John Cunningham’s article Central and Eastern Europe 30 Years On (Solidarity 529) was really interesting and thought provoking.
John’s describes and analyzes how the European Union’s Single Market and the operation of “free movement” led to the devastation of what were once reasonably advanced and self sufficient economies and societies, with the loss of significant proportions of mainly younger, more economically active parts of their populations, and their subjugation as part of the “core-periphery” model to almost semi colonial and exploited status within the EU.
I think this amounts to a devastating critique of the EU as it actually is rather than what we would like it to be and does suggest there is a basis for a Left argument against the EU and for Brexit.
We do need to balance a genuine right to move and work against being subject to blind and destructive market forces, and with the right to plan for balanced economies and the allocation of resources, including labour.
I agree a central problem for the Central and Eastern European states was the “failure to develop a democratic socialist alternative to the neoliberalism foisted on them by the USA and EU”, but that was inherent in the nature of the collapse of (bureaucratic/state) socialism which happened in 1989.
The loss of state power by the communist and socialist forces in those countries led inexorably and inevitably to the restoration of capitalism, and in its rawest and most brutal forms.
The “results of the Second World War” (to use a post-war Soviet phrase) meant that the feudal, capitalist, and in some cases fascist regimes in central and Eastern Europe had been smashed and were under Red Army domination.
It was obvious that the USSR would use these countries as a cordon sanitaire to protect the Soviet Motherland from future existential threats as represented by Nazism, Fascism and capitalism.
The Soviets were initially open as to the nature of the regimes they wished to see behind the iron shield of the Soviet Red Army. The “people’s democracy” concept provided a genuine opportunity for pluralistic, democratic, participatory models for progressive social and economic advance in these countries. Martin Myant has discussed this in careful and thoughtful detail in his Socialism and Democracy in Czechoslovakia 1945-48 and The Crisis of Polish Socialism, and also Donald Sassoon in his The Strategy of the Italian Communist Party.
Instead, Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, the aggressive policies of the Truman Administration, which had tested out its new nuclear weapon on Japan, was extremely keen to use its then nuclear monopoly to threaten the Soviet Union and with total extermination. Genuinely popular Communist Parties in Italy and France – who had played absolutely key roles in the resistance to Nazi and fascist occupations and who had often fought bravely and suffered enormously – were systematically excluded and blackmailed out of Government.
The inevitable reaction, response and consequences in central and eastern Europe was a tightening of the communist influenced regimes there, specifically to resist massive subversions being attempted by the US and British powers, resulting in what become the authoritarian regimes which lasted until 1989, what I would call the national security states.
By the 1970s, it was clear that, whatever the strengths and achievements of the Soviet model of socialism and those imposed in Eastern Europe, these were badly in need of major structural reform and transformation, as they started to significantly lag behind the Western economies, especially with regard to productivity, dynamism and innovation.
The achievement of strategic nuclear and military parity by the USSR with Western imperialism around the same time may have provided a final opportunity to consolidate and structurally reform the existing models of socialism, but this was not taken up. This instead probably produced complacency as part of what become known as the period of stagnation.
Greater democracy within the ruling Communist Parties could and should have led to renewal of leaderships, greater democratic engagement with wider forces in society and stimulated awareness and understanding of the need for modernisation and reform. In short, we needed a planned strategic transition from the old command and administer model of socialism to more democratic, participatory and pluralistic ones.
This was not provided by either the Gorbachev leadership in the USSR or the rolling collapse of socialism across Europe in 1989.