Neoliberalism, Consumerism and the End of the Cold War

Authored by: David Priestland

The Routledge Handbook of the Cold War

Print publication date:  May  2014
Online publication date:  June  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415677011
eBook ISBN: 9781315882284
Adobe ISBN: 9781134700653


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As the Berlin Wall fell, the American academic Francis Fukuyama declared that state socialism had collapsed because it was on the wrong side of History in two respects: its rejection of liberal democracy had failed to grant the mass of people the ‘dignity’ they demanded; and its hostility to the market had prevented it from providing decent living standards for populations that had been living under it. 1 And while Fukuyama’s thesis on the inevitable victory of liberal capitalism has come under a great deal of criticism, his analysis of the reasons for communism’s failure has become commonplace – and especially its economic side. Some scholars may want to stress the importance of the American military build-up in the 1980s to the defeat of state socialism, and others emphasize political issues, such as loss of faith in the ideology on the part of elites, or popular hostility to communist high-handedness and corruption. 2 But it is probably more common in the popular historical literature to see state socialism’s fatal flaw as economic, rather than military or political, and to assume that the struggle between capitalism and communism was a simple one between the ‘market’ and the ‘plan’, which communism was inevitably going to lose. As the historian Martin Malia put it, the history of the USSR in essence consisted of the implementation of ‘Marx’s fantasy of socialism as noncapitalism’; this could be achieved only through Leninist totalitarianism and Stalinist terror, and the foundations of this ‘impossible utopia’ were so fragile it was bound to collapse, thus forcing Moscow to concede defeat in the Cold War. 3

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