Cover image for The Prospects for Liberal Nationalism in Post-Leninist States By Cheng Chen

The Prospects for Liberal Nationalism in Post-Leninist States

Cheng Chen


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The Prospects for Liberal Nationalism in Post-Leninist States

Cheng Chen

The Prospects for Liberal Nationalism in Post-Leninist States is the first book to systematically compare the impact of Leninist legacies on postcommunist national identity. Chen’s main argument—that the fusion of indigenous Leninism and nationalism in Russia and China presents greater obstacles to the development of liberal nationalism than in comparable cases in Eastern Europe—represents a welcome reminder that the excessive concentration on the here and now in postcommunist studies has prevented us from adequately conceptualizing the impact of Leninist legacies on contemporary developments. A well-written, lucid, and thought-provoking book.”


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The fall of communism in the Soviet Union led many to hope and expect that liberal democracy would immediately take root across postcommunist states, marking what Francis Fukuyama famously referred to as the “end of history.” Since then, however, a very different picture has emerged, most notably in the form of nationalist sentiments that have steered many postcommunist countries in an illiberal direction, even in regimes committed to market reforms and formally democratic institutions.

Cheng Chen examines this phenomenon in comparative perspective, showing that the different pathways of nation-building under Leninism affected the character of Leninist regimes and, later, the differential prospects for liberal democracy in the postcommunist era. In China and Russia, Chen shows, liberalism and nationalism were more difficult to reconcile because Leninism was indigenous and had a more significant impact on nation-building. In Hungary and Romania, by contrast, Leninism was a foreign import and had less of an effect on traditional national identity. As we witness the struggle to establish democracy in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, a study that examines the salience of historical legacies seems particularly timely.

The Prospects for Liberal Nationalism in Post-Leninist States is the first book to systematically compare the impact of Leninist legacies on postcommunist national identity. Chen’s main argument—that the fusion of indigenous Leninism and nationalism in Russia and China presents greater obstacles to the development of liberal nationalism than in comparable cases in Eastern Europe—represents a welcome reminder that the excessive concentration on the here and now in postcommunist studies has prevented us from adequately conceptualizing the impact of Leninist legacies on contemporary developments. A well-written, lucid, and thought-provoking book.”
“This is a compelling comparative study of communist regimes that succeeds in crossing some unhelpful but durable geographical and intellectual divides. In particular, Chen draws her cases from both Europe and Asia, and she accounts for types of nationalist development (liberal versus illiberal) by referring to variations in both ideology and the political-economic institutions of state socialism.”
“Cheng Chen’s study of liberal nationalism in postcommunist states is a path-breaking volume that analyzes with great erudition the important subject of the lingering legacies of Marxist-Leninism on postcommunist states.”
“This is a valuable book because it appears just as the possible development of virulent nationalism in many post-Leninist states has taken on new urgency.”

Cheng Chen is Associate Professor of Political Science at SUNY Albany.


List of Tables and Figures


List of Abbreviations


1. Liberalism, Leninism, and the National Question

2. Russia: The Problem of Rising Extremism

3. China: Nationalism with Chinese Characteristics

4. Romania: Legacies of “National Stalinism”

5. Hungary: The Marginalization of Illiberal Nationalism

Conclusion: The Prospects for Liberal Nationalism




During the twentieth century, liberalism as a political ideology achieved two great victories. The first was the defeat of fascism at the end of the Second World War, and the second was the demise of the Communist bloc at the end of the 1980s. The successful and relatively swift establishment of capitalist liberal democracies in the post-WWII period, however, has yet to be repeated in most post-Leninist cases. Unlike in Germany, Italy, or Japan, a complete military defeat followed by the subsequent imposition of new liberal political and economic orders never took place in post-Leninist countries. The legacies of the previous regime thus became a much more significant factor during the ongoing process of post-Leninist transformations.

As the old ideological struggles recede to the background, nationalism is assuming an increasingly prominent role in post-Leninist politics. Almost twenty years after what Ken Jowitt has called “the Leninist extinction,” very different political outcomes have emerged from the “new world disorder” that he anticipated. While capitalist liberal democracy has become sustainable in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the other post-Leninist states that were first to be incorporated into the European Union, the persistence of virulent nationalist forces in countries such as Russia and China seriously threatens its prospects. Between these two extremes are countries like Romania—countries that are moving in a liberal direction but are still far from developing a viable liberal variant of nationalism. This phenomenon clearly contradicts initial expectations of an easy transition to liberal democracy. Why is liberalism more likely to be compatible with the reconstruction of national identity in some post-Leninist states than in others? This is the central question addressed by this book. Given that most post-Leninist states are currently experiencing some difficulties creating a new nationalist consensus that is compatible with liberalism, it is crucial to understand the sources of these difficulties and of the variation in the degrees to which non-liberal or antiliberal political orientations are in evidence.

