Comparativ 27 (2017), 5/6

Comparativ 27 (2017), 5/6
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Comecon revisited. Integration in the Eastern Bloc and Entanglements with the Global Economy.

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Comparativ. Zeitschrift für Globalgeschichte und Vergleichende Gesellschaftsforschung
Comparativ Universität Leipzig Leipzig Research Centre Global Dynamics IPF 348001 Ritterstrasse 24 04109 Leipzig GERMANY e-mail:
Matthias Middell

*Comecon revisited. Integration in the Eastern Bloc and
Entanglements with the Global Economy*
herausgegeben von Uwe Müller und Dagmara Jajeśniak-Quast

Table of contents



Uwe Müller
Introduction: Failed and Forgotten? New Perspectives on the History of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, S. 7
After the dissolution of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) in 1991, only a few historical studies on its development have been published. Contrary to this, the political, and partly also the cultural and social, conditions within the communist states; the political relations between the Soviet Union and the other Eastern bloc states; and the focal points of the Cold War were thoroughly investigated topics in contemporary history due to the easier accessibility of sources. Meanwhile, the development of the CMEA was regarded as an ultimately completed story, which hardly anyone was interested in already at the end of the 1990s. In 2010, Martin Dangerield stated: “Ten years ago the 50th anniversary of the founding of the CMEA passed without anyone taking notice of it, and with its 60th anniversary it was no diferent.”
In the last few years, a new generation of historians has rediscovered the CMEA as an object of research. They were personally much less influenced by the ideological clashes of the Cold War. Probably, therefore, it was easier for them to take up the current tendencies of contemporary historical research in the beginning of the twenty-first century and to apply them to an object of investigation, in which – contrary to previous assessments – there are still secrets to be discovered. Some results of looking at the history of the CMEA from new perspectives are presented in this volume.
While the research on the CMEA until 2000 was concentrated on its internal functioning, today it is understood much more in the context of a global contemporary and economic history. It is, therefore, a complementary concern of this volume to present some insights into the positioning of the Eastern bloc in the globalizing world economy.

Erik Radisch
The Struggle of the Soviet Conception of Comecon, 1953–1975, S. 26
The article examines Soviet efforts between 1953 and 1975 to develop reform concepts for the Comecon. During the Stalinist era, the Soviet Union began exercising strong control in East Central and Southeast Europe. This control also significantly impacted the nature of cooperation. But cooperation at this time was not a priority; it only became a priority after Stalin’s death, at which time the Soviet Union began developing its own concept of economic cooperation for the Eastern Bloc. Khrushchev wanted cooperation to have a scientific foundation. Based on “objective laws” of economic development, each country should be encouraged to specialize in different economic sectors, as part of an overarching plan for the economic development of the CMEA area. Like his Sovnarkhoz reforms, Khrushchev based this plan on the ideal Communist man, who in reality did not exist. The plan proved unsuccessful at the international and regional level for two reasons. First, the Soviet Union failed to establish a centralized rational planning process for the entire Eastern Bloc. Second, the Soviet Union could not prevent the resurgence of policies based on national interests. Following Khrushchev’s failed effort at reforming Comecon, Brezhnev adopted a more conservative approach, aimed primarily at increasing the efectiveness of Soviet trade relations in the CMEA. These approaches were also inluenced by reform efforts at the national level against the backdrop of the Liberman Debate.

Falk Flade
The Role of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance in the Construction of the Transnational Electricity Grid Mir, S. 48
The article addresses the role of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA, 1949– 1991) in the creation and development of the transnational electric power grid “Mir” (Russian: Peace). This power grid was officially established in 1959 and connected the national electric networks of the socialist states of Eastern Europe by means of cross border power lines. This transnational infrastructure was developed over the next decades and included nuclear, hydro, and thermal power plants. The planning and construction of cross-border energy infrastructures was one of the primary tasks of the CMEA. CMEA institutions, such as the Permanent Commission for Electric Energy, the Central Dispatch Organization, and the “Interatomenergo” were supposed to facilitate cooperation between participating CMEA countries. Following the political rapprochement between East and West Europe in the 1970s, the idea of surmounting the iron curtain to create a European-wide system of electrical supply became the focus. Compared with other transnational systems of energy transmission for crude oil and natural gas, the Mir network had a relatively high degree of institutionalization. This coordination was essential for the smooth operation of the overall system. The disintegration of the Comecon in 1991 impeded this cooperation and led to the rapid dissolution of the Mir power grid (compared to other transnational networks). This article analyses how this network worked and the actors involved. In doing so, it addresses a gap in research on the development of transnational electrical networks in the socialist Eastern Bloc.

Simon Godard
Creative Tension: The Role of Conlict in Shaping Transnational Identity at Comecon, S. 65
The meeting of national and international interests within the framework of an international organization, such as the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), inevitably leads to conflict. Through a micro-analysis of specific disputes within the CMEA, this article endeavours to determine the creative power of these conflicts. Disputes between CMEA officials and representatives from those officials’ country of origin are examined to understand the logic of the conflicts and their resolution. In the conflicts, the question of the rationality principle is raised among actors with reference to their actions. This article develops a typology of conflicts. First, at international meetings, CMEA officials might reproach their national counterparts for having insuficient international competence, while concomitantly stressing their transnational expertise. Second, some CMEA staff avoided conlict, by not attending negotiations where officials from their country of origin might try to use them to advance nationalist goals at the international level. Third, in a few cases, conflicts of interest did lead to open conflict, an outcome CMEA officials tried to avoid. Exploring these three modalities of conflict allows us to characterize the transnational self-awareness of CMEA workers as arising from a dual loyalty. Factoring in CMEA officials’ use of the phrase “the common interest of the member states” in their public statements allows the historian to understand their double embedding in national and international networks of power from which they tried to enforce a transnational and CMEA-specific point of view.

Suvi Kansikas
The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance – A Restricted Cold War Actor, S. 84
This article analyses one aspect of CMEA history, which has been neglected in prior literature: its policy-making in the field of external trade politics. The CMEA attempted – unsuccessfully – to coordinate a common policy vis-à-vis the outside world, particularly the European Community, at the turn of the 1970s. The impetus for this came from the progress achieved by the EC, which was planning to implement a Common Commercial Policy starting from 1970. The CMEA did not endeavour to copy EC development, but to assist its members’ access to the Common Market that would be hindered once the EC policy was implemented. Based on the findings of this study, the CMEA should be seen as an instrument that all members used to advance their particular aims and interests. The CMEA debate on its policy towards the EC shows the limits of Soviet power within the organisation and towards its smaller allies: due to the organization’s decision- making principles, and more importantly, because the member states could resist it, the USSR was not able to override the intergovernmental CMEA. Nonetheless, due to the unanimity rule, the CMEA could not act without Soviet consent. Importantly, Soviet economic power was valuable for the small allies in possible negotiations with the EC. Therefore, to secure Soviet participation, the East Europeans accepted the Soviet leading role in the EC policymaking.

Christian Gerlach
The Grain-Meat Complex as a Source of International Integration of CMEA Countries, S. 101
The article examines grain imports in CMEA countries in the 1970s and 1980s and how these imports affected these countries’ growing global entanglements. In CMEA states, grain was largely used as animal feed. High and increasing levels of meat consumption were considered a sign of prosperity and a necessity for political stability. From roughly 1972, socialist countries began importing massive amounts of grain from capitalist countries, initially mainly the United States. These imports contributed substantially to some socialist countries’ growing foreign debt. Efforts to increase domestic grain production were often pursued half-heartedly and only had moderate success. Inside the CMEA, a de-facto policy of self-suficiency, augmented by limited mostly bilateral cooperation, existed for the meat-grain sector. After 1990, meat consumption in the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe fell sharply, and since that time it has only recovered slowly or not at all. Global integration – also pursued by Communist governments – thus led to only a limited increase in consumption. This essay describes the motivation of important stakeholders and the connection between global and regional integration.

Martin Dangerield
Post-CMEA Economic Relations of Former Soviet Bloc Countries and Russia: Continuity and Change, S. 118
This article relects on how the economic and trade relations of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia with Russia have developed in the twenty years since the abolition of the CMEA. The article’s main findings are as follows. First, there have been two distinct phases in post- CMEA trade patterns. After a long period of stagnation prior to EU accession, Russia has since become a significant export market for all three states. For the three, the build-up of export capacity during EU pre-accession was arguably more important than EU entry per se. Second, energy dependency, a key CMEA-era interconnection, has remained a significant feature of economic relations between Russia and the three throughout the post-CMEA era. Third, the growing importance of bilateral intergovernmental instruments charged with promoting trade and economic cooperation between Russia and the three has been a notable feature of the post-2004 period. Fourth, the main political parties in each of the three tended to take diferent positions on economic relations with Russia. Yet changes of povernment seem to have been rather marginal in terms of both the conduct of economic relations with Russia and levels of trade and economic cooperation, especially in the post-2004 period.

