Reflections on What is Going on in the World

  Paulos Mar Gregorios



  1. The Fall of Yalta Communism

  2. The Future of Socialism

  3. The Future of the South

  4. The Future of Peace and Disarmament

  5. The Resurgence of Ethnic Regionalism

By Way of Concluding


Last summer (89), Francis Fukuyama, the thirty-six year old Deputy Director of the US State Department’s policy planning staff, published in the Washington journal, The National Interest, an erudite essay on the “The End of History”. Months before the beginning of the fall of Eastern European communist regimes in August 89, Fukuyama argued that history had come to an end in 1989. His judgment was based largely on the pre-August developments in the Soviet Union. Of course in his position he had access to much more information than the rest of us ordinary mortals can ever hope to have:

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the cold war or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such; that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human development”.

Obviously, to Fukuyama, a student of Hegel, ‘history’ means the process by which human socio-economic systems develop and mature. He argues that western liberal democracy is the final form of human socio-political development. This western liberal democracy had only two main contenders – fascism and communism. The first was finished off by the Second World War in 1945. Forty years after that the second contender, communism, has also begun to crack up, with collapse of Soviet economy and Gorbachev’s unsuccessful attempt in the last five years to bolster it up through perestroika-glasnost. The argument of Fukuyama is a further development of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century, which book had appeared a little earlier. For Brzezinski, Communism began in 1917 and has come to an end some seventy years later. Fukuyama agrees, and bewails the fact that the period of ‘post-history’ which has now begun, is going to be dull and drab, no fun at all, since the tournament is now over. The finalists in the last match were the two children of the European Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries – Marxist Socialism and Western liberal democratic Capitalism. The trophy goes to the latter. No further series will be played. The game is over. All can now go home.

That is one way of reading history. There must be other ways. Let me suggest some.

I.   The Fall of Yalta Communism

What has indeed collapsed is what I call ‘Yalta Communism’. It was in Yalta in 1945 that Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin came to an agreement about dividing the spoils of war among the victors of the Second World War. The Soviet Union received as its share a ‘sphere of influence’ – East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. These are the six countries on which Yalta Communism was imposed from above. In these countries, Communism of the Marxist-Leninist variety has now virtually collapsed, with only a minority of (6 to 20 percent) the voters still in principle loyal to it.

Each of these six nations had different alignment of forces at the end of the war. Some features were common to all. First, all six were reacting against Hitler’s Nazism imposed from above by force. Second, all six had Marxism-Leninism also imposed upon them from above. This latter is totally inconsistent with Marxist ideology. A socialist government can come to power only through the struggle of the people, led by the industrial working class. That was not how it came about in these six countries (though there was at least in Czechoslovakia something of a people’s struggle in which supporters of the west lost out).

The downfall of Yalta Communism is indeed a great act of history. When the trade union federation Solidarity defeated the communists in Poland’s August 89 elections, no one could predict that the whole of Yalta Communism would collapse so soon, i.e. in less than five months.

Of course, there were many factors contributing to that act of history. Three of these are human actions which we can readily identify.

  1. First, the Gorbachev team abrogated the prevailing Brezhnev doctrine of international communist solidarity. If, in accordance with the Brezhnev doctrine, the Soviet Union had sought to intervene in any of these six countries along the pattern of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968), history would have developed in a quite different way, including the possibility of a Third World War.

  2. Second, there was concerted action on the part of the western powers in 1989 to bring about the down-fall of Yalta Communism.

    • Fact one: Solidarity, a trade union federation with limited resources and little political experience, could not have won the Polish elections in August 1989 without massive western help. The National Foundation for Democracy was set up and funded by the American Congress precisely to fund such operations legally. With some voluntary help from Poles abroad, nearly the entire cost of Solidarity’s election campaign was met by the west, who shipped even paper, printing machines and copying machines.

    • Fact two: The escape of several East Germans to the west through Hungary and Czechoslovakia was a well-orchestrated scenario masterminded by West Germany with the aid and assistance of other western powers, including USA. The breach in the Berlin Wall and its later collapse was carefully and successfully engineered by the west. Without that scheme to break the wall, Yalta Communism could not have collapsed so easily or so soon.

  3. Third, there should be no underestimation of the great role played by the Roman Catholic Church, and especially by Pope John Paul II in bringing about the downfall of Yalta Communism. In fact, a Polish pope was deliberately chosen more than a decade ago with precisely this end in view. The Pope has been devoting more than half of his time, effort and personal staff to Polish affairs ever since he was elected. Without his solid support, Solidarity could not have come into being or survived the nearly successful effort of the Jaruzelski regime to suppress it. The Pope’s actions, however, were not confined to Poland. The Catholic bishops in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany played a quiet but very decisive role in undermining Yalta Communism from within. Western governments were long before 1989 in close contact with select persons in these Catholic hierarchies.

History thus is a synthetic product of concerted and pre-planned human actions, along with an unpredictable coincidence of other factors brought together by what secularists would regard as happenstance – the size and shape of Cleopatra’s nose being the most celebrated instance of such happenstance in history.

