Are we in a new Cold War?

“If there is a Russian ideology, it’s ethnic nationalism. China’s case is also largely nationalism. In China, nationalism began to displace communism as an ideology in the 1970s, after the Cultural Revolution. It comes from the disappointment of the population with ideological dogma and with the great promise of a communist revolution that never happened. The Chinese Communist Party was facing a legitimacy deficit, and they were looking for things to fill it — so nationalism replaced communist revolution. The same thing happened with the Soviet Union falling apart; the Russian Federation had to reinvent itself on the basis of Russian nationalism.”

When Karl Marx Made the Case for Capitalism

“According to Marx, history unfolded in a grand series of stages, each defined by its dominant mode of economic production and each specifically arising to replace the one that preceded it. “In broad outlines,” he wrote in the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, “ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society.” Capitalism, in other words, was a historically necessary step in human progress.
The great revolutionary forces unleashed by capitalism, Marx thought, would in turn form and shape a self-aware proletariat class that would ultimately lead humanity into a glorious communist future. But that would happen only after capitalism had worked its magic. “No social order ever perishes,” Marx maintained, “before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed.””

“Marx not only welcomed capitalism’s creative destruction of feudalism and slavery; he recognized and even championed capitalism’s essential role in human advancement. With free labor on the march, Marx argued in his 1861 essay “The North American Civil War,” the peculiar institution faced ultimate extinction “according to economic law.””

It Wasn’t What He Wanted, But Gorbachev Allowed an Evil Empire To Collapse

“we should not judge the eighth and final Soviet leader, who the age of 91, by his base geopolitical desires but rather by the glorious human flourishing that his actions—and especially his inactions—allowed to take place. Gorbachev’s economically desperate late-1980s policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reform) unleashed a whirlwind of freedom-seeking among hundreds of millions of captive peoples, quickly overwhelming any one man’s (or regime’s) ability to control it.

And during most—though definitely not all—key moments of potential armed conflict between dictatorial hardliners and outgunned revolutionaries, Gorby told the generals to stand down. This is an achievement worth lingering on and learning from.”

“The result was that, under the watches of both Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush, November 9, 1989 became the most liberating day of the most liberating month of the most liberating year in human history. Hardly limited to the long-suffering nations of Central Europe, the imperial drawdowns from both sides of the Cold War brought crucial and long-awaited relief to the proxy-war-scarred post-colonialist countries of Africa and South America. The fact that Gorbachev planned for almost none of this should not dull our appreciation for him not getting in the way.”

Deng Xiaoping and the Communist Party Don’t Deserve Credit for Chinese Economic Power

“Far from embarking on a new correct path, Deng was trying to turn back the clock. He wasn’t out to create a new economic system; he sought to restore the planned economy that had existed before the Cultural Revolution. The program he tried to implement after 1978 was based on the “Four Modernisations” Zhou Enlai had introduced in 1963 to revive the countryside after Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward. During the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976, the party’s radical elements encouraged renewed collectivization campaigns. Deng sought to reverse those extreme policies, not the planned economy itself.

Deng embraced reforms conservatively, after events on the ground had already made state restrictions obsolete. Upon taking control of the party, he endorsed private ownership of small plots but forbade dividing up collective land to individual households. It was only in 1982, four years after he took power, that households were officially allowed to contract production rights on collective land. He raised the price of grain that farmers compulsorily sold to the state by 20 percent—a substantial concession, but hardly evincing the kind of vision that the title “Great Architect” implies. Indeed, the year after the “great turning point” in April 1979, Deng and the party leadership ordered those who had left the communes to rejoin them.

The planned economy was undermined and subverted from below well before the communes were officially dissolved in 1983. Decollectivization occurred not because of Deng’s vision but because ordinary people, under cover of the Cultural Revolution’s chaos, left the communes. Several years before Mao died in 1976, it had become common for people to strike out on their own in search of economic opportunities. The party’s leadership lamented that the countryside had “gone capitalist,” but it couldn’t reverse that trend. By 1980, half of all production teams in Guizhou province and more than half in Gansu were under household contracts. This system gave farmers secure tenures of collective farmland, which significantly increased both their productivity and health. One cadre in Anhui province likened household contracting, as reported by the historian Frank Dikötter in a 2016 article in The China Quarterly, to “an irresistible wave, spontaneously topping the limits we had placed…it could not be suppressed or turned around.””

