Two decades later

It is 20 years since Socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern/Central Europe started to collapse. I have written extensively on this blog and on my other site (see link to The Unorthodox Website) about this, but here I want to look at it from a slightly different angle.

The immediate cause of the collapse of the system was, ironicallly, Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’; ‘openness’ and ‘restructuring’. Both came far too late to save Soviet Socialism, and in fact had the opposite effect. The final nail in its coffin was the hard-line coup against Gorbachev’s reforms in August 1991, when already the Soviet ’empire’ had disintegrated, with the Baltic States leaving the Soviet Union, East Germany reunited with (or some would argue ‘annexed’ by) West Germany, and the other Eastern/Central European abandoning Socialism. Even the Yugoslav federation, not part of the Soviet ’empire’, was starting to break up into warring nation states.

Capitalism and Socialism are two fundamentally opposed political, economic and social systems. Capitalism appeals to selfishness and human greed, whilst true Socialism is altruistic and puts the needs of society first. For Socialism to work properly, therefore, it needs a high degree of maturity, self-sacrifice and commitment from the population as a whole, and from those playing leading roles.

Capitalism works by offering people the prospect of endless shiny new gadgets and consumer goods and services, even when they can’t afford them and have to get themselves into huge debt to acquire them. We don’t really need to own our own homes, drive flashy gas-guzzling cars and have all the latest gadgets and technology. It is capitalism which tells us this is what we need, and it is destroying not only our environment and the planet itself, but causes economic crises, wars and is also extremely damaging to human spirituality. The materialistic goals of capitalism are not only unsatisfying spiritually, but they can only be sustained by exploitation of both human and natural resources. In particular, the blatant exploitation of a huge, grossly underpaid labor force in the underdeveloped world, and to a lesser extent, in the former Socialist countries, few of which have so far managed to win decent wages and conditions thru trade union activism.

In Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, the policies he introduced of glasnost and perestroika were far too little and too late to be successful. The whole system of bureaucratic State enterprises needed overhauling and breaking down into smaller, competitive units, as in Yugoslavia. The political system needed democratizing, with free elections and alternative political parties. But this couldn’t be done in one go. The bureacracy and inefficiency needed to be dealt with first, and this was hampered by the crippling arms and space race with the United States. It was deliberate U.S. policy to sabotage the Soviet economy by forcing upon it a huge, unsustainable defense budget in the nuclear arms race with America, and ultimately it succeeded in breaking the Soviet economy.

But the conditions under which Socialism was established in the Soviet Union, Eastern/Central Europe, Asia and elsewhere were by no means ideal either. In the aftermath of World Wars, following on from ruthless dictatorships in many cases. The Soviet Union emerged from the First World War, only a few months after the Tsarist autocratic dictatorship was overthrown by Karensky’s short-lived attempt at democracy. The Socialist states of Eastern/Central Europe and Asia (China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) emerged from the Second World War and the Axis dictatorships/occupations led by Nazi Germany and Hirohito’s Japan.

Even the milder form of Socialism in Britain attempted by Clem Attlee’s post-War Labour government was attempting to build up a war-ravaged country in the middle of austerity, and using the same bureacratic State monopoly model which was ultimately to prove inefficient in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

Ultimately, human greed and selfishness insured Socialism would collapse. Wave a shiny new car, house, washing-machine and other consumer gadgets in front of most people and they will grab it with both hands, even if it gets them into unrepayable debt when they find that Capitalism does not guarantee them a job for life and security into old age. Even the imperfect Socialism of the Soviet Union and Eastern/Central Europe/Asia did that.

Many of the problems emanated from the corruption of politicians and bureaucrats in the one-party dictatorships and coalitions dominated by one party in the so-called ‘people’s democracies’. They would only have been genuine ‘people’s democracies’ if the broad mass of the people had become politically active on a day-to-day basis by joining the relevant political parties and organizations, and attending endless meetings every day. Society was just not mature enough for this kind of self-governing system, as I have stated elsewhere.

Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika were fine in themselves, but coming when they did they not only panicked the hard-line Communists and corrupt politicians/bureaucrats into staging a coup, but they demolished overnight the Iron Curtain, which was all that sustained Socialism. No longer would the Soviet Union intervene to prevent Socialist countries in Eastern/Central Europe going their own way, so thousands started streaming West thru Hungary and other Socialist countries which opened up their borders, symbolized by the demolishing of the Berlin Wall in 1989, 20 years ago this October.

Not only that, but the Soviet Union itself started breaking up when the Baltic States, incorporated into the USSR by Stalin during World War II, demanded and got independence. There was then no stopping the process of disintegration, especially after the anti-Gorbachev coup which itself collapsed and let in Boris Yeltsin, the bumbling, often drunken leader who presided over the complete break-up of the Soviet Union.

