The Crisis of Socialism in Europe

The Crisis of Socialism in Europe

by Christiane Lemke, Gary Marks

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The revolutions in Eastern Europe and the recasting of socialism in Western Europe since 1989 have given rise to intense debate over the origins, character, and implications of the “crisis” of socialism. Is socialism in ideological, electoral, or organizational decline? Is the decline inevitable or can socialism be revitalized? This volume draws together historians and political scientists of Eastern and Western European politics to address these questions.
The collection begins with an historical overview of socialism in Western Europe and moves toward the suggestion of a framework for a post-socialist discourse. Among the topics covered are: the birth and death of communism and a regime type in Eastern Europe; how different forms of national communism were smothered by Sovietization in the postwar period; the origins of revolutions in Eastern Europe; the potential for social democracy in Hungary; the role of the Left in a reunified German; and directions for the Left in general.

Contributors. Geoff Eley, Konrad Jarausch, Herbert Kitschelt, Christiane Lemke, Andrei Markovits, Gary Marks, Wolfgang Merkel, Norman Naimark, Iván and Szonja Szelénya, Sharon Wolchik

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822378457
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 10/01/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 264
File size: 568 KB

About the Author

Christiane Lemke is on the Political Science faculty on the Freie Universitat of Berlin.

Gary Marks is Professor of Political Science and founding Director of the Center for European Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Read an Excerpt

The Crisis of Socialism in Europe

By Christiane Lemke, Gary Marks

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1992 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7845-7


From Decline to Demise? The Fate of Socialism in Europe

Christiane Lemke and Gary Marks

The growth of socialism as an ideology, party-political formation, and regime type has been one of the most important developments in European politics over the last century. A century ago socialist parties were small sects of workers and intellectuals struggling for the freedom to organize and communicate in societies where their constituency, the working class, was excluded systematically from politics. In Germany, the Social Democratic party was emerging from a period in which the dissemination of socialist ideas in meetings, through the press, and by trade unions was banned by the state. In Russia and much of eastern Europe, socialists were still hunted down by police and spies working for feudalistic authoritarian regimes. Although they had the advantage of a freer legal climate, socialist parties in northwestern Europe were small or nonexistent one hundred years ago. In Britain, the Independent Labour party and the Social Democratic Federation had but a few thousand members between them and no significant electoral support. In southern Europe, socialist parties were small sects that contended with anarchists and syndicalists for influence within weakly institutionalized labor movements. Before World War I many socialist parties underwent a crisis of strategy as they grappled with the issue of revolution or reform, but there were never serious doubts that support for socialism was growing and would continue to grow.

Once we step back from the turmoil of events of 1989–90 and look at socialism from the perspective of the development of European politics between the nineteenth century and the present, it is clear that we have come to the end of a major transformation. After World War II, socialism was a growing and dynamic force. The Soviet Union, by virtue of its victories in World War II and its growing military might, dominated eastern Europe. In western Europe, socialist parties changed the boundaries of political life as they demanded the extension of basic political rights and brought previously unrepresented groups into the political system, reshaped party systems along a new employee-employer cleavage as they grew into major electoral contenders, and extended the role of the state to fulfill their extensive economic and social welfare agendas.

To state the impressive growth and influence of socialism over the past century is to see how different things are now. This is true in the obvious sense that the revolutions of eastern Europe have destroyed, presumably forever, the legitimacy of authoritarian socialism as a regime type. But the dynamism and influence of socialism in western Europe has changed just as fundamentally. The very success of socialist parties over the past century in shaping democracies based on social democratic principles of welfare, educational provision, and state intervention in the economy has meant that socialists find themselves as defenders of the status quo, not radical reformers. But the crisis of socialism is not simply a function of its success. Basic characteristics of socialist parties over the last century—characteristics that hang together in a logically coherent ideal type that we describe as "traditional socialism" (a blue-collar constituency, extensive subcultural organization, and emphasis on state regulation)—are increasingly anachronistic in the most economically developed societies.

From the perspective of the development of socialism over the last century, several strands of change, including the failure of socialism as a regime type in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, the decline of traditional socialism in western Europe, and the rise of environmental movements, constitute a "crisis" of socialism. The collapse of state socialism in the East and the decline of traditional socialism in the West complement and reinforce each other. Strong social democratic parties persist across western Europe, but socialists no longer monopolize the discourse of dissent. The traditional pillars of these parties in western Europe are weakening visibly. Their core constituency, the blue-collar working class, is declining; their organizational base as encompassing movement parties is eroding; their traditional commitment to the expansion of state control of the economy and society is viewed as a liability. In a growing number of countries, environmentalists, women's groups, and greens challenge the traditional socialist monopoly of the discourse of dissent on a variety of new social issues including equal status for women and minorities, reproductive rights, quality of life issues, and opposition to nuclear weapons.

