The Committee for the Free World, the most implacable and spirited anti-Communist voice in post-Vietnam America, closed shop this week. "We've won, goodbye," founder Midge Decter told The Post's E. J. Dionne. The most skeptical coroner has spoken. Communism is dead.

Another story, however, has been largely missed: socialism is dead too. At a recent gathering of the left (for a memorial tribute to radical historian William Appleman Williams), Christopher Lasch, with admirable candor, said: "We have to ask ourselves whether {Gorbachev} isn't presiding not just over the collapse of the Soviet empire but over the collapse of socialism as well. It is all very well to argue ... that the socialist ideal was never to be confused with {Soviet-style} 'actually existing socialism.' But the whole point of Marxian socialism as distinguished from Utopian socialism, if anybody remembers, was precisely that it was not merely a speculative ideal."

Socialism, despite what Gorbachev pretends, was never the doctrine of loving thy neighbor as thyself. It is a political doctrine of class conflict rooted in a rejection of private property and a faith in "social control" -- i.e., political control -- of the means of production (factories, industry, etc.)

Well, the returns are in. Socialism is a prescription for economic ruin. Ruin not only where deformed by Stalinism but even where practiced with a human face. Tanzania's experiment in "African socialism" utterly destroyed a once self-sufficient economy. Even Israel's much idealized kibbutz movement faces insolvency. No serious country today looks to socialism as a model for development.

Accordingly, socialists have generally abandoned socialism and become social democrats. Social democrats want to humanize the market by attaching safety nets. A noble meliorism, but it is not socialism. It is liberalism. The socialist vision of new economic and social relations is finished.

But if socialism is finished, what's left of the left? How will it occupy its time? Judging from its recent activities, it is improvising well. Its agenda:

1) Earth. Environmentalism is a natural successor to Marxism. Europe's Green parties led the way, showing friends of the Earth the connection between opposition to development, on the one hand, and anti-nuclearism, anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism on the other.

There is a certain shamelessness in the left adopting the environment as its cause, considering the indescribable environmental wreckage left by "actually existing socialism" in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Environmentalism is nonetheless the perfect escape hatch for the left because it enables the left to do precisely what it tried to do under the banner of socialism: allow educated elites to tell everyone else how to live. Social control, once asserted on behalf of the working class, is now asserted on behalf of the spotted owl.

2) Peace. With the Gulf crisis, the left (with some help from the isolationist right) has been busy trying to revive the long dormant antiwar movement. But here one gets the feeling of people going through the motions, of a reflexive, almost nostalgic anti-interventionism.

After all, the last time the peace movement got terribly exercised, it was to warn the world in panicked tones of the imminence of nuclear catastrophe and of the urgent need to take as many nuclear weapons as possible out of the hands of Ronald Reagan. Now that a Third World adventurer and thug -- a man who has used weapons of mass destruction in the past and has pledged to use them again -- is about to get his hands on a nuclear arsenal, the antiwar left can find no "just war" reason to disarm him.

This is more than inconsistency. This is bad faith. Hence, I suspect, the weakness of the peace movement so far.

3) The Balkanization of America. This is the major project of the left in the universities, the monastic refuge to which, like a defeated religious order, the radical left has retreated. How to undermine a social system it cannot abide? By attacking its most central values: the idea of a common Western culture and the idea of a common American citizenship.

How? By proclaiming and championing a new oppressed, no longer the bloated and ungrateful working classes, but a new class of carefully selected ethnic and gender groups. Blacks, Hispanics, women, homosexuals, Native Americans -- the list is long, the bids are open -- are now wards of the left.

In their name is launched an all-out assault, first, on America's cultural past. As Prof. John Searle points out in the New York Review of Books (Dec. 6), the demand is not just for an expansion of the West's cultural canon to include works by women or people of color, but the destruction of this canon as representative of a white male-dominated system of cultural oppression.

So much for Western Civ. The other attack -- on common citizenship -- consists of the division of Americans into a hierarchy of legally preferred groups based on race and gender. From Canada to Lebanon, every other multi-ethnic society that has attempted such tribal stratification has come to grief. (Canada hangs by a thread, Lebanon has been shredded.) No matter. The left, helped by a nobly motivated but intellectually bankrupt "civil rights community," would march us just that way.

Of the three projects, Balkanization is the most serious. America will survive both Saddam and the snail darter. But the setting of one ethnic group against another, the fracturing not just of American society but of the American idea, poses a threat that no outside agent in this post-Soviet world can hope to match.