The only way the whole system could have possibly been saved would have been restructuring in both the economic and political arenas in a much more organized and gradual way. The vast State monopolies, with a few exceptions like transport and utility companies, had to be broken up into Yugoslav-style cooperatives and smaller, competing public enterprises. Free elections with other political parties participating and putting up rival candidates should have been allowed, but only within the constraints of Socialist Constitutions. These Constitutions would have preserved some form of public ownership and control of the means of production, distribution and exchange as the basis of the economy, and made unconstitutional (and therefore not permissable) the introduction of Capitalist, free-market economies in these countries.

This would have prevented political parties being elected and then immediately dismanting Socialism, which in all honesty is impossible to do successfully after it has been established for so many decades. Even imperfect Socialism was preferable to allowing corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and foreign capitalists to grab the industries and services once owned by the State on behalf of the people. There was no way ordinary people could own substantial shares in these industries and services – those who tried in Albania and elsewhere lost their life-savings in huge pyramid scams. It would always be the rich at home and abroad who would benefit from the introduction of a free-market economy. And worst of all, by and large, the same corrupt politicians and bureaucrats remained in power long after the Socialist era, many still in power 20 years later.

Socialism could only revert to a more primitive economic/political system successfully by going right back to the beginning and giving every citizen/family a plot of land, a few crops, farm animals and raw building materials, then starting the whole process over again from primitive communism, thru tribalism, feudalism, Capitalism, Socialism to, hopefully one day, Communism proper. That too would have been, of course, totally impractical.

So the State assets were handed over lock, stock and barrel to home-grown criminal elements, corrupt politicians/bureaucrats and Western capitalists. The most undemocratic counter-revolution which could have taken place, with the labor force in the former Socialist countries immediately becoming a source of exploitation. They were paid low wages and at the same time lost all the social benefits/State subsidies and security Socialism gave them. For example, North Korea still pays very low wages in cash terms, but then the workforce have jobs for life, a guaranteed pension, pay no taxes, no rents, they enjoy State subsidies and have many other social and public services to look after them from cradle to grave. Under Socialism, cash in the wage packet is not the only way wealth is shared out, it is more in the nature of ‘pocket money’ for luxuries once the free or cheap essentials have been acquired.

A democratized Socialist Constitution in the Socialist countries coupled with a breakdown of the State monopolies into Market Socialism public enterprises would have allowed a more gradual change. Opposition anti-Socialist parties elected to power would then have had to draw up a new non-Socialist Constitution, and put it before the electorate in a referendum in each of the Socialist countries. Usually something like 66 percent of the eligible electorate have to vote ‘Yes’ for such a Constitutional change to be valid.

This would at least have given time for Socialists to convince 35 or more percent of the electorate that throwing out the security of Socialism was not something to be rushed into. Not when Socialism was already reforming itself by organizing a more efficient Socialist market economy based on cooperatives and smaller public enterprises.

But ultimately, a system like Socialism can only work when society, that is people in their millions, are spiritually advanced enough to be altruistic, much less materialistic, and willing to abandon certain luxuries (like gas-guzzling cars and other environmentally damaging and unsocial gadgets), and to commit themselves to service to the community and self-sacrifice in order to help society as a whole. This would mean most people becoming more politically active than just putting a cross on a ballot paper every few years.

It may be many years or even centuries before people as a whole reach that level of maturity, but our hands may be forced far sooner. Capitalism is an unstable system, lurching from crisis to crisis in the search for unsustainable profits and other unearned income (including living on credit with high rates of interest). In the past, only one thing has saved Capitalism time and time again from complete collapse, and that has been wars and military build-ups. This is, in effect, State spending along Socialist lines - a command economy, but not for the benefit of society, just to make the arms companies rich, build up the economy and full employment, and kill many millions in the process. There is then plenty of work for everyone, first making armaments, then rebuilding the war-damaged cities, etc. as a result of this senseless destruction.

The only alternative to either Socialism or endless Capitalist/Imperialist wars, is Fascism, another distorted form of a State command economy designed to benefit one national or racist group at the expense of all others.

So one day we must wake up to the fact that we face endless wars and instability, fascist dictatorship, or alternatively we can take direct control and implement a true Socialist people’s democracy, which will require endless commitment and self-sacrifice from all citizens for the common good. Until people are mature and spiritually advanced enough for this, wars, instability, and possible fascist dictatorship is all we have to look forward to I’m afraid.

Comedy

The best comedy is often politically very incorrect, and therefore in this day and age rarely allowed. Think of all the great comedy on TV in the past, and you realize that, when at its funniest, it was poking fun at foreigners, mothers-in-law, women in general, certain ethnic groups or minorities.

Yesterday I saw Sacha Baron Cohen for the very first time (having heard about his Ali G. and Borat characters, but never really seen them). It was his new film ‘Bruno’ which has been panned by the critics, and which is not popular with cinema audiences, but I and the friend I went with thought it was hilarious.

True gays and other groups, such as born-again Christians, were the butt of some very off-color jokes, but this is what made it so funny.

