Communism Out, Diversity In

Rothschild, Joseph, and Nancy Wingfield, Return to Diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II, 3rd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Joseph Rothschild’s Return to Diversity, initially published just before the fall of Communism in East Central Europe, while eerily prophetic and to some to degree unintentionally so, traces the changes in eight countries of this region from post-World War II to 1989 in the first edition. The third edition, with updates provided by Nancy Wingfield, adds a final chapter to address the changes in the 1990s. Rothschild’s Return to Diversity argues that the collective failures of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and the Soviet Union to understand the nationalistic forces at work, as well as the failure of Titoism Communism and the Soviet Union’s failure to create a monolithic Communist bloc in the eight countries considered by Rothschild, are primary reasons that East Central European countries have retained their national histories and have reestablished the political diversity present before World War II.

Rothschild creates the setting by briefly summarizing the interwar developments which led to the emergence of the corridor of countries precariously situated between the Great Powers of Germany and the Soviet Union. Based upon this setting, Rothschild suggests that the failure of nerves on the Allies’ part meant abandoning the wedge of countries, leaving most of the region at the mercy of Germany. However, Germany’s inability to grasp the value of national sovereignty pushed some, if not many of the East Central European countries into the hands of Communism. Ironically, Stalin and the Soviet monolithic model of relegating the countries to satellite, colonial-like status, repeated the same mistake that Germany committed, ultimately leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall, break up of the Soviet Union, thus bringing about the return to diversity that gives Rothschild’s analysis a prescient quality, albeit somewhat inadvertent with respect to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Rothschild’s synthetic approach is interesting and effective. By combining chronological analysis of the developments in eastern and central Europe post World War II with a separate discussion of each country under consideration, his monograph reads like a family story of the evolution of the East Central European countries, allowing the reader to track to changes of each country considered from post-WWII to the 1990s.

Return to Diversity raises many questions, possibly more than were answered, such as why was Communism able to attain and retain a foothold for over five decades if the ideology was forced upon the population, at times through ruthless means? What do the events discussed and Rothschild’s analysis say about self-determination versus communism? Was communism an opportune ideology of the early to mid-nineteenth century that has run its course in European politics or will there be a return to Communism?

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