WHAT WAS SOCIALISM,
AND WHAT COMES NEXT?
E D I T
O R S
Sherry B. Ortner, Nicholas B. Dirks, Geoff Eley
PRINCETON STUDIES IN
CULTURE / POWER / HISTORY
WHAT WAS SOCIALISM,
AND WHAT COMES NEXT?
Katherine Verdery
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY
COPYRIGHT  1996 BY PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
PUBLISHED BY PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS, 41 WILLIAM STREET,
PRINCETON, NEW ...
TO MY MOTHER AND
THE MEMORY OF MY FATHER
MELODY AND BASSO CONTINUO
OF MY LIFE’S MUSIC
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Q: What is the definition of socialism?
A: The longest and most painful route from
capitalism to capitalism
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CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION 3
PART I: SOCIALISM
17
ONE
What Was Socialism, and Why Did It Fall?
19
TWO
The “Etatization” ...
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WHAT WAS SOCIALISM,
AND WHAT COMES NEXT?
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INTRODUCTION
Fate had it that when I found myself at the head of the state it
was already clear that all was not well in t...
4
INTRODUCTION
2
socialism for many who fought to produce and sustain it, both in the Soviet
Union itself and in social...
INTRODUCTION
5
spy thrillers. Inevitably, the Cold War as context fundamentally influenced
all scholarship on “real socia...
6
INTRODUCTION
less. That I was not immune to this allure emerges retrospectively from
certain features of my early life...
INTRODUCTION
7
lated debts to the people I studied and to the government whose hospitality
had permitted me to gather da...
8
INTRODUCTION
16
ism ) had not been in my plans but was, in effect, forced on me by Romania’s response to that moment ...
INTRODUCTION
9
ment I saw “Communism’s” special appeal for me as partly rooted in a projection: in studying totalitarian...
10
INTRODUCTION
The Study of Postsocialism and the Themes of This Book
Although one might think that the collapse of the...
INTRODUCTION
11
populist revelations of “corruption.” “Democracy” is being unmasked too, as
the export of Western electo...
12
INTRODUCTION
vatization, and nationalism. My treatment of these themes does not much
resemble other things being writ...
INTRODUCTION
25
13
of privatization. The secondary but highly politicized role of consumption
in socialism’s political e...
14
INTRODUCTION
more generally. Clearly, research into postsocialist democratization must be
attentive to gender. The wa...
INTRODUCTION
15
decollectivization with the way land was treated under socialism. Many of
these points will be useful in...
16
INTRODUCTION
of them perhaps approximating Western capitalist market economies and
many of them not. Stark writes, fo...
PART ONE
SOCIALISM
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1
WHAT WAS SOCIALISM, AND WHY DID IT FALL?
T
HE STARTLING DISINTEGRATION of Communist Party rule in
Eastern Europe in 19...
20
CHAPTER ONE
nese, West German, and North American societies as variants of a single
capitalist system. Acknowledging,...
WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL?
21
right amounts. So they would respond by bargaining their plan: demanding
mo...
22
CHAPTER ONE
sand pounds of glue. Moreover, he says he needs two new power stitchers
from Germany, without which he ca...
WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL?
23
on the books, even though most of the time he needed fewer; and since all
o...
24
CHAPTER ONE
Surveillance and Paternalistic Redistribution
In each country, some equivalent of the KGB was instrumenta...
WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL?
25
ple needed—cheap food, jobs, medical care, affordable housing, education,
a...
26
CHAPTER ONE
selves further productive. Socialist regimes wanted not just eggs but the
goose that lays them. Thus if c...
WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL?
27
Each country addressed this tension in its own way. For example, Hungary af...
28
CHAPTER ONE
supposed to sell them cheap to the state farm, for export. Romanian villagers
who fed me veal (having ass...
WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL?
29
second economy to grow food or make clothes or work after hours but also,
s...
30
CHAPTER ONE
means of production upon which both bureaucracy and center relied. If
productive activity were so stifled ...
WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL?
31
In event-history terms, the proximate cause of the fall of East European
an...
32
CHAPTER ONE
The loans became available just at the moment when all across the socialist bloc, the first significant rou...
WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL?
33
the Kremlin, the more significant aspects of reform, however, were in the
of...
34
CHAPTER ONE
ageable for socialist systems. Without wanting to present recent capitalism’s “flexible specialization” as...
WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL?
35
inside socialist countries whose structural situation facilitated their ful...
36
CHAPTER ONE
Like the reorganization of capitalism at the end of the nineteenth century,
the present reorganization en...
Politics; what was socialism and what comes next
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Politics; what was socialism and what comes next

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  • 1. WHAT WAS SOCIALISM, AND WHAT COMES NEXT?
  • 2. E D I T O R S Sherry B. Ortner, Nicholas B. Dirks, Geoff Eley PRINCETON STUDIES IN CULTURE / POWER / HISTORY
  • 3. WHAT WAS SOCIALISM, AND WHAT COMES NEXT? Katherine Verdery PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY
  • 4. COPYRIGHT  1996 BY PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS PUBLISHED BY PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS, 41 WILLIAM STREET, PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY 08540 IN THE UNITED KINGDOM: PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS, CHICHESTER, WEST SUSSEX ALL RIGHTS RESERVED LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA VERDERY, KATHERINE. WHAT WAS SOCIALISM, AND WHAT COMES NEXT? / KATHERINE VERDERY. P . CM.—(PRINCETON STUDIES IN CULTURE/POWER/HISTORY) INCLUDES BIBLIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCES AND INDEX. ISBN 0-691-01133-8 (CL. : ALK. PAPER). — ISBN 0-691-01132-X (PBK. : ALK. PAPER) 1. SOCIALISM—ROMANIA. 2. COMMUNISM—ROMANIA. 3. POST-COMMUNISM— ROMANIA. 4. POST-COMMUNISM. I. TITLE. II. SERIES. HX373.5.V47 338.9498—DC20 1996 95-32123 THIS BOOK HAS BEEN COMPOSED IN CALEDONIA PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS BOOKS ARE PRINTED ON ACID-FREE PAPER AND MEET THE GUIDELINES FOR PERMANENCE AND DURABILITY OF THE COMMITTEE ON PRODUCTION GUIDELINES FOR BOOK LONGEVITY OF THE COUNCIL ON LIBRARY RESOURCES PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BY PRINCETON ACADEMIC PRESS 1 3 5 7 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 9 10 8 6 4 2 (PBK.)
  • 5. TO MY MOTHER AND THE MEMORY OF MY FATHER MELODY AND BASSO CONTINUO OF MY LIFE’S MUSIC
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  • 7. Q: What is the definition of socialism? A: The longest and most painful route from capitalism to capitalism
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  • 9. CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 3 PART I: SOCIALISM 17 ONE What Was Socialism, and Why Did It Fall? 19 TWO The “Etatization” of Time in CeauŒescu’s Romania 39 PART II: IDENTITIES: GENDER, NATION, CIVIL SOCIETY 59 THREE From Parent-State to Family Patriarchs: Gender and Nation in Contemporary Eastern Europe 61 FOUR Nationalism and National Sentiment in Postsocialist Romania FIVE Civil Society or Nation? “Europe” in the Symbolism of Postsocialist Politics 104 PART III: PROCESSES: TRANSFORMING PROPERTY, MARKETS, AND STATES 131 SIX The Elasticity of Land: Problems of Property Restitution in Transylvania 133 SEVEN Faith, Hope, and Caritas in the Land of the Pyramids, Romania, 1990–1994 168 EIGHT A Transition from Socialism to Feudalism? Thoughts on the Postsocialist State 204 Afterword NOTES 229 235 INDEX 289 83
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  • 11. WHAT WAS SOCIALISM, AND WHAT COMES NEXT?
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  • 13. INTRODUCTION Fate had it that when I found myself at the head of the state it was already clear that all was not well in the country. . . . Everything had to be changed radically. . . . The process of renovating the country and radical changes in the world economy turned out to be far more complicated than could be expected. . . . However, work of historic significance has been accomplished. The totalitarian system . . . has been eliminated. . . . We live in a new world. (Mikhail Gorbachev, resignation speech, 1991) T HE TWENTIETH CENTURY might fairly be called the Bolshevik century. From the moment of the Soviet Union’s emergence after the October Revolution, the presence of this new historical actor on the world stage affected every important event. Its birth changed the fortunes of World War I. The Allied victory in World War II owed much to the prodigious human and material capacities the Soviets were able to mobilize— despite the prior loss of many millions and vast resources from the purges, gulags, collectivization, and man-made famines of the 1930s.1 So successful was the wartime effort that Stalin was able to bring into the Soviet sphere a number of other countries in Eastern Europe at the war’s end. The presence of the Soviet Union in the world shaped not only international but internal politics everywhere, from Western European social-welfare policies to the many Third-World struggles that advanced under Soviet aegis. In the United States, fear of “Communism” and grudging respect for Soviet capabilities spurred violations of civil rights during the McCarthy period, a massive arms buildup, and substantial development from spin-off technology. Who could have foreseen that with Mikhail Gorbachev’s resignation speech of 25 December 1991 so mighty an empire would simply vanish? Television cameras lingered on its final image: the small red table at which he had sat. The Soviet Union’s meek exit belies not only its tremendous power and influence during the twentieth century but also the positive meaning of For thoughtful and sometimes strenuous reaction to an early form of this chapter, I offer my thanks to Michael Burawoy, Elizabeth Dunn, Ernestine Friedl, Michael Kennedy, Gail Kligman, Sidney Mintz, and Gale Stokes. I wish to note here as well a larger debt of gratitude to Elizabeth Dunn and Gale Stokes, for their generous help concerning the project of this book as a whole; to the International Research and Exchanges Board, for its largesse with funding; and to Mary Murrell and Lauren Oppenheim of Princeton University Press, for their work in expediting publication. All translations from Romanian in this book are my own.
