Soviet Democratization Essay Research Paper Soviet Politics

Soviet Democratization Essay, Research Paper

Soviet Politics and hope

of Democratization

The fall of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union signified something far more meaningful than a mere political event. The powerful interaction and fusion between politics and economics that characterized the state socialist system created a situation that was unique for the successors of the Soviet Union. March, 1985 marked a turning point in the Communist rule of Russia. Mikhail Gorbachev, having just been promoted to the position of General Secretary was cognizant of the social upheaval occurring and that change was necessary if Communism were to survive. Through his program of “Perestroika,” which was the organizational restructuring of the Soviet economy and government apparatus, Gorbachev hoped to lay the groundwork for the stabilization of a Communist Russia. Although he soon discovered in order to fully achieve the aims of perestroika other changes would have to occur first. Among them a more tolerant and open political environment and more public influence over governmental and military institutions. This required a major long-term change of the political system. He began a policy called “Glasnost” which emphasized openness with regard to discussion of social problems and shortcomings. The purpose of these reforms were to elevate the Soviet standard of living in order to reaffirm the citizenry’s loyalties to the Communist party and to enable the rebirth of the Soviet economy and ideal. State control was loosened and individual initiative encouraged. He expanded the authority of the Soviet presidency and transferred power from the Communist party to popularly elected legislatures in the union republics. In international affairs, he withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan, normalized relations with China, signed a series of arms control agreements with U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. During this period of change, strong Nationalistic opinion started in the republics of the Soviet Union causing major upheaval. In 1991, as the Soviet economy deteriorated, Gorbachev faced competing pressures from hard-line Communists, from free-market reformers, and from nationalists and secessionists seeking independence for their republics. The hard-liners, who included many top government officials, staged a coup in August, placing Gorbachev under house arrest, but within three days the reformers had restored Gorbachev to power. He immediately resigned as Communist party general secretary, suspended party activities, and placed reformers in charge of the military and KGB. After having allowed Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to become independent republics, nationalist forces became stronger in the republics as the year progressed. The USSR voted itself out of existence in December 1991, and Gorbachev resigned his position as president of the USSR. Under the Communist Regime there were immense social problems. In the period before Gorbachev all religion was dismissed. Although the citizens were still allowed to practice their religion, it was made extremely difficult for them by the government and the official attitude towards religion was that it was a relic of the past and Atheism was encouraged. There was a substantial amount of alcoholism mostly due to the living and working conditions. There was also a substantial amount of crime, extreme discrimination against women, and a strong sexist attitude. Women found it hard to find decent employment, and most women were expected to also take care of household duties as well. Women were also very scarce in government. Relations among the different ethnic groups that lived within the Soviet Union were very tense and sometimes openly hostile. The fact that the Russian language was the language in which all political transactions had to occur in, and it was encouraged to be learnt, with the purpose of trying to make a single Soviet culture, the tension grew even stronger. The educational system in the Soviet Union also caused tension because it was set up around a motive to teach students to be obedient to the Communist Party and to be Atheist among other things. Also students were assigned jobs when they graduated and this caused considerable stress on them because they had to take the job assigned to them, and if it was an undesirable one it could ruin their chances for advancement in the future. This was such a tense issue that graduates were sometimes prone to commit suicide. The health care system was under funded. Most hospitals were under staffed and the equipment was outdated, medical supplies were also scarce. This lead to the gradual decrease of the life expectancies, poor standards of sanitation and public hygiene, and an increased annual death rate and a drop in the birth rate. All of these factors in a way, lead to the disintegration of the Communist Regime. Taking into account all of the social problems and the years of mismanagement of the countries resources, it is evident why the economy slowed and citizen support for the government diminished. Boris Yeltsin was named President of Russia by the Russian Republic’s Supreme Soviet in 1990. He immediately resigned from the Communist party and declared Russia’s independence. However, the penetration of the Communist regime into every facet of life left the Russian people with little democratic traditions. Russia was left with the seemingly insurmountable task of economic liberalization and democratization coupled with the necessity to solve nationalist and ethnic problems that had riddled Russia for centuries. The chances that Russia can still obtain a stable democracy are quite slim. What is of utmost importance is that a stable democracy must sufficiently fulfill what Ken Jowitt calls the “developmental trinity”: nation-building; capitalism and democracy. These tenets often appear at odds with one another, which makes the task even more difficult. The whole process of restructuring an economy is one that clashes with traditional economic ideals. The establishment of democratic institutions can potentially halt the development of a market economy and, conversely, programs that are designed to enhance capitalist expansion often are antagonistic towards democratic goals (Jowitt 7). These complexities are at the heart of the difficulties facing Russia in its attempt to create a stable democracy.