This book offers a partial explanation of different prospects for liberal nationalism in post-Leninist states by identifying the surprising ways in which specific legacies of Leninist rule detached themselves from formal Communist institutions and provided a foundation for illiberal variants of nationalism. The argument begins with the observation that Leninism and liberalism, given their universalist pretensions, do not readily lend themselves to the construction of nations and nationalist ideologies. And just as Western nation-states adopted varying strategies in seeking to reconcile liberalism and nationalism, Leninist states would adopt quite different approaches to reconciling the universalist revolutionary ideals of proletarian internationalism with the building of coherent, bounded nations. This book argues that the "illiberal" aspects of nationalism in post-Leninist states result, in part, from the efforts by Leninist regimes to make Leninism an integral part of national identity—and that the success of these efforts can be shown to vary inversely with the prospects for liberal nationalism in post-Leninist contexts. Despite the fact that both Leninism and liberalism are universalist ideologies, Leninism’s universality was inherently limited by its emphasis on collectivism based on class distinctions, which provided a potential basis for division and exclusion and thus unintentionally reinforced particularistic forms of collectivism embedded in pre-Leninist societies. This particularistic collectivism survived in informal dimensions of public life and outlived the “official universalist collectivism” touted by the Leninist regimes, later providing a foundation for collectivist ideals associated with illiberal nationalism in post-Leninist states. In the post-Leninist context, illiberal nationalism has concretely manifested itself in anti-minority sentiments, antiforeign sentiments, and ideologies of antiseparatism and irredentism. Thus, the more successful Leninist regimes were in fusing Leninist revolutionary ideals with their projects of nation-building, the less likely liberal political ideals and principles would become constituent features of the most prevalent forms of nationalism during the post-Leninist era.

This comparative historical study explores the above hypothesis through four cases: Russia, China, Romania, and Hungary. Each represents a different type of Leninist regime and a different post-Leninist outcome. The variation in the extent to which illiberal practices and discourses prevail in the redefinition of post-Leninist national identity is significant across the four cases. While Russia has witnessed some of the most illiberal variants of post-Leninist nationalism as the result of the close fusion of Leninism and national identity, Hungary is a case in which the relatively superficial layering of Leninism on preexisting nationalist ideals paved the way for a less deeply entrenched resistance to liberal individualism today. Between these extremes, China and Romania provide two intermediate cases. The systematic cross-regional comparative study develops and illustrates the above hypothesis and analyzes how differences in each country’s experience with Leninism affected the degree and pervasiveness of illiberal nationalism in post-Leninist settings.

Questions, Concepts, and Argument

The Puzzle: Illiberal Nationalism in Post-Leninist States

While nationalism constitutes a formidable obstacle for democracy-building in many post-Leninist states, the idea of “liberal nationalism” has prompted a burgeoning literature among Western academics. In general, the advocates of liberal nationalism emphasize its significance as a basis for political and cultural tolerance. To the extent that it does not stress the paramount importance of the national ideal and insists on the autonomy of individual will and choice, liberal nationalism is more liberal than national. It takes a critical stance toward illiberal ideas and practices even when they are justified by national interests. According to theorists of liberal nationalism, if countries could only adhere to liberal principles, all problems caused by less liberal forms of nationalism would in time be solved.

Post-Leninist nationalism, however, seems to lend little credence to the liberal nationalist position. As a number of scholars have pointed out, formal democratic institutions and liberalism do not necessarily go hand in hand. The absence of a liberal mission connected with statehood could have long-term effects on the survivability and quality of democracy, which has particularly affected the newly democratized former Leninist states. Contrary to the kind of tolerant and consensual nationalism advocated by theorists of liberal nationalism, nationalism in many post-Leninist states is characterized by informal definitions of national identity that are restricted to those of a particular race, ethnicity, or religion; the elevation of collectivist national values and rights over other community or individual values and rights; and a highly defensive and sometimes hostile attitude toward other groups and cultures. In other words, it is incompatible with liberalism in many aspects. Internally, it is often manifested by low tolerance of political and cultural diversity. Externally, it can lead to ethnic and other kinds of group inequality resulting from the distribution of political and social resources along ethnic and cultural lines; it can also lead to suspicion toward other groups and cultures, driven by fear of national victimization or even extinction.

