Communism East Europe

.. a contributing factor to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. If a party has not got the support of a majority, then it has a weak political basis. The fact that undemocratic means were used to ensure that the communists came to, and then maintained, power shows that communism was a political failure. Throughout the history of communism in Russia, never once did the party gain a majority support or truly succeed in suppressing public demonstrations of antipathy towards communism.It can therefore be argued that a political leadership with no political basis or support could ever hope to survive.

Another important factor to note is communisms utter failure in relation to society and culture. Soviet society under Communist rule was socially and culturally underdeveloped. The state had a say in every aspect of societal life. In response to low birth rates, large numbers of orphans and the failure of 37/100 marriages in 1934 alone, the communist leadership compelled the media to promote stable family life.

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(32) Propaganda was used to coerce the people into believing in the positive virtues of marriage and children. Divorce was made more difficult and abortion was prohibited. Thus the peoples right to choose and exert control over their own personal and familial decisions was removed. In schools, the teaching of the social sciences was curtailed and Marxist and Leninist theories were expounded. In the late thirties fees were reintroduced for the three upper forms of secondary school.

This effectively meant that only those who could afford to pay these fees could send their children on to further academic training as these were the forms which prepared children for higher education. (33) Under Stalin topographical, economic and political information and affairs were a state secret. Maps were inaccurate and details about past disasters and history were omitted or embellished. Propaganda and brainwashing was used to ensure that the virtues of communism were extolled and a cult following was created around Lenin and Stalin. A Short Course on the History of the CPSU became the staple intellectual diet of all schoolchildren. (34) This was a propagandistic book based on an idealistic view of communism and its leaders.The mass arrests, the truth of the purges and the labour camps were not allowed to be discussed in the media.

State monopoly of information and mass communications deployed in this way, and backed by the use of coercion and force and the military, degraded the nations intellectual and cultural life. People were simply not allowed to form an opinion contrary to that of the communist state. People were also not allowed to choose their own religion or follow their own personal religious beliefs.

The state outlawed and censored religious propaganda and publications. The Soviet state actively and brutally persecuted the churches.A large number of these were desecrated or destroyed. More than half of all monasteries were forced to close and in 1921 twenty-eight bishops were arrested or died in violent clashes with the Soviet military. (35) Attempts were also made to split the church from the inside. By 1939 only 12 bishops, out of the 163 who had been active in 1930, remained.

(36) These repressive measures, as a whole, meant that the growth of Soviet culture and society was stunted and stagnating.The secrecy and lies undermined efficiency, isolated individuals and eroded the morale of society. This was compounded by the fact that, due to Western influences, the public in the communist countries were beginning to realise their predicament and their backwardness.

These measures continued until Gorbachev came to power. This point leads onto the most important factor which contributed to the eventual collapse of communism in the East, that is, Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev it is doubtful that the disintegration of the communist regime would have occurred so soon.Gorbachev can be seen as a reform communist. He introduced a number of revolutionary reforms like Perestroika and Glasnost. The combined effect of these policies, and his general attitude to reform, communism and the USSR, had the effect of causing the culmination of all opposition to communism and collapsing the system. Glasnost proved to be a great relief valve which allowed the people to voice their long-standing discontent about communism and the communist regime as a whole.

The positive elements of Glasnost had the effect of bringing national tensions to the surface of political and social life and, in a sense, exacerbating the national problem.Liberalisation made people less afraid of retribution when they spoke out against the injustices of the system and the atrocities which had occurred. The ripple effect of Gorbachevs radical Perestroika and Glasnost weakened the authority of thecommunist governments – economically, socially and ideologically. Above all the failure of communism lay in the failure of Gorbachevs Perestroika. If the economy had improved then so too would the peoples well- being and they may have considered maintaining the communist regime. The fundamental problem with Perestroika was how to change a system which had been built to withstand change. It was increasingly fractured.

