A good summary of communism, written in 1982.
By Strobe Talbott
From http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,953313-1,00.html Monday, 4 January 1982
Marx's theory, in Soviet practice, is both dangerous and in danger
Poland in the past year and a half has taught the world a lesson that is both stark and undeniable: as a means of organizing an economy and providing for the well-being of a citizenry, Communism is a failure.
The troubles that have brought the proud, highly civilized and immensely accomplished Poles near the brink of social chaos and economic collapse are both deeper in their origins and wider in their ramifications than the many problems that beset the industrialized democracies of the West. In Poland, the system is not just failing to perform properly failure is built into the system. Communism stifles the best while rewarding, or at least exploiting, the worst in human nature. Imagination, initiative and man's natural inclination to improve his own lot have all been sacrificed to the abstract and deceptive goal of a common good that is actually neither common nor good. At the same time, the system seeks to make virtues out of man's less fortunate qualities, particularly his susceptibility to the corruption of power when he has it and to submissiveness when he does not.
The result is a society that perversely manages to combine contradictory vices: profligacy on the part of the collective and scarcity for the individual; draconian control and hopeless inefficiency; laziness and zealotry; cynicism and dogmatism; subservience and bullying. These excesses, shortcomings and defects have been institutionalized in ways that almost seem designed to produce the kind of disaster that the Poles now face.
Presiding over that disaster is an entity that calls itself the Polish United Workers' Party, a euphemism that the founders of the Communist Party adopted in 1948 after merging with (and subsequently engulfing) the Polish Socialist Party. Polish workers have been united, to be sure, but not behind the party. If anything, they are united behind their realization that the Communist system has not met, is not meeting and will probably never meet their basic needs. It does not deliver food to their tables, meaning to their jobs, happiness to their lives or hope for their futures in sufficient measure to justify further tolerance and obedience.
Hence the extraordinary challenge that Lech Walesa and Solidaritythe real Polish united workers' partyhave represented not only to the Communist regime of their own country but to its prototype and master that watches, waits, worries and issues warnings from across the border in the Soviet Union. The Kremlin may still dismiss the Poles as indolent dreamers, but the whole world knows better. Even if their stubborn defiance ends tragically, the Poles have proved themselves tough, determined and courageous enough not to work for a system that does not work for themand to work for something better.
The failure of Communism in Poland has been so spectacular that by rights it ought to be the beginning of the end of that system everywhere, including, eventually, in the U.S.S.R. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed in a speech at the University of Notre Dame last May: "The West won't contain Communism; it will transcend Communism. It won't bother to denounce it; it will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written."
Two weeks ago, when he expressed outrage against the "coercion and violation of human rights on a massive scale" and the "arbitrary power" that the Communist regime of Poland has used in its effort to crush Solidarity, Reagan sounded more certain than ever that Communism is evil, but less confident than before that it is doomed. His ambivalence is understandable. It reflects a contradiction that is inherent in Soviet-style Communism, which is not primarily a system for making sure that people are fed, housed, healthy, safe, productively engaged and free to pursue happiness.
Instead, first and foremost, Soviet-style Communism is a system dedicated to the acquisition, consolidation, preservation and extension of power. Generally, that means the power of the state, but more particularly, the power of a self-perpetuating elite. As such, the Soviet system is one of the most formidable inventions of all times.
In theory, Communism was originally, and supposedly remains today, a social and political doctrine based on economic goals and means. The chief goal is an equitable distribution of the wealth that society produces. The principal means is a command economy, in which the state, rather than private individuals or enterprises, takes responsibility for all production and distribution.
The founders of Communism and its present-day defenders have always maintained that economic conditions determine social relations and political institutions; therefore, economic considerations should presumably enjoy a special precedence in the formulation of social policy. Yet practice has made a mockery of theory. The practitioners have done their utmost to divorce the art of the possible from the dismal science of economics. They have made power politics both paramount and as independent as possible from those concerns that govern the welfare of society.
In that sense, Communism today is a different sort of phenomenon from capitalism and democratic socialism. While bolstered by elaborate political superstructures, capitalism and socialism are still primarily economic systems that succeed or fail on how well they channel the energies of their producers and meet the needs of their consumers. The numerous, severe troubles afflicting capitalism and socialism todayinflation, recession, unemployment, poverty and urban decayare all basically economic ills with political side effects.
Communism, by contrast, is not attached to a political superstructure: it has become that superstructure. That transformation explains why Communist politics, despite the crippling defects of Communist economics, has come to dominate about 1.5 billion people in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbeanmore than a third of the world's population, inhabiting more than a quarter of the earth's land surface.
Since World War II, banners bearing variations of the hammer and sickle have been unfurled in 15 countries. The victory of Marxists in nations as diverse and far-flung as the Seychelles, South Yemen, Ethiopia, Angola and Nicaragua led Richard Nixon to proclaim that World War III has already begun and that the other side may be winning. Without resorting to quite the rhetorical excesses of his former boss, Secretary of State Alexander Haig uses almost every occasion he can to raise the alarm: "Moscow is the greatest source of international insecurity today."
Despite schisms, heresies and fratricidal wars, world Communism remains a Soviet phenomenon in one important respect: all Communist regimesincluding those that today defy Moscow, from huge China in the East to tiny Albania in the Westcling to power by relying on variations of the coercive methods and totalitarian precepts that have attained their apotheosis in the U.S.S.R.
