Communism East Europe TITLE: Why did communism collapse in Eastern Europe? SUBJECT: European Studies B EDUCATION: First year university GRADE: first honour AUTHOR’S COMMENTS: I liked it. Interested to hear other people’s comments. TUTOR’S COMMENTS: Well done!! Extremely informative. Well researched. Good Layout. Stress Gorbachev’s role more. Communism is like Prohibition – its a good idea but it wont work (Will Rogers, 1927) (1) This essay will give a brief introduction to communism.
It will then discuss the various factors which combined to bring about the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. It will examine each of these factors and evaluate the effect of each. Finally it will attempt to assertain whether Rogers opinion (see above quotation) on Communism is true, that is, whether communism was truly doomed to fail from the start, or whether its collapse was a result of external influences. Communism is based on the ideas and teachings of Karl Marx as modified by Lenin. At its most basic, the ideal of communism is a system in which everyone is seen as equal and wealth is distributed equally among the people. There is no private ownership.
The state owns and controls all enterprises and property. The state is run by one leading elite. The Soviet model of communism was based on these ideals. All opposition parties were banned although parties who were sympathetic to communism and who shared the communist ideals were allowed. All power was concentrated into the hands of the Communist party.
Free press and civil liberties were suppressed. Censorship and propaganda were widely used. There was state ownership of the economy. No private enterprise was allowed. There was a collectivisation of agriculture.
The Communist Party invaded and controlled every aspect of political, social, cultural and economic life. It was a totalitarian state with complete Communist control over all facets of life. In the early years, and up until Gorbachevs new regime, the use of force and terror as a means of maintaining control was widespread. The first factor which contributed to the failure and eventual collapse of communism was the fact that the Communist partys domination was illegitimate from the beginning. Lenin came to power after a bloody Civil War between those who supported Lenin and those who opposed the Soviet regime.
To Lenin, defeat was unthinkable and he was prepared to make any and every sacrifice to win the war and save the revolution. The forcible requisitioning of food and supplies was approved by Lenin. This could only be achieved by enforcing strict and absolute discipline at every level of society. Terror was to become the chief instrument of power and Lenin was to assume the role of dictator. This was a phenomenon which was to become a symbol of communist regimes throughout their lifetime. This trend was followed when Stalin came to power as leader of the Communist party and the Russian government in 1929.
(2) He had achieved this through plotting and trickery and by shifting alliances. This had begun in 1924 when Stalin systematically began to remove all opposition to his claim to power. His main rival was Trotsky and he used a number of underhand measures to discredit him. For example Stalin lied to Trotsky about the date of Lenins funeral, thus ensuring that Trotsky could not attend and thereby blackening his name in the public eye. This Stalin versus Trotsky conflict led to Trotsky being eventually exiled from Russia and, ten years later in 1940, being assassinated by one of Stalins agents.
(3) Under Stalin any opposition was swiftly and brutally crushed. In no Eastern European country did the revolution have the support of more than a minority of people, yet this minority retained absolute control. The communist take-over and subsequent regime was achieved by undemocratic methods, that is, rigged elections, terror, totalitarian state, harassment and threats. In 1932 a two-hundred page document by a fellow member of the Politburo condemning the Stalinist regime and calling for change was published. (4) In response to this Stalin wreaked a terrible revenge.
In 1936 Stalin began what became known as the purges whose function it was to try members of the communist party who had acted treasonously. (5) The result of these was that five thousand party members were arrested and stripped of their membership. The sixteen defendants in the three Showtrials of 1936, 1937 and 1938 were found guilty and executed. In 1939 those who had conducted the purges were also executed. By 1939 the only member of Lenins original Politburo who remained, was Stalin himself.
(6) In relation to foreign policy, Stalin exerted his influence to ensure that all Eastern European countries (except Yugoslavia) had Soviet-imposed puppet regimes. Stalins domination was now total. After the war Stalin succeeded in establishing a communist buffer zone between Russia and Western Europe. Any resistance he met in establishing communist states was quickly suppressed by intimidation and terror. For example Stalin engineered a communist coup in May 1948 in Czechoslovakia in which a government minister Masaryk was killed and the president was forced to resign.
(7) This served a warning to other countries against resisting the communist regime. Therefore it can clearly be seen that from the establishment of the state that communism never had popular public support. It cannot be denied that there was a significant minority who supported communism, but these were a minority. Can an ideal and a leadership really be built on such a shallow and flimsy basis? This essay would argue that the answer to this question is no. For a leadership to lead, it must have strong support and confidence. It must be seen to work for the good of the people and not merely a vociferous minority. This, therefore, can be argued to be one of the contributing factors in the downfall of communism.
A second related factor, which had a hand in bringing about the end of communism in Eastern Europe was the fact that communism never really had the support of the people. There was constant societal opposition to communist rule in Eastern Europe. Although this was mainly in the form of a passive rumbling dissent, there were occasional violent and active shows of opposition to communist rule. The states of Eastern Europe in the post-war period had been forced to adhere to the Moscow line. After 1956 however, with Khrushchevs new approach to Socialism and his denunciation of Stalin, there were increasing calls for independence among the communist bloc countries who had never been truly supportive of the communist regime.
