Unpublished manuscript; copyright protected
RUSSIAN SOCIETY AFTER COMMUNISM:
FROM CHAOTIC LIBERTY TO ILLIBERAL ORDER
Associate Professor of Political Science
In the past decade, Russia, like all other former state socialist countries, has been changing under the simultaneous impact of two kinds of processes: the processes of the continuing disintegration of the old political-economic system and the processes of the formation of a new society, a new state, and a new set of state-society relations.
Post-communist transition has entailed less hardship and turmoil in those countries where the disintegration has been better managed and the formation more purposeful. In Russia, unfortunately, the logic of disintegration dominated over the logic of formation, keeping the country in a protracted multifaceted transition crisis. In the early nineties, expectations were high about the capacity of the modern, highly educated Russian society, freed from the clutch of the Soviet bureaucratic Leviathan, to create democratic political institutions and a functioning market economy. But hopes for the country’s revival under the aegis of Western liberalism have been dashed, and in 1999-2000 Russia reverted to its habitual use of centralized bureaucratic authority to impose order, coherence and direction on a society which had become fragmented, exhausted, and in many ways dysfunctional.
It can be argued that Russia’s liberal project failed primarily because its main resource – society’s capacity for self-regulation – turned out to be much more limited than it had been assumed by the project’s supporters. But what forces, what historical circumstances imposed those limits? A combination of three explanatory approaches can be offered:
--Burden of history. For historical-cultural reasons, Russian society was not prepared to bear the heavy burden of responsibility for itself that fell on its shoulders when the Soviet state collapsed.
--Flawed reform policies. The actions of the ruling elites have not helped society to develop more adequate means of self-regulation.
--Transition shock. The transformation damaged the society so severely that it undermined even the limited capabilities that it had.
Burden of history
The transformation of Russia was initiated in mid-1980s in a traditional Russian way – by government decree, as a guided process of reform designed to alleviate the crisis of the Soviet system. Five main directions of reform, each responding to a perceived systemic need, set the framework for the changes: decentralization of state authority to provide for a more rational distribution of powers between the central government, regional and local bodies; liberalization aimed at reduction of the exorbitant scope of state control over society; marketization – legalization and development of market relations and mechanisms in the economy; demilitarization to alleviate the economic burden of defence spending; and external integration to open up the Soviet economy and society for intensive interactions with the outside world, above all – with the West.
Whatever the reasons why the reformers attempted to respond to all of these imperatives of change more or less simultaneously, such an approach produced an explosive effect of cumulative change which was next to impossible to control – and which ultimately destroyed the Soviet system. Decentralization reached a stage where the USSR was formally dissolved and replaced by 15 sovereign states. Liberalization led to the overthrow of the Communist Party and the establishment of a political system informed by the generic liberal-democratic design. Marketization became a “great leap” in the direction of full-fledged capitalism. Demilitarization drastically undercut the institutional, political and economic power of the military-industrial complex, turning it into a pale shadow of the once-mighty core of the Soviet superpower. External integration transformed Russia and the other post-Soviet states into peripheral appendages of the global capitalist economy.
The demise of a system characterized by such an extraordinary bureaucratic stranglehold over society as Soviet state socialism was widely touted as an act of liberation. But the liberation was not exactly voluntary: rather than being a case of society impatiently throwing off the shackles of the old order – like in February 1917, for example, - it was a case of a state breaking down in the course of struggle for power between reforming and conservative elites, with society participating in that struggle only in a limited and supporting role. Any society would be hard-put to respond to such a major catastrophe effectively. But when it hits a society conditioned by its history and culture to exist in a close, manifold symbiosis with the state, the challenge of creating effective new institutions as quickly as the situation requires becomes overpowering.
