An interesting comparison between Libya and East Germany
Source Louis Proyect
Date 11/04/23/13:10

This just showed up as a comment on my blog article on the Battle of

THERE'S SOMETHING UTTERLY cynical about this insistence on the
level of life quality in Libya, of course; as others have noted above,
it’s what used to be said of the USSR and the former Eastern Bloc
countries. (What’s more, it’s an argument I will sometimes use myself,
but never implying things there used to be otherwise “good.” Just to
point out the obvious, that many there are now worse off materially even
than they used to be. And so have been left in the cold by the “West”
over the course of their supposed “liberation.”)

1) It’s a truism to say that “the left” has a tendency to be more
sensitive to some people’s liberation struggles or efforts that suit a
certain pattern and agenda, less so to others. I used to hang out with
friends in the former GDR, in the years leading up to and immediately
following the fall of the Wall. They were part of what you might call
the punk/underground/countercultural scene there (yes, not widely known
perhaps to many, there existed such a thing, and quite lively if
otherwise of necessity pretty well-hidden too. The subject has been
well-documented since, I know for instance Amsterdam’s book shop Het
Fort van Sjakoo stocks a number of interesting
titles on it, many of them of course in German.) While largely goofy and
innocent, the way punk rockers and assorted counterculturalists
worldwide perhaps will tend to be — or perhaps precisely because of it
–, it is hard to fathom just how precarious their position was. The
constant threat to your existence, to your physical freedom and
integrity, precisely because of not doing anything much at all. Other
than having a bit of fun, perhaps, and yes, of course being somewhat
“against the system.” Feeling the breath of the omnipresent Stasi always
in your neck — whilst never knowing for sure who might be working for
them, of course. Moreover, the overwhelming sense of this life never
leading anywhere; of things never being about to change. There was
always someone who knew some horrifying stories of people landing up in
jail (my own girlfriend at the time, East German herself, had a few to
tell); people were aware of the more political resistance (e.g. that
centered around East Berlin’s Gethsemane Church) and sympathized, though
I’m not aware of many who were directly involved; they were just
different scenes, the way you have in the West. (There was some natural
overlap, so that some of these bands might sometimes play in these
churches, and such.)

I guess what I’m saying is that perhaps, and with all due sense
for perspective, maybe whether we live to age fifty or sixty-five is
immaterial even compared to having at least the notion of a modicum of
being one’s own agent; of autonomy, of freedom of expression, of thought
(of movement, certainly! Etc.)* In the here-and-now, if you will. Yes,
these people had guaranteed affordable housing, health care, public
transport, more or less a guaranteed job even (and no matter how
otherwise daft and mind-numbing, utterly pointless even. Being a slacker
was certainly made into an art form by no few of these friends of mine,
and the very system seemed to lend itself well to it. If, of course, you
found yourself lucky enough not to be some factory worker or so. And the
situation in the countryside, by-the-by, being far less rosy than in the
cities, in terms of just the basest of life necessities. Yes, there was
hunger, and there was poverty. And even in a city like Berlin, that
stereotype of having the choice between rows and rows of the same jam in
the supermarkets was very real. In the countryside however even those
rows tended to be lacking, save for people lining up outside, that was
all very true.) But were they happy? No, they were not. And how could
one be, under the circumstances.

* Of course, we may argue and debate to what extent such agency
or autonomy in our own, Western, lives has any real substance, or is
rather illusory. I’d say that in light of life in the former GDR or
Poland etc. and what I imagine to be Libya today, such considerations
are largely abstractions. Entertaining coffee-table talk for those who
don’t have to immediately fear for their lives, or shall we say their
physical and mental integrity, and little more.

2) During the very fall of the wall, I had the misfortune to
witness what was by-and-large the reception of these people by their
counterparts in West Berlin — let’s say roughly the
autonomist/squatter’s/indeed punk and countercultural scene there. The
politically active, and radical leftist moreover, yes sir, ma’am. Now
that these folks could finally and suddenly cross over the border — ah,
just imagine that however short-lived elation, the up till just a day
before seemingly impossible! You really would have needed to be there to
sense the feeling in the air. That feeling, no matter how brief and
obviously doomed, that all was out in the open.