Dagmara Jajeśniak-Quast
Conclusions: The Multiple International Dimensions of Comecon. New Interpretations of Old Phenomena, S. 140
The research presented in this thematic issue challenges a thesis that to date has dominated literature on former CMEA countries, namely that individually or as a Bloc, they sought self-suficiency. Quantitatively, these countries involvement in world markets has of course never been extensive. In fact, during the post-socialist transition to an open-market economy, the East Central European countries appeared more de-globalized than during the CMEA period. Although these countries became an important site of direct foreign investment in the 1990s (and even more so after EU accession in 2004), they primarily functioned as an “extended workbench” of the West. The qualitatively low involvement of the national economies of this region in the world economy is thus an “old phenomena,” which Ivan T. Berend rightly described as a “detour from the periphery to the periphery.”
However, when assessing the character of economic interdependencies, it is also helpful to analyse the transnational activities of speciic actors and the development of corresponding networks. The benefit of examining the history of socialist integration from the perspective of everyday life or “from below” is demonstrated by many of the contributions to this volume. Even during the Cold War when European-wide communication seemingly had broken down, economic integration was contemplated and discussed. These discussions should be seen in relation to efforts at integration in the 1920s and those of the Visegrad countries in the 1990s.

Norbert Fabian
Brüche und Transformationen Zum Fifth European Global History Congress 2017 Budapest (31. August – 3. September 2017), S. 150

Wolfgang Reinhard: Staatsmacht und Staatskredit. Kulturelle Tradition und politische Moderne (Schriften der Philosophisch-historischen Klasse der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, Bd. 56), Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter 2017, 69 S.
by_Markus A. Denzel_, S. 153

Daniel Schulz: Die Krise des Republikanismus (= Schriftenreihe der Sektion Politische Theorie und Ideengeschichte in der Deutschen Vereinigung für Politische Wissenschaft, Bd. 29), Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft 2015, 306 S.
By_Helmut Goerlich_, S. 155

Zachary Lockman: Field Notes. The Making of Middle East Studies in the United States, Stanford: Stanford University Press 2016, 351 p.
by_Cyrus Schayegh_, S. 158

Jörg Goldberg: Die Emanzipation des Südens. Die Neuerindung des Kapitalismus aus Tradition und Weltmarkt, Köln: PapyRossa Verlag 2015, 326 S.
by_Tijo Salverda_, S. 161

Hennie van Vuuren: Apartheid Guns and Money. A Tale of Profit, Auckland Park: Jacana Media 2017, 624 p.
by Robin Möser, S. 164

Manfred Kossok: Sozialismus an der Peripherie. Späte Schriften, hrsg. von Jörn Schütrumpf, Berlin: Karl Dietz Verlag 2016, 127 S.
by_Matthias Middell_, S. 166

Thomas Zimmer: Welt ohne Krankheit. Geschichte der internationalen Gesundheitspolitik 1940–1970, Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag 2017, 439 S.
by Klaas Dykmann, S. 171

Darina Volf: Über Riesen und Zwerge. Tschechoslowakische Amerika- und Sowjetunionbilder 1948–1989, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2017, 395 S.
by Martina Winkler, S. 171

Moritz Mälzer: Auf der Suche nach der neuen Universität. Die Entstehung der „Reformuniversitäten“ Konstanz und Bielefeld in den 1960er Jahren (= Studien zur Zivilgesellschaft, Bd. 13), Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2016, 512 S.
by Ulrike Breitsprecher, S. 176

Steffi Marung: Die wandernde Grenze. Die EU, Polen und der Wandel politischer Räume, 1990–2010, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2013, 400 S.
by Stefan Troebst, S. 180

2017 im Fachforum Connections veröffentlichte Rezensionen, S. 185

Inhaltsverzeichnis des 27. Jahrgangs 2017, S. 191

Autorinnen und Autoren, S. 197

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