It is a widely shared view that successes in the project of transforming state-socialist societies into liberal-capitalist ones depend strongly on the degree of development of civil society. The more advanced the networks, habits and mechanisms of autonomous social behaviour, the more a society can influence the course of reconstruction and the shaping of the new institutions and policies. Conversely, the more helpless the citizens are to cope with their problems without bureaucratic direction, the more likely it is that the transition crisis will be deep, protracted, and destructive - and that liberal experiments will give way to some form of restoration of authoritarian rule.
Russia is a classic case of post-communist reforms being conducted by elites which proceeded to impose neoliberal policies on a country with very little concern about social costs or even social acceptance of the new ways, with citizens being unable to put significant constraints on elite actions. The hastily concocted new Russian state, formally organized as a liberal democracy, soon exposed itself as a mechanism which was efficient primarily in one task: enabling elites to appropriate public assets and maintain control over the country. What passed for “democracy” in Russia not only failed to produce any “social contract” between the government and the governed, but actually created new sources of state-society conflicts.
Flawed Reform Policies
If market forces are given free reign in a country where effective control of resources is in the hands of bureaucratic elites, the inescapable result will be that those elites will have overwhelming natural advantages in using the market forces to their benefit. The liberal project in Russia was remarkably blind to the inevitability of the bureaucratic dominance in the command system easily being transformed into the dominance of wealth in a bureaucratic-market system. The resulting distribution of wealth would have nothing to do with market competition for the highest economic efficiency, but everything to do with access to administrative power and to the money flow. The integration of such an economy into the global system would not constrain this usurpation of economic power by the bureaucracy: on the contrary, it would only magnify the advantages of transforming administrative privileges into wealth as quickly as possible – and, at the same time, make it vastly more difficult to reorganize production to make the economy competitive in the open market milieu.
The built-in proclivity of state socialism towards transforming itself into crony capitalism can be somewhat alleviated by the ability of civil society to put at least some brakes on the process, relying on democratic political institutions. Social resistance to the elite’s power grab, strong frictions between democracy and privatization are inevitable and healthy processes which should be regarded not as obstacles to progress, but as essential requirements of it. The stronger the democracy, the more circumspect the elites – and the more likely it is that social resistance will take democratic forms. In a country like Russia, with its exceedingly weak democratic institutions and traditions, both the elites and the resisting social forces, spearheaded by the Communist Party, quickly exposed their authoritarian habits, undermining fragile democracy from both sides and turning their conflict into a brutal “Kto kogo?” slugging match which made a mockery of the rule of law and the will of the people.
The West bears a heavy responsibility for the failure of Russian liberalism, since Western governments and international agencies involved in the Russian reform process joined this fight on the side of the champions of crony capitalism, putting their stamp of approval on the policies which were pushing Russia further and further away from both democracy and economic recovery. The green light given by the West to Yeltsin’s reforms had a profound corrupting influence on the thinking and behaviour of Russian elites. Having concluded that the West had no problem with crony capitalism so long as this capitalism maintained a democratic and pro-Western façade, Russian “reformers” felt free to continue with more of the same. Some of the most disastrous economic decisions of the “reformers”, such as the “loans for shares” privatization of 1995, were made at the time when they enjoyed their strongest Western support.
Obviously, in a society undergoing a systemic transition, many elements of the old system will continue to exist and interact with the new ways in all kinds of forms. But while some of such transitional interactions between the old and the new can help society adjust, others can produce the disastrous effect of combining the worst of state socialism with the worst of capitalism.
The first decade of Russia’s post-communist transition saw a catastrophic reduction of the country’s productive potential. The halving of Russia’s GDP in the 1990s threw the country back down the scale of socio-economic development.
Russia's share in world trade shrank from 2.6 percent in exports and 2.7 percent in imports in 1990 to 1.3 and 0.7 percent, respectively, in 1999.