  • 14. 4 INTRODUCTION 2 socialism for many who fought to produce and sustain it, both in the Soviet Union itself and in socialist-inspired liberation movements elsewhere. Although the people who created such movements were often few in number, they articulated the dissatisfactions of millions. Inequality, hunger, poverty, and exploitation—to these perennial features of the human condition socialism offered a response. It promised laboring people dignity and freedom, women equal pay for equal work, and national minorities equal rights in the state. By making these promises, it drew attention to major problems that capitalist liberal democracies had not adequately resolved. Unfortunately, the execution of socialist programs encountered a number of snags; attempts to rectify them ended by corrupting its objectives, sometimes through monstrous, despicable policies that subjected hundreds of thousands to terror and death. These departures from the ideal led many committed Marxists to abandon their support of the left;3 the expression “real” or “actually existing” socialism came into use, to distinguish its messy reality from its hopes and claims.4 In addition to making socialism more difficult to support, real socialism’s distasteful features made it harder to study. Criticism and exasperation came more readily than sympathy—and were more readily rewarded with notice. Those who sought to analyze it with an open mind could be dismissed as wild-eyed radicals or apologists of dictatorship. In the United States, one reason for this was the continuing legacy of the Cold War. The Cold War and the Production of Knowledge Some might argue that the twentieth century was not the Bolshevik but the American century, in which the United States became a global power, led the struggle of the free world against the Bolshevik menace, and emerged victorious. Although I am partial to neither the oversimplification nor the martial imagery of that account, there is no doubt that the Cold-War relationship between the two superpowers set the defining stamp on the century’s second half. More than simply a superpower face-off having broad political repercussions, the Cold War was also a form of knowledge and a cognitive organization of the world.5 It laid down the coordinates of a conceptual geography grounded in East vs. West and having implications for the further divide between North and South. Mediating the intersection of these two axes were socialism’s appeal for many in the “Third World” and the challenges it posed to the First. As an organization of thought, the Cold War affected both public perceptions and intellectual life. It shaped the work of the physicists and engineers who engaged in defense research, of the social scientists specializing in Kremlinology, of the novelists and cinematographers who produced
  • 15. INTRODUCTION 5 spy thrillers. Inevitably, the Cold War as context fundamentally influenced all scholarship on “real socialism,” and especially scholarship in the U.S.6 Because the material in this book is a product of the Cold War, then, I might speak briefly about what it has meant to study Eastern Europe in that context. Without wishing to be overly autobiographical, I believe this sort of reflection appropriately frames the production of knowledge in which I have been engaged, as seen in the chapters that follow. I emphasize here both the institutional environment and the processes of personal identity formation to which the Cold War was central in my case, leaving aside other aspects of the North American academy or personal choices to which it seems extraneous. I began preparing to work in Eastern Europe in 1971. In the most general sense, research there at that time was possible only because a Cold War was in progress and had awakened interest in the region, and because that war had abated somewhat into détente.7 Détente brought with it the rise of funding organizations like the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), founded in 1968 expressly to mediate scholarly exchanges with the Soviet bloc, and the National Council for Soviet and East European Research (NCSEER, 1978).8 Without détente, and without the desperate interest of socialist regimes in increased access to Western technology—the price for which was to let in scholars from the West—our research there would have been impossible. Similarly, between 1973 and 1989 ongoing scholarly access to the region depended on U.S. politicians’ view that knowledge about socialist countries was of sufficient strategic importance to warrant federal funding for it. Within my discipline, anthropology, there was little to incline one to work in Eastern Europe. On the contrary: in 1971, when I began to think about where I would go, Europe was not the place a budding anthropologist would choose. The great books dealt with Oceania, Africa, or Native America— with “primitives.” Few anthropologists had worked in Europe (being “our own” society, it had low prestige), and one rarely found their publications on graduate syllabi. But anthropology has long rewarded an explorer principle: go to uncharted territory. Given that anthropological interest in Europe began relatively late, as of 1971 almost no fieldwork had been done in the eastern part of the continent—precisely because of the Cold War.9 Eastern Europe was less known to anthropology than was New Guinea; this meant that any research there, even if not prestigious, would at least be “pioneering.” To allure of this professional kind one might add the romantic aura, the hint of danger, adventure, and the forbidden, that clung to the Iron Curtain and infused the numerous spy stories about those who penetrated it. To go behind the Iron Curtain would be to enter a heart of darkness different from that of Conrad’s Africa or Malinowski’s Melanesia, but a darkness nonethe-
  • 16. 6 INTRODUCTION less. That I was not immune to this allure emerges retrospectively from certain features of my early life. For example, I still actively recall the launching of Sputnik in 1957, when I was in the fourth grade. Although I surely did not understand its significance, I got the strong message that it was very important indeed; my recollection of Sputnik is so clear that I remember vividly the space of the classroom in which we were talking about it (just as many people remember exactly where they were when they learned the news of President Kennedy’s assassination). Then there was my ill-fated attempt to teach myself Russian when I was twelve (it foundered when I got to declensions, something of which I had never heard). Again, a few years later, out of an infinite array of possible topics for my high school speech contest, the subject I picked was the evils of Soviet Communism. Finally, there was my reaction to the map of Europe that a fellow graduate student acquired just as I was deliberating where to go for my dissertation research. As we pored over the wonderful place names in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, I found myself becoming very excited. The closer we got to the Black Sea, the more excited I became: I was truly stirred at the prospect of working in a “Communist” country having all those terrific names. Because I had no specific research problem in mind (I just wanted to see what life “behind the Iron Curtain” would be like), nothing dictated my choice of a specific country to work in. I chose Romania from the wholly pragmatic consideration that at that moment, it was the only East European country in which one could do ethnographic fieldwork with relative ease. The reason was major upheavals in the other countries—in Poland in 1968 and 1970, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, in Hungary with its conflict-ridden shift to market mechanisms beginning in 1968—leading them to close themselves off, whereas the Romanian regime had recently chosen a path of greater openness.10 Those upheavals bespoke a growing crisis in the socialist system, but the crisis was delayed in Romania; hence, that government permitted anthropological fieldwork—and, according to the Fulbright handbooks, even invited it.11 Notwithstanding this invitation, the Cold War placed a number of constraints on North Americans doing research there—on the kinds of topics we might pursue, the ways we thought about them, and our physical movements.12 Concerning possible research topics, for example, I could not have submitted a proposal dealing with the organization of socialism; hence, my two proposed research projects were a regional analysis of social-status concepts and a study of the distribution of distinctive ethnographic microzones. When neither of those proved feasible for the village I had selected, I did a social history of Romanian-German ethnic relations—having been advised against a study of the local collective farm. Not only were my research topics constrained; so was the attitude I felt I could adopt in my work. I accumu-
  • 17. INTRODUCTION 7 lated debts to the people I studied and to the government whose hospitality had permitted me to gather data; outright criticism seemed to be foreclosed. Fortunately, my village respondents’ more or less positive assessment of socialism during the early 1970s made it easy to avoid public criticism, as did my own admiration for some of the achievements of the regime up to that point. It was only after the mid 1980s that my attitude became unequivocally negative. Another constraint—one that greatly affected the anthropology of Eastern Europe—was the privileged place accorded the discipline of political science in creating knowledge about the region, owing to the strategic importance of the socialist world for U.S. politics. In the absence of a preexisting anthropological discourse on Europe more broadly, the hegemony of political science strongly influenced the way the anthropology of Eastern Europe developed. It proved all too easy, in retrospect, to solve the problem of how to find an audience by reacting to the issues posed in political science. This meant adopting much of the conceptual agenda of that powerful interlocutor13—nationalism, regime legitimacy, the planning process, development, the nature of power in socialist systems, and so forth—rather than defining a set of problems more directly informed by the intellectual traditions of anthropology. A third constraint of research during the Cold War was on movement—a particular problem for anyone not residing in a major city, as anthropologists rarely do. For example, because I had inadvertently entered a military zone on my motorbike soon after I arrived, county authorities were convinced that I was a spy, and the proximity of the village where I lived to an armaments factory only confirmed this suspicion. My movements were closely monitored throughout the period between 1973 and 1989, sometimes to comic proportions (such as when I picked up a police tail during a trip to a hard-currency shop, and my truck-driver chauffeur—hauling a huge crane—sought to shake them off ). Whenever a local cop or some politico wanted to score points with those higher up, he might “confirm” my reputation as a spy, noting that I continued to work year after year among people who commuted to the armaments factory. This reputation was so firmly entrenched that it followed me well into the 1990s. Thus the Cold War turned me into a resource that local authorities could use in pursuit of their own advancement, as well as a means to intimidate and seduce Romanian citizens into collaborating with the Secret Police.14 During 1984–85, the surveillance placed not only on me but also on my respondents finally made it impossible for me to do fieldwork in rural areas at all.15 In this way, regime repression altered my entire research program, compelling me to abandon ethnographic projects in villages for library research and interviews with urban intellectuals. The result of that work (National Ideology under Social-
