It’s People Power What Does It

On October 7, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR, St Nicholas was closed, but some 4,000 people gathered outside and tried to march on the city’s ring road. The demonstration was broken up violently by police using batons, water cannon and dogs. There were many injuries and arrests.

In preparation for the weekly vigil scheduled to take place two days later, police warned that protests would be put down “with whatever means necessary”. In anticipation of violence, paratroopers were flown in and hospitals cleared for an expected influx of patients, specifically ones with gunshot wounds.

On the evening of October 9, what began as a few hundred gatherers at the church swelled to more than 70,000 in the streets outside. At the urging of Führer and other speakers, however, the protest remained nonviolent and the crowd, clutching candles and flowers, marched through the city in a peaceful demonstration, chanting the slogan Wir sind das Volk! (“We are the people!”) as armed soldiers looked on.

Although there were some arrests, without precise orders from East Berlin and surprised by the size of the demonstration, local police and political leaders shied away from causing a massacre. “We were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer,” an East German official was quoted as saying.

The following week, 120,000 people turned up for the vigil and the week after that, 320,000. On November 9 the Berlin Wall tumbled down.


Frabjous day, eh
?

17 comments on “It’s People Power What Does It

  1. And yet, even today there are idiots writing on blogs trying top claim that Soviet Eastern Europe worked “for some”. I note that today those same sickoes try to claim”solidarity” with every peoples’ protest wherever they pop up.

    As Pellinor beautifully put it, it worked for the 1%.

  2. Although there were some arrests, without precise orders from East Berlin and surprised by the size of the demonstration, local police and political leaders shied away from causing a massacre.

    No, it wasn’t People Power I am afraid. It was the unwillingness of the guards to run protesters over with tanks. People can protest all they like. As long as a government is more willing to kill than anyone else, it will stay in power.

    It would be nice if it were not so. But it is.

  3. @SMfS
    President or Prime Minister, king or tyrant, all power depends on keeping the approval of the Mum of the guard on the palace gate.
    They lost it.

  4. And yet, even today there are idiots writing on blogs trying top claim that Soviet Eastern Europe worked “for some”.

    Without wanting to defend the Soviet Union but feeling I kind of should in a matter of fact rather than principle, it did work if you were a child (at least, in the later years when people weren’t being shot or herded into camps). The whole everything is free, everyone is equal thing worked well for the kids, and any material wealth they might have been missing they were unaware of (such as sweets, etc.). It got progressively more difficult as the children became teenagers and they became more aware, and obviously more difficult again as they became adults. But for the young kids, who were wholly ignorant of concepts such as freedom, representation, and bubble gum, they had it pretty good. Certainly, I don’t know any child of the Soviet Union who didn’t have a good time: given the paternalistic instinct of Socialist to treat everyone as stupid children, this is perhaps not surprising. And I bet a Soviet school provided a better education from better teachers in a better and safer environment than a modern British comprehensive.

  5. I remember watching all that on TV. Most exciting and hopeful thing that’s happened in my lifetime.

    The complete opposite, in fact, of another memory – that of my father coming into our holiday house in Switzerland one evening in 1968, and announcing “Russian tanks in Prague” before rushing off to spend the night huddled round the radio with some Czech neighbours. THAT was exciting in a different way.

    But tell me, was the guy really called Führer , or is that a typo?

  6. @Tim Newman: well you’ve been there so you know better, but I do find your near-apologising a bit, well, worrying.

    With your last sentence, though, I have no dispute at all.

  7. I just finished reading a history of the Berlin Wall and what became very apparent was just what a couple of utterly coruscating, mind-bogglingly awful little shits were Ulbricht and Honecker. The GDR was a joke nation but the intransigence of Ulbricht and the callousness of Honecker doomed whatever chance it might have had. Even the Soviets thought they were mad. It did serve a useful purpose, just as North and South Korea do today, of being a controlled experiment of what happens when you take two identical sets of people and impose socialism on one and allow the other capitalism. The Ostalgie still lingers and of course not all the regime’s luminaries are dead. The rancid bitch wife of Honecker, Margot, is still stinking up the joint in Santiago where a bunch of scumbags Pinochet forgot to have whacked gave her sanctuary.

  8. @Tim Newman: well you’ve been there so you know better, but I do find your near-apologising a bit, well, worrying.

