“The Lives of Others”
Francis P. DeStefano
Francis P. DeStefano is a long-time subscriber to the St. Croix Review. He holds a PhD in History from Fordham University where his field of concentration was 18th century British politics. He left the academy to pursue a career as a financial advisor. He retired in 2008 and is pursuing his interest in history, especially Renaissance art history. He resides in Fairfield, Connecticut.
The Socialist ideas of Senator Bernie Sanders have been tested in many laboratories of human experience over the past one hundred years. We have the example of Socialism in Russia that began with the Communist revolution in 1917. We have the example of National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany that led to World War II and the Holocaust. We have the example of Maoism in China during the great purge that murdered over 20 million people. We have the example of the various Socialist “republics” set up in Eastern Europe after World War II. Practically on our doorstep is the example of Cuba, a model for Sanders, under the dictatorial regime of the Castro brothers.
All of these Socialist experiments began with high-sounding ideals and slogans but all degenerated into police states ruled by a small minority of party bigwigs and their bureaucratic servants. I was reminded of this the other day while re-viewing a truly fine 2006 German film,The Lives of Others.
Before the collapse of the Berlin wall, East Germany’s population was closely monitored by the State Secret Police or Stasi. Only a few citizens above suspicion were permitted to lead private lives. The film revolves around a loyal and favored East German playwright and his beautiful actress girlfriend. When a corrupt government official falls for the actress, an ambitious Stasi policeman is ordered to bug the writer’s apartment to gain incriminating evidence against the rival. It is a good story, extremely well told, and it won an Oscar for best foreign film.
The story plays out against the background of Socialism in the German Democratic Republic or GDR with its ruthless and inhumane interrogation tactics, and its constant spying on and surveillance of an incredible number of ordinary people considered to be potential enemies of the Socialist republic. Its depiction of interrogation techniques is especially chilling.
However, the film makes it clear that it was not just the secret police and their tactics that were at fault. The whole system was corrupt. Socialist idealism easily gave way to corruption and cronyism. Party bosses ruled with an iron hand. They ruled by fear. They struck fear into their immediate underlings, who in turn struck fear into their own subordinates. There was no real equality. The workers’ paradise had turned into hell. The film claims that the suicide rate in the GDR was so high, that the government, which counted everything else, just stopped publishing suicide statistics.
Although we have so far been spared a Socialist revolution in the U.S.A., many aspects of Socialism have crept in by the back door. I live next to Bridgeport, the most populous city in Connecticut. For years, Bridgeport has been a one-party city. It’s Democratic Party leaders not only control municipal government, but also usually manage to bring out enough votes to play a key role in state elections.
A few years ago these politicians managed to bring back into office a former mayor who had spent time in prison for corruption during his first administration. Almost immediately he cleaned house ostensibly to balance the budget but also to get rid of political enemies and find jobs for his own supporters.
From Connecticut to California politicians and so-called public service unions rack up budget-busting benefits and pensions that are out of the reach of the people they are supposed to serve. I call this back door Socialism, where all are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Young millennials may choose to ignore the sordid history of old Socialist regimes or the cronyism of local politics, but they might consider their own personal experience with contemporary Socialism. Most recent college graduates do not realize that they experienced Socialism while in college. I am not talking about the professors who are overwhelmingly left wing.
My grandchildren tell me that the things they hated most while in college were the dorms and the cafeteria food. They couldn't wait to get out of the dorms and away from the cafeteria. Like most of us, they wanted to live with their friends off campus and eat the kind of food they liked. They certainly did not want administrators telling them where and how to live or what was good for them to eat.
Senator Sanders may claim that there are more benevolent versions of Socialism than the ones he has praised in the past. He claims that he is a “Democratic Socialist.” But in his incessant attacks on corporations that employ most American workers and provide them with benefits unheard of in all of human history, he sounds as rabid as the revolutionaries of old. We just have to look at the problems in blue states like California and Illinois to make us think that democratic or back door Socialism only works for a privileged few. *