Our aim in the following pages is to chart the most decisive influences on socialism in Europe as far as they can be evaluated at the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century and discuss how they constrain the future of socialism. We use the word constrain advisedly. Although it is certainly not possible to predict such specific political outcomes as elections or policy shifts, we believe that it is worth trying to think through the logic of the past for the structure of political alternatives in the future. While it is usually impossible to predict the actual choices that people make, it is sometimes possible to discuss sensibly the range of choice available. In this more open-textured sense we attempt to analyze the essential elements of the current situation and their implications for the future.

The End of Communism in Eastern Europe

Communism Is Dead

With the collapse of communist regimes across eastern Europe, an epoch has come to an end. Revolutionary changes have transformed East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland. Even in the countries of southeastern Europe, where communists have been able to cling tenuously to power, Soviet hegemony no longer exists. The starting point for the analysis of postrevolutionary developments in east central Europe is that communism as a regime type is a historical phenomenon rather than a viable political alternative.

Socialist command economies failed not only to catch up with their western capitalist competitors, but were also unable to meet the most basic demands of their populations. Centralized bureaucracies stifled innovative adaption, production quotas displaced attention from fulfilling human wants, human and natural resources were wasted on an enormous scale, and the environment was so neglected that it became life threatening. These failures were politically corrosive for regimes that staked their legitimacy on their ability to organize production rationally. Command economies nurtured the very crises that led to the downfall of communism.

The suddenness with which these regimes fell revealed just how illegitimate and inept they were. The degree to which political elites had lost both popular support and their will to rule surprised even those who opposed them. These regimes had more than four decades in which to entrench themselves, but once the threat of Soviet coercion was withdrawn they crumbled. Not only did communist parties alienate the intelligentsia, but they also managed to estrange their core constituency, workers and farmers, in whose name they claimed to speak. These regimes began with the goal of molding a socialist culture, but they created an ethical vacuum, an ever-widening gap between official discourse and the realities of everyday life. In their effort to perpetuate their rule, communist elites forged an iron cage of rigid bureaucracy that sapped their political will and even their belief in their own legitimacy.

Reformed communist parties have contested the first free elections in east central Europe, but they have done so as marginal parties struggling to throw off the negative weight of the past without a natural constituency except present and former employees of the declining state apparatus. These parties have rapidly lost membership. In East Germany, membership of the PDS, the former East German Communist party, fell from 2.3 million to 300,000 within a year after the November 1989 revolution. In Czechoslovakia, Communist party membership declined from 1.7 million in October 1989 to around 400,000 a year later. Former communist parties have performed poorly in national elections. In Czechoslovakia and East Germany, Communist parties received 13 and 16 percent of the national vote in the 1990 elections. In Poland, the only completely competitive parliamentary elections have been the 1990 local elections in which the Communist party received less than 1 percent of the vote. In the presidential election of 1990 the Communist party candidate received virtually no support. Even in Hungary, where a strong reform wing emerged within the Communist party from the late 1980s, the reform-oriented successor of the party, the Hungarian Socialist party, received only 10.5 percent of the vote, while the orthodox wing did not surpass the 4 percent necessary for representation in the National Assembly. In retrospect, it is clear that repeated attempts by ruling communist parties in Hungary and Poland to adjust to their declining legitimacy did not enhance their electoral competitiveness. Instead, the willingness of these parties to enter into a dialog with their oppositions provided breathing space for competing political groupings to organize and may, in fact, have accelerated communist decline.

The legacy of communist rule is a heavy burden for the political Left in east central Europe. Vaclav Havel has noted that in the popular imagination socialism connoted "an ordinary billy-club" used to hit free-minded people. Democratic socialism has suffered from guilt by association. In several countries communist parties have taken the socialist label, and noncommunist leftists have sought to differentiate themselves by calling themselves social democrats. Despite their attempts to draw a line between themselves and former communists, social democrats find themselves tainted by the legacy of communist rule. In Hungary and Czechoslovakia, social democratic parties were unable to overcome the 4 and 5 percent barriers necessary to gain representation. Even in East Germany, where social democracy has a long tradition and the Social Democratic party was expected to become the largest party in the first free elections in March 1990, the party received just 21.8 percent of the vote compared to the 48.1 percent for the Christian Democratic-led coalition.

