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Sources of Disintegration of Communism.
The Kornai's Perspective.

by Alexandre Teles Carreira


The disintegration of the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe during the second half of the 1980s is object of intense analysis by many scholar with special interest in this region. Janos Kornai, an eminent Hungarian economist who is professor at Harvard," dedicates a chapter to this important issue


According to Kornai, the "classical system" (the communist system) is a coherent system capable to operate for a long period of time; however, this system operates dysfunctional and full of internal problems. Kornai regroups these problem and contractions and blames them for the decline of the communist system.


The accumulation of economic difficulties is the first group of problems, identified by Kornai, blamed to have eroded the classic system. Lags in technical developments, shortages, backwardness in consumption, waste, and other losses were some of the problems inherent to the communist countries.


These problems, however, during the first years of communism were endured by a complacent population willing to accept the inevitable harshness of a period of fast economic growth. In the meantime, the economy slows its rate of growth and the population starts to see the realization of its dreams in a much more distant future. The deterioration of the sectors of housing, transportation and the telecommunications, the health care, and the shortages of labor supply start to become a constraint to economic growth.

Kornai also mentions that the impact of the economic problems on the military sector inflicted a serious blow on the aspirations of those willing to compete with The North Atlantic Alliance.


Moreover, the group of countries allied to the communist block started to become larger and larger. The deteriorated condition of the economies of the allied countries started to drain an increasing amount of economic and military assistance from the east. This assistance, was in fact a serious burden to the economies of the most developed communist countries. All these problems signified that the share of the production of consumer goods had to be sacrificed affecting substantially the standards of living of the population.


Kornai considers public dissatisfactions as being the second inducement for change in the communist system. The insolence and bureaucratic arbitrariness of the officials, the lack of free expression and personal freedom, and the lies in the official propaganda reached a point that were unbearable for the population in the former communist countries. In addition, complaints about the low standards of living by many sections of the society, the low quality and narrow choice of products, and the deteriorated environmental conditions, were also important factors behind the changes in the system.

The third group of inducements to change, according to Kornai, is the loss of confidence by those in power. It is important to note that during the years of the communist regime the bureaucracy started to lose confidence in its legitimacy to be in power.


Equally important, the bureaucracy started to lose confidence in the superiority of communism as social system, and it became evident that its military capabilities were lagging behind those of the west. The economic factor also played an important role in the break down of confidence of the bureaucracy. The astonishing achievements in economic growth, technical development and exports by West Germany, Japan, and the Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs) motivated changes in the agendas of those in power.


According to Kornai, the communist system owed its stability to the faith of the ruling elite in the regime and the strong repression inflicted on those who deviated from the party directives. Since the ruling elite started to demand more legal security and legality (because they also were threatened by the party repression), repression as a basic condition for stability began to vanish and the system started to breakdown.


The fourth inducement to change, according to Kornai, is the outside example. In these era of modern telecommunications the events in one country influenced the events of others. Even countries like Romania and Albania ( with extremely repressive regimes) did not escape the waves of change that had started elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe. Also, the loosening of the rule of the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe played an important role in the decline of communism in the second half of the 1980's.



Kornai, Janos. The Socialist System: The Political Economy of Communism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.




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