Divide and Pacify

Strategic Social Policies and Political Protests in Post-Communist Democracies
$55.00 / €45.00 / £40.00
Publication date: 
190 pages

Despite dramatic increases in poverty, unemployment, and social inequalities, the Central and Eastern European transitions from communism to market democracy in the 1990s have been remarkably peaceful. This book proposes a new explanation for this unexpected political quiescence. It shows how reforming governments in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have been able to prevent massive waves of strikes and protests by the strategic use of welfare state programs such as pensions and unemployment benefits. Divide and Pacify explains how social policies were used to prevent massive job losses with softening labor market policies, or to split up highly aggrieved groups of workers in precarious jobs by sending some of them onto unemployment benefits and many others onto early retirement and disability pensions. From a narrow economic viewpoint, these policies often appeared to be immensely costly or irresponsibly populist. Yet a more inclusive social-scientific perspective can shed new light on these seemingly irrational policies by pointing to deeper political motives and wider sociological consequences.

This book has been nominated for the American Sociological Association's Award for Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship 2006, Section on Political Sociology.

Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 2 The unexpected peacefulness of transitions
2.1. Social costs and early breakdown prophesies
2.3. Muted protests: Post-communist Europe in comparative perspective
2.4. Conclusions

Chapter 3 Political quiescence despite conditions for conflict
3.1. Disruptive protests: The case of threatened workers
3.2. Rival explanations of post-communist protest levels
3.3. Conclusions

Chapter 4 Preventing protests: Divide and pacify as political strategy
4.1. Divide and pacify in theory: Splitting up the threatened workers
4.2. Higher hurdles: The protest capacity of the unemployed and abnormal pensioners
4.3. Informal exit and small-scale work before and after 1989
4.4. Sentenced to silence: Protest opportunity costs of the unemployed and abnormal pensioners
4.5. Conclusions

Chapter 5 The Great Abnormal Pensioner Booms: Strategic social policies in practice
5.1. The unemployed: Divided first, squeezed later
5.2. Pensioner policies: The wheel of fortune reversed
5.3. Divide and pacify in action: The post-communist pensioner booms
5.4. Conclusions

Chapter 6 Peaceful pathways: The political economy of post-communist welfare
6.1. Policy shift: Interpreting early pensions choices
6.2. Generational politics: The subsequent evolution of welfare pathways
6.3. Post-communist labor market strategies
6.4. Alternative explanations of post-communist welfare politics
6.5. Conclusions

Chapter 7 Conclusions


"Divide and Pacify contains a provocative thesis about the manner in which political strategy was used to consolidate democracy in post-communist Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Pieter Vanhuysse develops a tight argument emphasizing the strategic use of welfare and unemployment compensation policies by a government to nip potential collective action against it in the bud. By breaking up social networks that might otherwise facilitate protest, through unemployment and induced early retirement, governments were able to survive otherwise difficult economic circumstances. This novel argument linking economics, politics, sociology, and demography should stimulate wide-ranging debate about the strategic uses of social policy."
"In post-communist Europe, international advice—for example from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank—to reforming governments focused heavily on economic policy. The political imperative, in contrast, was a set of policies generous enough to maintain continuing support for the overall reforms. The great value of this book is that it addresses both strategic policy directions simultaneously. Specifically, it analyzes how policies that are sub-optimal in economic terms (work in the grey economy, easy access to unemployment benefits, fiscally expensive early retirement) can be argued to be optimal (or at least roughly so) when considering economics and politics together. As such, the book offers a rich political economy perspective on post-communist reforms."
"Vanhuysse is clearly on to something with his main argument - that 'strategic social policies' explain the relative weakness of protest politics in Eastern Europe. He identifies a governing strategy of 'divide and pacify', by which the workers who were most likely to unite in protest were instead turned against one another in a contest for limited economic resources. He shows how policies promoting early retirement enabled post-communist governments to remove older workers with with more protest experience and more social ties from the traditional arenas of state-labor contestation. The book makes an important connection between the strategic allocation of welfare benefits and political consolidation of liberal market democracy - something you do not hear much about from the neo-liberals, who like to take credit for east-central Europe's historic transformation"
"Pieter Vanhuysse’s book takes a fresh look at social policies in post-communist Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. It addresses the question of why, despite the severe social hardship of post-communist transformation, East European societies hardly engaged in distributive struggles and protest. The book’s main claim is that policy makers in the region clearly understood the potentially explosive situation and strategically adopted social policies to ‘divide and pacify’ the working population. Thus Hungary and Poland, amid a steep transformational recession, adopted generous pension policies which allowed an important share of the working population to exit from the labour market by means of early retirement or disability pensions. … This stands in contrast to the Czech development, where reformers initially prevented layoffs through softer budgetary constraints and therefore were able to avoid the pitfalls of a pensioners’ welfare state.. …The book is well structured and... more
"Vanhuysse’s thought-provoking study takes as its starting point the question…: why did widespread early predictions that post-communist democracies would be convulsed by Latin American-style waves of social protest prove so wrong? ... Divide and Pacify develops a coherent, wide-ranging and persuasive re-interpretation of the politics of post-communist transformation, which smartly integrates work on comparative democratization, social movements, the sociology of unemployment, and the political economy of pension reform. As such, it offers both considerable food for thought and a powerful springboard for future research."
"A double transition of momentous proportions has characterized the face of modern Central and Eastern Europe. The first is the shift within communist countries to post-communist societies; the second is the recent membership of the European Union of ten of these nations. [Divide and Pacify] provides intriguing insights into both of these changes. … Vanhuysse seeks to marshal empirical data on industrial disputes to demonstrate that collective unrest was defused by the ‘divide and pacify’ strategies … The use of the literature on collective action and protest, and the ‘politics of contention’, by the author is especially welcome. It is to Vanhuysse’s credit that he, in contrast to certain other sociologists, openly acknowledges his debt to Tilly, as well as to other writers, and seeks to adapt their insights in order to develop the analytical framework. … [This book makes] welcome contributions to the debate and this reviewer, for one, sincerely hopes that more authors will... more
"Vanhuysse's analysis is underpinned by robust examination of a range of data. … In collective action terms, abnormal pensioners did not represent 'disruptive dynamite' that had to be defused in the short-term. Rather they became a medium-term time bomb undermining welfare-state finances. All in all a very interesting, methodical analysis of how strategically informed socio-political strategies helped to institutionalise democracy and the market while leaving a heavy price tag in the form of belated macro-economic instability."