France's leading political philosopher, Raymond Aron, has noted that throughout human history those empires or alliances or loose federations of states that enjoyed relatively robust economies at home, and pursued vigorous commerce abroad, automatically had a considerable advantage in political influence and military power over their rivals. Aron finds it ominous that in the last quarter of the 20th century, the time-honored correlation between economic strength on the one hand and military might on the other seems to be breaking down and may even have been reversed. The collective gross national product of the West greatly exceeds that of the Communist world; yet Western leaders, prominently including Reagan, often seem on the defensive in the face of Soviet strength.
That paradox is sometimes noted, in smug but muted tones, by the Soviets. In a conversation with an American official not too long ago, a Soviet general commented, "If someone from Venus were to come look at Earth, he'd have to wonder why a group of countries with a fraction of the wealth of the West is so often getting its way. It must prove the superiority of the Soviet system, plus the will and determination that our system embodies."
The general's choice of Venus, with its benevolent connotations, was no doubt deliberate. The observations of an interplantions [ sic ], was no doubt deliberate. The observations of an interplanetary visitor from Marsnamed after the Roman god of warmight be more to the point. What the Soviet system lacks in economic health it makes up for in brute force. That is the main reason why many in the West who gloat about the imminent death of the Soviet system also warn, often in the next breath, that it kills.
Thus, while events in Poland unquestionably dramatize that a Communist economy does not work, they also remind the world that Communist power still defends itself forcefully, not just against external enemies but against the consequences of its own internal failures as well. That lesson should have been learned vividly enough in Hungary in 1956, in Berlin with the building of the Wall in 1961, and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. If they feel it necessary, the curators of Communist power will not hesitate to teach the world again that they will not give it up.
Two days after he became First Secretary of the Polish Party, General Wojciech Jaruzelski told TIME that the troubles in Poland do not stem from "the system or the ideas on which it is based. Let history show, and let our grandchildren judge, which ideas are better and more effective. Thank goodness we don't live in medieval times when people fight wars over ideas."
No doubt Jaruzelski would like to believe that, but he must realize that what is happening in Poland today is precisely a fight over ideas. At issue is a system that has failed its subjectsa system that is the instrument whereby a large, powerful state dominates a small, weak though courageous one. Jaruzelski's assurance that in modern times troubles like those in Poland need not lead to war has a ring of unintended irony in the wake of his decision two weeks ago to proclaim martial law"a state of war," as it is called in the Polish constitution. Jaruzelski got his thankless, and perhaps hopeless, job heading the party because he was, and still is, Defense Minister and chief of the armed forces. The absurd logic of his appointment is now complete: he has threatened war against his own people.
Whatever idea Jaruzelski is helping defend in Poland today, it is certainly not the one that Karl Marx had in mind 134 years ago, when he and Friedrich Engels wrote, at the beginning of their Communist Manifesto, "A specter is haunting Europethe specter of Communism." By that, they meant the spirit of the underclasses, seeking vengeance against their exploiters. Nor is Jaruzelski defending the vision summed up in the closing exhortation of the Manifesto: "Working men of all countries, unite!" In Poland, the workers have been trying to unite for a better life, but their efforts are haunted by the specter of Communism. Marx has been stood on his head.
Prophets and Apostles
The idea of Communism is both ancient and simple. It is also, in many respects, sensible and admirable. Private ownership creates inequalities, which carry with them injustices, which generate tensions, which lead to conflict. Therefore property should belong to the community as a whole.
St. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, makes it sound as though Christ's first followers practiced a form of Communism: "Not a man of them claimed any of his possessions as his own, "Not a man of them claimed any of his possessions as his own, but everything was held in common .. . They had never a needy person among them, because all who had property in land or houses sold it, brought the proceeds of the sale and laid the money at the feet of the Apostles; it was then distributed to any who stood in need."
Communism figured in the theoretical schemes for a just society put forward by Plato and by Sir Thomas More. Through the centuries, communitarian systems have been tried by Benedictine monks and other small groups of individuals who have voluntarily adopted a life of discipline, self-sacrifice and altruism in order to serve God and their fellow men.
Marx and Engels tried to apply their egalitarian ideal to secular goals and to much larger communitiesentire countries and ultimately the whole world. Two German expatriates living in England, they were outraged by the abuses of the Industrial Revolution, which established new heights of wealth and new depths of poverty. The manufacturers and investors claimed wealth as their right, since they built the factories and paid the workers' salaries. Marx and Engels argued that the workers were being deprived of the very thing that gave them worth in societythe fruits of their labor. For capitalists to profit from the workers' labor was theft.
Therefore proletarians must rise up against their exploiters and establish a new society in which there would be no significant private ownership. Everything would belong to the community as a whole; goods and services would be produced "from each according to his abilities" and distributed "to each according to his needs."
But there was a fallacy in Marx's version of egalitarianism. He thought it could be imposed on all men, for their own good, and that they would come to like it and thrive under it. In his revulsion against the inequities of his own time and his quest for a just society, he mistook individualism, free enterprise and private property for root evils and thought he would be doing mankind a favor if he rationalized their destruction. Quite simply, Marx misread human nature.
Unlike Benedictines in a monastery, most citizens do not voluntarily join their societies; they are born into them. Once there, they seek to get ahead and they are very likely to be motivated by a desire to improve their personal condition through personal gain. The instinct to acquire, to own, to protect and ultimately to pass on what one has built in life is neither alien nor sinful. On the contrary, it comes naturally, dies hard and can serve man well. That instinct needs sometimes to be sublimated, often regulated, but never, as Marx would have had it, obliterated.