It had originally been based on inaccurate figures about the well-being of the economy and the national debt. Life under Perestroika became even harder for the majority of Soviet people. There were no state-employed social groups or skilled workers who stood to gain from Perestroika in the short term. Economic reform involved hard work and higher prices and therefore Perestroika was short on support. As the economic situation worsened, sotoo did the peoples support for communism fall.

This time there was a difference however. Due to Glasnost the people and the media were now free to criticise the policy.Glasnost had the effect of ensuring that the previous reign of terror which the communist leadership had held, was brought to an end. Gorbachev employed a policy of Glasnost, that is, openness and the right to criticise and express an opinion. Up until then Soviet society was closed. No criticism or freedom of speech was allowed. The major feature of Glasnost is that of the lifting of most of the restrictions which had beenimposed on the circulation of information since communism began.

The blank pages in history were about to be filled in. Gorbachev realised that the former policy of absolute secrecy was a major force holding back the development of society. Censorship was relaxed. This had the adverse effect of allowing the public criticism of a regime which previously could not be criticised. Gorbachev also allowed increasing independence to the Eastern bloc states.

He had come to the conclusion that compelling an unwilling population to live under a system they detested was not ensuring the USSRs security, but on the contrary, jeopardising it.He indicated by omission, rather than by direct statement, that he would not obstruct a change which would result in these states achieving a measure of independence. In Czechoslovakia on the 18th of January 1989 there was a decision taken to legalise Solidarity.

(37) On the 10th of February the Hungarian communists agreed to a multi-party system and there was no opposition to this on the part of the Soviets. On 29th March Moscow told the Hungarians that they would not interfere in East European affairs. (38) In Poland on January 18th, Solidarity had been legalised after a string of protests and riots in Hungary.

(39) This led to an agreement between the communist government and Solidarity, the main focus of which was the holding of the first relatively free elections since the 1940s in Poland. The elections were devastating to the communists. They were swept out of the Senate and did not have any representatives elected to the Sejm until the second round of counting. (40) This had a domino effect and hastened events elsewhere.

Far from Gorbachevs original hope that allowing the Eastern states more freedom would bring the union closer together, it was tearing the union apart. Kadar was ousted from Hungary and the communists were swept aside by the Hungarian Democratic Forum.On September 11th Hungary opened its borders with Austria and allowed thousands of East Germans to cross to the west. (41) The people of East Germany were demanding Glasnost and Perestroika.

On October 9th a mass demonstration of 70,000 people occurred in Leipzig. (42) Thousands of Germans were escaping to the west through Hungary and the GDR was powerless to stop them. Honecker, the East German leader, buckled under the pressure and resigned.The net effect of which was that his successors allowed the opening of the Berlin Wall on 8th November 1989 after the East German government and communist leadership resigned.

(43) On the 24th of November the Czechoslovak Communist Party resigned after mass demonstrations in Prague of up to 800,000 people. On the 7th of December the communist government in Czechoslovakia collapsed entirely and a new non-communist government was formed. (44) Gorbachevss reforms were wreaking havoc on the communist system. Its base, already weak and fragile, began to crumble away under the massive wave of anti-communist feeling which had finally come to the fore after years of suppression. On the 11th of December Bulgarian communists were forced to agree to a multi-party system and on the 25th, the Rumanian leader Ceausescu and his wife were tried and executed.(45) All of this was borne out of Gorbachevs reforms. The communist regime had been built on force and coercion, terror and undemocratic methods. This regime could therefore not be expected to survive under such an onslaught.

In refusing the Eastern bloc communist parties aid to suppress the revolts within, Gorbachev effectively sealed their fate. The communist parties in those countries had always relied on Soviet force for support in maintaining control of the countries, now that his support had been removed the regimes crumbled.Therefore the significance of the Gorbachev factor cannot be denied when discussing the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe.

