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The transition from communism in Europe and the former Soviet Union has only sometimes produced a transition to democracy. Since the crumbling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, most of the twenty-eight new states have abandoned communism, but only nine of these have entered the ranks of liberal democracies. The remaining majority of new postcommunist states are various shades of dictatorships or unconsolidated “transitional regimes.” This article seeks to explain why some states abandoned communism for democracy while others turned to authoritarian rule. In endorsing actorcentric approaches that have dominated analyses of the third wave of democratization, this argument nonetheless offers an alternative set of causal paths from ancien regime to new regime that can account for both democracy and dictatorship as outcomes. Situations of unequal distributions of power produced the quickest and most stable transitions from communist rule. In countries with asymmetrical balances of power, the regime to emerge depends almost entirely on the ideological orientation of the most powerful. In countries where democrats enjoyed a decisive power advantage, democracy emerged. Conversely, in countries in which dictators maintained a decisive power advantage, dictatorship emerged. In between these two extremes were countries in which the distribution of power between the old regime and its challengers was relatively equal. Rather than producing stalemate, compromise, and parted transitions to democracy, however, such situations in the postcommunist world resulted in protracted confrontation between relatively balanced powers. The regimes that emerged from these modes of transitions are not the most successful democracies but rather are unconsolidated, unstable, partial democracies.
1 Przeworski, , “The ‘East’ Becomes the ‘South’? The ‘Autumn of the People’ and the Future of Eastern Europe,” PS: Political Science and Politics 24 (March 1991), 20.
2 Chronologically, the postcommunist transitions occurred within the time span typically referred to as the third wave of democratization. The wave metaphor, however, connotes some relationship between cases that is only weakly present. Transitions to democracy in Southern Europe and Latin America did not cause, trigger, or inspire communist regime change. The temporal proximity of these cases was more accidental than causal. As explored in detail in this article, however, the fact that Southern European and Latin American transitions occurred first had significant path-dependent consequences for how we conceptualized and explained the postcommunist transitions. On waves, see Huntington, Samuel, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).
3 O'Donnell, Guillermo and Schmitter, Philippe, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies, vol. 4 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986); Higley, John and Burton, Michael, “The Elite Variable in Democratic Transitions and Breakdowns,” American Sociological Review 54 (February 1989); Karl, Terry Lynn, “Dilemmas of Democratization in Latin America,” Comparative Politics 23 (October 1990); Przeworski, Adam, Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); idem, “The Games of Transition,” in Mainwaring, Scott, O'Donnell, Guillermo, and Valenzuela, J. Samuel, eds., Issues in Democratic Consolidation: The New South American Democracies in Comparative Perspective (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993); and Colomer, Josep, Strategic Transitions: Game Theory and Democratization (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). On an elite-centered approach to democratic breakdown, see Cohen, Youssef, Radicals, Reformers, and Reactionaries: The Prisoner's Dilemma and the Collapse of Democracy in Latin America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994); and Linz, Juan, Crisis, Breakdown, and Reequilibrium, in the series by Linz, Juan and Stepan, Alfred, eds., The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978).
4 In the postcommunist world the phenomenon in question might be more appropriately labeled revolution or decolonization, rather than democratization. Illuminating adaptations of these alternative metaphors include Mau, Vladimir and Starodubrovskaya, Irina, The Challenge of Revolution: Contemporary Russia in Historical Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); and Lieven, Dominic, Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001).
5 Przeworski's Democracy and the Market (fn. 3) comes the closest. See also Cohen (fn. 3); and Colomer (fn. 3).
6 Because proponents of strategic theories of democratization do not universally recognize a single theory, it is difficult to argue with transitology. In the last decade many scholars have added useful theoretical caveats and important definitional adjectives to the earlier canons of transitology. Space limitations do not permit discussion of all these innovations and nuances. Instead, the focus here is on the set of the core principles that defines this literature as a paradigm in the study of regime change today. As Ruth Collier summarizes: “The ‘transitions literature,’ as this current work has come to be known, has as its best representative the founding essay by O'Donnell and Schmitter (1986), which established a framework that is implicitly or explicitly followed in most other contributions. Without denying differences and subtleties, one could say that certain emphases within O'Donnell and Schmitter's essay have been selected and elaborated by other authors so that it is possible to aggregate various contributions and in broad strokes map out a basic characterization and set of claims in this literature as a whole”; Collier, , Paths towards Democracy: The Working Class and Elites in Western Europe and Southern America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 5.