Just and successful societies have been those that have reconciled the individual's irrepressible drive to improve his own lot with his obligation to contribute to the general welfare. But a system of governing that pits the commonwealth against the individual establishes, from the very start, an adversarial relationship between the rulers and the ruled.
Such a system cannot help suppressing man's inherent and noble inclinations to question his condition, strive for improvement, aspire to personal distinction and respect and, most of all, exercise his free will. Since true equality throughout an entire society is unattainable, the doctrine of all-encompassing equality can be maintained only by illusion and pretense. The discipline and abnegation necessary to keep up the pretense can be imposed only by force.
Thus, even while Marxism was still a dream, it had the makings of a nightmare; even as it was still taking shape in the minds of its founders, it was beginning to have less and less to do with economic justice and more and more to do with political coercion and deception. Marxism, in short, was already undergoing a transformation from egalitarianism to totalitarianism.
Marxism Becomes Leninism
What Marx and Engels conceived in the 19th century as a solution for the problems of the rapidly advancing West came home to roost early in the 20th century in the near feudal East.
Communism became a Russian phenomenon, and as such, it has remained a problem for the rest of the world ever since.
Russia was one country in Europe where Marx and Engels would have least expected their call to arms to find receptive ears. They were counting on their revolution to flow directly from the Industrial Revolution, which had scarcely touched the empire of the tsars. Yet Russia, with its huge population of rural poor and an economy that was both bankrupt and semi-industrialized, turned out to be ripe for upheaval in a way that Marx's German homeland and his adopted England would never be.
In this respect, an important precedent was established that contradicted some fundamental tenets of Marx's prescriptions and forecasts: instead of taking root in developed societies, Marxism has tended to thrive in countries that are economically underdeveloped and chaotic, socially decaying and often in or near a state of war.
Marx had foreseen a chain reaction of spontaneous uprisings by the working classes against the powers that be in their own countries. Yet Russia's Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 was primarily the denouement of a tumultuous interaction of eventsWorld War I, the dry rot of the Romanov dynasty, mutinies against the Tsar's commanders and German machinations to encourage Russia's withdrawal from the warnone of which had anything to do with the class struggle. The working class in Russia, to the extent that it existed, ended up a bystander rather than a key actor. The old order that was cast onto the trash heap of history consisted of an enfeebled aristocracy and a corrupt officialdom rather than a fully developed bourgeoisie or capitalist class.
Historian James Billington in his recent book, Fire in the Minds of Men, has noted that Vladimir Lenin was "a professional revolutionary before he became a Marxist." Lenin embraced Marxism because it was a very potent ideology for the purposes he had in mind. In fact, even as he played fast and loose with the letter of Marxism, Lenin was, in a way, being true to its spirit. "Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways," wrote Marx, "the point is, to change it." As Lenin set out to alter the world, he found in Marx's philosophy some useful tools and weapons.
Marx's emphasis on class conflict provided Lenin with an easy category for identifying his enemies. Also, Marxism was posited on the ideas of a single absolute truth, the predestined victory of the cause, and the fallibility and expendability of the individual. Therefore it lent itself to the suppression of dissenters and individual. Therefore it lent itself to the suppression of dissenters and the extermination of opponents. Lenin, with his knack for hortatory pungency, reduced the past and future alike to two pronouns and a question mark: "Whowhom?" No verb was necessary. It meant who would prevail over whom? And the question was largely rhetorical, implying that the answer was never in doubt. Lenin and those who followed him would prevail over "them," whoever they were.
Marx believed that any revolution carried out in his name would lead to the establishment of a socialist state, a temporary phase during which a revolutionary elite would rule in the name of the working class until all vestiges of the old order were dismantled. Then socialism would give way to true Communism; the state would wither away. So would the elite, or "the dictatorship of the proletariat," as it became known.
Lenin regarded all that as foolish, but not terribly inconvenient. He paid a certain amount of lip service to the Marxist prophecy, while in his policies he set about battening down the here and now of socialism and deferring forever the promised millennium of true Communism. The last thing he wanted, or would tolerate, was any move that would cause the state to wither or that would mitigate the dictatorship of the Communist Party.
From the beginning, the new state was built on four interrelated means of control: centralized and absolute authority, bureaucracy, terror and militarism. Lenin's Commissar of War, Leon Trotsky, once declared, "The dictatorship of the Communist Party is maintained by recourse to every form of violence." Violence was institutionalized in two forms, the secret police for dealing with internal threats to Soviet rule and the Red army for dealing with external ones. From the birth of the Soviet Union, both institutions enjoyed special powers and privileges.
Leninism Becomes Stalinism
Autocracy, bureaucracy, terror Autocracy, bureaucracy, terror and militarism all reached their culminations under Joseph Stalin. He converted the party into a reflection of his personal will, made the secret police a state within the state, and during World War II became the first political leader to award himself the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union. Carrying the logic of Marxist-Leninist vigilance and militancy to grotesque extremes, Stalin presided over the extermination of at least 20 million "class enemies," "enemies of the state," "enemies of the people" and "traitors."
