One Step Backward Isn't the End of Communism

Irresponsible. That's what it is.

Many conservatives I thought were smart are not. Being used to fighting only on the defensive against communism, they don't know how to go on the offensive. After generations of retreats and rear guard actions, some activists for freedom mistakenly see the first major enemy reverse as total victory for our side.

Euphoria now is extremely dangerous and irresponsible.

The Cold War won't be over until there are irreversible steps taken which end the threat of communism. That won't happen until the communists are disarmed both militarily and ideologically.

What's been happening in the Soviet empire has fascinated all of us. But not much is irreversible.

Is the Soviet Union significantly cutting its nuclear or non-nuclear munitions production? No.

Does the Soviet Union still have the largest munitions production in the world? Yes.

Do the Soviet leaders have the power to crush dissent as the communist Chinese did? I believe so.

Do we see an end to Soviet-funded, Marxist-Leninist subversion and guerrilla activity all across the world? No.

Do the anti-Communists in or out of government in any part of the old Soviet empire have sufficient weapons to contest seriously with Soviet armed forces in or adjacent to their countries? No.

Is it likely the U.S. and other Western countries will disarm much more rapidly now than will the communist countries? Yes.

After an "era of good feeling," including withdrawal of the U.S. from Europe and imbalance disarmament of the West, if the Soviets reversed their course and became obviously threatening again, would it be possible to stir Western democracies into rearming rapidly and adequately? I doubt it.

Did Lenin say, "Two steps forward, one step back"? Yes, he did.

We expect U.S. liberals to be giddy about any sign of communist mellowing. But conservatives must remember how the communists have achieved all their successes. It is surely not because they bring about happiness or prosperity.

Far from it. They depend on systematic terror and institute permanent misery and grinding poverty. They harness hate and ride on envy. Lenin said, "Worse is better."

To the masses under their control they bring equality only in hopeless, fearful penury.

To their own elite they do bring a life of privilege. But the powerful are void of dignity and the mellowing unbought grace of life. Their power is the power of corrupt prison wardens. Their pleasures are those only a sadist could enjoy. They exist by destroying freedom. They pervert language and rise by lies and deceit.

The nomenclature in Marxist countries feed on the masses and on each other. They practices cannibalism as a new art form, where each bureaucrat knows his associates may devour him if he does not cleverly consume them first and each new clique survives in power by roasting its Marxist predecessors.

Will all communists who rose to power through this process meekly submit to humiliating retirement? It is wishful thinking to believe so.

In areas they control, communists have repeatedly been willing to use every power of the modern state to crush any possible internal opposition. Their apparent self-restraint now is from uncertainty of result, not from principled renunciation of force.

It is not reasonable to expect all the dissidents in the old Soviet bloc to be clever enough to dismantle the totalitarian apparatus without ever exciting the communist elite to bloody repression against them.

Power dies hard and absolute power dies hardly at all.

This warped system has always had its apologists and supporters in non-Marxist countries.

Why so? Why has such a cauldron of misery still attracted supporters in free countries and bewitched there so many well-meaning people who would certainly lose their precious freedoms or their lives if communism were to take over their countries?

Only the communists' surpassing skill in areas of political technology makes them able to pass themselves off as civilized. Scientific socialism is nothing more than a generations-long empirical study of how to accumulate and keep power.

They have no cause but the accumulation of power. All political techniques are put in service to that end.

Like a giant, cancerous tumor, the Marxist world is corrupt on the inside but still growing at its edges. Rot on the inside may be bad news for the cancer, but it is not necessarily good news for its victim. Ask the Salvadorans or the Afghans.

And the party cadres undoubtedly intend to resume internal repression if the passage of time and their milking the West of sufficient credits, technology, aid and political and military concessions can ease their current internal difficulties.

They are highly skilled in using their limited ability to affect public policy in free countries.

Unable to compete successfully in free elections, communists and their allies focus in the West on shaping public policy in those policy areas most important to them.

As is so often the case with totalitarians, Mr. Georgi Arbatov, to this day a self-proclaimed Communist who nonetheless supported Boris Yeltsin in yesterday's Russian presidential election, telegraphed their strategy very early in this reform period. Arbatov said, approximately, "We are going to do the worst possible thing to you, deprive you of an enemy threat."

The Cold War over? Not by a long shot.

Should the Allies have declared victory as soon as we invaded Normandy? It's not over 'till it's over.

Proclaiming it's over, acting as if it were over, makes no more sense than it would have for General Patton, after Normandy, to have started generously making things easier for Hitler.

Here's how to tell when it's over.

