Commentary Magazine


Is Olof Palme the Wave of the Future?

Does the rout of Communism in Eastern Europe, and its apparent loss of nerve in the Soviet Union, also presage the end of non-totalitarian forms of socialism throughout the world, or does it mean, as Mikhail Gorbachev’s adviser on German affairs, Nikolai Portugalov, recently proclaimed, that “the tree of socialism is greener than before”?

Two diametrically opposed judgments have filled the world’s media. One is that Communism is such a manifest failure that people everywhere will avoid like the plague everything associated with it in any way. The other is that since totalitarianism is incidental to socialism, and was really only an accretion that spoiled and deformed it, a socialism without totalitarian baggage will now conquer the world. On this view, the model for the future is free, prosperous, socialist Sweden (best symbolized, perhaps, by the name of its late Prime Minister Olof Palme).

In certain quarters of Western Europe, reactions to the events in the East have been more complicated. Thus, the socialist President of France, François Mitterrand, sees the crackup of East European Communism as the beginning of the end of a century-long rift in the socialist family. He hopes that this will make “the product” less suspect. But he also worries aloud lest the peoples of Eastern Europe, in their rush to freedom, turn away from “the best that socialism has given them.”

Indeed, there is scarcely a socialist in Western Europe who is not apprehensive about hordes of Easterners coming West with loads of horror stories about socialism. Any satisfaction that British Laborites, Italian Socialists, and German Social Democrats may get from hearing Eastern Communist parties (including the one in the Soviet Union) insist that they too are now just plain socialists, is mixed with fear that voters may by the same token now think that the West European Left is after all no different from the Communists. Much of the West European Left is therefore reversing two decades of rapprochement with the ruling parties of the East.

At an October 1989 meeting of the Socialist International in Milan, for example, the West German SPD wanted to bury the embarrassing fact that since 1969 SPD governments, through economic aid, had propped up the regime of the murderous Wall, and that just recently the SPD had touted its special ties with the East German Socialist Unity party (SED), as the Communists there used to call themselves.

In the East itself, the worries of non-Communist socialists are sharper and more immediate. The appeal of the East German feminist writer Christa Wolf is unusual only in its frankness: “We still have a chance to develop . . . a socialist alternative to the Federal Republic. We can still reflect our anti-fascist and humanistic ideals from which we proceeded long ago.” But to do any of this, say Wolf and other East German socialists, they must somehow manage to keep East Germany as a preserve for their ways. Wolf and her friends may have disliked Communist “domination.” But it appears that they relish open competition even less.

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Before considering what basis in reality all these hopes and fears may have, it is essential to cast a brief glance at the proverbial skunk at Europe’s garden party: military power.

It is quite incorrect to contend that “no one predicted” the collapse of East European Communism. To be sure, few on the Left did, and even fewer in the various foreign-policy establishments. In their view, the countries of Eastern Europe had “real governments” which inspired much patriotism and which were worthy of being treated as if they represented their peoples, albeit imperfectly. But most conservatives always saw these regimes as nothing more than a bunch of thugs who ruled only by the threat of Soviet guns. If ever the threat were lifted, so went this “unsophisticated” analysis, the regimes would be swept away in a matter of days. And that is exactly what happened.

Whatever Gorbachev’s ultimate intentions for Communism were or are, whether from his own point of view he calculated well or badly, throughout 1988 and 1989 he gave the impression to the East Europeans that Soviet troops would not shoot to prevent even profound deviations from totalitarianism—so long as their countries remained within the Warsaw Pact. In mid-1989, when the Hungarian government started to tear down the fences along the Austrian border and made it clear that the border police would no longer fire at escapees, Gorbachev did not object. By the beginning of November 1989, when Gorbachev visited East Berlin, crowds chanted his name as a talisman against their own Communist bosses. Within days, as the demonstrations in Leipzig mushroomed from 20,000 to about a half-million—virtually the entire city population—Gorbachev let it be known that he had been on the phone to the commander of the 380,000-strong Soviet forces in East Germany, telling him to keep his troops in the barracks. He allowed the storm to rage.

