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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austerity on countries like Greece. Of all nations, it seemed to me that Germany should be the first to realize that severe belt-­tightening imposed by foreign powers can lead to the democratic election of less-­than-­desirable political parties. Given the widespread dissatisfaction with global capitalism and the politics of austerity, the resurgence of right-­wing, nationalistic discourse was perhaps no surprise. Men and women across Europe were looking for alternatives to globalization and its

Stowers Johnson had a very different take on Thompson’s motivations. According to Johnson’s journalistic account, Thompson viewed the Second Lawrence of Bulgaria?  |  55 Sofia Brigade as his “private army.” He hoped to ride into Bulgaria like his hero T. E. Lawrence had done in Arabia during World War I. Thompson’s commitment to communism and his thirst for personal glory made him long to become “Thompson of Bulgaria.”24 Perhaps the most interesting explanation for Thompson’s decision to cross

1937 in his Winchester uniform 13 A confident Frank Thompson 16 Freeman Dyson in his office at the Institute for Advanced Study 17 Frank Thompson as a child 22 A statue of Georgi Dimitrov 25 Frank Thompson in 1939 29 A statue of Ivan Kozarev in Dobrinishte 36 Assen Lagadinov with his fellow printers in 1939 42 Adolf Hitler greeting the Bulgarian king, Boris III, in Berlin 43 Assen Lagadinov in 1942 46 The invasion of the Balkans, spring 1941 47 A portrait of Frank Thompson 57 A sculpture in honor

professors of history, Dr. Gancheva. “Historians have come to accept the subjective nature of most historical accounts.” “There is historical truth,” said Dr. Meneva, an older historian. “Events happened or they didn’t happen. There are ways of finding the truth if you look in the right places.” Dr. Antanasova, a sociologist, cleared her throat. “There is nothing objective about communism. During that time, all of the statistics on women’s empowerment were manipulated by the government. How will

“The men had their own organizations,” she said. “We had the right to have ours, too.” “So there was just one?” I said. “Yes. We concentrated all of our efforts so that we could be more effective. There is greater power in greater numbers,” she said. I nodded. Many women’s organizations had been founded in Bulgaria after 1989, all part of the emerging civil society created with foreign funding, much of it from the United States. I had written my first book about this and I knew that these new

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