Communism's Shadow: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Political Attitudes

Communism's Shadow: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Political Attitudes

by Grigore Pop-Eleches, Joshua Tucker


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691175591
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 05/09/2017
Series: Princeton Studies in Political Behavior , #3
Pages: 344
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Grigore Pop-Eleches is professor of politics and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. He is the author of From Economic Crisis to Reform. Joshua A. Tucker is professor of politics and (by courtesy) Russian and Slavic studies and data science at New York University. He is the author of Regional Economic Voting: Russia, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, 1990–1999.

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Communism's Shadow

Historical Legacies and Contemporary Political Attitudes

By Grigore Pop-Eleches, Joshua A. Tucker


Copyright © 2017 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-17558-4


Communism's Shadow


More than a quarter century after the Leninist extinction in the former Soviet bloc, the specter — or at least the memory — of communism still haunts the region. Memories of Stalinism (both glowing and bitter) feature prominently in the political discourse of Russia and Ukraine, while new national-populist regimes in Poland and Hungary justify their political tactics at least in part in terms of the fight against communism, even as their opponents accuse them of having adopted much of the communists' mindset and tactics. Even if much of this language is intended simply as a rhetorical flourish, it suggests a deeper truth about the politics of the region: communism's shadow is still ever present in the hearts and minds of post-communist citizens.

Indeed, when analyzing a wide range of public opinion data from the first two decades after the collapse of communism, we find that post-communist citizens are, on average, less supportive of democracy, less supportive of markets, and more supportive of state-provided social welfare — but no more of supportive of gender equality — than citizens elsewhere in the world. (See Figure 1.1 on the following page.) Why?

The most intuitive answer to this question is that it is somehow a legacy of communism. But as popular as it has become to attribute outcomes of interest in post-communist countries to "legacies," and despite some recent theoretical efforts to conceptualize historical legacies more carefully (Beissinger and Kotkin 2014: 11–20; Wittenberg 2015), there is no clearly established theoretical or empirical blueprint for analyzing the effect of legacies on attitudes. Accordingly, we begin with two more theoretically precise potential answers to the question of "why": it may be because of the experience of living through communism; or it may be because of the experience of living in a post-communist country. While related — we do not expect to find truly large proportions of a population who lived through communism anywhere else than in post-communist world, and (at least originally) most people living in post-communist countries had lived through some period of communist rule — they are not the same thing, and this is increasingly true as time passes and more people live in post-communist countries who did not live through communism. In addition, even people living in post-communist countries will have spent different numbers of years living through communist rule. Crucially, the two approaches have different implications for how we understand these attitudinal differences, how long we might expect them to persist, and the role that communist legacies play in structuring opinion on fundamental social, political, and economic issues. Furthermore, the answer to this question remains as relevant as ever, because it informs some of the most pressing issues in international politics, such as the future of the European Union project, the status of frozen conflicts in the former Soviet space, and Russia's relationship with the rest of Europe.

To the extent that differences in attitudes held by post-communist citizens are a function of people living through communist rule, then this would undoubtedly be a legacy of communism. Why might we expect living through communism to have an effect on attitudes toward democracy, markets, social welfare, and gender equality? For one, there is a longstanding literature on "political socialization" that argues that all political regimes — to one extent or another — seek to inculcate attitudes supportive of the regime into their citizens (Dennis 1968; Greenstein 1971; Greenberg 1973). In many cases, these efforts may be lackadaisical or passive, but Soviet communism clearly made an active attempt to create a new "Socialist Man" complete with a requisite set of beliefs about politics, economics, and social relations (Deutscher 1967). Thus, living through communist rule should be a promising candidate for explaining communist legacy effects on public opinion.

Indeed, communist regimes differed from most other flavors of authoritarian regimes by being not merely interested in ruling over citizens, but also trying to implement a particular project of shaping citizens' attitudes. Communist citizens were not simply expected to accept the rule of the communists, but rather additionally to embrace and embody the precepts of socialism. Moreover, this was not just a stated goal: communist regimes took active steps to try to make sure these precepts were adopted, including in the schools, the workplace, and party meetings. As Ilie Moromete remarks in the Romanian novel Morometii by Marin Preda, "these guys [the communists] are not content with just taking your cattle from the stable, they also make you sign that you gave it willingly" (Preda 1967: 261). Thus the idea that people who lived through communist rule would come to adopt attitudes in line with those the regime wanted its citizens to hold should not be that much of a stretch.

