This is a history book, so the main idea is to narrate events in Europe from the end of WWII until 2017 and do it with reasonably factual approach.
- The Tense Divide
This chapter is mainly about events of the Cold War, especially when it was getting close to the Hot War. Author describes origins and conduct of Korean War and how it happened that it was UN, mainly USA, against North Korea and China. It also describes creation of NATO, with complex interplay around West Germany and its sovereignty. It followed by creation of Warsaw Pact combining militaries of Soviet Block countries. Finally author describes creation of neutrals like Yugoslavia, Austria, and a few more countries. The narrative then goes through nuclear competition, and process of settling of blocks’ areas of influence, including struggle over West Berlin that was completed with building of the Wall.
The second part of the chapter describes population attitudes to the nuclear weapons, including anti-nuclear movements and Anti-Americanism – both actively supported by Soviets. Author also describes anti-nuclear campaigns in the Soviet block. It is funny how both Western and Eastern Campaigns were directed against American nuclear weapons and neither one against Soviet nuclear weapons.
- The Making of Western Europe
This is about growing cooperation between countries of Western block and European Neutrals. It describes creation of European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957, decolonization, driven partially by liberation movement, partially by democratization of colonial powers, their military / economic weakness, and post-war change in population attitudes to colonialism. Author also describes various ways of accommodation between popular socialist ideology, capitalist economy, and democratic policies in Western countries. Author goes through details of this by regions and some big countries: Southern Europe, Scandinavia, Italy, Britain, West Germany, and France.
The second part of the chapter provides more details on “Imperial retreat” of UK during Egypt crisis and Suez mini-invasion. Similarly French fight in Alger and Vietnam also discussed. The chapter ends with funeral of Churchill in 1965, which could be considered the end of colonial era and after the war consolidation of western democracies.
- The Clamp
This chapter is about another consolidation – consolidation of Soviet Empire and non-democracies in Eastern Europe. Author starts with rejection of usual characterization of events after death of Stalin in 1953 as “thaw”. He provides different analogy – the Clamp. This clamp was somewhat loosened in late 1950s leading to emergence of some non-compliance with soviet ideology ranging from unionist movement in Poland to revolution in Hungary, all of which were suppressed.
Loosening the Clamp: The Soviet Union
This part is about internal Soviet loosening under Khrushchev when Stalin was denigrated, his terror methods and Cult were condemned as anti-party activities, and some very limited freedoms were allowed. Contrary to Khrushchev’s and his mainly young supporters believes the loosening of the clamp did not lead to increase of popular support and prosperity, but rather led to the situation when demand for improvement by far outstrip actual improvement in quality of live. Under Khrushchev soviet people leaved better than at any time since 1917 when communists took power, but they used newly acquired relative freedom of speech to express unhappiness as never before. Eventually this led to removal of Khrushchev from power and reestablishment of dictatorship, albeit in much less murderous form.
Here author describes clash between Yugoslavia dictator Tito and Stalin, which caused this country to move out of the Soviet Block and find some place between blocks, accommodating communist dictatorship internally with semi-market economy and economic and political interaction with the west. Probably most interesting here was ability of Tito to suppress ethnic enmity between different groups of population and non-conformist movements, providing for relatively prosperous society, at least during Tito’s lifetime.
Tightening the Clamp: The Soviet Bloc
This part describes how Khrushchev’s “loosening of clamp” was perceived in different countries of the Soviet block and how it was eventually tightened up, in some cases by using military power.
- Good Times
This is about prosperity of Western Europe in 1960s. One of the signs was that by 1963 West Europe exported twice USA share of the world manufacturing exports. Author describes how it happened, emergence of consumer society in the West Europe and massive move of integrating economies into one European market. This move included Marshal Plan under European Recovery Plan of 1947, creation of Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) by sixteen European countries, establishment of the Council of Europe in 1948, creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC),
and many other steps. The relations not always were smooth, and author discusses multiple problems and their resolution.
- Culture after the Catastrophe
This is about cultural development in Western Europe after the war. Author discusses pop music, rock n roll, and other art forms. The common feature for all was the breaking with the past and movement not only to the new form, but also to the new values. Instead of prevailing before the war nationalism new antimilitarism become the trend. There was also massive movement away from organized religion in the West. Overall the society had become more tolerant and liberal, but far less cohesive.
