Social Change in Russia and Eastern Europe: From Party Hacks to Nouveaux Riches

Article excerpt

Siu Brucan. Social Change in Russia and Eastern Europe: From Party Hacks to Nouveaux Riches. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998. xiii, 118 pp. Tables. Notes. Selected Bibliography. Index. $49.95, cloth.

There have been a good number of publications attempting to assess the nature of the changes that have taken place after the Soviet Union collapsed. Most of them have dealt with political and economic changes. Yet, says Brucan, the social is the most stable and enduring facet of the historical process and it can tell us better than the political or economic ones about the state of a society and where it is heading. Brucan attempts to assess the social structure that underlies the current processes in the postSoviet Eastern Europe. He draws a significant distinction between the social developments in Russia and in Central European societies and singles out Romania as a special case. Much of the book deals with Romania, but Brucan is able to point to the basic differences between the social structural bases of change in Central European countries and in Russia.

Brucan begins with a discussion of the social structure of communist states before their collapse. He focuses on what previously were the satellites but indicates the difference between the models of their social structure and that of the Soviet Union. Further, in an insightful chapter, he discusses the gradual decline of the working class in Eastern Europe during the communist era. He singles out a number of factors that have produced this decline. Among them, he focuses on the pro-Stalinist orientation of the manual worker of peasant origin as the ideal social base for the Communist Party. He points to the conflict of interests that had inevitably developed within the working class between manual and mental workers. In this conflict the former gradually lost ground while the latter took precedence in the industrial enterprise. Technological developments in industry have functioned to make this gap between the two ever larger.

After 1989 a new social structure began to develop. Brucan asserts that the middle class has to be seen as the key factor in the market reform of post-communist societies. But middle classes are not the same everywhere. The striking difference has been between the middle class in Central European nations and the middle class in the Soviet Union. In Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, in spite of four decades of communism, a relatively high percentage of the middle class has survived from the pre-communist period. In Hungary, Communist Party policy favored market economy. In the Central European countries, the farmers themselves were much better prepared for the market economy than were the Soviet kolkhozniki. Russia, as well as other countries of the Soviet Union, was seriously hampered in economic development by its lack of a significant middle class. After seventy years of communism in Russia, virtually no trace of the pre-Revolutionary bourgeoisie remained. Brucan states that in the historical process of social development in Europe, Russia seems to have always been one class behind. In 1917, when the socialist revolution was to take place, the social agent that was to bring about the change-i. …