Why communism collapsed 25 years ago

WALL PARTY: Throngs of people attended a rally at the Brandenburg Gate on Sunday to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
WALL PARTY: Throngs of people attended a rally at the Brandenburg Gate on Sunday to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. AFP/Getty Images

Twenty-five years ago, communism was symbolically buried. A crowd of Germans filled with hope ran to the Berlin Wall and demolished it with hammer blows.

It was as if they were pounding on the heads of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Honecker, Ceausescu and the rest of the theoreticians and tyrants responsible for the longest of the many dictatorships that humanity has endured.

Around that time, a rigorous book took stock of the experiment. Its title: The Black Book of Communism. Our specie fertilized the paradise of the proletariat with about 100 million cadavers.

The reaction was predictable. In the Soviet Union, in 1989, all of Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts to rescue the Marxist-Leninist model had failed. In Hungary, a Communist Party led by Imre Pozsgay, a reformist intent on liquidating the system, opened the nation’s borders so the Germans in the GDR could go into Austria and thence to the radiant and free Federal Republic of Germany.

In Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel and a handful of brave intellectuals set up the Civic Forum as a response to the monochord barbarity of Gustav Husak.

In June, five months before the toppling of the Wall, the Poles had participated in elections machiavelically conceived to corner the Solidarity movement but, led by Lech Walesa, the democratic opposition won 99 of the 100 Senate seats.

What had happened? The communist system had finally been defeated. The countries that first implemented it and first cancelled it were impoverished dictatorships, cruel and ineffective, that lagged visibly behind the West in all levels of existence.

Communism was a horror from which anyone who could flee fled, while those who remained no longer believed in the Marxist-Leninist theory, even though they automatically applauded the measures imposed by the leadership.

That is why Boris Yeltsin could dissolve the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1991, with its 20 million members, without hearing a single protest. Reality — not the CIA or NATO — had defeated that barbaric and counterproductive way to organize society.

Aleksandr Yakovlev, the theoretician of perestroika, told me so, in his large Moscow office, when I asked him why communism had collapsed. “Because it didn't adapt to human nature,” he said. Exactly.

What about the Chinese? The Chinese, more pragmatic, had come to that conclusion earlier, after observing the driving and triumphant example of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. They were the same Chinese, with a different collar.

Mao had died in 1976 and the power structure immediately rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping so he could direct the evacuation of the collectivist madhouse built by The Great Helmsman, a cruel psychopath willing to sacrifice millions of compatriots to put into practice his most delirious whims.

By the time the Berlin Wall was toppled, the Chinese had spent a decade tunneling silently toward an exit that eventually led them to an incomplete prosperity without freedoms.

Why didn't the communist dictatorships in Cuba and North Korea fall or transform? Because they were based on centralized military dynasties that did not allow the slightest deviation from the strongman's voice and will.

The Chief totally controlled the party, the parliament, the judges, the military and the police, and more than 95 percent of the ragged economic fabric, while firmly grasping the reins of the communications media. Anyone who moved did not appear in the photo. Or ended up dead or condemned to silence. The apparatus of power was only a conveyor belt for the wishes of the beloved leader.

That prehistoric stubbornness has had a very high price. Cubans and North Koreans have wasted one quarter of a century. If the two last communist tyrannies had begun their transition to democracy at the proper time, Cuba would now be at the vanguard of Latin America, without rafters, Ladies in White or political prisoners, and North Korea would be among the Asian tigers.

Lamentably, the Castro and Kim families opted to remain in power whatever the cost. Their walls stood unassailable, defying reason and defying the times.