Oh, crap… — the ghost of Karl Marx.
If the Cold War taught us anything, it is that doctrinaire communism can’t survive prolonged and intense exposure to capitalism. This is an important reason why President Obama has made a wise choice to normalize relations with Cuba.
While our weapons were mighty and our resolve strong, one of the biggest reasons behind the collapse of the Soviet empire was the expansion of trade and increase of economic ties between the West and the Soviets, beginning under President Richard Nixon.
It’s not as if massive grain sales gave Washington “food power” over Moscow. President Jimmy Carter’s grain embargo in 1980, as punishment for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, had little effect except on U.S. farmers. Instead, growing exposure to the West proved more subversive than 25,000 Bolsheviks plotting in coffee houses.
The more that citizens in the communist bloc came into contact with Westerners, Western culture and media, and the capitalist economy, the more they realized the propaganda their regimes had been feeding them were lies. In fact, Westerners lived far better under capitalism than they did under the hoary theories of a 19th century philosopher implemented by totalitarian regime. This began in East Germany and spread.
It was reminiscent of Nikita Khrushchev‘s 1959 visit to the United States. Seeing a parking lot at an automobile plant filled with new cars, the Soviet Premier declared that this must be for the capitalist bosses. No, his hosts told him, this was where the workers parked their cars. But by the 1980s, average people in the Soviet Union knew this, too — while they had to wait in long lines to buy bad toilet paper.
China is little different. Although the regime is nominally “communist,” the reality would be more to the liking of Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek: one-party rule, strong nation, imperialists out and a capitalist economy. Mao would see his life’s work in ruins.
Not for nothing does the Kim family want to keep the bacillus of capitalism out of their hermit kingdom.
As for Cuba, the embargo has long since outlived its usefulness. It failed in every respect except for domestic U.S. politics. The island is full of talented people — although Fidel Castro “exported” vast numbers of them to the United States — and the old regime will not long survive in its present form.
That doesn’t mean Jeffersonian democracy will follow. We’re having a difficult time preserving it in Citizens United America. The world is full of cultures, customs and histories that can work against Western-style democratic values. But in the battle between communism and liberal capitalism, there’s no contest. As Margaret Thatcher said, “There is no alternative.”
Now, if they can only preserve Havana architecture, those great 1950s cars, and the best cigars in the world.
Today’s Econ Haiku:
The ruble’s rubble
This is not a photo op
Putin lost his shirt