Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Interest Articulation in Communist Regimes: The New Economic Mechanism in Hungary, 1962-1980

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Interest Articulation in Communist Regimes: The New Economic Mechanism in Hungary, 1962-1980

Article excerpt

What factors precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union and other eastern bloc communist regimes? This question continues to plague researchers since many former communist states rapidly transformed into burgeoning democracies. Perhaps more importantly, the question represents a deeper query: What internal social or political arrangements existed that expedited the transitions to democracy? To address this latter question, the research examines the internal character of the Hungarian communist regime with the insight gained from research in the Hungarian National Archives. Through the examination of various archival resources, journals, and newspapers, the research demonstrates that multiple levels of networks organized the Hungarian system from within the Party-dominated regime. The existence of these networks indicates the complexity of the decisionmaking process and provides researchers with the evidence to address the question of what advanced the process of democratization in Hungary.

TOTALITARIANISM, PLURALISM, AND COMMUNIST REGIMES

At the onset of the Cold War, researchers focused on the totalitarian model constructed by Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski as a means of evaluating Soviet-styled regimes. Friedrich and Brzezinski identified totalitarian regimes in terms of the official ideology and the single leader in control of a mass party consisting of a small proportion of the population. Included in the characterization was a near complete monopoly of control over all means of effective combat and mass communication with systems of police control and central bureaucratic direction of the economy. (1) These characteristics emphasized the control of the state over society, in direct contrast to the ideas of liberal democracies, leading many scholars to characterize communist regimes as unique. But some researchers noted that the structural uniqueness attributed to totalitarian regimes obscured interest-seeking behaviors in the Soviet Union that mirrored similar activities in Western states, creating a lack of cohesiveness in the research of comparative politics. Western scholars developed concepts and theories based primarily on the American experience, and these ideas were not tested to examine their applicability to Soviet studies. This lack of conceptual analysis left a gap between Soviet studies and other comparative political inquiry. As a result, research focused on the totalitarian model and excluded an examination of interest articulation and conflict in Soviet-styled regimes. (2)

To fill this conceptual void, Gordon Skilling and Franklyn Griffiths edited a work that focused on the central assumption that, after Joseph Stalin's death, the Soviet system was passing through a transition period of which one of the characteristics was an "increased activity of political interest groups and the presence of group conflict." (3) From the analysis, Skilling concluded that political groups varied in terms of their status, resources, their method of influence, their access to power, and their associational behavior. Moreover, group alliances crisscrossed coalitions depending on policy issues under consideration. Skilling concluded that interest group activities would continue regardless of possible setbacks. (4) This research affirmed the existence of pluralism in the Soviet Union, but not in the way in which American interest group theory had been conceived. Instead, these Soviet group theorists attempted to reformulate pluralist theory beyond the Western conceptual bias. (5) Moreover, the interest group approach called into question the applicability of the totalitarian model in light of the intra-party factions and "oppositional tendencies" evident in post-Stalinist systems. (6) Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Soviet interest group research proliferated and expanded to include corporatism, pluralism, and various aspects of interest-seeking behaviors. (7) Researchers also adapted the interest group approach to the Chinese case as a means of examining policy outputs and implementation as well as the relationship between the state and society beyond the parameters of the totalitarian model. …

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