Belief in Communism
By Bryan Caplan
I’ve discovered a gem of a book on public opinion in the former Soviet bloc: Values and Political Change in Postcommunist Europe by William Miller, Stephen White, and Paul Heywood. In the mid-late ’90’s, they surveyed people in Russia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary about everything from A to Z. Perhaps the most fascinating pair of questions, though, were:
“Did you ever believe in communist ideals?”
“Do you believe in communist ideals now?”
|Country||% Ever believed||% Believe now|
Once again, it looks like persistent brainwashing works. Despite the horrors of Communist rule, a solid majority of respondents in the former Soviet Union admit they once believed in communist ideals. And even in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, the centers of anti-communist rebellion, fully a third admit the same.
Admittedly, though, the data also confirm that deprogramming works! Past belief varied widely by country; present belief is almost uniform at around 20%.
One question the book doesn’t ask is when people lost their faith. Was it specific events in the history of Communism, like Khrushchev’s secret speech, or the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia? Was it just getting older and wiser – believing at 20 and doubting at 30? Or was the key disillusioning event the collapse of Communism itself?
My suspicion: Soviet invasions in ’56 and ’68 shattered faith in the East bloc. In the birthland of socialism, however, it was Gorbachev who wrecked the faith of a nation with glasnost and the Sinatra doctrine. If a religion’s High Priest isn’t a True Believer, how is anyone else supposed to be?