergarten teachers about what teaching was like under socialism, and "the ways in which explicit socialist ideology is understood by the interviewed teachers." Anthropologist Gerald Creed (1999: 224) stresses: "people have multiple images of the past ... and the synthesis that results is very much a contemporary product." His own long-term fieldwork in the small northwestern Bulgarian village of Zamfirovo illuminates how farmers adapted to socialist practices, and the myriad problems that have been engendered since 1990 (Creed, 1998; 2010).[13]

In Summary

We should avoid "the danger of a single story" in describing what life was like under socialism. We need to take an unblinkered look at 'socialist model' achievements, authoritarian elements notwithstanding. In building a participatory economy and society beyond capitalism, especially a world of guaranteed full employment and largely de-commodified social production, 'socialism 1.0' is our own history and legacy. The stories of average working people who grew up under socialism and now live in a widening vortex of post-socialist alienation, anomie and inequality-along with the narratives of their children about life today-need to be collected more systematically and distributed widely. The need is urgent.

The author is a North American with substantial experience over many years in provincial post-socialist Bulgaria. He speaks Bulgarian fluently and has many ties with ordinary Bulgarian working families and a number of educational institutions.


[1] Kagarlitsky, Boris, New Realism, New Barbarism (London 1999) vii, viii.

[2] Panagiotis Soltiris, "Austerity Capitalism and Education in Greece" in Dave Hill, ed. Immiseration Capitalism and Education, Austerity, Resistance and Revolt (Brighton 2013).

[3] Tom G. Griffiths and Millei Zsuzsa, Logics of Socialist Education: Engaging with Crisis, Insecurity and Uncertainty, (2013) 1-18.

[4] Stephen Gowans, "We Lived Better Then." What's Left, December 20, 2011.

[5] Anna Mudeva, "Special Report: In Eastern Europe, people pine for socialism," Reuters (2009).

[6] Maria Todorova, "From Utopia to Propaganda and Back," in Todorova and Zsuzsa Gille, eds., Post-Communist Nostalgia (Oxford 2010) 1-13.

[7] See, for example, Kapka Kassabova, Street Without a Name; Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria (London 2008).

[8] Alexander Andreev, "Violence in Bulgaria to be Expected," Novinite, July 26, 2013.

[9] Irina Malenko, An Interview with Irina Malenko, author of Sovietica, NCCUSA 2 February, 2013.

[10] Gowans, "We Lived Better Then."

[11] For a detailed description of some of these patterns in the 1960s see John P. Georgeoff, The Social Education of Bulgarian Youth (Minneapolis 1968), a classic study in English.

[12] Richie Parrish, "Roma Minority Faces Uphill Battle," The Prague Post, 6 March, 2013. On the education of the Roma in Eastern Europe generally see Maja Miskovic, Roma Education in Europe: Policies, Practices and Politics (London 2013).

[13] See Daniel J. Raleigh, Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation (Oxford 2011); David A. Kideckel, Getting by in postsocialist Romania: labor, the body, & working-class culture (Bloomington 2008); Zsuzsa Millei, "Memory and kindergarten teachers work: children's needs vefodre the needs of the socialist state" in Tom Griffiths and Zsuzsa Millei (eds), Education in/for socialism: historical, current and future perspectives, special issue, Globalisation, Societies and Education (2013) 170-193; Gerald W. Creed, Masquerade and Postsocialism; Ritual and Cultural Dispossession in Bulgaria (Bloomington 2011).

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Re: We Lived Better Then

Post by blindpig » Fri Nov 08, 2019 6:02 pm

What the Berlin Wall’s collapse meant for workers worldwide
Book review
By John Catalinotto posted on November 8, 2019

A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee by Victor Grossman/Stephen Wechsler, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2019, 352 pages.

This Nov. 9, the world’s imperialists and big capitalists will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. They will fill the media, all too available to them, with lies claiming this event was a victory for democracy and freedom. They will be slandering the German Democratic Republic and all the good and progressive acts of the once-socialist part of Germany.

2006, Berlin. At an occupied building near the old border, is written, ‘The border does not separate ordinary people, but runs between those above and those below.’

A partial antidote to these lies can be found in Victor Grossman’s book, “A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee,” told by someone who lived in the GDR from the early 1950s until its fall, and still lives in the eastern part of Berlin. The book has only one author; Stephen Wechsler was Grossman’s name before he left the U.S. military when he was stationed in Austria. He swam across a river to escape what he feared would be a possible prison sentence — in reality a sentence for his pro-communist activities — common punishment in the McCarthyite 1950s.

Grossman’s book tells the story of the GDR’s 41-year existence through the eyes of someone committed to socialism, who was also an honest and careful observer of the everyday ups and downs of the fledgling socialist republic. He also describes with excruciating detail the annexation of eastern Germany by the victorious imperialist power in the West.

Even to focus on a little of what Grossman covers in his 352 pages may help explain why the fall of the GDR was a loss, both to the oppressed nations of what is today called the “global south” and to the East German working class and workers worldwide.

GDR aided liberation struggles

He writes, discussing so-called dissidents, “In contrast with the rulers in Bonn [capital of West Germany], the GDR generously aided the African National Congress in South Africa, SWAPO [South West African Peoples Organization] in Namibia, Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnamese, the Sandinistas [in Nicaragua] and the anti-Pinochet forces [in Chile].

“What would success of those dissidents, whose motivation was implacable anti-GDR hostility, mean to those struggles? ‘Human rights’ were demanded by people often totally uninterested in [Nelson] Mandela, Leonard Peltier or even the ‘Berufsverbote’ [exclusion from jobs like teaching] in West Germany, where some were jailed, many were fired and 1.4 million were investigated by the equivalent of the FBI because of their undesirable views.”

This reviewer was in East Berlin in October 1989 interviewing Angolan students, educated at the GDR’s expense at Humboldt University in how to set up and run beer breweries in their recently liberated country. It seemed an intelligent division of labor that socialist Cuba would help win the big military battle with South African troops at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 and that the socialist GDR would provide technical and industrial education to the Angolan people.

Imperialist Germany had conquered Namibia in the 19th century, but the socialist GDR gave medical treatment to the wounded liberation fighters of SWAPO.

Divided Germany became the front line of a global class war between two social systems during the period known as the Cold War. The socialist countries, or workers’ states, were to the east; the imperialist countries with their capitalist system to the west. The line dividing east and west Germany could not avoid being a hot spot of the Cold War, which was not always so cold.

February 1986. At East Berlin’s Schoenefeld Airport, author Victor Grossman, left, greets Pete Seeger, who is a guest at the Festival of Political Songs.

West Germany, one of the most prosperous of the imperialist countries, used its wealth to lure whatever defectors it could from the East. This was part of its war against socialism. In the opposite way, the Berlin Wall discouraged defections. In principle, it was not much different from union workers setting up a picket line to prevent discouraged workers from breaking a strike — only this was done by a pro-socialist state.

In the years after the Berlin Wall fell, those who lived in the East quickly discovered there was a lot that the GDR had accomplished. Unfortunately, they discovered it by losing their guaranteed jobs, universal child care — which especially harmed women — two-thirds of their public libraries, their low-rent apartments and almost-free public transportation.

West German industries and banks moved into the East, bought up for next to nothing the industries that had employed 4 million workers — with a market mainly in the former socialist countries — and in no time created an army of unemployed and precarious workers. Many workers had to migrate to the West. Grossman details how this happened and draws a clear picture not of a “reunification,” but of an annexation, much like an imperialist country seizing a colony.

While there was a GDR, the West German military stayed within its country’s borders. After seizing the GDR in 1990 and dissolving the GDR’s army, German imperialism intervened in Yugoslavia to tear that multinational country apart and gain economic hegemony in the mini-states that succeeded it. In Iraq and in Afghanistan, Germany joined the “coalition” led by U.S. imperialism.

