Communism East Europe

Communism is like Prohibition - it’s a good idea but it won’t work”
(Will Rogers, 1927) (1)

This essay will give a brief introduction to communism. It will then
discuss the various factors which combined to bring about the collapse of

Communism in Eastern Europe. It will examine each of these factors and
evaluate the effect of each. Finally it will attempt to assertain whether

Rogers’ opinion (see above quotation) on Communism is true, that is,
whether communism was truly doomed to fail from the start, or whether its
collapse was a result of external influences.

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. The state owns and controls all
enterprises and property. The state is run by one leading elite. The Soviet
model of communism was based on these ideals. 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. No private enterprise was allowed. 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 facets of life.

In the early years, and up until Gorbachev’s “new regime”, the use of force
and terror as a means of maintaining control was widespread.

The first factor which contributed to the failure and eventual collapse of
communism was the fact that the Communist party’s domination was
illegitimate from the beginning. Lenin came to power after a bloody Civil

War between those who supported Lenin and those who opposed the Soviet
regime. To Lenin, defeat was unthinkable and he was prepared to make any
and every sacrifice to win the war and save “the revolution”. The forcible
requisitioning of food and supplies was approved by Lenin. This could only
be achieved by enforcing strict and absolute discipline at every level of
society. Terror was to become the chief instrument of power and Lenin was
to assume the role of dictator. This was a phenomenon which was to become a
symbol of communist regimes throughout their lifetime.

This trend was followed when Stalin came to power as leader of the

Communist party and the Russian government in 1929. (2) He had achieved
this through plotting and trickery and by shifting alliances. This had
begun in 1924 when Stalin systematically began to remove all opposition to
his claim to power. His main rival was Trotsky and he used a number of
underhand measures to discredit him. For example Stalin lied to Trotsky
about the date of Lenin’s funeral, thus ensuring that Trotsky could not
attend and thereby blackening his name in the public eye. This Stalin
versus Trotsky conflict led to Trotsky being eventually exiled from Russia
and, ten years later in 1940, being assassinated by one of Stalin’s agents.

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. The
communist take-over and subsequent regime was achieved by undemocratic
methods, that is, rigged elections, terror, totalitarian state, harassment
and threats. In 1932 a two-hundred page document by a fellow member of the

Politburo condemning the Stalinist regime and calling for change was
published. (4) In response to this Stalin wreaked a terrible revenge. In

1936 Stalin began what became known as the “purges” whose function it was
to try members of the communist party who had acted treasonously. (5) The
result of these was that five thousand party members were arrested and
stripped of their membership. The sixteen defendants in the three

Showtrials of 1936, 1937 and 1938 were found guilty and executed. In 1939
those who had conducted the purges were also executed. By 1939 the only
member of Lenin’s original Politburo who remained, was Stalin himself. (6)

In relation to foreign policy, Stalin exerted his influence to ensure that
all Eastern European countries (except Yugoslavia) had Soviet-imposed
puppet regimes. Stalin’s domination was now total. After the war Stalin
succeeded in establishing a communist buffer zone between Russia and

Western Europe. 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