How American Neo-Liberals lie to their People
From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2021 by Uwe Bahr
I once wondered why so many US media outlets, in concert with especially right-wing politicians, almost exclusively use the empty phrase “former communist East Germany” whenever the defunct German Democratic Republic (GDR) is mentioned. It’s misleading because it’s historically wrong – and I think the commenters know that very well in most cases. A fear-mongering is deliberately staged in order to drum into people’s heads over and over again a phrase about a social system that, according to a widespread American understanding, only compares to hell. In truth – and I say this as a contemporary witness – this communism did not exist on German soil at any time.
For in communism, by definition, neither money nor private property exists. Fact is we had both; money in most cases even in abundance – only you couldn’t do much with it. That’s because basic needs in the GDR – housing, food, medical care – were guaranteed by state order and dirt cheap, and spending on big extras was almost impossible because those extras most of the time simply didn’t exist. Generally, the GDR-customer had to wait up to 15 years after registering for a new car, and when the first Soviet-made color televisions became available in the early 1980s, they cost around 6,000 GDR marks. The average wage of a skilled worker at that time was 800 to 900 marks, and I paid 66 marks monthly for a two-room rental apartment of very good quality. A beer in the pub (0.5 liters equal to 0.13 gallons) cost 0.40 and 0.51 marks; for a loaf of mixed rye bread (1.65 pounds), fresh and delicious from the bakery, the price was 0.93 marks.
I remember a student – we were still children – asking our teacher how shopping without money could work under communism and in general. The teacher’s answer: In communism, everyone is considerate of others and therefore only puts as much in the shopping cart as he needs for himself – no more. He does not have to pay for it, because there is no money. – My school friend Bernd spoke up, his index finger raised far above his head, and he was excited: “That can’t work. My father would lug all the beer out of the store, right down to the last bottle, if he didn’t even have to pay for it.”
Communism was to be the final stage of fulfillment of all desires and dreams, while socialism is only the penultimate step to pave the way. But Socialism didn’t work out well in the GDR either. This is because the idea of socialism requires that the means of production are not in private hands, but in the hands of the state. I have personally worked and lived in this state-controlled economy that did not allow personal innovation in the first place. Of course, such a command economy with hardly anyone interested in progress cannot function in an effective manner. Apart from subsidized basic supplies for the people, the economy in the GDR was an economy of scarcity; a condition that worsened especially in the 1980s.
Many years later, I worked for the largest private employer in the United States of America, a retailer named “Walmart.” That’s when I went from the frying pan into the fire – so to speak. Although there was a lot more to buy at Walmart than in “communist East Germany” back then, most of my American colleagues barely had any extra money available and often couldn’t make it from payday to payday without relying on government handouts. There was no legal protection for workers either; instead, they were subjected to arbitrariness of a kind not seen even in the supposed communism of East Germany. It is true that in the GDR was no freedom of travel, and also no freedom of expression without taking the risk of serious consequences, especially when the remarks were of critical political nature – consequences relatively harmlessly described by the term “reprisals.” But also at Walmart I witnessed blatant threats by management against young employees during a meeting: ‘Be very careful what you say about the company publicly, including in your spare time and via Facebook. Be careful what you write about Walmart. There could be consequences for you, up to and including termination.’
Maybe they will come after me now when they read the truth about themselves and what I and others have witnessed. Land of the free … What I heard and saw opened my ears and eyes to how little American corporatocracy seemed to differ from socialist despotism, except that no one could lose their job in the GDR workforce. The right to a job was codified in the command economy system.
During those eight years with the corporation, I have often wondered why Americans accepted in such a docile way their fate of low wages while being treated like second class people. I had to go back to 1997 in my research to find an even halfway, yet not very satisfactory answer, provided by no less a figure than Alan Greenspan. The American economist, who served five terms from 1987 to 2006 as chair of the Federal Reserve, warned in his testimony about the performance of the US economy in front of the Joint Economic Committee: “Job insecurity cannot suppress wage growth indefinitely. Clearly, there is a limit to how long workers will remain willing to accept smaller increases in living standards in exchange for additional job security.”***
And yet, he was probably not quite correct at the time – or the situation had changed over the years and was subject to regional differences. When I was working for Walmart, people were literally toiling for barely more than a starvation wage, while the corporate family of roughly two dozen made 30 billion in profit per year, almost untroubled from any significant legal regulation in favor of the workers. Now and then a grumble could be heard behind held hands, but I never saw a potential for more. If they were afraid to make demands for better conditions from their employers for reasons of Job security, then the high labor turnover rate I witnessed didn’t fit the picture. At Walmart, there was a constant coming and going – employees often simply didn’t show up at the store the very next day. After three or four years, I realized I was one of the “longest-serving” of the 90 or so employees in the store.
