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The end of communism in Central and Eastern Europe: The last middle-class revolution?

Political Power and Social Theory

ISBN: 978-0-85724-325-6, eISBN: 978-0-85724-326-3

Publication date: 23 December 2010

Abstract

This chapter offers a few stylized observations about the middle class and its role in the fall of communist regimes in East Central Europe. I claim that successive East European modernization projects during the 20th century (intrawar, communist, and postcommunist) were essentially middle-class “revolutions from above.” They occurred in a backward region among late modernizers keenly aware of their peripheral position and were based on and carried out by the state. Both a product of the state and dependent on it, the middle class was the main actor and supporter of these modernization efforts. I also argue that the Solidarity movement in 1980/81 and the 1989 collapse of communism were the last successful middle-class revolutions. Hopes for another political rebellion against postcommunist authoritarianism may be misplaced, since the transformational potential of the East European middle class, produced by the peculiarities of communist rule, has been exhausted. Fast progressing modernization, segmentation, and fragmentation of identity of the postcommunist middle class brought about by the economic, cultural, and political integration with the West undercut its mobilizational potential and its role as an agent of political transformations. The East European middle-class revolution against communist rule can offer four basic lessons. First, the middle class is a cultural and historical not economic phenomenon. Second, it is extremely rare for the middle class to become a collective actor, the class for itself. Third, the main competitors of middle-class identity are nationalism, ethnicity and religion. Finally, postmodernity with its fluidity, uncertainty, fractured identities, fragmented lifestyles, consumption patterns, and status configuration does not provide facilitating conditions for middle-class solidarity and mobilization, making it politically feeble.

Citation

Ekiert, G. (2010), "The end of communism in Central and Eastern Europe: The last middle-class revolution?", Go, J. (Ed.) Political Power and Social Theory (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 21), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 99-123. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0198-8719(2010)0000021009

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited