Stark, D., Bruszt, L. Postsocialist Pathways. Transforming Politics and Property in East Central Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
”In contrast to the transition problematic (…), we see social change not as transition from one order to another but as transformation - rearrangements, reconfigurations, and recombinations that yield new interweavings of the multiple social logics that are a modern society.”
Stark, D., Bruszt, L. Postsocialist Pathways. Transforming Politics and Property in East Central Europe, p. 7
The book, Postsocialist Pathways. Transforming Politics and Property in East Central Europe (PP), brings an innovative approach to the complex phenomenon of the East Central European transformation. This approach draws neither on the belief in the liberating effects of the spontaneous market nor on the faith in the omnipotent state. Instead it rests on the conviction that both the market and the state are embedded in the broader context of ‘social networks’, which are seen as a possible source of the transformation capacity of the East Central European states (mainly East Germany, Hungary, and the Czech Republic). Based on the collaboration of the American economic sociologist (David Stark, Columbia University) and the Hungarian political scientist (László Bruszt, Central European University) the book presents an alternative view on the events, which have shaped what we call the transformation of East Central Europe. Both authors have extensively published on the issues connected with the problems of recombination of the social, political and economic order in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. In fact, the first three chapters of the book appeared earlier as independent articles. The book won this year’s Political Economy of the World System Book Award.
Since the fall of communism East Europe has undergone an unprecedented transformation which consisted of the simultaneous expansion of property as well as citizenship rights. This simultaneity of economic and political transformation (marketization and democratization) gives the East European transformation process a unique character. Therefore, such a unique event necessitates new approaches in dealing with it.
According to Stark and Bruszt, there are basically two approaches to the analysis of events, which changed the countries of Eastern Europe. The first – neoliberal - approach can be defined as ”the science of the not yet”. According to this view what matters is the Future. The aim that is to be achieved is already available (market economy) and the problem is only the sequencing of measures taken on the road to this ideal. It is not important what is going on now; everything must be subjected to the teleological logic of transition from socialism to market. Therefore, all that has to be done is to imitate the West and apply the blueprint offered by the Western advisors. Contrary to this optimistic view, which due to its naïveté resembles the best times of the building of socialism, the opposite approach emphasizes not the importance of the Future, but the burden of the Past. According to this perspective it is impossible to manage the simultaneous transformation of politics and economy in Eastern Europe. ”Whereas neoliberalism sees blueprints for the imitation of market institutions as the road to progress, the contrary view perceives the weight of the socialist past as so heavy that attempts at marketization and democratization become the path to retrogression” (PP, p. 5).
The path chosen by Stark and Bruszt (path dependency approach) draws on neither optimistic liberalism nor pessimistic authoritarianism. They recommend neither the free market solution of liberals nor the ”Market Leninism” proposed by those unconvinced of the possibility of the simultaneous transformation of economy and politics. According to the proponents of this latter position in order to achieve the market we would need not only the visible, but also the strong hand of the state. As Stark and Bruszt say, contrary to liberals who are interested only in the future, they are interested in ”what present holds for the futurete (PP, p. 7). Contrary to pessimists, who understand the present as fully determined by the past, they see the past as providing ”the institutional resources for change in the present” (Ibid.). In this sense, transformation is taking on the shape of neither imitation (optimists) nor involution (pessimists), but the recombination of the remains of the old order. The transformation is path-dependent which means both that it is influenced by the past legacies and open to the possibilities of a new configuration of these legacies.
Moreover, Stark and Bruszt emphasize that the different paths of extrication from state socialism shaped differences in the further social transformation in the Central European countries. The book mainly compares the cases of East Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic as examples of different strategies of recombination of property as well as political rights. According to Stark and Bruszt there is not anything like the Transition from Socialism to Market order, on the contrary, they continuously emphasize the fact of the plurality and diversity of paths from the old regimes that consequently led to the different types of institutional settings in different East Central European countries. The path of transformation always depended on particular institutional context, significance attached to the particular historical events (e. g. ”1968” in the Czech republic, ”1956” in Hungary), and identities of political actors, which were formed in the particular process of political struggle that marked the end of communism. The diversity of institutional frameworks, which played a decisive role in the privatization of the state property, which is chosen as a distinct feature of the process of marketization, explains the diversity of postsocialist political changes.