Liberal Marxists like Roy Medvedev, a Soviet historian who is frequently harassed by the authorities, indignantly reject the suggestion that Marxism was in any sense to blame for the terrors of Stalinism. But it is hard to deny that Marxismparticularly as interpreted by Leninprovided many of the concepts, attitudes and institutions that made Stalinism possible. Ex-Communists such as Arthur Koestler, author of the famous anti-Stalinist novel Darkness at Noon, have argued persuasively that Communism is corrupt and corrupting because of the brutal way that power is often attained and maintained. As the absolute embodiment of both power and corruption, Stalin represented an extreme but not an aberration.
His successors have substituted collective leadership for autocracy and done away with the bloody manifestations of his tyranny. But they have continued to rely heavily on what is essentially a Leninist-Stalinist conception of party and state.
If anything, centralized bureaucracy is more pervasive than ever in the U.S.S.R. The present leaders have refined and extended the quintessentially Soviet notion of nomenklatura (nomenclature). That is, the Communist Party leadership prerogative to dispense patronage and designate virtually every important manager in every sector of societyfrom industry to academe, from culture to science, from the customs service to the diplomatic corps. The result, concludes Historian Billington, is "bureaucratic state socialism," in which the party has a permanent monopoly on power.
That monopoly is now being passed from one generation to the next. Nepotism and cronyism are rampant in the Soviet Union and in many of the East bloc satellites. The offspring of party leaders are assured the best education and the best jobs.
The result is not just what Yugoslavia's Communist-turned-critic, Milovan Đilas, denounced 24 years ago as a "new class"; it is a new aristocracy. Among its most visible and prestigious members are the military. According to Johns Hopkins University Kremlinologist Dimitri Simes, "The Soviet military elite has become a privileged and self-perpetuating caste. As just one indication, 70% of the Odessa High Artillery Military School graduates a few years ago were sons of active duty officers." The Soviet leaders have been careful to discourage "Bonapartism," that is, the military's usurpation of political power. Nonetheless, the civilian leadership headed by President Leonid Brezhnev (who is, like Stalin, a Marshal) has been extraordinarily accommodating to the armed forces' voracious demands on national resources.
Why the U.S.S.R. produces so many guns at the expense of so much butter is a matter of heated debate. The dean of American Kremlin-watchers, George Kennan, attributes the Soviet accumulation of military firepower to a deep-seated insecurity "flowing from Russia's relative weakness and vulnerability." Richard Pipes, the hard-line anti-Soviet historian from Harvard who now serves as a specialist on Communist affairs for the National Security Council staff, stresses offensive over the defensive drives. "Militarism," he says, "is as central to Soviet Communism as the pursuit of profit is to capitalist societies," and this militarism has mixed with what he calls "Russia's traditional expansionism."
Nationalism in Disguise
While Kennan advocates detente and Pipes favors a more confrontational policy, their views on the motivation of Soviet militarism are not entirely incompatible. Both would agree that the U.S.S.R. is the world's ultimate national security state.
The Soviets, like most paranoids, have real enemies, notably the Chinese, but in many respects the Americans as well. Reagan's boast that the last chapter of Communism is now being written and that the West will "transcend" its Soviet rival must have sounded to listeners in Moscow every bit as threatening as Nikita Khrushchev's famous vow 25 years ago, "We will bury you," sounded to American ears.
The quest for security can be aggressive, especially when it involves the hot pursuit of some enemies, the pre-emption of others, subjugation or subversion of still others. In a world full of dangersreal, imagined or exaggeratedthe Soviet leadership dangersreal, imagined or exaggeratedthe Soviet leadership would prefer to protect its gains with minimum risk of war by means of diplomacy, intimidation, propaganda, covert action, or the use of proxies. If necessary, though, it will resort to direct military intervention to ensure the survival of the Soviet system, including in those countries where the system has been imposed by outright conquestsuch as Hungary, Czechoslovakia and, possibly next, Poland. On Christmas Day two years ago, the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan to prop up a faltering Marxist regime and has been there ever since.
Even when Soviet force is not on the move, the existence of so gargantuan a military machine threatens other states. It emboldens zealots within the Politburo who might be tempted to use this prowess, as well as pro-Soviet forces abroad who might hope that Moscow's leaders will aid or rescue their own bids for power.
Communism is serious competition for other social and economic systems in large measure because it is backed up by the threat of Soviet force. The leaders and citizens of other lands would not feel quite so haunted by the specter of Communism if they were not concerned about Soviet troops over the border, or missiles over the horizon, or secret stockpiles of Kalashnikov automatic rifles and cadres of KGB agents in their midst.
In this respect the Soviet Union's challenge to the West and the Communist challenge to capitalism and democratic socialism are one and the same. Lenin, Stalin and their successors have set out to alter the world in Marx's name but in the Soviet Union's national interests. Their objective has been not just to proselytize on behalf of their ideology but to enhance the prestige and influencethe security, as they would define itof their own country. To this end, their ideology has helped greatly, since Marxism provides internationalist trappings in which to camouflage the profoundly nationalistic, often chauvinistic and xenophobic, orientation of the ethnic Russians who have, over the years, dominated the leadership of a vast empire that encompasses numerous nationalities, cultures and languages.
"The Soviet Union is more Russian than the Soviets themselves want to admit," says Columbia University Scholar Seweryn Bialer, director of its Research Institute on International Change. But by talking about historical trends and the class principle, the Soviets have been able to downplay the Russianness of their ambitions, notably the ambition to build up buffer states around them and keep their enemies at bay.
