While both these volumes contribute to our knowledge of contemporary Latin America, individually they are very different. Eckstein’s collection focuses on politics from the perspective of the populace, while Colburn’s study emphasizes the state. Eckstein’s volume explores various forms of popular dissatisfaction and its manifestation in social protest; Colburn’s book examines the inner workings of state economic management after a massive social protest—i.e., a revolution—has installed a semisocialist regime.
Eckstein has assembled a truly excellent collection of papers by authors who are all leading figures in their respective fields. These papers are a must for students of protest, popular politics, and contemporary social movements. They constitute an excellent summary of our current knowledge of several of the region’s most important social movements as well as our general knowledge of popular protest in Latin America. The book is useful for a wide range of scholars; certain selections would prove useful in graduate seminars on popular protest, Latin America, and developing countries. Although the hardcover price is a bit steep, the availability of a paperback version makes the book a realistic teaching tool at the graduate level.
Moreover, Eckstein has selected subject matter and specific popular movements that are bound to be of wide general interest. The essays include one on Peru’s Sendero Luminoso, by Cynthia McClintock; one on the peasant movement of the 1970s in Colombia, by Leon Zamosc; a discussion of miners’ resistance in Bolivia, by June Nash; of resistance within an authoritarian regime in Chile, by Manuel Antonio Garretón; and of the mothers’ movement in Argentina, by Marysa Navarro. There is also a piece on religion in protest by Daniel Levine and Scott Mainwaring and another on protest in Brazil by Maria Helena Moreira Alves. I found the comparison of Latin American guerrilla movements by Timothy Wickham-Crowley particularly interesting. The final chapter, on debt and protest, by John Walton, constitutes the most accessible discussion I have seen to date on this complex yet central subject. Eckstein has done an excellent job of tying the contributions together in her introductory chapter.
If any criticism can be made of the pieces in general, I would have liked to see more theoretical depth to most of them, including a more complete grasp and incorporation of the theoretical debates surrounding each subject. There is, of course, a limit to the extent to which theory can be developed in one chapter, and some of these essays do better than others.
In contrast to the Eckstein collection, Colburn’s volume has a more limited scope and is primarily of interest to specialists on contemporary Nicaragua. At the same time, the subject matter is well selected, because almost nothing has been written about state management of collective farms under the Sandinista regime. Thus even an expert on Nicaragua is bound to learn a good deal from Colburn. At the same time, the book is sufficiently accessible and short as also to be useful for undergraduate teaching, depending upon the emphasis given to Nicaragua in any given course.
Managing the Commanding Heights takes its title from Lenin’s command that the state bureaucracy manage the principal commercial enterprises of a newly socialized country. Colburn has conducted an in-depth study of the problems and inefficiencies of such state management. He explains in detail why these problems arise and how inefficiencies result from the clash of political goals with the “capitalist” goal of economic productivity. Colburn adds spice to his study with the stories of three state-run enterprises. Two are as economically disastrous as most of Nicaragua’s state-run companies; the third is unusual in being a relative economic success. That contrast allows Colburn to explore why the exceptional firm is so successful. He shows how part of the success comes from a managerial style that refuses to place political goals above economic ones.
My criticism of Colburn’s volume is similar to that of Eckstein’s: I would have liked more theoretical depth. Colburn’s book-length manuscript provides plenty of opportunity for theoretical development. Both theoretical sophistication and a comparative context would have broadened the appeal and utility of an otherwise quite narrow subject matter. Placing the Nicaraguan experience in a more broadly comparative perspective, for example (which Colburn does very briefly toward the end), would have allowed the author to draw more widely relevant conclusions about socialist economies, state enterprises, or the exigencies of political and social goals. Alternatively, Colburn might have used his study to explore the contradictions inherent in socialism, contrasting data and theory in an illuminating fashion. A third approach might have fit the Nicaraguan stories into traditional organizational theory, for which there is almost no data on developing countries. Using the new Nicaraguan data might have allowed Colburn to explore and probably improve organizational theories that have relied so heavily upon data from organizations in advanced, industrial democracies. These are only a few possibilities that might have been pursued here. As it stands, the volume is primarily a fascinating story on a subject about which we know little. The very fascination of the material, however, leaves me wishing the author had done more with it.