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New Left Review I/177, September-October 1989


Ralph Miliband

Reflections on the Crisis of Communist Regimes

The massacre in Tiananmen Square last June is unlikely to be the last violent expression of the deep and multiple crises—economic, social, political, ethnic, ideological, moral—which grip many Communist regimes, and which will in due course most probably grip them all. A vast ‘mutation’ is going on throughout the Communist world, and undoubtedly constitutes one of the great turning points in the history of the twentieth century. The outcome of this crisis is still an open question, though the alternatives, broadly speaking, are not difficult to list: at best, a form of regime approximating to socialist democracy, which the reform movement initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union may manage to produce; some form of capitalist democracy, with a substantial public sector; or a reinforced authoritarianism with a spreading market economy—what Boris Kagarlitsky has aptly called ‘market Stalinism’—of which China is the most conspicuous example to date. At any rate, it seems clear that the form of regime which dominated the Soviet Union from the late twenties until a very few years ago, and all other Communist regimes from the post-war years onwards, is now unravelling in many of them, and is very likely sooner or later to unravel in them all.

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