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Communism in Europe - The End Of Communism

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What would turn out to be a significant shift in Soviet leadership occurred in 1985, when the reform-minded and relatively youthful Mikhail Gorbachev became head of state. His plans for more open debate (glasnost) about new ideas and policies were accompanied by an attempt at restructuring (perestroika) the Soviet economic system. Gorbachev also made waves on the foreign policy front. Early in his administration he made it clear that the Soviet Union was no longer going to impose its policies over Communist regimes in Eastern and Central Europe, which set in motion the dissolution of the political, economic, and military ties that had formerly bound these countries to the Soviet Union. By 1989 nearly all the Communist regimes had imploded, and the fall of the Berlin Wall reunited Germany, effectively ending the Cold War. The Soviet Union was, once again, isolated as the only Communist state. However, in 1991 a failed military coup by conservative hard-liners, dismayed at Gorbachev's reforms and the loss of the Eastern European regimes, precipitated a final crisis. Gorbachev was sidelined, and more radical groups within the Soviet Communist Party, led by Boris Yeltsin, announced the dissolution of the regime.

Developments in Western communism took a parallel but distinctive course. After 1949 the hopes of spreading revolution to the West became ever more remote, confirmed by the defeat of the Greek Communists in the civil war of 1944–1949. Though still linked to the Soviet Union, the trend in Western parties was for increasing independence and a search for a more distinctively "Western" approach to communism. During the 1940s and 1950s, the atmosphere of the Cold War and the political restrictions it brought about inhibited free discussion of Marxist ideas in Europe—ironically paralleling the situation in the Soviet bloc. But by the late 1950s and 1960s, when de-Stalinization in the Soviet Union eased the Cold War, many Western parties adopted a policy of National Communism in an attempt to adapt themselves to specific conditions in different countries. This was due to a number of reasons, including rejection of many of the tenets of Leninism as unsuitable, and a reaction to many of the aspects of Soviet rule and to the failure of liberalization. Western parties also faced competition from dissenting communist movements—Trotskyites and also new models derived from the Third World (Maoism, Castroism). Communists also found themselves radically out of step with the long economic boom that transformed Western European capitalism from the early 1960s onwards. Many orthodox Communists embraced Eurocommunism, which broke entirely with the Soviets and was particularly influential in Italy and Spain. This involved the frantic rediscovery of many of the Western Marxists of the 1920s, particularly Antonio Gramsci, who was particularly promoted by the leader of the Italian Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti, in a search for distinctive ideas. However, these developments came too late and only tended to divide Western Communists. By the 1980s the trend in all parties was toward decline and, in many cases, eventual disappearance.

Beyond some very basic ideas, there has never been a consensus about communism, nor a fixed body of doctrine that has underpinned it. Historically it has been a concept in a constant state of redefinition, used and interpreted in a diversity of ways. Even the appropriation of the term by Soviet-style regimes was but one definition of what communism could mean. It would now seem to have exhausted the possibilities for further renewal. The remaining standard-bearers for communism in Europe reflect this eclectic heritage. So-called unreconstructed Stalinists remain as a dying breed. Where communist parties remain they have tended to downplay their Marxist-Leninist credentials and have embraced the broader agendas of the feminist, ecological, and antiglobalization movements. It has been their erstwhile opponents on the dissident Far Left, anarchist communists, and "Trotskyites" who have retained their revolutionary purity on their own terms. All these are vestiges of the past. Whether a new form of thought that calls itself "communist" can ever emerge in Europe remains an unknown.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

PRIMARY SOURCES

Alexander, Robert J. International Trotskyism 1929–1985: A Documentary Analysis of the Movement. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.

Bebel, August. Women and Socialism. London: Zwan Books, 1988.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Edited and translated by Quinton Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971.

Kautsky, Karl. The Class Struggle (Erfut Program). New York: Norton, 1971.

Kollantai, Alexandra. Selected Writings. Translated by Alix Holt. London: Alison and Busby, 1977.

Korsch, Karl. Karl Korsch: Revolutionary Theory, edited by Douglas Kellner. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977.

Kropotkin, Peter. Anarchist Communism, edited by Nicolas Walter. London: Freedom Press, 1987.

