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Friday, November 06, 2009

Eastern Takeover

This piece of mine, on the human cost of the political changes in eastern Europe in 1989, appears in the Morning Star.

Make 1989 the year you visit the GDR, the brochure of Berolina Travel proclaimed. So that's what my university friend Rob and I decided to do.

Neither of us were card-carrying members of the Young Communist League, but neither were we anti-communist cold war warriors. We were just two young people keen to find out for ourselves what life was really like behind the so-called Iron Curtain.

Twenty years on, the memories of my trip to the German Democratic Republic are still extremely vivid. We travelled to East Germany by rail via Frankfurt. The contrast between Frankfurt and Erfurt, the first city we arrived at over the border, could not have been more striking.

There was the lack of neon and the refreshing absence of advertising. Everything seemed less frenetic - the pace of life was much slower.

The GDR was getting ready to celebrate its 40th birthday. The country had come a long way since its foundation from the ruins of World War II, as John Green has described in recent Morning Star articles.

We had been conditioned to expect a very poor country, but were surprised to see that most people were better dressed than back home in Britain and that the shops, far from being empty, were well-stocked. It was nice to see main streets not dominated by chain stores - and not a Mcdonald's in sight.

Instead of Western fast-food chains serving unhealthy junk food, the GDR, in common with other socialist countries, was full of publicly owned self-service restaurants where ordinary people could eat good hearty fare at affordable prices in a communal atmosphere.

I remember going to one restaurant in Magdeburg and chatting to a young married couple sitting on the same table. We got on so well that we exchanged addresses after just half an hour together.

Contrary to its usual depiction in the West as a grey, unwelcoming place, I found the GDR to be one of the friendliest places I had ever visited. The best thing about it was the people - kind, friendly and extremely helpful. Interesting, well-read and well-educated people who always looked you in the eye and didn't want to cheat you.

I experienced the same thing on my other visit to a European communist country, Yugoslavia, also in 1989. I stayed in a small guest house close to Lake Bohinj. The owner was a committed communist and strong supporter of the partisans. Each evening he would invite the guests to sit, eat and drink with him and he would tell stories of how the partisans defeated the nazis in WWII.
He told all the guests to feel as if they were at home. He even washed his guest's dirty laundry for no extra charge. He not only advocated socialism, he lived a socialist life - helping others for no monetary reward. He was one of the kindest men I have ever met in my life and I remembered thinking there and then that a system that can produce such warm-hearted and generous people surely must have something going for it.

Not long after my visit to the GDR, the Berlin Wall came down. People I had spoken to in the GDR said that their main criticism of the government was the restriction on foreign travel. But, as the recent BBC documentary series The Lost World Of Communism showed, there was no desire, even among those who did take part in street demonstrations in the autumn of 1989, for a wholesale dismantling of the socialist system. What many people had wanted was a less authoritarian form of socialism - no-one was calling for mass privatisation and the introduction of Thatcherism.

In the mid-1990s I returned to eastern Europe to live and work in Hungary. After four years of harsh economic reforms the Hungarian people had just voted into power the Hungarian Socialist Party. But the hopes of the voters for a government which would retain the best aspects of the communist system were to be dashed. Capital had no intention of allowing any vestiges of socialism to survive in eastern Europe.
Under pressure from Western financial institutions prime minister Gyula Horn, who had earlier attacked the idea of energy privatisation, changed tack. He appointed a fanatically neoliberal economics professor called Lajos Bokros to introduce an austerity package.

While in Britain Thatcherite media commentators enthused over the eastern European countries' transition to a "free market economy," I witnessed at first hand the pain that such policies were causing to ordinary people.

Pensioners who had lived relatively well under the old regime were now having to go from shop to shop to try to save a crucial few forints as prices of basic foodstuffs rocketed. People who had never experienced unemployment under communism, when it did not exist, were forced on to the scrapheap as their factories closed. Beggars - almost non-existent during communism - appeared once again on Budapest's streets.
Yet as harsh as conditions were in Hungary in 1995, they are even worse today.

With the economy shrinking by 7.5 per cent in the second quarter this year and unemployment up to 10 per cent, it's hardly surprising that, according to a recent poll, just one in five Hungarians believe their country has changed for the better since 1989.

It's a similar story of economic hardship across the region, yet the rise in poverty in eastern Europe since 1989 is seldom mentioned by neoliberal commentators in the West when they pen their articles celebrating the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the "liberation" of the people from communism.

Twenty years on from the historic events of 1989 it is clear that what occurred was not so much a liberation but a colonisation. For while ordinary people have seen their living standards plummet and have lost many of the things they once took for granted, such as secure employment, affordable gas and electricity prices, cheap public transport and good-quality education and health care, the giants of Western capital have enjoyed a financial bonanza.

