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What’s the Matter with Eastern Europe?

What’s the Matter with Eastern Europe?

John Feffer

Welcome to the birthplace of Trumpism.

"If anti-Trump forces here don’t address persistent voter disgust with the status quo, the Eastern European example offers a grim glimpse of a possible American future as right-wing libertarians, intolerant nationalists, and alt-right extremists secure their lock on the policy apparatus."

Michelle Goldberg (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/01/opinion/trump-is-cracking-up.html?_r=0) recently projected–should Sen.Tom Cotton (R-Ark) get moved into the CIA once Tillerson is ousted–that Cotton will be a strong voice for war with Iran. A two-front war, she says: Korea and Iran.

Once the “dogs or war” are loosed, what “moral authority” will stop Putin from marching into Ukraine and subsequently, the populist governments Feffer mentions here?

That’s what triggers messy, messy conflicts. European democracies will find themselves backed into corners.

For those who never knew, or had forgotten, Trump’s pathological need for attention and his bred-in-the-bone racism once led him to demand that New York state bring back its death penalty.

The case was that of the so-called “Central Park jogger,” a woman who, in April 1989, was stabbed, raped, sodomized and beaten within an inch of her life. Five young men, four Black and one Latino, were arrested, tried and convicted, at leat one based on coerced testimony. Their convictions were later vacated after a serial rapist confessed to acting alone, and the five successfully sued the city for damages.

In May of 1989, Trump took out full-page ads in all four of the city’s major papers where he tried, convicted and sentenced them to death, without the slightest shred of proof beyond his own infallibility. In 2016, as he campaigned for president, he showed no sign that he had ever been in error.

I think it’s part of his appeal, at least to some, that he never fails to double down, even when he knows he’s holding a busted flush. Undoubtedly, racism is at the bottom of both his behavior and the support of his lumpen base.

This is misleading as the wealthier countries in the EU already pay billions to help develop infrastructure, social projects and economic growth in these countries so it’s unfair to say they are not addressing it, Poland being the biggest recipient of the EU budget each year, Germany being the biggest contributor. Moreover, literally millions of workers from these countries have, upon joining the EU, migrated into the Western countries with Britain, for example, receiving 3 million EU migrants mostly from former Eastern Europe which is hefty amount for a small island with population of 55 million. This was the main cause of the vote for brexit, a similar kind of disenchanted populism as espoused by Trump and these other characters. Thus, it spreads like a virus in that it’s put such strain on the western side of the EU, those countries have also started flirting with such movements: Le Pen, Farage, Alt for Deustschland, Geert Wilders in Holland etc.

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Good article. Born of the competition for public assets attendant to political collapse, Eastern European capitalism is inherently criminal in nature. And as Eastern European oligarchs integrate into the international order, they bring their criminal culture with them. The Trumps and Kushners have been flattered by and admitted into Eastern European oligarchic circles, adopting their values and manners. Now they are passing the disease along to the rest of us.

In the grander picture one could say that the fatal failure of the American Empire was its inability to smooth out the bumps in the collapse of the Soviet Union. The victor in the Cold War did not have the generosity of vision to ease the transition. The result is that both Cold Warriors will die from injuries received in their 70 year battle. But America will malinger long after the imperial wisdom that created the Marshall Plan has been exhausted.

“liberalism” has been the guiding force in America for most of the 8 decades since FDR took office in the 1930s.

Today, even most liberals freely admit that the policies that have been advocated in their name are abject failures that cant be improved simply by throwing more money into the budget. The social safety net was never even dreamed to protect so many, much less designed or funded; the programs originally were intended as charity for small numbers, and need to be reworked to become sustainable for today’s realities.

Besides, have you seen the “new” liberals? BLM, BAMN, ANTFA, etc etc etc etc? Same old ideas, same old rhetoric, same old actions, same old same old; its Stalin’s USSR, Mao’s China, Kim’s North Korea, Castro’s Cuba, Pot Pol; the same old dirtbags we were fight all last century, trying to take over the democrat party again (just like the 1950s) And you wonder why anyone who’s either lived it or read a history book is walking away in disgust?

This is a very interesting piece arguing that Eastern European turn to right wing nationalism was a forerunner of Trumpism and both were reactions to inequalities produced by neoliberal policies. The author got most of the Eastern European (EE) realities right. I would only like to add a few observations.

