Redeeming the Communist Past: The Regeneration of Communist Parties in East Central Europe

By Anna M. GrzymaŁa-Busse | Go to book overview
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Introduction: Surviving Democracy

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past.1

We cannot continue as we have. A radical transformation of the party is not a tactical concession, but a question of political survival.2

This book addresses a fundamental question in the study of democratic politics and institutional change: How can the discredited political actors of an ancien regime not only survive the collapse of the old order, but succeed in the new one? Among the most spectacular cases of such persistence and adaptation are the survival and regeneration of the communist successor parties in East Central Europe, the focus of this book.

As communist regimes collapsed across East Central Europe in 1989, the defeat of the communist parties seemed complete. After all, these were the same regimes that had shown no regard for basic civic rights, had “strategically planned” the economies into negative growth rates, and had displayed a remarkable propensity for corruption and self-enrichment. Over forty years of oppression had left the people with memories that were as bitter as they were vivid, and the popular uprisings of 1989 fought to remove the parties from power. The first demand voiced by the masses of demonstrators in the streets, and by their representatives negotiating with party officials, was that the communist stranglehold on the economy and

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1
Marx, Karl. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. New York: International Publishers, 1963, p. 15.
2
Jacek Zdrojewski, member of the Polish Warsaw Region Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party. Trybuna Ludu, 16 January 1989.

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