Communist Nostalgia

A good PR strategy and perhaps a hipster video in toned-down saturation might be all that is needed for a successful communist revival in Eastern Europe.

The Velvet Revolution of 1989 demonstrated fully the force of civilian power in politics. Having dominated Czechoslovak politics for over 40 years, the communists faced a society-wide upheaval, calling for pluralistic democracy. Within a week of peaceful protests, the communist regime was destabilized, discredited and without support, it fell. The “roaring” nineties brought the magic of excitement and a genuinely communal spirit, the visions of new beginnings and better world. Twenty-two years later, after many a crisis, people find themselves disenchanted, apathetic and powerless. The capitalist system: destabilized, discredited and without support.

Image courtesy of Adam Jones, Ph.D., © 2009, some rights reserved.

The KSCM (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia) remains to this day the only party in the countries of the former Soviet Union to have kept the word “Communist” in its title. Having transformed its constitution to suit the judicial needs of a party in pluralistic democracy, it was the liberal attitude of the newly emergent Czech Republic that permitted its existence – if democracy, than none shall be prohibited from representation. Having retained a marginal segment of voters (enough to get it into the parliament, but not nearly enough to give it any real influence), the Party struggled on during the nineties and the first decade of the twentieth century. It seems however, that twenty years of unrestrained capitalism have ruptured the taboo of communist rule. Having won the communal elections in two counties, and the Senate elections in another two districts, the Party is once again sniffing the air for a comeback.

In liberal democracies, citizens are represented by their elected representatives. To understand the political situation of such countries, one must therefore look at the societal movements and tendencies within those countries, or even across multiple countries of similar historical and cultural situations.  One such tendency which has been very prominent lately is the excessive nostalgia people exhibit for the past. Out of the growing complexity of our world, with the future looming ominously ahead with ever more turmoil in international markets and institutions, the past can seem to be the ideal retreat. A past whitewashed of all the hardships long forgotten – the pristine, romantic moments of old photographs – the simpler world. Every day we see new photos being taken through retro-filters of Istagram, fashion designers competing for the best retro look, a new age hipster with just that bit of a vintage flair. For the first time since WWII, people begin to doubt, whether the future holds a better tomorrow for them. Across societies, this has almost become a pathology, with airlines repainting their aircrafts with a retro-coat, McDonald going retro with a 1955 burger, or even Mitt Romney, claiming that Russia was still USA´s principal enemy, like it was the 1980s again. All aspects of society seem to have been touched by this trend, albeit in varying intensity.

I certainly do not wish to over-exaggerate the significance of this “retromania”, however, it seems it is “out there”, and should therefore be accounted for. Where does it lead us? Does this nostalgia necessarily imply nostalgia for communism in Central and Eastern European countries? Obviously not, or not yet anyway. Whilst some might wish for the era, very few would wish for the same regime that had traumatized their nation for decades. However, one fundamental point must be taken from the above litany: concepts from the past are recycled every day and political parties play the historical card as much as anyone else. A certain degree of idealized “tradition”, combined with the “fresh” feel of an up to now marginalized party may in fact lead to the outlook on communist parties as feasible alternatives to the more mainstream ones. Supplemented by a worsening economic situation and a failing ideology of growth, feasible alternatives to capitalism might very well begin to be sought. And if people continue to exhibit distrust for forward-looking and futuristic alternatives, focusing instead on the past, the Marxist-communist ideology may indeed achieve a spectacular comeback.

It has often been claimed that the Chinese Communist Party rules the country by an artificial legitimacy of economic growth. Now if this is true for China, why should it not be true for other states? Indeed, throughout history we see a distinct correlation between periods of economic growth and stability and vice versa. The latter always calls for some radical change, usually for something new. Except this time however, the call might be for something old. The Marxist ideology has been created primarily for the purposes of the 19th century manual worker, living without security, justice or hope. The conditions more than a hundred years later are significantly different; and yet it seems that some experience the same sentiment of insecurity, injustice and despair.

The lowest income groups have been the traditional communist voters in the Czech Republic. But only by this population segment, one cannot explain the recent development of KSCM´s popularity. Indeed, the Party has long relied on a voter base of mostly pensioners, and as such, it´s preferences were constantly dropping in the past twenty years. As it were, the recent rediscovery of the Party was led by two focus groups. The unemployed in their late forties and – rather surprisingly – the youth. While the former falls well within the category of voters dissatisfied by their economic status, the latter has come as more of a shock; the youth in former USSR countries have traditionally been decisively right wing. The inclination of the young to vote for KSCM sends a clear and warning message: frustration with the current political situation has finally reached its limit. In tandem with the above mentioned retro-tendency, a good PR strategy and perhaps a hipster video in toned-down saturation might be all that is needed for a successful communist revival.

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