Account for the failure of Communism in Eastern Europe The Failure of Communism in Eastern Europe Communism in the Eastern Europe was a result of various factors. 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 and the state owns and controls all enterprises and property. The Soviet model of communism was based on these ideals.
Stalin wanted total control within an Eastern European sphere of influence. 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, private enterprise was not allowed and 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 aspects of life in Eastern Europe which eventually had to come to an end. Factors which contributed to its downfall were; influence from the West on the Eastern bloc, mainly from the US, Britain and France, declining communist morale, rising dissent, Stalin’s policy foreign policy and his inability to solve the decline in the Soviet economy. The introduction of Stalin’s successors, Nikita Krusshchev and Mikhail Gorbachev, along with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, was a major factor in the fall of Communism during the reforms of 1989-1991.
In this essay I will discuss these factors and how they contributed to the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. The first factor I will discuss which contributed to the failure and eventual collapse of communism was Stalin’s foreign policy. Most Eastern European countries were forced to follow Soviet economic and social patterns. 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. Stalin’s domination was now total.
After the war Stalin succeeded in establishing a communist buffer zone between Russia and Germany. 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. (1) Therefore it can clearly be seen that from the establishment of the state that communism never had particularly popular public support. It cannot be denied that there was a significant minority who supported communism, but these were a minority.
It seems that Communism was enforced upon the public in Eastern Europe and was allowed to as a result of Stalin’s policy of terror and intimidation. As a result of this it can be said that the fall of communism was inevitable. After the death of Stalin in 1953, his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced his legacy and drove the process of de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union. The question was now posed to Eastern European states whether they should remain loyal to Stalin or mirror the changes taking place in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev.
Khrushchev openly criticised Stalin in 1956 saying: (2) ‘’Stalin acted not through persuasion, explanation, and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion’’ With the continued break down of Stalin’s character and his policies, Eastern European countries began to experience unrest at the idea of Communism. During the period of 1956-1968, there were numerous upheavals among the eastern European countries, for example, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Wladyslaw Gomulka led the Polish rebellion in June 1956, which began in Poznan.
The workers rioted to protest shortages of food and consumer goods, bad housing, decline in real income, shipments of commodities to the Soviet Union and poor management of the economy. The rioters became “honest workers with legitimate grievances”. Wages were raised by 50% and economic and political change was promised by Khrushchev. Collectivisation was ended and trade was allowed with the West. The Poland revolution of 1956 gave the Hungarians confidence to achieve concessions for the Moscow leadership. This revolution was widely supported and the Hungarian troops joined the civilians in revolution on October 23rd of 1956.
In order to stabilize the position of the communist rule in Hungary, once again, Khrushchev sought for solution in compromising with the Hungarian. This time he reinstated Nagy, the leader of the moderate communist. However, when it was very clear the Nagy decided to pull out of the Soviet communist bloc, Khrushchev turned to the use of force and violence in order to maintain the communist position in Hungary. Before the Soviets regained their control in Hungary, thousands were killed. These revolutions threatened Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.
It became impossible for East European communist leaders to consider radical reform as the West would not intervene. Communism became polycentizised, with three centres of power, Soviet Union, China and Yugoslavia. However, there was a period of relative stability in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Hungary became less oppressive, and more decentralized. After the fall of Khrushchev in October 1964, rigid Stalinist economic model remained as the Soviet Union had always ultimately had to remain loyal to the main tenets of communism and the Warsaw Pact.
Attempts to achieve greater efficiency, meet consumer demands, and improve social services while retaining the basics of central planning were the main aims during the 1960s and 70s. Leaders ultimately relied on repression and Soviet support. In 1968, during the Prague Spring, an attempt to establish a different model of communist rule began. This process of reform began to gather pace during the year. It was said, by the Action Programme that had been adopted by the Communist Party in April, that they should no longer ‘rule over society’. 3) This showed that there were calls for reform from even within the Communist party, showing this decrease in morale I mentioned earlier. However on august 21st, there was an armed intervention by the Soviets, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria. Then under Gustav Husak, the communist party rebuilt and Czechoslovakia became the reliable conservative regime it had been under Novotny. In the 1970s and 80s, the Eastern bloc suffered an economic downturn which only continued to deteriorate. This was a major contributing factor to the breakdown of Communism.
