Few nowadays remember how the fall of the Eastern Bloc actually played out in real time. In the West, the perception was that the system was so tightly controlled that it was impregnable. As long as Westerners heard the old slogans, it convinced them Communism was alive and well, and as evil as ever, as they saw it.
In the actual Communist countries the perception was different. No matter how all-pervasive The Party was, the more people heard the slogans the less they believed in them. Even active Communists didn’t believe much of what they were saying, and knew it was all about gaining and keeping power rather than helping the people, who they were not in the same universe as, let alone on the same planet.
Remember Mikhail Gorbachev? In his day he was seen as a statesman on a par with Roosevelt or Bismarck, who had already carved his name amongst the immortals with his liberalisation of the Soviet system to make it more responsive to the real world. Now we think differently, and understand he was naïve or working for the other side—or both.
However he is largely overlooked today, forgotten, because the opposite was true – he was reacting slowly to a threatening situation on the ground he could not ignore, which eventually swept him away with the rest because he couldn’t adapt to it without cutting his own throat.
The Opposite is True
For several years this author has been stating in this journal that the Soviet Union actually won the Cold War, because the US now behaves like the Soviet Union used to do. US allies have often tried to resist this tendency, but like the ordinary Alexandra Ivanova, a common Russian name, who didn’t see the point of the Soviet Union: they have to eat, they have to coexist, they have to pretend this is good to get the things they want.
You always hope that when you make a statement like that one, which goes so much against received wisdom, events will prove you right. The US does so every day, so no problem there
But if you want to see what the old Soviet states were like just before they were consigned to history, you have to look this side of the Atlantic. When people grew weary of US claims to be the sole guardian of democracy and truth, they often looked to the older democracies as better examples of civilized values – and amongst these, one country in particular.
Whatever their politics, there is not one person on this earth who ever thought they would see the day when the United Kingdom, home of cricket, a parliament and monarchy the envy of the world and a Constitution so effective they don’t need to write it down, became the modern equivalent of the Soviet Union. All the same elements are there – the purges of the ruling party, voter restriction to stamp out undesirables and slogans, slogans, slogans.
But those elements defined the whole Communist experience, not just the last days. What makes the UK the reflection of those last days is that everyone can see what is real, and that the reality is bad, but the leaders bang on regardless, just waiting for the earth to swallow them up before history and the courts get there first.
Action and Reaction
The present UK government was elected on one simple promise: to get Brexit done. To those who voted for that, what this meant was taking the country away from politicians, whether foreign or native, and giving it back to the people.
Just as in 1917, the excluded would now rule through real representatives, who listened to them and did their bidding. No longer would they be told they were bad people because they didn’t agree with the latest trendy idea from a foreign conspiracy sustained by corrupted elite.
Everyone who wanted one would have a job. They would be able to afford their own homes, like they used to, have cheaper food and utilities and brighter futures, with their newly emancipated nation flexing its independent muscle and not having to bail out all those foreigners invading it and sucking the honest citizen dry.
That’s all very well, but the two things have to go together. When you are there to uphold the noble idea, and the promised benefits don’t exist, the slogans sound very different than they did when people were attracted to them.
Exactly as in the Soviet Union, the same words are given a different meaning. When ministers speak, the first thought of most Brexit voters, let alone everyone else, is no longer “we are taking control” but “you just want to stay in power at any cost”.
But the rulers are only there because they uphold the idea, regardless of the carnage they see around them. Like the homeless man who sits in the same few inches of pavement for years on end, not daring to move, they run away from everything that have done by repeating the lies no one listens to any more, simply because there is no other way they can justify their continued existence.
Comrades in Harms
A key argument of Brexit was that the UK was economically self-sufficient, and stronger than most EU countries. Therefore if it could do what it wanted, without being held back by EU bureaucracy and bailouts to its weaker members, everyone would be better off than they had been since 1972.
The UK does indeed have one of the world’s major economies, larger than that of most EU nations. So its people expect First World standards, not Third World ones, the very things it accuses those nasty foreigners, within and without its borders, of imposing on it.
Now the UK is experiencing food rationing of a sort – its supermarkets are limiting the amount of fresh produce any person can buy at one time. This is bad enough in itself, when it becoming increasingly difficult to afford food and fuel. Many are faced with stark choices between food and fuel.
But the problem is the symbolism. In a country already riven by food banks, supposedly what happens when the EU takes away all your jobs and gives them to foreigners who then come to the UK and avoid work at the same time they are stealing those jobs, you can’t impose on the public the same things they assume Third World countries have, but theirs doesn’t.
