However, it must be noted that these accomplishments came at the cost of the creation of new elite classes

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1. What was the appeal of communism, in terms of both its promise and its achievements? To what extent did it fulfill that promise?

  • Communism promised a fairer distribution of society's wealth among the whole population; modernization and industrialization of the economy; and equality of all citizens, including women.

  • As evidence that it fulfilled these promises, communism can point to the redistribution and then the collectivization of land; the impressive industrialization of communist countries; and a substantial improvement in women's rights.

  • However, it must be noted that these accomplishments came at the cost of the creation of new elite classes.

2. Why did the communist experiment, which was committed to equality and a humane socialism, generate such oppressive, brutal, and totalitarian regimes?

  • An elastic concept of enemy came to include not only surviving remnants of the old prerevolutionary elites but also, and more surprisingly, high-ranking members and longtime supporters of the Communist Party who had allegedly been corrupted by bourgeois ideas. Refracted through the lens of Marxist thinking, these people became class enemies who had betrayed the revolution and were engaged in a vast conspiracy, often linked to foreign imperialists, to subvert the socialist enterprise, and to restore capitalism.

  • In an effort to combat capitalism and instill socialist values in society, communist regimes promoted the Communist Party's penetration of all levels of society in ways that some Western scholars have called totalitarian. As part of this process, the state came to control almost the entire economy; ensured that the arts, education, and the media conformed to approved ways of thinking; and controlled mass organizations for women, workers, students, and various professional groups.

3. What is distinctive about twentieth-century communist industrialization and modernization compared to the same processes in the West a century earlier?

  • The industrialization of communist countries was far more centrally planned than were the same processes in the West.

  • The capital and the factories were owned by the state in the communist world but not in the West.

  • The Communist Party controlled industrialization in communist countries, whereas no political party controlled this process in the West.

  • Unlike the West, a wealthy industrialist class did not emerge in communist countries, and the equivalent of the middle class in the West was dominated primarily by bureaucrats and the technological elite

4. What was the global significance of the cold war?

  • The nuclear arms race that it spawned brought the threat of annihilation to the whole planet.

  • Regional wars and revolutionary insurrections, supported or opposed by one of the cold war superpowers, had an impact on regions across the globe.

  • In the postcolonial world, competition between cold war powers led to new relationships between third world countries and the global powers in which the United States and the Soviet Union both courted developing nations while those developing countries sought to define their relations with the superpowers to their advantage.

5. "The end of communism was as revolutionary as its beginning." Do you agree with this statement?

  • To advocate the revolutionary nature of the end of communism, students could point to the profound changes that took place within communist countries following the abandonment of communism and argue that those changes were just as revolutionary for people living in those communist systems as the communist revolution was for those who lived in earlier capitalist systems.

  • To advocate the less revolutionary nature of the end of communism, students might emphasize that communist societies were in reality merely adopting aspects of their capitalist counterparts elsewhere in the world, and therefore the "revolutionary" nature of the transition away from communism was less pronounced than the original transition to a never-before-tried communist organization.

6. In what different ways did the Soviet Union and China experience communism during the twentieth century?

  • While many aspects of their experiences were similar, one critical difference was that, in the Soviet Union, the growth of a privileged bureaucratic and technological elite was largely accepted, whereas in China under Mao Zedong there were recurrent attempts, including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, to combat these tendencies and revive the revolutionary spirit.

  • As part of this process, Mao pushed several reforms, including the promotion of small-scale rural industrialization over urban industrialization, of widespread technical education, and of an immediate transition to communism in the "people's communes."

  • The experiences of the Soviet Union and China also diverged dramatically after the mid-1970s, when Soviet communism failed to reform and ultimately collapsed completely, while Chinese communism reformed more slowly and without completely collapsing.

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