Lenin, Vladimir I. Selected Works. 3 vols. Moscow: Progress, 1977.

Lukács, György. Political Writings, 1919–1929. Translated by Michael McColgan. London: New Left Books, 1972.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Marxists Internet Archive. Available from www.marxists.org. A wide range of texts in English translation and other information.

Stalin, Joseph. Selected Works. Edited by Lightning Source Inc. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2002.

SECONDARY SOURCES

Berger, Stefan, and David Broughton, eds. The Force of Labour: The Western European Labour Movement and the Working Class in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Berg, 1995.

Blackburn, Robin. After the Fall: The Failure of Communism and the Future of Socialism. London: Verso, 1991.

Bull, Martin J., and Paul Heywood, eds. West European Communist Parties after the Revolutions of 1989. London: Macmillan, 1994.

Cahm, Caroline. Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism, 1872–86. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Carey Hunt, R. N. The Theory and Practice of Communism. Rev. ed. London: Penguin, 1963.

Claudín, Fernando. The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform. London: Cox and Wyman, 1975.

Cowling, Mark, ed. The Communist Manifesto: New Interpretations. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998.

Donald, Moira, and Tim Rees, eds. Reinterpreting Revolution in Twentieth Century Europe. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.

Eley, Geoff. Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850–2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Fowkes, Ben. The Rise and Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. London: Macmillan, 1983.

Furet, François. The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century. Translated by Deborah Furet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Harding, Neil. Leninism. London: Macmillan, 1996.

Haupt, Georges. Aspects of International Socialism, 1871–1914. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Joll, James. The Second International, 1889–1914. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1974.

Kindersley, Richard, ed. In Search of Eurocommunism. London: Macmillan, 1981.

Laqueur, Walter. The Dream That Failed: Reflections on the Soviet Union. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Lichtheim, George. A Short History of Socialism. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1980.

McDermott, Kevin, and Jeremy Agnew. The Comintern: A History of International Communism from Lenin to Stalin. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Millar, James R., and Sharon L. Wolchik, eds. The Social Legacy of Communism. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Naimark, Norman, and Leonid Gibianskii, eds. The Establishment of Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe, 1944–1949. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.

Rose, R. B. Rose. Gracchus Babeuf: The First Revolutionary Communist. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1978.

Sassoon, Donald. One Hundred Years of Socialism: The West European Left in the Twentieth Century. New York: I. B. Tauris, 1996.

Stern, Geoffrey. The Rise and Decline of International Communism. Aldershot, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 1990.

Westoby, Adam. The Evolution of Communism. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 1989.

Woodcock, George, and Ivan Avakumovic. The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin. New York: Schocken, 1971.

Tim Rees

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almost 5 years ago

I find it a bit ignorant, that you point out the fall of the Berlin wall as the landmark of the fall of communism ... It started long before in Hungary and in Poland, (And it had cost them both a lot of blood too)
I may be a bit ignorant too, not giving a crap about Berlin Wall, but I know it was "Solidarity" in Poland who did all the Hard work of taking the Communists' reign apart. And then Germans take some F**ng wall apart, get world wide press to film it, and take all the credit? What the...
Am I really ignorant?
Maybe I am, a bit, but more so, I'm quite upset about the lack of respect for the People who really did fight (and die) for our Freedom

Anyway, Let's get it straight: The first free elections in Poland is the true Landmark. When the leader of Solidarity - the organisation that triggered the whole process - had won the first free presidential election in Poland.
That whole "Berlin Wall thing" may appeal to many much stronger as a symbol, but it's not where the actual Transition actually happened.
Regards.

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almost 5 years ago

the idea of communism is quiet fascinating but often looked at in a bad way,it really gives people a chance at a well balanced life without the everyday hassle of how to make ends meat.

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about 5 years ago

As a response to the comment below:
Democracy is not deciding who you want to be. The principle of a state, even a democratic one, is that everybody follows certain rules because they are good for the society, not always the individual.

In a democracy you get to decide who rules, and therefore that person(s) become(s) accountable and therefore the rule of law that protects us all stands.

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almost 6 years ago

communism is always in the look out to brain watch those who has small brain if those spanish country trying to become communi i feel sorry because life is to short to be controler by one person i like democracy because you decide who you want to be