Scottish independence?

While all countries have the right to independence, in this day and age it isn’t really practical for small countries to go it alone. When the Yugoslav and Soviet federations broke up many of the smaller countries formerly part of these federations sought to join the European Union as they couldn’t possibly survive on their own.

However a new prospect has materialized, and that is to do with the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. If the Scots vote ‘Yes’ to independence it will really scupper Westminster’s crazy plans to replace the Trident submarine-based nuclear missile program, which is estimated to cost, in a time of austerity, £100 billion in total.

These submarines are based at Faslane not far from Glasgow, and the Scottish National Party is committed to getting these illegal weapons of mass destruction and their submarines out of Scotland.

While I’m not really in favor of small nations like England, Scotland, Wales, Catalonia and the Basque region going it alone, I do believe these and other small European nations should become individual member states of a federal United States of Europe one day, with their own State legislatures and their own laws.

As to the upcoming Scottish referendum, as it seems the best way of getting rid of Trident I would urge my Scottish in-laws (my gay life-partner was born in Glasgow, but civil partnerships were not possible while he was alive, so perhaps my ‘in-laws’ are really ‘out-laws’) and others in Scotland to vote ‘Yes’ for independence.

Scotland can remain in the EU, which I see as having forced many progressive laws on to the UK statute book, not least for gay equality and against age discrimination. The EU is also the best hope of peace on a Continent which has seen two disastrous world wars starting there in the last 100 years.

I hope the EU will eventually become a federation, and indeed this is the only way it can become truly democratic with State legislatures in each member state guaranteeing autonomy. A federal EU is also the only way the single currency can work, within a level playing field with uniform prices/wages throughout the Union and with central control of the currency and the financial system.

Meanwhile, as to Scottish independence, go for it and get rid of Trident which Tony Blair admitted he only kept to give him and future British Prime Ministers a permanent seat and veto at the UN Security Council. This is a totally undemocratic body which often vetoes democratic resolutions of the UN General Assembly, so making the UN ineffective in many situations. The Security Council, with its permanent vetoes for the five original nuclear states, should be abolished.

Nuclear weapons are militarily useless, and this is widely recognized by politicians and top military personnel. In the Vietnam War their use was considered by the USA and rejected because of the storm of protest which would have followed.

Therefore time to get rid of them completely, and where better to start than for Scotland to kick the only British base for Trident nuclear-armed submarines out of the country? If Westminster is so keen on keeping this expensive and illegal ticket to the UN Security Council maybe they would consider basing the Trident submarine fleet in the River Thames alongside the Houses of Parliament making them a potential target for any pre-emptive nuclear strike. Why should Scotland’s second city suffer that risk any longer?

Changing celebrations and holidays

Difficult to think of a title for this blog, but it is about special days and how they are celebrated now and in the past.

This is from a London perspective as we never used to celebrate Halloween, and New Year was a very  low-key event which didn’t even warrant a day off work.

Up north I understand Halloween may have been celebrated more, and in Scotland Hogmanay or New Year was a big two-day holiday.

Down in London we had Christmas, which was a very big celebration lasting at least two days when my grandparents were alive and the extended family all gathered at their place. Aunts, uncles, cousins would all the there, we’d eat huge meals, stay up playing games into the early hours, and the TV would be banned for the duration (save for the Queen’s speech which we were expected to watch).

Nowadays Christmas is just like any other day, just me and my mother with a load of rubbish on TV, never see any of the rest of the family, not even my brother. We now go to the Rotary Club Christmas lunch/party in Battersea Park.

The holiday used to be just two days – Christmas Day and Boxing Day (December 26th). Now New Year’s Day has been made an official holiday in England, apparently with a New Year Parade in London, though us oldies know nothing of this, where or when it takes place as it is a fairly recent innovation, as are the official firework displays on New Years’ Eve.

This New Year holiday means a lot of offices and shops are closed for over a week between Christmas and New Year, making it like a week of Sundays in a row. Very boring for those of us who never see their extended families at this time of year.

