From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2023 by Uwe Bahr
I am ahead of Bernie Sanders in only one thing, if not two, but I do not really know. I actually lived in a socialism, unlike probably him; I was born there and grew up in it, for nearly three decades. Like most folks back then, I despised it.
However, this was more than likely a different socialism than Sanders is striving for. It was a dictatorial, for especially outwardly inhuman socialism in the former GDR, today widely known as “East Germany.” The Cold War circumstances played a big role. In the fall of 1989, hundreds of thousands of protesting people were able to get rid of this socialism, while Soviet party leader Mikhail Gorbachev did not send tanks to crush the revolutionary movement. I was 29 years old at that time and, as today, just a sand corn in the process.
Without our rejection of the socialist form of government, the upheaval leading to German reunification, which took place peacefully in 1990, would not have been possible. The discontent did not come out of nowhere; it had been building up among the people for years.
The second thing that distinguishes me from Bernie Sanders – I don’t know exactly – may be the fact that I spent eight years in the U.S. working with ordinary people at a lower level, so to speak. Here, too, I can base my opinion on personal experience.
After immigrating to the United States for family reasons and going through a period of acclimation – including working for an insurance company in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, and attending college in Clearwater – I was eventually employed by Pinellas County government, wrongly concluding that all the social benefits I could enjoy there were part of the general standard in the United States, a country I still believed at the time to be the freest country in the world. For ten years, so to speak, I walked around with half-closed eyes, seeing only what concerned myself. Actually, a not unusual human trait.
Then my wife and I moved to beautiful Blairsville, Georgia, where we still live today, now retired, aided by circumstances that originated not in the United States of America but in my home country. It was here in North Georgia that I first encountered the social issue in my life, through an employer famously named “Walmart.” Never in my life would I have thought such a thing possible; the way the American upper class treats Americans. My whole way of thinking has changed since then.
I am not a friend of socialism. For nothing in the world would I like to live again in a socialism as I had to get to know it from the GDR. But in the USA, there is also a dictatorship – that of big money, which takes away people’s rights or restricts them, such as health insurance or workers’ rights; for example, the right to organize unions.
I was born in the dictatorship of socialism and will most likely die in a dictatorship of big money. Neither dictatorship leaves much for members of the working class, as I have seen with my own eyes. In the GDR, Socialism locked up its own people behind an impenetrable western border. Anyone who did not agree with the political system had to fear repression.
Those who, through no fault of their own, live under financial constraints in a rich country like the U.S. simply because they needed surgery or are not academics are not living free lives. Fundamental rights such as the right to freedom of expression or freedom of religion do not change this. You do not feel free if you have to worry about health care or food, the rent for your apartment or the mortgage for your house. In the USA, 60 percent live from paycheck to paycheck, and I was one of them for eight years in Blairsville, Georgia.
I am a proponent of a social order in which the capitalist economy is controlled by the legislature through regulations and laws to protect the working majority, rather than allowing corporations a free hand in return for billions in campaign contributions – to the detriment of the many and the benefit of the few at the top. A human system that was once called a “Social Market Economy” at the time I left my home country in 1998.
Be clear about it – in Germany, too, a once comparatively exemplary system is disappearing with each passing day.
If I am not mistaken, Social Market Economy is the kind of “socialism” Bernie Sanders is striving for. I don’t care what he calls it. I don’t care what he calls it. All I know is that he’s right, because he stands up for the human side of society.