Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Dissent reviews three recent books on the fall of communism. Nothing new, for even casual students of the history, but along the way, the reviewer describes the argument in the books by David Priestland and Archie Brown:

The fall of communism, in Russia and Eastern Europe, preoccupies Priestland and Brown. They gravitate toward root causes and move away from the journalistic storyline in which 1989 and 1991 are the crucial dates. Neither Priestland nor Brown places great weight on the activism of Poles, Czechs, and East Germans in 1989. For Priestland and Brown, the crisis of the Bolshevik ancien regime lasted from 1953 until 1989; it was a crisis of the ruling Party in Moscow.

The Communist Party always had military superiority over its subject peoples, a power it could in theory have held forever. Yet it did not have the power to generate its own legitimacy, which faded year by year. Neither force nor reform could foster legitimacy; in fact, the use of force damaged the legitimacy of Communist rule in the Eastern Bloc, and the enactment of reform exposed a lack of legitimacy in the Soviet Union itself. Legitimacy was the riddle no Soviet ruler after Stalin could solve, though the Soviet system was at risk only when the party in Moscow refused to call in the Red Army. The refusal to do so was Gorbachev‘s in the end, a decision that was idiosyncratic and not inevitable.

There are nuances, of course, and Priestland and Brown both know it. But the general line they take, is this right? The Polish crisis of Solidarity was only an echo out on the edges of the central crisis of Moscow?

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles