- Series: Modern Library Chronicles
- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Modern Library (October 6, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679642765
- ISBN-13: 978-0679642763
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#224,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #209 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > International & World Politics > Russian & Former Soviet Union
- #234 in Books > Textbooks > Social Sciences > Political Science > Political Ideologies
- #297 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Ideologies & Doctrines > Communism & Socialism
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Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (Modern Library Chronicles)
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In 1989, all East European Soviet satellites abruptly broke free, triggering a similar breakup inside the U.S.S.R. In this addition to the Modern Library Chronicles series, Princeton history professors Kotkin (Armageddon Averted) and Gross (Neighbors) deliver a perceptive account of how this happened. They deny that freedom-loving citizens (civil society) led the transformation, pointing out that, except in Poland, no organized opposition existed. The only true establishment was the incompetent, blinkered, and ultimately bankrupt Communist system—an uncivil society. Even in private, all awaited the collapse of capitalism and increasingly focused on the moral superiority of socialism in the face of the unnerving economic superiority of the West. In 1989 the bottom fell out. Polish leaders agreed to a quasi-free election, which unexpectedly voted them out; faced with peaceful demonstrations and a mass exodus of citizens, East German leaders resigned. Except for a bloody attempt to stave off the inevitable in Romania, all satellite governments peacefully dissolved, often with comic-opera ineptness. Combining scholarship with sparkling prose, the authors recount a thoroughly satisfying historical struggle in which the good guys won. 16 pages of b&w photos; maps. (Oct. 13)
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"Following hard on the heels of Armageddon Averted, Stephen Kotkin has written a brilliantly original account of the fall of the Soviet empire. Almost everything on this subject up until now has been journalism. Kotkin's genius as an historian is to turn conventional wisdom on its head and force us to rethink completely a revolution we thought we understood merely because we lived through it." —Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard and author of The War of the World
"In this lively and fast-paced study, two distinguished Princeton historians, Stephen Kotkin and Jan Gross, analyze the 1989 revolution in Eastern Europe as a product of the political bankruptcy of 'uncivil society,' meaning the communist elite. Using the case studies of Poland, Romania, and the German Democratic Republic, the authors combine deep historical analysis of the development and failures of East European communism with brilliant insights into the events of 1989 themselves. The book makes a critical contribution to our understanding of the annus mirabilis." —Norman M. Naimark, Robert and Florence McDonnell Chair of East European History at Stanford University
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Top customer reviews
In the 1980's many in the West hoped that the Communist system would be slowly undermined by the rise of an alternative "civil society", where organized progressive citizen groups would slowly establish support for a tolerant law based society. Kotkin argues that, with the great exception of Poland, this turned out to be a red herring. In countries like East Germany and Romania, he argues that there were only tiny numbers of active dissidents, no meaningful organized opposition and no significant "civil society". He argues that to understand the events of 1989 we need to instead focus on "uncivil society", the increasingly sclerotic and self-serving regimes. He argues that it was the regimes' failures, especially in failing to deliver acceptable living standards, which led to mass disaffection, withdrawal and ultimate regime collapse. Above all, the regimes seem to have suffered a paralyzing loss of faith in their own futures.
The Leipzig marches in East Germany are a fascinating example of a truly grass-roots movement. There was no organization for the Stasi to infiltrate, no leadership to be arrested, no leaflets to be confiscated. There was simply a widespread popular understanding that each Monday at 6:00pm a mass march would take place. So the regime's only potential coercive response was overt mass repression. But the high leadership was anxious to retain "plausible deniability" and thus avoided explicitly ordering the bloody repression they seem to have desired. Similarly the local commanders could see that they were being positioned as scapegoats, and were careful to avoid decisive action without explicit orders. And thus the apparently all-powerful regime became immobilized and impotent.
Some of the same dynamics seem to have played out in Romania, where the demonstrations in Timisoara and Bucharest seem to have been essentially leaderless events, driven by popular disaffection. In this case, Ceaucescu ordered explicit action, but local commanders prevaricated and foot dragged.
Poland is the main counter-example, where Solidarity provided an active well organized opposition, offering its own alternative world view. However, even in Poland the collapse came largely from within the regime. Kotkin argues that in 1988, no one in Solidarity expected to see free elections or a regime change anytime soon - these came about due to fumbled initiatives from within the regime itself.
The events of 1989 are a vast topic, on which much has been written, discovered, and argued. Each country followed its own unique course and no one formula can explain all that occurred. Kotkin is definitely not trying to provide a complete history of the period, but he does provide a useful focused study of his three target regimes and does make some good points around how their collapse was driven by internal failures, rather than by organized opposition.