7 Rustow, Dankwart, “Transition to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model,” Comparative Politics 2 (April 1970). Others, including Karl, have highlighted a second precondition, the decline of a landbased aristocracy, an idea first discussed by Moore, Barrington in Social Origins of Dictatorships and Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966). Because few communist countries had land-based aristocracies, this variable is not discussed in this article.
8 Karl (fn. 3); Karl, Terry Lynn and Schmitter, Philippe, “Modes of Transition in Southern and Eastern Europe, Southern and Central America,” International Social Science Journal 128 (May 1991); idem, “Democratization around the Globe: Opportunities and Risks,” in Klare, Michael and Thomas, Daniel, World Security (New York: St Martin's Press, 1994); and Munck, Gerardo and Leff, Carol Sklalnik, “Modes of Transition and Democratization in Comparative Perspective,” Comparative Politics 29 (April 1997).
9 Huntington has different and more numerous categories—”standpatters, liberal reformers, and democratic reformers in the governing coalition, and democratic moderates and revolutionary extremists in the opposition.” But there are close parallels to the O'Donnell and Schmitter labels. See Huntington (fn. 2), 121.
10 I am grateful to Terry Karl for this observation. On “transition from above,” or “transformation,” as the most common mode of transition to democracy, see Karl (fn. 3), 9; and Huntington (fn. 2), 124.
11 O'Donnell and Schmitter (fn. 3); Karl (fn. 3); Przeworski (fn. 3, 1991 and 1993); and Colomer (fn. 3). Though a pact is not a necessary condition for a successful democratic transition, it enhances the probability of success.
12 In facilitating the transition to democracy, pacts can also lock into place specific nondemocratic practices, which in turn may impede the consolidation of liberal democracy over time. See Karl, Terry Lynn, The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-States (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), chap. 5.
13 O'Donnell and Schmitter (fn. 3), 41.
14 Friedman, Daniel, “Bringing Society Back into Democratic Transition Theory after 1989: Pact Making and Regime Collapse,” East European Politics and Societies 7 (Fall 1993), 484.
15 O'Donnell and Schmitter (fn. 3), 27.
16 Ibid., 69. See also Huntington (fn. 2), 170; and Przeworski, Adam, “Some Problems in the Study of the Transition to Democracy,” in O'Donnell, Guillermo, Schmitter, Philippe, and Whitehead, Laurence, eds., Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Comparative Perspectives (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 63.
17 Haggard, Stephan and Kaufman, Robert, “Economic Adjustment and the Prospects for Democracy,” in Haggard, and Kaufman, , eds., Tie Politics of Economic Adjustment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).
18 See Wood, Elisabeth Jean, “Civil War Settlement: Modeling the Bases of Compromise” (Manuscript, New York University, August 1999).
19 Friedman (fn. 14), 483.
20 Huntington(fn.2), 164.
21 Di Palma, Giuseppe, To Craft Democracies: An Essay on Democratic Transitions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
22 Important challenges to this argument include Wood, Elisabeth Jean, Forging Democracy from Below: Insurgent Transitions in South Africa and El Salvador (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Ekiert, Grzegorz and Kubik, Jan, Rebellious Civil Society: Popular Protest and Democratic Consolidation in Poland, 1989–1993 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999); Bermeo, Nancy, “Myths of Moderation: Confrontation and Conflict during the Democratic Transitions,” Comparative Politics 29 (April 1997); Stepan, Alfred, Democratizing Brazil (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); and Collier (fn. 6).
23 Karl (fn. 3), 8. See also Huntington, Samuel, “Will More Countries Become Democratic?” Political Science Quarterly 99 (Summer 1984), 6.
24 Weiner, Myron, “Empirical Democratic Theory,” in Weiner, Myron and Ozbudin, Ergun, eds., Competitive Elections in Developing Countries (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1987), 26; and Valenzuela, J. Samuel, “Labor Movements in Transitions to Democracy,” Comparative Politics 21 (July 1989). Even a study devoted the role of the workers in democratization underscores the dangers of an overly mobilized society. See Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, Stephens, Evelyne Huber, and Stephens, John D., Capitalist Development and Democratic Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 271.
