Did 1989 matter? British Marxists and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc

November 9 is the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (amongst other incidents in modern German history). This is traditionally viewed as a major turning point for the international communist movement, although I would argue that it didn’t ‘shock’ the movement like the events of 1956. I thought I would post a link to a paper I wrote in 2010 on the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and how it was received by British Marxists (from the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party of Britain). Perhaps the most ‘controversial’ paper that I have written, the argument I make in it is:

This paper will focus on the Marxist left in Britain to demonstrate this argument, to show that the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states was for the British left much more diffuse, rather than one simply of trauma. Concentrating on three parties, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), this paper will argue that the collapse of the Eastern Bloc did not have a profoundly demoralizing and distressing effect, primarily because no significant party had much investment in the Soviet project by 1989. The fortunes and behaviours of the British leftist organisations in the late 1980s and early 1990s were, more or less, based on domestic concerns, in reaction to the decade of Thatcherism and its devastating socio-economic policies. Probably of greater concern for the Marxist left in Britain in the aftermath of the events of 1989 to 1991 was the triumphalist tone that many commentators and politicians in the West took, best demonstrated by Francis Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ thesis. Although the British left had little investment in the Soviet Union by the time of its downfall, the end of the Soviet system was a major historical event that created an environment that fostered the dismissal of socialist ideals and this is the experience for the majority of British Marxists in the post-Cold War era. But it was not an experience of personal trauma and disturbance for British Marxists and did not provoke an internalised ‘the God that failed’ type questioning, unlike the events of 1956 or even 1968.

If, for some reason, you cannot access the paper through the link, please email me. A different, and oral history based, account of the CPGB’s reaction to the same events, written by Emily Robinson, can be found here.

I still have a whole lot of the original Morning Star and Socialist Worker articles in a box in my work office, so I may post some more about this on Monday when I have had a chance to look at the primary documents again.

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