The catastrophe of historical communism stands literally before everyone’s eyes—the catastrophe of communism as a world movement, born of the Russian Revolution, promising emancipation of the poor and oppressed, the ‘wretched of the earth’.footnote＊ The process of decomposition is continually speeding up, beyond anything predicted. This does not yet spell the end of the communist regimes, which might still last a long time by finding new forces for survival. The first great crisis of a communist state occurred in Hungary more than thirty years ago, and yet the regime did not collapse. In this respect, too, it is wiser not to make any predictions.
What cannot be denied, however, is the failure not just of the communist regimes but of the revolution inspired by communist ideology—the ideology which posed the radical transformation of a society considered unjust and oppressive into a quite different society, both free and just. The unprecedented sense of drama in the events of the last few days lies in the fact that they have not involved the crisis of a regime or the defeat of a great, invincible power. Rather, in a seemingly irreversible way, the greatest political utopia in history (I am not speaking of religious utopias) has been completely upturned into its exact opposite. It is a utopia which, for at least a century, has fascinated philosophers, writers and poets (think of Gabriel Pery’s ‘singing tomorrows’); which has shaken whole masses of the dispossessed and impelled them to violent action; which has led men with a high moral sense to sacrifice their own life, to face prison, exile and extermination camps; and whose unquelled force, both material and spiritual, has at times seemed irresistible, from the Red Army in Russia to Mao’s Long March, from the conquest of power by a group of resolute men in Cuba to the desperate struggle of the Vietnamese people against the mightiest power in the world. In one of his early writings—why should we not recall it?—Marx defined communism as ‘the solution to the enigma of history’.
None of the ideal cities described by the philosophers was ever proposed as a model to be actually realized. Plato knew that the ideal republic of which he spoke with his friends was not destined to exist in any place on earth; it was true, as Glaucon put it to Socrates, only
The best proof of failure is that all those who have rebelled from time to time in these years, and with particular energy in the last few days, have called precisely for recognition of the rights to liberty that are the first prerequisite of democracy—not, please note, of ‘progressive’ or popular democracy, or however else it might be called to distinguish and exalt it over our democracies, but precisely of the democracy that we can only call ‘liberal’ and which emerged and consolidated itself through the slow and arduous conquest of certain basic freedoms. I am referring, in particular, to the four great freedoms of modern man: individual liberty, or the right not to be arrested arbitrarily and to be judged in accordance with clearly defined penal and judicial rules; freedom of the press and of opinion; freedom of assembly, which we saw captured peacefully, but contested, on Tiananmen Square; and finally—the most difficult to achieve—the freedom of association out of which free trade unions and free parties were born, and with them the pluralist society in whose absence democracy does not exist. The completion of this centuries-long process was political liberty, or the right of all citizens to participate in collective decisions that concern them.
The explosive, and seemingly irrepressible, force of the popular movements shaking the world of communist regimes stems from the fact that these great freedoms are now being demanded all at once. In Europe the State of freedoms came after the law-based State, the democratic State after the State of freedoms. But on those squares today people are simultaneously demanding the law-based State, the State of freedoms and the democratic State. The Chinese students, in one of their documents, have declared that they are fighting for democracy, freedom and law. Such a situation is objectively revolutionary. But when such a situation cannot have a revolutionary outcome—as seems to be the case in each of these countries—the resolution can only be either gradual (Poland apparently being the most advanced) or counter-revolutionary as in China, unless it develops into civil war, that well-known historical form of failed or impossible revolutions.
The conquest of the freedom of the modern world—if and insofar as it is possible—cannot but be the starting point for the countries of the upturned utopia. But to go where? I ask this question because the founding of the law-based liberal-democratic state is not enough to solve the problems which gave birth to the proletarian movement of the countries that embarked upon a savage form of industrialization, and later among the poor peasants of the Third World, the ‘hope of the revolution’. The poor and forsaken are still condemned to live in a world of terrible injustices, crushed by unreachable and apparently unchangeable economic magnates on which the political authorities,
Are the democracies that govern the world’s richest countries capable of solving the problems that communism has failed to solve? That is the question. Historical communism has failed, I don’t deny it. But the problems remain—those same problems which the communist utopia pointed out and held to be solvable, and which now exist, or very soon will, on a world scale. That is why one would be foolish to rejoice at the defeat and to rub one’s hands saying: ‘We always said so!’ Do people really think that the end of historical communism (I stress the world ‘historical’) has put an end to poverty and the thirst for justice? In our world the two-thirds society rules and prospers without having anything to fear from the third of poor devils. But it would be good to bear in mind that in the rest of the world, the twothirds (or four-fifths or nine-tenths) society is on the other side.