Various explanations have been advanced to account for this outcome. One particularly convincing line of argument, inspired by prominent scholars of nationalism such as Hans Kohn, Ernest Gellner, and Liah Greenfeld, is that the relative economic and political backwardness of these countries had always fermented a sort of ressentiment nationalism. This nationalism upheld the superiority of community and hierarchy to individualism and democracy (as opposed to the “civic” nationalism in advanced societies like Britain and the United States). It was suppressed to a large extent under Leninism, which further reinforced its ressentiment character. Coupled with renewed political and economic hardship during the post-Leninist transition, it has led to the revival and intensification of illiberal nationalist sentiments in post-Leninist societies today.

As compelling and insightful as this argument is, it tends to emphasize the common dynamics producing illiberal nationalism across post-Leninist societies at the expense of the significant differences among them. Moreover, this argument often assumes historical continuity without explaining the kind of causal mechanism that links pre-Leninist ressentiment nationalism to post-Leninist illiberal nationalism. The current literature addressing post-Leninist nationalism usually does it on a case-by-case basis or as limited comparisons between “most similar” cases within Eastern Europe, leaving out Leninist regimes in other parts of the world, such as China, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam. And, most important for the purposes of this book, the variation in the nature and severity of nationalist problems in post-Leninist states, although sometimes noted, has yet to be systematically examined. All this calls for a more nuanced and thorough approach that could only be offered by a comparative framework grounded in historical analysis. As it effectively prevents a truly civic culture from developing, illiberal nationalism has inhibited liberal ideas and values from taking root in post-Leninist states. In order to understand this particular political outcome today, it is necessary to look at these countries’ Leninist pasts.

Leninism as a Concept

I use the term Leninism rather than socialism or Communism because it can be understood in theoretical, organizational, and socioeconomic terms. Leninism, as a theory and a worldview, is based on Marxism, with historical materialism as its ideological foundation. As an organizational principle, Leninism emphasizes the role of the vanguard party as the instrument of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the transitional period to Communism, with democratic centralism as its central doctrine. As a strategy of socioeconomic transformation, Leninism offers a particular program of statist development designed to allow economically backward countries to catch up and accelerate the transition to Communism without going through fully developed capitalism. Based on the premise of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Leninism stresses the role of the state in leading economic development and distributing social wealth. Domestically, it implies a command economy and egalitarianism; internationally, it implies economic isolation from the capitalist world. In this sense, Leninism marks a break from classical Marxism by giving the state a central role in the transition to Communism.

A Leninist state thus is very different from other kinds of authoritarian states, because its objective is not simply political control but the transformation of the entire social fabric. As will be elaborated in the next chapter, Leninism, because of its universalist ideological core, shares some striking resemblances with another universalist ideology—liberalism—in dealing with the nationalism problem. Derived from Marxism—which posits that as Communism takes root, the workers of the world will unite and national differences will wither away—Leninism suffers from the same kind of conceptual limitation as classical liberalism in providing a theoretical foundation for nationalism. When a Leninist regime was first established in Russia, it assumed a global mission of promoting the world socialist revolution and a worldwide Communist society. Because of its highly centralized organizational features, the Leninist state was particularly well equipped to initiate forced industrialization and gain social compliance by coercion. However, its ability to achieve ideological control by relying on the universalist Leninist ideology alone became problematic in the context of administering developmental policies and managing a nation-state with external and internal boundaries. Hence, despite Leninism’s theoretical position in explaining away nationalism, the imperative of justifying the existence of Leninism within a territorial state and establishing effective social control created the necessity for nation-building under Leninism.

Nation-Building Under Leninism

In order for the state to gain legitimacy, nation-building is crucial—it creates a common sense of identity among citizens. Whether a nation-building project under Leninism is successful is measured by the degree of fusion of Leninism and national identity, meaning the extent to which citizens’ identity is linked to the universalist Leninist mission of building Communism (as embodied by the concept of “Soviet Man”). To compare the degrees to which Leninism was fused with national identity, I categorize Leninist regimes roughly into four types by using two distinctions: initial social acceptance of Leninism and regime strategies for nation-building.

