Friday, 6 November 2009

It had to end - I just wish it had ended differently

Much that was repressive and needed to be destroyed undoubtedly ended twenty years ago. But much that was worth keeping, in terms of social camaraderie and a society not completely controlled by plutocrats, also ended. As was made clear in the BBC's Lost World of Communism this year, most of those who demonstrated were not against the idea of socialism, but against corrupt, unaccountable leaders who had distorted the concept. They wanted a freer and more genuinely equal form of socialism, not neoliberal dominance. I certainly don't think Berliners, whatever MTV and its acolytes would have you believe, wanted the reunited capital of a reunited Germany to end up with less cultural sovereignty for city and country, rather than more. They wanted, in short, a halfway house, the old independent left doctrine of "neither Washington nor Moscow" brought into reality.

That halfway house had looked genuinely possible in the 1970s. Had Callaghan held his nerve and the Soviet Union stayed out of Afghanistan, graveyard of all empires, it might yet have been achieved. A world in which the west became more socialist and the east more liberal, in which the worst repressions were torn down without being replaced by a mere triumphalism of pop culture and consumerism. A world in which Eastern Europe was, as it deserved, genuinely democratised rather than merely consumed by one form of autocratic control from outside in place of another. A world in which we all became more "global" in the truest sense, rather than many of us in fact becoming less so. There's nothing I wish more than that that world, so close to formation for a few brief years, had actually happened. That's what should have happened in 1989.


  1. Hi Robin
    I'm afraid I don't really agree with yourself or Neil in this 'alternative history'. As I see it, most historical/ political theories do not take into account the possibility that about 25% of humanity is composed of awful, greedy, cruel people. They recognise each other and rise to the top of whatever ideology will become popular, but will change to adapt to whatever will get them the most money/ praise.

    If it were not for WWI/II and the wall street crash which not only gave people a mood of solidarity but also made the awful selfish people realise that they were themselves vulnerable and may need the collective. I do not think that the left would ever have had power were it not for these disasters.

  2. I'm all too aware that a lot of people are spiritual mercenaries, who will jump on any bandwagon going, whether or not they believe in it - quite a few people did this with both communism and neoliberal capitalism, interestingly. I'd also agree that the passing of time since the Second World War, as it became more and more an event from history, the sense of collective existence in society undoubtedly withered.

    I'm only suggesting that there *could* have been another way. I'm open to accusations that I'm too much of an idealist ... but I remain convinced that humanity, potentially, is better than that.