November 9: Thirty Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The Decline of “Triumphant Capitalism”

By Luis Meiners

Thirty years have passed since the fall of the wall that divided Berlin. This event shook the foundations of the postwar world order and produced profound changes, whose consequences continue shaping the contemporary world.

The interpretation of these facts is a matter of strong controversies in the revolutionary left and beyond, and is crucial for current tactical and strategic debates.
The fashionable cry of the “end of history” turned out to be more an expression of desire for bourgeois triumphalism than an accurate analysis of political dynamics. We have lived three decades marked by instability, particularly accentuated since the capitalist crisis that began in 2008.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Eastern European Stalinist bloc marked the end of the post-war world order, characterized by pacts between the victors, resulting in a “bipolar” order. A new stage of the world class struggle initiated. That is, there was an important change in the correlation of forces between classes that created new political and social situations qualitatively different from those of the previous period.
A key element to understand this change is the fact that the fall of so-called “really existing socialism” was not the product of a triumphant counterrevolution, but of a series of revolutions that ended the Stalinism domination of a third of the planet. These revolutions resulted in the decline of the counterrevolutionary apparatus that had held back, frozen and diverted revolutionary processes during much of the twentieth century.
We must point out that, in fact, Stalinism had long since destroyed the conquests achieved by the revolution and imposed a dictatorial regime that added constant repression and the lack of minimum democratic freedoms to the economic hardships of soviet workers. The bureaucratic caste that ruled these states, sustained their material privileges on the basis of the appropriation of political power through single-party regimes without freedom of expression, discussion, or organization; and negotiating a peaceful coexistence with imperialism that, in fact, meant boycotting the struggles of the working class and the oppressed peoples of the world.


However, the stage initiated in 1989 is marked by contradictions that need to be noted. The absence of a revolutionary leadership with mass influence and international support to intercede in events made it possible to impose the path of capitalist restoration in the eastern states, a path that the Stalinist bureaucracy had already begun. Imperialism and the Vatican played strong roles in this regard.
This complexity explains the contradictory nature of the new stage. The positive destruction of the Stalinist counterrevolutionary apparatus was nuanced because capitalism was restored. This fact also produced great confusion in the consciousness of millions and was used by the bourgeoisie and imperialism to deploy an immense ideological offensive about the failure of socialism and the unfeasibility of any alternative to capitalism.
The restoration of capitalism in the Eastern bloc and China, in this case under the leadership of the Chinese CP’s own bureaucracy, and its full incorporation into the world market, allowed capitalism to counter the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and to postpone the prospects of crisis in the world economy for a brief period.

Simultaneously, all the old social-democratic reformists accelerated their conversion to economic counterrevolution policies, becoming social-liberals. New reformist currents emerged, sustaining the need for capitalism “with a human face”. Horizontal and autonomist currents that rejected the struggle for power and the global transformation of society in pursuit of micro-politics that denied the strategic importance of the working class, were temporarily strengthened and set aside (or completely abandoned) the struggle for socialism.

The crisis of the different international Trotskyist currents completed this picture. Without going into a specific analysis, we can point out that it combines elements of dogmatism, skepticism and bureaucracy. A dogmatic response to the development of new and unexpected events led to a skeptical analysis of the worldwide situation of the class struggle. In this perspective, the socialist revolution was consigned to an indefinite future or directly abandoned in the face of the capitalist offensive. Thus, opportunistic currents ended up abandoning the strategy of building Leninist parties and, driven by impressionism, capitulated to each new political phenomenon. Sectarian currents hid their inability to act under new circumstances, and oriented themselves towards “keeping the flame alive.” In both cases, the responses to the political debates that arose were bureaucratic and eventually weakened those organizations.

From Restoration to Crisis

Events did not unfold like imperialism expected, either. The capitalist restoration in the third of the planet where the bourgeoisie had been expropriated and the economic counterrevolution unloaded by the neoliberal offensive on the backs of workers and peoples all over the world, failed to pave the way to a new period of capitalist prosperity and sustained development of the productive forces.
The “unipolar” world that looked so menacing, has turned out to be much more unstable for capitalists, and US imperialism´s capacity to maintain control has been severely beaten. Its military offensives in the Middle East, like the Iraq war, ended up bogged down. Far from ensuring their control over the region, it led to prolonged wars and the weakening of local political regimes. The revolutions that shake Iraq and Lebanon today are the most recent expressions of this instability.
The hegemony of US imperialism is increasingly questioned. The trade war with China is a clear expression that the US bourgeoisie is aware of this situation and tries different policies to sustain its dominance. On the other hand, the crisis of the European Union reflects the decline of the once powerful bourgeoisie of the old continent.
The 2008 crisis resulted in a period of stagnation in capitalist economies that now threatens to fall into a new recession. This has ended the illusions of those who predicted the “definitive triumph of capitalism” and the “end of history”, leading to growing social and political polarization. Just as new political phenomena arise on the right, the crisis also fuels a new cycle of rebellions and revolutions that question capitalism and its political regimes in the streets, from Hong Kong to Chile, and illuminate new possibilities for the working class and the revolutionary left.

The Validity of Socialism

The resistance of the working class and other exploited and oppressed sectors to neoliberal plans, the crises of the political regimes, parties, and traditional directions that drove such plans, and the revolutions that continue to break out in this new century, are a demonstration that the fall of the Berlin Wall did not imply a definitive victory of capitalism or block any socialist perspective. On the contrary, we are in a new situation of insurrections, rebellions and revolutions that confirm an opposite trend, from the irruption of the yellow vests in France in 2018 to the revolution that shakes the Pinochet regime and capitalism in Chile.

In a world where the fortune of the 26 richest people equals what the poorest half of humanity possesses, where capitalism´s voracity destroys the natural basis of life on the entire planet, it is clear that this system does not provide an alternative for the future of social majorities.
Far from disappearing, socialism returns with strength against the capitalist crisis. In the very heart of the capitalist system, the US, more and more young people shun the capitalist system and consider themselves socialists. More than ever, the need to fight for a different model of society is imposed: socialism with democracy. A model that breaks with the capitalist system and also rejects the Stalinist bureaucracy, a model in which the working class and the peoples of the world can regain democratic control over the economy, over their lives, over their future, ending all forms of exploitation and oppression. In order to fight for that society, we need, more than ever, to build revolutionary organizations in each of the countries where the International Socialist League has a presence.