Though the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is nearly upon us I've noticed that celebratory gestures commemorating this event from the usual quarters seem a bit strained. Why the long faces? I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the crumbling facade of capitalism, of which Margaret Thatcher famously declared There Is No Alternative, lay somewhere near the reason. Two years into its worst crisis since the Great Depression has exposed "capitalism" as practiced over the past 30 years in the US and among its acolytes as a ponzi scheme and cruel hoax on the overwhelming majority of people. Kind of spoils the party I guess.
Conventional wisdom encourages the belief that the fall of the Berlin Wall signaled the "defeat of socialism" as a practical ideology. This popular fiction rests on the central conceit that socialism was the really existing system of the USSR and its Eastern European satellites and not a form of state capitalism. Phil Gasper explores this theme in the following essay published in Socialist Worker.
The collapse of Communism--or, more accurately, Stalinism--in the Eastern bloc did result in triumphalism among supporters of Western-style capitalism, and it led to widespread demoralization among large sections of the left because they shared the belief that these regimes were in some sense socialist or "workers' states."
But this characterization of the Eastern European countries was based on the assumption that socialism can be defined in terms of state ownership of the economy. Since in all of them, the economy had been largely state-run since the late 1940s, it followed that they were socialist, no matter what their other imperfections.
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