I have been assigned a monograph about the countries of real socialism. While I understand the topic and have been successful at writing up the work, I am having difficulty in finding a definition for the term 'real socialism' (which would form the introduction). I intuit that the adjective 'real' establishes a difference between the pursued (socialist) ideal and the social and economic reality in the countries of the Eastern Bloc. However, the pieces of information strictly about the term that I have found are scarce and even a bit contradictory.

For instance, in the corresponding Wikipedia article, it is not clear when exactly was the term invented (and by who). Moreover, there seems to be a conflict between the two paragraphs of the introduction:

The term referred to the Soviet-type economic planning enforced by the ruling communist parties at that particular time.

Then, in the second paragraph:

From the 1960s onward, countries such as Poland, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, began to argue that their policies represented what was realistically feasible given their level of productivity, even if it did not conform to the Marxist concept of socialism. The concept of real-socialism alluded to a future highly developed socialist system.

However, in the Deutsch version of the article, it is stated that it [the term] was invented by Erich Honecker -a leader of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany- in 1974, at one of the sessions of the aforementioned party. Unfortunately, I'm not very good with Deutsch, so I haven't understood much more.

Could you please explain

  • where does the term come from (who invented it and when);
  • what is its 'official' meaning;
  • and what does it, from the popular perspective, mean?

Note: I do not know the rules regarding using other's answer outside of this site. I have read this page, but it refers to referencing when writing an answer, not on how to use answers for one's own purpose. For the purpose of making it clear, I am not asking that someone does my task for me, and I would not copy or translate any answer directly, but rather form a new text with all the understanding that I have summed up. If this is against the site's rules, please excuse me and provide me with a link to the corresponding page. Thank you.

  • Who coined the name is history, but your other two questions should probably be asked at politics.SE instead. – Semaphore Jan 11 '15 at 3:35
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    The term is more commonly known as "actually existing socialism" in the circles I run with. Descriptive terms aren't individually invented and don't have "official" meanings. – Samuel Russell Jan 11 '15 at 6:11
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    @SamuelRussell From the Deutsch version of the Wikipedia article, it seemed as if it indeed was invented (by Erich Honecker). The English version, however, describes it as a "popularized catchphrase". – Kalrish Jan 11 '15 at 19:53
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    every communist claims he's a socialist and all the failed communist regimes weren't "real socialists" and that's why they failed... Who coined the phrase? Impossible to tell. Probably the second communist to excuse for the first communist who failed. – jwenting Apr 23 '15 at 9:06
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    @jwenting you are absolutely right. Every new "ruler" said that we must end mistakes from the past, former leaders introduced socialism/communism wrongly, and that was the sole reason of the crisis, but since now we will do this exactly as it should be – Voitcus Apr 24 '15 at 5:12

In Polish there are two words which can be translated to the same English "real socialism".

The first, most commonly known, is "socrealizm", which in fact is "socialist realism", a trend in art (whatever "art" means).

The second (the one you ask about) is "socjalizm realny".

The Polish Wikipedia says the term was introduced in the USSR in 1970s. by propaganda.

This 1970s. seems to be good beginning.

The "real socialism" was created in the moment when it was clear that communism is no longer acceptable. First of all, consider the communist eras (since the end of WW2, as they are common in all Soviet Bloc):

  • installing the regime (1944-1950s) - the era of terror. Although there were strong propaganda against "enemies of the people", it was commonly recognized not-as-good-as-it-looks. This was also time of building heavy industry (mills, mines etc.) as it was believed to be the fastest way to reach the West. Also, this worshiped workers and some workers were celebrities these times. In these times the art trend "socrealizm" was official. The times were ended by two major events: death of Stalin (1953) and events in Hungary (1956), which led to bloody suppression. The Hungarian revolution was known in the Bloc and could not be kept secret.
  • Over-investing in heavy industry and failure of planned economy led to some crisis then. This, combined with Khrushchev's speech (which could have been an element of court games), finished the idea of introducing the communism. It was now allowed not to say "comrade" to one another (although party members kept it), the Hungarian events were only an accident, terrible mistake, heavy industry investments were reduced, "socrealizm" ended in art, and a new era begun.
  • This era lasted until 1968, the invasion on Czechoslovakia. The success of Warsaw Pact intervention was Pyrrhic, because this did not solve economic problems, was not accepted by people of intervening countries (in Poland it is still embarrassing) and eventually led again to overthrow leaders in the Bloc.

This moment (with few years tolerance) can be said as the start of the "real socialism". The real socialism was better socialism than communism and this what was after it. It was now "real", so it ended or fantastic (ie. dream-like) visions. It was redesigned to fulfill modern requirements. This was a form of co-operation between the party and the people (in Poland Edward Gierek asked on a meeting with workers "comrades, you will help me, won't you?" - this was a very direct addressing).

I don't know how it looked in other Soviet Bloc countries, but economy success seemed to back-up the new era. This was the time when Western culture was re-introduced (like rock-and-roll, TV, cars etc.). In Poland this was paid by taking loans, but was good to explain initial successes of this politics.

Although again in the beginning of 1980s this led to another riots, the reasoning was kept: the system is good, but it was incorrectly introduced. The real socialism is such kind of socialism that takes into account true life, it is not only a vision. This is a practice, not a theory.

The term "real socialism" is still in use (and with the same context, so it is good, but poorly introduced). On a socialist page there is an essay "What is the real socialism?", so how the socialism should change to meet the current era requirements.

  • This is in strong agreement with what I understand from my (Polish) wife. – andy256 Apr 24 '15 at 0:56

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