25 O'Donnell and Schmitter (fn. 3), 72. See also Huntington (fn. 2), 167.
26 Roeder, , “Transitions from Communism: State-Centered Approaches,” in Eckstein, Harry, Fleron, Frederic, Hoffman, Erik, and Reisinger, William, eds., Can Democracy Take Root in Post-Soviet Russia? (Lantham, Md.: Roman and Littlefield, 1998), 209.
27 Rustow (fn. 7), 352.
28 Przeworski (fh. 3,1991), 87.
29 Roeder (fn. 26), 207.
30 Ibid., 208. See also Roeder, Philip, “Varieties of Post-Soviet Authoritarian Regimes,” Post-Soviet Affairs 10 (January 1994), 62; and Colomer (fn. 3).
31 Levine, Daniel H., “Paradigm Lost: Dependence to Democracy,” World Politics 40 (April 1988), 379.
32 See Hardin's review and then rejection of this approach in Hardin, Russell, Liberalism, Constitutionalism, and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
33 Przeworski (fn. 3,1991), 90.
34 Root, Hilton, “Tying the King's Hands: Credible Commitments and the Royal Fiscal Policy during the Old Regime,” Rationality and Society 1 (October 1989); Shepsle, Kenneth, “Discretion, Institutions, and the Problem of Government Commitment,” in Bourdieu, Pierre and Coleman, James, eds., Social Theory for a Changing Society (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1991); North, Douglass and Weingast, Barn', “Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England” Journal of Economic History 49 (December 1989); Shepsle, Kenneth, “Studying Institutions: Some Lessons from the Rational Choice Approach,” Journal ofPolitics 1, no. 2 (1989); Alt, James and Shepsle, Kenneth, eds., Perspectives on Positive Political Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); and Weingast, Barry, “The Political Foundations of Democracy and the Rule of Law,” American Political Science Review 91 (June 1997).
35 Brennan, Geoffrey and Buchanan, James, The Reason of Rules (Cambridge: Cambridge University- Press, 1985), 30.
36 The most theoretically rigorous prediction of failure was Przeworski (fn. 3, 1991).
37 Hellman, Joel S., “Winners Take All: The Politics of Partial Reform in Postcommunist Transitions,” World Politics 50 (January 5 1998); Dethier, Jean-Jacques, Ghanem, Hafez, and Zoli, Edda, “Does Democracy Facilitate the Economic Transition? An Empirical Study of Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union” (Manuscript, World Bank, June 1999); EBRD, Transition Report 1999: Ten Years ofTransition (London: European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, 1999), chap. 5; and Aslund, Anders, Building Capitalism: The Transformation of the Former Soviet Bloc (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
38 See the cases discussed in Krasner, Stephen, ed., Problematic Sovereignty: Contested Rules and Political Possibilities (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001).
39 To be sure, market economies have incorporated aspects of the command economy such as state ownership and state control of prices over time but without undermining the basic tenents of capitalism. Likewise, some command economies such as China have introduced market reforms gradually, but the process has undermined the command economy. The dispute over slavery is another instance in which a compromise solution benefiting both sides—those that advocated slavery and those that did not—was difficult to find.
40 Only one reformist from the old regime, Mikhail Gorbachev, plays a central role in all the postcommunist transitions, since his reforms in the Soviet Union produce the opportunity for liberalization or new dictatorship in every country. There is no similar person or parallel dynamic in cases of democratization in Latin American and Southern Europe.
41 A similar argument is made in Bratton, Michael and van de Walle, Nicolas, Democratic Experiments in Africa: Regime Transitions in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 198–200.
42 Blaney, , The Causes of War (New York: Free Press, 1973), 246.
43 Huntington (fn. 2), 165.
44 Tsebelis, George, Nested Games (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); Krasner, Stephen D., “Global Communications and National Power: Life on the Pareto Frontier,” World Politics 43 (April 1991); Knight, Jack, Institutions and Social Conflict (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); and Gruber, Lloyd, Ruling the World: Power Politics and the Rise of Supranational Institutions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).