In terms of initial social acceptance of Leninism, Leninist states can be broadly divided into two categories: those countries where Leninist regimes were established as the result of indigenous revolutions, and those where Leninism was “imported” from abroad. Indigenous revolutions gave Leninist regimes a considerable advantage in nation-building, because Leninism was less likely to be perceived as alien, at least by some social groups. In countries where Leninism was imposed externally, the regimes faced a far more daunting challenge in nation-building due to their illegitimate genealogies. In the empirical case studies, this dichotomy will be examined in a much more nuanced fashion to show more graded differences in the level of initial social acceptance.

The nation-building strategies adopted by Leninist regimes can also be divided into two ideal-typical categories: those in which national programs were designed to fit the universalist developmental vision and organizational precepts of Leninism, and those that adapted Leninism to consistently distinctive nationalist ideals and developmental goals. In other words, if the former is “national in form, Leninist in content,” the latter is Leninist in form, but the national took precedence. Although each Leninist regime adopted specific policies that included elements of the other ideal type, the broad patterns and trends of the overall strategies as defined by these categories are discernible through empirical studies. To determine which category a regime falls into, it is necessary to examine qualitatively the regime’s nation-building strategy in various areas, including developmental strategy, cultural policy, minority policy, and foreign relations, with the first two being particularly important as they more directly concern the majority of citizens. Did the regime assert that there was only one true “Leninist road,” or did it acknowledge multiple paths of socialism? Did the regime consistently follow the Soviet developmental model, or did it significantly modify and deviate from this model to suit a more pragmatic national strategy? Did the regime suppress and manipulate traditional nationalism to conform to Leninist ideology, or did it commit to building a distinctively national culture? Did the regime adopt ethnicity-related administrative structures and pursue the active assimilation of ethnic minorities, or did it embrace a flexible minority policy? Did the regime commit to a Leninist monolith internationally, or did it take potential non-socialist allies seriously, such as the "Third World"? These indicators are not necessarily exhaustive in showing variation in Leninist nation-building, but they effectively establish whether the regime was dogmatically following universalist Leninist doctrines or subordinating Leninism to particular national objectives.

The four cases examined in this book, Russia, China, Romania, and Hungary, represent different combinations of initial social acceptance of Leninism and regime strategy for nation-building, and hence varying degrees of fusion of Leninism and national identity. To be sure, nation-building projects do not take place on a tabula rasa. Instead, they play out against long-term and relatively constant structural and cultural factors such as boundary issues, cultural diversity, and the territorial concentration of minorities, which could differ greatly from case to case. For example, the implementation and consequences of some key components of the Soviet nation-building strategy, including the institutional arrangement of ethnic federalism and cultural and linguistic Russification, were significantly conditioned by the country’s extraordinary ethnic and cultural diversity. Exactly how these factors constrained individual processes of nation-building under Leninism will be explored in the case studies. However, such background factors alone do not predetermine the regime strategy or the outcome of the nation-building process. As the case studies will show, Romania and its neighbor Hungary share important similarities along certain cultural lines, such as strong illiberal and authoritarian political and cultural heritages and were both under pro-fascist dictatorships before the end of the Second World War. Moreover, both were stripped of some traditional territories after the war and were facing potential ethnic problems due to sizable geographically concentrated ethnic minorities or diaspora or both. Yet dramatically different nation-building processes under Leninism had led to rather different post-Leninist outcomes in Romania and Hungary. Therefore these background factors are highly important in contextualizing the individual cases, but the argument presented here is far from a deterministic one based solely on these factors.

The Russian case is crucial both because it provides the defining Leninist experience and also because it has witnessed the closest fusion of Leninism and national identity. This case also highlights the importance of the fusion of Leninism and nationalism in a country where the Communist regime was indigenously established. Having the distinction of being the world’s first Leninist regime, the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin dogmatically identified itself with Leninism and thus became “a revolutionary incarnation.” The destiny of the Russian nation was shaped by its special position in the genesis and development of socialism, as articulated in the Stalinist concept of “Socialism in One Country.” Later, as expectations of a world revolution were gradually abandoned in the post-Stalinist era, Soviet leaders began to see the need to adopt a more flexible political attitude toward at least part of the regime’s national constituency in order to achieve more effective social control. Nevertheless, the nation-building objective of forging a new Soviet identity defined by Leninist ideology while suppressing a separate Russian national identity remained the same throughout the Soviet era. This case shows the troubling legacy of Leninism in its strongest form.

