Communist Nostalgia As The Reality Of Bourgeois Democracy Hits Home In Eastern Europe
Stalins approval rating hit a record high amongst Russians recently showing a 70 percent approval rating of Josef Stalin published by the independent Levada Center pollster. (Stalin’s Approval Rating Among Russians Hits Record High — Pol, The Moscow Times, 16 April 2019)
With this in mind it is worth examining some of the polls coming out of ex-socialist countries. Around about the time of 2010 up to the present a set of polls have been conducted in each post-socialist country. Having experienced 20 years of the wonderful free market experience a number of publications seemed to be shocked at the responses to them. The bourgeois press (from the Economist to Der Spiegel) couched this surprise longing for their socialist systems as ‘nostalgia’.
A fine continuation of the twist of words to suit their agenda when discussing really existing socialist states.
This kind of con game has long existed when discussing any country that doesn’t have a system of government the west approves of. You can see versions of these arguments in the Economist and Spiegel articles(linked below).
Where any piece of data can be used as an attack on those states. “If the young want socialism their young and naive and not experienced enough in life. If the old that lived under socialism want their socialist systems back their ‘nostalgic’ for their youth.”
The old instead provided detailed and nuanced reasons as to the reason they preferred their socialist systems. This is all the more remarkable given that most of those old enough to have lived under their socialist systems did so when revisionism was busy uprooting socialism. The years they experienced were the years of stagnation and decline which paved the way for full counter-revolution.
“A remarkable 72% of Hungarians say that most people in their country are actually worse off today economically than they were under communism. Only 8% say most people in Hungary are better off, and 16% say things are about the same. In no other Central or Eastern European country surveyed did so many believe that economic life is worse now than during the communist era. This is the result of almost universal displeasure with the economy. Fully 94% describe the country’s economy as bad, the highest level of economic discontent in the hard hit region of Central and Eastern Europe. Just 46% of Hungarians approve of their country’s switch from a state-controlled economy to a market economy; 42% disapprove of the move away from communism. The public is even more negative toward Hungary’s integration into Europe; 71% say their country has been weakened by the process.
(Hungary: Better Off Under Communism? Pew Research, April 28 2010)
“Today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 57 percent, or an absolute majority, of eastern Germans defend the former East Germany. “The GDR had more good sides than bad sides. There were some problems, but life was good there,” say 49 percent of those polled. Eight percent of eastern Germans flatly oppose all criticism of their former home and agree with the statement: “The GDR had, for the most part, good sides. Life there was happier and better than in reunified Germany today.” (Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism, Spiegel, July 03 2009)
The most incredible result was registered in a July 2010 IRES (Romanian Institute for Evaluation and Strategy) poll, according to which 41% of the respondents would have voted for Ceausescu, had he run for the position of president. And 63% of the survey participants said their life was better during communism, while only 23% attested that their life was worse then. Some 68% declared that communism was a good idea, just one that had been poorly applied.
(In Romania, Opinion Polls Show nostalgia For Communism, Balkan Analysis, 2011)
Roughly 28 percent of Czechs say they were better off under the Communist regime, according to a poll conducted by the polling institute SC&C and released Sunday.
Only 23 percent said they had a better life now.
More goods in shops, open borders and better cultural offer are considered the biggest successes of the system that was installed after 1989.
On the other hand, the voucher privatisation, the worsening of human relations and work of the civil service are its biggest flaws, most Czechs said.
(Poll: Many Czechs say they had better life under Communism, Prague Daily Monitor, November 21 2011)
A poll shows that as many as 81 per cent of Serbians believe they lived best in the former Yugoslavia -”during the time of socialism”.
The survey focused on the respondents’ views on the transition “from socialism to capitalism”, and a clear majority said they trusted social institutions the most during the rule of Yugoslav communist president Josip Broz Tito.
The standard of living during Tito’s rule from the Second World War to the 1980s was also assessed as best, whereas the Milosevic decade of the 1990s, and the subsequent decade since the fall of his regime are seen as “more or less the same”.
45 percent said they trusted social institutions most under communism with 23 percent chosing the 2001–2003 period when Zoran Djinđic was prime minister. Only 19 per cent selected present-day institutions.
(Serbia Poll: Life Was Better Under Tito, BalkanInsight, December 24 2010)
The majority of Russians polled in a 2016 study said they would prefer living under the old Soviet Union and would like to see the socialist system and the Soviet state restored.
(Most Russians Prefer Return of Soviet Union and Socialism: Poll, Telesur, August 19 2017)
Reflecting back on the breakup of the Soviet Union that happened 22 years ago next week, residents in seven out of 11 countries that were part of the union are more likely to believe its collapse harmed their countries than benefited them. Only Azerbaijanis, Kazakhstanis, and Turkmens are more likely to see benefit than harm from the breakup. Georgians are divided.
