The historical legacies of communism: An empirical agenda

Stephen Kotkin, Mark R. Beissinger

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

17 Scopus citations


Writing in the early 1990s, social scientist Ken Jowitt famously argued that “whatever the results of the current turmoil in Eastern Europe, one thing is clear: the new institutional patterns will be shaped by the ‘inheritance’ and legacy of forty years of Leninist rule” (Jowitt 1992, 285). Many would now agree. And yet, over the past two decades, the pace of change within most postcommunist societies has been tremendous, leading some to wonder whether the notions of “postcommunist” or “post-Soviet” retain any substance at all (Humphrey 2002). Property has been redistributed, societies have been opened to the world, and open political competition to varying degrees has been introduced. Many of the postcommunist states – including three that were once part of the Soviet Union – have joined the European Union and NATO. As Russian journalist Masha Lipman noted a decade after Jowitt made his observation, “In just over a decade as independent states, the various former Soviet republics have gone their separate ways so fast and so far that it’s hard to believe they were once parts of the same empire” (Lipman 2003). Here we have a genuine (and largely unacknowledged) puzzle within the study of the former communist countries: As the world approaches the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 2014), has communism been largely transcended, or do communist legacies remain operative? Such a question may seem surprising to some. But that the historical experience of communism continues to act as a powerful undercurrent shaping the long-term trajectories of postcommunist development is not an assumption to be taken for granted. If it does continue to affect postcommunist development, in what ways does it do so specifically, and can such assertions be demonstrated with any degree of confidence? Perhaps trajectories have been shaped instead by fundamental divergences produced after communism, or even by precommunist historical developments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHistorical Legacies of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781107286191
ISBN (Print)9781107054172
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'The historical legacies of communism: An empirical agenda'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this