SO COMRADES, COME RALLY (A Trump inauguration poem)
9 November 1989: Fall of the Berlin Wall. 9 November 2016: ‘Election’ of Donald Trump. Cause and effect. The ghastly end to a chain of events going back to the 80s. Gorbachev’s reforms. Yeltsin’s kleptocratic coup. 9/11. Gulf War. Islamic State. Brexit and the rise of the populist Right. This is a pivotal moment. In the centenary year of a Red revolution which shook the world the Left needs to reclaim its heritage and move forward. But in order to do so with clarity we first have to look back.
Not right back to the beginning. That path has been well-trodden by thousands of writers in millions of words: the victories and the travesties, the advances and the betrayals. I’m going back just 28 years: to February 1989 in East Berlin. I was there. On my four tours of the GDR between 1986 and 1989 I had watched the East German Left organize to growing effect against the fossilized Party leadership and now, inspired by Gorbachev’s Soviet reforms, they were openly demanding change. More democracy — more socialism. (I’ll never forget the banners: ‘Mehr Sozialismus, bitte!’) Of course things couldn’t stay the same. Gorbachev was right to say so. But he was betrayed. The good went with the bad. The baby with the bathwater. And the people paid the price.
The Wall fell. The brave activists of the Left who brought it down were swamped by hordes blinded by Bild Zeitung, fighting over bananas. Across Eastern Europe worlds collapsed overnight. People celebrated. In many ways they were right to. Party by all means, we shouted — but organize as well. Take control of your own destinies. Don’t believe the lies of the West. They promise you exotic travel but you will have no money to travel They promise exotic cars but you will have no money for cars They will destroy your industries privatise your futures and make you paupers in your own lands. But too few listened. The cold, cruel masters of a new world smiled. It’s the end of history, they said. Socialism has failed the red banner has fallen and now, workers, we are your masters, East and West. We’ll close down. Sack. Downsize. Relocate. Ship in cheap labour. Outsource. Bring in robots. Force down wages. Crush spirits. Cast you aside secure in the knowledge that your champions are dead and that our pet media mouthpieces can save us from your wrath by blaming your fate on others: immigrants, refugees and your sacked co-workers now recast as your enemies — as scroungers off your taxes. Slowly the vice tightened: slowly the penny dropped. Twenty years on from the fall of the Wall opinion polls stated that a majority all over Eastern Europe (not the liberal elites of course — they laughed into their lattes — but the forgotten masses ignored by the world’s media) believed that their lives were better before 1989. That what was allowed to go into their mouths mattered at least as much as what was allowed to come out of them. That without economic democracy without jobs, healthcare, education, housing political democracy was meaningless and that globalisation, free trade and neoliberalism were the enemies of working people everywhere, East and West. But the mass Red parties of the European Left had disappeared in a welter of apology leaving an open goal for the populists of the Right. And now it is the likes of Trump, Le Pen, Wilders, Farage who steal our clothes — who use progressive-sounding weasel words to spread the politics of hate.
Elsewhere in the world the modern secular movements for liberation and education slowly collapsed without their Soviet mentors leaving a void. A people still oppressed and poor searched for their own champions, their own protectors. Enter the fundamentalists. For Trump and Le Pen read ISIS and the Taliban: the same weasel words, the same dead-end reality. Literally in the case of the latter.
This is the challenge. A hundred years on From the great stand in Russia Let’s make another stand. A stand against globalisation and neoliberalism. Against nationalism and division. Against racism and homophobia. Against fundamentalism and misogyny.
So, comrades, come rally And the last fight let us face. The Internationale Unites the human race.