Communist Ideas and Influence after 1989
By Dr Ljubo Sirc CBE
A most useful book, Architects of Victory – Six Heroes of the Cold War by Joseph Shatton (Heritage Foundation, 1999) describes how difficult it was for American leaders, particularly Roosevelt and Truman, to grasp that their wartime allies, the Soviets under Stalin, were in reality mortal enemies of America and the West. For the communists the alliance against Hitler, into which they were forced by Hitler’s attack in June 1941, was a tactical necessity in the struggle for communism. In the same way as Lenin demanded the rejection of the alliance, between workers and peasants during the civil war, when the war had been won, and the physical elimination of Kulaks – peasants, it was logical for the communists to turn on the Western Allies after Hitler’s defeat.
The Western observers and politicians completely misunderstood the meaning of words such as “freedom” and “democracy” when uttered by communist leaders. In their mouths these words simply meant “communism” because, according to them, there can be no “freedom” and no “democracy” without the absolute rule of the Communist Party. Because this distortion was not understood in the West hundreds of misunderstandings ensued, deliberately fostered, at least in part, by the communists.
Deception is a weapon in the armoury of Marxism-Leninism, which teaches its practitioners to deny any kind of communist aim if this serves the struggle for communism. On the other hand, the communist activists are advised enthusiastically to adopt any kind of public mood, if this makes it possible for them to impose their leadership on a mass movement. The conversion to communist aims will come later.
The Collapse of Communism
The question arises as to what extent these communist attitudes (the so-called Marxist-Leninist strategy and tactics) remain valid after the collapse of communism. The very word “communism” can serve for deception since, in Marxist terms, it means the second stage after socialism in the last phase of human history. Communism is the stage when “everyone will receive according to his/her needs” because their productivity will be so high. Accordingly, Tito could lie to Churchill saying he had no intention of introducing “communism” because he “only” wished to impose the absolute rule by his communist party.
Consequently, 1989 was by no means the collapse of communism; but of the Stalinist economic system. This collapse does not prove that Marxism is wrong because Marx almost exclusively criticised capitalism but never told the world what he envisaged the ideal economic and political system should look like.
So the faithful can continue believing in Marxism-Leninism and start searching for a better economic solution than Stalin’s. In reality, the Economics Department of the
European University in Florence immediately staged a fallback to self-management as a Marxist solution after 1989. Its head was the veteran communist, Professor Mario Nuti*
The Yugoslav communists, under Tito, thought of this solution almost forty years earlier when Stalin turned on them. They themselves – unlike Western observers, never believed for a moment that they had abandoned Marxism-Leninism, and continued to propagate it in non- aligned countries as Castro did.
Self-management did not work well but it worked better than central planning, so that one can pretend the collapse of 1989did not specifically exclude self-management in the future.
Post-1989 Communist Parties
There are signs that in the 1980s the communist economics were in such dismal shape, that at least some communist parties began preparing for a climb-down well before the Berlin Wall was dismantled. Papers show that the Slovene League of Communists was discussing the descent from its dictatorship to a new “people’s front”. It may have switched some of its members, or those of its youth organisation, to dissidence.
One of the ways the Slovene communists ingratiated themselves with the public was to leave the Congress of the Yugoslav Communist League in Belgrade in 1989, and to play the nationalist card, albeit somewhat half-heartedly.
By employing such stratagems, communist parties throughout Eastern Europe, succeeded in remaining organised entities although most changed their names, often becoming Social Democrats. The exception was Czechoslovakia, or rather the Czech Republic, where the communists were lustrated.
It is not entirely clear what this was supposed to mean: Social Democrats used to be described as “social fascists” in communist parlance, but initially Lenin’s revolutionary party was also called social democratic until the Bolshevik majority adopted the term “communist”.
Are Western social democrats aware of this permutation? If so it did not hinder them admitting all Eastern Europe’s communist parties, albeit renamed, to the Socialist International. If the communists are running true to form, they should try within a few years to subvert the Socialist International and take over. One can only guess what programme will then emerge.
While communist parties joined the SI, their youth organisations enrolled in the Liberal International, thus the Slovene Liberal-Democratic Party (formerly the Union of Socialist Youth) and the Macedonian Liberal-Democratic Party.
*Now at the London Business School
Post-1989 Communist Policies
The change from “central planning” to “workers’ self-management” has been shown to be a useful device for the communists, when it became necessary for them to introduce change. Further, it should not be forgotten that Lenin quite happily changed over to the “new economic policy” (NEP), a short-term use of some kind of capitalism, when war communism led to an economic disaster. Apparently, the Chinese communists are now (May 2002) openly proclaiming that capitalism is a step on the road to communism.
