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The Disillusionment of Post-Soviet Europe


#1

In the Boston Review, Marta Figlerowicz, who teaches literature at Yale, reviews Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams by John Feffer. The book seeks to understand how the rise of nationalism and neofascism in Eastern Europe today can be traced back to the failures and frustrations of post-Soviet integration with the West. As Figlerowicz observes in her review, the educated elites in countries like Poland, Bulgaria, and Slovenia have benefited significantly from the introduction of Western-style capitalism into these countries, while the poor and working class have in many ways been left behind. Read an excerpt from the review below, or the full text here.

Most Eastern European families, like mine, have their own micro-histories of the social fractures that ensued from these unexpected and not fully planned transformations. In Aftershock, the novelist, journalist, and political scholar John Feffer attempts to view these stories from a middle distance: a point of view broader than a participant’s, if also less aerial than a professional historian’s. Through interviews with Eastern Europeans from all walks of life—politicians, activists, academics, blue-collar workers, clerks, and Ikea managers—he pieces together an affective and cultural history of post-communism. Aftershock gives its reader a panoramic view of the fantasies and hopes through which recently post-communist societies interpreted their ongoing transformations to themselves. Terms such as “neoliberalism,” “the West,” and even “the transformation” entered Eastern European public discourse without being properly clarified and debated. The “Big Lie,” one of Feffer’s interviewees calls his countrymen’s views about market reform; “I knew nothing about economy, about shock therapy,” confesses another. In such unclarities, and in the misplaced hopes they fueled, Feffer finds seeds of Eastern Europe’s current economic inequalities and its ongoing rightward political turn …

Most of the narratives Feffer tells are darker. His greatest fear is that Eastern Europe’s supposed transformation was merely superficial, and in some ways even regressive. The people who are doing well in Eastern Europe these days tend to have belonged to its intellectual elites from the outset. “It’s no surprise,” he comments bitterly, “that those who orchestrated the changes in 1989 crafted a transition that benefited their class, whether it was former Party officials who profited from insider privatization or former dissidents who staffed the new government ministries.” By contrast, those without such elite connections have little access to their countries’ emergent opportunities and resources. Indeed, they have become increasingly vulnerable to age-old ethnic and gender prejudices that both communism and capitalism were supposed to eradicate.

Image via Boston Review.


#2

Communism DID eradicate the age-old ethnic and gender prejudices to a huge extent but as capitalism’s “market economy” came back from 1989 onwards and socialist ideology died what drenched everything was the selfishness and envy driven by consumerism, “who has got what, and who has got better than me”. This instantly fuelled ghastly and retrograde wars between ethnic groups and nations.
As Karl Marx explained, without the dictatorship of the proletariat in place to ensure the transition to socialism, there will be counter-revolution and “all the old shit will revive”.
But conditions in the former Soviet Union and Eastern European socialist states are historically very, very weird. It has never before happened in human history that countries of hi-tech science and collective civilisation - farming, factories, civil service, army etc - should suddenly find themselves back in the dog-eat-dog vicious, war- and gangster-ridden wasteful competition of capitalism. The swish limousines gliding past and the parade of prostitutes, oligarchs and wide boys in the glittering nightclubs are a permanent insult to those barely scraping by.
The Russian working class and peasantry which made no less than three great revolutions in 1905-1917 to drag themselves into modern civilisation would overthrow the oligarch dogs and Putin in a second were it not for the fact that ideological confusion reigns because it was their Communist Party leadership that liquidated itself (under Gorbachev) and that followed decades of non-Leninist (pitiful revisionist “peace at any price”) dead-headedness that left workers completely befuddled about revolutionary politics.
Prickly nationalist and anti-Western sentiment dominates from Warsaw to Moscow, with both nasty over-currents of smelly fascism and interesting undercurrents of the anti-imperialist, anti-Western force of old Soviet and reality-driven thinking.
This all leaves the fascism-loving “democratic” West highly uneasy. The CIA and Washington finance huge campaigns and coups to overthrow any signs of anti-imperialism that they can, in the so-called “colour revolutions”. They are currently feeding the most sophisticated and deadly weapons to the fascist Kiev regime in Ukraine to try to kill off the Donbass resistance (which gets some inadequate help from Russia).
The West correctly suspects that somewhere under all the newly opened Big Macskis, the sick revival of the catholic and Orthodox Churches and Putin’s strongman Bonapartist posturing, the Soviet Union lies buried but turning in its grave.
Given the US Empire’s need to warmonger its way out of monopoly-imperialist economic crisis, Trump’s trade war on Europe, tit for tat retaliation and the doubling of unemployment that a collapse in world trade will cause, it can only be a matter of time before Leninist revolutionary politics revive around the world.
Hitler’s fascism was pretty theatrical, stupid and purely destructive in the 1930s and WW2, but could present itself as a “New Order”, a petty-bourgeois nationalist antithesis to Soviet Communism. The modern-day revivals of overt racist, anti-communist fascism look hundreds of times more stupid and only have any kind of traction because the West funnels huge amounts of cash to them (witness Maiden in Ukraine) and the working classes of these countries haven’t got any communist parties that are revolutionary, have correctly analysed what went wrong and have rejected both museum-Stalinism’s popular frontism and the anti-Soviet Trotskyist critique.
The West is not going to like it when mass parties of pro-Soviet communist revolution revive in the former Soviet socialist territories. To paraphrase the old joke against Stalin, when the cheated, insulted and railroaded masses resurge in triumphant communist revolution they will be fiercer than ever - “no more Mr Nice Guys” indeed.
Build Leninism. See epsr.org.uk; see EPSR issue 1530 on this very topic.