Abstract: Managing Communist Enterprises: Poland, Hungary, & Czechoslovakia, 1945-1970

Philip Scranton

Abstract

Few business historians have crossed the Iron Curtain to ask: How did executives (known as ‘directors’) manage enterprises within “actually-existing” socialist economies during the postwar ‘golden era’ for capitalism?  What incentive structures did central planning create, with what corresponding sanctions for poor performance? How did managerial tasks, training, and expertise change across the first postwar generation, and with what implications for effective organizational operations? Where might we find exemplars of communist best practice, and of course of catastrophic behavior? 

    Very much as in the West, socialist managers worked to meet goals, solve problems, satisfy bosses, and get goods (and services) out the door. How did they handle this, in shifting environments of resources, politics, and pressures, and in most cases, without any of the market signals capitalist managers rely upon?  And by extension, where might we find resonances with capitalist practices, then and now, in addition to the more-easily exposed contradictions?

    This undertaking is made possible by the digitization of millions of documents translated from all the Soviet Bloc languages for US foreign policy use during the Cold War, along with tens of thousands of reports and interviews for the three nations gathered by Radio Free Europe (another arm of US foreign policy). Opening a discussion about “managing socialism” is surely timely, as our concerns about “managing capitalism” mount.