For as long as I can remember I myself have done characterizations to entertain people I know, and they are nearly all what would be considered politically incorrect nowadays. For instance, I’d lampoon my Greek-Cypriot relations, emphasizing traits in the national character, but I also lampooned mercilessly the British upper class thru one of my characters in particular.

TV comedy shows like ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ were based on prejudice, in this case the Alf Garnett character who believed God was a white Englishman, called his wife a ‘silly moo’ and was always ranting on about leftwingers, blacks and Jews. Even in ‘Fawlty Towers’ there is the racist slur on Manuel the waiter from Barcelona, and one glorious episode where the dotty old Major recounts how he explained to a former girlfriend that Indians playing Test Cricket were ‘not niggers – these people are wogs’.

The most politically incorrect remark I ever heard was told by Marc Fleming, also known as Auntie Flo. He/she was a very witty drag artist (Barry Humphreys took tips from him/her) who insulted the audience, and was one of the very first to make fun of the Royal Family when nobody else dared do it. Back in the 1970s at his regular Sunday lunchtime spot at The Black Cap, Camden High Road he’d talk about ‘the horse dressed up as a woman’ (Princess Anne), ‘the next Queen of England’ (Prince Charles), and the Queen Mother doing 100 mph down Camden High Street on her motorcycle with wax cherries on her helmet smashing all the red traffic lights with a hammer as she went by.

Marc also brought in topical news items every week, and made satirical comments. One week she almost emptied the packed pub by announcing that Golda Meier, then Prime Minister of Israel on a State visit to West Germany, only went there ‘to pay the gas bill’. This was satire at its bitterest and best. What some people forgot was that Marc was himself Jewish, so the biting satire was making the point that in Marc’s view an Israeli Prime Minister shouldn’t be sucking up to a German Chancellor, in this case Willy Brandt.

The British satirical shows ‘That Was The Week That Was’ and much later the puppet show ‘Spitting Image’ eventually were too much for our politicans, so now we are left with very little biting political satire on our screens. We are meant to be content with boring ‘reality’ TV shows featuring boring people in boring situations. Cheap TV in every sense of the word.

We should loosen up a bit, and remember that an ability to laugh at ourselves is often what makes life tolerable, or at least fun. I do not want to watch boring, politically correct ‘sophisticated’ comedies on TV. I want to see camp characters, bossy mothers-in-law, foreigners and ethnics riling the Brits, and even perhaps repeats of the forgotten comic Arthur Haynes and his Irish sidekick dressed as tramps and taking liberties with the upper-class Nicholas Parsons.

One of my own favorite characterizations, performed for friends, was lampooning the tendency of my Greek-Cypriot father to sleep around a lot and to literally sell on the spot the shirt on his back or any other commodity. Indeed on one occasion he told my mother if she wanted more housekeeping money to ‘go down Piccadilly and earn yourself some’, though had she taken him at his word (which she wouldn’t of course) she’d have been beaten up for it.

My characterizations included an old Greek woman dressed head-to-toe in black, Granny Athena, offering an outraged and horrified upper-class English woman (Lady Snobbo) the chance for money to ‘sleep with Costas – he no mind, give you good time!’ To upper class British men: ‘You like sleep with my grand-daughter Sylvia? Very nice figure, you will like. But be careful no give her another baby, cos Costas get very cross if she have too many baby.’ When not selling off her relatives for money, she was selling her clothes and anything else she could get her hands on, and telling the local council that they should give her a house ‘because I am ethnic’.

Politically correct – most definitely not. But funny, well I think so, others may disagree. That’s the advantage of living in a democracy.

JULY 24th – also addressing more serious cultural issues

Yesterday I watched a very early episode of the sitcom ‘On The Buses’ on DVD. This was one of the black-and-white episodes from 1969, with Cicely Courtledge playing the mother, instead of Doris Hare. ‘On The Buses’ is one of those sitcoms now considered outdated and sexist, mainly because of middle-aged busmen getting off with sexy young clippies and housewives.

This particular episode, about the canteen in the bus garage, was hilarious, but would now not be made because it was blatantly racist. It had an Indian woman taking over the canteen, and not only making hot curries for the grumbling bus drivers and conductors, but not speaking a word of English. Of course since 1969 curry has become a national dish, and bus drivers would probably lap it up. But I’m with those in this episode who refused to eat it and yearned for the old canteen cook back. Her food was awful as well, but as one bus driver said: ‘At least it was British rubbish’ not this ‘foreign muck’! I’m in complete agreement. Not only very funny, but very true.

There’s a community cafe near where I live which sends in excellent meals to our pensioners’ lunch club when our cook is indisposed (she is a bloody awful cook as well, but as the bus driver said, at least she cooks inedible British food, not foreign muck). I’d eat in this community cafe sometimes, which employs people who are mentally challenged in some way. But one look at the Menu outside puts you off as nearly everything is foreign: Jamaican, African, Indian – spices, chilli and curry in everything but fish and chips, the sole British dish on the menu. A canteen in a hospital I attend has recently been renovated, and when I visited they only served foreign spicy food as well. I’m sorry, but there is a reason foreigners from hot countries like hot spicy food. It goes back to the days when they didn’t have refrigerators, and meat went off quickly in their hot climates. The curry and chilli powder, jerk and other spices were smothered over the rotting meat to hide the fact that it had gone off. Apart from not liking hot and spicy food, I like to taste the meat I’m eating and know that it is fresh.

