[Marxism] RE: "the effects of Communism are large and long lasting"

paul illich paul_illich at hotmail.com
Fri Apr 7 03:27:15 MDT 2006


I have a few comments on this piece:

>http://www.nber.org/digest/apr06/w11700.html
>
>"After being reunited with West Germany, most East Germans have retained a 
>decidedly Communist view of what the government should do in terms of 
>providing a social safety net and redistributing wealth from rich to poor."
>
>While the common view in the West is that most Europeans who lived under 
>Communism were happy to trade state-run economies for free-market 
>capitalism, it turns out that their Marxist indoctrination may have more 
>staying power than previously thought.

I visited (former) East Germany in 1992 and met several middle-aged and
older guys, many of whom had reached minor positions such school head
in small local communities. They semed wistful even then. They had seen
the shiny bauble of West Berlin waved at them and were cynical of it, and
at the same time had had little time for the myth that their own previous
system was socialist or communist as they understood the terms. And that,
I guess is my main point - they seeme to me to quite genuinely grasp what
a socialist or communist society should look like and liked the idea. They 
had
not had it and knew that the West could never offer it.

>"This effect could arise due to indoctrination (such as teaching the 
>virtues of Communism in the schools) or simply due to becoming used to an 
>intrusive public sector," they write. "A second, indirect effect of 
>Communism is that by making former East Germany poorer than West Germany, 
>it has made the former more dependent on redistribution and therefore more 
>favorable to it."

If indoctrination was to 'blame', then the guys I knew were indoctrinated
to believe in principles of human interaction that they never believed the 
East
German state actually offered. The latter idea above also seems to me to 
hold
little water. Few spoke English and they regarded themselves as second class
citizens in the new Germans, even if West Germans didn't (and the perception
of those I met was that they did). Dresden, still a literal bomb site in the 
early
nineties, due to incomplete rebuilding post WWII bombing, was being rebuilt
when I got there. Office blocks, lots of glass, western firms contracted to
design and bringing in western labor (inc workers from France and the UK)...

The guys I met saw this as sucking the little capital in the East out and 
leaving
them even more impoverished, and for little or no short term benefit to the
East German people. Also, the area was losing its youth population in 
droves,
as they went West to seek work. Thus, 'favorable' to the East this was not.

>And, the citizens' preferences appear to go beyond self-serving beliefs. 
>For example, Alesina and Fuchs-Schündeln find that some of the difference 
>in opinions -- about a third -- "can be explained by the fact that the East 
>became poorer during Communism and is now a net beneficiary of (state 
>directed) redistribution within Germany, rather than to an effect of 
>Communism on preferences."

Again, the peception of those I met (and I am still in touch with a couple 
of
them) is not so straightforward. Few really remembered a pre-'Communist'
Germany in the east, really, and thus had no directly felt a bcoming poorer
under the regime they'd lived with for 40 years. And they were no more 
likely
to liste to older people reminscing than youth today is, even when the 
conditions
of the state allowed such luxurious nostalgia to go unpunished.

>But, they also find that East Germans are simply much more likely than West 
>Germans to conclude that, "social conditions, rather than individual effort 
>and initiative, determine individual fortunes."

This may be so. As I say, certainly the guys I met had socialist principles.
as I saw it they'd been taught to see the extra-individual context of 
society,
and were thus wiser than their spoilt western counterparts. They didn't
believe that East Germany had offered anything particuarly good, and would
say that the lessons of their state certainly showed harshly that individual
fortune was suffocated to a high degree by 'social conditions'. That the
social conditions under capitalism next door offered more scope for the
indivdual was not obvious to them. More licentious yes. A higher degree of
lassitude, perhaps, within the tracks laidout for citizens, perhaps. Any 
ability
to truly benefit self-in-society seemed blocked in the hedonistic west, 
though,
as the people seemed unable to understand that tracks _were_ laid out
for them and that deviation (unless for bourgeious drop-outs with wealth)
was in one way or another ultimately punished. And remember, they were
not comparng relative freedoms with the former East, as in many obvious
ways things were better despite teething pains, but comparing the
capitalist asocial reality within their ideal of what socialism should be - 
an
ideal they cleaved to.

That the article notes this and blames it on indoctrination rather than
seing it as a triumph of rationality _despite_ the former state, and one 
which
the West is so much better at crushing through giving sweets whilst steeling
class liberty and punishing rounded intelligence, is a shame. Indeed, the
title displays its ideological presumptions well - as 'communism' didn't 
exist
in the former East, how can the (positive) attitudes of those living in the
former East be effects (large and long lasting or not) of 'Communism'?

Paul






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