Grossman’s book provides a contrast to the lying propaganda of those imperialists still rejoicing over the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Today, the over-90-year-old Grossman continues his writing by describing, in his Berlin Bulletin, developments in German politics with an explanation understandable for U.S. readers, who might not be following the day-by-day developments there. (For more about the bulletin, see victorgrossmansberlinbulletin.wordpress.com)

"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

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Re: We Lived Better Then

Post by blindpig » Sun Nov 24, 2019 11:45 pm

“The Berlin Wall Should Be Brought Back & Doubled in Height!”: Comments of East Germans
November 23, 2019Stalker Zone

[/img]https://i0.wp.com/www.stalkerzone.org/w ... C780&ssl=1[/img]

“Ostalgie” is a portmanteau of two words: “Ost” (East) – and “nostalgia”. It is a term that emerged after the collapse of the GDR and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Spreewald gherkins, the famous Ampelmännchen green and red traffic lights, and old Trabant cars dubbed “Trabi” were all part of people’s daily lives in the GDR.

After the reunification of Germany in 1990, most of these things disappeared and some people who grew up with them missed them greatly. Ostalgie, for many East Germans, is a desire for simple and good things from a bygone era. For a certain number it is a longing for a bygone political system and structure.

Those who grew up in the GDR often suggest that in East Germany:


There was practically no unemployment, the sense of community between people was much stronger than in the West, and there was also less sexism. Women in the GDR were capable of doing men’s jobs and no one looked at it obliquely.
If there was work, it had to be performed by someone. If this role was approached by a woman – “Vorwärts!” – go ahead! And they were paid on an equal footing with men.
In the GDR nobody walked on the streets and showed off their wealth. Yes, there were people who received more than others, but their income was deserved and not excessive, and they behaved modestly enough.

Those who grew up in the GDR often suggest that in East Germany:


There was practically no unemployment, the sense of community between people was much stronger than in the West – we had more time for each other and for the family, because there was a “ceiling” of income and few devoted all their time to work. We were engaged in sports, science, music, reading, and communication – not for the sake of money, but for the sake of the process itself. It was just interesting!
A shortage? Yes, of course there was. And there were people who wanted to look fashionable, according to Western trends. But first of all, there was never too much. And secondly, if one wanted, everything could always be obtained without giving the last pfennig for some trendy clothes or household appliances. And by the way, you may laugh, but that was one’s “buzz”.

At the same time, things weren’t an end in themselves. If they weren’t practical or essential, most didn’t bother to purchase them.


On the other hand, in the simplicity of our choice and not rich assortment, there was also a “buzz”! There was no annoying marketing, advertising in all ears, and the like.

We came to the store for a light bulb, and we had a choice:

Buy a light bulb that works.
Don’t buy.
That’s all! Simple, isn’t it? Boring? But the key word, however, is “simple”.

As for the fact that with the fall of the Wall thousands of people found themselves unemployed, because the state-supported enterprises ceased to exist, there is even no need to say it… I will give below only a meagre part of what the Germans able to relate to the GDR say about the problem:

Klaus, Bonn: “I was 12 years old and I remember that time very well. My father, who worked at a factory in Dresden for 30 years, was now forced to go to the labour exchange and, every night back home, said the Berlin Wall needed to be urgently built again. Only this time make it twice as high!”

Maria, Berlin: “My father said that by the time of the collapse of the GDR he had only graduated from the institute where he had studied for 5 years. And it turned out that everything was in vain – his ‘eastern’ diploma simply was not accepted in ‘renewed’ Germany… I wasn’t born at the time, but my parents told me that they had to re-train and work at night, without any state support, in order to somehow survive. The next few years were very hard for them, and then for a long time their ‘eastern’ past affected their career.”

Andreas, Leipzig: “What? Stasi? Ha-ha, yeah, of course. Come on, frighten me with tales about the all-powerful East German intelligence services that surveyed us all! Just answer me a few questions first: Do you have a Facebook account? Google? I hope you don’t embolden yourself to the illusion that they’re protected from our current intelligence agencies? And how long ago did you, my distinguished German compatriots, communicate with our much-loved Tax Service? Well, now you can talk about the Stasi. Come on, what do you want to ask me?”


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Re: We Lived Better Then

Post by blindpig » Wed Nov 27, 2019 4:39 pm

Posted by MLToday | Nov 20, 2019


Thirty Years after the End of the GDR
October 30, 2019

A number of misconceptions are perpetuated when it comes to the dismantling of the inner-German border as the first step to the annexation of the German Democratic Republic by the Federal Republic of Germany.

It has been deceptively described as a “peaceful revolution.” True, the GDR state did not oppress the protesters, and it carried out one of the demands, which was to open the border between East and West. However, the West German state began to campaign aggressively through its media and its sympathisers in the GDR for a counter-revolution—in other words, to end the state-owned socialist economic system.

“We are the people,” chanted at demonstrations leading up to the events of November 1989, was dramatically changed by the counter-revolution to “We are one people.”

There is much talk of the “reunification” of Germany, but that would suggest that the two German states united. In fact one state, West Germany, took over the other, the GDR.

In 1990 the then West German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, travelled to the GDR and promised the people “blooming landscapes” of prosperity in a “united Germany.” “No one will be worse off than before, but many will be better off.” This claim has proved profoundly false, as any glance at the statistics reveals.

East Germans were not asked before accession whether they wanted to give up their job and social security, whether they wanted to be expunged from their homeland, whether they wanted a completely different value system and legal system imposed on them. The “Unification Treaty” meant that whole state industries throughout the GDR were given away for as little as one mark to West German competitors. The result was the destruction of countless jobs in the East and the resulting exodus of vast numbers of East Germans who, to survive, had to look for jobs in the West. The economy was privatised—to the exclusion of the East Germans.

According to a representative survey conducted in Saxony in 2018, 65 per cent of all respondents saw themselves as “second-class citizens.” Among 18 to 29-year-olds, born after the annexation, almost 70 per cent agreed with this statement.

East Germans who grew up in the GDR are practically absent from the running of society. The notable exception is Angela Merkel. However, she has pursued distinctly West-oriented policies; otherwise she would never have attained such a position.

The West administers and controls the East, while the population remaining in East Germany have faced horrendous social change.

Several generations of GDR citizens had invested in the cultural and social values of socialism as an alternative to capitalism. Their life’s work was not only taken from them, it was devalued, denigrated in retrospect. Today the GDR is presented entirely from the victor’s viewpoint. And this message is incessant. No political leader, no media can project any positive image of life in the GDR. Even the most mundane fiction series on television, if it makes any reference to life in the GDR, is invariably negative.

However, when people take to the streets of Germany today demanding “A kindergarten place for every child,” few remember that the people of the GDR had this. This is never mentioned. It is as if they never existed.

When the media announced smugly that anti-gay legislation was removed in 1994 there was no mention that the GDR had abolished it almost thirty years earlier, in 1968. Abortion continues to be illegal in Germany; in the GDR women had full access to all forms of birth control, and abortion was legalised in 1972. Again this achievement has been simply written out of history. The success of the “Alternative für Deutschland” is partly due to this kind of denigration of people’s past lives.

The GDR was declared an “unjust state” in 1990, and its population projected as victims, perpetrators, or followers. These terms, and this image of a “dictatorship,” made it easy for the media and the writers of history to compare the GDR to Nazi Germany—the West’s assertion to discredit the GDR’s achievements. In reality it was in the West German state that having been an old Nazi was no impediment to a powerful career, inside and outside the state apparatus.

A case in point is Hans Globke, who was chief of staff to the West German chancellor for ten years (1953–1963), though he had drafted Hitler’s infamous Nuremberg Race Laws. Nazi judges who had handed down death sentences remained at their posts up until the late 1970s.

