Abstract: The fall of the Eastern European “Soviet Bloc” governments has generally been understood as a unique phenomenon. This paper proposes to challenge this understanding through comparative analysis with the American Rust Belt. In both areas landscapes are dominated by shuttered factories and decaying industrial cities, visual reminders of better days long gone. Both areas have suffered impoverishment, unemployment, and shrinking populations.
The outcomes are comparable, but so are the origins. The same global financial pressures that shattered the autarkic economic systems of the Soviet bloc were simultaneously undermining basic industry in the US, sectors of the economy in which the industrial unions once dominated. These processes lead in Eastern Europe to the bureaucracies’ embrace of capitalism, while in the US, over the course of the 1980s the unions were converted from organizations that advanced workers’ interests into mechanisms through which wage-cutting and layoffs were imposed.
Key words: industrial decline, American Rust Belt, Southeastern Europe