Elites after State Socialism: Theories and Analysis

Article excerpt

John Higley and Gyorgy Lengyel, eds. Elites after State Socialism: Theories and Analysis. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. ix, 252 pp. Index. $64.00, cloth; $24.95, paper.

Here is a book that actually lives up to its billing. The editors claim that it is "a substantial advance in the literature on postsocialist politics and societies and in the comparative study of elites" (p. ix). It is exactly that.

A product of three years' collaboration by its nineteen contributors, the volume deals with most of the Eastern European countries (excepting Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Romania, and Slovenia) and Russia. Each country gets an individual chapter; Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland together get an additional comparative chapter. Every contribution reports original research and thinking on the theme of continuity and change among elites in the first postsocialist decade. The approaches are varied and challenging; there is a healthy, thought-provoking degree of dissent among the contributors who are not afraid to disagree even with the editors. There are differing assessments of the persistence of the nomenklatura, as well as different views of the circulation versus reproduction of elites and most basically of the primacy of elites versus social classes as engines of change. Indeed, the central concept of "circulation" is itself not adequately elaborated or operationalized anywhere in this volume: we are not sure if it refers to individuals, categories of people, or entire social strata. But that would take a whole other book to do. All in all, this book is a welcome and major advance in the study of elites which should stimulate following up and replication.

In an introductory chapter, the editors develop a model of the configuration of elites and their corresponding political regimes. Thus a consensual elite is found in a consolidated democracy, a fragmented elite in an unconsolidated democracy, an ideocratic one in a totalitarian or post-totalitarian regime, and a divided elite is characteristic of the authoritarian or sultanistic regime. Similarly, the mode of change of the elite corresponds to the character of the regime and its elite: circulation, reproduction, replacement, and quasi-replacement, respectively. The key question, not explicitly formulated in this introduction, is whether the ideocratic or divided elites of these formerly totalitarian, authoritarian, and post-totalitarian regimes will become consensual or, failing that, fragmented, and whether the pattern of elite change is circulation or something else associated with other than consolidated democracy. This framework provides an orientation for the reader to what follows. Mercifully, the other contributors do not feel bound to it, which relieves the book of potential uniformity and hence tedium.

The contributions are organized into two parts, one dealing with the political elites, the other with the economic elites. In general, based on studies of representative samples of elites, the researchers' findings conform to the editors' model with a much more thorough circulation in countries closer to democratic consolidation and a reproduction of elites in others. …