The communist dream vanished in most of the world in 1989-1991. Arguably, it was gone in the rest of the world by the late 1990s, though some states, such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba, still claim to be ruled by communist parties.  In this final section of the seminar we will consider two topics.  First, we will ask why the communist dream vanished when it did. Second, we will ask what it means to say it vanished.  These are important questions for understanding the life and death of all  political systems.


27.  Wednesday, April 22

Finish reading “Power of the Powerless”

  • Plastic People of the Universe:  HERE  (Do you have to be a good musician to be a good dissident?
  • “Declaration of Charter ’77,” January 1, 1977:  HERE (Read and Print)
  • Ilinca Calugareanu,  “VHS vs. Communism”:  READ AND WATCH VIDEO

28.  Monday, April 27

Discussion:  In this section, we deal with the fall of communism between 1989 and 1991.  Rather than hashing out all the details of various countries’ experiences, I want to focus on two interacting explanations for these events:  one from above (Gorbachev) and the other from below (the element of ‘surprise’ which Kuran describes). For this entire discussion, please keep in mind Havel’s argument about the transition from living within a lie to living within the truth.

  • Gorbachev Speaks!  READ
  • Timur Kuran, “Now out of Never:  The Art of Surprise in the East European Revolutions”  World Politics (1991)  PRINT AND READ
  • Archie  Brown, Rise and Fall of Communism, chapter 26  READ

29.  Monday, April 29

Discussion:  Was it just a dream? As our journey draws to a close, I would like you to think about the big picture.  What does it mean to say that communism is over.  Is it?  More broadly, what can it mean to say that the era of grand ideologies is over?  Can it mean anything?  Or do these grand ideologies just continue on?

  • Vaclav Havel, “Power of the Powerless”:  RE-READ the final three chapters.  How is Havel talking about our world, not just their world?
  • Francis Fukuyama, selection, “The End of History”:  READ (handout)
  • William Pfaff, “Progress”:  READ (handout)


Your Final Essay Assignment is HERE