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Václav Klaus: Soviet Communism Is Over, What About Freedom?

It is, or it at least should be, evident that we didn´t come here to celebrate the 100th anniversary of one of the most important – and in its disastrous and ruinous consequences one of the most evil – events of the 20th century, the Great October Socialist Revolution, as we used to call it when I was attending elementary school in Prague. We came here to commemorate it. This should be made explicit. There are still places nowadays where this event is being celebrated.

The difference between celebration and commemoration is absolutely crucial. Especially for some of us. For me, communism is not just a field of my academic studies or my curiosity. I didn´t look at it from abroad. I had the sad “privilege” to spend 40 years of my life in such a system.

For a long time, I quite deliberately keep stressing that we lost a lot in that era but I immediately add that we learned a lot as well. This experience sharpened our eyes. Our life in communism was a unique opportunity to gain profound and intimate knowledge of a highly centralistic, oppressive and undemocratic, dirigistic and interventionist political and economic system in its pure form.

These “sharpened eyes” are still with us, at least with some of us. We use them when looking at the current world, and especially when looking at the contemporary political and economic reality in Europe (and all over the West) which has been gradually getting more and more features resembling our communist past.

The fact that communism is over doesn't mean we've reached a final victory. In contrast with many observers, who lived at the moment of its fall in the free West, we were not entirely surprised that one of the most irrational, oppressive, cruel and inefficient systems in history ceased to exist so suddenly and so relatively quietly. We were well aware of the fact that the communist regime was in many respects already an empty shell. We also knew that in the final stages of communism practically nobody believed in the original pillars of its ideology, in Marxism and in its derivative, the Communist doctrine and that Communism was not ready and able to defend itself.

A serious, unprejudiced analysis reveals that communism just melted down (or passed away), that it was not defeated. There are people and groups of people who don´t like this interpretation of events, who claim that they themselves defeated communism. This is, to put it mildly, highly contentious. We shouldn´t breed new myths (or self-justifying narratives).

We are already more than one generation away from the fall of communism. It is our duty to keep memories alive. We have to keep reminding both the current and the future generations of all the cruelties and atrocities of the communist era. If we didn't do it, nobody else would. It is also necessary to correctly interpret the later, in many respects milder stages of communism. Without it, it is difficult to understand the rather sudden and bloodless end of communism, to comprehend all the tenets of the post-communist transition, and – what is most important – to sharply look at the current era.

One of the consequences of the rapid disappearance of communism is that we, in our countries, even in the academic sphere, ceased discussing and analysing communism, especially its later stages, its gradual weakening, emptying, and softening, as well as its complete resignation to defend itself or, luckily, to fight back. The only books and studies which continued to be published have been about the communist earlier, much uglier periods, about the “gulag” era in the Soviet Union or about the 1950s in other communist countries when people were killed, not just jailed or fired from their jobs.

When I suggest that we are in many respects returning back, I don´t mean to Marxism and Communism. I don´t find it relevant to study the works of influential contemporary intellectual celebrities and to eventually find the evidence of their inspiration in Marxism and Communism. This is a blind alley, although a rather popular one, because it is intellectually not very challenging. An almost endless series of books and articles with titles such as “The Marxist Resurgence” (or something similar to it) is being published this year[1]. I don´t find them helpful or meaningful.

Something else bothers me much more. I see the resurgence of similar dangerous ideas advanced under other names and based on different motives and arguments. Their exponents would furiously deny any connection with Marxism and Communism and they would be right. Many of them have been for a long time explicit antimarxists and anticommunists. We shouldn´t, however, fight old battles.

The contemporary world, which I have a chance to observe mainly in Europe looking at it from a Central European post-communist country is characterized by many features which remind me of the old, communist days. I see a visible decline of freedom and an irresponsible lack of interest in freedom as such. I do not see any return of communism, I see new ideologies and tendencies that put something else ahead of freedom and democracy. We shouldn´t become victims of the blind faith that communism was the last utopia.

What are the main aspects of this development?

1. I see them in a shift in power from elected representatives to unelected bureaucracy (and – to use the old term – to a new nomenclatura), from local and regional authorities to central governments, from legislators to executives, from national parliaments to Brussels (and Strasbourg), which together means from the citizen to the state.

