Social Scientist. v 19, no. 218 (July 1991) p. 3.

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The Collapse of Actually Prevailing Socialism: Some Lessons


The year 1989 marked an important transition in the history of socialism. The world system that claimed inspiration from Marxian socialism and had been in existence since 1917 was either wiped out or changed beyond recognition. The process of change is still going on. While it is not entirely clear what will emerge at the end, it is certain that the outcome would bear little resemblance to the system as it was before the onset of the present wave of transition.

Indeed the change has been far less sudden than appears from the breathtaking events of 1989. China led the way by launching itself on a path of reform that followed the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in December 1978. Within five years it decollectivized agriculture, promoted substantial private ownership in non-agricultural sectors and legalized private wage-labor. By early 1980s it had become clear that what had happened in China was qualitatively different from the preceding waves of reform that characterized the socialist countries from time to time. Since the late 1980s the Soviet Union and the Eastern Europe became the main stage of the drama. Unlike China, these countries simultaneously experienced political changes that were more profound than economic changes which often lagged behind. In the Soviet Union the change in the system of ownership has so far been slow, but all indicators point to the possibility of rapid change in future. In much of Eastern Europe socialism has been officially abandoned by emerging non-socialist regimes which have been busy reverting to the capitalist systems of ownership and market. Cuba, North Korea and Albania continue to adhere to past policies and institutions without inspiring much confidence or enthusiasm as a viable model of economic prosperity combined with a humane social organization. The conclusion is inesca-

* University of California, Riverside.

Social Scientist, Vol. 19, No. 7, July 1991

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