  • When they surrender.
  • When they are without weapons.
  • When they are without allies.
  • When economic, political and religious freedom supplant communist ideology in all their former empire.
  • When the Communist butchers of Katyn and the Gulag are brought to trial and sentenced after being hunted down in remote areas of the world, as are the Nazi butchers of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

When these things have happened, it's over, not before.

The worst disaster for Communists in current events is the collapse of their once-persuasive myth that communist victory is inevitable. That's a serious but not necessarily fatal loss.

Surely they have problems in the Soviet bloc. Those problems are largely of our making. Does anyone believe for a minute there would be all this unrest in the East if the West were not seen now to be very strong and prosperous?

Absolutely not.

But don't we know from experience the communists are expert in taking lemons and making lemonade? Recall the Tet offensive.

In the midst of all their problems, there are the makings of lemonade for the communists in the dramatic drop in threat perception in the West.

It is a safe bet that Gorbachev uses this possibility to justify his apparently weak policies to communists who would eliminate him tomorrow if they thought doing so would keep them in power.

Surely many smart, determined, unrepentant communists believe Gorbachev is doing all he can to bring them eventual victory.

Yes, I know there is some chance the situation will get out of hand for the masters of the Kremlin. Revolutions of rising expectation engulfed King Louis XVI, Czar Nicholas II, and Shah Reza Pahlavi.

But each of them had a conscience and none of them had an ideology or an efficient counterpart to the KGB.

Here's what I think should be done now:

Do everything we can to encourage anti-Communists in communist countries. This includes public statements critical of the slow pace and inadequate nature of current reforms. It also includes political education and training of real dissidents. In sum, encourage their dominoes to keep falling. Do absolutely nothing to help the governments in countries still controlled militarily by the communists. No money no concessions. Keep our powder dry. If we start celebrating now, we will weaken our ability to react to opportunities and dangers the future is sure to bring.

If we are to win now in the Cold War, we must understand it's not over. Right now our nation needs conservatives with the spirit Gen. Patton had after Normandy in the last big, hot war. The communists will recoup and more if we let them.

A self-avowed Marxist-Leninist still has control of immense armed forces and his finger on the most potent nuclear button of all time. And some say it's over, that we've won. Don't bet your life.

It's so like a fairy tale.

The evil rulers are overthrown. The people rejoice and pick new rulers of their choice. Prosperity and good feeling then mark a new era of freedom.

Unfortunately, actual events seldom end as do so many happy fairy tales.

The people of Central and Eastern Europe are unlikely to live happily ever after.

Unhappily, I foresee economic and political disaster in these areas, and soon, whether or not the Red Army soldiers all pack up and go home.

Let's look at the political dynamics.

Generations of communist oppression have done more damage to the subject peoples than is generally understood. The decades of Soviet looting are well documented. The daily, deadly terror and the GULAG are well know to all friends of freedom. These evils have at least moderated. Many people now feel free to criticize communism for the first time in their lives.

But the ghosts of the dictators may have a last laugh, even though in many places the communist looting and killing have stopped and the statues of Lenin, Stalin and their equally bloodthirsty local thuglets are literally falling.

Partly by design and partly by accident, the generations of totalitarian Marxism stamped out much of the basis of free society. Few in the affected countries, much less in the West, understand the full nature and extent of that damage.

The now-prominent anti-Communist leaders in "liberated" areas almost totally lack governing experience. But that is not the biggest obstacle blocking their creation of stable, free governments.

Far worse is their almost universal and deeply ingrained prejudice against the processes by which economic prosperity can be achieved. Free governments will not survive unmitigated economic disasters in these countries.

In July of 1990, I led a group of twenty four Western conservative activists, mostly Americans, on a week long International Policy Forum visit to Czechoslovakia and Hungary. We weren't sight seeing. We had a heavy schedule of meetings with a wide variety of anti-Communist leaders and activists: newly elected legislators, newly appointed government officials, political party officers, youth leaders and politically active professors. We really liked them.

These Czech, Slovak and Hungarian activists all hate communism. Only one person whom we met admitted any sympathy for democratic socialism. All agreed their countries must rapidly create wealth.

Yet, time and again, our hosts would say, often in so many words, "We have to prevent people from making quick profits by taking advantage of the situation here."

In vain did we point out that "quick profits " is another way of saying "rapid wealth creation."

Generations of communist propagandists have taught that profit is the evil goal of greed, that property is theft, that wealth is unfair and that private economic transactions always imply exploitation of someone. Even the leading anti-Communist activists have not yet freed themselves from these inculcated beliefs.

And there's another, accidental factor.