2. I see them in a cumulative, exponentially growing regulation and control of all kinds of human activities, which was something our “Velvet Revolutions” were explicitly against. We witness the explosive growth of the regulatory and administrative state touching also the intimate, very personal spheres of our lives, not just the economic field as it used to be in the past.

3. I see and witness themin the replacement of freedom with rights. The ideology of rights – I call it human-rightism – has achieved the status of a civic religion. It took on an almost sacred role. It has become the basis of a new model of society, of its institutional arrangement, of its guiding principles. It is the part of an everlasting illusion of all non-democrats to abolish politics.

We believed that communism was the last utopia but we were wrong. Human-rightism is a good candidate for becoming the new one (especially with its recent project of a minimal income, which asks for a fundamental weakening of the link between performance and rewards[2]).

4. I see them in the victorious crusade of environmentalism (or of global warming alarmism)[3]. I agree with the French unorthodox author Pascal Bruckner[4] that “all the foolishness of Bolshevism and Marxism are reformulated in the name of saving the planet”. Environmentalism is a new danger, but a non-communist and non-marxist one.

5. I also see them in the triumphant crusades of feminism and genderism, of multiculturalism, of political correctness and of other similar “isms” and doctrines. We shouldn´t concentrate our attention on the old Marxism and Communism.

It is difficult to find a proper common denominator of all these new “isms” [5]. It is definitely not Marxism. I am afraid we have to go back further into history. I see the ultimate roots of the current intellectual infatuation (and confusion) in the French Revolution (or among the French thinkers who inspired the revolution).

From the French Revolution, we inherited the idea of progress (which is supposed to be beyond political dispute), of progressivism, and, quite recently, of transnational progressivism (so eloquently discussed by John Fonte in his many writings[6]). We live in an era of adoration of would-be progress, of equality, of justice, and of empty moralism, in an era of contempt for election and referenda results, in an era of false solidarity and of adoring everything global, “multi” or “supra”. It has led to the current left-wing post-modern intellectual monoculture. Due to it, we are moving to a post-West order (all the debates about the so called new world order are about nothing else).

As a consequence, the West began the critical phase of a relative gradual decline. It would be wrong to focus our attention on external enemies, be it Russia, Islam, or the residual isolated islands of communism. The West is attacked mostly from the inside, from our public intellectuals, from our universities, from our mass media, from our politically correct politicians, from ourselves, from our lack of will, our lack of determination, our lack of courage. This process emerges from the bottom up, it is not imposed from the top down (in Steve Pejovich´s formulation).

President Trump said recently in Warsaw that “the fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive”. He asked: “Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization?”. I don´t find these words to be an exaggeration of the deepness of problems of our contemporary Western world. They are just to the point. With this in mind, we have to start changing the tide of public thinking. Otherwise, the fall of communism will soon no longer be a principal breakthrough in our long march for freedom.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Václav Klaus, Speech at The Victims of Communism Centennial Commemoration, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., November 9, 2017. Parts of this manuscript were used in my speech at the Center for National Interest, Connecticut Av., Washington, D.C., November 8, 2017.

[1] See e.g. Weeks, N., The Marxist Resurgence and Its Three Stepchildren, Quadrant, October 2017.

[2] This is a return to a slogan popularized by Karl Marx in 1875 “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. It was originally published in his “Critique of the Gotha Program”.

[3]See my “Blue Planet in Green Shackles”, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington D.C., 2007 and my new book “Zničí nás klima nebo boj s klimatem?”, Grada, Praha, 2017 (only in Czech).

[4] Bruckner, P., “The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse: Save the Earth, Punish Human Beings”, Polity, Cambridge, 2014.

[5] Steve Pejovich finds it in “liberal socialism”, in his “From Socialism in the 1990s to Socialism in the 2000s: The Rise of Liberal Socialism”, Reporter, Ljubljana, No. 32, 2017 (in Slovenian), forthcoming Post-Communist Economies, 30, 2018. His approach, however, covers mostly the economic side of this multidimensional process.

[6] Fonte, J., Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others?, Encounter Books, New York City, 2011.

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