Breaking Eggs Around the World
Since Marx's death in 1883, self-avowed followers of his teaching have been on the march all over the world. But in practically no case did history follow Marx's battle plan. As in Russia, the critical events leading up to virtually every Communist takeover have been at least as much external as indigenous; they have involved war between nations rather than true revolution, occupation by invading armies rather than demonstrations by strikers in the streets. Or they have involved decisive military and political assistance by the Soviets (or their surrogates) to leftist rebels, which by definition transforms an internal conflict into an international one.
Lenin's original master stroke was not so much to set up a model for a state as it was to establish a recipe for seizing power. To paraphrase a proverb he was fond of quoting, Lenin's accomplishment was in the way he broke the eggs more than in the way he made the omelet. During World War I, he was able to take advantage of international disorder, to fill a power vacuum, and to keep it filled by force of arms. That is what Soviet Communism, in its inroads abroad, has been doing ever since.
In solidifying the Soviet reign over Eastern Europe, Stalin seized an opportunity created not by home-grown revolutions and class struggles but by the collapse of the Third Reich and by the shortsightedness of his allies in the war against Hitler, notably the Americans. By default, they had conceded Eastern Europe to the Soviets as a postwar sphere of influence, and thus to open-ended military occupation. That continuing occupation is the root cause of the crisis in Poland. When Khrushchev sent his tanks into Budapest in 1956, it was revealing that he called the uprising there a mutiny. Only later did he refer to it as a counterrevolution. He was right the first time.
The largest gains of Communism in Asia have followed the Soviet pattern. The Communists of China benefited largely from the ineptitude and disarray of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist regime, much as Lenin's revolutionaries benefited from the decay of tsarist rule and the weakness of more moderate reformers. Also, just as Lenin took advantage of the confusion during and immediately after World War I, Mao Tse-tung's guerrilla movement grew into a full-fledged army and a wartime government during the Japanese occupation of China. In Viet Nam, when the Communists finally conquered the South, they did so with the decisive help of Soviet-made tanks and the fifth largest army in the world.
Where Marxists have Where Marxists have sought political power from ballot boxes rather than gun barrels, they have not fared well. Eurocommunismthe attempt by Communist parties in Western Europe to win popular support and parliamentary power by electoral appealseemed to be a worrisome specter in its own right only a few years ago. No longer. The Italian Communist Party, the largest and most powerful in Western Europe, has been in steady decline since it reached its peak in the 1976 national elections. French Communists, who are far more Moscow-oriented than their Italian colleagues, lost nearly half their parliamentary seats in the national election last summer.
Portugal had a close call with a takeover by a more extreme breed of Communists, some of whom campaigned with the slogan VIVA STALIN in 1975. In both Portugal and Spain, the death of right-wing dictators created a political vacuum that ultra-leftists sought to fill. But as moderate, democratic parties have established themselves, the voters seem to have relegated the Communists to the fringes where they properly belong.
Marx would probably be somewhat distressed to know that Eurocommunism has waned largely because of its association with the world's first and largest Marxist state, the Soviet Union. The Italian Communist Party has disavowed the key Soviet notion of "proletarian internationalism," since it connotes intervention, aggression and Moscow's primacy in the movement; and at their Party Congress two years ago, the Italian Communists went so far as to drop the term "Leninist" in describing themselves.
The encroachments of Communism in the Third World have also been tentative and ambiguous. Enough developing countries have learned the hard way not to believe Marxist promises of progress and liberation. Cuba's Fidel Castro came to power in a genuine, homemade, popular revolution. But he was the exception that proves the rule, since during his years as a guerrilla in the hills and even after his triumphant march into Havana, he kept his ideological orientation camouflaged. Although he was obviously leaning leftward, Castro and his apologists denied that he was Marxist or that he planned to rebuild Cuba along Leninist lines. Today he is probably the Soviet minion most troublesome to the U.S., but he became that way partly in reaction to two decades of unremitting American hostility.
Chile's Salvador Allende was one hile's Salvador Allende was one of the few Marxist leaders to come to power through democratic elections. Had not the Chilean military cut short his rule and his life, in a coup that had the covert assistance of the U.S., Allende might well have gone on to achieve a more comforting distinction: a Marxist President voted out of office because his policies had turned a bad economic situation into a disaster. In Africa, Soviet-style and Soviet-sponsored Communism have appealed both to the lofty aspirations for justice and progress of peoples emerging from colonial rule and to their baser desire for revenge. Also, there have been numerous vacuums to fill in Africa, particularly in the wake of the Portuguese pullout from Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, all of which now have Marxist governments. By its highly opportunistic denunciations of the racist regime in South Africa, the Soviet Union has managed to insinuate itself as godfather to black liberation movements like the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) in South African-controlled Namibia and to the Marxist-oriented African National Congress (ANC) inside South Africa itself. Soviet benefaction remains attractive as long as a liberation group like SWAPO or a leftist regime like Angola's is embattled. The attraction tends to fade when Third World leaders get down to the business of governing.
While the Soviet Union's largesse seems inexhaustible in the form of the wherewithal for armed struggle, its record in granting foreign aid for peaceful purposes is abysmal. The Soviets and their allies have given African countries about $2 billion in economic aid since the mid-1950s; the U.S. alone has granted about three times as much in the same period. What the Soviet Union offers these clients is primarily the means necessary to answer Lenin's question of "Whowhom?" in their own favor.
