After Transition: Varieties of Political-Economic Development in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union
TOSS: Lane, D. (Ed.), The Transformation of State Socialism: System Change, Capitalism or something else? (Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). VOCIP: Lane, D., & Myant, M. (Eds.), Varieties of Capitalism in Post-Communist Countries (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). BVOC: Bob Hancké, Martin Rhodes, and Mark Thatcher (Eds.), Beyond Varieties of Capitalism: Conflict, Contradictions, and Complementarities in the European Economy (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
While the excitement of investors in the opportunities in all parts of what used to be the Soviet block has been growing rapidly, the interest of the global academic industry in the region can hardly compare to the hype of ‘transition’ times at the end of the last century. Yet, those who have not left with the tide have no reason to regret. The area is rife with underresearched problems and yet-to-be-resolved puzzles. The post-transition economies and societies of the early 2000s are very different from what the ‘transitologists’ analyzed ten years ago. This time, however, we seem to be dealing with social and economic structures, which are there to stay and shape the developments for some time to come. The three edited volumes under review bring together a set of contributions that is largely representative of a new generation of scholarship on Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. A number of important and interesting post-transition research agendas were opened. These include the study of variation and sources of social inequality and human suffering, investigation of class formation and its link to democracy consolidation, political economy of dependent internationalization in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), and the study of political capitalism, state-led capitalism, and predatory regimes in the former Soviet Union. While the focus of the volumes is broader (most notably that of BVOC), this article discusses their contributions to our understanding of politics and political economy of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. For students of post-communist developments, TOSS and VOCIP also offer chapters on Cuba, North Korea, China, and other (post-)communist countries in Africa and East Asia. Offering the state of the art of the ‘varieties of capitalism’ (VoC) approach, BVOC provides a useful theoretical companion to individual analyses in the other two books. Economic systems differ, the argument goes, and there are a number of ways how an economy can be competitive in the environment of globalization. Mutually interlinked institutional subsystems shape trajectories of political economic evolution, often reinforce each other, and a proper mix of institutional ‘complementarities’ can provide distinctive ‘comparative institutional advantages’ for competitive strategies of firms. The core ideas of the approach not only offered analytical tools that have become a leading paradigm in the comparative political economy of Western societies, but also provided rationale for saving European capitalisms from the ideological attack seeing no alternative to the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism. While the ‘liberal market economy’ (LME) variety, typically represented by the US and the UK, is superior in providing advantages to ‘radical innovators’, the ‘coordinated market economies (CME), of which Germany is the leading example, can compete with products relying on ‘incremental innovation’. VOCIP in particular uses the VoC approach as its major theoretical reference. Surprisingly, however, almost all of its contributors conclude that the approach is not very helpful in analyzing the region. The decision of the editors to employ the VoC framework as the underlying reference point only to demonstrate its limited utility indicates how strong the appeal of the approach is. Its application in CEE, however, not only produced interesting insights on political-economic diversity in the region, but also pointed out to its limits and research directions to follow. I first discuss the substantive findings on human, political, and economic developments in the region. Second, I deal with the analyses of class formation. I point out that they offer interesting insights on the link between class formation and democratic consolidation. While the process of democratic consolidation is hampered by a lack of an autonomous capitalist class in Russia, intricacies of working class formation have negative repercussions for the democratic processes in CEE. Third, I discuss accounts of hybrid and statist regimes in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Then, I deal with varieties of capitalist development in CEE. In the final sections, I elaborate on what I see as missing links in the studies and identify agenda for future research. Particular attention is given to the opportunities and limits of the varieties of capitalism approach.
Keywords: transition economies, post-socialist transformations, varieties of capitalism