The output of the textile, leather and fur, and footwear industries fell by nearly 10 times, the garment industry - by 5 times, and the meat and dairy industries - by 3 times. The share of science-intensive products manufactured with the use of electronics, computer technologies and mathematical software has dropped from 45.3 to 25 percent of the GDP. Russia is lagging more and more behind industrialized countries in production growth rates and the volume of fixed capital accumulation. More than 70 percent of Russia's fixed assets have been exploited for more than ten years. The situation is worsening more quickly in the aircraft-building and aerospace industries, electronics and communications industry. Labour productivity in Russia is 5 times lower than in the United States.i
The economic depression delivered a double blow to the livelihoods of most Russians: a decline in their incomes was aggravated by a drastic reduction of social services for which they depended on the state.
The past decade has been marked by an extraordinary increase in socioeconomic inequality. In the last years of the Soviet Union, the gap between the rich and poor was estimated to be 4:1, and it is usually assumed that if the gap grows beyond 10:1, society becomes unstable. According to Russia’s State Statistics Committee, in 1999 the top 10% of Russians took 33.7% of all money incomes, while the bottom 10% got only 2.7%.ii This suggests a gap of about 15 times, but according to the estimates of the Institute of Socioeconomic Problems of the Population of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the actual gap was three times wider, as the total income of the 10% richest households was 44 times higher than that of the poorest 10%.iii
Poverty has become a widespread social condition. In 1999, the incomes of over 40% of the population (60 million people) were below the official subsistence level of 1,138 roubles a month, which was the equivalent of about US$40.iv The official (government-determined) minimum wage in 2000 was 132 roubles (US$ 4,74) a month.v The average monthly salary was 2,403 roubles (US$86).vi About half of all families with one child lived below the subsistence level. In 75% of families with three children, each family member had less than a dollar a day to live on.vii In a VCIOM poll in March 2000, 58% of respondents said that the material situation of their families had worsened in the past five years, while 19% cited improvement.viii
The economic depression and the neoliberal policies aimed at the reduction of state spending led to progressive shrinking of social services available to a majority of Russians. If until the mid-1990s, the costs of housing, medical care and education lagged behind inflation, by 2000 they were growing at an accelerating pace.ix In 1999, health expenditures in Russia amounted to 5.7% of the GNP, or US$404 per capita (For comparison, Canada spent 9.2% of its GNP on health, or $US2,158). Spending on education stayed on the same level of 3.5% of GNP as in the 1980s (World Development Indicators, Table 2.9. Education Inputs), but with the GNP contraction in the 1990s, it has meant that Russia reduced its investment in education by half.x Public assistance funds shrank, too. According to Russian government data, in 2000 about 200 groups of citizens, or 103 million people, were entitled to various social benefits. "The law obliges us to help these people, but we cannot do so due to the lack of funds," said Minister of Labour and Social Development Alexander Pochinok in his October 2000 testimony in parliament. Only in 14 of the country's 89 regions benefits to eligible low-income families were actually paid, while in the rest of Russia, payment arrears reached the level of 26 billion rubles (US$935 million).xi
The intelligentsia, which enjoyed a relatively high social status in the Soviet Union as a recipient of significant state financing, has experienced a drastic decline in material standing and prestige. In Russia today, the average scientist makes 10 times less than the average bank clerk. Many universities and research institutes are in a state of degradation, having lost most of their government funding. The numbers of scientists and researchers have fallen from 1.9 million to 0.9 million people.xii
The transition crisis had an especially devastating effect on the Russian countryside. Rural Russia was hit by a contraction of demand for its product (both due to the general fall in the population’s purchasing power and because of foreign competition); by the prices on the industrial goods, which were rising 3 times faster than the agricultural goods prices; by the shrinking of state subsidies and unavailability of credit resources; and by the half-reformed, dysfunctional set of economic relations in the agrarian sector, which prevented even the limited resources from being used effectively.
