The Rise and Fall of World Communism
Final Essay Assignment

“Elevator Story”

In a chance meeting at a conference on the fall of European communism, I find myself in an elevator in Chicago’s Willis Tower with Stephen Cohen and “Z.”  It is 1992, and Cohen and “Z” are engaged in a heated debate.  Each scholar maintains that the collapse of the Soviet bloc proved that his respective approach to the study of communism was correct.  I try to stay out of the controversy.  But the elevator suddenly grinds to a halt between the 100th and 101st floor.  Cohen and ‘Z’ immediately turn to me:  “You’ve been awfully quiet, Jim. Which of us is right?”

I am in a terrible predicament.  If I waffle, I will turn both of these agitated individuals against me.   And, who knows how long we will be stuck in this elevator? It is already getting quite warm in our box in the sky.  But there is room for hope if I cast my vote unequivocally for one of them.  At least there will be two of us to fight off the other until we are rescued.  So, which of the two arguments should I support, Cohen’s or “Z’s”?

Write an essay of no more than four (4) double-spaced pages in which you tell me definitively whose argument is best suited to explain the events of 1989-1991.

To persuade me, you will need to identify and explain the arguments that each individual will use to support his position about the fall of communism.  Then, you must demonstrate why the position you advocate is the right one and the other position (the counterargument) is wrong.

Draw upon your readings and your knowledge of communist history to back up your points concretely.  Remember to write in a clear, deliberate, and concise fashion.  As always, we expect that your essay will flow from beginning to end with no interruption or loss of focus. Dare to be interesting.

Since this is your final essay, please do not discuss it with anyone else.

Your completed essay is due on the day of your final exam, Wednesday, May 11.  Your TA will advise you of arrangements to turn in the essay. Please remember to staple the pages!

Enjoy the writing! I hope I have challenged you.