The "historical-structural" approach to the analysis of situations of dependency in the Third World and the revival of Marxist class analysis, both products of the sixties, combined with the older Europeanist tradition of comparative historical analysis to produce a rich variety of descendants over the course of the seventies and eighties.

The result was a new comparative political economy that dealt similarly and often simultaneously with both first and third world problems. This is not to say that work evolved smoothly. The literature was filled with critiques and countercritiques and various kinds of internecine warfare, but by the mid-eighties there was a large body of work on development and the world economy that was variegated but surprisingly coherent.

The new comparative political economy has not aimed at charting progress along a presumed unilinear path of societal development but rather at uncovering, interpreting, and explaining distinctive patterns of development. Why do different countries exhibit different patterns of distribution and accumulation over the course of their development? Why is industrialization associated with strikingly disparate political regimes in different periods and regions?

 Associated with the concern with distinctiveness is the refusal to take for granted the relative strength of different classes or the character of the relations among them. The strength of dominant and subordinate classes, like the strength and autonomy of the state, is taken as a variable. Possibilities for conflict or compromise between classes are seen as arising out of domestic political histories but also as powerfully conditioned by international economic and political conjunctures. The diversity of the new comparative political economy makes it hard to characterize in abstract terms. We try first to characterize it by example, looking, albeit in a regrettably schematic and elliptic way, at some major substantive issues and how those working within this approach have attacked them. We examine the way in which class analysis has been handled by the new comparative political economy, how the interaction of state and society is treated, and how relations between the international political economy and national development trajectories are conceptualized. Then, we provide a general characterization of the approach by reiterating the theoretical and methodological assumptions most commonly shared by its practitioners.

 

 

 

The historical complexities of class analysis

One of the hallmarks of the new comparative political economy is its focus on the way processes of historical change are shaped by the patterns of conflict and alliance among classes or fractions of classes. Recent work on political development provides a good example. Longstanding cross-national findings of a positive relation between democracy and development have been reinterpreted in a class analytic framework. In this view, economic development is associated with political democracy not because of some amorphous connection between a more differentiated occupational structure and a penchant for parliamentarianism, but as a result of historical patterns of conflict and alliance among different classes.

This analysis differs from its more orthodox predecessors in dependency and Marxist theory in emphasizing the ability of subordinate classes to influence historical outcomes through class action,I9 but, following Moore, it also emphasizes the variability of class alliances and the importance of legacies of past class alliances for current outcomes. In Europe, for example, the successful maintenance of democracy depended on the ability of the working class to find allies both urban and rural; failure was predicated on the emergence of an anti-democratic coalition with agrarian roots.

 

A very similar type of class analysis has been used to explain the development of the European welfare state. Those who use this approach argue that working-class political and economic power are the main determinants of cross-national differences in the political economies of the advanced capitalist societies and present empirical evidence that it is strongly related to the level of welfare-state spending and its distributive impact, social control of the economy, level of employment, and strike activity. As is typical of comparative political economy, the argument of this "working-class power approach" is a historical and contingent one. It is not that industrialization produces the working class, which in turn produces the welfare state, rather it is that the variable strength of working-class organizations, which is in turn dependent on other political, economic, and historical factors, is responsible for variations in the distributive impact and expenditure patterns of the welfare state. Having emphasized so heavily the importance of cross-national differences in working-class organization and ideology, the new comparative political economy has, not surprisingly, also been concerned with exploring explanations for these differences.

Stimulated by E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class,22 historians and historical sociologists studied the development of the working class in various countries, resulting in a rich body of literature, which by the early eighties was ripe for the development of comparative generalizations about the causes of differences in working-class formation, degree of organization, and political expression. In a recent volume building on this work, Katznelson and Zolberg suggest that two broad sets of factors account for these cross-national differences on the eve of World War I: variations in capitalist industrial structure (the pace and timing of industrialization and the structure of the economy) and the character of the political regime (legacies of absolutism and extent of political rights for the working class). This analysis represents an interesting case of work on different time periods and, to a certain extent, carried out with different research strategies converging on the same result since the factors emphasized are essentially the same as those used by working-class power theorists to account for variations in union organization and union structure in the post World War I1 period.

 

 

 

 

Studies of the interaction of class and politics in the Third World have had a slightly different flavor, since they began, most prominently with the work of Guillermo O'D0nnel1, with the problematic of trying to explain the absence of political democracy despite substantial economic development. As in European discussions of democracy, arguments focused on the relative strength of the working class and its potential urban allies and rural adversaries. In this debate, however, the question of externally based class-actors, specifically foreign investors, and their ability to shape the behavior of the state apparatus played a key role. This literature provides a good example, not only of the complexities of class analysis, but also of how the new comparative political economy has functioned as a community of scholars, building on each other's work in a cumulative way. O'Donnell's work was first critiqued and reformulated by other Latin Americanists. Later work used comparisons with Europe to increase the power and generality of the arguments. Current work on the political consequences of industrialization in East Asia has assimilated early Latin American arguments and added new ones.

 

To capture the full flavor of the way in which the historical complexities of class conflict and alliance have been analyzed by the new comparative political economy would require a wider range of illustrative examples than are possible here. A growing body of literature on the working class in the Third World takes up many of the issues raised in debates on Europe and a distinctive problematic drawn from the dependency and world-system approaches.

An impressive body of work on Europe shows how subordinate groups have managed to shape political development by acting outside established institutions in the form of riots, strikes, and demonstrations. The origins and dynamics of similarly disruptive, anti-establishment class actions have been examined in the Third World as well, particularly in the agrarian sector.The developmental consequences of conflicts and alliances within and among dominant classes have been a major focus of recent In this last set of' work, even more clearly than in the work on subordinate classes, class analysis is joined by a second central theme of the new comparative political economy. The state is brought into the picture as an actor in its own right.

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