Why Communism Did Not Collapse: Understanding Authoritarian Regime Resilience in Asia and Europe
This volume brings together a distinguished group of scholars working to address the puzzling durability of communist autocracies in Eastern Europe and Asia, which are the longest-lasting type of nondemocratic regime to emerge after World War I. The volume conceptualizes the communist universe as consisting of the ten regimes in Eastern Europe and Mongolia that eventually collapsed in 1989-91, and the five regimes that survived the fall of the Berlin Wall: China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, and Cuba. Taken together, the essays offer a theoretical argument that emphasizes the importance of institutional adaptations as a foundation of communist resilience. In particular, the contributors focus on four adaptations: of the economy, of ideology, of the mechanisms for inclusion of potential rivals, and of the institutions of vertical and horizontal accountability. The volume argues that when regimes are no longer able to implement adaptive change, contingent leadership choices and contagion dynamics make collapse more likely. By conducting systematic paired comparisons of the European and Asian cases and by developing arguments that encompass both collapse and resilience, the volume offers a new methodological approach for studying communist autocracies.
adaptive change both eroded popular support for the regime and lowered the costs of mass and elite protest. Against this background, the Soviet Union initiated a process of wide-ranging political liberalization, described at length by Bernstein in his chapter. Two aspects of the political liberalization had destabilizing effects on the regimes in the Eastern Bloc. One was the emergence of press freedom, which allowed the media to criticize the party. This empowered dissent and opposition, even in
ideological anarchy and loss of self-conﬁdence among the rulers. Attempts to restore the “betrayed values” of the original project (Khrushchev, Gorbachev) resulted in ideological disarray, change of mind among former supporters, desertion of critical intellectuals from the “fortress,” criticism of the old dogmas, awakening, a break with the past, and eventually, as in the case of Kołakowski or the Budapest school, apostasy. This chapter looks into the adventures of critical Marxism in
an option for other communist regimes that are institutionally more adaptive. Although all communist regimes aim to maximize their chances of staying in power, only some of them implement adaptive changes. The chapters in the volume argue that the source of this variation lies partly in structural constraints that prevent the introduction of adaptive changes. In the Eastern Bloc, such constraints led to leadership decisions to place a priority on political reform, which turned out to undermine
and similar ploys to maintain their political positions; and heterogeneous populations that, while often providing a pretext for authoritarian leaders to maintain power by accentuating cultural and ethnic differences, also made consolidation of authoritarianism difﬁcult as a result of the politicization of difference. With the exceptions of Bulgaria and Slovakia, moreover, the regimes that experienced these pivotal elections tended to be hybrids of democracy and dictatorship that featured regular
Leonard Benardo, “Russia: The Persecution of Civil Society,” New York Review of Books 53:7 (April 27, 2006); C. J. Chivers, “Kremlin Puts Foreign Private Organizations on Notice,” New York Times, October 20, 2006, A8; M. Steven Fish, Democracy Derailed in Russia: The Failure of Open Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005); National Endowment for Democracy, The Backlash against Democracy Assistance: A Report (Washington, DC, 2006); Bunce and Wolchik, Defeating Authoritarian Leaders,