  • 18. 8 INTRODUCTION 16 ism ) had not been in my plans but was, in effect, forced on me by Romania’s response to that moment in the Cold War. The Cold War affected my research even in this new project, for some of the intellectuals I worked with thought of themselves as dissidents in their relation to the Romanian Communist Party. They were eager to talk with me, thereby attracting to their cause that most crucial of dissident resources: Western notice. The ongoing Cold War had made dissent within socialist countries a weapon in the hands of Western ones; dissidence would spark international protests and signature campaigns or other forms of pressure on socialist regimes. Thus although my topic—national ideology among Romanian intellectuals—turned out to be more sensitive than I had expected, I never lacked for willing respondents. This was true in part because both they and I were not merely “individuals” but points of intersection for the forces engaged in a much larger political struggle: that between “Communism” and “the free world.” The Cold War and Personal Identity Those forces not only made me a privileged interlocutor for certain Romanians but in a peculiar way may also have acted even more deeply in my character, constituting my interest in Eastern Europe as in part an intrapsychic one. In saying this, and in exploring the Cold War’s ramifications in personal identity, I do not mean to claim that other scholars’ motives for studying socialism arose from similar causes but only to probe further for the structuring effects of the Cold War.17 As I recall my excitement over the map of Eastern Europe, alongside the other early signs of my fascination with Russia, I see an idiosyncratic affinity between the anti-Communism of American society and certain aspects of my character. Through the Cold War, Soviet Communism came to represent the ultimate in Absolute Power and Authority—that was, after all, what totalitarianism meant—something I found at once frightening and captivating. A moment of epiphany during my fieldwork in the disastrous mid-1980s, when Romania was about the last socialist country anyone would want to be in,18 led me to wonder at the roots of the fascination. Having spent an exhilarating day with some Romanian friends getting around the endless obstacles the regime placed in everyone’s way, I realized that despite the cold apartments and unavailable food and constant Securitate surveillance, I was having a good time, and it had to do with the satisfaction of defeating Absolute Authority. I realized all of a sudden that the Party’s claims to total power over Romanian society were subverted every day by thoroughgoing anarchy, and somehow I found such an environment very invigorating. At that mo-
  • 19. INTRODUCTION 9 ment I saw “Communism’s” special appeal for me as partly rooted in a projection: in studying totalitarianism, I had found an ostensibly neutral, scholarly sphere in which to externalize and explore my own internal admonitory voice. Had the Cold War not constructed “Communism” in this way—particularly in my most formative years, the 1950s19—such that the Soviet Union was Authority Incarnate, I might have found Eastern Europe less interesting. And had the U.S. government not defined this incarnate authority as the main threat to our national security, there might have been fewer material resources for pursuing my choice. For these reasons, I believe, my research into socialism was the direct product of the Cold War. So, paradoxically, was my relation to Marxist theory, which has exercised much influence on my work. An interest in Marxism did not precede my research in Romania but rather emerged from it. I first went “behind the Iron Curtain” out of curiosity (enlivened by what I have said above) rather than from political or intellectual commitment to Marxist ideals. I wanted to see what life there would be like, not to offer a critique of either their system or ours. When I departed for the field in August 1973, I had read no Marx or Lenin (though my bibliography did include Eric Wolf ’s work on peasant exploitation)—further testimony, I would say, to the effects of the Cold War on North American intellectual life. As a result, the form in which I first came really to know Marxism was its institutionalized and propagandizing one, encountered through the Romanian media and my fieldwork. Witnessing the chasm that separated this Marxism’s expressed goals from the values and intentions of ordinary folk brought home to me how difficult was the task of revolutionary mobilization in the absence of extensive prior consciousness-raising. The point was made succinctly in a conversation one day with two women, members of the collective farm in the village I was studying. When they launched a contempt-ridden, culture-of-poverty diatribe against the “lazy” Gypsies who hung around the farm, I tried to counter with the social-structural critique of that idea. As I spoke, one of the women turned to the other and said, “She’s more of a socialist than we are!” Repeated exposure to observations like this, together with Romanians’ determined refusal to be made into “new socialist men” despite their ready acknowledgment that they derived some benefits from the system, served oddly to crystallize for me a new interest in socialism. Upon my return from the field, in 1975, I discovered dependency theory and related neo-Marxist writings, and I entered a department very respectful of Marx’s intellectual heritage.20 Reading and admiring Capital was thus the culmination, not the beginning, of my research into “real socialism.” The result was a commitment to the critique of capitalist forms through the critical examination of socialist ones. In my own modest example, then, it might be said that the chickens of the Cold War came home to roost.
  • 20. 10 INTRODUCTION The Study of Postsocialism and the Themes of This Book Although one might think that the collapse of the Soviet system would render nugatory any further interest in it, I am not of that opinion. The Soviet Union may be irretrievably gone, but the electoral victories of renamed Communist Parties in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and elsewhere have shown that the Party is far from over. Indeed, exposure to the rigors of primitive capitalism has made a number of people in the region think twice about their rejection of socialism and their embrace of “the market.” The former socialist world is still well worth watching, for several reasons. This postsocialist moment offers at least three sets of opportunities, all having both scholarly and political significance. First is the opportunity to understand better what is actually happening in the region, if we can set aside the triumphalist assumption that free-market democracies are the inevitable outcome. How, in fact, are East Europeans managing their exit from socialism? Just what does it take to create capitalism and “free” markets? What sorts of human engineering, not to mention violence, chaos, and despair, does that entail? What are the hidden costs of establishing new nationstates? (The answers offered by former Yugoslavia and the Caucasus are disquieting, to say the least.) Do the electoral victories of the re-formed and renamed Communist Parties reflect simply their better organization based in long experience, or genuine public feeling about desirable political ends that they articulate better than others—or perhaps something altogether different, such as people’s wish to be “villagers” rather than reverting to the “peasant” status that postsocialist parties would force on them?21 Work on such questions would permit a more nuanced assessment both of our own “Western” trajectory and of the policies that might be appropriate toward one or another country of the region. To investigate these questions, I argue herein, requires a theoretically grounded understanding of the system that has crumbled and an ethnographic sensitivity to the particulars of what is emerging from its ruins. This does not mean that only anthropologists need apply,22 but it does mean attempting to suspend judgment about the outcome. It also means acknowledging that such phenomena as “privatization,” “markets,” “civil society,” and so on are objects of investigation saturated with ideological significance; we must question rather than mindlessly reinforce them. A second opportunity, related to the first, is to broaden a critique of Western economic and political forms by seeing them through the eyes of those experiencing their construction. The forced pace of privatization, for example, reveals with special clarity the darker side of capitalism. Far from being mere demagoguery, nationalist objections to the plundering of these countries’ wealth are reactions to visible processes of impoverishment; so too are
  • 21. INTRODUCTION 11 populist revelations of “corruption.” “Democracy” is being unmasked too, as the export of Western electoral practices makes their failings transparent, arousing shocked commentary—from Poles and East Germans, for instance, at the emphasis on sound bites and candidate packaging to the detriment of debate over principles and ideas. It is possible that as Romanians, Russians, Poles, Latvians, and others live through the effort to create liberal democracies and market economies, they will be driven to a criticism of these forms even more articulate than before, and perhaps to new imaginings of a more viable socialism. Such new imaginings would be the more fruitful if coupled with the third opportunity of this postsocialist conjuncture: the fuller understanding of what actually existing socialism was. Whether one sees it as a system sui generis or as a peculiar and repellent version of capitalism, its features distinguished it from other sociopolitical organizations of human activity. Now that its archives are more open to inspection, we may learn a great deal that we did not know about how it functioned. This would enable thinking differently about how to avoid its mistakes, and that, in turn, would continue the thrust of some of the pre-1989 work on the region. For a number of scholars,23 part of the impetus for studying socialism was to combat both the stereotypical, propagandizing notions of it so common in the U.S. media and also the utopian and idealized images held by Western leftists who had not experienced living in it; both contributed to a larger project of political critique. The goal of further study might be simply the ethnographic one of trying to grasp the variety of human social arrangements. More politically, the goal might be to consider possible futures and signal the problems with some of them; for critics of capitalism, knowledge and critique of the actual forms of socialism was and should remain a foremost priority, part of a persistent quest for viable alternatives to our own way of life. For both these goals, investigating socialism was a useful task. I believe it still is. This book aims to encourage work on socialism and postsocialism in these directions. It is not primarily a book about Romania (the area of my research), even though much of my material comes from that country, but rather a book indicating how we might think about what socialism was and what comes after it. Some might argue that Romania is not a “typical” case and therefore is a poor guide for postsocialist studies, but I do not share this opinion. No socialist country was “typical”; each had its specificities, and each shared certain features with some but not all other countries of the bloc. To assume that conclusions drawn from one will apply to all would be unwise, but material from any of them can nevertheless raise questions that might prove fruitful elsewhere. That is my purpose here: to point to questions one might ask or approaches one might take in studying the several countries of the former Soviet bloc. To this end, I include chapters on the main themes of the “transition” literature—civil society, marketization, pri-
  • 22. 12 INTRODUCTION vatization, and nationalism. My treatment of these themes does not much resemble other things being written on them, however; I hope the differences will stimulate thought. The chapters brought together here consist of essays written between 1988 and 1994. Unifying them is the theoretical model of socialism provided in chapter 1; the later chapters, concerning the “transition,” presuppose this model even as they augment it or examine departures from the system it describes. That is, I see my overall theme as exploring how the operation of socialism influences what comes next. The first and second chapters treat the socialist period, while the remainder either span the divide between pre- and post-1989 or concentrate on developments subsequent to that year. Chapter 1 is a compressed version of a longer analysis of the socialist system.24 I present socialism as an ideal type, leaving aside for the moment its varied real-world manifestations; in like manner, it is often useful to speak analytically of “capitalism,” for despite differences among countries like Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia, these cases also show important similarities. In offering a single model of socialism, I sought to synthesize work by East European scholars that would help organize our approach to socialist societies by stating the central principles that gave them coherence as a system of family resemblances. Like all ideal-type models, mine describes no actual socialist society perfectly. Moreover, it emphasizes the system’s formal constitution rather more than the forms of resistance it engendered, which were among the most important sources of variation from one country to another (owing in part to differences in the countries’ historical experiences). At best, the model signals certain social processes as fundamental while acknowledging both that these were not the only processes at work and that they were more fundamental to some socialist societies than to others. Parts of subsequent chapters fill out the discussion in chapter 1: these include further treatment of the “spoiler state” and how subjection was produced, of queues as a form of socialist accumulation, and of socialist temporality (chapter 2); socialism’s gender regime (chapter 3); its “social schizophrenia” and the relation of a shortage economy to nationalism (chapter 4); and its property regime (chapter 6). I believe that a model of this kind retains its heuristic utility even after 1989, for two reasons. First, it provides a framework for thinking further about the nature of socialism, from the new vantage point of its aftermath. Because the workings of a system often appear most clearly with its decomposition, we can expect to learn a great deal about socialism retrospectively. In thinking about these new insights, I find it helpful not to start the inquiry from scratch. Second, a heuristic model serves to indicate problem areas that might be particularly important and interesting in the “transition.” The pervasiveness of intersegmental competition in the Party and state bureaucracies, for example, can be expected to give a special twist to programs
