The King Is Dead: Long Live the King!
Was 1991 the year communism died, or did it just undergo a metamorphosis?
In one way or another, this problem dominated public discussion at that time. It went through academic and political environments, the media, social gatherings and salons, and even sacristies. Curiously enough, in addition to doctrinal reasons, what divided the camps was a fundamental divergence of states of mind.
Some interpreted the transformations that occurred in the East as the definitive death of communism. Others – which we shall call realistic – saw them only as a metamorphosis. While the realists warned about the chameleon character of the revolutionary mentality and refused to sheathe the sword, the optimists were relaxed and breathed a sigh of relief at the supposed end of the Bolshevik threat, the very threat they had recently denied and minimized. Why did they feel so relieved if that threat was illusory or trivial? Consistency is definitely not a feature of optimists!
We do not believe that communism died in 1991. What died was a form of communism – state capitalism or real socialism – which, incidentally, its own mentors deemed temporary. After that stage, the revolutionary process was preparing to advance toward even more radical manifestations. In addition to self-managing socialism, you also had the so-called cultural revolutions, which, based on doctrines such as Freudianism and structuralism, sought a “liberation” of man’s instincts from any rule, constraint, or order. Tribal and indigenist currents were already looming on the horizon.
What actually happened, therefore, was a metamorphosis of the revolutionary process, not its extinction.
In this new perspective, we have witnessed attempts to cosmetically repackage old Marxist myths, including class struggle. Revolutionary talking heads here and there spread the idea that the disappearance of East-West tension was replaced by another, supposedly even more serious between the South (poor countries, mostly located in the southern hemisphere) and the North (industrialized countries). The old antagonism between proletarians and bourgeois (on a national level) and between the communist world and the free world (internationally) was said to have been replaced by this new type of confrontation. In it, at least in appearance, any ideological aspect vanishes and becomes sheer economics.
Just as, during the stage of state capitalism, the left was supposed to lead the proletariat against the bourgeois socio-economic order, it should now take the side of the “proletarian nations” of the South against an international economic order dominated by the “bourgeois nations” of the North. Let us look at this aspect of the metamorphosis of communism.
What was the Political and Psychological Panorama in the Soviet Union?
Westerners were accustomed to consider communism as a kind of great shadow projected on international relations and on the internal life of every country. On the world stage, there weighed the constant threat of a Soviet aggression that could easily degenerate into nuclear conflagration. A skillful propaganda took advantage of this situation by instilling in Westerners a panic of such a hecatomb, whispering that the only way to avoid it was to make concessions. This further reinforced Russia’s possibilities to exert psychological pressure through nuclear blackmail.
Marxist propaganda exerted constant pressure in the interior of each country through local communist parties directed by Moscow. There was even a possibility that a communist electoral victory would place the country in the orbit of the Kremlin, not to mention Moscow-inspired guerrilla movements and terrorists that sowed uneasiness and even managed to seize power in nations like Cuba, Angola, Nicaragua, and others.
For these and other reasons, the communist threat occupied a fundamental place in people’s mental panorama at the time.
At one point, this threat abruptly seemed to vanish. The Berlin Wall fell and the confrontation between the Eastern and Western Europe ended, making NATO and the Warsaw Pact ‘obsolete’. The eastern countries entered into convulsions. As the old Stalinist governments collapsed, they were replaced by more or less democratic regimes that sought to overcome socialism with neoliberal economic programs. East Germany reunified with West Germany under the predominance of the latter. The USSR itself began to dissolve in the midst of ethnic strife and the independence of a growing number of its constituent republics until it became the Russian Federation. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, head of the World Marxist Revolution, voted for its own “dissolution” (sic) and adopted another name. As if obeying a single voice of command, almost all communist parties on both sides of the former Iron Curtain also began to deny their Marxist past and to adopt labels inspired by social democracy.
Thus, despite the precarious survival of some “dinosaurs” like the Castro Brothers in Cuba, communism — the most painful cancer in the modern world — seemed to vanish in the short space of two or three years. This baffled many people, who did not know what to think about the sudden disappearance of the Russian bear and the profound change that it meant in the national and international panorama.
Russia’s Appalling Misery. The Bells Toll for Communist Ideology
Slowly but surely, in view of their thunderous fiasco in the East, communists were forced to hide their ideology.
