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1989: Twenty-years on, history thrives!

    A recent poll done by Pew Research on the attitudes of Eastern Europeans after two decades of liberal-capitalist reforms suggests that the shine is off the market-utopia.  Indeed, the poll goes much further than I even expected; in it most E.Europeans actually expressed their belief that their economic situation was better under bureaucratic-socialism than under neoliberal capitalism. This flies in the face of all conventional--ideological--wisdom that is propagated here in the West about the inherent superiority of our system.  Here is the actual quote:


Majorities or pluralities in six of the eight Eastern European countries surveyed say the     economic situation of most people in their country is worse today than it was under     communism. Hungarians offer the most negative assessments – 72% say most in their     country are worse off today. Majorities in Bulgaria and Ukraine share that view (62%     each), as do about half of Lithuanians and Slovaks (48% each) and 45% of Russians. (40)

    This is actually very telling considering that all these countries, with the exception of the Ukraine, have far surpassed their 1988-89 per capita peak.  Therefore, this suggests that the problem with the capitalist economies is that the gains of that growth have not trickled down, but upwards. This puts into question the very importance of economic growth without equity, indeed, what is the purpose of growth if the people do not benefit. This measure is a very large indictment against the capitalist system, because the persons are saying that they are actually worse off.

    Although, to be fair, the condemnation of the capitalist system is not equal, as the burdens do not fall equally within the capitalist system. There are differences among the generations and sexes. According to the poll:


As is the case with opinions about the move from a state-controlled economy to a market economy, women, those who did not attend college and those who are 65 or older are     generally more negative in their assessments of whether most people in their country are     better off or worse off today than they were under communism. The views of those in     urban or rural areas vary slightly, if at all.  (Ibid)

The part about women is instructive, women in the socialist bloc were certainly more free than women in the capitalist West. The socialist states facing severe labour shortages needed women to participate and the state created institutions that allowed women to become ‘breadwinners’, with child-care being largely done by the state, free of charge. Never-mind the large state funded youth-organizations that further enabled women to pursue careers and have more free-time, a luxury that most women in the West do not have. The importance of these organizations were so important that even the East German currency highlighted the importance of family and the state’s provision of child-care as a defining characteristic of its system (

As the ‘wall fell’ in 1989, those institutions were privatized or simply eliminated. Women did not simultaneously lose their responsibilities as ‘breadwinners’, instead they now had to juggle family and work like their counterparts in the West. The Pew poll goes on to note about the gender gap:


As was the case in 1991, women are generally less enthusiastic about the move from a     state-controlled to a market economy. For example, 52% of Hungarian men approve and 38% disapprove of the economic changes that have taken place in their     country since 1989. Hungarian women express more negative views – 41% approve and 45% disapprove of the changes. In Ukraine, just 30% of women approve of their country’s     move to a market economy, while a majority (52%) disapproves; Ukrainian men are nearly     evenly split (44% approve and 41% disapprove).  In Russia, however, the gender gap on     views about economic changes since the collapse of communism has evaporated. In 1991,     Russian men and women were more divided than men and women in any other country     surveyed – 64% of men approved of the changes, compared with 46% of women. Today,     about half of men (49%) and women (50%) express positive views of Russia’s move to a     market economy (38-39).

    Another interesting, although not entirely surprising conclusion, is the rise of nationalism and ethno-centrism in the former socialist bloc. With the erosion of the ideal of socialist-internationalism, the ‘other’, instead of being an ally in the struggle for emancipation, became the competitor for scarce resources. What is interesting is how the Pew poll measures this. They asked Russians if ‘Russia is a naturally imperialistic nation’ in 1991 and today, the results are frightening:

As for the Russians themselves, there has been an upsurge in nationalist sentiment since the     early 1990s. A majority of Russians (54%) agree with the statement “Russia should be for     Russians”; just 26% agreed with that statement in 1991. Moreover, even as they embrace     free market capitalism, fully 58% of Russians agree that “it is a great misfortune that the     Soviet Union no longer exists.” And nearly half (47%) say “it is natural for Russia to have     an empire [up from 37 percent in 1991]” 

    The collapse of a viable, uncompromising left-alternative throughout the world in the last quarter of the twentieth-century saw the emergence of a reactionary, rightist discourse that re-articulated what it means to be anti-systemic: from anti-capital, for capital; and in a typically fascist twist, obfuscated and denied class by appealing to ethno-centrism. This is the esssence of the left-right distinction put forward by Zizek:

They [the Leftist and Rightist] not only occupy different places within the political space;     each of them perceives the very disposition of the political space differently--a Leftist as     the field that is inherently split by some fundamental antagonism; a Rightist as the organic     unity of a Community disturbed only by foreign intruders (Zizek, 113). 

Anti-establishment can be articulated in both senses, although, only one is truly anti-establishment, the left--that is not to suggest that the left will reach the positive utopian space communism, but it certainly is a progressive force fighting for more not less equality and liberty. However, appealing to the racialized other as the enemy is the time-honoured tradition of the reactionary wing of politics. This aspect of post-modern politics is not limited to the former Soviet bloc, even in the United States, the anti-'illegal immigrant’ mania of CNN’s Lou Dobbs, among others is indicative of this regressive political trend with the collapse of the left--this anti-illegal immigrant position is ironic on many levels, including, but not limited to: the pilgrims were, essentially, ‘illegal’ colonizers; the United States, like Russia, illegally colonized, dispossessed and appropriated the lands that were occupied by the now ‘illegals’. Indeed, the left should be articulating the aforementioned ironies, or founding sins of history, to get over the reactionary logic's of the right and to build bridges between peoples, viz. cosmopolitanism. This can only be accomplished by a left that is unafraid of being a left, that does not accept the terrain of the enemy, for to accept it is to lose the battle before it has even begun.

    If we want a more just society, the left must not be so polite as to assume that antagonism is over and we can have, what Chantal Mouffe calls ‘consensus politics’. All politics, where I agree with Ernesto Laclau, is based on antagonism and, essentially, populism. If we want to build a cosmopolitan era, we must still have an antagonism and that antagonism must within not without, and that antagonism must be capital and all it symbolizes. As the polls from  Russia show, socialist-internationalism was well entrenched in 1991; today, with the logics of liberal-nationalism, we have seen a great regression back into the abyss of reactionary subjectivities.

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