Tag: communism

Can the Communist Party Take Back the Czech Republic?

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—The Czech Republic is one of the most successful members of the former Soviet Empire. Yet Czechs with whom I recently spoke fear liberty is in retreat. The former Communist Party might reenter government after elections later this month. 

Czechoslovakia was “liberated” by the Red Army at the end of World War II. After the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, the so-called Velvet Revolution ousted the Czech Communist Party. Czechoslovakia soon adopted wide-ranging free market economic reforms and split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. 

In March Milos Zeman became the country’s first popularly elected president. The former Social Democratic prime minister has roiled Czech politics by claiming ever more expansive authority. 

Most dramatically, after the prime minister’s summer resignation President Zeman appointed a leftist government against the wishes of the parliamentary majority. The new cabinet lost a vote of confidence, but remains as caretaker until the upcoming election. 

Equally controversial are the president’s policies.  As I wrote in my new Forbes online article:

Moreover, the president reversed course on the EU after appealing to supporters of the Euro-skeptic [former President Vaclav] Klaus during the presidential campaign.  Once in office President Zeman hoisted the EU flag over the Prague Castle, which hosts the presidential office, and signed the European Stability Mechanism, the EU bail-out fund.  He describes himself as a “Euro-Federalist,” advocates common European fiscal, tax, foreign, and defense policies, and supports adopting the Euro as the Czech currency.

The greater worry is the revival of the Communist Party. As memories of Communist repression fade, some Czechs long for the perceived stability of the past. 

Prophets of the Communist Police State

In a review of five books on the Soviet police state, David Satter notes this prophetic volume:

Landmarks

By Nikolai Berdyaev, et. al (1909)

The year was 1909. Terrorists were murdering not only czarist ministers but provincial officials and police. It was in this atmosphere that “Landmarks” was published in Moscow. The contributors, all of them Russian Orthodox believers, called on the intelligentsia to reject materialist moral relativism and return to religion as a means of grounding the individual. Their essays, with stunning foresight, described all of the characteristics of the coming Soviet state. The religious philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev explained the roots of its contempt for the individual. He said that the revolutionary intelligentsia hungered for a universal theory but was only prepared to accept one that justified their social aspirations. This meant the denial of man’s absolute significance and the total subordination of spiritual values to social goals. Bogdan Kistyakovsky wrote that the intelligentsia’s predilection for formalism and bureaucracy and its faith in the omnipotence of rules were the makings of a police state. A hundred years later these essays are still among the best arguments ever made against revolutionary fanaticism, political “correctness” and the drive to create “heaven on earth.”

Sounds like a book I should have heard of before now. 

North Korea’s Cute Leader Isn’t So Cuddly

North Koreans might be impoverished and starving, but Pyongyang has entered the Internet age. Unfortunately, the new leadership isn’t using its skills to make friends. 

Thirty-year-old ruler Kim Jong-un has followed his “Great Leader” grandfather and “Dear Leader” father, so some of us call him the “Cute Leader.” But he’s not proving to be warm and cuddly—at least toward the United States. 

The so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea recently posted an animated YouTube video showing Manhattan in flames after a missile attack from an unnamed country. The images are cribbed from the video game Call of Duty and the audio is an instrumental version of Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie’s “We Are the World”—so it’s not exactly an ILM-quality production. Scrolling across the pictures is Korean text reading, “It appears that the headquarters of evil, which has had a habit of using force and unilateralism and committing wars of aggression, is going up in flames it itself has ignited.”

The DPRK video—removed from YouTube because of copyright violation but still available elsewhere—occasioned hand-wringing and worries that maybe the United States should take the threat seriously. However, the threat is nothing new. Pyongyang previously issued posters showing missiles hitting America’s Capitol Hill.

The North Koreans aren’t the only people to view Washington as the Center of All Evil. However, most of the rest of us, especially here at Cato, don’t view foreign missile attacks as a particularly good solution to political disagreements.

China Old and New

The developing scandal and opaque power struggle surrounding fall princeling Bo Xiali, once thought to be a shoe-in for a top party position, reminds us of the old China. The fate of a nation of 1.3 billion people has been decided by relatively few men in Zhongnanhai, Beijing’s leadership compound. Bo’s ouster appears more likely to strengthen those dedicated to maintaining a system of stable authoritarianism than those hoping to promote political liberalism, but the outcome may still be better than the alternative.

Although in this way the “new” China doesn’t look very different from the perpetual back room machinations under Mao Zedong, the communist Humpty Dumpty really has fallen off the wall, never to be put back together again. After all, during the Cultural Revolution no one looked to citizens of the People’s Republic of China to enhance the profits of upscale New York City retailers. Today, Chinese travelers are spending some of their country’s expansive export earnings in America.

Reports the New York Times:

Over five days in January, a group of visitors to New York was treated to a private concert with the pianist Lang Lang at the Montblanc store, cocktails and a fashion show attended by the designers Oscar de la Renta and Diane Von Furstenberg, and a tour of Estée Lauder’s original office.

They were not celebrities. They were not government officials. They were Chinese tourists with a lot of money.

The most important relationship of the 21st century is likely to be that between the United States and China. Both countries have a big stake in emphasizing cooperation over confrontation. But a prosperous, even democratic PRC still could pose a significant geopolitical challenge to America. After all, nationalism knows no ideological bounds, wealth enhances military potential, and vote-seeking politicians have been known to harness the whirlwind of demagoguery to win. Nevertheless, a China where the majority of citizens are still desperate to climb the income ladder and the elite are enjoying their privileges is far less likely to intentionally blow up the international system that has moved their nation from poverty to prosperity.

