Left Parties and Social Policy in Postcommunist Europe

Synopsis

Beginning in 1993, left or communist successor parties achieved electoral success in several postcommunist countries as critics of neo-liberal economic reform. They have typically focused their electoral appeals on the social costs of transition, promising more popular welfare and moderation of reform policies. This volume examines the impact of these parties on social and welfare policy in Poland, Hungary, Russia, Eastern Germany, and the Czech Republic, asking: Do they in fact commit more resources to welfare, or are they constrained by finances, international pressures, or their own ideological conversion to market solutions? Do they seek to approximate a social-democratic model of the welfare state, or look to models that assign a more limited role to the state? Are they simply opportunistic in appealing to popular grievances, or effective in gaining consensus on a policy agenda? The authors' answers to these questions are used to address a broader theoretical concern: Does "left" in the postcommunist context still mean the state's promotion of distributive equality, or have left-right divisions given way to a common acceptance of markets and minimal welfare?The contributors to this volume bring a range of expertise to bear on these questions. Dena Ringold of provides an analytical and statistical overview of reform's impact on social welfare across postcommunist Europe, using the most recent data collected by The World Bank, UNICEF, and national governments. In a series of case studies, Linda Cook, Mitchell Orenstein, Marilyn Rueschemeyer, and Sharon Wolchik examine the varied social policy agendas and accomplishments of left parties across five postcommunist countries and three left party types, paying attention to the influence of policy legacies, financial constraints, and the roles of ideas and international actors. Three additional chapters focus on specific policy areas: Michael Cain on the political economy of pension spending in Poland, Robert Jenkins on the non-profit sector in Hungary, and Michael McFaul on transitional constraints on the policy process in Russia. A theoretical introduction by Dietrich Rueschemeyer on the relevance of the left-right divide after communism frames the volume, and the editors return to this question in their conclusion.