Stalinism Revisited: The Establishment of Communist Regimes in East-Central Europe

By Vladimir Tismaneanu | Go to book overview

KEN JOWITT


Stalinist Revolutionary Breakthroughs
in Eastern Europe

According to Franz Schurman, a revolutionary breakthrough makes a return to the status quo ante impossible. Otto Kirchheimer, in his seminal article “Confining Conditions and Revolutionary Breakthroughs,” adds substantially to Schurman's definition noting that a revolutionary breakthrough may occur with the “old data” remaining, “though absorbed in a new context and thereby deprived of its confining nature.” I take his point to be that while all social change is partial, some social change is decisive in radically revising who authoritatively defines the institutions of power at all levels of society. Successful revolutions insure that the “old data,” e.g., former elites, institutions, and ideologies, when not liquidated, are “privatized” by the “new data.”

The immediate question, then, is what did Stalinist revolutionaries in Eastern Europe face in 1948? What did the “old data,” the confining conditions and the status quo consist of? And, of course, what were the character defining features and consequences of revolutionary breakthroughs in that area?

One must begin by respecting the substantial differences between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. One could spend countless hours arguing over these differences, or, more likely, invidiously juxtaposing the positive features of the former with the negative features of the latter, or one could simplify by comparing a Rechtstaat with a Patrimonial state. I won't do even that, because for my purposes the similarities between the two empires (and the Russian) are more important than their differences. All three empires subordinated and minimized individual identity in favor of collective identities—voluntary association to absolute hierarchies, and rejected political integration based on citizenship roles to political domination based on elite status.

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