It doesn’t help, of course, that all public tranport in recent years has been taken off on Christmas Day, and in fact winds down on Christmas Eve. This imprisons many people in their own homes at the very time of year families used to get together. Even those with access to cars may well be reluctant to use them as it means they can’t have an alcoholic drink at Christmas, unless they stay overnight. Public transport runs in places on the Continent on Christmas Day, and it should run in UK as well.

Then there’s this Halloween holiday which has been imported from USA apparently. Youngsters have parties and dress up in weird costumes. It seems to have almost obliterated the traditional English Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night on November 5th. In fact fireworks are now set off at New Year, something which never used to happen.

Easter is still much the same with Easter eggs, etc. The August Bank holiday’s been moved to the end of August in England, whereas it used to be the first Monday in August. Whitsun Bank Holiday is now the Spring Bank Holiday, and we now have the May Day holiday which is the first Monday in May. This is stupid, as May Day is always May 1st, when trade unions and the labor movement throughout the world (except North America) parade and celebrate labor and Socialism. So if, for example, May 1st falls on a Friday, workers in England will take that day off for the traditional marches, but the official holiday will not be till the following Monday, May 4th.

It is difficult to get used to Halloween and New Year being big causes for celebration in London when these used to be largely ignored.

As to kid’s parties for birthdays, etc., where did this idea of ‘party bags’ come from? We never had such things so possibly its another American import. We always had a traditional iced fruit cake for birthdays, now you get a horrible, sickly sponge covered in icing.

Kids of today must think it very strange not to have had party bags, and no celebrations at Halloween or New Year, but that’s how it was, and the day after Boxing Day you were expected to go back to work and the next Bank Holiday would not be till Easter (Good Friday).

Since the extra May Bank Holiday we now have the ridiculous situation where there are no less than 5 Bank Holidays in the first 5 months of the year, only one in the Summer, and two in December. So in all three in the middle of Winter, 4 in Spring and only one in the Summer. From late August till Christmas there are no official Bank Holidays. This has always been the case, but it seems ridiculous to have so many Bank holidays in Spring, only one in Summer, 3 in Winter and none in the Autumn. About time they were spread more evenly throughout the year, with maybe an extra one or two thrown in.

Mixed Blessings/Curse of Entryphones?

I first came across them in 1968 when hitching across Europe from the UK to the GDR (former East Germany) with a work colleague, Sheila Cooper. A kind West German man offered us a lift and also a meal and a night’s lodging at his home, and this is where I first saw an Entryphone. His wife let us in, and when we discovered she was a refugee from the GDR we just said we were headed for Berlin. We didn’t dare say we were guests of the East German Peace Council and staying in the GDR in case they threw us out on the street!

In the late 1980s or very early 1990s an Entryphone was installed in the block of flats my partner and I lived in, and where I still live. Supposedly to give added security, it is a mixed blessing, and often a curse.

My partner’s first worry was we wouldn’t know who was at the door. We had a peephole installed in the front door to our flat, so could always refuse to open it to someone we didn’t know or who we didn’t want to let in. The Entryphone prevented this, since it did not have CCTV incorporated. This means when someone rings the Entryphone and you answer, they immediately know someone’s in. OK you can refuse to let them in, but it can sometimes make things very awkward, especially for my partner who had to be ‘in the mood’ to cope with certain visitors.

Since then a lot of additional problems with Entryphones have come to light. My mother and I, in separate flats, both have serious hearing problems. My mother also has mobility problems, being 98. The Entryphone at her sheltered accommodation block times out before the elderly and disabled residents have a chance to even get up out of their armchairs, let alone get to the Entryphone controls. In any case my mother and some others find it far too confusing and complicated. The end result is nobody can visit my mother unless I am there to let them in, or they have access to a key or a password to get through the Entryphone door.