During the communist domination, only the communist oppressors had money, property and power, all of it ill-gotten. Thus the example of their own abusive behavior worked with their unrelenting attacks on capitalism to drive home the belief that personal prosperity is a sure sign of corruption and looting.

This deep-seated mind-set may prevent development of a free market system soon enough to save the fragile democracies now in formation.

Simply holding open elections won't establish stable, free governments in eastern Europe. If open elections are followed by economic disaster, the nascent democracies will collapse.

If the people suffer great economic hardship and feel no personal economic benefits, they will before long accept a persuasive demagogue. He would be a general or a union leader or a politician, of the left or of the right, who promises to solve all problems when he assumes supreme power. And good-bye democracy, good-bye all chance of the prosperity a free market alone can bring.

Accustomed only to a command economy and deeply distrustful of the profit motive, the leaders of the new political infrastructures in these countries nevertheless say they want to install free enterprise.

Yet they fear to make changes which might result in some people getting rich. Many even confess they are seeking a "third way" between communism and capitalism, no doubt foolishly hoping some egalitarian scheme can be devised for prosperity through free enterprise without permitting anyone to amass private capital.

Meanwhile serious inflation is beginning and unemployment is about to skyrocket.

In Prague last summer, I took my wife and a friend out to eat one evening. Total food bill for the three of us was $0.90 U.S. Our rides on the fine Prague subway cost us about $0.02 U.S. apiece.

Depriving their people of almost everything else, the communist governments did subsidize staple food and transportation. The new governments allow consumption of many other kinds of goods and services. These countries simply cannot now afford the old subsidies. And much of the government-owned industry is shutting down, unable to compete with more efficient Western producers.

The destabilizing political effects of steep price rises and high unemployment are easy to predict and will soon become more obvious than they are today.

In our dozens of private meetings with activists in the new political structure of Czechoslovakia and Hungary, our group stressed, time and again, the urgency of some basic steps toward economic freedom and prosperity:

Give ownership of all government-owned housing to the present occupants or, where the buildings predated the communist takeover, to the owners whose property was confiscated by the communists. Restore clear title to farm property to the original, private owners or, where they can be identified, to their heirs. Make fair financial restitution to former owners or their heirs where it's not realistic to return land titles, as in cases where a dam has flooded the land or an apartment house has been built on it. For individuals who want to farm but lack historic claim to farm land, divide into economically viable tracts the historically government-owned farm land and farm land without any known, legitimate private claimants. A fair drawing could be devised to make sure everyone gets a chance at the best of such land in the region of his choice. Some government-owned concerns which produce goods and services are economically viable. And many of these do not have historic owners to claim them. In these cases, ownership should be privatized through stock distribution, perhaps directly to the current employees or, by lot, to the public. Mrs. Thatcher used several creative methods to distribute ownership fairly and widely.

These steps, and others like them, would immediately create large numbers of people with a personal, financial stake in the survival of the new, free political institutions and in a free market system based on private property. The resulting political stability would enable the market to work and prosperity to develop.

Care must be taken to make sure real ownership transfers to the beneficiaries.

Dean Henry Manne of the George Mason University Law School in Virginia recently participated in a meeting of Soviet economists on the topic of privatization. After two hours it became clear to him that at most they were discussing giving people "ownership" in some obscure, metaphysical sense.

Apparently the society which for so long defined "peace" as "the absence of opposition to communism" still is tempted to employ George Orwell's Newspeak, particularly where to do otherwise would allow people to earn and to own real personal wealth.

Real ownership includes the right to buy and the right to sell property. Without these rights, expect no prosperity.

Without some such changes, political freedoms will not last. Too many people will feel economic pain; too few people will feel they have benefited. Enter then a man on horseback, a Juan Peron, a Benito Mussolini or even a Leon Trotsky.

When our visiting group made the above suggestions, virtually everyone now in power with whom we spoke in Prague, Bratislava and Budapest would jump in with (often contradictory) reasons why these changes couldn't be made.

Here are some of the reasons they gave:

No one in our country has any money, so foreigners would come in and buy up everything. No one in our country has money except the old communist officials. They would buy everything and again own the whole country. No one in our country has money, but, said one person furtively, all the Jews have rich relatives abroad who will give them money to buy up everything here. Some people in our country would be more skilled at adapting to the new systems and take advantage of the rest of the people, who would be left with nothing. We could never agree as to which of the former property confiscations to restore; we had confiscations in 1948, 1945, 1939, and 1918. We must plan carefully and proceed slowly because a sudden change would be too much of a shock to our people.

The command economy is collapsing. There is not time in these countries for a slow change to a market system. Better to make an immediate, good transition to economic liberty than to delay while seeking an unattainable unanimity.

