WASHINGTON. — Washington -- In his speech to the United Nations, President Bush delivered the annual ''communism is dead'' message. Basking in the glow of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mr. Bush delivered a homily on how the free market causes the sun to rise in the morning and to set at night.
I'm sure it played well to that small minority of the world's people who are well fed and comfortably housed. Yet I couldn't help wondering how it played in unemployment lines of Eastern Europe, among the tens of thousands of homeless in New York City, in the mining camps of Brazil where half naked bodies covered with mud claw at the earth, in the slums of Calcutta, or among children forced to labor as pearl divers in the Philippines.
Capitalism really is a great system -- for capitalists and their retainers. To enjoy it, all you have to do is suspend compassion for the millions whose impoverishment makes it possible.
You have to be the kind of person who is not disturbed that each dairy cow in the United States receives a federal subsidy greater than the per-capita income of half the world's people.
You have to burst with pride over statistics that prove America is No. 1 in various forms of per-capita consumption, and forget that some ''capitas'' are a lot more consumptive than others.
Apparently we should all be satisfied that a chosen few are able to ascend to dizzying heights of wealth. In somber tones we are warned that under communism, there is no incentive to work. This undoubtedly sounds very profound to a Harvard MBA. It strikes a less responsive chord in a kid flipping burgers at at McDonald's. Perhaps you've heard the joke: ''They give us a minimum wage, we give them a minimum performance.''
When capitalism's failure to provide for the many becomes too glaring, the final appeal is you're free! But who is free and how? Freedom manifests itself differently for different classes of folks.
For the capitalist it lies in the untrammeled right to invest venture capital and divest wage labor in whatever manner serves the rate of return.
For the middle class it lies in being free to pursue a personal career and lifestyle.
For the world's poor, freedom would be to overturn the insufferable conditions of their lives. For them, freedom is an elusive commodity under the ''Pox'' Americana.
The fall of the bloated bureaucrats who ran Eastern Europe's regimes in the manner of corporate moguls everywhere has provided a propaganda windfall for George Bush. Yet the economic crisis that destroyed the political legitimacy of those regimes is the same crisis of stagnation and falling profits that has plagued the West since the early 1970s.
One wonders where the crisis might have exploded first if the Soviets, not the U.S., had been able to borrow hundreds of billions internationally.
Communism was overthrown in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Production was reorganized on the basis of private profit covered with a patina of socialist symbols. In China the Maoist dTC leaders were arrested in a military coup in 1976. Collective property was largely privatized, and the country thrown open to foreign capital.
In a perverse way, the charade that the Soviet Union was a communist country served the interests of both sides. In the Soviet Union, grinding exploitation was legitimized as ''in the interests of the people.'' In the U.S., the very real military rivalry of a competing superpower could be cast as the transcending threat of ''totalitarianism.''
George Bush and other Washington cognoscenti have long been aware of the real deal. This is why Deng Xiaoping can do no wrong, matter how many people get crushed by tanks, and why there is such concern for maintaining stability and continuity of government as the Eastern European crisis unfolds. The danger in such a crisis is that a real revolution could explode with vast and unforeseen implications for the stability of the West. Reminiscent of the Communist Manifesto, ''a specter is haunting Europe.''
In Peru where the free market has flourished, we see a country in which well over half the people are unemployed, where inflation in 1985-1990 ran to 1,200,000 percent, where infant mortality in the first year is 80.7 per thousand, and where the people in general enjoy a lower standard of living than when the Spanish conquistadors arrived.
This is why communism is alive and well. This is why the peasants of Peru are reading Mao Zedong and not the speeches of George Bush. This is why a real communist-led revolution already holds power in a third of that country. As he perorates on the ''death of communism,'' he writes out orders to send more Green Berets to Peru. Apparently George believes in ghosts!
C. Clark Kissinger is a communist journalist based in Washington.