In a certain sense, those who were the architects behind Soviet Communism or Chinese Communism would say that they were driven by a higher vision, a higher vision of how society should function, and the historical necessity that Karl Marx had grasped when he wrote his books about it. They also would claim that Karl Marx was able to tune in to a higher vision and that the communist system, therefore, was based on this true vision of how the world works.
When you take a closer look, you see the limitations of this claim. It is, of course, easy to use hindsight and say that if communism truly was based on a higher vision, how come the Soviet Union collapsed? But if you go back to before that happened, the people who were part of the communist system and at least had bought in to it somewhat, believed somewhat in it, they would not know that the Soviet Union would collapse. And therefore, they would think that it was just a matter of time before sometime in the future the ideal communist society would be manifest, or the ideal socialist society, however they defined it.
But let us now look at the fact that the Soviet Union did collapse. And therefore, we can see that somehow the Soviet system, the communist system, the communist ideology, must have been out of touch with reality or the system should have been able to sustain itself. There is an interesting anecdote that when Soviet scientists, after the Second World War, had started working on making a nuclear bomb, there was a meeting where some of these scientists met with Stalin and presented their progress. Stalin was, of course, very concerned about having this ultimate weapon as a deterrent against the West. He was asking what it would take to produce nuclear weapons. And he was told, of course, the scientific reality that it takes a certain amount of plutonium to produce one nuclear weapon, one nuclear bomb. And that the more plutonium you have, the more powerful of a bomb you can create.
Stalin then asked: ‘’Well, how much plutonium have you been able to enrich?’’ Well, they had just enough to create a small nuclear bomb. And Stalin then was displeased with this answer. And he then made the remark that: ‘’Surely, Soviet scientists could find a way to make a more powerful bomb with a smaller amount of plutonium.’’ In other words, Joseph Stalin was convinced that Soviet scientists could circumvent the laws of nature.
This shows you in a nutshell the problem with the vision behind communism. Starting with Karl Marx or Engels there was a perverted vision that was out of touch with the laws of nature, but there was an unwillingness to see this. Now, if we look at history, we can see that there has been a distortion created by Marxist ideology that communism is something unique, in the sense that it is better than all other systems, all other forms of the economy or all other forms of society. Communism is, therefore, set apart from all the others. It is special because it is based on that higher vision of this historical necessity.
But if you look at this neutrally, and look at it in a historical context, you see that communism is not unique at all. Communism is simply a man-made system that defines how life should work without looking at: “Does the ideology actually match reality?”
This was exactly the same in the Catholic church, in the Hindu religion under the Brahmans. It is exactly the same in capitalism, in many of the civilizations you have seen in the past that have come and gone. There is nothing unique about communism, because they make the same claim as all of these other man-made systems that have claimed that they could define how the universe works. But if they had been able to define this, why were they not sustainable? Why did they disappear?
You look at, of course, communism as being an entirely materialistic system that denies that there is anything outside the material universe. Based on this, let us simply take a look at what science has revealed about the laws of nature. You might know that Karl Marx was greatly fascinated and encouraged by Darwin and his theory of the evolution of the species. And he used this to create the concept that communism was part of the ongoing evolution of humanity, and would, therefore, be the inevitable step that would bring forth the ideal society.
If you look at what science has discovered about evolution, what do you actually see? You see that a number of animal species have evolved, appeared. They have lived for a time, sometimes for quite a long time, without actually evolving further. But then, they have disappeared and been replaced by other species. You all know that the dinosaurs once dominated the earth, as the Soviet Union arguably dominated the earth. But the dinosaurs have gone the way of the dinosaurs.
Why did that happen? Well, because the dinosaurs could not adapt to a change in the climatic conditions. So the key to survival is not as Darwin claimed it, the survival of the fittest in the sense they are the most strong, the most aggressive. The key to survival is adaptability. The fittest are the ones who are able to adapt to changing conditions. You can also see, by observing what scientists have discovered about geological ages, that things are constantly changing on earth. There is a constant state of flux. That is why species need to adapt. Because if they cannot adapt, they cannot survive.
When you look at this, you see why it is not possible to create a man-made system that will endure for an indefinite period of time. At least, it is not possible to create some ultimate system. Because once you make the claim that you have an ultimate system, you are saying that this system cannot change, it cannot adapt. When you have an ultimate system, where is the room for adaptability? You now see that – whether it is the Catholic church, whether it is the Hindu religion, whether it is the Roman Empire or the Soviet Union – once you create a closed system that cannot adapt, that cannot change when conditions on earth change, then you have created a system that has a limited lifespan. The destruction of the system is actually built into the system from the very beginning.