My Entryphone here is not much better. It doesn’t time out, but the ring is so soft I never hear it unless I wear my hearing aids all the time (including when asleep) and prop all the fire doors open, which should be kept shut.  Consequently, as I only wear my hearing aids when watching TV, at a meeting or in the theater/cinema, nobody can ever visit me unexpectedly (unless I’m watching TV with my hearing aids in) after 11 am when the Trade button to let them through the Entryphone switches off. Even then I can only hear them at my own front door if they ring my doorbell. Most tradesmen and visitors just rattle the knocker, which again I can’t hear without my hearing aids in constantly and all the doors propped open. The excuse for not ringing the doorbell, which I always hear, is: ‘We never ring doorbells as sometimes they don’t work’. Really – why not ring just in case AND try the knocker? Too much effort?

Then there is the problem of couriers. I am currently expecting a spare part for my mother’s wheelchair motor, and soon there’s to be a delivery of my medication. At least with the latter they’ll ring up beforehand and give me a two-hour delivery slot the next day, so I can put my hearing aids in and prop all the fire doors open.

However the courier bringing the spare part and other deliveries will probably not ring beforehand. If I am out when they call, or if it is after 11 am and I don’t hear the Entryphone then they can’t even leave a card to say they’ve called and to arrange another appointment. This means Entryphones make courier deliveries impossible after 11 am unless you stay in all the time, in my case with my hearing aids in all the time and all the doors propped open. I can’t do this, as I am carer for my mother and have other reasons I have to go out every day.

Of course if you’re working you can solve the problem by having couriers deliver packages to you place of employment. With those of us out of work or retired, Entryphones have become a curse. Couriers frequently can’t deliver or even leave a card to say they’ve called, and unwanted visitors calling unexpectedly know you’re in if you do hear the Entryphone and answer it.

We managed perfectly well without Entryphones for years. Houses rarely have them unless converted into flats. Why do we need them in blocks of flats? Presumably to stop vandals and dossers getting into the communal stairs/landing areas. The answer, applied to private apartment blocks and some council ones, is to have a concierge on duty to mediate between the visitors and the residents, only letting in those who the resident wishes to see.

My mother’s sheltered accommodation has a Scheme Manager sitting by the Entryphone door in her office supposedly from 9-5 every weekday. However she refuses to let any visitors in, even though the Entryphone system is totally unsuitable for elderly and disabled people and many of them can’t use it. They should either install a more suitable, user-friendly Entryphone system which residents can operate from their armchairs, or have a permanent concierge/Scheme Manager on duty to vet visitors and let them in if necessary.

As for my block, I wish they’d do away with the Entryphone altogether then at least couriers could leave a card if I’m out, and ring my doorbell if I’m in.

So conclusion: Entryphones are definitely a curse, not even a mixed blessing. Just something else to make our lives more complicated and difficult.


What a wonderful tool Google Streetview is. Not only can you look up houses you’ve lived in, including where you live now, and those of friends, places you’ve stayed on holiday here and abroad, but it has almost endless possibilities.

When I’ve been going to unfamiliar places, even way out in the countryside in the middle of nowhere, I’ve found them on Streetview so I know exactly what to look for when I get there.

I’ve just taken another virtual stroll down Friedrichstrasse in Berlin where I stayed in 1968 in the Hotel Unter den Linden, on the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Unter den Linden. Although still listed, the old  hotel (this part of Friedrichstrasse was in the GDR capital of East Berlin) has been demolished and a new building is going up on the site.

Going towards Friedrichstrasse station (once the entry and exit point by train to/from the GDR capital with restricted access for GDR citizens) familiar capitalist chain stores line the street, and shops have opened under the railway bridge including Clarks shoe shop. Beyond the bridge the outrageous gay Mocca coffee bar, where no young man could walk in during the evening without being at least groped, has gone, as has the ‘G’ bar (pronounced ‘Gay bar’ in German) where gay men would walk out hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm and present tourists with bunches of flowers. The GDR capital in 1968, the year homosexuality was legalized in that country, was quite a gay city. (Though the Mocca and G bars had gone by 1976 when I revisted the GDR capital with my life-partner, presumably the gay bars had moved elsewhere.) At 111 in 1976 was still the rather sad, neglected gay City Klaus cafe, now it seems to be the site appropriately of the Oscar Wilde Irish Pub.