For those who like curries, jerk chicken, chillies, etc. fine, I’m not stopping anyone eating them, but why should cafes and cafeterias serving British people give them prominence in their menus? It is part of the culture which sees all State schools in my area and many others swamped by ethnics, with very few white kids. The culture which sees whole streets and squares, and sometimes whole districts, taken over on certain days by Jamaican culture,  loud (c)Rap music played thru loudspeakers, and smelly food cooked in the streets. There’s a time and a place for everything, and a public street with maybe elderly residents living nearby is NOT the place for such festivals. There are plenty of public parks to hold such events.

London is no longer an ethnically British city. Foreigners and ethnic minorities have taken over huge areas of the capital. White Britons are in a minority in many areas of the capital, and many send their children to private schools because ethnics have dragged down the quality of State schools, many not even speaking English properly.

Many white families have been forced out of the capital, and I am amazed on visiting towns outside London to see so many white faces, and modern British culture. For instance – scallies. These are mainly white youths who dress in baseball caps, trainers and tracksuits, or other sports gear. They are completely unknown in London, where black and Asian culture dominates.

Why should British culture be swamped so much that curry becomes a national dish? If you live in Britain, then you learn to like British food and the British way of life. My Greek relations living in Britain were also guilty of not assimilating British culture, and many Brits in Spain and elsewhere abroad don’t assimilate the local culture either. It is an insult for Brits in Spain not to speak Spanish, Catalan or Basque. It is also insulting that my Greek-Cypriot aunt, who lived in London for many years, hardly speaks a word of English, and that my father who lived here for 40 years or more, spoke it very badly as well. Apart from anything else, foreigners who fail to learn the local language miss so much local culture in the form of TV, cinema, theater, newspapers, books, etc.

I think people who live in another country and fail to adopt the culture are perfectly legitimate targets for comedy.

Cyprus (and other world problem areas)

Republic of Cyprus flag

 

Turkish Republic of North Cyprus flag

A Greek-Cypriot friend asked if I was going on the demonstration today. I asked: what demonstration? About what?  Apparently this is the annual demonstration against the so-called Turkish invasion of Cyprus, but the friend explained it is mainly to call for adequate compensation for those who lost homes, land and family members in the events of 1974.

I don’t actually buy this argument, as the demo is plainly anti-Turkish. A genuinely impartial demo would be by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and sympathizers, against continued British imperialist occupation of large parts of the island, and for a settlement including adquate compensation for both Turkish and Greek Cypriots who lost homes, land and family members in what I still believe was a NATO-organized plot to divide Cyprus and overthrow a pro-Soviet Makarios government. The Colonels’ fascist junta in Athens was the tool used to promote the Greek-inspired Nicos Sampson coup against the Cypriot government.

It went wrong when Archbishop Makarios, then President of a united Cyprus, escaped the bombing of his palace in Nicosia, went to the UN General Assembly in New York and appealed for help because ‘Greece has invaded Cyprus’. This speech is now conveniently forgotten by most of the world, but out of the horses’ mouth we have it recorded for posterity – it was GREECE, not Turkey, which first invaded Cyprus in July 1974, causing the subsequent division of the island.

In the days after the Sampson coup orchestrated from Athens (in effect a Greek invasion of the island as Makarios said), Britain as the guarantor of Cypriot independence with thousands of troops permanently based on the island did nothing, despite repeated Turkish Cypriot and Turkish mainland appeals. The object of the Sampson coup was ‘Enosis’, i.e. to unite Cyprus with Greece. So quite clearly this was an invasion of Cyprus in all but name, with the sole object of annexing the island to Greece and expelling or killing the Turkish-Cypriot population.

NATO, of which both Turkey and Greece are members, felt Makarios was getting too close to the Soviets, and feared he would allow Soviet naval ships to use Cypriot ports and might even give them a naval base in Cyprus. The Cypriot Communist Party, AKEL, was very strong, as it still is in the Greek part of the island.

I believe that the USA, UK, Greece and Turkey conspired together in the events of July 1974. The only thing which went wrong and was unforeseen was the survival of Makarios, but he conveniently died 3 years later anyway – was that from natural causes one has to ask?

Of course with Greece trying to annex Cyprus by means of the fascist Sampson coup, and with Britain refusing to live up to its obligations and restore a genuine bi-racial independent Cypriot government (which long before 1974 had ceased to exist anyway, Turkish Cypriots being deprived of all power and driven into enclaves), it was absolutely inevitable that Turkey would intervene to provide a safe haven in the North for Turkish Cypriots. Had Turkish Cypriots not been in fear of ethnic cleansing and worse, they would not have fled to the North either, leaving homes and land behind.

