The State against Society: Political Crises and Their Aftermath in East Central Europe

By Grzegorz Ekiert | Go to book overview

PART III
The Political Crisis and Its Aftermath
in Poland, 1980–1989

As I have argued that the political crises in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 were the result of, and a reaction to, the Stalinist policies of forced industrialization and political terror that produced profound reconstitution of economic, social, and political structures in these countries. From such a point of view, both the Hungarian Revolution and the Prague Spring were forms of de-Stalinization expressed through a political crisis. In both cases, shortages and disbalances of centrally planned economies, abuses of power and political repressions, as well as pressures from the international environment, led to deep divisions within the ruling elites and produced protracted political conflicts and struggle among the party leaders. In Hungary, the conflict acquired a more dramatic character and rapidly spilled outside the party-state institutions. It coupled with growing popular dissatisfaction and released lightning revolutionary mobilization, which quickly swept away the entire institutional structure of the Hungarian partystate. In Czechoslovakia, the decay of the Stalinist system and the development of intra-elite conflicts was more subdued and prolonged, but it eventually led to a reform movement from above initiated and carried out by the new elites of the party-state. In contrast to Hungary, however, the reform movement did not trigger popular mobilization that could threaten the integrity and survival of the Czechoslovak party-state.

In both cases, the impetus for change came from political actors inside the party-state. The advocates of reforms within the Communist party operated through the existing institutions and never seriously questioned the major tenets of the Marxist-Leninist state-idea and outcomes of postwar economic and political transformations. Originally, both groups of party reformers, represented by Imre Nagy and Alexander Dubcek, sought to establish a

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