“Deng was not changing history; he was swept away by it. As the historian Kate Zhou wrote in her 1996 book How the Farmers Changed China: “When the government lifted restrictions, it did so only in recognition of the fact that the sea of unorganized farmers had already made them irrelevant.” Ordinary people, not Deng Xiaoping, resisted and reformed the planned economy.

To understand how the party’s control of economic activity slipped, one must look to the history of the Cultural Revolution. Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” of 1958–1962 had devolved into a Great Famine, killing tens of millions of people. While they starved, the party ramped up grain exports to fellow socialist countries in order to increase its international prestige.

This forced farmers to circumvent the state’s orders—one had to lie, cheat, steal, smuggle, or trade on the black markets to avoid starvation. Apart from the party’s loyal hacks, only the lucky or enterprising survived. In the early 1960s, even Mao had to acknowledge that the Great Leap Forward had failed. The Central Committee introduced a few paltry safeguards against extreme collectivization. Villagers were thus allowed to cultivate private plots, but only in their free time.

But Mao soon saw this as backsliding, and he launched the Cultural Revolution to secure his hold on the party. Revolutionary committees took control of China. The People’s Liberation Army was ordered onto the streets, and the Soviet-Sino border conflict was used as a pretext to reassert control over the countryside. Private holdings were once more collectivized on a massive scale. But the party tore itself apart in the process; its organization was vitiated by factional infighting.

The Cultural Revolution broke the party’s apparatus of control—it lost much of its capacity to coerce people’s everyday behavior. During the turmoil, people took back some of their lost freedoms. They expanded private lots, left communes, sold produce for private gain, moved to the cities, and even opened underground factories. It is here that we find the true origins of China’s modernization.”

“Villagers established private firms and factories throughout the country. For example, the rate of industrialization in the countryside of Jiangsu province in the early 1970s far exceeded the rate of industrialization there under Deng. And it was these rural industries that fuelled China’s GDP growth. Prosperity came not from the cities or from the state-owned enterprises, but from the countryside. The people who worked in these factories had often left the communes on their own initiative, not on party orders. When Deng became paramount leader in 1978, the silent revolution was already well underway.

Not only were factories established, but markets linked rich and poor provinces. And in the coastal province of Guangdong, traders revived overseas trading links, especially once restrictions were eased in 1972. Deng is said to have begun the process of opening up China, but as early as 1974, the amount of money reaching people in Guangdong from overseas was twice what it had been in 1965. Black markets existed everywhere, and although the state maintained rigid monopolies on several key products, almost everything was sold openly on the markets.”

“Deng recognized that certain changes were inevitable, but his reforms were little more than legalizations of already occurring practices that he was shrewd enough to claim credit for.”

Ukraine Still Hungers for Independence

“In the late 1920s, Soviet leader Josef Stalin sent Communist Party officials and activists out into the countryside with orders to convert private, family-owned farms into collective enterprises.

Ukrainian farmers resisted, and party leaders resorted to torture, threats, and graphic public shaming. In one Ukrainian province, according to Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine (Doubleday), a gang of Communist apparatchiks marched farmers into a room one by one and demanded they submit. Those who refused were shown a revolver. If they still did not comply, they were marched into jail, with the words malicious hoarder of state grain inscribed on their backs.

Stalin’s radical economic program was rooted in the idea that virtually all food supplies, land, and farming equipment were the property of the government. Collectivization was a state-sponsored program of mass theft perpetrated under the premise that Ukraine wasn’t even a real country.

Without private property, personal profit, or local pride there were few incentives to work. The new state-run farms were far less productive than expected, leading to -shortages. At the same time, Stalin increased grain procurement requirements from Soviet localities—Ukraine in particular—so that most of what was produced was seized by the state. By the spring of 1932, Ukraine had begun to starve.”