With the annexation, the “German spirit” was reinstalled in all of Germany, and the old patterns of thought and action. Anti-communism, Russophobia and the “preventive war” thesis were all revived. The end of the post-war political order in Germany and Europe has brought with it the lifting of German guilt for the wars of aggression and annihilation.

This removal of any guilt applies in particular to the so-called “race war” and war of annihilation waged against the Soviet Union. There are no official monuments in the East any more commemorating Nazi terror without references to the “crimes of the SED[1]dictatorship,” declared equal to Nazi terror.

Five years ago, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the removal of the inner-German border, a large banner was unfurled on Alexanderplatz in East Berlin declaring: “This border was removed so we can go to war again, united.”

What had been prevented by the Treaties of Versailles and Potsdam, what had been precluded by the division of Germany, namely Germany’s involvement in wars, became possible again with this annexation. On 13 June 1999, for the first time since the end of the Second World War, German soldiers went to war.

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Re: We Lived Better Then

Post by blindpig » Thu Dec 19, 2019 2:23 pm

Kundschafterlied (Spy Song) - Anthem of Stasi with English lyrics

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Re: We Lived Better Then

Post by blindpig » Fri Dec 27, 2019 11:34 am

Romania: 30 years removed from socialism
By Patricia GorkyDec 26, 2019
Thirty years ago, the socialist government of Romania was overthrown in a military coup d’etat.

Industrialization had transformed the lives of millions of Romanians during the country’s socialist period. But the later years were marked by strict rationing and frequent shortages as the government sought to pay off its foreign debt. Romanian people hoped that their lives would improve after 1989. But life today is much worse than even the most economically-deprived times of the 1980s. A 2010 poll revealed that 63 percent of Romanians say that life was better under socialism.

Romania’s capitalist politicians search everywhere for a scapegoat to evade self-incrimination. The Financial Times states that “Romania has evolved into a democracy and strengthened ties with the West, joining EU and NATO. But its transition was always incomplete.” What is meant by “incomplete” is never defined.

Map of the Socialist Republic of Romania in 1966. Liberation Graphic.

Communists, and executed President Nicolae Ceausescu in particular, are the usual targets. As part of the ongoing demonization campaign, former military prosecutor Dan Voinea made a ludicrous statement to the Financial Times: “The communists remain in power until this very day, but without the names.”

A Marxist approach requires us to understand the struggle between the working and owning classes. When the communists came to power, they dispossessed the wealthy nobility, clerics and bourgeoisie of their property. Land was collectivized, as well as all major industries, and the economy was centrally planned. Millions of dwellings were built for workers, and everyone had the right to a job.

The socialist Romanian government transformed a largely agrarian society, and made great gains in industrial production. What’s more, they accomplished this feat within mere decades while under constant attack by the West. The capitalist account of Romania’s history ignores the vast achievements of socialism only to focus on its problems and shortcomings, many of which originated from the global situation at the time.

Romania’s socialist origins: Armed insurrection spurs Red Army’s arrival

Unlike the popular revolutions in Russia, China, Cuba and others that brought communists to power, the key factor to Romania’s socialist transformation was the victory of the Soviet Union in World War II.

During the war Romania had been ruled by a fascist military dictatorship in an alliance with Nazi Germany. General Ion Antonescu was not a passive supporter of Nazi Germany. His support was based on the fascist Iron Guard, who helped Antonescu send hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities to their deaths in concentration camps. This included Jewish and Roma people, as well as communists. Romania’s military was a key participant in the fascist invasion of the Soviet Union, which eventually took 27 million Soviet lives.

As the war went on, internal resistance to the dictatorship grew even as communists were driven underground. The Soviet Union began to turn the tide of war, delivering defeat after defeat to the fascist alliance. On Aug 23, 1944, a broad anti-fascist coalition led by the Communist Party arrested the dictator-general and locked him in a safe. This insurrection sped the Red Army’s advance into Bucharest days later. The Romanian army switched sides in the war and now fought as an ally of the Soviet Union.

Crowds cheer the entrance of the Soviet Red Army into Bucharest, Romania’s capital, in August 1944. Source: Fototeca online a comunismului românesc. Cota 55/1944

Like so many other countries in Eastern Europe, post-war governments were primarily shaped by the militaries that liberated them from fascism – the Soviet Union in the East and the U.S. / Britain in the West. The U.S. and British governments made clear that they would tolerate no governments other than those specifically chosen by the imperialists in their “sphere.” This was evident in the cases of Italy and Greece in particular, where the British military directly intervened to crush the communists, who had led the partisan resistance to fascism and were already in control of many areas.

But instead of a capitalist government, the Soviet Union oversaw the formation of socialist governments in Eastern Europe that would serve the interests of the working class.

The Soviet Union had been pushed to the verge of annihilation not just by the German military, but by the resources and industrial capacity of essentially all of continental Europe. The Nazi war machine had relied on the militaries of Romania, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia, as well as key agricultural and oil output from Romania. Fascist resurgence was a possibility too deadly for the Soviet Union to allow.

After years of fascist dictatorship, there was no pre-war “democratic” government to go back to. The largely-discredited monarchy and bourgeois parties had the support of the West, but these very parties had been responsible for Romania’s fascist takeover.

Key support from the Soviets, whose Red Army remained in Romania after the defeat of the fascists, was given to the National Democratic Front, a coalition led by the Communist Party of Romania (PCR).

The Communist Party’s general secretary, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, had been a railway worker and PCR militant. He was born in 1901, and began working at the age of 11 years old, a situation all too common for youths of his time. For his part in organizing strikes in 1933 he was sentenced to 12 years’ hard labor. While in prison he was elected to the central committee of the PCR.

Nicolae Ceausescu, another party leader, was born in 1918, and was a shoemaker’s apprentice in Bucharest from the age of 10. He began revolutionary activity early, and was in and out of prison organizing strikes and sabotage against the Nazi-allied government. At age 22, Ceausescu was in Jilava prison when it was invaded by members of the fascist Iron Guard, who slaughtered 64 of the political prisoners before they were stopped.

In 1946, nearly 7 million people voted for the National Democratic bloc. This election had the highest number of participants in the country’s history. The new government forced the abdication of the reactionary monarchy. A year later the PCR would merge with the social democrats to form the Romanian Workers’ Party (PMR).

‘Not just a dream’; industrializing an agrarian society

The tasks of the country were enormous. Industrial output was halved by the war and the population had been reduced from nearly 20 million to less than 16 million. More than 20 percent of the population had died. The vast majority of the people were peasants who worked on farms, and had a life expectancy of 42 years.

At once the government set upon an electrification plan, and laid the foundation for the development of industry. Farmland owned by a small, rich minority was confiscated and collectivized. Extravagant castles and mansions were seized from the parasitic nobility and used for museums and other public institutions.

Workers celebrate the production of their 1,000th locomotive in 1955, the result of Romania’s first 5-year plan. Source: Fototeca online a comunismului românesc, cota 194/1955

Four decades of socialist development would transform Romania from a country that imported 90 percent of machinery to a country that manufactured its own. Social services and education radically improved health: life expectancy increased by 30 years. More than 5 million jobs were created, and industrial output rose by more than 650 percent since 1950.

Housing was a major priority for the state. By 1980, the socialist government had built 4.6 million homes for people. Scanteia newspaper reported how a communist of the old underground “felt the need to touch and caress the bricks of the first apartment blocs to be built for steelworkers, so he could convince himself that they were not just a dream”.

Pregnant women and mothers were accorded rights that even bourgeois reviewers noted as “comprehensive and generous.” Women were given fully-paid maternity leave of 112 days. And with no loss to benefits, “mothers were permitted to take a leave of absence from work to raise a child to the age of 6, or they could request half-time work.”

Still a developing country suffering from centuries of underdevelopment, Romania strove to become a medium-developed country and narrow the gap between it and the West. For Gheorghiu-Dej and Ceausescu after him, lessening ties with Moscow was seen as necessary to attain that goal.