French Scholar Alain Besançon says, "Everyone in the world knows that Communism produces neither social justice nor economic development. But it is still seductive because of another promise: to bestow power. That is why many Third World leaders readily identify themselves with socialism in the Bolshevik sense. It seems to afford them a possible guarantee of power." Soviet First Deputy Premier Ivan Arkhipov recently told TIME that his government does not share the West's obligation to promote economic development in the Third World. Unlike the West, he claimed, the U.S.S.R. has never been guilty of exploiting the natural resources of less developed guilty of exploiting the natural resources of less developed countries.
That alibi is wearing thin among many Third Worlders, including some leftists who came out on top with Soviet backing. For example, two Marxists who have come to power in Africa, Mozambique's President Samora Machel and Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, while differing in many of their policies, have agreed that their countries must look to the West for economic help. Like many other Third World countries, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are seeking to gain or restore order and normalcy after a tumultuous period of postcolonial revolution. Those are places where the complaint is increasingly heard about the Soviet Union, "We can't eat guns."
Unfortunately, the other side of that coin is that Third World leaders who are still fighting cannot shoot grain, or fight tanks with tractors, or repel cross-border raiding parties with Peace Corps volunteers. Hence, areas of turmoil will remain targets of opportunity for Soviet intervention and influence. In the international marketplace of insurgency, civil war, conspiracy and palace coups, the Soviet Union has remained almost the exclusive purveyor of violent goods and services to customers on the Left, often subcontracting business to the Cubans, East Germans and Czechs. (The U.S., to its occasional discomfort, has cornered the market on the Right, and it has justified doing so largely on anti-Soviet grounds.)
The People's Republic of China took a flier in the "export of revolution" during the '60s and '70s, when the Peking leadership was still enamored of Mao's idea that global disorder would hasten the Communist millennium. The results ranged from disappointing in Africa to disastrous in Indonesia, where a Peking-sponsored coup d'état backfired, leading to the destruction of the local Communist Party and official hostility toward China that lingers to this day. Partly because of that experience, partly because of their disillusionment with Mao's constant reinterpretation of Marxism, and partly because of their desire to find allies in the non-Communist world against Soviet "hegemonism," the Chinese have largely abandoned foreign adventurism. The only important exceptions have been aimed at Soviet client-states, and therefore indirectly at the Soviet Union itself.
A dramatic irony has overtaken international Communism in the past two decades. Rival states that claim to represent Marxism-Leninism have not only denounced each other for various revisionist and schismatic sins, they have also gone to war. China and the U.S.S.R. fought a border conflict in 1969. Ten years later, China invaded Communist Viet Nam to "teach it a lesson" for Hanoi's attempt to conquer Communist Cambodia. China is currently assisting the Muslim "holy warriors" who are trying to topple the Communist government of Afghanistan.
The irony of Communism's penchant for self-inflicted violence extends in less spectacular but more persistent form to Europe. The only military operations that Soviet forces have actually carried out on the Continent since the Warsaw Pact was formed 26 years ago have been to crush the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring in 1968. Today a considerable portion of Warsaw Pact maneuvers and contingency planning is focused on Polandthe country where the treaty creating the alliance was signed. If Polish troops cannot stabilize the situation, their allies may move in to help. While the Warsaw Pact's principal function is to amass power against the West, the Soviet Union has actually exerted that power in Europe, firing shots in anger, only when invading its fellow member states.
That irony is not entirely consoling to the West. For one thing, even when Communists are fighting among themselves, their conflicts threaten to spread. The ongoing civil war in Cambodia, between the China-backed forces of Pol Pot and the Vietnamese puppet regime of President Heng Samrin could spill over into Thailand. A new outbreak of war between Viet Nam and China could embroil all of Southeast Asia.
Few nightmare scenarios for World War III are more plausible than one in which the opening scene is a border conflict between the U.S.S.R. and China. The U.S. could all too easily be drawn in, now that it is forging an explicitly anti-Soviet "strategic friendship" with China and offering to sell the People's Republic lethal weaponry.
Unquestionably, the squabbles and full-fledged wars within the Communist world have taken a toll on the resources of their combatants that none of them can easily afford. Unfortunately, though, the principal combatant, the Soviet Union, still has plenty of resources left over for providing "possible guarantees of power" to friendly forces in the Third World, for amassing its legions on the borders of Western Europe, and for waging an all-out strategic nuclear arms race with the U.S.
It would be wishful thinking to predict that international Communism some day will either self-destruct or so exhaust itself in internecine conflict that other nations will no longer be threatened. That point may come, but it is too early to tell. Another possibilityalso remote but still worthy of concernis that the international conflict, which Communism both feeds and feeds upon, will get out of control in a way that proves cataclysmic for everyone. Lenin's "who" and "whom" will both be losers.
Contemplating the crisis in Poland and its ramifications, commentators in the West have intensified their speculation that the world may be spared a no-win military showdown between
East and West by the breakdown of the Communist system itself. The economic defects of Soviet-style Communism that have long since seemed chronic and incurable may prove terminal. The fundamental deception of Marxism-Leninismits subjugation of economic health to military strengthwill finally cripple the whole, muscle-bound organism. Or if it does not die of creeping economic disorders, it will be incapacitated by what Secretary of State Haig diagnosed last May as "spiritual exhaustion" and "ideological sterility."
There is yet another possibility: the various experimental remedies that authorities in the East bloc are trying for their economic sickness might, over the long run, have irreversible and salutary political side-effects. In order to save itself from economic disaster, the Soviet system will be not only reformed but transformed into something less oppressive and aggressive than it is today. In other words, if the illness does not kill Communism, the cure will.
