Ideology is one of the perspectives that we’ve chosen to give insight into the past of the communist regimes in Europe. The film clips and documents are mostly period pieces, with a strong emphasis on the journalism and news coverage that represented the regime’s official interpretation of events. Going by this material, it’s possible to gain an understanding of both the fundamental principles and the rhetoric of the communist ideology in Central Europe. We understand ideology as the basic axis through which we can explain the differences between the countries of the Eastern and Western blocs. The other perspectives that we offer all arise from these ideological differences.
The governments of the Western bloc also come out of concrete ideologies, of course – liberal democracy, the free market, or democratic socialism. The situation in Czechoslovakia and in the other Eastern bloc countries was specific in that the communist ideology was the official, hegemonic state doctrine; it strongly entered into all spheres of life and when it was not respected, citizens faced punishment at a much higher degree than in democratic regimes (see Oppression).
We call the Eastern bloc countries communist or socialist because the governmental systems came out of the theories of Marxism-Leninism. They were based on the ideas of Karl Marx but then deformed by the effects of the Soviet Union’s imperial politics and by the national traditions and current political needs of each of the Communist countries.
Pluralistic democratic systems did not exist in these countries. The dominant party prepared and approved all government decisions and exerted its influence onto all enterprises. Agriculture and the economy were owned and controlled by the state (so that all property could thus be “owned by the people”) (see Collectivization of Agriculture). The Eastern bloc was closest to this fundamental ideological basis in the 1950s, when the communist governments made great efforts to radically rebuild society and create a new “socialist man”. At that time, the ideological purity was also controlled by the Soviet Union. Starting with Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, the search for a new, post-Stalinist ideology arose, which would bring about periodic attempts at economic, political, and often even systematic reforms. These came primarily from Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia – one example is the Prague Spring in 1968, an epitomizing attempt at reforming socialism (see Milkman not Policeman). The Czechoslovak government called their reforms “socialism with a human face”, but it was nonetheless named a counterrevolution by the Soviet Union and ended with the occupation of Czechoslovakia (see Stay Tuned). Then, at the beginning of the 1970s, an authoritarian regime calling itself “real socialism” arose in Czechoslovakia; it would not even accept the next attempt at revision, perestroika and glasnost, which came directly from the Soviet Union. The politics of perestroika apparently came too late, and instead of transforming itself from within, the Eastern bloc fell apart (see We are not Children!).
Articles and films that can be studied from this perspective weren’t written or made with journalistic or artistic quality as the primary goal. They were part of establishment campaigns, aimed to show “reality” without any link to the actual reality (see Education for All) or to denigrate the ideological opposition without leaving space for discussion (see Losers and Usurpers). It’s exactly this self-aware, centrally driven advancement of ideology and undemocratic suppression of opinions from the opposing camps that is a typical trait of the communist regimes in Europe.
A closer study of the articles’ contents in this section allows you to get to know the basic ideas of communist ideology, and you can also follow the ideological perspective chronologically. You can even study the transformations of communist ideology on the scale between strict Stalinism and the various attempts at reform.
Education for all
Friends from Moscow
Girl on a tractor
Letter to the editor
Looking for a traitor
Losers and Usurpers
Milkman, not agent
Politician in a swimsuit
We are not children