Division in the socialist camp

After the war the Soviet Union imposed war reparations on the country (along with other formerly fascist states) to repay part of the immense damage caused by the war. Although the aggregate reparations amounted to just one-fifth the actual cost of destruction suffered by the Soviet Union, these reparations strained the fragile economy of Romania. This likely did not improve the public view of the USSR. There were still Soviet troops in Romania, and Moscow exercised a direct intervention in the economy through the Sovrom joint-stock partnerships over Romania’s major industries.

Stalin’s death in 1953 and the subsequent shifts in the Soviet Union impelled the divide further. Gheorghiu-Dej and Ceausescu negotiated the buyout of the Sovroms at great cost.

A worker in tattered clothes reads one of the first issues of Scanteia newspaper, Romanian for ‘spark’. Source: Fototeca online a comunismului românesc, cota 133/1944

But in 1955, Romania joined the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, also known as the Warsaw Pact, with the USSR and other countries of the eastern European socialist bloc.

At the same time, Romania’s leaders began to establish economic ties with capitalist and imperialist countries in order to lessen ties with the Soviet Union. In 1958 with Chinese support, Gheorghiu-Dej negotiated the removal of Soviet soldiers from Romanian soil, the only East European country to do so. As the Sino-Soviet split divided the Socialist Bloc between Moscow and Beijing, Bucharest maintained neutrality.

In 1964 the PMR adopted Gheorghiu-Dej’s theses that emphasized national independence and sovereignty, equal rights, mutual advantage, non-interference in internal affairs, and observance of territorial integrity. When Gheorghiu-Dej died in 1965, Ceausescu redoubled the steps towards nationalism. The PMR renamed itself the Communist Party of Romania (PCR), and the country became the Socialist Republic of Romania to signify a step forward.

1970s and 1980s; ‘Maverick’ Romania turns West

The 1970s was a period of tremendous growth and development for the country. Vast natural resources paired with Western trade concessions and foreign credit brought Romania’s most prosperous years since World War II.

But in many ways the country’s leadership held positions that were reactionary and opportunistic. The “independence” put forward by Gheorghiu-Dej and later Ceausescu became more and more allied with U.S. imperialism. Romania recognized West Germany, and became the only socialist country to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel. When the CIA overthrew the democratically-elected socialist president of Chile, many socialist countries severed diplomatic relations. Yet Romania maintained them.

These steps convinced the U.S. government that Ceausescu could be influenced and worked with to a certain extent. He was labelled a “maverick” by the U.S. press and internal CIA documents. They eagerly sought to distance Romania from the Soviet Bloc. In 1969, U.S. President Richard Nixon made a state visit to Romania, the first visit of a U.S. president to a socialist country, three years before his famed visit to China.

Romania would go on to join imperialist financial agreements including taking loans from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The U.S. welcomed each of these moves, but other than high interest loans they gave Romania nothing of substance in return. What the U.S. really wanted was the overturn of the progressive social system and the return of capitalist exploitation and oppression.

But the coup d’etat of 1989 could not have succeeded without an accumulation of errors on the part of the country’s leaders. The government’s vacillation between the imperialist and socialist camps was one such example.

The late 1970s and early 1980s ushered in a series of crises that rocked the Romanian economy. A devastating earthquake hit Bucharest in 1977, followed by the global economic crisis. For much of the 1970s the Romanian government had been able to export key commodities like oil at high prices. But when prices slumped, suddenly Romania lost a significant source of revenue. Foreign credit that had previously offered an attractive path to development became an obstacle to the country’s survival.

Romania borrowed from the IMF, whose loan terms are designed to enslave governments in a cycle of debt by imposing crippling interest rates and severe austerity on the people. They remain a key tool for imperialists today that limit a country’s development. For the Romanian government, foreign debt had become a trap from which they desperately worked to extricate themselves.

Beginning in the early 1980s, the Romanian government rationed electricity, heat, gasoline and food – the first time since the early postwar years. Agricultural goods were exported to pay down the loan, rendering certain food items like meat and milk scarce. The work week was extended to six days. People arrived home in the cold winter only to have the heat shut off after a few hours. Even radio and television transmissions were restricted to preserve energy.

These were difficult years for the Romanian people. Other countries like Poland and Hungary which had taken out similar loans were not even able to pay the interest. Romania paid back the principal as well.

Meanwhile the capitalist reforms in the Soviet Union gave fodder to reactionary elements across Eastern Europe. At the same time, the West’s cultural cold war continued, particularly enticing young people in the socialist camp with pro-capitalist propaganda.

December 1989 and the military coup d’etat

By April 1989, the Romanian government declared the country free of Western debt. The Grand National Assembly enacted a ban on taking on any further foreign credits. Yet the rationing of food and energy continued. Perhaps this was an effort to impel the economy further, but these austerity measures were self-defeating.

These decisions made by the country’s leaders could only have further isolated much of the working class.

The imperialist media seized upon any sign of discontent in the Socialist Bloc. So did the U.S. government, which had financed counterrevolutionary organizations throughout Eastern Europe since the end of World War II. The imperialists carefully studied each manifestation. A 1987 classified CIA document outlined a number of possible situations that would lead to the downfall of the Romanian government given the prospect of the coming winter. Stunningly, one of the scenarios in this “winter thinkpiece” would play out almost exactly as occurred two years later: In this scenario, a group of striking workers would establish a national organization to coordinate protests. “Pragmatic” opponents of the Ceausescus in leadership would remove him from office, with support of the Securitate or military. The new government would ease restrictions on food and energy to placate most workers.

Instead of a strike in a major factory, the disturbances would arise around a reactionary Hungarian cleric in the western city of Timisoara. And the “National Salvation Front” was formed not from any workers’ group but from the top military brass, who began operating as a council six months before the coup.

Timisoara is a cosmopolitan city in western Romania near the Hungarian border. In 1989 there were 1.7 million Hungarians who lived in the region. Bourgeois elements in Hungary long promoted counterrevolutionary propaganda, including alleged grievances against the Hungarian minorities.

The eviction of a counterrevolutionary cleric on Dec. 16 sparked protests in Timisoara. Confrontations ensued between rightwing protestors and security forces, but there were few casualties. There was no massacre as was repeated by the imperialist press. The New York Times published hysterical reports of “mass graves in Timisoara” holding thousands of people, and the Hungarian media claimed that 60,000 had been killed. All of this was later revealed to be false.

Protests grew around the country. On Dec. 20 the military, foreshadowing its coming betrayal, withdrew from Timisoara. This was a boon to the counterrevolution; mobs of people ransacked the local Communist Party headquarters. The unrest was serious enough for Ceausescu to cut short a state visit to Iran and return to the capital.

Up to this time, the clandestine counterrevolutionary NSF had been operating for 6 months prior. Included was a former ambassador to the United States; a disgraced PCR politician who would become the new government’s president; and at least 4 military generals, including a retired general who had made previous attempts against Ceausescu.

On Dec. 21, Ceausescu appeared before a mass rally in Bucharest. He announced considerable increases in the minimum salary, child subsidies and pensions. He denounced the actions in Timisoara of a group who wanted to place the country again under foreign domination. In what would be prophetic words, Ceausescu spoke: “Some would like again to reintroduce unemployment, to reduce the living standards of the people, and in order to dismantle Romania, to dismember Romania, to put our independent people and nation in danger.”

His speech was interrupted by protestors, and his disoriented response to the heckling was disproportionately publicized by the imperialist media. People remained in the streets, and clashes with the authorities took place. Imperialist propaganda outlets like Radio Free Europe broadcasted false reports of a “massacre” in Bucharest, and workers from around the city poured into the streets the next day. Many of the people protesting had legitimate grievances that were built up over years of austerity.

