American anthropologist Katherine Verdery's refreshing interpretation of “what was socialism” bears upon the nature of the Leninist legacies and offers a useful counterpart to political scientist Ken Jowitt's contribution to this volume. She discusses the state socialist experiments in East Central Europe focusing on the economic and social underpinnings of those systems. Particularly significant is her examination of the uses of surveillance and redistribution as the two faces (“negative” and “positive”) of regime legitimization. Pointing out the interplay between domestic and international constraints and disruptions, Verdery provides a framework for understanding both “how” and “why” the collapse of communism took place. She shows how capitalism (market relations) emerged in some countries before the official political demise of Leninism occurred. Indeed, time mattered tremendously in the competition between the capitalist and socialist systems. Verdery presents the failure of state socialism “to catch up” with its Western rival as eventually resulting in mass disaffection, elite desperation, and ideological prostration. In accord with Jowitt's analysis of the “Leninist Extinction, ” she concludes that the revolutions 0/1989 have challenged all established norms, identities, and certainties, both East and West.
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The startling disintegration of Communist Party rule in Eastern Europe in 1989, and its somewhat lengthier unraveling in the Soviet Union between 1985 and 1991, rank among the century's most momentous occurrences. Especially because neither policy-makers nor area specialists predicted them, these events will yield much analysis after the fact, as scholars develop the hindsight necessary for understanding what they failed to grasp before. In this chapter, I aim to stimulate discussion about why Soviet-style socialism fell. Because I believe answers to the question require understanding how socialism “worked, ” I begin with an analysis of this and