From the November 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard
When socialists visit so-called socialist countries it can be a particularly nauseating experience, because socialists proceed with their eyes open and with a background of understanding. What they sec is a variety of capitalism, which more correctly might be designated as fascism. One should not forget that the Nazis called themselves socialists (National Socialist German Workers Party) The label on the bottle does not always denote the medicine inside.
I have several times been to the so-called “Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia”, but have never seen anything remotely resembling socialism there.
The workers of Yugoslavia arc paid wages, and there is at present much unemployment— just as in other capitalist countries. Money is used as a means of exchange because there is buying and selling — a fundamental of capitalism. This may be new to non-socialists, but indicates to us the true nature of the economy.
Outside the trade union hall in Belgrade, I watched hundreds of workers trying to get into the hall to see an important chess match. At that moment, an enormous car came along — a veritable palace on wheels, and a sort of combination of a Rolls-Royce and a Cadillac. One should appreciate that the average car in Yugoslavia is well below the standard here. I concluded that this car must be that of President Tito. When it pulled up I noticed the Soviet flag flying on the bonnet, and out stepped the Russian chess team, immaculately clad just like film stars. The Yugoslavs beamed at them as if they were from Mars.
When the chess tournament started there was the usual speeches from the platform by the local mayor and other dignitaries, who proudly welcomed the Russians (and others) to the “Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia”, and one speech after the other kept referring to the “Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia”.
I once asked a railway official (who was both interpreter and guide) where 1 could see any signs of socialism in Yugoslavia. “Yes”, he said, as if pleased with my simple question. “Just come with me”. He took me to the square outside the station which was decorated with Russian and Yugoslav flags, following some agreement between those countries at that time. “There”, he said proudly, “that’s positive signs of socialism”. When I told him that flag waving (as socialists saw it) was a sign of jingoism or patriotism, he failed to appreciate my standpoint.
The German Democratic Republic
The crossing of the East German territory when travelling to Berlin by plane presents no difficulties, for one flies straight in. But when going by train, one has to traverse the Eastern zone, known by the false name of “German Democratic Republic”, for no democracy exists there.
In 1946 when the G.D.R. was formed, the Communist Party received only 20 per cent of the vote which gave them power; and in 1953 Russian tanks faced and butchered a mass of hostile workers during an uprising. There can scarcely be anything democratic after that affair.
When the train stops at the West German frontier, the passport authorities quickly walked through the corridors, and their work was finished in a few minutes. Then the train goes on through two or three miles of no-man’s land to the Eastern frontier. The passport inspection is quite another thing here. 1 counted no less than twenty-four officials who swarmed into the train or played a part in the inspection. Two soldiers with rifles were standing at each end of the train, and I noticed a policeman with a large Alsatian dog standing on the line near the end of the train. Then he let the dog off the lease, and the dog went under the train from end to end, for obvious reasons.
Four other officials climbed on top of the train and opened the vents and covers where the water for the toilets is taken in, walking the whole length of the train to perform this task.
The delay caused by this thorough search took up about an hour, and the train was nearly empty. Reports have it that three or four hours delay are not unusual.
From West Berlin foreigners (but not West Berliners) can visit East Berlin by special coach. Passport details, and the amount of money one has, are all checked and entered on a large form which has to be signed before one is allowed to board the coach.
“Check Point Charlie” is a special entry point on the Berlin wall. The wall itself is about ten feet high, with concrete blocks and barbed wire to decorate it realistically. There are notices of mines, and soldiers arc patrolling it on the Eastern side; while on the Western side is an electrified wire fence in case one has managed to beat the other obstacles. The atmosphere of the concentration camp dominates everything ; and I began to wonder, as a socialist, what 1 had let myself in for.
At “Check Point Charlie” everybody had to descend from the coach and line up with “permit disc” bearing a letter and number (and in numerical order — like in army or prison), while the East German guards checked every detail of passports, visas, and the form which had been signed in the Western zone. This took about an hour, and frequently visitors are sent back because their passports are not in order for the East section. When one has scaled all these hurdles, you re-board the coach and are permitted to go through from “Capitalist Berlin to Socialist Berlin”.
East Berlin, which remained far behind West in re-building, has now surged forwards and there is a mass of buildings completed, and many still being built. The Russians pillaged all they could lay their hands upon, and Fast Germany suffered as a result. While the West was receiving Marshall Aid, East Berlin was being ransacked and made to pay for the war. No wonder the East Germans wanted to escape to the West.
The coach stopped only once during its three hours in East Berlin, and that was in the middle of a park where there was no possibility of contacting anybody. The real purpose of this stop was for toilet requirements, although the official guide made it appear that the purpose was to visit an enormous war memorial, guarded by Russian soldiers. The Russians evidently knew that if they did not guard their monuments in Hast Berlin, the workers would soon demolish them.
We were several times warned that cameras and newspapers must not be taken into East Berlin — so democratic is their regime.
With all the propaganda and security of this police state, there was absolutely nothing remotely resembling socialism— only a nauseating hypocrisy.