Ethnic and nationalist questions plagued the Soviet Union and continue to stress the Russian Federation. The dynamics of center-periphery relations provides Moscow with some of the greatest challenges in establishing a stable democracy. Phillipe Smitter writes, “There is no simple democratic way of deciding what a nation and its corresponding political unit should be” (Smitter 66). He later adds, “those that have not yet resolved the dilemma of defining their national and territorial boundaries are unlikely to make much more progress in other domains” (Smitter 73). The dilemma facing the Russian Federation is that it finds itself faced with the challenge of establishing and following democratic institutions, while at the same time facing secessionary pressures that seem to require more than democratic measures to preserve the integrity of the nation. Nationalism in multiethnic areas in the Russian Federation has provided a substantial challenge for democratization. There is a direct relationship between democratization and ethnic peace (Smitter 72). In a society where democracy is only in its nascent stages, ethnicity assumes a prominent role, and when democracy and ethnicity are balanced, political stability is possible. As a result of a lack of democratic institutions and channels for dialogue, Russia’s inhabitants are now increasingly identifying themselves as members of ethnic groups rather than as citizens of the Russian Federation (Drobizheva). A significant development in center-periphery relations is the growing importance of “economic nationalism,” In an effort to create an economic basis for political independence, economic nationalism provides a defense mechanism against the Russian government’s economic dominance. On the other hand, it indicates the republics wish to retain relations with Moscow since politics remains primarily in the hands of the center (Drobizheva). For example, both Tatarstan and Sakha-Yakutia are equipped with a wealth of natural resources, providing them a potential advantage in economic development and a desire to establish control over these resources. Tatarstan, for example, strives to sell its oil at world market prices in foreign markets to generate income, and in 1993-94, the local governments in Tatarstan and Yakutia sought economic decentralization in Russia by refusing to pay federal taxes. As a result, an agreement was finally reached between the federal government and the republics came to an agreement whereby the latter were granted the concession of increased economic autonomy (Drobizheva). A more in-depth analysis of the agreement reveals the flexibility the Yeltsin regime was willing to employ in dealing with possible powder-keg situations. A treaty signed on February 15, 1994 attempted to alleviate tensions on both sides. The treaty affirmed Tartarsan’s right to its own “international and economic relations” and, as previously noted, provided substantial autonomy in economic issues for Tartarsan. Glossing over contradictions in each state’s constitution, the agreement affirms the union between Russia and Tartarsan (Lapidus 107). The treaty with Tartarsan offers a valid blueprint for future center-periphery relations. It involves a malleable and fluid approach that should be beneficial in establishing a stable democracy. Despite this, the war in Chechnya demonstrated the worst of the Yeltsin regime. The conflict between Chechnya and the Russian Federation is not an entirely ethnic one. The authorities did not even give as a pretext for the invasion, the defense of Russian-speaking people. Such a pretext would have been inconceivable, considering the fact that Russian-speaking people suffered from the bombing of Grozny at least as much as the native population. Rather, the war primarily concerned the struggle for power in Moscow. Yeltsin implemented the Chechnyan campaign through the use of Soviet-era coercive measures. Paternalism, clientelism, and military intervention prevailed over legal methods and legal institutions. Lilia Shevtsova considers the Chechnyan war a byproduct of the Yeltsin regime’s reliance on personal politics. She writes “Yeltsin saw the war as a chance to flex his muscles, neutralize the conflicts within his own regime; expand his political base…and appear before the world as a strong leader” (Shevtsova 67).

Despite the unfortunate conflict in Chechnya, and the boiling tension that exists between Moscow and its various ethnic republics, Gail Lapidus and Edward Walker make the valid point that it is unlikely that we will witness a significant secession movement in the Russian Federation in the near future. Of utmost significance is the economic and political realities facing both Moscow and the various republics. Secession only serves to further impede the establishment of a stable democracy by raising questions of international recognition, Russian implemented economic pressures, and devastating civil war (Lapidus 108). The costs of leaving the Federation may seem to outweigh any benefits gained by secession. As a result, there remain serious nationalist and regionalist concerns that the Russian Federation must address if there is a chance for democracy to take hold. “Economic chaos must be avoided by establishing a sound currency and creating a common economic bond between the center and the periphery” (Lapidus 108). Issues of more effective regional and ethnic political representation must be addressed through a movement away from the Soviet system that unfairly distributes economic control and political power among ethnicities and nationalities (Lapidus 96). Many ethnic minorities lack administrative recognition for seemingly arbitrary reasons. It would appear that the best antidote for ethnic and national ills is a healthy economy that would bind the periphery to the center, therefore making secession an unattractive option. Along with sensible economic reforms, political restructuring is essential for stable democracy to take hold (Lapidus 110).