In contrast, the Leninist regime in China was established as the result of an indigenous Leninist revolution that transformed into a struggle for national liberation for both the elite and the masses. After the revolution, the Chinese leaders increasingly adapted Leninism to fit their nationalist vision. During most of the Leninist era, the Chinese regime remained independent of the Soviet Union and adopted a developmental strategy quite different from the Soviet model, even challenging the USSR directly in its interpretation of Leninism during the post-Stalinist era. Because of the mixed Chinese revolutionary and Leninist experience (a revolutionary strategy that at first followed and then discarded Soviet/Leninist advice; a post-revolutionary regime that at first embraced and then rejected the Soviet/Leninist developmental model), the fusion of Leninism and national identity was not as close as in Russia.

Because Leninism was externally imposed in Romania and Hungary, these regimes’ initial legitimacy was particularly weak compared to that of either Russia or China due to the lack of initial social acceptance of Leninism. Their nation-building strategies diverged significantly under Leninism, however. Probably because of Romania’s relative strategic insignificance, the Soviet Union adopted a rather tolerant attitude toward the Ceau<s>escu regime’s independent foreign policy; paradoxically, this policy was the product of the regime’s defiance of Soviet economic directives designating Romania as the “breadbasket” of the bloc, in favor of pursuing the Soviet developmental model of centralization and heavy industrialization. Ironically, as a result the regime was not able to rely on Moscow for its survival and had to invest heavily in its nation-building project in order to gain legitimacy. Over most of his twenty-five years in power, Ceau<s>escu maintained perhaps the most repressive and centralized regime in Eastern Europe, while consistently pursuing a kind of “national Stalinism” based strictly on the original Soviet developmental model and a cultural policy rivaling Stalin’s Russification campaign. This experience under Leninism makes Romania another intermediate case that falls between the Russian and Hungarian extremes in terms of nation-building under Leninism.

Hungary provides a case where the fusion of Leninism and national identity was most incomplete, in part because the foreign origin of its Communist dictatorship maintained a greater degree of separation, indeed often direct opposition, between Hungarian nationalism and the features of Leninism that nurtured illiberal tendencies. During most of the Leninist era, especially after 1956, the developmental and cultural policies adopted by the Hungarian regime were much less orthodox compared to the Romanian case, as exemplified by the significant degree of political tolerance and the surprisingly innovative New Economic Mechanism initiated under Janos Kadar. In contrast to Romania, the Hungarian regime remained obedient to the Soviet Union internationally in exchange for considerable domestic flexibility. Ideology and politics were largely pushed to the background in favor of apolitical consumerism during the Kadar era, which stretched over more than three decades. Consequently, there was only relatively superficial layering of Leninism on preexisting nationalist ideals in the case of Hungary.

Varying Degrees of Illiberal Nationalism in Post-Leninist States

Today, the “illiberal” features of post-Leninist nationalism are partially the result of nation-building during the Communist period. To varying degrees, the fusion of Leninism with national identity undermined the existing self-image of the nation, making the redefinition of national identity an imperative. In terms of nation-building, the Leninist legacy consists of three components, which will be examined in greater detail in the next chapter. The first is “official universalist collectivism,” which was based on official Communist ideology and was internalized by some to the extent that Leninist nation-building was successful. The second is “informal particularist collectivism,” which proliferated in the form of informal networks of common moral understanding and collusion, as the formal command economy had aspects considered to be unfair and unjust from the perspective of most ordinary citizens. The third is “atomized individualism,” which was characterized by narrow private interests relieved of civic responsibilities and individuals’ withdrawal from the public sphere. While the collapse of Leninism reduced the first, people expecting the easy transplantation of liberalism failed to take into account the resilience and pervasiveness of the second and the third.

The partial success of Leninist nation-building provided fertile ground for illiberal nationalism in the post-Leninist context because all three components of the Leninist legacy were in play. In places where Leninist nation-building was less successful, this legacy produced a less wide-ranging and less persistent set of non- or antiliberal notions of individual and collective life, and hence less resistance to liberal forms of nationalism. In other words, the process of Leninist nation-building had produced national identities that were fundamentally illiberal in orientation. The kind of nationalism that has emerged after Leninism thus cannot be fully understood without consideration of its historical fusion with Leninism. Post-Leninist nationalism has provided a sense of continuity with the past among the largely disoriented masses going through not only profound political and economic transition, but also an equally, if not more, profound and difficult identity transition. My research leads to the following hypothesis: the closer the fusion between Leninism and national identity in the past, the more pervasive and resilient Leninism’s illiberal legacies are in producing national identities incompatible with liberalism in the present (Figure 1).