Contrary to Greenspan’s thesis, my colleagues gave me the impression that they could do nothing to change the unjust conditions. They seemed to accept their situation with drastic cuts in their rights rather as a “God-given” fact. These are dire realizations, especially from younger people who supposedly lived in a country of freedom and liberty.
Those who have to live constantly in existential dilemmas through no fault of their own can hardly feel any sense of freedom. They worked in a lawless space, and there was no real legal representation of workers’ interests. No one dared to even utter the word “trade union.” Unions in the US, of course, also smack of socialism – again, an argument as intentionally scattered as it is nonsensical. In this context, American history tells a different story: The first American president to openly side with unions was Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt – not a Socialist, but a Republican, as we know. The man knew what hardly anyone in the US seems to know today: membership in a union representing the interests of the vulnerable is one of the fundamental rights of a truly free and democratic social order. An upper class that does not have to disguise its actions will have no problem recognizing this basic right. Only in a system that systematically represses a large part of its own population while wanting to remain undisturbed is there a deliberate intention to nip in the bud views that run counter to corporate interests.
This gives rise to the profound suspicion that the United States of America is anything but a free country, for the majority of its populace is in various forms subjected to neoliberalism, which restricts social services, gives excessive power to corporations, enables political corruption without legal intervention, and exacerbates economic inequality. In this way, social division in the US has become more and more pronounced, thereby further undermining the old American creed of freedom and equality.
Consequently, those trying to identify the true forces in the US suppressing American basic rights and liberties, will have to look at the domestic corporatocracy and its propaganda aids, the corporate media – led by outlets like Fox News, which CNN and others are currently somewhat behind in misleading the people. Most media outlets systematically distort and suppress reality to serve big business in the US, which provides these media with advertising spots worth billions of dollars. It’s about purchased opinion, ratings and against everything that could spoil the business. It is the profit interest of a few to the detriment of the many.
Right-wing ideologues like to use the specter of socialism in the most primitive way to distract attention from the real culprits of the problems in their country and to make their own political mark. And masses of Americans are falling for it in rows. Socialism as a bogeyman is cited as often as possible, if necessary even in the distant past of the former “communist East Germany”, although rather unknown to most Americans. Yet, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is particularly fond of invoking my nation when it comes to spreading delusions of an impending red tide in America, made up of “radical leftists.” At the same time, the man can’t be so stupid as to believe his own words – he just seems confident in his ability to dumb down his compatriots, since they obviously don’t know too much. If he doesn’t feel that way about them – then why is he telling all this easily disprovable nonsense? What he has to say about Germany in general is historically sheer baloney and can be refuted with a minimum of knowledge. Nevertheless, he does not seem to care what truth is and what nuisance – and neither obviously do those who manage to vote for him.
Are these people entrusting their future to such demagogues still in their right minds? What – to cite just two current examples – does a compulsory mask regulation in the midst of a worldwide pandemic or a vaccine have to do with socialism?
In the USA, neither socialism nor anything else is in sight to oust the prevailing neoliberal system. Those who should have a particularly guilty conscience throw around terms like socialism or communism for the sole purpose to keep people in line and stir up fears about an ideology that is considered un-American anyway. And rest assured: even those confounded Democrats who barely mention Socialism by its name – Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, or Chuck Schumer – are more afraid of socialism than the devil is of holy water. Why? Because they get their billions from one and the same source as their Republican counterparts: The Corporatocracy.
They can fight each other in public as much as they want. How does an ancient German proverb say? “When it really comes down to it, one crow doesn’t peck out another’s eye.”
Or have you ever seen a different version yet?
*** Source: Testimony of Chairman Alan Greenspan, Performance of the U.S. economy,
Joint Economic Committee, United States Congress, March 20, 1997. Available in the Internet at FRB: Testimony, Greenspan — Performance of the U.S. economy — March 20, 1997 (federalreserve.gov)