But the protests quickly devolved into fascist violence when the military defected. Rightwing mobs set fire to the National Archives and the university library. Crowds attacked Ceausescu’s home, forcing him and his wife Elena to flee the capital in a helicopter. Their pilot abandoned them on a country road where they were soon captured.

The military-led NSF seized control of the television stations and declared themselves the new government.

Military brass, a historical source of counterrevolution, were at odds with Ceausescu’s plan to integrate them into civilian work. “For years,” wrote rightwing academic Vladimir Tismaneanu in the New York Times, “troops have been forced to engage in such demeaning activities as raising crops and supplying manual labor for grandiose Ceausescu projects.”

Long held at bay by the socialist government, the terror of the bourgeoisie raised its head. On Dec. 25, 1989, a secret military tribunal charged Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu with fabricated crimes that included “genocide” and “destroying the country’s economic and spiritual values.” Moments later as he was led to his death, Nicolae Ceausescu sang the Internationale. He and his wife were executed by firing squad.

The entire leadership of the Communist Party was imprisoned. Communists were disappeared and even lynched in the streets. The Securitate, whose origin came from the peasantry, put up an armed resistance to the military coup. They were hunted and executed.

Privatization and poverty, the American way

Within days the “socialist” NSF outlawed the Communist Party. Addendums to foreign treaties that called for states to guarantee full employment, housing and education were abolished.

The U.S. government was quick to intervene. As early as January 1990, Washington instructed its Bucharest envoy “to take preliminary actions to encourage the process [of privatization].” Special attention was given to the bourgeois media. The U.S. Embassy issued an urgent request for up-to-date video equipment for the television station. Prior anti-communist laws prevented the U.S. government from directly providing the equipment.

Embassy cables gloated over how the counterrevolution “has made it possible to pursue, in numerous heretofore unthinkable ways, our fundamental policy goals in Romania.”

One of those goals was the domination of Romanian polity by U.S. legal norms. The Embassy’s work plan included distributing 10,000 copies of the U.S. constitution in the Romanian language to all members of the new parliament after the elections. U.S. legal experts would “advise” Romania in the creation of the new constitution and legal codes. Newly-minted Romanian politicians would be exposed to representatives from U.S. political parties and private businesses.

Trade and economic meetings would convince Romanian officials that the economic benefits the U.S. can offer were contingent on the new government adhering to the American view of elections and the upholding of so-called individual rights to exploit the collective.

The U.S. military, which already had planned military-to-military contacts, would transform the Romanian armed forces into a “professional and non-political” corps based on a “commander – commanded” relationship.

Overnight, independent and sovereign Romania became a U.S. neocolony. A new law approved 100 percent foreign ownership of investments. State-owned enterprises, which had fueled the country’s generous social services, were sold to foreign capitalists.

Gone was the law banning foreign debt. Negotiations with the IMF began in 1993, with the requirement for the Romanian government to enter its currency into the world market, making Romania more susceptible to the tumult of global capitalism.

By 1994, half of the population lived on less than $160 a month. Price controls over food were removed. Inflation hit 300 percent. Unemployment, which previously did not exist, haunted millions. In desperation, 4 million people turned to a pyramid scheme called Caritas. The pyramid scheme was allowed to operate by the new government, and millions of families lost a collective $1 billion. The leu, Romania’s national currency, sank to 1,748 to one dollar.

Alleged discrimination of ethnic minorities was used to topple the socialist governments. But the new capitalist governments relied on the support of the racist right wing. Fascist violence against Roma, ethnic Hungarians and Jewish people erupted across the country. In a 1993 New York Times article, Henry Kamm detailed the quickly emerging racist attacks on the Roma. Using a slur for the Roma people, Kamm wrote: “The millions of Gypsies of Eastern Europe have emerged as great losers from the overthrow of Communism… Many of the economic and social protections that Gypsies enjoyed in Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia collapsed, permitting a revival of the open prejudice and persecution that have marked the history of the Roma, as Gypsies prefer to call themselves…”

Capitalism restored, social conditions deteriorate

The coup plotters’ aim, despite their claims of “democracy” and “freedom,” was never to improve the standard of living for Romanian workers.

As difficult as the years of rationing were, the quality of life for Romanians today is much worse.

More than 85 percent of all individual work contracts in Romania pay less than the minimum needed for survival, even as costs continue to climb. Many have left the country in search of an economic future. Since 1989 Romania experienced the highest levels of emigration of all European countries: 3.5 million people have fled, nearly the same number killed in World War II. Today, the diaspora represents one-fifth of the country’s own labor force.

Foreign corporations reap mega-profits from the artificially low wages of Romania. The restoration of capitalism promised wealth and freedom for the country, yet today Romania is the second poorest country in the European Union. Romania’s economy and natural resources have been completely opened to foreign capital for exploitation. Every industrial measure peaked in mid to late 1980s, and then bottomed out after the 1990s.

The Romanian government today is loyal to U.S. empire. There are now U.S. military bases in the countryside and in Romania’s principal ports. When the U.S. demanded that all NATO countries contribute 2 percent of their GDP, Romania was the first to raise military spending. By U.S. accounts, actions taken by the Romanian government in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to support U.S. interests have been “almost too numerous to list”.

When the government was toppled in 1989, many Romanian people looked to the U.S. government as a source of hope. They were convinced that the years of austerity were finally over. Some believed that now, they too would have access to abundant consumer goods and an American lifestyle.

This false image of abundance was intentionally cultivated by the imperialists to weaken the Socialist Bloc. If the imperialists could convince workers in socialist states that the U.S. was the “land of opportunity,” they could seriously weaken the stability of socialism. Defeat of the socialists in the cultural war was an important factor in the overthrow of socialist governments.

Faced with the daunting task of industrializing agrarian societies, socialists governments in addition had to produce consumer goods for its population while under technological and economic embargo, and under constant threat of nuclear annihilation. Furthermore, they had to do this within the span of just decades. The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, had enriched themselves through centuries of capitalist exploitation, including the enslavement of millions of Africans and the Indigenous.

History did not cease in 1989. Capitalism’s restoration in Romania and the former Socialist Bloc has brought with it all its inherent contradictions. It is bound to reignite mass struggle. The words of the socialist Internationale, written 150 years ago and translated into nearly every language, continue to inspire the fight of the oppressed for emancipation: “The earth shall rise on new foundations; we have been naught, we shall be all.”

Long live the struggle for socialism!

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Re: We Lived Better Then

Post by blindpig » Mon Jan 13, 2020 5:39 pm

Some selections from ' Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism (Der Spiegel)'
http://www.thebellforum.net/Bell2/www.t ... 48796.html

07-04-2009, 01:04 AM

Quotes from the Der Spiegel article:

Today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 57 percent, or an absolute majority, of eastern Germans defend the former East Germany. "The GDR had more good sides than bad sides. There were some problems, but life was good there," say 49 percent of those polled. Eight percent of eastern Germans flatly oppose all criticism of their former home and agree with the statement: "The GDR had, for the most part, good sides. Life there was happier and better than in reunified Germany today."


"Not even half of young people in eastern Germany describe the GDR as a dictatorship, and a majority believe the Stasi was a normal intelligence service,"Most East German citizens had a nice life," he says. "I certainly don't think that it's better here." By "here," he means reunified Germany, which he subjects to questionable comparisons.


In Birger's opinion, there is no fundamental difference between dictatorship and freedom. "The people who live on the poverty line today also lack the freedom to travel."


"You can't say that the GDR was an illegitimate state, and that everything is fine today."


"From today's perspective, I believe that we were driven out of paradise when the Wall came down," one person writes, and a 38-year-old man "thanks God" that he was able to experience living in the GDR, noting that it wasn't until after German reunification that he witnessed people who feared for their existence, beggars and homeless people.


