Gareth Dale (ed.) First the Transition, Then the Crash: Eastern Europe in 200Os, Pluto: London, 2011; 271 pp: 0745331157 (pbk) 22.50 [pounds sterling]; 0745331165 (hbk) 67.50 [pounds sterling]
This collection is not a technical or chronological description of economic crisis in Eastern European countries. It provides a sound radical political economy perspective on the economic crisis as a result of the development of the same socio-economic processes that, for some time, explained the 'success' of the countries in question in the eyes of mainstream analysts. This deep theoretical orientation to treat the 'present as history' and to explain social and economic contradictions of growth and the 'crash' in Eastern European capitalisms is a typical feature of the chapters collected in this volume. Another forte of the contributions to First the Transition, Then the Crash is a careful attention to a complex dialectics of external and internal determinations of social change which neither reduces itself to laments on all-powerful forces of globalisation, nor retreats to the methodological nationalism of mainstream transition paradigm.
In the introduction, Gareth Dale specifies his perspective, held in common with at least some of the contributors, on the nature of Soviet-type societies. He considers them to represent state capitalism as a specific form of catching-up industrialisation of historically backward countries combined with relative autarky from the world economy--a kind of extreme form of capitalism during its statist phase. He locates its demise not in the clashes of 1989 but in political and economic trends of the world capitalist economy from the mid-1970s, such as the decline of 'national' models of capitalism including Soviet-type societies, developmentalist import-substitution industrialisation in the Third World, and national planning in the advanced capitalist economies; the slowdown of economic growth and financialisation as its counter-tendency; the rise of neoliberalism as economic policy programme and ideology; the spread of liberal-democratic governments as a tool for legitimation of neoliberal reforms; and the decline of labour movements. In Comecon countries, these trends resulted in the linkage of economic stagnation in the East with rising vulnerability to indebtedness and foreign exchange deficits in relations with the West, and finally to the disappointment of Central and Eastern European (CEE) ruling classes with Soviet-type USSR-centred state capitalism. This made adoption of the deeper integration of the Western-led capitalist economy a possible option for ruling classes, despite all the political contradictions and uneasy prospects associated with the opening up to global competition. The rest of the introduction to the book is devoted to the very broad overview of NATO and EC roles and to dynamics of economic change from the regional Great Depression to rather unfulfilled promise of foreign direct investment.
The second introductory chapter, written by G. M. Tamas, falls out of step with the general book project due to a very high level of abstraction. While the whole collection is quite sensitive to empirical details, this contribution is a political--philosophical reflection on the hidden and impersonal nature of the rule of capital both in Soviet-type and contemporary CEE societies, which brings Tamas to a conclusion that 'in Eastern Europe, capitalism without a bourgeoisie was replaced by capitalism without a bourgeoisie' (p. 37) due to the high presence of transnational capital and the creation of 'the new utopia of a society without industrial and agricultural production' (p. 39), with bourgeois democracy (the multi-party system and the increased role for the judiciary and media) being 'the only true novelty' (p. 40). This conclusion and the whole chapter is largely unsatisfactory because of the vague and over-generalising content of the argument. Despite Tamas's claims to the continuation of a Marxist tradition of political analysis represented in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and The Civil War in France, his own contribution is a far cry from these theory-laden, but empirical works.
The experience of the Russian 'transition' is most extensively covered by the three chapters of Part 1 devoted to it. Mike Haynes provides comprehensive analysis of transformations in the social structure of Russian society, describing changes in the composition of workforce and outlining class relations and class structure. He also proposes the explanation for the passivity of the Russian working class, relating it to the legacy of repressions during the Soviet rule; prolonged economic depression that made workers fight the everyday struggle merely for their survival instead of challenging the power of capital; the confusion of ideas of socialism and trade unionism with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the...