Overall output of Russian agriculture fell by more than half, and about 80% of agricultural enterprises are operating at a loss. The numbers of cattle shrank by 45%. The farms’ needs for tractors are satisfied for 56%, combine harvesters, for 61%. xiii
As a reflection of the underdeveloped condition of Russian agriculture, almost half of the total farming output is produced at small private plots, many of which owned by city-dwellers, while the 300,000 newly created private farms produce only 2-3% of the total. 45-55% of all farm work is done by hand, the percentage at private plots and individual farms being much higher.xiv
The economic and social infrastructure of rural communities deteriorated to a greater degree than in most cities. Funding for health services, education, social welfare, communications fell as needs became more acute. Rural Russia is plagued by growing poverty, pauperization, and lumpenization. There are many signs of real degradation of large numbers of rural dwellers, as they fell to the social bottom.
The worsening of socio-economic conditions is reflected in Russia’s demographic crisis. During the period of 1992-2000, Russia's population decreased by 6 million people, reaching the level of 145.6 million, according to the Russian Ministry of Labour and Social Development. If the natural reduction of Russia's population continues at the same pace in this century, it will drop to 138.4 million by 2015, according to State Statistics Committee forecasts, moving Russia from the 7th most populated country in the world to the 14th.xv
In 1999, average male life expectancy in Russia was below the pension age, having fallen to 59.8 years from the Soviet level of 64.3. The probability of accidental death in Russia is 4.5 times higher than the European average. The death rate due to tuberculosis, drug addiction and AIDS has also grown.xvi According to Dr. Oleg Shchepin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the general level of illness has risen 15 percent while the number of people considered as invalids had risen three times during the 1990s.xvii
Youth mortality rate has jumped by 30%, the number of suicides has doubled, and the number of registered drug addicts has increased by 25 times.xviii
The socio-economic damage inflicted on Russian society by the changes of the past decade has further weakened its ability to effect constraints on the actions of the elites. Russian society as a whole is too battered, fatigued, demoralized, and preoccupied with basic survival to be able to organize itself to participate more or less effectively in the unfolding struggles for power and property. As a result, the field of battle is left almost entirely to the elites, which have learned new ways to manipulate the public. The ease with which the deeply unpopular Yeltsin regime managed to recycle itself into the popular Putin regime with the help of the 1999-2000 elections is a vivid reminder of the amorphous and pliable condition of Russian society.
Has a new society emerged?
Soviet society, a product of the decades of bureaucratic social engineering and nation-building, was a highly integrated whole which existed largely in the form of bureaucratic organization. When the Soviet state collapsed, the society “disappeared” with it in the sense that many social bonds fell apart.
The decade of transition, which destroyed many of the old integrative ties and mechanisms, has not produced enough new ones to make it possible to say that a new society has emerged. What exists in today’s Russia is rather a conglomerate of social groups, most of which lack internal coherence and are deeply divided among themselves in terms of income distribution, values and identities. Integration on a new basis is a massive challenge.
The main division is, of course, between those who have successfully adapted to the new realities and those who have not. The gap between the minority of “new Russians” and the majority of the rest is not just about distribution of wealth – it is a gap between vastly different and mutually hostile worlds. Unless this gap is narrowed and mechanisms are created which can reconcile the Russians who have made it with the Russians who feel strongly that they has been robbed, Russian society will not be able to reach a degree of stability necessary for normal development.
The social origins of the new Russian bourgeoisie are manifold, but two important classes of Soviet society played the role as the main incubators of the new class: the bureaucracy, including state enterprise managers as a special component with interests often divergent from the state and party administrators - and the underground entrepreneurs, which existed in Soviet times as a vital informal component of the state socialist economy. Linkages between the two dated back decades into the Soviet period, and they have played an important role in the emergence of the new class. By the time the system collapsed, the underground entrepreneurs possessed significant capital to throw into the games of the market, but they continued to depend on their ties with the bureaucracy to be able to participate in the privatization of state property – or even to be able to function as legal entrepreneurs.
