Russia's Liberal Project: State-Society Relations in the Transition from Communism

Article excerpt

Russia's Liberal Project: State-Society Relations in the Transition from Communism, Marcia A. Weigle. University Park, PA: University Press, 2000.

In this extensive work, Weigle articulates several key points about Russia's transition to a liberal state. First, she argues that this transition must be understood as a succession of phases in a continuous process from Gorbachev through Yeltsin. She demonstrates this by examining civil society, political society, and the state, three of the five political arenas used by Linz and Stepan as the basic framework in their work on transition and consolidation of democracy. She then examines Soviet and Russian political culture and argues that despite some questions about the liberal dimension of Russian political culture, the liberal changes to institutions and procedures experienced since the fall of the Soviet Union are shaping popular attitudes, thus furthering the progress of the liberal project. Finally, Weigle argues that, in the absence of a strong liberal political culture and effective political and civil societies, a strong state is necessary to lead the liberal project.

In supporting the final point, Weigle says that "the state must involve itself in creating economic interests to carry the burden of social welfare and to foster political support for the reform process. In conjunction with this, a rule of law that not only mediates among conflicting interests but that encourages independent participation to articulate and defend those interests through cooperation and constructive opposition in local and national state bodies of power is essential." Linz and Stepan argue that the arenas of civil society, political society, the state, rule of law, and economic society are "interconnected and mutually reinforcing conditions" that must exist for a democracy to be consolidated. That raises a problem with Weigle's approach. Rule of law and economic society are the two arenas that provide some of the greatest challenges for the Russian state. By omitting those two arenas in the analysis, readers are unable to assess the state's ability to lead the liberal project, nor do they gain any measure of confidence about the state's commitment to build liberalism in those arenas. Thus, optimism for Weigle's argument that the state must lead the way may be unwarranted.

This leads to a second problem. …