The Personality of the Old Regime
  • Thomas W. SimonsJr.


When the hollowness of communism was revealed to East Europeans in 1968, what were they left with? The easy answer is that they were left with nothing because that was what communism had offered them to start with, that it in fact offered them nothing from start to finish. There has always been an argument to be made that the East European Communist regimes were doomed from birth, from the moment they were artificially grafted onto the bodies politic of the area. That argument is especially attractive after 1989, but it has always been there, because it has always contained a modicum of truth: In terms of the traditions and political cultures of the peoples and nations of Eastern Europe, these regimes always were bizarre and artificial, they were imposed and maintained by force, they never fit quite right. During my first tour in Poland in the late 1960s, there was a joke about the peasant in the back of the hall asking the Central Committee lecturer on the podium whether Marxism-Leninism was scientific or humanistic. “Profoundly humanistic,” the lecturer replied; at which the peasant turned to his buddy and said in a whisper, “I knew it; because if it was scientific they would have tried it on animals first.” And it was already an old joke.


Foreign Minister Neighboring Village Polish Politics Large Academic Institution Soviet Legal 
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  1. 1.
    Timothy Garton Ash, The Polish Revolution: Solidarity (New York: Scribner’s, 1983), 129.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    On the general phenomenon, see Kenneth Jowitt, The Leninist Response to National Dependency (Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, University of California Press, 1978), and most recently, Moshe Lewin, “The Rise of the Cities,” in his The Gorbachev Phenomenon: A Historical Interpretation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 30–42. On how it works on the ground in the villages,Google Scholar
  3. see C.M. Hann, A Village Without Solidarity. Polish Peasants in Years of Crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 87–91.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    The role of the law in these postpeasant Communist societies needs more study. Kołakowski’s answer as to why the butchers insisted on legal form was that it made the victims accessories, and enforced complicity in the general campaign of falsification: George Urban, ed., Stalinism. Its Impact on Russia and the World (New York: St. Martin’s, 1982), 259–260. This is true as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. It does not explain (to me) why the Stalinists worked so hard to create the “socialist legality” that sometimes encompassed them too:Google Scholar
  5. see Robert Sharlet, “Stalinism and Soviet Legal Culture,” in Robert C. Tucker, ed., Stalinism. Essays in Historical Interpretation (New York: Norton, 1977), 155–179. Latter-day examples could be comic: Gierek used a 1932 law to imprison the KOR activists in 1976 (Keith John Lepak, Prelude to Solidarity: Poland and the Politics of the Gierek Regime [New York: Columbia University Press, 1988], 213), and given Romanian culture’s attachment to things French and Ceauşescu’s extremism, it was perhaps inevitable that his regime was law-mad, down to the law requiring registration of private typewriters (see Celestine Bohlen, “Rumanians Moving to Abolish Worst of Repressive Era,” New York Times, 28 December 1989).Google Scholar

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© Thomas W. Simons, Jr. 1993

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  • Thomas W. SimonsJr.

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