The task of politics today is to scare the capitalists as much as communism did

Let us try to change that today, for I come not to bury communism but to praise it – or rather, one aspect of it that gets next to no recognition. On its own terms, “really existing socialism” was a miserable failure: brutally repressive to its own peoples and ultimately unable to compete with capitalist economies. Yet it achieved something else that its own politburos and planners never intended – an achievement that represents one of our era’s greatest paradoxes. Communism didn’t topple capitalism, but kept it honest – and so saved it from itself.

The very presence of a powerful rival ideology frightened capitalists into sharing their returns with workers and the rest of the society, in higher wages, more welfare spending and greater public investment. By sending tanks into Prague in 1968, Leonid Brezhnev may have crushed the dream of “socialism with a human face”; but he and other Soviet general secretaries forced capitalism to become less inhumane. Conversely, the collapse of communism between 1989 and 1991 has left capitalism unchallenged and untempered – and increasingly unviable. The challenge of our time, whether in the UK’s general election or next year’s US presidential contest, is to build a political movement that can restrain a system spinning madly out of control. Link

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