Today marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of Communism in this country, when, as we can learn from the late Vladimir Bukovsky’s mammoth work, Judgement in Moscow (Mr Bukovsky unfortunately passed on from this world a few weeks ago; I am glad to have been part of the effort to bring his long-term dream of an English translation of that work to reality before he left us), the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union planned to stage apparent major popular revolutions across all the nations they controlled, in which they would place ‘independent reformers’ in power (whose strings the CPSU would continue to pull) to fool the West into continuing to prop up their crumbling socialist economies with new floods of investment.
Their efforts were partially successful, and vast amounts of money flowed into Soviet coffers, but they failed to take into account one critical thing—how deeply unpopular socialist rule had become among the people that lived under it—and the staged upheaval in Eastern Europe (especially in this country) ended up doing what it was supposed to only pretend to do—actual reformers rose to positions of power and dismantled Soviet rule entirely.
Some countries were not so lucky, and the process stuttered and stumbled to a halt with no clean break with the past, and their people continued to suffer with lessons only partially learned. The lack of Nuremburg-style trials of Soviet leaders was a tragedy and major contributing factor to this lack of healing.
Today many people have forgotten or never learned the lessons of that horrendous attempt to create utopia on earth without God, which killed somewhere between a hundred million and quarter billion people while enslaving half the world for half a century, and are clamoring for their nations to follow down that same tragic path of centralising control of speech, thought, wealth, opportunity and incentives.
What obvious lessons should we have learned?
People do not turn into angels as soon as they are elected or given power.
A government that is powerful enough to give you everything you need is also powerful enough to take everything you have.
The bigger the bureacracy, the more distance there is between decisions and their outcomes, the easier it is to shift the blame and avoid responsibility for your mistakes.
In a massive bureaucracy with little to no accountability, a bureaucrat doesn’t get job security by solving your problem. He gets it by making you and many others dependent on him for the rest of your lives.
When a government is given the power of life and death over its people with little to no accountability, the ones who rise to the top will not be the most benevolent, but the most ruthless.
Collective ownership means no-one really cares what happens to the thing owned.
Everyone being paid the same regardless of job or job performance means it is not worth the effort of learning a difficult skill or doing a good job. As the old Soviet saying goes, “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” Productivity suffers, quality declines, corruption, theft and graft increase, infrastructure decays and falls apart, supply lines fail more and more often. Former (and soon-to-be-former) Soviet citizens found it incredible (and were often brought to tears by the fact) that western shops had shelves full of food.
Innovation and creativity entail risk. When you remove the possibility of reward for a risk paying off, creativity and innovation are stunted.
Individual charity is appreciated, institutional provision is taken for granted. A life lived without gratitude becomes empty and soul-crushing.
Let us not fall prey to the temptations of utopian promises, of an easy life, of free stuff for ourselves. Rise to the challenges of freedom and individual responsibility. Remember the past, or be doomed to repeat it.