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Prediction and Prophecy in Communist Studies

In: Comparative Sociology
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  • 1 a) School of Geography, Politics and Sociology Newcastle University William.outhwaite@ncl.ac.uk b) School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research University of Kent l.j.ray@kent.ac.uk
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Abstract

Contrary to Popper’s classic article with this title, it can be argued that the principal failure of Western analyses of communism was not the failure to predict the collapse of most of the communist regimes in and around 1989 but more a failure of prophecy, in the sense of a more speculative theory of the contradictions of those regimes and their unsustainability.

The reasons can be found in the polarisation between overblown theories of totalitarianism and excessively bland comparative approaches couched in terms of the, then popular, theories of industrial society and, often, convergence. There were also methodological reasons arising from the positivist shibboleths of factual documentation, with the consequence that dubious statistics were considered better than none, and value-freedom.

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