"As far as I'm concerned, what we had in those days was less of a dictatorship than what we have today." He wants to see equal wages and equal pensions for residents of the former East Germany. And when Schön starts to complain about unified Germany, his voice contains an element of self-satisfaction. People lie and cheat everywhere today, he says, and today's injustices are simply perpetrated in a more cunning way than in the GDR, where starvation wages and slashed car tires were unheard of.


What makes him particularly dissatisfied is "the false picture of the East that the West is painting today." The GDR, he says, was "not an unjust state," but "my home, where my achievements were recognized."


"Those who worked hard were also able to do well for themselves in the GDR." This, he says, is one of the truths that are persistently denied on talk shows, when western Germans act "as if eastern Germans were all a little stupid and should still be falling to their knees today in gratitude for reunification." What exactly is there to celebrate, Schön asks himself?


"In the public's perception, there are only victims and perpetrators. But the masses fall by the wayside."


Today's Germany is described as a "slave state" and a "dictatorship of capital," and some letter writers reject Germany for being, in their opinion, too capitalist or dictatorial, and certainly not democratic. Schroeder finds such statements alarming. "I am afraid that a majority of eastern Germans do not identify with the current sociopolitical system."


Spiegel is the most important weekly magazine in Europe. It is anything but left leaning. In fact, its editorial position ranges from neoconservative to Thatcherist. Willy Brandt once famously nicknamed it "Scheißblatt" (the "shitsheet"). The name stuck, even to today.

How then do we account for this article? It arises from a poll that has caused an earthquake in Germany. Two thirds of the "liberated" East Germans, twenty years after the fact and despite decades of expose and propoganda still think that life in the former German Democratic Republic (the GDR) was better. In fact, Spiegel understates the story. The poll reported that more than three quarters of East Germans reported that life was "as good" if not better... and this despite the obvious "consumer wealth" of the West.

The "back story" to this poll is that most Western Germans believe that Germany has gone into debt for 50 years to "rebuild and reintegrate" the East. Why... those ungrateful swine! Of course, Spiegel does its best to undermine the story, giving equal weight to pop psychology and a few flack "political scientists" with typically lame "explanations". It is the American media treatment, complete with its air of infinite superiority. But, the real story still comes through.

I spent some time in the GDR, 30 years ago, when virtually no Americans visited the country. My wife and I were completely on our own and saw a very great deal of the real place. Like those interviewed by Spiegel, I very rarely talk about it. It was the exact opposite of every image and story that comes to the U.S. Where does one begin? How does one say anything without sounding like a complete hack?

Germany never chose "Socialism". Virtually every Socialist and Communist was murdered during the course of the war. Still, the GDR was Socialist as a result of that war and it was a "heavy handed" socialism meant to prevent a reunification of Germany (and the revival of the "German threat") for all time.

Even so, Germany had a very high cultural and economic level and the "problems of Socialist reconstruction" did not immediately run into malnutrition and literacy and infant mortality. The GDR was the closest thing to a "developed country" under Socialism. The result was the oddest thing I have ever seen.

I have never liked German culture. Yet, I have never thought of the GDR as "German". It was the most relaxed, soft, literate, easy, and "open" place that I have ever been... and this, amongst the descendents of the "Prussian militarists" who transformed Europe. The GDR was the closest thing to "Socialism in the West" and the result was suprising, even for me.

I have been to Germany many times since reunification and have often met Germans from the East. I will mention in passing that I spent time there in the 70's and they will ALWAYS look me up afterwards... when we are alone. Over coffee or a beer, always the same conversation in hushed tones:

"Wasn't that something... it was really something. I can't talk to anyone about it. They just don't know. They just can't understand..."

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Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism

By Julia Bonstein
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.[ii]
Spiegel 07/03/2009
http://www.spiegel.de/international/ger ... 22,00.html

Part 1: Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism

The life of Birger, a native of the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania in northeastern Germany, could read as an all-German success story. The Berlin Wall came down when he was 10. After graduating from high school, he studied economics and business administration in Hamburg, lived in India and South Africa, and eventually got a job with a company in the western German city of Duisburg. Today Birger, 30, is planning a sailing trip in the Mediterranean. He isn't using his real name

for this story, because he doesn't want it to be associated with the former East Germany, which he sees as "a label with negative connotations."

And yet Birger is sitting in a Hamburg cafe, defending the former communist country. "Most East German citizens had a nice life," he says. "I certainly don't think that it's better here." By "here," he means reunified Germany, which he subjects to questionable comparisons. "In the past there was the Stasi, and today (German Interior Minister Wolfgang) Schäuble -- or the GEZ (the fee collection center of Germany's public broadcasting institutions) -- are collecting information about us." In Birger's opinion, there is no fundamental difference between dictatorship and freedom. "The people who live on the poverty line today also lack the freedom to travel."

Birger is by no means an uneducated young man. He is aware of the spying and repression that went on in the former East Germany, and, as he says, it was "not a good thing that people couldn't leave the country and many were oppressed." He is no fan of what he characterizes as contemptible nostalgia for the former East Germany. "I haven't erected a shrine to Spreewald pickles in my house," he says, referring to a snack that was part of a the East German identity. Nevertheless, he is quick to argue with those who would criticize the place his parents called home: "You can't say that the GDR was an illegitimate state, and that everything is fine today."

As an apologist for the former East German dictatorship, the young Mecklenburg native shares a majority view of people from eastern Germany. Today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 57 percent, or an absolute majority, of eastern Germans defend the former East Germany. "The GDR had more good sides than bad sides. There were some problems, but life was good there," say 49 percent of those polled. Eight percent of eastern Germans flatly oppose all criticism of their former home and agree with the statement: "The GDR had, for the most part, good sides. Life there was happier and better than in reunified Germany today."

These poll results, released last Friday in Berlin, reveal that glorification of the former East Germany has reached the center of society. Today, it is no longer merely the eternally nostalgic who mourn the loss of the GDR. "A new form of Ostalgie (nostalgia for the former GDR) has taken shape," says historian Stefan Wolle. "The yearning for the ideal world of the dictatorship goes well beyond former government officials." Even young people who had almost no experiences with the GDR are idealizing it today. "The value of their own history is at stake," says Wolle.

People are whitewashing the dictatorship, as if reproaching the state meant calling their own past into question. "Many eastern Germans perceive all criticism of the system as a personal attack," says political scientist Klaus Schroeder, 59, director of an institute at Berlin's Free University that studies the former communist state. He warns against efforts to downplay the SED dictatorship by young people whose knowledge about the GDR is derived mainly from family conversations, and not as much from what they have learned in school. "Not even half of young people in eastern Germany describe the GDR as a dictatorship, and a majority believe the Stasi was a normal intelligence service," Schroeder concluded in a 2008 study of school students. "These young people cannot, and in fact have no desire to, recognize the dark sides of the GDR."

"Driven Out of Paradise"

Schroeder has made enemies with statements like these. He received more than 4,000 letters, some of them furious, in reaction to reporting on his study. The 30-year-old Birger also sent an e-mail to Schroeder. The political scientist has now compiled a selection of typical letters to document the climate of opinion in which the GDR and unified Germany are discussed in eastern Germany. Some of the material gives a shocking insight into the thoughts of disappointed and angry citizens. "From today's perspective, I believe that we were driven out of paradise when the Wall came down," one person writes, and a 38-year-old man "thanks God" that he was able to experience living in the GDR, noting that it wasn't until after German reunification that he witnessed people who feared for their existence, beggars and homeless people.

Today's Germany is described as a "slave state" and a "dictatorship of capital," and some letter writers reject Germany for being, in their opinion, too capitalist or dictatorial, and certainly not democratic. Schroeder finds such statements alarming. "I am afraid that a majority of eastern Germans do not identify with the current sociopolitical system."

Many of the letter writers are either people who did not benefit from German reunification or those who prefer to live in the past. But they also include people like Thorsten Schön.

