Selected Topics in Comparative Politics: The Rise and Fall of World Communism in the 20th Century

Spring 2024
Tu/Th 12:30-2pm
Course Description

The rise and fall of world communism was one of the great dramas of the 20th century, born in wars (World War I, World II), offering an alternative modernity to that of the capitalist world, and ultimately succumbing to the pressures of Cold War, capitalist globalization, and popular disaffection.  The result was either systemic collapse (the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe) or a fundamental alteration of key features of the communist system (China, Vietnam).  Beyond that, a few hangers-on remain: North Korea, Laos, and Cuba, while many non-ruling communist parties have transformed themselves in either a more-radical or more social-democratic direction.  We will trace communism’s origins in Marxism and Leninism, its victory in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 , its construction of an international sub-system (the “world communist movement”), its spread throughout Europe and Asia (plus Cuba), and its ultimate demise. What did communist revolutions, states, and non-ruling communist parties have in common, in both their domestic and international orientations?  How did they differ from each other?  Why did international communism fracture into competing models of domestic and foreign relations?  Why did the Soviet Union and, with it, the world communist system ultimately collapse?  Is there a future for new communist states?  Our analyses will be informed by both a “comparative politics” and an “international relations” perspective, with an eye to understanding one of the most tumultuous periods, and most powerful ideas, in modern history. 


Subfield:   Comparative Politics