A couple of weeks ago, when it was the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, New Books In History had a couple of interviews that shed light on the rapid decline of communist Eastern Europe in 1989. The latest episode of the show had Marshall Poe interview Stephen Kotkin about his take on the communist collapse.
Kotkin's view undermines several of the myths around this sudden turn of events. He does not ascribe the fall of the system to Reagan's superior foreign policy or capitalism simply outspending the communists. Neither does he support the idea that is felt in the former Soviet satellites, that communism was simply shed like a snake skin and the ex-communists maintained power under a nationalist capitalist flag. His approach is that of a thorough analysis of the society under communist rule and his idea is that the system collapsed because of its own weakness.
This turns another myth around, that the unofficial order, the civic society had simply replaced communism as the more legitimate and healthy social fabric. Apart from Poland's Solidarity, there was hardly a civil society to mention. His search light points at the ruling communist establishment. He explains how they knew the system was failing and managed to maintain power with the threat of military intervention from Moscow. And here he actually arrives at something that was mentioned in the other interviews as well: when Gorbachev announced that Moscow was no longer intending to intervene, the floor dropped under the feet of the rulers in Eastern Europe and the establishment simply evaporated.
Vietnam War perspectives,
1989 - Padraic Kenney,
The Ossie twilight,
The first day of LBJ,