On the other hand, on December 8, Hans Modrow, the reportedly arch-moderate Prime Minister of East Germany, set a sharp limit to popular sovereignty: “I want to say emphatically that wherever there are weapons it is necessary to understand that there is a limit. . . . Weapons have to be where they belong, and must not fall into the wrong hands.” But of course the source of the people’s grievances is precisely that the weapons have been in the wrong hands for forty years.

In Czechoslovakia, too, on November 29, even as the chastened Communist party was almost unanimously voting in parliament to abolish its own guaranteed “leading role” in society, the country’s Defense Minister, General Milan Vaclavik, made a point of declaring that the army “definitely stands to support the General Secretary of the party.”

In Hungary, by far the freest country in the East, the Defense Minister nevertheless gave an interview to Le Monde on October 24, the gist of which was that the Hungarian army remained a faithful member of the Warsaw Pact.

As for Poland, when its anti-Communist Prime Minister Tadeuz Mazowiecki visited Moscow on November 24, he felt compelled to rededicate his ferociously anti-Soviet country to continued faithful membership in the Warsaw Pact and to apologize to Gorbachev for widespread incidents in which Poles had desecrated Soviet military graves in Poland.

Much as Mazowiecki and others in the region are enjoying unprecedented freedom and a taste of power, they lack any control whatsoever over the means of violence. In Poland, as everywhere else, the armed forces and the police, “the guns,” are in the hands of the professionals who for forty years have lived as a caste apart from the rest of society, and who are now more isolated than ever. That caste has material interests that can hardly be taken care of except in socialist systems tied to the Soviet Union.

The upshot is that the overwhelming majority of East Europeans have become powerful petitioners, but they are not yet truly sovereign. Over their heads, now out of sight, now brandished, hangs the threat of violence—either from domestic or from Soviet goons. (U.S. policy tends to perpetuate this by negotiating an arms-control agreement with Moscow that guarantees the presence of Soviet troops in Eastern Europe, and by “supporting Gorbachev” rather than national selfdetermination.) Hence, the primary political question for the peoples of the region is not simply, “What should we do?” but rather, “How far can we go?” The future of socialism would be much clearer—and almost certainly much less assured—if one could discount coercion.

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The strategy of the Communist leadership in the face of these new developments is obvious. First, jettison as much old baggage as possible. In order to separate both the current leadership and socialism itself from the past, change the name of the party. Expel, prosecute, and punish leaders whose boots all party apparatchiks had licked until only yesterday. Repudiate both the violence by which the party held power, and the universal practice of doling out society’s wealth to political favorites. All this, of course, is standard operating procedure for Communists. Indeed, every new Communist dictator has begun his reign by “discovering” and repudiating the abuses of his predecessors.

Second, make some kind of deal with any and all “other forces” who may be willing to work for socialism. The objective is, as Hans Modrow has stated, “a market-oriented socialist economy.” Modrow explains that he simply cannot allow the possibility of unemployment or of the loss of “social benefits.” One may question the sincerity of Modrow’s kind concern, but no one can deny that this stratagem too is familiar. Since the end of World War II, Communist parties in Eastern Europe have sought to legitimize their rule by coalescing with “all democratic and peace-loving groups,” while reserving to themselves the right to determine which groups did and which did not fit that category.

Third, since “free elections” cannot be avoided, organize them in a way that will minimize the entry into the political system of new people who want to eliminate the whole system of state management of the economy and of culture. The power to pose one question rather than another, and to formulate that question, prejudices the answer. Proportional representation, for example, virtually ensures the existence of many small parties and makes it unlikely that they will agree on any firm course of action. Also, if the voter can cast his ballot only for party lists, power rests with those who draw up the lists. All this increases the chances that the Communists will be able to buy, bully, or broker power on the retail level.

Fourth, since some privatization seems inevitable, profit from it. Polish Communists, for example, have begun to convert managerial posts in state enterprises into ownership shares. This, together with the exercise of lending authority in banks, should allow the nomenklatura to wield economic power in ways already familiar in the Third World and in China.

