What was the appeal of communism, in terms of both its promises and its achievements? To what extent did it fulfill those promises?
Why did the communist experiment, which was committed to equality and a humane socialism, generate such oppressive, brutal, and totalitarian regimes?
What is distinctive about twentieth-century communist industrialization and modernization compared to the same processes in the West a century earlier?
What was the global significance of the cold war?
“The end of communism was as revolutionary as its beginning.” Do you agree with this statement?
In what different ways did the Soviet Union and China experience communism during the twentieth century?
When and where did communism exercise influence during the twentieth century?
Identify the major differences between the Russian and Chinese revolutions.
Why were the Bolsheviks able to ride the Russian Revolution to power?
What was the appeal of communism in China before 1949?
What changes did communist regimes bring to the lives of women?
How did the collectivization of agriculture differ between the USSR and China?
What were the achievements of communist efforts at industrialization? What problems did these achievements generate?
Why did communist regimes generate terror and violence on such a massive scale?
In what different ways was the cold war expressed?
In what ways did the United States play a global role after World War II?
Describe the strengths and weaknesses of the communist world by the 1970s.
What explains the end of the communist era?
How did the end of communism in the Soviet Union differ from communism's demise inChina?
• In terms of its promises and achievements, communism promised a fairer distribution of society's wealth among the whole population;
• modernization and industrialization of the economy;
• and equality of all citizens, including women.
• In terms of the extent to which it fulfilled these promises, communism can point to the redistribution and then the collectivization of land;
• the impressive industrialization of communist countries;
• and a substantial improvement in women's rights.
• However, it must be noted that these accomplishments came at the cost of the creation of new elite classes.
• An elastic concept of “enemy” came to include not only surviving remnants of the old prerevolutionary elites but also, and more surprisingly, high-ranking members and longtime supporters of the Communist Party who had allegedly been corrupted by bourgeois ideas. Refracted through the lens of Marxist thinking, these people became class enemies who had betrayed the revolution and were engaged in a vast conspiracy, often linked to foreign imperialists, to subvert the socialist enterprise and restore capitalism.
• In an effort to combat capitalism and instill socialist values in society, communist regimes promoted the Communist Party's penetration of all levels of society in ways that some Western scholars have called totalitarian. As part of this process, the state came to control almost the entire economy; ensured that the arts, education, and the media conformed to approved ways of thinking; and controlled mass organizations for women, workers, students, and various professional groups.
• The industrialization of communist countries was far more centrally planned than the same processes in the West were;
• the capital and the factories were owned by the state in the Communist world but not in the West;
• the Communist Party controlled industrialization in communist countries, whereas no political party controlled this process in the West;
• unlike the West, a wealthy industrialist class did not emerge in communist countries, and the equivalent of the middle class in the West was dominated primarily by bureaucrats and the technological elite.
• The nuclear arms race that it spawned brought the threat of annihilation to the whole planet.
• Regional wars and revolutionary insurrections, supported or opposed by one of the cold war superpowers, had an impact on regions across the globe.
• In the postcolonial world, competition between cold war powers led to new relationships between third world countries and the global powers in which the United States and the Soviet Union both courted developing nations while those developing countries sought to define their relations with the superpowers to their advantage.
• This question has no “right” answer and depends in large part upon how one defines “revolutionary.”
• If one were to advocate the revolutionary nature of the end of communism, one could point to the profound changes that took place within communist countries following the abandonment of communism and argue that those changes were just as revolutionary for people living in those communist systems as the communist revolution was for those who lived in earlier capitalist systems.
• If one were to advocate the less revolutionary nature of the end of communism, one might emphasize that communist societies were in reality merely adopting aspects of their capitalist counterparts elsewhere in the world, and therefore the “revolutionary” nature of the transition away from communism was less pronounced than the original transition to a never-before-tried communist organization.
