The Stalinists who sobered up and focused on Mr Blair

`The only tenable stance was to support those battling against injustice in both East and West'
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The Independent Culture
TEN YEARS on, it seems incredible there were, once upon a time, millions of people who supported the regimes behind the Berlin Wall. Mostly, they were like women with awful boyfriends who refuse to believe what everyone else says about them. Their friends were screaming, "Open your eyes; they are starving the peasants and demolishing Bucharest." And the Communist Party member would say, "But they're ever so kind in other ways that you don't see."

Personally, I think the biggest clue that all was not well was in the poetry. For example, Peter Vetchora wrote in Pravda: "Stalin's greatness is a halo/ Around the constellations and the firmaments/ Around men and factories."

I wonder how stuff like that got reviewed. There was no Soviet version of The Late Review, with a journalist waxing, "Vetchora is moving into a new phase I call his `astronomy period.' It's certainly a departure from his last piece, O Stalin, Your Moustache Makes a Million Thighs Go Clammy."

Nowadays, most former Stalinists resemble someone sobering up after a 60-year drinking binge, mumbling: "I never, did I? Oh I never supported the invasion of Prague. Oh I don't believe I went up to a 40-ft concrete wall and said it was my best friend."

So the united Germany congratulates itself on the triumph of freedom. But, at the risk of appearing picky, non-Communist 20th-century Germany hasn't exactly been a glowing example of liberty, either.

Nor has the post-Communist east. Unemployment in the former East Germany is at 18 per cent. Ukraine's economy is one-third of the size it was 10 years ago, and Russia's has shrunk by half. Hundreds of homeless Romanians are sleeping in sewers, far-right groups are thriving and nuclear weapons, instead of being under the control of a madman, are under the control of several madmen. That's some New World Order.

Any debate about which is best out of the old or new systems in the East is a false argument. Why? Because, fundamentally, they're the same system. In both cases, a tiny minority controls production with the aim of securing a profit.

In most cases, it's even the same people running the system. Most heads of industry in Eastern Europe were leading figures in the old regimes. And if Boris Yeltsin was such a heroic opponent of Soviet tyranny, how did he end up as a leading member of the Communist Party? Maybe he was processed by a KGB trainee who ended up screaming, "Oh, no! Instead of sending him to Siberia, I've accidentally put him on the Supreme Soviet. What will I tell my manager?'

Before the demise of the Berlin Wall, the choice for humanity appeared to be between Eastern-bloc Communism and Western capitalism. But supporting either side created puzzles. How could you support the rights of Chileans to form trade unions, but not support the right of Poles to do the same? And how could Thatcher and Reagan say it was wrong for the Russians to invade Afghanistan, but right for the Americans to bomb Vietnam?

It's easy to see how, under the heel of one brute, people opted for the imagined freedom of the other system. It's also easy to see why, however mistakenly, Western socialists, horrified at various times by world slumps and the threat of Fascism, became blind to the brutality of the East, while Eastern dissidents imagined that all their problems would somehow be over once they could stroll to the other side of the Wall.

In reality, the way that capitalism was sold to the East was similar to the way market traders flog their fruit and veg. All the best stuff at the front, and the market capitalists called out, "Look over here darlings; West Germany, everyone with computers, Mercedes-Benz, good at tennis and football, have some of this and you're laughing." When the offer was taken up, all the rotten stuff from the back was served up. "Right, yer can have Sri Lankan wages, Brazilian shanty towns, and Australian soap operas. Next!"

The only tenable stance was to support those battling against injustice in both East and West, and to continue doing so in the New World Order.

Which is why the people with no excuse are those who once so enthusiastically supported the Communist Party but who are now fans of Blair and the West. At least Stalin and Reagan only supported the atrocities of one side each. These people have cheered on both sides in turn. They're like someone in the East End of London who says, "Well, I'm a fan of Reggie Kray and Jack the Hat McVitie."

And so, while some of us scream: "Open your eyes, they're bombing civilians and demolishing Belgrade." The ex-Marxists whimper: "But Nato is kind in other ways that you just don't see." Happy anniversary.