45 North, Douglass, Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
46 For elaboration of this argument, see McFaul, Michael, Russia's Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001).
47 Moe, Terry, “The Politics of Structural Choice: Toward a Theory of Public Bureaucracy,” in Williamson, Oliver, ed., Organization Theory: From Chester Barnard to the Present and Beyond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).
48 For evidence undermining the importance of these design choices for consolidation worldwide, see Beck, Thorsten, Clarke, George, Groff, Alberto, Keefer, Philip, and Walsh, Patrick, “New Tolls and New Tests in Comparative Political Economy: The Database of Political Institutions” (Manuscript, World Bank, 2000).
49 Such regimes may be the norm rather than the exception in the world today. See Diamond, Larry, Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).
50 Steven Fish uses a similar method (with slightly different results); see Fish, , “The Determinants of Economic Reform in the Post-Communist World,” East European Politics and Society 12 (Winter 1998). Polling data would add a nice complement to these election results, but unfortunately such data were not collected at the time.
51 In certain cases it is not so clear that the most temporally proximate election should be used, because the results were overhauled within the next year or so. Albania and Azerbaijan are coded as more balanced cases and not clear victories over the ancien regime due to the tremendous change in the balance of power immediately following first votes. In Albania the parliament elected in 1991 fell into discord. In new general elections held in March 1992 the democratic challengers (the PDS) won a twothirds majority. In Azerbaijan the Supreme Soviet elected in 1990 voted to disband after independence (in May 1992) in favor of a new National Assembly, which was then split equally between communists and the Popular Front opposition. Georgia is coded as a case in which the anticommunist challengers enjoyed overwhelming support due to the landslide victory of Zviad Gamsakhurdia in May 1991.
52 CPSU party membership is not always a sufficient guide for coding “communist.” In many cases Popular Front leaders were still members of the CPSU. Yet they are coded as anticommunist.
53 Karanycky, Adrian, ed., Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties, 2000–2001 (New York: Freedom House and Transaction Books, 2001). Freedom House, however, uses different labels—free, partly free, and not free. Though imperfect, Freedom House ratings offer clear categories, if the degree of specificity needed is only three regime types. In contrast to the balance-of-power index, which is based on assessments from a decade ago, the Freedom House ratings used here are from 2000.
54 Why were these challengers democrats and not fascists or communists? Why did they have societal support in some places and not others? The explanation cannot simply be culture, history, or location, since much of East-Central Europe and the Baltic states also produced autocratic leaders with fascist ideas earlier in the century. A full exploration of the origins of democracy as the ideology of opposition at this particular moment in this region is beyond the scope of this article. As a preliminary hypothesis, however, it is important to remember the balance of ideologies in the international system at the time. The enemies of communism called themselves democracies. Therefore, the challengers to communism within these regimes adopted the ideological orientation of the international enemies of their internal enemies.
55 In an argument in the same spirit as that advanced here, Bunce prefers the term “breakage” to distinguish transitions in the “east” from the bridging transitions in the “south.” See Bunce, Valerie, “Regional Differences in Democratization: The East versus the South,” Post-Soviet Affairs 14, no. 3 (1998).
56 Karl (fn. 3), 11.
57 Haraszti, Miklos, “Decade of the Handshake Transition,” East European Politics and Societies 13 (Spring 1999), 290.
58 The central committee wisely vetoed the idea on November 24,1989.
59 In Lithuania the moderate Communist Party leader, Algirdas Brazauskas, tried to negotiate a transition and even split with the Soviet Communist Party. This did not distinguish the Lithuanian transition from that of Latvia or Estonia in any appreciable way, however. In some respects, his appointment was the result of popular mobilization, making him the result of the shifting balance of power, not the cause.
60 Huntington (fn. 2); and Karl (fn. 3).
61 The leaders in these countries had to cut deals with regional leaders to maintain autocracy, but these pacts preserved continuity with the past, rather than navigating a path to a new regime. See Pauline Jones Luong, “Institutional Change through Continuity: Shifting Power and Prospects for Democracy in Post-Soviet Central Asia” (Manuscript, May 2000).