Look again at history, at all of these animal species that have come and gone. And you can ask yourself why the dinosaurs disappeared? Well, they were not able to adapt to a change in the climate. But why were they not able to adapt? Well, from a purely superficial viewpoint, you would say because they were not self-aware. They were not what you call conscious beings in the sense that they were able to step back, look at their situation and decide to change their behavior. In other words, they were not humans. They did not have the capacity that human beings have. The capacity that you have as a human being is self-awareness. It is possible for you to step back, look at your situation and make a conscious decision to change your behavior, to change your mindset, your attitude, your beliefs, the way you look at life. And thereby, you can not only adapt to changing conditions, you can consciously adapt to changing conditions.
We might say that: “Why is it that the human species, if we want to use that traditional materialistic term, has taken over the earth? Why is it that humans dominate the earth today? Why is it that human beings can live in almost all kinds of environments that are seen on earth?” And it is, of course, because of this ability to consciously change. You are not mindlessly doing the same thing. You are looking at: “Is what we are doing actually working? Is it allowing us to survive or are we headed for our own destruction?” And if you see that you are headed for your own destruction, then you have the option to consciously change your behavior to avoid that destruction. This is what the dinosaurs could not do. This is the central human ability that actually sets humans apart from all animal species, which incidentally proves that humans are not just a further step-up evolution from the animal level. It is a fundamentally different type of being. You are not simply evolved animals.
But let us put that aside for now and go back to what happened in the Soviet Union. What actually happened was that the human ability to consciously evaluate your behavior was aborted. Why? Because you created a state apparatus that would brutally kill anyone who questioned or criticized the system. In other words, you could say that there was no room for self-awareness. There was no room for this critical evaluation: ‘’Is what we are doing working? Is it allowing us to survive? Are we actually having better lives under communism than we had before? Are we having better lives in the Soviet Union than they have in the West? Is there something we could be doing to improve our lives?’’
There was no room to even improve your lives in the Soviet system, because it was a top-down system. First of all, you had a structure where the ideological basis defined very strict perimeters for what could be done and what could not be done. The ideology defined by Marx and Lenin had to be maintained. Society had to stay within these boundaries. There was no room to question the ideology. The ideology was pretty much set in stone. Then, when Stalin took over, it was not even just a matter of the ideology. You could not question the authority of anyone above you, which meant that no one could question the authority of Stalin. But even as you go further down, you see that the local party boss, the local party representative, no one in his area could question him. And of course, he could not question those above him. That meant you now have the system where the vision of what should be done, the orders about what should be done, came from the top and then moved downwards. But there was nothing that came back from the bottom and up.
Now, why is that a problem? Well, if you look at the process of evolution, you can say: ‘’What is the evolutionary process that you see on earth?” It is actually a feedback mechanism. The feedback mechanism works in a simple way. Those species who cannot adapt, become extinct. This, of course, has no meaning to the animal species who do not have the awareness to evaluate this. But human beings have the ability to look at history and see that there must be a process of gradual evolution, rather than an instant creation. You should then be able to take the next step and look at: “Why is it that some animal species don’t survive? What is evolution actually a sign of?” And it is a sign of the fact that there is a constant feedback mechanism, where in a human system where you have self-awareness, the only way a human society can work is if there is feedback coming from below up to the leaders.
You can have a human system, and you arguably need a human system, where there is a group of leaders at the top, who are sort of setting the overall directions for that society. Even though, of course, direct democracy makes that less necessary. But traditionally, with the level of consciousness that people have had so far, it has been necessary to have some leaders. But what you see from various societies is that if there is not a feedback mechanism, then the society cannot sustain itself. And this is precisely what you created in the Soviet Union. There was no feedback.
There was nobody who could say: ‘’But we don’t have fertilizer to fertilize the fields. We don’t have the machinery we need to plow the fields. And therefore, we can’t produce the amount of grain that we are supposed to produce according to the five-year plan’’ And in many other aspects of society, there was no way to send a signal back to the top that: ‘’We can’t meet the goals you have defined for us, because we don’t have what it takes to meet that goal. We can’t make bricks without straw.’’ This is precisely why the Soviet system became as big, as unwieldy as the dinosaurs. And that is one of the reasons for its collapse. There was no feedback mechanism.
What can you then learn from this in the nations that were under the Soviet system? You can learn that you need to create this feedback mechanism in your societies. And in order to create this, you need to look at the fact that in many of the nations that were part of the Soviet Union, after the collapse of Communism, it was in a large part the same people that became the leaders of the post-communist society, who had been the leaders of the communist society. And these people now were supposed to lead a free democratic society. But how could they be expected to do this, when they had the same mindset that they had built as they were growing up in a communist society with top-down management? How could you expect people who were in leadership positions in the communist system to provide a feedback mechanism, to be open for feedback from those they considered below them?
