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Stalin and Lenin

The Fall of Communism, Twenty Years Later

 

Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern Europe knocked off the irons of communism. This was a memorable time of hope and excitement. Many believed that the revolutions of 1989 would mark the end of the world confrontation; many hoped that a time of great peace is coming and the danger of mutual annihilation is forever averted. Western political theorists hastly predicted that democratic capitalism would be the winning system of near future. Alas, they were wrong.

Yet, today most of the East European countries that for nearly half a century lived under the yoke of the Soviet communism are free and equal members of the European Union. Just in twenty years the former communist states successfully transformed their plan economies and centralized political systems into capitalist liberal democracies. During the transformation some of these countries experienced political and economic hardships more than others - East Germany, for example, was reunited relatively painlessly with its western part, while Bulgaria and Romania experienced a number of bitter political and economic crises.

During the first years of transition, the standard of living in most East European countries dropped significantly. The dreadful combination of unregulated market capitalism, price speculations and inadequate judicial system, in addition to the corrupted practices existing in the tissue of the post-communist culture, made the life of many people desperate. The East European societies had to deal simultaneously with the legacy of the past and demands of the future.

demonstrations in Leipzig, 1989
The fall of Berlin Wall had been preceded by demonstrations in Leipzig. A less known fact is that in the 1980s group of German dissidents had for a meeting place the Leipzig's 800-year-old Nicolaikirche (St. Nikolas Church). During their prayer meetings they discussed politics. By the fall of 1989, the prayer meetings had evolved into a nationwide movement centered in Leipzig. And on Oct. 9, Leipzig hosted the largest protest demonstration in East German history - between 70,000 and 100,000 peaceful demonstrators.

"Many people who lived under communism believed that once it was chipped away, Western-style capitalism and democracy would emerge gleaming from beneath - Tina Rosenberg and Priscilla B. Hayne wrote in the Foreign Policy Magazine - With each decade that passed, the dream of the West glowed more brightly for most of the citizens of communist countries, who could trust the occasional Hollywood movie and letters from émigré cousins-who rarely admitted to anything but prosperity - to inflate their fantasies. They emerged from communism shocked to find that many of the claims their governments had made about capitalism were in fact true - the crime, poverty, and drug addiction of capitalist societies were not merely propaganda. More important, the dreamers had failed to realize that the unhealthy political culture of the past would persist long after communism fell."

Why did the communism fail? There is no simple answer. One is sure, it did not fail because of war conflict or mass revolution, it failed because it was proved inefficient, and because the ruling elite decided to reform the system hoping to make it more durable. These reforms led to unexpected collapse. The Gorbachev's Perestroika (Reformation) and the propaganda's imitation of Glasnost (Openness) went out of control.

SUGGESTED READING:

The Rise and Fall of Communism

by Archie Brown

From the internationally acclaimed Oxford authority on Communism, a definitive history that examines the origins of the ideology, its development in different nations, its collapse in many of those countries following the Perestroika, and its current incarnations around the globe.

 

In the late 1980s, the communist elites were exhausted, the revolutionary zeal from the beginning of the 20th century was not any longer alive, the communists did not believe in their own system. In "The evolution of communism" Bartlomiej Kaminski and Karol Soltan argued that the communist system passed through three stages of development: pure communism, late communism, and constitutional communism. Pure communism was characterized by an aspiration to the total control over society, and a strong commitment to ideology. The late communism was a distinctive system where the "revolutionary" element was suppressed in favour of pragmatism. And the last and fatal for the system stage was the constitutional communism where the power of the communist elite was intentionally limited with the hope that it won't be undermined. Its chief ingredients were attempts for creation of rule of law, separation of powers, communist corporatism, glasnost, and market, in other words, the constitutional communism was aiming re-legimitization of communist power.

After examination of a number of interviews conducted in Central Europe in the summer and fall of 1990 Eric Scheye concludes that many Central European citizens experienced the pre-1989 comunist existence in terms of a true/private versus a false/public self split. There was a mass conviction among both rulers and ruled in Eastern Europe that the public and political life in their states is a farce. Ironically, this conviction was often publicly expressed in the theatres, through production of mocking the system movies and satiric plays. At home people liked to amuse themselves with anti-communist anecdotes and to dream for freedom.

The mass distrust to communist system and the revolutionary exhaustion of the communist elites prevented bloodshed in 1989. There was nobody to save the system from collapse. Yes, there were brief moments of violence in Ceausescu's Romania, but they do not represent the general trend of peaceful secession of power in the other East European countries. The change in 1989 was fast, revolutionary, and bloodless. Great part of the communist leaders sank in the dark, but their children still control, behind the scenes, the management of old state capital and influence the post-communist economic development.

 

Sources:

The Unfinished Revolution of 1989 Author(s): Tina Rosenberg and Priscilla B. Hayner Source: Foreign Policy, No. 115 (Summer, 1999), pp. 90-105 Published by: Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1149495

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Post-Communism: Postmodernity or Modernity Revisited? Author(s): Larry Ray Source: The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Dec., 1997), pp. 543-560 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The London School of Economics and Political Science Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/591595

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Psychological Notes on Central Europe 1989 and beyond Author(s): Eric Scheye Source: Political Psychology, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Jun., 1991), pp. 331-344 Published by: International Society of Political Psychology Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3791468

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The End of Communism in Eastern Europe Author(s): George Schopflin Source: International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 66, No. 1 (Jan., 1990), pp. 3-16 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Royal Institute of International Affairs Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2622187

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Russia and Eastern Europe: Will the West Let Them Fail? Author(s): John Edwin Mroz Source: Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 1, America and the World 1992/93 (1992/1993), pp. 44-57 Published by: Council on Foreign Relations Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20045496

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The Evolution of Communism Author(s): Bartlomiej Kaminski and Karol Soltan Source: International Political Science Review / Revue internationale de science politique, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), pp. 371-391 Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1601080

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Thinking the Revolutions of 1989 Author(s): Sasha Weitman Source: The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Mar., 1992), pp. 11-24 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The London School of Economics and Political Science Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/591199

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After the Fall: An Analysis of Post-Communism Author(s): John A. Hall Source: The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Dec., 1994), pp. 525-542 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The London School of Economics and Political Science Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/591881

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