In This Review

What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next?
What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next?
By Katherine Verdery
Princeton University Press, 1996, 298 pp

This book has a worthwhile opening chapter describing "real existing socialism" as an ideal type. In contrast to conventional accounts that pay far too much attention to formal institutions, the author, an anthropologist specializing in Romania, tries to explain the informal social structures that evolved to enable the formal system to work. Attention to the way that power had already diffused before 1989, from ministries to enterprises and the informal networks supplying them, provides an explanation for the system's rapid collapse: many managers under the old regime were itching to become owners. This fact also explains why many post-communist societies have evolved, as the author puts it, from socialism to feudalism, as these social groups have moved from de facto to de jure power. The book makes clear that sociology and anthropology -- long neglected disciplines in the study of this part of the world -- are absolutely critical today.