62 Just over 50 percent of deputies in the Kyrgyz Supreme Soviet supported Akaev for president, allowing him to inch out the communist candidate. See Kathleen Collins, “Clans, Pacts, and Politics: Understanding Regime Transitions in Central Asia” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1999), 193.
63 Karimov came to power before the Soviet collapse as a compromise between Uzbek clans. In Uzbekistan the period of political instability occurred in the early Gorbachev years, but was over by the time of transition after Karimov had consolidated his political power. See Collins (fn. 62).
64 Mongolia might be a close second. See Fish, M. Steven, “Mongolia: Democracy without Prerequisites,” Journal of Democracy 9 (July 1998).
65 Crowther, William, “The Politics of Democratization in Post-Communist Moldova,” in Dawisha, Karen and Parrot, Bruce, eds., Democratic Changes and Authoritarian Reactions in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 293.
66 For elaboration, see McFaul (fn. 46), chaps. 9,10.
67 Collins (fn. 62), 231.
68 The defection of the Soviet 201st Motorized Rifle Division to the oppositions cause gave the opposition access to weapons that opposition groups in other republics did not enjoy.
69 Kitschelt, Herbert, “Accounting for Outcomes of Post-Communist Regime Change: Causal Depth or Shallowness in Rival Explanations” (Manuscript, 1999). 1
70 The logic draws on the idea of punctuated equilibrium applied to institutional emergence in Krasner, Stephen, “Approaches to the State: Alternative Conceptions and Historical Dynamics,” Comparative Politics 16 (January 1984).
71 Imagine the counterfactual. If Armenia were not at war over Nagorno-Karabakh, then the military and intelligence services would not enjoy the prominence that they do and hard-liners like Kocharian would not have risen to power. Public-opinion surveys in Armenia show that “providing for defense” is the area for in which the government enjoys its highest approval rating. See Office of Research, Department of State, “Armenians More Hopeful, Despite Killings,” no. M-13–00 (February 11, 2000), 3.
72 See Kopstein, Jeffrey S. and Reilly, David A., “Geographic Diffusion and the Transformation of the Postcommunist World,” World Politics 53 (October 2000).
73 Ackerman, Bruce, We the People: Transformations, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998). To be sure, negotiations between liberal and antiliberal (slave-owning) elites in the United States helped to produce partial democratic institutions. These compromises, however, were not negotiated with moderates from the British ancien régime.
74 Huntington (fn. 2), 112.
75 Przeworski (fn. 3,1991); Jowitt, Ken, The New World Disorder: The Leninist Extinction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); and Ekiert, Grzegorz, “Democratization Processes in East Central Europe: A Theoretical Reconsideration,” British Journal of Political Science 21 (July 1991), 288.
76 Every independent variable can become the dependent variable of another study. In journal articles especially, as Michael Taylor argues, the “explanatory buck has to stop somewhere”; Taylor, , “Structure, Culture and Action in the Explanation of Social Change,” Politics and Society 17 (1989), 199. To avoid tautology and claim causal significance of more proximate variables, however, requires the researcher to demonstrate that the independent variables selected are not endogenous to more important prior variables but rather that they have some independent causal impact.
77 Recent studies that have pushed the causal arrow back one step prior include Wood (fn. 22); Bunce, Valerie, Subversive Institutions: The Design and Destruction of Socialism and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Geddes, Barbara, “What Do We Know about Democratization after Twenty Years?” Annual Review of Political Science 2 (1999); Motyl, Alexander, Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999); Ekiert, Grzegorz, The State against Society: Political Crises and Their Aftermath in East-Central Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996); and Bratton and van de Walle (fn. 41).
* For comments on earlier drafts of this article, the author is grateful to George Breslauer, Daniel Brinks, Valerie Bunce, Timothy Colton, Thomas Carothers, Kathleen Collins, Larry Diamond, Jefrrey Herbst, Terry Lynn Karl, David Laitin, Marc Plattner, Vladimir Popov, Philip Roeder, Alex Sokolovski, Lisa Mclntosh-Sundstrom, Celeste Wallander, Kathryn Stoner-Weiss, Joshua Tucker, Elizabeth Wood, and three anonymous reviewers.
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