Yeltsin’s policies were extremely favourable for the acquisitive frenzy which gave rise to the new bourgeoisie. But the other side of this lightning-fast takeover of the Soviet economy is that the new power/property regime is deeply dysfunctional – not only for the country as a whole, but even for the new bourgeoisie itself. Liberal reformers pursued a policy of privatization at any price, regarding virtually any illegal transfer of public property into private hands as progress towards the creation of a class of “real owners”, who would invest in production and create jobs and economic growth.
Russia’s new rich have behaved with an astounding social irresponsibility, evoking comparisons with Queen Marie Antoinette. Having translated their access to administrative control over the economy into acquisition of property, they have done very little to create efficient capitalist enterprises. The main method of disposal with the privatized assets has been to squeeze the maximum amount of immediate financial gain from them and to funnel the capital gained into foreign financial markets or real estate in Russia and abroad. Behaving in this way, Russia’s new rich have been acting as entirely rational agents seeking to obtain as much advantage as possible from the transformation of Russia and to protect that advantage. But for Russian society as a whole, this rationality meant rapacious plunder of the wealth that previous generations had collectively created at great sacrifice.
This dizzying social success of the New Russians rests on very shaky foundations. In the absence of an adequate institutional framework, the newly concentrated wealth cannot be productively invested in economic recovery, and economic logic will continue to push it out of Russia into lucrative investment opportunities of the global economy, while foreign investments will stay at minimal levels. But durable and workable institutions can only be created on the basis of a broad social consensus about the nature of the new Russian system and the rules by which it is run.
Unable to generate significant economic growth and lacking legitimacy, the New Russians have maintained their positions in society by cultivating informal ties with state officials at all levels. An intricate web of corrupt alliances between public and private actors, with the same individuals sometimes shuttling back and forth between the two roles, has enveloped Russian society at every level. The decentralization of state authority, championed by Boris Yeltsin, who publicly called on regional officials to grab as much power as they could carry, soon led to the emergence of regional clusters of politico-economic power reminiscent of feudal Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Richard Ericson has offered a parallel between the medieval system where manors were the key economic institutions, governance and operational control were highly decentralised, personal networks were very important, property rights were diffuse, and productive savings were absent – with Russia’s transition economy, where industrial managerial elites together with regional governments form the core of a kind of “industrial feudalism”, which cannot generate growth in productivity and obstructs development of modern market institutions.xix
Professor Yuri Malenkov of the St. Petersburg University, a leading Russian expert on management, describes the dominant mindset and behaviour of new Russian elites: “In the closed and stable social stratum vested with special powers, which has formed in our country, everything rests on personal connections; relations based on mutual benefit, corruption and simulation of activity... Our boss is tempted to develop “the emperor syndrome" in management characterized by omnipotent power, intolerance toward bright personalities and elimination of internal competition”.xx
It is hardly surprising that the main political and economic changes of the past decade are evoking few positive assessments in the Russian public. Disappointment and disillusionment dominate. For example, in an in-depth public opinion survey conducted in early 2000, 80% of respondents had a negative view of the dissolution of the USSR, 77.5% - of the privatization of state property, 51.1% - of the adoption of the 1993 Russian Constitution, 66.5% - of Yeltsin’s re-election as President in 1996, 53.5% - of the “radical” market reforms.xxi
In a VCIOM poll in March 2000, in response to a question about assessments of the reforms of the past 15 years, only 9% mentioned “the beginning of an economic renewal”, and “increase in people’s economic and political activity”, while 51% cited “growth of chaos and disorder in the country’s management”, 49% - “increased uncertainty about the future”, 38% - “a deepening of the economic crisis”, 33% - “a weakening of the country’s defence capability”.xxii In October 2000, asked whether the country was moving in the right direction or down a blind alley, 28 percent picked the first, 52 percent picked the second, and 20 percent said it was hard to say.xxiii
From naive expectations that free markets, private property and increased inequality would create powerful incentives for the emergence of an efficient market economy and a political democracy, Russian society has progressed to a discovery that most Soviet ruling elites have quite successfully utilized the transition to capitalism not just to maintain its dominance in society, but to increase their power, while the people and the country sank into suffering and deprivation. Inevitably, pubic attitudes have shifted undergone drastic changes.
