For the millennials, the communist regimes remain someplace in the history books. Big mistake. Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when their parents tended to believe that the historical parenthesis of communism was being closed once and for all, the free world is still coping with the communist specter and its influence.
Communism heritors’ networks are overtly teeming with freedom-smashing projects and are covertly active in national economies and on major stock markets. The exploration of the meanders that enabled the State security agencies to preserve their power is indispensable as new forms of governance emerge.
Victims of communism are counted in millions. According to experts’ estimates, the communist regimes killed over 100 million of their own people – far more deaths than all other genocides in recent history aggregated (the Holocaust, the Nazi genocide of ethnic Poles, the Cambodian genocide, the Rwandan genocide, the Armenian genocide, etc.).
Despite the appalling evidences of the dreadful consequences of communism, five countries are still under a ruling communist political system: China (Communist Party of China leads the United Front), Cuba (Communist Party of Cuba); Laos (Lao People’s Revolutionary Party leads the Lao Front for National Construction); North Korea (Workers’ Party of Korea leads the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland) and Vietnam (Communist Party of Vietnam).
Furthermore, in a dozen nations, communism is ruling or is part of a ruling coalition in multi-party states such as Argentina (Communist Party of Argentina), Bangladesh (Workers Party of Bangladesh), Belarus (Communist Party of Belarus supports the government of president Alexander Lukashenko), the Czech Republic (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia), South Africa (South African Communist Party), or in Nepal (Nepal Communist Party).
What made the communist regimes despicable was the nation-wide apparatus specifically erected for repression of people’s freedoms. A central piece in this apparatus was played by the State security agencies. They incarnated the most feared and ferocious portion of the communist regimes. The disappearance of the Soviet Union and its satellites was a moment of transformation for those agencies.
The subsistence of the State security services proved to the world that no freedom is permanently acquired. Ever since the nineties of the last century, large-scale contraband, financial and investment fraud, political blackmailing, extorsions, election manipulation and all-inclusive protection of drug trafficking became the new Eldorado of the former State security agencies.
Their experience, acquired over the last 30 years, is precious in the race for dominance and influence. Most of the agencies adapted profitably to the new pro-democratic political environment. At the same time, they never lost control of the national surveillance structures and over the big money streams.
After gaining in confidence that their employees will not be held accountable for the activities in the communist time, the agencies adjusted their label and orchestrated a destructive game with the political forces that undermined the confidence of people in the new pro-democratic governance system.
Composed of disciplined and trained individuals, no other structure could have ever matched their efficiency in the initial muddy years of democracy in Eastern Europe. Feigning to uphold the national interests, the security agencies kept defending and further extending their power and influence over the national decision-making processes.
For today’s youth, “KGB” is only an imprint on fashion T-shirts, alike Adidas or Nokia. Few of them could ever imagine that KGB (Soviet Union), Stasi (East Germany), Securitate (Romania), “StB” (Statni Bezpecnost) in Czechoslovakia, or “DS” (Committee for State Security) in Bulgaria, were the most feared abbreviations for several generations of men and women. All those security agencies had a single origin – the Chekist matrix.
It is fundamental to understand the origins of the professional character of the political police of the Eastern bloc. It has been formed at the time of the communist the Red Terror following the first World War, by Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky (nicknamed “Iron Felix”), who was a Bolshevik revolutionary and high official. From 1917 until his death in 1926, Dzerzhinsky led the first two Soviet state-security organizations, the Cheka and the OGPU.
Even after his death, he kept being a reference for the leaders of political and security agencies cherishing the values of “men of action”: endurance, perseverance, political loyalty and zeal in the service of the State. The officers of the Soviet political police, by moving from country to country, succeeded in disseminating and planting those “values” associated with the Chekist ideal.
The GDR (East Germany) was the last “popular democracy” to create its political security agency (the Stasi, in February 1950). For seven years, the Stasi was under the full control of its Soviet gurus and even when it officially became autonomous in 1957, Soviet officers remained in all branches of the German service and in its 15 regional offices.