In Hungary alone, over £97 billion of publicly owned assets were sold off in the period 1990-2007, many to Western multinationals.

There was no office of Goldman Sachs in Budapest in 1989. There is now.
There were no Tescos in Hungary in 1989. There are now over 100.
And there was no Coca-Cola for sale when I visited the GDR. The Coca-Cola corporation now dominates the soft drinks market throughout the region.

So if you watched multimillionaire pop-star Bono perform last night in the MTV concert in Berlin to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall, remember that it's capital - and not the ordinary people of eastern Europe - that's been the main beneficiary of the political changes of 20 years ago.

Never in the history of the world has the fall of a single wall proved quite so profitable.


jack said...

Here is some background of the political and economic restructuring of Eastern Europe launched by George Soros.

DBC Reed said...

You have to suspect that some part of the anti-communist revolution circa 1989 was a Burnhamite Managerial Revolution: eastern bloc
management at the highest level thought they could do better under a capitalist system and jumped ship.The idea that it was all spontaneous beggars belief.

jock mctrousers said...

I've tried arguing with 'leftists' on Lenin's Tomb, Socialist Unity and elsewhere about the end of communism. It's hopeless. If you don't see the end of communism as the beginning of freedom then they think you're a nut. It's an unquestionable orthodoxy apart from the CPB and the Stalin Society, and George Galloway to his credit. It can't always be pig ignorance. I wonder how many of the leaders of the 'far-left' organisations are actually in the pay of the forces described in that brilliant article Jack linked to.

JACK - that is maybe the most crucial essay I've ever come across. I don't know how I missed it. I've read Engdahl's 'Century of War' which is brilliant and has a uniqe perspective, and I check his website sometimes, but somehow this piece eluded me. It rings true. A lot of this stuff crops up in 'far-right' conspiratology, in a sloppier guise, but Engdahl is no nut - he may be the best-informed writer around just now. But there IS a big quibble. Same as with his book, there are no sources given; so it's not that helpful to quote him in an argument. I don't know why this should be, but I don't feel that he's some sort of elaborate hoax. This is the heart of the matter, and it's somewhere that NO-ONE else seems to want to look. Why not?

Robin Carmody said...

My own thoughts on the matter (Neil might sympathise): (one important world not caught in the URL)

jack said...

@jock mctrousers

I can't remember what the original article and website was that had a link to this article but when I saw it I linked it to my favourites

Another good article about Soros and his activities in Eastern Europe by Srdja Trifkovic ( ).

George Soros, Postmodern Villain

It’s interesting how he promotes leftist agendas like to weaken the majority host nation (free abortion, open immigration, gay rights, minority right lobbying for more representation of Roma in Hungarian government and society) so there is obviously an agenda behind it which I believe is to limit the influence of the majority ethnic host population from creating a single block/consensus to oppose foreign agendas creating a fractured society like they did in Russia in 1917.

I think the whole Communist thing was simply a rouse to eliminate geo-political rivals and gain control of the countries resources wrapped up in a cover of “freedom and equality”.
And it was pretty clear that what there true agenda was and had a deep seated hatred of Russia as the way the “revolution” unfolded by first hand accounts write by unbiased sources like William Pelley which was essentially international terrorist and the mafia with there extensive links to organised crime like today’s Jihadist’s taking control of a country. Like there trying to do now in Eurasia.
The fact that it was financed by the wealthiest international capitalist bankers in the worldf shows how much of a farce it was.

History's Greatest Heist: The Looting of Russia by the Bolsheviks (Hardcover) by Mr. Sean McMeekin

I don’t see much difference between “free market” IMF economic model in Russia under Yeltsin and Communism under Lenin in fact under Yeltsin I would say it was worse as the industrial sectors were stripped and collapsed while they were built under the Bolshevik and not as much but millions died under an economic famine under Yeltsin and like Communism only a handful of people became extremely prosperous at the behest of the majority population. And if you replace commissar and mafia boss it is pretty much the same. A Berezovsky and Guisinky are as ruthless and cold hearted as Trotsky or Kaganovich. .

Neil Clark said...

jack -Re:Soros-I don't know if you saw my NS Profile of him and the role her played in 'liberating' eastern europe.

