The Guardian 31 August, 2005

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Socialism versus capitalism

The return of capitalism and private (corporation) enterprise to Slovakia has brought with it enormous economic devastation and appalling social decline.

This is the thesis of Socialismus versus kapitalismus, a book just published in the Slovak Republic, and its author provides a wealth of facts and figures gleaned from Slovak, Czech and foreign sources to support it.

The author, Karol Ondrias, is a member of the Slovak Academy of Science. He has spent five and a half years working in US universities and has contributed articles to many scientific journals world wide. He is also a Communist member of the Slovak parliament and a Vice-President of the Communist Party of Slovakia.

The pre-socialist economy of Slovakia (to 1948) was based on agriculture, which employed 47% of the working population. Public ownership, co-operative farming and the dynamic development of industry as a result of deliberative investment in the planned economy brought about radical change.

The figures provide a clear picture. In 1948 (the first year of socialism in Czechoslovakia) agriculture’s share in the national economy was 32%, industry’s was 39.9% and the construction industry’s 11.4%. For 1989 (the year the Communist Party surrendered its leading political and social role), the relative figures are: 10%, 62% and 12%.

With the return of capitalism by 2002 the production of cereals had fallen to 25% of the level in 1989, cattle to 63%, pigs to 57%. There have also been major falls in the production of eggs, milk and sheep. According to Ondrias, in agriculture alone the losses amount to 564 billion crowns [approx. AU$23.5 billion] and could cover the cost of constructing 10 kilometres of underground railway in each of 10 cities.

Industrial production fell dramatically after 1989 and it was only in 2004 that it returned the 1989 level. In 2002 the construction industry could only manage 43% of the number of homes built in 1989. The author estimates that the total losses incurred by the decline in the economy amount to 3,828 billion Slovak crowns (calculated at its value in 2004). [approx. AU$160 billion]

Slovakia’s cultural life has also been devastated. It has been taken over by what the author calls "hamburger" culture and sex. He accuses the workers in the film, television and theatre industries of personal decline and loss of pride. A tragic outcome is that the majority of young people are quite happy with the kind of culture dished out to them.

The devastation is quite apparent in scientific research. Whereas science registered amazing progress during 40 years of socialism and there were 6000 scientific workers in Slovakia in 1989, the number has dropped to a miserable 2000.

By 2004 the living standards of Slovaks had dropped enormously. Sixty-one percent of households have experienced a worsening of their financial situation. Since 1989 previously unknown unemployment, begging, prostitution and kidnapping have become commonplace phenomena, and there has been an unprecedented growth in other types of crime and in the number of suicides and drug addicts. And whereas in 1990 crime was very low down in the matters of interest to Slovaks, the latest poll has shown that 84% of the population are fearful for their safety.

In his introduction, Karol Ondrias says that he has compiled the facts and figures in order to provide the political left with the arguments that can counter the propaganda of the apologists of capitalism, who seek to brainwash people with lies about the achievements of the socialist economy and the socialist way of life. It will provide a useful tool for Slovak communists in their coming electoral campaign.

Bob Saltis
Prague, Czech Republic

Why Mr Howard?

John Howard has argued that Australian workers will be in a stronger position under his new IR laws to achieve better contracts because the current economic circumstances gives them a strong bargaining position.

Even if this is true, and it isn’t for most workers, this certainly would not be the case when there is a downturn in the economy.

Anyhow, if no one is going to fall below their award wages and conditions of employment as Howard implied, why is there any need to replace the award safety net with only five protected conditions?

The fact is that there are over one and a half million workers who are forced to rely on the award safety net because they have no bargaining strength.

And what will happen to those workers currently being protected by the state award system when it is dismantled as part of John Howard’s reforms?

And when a worker is seeking employment and the employer offers the worker an individual contract which only contains the five protected items, how do they have any bargaining strength?

Would you please explain Mr Howard.

Tom McDonald
Wamberal NSW

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