WASHINGTON — In the remaining years of the 20th Century, after 70 years of Soviet communism, every ruling Communist Party will have to address the problem of political participation-- real participation, in shaping the national and local decisions that are of consequential importance to the citizen. In its origins, the ideology and political movement of communism represented an attempt to create a basis for a fuller participation both in the social system and in the political system of the early industrial age.
But while its proponents have succeeded in seizing state power, communism has become an institutionalized system of highly regimented, disciplined and bureaucratized non-participation. It is, moreover, very difficult for communist states to break out of this mold. None has been capable of transforming itself from a system with an elite-exerted top-down control into a society shaping its future from the bottom up, through choice and freedom of information.
As successful as ruling Communist parties have been in controling societies, they have failed in mobilizing societies to achieve desired social objectives. Therein lies the contemporary problem of participation under communism.
The real failure of the communist system lies in its inability to transcend the phase of industrialization, to move from the industrial era into the post-industrial world. This transformation will reshape the world as much as industrialization did. It involves three interrelated revolutions: political, social and economic.
The political revolution is animated by the idea of democracy. Human rights, self-government and pluralism have become the universal aspirations of mankind. Fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal have failed, democratic governments in Latin America have proliferated and a dictator in the Philippines has fallen. It is no exaggeration to assert that human rights and individual liberty have become the historical inevitability of our times.
The social revolution has been spawned by the appearance of new techniques of communication and processing information. Advances in technology have transformed the way people interact in modern society--and have on balance tended to break down the ability of a centralized state to control the flow of information through dogmatic censorship. These new technologies have also opened the way for vast increases in social productivity and will, over time, have the effect of increasing the gap between those societies which adapt to the new environment and those which do not.
The economic revolution involves the globalization of economic activity. The great national economic success stories of the last 10 years--Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore--capitalized on the growth of world trade. We can expect the countries that lead economically in the years ahead to be those whose political, social and economic systems maximize individual and collective innovation. For communist countries, transcending the industrial phase requires a solution to the problem of encouraging individual participation.
A system can motivate its members by ideas, threats or incentives. Today, the idea of communism as a motivating force is dead; no one even in the ruling Communist parties wants to resurrect the mechanism of mass terror. Incentives remain the only means to induce participation by the citizens in communist countries. But communist regimes have been singularly incapable of providing and structuring such incentives.
As they confront the crisis of communism, the Soviet Union, China and Poland have a common point of departure: the heritage of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism. In the political sphere, this involves the exclusive party rule, imposing strict control over members by the uppermost elite. In the economic sphere, the state controls all productive resources, with allocation based on central planning and with the price mechanism exerting minimal influence on economic decisions. The social sphere involves state-directed cultural and intellectual life--and strict prohibition of independent social organizations.
In the Soviet Union, Mikhail S. Gorbachev's three initiatives--openness, democratization and economic restructuring--represent an effort to address the question of participation. One must give Gorbachev credit for having put his finger on the critical problems. Solutions are more difficult to identify. He has used his campaign for glasnost to remove political adversaries, create more participation at the lowest levels of the party and stimulate a higher degree of individual motivation. However, reformist rhetoric still outweighs any concrete reform program.