Communism vs. civil society

From Peter Leithart’s blog:

In Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, Anne Applebaum highlights how the Soviets focused their efforts in Eastern Europe on crushing civil society, more than on crushing capitalism.

As TNR reviewer Christopher Caldwell summarizes, “Applebaum credits the historian Stuart Finkel with the insight that communists have always acted more forcibly to undermine free association than to undermine free enterprise. Even when Lenin launched the New Economic Plan in the 1920s, she notes, the ‘systematic destruction of literary, philosophical, and spiritual societies continued unabated.’ The Soviets’ worries were not misplaced: the Armageddon of Eastern European communism in the late 1980s was brought about not by plutocrats but by Czech intellectuals, Polish labor unions, and various church groups.”

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One thought on “Communism vs. civil society

  1. Leithart wrote:

    All of which supports the notion that social institutions – not only the church but even what appear to fragile institutions like literary societies and public houses – offer a more substantial bulwark against tyranny than the market.

    I’m not sure whether I disagree or I just don’t think that’s a good comparison. I don’t see the benefit of pitting the free market against more encompassing freedoms of association, as if they are in competition and we should pick one rather than the other.

    We should pick whichever ones we don’t have, and it seems like both were targeted by the communists, which makes sense since freedoms are synergistic. The same black market that sneaks in cigarettes might also sneak out people and messages or sneak in books, music, and other disruptive materials in support of social groups.

    Christopher Caldwell wrote:

    The Soviets’ worries were not misplaced: the Armageddon of Eastern European communism in the late 1980s was brought about not by plutocrats but by Czech intellectuals, Polish labor unions, and various church groups.

    To the extent that a “free market” was permitted to exist (by which I assume they are straining the term to refer to the black market, which is actually different), the resulting plutocrats were likely integrated with the state, which has a similar effect to incorporating select social institutions into the state in order to quell dissent.

    Sadly, it seems to be a frequent pattern of human nature that once we attain our desired freedoms, we care less about the differing freedoms desired by our neighbors. And, of course, it is tautological to say that the downfall was due to the remaining dissenters.

    In other words, it might just be that the black market was more essential and crushing it would have hastened revolution a lot faster than crushing diverse social groups. Moreover, those social groups probably benefited from that black market.

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