Um recado para os perfeitos idiotas brazucas: o suicídio do Leste

terça-feira, outubro 27, 2009

The suicide of East?

1989 and the Fall of Communism

Philip D. Zelikow
November/December 2009

There was no World War III. A fictional one, depicted in the 1978 international bestseller The Third World War, was imagined by one of the most remarkable soldier-scholars of his generation, a retired British general named John Hackett. His war begins when a 1985 crackup in Yugoslavia lights the great-power fuse, 1914 style. Analogies to World War I, of decaying empires and military machines primed to attack, were very much in the air when the book was published. It was the late 1970s, and Soviet interventionism had reached a high point, while the Soviet Union combined a sprawling, ill-governed military with an aging, insecure political class.

But by the time the real Yugoslav war did come, in 1991, another kind of chain reaction had already transformed Europe. In the late 1980s, Moscow was experimenting vigorously with economic and then political reform. The Soviet Union and Poland held limited elections in early 1989 that, in different ways, shook the foundations of their communist establishments. Soon, Poland had a noncommunist government. Hungary effectively defected to the West, attracting a flow of refugees from East Germany, thus undermining the bastion of Stalinism they left behind. The cascade quickened. Czechoslovakia's government was toppled by a "velvet revolution," and the Berlin Wall was breached when a bureaucratic snafu inadvertently opened the floodgates. Bulgarians overthrew their leaders, and as the year ended, Romania's brutal dictator died before a firing squad. As the Germans created a new unity for their divided nation, national movements splintered the Soviet Union itself. By the end of 1991, the Soviet empire had disintegrated.

Although there had been some bloodshed in China and Romania, there had been no great war. Hundreds of millions of people now led new ways of life in new states with new borders. The world was rearranged as in a great postwar settlement -- but without a war. So profound were the changes that when Yugoslavia started to break apart and the outside actors -- conditioned by habit to play leading roles in the drama -- stumbled onto the stage, the players seemed bewildered and scriptless.

Seen two decades later, it seems like a blur. As this episode passes into historical memory, 1989 has become the totemic year when the people rose up, and the November collapse of the Berlin Wall is its exemplary moment. A fresh crop of books now attempts to unpack this epic story. Was it really a revolt from below, or was it more from above, a civil war within the Communist elite? Both is the obvious answer, but these books put more weight on the struggles within the Communist elite. Some focus on the revolutions of 1989. Others emphasize the settlements that shaped the world of today. Two of them take in the full narrative arc of the communist experiment in organizing modern society. Hardly any discuss the challenge of fashioning a tempting alternative to it. That is unfortunate, because so many of communism's initial adherents were men and women disillusioned by the apparent failings of liberalism.


Once upon a time, the "ten days that shook the world," in Russia's 1917 revolution, had a comparable grip on the public's historical imagination. Once upon a time, the future of the world seemed to belong to the states descended from that older bolt of revolutionary lightning.

These were total states. They encompassed the unprecedented forces of creation and destruction that humanity had so recently discovered, and they were driven by Nietzschean supermen with a will to power. Or so it seemed to the disillusioned Trotskyite James Burnham by the end of the 1930s. In his influential 1941 book, The Managerial Revolution, Burnham argued that ideologies such as socialism or fascism were just masks worn by new kinds of "managerial states," their resources mobilized and industries led by a technocratic elite. The states that would triumph were those that could carry their principles to their logical limits and use power ruthlessly. Capitalism, he predicted, was "not going to continue much longer." Shortly after World War II, Burnham returned to his theme of governing power elites, "the Machiavellians," who might adopt democratic forms to perpetuate their rule. If U.S. leaders hoped to survive, they would have to acquire their own will to power and use their fleeting nuclear advantage, in a preventive war if necessary.

Especially in light of Burnham's former prominence on the American left, his arguments intrigued George Orwell, a self-described "democratic socialist." Writing from the United Kingdom, Orwell noticed the fascination with power and force that so imbued what Burnham called his "realism." In early 1947, Orwell wrote that for Burnham, "Communism may be wicked, but at any rate it is big: it is a terrible, all-devouring monster which one fights against but which one cannot help admiring." Against Burnham's visions of monsters and cataclysms, Orwell hoped that "the Russian regime may become more liberal and less dangerous a generation hence, if war has not broken out in the meantime." Or perhaps the great powers would "be simply too frightened of the effects of atomic weapons ever to make use of them." Yet Orwell acknowledged that such a nuclear standoff was a dreadful prospect, as it would mean the lasting "division of the world among two or three vast super-states," run by Burnham's technocratic dictators -- the Machiavellian managerial elite.

For Orwell, the only way of avoiding that outcome was "to present somewhere or other, on a large scale, the spectacle of a community where people are relatively free and happy and where the main motive in life is not the pursuit of money or power. In other words, democratic Socialism must be made to work throughout some large area." He thought that this would have to be in Europe, a Europe unified to serve this ideal. So for Orwell in 1947, the prescription was to avoid war long enough for communist governments to become less dangerous and, meanwhile, to build an appealing alternative to communism.

Not a bad throw at the dartboard for the man who was about to write a novel, 1984, warning of a Burnhamite dystopia. If Orwell had lived to witness the real 1984, he would have been relieved to see that global war had been avoided. There had been a few serious scares and several regional wars, helped along by the triumph of an especially radical set of Communist enthusiasts in China. But by the early 1980s, their revolutionary dynamism spent, the Communist rulers had turned into a paternalistic managerial elite.