All these events were clearly foreseen by NATO, with the exception of Makarios’ temporary survival. Britain and Greece obviously gave Turkey the ‘nod’ that they would be free to take Northern Cyprus, and neither Greece nor Britain would raise a finger to stop them. Turkey then took rather more land than was allocated to them, and grabbed the Famagusta area as a ‘bargaining-chip’ to use in the event of any settlement of the Cyprus problem in the future. This can be the only reason Famagusta is abandoned in a 1974 time-warp and has not been developed as a tourist resort of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.

 

 British flag

There can be no other reason, other than a pre-arranged NATO plot, why Britain with troops on the spot did not act immediately to quash the Sampson regime, which collapsed when Turkey intervened, as did the Athens junta. It is also obvious that the Greek Colonels’ would not have even attempted a coup in Cyprus without a nod and a wink from the British, since a coup and an attempt to incorporate Cyprus into Greece would have failed had British troops on the island intervened.

So what really happened in July 1974 was that the NATO plot unfolded much as planned. Had Makarios been killed in the coup Southern Cyprus would have become part of Greece, and Northern Cyprus would have become part of Turkey, with Britain retaining the two huge sovereign base areas. In effect the three-part division of Cyprus between Greece, Turkey and Britain that the UK had long sought, and all of them shot of the troublesome pro-Soviet Makarios they wanted rid of.

That more people can’t see thru this paper-thin plot 35 years later amazes me. Did they really think Greece would get away with annexing Cyprus to Greece and Turkey would sit back and do nothing? Why were the Greeks not prepared for the Turkish intervention, and why did the British troops on the island do nothing when first Greece then Turkey invaded the island? There can only be one possible answer, in return for Britain keeping its large areas of occupation, Turkey would be allowed to take Northern Cyprus, and Greece the rest of the island not occupied by Britain and Turkey. It’s as plain as a pikestaff to me.

It is now high time a permanent solution to the Cyprus problem was implemented. Northern Ireland has a power-sharing authority, with Sinn Fein and Unionist politicians together in the same devolved government. Cyprus needs a federal solution along the lines of the Kofi Annan UN plan, accepted by the Turkish Cypriots against the advice of former President Denktash, but rejected by the Greek-Cypriots.

Ironically, the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus was then given EU membership, whilst the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus was denied it. But since the Annan plan was rejected by the Greek-Cypriots, it is they who are responsible for the continued division of the island. Indeed it was the Greeks who caused the division in the first place, by their desire for Enosis, union of the island with Greece.

In recent years relations between the two Cypriot republics has greatly improved, with free travel between the two for all Cypriots. Much of the delay in a permanent settlement is because, despite their protests, a separate Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus suits the Greek population very well indeed, and the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus also suits the Turkish population. There is thus little incentive to find a solution, apart from compensation for lost land and past atrocities on both sides.

 

EU flag

But a solution must be found, based on a federal united Cyprus with Turkish and Greek Cypriot member states, recognized by the world and the united federal republic a member of the EU with the Euro as its currency. Turkey must also be admitted into the EU of course.

 

Proposed Cypriot EU flag

If there is a mess anywhere in the world where the British have been involved in the past, you can bet it is the Brits who are largely to blame. They have largely caused the problems in Cyprus, Ireland, Iraq, the Indian sub-continent and Palestine/Israel, all at one time ruled by the British as part of their Empire. Not to mention grabbing and settling colonial territories under very dubious circumstances such as the Malvinas/Falklands, Gibralter and Hong Kong.

Without the mistakes and crimes of the former British Empire and the more recent US economic and political hegemony/imperialism, a lot of the present troubles in the world, including Islamic fundamentalism, would certainly be much less acute, if indeed they existed at all.

Greek mainland flag

Turkish  mainland flag

Free accommodation, abolition of taxes, full employment…

(Click on the Pyongyang buildings pictures to enlarge them)

Flag of the DPRK (North Korea)

Sound like a utopia? According to Wikipedia this is what citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea enjoy. Not by any means the most liberal country in the world, in fact an isolated Stalinist backwater immersed in the personality cult of Kim Jong-Il and his deceased father Kim Il-Sung, President for Eternity. The DPRK is the only country in the world with a dead man as President.

But there are always two sides to every story, and whilst the capitalist West always did emphasize the downsides of Socialist states, the facts are that many citizens of these countries were happy living in a society where they had few worries and were looked after by the State from cradle to grave.

State flag of the GDR

None of the Socialist countries were perfect; there was corruption and a lack of personal freedom, but their good points are often overlooked. The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was one of the ten top industrial nations, with a high standard of living. I personally saw how much better GDR citizens were dressed than their Soviet counterparts. Many former GDR citizens now regret the annexing of their Socialist state by the Federal Republic of Germany, and the loss of Socialism, full employment and all the security which went with it.

Many Cubans enthusiastically support the Revolution of 1959, but like the DPRK they have suffered from the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Famine has affected the DPRK badly, and Cubans also suffered food shortages due to the US embargo and the loss of trade with the Soviet bloc.