From the 1970s onwards, subsequent to the Prague Spring (1968), the Stasi, through its human, financial and technical resources, became the major partner of the Soviet KGB, which fully used its expertise within the Eastern bloc and outside, in particular in Africa. At the time of its disappearance in 1989, the Stasi, employed nearly 280,000 full-time agents and unofficial informants. The Stasi’s reach was mindboggling – even the Soviet Union’s powerful KGB employed only one spy to 595 citizens; in East Germany, it was one to 180.
In Romania, during the communist dictatorship, the State Security Department, or “Securitate”, imposed a permanent terror on the citizens. It had the third largest archives (after the KGB and the Stasi) on its nationals and was the most ruthless secret service in Europe, with over 10,000 casualties on its conscience.
The Securitate was established in 1948 with the help of the Soviet secret services. Aware of the lack of professionals in the new organization, the Soviets took the unusual step of recruiting members of “Siguranta”, the secret service of the Kingdom of Romania (1881-1947). Shortly after the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu, the organization was dissolved and the classified personal files were made accessible by Law No. 187 of December 7, 1999, published in the Official Journal, Part I, No. 603 of December 9, 1999.
The main specificity of the communist State security agencies and secret police forces was their capacity to atomize society. By arousing fear, they obscured social contacts and inducted frightening mistrust among the population. This explains partly the stability of the communist regimes, which did not rely only on the strength of Soviet bayonets and tanks but also on the ability of its police and security agencies to act in a preventive manner by nipping in the bud any hint of opposition or resistance.
Most East European State agencies survived the so-called peaceful democratic transition. Behind the pretext that their functions are to defend the superior interests of the Nation, there was a decision not to dismantle services which had a lot of information about the major political players and which had knowledgeable agents, whose capabilities had to be kept close at hand. As a consequence, the security and police forces were successful in transforming and integrating into the new democratic game.
State security agencies have often been assimilated to the myth of a “state within a state.” This is a wrong perception; they were merely the armed wings of the communist regimes and of their leaders. In the context of peaceful transitions, this role evolved and their Chairmen were at the table of negotiations that shaped the smooth exit from communism.
Thus, the successors of the agencies accompanied the reform movements and took every necessary step so as to escape possible legal actions against them on the basis of their criminal past. This dark criminal past in communism turned into a solid proficiency for their bright criminal future in democracy.
The case of Russia
Since the 80s, KGB was a central player monitoring the economic reforms in Russia. Even today, Vladimir Putin, a former KGB executive, propagandizes a political and economic model that is historically inspired by the Chekist experience accumulated during the “Great Patriotic War.” After more than two decades of Vladimir Putin’s rule as President and Prime Minister, Russia has become a KGB state.
Although the KGB was officially abolished in 1991, after its Chairman, Vladimir Kryuchhov, participated in the failed coup d’etat against the USSR’s President at that time, Mikhail Gorbachev, the KGB mentality still thrives. Russia is run by former KGB officials and Kremlin-friendly oligarchs. They control everything: industry, commerce, media, and banking, etc.. They order justice to prosecutors, dictate verdicts to judges, intimidate opponents and even poison some of them, as in the case of Alexeï Navalny, in 2020.
Loyal to the communist traditions, the KGB state does not tolerate any political opposition or economic competition. Under Putin’s leadership, a “state mafia” has replaced the street mafias and racketeers of the chaotic Yeltsin years. At the bottom of this mafia’s order, the former KGB officers are seconded by armies of corrupt tax, police and health inspectors.
At the top of the ladder, ministers and deputy ministers, former KGB personnel, have replaced private oligarchs as heads of gigantic businesses, and proudly incarnate the never-fading dominance of the State security agency.
The case of China
The Chinese still being under a communist regime, no reform is intended of their State security Ministry. Known as Guoanbu, the intelligence, security and secret police agency of China is responsible for counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence and political security. It was created in 1983 under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping and thirty-seven years later, it is touted as one of the most powerful agencies.
The Guoanbu is said to have in its ranks some 7,000 officials and tens of thousands of agents – the “chen diyu”, deep-water fish – located in China and around the world. Divided into 18 offices, the agency also ensures that Taiwan, Hong Kong, but also Tibetan autonomists, Uighur activists in Xinjiang, dissidents and human rights defenders do not take a step outside its radar coverage.
