Despite living under nearly a century of oppressive, conformist, Soviet-style Communism, Eastern Bloc nations have somehow maintained strong senses of cultural, religious, linguistic, and ethnic identities. What’s more, they arguably have stronger identities today than do most Western European and Anglophone countries that have enjoyed greater freedom for most of the 20th century. Unlike their Western neighbors, Eastern Bloc nations have avoided the cultural decay and self-destruction that has been eating away at Western democracies over the past half-century. How have they done so? The answer, ironically, is Soviet-style Communism and the circumstances it generated.

During the Cold War, the Soviets promoted fiscally restrictive Marxism, but not the type of radical social policies today’s Western Marxists are advocating. While some Communists in the early 20th century supported these types of policies, they never really took root, as the dire economic and wartime environments these nations faced didn’t afford them the time to implement post-national, open-door immigration, hyper-feminist, or pro-homosexual agendas.

Joseph Stalin was a mass murderer who ran a vast system of gulags. Despite these horrific facts, he nevetheless took traditional positions on social moral questions, unlike present American elities in both national parties. Stalin promoted ethnic Russians throughout the Soviet hierarchy, despite being Georgian himself. He made the Russian language compulsory in schools and offices, and suppressed nationalist sentiments among ethnic minorities. Stalin further initiated socially conservative policies to enhance social discipline and increase the Russian population via the promotion of strong family units and motherhood. He further outlawed homosexuality, placed restrictions on abortion and divorce, and shut down the short-lived Zhenotdel, a state-run organization set up by the Bolsheviks to promote a feminist agenda. The current Russian Communist Party echoes Stalin’s policies. It ardently supported the 2013 law outlawing the promotion of homosexuality in the Russian Federation.

Practices similar to Stalin’s took root in other Eastern Bloc nations, as well as in China and North Korea, where similar socially conservative policies and cultural norms are still practiced to this day. While the Communist Bloc attempted to dismantle religious institutions it deemed a threat to its power, its leadership still upheld the same pro-family, socially conservative institutions the church espoused. Instead of claiming these beliefs were God’s will, it argued instead that those same policies were necessary to strengthen the proletariat and the nation-state against the capitalist West.

In stark contrast, the free world, after about 20 years of strong cultural conservatism following the end of the Second World War, saw its identity and morals begin to fray in the mid-1960s. Advocates of the counterculture movement convinced many young Americans that racism and entanglement in the Vietman War were natural consequences of Western culture. They declared Western civilization to be the problem and its dissolution the answer.

The West, while still technologically, economically, and militarily advancing, was culturally declining in the post-war era. A state of near-constant warfare has led to complete civilizational exhaustion. This, coupled with the continued economic prosperity under a free market system, led younger generations to become increasingly comfortable with their first-world lifestyles, taking for granted all they had. Instead of being grateful for their prosperity, they searched for phantom issues to fixate on, ones that in the large scheme of things were not of great concern to the functionality of civilization.

Thus began the self-loathing of the West. During the Cold War, while a more prideful, patriotic American generation fought to contain the Soviet Union and promote “freedom” globally, the young Bernie Sanderses of the era did not share the same goals. They looked inward and suffered from white colonial guilt, embracing the circular logic that white prosperity was only a result of colonization and slavery, while ignoring the accomplishments of Western Christian civilization.

Guilt snowballed with the introduction of gay pride and feminism as a rejection of the nuclear family. This dynamic, coupled with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, further degraded the American national identity and wrought a disjointed, Balkanized, multicultural America instead of the melting pot we had aspired to be.

Then the United States rejected the American System of economics, promoted by Alexander Hamilton and embraced by Abraham Lincoln, in favor of policies that were not helpful to American workers. This shift in economic policy effectively abandoned America’s conservative working class and, ironically, paved the way for Marxist movements to take root.

Eastern Bloc nations, despite living under Communism, retained all the elements needed for a culture to prosper. There was no guilt or self-hatred while the nuclear family and traditional gender roles remained intact. This allowed for an easy transition back to embracing Christianity once the Eastern Bloc fell in 1989-1991.

The 1990s saw a hyper-reversal from state-mandated atheism to church membership. Despite the Communist oppression of religion in these nations, religiosity sprang back in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. With the exceptions of Estonia, Belarus, and the Czech Republic, all of the former Eastern Bloc nations are overwhelmingly religious and all, including the aforementioned three, are socially conservative.

Even left-of-center parties in these nations maintain socially conservative policies. Slovakia’s ruling party, Direction—Social Democracy, is an economically center-left party, but it maintains hardline positions on immigration and socially conservative positions on the role of Christianity in society, as well as traditional views on gender roles and sexuality. Furthermore, the Romanian Social Democratic Party retains hardline conservative positions on nationalism, LGBTQ issues, migration, and church-state relations. In Bulgaria, the opposition Socialist Party, which is the successor of this country’s Communist Party, openly opposes same-sex marriage and adoption, while further opposing sex education for children if it diverges from the traditional definition of sex being between a man and a woman.

In comparison, so-called conservatives in North American and Western European countries seem to cave to the demands of the cultural Marxist left that dominate the political narrative. Once staunchly conservative on issues such as traditional marriage, abortion, immigration, and Christian values, these parties have gradually sacrificed their values to the left in order to remain electable. This includes Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party in the UK, Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party in Canada, and Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in Germany.

These parties, while center-right on economic issues, have all but given up on the topics of migration, abortion, and LGBTQ issues. The Republican Party in the U.S. has somehow maintained its evangelical conservative core on social issues, despite gradually caving over the last two decades on issues pertaining to gender roles, traditional marriage, and even immigration and abortion. To see results of these policy shifts, look no further than the California Republican Party, which holds a measly 11 out of 40 seats in the State Senate, 18 out of 80 seats in the State Assembly, 7 out of 53 U.S. House seats, no statewide elected offices, and neither of the state’s U.S. Senate seats. With their continued acquiescence to the left’s social and economic positions, the state party continues to become more irrelevant each election cycle. All of this reflects the cultural Marxism that has dominated former Western Bloc nations, but has not taken root in the former Eastern Bloc nations.

Will the former Western Bloc nations reinvigorate their national identities, or is the current rise in national populism in the West simply the death rattle of a snake before its demise? Will the former Eastern Bloc nations maintain their strong socially conservative national identities, or will Western pressure on issues of LGBTQ rights, immigration, abortion, and secularism get the better of them? As we enter a new decade, many of these questions will likely be answered. As of this writing, the former Eastern Bloc is far better positioned to preserve their respective cultures than is the West. We may have won the Cold War, but it’s the East that’s winning the culture war.