  • 23. INTRODUCTION 25 13 of privatization. The secondary but highly politicized role of consumption in socialism’s political economy will surely make consumption an especially intriguing topic to follow.26 Changes in the status of property and markets suggest other interesting questions, such as, How is the mix of “personal” and “depersonalized” being (re)configured in once-socialist societies? That is, how can we think about the juxtaposition of privatization in land, say— personalizing a once-collective good—with the kinds of depersonalization characteristic of markets?27 Another locus of significant change is the organization of labor in postsocialist factories, which will provide fascinating evidence about the relationship between workers’ habits under “economies of shortage” and the kinds of behavior intended with the introduction of Western business practices and ideologies.28 In chapter 2 I take up a theme that appeared in chapter 1 and is echoed in chapter 7: the organization of time under socialism. Anthropologists and historians have explored differences in how time is organized and lived across different kinds of social orders. Following this lead, chapter 2 sketches the efforts of the Romanian Communist Party to organize and appropriate time and shows the effects of these policies for how human beings are made into social persons. I include this chapter because I believe that reorganizations of time will prove an especially significant and disconcerting aspect of postsocialism for those who live through its changes, and one likely to be ignored by those who study them. The postsocialist equivalent of E. P. Thompson’s celebrated essay on the imposition of capitalist work rhythms is waiting to be written;29 I hope to provoke someone to write it. The theme of socialist time appears again in chapter 7, as contributing to the millenarian attitudes of Romanian investors in the Caritas pyramid scheme. Chapters 3 through 5 treat various facets of national identity: how it might relate to the transforming gender regimes of socialism and postsocialism, how the organization of socialism laid the groundwork for increased ethnic conflict after 1989, and how preconstituted nationalist discourses shape the political symbolism that can be used in building “civil society.” For anyone familiar with Eastern Europe, there is no need to justify giving this much space to the theme of national identity, which is fundamental to politics and self-constitution throughout the region; perhaps nonspecialists might simply take my word for it.30 Chapter 4 focuses directly on nationalism, while chapters 3 and 5 add to it two other themes—gender and civil society—significant in their own right. Chapter 3 asks how gender and national identities intersected in socialism, suggesting that gendered imagery in national myths masculinizes the nation’s lineage, feminizes territorial boundaries, and eroticizes national sentiment. In addition, the chapter presents preliminary data indicating that a new form of “patriarchy” has accompanied democratization, making the basic citizen of democracy male, as some feminists have suggested is true
  • 24. 14 INTRODUCTION more generally. Clearly, research into postsocialist democratization must be attentive to gender. The way gender was organized under socialism figures importantly in other aspects of the transition as well; one reason is that the several ways in which gender equality was legislated served to reinforce the significance of gender difference even while ostensibly undermining it. This makes gender, like nationalism, a strengthened vehicle of postsocialist politics. The result, however, has not been—as it has with national identities— political mobilization behind gender-based political movements but rather an assault on feminism by nationalist ideologues, who see the health of the nation as dependent on women’s subordinating their bodies and interests to the collective task of national “rebirth.” In chapter 4, I argue (along with others31) that postsocialist nationalism is best understood in terms of the workings of socialism, but unlike others I concentrate on its organization of the person, or self, and on the ethnic symbolism of postsocialist anxieties. As with gender, reinforcement of national identities during the socialist period privileges them as foci of organization in postsocialism, for reasons that chapter 4 only begins to indicate. A point this chapter touches upon—the link between nationalists and certain exParty apparatchiks—deserves further thought. One argument might be that nationalism is the form of political discourse preferred by all those who want to retain maximum power for the socialist state upon which they had become such adept parasites, and which openness to foreign capital would compromise. In other words, nationalists and ex-Communists share a defense not so much of the nation as of the state, which they wish to shield from foreign predation. In chapter 5 I further explore a specific way in which national ideas have influenced post-1989 politics in Romania: through their effects on “civil society.” In this chapter I treat civil society as a symbolic construct deployed in political argument, rather than as a “thing” to be “built.” Such a procedure is one response to finding that the idea of civil society has proven to be both more complex and more slippery than it might seem.32 I argue that in the Romanian case, the long-term prior development and institutionalization of the idea of “nation” has limited the political efficacy of ideas like “civil society.” Although I realize that any analysis of politics must be attentive to more than just the properties of the symbols employed, examining as well the institutional situations and the balance of forces among competing parties, perhaps my discussion will encourage others to be more skeptical about what “civil society” may actually mean when various groups use it in political speech. Chapter 6 examines a theme mentioned briefly in chapter 4 and more extensively in chapter 8: privatization. The kind of research supporting the chapter, village ethnography, restricts the form of privatization I can analyze to the decollectivization of agriculture. In this chapter I link problems of
  • 25. INTRODUCTION 15 decollectivization with the way land was treated under socialism. Many of these points will be useful in thinking about decollectivization in other countries of the region, including the Baltic states. I show that although many critics charge the Romanian government with explicitly obstructing the return of land to its former owners, this task is so fraught with complexities that even the best government intentions might run aground on it. In so arguing, however, I do not contend that the Romanian government is in fact eager to see property restitution completed; instead, the maintenance of ambiguous property rights seems crucial to the post-1989 organization of power in that country (and quite possibly elsewhere). The material in this chapter might lead to two things the chapter itself does not attempt: a more vigorous critique of the very notion of property, and the relation of land restitution to ideas about the “nation” as a collective “possessive individual” (an entity that “has” a territory).33 In chapter 7 I analyze a remarkable occurrence of the early 1990s: the rise and fall of pyramid schemes, epitomized in the spectacular Romanian pyramid known as Caritas. This chapter engages another major theme of postsocialism—the development of markets—and treats it as part of the larger problem of cognitive transformation accompanying the end of the socialist system. In addition, the chapter describes some ways of accumulating both political capital (an aspect of the pluralization of politics) and also other kinds of wealth, and it offers some speculations about the sociopolitical structure of the transition (such as “mafias”) that are taken up again in the final chapter. I treat Caritas, then, as a window onto multiple facets of life in postsocialist Romania, among them democracy, markets, privatization, and the accompanying changes in culture. Finally, chapter 8 uses the metaphor of a transition to feudalism in order to explore the consequences of the party-state’s decomposition. In investigating how state power is being altered and reconstituted, this chapter contributes to an emerging anthropology of the state. It revisits the question of privatization—seen now as both a symbolic construct and an arena for state formation—and discusses “mafia” similarly, as both a symbol and an actual process whereby power is privatized. Additionally, the chapter recapitulates from a different angle the point in chapter 5 about the politics of symbols, proposing that the metaphors and symbols we use as analysts in thinking about postsocialism may reveal (or suppress) important topics for investigation. I have used the word “transition” several times and should say a word about my views of it. In my opinion, to assume that we are witnessing a transition from socialism to capitalism, democracy, or market economies is mistaken. I hold with Stark, Burawoy, Bunce, and others who see the decade of the 1990s as a time of transformation in the countries that have emerged from socialism; these transformations will produce a variety of forms, some
  • 26. 16 INTRODUCTION of them perhaps approximating Western capitalist market economies and many of them not. Stark writes, for example, that the outcome of privatization in Hungary will be not private property but recombinant property, while Burawoy writes not of the evolution of a new system of industrial production in Russia but of its involution.34 Polities more closely resembling corporatist authoritarian regimes than liberal democracies are a distinct possibility in several countries (Romania, for instance), whereas military dictatorships should not be ruled out for others (perhaps Russia). When I use the word “transition,” then, I put it in quotes so as to mock the naiveté of so much fashionable transitology. Similarly, the title of chapter 8 (“A Transition from Socialism to Feudalism?”) marks my disagreement with the assumptions of that literature. Taken as a whole, then, this volume constitutes a dissent from the prevailing directions of much transitological writing. It not only employs an understanding of socialism’s workings that is far from widespread in scholarship about the region but also views the central concepts of work on postsocialism with a skeptical eye. This skepticism comes from being not at all sure about what those central concepts—private property, democracy, markets, citizenship and civil society—actually mean. They are symbols in the constitution of our own “Western” identity, and their real content becomes ever more elusive as we inspect how they are supposedly taking shape in the former Soviet bloc. Perhaps this is because the world in which these foundational concepts have defined “the West” is itself changing— something of which socialism’s collapse is a symptom, not a cause. The changes of 1989 did more than disturb Western complacency about the “new world order” and preempt the imagined fraternity of a new European Union: they signaled that a thoroughgoing reorganization of the globe is in course. In that case, we might wonder at the effort to implant perhaps-obsolescent Western forms in “the East.” This is what I mean by the final line in my first chapter: what comes next is anyone’s guess.