Whether out of ideological conviction or political convenience, Bo was seen as pushing for a return to Maoist values. However, most Chinese seem to believe “Been there, done that” during the not so Great Leap Forward and the catastrophic Cultural Revolution. For a lucky few in the new China, it’s now even time to shop at Bergdorf Goodman!

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

Zero Cheers for the Chinese Communist Party

The Chinese Communist Party celebrates its 90th birthday today. Pardon me if I do not attend the party.

It is undeniably true, as the authorities in Beijing are trumpeting, that the Chinese Mainland under one-party communist rule has enjoyed spectacular economic success during the past 30 years. China’s rapid growth was unleashed by the reforms of the late communist leader Deng Xiaoping that began in the late 1970s, but those reforms—private ownership of business, farms and housing, market pricing, foreign investment, and trade liberalization, among others—were hardly an extension of the Communist Party’s agenda. In fact, those reforms were a direct repudiation of everything the Chinese Communist Party and its co-founder Mao Tse-tung believed and practiced before and after the communist takeover of 1949.

Under Mao, tens of millions of Chinese starved in the Great Leap Forward of 1958-60. Millions suffered cruelly at the hands of the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. During the first 30 years of communist rule, the Chinese people enjoyed neither economic nor political and civil freedom. Even amid rising economic prosperity today, China’s one-party state continues to imprison, torture, and kill people who practice their faith or question the party. That is not much of a record to celebrate.

The Chinese people do not need communist rule to prosper. We can see that plainly enough 112 miles across the Taiwan Strait. Under the rule of the Nationalist Party, the 23 million people of Taiwan made the transition from military rule to a lively, multiparty democracy with freedom of speech, assembly, and religion. Behind liberal economic reforms dating back to the 1960s, the Taiwanese people have achieved a per capita gross domestic product (at purchasing power parity) that is four and a half times greater than on the mainland—$35,700 vs. $7,600.

It does not take much imagination to envision what Mainland China would be like today if it had followed the path of Taiwan rather than that of the 90-year-old Chinese Communist Party.

Lugar Targets Federal Sugar Racket

The federal government has been meddling with sugar production since 1934. Today’s convoluted system of supply controls, price supports, and trade restrictions benefits domestic sugar producers at the expense of consumers and utilizing industries. In other words, sugar producers “win” and the rest of the country “loses.”

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) just introduced the “Free Sugar Act of 2011,” which would abolish the federal sugar racket. In a Washington Times op-ed on his bill, Lugar doesn’t pull any punches:

The collapse of communism brought an end to many of the world’s command-and-control economic systems and central planning by government bureaucrats. But a notable exception is the United States government’s sugar program. A complicated system of marketing allotments, price supports, purchase guarantees, quotas and tariffs that only a Soviet apparatchik could love, the U.S. sugar program has actually lasted longer than the Soviet Union itself.

A Cato essay on agricultural regulations and trade barriers elaborates on points Lugar makes in his op-ed:

  • The big losers from federal sugar programs are U.S. consumers. The Government Accountability Office estimates that U.S. sugar policies cost American consumers almost $2 billion annually. (Lugar says it could be as much as $4 billion.)
  • The GAO found that 42 percent of all sugar subsidies go to just 1 percent of sugar growers. To protect their monopolies, many sugar growers, such as the Fanjul family of Florida, have become influential campaign supporters of many key members of Congress.
  • U.S. food industries that buy sugar are harmed by current sugar policies as well. The employment in U.S. sugar growing is 61,000, which compares to employment in U.S. businesses that use sugar of 988,000.  According to a government report, for each sugar growing and harvesting job saved through high U.S. sugar prices, nearly three confectionery manufacturing jobs are lost.
  • Numerous U.S. food manufacturers have relocated to Canada where sugar prices are less than half of U.S. prices and to Mexico where prices are two-thirds of U.S. levels.

The federal government engages in a lot activities that are difficult to defend. But when it comes to sugar, the government’s protections are clearly indefensible.

The Cuba Embargo at 50

Fifty years ago Tuesday, the United States began to impose sanctions on Cuba in what would turn into a comprehensive U.S. trade, finance and travel embargo.

Though the embargo is not the cause of Cuba’s dismal and deteriorating economic and social conditions, neither has it worked to change Cuban policies or even lead to regime change.

It is time to lift the embargo. Doing so will not save communism from its inherent flaws; that system collapsed spectacularly elsewhere around the world in places where the West maintained or established trade. Keeping the sanctions will only further allow the dictatorship and its sympathizers to explain away the regime’s own failings. It would be better for Cubans and the world to see the unraveling of Cuban communism without U.S. intervention. When a free Cuba is eventually born, it will more easily flourish if enemies of the open society cannot rely on a false narrative about how the colossus of the North finally killed off the island’s socialist experiment.

A good way to start would be by lifting the travel portion of the embargo. That measure would expose ordinary Cubans to hundreds of thousands of American citizens, thus inevitably expanding Cuba’s informal economy and establishing innumerable relationships that would make Cuban citizens more independent of the state. The regime may try to reap the benefits of increased revenues, but it will have unleashed a social dynamic that will be difficult to control.