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Claus Offe Capitalism by Democratic Design? Democratic Theory Facing the Triple Transition in East Central Europe CONVERGENCE THEORIES OF THE I96OS AND I97OS PREDICTED THAT THE two rival political-economic systems would more or less rapidly assimi­ late each other and inevitably move toward one another. The East was to be enriched with market elements, while the “mixed” economic order of Western capitalism had already adopted elements of state interven­ tion into production and distribution processes. The problem with this theory, as is now becoming apparent, was that only the West was capa­ ble of “mixing,” whereas the socialist societies were constantly on the verge of “capsizing” through concessions made to political liberaliza­ tion (party competition, freedom of opinion), national independence, decentralized forms of ownership, and competitive price formation, to say nothing about “economic democracy.” Western admixtures were regularly taken back. Everywhere the self-transformation of socialist societies foundered on the political elites’ justified fear of downward paths. The “oil-spill thesis,” which predicts that the entire system will be spoiled when just a single “alien” element or move is introduced, turned out precisely not to apply to those systems for which it was meant to hold true in the 1920s by von Mieses—that is, Western capiORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN SOCIAL RESEARCH VOL. 58, NO. 4 (W INTER 1991) social research Vol 71 : No 3 : Fall 200 4 SOI talist democracies. All the more clearly, however, was it corroborated for the state-socialist regimes. As is shown by the results of the debates of the ‘60s and ‘70s over economic reform in the Eastern bloc, these regimes did not manage to incorporate their opposite principle in both sufficient and harmless dosage. Resolute “reforms from above” were ruled out in the eyes of the Soviet leadership, for, as was suspected there, they would lead to incalculable complications and destabilizations—even to dangerous encouragement to “reforms from below” or, still worse, a “revolution from below.” What was left over in this blocked-up situation was a way out, which seemed as unlikely before as it looks inevitable after the fact: the way of a “revolution from the top,” for which the name Mikhail Gorbachev stands. This Soviet revolution from the top created the conditions necessaiy for the success of the reforms and revolu­ tions from the bottom that followed on its heels in the other countries belonging to the crumbling Warsaw Pact and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. This upheaval is a revolution without a historical model and a revolution without a revolutionary theoiy. Its most conspicuous distin­ guishing characteristic is indeed the lack of any elaborated theoretical assumptions and normative arguments addressing the following ques­ tions: Who is to carry out which actions under which circumstances and with what aim s? Which dilemmas are to be expected along the road? And how ought the new synthesis of a postrevolutionary order be constituted, and what meaning should be assigned to the notion of “progress”? In all of the revolutions of the last two centuries some kind of answers to these questions had been available, although most of them proved wrong. These answers of revolutionaiy theorists were formu­ lated independently of the immediate contexts of action and were known to the participating agents; in that sense, they were theoreti­ cal answers. However, in the case of the Eastern and Central European upheavals of the second half of the ‘80s, these questions remain for the 502 social research time being unanswered or are only given tactically colored answers in the form of self-explications and situation-bound ad hoc assessments by participating actors. The rapid flow of events not only broke out unex­ pectedly; they were also not guided by any premeditated sequence, or by proven principles and interests about which the participants would be clear. Instead of concepts, strategies, collective actors, and norma­ tive principles, there are acting persons and their discoveries of the moment with their deliberately opaque semantic content. Among them are the catchwords glasnost, perestroika, and the metaphor of a “common European home.” The distinctly “a-theoretical” character of the upheaval is reflected in the literary forms that accompany it. Entirely absent are all analytical expressions and grandiose directives...


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