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The Fall of Communism

Members of older generations will remember the cold war, followed by the eventual breakup of the Soviet Union. It has been said, the difference between good and evil nations is that, good nations build walls to keep people out while evil nations build walls to keep people in. This underlies the notion that we live in a world ruled by force. Bad nations use force to keep their own people in submission and servitude. Good nations use force to establish a border to protect their people from hostile outside forces so they can maintain and enjoy a peaceful, civil society within the bounds of that border.

Even the Soviet Union was established upon the seemingly noble idea of taking power away from an oppressive oligarchy and returning it to the people. But that power never really made it down to the promised level. Instead, the communist regime merely established a new tyranny administered by a privileged class who oppressed and lied to its people, required them to perform work, and then denied them most of the fruits of their own labors. It held its own people captive and attempted to deny them any accurate view of the outside world lest they might rise up in rebellion against the forces holding them in bondage.

Unsustainable, and doomed to eventual failure, the regime still stumbled onward for decades. But what was their eventual undoing? Some claim it was Mikhail Gorbachev. Others claim it was Ronald Reagan. While both leaders had a great deal to do with it, an emerging technology may have had more impact than anything that happened in the realm of public policy. In the years leading up to the Soviet collapse, a new invention had come on the scene: the fax machine.

While telephones were available in the Soviet Union, the press was strictly regulated. Soviet citizens only obtained a limited view of the West, as approved and allowed by their leaders. With the advent of the fax machine, friends and relatives from western nations were able to send in news articles, pictures, western literature and religious materials.

As more and more people got access to this information, they began to discover their government had not been very honest. The government lacked the technical ability to limit or screen all the fax transmissions without completely shutting down the entire telephone system. And public opinion would have suffered an even greater blow if they had attempted that.

So the information flow continued, people became more and more informed, and eventually they’d had enough. The tipping point came when large numbers of people showed up to protest at the Berlin wall and Soviet leadership did not dare to put them down. They saw the end coming and they submitted themselves peacefully to a defeat which took the form of the former Soviet states breaking up to become separate sovereign and independent countries.

While things are far from perfect in Russia or other previously Soviet states, it is certain, change came. And it did not originate from above. Rather, it seeped up “through the cracks” of public opinion just as the roots of a tree can rise up to destroy a concrete sidewalk. Change came because the power to control information was diffused and de-centralized. It finally found its way into the hands of regular people, and they used it to make positive change. The quality of life improved for millions of people, including their ability to exercise and enjoy their own free will.

Will the people of the former Soviet states maintain that dearly won freedom? Will they improve upon it? Or will they eventually slide back into tyranny? Only the future will tell.

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