  1. More attention should be paid on the class structure in EE. In 1974, two Hungarian sociologists, George Konrad and Ivan Szelenyi, wrote a book titled “The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power” arguing that college educated managers an white collar workers - essentially a product of Communist education policy - has become a class “in and for itself” - a group of people with distinctive economic and social interests, ideologies (meritocracy) and fully aware of those distinct interest. This work turned out to be prophetic, not just for Eastern Europe, but well beyond, including the United States.

  2. The rise of neoliberalism is a product of the growing importance of college educated managers and professionals whom I call the techno-managerial class. The German sociologist Max Weber argued that the rise of Protestantism during the reformation was a result of its “elective affinity” to the class interest of the merchant and nascent capitalist classes. A same process occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. As the technomanagerial class - which was essentially a product of the post WW2 education policy (in the Us and Europe) - grew in numbers and economic importance, so did the ideology with an ‘elective affinity’ to the interests of that class. That ideology was neoliberalism - essentially a mixture of the 19th century economic liberalism favoring free market, and the 1960s social liberalism favoring sexual promiscuity and 'anything goes" attitude toward social norm (see David Harvey’s book “A Brief History of Neoliberalism”).

  3. The ascendance of the technomanagerial class cause a sea change in the political landscape. The social-democratic and labor parties switched its traditional class alliance from blue collar working class and their unions to the technomanagerial class. This was a global process - from Europe, to the United States, to Australia, and to New Zealand. The former Communist parties of the Soviet bloc and China underwent a somewhat similar transformation, although it can be argued that they never were truly aligned with the working class (but this is a subject for another discussion).

  4. The main point of this discussion is that neoliberalism is not a product of a “betrayal” by the political parties or even a counter-offensive by business elites (the so called Powell manifesto). It is a product of the changing class structure - the emergence of the technomanagerial class. Politicians and businessmen merely sensed that sea change and adjusted accordingly - but the proles were caught with their pants down. When they finally realised that they were sold down the river by their political allies, they started lashing out.

  5. Although social democracy (European style) is the system that improved the living standards of the working class far more than any other political system did or even was capable of, it has been recently all but abandoned by the working class for right wing nationalism. This paradox can be explained by three developments. First is the neoliberal propaganda viciously attacking anything left of the center while turning its blind eye on the right. Second is the perceived “betrayal” of the working class by the socialist and social-democratic parties. This factor played especially significant role in the United States and resulted in a virtual collapse of the Democrat party. The third factor - seldom mentioned in political analyses - is social solidarity of the working class which contrasts withe the individualistic values of the capitalist and technomanagerial class. Social solidarity was the “lubricant” that facilitated growth of the labor movement and political parties representing its interests in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But as these parties switched their political alliance to the technomanagerial class, they replaced social solidarity with meritocracy and individualism that are dear to the heart of that class.

  6. It is the third factor - the switch from social solidarity to meritocracy and individualism - that explains the visceral gut hatred of the proles toward the “liberal elites”. This hatred goes well beyond simple resentment for being “left behind” economically. It is a reaction to the perceived assault on the core value system. Take for example their hatred of scabs. A scab is another prole, no different in social status, wealth, demeanor, or culture from other proles. His only sin is defiance of social solidarity - and for this sin he is viscerally hated. The same mechanism applies to the “liberal elites.” Their individualistic mertiocracy, manifested among other by permissive, libertine attitudes toward social norms and taboos, provokes gut hatred in people for whom social solidarity matters.

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EXcellent review and analysis! As a student of EE society during the Cold War (and less formally ever since), I would also add for my Western liberal colleagues here on CD the observation that EE social history, in general and country by country, plays a very important role. In general, these nations were more accustomed to authoritarian governmental and social structures than is the US, and less entrepreneurial economically. There is no great tradition of bootstraps, no word (at least in Russian) for “impeachment.” Therefore they could never have been expected to develop Western-style democracy and capitalism with checks and balances, especially in such a short time. The West’s expectations that they should may be most responsible for what’s the matter with EE today.

Oh, and to Feffer, the application of words like “canny” to djt is laughable. He didn’t “set out” to become President, and he doesn’t have any idea what he’s doing now that he’s there. The GOP keeps trying to use him, but they can’t make him take seriously what he’s totally unprepared to do. He’s still doing reality television.