In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union and relaxed Communist strictures with the reform policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The Soviet Union did not intervene as the Soviet-bloc nations of Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary all abandoned dictatorial Communist rule by 1990. In 1991, driven by nationalistic ferver in many of the republics and a collapsing economy, the Soviet Union dissolved and Gorbachev resigned as president.
By the beginning of the 21st cent. traditional Communist party dictatorships held power only in China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. China, Laos, Vietnam, and, to a lesser degree, Cuba have reduced state control of the economy in order to stimulate growth. Although economic reform has been allowed in these countries, their Communist parties have proved unwilling to submit to popular democratic movements; in 1989 the Chinese government brutally crushed student demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Communist parties, or their descendent parties, remain politically important in many Eastern European nations and in Russia and many of the other nations that emerged from the former Soviet Union.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.