The Legitimation of Capitalism in the Postcommunist Transition: Public Opinion about Market Justice, 1991-1996

David S. Mason, Butler University


This paper examines change in economic justice attitudes in five former communist states (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, eastern Germany, Hungary, and Russia), using data from opinion surveys conducted in 1991 and 1996. We examine the implications of theory and research concerning the popular legitimation of western capitalism for change in support for 'market justice' beliefs and norms among postcommunist publics. Our analyses show: first, that in the Czech Republic and eastern Germany, public opinion is moving closer to market justice as found in western capitalism, but socialist justice remains strong or is increasing in the other three countries; secondly, that in postcommunist countries correlations between support for market justice norms and the perceived fairness of the existing economic order have become stronger over time; and thirdly, that private-sector employment, and retrospective, current and prospective standard-of-living evaluations each shape market justice beliefs and norms. We conclude that (1) theory of the public legitimation of capitalism in the West does apply in postcommunist states; (2) change in market/socialist justice is a function of both collective and individual level factors; and (3) we have entered a second stage of the transition where popular economic justice evaluations are more clearly subject to 'empirical test'.