Neal Ascherson writes:
If this clever and authoritative book has a main connecting theme, it is not ‘the death of democracy’ or the snares of the secret police as the Soviet Union imposed its satellite regimes on East-Central Europe. Rather, it is the loss of private initiative. While she makes no explicit profession of her lack of faith in ‘big government’, Applebaum can be sensed to nurse a deep neoliberal distrust of welfare states – and not just communist ones. She uses the phrase ‘civil society’ in its Gladstonian meaning: a nation’s web of unofficial associations, from chess clubs to owl fanciers to trade unions, by way of the Women’s League in Lodz. Everywhere in Eastern Europe, once the tide of rape and looting had subsided behind the Red Army, the new authorities began to move against ‘civil activists’ and ‘free associations’, herding them – sometimes rapidly, sometimes with great caution over years – into a few official associations licensed and policed by the state and led by Communist Party nominees.