• While many aspects of their experiences were similar, one critical difference was that, in the Soviet Union, the growth of a privileged bureaucratic and technological elite was largely accepted, whereas in China under Mao Zedong, there were recurrent attempts, including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, to combat these tendencies and revive the revolutionary spirit.
• As part of this process, Mao pushed several reforms, including the promotion of small-scale rural industrialization over urban industrialization, of widespread technical education, and of an immediate transition to communism in the “people's communes.”
• The experiences of the Soviet Union and China also diverged dramatically after the mid-1970s, when Soviet communism failed to reform and ultimately collapsed completely, while Chinese communism reformed more slowly and without completely collapsing.
• In 1917, Russia became the first country to embrace communism;
• communism also came to China, Eastern Europe, and the northern part of Korea in the wake of World War II;
• first the northern portion of Vietnam and then, after 1975, the whole of Vietnam became communist;
• communist parties took power in Laos and Cambodia in the mid-1970s;
• Cuba moved toward communism after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959;
• a shaky communist regime took power in Afghanistan in 1979, propped up briefly by the Soviet Union.
• After World War II, communist political parties also had influence in a number of nations, including Greece, France, and Italy.
• There was a small communist party in the United States that became the focus of an intense wave of fear and repression in the 1950s.
• Revolutionary communist movements threatened established governments in the Philippines, Malaya, Indonesia, Bolivia, Peru, and elsewhere.
• A number of African nations in the 1970s proclaimed themselves Marxist for a time and aligned with the Soviet Union in international affairs.
• The revolution in China was a struggle of decades rather than a single year;
• unlike Russia, where intellectuals had been discussing socialism for half a century or more before the revolution, the ideas of Karl Marx were barely known in China in the early twentieth century;
• the Chinese communists faced a far more formidable political foe than the weak Provisional Government over which the Bolsheviks had triumphed in Russia;
• whereas the Bolsheviks in Russia found their primary audience among workers in Russia's major cities, Chinese communists increasingly looked to the country's peasant villages for support;
• Chinese peasants did not rise up spontaneously against their landlords, as Russian peasants had;
• Chinese communists ultimately put down deep roots among the peasantry in a way that the Bolsheviks never did;
• whereas the Bolsheviks gained support by urging Russian withdrawal from the highly unpopular World War I, the Chinese communists won support by aggressively pursuing the struggle against Japanese invaders during World War II.
• Impatience and outrage against the Provisional Government provided the Bolsheviks with an opening;
• the Bolsheviks' message—an end to the war, land for the peasants, workers' control of factories, and self-determination for non-Russian nationalities—resonated with an increasingly rebellious public mood;
• the Bolsheviks were able to seize power during an overnight coup in the capital city of St. Petersburg by claiming to act on the behalf of the highly popular Soviets, in which they had a major presence;
• the Bolsheviks defeated their enemies in a three-year civil war.
• The Chinese communists addressed head-on both of China's major problems—foreign imperialism and peasant exploitation.
• The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) expressed Chinese nationalism as well as a demand for radical social change.
• Chinese communists gained a reputation for honesty that contrasted sharply with the massive corruption of their opponents.
• The CCP gained a reputation for effective resistance against the Japanese invaders and offered a measure of security to many Chinese faced with Japanese atrocities.
• The CCP put down deep roots among the peasantry, making real changes in peasant lives in the areas it controlled, reducing rents, taxes, and interest payments for peasants and teaching literacy to adults.
• In the Soviet Union, the communist government declared full legal and political equality for women;
• marriage became a civil procedure among freely consenting adults;
• divorce was legalized and made easier, as was abortion;
• illegitimacy was abolished;
• women no longer had to take their husbands' surnames;
• pregnancy leave for employed women was mandated;
• the party set up a special organization called Zhenotdel (Women's Department), whose radical leaders, all women, pushed a decidedly feminist agenda in the 1920s by organizing conferences for women, training women to run day-care centers and medical clinics, publishing newspapers and magazines aimed at a female audience, providing literacy and prenatal classes, and encouraging Muslim women to take off their veils.
