One Way or Multiple Paths: For a Comparative Sociology of East European Capitalism

Stark, David C.; Bruszt, László

While we were writing our book, Postsocialist Pathways, during the mid-
1990s, a friend in Budapest told us about a board game he had played
as a child during the socialist period. Prior to the Second World War,
Hungarians had played Monopoly, which they knew as Kapitaly. But the
competitive game of capitalism was banned by communist authorities,
who substituted another board game, Gazda´lkodj Okosan! or “Economize
Wisely.” In this goulash communist version of political correctness the
goal was to get a job, open a savings account, and acquire and furnish
an apartment. Our friend was too young to have had a Kapitaly board,
but his older cousins from another part of the country knew the banned
game and taught him the basic rules. You did not need to be a nine-yearold
dissident to see that Monopoly was the more exciting game. And so
they turned over the socialist board game, drew out the Kapitaly playing
field from Start to Boardwalk on the reverse side, and began to play
Monopoly—using the cards and pieces from Economize Wisely. But with
the rules only intermittently regulated by the older cousins, the bricolaged
game developed its own dynamics, stimulated by the cards and pieces
from the “other side.” Why, for example, be satisfied with simple houses
and hotels when you could have furniture as well? And under what
configurations of play would a Prize of Socialist Labor be grounds for
releasing you from or sending you to jail?
The notion of playing capitalism with noncapitalist pieces strikes us as
an apt metaphor for the postsocialist condition. The political upheavals
of 1989 in Eastern Europe and 1991 in Russia turned the world upside
down. Assuming that they were “starting from scratch,”Western advisors
from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and university-based institutes
issued instructions for new “rules of the game.” But the ruins of
communism were not a tabula rasa, and so the new hybrid game was
played with institutions cobbled together partly from remnants of the past
that, by limiting some moves and facilitating other strategies, gave rise
to a bricolage of multiple social logics. If from these coexisting and overlapping
principles they are building a distinctively postsocialist capitalism,
they share with all modern societies a common feature that the social
fabric is woven with multiple, discrepant systems of value.

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American Journal of Sociology

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University of Chicago Press
Published Here
March 6, 2015