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When Left Moves Right book cover. Image links to event page.



Book Talk. When Left Moves Right: The Decline of the Left and the Rise of the Populist Right in Postcommunist Europe
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Please join the Harriman Institute for a book talk by Maria Snegovaya. With discussant Sheri Berman and moderator Alexander Cooley.

Over the past two decades, postcommunist countries have witnessed a sudden shift in the electoral fortunes of their political parties: previously successful center-left parties suffered dramatic electoral defeats and disappeared from the political scene, while right-wing populist parties soared in popularity and came to power. This dynamic echoed similar processes in Western Europe and raises a question: Were these dynamics in any way connected?

This book argues that they were. And that the root of the connection between them lies in the pro-market rebranding of the ex-communist left—the key explanatory variable. This book argues that, though the left’s pro-market shift initially led to electoral rewards, it had a less straightforward impact on left-wing parties’ electoral fortunes in the long run. Traditional supporters of the left (working-class and economically vulnerable groups) were alienated by the new economic policies, and the middle-class voters newly drawn to these parties did not compensate for those losses. As a result, for several electoral rounds following the rebranding, reformist parties on the left suffered dramatic electoral defeats. In response, right-wing parties in their respective countries adopted more redistributive economic platforms consistent with preferences of former supporters of the left, and incorporated sizeable shares of these electorates. This contributed to the growth of right-wing populist parties in the countries with a pro-market left.

The book traces this process in postcommunist Europe on different levels of analysis: cross-country observational data, case studies, and individual-level experimental surveys. It argues that scholars should incorporate the economic policy dimension when explaining the demise of the left and the rise of the populist right in the region. It also examines important parallels between the dynamics of Western and postcommunist countries by arguing that the idiosyncrasy of Eastern European politics has been overstated in scholarly literature. It also offers policy recommendations about ways for the left-wing parties to go back to their original platforms and re-attract traditional electorates, therefore curtailing the rise of populism.

Maria Snegovaya (Ph.D., Columbia University) is a Senior Fellow with the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a Postdoctoral Fellow in Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. She studies democratic backsliding and re-autocratization in postcommunist and post-Soviet Europe, Russia’s domestic and foreign policy, and the tactics used by Russian actors and proxies who circulate disinformation to exploit these dynamics in the region. Her research results and analysis have appeared in policy and peer-reviewed journals, including West European Politics, Party Politics, Journal of Democracy, Post-Soviet Affairs, and the Washington Post‘s political science blog the Monkey Cage. Her book on related topics is forthcoming with Oxford University Press on January 30, 2024.

Sheri Berman is a professor of political science at Barnard College, Columbia University.  Her research interests include the development of democracy and dictatorship, European politics, populism and fascism, and the history of the left. Her most recent book is Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime to the Present Day.  Her current book project is entitled The Political Consequences of Economic Ideas: Neoliberalism, the Left, and the Fate of Democracy.  In addition to her scholarly work, she has published in a wide variety of non-scholarly publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, VOX, The Guardian and Dissent.  She is on the boards of The Journal of Democracy, Political Science Quarterly, and Persuasion.