II.  The Future of Socialism

Is Socialism finally dead? Some people think so. Certainly Socialism of the Bolshevik type has proved to be unworkable. But China and the Soviet Union, as well as Cuba and North Korea are still basically communist political economies. Between them, they have more than one-fourth of the world’s peoples. Their mode of production is still more than 90% communist. That may change tomorrow. But 6 to 20 percent of the people of Eastern Europe still profess communism. What about communists elsewhere, in Italy and France, and in almost all the countries of the world? The number of states controlled by communists may dwindle in the near future, but the worldwide revolutionary Marxist movement of the oppressed will not immediately disappear. That much seems certain.

What will happen in Eastern European countries as they move from socialism to market economy? Housing, which has hitherto been almost 80% subsidized by the state will soon cost five times as much. Education and health care which have been virtually free so far will no longer be so. Public transportation, which has also been heavily subsidized, will shoot up in cost. What about guaranteed employment, state subsidized sports, and a dozen other social amenities hitherto enjoyed by the people? Wages may go up, but not at the same pace as prices. As international capitalism fixes its tentacles on these economies and wealth begins to be drained out, as more and more people become jobless or underpaid, will there be no protests? Socialism, of course with a more human face, has its role in the future.

III.    The Future of the South

The North-South gap shows no signs of narrowing. It is in fact widening with every passing day. The debt trap is getting tighter. Justice for the poor in all countries cannot be denied much longer. Revolutionary movements all over the world can no longer look to the Soviet Union for leadership, or for military or economic support. The oppressed and the exploited of the world are thrown back on their own resources. The middle classes are growing in numbers and strength, but so are the under-privileged. The confrontation between these two will certainly take new forms of expression. The have-nots and the marginalized will not forever take it lying down.

The TNCs will grow in power. Their empire is till expanding. But empires built on injustice do not endure for ever. For them history has not come to an end. Only the triumph of justice and human dignity all over the world can mark the end.

IV.  The Future of Peace and Disarmament

Tensions have relaxed. Détente, long longed for, has finally surfaced. But Peace and Disarmament seem very far in the future.

Disarmament negotiations have yielded dramatic results. Troop sizes are coming down. Military budgets of the USA and the USSR, let us hope will continue to go down. But we cannot realistically hope the same for Japan, China or Germany, or for many developing countries like India and Pakistan.

But not a single nuclear warhead has so far been destroyed. The INF treaty has managed to destroy intermediate and short-range delivery systems (about 3.6% of the total world arsenal). Their warheads are now being transferred to other delivery systems, and will be used as bargaining chips. Even if we manage to get a bi-lateral agreement to destroy 50% of the nuclear warheads, we will still have enough to commit terricide many times over. New and more dastardly weapons are being added to the arsenals every year. One-third of nuclear destructive power is being transferred to the navies, and naval disarmament has not yet found its place on the disarmament agenda. The fond dream of a world without weapons of mass destruction still remains a dream. Conversion of economies from military to civilian production has marked but slow progress thus far.

The concept of Global Common Security, based on trust and mutual negotiation on the basis of balance of interests, has only been talked about, but nations seem still unready to move in that direction.

The future is still mighty bleak, but hope lingers on. This is no time to let up on the struggle for peace.

V.  The Resurgence of Ethnic Regionalism

The Soviet Union is not the only country where we notice the resurgence of ethnic regionalism coupled with religious fundamentalism. In Yugoslavia (Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Macedonians), in China (Hans, Central Asian Muslims, Tibetan, Buddhists), in India (Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs), in Ireland (Catholics and Protestants) and in many other countries, inter-regional, inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts defy management or settlement.

Racial conflicts are on the rise again between blacks and whites in many countries, even on American campuses – in some countries between blacks and East Indians. The Native peoples of the Americas, of Australasia, and the Dalits of India are beginning to assert their identity and dignity which have for long been trampled upon, and to demand cultural as well as political autonomy.

In the Soviet Union itself, the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will gain their independence in the course of a year or even earlier. Georgia and Armenia, the two Christian republics (their Christianity is at least half a millennium older than the Russian Orthodox Church) have also to be granted some measure of autonomy. The six Islamic republics of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirghiz, Turkmenistan and Tajekistan will not for long tolerate Russian domination.

The nation-state is fast becoming obsolete. Territorial boundaries can no longer be justified on a rational basis in a world of growing internationalism in economy and culture. We have to invert institutions which facilitate a global community without destroying rich cultural and historic identities. The ecological crisis has given us a strong push in that direction, but human political creativity has not so far measured up very well.

By Way of Concluding

Fukuyama is dead wrong on one point. History has far from ended. The triumph of western liberal democratic capitalism is bound to be short-lived. History, future history, far from being dull and drab, offers more exciting challenges than humanity can easily cope with. The next stage of history seems to be the consolidation of the international market economy system. In that process its deep internal contradictions are sure to surface. The complex problems of consolidating European Unity may give rise to dramatic and quite unexpected developments. Regionalism in the Soviet Union may lead to catastrophe, with consequences for the whole world. Competition among the three leading economies of Europe, Japan and USA could shake up the present solidarity of the international market economy system. And above all, some day soon, the struggle of the poor, oppressed, exploited, and marginalized of the world is bound to attain the critical mass necessary for an explosion. History has its own way of surprising us at every turn.

Long live history !