Eastern Europe, 1740-1985: Feudalism to Communism

By Robin Okey | Go to book overview

9

Communist Eastern Europe

Stalin died on 6 March 1953. World communism since his death has seen the emergence of the Soviet Union as an industrial superpower, the acquisition of extensive new territories and the socioeconomic transformation of Eastern Europe; but it has also been dominated by the search for mechanisms of political control more supportable than the terror and cult of personality he bequeathed. Polycentric ideas have challenged the exclusive sway of Moscow in the movement as a whole, while notions of national communism, socialism with a human face, cultural revolution, Eurocommunism and the like have undermined Stalinist orthodoxies inside particular parties. The shocks of adjustment have been severe. By a certain irony, the movement whose concentration on socio-economic reconstruction was to transform politics into the simple administration of things has proved exceptionally rich in political drama. Eastern Europe alone since 1953 has experienced the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, the riots in Poland in 1956, 1970 and 1976 and the strikes of 1980, the secession of Albania from the Soviet block and the partial secession of Romania. The result has been to focus observers’ attention on the political crises rather than the social transformation. De-Stalinization has appeared as an essentially politico-moral issue, involving, for Western writers, the problem of ‘liberalization’ or the dismantling of totalitarianism in the teeth of bureaucratic and Soviet opposition, and for East European communists, the problem of strengthening ‘socialist legality’ without opening the way to the ‘enemies of socialism’. Yet the chequered course of de-Stalinization can only be understood in relation to the fortunes of Stalin’s most enduring legacy, the command economy. The history of communist Eastern Europe strikingly vindicates the Marxist postulate of the interrelation of economics and politics.

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