    Yeah, I know. But there were some good things, although nothing that couldn’t have been achieved without Socialism. My wife describes her childhood in the Soviet Union in the same way as everyone else: a very safe environment, everybody equal, lots of cooperation between parents, train journeys to Pioneer camps, sports, music, dancing, museum visits, the lot, all free and available to everyone, and of a high standard (at least, if you lived in Leningrad). She could get put on a train to Tallinn aged 12 to visit her aunt, with her mother asking a stranger to keep an eye on her on the train. Because everybody lived the same way, everyone understood the predicaments, and everyone helped out. And crime really was low. The problem is, none of this was worth the cost, which fell on the adults. But from the kids’ (very narrow) point of view it was a hoot. My wife has no regrets, and no Soviet child does. The adults have plenty, though.

  9. @TN perhaps that explains the nostalgia for the USSR among some, that being born after (say) 1970 they never got to experience the downside?

  10. @TN perhaps that explains the nostalgia for the USSR among some, that being born after (say) 1970 they never got to experience the downside?

    Quite possibly. Those who were adults certainly don’t mourn its passing, at least those who weren’t on the top of the pile.

  11. bloke (not) in spain – “President or Prime Minister, king or tyrant, all power depends on keeping the approval of the Mum of the guard on the palace gate. They lost it.”

    That may be true but in 1953 East German was hit by even bigger protests. The Mums of the East German Army were royally lied to and the tanks ran over the workers to the extent that East Germany survived for another 40 years.

    At one time, the East German Communists believed in what they were doing to the point they were willing to murder. Some time later they were not.

    Tim Newman – “My wife describes her childhood in the Soviet Union in the same way as everyone else: a very safe environment, everybody equal, lots of cooperation between parents, train journeys to Pioneer camps, sports, music, dancing, museum visits, the lot, all free and available to everyone, and of a high standard (at least, if you lived in Leningrad).”

    She was lied to. Royally. A safe environment? You mean the media did not report sex offenders *at*all* much less harp on about them like the Daily Mail does. It is not that Soviet children were safe, it is that the parents were not told when serial killers were on the loose.

    Everyone equal? Tell that to Brezhnev’s daughter.

    Free, available to everyone and of a high standard? The Soviet Central Asians were noticably poorer than the Blacks of South Africa. Coal miners were living on holes in the ground until the 1970s.

    She means the state concentrated resources on urban middle class intellectuals. While lying to them. No more.

    She might be right about the crime though. A brutal comprehensive police state throws a lot of people in prison. Many of them are bound to be criminals. But not all. So “safe” does not include the right not to be arrested and tortured into a confession of a crime you did not commit. More likely she was not right, the state just did not report crime.

  12. She was lied to.

    Yes, she was. I’m not sure I’d want to live in a country where children between 3 and 12 are bombarded with the full truth every day. If you’re going to criticise the USSR, this is a weak spot to pick on.

    Royally. A safe environment? You mean the media did not report sex offenders *at*all* much less harp on about them like the Daily Mail does. It is not that Soviet children were safe, it is that the parents were not told when serial killers were on the loose.

    For sure, there was all that and worse. But it *was* a (relatively) safe environment, even if the crimes were not reported. How much knife crime or gang violence do you think existed in Soviet schools? Drugs? Not much, if any. Raising the bogey man of the odd paedophile, even if they did exist, does not make the place unsafe any more than paedophiles make British schools unsafe.

    She means the state concentrated resources on urban middle class intellectuals.

    Like Sakhalin’s ethnic Koreans, who were imported as slave labour by the Japanese and worked on fishing collectives? They were provided a decent education, as I’ve seen it first hand, the sons and daughters of cabbage farmers who could read, write, count, and were no worse educated than a middle class Brit.

    Free, available to everyone and of a high standard?

    Yes. Hard though this is to believe, yes. The Soviets really did provide free, decent quality education to everyone.

    he Soviet Central Asians were noticably poorer than the Blacks of South Africa.

    No, they weren’t. I’ve met, stayed with, and dated Soviet Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, and Kazakhs ranging in class from university educated to nightclub hookers. They were materially poor due to the collapse of the USSR, but their education level was impressive given where they were from. You only need to look over the border in Afghanistan to see the difference that the Soviets made. If you’re going to attack the Soviet Union, which is worth attacking on so many levels, their provision of education in central Asia is a really, really bad item to pick. IMO, that is their most impressive achievement.

    Coal miners were living on holes in the ground until the 1970s.

    No, they weren’t. Really, they weren’t. I know Kazakhs from Karaganda, the centre of central Asian coal mining, and they lived in crappy concrete apartment blocks. There were rural people still living in the wooden houses from the pre-Soviet days, but nobody was living in a hold in the ground. Working maybe, but not living.