  • 27. PART ONE SOCIALISM
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  • 29. 1 WHAT WAS SOCIALISM, AND WHY DID IT FALL? T HE STARTLING DISINTEGRATION of Communist Party rule in Eastern Europe in 1989, and its somewhat lengthier unraveling in the Soviet Union between 1985 and 1991, rank among the century’s most momentous occurrences. Especially because neither policy-makers nor area specialists predicted them, these events will yield much analysis after the fact, as scholars develop the hindsight necessary for understanding what they failed to grasp before. In this chapter, I aim to stimulate discussion about why Soviet-style socialism fell. Because I believe answers to the question require understanding how socialism “worked,” I begin with an analysis of this and then suggest how it intersected fatefully with certain features of its world-system context. What Was Socialism? The socialist societies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union differed from one another in significant respects—for instance, in the intensity, span, and effectiveness of central control, in the extent of popular support or resistance, and in the degree and timing of efforts at reform. Notwithstanding these differences within “formerly existing socialism,”1 I follow theorists such as Kornai in opting for a single analytical model of it.2 The family resemblances among socialist countries were more important than their variety, for analytic purposes, much as we can best comprehend French, JapaThis chapter was originally entitled “What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next?” and was delivered as a lecture for the Center for Comparative Research in History, Society and Culture, at the University of California, Davis, in January 1993. I am grateful to those who invited me—William Hagen, G. William Skinner, and Carol A. Smith—as well as to members of the Center’s seminar, for a very stimulating discussion. I also received helpful advice from Ashraf Ghani. Earlier forms of the argument appeared in “Theorizing Socialism” and in my book National Ideology under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in CeauŒescu’s Romania (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991). The underlying conceptualization was developed in 1988; after 1989 I added some thoughts on how the model might illuminate the system’s collapse. Reprinted from Contention: Debates in Society, Culture, and Science 1, no. 3 (1993), by permission of Indiana University Press.
  • 30. 20 CHAPTER ONE nese, West German, and North American societies as variants of a single capitalist system. Acknowledging, then, that my description applies more fully to certain countries and time periods than to others, I treat them all under one umbrella. For several decades, the analysis of socialism has been an international industry, employing both Western political scientists and Eastern dissidents. Since 1989 this industry has received a massive infusion of new raw materials, as once-secret files are opened and translations appear of research by local scholars (especially Polish and Hungarian) into their own declining socialist systems.3 My taste in such theories is “indigenist”: I have found most useful the analyses of East Europeans concerning the world in which they lived. The following summary owes much to that work, and it is subject to refinement and revision as new research appears.4 Given temporal and spatial constraints, I will compress elements of a longer discussion, emphasizing how production was organized and the consequences of this for consumption and for markets.5 I believe these themes afford the best entry into why Party rule crumbled much faster than anyone expected. Production From the earliest days of the “totalitarian” model, Americans’ image of “Communism” was of an autocratic, all-powerful state inexorably imposing its harsh will on its subjects. Even after most area specialists ceased to use the term “totalitarian” in their writing, the image of totalitarian autocracy persisted with both the broader public and many politicians; indeed, it underpinned Ronald Reagan’s view of the “evil empire” as late as the 1980s. Yet the image was by and large wrong. Communist Party states were not all-powerful: they were comparatively weak. Because socialism’s leaders managed only partially and fitfully to win a positive and supporting attitude from their citizens—that is, to be seen as legitimate—the regimes were constantly undermined by internal resistance and hidden forms of sabotage at all system levels.6 This contributed much to their final collapse. I will describe briefly some of the elements of socialist nontotalitarianism and signal a few places where resistance lay.7 Socialism’s fragility begins with the system of “centralized planning,” which the center neither adequately planned nor controlled. Central planners would draw up a plan with quantities of everything they wanted to see produced, known as targets. They would disaggregate the plan into pieces appropriate for execution and estimate how much investment and how many raw materials were needed if managers of firms were to fill their targets. Managers learned early on, however, that not only did the targets increase annually but the materials required often did not arrive on time or in the
  • 31. WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL? 21 right amounts. So they would respond by bargaining their plan: demanding more investments and raw materials than the amounts actually necessary for their targets. Every manager, and every level of the bureaucracy, padded budgets and requests in hopes of having enough, in the actual moment of production. (A result of the bargaining process, of course, was that central planners always had faulty information about what was really required for production, and this impeded their ability to plan.) Then, if managers somehow ended up with more of some material than they needed, they hoarded it. Hoarded material had two uses: it could be kept for the next production cycle, or it could be exchanged with some other firm for something one’s own firm lacked. These exchanges or barters of material were a crucial component of behavior within centralized planning. A result of all the padding of budgets and hoarding of materials was widespread shortages, for which reason socialist economies are called economies of shortage.8 Shortages were sometimes relative, as when sufficient quantities of materials and labor for a given level of output actually existed, but not where and when they were needed. Sometimes shortages were absolute, since relative shortage often resulted in lowered production, or—as in Romania—since items required for production or consumption were being exported. The causes of shortage were primarily that people lower down in the planning process were asking for more materials than they required and then hoarding whatever they got. Underlying their behavior was what economists call soft budget constraints—that is, if a firm was losing money, the center would bail it out. In our own economy, with certain exceptions (such as Chrysler and the savings and loan industry), budget constraints are hard: if you cannot make ends meet, you go under. But in socialist economies, it did not matter if firms asked for extra investment or hoarded raw materials; they paid no penalty for it. A fictitious example will help to illustrate—say, a shoe factory that makes women’s shoes and boots. Central planners set the factory’s targets for the year at one hundred thousand pairs of shoes and twenty thousand pairs of boots, for which they think management will need ten tons of leather, a half ton of nails, and one thousand pounds of glue. The manager calculates what he would need under ideal conditions, if his workers worked consistently during three eight-hour shifts. He adds some for wastage, knowing the workers are lazy and the machines cut badly; some for theft, since workers are always stealing nails and glue; some to trade with other firms in case he comes up short on a crucial material at a crucial moment; and some more for the fact that the tannery always delivers less than requested. The manager thus refuses the plan assigned him, saying he cannot produce that number of shoes and boots unless he gets thirteen rather than ten tons of leather, a ton rather than a half-ton of nails, and two thousand rather than one thou-
  • 32. 22 CHAPTER ONE sand pounds of glue. Moreover, he says he needs two new power stitchers from Germany, without which he can produce nothing. In short, he has bargained his plan. Then when he gets some part of these goods, he stockpiles them or trades excess glue to the manager of a coat factory in exchange for some extra pigskin. If leather supplies still prove insufficient, he will make fewer boots and more shoes, or more footwear of small size, so as to use less leather; never mind if women’s feet get cold in winter, or women with big feet can find nothing to wear. With all this padding and hoarding, it is clear why shortage was endemic to socialist systems, and why the main problem for firms was not whether they could meet (or generate) demand but whether they could procure adequate supplies. So whereas the chief problem of economic actors in Western economies is to get profits by selling things, the chief problem for socialism’s economic actors was to procure things. Capitalist firms compete with each other for markets in which they will make a profit; socialist firms competed to maximize their bargaining power with suppliers higher up. In our society, the problem is other sellers, and to outcompete them you have to befriend the buyer. Thus our clerks and shop owners smile and give the customer friendly service because they want business; customers can be grouchy, but it will only make the clerk try harder. In socialism, the locus of competition was elsewhere: your competitor was other buyers, other procurers; and to outcompete them you needed to befriend those higher up who supplied you. Thus in socialism it was not the clerk—the provider, or “seller”—who was friendly (they were usually grouchy) but the procurers, the customers, who sought to ingratiate themselves with smiles, bribes, or favors. The work of procuring generated whole networks of cozy relations among economic managers and their bureaucrats, clerks and their customers. We would call this corruption, but that is because getting supplies is not a problem for capitalists: the problem is getting sales. In a word, for capitalists salesmanship is at a premium; for socialist managers, the premium was on acquisitionsmanship, or procurement. So far I have been describing the clientelism and bargaining that undercut the Party center’s effective control. A similar weakness in vertical power relations emerges from the way socialist production and shortage bred workers’ oppositional consciousness and resistance. Among the many things in short supply in socialist systems was labor. Managers hoarded labor, just like any other raw material, because they never knew how many workers they would need. Fifty workers working three eight-hour shifts six days a week might be enough to meet a firm’s targets—if all the materials were on hand all month long. But this never happened. Many of those workers would stand idle for part of the month, and in the last ten days when most of the materials were finally on hand the firm would need 75 workers working overtime to complete the plan. The manager therefore kept 75 workers
  • 33. WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL? 23 on the books, even though most of the time he needed fewer; and since all other managers were doing the same, labor was scarce. This provided a convenient if unplanned support for the regimes’ guaranteed employment. An important result of labor’s scarcity was that managers of firms had relatively little leverage over their workers. Furthermore, because supply shortages caused so much uncertainty in the production process, managers had to turn over to workers much control over this process, lest work come to a standstill.9 That is, structurally speaking, workers under socialism had a somewhat more powerful position relative to management than do workers in capitalism. Just as managers’ bargaining with bureaucrats undercut central power, so labor’s position in production undercut that of management. More than this, the very organization of the workplace bred opposition to Party rule. Through the Party-controlled trade union and the frequent merger of Party and management functions, Party directives were continually felt in the production process—and, from workers’ viewpoint, they were felt as unnecessary and disruptive. Union officials either meddled unhelpfully or contributed nothing, only to claim credit for production results that workers knew were their own. Workers participated disdainfully—as sociologist Michael Burawoy found in his studies of Hungarian factories—in Party-organized production rituals, such as work-unit competitions, voluntary workdays, and production campaigns; they resented these coerced expressions of their supposed commitment to a wonderful socialism.10 Thus instead of securing workers’ consent, workplace rituals sharpened their consciousness and resistance. Against an official “cult of work” used to motivate cadres and workers toward fulfilling the plan, many workers developed an oppositional cult of nonwork, imitating the Party bosses and trying to do as little as possible for their paycheck. Cadres often found no way around this internal sabotage, which by reducing productivity deepened the problems of socialist economies to the point of crisis. The very forms of Party rule in the workplace, then, tended to focus, politicize, and turn against it the popular discontent that capitalist societies more successfully disperse, depoliticize, and deflect. In this way, socialism produced a split between “us” and “them,” workers and Party leaders, founded on a lively consciousness that “they” are exploiting “us.” This consciousness was yet another thing that undermined socialist regimes. To phrase it in Gramscian terms, the lived experience of people in socialism precluded its utopian discourse from becoming hegemonic—precluded, that is, the softening of coercion with consent.11 Ruling Communist Parties developed a variety of mechanisms to try to obscure this fact of their nature from their subjects, mechanisms designed to produce docile subject dispositions and to ensure that discontent did not become outright opposition. I will briefly discuss two of these mechanisms: the apparatus of surveillance, and redistribution of the social product.
