Table of Contents
Early Communism in the Post-War Era
After the 2nd World War the whole Europe was devastated. Markets and industries were destroyed, thus the majority of countries was not able to immediately restore own economies and required external support to both sell their products and get supplies. The Soviet Union was territorially the closest neighbor able to provide this economic stability in the region. Therefore, the Soviet Union became the main supplier as well as a market for the countries of the Eastern Europe. Moreover, if the region was previously dominated by the Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union has just taken the vacuum left after the destruction of the Nazi regime. Geographic location was the first factor that brought the devastated states of the post-war period under the USSR influence.
A significant influence of the communism on the satellite states also derived from their role in the 2nd World War. For some countries, such as Czechoslovakia, the USSR was the only support in the wartime. Therefore, such countries from the very beginning were more interested in the communist way of management, as well as the ideology.
The success of the Soviet economy in the 1920ies has had a great impact on the countries’ decision to follow the communist course in the process of post-war industrialization and economy renewal. At that point, the example of the USSR was the only positive one that showed how a country could be restored from a scratch at a short period of time producing fast and substantial economic growth. At the same time, state supported by the US, such as Greece, did not achieve significant economic progress. Therefore, an adoption of the communist industry management style was perceived as an efficient option for the time. Along with the industrial development, the communist model of farming was attractive to the poor population of the Eastern Europe. Peasants have finally got a chance to work on the land that was taken away from the large landowners. The nationalization of land, which followed the Soviet example, has happened throughout the Eastern Europe and brought positive results and support of the population. Moreover, the democratic capitalist way of controlling the economy was associated with the Great Depression, while the Nazi regime and industry were highly despised. As a result, the communist idea of economy and industry were the only options perceived by the post-war Eastern European states.
Through the economic support of the Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union has gained a great power in the region. Therefore, the neighboring countries were turned into communist “satellite states”, which fell under the power of communists. The Cold War had its’ share in strengthening the communist influence in the region, because the whole world became polarized. Due to the geographical location and the already settled economical influence of the Soviet Union, the Eastern Europe was more open to the communist influence and ideas than to the capitalist ones. The strongest capitalist state at that point of history was the US, which was located far beyond the ocean; and even though it provided the financial support according to the Marshal Plan, it was not enough for the ruined countries of the Eastern Europe.
After acquiring the control over satellite states, the communist regime with the center in Moscow realized that the region should be kept under the constant strict control. Secret police with the center in Moscow was working throughout the Communist Block and using the methods of terror, espionage, and fast and rough prosecution. Moreover, media monopolized by the state led massive propaganda campaigns in order to keep control over the whole communist territory.
Throughout the history of the Communist Block, there were numerous movements in different countries. Although the final changes and the fall of the communism have happened with the influence of within the party, the role of people and anti-communist movements should not be underestimated. These upraises have happened in different times of history, mostly after the death of Joseph Stalin, and the change of ideological line of the party towards lighter liberalization. Consequently, although the Communist Block membership became much lighter and did not require immediate subservience to Moscow, it was harder to keep all the block member countries together.
The main reason for the mass movements throughout the communist states was again the economic one. While the countries of the Eastern Europe have adopted communism as a way to rapidly improve their economy, the public response was caused by the dissatisfaction with the state actions. When Walter Ulbricht set his overambitious plans for the Eastern German economy, he has raised the norms for the labor force, as well as reduced social benefits and raised prices. This introduction of stricter norms has led to the rapid response from workers and other people who occupied public building and stopped the industry. The strikes in Poland and Romania were also caused by the economic measures and the measures used for the labor force, although they have led to the more complex consequences, such as the nation-wide “Solidarity” movement in Poland that has united the working class with intellectuals and youth. At the same time a number of movements, such as the Czech “Charter 77” group, called upon changes not only in the economic life, but also in the sphere of human rights. It meant that economy was not the only drive for the public response and some parts of the population saw the need for further changes in the community.
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The course for the “controlled liberalization” of the Communist Block has caused the growth of public opinions that the party had to react to. Without this new course that was taken after the death of Stalin it would be harder for wide public to express their opinions. The background for the majority of public disagreement was economy and the rights of the workers. Even though at some stages the movements of workers have turned in the nation-wide strikes, the main basis was the economic one. The gap between the cultural and scientific elite, which was demanding attention to the human rights issues and the working class that emphasized the work norms and living standards, still existed. Therefore, although the public movements have challenged the existing regime, they did not have the major influence on the further fall of the Communist Block.
Collapse of Communism
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Communist Block have brought significant changes to the whole world. It has increased the pace of globalization by adding new countries to the free market and opening the borders of Eastern Europe; changed the world power allocation; and brought new challenges to the just-formed countries. Many reasons are named as the elements of the collapse of communism, such as the US technological superiority, the rise of new generation, the increased influence of human rights activists, or the communications revolution that decreased the censorship possibilities. Despite the wide variety of factors that have led to the fall of the biggest union of that time, the main reasons were the inability of the leader to adequately manage the countries in time of the deep economic crisis.
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With the economic system that existed within the Communist Block it was extremely complicated to keep up with the competition of the world market.
The economy of the communist countries did not follow any market rules of demand and supply. The industries were producing large amounts of products that were not popular on the market. Moreover, an emphasis was made on the quantity and not quality, which meant that the amounts of produced supplies were not able to compete on the free market. Another problem of the communist industries was the overuse of materials, which led to the decreasing efficiency of the industries. For example, the communist states consumed twice more energy as the US or Great Britain to provide the same amount of product. This happened, because the Soviet Union severely underpriced oil and other raw materials within the communist territory. Finally, while the Western world was relying on the new technological innovations, the communist countries and the Soviet Union were investing in the old technologies. As a result of the constant support of the communist countries and the inefficient development of the industries, the economy of the Soviet Union was failing. The foreign debt was constantly growing along with the increasing budgetary deficit.
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This was the situation in which Gorbachev became the leader not only of the largest country of the world, but of the whole Communist Block, and a number of his political decisions have led to the final breakdown of the system that was already failing. Gorbachev started the de-militarization of the Soviet Union along with the introduction of the non-interference principles within the Communist Block. Without the strict centralized control of Moscow, which was one of the basic elements of the unity, the communist countries began to move in different directions. While some have started active anti-communist campaigns (Poland), others have only made their regimes stricter. Therefore, not only economy went out of control, but also the political life. With the loss of competitiveness on the international market, instability in the political life in the Communist Block, and the deep economic crisis Gorbachev was no longer able to control the situation within the block. Moreover, some external events, such as the Chernobyl catastrophe, have even more destabilized the situation in the Soviet Union, which has resulted in the lost control over the whole Communist Block.