  13. Tim Newman – “Yes, she was. I’m not sure I’d want to live in a country where children between 3 and 12 are bombarded with the full truth every day. If you’re going to criticise the USSR, this is a weak spot to pick on.”

    No it isn’t. If you can’t see why it is wrong to comprehensively lie to everyone about your country’s recent past, its leaders, the future, the material living standards of most people and pretty much everything else, we don’t have a lot to talk about. It is a mistake to say that because the West doesn’t tell four year olds about Santa Claus there is a remotest comparison with the Soviet Union where they were told they were living in a paradise.

    “But it *was* a (relatively) safe environment, even if the crimes were not reported. How much knife crime or gang violence do you think existed in Soviet schools? Drugs? Not much, if any.”

    I think that would depend on where you are. Drugs were not unknown – more marijuana than cocaine. But you only have to look at vodka to realise that the West is better off with a small smack problem than the Russian’s alcohol problem. Knife crime? Gangs? Not unheard of in parts of the USSR.

    “Raising the bogey man of the odd paedophile, even if they did exist, does not make the place unsafe any more than paedophiles make British schools unsafe.”

    British people think they do. Even though they are vanishingly rare. It makes people afraid even though it has little to do with real risks. But when the USSR was reporting significant numbers of alcoholic 12 year olds, you know they have a problem.

    “Like Sakhalin’s ethnic Koreans, who were imported as slave labour by the Japanese and worked on fishing collectives? They were provided a decent education, as I’ve seen it first hand, the sons and daughters of cabbage farmers who could read, write, count, and were no worse educated than a middle class Brit.”

    Sure, the Soviets wanted to make sure everyone had the right thoughts and so spent a lot of money on education. As Cuba does. But in fundamental ways they were poorly educated because they were so comprehensively lied to. Were they allowed to read Hayek? How about Mill? How about any South Korean political thinker?

    “No, they weren’t. I’ve met, stayed with, and dated Soviet Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, and Kazakhs ranging in class from university educated to nightclub hookers. They were materially poor due to the collapse of the USSR, but their education level was impressive given where they were from.”

    Yes they were. IT is hard to measure wealth in the Soviet Union, but Central Asia had lower rates of car ownership, lower rates of telephones in homes – and perhaps even smaller homes. They were poorer. Education is an odd one in the USSR. Certainly Kazakhs were swamped and their language endangered. Tajikistan? Not so much.

    “No, they weren’t. Really, they weren’t. I know Kazakhs from Karaganda, the centre of central Asian coal mining, and they lived in crappy concrete apartment blocks”

    You were there in the 70s?

  14. If you can’t see why it is wrong to comprehensively lie to everyone about your country’s recent past, its leaders, the future, the material living standards of most people and pretty much everything else, we don’t have a lot to talk about.

    We don’t if you think that schoolchildren should be informed to the same degree as adults.

    I think that would depend on where you are. Drugs were not unknown – more marijuana than cocaine.

    No, it was unknown in schools.

    ,em>But you only have to look at vodka to realise that the West is better off with a small smack problem than the Russian’s alcohol problem. Knife crime? Gangs? Not unheard of in parts of the USSR.

    In schools?

    Sure, the Soviets wanted to make sure everyone had the right thoughts and so spent a lot of money on education. As Cuba does. But in fundamental ways they were poorly educated because they were so comprehensively lied to. Were they allowed to read Hayek? How about Mill? How about any South Korean political thinker?

    So you’ve now accepted that the education, that which was on offer, was freely available to all and not just the urban middle classes? Good.

    Otherwise yes, I agree: in fundamental ways their education system was flawed. But children don’t generally read Hayek in school, they tend to concentrate the education on reading, writing, maths, and science. And in these core subjects, the Soviet Union did extremely well, better than many others.

    Yes they were. IT is hard to measure wealth in the Soviet Union, but Central Asia had lower rates of car ownership, lower rates of telephones in homes – and perhaps even smaller homes. They were poorer.

    Uzbeks had a lower rate of car ownership and telephones in homes than black south Africans? Source, please.

    You were there in the 70s?

    Were you? In Karaganda?

  15. And I’m not arguing a point of principle here: I’m arguing that the *results* of the Soviet education system were generally very good, despite their many flaws (flaws which exist in the Asian education systems as well, BTW); and that life for the kids in the USSR was generally pretty good according to those who were there. Sure, they were lied to, as are all children and all populations. This didn’t in itself make life unpleasant for them, but it did for the teenagers and adults. Kids don’t give a shit whether they can read Hayek, which is why the USSR worked for them.

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