Russian Communism

This essay has a total of 4241 words and 16 pages.

Russian Communism

RUSSIAN communisiunm
By: mike

Introduction The fall of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union was more than a
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
successor states of the Soviet Union. The penetration of the Communist regime into every
facet of life left the Russian people with little democratic traditions. Russia faces the
seemingly impracticable task of economic liberalization and democratization. This is
combined with a necessity to answer nationalist and ethnic questions that have plagued
Russia for centuries. This paper addresses the problems of creating a stable democracy in
Russia. The prospects for a stable democracy in Russia are limited at best. I will outline
some of the concerns that academics have in the consolidation of Russian democracy. What
is paramount to note is that a stable democracy must adequately address what Ken Jowitt
calls the "developmental trinity": nation-building; capitalism and democracy. The dilemma
that is especially relevant to Russia it that these conditions are often contradictory.
The often messy business of politically reconstructing a nation defies traditional
democratic ideals. The establishment of democratic institutions can hinder 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 seemingly
endless Catch-22's are at the heart of difficulties facing Russia in its attempt to create
a stable democracy. The Process of Creating A Nation-State The question of who is the
playing the game and what makes the playing field is an important one for the Russian
Federation. Ethnic and nationalist questions plagued the Soviet Union and continue to
stress the Russia Federation during its nascent period. 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 simply democratic way of deciding what a
nation and its corresponding political unit should be" (Smitter 66). Later in his article,
he writes "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 with a charge of
establishing and following democratic institutions, while at the same time facing
secessionary pressures that seem to require extra-democratic means 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 democratically weak society,
ethnicity assumes a stronger 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).
An important development in center-periphery relations is the growing importance of
"economic nationalism," an effort to create an economic basis for political independence.
Economic nationalism is a protective defense against the Russian federal government's
economic dominance. Alternatively, it is also a sign that the republics wish to retain
relations with Moscow since politics remains primarily in the hands of the center
(Drobizheva). For example, Tatarstan and Sakha-Yakutia both have a wealth of natural
resources, giving 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. Consequently, an agreement reached between the federal
government and the republics gave the latter what they wanted: increased economic autonomy
(Drobizheva). Further inquiry into the agreements with Tartarsan demonstrates the
flexibility the Yeltsin regime is willing to employ in dealing with possible powder-keg
situations. A treaty signed on February 15, 1994 attempted to mollify the tensions on both
sides. The treaty affirmed Tartarsan right to its own "international and economic
relations" and, as previously noted, provided substantial autonomy in economic issues for
Tartarsan. Smoothing over contradictions in each state's constitution, the agreement
affirms the union between Russia and Tartarsan (Lapidus 107). The treaty with Tartarsan
provides a possible blueprint for future center-periphery relations. It forebears a
evolving and fluid approach that should be beneficial in establishing a stable democracy.
But in typical Yeltsin contradictory manner, the war in Chechnya has demonstrated the
worst of the Yeltsin regime. The conflict between Chechnya and the Russian Federation
should not be considered an ethnic conflict. The authorities did not even give as a
pretext for the invasion the defense of Russian-speaking people. Such a pretext would have
been unbelievable, in light of the fact that Russian- speaking people suffered from the
bombing of Grozny at least as much as the native population. The war was connected more
with the struggle for power in Moscow than with either economic or ethnic factors. The
Chechnyan campaign was characterized by Yeltsin employing 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). The tragedy in
Chechnya not withstanding, and with all due concern towards the dangerous tensions that
exist between Moscow and it various ethnic republics, I agree with Gail Lapidus and Edward
Walker that it is unlikely that we will see a significant secession movement in the
Russian Federation in the near future. Of paramount importance is the economic and
political realities facing both Moscow and the various republics. Secession provides the
republics with a myriad of additional stumbling blocks towards establishment of stable
democracy. These include questions of international recognition, Russian implemented
economic pressures, and devastating civil war (Lapidus 108). The costs of leaving the
Federation would appear to outweigh any perceivable benefits gained by secession. Yet
there are 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). There will be a deeper examination into the economic issues
facing the Federation as a whole in the next section, but note that these concerns are
magnified in the peripheral areas that lack developed agricultural and industrial
economies. 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. The Road to a Market Economy At the heart of the difficulties
