Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The So-Called Collapse of Communism

We often think "Communism" collapsed because "Communism" is a bad system. Well, it's funny then, about Cuba, China, Vietnam, N. Korea: none of them have collapsed. Is there something that the other Communist countries that "collapsed" have in common? Yes. First of all treat all the "Soviet empire" (USSR plus Warsaw pact and Mongolia) as one entity. Then take Yugoslavia, Romania, and Albania. What do they all have in common? They all saw themselves as European geographically and desperately wanted to be part of Europe morally and economically. Europe was "normal" for them, and they felt themselves to be abnormal. Yugoslavia and the Soviet empire also had in common that they were ethnic federations. So "Communism" didn't collapse, multiethnic Communist federations that wanted to be part of Europe collapsed. Well, China is multiethnic, but she has not (wisely from the point of view of Zhongnanhai) created a federal structure. And she doesn't want to be part of Europe. Nor does N. Korea or Vietnam. Cuba might, but she's stuck next to the US. No automatic "collapsing" should be expected from any of them.

What's the point here? 1) We think of the "West" as a "system" or an abstract set of "values," but it is also a particular place, and a particular set of societies. Willingness to go along with the "West" is depends in large part whether the country involved can see itself plausibly as part of this particular place and trust those particular societies.

2) Yes muscular opposition by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and John Paul II had a major role in the break up of Communism. But the role of "Euro-weenies" in having a successful continent into which to integrate and which seemed welcoming and relatively unthreatening was probably even more important.

UPDATE: Jim asks: Is China still recognizably "communist"? I mean, they still say they are, but doesn't the existence of private capital markets suggest pretty directly that it's not?

Good point, but I was talking about the political system. And about that I'll let Bill Kirby respond (in the words of Peter Robinson here):

At a dinner last week for the Rockefeller Center, the public policy program at Dartmouth, I sat next to Bill Kirby, a China scholar and a former dean of the Harvard faculty of arts and sciences. (Bill and I also sat next to each other during a Rockefeller Center board meeting earlier in the day. Bill took copious notes—in Chinese.) Bill explained that he isn’t particularly optimistic that China will become a democracy any time soon. It might—but then again it most certainly might not.

Then Bill made a fascinating point. Whereas Stalin would find the power structure that now governs Russia altogether baffling—an elected president?—Mao would find the power structure in contemporary China altogether familiar. The dozen or so people who hold real power in China sit on the same committees and rely on the same bases of support—above all, the People’s Liberation Army—as did Mao and his circle. "Mao," Bill said, "would feel right at home."

In other words, the remaining Communist states are highly likely to set up or be setting up private capital markets in the near future. But they are much less likely to be expanding decision making beyond twelve men on a self-nominated committee, unless they have a ______ Community in which to integrate.