From 1917 com­mu­nism swept the globe. Now North Korea may be the one true sur­vivor

The Dominion Post - - World - WILL ENGLUND

Acen­tury has passed since Com­mu­nists first came to power. It hap­pened in Rus­sia, reel­ing from three years of world war and the over­throw eight months be­fore of Czar Ni­cholas II. Few out­side Rus­sia thought the Com­mu­nist govern­ment could last for long. But in fact that ‘‘Oc­to­ber Revo­lu­tion’’ was the van­guard - to use a favourite Com­mu­nist term - of a world­wide move­ment, one that in­spired mil­lions around the globe and re­pelled mil­lions more.

Pure com­mu­nism would, in the­ory, en­tail com­mon own­er­ship of the means of pro­duc­tion and a with­er­ing of the state. Un­sur­pris­ingly, it was never achieved.

But an ide­ol­ogy that promised to over­turn the power of cap­i­tal, and the dis­tor­tions that the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal wrought on so­ci­ety, at­tracted fol­low­ers from Korea in the east to Cuba in the west.

Its ad­her­ents be­lieved that build­ing com­mu­nism re­quired the up­root­ing of cap­i­tal­ist be­liefs and the purg­ing of those who clung to bour­geois or coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary ways of think­ing.

Many mil­lions were packed off to prison camps, and mil­lions more died of star­va­tion, ex­po­sure and ex­e­cu­tion­ers’ bul­lets in the quest to build a com­mu­nist fu­ture.

And then it all be­gan to un­ravel. It was done in by cyn­i­cism, ex­haus­tion and the in­evitable com­par­isons with the pros­per­ous mar­ket economies of the West.

World­wide Com­mu­nism was Amer­ica’s most fear­some en­emy in the mid­dle decades of the 20th cen­tury. But since 1989 one coun­try af­ter an­other has ei­ther thrown off com­mu­nism en­tirely, or pushed it dis­creetly aside in the pur­suit of busi­ness.

To­day it lives on in only the most at­ten­u­ated forms. North Korea is the one fe­ro­cious hold­out among the re­main­ing Com­mu­nist na­tions, but even there mar­kets have been chang­ing the na­ture of the econ­omy.

Here we present a time­line of the mile­stone mo­ments in the 100-year his­tory of Com­mu­nism in power, a record of a move­ment that sought world­wide revo­lu­tion, in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion on an epic scale, and the cre­ation of a new form of so­ci­ety.

It grew from an ur­ban up­ris­ing in north­west Rus­sia, spread around the globe, de­vel­oped deep rot, and fi­nally re­treated like river ice dur­ing the spring thaw.

Novem­ber 7, 1917 - The Great Oc­to­ber Revo­lu­tion

A rev­o­lu­tion­ary Marx­ist fac­tion called the Bol­she­viks seized power in Rus­sia, led by Vladimir Lenin. (It took place on Oc­to­ber 25 un­der the old Rus­sian cal­en­dar, hence the name.) Af­ter a bru­tal civil war, the Bol­she­viks es­tab­lished what be­came the Union of Soviet So­cial­ist Republics.

It was the first com­mu­nist govern­ment in the world. The Sovi­ets in­tended to ex­port com­mu­nism to the other great in­dus­trial na­tions, which made them pari­ahs among cap­i­tal­ists.

June 30, 1929 - Found­ing of Mag­ni­to­gorsk

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin or­dered the con­struc­tion of a new city that would house the largest iron and steel works in the Soviet Union. It was part of a five-year plan to lift Rus­sia out of its feu­dal, farm­ing econ­omy and turn it into an in­dus­trial gi­ant. Mag­ni­to­gorsk, in the Ural moun­tains, was built with help from Amer­i­can en­gi­neers, and mod­elled on Gary, In­di­ana. It be­came a show­piece of Soviet eco­nomic achieve­ment.

But there was an­other side to the Soviet econ­omy: A man-made famine struck Ukraine, and mil­lions of men and women dis­ap­peared into the gu­lag. Prison la­bor was em­ployed to dig canals, cut tim­ber, and mine coal.

May 9, 1945 - Vic­tory over Nazi Ger­many

The Sovi­ets bore the brunt of World War II in Europe. Their even­tual tri­umph has been ex­ploited ever since as a jus­ti­fy­ing event, one that be­stows glory and le­git­i­macy on the USSR - and its Rus­sian suc­ces­sor. At the end of the war, Moscow es­tab­lished friendly com­mu­nist regimes through­out Eastern Europe, cre­at­ing what Win­ston Churchill called the Iron Cur­tain, as the Cold War with the West de­scended.

Oc­to­ber 1, 1949 - Mao de­clares Com­mu­nist vic­tory in China

The long-run­ning con­flict be­tween Na­tion­al­ists and Com­mu­nists fi­nally came to end with a near-to­tal Com­mu­nist vic­tory. Mao Ze­dong, the Com­mu­nist Party leader, was wel­comed in Moscow as the tri­bune of Asian com­mu­nism. But it wasn’t long be­fore ten­sions led to a break, sun­der­ing com­mu­nism’s two most im­por­tant coun­tries.

Over the decades to fol­low, mil­lions of Chi­nese would die in labour camps and from hunger.

July 27, 1953 - Korean War ends in stale­mate.

