Responding to ‘Order Without Life’? Living Under Communism

Dan Stone

in The Oxford Handbook of Postwar European History

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199560981
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191749490 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

 Responding to ‘Order Without Life’? Living Under Communism

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  • European History
  • Contemporary History (Post 1945)


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Both during the Cold War, with the 1950s theories of ‘red fascism’ and ‘totalitarianism’, and after 1989, when debates have been no less emotive, scholars and other political commentators have condemned communism for its bloody murderousness. However, the long period of communist rule in Europe cannot be summarised as no more than sustained and untrammelled violence. It helps to explain why communism collapsed, in a way that an emphasis solely on state security and terror cannot. One way that the communist regime tried to legitimise itself was through encouraging consumerism, particularly after the death of Joseph Stalin and the East German uprising of June 1953. Consumerism in Eastern Europe meant consumerism controlled by the Communist Party for the purpose of developing communism. It is often assumed that nationalism emerged after 1989 to fill the political vacuum opened up by the demise of communism. In fact, the opposite is the case: nationalism did not cause the collapse of communism (which owed more to structural defects in the system), but it was one contributory factor.

Keywords: communism; Eastern Europe; consumerism; nationalism; Cold War; totalitarianism; violence; terror

Article.  10060 words. 

Subjects: European History ; Contemporary History (Post 1945)

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