Maybe. There is no question that the combination of economic stagnation and the reformist tendencies by which various economic stagnation and the reformist tendencies by which various Communist leaders are trying to deal with it are distracting and eroding Soviet power. But the extent to which the interaction of stagnation and reform will fundamentally alter or ameliorate the nature and behavior of the Soviet system is very much in doubt.
The NSC's Pipes has speculated that a post-Brezhnev Kremlin leadership could go in one of two ways: it might be all the more inclined to throw its military weight around the world and seek foreign policy successes in order to compensate for its domestic failures; or the Politburo might eventually come to be dominated by practical-minded nationalists who will turn their attention and their country's resources inward, to the task of rescuing the Soviet economy. Most other experts, regardless of whether they are hard-liners like Pipes, tend similarly to hedge their bets on how the tensions inside Soviet Communism will ultimately play themselves out.
The Limits of Reform
The widespread, deep-seated demoralization of the Soviet empire, while most evident these days in Poland, is also endemic in the U.S.S.R. itself. "What we once knew as 'Soviet ideology' has died for lack of inner vitality and social relevance," says Harvard Historian Edward Keenan. "It has been buried in cynicism." Says Yugoslavia's Djilas: "Ideology in the U.S.S.R. has lost its primary importance; it is giving way to Soviet patriotism and the idolatry of the state."
A thoroughly undialectical materialism is also on the rise in the Soviet Union, manifest in both the aspirations and frustrations of the populace. Emmanuel Todd, a French demographer and political analyst, has theorized that one reason the Soviet leaders may be reluctant to order an invasion of Poland is that they do not want tens of thousands of their soldiers to see that the miserable, mutinous Poles, even in their current distress, are living better than most Soviet citizens. The Poles are fed up with standing in lines. The Soviets have been doing that forever. Even at the end of their lines, light bulbs, milk, soap, meat, fresh vegetables and other basic consumer goods, to say nothing of amenities like toilet paper or tooth paste, are often in short supply or unavailable.
The alienation of the worker from his work is at least as great today at the giant Kama River truck plant in the U.S.S.R. as it was in the Manchester textile mills that Engels studied in the mid-19th century. That is one reason why Soviet workers drink an average of 38 quarts of vodka a year (about three times the American intake of alcohol), show up drunk on the jobor do not show up at alland their life expectancy is actually dropping because of alcoholism, particularly among Russian males.
The command economy, too, is slowing down if not breaking down. Professor Marie Lavigne, director of the Center for the Study of Socialistic Economies at the University of Paris, points out that since 1965, no Communist country has met the proclaimed goals of its Five-Year Plan: "The desired results that the economies were organized to achieve have simply failed to materialize." And the projections for the next ten years are even gloomier.
The sorry state of morale and well-being do not automatically mean the imminent demise of the system, at least in the cally mean the imminent demise of the system, at least in the U.S.S.R. Far from abolishing poverty, as its defenders often claim, Communism actually controls its subjects, in part, by keeping them poor. Forty-four years ago, from exile in Mexico, an embittered Trotsky speculated that the Soviet system required a measure of demoralization and deprivation. "The basis of bureaucratic rule," wrote Trotsky in The Revolution Betrayed, "is the poverty of society in objects of consumption, with the resulting struggle of each against all... When there are few goods, the purchasers are compelled to stand in line. When the lines are long, it is necessary to appoint a policeman to keep order. Such is the starting point of the power of Soviet bureaucracy." In Poland, the lines have led to a breakdown in order; in the U.S.S.R., they are still part of the prevailing order.
Unlike their "fraternal" neighbors in Eastern Europe, the Soviet people have known nothing other than Communist reality. They compare their daily lot more with memories of their own lives ten years ago, or of their parents' and grandparents' 20 and 40 years ago, than with the lives that Poles, West Germans or Californians are leading today.
Columbia's Bialer believes that for all their shortcomings and excesses, Lenin, Stalin and their successors have skillfully managed to create a new bourgeoisie that is the bulwark of Soviet society: "I see the greatest conservatism not in the party apparatchiks but in the factory managers, the middle-class careerists, who are absolutely loyal to the system because they know no other and can be sure of succeeding and surviving in no other."
AIso, whatever the differences in rank and privilege among the Soviet elite, the middle class and the average, apolitical Ivan, all share a deep patriotism of a distinctly muscle-flexing sort. That bond makes the society as a whole more tolerant of the priority given to power over prosperity and guns over butter. Says Leopold Labedz, editor of Survey, the London-based journal on Communist affairs: "From the Politburo on down, they all know they have not achieved a Western European standard of living or overtaken American industrial productivity, but they also know they have overtaken the West in defense and arms production."
To the peoples of Eastern Europe, of course, that is no consolation. All things considered, they would rather have the prosperity and the butter. Asking themselves the question that Ronald Reagan put to Americans in the presidential debates last year, "Are you better off?" the East Europeans look westward for comparisonand backward to the time, which many can still recall, when their countries were free. Soviet military might frustrates, rather than fulfills, their patriotic instincts. After all, that might is often garrisoned just outside their cities and is ready to suppress the restless in their midst.
In Eastern Europe, the Soviet mode of Communism is both deeply resented and deeply entrenched. The people there are stuck with it, but their leaders try to tinker anyway. Whether they do so subtly, as in Hungary, or would overhaul Communism drastically, as in Poland, reforms challenge the very essence of the system, which is totalitarianism.