The comparative analysis given by Stark and Bruszt is intended to reveal the shortcomings of what they call ”cookbook capitalismblquote .. They argue that, contrary to the established view of East Central Europe as the region on the road to the common market pattern designed by neoliberal advisors, ”East Central Europe must be regarded as undergoing a plurality of transitions” (PP, p. 81). The specificity of different paths of the transition, which has been shaped by particular historical and social contexts, must be taken into account. Therefore, the present changes taking place in the region resemble not the result of plans of a system designer (social engineer), but of a bricoleur. Contrary to the system designer, who is supposed to invent totally new tools for every new situation, the bricoleur in the context of a new situation uses and recombines old tools are already ‘at hand’. Moreover, such a strategy avoids the social damages, which are likely to be caused by the great social experiments designed by social engineers regardless of if they are working in the guise of liberalism or socialism.
The most important message of the book is delivered in the last part, called Deliberative Association. Considering the complexity of the transformation there are basically two answers to the question of how to manage the task of simultaneous democratization and marketization. The liberal solution is the market. According to liberals the new order should come from the spontaneous interactions of the actors in the market. This strategy characterized the first half of the 1990s in East Central Europe. It was often referred to as ‘Shock therapy’. However, due to the failure of the free market solution the question of an alternative approach to the transformational problems was raised. ”To create markets, one cannot rely on markets. The lesson of the East Asia economies is that to strengthen the market one must first strengthen the state” (PP, p.110).
According to Stark and Bruszt neither neoliberal nor neostatist solution are plausible in the context of East Central Europe. Due to the absence of strong states as well as functioning markets their proposal rests on belief in the ‘transformational capacity of social networks’, the profound presence of which is the distinctive feature of East European societies (particularly of Hungary and the Czech Republic; East Germany is a different case). Therefore, any successful transformation strategy must take the networks into account. Neither market nor hierarchy but ”deliberative associations” are prescribed by Stark and Bruszt as the remedy for East European problems. Deliberative associations are ”associative (with identifiable network properties) and they are deliberative (with identifiable discursive properties)” (PP, p. 111)
Stark and Bruszt’s approach draws on the Peter Evans’s concept of the ”embedded autonomy” (Embedded Autonomy. Princeton University Press 1995) of the state and Charles Sabel’s notion of ”developmental associations”. In order to achieve economic development in Eastern Europe, there is no need for the strong state, which would be insulated from the rest of the society, and only under such conditions capable of pursuing an autonomous economic policy as proposed by neostatists. Evans’s notions of embedded autonomy puts emphasis on the state’s embededdness in its social environment. The ties, which connect different social actors with the state, are needed as valuable source of information. Yet at the same time, this state has to be autonomous; although permeated by the social networks, these ”are ties that do not bind” (PP, p. 124). Evans’s notion was originally introduced on the basis of study of undemocratic regimes. Stark and Bruszt reformulate it for the context of Eastern Europe in such a way which corrects two of Evans’s omissions. According to them it is necessary to emphasize the significance of the intermediary function of institutions of the political system, which mediates between the state and society, and to point out that not only the ”elite networks” of state administration, but also ”business networks in the economy can be a fundamental source of economic restructuringote (Ibid.). On the basis of this extension Stark and Bruszt introduce the notion of ”extended accountability” of the state policy face to face with various social interests articulated through the institutions of the social field.
Through the extended deliberations of various social actors the policy of the political elite can be pragmatized and made advantageous for the autonomous actions of institutions of the broader social field. In the context of postsocialism, which inherited a dense structure of networks, it appears plausible to use these existing networks as the developmental associations in the course of transformation. Instead of the East Asian model of the developmental state Stark and Bruszt propose the model of ‘developmental networks’ which can simultaneously stimulate economic development and keep the power of the arbitrary state under the control of a wide range of social actors.