It simply is not realistic to expect that all of these people would be able to switch their mindset, just because you no longer had communism. Because you need to recognize here that communism produced a certain mindset in what we might call the bureaucracy, the leaders of all aspects of society. They had a certain mindset and the mindset was simple: “We are in a superior position. Therefore, we know better than the people.” Now, this is a mindset (when you look at the historical context) that was not unique to communism. You find the same in almost all societies. You certainly found it in the Roman Empire. You found it in the Catholic church. You still find it in the Catholic church.
You find it even in democratic nations where there is a certain tendency that those in the bureaucracy, those in the government apparatus, think they know better than the people. And therefore, they do not need to listen to feedback from the people. Of course, in a democratic society you have a certain feedback mechanism. But you need to recognize in Eastern Europe and other post-Soviet countries that you cannot expect that the people who were the leaders during communist times can create a fundamental change in society. Because they still have that mindset that the leaders, the politicians and the bureaucrats know better than the people. But you see, the people who are experiencing in their own lives the effect of the decisions made by the leaders, they actually know better than the leaders how things are working or not working.
If you do not have a feedback mechanism, how can the leaders know that they are making good decisions? You may say that you have a system in a democratic nation where, if a certain government makes certain decisions that are not working or that the people do not like, they might be voted out at the next election. And you have some democratic nations where almost every four years there is a change in the government, because people are dissatisfied. But why is that? Well, it is because there is not the feedback mechanism. A government, the politicians that were elected, they are making a decision. But who is going to implement that decision? Well, the bureaucrats are implementing the decision. And the bureaucrats then force this upon the people. And the bureaucrats are not open to feedback from the people. And if the politicians are not listening to the people directly, but only listening to the bureaucrats, then how are the politicians going to get any feedback?
But if there was a better feedback mechanism, a better communication between the people and the politicians, then the politicians would not need to be voted out of office at the next election. Because they could realize: “We didn’t make the best decision. Let us change it so that we give the people better conditions, so we give the people something that works.” And this, of course, would then be an important step forward towards creating a better functioning democracy. And it is also a step towards a more direct form of democracy.
This is what you did not have in the Soviet Union. You still do not have it in all democratic nations. And you certainly do not have it in many of the post-Soviet countries, where you still have that class, that group of bureaucrats that are sitting there. And now, we are getting to a point where many of them have retired, but still you have a consciousness. You have a vortex created in the collective consciousness where the bureaucrats always know better than the people. And this is what needs to be seen and needs to be dealt with. And you need to recognize that you cannot have a fully functioning democracy as long as you have this attitude.
Now, another aspect that comes as the next step is to recognize that: “Why wasn’t there feedback in the Soviet Union? Why wasn’t there feedback in a communist country?” And it is because nobody could say in the ultimate sense that the system was wrong. You could not say there was something wrong with the system. But on a more immediate level, you could not say there was something wrong with those above you.
When you make the claim that you have the ultimate system, you create an all-or-nothing situation. You create a situation where nothing can be declared to be wrong. The people who are leading the system, whether it was Stalin or the local party boss, can never be wrong. Nobody can say they were wrong.
But what does that mean? It means that you cannot say: “We need to improve this. We need to change this.” Because the attitude that is permeating society is that if you point out that something needs to change that means those who implemented it must have been wrong. You see, it is all or nothing. You are either perfect, or at least beyond criticism, or you are wrong. And people do not want to be wrong. Nobody likes to be wrong. If they have the power to silence those who criticize them, they will use that power. But the effect of this is that you do not have that room for improvement. There is no room for saying: “Let’s do things in a better way. Let’s do things differently. Why are we continuing to do it the same way, when it’s proven that it doesn’t produce the results we want?” A system that does not allow that kind of feedback, how can it function in the long run?
Now, of course, you have a situation in a communist system where the ideology behind it has some fundamental flaws. There is no way that the economy could actually work in a communist system. And of course, there is no room to say this, because that would mean changing the system. And that is the one thing you cannot do. And that is also why the Soviet Union had to collapse. Because there was no willingness to say: “There must be something wrong with the system.” But if you step back and look at this differently, you might again look at the process of evolution and say: “What can the process of evolution teach us?” Well, can you necessarily say that the dinosaurs were wrong? It does not give any meaning to say this. Can you say that the primitive species that were considered the ancestors of the modern horse that those species were wrong and that the modern horse is right?