Recently, the orchestrated by the Guoanbu crackdown in Hong Kong was completed with the arrest of pro-democracy activists in accordance with the National Security Law imposed by China earlier this year.
No political, social, industrial, cultural or propaganda areas escape its control and wide range of interests.
The Guoanbu plays also a major role in China’s quest for technological and economic domination. To do this, the Guoanbu relies on significant means of intercepting communications and, since the 2000s, has been increasing the number of “soft infiltrations” abroad.
The Guoanbu is also feared for its alleged cyber-attacks. “Patriotic hackers” and independent industrialists operate alongside Guoanbu agents, making it difficult to distinguish the activities of official and unofficial Chinese cyber-actors.
The national security laws have given the Guoanbu unprecedented powers. The 2017 intelligence law thus obliges businesses and citizens to “cooperate, support or assist national intelligence institutions.” In other words, they must collaborate in possible espionage operations.
One day per year, April 15, has even been intended since 2016 to educate citizens about espionage issues and encourage them to report any suspicious activity. The law also requires operators of so-called “critical” infrastructure to store the personal data of their users in China and to have their computer equipment checked. As a result, telecoms and IT operators in China have an obligation to cooperate with the security agency.
The Guoanbu infiltrations are coordinated by the supreme political power and serve its aggressive tactics for economic supremacy. Over time, this led to the embarrassing situation of US investors and stockholders supporting the Chinese military growth and expansion: “The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) threat to US national security is spreading to our financial markets and impacting investors.” The warning was issued few weeks ago by the US State Department, days after US President Donald Trump signed an order on November 12th banning US citizens from investing in likely Chinese companies to support Beijing’s military and security machinery.
The State Department reported that major stock indexes, such as MSCI and FTSE Russell, “include companies in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which are listed on the Commerce Department’s entity list and / or on the Defense Department’s list of “Chinese Communist Military Enterprises” (CCMC).”
The money going into these index funds, coming from North American retail investors, “supports Chinese companies involved in civilian and military production.” Some of these companies, add the US authorities, “produce technologies for monitoring the civilian population and suppressing human rights, as is the case with Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.” Others “are helping to build the Chinese military and militarize the internationally doomed man-made islands in the South China Sea.”
As of December 2020, at least 24 of China’s 35 Communist military companies had their subsidiaries included in a major stock index. In addition, at least 13 companies from the People’s Republic of China are on the list of entities whose parent company or subsidiaries are included in the MSCI or FTSE stock indexes. Against this background, and after the veto applied by the Trump administration, MSCI excluded from its indexes the seven Chinese companies which were included in the executive order.
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With the exception of China, the countries under the influence of the former State security agencies keep stagnating for four main reasons: First, injustice in the society still prevails and this is a serious factor for demotivating people, reducing societal involvement, innovation and economic productivity. Second, insecure property rights delay entrepreneurship, savings investment and risk taking. Third, massive bank loans are allocated only to selected associates. This undermines the value mechanism of the bank system as credit-worthy businesses sit on the sidelines without access to loans. Fourth, foreign investments remain insecure even if approved at the highest political level.
Social injustice, insecure property rights, political allocation of capital, and unfair treatment of foreign investors explain why post-communist economies will not modernize and grow. Their business practices reveal the often-short distance between legitimate government action and outright gangsterism.
The difference is that the gangsters are representing the State, which means that they are even more powerful than private-sector mobsters. This legalized brutality is concealed behind the arbitrary actions of tax authorities, environmental protection agencies and general prosecutors.
The influential role of key economic players is defined by the mafia structures governed by the former State security agents and their inheritors. Exporting their unlawful methods to the EU and Asia-Pacific countries, to Canada and the USA, is an act of terrible violence against national sovereignty and a largescale threat to the liberty of societies.
This must be resolutely and persistently opposed. Failing to counteract the methods and practices of the former State security agencies will jeopardize the free world and reinforce the feebleness of democracy. If not, by ruining sovereignty, they could accomplish the historical communist mission of enslaving minds and depriving people from their fundamental rights and constitutional freedoms.