Both former Reagan Ambassador to the European Common Market Bill Middendorf and current Bush Secretary of Housing Jack Kemp have in the past year urged Lech Walesa and other pro-freedom leaders in the old Soviet empire to go "cold turkey" to full economic liberty in their countries.

During my July, 1990, visit to Budapest, one of our group warned of a crashing economy during a slow transition to a free market. It would be, he said, as if Great Britain decided to make a gradual change from driving on the left to driving on the right hand side of the road:

"For the first weeks of the transition, most traffic will still drive on the left; only the large trucks will switch and drive on the right."

Please do not think I believe the situation hopeless and disaster inevitable in Central and Eastern Europe.

Circumstances differ, country to country.

There may eventually be a more complete break with socialism in Russia than elsewhere. In the old captive nations, it is possible for some to believe their problems were mainly caused by the Soviet occupation, not by socialism. In Russia, people increasingly understand they have communism itself to blame.

All these countries contain many intelligent people of good will. Many of the current leaders and activists suffered great personal persecution. They want political freedom and prosperity. They just haven't had the opportunity to learn how to achieve what they want.

Their best chance now is for pro-freedom activists in the West to help them make the right decisions. And they must find out what are the most important questions before they can focus on finding the right answers.

How can we best undo generations of propaganda and conditioning?

How can these people, more than 300,000,000 of them suppressed for so long, develop a healthy work ethic?

How can they be taught the economic principles which make possible wealth creation when they have absorbed the false notion that the main purpose of economics is the centralized and thus "fair" distribution of goods and services?

Western governments are ill-suited to help. The U.S. government's Small Business Administration, for example, is supposed to help establish profitable private enterprises. Yet its history is filled with waste, fraud, favoritism, abuse and public scandals.

Our government's foreign aid bureaucrats don't have a record of success in promoting free market systems abroad.

The former East Germany has West Germany, four times as populous and many times as rich to fund the transition from a command economy to economic liberty. None of the other countries has such a benefactor.

The solution, if there is a solution, is to educate individually a new infrastructure of public policy activists in Central and Eastern Europe. And the problem is so vast that it cannot be solved in a systematic process. Somehow many different pro-freedom organizations and citizen activists in the West will have to take an interest in forming events in the East.

Every government in the old Soviet empire is talking about privatization and taking a few, hesitant steps in the needed direction. Information about successes and failures in this process must be widely communicated in the old East bloc. Freedom activists need to see successful role models in their own or neighboring countries.

Many in the new leadership, despite their life-long conditioning, are educable in economic realities. They surely do not want to fail.

But they will not be taught what they need to learn about wealth creation by the United Nations or by programs financed by the United States government. Nor by the World Council of Churches or by official representatives of most "main line" religious denominations. Nor by U.S. organized labor or by Western economists such as John Kenneth Galbraith.

All of the above interests are now active in Central and Eastern Europe. And, by and large, they are giving rotten advice, focusing primarily on centralized planning and doing everything in their power to retard the process of privatization, the creation of real property rights and the legitimation of the profit motive.

The West, particularly the United States, is endowed with countervailing influences deeply rooted in our cultural values and in our politics. There are many versions of the "American Dream." Forty acres and a mule. A vine-covered cottage and a white picket fence. Opening a small business and being one's own boss. Earning and saving for one's children's higher education.

All the bureaucrats and all the trendy leftist journalists have weakened but failed to discredit copybook maxims such as: "A penny saved is a penny earned" and "A man's home is his castle."

Experience in the West has proved these ideas to be better suited to human nature than are the ideas of collectivism. The wide range of pro-freedom ideas must be planted and nurtured in the old Soviet empire if political freedom is to grow and to survive there for long.

This educational process will not be easy.

Law school Dean Henry Manne, recently in the Soviet Union, stopped to talk with a street vendor selling painted wooden dolls. His young government-provided guide grimaced and otherwise showed her great distaste as he bargained with the private vendor. It seemed to Dean Manne to be the reaction one might expect from a respectable Western lady if, while walking along a street with the lady, one might stop to negotiate prices with a prostitute.

Typical of communist cadres, whose organizational principles are hate, fear and envy, Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov of Bulgaria had a low opinion of his countrymen. He recently told conservative activist Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, that the typical Bulgarian believes, "It's not that I want to be rich myself but that I want my neighbor to be poor."

In late November, 1990, though, Bulgarian Prime Minister Lukanov announced his resignation. He was forced out by pro-freedom activists, many of whom don't share his contempt for the spirit of free enterprise.

