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The Old Competition With Marxism Isn't Over Yet

THE demise of Soviet-style communism in Europe spelled the end of the cold war, but not the end of the Marxist challenge to capitalism. The democratic trends, apparent in regions of the world where liberalism has never before taken root, create a false impression.

Free enterprise appears to be on the march everywhere. Individualism appears to have triumphed over collectivism. And history appears to have consigned Marxism to the "dustbin" Marx reserved for capitalism. But socialism is not dead.

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Indeed, Marx's second coming may be just around the corner. Moreover, a resurgent Marxism will mount a more formidable challenge to the ideas and institutions associated with Western classical liberalism than Soviet communism ever did.

The logic of political circumstances in many regions of the world suggests that an antiliberal backlash is imminent. In the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the attempted transition from central planning to the free market has brought hardship and disillusion. Nowhere has the transition been smooth.

In Russia, Boris Yeltsin faces a major challenge from conservative opponents of radical market reforms who want to keep the old structures of state control largely intact. Poland's 1991 elections, as well as more recent opinion polls, leave little doubt that the people are profoundly disenchanted with economic "shock therapy." In Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Klaus's zeal for privatization undoubtedly helped Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and contributed to the Slovak decision to secede. I n Romania, voters also handed ex-communists a victory at the polls.

In September 1992, when Angola held its first-ever open, multiparty elections and the Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola won a convincing victory, Western observers could shrug it off as a fluke. After all, Angola remained under Portuguese colonial rule until the mid-1970s and was then ravaged by a civil war that lasted 16 years.

Shrugging off Lithuania is not so easy. In mid-November the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), headed by Algirdas Braszauskas, won a landslide victory over the anticommunist party, Sajudis, in Lithuania's first post-Soviet elections. The DLP gathered a total of 80 seats in the 141-seat parliament; the alliance led by Sajudis won about half as many seats. The major issue: President Vytautas Landsbergis was blamed for pushing economic reforms too far, too fast.

The electoral setbacks for market-oriented liberal parties in Slovakia, Romania, and Lithuania, as well as defeat of the anticommunist UNITA in Angola, are straws in the wind. It is possible that other governments, in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, will fall in free and fair elections. If so, it will mark the beginning of a new era in the struggle between free-marketeers and Marxists - an era in which ballots, not bullets, will determine who wins and who loses.

It is also entirely possible that a backlash against International Monetary Fund (IMF)-induced austerity measures in Africa and Latin America will redound to the benefit of socialist parties.

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IF Marxism does make a comeback, it will have a wider moral and political respectability than it had during the heyday of the cold war.

Marxism-Leninism was a singularly Russian invention. The "Soviet" leaders who peddled it - with the exception of Mikhail Gorbachev - were brutal and clumsy. As a result, from the October Revolution in 1917 until the Soviet collapse in December 1991, Marxism was burdened by the legacy of Leninism and Stalinism. Of course, there were many turn-of-the-century Marxist intellectuals in Europe, including Russians, who opposed Lenin and rejected his penchant for violent revolution. But it was Lenin's Bolsheviks

who ultimately prevailed.

The next wave of socialists will be very different from the Bolsheviks. They will come to power not by subversion and revolution, but by winning open, multiparty elections. They will not carry the stigma of state terror and totalitarian repression. They will represent a morally viable socialist alternative to classical liberalism - a major advantage in societies where "capitalism" has long been associated with exploitation, colonialism, and imperialism.

Liberal democracy cannot rest on its laurels. President-elect Clinton assumes power at a critical moment. The United States needs a foreign policy based on enlightened self-interest and designed to demonstrate anew that democracy and capitalism are both economically and morally viable. In practical terms, that will mean the US must find new and innovative ways to help economically distressed "transitional" democracies. If this means easing IMF pressures for belt-tightening, anti-inflationary policies or exemption from GATT rules governing reciprocity and fair-trade practices or temporary tolerance of subsidies to consumers and producers, so be it.

The challenge for free-market liberals in the West will be to show not only that capitalism is more efficient than socialism, but also that it is compatible with distributive justice.

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