As I was looking at the Berlin Wall memorial, I kept thinking, can there be a more obvious and humiliating symbol of a system’s defeat than the need to build a wall to keep people running away in droves? Remember that we are talking about a system that advertised itself as the only one that existed for the people and was run by the people. When it comes to the point where you have to announce the complete failure of this ideology by building the wall to keep the working people by force in the workers’ paradise, isn’t it time to give up on such a system entirely?
What is especially scary, however, is that there are still many people who cling to the senseless belief in the possibility of a Communist state where the people’s only dream would not be running away from it.
At the Berlin Wall memorial, there are plaques dedicated to the people who died while trying to escape from behind the Wall. The last one of those people perished in March 1989, months before the fall of the Wall. I asked my friend Olivia, who is a Germanist and who was showing me around Berlin, why there was such a desperation to leave the GDR and cross over to the Western side of Berlin.
“In the Soviet Union, we saw the GDR as a consumer paradise,” I told Olivia. “The people there lived in impossible comfort compared to the way we lived in the 1980s. Why were the Germans so desperate to leave?”
As my friend explained to me, it wasn’t as much about poverty and the lack of consumer goods as it was about the general hopelessness of life in the Eastern Germany. The Stasi cultivated an environment of general distrust and suspicion where everybody was either spying on their friends are relatives or being spied on. There was a general hopelessness and a feeling that nothing had meaning.
I could really understand that. The greatest tragedy of the Soviet Union and the Socialist regimes it kept installing all over the world was not the absence of things to buy. It was the lack of things to want. A human being cannot live without a plan, a goal, something to work for, something to want. Of course, you can reduce your horizons to the attainment of simple material comforts, which is precisely what many people in the Soviet bloc did. What a sad, miserable existence that is, though. The crushing, hopeless materialism of the Communist existence bred cynicism and stupefied people to the point where their basic humanity was getting eroded.