I am not really in the market for big, long books about the Cold War, but I do like a good short one from time to time, and Communism by Richard Pipes, is looking good so far. I started by reading the conclusion, and now I am reading the penultimate chapter, “The Third World”.
Here is what Pipes says about the relationship between poverty and Communism:
Conventional wisdom holds that poverty breeds Communism. Reality is different: poor countries do not opt for Communism. Nowhere in the world has a poor majority, or any majority for that matter, voted the Communists into power. Rather, poor countries are less able to resist Communist takeovers because they lack the institutions that in richer, more advanced societies thwart aspiring radical dictators. It is the absence of institutions making for affluence, especially the rights of property and the rule of law, that keeps countries poor and, at the same time, makes them vulnerable to dictatorships, whether of the left or right variety. In the words of a student of the Cambodian Communist regime, the most extreme on record, ‘the absence of effective intermediary structures between the people and their successive leaders predisposed the society to the unrestrained exercise of power.’ Thus, the same factors that keep countries poor – above all, lawlessness – facilitate Communist takeovers.
That rings true. In general, it has always seemed to me that the favourite metaphor of ‘rabid anti-communists’ (i.e. the people who underestimated the true depths of Communist disgustingness only somewhat), to the effect that Communism was like a disease, is dead right. And Pipes is asking: how strong was your country’s immune system?