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What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next? (Princeton Studies in Culture/Power/History)

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691011325
ISBN-10: 069101132X
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Verdery starts always with real people's thoughts and experiences, putting her inquiries on a solid footing that both statistics-heavy economic reports and arid efforts at political theorizing conspicuously lack. This solidity is a boon to those who want to understand how formerly existing socialism came to be what it was--and a warning to those who traffic in simple models of how it is being surpassed."--Joel Robbins, In These Times

About the Author

Katherine Verdery is Eric R. Wolf Professor of Anthropology and Interim Chair, University of Michigan.
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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Studies in Culture/Power/History
  • Paperback: 298 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 16, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069101132X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691011325
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,254,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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As Karl Marx noted originally, "islands of socialism cannot exist in a sea of capitalism". Marx, Lenin, Djilas, Marcuse, and some others have explained why this was so. In What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next?, anthropologist Katherine Verdery explains how and why the Soviet bloc socialist experiment failed in general terms and in sharp narrative detail.

As the system of state socialist governance began to disintegrate in the late 80's says Verdery, the first casualties were the classic Marxist-Leninist theoretical constructions about the role of vangardist cadres, production, the true meaning of economic and political liberty, and the role of the state in society. Verdery gives careful and detailed explanation of this conflict of theory with practice.

Verdery creates her own nomenclature for her explanations of these processes and their actors in the decline and fall of state socialism in Russia and the rest of the Soviet bloc. For example:

"Entrepratchiks" explains Verdery, are well connected party members who collude with managers and bureaucrats who gamed the reformist programs of the late 80's for their own pecuniary and political gain [page 33]. A useful term has been coined here.

"Etatization" says Verdery, are "ways in the which the Romanian state [in this case] seized time from the purposes which many wanted to pursue", by means such as creating shortages of electricity, food, consumer goods (and so which required long waiting in queues), and irregular transportation and work hours [page 40].
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Format: Paperback
Katherine Verdery's use of her experience in Romania as the basis for generalizations on 'actually existing socialism' and 'what comes next' left me skeptical at first. However, after more serious study this books constitutes one of the seminal works for study of this region.
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Format: Paperback
The author has chosen an interesting topic. However, I was more than a little put off by her treatment of it.

If socialism subjected "hundreds of thousands to terror and death," then its professed concern with "hunger, inequality and poverty" is absurd on its face. If socialism produced hunger, and killed millions, why see it as a "liberation movement"? While surely death brings liberation from suffering, that could hardly be thought a sufficient response "to major problems (of) capitalist liberal democracies."

The author attempts "to broaden a critique of Western economic and political forms." At the same time, she does not critique her own critique. While she purports to see these "forms" through Eastern Europeans' eyes, she totally ignores that the dead have no eyes with which to see; they are dead. And the number of dead caused by socialism exceeds "hundreds of thousands."
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