The downsides of these Socialist dictatorships have to be balanced by the positive aspects. Just think of never having to worry about being out-of-work, and never again worrying about where to live. In the Socialist countries everyone had a job, a guaranteed pension, and a place to live at low rents or, as in the DPRK, totally free accommodation. The DPRK has also abolished taxes, which is easy to do in a Socialist economy in which the means of production, distribution and exchange (including all the financial institutions) are owned by the State on behalf of the people.

A Pyongyang hotel, DPRK

Not everyone was trying to ‘escape’ from the GDR, nor are they all still trying to flee the DPRK or Cuba. Many are loyal citizens of these imperfect Socialist countries, not willing to throw out the Socialist baby with the dirty bathwater as happened in the Soviet bloc. There is always room for improvement, and Gorbachov was implementing more freedom and democracy in the Soviet Union when he was overthrown, first by a Stalinist coup, then by Boris Yeltsin, who presided over the tragic break-up of the USSR.

In a recent TV program about refugees from the DPRK, a woman was brought out of the country against her will by her sister, and voluntary returned to the North because her loyalties were to the Socialist state which had looked after her from birth.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a child emigrated with her family from West Germany to the GDR, seeking a better life, and she was an enthusiastic leader in the Free German Youth movement there. Her father was a pastor in Leipzig – no religious persecution in the GDR. And her present political party, the Christian Democrats, also existed in the GDR with seats in the GDR parliament.

Like the DPRK, the GDR was NOT a one-party state, nor was the CSSR (Czechoslovakia). All these Socialist states, including North Korea, have/had other political parties, united in a coalition government. So the basis of a true multi-party democracy already exists/existed. Unlike the Soviet Union and some other Socialist states where the Marxist-Leninist Party was the only one allowed.

States can evolve. Britain was once ruled by an absolute monarch. Isolating countries like the DPRK and Cuba, and surrounding former Socialist countries like the USSR with nuclear missiles, can only make them feel insecure, and increase paranoia and the stranglehold of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which too often has in effect become the dictatorship of a privileged new ruling class of bureaucrats and Party members.

But not all is bad. The peoples of the Soviet Union and the Socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe may have been very foolish to jettison decades of Socialism, instead of working to improve and democratize it.

TV Tower, Alexanderplatz, Berlin – Capital of the GDR

 

It is perfectly possible to have a multi-party democracy, with free elections, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and so on existing under a Socialist Constitution. It is true that in the unique case of the GDR, saddled with a hostile enclave of Western capitalism (West Berlin) inside its borders, the Wall was an absolute economic and political necessity to stop the scams of West Berliners stripping shops in the GDR capital of cheap subsized foodstuffs, etc., and to prevent GDR citizens taking advantage of subsidized low rents in the GDR capital, then getting jobs in West Berlin and paying taxes to the West Berlin authorities. But only citizens working age or below were restricted by the border installations, GDR pensioners were free to visit West Berlin and West Germany, or any other countries. As to other citizens, the answer was not to mine the borders or shoot would-be escapees, but to open up legitimate crossing points and make GDR citizens pay a hefty deposit on visiting the West to cover their education, health services and all the other benefits they enjoyed under Socialism. This deposit would be refundable on their return to their Socialist fatherland.

Pyongyang apartments, DPRK

So even the Stalinist dictatorship of the DPRK (North Korea) is not as bleak as it is sometimes painted, as seen from the pictures in this blog of buildings in its capital, Pyongyang. And full employment, no lifetime worries of a mortgage or trying to pay exploitative, unaffordable rents; in the DPRK there is free accommodation for everyone, and there are no taxes. If a Stalinist dictatorship can do all that for its people, just think what a Socialist democracy could do for all of us!

A Pyongyang metro station, DPRK

Texting, IM, Email, Fax – all ANCIENT technology!

It amuses me when the younger generation think they are so cool because they use texting, IM, email, etc. to send each other messages, using abbreviated language like ‘It wld b gr8 2cu’. A group of people were doing this decades ago, we were called telegraph or telex operators. The technology was virtually the same.

By wireless or lines similar to phone lines we were communicating all around the world instantly, often having two way conversations using abbreviated text similar to that used by those texting today.

Emails and Instant Messages received on computers are simply the old telexes now available to all, instead of only telex operators. The main difference is that telex messages were sent/received on a teleprinter rather than a computer, printed out instantaneously at the sending and receiving stations, which could be in UK and Australia for instance. But certainly by the 1980s telex machines incorporated VDU screens. In fact telex operators were the first employees at my last job to use VDU screens, long before other employess got PCs on their desks. Admittedly the first telex VDU screens were small, with green characters, and everything was in upper case with limited punctuation, but the technology was identical to modern texting, IM, email and fax – all of which, according to Wikipedia, are still known collectively as telegraphy, now available to all instead of only to trained operators.

