by Stephen Kotkin, author of Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (Modern Library, 2010)
I started teaching at Princeton University in September 1989—and two months into my first course the Berlin Wall fell. The ink on my Ph.D. was barely dry. Within two years, the Soviet Union was gone. The conundrum of Communism’s collapse has haunted me ever since. In 1989, more than 1 million people gathered in protests on Tiananmen Square, but the Chinese Communist regime endures. In Poland, there were hardly any street demonstrations in 1989, yet it was the first Communist regime to go.
Obviously, it was necessary to look inside Eastern Europe’s Communist establishments (what I call the “uncivil society”) and not just at the protesters (usually called “civil society”). What struck me was that the 1989 “roundtable” initiated by the Polish Communists with the opposition Solidarity was not intended as an end to the system—by either side. Continue reading