(Former Soviet Countries See More Harm From Breakup, Gallup, December 19 2013)
Ukraine, Lithuania and Bulgaria
The poll showed 30 percent of Ukrainians approved of the change to democracy in 2009, down from 72 percent in 1991. In Bulgaria and Lithuania the slide was to just over half the population from nearer three-quarters in 1991.
(SPECIAL REPORT: In eastern Europe, people pine for socialism, Reuters, November 8 2009)
People in the former Yugoslav countries, scarred by the ethnic wars from the 1990s and still outside the EU, are nostalgic for the socialist era of Josip Broz Tito when, unlike now, they traveled across Europe without visa.
“Everything was better then. There was no street crime, jobs were safe and salaries were enough for decent living,” said Belgrade pensioner Koviljka Markovic, 70. “Today I can hardly survive with my pension of 250 euros ($370 a month).”
Bulgaria (seen as a golden era)
In Bulgaria, the 33-year rule of the late dictator Todor Zhivkov begins to seem a golden era to some in comparison with the raging corruption and crime that followed his demise.
Over 60 percent say they lived better in the past, even though shopping queues were routine, social connections were the only way to obtain more valuable goods, jeans and Coca Cola were off-limits and it took up to 10 years’ waiting to buy a car.
“For part of the Bulgarians (social) security turned out to be more precious than freedom,” wrote historians Andrei Pantev and Bozhidar Gavrilov in a book on the 100 most influential people in the Balkan country’s history.
(SPECIAL REPORT: In eastern Europe, people pine for socialism, Reuters, November 8 2009)
Why People Miss Their Socialist Systems
It’s seemingly easy for the bourgeois press who have to report these unfavourable findings to dismiss them as mere nostalgia. “Oh everyone loved their youth,” they clamour, “it is their youth they are nostalgic for not socialism!”
It’s therefore worth taking a look at what people themselves have to say about their lived realities.
“Most East German citizens had a nice life,” he says. “I certainly don’t think that it’s better here.” By “here,” he means reunified Germany, which he subjects to questionable comparisons. “In the past there was the Stasi, and today (German Interior Minister Wolfgang) Schäuble — or the GEZ (the fee collection centre of Germany’s public broadcasting institutions) — are collecting information about us.” In Birger’s opinion, there is no fundamental difference between dictatorship and freedom. “The people who live on the poverty line today also lack the freedom to travel.”
“From today’s perspective, I believe that we were driven out of paradise when the Wall came down,” one person writes, and a 38-year-old man “thanks God” that he was able to experience living in the GDR, noting that it wasn’t until after German reunification that he witnessed people who feared for their existence, beggars and homeless people. (Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism, Spiegel, July 03 2009)
Fortunately for us communists, Schroeder also has this to say:
“I am afraid that a majority of eastern Germans do not identify with the current sociopolitical system.”(Ibid)
For the GDR we can see it doesn’t seem to be nostalgia. There is no fundamental difference to a lack of being able to travel and being too poor to travel. Both have the same result. The fear the free market has driven into people, some of whom have ended up as ‘beggars’ and ‘homeless’ does not seem like a particular part of nostalgia either. Except maybe nostalgia to not become homeless or a beggar.
Another point of attack we often see in the bourgeois press is that those that miss their socialist system do so because they were the poor and outs too comfortable in the security of the state. Here a successful businessman admits he has done quite well for himself under reunification and counter-revolution:
Another man, a 51 year old who remarks that ‘“There’s no doubt it: I’ve been fortunate,”when he set up his business post reunification and did quite well for himself. This well to do man remarks
“In the past, a campground was a place where people enjoyed their freedom together,” he says. What he misses most today is “that feeling of companionship and solidarity.”(Ibid)
And summing up bourgeois democracy quite succinctly:
“As far as I’m concerned, what we had in those days was less of a dictatorship than what we have today.”(Ibid)
For Romania the article concludes that it is not some nostalgia for their communist past but “people have felt increasing social and economic pressures and therefore their desire for social security guarantees has increased, regardless of education levels, age or social status.”
In other words the economic security has worsened under capitalism and an increase of economic pressure has been the result.
For the Russians the missing of their socialist systems is simple — in 2017 Russians were spending more than half their income on food (Most Russians Prefer Return of Soviet Union and Socialism: Poll, Telesur, August 19 2017). The return of capitalism has meant a complete stripping away of any security for the vast majority and incredible enrichment for a miniscule minority.
