The Centre for Research into Post-Communist Economies


Looking Forward to the Past: The Influence of Communism After 1989

A CRCE Conference in Bled, Slovenia

By Richard Pipes at al

Last year on the shores of Lake Bled, the CRCE held its second conference on the problems of communism since transition started in 1989. The Centre’s latest book contains the conference discussion together with papers from the first event in 2001.

Ljubo Sirc, the CRCE’s Director:

“Our intention is to discuss what has in fact remained of communist ideas after 1989… Then in the second place we can perhaps discuss the way in which all these countries have privatised. What has emerged from privatisation in different countries, which in a way is connected with the first question, is this: if the communists are still around, what are their intentions?

“One of the indications of what Marx imagined the future would bring can be found in his criticism of the market. According to him, the market system is corrupted and so on. This, of course, ought to make it impossible for anyone who wants to follow Marx to the letter to establish a system that brings in the market as a part of any kind of socialism”. (p.35)

“I stress that the main tenet of Marxism is the abolition of private property, and this generated at least four different attempts at building socialism. I am stressing this because in 1989 there was a general belief, which everyone shared — whether the organised communists believed it or not is a different matter, but they were not very vociferous at that time — that communism had failed and that there has been a collapse of the communist system. So the question that we ask in our programme is this: was that the defeat of Stalinism, only of that particular form of socialist system, or was it a defeat of the Marxist approach to building a new system? Is Marxism involved? Is Marxism dead?” (p.36)

Professor Richard Pipes of Harvard University provided fascinating historical insights, particularly in the case of Russia:

“In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Russia had private property, both in the form of land and in other forms of economic activity. That imposed increased limitations on tsarist authority. These were not institution limitations, because in nineteenth century Russia still did not have regular parliaments or a constitution. In effect, however, decisions were taken by individuals, which limited the authority of the tsars, in reality if not on paper. Then, of course, came 1905/1906 when Russia received both a constitution and a parliament. For ten years Russia existed as a constitutional monarchy. All this was swept aside by the Bolshevik Revolution.

“The Bolsheviks abolished all private property — not instantly, perhaps, but effectively, because all land was nationalised, although the peasants’ land was left in their hands for about ten more years until 1928/29.

“Now from this, I deduce the following: that if the government owns everything and the subjects own nothing, there are no limitations on the government’s power because the government is exempt from any control by the population at large. Conversely, if the population owns all the wealth, then the government is totally dependent on the population because it cannot run a bureaucracy, cannot wage wars, and in short cannot do anything”. (p.76)

Two further observations by Richard Pipes are worth noting:

“We are so terribly unconscious of the importance of private property. We just take it for granted. Yet if you approach European history from the outside you find that it is unique to Western civilisation and so is freedom.” (P.88)

“I must say that before this meeting I did not have any idea how bad things were. These are democracies, market economies, NATO members, so if there are still a few old communists in power – Putin, Kwasniewski and so on – it does not bother people. I have learned a great deal here, and the American people not informed at all.” (P. 135)

Bernard Brscic, a student at London University, reflected:

“It is true that legions of communists have encountered personal transformation resembling that of St Paul. Still one has to question the sincerity and even a possibility that former oppressors, violators of human rights, enemies of private property or even executioners suddenly become the staunch advocates and preachers of life, liberty and property.” (p.137)

The inspirations for our conferences were the late Warren Nutter and Renato Mieli, and the book is dedicated to their memories. Papers about these two remarkable men by Professor John Moore and Professor Andrzej Brzeski are included.

Looking Forward to the Past – The Influence of Communism After 1989
A CRCE Conference in Bled, Slovenia

Centre for Research into Post-Communist Economies
November 2003
New Series No 20. ISBN: 0 948027 42
Price: £11.95 138 pages