Communism and the emergence of democracy

The long crisis of communism was a powerful impetus for the development of critical social theory, but critical social theory has not had much to say about the end of communism and what has followed in Eastern Europe and the former USSR. There are some monographs and edited collections on post-communism that use ideas and concepts from critical social theory, but they are few in number in comparison to work that starts from mainstream social science perspectives. This is especially the case for the study of post-communist politics where perspectives from ‘mainstream’ comparative politics have shaped debate about the nature of post-communist political development. Harald Wydra’s Communism and the emergence of democracy should therefore be welcomed for attempting to apply ideas from critical social theory to the study of post-communist politics and filling in a significant intellectual lacuna. There is a need for a volume written from this perspective, ideas about transition should and can be criticised, and there is nothing wrong with interpretation of events through secondary sources. Unfortunately, Wydra’s book fails at almost every level: it fails as a critique of conventional wisdoms, which are parodied rather than rebutted; it fails as a theoretical alternative because of the confusion of ideas and terms used and the avoidance of any effort to establish the relationship between the concepts deployed in the book; and it fails as interpretative analysis because analysis takes second place to the avalanche of concepts that Wydra deploys and what is left of it after the theoretical deluge is often conventional, frequently simplistic and sometimes erroneous.

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