As to fax, the forerunner of the modern fax machine, the teleostereograph, was developed in the 1920s, but the first images were sent by facsimile devices in the 1800s. Again, only newspapers and experience operators used these devices.

The country codes used on some URLs also date back to Telex technology. They are the same codes in many cases, though some have now become defunct. For istance, the Soviet Union’s telex code was SU and DD was East Germany.

So there really is nothing ‘new’ or 21st century about all this texting, IM and email. It has just become more widely available because of the prevalence of home computers, laptops and mobile phones (another ancient technology previously called walkie-talkies). Mainly because of electronic computers, which date back to the 1940s. Email was invented way back in the 1960s. The technology has just gotten smaller, cheaper and so available to all, but there is nothing ‘new’ about it whatsoever. I was instant messaging 30 or 40 years ago, and many were doing it long before me.

July musings

As we entered July the weather was hot, and I was off to the annual Wildest Cats In Town rock’n’roll Weekender at Pakefield, Lowestoft on Friday July 3rd. This weekender always clashes with Gay Pride, but for me there is no contest – rock’n’roll always wins. Not all gay men like Kylie Monogue and all the rest of the stuff they put on the Pride stage, nor are we all exhibitionists who like to march thru the streets with the arse hanging out the back of leather chaps shouting out obscenities to shock onlookers, or to outrage the public in some other way. In fact it was these exhibitionists, doing gay men and women no favors at all, which made my life-partner and myself decide to go on no more gay marches long before he died in 1991. I have been on a few since, but I have little in common with these people except my sexuality, and the majority of gays have no desire to shock the general public and no interest in the kind of ‘entertainment’ presented every year at the Gay Pride festivals.

Indeed, when I arrived at Pontins holiday camp for the rock’n’roll Weekender, I discovered that a gay rocker was sharing our chalet (there were four of us sharing altogether), and the Wildest Cats Weekender always drew him away from the Pride festivities in London. It was a good weekend, I got plenty of sunbathing and swimming in on the Pakefield and Lowestoft beaches, bopped to rockabilly music (most gay men at Pride wouldn’t know how to bop, nor have a clue what rockabilly is), and saw and heard some great bands and artists.

The young Teddy boy group ‘Furious’ impressed me greatly, like a young version of ‘Crazy Cavan & The Rhythm Rockers’ who were also on at the Weekender, and are my favorite European rock’n’roll/rockabilly group. I’ve been following Cavan for well over 35 years now. Another favorite are the fantastic ‘Lennerockers’ from Germany, with their stage acrobatics and great versions of old and new favorites. ‘Lucas & The Dynamos’ were another British band I have enjoyed for many years who were on the weekend.

The American headliners included three of Bill Haley’s original Comets, now in their 70s and 80s (a fourth, Franny Beecher, retired recently, and a fifth, Johnny Grande, died). The three surviving members – Marshall on double-bass/vocals, Joey on sax/vocals and Dick on drums were joined by two new Comets on piano and guitar/vocals.  The other American headliner was Gene Summers who flew in from Texas looking 20 years younger than his 70 years, and performing some of his great recordings like ‘Alabama Shake’, ‘Straight Skirts’ and ‘School of Rock’n’Roll’. He ended his act, as usual, by coming on for an encore carrying a large Rebel (Confederate) flag, which outside the USA is the international symbol of Southern rock’n’roll and rockabilly music.

The flag is seen absolutely everywhere at rock’n’roll/rockabilly events, symbolizing Southern heritage rather than racism, as evidenced by a black rocker shaking hands on stage with a white rocker in a Confederate hat waving a huge rebel flag. In actual fact, it was rock’n’roll which first broke down the barriers of segregation in the South, and it was opposed in the 1950s by rightwing groups like the Ku Klux Klan as being ‘nigger music’ or ‘jungle rhythms’ corrupting white youth.

When white artists like Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and others started popularizing black ‘race music’ and ‘rhythm and blues’, disk jockey Alan Freed re-christened the music ‘rock’n’roll’, the music swept around the world and the whole modern rock music scene started. Other white pioneers were Country singers like Hank Williams and Jimmy Rodgers who also recorded black blues, and in Williams’ case what could almost be described as early rockabilly or rock’n’roll, but they both died before the rock’n’roll era.

Black artists like Big Joe Turner (‘Shake Rattle & Roll’), Mama ‘Mae’ Thornton (original recorder of ‘Hound Dog’), Sticks McGhee (‘Drinkin’ Wine Spo Dee O Dee’), Amos Milburn (‘Down The Road A-Piece), and Fats Domino (‘The Fat Man’ and many other million sellers, and he’s still going strong today) actually pioneered the music back in the 1940s but it only got airplay on black American radio stations. In the 1950s, however, rock’n’roll insured black and white artists played on the same stages to black and white audiences, and the phenomenum of all-white and all-black radio stations in America was ended.

