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Modernization: The Forgotten Strategy of Social Transformation--Post-Communist Lessons for the Arab Revolutions

Modernization: The Forgotten Strategy of Social Transformation--Post-Communist Lessons for the Arab Revolutions

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This policy brief explores the similarities between the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Arab Spring.
This policy brief explores the similarities between the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Arab Spring.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Aug 01, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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: Like Eastern Europeunder Soviet domination,most Arab societies havenever experienced democraticgovernment. Arab countriesare unlikely to ever experienceSoviet style economic control.However, there are similaritiesin the nature of the centralizedoligarchic control over theeconomy that was practiced in the Soviet system and the onedominating the Arab hierarchiesof power. The economic systemof Arab societies shares
signifcant similarities with the
centralized oligarchic feudalismunderlying the Soviet societalsystem, and which proved tobe a successful strategy forrecapturing economic andpolitical power after the collapseof the Soviet bloc. Can thepost-communist oligarchiccapture of state and society beavoided? Yes, if a strategy of modernization prior or parallel to the strategies of democratizationand market reform is adopted.The views expressed here are the views of the author’s alone
and do not necessarily reect
 the stance of the GermanMarshall Fund of the UnitedStates.
Foreign Policy Program
Policy Brief 
Modernization: The Forgotten Strategy of Social Transformation
Post-Communist Lessons for the Arab Revolutions
by Ognyan Minchev 
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 20009T 1 202 745 3950F 1 202 265 1662E info@gmfus.org
August 2011
Te Arab Spring — as the MiddleEastern revolutionary movements o the past six months have been labeled— needs all the support it can getin order to pass through the Scyllaand Charybdis o the status quo intomore riendly waters o democraticdevelopment. Arab societies need tocope with a unique agenda o politicaland societal change complicated by the dramatic diversity among theirrespective countries. Yet there isa pattern o recently accumulatedexperience in peaceul transorma-tion, that o Central and EasternEuropean countries over the past 20years, that could provide ood orstrategic thought in order to bypasssome major obstacles on the road o democratic transition.Like Eastern Europe under Sovietdomination, most Arab societieshave never experienced democraticgovernment. Even those societies inEastern Europe — like the Czechs,the Bulgarians, and the Poles —that have a history o democraticpolitical systems in the rst hal o the 20
century aced a tremen-dous struggle to develop systemso democratic representation andeconomic reedom, departing roma sterile totalitarian system o strictcontrol over state and society. Politicalstrategist and Soviet expert Zbig-niew Brzezinski denes this strugglewith a picturesque metaphor: “Weall know how to make omelet out o an egg,” he admitted, “yet no one hastried to do the reverse — to make anegg out o an omelet.” Communismdestroyed the natural bonds betweenhumans and their society, and it wasnot evident where to start rebuildingthem. Tis was one major reason why post-communist transition startedwith a very general, and quite simple,recipe or transormation. Tis para-digm o transition involved two majortasks or the revolutionaries trying todismantle communist dictatorships:rst, develop the constitutional andinstitutional system o democraticrepresentation o the peoples’ willand add guarantees or human rightsand citizens’ equality; and second,immediately start the “invisible hand”o the market by quickly priva-tizing the major assets controlled by governments, reducing governmentspending, and letting the market goits own way.With all their diversity, Arab countriesare unlikely to ever experience Sovietstyle economic control. However, weneed to explore some visible similari-
Foreign Policy Program
Policy Brief 
ties in the nature o the centralized oligarchic control overthe economy that was practiced in the Soviet system andthe one dominating the Arab hierarchies o power. Sovietcommunism was largely a system o state capitalism basedon Eastern models o deep, centralized, “eudal” types o control over society. Eastern eudalism had nothing todo with the dispersed milieu o Europe’s West, but ratherrepresented a hierarchy o centralized political and clien-telist control over the instruments o economic develop-ment and distribution. Tis legacy o oligarchic eudalismseems to be much stronger and more deeply rooted thanthe system o ideologically based central planning claimedby communist ideology. While dismantling the commu-nist system, the reormers o Central and Eastern Europe(CEE) had no insight into this deeper layer. Te reormers’aims were to destroy the political tools o economic controlexercised by the communist parties in their countries. Tey believed that once ree markets were established, all o thecommunist powers’ sources o ideological and politicalsupport would dry up. However, the communist eliteshad chosen another strategy or their survival: sacricethe direct political control over the economy in avor o shiing to the traditional Eastern ormat o centralizedeudal/oligarchic control over society.Communist elites embraced the rhetoric o the ree marketand took advantage o democratic institutional transor-mation in order to transer centralized state assets intoselective private hands, re-emerging as the new corporateelite o transitional societies. Tis transition, known as thegreat criminal revolution,” was only the rst part o theex-communist elites’ strategy o reasserting their powerin the new transitional environment. Te new corporate
The legacy of oligarchic feudalismseems to be much stronger andmore deeply rooted than thesystem of ideologically basedcentral planning claimed bycommunist ideology.
