IT is often unpleasant to resurrect what many think are the unpleasant ghosts of the past. Unfortunately, that is what we do when we talk frankly about the forces of ``international communism'' at work in our hemisphere. It has long been politically the safe thing to do to ridicule any mention of this alleged phenomenon. Professors and pundits have assured us for years that ``international communism'' as such no longer really exists -- which is why it is ridiculed as a ``phantom,'' the object of irrational phobias of extremists, know-nothings, or people living in the past. It has been explained to us that we can no longer clinically and accurately use this loaded expression because of the Sino-Soviet split, the Yugoslav-Soviet split, the Albanian-Soviet split, and other manifestations of polycentrism. Perhaps communism is no longer a monolithic force subsuming all Marxist-Leninist states under the Soviet banner. Nevertheless, how can one label the presence today in Nicaragua of Cubans, Bulgarians, Libyans, Czechs, North Koreans, East Germans, Vietnamese, Soviets, and communist elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization? If this is not some facsimile of international communism, then we are at a loss at how to explain the common thread that binds these forces together. If we must pay our dues to the gods of poly-centrism, then perhaps we might refine our terminology by calling this phenomenon ``Soviet international communism,'' since neither Maoist, Titoist, or Albanian brands of communism are at work.
Since we so rarely discuss the facts about international communism, here are a few that should be remembered in the context of the debate on Nicaragua:
The people do not want communism. Never in history has a majority of a free electorate democratically chosen a communist form of government. (There is only one exception: the minuscule state of San Marino.)
Communists have always come to power through violent takeovers. These takeovers have always involved the seizure of power by a well-organized and externally assisted minority over an unorganized and unwitting majority. Such takeovers consistently entail the use of a ``popular front'' of communist and noncommunist elements; the establishment of a communist party that uses an ideological party line to enforce internal conformity and identify and eliminate deviationists; the use of camouflage to disguise the party's true intentions and full political program; the use of propaganda and disinformation to manipulate the international news media; the use of violent and ruthless methods to eliminate all organized opposition; and finally, the use of gradualism in the process of eliminating opposition and applying internal security -- so that the people do not realize what is happening to them until it is too late.
No communist regime that has consolidated its power has ever been overthrown and replaced by a noncommunist order. (The only exception is Grenada.) Every other form of government offers people the chance to retain a system of trial and error. It is easy to overthrow a Shah or a Somoza after trial has been granted and error perceived. But once communism is firmly in place, the possibility of trial and error is no more. A vote against aid to the ``freedom fighters'' is a vote to consign Nicaragua to an indefinite period of no freedom of choice.
The human cost of communism exceeds most Americans' expectations. The number of people murdered by communist regimes is estimated at between 60 million and 150 million, with the higher figure probably more accurate in light of recent scholarship. The greatest tide of refugees in world history flows from communist states to noncommunist ones: Today it comes from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Indochina, East Europe, and Nicaragua. (During the entire Vietnam war there was nary a refugee fleeing from Indochina. It was not until communism triumphed that life became so unbearable that people who could withstand decades of war fled to the seas.) Communism invented the concentration camp. Millions have been imprisoned and executed, have worked and starved to death, in these camps. Communist regimes will not permit enterprising Western reporters near these camps, so you don't hear about them on the news. Communist regimes recognize no restraint on their absolute power. From this they establish ideological falsehoods as the standards of right and wrong and the standards by which deviationism is measured; from this stems the systematic denial of all individual human rights. The quality of life always deteriorates under communism: the militarization of society; the destruction of the consumer economy; the rationing of food; the deterioration of housing and insufficient new construction to meet population growth; the destruction of medical care through lack of medicine and medical supplies; the destruction of religion; the destruction and political control of education and culture; the rewriting of history and destruction of monuments to the national heritage; and the assault on family life and parental jurisdiction over children.
Soviet-style communism invariably means the export of terrorism, violence, and revolution. Soviet proxy states participate in an efficient division of labor: Cubans as troops, Bulgarians and Vietnamese as arms suppliers, East Germans as secret-police trainers and military advisers. Since Soviet proxies are present on our continent today, it is no accident that the communist Sandinista regime is an active collaborator in this division of labor.
The Sandinistas are communists. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has said: ``Marxism-Leninism is the scientific doctrine that guides our revolution . . . . [W]ithout Sandinismo we cannot be Marxist-Leninist, and Sandinismo without Marxism-Leninism cannot be revolutionary.'' The identical pattern of communist takeover methods, internal policies, and external behavior is repeating itself in Nicaragua. There can be no doubt, given the vast evidence we have accumulated, that Nicaragua is becoming another Cuba.
Communist regimes, including the Nicaraguan regime, spend vast resources on disinformation -- to deceive the international news media and foreign political decisionmakers. A principal goal is to disseminate false information about the nature of their own system: The principal disinformation theme of all communist regimes is to convince others that they are not really communist. This is done in many ways by the Sandinistas, but most prominently by the ``guided tour.'' Countless American visitors are taken on this guided tour and see nice things and talk to ``average citizens'' who tell them what the regime wants them to hear. Nobody wants to believe that he has been fooled. But if Congress is to believe the testimony of constituents and reporters who base their information on the ``guided tour,'' Congress may as well believe everything it is told on identical guided tours in Moscow, Havana, East Germany, and North Korea.
Congress must decide whether it will resist international communism on our continent or let it prosper. Isolationists in Congress may base their opposition to the administration on the principle that other countries should be allowed self-determination. Unfortunately, in Nicaragua today there can be no self-determination, because of the reality of ``foreign-force determination.'' The foreign force is the USSR and its proxies, otherwise known as the forces of international communism. Will the Nicaraguans be given enough assistance so that they will be able to determine their future on the basis of a balance of foreign forces, or will Congress permit an imbalance, an imbalance against democracy, against any system of trial and error? If Congress chooses to deny the Nicaraguan friends of democracy a chance for self-determination, it will be voting in favor of the first victory of the Soviet strategic offensive on our own continent.
John Lenczowski is director of European and Soviet Affairs at the National Security Council.