Systemic transformation and the emergence of agency: the case of the socialist experiment

Ivanov, Andrey (2012). "Systemic transformation and the emergence of agency: the case of the socialist experiment" Paper presented at the 9th annual conference of the HDCA, 5-7 September 2012, Jakarta, Indonesia.

The paper investigates the period of the socialist project in Eastern Europe from its human development perspectives using the example of the former Soviet Union. In the first part it sketches the centrally planned and mono-party societies as ‘clockwise’ constructs in which the role of the individual was reduced to cogs and wheel with no individual freedom and agency. Based on this observation, the author makes the conclusion that the socialist period could yield meeting basic needs – but not human development. The missing agency was making human development in communist societies impossible by default. Seen from basic needs perspective, the socialist period was thus a forced and topdown process of catching up with developed economies. Emerging agency is thus symptomatic for the process of transformation. On the one hand, it was possible after the collapse of the communist system. On the other, the process of ‘agency formation’ starts before the collapse and is the major driver bringing the communist system down. Cogwheel-styled systems and societies are not consistent with agency (regardless of their ideological makeup). The analysis in some cases is deliberately metaphoric and thus distinct from traditional political sciences analysis. It refers both to analytical literature as well as to Russian classics and fiction. On the one hand, one cannot comprehend many of the features of the old system unless the latter are approached with a certain sense of irony and absurd. On the other hand, in the author’ view, a lot of the socialist classics’ works verge on metaphoric statements and part of the problem with the communist project implementation attempt was that they were taken – and implemented – too literally (or in “dogmatic way” as the old communist jargon would put it).
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