Waiting at the Berlin Wall

It’s 20 years to the day since the fall, literal and figurative, of the Berlin Wall, an event that at the time was astonishing in its rapidity, and seems no less so two decades later. In retrospect it is easy to say that it was inevitable that the exhausted regimes of Eastern Europe would topple under the twin stresses of Western economic dominance and popular discontent, but even at the end of the 80’s the Cold War was such a dominant fact of everyday life that its abrupt, and relatively peaceful, conclusion came as a shock.

I identify myself politically as a communist, so you could be forgiven for thinking that I would look back on the events in Berlin with regret, but I belong to that tradition of the British left which can loosely be described as “Trotskyist“, so I was as happy as anyone (apart from the inhabitants of Eastern Europe obviously) to see the bureaucratic Stalinist regimes of Moscow and its allies disappear into the pages of history. What was disappointing was that they had been brought low not by the renewal of revolutionary ideals that we had anticipated, but by being outperformed by the western economic model (we had anticipated this too, just not so soon, or so suddenly).

It’s fair to say that the demise of the Soviet Union had an enervating effect even on us leftists who were actually its deadliest ideological enemies, since it heralded a period of capitalist triumphalism that is beginning to falter only now (at least in the West; in the developing world communism has remained influential). That said, the existence of the obviously repressive Soviet bloc was always a dead weight around the neck of the left, forcing us to spend time thinking about the nature of the deformed workers’ state that would have been better spent working on more pressing issues, and its collapse has ultimately proved liberating for progressive movements in Europe. (Of course the local difficulty we suffered pales into insignificance beside the blighted lives of millions of workers who actually had to survive under “socialism in one country”). The story of the degeneration of the high ideals of the Bolshevik revolution is one of a missed opportunity to build a better future, and one we must learn from, as the world once again urgently needs an alternative to the bankruptcy of capitalism.

There’s a reconstruction of the Wall on the grid, with details of its history, including the iconic Checkpoint Charlie:


Perfect if you don’t want a holiday in the sun.

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