Saturday, August 16, 2008

On "Socialist" Lies- Good Bye, Lenin!


Good Bye, Lenin!, Directed by Wolfgang Becker, Sony, 2004

Some things are painful in life. As a life-long anti-Stalinist, pro-socialist militant the demise of the Democratic Republic of Germany and its theory of “socialism in half a country” and later, on its heels, the demise of the Soviet Union and its theory of “socialism in one country” were nevertheless social disasters of historic proportions for me. One result is that we live in the age of the one superpower world dominated by the United States and its genuine capacity for making trouble, militarily unchecked by any other power. Friends there is nothing good about that. Witness Iraq and many other hot spots in the world.

But enough of that because, despite my obvious different political take on what happened in East Germany in late 1989 and early 1990, this film Good Bye, Lenin is a very interesting view on what happened to one fictionalized family of mixed political and social sensibilities during that period. The film has been advertised as a comedy, and although there are some funny moments like the various attempts by some of the characters, including the main character son Alex, to create alternate social universes, there is more than a hint of satire (and sometimes localized ‘insider’ satire) here. And satire is a very precious commodity in an age where everything is taken literally, whether it should be or not. Thus, a good prescription is -fight hard for your politics but take a minute to see humor in the sometimes absurd ways of this wicked old world.

The device used to create the central plot in this film has a long pedigree, although I believe that it might be the first time that it has been used in an attempt to preserve 'socialist' reality. Quickly outlined, a son (the previously mentioned Alex) attempts, almost manically at times, to create “socialism in one bedroom” for his ailing mother who upon awaking in 1990 after eight months from a coma induced by a heart attack after witnessing him being beaten by the Statsi needs to, on doctor’s advise, avoid any ‘excitement’ on pains of relapse (and possible death). The dramatic tension revolves around an ever-widening and bizarre conspiracy (including drawing in his skeptical Russian girlfriend, his sister, her boyfriend, the neighbors, former colleagues, etc.) to keep mom in the dark about everything that has gone on during that time.

A subplot, however, reveals that Mom, in need of illusions as she might be, has secrets of her own in relationship to the whereabouts of her husband who left for West Germany in the past without his family, mainly because she balked at going for her own reasons. There are, additionally, many sight gags or things that pass for sight gags in a society that had a very limited exposure to the ‘virtues’ of Western consumer society. But enough said, get this film if you want a very smart look at what happens when cultural changes come fast and furious. Not everyone can, or should, adjust accordingly. But also get it, if I may add, so that you can begin to understand why mother wanted to stick with the old socialist ways, as she understood that concept. And maybe fight for them, as well.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Anti-War Political Realities- American Iraq Troop Withdrawals


Over the past couple of months, as the tenure of the Bush Administration has started to wind down it has attempted to put a better face on its legacy than historians are likely to give it (and frankly than it deserves), there has been some movement on the question of a timetable or ‘time horizon’ for American troop withdrawal from Iraq. Part of this reflects the ‘successes' of the troop surge of January 2007 which the Bush Administration is happy to gloat over. It also reflects the political realities on the ground in Iraq as the Al-Maliki government has stabilized and, responding to its base, has argued for a timetable in order to enhance it own political power and credibility. The net effect of all of this maneuvering is that there appears to be something like general agreement, as of today at least, that American combat troops will be withdrawn by 2010 and all troops will be out by 2013. Sadly, and this is the real subject of today’s commentary, the American (and world) Iraq anti-war movement had virtually no impact on these developments. Not the parliamentary opposition (which I had expected little of, in any case) nor the street opposition.

Over the past five years or so I have gone back and forth over the comparisons between the American war of my youth in Vietnam in the 1960’and the American war now in Iraq of my old age. A couple of years ago I was arguing for a close comparison. As events have unfolded over the past couple of years though, I have backed away somewhat from those comparisons. Mainly, this reflects the hard political fact that the Iraqi anti-war movement of which I am a member has had virtually no impact on the pace or, for that matter, the fact of American troop withdrawal from Iraq. While there have been extravagant claims made for the impact of the American (and world) Vietnam anti-war movement in affecting governmental policy and troop withdrawals that movement did have some impact. Of course, it did not hurt that the North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese Liberation Front took high casualties, had a plan like the Tet offensive of 1968 and were steadfastly determined to win against the odds. The same cannot be said for the forces on the ground in Iraq.

Moreover, the international Iraq anti-war movement has been, frankly, weird in another way. The greatest burst of fervor and determination on the streets was before this war began in 2003. Since then, despite sporadic mass demonstration of marginal political significance, there seems to be a tacit assumption that that was all that could be done and that once the war started the political landscape changed. In contrast, during Vietnam (up to a point) the opposition got stronger and more furious. Today, we anti-war militants should reflect on the implicit strategy this time that has consumed the bulk of the movement- keep it off the streets and in narrow parliamentary forms. If that is the lesson taken from the Vietnam anti-war movement no wonder we have been mired down in over five years of forlorn opposition. It is time to go back to the anti-war history books. Pronto. Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal of All American/Allied Troops and Their Mercenaries from Iraq and Afghanistan!