Last night they showed on TV the German film ‘Goodbye Lenin’ which I saw at the cinema when it first came out in 2003. It is about a Berlin woman happily living in the capital of the GDR (German Democratic Republic – East Germany). She knows everything is not perfect in her Socialist fatherland, but is constantly trying to improve it. She does not follow her cosmonaut husband to the West, but decides to stay with her children and help build a better Socialist society in the East.
Around the 40th anniversary of the GDR in October 1989 the woman suffers a heart attack then falls into a coma. When she awakes in hospital the Wall has fallen, and Germany is about to be reunited.
Fearing his mother will suffer a fatal second heart attack if she learns that everything she believed in has been swept away overnight, the son, his family and friends stage an increasingly elaborate ruse involving repackaging Western goods in old GDR packaging and faking GDR TV news programs on videotape to make her believe her homeland is not about to be absorbed into capitalist West Germany.
The final scenes brought tears to my eyes, as the fake news program showed West Berliners clambering over the crumbling Wall to get into the Socialist GDR, which had just announced the Wall was redundant since so many West German and West Berlin refugees were fleeing to the Socialist fatherland. But it was the accompanying commentary which was most moving – that the people of the West had decided that there was more to life than VCRs, shiny new cars and other consumer goods. They wanted to build a better and more secure life for all, one with no unemployment such as existed in the German Democratic Republic for over 40 years.
I was not crying for the mother, who died happy that her GDR was such a success, but for the GDR itself, the first Socialist state on German soil. For the fact that others around me, including one who is staying with me and went to bed rather than watch the film, couldn’t even begin to see what a tragedy it was that 40 years of building Socialism in the GDR had to end with it being absorbed into capitalist West Germany. For the collapse of Socialism thruout Eastern Europe and all the hopes and dreams which went with it. For the collapse of the mighty Soviet Union. For the disintegration of Tito’s Yugoslav federation into warring fascist regimes, and the genocide which followed collapse of the most perfect economic Socialist system in the world. Above all for the loss of all hope.
The tears were similar to those of a bereavement, for this is what it was. Although I resigned from the British Communist Party back in 1976, after seeing the corruption in the GDR and other Socialist States, I never lost hope. Despite the ruling class of bureaucrats and State and Party officials which had distorted Socialism by awarding themselves special privileges and luxuries, much had been achieved in these states: full employment, security in old age, cheap rents, cheap and efficient public transport systems, good education, good health services, etc. Many in these countries also believed in the dream, and shared a genuine feeling of comradeship in trying to build an even better Socialist and, ultimately, Communist society.
Where is this hope and all our lifelong dreams now? I look around, as an old man, and see them shattered and trampled on. No-one cares anymore. They can’t even be bothered to watch films about it. They’d rather watch violent American rubbish. Consumerism has taken over in our selfish live-for-today, I’m all right Jack society. Is it any wonder I hate the world I find myself living in? While there was even an imperfect Socialism, there was hope for the future. The basis of a better society was already there for others to build on. If the will was there, if millions of people had only joined the Party and kicked out the careerists and opportunists, the Socialist and even Communist dream could have been realized.
So I was weeping for the shallow, selfish nature of human kind, who would rather trade a shiny new car or the latest gadget capitalist technology can offer, for a world in which there is no unemployment, no exploitation, no hunger or starvation.
I was weeping because I no longer feel I belong in this world without hope, this world of capitalist consumerism rushing headlong into endless wars over fewer and fewer resources, destroying the environment and our planet at the same time.
If there is any hope where do we look for it? To tiny Cuba perhaps, soldiering on against all the odds a few miles off the coast of Florida? To some of the other Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador, which are trying to follow Cuba’s progressive lead? Certainly not to China or Vietnam, which have sold out to Western capitalism, nor really to the DPRK (North Korea) with its dynastic form of Stalinism, though perhaps some hope of reform lingers on there until it is absorbed into capitalist South Korea.
Old Communists, like old soldiers, don’t die – we merely fade away. Our dreams shattered, our hopes gone, not understanding the world we see around us, and above all, not being understood by those around us who can’t see beyond the latest reality TV show and shiny new consumer gadget thrust into their eager grabbing mitts.
Goodbye Lenin indeed, goodbye GDR, goodbye Soviet Union, goodbye Socialism – goodbye all hope for a decent world free from hunger, want, exploitation and war. Perhaps its as well I will soon be saying goodbye to this world and hopefully moving on to something better!