But no, by and large again, these people were treated by what
should have really been their Western autonomist comrades as a bit
silly, daft, naive, politically unaware (strange, isn’t it, having just
emerged from four decades of utter repression, of being deprived of
information, of being literally kept down) — as stupid “Ossies”
(easterlings, a half-jesting, half-disparaging term. In earnest, the
reverse term of “Wessie,” or westerling, has become equally current.)

Hailing from that Western scene myself, I found it all pretty
disgusting and embarrassing. The overwhelming feeling one got was people
were just uncomfortable with these folks who didn’t quite fit into the
current discourse. That more shameful of course, since this their
eastern mirror image had been taking place right next door for all that
time, with just a wall in between indeed. Now that they showed up,
people just didn’t know what to do with it, it seemed. Something of a
painful echo perhaps of the way mainstream society was soon to go “oh,
well, that’s all well and good, but we don’t want all these
fortune-seekers coming in here.”

3) I’m not sure if I got my point across just now. Maybe take it
by means of illustration, you can do with it what you will. I’ve been
meaning to write a piece entitled “The Arab Spring and the Left’s
Impotence,” but not really being much of a writer, I’m not getting
around to it. “The Arab Spring and the Left’s Utter Moral Failure” is
meanwhile starting to look like a more befitting title. Tho’ I guess
soon there won’t be any point left in writing it anyway. Inasmuch as
we’re being overtaken by events as we speak.

A feeling meanwhile and with regards to the current situation
I’ve been getting is what we witness (if we hadn’t already) is the utter
failure of this idea of some “internet liberation” — all info accessible
to all, and all at the click of a button, & each a journalist (or
analyst, or whatever) unto their own.

But once again, you see this backfiring, to a point of sheer
information overload, with all that info being seemingly “equal,” even
though obviously it isn’t. There’s this disturbing tendency on the left,
that’s becoming clearer by the day if not the minute, to veer over into
all-encompassing conspiracy thinking — and the web clearly isn’t helping
it. Sure, now every Joe, Jill & Jane can pass judgement on this or that
situation — but what good is that judgement, what is it based on.

(What is surely telling is how suddenly supposed leftists may dig
up proof of the Libyan rebels being CIA or Al-Qaida or what have you
from such luminaries of the free press as the UK’s Daily Telegraph and
whatnot. Right, guys, so since when did we take those to be credible
sources, never to be subjected to some careful scrutiny?)

What we seem to be in dire need of is some reputable sources,
preferably those on the ground, preferably those of some recognized
standing even among their adversaries — but I’ve so far largely found
myself looking with a candle in the dark.

4) Finally, it seems to me that the whole socialist project, and
including its many derivatives — if I must and if anything, I’d consider
myself an anarchist, perhaps more by nature than as a matter of ideology
— has become (and if again it hadn’t been clear yet) more of a burden
than a useful tool, or model. And one that we need to get rid of, in
order to build up something new.

What that will be, I can’t be sure of. Moreover, it has become
such a burden that I don’t hold my hopes up of this disappearing any
time soon. That is to say that for probably, say, a century or two to
come, any liberational effort will always seek to find expression in
those terms. Or we will seek to make it so.

But those terms clearly scarcely apply to what is happening, say,
in North Africa and the Middle East now. We need to invent a whole new
language. (Moreover and has been pointed out above, but my feeling is it
ought to be said much more often and much louder, people seem to
completely overlook how the likes of Gaddafi have been using and abusing
socialist rhetoric for decades now. You wouldn’t seriously expect his
subjects — as, indeed, Eastern Europeans before them — when they rise up
to express themselves in those terms, now would you?)

As has been noted, at least by lending the rebels in various
countries our unconditional support now, maybe the participants will
stand a chance of being alive to sort out the details as they arise. And
who knows, maybe instead of giving them directions, we may learn
something from them.

(Ah, and then as for this strange and silly notion that “If
people don’t support Gaddafi, how come they haven’t overthrown him
yet?,” I simply have no words for it. What fictional Hollywood or
otherwise utterly autistic or isolationist world do we live in that
leads us to believe this is the way things work? Sure, folks, all it
takes for you is to be against something for it to go away of its own

-Comment by whatever-

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