Since 1995, the number of Russians demanding that the results of privatization be revised and the leading position of the state sector be restored, has grown from 39 to 70% of the total, the number of those in favour of confiscating the ill-gotten gains of the rich, from 45 to 63 %, the number of advocates of price controls, from 64 to 73%. In 1995, just 38% of Russians thought it necessary to restore elements of state planning; in 2000, 70% supported the idea. The number of those opposed to unrestrained buying and selling of land has grown from 37 to 54%. In 2000, 67% of those questioned wanted to see an overall strengthening of controls on business activities. Those who supported this demand were typically employees of privatized enterprises.xxiv In a March 2000 VCIOM poll, 56% of respondents considered nationalization of commercial banks an important priority for the government, while only 7% regarded it as an important government task to “create guarantees for private business”.xxv
In the words of prominent Russian economist Nikolai Shmelev, “If small-size private property can be more or less considered a product of one’s own hard work, all large-scale private property here in recent years has been formed by rather questionable means. Consequently, this property has no trust or respect in society. There is simply no way people will respect the property of an oligarch, because they know that he either acquired it in a criminal way or simply received it as a gift from authorities in exchange for some favours.”xxvi
Most Russians share perceptions of a deep moral crisis in society. In the survey cited above, there was almost a unanimous opinion that the last 10-15 years have seen a weakening of such qualities as patriotism (72.9% of respondents), spirituality (81%), selflessness (82.9%), sincerity (84%), respect for women (77.6%), good will (85.7%), honesty (81.6%), respect for one's elders (86%) – paralleled by a strengthening of such qualities as aggressiveness (91.1%) and cynicism (83.9%).xxvii
In a recent VCIOM poll, people were asked to identify the social groups which had the best chances of becoming better off. The results were quite indicative: the highest number of respondents (49% of the total) thought that the best chances belonged to “crooks and machinators”, 47% named bankers and entrepreneurs, 39% - state officials, 34% - company managers, 25% - “active, enterprising people”, 15% - street traders, 4% - specialists, engineers, 4% - farmers, 1% - blue-collar workers.xxviii Clearly, the public associated economic success in post-communist Russia primarily with crookery, corruption, money, and power, to some degree – with entrepreneurial skills, but definitely not with work.
Between the successful elites and the disenfranchised, alienated majority, there exists a sizeable minority of Russians who are somewhat less critical of the new socio-economic situation. Sociological surveys usually put the numbers of Russians who, in their opinion, have adapted to the changes of the past decade, at about 40% of the total population. 15-20% of the population consider themselves members of “the middle class” by the level of their income in comparison with others and by certain standards of consumption. In 2000, Russia had 890,500 small businesses employing 6.5 million people on a permanent basis and contributing 6.2 percent of the country's output, mostly in trade and services. An estimated 10 million people make their living primarily by shuttle trade.xxix
These segments of Russian society have begun to associate their own social prospects with the creation of a functioning capitalist system. But they are a far cry from the much-awaited “middle class”, which was expected to emerge from Yeltsin’s reforms to become the bedrock of Russia’s market economy, social stability and political democracy. Their place in the economy is peripheral, their existence precarious, the capitals they control insignificant. Above all, this is not a class possessing social coherence and commonality of interest and outlook, but rather a vague sociological category.
Prospects for integration
The new Russian state created under Yeltsin was clearly transitional. As a mechanism for helping society adapt to the transition, it was functional only in the sense that it helped prevent large-scale civil conflict by sanctioning chaos de facto, if not de jure. The emphasis on liberty, allowing everyone in Russia, every group, every region to try their own survival and adaptation strategies, lubricated the processes of disintegration.