If Gorbachev had not introduced his reforms or had not refused aid to the other Eastern bloc communist parties, the communist regime may have still stood today. Gorbachev may not have been the cause of the downfall, but he was certainly the trigger. The situation was like a fuse, Gorbachev merely provided the matches and refused to stop the fire. The final factor which this essay will examine, is that of the loss of elite party confidence.With his reforms Gorbachev had undermined the morale and confidence of the party elite. It had become clear that the communist cause had exhausted itself and was a failure. Their utopian hopes had been torn apart one by one throughout the years and Gorbachev had made them face this fact. This had a paralysing effect on them and led to their apathy about the ending of communism.

If they had believed that there was something left to fight for they may have used physical force to overthrow Gorbachev and suppress the revolts, but they did not. Gorbachev had launched a step-by-step dismantling of the party and the nomenklatura under Perestroika.He separated and neutralised his most militant opponents among the conservative members of the party elite. At the 28th Congress the party elite was divided between those who would monitor the development of Glasnost and perestroika, and the Presidency who would champion the fight against the unreformable members of the nomenklatura. (46) Until the 28th Congress membership of the nomenklatura had been a ticket to wealth and power, after the conference it became a mere shell.

Membership fell off and loyalties faded. A form of local government control was implemented by Gorbachev to further diminish the role of the Politburo.Piece by piece Gorbachev was chipping away at the old elites confidence and beliefs. The fact that Gorbachev was gaining support both from the public at home and abroad, further eroded their confidence. When the USSR began to collapse, however, certain voices in the party refused to allow Gorbachev dismantle more of their dreams.

Yelstin was emerging at this time as an opponent to Gorbachevs rule. In response Gorbachev banned a pro-Yelstin rally in Moscow in 1991.(47) Alarmed at a series of political strikes and a growing support for Yelstin, Gorbachev negotiated a compromise which stipulated that in return for an end to political strikes, Gorbachev would negotiate a new Union treaty which would give power to the republics. The day before this treaty was to be signed, however, its opponents moved to forestall it. Pugo announced that he was assuming presidential control as Gorbachev was ill and declared a state of emergency. (48) Gorbachev refused to concur with this announcement. Yelstin called for a general strike and said that the emergency government was unconstitutional.

(49) Some workers went on strike, more did not.Battle lines were being drawn and the complete collapse of communism was not far behind. The leaders of the coup were arrested by Gorbachevs men and Gorbachev returned to Moscow. The failed coup ironically however, had precipitated the process it had been trying to prevent, that is, the break up of the USSR and the demise of the communist party. In the Russian parliament Yelstin signed a decree suspending the communist party pending an investigation of the coup.

Gorbachev had triumphed over the plotters but now had to capitulate to Yelstin.After a vain attempt at protest, Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary of the CPSU and recommended that the General Committee should disband itself. In June 1991 Yelstin was elected president of Russia. (50) After the failure of the coup most of the Soviet republics declared their independence and sovereignty. Gorbachev tried unsuccessfully to revive the Union treaty for several months afterwards, but to no avail. The chain of events had been set in motion and could not be stopped now.On the 8th of December 1991 Yelstin, along with the Beloruissian and Ukraine leaders issued a statement which declared the end of the USSR.

They offered a Commonwealth of Independent States in return and invited other countries to join. (51) Gorbachev protested at first but then bowed to the inevitable. Communism in Eastern Europe had collapsed. On the 25th of December 1991, he tendered his resignation as president of the USSR and the communist flag was lowered from the Kremlin dome to be replaced by the Russian tricolour.(52) Communism in Eastern Europe, therefore, collapsed for a number of reasons. It had no political basis or popular support. It was riddled with economic problems and, in comparison to capitalism, was a complete failure.

Finally the Gorbachev factor and the loss of elitist party confidence fanned the flames and destroyed communism. Communism broke down because of fatal weaknesses built into the system from its inception.It is in a humans nature to aim for success and prosperity.

Communism denies the competitive trait which is inherent in all humans. Communism was rejected because it is not as good as alternative systems of satisfying humans material wants. Communism also is at odds with the other most basic instinct which a human has, that is, the desire for freedom.

