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Essentials of Comparative Politics, 4e
Chapter 9

Communism And Postcommunism

Chapter Review
Communism, Equality, and the Nature of Human Relations
Communism is an ideology that seeks to create human equality by eliminating
private property and market forces.
This ideology can be traced primarily to Karl Marx. Marx believed that there was
inherent conflict between what he termed the base (the economic system of society,
made up of technology and class relations between people) and the superstructure
(institutions like religion, culture, and national identity) that Marx saw as exploiting
the base.
Marx and many other communists rejected liberal democracy because they believed it
purported to allow people into the political process, when in fact those with wealth
truly controlled politics.
Revolution and the Triumph of Communism
Marx believed that human history moved through a series of phases, and that
economic conflict leads to revolutions that would move the world from feudalism
though capitalist democracy, and ultimately a communist utopia. This was a process
known as dialectical materialism.
In Marxs theory, the communist utopia would be a world without states, and he
envisioned a world of total equality without the conflicts of nationalism.
Putting Communism into Practice
Marx argued that communism would emerge only where capitalism was strongest and
thus most prone to collapse. However, Lenin in Russia and Mao in China led
communist revolutions in states with low levels of economic development.
Because the Communist Party strove to remake all facets of society, these states
gathered high levels of autonomy and capacity, often leading to totalitarianism. They
repressed all competing organizations and ideologies.
To maintain control, they relied extensively on co-optation, giving government
positions to people in exchange for loyalty to the party, as seen with the
nomenklatura. Some organizations, like unions, were allowed to exist, but they were
controlled by the Communist Party.
The party structure resembled a stategeneral secretary as the executive, a Politburo
as the cabinet, the Central Committee as the legislature, and even local cells of
supportersbut these institutions usually merely approved whatever party leadership
Communist ideology shaped state policy making and legitimized authoritarian
Communist Political Economy
Communist political-economic systems featured elimination of markets and private
property. Free markets were replaced with central planning, where the state
controlled the type and amount of goods produced.
One major problem of communist political-economic systems was that it was difficult

for leaders to adapt to changing levels of supply and demand. Because entities in an
economy are interdependent, small problems with over- or underproduction can have
a huge effect on the entire economy.
A second problem was that communist economies stagnated because workers did not
have incentives to produce high-quality goods, as employment was guaranteed and
their work was evaluated on quantity over quality.
V. Societal Institutions Under Communism
Communism sought to remake social institutions that it saw as part of the exploitive
superstructure. This included suppressing religion, envisioning the elimination of
marriage, providing greater work and political opportunities for women, and
eliminating ethnic and national identities.
The Collapse of Communism
During the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev initiated political and economic reforms in the
Soviet Union due to the internal economic stagnation and because of increasing U.S.
dominance. These reforms included glasnost (openness of public debate) and
perestroika (actual institutional reforms).
Initiating these reforms inspired Soviet-controlled Eastern European countries to
demand reforms of their own, and eventually undermined communist control of the
Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. By 1990, communism had ended in the East
European satellite states, and in 1991 the Soviet Union itself collapsed.
Resistance to communist control also emerged in China, but the state cracked down
harshly on reformers.
The Transformation of Political Institutions
Postcommunist countries have been faced with significant challenges after living with
authoritarianismhow to establish and maintain the rule of law, what shape their
democratic institutions should take (including electoral systems and the design of
executive-legislative relations), and how to guarantee civil rights.
The success of these transitions is mixed. Several of European postcommunist
countries score high on Freedom Houses ranking of the level of freedom; however,
several countries farther to the east, including Russia, provide less freedom and have
become less democratic since their transition.
Communism has remained in China, Laos, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, and the
legacies of communism and the Cold War are still significant today.
The Transformation of Economic Institutions
For former communist countries, postcommunist transitions involve the establishment
of private property and free markets.
In some countries these transitions happened quickly (a process known as shock
therapy), while in others change was more gradual.
Again, the success of these reforms have been mixed. In Europe, those countries that
spent less time under communist control had closer ties to Western Europe and the
EU,and, with a stronger rule of law, have prospered more than others.
While limiting political reforms, China has instituted significant economic reforms
that have resulted in significant economic growth, though scholars debate whether this
growth is sustainable into the future.
The Transformation of Societal Institutions
In postcommunist societies, eliminating the all-encompassing ideology of
communism has created a social vacuum, and the social transition from communism
has been a wrenching process as people adjust to new realities and seek new
individual and collective identities.
Religion, ethnic identities, and nationalism, once suppressed by Communist parties,

have resurfaced in many countries. The re-emergence of these identities is also

impacting gender roles across the region.
Like the political and economic transitions, the result of these societal transitions has
been mixed. These changing identities have drawn people together in some cases and
increased divisions in others, sometimes leading to civil war and the dissolution of
states. However, much of the postcommunist world has been peaceful in the last
decade, with many ethnic and religious conflicts resolved or averted.
Russia and China have seen rising nationalism emphasizing their mistreatment by the
West and the unique nature of their identity. This nationalism is generated in part by
the government as a way to shore up nondemocratic legitimacy in the absence of
communist ideology, and complicates their relations with several international actors.
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