Hungary's New Economic Mechanism, with its emphasis on the forces of the marketplace and the incentives of the profit motive has meant the partial dismantling of centralized state planning. The less control that central authorities have over the economy, the less they have over other aspects of life. Says Labedz: "The market mechanism is the reintroduction of something that Lenin hatedspontaneity. He hated it because it runs counter to the idea of managed history." That idea is crucial to Leninist dogma.
The Hungarians have so far been able to get away with their experiments by toeing the Soviet line in foreign policy, by carrying out their reforms gradually and quietly, and by disguising their practices in theoretical gobbledygook. As Deputy Premier József Marjai told TIME, "Our aim is to make our socialism here more rational, more efficient, more humane, so that it will not be something with which to scare American children." He also said with a wry smile, "If a certain measure looks like a return to capitalism, then it would of course not be reconcilable with Communist ideology, so we would call it something else."
The current Chinese leaders are also trying to modernize their economy by introducing cryptocapitalist measures, such as a modest return to private enterprise and profits for individual farmers. They are not so much concerned with making Communist power more humane as they are with making it more pragmatic. They face the staggering problem of feeding a billion people. Also, their hostility toward the Soviet Union makes the Chinese leaders all the more determined to modernize their archaic industry and develop their economy.
But the Chinese experiment is by no means sure to succeed. For one thing, the laboratory in which it is being conducted is still permeated with the vestiges of Stalinism and its peculiar Chinese mutation, Maoism. Even limited decentralization of economic and managerial authority risks debacles of the sort that occurred early in 1981, when the state planning commission grossly overestimated China's ability to afford seven petrochemical plants and was forced to renege on a multibillion-dollar deal with Japan. Setbacks like that, coupled with unrealistic hopes for the future, could lead to a backlash against Senior Vice Chairman Deng Xiaoping and his reforms. While the Hungarian and Chinese authorities are pretending to adhere to Communism even as they depart from it, the Polish opposition has rejected it. "The reason this whole problem [the Polish economic crisis] came about," said Alojzy Szablewski, a Solidarity official at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, "is that there has been only one party, with no checks and balances." True enough, but that is hardly an unforeseen or unintended result of Leninism. Lenin designed the party precisely to avoid checks and balances. One result, as Polish events have proved: the party leadership can resort to the most sudden, severe and sweeping crackdowns against its challengers.
"What we are now witnessing in Poland," says Djilas, "is the end of the power of the Leninist Party." By sending in the troops, the Polish leaders have in effect admitted the failure of the party. If that failure turns out to be irreversible and Solidarity survives and ultimately prevails, Djilas will have special cause for sardonic satisfaction, for the workers' self-management that Solidarity advocates as a check and balance to party power is a concept invented almost 30 years ago by Josip Broz Tito, with Djilas' help, partly to distinguish their Yugoslav path to socialism from the Stalinist road not taken.
But even in independent, relatively liberal Yugoslavia, self-management is more an ideal than a realityand for the same reason that it is anathema to Leninism-Stalinism: true self-management, like genuine democracy anywhere else in the system, would undermine the party's power.
"It should not be expected that the political forces in Communist countries will readily give up the power they have gained," says Aleksandar Grličkov, a top leader and theoretician of Yugoslavia's League of Communists. Since that prospect is unrealistic, he adds, "our preoccupation should be in making that power more humane. Our experience tells us that possibilities for this do exist, even though this need not be synonymous with political pluralism."
As Grličkov's extraordinary candor implies, wherever Communists rule, they will not give up power, or even share it, without a fight. A literal fight, if necessary to the death. Whether they are within the Soviet orbit or outside itand whether they are genuinely concerned about making Communist power more humane or efficienttheir overriding preoccupation is with preserving that power.
That certainly goes for Deng & Co. as much as for any other Communists. Despite his reputation as a pragmatist and a reformer, Deng realizes as clearly as Grličkov that for a Communist, pragmatism and reform must end where genuine pluralism and power-sharing begin. On that point, Deng and Brezhnev are still comrades. Of all the buzz words in the Marxist lexicon, none is more telling than "struggle." It is Marxism, both the theory and the practice, stripped to its essence. What distinguishes the Soviet prototype of Communism is the ingenious and terrible way that the struggle to prevail against all challenges has been institutionalized throughout society.
The result is a tension and a paradox. On the one hand, inefficiency, stagnation and alienation are the inevitable accompaniments of the centralization, elitism and repression that are necessary to carry out the first order of business: the preservation of power. On the other hand, the political system is well designed to be impervious to the consequences of the economic failure and social demoralization that are built into it.
The Soviet Union seems peculiarly constituted to keep under control the tensions generated by the contradiction between the system's inherent strengths and weaknesses. It is where that system has been transplanted from its native soil that the contradiction will continue to yield crisis. Left on its own as an economic and social model, Communism would have long since been massively reformed if not discarded in Poland, as well as in many other countries where it prevails today. But the Soviet Union will not, if it can help it, let that happen. Wherever Communism is an emblem and instrument of Soviet power, even potentially, its preservation by force becomes an imperative of Soviet policy. So the struggle continues, both within the Communist world and between East and West, and it may escalate dangerously in the decades ahead. By Strobe Talbott.
Reported by Erik Amfitheatrof Moscow and Richard Hornik, with other bureaus.