  • 34. 24 CHAPTER ONE Surveillance and Paternalistic Redistribution In each country, some equivalent of the KGB was instrumental in maintaining surveillance, with varying degrees of intensity and success. Particularly effective were the Secret Police in the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Romania, but networks of informers and collaborators operated to some extent in all. These formed a highly elaborate “production” system parallel to the system for producing goods—a system producing paper, which contained real and falsified histories of the people over whom the Party ruled. Let us call the immediate product “dossiers,” or “files,” though the ultimate product was political subjects and subject dispositions useful to the regime. This parallel production system was at least as important as the system for producing goods, for producers of files were much better paid than producers of goods. My image of this parallel production system comes from the memoirs of Romanian political prisoner Herbert Zilber: The first great socialist industry was that of the production of files. . . . This new industry has an army of workers: the informers. It works with ultramodern electronic equipment (microphones, tape recorders, etc.), plus an army of typists with their typewriters. Without all this, socialism could not have survived. . . . In the socialist bloc, people and things exist only through their files. All our existence is in the hands of him who possesses files and is constituted by him who constructs them. Real people are but the reflection of their files.12 The work of producing files (and thereby political subjects) created an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion dividing people from one another. One never knew whom one could trust, who might be informing on one to the police about one’s attitudes toward the regime or one’s having an American to dinner. Declarations might also be false. Informers with a denunciation against someone else were never asked what might be their motive for informing; their perhaps-envious words entered directly into constituting another person’s file—thus another person’s sociopolitical being. Moreover, like all other parts of the bureaucracy, the police too padded their “production” figures, for the fact of an entry into the file was often more important than its veracity.13 The existence of this shadowy system of production could have grave effects on the people “processed” through it, and the assumption that it was omnipresent contributed much to its success, in some countries, in suppressing unwanted opposition. If surveillance was the negative face of these regimes’ problematic legitimation, its positive face was their promises of social redistribution and welfare. At the center of both the Party’s official ideology and its efforts to secure popular support was “socialist paternalism,” which justified Party rule with the claim that the Party would take care of everyone’s needs by collecting the total social product and then making available whatever peo-
  • 35. WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL? 25 ple needed—cheap food, jobs, medical care, affordable housing, education, and so on. Party authorities claimed, as well, that they were better able to assess and fill these needs than were individuals or families, who would always tend to want more than their share. Herein lay the Party’s paternalism: it acted like a father who gives handouts to the children as he sees fit. The Benevolent Father Party educated people to express needs it would then fill, and discouraged them from taking the initiative that would enable them to fill these needs on their own. The promises—socialism’s basic social contract—did not go unnoticed, and as long as economic conditions permitted their partial fulfillment, certain socialist regimes gained legitimacy as a result. But this proved impossible to sustain. Beyond its effects on people’s attitudes, paternalism had important consequences for the entire system of production discussed previously and for consumption; here I shift to the question of why consumption was so central in the resistance to socialism. A Party that pretends to meet its citizens’ needs through redistribution and that insists on doing so exclusively—that is, without enlisting their independent efforts—must control a tremendous fund of resources to redistribute. Nationalizing the means of production helped provide this, and so did a relentlessly “productionist” orientation, with ever-increased production plans and exhortations to greater effort. The promise of redistribution was an additional reason, besides my earlier argument about shortages, why socialism worked differently from capitalism. Socialism’s inner drive was to accumulate not profits, like capitalist ones, but distributable resources. This is more than simply a drive for autarchy, reducing dependency on the outside: it aims to increase dependency of those within. Striving to accumulate resources for redistribution involves things for which profit is totally irrelevant. In capitalism, those who run lemonade stands endeavor to serve thirsty customers in ways that make a profit and outcompete other lemonade stand owners. In socialism, the point was not profit but the relationship between thirsty persons and the one with the lemonade—the Party center, which appropriated from producers the various ingredients (lemons, sugar, water) and then mixed the lemonade to reward them with, as it saw fit. Whether someone made a profit was irrelevant: the transaction underscored the center’s paternalistic superiority over its citizens—that is, its capacity to decide who got more lemonade and who got less. Controlling the ingredients fortified the center’s capacity to redistribute things. But this capacity would be even greater if the center controlled not only the lemons, sugar, and water but the things they come from: the lemon trees, the ground for growing sugar beets and the factories that process them, the wells and the well-digging machinery. That is, most valuable of all to the socialist bureaucracy was to get its hands not just on resources but on resources that generated other usable resources, resources that were them-
  • 36. 26 CHAPTER ONE selves further productive. Socialist regimes wanted not just eggs but the goose that lays them. Thus if capitalism’s inner logic rests on accumulating surplus value, the inner logic of socialism was to accumulate means of production.14 The emphasis on keeping resources at the center for redistribution is one reason why items produced in socialist countries so often proved uncompetitive on the world market. Basically, most of these goods were not being made to be sold competitively: they were being either centrally accumulated or redistributed at low prices—effectively given away. Thus whether a dress was pretty and well made or ugly and missewn was irrelevant, since profit was not at issue: the dress would be “given away” at a subsidized price, not sold. In fact, the whole point was not to sell things: the center wanted to keep as much as possible under its control, because that was how it had redistributive power; and it wanted to give away the rest, because that was how it confirmed its legitimacy with the public. Selling things competitively was therefore beside the point. So too were ideas of “efficient” production, which for a capitalist would enhance profits by wasting less material or reducing wages. But whatever goes into calculating a profit—costs of material or labor inputs, or sales of goods—was unimportant in socialism until very late in the game. Instead, “efficiency” was understood to mean “the full use of existing resources,” “the maximization of given capacities” rather than of results, all so as to redirect resources to a goal greater than satisfying the population’s needs.15 In other words, what was rational in socialism differed from capitalist rationality. Both are stupid in their own way, but differently so. Consumption Socialism’s redistributive emphasis leads to one of the great paradoxes of a paternalist regime claiming to satisfy needs. Having constantly to amass means of production so as to enhance redistributive power caused Party leaders to prefer heavy industry (steel mills, machine construction) at the expense of consumer industry (processed foods, or shoes). After all, once a consumer got hold of something, the center no longer controlled it; central power was less served by giving things away than by producing things it could continue to control. The central fund derived more from setting up a factory to make construction equipment than from a shoe factory or a chocolate works. In short, these systems had a basic tension between what was necessary to legitimate them—redistributing things to the masses—and what was necessary to their power—accumulating things at the center. The tension was mitigated where people took pride in their economy’s development (that is, building heavy industry might also bring legitimacy), but my experience is that the legitimating effects of redistribution were more important by far.
  • 37. WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL? 27 Each country addressed this tension in its own way. For example, Hungary after 1968 and Poland in the 1970s gave things away more, while Romania and Czechoslovakia accumulated things more; but the basic tension existed everywhere. The socialist social contract guaranteed people food and clothing but did not promise (as capitalist systems do) quality, ready availability, and choice. Thus the system’s mode of operation tended to sacrifice consumption, in favor of production and controlling the products. This paradoxical neglect of consumption contributed to the long lines about which we heard so much (and we heard about them, of course, because we live in a system to which consumption is crucial). In emphasizing this neglect of consumption as against building up the central resource base, I have so far been speaking of the formally organized economy of socialism—some call it the “first” or “official” economy. But this is not the whole story. Since the center would not supply what people needed, they struggled to do so themselves, developing in the process a huge repertoire of strategies for obtaining consumer goods and services. These strategies, called the “second” or “informal” economy, spanned a wide range from the quasi-legal to the definitely illegal.16 In most socialist countries it was not illegal to moonlight for extra pay—by doing carpentry, say—but people doing so often stole materials or illegally used tools from their workplace; or they might manipulate state goods to sell on the side. Clerks in stores might earn favors or extra money, for example, by saving scarce goods to sell to special customers, who tipped them or did some important favor in return. Also part of the second economy was the so-called “private plot” of collective farm peasants, who held it legally and in theory could do what they wanted with it—grow food for their own table or to sell in the market at state-controlled prices. But although the plot itself was legal, people obtained high outputs from it not just by virtue of hard work but also by stealing from the collective farm: fertilizer and herbicides, fodder for their pigs or cows, work time for their own weeding or harvesting, tractor time and fuel for plowing their plot, and so on. The second economy, then, which provisioned a large part of consumer needs, was parasitic upon the state economy and inseparable from it. It developed precisely because the state economy tended to ignore consumption. To grasp the interconnection of the two economies is crucial, lest one think that simply dismantling the state sector will automatically enable entrepreneurship—already present in embryo—to flourish. On the contrary: parts of the second economy will wither and die if deprived of the support of the official, state economy. It is clear from what I have said that whereas consumption in our own society is considered primarily a socioeconomic question, the relative neglect of consumer interests in socialism made consumption deeply political. In Romania in the 1980s (an extreme case), to kill and eat your own calf was a political act, because the government prohibited killing calves: you were
