by Mate Hajba
Gray, drab, and unimaginative. A shabby concrete block of flats, unkempt cracked pavement, metal playgrounds with all colors chipped off. This is my early childhood memory of Hungary taking its first breath of fresh air after 40 years of suffocating communism. It was better in the fall, as the cavalcade of hues in the fallen leaves covered the inhuman monstrosity of socialist planning. It gave some playful colours to the utter lack of any joie de vivre. Fall is also the month this communism started to spew out the full force of its terrors. On November 7, communism celebrated its 100th anniversary, but fortunately it died in most places at a younger age. Yet, did it really?
Despite the wonders of our modern age, the relative peace, prosperity and comforts of the US and the EU, in 2017, the looming threat of communism has not vanished completely. According to a poll conducted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, 44% of American youth would prefer living under socialism, 7% under communism, and only 42% chose capitalism.
Communism has always been marred by schisms. Think of the bolshevik-menshevik split, the Stalinists versus Maoists. Today, the ideology has divorced from the practice. True, a large portion of US millenials want to live in a socialist country, yet the same poll points out that 66% of people misidentify socialism and 69% communism, whereas 69% underestimates the number of victims of communism. That is why, despite of over 100 million victims, many misidentify communism as a just and peaceful idea.
Then there is the practice of communism, posing – if anything – an even greater danger. Just as the far-right movements rebranded themselves to the more pleasant sounding alt-right, communism left the ideological part with its few misguided supporters, shed the pejorative moniker and went on applying the methods of oppression.
The KGB officer currently ruling Russia with an iron fist realized that the shortcomings of a soviet style communism but with the help of his ideologue, Aleksandr Dugin, established a seemingly new political way that draws from all previous systems. The truth is that Putin still parades the army in Soviet uniforms for the anniversary of the victory in WWII. Just like his Soviet predecessors, Putin set up a close group which rules the country by owning the economy, the news, and politics. And just as all communists before him he spreads collectivism, hatred, violence, and prosecutes those who would bring individualism, liberty, rule of law, and free markets.
This cronyism, illiberalism, and populism has already spread throughout Europe and to both Americas and yet, we are too slow to react. Putin’s virtual and physicals networks successfully poisoned the society to such an extent that the Russian strongman can manipulate the news, spread discourse, and puppeteer politicians and businessmen.
Both theory – that is the ideas of communism and socialism, or at least the misunderstood, misidentified ideas – and practice of a communist regime, which are the means of acquiring and retaining power, are still very much present in our world. Somewhere deep beneath the colorful leaves of many years, the grey, cracked concrete is slow to decay. We must act lest it surfaces again. Only by filling the word communism with its terrible meaning, and giving the proper name to its methods can we be sure we won’t be caught off guard.
Mate Hajba is the Director of the Free Market Foundation and Vice President of Civic Platform.