I don't agree with you when you say:
"I think the whole Communist thing was simply a rouse to eliminate geo-political rivals and gain control of the countries resources wrapped up in a cover of “freedom and equality”.

the resources were publicly owned under communism, not owned by international financiers like Soros. Which is why big capitalists like Soros hated communism and worked for its destruction. If international bankers/financiers were behind communism as you say, why did they work for communism's destruction? And why would they bankroll a system which meant less profits for themselves?
best w, Neil

Robin: that was a great post of yours on 1989. You're right- things could and should have been very different, as I mentioned here:

Neil Clark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neil Clark said...

sorry Robin, here's th full link:

i honestly beleive things would have been very different had Jim C called an election for Oct 78, or waited until the autumn of 1979.
there was nothing inevitable about Thatcher's victory.

jock mctrousers said...

No, I can't agree with that Jack. That's a bridge too far for me. You seem to be skirting around the 'jewish bolshevism' model i.e. bolshevism as a cloak for the takeover of Russia by international jewry, a 'model' which is popular on certain fringes where there's a higher tolerance of 'racism'. There's more of a case for saying that that's what happened to Russia and E.Europe AFTER 1989, but I feel that Engdahl has correctly identified the forces at the heart of it - his 'jews who are not jews' and aristo 'old money'. However he didn't (in that essay anyway)deal with the relationship between those 'jews who are not jews' and the jews who ARE jews, who identify and function as jews and have a considerable power structure including Israel and their lobbies in the US. But that's for another discussion really. To get back to the point, do you disagree with the gist of Neil Clark's article? BEFORE 1989 the peoples of the commmunist world of E.Europe and the Soviet Union had free housing, free education, free health care and jobs for life. And our media tell us this was a bad thing, like they talk about the 70s in the UK as 'the bad old days of jobs for life'. And the wealth differentials between the party elites and the rest were tiny compared to the wealth gap in the West. Of course 'the people' didn't have much of a say, but do we. But that eventually allowed the party bosses to solve the wealth differential problem by selling out the people, as we've seen. That that didn't happen sooner, and the undeniable benevolent aspect of 'really-existing communism' suggest what experience has shown us generally to be the case - a more 'nuanced' picture, with contending elements, some (for a while dominant) genuinely committed to the general welfare of the people.

jock mctrousers said...

Those pieces you linked to are brilliant Neil, especially the NS one on Soros. Great stuff!

Neil Clark said...

many thanks, Jock.

jack said...

@Neil Clark

Looks like a good article I will read through it thoroughly later. Interesting some of the names in fact most of them are involved in key operations against Russia and China which I do not think is just a coincidence.

I didn't know that he financed groups as early as 79 I thought he started his operation in Hungry in 89 with the Open Society although foreseeing the collapse of the USSR.

Communist government in Russia at least until after WW2 were supported and financed by major industry and banking firms like the Ford motor company and the Ford foundation (that still operates today) and the banking firms that initially financed the “revolution” in US, London and Sweden traded and continued providing loans throughout the decades.

Robin Carmody said...

I remember that Comment is Free piece. A fine article, which I have kept in my mind ever since. Indeed, it was the main inspiration for my blogpiece on 1989.

The one problem I have with it is that it probably exaggerates the global changes a different government in Britain alone could have made: in terms of international impact, Jimmy Carter winning a second term - in a world without a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as I mentioned, and also without the Iranian revolution and resultant hostage crisis - would have made more difference. Even if Thatcher had already been elected, I think Carter winning a second term could very well have tipped the balance and made a One Nation Tory internal coup against her in 1981 - which came close anyway - that much more likely.

Neil Clark said...

Hi Jack,
you say:

Communist government in Russia at least until after WW2 were supported and financed by major industry and banking firms like the Ford motor company and the Ford foundation

i find that hard to believe- why on earth would capital finance a communist govt which kept international capital out of the country?
the idea that international capital is behind communism/was behind it, makes no sense. turkeys don't vote for vote Xmas!

hi robin:
the thing is- the 'old left' would have been strong in a new parliament elected in Oct 78 or in the autumn of 79. Not only that, but a defeat in the election for the Cons would almost certainly meant the end of Thatcher- and Thatcherism. She wouldn't have been replaced by a fellow disciple of Hayek, but by a more consensual One Nation figure, as her extremist policies would have been blamed for the party's defeat.
Sir Ian Gilmour would have been a strong contender in any Tory leadership contest: imagine if the Tories had been led by a man who

'In the Conservative view... economic liberalism, a la Professor Hayek, because of its starkness and its failure to create a sense of community, is not a safeguard of political freedom but a threat to it...'

what a different- and better- world it would have been!

Robin Carmody said...


