Communism, like capitalism, endlessly reinvents itself. Many thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 also heralded the demise of communism worldwide. Instead it has waxed in China and Vietnam. What is their secret? They wedded a form of capitalism to a one party communist state. How did they manage to do this? Gorbachev's first task in 1985 was to raise living standards. Perestroika was seen as the answer. It was not so glasnost was ushered in. In doing so Gorbachev made the fatal mistake of engaging in economic and political reform simultaneously. China did not make this mistake. Mao followed the Stalinist model of modernisation but smashed it during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Deng Xiaoping favoured a decentralised economy using trial and error changes. Over the years 1976-92 he waged a battle royal against those who wished to retain the centralised planned economy. Deng won and new China was born. How did he manage it? Why has the Chinese economy, guided by the communist party, been the most successful engine for growth ever devised? When China becomes the largest world economy, will this signify defeat for the Washington model of capitalism: democracy, a liberal market economy and the rule of law? Will Beijing and communism soon rule the world?
Martin McCauley is a Senior Lecturer at the University of London. He is currently working on new editions of The Origins of the Cold War 1941-1949 and Russia, America and the Cold War 1949-1991 and Communism: The Whole Story.
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