In 1985, the assumption of power in the Soviet Union by Gorbachev, paved the way for political and economic reforms in East Central Europe. Gorbachev abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine, the Soviet Union’s policy of intervening with military force, if necessary, to preserve Communist rule in the region. Instead, he encouraged the local Communist leaders to seek new ways of gaining popular support for their rule. In Hungary, the Communist government initiated reforms in 1989 that led to the sanctioning of a multiparty system and competitive elections.
Gorbachev introduced his reforms in an attempt to modernize the economy and make the communist Party more democratic. 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. T was not until 1987, however, that Gorbachev’s ideas were put into a concrete plan. (4) 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. (5) By 1985 the USSR had budget deficit of R37 billion. (6) 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. (7) However, the economic situation continued to decline. 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. Glasnost is that of the lifting of most of the restrictions which had been imposed 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. The combined effect of Glasnost, Gorbachev’s policy of openness, and Gorbachev’s general attitude to reform, communism and the USSR, had the effect of causing the culmination of all opposition to communism and collapsing the system.
His 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. This weakened the authority of the communist governments – economically, socially and ideologically. It can be argues that if the economy had improved then so too would the people’s well-being and they may have considered maintaining the communist regime.
Gorbachevs’s reforms were wreaking havoc on the communist system. Poland, East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, all demanded reform as they were all suffering economic depression and desired Gorbachevs’s policy of Glasnost and greater democratic freedom. Solidarity became the main issue at government talks in February 1989. In Poland, the Communists entered into round-table talks with a reinvigorated Solidarity. , Poland held its first competitive elections since before World War II, and in 1989, Solidarity formed the first non-Communist government within the Soviet bloc since 1948.
Inspired by their neighbour’s reforms, East Germans took to the streets in the summer and fall of 1989 to call for reforms, including freedom to visit West Berlin and West Germany. Moscow’s refusal to use military force to buoy the regime of East German leader Erich Honecker led to his replacement and the initiation of political reforms, leading up to the fateful decision to open the border crossings on the night of November 9, 1989. Eventually on 29 December 1989, parliament abolished the Communist party in Poland. Also central to the failure of communism was the fall of the Berlin Wall.
On the night of November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall, the most potent symbol of the cold-war division of Europe came down. The collapse of the Berlin Wall was the culminating point of the revolutionary changes sweeping East Central Europe in 1989. Throughout the Soviet bloc, reformers assumed power and ended over 40 years of dictatorial Communist rule. The reform movement that ended communism in East Central Europe began in Poland. Solidarity, an anti-Communist trade union and social movement, had forced Poland’s Communist government to recognize it in 1980 through a wave of strikes that gained international attention.
In 1981, Poland’s Communist authorities, under pressure from Moscow, declared martial law, arrested Solidarities leaders, and banned the democratic trade union. The ban did not bring an end to Solidarity. The movement simply went underground, and the rebellious Poles organized their own civil society, separate from the Communist government and its edicts. In the wake of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Czechs and Slovaks took to the streets to demand political reforms in Czechoslovakia. Leading the demonstrations in Prague was dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, co-founder of the reform group Charter 77.
The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia quietly and peacefully transferred rule to Havel and the Czechoslovak reformers in what was later dubbed the? Velvet Revolution. In Romania, the Communist regime of hardliner Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown by popular protest and force of arms in December 1989. Soon, the Communist parties of Bulgaria and Albania also ceded power. The revolutions of 1989 marked the death knell of communism in Europe. As a result, not only was Germany reunified in 1990, but soon, revolution spread to the Soviet Union itself.
After surviving a hard line coup attempt in 1991, Gorbachev was forced to cede power in Russia to Boris Yeltsin, who oversaw the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I think I have shown in this essay that there were numerous factors to the failure of Communism in Eastern Europe, mainly that of Gorbachev’s reforms and the destruction of the Berlin Wall. Communism was brought into power through intimidation and deceit and went out of power during a period of reform and more democratic freedom as a result of the events which took place in the years following its climb to power.