The most remarkable thing about this strategy is its chutzpah. By what right do people who have impoverished and brutalized their nations now claim any role at all in the future? Communist officials in the region have mused that in an open election they would gather “maybe 5 percent” of the vote. Judging by the semi-free elections in the Soviet Union, where a majority scratched out the names of even unopposed Communist candidates, 5 percent may be about right. So what does socialism have going for it other than squatters’ rights and the diminishing factor of fear?

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Socialism’s greatest immediate asset is that most of the people who have become prominent since the ferment in Eastern Europe began would like to make their countries over in something like the image of Sweden. The program of East Germany’s New Forum is very much a socialist program: property would be so conditioned as to be hardly private, and most members of the New Forum seem eager to work with the Communists to perpetuate the GDR as a laboratory where their social vision can be worked out.1 In Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, the man whose opposition to Communist dictatorship earned him first jail and now the presidency of his country, is evidently a liberal in the contemporary American sense. Havel and the Civic Forum, of which he is the most prominent leader, have concentrated on pushing for the dismantling of the Communist apparatus, but they have also embraced “liberal” Communists like Alexander Dubcek as partners. In Hungary, the leading figure in the drive for liberalization has been Imre Pozsgay, himself a Communist. In Poland, the Solidarity movement is a broad coalition of trade unionists, socialist dreamers, and Catholic social thinkers. Even though this coalition is mainly united by anti-Communism, in 1988 Solidarity decided to join the Communists in a round-table discussion, and later to join them in the government.

In spite of all this, however, the dynamics of these political arrangements are not working in favor of socialism. In Czechoslovakia the crowd that cheered Alexander Dubcek recoiled at the thought of his becoming president. Dubcek, said one observer, had been a vessel into which people had poured their hopes for a little more elbow room. Now their hopes had become much too big for the vessel. By November a member of the Civic Forum was startled when his son sharply rejected the idea of Dubcek for president with the words: “I don’t want any more Communists doing any more things to Czechoslovakia.” Another liberal Communist mused that his time had never come: for so many years his ideas had been too risque, and now, suddenly, they were out of date.

In Hungary, Imre Pozsgay’s reformist government scheduled a popular election for president in which Pozsgay would have been the only well-known candidate. But an upstart party, the brazenly anti-socialist Free Democrats collected signatures on a petition whose point was obviously to deny Pozsgay the job. The Free Democrats’ only asset in the campaign was that they stood foursquare against the past—all of it. They won.

In East Germany in mid-November, no sooner had the Communist Politburo begun to reconstitute itself into a liberal image than the cries of demonstrators in the street changed from “We want to stay” to “Communists out.” Another common cry was, “That was just the shirt; we want the pants.” By the beginning of December, the streets resounded to cries for immediate reunification and the demise of the socialist state. On December 15, the New York Times reported that an epidemic of discrimination had broken out in East Germany against people associated with the regime: a former policeman applying for a job as a truck driver was run over and killed; signs appeared reading, “Help wanted, no members of the SED need apply”; and rocks were thrown through the windows of cars owned even by non-Communist “progressive” writers who had been favored by the regime.

How will the political struggle work out? In an atmosphere substantially free of physical coercion, and with such an obvious demand for leadership that utterly rejects the past forty years, at least some politicians will undoubtedly try to supply it. Anticipating this, already the newest East German Communist leader, Gregor Gysi, is using the time-dishonored tactic for disqualifying anti-socialist politicians—namely, hinting that they may be fascists.

But there is reason to believe that in the East today such tactics will henceforth disqualify those who use them rather than those against whom they are used. In Rumania the Communists who took over when the army deposed and killed the dictator Ceausescu tried to quell the anti-Communist fervor of the crowds by trucking in paid demonstrators to harass opposition leaders whom they berated as “foreigners.” It fooled no one. For while the political scene in Eastern Europe may well be confused, there can be no confusion on one point: the name of the game will be to see who can draw the sharpest distinction between himself and the past.

As for economics, East European Communist officials argue for introducing changes gradually, while maintaining controls on credit, a substantial state-owned sector, and a big social-welfare apparatus because, they contend, the average worker would be hurt by such changes, at least initially, and would protest.