The variation in the extent to which illiberal practices and discourses prevail in the redefinition of post-Leninist national identity is significant across the four cases examined in this book. As the contextualized comparisons will show, at the two ends of the empirical spectrum, Russia and Hungary, there is clear variation between the degrees of illiberal nationalism, as indicated by anti-minority sentiments, antiforeign sentiments, and ideologies of antiseparatism and irredentism. In the case of Russia, a nationalist consensus and a coherent national identity have been nowhere in sight, which creates space for the development of extremist nationalism and has led to dire consequences, including a continuously growing minority of the population that is fundamentally dissatisfied with the Russian nation-state in its present territorial and demographic form; frequent and widespread racially motivated attacks targeting ethnic minorities and foreigners; and the progressive penetration of illiberal nationalism into the ideologies of most major political parties and organizations. While Russia has seen some of the most glaring illiberal manifestations of nationalism in its post-Leninist experience, Hungary provides an example of a country where the relatively superficial layering of Leninism on preexisting nationalist ideals, which were themselves far from liberal, nevertheless permitted a less deeply entrenched resistance to liberal individualism. The existing xenophobia and racism in the country notwithstanding, radical nationalist forces have been largely marginalized and unable to consolidate, let alone expand, their organization and support. China and Romania are the two intermediate cases, with available evidence putting China closer to the Russian end and Romania closer to the Hungarian end. In both China and Romania, illiberal nationalist policies and rhetoric can still yield considerable and stable political payoffs, but compared to Russia, there is no systematic and chronic open violence against ethnic minorities and foreigners, and there is less contention among the population about the present nation-state form.

The post-Leninist states are latecomers to liberalism. On the one hand, they can enjoy the “situational advantage” of having successful liberal states as their reference group. On the other, they face the challenges posed by their unique internal and external conditions, prominently among them the legacies of Leninism. Whether they are able to successfully deal with these problems will decide if liberal democracy will survive and thrive in these countries or deteriorate into various kinds of authoritarianism. Given the complexity of the post-Leninist reality, this book does not claim to offer a complete and exhaustive explanation of post-Leninist nationalism. Pre-Leninist traditional nationalism varies from country to country; so do the post-Leninist domestic and international developments that may or may not exacerbate illiberal nationalism. This book argues that nation-building under Leninism plays a vital role in determining the compatibility of post-Leninist nationalism and liberalism. This approach does not preclude the role of agency in constructing liberal nationalism, but it does highlight the institutional and cultural constraints faced by post-Leninist states in redefining national identities by identifying important mechanisms that are intrinsically linked to the Leninist effort to appropriate nationalism. In this sense, it provides crucial information on the structural background against which post-Leninist transformations play out in specific contexts. Using the theoretical framework presented above, the four case studies will demonstrate how different nation-building experiences under Leninism led to different prospects for liberal nationalism in post-Leninist states.

Research and Methodology

During recent years, the comparative historical approach has been making a powerful comeback within the social sciences. In the particular context of post-Communist studies, this has led to new and fresh perspectives exploring alternative pathways of post-Communist transformation linked to variations in Leninist legacies. Following this intellectual orientation, this book is a small-n comparative historical study consisting of four cases for the purpose of developing and illustrating an original hypothesis. The four cases (Russia, China, Romania, and Hungary) are selected from each of the four types of Leninist states discussed above in order to represent the entire universe of cases. These cases are selected with the understanding that not all context-specific variations among Leninist and post-Leninist states can be exhaustively captured by such typology, and that there are many contextual and proximate factors, some of them highly significant, that cannot be fully controlled. For example, although China, Romania, and Hungary all have significant numbers of geographically concentrated ethnic minorities or ethnic diaspora in neighboring states, this problem is particularly serious in the case of Russia, which is a federal instead of unitary system. Nevertheless, for the purposes of theory-building, it is important to separate those general mechanisms that are driving illiberal nationalism along different trajectories from those context-bound mechanisms that are only operating in specific contexts. This study therefore focuses on the most decisive variables that can be compared across the cases in the interest of generating a structural argument. Significant contextual factors, such as ethnic composition and international environment, will be examined and incorporated into the analysis in each empirical chapter, and their roles in affecting the post-Leninist outcome will be assessed through careful process-tracing in the case studies and summarized in the concluding chapter. For example, the case study on China will show that, despite the considerable presence of geographically concentrated minorities, majority-minority tensions actually play a relatively minor role in contributing to contemporary illiberal nationalism.

