Academic journal article Capital & Class

Transformation and Crisis in Central and Eastern Europe: A Combined and Uneven Development Perspective

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Transformation and Crisis in Central and Eastern Europe: A Combined and Uneven Development Perspective

Article excerpt


Following the comparative capitalisms (CC) research agenda (Crouch et al. 2009; Hall & Soskice 2001), attempts have been made to grapple with the question of what sort of capitalism has emerged in post-communist economies since 1990 (Knell & Srholec 2007; Lane & Myant 2007). It has been argued that the varieties of capitalism (VoC) conceptual framework in particular is durable and productive in relation to the analysis of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), although in need of some sensitisation (Feldmann 2006; King 2007). Others have been more trenchant in their criticisms, suggesting that this agenda does not capture the dynamics of economic systems undergoing transformation (Bohle et al. 2007; Lane 2007). Indeed, since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008, Becker and Jager (2012) have suggested that the status of CEE countries, as peripherally financialised economies, is the key factor in explaining why they have experienced the crisis in its most acute form.

Drahokoupil and Myant (2011) have advanced the most sophisticated typology of post-communist economies, which combines forms of integration with the international economy with internal economic, political and institutional forms to generate five types of post-communist economies (see also Drahokoupil & Myant 2013). While this provides a useful inventory, it falls short of providing a theoretical framework with which to explain linkages between the different institutions and their causal link in explaining relative economic performances. While CC and especially VoC approaches have looked for institutional and structural regularities to explain the transformation of and crisis in these economies, this article offers a different perspective. Below, I focus on deeper processes that shape the development and interrelationship of capitalist economies in general, using CEE as an exemplar, from a theoretical perspective of combined and uneven development.

The article begins by elaborating a theory of combined and uneven development that posits an extended view of previous formulations by taking spatiality, labour and institutions more seriously (see also Taylor in this special issue). Drawing on the conceptual framework of combined and uneven development, the subsequent sections give an account of the transformation of and inflection of the crisis in the countries of CEE.

A theory of combined and uneven development

The notion of combined and uneven development has its genesis in Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution (2008), in which be presented the law of combined development. Smith (2006), however, points to the way in which the analytical propensities of uneven development became trivialised, first because it was deployed to justify very different political positions, and second, because of claims that it could explain 'everything in the world' (2006: 182). Novack (1972), for example, declared it to be 'one of the fundamental laws of human history' and a 'scientific law of the widest application to the historical process' (1972: 82). In 1986, Elster suggested that the theory had not been stated with 'sufficient precision and generality to allow one to assess its power' (1986: 56). However, the debate about combined and uneven development has been the subject of renewed and reinvigorated debate in the 21st century (see Anievas 2010; Dunn & Radice 2006). The incompleteness and ambiguities in Trotsky's and subsequent conceptualisations, coupled with the challenges of advanced capitalism, have left space for a richer and more rigorous development of the theory of combined and uneven development, rooted in the inner workings of capitalism, and which finds its starting point in Marx. The conceptualisation of the theory presented here centres on the following themes: the specific relationship between 'combined' and 'uneven' development, and the extent to which either concept should be privileged; the relationship between spatiality and labour; and institutional architectures. …

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