David Priestland's The Red Flag is a far-reaching, vividly written account of that evolution, both the best and the most accessible one-volume history of communism now available. Priestland charts the rise of "romantic" Marxism, which once in power morphed into either a "modernist" or a "radical" variant. The first espoused an authoritarian high modernism to reshape society according to the visionary master plans of the guiding party. The second added the killing fervor of continuing revolution, with its militarized mobilization of every element of society and unceasing struggle against the revolution's enemies. By the early 1980s, the somewhat more benign modernist variant was dominant.

But the other half of Orwell's prescription is the relative success of the other side, a factor easily neglected in books that concentrate on communism's failings. Wars are not just lost; they have to be won. Traditional accounts of the Cold War understandably focus on the United States and the Soviet Union. But that contest was a kind of global election, and the swing states were in Europe and East Asia. From this perspective, the turning point of the late Cold War is less a story about 1989 and more a story about the period between 1978 and 1982.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, capitalism was in obvious crisis. "Can Capitalism Survive?" cried a Time magazine cover from 1975. "Is Capitalism Working?" asked another in 1980. Yet divided after Mao's death among competing visions of national development, the Chinese made a pivotal choice in 1978. They rejected the Soviet model, opting instead for market-oriented economic reform, but without political reform. (At about the same time, Hungary's Communist leader, János Kádár, with his similar market-opening program of "goulash communism," showed how such a model could work in Eastern Europe, too.)

The Chinese were probably influenced less by the example of the United States itself than by U.S.-backed examples closer to home, such as Japan, South Korea, and -- although they would not admit it -- Taiwan. Not only had Moscow lost its power of attraction, but its political-military posture -- not least its backing of the increasingly powerful government in Vietnam -- also unsettled the Chinese.

In Europe, the model of social democracy achieved much in the late 1940s and 1950s. Its ideal of a big welfare state umpiring among big companies and big unions was at the core of the new European community. But by the 1970s, that model was sputtering on both sides of the Atlantic. The Bretton Woods system, which put national economic autonomy ahead of the free movement of global capital, had collapsed. Galloping inflation was combined with high unemployment, labor strife seemed endemic, protests and terrorism wracked much of Western Europe.

But capitalism broke out of its slump during the 1970s and into the early 1980s. At different moments, leaders in various states threw their weight behind a liberal economic orthodoxy of hard money and the unregulated movement of capital, limiting national economic autonomy but facilitating unprecedented flows of global investment. The globalized economy of today was shaped during these years, and the Americans played an important part. With his work to liberalize capital markets and coordinate monetary strategies, George Shultz may actually have influenced the course of world history more in his two years as treasury secretary for Richard Nixon than he did in his six-plus years as secretary of state for Ronald Reagan.

The Europeans also played a critical role in this reinvention of capitalism, while winning voters who wanted public order restored. West Germany became an anchor for this new vision of the world economy, especially the Free Democratic Party, which was the indispensable coalition partner of every West German government from the 1970s to the 1990s. The West Germans, in turn, found common cause with the French technocrats who saw in this shared vision of Europe's political economy the basis, first, for a European monetary system, then, for a true European single market, and, finally, for a common currency.

The story can be mapped as a tale of two U-turns: In 1972, there was the U-turn of a conservative British prime minister, Sir Edward Heath, who was broken by the unions and then scorned for it by his successor as party leader, Margaret ("the lady's not for turning") Thatcher. The other U-turn was in 1982-83, when French President François Mitterrand -- the first Socialist to take office in France since World War II -- abandoned his agenda of state-owned finance and industry to make common cause with Jacques Delors (his economics minister and later the president of the European Commission) and the West Germans. European integration had trumped the independent socialist path.

This rebooting of capitalism and reinvigoration of the European idea came at a critical time. The left was contesting the future not only of France but also of Italy and Spain. In West Germany, the Free Democrats brought down the Social Democratic government of Helmut Schmidt and made Helmut Kohl chancellor rather than compromise their preferred vision for Europe's political economy. Thatcher, elected in the United Kingdom in 1979, survived thanks in part to the tonic of a victorious small war against an Argentine dictatorship that had recklessly occupied some sparsely inhabited British-owned rocks in the South Atlantic. By the end of 1982, the swing states of Europe were making their choices.


The rebooting was about ideas, too. Again, Europe was a fulcrum. Self-described "realists" on both the right and the left wanted to stay clear of alignment with either Washington or Moscow. But many others, including Schmidt, Kohl, and Mitterrand, disagreed. Reagan's condemnation of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" was a rallying point for both those he inspired and those he frightened. The European contest was decided less by outsiders than by the Europeans' own battle of ideas, with the victory of what Germans called the Tendenzwende (change of course), which revived a spirit of "militant democracy" amid the turmoil of the 1970s. Leaders of this movement spoke, as the historian Jeffrey Herf once put it, "in the language of [Konrad] Adenauer and Clausewitz, but also in an international discourse of [Alexis de] Tocqueville and Karl Popper, Raymond Aron and Leszek Kolakowski, Montesquieu and President Jimmy Carter." A colossal political fight over NATO's deployment of U.S. nuclear missiles to offset new Soviet deployments, an initiative pioneered by Schmidt, became the central battle. The issue was effectively decided in West Germany, with the formation of a conservative-liberal governing coalition in 1982.

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