As a small-n historical study seeking to apply controlled comparisons to develop theoretically significant propositions, this book runs the risk of having too many variables and not enough cases, and being too casual in handling complex historical narratives. However, given these limitations, this approach is particularly useful in revealing causal mechanisms and explaining how key variables are contextualized in specific historical and social environments, which simply cannot be achieved by other methods (such as formal modeling or large-n statistical analysis). These intellectual payoffs become especially significant in analyzing “slow-moving” processes that often call for long-term explanations, such as the transformation of national identity over time. Historical narratives not only allow for the incorporation of details that are not included in the argument yet are necessary to understand its particular manifestations, but also contextualize every step of the causal process to “make the entire process visible rather than leaving it fragmented into analytical stages.”

Each case study in this book contains the same analytical elements and hence acts as a “plausibility probe” to illustrate and develop the theoretical argument. The use of multiple narratives does not “prove” the argument. Rather, the ability of the theoretical argument to withstand the difficult test of application to different occurrences without ad hoc alterations enhances confidence that it captures the central dynamics of the causal process. The cross-national comparisons are generated by adopting an approach of “building blocks.” This means that each case study draws upon the previous one(s) to provide a broader comparative perspective that eventually encompasses all four cases. The combination of variation-finding comparisons and within-case analysis thus provides a compelling strategy to trace the causal process using a small-n comparative historical study.

The empirical research is based primarily on secondary historical materials. As such, it is particularly important to address the problem of selection bias resulting from unintentionally choosing certain kinds of secondary sources over others. To minimize this problem, it is necessary to construct historical narratives from a variety of sources and to be fully aware of these sources’ respective ideological and theoretical foundations. Consequently, the empirical chapters draw upon both authoritative and more recent materials produced by scholars of different disciplines and backgrounds. Whenever possible, competing interpretations of significant historical events or processes are presented. And if one interpretation is preferred over the others, reasons and evidence are given to support the choice. Major scholarly debates specifically concerning the subject matter are discussed and evaluated. These measures do not eliminate selection bias in the use of secondary sources, but they do indicate a conscious effort to deal with this problem, and help to reduce such bias in constructing interpretations of the Leninist and post-Leninist history in these cases.

The reliance on secondary materials has its limitations, especially when dealing with still-unfolding post-Leninist social and political trends. In the absence of systematic quantitative data, contextualized comparisons relying heavily on qualitative evidence and existing survey results are applied to approximate the variation in the extent of post-Leninist nationalism across the four countries. In order to provide a relatively comprehensive portrait of nationalism in each case, it is necessary to connect rhetoric and action, elite discourses and mass sentiments, even though they sometimes do not match well. While data will be provided to illustrate all these aspects, more analytical weight will be given to what is actually being done than to what is being said, to mass sentiments than to elite discourses. The character of the data does not permit definitive comparisons. Nevertheless, available evidence from a wide range of sources shows clear variations in post-Leninist nationalism in the four cases, thereby providing a tentative yet plausible basis for assessing prospects for liberal nationalism in post-Leninist states.


This book is organized into an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. This introduction has identified the research question and its significance, defined key concepts, summarized the argument, and discussed research methods to be employed. Chapter 1 elaborates the theoretical argument. Through the theoretical discussions of the relationships between liberalism, nationalism, and Leninism, it identifies the causal mechanism of the argument and situates the approach presented here within a broader theoretical framework. Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5 are the case studies of Russia, China, Romania, and Hungary, respectively. Each of these empirical chapters studies the initial social acceptance of Leninism and regime strategy for nation-building under Leninism, identifies the overall effects of the fusion of Leninism and national identity with empirical evidence related to individual attitudes and social trends, and examines and compares the implications for post-Leninist nationalism. These empirical chapters juxtapose the cases to clearly demonstrate the differences of variables among them. The conclusion summarizes findings from the case studies and explores the theoretical and empirical implications of this project.

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