I haven’t been to Russia, North Korea or Cuba, so I have no first-hand knowledge of heavy-duty communism.
But I have been to China, Ukraine and Grenada, so I have some experience with communism-light.
It’s a little island in the Caribbean, down toward Venezuela, with a flag that looks like this. I was there this winter for a very relaxing one-week vacation.
The country’s chief business is agriculture, particularly spices like nutmeg, mace and vanilla. But what most folks remember about Grenada—dimly—is that the U.S. once invaded Grenada.
To simplify, back in 1983, the government of Grenada was leaning toward communism, abetted by Russia and Cuba, among others. But some people in Grenada were impatient with the country’s leaders, thinking they should change faster. So there was a coup—in which the Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, was killed. This worried the leaders of the neighboring islands, so they asked for help, and Ronald Reagan obliged, sending in U.S. forces just six days later.
After a few days, the rebels were ousted, and less than two months later, all U.S. forces were withdrawn from the island.
The following year, the island’s airport—whose expansion had been a factor in justifying the U.S. invasion—was completed, and unveiled by Fidel Castro. It was renamed for Maurice Bishop in 2009. And today, communism is nowhere in sight.
In fact, the government—which follows the British model (people drive on the left, too)—is rather conservative. People have seen the prosperity that tourism can bring, and today Grenada’s GDP per capita is a substantial $12,000.
As to other Communist countries:
China I visited in 2007, when it was already well along in its transition from communism to something I might call capitalist socialism. Today it’s even further along—buying more cars than the U.S., for example—and trends are very positive, economically. GDP per capita is $6,800 and climbing, not least because the Chinese are so industrious. But the country retains a very strong culture of imperialism, and there’s no sense that its leaders are even considering the benefits that a truly democratic free society can bring.
Ukraine I visited in 2010, to attend a wedding that was absolutely marvelous. But fear of the government was high in the country because corruption was a fact of life. (A car we were riding in, for example, driven by the cousin of the bride, was stopped for no particular reason; policemen were just looking for bribes.) So today, as Ukraine works to break free from the grip of Russia, I sympathize, and I wish them well. Last year Ukraine’s GDP per capita was just $3,800.
Russia, by contrast, has a GDP per capita of $14,600, in part because of its mineral wealth. But Russia is losing power, because it is not evolving.
Venezuela also has a relatively high GDP per capita of $11,527, thanks to oil.
Cuba, close to the U.S. geographically but oh so far politically, has a GDP per capita of $6,500.
And North Korea is particularly poor, with a GDP per capita of just $1,200.
Note: technically, Russia’s government is a Federal semi-presidential constitutional republic, while Venezuela is a Federal presidential constitutional republic, Ukraine is a unitary semi-presidential republic and North Korea is technically a hereditary single-party state.
Whatever you call them, they are not countries that we envy, and they are not countries that attract immigrants.
China has a bright future because it has changed its government in recent decades, and Ukraine as well can prosper if it can get free of the grip of Russia. But change takes time, in part because changing the mindset of a country’s populace takes time.