“The Communist Manifesto now reads as if it was written just a few weeks ago. … the experience of Eastern Europe and of the Third World shows the vital need for a universalist left as the only real alternative to diverse forms of barbarism.”
Building blocks for a ‘people’s history’ of socialism 1.0
At this critical juncture, given the fierce urgency of now, it is time for the left to give renewed attention to the socialist experience in Eastern Europe. We need to re-explore in depth across the radical left in North America, Europe and elsewhere what was progressive and successful, in the former ‘real-socialist’ economies in Eastern Europe-especially the smaller socialist states like Bulgaria-along with their weaknesses, mistakes, contradictions and myriad problems engendered by the enduring impact of the Cold War. The socialist countries have been turned with a vengeance into a “testing ground of an extremely aggressive form of neo-liberal social engineering, an attempt to violently impose a change in social paradigm”. We are seeing a metamorphosis in political and economic paradigms at the hands of the IMF, EU-and a nouveau riche comprador bourgeoisie and coterie of oligarchs-that has transmuted much of the post-socialist world into a vast societal poorhouse.
Researchers have argued that the neo-colonial tsunami in the wake of the Cold War has brought extreme neo-capitalist versions of neo-liberalism into Eastern Europe, with devastating results for education and social welfare. Bourgeois history’s irony–or perhaps its Cunning of Reason in Hegel’s classic sense–is that major achievements under ‘real existing’ socialisms in the 20th century were what people everywhere under austerity capitalism are fighting for here and now.
My core thesis is this: The narratives of ordinary people who grew up in socialism and now work and live in post-socialist societies in the throes of anomie [a widespread breakdown in social order] and severe poverty, their basic dignity trampled, need to be collected, discussed and disseminated widely. This will provide a record of authentic experience and memory as radical as reality itself. Such narratives can only sharpen our visions of 21st-century ‘democratic socialism.’ Such a project should be oriented toward oral history and biographical inquiry, exploring what life in these socialist states actually was like, as seen by ordinary citizens now living in the chaos of restored capitalism.
It has been argued that the restoration of market economies and bourgeois democracy across Eastern Europe, along with a massive de-collectivization of agriculture and privatization of industry have trashed human dignity and slashed the gains of ‘real-socialist’ welfare over many decades. Economic and ideological colonization from the West intensified for the vast majority of working families on a massive scale. One author recently observed that
“The dismantling of socialism has, in a word, been a catastrophe, a great swindle that has not only delivered none of what it promised, but has wreaked irreparable harm …. Numberless voices in Russia, Romania, East Germany and elsewhere lament what has been stolen from them – and from humanity as a whole: ‘We lived better under communism. We had jobs. We had security.'” Continue reading