After 1989 Schön, a master craftsman from Stralsund, a city on the Baltic Sea, initially racked up one success after the next. Although he no longer owns the Porsche he bought after reunification, the lion skin rug he bought on a vacation trip to South Africa -- one of many overseas trips he has made in the past 20 years -- is still lying on his living room floor. "There's no doubt it: I've been fortunate," says the 51-year-old today. A major contract he scored during the period following reunification made it easier for Schön to start his own business. Today he has a clear view of the Strelasund sound from the window of his terraced house.

Part 2: 'People Lie and Cheat Everywhere Today'

Wall decorations from Bali decorate his living room, and a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty stands next to the DVD player. All the same, Schön sits on his sofa and rhapsodizes about the good old days in East Germany. "In the past, a campground was a place where people enjoyed their freedom together," he says. What he misses most today is "that feeling of companionship and solidarity." The economy of scarcity, complete with barter transactions, was "more like a hobby." Does he have a Stasi file? "I'm not interested in that," says Schön. "Besides, it would be too disappointing."

His verdict on the GDR is clear: "As far as I'm concerned, what we had in those days was less of a dictatorship than what we have today." He wants to see equal wages and equal pensions for residents of the former East Germany. And when Schön starts to complain about unified Germany, his voice contains an element of self-satisfaction. People lie and cheat everywhere today, he says, and today's injustices are simply perpetrated in a more cunning way than in the GDR, where starvation wages and slashed car tires were unheard of. Schön cannot offer any accounts of his own bad experiences in present-day Germany. "I'm better off today than I was before," he says, "but I am not more satisfied."

Schön's reasoning is less about cool logic than it is about settling scores. What makes him particularly dissatisfied is "the false picture of the East that the West is painting today." The GDR, he says, was "not an unjust state," but "my home, where my achievements were recognized." Schön doggedly repeats the story of how it took him years of hard work before starting his own business in 1989 -- before reunification, he is quick to add. "Those who worked hard were also able to do well for themselves in the GDR." This, he says, is one of the truths that are persistently denied on talk shows, when western Germans act "as if eastern Germans we

re all a little stupid and should still be falling to their knees today in gratitude for reunification." What exactly is there to celebrate, Schön asks himself?

"Rose-tinted memories are stronger than the statistics about people trying to escape and applications for exit visas, and even stronger than the files about killings at the Wall and unjust political sentences," says historian Wolle.

These are memories of people whose families were not persecuted and victimized in East Germany, of people like 30-year-old Birger, who says today: "If reunification hadn't happened, I would also have had a good life."

Life as a GDR Citizen

After completing his university degree, he says, he would undoubtedly have accepted a "management position in some business enterprise," perhaps not unlike his father, who was the chairman of a farmers' collective. "The GDR played no role in the life of a GDR citizen," Birger concludes. This view is shared by his friends, all of them college-educated children of the former East Germany who were born in 1978. "Reunification or not," the group of friends recently concluded, it really makes no difference to them. Without reunification, their travel destinations simply would have been Moscow and Prague, instead of London and Brussels. And the friend who is a government official in Mecklenburg today would probably have been a loyal party official in the GDR.

The young man expresses his views levelheadedly and with few words, although he looks slightly defiant at times, like when he says: "I know, what I'm telling you isn't all that interesting. The stories of victims are easier to tell."

Birger doesn't usually mention his origins. In Duisburg, where he works, hardly anyone knows that he is originally from East Germany. But on this afternoon, Birger is adamant about contradicting the "victors' writing of history." "In the public's perception, there are only victims and perpetrators. But the masses fall by the wayside."

This is someone who feels personally affected when Stasi terror and repression are mentioned. He is an academic who knows "that one cannot sanction the killings at the Berlin Wall." However, when it comes to the border guards' orders to shoot would-be escapees, he says: "If there is a big sign there, you shouldn't go there. It was completely negligent."

This brings up an old question once again: Did a real life exist in the midst of a sham? Downplaying the dictatorship is seen as the price people pay to preserve their self-respect. "People are defending their own lives," writes political scientist Schroeder, describing the tragedy of a divided country.


07-06-2009, 01:58 PM

Ya know, I was all set to post this 'elsewhere' but I'm afraid it would be taken in the literal manner that Der Spiegel intended. Mebbe I can find the same info without the 'fair and balanced' commentary.

The story is a couple of months old (either that or there were two polls, which is possible). This was news when I was in Germany in May. The German "taxpayers" were really, really "outraged". I saw something "even worse". They talked to a bunch of former East Germans who all were favorable to the old GDR but voted all over the map... Christian Democrats and all kinds of shit. So they ask them on TV:

"You would like to go back to the GDR?"
"Why didn't you vote Communist?"
"They can't win."
"But, you're supposed to vote for who you support..."
"That is not my understanding."
"Why did you vote for _____________?"
"Because I am for _____________." (Fill in random, often local, reason)
"But, you would REALLY like to return to Communism?"

Of course, they concluded that the Easterners just didn't understand voting (too "Democratic" for them). The odd thing is that the Easterners were at a higher educational and cultural level than the Westerners... and it has been 20 years. If you look at the Spiegel article, you will see that they blamed the older folks ("what they get at home") for the propaganda not working in school.

The very oddest thing about all this is that the GDR was no kinda "revolution". It was the wages of war, imposed from outside with very little internal support for Socialism surviving. Apparently, the GDR school propaganda was stickier.
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Re: We Lived Better Then

Post by blindpig » Tue Mar 03, 2020 11:44 pm


Zsuzsanna Clark
Next month Europe will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Zsuzsanna Clark was born and raised in Hungary but after meeting her British husband, she moved to the UK in 1999. Here she explains why, contrary to Western beliefs, there were many benefits to life behind the Iron Curtain.......

When people ask me what it was like growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Hungary in the Seventies and Eighties, most expect to hear tales of secret police, bread queues and other nasty manifestations of life in a one-party state.

They are invariably disappointed when I explain that the reality was quite different, and communist Hungary, far from being hell on earth, was in fact, rather a fun place to live.

The communists provided everyone with guaranteed employment, good education and free healthcare. Violent crime was virtually non-existent.

But perhaps the best thing of all was the overriding sense of camaraderie, a spirit lacking in my adopted Britain and, indeed, whenever I go back to Hungary today. People trusted one another, and what we had we shared.

I was born into a working-class family in Esztergom, a town in the north of Hungary, in 1968. My mother, Julianna, came from the east of the country, the poorest part. Born in 1939, she had a harsh childhood.

She left school aged 11 and went straight to work in the fields. She remembers having to get up at 4am to walk five miles to buy a loaf of bread. As a child, she was so hungry she often waited next to the hen for it to lay an egg. She would then crack it open and swallow the yolk and the white raw.

It was discontent with these conditions of the early years of communism that led to the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

The shock waves brought home to the communist leadership that they could consolidate their position only by making our lives more tolerable. Stalinism was out and 'goulash communism' - a unique brand of liberal communism - was in.

Janos Kadar, the country's new leader, transformed Hungary into the 'happiest barracks' in Eastern Europe. We probably had more freedoms than in any other communist country.

One of the best things was the way leisure and holiday opportunities were opened up to all. Before the Second World War, holidays were reserved for the upper and middle classes. In the immediate post-war years too, most Hungarians were working so hard rebuilding the country that holidays were out of the question.

In the Sixties though, as in many other aspects of life, things changed for the better. By the end of the decade, almost everyone could afford to go away, thanks to the network of subsidised trade-union, company and co-operative holiday centres.

My parents worked in Dorog, a nearby town, for Hungaroton, a state-owned record company, so we stayed at the factory's holiday camp at Lake Balaton, 'The Hungarian Sea'.

The camp was similar to the sort of holiday camps in vogue in Britain at the same time, the only difference being that guests had to make their own entertainment in the evenings - there were no Butlins-style Redcoats.

