The other day as I walked into my favorite Austin sandwich shop, the catchy chords of an alternative radio classic fired up on the radio. The song is almost 30 years old now — older than most of the staff at the sandwich shop, and about the same age as Twitter star and socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The song’s opening lines capture a moment in time:
A woman on the radio
Talks about revolution
But it’s already passed her by
Bob Dylan didn’t have this to sing about
You know it feels good just to be alive
The song is “Right Here, Right Now” by British alt band Jesus Jones. When it debuted in 1990, I was a teenager in college. Like the rest of my generation, I had lived my entire life in the shadow of the Cold War. The Cold War was the menacing background noise to our lives, the titanic twilight struggle between the free and capitalist West and the shackled, imprisoned and communist East. It dominated politics. It dominated foreign policy. Global war for human freedom was a real and imminent threat.
But suddenly, everything changed.
I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now
there is no other place I want to be
Right here, right now
watching the world wake up from history
“Right Here” debuted in September 1990 and was a huge hit, rocketing up the charts and dominating MTV airplay when MTV played music videos. It owned college radio through 1991.
Just before Mike Edwards wrote “Right Here,” the then unknown Jesus Jones played in Romania, which in itself was a near miracle. Romania had been communist, part of what President Ronald Reagan called the “evil empire.”
Communism meant then — and means now — no freedom of speech, art or expression, so Western bands almost never played in any communist countries. Art in the communist countries was art of the state. Smugglers slipped Western music and movies behind the Iron Curtain, though anyone caught with such contraband risked prison or worse. Western rock was subversive and dangerous to the party and its power structure. So it was banned, along with Western thought. The most dangerous items an Eastern Block subject could possess were copies of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bible.
But on November 9, 1989, communist East Germany began to allow its citizens to cross the Berlin Wall into West Berlin. Making such a crossing risked being shot by the communist watchmen. Yes, the communists would kill you for thinking for yourself or seeking a better life for yourself or your family. That was the point of communism. Pol Pot, communist dictator of Cambodia in the 1970s, murdered millions of intellectuals during his Khmer Rouge reign of terror. That such an anti-ideas mass murderer barely rates a footnote in history now is telling. Ignoring those crimes enables other socialists to gain traction today, right here, right now — in the United States.
Just weeks before Jesus Jones played Romania, the Romanian people rose up against communist dictator Nikolai Ceaucescu and overthrew and executed him. That happened on Christmas Day, 1989 — six weeks after Berlin. Ceaucescu’s fall was a long time coming, yet it happened so suddenly it still shocked the world.
Jesus Jones played Bucharest in February 1990. Romania was still so unstable the band had to have heavy military escort. Jesus Jones had a fan base waiting on them, thanks to the music smugglers. Kids who were alive and waited for the freedom to go to a real rock concert — any concert with an actual band from the other side of the Wall — greeted the British rockers.
The communist empire — that’s what it was, an imperial power that sought to control the entire world and sweep aside every other political system and every other thought — was showing signs of real weakness. It had lost in Afghanistan. The Chernobyl accident undermined it worldwide. Its economy faltered. Unrest grew. And the West under President Reagan presented a new resolve to win.
Though the Cold War was America’s longest war by far, and President Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II had led the victory, there were no celebratory parades when we won. President George H. W. Bush did not gloat; instead, he offered the world a “peace dividend” and cut military spending. There were no grand anthems or nationally televised memorials. We offered our former enemies a helping hand, just as we had after winning World War II. There was also no reckoning for the communists. Some simply switched jerseys and grabbed power in the new Russia.
Jesus Jones’ rock hit was as close as we got to a late Cold War anthem, and it was perfect for the moment — a young alternative band from Europe using their freedom of expression to capture the innocent optimism of a world spinning toward freedom. The Soviet Union and its lackeys were on the ash heap of history. It was time to party together in Boston, Berlin, and Bucharest.
But where have we gone since then? Technologically we’ve sped along. It ought to feel good to be alive now. But does it? If the polls are right, young voters who embrace technology and espouse freedom of expression are more and more attracted to the anti-freedom of socialism.
Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist who actually — traitorously — partied with Soviets who spent decades trying to destroy America — is a leading Democratic candidate for president of the United States. At that time he was still a fringe crank. Now his influence on the rest of his party is growing and his support among young voters is growing too. The Democrats have become more and more openly socialist — witness the rise of Democratic Socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — and more and more openly anti-freedom — witness “woke” attacks on Chick-fil-A over thoughtcrime. “Woke” thought police prowl social media seeking another career, another life to destroy every day. YouTube is a digital book burner. Google and Facebook power China’s vile and totalitarian “social credit” monitoring system. De-platforming and “othering” are the digital gulag. Forty-six-year-old Democrat Robert “Beto” O’Rourke declares capitalism “racist,” betraying a disturbing mix of ignorance and moral repugnance. He’s old enough to know better. The Constitution’s freedom-guarding amendments are under direct fire from the left. The very freedom of expression that subverted the Soviet Union is now dying in the once free West.
Socialism never meant that the people owned everything or that “fairness” ruled. It means far more than promises of free stuff — promises it will always be unable to deliver. It means a privileged few rule over everyone else with an iron fist. Those privileged few control everything and can and will imprison, torture and kill anyone who dares to speak up for individual rights. Socialism is rule by the few, with no voice for anyone else. It is anti-freedom. It is the path to thoughtcrime, political imprisonment, and mass murder. Both of history’s most prolific mass murderers — Mao and Stalin — come from socialism. Hitler and Pol Pot round out the top four.
Socialism begets communism, and communism is evil. It’s as evil as its nationalist cousin Nazism, and between Pol Pot, Chairman Mao, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Josef Stalin, has murdered more people even than the Nazis killed. It reigned longer and in more places, leaving piles of dead everywhere it took power. It still exerts thuggish control over North Korea, China, Cuba and to a great extent Venezuela. There is no excuse for anyone who lived through the Cold War to support any form of communism or its socialism cousin now. But many do. It’s fashionable in academia and the media and a growing chorus in the Democratic Party.
The Cold War was about defeating all that for the sake of human freedom.
2019 marks 30 years since communism cracked up. Thirty years on, are we really going to forget what we won, and why? Will the world wake up in time?