When you understand what evolution is about, you realize it is an ongoing process of adaptation and improvement. It is meaningless to say that a certain species is wrong. A given species represents the current evolutionary level. It is not right or wrong. It is just what has currently been brought forth by the ongoing process of evolution. Clearly, there is no species that you see on earth today, from an evolutionary viewpoint, that can be considered the ultimate species. The human species is not the ultimate. It is clear that evolution will continue and in 1,000 years there will have been changes. In 10,000 years there will have been dramatic changes.
What you realize is that if you truly accept evolution, it gives no meaning to say that we currently have the ultimate system. There is a cognitive dissonance between the Soviet system claiming that it is based on an evolutionary process of historical necessity and then at the same time saying that it represents the ultimate society, the ultimate political system and ideology. These are incompatible ideas. You cannot believe in evolution and at the same time believe you have reached some ultimate state, because in evolution there is no ultimate state. Everything you can manifest now is just one step in the process. And it will, by evolutionary historical necessity, be replaced by something higher.
It is clear that if you believe in evolution, you cannot say that the Soviet system was the ultimate system. And that means you should have been open to the fact that it needed to be improved upon (and, grant you, there were some ideas in Marxism that Communism would be replaced by another system and so on), but there was still the idea that there was an ultimate system that would be reached. And this is contrary to evolutionary ideas. And you cannot claim both at the same time.
These are things that people are ready to see, and you do not need to believe in higher awareness to see this, because you can just look at what you know already. You can look at communist society and therefore, those who are interested in leaving the communist past behind can see this is the kind of mindset we need to leave behind. We are not moving towards an ideal society. We are not thinking that our current system, even though it is democratic, is some ultimate society. We are constantly looking at: “What is the next step in the evolutionary process of our society? How can we improve our society?” And when you recognize the need to have this feedback, where you look at how are things actually working, then you can take an important step forward.
You can leave behind this idea that if you point out the need for improvement that means something is wrong or someone was wrong. It is not a matter of being right and wrong. It is a matter of recognizing that we are at a certain level and it is natural, as part of the evolution of society, that we move towards a higher level. What does it take to move towards a higher level? It takes a willingness to look at what we have and see what could be improved. Then, when we make those improvements, we do not rise to the ultimate level of society, we go another step up. And again, we need to look at: “What could be improved? What is the next step?” We do not need to consider: “What is wrong? What are we doing wrong?” But just what is the next step? And that is how a society can progress much more quickly, when people become consciously aware of this, consciously willing to do this.
In many nations, especially in Eastern Europe, you are still dragging some of this consciousness, this collective vortex that was created during Soviet times, of the unwillingness to take a critical, neutral look at society and see what is working and what is not working. You see it in many of the politicians. You especially see it in the bureaucratic apparatus. You even see it among many of the people, who are not really willing to take a look because they still have the attitude (that was another aspect of the Soviet system) where initiative always had to come from above, not from the people. There are still many people in Eastern Europe who have this attitude that: “It’s not up to us to change society, it’s up to the politicians. That’s what they are there for.”
People go into this mode of criticizing the politicians when they do not get what they want, instead of taking responsibility and saying, “Well, what could we do to help improve things? How could we (instead of just tearing down the politicians and criticizing them) how could we come up with positive ways to help society move forward? Instead of always waiting for the politicians and only criticizing them for what they are not doing or what they are doing wrong, how could we become a positive part in the growth of our societies?”
This is, of course, a difficult step, and many among the older generation will not be able to make it in this lifetime. But certainly many of the younger people are born after the communist times. They do not have that attitude. They can bring society forward. But of course, this requires (as you see in many societies) that the younger generation is allowed to play a more important, a more active role. Instead of the older generation having the attitude: “Oh, what do the young people know? They are too hasty. They are too eager. They don’t know what they’re talking about. They don’t have the experience that we have of how to make society work.”
There needs to be a shift where you realize that the fact that the young people do not have the experience that the older generation has is actually an asset to society, because they are not stuck in the mindset of the older generation. And therefore, the younger generation can bring society forward. This is quite a challenge for these societies. You saw in the West, for example, how in the 60s there was the youth rebellion, where young people started rebelling against status quo. And it had some effect in those societies. But of course that was never allowed in the Soviet Union.
There almost needs to be (not the same kind of process that was there in the West) but there needs to be a shift where young people start making their voices heard. They can point out that they might actually be able to bring society to a level where the older generation cannot bring it, because they are too stuck in the mindset and the lack of vision that was created during communist times. And the young people are the ones who can stand up and demand that we need to make our societies beyond this communist baggage. We need to let go of this baggage and pull our societies away from that past and move it into a new age based on a new vision.