Sunday, March 12, 2006


Maybe it's all those hours I spent watching Rocky IV and Red Dawn as a kid. Watching Rocky ultimately convert the rotten Commies over to his side. Or viewing the Russkies as the ultimate enemy who needed to be vanquished by a group of armed American teens. What's so bad about these guys? I wondered. What separates me from them?

I don't know. But something about Russia, the former Soviet Union, Communism itself, has fascinated me for a long, long time. Even now, today, I scan the net, searching for articles about China and Russia and Vietnam, wondering how these countries are going to reconcile their socialist aims with their capitalist desires and realities.

Before I lived in Japan, my knowledge of history, politics, the world, was virtually nil. I had spent the last two years reading fiction and watching movies. But slowly, day by day, newspaper page by newspaper page, I started to learn about the world. I watched the people around me, and wondered who they were, and what they did, and why. I travelled to Cambodia, then lived in Cambodia. I read the papers. I asked questions. I tried to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. The world is a big place, and there's so, so much that I don't know.

What fascinates me about Communism is that it purports, or pretends, to be concerned with the ultimate human aspirations -- working together, forgoing selfishness, striving for a common good where all are equal. And yet the grim reality of its execution in the last hundred years proves that a monumental hypocrisy is at work.

You can look at China, the old Soviet Union, Burma, Vietnam -- doesn't matter. The bottom line is: the leaders live like kings. A black market of monumental proportions undercuts their own socialist aims. Everybody is trying to get rich, the platitudes they espouse are lip-service only, and it's every man for himself.

Why is this so, I wonder. The obvious answers are, well, obvious: humans are strivers. They want to improve life for themselves. They want rewards for their own initiative. They don't want to be controlled a faceless state.

As with everything, something deeper is going on, though. I wonder if the needs of Communism and the needs of democracy are not so very different after all. On a base, subsistence level, everybody just wants enough to eat, food for their family, a roof over their heads, a fun time on the weekends. Then we want more. And more. Until we develop ideologies that seek to encompass what is good, and best, not only for me, but for you, too.

Maybe that's what intrigues me about Communism, how misguided and futile its aims ultimately prove to be. This notion that somewhere, in some secret room, a group of individuals have decided that they, in fact, have figured out society's needs. That those individuals have names like Stalin and Pol Pot and Kim Jong Ill is the ultimate tragedy. Something inside of us longs for an answer, fulfilled by others, which will satsify what we most need out of life.

Does that room exist? The evidence suggests, well, no. Stalin was a tyrant. Pol Pot was a lunatic. Kim Jong Ill is who he is, which is plain to see. And the masses, the majority, even those under Communism's mandates, know this. They sense it and smell it and live it. Even in a pseudo-democracy like Cambodia, the educated ones know what is a pose and what is authentic. They know that, in all of those back rooms, there exist people very much like themselves, people that want to be fed and clothed, loved and protected. People that will, if necessary, cheat and steal to acheive those aims. People that may or may not be able to be trusted.

What's the next phase for Communism? Where can Cuba and Burma and China go to? At what point will these massive organizational systems collapse under their own illogical weight, or else give in, fully and completely, to democracy's unstoppable necessity? (As Churchill said, democracy's probably the worst system of government invented, except for all the others.)

No answers to these questions, at least not from me. What's certain is that people, the masses, the peasants, the Burmese and North Koreans and Cubans and Vietnamese, are smarter than we think. They are ourselves, amalgamated into another, ulterior form of containment, but slowly and steadily poking and prodding their way out of the box.

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