At the heart of the difficulties plaguing the Russian Federation are the economic reforms that the Yeltsin regime imposed upon the Russian people. Capitalism is viewed as a necessary (though not sufficient) ingredient of a stable democracy. All established democracies are found within countries that place economic production and aggregation in the hands of privately owned firms, while scarce resources are distributed according to market forces (Smitter 66). The movement away from the penetrative, overly dominant Soviet economic octopus has caused enormous hardships for the Russian people. It has placed economic uncertainties in the path of political realities. This unfortunate circumstance results in policies that attempt to address the often-contradictory objectives of economic liberalization in the wake of political democratization. Sweeping in after the failed coup of August 1991, economic reformers, led by Prime Minister Egor Gaidar, placed Russia on a steady diet of economic shock therapy. The government’s futile attempt to rest its reform program on fulfillment of a limited number of macroeconomic variables left the Russian economy in shambles. Despite a decline in economic productivity, radical reformers defended their macroeconomic policy, arguing that the supply side of the Russian economy would receive proper attention after stabilization. The revolutionary zeal that surrounded the early economic reforms did not take into account the punitive realities of their policies. Steven Fish writes: “All had advocated ‘transition to a market economy.’ But this goal had been more of a dream than a demand, and few had actually considered how to achieve it. With all due deference to clich , the early Russian economic policies can be succinctly summarized in ‘Be careful what you wish for; you might just get it’” (Fish 215).

An analysis of what the Communist apparatus left in its wake would cause a bit of apprehension to anyone faced with democratization. Seventy plus years of state socialism has left Russia with a numerous problems. On page 66-67 of “Dangers And Dilemmas of Democracy”, Smitter describes possible starting scenarios for incipient democracies. A best-case scenario would find a nation with a preceding autocracy that had already concentrated profits, encouraged the private accumulation of wealth, invested in the country’s physical infrastructure and provided a good starting point for international trade. Countries, such as Chile and Spain, that had inherited these traits, found the transition to a market economy to be much easier. Russia and the other successor states to the Soviet Union found themselves in a much more precarious situation. Many countries began to realize that they were in many ways still dependent on so-called “mother Russia”. The past Core-Periphery policy had made them heavily rely on internal domestic trade. Being nothing more than satellite states in the centrally planned economy, these countries were traditionally used for the extraction of materials or the production of a singular industry. Their economies were not diversified. In sum, the state socialist regime left a legacy of corruption, protectionism, price distortions, foreign indebtedness, inefficient public enterprises, trade imbalances, and fiscal instability (Smitter 67). Combined with the absolute need for political reform, Russia faces a tall task indeed. The questionable tradition of the Soviet era has led to over-dependence on foreign advice and models of capitalism. Yet, it seems evident that this may not be a wise path to follow. A great deal of the post-communist literature warns of Russia relying too closely to the Western model of capitalism. Jowitt warns that Americans should temper their “missionary zeal” in exporting an idealistic view of “what we once were” (Jowitt 7). The simultaneous problems that accompany nation-building, marketization, and democratization place the Soviet successor states precarious condition.