Like any sociopolitical issue, the problem of communism had a doctrinal and a practical aspect. It was necessary not only to know whether or not the set of doctrines under the banner of Marxism-Leninism was theoretically true but also whether it would achieve satisfactory results if put into practice. If communism was the panacea its advocates claimed, how to explain its failure in real life? Hence, to some extent, practical aspects conditioned the ideological judgement.
And a great unknown was up in the air precisely in this area.
Westerners had a more or less vague idea there was misery in Russia. The idea of its gravity, however, depended on people’s attitude towards communism. Some anticommunists tended to exaggerate it; centrists almost always diminished its scope, while leftists carefully hid it. The confusion created by these differences – compounded the thick veil of mystery that enveloped the former Soviet empire, and by the ambiguity of the scarce information that filtered out – caused Western public opinion not to have a clear and definite judgment of the Russian situation, and consequently, not to take a consistent stand toward Russia and communist ideology.
Suddenly, the Iron Curtain fell and that which had been barely discernible appeared as obvious to everyone: the thunderous failure of the Soviet experiment. For the first time we Westerners were able to see the appalling legacy of communism, a misery such as history had never seen. From the ruins of the immense empire until recently surrounded by the Iron Curtain, one began to hear the terrible cry of indignation of peoples enslaved for decades by governments sardonically called “popular.” By the principle expounded above, this concrete observation deeply affected the ideological field. For, how could the communists continue to claim the validity of a doctrine that led to such misery and oppression when put into practice?
Hence, their political and philosophical setback triggered an internal crisis in communist currents, which now had to face a dilemma: should they continue to cling to Marxist-Leninist ideology or adapt to the new dialectic? In the first case, would they have the courage to proclaim it in view of the above-described failure? In the second case, how to explain to their grassroots, not always insightful and malleable, the abandonment of Marxist dogmas?
Death of Ideologies
This double collapse of communist currents occurred within a wider panorama: the death of ideologies. For some decades, we had already been witnessing a serious and growing atony in people, caused by a deterioration of the principle of contradiction – the primary and supreme principle of thought – and with it a real decline of the very light of reason. One sees more and more a human type incapable of taking an interest beyond the strictly individual sphere and thus of judging events in depth. The person is almost reduced to mere emotions, moods and primary reactions.
This human type posed a serious problem to the left, which became unable to galvanize the masses for revolutionary causes. Suffice it to compare the furious unionism of the 30s with that of today to see how much the charge of revolutionary hatred has diminished even in communist ranks.
Once communism was dead as an ideology and its base of operations destroyed, how to organize a new international revolutionary movement in view of people’s lack of ideological appetite? That required leftist strategists to change the overall panorama in function of which public opinion might easily take a stand.
A New Class Struggle
Since the 1990s, we have witnessed enormous efforts to present a new world no longer divided between the communist East and the free West, but between the poor south and the rich north. What does this division mean?
For Marxists, modern society was divided between the owners of the means of production – the bourgeoisie – and the dispossessed of them – proletarians – who were forced to sell their work to the former, being thus exploited. From this division arose a necessary antagonism –the class struggle—, considered the engine of the revolutionary process. According to this myth, the bourgeoisie would become increasingly rich and proletarians increasingly poor until there was an explosion – the revolution – that would culminate with the victory of the latter over the former and the consequent establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat that would finally bring peace, work and well-being to the masses. The countries that reached this stage would serve as an example for the others and a base of operations for the world workers revolution.
As it turned out, the facts dispelled this myth. In the capitalist West, the proletariat improved its economic situation until it practically became a comfortable middle class; conversely, in the East, state capitalism produced only misery and oppression.
Instead of admitting that their class struggle myth was false, communists replaced it with another: the South-North struggle. It was no longer a division on ideological foundations but one based on a concrete finding: some countries are poor and others are rich. Poor countries produce raw materials sold cheaply; the rich buy, process and resell them to the poor as high-priced industrial products. A vicious circle is thus established, whereby poor countries become increasingly poor and the rich increasingly rich until the situation becomes unsustainable and there is an explosion: the two worlds clash with the consequent victory of the South (at least so the communists hope).
This outlook would give the left a pretext to galvanize their bases around a cause: the struggle for the so-called “New World Economic Order,” in which wealth would supposedly be better distributed. Naturally, to attain the new order it would be necessary to resort to plundering rich countries to favor the poor just like past communist revolutions robbed the bourgeoisie. The intense emotional charge of this enterprise – fed with images of malnourished Indian or black children, infected shantytowns etc. – enables the left to avoid using the classic methods of ideological persuasion by appealing directly to the heart.
Meanwhile, the “poor” would be entitled to share directly in the wealth of the rich by moving to their countries. This largely explains the enormous migratory flows that threaten to submerge Europe, the United States and other countries in the North. Integrating such large human groups, which cannot be as easily assimilated by local culture as were previous immigrants, would create real pockets of the South in the North, which would tend to grow given the foreseeable increase in migrations and the high birth rate of less developed demographic groups. The existence of these pockets would profoundly destabilize the internal life of host countries, in addition to offering the left potential masses to further their revolutionary designs. In extreme cases, the countries of the North could even lose their national identity.
An Ideology that Dares Not Say Its Name
The mentors of this strategy claim there is nothing ideological or planned about it, and that it derives from a de facto situation, the international economic imbalance.
To begin with, this approach is deliberately simplistic because it does not take into account the causes of poverty in the countries of the South. Generally well endowed with natural resources, most of the time these countries are in a situation of poverty because of the disastrous implementation of socialist-inspired socio-economic programs. Why is this not mentioned by the mentors of the new dialectic? Doing so would already give a clue to the solution. If those countries apply the formulas that were so successful in the North, hopefully these countries can progress by exploiting their vast resources and thus cease being “South.” But then the left would be deprived of poor countries to maneuver, just as they were left without a proletariat…
Furthermore, the elastic employment of the word “poor” is telltale. The mentors of the new dialectic do not speak of penury, which would require rich nations to help by an imperative of justice, as the right to life of dying populations has priority over the right of rich countries to enjoy superfluous goods. Instead, the mentors of the new dialectic speak of “poverty”. What is being poor? They say that it is simply having less than others. In fact, only in this extremely broad sense is this adjective applied to countries such as Brazil and Mexico, which are real emerging powers. How then, do they justify a revolution by countries that are simply less rich than others?
Here we get a glimpse of the ideology latent in the new dialectic. It is summarized in the statement that the existence of rich and poor countries is unfair, just as it is unfair for there rich classes and poor classes to exist. In other words, it is unfair for inequalities to exist. Thus, beyond economic pretexts, this revolution of the South against the North is inspired by the principle of egalitarianism – the very essence of communism – that subsists as a false criterion of justice in the hearts of millions of people. We are faced, then, with an ideology that does not dare to say its name.
All this unveils the contours of an authentic world revolution in preparation precisely when communism seemed to have died. In fact, a curious effect of this eclipse is that no one seemed to perceive the communist inspiration of this emerging revolution, because communism had supposedly died…
Catholic Left, Fifth Column of the South
At this point, some diehard optimist who chances to be reading this article may smile between boredom and pity: do not worry, man! What can a few poor countries do against our huge economic and military might?
Our optimist is failing to consider a fundamental aspect of the situation, the existence of fifth columns of the “South” in the countries of the “North”. These fifth columns are made up of diverse lefts and very particularly the “Catholic” left, a faithful fellow traveler of real socialism in its time, and now a no less faithful adept of the new class struggle.
Amid thunderous applause, a lecturer at the 10th John XXIII Congress of Theology, held in Madrid in 1990, stated: “Many in the North laugh at the South and say ‘if the South invades us we will destroy it with our weapons’. But they do not know that there are here Fifth Columns of the South, and that we will shoot against those of the North, against those of our own country, in their backs, to make the South triumph.” Here is, in essence, an important point of the program of the “Catholic” left in this post-communist era.
This program was also developed at the 11th John XXIII Congress of Theology, held in Madrid in 1991, under the motto, “Fifth Centennial. Memory and Liberation.” Attacking the missionary and evangelizing work of Spain in the New World, the conference attempted to stir up this new type of class struggle in Latin American countries against their old metropolises. The Spanish epic in America, the lecturers said, was nothing but plundering and oppression. In the guise of a mea culpa, others suggested that it is Spain that must now be “evangelized” by Latin America, especially by its indigenous cultures. The laicized Chilean priest Pablo Richard, a former militant of Christians for Socialism and a well-known liberation theologian went as far as to say that these indigenous cultures bring us a new Revelation.