This line of argument deserves more skepticism than it has so far received in the West. After all, no one who has exercised power in Eastern Europe has ever cared very much about discomfiting workers.

But more to the point: what evidence is there for the widespread proposition that the average worker in the East is so brutish and short-sighted as to prefer the assurance of continued, or barely alleviated, misery in exchange for loafing his life away? Is the widespread quip of the East, “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work,” really an expression of satisfaction? Do workers in the East so adore, for example, the guaranteed child care which “allows” 90 percent of mothers to work that they are willing to put up with all that goes along with such guarantees?

If anything, the evidence suggests the contrary. The foremost item is the huge westward flow of migrants. Perhaps a third of a million East Germans went West during the last quarter of 1989. After the Wall and the Iron Curtain were opened, the flow continued at the rate of several thousand per day. The numbers of Poles, Czechs, etc. was much smaller, but presumably because only a few could manage to find a Western country that would let them take a regular job. These immigrants have come to work, not to loaf.

The counterargument is that these live wires are the exceptional ones, and that most of the others like the socialist cocoon. Yet the only polling done so far—unscientific though it be—confirms common sense. Many white-collar workers whose bureaucratic tasks are peculiar to a socialist regime believe that they could not find as comfortable and secure a niche outside the system. Others, including most blue-collar workers, cannot wait to receive what the market, not the regime, thinks their labors are worth.

One is left to wonder at the lowering of socialism’s economic claims. Once it boasted that it would provide a prosperous workers’ paradise for all. Now the best it can promise is a penurious loafers’ paradise for those with pull. Whatever attractions socialism might hold, they are not economic.

What, then, will the economic policies of the new governments be? The official economies are in more than a little danger of collapse, and it is by no means clear that the medicines being applied will help rather than hurt.

Poland’s Solidarity government is trying the austere “old-time religion” demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a condition for a $725-million loan: freeze wages, decontrol prices, and gradually sell or restructure bankrupt state enterprises; meanwhile, keep taxes high to provide a social safety net, not least for the unproductive bureaucracy. This was the IMF’s prescription for Mexico. If it works, Poland may succeed in doing as well as Mexico has—not a cheery prospect.

Hungary, in the best Argentinian fashion, has been trying to run state enterprises according to free-market principles, and with foreign loans that amount to $1,760 for every Hungarian man, woman, and child. This is alongside a private sector of small businesses that adds up to 25 percent of the economy. But although the private sector by itself does well, the bulk of the economy is not about to change.

In Yugoslavia the prosperous Slovenian Republic seems to have accomplished the transition to ownership of large industries by their managers, and is freeing small businesses. The Croatians are hastening to catch up, while the Serbians, stuck in the socialist dark ages, find in the growing disparity in wealth one more reason for ethnic resentment.

The East German economy has some state enterprises that do well and others that do not. The same is true of Czechoslovakia. In both places there are calls for privatization (in Czechoslovakia by a longtime Communist economist), but no plans exist.

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Thus, while it is clear that even Communists want to move toward free enterprise, it is not clear that they know what they are doing or that they have the will really to break with the past. Moreover, none of the people in charge of these economies has yet faced the fundamental questions of economic life. Are there to be restrictions on new businesses competing with old ones? Will imports be allowed to compete freely with domestic goods? Are foreign currencies to circulate freely? The extent to which these economies remain socialist depends more on the answers to such questions than on formal economic plans.

As Hernando de Soto points out in The Other Path, the simple inefficiency of government bureaucracy in enforcing restrictions on the formation of new businesses and on the holding of foreign currency has allowed an informal economic rebirth in parts of Latin America. Something similar may be happening in Eastern Europe. Poland’s unofficial currency standard is the U.S. dollar. East Germany’s is the Deutschmark. Hungary is experiencing a boom in small business fueled by money from Germans, Austrians, and Italians who are buying property, antiques, and fine handicrafts. Computer-software firms are doing well, too. The secret is not smallness. It is freedom from regulation, and often from taxes. Will the new economic planners fight these trends? If so, regardless of what else they achieve, they will discredit socialism even further, if that is possible.