Although had Reagan become president anyway, there would have been considerable pressure on a Labour government (perhaps led by Shirley Williams by then, as the party wouldn't have split) to abandon the post-war settlement, and all the scare stories that such a gulf in policy would break up the 'Atlantic Alliance' might have been believed because, lest we forget, Britain was still paying off its war debt. I would still say that you would have needed a world without Reagan for that halfway house to be reached but, yes, a world without Thatcher (also quite possible had the Tories won the February 1974 election, which wouldn't have given certain people an excuse to bring out all their old class-based fear of Labour, wouldn't have given them a chance to get so paranoid about a coming socialist revolution, and would have forced Labour to make changes without going neoliberal in the process) would obviously have been much better and a lot of the way there.

Louis said...

When I lived in the territory of the former GDR I was struck by how much the communist government had rebuilt and restored the citys of Berlin, Erfurt, Dresden and Wismar to something like their pre war glory, the same was true of Poland.

In the west placed like Frankfurt Koeln and Duesseldorf were quikly rebuild in 1950s concrete drab except a few fake old towns, the GDR had a national pride that was lacking in the west, its west Berlin that is regarded as boring and unimpressive now.

jack said...

@Neil Clark

"I find that hard to believe- why on earth would capital finance a communist govt which kept international capital out of the country?
the idea that international capital is behind communism/was behind it, makes no sense. turkeys don't vote for vote Xmas!"

Very brief outline of the Communist scam.

Because it strips private property/ownership and has the countries economy under control through a central bank were an elite controls the wealth of a country.

How do you think Bolshevik Russia was able to start major industrial projects after 5 years of civil war and the country totally decimated?

Who do you think financed Stalins 5 year plan and massive industrialisation projects?

Pretty well known fact now that the Bolsheviks were financed by the wealthiest bankers in the world especially Jacob Schiff in New York through his Marxist support front "Friends of Russian Freedom" and supported and financed the Japanese during the Jap Russo war of 1904.

“Schiff formed called "The Friends of Russian Freedom." Its purpose was to agitate for the overthrow of the Czar. This group, with the help of the Japanese, ran an anti-Czar indoctrination campaign among the 50,000 Russian soldiers taken as POWs during the war. They returned home ready to support the revolution.
The first Soviet seized control of the city of St. Petersburg on March 14, 1917, while the nation was in turmoil over their defeats by the Germans during World War One. "The New York Times" of March 24, 1917, reports that Jacob Schiff sent the following telegram to members of his "Friends of Russian Freedom": "Will you say for me to those present at tonight's meeting how deeply I regret my inability to celebrate with the Friends of Russian Freedom the actual reward of what we had hoped and striven for these long years." (Schiff was obviously referring to the spreading Communist revolution in Russia.)”
“While in New York, Trotsky met with Schiff who saw in him the perfect revolutionary. Schiff had his "Friends of Russian freedom" locate 267 other Yiddish speaking exiles. He arranged for President Woodrow Wilson to give them U.S. passports so they could not be refused entry into Russia. Also, Schiff gave Trotsky $10 million (that is in 1917 dollars, which today would be worth hundreds of millions). Later Schiff would transfer another $15 million to Lenin”.

There is also quite a famous book detailing the connection between Wall Street and Communism called WALL STREETAND THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION By Antony C. Sutton.

jock mctrousers said...

Sorry, I googled the Executive Intelligence Review whose report Engdahl based his report on. It's Lyndon Larouche's lot. I'm very disappointed in Engdahl. His book is very good - it DOES give sources, but not many. But I can't now give him the benefit of the doubt now over anything he doesn't prove conclusively. I don't know if you could say LaRouche was a neo-nazi, because it's very hard to follow what he's talking about, but let's say his standards of evidence seem to be very low.

That book by Anthony Sutton crops up a lot in right-wing conspiratology. Let's say his standards of evidence also seem to be very low.

jack said...

@jock mctrousers

I don't see how Lyndon LaRouche can be a Neo Nazi when his main thesis is against fascism based on the London Anglo-Saxon model and has many senior Jewish individuals in his organisation like Jeff Steinberg who runs EIR.
I find some of LaRouche's information very good were he usually cities names and references although I disagree with some of his assertions like who they consider good people to work with in the Obama administration and his economic predictions have been pretty much spot on.

I do believe however that Jews do have a predominant influence in media, banking and government especially the US. Without out addressing this factor I don't see how you can properly address issues like the Mid East policy like the Israel/Palestine conflict and the Iraq war.

CNH said...

1989 - ah, yes .. the year that a nineteen year old boy, Chris Gueffroy, was shot and killed by German Border Guards at the Berlin Wall. Such a friendly, helpful, gesture. Still, what does it matter if people have to be killed building a better and kinder society.