Conceptualizing 1989 in historical terms means above all explaining the peaceful fall of the European communist states in a long-term international perspective. The author’s goal is to assess the weight and periodization of the major factors in our understanding of how communism lost its hegemonic challenge to the West in the cold war. Historians have underestimated the legacy of sovietization and the split of the communist movement in the 1950s and 1960s as factors undermining communist legitimacy. Unless this dimension is taken into account, it is hardly possible to understand the emergence of a crisis of communism at the end of the 1970s. The impact of Western development at the global level should also be understood in the light of the erosion of communist legitimacy. This was Gorbachev’s basic problem, even more than imperial overstretch. His attempt to re-legitimize Soviet communism by means of reform decisively contributed to its peaceful implosion.
Keywords: Rivoluzione, comunismo, guerra fredda, legittimazione, Gorbaciov