Most of our summer holidays have been taken on the south-west coast of France; a land of vast beaches stretching northwards and southwards to the horizon; a land of spectacular sunsets as yellow and orange and pink and red and purple fill the sky over the Bay of Biscay; a land also where the sea has terrifying force. The huge rolling waves pound the sands, and the tides sweep the beaches with immense power. The tides, which sweep clean the beaches, have huge destructive potential and massive dunes are maintained to hold back the sea.
Signs of the first crumbling of the Communist regimes that had imprisoned one-half of Europe were appearing while we holidayed on those Landaise beaches in 1989. Sitting in the August sun, reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a novel set against the background of the Prague Spring of 1968, there was a hope that this time things would really change. The experiences of Tiananmen Square would not be repeated in Europe; Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, was a world apart from the Chinese Communist Party.
A huge human tide built up in the German Democratic Republic and suddenly swept before it the Berlin Wall, and with it the regime that had enclosed them for forty years. The Communist states across Eastern Europe fell like a line of dominoes; there was recognition that the system and the political philosophy that undergirded it were simply unsustainable.
But it seems almost as if 1989 was a tide going out on Communism, rather than its consignment to the dustbin of history. The excesses of the financiers, the system of international capitalism that has brought bankruptcy and unemployment, and the demand that working people pay taxes to bail out the rich and powerful, has brought a rising tide of the hard Left.
A friend sent through the post a booklet published by the Communist Party which offers its analysis of the international capitalist crisis (which, to be fair, is no more than a description of what has happened), and its proposed solutions. An organisation many would have thought was long since extinct, seems alive and well, and this time there is no Soviet money to subsidise its activities.
Watching a BBC documentary on the fall of the Berlin Wall and the decades of oppression that had led to 9th November, 1989, it is a source of amazement that anyone still remains in the Communist fold. The repressive measures needed to maintain the East German regime were carefully documented by the Communists themselves, yet there are still people, including a man on the documentary, who believe that Communism was not such a bad thing.
Markets are innate to human nature; a willingness to barter, to buy and to sell are components of civilisation from ancient times; even within Communist societies it was not possible to suppress such activity; black markets flourished. What is required is a remaking of capitalism in a way where people matter; what would be disastrous would be a return to a system that has been tried and failed.
Perhaps in Ireland, the waves are not so big, but in countries where there is deep disillusionment with what international capitalism has brought, the tide could sweep away the good as well as the bad.