In East Germany, no amount of struggle against economic freedom will suffice so long as East Germans are allowed to take jobs in the West. In taking such jobs East Germans pronounce a judgment on socialism in their country that cannot be appealed unless the border were closed again. It is a measure of their lack of confidence in this, the most testable of the new socialist experiments, that Portugalov, Gysi, and the left wing of the SPD have all demanded that West Germany restrict the right of East Germans to employment in the West.

If a consensus on economic matters is developing in Eastern Europe, it is this: economic freedom and economic prosperity are one and the same thing, and half-measures in the direction of economic freedom well-nigh guarantee failure. Few have as clear a grasp of the fundamentals as did Ludwig Erhard, Konrad Adenauer’s Economics Minister in 1947, who turned West Germany from a cigarette economy into an economic miracle through simple deregulation. But nowadays, American free-market economists like Paul Craig Roberts and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Richard Rahn get better’ receptions in Eastern Europe and even in the Soviet Union than do American liberals.

As far as economics goes, then, the future of Eastern Europe is likely to be chaotic. It may be prosperous or poor. But insofar as the locals know what they are doing, and can manage to free themselves from the incubus of coercion, the future will not be socialist.

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Socialism, however, is a lot more than willful economic illiteracy. After all, the discovery that socialism does not produce the goods is hardly recent. In the postwar period, the late Herbert Marcuse taught a generation of “new” socialists to take capitalism’s superior productivity as yet one more reason to hate it. Western Judeo-Christian society would henceforth be condemned not for robbing man in this world but for meeting this-worldly needs so well as to distract “the masses” from the right social values: above all, secularism, equality (or “social justice”), communitarianism, and, most recently added by Marcuse’s heirs, protection of the environment. But while there can be no doubt that one or another of the items on this list has motivated intellectuals around the world, it is much to be doubted that they can move significant numbers of ordinary people anywhere—especially in the East, where Communist rule has endowed each item with unpalatable meanings.

Thus, secularism in the East has meant indoctrination into atheism, social and economic discrimination against decent people who are believers, and the spectacle of some churchmen trading the principles they profess for political favor. As a result, churchmen who have stuck to their principles are heroes today. The Catholic Church in Poland is the backbone of the nation. In Hungary the churches are full. Even in traditionally anti-clerical Czechoslovakia, Cardinal Tomasek’s December 1989 visit to the Pope glued a nation to the TV set, and the “progressive” Catholic movement Pacem in Terris collapsed the moment the regime stopped using it as an antireligious tool. Precisely because religion was the primary target of Communism, appeals such as Christa Wolf’s to save socialism for the sake of “humanism” will mostly fall on deaf ears.

The notion that the state ought to take away from some and give to others for the sake of “social justice” is at least as discredited in the East as secularism. The daily experience of two generations under Communism is precisely of injustices perpetrated and perpetuated under the banner of “social justice.” Cynicism runs deep about officials feathering their own nests or the nests of favored minorities under the guise of administering public goods for the good of all.

The socialist value of community has fared no better. In practice it meant societies riddled by informants who earned their own privileges by providing information (true or false, it hardly mattered) on the basis of which privilege could be denied to their neighbors. East Europeans seem to have rebuilt their societies according to precisely the opposite notion of community, shutting the state out of the family, religion, and society in general: human chains symbolically surrounded confessionals in Poland, the homes of dissidents in Rumania, and criss-crossed the land in the Baltics, East Germany, and the Ukraine. The point of the human chains is that society has reestablished itself independent of the state. How far this movement is advancing in Russia itself may be seen in the decanonization of that ideal of socialist family life, Pavel Morozov, the boy who achieved secular sainthood by denouncing his parents to the secret police.

In general, it seems clear that the nations of the East want to liberate themselves from these very “liberations” and return to the main branch of Western civilization. Nothing could be further from the truth than the Marcusean explanation in leftist periodicals such as the Nation that the revolt of the East is an amoral spasm of lust after “VCR’s and fancy cars” and that “love” and idealism have lost out.

