- Vladimir Tismaneanu: What are your personal memories of 1989?
- Bradley Abrams: Which explanation for events in 1989 is most compelling?
- Bradley Abrams: Why was there a communist/socialist return to power in Czechoslovakia?
- Bradley Abrams: What is communism?
- Padraic Kenney: How is Solidarity viewed today?
- Padraic Kenney: How have your ideas changed?
- Padraic Kenney: Did your research lead to a new interpretation?
- Maria Bucur: How have your ideas changed?
- Gale Stokes: What is the larger context within which you interpret the events of 1989?
- Gale Stokes: Why did the revolutions of 1989 happen so fast?
Bradley Abrams: Why was there a communist/socialist return to power in Czechoslovakia?
I think the reason for the communist return to power or the socialist return to power lies in a couple of reasons. The first thing is, well, Marxism as an ideology died in 1968. It doesn’t mean that socialism died. Thomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, famously said at the end of his book on Marxism that Marxism may be discredited, and I’m sort of paraphrasing here, but socialism will not go away because it’s inherent in sort of the hopes and strivings of many, many people. And I think that the communist parties, with the notable exception of the Czech Party, were very good at reformulating themselves and shedding Marxist ideology and aligning themselves on the political left with the kinds of things that the political left in Western Europe espouses; social welfare, unemployment insurance, benefits, these kinds of things.
And in a way it’s a curious echo of the time right after 1918 when most of these states were formed, when the first parliaments or the first elections showed a stunning victory for the Nationalist Right because it was all about nationalism. And then in the elections that came right after those, the Social Democrats started to win, and I think it’s a curious echo of that. That for the first few years we want “clean hands” people, right, we want people from Solidarity, we want people from Charter 77, we want dissidents in charge.
People who oppose communism, um, although some of these people may be on the left and oppose communism, a lot of them were also on the political right. But after that, as the difficulties of the economic transformation became apparent, people wanted their livelihoods protected. But initially they wanted dissidents in because they had clean hands, but the fact of the matter is dissidents aren’t always good politicians. Running a country is different from meeting in a small group and writing protest letters or holding a flying university or something like that. And many of the dissidents did not want to participate in politics and they participated because their countries needed them. And so in the first elections, they run and they get into parliaments. They either find that they do in fact have a distaste for politics as it really happens or they prove to not be very good at it and are voted out. They either leave or are voted out after the first set of elections.