30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, chaos not freedom reigns in our world
Three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that most concrete and evocative of symbols of a Cold War that raged for five decades between Soviet communism and Western capitalism after WWII, only the most unreconstructed Western ideologue would dare still claim the event as a triumph of good over evil.
On the contrary, the thirty years that have elapsed since have revealed that if evil resided anywhere it was on the side of the Wall which those in East Germany and elsewhere in the Soviet Bloc were desperate to get to. Because, looking back, the fall of the Wall set in train three decades of unfettered free market global capitalism and conflict in the name of the Washington-led unipolar world the event gave birth to, responsible for wreaking unremitting chaos, carnage and human despair across the world.
Despite the ocean of demonisation that has been levelled at the GDR, to give the former East Germany its Sunday name, it was a noble attempt to establish a country and society on principles of human solidarity, equality, collectivism and egalitarianism out of the ashes of fascism. Indeed on the subject of fascism, here the difference between the GDR and its FDR counterpart was exemplified by the contrast between the extent to which the former seriously de-Nazified its society and state, and the extent to which the latter did not.
In a 2007 Guardian piece Bruni de la Motte presses this very point, writing that in
West Germany thousands of leading Nazi army officers, judges who had sent Jews and leftists to their deaths, doctors who’d experimented on concentration camp victims, politicians and others, were left unscathed and continued in their professions. They received generous pensions on retirement, whereas those who opposed the Nazis and had been imprisoned or in concentration camps received no pensions for these periods as “they hadn’t paid their contributions”. In the GDR the “victims of fascism” received extra pensions and other privileges in recognition of their suffering.
This is not an attempt to reverse the reductive good vs evil dynamic so beloved by unthinking defenders of the indefensible. It is instead an attempt to provide a corrective to the intellectually moribund anti-Communist industry in the West — one that has done much to distort and disfigure the historical record when it comes to the ending of Cold War, with the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 the catalysing event in this regard.
Let us return to Bruni de la Monte, who lived and worked in the former GDR at the time the Wall came down and who points out that though it “brought with it the freedom to travel the world and, for some, more material wealth…it also brought social breakdown, widespread unemployment, blacklisting, a crass materialism and an “elbow society” as well as a demonisation of the country I lived in and helped shape. Despite the advantages, for many it was more a disaster than a celebratory event.”
Chief among those for whom the fall of the Berlin Wall was a “celebratory event” was a small group of influential and fanatical neocons in Washington, led by one Dick Cheney. These were people for whom the event was less the opportunity to rejoice in the dawning of a new golden age of peace and comity in the world, but instead the opportunity for US global economic, geopolitical and military domination. In this they were joined by liberal interventionists, Clintonites in the US and Blairites in the UK, in an alliance which for its countless victims was forged in hell.
In grim testament to its brute consequences, in the past thirty years the world has borne witness to the destruction and dismantlement of the former Yugoslavia, the destruction of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya (spawning ISIS in the case of Iraq), and the so-called war on terror in which tens of thousands of civilians have perished. Meanwhile at home working class communities have been bludgeoned by the spread and deepening of neoliberal free market nostrums, involving the rolling back of postwar gains measured in the establishment of welfare states and a social wage consonant with the word ‘civilisation’.
In the former East Germany today it is not democracy and prosperity but fascism and xenophobia which are alive and kicking. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) since it was formed in 2013 has enjoyed a surge in support in the former East Germany, largely due to economic problems that have engulfed the region due to the dislocating impact of reunification. Mass marches of neo-Nazis have also been a regular occurrence, culminating in the city of Dresden declaring a ‘Nazi emergency’.
Stepping back, there is no gainsaying the fact that the current wave of mass protests and unrest that has swept the world — Lebanon, Iraq, Chile, France, Catalonia, Hong Kong — have their roots in an underlying crisis within global capitalism. More specifically it is a crisis of private greed, the ineffable greed of the rich and superrich, which itself is a symptom of the lack of political control over the commanding heights of national economies, particularly in the West when it comes to the banking and financial services industry.
The grievous consequences of the latter was reflected in the 2008 financial crash, serving up a global recession/depression the consequences of which we are still living with today.
The fall of the Berlin Wall won millions across the former Soviet Bloc the freedom to be unemployed, homeless, hungry, and to be pushed into the arms of poverty and the mercy of global corporations. It removed the last constraints when it came to the ability of the ‘greed is good’ disciples of slash and burn free market capitalism to plunder the world’s human and natural resources.
Thus in retrospect, rather than take the Wall down in order to escape to the West, the goal of citizens of the GDR thirty years ago should have been to build it higher to keep the West out.
This would not have only been in their own interests, but also in the interests of wider humanity.