The Rise and Fall of World Communism in the 20th Century
The rise and fall of world communism was one of the great dramas of the 20th century — born in wars (World War I, World II, Cold War), offering an alternative modernity to that of the capitalist world, and ultimately succumbing to the pressures of Cold War, capitalist globalization, over-bureaucratization, and popular disaffection. The result was either systemic collapse (the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe) or a fundamental alteration of key features of the communist system (China, Vietnam). Beyond that, a few hangers-on remain: North Korea, Laos, and Cuba, while many non-ruling communist parties have transformed themselves in either a more-radical or more social-democratic direction.
We will trace communism’s origins in Marxism and Leninism, its victory in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, its construction of an international sub-system (the “world communist movement”), its spread throughout Europe and Asia (plus Cuba), and its ultimate demise or alteration. What did communist revolutions, states, and non-ruling communist parties have in common, in both their domestic and international orientations? How did they differ from each other? Why did international communism fracture into competing models of domestic and foreign relations? Why did the Soviet Union and, with it, the world communist system ultimately collapse? What were the appeals of communism? Why did those appeals fade over time? Is there a future for new communist states? Ultimately, we will seek to understand one of the most tumultuous periods, and most powerful ideas, in modern history.
George Breslauer joined the faculty of the Department of Political Science at UC Berkeley in 1971 as a specialist on Soviet and Russian politics and foreign relations, about which he has authored or edited twelve books. After retiring in 2014, he returned to serve as Faculty Director of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, the position he currently holds. At UCB, among many administrative positions, he served as Dean of Social Sciences (1999-2006) and as Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost (2006-2014). He was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014, and received the Clark Kerr Award for distinguished leadership in higher education in 2015.
Read a profile of George Breslauer in our January 2018 newsletter.