Junior Research Group: Peripheral Liberalism
The liberal script has been contested with a particular vengeance in (former) state socialist countries. Political leaders and likeminded pundits from Hungary to Russia and China have sought political legitimacy through the explicit rejection of liberalism as a Western imposition during the turbulent transformation of the 1990s.
The Junior Research Group ‘Peripheral Liberalism’ assesses the emergence of a liberal script in socialist countries and questions this Western-imposition narrative, which also permeates much of the literature on the ‘transition’ of Eastern Europe, and contemporary political commentary. We revisit the debates on economic and political reform in Soviet Russia, Soviet Estonia, and Communist China from the 1970s, focussing on historiographical evidence produced by individual economists and social scientists. We assess how local varieties of neoliberalism emerged from the late 1970s, not as a passive import from the West, but in engagement with local intellectual traditions, domestic economic and political challenges, and interpretations of reforms abroad – including in the West, but more crucially in other countries of the socialist world. Our assumption is that a liberal script was laid out long before Western advisors flocked to the region; it was only partially implemented around 1990, and while some of their ideas still informed economic and financial policy, the neoliberals themselves were soon politically sidelined.