There Is No Third Way

One of the major conclusions to be drawn from the experience of east central Europe in the months following the revolutions is that there is no practicable third way combining market reforms and private property in the context of a national planned economy. Yet the polarized options of laissez-faire capitalism versus state socialism—the so-called first and second ways—are too crude to serve as useful blueprints for reform and too simplistic to conceptualize even the most basic variations across developed political economies.

The aspirations of many intellectuals of the Left across east central and western Europe for a third way as an alternative to western capitalism have been shattered. There are both economic and political reasons for this. Economic reformers are generally convinced that it is impossible to combine centralized state control of the economy alongside an innovative and robust entrepreneurial sector. In a shrinking state sector with fewer lucrative administrative positions there are dwindling incentives for state managers or workers to make enterprises more efficient. At the same time the market itself remains undeveloped. Moreover, the assumption that one could manage these economies by developing centralized national plans cannot overcome the fact that these economies are rapidly becoming intertwined in an international economic system in which many of the most decisive economic influences lie beyond national control. Given a series of unsuccessful attempts to reform state socialism, the new reformers have been driven to the conclusion that a combination of plan and market is the worst of both worlds. The failure of the third way is as much political as economic. Proponents of various third-way options were sensitive to the problems that would be generated by the wholesale introduction of market reforms, yet they did not take up the immediate political challenge of creating a democratic society in the postrevolutionary situations that confronted these societies. The piecemeal changes they conceived were out of touch with demands for political and economic transformation to create a civil society based on individual property ownership. The notion of piecemeal adaption as part of a third way was undercut because it appeared to compromise with state planning and bureaucratic corruption. There are strong pressures to sweep away the remnants of the old system and to prosecute those responsible for fraud, corruption, and the misallocation of resources, pressures that are intensified because many former communist cadres managed to transform their positions of privilege under the old system into ownership of plants and factories in the new.

This is not to say that pure capitalism will be introduced. Those who celebrate a victory of laissez-faire capitalism overlook the fact that all European countries have mixed economies characterized by extensive welfare states, government regulation of industry and the labor market, and the redirection of resources to poor regions and to agriculture. In eastern Europe the state will continue to play a major role in the economy even after market mechanisms have been established. None of these societies have strong laissez-faire traditions; the state has always been centrally involved in the economy, particularly the labor market. In Poland, for example, the "crash course" introduced in January 1990 emphasized state provision of welfare and included economic subsidies, national unemployment insurance, and a retraining program for the unemployed. In Czechoslovakia, state ownership is being dismantled only gradually, and foreign ownership remains under strict state control.

The demise of state socialism in eastern Europe has actually undermined the utility of conceptions of political economy framed in terms of a polarity between laissez-faire capitalism on the one hand and statism on the other. While simplistic conceptions of market versus state have served effectively as ideological guideposts, they are blunt instruments for analyzing concrete choices in the New Europe. With the collapse of state socialism, variations among capitalist political economies are likely to be more significant. To be sure, competitive capital and labor markets will be created in east central Europe, but the extent and character of state regulation will reflect choices that cannot be reduced to an overall preference for the creation of a market society.

Class Is Unlikely to Be the Dominant Cleavage in Eastern Europe

Democratic socialist parties gained little support in the first free elections across eastern Europe, but it is uncertain whether these early results can be extrapolated into the future. The contamination that democratic socialist parties suffered as a result of the extreme unpopularity of communism may erode over time. Socialist parties might gain support from the unemployed and those who suffer economically as a result of market reforms. A new underclass is already forming, partly as a result of mass migration from poorer eastern European countries. In societies where the basic framework of western social democracy is absent one might assume that socialist parties have a clear mission that would attract mass support.


Excerpted from The Crisis of Socialism in Europe by Christiane Lemke, Gary Marks. Copyright © 1992 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

From Decline to Demise? The Fate of Socialism in Europe / Christiane Lemke and Gary Marks 1

Reviewing the Socialist Tradition / Geoff Eley 21

Revolution and Counterrevolution in Eastern Europe / Norman M. Naimark 61

The Crisis of Socialism in Central and Eastern Europe and Socialism's Future / Sharon L. Wolchik 84

Classes and Parties in the Transition to Postcommunism: The Case of Hungary, 1989-1990 / Ivan Szelenyoi and Szonja Szelenyi 114

After the Golden Age: Is Social Democracy Doomed to Decline? / Wolfgang Merkel 136

The West German Left in a Changing Europe: Between Intellectual Stagnation and Redefining Identity / Andrei S. Markovits 171

The Socialist Discourse and Party Strategy in West European Democracies / Herbert Kitschelt 191

Toward a Postsocialist Politics? A Historical Postscript / Konrad H. Jarausch 228

Contributors 241

Index 245

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