Of course, it is also possible that the experience of living through communism did nothing to affect the way that individuals thought about politics, economics, and basic social relationships in the post-communist era. Perhaps the experience of living under communist rule was simply relegated to the past once post-communism began, a relic of bygone times eclipsed by subsequent experiences. In that case we need a different explanation for why post-communist citizens hold different attitudes on such fundamental political and economic questions than citizens elsewhere. If living through communism does not hold the answer, then the next most likely candidate would seem to be the fact that post-communist citizens are living in post-communist countries. After all, there are all sorts of appreciable ways in which post-communist countries differ from other countries. Importantly, some of these ways will themselves be legacies of communism, but some will not.

How might we characterize these differences? To begin with, countries "assigned" to experience communism — to use the parlance of experimental research design — were not assigned randomly. Soviet communism took root — or was imposed — in particular geographic areas with particular social and political histories. If these geographic characteristics or historical patterns of sociopolitical development were driving contemporary attitudes, then the observed differences in post-communist attitudes would not in any way be a legacy of communism. For example, if attitudes toward markets were simply a function of the geographic location of a country (e.g., suppose that the colder the climate, the more likely citizens were to oppose markets), then differences in attitudes between post-communist citizens and citizens from other countries would simply be due to the fact that post-communist citizens are living in countries that have characteristics — predating the communist experience — that are associated with opposition to markets. The actual experience of having been ruled by communists would be irrelevant; the divergence could be explained simply by the fact that communists came to power in countries with features that — today — are associated with a greater antipathy to markets.

Of course, the contours of post-communist societies were not exclusively shaped by factors that predate communist rule: both communist-era and post-communist developments affect the nature of the countries that post-communist citizens are living in now. At the time of any survey of post-communist citizens' attitudes, post-communist citizens will be living in countries with particular political institutions, economic conditions, and sociodemographic characteristics: all these factors could explain divergence in attitudes from citizens living in other countries. After all, there are already many theoretical arguments to explain why democracy and markets are more popular among some people than others. Maybe over-educated and underemployed people everywhere are more likely to oppose market economies. Or it may be the case that democracy is less popular in countries with young, dysfunctional political institutions. And perhaps citizens in countries with poorly performing economies are more likely to turn against both democracy and capitalism. If post-communist countries have a disproportionately high number of overeducated and underemployed citizens, are governed by new and not particularly well-functioning political institutions, and experience greater economic turmoil, then all these characteristics of the society they are currently living in could explain why post-communist citizens hold systematically different attitudes toward politics and economics than citizens elsewhere. More generally, we can classify the relevant characteristics of the countries that post-communist citizen are living in at the time of the survey as falling into one of three broad categories: the sociodemographic makeup of society; economic conditions; and political institutions and outcomes. Any of these factors could explain why we observe — on average — post-communist citizens holding different attitudes about politics, economics, and social relations than citizens in other parts of the world.

This leads to an important and complicated question: to the extent that factors related to the countries that post-communist citizens are living in at the time of the survey could explain divergence in attitudes, would this then represent evidence that communist legacies are having an effect on post-communist attitude formation? Technically speaking, any characteristic of society in the post-communist era is a function of varying combinations of communist-era and post-communist-era developments; everything is therefore both a legacy of communism and a result of post-communism. However, some of these factors — for example, the sociodemographic makeup of society — are clearly more of a communist-era legacy than a feature of post-communist developments, while others — for example, electoral rules — are the opposite; still others — for example, unemployment levels in the 1990s — are probably a function of both communist legacies and post-communist policies. Thus, if our primary explanation for post-communist attitudinal divergence were to come from these contemporaneous indicators of the country post-communist citizens are living in, we would have to look very carefully at each relevant factor to assess the extent to which it could be credibly considered a communist legacy.

If, however, we want to capture features of the countries that post-communist citizens are living in that are totally independent of post-communist influences, then we need to measure conditions as they were in these countries (and in the countries to which we are comparing them) on the eve of communism's collapse. If, for example, we think that the reason post-communist citizens are supportive of state-provided social welfare is because communism resulted in abnormally large spending on social welfare, then we would want to look at the relationship between state spending before communism collapsed and contemporary attitudes. To the extent that attitude divergence among post-communist citizens could be explained by the fact that they are living in a country where there was high spending on social welfare in 1989, this would be a strong candidate to be a legacy effect of communism.

