The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe

The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 0822358352

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In The Left Side of History Kristen Ghodsee tells the stories of partisans fighting behind the lines in Nazi-allied Bulgaria during World War II: British officer Frank Thompson, brother of the great historian E.P. Thompson, and fourteen-year-old Elena Lagadinova, the youngest female member of the armed anti-fascist resistance. But these people were not merely anti-fascist; they were pro-communist, idealists moved by their socialist principles to fight and sometimes die for a cause they believed to be right. Victory brought forty years of communist dictatorship followed by unbridled capitalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today in democratic Eastern Europe there is ever-increasing despair, disenchantment with the post-communist present, and growing nostalgia for the communist past. These phenomena are difficult to understand in the West, where “communism” is a dirty word that is quickly equated with Stalin and Soviet labor camps. By starting with the stories of people like Thompson and Lagadinova, Ghodsee provides a more nuanced understanding of how communist ideals could inspire ordinary people to make extraordinary sacrifices.

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Thompson later wrote: I was dumbstruck. I’d never thought of it before. Right then I couldn’t see anything against it, but felt it would be wise to wait till I’d sobered up before deciding. So I said, “Come to tea in a couple of days and convert me.” Then I staggered home and lay on a sofa . . . announcing to the world that I had met a stunner of a girl and was joining the Communist Party for love of her. But next morning it still seemed good. I read State and Revolution, talked to several

probably as suspicious as the elder Lagadinov brother. No one could be trusted. Since Nikola Parapunov’s death during the winter, Kostadin had become the de facto leader of the Parapunov Brigade. He knew the gendarmes were hunting him. The story about the wireless set from Serbia seemed too good to be true. After a short while, the shepherd reappeared. “They say they have the wireless set,” he said. “It is very heavy to carry down here. They do not want to leave it unguarded.” “This is a

material world. Mint green was the color that year. I remember shopping for school clothes with my mom, scouring the discount racks at Marshalls for anything in mint green. Of course, mint green looked awful against my olive skin. It was fashionable. I cared about fashion. When Elena was fourteen years old, her preferred music was symphonic. She liked marches that “moved the spirit to patriotic action.” Sousa was a favorite. The few clothes she owned, she had sewn herself. They were all lost

Georgi Dimitrov was announced on July 2, 1949. Although Dimitrov was already sixty-­seven years old, his death was unexpected, giving rise to rumors that Stalin had him poisoned. In the six days that it took to transport Dimitrov’s body from Moscow to Sofia, his devotees built the mausoleum in the center of Sofia that held his embalmed body for the next four decades. In the months following Dimitrov’s death, Vasil Kolarov assumed power, although he, too, died within six 128  |  Chapter 15

sure that work sites had women’s bathrooms and special rooms for them to relax in so they could get away from the men they worked with.” Her face brightened in a smile. “You know Bulgarian men are very patriarchal.” “Yes, I know.” I smiled back at her. “We tried to support activities for women, so they could get out of the house in the evenings to have some free time. We were going down to small villages and to little towns where there were these cultural clubs. We held dances. We sponsored

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