In December, 1990, I met in Washington, D.C., a top official of the Lithuanian pro-freedom group Sajudis. He and I talked about the thirst for pro-freedom books in Lithuania and throughout the old Soviet empire.

On December 26, 1989, this young Lithuanian "opposition" leader left the U.S., returning home with seventy pounds of pro-freedom books I'd given him.

What a pleasure I got as I handed over a suitcase full of books by Bastiat, Burke, Chambers, Hayek, Kirk, Orwell, Sowell and others. And what gratitude the Lithuanian showed.

In November, 1990, the same Lithuanian activist visited D.C. again. Now he's an important government official in the Republic of Lithuania. During his recent trip, we agreed that he would send and I would host in my office two Lithuanian activists for three months educational internships at the Leadership Institute, the educational foundation I head. They proved to be excellent people.

For three months in the autumn of 1990 I hosted and trained in the U.S. a pro-freedom Hungarian law student whom I met in Budapest. He returned to Budapest November 14, 1990, filled with enthusiasm and new skills for his fight for free enterprise, traditional values and a stable democratic government in Hungary.

Similarly, I arranged for internships in the D.C. area in early 1991 for two young activists each from Estonia and Romania. Also very fine people. Many more should follow.

In every country where people are freeing themselves from communism, one could easily find many fine people with keen interest in learning about government, politics and economics from U.S. conservative activists.

Their hero isn't Gorbachev; it is Ronald Reagan.

They want religious, economic and political freedom.

They want to learn how to succeed in a free public policy process.

By no means is my Leadership Institute the only U.S. organization working to increase their numbers and effectiveness. Among the others are the Free Congress Foundation, The National Council to Support the Democracy Movements, the American Foreign Policy Council, The Conservative Caucus, the Foundation for Economic Education, the Cato Institute and Laissez Faire Books.

Dr. Richard Rahn, vice president and Chief economist of the Chamber of Commerce of the U.S, has made several successful trips to teach supply side economics to academics and new government officials in Central and Eastern Europe. For a time Dr. Rahn enjoyed the irony of lecturing at Karl Marx University in Budapest, but they changed the school's name to Economics University.

Among the best of the British groups is the Adam Smith Institute, with an active program of infrastructure education for Eastern Europe.

In Vienna, Austria, a fine group of young activists organized a group called Europa Democratica, which already has had a big effect in the first sets of free elections in nearby countries.

Some Western-based emigre groups from Central and Eastern Europe are doing very good work.

But many, many other Western leaders and pro-freedom organizations must take actions, and soon.

Surely it's worth some time, talent and private sector money for us to try to create and stabilize freedom in Eastern Europe.

I believe conservatives have a moral obligation to do what we can to help.

Even if we fail, we should throw what sand we can into the gears of socialism. Remember how many billions of Soviet rubles have been spent over the years to destabilize the West.

For several months I worked on a project to make it possible for anyone to get involved. Four young Europeans helped me assemble a listing of current leaders of pro-freedom activity in the old Soviet empire. The result is the first edition of the Freedom Activists Directory, published in January, 1991.

This directory contains the names, addresses, phone numbers and other available facts about more than three hundred fifty worthwhile contacts in the public policy process from the Baltic to the Black Sea and from the Danube River to, yes, Siberia, including:

New government officials, elected and appointed Political party and youth group leaders. Activists who want to make contacts with their counterparts in the U.S. and other Western countries.

This new Freedom Activists Directory will be sent, free of charge, upon request while the supply lasts. For your free copy, write to The Leadership Institute, Steven P.J. Wood Building, 1101 N. Highland Street, Arlington, VA 22201.

Whether through this directory or from other sources, many courageous freedom activists are now accessible to U.S. conservatives. Contact from any helpful person or any responsible U.S. group interested in making contacts will be welcomed by those in the old captive nations who for so long suffered deprivation, terror, imprisonment and sometimes worse.

These activists now outspokenly condemn communism. Their activity is open, their beliefs no secret to the KGB. In fact, anti-Communist activists with strong contacts in the West usually have been safer than those who could be persecuted without causing an international uproar.

In any case, freedom activists in these countries will have much better chances of success if they get good advice, personal encouragement and help from citizen activists in the West.

A clear majority of the freedom activists have fairly good English, often courtesy of the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe,  Radio Liberty, the BBC and other broadcasts. Some made a special study of English while in communist jails.

Those who can't speak English usually can read it fairly well. Western books, passed rapidly from hand to hand, have been a popular item on the black market for may years.

So language problems are no great barrier.

My resources aren't great, so I'm focusing on two projects, an intern program and the Directory. But look at some of the wide range of useful, possible activities for individuals and organizations which c