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What the twilight of communism means

I have always tended to step back from writing too readily about what is now being discussed as the "twilight of communism" lest we falsely assume that our main anxiety is at the point of vanishing.

But enough has been happening in recent months to make it evident:

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That international communism isn't what it used to be.

That the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe is in trouble.

That Marxist ideology is losing its attraction in much of the world.

That the survival of communist regimes, wher they have been imposed by Moscow , are endangered by rising nationalism and frustration because Marxist economics are increasing poverty rather than decreasing it.

These are not merely random assessments. they constitute a considerable consensus among scholars who have devoted careers to studying Soviet affairs.

Says Abraham Brumberg, former editor of Problems of Communism: "Whether or not the Poles succeed makes absolutely no difference. What is happening is perhaps the most serious turning point in Eastern Europe and perhaps in communism throughout the world. I think that Moscow will more and more become a symbol of just brute power, and it will cease to be the great ideology of the future."

Says Seweryn BialeR, author of numerous works on the Soviet Union: "Communism as an ideology is dead or semi-dead. It isn't working. It has lost its attraction."

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Says Leslie Gelb, a former State Department specialist and now a research scholar with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: "When we look back at this year in history, it could turn out to be the beginning of a serious economic collapse of the Soviet bloc. Their system doesn't work."

The Economist of London goes so far as to say that Russia's economic problems "could be terminal."

Nearly all third-world countries, except those under Soviet domination, voted at the United Nations for resolution calling on the Soviets to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan. Chairman Brezhnev couldn't sell the Afghan invasion even to Indira Gandhi.

The most important single event which gives shudders to the Soviet Union is that in Poland a unified working class has successfully challenged the Polish communist party's monopoly of political power. The working class is supposed to e the essential bastion of any communist government. Polish workers, now 10 million of them in independent unions, are setting out to shape the "dictatorship of the proletariat,c not be dominated by it.

The deteriorating Polish economic conditions and the inability of the Marxists to correct them, which touched off the latest revolt of the workers, prevail widely in other Soviet-ruled East European countries. This is a threat to the stability, perhaps to the very existence, of communisty regimes wherever they have been imposed by outside force.

The fact that Marxist ideolgy is waning in its appeal almost everywhere in the world, that China and Russia are at odds with each other, that the Soviet Union is immersed in multiple crises -- these developments do not mean that the Kremlin is about to roll over and cry uncle or that the West may soon have little to worry about.

It means something quite different. It now must be clear to Moscow that with Marxism no longer an appealing commodity, it must rely almost totally on its military might to extend its presence and influence to other countries.

This is the primary reason the Soviet Union has been steadily expanding its military strength. this is a plausible reason why the Kremlin leaders refused to join President Carter in any effort to reduce radically their mutual stockpiles of strategic weapons.

If such a goal is ever achieved, we can relax -- but not before.

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