dealers — carved out o the ormer party and politicalpolice apparatchiks — immediately took advantage o thenew and ragile democratic institutions by starting to buy political support. Political brokers emerged and widenedtheir control over the decision-making process, both inrepresentative institutions and in the public administrativesystem.Te economic system o Arab societies shares signicantsimilarities with the centralized oligarchic eudalismunderlying the Soviet societal system, and which provedto be a successul strategy or recapturing economic andpolitical power aer the collapse o the Soviet bloc. It is very likely that the present day Arab oligarchies, shakenby rebels in ahrir and other squares, could evolve in asimilar manner out o the governing ideologies o tradi-tional Arab nationalism and authoritarianism. Tey willadapt in ormal terms to the values and ideas o the youngrevolutionaries or o the older Islamists, only to get theopportunity to seize economic and political power back ina new — democratic — environment. Why is it so easy tochange horses” in an ideological revolutionary swing andremain on the top?Democratization and radical market reorm are strate-gies or transorming suciently modernized societiesout o a dictatorial regime. As we look at the experienceo post-communist Europe aer 1989, we clearly identiy the division between modern societies o Central Europe(the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland) and the othercountries o Eastern Europe hosting a mixture o tradi-tional and modern patterns o lie. Central Europeans hada relatively strong urban middle class, and an experienceddissident movement that became a successul political eliteopposed to the ex-communist establishment. Most impor-tant, Central Europeans had an ecient public administra-tive system inherited rom the Habsburg Empire, whichsurvived the communist rule, and stood in the backgroundo post-communist reorms ollowing the “velvet” revolu-tions o 1989.Te post-communist countries o Southern and EasternEurope did not share those Central European assets o modern society. Te urban middle class was ragile andheavily oppressed throughout the decades o communistrule. Dissident movements — where present — were smallgroups o heavily persecuted individuals with a limitedcapacity to transorm into political decision-makers.Eastern societies were dominated by a working class o 
Foreign Policy Program
Policy Brief 
Most Arab countries in the mid 20
century were deeply traditional societies. Post-colonial revolutions were drivenby modern Arab nationalism. Tese Arab nationalists werebased in a narrow elite o young ocers and nationalistintellectuals, who would later establish populist revolu-tionary dictatorships. Tis is how regimes o the Nasser— Assad — Boumediene type emerged, contributing toArab modernization at the expense o political reedom.In Arab countries today, democratic revolutions are beingcarried out by relatively numerous communities o young,educated, and urban proessionals and intellectuals,claiming democracy and reedom as established normso ordinary lie in the contemporary world. Tis marks asignicant departure rom the Arab nationalism o the mid20
century. Yet, we still associate modernization with therevolutionary agenda.Young — modern — Arab reormers lled ahrir Square,yet they represent a minority among masses o traditionalsociety, poorer classes on the margins o urban lie and thepeasantry. Tose masses would rather support a conser- vative version o Islamic rule (possibly involving Sharialaw) rather than a modern individualist political project o democracy and pluralism in all sections o public lie. Tisis the dilemma: how to run an ecient democratic systemwithout risking a counter-revolutionary slide towards anoppressive Islamist regime or an old dictatorial oligarchictakeover? Drawing on the lessons o post-communistEurope, democratic reorm should reect the levels o societal modernization. Arab revolutionaries need notopen grey areas where old oligarchies or radical Islamistscould exploit democratic enthusiasm within the revolu-tionary chaos. Western democracies developed over thecourse o two centuries, opening the space or universalsufrage step by step. We live in an age where the principleo democratic access to the communities is universal,yet we must be conscious o their potential to utilize thataccess to democracy. Combining strategies o democratiza-tion and modernization could require diferent steps andinstruments in diferent countries o the Middle East. Somepotentially important instruments are as ollows:
Modernization proved a concept that brought discomfort.
peasant origin representing the culture and liestyles o a traditional society. Te institutional system (publicadministration included) was heavily dependent uponthe old statist model o oligarchic eudalism re-imposedas a communist hierarchy o power. Te strategy o directdemocratization, combined with a radical market reorm,practically impeded the unctioning o institutions andopened an enormous grey space or the illegitimate controlo national economic assets. Te result was a state capturethrough the great criminal revolution aer communism.Te dual strategy o rapid democratization and swimarket reorm was aimed at cutting of the capacity o oldcommunists to regain power aer Gorbachev’s perestroika,and aer the velvet revolutions in the Soviet bloc. Yet theold communists successully bypassed the revolutionary limits and re-emerged as the new corporate-oligarchicrulers o post-communist societies.Can the post-communist oligarchic capture o state andsociety be avoided? Yes, i a strategy o modernizationprior or parallel to the strategies o democratization andmarket reorm is adopted. Modernization was the domi-nant strategy o post-colonial nation-building throughoutthe third world. Te priorities o institution-buildingused to be the core o a modernization strategy in thenewly born states, states that had to govern and transormtraditional societies at diferent stages o development.
Amodern state with strong and ecient institutions couldundertake urther strategies o development in education,social welare, the economy, etc. Why did the democraticreormers aer communism orget this? First, the needto cut of a counter-revolution back to Soviet-communistrule by implementing democratic and market reorms took precedent over a slower modernization strategy. Secondly,“post-modern” Europe and the United States inuencedthe post-communist transition. Modernization is a strategy that presumes a particular hierarchy o cultures: less devel-oped societies evolve up to modern levels. Te ideologicaltemplate o post-modernism imposes a politically correct vision o universal equality o cultures — no culture issuperior to any other cultural identity. Modernizationproved a concept that brought discomort.
The famous book of Samuel Huntington,
Political Order in Changing Societies
, used tobe the “Bible” of post-colonial modernization together with the programs for develop-ment of the UNDP, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and EuropeanDevelopmental Agencies. Soviet bloc assistance to the third world was also based oninstruments for economic-industrial development together with the efforts to establishsocialist-like dictatorial systems in the newly created states.

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