To end the suspense quickly, the primary empirical contribution of this book is to show that there is much stronger support for the claim that the attitudes of post-communist citizens toward democracy, markets, and state-provided social welfare are due to living through communism than living in post-communist countries, and thus these attitudes should be considered at least in part a legacy of communism. This is not to say that conditions on the ground in post-communist countries are never useful for understanding the attitudes of post-communist citizens, but at least in these three issue areas, the incremental leverage from these factors is dwarfed by the effect of living through communism.

The empirical evidence to support this claim is motivated by a simple assumption: people who live through "more communism" (i.e., live more years of their life under communist rule) should exhibit "more" of (i.e., higher congruence with) the attitudes consistent with communist ideology. This basic idea forms the core of our living through communism analysis in this book: an additional year of exposure should be correlated with additional support for the pro-regime attitude (i.e., less support for democracy and markets, and more support for state-provided social welfare and gender equality). However, it is crucial that we estimate the effect of years of exposure to communism independent of the age of respondent at the time she or he is queried about her or his opinions. Clearly, people with many years of exposure to communism will typically be older than those with few years of exposure to communism, and thus it is necessary to ensure that assessments of the effect of exposure on attitudes are made while controlling for the age of the respondent. This is one of the major advantages of employing large comparative cross-national survey data — crucially including multiple surveys from the same country — in our analyses: such a research design makes it possible to estimate an effect for exposure to communism while controlling for age.

That being said, all exposure is of course not equal, so we also test a series of hypotheses based on the idea that the intensity of exposure might vary. Moreover, different people in different contexts might react to this exposure in different ways, so we similarly test a number of hypotheses related to variation in resistance to exposure. We allow both intensity and resistance to be a function of both country-level factors and individual-level factors.

The empirical tests of our intensity and resistance hypotheses produce nuanced results. On the one hand, for all four attitudes in question, there are always at least some intensity and resistance hypotheses for which we find strong empirical support. To put this another way, we always learn more about the drivers of political attitudes by engaging in the exercise of testing our intensity and resistance hypotheses than if we had stopped simply at testing the average effects of a year of exposure to communist rule. Moreover, in the one opinion area where our generic exposure variable does not seem to work the way in which our living through communism model would predict — gender equality — we find a great of deal of empirical support for many of our intensity and resistance hypotheses. In other words, without the intensity and resistance hypotheses, we would have wrongly dismissed communist exposure as irrelevant to gender equality attitudes.

On the other hand, there is no single particular class Of intensity or resistance hypotheses (e.g., country-level resistance hypotheses) for which we find consistent support across all our hypotheses, nor even a single hypothesis for which there is consistent support across all four opinion areas. This finding, in turn, demonstrates the importance of a rather wideranging approach to thinking about these intensifying and resistance hypotheses. It is not possible, therefore, to simply say "measure exposure and take account of this one particular variable and you will have the whole story." Nevertheless, the effort required to examine a varied set of intensifying and resistance hypotheses does seem worthwhile, precisely because it provides a richer account how communist exposure affected the attitudes we study in Chapters 4–7. Moreover, we do find a few factors — in particular Catholicism, urban residence, and pre-communist regime type — that have the effect predicted across three of the four issues we examine, although of course this could be a function of the particular issues examined in this book. Perhaps the most striking finding, though, is the fact that even though we examine many different intensifying and resistance factors, it is extremely rare that we are able to find subgroups of respondents that are completely unaffected by exposure. Thus we can also conceive of these analyses as robustness checks to make sure that our findings of exposure effects are not driven solely by particular subsets of our respondents.


Excerpted from Communism's Shadow by Grigore Pop-Eleches, Joshua A. Tucker. Copyright © 2017 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Country Code Abbreviations Used in Figures 4.1, 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 xv

1 Communism’s Shadow 1

2 Living through Communism 32

3 Methods and Data 63

4 Democracy 99

5 Markets 136

6 Social Welfare 186

7 Gender Equality 215

8 Temporal Resilience and Change 247

9 Legacies and Communism 282

Bibliography 313

Index 333

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