A system in decline and change from below


I remember these streetcars in Prague in 1992 looking very much as they looked here.  The only difference is that in 1992 the occasional streetcar would be painted as a giant ad for M&Ms, or Skittles.  Capitalism was on the march.

In these pages White portrays the entire system in the eastern bloc as on the decline economically, despite enormous gains earlier (after WWII).  One might fairly ask though, if we look at economic growth in the US at the same time, don’t we see a similar story?

I’m no economist but the numbers  of growth in the US are generally under 10% and often under 5%.  What is the difference?  White offer up a few clues.  Did you pick them up?

Secondly, in the chapter on “Change” it is so interesting to read this story now when so much potential change appears to be happening in the world. Is Syria going to turn out like Romania?  Is Ukraine more like Hungary or CZ?  Those sorts of comparisons might provide some really interesting analysis in today’s world.  I’ll try to look for my ’92 visit to Prague pictures tonight.  Maybe I can bring a few in for show & tell.

9 Responses to “A system in decline and change from below”

  1. Pierluca Dallarda says:

    I was really expecting to go on the blog and see a picture of the statue of Stalin being toppled over in Budapest. It is one of the most recognizable historical pictures. There are so many names in this chapter that it seems impossible to remember them all. This is one chapter where a set list of terms would have been helpful, so we could focus on the most important of the 50 people mentioned in these chapters. Although a clear struggle for maintaining communism in the Soviet sphere of influence is noted, White does mention new Soviet sympathetic countries such as China and Cuba.

  2. Henry McCarthy says:

    What stood out to me about Soviet decline was not just a weakening economic state but also weakened control of the communist world. White explains that more and more, the image of perfect communism slips out of the hands of communist leadership in the USSR. We see in countries such as Hungary that nationalist communism is much more popular than Khrushchev’s promise of an international system with no state and no country. I think we all saw that coming. In addition to satellite states wanting independence, the U.S. is always up to combat communism. Sorry Khrushchev but I don’t see a communist world on the radar.

  3. Nicolas Irving says:

    This chapter made me think of the quote i had posted last blogpost on how white explains how communism was an equal society where everyone had rights. So much for that right? Seem like communist rule is just declining now, according to white. Its funny because last chapter i expected to read more on how communism was a flourishing society and how many believed it would prosper more than it did but i was incorrect. Communism practically destroyed itself. They turned into a sort of crazed for power system that shouldve focused on the small scale first rather than a grand plan that obviously didnt work.

  4. Jesus Ayala says:

    The most interesting part of the fall of the Soviet Union isn’t the revolution itself, but how surprising it was for contemporary historians and political scientists. I could see why they were blindsided though, the US was in a similar conditions only decades earlier. Even though there were groups such as Solidarity and the Baltic states rallying for their own independence, counter-culture groups such as the Black Panther Party were advocating for their own independence, the status quo would eventually be some-what restored by Nixon’s “Law and Order” campaign. If I were a 1980s historian, I don’t see how the authoritarian USSR could fall to their own counter-establishment movement. The same goes for their struggling economy. The economists at the time weren’t worrying about the USSRs minimal growth either. Then again, revolutions and coups are hard/nearly impossible to predict.

  5. Elias Atienza says:

    I find this quote on page 26 interesting. “Communism was always an international movement. Workers, after all, ‘had no country.’ This one rings with truth. Communism is one of the world’s largest movements before its eventual self-destruction. You could always find a communist movement somewhere in the world according to White; from Eastern Europe to the corners of Africa, to China, it was flourishing. However, White notes there was cracks within the system. China saw Soviet dominance and accepted it, but was in no way placated by it. I still remember Spence’s discussion about China’s first atomic bomb, 596.

    Another interesting point of White’s are the reforms of Prague Spring and Solidarity Movement. He states that the form of communist rule “that rested upon the popular consent, which in the long run was the only basis on which it could hoped to survive.” Is this plausible? We can see from the last remaining Communist governments in power, China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos and Vietnam these are no longer Communist countries (North Korea is a dictatorship with a monster in power) as all of them are either capitalist or moving into a capitalist economy. Communism, as White said in the first chapter, did not exist at all.

    Maybe Communism would have survived if it was implemented under democratic rule such as what nearly happened in Czechoslovakia. However, it didn’t seem likely. There would have been too much pushback from the establishment rule of Communism, and they always labeled everything which opposed them as counterrevolutionary.

  6. John Harris says:

    What struck me about this chapter was the way the USSR handled its interests in the satellite countries post-Stalin. It seemed that as soon as the countries felt it safe to oppose what had been almost tyrannical rule, they moved to change their government. But this only added to the problems of the new reforms. This coupled with the reforms coming from the leadership created a snowball that only grew as it rolled down a hill into soviet collapse. What appalled me the most was that no one realized until it was to late. While this may seem presentist, it could also be said that these cultural reforms followed the same twisted path as Mao’s actions had. There was an example for why this plan would fail and no one saw until the dial had gone to far.

  7. Ida Khachaturyants says:

    The amount of names in this chapter was slightly confusing, but then familiar ones started popping up, and all was well again. White is slightly boring because of his very matter-of-fact writing style, but is therefore filled with a bunch of information.

    I have to say i was slightly confused as to what the Prague Spring was exactly until I googled it and found out that it was a period of liberalization. Another interesting thing about Czechoslovakia was the Slovak minority speaking out. It’s definitely interesting to read about the ethnic disputes in parts of the world we don’t study as much.

  8. Lauren Cook says:

    White discusses Poland again in this chapter. It is interesting how religion was still a prevalent part of society during this time: “95 percent if the population was classified as catholic, and levels of observance were extremely high” (36). Catholicism was still so prevalent in day to day life, though the official ideology was supposed to be communist — with neither nationalism nor religion. It was the strict observance to an impractical model of communism that led to its failure. Perhaps if there had been more lenience in the interpretation of the communist model, it could have been more successful.

  9. Mara Cook says:

    To add to Lauren’s comment, White says that people at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956 recognized that forms of the transition to socialism would be “more diverse” (28) in the future. However, as time went on, soviet intervention ‘”in the defense of socialism” (31) was what led to its failure. To demonstrate, the USSR’s suppression of Prague Spring and Solidarity made it clear that any variance from their model was not acceptable. The Soviets were too ambitious too soon — they expected te communist model to be implemented immediately and did not allow for a transition nor the input if the people.

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