This week, we are informed, the world is celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the “new birth of freedom” (they always swipe Lincoln’s golden words) that this incident supposedly symbolized. I, however, am not popping any champagne corks.

Did the fall of the USSR and the Eastern European socialist states bring about a new birth of freedom? It depends on whose ox is gored.

It brought about freedom in excess for monopoly capital, which was then able to expand its wealth and power exponentially. This greatly stimulated the dynamics of globalization in the interests of monopoly capital, as enterprises and resources in the formerly socialist countries, which had been built up by the hard work and sacrifice of workers and other ordinary people in those countries, was pounced on an privatized into the hands of domestic and foreign billionaires. In Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, it was an orgy of looting and crime, which is how “freedom” is defined by looters and criminals.

It brought about freedom for old and new economic and social elites in the former socialist countries in Europe. In the Czech Republic, Hungary, the former German Democratic Republic and the rest, former noble landowners and wealthy businessmen have been allowed to go to court and reclaim ownership of estates and other assets which were confiscated from their families at the end of World War II, and used in many cases for constructive purposes.

It did not, however, bring about freedom for about 2,000 poor Angolan students who were studying to be medical doctors at the Charles University in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The government of the “enlightened and poetic” Vaclav Havel cut off their financial support, so that the Czechoslovakian elites could be “free” of that social responsibility foisted on them by the “evil” communists. And Angola had and has precious few doctors, so this did not represent a new birth of freedom for poor Angolans dying for lack of medical care.

It did not bring about freedom to the mass of workers, poor farmers, artisans and slum dwellers in the impoverished countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Rather, it delivered them bound hand and foot to international monopoly capital, and to the IMF and World Bank, by taking away alternative sources of trade and development aid which the USSR and some of the other socialist-bloc countries had been providing them. Much of the world sunk into deeper poverty as a result of the power surge that the fall of European socialism gave to imperialism and monopoly capitalism. And in countries where violent right-wing dictatorships prevailed, it cut off a vital source of solidarity and aid for those who were resisting tyranny.

In reality, it did not bring freedom to workers in the USA and other wealthy, developed capitalist countries. The fall of the Berlin Wall did not alter, for the better, relationships between workers and their bosses; if anything, it worsened them because it stimulated the greed and arrogance of the latter, as well as undercutting the position of workers via the various dimensions of corporate globalization.

As to the Berlin Wall itself, I do not defend it. It was built to stop a brain drain of technically trained people from the GDR to the Bundesrepublik, but I think it was the wrong method. This is, though, water under the bridge, and the fall of the wall was used as a pretext to do far more evil things.

It is customary to end ruminations like this one by a quote from some worthy figure from the past, so here goes:

“‘Order prevails in Berlin! You foolish lackeys! Your ‘order’ is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will ‘rise up again clashing its weapons’ and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing ‘I was, I am, I shall be!”

Those were, as far as we know, the last written words of Rosa Luxemburg, written in Berlin (not quite coincidentally) just before she was murdered in 1919 by the reactionary, proto-fascist German military. And they were never truer than today.



Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.