So rock’n’roll and rockabilly, symbolized worldwide by the Dixie or Rebel flag, heralded the end of segregation in the Deep South a decade later. The music was a largely Southern phenomenum as most of the performers, both black and white, came from South of the Mason-Dixon line. This is why we are so proud of Southern heritage and its flag.

At the Weekender I also ran into Jerry Lee Lewis’s niece, daughter of his performing sister Linda Gail Lewis. Mary Jean Lewis, as she is known now when she herself performs on stage, was there with her Scottish Teddy boy husband, and though she didn’t perform she informed me she’ll be doing a show in London in August, and will be performing at the Hemsby rock’n’roll Weekender next May. I had my photo taken with Mary Jean and her husband.

While at Pakefield I met up with two friends, a gay couple from nearby Norwich (who also don’t go on Pride marches and have no interest in Pride festivals since the classical music they prefer is also ignored by Pride organizers).

On the way home from Liverpool Street to Battersea on the bus my mobile phone rang, and I learnt the very sad news that a friend had died that morning. Andrew together with his American civil partner John, were part of our weekly quiz team (The Amigos) at a local pub, and Andrew was the most knowledgeable of all of us, especially good on dates. He had been diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumor, and went into hospital for an operation before I went away. The operation to remove the tumor was more successful than envisaged, and Andrew was making slow progress despite some complications so it was a terrible shock to learn this news from another gay couple who were part of the Amigos quiz team, and also neighbors of mine.

So now, a week after heading up to Suffolk for the Weekender, I’ll be going to Putney Vale for Andrew’s funeral. None of us know at this stage if The Amigos attendance at the weekly quiz will continue, we’ll have to see how we feel in a few weeks. At present we all remember Andrew buying us that last round just three weeks ago today at the quiz and saying half-jokingly ‘it may be the last chance you get to have a drink from me’.

We all knew it was a major operation, but none of us thought this prediction would come true. Thanks for the drink, Andrew, and if we continue with The Amigos and get stuck on dates, perhaps you can telepathically help us. I myself think Andrew would want us to continue. Even if his partner John eventually decides to return to America, there are still four Amigos to make up the team which always has high scores and many wins to its credit. It would be a shame to end this phenomenum.

Yesterday I joined other members of the Senior Service social group of over-55s, led by an Anglican vicar, at Shoe Lane Library in the City of London for a talk on Past Lives (reincarnation), but it was canceled with no explanation why. So we all ended up in the nearby Knights Templar Wetherspoon pub in Chancery Lane for a drink and a meal.

President Obama was on the big screen TV on a visit to Russia, and having agreed to slash their nuclear arsenals, he was speaking about closer ties between Russia and America. I commented on how much I liked Obama and on the need for a rapproachment between the two superpowers, and the vicar shocked me by saying what we needed was another war. He then added ‘for economic reasons’.

I commented that this was indeed how the capitalist system survived, but that what I thought we needed was a Socialist revolution, which seemed to shock the vicar as much as his remark had shocked me. I then corrected myself and said what we really needed was a Socialist evolution (violent revolution being as bad as war in that it usually brings as many problems as it solves, if not more). The vicar then went on to say we needed Maggie Thatcher back in power. I don’t know if this was a joke or not, but I was most definitely, like Queen Victoria, not amused.

This vicar has made some very strange remarks in the past, and seems to have a fascination for violence which frankly I find extremely disturbing in a man in his position especially. I base this not just on his remark yesterday, but a previous occasion when he read some religious text (not the Bible apparently) about a man killing another with a sword, all described in horrific graphic detail, and the vicar seemed to delight in the description of the sword going right in to the hilt and protruding from the other side of the man’s body. Also he seemed very pleased that the dead man (admittedly an autocratic ruler) was apparently expecting a gay sexual liaison, and instead was murdered by the other man.

I am tempted to echo my life-partner’s cousin who had a favorite phrase: ‘Thank God I’m not a Christian!’ Actually she was, but I know what she meant (in her case, it referred to drinking too much and coming home drunk). Christians who glory in violence and want wars, whether for ‘economic reasons’ or whatever, are of course not true Christians at all, since Christ preached non-violence in an occupied country. Let these warmongering so-called Christians put THAT in their pipes and smoke it!

So a week of very mixed emotions to kick off July, which came in hot and sunny but has now turned hot, humid and wet for the moment. Hoping for brighter, fresher days ahead, and a respite from all the bad news. Many other friends have had medical problems (some serious) over the past year which they have survived, and this does bring an awareness of your own mortality, especially as most of them (including Andrew) were younger than myself.

But life goes on, as I had to learn when my own partner died, and as you will read in some of my other blogs, we do survive death, which is merely a transition from one state/dimension of existence to another. That’s not to say we are in a hurry to experience it. We are here for a reason, or many reasons, and have things to do here first, though few of us know in advance when it is time for us to move on. We do know, when we reach our 60s, that most of our present life is behind us so we’d better be ready. On the other hand, I could still be rockin’ (maybe in my rocking chair) in another 40 years. My mother is nearly 95, and another resident of her block is 105 and still going strong.