Privatization in Russia did however come into effect very rapidly, with the notion being that getting productive assets into private hands as fast as possible would make economic reform imminent. This was arguably correct – there exists a large and powerful group that has a great deal to lose from any effort to re-nationalize the economy yet this group is at the same time not entirely interested in fair rules of market competition and an open economy. It instead wants the state to protect its privileges, protect its markets, and permit it to continue to reap the gains of privatization. Furthermore, the achievement of a full-blown democracy doesn’t seem to be one of its foremost priorities. At the same time, privatization has contributed greatly to the popular belief that marketization has been deeply unjust: state assets were distributed disproportionately to insiders, people willing to skirt the letter of the law, and in many cases to simple criminals. Official corruption and the absence of fair and enforced laws and clearly defined property rights, have only kindled this perception. Hence, while there does exist a growing middle class in Russia, it is smaller, less democratic in orientation, and less politically influential than it might have been without the state socialist tradition. A significant blunder of the Yeltsin regime was that it pressed forward with economic reform without considering the need for broad political renovation. A serious dilemma results in simultaneous democratization and marketization. It stems from the fundamental difference between a government that aims to distribute power and status relatively equally (democratization), and an economy that distributes property and income relatively unequally (capitalism) (Smitter 67). This dilemma is embellished in Russian democratization with the fusion of politics and economics. Shevtsova writes “reformers cannot rest content with a rearrangement of relations among different institutions, but must strive to form new political and economic system” (Shevstova 57). An effective departure from the Soviet past and progress towards stable democracy requires the development of a state capable of effective governance. State socialism has offered Russians little experience with working governmental institutions, nor the ability to coordinate the actions of state agencies in pursuit of a common goal. The practice of Soviet-style politics by the Yeltsin regime didn’t effectively achieve the condition under which the establishment of consolidated democracy in Russia could take place. To begin the transition to a consolidated democracy, Russian government must establish new institutional capacities and work towards more rational and practical linkages between formal administrative agencies and their functions. This is a break from the bureaucratic stagnation that characterized the Soviet system. Important in this development is the promotion of economic engagements outside the old system (Shevtsova 56). Shevtsova raises the poignant question of whether the “collapse” of communism actually strengthened the hand of the nomenklatura , particularly on the regional and local level, by allowing them to achieve a novel claim of legitimacy as the leaders of new nations (Shevtsova 60). This new found legitimacy granted them access to the new found economic resources. It is imperative that wealth not be restricted to a group of state officials and enterprise directors. Such actions could contribute to the prolongation of patron-client relations that characterized the state socialist system.

Yet, the division between the public and private sphere remains obfuscated in Russian society. The dispersion and coerciveness of the Communist Party dulled the line between state and civil society. In order to consolidate and strengthen the nascent private sector, Russia needs to create an administrative system that actively encourages its growth. Recent improvements indicate that the distribution of wealth is becoming more equitable. Recent improvements in the privatization process, in addition to a growing sense of entrepreneurial spirit among less advantaged segments of the population hold great promise for the growth of small-scale property ownership; a significant step in consolidating private ownership (Fish 234). To allow a government to actively encourage private, economic enterprise, political appointments must move beyond the personal level. There should exist a balance between the administrative and political roles of the members of the bureaucracy. Shevstova writes that Yeltsin “had a habit of ranking personal loyalty to himself far above professionalism when choosing appointees and subordinates” (Shevstova 69). To challenge this traditional system, a professional bureaucracy, one that is limited in its ability to intervene directly in the policy-making process, must be established. Another pivotal ingredient to democratization that Shevstova feels was missing from the Yeltsin administration was “a lack of imperatives to build broad consensus and foster genuine communication between leaders and citizens at large” (Shevstova 57). Much of this can be attributed to the Communist tradition that placed vast authority in the local ministers. The autarkic, socialist system allowed executive agencies to attain many legislative favors. Communication with constituents and consensus building was an unnecessary hassle. The true conflict existed within the decision-making elite. Shevstova believes this lack of consensus building and communication are characteristics that have loomed since Leninism (Shevstova 57). Political power was granted only to a self-selected elite that appointed new personnel not so much for their technical skills, rather their willingness to embrace Communist ideology or their relationship to powerful party elites. This system of clientelism impeded and made irrelevant any development of modern, responsive bureaucratic institutional arrangements. As a result, today’s bureaucrats (and yesterday’s communists) find it difficult to appreciate the need for compromise, power sharing, and local initiative. This is precisely the problem Russia faced with Yeltsin. Rising through the nomenklatura , gaining a reputation as a fearless reformer, Yeltsin suddenly found himself as a member of the Politburo. Once again, Yeltsin proved himself an able and determined reformer, but an estrangement between himself and Gorbachev set in when Yeltsin began criticizing the sluggish pace of reform at party meetings, challenging party conservatives and even criticizing Gorbachev himself. Yeltsin was eventually forced to resign in disgrace from the Moscow party leadership in 1987 and from the Politburo in 1988. He was accused of seeking “cheap popularity” and of excessive radicalism with respect to perestroika. Gorbachev had a hand in Yeltsin’s removal. Firstly, he prevented Yeltsin’s removal from the Central Committee, which in turn made it impossible to try Yeltsin, while enabling him to remain in Moscow. Gorbachev also ordered the publication of the speeches at the Moscow meeting reproving Yeltsin in his attempt to achieve “cheap popularity.” In doing so Gorbachev hoped to garner public support for Yeltsin in order to anchor political reform within the Politburo. Despite the short-lived support of the populace and image as a hero, Shevstova contends he remains well-known for his tendency to become a political chameleon, changing his colors to suit any political condition. He has at one time or another been a communist boss, a reformer within the communist system, a liberal slayer of communism and a nationalist warrior against secessionism (Shevstova 69). Lilia Shevstova is fervently critical of the decisions Yeltsin made in the post-Soviet era. She lays much of the responsibility for the politics of confrontation squarely at the feet of Yeltsin and his advisors (Shevstova 58). She first debunks the idea that Yeltsin is a “destroyer of the old system.” Rather, she deems him a reformer who did not attempt to address the institutional hegemony held by the former nomenklatura. As a result of his policies, concentration of political and economic power remained in the hands of the former communist elites. She identifies a number of Soviet era tactics, such as pitting members of nomenklatura against one another; that still personified Yeltsin’s decision-making process well into the post-Communist regime (Shevstova 60). The Presidential Revolution of 1993 marked a shift towards a more personalistic brand of rule for Russia. Shevstova argues that the Constitutional Crisis of 1993 was largely predicated on Yeltsin’s attempt to outmaneuver his old Communist rivals, who had found sanctuary in the legislature (Shevstova 62). The supporters that Yeltsin lined up behind him for this insurgency upon the Supreme Soviet were widely divergent in their political orientations and goals. They included liberal reformers, bureaucrats and pragmatists, statists and security officials, and extreme nationalists (Shevstova 63). According to Shevstova, there seems to have been very little change in how things were done under the Yeltsin regime versus the Gorbachev regime. The specific issues were previously addressed. Another significant point to note is that there was far too much reliance on Yeltsin’s personal prestige and charisma (Shevstova 64). Yeltsin operated outside of the nascent party system because parties constrain leaders. He was not an institution builder but, as his policies demonstrated, he was a populist. His communist background did not make him reluctant to turn to extra-legal means to achieve his goals. Shevstova believes that it was this procedural uncertainty, and dependence upon the “man” and not the “measures”, that created the greatest concern for the establishment of stable democracy.

