Besnik Pula. Globalization Under and After Socialism: The Evolution of Transnational Capital in Central and Eastern Europe. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018. 272 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-5036-0513-8.
Reviewed by Tobias Rupprecht (University of Exeter)
Published on H-Diplo (April, 2019)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)
Cross-posted from H-Diplo
A common narrative about Eastern Europe’s globalization starts with the political changes of 1989: first, the new political and economic elites shelved communism, then they (re-)entered the world economy. Scholars who studied this “transition” no longer bothered much with socialism, which they often saw as exogenous to the region’s post-1989 history. Socialism was seen in opposition to a market economy, and its legacies as roadblocks to overcome while neoliberal globalization was imported from the outside. Besnik Pula, political scientist at Virginia Tech, questions this view in his book Globalization Under and After Socialism. Based on numerous interviews with institutional actors from five East European countries, some historical archival documents, and a lot of economic data, he argues that Eastern European states were forced to react with institutional reforms to a stagnating postwar statist model of development. Some of them integrated their economies into international value chains as early as the 1970s. Eastern Europe’s globalization had its roots in reform socialism, and the different paths taken under socialism impinged on postsocialist political economies.
Pula engages mostly with political science literature and seems to strike a balance between the functionalism of the “varieties of capitalism” school and institutional economics, while expanding the analysis chronologically to include late socialism. As a historian, I do not feel competent to judge the book’s theoretical merits; from the point of view of historiography, his argument is certainly convincing, if not entirely novel. In a recent research review, James Mark and I have surveyed what has already become a burgeoning field on state socialism in global history. After socialist Eastern Europe was left out of academic debates on pre-1989 globalization, socialism has been reintegrated into the history of modern globalization in two different ways: as a rather passive victim of a much more competitive global capitalism on the one hand, and as an active co-producer of globalization on the other. While Pula does not address the contested question of the interplay of globalization and the collapse of socialist polities, and overall focuses more on the industrial sector than the state, his account is a felicitous combination of the two strands. He demonstrates how some socialist countries started attracting foreign direct investments (FDIs) and encouraged collaboration with emerging transnational corporations (TNCs), creating paths that shaped economic developments in the 1990s. Continue reading “Globalization Under and After Socialism”