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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they learned of German military defeats and of the infamous German map that rallied ever more support for their cause. Small partisan bands like the one led by Nikola Parapunov raided German supplies and committed random acts of sabotage and arson to disrupt Bulgarian military operations. They also organized targeted political assassinations of Bulgarian politicians and Wehrmacht officers. For the most part, however, they inflicted little damage to the Axis war machine.10 Disorganized and

his thoughts on the matter clear to Thompson: I tried, at least, to persuade the leader of the British military mission, Major Thompson, of the folly of the decision to set off for the interior of Bulgaria towards the Sredna Gora Mountains. I told him that I frankly did not believe that the arrival of a brigade in Bulgaria would provoke a general armed uprising. I suggested that his mission come along with us and promised that we would be returning to this area within a month at the latest, thus

from Italy to their father, E. P. tried to make sense of his brother’s motivations: “For Frank this war is a crusade for the fullest life for all human beings, and he always had—what many of my comrades have not—the conviction that the war is a right war and the outcome will be good. Frank could not do otherwise. If he had not chosen this job, he would have betrayed his own integrity. He could not have written, talked, worked, with any sort of personal honesty. He would not have been Frank.”23

the revolution that was to bring social justice to all Bulgarians, Georgi Dimitrov, Vasil Kolarov, and Traicho Kostov were all dead.10 Gone, too, were Frank Thompson and Assen Lagadinov, and many partisans who lost their lives to the gendarmes. The promised people’s utopia devolved into a brutal dystopia ruled by paranoid dictators. But far beneath the realm of high politics, the planned economy started Bulgaria on a path to rapid modernization. For ordinary people, apparently, not everything was

kept careful registries of refugees for their relatives still in Greece. Those left behind came in busloads to lay flowers at the graves of those who were forced to flee. When I got to the statues of Kiril and Methodius, I scanned the benches, and recognized Veneta immediately. She had a full head of thick, white hair, which fell to her shoulders, and she wore a simple but elegant cotton dress and soft leather clogs. “Good day,” I said. “Are you Kristen?” I nodded. She reached out and grabbed my

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