Legacies of Totalitarianism – all too evident in CEE


Ironically, it was not the end of communism, but the disintegration of post-communism, that has ushered in a time of deeply unsettling global uncertainty, notes Stephen E. Hanson, director of the Reves Center for International Studies at William & Mary.

Aviezer Tucker’s new book The Legacies of Totalitarianism: A Theoretical Framework provides a brilliant and comprehensive analysis of the essential features of the post-communist social order as it has evolved over the past 25 years, he writes for the Los Angeles Review of Books:

He [Tucker] discards familiar (and misleading) teleological language that for too long depicted post-communist history in comforting terms as part of an overarching “transition” to democracy and market society, which never made much analytic sense in the former Soviet republics, and which now looks problematic even for understanding contemporary trends in the EU member states of East-Central Europe…..Leninist regimes, he points out, were far more brutal than even the worst authoritarian regimes in the capitalist world:

For example, Argentina and Hungary have similar population size. Under the authoritarian Argentinean Junta, about 13,000 people, or about a tenth of a percent of the population, “disappeared,” were murdered for political reasons by the state. In Hungary, 600,000 citizens were deported to Soviet labor and prison camps in 1945, following the Soviet occupation. About 200,000 of them did not return and are presumed dead.

In the vast majority of communist countries, Leninist elites pulverized civil society (right) in a way never even imagined by pro-market dictators like Pinochet and Marcos, Hanson notes, adding that Tucker shows how efforts to reckon with the fundamental unfairness of communist rule in post-totalitarian Europe and Eurasia ran aground due to the scarcity of functioning state institutions, non-corrupt judges, and well-trained lawyers:

The absence of both strong civil society organizations and entrenched capitalist elites in most of the post-communist world meant that members of the nomenklatura and opportunistic members of the Leninist party and secret police were typically able to convert the elite status they had during the period of Soviet rule into similarly powerful positions in the post-communist political economy. Efforts to purge those who collaborated with Leninist totalitarianism through lustration were frequently turned back by judges, who had been themselves trained and promoted in the communist period. Attempts to provide restitution to those whose property was seized by the Leninist state suffered from the difficulty of tracing clear property rights back through two generations or more of state monopolistic control over the economy. In the most extreme case, that of Russia itself, no attempt to restore pre-1917 ownership rights over private assets was ever even tried.


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