So I have little need to re-visit Berlin or to see how things have vastly changed since I was last in the GDR capital, the Eastern section, in 1976 with my life-partner.

I can also look up the guest house we stayed in year after year as kids in Margate at 3/4 Albert Terrace, up above Marine Parade. Probably no longer a boarding house, and if it is surely it will now have running water in all the rooms, not jugs of hot water and basins brought up by the landlady as in those days.

I can take a virtual stroll down Malone Road in Nesbit, Ms and see the current ranch home of my idol Jerry Lee Lewis, which I’ve visited in reality several times, or to Ferriday, Louisiana and visit his sister Frankie Jean’s ‘Lewis House’ museum and drive-thru shop or the nearby First Assembly of God Church where he first played piano, along with his famous cousins Country singer Mickey Gilley and evangelist minister Jimmy Swaggart, now with a sign outside calling it a ‘tabernacle’. I’ve also visited these in reality several times, and been inside the church, even literally bought the t-shirt (yes, they actually sold me one!)  There was no service going on at the time, but the pastor showed me around.

Some places haven’t yet got Streetview, such as my father’s village of Kallepia in Cyprus. I can zoom in on his graveyard on the satellite view, but can’t get down to street level. Not even Paphos where he last lived has got Streetview yet, nor in fact Nicosia the capital or anywhere in Cyprus.

Some places will probably not get Streetview for some time if ever, the whole island of Cuba for instance, including the American base at Guantanamo (in fact top secret military establishments are unlikely ever to allow it), or of course anywhere in the hermit kingdom of North Korea. All you can do is zoom in by satellite to the vast Kim Il-Sung Square in Pyongyang.

But for places in Europe and most cities around the world it is an invaluable tool for getting to know your way around and seeing what they look like, and indeed, also for many rural places.

It has been criticized as an invasion of privacy when certain people or cars are identified as being somewhere they shouldn’t have been, but in the era of CCTV and tracking by mobile phone we should not assume our movements are secret anymore.

I love Streetview, as it gives me the opportunity to travel the world from the comfort of my own room if I wish and see places I’ve not been to, and how places I have been to have changed almost beyond recognition, like East Berlin.

Jimmy Savile case

I find the allegations against the late Jimmy Savile very disturbing. Not just the allegations themselves, of continuous sexual abuse of minors, but the fact that none of this came to light until after Jimmy was dead for months.

The fact is people must have kept quiet for years, for decades, and now see fit to make these allegations against a dead man who can’t defend himself, who can’t be brought to trial. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

Another accused is Gary Glitter, whose track record is well known and who is still alive and has been found guilty in court. Also Freddie Starr, who denies the charges against him. No doubt more celebrity names will emerge before this scandal has run its course.

Jimmy Saville’s headstone has been removed and smashed up, apparently officially not by vandals, and various memorials are being revised or scrapped. If the man was guilty, then this is understandable, but the whole thing leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and raises far more questions than it answers.

OK, you can understand the reluctance of some victims coming forward with sexual abuse allegations against such a widely-respected celebrity who apparently did so much for charity and to make youngsters dreams come true on his ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ programs. You would have thought some of them would have reported the alleged abuse, however, to their elders or to the police.

However what really bugs me is that nurses at a hospital Jimmy visited regularly, for children with learning difficulties and other ailments,  apparently knew full well what was going on. They even knew he allegedly had a little room where he took young girls, and discussed which one ‘would be the lucky one tonight’, this said ironically, but it is also very, very sick, and a criminal offense since it would make them accomplices.

