The collapse of the Communist system, which brought the Cold War to an end, was a watershed event in the life of the international left. The catastrophe of Communism included the creation of a totalitarian state; the reintroduction of slave labor on an epic scale; politically induced famines and government-created poverty of unprecedented proportions; political purges and mass executions resulting in the deaths of an estimated 100 million individuals.
These were the direct results of a system based on socialist theories, which provided no rational method for allocating resources and no effective work incentives, and no guarantees of individual rights. The unique cause of the system’s failure was in fact the socialist theories that inspired its creation and that had produced a continental-size society that did not work.
A Czech writer, Joseph Svorecky, asked: “Has there ever been a case in history of a political system collapsing overnight, not as an aftermath of a lost war or bloody revolution but from its own inner rottenness?” The answer was there had not. The Soviet system and its political empire were the products of a self-conscious effort to create a social order based on false intellectual doctrines. It was this artificial nature of the regime that explained the unprecedented circumstances of its fall.
In other words, the Soviet catastrophe should have been a moment of reckoning for the progressive movements which had based their hopes on the socialist future, and shaped their movement according to its theoretical perspectives. But the paramount fact – overriding all others – was that it did not. Although their “solution” had failed, progressives continued to embrace the political culture that had produced it, and to guide their political actions by the same ideas. In the universities they had come to dominate, Stalinists like Antonio Gramsci, Gyorgy Lukacs, Walter Benjamin Herbert Marcuse and Eric Hobsbawm were iconic names. The Cuban Stalinist Che Guevara became a saint of the popular culture, along with the Rosenberg spies who were elegized as martyrs in the literary culture including a celebrated theatrical epic, “Angels in America,” which won the Pulitzer Prize. Its dramatist Tony Kushner was, no surprisingly, a signer of the Not In Our Name denunciation of the war in Iraq.
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