Fish describes an unconsolidated democracy as a system that would embrace many of the basic elements of democracy, such as elections and considerable civil and cultural freedoms (Fish 226). Yet we are unlikely to witness the establishment of stable rules and institutions that are appropriate to their respective social structures or accepted by their respective citizenries (Smitter 60). Due to the lack of any credible alternatives to democracy, it is doubtful that we’ll see a regression back to authoritarianism. Yet if appropriate reforms are not enacted, we will probably observe what is referred to as democracy by default (Smitter 60). The fundamental rights of democracy will exist, but “regular, acceptable, and predictable democratic patterns never quite crystallize” (Smitter 61). The 1993 Constitution worsened this problem by granting the president enormous power, providing the groundwork for discretionary, personal expressions of authority that contradict the needed objectives of broad based political aggregation.

In sum, with the apparent lack of public participation in government, and in turn the lack of communication by the government with the people we can see that the Russian Federation is far from being democratic. The government acted too quickly in its economic reforms with not enough practical experience with Democratic/Capitalistic institutions to pull it off. It remains evident that some of the major contributing factors to the fall of communism were the dissension of the citizens; primarily due to the fact that the government did not live up to its promise of a better life and the failure of the government to properly deal with social problems. The other factors were economic, many of which we can see are apparent in the new system. In it’s current situation we are seeing the same factors. Unless these problems are addressed quickly and resolved effectively we will witness the demise of yet another Russian governmental system. On looking at the past we can see that the Russian public must overcome many obstacles in order for them to truly embrace Democracy and enjoy the promises of a better life that it has made. The government must actively promote the education of its citizens and communicate more efficiently with them. The Russian Federation faces a long journey before they can fully achieve democratization, and given the enormity of the task, it almost seems unfeasible.

Lecture Notes. Professor Lofchie

Drobizheva , Leokadia. “Democratization and Nationalism in

the Russian Federation.” Sponsored by the Kennan

Institute for Advanced Russian Studies: Presented on

February 8, 1996.

Fish, Stephen. Democracy From Scratch: Opposition and

Regime in the New Russian Revolution. (Princeton:

Princeton University Press, 1995).

Gustafson, Thane. Capitalism Russian-Style. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press. 1999

Jowitt, Kenneth. “Dizzy With Democracy.”

Problems of Post Communism, (Jan-Feb, 1996) : 3-8.

Lewin, Moshe. The Gorbachev Phenomenon: A Historical

Interpretation. Expanded ed. Berkeley: University of

California Press. 1991

Lapidus, Gail and Edward Walker. “Nationalism, Regionalism,

and Federalism: Center Periphery Relations in Post

Communist Russia.” In Lapidus, ed., The New Russia. Boulder: Westview Press, 1995): 79-113.



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