This makes these nurses every bit as guilty as Jimmy himself if, indeed, he did do the things now alleged. Why on Earth did they keep quiet about it for so long, did they not want to see him stopped and have him brought to trial? As it is it seems they were indeed accomplices in these crimes, that is if any of the stories can be believed.

They say so many are now coming forward with similar tales, the evidence against Jimmy and others is very damning. However it is very easy to accuse someone who is dead. Even the victims should be concerned that their silence must have led to others being similarly assaulted, if indeed the allegations are true.

It does seem, due to the sheer volume of accusers now the man is in his grave or  facing his karma in the afterlife, that many or all of these allegations are probably true. However it does not explain why so many remained silent for so long, especially hospital staff. Nor why it has all come out in the open when the man accused is dead and could only answer back through a Spiritualist medium, and he’d then have to somehow prove it was really him communicating. In any event he cannot now face a trial here on Earth and be pronounced either guilty or innocent.

Whatever the truth, I feel very uncomfortable about this and any similar accusations against someone who is dead and cannot defend themselves in a court of law. This means they cannot be found guilty, for any post-humous trial would deny the accused the possibility of defending themselves.

If these allegations are indeed true, as sadly seems likely, then all who kept quiet about them for so long, and especially the hospital staff who covered it all up and allowed the sexual abuse to continue over and over again, are all also guilty of keeping silent and allowing the crimes to continue.

The nurses and hospital staff who knew about the alleged abuse in Jimmy’s ‘little room’ at the hospital should now be charged and brought to trial for being accomplices in the crimes. That way at least someone can get a fair trial. If this happens it will be interesting to see what comes out in such trials, and whether the allegations are substantiated, disproved or withdrawn.


A truly democratic GDR?

Click on picture to enlarge

On the 63rd anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic I am going to speculate in this article on how the Socialist state could have been made truly democratic, and survived the upheavels of 1989/1990 and annexation by the Federal Republic of Germany. This scenario could also have been applied to many other Socialist countries, except the GDR was unique in Europe in that it was a divided country with Berlin also divided in the heart of the country, so causing additional problems.

The Socialist Constitution of the GDR could have been re-drafted to break up the National Front coalition dominated by the SED (Socialist Unity Party, itself a coalition between the Communist Party and the Social Democrats). The Communist Party of Germany and the Social Democratic Party of Germany could also have emerged from the SED, which would be dissolved.

They would then have had 6 separate political parties in the GDR – the Communists, the Social Democrats, the Liberal Democrats, the Christian Democrats, the National Democrats and the Democratic Farmers’ Party. New political parties could also have been formed, like the Free Democrats and the Greens.

The Socialist Constitution would have been the bedrock of the new democracy, and free elections would have been introduced with all the political parties free to put up rival candidates and to form a new government if they won a General Election. However all political parties would be bound to preserve the Socialist nature of the GDR and would not have been allowed, under the Constitution, to re-introduce capitalism or a largely free enterprise system.

They could, of course, on winning a General Election announce a referendum on the  Constitution, and I would suggest that it would then require a large majority of the ELIGIBLE electorate (not just those bothering to vote) in order to scrap the Socialist Constitution and replace it with an alternative. Perhaps as much as two-thirds of the eligible electorate voting to replace the Socialist Constitution, thus opening the way to a largely free enterprise system or, indeed, reunification with the Federal Republic.

If, however, the electorate decided for the moment at least to stay with the new Socialist Constitution and see how it worked out in practice they could for the first time vote out a government which they felt was corrupt or just inefficient, or burdened with excessive bureaucracy, and vote in a new government which would then be able to introduce and manage its own brand of Socialism.

This is no different to what happens in Western countries like the USA and UK where various political parties dedicated to preserving the capitalist system compete in General Elections to form a government. The USA has a Constitution which would surely have to be rejected or amended by the vast majority of the electorate to permit a Socialist economy, and Britain has the unwritten constitution of a Constitutional Monarchy, which would also have to be rejected by a vast majority of the population in order to establish a Socialist Republic.