This chapter is about youth revolt against capitalism and traditional society in 1960s. Author discusses in details protest movements that got to the point of quasi-revolution, with some elements of society resorting to terrorism. Mostly it is about protests in Germany and France conducted by students with little support outside universities, which did not create real existential threat to Western society. It was different in the East were every easement of repression caused generation of movement to democracy, which had to be suppressed with open use of violence, as in was with Prague Spring in 1968.
- The Turn
This chapter is about the end of prosperity of 1950-60s that started with Arab embargo and oil crisis of 1973. It caused breakdown of economy in practically all-Western countries including USA. It went through monetary crisis, which removed gold standard then moved to deep recession caused by labor and other economic relationships build in the years of after was prosperity driven by cheap resources and need to rebuild after destruction of WWII. It was also very much undermined by generally accepted ideas of socialism or at least social democracy with its welfare state and multitude of benefits for not working. Eventually democracy triumphed in the West, causing communist powers to lose hope for the world revolution and recognize that their own economies can barely survive on their own. It was also political recovery of the West with Reagan and Thatcher turning decline around and making their respective countries more powerful than ever.
- Easterly Wind of Change
This chapter describes the beginning of end of Soviet empire. Prompted by new assertiveness of the West, natural process of old soviet leaders dying out, and general stagnation of economy, soviet elite decided to promote new leader – Gorbachev whose career raised mainly after Stalin’s death and by all accounts was true believer in socialism. The problem was that this true believe was so far from reality that each and every effort of Gorbachev to revive economy and political live of Soviet Union ended in disaster. Author nicely demonstrates that West went out of its way to help, rather than to use situation to win. They provided loans, political support, and very positive media coverage, but to no avail. The corrupt socialist system underwent improvement attempt by a bunch of true believers was doomed and consequently fallen apart. Author also discusses political and cultural developments of this period in western countries noting that new trend brought in by computerization started to have impact on everyday lives of people.
- Power of the People
This chapter is retelling the story of soviet satellite states crumbling without support of soviet military, because they had no support from their own population, which considered themselves under soviet occupation. Among this suddenly found freedom the great reshuffling of Europe occurred: Germany was reunited, while Czechoslovakia split into two. Soviet union itself was split into 15 countries, some of which like Ukraine came to existence first time in history, while others like Baltic States just restored independence they had before WWII. Author also describes reaction of western intelligentsia, not a few of which members mourning Soviet demise.
- New Beginnings
This chapter is about early consequences of Soviet empire demise and it starts with discussion of Balkan’s bloody civil war between parts of Yugoslavia. The second part of chapter is mainly description of process of coping with the ideological blow that western social democrats went through. For some countries like Germany it was difficulties of assimilating former socialist population of East Germany into contemporary world. This period ended on September 11 2001 with massive terrorist attack against USA.
- Global Exposure
This chapter describes events of the first part of XXI century that included global war against Islamic terrorist movements, globalization problems when opening of Western for Chinese products produced with Western capital and technology very cheaply due to cheap labor and absolute neglect of all and any environmental and legal restrictions imposed on western businesses by politicians. The obvious result was huge deprivation of working and middle classes in the West that by the second decade of XXI century started creating populist movements against globalization. Other issues author discusses a lot are EU problems. These were caused by typical for all socialists drive to move all decisions up, in this case to the EU leadership at the expense of localities. Finally author brings in “Putin factor” discussing partial economic and military revival of Russia with some aggressive actions against neighboring countries.
- Crisis Years
The final chapter describes financial crisis of 2008 and its consequences: massive bailout of bank, deep economic recession, austerity politics of debt overloaded countries, and such. The final point is about even more profound consequences of globalization including migrant issue, terrorism continuity, and finally political change in form of Brexit.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting narrative of events that I lived through, so it all is very much familiar staff for me, especially starting in 1960 when, as any other 7 years old in Soviet Union, I solemnly promised to Soviet people and personally to Nikita Sergeievich Khrushchev to work and fight for the cause of Communist Party. This book looks at events mainly from social democratic point of view, but generally it is even handed, so this book is not screwed too much in any direction. It provides lots of information that would be very surprising for this 7 years old and I am sure that if he knew even a small part of the evil that was Communism, he would never promised to support it. As to the Western democracy, if looked at it as a stand alone system, it is far from perfect and even slightly below decent, but in comparison to the Evil of Communism / Socialism it looks like shining summer day vs. dark and cold winter night.