This situation stimulated the development of informal mechanisms of social adaptation. Informal relationships in the economy, social life and politics were very important in the Soviet system, but in post-Soviet Russia, where the state has played its integrative role so poorly, reliance on connections, unofficial deals and extralegal ways of getting by has become truly endemic – in politics and business, in the actions of the elites and in the daily survival struggles of common people. The “informality” became also a key feature of Russia’s dealings with foreign governments and international institutions. The explosion of informal relationships produced a pervasive criminalization of the Russian economy and of the state.
The Russian state claimed to be democratic, yet the formal institutions of democracy lacked democratic substance. Yeltsin’s coup of 1993 and the two wars in Chechnya demonstrated that the ruling elites were prepared to break the law and use force for the sake of maintaining their dominance and control. The 1993 constitution reduced the parliament to the role of a subsidiary of the executive branch. The electoral process was heavily manipulated from the top. The public got used to viewing democratically elected officials as corrupt and unaccountable. Most mass media fell under the control of the oligarchs. Violations of citizen rights by law enforcement agencies became more widespread than in Soviet times. Meanwhile, the unreformed judiciary system retained its traditional punitive character, producing an appalling 0.3% acquittal rate in criminal cases.xxx
Inevitably, most Russians refuse to recognize their state as a democracy. But, while there does exist a strongly authoritarian minority in society, which rejects the principles of democracy as such, associating them with the condition of the Russian state in the 1990s, the dominant sentiment in society is different. Refusal to accept the democratic claims of the new Russian state does not necessarily mean a rejection of democracy as the preferred form of government for Russia. What it reflects is a more meaningful and sincere perception of democracy as something which is not reduced to nominally free elections, nominally free media, and the freedom to leave the country, but rather presumes a socially responsible state which maintains order based on justice. The tragedy is that for the foreseeable future, Russia is not likely to have freedom, order and justice at the same time.
The most effective and durable path of social integration would require a dismantling of the bureaucratic-oligarchic stranglehold on power and property, a reorientation of economic and social policy toward fostering productive economic activity and restoration of the economic and social infrastructure – coupled with the creation of effective forms of citizen control of the state apparatus.
Clearly, the current historical situation in Russia is stacked against this type of “new deal”. It would go against the interests of most elites, challenge the Western consensus on how Russia should be reformed, and require a level of citizen democratic commitment and self-organization (including the existence of political elites capable of leading the country in a democratic direction) which is simply not there yet.
Instead, as a result of a series of dramatic political events beginning with the August 1999 appointment of Vladimir Putin as Prime Minister, Russia has opted for a “strong state” which is attempting to enforce unity, order and efficiency without a redistribution of power and property between elites and society.
Of the five imperatives of change which guided the policies of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, Moscow now rejects four.
--Decentralization of state authority has given way to its recentralization. The powers of the Presidency are being expanded. The parliament is firmly under the Kremlin’s control. From a chaotic federation, Russia is evolving back into a virtually unitary state.
--The reduction of the power of the state over society has given way to a drive to subject society to tighter state regulation. The second war in Chechnya, waged with unbridled use of force against society and the open goal of establishing a colonial regime there, is the most dramatic symbol of the determination of the Russian state to use every means, no matter how brutal, to win back its lost dominance. Meanwhile, police agencies have apparently received a green light to enforce a “dictatorship of law”, while the judiciary is again behaving as an obedient tool of executive authority. In the name of “information security” the central government is attempting to restore its control over the media.
--Demilitarization is over; the new priority is restoration of Russia’s military potential, viewed as the essential tool in the international struggle for security and influence. The role of the military in politics and society is once again on the rise.
--After more than a decade of policies of remarkable openness aimed at integration into the West-dominated international system, Russia has developed a sense of the outside world which is marked by alarm, suspicion and a sense of insecurity. To deal with this situation, consistent efforts are being made to protect the country from external threats, both real and imagined, reduce its dependence on the United States, and enable it to pursue a more independent course in world politics.
