Socialist Worker

Legacy of the 1989 revolts

Issue No. 1672

TEN YEARS ago this week many thousands of people reduced the Berlin Wall to rubble. They breached the divide which rulers East and West had maintained throughout the Cold War. They were reacting against the repressive regimes across Eastern Europe which they were told were socialist.

In reality these regimes were state capitalist, where resources were not put towards people's needs, but devoted to competition with Western free market economies. The countries were not run by workers, but by a minority who enjoyed privileges denied to most.

After the Berlin Wall came down politicians like Margaret Thatcher and US president George Bush assured the people of Eastern Europe they would experience miraculous economic growth if they embraced the free market. Many workers believed that democracy and the market would go hand in hand. But the market has brought devastation to their lives.

One in five people in east Germany are unemployed. The economies of every East European country except Poland are smaller than in 1989. An arc of social and political crisis sweeps down from east Germany, through the Balkans and into the former republics of the USSR. The bitter disappointment felt by ordinary people is so deep that even pro-market thinkers who predicted a new dawn ten years ago are forced to recognise it.

The Cold War is over. But war in all its horror has returned to Europe. Russian generals talk of 'surgical strikes' on civilians in the republic of Chechenia in a carbon copy of NATO's bombing of the Balkans earlier this year. There is, however, one great legacy from the revolts of 1989.

Working people and the poor did not succeed in taking power into their own hands and breaking the hold of the ruling classes which still run the societies of East and West. But they did show they were capable of changing the course of history. That is a message workers everywhere need to take up as we face a world of chaos and injustice.

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Sat 13 Nov 1999, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1672
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