There are many brands of Socialism. The GDR followed largely the Soviet model with vast and often bureaucratic State enterprises, in fact a similar model was used in the UK for the nationalized industries after the Second World War. Yugoslavia, on the other hand, went for a system of worker/consumer cooperatives under workers’ control, and individual public enterprises, all competing in a friendly Socialist market place. This genuine Market Socialism could have been a model adopted by one of the political parties in the GDR when they formed a government. It worked extremely well in Yugoslavia with standards of living well up to Western levels.

The GDR did have some private shops, etc. and this policy could have continued in moderation. Basically family businesses would be allowed, but once they got too big and started taking on employees outside the family they would be required to turn themselves into worker cooperatives. A family business, however, could have several branches, including some in the Federal Republic.

Freedom of travel. This was the big bugbear in the GDR and the cause of much resentment, since it was not at all easy to get a visa to visit the West, unless you were a diplomat, top Party official, member of the national Olympics team, a GDR football team, a traveling theater group like the Berlin Ensemble, a pensioner or something similar. Or a trusted immigrant from West Germany like Angela Merkel’s father and his family.

One of the reasons it became so difficult for GDR citizens to visit the West was, uniquely in Eastern and Central Europe, they had the automatic right, once they crossed the Berlin or Inner German border, to become a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany. This was not an automatic right offered to citizens of other Socialist countries. Also, of course, the East and West Germans shared a language and a recent history, with relatives and friends split by the inner German borders.

This was particularly a problem in Berlin where, before the Wall went up, East Berliners could get high paid jobs in the Western part of the city while living in subsidized flats in the Eastern part. West Berliners could visit the East and strip the shops of subsidized foodstuffs, etc.

It should be remembered that Western money poured into the Federal Republic of Germany under the Marshall Aid scheme, and West Berlin was also showered with Western money to make it the showpiece of capitalism in the heart of the GDR. Meanwhile the GDR was obliged to pay huge reparation fees to the Soviet Union for the immense economic damage caused by the whole of Germany in the Second World War.

Is it any wonder there was a great temptation for GDR citizens to want to emigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany or to West Berlin, even though sometimes the grass is not as green as it seems on the other side? In the West there was no guarantee of full employment for instance, and although wages were lower in the East this was because it was a Socialist economy where prices are strictly controlled and where lots of public services and subsidies for basic foodstuffs, rents, etc. were also in place. The two economic system can hardly be compared like-for-like, and a city like Berlin could not have sustained an open border, out of the question.

So even under the new Socialist Constitution some sort of inner border installations between the GDR and the FRG would have still been necessary, as would border installations around West Berlin to separate it from the surrounding territory of the GDR.

However it was NOT necessary, not justified, to mine these borders, creating the infamous ‘death strips’, nor to shoot GDR citizens trying to cross this border illegally.

Instead financial measures could have been introduced to facilitate trips to the West and also to protect the subsidies in GDR shops from being abused by visitors from the West. This could have easily been done by requiring all subsidized purchases to require proof of residence in the GDR, so Westerners would not have been able to benefit from these low prices.

As to visits by GDR citizens to the West this could have been dependent on a hefty price, amounting to thousands of GDR DM, to purchase a visa for a visit to the West.

This money could have been raised in blocks of flats, in streets and in places of employment to sponsor visits to the West. Once the visa was purchased, with a specified return date, the GDR citizen could freely cross into the West and if they returned by the specified expiry date the bulk of the money paid for the visa would be returned to them, or to the sponsorship fund which paid for the visa. This money could then be used to sponsor another GDR citizen to visit the West.

If, however, the GDR citizen failed to return by the expiry date, the money would be forfeited as compensation for the education, health services, etc. they utilized while being raised in the GDR. Their professional qualifications obtained in the GDR now being used for the benefit of the Federal Republic. I think this would be only fair and just. Of course, in exceptional circumstances the visa could be extended (such as the death or serious illness of a relative in West Germany/West Berlin), and any return to the GDR (even after the expiry date of the visa) would result in some of the visa deposit being returned. GDR citizens would then have had an incentive to return, and the guilt of knowing if they failed they would be robbing their sponsorship fund of the money to sponsor another GDR citizen’s visit to the West.

