In keeping with recent celebrations of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, let’s consider just how far the actual results fell short of their promise.
To take just one example: the West systematically suppressed all economic alternatives to neoliberalism in the countries of the former Soviet bloc after the fall of communism.
In Russia, neoliberal intellectuals like Jeffrey Sachs eagerly supported derailment under Yeltin of Gorbachev’s market socialist agenda for mutualizing state-owned factories as worker cooperatives. (The latter “land to the tillers” and “factories to the workers” policy, by the way, was exactly the model of post-Soviet privatization Rothbard proposed: treating state property as unowned and letting it be homesteaded by the work force.)
In Poland, Lech Walesa was pressured to throw Solidarity under the bus, and to sacrifice their vision of placing the former state economy under workers’ control.
It’s interesting, by the way, how workers’ resistance against pro-Soviet regimes was used by the West for all it was worth, and then cut loose and discarded. In virtually every anti-Soviet uprising of the post-WWII period, the resistance was libertarian socialist in character. In East Germany in 1953, Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1967, and Poland 1981, the resistance organized workers’ councils in the factories and saw themselves as fighting against a bureaucratic ruling class that had supplanted the capitalists. Come to think of it, as another example of history’s tendency to rhyme if not repeat, this sounds a bit like events in the Soviet Union before the Bolshevik party machine hijacked the sovyets and Lenin suppressed the workers’ committees and placed the factories under one-man management.
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela was persuaded to gut the ANC’s agenda for land reform, and to abandon any attempt at reparations, worker control, or otherwise addressing the issue of unjust acquisition in the mining industry (which had been built by slave labor).
Both Walesa and Mandela were coopted as brand-name logos, like Vlaclav Havel: The Triumph of Democracy (TM), or The Walls Came Tumbling Down (TM). Walensa and Mandela were eviscerated of everything substantive they’d fought for, and reduced to little more than patronizing “good guy” icons in Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” video. If Gandhi’s national liberation struggle had happened today, the folks in the State Department and IMF would probably have reduced him to the same kind of superficial icon, taking away the spinning wheel and all the talk of industrial swadeshi. Come to think of it, that sounds an awful lot like the domesticated and non-threatening Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was allowed to keep the “I Have a Dream Speech” but had to lose the poor people’s movement).
And since then, there’s been a global Democracy (TM) industry, composed of such bodies as the Soros Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the International Republican Institute, busily at work replacing post-Soviet kleptocracies with telegenic suits willing to take orders from Washington and the World Bank.
The first order of business of such regimes, as in Poland and South Africa, and the new “democracy” in Iraq, is to accede to the WIPO treaty and the Urugay Round of GATT, and organize the sale of state industry with all deliberate speed to international finance capital (on terms entirely favorable to the latter, of course).
The fall of communism and subsequent neoliberal revolution amounted, in practice, to the collapse of a wall encircling the Soviet bloc, and its replacement by a set of corporate walls surrounding the entire planet.
In the midst of all the hoopla around the Berlin Wall, let’s stop to reflect on what might have been.