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John Higley & Jan Pakulski, Elite Theory versus Marxism: The Twentieth Centurys Verdict [2000] [Abstract]

Noting that Marxist and elite paradigms birthed competing theories on social and political change and that the differential development of these theories depends less on evidence than on ideological leanings, the epilogue to a collection of essays on postsocialist elites compares these paradigms in terms of their polarity in the 20th century. Although fading by the end of the 19th century, Marxism saw renewed vitality as it was embraced as a theoretical and ideological tool of radical and reformist leaders of the European Left. Elite theorys decline is attributed less to a lack of its plausibility than to a lack of ties to organized political forces. However, Marxisms emergence as a major global intellectual and political movement had a concomitant destructive impact on its explanatory power. By the end of the 20th century, Marxist theory comprised many dissipating streams. The decline of elite theory is delineated, noting that its tenets remained intact despite its unpopularity among activists and intellectuals. The negative effect of fascism – i.e., the dubious notion that elite theory leads to fascism – is noted, along with the idea that a combination of socioeconomic and sociocultural factors further eclipsed elite theory’s development and popularity. Latter-20th-century elite theory lacked urgency in discussions on Western democracies and non-Western developing countries. However, three trends led to the reinvigoration of elite theory: economic advances of Japan and the Asian tigers, state socialism in Eastern Europe, and the elite-driven Soviet collapse. Thus, political developments driving the revival of elite theory include the centrality of elite choices and actions guiding these changes; and the theoretical developments include the exhaustion of Marxist theorys credibility and the reformulation of elite-centered democratic theory. Five suppositions underlying the analyses of contributions are delineated.