  • 38. 28 CHAPTER ONE supposed to sell them cheap to the state farm, for export. Romanian villagers who fed me veal (having assured themselves of my complicity) did so with special satisfaction. It was also illegal for urbanites to go and buy forty kilograms of potatoes directly from the villagers who grew potatoes on their private plot, because the authorities suspected that villagers would charge more than the state-set price, thus enriching themselves. So Romanian policemen routinely stopped cars riding low on the chassis and confiscated produce they found inside. Consumption became politicized in yet another way: the very definition of “needs” became a matter for resistance and dispute. “Needs,” as we should know from our own experience, are not given: they are created, developed, expanded—the work especially of the advertising business. It is advertising’s job to convince us that we need things we didn’t know we needed, or that if we feel unhappy, it’s because we need something (a shrink, or a beer, or a Marlboro, or a man). Our need requires only a name, and it can be satisfied with a product or service. Naming troubled states, labeling them as needs, and finding commodities to fill them is at the heart of our economy. Socialism, by contrast, which rested not on devising infinite kinds of things to sell people but on claiming to satisfy people’s basic needs, had a very unadorned definition of them—in keeping with socialist egalitarianism. Indeed, some Hungarian dissidents wrote of socialism’s relationship to needs as a “dictatorship.”17 As long as the food offered was edible or the clothes available covered you and kept you warm, that should be sufficient. If you had trouble finding even these, that just meant you were not looking hard enough. No planner presumed to investigate what kinds of goods people wanted, or worked to name new needs for newly created products and newly developed markets. At the same time, however, regime policies paradoxically made consumption a problem. Even as the regimes prevented people from consuming by not making goods available, they insisted that under socialism, the standard of living would constantly improve. This stimulated consumer appetites, perhaps with an eye to fostering increased effort and tying people into the system. Moreover, socialist ideology presented consumption as a “right.” The system’s organization exacerbated consumer desire further by frustrating it and thereby making it the focus of effort, resistance, and discontent. Anthropologist John Borneman sees in the relation between desire and goods a major contrast between capitalism and socialism. Capitalism, he says, repeatedly renders desire concrete and specific, and offers specific—if ever-changing—goods to satisfy it. Socialism, in contrast, aroused desire without focalizing it, and kept it alive by deprivation.18 As people became increasingly alienated from socialism and critical of its achievements, then, the politicization of consumption also made them challenge official definitions of their needs. They did so not just by creating a
  • 39. WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL? 29 second economy to grow food or make clothes or work after hours but also, sometimes, by public protest. Poland’s Communist leaders fell to such protest at least twice, in 1970 and in 1980, when Polish workers insisted on having more food than government price increases would permit them. Less immediately disruptive were forms of protest in which people used consumption styles to forge resistant social identities. The black markets in Western goods that sprang up everywhere enabled alienated consumers to express their contempt for their governments through the kinds of things they chose to buy. You could spend an entire month’s salary on a pair of blue jeans, for instance, but it was worth it: wearing them signified that you could get something the system said you didn’t need and shouldn’t have. Thus consumption goods and objects conferred an identity that set you off from socialism, enabling you to differentiate yourself as an individual in the face of relentless pressures to homogenize everyone’s capacities and tastes into an undifferentiated collectivity. Acquiring objects became a way of constituting your selfhood against a deeply unpopular regime. Bureaucratic Factionalism and Markets Before turning to why these systems fell, I wish to address one more issue: politicking in the Party bureaucracy. Although this took different and specific forms in the different countries, it is important to mention the issue, for socialism’s collapse owed much to shifts in the balance among factions that emerged within the Party apparatus. Even before 1989, researchers were pointing to several forms of intra-Party division. Polish sociologist Jadwiga Staniszkis, writing specifically of the moment of transition, speaks of three factions—the globalists, the populists, and the middle-level bureaucracy; others, writing more generally, distinguish between “strategic” and “operative” elites, the state bureaucracy and the “global monopoly,” the bureaucracy and the Party elite, “in-house” and “out-of-house” Party workers, and so forth.19 One way of thinking about these various divisions is that they distinguish ownership from management, or the people who oversaw the paperwork of administration from those “out in the field,” intervening in actual social life.20 We might then look for conflicting tendencies based in the different interests of these groups—such as conflicts between the central “owners” or paperworkers, on one hand, who might persist in policies that accumulated means of production without concern for things like productivity and output, and the bureaucratic managers of the allocative process or its fieldworkers, on the other, who had to be concerned with such things. Although the power of the system itself rested on continued accumulation, such tendencies if unchecked could obstruct the work of those who had actually to deliver resources or redistribute them. Without actual investments and hard material resources, lower-level units could not produce the
  • 40. 30 CHAPTER ONE means of production upon which both bureaucracy and center relied. If productive activity were so stifled by “overadministration” that nothing got produced, this would jeopardize the redistributive bureaucracy’s power and prestige. Thus when central accumulation of means of production began to threaten the capacity of lower-level units to produce; when persistent imbalances between investment in heavy industry and in light industry, between allocations for investment and for consumption, and so on, diminished the stock of distributable goods; and when the center’s attempts to keep enterprises from meddling with surplus appropriation obstructed the process of production itself—this is when pressure arose for a shift of emphasis. The pressure was partly from those in the wider society to whom not enough was being allocated and partly from bureaucrats themselves whose prestige and, increasingly, prospects of retaining power depended on having more goods to allocate. One then heard of decentralization, of the rate of growth, of productivity—in a word, of matters of output, rather than the inputs that lay at the core of bureaucratic performance. This is generally referred to as the language of “reform.” For those groups who became concerned with questions of output and productivity, the solutions almost always involved introducing mechanisms such as profitability criteria and freer markets. This meant, however, introducing a subordinate rationality discrepant with the system’s inner logic and thereby threatening continued Party rule. Market forces create problems for socialism in part for reasons treated implicitly or explicitly above in contrasting capitalism’s demand-constrained economies with socialism’s economy of shortage (its lack of interest, for example, in the salability of its products). But more broadly, markets create problems because they move goods horizontally rather than vertically toward the center, as all redistributive systems require. Markets also presuppose that individual interest and the “invisible hand,” rather than the guiding hand of the Party, secure the common good.21 Because these horizontal movements and individualizing premises subverted socialism’s hierarchical organization, market mechanisms had been suppressed. Reformers introducing them were opening Pandora’s box. Why Did It Fall? My discussion of socialism’s workings already points to several reasons for its collapse; I might now address the question more comprehensively. To do this requires, in my view, linking the properties of its internal organization (discussed above) with properties of its external environment, as well as with shorter-term “event history.” This means examining the specific conjuncture of two systems—“capitalist” and “socialist,” to use ideal types—one encompassing the other.22
  • 41. WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL? 31 In event-history terms, the proximate cause of the fall of East European and Soviet socialism was an act of the Hungarian government: its dismantling of the barbed wire between Hungary and Austria, on the eve of a visit by President George Bush, and its later renouncing the treaty with the GDR that would have prevented East German emigration through Hungary. This culmination of Hungary’s long-term strategy of opening up to the West gave an unexpected opportunity for some East German tourists to extend their Hungarian vacations into West Germany; the end result, given that Gorbachev refused to bolster the East German government with Soviet troops in this crisis, was to bring down the Berlin Wall. To understand the conjuncture in which Hungary could open its borders and Gorbachev could refuse Honecker his troops requires setting in motion the static model I have given above and placing it in its international context. This includes asking how socialism’s encounter with a changing world capitalism produced or aggravated factional divisions within Communist Parties. International Solutions to Internal Problems My discussion of socialism indicated several points of tension in its workings that affected the system’s capacity for extended reproduction. Throughout their existence, these regimes sought to manage such tensions in different ways, ranging from Hungary’s major market reforms in the 1960s to Romania’s rejection of reform and its heightened coercive extraction. In all cases, managing these tensions involved decisions that to a greater or lesser degree opened socialist political economies to Western capital. The impetus for this opening—critical to socialism’s demise—came chiefly from within, as Party leaders attempted to solve their structural problems without major structural reform. Their attitude in doing so was reminiscent of a “plunder mentality” that sees the external environment as a source of booty to be used as needed in maintaining one’s own system, without thought for the cost. This attitude was visible in the tendency of socialist governments to treat foreign trade as a residual sector, used to supplement budgets without being made an integral part of them.23 Because of how this opportunistic recourse to the external environment brought socialism into tighter relationship with capitalism, it had fateful consequences. The critical intersection occurred not in 1989 or 1987 but in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when global capitalism entered the cyclical crisis from which it is still struggling to extricate itself. Among capitalists’ possible responses to the crisis (devaluation, structural reorganization, etc.), an early one was to lend abroad; facilitating this option were the massive quantities of petrodollars that were invested in Western banks, following changes in OPEC policy in 1973. By lending, Western countries enabled the recipients to purchase capital equipment or to build long-term infrastructure, thereby expanding the overseas markets for Western products.24
  • 42. 32 CHAPTER ONE The loans became available just at the moment when all across the socialist bloc, the first significant round of structural reforms had been proposed, halfheartedly implemented, and, because profitability and market criteria fit so poorly with the rationale of socialism, largely abandoned. Reluctance to proceed with reforms owed much, as well, to Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring, from which the Party apparatus all across the region had been able to see the dangers that reform posed for its monopoly on power. Instead of reforming the system from within, then, most Party leaderships opted to meet their problems by a greater articulation with the surrounding economy: importing Western capital and using it to buy advanced technology (or, as in Poland, to subsidize consumption), in hopes of improving economic performance. Borrowing thus became a substitute for extensive internal changes that would have jeopardized the Party’s monopoly over society and subverted the inner mechanisms of socialism. In this way, the internal cycles of two contrasting systems suddenly meshed. The intent, as with all the international borrowing of the period, was to pay off the loans by exporting manufactured goods into the world market. By the mid-1970s it was clear, however, that the world market could not absorb sufficient amounts of socialism’s products to enable repayment, and at the same time, rising interest rates added staggeringly to the debt service. With the 1979–80 decision of the Western banking establishment not to lend more money to socialist countries, the latter were thrown into complete disarray. I have already mentioned several features that made socialist economies inapt competitors in the international export market. The “plunder” stance toward external economies, the system’s fundamental organization against notions of salability of its products, the shortage economy’s premium on acquisitionsmanship rather than on salesmanship, the neglect of consumption and of producing to satisfy consumer needs with diverse highquality products—all this meant that an adequate response to the hardcurrency crisis would have catastrophic effects on socialism’s inner mechanisms. To this was added the fact that socialist economies were “outdated”: as Jowitt put it, “After 70 years of murderous effort, the Soviet Union had created a German industry of the 1880s in the 1980s.”25 In these circumstances, the balance of power tilted toward the faction within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that had long argued for structural reforms, the introduction of market mechanisms, and profit incentives, even at the cost of the Party’s “leading role.” The choice, as Gorbachev and his faction saw it, was to try to preserve either the Soviet Union and its empire (by reforms that would increase its economic performance and political legitimacy) or collective property and the Party monopoly. Gorbachev was ready to sacrifice the latter to save the former but ended by losing both. While Western attention was riveted on the speeches of policy-makers in
