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Why Didn't Communism Work in Eastern Europe?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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Communism failed in Eastern European countries for the same reasons it routinely fails in others — corruption and mismanagement of goods results in the needs of citizens not being met, which usually leads to a civil uprising, and eventually the end of communist rule. While the economic system known as communism may have worked well on paper, the political form forced on Eastern European countries brought little more than oppression and hardship to the working class citizens it exploited. Many of the Eastern European governments were puppet regimes handpicked by communist party leaders working remotely from Russia; communications between Russia and its Eastern European satellites were rarely two-way streets.


One main reason why communism failed in Eastern Europe was due to the human nature. Under economic communism, control over production is supposed to be given to the workers, ostensibly with the guidance and oversight of a strong central State. Communist farmers who produced corn, for instance, would donate the vast majority of their yearly crops to the government; in exchange, the government would provide each farmer with a supply of corn for personal use, along with a portion of all the other goods produced by other self-controlled communes. Unfortunately, the timely distribution of goods was severely hampered by corruption and mismanagement, a common problem in communist countries. Many citizens felt the provisions they were given were fair and satisfactory, while many others felt restricted and did not have enough means to survive.

Civil Uprising

When any form of government, whether capitalist or communist, fails to meet the basic needs of its people, civil unrest is bound to follow, and this was especially the case in Eastern Europe after World War II. Tyrannical communist leaders, such as Joseph Stalin, used economic communist rule as a means to support their own agendas, while millions of civilians were systematically imprisoned or summarily executed. The message to Eastern European countries became clear — dissension would simply not be tolerated. During the 1950s and 1960s, country after country in Eastern Europe began to revolt against the oppressive Soviet system that sought to keep them enslaved to a corrupt form of political communism.

Appeal of a Free Market Society

By the time of the Soviet Union's disintegration in 1991, economic communism was fast becoming a failed experiment in the eyes of the Western world. Many collective companies in Eastern European countries discovered the advantages of a free market society, including the right to deal directly with buyers. Under economic communist rule, there were very few incentives offered to more industrious workers; the idea of profit through increased production proved to be one of the strongest arguments against communism. Many Eastern European countries were eager to move towards a freer economic system.

End of Soviet Communist Rule

Some historians credit former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev with implementing the policies leading to the end of communist rule in Eastern Europe. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, meaning openness, allowed eastern European countries the freedom to replace Moscow-controlled governments with local leaders. Once free of Soviet rule, the individual countries were free to create their own economic systems, many of which still retain some elements of economic communism while embracing capitalism and socialism as well.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Historical Index, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon304781 — On Nov 21, 2012

It is November 2012, and the final block of the Communist foundation has been laid in the USA. Today is the beginning of the end of capitalism.

By anon286928 — On Aug 22, 2012

Economics is called the "dismal science" because it accepts the idea that suffering in the world cannot be removed. The goal is to find a system of economics that minimizes it.

If your standard for an economic system is that it removes all suffering, it is correct to say that "in reality, both systems fail." My standard is not to annihilate suffering but to minimize it, and I believe capitalism does this because it coincides with what my eyes see in the world: that people work better when they have a profit incentive than when their incentive is to "love their neighbor as themselves."

By anon284147 — On Aug 08, 2012

Under a free society, capitalism actually significantly improves the standard of living for all classes. In America, the greatest capitalistic country in the world, the "poor" people are rich compared to communist, non-capitalist countries like China. So keep in mind it isn't capitalism by itself, but along with a free society where it truly flourishes.

By anon281912 — On Jul 26, 2012

Read "Wealth of Nations," then speak of capitalism being supportive of only oneself. It is social welfare through means of egoism.

By anon279564 — On Jul 13, 2012

Global capitalism at this moment is just wrong and not working in my eyes. Just look at how many people are dying from hunger in third world countries, at unemployment levels around the world, at people dying because they can't afford medicine/health care, and the fact that most of the world's wealth is controlled by 1 percent of the people. Do we really need more information to say it's not working.

By anon230030 — On Nov 17, 2011

There was never a genuine workers government in the Soviet Union and the former eastern nations. Stalinism was not communism.

By anon196488 — On Jul 14, 2011

"Some historians credit former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev with implementing the policies leading to the end of communism in Eastern Europe." I'm sure that "some historians" do credit Gorbachev for ending communism in Eastern Europe. However, the fact that Ronald Reagan's name appears only in an ad on a page that supposedly answers the question, "Why didn't communism work in Eastern Europe?" shows how uninformative this answer is.

The fact that Gorbachev led the Soviets while the USSR lost its control over the Eastern Bloc should be a footnote. If Reagan had not pressured the Soviets economically and militarily, the USSR would not have fallen when it did (if at all) - no matter who was the president of the Soviet Union.

By anon176527 — On May 16, 2011

People always work better as a group, not individually. That's fact. Humanity is evolving and changing, thinking and rethinking and understanding. Capitalism isn't some wonderful system that rewards hardwork and everything is wonderful. It rewards undermining, using and abusing other people. That's wrong in my books. People's individuality matters but no one's individuality takes precedence over another's. Only when you are equal, you are free. If not, you are oppressed and enslaved.

By anon169248 — On Apr 20, 2011

Well it did not work because it did not represent all sides. Where as a Democratic system that allows political adversary is a better representation and check and balance system.

By anon162628 — On Mar 24, 2011

I am really struggling to see how capitalism does work. People are poor and countries are poverty stricken. Standard of living is low except for a few CEOs and their children who take all the money.

Difference between communism and capitalism is that in communism you serve each other and everyone gets money for your work and vice versa. In capitalism, you serve the leaders and the higher class who take all the money for your work. There is no vice versa.

In reality, both systems fail.

By anon90305 — On Jun 15, 2010

Capitalism is based upon the idea that we will serve ourselves only, and our friends and our families.

Communism is based upon the idea that the person will serve everyone else continuously without profit. And the fact that people will spend vast amounts of other people's money with thrift.

It failed in Rome and caused the downfall of the empire where the central government tried to control every aspect of people's lives and the economy for the "greater good."

By anon53346 — On Nov 20, 2009

Economic Communism didn't fail; it was never implemented. that which called itself communist or socialist in eastern Europe was little more than a thinly veiled oligarchy. The ideas of Marx and Engels were a descriptive teleological model of economic development. It was not meant as a government form. Sadly some rebels without a cause, and a bare modicum of education, shanghaied the entire ideology to create self-serving dictatorships.

By anon36189 — On Jul 10, 2009

"Marx was a brilliant thinker" but he was wrong. The bottom line is Communism, socialism and central planning do not work. Capitalism does!

By concordski — On Jul 08, 2009

Communism didn't work in east europe for the same reason it didn't work in other countries... when incentives are removed, people don't produce.

Marx was a brilliant thinker, but I think he didn't forsee that people were not advanced enough (and probably cannot become "advanced" enough) to operate solely for the greater good. People are generally selfish, and need selfish motivations to be especially productive.

You can call that sad, and perhaps it is, but it is how we operate as a species, and no ideology can overcome that.

By concordski — On Feb 02, 2009

communism was imposed on the peoples of eastern europe, and i don't think that enough of the population were proponents of the system. a sufficient percentage of the population needs to be "on-board" if a political system even has a chance.

this begs the question whether communism could work anywhere, but because of the low buy-in, i don't think it ever had a feasible chance in eastern europe.

By frankjoseph — On Mar 23, 2008

It is the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, that allowed the Eastern European countries to create their own economic systems.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Historical Index, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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