On November 9, 1989, as I watched the Berlin Wall being torn down, I was deliriously happy. Almost half a billion people who had been locked behind that wall and spent their whole lives with their mouths wired shut would now be able to speak freely and to discover a whole new universe kept hidden from them.
The heavy plaster cast that had straight-jacketed my freedom for most of my adult life also seemed to be crumbling at my feet. Communist Romania had just upped the bounty on my head to $2 million for my having helped to bring down the Communist curtain.
I was with Khrushchev when the idea of erecting the Berlin Wall germinated in his head. He had landed in Bucharest on October 26, 1959 to solicit Romania’s support for grabbing West Berlin, which had become the escape-hatch through which millions of East Germans were fleeing westward, draining East Germany’s already shabby economy. At the time I was running Romania’s intelligence station in West Germany, so as the country’s “German expert” I attended most of the discussions. “No power on earth can stop us,” Khrushchev spat out. But President Eisenhower did stop him. On August 13, 1961, Khrushchev made the humiliating decision to close off East Berlin with barbed wire (which later became the Berlin Wall) and proclaimed that a major victory.
Freedom can be shackled, but never killed.
On December 26, 1989, Leonard Bernstein conducted a magnificent concert before the fragments of that toppled Berlin Wall, which for so many years had “protected” tyranny from freedom. His centerpiece was Beethoven’s Ninth containing Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” in which the word joy (Freude) changed into freedom (Freiheit). The orchestra and choir were from both East and West Germany, as well as from the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union and the United States. That concert celebrated the fall of the Soviet empire. A year later, the Soviet Union itself collapsed.
Twenty years after the Berlin Wall was torn down by people hungering for freedom, the world looks entirely different. Life on the opposite sides of the Wall, which had meant the difference between day and night, is almost equal. The freedoms of religion, expression and assembly have been restored. The barriers the Communists spent over 70 years erecting between themselves and the rest of the world, as well as between individual people, have been removed. The culture is reviving, and a new generation of intellectuals is developing new national identities for their countries.
All former Soviet satellites—including my native Romania, once the epitome of tyranny—abandoned their ruinous experiment with Marxism. So did Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain, Greece. All are today strengthening their free market economies, and all are now pursuing various national versions of social and cultural conservatism. Even Russia has begun sailing through the uncharted waters of capitalism.
Alas, the specter of Marx’s populist socialism has now started haunting the United States. According to an April 2009 Rasmussen poll, only 53% of Americans said they preferred capitalism to socialism; 27% were unsure, and 20% preferred socialism.
One of the most popular nightclubs in New York City’s East Village is the KGB Bar. The place is jammed by writers who read from their works praising the meritocracy of Marx’s socialism, under the club’s symbol, the Hammer and Sickle.
Why are so many Americans now toying with socialism, in a country that created the most successful free market economic system in history and spent half of the last century fighting the heresy of Marx’s socialism? One reason, I believe, is that contemporary political memory seems to be increasingly afflicted by a convenient kind of Alzheimer disease. Few Americans remember that the Free World spent 40 years and trillions of dollars fighting the plague of Marx’s socialism, which dispossessed well over one billion people and transformed a third of the world into an immense gulag. Another reason is simple ignorance. The archives of the Soviet Union’s KGB and Red China’s equivalent—two political police organizations that between them killed over 100 million people—are still sealed, and people cannot visualize the enormity of the devastation Marx’s socialism could cause. The fact that leftists currently dominate the American media and academia does not help either.
French philosopher Jacques Derrida, who claimed he broke with Marxism but confessed to still being choked with emotion whenever he heard the “Internationale,” reminds us that the first noun in Marx’s Communist Manifesto is specter: “A specter is haunting Europe, the specter of Communism.” According to Derrida, Marx began his Manifesto with that word, because a specter never dies.
Derrida was certainly on to something. “Of only one fact do I feel certain, and it is that no thinking man can imagine that the ultimate result of the Great War can be anything but disastrous to humanity at large,” stated Alfred Mosley, one of Europe’s most celebrated economists, in 1915. He was prophetic. The Great War brought Marx’s specter to life in the shape of the Soviet Union.
Marx’s specter came to life after another long war in another corner of the world. In 1945, the British voters, tired of five years of war and ignorant of world history, also turned to Marx’s specter for help. They kicked the legendary Winston Churchill out of office and brought in Clement Attlee, a Marxist leader of the Labour Party. Attlee started his reign by nationalizing the financial system, the health care system and the car industry. Since l’appetit vient en mangeant, he then went on to nationalize the coal industry, communication facilities, civil aviation, electricity, the steel industry, and the trucking industry. In other words, stealing became a national policy in Great Britain as soon as Attlee grabbed the country’s political power.
The economic collapse of the almighty Soviet Union proved that stealing does not pay, even when committed by a super-power. By the end of the 1940s, Great Britain had lost most of its economic vigor and international prestige, and the powerful British Empire had passed into history. Famous British brand-names, such as Jaguar, became international jokes. “Apart from some Russian [car] factories in Gorky, Jaguar’s were the worst,” stated Ford executive Bill Hayden when Ford bought that venerable British carmaker from the British government in 1988. Other legendary British brand-names, also nationalized, became disgraced as well.
In 1950 the British voters repented and brought Churchill back to Downing Street, but it took Great Britain 18 years to repair the catastrophe generated by Attlee in a mere six years. In the process of recovery, the Labour Party was fortunate enough to acquire non-Marxist leaders, such as Tony Blair and Harold Brown, who have normalized the party again.
In 2008, while Washington was busy fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Marx’s specter began haunting the United States itself. If history is any guide, the new generation of Americans calling for a government takeover of the private economy may be in for unpleasant surprises—and the rest of United States along with them.
Let’s hope that the 20th celebration of the Berlin Wall’s fall will rouse America.