In fact a certain kind of idealism has lost out. How far the pendulum will swing in the opposite moral direction remains to be seen. Suffice it to say that the most admired figure in today’s Poland is the Pope, the principal democratic force in Croatia puts opposition to abortion high on its agenda, while in Hungary no one has drawn more enthusiastic crowds than the very conservative Otto von Hapsburg.

A backlash is also virtually certain with regard to the newest banner of socialism, namely, environmentalism. Eastern socialists are slowly following their Western counterparts in changing the predominant color of their banner from red to green. They hope that the task of protecting the environment will open possibilities for the exercise of state power, even as other possibilities are being closed by the rejection of traditional socialism. Although the Soviet empire’s record as a despoiler and polluter of nature is unparalleled, Western environmentalists are willing to take Communist leaders at their word, as partners in the “great global cleanup.” This is not remarkable—after all, they took them at their word as harbingers of prosperity. But among the peoples of the East, environmental concern bears a closer resemblance to the Western “conservation” movement of more than a generation ago than it does to the notions of modern, leftist Western environmentalism.

The character of Eastern environmentalism may be found in the writings of a Solzhenitsyn, or in the Ukrainian reaction to Chernobyl. The peoples of the East see the environmental devastation of their countries as yet another reason to distrust the state. They see that the only places which have been properly cared for are private farms as well as the semi-private lands belonging to a few well-connected localities. And they see the socialist system not as the potential savior of the environment, but as the principal threat to it

None of this necessarily means that socialism is dead in Eastern Europe. The police remain in the hands of people dedicated to maximizing state power and the chances for chaos, miscalculations, even violence are high. However, it does mean that the peoples of the East have been vaccinated against the idea that social engineers can make them happy. When an “expert” appears in the Western media with a social or economic prescription, some trust him, others doubt, and yet others debate. When an “expert” proposes a “scientific solution” to a social problem in the Eastern media, he is almost universally distrusted. Insofar as the peoples of the East have anything to say about it, social engineering has no future there.

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But what about Sweden?

For those who do not know it, Sweden seems to prove that it is possible to have a socialism which achieves the kind of economic control characteristic of the East without poverty, and the social agenda of contemporary Western leftists with complete freedom. In fact, however, Sweden is sui generis, and its ways are not for export.

With regard to economics, the foremost fact about Sweden is that 94 percent of its GNP is generated by the private sector. In this respect, Sweden is more capitalist than West Germany. Taxes, however, are higher—much higher. The Swedish central government takes and spends almost 57 percent of the nation’s product (as opposed to 30 percent by all levels of government in the U.S.), and its top marginal tax rate until recently was 72 percent.

The first lesson here is that it will not do to cite Sweden in support of the proposition that an economy with only a modest private sector can generate prosperity. If the Soviet Union wants to be as prosperous as Sweden, there is no alternative to being 94-percent capitalist—like Sweden. At that point the problem for Eastern socialists who would like to imitate Sweden would be to convince all those owners of private wealth to let the socialists take and spend most of it.

Here is where Sweden’s uniqueness tells the tale. Swedish society has long been unusually homogeneous—ethnically, religiously, and, for the most part, economically. There is no history of internal strife. When social democracy came to Sweden, it promised the secure, equal enjoyment of a wealth that already existed and that was already widely shared. The secret of popular acquiescence was that the Swedes trusted their leaders collectively to know better than any individual how to allocate the wealth of all, and to be fair in the administration of, in effect, a nationwide family.

The peoples of the East are not one big happy family. It is unimaginable that, emerging from generations of exploitation on the part of their leaders, they would now entrust another set of leaders with most of the fruits of their labors. That would be so even if the countries of the East were not full of ethnic and religious differences. But as things stand, it is even doubtful that there will exist enough trust in the East to carry out the basic operations of capitalism. After generations of fraud, will multimillion zloty or ruble deals be closed with a raised finger on a trading floor, or with a phone call? Swedish-style faith in impartial government is altogether out of the question.