plaguing the Russian Federation are the economic reforms that the Yeltsin regime has
imposed upon the Russian people. Capitalism is viewed as a necessary ingredient (though
not sufficient) contingency of a stable democracy. All established democracies are located
in countries that place economic manufacture and aggregation in the hands of privately
owned firms, with distribution of scarce resource achieved through market forces (Smitter
66). The movement away from the penetrative, all-encompassing Soviet economic octopus has
caused enormous hardships for the Russian people. It has placed economic uncertainties in
the path of political realities, resulting 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 the Russian economy on a steady diet of economic
shock therapy. The government's misguided attempt to rest its reform program on
fulfillment of a limited number of macroeconomic variables left the Russian economy in
disarray. Despite a precipitous 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. But what were the Russians to do in
the meantime? The revolutionary fervor that characterized the early economic reforms did
not take into account the punitive realities of their policies. As 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 (Fish 215). With
all due deference to cliche, the early Russian economic policies can be succinctly
summarized in "Be careful what you wish for; you might just get it." Khrushchev stated
that a country may follow its own road to socialism, and in a perverse sense that logic is
still be applicable for Russian affairs. But, rather the mandate should be that each
country should follow its own road towards capitalism. An examination of what the
Communist apparatus left in its wake should cause pause for any free-market optimist.
Seventy plus years of state socialism has left Russia with a two-ton gorilla on its
collective economic back. On page 66 and 67 of his "Dangers And Dilemmas of Democracy",
Smitter outlines possible starting scenarios for incipient democracies. A best case
scenario finds the nation with a preceding autocracy that had already concentrated
profits, encouraged the private accumulation of wealth, increased the state's fiscal
capacity, invested in the country's physical infrastructure and provided a positive
starting point for international trade. Countries, such as Chile and Spain, that had
inherited these elements, found the transition to a market economy easier. Russia and the
other successor states to the Soviet Union found themselves in a much more precarious
predicament. 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 simultaneous need for political reform,
Russia faces a tall task indeed. The dubious tradition of the Soviet era has led to an
overdependence on foreign advise and models of capitalism. Yet, it is clear that this may
not be a wise path to follow. Much of the literature concerning post- communist literature
warns of Russia relying to 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 difficulties of nation-building, marketization,
and democratization place the Soviet successor states in a unique and precarious
situation. Privatization in Russia did occur extraordinarily rapidly, with the idea being
that getting productive assets into private hands as fast as possible would make economic
reform irreversible. This was arguably right - there is indeed a large and powerful group
that has a great deal to lose from any effort to re-nationalize the economy. But this
class is at the same time decidedly not interested in fair rules of market competition and
an open economy. Rather it wants the state to preserve its privileges, protect its
markets, and allow it to continue to reap the windfall gains of privatization. And neither
does it seem to care much about democracy. At the same time, privatization has contributed
greatly to the popular conviction that marketization has been deeply unjust: state assets
were distributed disproportionately to insiders, to people willing to skirt the letter of
the law, and in many cases to outright criminals. Official corruption and the lack of fair
and enforced laws and clearly-defined property rights, have only contributed to this
perception. As a result, while there is 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. The greatest misstep the Yeltsin regime took was
moving forward with economic reform without addressing the need for wholesale, political
renovation. There is a serious quandary that results in concurrent democratization and
marketization. It derives from the basic difference between a government that strives to
distribute power and status relatively equally (democratization) and an economy that
distributes property and income relatively unequally (capitalism) (Smitter 67). This
obstacle is magnified in Russian democratization with the fusion between 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). Democratization and the Reinvention of Russian Government An
orderly exit from the Soviet past and progress towards stable democracy necessitates the
development of a state capable of effective governance. Tsarism and state socialism have
provided Russians with little experience with working governmental institutions, nor
knowledge of how to coordinate the actions of state agencies in pursuit of a common goal.
As especially was the case with the early Gaidar economic reforms, political compromise
and coalition building were ignored in favor of policies designed for the "public good."
The continued employment of Soviet-style politics by the Yeltsin regime bodes ill for the
establishment of consolidated democracy in Russia. To begin the movement to a consolidated
democracy, Russian government most promote new institutional capacities and move towards
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