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About this book

Symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Bloc astounded the western world. The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire describes and explains the creation, maintenance and eventual demise of the Soviet regime across post-1945 Eastern Europe. Balancing 'internal' factors such as resilient indigenous nationalism against 'external' factors such as America's acceleration of the arms race, Raymond Pearson sets the so-called 'Soviet Empire' within the broader context of global imperialism and decolonisation.

Table of Contents

1. Yalta 1945: Liberation or Occupation?

Abstract
The year 1989 invites comparison with 1789 as a turning-point in modern European and world history. Accepted as a permanent fixture in an institutionalised ‘Cold War’ which had lasted over forty years, the Soviet Bloc fell sudden victim first to the decolonisation of its ‘outer empire’ of eastern Europe and then to the disintegration of its ‘inner empire’ of the Soviet Union over the cataclysmic years 1989–1991. The ‘second 89’, to employ a jubilant French headline, constituted an annus mirabilis, a miraculous year patently beyond the capacity of contemporaries, whether participants or bystanders, either to explain historically or comprehend politically. And yet, without contesting the unique dimensions of the extraordinary phenomenon of ‘1989’, it is arguable almost to the point of being incontrovertible that the rise and fall of the Soviet Empire may only be understood fully as essentially the latest — but possibly the last — episode in a confrontation between nationalism and imperialism which has dominated eastern Europe for the last one hundred and fifty years.
Raymond Pearson

2. Belgrade 1948: Cold War Empire

Abstract
Both the fortuitous ambiguities and deliberate ambivalencies of the Yalta Conference in February 1945 were definitively resolved over the following five years. The interwar and wartime eastward shift of the locus of continental authority over eastern Europe from Paris to Munich, then from Warsaw to Yalta, irresistibly placed the ultimate postwar fate of eastern Europe at the disposal of Stalin’s Soviet Union. There were to be four sequential phases in the creation of a ‘Soviet Empire’ in the course of the later 1940s, each phase a response to a different stimulus, each phase overlaying its predecessor to effect a cumulative and composite Stalinist imperial establishment.
Raymond Pearson

3. Budapest 1956: thaw and Refreeze

Abstract
The decade of the 1950s brought fundamental challenge to a Stalinist empire which had only recently been established and was still in the process of consolidation. In this respect, while an event of enormous symbolic importance, the death on 5 March 1953 of Stalin, the architect of the Soviet Empire, was less a political watershed in Yalta Europe than at first appears. The year 1953 did not mark a neat hiatus between an era of consolidation of the Stalinist empire and an era of challenge to a post-Stalinist empire: at the time of Stalin’s death, the consolidation of the empire was still incomplete; and challenge to the empire was already under way.
Raymond Pearson

4. Prague 1968: Spring and Fall

Abstract
Uncannily repeating the political pattern of the decade of the 1950s, the 1960s and early 1970s witnessed first a climate shift of ‘winter into spring’, as de-Stalinisation was once again pursued by the Khrushchev leadership, then a familiar crisis of runaway de-Stalinisation, on this occasion over Czechoslovakia, and finally a military-imposed political relapse into an era of reactive neo-Stalinisation.
Raymond Pearson

5. Gdansk 1980: Stagnation to Solidarity

Abstract
The decade of the late 1970s and early 1980s witnessed an astonishing reversal of fortunes for the Soviet Empire after its ostensible victory for ‘normalisation’ was recognised at Helsinki in 1975. The dramatic turnaround had twin, almost equally valid, causes and explanations: first, the triumph of 1975 was superficial to the point of being unreal, masking the deeper problems afflicting the Soviet Bloc; and secondly, the cumulative impact of the internal and international developments of the ten years after 1975 proved devastating to the Soviet Empire.
Raymond Pearson

6. Berlin 1989: Decolonisation of the Outer Empire

Abstract
The ten-year decline of the Soviet Empire preceding 1985 was succeeded by an increasingly precipitous fall, which effected first the decolonisation of the outer empire of eastern Europe and then the disintegration of the inner empire of the Soviet Union. As so often with empires in supreme crisis, the final downfall of the Soviet Bloc was the product of both a push-out of colonial liberation and a pull-out of imperial withdrawal, a complex blend of self-serving, even mutually advantageous colonial and imperial self-emancipation.
Raymond Pearson

7. Moscow 1991: Disintegration of the Inner Empire

Abstract
The sudden decolonisation of the outer empire of the Soviet Bloc was greeted with transparent astonishment but then uncontainable glee by the West. Extravagant claims were made by commentators attempting to comprehend the long-term significance of what was agreed to be an historical watershed. Many historians identified an annus mirabilis which rendered 1989 comparable to 1789 as a turning-point in world history, with one going so far as to announce the ‘End of History’: the imminent global collapse of communism represented the triumph of the West and a definitive and permanent victory for Western democratic values and the capitalist economic order (Fukuyama, 1989).
Raymond Pearson

8. The Last Empire?

Abstract
Proverbially, the problem with life is that it must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards. It is tempting to review the career of the Soviet Empire from the close but Olympian vantage point of the later 1990s and pontificate with all the glib self-confidence engendered by 20/20 hindsight. Aside from the inexcusable professional ‘bad form’ exhibited by indulgence in what E. P. Thompson once called ‘the insufferable condescension of posterity’, surrender to this temptation exposes the historian to (at least) three specific hazards. The first is the practical difficulty that the Soviet regime dedicated so many of its formidable resources to concealing the truth about itself that the level of involuntary ignorance of the dynamics of the Soviet Empire remains perilously high. The second is the historiographical likelihood that post-Soviet scholarship may at any time employ unprecedented access to hitherto confidential official documentation to revolutionise perceptions of the Soviet period. And the third is the political probability that developments within the ex-Soviet Empire during the late 1990s will colour retrospective historical interpretations of what may be termed the ‘near-past’.
Raymond Pearson
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