Monday, 28 December 2009

1989-2009 - truly an anniversary to celebrate

It started with a trade union? The Polish Solidarnosc (Solidarity) trade union was founded during strikes in the Gdansk shipyard in 1980-81 and continued underground after being repressed. In 1988-89 it played a vital role in ending the Communist regime in Poland.
I think socialists - and you should know by now that I am one - need to say where they stand on 1989, the year the Berlin Wall was torn down, the clearest symbol of the end (almost) of east European and Russian Communism. The most recent and possibly grimmest 20-year anniversary was that of the execution, on Christmas Day, 1989, of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife.

For me, then as now, the end of Ceauşescu's brand of political and economic rule is something to celebrate. That doesn't mean that I have to approve of everything that has followed in its wake. It doesn't make me a fan of rampant capitalism to say that I hate Stalinism.

I won't go into detail, as readers are probably not interested in the internecine struggles of the far-left. But I can tell you that the group I was associated with in 1989, and still am, was far-left and called itself 'Trotskyist', but had recently come to the - to most people obvious but to the left decidedly awkward - conclusion that Russia and the Soviet bloc countries did not represent, in however 'deformed or degenerated' a way, an advance on capitalism. Indeed, we believed that in many ways they were - gasp! - regressive compared to capitalism.

Shortly after and obviously quite independent of this 'change of line' by a tiny British Trot group, the whole east European Stalinist edifice came crashing down.

Much of the left actually mourned this. Militant, forerunner of the Socialist Party, cheered Romanian miners, supporters of Ceauşescu's regime, when they were mobilised to beat up 'petty-bourgeois' students demonstrating for democracy. Socialist Action, with whom the recently deceased aide to Ken Livingstone Redmond O'Neill was involved, wrote in 1990:
"The destruction of at least some of the workers' states in Eastern Europe, and the imperialist reunification of Germany are both the greatest defeats suffered by the working class since World War 2..."
I think such attitudes were wrong, thought so then and think so now: 1989 was a great revolution, a liberation from a terrible tyranny.

OK, you might charge, I want my cake and eat it? Since 1989 it has been easier than ever for those who think capitalism is the best economic and political system humanity can devise to point to the great, failed 'socialist' experiment as negative proof they are right.

Of course, you can't sum up 200-odd years of history in a blogpost (what fool would try?), but my simple answer is: socialism is a creation of capitalism, it grows out of capitalism. There is nothing inevitable about it, but it is, in many ways, a natural development of capitalism. It certainly isn't possible in conditions of scarcity. Yet, for historic reasons, because socialism was attempted in the impoverished east rather than the affluent west, it failed. If you were to look for a simple explanation for this error, it would be the failure of the German revolution (yes, I'm going back almost 100 years) and the failure of the Communist parties of western Europe to stand by the Communist parties of the east, leaving the socialist 'experiment' isolated, and, during the Russian Civil War, besieged by capitalist powers.

What is very clear is that there can be no socialism without democracy.

All of this might seem completely whacko and beside the point to readers - who are possibly somewhat interested in my views on the sheltered wardens cuts or Barnet 'Future Shape' - but I thought I must, before 2009 is out, give a basic outline of my thinking on these matters; or, in a sense, excuse myself from the failure of east European communism.

On a personal note, if for no other reason than that it (almost) ended the horrendous Cold War, which cast a  shadow over my own life as I grew up, along with everyone else's, 1989 is a year I remember with relief and joy.


Ludwik Kowalski said...


Please share this link with those who might be interested.

P.S. The book is waiting for a reviewer

Rog T said...


I visited Russia a few times before 1990 as well as China in 1990. I think the experience cemented a few views I'd had for a long time. In short, Soviet style communism doesn't work. The one advantage of a democracy is that people get slung out sooner or later. Much as I'm not a fan of Tory government, at least in our system we get a change of faces which make patronage, cronyism and corruption harder. I've come to the conclusion that even the best people go bad if they are in power too long.

As to whether raw capitalism actually delivers, look at the banks, the railways etc. I'd like to see decision making devolved to as local a level as possible.