For Bulgarians the issue is the same — the bulk of their income is now going on food:
“We lived better in the past,” said Anelia Beeva, 31. “We went on holidays to the coast and the mountains, there were plenty of clothes, shoes, food. And now the biggest chunk of our incomes is spent on food. People with university degrees are unemployed and many go abroad.” (SPECIAL REPORT: In eastern Europe, people pine for socialism, Reuters, November 8 2009)
The worrying increase of Americanisation also seeping into Bulgarian culture as American influence is felt:
“Bulgaria is becoming Americanized,” said renowned Bulgarian artist, Nikola Manev, who lives in Paris. “I pick up the phone and they talk to me in English, I go to a restaurant and it’s called Miami. Don’t we have our own names for God’s sake?
“Looking on the surface, I see new buildings, shops, shiny cars. But people have become sadder, more aggressive and unhappy,” he said, prescribing spiritual cures.
This autumn for the first time in many years, tickets at Sofia’s theatres are selling out weeks in advance. (Ibid)
Disillusionment With Bourgeois Democracy
We can see also this has gone hand in glove with a disillusionment with bourgeois democracy. In fact the only 2 countries polled out of the 8 countries here were marked ‘satisfied’ with their democracy. (https://www.pewglobal.org/2010/04/07/hungary-dissatisfied-with-democracy-but-not-its-ideals/)
Another common myth the bourgeois press propagated prior to the overthrow of socialism in 1989 was that Eastern Europe was somehow imprisoned in the soviet system. The term ‘captive nations’ was everywhere in the bourgeois press. The president of the US was required every year to declare something called ‘Captive Nations Week’. At the time people of Eastern Europe did not consider themselves ‘captive’ and even laughed at the term. (Eastern Europe: A Communist Kaleidoscope, John Dornberg, 1980).
Another implication from the bourgeois press and its propagandists was that Eastern Europe was ‘free’ prior to becoming the Eastern Bloc. Instead all states with the exception of Czechoslovakia were ruled by oppressive and dictatorial monarchs or despots of one kind or another.
This disillusionment for bourgeois democracy can be seen with regard to Hungary. For instance, 70% think it is very important to live in a country with honest multiparty elections, but only 17% believe this describes Hungary very well.
The liberals who read this worry about a disillusionment with democracy and not the fact that bourgeois democracy is an illusion of democracy. In the West you can change the ruling party or president but you can’t change the policies. The policies of privatisation of public services which can then be stripped and then be turned into profit seeking ventures. Rentiers on the local economy seeking to galvanise from the citizenry as much as it can get it’s blood soaked hands on.
This was beautifully illustrated by the EuroMaidan press putting out a propaganda poster recently in showing how ‘democratic’ Ukraine is versus Russia and Belarus.
One might also put out a propaganda poster of the GDP per capita of the 3 countries since 2000.
GDP per capita in 2000
(GDP per capita (current US$), World Bank)
GDP per capita in 2017
(GDP Per Capita, CIA World Factbook)
The culmination of Ukraine’s democracy (it’s rotation of corrupt plutocrats) has led to the election of a comedian with no political experience.
The Hollowing Out Of The Labour Force As Western Markets Snap Up Their Labour Markets
The troubling economic situations in some of the post soviet countries is worsened by demographic decline. With the return of the ills of unemployment which has been accompanied by a huge drop in the birth rate. As mass privatisation and de-industrialisation entered the former GDR the former GDR required mass West German subsidies of 130 billion annually to the crumbling East German economy which has still not recovered.
With ahopeless situation where they grew up East Germans migrated en mass. A stunning population decrease of 2.2 million people from 16.7 million in mid-1989 to 14.5 million in 2005. (Communist nostalgia in Eastern Europe: longing for the past, Open Democracy, November 10 2015).
In Bulgaria the devastating ramifications of economic privatisation and ‘democratic transition’ was the loss of jobs and professional occupations in Bulgarian villages.
Mike Donkin, a BBC reporter and journalist, stated in 2006 that Bulgaria had the fastest rate of population decline in all of Europe: “and the sense of abandonment is even greater in the countryside…Scattered across the landscape now are dozens of deserted or almost deserted villages”. (Post Communist Nostalgia, Maria Todorova and Zsuzsa Gille, 2010)
The negligent liquidation of collective farms reduced them to subsistence farming and production (a 19th century mechanism). For these reasons Bulgaria has suffered economic and social devastation since the fall of socialism. This is why a strong sense of communist nostalgia exists today in Bulgaria, especially in the countryside. Again the young have had to leave the countryside. Most even opting to leave Bulgaria altogether.
The same thing has happened to Poland.
