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

By Vladimir Tismaneanu | Go to book overview

AGNES HELLER


Legitimation Deficit and Legitimation
Crisis in East European Societies

In the following paper I use the term “legitimation” roughly in its Weberian understanding. A system of domination can be regarded as “legitimate” if at least one part of the population acknowledges it as exemplary and binding, while the other part, most often the majority, does not confront the existing social order with an image of an alternative one as, at least, equally exemplary and more desirable. In Weber's view there are three major sources of legitimacy, namely, the legal order, charisma and tradition.

Dealing with communist systems, I would add first the distinction between the legitimacy of a system (of domination) and the legitimacy of a government, and second two supplementary sources of legitimacy, such as interest and fear. Interest and fear can be termed spurious sources of legitimacy, yet since they can be effective for a long time, they cannot be neglected. Fear can have also two sources. First, fear from Stalinist terror, second, fear from external threat. For example, in the Soviet Union, the first was strong in the thirties, the second during World War II. As far as interest is concerned, it never worked, not even as supplementary source of legitimacy during Stalinism, yet, for example during the second half of Kádár's rule, it did function in Hungary.

I want to say in advance that, whereas Stalinism enjoyed legitimacy in the above described senses in the Soviet Union, especially in Russia and Georgia, it constantly struggled with serious cases of legitimacy deficit in all East European societies, although not in all of them to the same extent. Deficit in legitimacy does not always lead to legitimacy crises, and even in cases of legitimacy crises one has to distinguish between acute and chronic crises, and between the legitimacy crises of the system of domination and the government. It was typical of most

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