When Erich Honecker visited Las Vegas

Monday, 19 November, 2018

He didn’t, of course, but the contemporary Chinese historian Qin Hui asks us to imagine what might have happened if the East German tyrant had taken a tour of the Strip and kicked back in the penthouse suite at the Bellagio before playing the slots. Unlike the wily Communist Deng Xiaoping, who led China through far-reaching market-economy reforms, Erich Honecker was as thick as a brick so his wretched regime collapsed in 1989 and was consigned to the dustbin of history. Here’s Qin Hui:

“Imagine that twenty years ago, East Germany had suppressed democratization and kept the Berlin Wall. East Germans had no freedom, low-wages, and low human rights, and there was no policy of on-par conversion of East and West German marks. What if Honecker toured the West, visiting Las Vegas and the Moulin Rouge, discovering that the developed world was great, after which he developed a great interest in market economies, and decided to abandon utopia to make money. He left the politics the same, but changed the economy to be part of West Germany’s. He opened the doors wide to Western capital, demanding in return that the West keep the doors open to accept East German products. He would use authoritarian means to provide the best investment opportunities: whatever piece of land you decide you need he would get it for you; workers had to toe the line and could not protest; if people’s homes were in the way of a business deal he would get rid of them; he could decide on allotment of rights to enterprises, there would be no need to deal with anyone, labor unions and agriculture unions were not allowed, he would reward anyone who came to invest and get rid of anyone who got in the way of investment…What do you think would have happened had that come to pass?

The answer is simple. If the state had insisted, the East German people would have stood for it, and the results might have been completely different from what they are now. Western capital would no longer head for China, or Romania, and West Germany wouldn’t be employing Turkish workers. They would have swarmed into East Germany, and sweatshops would have sprung up all over East Germany, which would have poured tons of cheap commodities onto the Western markets, completely renewing East Germany’s original industries… East Germany would immediately have had an economic miracle, and the ‘deindustrialization’ and high unemployment rates would have appeared in West Germany. With the flight of capital from West Germany, labor would have lost its bargaining power, unions would have declined, welfare would have diminished, and the people’s capitalism, built over more than a century, the ‘social market economy’ and its welfare state, would no longer exist. Of course, East Germany would experience serious social problems, such as inequality, alliances between the state and merchants, rampant corruption, environmental pollution, etc. But if the East Germans could withstand all of this, then what would have happened to West Germany?”

The answer to that final question can be found in “Dilemmas of Twenty-First Century Globalization” at the excellent Reading the China Dream blog.

Between the lines of Qin Hui’s piece is a warning about the clear and present danger posed by China, which pretends to be socialist, but is bent on destroying post-war Western prosperity through the cruel exploitation of its own people. This is the context in which one should read the far-too-favourable New York Times feature “China Rules.”

Note: Since 1992, Qin Hui has played the role of the public intellectual, taking a stand on a range of issues, often in conflict with the official Communist Party line. In December 2015, his best-selling book Zouchu Dizhi (Moving Away from the Imperial Regime), was banned. The work examines how the prospect of constitutional democracy collapsed in early-20th-century China after the country had broken free of the Qing dynasty.


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