As to East Berliners getting jobs in West Berlin and paying taxes to the West Berlin authorities, this could also be discouraged by also taxing them heavily in the GDR capital, so there would be no advantage in getting a higher paid job in the Western sectors of the divided city.

Under this system the Berlin Wall and oppressive, ugly looking inner German border installations could have been dismantled and replaced by something far less sinister, such as the border fence between the USA and Mexico for instance. Many crossing points in these border fences would allow visits both ways with the necessary visas.

All this, of course, is conjecture on what I would have liked to have seen happen, but of course it never did. East Germany was swallowed up eagerly by the Federal Republic, but in truth, this caused great problems for both East and West Germans.

The Wessies had to take on the economic difficulties of absorbing the East, while for the first time unemployment raised its ugly head in the East and many still wanted to flee West to find employment. Many of the positive achievements of 40 years of even imperfect Socialism were lost when the GDR was disbanded and its territory absorbed into the Federal Republic of Germany. No more guaranteed full employment, no more guaranteed security in old age, gone were the good and cheap public services and subsidies offered by the GDR, and above all, gone was the hope, however folorn it may have seemed due to the corruption inevitable in a one-Party dominated State, of a better future and advance towards a much more equal and fairer society, in fact, towards Communism proper as envisaged by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Corruption occurs everywhere in all societies and political systems, the difference being in a true democracy you can vote out a government and vote in another. In a one-Party State or a one-Party dominated coalition (like the GDR) you cannot do this. All you can do is join the ruling Party or one of its allies and try to change things from the inside. This is what was meant by Socialist democracy, but in actual fact what happened in ALL the Socialist countries was that opportunists and careerists with little or no belief in or loyalty to Socialism joined these political parties and dominated it, awarding themselves all sorts of privileges and perks. I have this from the mouth of a Hungarian diplomat who told me quite openly she joined the ruling Hungarian Workers’ Party in order to further her career and get perks and privileges for herself and her family. It was also obvious in my visits to the GDR and Soviet Union that this was the case in these countries as well.

So Marx and Engels’ ideas about the Dictatorship of the Proletariat allowing democracy for the working-classes and denying it to their would-be oppressors was turned on its head. A new corrupt, exploiting class of bureaucats and politicians arose, and once entrenched in the ruling parties and coalitions, it was nigh impossible to shift them. Such a system would only work if the broad masses of the general population were continually politically active and astute, defeating by sheer numbers any attempts to infiltrate the ruling parties/coalitions by careerists and opportunists.

This would require not only mass membership of these ruling parties, but also continuous political activism and eternal vigilance by the masses. No rushing off to the pub, home to watch the GDR equivalent of ‘Coronation Street’; no you would need to endure endless political meetings at work and in your spare time in order to preserve true Socialist Democracy.

We know how easy it was for Trotskyists to take over trade unions in the UK, and similar methods were used by careerists and opportunists to play on public apathy and tedium from politics and take over the ruling parties in the GDR and other Socialist countries. Of course genuine Socialists remained, and pushed through some good policies, but they were outnumbered.

This is why it is essential to have, as Tony Benn said, not just a way of voting in a candidate or a government, but an easy way of voting them out again if they are not fulfilling the role expected of them.

Free elections with rival candidates and political parties under a Socialist Constitution would have insured a corrupt or inefficient government could have been voted out in the GDR or the other Socialist countries, and another political party could have been voted in to manage Socialism, or implement their own brand of Socialism, always with the option of announcing a referendum on the Socialist Constitution itself with the possibility of replacing it with something else if that’s what the vast majority of the electorate wanted.

Click on picture to enlarge.