A few days ago Russia celebrated 100 years of the 1917 revolution. In these 100 years communism has gone from a leading political ideology to a failed one. In whichever country the ideology has been applied, there has been dictatorship, corruption, economic stagnation, bloodshed and so on.
Yet universal brotherhood, a world free of religion and other discriminatory ideas, selflessness, sacrifice for a higher cause, economic equality – are some of the loftiest ideals a man can ever live for.
Communism had looked like a panacea in a 20th century world torn by wars, bigotry, narrow nationalism and economic inequality. Soviet Russia’s impressive GDP year upon year had convinced world leaders of the merit of communist economic model. The global intelligentsia had appreciated its educational and social reforms. Their space projects had earned lot of global admiration (remember Sputnik?). But there were flaws in the system and the cracks began to show up soon.
Today it is surprising to see how the lofty ideals, when applied as state policies, degenerated into completely different things not just in Soviet Russia but also other pockets of communism in the world: a constant thirst for power expressed through annexing regions or bringing them into communist sphere of influence, state censorship (and other forms of freedom-denying activities), ruthless directorship (Stalin, Mao and so many other communist leaders), personality cults (Fidel Castro, Mao etc), state-level corruption, people in positions of power growing loathsomely wealthy (in China but there are numerous other examples), a dead economy (Cuba’s highest source of revenue is the remittances sent by Cubans staying in the US), the list is endless.
Frankly, if we compare them with the sins of capitalism, capitalism will hardly fare any better: two world wars, imperialism, Hitler, economic inequality, absence of financial support for the elderly (in purely capitalist societies like the US) and so on. But capitalism has bounced back each time. There wasn’t a third world war. The world didn’t see another Hitler (at least none who wreaked havoc on a similar scale). There is no 20th century scale imperialism any more.
Yes, capitalism is responsible for economic inequalities, but it has also created pockets of economic excellence, like Microsoft, Google, Apple and so many more, which provide economic opportunities to so many across various countries. (One can even argue the more capitalism the better: after all, less capitalist societies like Sweden and the Netherlands have not created these gems.)
On balance capitalism has done better than communism. But why? I think it’s because at the core capitalism is a simpler ideology which is mainly about economics (private enterprise and free market) and is silent on other aspects of life whereas communism seeks to control every sphere of life, the personal, professional and even the spiritual. (We know what happens of powerful religious ideas that lay out rules for every aspect of a man’s life and insist on complete compliance.)
This regimental nature of communism not only denies basic freedom but also stores too much discretionary power in the hands of those in power. And because communism doesn’t accommodate democratic practices like participatory politics, the power stays with a few who, to continue being in power, plug in all ventilations within the system blocking free passage of air – and slowly rot sets in.
In newspapers, we keep reading about corrupt and nepotistic high officials in China – and the Chinese administration trying to cleanse the system. Gorbachev had attempted Perestroika and Glasnost to cleanse the Soviet system of similar rot leading to an end of Soviet Union in December 26, 1991. The end of communism, however, had started a year earlier, on 9th November 1989, when the Berlin wall had collapsed uniting West and East Germany.