• In China, the Marriage Law of 1950 was a direct attack on patriarchal and Confucian traditions, decreeing free choice in marriage;
• relatively easy divorce;
• the end of concubinage and child marriage;
• permission for widows to remarry;
• and equal property rights for women;
• the Chinese Communist Party also launched a Women's Federation, a mass organization that enrolled millions of women, although its leadership was less radical than that of Zhenotdel.
• In Russia, the peasants had spontaneously redistributed the land among themselves, and the victorious Bolsheviks merely ratified their actions. In China after 1949, it was a more prolonged and difficult process that featured “speak bitterness meetings” at which peasants were encouraged to confront and humiliate landlords. Ultimately the process resulted in the death of between 1 million and 2 million landlords.
• A second and more distinctively socialist stage of rural reform sought to end private property in land by collectivizing agriculture. In China, despite brief resistance from richer peasants, collectivization during the 1950s was a generally peaceful process. In the Soviet Union, peasant resistance to collectivization in the period 1928–1933 led to extensive violence.
• China pushed the collectivization process further than the Soviet Union did, particularly in huge “people's communes” during the “Great Leap Forward” in the late 1950s.
• As far as achievements, both the Soviet Union and China experienced major—indeed unprecedented—economic growth;
• living standards improved;
• literacy rates and educational opportunities improved massively, allowing far greater social mobility for millions of people than ever before.
• As far as problems, industrialization brought rapid urbanization;
• exploitation of the countryside to provide for modern industry in the cities;
• and the growth of a privileged bureaucratic and technological elite intent on pursuing their own careers and passing on their new status to their children.
• An elastic concept of “enemy” came to include not only surviving remnants of the old prerevolutionary elites but also, and more surprisingly, high-ranking members and longtime supporters of their respective communist parties who had allegedly been corrupted by bourgeois ideas. Refracted through the lens of Marxist thinking, these people became class enemies who had betrayed the revolution and were engaged in a vast conspiracy, often linked to foreign imperialists, to subvert the socialist enterprise and restore capitalism.
• Large-scale purges took place in light of these fears, including the Terror in the Soviet Union and the Cultural Revolution in China.
• The cold war was expressed in a number of ways: through rival military alliances known as NATO and the Warsaw Pact;
• through a series of regional wars, especially the “hot wars” in Korea and Vietnam and a later conflict in Afghanistan;
• in tense standoffs like the Cuban missile crisis;
• in a nuclear arms race;
• through competition for influence in third world countries across the globe;
• and by fomenting revolutionary groups across the world.
• The United States spearheaded the Western effort to contain a worldwide communist movement that seemed to be on the move;
• deployed its military might around the world;
• became the world's largest creditor and its chief economic power;
• and became an exporter of popular culture.
• In terms of strengths, communism had reached the greatest extent of its worldwide expansion in the 1970s;
• the Soviet Union had achieved its long-sought goal of matching U.S. military might.
• In terms of weaknesses, divisions within the communist world increased, especially between Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, China and the Soviet Union, and China and Vietnam;
• the horrors of Stalin's Terror and the gulag, of Mao's Cultural Revolution, and of something approaching genocide in communist Cambodia all wore away at communist claims to moral superiority over capitalism.
• Despite their early successes, communist economies by the late 1970s showed no signs of catching up to the more advanced capitalist countries.
• The horrors of Stalin's Terror and the gulag, of Mao's Cultural Revolution, and of something approaching genocide in communist Cambodia all wore away at communist claims to moral superiority over capitalism.
• The Soviet reform program was far more broadly based than that of China, embracing dramatic cultural and political changes that China refused to consider.
• Unlike what transpired in China, the reforms of the Soviet Union spun it into a sharp economic decline.
• Unlike Chinese peasants, few Soviet farmers were willing to risk the jump into private farming, and few foreign investors found the Soviet Union a tempting place to do business.
• In contrast to what occurred in China, the Soviet Union's reform program led to the political collapse of the state.