Communist Bloc

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Countries after the end of World War II (i.e., after August 1945), which became linked by adherence to the ideology and practice of communism, as developed by Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin and their successors in the Soviet Union.

Before the collapse of the USSR, some of the countries within it were also informally known as the Soviet bloc. Their official name was Sodruzhestvo sotsialisticheskikh gosudarstv (Common-wealth of Socialist Countries), for not even the USSR claimed that it had reached the communist stage after socialism. Lenin and his associates, most notably Leon Trotsky and Grigory Zinoviev, had vainly tried to spread communism throughout the world after the successful October, or Bolshevik, Revolution in Soviet Russia, despite the short-lived communist regime of Bela Kun in Hungary (MarchAugust 1919). The Communist International, or Comintern, in Moscow (March 1919June 1943), which was dominated by leaders of the Russian Communist Party, helped to train communist revolutionaries from all over the world. They became leaders of their countries in East Central and Southeastern Europe and in Asia after World War II. International links were then provided by the Communist Information Bureau, or Cominform (September 1947April 1956), the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (January 1949June 1991) and the Warsaw Pact (May 1955July 1991). At the height of its largest extent under Stalin (late 1940s, early 1950s), the communist bloc comprised more than a billion people or one-third of the world's population. In Europe, there was the USSR itself, with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania having been incorporated after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (August 23,1939); the German Democratic Republic; Poland; Czechoslovakia; Hungary; Romania; Bulgaria; Yugoslavia; and Albania. In Asia, the Bloc included: Cambodia (Kampuchea), China (People's Republic of China), Laos, Mongolia, South Yemen (People's Democratic Republic of Yemen), and Vietnam (North Vietnam only from 19461975, then all of Vietnam). In America, Cuba joined the Bloc after the Fidel Castro Revolution of January 1959. In Africa, Angola, Benin, Congo, Ethiopia, and Mozambique linked up in the 1960s.

Did Marxist-Leninist socialism advance modernization in the communist bloc, or would modernization have occurred anyway and without the increase in authoritarianism and the use of terror? Zbigniew Brzezinski criticized in The Grand Failure "the dogmatic grand oversimplification inherent in the communist claim to a unique grasp of all truth and in the communist quest for a total monopoly of power." Arguably, total monopoly of power presupposed the use of terror, which, as Merle Fainsod put in his How Russia Is Ruled, "[was] the linchpin of modern totalitarianism." Stephane Courtois and others implicitly extended Fainsod's insight to the entire communist bloc. When, in the interest of reforms and modernization, Stalin's successor Nikita S. Khrushchev and, even more, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, restricted the use of terror within the USSR and police violence and military intervention in the communist bloc, the bloc began disintegrating in the 1960s and broke apart completely between 1989 and 1991, after the semi-free elections in Poland in June 1989 and the establishment in September 1989 of the first Polish government after World War II that was not dominated by communists from the Polish United Workers' Party.

It is also arguable whether U.S. and Western policy of containment and coexistence helped more to break up the already reforming and modernizing USSR, the key state in the communist bloc, or whether it was U.S. President Ronald Reagan's policy of military containment through rearmament that led to the political transformation and demise of the USSR. Reagan's political war, in turn, was based on U.S. President Jimmy Carter's support of Soviet dissidents.

Finally, it remains to be seen whether Vladimir V. Putin, who was elected president of Russia in March 2000 and whose formative experience had been the breakdown of communist authority in East Germany in 1989, will succeed in attempting to reassert Russia's great power status, particularly in the territory of the former USSR. Russia's weak economy and Western diplomacy may prevent reestablishment of Russia's influence over portions of the old communist bloc.

See also: comintern; warsaw treaty organization,


Brzezinski, Zbigniew K. (1967). The Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict, rev. and enlarged ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew K. (1990). The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century. New York: Macmillan.

Courtois, Stephane; Werth, Nicolas; Panne, Jean-Louis; Paczkowski, Andrzej; Bartosek, Karel; Margolin, Jean-Louis. (1999). The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, tr. Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer; consulting ed. Mark Kramer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Fainsod, Merle. (1953). How Russia Is Ruled, 1st ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Garthoff, Raymond L. (1994). Détente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan, rev. ed. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Garthoff, Raymond L. (1994). The Great Transition: American Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Gorbachev, Mikhail. (1988). Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, new updated ed. New York: Harper & Row.

Hunt, R. N. Carew. (1962). The Theory and Practice of Communism: An Introduction, 5th rev. ed. New York: Macmillan.

Schweizer, Peter. (2002). Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism. New York: Doubleday.

Zacek, Jane Shapiro, and Kim, Ilpyong J., eds. (1997). The Legacy of the Soviet Bloc. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

Yaroslav Bilinsky

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Communist Bloc

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Communist Bloc