In East Germany in 1953 there were a series of strikes and protests. (8) The Russians, under Stalin, used their armed forces to put down the revolt and to protect East Germanys communist government. This shows the importance of Soviet military force in maintaining communisms tenuous grip on power. It also shows how weak communist rule in East Germany really was, It was this event that sealed East Germanys fate as the USSR realised that in a united Germany, the Communists would lose control. Events eventually culminated with the building of the Berlin Wall which was the ultimate expression of Soviet and communist force and coercion in maintaining the communist regime.
Under Khrushchev, who had succeeded Stalin after his death in 1953, Poland was the first to revolt against the communist regime. Polish workers rioted and went on strike in 1956 and the Polish communist party also revolted by refusing to accept the Russian general Rokossovsky as the Polish Minister for Defence. (9) The situation was diffused by a compromise which was made on both sides, with Poland agreeing to remain in the communist Eastern bloc if the nationalist communist leader Gomulka, who had been imprisoned by Stalin, was reinstated. The fact that Khrushchev was willing to compromise illustrates again the precarious position of communist rule. The Hungarian revolution of 1956 was borne out of the relative success of the Poles in achieving concessions for the Moscow leadership. (10) The Hungarians decided to overthrow the Stalinist regime in their country.
The situation quickly deteriorated and on the 23rd of October the Hungarian troops, who had been dispatched to end the riots, joined the civilians in revolution. Soviet troops were called in and the Hungarian communist party lost the little support which they had. Again Khrushchev tried to diffuse the situation by offering a compromise, that is, the reinstatement of the moderate communist leader Nagy. When it became clear, however, that Nagy had every intention of pulling out of the Soviet communist bloc, Khrushchev resorted to force and violence to maintain the communist grip on Hungary. He ordered the return of Soviet tanks and troops to Budapest on November 4th 1956. (11) Thousands were killed in a bloody street battle until the Soviets had re- established their control.
Nagy was arrested and was executed two years later. A Soviet imposed communist regime under Janos Kadar was set up. (12) The tenuous communist grip on control is again illustrated here. Khrushchev was willing to barter, and eventually use force, to maintain Soviet control. Without this force and coercion, however, Hungary would have established its own brand of communist rule. Khrushchev could not risk the domino effect that this action would have had on the Eastern bloc.
This societal opposition can, therefore, be taken to be another contributing factor in the downfall of communist rule in the Eastern bloc. If those in the alliance cannot cooperate and work together, the alliance and the ideal cannot hope to survive. Another important factor which this essay will discuss is that of the influence of the West on the Eastern bloc. The Eastern bloc was already aware of Western capitalist success as they were allies during the war. Many of the Eastern countries, for example Hungary under Nagy or Czechoslovakia under Dubcek, were in favour of a communist system with some elements of capitalism, that is, a mixed economy or market socialism and more elements of democracy.
There had been a breakdown in relations between the East and West due to tensions after WWII. After the war Russia wanted to create a sphere of influence in the East over which the West would have no say or control. This was not acceptable to the West who wanted to see democracy installed in the East and who wanted to have a continued input into the doings of the East. This conflict ventually led to the Cold War. Until Khrushchev became leader of the Soviet bloc, there had been no significant contact between the two blocs.
Those inside of the Soviet bloc were completely cut off from the Western ideals. When Khrushchev came to power, however, there as renewed hope in the West that there might be a thaw in relations between the two blocs. Relations between the two blocs did improve with Khrushchev attending a number of conferences and meetings. For example a twelve-day visit to the US in 1959, a UN General Assembly, also in 1959 and a later UN General Assembly meeting in 1960 in the US. (13) Although then relations began to break down again due to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and the Eastern bloc became cut off once more, western ideas had already managed to penetrate the East.
(14) The information that the capitalist West was thriving while the Communist Eastern bloc was stagnating and underdeveloped, made communism and Soviet control even more unpopular. In 1963 there again was an easing of tensions between the two blocs when Russia and the US signed a test ban treaty which allowed the Wests influence to again creep into the East. (15) In 1964 Khrushchev was ousted from power and Brezhnev with Kosygin took over from him. (16) In 1966 the US and USSR agreed to a direct air service between Moscow and New York. In 1967 they, along with 60 other countries, signed the first international treaty providing for the peaceful exploration of outer space.
(17) In the 1970s a period of D tente began. In 1970 West Germany and Poland signed a treaty rejecting the use of force. West Germany and Russia ratified a similar treaty in 1972. (18) In 1972 Nixon and Brezhnev signed the SALT I treaty which was to limit the production of US and Russian nuclear weapons. In 1973 East and West Germany joined the UN. (19) Throughout this period the West had more and more access to the Eastern bloc and the people of the communist countries were influenced by these ideas.
