Course Description

Course Name

Capitalism vs Communism: Social Democracy

Session: VPGS1124

Hours & Credits

45 Contact Hours

Prerequisites & Language Level

Taught In English

  • There is no language prerequisite for courses at this language level.



Whilst the history of the former communist countries has attracted the attention of scholars for decades, it is by no means a closed case. Even today, thirty years after the fall of the “iron curtain”, new discoveries are being made as lost documents are emerging from the darkness of the communist archives to testify and to shed light on the true nature of communist regimes, their power structures, disgusting political plays of its leaders and – before all – the unprecedented scale of terror and atrocities against humanity, leaving the death toll of 100 million people worldwide.

This is particularly true about the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, where turbulent transition to capitalism after 1989 brought about an atmosphere of strange forgetfulness about communism. Its crimes were never thoroughly examined, chief criminals were never tried and it was often the case they managed to find their way to the new post-communist political establishment. Moreover, communist parties in these countries were never abolished, remained active and after a few years of decline they started growing in numbers again, eventually gaining more and more power. Thus it is no wonder these conditions altogether turn a serious historical study of communism into a real challenge, as a devout scholar must always face the “iron curtain” of political lies, distortion of facts and propaganda.

The course is designed for students with a particular interest in history, humanities and political science. It focuses mainly on the history of communism in the countries of the former East Bloc. Together we will analyze key political events of the region, examining their roots, pretexts, conditions and outcomes. We will contextualize the role of “dissenting groups” in the deconstruction of the totalitarian regimes. We will also try to depict the grey and desperate reality of everyday life in communism. Lectures are accompanied with loads of authentic videos and pictures. The schedule involves at least two classes outside the classroom to explore museum(s) of communism and monuments of communist architecture in the city.

The course is very much reading, discussion and active participation based. The reading materials provided for each class will be followed by class discussions so that students will have the opportunity to develop their skill at sound argumentation and the use of academic literature as well as primary research sources. By the end of the course students will gain the knowledge on major policies of the former Eastern Bloc countries and analyze the main contemporary issues stemming from their past in proper historical context. According to their academic interests, students will research certain aspects of life under communism and present their ideas in an oral presentation.

DISCLAIMER: History of communism is a history of the most serious crimes against humanity. As far as the course deals with the issue of communism and its historical shapes, it may (and will) openly expose such issues as hatred, violence, oppression, terror, torture and mass murder, which are inseparable from this period of history.


Capitalism vs. Communism? Really?

The introductory lecture gives a general overview of what is meant by the terms “capitalism” and “communism”. We will discuss mainly the fact that “communism” and “capitalism” are not just two competing economic or political systems, but two completely different “philosophies”, “attitudes” and “approaches” to humanity, society and life. We will seek an answer to the fundamental question: Is communism essentially associated with terror and thus necessarily antagonistic towards humanity as such? And is it essentially anti-democratic and anti-capitalist?

How Does a Democratic Country Fall Communist?

The lecture represents a case study of Czechoslovakia, where the communist regime (1848 – 1989) was especially painful for the people and devastating for the state, as – unlike the majority of the former Eastern Bloc countries – Czechoslovakia had its previous historical experience with liberal democracy (1818 – 1938) and used to rank among top 10 world economics at the time. We will focus on a striking comparison between the democratic and the communist stage of Czechoslovakian history. In our explorations we will try to focus on key events in its history and seek an answer to the question: How does it happen that a free and liberal country become communist?

Forgotten Terror: The Eastern Bloc

Whilst the scale of communist terror in the Soviet Union is somehow widely recognized and made popular through various documentaries and studies, the history of persecution in former Eastern Bloc countries is today rather forgotten and there is still much to be explored. This is mainly due to the fact there is no political will to enable and support such inquiries, as the power structures that were prominent during the communist era remained active even after the transition to democracy and had a strong influence on further political, economic and cultural development in these countries. In our lecture we will focus on this forgotten chapter of history and show that the scale of terror and persecution was immense and unprecedented in the Eastern Bloc countries. Think of the worst atrocities you can imagine and multiply it by 100 to get the idea of the communist prison camps in Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Museum of Communism: A Terror beyond Display

In the first “outside-the-classroom” class we will visit the official Museum of Communism in Prague. We will discuss various possible problems stemming from presentation of communism in an audiovisual form, as well as questions of historical objectivity and aspects which contribute to erosion of historical memory.

Fear and Loathing in Czechoslovakia: Anatomy of Everyday Life

The lecture will be devoted to everyday life in communism in Czechoslovakia. We will explore both key political events that affected people´s lives and the general atmosphere of fear, disgust, resignation and finally the phenomena of external and internal emigration. We will deal with the aspects of grey economy, ban on travelling abroad, poor work moral, everyday control and collapsing centrally-planned economy. However, communist propaganda together with the most famous monuments, products and artifacts will be also on display.

The Power of the Powerless: A New Hope?

In the lecture we will examine the phenomenon of “dissidence” and “dissidents” in communist regimes. We will try to find a definition of a typical “dissident” and seek his or her motivations for open action against the regime vis-á-vis constant threatening, terror, bully and persecution. The definition of “post-totality” and “post-terror” will be sought as well as inner power structures which maintain its operation. Historically we will focus on the personality of Václav Havel, the Charter 77 manifesto and events associated with the last decade of the communist regime in the Eastern Bloc countries.

Why Socialists Can Not Be Happy: Famous Writers on Communism

In this discussion-based class we will focus on three famous essays on communism by renowned writers: Why Am I Not a Communist by Karel Čapek, Why Socialists Can Not Be Happy by George

Orwell and Soviet Myth and Reality by Arthur Koestler. We will try to identify their main arguments and thoughts on communism as an idea and practice and seek to answer the question: Is communism essentially an inhuman ideology, which opposes and contradicts the very nature of humanity?

Monuments of Bad Taste

The second “outside-the-classroom” class is designed as a sightseeing combined with historical and cultural exposition. We will visit together places in the city associated with the communist regime, learn about their architecture and show how they brutally changed the historical face of the city (Hotel Intercontinental, Hotel International, Federal Assembly, Bartolomějská Prison Street, Cultural Palace, Žižkov TV Tower, etc.).

*Course content subject to change