But the main communist endeavour remains: to be in charge of every stage on the road to a society of communist bliss. During the “national-liberation struggle” (1941-1945), talking about “class war” was prohibited – the very mention was declared to be “sectarian” – but the “national liberation struggle” had to remain under communist party control – the party must be “hegemonic”.
To put it another way, the communists’ central task is to stay in control, even if they have to be disguised in order to remain supreme. One strategy, whilst in disguise, is to infiltrate their members into other parties and groups. Another, to seek out individuals in other groups and influence them through persuasion or by threats.
At the same time, the communists outwardly play the role of perfect democrats and reasonable people. Yet, now and then they feel it necessary to give a sign that communism is still the aim. While playing the role of a neutral president of democratic Slovenia, Milan Kucan at intervals declares that the foundation of the newly independent state must be, and remain, “anti-fascism”. The Westerners, who find Kucan charming, understand this expression to mean that Slovenia should remain opposed to the Nazis and their collaborators. But, this term used by a communist means exactly the same as “communist rule” because in the eyes of a communist, anyone opposed to communism in in favour of capitalism, which means fascism.
Since the main tenet of communism is abolition of private property of the means of production, all normal people expected that the collapse of communism would result in property being returned to the original owners, who had been deprived by the communists. This expectation was most clearly expressed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 1996 in its Resolution 1096. The US Congress and the European Parliament adopted similar resolutions, yet nothing came of it.
Communists and nationalists came out against the restitution of property despite the fact that it was precisely collective property that made the communist systems so unproductive. This neglect of microeconomics during transition is, surprising as is the exclusive attention ‘reformers’ gave Macroeconomics, although it should have been clear that this is not the crucial area.
Communist Czechoslovakia was disciplined enough to avoid inflation, yet its economic results were worse than elsewhere. Even anti-communist reformers obviously did not realise the importance of private property for entrepreneurship and, hence, prosperity.
Poland was reluctant to restitute property and when its parliament decided to pay former owners an indemnity amounting to 50% of the original value, the communist President vetoed it. All Hungarian parties agreed to fob off the previous owners with US $80,000 apiece. Czechoslovakia was more generous but it adopted limitations for non-citizens, and non- residents etc.
In Slovenia, an anti-communist parliament –in charge for two years – decided that property should be restored. Then the communist Youth, posing as a Liberal Democratic Party came to power and retroactively cancelled some entitlements, thus encouraging a disregard for the rule of law, in fact opting for violation of the valid legal provisions.
As indicated when discussing NEP, the organised communists do not disregard the advantages of private property and entrepreneurship, when under particular pressure to improve economic performance, but they were concerned that restoration of private property would give non-communists excessive political leverage. Therefore, any concession to property owners is normally accompanied by measures to prevent security of possession, which includes disregard for the rule of law.
The Results of Privatisation
Any privatisation that precludes property restitution leads either to an excessive dispersion of ownership, not lending itself to promotion of entrepreneurship, or to corruption because it is unclear from where domestic buyers could obtain finance.
Voucher privatisation greatly disperses ownership, resulting in no one being responsible for anything and managers carrying on as before. In addition a great deal of state and institutional ownership remains. Consequently after privatisation the situation in many transition countries is close to that of Yugoslavia before 1989 and presumably just as ‘efficient’.
In reality, some countries did not even bother to introduce new institutions, but they have simply drifted more or less in the same direction
Foreign purchasers of property in a transition country, on the whole, also strengthen the grip of the communists there. Usually, only part of an enterprise is sold, so that at worst some of the old directors remain, but with a strengthened hand and more resources at their command
Since foreigners in general are not concerned with politics in a transition country, the old communist directors are free to pursue the most promising communist line. Furthermore the government inevitably receives a cut of the price paid by the foreign owners of whatever is bought. This makes it possible for those selling the ‘family silver’ to continue wasting resources.
Imitation by the West
It is not only efficiency that suffers if individual property is not restored, but it is also freedom. Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom:
“What our generation has forgotten is that the system of private property is the most important guarantee of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not…and who will deny that a world in which the wealthy are powerful is still a better world than one in which the already powerful can acquire wealth.”
(Routledge Classic Edition, p.108)
Hayek was an inspiration for the policies Adenauer’s government in the 1940s and 50s and Helmut Kohl wants to be considered in his career as “Adenauer’s grandson”. In spite of his wish Kohl disregarded the claims of German citizens deprived of their property by the Soviet occupiers between 1945 and 1949; supposedly because Germany could not afford some 18 billion marks. Yet Kohl was able to accompany his demands for German unification versus Gorbachev “with sixty billion deutsche marks in aids and credit”. (Shatton, pp 128-129).
