The State Against Society: Political Crises and Their Aftermath in East Central Europe.
Michael Bernhard, Pennsylvania State University
This is one of those rare works that combines a rich comparative historical understanding with a compelling theoretical framework. Ekiert pinpoints several critical junctures in the institutional evolution (1956-89) of East Central European Communist regimes following the death of Stalin. In this sense the book shares the ambitious theoretical agenda posed by Collier and Collier's Shaping the Political Arena (1991) for Latin America and Luebbert's Liberalism, Fascism, or Social Democracy (1991) for interwar Western Europe.
The three cases used to illustrate these critical junctures are the Hungarian Revolution, the Prague Spring, and the Solidarity period in Poland. It is not the crises per se but their aftermaths that are most significant in the shaping of new institutions. Thus, the dependent variable is the result of the postcrisis demobilization. Ekiert not only explains whether the party-state can secure "reequilibration" (in the sense that Linz coined this term in his work on the breakdown of democracies) but also the nature of the new equilibria. In the Polish case (1980-89) the authorities failed to reestablish equilibrium, and this was the opening that led to the democratization of the region.
In Hungary (1956-63) and Czechoslovakia (1968-76) the party state successfully restored order. Still, the nature of these new equilibria are not what one would expect, given the crises from which they emerged. The rapid uncontrolled mobilization of the Hungarian Revolution and its violent suppression by the Soviet army led to pragmatic and flexible reformist policies after an initial period of strong repression, whereas the much more limited and controlled mobilization of the Prague Spring and the considerably less violent occupation of the country by Warsaw Pact forces led to highly rigid and repressive policies. The Hungarian case was a critical juncture because it set the limits of de-Stalinization. In turn, the Czechoslovak case redefined those limits by curtailing revisionist attempts at reform. This established the institutional conservatism in the bloc associated with Brezhnev's rule in the USSR.
Ekiert comparatively analyzes each case in terms of three independent variables: the capacity of resistance or opposition movements that emerged during the crisis, the capacity and strategies of the party-state, and the international context of the demobilization period. Through the carefully controlled comparison of these variables across the cases, Ekiert provides a convincing explanation for the outcome of all three. It is the sophisticated use of the comparative method across three empirically rich case studies that is the strength of this study as a work of political science. Ekiert further demonstrates the utility of his findings by showing how the variations in outcomes were significant for the patterns of the transition to democracy in all three cases.
The book also makes significant contributions to a revised understanding of East European communist systems. The most important point is that not the actual crises but "the stage of demobilization and reequilibration . . . left the most enduring consequences" for institutional evolution (p. 26). Furthermore, Ekiert's criticism of the conceptualization of postcrisis behavior in communist regimes as "normalization" (defined as a return to the status quo ante) and his use of "reequilibration" are strong improvements both in terms of empirical accuracy and the ability of his theory to account for change.
Ekiert's book also reiterates and provides strong evidence for a number of new understandings which have emerged over the last several years (particularly in the work of younger scholars and those who conducted fieldwork in Eastern Europe in the 1980s). While these ideas cannot be uniquely attributed to Ekiert, he is an eloquent spokesman for many of them. First, his book is yet another confirmation that East European communist regimes were far more fragile than theories of totalitarianism and posttotalitarianism led us to believe. Second, it explains East European politics as a product of the interaction of state and society, which in terms of understanding developments in the 1970s and the 1980s in many of the countries in the region (most notably Poland and Hungary), is an improvement over the more conventional Sovietological approaches that view East European politics as a product of Soviet policies, the overwhelming power of the prerogative state over a subject society, or the primacy of elites. Furthermore, Ekiert provides ample evidence for the related assertion that this state-society relationship was the major source of variation in the domestic politics of the countries of the region. Third and finally, this state-society approach highlights the importance of the domestic politics of individual countries despite political and economic dependence on the USSR. Ekiert's analysis strongly refutes the notion, often encountered in works by analysts with a passing knowledge of Eastern Europe, that democratization is only explainable with reference to developments in the USSR. What analyses such as Ekiert's point out is the significance of events in Eastern Europe for the bloc as a whole, including internal reform in the USSR. In this regard, the failure to reestablish reequilibrium in Poland was critical not only for that country but also for the demise of the Soviet bloc as a whole.
Despite many obvious strengths, the work is open to some minor criticism. For instance, the Hungarian account could have been improved by greater detail on the contours of the New Course policies introduced by Nagy and the successful efforts of the Stalinists to undermine them. In addition, Ekiert underestimates the significance of the changes introduced during the Prague Spring on a systemic level, arguing that "the reformist institutional vision . . . did not depart radically from the major tenets of the Marist-Leninist stateidea" (p. 140). Here I differ with him and see the abolition of censorship, the introduction of the secret ballot in internal party elections, and a degree of economic decentralization as major departures in the direction of a different model of socialism. We will never know if it was a viable one due to the actions of the Warsaw Pact.
On a theoretical level I have only one quibble. Ekiert describes his analysis with three different results, I am at a loss to understand how these represent paths and not just individual developmental trajectories. Even if this is the case, Ekiert's analysis represents an insightful historicism, and this in no way undermines its many significant findings.
The book deserves a wide audience. Its exemplary use of comparison makes it significant for all those interested in small-n qualitative methods. East Europeanists will appreciate Ekiert's attention to detail, his careful interpretations of the cases, and how he builds to a new understanding of the significance of key events in the postwar history of the region. It is also the sort of book that the many political scientists interested in using Eastern European data to test their theories of democratization, party-formation, voting, and so on, should read to develop a keener understanding of the politics of the region.
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|Publication:||American Political Science Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1998|
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