Communism: From Modernity’s Vanguard to History’s Rearguard
It’s been a matter of faith for Communists that they represent the vanguard of modernity. Indeed, many anti-Communist observers have also long seen Communism in those terms. But now that Communism is in retreat throughout most of the world, that notion is difficult for anyone to sustain. Poland currently enjoys its first post-war non-Communist government. Vietnam has for a decade and a half been reunified and “liberated,” and its economy is a shambles. Several republics of the Soviet Union are itching for independence. And tens of thousands of East Germans have been clamoring — to the point of riot — to go west.
Comparing the two Germanies is revealing. While East Germany has the highest standard of living of any Communist country, it has never been able to emulate West Germany’s. To be sure, when the two German states were established 40 years ago, western Germany was already more prosperous. East German Communism vowed to catch up. It hasn’t — and it won’t. Is it fair to indict East Germany for this failure? Yes, because its government was sure of the superiority of its system and expected to catch up with West Germany and then overtake it. Moreover, if one considers the phenomenal growth of the Japanese economy vis-à-vis the U.S. economy over the last 40 years, it’s not unrealistic to suppose that one economy can catch up with another in the span of a generation or two.
Curiously, the failure of Communism is testimony to the triumph of modernity. For, while Communism is ideologically ultramodern, the societies it has established are in many important respects anti-modern.
Again, take the two Germanies: Over the last 40 years West Germany has been culturally Americanized — i.e., modernized — at a rapid pace, while East Germany has remained the more culturally German — and traditional — of the two German societies. The sexual revolution hit West Germany long before it made any impact on East Germany. Narcotics are much more accessible in West Germany than in the East. “Law and order,” that phrase dear to traditionalists, has been far more evident in the East than the West: City streets are safe at nights in East Berlin, but not necessarily in Munich or Frankfurt. Western visitors to the East complain that there’s nothing to do at night: East German cities close down early.
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