  • 43. WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL? 33 the Kremlin, the more significant aspects of reform, however, were in the often-unauthorized behavior of bureaucrats who were busily creating new property forms on their own. Staniszkis describes the growth of what she calls “political capitalism,” as bureaucrats spontaneously created their own profit-based companies from within the state economic bureaucracy. Significantly for my argument that socialism’s articulation with world capitalism was crucial to its fall, the examples she singles out to illustrate these trends are all at the interface of socialist economies with the outside world—in particular, new companies mediating the export trade and state procurement of Western computers.26 In fact, she sees as critical the factional split between the groups who managed socialism’s interface with the outside world (such as those in foreign policy, counterintelligence, and foreign trade) and those who managed it internally (such as the Party’s middle-level executive apparatus and the KGB).27 Forms of privatization already taking place as early as 1987 in Poland and similar processes as early as 1984 in Hungary28 show the emerging contours of what Staniszkis sees as the reformists’ goal: a dual economy. One part of this economy was to be centrally administered, as before, and the other part was to be reformed through market/profit mechanisms and selective privatization of state property. The two were to coexist symbiotically.29 These forms of “political capitalism” arose in part by economic managers’ exploiting the shortages endemic to socialism—shortages now aggravated to crisis proportions. In the new hope of making a profit, “political capitalists” (I call them “entrepratchiks”) were willing to put into circulation reserves known only to them—which they would otherwise have hoarded—thus alleviating shortages, to their own gain. As a result, even antireformist Soviet and Polish bureaucrats found themselves acquiescing in entrepratchiks’ activities, without which, in Staniszkis’s words, “the official structure of the economic administration was absolutely unsteerable.”30 Contributing to their tolerance was rampant bureaucratic anarchy, a loss of control by those higher up, rooted in the “inability of superiors to supply their subordinates (managers of lower level) with the means to construct a strategy of survival.”31 Because superiors could no longer guarantee deliveries and investments, they were forced to accept whatever solutions enterprising subordinates could devise—even at the cost of illicit profits from state reserves. Entrepratchiks soon began to regard the state’s accumulations much as Preobrazhensky had once urged Soviet leaders to regard agriculture: as a source of primitive accumulation. They came to find increasingly attractive the idea of further “privatization,” so important to Western lenders. It is possible (though unlikely) that socialist regimes would not have collapsed if their hard-currency crisis and the consequent intersection with capitalism had occurred at a different point in capitalism’s cyclicity. The specifics of capitalism’s own crisis management, however, proved unman-
  • 44. 34 CHAPTER ONE ageable for socialist systems. Without wanting to present recent capitalism’s “flexible specialization” as either unitary or fully dominant (its forms differ from place to place, and it coexists with other socioeconomic forms), I find in the literature about it a number of characteristics even more inimical to socialism than was the earlier “Fordist” variant, which Soviet production partly imitated. These characteristics include: small-batch production; just-in-time inventory; an accelerated pace of innovation; tremendous reductions in the turnover time of capital via automation and electronics; a much-increased turnover time in consumption, as well, with a concomitant rise in techniques of need-creation and an increased emphasis on the production of events rather than goods; coordination of the economy by finance capital; instantaneous access to accurate information and analysis; and an overall decentralization that increases managerial control (at the expense of higher-level bodies) over labor.32 How is socialism to mesh with this?—socialism with its emphasis on large-scale heroic production of means of production, its resources frozen by hoarding—no just-in-time here!—its lack of a systemic impetus toward innovation, the irrelevance to it of notions like “turnover time,” its neglect of consumption and its flat-footed definition of “needs,” its constipated and secretive flows of information (except for rumors!) in which the center could have no confidence, and the perpetual struggle to retain central control over all phases of the production process? Thus, I submit, it is not simply socialism’s embrace with capitalism that brought about its fall but the fact that it happened to embrace a capitalism of a newly “flexible” sort. David Harvey’s schematic comparison of “Fordist modernity” with “flexible post-modernity” clarifies things further: socialist systems have much more in common with his “Fordist” column than with his “flexible” one.33 Let me add one more thought linking the era of flexible specialization with socialism’s collapse. Increasing numbers of scholars note that accompanying the change in capitalism is a change in the nature of state power: specifically, a number of the state’s functions are being undermined.34 The international weapons trade has made a mockery of the state’s monopoly on the means of violence. The extraordinary mobility of capital means that as it moves from areas of higher to areas of lower taxation, many states lose some of their revenue and industrial base, and this constrains their ability to attract capital or shape its flows. Capital flight can now discipline all nationstate governments.35 The coordination of global capitalism by finance capital places a premium on capital mobility, to which rigid state boundaries are an obstacle. And the new computerized possibilities for speculative trading have generated strong pressures to release the capital immobilized in state structures and institutions by diminishing their extent.36 This has two consequences for the collapse of socialism. First, groups
  • 45. WHAT WAS SOCIALI SM, AND WHY DID IT FALL? 35 inside socialist countries whose structural situation facilitated their fuller participation in the global economy now had reasons to expand their state’s receptivity to capital—that is, to promote reform. Second, the control that socialist states exerted over capital flows into their countries may have made them special targets for international financial interests, eager to increase their opportunities by undermining socialist states. These internal and international groups each found their chance in the interest of the other. It is in any case clear from the politics of international lending agencies that they aim to reduce the power of socialist states, for they insist upon privatization of state property—the basis of these states’ power and revenue. Privatization is pushed even in the face of some economists’ objections that “too much effort is being invested in privatization, and too little in creating and fostering the development of new private firms”—whose entry privatization may actually impede.37 No Time for Socialism Rather than explore further how flexible specialization compelled changes in socialism, I wish to summarize my argument by linking it to notions of time. Time, as anthropologists have shown, is a fundamental dimension of human affairs, taking different forms in different kinds of society. The Western notion of a linear, irreversible time consisting of equivalent and divisible units, for instance, is but one possible way of conceptualizing time and living it. A given cultural construction of time ramifies throughout its social order. Its calendars, schedules, and rhythms establish the very grounds of daily life (which is why elites, especially revolutionary ones, often manipulate them), undergird power and inequality, and affect how people make themselves as social beings. Capitalism exists only as a function of time—and of a specific conception of it. Efforts to increase profits by increasing the velocity of capital circulation are at its very heart. Thus each major reorganization of capitalism has entailed, in Harvey’s terms, “time-space compression”: a shrinking of the time horizons of private and public decision-making, whose consequences encompass ever-wider spaces owing to changed communications and transport technology.38 The basic logic of socialism, by contrast, placed no premium on increasing turnover time and capital circulation. Although the rhetoric of Stalinism emphasized socialism as a highly dynamic system, for the most part Soviet leaders acted as if time were on their side. (When Khrushchev said, “We will bury you,” he was not too specific about the date.) Indeed, I have argued that in 1980s Romania, far from being speeded up, time was being gradually slowed down, flattened, immobilized, and rendered nonlinear.39
  • 46. 36 CHAPTER ONE Like the reorganization of capitalism at the end of the nineteenth century, the present reorganization entails a time-space compression, which we all feel as a mammoth speedup. Yet the socialism with which it intersected had no such time-compressing dynamic. In this light, the significance of Gorbachev’s perestroika was its recognition that socialism’s temporality was unsustainable in a capitalist world. Perestroika reversed Soviet ideas as to whose time-definition and rhythms were dominant and where dynamism lay: no longer within the socialist system but outside it, in the West. Gorbachev’s rhetoric from the mid-1980s is full of words about time: the Soviet Union needs to “catch up,” to “accelerate” its development, to shed its “sluggishness” and “inertia” and leave behind the “era of stagnation.” For him, change has suddenly become an “urgent” necessity. [By] the latter half of the seventies . . . the country began to lose momentum. . . . Elements of stagnation . . . began to appear. . . . A kind of “braking mechanism” affect[ed] social and economic development. . . . The inertia of extensive economic development was leading to an economic deadlock and stagnation.40 These are the words of a man snatched by the compression of space and time. Even as he spoke, new time/space–compressing technologies were wreaking havoc on the possible rhythms of his and other leaders’ control of politics, as Radio Free Europe made their words at once domestic and international. Soviet leaders could no longer create room for themselves by saying one thing for domestic consumption and something else for the outside world: they were now prisoners of simultaneity. The role of Western information technology in undermining socialism was evident in the spread of Solidarity’s strikes in 1980, news of which was telephoned out to the West and rebroadcast instantly into Poland via Radio Free Europe and the BBC, mobilizing millions of Poles against their Party. The revolutions of 1989 were mediated similarly. I am suggesting, then, that the collapse of socialism came in part from the massive rupture produced by its collision with capitalism’s speedup. If so, it would be especially useful to know something more about the life-experience of those people who worked at the interface of these two temporal systems and could not help realizing how different was capitalism’s time from their own. Bureaucrats under pressure to increase foreign trade and foreign revenues, or importers of computer equipment, would have discovered that failure to adapt to alien notions of increased turnover time could cost them hard currency. They would have directly experienced time-annihilating Western technologies, which effected a banking transaction in milliseconds as opposed to the paper-laden hours and days needed by their own financial system. Did the rise of “profitability” criteria in the command economy owe something to such people’s dual placement? Did they come to