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The Fall of Communism

The Jewish Humanist, December 1989

Who can believe? The Berlin Wall is open. Poland has a non-Communist government. The Hungarians are no longer a “people’s republic”. The Supreme Soviet rejects Gorbachev’s legislation.

What does it all mean?

Failure of socialism. Socialism is on hard times. Plagued by the propaganda of utopian promises, Marxist governments have been unable to deliver on the promises they made. Eastern Europe is an economic shambles, with standards of living and levels of technology that would be unacceptable in the West. The socialist obsession with equality has produced rigid authoritarian elites who allow no space to personal freedom and individual initiative. The people are fed up – and rightly so. Despite its many faults, bourgeois capitalism remains the most attractive alternative for most developed and developing nations.

Communism is reversible. The Jeanne Kirkpatrick doctrine that Communist regimes are not reversible has been proven false. Totalitarian regimes can change without violent revolution and without foreign intervention. In the end, no regime, however dictatorial, can survive without the passive support of the people. Even years of indoctrination and surveillance do not work against profound popular discontent. Once the threat of Soviet military intervention was removed, the satellite governments in Poland, Hungary, and East Germany fell like houses of cards. There is a limit beyond which people cannot be pushed without rebelling.

Soviet Empire is disintegrating. The Brezhnev doctrine is finished. Russia will no longer intervene to maintain Communist governments in power. The test was Poland. When the Russians did nothing after the Solidarity victory they gave the signal to the opponents of communist regimes in the other satellite countries that they could proceed with impunity. Obviously Gorbachev has made a choice. The loss of empire is worth the possibility of European disarmament and the economic development of the backward Soviet economy with Western aid.

End to the Cold War. Disconcerting as it may be to many, we are losing our chief enemy. The justification for increasing armaments and warlike confrontation is gone. The Warsaw Pact is falling apart. And so will NATO. Without the Communist threat the political mentality of the West is being radically altered. Many conservative holdouts will decry the clever trick of Gorbachev to arrange for the dismantling of Western defenses. But their arguments will prove ineffective against the obvious profound changes in the Communist world.

Independence of Europe and Japan. As the Soviet threat lessens, the willingness of Japan and our European allies to follow, the lead of America will diminish. The conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union will be followed by increasing tension among the Western allies, aggravated by intense economic rivalry. The American hegemony will be sorely tested in the years to come. Military competition will be replaced by a more difficult and far more challenging economic competition.

Victory of Germany and Japan. The two “losers” of the Second World War are now emerging as economic winners, with all the power that economic success brings in a world where nuclear war is inconceivable. With the possibility now that the two Germanys may ultimately be reunited, Germany will dominate the new federation of Europe. This federation may expand to include many of the countries of Eastern Europe now in the Soviet orbit. With its central location and enormous economic power, Germany will become the premier state of a united Europe. Ironically the two militarist powers of the Nazi era have discovered that military might is no longer the chief road to success and domination.

Change in China. Just as Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria will have to conform to the democratic changes in Russia and in other European Communist states, so will China have to conform. The aging reactionary leadership that suppressed the students in Tiananmen Square confront both the hostility of their own people and the hostility of the outside world. China stands isolated, deeply dependent on Western business and investment. The government no longer has the “mandate of Heaven”. In a world where Communism is losing its credibility, all Communist regimes are on the defensive.

Revival of the United Nations. With the end of the Cold War, the United Nations can be reborn. If the United States and the Soviet Union will cooperate the United Nations can do what it was intended to do. Already there is dramatic evidence of its revival. The withdrawal of Russian troops from Afghanistan, the truce in Angola and the liberation of Namibia have all been engineered through UN auspices. With peace in the air, the world Organization will become increasingly more important in resolving regional conflicts.

New issues are arising. As the old conflict between America and Russia dies down, the world will be able to turn its attention to issues that affect all nations and especially the survival of the human race. One of the most pressing problems that have seized the imagination of young people all over the world is the issue of the environment. Environmental concern may be one of the major vehicles for creating new bonds between old enemies. It may sponsor the beginning of genuinely world legislation. –

Individuals make a difference. Whatever his motivation, the architect of the overwhelming changes we are experiencing is Mikhail Gorbachev. History is not only the product of vast impersonal social forces. It is also a script written by bold creative individuals. What has happened was not inevitable. The disintegration of the Soviet system could have taken a more violent and frightening course. One man triggered the revolution. Despite his limitations, he deserves our praise.

What does it all mean?

We have every right to be optimistic about the human future.