Some of my earliest memories of living at home are of the animals my parents kept on their smallholding. Rearing animals was something most people did, as well as growing vegetables. Outside Budapest and the big towns, we were a nation of Tom and Barbara Goods.

My parents had about 50 chickens, pigs, rabbits, ducks, pigeons and geese. We kept the animals not just to feed our family but also to sell meat to our friends. We used the goose feathers to make pillows and duvets.

The government understood the value of education and culture. Before the advent of communism, opportunities for the children of the peasantry and urban working class, such as me, to rise up the educational ladder were limited. All that changed after the war.

The school system in Hungary was similar to that which existed in Britain at the time. Secondary education was divided into grammar schools, specialised secondary schools, and vocational schools. The main differences were that we stayed in our elementary school until the age of 14, not 11.

There were also evening schools, for children and adults. My parents, who had both left school young, took classes in mathematics, history and Hungarian literature and grammar.

I loved my schooldays, and in particular my membership of the Pioneers - a movement common to all communist countries.

Many in the West believed it was a crude attempt to indoctrinate the young with communist ideology, but being a Pioneer taught us valuable life skills such as building friendships and the importance of working for the benefit of the community. 'Together for each other' was our slogan, and that was how we were encouraged to think.

As a Pioneer, if you performed well in your studies, communal work and school competitions, you were rewarded with a trip to a summer camp. I went every year because I took part in almost all the school activities: competitions, gymnastics, athletics, choir, shooting, literature and library work.

On our last night at Pioneer camp we sang songs around the bonfire, such as the Pioneer anthem: 'Mint a mokus fenn a fan, az uttoro oly vidam' ('We are as happy as a squirrel on a tree'), and other traditional songs. Our feelings were always mixed: sad at the prospect of leaving, but happy at the thought of seeing our families again.

Today, even those who do not consider themselves communists look back at their days in the Pioneers with great affection.

Hungarian schools did not follow the so-called 'progressive' ideas on education prevalent in the West at the time. Academic standards were extremely high and discipline was strict. My favourite teacher taught us that without mastery of Hungarian grammar we would lack confidence to articulate our thoughts and feelings. We could make only one mistake if we wanted to attain the highest grade.

Unlike Britain, there were 'viva voce' exams in Hungary in every subject. In literature, for example, set texts had to be memorised and recited and then the student would have to answer questions put to them orally by the teacher. Whenever we had a national celebration, I was among those asked to recite a poem or verse in front of the whole school.

Culture was regarded as extremely important by the government. The communists did not want to restrict the finer things of life to the upper and middle classes - the very best of music, literature and dance were for all to enjoy.

This meant lavish subsidies were given to institutions including orchestras, opera houses, theatres and cinemas. Ticket prices were subsidised by the State, making visits to the opera and theatre affordable.

'Cultural houses' were opened in every town and village, so provincial, working-class people such as my parents could have easy access to the performing arts, and to the best performers.

Programming on Hungarian television reflected the regime's priority to bring culture to the masses, with no dumbing down.

When I was a teenager, Saturday night primetime viewing typically meant a Jules Verne adventure, a poetry recital, a variety show, a live theatre performance, or an easy Bud Spencer film.

Much of Hungarian television was home-produced, but quality programmes were imported, not just from other Eastern Bloc countries but from the West, too.
Hungarians in the early Seventies followed the trials and tribulations of Soames Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga just as avidly as British viewers had done a few years earlier. The Onedin Line was another popular BBC series I enjoyed watching, along with David Attenborough documentaries.

However, the government was alive to the danger of us turning into a nation of four-eyed couch potatoes. Every Monday was 'family night', when State television was taken off the air to encourage families to do other things together. Others called it 'family planning night', and I am sure the figures showing the proportion of children conceived on Monday nights under communism would make interesting reading.

Although we lived well under 'goulash communism' and there was always enough food for us to eat, we were not bombarded with advertising for products we didn't need.
Throughout my youth, I wore hand-me-down clothes, as most young people did. My school bag was from the factory where my parents worked. What a difference to today's Hungary, where children are bullied, as they are in Britain, for wearing the
'wrong' brand of trainers.

Like most people in the communist era, my father was not money-obsessed.
As a mechanic he made a point of charging people fairly. He once saw a broken-down car with an open bonnet - a sight that always lifted his heart. It belonged to a West German tourist. My father fixed the car but refused payment - even a bottle of beer. For him it was unnatural that anyone would think of accepting money for helping someone in distress.

When communism in Hungary ended in 1989, I was not only surprised, but saddened, as were many others. Yes, there were people marching against the government, but the majority of ordinary people - me and my family included - did not take part in the protests.

Our voice - the voice of those whose lives were improved by communism - is seldom heard when it comes to discussions of what life was like behind the Iron Curtain.
Instead, the accounts we hear in the West are nearly always from the perspectives of wealthy emigrés or anti-communist dissidents with an axe to grind.

Communism in Hungary had its downside. While trips to other socialist countries were unrestricted, travel to the West was problematic and allowed only every second year.
There were petty restrictions and needless layers of bureaucracy and freedom to criticise the government was limited. Yet despite this, I believe that, taken as a whole, the positives outweighed the negatives.

Twenty years on, most of these positive achievements have been destroyed.

People no longer have job security. Poverty and crime is on the increase. Working-class people can no longer afford to go to the opera or theatre. As in Britain, TV has dumbed down to a worrying degree - ironically, we never had Big Brother under communism, but we have it today.

Most sadly of all, the spirit of camaraderie that we once enjoyed has all but disappeared.

In the past two decades we may have gained shopping malls, multi-party ' democracy', mobile phones and the internet.

But we have lost a whole lot more.

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"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

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Re: We Lived Better Then

Post by blindpig » Thu May 28, 2020 1:36 pm

East Germans are unhappy with life in Germany

News from the Bastion of Right Capitalism

According to a study conducted by German sociologists, residents of eastern Germany are unhappy with their position in modern Germany, saying that now they cannot express their opinions on socio-political issues as freely as before the unification of Germany. 58% of respondents said they were less protected from state arbitrariness than during the GDR. Another 52% of respondents are dissatisfied with how democracy works in the country.

Dissatisfaction with the level of school education was expressed by 56% of respondents. Significantly more - 70% of respondents - reported a lower level of security than in the GDR.

The situation in the former GDR resembles what is happening in modern Russia. In Russia, we also find a drop in the level of education, security, and low security from the arbitrariness of the authorities.

State employees in Germany have achieved an increase in salariesLiberals, Russian defenders of capitalism of all stripes, usually claim that in Russia all the trouble is from wrong capitalism. Well, they say, in the West, in Europe and the USA, capitalism is right, so everything is perfect there! However, practice once again refutes the slogans of the supporters of capitalism. Indeed, Germany itself is one of the oldest capitalist countries. Capitalism exists there without interruption for about 200 years. He existed there under Hitler, and after the Second World War in most of Germany, in Germany. Germany, by the way, was and is one of the favorite examples of bourgeois propagandists. In 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany annexed the territory of the German Democratic Republic, liquidating it, establishing “right” capitalism and “right” bourgeois democracy in East Germany.

And suddenly it turns out that life in modern Germany loses according to most articles of life in the GDR! In addition, even under socialism there is more freedom than in a country with bourgeois democracy!

The explanation is simple. Capitalism in Russia is not fundamentally different from capitalism in Germany. There is no right and wrong capitalism; capitalism is the same everywhere, wherever we are. Capitalist countries may differ in local conditions, be richer or poorer, be more or less developed, however, the very essence of capitalism everywhere remains unchanged, which we can see in Germany.

Thus, the East Germans, as well as the inhabitants of Russia, having the opportunity to compare life under socialism and life under capitalism, say that under socialism it is still better.

https://www.rotfront.su/vostochnye-nemt ... iznyu-v-f/

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"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

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