The one area where there is most continuity with the Yeltsin period is the economy. Under Putin, the Russian government has confirmed its commitment to the basic principles of economic reform the West has been advocating and supporting since the early 1990s. The new element is that the state is assuming a much more direct and wider-ranging responsibility for the creation of an efficient market economy in Russia.
Combined, these trends indicate that the formative processes are gaining an upper hand over the processes of disintegration. What is emerging is an authoritarian market system, regarded by its architects as a workable alternative to the liberal experiment of the 1990s.
In the name of national unity, to be achieved through a strong centralized state, opposing social and political forces have found it possible or necessary to give their support to the tough new vozhd, whose vague and secretive political personality is like a “black box” out of which long-awaited solutions would emerge, solutions which Russian society has not been able to work out by itself, and which would somehow satisfy both economic liberals and communists, both the military and bankers, both Westernizers and Russian nationalists.
Putin is careful to profess adherence to the principles of a market economy, a strong civil society and political democracy as a universal modern creed, but he insists that Russia can make these principles work only if it remains true to its traditions - in particular, the tradition of a state that not only provides for public order and national defence, but also acts as “the initiator and main engine of any changes”; the traditions of patriotism, collectivism and paternalism.xxxi
It is obvious that Russia badly needs an efficient – less corrupt, better organized and more activist - state. It is also obvious that reforms bring sound results only if they are implemented in consonance with the cultural specificity of a given country: otherwise, society rejects them. But Russian state traditions are extremely difficult to reconcile with the universal liberal creed. Traditionally, the Russian state, Tsarist or Soviet, with its patriotic, collectivist, and paternalistic underpinnings, has served only such goals as military security, territorial expansion and competition with other great powers. Whatever it would do for economic and social development has been motivated by considerations of national security, as they were defined by the ruling elites. Forced modernization would bring only limited success, followed by stagnation, decay, and then collapse of the state as a result of a revolution.
Will Russia avoid falling back into this pattern in the twenty-first century?
i Facts and Figures: Raw Materials Exporter. - Ekonomika i zhizn, No. 43, 2000
ii Izvestia, 4.07.2000
Moscow Times, 18.10.2000.
Moscow Times, 18.10.2000
Moscow Times, 18.10.2000
VCIOM, Press-vypusk 3.03. 2000
Moscow Times, 18.10.2000
x World Development Indicators. Washington: The World Bank, 2000. Table 2.14. Health Expenditures, Services and Use
xii “Sotsial’no-ekonomicheskie problemy Rossii: spravochnik”. SPB: Norma, 1999, p.275
xiii “Rossia: preodolenie natsional’noj katastrofy. Sotsial’naya i sotsial’no-politicheskaya siyuatsiya v Rossii v 1998 godu”. Ed. By G.V.Osipov, V.K.Levashov, V.V.Lokosov. Moscow: Institute of Social and Political Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, 1999”
"Russian Crisis and its Effects". by Tuomas Komulainen and Ilkka Korhonen (ed.).BOFIT Institute for Economies in Transition
, Bank of Finland, 2000
A.A.Kolganov. Russia: Consolidation of the National Consciousness? Contradictory Assessments of Basic Values. – The Jamestown Foundation Prism, September 2000, Vol.VI, Issue 9, Part 2
VCIOM, Press-vypusk 31.03. 2000
VCIOM, Press-vypusk 25.10. 2000
xxv VCIOM, Press-vypusk 9.03.2000
xxvi Trud, 28.10.00
VCIOM, Press-vypusk 3 marta 2000 goda
xxix AFP, 6.11.2000; Polit.Ru, 10.11.2000; Business Week, 16.10, 2000; RFERL, 11.10.2000; VCIOM, 05.11.2000
xxx Interview with Judge Sergei Pashin, Radio Echo Moskvy, 3.12.2000. – www.echo.msk.ru
xxxiVladimir Putin. Rossia na poroge tret’ego tysyacheletiya. – www.pravitelstvo.gov.ru, December 1999