The Rise and Fall of Communism in Europe 1917-1990

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Anita Prazmowska SAR.M.09


This course is available on the MA in Asian and International History (LSE and NUS), MA in Modern History, MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and Asian History, MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

The course will examine the rise, survival and collapse of the Soviet Communist ideology and Communist regimes based in Russia and Eastern Europe during the period 1917-1990. The course will also deal with the struggle for Communist influence in Western Europe during the same period. The course will start with the study of the Russian revolution and the civil war to the establishment of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union. This will be followed by the study of the history of Soviet involvement in the Second World War and the extension of Soviet influence into Eastern Europe after the Second World War. An examination of the installation of Soviet style regimes in that region will be followed by the analysis of Soviet post-war objectives and Soviet objectives towards Germany. The death of Stalin and the Soviet responses to the Polish and Hungarian events in 1956 is linked to the study of Khrushchev and the Brezhnev eras. Additionally the course analyses the extension of Communist influence into Western Europe through the Comintern and the Cominform. The role of the Communist parties in French and Italian political life will be analysed. The course concludes with a consideration of détente, the Gorbachev period, and the collapse by the end of 1990 of the Soviet Union and other Communist regimes in Europe.


The School aims to run in-person seminars, subject to circumstances, with some online provision if and where necessary.

There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent Terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be required to write one 3000 word essay in the MT. Submission week 7 of the MT. 

Indicative reading

A full bibliography will be provided at the beginning of the academic year. For an introduction, the following may be of assistance:

  • F Claudin, The Communist Movement from Comintern to Cominform;
  • R C Tucker (Ed), Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation;
  • C Kennedy-Pipe, Russia and the World, 1917-1990;
  • P Kennoz, A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End;
  • C Read, The Making and Breaking of the Soviet System;
  • V Mastny, Russia's Road to the Cold War. Diplomacy, Warfare and the Politics of Communism 1941-1945;
  • F A Fejto, A History of the People's Democracies: Eastern Europe since Stalin;
  • A Heller & F Feher, From Yalta to Glasnost. The Dismantling of Stalin's Empire;
  • G Stokes, The Walls Came Tumbling Down;
  • Ronald Grigor Suny, The Soviet Experiment;
  • Raymond Pearson, The Rise and Fall of Soviet Europe;
  • Archie Brown, The rise and fall of Communism


Exam (75%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (25%, 3000 words) in the LT Week 7.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2020/21: 14

Average class size 2020/21: 14

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information