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Goulash Communism, 1968–1980

  • Thomas W. SimonsJr.

Abstract

The Stalinist system remained in place after 1968, but it was drained of emotional and intellectual content in a part of the world where politics was still very much a question of emotions and ideas. After 1953 Stalinism could no longer be maintained by naked force alone, and after 1968 reform of socialism was discredited as an alternative or makeweight. As the Polish intellectual and former Communist Leszek Kołakowski said after he left Poland in 1969, talking about democratic socialism became like talking about fried snowballs.1 As the 1970s progressed, the theory of the two camps and fear of German revanchism joined ideology as former sources of support that were no longer available. Increasingly, the regimes justified their rule in terms of goulash: steady increases in the standard of living in a context of comprehensive social security.

Keywords

Economic Reform Systemic Reform Hard Currency Soviet Leadership Administrative Decentralization 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Quoted in Timothy Garton Ash, The Polish Revolution: Solidarity (New York: Scribner’s, 1983), 22.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    On American policy in the 1960s, see Bennett Kovrig, The Myth of Liberation. East-Central Europe in U.S. Diplomacy and Politics Since 1941 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 236–285;Google Scholar
  3. Raymond L. Garthoff, “Eastern Europe in the Context of U.S.-Soviet Relations,” in Sarah Meiklejohn Terry, ed., Soviet Policy in Eastern Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 315–348, brings the story up to the turn of the 1980s.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For this period and for what follows I have found Gerhard Wettig’s Community and Conflict in the Socialist Camp. The Soviet Union, East Germany and the German Problem 1965–1972 (London: C. Hurst, 1975), 20–47 and passim, very specific and helpful.Google Scholar
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    In a vast literature, I remain attracted by the insights of Philip Windsor, Change in Eastern Europe (London: Royal Institute for International Affairs, 1980), 3–11.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    See J.F. Brown, Eastern Europe and Communist Rule (Durham: Duke University Press, 1988), 56.Google Scholar
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    On power diffusion beginning in the late 1960s, see Judy Batt, East Central Europe from Reform to Transformation (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1991), 5. On regime “constitutionalism,”Google Scholar
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  9. see J.F. Brown, Surge to Freedom, 28–31. Soviet consumerist policy at home was documented through 1974 in Alastair McAuley, Economic Welfare in the Soviet Union. Poverty, Living Standards, and Inequatity (Madison, WI.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), and it is now brilliantly documented and analyzed for the whole period up to April 1991 inGoogle Scholar
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    For a treatment of the 1970s that makes just this point, see “New Substitutes for Economic Reform” in Paul M. Johnson, Redesigning the Communist Economy: The Politics of Economic Reform in Eastern Europe (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 205–211.Google Scholar
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    For a useful survey of the reform experience as of the early 1970s, see Morris Bornstein’s introduction to the collection of essays he edited as Plan and Market. Economic Reform in Eastern Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), 1–22. Bornstein is also the author of the distinction between “economic” and “administrative” decentralization: “Economic Reform in Eastern Europe,” in East European Economies Post-Helsinki: A Compendium of Papers submitted to the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1977), 102–134.Google Scholar
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    For a good summary of why reform failed in just such a volume, see Hans-Hermann Höhmann, “Economic Reform in the 1970s — Policy with No Alternative,” in Alec Nove, H.-H. Höhmann and Gertraud Seidenstecker, ed., The East European Economies in the 1970s (London: Butterworth, 1982), 1–16. For a more magisterial treatment,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  15. 13.
    See Walter D. Connor, Socialism, Politics and Equality: Hierarchy and Change in Eastern Europe (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979),Google Scholar
  16. and Jerry F. Hough’s comments on the philosophical and social issues involved in economic reform, in Soviet Leadership in Transition (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1980), 131–138.Google Scholar
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    On significant Czechoslovak worker resistance to economic reform, which conservatives exploited, see H. Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s Interrupted Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 579–585, which suggests that support for reform among workers began hesitantly and, though it picked up, never encompassed a majority. For concrete examples showing the crucial effect of the invasion in firming up workers’ support for reform,Google Scholar
