Σάββατο, Μαΐου 19, 2012

Γιατί πρέπει να κρατάμε το μυαλό μας ανοιχτό. Και μια κριτική βιβλίου. A Review for Verdery's "What was socialism and what comes next?"



Με όλη αυτή την καταιγίδα πληροφοριών και μηνυμάτων τις τελευταίες μέρες νομίζω ότι έχουμε ζαλιστεί εντελώς. Όλοι φοβούνται την επόμενη μέρα αλλά δεν ξέρουν και τι να κάνουν. Κανείς δεν ξέρει ποια θα είναι η καλύτερη λύση στο πρόβλημα.

Γνώμη μου είναι ότι φτάσαμε ως εδώ γιατί πάψαμε να σκεφτόμαστε εδώ και χρόνια. Να έχουμε κριτική σκέψη και ανοιχτό μυαλό. Σας έχω πει ότι κάνω ένα μεταπτυχιακό στο Διεθνές Πανεπιστήμιο εδώ στη Θεσσαλονίκη σχετικό με τις χώρες της Μαύρης Θάλασσας. Τα καλά του να συνεχίζεις να σπουδάζεις σε μεγαλύτερη ηλικία είναι πάρα πολλά. ‘Ένα από αυτά είναι ότι έρχεσαι σε επαφή με νέους και βλέπεις πως σκέπτονται. Είμαι υπέρ των νέων αλλά δεν τους δικαιώνω σε όλα. Το μειονέκτημα για αυτούς είναι ότι συνήθως συνεχίζουν τις σπουδές τους για να έχουν ένα χαρτί παραπάνω καθώς αγωνίζονται να βρουν δουλειά. Οι γνώσεις που αποκτούν είναι μέχρι τις εξετάσεις.

Εμένα που είμαι σε μεγαλύτερη ηλικία, παρότι καλό θα ήταν να με βοηθήσει αυτό το χαρτί για να κάνω περισσότερη έρευνα, που μου αρέσει πολύ, συγχρόνως η μελέτη με βοηθάει να αναπτύσσω την κριτική μου σκέψη. Για παράδειγμα αυτό το εξάμηνο έγραψα ένα Review, νομίζω κριτική θα ήταν η πιο σωστή λέξη στα ελληνικά, στο βιβλίο της Verdery What was socialism and what comes next?. Ο τίτλος είναι λίγο παραπλανητικός δεν μιλάει για τον σοσιαλισμό της Δύσης αλλά για τον πρώην υπαρκτό σοσιαλισμό και μάλιστα όπως αυτός εφαρμόστηκε στη Ρουμανία. Είναι μια ματιά εκ του σύνεγγυς στη λειτουργία του υπαρκτού σοσιαλισμού, στους λόγους που κατέρρευσε, αλλά και στην περίοδο μετάβασης από την παλαιά κατάσταση στη νέα που η Δύση πιστεύει ότι θα είναι η Δημοκρατία όπως τουλάχιστον την αντιλαμβάνεται αυτή (η Δύση εννοώ).

Νομίζω ότι αν ανοίγαμε λίγο τους ορίζοντες μας και αντιλαμβανόμασταν ότι δεν είμαστε μόνοι μας σε αυτόν τον πλανήτη και μαθαίναμε λίγο από τις εμπειρίες των άλλων θα ήμασταν σε  καλύτερη θέση να αντιμετωπίσουμε τα προβλήματά μας. Δεν θα θεωρούμασταν εύκολος στόχος και δεν θα μας βομβάρδιζαν με όλη αυτήν την πληροφορία. Κατ’ αρχήν δεν θα είχαμε φτάσει ως εδώ. Δεν θα είχαμε αφήσει τον  εαυτό μας λεία στον κάθε τυχάρπαστο πολιτικό. Δεν θα  είχαμε αρκεστεί στα ψίχουλα που μας πρόσφεραν για να μας κλείνουν τα μάτια. Ακόμη και αν η πλειοψηφία το έκανε θα υπήρχε ένα μεγάλο υγιές κομμάτι πληθυσμού που θα ήταν αντίβαρο και κάποιες φορές θα κέρδιζε τη μάχη της λογικής παρασύροντας, για καλό και τους υπόλοιπους.

Η εργασία μου φαίνεται παρακάτω, για όποιον θέλει να την διαβάσει και ίσως μετά να διαβάσει και το βιβλίο της Verdery. Θέλω να σημειώσω βέβαια ότι δεν μπορεί να χρησιμοποιηθεί η ύλη του ή αν χρησιμοποιηθεί να αναφερθεί η πηγή. Ήθελα να την ανεβάσω ως αρχείο αλλά δεν ξέρω πως. Όποιος θέλει να βοηθήσει, η βοήθεια είναι παραπάνω από ευπρόσδεκτη.