Communism, in practice, denied the expression of civil liberties, opinions and thought. It was also a forced rule which was only enforced by terror, not acceptance or majority ruling.Such a regime could only hope to last for a certain period, never indefinitely. Gorbachevs reforms were merely the catalyst for this failure. Gorbachev wished to reform the system, not destroy it, but the situation rapidly went out of control as years of pent-up frustration and antipathy toward the communist regime was finally given expression. Can we therefore validate the quotation by Rogers which was made at the start of this essay? This essay would argue yes. A regime which is inherently against human nature can never hope to succeed.

It is human to want what we cannot have and to be denied it, as with prohibition, makes us all the more determined and curious to achieve that which is forbidden. The same can be said to be true for communism. Therefore this essay would conclude that although there were a number of external contributory influence to the collapse of communism, communism as an ideal cannot hope to survive for long in anything more than a theoretical sense, as it is inherently contrary to the basic drives of human nature. FOOTNOTES (1) Various Inputs, Chronicle of the 20th Century Quotations (Guinness Publishing Ltd.

, 1996) page 36 (2) Various Inputs, World Book Encyclopaedias (World Book Inc., 1984) page 727 (3) Kehoe, A.M, Makers of 20th Century Europe (Mentor Publications Ltd., 1988) page 25 (4) Ibid., page 32 (5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid., page 33 (7) Ibid., page 40 (8) O Brien, Eileen, Modern Europe 1870-1966 (Mentor Publications Ltd., 1995) page 231 (9) Kehoe, A.

M, op cit., page 50 (10) Ibid. (11) Ibid.(12) Ibid.

(13) Ibid., page 52 (14) Ibid. (15) Various Inputs, op cit. (1984) page 618b (16) Ibid., page 618a (17) Ibid.

, page 618b (18) Ibid. (19) Ibid. (20) Kehoe, A.M, op cit. page 13 (21) Ibid.

(22) Ibid., page 55 (23) Ibid. (24) Various Inputs, op cit. (1996) page 142 (25) Sakwa, Richard,Gorbachev and his Reforms 1985-1990 (Philip Allan, 1990) page 271 (26) Ibid. (27) Ibid., page 272 (28) Ibid. (29) Ibid.(30) Ibid.

(31) Ibid., page 281 (32) Hosking, Geoffrey, A History of the Soviet Union (Fontana Press, 1992) page 213 (33) Ibid., page 215 (34) Ibid.

, page 218 (35) Ibid., page 228 (36) Ibid., page 235 (37) Ibid., page 245 (38) Ibid.

(39) Ibid. (40) Ibid. (41) Ibid., page 466 (42) Ibid.(43) Ibid. (44) Ibid. (45) Ibid.

, page 468 (46) Novikov, Euvgeny & Bascio, Patrick, Gorbachev and the Collapse of the Soviet Communist Party (Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 1994) page 68 (47) Hosking, Geoffrey, op cit. page 494 (48) Ibid., page 495 (49) Ibid. (50) Ibid., page 497 (51) Ibid.

, page 498 (52) Ibid.BIBLIOGRAPHY Brown, Archie, The Gorbachev Factor (Oxford University Press, 1996) Hosking, Geoffrey, A History of the Soviet Union (Fontana Press, 1992) Kehoe, A.M, Makers of 20th Century Europe (Mentor Publications Ltd.

, 1988) Miller, R.F & Miller, J.H & Rigby, T.H, Gorbachev at the Helm (Croom Helm, 1987) Novikov, Euvgeny & Bascio, Patrick, Gorbachev and the Collapse of the Soviet Communist Party (Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 1994) O Brien, Eileen, Modern Europe 1870-1966 (Mentor Publications Ltd.

, 1995) Sakwa, Richard, Gorbachev and his Reforms 1985-1990 (Philip Allan, 1990) Swain, Geoffrey & Swain, Nigel, Eastern Europe Since 1945 (St. Martins Press Inc., 1993) Various Inputs, Chronicle of the 20th Century Quotations (Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1996) Various Inputs, World Book Encyclopaedias (World Book Inc., 1984).