The German example and similar refusals to restore communist-confiscated property in the transition countries is hardly ever discussed. It seems that even anti-communists prefer property to remain in communist hands. Is this a particularly sad case of envy and why is envy directed primarily at entrepreneurial families, but not to those of the communist nomenclatura, who are laying their hands on property at the same time?
The Christian Democrats’ refusal to restore property in Germany has, without doubt, strengthened the East European communists’ resolve to follow suit and find a new form of an economic system without property, as Marxists have been so indoctrinated.
Presumably this attitude strengthens the dominance of Mugabe’s views, not only in Zimbabwe, but also throughout Africa. With similar ideas prevalent in several countries in the Americas and Asia (including China of course!), we can be certain that 1989 was not the end of communism, not even of organised communism.
Much worse, there is no longer any criticism of Marxism and of communist practice, no explanation of the economic success in freedom of Western Europe and America. What is widely available– in both transition countries and at many Western universities - is some wishy-washy “liberal democracy” more critical of the successful (in practice) United States and its allies than of the pernicious Marxist dogmas. A new slogan seems to be that the quality of life is better under the communists.
Secret Policemen as Leading Reformers
It should be understood that, under communist rule, the elites were to a large extent identified with the secret police. The disregard for human life and continuous deception as practised by the communist secret police were not idiosyncrasies but an integral part of the communist doctrine. For this reason, the communist leaders have, largely, to be taken as part of the communist police.
It is the more surprising that lately there seems to be an attempt to present the communist policemen as the most open-minded amongst Russians. At the Atlas Foundation seminar in Philadelphia (April 2002), Vladimir Autonomov, from the University of Moscow, asserted that the most reform-minded rulers, in Soviet history, were the secret police chiefs, Beriya and Andropov to whom he added Putin.
This kind of KGB propaganda is apparently the result of conscious effort. According to The National Interest (Number 67), seminars dubbed “Historical Lectures at the Lubyanka” under the auspices of the Andropov Institute, the in-house KGB historians have even been focussing on the pre-1917 intelligence work and organisations.
The purpose of this appears to be to demonstrate that the communist political police (practiced in the art of deceit and responsible the killing of millions) was nothing extraordinary, but only a continuation of the Russian tradition. There were similar interpretations in the Soviet era when Stalin’s policies were described by many as a continuation of tsarist policies.
President Putin himself lends a hand. When asked during a phone-in how he, a former KGB man, felt when he visited President Bush at home he said he felt en-famille since President Bush Snr was a former head of the CIA. If the Americans allow their intelligence service to be placed in the same category as the Soviet political police, comparable only to the Nazi Gestapo and SS, the world is in bad shape.
Dissimulation does not indicate a real desire for sincere co-operation. Communists could be considered to be no longer dangerous if they stopped covering things up and if they frankly admitted to their past crimes. Since deception works, it is hardly surprising that the communists are once again in power in Poland and Hungary.
The Moral Lesson
It would have been considered a stupid suggestion to leave the Soviet Union to its fate when Hitler attacked in 1941. But it would have been extremely wise if someone had warned that though the Soviet Union was an ally great care should have been taken not to consider it well disposed to the Alliance fighting the Nazis with them. Churchill voiced some doubts, but Roosevelt was adamant in his belief in “Uncle Joe”. The result was the Cold War.
Similarly, it would be unwise to refuse Putin’s – that is Russia’s – co-operation in the pursuit of international terrorists. Yet, as it was mistaken to forget who Stalin was during the Second World War, it is a grave error to disregard the communist origins of most of the Russian leaders in the current situation. Lenin’s instructions to his followers are well known, and the behaviour of Russia’s leaders does not indicate that they regret, in any way, their participation in the communist movement, not to mention the political police. On the contrary it appears they are representing their communist and KGB past as normal. (See previous page).
It is immoral for former (?) members of the Soviet and other Communist Parties to behave and talk as if they had never belonged to totalitarian organisations, which fought for power by slaughtering millions of ordinary human beings and who considered murder and deceit as legitimate political action.
It is no less immoral for Western political leaders to support the communist cover-up. Forgetting the terrorist crimes of communism in the need to find allies against terrorism today is on a par with forgetting who Stalin was in order to fight Hitler.
Confusion reigns supreme: Slavoj Zizek, the Slovene Liberal-Democrats’ “guru” recently wrote an affirmative introduction to a collection of Lenin’s Writings* Apparently it would be a sad day if we ended up with liberal democracy, despite the holocaust, as at the “end of history” without any hope of Leninist methods resulting in some kind of utopia.
Note: The leader of this Party is the Prime Minister of Slovenia, Janez Drnovsek, inter alia Vice-President of the Liberal International.
*Revolution at the Gate – April 2002, Publisher: Tariq Ali