What Was Socialism and What Comes Next?
Katherine Verdery
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996. 298 pp.

Pliaki Katerina
International Hellenic University


This volume is a collection of various articles or lectures that were written, presented or published between 1988 and 1994. As the author herself states her interest in Marxism did not precede her research in Romania but rather emerged from it.  She wanted to examine what life there would be like and not to criticize either of the systems, the Marxism or the capitalism. She came to know Marxism through its institutionalized and propagandizing ways in Romanian media and in her fieldwork. The writer is of the opinion that although Soviet Union belongs to the past is worthy to be studied for several, both practical and academic reasons. It is a way to deeply understand the present of the region.

A variety of questions and fundamental issues are on stake here such as property restitution, privatization, decollectivization, gender differences and unresolved nationalism. All these issues are shown through the lens of everyday people in daily life. No easy answers are provided. On the contrary she proposes that more ethnographic research is needed in order to understand how the communist past is affecting the present and is going to affect the future of the former soviet nations. In the meantime it is necessary, she suggests, for the anthropologists to avoid assessments for the outcome of this process.

The book is consisted of lectures and papers written and presented by the author between 1992 and 1994. They are based on ethnographic field research that was held either before the collapse of Communism in 1989 or immediately after it. Also it is grounded on Romanian press between the years 1992 through September 1994. Particularly for the subject of the 7th  chapter the author mentions that questioned people while she was studying the reinstate of the realty in Romania.

In chapter 1 we find the theoretical model of socialism. An analysis to the point of socialism’s structure as a theory and not as a real manifestation is given. Verdery believes that U.S.A. and the West had a wrong image of Communism as an uncompromising totalitarian regime. On the contrary elements of resistance and hidden forms of sabotage are described briefly that according to the author contributed a lot to the final collapse of the regime. Socialism is described as a fragile centralized system of organized shortages which initiated a vicious circle of bribes and favors. In the minds of the workers also a consciousness was formed that Party bosses were exploiting the workers and so the workers worked as little as they could, thus undermining in yet another way the socialist regimes.

In a rather sarcastic way under the subtitle Surveillance and Paternalistic Redistribution describes the counter act of the regime to this consciousness by the “production system” of Secret Police which she takes form the memoirs of Romanian political prisoner Herbert Zilber. Socialist paternalism, promises that the Party will meet the needs like a father does. She emphasizes the difference between the inner logic of socialism in comparison to capitalism. Socialism aims redistribution of products as a mean of soothing the opposition to the regime whereas Capitalism aims profit. Towards the end of the first chapter Verdery gives a very well documented and interesting personal opinion of the reasons of socialisms’ collapse.

In the 2nd chapter the nature of time is discussed. In the personal view of the writer the Romanians were deprived of the control over their personal time. Ceauᶊescu in his effort to pay back ahead of schedule the foreign debt, that he considered toxic, he took austerity measures.  To eliminate the expected popular opposition augmented the monitoring and repression apparatus. She offers examples of how the regime even inspected the citizens on how many pigs they would breed and how much goods they could plant in their plot. Shortages of certain items were converted into a seizure of citizens’ time as they had to wait endless hours in food lines like immobilized bodies. Fuel shortages and other scarcities in Romania made the irregularity a norm.

Verdery claims that the Etatization of time even altered the definition of self for people of Romania as it altered the rituals of the people and tried to create the new socialist man. She refers in Zerubavel to suggest that the rhythms of socialist holy days that were secular ones kept people off balance and undermined the sense of normal. Uncertainty was the rule of the state. According to her, people were so furious for the usurpation of their time by the regime and of the deprivation of self-determination that they manifested their hatred towards the regime during and after the overthrow of Ceauᶊescu.


In the 3d chapter Verdery handles the subject of Gender and Nation in Contemporary East Europe. Firstly she states that this subject was not her field until she was asked to submit a paper for a conference which was about gender and nationalism and was carried out in Bellagio in July 1992 by Catherine Hall (feminist historian) and Judith Walkowitz (historian). She firstly explains her idea of “gender” and “nation”. Then she explains the socialistic patterns of gender and nation. She concludes the chapter by mentioning the consequences of these two patterns after the collapse of socialism in certain Eastern European countries such as Romania, Hungary, Poland and Croatia.