This theoretical approach is than explicated in the context of the transformational strategies used in East Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The main task of this comparative study is to reveal that not unrestrained government (as in the case of Hungary after the elections in 1990 and 1994), but government rooted in the broad context of social relations and constrained enough by the institutional structure of the state (as in Czechoslovakia, in the Czech republic, and in East Germany after the introduction of the institutions of federalism and corpotatism) is likely to formulate a coherent economic policy. It was the Czech political elite which, despite its neoliberal rhetoric, recognized the network character of property assets and pragmatized policy in accordance with this recognition. Although V29 áclav Klaus on the rhetorical level pursued merciless liberalism, in reality he and his governments adjusted every policy proposal during extensive deliberations in order to achieve the consensus of the other sociopolitical actors. The institutional framework of the Czech Republic, with its tripartite deliberation, contributed to the fact that the decisions of the Czech government had to take ex ante into account the opinions and proposals of a wide variety of social actors. Therefore, the Czech Republic government was held accountable until approximately 1994. Whereas the extended accountability of the Czech government in the early 1990s ensured the balanced and relatively successful transformation of the economy, the change of this configuration in the mid nineties consequently caused the end of the ‘Czech miracle’. ”Extended accountability, the factor that made him [Klaus] to ‘pragmatize’ his visions was gone by the mid nineties. He was left on his own, unconstrained, with his vision of the self-regulating market.” (Bruszt 2000, manuscript, p. 26)
Postsocialist Pathways brings an innovative approach to the East European transformation. The network-based analysis overcomes the rigidity of the state/market model and opens new possibilities for scientific research. The book enables the reader to think about well-known problems in new terms. These are provided by the theoretical framework, which does not limit itself to the study of the Western model of capitalism, on the contrary, in order to illuminate the diverse nature of the capitalism, it picks up examples from East Asia as well. I found only one blind spot in the text. The authors might have given more attention to the debate concerning corporatism.
In addition, it would be interesting to include the case of Poland, which is touched only in the first part of the book, among the countries compared. Due to its strong societal organizations such as trade unions and the Catholic church Poland could test the thesis concerning the ”beneficial constraints” (Streeck) put on the government.
There are several sources of possible criticism of the approach deployed by Stark and Bruszt. The first one builds on the significance of the contemporary internationalization (or globalization) of the capitalism. Whereas the path dependency approach emphasizes the importance of particular historical legacies, which served as the building blocks of the new order, it does not specify the influences of the international environment. As Dorothee Bohle states, advocates of path dependency ”fail to properly locate the emerging Eastern European capitalism in the broader context of the current economic and institutional process of internationalization” (Bohle 2000, manuscript, p. 2). According to Bohle the path dependency approach to the East European transformation has to be supplemented by an account of influences of international organizations, transnational corporations, risk rating institutions, global financial markets and the like, which played a decisive part in shaping the path of transitions.
The second possible source of criticism may occur due to the current problems of the Czech Republic, which was presented as the successful story of accountable government and functioning network structures. Because of the mutual cognizance of the state and social networks, Czech policy was much more coherent than in the case of, for example, Hungary, where the networks of social actors were not taken into account. Therefore, the strategy of the Czech transformation (and privatization in particular) was based not on the case-by-case basis as in Hungary, but on the deep insight into the mutual interdependence of the firms. This may be right, but the question arises - is it enough for the successful economic transformation? The macroeconomic indicators of the Czech Republic and Hungary do tell a different story from that implied by David Stark and László Bruszt. In Bohle’s account this problem is closely connected to the underestimation of the international dimension of transformation in Eastern Europe (Bohle 2000). Whereas Bruszt sees roots of Czech economic problems in both the decline of the accountable state and the lack of regulation of the economy (Bruszt 2000), other authors stress the international factor, namely, the decline of the nation-state as such due to the globalization of world economy. Both approaches draw the lines of the possible future research in the field of political economy.
Bohle, D. Internationalization: An Issue Neglected in the Path-Dependency Approach to Post-Communist Transformation. In M. Dobry (ed.) Democratic and Capitalist Transition in Eastern Europe: Lessons for Social Sciences. Dodrdrecht: Kluwer, 2000 (forthcoming).
Bruszt, L. Constituting Markets: The Case of Russia and Czech Republic. In M. Dobry (ed.) Democratic and Capitalist Transition in Eastern Europe: Lessons for Social Sciences. Dodrdrecht: Kluwer, 2000 (forthcoming).
Copyright (c) 1999 Ondřej Císař
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