With the Ja­panese de­feat in World War II, Korea had been di­vided be­tween a Com­mu­nist North, un­der the wing of the Soviet Union, and a West-friendly South. The Korean War erupted in 1950, pit­ting Kore­ans against one an­other and draw­ing in the United States and its al­lies on one side, and the Com­mu­nist Chi­nese on the other. It fi­nally ended in a draw, though to this day North Korea presents it as a vic­tory.

Novem­ber 4, 1956 - Sovi­ets crush Hun­gar­ian up­ris­ing

Af­ter the death of Stalin in 1953, the ad­vent of Nikita Khrushchev as Soviet leader seemed to por­tend a thaw­ing of re­pres­sion. Restive Hun­gar­i­ans, ea­ger to break free of Moscow, staged an up­ris­ing that led to the col­lapse of their govern­ment. Pres­i­dent Dwight Eisen­hower cheered them on. But the United States stood by when the Soviet mil­i­tary poured into the coun­try, smash­ing the re­bel­lion.

Jan­uary 1, 1959 - Fidel Cas­tro seizes power in Cuba

Cas­tro and his rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies came out of the moun­tains to over­throw the cor­rupt regime of Ful­gen­cio Batista, who had strong links to Amer­i­can or­gan­ised crime. At first will­ing to deal with the United States, Cas­tro turned to Moscow for sup­port within a year, in the face of US hos­til­ity. Amer­i­can lead­ers were shocked to see com­mu­nism take a foothold in the Western hemi­sphere.

April 30, 1975 - Saigon falls The bloody and pro­tracted war in Viet­nam, which had de­stroyed the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Lyn­don John­son and contributed to Richard Nixon’s down­fall, ended with a com­mu­nist vic­tory. Saigon was re­named Ho Chi Minh City. This was close to the high tide mark of global com­mu­nism, though few sus­pected it at the time.

Au­gust 31, 1980 - Sol­i­dar­ity is formed in Poland

The first in­de­pen­dent trade union in post­war Eastern Europe was es­tab­lished at a ship­yard in Gdansk, led by, among oth­ers, an elec­tri­cian named Lech Walesa. First the govern­ment in War­saw tried to ne­go­ti­ate with it. Then the union was out­lawed. But it never dis­ap­peared, and it was to rise up in the piv­otal year of 1989.

June 4, 1989 - Tianan­men Square protests are crushed

Pro-democ­racy pro­test­ers oc­cu­pied Bei­jing’s cen­tral square, in­spired by a pro­gram of changes that Chi­nese lead­ers had been cau­tiously pur­su­ing. The chal­lenge was too great for the Com­mu­nist govern­ment, and it sent in troops and tanks to sweep the square clean. Hun­dreds, per­haps thou­sands, lost their lives. The les­son was learned, and noth­ing like it has hap­pened again in China.

Novem­ber 9, 1989 - Ber­lin Wall falls

Five months later, Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev sig­nalled to the Com­mu­nist East Ger­man govern­ment that Moscow - con­cerned with eco­nomic de­cline and the hol­low­ing out of ide­o­log­i­cal fer­vour - would not come to its aid in the face of rising pop­u­lar protests. Sol­i­dar­ity had al­ready taken a seat in the Pol­ish govern­ment, and Hun­gar­i­ans were stream­ing across the border into Aus­tria. But when the Wall came down and Ber­lin­ers were once again united in joy­ous demon­stra­tions, it was clear to the world that the com­mu­nist era in Eastern Europe was over.

Au­gust 19, 1991 - Failed coup in Moscow sig­nals end of USSR

Soviet hard-lin­ers at­tempted to over­throw Mikhail Gor­bachev out of fear that his poli­cies of glas­nost and per­e­stroika - open­ness and re­struc­tur­ing - were putting their coun­try in dan­ger of fall­ing apart. Their fail­ure gave a ma­jor boost to Rus­sia’s fore­most an­tiCom­mu­nist, Boris Yeltsin, and it led in­stead to the out­law­ing of the Com­mu­nist Party just weeks later. The Soviet Union did fall apart, and ceased to ex­ist on De­cem­ber 25, 1991.

Au­gust 16, 2010 - China’s econ­omy over­takes Ja­pan

Govern­ment fig­ures re­leased on this day showed that China had sur­passed Ja­pan to be­come the world’s se­cond-largest econ­omy. Bei­jing’s turn away from Marx­ism and to­ward state-spon­sored cap­i­tal­ism had been un­der­way for the bet­ter part of two decades, and now it was show­ing dra­matic re­sults.

Septem­ber 3, 2017 - North Korea says it can hit US with hy­dro­gen bomb.

Three gen­er­a­tions of lead­er­ship by the Kim fam­ily have turned North Korea into a rogue state, more of a monar­chy than a truly com­mu­nist na­tion. The in­tro­duc­tion of mar­ket re­forms - though on a smaller scale than in China or Viet­nam - has helped the econ­omy. But hos­til­ity to­ward the West, and es­pe­cially the United States, has if any­thing sharp­ened. North Korea views nu­clear arms as the only means by which it can main­tain its sovereignty in the face of what it calls Amer­i­can ag­gres­sion. One hun­dred years af­ter Lenin seized power in Rus­sia, it is com­mu­nism’s most prickly re­doubt. Wash­ing­ton Post


Lenin speaks to a crowd in Red Square, Moscow, dur­ing the Oc­to­ber Revo­lu­tion.

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