Chapter 4 touches a dramatic consequence of the end of Communism. This was the immediate emergence of national movements. This came as a surprise even to the Communist Parties leaders. Verdery presents examples from secondary literature about countries such as Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and other Soviet republics and of course about Romania. She argues that we cannot consider this phenomenon only as the reappearance of ‘ancient’ animosities but rather than as a result of a number of causes, different from one country to another. Some of the causes that are mentioned are historical, other lie on political organization and ethnicity mechanisms used by the Party. She gives examples of the later from Transylvania.

In chapter 5 terms such as Civil Society, Nation and Europe are used as ideological factors rather than realities. She illustrates using some study cases that in Romania these terms were welcomed, as the 1992 election outcome showed, by high-educated people, whereas in the rural areas, together with Transylvania, the Party of Romanian National Unity was more successful. It becomes obvious that for the rural population of Romania ‘Europe’ is not such an appealing idea. In contrast to what some people believed that would happen after the fall of Ceauᶊescu’s regime the symbol of ‘nation’ remained powerful. The idea of the nation has been so strengthened that it affects also political agendas.

Her observation of the redistribution of the land in Transylvanian village Aurel Vlaicu is the base of the 6th chapter. She emphasizes a lot on the elasticity of the redistributed surface due to many legislative vacuums and peculiarities which led to restitution for some but deprivation for others. In this chapter Verdery points out that Romania as well as other former Communist countries, tried to remove a substantial amount of their Communist history as if it had never existed. For this reason they fell back to their past in order to feel secure and to have a perspective to their route towards their future. An objection here would be that the writer overanalyzes the subject of earth distribution.

A good effort is made in chapter 7 to convey the frenzy about the Caritas pyramid scheme. Actually is pointed out that those schemes are breaded in many parts of the world, even in U.S.A. in the 30s, everywhere people are desperate and panicked because of the economic situation. The consequences of the fall of Caritas are yet to be reckoned as they will be affecting the population in many ways for the years to come. At the end of this chapter there is a thought provoking quotation from Brâncoveanu: “The bosses of the mutual-aid games have intuited and speculate upon this inclination of the masses to risk in the name of a better future.”[1]

In chapter 8 Verdery elaborates more on the subject of redistribution of property rights to show that this contributes to the transformation of politics and state power in Romania. It is based on ethnographic data of her field research as well as on secondary literature. She speaks about privatization as a term representing an emblem that opened the doors to power, legalized governments and attracted external aid. It is thought that those who profited by the privatization were the elite of the apparatus of the Party as they had inside information and relations with foreign companies and thus more knowledge of the business practices in the West.

She refers also to the privatization of power where she speaks metaphorically of a parallel to feudalism. She uses the word “mafia” because as it is explained this is the term used by people. It was claimed by a lot that corruption after the fall of socialism was worse than in Ceauᶊescu days and that in local level the whole system was laying down to mafia. A contradictory idea of diminishing the state but in the same time restructuring it is also presented in this chapter. This process will, according to the author, result to deferent type of states in each case.

In the last part of the book the Afterword some very interesting thoughts are arisen by the use of the sayings of Tony Kushner’s invented Oldest Living Bolshevik. “The snake sheds its skin only when a new skin is ready…without his skin he…die. Have you, my little serpents, a new skin? Then we dare not, we cannot move ahead”. (229) So the need for new theories is discussed in this conclusion.

What Was Socialism and What Comes Next?, is a well written book. Verdery substantiate her position with arguments and documents. It seems also to be a prolific anthropologist expert on Romanian matters.

An objection would be the tittle of the book which is very general and may lead the potential reader to false expectations. The title implies a more general approach to socialism either in Leninist theory or to the socialism as an economic system. The title would rather help the reader know what to expect. Also in some cases it seems like a contradiction when from the one side she claims no socialist country was ‘typical’ because it had its own specificities and on others generalizes her conclusions.

The reader either scholar or student would better regard this book as a study case of a former socialist country.  Verdery does a creditable job of investigation of a socialist society and the process of its transition. After an explanation of the function of socialism and the consequences of this function to the citizens she deals with the transition taking place after 1989. An asset of the book is the abundance of the notes at the end of the book which prove not only a thorough but also a well-grounded research.  So this book presents a thought provoking research which may lead to other studies on socialistic and post-socialistic countries. It arouses questions that would create different approaches in the close examination of several countries of the former Soviet bloc.


[1] Brâncoveanu, “Fenomenul ‘Carita’ şi escrocheria politică.”



1 σχόλιο:

Rita Mano είπε...

Bravo soyu Katerina, an excellent piece i enjoyed every line i read. i hope more of you will be part of the greek leading groups in the future.