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  19. 16.
    On egalitarian workers’ backlash and the slowdown of the NEM in Hungary while both were still fresh, see Walter D. Connor, “Social Consequences of Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe,” in Zbigniew M. Fallenbuchl, ed., Economic Development in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, vol. 1 (New York: Praeger, 1975), 65–99. For a more recent account, see Judy Batt, “The Political Limits of Economic Reform in Hungary, 1968–1978,” in her Economic Reform and Political Change in Eastern Europe (New York: St. Martin’s, 1988), 233–278. On the backlash in both Hungary and Czechoslovakia, see Paul M. Johnson, Redesigning the Communist Economy, 139–202. In her more recent work (East Central Europe, 4) Batt introduces a political /economic typology for Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. She argues that Poland and Hungary embarked on economic reform to shore up Communist power, backed away from radical reform (the only kind that could have brought the intended results) because it would undermine that power, and therefore introduced reforms so half-hearted that they were worse than none at all. By contrast, the Czechoslovak regime did not reform at all for precisely these reasons, but, beyond economic stability, the result was stagnant living standards which gravely weakened it when it was faced with the challenge of Gorbachev’s perestroika. Google Scholar
  20. 17.
    For informed meditation on the general problem of worker unrest that focuses on the December 1970 events in Poland, see J.M. Montias, “Economic Conditions and Political Instability in Communist Countries: Observations on Strikes, Riots and Other Disturbances,” Studies in Comparative Communism, 13, no. 4 (Winter 1980), 283–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 18.
    The estimate is from Włodzimierz Brus, cited in Garton Ash, Polish Revolution, 11, and Keith John Lepak, Prelude to Solidarity: Poland and the Politics of the Gierek Regime (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 138.Google Scholar
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  23. Janusz G. Zieliński, Economic Reforms in Polish Industry (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), 17–21;Google Scholar
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  25. 22.
    On agriculture, see Andrzej Korbonski, “Victim or Villain: Polish Agriculture since 1970,” in Maurice D. Simon and Roger E. Kanet, eds., Background to Crisis: Policy and Politics in Gierek’s Poland (Boulder: Westview, 1981), 271–298, and a more recent survey of developments since 1970 by a CIA analyst, “Polish Agriculture: Policy and Prospects,” in East European Economies: Slow Growth in the 1980s, Vol. 3: Country Studies on Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia, Selected Papers Submitted to the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1986), 450–464.Google Scholar
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    For useful summaries of the subsidization argument, see Brown, Eastern Europe, 123–130; Michael Marrese and Jan Vanous, “The Content and Controversy of Soviet Trade Relations with Eastern Europe, 1970–1984,” in Josef C. Brada, Ed A. Hewett and Thomas A. Wolf, eds., Economic Adjustment and Reform in Eastern Europe. Essays in Honor of Franklyn D. Holzman (Durham: Duke University Press, 1988), 185–222;Google Scholar
  27. and Charles Gati, The Bloc that Failed (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 112–124. For special attention to East European energy dependency on the Soviets in these years, see John P. Hardt, “Soviet Energy Policy in Eastern Europe,” in Terry, ed., Soviet Policy in Eastern Europe, 189–220.Google Scholar
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    For a fresh account of how the agricultural policy worked in a single village, see C. M. Hann, A Village Without Solidarity. Polish Peasants in Years of Crisis (New Haven: Yale Univerisity Press, 1985), 44–56.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    The best history, by a participant, is in Jan Józef Lipski, KOR. A History of the Workers’ Defense Committee in Poland (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 30–61, but the day-to-day account of the 1976 crisis inGoogle Scholar
  30. George Blazynski, Flashpoint Poland (New York: Pergamon, 1979), 255–292, retains its immediacy.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 35.
    For a cautious but prescient examination of the possibilities for a new worker-intellectual coalition across the area, written before Solidarity, see Walter D. Connor, “Dissent in Eastern Europe: A New Coalition?,” Problems of Communism, 29, no. 1 (January–February 1980): 1–17.Google Scholar

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© Thomas W. Simons, Jr. 1993

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  • Thomas W. SimonsJr.

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