Interestingly enough, a half-century of socialism has taken its toll on Swedish society as well. Swedes speak of their country as being ruled by “the Royal Swedish Envy”—the vigilant sentiment of every citizen that his neighbor not be allowed to take the least farthing more out of the public pot than is due to him, or withhold so much as a penny of what he owes, or violate any of the innumerable regulations on everything from walking dogs to raising children. This mutual espionage is not entirely different from that which characterizes life in the East. People are quite simply encouraged to report one another’s shortcomings. Indeed, Sweden has the world’s highest rate of children removed from their parents’ custody because the state has deemed the parents unfit.

Not surprisingly, as the spirit of Swedish generosity has waned, public services have deterioted. Schools are in disrepair and waiting lines at hospitals stretch out. The progressive deterioration of the socioeconomic environment in Sweden has been measured by the emigration of about 20,000 of the country’s most energetic and talented professionals each year—again, shades of the East—and has recently enabled Minister of Finance Kjell Otto Feldt, a right-wing Social Democrat, to convince the government to reduce the top marginal tax rate to 55 percent. But the tax rate is just part of the climate that many consider too stultifying.

The noneconomic side of Swedish socialism is also based on the society’s—and even more, on the leadership’s—homogeneity. All major private interests are invited to take part in the process of government, and empowered to carry out decisions reached by consensus. Because no interest group fears that it will be exploited too badly, none accuses the other. For example, what outsiders call the country’s secularism exists with the full participation of the Lutheran Church. (Church and state are intertwined in Sweden in ways that would violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.) Also, while believing itself egalitarian, Sweden maintains the largest inherited-title aristocracy in Europe, and nowhere, except possibly in the Soviet Union, does one see so many medals distinguishing so many chests. Similarly, the country prides itself on its environmentalism, but as one diplomat has said: “The Swedes can be wonderfully pragmatic about pollution.”

In an atmosphere where questioning the competence or motives of high-ranking figures is the practical definition of treason, getting A’s for performance is considered a natural right. Thus, Sweden’s social experiments are all declared successful, even when they fail. Social policies may change, and indeed in the economic realm are changing fast in a direction away from socialism. But no one of importance will run an anti-establishment campaign.

The only lesson Sweden can teach pluralistic countries with rough-and-tumble political traditions is: don’t even think about it. Sweden is nobody’s future—possibly not even Sweden’s.

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The desire to manage human affairs so as to eliminate the sources of discord among human beings, to guarantee health, wealth, and wisdom, has deep roots in human nature. Throughout history this desire has manifested itself in a variety of movements. Depending on the circumstances, the language of these movements has been dominated by religion or by antireligion, by an idea of economic plenty or by asceticism. But as Norman Cohn showed a generation ago in The Pursuit of the Millennium, despite many differences these movements display a number of shared motivations, objectives, and methods, among them the claim that society (or the world) is so deeply sick that it is about to end, that “our movement” has special knowledge of what to do about it, and hence ought to be given extraordinary power.

Marxism is the most recent of these movements to stir up the world. It has spoken the language of economics. But the economic record of the Soviet Union, and indeed of all the lands ruled by Marxists, has made this language untenable (except at Western universities). Today, people whose discourse contains the phrase “If we are to survive, we must . . . ” tend to be riding causes—global warming, ozone depletion, racism, sexism, homophobia—nowhere near so potent as those of their forefathers. Nevertheless, these people have the very same problems their forefathers did: shielding their special knowledge from scrutiny and their social laboratories from competition and dissent.

The odds seem against them. This is not, however, to maintain that tyranny is a thing of the past. On the contrary, when persuasion fails, those who possess military power are all the more tempted to rule by force. Thus in January Soviet troops invaded Azerbaijan to save the Communist party, which the anti-Communist popular front had reduced to political irrelevance. Similarly, today’s China is as tyrannical as ever, though much less animated by socialist thought than ever. And so the specter of Deng Xiaoping may well be likelier to haunt the world than that of Olof Palme.


Footnotes

1 In January, however, New Forum split up. The breakaway faction denounced both socialism and those who continue to work for it alongside Communists.

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