Everything is being blamed for the fresh produce shortage, such as bad weather in Southern Europe and rising energy prices due to the Ukraine conflict. But other countries with much weaker economies aren’t rationing food. They did for a bit, but they got over it, though the weather is still bad and the war is still going on.
The UK is in this mess, and every other it can see every day, because of Brexit. It doesn’t have supplies because those who carry them have to go through customs, and that takes a lot longer so they don’t bother. It can’t grow its own supplies because the crops rot in the fields, because only foreigners wanted to pick them, and they have been driven away.
There is no longer any incentive to export to the UK rather than the EU. There is no reason to help the UK deal with its share of the energy crisis when no one will be getting anything back they can’t get elsewhere for a fraction of the cost.
But no one in government will admit that the idea they were elected to serve is responsible. The public know, no matter how much the politicians pretend they don’t. Ministers also know that when they blame everything and everyone else, the public hear the opposite, but they keep saying it anyway because they have nothing else to say.
Just like the poor, frightened men who were forced out of their failed states in 1989 by angry mobs, they can argue the benefits of their system forever but can’t avoid the fact that people want reality. This is what it took seventy years for the Soviets to be reduced to, forty-five years for their allies to be reduced to, and six years for the United Kingdom, once the antidote to all that, to be reduced to.
Feels So Right It Can’t Be Wrong
In the Soviet Union they always had a fall back when they knew people didn’t believe the lies any more. They would attack the enemy, real or imagined, because everything was their fault, and if you objected to the glorious system you would end up like them.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, subject of jokes that his surname is a spelling mistake, has had the audacity to claim that the UK’s economic problems are the fault of Vladimir Putin. Apparently the UK is suffering from a “Recession Made in Russia”, although the problems he admits are global are affecting the UK more than anywhere else due to UK government decisions—not what is going on in Russia.
The Party’s solution? To send planes to Ukraine in the name of Brexit and Peace, as if it couldn’t have done this before, and ratchet up the economic oppression of the people by raising taxes, cutting spending and telling everyone to save energy to stop Putin, as if it affects him one iota whether the UK uses Russian energy.
If it isn’t Putin, it is the hated EU that is the cause of all problems. What’s the problem with this? It is a rich man’s club which exploits the workers by giving them opportunities to earn money and democratic, human and legal rights. It is inherently corrupt for these very reasons, and spreads this corruption by sending its people to the UK to work or scrounge and impose its decadent ideas on right thinking British people.
Sound familiar? You may not hear it now, but you can read it in anything official about the hated West which came out of Eastern Europe in Soviet times.
Western reference libraries still have those enormous old books called Information Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Hungary or wherever, which painted the whole of their country’s history, and its difference from Western nations, in this way. Westerners has a paranoid fear of “reds under the bed” in countries which would never accept Communism, but this was nothing compared to the rants about Western attempts to destroy socialism from within.
These were louder and longer precisely because people wanted the reality of the Western alternative, with all its faults for those guaranteed a job and used to being told what to do. They remain loud and long in the UK because there is a big difference between the concept of decadent foreigners, which is readily embraced, and the benefits and protections the EU has brought to the UK, the very things British voters didn’t realised they loved so much until they lost them.
Rotten as the Fruit
Blaming tomato rationing on Putin and foreigners can only get as far as it does because the British have been brought up to believe that their country is the standard, and every other has got something wrong with it. No matter how tolerant, liberal and partnership-willing an individual or politician may be, that is the basis on which interactions with others have been conducted since the Empire became grand under Queen Victoria.
Brexit merely tapped into that presumption by telling the disadvantaged and venal what they wanted to hear – that everything wrong in their lives was the fault of their inferiors, who by definition they shouldn’t have to listen to. Just like Eastern Bloc citizens were always told that their system was morally, ethically and intellectually superior, so if something wasn’t good it was the fault of Westerners who had nothing against them personally, and never set foot in their countries.
If the system is superior, and you live under it and are prepared to continue doing so, you are likewise superior. The problem the UK now faces is exactly this – that all these superior people expect to see that manifested in practical ways, but see little more than humiliation, which they are less ready to accept than they would have been had they lost a war, or been ravaged by another devastation the people they thought were their friends said was good for them.
Eastern Europeans of the late 1980s and early 1990s understood that politicians promising the same old things, and erecting the same old enemies, wasn’t going to change the reality those promises had created. Their politicians knew it too, but could only survive by pretending true was false, an essential skill of politicians everywhere.
Now the winners who think they destroyed Communism by being better are doing exactly the same, before our very eyes. It may seem far-fetched to assume this will destroy the UK as well as its present rulers – but that is what was said until right before Communism fell, and is less far-fetched than believing we would ever see a Western country follow the same path.