Social Scientist. v 24, no. 272-74 (Jan-Mar 1996) p. 111.

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Ahistorical Political Economics"


Jajhos Kornai, the famous and internationally acknowledged economics theoretician and leader of Hungarian liberal economics, has appeared before the national and international scientific public with a recently published comprehensive critique of socialism. His work Socialist System deserves more general attention since it is not a specialised traditional economic analysis. The author has ventured to do nothing less than to write critical political economics, according to the Hungarian subtitle, conceived in the spirit of 'objective scientific idealsY*o to speak. The author's main goal also boosts our interest: he looks for the answer to the question, 'What was the social formation which we lived in for so long?'

Kornai's work was written with the claim to be a textbook for university students of economics both in Hungary and abroad. Since the textbook touches upon quite a few basic problems of the history of the group of phenomena called socialism (movement, ideology, structure for production etc.), and since various chapters and parts of the work are of historical rather than economic nature, it is worth examining such an interdisciplinary work in the light of the most recent results of historiography. Kornai's work is the first general comprehensive work on the economy of the change of regime.

Naturally I do not wish to compare Kornai's experiment with the demands of a specialised historical work. What I wish to examine is whether his theoretical conclusions are consistent with consensus-based results of historiography1, or in contradiction with them. I do not wish to deal with purely ideological questions since the ideological foundation of the work, as stated by Kornai himself in the foreword of the Hungarian version, is that 'the author considers the socialist structure to be history's dead end'2> an allegation he strives to prove

University of Budapest, Hungary. Review Article of Janos Karnoi's book, Socialist System.

Vol 74. Nos. 1-3. Tanuarv-MaTch 1996

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