Stalinism Revisited: The Establishment of Communist Regimes in East-Central Europe

By Vladimir Tismaneanu | Go to book overview

ALFRED J. RIEBER


Popular Democracy: An Illusion?

From the classic formulations of Marx and Engels to the end of the communist system in Eastern Europe, Marxist theoreticians and communist party leaders wrestled with the dual problem of defining and managing the transition from bourgeois democracy to socialism. During the brief period leading up to the establishment of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the terms “new democracy” or “popular democracy” entered the communist political vocabulary in order to identify an intermediate stage in the transition that would substitute for the dictatorship of the proletariat. At the end of the war, throughout Europe, not only in the East, new forms of politics and structural changes in society and the economy were being introduced. At different times in the period from 1945-48 attempts were made in France, Italy, the Soviet zone in Germany, and several countries in Eastern Europe to create or re-create a unified party of the left. Almost everywhere in the post-war years coalitions of “anti-fascist” parties, i.e., those not tainted by collaboration with the German and Italian occupiers, came to power with communists occupying ministerial posts for the first time. Nationalization of industries, agrarian reforms (especially in Eastern Europe), and widespread purges of the collaborationist administrations, police and armed forces from France to Romania contributed to weakening the old elites.

The full range of Soviet territorial war aims emerged gradually during the war, becoming clear at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. In contrast, Stalin continued to appear uncertain about the political and socio-economic changes that might take place after the war within the Soviet sphere of influence to say nothing of Europe as a whole. He refrained from making ex cathedra pronouncements on the crucial question

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