“Poland is in a more dramatic version of the cycle of decline in which Britain found itself during the 1970s when we lost a net half a million residents over several years. As people leave, the economy is suppressed which encourages yet more people to up sticks and seek better opportunities abroad.
And of course it tends to be the most entrepreneurial people who leave, while more conservative-minded workers stay behind. Job-creating businesses which might have been set up in Warsaw or Krakow end up being established in London or Berlin.”(Poland asking workers to come home is shocking indictment of EU membership says Ross Clark, The Express, August 24 2019)
The Polish economy was hit particularly hard by the 2008/2009 crisis. Yet for the economy to be smaller in 2015 than it was in 2008 is a shocking indictment of the plundering of the East European economies.(Ibid)
These issues of course are not some accident. They are the result of the anarchy of the market in which competing capitalist nations viciously compete to plunder raw resources, cheap labour, export opportunities and markets. Eastern Europe was systematically de-industrialised. They were to be places to dump western goods. And with the de industrialisation of their economies the jobs went to the west. The young packed their bags and left to seek jobs in Germany, Britain and France.
The hopes of the petty bourgeois, the intellectuals and counter revolutionaries that assisted in the dismantling of the Soviet and Yugoslav systems had hoped to become like capitalist United States, Britain and Germany. Instead they have become like capitalist Mexico — a source of cheap labour for Western Europe/North America. We can see how the bourgeois press has reacted to the developments in Poland with the New Yorker publishing such headlines as Is Poland Retreating from Democracy? Or Politico with Is Poland a failing democracy?
The answer to Politico’s question is a resounding yes.
Having ruthlessly smashed the communists in Poland and 3 decades of Polish Nationalist propaganda means there is not room in Polish society to manoeuvrer to the left. The plummeting birthrates, the young Polish abandoning the country has brought the spectre of fascism to the fore.
The Technological And Social Achievements Made During The Soviet Era
Socialism prompted an incredible leap forward in social and economic development. These were accompanied by huge investments in social programmes and public services. From healthcare to education and day-care centres were either free of charge. Social programmes and public services that were previously denied to hundreds of millions of people prior to World War 2.
The communist system succeeded in transmitting socialist values to the populations of Eastern Europe but also in industrialising and radically transforming their economies. Huge infrastructure projects, manufacturing and industry dominated the economies in Eastern Europe. Prior to World War 2 their economies were largely agrarian and undeveloped.
By the late 1970s, for example, Poland’s state-owned steel company, Zjednoczenie Hutnictwa Zelasa i Stali,was bigger than Britains at the time. It ranked one notch ahead of Bethlehem Steel Corporation and one behind United States Steel in the world output listing. The Peoples Republic of Poland was also a major copper producer and exporter. The fourth largest coal producer in the world. Behind US, Russia and China. In the 1970s the Polish mining industry was so modernised it even sold machinery and expertise to the United States. (Eastern Europe: A Communist Kaleidoscope, John Dornberg, 1980).
Bulgaria completely industrialised its agricultural sector in the same time period. With 170 agro-industrial complexes which provided all of Europe with fresh fruits and vegetables, high-quality canned goods and preserves. One of Bulgaria's state owned companies also managed Europe’s largest international lorry fleets which carried tomatoes from Sofia to Denmark, black sea grapes to Holland and West German tools to Turkey. (Ibid)
Hungary became the largest manufacturer of cross-country and city buses in all of Europe. Throughout the 1970s the Ikarus factory exported buses to the US for their municipal transit systems in Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles. The Hungarian Peoples Republic was also advanced in the high technology of the time with the state-owned company Videoton producing equipment in electronics and data processing. Videoton was doing more than $300 million worth of business annually. (Ibid)
The incredible levels of economic and social progress largely attributed to the healthcare and education programmes is a cornerstone to the growing disillusionment with bourgeois democracy and the capitalist system. The downturns following the counter-revolution have produced major public disapproval.
For some of the east European countries this has led to a serious questioning of their decisions. Of a worse life than under post-soviet or Yugoslav conditions.
For Poland (one of the countries to receive the most EU investment in an attempt to make it a ‘model’ for post socialist countries) this has meant a fundamental doubling down as the Catholic Church has returned to the fore of Polish society. This has involved the revival of a pre-World War 2 ‘tradition’ of teaching children to beat a Jewish effigy before hanging and burning it. (Jewish effigy hanged and burned in ‘disturbing’ Easter ritual in Poland, The Independent, 23 April 2019 )
This disturbing return of an anti-semitic tradition which has fuelled violence against Jews for centuries in Poland is an example of capitalism needing scapegoats for its failures to provide a decent, dignified life for its citizens.
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