Socialist Worker

1989 revolutions: The end of a dream?

by Chris Bambery
Issue No. 2176

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 were widely hailed as the triumph of free market capitalism.

The vast majority of the global left had embraced the notion that the Stalinist states were to some degree “socialist”.

This left collapsed along with the wall, falling into deep pessimism.

It ended up arguing that socialism and revolution were impossible dreams.

Centre-left parties across Europe embraced neoliberalism with gusto, none more so than New Labour under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Today they parrot the old lie that “there is no alternative” to the market.

Yet the truth is that free market capitalism, like Stalinist state capitalism, has failed the people of eastern Europe.

While the effects of the current recession are bad in the west, in eastern Europe they are catastrophic.

Last week Moldova joined Hungary, Poland, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania and Latvia in agreeing International Monetary Fund “rescue packages”, with the cost of austerity measures and privatisation.

The level of inequality between east and west Europe, as measured by poverty, child mortality and life expectancy, has grown in the past 20 years.

Within a few years of the fall of the Berlin Wall economic crisis returned to haunt Europe. It has been accompanied by social and political instability.

War returned to Europe for the first time since 1945 as the former federal republic of Yugoslavia fell apart in the 1990s.

The biggest boast of the ruling class was that the fall of the wall marked the end of socialism. This was swallowed wholesale by much of the left.

Yet now we see the biggest questioning of capitalism in three quarters of a century, with a widening interest in Karl Marx’s critique of a system in which crisis is inherent.

In 1989, Socialist Worker celebrated the fall of the wall. We heralded the destruction of the Stalinist regimes that created a space in which genuine socialist movements would be able to grow.

Today, working class resistance has not yet achieved a decisive breakthrough – but it is a growing feature of Europe, east and west.

We can create a new, radical left to give the lie to the idea that 1989 represented capitalism’s victory.


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