To assess the complex historical experience of what has claimed to be socialism, or efforts in a socialist direction, is an enormous task, which will take a long time, deep digging and hard thinking. It will be enlivened by controversy. Nicos Mouzelis’ reply to my initial bird’s-eye hypothesis is therefore welcome. It is a pity, though, that he, who is a good social scientist, this time has seen his task as an agitprop assignment.

Mouzelis raises two sets of issues, the record and the end of Communist rule, and the situation and prospects of social democracy.

The Communist wing of the Left was formed by two sets of experiences and the social visions or expectations to which they gave rise—the rise of large-scale industry and the outbreak of inter-imperialist war. Communism was, firstly, premissed upon the working class generated by capitalist industry—it saw itself as imbued by the experience of class division and the discipline of industrial organization. The working class was the key target to convince and mobilize—it would be the power-base and source of legitimacy for collectivist development. Secondly, Communism was also formed by a context of world war and civil war, by violent repression and resistance, by ‘peace movements’ and opposition to colonialism and apartheid in South Africa. Communists distinguished themselves as class organizers, collectivist industrializers, opponents of colonialism, racism and militarism, and as armed fighters, from guerrilla fighters to superpower armed forces—and to domestic policemen.

By the 1980s the industrial and military capacities of Communism were waning assets. The previous achievements of industrialism bequeathed new tasks, beyond the scope of industrial modernity. The Second World War generation was ageing and thinning out biologically, and their expertise of little value to a Cold War stabilization of the continent, symbolized by the Helsinki agreement. Radical structural changes were needed. We know now that this led to the end of Communist socialism, or socialist claims, and to an attempted restoration of capitalism. Was that inevitable?

Firm proof, affirmative or negative, is impossible to get. Serious controversies must deal with the greater or lesser plausibility of hypotheses. Which hypothesis is accepted is not just a question of academic historiography, though. It bears upon the leftwing culture of the future, upon its sense of identity and its cognitive horizon on the world.

There are at least three good arguments in favour of the conjunctural hypothesis as an explanation of the epochal turn of 1989, and against the view which sees it as the final extinction of a nonviable social species.

First, in socio-economic terms, in the standard of living of the population and in the external power of the state, Communist Eastern Europe was for quite some time relatively successful, as I indicated in my article. The standing in the world of the ussr in 1965–70 was clearly far superior to that of Russia in 1914. And there were no Japanese-type reformers in sight in Russia in 1917. A White victory would most probably have issued into a more brutal, and more anti-semitic, variant of the Horthy and Antonescu regimes of stagnant poverty in Hungary and Romania.