This was a further blow to communist rule and another factor in the downfall of communism. The next contributing factor to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe was that of its economic failure. During the years of war communism from 1918-1921, Soviet labourers worked for pittance wages. At the same time the Bolshevik confiscated virtually all harvests. This brought the country to the brink of economic collapse. The net result of war communism under Lenin was that from 1914 the countryside was neglected and destroyed and in 1920 there was a severe drought. (20) In 1921 the New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced.
This was in effect a limited capitalism. Peasants were allowed to keep their surpluses after taxes were paid. Bonuses, extra rations and better housing were offered as incentives. Still there was widespread opposition to the communist policy with the beginnings of a peasant war against Stalins proposed collectivisation policy in 1928. (21) Although agricultural production increased, the standard of living was lowered and hardship was widespread. Forcible collectivisation was pursued until 1935. This again shows the peoples general opposition to communist policies.
Collectivisation failed to meet agricultural requirements during WWII. The human cost of the policy was staggering. If the people are suffering under a particular regime they will not support it, how then can this regime hope to survive? When Khrushchev came to power, he too failed to salvage the economy. Although some of the policies which he introduced in the 1950s had an initial success, they soon collapsed with disastrous effects. Figures for meat in 1958 were artificially high but collapsed soon after.
In 1962 there were sharp increases in the prices of butter and meat. (22) Food riots were forcibly quelled by the shooting of seventy unarmed demonstrators in 1962. (23) Industry was not faring any better and by 1963 production levels had declined sharply in every branch of industry. As Khrushchev himself said of communism in 1958:- If, after forty years of communism, a person cannot have a glass of milk and a pair of shoes, he will not believe that communism is a good thing (24) Under Brezhnev the economic state of the USSR continued to decline. Support for communism was falling and due to improved relations with the West, the people could see how disadvantaged they were. Under Andropov who succeeded Brezhnev in 1982 the situation did not improve.
Change began only when Gorbachev came to power in 1985. (25) The major problems in the economy which Gorbachev had to deal with were, the wasteful use of resources, the lack of innovation, a poor division of labour, too many costly products being produced, ineffective use of resources and low productivity. There was a resistance to technological innovation due to a lack of incentives. Wages were low and the mechanisms involved in introducing a new idea or practice were time-consuming and complicated. There was a general inflexibility in the enterprise network which also stifled innovation.
There was also a lack of investment in new ideas and industry. Gorbachevs solution to these problems was a Perestroika of the economy. The challenge of Perestroika was to move to more intensive methods of production and more effective use of inputs. His economic polices began with the promise of a revival of some of the practices of NEP. His aim was to cause output to double by the year 2000 and for production and productivity to rise substantially. It was not until 1987, however, that these ideas were put into a concrete plan. (26) A vigorous anti-alcohol campaign was initiated. Vineyards were destroyed and beer production was cut-back.
By 1988, however, they had to admit that this policy was a complete failure and it was abandoned in 1990. (27) By 1985 the USSR had a budget deficit of R37 billion. (28) Due to miscalculations in relation to the extent of the budget deficit, Gorbachev authorised spending in social and investment sectors while maintaining the spending in the military sector. This was a gross mistake which resulted in the budget deficit in 1989 having increased to R100 billion or 11% of the Gross National Product (GNP) and was predicted to rise to R120 billion. Therefore, under Gorbachev, the budget deficit rose from 3% in 1985 to 14% in 1989. (29) Inflation increased to over 5%. (30) Prices failed to reflect the high cost of production and many companies were working at a loss.
This economic failure of communism meant that support for the system fell and that it was becoming increasingly more difficult for the communist party to convince the people that this indeed was the way forward, and a better solution than capitalism. Gorbachev therefore aimed to tie salaries into achieved results and to remove subsidies on some goods and services. He did not act immediately, however, with his price reform package as he hoped to first achieve a balance between supply and demand. This merely worsened matters and wages continued to rise faster than output and productivity. The main failure of Perestroika is that it didnt remove the old price system.
Instead, it allowed the old price system, which was based on scarcity, to continue, and this merely exacerbated shortages. Ironically, it was the mass organisations of people, who had emerged to defend living standards, who actually hampered the struggle against inflation and the budget deficit. This situation was partly created by the fact that the governing party had no popular support and hadnt been popularly elected. The economic situation continued to decline. There was a zero growth rate. Shops were calculated to be lacking 243 out 276 basic consumer items and there was a chronic shortage of 1000 items out of 1200 which would be on a model shopping list.
There was a static farm output and high levels of inflation. (31) Therefore it can be seen that communism was an economic disaster. Khrushchevs remark again can be used to illustrate the effect which this had on the support for communism. (see ref 24). As previously mentioned, communism never had majority support or a legitimate political basis.
Force and coercion were regularly used to ensure that the communist party remained in power. Therefore one can maintain that the fact that communism was a political failure was also …